Photo courtesy of deadspin.com. The best rivalry in baseball continues on at Fenway on Tuesday night.
By Josh Kramer
Hurricane Irene has finally decided to leave the East Coast alone. And sure there are damages and repercussions that will ensue for a while, but the sporting world continues to trek on. Sports can act as a release for many of the people suffering ill effects in the wake of the vicious storm hopefully. Here are the main events for the week ahead.
5. NFL Preseason football enters the fourth and final week. Opening night is just around the corner, and the real “dress rehearsal” just occurred this past weekend. But still, many guys are fighting for one of those 53 roster spots and will lay it all on the line for the preseason finale. Continue reading
Posted in Miscellaneous
Tagged AL East, Boston Red Sox, Cam Newton, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jerry Jones, LSU Tigers, Matt Kemp, MLB, NCAA Football, New York Yankees, NFL, Oregon Ducks, Ryan Braun, TJ Houshmandzadeh, US Open
Joe Flacco (pictured above) and the Ravens gutted out a major Week 1 victory on the road against the highly touted New York Jets. Will Flacco play better next week against AFC North rival, Cincinnati?
At the end of Week 1 the Pick’em challenge scoreboard reads:
TheSportsKraze: 8 CV3: 9 (realize Chad picked the Ravens to win by 1 last night)
The marquee matchup of this Week 1 of football was the Monday Night Showdown in New York between two big time contenders in the AFC, the Jets and the Ravens. Both of these teams are considered favorites not only within their respective divisions, but in the conference as a whole. Each team had outstanding off seasons, bringing in key acquisitions to squads that already made the playoffs last year. The Jets picked up Antonio Cromartie, LT, and Jason Taylor. While the Ravens brought in two big time receivers in TJ Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin. There is one major concern though in my eyes that could hold both of these teams back from Super Bowl glory…
Isn’t there a show called Monday NFL Quarterback? Last night was not an example.
Mark Sanchez was absolutely horrific last evening. Now I realize the Jets are generally a run first team. A team that likes to play old school, smash mouth football. Winning games with a strong rushing attack and superb defense. And that is fine, even though the League is in the midst of the pass happy era. A team could still win with an average passing game if they had a superb defense and rushing attack. Well the Jets without question have the tools defensively. I mean wow did they put on a show last night. But how about the former USC Trojan in the pocket?
Sanchez went 10 for 21 for 74 yards. This is not pee wee football. This is the NFL. A quarterback should be throwing for nearly 74 yards a quarter. Now I realize that he was playing against the vaunted Ravens defense and all of jazz. But Mr. GQ was playing in front of a big time home crowd with many weapons at his disposal such as Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Shonn Greene. He also has former Steelers number 1 receiver, Santonio Holmes at his disposal (hopefully soon). Also, I realize that Mark is still just in his 2nd year. Maybe he could be entering the Sophomore slump? Well not really, considering he did not have a big time rookie year, so it would not be considered a slump. My one major suggestion for Sanchez is to start throwing to his tight ends more. I realize that Dustin Keller let him down on last night’s big 4th down play late in the 4th quarter in one of the most bonehead plays I have ever seen. But give the guy a break. He had just been summoned by Ray Lewis, the ultimate hitmaker. A reliable tight end is a young quarterback’s best friend. Sanchez better improve fast, or this team will not have a prayer at making a run deep into the playoffs. They will be able to survive on their defense in most games, but against tough contenders like the Ravens, Sanchez will have to perform better than last night.
Now speaking of young quarterbacks. The Ravens have a young gun of their own at the helm in Joe Flacco. Now I will admit, I was thoroughly disappointed by the former Delaware stud last evening. When you look at Joe, you just feel like he has the look of a big time NFL quarterback. He possesses that big time NFL “swagger,” for lack of a better term, which is so hard to explain to somebody who is not a fan of the game. Last night, Flacco went 20 of 38 (which isn’t horrible), for 248 yards. He did throw an interception as well. Now, by no means, was Flacco as bad as Sanchez. But I along with most football fans hold higher expectations for Joe. We expect him to do more out there each week than Sanchez. Partially because he has to with an aging Ravens defensive core. And in all seriousness, this guy has arguably the most weapons around him of any QB in the League. He has 2 big play receivers in a Anquan Boldin (now a big play guy and no longer a possession) and Derrick Mason. He has the 2nd best possession receiver in the game at his disposal in TJ Houshmandzadeh (after Wes Welker). Todd Heap is a very seasoned tight end who has always been a major threat in the passing attack. Plus he has a monster 3 headed rushing attack to fall back on in Rice, McGahee, and McClain. The guy has no excuses. And sure his team escaped last night against a very tough team on the road. For this team to make a Super Bowl run, he will have to play much better. I recommend Flacco develops a deep bond with his new possession guy in TJ Houshmandzadeh and continues to work on his chemistry with tight end Todd Heap.
Both of these quarterbacks have the luxury of playing on teams with big time defenses and solid rushing attacks. But in today’s game, you have to at least demonstrate a mediocre passing attack to advance deep into the playoffs. Who would you rather have at QB, Flacco or Sanchez? Which of these teams could make a run to the big game?
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.
Posted in NFL
Tagged AFC East, AFC North, Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens, Braylon Edwards, contender, Derrick Mason, Jerricho Cotchery, Joe Flacco, LaDainian Tomlinson, Le'ron McClain, Mark Sanchez, Monday Night Football, New York Jets, NFL Football, Ray Rice, Santonio Holmes, Shonn Greene, Super Bowl, TJ Houshmandzadeh, Todd Heap, Week 1, Willis McGahee
As a Bengal, TJ Houshmandzadeh was a bitter rival of the Baltimore Ravens. Now could he be the final piece in helping the Ravens capture their first Super Bowl Title since January of 2001?
In breaking NFL News yesterday, the Ravens made another major acquisition at the wide receiver spot. They picked up one of the best possession receivers the League has to offer. One of the toughest wide outs in the League. A guy who has a distinct familiarity with the AFC North. A man who has a very recognizable pony tail. The man with the longest last name in the game (tied with Big Ben). None other than the former Oregon State, Cincinnati Bengal, and Seattle Seahawk’s star, TJ Houshmandzadeh (14 letters).
And boy was this a major pick up for Baltimore, who recently saw off-season acquisition, Donte Stallworth, go down with a broken foot. It is truly amazing to me how much the look of a team can change during the course of a decade. In the year 2000, Baltimore not only sported the well-known and highly acclaimed drug wire, but they also sported quite possibly the meanest, baddest, and best all around defense of all time. Records were set, and the reputation of this unit was just flat-out scary. And even though the Ravens over the past few years have developed a better and more reliable offense each year, they have still always been known as a defense first team. Well that is all about to change. Talk a about an off-season makeover.
The Ravens possibly sport the most dangerous offense in the AFC North now, and maybe even the League (hard to say until we see them in action). They have the prototypical NFL Pocket Passer in Joe Flacco. They have an outstanding 3 headed (not your normal 2 headed) attack in the back field, made up of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and big boy, Le’Ron McClain. And now they have quite possibly the best receiving unit in the League with the newly acquired vet, in TJ Houshmandzadeh. They have Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and TJ. Plus they have when healthy, one of the League’s most consistent tight ends over the past 10 years in Todd Heap. Can the offensive line hold up? Michael Oher, Mr. Blindside himself, continues to show great progress. Ben Grubbs has progressed at guard. And Matt Birk is a very savvy and dare I say intelligent (Harvard grad) Center. The offensive line is always the real question when discussing the fate of most offensive units in the NFL. But there are not too many teams that can say they sport the weapons at the skill positions on offense that the Ravens have. Lastly, offensively, they have a very solid back up quarterback in Marc Bulger. If Flacco were to go down with an injury, they have a QB who has been in the League for 10 years and a starter for 7 of them. A guy who though he has declined over the past few years, provides the Ravens with an opportunity to still make the playoffs if their starter goes down. Now how many teams can confidently say that if their starting quarterback were to go down early in the year, that they could ride their backup to a playoff appearance? I will give you a hint, not many.
Now defensively, the Ravens are not what they once were. And out of the teams that appear to be contenders, they probably have the most glaring weakness of anyone. They have no proven cornerbacks! And in a division that has teams like the Bengals, with some major big play receivers, this could hurt. But they do still have a great linebacking unit led by future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. They have a solid D line, and of course Ed Reed (who will be back by Week 6 or 7), holding down the safety spot.
But back to the addition of TJ. Joe Flacco is now entering his 3rd year in the NFL, and his 3rd year as a full-time starter. What are the 3 keys to any quarterback’s success in this League? An offensive line that can protect him and give him time to get the ball out. A strong rushing attack that keeps the defense honest. And a sure handed possession receiver. Well with the addition of TJ, at least of two of those keys to success are taken care of (O-Line appears solid, but is always a question with any team). Flacco has been able to work with solid receivers such as Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, but he has never had a guy who is as tough and sure handed as TJ. This guy has had 70 or more catches for 6 consecutive seasons. He has a total of 5 fumbles in his 9 year career (as a receiver). The guy gets you yards flat-out. Come 3rd down, the Ravens are going to be very happy they signed this guy. The real question is can TJ fit in with Ray Lewis and the boys in the locker room?
It has been somewhat undocumented, but there have always been rumors of TJ not being the most well liked guy behind the scenes in the locker room. Honestly, I do not see this being a problem in that the guy appears to be in a win now mode, as are the Ravens. Not to mention the Ravens have Ray Lewis patrolling the locker room and making sure all the guys are on the same page. With this major acquisition yesterday, the Ravens could be flying high this season. The magic for Baltimore starts next Monday in a date with the New York Jets.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.
Posted in NFL
Tagged AFC North, Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens, Ben Grubbs, Cincinnati Bengals, Derrick Mason, Donte Stallworth, Ed Reed, Joe Flacco, Le'ron McClain, Marc Bulger, Mark Clayton, Matt Birk, Michael Oher, Monday Night Football, New York Jets, NFL, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl, TJ Houshmandzadeh, Todd Heap, Willis McGahee
See any resemblance to Joe Montana or Steve Young? Well Alex Smith is ready to lead the 49ers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The NFC’s version of the Wild Wild West has not been the most glamorous conference in recent memory. In fact, they have not sent 2 teams to the playoffs since 2003. They also have not had more than one team with an above 500 record since 2003. So generally, you have one team do solid, another team do around 500, and the other 2 just finish absolutely abysmal. This year appeared like it could be different. It appeared that there could possibly be 2 teams with a fighting chance to make their way into the playoffs. That was until Arizona lost their quarterback to retirement and one of the best receivers to the Ravens (Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin).
NFC West: Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, 49ers (alphabetical order)
St. Louis Rams (4th place): The Rams had a nightmarish season last year. And though I think they will do better than one win this season, I do not see them finding themselves out of the division cellar just yet. Sure they drafted a very talented quarterback in Sam Bradford. And sure they have an outstanding running back in Stephen Jackson. But really what else is there? I mean Albert Pujols cannot suit up for this squad. This squad featured one of the worst passing games I have ever seen in recent memory. And to think, we are only 10 years removed from the “Greatest Show on Turf.” Guys like Donnie Avery and Laurent Robinson must step up and provide the rookie Bradford with some targets. Sure Stephen Jackson is a great guy to have for rookie Sam Bradford to hand the ball off too. But the NFL has become a pass first League. You cannot win without some sort of passing attack. The Rams, unfortunately, are going to struggle in this department all year. The Rams defense is not to amazing either. In fact, it looks to be on its way to a horrific year. I guess a team that goes 1 and 15 generally is not too strong in many areas. James Laurinaitis will have a ton of weight put on his shoulder to anchor the defense. He is no longer a rookie and will be expected to be the engine that makes the defense go. But other than that, there is not a whole lot of promising prospects on this defense. I do think they will finish better than 1 and 15, but not much.
Seattle Seahawks (3rd place): Rainy Seattle will once again fail to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007. This team features both a sub par offense and defense. Matt Hasselbeck is a very savvy veteran that really just does not have much to work with. Sure TJ Houshmandzadeh is a great possession receiver, but the loss of Nate Burleson hurts. Golden Tate, the outstanding receiver out of Notre Dame will be expected to produce from Day 1. He will be expected to be a big play guy similar to a Steve Smith type of mold (lots of pressure on the little guy). This team cannot survive simply with Houshmandzadeh. I mean this team does not have much of a rushing attack. Justin Forsett and Leon Washington are not necessarily gamebreakers. Maybe Washington will surprise some people and start to really produce, but I wouldn’t count on it. Then you look at the Seahawks on the other side of the ball. And there really isn’t a whole lot of star power to look at. Who will step up? Nobody really knows. The main thing Seattle has going for them is the arrival of former USC Head Coach, Pete Carroll. Now normally coaches do not do so hot going back and forth between the League and College in any sport. But this guy has been running a professional program for years now. Plus he had 15 years of “official” professional coaching experience before he arrived in Trojanville. Just ask USC what they think about it. Maybe he could get this team to come somewhere near 8 and 8? I would say it is highly doubtful they win 8 games, but who knows, it could happen.
Arizona Cardinals (2nd place): This is a team that probably lost the most of any team in this division. They lost a big time number 2 receiver in Anquan Boldin. They lost a big time quarterback in Kurt Warner. And with Kurt and Anquan, goes a major part of the high-flying attack that has carried the Cardinals for the past couple of years. This is a team that has lived and died on the pass reminiscent of the way many college teams play today. They had a rushing attack that did not even average 100 yards a game. Yet they advanced to the playoffs? Go figure. Times have really changed. Offenses have slowly but surely turned into pass first teams all around the League. I mean the Cardinals do have 2 decent running backs in the massive Chris “Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower. But neither of these guys get many opportunities in this pass happy Cardinal’s offensive scheme. If Steve Breaston does not emerge as a big time number 2, Arizona’s offense could collapse in that teams will double on Fitzgerald and the passing attack will die. And this does not even get me started on Matt Leinart. The man came into the League with so much upside but has vastly underachieved. This year will be his chance. There is also a defensive side of the ball. And the Cardinals are not too good at defending. They like to play shootout style games where they score a ton of points, and give up lots of points. A way that you can tell this team has struggled defensively is players like Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle are 2 of the top 4 tacklers on the team. These guys both play in the secondary. So I feel like this team will probably win 6 to 8 games. But there have been too many losses on the offensive side of the ball for them to outscore all of their opponents and their defense does not appear too promising on paper.
San Francisco 49ers (1st place): Yes, this is the year we have all been waiting for. The 49ers long awaited return to the playoffs. There were the Joe Montana days. Then the Steve Young days. Now there are the..Alex Smith days? You better believe it. This team has not gone over .500 since 2002. Well that all changes this year. There will be a changing of the guard, or at least a retro look in the West. With the 49ers back on top. This team has been knocking on the door for a few years now and is ready to come inside. The 49ers have a solid defense that is led by in my eyes the best linebacker in the game, Patrick Willis. You should have heard of this guy already, but if you have not, he is here to stay. They also have the veteran leadership of a linebacker that has been around the block in Takeo Spikes. This team boasts arguably the best linebacking core in the League. They also have a solid secondary led by former Pro Bowler Nate Clements, and the veteran Mark Roman. So expect this team to be ranked among the League’s elite on the defensive side of the ball. And on offense, this team looks to improve from a dismal showing last year. They will be led by a young group in Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, and Josh Morgan. These guys are all young, but ready to show that they are entering the primes of their careers. Also do not forget about the always dangerous Ted Ginn Jr. This team will not be one of the League’s elite offensively, but you better believe that they will put on a much better performance than last year as they begin to gel and enter the primes of their careers. Hopefully the 49ers can keep this core group on the offensive side of the ball together for years to come. San Francisco will return to the playoffs for the first time in 8 years.
So there you have it, a changing of the guard in the NFC West. A return to the old. The 49ers are back and look poised to be solid for the next few years with a relatively young group.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.
Posted in NFL
Tagged Adrian Wilson, Alex Smith, Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals, Chris Wells, Donnie Avery, Frank Gore, Golden Tate, Joe Montana, Justin Forsett, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Laurent Robinson, Leon Washington, Matt Leinart, Michael Crabtree, Nate Burleson, Nate Clement, NFC West, NFL, Patrick Willis, Pete Carroll, Sam Bradford, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Stephen Jackson, Steve Breaston, Steve Young, Takeo Spikes, Ted Ginn Jr., Tim Hightower, TJ Houshmandzadeh, USC, Vernon Davis