Nilsen, help me with something:
Am I crazy for thinking the Patriots are clearly the Superbowl favorite after week 1. Yes the offense looked the part, but everybody (on ESPN) is saying the defense is defunct and that they won’t reach the Superbowl with it the way it stands now.
I couldn’t disagree more. The reason they looked so bad is because the Patriots were moving the ball so quickly that they didn’t get a chance to rest. With drives taking no more than 4 minutes (they’re longest drive against Miami was 4:06), the defense should be lining up at the oxygen machines, then getting ready to go back out there. They barely have time to review what they just did out there with the coaches.
The defensive shortcomings aren’t a result of a poor ground game, it’s a result of the fact they have the best offense since the Greatest Show on Turf Rams (and possibly better), and move the ball too quickly. The Law Firm (BenJarvis Green-Ellis) and Danny Woodhead are a nice combo, and there are other capable RBs on the roster. They should use them more often to help sustain longer drives.
They have arguably the best defensive line in the AFC with Wilfork, Haynesworth, and Ellis. The linebacker corps is led by Jerod Mayo, and is a top 16 (better than half of the NFL’s) unit. McCourty and Chung also anchor a solid secondary unit. The “problem” with the Pats D isn’t the players or coaches, it’s the Pats offense. I don’t understand why people (and by people I mean the ESPN experts) haven’t pointed to this as the reason the defense looked so bad.
Nilly, what are they saying on Boston Radio?
Nilly, I want you to do the same/similar as well, so we have a record of our predictions.
Wild Card Round:
Jets over Chargers
Texans over Ravens
Falcons over Lions
Saints over Cardinals
Patriots over Texans
Jets over Steelers
Eagles over Saints
Falcons over Packers
Patriots over Jets
Eagles over Falcons
Patriots over Eagles
There are a couple of fantasies we will be playing with in this post:
- Obviously the fantasy aspect of drafting a team of NFL players to combine weekly statistics toward an overall point total.
- and the fantasy that we will actually have an NFL season in 2011.
- 1. Adrian Peterson – Still the overwhelming favorite. You can’t go wrong with speed and power. Work-load has been a concern but he got over that hump in 2010.
- 2. Chris Johnson – Still has at least one more year as one of the NFL’s 3 most exciting backs. New offensive scheme under Coach Munchak will provide him new looks to surprise defenses.
- 3. Maurice Jones-Drew – Toughest back in the NFL; will get his goal-line carries and could be valuable with a more talented O-line in Jax.
- 4. Andre Johnson
- 5. Aaron Rodgers – Being a Super Bowl MVP will make him even more confident and gives him freedom to do what he pleases with that talented offense that will actually have a starting running back (or two) in 2011.
- 6. Calvin Johnson – Caught a million TD passes from Shaun Hill. Healthy Matt Stafford and him will quickly because a feared duo.
- 7. Michael Turner – Like Peterson, work load was a concern last season, but he proved he can be a horse. He won’t be relied on as heavily for 2-3 yard carries with Julio Jones adding to the pass attack.
- 8. Michael Vick – Don’t expect a repeat of last season, but his versatility makes him the next most valuable QB in a fantasy sport that relies heavily on QB’s.
- 9. Jamaal Charles – Speed, speed, speed, and more speed. He broke monstrous runs in ’10 but will see an increase of about 25% in terms of carries.
- 10. Arian Foster – The consensus #1 overall pick does not have premier speed to warrant that high of a selection, but his physicality and lack of recognition from defenses in ’10 made him devastating.
- 11. Roddy White
- 12. Frank Gore – Many have Ray Rice before him, but an injury-plagued 2010 disabled him from showing how valuable he is to both the run and the passing game.
- 13. Ray Rice
- 14. Drew Brees
- 15. Tom Brady – When I refer to “safe” picks, I mean Tom Brady. You know exactly what you get with him: at least 30 TD’s and 6 or 7 int’s. Keep in mind that both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are a year older in 2011 and they combined for 16 of Brady’s 36 touchdowns last season.
- 16. Rashard Mendenhall
- 17. Larry Fitzgerald
- 18. Philip Rivers
- 19. LeSean McCoy – Versatile 2-way back won’t have superstar year in 2011, but is a solid late 2nd or early 3rd round pick.
- 20. Greg Jennings – Aaron Rodgers has got to throw to someone.
- 21. Peyton Manning – This might be high for him with a deep QB draft and his current recovery from neck surgeries, but PEY has never had a bad year since his rookie season in the NFL.
- 22. Peyton Hillis – On the fence with Hillis. Had a great rookie year under Mike Shanahan in Denver (running back system) and battled injuries to show his brutality in the middle for Cleveland last season. If healthy will certainly get at least 10 TD’s if not more.
- 23. Miles Austin – With Tony Romo healthy, Austin, along with Dez Bryant can bring Dallas back to offensive glory.
- 24. DeSean Jackson
- 25. Tony Romo
- 26. Hakeem Nicks
- 27. Darren McFadden – Streakiest of the top rb’s in 2010. Had some big games, but also battled the injury bug a lot early in his career. Let someone else take him early, but draft him in the late 3rd, early 4th if you havn’t drafted a back yet – there is a big fall-off.
- 28. Matt Ryan – Here’s where you should think about taking a QB if you havn’t already. All signs point to yes with Matt Ryan and his new stud wide-out (Julio Jones) to go along with Roddy White.
- 29. Antonio Gates – Best TE year in and year out. If you don’t want to deal with a mediocre tight end, get this roster spot taken care of in the 4th round at the latest.
- 30. Steven Jackson
- 31. Matt Forte
- 32. Dwayne Bowe – Don’t expect another 15 touchdown season. Matt Cassel has a lot of figuring out to do, and Bowe’s speed doesn’t make him a threat every down.
- 33. Mike Wallace
- 34. Reggie Wayne
- 35. Brandon Marshall – If catches is a stat in your fantasy league, Marshall is a great pick. His TD numbers will go up in 2011 as Miami moves in a new direction offensively to save Tony Sparano’s job.
- 36. Dallas Clark
- 37. Vernon Davis
- 38. Wes Welker
- 39. Jeremy Maclin
- 40. Matt Schaub – Any fool could tell you that Houston will finally make the playoffs in 2011 and Schaub is the key to that gate.
- 41. Jermichael Finley
- 42. Dez Bryant
- 43. Ahmad Bradshaw
- 44. Jason Witten
- 45. Ben Roethlisberger
- 46. Stevie Johnson
- 47. Anquan Boldin
- 48. Marques Colston
- 49. Mike Williams – Many drafts will see him taken higher. His size and hands make him eerily similar to Plaxico Burress but on a young team like Tampa (head coach Raheem Morris is only 33), there are a lot of question marks about a repeat of 2010.
- 50. Kenny Britt
- 51. Eli Manning – Manning gets better every year, and finally has some weapons in Nicks and Manningham.
- 52. Shonn Greene – LT will undoubtedly play less of a role in ’11 and Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum’s eyes he is the future of that position – I trust those guys.
- 53. LeGarrette Blount
- 54. Santonio Holmes
- 55. Ryan Mathews
- 56. A.J. Green – Best overall offensive player in this year’s draft. Will likely have a rookie (Andy Dalton, TCU) getting him the ball, but his talent will give Cinci fans something to watch.
- 57. Pittsburgh – Defense usually gets you more points than your tight end will, why not draft the best. – If Mike Wallace returns punts, you could see an added bonus for this pick on the special teams side.
- 58. New York
- 59. Brandon Lloyd
- 60. Percy Harvin
- 61. Matthew Stafford – If Healthy, has megatron running all over the field which is exciting for fans in the D.
- 62. Vincent Jackson
- 63. DeAngelo Williams – Carolina will need him and his catching abilities out of the backfield in order for Cam Newton not to completely lay an egg in his rookie campaign.
- 64. Owen Daniels
- 65. Knowshon Moreno – Moreno may surprise many with a big 2011. I think his biggest assets, speed and agility out of the backfield will enable Tim Tebow to improve himself and also Knowshon.
- 66. Mark Ingram
- 67. Mikel LeShoure
- 68. Green Bay
- 69. Steve Smith
- 70. Chicago
- 71. Ryan Grant – If he can win back his starting job in Green Bay, the Packers look good to repeat.
- 72. New England
- 73. New York
- 74. Michael Crabtree – Assuming a QB solution is relatively in hand, Crabtree is the go-to guy.
- 75. Austin Collie
- 76. Marshawn Lynch
- 77. Kevin Kolb – He will have a starting job and it is quite likely that Larry Fitzgerald will be his primary target…I see sparks.
- 78. Josh Freeman
- 79. Joe Flacco
- 80. Santana Moss
- 81. Jimmy Graham
- 82. Jonathan Stewart
- 83. Daniel Thomas
- 84. Ryan Williams – Best running back in the draft in my mind and could do crazy good things in the wildcat in Miami.
- 85. Pierre Garcon
- 86. Fred Jackson
- 87. Johnny Knox
- 88. Felix Jones
- 89. Joseph Addai
- 90. Zach Miller
- 91. Mario Manningham
- 92. Sam Bradford
- 93. Julio Jones
- 94. Matt Cassel
- 95. Rob Gronkowski – another 10 touchdown season is not out of the realm of possibility for Rob as long as Tom is getting him the ball.
- 96. Marcedes Lewis – One of the more freakish athletes out there, hands have improved and will have a big year as long as the passing game is held in check.
- 97. Brandon Pettigrew
- 98. Kellen Winslow
- 99. Detroit – Try running the ball up the middle against these guys…
- 100. Baltimore
- 101. San Diego
- 102. Braylon Edwards – Likely won’t be in the Meadowlands. His destination will have dramatic impact on his fantasy value – needs a good mentoring coach and smaller market.
- 103. Philadelphia
- 104. Hines Ward – The mayor of consistency. If he is your third wide-out then your team must be pretty stacked.
- 105. Jay Cutler
- 106. Chad Ochocinco
- 107. Kyle Orton – He too, could be throwing the ball to Larry Fitz. If you weren’t paying attention and missed out on a QB, he will be plenty serviceable.
- 108. Ronnie Brown
- 109. Brandon Jacobs
- 110. Mike Tolbert
- 111. Sidney Rice
- 112. Jahvid Best – Speed and quickness could make him scary in Detroit but must stay healthy.
- 113. Roy Helu – I am still under the impression that Mike Shanahan can make any healthy running back a stud.
- 114. Michael Bush
- 115. Ryan Torain
- 116. Mike Williams
- 117. Tony Gonzalez
- 118. Malcom Floyd
- 119. Steve Smith – Cleaned out his locker in Carolina, could be healthy and in a fresh new scene in 2011. I would love to see him as a slot-man somewhere in a west coast offense.
- 120. Robert Meachem
- 121. Aaron Hernandez
- 122. Terrell Owens
- 123. James Jones
- 124. Chris Cooley
- 125. Brent Celek
- 126. Jon Baldwin
- 127. Derrick Mason
- 128. C.J. Spiller
- 129. Thomas Jones
- 130. LaDainian Tomlinson
- 131. Jermaine Gresham
- 132. Dustin Keller
- 133. Matt Bryant
- 134. Stephen Gostkowski
- 135. Mason Crosby
- 136. Leonard Hankerson
- 137. Tony Moeaki
- 138. Greg Olsen
- 139. Cam Newton
- 140. Todd Heap
- 141. Kyle Rudolph
- 142. Visanthe Shiancoe
- 143. Rob Bironas
- 144. David Akers
- 145. David Buehler
- 146. Kevin Boss
- 147. Heath Miller
- 148. Benjamin Watson
- 149. Kansas City
- 150. Josh Brown
BenJarvus Green-Ellis– The Pats drafted to superior athletes at the r position in 2011. Cedric Benson- Knees will wear him down and lack of offense will pressure him to do too much. Pierre Thomas James Starks Jerome Simpson Reggie Bush Montario Hardesty Rashad Jennings Danario Alexander Nate Burleson Alex Green Delone Carter Tashard Choice Bernard Scott
- Make sure you get a quarterback (as I said in the rankings for 2010); don’t skip out on value players if they are available, but get the guys who will gather the largest point total; This is the deepest QB pool in years with guys like Joe Flacco and Josh Freeman hanging in the late rounds, but it’s not a bad position to get out the way early on.
- Get your running backs early; these guys tend to be the most valuable offensive players in terms of weekly production and there is a drop-off of proven guys after the first 3 rounds; There are a lot of rookies who could be taking over starting spots, but spend at least one of your first 3 picks on an rb unless there is an otherwise undeniable pick staring you in the face.
- Get that watch list filled early on after you draft; Once your team is complete, keep your watch list fully stocked with guys you can quickly pick up to clean your roster; the NFL is the most common of the 4 major sports to have breakout stars each year (i.e. Arian Foster, Peyton Hillis, etc.)
It’s very commonplace in sports today to hear someone say that a team who wins a championship develops an identity that sticks with them for years to come. While this might be true, I have seen plenty of championship teams in each of the four major American sports take severe tumbles after hoisting the goods. While more often than not the best overall team in a championship matchup will win based on talent and star-power, every few years a team comes along that carries a spirit and devotion to their game truly unbreakable by any sharp-shooting or puck-dangling superhuman forces.
After watching the Boston Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals this past week, I could not erase the image of my friend Justin, a foreigner to the game of hockey, shedding tears at Kitty O’Shea’s Pub in downtown Boston after Roberto Luongo was pulled with only a few minutes left in a sure-thing Bruins win. It had been 6 years since Joe Thornton had been shipped from Boston to San Jose for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau (not to be mistaken for his brother Keith) and in hearts of die hard Bruins fans (of which there were few left) entering a game 7 in Vancouver was nothing but a a twist of the knife. So what evokes such emotion from a virtually unengaged hockey fan? What forced this 6 foot 4 225 lb. man to formulate tears that havn’t seen the light of day since he broke up with his high school girlfiend? While he may not understand the concept of icing, nor does he know Corey Perry (the 2011 NHL MVP) is, he is a sports fan. He had been in situations where a team came together for something bigger than themselves and he undertsood the magnitude of what had occured that Wednesday night in Canada.
The Boston Bruins were not the flashiest team in the NHL by any means. Head Coach Claude Julien planned to win every game either 1-0 or 2-1 because he feels that once his team held a lead, it was theirs to lose. This philosophy can be frustrating for a fan watching regular season NHL games. While the Celtics were in the NBA playoffs and the Red Sox were beginning spring training, the B’s were making a playoff push of their own but without any real superstars, low-scoring games, and their top offensive player out for the year with a concussion in Marc Savard, predicting the Bruins to win three 7-game series’ and ultimately beating the NHL’s top team in 2011 on their own ice in the Stanley Cup Finals would be as farfetched as me getting a job as an investment banker on Wall Street.
Watching the Stanley Cup playoffs is the most exhilarating sports-viewing experience even if your team is not involved, because of the game’s pace and level of physicality. It will then come as no surprise that whoever plays with the greatest amount of those two things will stand the best chance at winning the cup. The Bruins were given the title, ‘The Big Bad B’s’ for their brutality on both ends of the ice, as well as their smash-mouth goaltending from netminder Tim Thomas (pronounced Tim-ee Taw-mas). The Canucks, however, had no identity. They would win close games on opponent mistakes, and were unfortunately deemed scumbags for their antics throughout the finals…
The emergence of rookies, the consistency of veterans, and the competitive maturity to win with swagger while not creating (too many) enemies has made many sports franchises over the past 20 years into everlasting champions. While these teams did not have the best roster on paper, they had an identity that enabled each fan to connect on a personal level with every member of the team. The Bruins became Champions without a Joe Thornton, or even one of the Sedin twins, but they played with a passion that quickly engaged one of the most passionate sports cities in the world.
Having discussed the many exciting characteristics of a championship team that the everyday American can identify with, here’s the list of my top 5 championship teams of the past decade who won largely because of their identity and team chemistry:
2004 – Boston Red Sox (World Series Champions): Coined the nickname ‘The Idiots for their goofy demeanor, long hair and beards, and astounding late-inning play.
2000-2001 – Baltimore Ravens (Super Bowl Champions): The peak of the Ravens defense that has dominated the NFL for the past decade. Including a young Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, the Ravens D allowed a measley 152 of total offense to the New York Giants and helped Baltimore the become only the 3rd Wild Card team ever to win the Super Bowl. How better to build your identity than with defense and Trent Dilfer as your quarterback?
2001-2002 – New England Patriots (Super Bowl Champions): After the early season saw the death of QB coach, Dick Rehbein and the season-ending injury to starting QB Drew Bledsoe the world was introduced to Tom Brady. The nameless offense (no offense to Troy Brown) beat the greatest show on turf, the St. Louis Rams, on a game-winning 48 field goal by Adam Vinatieri who became known for those types of moments after two more rings were brought to New England. Also, being the Super Bowl that occured after the September 11 terrorist attacks, it was only fitting that a team named the ‘Patriots’ would reign victorious.
2011 – Dallas Mavericks (NBA Champions): Because this is such a recent victory, many have not seen the magnitude of this win. It will likely be Dirk Nowitzki’s only ring, but it will solidify him as the greatest European player of all time, and in turn improve the American mentality towards foreign NBA players. Beating the Miami Heat made them extremely popular amongst sports fans because of the disdain they have (both warranted and unwarrented) for Lebron James and his ‘decision’. Shawn Marion (the role player) shut down LBJ defensively and showed how grit can sometimes overpower skill when it matters most. Their identity was stengthened when outspoken owner Mark Cuban inexplicably stopped speaking to the media before the playoffs. Besides, if you get a tattoo of the Larry O’Brien trophy on your bicep before you even win a playoff game… ……then you have some guts my friend.
2011 – Boston Bruins (Stanley Cup Champions): You didn’t think I was going to leave them off the list did you? Having an original 6 team, let alone an American team win the cup – whether you like Boston or not – is tremendous for the sport of Hockey and pairs up there with the USA battling Canada in the Olympic Gold Medal game in terms of promoting the popularity of hockey which unfortunately lost a great deal of its fanbase after its lockout (take notice NFL & NBA).
With recent talks emerging about the Lakers’ head coaching vacancy, 2008-’09 NBA coach of the year, Mike Brown seems to be the desired candidate. Brown of course, is known as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers teams that twice went to the conference Finals, and only once to the NBA Finals led by Lebron James. As a deemed ‘defensive specialist’, Brown coached some Cleveland teams that fell apart more than once against Boston in the playoffs. With that said, i’m not sure his defensive mentality is the only trait that makes him a viable candidate for the job.
In my experience watching Mike Brown-coached games, his submissive coaching style has been his best asset. With a guy like Lebron James controlling nearly 80% of the offensive plays, Brown didn’t have to do much coaching at all. In fact, I recall game 5 of last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals against Boston in which Brown had his assistant coach drawing up plays in the final 5 minutes of the game – Boston won 94-85 but the lead was 2 & 3 points for much of those final moments. As a person, I respect Mike Brown to the fullest, but as a basketball fan (thankfully I was not a Cavs fan) I cringe at the sight of a head coach not being able to take control of his own team. At no point during the playoffs – let alone the end of the game – should an assistant be drawing up plays; even Tom Thibodeau while he served as “associate head coach” to Doc Rivers was not called upon to do so in these situations.
As the head coach of the current (for the next couple weeks) defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, Mike Brown will experience a similar situation as he did in Cleveland: He’ll be managing a superstar in Kobe Bryant. There is no doubt that Brown’s hiring will be due in part to his ‘hands-off’ approach to offense and superstars. While Kobe’s demands are not always seen through by the Lakers front office (Bryant requested the trade of Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd earlier in the 2011 season), his opinion and emotions are certainly accounted for in every move. Mike Brown is a much different prospective head coach than the other names mentioned in the job search:
- Rick Adelman is the most recent head coach of the Houston Rockets, but at 64 years of age, his longevity as a Laker is far more questionable than that of the 41 year old Brown.
- Brian Shaw, the Laker’s primary assistant coach since the 2004-’05 season has long been thought to be the predecessor to Phil Jackson, but for reasons unenounced to the media Shaw has seemingly been ruled out of contention. – Shaw would be considered an offensive specialist head coach if such a title is needed to distinguish coaching characteristics, and is currently 4 years older than Brown.
- Jeff Van Gundy is another name that had been thrown into the mix, but his time away from coaching may be a bit of a resume eye-sore. Not to mention he is quite happy in his current color commentary job with ESPN.
In a sense, one could argue that Mike Brown is a much more attractive candidate in Bryant’s eyes than these gentlemen might be. Furthermore, the Laker’s have attributed much of their late success to the philosophy of the triangle offense. Does this fit into Brown’s coaching scheme? There’s no telling yet if it does because the world has never seen Mike Brown coach a team with multiple scoring options; a team where stars on one team (i.e. Lamar Odom, possibly Ron Artest, & a healthy Andrew Bynum) are role players on his team. What many people do not realize is that the Lakers head coaching job is one of great responsibility and great challenge. While the talents alone are a lot to manage, the personalities are even more difficult. How do you keep Ron Artest in check if you’re not a zen master? How do you coach an aging superstar in Kobe Bryant? (yes I said it, but I don’t think he’s aging like most superstars do).
If the rumors are true, and Brown gets his desired $4-5 million dollar multi-year deal, then it will be very interesting to see how he handles the most coveted head coaching job in Basketball.
All in all we have negated to mention another looming circumstance. With Dwight Howard nearing the end of his term as the Magic’s Center and every sports journalist from LA to Eastern Europe (yes i’m sure there are a couple who cover the NBA) predicting his talents heading to Hollywood, Brown’s defensive mindset that we discussed before might be added incentive for Howard to try teaming up with the Black Mamba (thus giving the Lakers 2 first team all-NBA defensive teamers).
Comment below on what you think the fate of the Lakers will be under Mike Brown…
We are now nearing the end of May and as I stare out the window of my South Shore Massachusetts home I see that the temperature gage has reached 79 degrees, a climate unseen throughout the east coast this spring. As you Weather Channel buffs may have noticed, many ‘east coasters’ and ‘mid-westerners’ have not seen the sun since the winter time – only a slight exaggeration - but there might be a reason for this tumultuous absence of sunlight and blue skies. While May marks many significant calender areas for professional sports, most people think: second month of the MLB season & NBA Finals. That said, another sport has struck the Eastern U.S., bringing its bitter cold to our land in hopes of bringing alongside a trophy worthy of a Lord (Stanley). The Boston Bruins have overtaken the the glory of the Celtics in Beantown simply because…they’re still alive. Sure the NHL has its fair-weather fans, but what sport doesn’t? It is a nice feeling to have hockey relevant in my town again, especially after Claude Julien and his men ripped our hearts out by having their three games to none leads demolished in the Eastern Semis both in 2009 and 2010. The B’s are a completely different team then they were in those previous seasons however, and in fact they aren’t the only new faces in the NHL conference finals looking to give their fans something they have never seen.
While both the Eastern and Western Conference series’ are already deep in their competition, the unease of a hockey game can change the momentum of the match-up with one move up the ice. Here’s a look at each of the remaining teams in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs:
Eastern Conference Finals (Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning)
This is undoubtedly the most even of the remaining match-ups and I am not just saying that because the series is closer than the Western Conference Finals. Meet Guy Boucher, the Bolts coach who terrifyingly resembles Le Chiffre, the villain from Casino Royale and Claude Julien, the rather oafy fellow who omits a less fortunate resemblance to Sgt. Schultz from the television show Hogan’s Heroes.
What makes each game of this series so riveting is the defensive mindsets of the coaches. Boucher is a first year head coach who has worked his way up the coaching ranks with his 1-3-1 defensive scheme that he breaks out typically when holding a lead; while Julien is known for sometimes being too defensive minded. The Bruins are the deepest team in the series in terms of the quality of their depth 4 forward lines and 3 defensive pairings, however the Bolts are the team with the most firepower. If you were to tell me 2 years ago that Simon Gagne would join the likes of Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis I would have said they were the best line in hockey. Well, 2 years is not much of a difference in age and by adding a 21 year old 1rst overall draft pick in Steven Stamkos (amassed 232 points in his first 2 seasons) that offense becomes the Miami Heat of the NHL.
As it stands now, the Bruins lead the series 3-2 as it heads back to St. Petersburg, Fla but could very well be 3-2 in the other direction had it not been for the masterful goal-tending by 37-year old Tim Thomas (i.e. this save on Steve Downie last night). It looks as though the Bolts will stick with backup goalie Mike Smith whose puck-handling abilities have made him streaky in net throughout his career – most notably while splitting time with Marty Turco in Dallas. This decision comes despite the previous success of the even more senior Dwayne Roloson (41 years of age), but the choice is what makes the Stanley Cup playoffs as great as they are – anybody can step up.
The keys for the Bruins in closing this series out are:
- Tim Thomas must continue brilliance
- Zdeno Chara must harass Lecavalier for every minute he is on the ice
- Stay out of the penalty box – Boston has had the advantage in most games for time on attack, but given the man advantage, the Lighting can strike easily, and sometimes more than once – as seen in the 2nd period of game 4.
- (I know there is usually a rule of threes, but there are too many aspects of this series worth analyzing) Give rookie Tyler Seguin more ice time – As the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft, Seguin had a tough time figuring out the change of pace from the OHL to the NHL. With that in mind, there is no denying the game-changing speed and skill-set that the 19 year old has (6 points in his first two career playoff games). His average time on ice in just over 11 minutes (11:34) in the series which is even a minute less than he saw in the regular season. Sure, his decision-making abilities are not quite on par with Bergeron or Recchi, but he is a whole new dimension that this team has not had in years (a speedy goal-scorer; a Steven Stamkos-like talent).
The keys for Tampa Bay in taking this series to game 7 are:
- Keep putting the puck on net – The thing that the Bolts are best at is getting second chance goals. They are much faster than Boston and have a bevy of quick-handed wrist-shot specialists. Rather than make the extra pass, TB must create chaos for Tim Thomas because that is how they have scored a majority of their goals in the series.
- Come out firing for all three periods – Throughout the series we have seen the Bolts dominate one period and come out flat in the next. When they score consecutive goals, it is very hard to slow their momentum because of their speed and lock-down defense within the 1-3-1.
- Get dirty, fight and win the crowd – Home ice was a clear advantage for the Bruins in game 5. Victor Hedman and Steve Downie need to frustrate the ‘rough-and-tough’ Bruins squad by getting after it without the gloves. In 4-4 situations the Bolts have proven to be extremely dangerous (plenty of open ice for the speedsters) so starting a fight would not only get them into that situation, but would boost the testosterone levels of the Tampa fans.
- Win majority of face-offs – Since the return of Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins have dominated faceoffs (led by Bergeron, Chris Kelly, and David Krejci). Vincent Lacavalier is one of the game’s best in this category but even he has been outmanned by Bergeron. Tampa must win faceoffs in order to set-up their attack; if they do not, Boston maintains puck possession which is exactly how they win games.
Could it be? Are all the little chicks with the crimson lips singin’ “Cleveland Rocks” once again? After beginning the season at 0-2 after two losses to the arch-rival White Sox, Cleveland fans remained unsurprised and unimpressed. But after stringing together 8 consecutive wins mostly against the Mariners and Red Sox, the 2011 Cleveland Indians found themselves at 11-4 and atop the AL Central division. But why? The Boston Red Sox have yet to break above .500, and they were a unanimous decision by Sports Illustrated columnists to win the World Series. Not since the Indians traded CC Sabathia to the Brewers in ’08 has Mark Shapiro (Indians GM) been able to put together a team. Granted that the CC move ultimately marked the beginning of a rebuilding phase for Cleveland – especially with Victor Martinez being dealt at the following trade deadline – most baseball fans and writers alike did not anticipate the flashy start. In 2008 the train had derailed for the Tribe. After coming up short against Boston in the ALCS in ’07, No. 2 starter Fausto Carmona struggled to find any rhythm or command, and had seemingly lost the sinker that made him so dominant the year before. On top of that, power-bat Travis Hafner, youngster Asdrubal Cabrera, and clubhouse leader Grady Sizemore had all suffered detrimental injuries in some regard. With no idea if Hafner would ever return to form (probable steroid use in my mind), no true Ace (Sabathia gone; Carmona hurt & struggling), and a manager who clearly did not want to be there (Eric Wedge) there was no stopping the dismal scene by Lake Erie anytime soon. With that said, they have figured something out with manager Manny Acta in ’11 and who knows if they emerge as 2011′s version of the 2010 Cincinnati Reds.
Here’s a look at why the 2011 Cleveland Indians have become the Cleveland ‘WIndians’:
- They actually have good talent…it’s just still extremely young. Looking at the guys they called up last year, the only big name in mind is the catcher, Carlos Santana ended his season batting .314 against right-handed pitchers, with an OPS over 1.000. Matt LaPorta was a huge acquisition for the tribe when they dealt Sabathia. The 1b/OF is a product of the University of Florida and has finally displayed some power through his tremendously athletic-looking swing.
- Not to mention, they still have guys that produced while they sucked! Ever hear of a guy by the name of Shin-Soo Choo? Yeah well he could be considered a top-10 most balanced offensive and defensive producers in baseball.
- They are finally able to piece HEALTHY guys together With Pronk (Travis Hafner) hitting home runs like he was in 2007, and Asdrubal Cabrera back as the everyday middle-infielder, there are fewer holes to fill with unprepared minor-leaguers.
- Their pitching is just good enough and their bats are timely. What are the odds you have heard of these no. 2-5 starters? : Carlos Carrasco, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, or Alex White. It is only through extensive read-through’s of Baseball America’s encyclopedia that I recognize these fellas. But none of them project to becoming no.1 or even no.2 starters. Justin Masterson was a major piece in the deal that sent Victor Martinez to the Red Sox in 2009, but his sinker specialization and lack of reliable off-speed stuff make him a potential shelling each time out. Chris Perez has sufficed as a solid closer for the team both in 2010 and ’11 but the middle relief duties (before Rafael Perez acts as setup man) are taken up by a committee of premature major leaguers and career call-up/send-down guys (i.e. Justin Germano). With my badmouthing aside, the Indians have not allowed big offensive innings for opponents. Not since Carmona got pummeled for 10 earned runs on opening day has an Indians starter given up 3 er’s or more per inning in multiple innings, going to show that things havn’t unraveled…yet. Along with good, but not great pitching from the Wahoo’s comes timely, clutch hitting. For example, 7 of the Indians’ last 8 wins have been by 3 runs or less and 6 of those 7 wins were by 1 run, all the while 5 of those 6 one-run games were caused by walk-off hits – most notably last night’s walk-off homer by Pronk against the M’s (insert deep out of breath exhalation).
There is no telling whether the Cleveland faithful will be able to toss their Lebron James stained eggs into the Indians’ basket but with an AL Central that cannot be predicted and the second best record in Baseball through a Month and a half (#2 in power rankings) there is no reason to dwell on the fact that Lebron is back in the Eastern Conference Finals…as a member of the Heat.
Season’s End predictions:
- 81-81; 3rd place in AL Central
- Grady Sizemore = comeback player of the year
- Injuries cannot afford to be suffered, but they will happen
- Slumps will happen too; it’s a matter of how Manny Acta can control the demeanor of his clubhouse.