Archive for January, 2009

Bet on It

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

I went 1-1 during the Conference Championship round, bringing my playoff record to 4-6. My best bet, the Eagles, blew it, making me 1-2 there. As for Super Bowl XLIII, here are my thoughts:

Cardinals +7 vs. Steelers

The Cardinals are clearly playing at a much higher level than during the regular season, and their ability to force turnovers makes an upset here possible. Don’t be surprised if the offense relies heavily on the no-huddle, and their spread attack is actually a good fit to attack Pittsburgh’s strong defense. Moreover, the Ken Whisenhunt/Russ Grimm factor is interesting. It certainly was huge when Jon Gruden’s underdog Bucs were able to call out the plays his previously coached Raiders ran during Super Bowl XXXVII, but one year had elapsed there, whereas there’s a two-year gap this time. Also, it’s safe to assume Mike Tomlin is a far superior coach in this case…The Steelers can’t run, Hines Ward will be severely limited, and Ben Roethlisberger, who led the NFL in fumbles this season, will be facing a defense that recorded the most fumble recoveries in the league. Still, Arizona’s secondary remains highly beatable despite DRC’s emergence, and more importantly, the Steelers’ defense has been historically good this year. Neither team will run the ball effectively, but Kurt Warner has a tough task against a Pittsburgh secondary that allowed just 5.4 YPA with a 12:20 TD:INT ratio during the regular season. If the Cards get behind early, turnovers should follow, leading to a relatively easy Pittsburgh win. Steelers 27-17.

The Scoop

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

First base is probably the most loaded position, but Kendry Morales is a fine late round target. He’s failed so far in the majors, but he’s still just 25 years old and hit .341 with 15 homers and 64 RBI in 317 at-bats in Triple-A last season. It came in a hitting environment, but he doesn’t strike out a ton, and the Angels figure to hand over the starting first base job to him after Mark Teixeira left town. Morales is definitely someone to go after in AL-only leagues.

Coco Crisp is another player likely to be undervalued after three disappointing seasons in Boston. He’s unlikely to return to his 2005 form in Cleveland, but Kansas City will give him a full-time job and also likely have him leading off. The power regression is probably here to stay, but he can get on base at an OK clip, so 30 steals and 80-100 runs are possible. Over the final two months last year, he hit .341 in 123 at-bats with an impressive 18:15 K:BB ratio.

I find it quite funny how many are attributing the Cardinals’ Super Bowl run to a newly found running game and the resurgence of Edgerrin James, when in fact, the team has a lower YPC (3.3) in the postseason than they did during the regular season (3.5).

I doubt Derrek Lee ends up on any of my teams this year. He still has value hitting in the middle of the Cubs lineup, and he’s a good bet to be an asset in batting average with 8-10 steals added in. However, last year’s .823 OPS was his second lowest of the decade, and although it looked like he was finally over his wrist issues with eight homers in April, Lee hit just three home runs after July 27 and never hit more than two in any month after the All-Star break. At age 33, counting on a bounce back would be a poor bet.

Surprised to see Antonio Margarito get straight up dominated by Shane Mosley. Not only did the loss ruin future enticing matchups, but the pre-fight controversy taints Margarito’s career as well. Another big blow to the crumbling boxing industry.

I suggest avoiding Mark Reynolds altogether, no matter the discount. Sure, the power is for real, but the hit in BA just isn’t worth it. The guy hit .226 after the break last season, and it was hardly a fluke. He set the MLB record with 204 strikeouts – which amounts to one K every 2.64 at-bats. Good thing his career BABIP is .353 or he wouldn’t be breaking the Mendoza Line. Stay far away.

I was tempted to rank Victor Martinez as my No. 1 fantasy catcher this year, and he’s certainly a top-3 option in my view. It’s often best to target the catcher coming off an injury riddled year over the one who was successful yet worked hard the previous season, as the position is the most daunting in baseball. Martinez’s train wreck of a campaign in 2008 can be directly related to injuries, and he proved he still has plenty left in his bat with a solid September. This is someone who averaged 21 homers, 99 RBI and a .302 BA over the previous four seasons before last year. Kelly Shoppach’s emergence can also be viewed as a good thing, as Martinez could be asked to play more first base and DH, as his bat will always be in the lineup one way or the other and less work behind the plate will keep him fresher and healthier. I’d certainly feel safer taking him over the dangerously overused Russell Martin.

I’m finished touting Delmon Young as the next big thing. It’s clear he can maintain a fine batting average despite his free swinging ways, and it’s possible he even ups his SB total to 20-plus this season, but his complete lack of power really limits his upside, despite his raw tools. Last year’s 10 homers should not be considered a fluke considering his 1.23 G/F rate. In fact, if you remove line drives, he hit an astonishing 1.98 groundballs for every fly ball. He was a bit unlucky with just 7.6 percent of his fly balls going for homers (he puts more balls in play than most because he rarely walks), but that’s commensurate with his career, so no big uptick should be counted on. It’s possible he finally lives up to his perceived potential, as he’s still just 23, but he’s not a top-50 OF option as of now.

For a good laugh, check out Richard Justice’s recent article about Brad Ausmus. A quick excerpt: “The Astros have had some good players through the years…They’ve never quite had one as valuable to the franchise as Brad Ausmus. This guy was all about winning…Some of you will quibble about his individual stats. All you’re doing is showing how little you know about baseball.” Truly mind-boggling.

I’m perennially disappointed, but I wouldn’t mind gambling yet again on Hank Blalock. You simply can’t go into the season relying on him as your starting third baseman with all the injury concerns, but there’s still significant upside. He’s posted an .871 OPS in between injuries over the past two seasons, and when he finally got healthy during the final month of last year, he hit .337 with eight homers and 23 RBI. With that ballpark and hitting in the middle of a potent Texas lineup both on his side, some big numbers could be in store for the 28-year-old still entering his prime. The fact he’s slated to DH this season should help keep him healthy as well.

Sticking with the Rangers, few closers are better targets than Frank Francisco. Of course, there’s risk with his relative lack of track record and poor command, but he’s extremely tough to hit, holding opponents to a .200 BAA in 2008. Finally healthy after undergoing TJ surgery three years ago, Francisco posted an incredible 11.84 K/9 IP mark last season. After the All-Star break, he recorded a 2.45 ERA and 0.74 WHIP with a 38:6 K:BB ratio over 25.2 innings.

The Scoop

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

The wait is over – time to start cranking out the baseball notes. Just two short months before the start of the season, and I, for one, can’t wait for it to get here.

For me, there’s a clear cut top-six this year – Hanley Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, David Wright and Grady Sizemore. That order can differ plenty, but I can’t see taking any other player with the first six picks, and I also see a decent drop off afterward. You’re at a sizeable advantage picking early in 2009, as there are a bunch of similar players going in the late first round all the way until the end of the second round.

The designated hitter position is riddled with old, injury-prone players this year – David Ortiz, Jim Thome, Gary Sheffield, Travis Hafner. There are some bounce back opportunities here, but make sure these guys come at a significant discount. And then there’s Billy Butler, who hit nine of his 11 homers after the All-Star break last season, when his slugging percentage jumped nearly 150 points. Still, his OPS versus righties was a disgusting .597, so he has plenty of work left in front of him.

I expect Stephen Drew to end up on a bunch of my teams this year. He sacrificed walks for more power last year, which fantasy owners will always take. He also has Chase Field working for him and quietly hit .326/.372/.556 after the All-Star break last season. Drew is also capable of stealing more bases if he so chooses, so don’t be shocked if shortstop’s big three gains a new member in 2009.

I’ve seen Chase Utley go in the first round of some early drafts, which is just too soon for someone who may miss the first month, or even two, of the season. If he beats the odds and returns in early April, there’s obviously big upside with Utley, but a pick that early simply needs to be safer than someone returning from major surgery, as there’s also no telling how close to full strength he’ll be even when he does return to the diamond.

What do we make of Carlos Quentin? Finally breaking out when healthy, he was one of the league’s best players in 2008. In fact, he was on pace to finish with 45 homers, 125 RBI, 120 runs, nine steals and a .288 BA before a wrist injury ended his season prematurely. The performance was hardly a fluke, and he even got better as the season progressed, posting a 24:23 K:BB ratio with a 1.117 OPS in 141 at-bats after the break. Quentin also has a terrific hitting environment at his disposal. However, 2008 was the only year in the majors he’s even approached reaching his potential, and he’s proving to be quite an injury risk. Moreover, wrist injuries are toward the top of the list as most worrisome for hitters, although he claims he’s 100 percent recovered already. Right now his ADP pegs him as a late third round pick, which seems about right.

There’s a starting pitcher who finished with a 17-7 record, 3.41 ERA and 1.21 WHIP last season, and yet, he’s not in my top-60 SP rankings. Joe Saunders’ 4.68 K/9 IP and 1.94:1 K:BB ratios were flat out awful. According to his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), his ERA should have been 4.43, making him the third luckiest pitcher in baseball (Armando Galarraga and Daisuke Matsuzaka were the first two, respectively). Good luck repeating that .267 BABIP. Avoid Saunders like the plague this year.

The more I think about it, the more I see Tim Lincecum as a first round pick. I know the current trend among “experts” is to wait on pitching at least until after round five, and while I don’t necessarily disagree with this notion, Lincecum is the one outlier. He’s far and away the most valuable starting pitcher, separating himself by some distance from No. 2 – unless you don’t care about Johan Santana’s sinking K rate or rising BB rate (three straight years) or the fact he was extremely lucky in 2008 (.825 strand rate, 3.83 xFIP), then maybe Lincecum’s got competition. But if you care about those types of things, then Lincecum should easily be viewed as the No. 1 starting pitcher. Of course, I can understand avoiding that position early no matter the pitcher because of the inherent risk, not to mention Lincecum’s high pitch counts. Without a doubt, pitchers are riskier than position players, and also “wins” may be an issue backed by the Giants’ inept offense. However, after the top eight picks or so, who jumps out at you? Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira, Lance Berkman, Evan Longoria, Matt Holliday? Really? Give me The Freak.

Hoops Scoop

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Quietly, Shaquille O’Neal is having a very good season. His 17.7 ppg and 1.5 bpg are his highest marks since 2005-06, and his 62.8 percent free throw shooting, although still bad, is his best mark during his 17-year career. He’s gotten stronger as the season has progressed, and Shaq’s turnovers are way down as well. The fact he commonly sits out a game when Phoenix plays back-to-backs hurts him in weekly leagues, but in daily formats, it just keeps him fresh and less likely to get hurt. Entering the year, it seemed obvious he was in a decline, but that’s on hold for now, although Amare Stoudemire owners certainly don’t like it.

One of this year’s biggest busts has to be Samuel Dalembert, who is averaging a miniscule 5.7 ppg. He’s never been a big help in points, but he’s taking nearly half the FG attempts he did last season. In fact, his playing time has decreased during each month this year. Elton Brand’s return should only further derail his incredibly disappointing season.

Boris Diaw has to be the early candidate for pickup of the year in fantasy leagues. Since coming to Charlotte 18 games ago, he’s averaged 13.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.1 three-pointers. And he’s even eligible at center in some leagues. He’s officially back to his heyday when he played in Phoenix.

Don’t look now, but maybe Andrea Bargnani isn’t a bust, after all. With Jermaine O’Neal out of the lineup, the former No. 1 overall pick has averaged 20.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.5 three-pointers in 11 games during January. He’s never going to be a defensive force, but at least he’s blocked 1.2 shots per game this season as well. He’s also a rare center who shoots free throws well (85.7 percent). O’Neal’s return may cut into Bargnani’s production, but O’Neal has also been rumored in trade discussions and is no lock to stay healthy for more than a game at a time, so this output may be here to stay.

Another young player finally starting to live up to his potential is Randy Foye, who has averaged 20.6 points, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals and a whopping 3.0 three-pointers this month – all while shooting an impressive 49.6 percent from the floor and 90.0 percent from the charity stripe. Some more dimes would be nice, but he’s starting to look more comfortable as a two guard, despite his lack of ideal size for that position. With few scoring options on Minnesota, expect the scoring binge to become a trend by Foye, and hopefully he can finally stay healthy.

The Kings were heavily criticized for taking Jason Thompson out of little known Rider with the 12th pick of last year’s draft. However, the early returns have been nothing but positive, as Thompson has been productive in limited minutes and has even earned a starting role already (although in Sacramento that isn’t saying much). He possesses nice potential on the boards and is showing promise as a scorer in the post, even going 14-of-15 from the line during his last game. Moreover, no rookies selected after him have stood out at all thus far, so the Kings’ “reach” isn’t looking that way any longer. Especially playing for a team in a full-blown youth movement, Thompson is a highly valuable keeper commodity.

The Scoop

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

The NFC Championship game may have featured no teams with double-digit wins this season, but it was an instant classic nevertheless. It’s safe to say the Cardinals picked the right time to play their best football of the year, and it cannot be underestimated just how much Arizona’s staff outcoached Philadelphia’s on Sunday. Although I was once again shocked by the outcome, there’s no doubt the better team won on that day…Yes, Kurt Warner is now an easy call for the Hall of Fame. What an incredible performance. And what a revelation regarding his wife’s makeover. She’s unrecognizable…I’m beginning to think Larry Fitzgerald is a pretty good wide receiver…The final numbers were solid, but Donovan McNabb was wildly inaccurate Sunday, once again stumbling in the spotlight (now 1-4 in Championship games). And his offensive line absolutely dominated in pass protection. McNabb left a ton of yards on the field…While he’s certainly no longer a deep sleeper, Brent Celek makes for an excellent late round target in fantasy leagues next year…To call Brian Westbrook less than 100 percent would be a massive understatement. He looked about 50 percent to me…A fitting way for Philadelphia’s season to come to an end. I swear, I got this team wrong on a weekly basis. They were overrated. They were dangerous. They were legit. They disappoint as favorites once finally everyone believes. Andy Reid has plenty of faults (for some inexplicable reason, he called a timeout with 1:48 left in the first half at his own 36 yard-line on 3rd and 14, presumably to make sure Arizona had a better chance of scoring, which they did), but it’s hard to argue with five NFC Championship appearances in eight years…During Fitzgerald’s one-yard TD, I can’t for the life of me figure out why the DB never even bothered to look Warner’s way. It’s not like he can get burnt deep…During the controversial kickoff that was eventually ruled out of bounds, Troy Aikman kept praising Ken Whisenhunt’s aggressive decision. Huh? Did he think that was an onside kick? Those announcers are god-awful…It wouldn’t be a stretch to say David Akers choked Sunday. As Chris Liss noted, “Surprised Akers didn’t point down to hell and the devil when he missed.”…Congratulations to the Cardinals, who became just the second 9-7 team ever to reach the Super Bowl and first since 1979.

Has the Ravens/Steelers game ended yet? In all seriousness, it was another entertaining watch, as that rivalry is fast developing into the NFL’s best. Ultimately, it looks like Baltimore made good on both of their bounty promises on Rashard Mendenhall and Hines Ward…If Aaron Smith gets called “underrated” one more time, he’ll officially become overrated…What a play by Ben Roethlisberger on Santonio Holmes’ 65-yard touchdown. The big play was the Ravens’ one Achilles’ heel…Joe Flacco didn’t just look like a rookie, it looked like his first game of playing football. Still, Pittsburgh’s defense deserves a ton of credit, and Flacco’s future remains bright, and I do appreciate that backdoor cover on the pick-six…Limas Sweed has some of the worst hands I’ve ever seen. And he made matters worse by acting hurt (suffering from a bruised ego, as Jim Nantz pointed out) and costing his team a timeout that later cost them a field goal. He somewhat made up for it with a bone-crushing block later on, but his horrible hands have been a consistent theme throughout the year…What a performance by Terrell Suggs, recording two sacks while playing with one arm. He was in such pain, he couldn’t even celebrate afterward…The NFL really needs to examine what it takes to be considered a catch. How was Holmes’ play overturned? He took three steps before the ball came out on the ground! What exactly, is a “football move?” Slow motion can often be misleading…What a hard-hitting game. Willis McGahee may eventually need to consider a different profession.

I certainly didn’t foresee this Super Bowl matchup, but at least I had both participants winning their divisions during my season preview. Still, it’s pretty crazy Arizona is in after losing 47-7 in Week 16. What must the Patriots be thinking?…I’m surprised there’s a relatively even split on the action so far for Super Bowl XLIII. Am I crazy, or does this have blowout written all over it? I hope I’m wrong, but there’s no way I’m not laying the points there.

Bet on It

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Last week I went 1-3, bringing my playoff record to 3-5. My best bet, the Panthers, lost by 20, making me 1-1 there. As for this week, the Cardinals are playing their best football of the season, and their ability to create turnovers and homefield advantage give them a legitimate shot at reaching the Super Bowl. However, the Eagles enter with the NFC’s best defense, and Arizona still has a shaky secondary. Philadelphia seems to always disappoint just when everyone believes in them, but this is a team that dropped 48 points on Arizona the last time they played. Of course, circumstances have changed since then, and the team has no running game with a hobbled Brian Westbrook, but expect Philly’s defense to lead the way Sunday. Back the Eagles…I’m less certain in backing the Steelers – six points is a lot in what figures to be a low scoring game. But Baltimore’s offense has been a bigger problem in the playoffs than most realize, and counting on fumble recoveries is never desirable. Pittsburgh looks like the clear best team in football and enters with the superior offense, so I’ll reluctantly give the points.

Eagles -3.5 (best bet) at Cardinals

Ravens +6 at Steelers

Best of 2008

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

It’s that time of year again – RotoScoop’s year-end lists. I know you’ve all been impatiently awaiting 2008’s version after last year’s was such a hit. It’s a down time in sports now anyway, so I hope you all enjoy. Feel free to let me know what I got right, what I missed and what I got wrong in the comments.

MOVIES

Frustratingly, many movies I want to see have yet to come my way, so before reading the following list, realize I have not yet seen: “Revolutionary Road,” “Milk,” “Frost/Nixon,” “The Reader,” “Rachel Getting Married” or “Man on Wire.”

10. Iron Man/Dark Knight – Admittedly, I wasn’t nearly as big a fan of “Dark Knight” as most, but I do recognize it was a well made comic book movie. Heath Ledger is of course brilliant, but even as a Christian Bale fan, I couldn’t get over his Batman voice. “Iron Man” was shallower, but in a way, more fun as well.

9. Slumdog Millionaire  – Despite many flaws, I was emotionally invested in “Slumdog,” and it was certainly entertaining. But I can’t help but call it overrated – the silly three musketeers ending, the over the top bad guys (“get this sandwich out of my face!”), the dancing during the credits. I thought it would have been funny had Jamal rejected Latika in the end after seeing her scarred face.

8. The Orphanage – Normally I’m against puzzle piece type movies (the gotcha! “Matchstick Men” comes to mind), but this works here. Guillermo del Toro presents a different type of horror film, and one that lingers after viewing. I liked it much more than “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

7. Funny Games – Movies that receive both D- and A reviews are often the most entertaining, because at least they evoke strong emotions, one way or the other. Take “Funny Games,” which reviewers labeled “reprehensible and irredeemable” and also “forceful, unforgettable, and thought-provoking.” Michael Haneke is a talented filmmaker, but this is a movie I’d recommend to only a handful of my friends, as plenty will be turned off by its bluntness. I loved Paul and Peter’s deadpan delivery and back-and-forth – you won’t find killers like this often depicted on celluloid.

6. In Bruges – Nothing like I expected, this subtle and dark comedy is smarter than you think. Billed as a thriller, “In Bruges” is really a film about life and morality, with witty dialogue, strong performances and remarkable scenery. Not bad for Martin McDonagh’s debut feature film.

5. Forgetting Sarah Marshall – I was wrong when I first stated this movie was funnier than “Superbad,” which after repeated viewings on HBO has proven otherwise. Still, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is definitely rewatchable as well and was easily one of my five favorite movies of 2008. It’s genuinely funny and sports a sympathetic protagonist you can’t help but root for. I loved the CSI mocking and Jonah Hill’s character, and there was just so much good dialogue: “What did you think of my demo? Did you GET it?” “I was gonna listen to that, but then, um, I just carried on living my life.”

4. Gran Torino – The former mayor of beautiful Carmel, CA, Clint Eastwood has had his hits and misses (“Mystic River”), but one thing can always be counted on, and that’s I’m going to be entertained. And make no mistake, “Gran Torino” does not disappoint. It might very well be the funniest movie of 2008 – I missed a bunch of lines as the theatre was constantly erupting in laughter. Now, Eastwood is likely after this kind of response with his clear racist overtones, but should we feel guilty indulging? Probably, but for some reason, Eastwood makes it all seem OK. While the two child actors are terrible and on the surface this seems like rehashed territory, honestly, there’s some subtle, perceptive questions being asked here. Of course, there’s also silliness – there’s a drumbeat of USA patriotism in the background of every scene Eastwood is about to kick some ass – but I liked the San Francisco Chronicle’s description of it: “awful but awfully likable.” I could probably watch two hours of Eastwood just growling, and I highly doubt you’ll be more entertained at any other movie this year.

3. Doubt – A movie where little to nothing happens, and in fact, what may or may not have happened isn’t even shown. “Doubt” is carried by strong acting performances from Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. You’ll be instantly captivated by Father Flynn’s opening sermon, and although set in 1964, relevant in any era. Only one other movie will produce more conversation after viewing (more on that later), and the lack of conclusion is what makes it so good. Some will come away sure of the verdict, one way or the other. Others will have doubt.

2. Synecdoche, New York – Only Charlie Kaufman would use a play on words (and revealing plot points) in his title such as this. The city is spelled Schenectady; the title here means something entirely different. Also, the lead character’s surname is a syndrome. For me, this movie’s overall theme was to live in the moment. Forget the past and quit worrying about what might happen in the future. However, probably my favorite aspect of the film is that the general meaning will differ from viewer to viewer. The movie really makes you examine your own life and how you are living it, so inevitably, people will take away different aspects based on their individuality. There may never be a movie that will promote more discussion afterward. At times hard to follow and with no real resolution, I’ll let Roger Ebert take it from here: “The year’s most endlessly debated film. Screenwriter Charles Kaufman, in his directing debut, stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a theater director mired in a long-running rehearsal that may be life itself. Much controversy about the identities and even genders of some of the characters, in a film that should never be seen unless you’ve already seen it at least once.” Well put. I can’t wait to see it again.

1. The Wrestler – For a movie with not a lot happening, the 1:45 sure flew by. Mickey Rourke is an absolute tour de force, and I’m not sure I’ve ever cared about a character as much as I did Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Rourke obviously tapped into his own personal demons when immersing himself into this character, and the results are mesmerizing. He even dabbled in some method acting, having all but admitted taking steroids to bulk up for the part. “Requiem For A Dream” is probably my favorite movie of all-time, so I’m a Darren Aronofsky fan, but this is unlike any of his other films. If you loved one thing and only one thing in your life, yet your health prevented you from continuing it, would you be able to stop? The wrestling is done right, and there’s a chilling scene in a strip club from the stripper’s point of view that will make you question ever being a patron again. The deli scenes absolutely killed me. And I loved the ending. But then again, there’s nothing not to love about “The Wrestler.”

TELEVISION

10. Californication – What “Entourage” strives to be: sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Sure, it’s a bit over the top and at times cringe worthy, but there’s no denying Hank Moody is the man. So is Lew Ashby. Also, I loved Charlie Runkle’s season story line.

9. 30 Rock – This show is good, but it’s also become overrated – like it’s clearly the smartest and best thing on air. For one, Kenneth is absolutely, unequivocally the most annoying character on TV. The show also relies too heavily on its guest stars. Still, it is funny, and the Liz Lemon/Jack Donaghy relationship is gold.

8. Summer Heights High – Chris Lilley plays three different characters in this comedy shot in documentary style, and the results are dry and often hilarious. I can’t even begin to explain what transpires, but Ja’mie’s naivety, Mr. G’s self-centeredness and Jonah’s insubordination are all indelible qualities that lead to catchy tunes and memorable quotes. I said puck you, miss!

7. The Office – Although it’s regressed a bit, “The Office” is still the funniest show on television. The addition of Holly to the cast was a stroke of genius, and it’s too bad she didn’t last longer. It’s a joke the show isn’t watched by more people.

6. Dexter – Like most seasons of “Dexter,” No. 3 picked up as it went along. The writers have done an excellent job of preventing the concept from getting stale, highlighted by the addition of Jimmy Smits to this year’s cast. Smits was nothing short of amazing as Miguel Prado, and watching Dexter finally gain a friend was intriguing. There wasn’t a big twist at the end like in past seasons, but it still set up the future well. It’s a great show, and I’d fault no one for putting it at the top of their year end list.

5. True Blood – First off, I usually hate vampire movies/shows. Secondly, I’m not going to sit here and argue the artistic merits behind such mindless, popcorn entertainment as “True Blood,” but there might not have been a show I looked more forward to each week. From the ridiculously good opening credits, to the ridiculous accents, this show had me constantly wondering what’s going to happen next and wanting more – in a good way. I was a big fan of “Six Feet Under,” so it comes as no surprise I’m a fan of Alan Ball’s newest series (although “American Beauty” was terrible). Lafayette was definitely one of my favorite characters from 2008. You won’t find a bigger “True Blood” apologist than me, but even I can’t back Anna Paquin winning a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie!

4. The Shield – The most underrated series ever? “The Shield’s” seventh and final season stumbled out of the block, but once the writers realized they didn’t have much to lose with the end near, the show really hit its stride. The deterioration of The Strike Team may have been inevitable, but it was still hard to watch nevertheless. The Vic vs. Shane showdown was a highlight, and “The Shield” has always been at its best when Mackey was scrambling, something he had to do constantly this season. The scene where Mackey was listing off his past indiscretions was unforgettable and almost enough to make the viewer feel bad rooting for a murderer. Almost. The last scene of the series wasn’t quite on “The Sopranos” level. But it was close.

3. In Treatment – Simply brilliant. “In Treatment” required quite a commitment, as it aired five days a week, following a psychoanalyst and four of his patients (and also his own therapy). Like last year’s superb “Tell Me You Love Me,” this series wasn’t exactly action packed, but investing in these characters resulted in a highly rewarding pay off. An extremely real look at therapy – the process, the healing, the problems with it, the fact the one handing out the advice rarely has his or her own life figured out – “In Treatment” is unique and one of the most important shows on TV. If anyone had a better acting performance than Gabriel Byrne this year, I missed it.

2. The Wire – Make no mistake, “The Wire” is the best show ever, and it wasn’t easy not placing its final season No. 1 on this list. Season 5 may not have been its best, but it was fantastic nevertheless. David Simon’s strong, poignant look at the media was spot on – and ironically, many of the reviews by the very media he was criticizing missed his point, which in turn, proved it. It was impossible not to root for city editor Gus Haynes, and conversely, the antagonist Scott Templeton, played by Tom McCarthy, who incidentally wrote and directed the highly underrated “The Station Agent,” was as despicable as Stringer Bell or Clay Davis in his own right. The ultimate conclusion was satisfying, but “The Wire” will always be missed. The fact this show got continuously ignored come award season shows how much of a joke that system is.

1. Mad Men – Season 1 was very good. Season 2 was transcendent, as in, the best in the history of television. Subtle, rich and powerful, “Mad Men” is unflinching in its realism and attention to detail. Never before have I wanted to read episode reviews to unlock layers of analysis that might have gone over my head. The acting is unparalleled, and although it’s set in a 1960s man’s world, there are some of the hottest women on TV on the show. Don Draper, the protagonist, is pretty deplorable yet inherently likeable. “Mad Men” was better than any movie I saw or music I heard in 2008, making it the best entity of the year.

Honorable Mention: Real Time with Bill Maher, Lost, Ricky Gervais: Out of England – The Stand-Up Special, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Friday Night Lights, Little Britain USA, Boston Legal, How I Met Your Mother, The Sarah Silverman Program, Weeds, Entourage

MUSIC

5. Coldplay: “Viva La Vida” – Listen, I feel embarrassed and ashamed including Coldplay here, but I swear, these guys get a bad rap. I don’t even like most of their singles, but the stigma here is undeniable – I blame the “40-Year-Old Virgin.” But enough from me, I’ll let my friend Chason sum it up best: “As long as I can forget that I am listening to Coldplay, that he is not Chris Martin who wears dumb sashes wrapped around his leg and goes home to perfect Gwyneth Paltrow and a baby named Apple for God’s sake, then i can get into the music…I should like the music more for all those reasons. I hate the rock-n-roll myth of having to be a fucked up tortured soul to make anything good. I should like that his wife bitches him around and makes him eat macrobiotic and he goes to sleep at 10 to care for his fruit baby in the morning…It’s just that outfit on stage and direction of some of the songs fears me of U2 type levels of absurdness.”

Listen to: “Yes,” “42,” “Cemeteries Of London,” “Life In Technicolor,” “Violet Hill

4. Kings Of Leon: “Only By The Night” – Pitchfork gave this album a terrible review, but from what I gather, that’s mainly because they think the lead singer is a douchebag. And to be frank, I don’t even like the single “Sex on Fire.” However, there’s some pretty catchy stuff here. “Closer” is definitely one of my favorite songs of 2008.

Listen to: “Closer,” “I Want You,” “Notion,” “Revelry,” “Use Somebody,” “Crawl

3. The Black Keys: “Attack & Release” – I’ve been a fan of The Black Keys for a while now, enjoying their old school version of rock ‘n’ roll. Teaming up with Danger Mouse resulted in a surprisingly effective album. One of the best of the year, hands down. I get so fired up listening to these guys, look at what the cameras caught me doing after one of their concerts.

Listen to: “Psychotic Girl,” “Same Old Thing,” “All You Ever Wanted,” “Strange Times,” “I Got Mine,” “So He Won’t Break

2. Frightened Rabbit: “Midnight Organ Fight” – I just recently discovered this Scottish trio and my life has been appreciably better ever since. Singer Scott Hutchison’s voice is freakin awesome, and his brother is such a badass on the drums, he recently splintered three drumsticks with his powerful pounding just two songs into a recent New York show. The lyrics are good, although bordering on depressing. And yes, “Midnight Organ Fight” is a euphemism for sex. If “The Twist” doesn’t get your heart racing, it’s because you don’t have one. If these guys were born 65 years earlier, chances are you would have never heard of The Beatles. As sure as Tim Lincecum is the filthiest pitcher in baseball, Frightened Rabbit is my favorite new band. They are like Dane Cook at comedy, Brad Childress at coaching, George W. Bush at President, Drew Peterson at innocence, this guy at sanity, and this newscaster at ugly. Only the opposite.

But I’ll let Pitchfork (who is much smarter than Einstein and Stephen Hawking put together) take it from here: “The key here is Scott’s urgent-yet-emotive songwriting. Midnight Organ Fight is full of rousing barnburners that flicker with soul and ballads that ache with masculine vulnerability. He’s wallowing, but Scott’s cracked voice sells every word, and his band’s rousing rhythms and rough-hewn guitar interplay keep the mood from ever getting lugubrious or maudlin. Sure, Frightened Rabbit aren’t the first band to explore loneliness, horniness, or emptiness in song, just like they aren’t the first set of siblings to decide to jam together, but their jangly melodies claw their way inside your brain just the same, making them latest in a long line of Glasgow bands to effortlessly combine celebratory sonics and miserablist lyrics into something singular.” Ya, that.

Listen to: “The Twist,” “The Modern Leper,” “Floating In The Forth,” “Good Arms VS Bad Arms,” “I Feel Better,” “Fast Blood,” “My Backwards Walk,” “Keep Yourself Warm

1. TV On The Radio: “Dear Science” – For once I was blind, now I can see. Forget Proposition 8, can you marry an album? Leprechauns are full of shit, the pot at the end of a rainbow isn’t gold, it’s this album. Like insulin to a diabetic or crack to an addict, Dear Science and self-actualization go hand-in-hand. Guys, if you’re falling a little short in the bedroom, forget Cialis, just pop in this record instead. If you don’t like this album, there’s a good chance you think Zach Galifianakis isn’t funny, Matt Millen was a good hire by NBC, PCs are better than Macs and Florida would beat USC. And if you haven’t yet been captivated by this brilliant LP, as TVOTR states: “I’m living a life not worth dying for.”

Listen to: “DLZ,” “Family Tree,” “Halfway Home,” “Dancing Choose,” “Shout Me Out,” “Love Dog,” “Crying

That wasn’t the only music I liked this year, so here are some select tracks I also particularly enjoyed from 2008: “Evil Urges” by My Morning Jacket, “L.E.S. Artistes” by Santogold, “Kim & Jessie” by M83, “The Snow Leopard” by Shearwater, “Poison Dart” by The Bug [ft. Warrior Queen], “Time to Pretend” by MGMT, “I Will Possess Your Heart” by Death Cab For Cutie, “The Shock Of The Lightning” by Oasis

WORST

As in years past, this section combines the bad with the overrated, as I tried to avoid movies that will obviously be awful. Here is a much shorter compilation of things I didn’t enjoy from 2008:

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button – This pains me since I love David Fincher so much, but I’ve got to keep it real – this movie pretty much sucked. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible, and I was emotionally invested while watching, but it looks like the favorite to take home Best Picture, which is laughable. Watching it, I couldn’t help but compare it to “Forrest Gump” (shrimp boat = tug boat, Vietnam = Japanese sub, feather = hummingbird), so it came as no surprise to later find out the screenplay was written by the same writer. Even Button seemed a little slow if you ask me, although I did find the character affable. And even Cate Blanchett’s “Daisy” was like “Jenny” – an unworthy bitch, really. Were we supposed to root for these two? I mean, they spent like five days together when they were six years old, and she treated him poorly during the two visits in the next 20 years. The makeup/CGI was terrific, no doubt, but I still can’t wrap my head around why Button had to leave her and their daughter because he didn’t want Daisy having to raise him as well when he had a good 20-25 years left before then. Plenty of kids should be so lucky to have a loving father that long. And what did Katrina have to do with anything? And apparently Button’s master plan didn’t work out so well, since Daisy and their daughter apparently had a horribly distant relationship as adults. Who would ever want to see this film twice? I can’t stop complaining about this movie. If you want to see good work done by Fincher in 2008, watch this amazing commercial.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull – Anyone who has caught any of the old Indiana Jones trilogy on TNT over the past few years realizes just how cheesy the classics really were, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t memorable. I certainly have fond memories of them as a kid. So even though I knew this new version was going to be bad, I just couldn’t stop myself from renting it. Don’t get me wrong, it had its moments (in the tombs), and I watched it all the way through, but it also featured Shia LeBeouf beating cars in a chase by flying through vines in trees with monkeys and some of the worst CGI you’ll ever see. Ugh.

88 Minutes – I didn’t exactly break my rule of avoiding obvious bad movies here, as the family put it on after Christmas dinner, so I had no choice. Actually, this was in the “so bad, it’s good” variety, so I didn’t mind one bit. If there’s one thing I’m going to take away from 2008, it very well might be Al Pacino’s hair in “88 Minutes.” I’m pretty sure it received its own recognition during the end credits. Did this guy squander his career big time, or is it one that has been overrated to begin with? Either way, I strongly recommend “88 Minutes.”

Monday Night Football – For the second year in a row, MNF makes the wrong list, as Tony Kornheiser was as insufferable as ever. At least they cut down on the guests in the booth. Still, this telecast accomplished the impossible in 2008. It actually got worse.

And now, I’ll leave you with my favorite viral video of the year. Hope all of you have a happy and healthy 2009.

Hoops Scoop

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

With LeBron James and Kobe Bryant seeing fewer minutes on loaded teams this year, Dwyane Wade has emerged as the best fantasy player on the planet, although Chris Paul is a close second. Finally back to health, Wade is currently averaging career-highs in points (29.0), steals (2.3) and blocks (1.6) to go along with 5.1 rpg and 7.1 apg. He leads the NBA in scoring, and what guard swats that many shots per game? And because of an increase in attempts, he’s even adding 0.7 three-pointers per contest as well. Durability remains a concern, but at least the Heat are in contention this season. Wade is the No. 1 fantasy commodity.

Utah hasn’t missed Carlos Boozer at all with the emergence of Paul Millsap, who just finished a streak of 19 consecutive double-doubles. He even contributes more in the defensive categories than Boozer, averaging 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks during his 21 starts this season. Since joining the starting lineup, Millsap has been a top-20 fantasy player and has made Utah’s decision whether or not to spend big on the upcoming free agent Boozer this offseason a lot easier.

Don’t look now, but Sebastian Telfair deserves to be rostered in all fantasy leagues. Over the last four games, he’s averaged 12.8 ppg, 7.8 apg and 1.8 spg. His shooting from the field is downright ugly (33.2 percent), but at least he doesn’t take a lot of attempts, and he can knock down free throws (79.5 percent). Telfair looks like the Timberwolves’ new starter at point, and those in need of dimes and steals should look his way.

I’m not sure who misses Mike D’Antoni more, Shawn Marion or Steve Nash. Marion is currently averaging just 11.9 ppg – the lowest since his rookie season. He’s a skilled basketball player, and it’s not like his stats were completely dictated by Phoenix’s uptempo system, but he should have been careful what he wished for, because his skill set clearly works best in certain systems. Marion entered the year a career 34.0 percent shooter from downtown; he’s at 19.4 percent this season. Think he misses all those wide open looks from the corner? And as for Nash, his eventual decline was bound to happen sooner or later, but it’s pretty obvious his suppressed numbers can be directly tied to D’Antoni’s exit. He’s basically back to being the same player he was in Dallas – very good but certainly not in MVP discussions.

After the All-Star break last year, Danny Granger really broke out and revealed a potential superstar. Well, he’s fast developed into a top-5 fantasy player in 2008-09. There might not be another player in the league who contributes so much in every single category, and to think, 16 teams passed him up in the 2005 draft. The scary thing is he’s only getting better. Check out his numbers in January: 32.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.6 bpg and 3.3 3PT – all while shooting 49.3 percent from the floor and 91.8 percent from the line. One gets the feeling Granger will be appearing in a couple of All Star games before all is said and done.

It looks like Russell Westbrook’s late surge up NBA draft boards was well warranted, as the rookie point guard has averaged 15.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.5 apg and 1.3 spg since entering the starting lineup 22 games ago. He’s also drastically improved his shooting, and while the Thunder have experimented with him at shooting guard recently, expect him to settle in at the point long-term. With Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Westbrook, Oklahoma City has quite the talented young nucleus. And since they currently have the worst record in the NBA, expect a fourth blue chipper to be added in next year’s draft. They could be dangerous in two years.

The Scoop

Monday, January 12th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

It’s safe to say the Titans outplayed the Ravens on Saturday, nearly doubling their yardage output. However, penalties, a missed field goal, a Chris Johnson injury and most importantly, turnovers were too much to overcome. In a way, Tennessee was actually lucky, as only two of its five fumbles were recovered by Baltimore. While fumbling can often be a fluke event, that’s not the case with this ball hawking Ravens defense…It really shouldn’t be that difficult to call a delay of game. Still, Chris Johnson could have been called for a safety earlier, and the following play resulted in more than 10 yards anyway, so it’s hard to point to one (non) call as a reason for the Titans’ loss…Where did that come from, Justin Gage?…The drop off from Chris Johnson to LenDale White is about as wide as White’s waistline…Did anyone else see Kyle Vanden Bosch on the sideline toward the end of the game? Dude had to be wearing red contacts – looked like the devil.

I haven’t been more wrong about a game all season regarding the Panthers/Cardinals. Then again, I’m also unsure if I’ve ever seen a worse performance in a big situation than Jake Delhomme on Saturday night. What a nightmare. How did he commit six turnovers playing at home against a secondary that allowed an NFL-high 36 passing touchdowns this year? I defy someone to come up with a bigger choke job…John Fox was completely outcoached as well; it’s inexcusable to not have Steve Smith touch the ball until 45 minutes into the game. With no Anquan Boldin, might want to focus your defensive attention on that Larry Fitzgerald guy…Speaking of Fitzy, at this point, it’s hard not to argue he’s the best receiver in the game…I still say Carolina covers the spread six times if these teams played 10 games under the same circumstances…After Philly disposed of the Giants, my initial guess at the odds for the NFC Championship game was the Eagles -7. Turns out, I was way off. That -3 line seems so fishy, I might just be dumb enough to throw a bunch of money on the birds.

It’s funny to hear both coaching staffs openly talk about how much the Giants missed Plaxico Burress after Sunday’s game. Of course, it was mentioned plenty before the fact, but I’m willing to say that aspect was actually still underrated. Just changed the game planning altogether…To call the Eagles maddening would be an understatement. I jumped ship. I jumped back on. And after calling them a “top-3 team in football” they score three points against the Redskins. I jumped back off. At least I recommended betting on them to win the Super Bowl midseason to a buddy. Either way, this team is all about defense. Brian Westbrook is playing on one leg, Andy Reid is often clueless, and Donovan McNabb is shaky on the road. But it’s a championship quality defense…What was up with the coaches influencing the refs so much?…So let me get this straight, Joe Buck has an aneurism when Randy Moss FAKE moons the crowd, yet comes up with excuses when Donovan McNabb picks up the phone on the opposing team’s sideline after the game’s outcome has been decided? You tell em Troy Aikman!…Interesting how flippant Tom Coughlin was regarding the wind, considering he effectively chose not to have it at their backs for the fourth quarter…Coming from someone who backed New York, it’s clear the better team won Sunday. What was Coughlin thinking not going for that fourth and one with 1:40 left in the first half? One could argue that would have been wrong since they were later unsuccessful on two similar situations, but the key there isn’t just three points versus seven points (or none) – it’s also that a first down there runs time off the clock and Philly doesn’t get the ball back with an opportunity to score. Speaking of time management, it’s ironic an Andy Reid coached team scored the second most points in football in the final 2 minutes of the first half this season…Eli Manning wasn’t Jake Delhomme bad, but he wasn’t that far off really. What a horrible performance.

I love how the four losers from this week jumped out to a collective 24-0 lead in their respective games…Considering it’s now been labeled a “spinal cord concussion,” Ben Roethlisberger’s outing is even that much more impressive. The time off really helped his sore arm…Where did that come from Willie Parker?…Hard to believe there’s ever been a more lopsided quarter than the third was Sunday…It’s Legedu Naanee’s world, and the rest of us are just passing through…Will LaDainian Tomlinson be back in San Diego? It’s becoming increasingly less likely…Not that we should be surprised, but how can Norv Turner punt down 35-17 with 3:30 left? I mean, seriously. That’s a fireable offense if there ever was one. Grow a spine and give your team the best chance to win. Give me a break. Indefensible…I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a football player as fast as Darren Sproles. And to think, San Diego actually traded up in the third round of last year’s draft to select Jacob Hester to act as the backup running back. Talk about an inability to evaluate your own talent.

My Favorite Songs By These Respective Bands

1. Pearl Jam – “Black”
2. Smashing Pumpkins – “Disarm”
3. The White Stripes – “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground”
4. Beck – “Guess I’m Doin’ Fine”
5. Faith No More – “Midlife Crisis”

Chargers vs. Steelers Preview

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Looking back: The Steelers won during the NFL’s first 11-10 final in Week 11, although it should have been 18-10. The game was tight throughout, although Pittsburgh had 410 yards to SD’s 218. The Steelers were flagged for 110 more penalty yards but won the turnover battle 2:0. Darren Sproles saw just two touches.

Looking ahead: Expect the red zone to decide the winner, which bodes well for Pittsburgh, as they allowed a touchdown on just 33.3 percent of opponents drives inside the twenty, an NFL-best. San Diego struggled badly traveling to the East Coast this season, but they catch a break with a later start time Sunday. Also, Heinz Field’s sloppy turf negates a lot of the Steelers’ strength on defense – speed. Still, it’s a fantastic unit nevertheless, and Philip Rivers will have to play much better than last week for even a chance at an upset. San Diego has won five straight, and its defense has really improved of late. Pittsburgh can’t run the ball, and Ben Roethlisberger had a 6:9 TD:INT ratio at home in 2008. Sproles won’t surprise anyone this week, but he’s a true difference maker who is a big upgrade over LaDainian Tomlinson. In the end, Pittsburgh probably wins with the help of homefield and a strong defense that creates a couple of turnovers. However, it figures to be close, as history has not been kind to quarterbacks returning from concussions, and Roethlisberger’s was especially serious.

What do you guys think?

Eagles vs. Giants Preview

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Looking back: The teams split the season series, with the road team prevailing both times. The most recent matchup was just one month ago, when the Eagles won 20-14 in New York. Extreme wind conditions resulted in Philadelphia running it far more than usual, and the Giants were just then adjusting to the Plaxico Burress fiasco. Despite finishing the year with 42 sacks, New York has recorded zero during two games against the Eagles this season.

Looking ahead: Philadelphia enters 5-1 over its last six games, while New York is 1-3 over its past four contests. Make no mistake, the Eagles’ defense is the best in the NFC, and the loss of Burress will be felt Sunday. Still, the Giants led the NFL with 5.0 YPC, setting an NFL record in the process. Brandon Jacobs (knee) should be back to health, which is big news in a likely low scoring affair. Brian Westbrook is simply nowhere near the weapon he can be with his current health status, and Donovan McNabb has gotten just 6.4 YPA with an 8:8 TD:INT ratio on the road this year. Expect the Giants to move on.

What do you guys think?

Cardinals vs. Panthers Preview

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Looking back: During a Week 8 matchup, the Cardinals played the Panthers tough in Carolina, at one point leading 17-3. The Panthers ultimately prevailed 27-23, but it was their second smallest margin of victory at home all season. Again, that was ages ago in football terms.

Looking ahead: Just 3-5 on the road this year, Arizona travels to the NFL’s lone undefeated home team Saturday night. After a Gatorade bath followed last week’s Wild Card win, it seems as if even the Cardinals realize they’ve reached their ceiling. Carolina’s run defense is pedestrian (4.4 YPC), but that won’t matter against the league’s second worst rushing attack. Normally receivers and running backs are overrated, but the likely loss of Anquan Boldin (hamstring) this week will be huge. Carolina has a secondary that allowed just 6.5 YPA on the year, possesses the NFL’s best ground game, and Jake Delhomme, who got 8.7 YPA at home this season, faces an Arizona defense that yielded a league-high 36 passing scores. Expect the Panthers to win in a blowout.

What do you guys think?

Ravens vs. Titans Preview

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Looking back: Tennessee won 13-10 in Baltimore, but this was in Week 5, making it irrelevant. The Ravens entered the fourth quarter with a 10-3 lead and a highly questionable roughing the passer penalty helped aid the Titans’ game-winning, 80-yard TD drive.

Looking ahead: Joe Flacco has more experience and has developed well. Meanwhile, Albert Haynesworth (knee) is banged up, and Kevin Mawae (elbow) is unlikely to play. The Titans had an extra week of preparation, whereas Baltimore has a short turnaround Saturday after having just played Sunday. Joe Flacco has actually played far better on the road (7.3 YPA, 10:5 TD:INT ratio) than at home (6.5 YPA, 4:7 TD:INT ratio) this season. Both possess elite defenses, but Baltimore’s has been superior, as they allowed fewer YPC, eight fewer rushing TDs and a much lower opposing QB rating. At risk of siding with the trendy pick, I’ll say the Ravens win outright, but Jeff Fisher and company shouldn’t be underestimated.

What do you guys think?

Bet on It

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Last week I went 2-2, and while I had no problem losing with the Colts, the Vikings loss stung a bit. I wanted to “go ugly” but sometimes the obvious side is that way for a reason. Tarvaris Jackson was brutal. I did win my best bet with the Ravens, which would bring me to 11-4-2 overall if I kept it going from the regular season. As for the Divisional Round, it’s true the Titans are undervalued this week, but I trust the Ravens just a little more, and in a game certain to be low scoring, might as well take the points…The Cardinals played the Panthers tough in Carolina earlier this season, but that was way back in Week 8. Especially with a banged up Anquan Boldin, I’d be shocked if Arizona were able to keep it close against the NFL’s best home team. Expect the Panthers to roll…The Giants can’t be happy with the Eagles matchup, and because of Philadelphia’s strong run defense, it should be a low scoring game in New York. Brian Westbrook is clearly hobbled, and Donovan McNabb has been pedestrian on the road all year, so the Eagles’ offense could really struggle. The Giants just lost to Philly at home one month ago, which probably bodes well for them this week…The Steelers/Chargers game was the toughest for me to decide ATS. San Diego is hardly ideal traveling across the country in wintry conditions, but at least the start time is later in the day. Pittsburgh’s offense isn’t very good, and Ben Roethlisberger could be extra shaky coming off such a serious injury. Philip Rivers needs to play better, however.

Ravens +3 at Titans

Cardinals +10 at Panthers (best bet)

Eagles +4 at Giants

Chargers +6 at Steelers

The Waiver Wire

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Check it out. Alex has been churning out the posts since he restarted his blog. Got to love the fact baseball season is approaching.

Hoops Scoop

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

After a somewhat disappointing first month of the season, Kevin Durant is fast developing into a true superstar, averaging 25.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks in 15 December games. He even shot 47.2 percent from the field, including 41.9 percent from downtown. The move to small forward has been huge, as his 6-9 frame and rebounding ability were getting largely wasted as a two guard. Since Durant is also such a good free throw shooter and appears to have added the three-pointer to his repertoire, expect him to be a first round pick in fantasy leagues next year.

It’s sad watching Jermaine O’Neal hobble around on one leg. He’s still plenty serviceable in between injuries, but it’s become clear he’ll never be the same player he once was. It’s hard to believe he only just turned 30 years old, but like Tracy McGrady, his body is wearing down prematurely after joining the NBA out of high school…Sticking with the Raptors, do you realize Jose Calderon is a perfect 72-of-72 from the free throw line this season?!

The Celtics, Cavs and Lakers are a combined 53-2 at home this year. That’s pretty good.

It’s far too soon to judge Greg Oden, but the early returns are hardly encouraging. Everyone knew his defensive ability was way ahead of his offensive game, but 8.0 ppg? Foul trouble has really limited his time on the floor (his 3.8 PF per game are the second most in the NBA, but those have come in far fewer mpg than the league-leader, Paul Millsap’s 4.0 PF), which is correctable, but how can someone his size total just two blocks over the past six games? Maybe it’s the injuries that have held him back, and there’s still a ton of potential if he eventually reaches full health, but right now, it appears the Trail Blazers made a massive blunder taking Oden over Kevin Durant. It won’t go down as a Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan catastrophe, but Portland would be legit title contenders if they chose differently.

Speaking of disappointments, I certainly expected a better rookie season from Michael Beasley. It’s not that he’s been terrible, but it’s quite surprising that someone who led college basketball with 12.4 rpg last year took 32 games to reach double-digit boards for the first time in the NBA. Sure, he’s shorter than his 6-10 listed height, but that won’t cut it. Beasley has actually been more efficient since getting moved to the bench, but because of curtailed minutes, his stats don’t show it. After a down December, he makes for a decent buy-low target.

Is there a more maddening player than Tyrus Thomas? After going three straight games without a block and failing to score in double-digits, Thomas drops a massive line in his last game, scoring 15 points with eight rebounds, four assists and a whopping eight blocks. It’s apparent he has a ton of work to do on his offensive game, but anyone who can average 1.1 spg and 1.7 bpg in just 22:23 mpg offers huge upside. Just remember, the only thing consistent with Thomas’ game is his inconsistency.

Should the NFL Change its Overtime Rules?

Monday, January 5th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

This has become a hot topic after the Colts’ loss in which the NFL’s MVP never got a chance to step onto the field during the game’s final quarter. If football games are decided by offense, defense and special teams, then why does a sudden death frame often get decided without one of these aspects coming into play? Peter King vehemently argues for a change and offers some pretty compelling evidence: “So in 2008, nine of the 15 overtime games have been one-possession periods. Nine out of 15…In regular-season history, by the way, 141 games (33 percent of all games) have been won on the first possession.” Of course, he fails to offer a better alternative to the current system, because the real truth is, there isn’t one.

RotoWire’s Herb Ilk does a much better job than I could stating why the current method, while imperfect, is actually the fairest:

“While I do think the team that wins the coin toss in OT has a very slight edge, giving each team at least one possession would give a much larger edge to the second team with the ball. Why would any team ever elect to receive in OT if each team was guaranteed at least one possession? If you kick off and get a stop then you get the ball back with a chance to win with a FG. If the other team scores at all then you get the ball back knowing exactly what you need to either win or tie the game. You don’t need to worry about punting and get the advantage of planning for four downs to get 10 yards. Giving each team at least one possession in OT sounds like a good idea, but it would give an even larger advantage to the team that won the coin toss.

College gives each team a possession, but each team starts their possession with the same field position. You can’t return a turnover for a score and you can’t improve your field position on defense. This makes the concept of “at least one possession” somewhat more equal but not quite. Every college team takes the ball second if they win the coin toss because that’s where the advantage lies.

In the pros, if you took the ball second then you’d not only gain the advantage of knowing how many points you needed to score to win or tie the game, but you’d also have the chance to stop your opponent and force a punt to gain better starting field position on your possession than your opponent had to start theirs. You would also be able to get a turnover to increase your field position or even score on that turnover to end the game. There would be a HUGE advantage to starting out on defense, much more than the current system gives to the team winning the coin flip.

The current system isn’t completely fair, but it’s much more balanced than an “each team gets at least one possession” OT. If they want to go to the college system, then it would be more fair than the “at least one possession” model but would still favor the team with the last possession. Since you’d just be shifting the advantage from taking the ball first to taking the ball second, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to change the current system.”

I agree. What do you all think?

The Scoop

Monday, January 5th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Watching the Cardinals/Falcons game, it was obvious Arizona was jumping the snap count abnormally early, so it comes as no surprise to hear Bertrand Berry confirm this. What is surprising, however, is his claim that Matt Ryan didn’t change the snap count the entire game. Now that’s just absurd…What a fantastic catch by Larry Fitzgerald. Forget the size, speed and strength, is there a wideout in the league with better hands?…Anquan Boldin is as tough as they come, but he really is rather injury-prone…Saturday’s game was a microcosm of Roddy White’s season – drops an easy would-be long gainer yet catches the balls thrown with others draped around him. 7.6 yards per catch against a secondary that allowed an NFL-high 36 TD passes was pretty underwhelming…Matt Ryan had an amazing rookie season, probably the best ever, but he did finish the year throwing six picks over the last three games…Michael Turner’s final count – 394 carries. His is a rare case since he was previously barely used, so the career mileage remains way low, but historians will likely avoid him at the draft table in 2009.

An instant classic in San Diego on Saturday night. And to think, a punter was the difference maker. Mike Scifres set an NFL playoff record with a 51.7 net average during six punts – all of which fell inside the 20 (five times inside the 11). Indy had six total return yards!…If Antonio Gates truly was playing on a high-ankle sprain, that was some performance…The secret is probably out, but Anthony Gonzalez is an excellent target in fantasy leagues next year…The Colts allowed six touchdown passes in 17 games this year…Just an incredible job by Peyton Manning on that 72-yard TD to Reggie Wayne. Who else does that?…What a blessing in disguise that LaDainian Tomlinson injury was for the Chargers. Darren Sproles isn’t a 300-carry running back – he’ll likely miss practice all this week after getting 23 rushing attempts last week – but few players are as explosive. Fumbles have been a problem with him, but Sproles is also much more powerful than most realize. San Diego doesn’t win Saturday if Tomlinson is the back getting those touches…As someone who has called Philip Rivers MVP over Manning this year, nothing may have proved my point more than Saturday’s game. Manning definitely outplayed Rivers, without a doubt, yet the Chargers won. Winning doesn’t correlate to singular performance in football.

This Ravens defense is no joke. Miami committed 13 turnovers all season and then five this weekend. I used to call Ed Reed overrated, as he was always good for a highlight reel play but often exposed other teammates in the secondary by gambling too much. But I was wrong. He’s been great all year, and unlike seemingly every other defensive back in football, possesses terrific hands. What a player…Joe Flacco was inaccurate Sunday, but man does he have some arm strength. The team needs to utilize his ability to run more…What a TD catch by Ronnie Brown. Why didn’t the Dolphins use him as a receiver like that throughout the regular season?

The Vikings vs. Eagles, otherwise known as Dumb & Dumber, predictably featured some of the worst coaching decisions of the year. With 2:30 left in the first half, the Vikings have 1st and goal, and Andy Reid doesn’t call a timeout after a running play. Remember, it’s a goal to go situation, so Minnesota can’t get another first down. Of course, Reid then calls a T.O. after the two minute warning, so instead of it being 2nd and goal with 2:21 left, there’s 1:51 (and no 2 minute warning) remaining. This isn’t rocket science…As far as I’m concerned, Jared Allen was the best player on the field Sunday. What a disruptive force. He even almost caught up to Brian Westbrook during his 71-yard TD…Man was Tarvaris Jackson shaky. Shame on me for backing him ATS. Just some horrible decision making on his part. And as the fastest QB in the NFL, how does he only attempt to run the ball twice?…Adrian Peterson has a ton of work to do over the offseason. The team’s best player was effectively useless over the final 10 minutes because of his shortcomings in pass protection and as a receiver…Not to be outdone by mentor Reid, Brad Childress decided to call a pass play on 2nd and 10 with :35 left in the first half. At his own 13-yard-line. Since Philly had just one timeout remaining, two kneel downs would have ended the half. Instead, the Vikings, who have the worst punt coverage in the history of the NFL, had to kick to a dangerous DeSean Jackson, giving the Eagles an opportunity for a field goal…With 2:22 left in the fourth quarter, Childress elected to decline a holding penalty on Philadelphia. I’m not questioning the decision, I’m far more curious as to why the clock never restarted. A timeout wasn’t called, Westbrook had just ran the ball, and as mentioned, the penalty was declined. What am I missing here? Was this a complete oversight by the referring crew?

Can It Get Any Worse in Detroit?

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

This is a couple days old but bears worth repeating. I have no visual evidence, but if ProFootballTalk’s report is true (and there’s no reason to believe otherwise), then the Lions are in even more trouble than originally thought.

During Tuesday’s press conference in which new team president Tom Lewand met with the media, he mistakenly stated that Mike Tomlin came from Tampa Bay, mistook Joey Porter for “Greg Lloyd” and lauded the Falcons for their key free agent acquisition “Michael Bennett.”

I don’t care if he’s not a “football guy.” This is almost as crazy as someone running for Vice President of the United States not knowing Africa was a continent. But not quite. In all seriousness, Greg Lloyd hasn’t been in the league since 1998, Porter had the second most sacks (17.5) this year and is about as big of a loudmouth there is in football, and Michael Turner finished second in the NFL with 1,699 rushing yards – hardly esoteric names here.

This wasn’t one slip of the tongue – it was clear evidence the Lions’ new president doesn’t quite seem like someone fit to turnaround a franchise that just finished 0-16. It’s like when the rich get richer. Only the opposite.

Best Stiff Arm Ever?

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

Not sure I’ve seen one better. Good thing I had Kentucky in my confidence pool.