Thursday, August 29, 2013

Everybody Have A Happy Football!

On the eve of the college season and just 2 weeks from the NFL opener, The Sports Narrative crew get you primed for some football. On the show this week:

- Our final divisional preview featuring the NFC East

- Talk of your Dallas Cowboys and their prospects for the year

- Some Bowl and Heisman predictions in CFB

- A look at the VMAs, the next Batman and all things superhero movie in The Pub

- Don't forget about baseball as we approach the strectch run

- Some ranting, news in and around the world of sports and a lot of nut-kicking

Join us live on Wed August 28th from 8-10PM CDT or as a podcast anytime you want!

Click HERE To Listen!

Friday, August 23, 2013

2013 NFL Previews: AFC East

by Darren Boyd

AFC East

The AFC East has been dominated by the New England Patriots and that trend continued in 2012. The Pats went 6-0 against the rest of the AFC Least, finished 12-4 and lost in the AFC Championship game. They should dominate in 2013 as well despite the Aaron Hernandez Murder trial and Rob Gronkowski probably missing the 1st 6 games due too several lingering injuries. The Miami Dolphin finished 7-9 and this offseason spent a fortune in Free Agency on what some are calling "Ireland's Last Stand" as the GM is on the final year of his contract and must have a winning season.  The New York Jets had a lackluster season of 6-10, fired their GM and drafted QB Geno Smith to lead them past the Matt Sanchez debacle. The Buffalo Bills finished 6-10 and fired their coach. They brought in Doug Marrone as the new coach and drafted EJ Manuel from Florida St to be their QB.

New England Patriots

The Patriots Offense rolled all year until the lost to the Ravens in the AFC Championship game. This offseason has been trying on the Pats to say the least. Of course the shocking arrest of Aaron Hernandez for murder has been well documented so ill move on. On the field the Pats let Wes Welker walk to the Broncos and replaced him with fragile Danny Amendola. They also spent 2 high draft picks in receivers Aaron Dobson and TCU's Josh Boyce. Tight End Rob Gronkowki had multiple surgeries in the off season and is on the PUP list. This should keep him out thru week 6 of the regular season. Of course the Pats lead the NFL in total offense but what was shocking is that they have a legitimate running game now. Stevan Ridley rushed for 1263 yards and 12 TDs last year. Im not ready to write off the Pats this year despite their losses on offense. They have Tom Brady and he seems to make all receivers better.
    On Defense, the Pats were stout against the run and awful against the pass.  Rookie Chandler Jones started off fast collecting 6 sacks thru week 8 then injuries or the dreaded rookie wall slowed him down as he finished with 6 sacks. Vince Wilfork is still playing at an elite level. Bill Belichick loves SEC players on his defense. Dont'a Hightower had a solid rookie year. He had 4 sacks and seemed to improve through out the season. The Pats are expecting big things from him this year.  The Pats secondary is a work in progress. Last years trade for Aquib Talib worked out well for them. Perianal knuckle head Alfonzo Dennard was arrested for DUI over the same and may have his probation revoked Aug 27. Cant count on him getting on the field for the Pats.  The Pats used a 3rd rounder on CB Logan Ryan from Rutgers and his buddy at safety Duron Harmon to add depth to the secondary. Their safeties had good seasons with Devon McCorty grabbing 5 INTs and Tavon Wilson snagging 4.
    I thought the Pats had a decent draft. They went with another SEC linebacker in Jamie Collins, loaded up on speedy wide receivers and continue to address their weak secondary. Vegas still loves the Pats with 11.5 total wins in the over/under and what was 5-1 Super Bowl Odds has slipped to 8-1. FFL fans be leary of Danny Amendola, he will flash some but odds are that he will get hurt AGAIN.

Miami Dolphins 

The Miami Dolphins had a new coach, Joe Philbin and a new QB Ryan Tannehill last year. It lead to a 1 game improvement from the season before to a 7-9 record. Some fans feel they have finally found a successor to Dan Marino in Tannehill. Tannehill's rookie year was overshadowed by RG3, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson but he had a solid year. He continued to improve every week. He has the size, arm strength and athleticism to become a franchise QB. My concern is does he have to "Killer Instinct" factor to either close out games or win games in the 4th. Coach Philbin has set the bar for Tannehill at 24 TD passes and 85 QBR this year.  The Dolphins spent a fortune on Mike Wallace to give Tannehill a premier weapon. Brian Hartline had a good year and was retained but he was clearly a #2 WR. The offense suffered a major blow when free agent prize Dustin Keller was lost for the year in a preseason game. He had formed a connection with Tannehill this offseason and preseason and I felt he would lead the team in catches this year. It might be a tight end by committee approach this year. Reggie Bush has moved to the Lions so its up to Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas to carry the load in the running game. Thomas has looked good in camp and preseason but has a fumble history and injury history. The Dolphins O-Line is a huge question mark. Jonathan Martin is taking over at left tackle from Jake Long. The biggest question mark with Martin is his strength. He has said to have put on 15 pounds of muscle this offseason. The Dolphins did sign Tyson Clabo to play right tackle as part of the massive free agent signing binge.
    On defense the Dolphins stunned everyone by traded up to 3rd overall to get Dion Jordan. Jordan will play passing downs this year to help out Cam Wake in getting to the QB. Jordan had major shoulder surgery in April and is still limited in practice. The Dolphin defense was good at getting after the QB but lousy at creating turnovers. The team only had 10 INTs and let Sean Smith walk in free agency. The Dolphins replaced 2 out of their 3 starting linebackers when they released Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. They were replaced with younger and faster models in Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler.  In the secondary, they doubled down on Cornerbacks by taking Jamar Taylor and Will Davis in the 2nd & 3rd rounds. The Dolphins may have the biggest coup in free agency as they signed Brent "Frank" Grimes from the Falcons. He is coming back from Achilles surgery but has been shutting down Mike Wallace in practice and already has a INT in the preseason.
    As I mentioned earlier, this season is GM Jeff Ireland's last stand. The owner has demanded a winning season so Ireland went all in. He spent a fortune in free agency, rarely does that work out, and made some bold moves in the draft. The draft class has potential down the road but will Ireland be there to see it thru? Vegas does not think so and has the Dolphins have 7.5 total wins over/under and 40-1 Super Bowl Odds. This team will go as far as Ryan Tannehill's development takes them in year 2. If he fails it wont shock me to see a new GM, Coach and QB in 2014.
New York Jets 
Jets fans can't wait to get the 2013 season started. They have had a rough offseason to say the least. They hired a new GM, John Idzik, have had multiple player off the field issues, plus traded the best cornerback in the game and will start the season with a QB controversy. Mark Sanchez is awful. He threw 18 INTs last season and was pulled or benched several times. The old GM decided to give him an extension and he has 8.5 million guarantied bucks coming to him this year so he can't be cut. The Jets brought in broken down QB David Garrard but his knees gave out and he retired before training camp. They drafted Geno Smith in the 2nd round and he might be the starter this year. The Jets sent the Saints a 4th rounder to acquire Chris Ivory as their starting running back. The Jets Wide Receiving corp might be the worst in the NFL. Santonio Holmes is coming off of the dreaded Lisfranc foot injury and his return for the 1st few weeks of the regular season is in doubt. The Jets don't have a #2 receiver that is established. Jeremy Kerley did have a nice year in the slot. Since Dustin Keller has moved on Jeff Cumberland or oft injured Kellen Winslow Jr will have to fill that void at tight end. The Jets pass protection must improve regardless of who is the QB. Geno Smith has a little more mobility then the statue Sanchez. Their run blocking was solid last year as the Jets were 12th in the NFL in the run game. Former Cowboy Stephen Peterman, who was a high draft pick and cut went to the lions and carved out a nice career, is the new left guard. Willie Colon from the Steelers is the new Right guard.
    On defense the Jets were great against the pass but awful in stopping the run. They have the versatile superstar in the making Muhammad Wilkerson who can play nose or end. He had 5 sacks last season. The Jets used pick #13 from the Revis trade to get DT Sheldon Richardson.  The linebacker spots have a few changes from last season. Gone is Bart Scott, who was released and now is a TV man. Demario Davis will try and fill Scott's shoes. Coples has moved Outside Linebacker but suffered a major ankle injury which should keep him out the 1st few weeks of the season.  The Jets secondary has major issues. After the Revis trade, the Jets spent their #9 pick on Cornerback Dee Milliner. He will have some huge shoes to fill. They still have Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie at #1 corner position. The safety position is a huge question mark. The unproven Antonio Allen is the free safety and Dawan Landry is replacing his brother at Strong Safety.  It seems the feeling around the league is that Rex Ryan needs a winning season to be back. He will depend on his defense and hope to win low scoring games.
    I liked their draft. They landed 3 immediate starters and bolstered their O-Line. Vegas seems to think this will be Rex's last year has they set the over/under at 6.5 total wins and are 70-1 long shots to make it to the Super Bowl. 
Buffalo Bills 
The Bills have not reached the playoffs in 13 years and from the looks of thing I don't see that streak ended in the near future. Out is Chan Gailey, in former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. Out awful QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, In read option QB EJ. Manuel whom they took with the 16th pick in the draft. Manuel currently is nursing an injury so Kevin Kolb may start week 1 against New England. This talent starved team only has 2 offensive weapons. CJ. Spiller at running back and Stevie Johnson at Wide Receiver. CJ Spiller finally became the starter last year, several weeks into the season too late.  He ran for 1244 yards and 6 td's plus caught 44 passes. He is a top 5 FFL selection for sure. The oft injured Fred Jackson will be the 3rd down back. S Johnson had a decent year, 79 catches 1046 yards and 6 td's despite who was there QB. The Bills drafted Robert Woods in the 2nd round and one of the fastest football players on the planet, Marquise Goodwin from Texas in the 3rd. The hope is that they will emerge as the number 2 &3 wide outs on this team.  The Bills have a young O-Line, it should continue to gel and improve.
    On Defense, The bills were good against the pass and dreadful against the run, ranking 31st and allowing an astonishing 145 yards a game. The Bills will offer different looks on the defense to try and fix the run game issues. Mario Williams is headed into the 2nd year of his monster deal. He had 10.5 sacks last year while dealing with a wrist issue. The Bills linebackers could be the worst in the NFL. They brought in Manny Lawson from the Bengals in Free Agency to help. They used a 2nd rounder on Kiko Alonso at inside linebacker. The Bills secondary features one of my favorite players in the NFL, Jarius Byrd. He lead the AFC with 5 int's last year. Stephon Gilmore had a good rookie year. The other corner back spots remain open. Leodis McKelvin is a hell of a returner but not some much as a cornerback.  The Strong safety position looks up for grabs between Da'Norris Searcy and 4th round pick Duke Williams
    I liked their draft class. It looks like they landed some players who will step in right away. Of course this class will be judged by EJ Manuel. If I was a coach or GM, I would have not put my NFL fate in the hands of Manuel but hey, they are the Bills. Vegas has them at 6.5 over/under in wins and 100-1 no shots at making the Super Bowl. I wont be shocked if they have a top 3 pick in the next draft.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Rangers Pepper 8/22: Haters Gonna Hate, Cruising Minus Cruz and Still A Baseball Town

by Dustin Copening

#RangersThoughts” on Twitter can be seen by following me @dfwfanconnect, but those thoughts evolve every few days from 140 characters into what I have dubbed as
“Rangers Pepper”.

Baseball is fun, but reading is even more fun, so before you dig into the Pepper, exercise your funny bone and take a gander at what comedians and librarians can accomplish when they combine forces:

Taking Care Of Business – Texas has won 12 of 15 games played to this point of a 24 game stretch against competition with records under .500, and have subsequently gained a 2.5 game advantage of the A’s in the West and a 5 game lead in the Wild Card Race.

There has been some grumbling about the Rangers taking advantage of not only a far easier schedule in August, but also playing in one of, if not the worst division in baseball. Obviously the addition of the Astros as the red-headed step child of the AL West gives Texas and Oakland an opportunity to fatten up 19 games a year, but is the following a fair criticism to make:

Facts are facts, and the Rangers have played poorly against the AL East and Central as a whole. Cleveland and Toronto have made Texas look especially silly, as Texas has been outscored by a total of 32 to 69 for a 2-11 record in 13 games against the two. Baltimore also took the season series 2-5; however, Josh Lindblom and Ross Wolf took 3 of those losses. Texas’ managerial staff will do their best to make sure neither of those two pitchers sees a start for the rest of 2013.

In what may be a surprise to the doubter, it’s against the top of the East and Central divisions where the Rangers have excelled.

They hate a combined record of 14-9 over Boston, Detroit, New York and Tampa Bay, and their 99-82 scoring advantage would be a much more impressive 94-65 if you factored out the 17-5 embarrassment versus the Red Sox on June 4th (a Justin Grimm special presentation).
Texas also holds a 23-12 record over teams that currently hold a spot in the postseason (BOS, CIN, DET, OAK, STL, TBR).

As Baltimore and Cleveland remain on the outside looking in, Rangers fans can sleep a little more comfortably with the knowledge that despite undoubtedly benefiting from a weaker division, Texas has still taken care of business against the stiffest of competition.

Life Without Cruz Updated – In a previous version of Rangers Pepper I attempted to explain how the Rangers offense might be fine despite the loss of slugger Nelson Cruz, if they were able to follow the model set by the San Francisco Giants following the loss of Melky Cabrera last year.

As a refresher, the Giants were able to raise their run production from 4.2 to 4.9 runs per game in the remaining 45 regular season games minus Cabrera, going 30-15 in the process. They accomplished this despite replacing their All Star LF with a combination of hitters putting up a slash line of .215/.270/.276. Far below the .350/.396/.513 line the PED aided Cabrera supplied.

The Rangers have gone from averaging 4.3 runs p/g with Nellie to 6.3 runs p/g without him. In those 14 contests minus Cruz, Texas has seen their homers per game drop from 1.2 to 0.5, and their extra base hit total fall from 2.9 to 2.5. At the same time, stolen bases have risen from 0.6 to 1.8 per game.

As for the slash line for right fielders not named Nelson Cruz? That would be .232/.289/.337, as opposed to Nellie’s .274/.333/.519.

Per the Melky numbers, there are a handful of games mixed into the numbers prior to the Cruz suspension where Nelson was active but not the RF, but the point still remains that the Rangers are succeeding in spite of lackluster production from their RF replacements.

Baseball Town Part Deaux – As we continue to revisit Pepper from the past, we take a look at the heated Baseball Town discussion that has since leveled off.

Back on June 3rd I wrote about the Rangers home attendance being down from last year’s historic numbers, yet still holding the number one spot in the AL for average home attendance through 26 games.

So how do the numbers look through 65 home games?

Still pretty darn good.

Yes, the Rangers are on pace to fall short of 2012’s record setting 3,460,280 total, but they should still clear the 3,000,000 mark (estimated to fall just shy of 3,175,000), and finish slightly behind the Yankees for the second straight year in per game attendance in the AL.

Baseball Town indeed.


Sports Like A Jet!

Join The Sports Narrative crew for a completely self-indulgent two hour show about sports as I celebrate my Jets fandom for possibly the only time this season! On the show this week:

- A discussion on being a fan today with the access and media afforded sports fans today

- A preview of the College Football season conference-by-conference

- A look back at week 2 of the preseason in the NFL

- Instant replay debate in baseball and a look at the stretch run

- A admission of awesomeness and a look at sampling in music

Sports, fun and frivolity that will easily make it the best way you can spend 2 hours this week. Give a listen Wednesday August 21st from 8-10PM CDT or anytime as a podcast!

Click HERE to Listen!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cowboys Draft Failures

by Jeff Bowers

Another Cowboys year is upon us and the same issues appear to be as well. The offensive line is once again the biggest question mark going into the 2013 season, followed closely by depth throughout the roster. These problems can be directly attributed to the poor draft record over the past few off-seasons.

Now, to be fair, this is a very talented team at the top of the roster. Lee, Carter, Carr Claiborne and Ware are all potentially all-pro level players on defense. And, assuming health (never a given), Spencer, Ratliff and Church should all be solid contributors. On offense, Romo has numerous weapons to attack with, beginning with the emergence of Dez as well as Murray, Austin, Witten and a couple of other tight end prospects.

However, behind this top layer of greatness is . . . not much. Add to that mix a very suspect set of guards on the O-Line and a defensive line with a bunch of "just guys" who are being counted on to be the lynchpin of a new defensive scheme and the childish words of Emmitt Smith in regards to the late 90's Cowboys teams very fitting:

"We had some diamonds. And we had some cow poo-poo. And the diamonds mixed with the poo-poo, it just all look like poo-poo"

We often talk on The Sports Narrative Radio Show about "what might have been" with the CB Mo Claiborne trade in 2011, taking G David DeCastro and C Peter Konz instead with those picks. But I went back to the infamous 2009 draft and found that had that year not been completely failed, they could have made the Mo Claiborne deal and still had a very solid O-line. Here's my findings of players that were available where they selected in 2009 to bolster an aging line that would soon need to be replaced.
2009 Draft Class:
1st Round: traded for WR Roy Williams (Ugh)
2nd Round: RT Phil Loadholt (Currently anchoring the right side of the VIkings line in front of Adrian Peterson)
or G Andy Levitre (Buffalo traded with Dallas to take him with their pick)
3rd Round: G Louis Vasquez (All-Pro that just got a paid to play RG in front of Peyton in Denver)
By cutting high-priced veteran contracts and replacing them with rookies, Dallas would not be in the salary-cap hell they find themselves today and could spend that money in other spots. Assuming Doug Free would have been discovered the following year, you could possibly have moved Loadholt to guard or put Free at LT (or maybe not) and then drafted DE JJ Watt in 2011(Defensive MVP last year) over LT Tyron Smith.
Other players proper scouting could have yielded in the past few drafts:
4th round: DE/DT Henry Melton over QB Stephen McGee
4th Round: DT Geno Atkins over S Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
4th Round: WR Cecil Shorts over G David Arkin
4th Round: CB Brandon Boykin over LB Kyle Wilbur
4th Round: S Phillip Thomas over CB BW Webb
Do you see a theme here? Over the past few years, The Cowboys have done pretty well with their Day 1 (Dez, Tyron Smith, Frederick) and some Day 2 picks (Lee, Carter, Crawford, etc.)  over the past few seasons. But Day 3 has proven to be an absolute nightmare. Now, they have made up for some of it with their undrafted FAs (Church, Leary, Albright, Bass, Parnell, Dunbar, etc.) but you just can't give away draft picks. It's why we beat down our listeners with draft talk every year and why the Cowboys truly need a full-time GM. Anyone can make selections of guys you watch on Saturdays in college football. It's the no-name guys who can develop into starters or contributors that make teams Super Bowl contenders.

The point of this rant: Mr. Jerry Jones, I am available for hire. And I work cheap! And you can have all the credit!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2013 NFL Previews: NFC North

by Darren Boyd

NFC North

The "Black and Blue" as a infamous ESPN guy named it, is an intriguing and competitive division. Lead by the Green Bay Packers impressive Offense, followed by the Minnesota Vikings and All Day, a new scheme for Cutler with the Chicago Bears and the lowly but talented Detroit Lions.
Green Bay went 11-5 last season, had a great offense but their defense betrayed them against the read-option and Colin Kaepernick in the playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings finished a surprising 10-6, lead by the amazing comeback of MVP Adrian Peterson. They made the playoffs but were bounced in the Wild Card Game
Chicago Bears also went 10-6 last year but missed the playoffs and cleaned house. A new head coach in Trestman and QB Jay Cutlers on the last year on his deal have hopes high in the Windy City.
Detroit Lions fell apart last year and finished 4-12.  But they still have Megatron (aka WR Calvin Johnson) and QB Mathew Stafford, who just got a huge contract extension, and are looking to improve.
Green Bay Packers
can be found at GameDay Cloth
The Green Bay Packers were exposed to the read option by the 49ers in the playoffs. They had no answer for it and they gave up 45 points. As usual they did next to nothing in free agency but had a stellar draft class once again. Lead by the best QB in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers, the Packers offense racks up an avg of 27 points a game. The Packers invested 2 draft picks in RB Eddie Lacy and my favorite back in the draft RB Johnathan Franklin. He fell to them in the 4th round and should be a steal. They lost Greg Jennings to free agency but they have a good young corps in Jones, Nelson, and Randall Cobb. The biggest concern for the Packers is how to replace LT Bryan Bulaga, who blew out his knee in training camp and his out for the year. They drafted David Bakhtiari in the 4th round out of Colorado but in my scouting opinion, he is not a NFL starting Left Tackle.  
    On the defensive side of the ball, they had another good year, till that playoff game where their ends could not set the edge.  This defense can get after the QB with 47 sacks a season ago. They were lead by Clay Matthews who had 13.  They used their 1st round pick on DE Datone Jones from UCLA. He will set the edge and can get after the QB. 2nd year man OLB Nick Perry will be counted on to produce as he was injured a lot of his rookie season. The secondary grabbed 18 interceptions last year lead by Casey Hayward with 6. Strong Safety is a question mark as they have a collection of nobodies, loosing the venerable Charles Woodson in free agency. Somebody will have to emerge to become the starter in camp.
    They nailed the draft again, on paper that is. They upgraded the running back spot. Keep an eye on Jon Franklin for fantasy. He will get a lot of reps due to the fact Eddie Lacy is always dinged. Plus Franklin can catch out of the backfield for ppr leagues. Vegas is high on the Packers with 10 wins for over/under and 12-1 Super Bowl odds.
Minnesota Vikings    
The remarkable return of Adrian Peterson from an ACL tear, 2097 yards and 12 TDs, lead the Vikings to a 10-6 and a wild card playoff berth. Unfortunately their starting QB is Christian Ponder. Ponder is destined to be a backup. He is always hurt and when he plays at his best he is a barely a caretaker at QB. The Vikes brought in Matt Cassel to back up or replace Ponder, but he is really no better. They were 31st in passing last year with a staggering 172 yards a game. The Vikings traded the headache WR Percy Harvin to the Seahawks. The deal looks even better now that Harvin is out for the year. They added WR Greg Jennings and traded up to get the Human Highlight reel Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee. Minnesota has one of the NFL's best and youngest O-Line. Matt Kalil made the Pro Bowl as a rookie left tackle. They resigned right tackle Phil Loadholt to keep continuity on the o-line. 
    On the defensive side of the ball, they are outstanding against the run and had a ton of sacks. They had 44 last year lead by Jared Allen's 12.  They got a gift in the draft when somehow DT Shariff Floyd fell to them at 23 (thanks Jerry!). The linebackers are suspect but they do have Chad Greenway, who lead the team with a 148 tackles last year. The Vikings secondary, who are not ball hawks anyway, released S Antoine Winfield for salary cap cut. The secondary on had 10 interceptions last year. They used 1st round pick acquired from the Harvin deal on Cornerback Xavier Rhodes. I like Free Safety Harrison Smith, I think he will have a break out year. Strong safety is an area of concern though. I seldom talk kickers but what rookie Blair Walsh did last season was incredible. He was 35-38 in attempts and hit 10-10 from 50 plus yards.  Hands down he is a top kicker in FFL. 
    I am not a GM Rick Spielman fan for what he did to my Dolphins but I give credit where credit is due. He has had a very successful last few drafts. He has made some bold moves and infused this team with a lot of up and coming talent. Vegas expects a drop off with Ponder at QB and a tough schedule, the over under total wins is set at 7.5 and 50-1 odds of going to the Super Bowl
Chicago Bears 
The Bears finished 10-6 and missed the playoffs. Thus it marked the end of the HC Lovie Smith era. The Bears hired Mark Trestman "Offensive Guru" as the new head coach. His mission is to fix Jay Cutler. Cutler is in the last year of his deal and the Bears will not extend him during the season. Cutler was bad last year and may have worn out his welcome in the Windy City. Brandon Marshall had a monster year with 118 catches 1508 yards and 11 TDs. The Bears are counting on WR Alshon Jeffery to have a break out year after he did little as a rookie. The Bears signed former Cowboy Martellus Bennett to start at tight end. One could make a case that the Bears O-Line was the worst in the NFL. They did sign Jermon Bushrod at Left Tackle. They spent their 1st round pick on the very raw Kyle Long whom they want a left guard. At least they run block pretty well and Matt Forte should have a good year.
    The Bears defense is top notch. DE Julius Peppers is still a force to be reckoned with. DT Henry Melton has blossomed into a star and is playing under the franchise tag. Who would have thought that Texas Longhorn fans? The Linebackers will look different this year. Gone is the face of the franchise Brian Urlacher, although from a pure football perspective, he was on the downhill of career for several years now. Former Bronco DJ Williams has been brought in to replace him as well as rookie Jon Bostic out of Florida. The question for this group is how well Lance Briggs will play at age 33. Tim Jennings had 9 INTs last year! He is in the last year of his contract and will get a massive deal one way or another at the end of the season. The Bears lead the NFL in INTs with 24. I like Major Wright in the Strong Safety spot.
    I did not like the draft. I felt they reached on Long and might not have netted another starter out of the 6 picks they had. Vegas expects a fall back from 10 wins. The Over/under for total wins is set at 8.5. They have 30-1 odds at going to the Super Bowl this year. Outside of Forte and Marshall for early FFL Picks, take a late rounder on Marty B. He did have 5 TDs last year with the Giants.
Detroit Lions 
The Lions had an awful year last season, 4-12. Somehow head coach Jim Schwartz kept his job. Their 10-6 season from 2011 looks like a fluke. So because they are the Lions they reward Matt Stafford with a 3 year 50 million dollar extension. I'm not breaking news here but Calvin Johnson is the most unstoppable wide out I've ever seen in my lifetime. He had 122 catches, 1964 yards and somehow only 5 TDs last season. The Lions have no other viable options for the rest of the receiving corp who can make a difference. They picked up RB Reggie Bush from the Dolphins. As a pure running back he will frustrate the hell out of you. He will run for 5-6 carries of little to no yards then break a long one, he dances around looking for the home run instead of finding the gap and settling for 4 yards. At least the Lions will throw to him, which is when he is at his best. The Lions O-line has a lot of new faces. Former first round pick Riley Reiff is taking over at Left Tackle and that could be scary. 3rd Round Pick and monster of a man Larry Warford is in play to start at right guard.
    On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions did not execute at a high level. Their total defense was 13th but they can't rush the QB or create turnovers. They were 20th and 23th in the NFL last season. They have 2 young outstanding defensive tackles in Suh and Fairley. Yet no one had double digit sacks, DE Cliff Avril had 9.5 but they let him walk. They spent the 5th overall pick on DE Ziggy Ansah, a man beast but is very raw in terms of playing football. If he developes in a hurry he can have a huge impact. The Lions secondary was average at best last year. They spent a 2nd rounder on cornerback Darius Slay, who is a burner, ran the fastest time at the combine for all of the defensive backs. They also added Glover Quin at the safety spot from the Texans in free agency. 
    I liked their 1st 3 draft picks in Ansah, Slay and Worford. All will come in and start right away. The rest of the draft was sketchy at best. Vegas has them at 7.5 wins in the over/under and 50-1 odds of going to the Super Bowl. Of course everyone will take Megatron in FFL, Reggie Bush in ppr leagues but take a late rounder on Mikel Leshourse, he will get goal line looks and had 9 td's last season.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dog Days of Summer

As you trudge through these next few weeks known as "the sports desert", let the little Sports Narrative be your oasis from the heat! On the show this week:

 - Talk about the PGA Championship and whether Tiger is done

 - Discuss some streaking teams in baseball

 - Preview the NFC North and some training camp QB battles

 - Breathlessly await the start of the college football season

 - Get you fired up (hopefully) for the start of the English Premier League

 - And certainly hear about some super car and other nerdy stuff in Mick's Pub!

Join us live Wednesday August 14th 8-10PM CDT or anytime as a podcast!

Click HERE to Listen!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rangers Pepper 8/13: Texas Going Streaking and Rotation Roundup

by Dustin Copening

#RangersThoughts” on Twitter can be seen by following me @dfwfanconnect, but those thoughts evolve every few days from 140 characters into what I have dubbed as  “Rangers Pepper”.

It’s been 98 days since the Texas Rangers started a two game series against the Milwaukee Brewers. When play began on May 7th, Texas held a 2.5 game lead over the second place Oakland A’s. They would see that lead rise to as many as 7 games, fall behind by 6 games, and then sprint their way back to a 1 game advantage in those 3+ months.

That rapid climb from out of the West race to front runner has been fueled largely by an 8 game winning streak that they take into tonight’s contest.

For those unfamiliar with the advanced science of the winning streak, I present you with this brilliant synopsis.

Now, let’s dive into the finer details of this current streak and the state of the Rangers rotation moving forward:

A Fast Twitch Approach - It’s the longest winning streak of 2013, the longest winning streak since April of 2012, and the only time in franchise history that a team has won 8 consecutive games in a single road trip.

Much has been said about Texas using a different offensive style of baseball to fuel this current run, thanks to Nelson Cruz’s forced vacation. So how well the numbers match up with the current narrative?

On the bases, Texas averaged 0.8 steals through 61 wins prior to August 4th. Anyone watching the Rangers in their last two series won’t be shocked that that number has more than doubled to 1.9 during the streak.

At the plate they averaged 10.5 hits, 3.7 extra base hits, and 6 runs per game in their first 61 W’s. During this 8 game stretch they have averaged 0.9 H less, 0.6 XBH less, but 0.1  R more. The difference being essentially the 1 H less representing a lost XBH.

Not surprising is that the drop in XBH correlates to a drop from 1.6 HR per game in the first 61 wins to 0.8 during the last 8. Hammering home the message is the fact that in their 50 losses in 2013, Texas has averaged 0.7 HR per game.

Indeed, the Rangers are changing their fortunes and making up for the lost pop in the lineup by succeeding to force the issue on the basepaths.

The Rotation Is Set - Texas is now 0-2 in rehabbing rotation arms.

Colby Lewis is out for the remainder of the year after hip surgery, and it was announced this afternoon that Matt Harrison is being shut down as well.

Any hopes of replacing Alexi Ogando in the rotation sometime this August are in the hands of Nick Tepesch. Those hands started playing catch on July 31st, but have yet to throw from a mound, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

That leaves Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Garza, and Martin Perez as the potential playoff rotation (all fingers and toes crossed) as things stand on August 13th. Statistically, that rotation is as good as any of the rotations of the five teams currently holding a playoff spot.

Texas’ 2.99 ERA is ranked number one, and while their 1.223 WHIP sits just 4th best, it’s far from horrible. Assuming the Red Sox have a healthy Clay Buchholz and the Rays a healthy Alex Cobb and Matt Moore, here are how all six teams stack up:
  • TEX: 2.99/1.223 (ERA/WHIP)
  • DET: 3.18/1.151
  • BOS: 3.45/1.273
  • OAK: 3.67/1.217
  • TBR: 3.74/1.185

During this 8 game winning streak the Rangers rotation has posted a 2.38 ERA and 1.056 WHIP.

And for you saber rattlers in the crowd, Texas owns the second best FIP among the five:
  • DET: 2.99
  • TEX: 3.28
  • BOS: 3.50
  • TBR: 3.69
  • OAK: 4.12

If the injury bug is done biting, then Texas is a formidable foe from the mound come October.

Friday, August 9, 2013

2013 NFL Previews: AFC North

by Darren Boyd

AFC North 

This division begins with the defending Super Bowl Champs: The Baltimore Ravens. But with stalwarts like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed gone, Joe Flacco has to assume the mantle of leadership.  The Cincinnati Bengals are a young team on the rise looking to dethrone the champs. The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be a team on decline and the Cleveland Browns...well they're the Browns.
The Baltimore Ravens went just 10-6 last year but had a magical run to the Super Bowl. In addition to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed leaving, The Ravens also traded WR A Boldin this offseason. The coup of  adding OLB Elvis Dumervil plus another good draft should have the Ravens in contention, however.
Cincinnati Bengals also finished 10-6 and lost to Houston in the playoffs. They added some key veterans, had a great draft again and are looking for a division title.
Pittsburgh Steelers slipped to  8-8 and lost WR Mike Wallace, OLB James Harrison and RB Rashard Mendenhall. Big Ben will have to shoulder the load to return the Steelers to the postseason.
Cleveland Browns finished 5-11 and cleaned house. New coach Rob Chudzinski from Carolina has a team of young and hopefully emerging talent on offense and is switching back to a 3-4 defense, adding OLB Paul Kruger and OLB Barkevious Mingo in the draft.
Baltimore Ravens 
They are the defending Super Bowl Champs. I feel they have the best front office in the NFL. They never overspend in Free Agency and they let the draft fall to them. They never panic. After the Super victory they rewarded Joe Flacco with a 6 year 120 mill deal. Ray Rice is still a beast (once they remembered to use him last year) with 9 TDs and 1143 yards last season. They cut FB Vonta Leach and because most of the NFL does not use fullbacks anymore they resigned him. I fell their passing game will be greatly impacted by the trade of WR Anquan Boldin and they loss of TE Dennis Pitta for the season in training camp.  WR Torrey Smith still seems like a 9 route runner only. On the Ravens O-Line, you must always worry if this is the year LT Bryant McKinnie drops off in a hurry. They have a lot of quality youth on the line at the other positions though. They were middle of the pack in total offense but top 5 in the red zone where it matters.
    The Ravens defense is having a over haul. Gone are future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. In are Elvis Dumervil, and former Cowboys Chris Canty & Marcus Spears. Everyone seems to praise the Ravens defense but they don't really do anything that well. They were middle of the pack in total defense, sacks and INTs. They are replacing their linebacking corp with 2nd round pick Arthur Brown and Dumervil. The Ravens secondary will be enhanced by 1st round pick FS Matt Elam. Another Ravens coup of the draft as they let the board come to them.
    I liked the first 4 picks of their draft Elam, Brown, Williams and John Simon. the rest of the draft  was weak on paper but who am I to question the greatness of Ozzie Newsome. Vegas does not see them repeating as they have an 8.5 over under total win line and 40-1 odds of returning to the Su[per Bowl. Of Course you take Ray Rice early but if Ed Dickson is there in say round 10, take him to see if he can fill the loss of Dennis Pita in FFL.
Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals made the playoffs again but many questions surround Andy Dalton. He threw for 27 TDs and 16 INTs but does he have the "it" factor that will take the Bengals to the Super Bowl? The Law firm (RB Benjarvis Green-Ellis) had a solid year but the Bengals wanted to upgrade. RB Giovanni Bernard out of UNC has home run threat when he touches the ball thus the Bengals spent a high 2nd round pick on him. Of course WR A.J Green is an elite wide out, 97 catches 1350 yards and 11 TDs last year but the 2nd wide out is a question mark. Mohamed Sanu is the prime candidate for that spot, coming off of injury last year. They selected TE Tyler Eifert in the first round, a guy who I loved in the draft process, so look for a lot of 2 tight end sets. TE Jermaine Gresham had a decent year with 64 catches and 5 TDs but has not lived up to his hype yet. Their young O-line improved through out the season. The center position will be a "Hard Knocks" battle to see who is victorious.
     The Cincy defense is an elite defense in the NFL. Lead by DT Geno Atkins and the franchise tagged DE Michael Johnson, they helped the defense to 51 sacks last season. Somewhere Cowboy fans are crying after letting Def Cord Mike Zimmer go several years ago.  LB Vontaze Burfict, who went undrafted for a variety of off-field reasons, exploded on the scene last year and lead the team in tackles. Marvin Lewis is loyal and resigned Rey Maualuga at middle linebacker, who's off the field actions are more celebrated then his on the field play. Their secondary features a bunch of Dallas Cowboy rejects in CBs Terrance Newman and Pacman Jones. They are not a ball hawking secondary though as they had 14 INTs last year.
    I thought they had a great draft again. The Bengals went all in to continue to help out Andy Dalton. FFL Fans take a late round flier on RB/KR Rex Burkhead, as he will get goal line looks.  Vegas seems lukewarm on the Bengals with an 8.5 total wins in over/under and 30-1 Super Bowl Odds.
Pittsburgh Steelers 
The Steelers were 8-8 last season and lost a ton of free agents this off season.  Is the decline of Ben Roethlisberger upon us at age 31? The man takes a beating and it will take a toll one day. Ben was having a stellar year before the shoulder injury. He still threw for 26 TDs and only 8 INTs. OC Todd Haley's system looks as though it is working . . . for now. They drafted Landry Jones out of OU as their new back up QB. If he sees extended action at all this season it will be a LONG year in Steeler Country.They will have a new starting Running Back in Le'Veon Bell out of Michigan State after they let the oft injured and knuckle head Rashard Mendenhall walk in free agency.  Their wide receiver corp is suspect. They let Mike Wallace leave and are left with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, who the Pats tried to poach in restricted free agency. They drafted Markus Wheaton out of Oregon State in the 4th round to make a push for the 3rd wide out spot. The offensive line has several question marks. Stud center Maurkice Pouncey and RG David Decastro are very good but both Tackle positions have questions.
    As usual, The Steelers have a top notch overall Defense, in fact they were number 1 last year. That said they don't force INTs (10 total) and they don't get after the QB very well with only 37 sacks.  The defensive line must have its young high draft picks in Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward step up this season. The line backing corps will have 2 fresh faces as James Harrison was a Salary Cap dump. Former 2nd round pick Jason Worilds will step in for Harrison. The Steelers were ecstatic when the Georgia sack artist Jarvis Jones fell in their lap at 18, though how his game translate to the pros will be interesting to watch. The secondary is solid. The questions are at safety with the oft injured Troy Polamalu and the aging Ryan Clark. They drafted the short but powerful Shamarko Thomas to help out.
    The Steelers had a good draft outside of Landry Jones. They stayed patient as usual and let the draft fall to them. They are a very trendy pick in Vegas with 9 total wins on the over/under and 20-1 odds are getting to the Super Bowl. My fantasy tips stay away from TE Heath Miller and pick up Le'von Bell in the mid rounds.
Cleveland Browns
The  Browns... they are the worst franchise in the NFL since their expansion debut in 1999. Is there hope in the future??? No!! The new owner is under an F.B.I investigation, their QB might lose out to Jason Campbell and their emerging wide out Josh Gordon will miss 2 games for drugs. The bright side is RB Trent Richardson and LT Joe Thomas. Shocking the Brown have had a coaching and GM change...again. They brought in Rob Chudzinski as the Head Coach and Norv Turner as Off Cord. They will run the ball and throw it deep. If he can stay healthy, Richardson should have a monster year and be a 1st round Fantasy lock.  The QB situation is a disaster but I'll give 29 year old Brandon Weeden another chance to shine. They made a solid trade by getting WR Devon Bess in the slot. On a positive note, I like their O-Line. Thomas and Mack would be house hold names in the NFL fan base minds if the team was not awful, though the guard spots still have question marks.
    On Defense, they will switch back to a 3-4. This could be disaster. They were 23rd in total defense last season. Now most of the players have to learn new roles. The 3-4 scheme is based on what linebackers can do. They drafted Barkevious Mingo out of LSU with the 6th overall pick. He can get after the QB but might be too light, 237 pounds, to stop the run. I like Jabaal Sheard but he had 7 sacks as a 4-3 def end.  Will he transition?? The Browns secondary is suspect. Joe Haden is a beast but also 1 strike away from a year suspension. They drafted Leon McFadden in the 3rd round at corner back.  TJ Ward at safety is great on the run but had only 1 sack and 1 Int. Can you say Roy Williams Cowboy Fans? Cleveland def. was almost top 10 in INTs and sacks, 11th at both. I like the free agent addition of Desmond Bryant at DT.
    The Browns draft was awful. I liked Mingo and McFadden but they only had 5 picks!! This is not acceptable for a rebuilding team. I realized they used their 2nd rounder on Josh Gordon during the Supplemental draft. This team needs players and should have traded down often to acquire more picks. Vegas has little to no faith in the Browns with 6 wins in the over/under and 60-1 odds at the Super Bowl. Outside of Richardson, might take a late rounder flier on Greg Little in Fantasy.