Monthly Archives: December 2012

Of the Panthers, Kelly, and AD

Watching the end of the season, you’d think the Panthers were a playoff team. The team finished 5-1. Cam Newton averaged over 245 yards per game plus another 58 on the ground with 14 total touchdowns and just two interceptions. They outscored opponents 173-120 and dominated the turnover battle 8-4. For the second straight year, the Panthers finished the last six games of the season strong.

But then there’s the matter of the first ten games of the year.

In both seasons under coach Ron Rivera and Cam Newton, the Panthers started the year 2-8. This season, they were outscored 184-243 in the first 10 games with a -3 turnover margin. Cam Newton only had 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions with 8 fumbles to boot. In the first ten games, the Panthers looked more like the Charlotte Bobcats than anything else.

The good thing about being really bad, though, is landing a high draft pick. After ten games, the Panthers were on pace for just over three wins, which would have been good for the third overall pick in the draft. Instead, Carolina turned on the jets about ten games too late to finish the season 7-9, earning them the 14th pick in the draft.

The Panthers won’t be drafting a Star this year third overall. They’re going to be drafting a middling first-round talent–and still be out of the playoffs.

Then comes the matter of head coaching. The day after the end of the regular season, seven head coaches were fired (meaning 2012 NFL head coaches still have a lower unemployment rate than Greece). Ron Rivera wasn’t one of them, but according to Adam Schefter, Rivera will meet with owner Jerry Richardson to discuss his future.

It’s hard to say whether Rivera deserves to be fired or deserves another year. Or whether deserving even matters. At times, Rivera’s teams have looked like playoff contenders–the fact that the team ended 4-2 last year probably encouraged Ryan Kalil to pay for this infamous full-page newspaper ad. But during far too much of his tenure, Rivera has led listless players with terrible clock management and underwhelming enthusiasm.

But no matter how well Rivera’s two campaigns have gone, I believe there is a far superior option on the market, which is reason enough to let Rivera go. I’m talking about Chip Kelly, Oregon head coach.

People have said that Oregon’s fast-paced offense wouldn’t work in the NFL. People also said that Robert Griffin III’s pistol formation-centered offense wouldn’t work. That Russell Wilson wasn’t good enough to start in the pros. That Cam Newton couldn’t run the option. That trio seems to be working out well, and the Patriots seem to be doing just fine with their fast-paced, no-huddle offense.

The key in the NFL is innovation. The Dolphins turned around their 0-16 franchise the following year largely thanks to their baffling wildcat offense. At the very least, successful NFL teams don’t maintain status quo. Keeping Ron Rivera signals just that–status quo and a lack of innovation.

Chip Kelly nearly took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach job last year but turned them down at the last minute because he had “some unfinished business at the University of Oregon.” Of course, Kelly isn’t playing for the National Championship on the 7th, but he made another great run this year, falling one game short. And the Panthers also represent the best fit for him with a potential head coach opening–maybe the best fit among all NFL teams.

If he joined the Panthers, Kelly would have his athletic quarterback in Newton, a bevy of runningbacks in DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert, and athletic receivers in Steve Smith and Greg Olsen. It’s like Kelly would get an upgraded Marcus Mariota, Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas, and Josh Huff.

Of course, not all of the blame for the Panthers’ shortcomings falls on Rivera’s shoulders. Hell, now ex-GM Marty Hurney locked up the core of a 1-15 team, highlighted by giving Charles Johnson, who has never made a Pro Bowl, $72 million. Not only that, but he invested $89.5 million into three running backs ($48.2 million guaranteed) in a league that is trending towards aerial dominance. Just look at the leaders in Total QBR: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Robert Griffin III, Alex Smith, and Russell Wilson. What do they all have in common? They’re all in the playoffs.

The Panthers ate up their cap space with three running backs, none of which are truly exceptional. And since all three need carries (along with Newton), the Panthers cannot maximize any of their values. Although it’s nice to have that flexibility, we’ve seen how replaceable these backs are through the draft for cheap. Among 1000 yard rushers this season, 10 of the 16 were drafted after the first round. Ray Rice and Matt Forte were nabbed in the 2nd round, Jamaal Charles, Stevan Ridley, Frank Gore, and Shonn Greene were taken in the 3rd, Alfred Morris was drafted in the 6th, Ahmad Bradshaw was swiped up in the 7th, and Arian Foster and BenJarvus Green-Ellis went undrafted. The Panthers would have been better off just investing all their money in one elite back like Adrian Peterson or retooling through the draft.

But an Adrian Peterson is hard to find. All Day had one of the most impressive seasons ever–one that should earn him the MVP. Peterson fell nine yards short of Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season rushing record of 2105 yards–never mind that O.J. Simpson ran for 2003 yards in a 14-game season, which extrapolates to 2289 yards over a 16-game season. And Peterson did all of this on an offense with no other weapons. Christian Ponder was 25th in passing, and Percy Harvin was the leading receiver at 677 yards, good for 60th in the league.

Adrian Peterson's real value came this year during his appearance on FX's The League.

Adrian Peterson’s real value came this year during his appearance on FX’s The League.

Opposing teams put eight and nine men in the box to stop Peterson, and they still couldn’t stop him. Not that it really impacts his overall value, but Peterson did this coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL at the end of the 2011 season. Peterson just put the team on his back (doe) and led his team to a 10-6 record.

To me, Peterson is the MVP because of how well he produced and how little help he got from his teammates. Not everyone shares this opinion, and that’s fine for the most part, since other players like Peyton Manning (who had his own miraculous comeback) and Tom Brady has incredible seasons. But I do have a problems with people thinking Peterson is not the MVP because of nine yards.

In 2011, the NL MVP race was very tight between Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp. Both had outstanding, very similar seasons (a .324/.399/.586 line for Kemp and a .332/.397/.597 line for Braun although Kemp had a big edge in WAR at 8.8 to 7.6), but Kemp finished with 40 steals and just 39 home runs. Kemp lost the award because he didn’t quite have a 40-40 season. One fly ball fell short. One moonshot curved the wrong way around the foul pole. Because Kemp fell inches short of a arbitrary milestone, he lost out on the MVP, despite having superior overall numbers to Braun.

If Kemp hit one more home run two years ago, he wouldn’t have drastically changed the Dodgers’ season trajectory. But suddenly one home run drastically changes his perceived value? That doesn’t make sense.

I pray that this isn’t the case for Peterson. If Peterson had rushed for 9 more yards, the Vikings’ season wouldn’t have changed much. But does one broken tackle, one mistaken step out of bounds, one holding penalty negating a rush suddenly make is case much stronger for MVP? No, it doesn’t. A 0.4% increase in rushing yards is such minute increase in value. It’s just maddening to think Peterson may lose out because his incredible season was 99.6% as impressive as a man who played 28 years ago.

Chew on this: would Peterson have a stronger case for MVP if Blair Walsh missed the game-winning field goal as time expired, Peterson rushed for 10 yards in overtime, and the Vikings lost, missing the playoffs? Hey, he would’ve broken Dickerson’s record.

If Peyton Manning ends up winning the MVP, that’s totally fine by me. But the deciding factor cannot be those nine yards. Peterson is either the MVP with or without those nine yards and the record or someone else is the MVP. Nine yards doesn’t make a difference over a full season.

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Fantasy Finals

This game is for Honey Pot Bear. Who does not care.

This game is for Honey Pot Bear. Who does not care.

It’s been a great fantasy season. Thanks to Adrian Peterson and crew, I’m in the finals of my fantasy league. It’s been too long since I’ve won a fantasy football league (one year?).

But in all seriousness, today’s a big day. It’s a finals matchup for the ages between the two highest scoring teams–that’s how it should be, right?–between me and my friend John.

Ozamataz Buckshank vs. J’Dinklage Morgoone.

It’s been one of my best fantasy seasons thanks to a few players. Adrian Peterson, for being the top running back, despite being my second round pick. Alfred Morris, for being an unbelievable Week 1 pickup. Brandon Marshall for being the top receiver int he game, despite falling to the fifth round. Andrew Luck, for saving me from starting Philip Rivers for a full year. Dennis Pitta for being my first consistent tight end (no thanks to you, Coby Fleener, Greg Olsen, Martellus Bennett, Jermaine Gresham, and Jared Cook).

All my non-defensive players are in the top-8 at their position. Hope I didn’t jinx myself.

Here’s the matchup:

J’Dinklage Morgoone Ozamataz Buckshank
(John Cambern) (Ben Weinrib)
Matthew Stafford QB Andrew Luck
Chris Johnson RB Adrian Peterson
Doug Martin RB Frank Gore
Darren Sproles RB/WR Alfred Morris
Dez Bryant WR Andre Johnson
Julio Jones WR Brandon Marshall
Owen Daniels TE Dennis Pitta
Texans D/ST D/ST Jets D/ST
Lawrence Tynes K Matt Bryant

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games:

JAGUARS (+14) over Patriots
There’s no way the Jaguars win, but the Patriots will probably play a vanilla gameplan, just like they did against the Dolphins three weeks back. Save your good plays for good teams.

Saints (+2.5) over COWBOYS
The Saints aren’t done just yet. Plus I wouldn’t be surprised if Sean Payton–who lives in Dallas–found some way to talk to Drew Brees during the game via radio. He’s just that maniacal.

Chargers (+2.5) over JETS
As bad as Mark Sanchez is, Greg McElroy isn’t any better. And there’s no way I’m giving points to pick him.

Titans (+11) over PACKERS
Double digit lines are dangerous. As is Chris Johnson and his backdoor cover ability.

Rams (+3) over BUCCANEERS
I had a really good feeling about the Bucs. A really good feeling. Then they lost four straight games by 52 points. And that’s where they lost me. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games:

Giants (-2) over RAVENS
I hate passing on a chance to take the Ravens with points at home, but Baltimore looks so bad lately. Plus this is about the time of year the Giants get a big win on the road and stumble their way into the playoffs.

BRONCOS (-11) over Browns
The Broncos might be the best non-Patriots team in the league. And there’s something to be said about that.

STEELERS (-3) over Bengals
I’ll take Big Ben over Andy Dalton every day. The Bengals are still the annoying little brother.

PANTHERS (-9) over Raiders
This is a huge line to give for the Panthers, but the Raiders are 0-3 traveling to East Coast games, losing by an average of 20 points. Playing at 10 AM West Cost time is brutal.

Bills (+5) over DOLPHINS
Ryan Tannehill has exceeded my low expectations this season, but he hasn’t been impressive enough for me to give up five points to take him.

KFC Double Down Games:

TEXANS (-7.5) over Vikings
It’s really too bad Adrian Peterson doesn’t have a quarterback.

Redskins (-5.5) over EAGLES
There’s just no reason to take the Eagles any more. They’ve won one game (!!!) since October 1.

Niners (+2) over SEAHAWKS
Beating the Patriots by 7 infinitely more impressive than beating the Bills by 33.

Bears (-7) over CARDINALS
I don’t know what’s more amazing: the Cardinals putting up 38 points last week or Ryan Lindley only throwing for 104 yards in the same game.

Falcons (-3.5) over LIONS
There’s no bigger disappointment in the NFL than the Lions. With their quarterback, wide receiver, and defensive line, this team should be contending. Yet there’s just something really wrong about the team.

Drink Cheerwine Lock o’ the Week:

Colts (-5) over CHIEFS
Any time you have a playoff team with a spread of less than a touchdown on the Chiefs, you have to jump on it. No questions asked.

Overall record: 108-109-5

Last week: 9-7

Apple Total: 205

Apple Total Last Week: -15

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Week 14 Picks. Too Lazy for a Better Name.

Here are my better-late-than-never Week 14 NFL picks. Home teams in CAPS.

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games:

BUCCANEERS (+3.5) over Saints
One of the sneaky good teams as a home underdog? I’ll take it.

Jaguars (+7.5) over DOLPHINS
The Jaguars are terrible, but the Dolphins aren’t worth giving up more than a touchdown.

COWBOYS (+1.5) over Steelers
Both teams have been so disappointing this year, but there’s little more disappointing than losing to a Norv Turner team at home by 10.

Chiefs (+4.5) over RAIDERS
Ain’t nobody got time for that.

FALCONS (-1) over Giants
The Falcons are being exposed as a bit weaker than their record would have you think, and this is typically the time of year the Giants catch fire. So I’m going with Atlanta!

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games:

Vikings (+2.5) RAMS
Adrian Peterson is far and away the best player on the field. I’ll take him and the points.

Redskins (+4) over BROWNS
It’s going to be an interesting debate over how the Skins should handle Kirk Cousins. He’s playing better than Kevin Kolb and Matt Cassel did in their short auditions a few years ago, and they each fetched a second round pick plus. RG3 may never be healthy for a full year, but the Redskins could use a few more pieces if they choose to sell off Cousins.

Lions (-6) over CARDINALS
What do you think Brian Hoyer has to do to get some playing time? He’s benched behind Ryan Lindley and John Skelton. Lindley’s completion percentage is 48.3% and his quarterback rating is 42.6.

Panthers (+3) over CHARGERS
Classic Panthers. They’ve started 2-8 the last two seasons under Cam Newton, and they won 4 of their last 6 in 2011. They’ve won 2 of the last 3 this season with just San Diego, Oakland, and New Orleans left on the schedule.

Lions (+1.5) over TITANS
The Titans still aren’t good, and I’m most certainly not giving points to pick them.

KFC Double Down Games:

Bengals (-5) over EAGLES
Last I checked, Nick Foles still isn’t good, and Bryce Brown looked terrible last week. I just see no reason to pick the Eagles again this year.

Packers (-3) over BEARS
Without Brian Urlacher and Tim Jennings, the Bears just don’t look that good. Unfortunately, they’ll probably miss the playoffs for the second season in a row because of late-season injuries.

Broncos (-3) over RAVENS
The Broncos are one of the five best teams in the league, and the Ravens are overrated because people still think they have an elite defense. Which the don’t.

I'm not sure if Russell Wilson is great, but he's definitely great against bad teams.

I’m not sure if Russell Wilson is great, but he’s definitely great against bad teams.

Colts (+10.5) over TEXANS
Don’t give up double digit points when it’s two good teams and the favored team got whacked by 28 points the week before.

Seahawks (-4.5) over BILLS
The Seahawks could score one twelfth the points they scored last week and still cover this line by four.

Drink Cheerwine Lock o’ the Week:

PATRIOTS (-4) over Niners
I’m just going to copy and paste my writeup for the Patriots/Texans game last week: “This is going to be the game the whole NFL recognizes the Patriots as the best team in the league. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Overall record: 99-102-5

Last week: 6-9-1

Apple Total: 220

Apple Total Last Week: -55

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Are GMs Team Players?

All across sports, we hear how players need to worry more about the team than themselves. After all, there is no ‘I’ in team.

We saw this concept in Oklahoma City for the last few years, where James Harden played a 6th man role with reduced minutes and reduced shots to help take his team to the finals. Harden deserved more than 10 shots over 30 minutes per game–and he’s getting 17 shots over 39 minutes in Houston now–but he made a sacrifice for the betterment of the team.

Since baseball is much more of an individual sport than basketball is, it’s harder to see these self sacrifices in America’s pastime. But you can take Michael Young for example. He’s been moved from second base to shortstop to third base to a utility infielder role to Philadelphia all to make the Rangers better. Sure, he’s complained along the way, but he eventually made the changes.

For the most part, major league players are all what we’d consider “team players.” And having a few wildcards in the clubhouse like Carlos Zambrano doesn’t actually hurt anyone–maybe besides a few Gatorade coolers. Really, would Pablo Sandoval actually have played worse in the World Series had Melky Cabrera been playing instead of Gregor Blanco?

When it comes to managers, it’s safe to assume that they all want what’s best for their team. Not everyone may agree with Ron Washington playing aging Michael Young in the field while sensationally slick-gloved Jurickson Profar rides the bench, but Washington isn’t trying to undermine his team. Even when he calls for sacrifice bunts–moves which have been proven to be almost always subversive–he’s still making the moves because he thinks they will benefit his team.

But then there are general managers. The head honchos when it come to player transactions. One would think general managers would be the people most concerned with making their team better. But really, that just isn’t the case.

In the last week, we’ve seen two top prospects dealt: Kansas City dealing Wil Myers plus for James Shields and Arizona dealing Trevor Bauer for prospect Didi Gregorious and change. The Bauer trade was the unfortunate product of selling low and swapping talent for a positional need, but the Myers trade is more concerning. Lets take a closer look.

The Royals had one of the most intriguing teams in the league with highly touted prospects and homegrown players at nearly every position. Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas were all top-three draft picks, and the next big star was supposed to Myers, a sweet-swinging right fielder who mashed 37 homers across AA and AAA, while hitting .314 with a .387 OBP. The only thing blocking Myers from starring in the majors was Jeff Francoeur. Frenchy has amassed a grand total of 1.8 WAR over the last five seasons, including -1.2 WAR in 2012, yet he was oddly given both two years and $13.5 million in the middle of last season.

The main thing holding the Royals back from being legitimate playoff contenders, though, was a lack of starting pitching. KC had a couple of innings-eaters in Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen plus a human BP machine in Ervin Santana. After that, it was a cavalcade of AAAA pitchers and disappointing former prospects. The Royals needed starting pitching badly, but they didn’t have the kind of cash to lure back Zack Greinke.

Will Big Game James Shields keep his nickname if there are no big games in which to play in Kansas City?

Will Big Game James Shields keep his nickname if there are no big games in Kansas City?

But instead of pursuing cheaper free agent options, the Royals decided to trade away their star-in-the-making Myers along with prospects Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard for James Shields and Wade Davis. Shields has 2 years and $21 million remaining on his contract, assuming the Royals pick up his team option, which is very affordable for a top-end starter. Davis will be under contract for four more years, but it’s unclear if he can stick as a starter.

But to land the two pitchers, the Royals gave up is six low-cost years of a potential cornerstone outfielder in Myers plus a potential mid-rotation starter in Odorizzi. Montgomery has had massive control issues, but he has top-of-the-rotation stuff. Of course, no prospect is risk-free, but Myers is about has low-risk as prospects come.

He’s shown he can hit for average. He’s athletic. He’s got some of the best raw power in the whole minor leagues. Defensively, he should become an above average fielder thanks to a strong arm and solid speed. Wil Myers will become a star in this league. However the Royals gave him up–along with a couple of young pitchers–for two years of a 30 year old pitcher.

But why? James Shields is a very good pitcher, but he’s no ace. He’s certainly not worth giving up an elite prospect–probably the best hitting prospect in the game–plus a couple of useful pitchers. The answer has two parts: the Royals want to win now and GM Dayton Moore isn’t exactly making moves for the betterment of the team.

The Royals decided that they are ready to go all in. 2016 Royals be damned, this team can compete if they add starting pitching–at least that’s what the KC front office thinks. Dayton Moore liquidated his biggest asset in Myers to make a run for the playoffs the next two years.

The problem, though, is that there are about a dozen teams clearly better than Kansas City (the Yankees, Rays, Tigers, Rangers, Angels, Athletics, Nationals, Braves, Cardinals, Reds, Dodgers, Giants…), including the defending AL Champs in the same division. This team really is more likely to compete in a couple years when Hosmer, Moustakas, and Myers are entering their primes.

Then comes the more likely addendum for the trade: Dayton Moore’s job security is the culprit. Moore has been at the helm of Kansas City since 2006, and last season was the first time a Moore Royals team  finished even 3rd in the division. His contract runs up in 2014, and if the team start winning soon, he could be on the chopping block. So to get the Royals winning sooner, Moore traded a great long-term asset for a short-term asset who can help the team out now.

Moore could be right. Myers could be flop just like top prospects of yesteryear  Delmon Young, Brandon Wood, and Lastings Milledge. Shields could be sensational and lead the Royals to the playoffs. But that’s not what’s more likely.

Dayton Moore took an unnecessary risk by giving up a cheap, young, talented player for a short shot at glory. He made a decision that very well may extend his career as an MLB GM, but it’s not a decision in the best interest of the Royals organization.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen GM’s take unnecessary risks because of the life of their job before, though. All the time, we see GMs dole out 9-figure deals over six to ten years given to 30-year old players.

Walt Jocketty gave Joey Votto $225 million from the age of 31 to 41. Jocketty will reap the benefits of the contract while he’s still running the team, but he won’t be around when Votto is making $25 million and well over the hill at the end of the deal. It’s not his $225 million and the last few years of the albatross contract won’t be his problem either. It’s been discussed over and over how $100 million deals rarely work, but GMs don’t have to worry about that if they won’t be around to see the end of the deal.

It’s tough to prove, but GMs certainly are not always team players. Players can have a bad year and get a new contract from a new team, but GMs don’t get too many jobs if their first one is a flop. Building a strong farm system is great for an organization, but if the team doesn’t win, the general manager might not be around to see how great the young players make his major league team. And therein lies the problem for why general managers are not truly team players.

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Getting Over Charlie Batch

Happy finals week, Vanderbilt! Here are my Week 14 picks; home teams in CAPS.

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games:

Look out for some crazy juicy Brady Quinn Browns-fueled revenge. If that's even possible.

Look out for some crazy Brady Quinn Browns-fueled revenge. If that’s even possible.

Chiefs (+7) over BROWNS
Ahh starting the picks off early with the Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That Game of the Week!

STEELERS (-8) over Chargers
I’ve reached the point where I just don’t think taking the Chargers is a good idea anymore. I know it will be tough for Pittsburgh to get over the loss of Charlie Batch with Ben Roethlisberger coming back, but I think the team will be okay.

PACKERS (-6.5) over Lions
The Lions defense is looking pretty vulnerable lately, which is never a good sign with Green Bay on the schedule.

Dolphins (+10.5) over NINERS
As fun as Colin Kaepernick is, he’s still not making the Niners offense very high-powered. San Fran should definitely win, but I’m not sure they’ll win by at least 11.

Saints (+4.5) over GIANTS
This is just a hunch. The Giants seem to lose these big games at home before they win an even bigger game on the road at the very end of the season, catch fire, and go win the Super Bowl over a far superior Patriots team.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games:

Broncos (-10) over RAIDERS
You try not to take a double digit line, but there’s no way I’m taking Carson Palmer now.

BUCCANEERS (-7.5) over Eagles
Nick Foles just isn’t good.

BENGALS (-3) over Cowboys
The Cowboys almost lost to Nick Foles, who just isn’t good.

Rams (+3) over BILLS
St. Louis’ defense has been very solid and Sam Bradford has been good enough to keep them in most games. And that level of mediocrity is good enough to beat Buffalo.

SEAHAWKS (-10) over Cardinals
I hesitate, as always, to bite on double digit lines, but the Seahawks are a whole new team at home. Plus I’ll need at least more points to take Ryan Lindley. The real question is: “What is a Ryan Lindley?”

KFC Double Down Games:

Ravens (+1.5) over REDSKINS
Even without Terrell Suggs (again), I’m not passing up this beautiful line. People are jumping on the RG3 bandwagon–which I fully support–and that’s pushing this line towards the Skins. Love it.

COLTS (-4) over Titans
Will people realize that the Colts are good or the Titans are bad first? These have been two of my secret best apple-betting teams.

PATRIOTS (-3.5) over Texans
This is going to be the game the whole NFL recognizes the Patriots as the best team in the league. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Jets (-3) over JAGUARS
As a rule of thumb, you should never put a lot of apples on the Jets, but it’s hard not to like picking against the Jags while only giving up a field goal. Plus we might have a Tebow chant in Jacksonville!!

Falcons (-3.5) over PANTHERS
The Panthers lost to the Chiefs, how are they going to look good against the Falcons? Oh, right, that’s what the Panthers do. Stink for the first half of the year, then hit the gas and take off at the end of the year, neither making the playoffs nor getting a great draft pick. Joy.

Drink Cheerwine Lock o’ the Week:

BEARS (-2) over Vikings
The Bears screwed me over last week losing at home to the Seahawks, so I’ll give them one more shot with another surprisingly small line. My biggest fear here is that Adrian Peterson will gash the Bears D that’s missing Brian Urlacher and Tim Jennings.

Overall record: 93-93-4

Last week: 7-9

Apple Total: 275

Apple Total Last Week: -55

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Winter Meetings Day Three

Today was my third day at the MLB Winter Meetings. It’s been a few days of a lot of transactions and a lot of news. Check out my recaps of the first two days. Without further ado, here are the rumblings I heard from Day Three at Opryland. Remember, everything below is from what the coaches and other sources told me.

2:06 PM CT – Jim Leyland, Tigers manager:

Leyland said that it would be tough to run a closer-by-committee for a full season, but it did work in the postseason for the Tigers. And since it worked in the postseason, Leyland said he’d be willing to try it out in the regular season. Ultimately, he’s willing to make whatever moves he has to move to win the game. At this point, the team is unlikely to re-sign Jose Valverde, especially as a closer. Leyeland did mention that the team has been put in a great place to succeed with owner Mitch Ilitch’s financial flexibility.

Leyland was asked about young outfielders Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia and potential playing time in the majors. He didn’t give any specific details on either player, but he did explain the process of how they will decide. He said first the team will decide if they’re ready to play in the majors, then if they’re ready to play every day or in a platoon split. Then, the team has to consider whether it’s more beneficial for the player to be playing every other day or get 500 at bats in the minors. He said the biggest key for Garcia will be how well he responds to adversity early on in the year.

One final note is that third base coach Gene Lamont will be moved to the bench coach for two reasons. For one, his knee has been acting up lately, and standing up for a whole season was going to be a bit of a help concern. Secondly, Lamont now really becomes Leyland’s second hand man, as he will spend the entire game at next to the manager.

2:19 – Clint Hurdle, Pirates manager:

Hurdle had a lot to say about James McDonald. For starters, he said that if McDonald pitched in the second half the way he did in the first half, he could be a lock down number three starter. I thought it was interesting that Hurdle chose to put his ceiling at just a number three starter. This season, Hurdle said, will be a fresh start for McDonald, who shouldn’t have to worry about if he is a first-half or second-half pitcher (he won’t half to worry about being a second half pitcher).

Last season, Hurdle thought McDonald made a lot of small improvements, but tried to bite off a bit more than he could chew. He really needs to work on three main things: throwing first pitch strikes, getting batters to chase and miss pitches, and not get too caught up in all four pitches. Hurdle said that McDonald sometimes forces all of his pitches, even when he only needs three to really pitch fine.

Hurdle was asked what he might do about his bullpen in Joel Hanrahan ends up traded, and he laughed at the notion of needing a proven closer. He said that most closers start out in a different role and end up in the ninth inning. More importantly, he’d rather have big arms that he can use.

The manager was asked a lot about his outfielders and reiterated that Andrew McCutchen was one of the best in the league. He wasn’t perfect in the second half, but of course, nobody has an OPS of .900 in every month of the season. He also said he was excited for Travis Snider, Starling Marte, and Gaby Sanchez to have a full season with the Pirates. He said that Snider was just starting to get in the groove before he had an injury. As for Sanchez, he said that the team saw him as an every day player. Hurdle also said that the team will soon discuss how much more Winter Ball Marte needs to play.

Hurdle mentioned that the team was looking to build around continuity, and that Russell Martin would be a great fit. He said the team needs to perform much better in the second half of the season. Additionally, he said that he wouldn’t stop players from competing in the World Baseball Classic, since he isn’t the person to dictate that. He did say, though, that he just wanted to hear why each player wanted to compete in the tournament.

Lastly, Hurdle said that he hadn’t talked with hitting coach Jay Bell about how to improve Pedro Alvarez’s ability to hit for average. However, he did say that he expected a boost in hitting to come from Alvarez soon, as 2013 would be his first full season with Pittsburgh. Hurdle also noted that Alvarez knows he can hit better for average, but that the team can take an on-base risk with a player that can hit so well for power.

2:40 – Yankees Source:

According to a source with the Yankees, Brian Cashman was very upset that the Russell Martin ended up signing with Pittsburgh. The source also said that Cashman thought the team would miss Martin a lot and that the team did not prioritize Martin highly enough.

2:42 – Terry Francona, Indians manager:

Tito said that if the Indians add another power bat, the team is going to run a lot less. However, if the team does not have the same power from the middle of the lineup, he will let the faster runners free.

Obviously, Francona got a lot of questions about the Red Sox. He said that Cleveland is far different from Boston, because in Boston it was ‘Win or go home.’ However, things are far more lax in Cleveland; the team is a lot younger, but they will still contend. He also said that he’s sad the way things ended in Boston, but that doesn’t change the great times he had with the team. Additionally, he said that he thought the 2008 team was the best team–Josh Beckett just wasn’t entirely healthy and the team ran into a buzzsaw in the Tampa Bay Rays. Jokingly, he did say that Boston’s biggest weakness was their manager.

Tito noted that building relationships with his players is key to a strong season, so he is going out of his way to meet as many of his new players as possible. He hasn’t met all of them yet, but he did say that the World Baseball Classic taking away some of his players will hurt the chemistry between his new staff and the team.

The manager also noted that he really did miss baseball last year, especially when spring training rolled around. As for his role, he said that his main job was to get the best out of his players. However, over a full season, he thought weaknesses in talent would show.

The last thing Tito said was that the team would look a lot better with Carlos Carrasco and Zach McAllister back healthy. The team needs all the pitching they can get.

2:57 – Mike Scioscia, Angels manager:

Most of the questions for Scioscia had to do with his outfielders. Scioscia announced that Mark Trumbo would be playing left field and Peter Bourjos would be playing left field. Trumbo only played left field last year because Torii Hunter was better suited for right field. He also noted that the roster right now is far from complete, so any other lineup situations would be purely hypothetical.

For now, Scioscia did say that there would be a rotation of outfielders playing the DH spot. Namely, those players would be Kendrys Morales, Vernon Wells, and the starting outfielders Bourjos, Mike Trout, and Trumbo. Scioscia sounded optimistic about Wells, saying that injuries have slowed him down the past two years and that his talent is far above his production level lately.

3:04 – Eric Wedge, Mariners manager:

One of the bigger things Wedge emphasized with his younger players was adding strength. He mentioned that Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and even Hisashi Iwakuma needed to add a bit more strength. He said that Smoak needed to get stronger while staying lean, and that his ability to hit breaking balls and to all field would be key to continue from the last five weeks of 2011. As for Montero, Wedge said that he wouldn’t be catching every day, but that Montero still needed to improve his technique and flexibility, along with his strength. Iwakuma really needed to get more confidence and acclimated to the American style of baseball, plus a little more arm strength.

With Montero not playing every day, Wedge noted that the team was looking to add another catcher.

For his two final notes, Wedge said that his DH would likely be a rotation of players, giving them a day off in the field. His philosophy is to use a rotation of players, unless the team has a thunderous bat, which the Mariners do not. Also, he said the Mariners moving the fences in would help out the team realistically and psychologically. Wedge said the ballpark would be fair now.

3:16 – Mike Redmond, Marlins manager:

Mike Redmond talked a lot about changing the culture in Miami, saying that the team would focus on the small things like execution and hustle. He also noted that the team would need a laser-like focus starting in Spring Training, and if they focused purely on baseball, the team would be fine.

As for his style of managing, Redmond said that he was aggressive in the minor leagues, and he would be aggressive in the majors, unless things changed. He said that he would be very flexible as a manger and wanted to study the players as much as possible, since information in the majors leagues is very deep, especially compared to the minor leagues.

Redmond didn’t have many exact things to say about his lineup, saying that he had about fifty different lineup scenarios, but he did say that he would have Giancarlo Stanton hitting fourth and newly acquired Adeiny Hechavarria hitting eighth.

Redmond did also say that he loved energetic players; he didn’t get how players couldn’t get excited playing a three hour game. His mantra is that he always wants to manage to win the game. He just likes to get fired up out there.

3:39 – Bud Black, Padres manager:

Black mentioned that last year was tough on the pitching staff because of several injuries. However, with Jason Marquis’ return and the potential addition of another pitcher on a one-year deal, the pitching staff would be better. The key for this team would be health.

Offensively, Black thought that this was one of the best teams to hit in San Diego in a very long time, and the same starting lineup will be around next year. The last three months were great for this team, and they should carry over into next season.

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Winter Meetings Day Two

I was lucky enough to get a press pass for the MLB Winter Meetings this week, and it’s really been a great experience. I recapped Monday’s action in a post yesterday, and here’s the happenings from today.

3:37 CT – John Farrell, Red Sox Manager

A disproportionate amount of the questions aimed at Farrell had to do with the Blue Jays, asking things along the lines of if he coached any differently down the stretch with Toronto, how he felt about the Blue Jays making moves right after he left, if he thought about returning to Boston last season, etc. Farrell had the same basic answer for all the questions: he was fully committed to the Blue Jays and now he is fully committed to the Red Sox. He did have an interesting quote, where he said that he thought every job in the majors was a training job, and that managers aren’t really tied down to one organization.

As far as players appearing in the World Baseball Classic, Farrell said that the team has not been informed about which players will be participating in the World Baseball Classic, although he did allude to the fact that he expected both David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia to play.

In terms of free agent players, Farrell said the team is looking for strong reputations as far as being team players, something he saw in recently-signed Mike Napoli. As far as free agent pitchers, he said the team is not tied down to a certain style of pitcher, they’re more concerned about performance, the stamina to go late into games, and health.

He also noted that the team’s right fielder may not be your prototypical right fielder, since the team is looking for strong defense, another center fielder, as opposed to a major power bat. Additionally, Farrell said that the team was looking for a lefty bat, although they weren’t locked into anything. Fittingly, the Red Sox signed Shane Victorino exactly one hour later to play right field.

Talking about infielders, Farrell said that the team would not by playing Jarrod Saltalamacchia at first base. He also thought that Will Middlebrooks can eventually develop into a middle-of-the-order bat, but he’ll be in the back half of the lineup for now.

Farrell also talked for a while about pitchers. He said that John Lackey got back into the swing of things at instructionals last fall and is expected to start 28 to 30 games this season. If he were to convert any reliever to become a starter, Farrell said that Franklin Morales, not Alfredo Aceves, had been discussed internally as a potential starter. Aceves is likely to be used as a late inning reliever or possibly a long man, said the coach. Junichi Tazawa and Mark Melancon are expected to manage the later innings, and Andrew Bailey will remain the closer. Daniel Bard has a longer way to go, said Farrell. Farrell has faith that Bailey will return to form, saying that last year wasn’t the real Andrew Bailey, since he was injured and trying to rush to catch up.

Lastly, Farrell discussed two young pitchers, Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster. He said both will start the season as starting pitchers, since that’s where the team sees both pitchers’ futures. Each pitcher’s role with the major league team has yet to be determined.

3:58 – Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks manager

Just as John Farrell got an overwhelming number of questions about the Blue Jays, Gibson received a bounteous supply of Justin Upton trade questions. He said that he doubts the team will get an offer they can’t refuse on Upton and that the Diamondbacks will not contend without him. It’s unclear, though, if those are just Gibson’s wishes or GM Kevin Towers’ wishes. Gibson did laugh off his final Upton question, saying that there are plenty of other players on his roster that have been rumored to be on the trading block for several years.

When asked about his young pitchers, Gibson didn’t really have one favorite between Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, and Tyler Skaggs. He said the team is happy with all three’s progression and actually asked all of the reporters which pitcher they thought was the most polished.

Gibson also said that newly acquired Heath Bell will start the year pitching in the seventh inning. He called Bell “iron-armed,” saying that he though Bell would benefit from returning to the West, where he had success with the Padres. He said that as long as their starters could get the team through six innings, the team would be in good shape with J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, Brad Ziegler, and Bell.

4:09 – Mike Matheny, Cardinals manager

Matheny looked back at his first season as a manager, saying that that his “philosophy going into (the season) was to not get in the players’ way.” He’s learning more and more about managing, which is the nature of the job. He thought the season went well, but it could have been a lot better. After all, as he said, building a team is about building championships.

He did also mention that free agent decisions will likely be made sooner rather than later. Now that he is in his second year of managing, he said that GM John Mozeliak comes to him more often to speak about personnel decisions.

Matheny said that the back spots in the rotation along with the starting second base jobs are very much up for grabs. As for whether Kolten Wong has a chance at winning the spot, Matheny said he hadn’t seen enough of him in person, along with other prospects Oscar Taveras and Carlos Martinez. That trio should have a chance to get a lot more playing time this spring training because of the World Baseball Classic, whether that be with their own country or replacing Cardinals that are off playing in the WBC.

4:23 – Ron Gardenhire – Twins manager

Gardenhire opened up this interview session by saying that the reason the Twins played so poorly last season was because the couldn’t do the fundamentals: pitching, catching, and not making simple mistakes like walking a lot of batters. One of the bigger problems was defense, which wasn’t helped by the departure of Denard Span.

On the subject of pitching, Gardenhire tabbed Glen Perkins as the closer, saying he hoped he’d get to use Perkins in that late-inning role 50-60 times. He also said that he didn’t have an exact plan for Kyle Gibson, who is coming off Tommy John surgery, although team officials will sit down and discuss that soon, probably including some sort of inning limit.

Gardy was asked whether he was expecting any big improvements, and he said there’s never any assurances in baseball about roster improvements, but that GM Terry Ryan is working to improve the organization as a whole. He even said he wasn’t assured that he will coach again next year, although he is hoping for an extension and hoping to end his career with the Twins.

One of the more interesting notes Gardenhire shared was that the club was looking to collect more hard-throwing pitchers like Alex Meyer, recently acquired for Span. This is a big change because the Twins have historically collected softer-throwing pitchers with more of an emphasis on control and command.

Finally, the manager did add that you can’t stop players from playing in the World Baseball Classic because it’s important for them to represent their countries. Joe Mauer is one of two players to be named to the US team so far.

4:44 – Joe Girardi, Yankees manager

Unsurprisingly, most of the questions Girardi got had to do with A-Rod and his hip injury. Girardi said that the injury is especially concerning because this injury is to his left hip, and he’s already had work done on his right hip. The team’s budget, however will not change because of Rodriguez’ surgery (which should keep him out until at least May, perhaps into June), so don’t expect any extravagant spending on infielders. Eric Chavez remains centrally on the team’s free agent radar.

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Winter Meetings Day One

The MLB Winter Meetings are just getting underway at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, just 20 minutes from Vanderbilt campus. I got a press pass with the Vanderbilt Hustler and here are some of my updates from throughout the afternoon, which you can also follow on Twitter.

3:27 PM CT – Joe Torre on WBC:

Joe will be managing the US team at the World Baseball classic. He mentioned that he doesn’t want to overwork his pitchers, specifically that he will talk with each player’s manager and general manager to make sure that he doesn’t deviate from how his team would normally handle his workload.

When asked if he ever gets the itch to manage again, Torre sad that he did not anymore. He said that every game was a do-or-die of sorts and that the lows are too low after losses.

Torre was asked how important it is for the US to win the WBC as a sort of comparison to the Dream Team, but the first thing he mentioned was the importance of growing baseball internationally. He did stress that the team is set on winning, but that the competition would definitely be steep, especially from Latin America.

Torre discussed the rosters, which are not final, and said that about half the players would be pitchers. Additionally, there will probably be at least three catchers, since few catchers will likely be ready to play nine innings per game in March. He also mentioned the importance of role players in addition to stars.

Finally, Torre said he thought the key to winning would be pitching and defense. Plus the experience of managing near-All-Star Teams before would help, although it hurts that he doesn’t have a previous relationship with all of his players

3:55 – Mets and R.A. Dickey

The Mets are definitely open to moving Dickey, although the price will be steep. The asked the Red Sox in a meeting for both Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Dickey is two years from free agency, but the Mets also ran a similar hard bargain two years ago when the tried to move free agent-to-be Carlos Beltran, ultimately netting Zach Wheeler.

The Red Sox reportedly do not want to include either prospect in the deal. It’s unclear if either prospect would be available at all.

4:17 – Dusty Baker, Reds Manager

Dusty was asked about Aroldis Chapman and if he thinks a pitcher needs three quality pitches to be a starting pitcher. Dusty said that he doesn’t think it is mandatory for a starter to have to throw three pitches well, but if they don’t they need pinpoint accuracy. He said that he thought Chapman’s slider was excellent, but the changeup still needed work, especially over longer outings.

Baker also brought up the potential need for a way to limit Chapman’s pitches, although he said they didn’t have one single plan in mind, should the Reds move him to the rotation. He suggested a few ideas, including possibly shutting him down early in the year, limiting his pitch counts, spacing out his starts longer, and other “creative solutions.”

Baker also had high praise for young shortstop Zach Cozart, saying that he loved the kid’s attitude. His arm and running, though needed improving, along with, obviously, his bat. The manager had high praise for his glove, which he said was “very steady for a young player,” and also added that he didn’t want to sacrifice defense at shortstop.

On the subject of instant replay, Dusty said that he would like to see replay expended, although he also wishes umpires would reach their conclusions faster. To sum up his thoughts, replay is fine “as long as they can do it in a timely fashion.”

4:27 – Ned Yost, Royals Manager

Yost mentioned that the Royals are still looking to add starting pitching, fitting in with the reports that the team was pursuing James Shield and Jon Lester, possibly in return for super-prospect Wil Myers. He said that Luis Mendoza would definitely get a shot to keep his rotation spot, but if he didn’t win it, he’d definitely still remain on the roster as a long reliever.

If Myers did get traded, though, Yost said the team would have to depend upon Jeff Francoeur to have a bounce-back season. For the time being, they would still like to add an outfield bat, perhaps on the non-tender list–whether or not they end up dealing Myers. For the future, though, Yost said he is very excited about Jorge Bonifacio, among other outfield prospects.

4:36 – John Gibbons, Blue Jays Manage

Gibbons was very excited to be back managing in the big leagues, saying there is more pressure than before, although there is always pressure coaching in the majors. There was a definite excitement in his voice about the strength of his new team. Among the new players, Gibbons said he expects Mark Buehrle to be a team leader, whether vocally or by example.

Gibbons did divulge a bit about his lineup, saying he will start out the lineup with Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion for sure. Otherwise, he said nothing was set. Additionally, Maicer Izturis was signed as the starting second baseman, but he could be moved around the diamond. At the same time, Emilio Bonifacio could play second or in the outfield.

On the subject of the bullpen, Gibbons pointed out that a strong pitching staff makes a strong bullpen. He said that a lot of the roles have yet to be determined and may not be finalized for most of the year, but the more firepower he has the better. As for the closer’s role, Gibbons said that, again, nothing was finalized between Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos, especially since both are coming off injuries.

Finally, Gibbons also talked about some of the faster players on the team, saying that he didn’t want to rein in any of his faster players stealing, although “there are players in the middle of the order paid to knock them in.”

4:55 – Terry Collins, Mets Manager

Collins was asked a lot about potential moves and players he might be interested, but he noted that he didn’t have much say in transaction. Although it’s not up to him, he did say the team is looking for another right-handed bat in the outfield. In terms of whether the team is trying to contend or rebuild, he did said “everybody wants to win now,” although it’s a bit unclear if “everyone” is the Mets or just teams in general.

As for minor league pitchers, Collins said that Jenrry Mejia will come into the season with a chance to start for the major league team out of spring training. If Jeurys Familia starts the year with the Mets, though, he would be pitching out of the bullpen. Collins stressed the importance of minor leauge pitchers starting, rather than relieving, even if their future is in the bullpen, hinting that Familia would start in AAA, should he not begin the year in the majors. On the subject of Zach Wheeler, Collins expects him to follow the path of Matt Harvey last year, although Wheeler will get a chance to break camp with the major league club. Finally, Darin Gorski, will also have an outside shot at starting the year in the majors.

Collins got a very large proportion of his questions about R.A. Dickey, but kept reiterating that he loves R.A., has no control over whether or not he is traded, and that “it’s a matter of movie forward with who we have.”

Lastly, Collins added that Justin Turner would not be an every day player, but rather he would be a super-utility player. He said that Turner would be taking reps in the outfield every day.

5:05 – Bob Melvin, Athletics Manager

Melvin said that the team has a lot of free agent decisions, but that the team is not in a particular rush. Jonny Gomes already signed with Boston, but Brandon McCarthy and Stephen Drew, among other players, remain un-signed. The A’s are reportedly courting both Drew and Hirojuki Nakajima, although Melvin said the team would be fine with the players they currently have at shortstop. He said their currently players aren’t very experienced and aren’t putting up much offensive numbers. He also noted that being in a relatively unattractive small market doesn’t help out.

With the addition of Chris Young, Melvin said the team will be rotating outfielders (Young, Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, and Seth Smith) through the DH position to give the players some extra rest. He also said that the A’s were not looking to trade any outfielders, especially Cespedes, whom he said has the sky as his limit.

As for other positional battles, Melvin said he was comfortable and optimistic about having a lefty/righty platoon with Chris Carter and Brandon Moss. Alternatively, he said Derek Norris is without a doubt the starting catcher, although George Kottaras will have a solid amount of playing time.

Melvin also stressed that the team doesn’t really need to add much more pitching with six solid young pitchers. He did say that there wouldn’t be the same group of five starting pitchers in the rotation all season.

Melvin also spoke at length about the team’s new addition, Chris Young, who Melvin coached during his time in Arizona. The coach said that the front office asked him about Young prior to his acquisition and that he really liked Young’s athleticism and versatility. He also suggested that Young would likely lead off against left-handed pitchers, although he could also hit cleanup.

5:42 – Keith Law!

I got the great opportunity to talk with the great Keith Law for a bit, definitely one of my personal highlights of the winter meetings. Some of the conversation wasn’t on the record, but he gave some great advice and was very nice to meet up with a random college sportswriter.

5:46 – Joe Maddon, Rays Manager

Maddon stressed that if the Rays are to win 90 games on a regular basis, they need to pitch well and defend well. He said that you cannot out-hit or out-spend other teams; “to be as pitching rich as possible is very attractive. Pitching and defense will continue to dominate.”

The glasses-clad manager also showed optimism in Jeremy Hellickson, who he said could be a 200-inning pitcher in the near future. As for other young pitchers, he said that Chris Archer and Alex Cobb are competitive MLB pitchers, although maybe not for a title contending team. He said that he didn’t want to stretch out the young pitchers beyond what is necessary for them, since development is essential for the future.

Maddon was also asked about instant replay, and Maddon was mostly in favor of adding more technology. He said that aside from balls and strikes, everything else should be up for discussion. The key for him, though, was keeping things simple, possibly by limiting the amount of replay done in each game.

When asked about the Yankees, Maddon said that injuries would certainly be an issue (A-Rod will miss some time and Jeter and Mariano Rivera will be coming off injuries), but he fully expects the Yankees to make the right moves and play very well.

8:12 – Jonah Keri and Kiley McDaniel!

I also ran across ESPN writers Jonah Keri and Kiley McDaniel right before I left Opryland. It’s great to meet coaches and front office people, but meeting some of my favorite writers is just as cool. They’re a lot more personable, too. Very funny.

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Are The Patriots Underrated?

How often can we say that a Boston team is not getting enough attention from the media?

Never.

But that might be the case here, as the Patriots are far and away the best team in the NFL but aren’t getting nearly the respect they deserve.

Their 8-3 record may not look incredible, but their three losses have come by a combined four points. Four whole points! New England has finally found a consistent running game with Steven Ridley, and their passing attack has been clicking on all cylinders, even without their tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Herenandez.

But perhaps the most impressive turnaround for this team has been the defense. The rush defense is 10th in the league, and they’ve forced 32 turnovers. The Pats also finally have an influx of young talent with big years from rookies Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, and Tavon Wilson.

Here is a team with 7.3 more points per game than any other team. A team that dominates the two most important stats in the game: point differential and turnover margin.

It’s almost like the 2007 team–with a better defense.

I took a week off making picks, but things seemed to have worked out. I’ve won 200 apples the past two weeks, and I finally have a winning record to match my big apples surplus. Let’s keep the strong picks rolling. As always, home teams are in CAPS.

Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Games:

CHARGERS (+1) over Bengals
At what point do we just accept that there’s nothing Norv Turner can ever do to get fired? I mean Ray Rice’s magical 30-yard catch on 4th-and-29 was about the most embarrasing play of the year.

Jaguars (+6) over BILLS
Ain’t nobody got time for that.

JETS (-6) over Cardinals
If the Jets can’t beat Ryan Lindley at home, who are they going to beat?

Eagles (+10.5) over COWBOYS
This game fits perfectly into the Never-Give-Double-Digit-Points-In-A-Game-With-Two-Hilariously-Sad-Teams mold.

Vikings (+7.5) over PACKERS
I really thought the Packers were off to great places last week, having won five straight games. Turns out beating St. Louis, Jacksonville, Arizona, and Detroit isn’t as impressive as it looks, as the Giants showed us.

Dunkin’ Donuts Plain Cake Games:

FALCONS (-3) over Saints
I always have trouble taking the Saints against a team with a strong defense. In general, it’s just really hard to win games with a Matador Defense.

RAMS (+7.5) over Niners
I picked the Rams (+13) over the Niners on the road three weeks ago, so I’ll be taking them at home again with the points. And as much hype as Colin Kaepernick has received (and I’m on board the bandwagon), he’s only averaging 197 yards passing per game. That would be good for 28th in the NFL.

Buccaneers (+7.5) over BRONCOS
How can you not love Josh Freeman, Doug Martin, and these young Bucs?

Colts (+7) over Lions
The Colts have been my secret sneaky good team lately, covering five of their last six games. The not so subtle secret: Andrew Luck is really good.

Steelers (+7.5) over RAVENS
Seven of the last eight Steelers/Ravens games have been won by less points than this line. In fact, six of those were just by 3 points. Ben Roethlisberger or Charlie Batch, I don’t want to give up that many points with these defenses.

Don't look now, but the Patriots l

Don’t look now, but the Patriots have by far the best turnover margin in the league (24, compared to the next best at 13) and the best points differential in the league (+163, compared to the next best at +121). Why doesn’t this team get more press?

KFC Double Down Games:

Patriots (-7.5) over DOLPHINS
Ah, the point in the season where you take the Patriots without hesitation unless there’s a double digit line. And if there is a double digit line, think about it for a while and settle on the Patriots.

Panthers (-3) over CHIEFS
I can’t imagine how the Chiefs are going to play too well after a tragedy like what happened on Saturday. Also, isn’t this one of the few reasons an NFL game should be delayed? Out of respect for the family and team, I think this game would be better played on Tuesday.

GIANTS (-3) over Redskins
Time to pile off the Redskins bandwagon!

Texans (-7) over TITANS
Houston’s D will shut down Chris Johnson, leaving Tennessee no chance. This line really should be higher.

Browns (-2.5) over RAIDERS
Oakland has lost it’s last three games a combined 169-79. That’s 22.5 points per game–and if my math is correct–20 points more than this line.

Drink Cheerwine Lock o’ the Week:

BEARS (-3) over Seahawks
Chicago is 8-2 when Jay Cutler starts this year, and one of those losses came when Cutler was knocked out mid-way through. As for the Seahawks? They’re 5-0 at home, but 1-5 on the road. And this game’s at Soldier Field.

Overall record: 86-84-4

Last week: 10-4-2

Apple Total: 330

Apple Total Last Week: 100

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