Monthly Archives: January 2010

Yankee Fans Should Trust Brian Cashman

What should have been a rather minor free agent acquisition turned into a coup de grâce for many Yankee fans.

Brian Cashman signed former San Francisco outfielder Randy Winn to a small, one-year contract the other day and all hell broke loose in Yankeeland.

Budgetary restraints? Certainly not for the mighty Yankees, for whom money has never been a prohibitive issue. Certainly not for Brian Cashman who doled out $423.5 million last year for three players alone. Heaven forbid the ninth spot in the Yankee lineup be someone who is not a perennial All-Star.

Before we look at Randy Winn’s addition to this team, let’s take a moment and go back to about the same time last year, when Brian Cashman brought in a player coming off a down year, but had a track record of being a pretty good ballplayer.

Nick Swisher didn’t have a particularly great 2008 campaign. In his first year with Ozzie Guillen’s White Sox, he hit .219/.332/.410 while being shuffled all over the lineup and the ball field. It was Swisher’s first season being a below average (92 OPS+) offensive player.

Brian Cashman, in need of a first baseman following the departure of Jason Giambi, swapped a handful of spare parts for Swisher and penciled him into the everyday lineup as the starting first baseman.

The signing of Mark Teixeira pushed Swisher into a backup outfielder’s role until Xavier Nady was lost for the season early in the year. After that, Swisher proceeded to put up impressive numbers and acclimated himself almost seamlessly to New York.

Swisher hit .249/.371/.498 and had his best season to date. Brian Cashman bought low, and took the risk that 2008 was an outlier rather than the beginning of a trend.

Fast forward to now, when Randy Winn is the player with a track record of success coming off a down offensive season. True, Swisher was entering the prime of his career when Cashman bet on a rebound and Winn is decidedly exiting his, but the train remains similar.

Randy Winn hit a pedestrian .262/.318/.353 last season in the moribund San Francisco offense, but hit .303/.358/.435 in the two year stretch prior to 2008. In six of the past eight seasons, Winn has posted an above average OPS+.

So maybe his low BABIP numbers played into his down year as Swisher’s did in his. But even if Winn repeats last year’s offense, his defense and ability on the basepaths helps this Yankee team.

Many Yankee fans screamed for Johnny Damon to return, but Cashman, operating under a budget, couldn’t offer anything close enough to Damon’s liking. Whether or not someone else will is yet to be seen.

Even if they accepted Damon was not going to come back for pennies on the dollar, they continued to throw names out there that they thought would be a better fit for the Yankees than Winn.

Reed Johnson! Rocco Baldelli! Jonny Gomes!

Randy Winn does two things at an elite level—run the bases and defend. The other names floated out there don’t do anything at an elite level. Maybe Jonny Gomes runs into a fastball every once and a while. Maybe Reed Johnson makes Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays one a month.

But that’s not what the Yankees need.

The Yankees need flexibility, both financially and on the field. Randy Winn gives them both.

The Yankees’ general manager is coming off a year in which his team won a championship. I trust he knows what’s best for his team better than I do.

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Three home teams and the Mutha-freakin’ Jets!

#5 New York Jets (11-7) at #1 Indianapolis (15-2)

Rex Ryan’s words echo the sentiments of football experts across the country. In a weekend full of higher seeds blowing out the lower seeds at home, the Jet’s spoiled the bracket again, punching the Chargers in the mouth during a 17-14 road win. The Jets reserved themselves a date with Indianapolis next week in the AFC Championship game and a chance to prove that they can beat the Colt starters, just as well as they can beat Indy’s second string.

The rest that Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian gave their starters in Weeks 16 and 17 paid off against Baltimore as their defense looked fresh and inspired and Peyton Manning and company were perfectly healthy and effective. Obviously, the Colts performance in their first fourteen games was more indicative of their talent level than that of their final two regular season contests.

The Jets confused and frustrated Philip Rivers and his big-time receiving targets all afternoon at Qualcomm and they’ll have to do much of the same to have a chance against Peyton Manning’s group on Sunday. While the Colts defense looked powerful, quick and elite against the Ravens, the offense looked flummoxed at times. Peyton Manning’s deep game was shut down – he had no passes of longer than 20 yards – and had to settle for a lot of underneath stuff. The Jets can take away the deep game as well as anyone.

Many analysts compare the New York defense to that of Baltimore and use that as a reason to dismiss the Jets chances. But while both the Jets and the Ravens have strong defenses, the similarities end there. The Ravens defense is primed to stop the run, which wasn’t a great advantage last week because the Colts are a pass-first offense. The Ravens, while a respectable eighth in passing defense, don’t compare to New York’s league-leading unit that allowed over 50 yards per game less through the air than Baltimore did. I’m not saying the Jets will completely take Peyton Manning out of the equation, but they’ll certainly be harder to exploit than Baltimore was.

This game screams defensive slugfest. The Jets have had just enough offensive contributions to get by in the playoffs, and the Colts can expect New York’s best defense Sunday afternoon. Indianapolis averaged 1.7 yards per rush attempt last week against Baltimore and if New York can neutralize the run just as well, they can refocus their blitzes and defensive schemes to confuse and frustrate Manning just as they did in San Deigo last week.

JETS 17, COLTS 16

Thoughts on Jets/Chargers

1. That game unfolded exactly how New York wanted it to – stay close while slowing San Diego’s passing attack, and keep pounding with the run game until San Diego’s defense finally broke. The Jets know what they have, and know how to best utilize it.

2. Nate Kaeding found a way to come up smaller against the Jets in the playoffs – and he came up pretty small last time the two teams met.

3. Rex Ryan sure doesn’t coach like a first-year HC. By deferring the coin toss, Ryan did exactly what he’s been doing all season – daring opponents to score on his defense – and San Diego didn’t. He made the right call taking the points on their opening drive of the second half despite facing a tempting fourth-and-1, and then went for the same fourth-and-1 to ice the game in the final minutes.

4. Darrelle Revis is the best defensive player in football, hands down. He didn’t blanket Vincent Jackson as expected because the Jets didn’t feel that Jackson was good enough to warrant that type of defensive attention. Instead, Revis played his side of the field, occasionally dropping into zone coverages or picking up another receiver. SI’s Peter King charted all 45 of San Diego’s pass attempts in his Monday Morning Quarterback column and found that Rivers threw at Revis four times which resulted in the following results:

One was complete, to LaDainian Tomlinson, for a loss of four yards. One, to Legadu Naanee, was batted down by a diving Revis on a cross route. One, to Vincent Jackson, a deep pass up the left seam, was overthrown, with Revis and Jackson running stride for stride. And the fourth, to Jackson, was up for grabs between the two, with Revis coming down with a juggled ball for an interception in a spectacular play.

Meanwhile, Charles Woodson and the Packers gave up eight more touchdowns in a pickup game at a local park against some high school’s jayvee team. I assume that Revis is going to be blanketing Colts WR Reggie Wayne – as he IS good enough to warrant that type of defensive attention.

5. The Jets completed a dozen passes, were significantly outgained and didn’t record a first down until midway through the second quarter and still won. The defense is that good, but I’d think they’ll need more offense against the Colts.

2-for-2 Saturday, 0-for-Sunday

I picked both Saturday games correctly, and then bombed big time on Sunday’s guesses. Looking forward to this coming divisional weekend, I rather hope my Sunday picks are spot-on this time around.

Arizona (11-6) at New Orleans (13-3)

Arizona’s offense rolled in the desert and I fully expect it to take New Orleans by storm (too soon?). Kurt Warner threw five touchdowns against four incomplete passes against a numerically strong Green Bay defense.

For the first thirteen games, New Orleans was unstoppable – thirteen wins and only a couple of them were even close. But they lost their last three games and haven’t had a convincing win since November. A defense that seemed to score every week has lost that big play ability. Going up against Kurt Warner and his plethora of big-play receivers sure isn’t going to help.

Meanwhile, Arizona outgunned a loaded Green Bay team after finding a passable running game by the end of the season. Don’t be surprised if this game ends up being very similar to the one that just ended in Glendale. Drew Brees and Kurt Warner should both be ready to fling the ball all over the turf of the Superdome. At the very least, expect it to be a better game than the last game at the Superdome. CARDINALS 41, SAINTS 40

Baltimore (10-7) at Indianapolis (14-2)

The Ravens are coming off upsetting the mighty Bill Belichicks in Foxboro and the Colts haven’t played a complete game in about a month. The Colts say the rest will trump the rust, but that hasn’t played out all that well for the Colts in the past. People may be thrown off by the Colts’ last two games, but their first fourteen are far more indicative of their true talent level. They will not roll into this game unprepared.

With the Ravens coming off a dominant showing from their ground game, and the Colts ranking 24th in run defense this year, the Ravens may have a chance to establish themselves early in this game. But if the Colts can hold Rice and McGahee in check like they did earlier this season (98 combined yards), I can’t be optimistic about Joe Flacco doing enough to beat Peyton Manning.

Ultimately, I think the rest wins out over the rust and momentum and the Colts soothe their fans nerves at least for another week. COLTS 24, RAVENS

Dallas (12-5) at Minnesota (12-4)

Minnesota faltered down the stretch until they waxed the mail-it-in Giants on the last day of the season. Brett Favre avoided the late-season swoon that doomed him and the Jets last season, and is still playing at a very high level. Who would have thought that this team, which so prominently featured Adrian Peterson last year, would so quickly become all about Favre? Oh right, everybody.

Dallas comes into this game hotter than perhaps anybody else in the NFC crapshoot. A defense that’s peaking at the right time and an offense that is extremely balanced and talented in both running and passing the ball. The offense moves the chains and eat the clock, but with Miles Austin, Tony Romo and Felix Jones, there’s always the threat of a big play.

While Minnesota’s offense has continued to play well, the defense has slipped since a fast start. COWBOYS 31, VIKINGS 24

New York (10-7) at San Diego (13-3)

The Jets may have backed into the playoffs, but they proved they belonged with another dominant performance on Saturday. The Chargers are heavy favorites, but the Jets match up well against their second round opponent. If the New York defense has a weakness, it’s against the run – San Diego ranked 31st in rush offense. San Diego’s has the same defensive weakness, but the Jets own the top-ranked rushing attack, and Shonn Greene and his offensive line are playing especially well of late.

The Chargers have one of the best passing attacks in football with Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates going up against the best pass defense in the NFL. But Darelle Revis can’t cover all three of the Chargers big targets. Guys like Kerry Rhodes and Dwight Lowery are going to need to play big.

If New York shuts down the vertical passing game, then Rivers can look to Darren Sproles, who is very dangerous in space. With LBs David Harris and Bart Scott playing on gimpy ankles, Sproles could have a huge game catching bubble screens and short slants out of the backfield.

The Chargers have won 11 games in a row, but four of their last five wins have been by three points or less. They’re certainly not invincible. JETS 20, CHARGERS 17

The Rest of the NFL Playoffs

#3 Dallas (12-5) at #2 Minnesota (12-4)

Minnesota faltered down the stretch until the waxed the mail-it-in Giants on the last day of the season. Brett Favre avoided the late-season swoon that doomed him and the Jets last season, and is still playing at a very high level. Who would have thought that this team, which so prominently featured Adrian Peterson last year, would so quickly become all about Favre? Oh right, everybody.

Dallas comes into this game hotter than perhaps anybody else in the NFC crapshoot. A defense that’s peaking at the right time and an offense that is extremely balanced and talented in both running and passing the ball. The offense moves the chains and eat the clock, but with Miles Austin, Tony Romo and Felix Jones, there’s always the possibility of a big play.

While Minnesota’s offense has continued to play well, the defense has slipped since a fast start. COWBOYS 28, VIKINGS 24

#5 Green Bay (12-5) at #1 New Orleans (13-3)

Like Minnesota, the Saints also tore out of the opening gate before taking it easy late in the season with home-field advantage secured. For the first thirteen games, New Orleans was unstoppable – thirteen wins and only a couple of them were even close. But they lost their last three games and haven’t had a convincing win since November. A defense that seemed to score every week has lost that big play ability.

Meanwhile, a 4-4 Green Bay team ended the season on a 7-1 tear and then beat Arizona in the Wild Card Round. Unfortunately for them Drew Brees has had quite a while to prepare for them and Charles Woodson can’t shutdown everybody. Expect a big game from Brees & Co. to outgun Aaron Rodgers and the Pack. SAINTS 41, PACKERS 30

#3 New England (11-6) at #2 San Diego (13-3)

A beat-up Tom Brady without Wes Welker was enough to get by the Ravens at home, but Philip Rivers and the Chargers a different beast entirely. San Diego opens their postseason having won eleven games in a row and will be at optimum health following a bye week.

San Diego’s big receivers match up well against a middling New England secondary, so expect the Chargers to continue their pass heavy offensive scheme. The Patriots should be able to put up some points too, as San Diego has had trouble rushing quarterbacks this year and New England’s offensive line is still a strength.

Ultimately, San Diego’s superior talent on offense will carry the Chargers. CHARGERS 34, PATRIOTS 24

#5 New York (10-7) at #1 Indianapolis (14-2)

Don’t expect the Colts to be so accommodating in this rematch from Week 16, when the pulled their starters about midway through the third quarter. Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark will play the entire game. People may be thrown off by the Colts’ last two games, but their first fourteen are far more indicative of their true talent level. They will not roll into this game unprepared.

Call me a Jets fan, but the Jets led the Colts 10-9 in the second half before Jim Caldwell pulled the starters and have the defense and run game to hang with the Colts. If the Jets can force a few turnovers, avoid any of their own and not settle for field goals, they’ll have a fighting chance against what is sure to be a heavily and rightfully favored Indianapolis team. The key for the Jets is going to be setting the tone offensively early. When Mark Sanchez attempts fewer than twenty passes, the Jets are 5-0. When he attempts more than twenty, they’re 3-7.

The Colts are the number one seed for a reason and Peyton Manning is an MVP and Super Bowl champion while his counterparts’ biggest accomplishment is not turning the ball over in the past two weeks. COLTS 21, JETS 20

***

#3 Dallas (13-5) at #1 New Orleans (14-3)

Look at it this way – these two teams met a month ago, when Dallas was slugging their way through questions about their mental fortitude this time of year and New Orleans was 13-0 and headed for a perfect season. Dallas shut them down in a very convincing manner that night and has really come into it’s own over the past four weeks.

Both teams have high-octane passing attacks with solid, but unspectacular ground games. Tony Romo’s looking to exorcise some sizable playoff demons and Drew Brees is looking to prove he’s not just a numbers-accumulating thrower.

The difference in this game is the direction the defenses have gone over the past month and a half. Dallas ended the regular season with back-to-back shutouts while New Orleans has seemingly lost the knack for the big play that they had going for them early in the season. COWBOYS 33, SAINTS 30

#2 San Diego (14-3) at #1 Indianapolis (15-2)

Might as well have skipped the first two rounds of the AFC playoffs as the top two seeds have clearly distinguished themselves from the rest of the AFC pack. Whereas the NFC conference seems largely up for grabs, the AFC has two top dogs this year, and they’ll meet here in the conference championship game.

The Colts haven’t had a player rush for more than 79 yards in a single game yet this season, but with the sure-to-be-MVP behind center, they don’t really need anything much better than that. The Chargers are in pretty much the same boat with Philip Rivers. The Chargers didn’t have a player break 100 yards rushing all season either, but Philip Rivers had an MVP-type season as well, leading San Diego to eleven straight wins to close out the season.

I started writing this post with every intention of picking San Diego as my pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl – but I’ve changed my mind. I think this game will come down to which team can pressure the quarterback more and I like Indy’s chances with Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney over San Diego’s weaker pass-rushing core. COLTS 38, CHARGERS 34

#3 Dallas (14-5) at #1 Indianapolis (16-2)

Here’s where I think Dallas’ gravy train runs out. Maybe Indy’s had some brutal one-and-dones in the past several years, including the year after their Super Bowl win, but Peyton Manning makes this offense nearly unstoppable. Peyton Manning has simply have too many weapons at his disposal for Dallas to hope to shut down.

Dallas will try to eat clock with Barber and Jones while Romo throws up some huge throws in Miami. COLTS 27, DALLAS 20

2010 NFL Wild-card Weekend

#6 Philadelphia (10-6) at #3 Dallas (11-5)

Philadelphia laid an egg with a chance to clinch the second seed in the NFC last week at Dallas, failing to score in a 24-0 loss. This week, they’re back in Dallas for a rematch, except this time, loser goes home. For Wade Phillips and the Cowboys, as impressive as they’ve been the past three weeks, if they come up short again in the playoffs, Jerry Jones is going to be doing some pretty good steaming.

Tony Romo’s playoff history is checkered at best and it certainly doesn’t inspire confidence throughout Texas, but maybe, just maybe he’s figured something out. Philadelphia’s once prodigious offense couldn’t buy yards last week in the Palace in Dallas. They’ll need some to have any hope of sticking with Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Miles Austin this week. With Marion Barber (who IS NOT who my dad thought he was) and Felix Jones splitting carries, the Dallas offense will be too much for Philly’s defense to slow down.

Ultimately, I like Dallas in a much more competitive game than last time around. COWBOYS 26, EAGLES 17

#5 Green Bay (11-5) at #4 Arizona (10-6)

In one of football’s head-scratching rules, Green Bay takes their better record on the road to Arizona in yet another NFC wild-card rematch. Just like Dallas above them in the bracket, Green Bay handled an Arizona team that really didn’t seem all in it last week once they were locked up in the four-seed.

Arizona has been more than spotty defending the pass this season and Aaron Rodgers has been pretty darn good for the Pack. However, with Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals are more than capable of trading passing touchdowns with Green Bay.

However, I think that the game ends up being decided on the ground, with Green Bay able to control the pace of the game and the Cardinals losing a key fumble late. PACKERS 28, CARDINALS 24

#5 New York (9-7) at #4 Cincinnati (10-6)

In the third and final Week 17 matchup, the Jets and Bengals switch venues and go at it for real this time. The Bengals will have all their players rested and ready to make everyone forget about the 37-0 pasting they suffered at the hands of the Jets on national television. Carson Palmer won’t repeat his 1-for-11 passing performance from a week ago and Cedric Benson, the AFC’s fifth-leading rusher will be in uniform, healthy and rested. With Pro-Bowl NT Kris Jenkins out, the Bengals should be able to establish the run early.

The Jets have the AFC’s number one ranked defense, but they also have a rookie quarterback who completed just over 50% of his pass attempts and turned the ball over twenty times in fifteen games. Maybe the Jets did slip into the playoffs with two “gift” wins. But they possess the league’s best rushing attack and if they can control the clock just three-quarters as well as they did last week in the Meadowlands, they’ll have a heck of a chance at the upset.

Just like both games in the NFC, I see the same team winning for a second week in a row, albeit by a much narrower margin. JETS 23, BENGALS 12

#6 Baltimore (9-7) vs. #3 New England (10-6)

For as poorly as New England has played on the road this year (2-6), they’re been all the more impressive at home in Foxboro (8-0). The loss of Wes Welker stings, but Julian Edelman is a capable replacement and should see plenty of opportunities with Randy Moss drawing most of the attention.

Willis McGahee and Ray Rice must show up to play against a New England defense that is quite pedestrian against the run. Baltimore knows what’s need to knock off a favored Patriots team, and if the running game is there, then Joe Flacco is more than able to hurt New England through the air.

At the end of the day, New England has too much talent and is playing the home game. PATRIOTS 31, RAVENS 17