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Archive for August, 2008

NFL Preview – A Quick Look At The AFC North

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Alright, the NFL Preview is making its next stop in the AFC North, one of the friendlier divisions when it comes to football. No hatred here among the respective team fans. None whatsoever. What can you expect from the Northern part of the AFC?

More Bengals drama, a further fall of the Baltimore Ravens (seems like it’s been a long time since that Super Bowl), waiting to see if the Browns are for real and oh yeah, another Pittsburgh Steelers division title, taking the franchise up to 19 total.

And with that, we’re off:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steely McBeam

Outlook
The sky is blue, the water is wet, the grass is green and the Pittsburgh Steelers will win the division they are in. Some things are like clockwork and the football team from the Steel City is one of them. We could marvel at the 18 division titles or the six conference championships or the five Super Bowl trophies. Yes, we could do all these things but, since we are talking about 2008, what are the Steelers going to do this year?

Looking at this team as a whole — best defense in the NFL last year, stout running game, Super Bowl-winning quarterback, a capable group of receivers — the Steelers have the makings of a team capable of representing the AFC in February’s Super Bowl. Ben Roethlisberger has established himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL after throwing for over 3000 yards and 32 touchdowns. This should only improve as Santonio Holmes becomes more and more of a deep threat, taking pressure off of Hines Ward.

The Steelers running game should be even better when you mix a rookie Rashard Mendenhall in with a Fast Willie Parker and if their defense can improve their pass rush, the Steelers might be the best team in the AFC no one is talking about. While the NFL-watching world focuses on New England, Indianapolis, and San Diego, the Steelers will sit quietly in the background, winning games and division titles, waiting for the playoffs.

With all that in mind, the Steelers could very well be on their way to a 13-3 season, but they seem to lose a game or two you don’t expect.

Put me down for 11-5 and a trip the AFC Conference title.

Hottest Steelers Cheerleader
No such animal anymore ever since the Steelerettes were retired in 1969. Because of that, I have to rely on the blogosphere and lo and behold, it certainly didn’t disappoint:

Steelers Tank Top

Go Steelers indeed.

More AFC North after the jump >>

No More Johnson For You

Chad Ocho Cinco

Words absolutely fail me here, but I’ll try — say goodbye to Chad Johnson. That person no longer exists, at least in the NFL. The person you once knew is now legally called Chad Ocho Cinco. That’s right folks, he legally changed his name to match the sideline stunt he pulled two seasons ago when he showed up on the sidelines with the “Ocho Cinco” in the name area. This label was peeled off before the game to reveal his then-real last name.

In lieu of the name change, are we going to see a reverse label switch? Will he come to the field with Johnson on the back of his jersey, only to have Carson Palmer remove that, revealing the new Ocho Cinco last name?

Currently, the Bengals roster, pro shop, depth chart and whatever else he’s listed on has not been updated to reflect the change, and I wonder if it ever will be — although, there’s one good thing about Johnson’s switch to the “OC” — it reduces the amount of Johnsons on the Bengals roster from four to three.

Yay for eliminating jersey confusion.

For what it’s worth, the correct way to say the number 85 in Spanish is “ochenta y cinco” and not Ocho Cinco. Essentially, the artist formerly known as Chad Johnson changed his last name to Eight Five.

I, for one, welcome our new Chad Eight Five overlord. I have a feeling it’s going to be another long season for the Bengals, but at least they have Johnson’s Eight Five’s shenanigans to distract them. Again.

Via SbB.

Welcome Back, College Football

Where, oh where have you been?

College football returned last night and in case you don’t believe it, I have the pictures:

Hurricanes
The Hurricanes are ready for 2008

Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech coaches suggested smoking before taking the field

Jack Crowe
Are you freaking kidding me?!?!

Touchdown Gamecocks
TOUCHDOWN SOUTH CAROLINA (finally, after suffering through four interceptions)

Hurricane Hotties
If loving college football is wrong, I don’t want to be right

Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh leads his Cardinal

Touchdown Wake Forest
Breakdancing is not an allowable touchdown celebration

And just like that, we are that much closer to the BCS Championship. In case you missed it, after an unimpressive offensive start to the season, South Carolina stomped NC State, Wake Forest crushed Baylor, Georgia Tech hammered Jacksonville State, Stanford survived Oregon State, the Hurricanes of Miami beatdown Charleston Southern, and Vanderbilt is above .500 after beating Miami of Ohio.

There a whole lot of football to be played this weekend, so prepare yourself so you won’t burn out before Saturday night is done. Don’t forget, Louisville/Kentucky is on Sunday, making it a wall-to-wall weekend of college football.

Welcome back. You were sorely missed.

The Return of the Spurrier

Steve Spurrier

That above picture can only mean one thing — college football is back in all of its (despite the BCS) beautiful, passionate, tailgating, hot-chick having, Saturdays mean something again, ways. The action kicks off tonight as the South Carolina Gamecocks take on the NC State Wolfpack. Currently, the Cocks are 14-point favorites, which brings up a good question:

Isn’t it time the Spurrier magic did something better than 21-16? Granted, his first two teams were 7-5 and 8-5 respectively, but that’s not quite competing for an SEC crown, something Spurrier promised when he took over. In fact, since Steve Superior got to Columbia, his football teams have only managed to 11-13 during SEC play. In that same time period, Kentucky Rich Brooks is 9-15 against the SEC.

When you produce only two more conference wins than the a team who is traditionally in the bottom half of the SEC, you aren’t meeting your goals of SEC dominance.

So is this finally the year the Steve Spurrier/South Carolina Gamecocks show takes off? Or will Spurrier have to settle for another non-New Year’s Day bowl even though his sights were set much, much higher?

For the record, considering just how hard the SEC is and just how much talent you need to be at the top of the conference, Spurrier’s first two Gamecock years have to be considered successful. But last year, the program took a step back, losing five-in-a-row. Fortunately, a new year in college football means renewed hope and aspirations for everybody, including Spurrier’s old team, the Duke Blue Devils.

No one has done a better job of capturing that than Orson over at EDSBS and this awesome video:

Kick off for SC/NC State is at 8/7 Central.

If the SEC versus the ACC individual challenge isn’t your cup of college football tea, ESPNU has Vanderbilt versus Miami of Ohio as well. On ESPN360, there are a number of games to pick from, provided your area carries the service.

NFL Preview – A Quick Look At The AFC South

In this, part two of our NFL Preview, the focus will be on the AFC South. Are the Jags ready to knock of Peyton and the gang or will Houston come out and shock everybody by replacing both teams as the King of the AFC North Hill? Will Peyton’s knee be ready by opening night? Does David Gerrard have anyone to throw the ball to? Is Vince Young ready to become an NFL quarterback? Will his front office ever give him any weapons to find out?

These are just some of the questions facing members of the AFC South, which is probably the class of the AFC this season. I’ll lead things off in a familiar place when talking about this division:

Indianapolis Colts

Peyton Manning

Outlook
When it comes to the Indianpolis Colts, the two things on the minds of fans and coaches alike is “injury” and “recovery.” Can their team recover from their various injuries to: Jeff Saturday, Dwight Freeney, Bob Sanders, Marvin Harrison, and some guy called “Manning?” If these players are healthy and, more importantly, capable of playing at 100%, there’s no reason the Colts can’t continue their reign as one of the three best teams in the AFC, if not all of football.

Of course, injury recovery is never a given in a league as violent as the NFL.

While last season was disappointing for the then defending Super Bowl champs, there were a lot of bright spots as well. First, the emergence of Reggie Wayne as a top-flight receiver. It was widely speculated this would be the case but once Harrison went down, Wayne proved he belonged by finishing the season with 104 receptions and 10 touchdown catches; however, Wayne wasn’t the only offensive player to shine for the Colts. Dallas Clark contributed mightily to Colts successes, establishing himself as one of the top tight ends in the NFL.

Because of how the offense continued to produce after the injuries, the idea is, once the injured players got back into the rotation, the Colts should be as good as their Super Bowl-winning team, provided Manning fully recovers from his surgery. The health of Jeff Saturday (out at least six weeks) is an important story to keep an eye on as well because of how important he is the offensive line and Manning’s comfort level.

With a healthy team, the Colts look like a lock for 12-4, maybe even 13-3. However, if Manning is still being nagged by his knee and the offensive line can’t recover from Saturday’s potential absence, it could be a long season. As it stands, I betting on the Colts bouncing back, finishing 12-4 and winning the AFC South.

Hottest Colts Cheerleader
Introducing Tatyana. As you can see from her pictures, she’s a wise choice among a sea of cheerleading goodness. Judging from her pictures, she looks like a lot of fun.

Tatyana

I’ll say.

More AFC South goodness after the jump >>

Meaningful Baseball – Are The Yankees Done?

Yankees

After last night’s 11-3 beatdown courtesy of all-time Yankee fan favorites, the Boston Red Sox. Because of the loss, the Yankees are now seven games behind the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card berth, and it looks like the Bronx Bombers will miss the postseason for the first time since 1993.

Is this why Joe Torre was removed parted with on mutually agreeable terms?

For the Red Sox, last night’s win gave them a 2.5 game lead over the Minnesota Twins, who are hot on the heels of the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central. Since the Yankees started their last Yankee Stadium series with the beloved Red Sox, they’ve been outscored 18-6. I doubt this is the way Hank Steinbrenner wanted Boston’s last visit to the historic stadium to go. His team is in danger of being swept today, which would add insult to the injury that is realizing the Yanks — barring a Major League-like miracle — are done when it comes to postseason play this year.

The majority of the Red Sox damage was provided by second baseman, Dustin Pedoria, who hit a game-sealing grand slam in the eighth. According to ESPN, Pedoria is the first Red Sox second baseman to hit a grand slam against the Yankees in 50 years.

The third game of this particular Sox/Yankees series is already in progress.

Shawne Merriman Thinks Knee Ligaments Are Optional

Shawne Merriman

After hearing the opinions of four different doctors, Shawne Merriman has decided he’d forgo surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee so he can play for the San Diego Chargers this season. Apparently, the injury is not going to get any worse, although, I do wonder about the stability of his ACL, considering the other torn ligaments help support the knee. Now the ACL will be doing more work and if there’s anything I’ve learned about the NFL, it’s that ACLs and the NFL don’t make a nice mix.

The concern increases when you realize Merriman’s ACL will be operating without the normal help from its friends. Ultimately, it’s his career and his knee and if the man wants to play, by all means, please do. And while I’m not a Super Chargers fan, I’d hate to see a 24-year old ruin a promising career just so he can play this season.

But again, it’s his knee and his decision, of which, you can tell he really wants to be on the field when the Chargers season starts next Sunday:

“I just want to play football,” Merriman said. “That’s what it comes down to. I know what’s on the table. I know what’s on the line. I’ve put in a lot of work and I want to play… If I wasn’t able to go out there and play at a high level and continue to do the things that I needed to do, I wouldn’t make this decision to play,” Merriman said. “For me it’s about going out there, knowing what I’m capable of doing and going out and getting things done.”

Could Merriman’s decision to play have to do with the Chargers being a Super Bowl contender, something he obviously would not like to miss out on? Or is this a case of simple stubborn pride simply getting the best of Merriman? Naturally, the answers to those questions (as well as these) will be easier to give as the Chargers season gets underway. Then the level of Merriman’s play will reveal a lot.

If he’s flying around the field, causing his normal amount of chaos, then it’s pretty obvious he knew what he was doing. But if he’s ineffective, or worse yet, compounds the injury like Dennis Dixon did, then it’s pretty obvious surgery and rehab were his best choice.

The Chargers open their season with five winnable games, after that, it’s the New England match-up. I think it’s safe to say we’ll know about Merriman and his knee by then.

ESPN Is Sticking With Kurt Warner

Matt Leinart

I’ll say this for ESPN, they do stand by their men, especially when it comes to Chris Mortensen. The other day, Mort issued a breaking report, stating the Arizona Cardinals named Kurt Warner as their starting quarterback after Matt Leinart had a horrible preseason outing against the Oakland Raiders.

Once news got out about Mort’s report, the Cardinals coaching staff, namely head coach Ken Whisenhunt, indicated Leinart is still his starting quarterback. Actually, he said no changes have been made while discussing his disappointment in Mort’s report.

That, however, has not stopped the Worldwide Leader from posting articles discussing how Kurt Warner’s patience in Arizona finally paid off. In fact, John Clayton’s article speaks as if the decision is already set in stone, obviously spurred on by Mortensen’s (premature?) report.

Whisenhunt gave Leinart every chance to win the job. Sure, he probably felt threatened when Warner earned first-team snaps every other day, but too bad. All he had to do was light up practice and do the same in games. He didn’t, and his skills have deteriorated inexplicably.

While that seems to be the consensus on Leinart’s performance thus far, it’s apparent Whisenhunt isn’t ready to give in to ESPN’s perspective, bringing up another point — if the heir apparent to the Arizona starting quarterback position is performing poorly, why wouldn’t you make the change to Kurt Warner?

Remember, Warner posted these numbers –3417 yards and 27 touchdowns — in relief of an injured Leinart last season.

The object of playing is to win the game, not to pamper a quarterback who doesn’t seem to grasp what it takes to be an NFL quarterback (it’s not as easy as it was at SC, aye Matt?). I understand Warner’s not getting any younger, but when he presents the Cardinals their best chance to win, making a change seems like the obvious choice.

I can understand Whisenhunt’s displeasure in ESPN’s methods, but keeping Leinart as the starter just to save face seems petulant and stubborn. I also understand Arizona wants to know what they have in Leinart and rightfully so. Any time you make such an investment, you need to know whether or not it was a wise one. But isn’t that what the NFL preseason is for?

I’m not sure keeping Leinart as the starter just to prove a point to ESPN is the best thing for Cardinals, especially when it’s becoming more and more evident Warner is the man for the job.