Saturday, February 19, 2011

At First Glance: National League

Part Two: NL Central

For the second part of my early NL previews I will be focusing on the National League Central Division. This is definitely a division on the upswing, with the balance of power swaying away from the Cards & towards the Reds this season and last. And with some great offseason moves the Brewers have thrust themselves into the conversation as well. Here are my previews and predictions beginning with last seasons division winning Cincinnati Reds:


CINCINNATI REDS

The Reds have spent the last half decade positioning themselves to overtake the powerhouse Cardinals and Albert Pujols. Little by little they have built up a pretty formidable roster with more positives then negatives. Along the way they traded future MVP Josh Hamilton to Texas for hard throwing righty Edinson Volquez. Though he has shown glimpses of his high ceiling, injuries have taken their toll. But he's now almost two years removed from Tommy John Surgery, and anyone who's followed the careers of pitchers such as Josh Johnson knows that if he's gonna come back to his pre-injury form this would be the season. Bookended in the rotation by innings eater Bronson Arroyo, fireballer Johnny Cueto, 3rd year starter Homer Baily and one of their two solid rookie pitchers(Mike Leake or Travis Wood)this Cincinnati rotation is built for the long haul.

The bullpen is saved by hard throwing Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman, setup man Nick Masset and veteran closer Fransisco Cordero. Injuries to any of these key components could result in the Reds bringing in some extra help for the bullpen sometime before the trade deadline.

As for the Reds lineup, there are some really great hitters who are only going to get better. Namely 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto & power hitting right fielder Jay Bruce. These two are the pieces the Reds can build around for seasons to come. Add to that the young potential 30/30 candidate, centerfielder Drew Stubbs, slick fielding 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips & veteran 3rd baseman Scott Rolen and you have the makings of a pretty solid lineup. With a couple weak links like journeyman SS Paul Janish & the uber-streaky Jonny Gomes in left the Reds do have some room for improvement.

GRADE: A-

ST LOUIS CARDINALS

A perennial contender, the Cards always seem to be in the mix. It doesnt hurt that they have one of the best players in history manning 1st base. Of course unless you live under a rock you know Phat Albert might not be playing in the shadow of the arch much longer. A rumored asking price of 10 years and 300 million dollars seems excessive, but I think they will find a happy medium at some point down the road. It might not be until after the season however.

The signing of aging power hitter Lance Berkman to patrol right will give Pujols some added lineup protection to go along with Matt Holiday and center fielder Colby Rasmus. Though they dont have the greatest defensive infield outside of Pujols, rookie David Freese and middle infielders Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumaker should do well enough offensively to overcome the occasional throwing error. Backstop mainstay Yadier Molina will again handle the pitching staff & play another season as one of the more undervalued players in the league.

The pitching staff looks solid, though an injury to either Adam Wainwrite or Chris Carpenter would prove devastating. They anchor a staff that includes one of last years more pleasant surprises, 5th starter Jamie Garcia & journeyman Jake Westbrook. The final spot will be determined in the spring, with Kyle Lohse having the inside track on P.J.Walters. The bullpen isnt flashy, but it continues to get the job done thanks to 9th inning stopper Ryan Franklin, who even though he isnt the prototypical fireballing closer, does have the ability to make guys "hit them where they are"! Jason Motte, Kyle McClellen & Mitchell Boggs round out a bullpen that looks about average on paper.

GRADE: B

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

One of the big winners in the offseason, the Brewers solidified their struggling pitching staff by bring in Shaun Marcum from Toronto and former Cy Young winner Zach Grienke from Kansas City. He will join a rotation led by ace Yovanni Gallardo & ageless wonder Randy Wolf. The Brewers also signed former closer Takashi Saito who with Latroy Hawkins will try to fill the void left by Trevor Hoffman and bridge the gap between their starters and 2nd year closer John Axford. All in all the Brewers pitching is one of the league's most improved heading into the 2011 season.

Offensively they are built around sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, but they do have some other solid bats. Ricky Weeks continues to improve and right fielder Cory Hart looks to build on his comeback season of 2010. Catcher Will Neives isnt a top option at his position, but hopefully will be able to handle the talented pitching staff. Casey McGehee will be the full time 3rd baseman and newly acquired SS Yunieski Betancourt will do his best to fill the void left by the departure of Alcides Escobar.

GRADE: B+

HOUSTON ASTROS

Houston truly looks like a team rebuilding. With only one player left from before the 2007 season(Wandy Rodriguez)this is definitely a team searching for an identity. They will build around a new-look young core of Hunter Pence(RF), Brett Wallace(1st), ex-Phillie Michael Bourne & Chris Johnson(3rd). The question is what can they really expect out of these guys this season & the answer is NOT TOO MUCH! With a rotation that has less depth then a kiddy pool they'll be counting on Wandy plus two more ex-Phillies(J.A Happ & Brett Myers) to keep them afloat! The bullpen is far from stellar with the lone bright spot being Brandon Lyon who took over the closer's role in late 2010.

Recent acquisitions Bill Hall & Clint Barmes will man the middle of the infield & veteran Carlos Lee will stay in left as long as Wallace can get the job done at first. I see some potential building blocks for the future, but not much to brag about for 2011.......

GRADE: D

CHICAGO CUBS

Considering their payroll, the 2010 Cubs were a huge disappointment at 12 games under .500. Actually it was enough to make lifelong baseball guy Lou Pinella turn tail and run. But this is 2011 and with the new calender comes fresh hope. At least we're hoping new manager Mike Quade wont be found hanging from the clubhouse ceiling around July. They did make an effort to ensure that doesnt happen. Offseason additions Matt Garza and Carlos Pena look to add some pitching depth and pop, so there is reason to be hopeful. Guarded, but hopeful. A healthy Aramis Ramirez is a good way to start. He will join holdovers Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, rookie SS Starlin Castro & catcher Geo Soto as they look to right the ship.

As the rotation goes it's a mixed bag--if they can keep Big Z in anger management & get the usual contribution from Ryan Dempster, then Matt Garza, Randy Wells and the well traveled Carlos Silva should be enough to keep this team over .500. The bullpen is one of the better one's in the division, with reacquired flamethrower Kerry Wood & Sean Marshall splitting setup duty for stud closer Carlos Marmol.

GRADE: C++

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

My Mother always told me "if you dont have something nice to say, dont say anything at all". Despite that useful maternal advice, I'm still going to preview the Pirates(Sorry Ma!!). A team that's been met with confusion & frustration by their longsuffering fans for trading away players as soon as they start to blossom, the Pirates are at a turning point once again. They have some solid young talent to build around, but they're gonna have to resist the urge to trade them too soon. Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata & Neil Walker are all players worthy of keeping in the Steel City. Newly acquired vets Lyle Overbay & Chris Snyder should add some leadership, but both are very streaky. The bullpen is a work in progress as well, with hard throwing Joel Hanrahan competing with "future closer" Evan Meek for the 9th inning role in Spring Training. Their rotation is a real mess. Paul Maholm will be their "ace" only because someone has to go first--but him, Ross Ohlendorf, Kevin Correia & James McDonald are only going to help a fantasy team if your player is batting against them!!

GRADE: D


PREDICTION: This is going to be a three horse race with the Cards probably being the team to fall back first. I see Cincinnati and Milwaukee staying pretty close for a while but ultimately I think the Reds might have a little more depth and experience. That being said, I would be far from surprised if the Brewers ended up taking this division OR even the wild card if the Reds end up winning the Central.

Stay tuned for part three of my early National League previews--the NL West and the World Series Champion San Fransisco Giants!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

At First Glance: AL West

At a Glance AL West:

Los Angeles/Anaheim Angels

It has been quite some time since the injury to a single player had such a profound impact as the grand slam-celebrating broken ankle that Kendry Morales sustained about 50 games into what looked like a breakout season for him. But that broken bone also busted the hopes of the Angels in 2010. From that point on, everything went downhill. It exposed the lack of a supporting offensive cast around Morales and the need to sure up a thin bullpen.

The Angels made only a few moves this winter, but they were important. Trading for another proven slugger in Vernon Wells, and shoring up the pen by signing Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs, both with recent closer experience, gives Halo fans a sense of relief knowing that if Fernando Rodnet fails as the closer, they have options. The Angels rotation is one of the best in the American league, if not THE best. Which is one of the biggest unknown pieces of information out there. Scott Kazmir as the 5th starter seems much more tolerable then having him on the front end of the rotation. But with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana as the front three, the Angels look stout on the mound this season. Super sleeper Joel Pineiro rounds out the rotation in the four slot. This group will keep the Angels in a lot of games. It would not surprise me to see four 15 game winner's on this staff.

Grade: B+

Oakland A's

This is another team who will surprise many opponent's this year. Why? They have GREAT young pitching. In my opinion this squad will be the best in AL. Last year they had the best ERA as a staff in the AL and with another year in their primes the front four of this rotation is going to blow away the competition. Cahill, Braden, Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson can stand toe-to-toe with any front four in the AL. There former ace Rich Harden may end up in the pen if Josh Outman wins the 5th slot after coming off of TJ surgery. Holy Smokes this staff is good! The pen is equally formidable. Adding Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour to Andrew Bailey and Michael Wuertz means the starters only need 5 or 6 innings every night, but they will more likely get into the back third of the game routinely, making this bullpen a well-rested behemoth.

But before I crown the A's the runaway champions of the West, there is a major problem...Hideki Matsui is their projected clean-up hitter! They also lost Raj Davis their amazing speedster at the leadoff spot in the lineup to Toronto. This lineup is as bad as the Royals and worse then the Rays. Fortunately for the A's they have a pitcher's park and the staff to match, get ready for a lot of 1-0 games Oakland fans!

Grade: C+

Seattle Mariners

Ichiro, King Felix, and a bunch of young guys. OK let's move on...that could easily be the summary of this team. But I will give the valued Show Fantasy sports readers more then that! Although I grab some nice stats from Jason Vargas as a sleeper last year, it is not a good thing for any team to have him penciled in as the second starter behind Hernandez. But that is likely where Vargas will be come opening day. Unless Erik Bedard pitches well in Spring Tra...nevermind, what was I thinking! Jason, call your family and have them come to the second game of the year!

The most exciting things to watch at M's games when Felix is not pitching will be Ichiro and the influx of young players that will crack this lineup at different points of the season. Will Dustin Ackley make the squad on opening day as the 2nd baseman? He only has Adam Kennedy (snicker snicker) and Brendan Ryan (LOL) to kick out of the way, those two are as big an obstacle as hanging breaking ball was to Ken Griffey Jr. but I still feel like Ackley will be watching from Triple A until mid-May, because let's be honest, this is a business. If money and contract eligibility didn't matter then the Nationals would have started the season with Strasburg on the mound in DC opening day 2010 instead of Livan Hernandez. So Dustin, we will see you in May, buy a one way ticket to Seattle!

Two young players we will see a lot of this year are Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders, they both have a clear path to starting positions at 1B and LF respectively (unless you think Milton Bradley can stay of anger management classes long enough to actually play some ball!). Those two youngsters and Ackley will give the M's much to look forward too...next year.

Grade: D

Texas Rangers

The loss of Cliff Lee is huge in Arlington. The pitching staff made huge strides last season with the addition of Lee, Colby Lewis, CJ Wilson and Neftali Feliz but it is doubtful that such a miraculous turnaround can happen again. Brandon Webb could be a big surprise this year after two years on the DL, but so could Erik Bedard in Seattle. The starting pitching in Texas is not horrible, there is a lot of serviceable arms, and that may be all that is needed with the clear cut best lineup in the West. The Rangers will hit and hit a ton this year. The back end of the game will be crucial and it looks like Feliz will be the anchor there once again. When he enters the game it doesn't matter if it is 1-0 or 12-10, the save still counts. With the soft hitting Mariners and A's and the mediocre bats in Anaheim, the Rangers should be able to cover for their ace-less staff. Think about how good they looked in the playoffs last year. They have added Adrian Beltre and will have Ian Kinsler (hopefully) and Mitch Moreland for the entire season. If Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton can stay healthy, the Rangers should cruise to the NL West title.

Grade: A-

Predictions: I see the Rangers running away with this division and battling the Red Sox for home field advantage in the AL playoffs. I believe the Angels pitching will propel them to the wild card over the White Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Tigers. The A's will have a season that is just a few games under .500 and the Mariners will attempt to get Felix at least 17 wins this season. That will be the goal for the M's. Other than that, it will be a long year, but thankfully the Royals and Indians are in the AL!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

At First Glance: AL Central

At First Glance: AL Central

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox have a very solid starting rotation despite not having an ace. It’s true they have Jake Peavy, but he cannot be counted on like he was in San Diego until he can prove he is healthy. The White Sox did not make many moves in the off season but the one big one was the addition of Adam Dunn. If he produces his regular output of 40 HR’s and 100 RBI’s and the Sox get a slight uptick from Carlos Quentin and Gordon Beckham, it could be a very strong season for the White Sox.

Grade B

Cleveland Indians

Manny Acta’s club was one of the least active in the offseason both in acquiring and losing players from their roster. For a young squad this could prove very beneficial. There are a lot of holes that need filling going into Spring Training however, most glaringly third base, second base and the Starting rotation. If you are looking for sleepers for your fantasy squad, take a peak at Cleveland (more on sleepers as we get closer to the draft!), but they will need quite a few young uprisings to be competitive down the stretch. Even their vets are iffy. Grady Sizemore and Shin Soo Choo are both coming off season altering injuries and Fausto Carmona, their top starter has had his share of boo-boos. All in all this team will be fun to watch, with a lot of young talent and promise, but they are several years away from contending, so it will be a busy year for one of the big leagues best bullpens!

Grade- D

Detroit Tigers

Many folks are all over the Tigers in the AL Central. Some even have them as the front-runner. I don’t see it. What I see is one of the league’s top stud pitchers and one of the league’s top stud batters and then some young talent and a bunch of spit and rubber bands holding this team together. Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera are as good as it gets at their respective roles, but after Victor Martinez and youngster Austin Jackson, this lineup is underwhelming. The highly touted pitching staff has two holes that are being filled by career reliever Phil Coke and journeyman SP Brad Penny. Hardly cause to celebrate in Detroit. After Verlander you have Scherzer and Porcello who have dynamite potential, but a lot to prove. The bullpen is solid but most likely upper-middle of the AL pack. To me this is an average team looking to overachieve.

Grade: C

Kansas City Royals

The Royals have a deep farm system, no one can debate that. They also know how to acquire good talent when they trade solid players like Zack Greinke. They may have acquired three players who will start out of the gate in spring training for Greinke. You can’t argue with that! All three (Escobar, Cain, and Jeffress) will make the opening day roster for sure, which means plenty of playing time! However glowing the future may be in KC, the present is going to be ugly to epic proportions! Much hyped, little reward Luke Hochevar is now the ace of the staff, need I say more? The Royals really are a triple A team masquerading as a big league squad this year, it’s not just a funny line in 2011. Look out 2013, here they come!

Grade: F

Minnesota Twins

The Twins did not make many moves this offseason except hopefully getting well. With injuries to Kevin Slowey, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan last year, staying healthy could be the mantra for the Twins this year. Both Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker are also coming off of surgeries this winter, but it appears everyone will be back and well. If this is the case, this is a formidable team in the Central. In a division without many clear cut aces, the Twins also do not have one, at least not one that hasn’t had elbow or arm surgery in the last 5 years. If the Twins can patch their starting pitching together and keep the batters out of the ER, I look for them to fight the White Sox to the wire for this division. Getting extra games versus the Indians and Royals will also put the division loser in the mix for the wild card.

Grade: B

Predictions: Twins will find a way once again to win the division with the White Sox nipping at their heals. I believe this comes down to the final days of the season. Detroit will also stay in mix until early September. The Royals will out-lose the Indians in the battle for MLB doghouse. Pitching is too weak in this division so no Wild Card teams here.


At First Glance: AL EAST

At First Glance American League East:

Pitchers and catchers have reported, it’s time for some hot stove league action!

I will list the teams alphabetically by division then give my prediction at the end of each division!

Baltimore Orioles

There is a lot to be hopeful for in the Charm City this season. Albeit a last place finish is still very likely the O’s will be much more competitive and fun to watch. The club made some great additions by signing or trading for Mark Reynolds, Kevin Gregg, Vlad Guerrero, JJ Hardy and Derrek Lee. That’s ¾ of there starting infield a DH and a closer or at worst a set-up man. This will alleviate the pressure to perform that was placed on young players such as Matt Wieters and Adam Jones last year. Those two can settle into the bottom third of the lineup and let the vets take on the pressure. Brain Roberts, the other quarter of the INF will also be back and healthy. Place Luke Scott and Nick Markakis in the corner OF spots and this is a very good looking, veteran-filled lineup. If this was 2007 this team would be world champs. But at the least with Buck Showalter at the helm, this team will not be a laughingstock any longer.

The pitching staff is young but suspect. Matusz, Bergeson and Arrieta should have good productive years, but can vets like Guthrie and Duchscherer carry the load when innings need to be eaten? The bullpen looks to be in good shape despite the forced departure of Alfredo Simon. Both Koji Uehara and Kevin Gregg have previous experience closing games last year in the AL East.

Grade C+

Boston Red Sox

The Sox landed the two biggest fish in the sea of winter meeting transactions with the trade for Adrian Gonzalez and the signing of Carl Crawford. That alone will propel them to a much greater winning PCT then last year and I believe to a playoff berth. Remember the collapsible bullpen last year? Add Wheeler and Jenks, two top late innings pitchers, problem solved. It’s hard to think of any team that did better in the winter months then Boston. But will it be enough to win in the Fall? The Red Sox scored the second most runs in the AL last year without Gonzo, Carl and for much of the year Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. Add those four in and its easy to say bye bye to VMart and the other Adrian (Beltre). If the annually disappointing Jarrod Saltalamacchia can hit his weight (235) and keep the pitching staff on course, this team will do big things.

Starting pitching is where the Sox could have issues. A rotation with Dice-K at the back can’t be all bad, unless it also has a few other let down typical starters like Josh Beckett and John Lackey in it. Clay Buchholz can hardly hope to match his output from last year either, so a lot rests on John Lester. Sorry Sox fans, this team looks more like the prototypical Yankees teams, all brawn and no brains this year. However, it appears the team with “the most bats” will win this division and possibly the AL if a few of the mediocre starters can put together better than average seasons. It won’t take much to win 12-14 games with this offense behind you every night!

Grade: A

New York Yankees

I was a bit hard on the Red Sox rotation as an “over-the hill gang” type of staff…well they may be more seasoned, but they are all possible 15 game winners . The Yankees? Yikes! Looks like the money ran out when George passed away. The Yankees have needed help for quite some time at starting pitching, but yet once again none has come. Freddy Garcia was the best signing of the offseason. Yep, Freddy Garcia. You may argue that Russ Martin was better, but not when you have Jesus Montero ready to take the reigns. Perhaps Rafael Soriano, closer turned set-up man, I would be OK with that argument. But the most notable arriving transaction for the Yankees after these three (Garcia signed a minor league contract by the way), are so bad they should not even be mentioned. (Eric Chavez, Bartolo Colon, Ronnie Belliard!)I can hear Yankee fan now saying “we didn’t need that much help, we were already good!” To which I say, did you notice the rest of the division? Standing pat might work in the other two AL divisions, but not in the East. The other teams have all closed the gap this season (except the Rays), and I believe more than one will stretch the gap and have the Yanks playing catch-up all year.

Yes the Yankees have a great lineup. But they have one pitcher that is a proven commodity at the beginning of ball games. ONE. If C.C. goes down, that would make ZERO! Unless ARod, Cano, or Jeter can log 150 innings, the Yankees will be fortunate to be in third place.

Grade: B

Tampa Bay Rays

Ouch. I can hear a pin drop. Oh its because I’m at Tropicana field. The place was empty when the Rays were good, I fathom to think what it will look like this season. The Who or Billy Ray Cyrus will probably draw more fans! The Rays lost 7 of there top 8 relievers from last season, their best pure slugger (Carlos Pena) and one of their two franchise players (Carl Crawford) to free agency. That means they got basically nothing for any of those players, and worse still close to half of them ended up on divisions rivals! This could be one of the worst off-seasons ever for a pro sports franchise short of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The only bright spot is the young group of stud starting pitchers that the Rays have assembled. But unless they can throw shut-outs against the high octane lineups in the AL East, the Rays will be smelling the fumes of the other cars in the division. It will be a long year.

Grade: C-

Toronto Blue Jays

No team is as hard to predict as the Blue Jays. 257 HR’s will not be realistic with the departure of Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells and the slim chance of Jose Bautista hitting 54 again. But the Jays are sure to add some pop from Travis Snyder, Adam Lind and Aaron Hill, the last two having down years at the plate. Adding Raj Davis in CF will be a huge boost to the team speed and look for Yunel Escobar to make a notable climb on the stat sheet. The team is deep in the pen even though they enter spring training with no clear cut closer, they have 3 guys who closed games last season. (Rauch, Francisco and Dotel).

Starting pitching is a crap shoot. Can Romero and Morrow continue to solidify their standing as top of the rotation pitchers? The Jays seem to think so as they allowed Shaun Marcum to walk and gave Romero a nice contract. It will be a year of growing for the Jays, but at least they seem to have a winning strategy, invest in young players and watch them learn as a group. I see at least a third place finish for the Blue Jays this season. They will surprise many people.

Grade: B-

Final standings: Boston, Toronto, New York, Baltimore, Tampa Bay: No Wild card teams.

I believe Boston will win by 10 games and Toronto and New York will be in the hunt for the wild-card all season with Toronto edging out the Yanks by two games, but losing out on the wild card. Baltimore will also finish the year at around .500 a marked improvement. The Rays will be back where they spent the first decade of their existence, in the AL EAST cellar, don't worry the Orioles kept it warm.

Friday, February 4, 2011

SUPER BOWL

      Pittsburgh
           VS.
      Green Bay










Two of the most storied franchises in NFL history meet in the house that Jerry Jones built in hopes it would be his team celebrating a Super Bowl win here in his house, but it won’t be.  It will either be Super Bowl win # 7 for the Steelers or #4 for the Green Bay Packers.  Anyone who has read any of my previous articles all season long knows that I am a faithful cheesehead till the day I die.  There is no changing that.  However, I believe I generally keep those feelings out of my articles and predictions.  This article is the toughest yet to write because of that fact however.  These two teams matchup extremely well against each other.  You have the top two scoring defenses in the NFL meeting on its biggest and grandest stage.  You have two young QBs making a name for themselves in two of the best NFL cities in the country.  Ok, now it’s time for my keys to victory for both teams.

First – Keys to victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

#1 – The Defensive Player of the Year needs to play like he has in the playoffs, not the regular season.  He is one heck of an explosive playmaker in the secondary, but his regular season performance was average at best.  But you look at 3rd down and he practically disappears (10 tackles/assists, 1 INT and 3 PD all season).  If the Packers try to establish any kind of running game, whether they have success or not, it will leave them in some 3rd down situations, and Troy is going to need to step up his game.  His best statistical performances came against average or below average QBs (Buffalo, Cincinnati, Oakland, and Miami).  Against Brees and Brady, in 2 total games he had only 6 tackles and 0 other stats (sacks, INT or passes defensed). 

#2 – The defense as a whole needs to find a way to control a high powered offense.  So far this season, they played 3 high powered offenses and beat only 1 (ATL in week 1 before they really got their offense rolling and Matt Ryan still threw for 250+ yards).  In their losses to New Orleans and New England, Brady and Brees threw for a combined 650+ passing yards with 5 TDs and 1 Int.  With the Super Bowl being played indoors, these are the conditions the Packers LOVE with their high powered offense.  The Steelers have to find a way to cover 3 and sometime 4 WRs that all have good speed and even better hands. 

#3 – Run the ball and control the clock.  Do not get into a shoot out with the Packers.  That would spell instant death to your title dreams.  Everyone in the country knows Green Bay isn’t going to have a dominant running game Sunday, but they will probably still try to establish something.  The Steelers offensive line needs to eat their Wheaties and man up, because there are 3 HUGE men lining up across from them on Sunday.  B.J. Raji is a mammoth of a man lining up at NT for the Pack.  If Pouncey can suit up and play, he needs to be 100% or the Steelers better give him help (which will cause other issues that will be discussed later).  The need to establish that they own the line of scrimmage from the start and really take it over. 

#4 – Don’t give free chances.  That means no turnovers and limit the penalties.  The Steelers committed 100 penalties this season for over 900 yards.  The Packers on the other hand had the 3rd fewest penalty yards (617) in the entire league and 4th lowest in penalties committed (78) (and those stats include the horrid 1st meeting against the Bears where they were penalized 18 times for 152 yards).  You can’t give an offense like Green Bay’s a short field or extra downs. 

Key’s to victory for the Green Bay Packers.

#1 -  The Quarterback must go down and he must go down hard and often.  Dom Capers said it best of his defenses performance against Big Ben in 2009 when he said we had 5 sacks which is a good game, but we had a chance at 5 more which would have made it a great game.  Big Ben is a strong, slightly mobile quarterback.  You are not going to arm tackle this guy, you have to put a body on him and make sure you secure his right arm quickly so he can’t throw the ball away.  The Packers D under Dom Capers leadership has been able to get pressure on QBs in a multitude of ways and that needs to continue this weekend.

#2 – Keep the game at their pace.  The Packers offense is a rhythm offense.  They really on getting some rhythm into their passing game and that makes their receivers especially dangerous, especially on the short slant patterns.  My feeling is the Steelers want to run the ball and thus the clock and try to win the time of possession battle and thus make the game at their pace.  The Packers need to keep their offense flowing and get Rodgers into a rhythm.

#3 – Protect Rodgers.  Attention Packers offensive linemen.  Aaron Rodgers is your only hope for a Super Bowl title.  Keep him upright.  That means picking up Woodley and Harrison while also picking up the blitzing corner or Polamalu.  They have to limit the hits Rodgers takes Sunday.  Also, when the Steelers blitz, they have to create the lanes they did similar to how they did against ATL and CHI to allow Rodgers room to scurry for 8-15 yards.  They need that kind of production and protection this weekend.

#4 – Don’t give up on James Starks, Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn.  Every person in America knows the Packers don’t have a consistent running game, but that doesn’t mean they should give up and forget about it.  The play action passing game is vital to their deep crossing patterns and go patterns down the sidelines.  Starks, Jackson and Kuhn will probably have close to 22 combined carries and even if they only average 3.5 yards a carry, that is probably enough of a running impact  to keep the Pittsburgh defense honest and not be able to all out blitz constantly.  Jackson and Starks have shown they can bust one up the middle for 15-30 yards at any time.  One or two of those runs will open up additional passing lanes and get the linebackers on their heels.

No matter how this game goes down, I can’t imagine it not being a game for the ages.  The atmosphere is going to be absolutely electric both inside and outside the stadium.  I find it crazy that the NFL agreed to include the fans watching the make shift jumbotron outside the stadium into the actual attendance figures but that’s what happens when Jerry Jones is involved.  I am looking forward to a hard fought game that will probably be close going into the fourth quarter until one team pulls away.

The team hoisting the Lombardi Trophy will be…….




Green Bay Packers – 31
Pittsburgh Steelers – 23

Written by Ryan P aka Fuzzy

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Place Your Bets: SUPERBOWL addition!

Well boys and girls we have arrived at the pinnacle of gridiron greatness, the Superbowl! As I predicted it is the Pack vs Pitt. Right now the spread is 2.5 points in Pittsburgh's favor. (Pitt +2.5). I believe this spread is primarily being used because Green Bay is listed as the "home team" because it is being played in Dallas, an NFC city. There has also been a lot of hype around the injury to the offensive line of the Steelers, in particular M. Pouncey.

I think these teams are very closely rated. When they are so similar, injuries can make the "number" move. Pouncey has said he will play and Troy Polamalu is also healthy, but both are an injury risk during the game. When you look at the teams it is hard to predict who will win other then gut feelings. I have been on the Packers since the beginning of the playoffs when I predicted Pack vs Pats in the Bowl, so I pick the Packers to win the game. The 2.5 spread also favors the Packers in a close game as all they need to do is win by a FG to hit on the number. I like the Pack to win and cover. The offensive line of Pittsburgh is banged up. Although Pittsburgh running attack matches up well vs the aggressive 3-4 the Packers run, I believe there are too many obstacles that the Steelers face in order to win this game.

The Steelers run game is much better then the Packers ground game, but the passing game is better for the team in gold and green. Both defenses will cause major problems, so I do believe it will be low-scoring. Most experts like the over because the number is fairly small, however I like this under (44.5). Both of the championship games were under this number's total easily, now the two winning defenses play each other, it will be a low scoring affair, my prediction: Green Bay 21 Pittsburgh 17. Take Green Bay (-2.5) and the under (44.5). Have a great off season and stayed tuned for my American league baseball preview " At a Glance". It will take the same form as Deadhead Bill's NL version. It's been fun!

Paulzilla