Monday, March 31, 2008

Baseball Preview, part 4: Trade Bait

Hank Blalock - his production has dropped off in the past few years, but his salary has been rising and just as the going-nowhere Rangers shipped Teixiera last season, they could look for someone to take Blalock (who has often been linked to trade rumors) off their hands.

Keith Foulke - the A's have a reclamation project going with him. Oakland will be hard-pressed to finish above 3rd this year, and several of the contenders will inevitably be looking for bullpen help, so if he pans out it wouldn't be surprising for the A's to try to parlay him for some younger talent.

Kevin Gregg - you wouldn't think that (a) Florida had anybody left to trade and (b) that he was the highest-paid Marlin at $2.5 million, but with the team always looking to cut costs and the fact that contenders will be looking to add an OK reliever, he could easily switch teams before the deadline.

Anyone on the White Sox - this team has a high payroll and plenty of big-money players, yet it's hard to imagine them being able to challenge Cleveland and Detroit in their division. This could mean some rebuilding-type moves are in the cards for this season.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Baseball Preview, part 3: Teams Making the Leap

From Basement Dweller to Respectable
The Rays once again start the season with no hope of challenging for the playoffs, but this could be the year they dig themselves out of the basement and threaten 80 wins (or at the very least a more modest team record of 71).

They have a solid one-two punch at the top of their rotation in Kazmir and the up and coming James Shields. They even go three-deep with sub 4.00 ERA starters with Matt Garza.

Their 2-4 hitters are Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena (coming off of 46 HRs), and BJ Upton (80+ RBIs and Runs in only 129 games).

Add to this the plummeting fortunes of the Orioles, and the Rays are a good bet to capture only their 2nd fourth place finish ever, and a reasonable threat to challenge the Blue Jays for third.

From Respectable to Contender
Lets go with the Mariners. As awful as their lineup looks (Richie Sexson and his Mendoza like .209 in the heart of it), they actually finished with 88 wins last year. Smoke and mirrors, I suppose. Does Erik Bedard give them 8-10 more wins? We say yes. Factor in the Angels starting the season without Lackey and Escobar, and the Mariners go to the playoffs, if only for a cup of coffee.

Contender to Champion
Among last year's playoff teams, the best chance for a WS ring is still the Red Sox. Their championship roster was not only kept in tact, but now their young guys who outperformed expectations last year (Ellsbury, Buchholz, Lester, and Pedroia) will be more seasoned. Pitching wins championships and the Sox are deep in their rotation as well as their bullpen. (This will especially be the case in the playoffs when the former is contracted at at the expense of the latter).

But since its boring to pick the reigning champ, let's consider the other options.

The Tigers, with their lineup that threatens to break records and an above average rotation with a front line starter in Verlander, seem the easy pick here. But their bullpen is shaky(Todd Jones closing, Zumaya and Rodney both nicked up), and maybe Sheff starts to feel his age, and...let's take their Division rivals instead.

Sticking with the pitching cliche we'll go with the Tribe, and in this case ride Sabathia and Carmona and a playoff' season's worth of experience. Their lineup is the same one that's scored 800+ runs each of the last two years. Plus, considering the likely anxiety over CC leaving, perhaps they'll feel the pressure and add a deadline piece; they have the farm system to be major players. So as long as Eric Wedge doesn't mess things up, we got the Indians celebrating for the first time since 1948.

Baseball Preview, part 2: Coaches on the Hot Seat

1. Eric Wedge - after blowing a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and with an improved Tigers team in their division, there should be a sense of urgency in Cleveland. Wedge's stubbornness in using the mediocre Joe Borowski at closer last year, and the way the team fell flat with high expectations in 2006, are signs he might not be up to the task.

2. Willie Randolph - this is pretty self-explanatory. The Mets' implosion last year was one for the ages. The Santana acquisition raised the stakes for a 2008 run. If they don't live up to expectations, someone will have to pay.

3. Bruce Bochy - an odd pick, because it's not as if the Giants have any expectations to live up to. But things could get so spectacularly ugly in San Francisco that Bochy could be a fall guy.

4. Charlie Manuel - yes, the Phillies finally broke through to the postseason last year, but let's not forget how combustible the situation was in Philadelphia before their unlikely run. It's not clear how much time the Phils' (short-lived) playoff appearance will buy Manuel if they're slow out of the gate.

5. Joe Girardi - Hank Steinbrenner seems at least as erratic as George was and Girardi, unlike Joe Torre, doesn't have four World Series titles to fall back on. Also, Girardi in his stint in Florida developed a repuation for overusing and damaging young arms - if he does this with Joba or Hughes, things could get ugly for him fast.

Basebeball Preview, part 1: Johan and Miggy "what ifs"

We're going to do a non-traditional baseball preview here (that we're doing one after the season has already started should let you know as much). It will be light on predicted standings and heavy on the stories.

First up we have the two blockbuster trades that happened in the off-season. Johan Santana was shipped to the Mets and Miguel Cabrera (along with Dontrelle Willis) to the Tigers. What was significant about both of these trades is that they were both preceded by tons of rumors that the trades would happen elsewhere. The fall was filled with Santana to the Yanks and Santana to the Red Sox stories, and the winter, to only a slighlty lesser degree, had its share of Miggy to the Angels and then Dodgers rumors. In both cases the suitors seemed to come out of nowhere to trump the previously much publicized (and much debated) offers.

We'll play the "what if" game throughout the season, to the degree that it can be played. We'll regularly check on the players that the Yanks, Sox, Angels, and Dodgers would have given up (stats and commentary both), as well as the ones that the Mets and Tigers eventually did, and try to figure out if the other trade offers were in fact better or worse and for whom. Of course, I say above "to the degree it can be played" because such is the nature of "what if?" scenarios. For example, we only know that the Yankees were offering a package centered around Melky Cabrera and Phil Hughes, with the surrounding pieces uncertain. Similarly the Twins were seeking two of three Sox: Ellsbury, Lester, and Buchholz, and the Dodgers and Angels reported offerings were only for Cabrera whereas the Tigers package was for Cabrera and Willis both.

For this first entry, we're concentrating on the stories and the off-season expectations of the respective players involved. As the season progresses we'll focus more on their stats.

The Johan Trade

Mets received:
Johan Santana - 'nuff said

Twins received:
Carlos Gomez
Phil Humber
Deolis Guerra
Kevin Mulvey

This is a good recap, a "what to expect" piece from the Twins perspective.

Yankees offered:
Melky Cabrera - The Post's Joel Sherman sees a Melky regression on the horizon.
Phil Hughes - Meanwhile, Hughes finds his groove.

Red Sox offered 2 of the 3:
Jon Lester - ends spring training with control problems.
Clay Buchholz
Jacoby Ellsbury - There's pressure on Buchholz and Ellsbury to keep it up.

The Miggy Trade

Tigers received:
Miguel Cabrera
Dontrelle Willis

Marlins received:
Cameron Maybin
Andrew Miller
Mike Rabelo
Eulogio De La Cruz
Dallas Trahern
Burke Badenhop

Here's a recap of what both sides got out of the trade.

Angels offered:
Howie Kendrick - SI says, Kendrick is a natural.
Jeff Mathis - will compete/platoon with Napoli

and one of three:
Ervin Santana - Scioscia liked Santana's spring, management gave him a pay cut.
Joe Saunders - secures a spot in the rotation because of injuries.
Nick Adenhart - might get the call for the 5th starter's spot.

Dodgers offered:
Matt Kemp - looks like he'll will be starting over Juan Pierre.
Andy LaRoche - out until May.
Clayton Kershaw - on the cusp of the majors.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

MLB and the Obama T's

If you haven't heard, Major League Baseball's lawyers shut down a website,, which sold t-shirts based on teams' jerseys, with "Obama" substituted the team name (here's the full catalogue).

The frustrating part of this is that MLB, while it may have the legal right to assert its trademark, is shooting itself in the foot. The t-shirts are different enough from official MLB gear that it's hard to imagine them cutting into those sales; meanwhile, the shirts advertise not only the candidate but the baseball teams teams themselves, which is good for MLB. Also, for a sport that struggles to stay relevant among young people and African-Americans, why not to take the opportunity to be associated with a figure who has such cache among those groups? Meanwhile, MLB has asserted itself as the enemy of the guy who ran the company (Morris Levin, who describes himself as "a huge Phillies fan") and his potential customers, all of whom are baseball fans i.e. the people whose unconditional loyalty MLB's business depends upon.

Letting these sorts of infringements slide is not unprecedented; Tim Wu in Slate has noted "the growing category of 'tolerated use'—use that is technically illegal, but tolerated by the owner because he wants the publicity." It's too bad that MLB missed an opportunity to bank some goodwill with its fans and move its marketing style into the 21st century in the process.

Tourney Picks

A Disclaimer: Between the two of us we've watched less than six games this year. That's not to say we haven't followed along with box scores and highlights, but despite what looks to be thoughtful evidence for the picks below, most (all?) are based on hunches, gut feelings, and rooting preferences. The sole point of this is to go on record, should the picks actually hit.

I want to pick George Mason (two starters with final four experience!) over Notre Dame just for nostalgia's sake, but can't bring myself to do it, after reading all of the recent Harangody hype. Incidentally, it's only because I haven't heard an excess of his hype that I'm actually buying into it (see Hansbrough, finals pick).

I got Winthrop over Washington St. just because the cougars are an eyepopping 0-5 vs top 25. All five came against UCLA (twice) and Stanford (three times) and if you say, that thats not representative of the top 25 as a whole, I say you have to pull out at least one win no matter who you get your crack at 5 times.

The rest of the region is 1-4 in the sweet sixteen and 1 UNC over 2 Tenn in the regional final. Tenn is tempting, and I could see either team taking this, but I'm going with UNC on the been-there, done-that principle.

The 1-4 seeds and 9-13s make it into the second round, with only 12 Villanova crashing the top-seed party the second weekend.

I have Kansas St. running through the region before losing to Kansas in the final (Beasley's quote notwithstanding). But yes, I do have them taking down 6 USC, 4 Wisc, and 2 Gtown, the latter of which I'm only picking to lose because Roy Hibbert's soft game annoys me.

Let's make it three straight years that Memphis loses at the hands of a Final Four-bound team (UCLA in '06, OSU in '07). After watching them clank free throws and throw away their lead against Tennessee, I just don't trust them and their 60% charity stripe number.

After that I have Pitt beating Stanford, themselves coming off of a Texas win. It's not so much that I like Pitt as that I don't like their competition. I will never pick a Texas basketball team to make a deep run after my visit there a few years ago revealed that their home games rarely come close to selling out, and the inside scoop from the students was that no one there really cares about the basketball team. So lets make it this five years in a row without a Final Four berth. (If you have a problem with me cherry picking stats, I direct you to reason three within the disclaimer above).

Include me among everyone else who thinks this is the easiest region for the top seed.

Duke is only 5-4 in their last 9, but I'll ignore warnings of a weak ACC this year and still take them over Xavier in the Elite Eight.

I also have Drake beating a UConn team that lost in the opening round of the big east. They're early exit and time spent out of the public eye has enlivened the talking heads, many warning, "don't sleep on UConn." Instead, let's just be satisfied with what they've accomplished already considering their early season turmoil (suspensions, Calhoun-AD bickering a a result) and not expect them to do much more.

On the flip-side, lets root for Baylor, the last team announced on the selection show, and give 'em a win over Purdue in the opening round, and an exclamation point on their post-Dennehy, post-Bliss, revival.

Final Four
UCLA over Kansas
UNC over Pitt

UCLA 71 UNC 68
Why? Because I've had enough of the Hansbrough hype. And because he looks awkward and Kevin love doesn't. Though I do love Danny Green's pre-game dancing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Early FA reviews: Oakland

The Raiders have been big spenders this off-season. They're three biggest signings have been DT/DE Tommy Kelly (7 years, 50.5 mil, 18 mil guaranteed), WR Javon Walker (6 years, 55 mil, 16 mil guaranteed), and Gibril Wilson (6 years 39 mil, 16 mil guaranteed).

The three movies are questionale at best, not because of the players they signed or the holes they chose to fill, but because of the dollars they handed out. Of the three, Walker seems to be the only one who was heavily pursued by other teams. But how much money do you want to shell out on a guy who missed almost all of 2005, and half of last season? Sure there were great seasons on either side of the injury-plagued ones, and hes supposed to be coming into camp 100%, but its certainly a gamble to invest that kind of money in a guy on whom you'll rely for his speed, who himself hasn't been able to consistently rely on his right knee the past three years.

Of course, the Raiders desperately need WR help, both to aid the maturation of JaMarcus Russell, and because, QB development or not, they're receiving corps was already severely depleted. Thus, out of the three, the Walker signing is most palatable.

As far as the Wilson signing, he was likely the best available Safety on the market, but only because the other top options were such luminaries as Madieu Williams and Will Demps. Relativity seemingly means nothing in Raiderland, because they made Wilson the the third-highest paid safety in the NFL, trailing only Troy Polamalu and reigning DPOY Bob Sanders. Then again, maybe when they saw Wilson in the Super Bowl they remembered how much they enjoyed the Larry Brown experiment, and decided to revisit it.

Then there was Tommy Kelly. According to Peter King, the raiders handed Kelly the largest contract ever for a Defensive player in team history. But following the theme here, Kelly too, like Walker, is coming off ACL problems (a tear in this case) that limited him to only seven games last season.

Kelly's stats aren't bad, as he averaged 57 tackles in his only two full seasons, good numbers for a lineman often playing tackle. And on top of that, his was a re-signing, so perhaps when you consider that the Raiders knew him well, the move might be more defensible. Or maybe on the other hand, when you consider the Raiders' recent, and perhaps even perennial, dysfunction (see: race-induced injuries, Kiffin's non-resignation) maybe the move is least satisfying of all; who knows what perverse criteria for excellence exist within the Black Hole offices.

One possible explanation for the ostensibly uneccesary overspedning, can be found within Jason Cole's recent Yahoo piece. Cole writes that, "Player salaries are not keeping pace with the expansion of the salary cap." For example, the Bucs still have a staggering $40 million left under the cap.

When you combine those facts with the face of the Raider organization, none of this is so surprising after all.

The Raiders' 2007 Team Ranks
Total Offense: 25
Pass: 31
Run: 6

Total Defense:22
Pass: 8
Run: 31

UPDATE: Another detail on Team Turmoil: It's rumored that JaMarcus Russell has ballooned to 300lbs in the off-season.

Intriguing MLB storylines for 2008

1. Daisuke Matsuzaka: had a mediocre year in 2007, going 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA. Was this due to the transition from the Japanese Leagues to MLB, or is he really just an average pitcher? 2008 will be key in determining whether he is ace material, a pressing question for the Red Sox given Beckett's latest injury and Schilling's uncertain future.

2. Lastings Milledge: his trade to the Nats angered the more stat-savvy contingent of Mets fans (especially those at Blastings! Thrilledge). It's already an explosive enough situation in Flushing following last year's September collapse, and if Milledge stars in Washington, things will only get hotter.

3. Livan Hernandez: looking to be the Twins' opening day starter, placing him in the unenviable role of succeeding the great Johan Santana. Minnesota will need a strong year from him to stay competitive in the top-heavy AL Central.

4. Jeremy Hermida: Cabrera's trade leaves a gaping hole in the Florida lineup, and the burden of at least trying to replace him will fall to their other young hitters. The Marlins organization has had high hopes for Hermida for a long time, and, having improved significantly from 2006 to 2007, he could be set for a breakout year.

5. The Colorado Rockies: you might remember, before the Red Sox completely dominated them in the World Series, they went on one of the hottest streaks in the history of baseball and in the process won an incredible one-game playoff against San Diego, picked up their first NL Championship, and made Troy Tulowitzki a household name. Their improbable run was arguably the best story of MLB in 2007, and whether they can show themselves to be more than a one-month wonder will be one of the most intriguing stories of 2008.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Early FA Reviews: Dolphins

The Bill Parcells-Tony Sparano-Jim Ireland regime has, as expected, already started to overhaul the Dolphins' roster. They can't possibly do a worse job than Spielman, Cameron & co., who left behind a 1-15 team with an aging defense and serious questions on offense. It's impossible to get into all the moves in a single post but here are some highlights.

As a general matter, Parcells & co. have tended towards bigger players, especially on defense, like NT Jason Ferguson and DT Randy Starks. This is an interesting contrast with the Jimmy Johnson regime, which relied more on faster, smaller defensive players, and the Cameron regime, which focused more on guys with nice upstanding families. It's currently uncertain whether the team will run a 3-4 or 4-3 defense - Starks may be a fit at DE or NT in the 3-4. Here is a good breakdown of the choice on this front. Whatever the shape of the new defense, it's looking less likely that it will involve Jason Taylor.

On the offensive side of the ball, QBs Trent Green (newly signed with St. Louis) and Cleo Lemon are out, leaving only John Beck from last year's roster. Beck, a 2nd year player who will be 27 when next season starts, was unimpressive in limited time last year - his only passing touchdown came in garbage time against the Bengals in the season finale - but it's not clear how much this will be held against him given the miserable circumstances he was walking into. He'll compete with journeyman Josh McCown for the starting spot; one wild card here is whether the Fins will spend the first pick of the draft on Matt Ryan. If that ends the John Beck experiement, it wouldn't be the first time they've wasted a draft pick on a quarterback (recalling those they traded for Daunte Culpepper, Trent Green, and A.J. Feeley). Whoever emerges at the starter will have Ernest Wilford, a big good-hands guy to throw to, who will help fill a receiver corps depleted by the recent exits of Chris Chambers and Marty Booker.

At RB, backup Jesse Chatman is gone, but the most eye-catching aspect of this report is the note that "Bill Parcells has taken a liking to Ricky Williams." Williams will presumably join versatile second-year player Lorenzo Booker, who showed decent running and pass-catching ability in the last few games of 2007, behind Ronnie Brown, who was enjoying a breakout season before a season-ending knee injury. Chatman's departure notwithstanding this could be one of Miami's few areas of strength in 2008.

The offensive line - one of the few units last year to exceed expectations - is similarly unsettled, here's a good write-up of where things currently stand on this front.

On special teams, the biggest news has been signing wedge-buster Boomer Grigsby. Good name for a wedge-buster.

Note: the Miami Herald just published a good recap of the Dolphins' moves so far

Calling BS on the Hype

Two members of the mainstream sports media aren't drinking the Kool-Aid on two of its most hyped stars: Sal Paolantonio pokes some serious holes in Brett Favre, and Mike Freeman takes on Tyler Hansbrough. Good reads both.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Badsnap recommended viewing: Joe Louis - America's Hero, Betrayed

Check out, if you have the chance, the HBO documentary Joe Louis - America's Hero, Betrayed. Worth it for the boxing clips alone, along with some excellent interviews that give insight into the man and his historical moment.

Some Joe Louis highlights:

Heavyweight Championship: Joe Louis vs. James Braddock - 1937

Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling I - 1936

Joe Louis vs. Max Schemling II - 1938

note: above image is in the public domain

Some Quick Notes on the Favre Fallout

The Favre retirement is of course being covered to saturation in the sports media, but here are some indirect consequences of Favre hanging it up.

-A strange development: Green Bay is entertaining the thought of signing Trent Green. Yes, that Trent Green. Not a great vote of confidence in Aaron Rodgers, who did well in the one game last season where he had extensive playing time.

-Favre's retirement increases the chances that Jason Taylor will stay in Miami, as the formerly most likely trade partner will be less willing to give up a high draft pick to put the team over the top. Of course, Parcells had shot down rumors that Taylor was on the trading block, but not everybody has bought this.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Early NFL FA Reviews: Jets

The Jets have brought in Alan Faneca, Damien Woody, Calvin Pace, Kris Jenkins, and Tony Richardson. It's an interesting reaction to their miserable 4-12 season in which they finished 25th in total offense and 19th in total defense, but at the same time were only one year removed from a playoff appearance. The huge salaries have drawn the ire of some of the lesser-paid New York veterans.

Woody and Faneca will join Nick Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Brandon Moore on the revamped line. It's an open question, though, whether this will be enough to make the Jets an elite offensive unit. Woody's missed significant time the past few years, and there are still huge question marks at the skill positions. It looks like Pennington and Clemens will compete for the QB position again, with a $6m coming Chad's way but the fans calling for Clemens as happened all of last season (the loudest applause of their opening day home thrashing at the hands of the Patriots came when Clemens briefly replaced the injured Pennington). The receiving crew is subpar as well. This is an odd situation for a team that just spent big for two thirty-something O-linemen.

On defense, the Calvin Pace move is based on the idea that his breakout season for the Cardinals in 2007 is due entirely to Arizona's switch to a 3-4 (and not, presumably, to the fact that it was a contract year); the idea is that he'll be a better for New York's 3-4 than departed linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was considered more of a 4-3 LB. In any case, signing Pace kept him out of the Dolphins' 3-4 system. That's the way it goes when you're playing in a division full of coaches from the Parcells school.

The blog NY Landing Strip has some good reading on this as well, and here's a scouting report on Tony Richardson.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Western Conference Playoffs are Here

For all intents and purposes, the NBA playoffs have started in the Western Conference. The kinda-Big Nine, (we wont include the Blazers) are separated by a measely 7 games (5 games for the first through eighth seeds), and aside from gunning for home field advantage, most need to worry about making the playoffs.

Last week, watching the Mavs-Spurs and Jazz-Hornets games you could sense that these games suddenly felt different. They no longer smacked of that dullness unique to the regular season. In the latter game, Chris Paul sank the nail-in-the-coffin free throws to chants of "MVP." Duncan got the same treatment courtesy of the San Antonio crowd. We're surely on pace to break some sort of MVP chant record. Here's L.A. for Kobe when they beat the Mavs.

The reason for this enthusiasm is that the fans are turning out to pack the arenas for these games, because the increase of intensity has been palpable to everyone. And as they turn out, the Pauls and Kobes of the world have been rewarding them (like Kobe's 22 4th quarter points in that Lakers win). It started with the avalanche of trades, the three biggest of which all sent the biggest piece from East to West: Gasol to L.A., Shaq to Phoenix, Kidd to Dallas. Meanwhile the Spurs and Warriors quietly added size and depth (Thomas and Webber respectively), Utah got itself a shooter in Korver, and Houston and New Orleans swapped scoring for a deeper bench.

And just like that, each team was energized by the added pieces, while at the same time, their competiveness was fueled by the other teams' deals. We always hear about how teams like the Spurs or Pistons - veteran, championship teams, - know to take their games to another level this time of year, but now, everyone everyone has (in the West anyway). The trades kick started an escalating cycle of intensification, further motivating each team until that intensity reached a level that normally qualifies as playoff caliber.

Kobe, after the Lakers beat the Suns: "It was a familiar energy in the building. It felt like a playoff-type of environment. It was fun to be a part of."

And Stephen Jackson after the Warriors beat the Blazers: "For us, every game is a playoff game."

There are about 20 games left in the regular season, give or take, per-team. Then there are another possible 28 games of the playoffs for the eventual conference champions. So are we to expect the kinda-Big Nine to naturally kick it up one more notch somehow? How will that shake out for the Western conference finalist? Will they be so habituated to playing at such a high level that they'll come out and absolutely demolish the East rep? Or will the opposite happen, that they'll beat each other up so much in the next four months that they'll be drained by the battle royale and thus not have enough left in the tank when the finals roll around? Because as much as the West is collectively better than the east, no one argues that the East's big three (Boston 18-7 vs. West, Detroit 16-8, Cleveland 16-12) can't hang with their western counterparts.

Just by virtue of the surplus of so many good teams, each of the kinda-Big Nine's schedule is brutal. Lets just look at a sampling, how often they have to play the top teams during their next 10 games: Every single one of these teams plays at least four out of their next ten against each other or Boston/Detroit. (Incidentally no one plays Cleveland in their next 10). Phoenix and Houston lead the way with the toughest schedules (not taking into account back-to-backs) with seven out of their next ten against top dogs. The teams (along with their current hot streak) are listed in order of the standings entering tonights' games.

SA 14-1, (10 in a row): at Denver, at PHO, Denver, at NO, at Detroit, Boston

Lakers: 16-3 (13-2 with Gasol) at NO, at Houston, at Dallas, at Utah, GS, at GS

NO 8-4: at Houston, SA, Lakers, at Detroit, Houston, Boston

Utah 16-4: at Phoenix, Denver, Boston, Lakers

Phoenix (No hotness to speak of) 10-7 (3-4 with Shaq): at Denver, Utah, SA, GS, Houston, at Detroit, at Boston

Houston 15-0: at Dallas, NO, Lakers, Boston, at NO, at GS, at Phoenix

Dallas – not hot, no matter how you slice it: 8-7 or even 12-7 if you prefer (4-4 with Kidd) Houston, Lakers, Boston, SA

Golden State 10-3: at Phoenix, Houston, at Lakers

Denver 9-4: Phoenix, SA, at Utah, at SA, at Det

Mark Cuban touched on this a couple weeks ago already, speculating that this was shaping up to be the best NBA season ever. And it's looking like he was quite prescient. "Everybody right know is fighting for their lives and fighting for a playoff spot. It was a fun game to be a part of," said Deron Williams about their win against the Mavs. Just a couple of days before that, Chris Paul threw this one out when they beat the Jazz: "When you play against the best, it brings out the best in you."

The guys from bleacher report recently covered this as well, handy charts included.

Early NFL FA Reviews: Jags

The jags traded 3-time all-pro Marcus Stroud to the Bills for a 3rd and a 5th. Stroud was put on injured reserve in week 15, with what the Jaguars characterized as a "career-threatening injury," after playing only 9 games. The year before he only played in 11 games.

They also chose not to re-sign former starting DE Bobby McCray (who was picked up by the Saints). McCray was in a three man DE rotation with Paul Spicer and Reggie Hayward. He was expendable because Spicer's number compared favorably with his (and in fact Spicer was getting more playing time by the end of the season), and because the Jags still have a lot of money invested in Hayward whom they signed as a FA 2 years ago (5 yrs, $25 mil, 10 mil guaranteed).

As for Stroud, the Jags have long acknoweldged that they wouldnt be able to keep both of their superb DTs (Stroud and John Henderson) locked up longterm, so it's no surprise that they traded Stroud when faced with the possibility of an irrevocable decline of his abilities. To fill the spot they signed Jimmy Kennedy, a former 1st round pick out of Penn State who hasn't lived up to his billing. Kennedy is nowhere near the player that an injury-free Stroud is, but should be a serviceable backup to the rotation of Henderson, Rob Meier, and Grady Jackson.

As for their offense, they traded a sixth round pick for Troy Williamson and signed Jerry Porter. The Williamson trade was widely reported as a reunion for him and formed Head Coach Mike Tice. The suggestion alone, that the ticket-scalping Tice, whose reign in Minnesota also saw the infamous sex-boat party, somehow had a hand in this decision makes me nervous. As for Porter, he of the 44 receptions, and the largely-missed 2006 season because of disagreements with Art Shell over whether or not champagne should be allowed in the locker room, his 5 year, $30 million dollar contract is an eyebrow-raiser as well.

Are those two an upgrade over Ernest Wilford, whom the Jaguars chose not to re-sign? Porter and Wilford were statistically comparable, Porter having a slight edge in yards and TDs, while Williamson doesn't bring much other than a reputation for dropping balls. (See here and here). The only distinction to make is that both Porter and Williamson are deep threats, and Wilford was not. In fact, this past season, none of the Jags receivers were.

The bottom line is that the Jags have struggled to replace Jimmy Smith's and Keenan McCardell's production (particularly Smith's) for 2+ years. It can't get much worse than it's been, as the Jags WR problems have certainly been the bane of Del Rio's tenure. Perhaps the best solution might have been his promotion of Garrard to starter, as he seemed to finally bring out that first-round promise out of Reggie Williams (10 TDs last year). Perhaps with Garrard's continued development, Porter and/or Williamson might actually turn out to be significant additions.

Remembering Warren Sapp

While most of the sports-watching world reacted to Brett Favre's retirement, another football legend called it quits: defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

Sapp will always be known as one of the guys most responsible for turning the Bucs from perennial laughingstock (going fourteen years without a winning season) to one of the NFL's powerhouses of the late 1990s and early 2000s, culminating of course with their dominant win in Super Bowl XXXVII, which was fittingly led by their defense.

During his time in Tampa, Sapp established himself as the face of the Bucs, which was good because their previous face was this. This was due not only to his play but his antics, such as "The Skipping Incidents", in which he repeatedly ran through other teams' warmups.

Here's the man in his own words (followed by Jon Gruden)

New addition: a good discussion thread on Sapp's Hall of Fame chances