Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Weekend College Football and NFL Game Picks

My weekly football picks are back, this time on Wednesday, because there are so many huge college and NFL games over this Thanksgiving weekend. I’m too excited to blabber on about anything else right now, so let’s just get to it.


College Football (Home Team in Caps)


Arkansas over #17 MISSOURI


If Missouri wins this game, they’ll be the SEC East Champs. If they lose, then Georgia wins the East. I almost sided with the Tigers, before I remembered that they have one of the worst offenses in the SEC. Mizzou averages just 361 yards of total offense, which is just more than what Vanderbilt averages (290), and just below what Florida averages (379). The Razorbacks and that defense are probably the worst possible match up for them right now, as Arkansas has shut out back-to-back conference opponents (LSU and Ole Miss), and has given up only 31 points combined in games against Alabama, Mississippi State, LSU, and Ole Miss. I think the Tigers will struggle to score the entire game against that swarming Razorback D, allowing Georgia to play in next Saturday’s SEC Championship Game.


#9 GEORGIA over #16 Georgia Tech


This is the 109th meeting of Clean, Old Fashioned Hate, and the Bulldogs lead 64-39-5. Out of all the instate rivalry games this week, this one feels like there’s the least at stake, not only this year, but every year. I’m not from Georgia, or in that state, but is there really all that much “hate” between these teams, and these fan bases? Regardless, this game is going to be a physical, pounding football game, with lots and lots of running (Georgia rushes for 260.5 yards a game, 2nd in the SEC, while Georgia Tech rushes for 327.9 yards, the best in the ACC). I think Georgia has the physicality edge, they’re at home, and they’re just a better team than Tech, and will prove it on Saturday.


#3 FLORIDA STATE over Florida


As much as I’d love to pick the Gators, I’m not an idiot (at least not most of the time). Though, to be fair, there is a scenario where Florida could beat the ‘Noles. What if they started running the ball early in this game like they did against Georgia, and got out to a big early lead? We know it’s possible, because FSU has sucked in the first half multiple times this season, before rallying to win in the second half. Plus, you’ve got the Muschamp factor. Those players in the Gators’ locker room love that guy (Florida O-lineman D.J. Humphries said he’d be carried off the field if they win on Saturday), and they’d love nothing more than to win his last game, against their hated instate rivals. I don’t think it will happen, because Florida sucks on offense, meaning I’m not sure they’d be able to get out to any sort of lead, but I don’t have much faith in FSU either. This game will be closer than people think, but the Seminoles, like almost every game this season, will find a way to squeak one out late.


#4 Mississippi State over #19 Ole Miss


Before the Laquon Treadwell injury, I would’ve picked the Rebels to win one of the most important and anticipated Egg Bowls of all time. But since he broke his leg, the Ole Miss offense looks completely different (they were shut out last week at Arkansas). Add in Bo Wallace’s ankle injury, which could really limit him, and I have no idea how the school in Oxford will be able to put enough points on the board to win. And if Mississippi does lose on Saturday, it would drop them to 4-4 in the conference, which would be a great disappointment, considering how crazy and excited those fans were after they won at Texas A&M, and gave Alabama their lone loss of the season. They would’ve had two of the most crushing and soul sucking losses in recent memory (the LSU game, and their back-to-back fumbles red zone fumbles late against Auburn), and it would be a shame that a season that started out so promising ended up being mostly meaningless.


And if Mississippi State does win on Saturday, then I think the playoff conversation for anyone else should be over. The flavor of the month right now seems to be Ohio State, who is having a nice close to the season. I don’t care. I’m creating a new rule, right here and now; if you lose a home game by 14 or more points to a team that won’t finish with a winning record (Virginia Tech) at any point during the season, you shouldn’t be considered for the playoff. It’s really that simple. Just go ahead and cross them off right now.


#14 WISCONSIN over #18 Minnesota


Minnesota’s Jerry Kill should get some national coach of the year recognition for the amount of success he’s had this year. I mean, he’s got the Golden Gophers a win away from the Big 10 Championship Game. I know Michigan is going to want to hire a big name to replace Brady Hoke, but if one of their dream candidates, like Les Miles or Jim Harbaugh tells them no (and I think they will), the Wolverines shouldn’t be upset if they ended up hiring Kill. He’s a cultural fit (his last three coaching jobs were all in the Midwest), and he’s won everywhere he’s been. Minnesota has pretty much sucked every year for the last half century, yet he’s been able to turn them around relatively quickly (they’ve been to two straight bowl games, and are, incredibly, as mentioned before, one win away from the Big 10 Title Game! At Minnesota!)


Regardless, I still think Wisconsin is better team, and they’ve got the best running back in the country, Melvin Gordon, who should win the Heisman Trophy. I expect the Badgers, who are at home, to run the ball almost at will (like they did against Nebraska two weeks ago), and win by at least two touchdowns. Plus, YOU DON’T WIN AT CAMP RANDALL (they’ve lost 3 home games the last 5 seasons). It’s that simple. Sorry Gopher fans. It’s been a nice year.


#1 ALABAMA over #15 Auburn


Last year's game was one of the defining sporting events of my life, one that I will always remember, where I was, who I watched it with, and how I felt at the time. It’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen. I love when games like that, with all the build up and importance in the world, deliver in a memorable, improbable, and amazing way. Tennessee’s most improbable win ever was probably the stumble and fumble game in 1998 against Arkansas. I don’t really remember that one, because I was 5, but I know if something like that happened now, I’d probably have a heart attack. And I’d even argue that Auburn’s Kick Six was even more incredible and unbelievable than that one. Games like that one are the reason we as sports fans watch a zillion games throughout our lifetime. We hope to see incredible performances, and amazing victories, and we’ll deal with all the blowouts, because we hope to see something we’ll never forget.


But back to Saturday; Auburn’s defense is terrible, and they’ve proven to be phonies this season (like I thought they were). They were torched their last two SEC games by Texas A&M (41 points) and Georgia (34), and they haven’t won a conference game since they caught two huge breaks on those late fumbles against Ole Miss. Alabama has been the best team in the country in the best conference (they average 485 yards per game on offense, 2nd in the conference, and they allow the fewest yards per game in the conference, 283.5) and I don’t expect that to change this week.


Other college games


#11 ARIZONA over #13 Arizona State


This is more of a “Todd Graham, you’re a snake” pick than anything.


#6 OHIO STATE over Michigan


Remember when this game used to be competitive, and anticipated every season? I do. The Buckeyes have won 9 of the last 10. I think it’s going to be 10 of the last 11 after Saturday.


#5 Tcu over TEXAS


As much as I want Texas to win, so the media and playoff committee will stop stupidly putting the Horned Frogs over Baylor in the playoff race, I don’t see it happening. Charlie Strong has had a strong (yes, pun intended) finish to his first season though, as the Longhorns have won 3 straight conference games by at least 17 points. I was a little unsure about him after their early season falters (including a 41-7 loss at home to BYU), but now, I think he’s going to do a great job there. It just won’t materialize this week.


Lsu over TEXAS A&M


The Tigers have physically overpowered the Aggies the last two seasons, and I think Les Miles just has the match up with the “genius” Kevin Sumlin figured out. Remember that time when everybody was rushing to proclaim the Aggies “the next great dynasty in college football” after their thrashing of South Carolina on the opening Thursday of the season? I hope those people feel real stupid right now, kind of like I feel every week when most of my picks blow up in my face. If Sumlin and the Aggies lose on Thanksgiving night, he’d have back-to-back .500 or below finishes in the SEC, and have a three year conference record of 13-11. Genius? Please.


#2 Oregon over OREGON STATE


I wish the Beavers would be a worthy opponent for the Ducks this week, but I don’t see it happening.


#21 CLEMSON over South Carolina


Dabo Swinney has lost 5 straight games to Steve Spurrier, and hasn’t beaten the Gamecocks since he was the interim coach in 2008. Is this the year he gets it done? I don’t feel great about a game any time I pick Clemson, because they’ve burned their fan bases in the most debilitating way about a zillion times, but South Carolina does have one of the worst SEC defenses I’ve ever seen. They can’t lose this one, can they?


Tennessee over VANDERBILT


Vandy head coach Derek Mason didn’t say the word “Tennessee” throughout his entire Tuesday press conference, instead referring to the Vols as, “that school out east”. I’m not sure why he did this. Maybe it would be cool if the Commodores weren’t 0-7 in the conference, gotten blown out 37-7 by Temple, and beat Charleston Southern by one point. I think Tennessee, despite having a Swiss Cheese offensive line, should be able to take care of business in Nashville this week.




All of the Thanksgiving games are awesome, and have playoff implications. Let’s run through them.


LIONS over Bears


Chicago, despite probably having the worst defense in Bears history, is somehow still alive for the playoffs at 5-6. They didn’t win a home game until Week 11! That defense should help the suddenly putrid Lions’ offense, which secretly hasn’t scored more than 24 points in a game since Week 1. Calvin Johnson has had some injuries, but he’s also had a strangely bad year (in 8 games, Megatron has just 38 catches for 578 yards and 3 TDs). If he’s ever going to figure it out this season, it has to be this week, against the Bears’ embarrassment of a defense. Even if they don’t, Detroit’s defense is good enough to win the game for them. You also can’t discount the Jay Cutler factor. He’s good for at least two horrible picks tomorrow right?


COWBOYS over Eagles


Philly ranks 16th in rush yards allowed per game, though it is interesting to see how much their defense has struggled since Demeco Ryans went out for the year, and how tired they’ve looked as the season has gone on. Dallas hasn’t been able to pound the ball quite like they were earlier in the season, but if they can establish the run even 90% as well as they were able to in Weeks 1-7 (and I think they can), then they should win tomorrow. The biggest concern for Dallas will be the lack of rest they’ll get. They played on Sunday night last week, follow that up with the game tomorrow, and then play next Thursday against the Bears (who are in the same boat). That’s 3 games in 12 days, which sounds brutal, and probably not good for your body. But wait, I thought the NFL cared about player safety? Whoops.


49ERS over Seahawks


This might be my favorite NFL game of the week. Both of these offenses are extremely limited (San Fran has only scored more than 30 points in one game this season, and Seattle’s done it twice), but have physical, punch-you-in-the-mouth defenses. I could easily see this game being 13-10 or 10-7, and I’d love to see that. There’s just not enough defensive slugfests anymore, and sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with seeing a hard hitting game that really challenges the offense. I’m siding with the Niners simply because Seattle just played an extremely physical game against the Cardinals, in which Russell Wilson took shot after shot the entire game, coupled with multiple violent collisions between Seahawk and Cardinal players. I’m just not sure their bodies have had enough time to heal.


Now, onto the Sunday games…..


COLTS over Redskins


Remember that time when “Luck vs. RG3” was an argument? That seems like an eternity ago. Now, Colt McCoy is starting, and Griffin might be done in Washington. The most damning comments about RG3? On the Michael Kay Show last week, Steve Young said, “I’ve talked to his previous coaches, people I really trust and admire, that know quarterbacks. He doesn’t put the time in”. Ouch.


TEXANS over Titans


Please watch this video. That’s all you need to know about this game.


Browns over BILLS


Josh Gordon is back for Cleveland, and he made his presence felt almost immediately (8 catches, 120 yards last week against Atlanta). He completely changes everything for them on offense, and he may even help Brian Hoyer look like a semicompetent quarterback again (though he did throw 3 picks on Sunday). It’s been a nice year Buffalo, but I think the run will be over on Sunday. Don’t worry, Cleveland’s will be at some point as well, and both of you guys can return to being the same old, irrelevant franchises you’ve been throughout most of your history.


Chargers over RAVENS


This one is probably a “Lose, and you’re out” game, particularly for San Diego, who has a brutal remaining schedule. The last time the Bolts flew across the country to play a 1 o’clock game, it was in Miami, and they lost 37-0. Sheesh. I’m also worried because the Chargers just put their 3rd different center on IR this season. I was going to say that the Ravens haven’t beaten a good team since Week 2, but then I remembered that San Diego hasn’t either. This pick is mostly about me just defiantly sticking by my preseason Super Bowl pick. Plus, I do think there’s a really good team somewhere in the the Chargers' locker room. They’ve just had so many injuries. They did impress me with their victory on Sunday against the feisty Rams. Have they finally turned the corner? We’ll see.


Giants over JAGUARS


I’m going to put Odell Beckham Jr.’s catch right here for you, just in case you were living under a rock somewhere and missed it, because that’s the best catch I’ve ever seen. I mean…. Wow. Beckham’s potential to make catches like that is really the only reason anyone should watch this game. Also, on a side note, I think this is going to be Tom Coughlin’s last year New York. Including this season, the G-Men will have only been to the playoffs one time in the last six seasons. I think he’s a great coach, but it might just be time for a different voice in that locker room.


Bengals over BUCCANEERS


Could Andy Dlaton find a way to blow this one? There’s no way right? It’s Tampa Bay! And how in the world are the hapless, 2-9 Bucs, only two games out of first place in the NFC South? Thank you, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Carolina, for helping to create the worst division in the history of the NFL.


RAMS over Raiders


St. Louis is so close. They’ve got one of the best head coaches in the NFL in Jeff Fisher, a physical, stout defense, and some nice skill position players. They’ve just got to find the right guy at the quarterback position, and I’m don’t think he is on the roster.


STEELERS over Saints


New Orleans is done a legitimate contender, and I have less faith in them this week than anyone. They are no longer dynamite in home games (they’ve lost 3 in the Superdome this season), and they’ve never been great in outdoor, weather affected games. The forecast for Pittsburgh on Sunday? Low 50s, and rainy. Good luck. Then again, it’s not like this loss will hurt them. Atlanta’s not winning this week either.


VIKINGS over Panthers


I created a rule for my self this season; if a team from the NFC South is playing a game outside the division, I always pick the team they’re playing. It’s worked pretty well for me so far.


Cardinals over FALCONS


Atlanta doesn’t get the East Coast, 1 o’clock Eastern Time, game against a team flying across the country from the West Coast, as the league scheduled this one for 4:05. So that hurts. Plus, I forgot to mention (and probably should’ve said this first) that the Falcons suck! So there’s that.


PACKERS over Patriots


The New England thrashing/annihilating of the entire NFL will come to an end this week in Lambeau Field. If this game was in Foxborough, I would’ve picked the Pats. It’s so rare in the NFL that we get a regular season meeting of the two hottest teams in each conference, and it’s funny how everybody counted both of these teams out early in the season (I know I did with the Packers), only to look incredibly stupid when they started destroying everyone week after week. The media is going to spin this one as a “Rodgers vs. Brady” game, but there’s so much more to it than that. Green Bay got really inventive on the defensive end when they started putting Clay Mathews in the middle to help against the run, and the results have been really impressive, except for last week. In the two weeks following that change, Green Bay held Chicago to 55 yards rushing, and Philly to just 109 on 31 carries, or just 3.5 yards per rush. They gave up 155 on the ground last week against Minnesota, which isn’t great, but they’re probably never going to be elite against the rush at any point this season. Mathews at least makes them decent in that category, which might be good enough. At least they won’t get gashed to quite the degree by Jonas Gray the way Indianapolis was two weeks ago. Then again, I do expect this to be a high scoring affair, with Green Bay coming out victorious because they’ve got better offensive weapons, and the league MVP in Rodgers, who has somehow quietly had a great season (30 TDs, 3 picks, almost 3000 yards passing with 5 games left).


Broncos over CHIEFS


I love how Denver rallied on Sunday at home against Miami, when their whole season was teetering on the edge of a knife. They took all the early body blows that the Dolphins could throw, and still stood on their feet. They were down 28-17 late in the 3rd quarter, but were able to turn it on in the 4th and score 22 points, while holding Miami scoreless in the quarter until the 1:34 mark. They, for the first time since the San Diego game in Week 8, showed that edge and unconquerable will they had in the first half of the season. Contrast that with Kansas City, who probably just played their worst game of the season, losing to the laughably bad Raiders. Granted, Kansas City had been playing really good football (they’d won 7 of 8), and Oakland was bound to win a game at some point. The most disheartening thing for the Chiefs was how the Raiders literally did everything they could to lose the game on K.C.’s final drive, only they somehow couldn’t capitalize. Still, Kansas City, despite that embarrassement, should still be a factor in the playoff race the last 5 weeks. But if Denver is back to being the Bronco team from the beginning of the season (and I think they are) they should win this game on Sunday night.


Dolphins over JETS


Finally, the Monday Night Game. Can this Jets’ season please be over? You’ve tortured us enough.




Before I go, I just want to take this time to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. This is my favorite holiday of the year, because there’s not a better day for eating than this one. It’s the only time the entire year that I feel fine about stuffing my face until I can no longer physically hold down anymore food. So enjoy tomorrow, and have fun over the long weekend (those of you that get one). You deserve it.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Week In Football: Tennessee Loses, And The AFC Is Loaded; Plus, What Should Tennessee Do With Lil Jon?

On Saturday night, for the first time since the Josh Dobbs era began on October 25th against Alabama, Tennessee fans left a game feeling disappointed. Yes, of course I was unhappy about another loss to the Crimson Tide, but I was also excited, because I believed the Vols had found their QB of the future. And nothing has changed that. If anything, the power of Dobbs got us to believe that Tennessee was in every game again, and that there was no opponent that would completely overmatch the Vols. I heard a bunch of analysts and media pundits picking Tennessee this week, and they were even favored by three points against a team that was in first place in the East. Clearly, people thought the Vols were back, or at least legitimate again.


And that’s what made the loss so devastating. I’ve grown accustomed to Tennessee defeats over the years, though most of them leave me feeling one of two ways: either the Vols would get blown out by a superior opponent, leaving me thinking, “Oh my gosh, they suck, and they’re never going to contend for anything meaningful ever again”; or they’d be in a close game against a better team, scratching and clawing and fighting the entire time, looking like they might be able to squeak one out at the last moment, only to whiff so badly at the end (13 men on the field at LSU) that it almost made me laugh, before I realized how depressing it was that this was actually the team I rooted for.


Regardless of how those games ended, I always went into them thinking that they’d lose, or that it was going to be really tough for them to pull it out. But not on Saturday night. I expected the Vols to come out, execute in all phases of the game, squeeze the life out of the Missouri offense, and above all, win. There’s no worse feeling than losing a game you expect to win, and it sucks even more when you play the way they did. Dobbs was the worst he’d been since his miraculous rise (24-37, 195 yards, 1 TD, 1 pick, and only 13 rushing yards on 17 carries), and the offensive line returned to being the one that had tortured Vol fans all year (it seemed like Missouri defensive end Shane Ray was in the backfield the entire game).


We as Vol fans were so excited about the Dobbs era beginning that we ignored almost all the problems this team still had, or created for themselves. Not having A.J. Johnson because of his involvement in a rape investigation hurt them, as well as Brian Randolph’s first half suspension for the targeting penalty he got last week against Kentucky. Plus, the Tigers had the best defensive line by far of anyone the Vols have faced since Dobbs began starting, and the O-line just wasn’t up for it. They’re going to have to get significantly better up front if they’re going to contend in the SEC East next season. And then there’s the Butch factor. As much as I like him as a person, and think he’s done some great things down in Knoxville, I still have concerns about his clock management, decision making in crisis, and his overly conservative approach in almost all of their games. Case and point, it was a terrible decision to challenge that illegal touching penalty on the onside kick at the end of the game. The ball clearly didn’t go 10 yards, and losing that challenge cost the Vols a valuable timeout, one that they could’ve used to stop the clock and help them get the ball back. Yeah, they wouldn’t have had much time left had they been able to force a Missouri punt on that possession, but that challenged killed any chance of a miracle happening. And it’s not like they haven’t had an improbable victory this season. Remember the South Carolina game?


Who wants to hold the single game rushing record?


Last week, the Wisconsin Badgers’ Melvin Gordon obliterated the Nebraska defense for record an NCAA record 408 rushing yards. Really impressive right? Well this week, Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine amazingly rushed for 427 yards against Kansas. How does that even happen? And how do you feel if you’re a defensive player for the Jayhawks? Perine had 34 carries, good for 12.6 yards per carry. These cartoonish rushing numbers, accomplished in a pass happy, all offense college football, speak more to the lack of defense today than anything. Don’t get me wrong, Gordon and Perine are both great players, but when you rush for over 400 yards in a game by yourself, it has a lot to do with the fact that the team you just went against played defense like a revolving door. There are only two teams that haven’t gotten torched by an opposing offense, Alabama and Mississippi State. Everybody else has had at least one stinker of a game on defense, and some teams (like Texas A&M and South Carolina) have had multiple. Kansas has been awful on D all year. They’ve given up 30 or more points 6 times this season, and the only teams they’ve held below 20 are Central Michigan and Iowa State. Obviously, you wouldn’t expect them to give up 400-plus yards rushing to one person, but it’s not completely shocking right?


How good is Arkansas?


Over the last 3 games (at the time, #1 Mississippi State, #17 LSU, and #8 Ole Miss), the Razorbacks have only allowed 17 points, and they’ve pitched back-to-back shutouts against the Tigers and Rebels. They completely overwhelmed and dominated those last two opponents for the entire game, particularly Ole Miss (they forced six turnovers against Ole Miss, held Bo Wallace to a 51.6 completion percentage, and swallowed up the Rebels rushing attack, holding them to 63 yards). Plus, they threw a pick in the end zone against Mississippi State late as they were driving for the tying touchdown. Throw in their one point loss to Alabama, and I’m not sure there’s been a more overlooked solid team this season than them (in fact, they were so overlooked that I wrote things like “Arkansas is Arkansas” and that Ole Miss was better at both better quarterback and on defense on Friday. Whoops. The lesson, as always; I’m an idiot). Bret Bielema’s coaching tenure got off to a terrible start (he lost his first 13 SEC games), but it appears that he’s starting to get some of his type of players down there, and they’re implementing the type of style he wants to play. I’m interested to see what kind of game they’ll give Missouri on the road this week, as well as how they’ll look next season, the pivotal and always-important Year 3 for Bielema.


My 4 Team Playoff


  1. Alabama. We literally learned nothing about the Tide this week, as they beat up on Western Carolina, who was more overmatched than your character was in Punch-Out when he had to face Mike Tyson. This week is the Iron Bowl, at home against Auburn, or, in other words, the most consistently redneck week in the state of Alabama. It inspires dumb Alabamans to become even dumber (who knew that was even possible?), call Paul Finebaum's radio show and yell like children, and poison hundred year old trees at Toomer’s corner. What a terrible week for anyone who has sense and can think rationally down there. I’m sorry, I really am.
  2.  Oregon. The Ducks blasted Colorado this week, and they haven’t played a close game since their lone loss of the season on October 2nd against Arizona. They and Alabama are the two best teams in the country right now, and I expect them to win their semifinal games and meet in the national title game, at least right now. Then again, both teams still have to play rivalry games (Auburn and Oregon State), and they’ll both have to win their conference championship games to even get there. A lot of crazy stuff can happen between now and the time the playoff committee puts out their final rankings in two weeks.
  3.  Mississippi State. I bumped the Bulldogs over Florida State because of the Seminoles horrible play this week, this time against Boston College, though I realize it’s probably unreasonable to expect the committee to do the same thing. If Alabama knocks off Auburn this week (and I think they will), then the Egg Bowl on Saturday at Ole Miss will be the Bulldogs last game of the regular season. Will it be enough for the committee to keep them in? Or will one of the “co-conference champions” in the Big 12, Baylor and TCU, jump them, assuming all three of them win out? I hope they won’t, and I don’t think they should. I’d argue Miss State has a way more impressive resume than either of those schools. They have one loss in the best conference and division in the country, and that loss was on the road, at Alabama (the best team in college football), by 5 points, even though they out-gained them. Conversely, TCU blew a 21 point 4th quarter lead to Baylor, and the Bears looked horrible in their loss on the road at West Virginia (the “scary” Baylor offense gave up 4 sacks and only scored 7 points after halftime).
  4. Florida State. I’m tired of the Seminoles getting by week after week against mediocre to crappy competition. They clearly aren’t one of the four best teams in the country, but because they always finish each Saturday victorious, they won’t (and probably shouldn’t) be dropped out of the committee’s top 4. They still are in one of the Power 5 conferences (the ACC), and they’ve showed more resiliency than almost anyone (they have 5 wins by 6 points or less). And as much as I don’t like it, they’ll more than likely be there at the end of the season. Florida probably won’t be able to give them much of a challenge (they can’t score), and I’m not sure how good their opponent in ACC Championship Game, Georgia Tech, really is.


I’d rank Baylor 5th, TCU 6th, and Ohio State 7th. And honestly, I think those 7 teams are really the only ones with a shot to make the playoffs. I don’t see 4 of these teams losing in the next two weeks, and I can’t see the committee putting a two loss Georgia, Missouri (assuming they win the SEC Championship Game), or UCLA (assuming they win the Pac 12 Championship Game) in over any one loss team. Then again, that’s just my feeling. I have no idea what the committee will do, because there really isn’t any precedent yet, as this is the first year of all of this. How much will they value a team being a conference champion? Do they care if the SEC (the best conference) is represented? I have no idea. We’ll have to see how it plays out.


Now, onto the NFL….


San Diego stays alive for another week


The Chargers (my preseason AFC Champion) won on Sunday afternoon, ensuring that their season will live on for another week. They couldn’t have afforded to drop to 6-5, particularly with how tough the AFC is right now. Here are the records of all the teams in the playoff hunt:


New England: 9-2

Denver: 8-3

Cincinnati: 7-3-1

Indianapolis: 7-4

Pittsburgh: 7-4

Kansas City: 7-4

San Diego: 7-4


Baltimore: 6-4 (they could get their 7th win tonight in New Orleans)

Miami: 6-5


That’s 10 teams still very much alive with only 5 weeks left! Only six can make it. Miami, who is a really good team that blanked the Chargers 37-0 in Week 9, might be done right now after losing their fifth game yesterday in Denver. Look how many teams they have to climb over! And how about the AFC North? All 4 teams could have seven wins after tonight, and everyone still has at least two division games left.


I’m going to go ahead and pencil in New England in the AFC East and Indianapolis in the AFC South. That leaves us with 8 teams fighting for four spots. I think the Broncos will win the West, though they do have 3 tough road games remaining (at Kansas City, at San Diego, and at Cincinnati). The North is wide open, but if you held a gun to my head, I’d take Pittsburgh to win the division. They just got to rest up this week because of their bye week, and the schedule breaks nicely for them. They host New Orleans this week (the Saints suck outdoors, and I’m sure it will be cold outside in Pittsburgh), followed by back-to-back road games at Cincinnati and at Atlanta. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be at least 2-1 in those games. They’ll then finish with home games against Kansas City and Cincinnati. Again, not horrible. They get to face the “we hate outdoor games” Saints, the inept Falcons, Andy Dalton twice, and the King of Clock Mismanagement, Andy Reid, and his sidekick, quarterback Alex Smith. I have no faith in Cleveland and Brian Hoyer, because they’re the Browns and haven’t won a championship in 50 years for a reason. And I think Ravens will lose this upcoming week at home against San Diego, and ultimately falter either because they secretly aren’t that good (there best win was over the Steelers, in Baltimore, in Week 2) or they won’t have any of the tiebreakers in their favor (Cincy beat them twice). The Bolts have a brutal schedule left (at Baltimore, home against New England and Denver, and at San Fran and Kansas City), but because I’m tremendous homer and a guy that sticks by his predictions until I look like an idiot, I’ll roll with the Chargers to somehow sneak in the playoffs. It’s not a crazy pick right? Baltimore is overrated; Denver seems to have lost their physical edge on defense, they can’t consistently pass block, and they can’t (or won’t) run the ball; and San Francisco secretly hasn’t played a good game on offense almost all year, as they’ve only scored 30 or more points in a game once this season. As far as the other playoff spot, I think it’s going to be….. the Bengals. And even typing that makes me uncomfortable. Do I really have to bet on Andy Dalton? They’ve got a great roster, but I just don’t trust the Carrot Top look-alike/wannabe they’ve got playing quarterback for them. His debacle against Cleveland this season will forever be burned in my mind. And even if they do make the playoffs, I think they’ll be one and done, just like they were the last 3 years.


Seattle also survives to fight on… for another week


Their victory yesterday against Arizona was the most Seahawk-like game they’ve played since Week 1 against Green Bay. Seattle ran for 124 yards, while holding Arizona to just 64 on the ground, and also controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes. They sacked Drew Stanton seven times, and the Legion of Boom actually looked like that great and frightening secondary we thought they were. They, also like the Chargers, couldn’t have afforded to drop to 6-5, because the NFC is also challenging. If the playoffs began today, both Detroit (who was the two seed just two weeks ago) and San Francisco would be out. This Thursday’s game in San Francisco is probably the second most important Niners-‘Hawks game ever (after last year’s NFC Championship Game), because the loser would be 7-5, down a game to the winner, and out of the playoffs with four weeks left. Are the old Seahawks back? It’s hard to say. It’s only been one game, this is the same team that got gashed on the ground in Kansas City eight days ago, and this is the most limited they’ve been offensively since Pete Carroll got there. Regardless, I can’t wait for that slugfest on Thursday night. But more on that game on Wednesday.


Finally, my Angry Old Man. He’ll probably be upset that he was relegated to the bottom of the page this week, but he’ll figure out how to make it work. Plus, it’s not like he hasn’t been dealing with things he doesn’t like (anyone under the age of 50) for the last decade. He’s used to it. Anyway, he was riled up by a column written by John Adams of the Knoxville News Sentinel, which encouraged the Vols to say goodbye to “3rd Down For What?” and rapper Lil Jon, because of his explicit lyrics. His words, “I’m a Butch Jones fan, but he shouldn’t be embracing all that rap crap you and your idiot friends like (just for the record, I think the song ‘Turn Down For What’ is a hot piece of garbage. What does that even mean?), particularly if he advocates raping women in his other songs, like his newest piece of art, ‘Literally I Can’t’. I have a problem with that personally, and I don’t like the team I root for embracing him all that garbage, because it’s wrong. Plus, they do have two football players involved in a rape investigation! Get that clown out of there!”.


I do think it’s interesting that people embrace, listen to, and even purchase this type of music. Because if you listen to most rap music nowadays, women are objectified as objects that are only on earth for male sexual pleasure. And how does Chris Brown still have a career? He punched Rihanna right in the face, and then acted like an idiot when he was asked about it by Robin Roberts. As far as I can tell, he’s never shown all that much remorse for it, and actually mostly just made excuses as to why it happened. Now he’s releasing songs with lyrics like “these hoes ain’t loyal”, which people are listening to like it’s going out of style (the video has more than 180 million views on Youtube).


Why are we as a society fine with musicians saying whatever they want? If I went around, publicly announcing, “these hoes ain’t loyal” or calling women the “b” word, I’d be skewered by the media (and I probably should be). But if I put music to those words, suddenly it’s “art” and it’s no big deal. There has to be some line where it’s no longer “art” right?


And just for the record, I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with cuss words, or suggestive themes in songs or movies or television shows. How does the musician, or artist, or actor feel about what he is saying? How is he/she being portrayed? Are we glorifying rape and violence against women, children, and the innocent? Sometimes those things can be a theme, but the lifestyle isn’t exactly being celebrated. When I listen to a song like “Loyal” or “Literally I Can’t”, rape, the objectification of women as sexual objects, and the “B***h, shut the F Up” culture are glorified and perpetuated. Contrast that with a Tupac song like “Life Goes On”, or “Wonder Why They Call U B***h”, and while themes like gang violence, going to prison, disrespect of women, and murder are discussed, they aren’t being given the thumbs up. If anything, they have a somber, reflective, sad tone. They recognize the importance of human life, and how heartbreaking it is when that life is mistreated, wasted, or ended. To me, that’s how rappers should be, telling stories about their lives and what they saw, advocating changes in their communities, and dismissing the ideas that the “gangsta” lifestyle is awesome, and that having sex with whoever you want whenever you want, regardless if they’re willing, is ok.


So back to Lil Jon. Simply because Tennessee has two players involved in a rape investigation, I’d be fine with the program disassociating themselves with him. I don’t think his lyrics caused A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams to do anything nefarious, as was suggested by some fool that called Paul Finebaum’s show this week, but I’m also not sure he’s a great a guy to be involved with the Vol program right now, particularly with his lyrics, and the serious allegations against two players. My Angry Old Man thinks this is a black eye for Butch Jones, and that this will hurt recruiting, because other SEC coaches could tell recruit’s moms that Tennessee, Lil Jon, and pro-rape lyrics go hand in hand. I don’t think it would be all that much of an advantage, but that’s just me. I think people are selectively offended by things, and music is one of those things that just doesn’t bother them. That’s why I think it’s up to us as good people to stand up and say, “Wait a second, we can’t be ok with these lyrics, and these themes talked about in a positive way. It harms our communities, and tells men that women are only as good as the sex they can give us”. Do you feel great about, “B***h, I don’t wanna hear no from you” being spun in a positive light? I know I certainly don’t.




Friday, November 21, 2014

Tennessee Will Beat Missouri, and Other College and NFL Game Picks

Tomorrow, for what seems like the 5th or 6th time this season, is another day full of a bunch of average college football games. There just aren’t a whole lot of compelling and important ones. Still, like always, I’ll be here to break things down for you. And, like always, I’ll whiff on a ton of picks tomorrow and Sunday, and follow that up by climbing out of bed every Monday morning, scratching my head, wondering how I could’ve been such an idiot. Ok, that doesn’t happen EVERY Monday. Maybe just half the time. Still, regardless of what happens from week-to-week, I'll be here every Friday, throwing every team at the wall and seeing what sticks. Plus, I think it’s important to include some comedy in pretty much everything I write. Well, with my Friday picks, the jokes are found in pretty much every prediction I make. Your welcome.


So, without further ado (Home team in CAPS)….


#19 Usc over #9 UCLA


This is actually a really important game in the Pac 12 South, as the winner will be in first place in the division. With a win, the Trojans would finish 7-2 in conference, eliminate the Bruins (and Arizona) from the division title race, and put immense pressure on Arizona State to win their last two games (that would be the only way the Sun Devils could win the division, as they sit at 5-2 in conference, as they beat USC on this hail mary during the season). For me, this game has less to do with USC, and more to do with UCLA. I’ve been so disappointed in the Bruins this year. They were touted by many pundits as a national title contender before the season started, but instead, they’ve been the biggest phonies in college football. How in the world are they ranked 9th right now? They have one impressive win this season, a 62-27 beat down at Arizona State on September 25th, and a bunch of crappy performances. They beat a bad California team by 2, needed double overtime to beat Colorado (who is winless in the Pac 12), eeked 7 point win over Memphis, and escaped with a three point victory over Texas early in the season when the Longhorns were bad. They’re the worst “top 10” team in the country, and honestly, I don’t have any real faith in them to show up and play well on Saturday night. Why would I? They’ve looked really good one time this year.


#8 Ole Miss over ARKANSAS


I just want everyone reading right now to stop what they’re doing, stand up, and give a round of applause for Arkansas, who, on Saturday, got their first SEC win since October 13th, 2012, as they defeated LSU 17-0. Bret Bielema got his first big win since he took over as the Razorbacks head coach, and it was the greatest day in Arkansas football since former head coach John L. Smith screamed about how this was the state of Alabama program. Honestly, it's been a long time coming. They’d had some brutal, gut punch losses this season (a 7 point loss against Texas A&M, a 1 point loss to Alabama, and a 7 point loss to Mississippi State), and it was just nice to see Bielema get that big W. I think he’s a smart guy, and a good head coach. I just felt (and still do) that he and Arkansas were a weird cultural fit, and because of that, it may not end up working out.


Whatever happens, it won’t matter tomorrow, because Ole Miss is just a better team. My only concern for the Rebels is how they’ll look for their first game against a legitimate opponent since their best receiver, Laquon Treadwell, broke his leg on near the goal line against Auburn. Obviously, they’ll miss his play making ability on the outside, but I don’t think that will be enough to keep them from winning. They’ve got the best defense (that money can buy) and quarterback in this game, and Arkansas is 1-5 in conference for a reason. Let’s not overreact to one big win.


TENNESSEE over #20 Missouri


The Vols have outscored their opponents 115-65 since Josh Dobbs set foot on the field against Alabama. This guy and his lack of eyebrows changes everything for Tennessee, and demonstrates once again just how important the quarterback position is in the game of football. The defense is on the field less because the Vols can put together and sustain drives, the offensive line suddenly doesn’t look like it’s full of a bunch of middle schoolers and unathletic stiffs, and those read option plays suddenly work a whole lot better because the defense actually has to worry about Dobbs keeping the football. And yes, while I realize it is Kentucky, when was the last time Tennessee really put it on another SEC team for 4 quarters? 2009, Kiffin’s one year? I know I’ve been going on and on and on about how Tennessee left an East division title on the table this season, but instead of crying over it (and believe me, I’ve already done that, like multiple times), I’m going to look forward to next season, one in which I think the Vols could easily win the SEC East, and may even be the favorite coming into the year. Yeah, they’ll be on the road at Alabama, Florida, and Missouri, but they also get Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas at home. I could easily see them going 5-1 in those games. Why not? Georgia will have a new quarterback, South Carolina will still probably have a bad defense, Arkansas is still Arkansas, Florida will have a new head coach, and Missouri could be ok, but it’s not like Tennessee couldn’t win that game. The contest in Tuscaloosa will be the tough one, but other than that, I feel like every game on the schedule is winnable. Even Oklahoma in Knoxville isn’t an impossibility. I feel great about next season, and that’s what happens when you have the right guy playing quarterback for you.


In terms of the game on Saturday, I’m optimistic, even though the Vols will be without their best linebacker, and heart and soul of the defense, A.J. Johnson, who is involved in a rape investigation. It may not matter though, because Missouri has one of the worst offenses in the SEC. The Tigers average the second least yards per game in the conference, and Maty Mauk hasn’t had a great year (10 picks, 53.1 completion percentage). Tennessee is playing their best football of the season, and they’ll get their third straight SEC victory tomorrow, the first time that’s happened since 2010.


Other college picks


#23 NEBRASKA over #25 Minnesota


The Cornhuskers still haven’t tackled Melvin Gordon (408 yards rushing last week!), but it probably won’t matter this week, because the Golden Gophers don’t have anyone close to his caliber in the backfield.


#3 FLORIDA STATE over Boston College


The Seminoles barely escaped (for the what seems like the tenth time this season) their last true regular season test of the year last week in Miami. Boston College stinks, but if FSU struggles with them, I think the playoff selection committee should sit down, put their heads together, and boot them out of it. I, along with many others, don’t think they’re one of the best 4 teams in the country. But if they have to squeak one out against the Golden Eagles at home? Come on. It would be time for them to go.


#15 Arizona over #17 UTAH


I don’t have a great feel for this game, but ever since I started talking up the Utes, and declaring that they were pretty good, they’ve done nothing but disappoint me. So I can’t pick them. Thanks a lot guys.


#16 Wisconsin over IOWA


Melvin Gordon won’t have 408 yards rushing again, but the Badgers won’t need that to beat the Hawkeyes. Fun fact about Iowa: their head coach, Kirk Ferentz, is the ninth highest paid coach in the country, at a little more than 4 million a year. Really? Since 2010, here are his records:


2010: 8-5

2011: 7-6

2012: 4-8

2013: 8-5

2014: 6-3


If you’re an Iowa fan, do you feel great about paying a guy 4 million a year that’s gone 33-27 over the last 5 seasons? I know I wouldn’t.


Now, onto my NFL picks….


CHARGERS over Rams

SEAHAWKS over Cardinals


Week 12 produces two more “Win, or your season is over, and you’ve disappointed your fans greatly” games, ironically involving both of my preseason Super Bowl teams, San Diego and Seattle. Both these teams have brutal schedules remaining. San Diego follows up this week with games at Baltimore, home against New England, home against Denver, at San Francisco, and at Kansas City. Sheesh. Seattle’s isn’t any better; they’ll have games at San Fran on Thanksgiving, at Philly, home against the Niners, at Arizona, and home against St. Louis. Neither of these teams can afford to drop to 6-5. There are just so many teams they’d have to jump over if that happens, and they both have two of the toughest remaining schedules in the league.


St. Louis is feisty, and that worries me a little bit for the Chargers. Three of the Rams’ victories this season are over the Niners, Seahawks, and Broncos, and it’s not like San Diego has looked all that good recently. In fact, they haven’t played a great game since they shut out the Jets 31-0 in Week 5. Week 5! Still, I think they’re better than St. Louis, and they’ll find a way to win. Plus, Rivers and Antonio Gates are both past due for a big game. Why not this week?


Honestly, I’m more worried about Seattle. I haven’t liked anything that’s come out of their locker room this season (Russell Wilson isn’t “black” enough, this is definitely Marshawn Lynch’s last year in Seattle, Percy Harvin was a terrible teammate, and he popped Golden Tate in the face last season, etc.) Plus, Russell Wilson just looks so….. limited. For all the love he got last season, which he partially deserved, it is interesting to see how the narrative flipped on him this season. Mike Greenberg (I know, not a guy with a high football IQ, but still) said earlier in the season that he’d rather have Wilson than Andrew Luck. Now? No one would ever say that. He’s never been a guy that made a bunch of plays down the field with his arm, and now, with no weapons, it’s that much harder for him. Plus, what happened to the Legion of Boom, and where’s the great pass rush? They’ve been physically whooped so many times this season by opposing offensive lines (Dallas and Kansas City, for example), and they’ve lost that edge they had last season. Nobody is scared of them anymore (or the 12th man), and teams are no longer afraid to throw on them. I could easily talk myself out of Seattle, though I’ll stick with them, just because I can’t imagine the defending Super Bowl Champs being all but eliminated from playoff contention in Week 12 (I still think they have some pride in that locker room). But it could easily happen.


PATRIOTS over Lions


This is one of those games that will, on Sunday, represent a truth about the NFL. We view and talk about the Patriots in a certain way because of games like this, and we view and talk about the Lions in a certain way because of games like this. Detroit has been inept for half a century because they lose games like this one, and everyone has respected New England for over a decade because they win games like this. Why should I have any faith in Matt Stafford, on the road in New England, against Brady and Belichick? Yes, I realize the Lions have the top ranked defense in the league, but they, for some reason, were only able to score 6 points, and none after halftime, last week in Arizona. I could easily see them showing up and getting blasted from the opening kickoff to the final whistle, partially because New England is playing so well right now, but also because they’re the Lions, and I don’t have any faith in them in big games. It actually kind of reminds me of last week’s Mississippi State-Bama game; The Tide are the Pats, the team that’s been consistently dominant, while Detroit is MSU, the upstart that’s been mostly irrelevant for the greater part of their history. I would’ve believed the Bulldogs would beat Alabama when I saw it, and I’ll believe the Lions can beat the Patriots when I see it.


BRONCOS over Dolphins


Every NFL fan needs to take a collective chill pill with the Broncos after last week’s embarrassing defeat in St. Louis. Granted, it was bad, and Peyton hasn’t been great in 3 weeks (6 picks). Plus, his ball looks terrible right now, as itt wobbles through the air. He doesn't have a tight spiral anymore, and he barely has any zip on his throws. They can’t run the ball, and don’t appear to be interested in trying (28 rushing yards on 10 carries last week!). Then again, I hate overreacting to a bad three game stretch by any NFL team, particularly one quarterbacked by Manning that looked awesome through its first seven games. I remember it happening a lot with New England after their first three games, and now everyone feels stupid because they haven’t lost since then. A lot of these games come down to this: do I have any faith in this coach/quarterback combo going on the road and winning a big game? Joe Philbin and Ryan Tannehill in Denver? As much as he’s impressed me this season, let’s not overreact, and act like this guy is Aaron Rodgers or anything. The Dolphins can rush the passer extremely well (they have 30 sacks, tied for fourth most in the league), but Denver could also get tight end Julius Thomas back this week (he practiced today). Every team has lulls and low points during the season. It happens. I’m always willing to side with the team and the quarterback that’s done it for years and years over the upstarts with the questionable quarterback. Plus, it’s not like Manning’s ball has looked great at any point during the season. It’s always wobbled. We just notice it more now because they’re struggling so much.


Other NFL picks


Chiefs over RAIDERS


Yeah, I whiffed on that one. Who would’ve thought that Oakland would beat a team that was 7-1 over their last 8 games? I certainly didn’t.


Browns over FALCONS


Atlanta sucks, and I won’t pick them to beat anyone outside the NFC South until they do it. I still can’t believe they’re a division leader after 10 games.


EAGLES over Titans


Coming off Chip Kelly’s worst loss as a head coach on any level, Philly gets the best possible medicine: Tennessee.


Packers over VIKINGS


Green Bay is the best team in the NFC right now, and Minnesota couldn’t even beat the crappy Bears last week.


COLTS over Jaguars


Do I even need to say anything about this one? It’s Jacksonville!


Bengals over TEXANS


This game is going to blow up in my face at about 1:30 on Sunday, after Andy Dalton has already thrown two picks and fumbled once. I’ll then remind myself of the “Never pick a team quarterbacked by Dalton” rule I’ve made like a zillion times, and silently shake my head. But Cincy is better on paper, and they should win.


BEARS over Buccaneers


Incredibly, Chicago won their first home game of the season last week. How is that even possible? It was Week 11! Fortunately for them, they found an easy way to get their second home win. It’s called the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


49ERS over Redskins


Apparently, RG3 was doing a lot of preparation for San Francisco this week. It won’t matter. The Niners seem to have gotten back on track recently, as they’ve won back-to-back road games. I’m still interested to see what kind of an impact Aldon Smith will have for them going forward (he had no sacks or tackles in last week’s game in New York, but he did face constant double and triple teams), but they won’t need him to be great on Sunday to beat the Redskins.


Cowboys over GIANTS


This one’s real simple; Dallas has the second best rush offense in the league (153.2 yards per game), and the G-Men have the worst rush defense.


BILLS over Jets


The only reason this game would be close is because of all the craziness that’s gone on in Western New York this week that forced this game to be moved to Detroit. But the Jets are just terrible, and I’m sure every New York fan will be happy when the Rex Ryan era comes to an end at the conclusion of the season.


Ravens over SAINTS


The home field advantage of the Superdome appears to be gone, as New Orleans has lost back-to-back home games. In fact, they’ve lost 5 indoor games this season, including at Dallas, at Atlanta, and at Detroit. But wait, I thought the Saints were great indoors? I guess not, or at least not anymore.


So, like always, I encourage everyone to sit back, relax, and enjoy football this weekend. You deserve it.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What In The World Is Going On With The Atlanta Braves?

I was putting the finishing touches on my “Week in Football” blog (which you can find here, in case you missed it) on Monday, when I felt a loud vibration from my phone. I quickly glanced over and noticed that it was from the Major League Baseball App, informing me that the Atlanta Braves had traded Gold Glove winning outfielder Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals for starting pitcher Shelby Miller. I was surprised, but I was also preoccupied with something else, so I quickly texted my Angry Old Man, a fellow Braves’ fan, to ask him if he’d heard the news, before going back to writing. It wasn’t until hours later that I fully began to digest exactly what that trade meant, or what I thought it meant: the Braves were cleaning house, a rebuild was on the way, and things might get to Philadelphia 76ers we-don’t-care-about-winning-level bad. Ok, maybe not that bad, but still.


“Rebuilding”, “bad”, and “76ers” isn’t something I’ve ever associated with the Braves. As a 21 year old, I was fortunate to miss the 1970s and ‘80s, a time that saw Atlanta go through 15 losing seasons, appear in the playoffs only one time, and have zero playoff victories. See, I was born at just the right time, when the Braves were one of the best organizations in baseball, making the playoffs every year. In 1995, when I was two years old, Atlanta won the World Series, and they subsequently appeared in the playoffs every year until 2006, when I was 13. And even when they missed the playoffs 4 straight years from ’06 to ‘09, they never completely committed to a rebuild and blew everything up, and they did almost everything they could to win each season.


But the trade of the J Hey Kid to St. Louis represented a shift and a different way of thinking in the Atlanta organization, as did the continuing rumors that both Evan Gattis and Justin Upton (who will forever be known as the Better Upton, to clear up any confusion with his brother, BJ, who will now be known as the Worse Upton) would be traded if the right deal came along.


In all honesty, once I got beyond the shock of the Heyward trade, I wasn’t completely disappointed that he was dealt. Yes, I realize he was the Braves’ best defensive outfielder, but if we were being honest with ourselves, hasn’t he been also been a disappointment? For all the hype and excitement surrounding this guy when he came up (including this resounding home run in his first big league at bat), he never developed into the power hitting, clean up, build-your-lineup-around-him type of hitter he was expected to become. He only hit 11 home runs this year, and through 681 career games, he sits at a disappointingly low 84 blasts over the fence. He’s never had a season over 100 RBIs (his high for a year was 82, in 2012), and he’s never had a year in which he batted over .300 (his high for a season was .277, his rookie year in 2010). And yes, I realize he hit in leadoff spot a lot recently for Atlanta, which hurt his power numbers, but I’d argue he was slotted there because he wasn’t consistently hitting the ball with enough power to justify sticking him in the middle of the order.

So why not deal him for someone like Miller, who had a pretty impressive rookie season in 2013 (15-9, 3.06 ERA). It’s not like the Braves couldn’t use the pitching. Don’t forget that three of their “arms of the future” a few years ago have all had multiple Tommy John surgeries. Starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy had their second Tommy John procedures this season, and their left handed flamethrower out of the bullpen ,Jonny Venters. just had the surgery for the THIRD time. Three times! The prospects aren’t very good for pitchers coming off their second surgery; Of the 40 pitchers who have had the surgery multiple times, 10 of them have had the procedure recently enough that they either haven’t had enough appearances to give us anything really conclusive about their careers, or they haven’t pitched at all, leaving us with just 30 subjects. And of the 30, current Royals’ reliever Jason Frasor has probably had the most success, as he’s appeared in 647 games (all in relief), and now, at age 36, is coming off a 2014 season in which saw him finish the year with a 1.53 ERA for the World Series runner ups. But Frasor had both of his Tommy John surgeries before he ever made his major league debut, and while he’s a solid MLB reliever, he’s never been a dominant, All Star-caliber pitcher. Plus, Frasor has always come out of the bullpen, and both Medlen and Beachy are starters, something Atlanta will probably need them to do if they can remain healthy. The most successful starting pitcher after two Tommy John surgeries has unquestionably been current free agent Chris Capuano. He had his second surgery in 2008, didn’t make it back until 2010, and didn’t really return to being a full time starter until 2011. However, he did start 84 games from 2011-13 (and 105 total since his return), by far the most by a guy coming off his second Tommy John procedure. But like Frasor, Capuano has never been close to being a All Star-caliber pitcher. And if you just look at the names of guys who have “come back” from the second procedure, it’s a lot of guys like Victor Zambrano, Darren Dreifort, and Steve Ontiveros. Not exactly household names. And if Atlanta ends up getting two Capuanos and one Jason Frasor (which is probably being extremely optimistic), then they’re going to need some more arms. More than likely though, two out of the three, or all three, are done. And if that’s the case, they’ll definitely need some pitching, which is way more important than batting, by the way. I don’t have to go any further than this year’s postseason to illustrate that point. The Giants had one great starting pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, who nobody could hit, while Kansas City had a three headed monster in the bullpen that made everybody swing and miss throughout the entire postseason. It made sense that they met in the World Series. Teams like the Angels, who had a bunch of legitimate bats, but not many great arms, lost in the Divisional playoffs, as did the Dodgers, who had the best lineup in the National League, but a below average bullpen and poor pitching from their ace, Clayton Kershaw.


Those pitching injuries, as well as Atlanta’s high number of strikeouts last season, cost them dearly in 2014. The only thing that’s happened more times in the last two years than Braves’ strikeouts is Jameis Winston’s number of incidents with police in Tallahassee. In 2014, Atlanta struck out 1,369 times, the fourth most in baseball, and in 2013, they struck out 1,384 times, the third most. In fact, since the 1990 baseball season, only one team, the 2004 Red Sox, have finished in the top five in most strikeouts and won the World Series. Interestingly enough, during that same stretch, 13 teams have won the title while finishing in the top ten in fewest strikeouts. And these K’s haven’t come accidentally, as they’ve employed a bunch of free swingers the last two seasons, including guys like Dan Uggla (211 in 184 games), the Worse Upton (324 in 267 games, and a batting average of .198! .198!), the Better Upton (332 in 303 games), and Heyward (171 in 253 games); even their “low strikeout guys”, Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson, struck out 145 and 159 times respectively, this season. Atlanta had 4 players in the top ten in strikeouts in National League in 2014, and 3 in the top 5 in 2013. Throw in guys like Evan Gattis (97 in 108 games this year) and  it’s easy to see why Atlanta came up short in the Divisional Playoffs in 2013, and had their first losing record since 2008 this season. Granted, I’m not saying it’s a problem to have a few guys on your roster that strikeout a lot. You need some pop and power in your lineup, and guys that are capable of hitting 40 home runs in a season tend to swing and miss more often, because they’re trying to drive the ball out of the yard on more pitches. One or two of those high strikeout guys is fine. But five or six? That’s too many. Ideally, you’d want as many consistent, contact hitters in your order as possible. Putting the ball in play is so important (even if you don’t get on base), because oftentimes it gives the runners on base opportunities to move up a base, or even score. A strikeout gets you nowhere. Where are all the contact hitters in Atlanta? They don’t really have any.


Honestly, I don’t think they can win a World Series with this roster, the one constructed by former GM Frank Wren. It helps that they were able to get rid of Dan Uggla during the season, a guy who had the worst approach at the plate than anyone in baseball (he literally went up and just swung for the fences every single time at almost every single pitch. It probably would’ve been better for him to go up there with his eyes closed), but they’re still locked into that horrendous contract they gave the Worse Upton for THREE more seasons. The deal, originally signed after the 2012 season, was a 5 year, 75 million dollar overpayment that may have indirectly cost Wren his job. The Worse Upton has, as mentioned before, has batted .198, hit 21 home runs, had 61 RBIs, and collected 180 hits in two seasons as a Brave. Since his contract was back loaded, he’s brought home 27.1 million through the first two years of the deal, meaning he’s made:


  • 1.29 million dollars per home run
  • 444,262 dollars per RBI
  • 150,555 dollars per hit


Just thinking about all that gave me a head injury. It’s one of the worst contracts in the history of sports, and one of the main reasons Atlanta has one playoff victory the last two years. If the Braves were going to deal anyone, I wish it would’ve been him, though there’s a better chance of the Duck Dynasty guys buying a Justin Bieber CD for their own listening pleasure than another Major League team throwing their hands up and saying, “Sure, we’d love to trade for, and pay, a .198 hitter 14.45 million in 2015, 15.45 million in 2016, and 16.45 million in 2017! Please, give him to us! WE MUST HAVE HIM!!!” So he’s probably stuck in Atlanta for the duration of that albatross of a contract. And I can’t wait to see how bad he slumps when his brother gets dealt. And “can’t wait” is definitely sarcasm, because he’s going to be abysmal, and I hate having that word associated with anyone or anything on my favorite teams. Could all of the starting pitchers in Atlanta hit for a higher average than him? I feel like it’s in play, and as bad as he’s been the last two seasons, I could believe any negative outcome for the Worse Upton next season. Could he have a season with less than 5 homers, less than 20 RBIs, and over 200 strikeouts? Sure, why not?


Just as a side note, I wish there were more dopey things people could gamble on. I myself hardly ever gamble on sports, but if Vegas started creating things like, “Over/under 40.5 stadium-wide boos at Turner Field for the Worse Upton this season”, I might start laying down some more cheddar. If I can bet on the number of times Verne Lundquist will chortle during a game, I should be able wager on something like that. And just for the record, I’d definitely take the over. He just needs to average a .5 boos per home game to get there. You’re going to tell me that the Worse Upton, in the middle of the season, on the seventh game of a ten game home stand, fresh off back-to-back-to-back games with 3 plus strikeouts, won’t start hearing it from the fans multiple times a game, as he goes up there and whiffs on pitch after pitch after pitch? He’s not going to get booed every night, or most nights, but there are going to be those games where his soul-crushing contract becomes a bigger and bigger middle finger to the fans, and the collective frustration in the park boils over. And no, I don’t have anything against the Worse Upton personally, and if he has a great season (heck, if he just hit .240 I wouldn’t complain) I’ll be overjoyed because he plays for my team. But how likely is that to happen?


I am a fan of the Better Upton, and he actually had a really nice second year in Atlanta (29 homers, 102 RBIs), though I would like to see him hit for a higher average (just .270 this season), because I know he’s capable. However, he does strike out way too much, and 7 full seasons into his career, that might just be who he is. The Better Upton has gone down swinging more than 120 times every season since his second year, and his 171 strikeouts last season were only two behind his brother’s team high 173. So he may be hurting more, or just as much, as he’s helping. Plus, his contract is up after this year, and if they’re going to be fully committed to this rebuild, I can’t see them signing him to a long term extension, which means he’s going to get traded either before the season, or during it. I’ve read in a lot of different places that the Mariners are a likely suitor for his services, and I’m sure Atlanta would get back a bunch of prospects back for the 27 year old outfielder.

And if they do end up dealing him, then expect a crappy 2015 season. It was probably going to be a rough one anyway, but losing their two best outfielders makes things that much tougher. I can’t see any way the Braves win more than 72 games with what they’d have coming back. How are they going to score any runs? They had enough trouble doing that last season, and that was with Heyward and Upton. Still, I don’t hate the young pitching staff; Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Shelby Miller are all 24 years old and under Atlanta’s control until at least 2018, and they still have the 27 year old Mike Minor. But none of those guys have proven to be aces of a staff, and there’s no guarantee all 4 will end up being successful, or even serviceable long term starting options. They’ve got the best closer in the game in Craig Kimbrel, and one of the best first baseman in Freeman (though he did have a disappointing 2014 season, compared to his production in 2013. He finished with 18 homers, 78 RBIs, and a .288 batting average this season, compared to 23 homers, 109 RBIs, and a .319 average in 2013), as well as one of the best defensive shortstops in Andrelton Simmons (he’s won back-to-back Gold Gloves) locked up at least through 2018. So if they ship the Better Upton, get back some quality prospects, continue to build around the young pitching staff and their young infield (centered around Simmons and Freeman’s work in the field) all while they develop some young, contact hitters who don’t strike out every other at bat to hit around Freeman’s power bat, I think they could really have something special by the time they open their new ball park in 2017. They’ll need to get better at second and third base, as well as in the outfield, particularly if both the Better Upton and Gattis both get dealt. They’ll also need to hope that Christian Bethancourt is everything at catcher that he’s been promised to be. I’ve been hearing about how good this guy was going to be for what seems like ten years now. It's time for him to go out there and do it. I’m a little confused as to why they’re meeting this week with free agent pitcher Jon Lester, just because splurging on a big name free agent seems like the last thing they’d want to do right now, particularly when they just dealt Heyward. But I wouldn’t be completely opposed to the signing, and that trade did open up about 10 million dollars of salary. It just wouldn’t make all that much sense with what I thought they were doing.


Regardless of what happens with Lester, I do have faith in new President of Baseball Operations John Hart, the same guy that ran the Cleveland Indians in the ‘90s when they went to two World Series in three years. I just hope they do things that make sense, and that each and every decision helps to ultimately push them in a positive direction. It’s really easy to become the Kansas City Royals from 1986-2013, or the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1993-2012. Those once proud franchises wandered in the wilderness for two decades because of botched signings, inept ownership, clowns in the front office, and cheap, corner-cutting moves from those in leadership positions. Eventually though, they got the right guys in those spots, and they figured out how to build a winning organization. I don’t want to root for, or follow, a completely clueless organization for the next twenty years of my life. I don’t want my future kids to have to lie to me about being Braves fans, because they actually secretly don’t want to root for a team that sucks. They can’t screw this up. Be smart. And then, once the rebuild is over, go win the World Series. It's been almost twenty years since their last title. Nothing would make me happier.