Archive for August, 2013

The NFC East is always a fight. Whether it is among the fans or on the field, it will never be claimed easily. Last season, it was taken via heist on the field, when a new arrival in Washington DC took the previous season’s bottom feeders to a level the organization had not reached in 13 years, and in a fashion they’d never seen before.

But staying on top has much more struggle than reaching it, and Robert Griffin III and his Redskins are primed to discover this. The battle to hold the crown will be highlighted by a brand new approach in Philadelphia, a coach that’s likely pushing to hold onto his livelihood in Dallas and a Giants team that’s search for a new identity with familiar faces.

There were some gutsy wins a year ago, such as the Redskins sweeping the season series from Dallas, and the Eagles pulling out their last win in what would prove to be in nearly a two month span over the Giants, which ultimately ended up costing New York a playoff shot. There’s not many division that break down the middle closer than the NFC East does, and once again there may very well be only one ticket to the Playoffs provided from this division. So there will be no love lost once again, not as if there ever was any in the first place.

All-Division Team

QB: Robert Griffin III, RB: LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris, WR: Dez Bryant, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, TE: Jason Witten, OT: Jason Peters, Trent Williams, OG: Todd Herremans, Kory Litchensteiger, C: David Baas

DE: DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul, DT/NT: Jay Ratliff, Issac Sopoaga, OLB: Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, MLB: Sean Lee, Demeco Ryans, CB: Morris Claiborne, Brandon Flowers, FS: Nate Allen, SS: Brandon Merriweather

K: Dan Bailey, P: Donnie Jones, KR: David Wilson, PR: Desean Jackson

Coming off his second consecutive 8-8 year, Romo is facing a season where a corner is needed to be turned.

Coming off his second consecutive 8-8 year, Romo is facing the task of leading the way for what needs to be turning the corner season, as well as a return to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

DALLAS COWBOYS (8-8 in 2012)

The Good: It finally clicked for Dez last year, and he began to deliver on the warehouse full of talent that he’s had for years. In his breakout season, he posted totals of 1,382 yards on 92 catches and 12 touchdowns, and became a regular playmaker in an offense full of steady, but not game breaking talents. 16 games of him playing at the level he finished 2012 at could change everything about the potential of this offense, and yes, even Tony Romo.

The Bad: Are they ready to play hardnosed football yet up front? Two of their previous three first round picks have been dedicated to bettering the offensive line, between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, so the effort is on. But with the perennially fragile Demarco Murray and an immediate need to keep Romo upright to deliver to the plethora of targets on offense, the difference between a run for the division or not starts with the development upfront paying out.

X-Factor—Sean Lee: The rangy, tackling machine in the middle of defense is the key to the success of the unit. He ran up big games of 10 and 14 tackles early in the year, before heading the PUP list after a toe injury in week 7 a year ago. His health and availability is a non-negotiable element of the success of a team whose linebacker corps are young and now without DeMarcus Ware, who moves to defensive end.

Record: NYG (W), @KC (W), STL (W), @SD (W), DEN (L), WSH (L), @PHI (L), @DET (W), MIN (W), @NO (W), @NYG (L), OAK (W), @CHI (L), GB (L), @WSH (L), PHI (W)

Prediction: There’s always going to be questions about the Cowboy’s consistency as long as Romo is calling the shots, but the biggest issue for them is finding consistency within the division. Jason Garrett is likely running short on opportunities to produce this, and health of his defensive unit will likely be the deciding factor for the season. A tough late season run with trips to Chicago and Washington, as well as hosting Green Bay will call the difference in a division title or the mud of a wild card push, with the former being more likely. 9-7

 

Cruz topped 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season, and has found the endzone 19 times in the previous two years.

Cruz topped 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season, and has found the endzone 19 times in the previous two years. He returns to be responsible for more of the production in NY than ever before.

NEW YORK GIANTS (9-7 in 2012)

The Good: They have undergone a steady change over the past few years, and it has returned several promising offensive tools. Between Rueben Randle, Brandon Myers and Ramses Barden, the offensive unit has a lot of breakthrough potential this season. Add in the luxury of staying in complimentary roles around Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks leading the way, along with Eli Manning, who has an underrated ability to bring out the best in young receivers, calling the shots for them.

The Bad: Will the defense have found its identity this time around? Osi Umenyiora is gone, Jason Pierre-Paul is rebounding from back surgery and the secondary is in transition. In a division with the type of offense that the NFC East, not to mention dates with Green Bay, Seattle and Detroit, the will be tested often. There will have to be a unit that overachieves to help steady the team’s outlook.

X-Factor—David Wilson: Wilson showed his big play potential in open space last year, with an NFL-best 1,533 kick return yards, but never quite figured out the nuances of running between, off or anywhere near the tackles. But with Ahmad Bradshaw gone, he’ll be leaned on heavily to be the same type of all-purpose back that his predecessor was. Picking up the details in year two will be a must.

Record: —@DAL (L), DEN (L), @CAR (W), @KC (L), PHI (W), @CHI (L), MIN (L), @PHI (W), OAK (W), GB (L), DAL (W), @WSH (L), @SD (W), SEA (L), @DET (W), WSH (W)

Prediction: They certainly could factor into the mostly even landscape of the NFC East, via the points potential of the best QB/receiver combo in the NFC alone. But they are thin on proven depth, as well as exactly what type of production they can count on from the defense week in and out. If everything goes right, they could steal the division. Yet if one unit lags, they could just as easily slide out of the playoff picture complete. This is likely a team that has stretches with both and has a record that reflects it. Record: 8-8.

McCoy has had at least 250 touches in each of the past three seasons, and is in line to be among the busiest backs in football in Philly's new scheme.

McCoy has had at least 250 touches in each of the past three seasons, and is in line to be among the busiest backs in football in Philly’s new scheme.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-12 in 2012)

The Good: The new scheme certainly fits the pieces. It’s still not completely certain how Chip Kelly’s up tempo offense will be translated into the NFL, but he certainly has the right pieces to make it go. Desean Jackson, Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick can be instant offense, and the return of Jason Peters, coupled with massive first round pick Lane Johnson gives them the right bookends to build a persistent threat on offense.

The Bad: Defensively, there’s been a major turnover in the secondary, and it could be a target early on often for Romo, Manning and RGIII for the majority of the season. Without a promise of consistent pass rush (a team total of 30 in 2012), nor much change that would change the league-worse 13 turnovers they scrounged together, they could still be among the worst units in the League.

X-Factor—Michael Vick: The enigma that is Vick continues to take on new faces. Ideally, he is the perfect option for the type of offense that is being installed. However, he hasn’t been the most flexible decision maker on the run, especially standing up to the constant pressure that he has been subjected to the last few years. If he can play within himself and put to bed the rumors of the looming Nick Foles (again), the entire picture for the team could change.

Record—@WSH (L), SD (L), KC (L), @DEN (L), @NYG (L), @TB (W), DAL (W), NYG (L), @OAK (W), @GB (L), WSH (L), ARI (W), DET (L), @MIN (L), CHI (L), @DAL (L)

Prediction: There are a lot of elements going on at once that are not point towards much of a step forward in Philly. There is unrest at quarterback, a completely new offensive scheme under a rookie head coach, an offensive line bookended by a comeback attempt and a rookie, as well as a thin defense. Add in the usual brutality of the NFC East, and you have another long season in PA. Record: 4-12.

 

Griffin lead the Redskins to heights they hadn't reached in over a decade in route to becoming Offensive Rookie of the Year. But how much of a price did he pay?

Griffin lead the Redskins to heights they hadn’t reached in over a decade in route to becoming Offensive Rookie of the Year. But how much of a price did he pay?

Washington Redskins (10-6 in 2012)

The Good: For all of the steps forward that the Skins took last year with RGIII at the helm, they were never truly at full strength. Pierre Garcon, Fred Davis, Trent Williams and Brian Orakpo all spent significant time off the field. All are slated to be back and in the fold from day one this year, which along with a miraculously ready (we think) Griffin back from knee surgery, this could be one of the most explosive teams in the NFL, both again and on a new level.

The Bad: Is the defense ready to carry their part of the bargain? They return much of the same unit as last year, and didn’t have many early draft picks to get creative with to infuse new life into the mix. The team won last year in spite of a bland pass rush and porous secondary. The pass rush will be improved with Orakpo back, but there have to be more elements than himself and Ryan Kerrigan to it.

X-Factor—Fred Davis: When he tore his ACL in week 7 last year, he was averaging just over 13 yards per catch and was a major target over the middle for Griffin as defensive were stuck between guarding the run and fearing the bomb. If he stays healthy and still has his unique mix of size and separation speed, he could be one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL.

Record: PHI (W), @GB (L), DET (W), @OAK (W), @DAL (W), CHI (W), @DEN (L), SD (W), @MIN (L), @PHI (W), SF (W), NYG (W), KC (L), @ATL (L), DAL (W), @NYG (L)

Prediction: RGIII may be the biggest difference maker in the NFL, for any team. Regardless of how he is deployed this year, having his full selection of tools around him this year makes him that much more dangerous and primed for an even better season. Combined with a strong complimentary threat in Alfred Morris and the bonus of the division’s best linebacker group in Orakpo, Fletcher and Kerrigan, and the Skins look to be able to repeat what could be a regular position atop the East. Record: 10-6.

Stay locked over the next week, as the previews keep coming and I walk the prediction plank. Either I look dumb, great or like the Giants. For the real-time development, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

I’d guess since that first piece back on Tumblr in 2010, I’ve written about 900 or so articles, maybe more. But I notice that next post number up for me was a nice round, #400, I wanted to take a chance to look back, because I so rarely do (or am sentimental enough to bother with it).

I started writing because I never really stopped.

For as long as I can remember, I have found ways to maximize my experiences with sports. From creating franchise modes on Madden was will back on Sega and didn’t even know how to yet themselves, all the way up to ranking the best ballplayers on my block growing up (an exercise that started a healthy amount of fights back in the summer on of ’97), I have always had the urge to expand on my love of sport.

But I really got into it when I simply was not into anything else. I didn’t go to Journalism School in college because I wanted to keep my enjoyment of sports “pure”. I was a lead sports writer for my High School newspaper, and did well with it my junior and senior years, but I never looked at it as the future. I was against taking my first love and hobby, and tarnish it by making it my work. Consequently, I never found anything else that impacted me in the slightest. I enjoyed college, took plenty of courses that interested me, but none that ever moved me in the way that a passion would. Not so ironically, I hadn’t a clue as to what I truly wanted to do when college ended. Get a “job” I supposed. So, after I got said “job”, it should be no surprise that I quickly returned back to my passion, initially in my free time, but then also in-between (and probably during) my work as well. Just to distract myself from the monotony of what the morbidly repetitive job that was based on “squeezing blood from a turnip”.

I started this up because I was tired of doing everything else. I’d started online writing in 2009 casually. Despite not being a part of the J-School at Mizzou, I’d taken a writing intensive course schedule in route to my Sociology degree and because it was far easier for me to take a page to explain my answer than filling in a bubble on Scantron. I had a conversation with a friend in the middle of one of the now millions of offhand conversations I’ve had about some sports topic, and in the practiced way that only one of your closest friends can do he said, on no uncertain terms, that I was “really wasting myself by not taking sports more seriously”. The writing I’d done to that point was just an offshoot on ideas about whatever I’d been thinking about at the time. Another friend of mine, who is now a screenwriter and producer, told me that I needed to go after what I’m passionate about, because writing with a goal that you have an expertise in will come off much better.

I had to back up and think about what that meant, and what it didn’t. It basically was a push to follow my passion, which I wasn’t so sure that I even had at the time. So I brought together the writing and years of sports that I had at the time since then, and decided to start up a blog. My first blog was a simple one on Blogger, and I just published my notes on the 2010 NFL Draft. It went well enough, the few people that read it liked it, and then I followed up with some MLB All-Star Game picks, which got even better reviews.

I started Cheap.Seats.Please and wrote my first post here on May 10 of 2010, on the plight of JaMarcus Russell. And for the next year or so, I poured my efforts into this. I quit bleeding out of turnips business on May 30 and became a “blogger”. And for the next year, that’s what I did. I wrote and researched daily everything I could to make up for the time I did not spend learning in college and how to get exposure. Along the way, I began to meet actual writers along the way, how to get into the door with editors and how to use social media as a free and regular advertisement. I have combined these factors, and continued to work at them ceaselessly.

Now, just a bit after three years into it, I’ve continued to be encouraged by the progress that has been created. Midway through 2011, I was offered a regional site to write St. Louis sports news, which made me learn more about beat writing over commentary. Shortly after that, I was extended an opportunity to write as a contributor on a national online magazine, which gave me my first experience for writing for an editor in nearly 10 years. Then a longtime goal of contributing to my fraternity’s quarterly publication found me when a mentor of mine returned to the magazine as editor. Shortly thereafter, I was bumped up to lead writer and editor for the sports section of magazine, an experience which first introduced me to interviewing and transcribing conversations, as well as story profiling.

I took the long way to learning the craft, but while the majority of my work is still directly online, I have crossed the bridge for blogger to writer, and now it is all about continuing to take it to new levels. In the last year, I’ve found some amazing platforms to continue to be challenged and showcase my work. The Sports Fan Journal has been a great experience, with an amazing staff of similar types of writers to me. I70 Baseball is a great chance to analyze what I know best: the St. Louis Cardinals and the baseball culture within the city.

The best thing I’ve learned to do is to take advice as well as inspiration. If you can keep both of those, and have your own solid levels of knowledge via work ethic, humility and patience, anything can be done. Along the way, many people have provided these elements, from numerous family and friends, to the guidance of Jonathan Hicks, Maurice Drummond, Michael Tillery, Chris Broussard, Kali Wilder, Jamilah Lemieux, Derrick Goold, and Bryan Burwell. To the peer pushes form Eddie Maisonet, Kenny Masenda, Mark Trible, Justin Tinsley, Dillon Friday, Joe Vozelli, Tara Wellman and Joe Boland. To the exposure opportunities from Daniel Shoptaw, Bill Ivie, Lindsay Weber, Jason Clinkscales, EJ Christian, Jason Lamontogue and Dan Danese. I’ve had a lot of help getting here, and I’m only in the starting blocks still.

I look back at as an offshoot of what do now time to time, to remind me to not take myself so serious, because at the end of it, I really love what I’m starting to do. I’m far from rich, but man do I enjoy what I do. I’ve been humbled before by being asked for advice on writing, blogging and how to pursue it. I’ll never say any more than what I know, and that’s to engulf yourself in what you love for and the results will show.

Whether I end up at the top of some great publication I can’t even estimate now, on radio network doing what I have done here 400 times now over the air, become an author or professor, or if I simply just do this for years on top of years, I’d guess I’ll never stop, because what’s life without passion? After a little while of denying mine, I’ve finally set out after it, and I wouldn’t have life any other way.

For the regular course of biz, ball and life, follow me on Twitter @CheapSeatFan

YANKEES-articleLarge-v4

There’s still a few months away til even the World Series has it’s first pitch thrown out, but it’s never too early to see how the upcoming free agent market is going to take shape. And the 2014 class is among the deepest that could touch the open market in some time. While some club’s are taking steps to keep their assets in tow already, such as the Phillies did with Chase Utley last week, and other teams still have notable names to make decisions on options with (such as Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist), the market will still have some big names hitting the fertile, yet ever-changing, lands of free agency.

The biggest name is clear in how he’ll impact the market, and the mere mention of Robinson Cano‘s name in a few months could open up the biggest Yankee/Dodger face off since they shared the same city over half a century ago. But behind the clear valedictorian of the class, there’s a string of depth and intriguing situations as well. There’s a deep, yet uncertain group of pitchers that will hit the market, with known and proven commodities such as Matt Garza and Hiroki Kuroda, but also another tier of well-known, but not quite-as-safe-recently hurlers such as Tim Lincecum and Josh Johnson. How easy will it be for teams to commit the big dollars their names could demand, against the roller coaster that is their recent performances?

Add into the mix a few high risk/high reward injury concerns such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson, as well as the “return” of two of bigger names in the Biogenesis fall out in Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta. Both are virtually assured they be finding new homes, but how hosipitable of market will there be? All of this will be in the mix come December, but as of now, here are the best of the best that could soon be open for the taking:

  1. Robinson Cano (Second Base, 31)
  2. Matt Garza (Starting pitcher, 30)
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury (Center field, 30)
  4. Shin-Soo Choo (Right field, 31)
  5. Nelson Cruz (Right field, 33)
  6. Brian McCann (Catcher, 30)
  7. Hunter Pence (Right field, 31)
  8. Hiroki Kuroda (Starting pitcher, 39)
  9. Ervin Santana (Starting pitcher, 31)
  10. Carlos Beltran (Right field, 37)
  11. Curtis Granderson (Left field, 33)
  12. Tim Lincecum (Starting pitcher, 30)
  13. Grant Balfour (Relief pitcher, 36)
  14. Justin Morneau (First base, 33)
  15. Paul Maholm (Starting pitcher, 32)
  16. Ricky Nolasco (Starting pitcher, 31)
  17. Mike Napoli (First base, 32)
  18. Josh Johnson (Starting pitcher, 30)
  19. Jhonny Peralta (Shortstop, 32)
  20. Bartolo Colon (Starting pitcher, 41)
  21. Stephen Drew (Shortstop, 31)
  22. Marlon Byrd (Right field, 36)
  23. Edward Mujica (Relief pitcher, 30)
  24. Jesse Crain (Relief pitcher, 32)
  25. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Catcher, 29)
  26. Koji Uehara (Relief Pitcher, 39)
  27. AJ Burnett (Starting pitcher, 37)
  28. Paul Konerko (First base, 38)
  29. Mark Reynolds (First base, 30)
  30. Carlos Ruiz (Catcher, 35)
  31. Kendrys Morales (First base, 30)
  32. Joaquin Benoit (Relief Pitcher, 36)
  33. Nate McLouth (Left field, 32)
  34. Mike Morse (Left field, 32)
  35. Eric O’Flaherty (Relief pitcher, 29)
  36. Boone Logan (Relief pitcher, 29)
  37. Fernando Rodney (Relief pitcher, 37)
  38. Joel Hanrahan (Relief pitcher, 32)
  39. Tim Hudson (Starting pitcher, 38)
  40. Kevin Gregg (Relief Pitcher, 36)
  41. Scott Downs (Relief pitcher, 38)
  42. Bronson Arroyo (Starting pitcher, 37)
  43. Andy Pettitte (Starting pitcher, 42)
  44. Dan Haren (Starting pitcher, 33)
  45. Michael Young (Third base, 38)
  46. Brendan Ryan (Shortstop, 32)
  47. Phil Hughes (Starting pitcher, 28)
  48. Roberto Hernandez (Starting pitcher, 33)
  49. Gavin Floyd (Starting pitcher, 31)
  50. Willie Bloomquist (Shortstop, 36)
  51. Corey Hart (First base, 32)
  52. Javier Lopez (Relief Pitcher, 36)
  53. Jason Vargas (Starting pitcher, 31)
  54. Raul Ibanez (Designated hitter, 42)
  55. Colby Lewis (Starting pitcher, 34)
  56. Omar Infante (Second base, 32)
  57. James Loney (First base, 30)
  58. Jason Marquis (Starting pitcher, 35)
  59. Oliver Perez (Relief Pitcher, 32)
  60. Scott Feldman (Starting pitcher, 30)
  61. Kelly Johnson (Second base, 32)
  62. Edinson Volquez (Starting pitcher, 30)
  63. Jason Hammel (Starting pitcher, 31)
  64. A.J. Pierzynski (Catcher, 37)
  65. John Buck (Catcher, 33)
  66. Travis Hafner (Designated hitter, 37)
  67. Delmon Young (Left field, 28)
  68. Kevin Youkilis (Third base, 35)
  69. Rafael Furcal (Shortstop, 36)
  70. Andres Torres (Center field, 36)

For more on me in real-time, stay in tune to me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan, and follow along at both The Sports Fan Journal and I-70 Baseball.