Archive for January, 2007

Offseason Player Movement – 10 Winners

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Editor’s Note: The following article was written for Yahoo’s baseball draft kit, which RotoWire produces.

The following 10 players benefited from their offseason move:

J.D. Drew – Not only will Drew move from a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s haven, he’ll be batting in the middle of one of the most potent lineups in baseball. He’s slated to hit in the No. 5 spot, directly behind David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, so a run at 120 RBI isn’t out of the question. Drew, who batted .333 with six homers and 23 RBI in the last 25 games last season, is excellent at going opposite field. All of those hits he lost driving the ball to left field while playing in L.A. will turn into doubles next year at Fenway Park.

Barry Zito – There might not have been a bigger “winner” this offseason than Zito, who signed a $126 million deal to play in a park and a division conducive to pitching. While Oakland’s park is also viewed as pitcher-friendly, over the last two seasons Zito had a 4.38 ERA while throwing at home compared to a 3.32 ERA on the road. The switch from the AL to the NL cannot be underestimated. Just last year, Bronson Arroyo, who relies on a similar arsenal as Zito, saw his ERA dip from 4.51 to 3.29, and his strikeout rate skyrocketed. Switching to the NL, AT&T Park and one of the most pitcher-friendly divisions in all of baseball, Zito has an excellent chance to post his best statistical season yet.

Octavio Dotel – Going to Kansas City is rarely a good thing, but in Dotel’s case, it provides an opportunity to return to the closer’s role. He was never going to pitch in the ninth inning in New York with Mariano Rivera around, so Dotel sees his fantasy value increase despite moving to a team likely to finish in last place. Dotel struggled in limited work last season, but he enters 2007 one more year removed from Tommy John surgery and can be one of the game’s most dominant relievers when healthy. He’s gotten 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings over his career, so a run at 100 Ks and 30 saves is a real possibility.

Mike Piazza – Piazza’s fantasy prospects haven’t looked this good in years. Not only is he slated to bat cleanup at his new Oakland home, Piazza’s a much better bet to stay healthy now that he’s become a full-time DH. McAfee Coliseum is commonly regarded as a pitcher’s park, but that’s mostly due to its spacious foul territory, not for suppressing long balls, so Piazza should approach 30 bombs this year. Getting away from Petco Park is a win in itself, as Piazza hit just .223/.307/.425 there last season. His .332/.372/.564 road line suggests he can still rake, and with health being his biggest question mark, a role as designated hitter is the perfect solution.

Julio Lugo – Previously a valuable fantasy commodity when playing in Tampa Bay, Lugo’s value plummeted after being traded to the Dodgers last season. Now, his fantasy value has never been higher after being signed by the Red Sox to act as the team’s leadoff man. Hitting atop that order, Lugo figures to approach 115 runs scored and see an increase in batting average while playing half his games at Fenway Park. While it seems unlikely Lugo runs as much as he did in Tampa Bay, Terry Francona gave the green light to Coco Crisp last season, as he attempted 26 steals in just 105 games played, so Lugo should still be able to swipe 25-30 bags while playing in Beantown.

Randy Johnson – After undergoing back surgery during the offseason, Johnson’s health remains a concern entering this year. Still, after a subpar 2006 campaign, he has a much better chance at bouncing back with a return to the NL. Johnson will turn 44 at the end of the season, so his days as a star are likely behind him, but the last time he pitched in Arizona he compiled a 2.60 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 290 Ks.

Alfonso Soriano – Soriano is unlikely to surpass last year’s 40/40 season no matter where he plays, but his hitting environment undoubtedly improved with the move from RFK Stadium to Wrigley Field. He’ll also find himself batting in a superior lineup while wearing a Cubs’ uniform.

Joel Pineiro – While his role and performance is far from guaranteed, Pineiro’s value increased with his move to Boston because of the possibility he fills the closer’s role. There’s at least a chance Pineiro excels while throwing one inning at a time, as he struck out 20 batters in 24 1/3 innings as a reliever last year. It certainly wasn’t working out for Pineiro while pitching in Seattle, and with the move to Boston, save opportunities figure to be plentiful.

Ted Lilly – There shouldn’t be a drastic change in home park factors moving from Rogers Centre to Wrigley Field, but the league switch is beneficial enough in and of itself. More specifically, the change in division should really boost Lilly’s numbers this season. He’ll move from baseball’s toughest division to pitch in, the AL East, to one of the easiest, the NL Central.

Adam Eaton – The Phillies currently have six starting pitchers, but Jon Lieber figures to be dealt before the season starts. Either way, Eaton finds himself in a better situation than last year, when he was pitching in homer-haven Ameriquest Field. If his finger injury is truly behind him, Eaton does possess some upside. During his previous stint in the Senior Circuit, Eaton demonstrated a solid strikeout rate, and he should be able to pick up some wins in Philadelphia, as the Phillies’ lineup figures to score runs in bunches this season. New teammate Freddy Garcia could enjoy a similar resurgence.

The 10 players that suffered as a result of their move will appear in an article to be posted later this week.

Fun with Super Bowl Prop Bets

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Peyton Manning – Total Passing Yards in the game Over/Under 273 1/2 yards – Boring. Predictably, Manning averaged 274 passing yards per game this season. Do the Colts jump out to an early lead and secure that by running throughout the second half? It’s possible, but considering Manning went 14-23-225-1-0 during the SECOND HALF last week, I’m taking the OVER.

Peyton Manning – Total TD Passes + Interceptions in the game Over/Under 3 – Manning only averaged 2.5 TDs/INTs per game this year, but since the over/under is high (48.5 points), the Bears only gave up seven rushing TDs total on the year and excel at creating turnovers, again, I’m inclined to take the OVER here.

Who will have more on Feb 4th? Bernard Berrian Total Receiving Yards (+115) or Tiger Woods 4th Round Score (-155) – Considering you have to give –120 to bet on Berrian getting more than 70.5 receiving yards, you might as well take the (+115) against Woods here.

Who will have more? Mary J Blige Total Grammy wins or Marvin Harrison Total Pass Receptions? – Finally some absurdity. Mary J Blige is nominated for eight awards, meaning she can’t surpass that number even if she wins every category possible, which is highly doubtful. Harrison averaged six receptions per game this season and has been relatively shut down during the postseason – all the more reason Manning will look to him Super Bowl Sunday. The one area of weakness for Chicago this season on defense? Defending opposing teams’ No. 1 receivers. Bet the house on Harrison!

Side Note #1: Many other sites are already coming out with their fantasy baseball rankings, and let it be noted, RotoScoop is first and foremost a fantasy baseball blog. Translation: I’ll ramp up the baseball coverage soon; although the season is still a ways away, it’s never too early to prepare and speculate.

Side Note #2: One thing RotoScoop is not, to be sure, is a blog about tennis. This will be my first mention of it, and probably my last, but Roger Federer is absolutely ridiculous. It’s never fair to compare different eras, but a quick flashback to oldschool tennis reveals that evolution has made today’s players glaringly better just as much as any other sport. While Pete Sampras is the clear argument, and it’s true Federer doesn’t appear to have any true competition (or is that because he makes them all look so bad?), this guy is the best ever.

Federer just won his 10th Grand Slam title without losing a single set at the Australian Open. Think about that. The last time that was accomplished during a Grand Slam was in 1980. He’s also the first ever to win three straight majors twice in his career during the Open era. He has won six of the last seven Grand Slam titles. He is 25 years old. Although he still hasn’t won the French Open, he’s better on clay than Sampras or McEnroe ever were. He’s won 36 straight matches. He’s the most dominating person in professional sports.

Hoops Scoop

Friday, January 26th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

If you’re in a deep head-to-head league and in good position in the standings, picking up and stashing guys like Brevin Knight, Speedy Claxton and Kwame Brown makes more sense than currently starting lesser talents.

If you can still get decent value for Alonzo Mourning, go do it. The same goes for Matt Barnes

I want to see Kevin Garnett in a different uniform this season. While I recently argued for him to be considered in this year’s MVP race, there’s still legitimate uncertainty just how much better he makes his team. I want to see how far he takes a team that offers him real teammates. Kevin McHale = Matt Millen.

If the Suns don’t stumble out of the gate, Jordan’s Bulls are absolutely shuddering right now.

What about Earl Boykins? Do you realize he’s averaging 20 points and six assists for the Bucks? He weighs 133 pounds!

For those Carmelo Anthony owners concerned how he’ll play alongside Allen Iverson, the first couple of games sure put those worries to rest. He’s actually shooting more than he did before A.I. came to town.

It’s official: Gilbert Arenas is the coolest guy in sports.



Is it just me, or has the NBA suffered an inordinate amount of injuries this season?

Caron Butler is have the best season no one is talking about. He’s getting career-highs in minutes played, FG%, FT%, rebounds, assists, steals and points.

If the Grizzlies would take Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas for Pau Gasol, why wouldn’t Chicago pull the trigger? NBA GMs should be ringing Jerry West’s phone off the hook.

Again, what was Dikembe Mutombo doing at the State of the Union address?

For all of you out there wondering how Doug and Jackie Christie are doing, as well as their long-anticipated reality show, here’s an update.

On a note unrelated to basketball, this is some of the most disturbing news in recent memory. Extra Innings Exclusively on DirectTV – I’m not a lawyer, but it’s hard to see how this is legal. Then again, the NFL gets away with it.

Super Bowl Gaming

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

Online sports gaming is officially on life-support, with Americans no longer able to deposit money in Bodog or any other online site that I know of (anyone?). Right before the Super Bowl, perfect. While I despair over these dark times, I still think that Bodog’s Super Bowl props can be used to play an inventive form of gambling that makes the game more exciting. While many office pools buy squares that predict the final score of the game, I think the best way to spice up Sunday is to select a number of over/unders (Reggie Wayne receptions, Cedric Benson rushing yards, etc.), or other even side bets that can be found online (coin toss, first team to use coach’s challenge) and place wagers on each side of each bet, either by drawing out of a hat or having a draft. A certain monetary value (say $10) can be assigned to each bet, or there can just be a grand prize for the person who wins the most wagers. Something to consider during what may very well be a lopsided Super Bowl.

If you do have money left in your online account, I highly recommend teasing the Colts (-7) with the under (48.5). In fact, the over/under seems quite high to me. I’m going to go ahead and bet on that straight up as well.

The Give and Go

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Editor’s Note: The following article also appears on RotoWire.

—–Original Message—–
From: Chris Liss [mailto:liss@rotowire.com]
Sent: Thursday, January 18, 7:08 PM
To: Dalton Del Don
Subject: Give and Go

Dalton, first off, thanks for filling in for Mr. Zegers, who I believe is taking his kids to Disney World, or something like that this week. Probably he doesn’t even have kids and is just drugging himself into oblivion for a week in his basement…

In any event, we’d be remiss not to talk about the big Golden State/Indiana trade – Seems like the Pacers are saying, “Take Al Harrington and one of our thugs, and we’ll take some scrubs you gave way too much money to, and whose contracts are on the books for a while.” Is there more to it than this? Does Donnie Walsh think Mike Dunleavy or Troy Murphy still has some upside? Do you? And who’s going to get the bulk of the shooting guard minutes in Indianapolis – do they suddenly trust Marquis Daniels. Surely they’re not asking Dunleavy to guard twos. And what about Ike Diogu? Don Nelson soured on his defense, and now Indiana has a guy who can give them a little offense at center alongside Jermaine O’Neal. As for Golden State, Al Harrington should slot into the four, but is Stephen Jackson going to cut into Monta Ellis’ or Mickael Pietrus’ minutes at the swing spots? Or was taking him just the price they paid for getting the guy they wanted this summer in Harrington? What happens when Jason Richardson comes back? You gotta think they’ll be looking to make another move at the deadline, don’t you?

The other topic I wanted to hit on was the MVP race. I know Gilbert Arenas is having a great year, and the Wizards are doing well, but it seems to me you have to give it to someone in the West. I’d vote for Steve Nash – what point guard shoots 53 percent from the floor and 88 from the line? And this is a guy taking more than five threes a game – not Tony Parker driving for layups. Combine that kind of offensive efficiency shooting the ball with more than 11 assists a game, and his team having a great season, and I give it to Nash. Of course, only two players in NBA history have won three straight MVPs, Larry Bird and Bill Russell, but to claim that Nash shouldn’t get it because he’s not THAT good is a poor argument. He’s also not a Celtic, but so what? Three in a row isn’t better than Jordan’s five or Kareem’s six. Kenny Smith made a good point on TNT last week, saying that some people don’t believe Nash is for real because it took him a while to get going in his career. He was always good, but it’s very odd for a player to emerge as one of the league’s greats this far into his career. Most of the greats like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant were great a lot sooner than that.

Of course, Dirk Nowitzki is the other big candidate – his team has the best record, and he’s having another big year. He’s also better defensively than Nash and commands more individual defensive attention, of course. Where do you stand on this, Dalton, and is there anyone else I’m leaving out who deserves serious consideration? Here’s the rock. I’ll cut to the basket, and await the return pass.

—–Original Message—–
From: Dalton Del Don [mailto:seven3d@aol.com]
Sent: Friday, January 19, 9:41 AM
To: Chris Liss
Subject: Give and Go

Glad to be here, and I’ll try my best to fill the shoes of Mr. Zegers. Regarding the big eight-player swap, your assessment just about sums it up. Each team is ridding themselves of pieces that didn’t fit into their system, but on talent alone, Golden State is the clear winner here, and when you factor in bad contracts, I see this trade as fairly one-sided. It’s hard to see much upside with Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy. Murphy will probably go back to being a double-digit rebounder, but he’s never been a great shooter (43.2% for his career). Dunleavy’s size made him enticing coming out of college, but it’s obvious now that he’s nothing more than a role player and a disaster on defense.

My vote would be to keep Danny Granger at the three and make Marquis Daniels the starting SG. Watching Daniels play as a rookie in Dallas, I was sure he was a future star. If you asked me to choose between fellow rookie teammate Josh Howard or him, I would have absolutely gone Daniels. Since then, he’s always been battling a nagging injury or underperforming in general. While I was clearly wrong (Howard’s future is no doubt much brighter), Daniels has career per-35 minute averages of 13.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals, so he’s at least been solid when on the court.

Another disappointing young guy I had high hopes for is Ike Diogu. Granted, it’s tough to get excited about a player missing both size and athleticism, but I still say Diogu develops into a nice interior scorer. The fact Donnie Walsh made sure he was included makes this deal at least somewhat palatable for Indiana. Of course, Golden State wasn’t able to unload those contracts without taking on a problem as well, namely Stephen Jackson. Monta Ellis and Mickael Pietrus look like the Warriors’ future, and it’d be surprising to see Jackson take away anything more than 20-25 minutes a night – Matt Barnes’ PT could also get cut into. The most egregious mistake would be to take any of Ellis’ minutes away, as this kid looks special. He’s the most untouchable player on Golden State, including Baron Davis.

Incorporating Jason Richardson back into the mix will be even trickier, but having the problem of “too many good players” is a welcome dilemma to Warrior fans, as this franchise has suffered long enough. A lineup of Davis, Ellis, Richardson, Harrington and Biedrins looks pretty exciting, but will it be enough for the team’s first trip to the postseason in 13 years? If they could somehow move Pietrus and Jackson for Corey Maggette, then they’d really be onto something. Either way, one more deal looks to be in the cards.

As for the MVP race, I hate to do it, but I have to agree with you. Gilbert Arenas really is having an outstanding season, but it would be difficult not to hand out the hardware to someone in the Western Conference. Speaking of which, how far do we have to go before this terrible imbalance in talent gets fixed? Screw geography, I’m calling for realignment.

I argued pretty vehemently against Steve Nash’s last two MVP awards, but you know what, I’d vote for him this year. I don’t think he’ll actually win again; after all, Karl Malone beat Michael Jordan, who never won three in a row, simply because voters get tired of picking the same guy. Still, Nash is having his best season yet – you highlighted his numbers – but how about the way he’s captaining that ship? The Suns are 33-3 after an 0-5 start. They’ve won 29 of 31 games, while nearly winning the two losses. They might even be the favorites to win it all as of now. I know, I know, defense wins championships. The thing is, Phoenix’ D really isn’t all that bad; the statistics look worse because of all those extra possessions they are forced to defend.

Their main competition is Dallas, which brings us to Dirk Nowitzki, the other big challenger to Nash for MVP honors. He’s having a great year, and an argument could be made for Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, who are all worthy of consideration. My darkhorse, who I have yet to hear as anyone’s candidate, is Kevin Garnett. Is it because he puts up gaudy numbers year in and year out? He’s been more aggressive this year and is playing some of the best defense of his career. Also, Minnesota is the current No. 8 seed in the difficult West. You do realize his teammates are Mike James, Ricky Davis, Mark Blount and Trenton Hassell, right? Are you kidding me? He’s doing the most with the least and deserves to be in the middle of the conversation at minimum.

Speed round: I’m all for the college atmosphere in New Orleans, where Hornets fans remain standing until the home team makes a basket, but it can backfire. They had to wait nearly eight minutes in actual time last Tuesday night, including during a Hornets timeout after Orlando took a 7-0 lead.

I see three teams as clear frontrunners to win the championship this year. I’ll take Phoenix, San Antonio and Dallas, and you can have the field. Do we have a bet? You just got free on a crushing blindside pick I set, now knock down the open jumper Liss.

From: Christopher Liss
Date: January 19, 2007 10:41:49 AM PST
To: SEVEN3D@aol.com
Subject: Re: Barometer/GnG

I don’t like Maggette anymore. I used to at one time, maybe three years ago, but I’ve been to a couple Clipps games this year, and he plays with no instincts. He can score and get to the line, and when he does, he knocks down his free throws, but defensively he’s inconsistent, and he turns the ball over more than he should at the worst times. I like Pietrus as a role player – he can play defense and knock down the three. With guys like Harrington, Baron Davis and Ellis/Richardson, I think Pietrus’ defense is more important than adding more scoring. But I agree that Warriors’ fans have a little to be excited about. Still, it’s a little like the Knicks, only better, with lots of talent, but no real superstar. (Davis has the skills, but poor shot selection and the fact that he’s rarely healthy for extended stretches limits him).

I’d like to see Daniels and Granger get more minutes. Dunleavy and Murphy have their uses off the bench, but I think it would be a mistake to give either too much run. No one’s talking about Stephen Jackson in Golden State because the team already has so many decent swing spot options, and so it’s just assumed that the Warriors had to take him on just to make the deal go through. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he saw big minutes at the three until Richardson returned.

Pretty amazing what Phoenix (and Dallas) have done after slow starts. I hear your argument for KG, and if the MVP can be translated into: “Where would this team be without Player X,” he, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James all get a boost. But I don’t think having good teammates can be held against a player, and as you’ve pointed out, after a slow start, the Suns could not possibly have played any better. Last year, Nash did it without Stoudemire on a team that would have been terrible without him, and now that Stoudemire’s back, we can’t just say, “Even though Nash is playing BETTER than last year, that another good guy was added to the Suns detracts from what Nash is doing.” In fact, I’d say just the opposite – Stoudemire’s been integrated back in seamlessly, and despite having many mouths to feed in that offense, Nash ensures there’s plenty to go around for everyone, including himself. I think Nowitzki’s got a good case because the Mavs are even better than the Suns so far, and he’s their only superstar (though Josh Howard isn’t too far off). But I’ve still got to go Nash because what he’s doing is so rare – shooting such high percentages from everywhere while being the best passer in the game.

As for your bet, thanks, but no thanks. If this were the NFL, no problem – I’d give anyone three teams of their choice midseason and take the field. But in the NBA, with the larger sample size, the long playoff series, I’d take the big three as well. It might be a little different if Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady were healthy all year, and the Lakers would be in better shape with a healthy Lamar Odom. But still, Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix are not only the most talented teams, they’re also among the best coached and most playoff tested. One of them will almost certainly win, barring catastrophic injury.

You heard me call “glass” right?

Monday Morning Quarterback

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

If Fred Thomas can’t cover anyone (tied for most TDs allowed this season), then why was he exclusively on Bernard Berrian Sunday? Mike McKenzie did a fine job shutting down Muhsin Muhammad, who is clearly the Bears’ second best receiving threat.

I’m usually all for a pass-heavy offense, but it’s hard to justify New Orleans’ decision to ignore their ground game completely; after all, that was a specific area of weakness for Chicago’s defense. When you factor in the weather conditions it’s even more dumbfounding. You knew Sean Payton was going to be stubborn with this gameplan once he called consecutive pass plays from New Orleans’ own 5-yard line.

I’m not ready to call him a liability, but Bill Parcells hasn’t won a playoff game since 1998. He’s certainly not in the upper echelon anymore.

What a great game that AFC Championship was. It was pretty surprising to see Corey Dillon and Dominic Rhodes outplay Laurence Maroney and Joseph Addai on the biggest of stages. Both young RBs have great futures, but Addai’s looks slightly brighter. It’s funny how much the Patriots missed Kevin Faulk’s presence during the second half.

Is there a tight end in the NFL with better hands than Dallas Clark?

I’m not sure how much it ultimately mattered, but that roughing the passer call on the play where Reggie Wayne recovered his own fumble with 2:00 minutes left was nothing short of terrible.

So in the most important game of the year, Logan Mankins, Dan Klecko and Jeff Saturday all score touchdowns?!

I guess all head coaches have their moments of lapses, because Bill Belichick’s decision not to call a timeout after a Joseph Addai run with 1:53 left was absolutely mind-boggling.

Reche Caldwell dropped numerous passes Sunday, but one area of blame can’t be placed on taking his eyes off the ball – those things are massive.

I would be surprised if the 7-point spread, the opening line for the Super Bowl, doesn’t creep up a couple of points by kickoff. This game looks like a mismatch.

Got to go now, I’m off to send the Raiders my resume…

NBA Barometer

Saturday, January 20th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Editor’s Note: The following article was written for RotoWire.

The Golden State Warriors haven’t made the playoffs in 12 straight seasons. Currently the No. 9 seed in the West but just 1.5 games out of the last playoff spot, the Warriors pulled off a recent eight-player trade that should improve the club both now and in the future. While Ike Diogu may turn into a quality player, and Stephen Jackson is subtraction by addition, getting out from under expensive long-term contracts with Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy is a win in of itself. Adding their most sought after free agent during this past offseason, Al Harrington, is just an added bonus.

Incorporating Murphy and Dunleavy into Don Nelson’s offense was like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, and adding more athleticism was exactly what the team needed. Figuring out playing time for too many worthy players is a good problem to have, and one Golden State hasn’t dealt with in a long time. While one more deal could push this year’s team over the top and into the postseason, either way, the future is finally showing some hope for this morbid franchise.

A top-six of Baron Davis, Monta Ellis, Jason Richardson, Al Harrington, Andris Biedrins and Mickael Pietrus makes them at least interesting, and if Patrick O’Bryant fulfills his potential, this team could end a decade long drought with a playoff birth – eventually.

Stock Up

Al Harrington – The biggest name in the recent swap, Harrington struggled to coexist alongside Jermaine O’Neal this year. Now he’s joining Don Nelson’s offensive-minded system, and his suppressed numbers should increase as a result. Harrington was one of the Warriors’ top targets in free agency last offseason, so look for the team to better utilize his athleticism.

Troy Murphy – Murphy is probably the biggest beneficiary of the trade, as his role was becoming almost non-existent in the Warriors’ rotation. After averaging a double-double in each of the last two seasons, Murphy had recorded just three all year long. With the Pacers in great need of rebounding help, Murphy will either start at PF (with Jermaine O’Neal at center) or see plenty of minutes off the bench.

Mike Dunleavy – While there’s no guarantee Dunleavy starts for Indiana, a change in scenery was definitely needed. Booed regularly by Golden State fans this season, Dunleavy gets a fresh start and a front office that believes in him.

Marquis Daniels – After flashing serious signs of potential his rookie season, Daniels’ career has since been filled with injuries and disappointing play, bottoming out with just 15 minutes of PT per night this year. Given 38 minutes in the Pacers’ depleted lineup Thursday, Daniels responded with 23 points (10-of-18 FG) and five assists. With Stephen Jackson jettisoned, the starting SG spot is wide-open, and Daniels may be the answer.

Danny Granger – Should slide into Indiana’s starting lineup, either at shooting guard or small forward. Either way, Granger becomes the Pacers’ No. 2 scoring option.

Chris Webber – While landing on another team may have presented more scoring opportunities, Webber should eventually find a nice niche in Detroit’s lineup. He gets the upgrade since he wasn’t even playing for Philadelphia, missing the last seven games with a sore foot and a bruised ego. Sure, his mobility is a joke nowadays, but his defensive liabilities won’t hurt your fantasy team.

Josh Smith – Smith returned about two weeks earlier than expected from hernia surgery, missing just eight games in all. Over his last two games since returning, he’s averaging 19.5 points, 3.0 steals and 5.0 blocks. He was playing great before going down in December, and who knows how long he was playing with the painful hernia; he’s going to be huge from here on out.

Carmelo Anthony – Due back from his 15-game suspension Monday, January 22.

Dikembe Mutombo – Did the Gold Club reopen or something? Filling in for Yao Ming (leg), Mutombo has made like it’s 1999 this month, averaging 13.9 rebounds in nine January games. He’s no help in the scoring department but has recorded double-digit rebounds in 11 of his last 12 games.

Steve Blake – Blake is finding his new digs in Denver to his liking, averaging 19.0 points, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 4.0 3pt during two games in a Nuggets’ uniform. He even moved into the starting lineup last game, and while that might not last, Blake’s minutes are likely to increase from when he was in Milwaukee.

Check Status

Shaquille O’Neal – Shaq’s return keeps getting pushed back, but the team says it’s not because of setbacks, rather an exercise in caution. Already ruled out of Miami’s next two games, the earliest prognostication now calls for a possible January 24 return.

Tracy McGrady – After dropping a season-high 45 points, McGrady left Tuesday’s contest with back stiffness and then sat out Wednesday’s game with the same ailment. He says this back injury is different from the one that sidelined him earlier this year, but it’s worrisome either way. McGrady expects to return to the court Saturday.

Shaun Livingston – Forced from Monday’s game with a sprained ankle and then sat out Wednesday’s contest with the same injury. He’s day-to-day.

Stromile Swift – After getting off to a solid start under new head coach Tony Barone, Swift has sat out the last four games with back spasms.

Jarrett Jack – Missed the last three games with a concussion but is expected to return to action Friday.

Lamar Odom – Possible return to the lineup next week. Same with teammate Kwame Brown.

Gerald Wallace – A separated shoulder that was originally supposed to keep him out 7-10 days has now turned into nearly three weeks on the shelf. He returned to the court Friday.

Chris Kaman – An ankle injury limited him to just eight minutes of action Wednesday night.

David West – An elbow injury has sidelined him for most of the season, but West was an emerging young player before going down. He returned to the lineup Friday and is worth owning in pretty much every format.

Stock Down

Brad Miller – Miller has struggled badly in Eric Musselman’s system all season long, but it’s been especially brutal of late. In between missing games due to personal reasons, Miller has scored five points or fewer in three of his last four games. He’s averaging just 8.4 points in January.

Mike James – How predictable. James parlayed a career-year last season into a big contract with the Timberwolves. It’s safe to say Minnesota expected a bit more than 9.1 points per game, which is what James is getting this month.

Eddie Griffin – What a waste of talent. First, he can’t get off the bench in Minnesota, now an NBA suspension for violating the anti-drug program. His career has officially bottomed out and one has to wonder if he’ll ever amount to anything at all.

Zaza Pachulia – Solid all season, Pachulia has come off the bench the last two games, and his numbers have suffered as a result. Over the last four contests, Pachulia is averaging 8.5 points and is getting just 17 minutes of PT.

Kurt Thomas – Thomas will be sidelined four-to-six weeks with a hyperextended left elbow.

Jeff Foster – He’s been needed to help out on the glass, but that job will now fall to Troy Murphy in Indiana. With Marquis Daniels, Mike Dunleavy and Danny Granger all fighting for playing time, expect Foster’s to be greatly reduced.

Speedy Claxton – On many “sleeper” lists before the season started, Claxton has been slowed by injuries to both knees all year long. He’s an asset in assists and steals when on the court, but the latest news suggests the injury could limit him for the rest of the season. He’s currently unable to travel with the team and shouldn’t be counted on in fantasy leagues.

Matt Barnes – Barnes has been getting nearly 36 minutes a night this month, but that playing time figures to drop with Stephen Jackson and Mickael Pietrus all fighting with him for one spot in the starting lineup.

The Depressing Article

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

More or less eliminated from the Fantasy Football Playoffs and not participating in basketball this season, I really have nothing to offer the fantasy world for a couple of months until baseball season arrives, and that’s only assuming that I overcome my battle with what has been an acute case of Seasonal Affective Disorder these past couple of weeks. Not surprisingly, along with my SAD (a cute acronym, I know) comes an inordinate amount of couchtime, watching college hoops and tons of other crap on television. Now I’m going to type about it (while contemporaneously watching crap on TV, of course).

College Basketball

This is the best season college hoops has had in a long time, certainly in the last seven or eight years. While the NBA age restriction policy seems preposterous, unfair and almost unconstitutional, I love what it’s done to the college game. After watching Oklahoma State’s amazing triple overtime win over Texas, Kevin Durant may go down as one of the most dominant freshmen in the history of college basketball. Look for him to average in the high 20s for the remainder of the season as Texas lands a four or five seed. While Greg Oden hasn’t lived up to expectations thus far, I look for Ohio St. to be the most dangerous team outside of Gainesville come March and the de facto one seed in their bracket. Focusing on freshmen, the Pac-10 may have the nation’s best freshman class, and is, as far as my west-coast-biased self can tell, the best conference in the country. UCLA and Arizona are Final Four threats and six other teams (all but Oregon St. and Arizona St.) are legit tournament teams. Even my beloved Stanford Cardinal has impressed so far, although they still have their toughest conference tests, and a date with Gonzaga.

Speaking of the Zags, these guys went from being the perennially underrated mid-major Cinderella story to having the sweetest deal in college basketball and underperforming in the postseason (although they actually managed a Sweet 16 appearance last year before a historic meltdown to UCLA). How did this happen, you ask? Well, after making a name for themselves in those early years, the Zags usually start the season with a lofty ranking in the top 25. Name recognition allows them to secure a tough non-conference schedule, even with some big games at home, a near impossibility for most mid-majors, and Gonzaga wins and loses against some quality opponents, their ranking sometimes taking a bit of a hit. Then it’s on to conference play, where, faced with weaker competition, the wins keep rolling in and, slowly but surely, Gonzaga continues to climb the rankings, ending the season looking better than they really are. Now I’ll eat my words when they crush Stanford by 20…

Crappy Reality Television

The Real World – After some painfully boring Outward Bound episodes (Look! they’re on a ropes course! Oh yay, another hike!), we’re back to what the Real World is all about: getting wasted, hooking up and verbal altercations. Good stuff.

The Hills – I’ve always had a thing for Heidi but was still pretty stoked to see this new guy Spencer treat her like trash as it should make for some good TV. We’ll see if he can live up to the lofty standards set by LC’s ex Jason, who had a delightful cameo to start off the season.

Beauty and the Geek – I never really dug the first two seasons, but this year is pretty good, primarily because the Beauties are actually beautiful (not to mention complete morons), and the Geeks are all likable guys. While the three biggest geeks have sadly been jettisoned, some serious talent remains on the beauty side (with the notable exception of that dog Cici, yuck!) Given the elimination format, the lack of alliances, politicking and backstabbing that goes on, especially among the geeks, is surprising and a bit annoying.

I Love New York – Like eating a whole tub of popcorn at the movies or throwing a beat, I feel a strange mix of pleasure and guilt watching this show, and absolutely hate myself when its all done. Lacking Flavor Flav’s comedic genius, this show impossibly comes across as more staged than Flavor of Love; at least half of the suitors are gay.

The White Rapper Show – As a former critically-acclaimed white rapper myself, I feel obligated to watch this show. The rest of you should feel no such urge, especially since the hot rapper chick just got the boot.

The Apprentice – My first year watching it, because it’s in LA and the friend of a friend of a friend is on it. Exciting, I know. Well, not so much, although I do admit, when Donald Trump proudly informed the winning team (comprised of all women, one gay guy and a straight guy) that they would get the pleasure of meeting Hugh Hefner and partying at the Playboy Mansion where they would be surrounded by tons of beautiful women, I lost it. Ogling silicone breasts must be very self-empowering and the perfect treat for an aspiring businesswoman.

HBO Stuff

Rome – I spent a day last week sick on the couch (as opposed to all the days I’ve spent healthy on the couch) and managed to watch the first season of Rome in its entirety (twelve hours, a prodigious feat if I do say so myself). While not quite Wire/Deadwood/Sopranos level, I found Rome to be very good and was fired up for an action-packed premiere to the second season that did not disappoint.

Extras – Speaking of disappointing, the first episode of Extras was catastrophically bad. Orlando Bloom and Ricky Gervais’ acting on the sitcom aside, I don’t think I laughed once. Depressing.

Championship Round Preview

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

New Orleans (+2) at Chicago

Comments: It’s unclear which is of greater concern for Chicago entering this weekend, Rex Grossman or its recent defensive play. Grossman silenced the critics somewhat last week (7.4 YPA), but the Bears’ defense continued its downslide. Chicago is allowing 25.8 points per game over the last five contests, while also forcing fewer turnovers. Considering this stretch of play featured the likes of Tampa Bay, Detroit and Green Bay, hardly offensive juggernauts, there is legitimate cause for concern. While the weather figures to be below freezing, usually not conducive for a dome team such as the Saints, New Orleans has played well on the road this season, amassing a 6-2 record. While Grossman’s play has been about as up-and-down as possible this season (eight games with a QB rating above 98.0, five games below 37.0), Drew Brees has been consistently great.

New Orleans has stepped up its play when on the road this season, and Brees has especially excelled; in eight games away from home this year, Brees got 8.5 YPA and posted a 16/2 TD/INT ratio. The Saints’ offense is hardly one-dimensional, evidenced by last week’s 208-yard rushing effort. The Bears have been beaten on the ground from time to time this season, and Deuce McAllister’s physical style seems suited to take advantage of that. New Orleans also protects the quarterback well, an aspect that should be vital Sunday. The Saints’ defense can certainly be beat, and it won’t be easy winning a January game played at temps in the mid-20s in Soldier Field, but expect Sean Payton to out-scheme Lovie Smith, as New Orleans advances to its first Super Bowl.

SAINTS 24-20

New England (+3) at Indianapolis

Comments: Although the Patriots may have been outplayed last week, it’s clear the team has mastered this know how to win business. They simply get it done, and at this point, it’s hard to argue with the results. Tom Brady won for the first time ever when throwing three picks, improving his postseason record to 12-1 in the process. The Colts are 9-0 at home this season, but the Patriots are an impressive 8-1 on the road. Although Indy has shored up its run defense during its two playoff games, that is still the area Bill Belichick and company figure to attack. That would be a drastic change in philosophy from last week, when New England called 22 straight pass plays at one point during the second half.

After the Patriots had won six straight meetings between these two teams, the Colts have won each of the last two games, including a 27-20 win at Gillette Stadium earlier this year; in fact, each of the last five meetings have taken place in New England. This will be the Pats first trip to Indy since 2003, but they have won the last two contests there. Remarkably, New England is 14-0-1 against the spread in its last 15 games played in Indianapolis.

But like coach Belichick says, none of that matters now. Largely overlooked entering the postseason, the Colts are currently playing the best defense they have all season long. Over the past two games, Indy has limited Kansas City and Baltimore to just 3-for-22 on third down conversions. On Sunday, their offense needs to show up. Ironically, the team has won despite Manning playing his worst two games of the season (1/5 TD/INT ratio). Still, look for a big performance from him this week. The same should be expected from Brady, but with Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney largely ineffective of late, New England may have a hard time taking advantage of that undersized front seven. This will be the first time an AFC Championship game will ever be played in a dome stadium, and in the end, home field will be the difference.

COLTS 27-23

Bets of the Week

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

My 4-team (6-point) teaser was foiled by Baltimore, but in hindsight, I should have been recommending Indy (+10) anyway, considering I chose them to cover the 4-point spread. Speaking of winning and losing games in the playoffs, can we please stop all this nonsense in the media about how the running game is so important in the postseason. Blindly overstating the importance of running the ball and stopping the run are for people who don’t pay attention to football. This is a passing league – always has been and always will. The best indicator of a team’s record is NET YPA. If you want some recent evidence, look no further than this past weekend, when the team with the lower YPC won all four games. Two of those teams had fewer rushing yards total. I digress.

Overall, I’m 6-2 against the spread during the playoffs, including 1-0 on moneyline recommendations (NE +200). This week, I think the Indy/New England matchup is pretty difficult to handicap and feel more strongly about the NFC game. I’ll go into greater detail in my preview, but I like the Saints (+2) to win that game. While the odds aren’t great utilizing just two teams, I do like a 7-point teaser as well, using New Orleans (+9) and Indianapolis (+4). Good luck.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Monday, January 15th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

What a wild weekend of football. It’s fitting the year everyone dismisses the Colts is the same one in which they are probably going to win it all. I’ll admit I picked the Ravens to win (although I had Indy covering), but everyone had it completely wrong when they said Indy matched up poorly with Baltimore. How can a team led by Jamal Lewis exploit the Colts’ greatness weakness, the run defense? Also, Baltimore’s biggest strength is the blitz, something that plays perfectly into the hands of Peyton Manning. Entering Saturday, when blitzed, Manning had a 127 QB rating with 12 TDs and zero picks in 119 passes. In 119 blitzes, he was sacked three times. Of course, Manning has a 1/5 TD/INT ratio this postseason, and the team is winning despite not because of him. Go figure.

Andy Reid’s system in Philly is a big reason for the team’s success, but someone please get this guy enrolled in Common Sense 101. His decision to punt on 4th and 15 with 1:48 left on the clock and just two timeouts was indefensible and possibly the worst coaching move I have ever seen. The only downside to a 4th down conversion failure was losing 20-30 yards of field position (it’s doubtful N.O. attempts a 50-yard FG to increase the lead from 3-6 points), and either way, a Saints’ first down ends it. By the way, Philly had given up 208 rushing yards. I don’t get why the media is half-heartedly questioning this reasoning – it’s almost a fireable offense.

Something’s not quite right with the Bears’ defense right now.

Score another one for Bill Belichick – Deion Branch isn’t worth the money.

Tom Brady has been known to lock onto a WR come playoff time (i.e. Branch), but I apologize to you, Jabar Gaffney. I predicted Caldwell, foolishly omitting Gafney from my top-30 WR fantasy playoff list. Gaffney had 11 regular season catches; in two playoff games, he has 18 catches for 207 yards and a score.

It’s not by chance the Patriots seem to find a way to win and San Diego finds a way to lose come playoff time. The Chargers, filled with more talent on both sides of the ball, simply gave that game away Sunday. I know it’s way too much to ask, but why would McCree intercept that ball on fourth down when it was going to lose his team yardage, not to mention the possibility of fumbling it? Think SD could’ve used an extra timeout instead of unsuccessfully challenging a clear call on the field? Worse yet, in the season-defining drive with 4:00 minutes left, Schottenheimer calls on Eric Parker on back-to-back plays? Meanwhile, LaDainian Tomlinson and his ho-hum 7.5 yards per touch is ignored. There’s a reason Schottenheimer is 5-13 during the postseason, and it’s not called luck.

And what about LT going off after the game, and then calling Belichick out in the media? This postseason has been filled with great games, and bottom line, the two best teams in each conference are left standing.

Hoops Scoop

Saturday, January 13th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

If you’re in a keeper league, Andrew Bynum has to be toward the top of your list. While clearly still unpolished (he needs to learn how to stay out of foul trouble), Bynum is a future star. He’s even a fine short-term option with Kwame Brown sidelined. Speaking of, Brown going down may be the best thing to happen to the Lakers, as it’s forced Bynum into action. Brown is a nice defender and all, but it’s clear Bynum is the one with all the upside, and now come playoff time, with more experience for the 19-year-old, I think Los Angeles could be a tough out.

If Tony Allen didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all. What a way to lose your season. For those in deeper leagues, Rajon Rondo may be worth a flier since the C’s are so devastated by injuries.

I like Ron Artest’s defense and posting ability, but the guy simply can’t shoot. If you are shooting 25 percent from downtown, it’s probably not a great idea to attempt nearly four of them per game.

Can’t wait to see how Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson coexist.

What about Dikembe Mutombo? Did the Gold Club reopen or something? He’s grabbed double-digit rebounds in nine straight games, averaging 13.8 over that span. He’s also swatting shots like it’s 1999 – there isn’t a cooler celebration in sports than the Mutombo finger wag.

There isn’t a more disappointing team in the league than the Clippers, who are struggling to find a mix with “too much talent.” It’s actually simple – Elton Brand needs to be taking more than 14 shots per game. I still say Shaun Livingston is going to be special.

I argued against Steve Nash winning the last two MVP awards; that said, it’s pretty impressive that he’s easily having his best season yet. The Suns are going to be a tougher out in the playoffs this year as well. There’s no way a team other than Phoenix, Dallas or San Antonio wins the championship this year.

You might as well see if Josh Smith’s owner forgot how good he was before undergoing hernia surgery now that he’s back. Hopefully he has a couple of subpar games while getting back into shape and you swoop in with a good offer. In December, he was getting 8.4 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.7 spg and 2.8 bpg, playing numerous games hampered by that hernia. Imagine what he’ll do now healthy.

The NBA’s Central Division is on a 12-game losing streak. The imbalance in East/West conferences is actually underrated; Houston’s 24-13 record has them in third place in their division, while Toronto’s 17-20 mark has them in first.

Is there anyone playing better under-the-radar basketball right now than Mike Miller? He’s hit a 3-pointer in 16 straight contests, including a remarkable three-game stretch that saw him drain 23 shots from downtown. During January, he’s averaging 7.0 assists and 23.8 points in five games. Apparently, Pau Gasol’s return is to going help, not hurt Miller’s production.

Divisional Round Preview

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Indianapolis (+4) at Baltimore

Comments: Aside from Peyton Manning, Bob Sanders is proving to be the Colts’ second most valuable player, as the defense performs on an entirely different level with him in the lineup. It took Tony Dungy long enough, but Joseph Addai is finally getting all of the touches in Indy’s backfield. After a season in which he became the first running back ever to reach 1,000 rushing yards without starting a single game, Addai’s legs certainly looked fresh last week, as Dungy’s strategy resulted in the rookie not being overworked in the regular season. For all of the criticism heaped on Manning’s postseason performance, Marvin Harrison has just two touchdown catches in 11 career playoff games. Chris McAlister may be the best corner in the league right now, but Samari Rolle might be the worst, so expect Manning to pick on him Saturday.

The Colts shut down the run impressively last week, and it’s unclear if Jamal Lewis and his 3.6 YPC could take advantage of that soft front seven anyway. Still, Baltimore is the far more physical football team, and one I’ve been underrating all season long. The Ravens are 13-2 over their last 15 home games, while Indy has lost each of its last four road games. Steve McNair wasn’t anything special this year, but he saved his best football for last, as he got 7.8 YPA over the final month of the season. Baltimore has won nine out of its last 10 games and enters with the best defense in football. Expect the Colts to stay in it till the very end, but their season once again falls short of expectations.

RAVENS 21-20.

Philadelphia (+6) at New Orleans

Comments: Winners of six straight, Philadelphia comes in as one of the NFL’s hottest teams. Although they won last week, the Eagles will need improved play out of Jeff Garcia to have any chance against the Saints, who had the third best pass defense in the NFL this year, allowing just 178.4 yards per game. Still, the secondary did allow 26 scores through the air – the second most in the league – so Garcia will have opportunities. Of course, the Eagles won’t solely rely on Garcia’s arm, as Brian Westbrook is the team’s most explosive offensive weapon. Ever since Marty Mornhinweg took over the play-calling duties, Philadelphia has been much more balanced and as a result, more productive. Since New Orleans surrenders 128.9 rushing yards per game, expect Westbrook to see around 25 carries this week. With Lito Sheppard (elbow) out against a potent Saints’ offense, the Eagles will have to win with offense.

The NFL did no favors for Philly; while both of the AFC wild card winners each have seven days between games, and Seattle has eight days to prepare, the Eagles are playing the Saints six days after beating the Giants. Think the city of New Orleans might be a little fired up for this home playoff game? Since the league went to the current playoff format in 1990, the team with the extra week to prepare for the divisional round is 28-4 in the NFC. However, the Eagles were one of the four teams that pulled off the upset, winning at Chicago in 2002. Before losing to New Orleans earlier this season, Philly had won the last six games against the Saints.

The underrated Eagles’ secondary will no doubt miss Sheppard, but since Joe Horn is still hampered by his hamstring injury, New Orleans may struggle to test Philly’s depth. Still, Brees has been effective no matter who he throws to this year, so expect the Saints to be able to move the ball with ease. The Eagles have been beaten on the ground this year, so look for Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush to be productive as well. In a battle that comes down to the final minutes, New Orleans has too much firepower on the offensive side of the ball.

SAINTS 27-24.

Seattle (+8.5) at Chicago

Comments: Each team enters hardly playing its best football, as Seattle limped into the postseason and was lucky to beat a mediocre Dallas squad at home last week. Chicago, meanwhile, gave up 105 points in its final four regular season games after allowing just 36 points over its first six games. However, Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman will play in the secondary together this week for the first time in more than a month, and it’s not like Seattle’s offense has been playing well anyhow. Darrell Jackson and D.J. Hackett are banged up, while Deion Branch simply can’t catch the football. You know you’ve got problems when Jerramy Stevens is your most reliable receiver – at least Bobby Engram is back acting as Matt Hasselbeck’s safety valve. The running game may be even more of a problem for the Seahawks, as Shaun Alexander doesn’t even resemble last year’s MVP. If you take away one game against a poor Green Bay team, Alexander got a pathetic 3.3 YPC on 212 totes this year.

Chicago doesn’t enter without question marks of its own, however, as Rex Grossman’s play has been extremely inconsistent over the second half of the season. While Seattle’s secondary is decimated by injuries, its front seven has also allowed 152.7 rushing yards per game over the last six weeks, so expect Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson to be heavily involved. The Seahawks are likely to play tougher than Week 4’s 37-6 blowout loss the last time they traveled to Soldier Field, but it’s hard to find much optimism with their recent play.

BEARS 27-14.

New England (+4.5) at San Diego

Comments: In a divisional round matchup, it’s possible the NFL’s two best teams face off this week. San Diego was 8-0 at home this season, while New England was 7-1 on the road. Tom Brady is 11-1 during the postseason in his career, while Marty Schottenheimer is 5-12. He’s had three teams earn first round byes, only to be upset by the lower seed each and every time. This isn’t history class, and San Diego may very well have the most talent in the league, but experience does have to be considered. Philip Rivers will be starting his first ever playoff game Sunday; in the last two years, teams that had a quarterback making his first playoff start have gone 0-6. His late season struggles only add to the worries. Still, the Chargers have the NFL’s MVP, the league’s sack leader (in 12 games) and come in riding a 10-game winning streak. This team is a force.

The same could be said about the Patriots, however, as the team entered the postseason underrated by most. New England’s defense this year allowed fewer points than at any time during its 2001-2004 dynasty. San Diego has struggled with red zone defense this season, while New England has excelled when its offense sniffs the end zone. The Pats also allowed a ridiculously low 10 touchdown passes through the air this season, while Ty Warren, Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork should make life difficult on Tomlinson. The Chargers’ best weapon in the passing game? That would be Antonio Gates, and the Patriots have allowed exactly zero TDs to a tight end this year. The Ravens are very good, but the winner of this game goes on to be Super Bowl champs.

PATRIOTS 24-23.

Fantasy Top 10 2007

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

A lot will change over the next eight months, but if I drafted today, these guys would be my top 10 fantasy players for next season.

1. LaDainian Tomlinson – This is a no-brainer. I would consider taking away the 2nd round pick of whoever is lucky enough to land #1.

2. Steven Jackson – Only 23, Jackson became the focal point of the Rams offense this season and came up huge in the fantasy playoffs, not to mention torching the Vikings’ dominant run defense in week 17.

3. Joseph Addai – Assuming Rhodes leaves, Addai will have the potent Colts offense all to himself. With Manning’s newfound penchant to check down, 80 catches wouldn’t be out of the question.

4. Larry Johnson – LJ’s 416 carries this season is a legitimate concern, as is his playoff performance. However, comparisons with Shaun Alexander’s 2006 season seem a bit premature.

5. Frank Gore – Gore was far and away the ‘most valuable’ running back in the league this year, but it’s hard to see his numbers improving unless Alex Smith and the rest of the offense improves as well.

6. Brian Westbrook – Time to give Westbrook his due. With Mornhinweg calling the plays, Philadelphia should continue to run the ball, even with McNabb back.

7. Laurence Maroney – Assuming Dillon leaves, Maroney should be huge next year, although look for Kevin Faulk and others to siphon off a few carries.

8. Willie Parker – The Steelers should rebound next year, and Parker will be a big part of that.

9. Reggie Bush – Bush was a fantasy disappointment this year, but Deuce McAllister is getting old (for a running back), and Bush’s role should grow.

10. Maurice Jones-Drew – If Fred Taylor is gone, MJD joins the top five. Even with Taylor around, he warrants a late first round pick.

Honorable Mention – Brandon Jacobs is an automatic first rounder as long as he doesn’t have to fight for carries, but that seems unlikely. Michael Turner could be incredibly valuable if he ends up in the right place, like Denver. In fact, whoever goes to Denver should probably be top 8 or so.

Bets of the Week

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

If you took my advice last week, you could have made some coin on a 4-team teaser with 3-1 odds. That said, I’m not as confident with this week’s slate, but I’m going with the same strategy nevertheless. As far as moneylines go, taking the Colts, Eagles and/or Patriots makes the most sense, as any one of them could easily pull off the upset. Personally, I think New England has the best shot, but that’s more of a testament to the Patriots’ play than a knock on the Chargers’ talent. Rex Grossman means anything can happen, but it’s tough to find hope with the way Seattle is playing right now.

I’m again going with a 4-team teaser this week. Rolling 6-points to get the same 3-1 odds, I’m taking Baltimore (+2), New Orleans (pick), Chicago (-2.5) and New England (+10.5). Good luck.

The Real MVP

Monday, January 8th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

3. LaDainian Tomlinson

It’s impossible to argue with LT’s numbers: he broke the NFL record with 31 TDs, got 5.2 YPC, totaled 2,323 yards and carried countless fantasy teams to titles. Still, he simply wasn’t as important to his team as two other quarterbacks were. Consider Michael Turner, who got 6.3 YPC behind Tomlinson on 80 carries, a decent enough sample size. How many more games would San Diego have lost with Turner instead of Tomlinson in the backfield, one? None?

2. Drew Brees

Drew Brees, on the other hand, led a team that went 3-13 last season to the NFC’s No. 2 seed this year. While New Orleans wasn’t completely void of talent, the team won with offense, and Brees made the likes of Devery Henderson, Terrence Copper and Marques Colston all noteworthy. Brees got 8.0 YPA, led the league with 4,418 passing yards and threw 26 TDs in just 15 games played. Something tells me Jamie Martin wouldn’t have fared so well.

1. Peyton Manning

And then there’s Peyton Manning, who apparently gets overlooked due to continued greatness. Manning got 7.9 YPA and led the league with 31 TD passes. When you factor in his four rushing scores, which was the second most by a QB this year, he accounted for 35 touchdowns this season. He also sported the best TD/INT ratio (3.4/1). He did all of this while facing a difficult pass defense schedule and hampered by one of the worst run defenses in memory, which allowed opponents to dominate time of possession; in fact, the Colts had the fewest number of possessions than any team in the league this year, so Manning had to make the most of his opportunities. On third down passing situations, Manning converted a ridiculous 55.6 percent into first downs, easily leading the league. In comparison, Donovan McNabb and Marc Bulger each had a 38.9 percent conversion rate. If you replaced Manning with Jim Sorgi, Indianapolis would have won somewhere around 3-6 games. Peyton Manning is easily the NFL’s most valuable player.

Thoughts from Saturday and More

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

A few random thoughts from the games on Saturday in no particular order, followed by my own year-end picks.

Colts – Chiefs
Wow. As the owner of Trent Green, Larry Johnson and Tony Gonzalez (and no Colts) on my fantasy playoff team, this was not a fun game to watch. The Chiefs offense looked like it was playing the Ravens, not the Colts, and Herm Edwards’ insistence on sticking with Trent Green and pounding the ball into a stacked line on first and second down certainly did not help. If my league had our ’07 fantasy draft tomorrow, I would take Addai over LJ. Peyton Manning’s two interceptions to Ty Law were blamed on Marvin Harrison, but I’m not so sure. On the second throw, Chris Collinsworth noted that Harrison should have broken to the outside since Tamba Ali (I think that’s who it was, the left end) had dropped into coverage, but, in my estimation, Harrison had no way of knowing that Ali had come off the line. The resurgence of the Indy defense makes me think they have a good chance of taking down the Ravens next week, despite opening as a pretty significant underdog (-4.5 and +217 moneyline). I like the Colts.

Seahawks – Cowboys
Wow X 2. A lot to talk about here. The bobble has been dissected to death, so I’ll steer clear of that. But there were a few aspects of that play that snuck under the radar. Jordan Babineaux’s shoestring tackle on Romo was unbelievable but was only made possible by Martin Gramatica’s feeble block. Also, if Romo stretches the ball out as he goes to the ground, he may very well have a first down. The booth review on Jason Witten’s first down was quite suspect. It looked as if Witten (or, rather the ball) was an inch or two short of the first down (or, rather the yellow line on TV), but to go from an automatic first down with no measurement to an automatic fourth down with no measurement seemed a bit strange (the one and a half yard line?!). Do refs see the super-imposed first down line during reviews? Isn’t that unofficial? The only person more bummed about the bobble than Romo himself was Josh Brown, who was robbed the chance to boot another dramatic game-winner. Oh, and lastly, let me get this straight, both DJ Hackett and Darrell Jackson are declared active, and then Seneca Wallace catches the first pass of the game?

Here are my best/worst picks for the year. I tend to agree with DDD on most of this stuff…

Movies

Best
1. Little Miss Sunshine – Funny and life-affirming. awww.
2. The Departed
3. Borat – My jaw hurt from laughing.
4. The Science of Sleep – Very cool visually, I’m a big Gael fan.
5. Mutual Appreciation – I need a good film snob movie after my top three picks.
6. Quinceanera – Light, enjoyable, en espanol.
7. Volver – Ditto.
8. Wordplay – Spellbound lite.

(I have yet to see Babel, Little Children or Pan’s Labyrinth but have high expectations for them. Also, two unreleased movies I saw at the Sundance Film Festival, TV Junkie and Wristcutters were my 3rd and 5th favorite movies of the year, respectively.)

Most Disappointing and/or Overrated
(I usually only go to movies that I think will be good, consequently, I don’t think I can say what the “worst” movies were this year.)

1. The Illusionist – Two great actors (Ed Norton and Paul Giamatti) star in a movie a lot of people liked. A lot of idiots.
2. Running With Scissors – Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy managed to ruin one of my favorite shows and rob two hours of my life this year.
3. For Your Consideration – I never thought I wouldn’t enjoy a Chris Guest joint, but this one just isn’t very funny.
4. Thank You for Smoking – An innocuous and unaffecting satire.
5. Half Nelson – Not particularly bad, but everyone else seems to love this movie.
6. Talladega Nights – “Shake and Bake!” Funny catchphrase! Say it again!

Best Television Show
1. The Wire
2. The Shield
3. Curb Your Enthusiasm
4. The Office
5. Deadwood
6. The Sopranos
7. Colbert Report
8. Daily Show
9. Two-a-Days
10. Flavor of Love

Best Album
1. Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSound
JT’s mix of party jams and panty dropping ballads easily surpasses Thom Yorke’s half-assed effort.

Best Song
1. Promiscuous Girl – Nelly Furtado

Player Spotlight: Chris Chambers vs. Lee Evans

Friday, January 5th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Chris Chambers just finished possibly the worst season a wide receiver has ever had in the history of the NFL. Chambers was targeted 154 times this year, the fourth most in the league. He turned all of those looks into just 59 catches, a historically low 38.3 percent reception rate. Of the top-16 most targeted receivers, every other one eclipsed 1,000 yards, with most in the 1,200 range. And then there’s Chambers, who finished with just 677 receiving yards. Terry Glenn was targeted 44 fewer times, yet accumulated 1,047 yards. And don’t blame poor quarterback play, as the rest of Miami’s receivers combined to catch 63 percent of intended passes. In 64 fewer looks, teammate Marty Booker accounted for nearly 100 more receiving yards and two more TDs, while hauling in 61.1 percent of the passes thrown his way.

In contrast, Lee Evans was probably football’s most productive receiver. While Chambers got 4.4 yards per target, Evans got 9.4, second only to Reggie Wayne (9.6), who had far superior teammates. Defenses needed to worry about stopping Marvin Harrison and the best QB in the game, while Buffalo is bereft of talent. Evans also hauled in six passes for 40 yards or more, and if JP Losman continues to improve (7.1 YPA this year), Evans could easily crack the top-5 as a fantasy WR next year.

Bottom line, Chris Chambers is a dreadful receiver in real football, and it finally translated into the fantasy realm this year. Lee Evans is already a top-5 WR talent in the league, and fantasy owners should take notice, as his numbers will reflect this as soon as next year.

Random question: How do Drew Brees and Carson Palmer finish 2nd and 3rd in Comeback Player of the Year voting? It’s one thing for Brees to rebound from that 24 TD, 7.2 YPA, 16 games played 2005 season, but how about Palmer bouncing back from his 32 TD, 7.5 YPA, MVP-worthy 2005 campaign? Someone get the AP a dictionary.

Wild Card Round Preview

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Kansas City (+7) at Indianapolis

Comments: On paper, the Chiefs’ run-heavy offense matches up perfectly with the Colts’ league-worst rush defense. If Larry Johnson doesn’t receive 30-35 carries, it would be a mild upset. Indy was the only team in the NFL to allow a 100-yard rusher in every single game this season. Still, Kansas City needed a series of improbable results to barely squeak into the postseason and is likely just happy to be here. I’m not a coach and don’t pretend to be, but it’s hard to justify Trent Green starting this game. He got 6.8 YPA with a 7/9 TD/INT ratio this season, while Damon Huard put up 7.7 YPA and an 11/1 TD/INT ratio. At a minimum, expect Green to have a short leash Saturday. The Colts were 8-0 at home this year, and the Chiefs were just 3-5 on the road. Kansas City seems to best fit the bill as this season’s lucky to be here team that gets blown out in Round 1.

COLTS 34-20.

Dallas (+3) at Seattle

Comments: Both teams enter 1-3 over their last four games and with severe secondary problems. While Dallas has given up 14 TD passes over the last month, Seattle comes in without Kelly Herndon and Marcus Trufant. It seems Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn, Jason Witten and Patrick Crayton are better equipped to take advantage than a depleted Seattle receiving corps. Seattle has proven tough to beat at home over the last few years, but Dallas has been equally successful on the road this season. The Cowboys have lost each of their last three home games and won each of their last three road tilts. Really, it’s hard to get excited about either team, as the Seahawks have allowed a staggering 49 sacks and also been outscored overall on the season, while the Cowboys’ Tony Romo has committed eight turnovers over the last four games. He still easily leads the league in YPA (8.6), but Seattle’s 12th man won’t make things easy for the signal caller’s first ever postseason start. This shootout won’t be decided until the final minutes.

COWBOYS 24-23.

New York Jets (+8.5) at New England

Comments: This point spread seems high considering the over/under (37.5) and the fact that New York just beat the Patriots in New England earlier this season. The Pats have been vulnerable at home (5-3) this year, while the Jets were a remarkable 6-2 on the road. Still, all that just means the Patriots will be focused, and expecting New York to win at Gillette Stadium a second time is probably too much to ask. Losing Rodney Harrison is a fairly big deal for the Pats’ defense, but it’s not like Chad Pennington will be able to take advantage of that downfield. New England ended the season winning six out of the last seven games and are getting somewhat overlooked, just the way they like it.

PATRIOTS 23-16.

New York Giants (+7) at Philadelphia

Comments: Another matchup featuring division rivals facing either other for the third time this season, with the teams splitting the two previous games. The Eagles enter as the NFC’s hottest team, winners of their past five games. Philly has been susceptible to the run at times, but has virtually shut down Tiki Barber, holding the back to just 3.2 YPC over two games. Still, the Giants will continue to focus their game plan around Barber, as he’s easily their best offensive weapon. The Eagles’ secondary is extremely underrated and faces a struggling Eli Manning, who is getting a ridiculous 3.4 YPA over the last two weeks. Jeremy Shockey also enters riddled by injuries. Jeff Garcia, on the other hand, enters getting 7.0 YPA with a 10/2 TD/INT ratio. It’s the system, folks. Sans Michael Strahan, teams are running directly at New York, so expect Brian Westbrook to do the same. The Giants have the talent to pull of an upset, but it’d take a drastic and highly unlikely turnaround from Manning. Instead, look for Philly to send Tiki into retirement, and Tom Coughlin into unemployment.

EAGLES 24-20.

Bets of the Week

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

While a more comprehensive NFL Playoff Preview is soon to follow, for now, I wanted to go over betting possibilities for the Wild Card weekend. No straight up bets truly stand out; the Patriots seem to be giving an awful lot of points to a team that won their last game played in New England, and I don’t really see why Indy is giving the same amount as Philly, as I view the Colts as much bigger locks this weekend, especially with Bob Sanders’ return to the lineup. In fact, according to the moneylines (Giants +280, Chiefs +266), the odds suggest KC has a better shot of winning than New York does. The Cowboys/Seahawks tilt seems like a coin flip, so taking Dallas’ moneyline (+130) would make some sense.

Personally, I’d go with a teaser this week. I’d roll six points on Indy (-1), Dallas (+9), New England (-2.5) and Philly (-1) and get a nice 3/1 odds. Since some sites have NE favored at –9.5, I’d suggest rolling it 7 points there to be safe. Good luck.