Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Brad Lidge: NL Comeback Player of the Year. Is the Cy Young award next?

As you no doubt have heard by now, Phillies closer Brad Lidge was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year. Lidge was the obvious choice for the award given how he followed his 2007 season, when he lost the job as the Astros closer, with a perfect 41 for 41 on save opportunities in the 2008 season. Lidge is a deserving winner, but he may not be done collecting awards for his effort in 2008. Like the American League Comeback Player of the year, Cliff Lee of the Indians, Lidge has to be considered for the Cy Young award.

While Cliff Lee dominated the American League this year with a 22-3 record and seems like the runaway winner for the AL Cy Young, it's more difficult to make a case for Brad Lidge for the NL Cy Young, but not impossible. There is no clear-cut favorite in the NL as several candidates can make compelling arguments. Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks led the NL with 22 wins but only put up the 10th best ERA in the league. Tim Lincecum had an impressive 2.62 ERA but won only 18 games pitching for the lowly Giants. Despite playing only have the season in the NL, C.C. Sabathia has been mentioned as a possible candidate given his domination over the last few months, including a 1.65 ERA and 7 complete games in 17 starts.

So how does a reliever like Lidge enter the conversation? By having a perfect season. Lidge was 41 for 41 in save opportunities. Every time the Phillies called him to the mound to protect a lead, Lidge delivered. While Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels broke the major league record by getting 62 saves this season, he blew 7 saves, meaning 10% of the time he was asked to close out a game, he failed. Lidge's failure rate was 0%, making his season much more impressive than Rodriguez's because he did exactly what his team asked of him every time he went to the mound.

Lidge also has an advantage over the other candidates because he spent the entire year with a team headed to the playoffs. While being on a winning team isn't as important for Cy Young winners as it is for MVP's, Lidge still had to pitch in more big pressure situations as his team was in contention all season long.

While it is difficult to justify that someone who pitches 5 innings a week should be given an award as the best pitcher in the league, Brad Lidge has to be in the conversation. His perfect season from the bullpen has to rank amongst the best efforts by any reliever in history.

Will Brad Lidge win the NL Cy Young award? Probably not, voters will likely choose Brandon Webb, not that it will matter to Lidge. He would much rather win a World Series title anyway.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Phillies/Brewers pitching matchups set

The Phillies and Brewers announced their starters for games 1 and 2 of their playoff series:

Game 1, Wednesday, October 1st:
Brewers (Yovani Gallardo, 0-0) @ Phillies (Cole Hamels, 14-10)

Game 2, Thursday, October 2nd:
Brewers (C.C. Sabathia, 17-10) @ Phillies (Brett Myers, 10-13)

The Phillies also announced that Jamie Moyer will start Game 3. Depending on how the series is going, the Phillies could start Joe Blanton in Game 4 if they have a 2-1 lead or Cole Hamels if they are behind 2-1.

The Brewers have yet to announce a Game 3 starter. Gallardo is an interesting choice to start in Game 1 considering he has only made one start since suffering a major injury five months ago. He helps give the Phillies have a definite advantage in Game 1 while Game 2 definitely has to favor Sabathia and the Brewers. Jamie Moyer would probably have an advantage over whoever the Brewers throw out in Game 3, especially considering Ben Sheets is out for the playoffs. The Brewers rotation is not deep at all, in fact, it really isn't much after C.C. Sabathia.

Eagles come up a yard short against Bears

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
It was a game of missed opportunities for the Birds. Fumbles, interceptions, missed field goals and the ability to gain a yard on three consecutive plays all led to a disappointing loss for the Eagles to the Chicago Bears, 24-20.

As expected, the Eagles played the game without Brian Westbrook, and as expected, the offense was a shell of what we have seen so far this year. The Eagles fell behind early in the game and as they tried to fight their way back in, they found it increasingly difficult as the Bears didn't respect the ground game at all and completely focused on stopping the Eagles aerial attack. And, when the Eagles finally did need their ground game to come through at the goal line and gain one measly yard, the Bears defense proved up to the task and stuffed the Birds.

The only thing that kept the Eagles in the game was the defense, who made big plays (2 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries) and came up with crucial stops throughout the game, except at the very end. With the Bears backed up on the own goal line after stopping the Eagles at the one, the defense failed to stop the Bears from gaining a first down, which allowed Chicago to run the clock way down and gave Donovan McNabb no time to try to win the game.

It was a disappointing loss for the Eagles, who looked poised to win the game with a solid second half effort. Their inability to stick it in the endzone, a problem that plagued them last year, is once again becoming an issue this year. Birds fans will also take no solace in the fact that if Brian Westbrook had played this game, the Eagles would have very likely won. Hopefully he can be ready next week against the first place Redskins, a game that suddenly looks very daunting, considering the Skins just knocked off the Cowboys.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Eagles/Bears Inactives: McNabb in, Westbrook, Smith out

The Eagles and Bears have announced their inactives for tonight's contest:

Eagles: DE Victor Abiamiri, G Shawn Andrews, WR Kevin Curtis, QB A.J. Feeley, G Mike McGlynn, DE Bryan Smith, TE L.J. Smith, RB Brian Westbrook

Bears: WR Earl Bennett, G Dan Buenning, QB Caleb Hanie, DT Tommie Harris, DB Craig Steltz, DT Matt Toeaina, OT Chris Williams

The Eagles are smart to rest Westbrook for this week and hope he is ready to go next week against the Redskins. Correll Buckhalter will start and should be adequate enough to do some damage against the Bears. Losing L.J. Smith isn't a big blow, Brent Celek is not as good in the passing game but he's a much better blocker. Donovan McNabb will suit up, as if there was any doubt that he would play against his hometown team. With all the injuries, Joe Mays finally gets his chance to see some action. We'll see how he does on special teams.

For the Bears, Devin Hester is playing and the Eagles will try to kick away from him at all times. There was some question as to whether WR Brandon Lloyd would suit up, but he's ready to go.

Enjoy the game, GO BIRDS!

Mets falter, bring on the Brewers!

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
The Mets collapse is complete. After C.C. Sabathia pitched the Brewers to a win over the Cubs, the Mets season came to an end as they lost to the Florida Marlins, 4-2. The Mets finished out the season with a 3-6 record to stumble out of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

The Phillies, who finished the season with an 8-3 victory over Washington, now prepare themselves to take on the Brewers. They rested all of their starters today, giving them an extra day to gear up for the first game of the series, which will be Wednesday. The Phils have already announced that Cole Hamels will take the mound for Game One while the Brewers will have to go with someone other than Sabathia since he pitched today. The early advantage has to go to the Phils since they will avoid the Brewers ace for at least one game.

Here is the tentative schedule for the first round playoff series:
Game 1: Brewers @ Phillies, 10/1
Game 2: Brewers @ Phillies, 10/2
Game 3: Phillies @ Brewers, 10/4
Game 4: Phillies @ Brewers, 10/5
Game 5: Phillies @ Brewers, 10/7

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Phillies clinch second straight NL East title!

Why wait until the last game of the season when you can do it in the second to last game of the season? Last year the Phillies all made us wait until the last day to wrap up the NL East division but this season the Phillies managed to do themselves one better and clinch the division on the penultimate day of the 2008 season.

The similarities between last season's clinching game and this season's were numerous. The Phillies clinched against the Nationals at home both times. Jamie Moyer was the winning pitcher in both contests. In both games, the Phillies closer was on the mound for the final out, although last season Brett Myers cruised in the 9th inning while Brad Lidge ran into some trouble this season. Lidge came dangerously close to blowing his first save of the season, loading the bases with only one out in the 9th. Luckily, he forced Ryan Zimmerman to ground into a game-ending double play to earn his 41st save of the season.

The Phillies now enter the postseason for the second straight year. The last time they made the playoffs two years in a row was 1980 and 1981. Hopefully the Phils will fare better this postseason than last season, although they would only need to win a single game to have a better showing. Who they will play has yet to be determined.

With the Mets winning today and the Brewers losing, the two teams are now tied for the Wild Card. The Phillies would play the Brewers in the first round of the playoffs if they win the Wild Card and they would play the Dodgers if the Mets win the Wild Card. The Dodgers are the better opponent with a quality pitching staff, but the Brewers have C.C. Sabathia and a formidable lineup.

We'll worry about who they will play later. For now, enjoy the Phillies, the TWO TIME NL EAST CHAMPIONS!!!!

Flyers say goodbye to Spectrum, hello to Simon Gagne

While the Flyers are still gearing up for the regular season, they played one of their most important preseason games Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. Not only was this preseason game the final time the Flyers would play another NHL team in the old Spectrum, the game also featured the return of Simon Gagne, who hadn't taken the ice for the Flyers since February 10th.

The Spectrum, which was the home of the last Philadelphia sports franchise to win a championship, got a proper send-off today as the Flyers welcomed back a number of former team captains to celebrate the history of the building. Captains like Bobby Clarke, Eric Desjardins and Bill Barber were all honored before the game, although there were a few notable former captains who were absent from the ceremony, like Eric Lindros and last years captain, Jason Smith. The Flyers haven't played their final game in the Spectrum, as they will play one more game in the building against their minor league affiliate, the Phantoms, on October 7th.

Even more important for the current Flyers squad was the return of Simon Gagne to the ice. While Gagne didn't score a goal, he did have an assist and looked smooth on the ice as he shook off some of the rust. The Flyers experimented for most of the game with their new first line that features Gagne on the left wing, Mike Richards at center and Danny Briere on the other wing. If Gagne returns to his 30 goal form, that line will be a force.

As for the game itself, the Flyers defeated the Hurricanes 4-2. Richards showed all of the former Flyer captains in the building that the Flyers are in good hands with their current captain, scoring a pair of shorthanded goals. Richards has had a phenomenal preseason, scoring 4 goals so far, and he looks more than ready for the season to start. Braydon Coburn also added a goal and an assist for the Flyers.

The Flyers should be happy with the sendoff they have given to the Spectrum. They played their last NHL game in the building and went out the way they came in: a winner.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Howard, Utley push Phillies to threshold of clinching division

(AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr.)
And just like that the magic number is down to one. With tonight's win by the Phillies over the Nationals coupled with the Mets loss to the Marlins, the Phils have widened their division lead to 2 games with 2 games left to play. That means that the Phils have to win just one more game or the Mets would have to lose one more game for the Phillies to clinch the NL East. As it is, the Phillies have at least guaranteed themselves a one game playoff for the division should they lose out and the Mets win out.

Tonight's heroes were two players who you would expect to come through when it mattered: Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. The Phillies jumped on the Nationals early when Howard hit a 3-run homer in the first inning and Utley followed in the second inning with a bases loaded 3-run double. Howard finished the day with 4 RBI after he doubled in Utley in the 2nd and the Phillies cruised to an 8-4 win. Joe Blanton started the game for the Phillies and, despite his inconsistent pitching over the last few months, ran his National League record to a perfect 4-0.

The Mets did the exact opposite of the Phillies as they fell behind the Marlins in the 1st inning and never came back, losing 6-1. The Mets then got more bad news when they watched the Brewers beat the Cubs because it pushed them a game behind Milwaukee for the Wild Card lead.

The Phillies now have 90 wins on the season. Want a good sign for the upcoming playoffs? Just look at the last three times the Phillies won 90 games in a season: 1980 (91), 1983 (90) and 1993 (97), all seasons where the Phillies went to the World Series. Sorry National League-favorite Cubs, you can't argue with history!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mets win, Phillies magic number stays at 3

For once, the Mets were on the other end of a comeback win. On Thursday, The Mets were behind 6-3 to the Cubs and fought back with 3 combined runs in the 7th and 8th innings before winning in the 9th on a Carlos Beltran single with Jose Reyes at second. The win pulls the Mets to within a game of first place in the NL East and also keeps tied atop the Wild Card standings.

If the Mets had lost, the Phillies would have found themselves in a much better situation. As it stands, with 3 games left, the Phillies will need a combination of 3 wins and Mets losses to clinch the division. They are still in the drivers seat for the division but the only way they are guaranteed to win the division is if they win out. If they happen to go 2-1 in their last 3 games and the Mets go undefeated, the two teams will be tied. The Phillies still have a slight advantage in the remaining schedules of the three teams fighting for the last two spots in the National League:

Phillies: 3 vs. Nationals

Mets: 3 vs. Marlins

Brewers: 3 vs. Cubs

The Marlins still have some fight in them so the Mets will have their hands full. The Nationals always play the Phillies tough but they haven't had anything to play for for months.

I still love the Phillies chances of winning the division but it's now put up or shut up time. It's time for the Phillies to win out and gear up for the first round of the playoffs.

A Shift in Power: NFL Week Four Predictions

We are just 3 weeks into the NFL season, so it's a bit early to make rash judgments, but it sure seems like the balance of power has shifted from the AFC to the NFC. For years, the NFC has played second fiddle while teams like the Patriots, Colts and Steelers dominated the league. Now, with the Brady-less Patriots out of the picture, the Colts struggling and the Steelers getting whupped by the Eagles, it appears that the NFC has taken control. According to ESPN, the best 3 teams in the league reside in the NFC East and one could make a case that the Packers belong in the conversation somewhere near the top. Over in the AFC, things are so upside down, at the start of the season no one would have been able to predict the 4 current division leaders. You'd be a rich man if you bet that the Bills, Ravens, Titans and Broncos would be ahead in their respective divisions after 3 weeks.

Of course, like I said, it's still really early. Teams can start the season strong and fade quickly, whether it's due to a schedule getting stronger or an injury. I'm willing to bet anyone that the 4 teams atop the AFC divisions won't all still be there in 3 weeks.

Now, on to my Week 4 predictions. I'm still well above .500 with my picks but I am still looking to improve. Remember, bye weeks also start this week, so there are 3 fewer games. Like always, all picks are made strictly based on who I think will win and do not take the spread into consideration.

Record Last Week: 11-5, .688
Overall Record: 30-17, .638

Byes: Lions, Colts, Dolphins, Patriots, Giants, Seahawks

Sunday Day Games:

Browns (0-3) @ Bengals (0-3) Both teams desperately need this game. Carson Palmer and the Bengals need it just to get into the win column while Derek Anderson needs a win and needs to save his job. If Anderson stinks again this week, I fully expect Brady Quinn to take over the starting job after the Browns bye week. The Bengals gave the defending champs a scare last week but they couldn't seal the deal when it mattered. Maybe Chad Ocho Cinco should change his name back since he hasn't won a game since he legally changed his name? My pick: Playing for his career, Derek Anderson will carry the Browns over the Bengals in a high scoring contest

Vikings (1-2) @ Titans (3-0) This one is the battle of journeymen starting quarterbacks. Both teams are remarkably similar in that regard, considering they replaced their young, black, throwing-challenged quarterbacks with aging, white, game-managers. The big difference between the two teams is that Tennesse has an elite defense while the Vikings only have an above-average one. My pick: The Titans in a low-scoring affair

Broncos (3-0) @ Chiefs (0-3) Jay Cutler now has to be amongst the top 5 quarterbacks in the league. Seriously, besides Romo, Manning and a healthy Brady, what other quarterbacks would you want running your team? Cutler has helped to give the Broncos offense a passing attack it hasn't had since a certain #7 played for them. It's a good thing the Broncos have Cutler because their defense isn't stopping anyone, forcing them into shootouts every week. Of course, they play the Chiefs this week, who top out at about 17 points in a game. My pick: Broncos by 2 touchdowns

49ers (2-1) @ Saints (1-2) This one could be high scoring. When you pair the defensively challenged Saints with a Mike Martz offense, you should expect lots of points. Luckily for the Saints, their aerial attack still lives on despite Marques Colston being out. Now if only they could actually run the ball. I can't figure out which 2-1 team is worse, the Falcons or the Niners. Both teams have benefited from easy early schedules and will soon fall. My pick: The Saints pull this one out in the end

Cardinals (2-1) @ Jets (1-2) The Brett Favre era has kicked off with a whimper. Of course, the problem with the Jets isn't really the offense, it's the 27 points a game they are giving up. Their loss to the Patriots in Week 2 looks a lot worse after the lowly Dolphins destroyed the Pats. The Cardinals could actually be for real. With their offense clicking the way it is, they certainly are the best team in the NFC West. Surprisingly, their defense is also the best in the division, but I guess that isn't saying much. My pick: Cardinals

Packers (2-1) @ Bucs (2-1) This one is a battle of two first place teams, although the Packers are in first place more by default in the weak NFC North. The NFC South isn't much stronger, but at least all the teams are about equal. Equally mediocre. Am I the only one who is surprised that Brian Griese has held on to the job for so long in Tampa? For a guy who supposedly loves collecting quarterbacks, it has to be killing Jon Gruden to have one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league. Then again, Jeff Garcia isn't really a better option. My pick: Packers on the road

Falcons (2-1) @ Panthers (2-1) Michael Turner has been boom or bust this season, but with matchups against the Panthers, Packers and Bears in the next three weeks, expect him to be more of a bust. The Panthers aren't particularly impressive, but they should put together enough offense to put the Falcons away. The Falcons defense has been surprising so far this year, but it's not like they've actually had to play anyone good. My pick: Panthers

Texans (0-2) @ Jaguars (1-2) Just when you think you can count out the Jaguars because of their injury-plauged offensive line they step up and run all over the Bob Sanders-less Colts. The Jags ran for 236 yards against the Colts, twice as much as they had in the first two weeks combined. Some people supported the Texans as a possible sleeper playoff team this year but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. It's more likely that Matt Schaub gets benched than he carries Houston to the playoffs. My pick: Jaguars

Chargers (1-2) @ Raiders (1-2) Like the Jaguars, the Chargers appear to be back. The best thing about their win Monday Night over the Jets was that LT actually played the whole game. Having him creeping closer to being healthy and adding in Philip Rivers' continued improvement, it looks like the Chargers will bounce back from a slow start for the second year in a row. The Raiders are a total mess. They just need to fire Lane Kifflin and move on already. They won't be a playoff contender again until Al Davis is out of the picture which only happens when they pry the team from his cold, dead hands. My pick: Chargers

Bills (3-0) @ Rams (0-3) This one already looked like a one-sided affair and then the Rams went ahead and benched Marc Bulger for Trent Green and completely sealed the outcome for this game. While I'm not surprised Bulger is benched, I can't believe they are turning to Green to resurrect this sorry season. While Green does have a connection with offensive coordinator Al Saunders, he hasn't been effective since 2005, and frankly I'm surprised he's still in the league. One more blow to the head and he could be permanently injured. My pick: Bills in a blowout

Redskins (2-1) @ Cowboys (3-0) The Cowboys won't go undefeated this season, but I really don't seem them having too many problems with the teams on the rest of their regular season schedule. The games against the Giants will be tough and of course they play the Eagles in Week 17, but both teams could have clinched playoff spots by then. The real challenge now with the Cowboys comes in the playoffs, where Tony Romo has come up small every time. The Redskins are the worst team in the NFC East, but they are still better than most of the rest of the NFC. Jason Campbell has looked surprisingly good but there is no way they can put up enough points to keep up with the Cowboys. My pick: Cowboys

Sunday Night Game:

Eagles (2-1) @ Bears (1-2) The Eagles are incredibly banged up offensively. Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis, L.J. Smith and Shawn Andrews are all dealing with injuries. Of that list, I would expect all of them to play against Chicago except Westbrook and Curtis. Of course those two are the Eagles best running back and wide receiver, but I still think the Eagles will beat the Bears. With the way the defense shut down the Steelers last week, there is no reason to expect the Bears to put up more than 10 points on the Eagles. Of course, a healthy McNabb can will an offense with backup receivers and running backs to 10 points in his sleep. While I don't think McNabb's chest injury is all that serious, if it slows him down at all this could be a tough game for the Eagles. The Bears don't scare me and they shouldn't scare the Eagles. Their defense is still good, but Kyle Orton and a cast of nobodies on offense won't get it done. My pick: Eagles

Monday Night Game:

Ravens (2-0) @ Steelers (2-1) The Ravens reign atop the AFC North ends when this game ends. I expect the Steelers to bounce back this week and prove to the league that they are better than they showed against the Eagles. Willie Parker is out, which means Rashard Mendenhall will get a chance to step in and prove he was worth a first round pick. If the Steelers can give Ben Roethlisberger some time in the pocket (a pretty big if), the Steelers should win this one easily. My pick: Steelers

So those are my picks for Week Four. If you agree or disagree or have picks of your own, feel free to leave comments!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The NFC East is a Beast: ESPN NFL Power Rankings

I don't normally take too much stock in the ESPN Power Rankings but their Week 4 rankings reflect how dominant the NFC East has been this season: ESPN has ranked the Cowboys first, the Giants second and the Eagles third. It's not only a statement about how good those three teams have looked, it's also difficult to argue with. Who in the NFL has been better this season? The Colts are 1-2. The Patriots have fallen mightily. The Steelers got manhandled by the Eagles last week. The Bills and Titans haven't proven anything yet. With the Cowboys beating the Packers last week, there isn't anyone else in the NFC who measures up.

Need more proof of the NFC East's dominance? The NFC East as a whole is 10-2. The only 2 games they have lost are against each other, meaning the division is undefeated (8-0) against non-division opponents. The Eagles are 2-1 and are tied for last place in the division. The Redskins, who are ranked 15th in the ESPN Power Rankings, have won two straight since losing to the Giants in Week One.

The NFC East is truly a beast. There has to be a way for all four teams to make the playoffs. Let's just leave the winner of the crappy NFC West out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Phils win, Mets lose, Magic Number now at 4

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
The Phillies just keep on winning, especially against the Braves. The Phillies won for the 10th time in 11 games, beating the Braves 6-2 to raise their record to 14-2 against Atlanta for the season. The win, coupled with another loss by the Mets, puts the Phillies 2.5 games ahead of New York in the NL East. The Phillies magic number now sits at 4, meaning that any combination of Phillie wins and Met losses that adds up to 4 will clinch the division for Philadelphia. With 5 games left, the division now looks like a lock, barring a Mets-like collapse by the Phillies.

In Monday's game, the Phillies got another strong outing by J.A. Happ, his second in a row against Atlanta. While Happ didn't shut out the Braves like he did last week, he only allowed 2 runs in 6 and 2/3rds innings, striking out 5. Offensively for the Phillies, Jayson Werth drove in the game winning run on a groundout in the 8th inning and Pat Burrell followed with a 3-run homer to give the Phils a cushion to work with.

The Mets lost to the Cubs, their third loss in a row. The Mets are not only in danger of losing the NL East, but they only have a 1 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers for the Wild Card. Are we really seeing another massive choke job by the Mets, their second in as many years? The Phillies have been amazing down the stretch, but they have certainly been helped by the Mets, who have won only 3 of their last 9.

Flyers kick off exhibition season with win

(AP Photo/H. Rumph, Jr.)
The Flyers are back on the ice! It's only preseason, but the Flyers kicked off their exhibition season with a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Monday night. Steve Downie scored a pair of goals for the Flyers, who played the game without most of their star players. In NHL exhibition games, teams only have to suit up a few veteran players, so you won't be seeing much of Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen, especially early on. Besides Downie, the veteran Flyer players that did play included new captain Mike Richards, forwards Jeff Carter, Scottie Upshall, Scott Hartnell, and Riley Cote along with defensemen Braydon Coburn and Ryan Parent and newcomers Ossi Vaananen and Steve Eminger. Martin Biron also played some of the game in net and rookie Cluade Giroux suited up. Richards and Upshall scored the other two goals for the Flyers and Biron shut out the Devils for two periods. The Flyers next exhibition game is Wednesday against the Senators. It's great to see the Flyers back in action again, I can't wait to see what they can do for an encore this year!

Eagles Injury Update: McNabb OK, Westbrook Day to Day

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Yesterday was a tough day for the two most important players on the Eagles, Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook.  McNabb was injured late in the first half against the Steelers, hurting his chest.  He would later return to the game and played well.  Westbrook, on the other hand, never returned after injuring his ankle in the second quarter.  He was later seen on crutches as he left the game.

Eagles fans feared the worst as both players were scheduled for MRI's Monday.  Fortunately, the news is pretty good for both players.  McNabb has a contusion in his upper chest and will be sore, but won't miss any time.  Westbrook's MRI revealed that he has a strained ankle and Andy Reid called him "day to day".  I would doubt that Westbrook will play next weekend against the Bears, but at least he doesn't appear to be out for any extended period of time.

It appears that Eagles fans can all exhale now.  The two most valuable components to the offense don't have serious injuries.  It looks like we might have to see one more week of Correll Buckhalter as the feature back, but we won't be seeing Kevin Kolb anytime soon.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Eagles defense comes up huge against Steelers, Westbrook injured

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Talk about a completely different game from the Monday Night shootout in Dallas. The Eagles and Steelers play an old fashioned, defense-first football in a low scoring slugfest that the Eagles won 15-6. The Eagles defense was the story of the game, putting a ton of pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and shutting down Willie Parker and the Steelers running game. Unfortunately for the Eagles, while they did win the game, they may have lost their best player in the process.

The Steelers offense, considered one of the better in the league, managed only 191 yards through the air and 33 on the ground. The Eagles blitzed constantly, something we didn't see in the Dallas game, and got to the quarterback repeatedly, as they sacked Roethlisberger 8 times, forced him to fumble twice and picked off one of his passes. Roethlisberger was battered all day and even left the game late in the 4th quarter with an injury. On the ground, Willie Parker rushed for a mere 20 yards on 13 carries as the Eagles never let the Steelers get into any kind of rhythm offensively.

The Eagles offense also wasn't able to get too many points on the board, but they put together a few solid drives early in the game to get out to a lead and never looked back. The Eagles moved the ball pretty well all game, but a pair of interceptions and a Tony Hunt fumble kept them from scoring more points.

The Eagles did have a pair of injuries to their two superstars on offense, Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook, which helped stifle their attack. McNabb injured his chest late in the first half but returned to the game and looked fine, but Westbrook hurt his ankle early in the game and went to the locker room and never returned. Correll Buckhalter played well in his absence, scoring the only touchdown of the game, but we all know how neutered the Eagles offensive attack can be without Brian Westbrook.

The bottom line for this game is that the Eagles defense, after getting burned repeatedly last week against the Cowboys, stepped up and won the game for the Birds. The Eagles went a long way towards proving they belong in the coversation of who the best team in the league is, especially if they can get a good game from both sides of the ball at some point this season. While we will all nervously wait to see how serious the injury is to Brian Westbrook, Eagles fans should be happy that the Eagles split a pair of games against two of the NFL's elite teams in the Cowboys and Steelers. Looking at their 2-1 record and the teams the get to play the next few weeks, the Eagles are in a solid position. Of course, if Westbrook is out for any period of time, that solid position begins to look pretty shaky.

Phillies edge Marlins, stretch NL East lead

(AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)
After losing the first game to the Marlins, a game that dropped them into second place, the Phillies won the remaining two games against Florida to push back into first place in the NL East. With the Mets losing again to the Braves today, the Phils lead currently sits at 1.5 games.

The Phillies won for the 9th time in 10 games due to solid starting pitching and clutch hitting. Jamie Moyer had a strong outing, just like he always seems to have in big games, going 6 innings and only giving up 1 run. The bullpen relieved him in the 7th, and although they did give up a run in the 7th, they managed to lock it down in the 8th and 9th to preserve the victory.

Offensively, Jimmy Rollins had a nice game, going 3 for 5 with a stolen base, a run scored and an RBI. Chase Utley also hit a homer, his first since August 22nd, and Pedro Feliz added a pinch-hit two-run shot in the 8th to give the Phils a nice cushion late in the game.

With 6 games left to play, the Phillies appear to be closing in on a playoff spot. They have a 1.5 game lead in the division, and if they should falter, they would be leading the Wild Card by a couple of games as well. The Mets still have one extra game which could help them cut the gap or fall even further back. New York still has a tougher schedule than the Phils, considering they have to play two competitive teams in the Cubs (although they have clinched their division already) and Marlins while the Phillies get to play the Braves, who they have owned this season, and the last place Nationals. Here is the remaining schedule for the 3 teams battling over 2 playoff spots in the National League:

Phillies: 3 vs. Braves, 3 vs. Nationals

Mets: 4 vs. Cubs, 3 vs. Marlins

Brewers: 3 vs. Pirates, 3 vs. Cubs

Eagles/Steelers Inactives: Brown in, Andrews out

The Eagles and Steelers have announced their inactives for this afternoon's showdown:

Eagles: DE Victor Abiamiri, G Shawn Andrews, WR Kevin Curtis, QB A.J. Feeley, LB Joe Mays, G Mike McGlynn, DE Bryan Smith, TE Matt Schobel

Steelers: LB Bruce Davis, QB Dennis Dixon, T Trai Essex, T Tony Hills, DE Brett Keisel, WR Limas Sweed, CB Deshea Townsend, LB Donovan Woods

As expected, Andrews is unable to go, meaning Max Jean-Gilles will be the starter at guard. Reggie Brown is finally back, but all indications are that he won't be starting. The rest of the inactive list is pretty much the same, although Winston Justice will suit up this week and the Eagles have benched their third tight end, Schobel. Justice is probably needed for insurance along the line with Jean-Gilles starting. Mike Gibson and Bryan Smith have swapped every other week, Gibson gets the nod this week for more depth along the offensive line.

The Steelers don't have any big names out.

Enjoy the game, GO EAGLES!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Parity Reigns Supreme: NFL Week Three Predictions

With the exception of a few botched calls, the NFL couldn't have asked for a better start to the season. There have been a large number of games coming down to the final moments, thrilling come from behind wins and shocking upsets. The NFL has this parity thing down pat, which makes it even more difficult to figure out who is going to win each week.

Yes, there are the terrible teams that you can pick against every week like Kansas City, St. Louis and Detroit. And, there are the stacked teams that have looked unbeatable so far, like Dallas and Pittsburgh. But, in between the cream of the crop and the bottom feeders, there is the great unwashed middle of the NFL, where any team can beat any other team on any given week.Niners over Seahawks? Sure! Bills over Jaguars in Jacksonville? Why not!

It is with the thought that anything can happen that I make my Week Three predictions. Like always, all picks are made strictly based on who I think will win and do not take the spread into consideration.

Record Last Week: 9-6, .600
Overall Record: 19-12, .613

Sunday Day Games:

Chiefs @ Falcons This is just the opponent that Matt Ryan and the Falcons need after struggling against the Bucs last week. Look for Michael Turner to get closer to his Week One rushing total (220) than his Week Two total (42). Also, will somebody tell Larry Johnson that if he wants more than 12 carries in a game, he should try to average more than 1.8 yards per attempt. My pick: It's nice to see the Falcons get a 2-1 start to their season. They probably won't be above .500 again all year long. In fact, they'll be lucky to win 2 more games all season.

Raiders @ Bills Allright, I'm finally starting to buy into the Buffalo Bills. With a decent running game, strong defense and a surprisingly efficient passing attack, the Bills could be a contender in the wide open AFC East. The Raiders beat an awful Chiefs team even though they only passed for 55 yards. That isn't going to work against the Bills, who are good enough against the run that JaMarcus Russell will actually have to do something to earn a win. My pick: Bills in a rout

Bucs @ Bears These two team are nearly identical to me. They have identical records (1-1), the same number of points against (33) and nearly the same number of points for (46-44). They both have mediocrity at quarterback and an aging but decent defense. The only difference is Chicago has played well against two pretty good opponents while the Bucs haven't really played anyone yet. My pick: Bears at home by a field goal. It will be a low scoring game and sure to bore anyone who isn't a diehard Bears or Bucs fan

Texans @ Titans The Kerry Collins era began again in Tennessee, and the Titans are better off for it. I have a feeling that having a quarterback who can actually throw the ball will help them in the long run. Pairing an actual aerial threat to the two-headed running back attack of Lendale White and Chris Johnson makes a team that used to solely rely on their defense a well-rounded club. There isn't too much new to say about the Texans, although it's not a good thing when your bye week is wasted preparing for a game that never happened. The players didn't get any time to relax as they mentally focused on the Ravens in a game that got moved to later in the season. That will hurt them down the stretch. My pick: Titans

Panthers @ Vikings Can the Panthers really start the season 3-0? Better yet, can everybody's surprise pick to make the Super Bowl, the Vikings, really start a season 0-3? The Vikings have had some tough luck with a rough schedule, but how do they lose two games where Adrian Peterson rushes for over 100 yards? Replacing Tarvaris Jackson with Gus Frerotte should only help the offense. The Panthers get Steve Smith back this week and I'll give a thousand bucks to anyone who though the Panthers would be 2-0 with their biggest offensive weapon on the sideline. My pick: I should know better, but I think the Vikings finally pull one out. They can't possibly start 0-3, can they?

Dolphins @ Patriots I guess the demise of the Patriots isn't coming as soon as we all thought. Matt Casell is doing his best Tom Brady (circa 2001) impression as he manages the game. The Pats can win some games like that, but eventually Randy Moss is going to get annoyed if he doesn't get some big plays. An angered Moss can cause some major problems in the locker room, just ask the Raiders. The Dolphins are much better than they were last year, unfortunately they won't be showing it in the win column just yet. My pick: Patriots

Bengals @ Giants The Bengals are another team that I keep thinking can't possibly be as bad as they look. Carson Palmer looks to be half the quarterback he was two years ago and the defense is still one of the worst in the league. This game is almost too easy to predict, which makes me think that we might see a big upset. Still, how can you pick against the defending champs at home, especially when they look like they have picked up right where they left off last season? My pick: Giants

Cardinals @ Redskins It's hard to get a good read on Arizona. They are 2-0 to start the season for the first time I can ever remember, but they have beat the 49ers and the Dolphins, two pretty awful teams. Their offense looks scary good with Kurt Warner still flinging it all over the field to Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Their biggest question is the defense. The Redskins outplayed the Saints last weekend but I still don't think they're all that good. My pick: Cardinals on the road

Lions @ 49ers I just pointed out that the 49ers are awful, but the Lions are even worse. I can't believe the Niners are going to start the season 2-1 with a third-string quarterback as the helm. Detroit needs to get rid of anyone not named Calvin Johnson and start this team over. My pick: 49ers

Rams @ Seahawks This one is a battle of the totally defeated. Unfortunately for the Rams, there are teams that are 0-2 because they are bad and teams that are 0-2 because they are starting slow. I still think the Seahawks will regroup and win the weak NFC West and it will all start with this game at home against the pathetic Rams. My pick: Seahawks. Even though Matt Hasselbeck has no one to throw to, it's not like they have to put up too many points to beat the Rams.

Saints @ Broncos Somehow, when I wasn't paying attention, Jay Cutler went from a mediocre quarterback to one of the best in the league. Cutler has looked great so far this season, putting up 300 passing yards in each of the first two weeks. This Broncos team can't quite run the ball like the Denver teams of old but when you have Cutler throwing to Brandon Marshall 20 times a game, you don't need to run. The Saints should have beaten the Redskins last week, but the loss of Marques Colston really takes a bite out of their offense. They now have to rely on Reggie Bush to be a bigger threat, and that's never a good thing. My pick: Broncos

Steelers @ Eagles When I originally made my predictions for how the Eagles would fare each week of the season, I thought they would lose this game. Now, after seeing Donovan McNabb returning to form and using his legs to keep plays alive, I am changing my pick. With Brian Westbrook looking unstoppable and DeSean Jackson emerging, the offense looks to be re-gaining it's elite form. Plus, McNabb will get another target to throw to this week as Reggie Brown returns to the field. The Eagles defense wasn't nearly as bad as it looked on Monday Night, the Cowboys offense simply overpowered it. The Steelers are a good team, I just think they won't be able to put up enough points to keep up with the Eagles. My pick: Eagles

Jaguars @ Colts Before the season started, I pinpointed this game as a showdown between two teams looking for the upper hand in the AFC South. Two weeks into the season, both teams are just trying to keep their heads above water. The winless Jaguars are a mess right now as their offensive line is in complete shambles. Their entire offense is based on their ability to run the ball so not having a healthy line is killing them. The Colts look like a team that is ready to put together a complete game. After slumbering for 6 quarters to start the season, Peyton Manning and the offense woke up and started playing at the level we are used to. Consider the first two games a warmup for Manning, he should have things clicking in no time. My pick: Colts

Browns @ Ravens The Browns can't really be this bad, can they? After playing two tough opponents in the first two weeks, this weeks matchup against the Ravens should be when the offense breaks out. Derek Anderson better hope it does, or he is going to find himself holding a clipboard. My pick: Browns

Sunday Night Game:

Cowboys @ Packers It really pains me to keep praising the Cowboys, but they looked really good on Monday Night, at least offensively. Their defense was another story, but just like the Eagles D, I think the Cowboys D was better than they looked on Monday. The Packers defense is another story, they will have to get their act together if they want to keep Tony Romo and Terrell Owens in check. Aaron Rodgers is proving himself to be a good quarterback, but I don't think he's ready to put up the number of points it's going to take to beat the Cowboys. He'll put up a valiant effort just like he did last year against Dallas, but ultimately Rodgers will fall short. My pick: Cowboys

Monday Night Game:

Jets @ Chargers The Chargers have had some bad luck so far this season. They lost in the last second in Week One and they were absolutely robbed in Week Two. I think the third time is the charm and they knock off the Jets. The defense is too strong and there is too much talent on this team to let them slip to 0-3. Thank goodness that this game is on Monday Night and not Sunday Night because John Madden would have had a heart attack as he endlessly talked about Brett Favre. As it is, the over/under for number of times Tony Kornheiser mentions Favre's name is set at 50, and I'm taking the over. My pick: Chargers

So those are my picks for Week Three. If you agree or disagree or have picks of your own, feel free to leave comments!

Phillies own Atlanta, finish 9 for 9 against Braves in the ATL

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)
The Phillies continue to roll by beating the teams they are supposed to, like the lowly Atlanta Braves. The Phils completed their third 3 game sweep of the Braves in Atlanta this season, making it 9 victories over the Braves in Atlanta, a record sweep for any visiting team playing the Braves. To say the Phillies own the Braves this season is fair, considering their 13-2 record overall against them. The win was also the 7th in a row for the Phillies who managed to stay a half game ahead of the Mets, who also won again today.

The Phils won Thursdays game 4-3 on the strength of a quality outing by Cole Hamels, who pitched 6 innings and gave up two runs while striking out 5. Offensively, the Phillies scored early on a Jayson Werth double and MVP Ryan Howard's sacrifice fly in the first inning and then Pat Burrell homered in the 6th and they never looked back.

Up next for the Phils is the Florida Marlins, a team that the Phillies have not had as much success against. The Phils record against Florida is 6-9 and they have lost 4 of the 5 series they have played with the Marlins. The Mets get to play the Braves next so the Phillies will have to step it up if they want to stay in first place. Luckily, the Phils still have 3 more games with the Braves coming up next week. Here is the remaining schedule for the three teams vying for two playoff spots in the NL:

Phillies: 3 @ Marlins, 3 vs. Braves, 3 vs. Nationals

Mets: 3 @ Braves, 4 vs. Cubs, 3 vs. Marlins

Brewers: 3 @ Reds, 3 vs. Pirates, 3 vs. Cubs

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No surprise: Flyers name Richards Captain

In a move that was obvious to anyone who follows the Flyers, Mike Richards was named the new team captain today. Despite having just 3 years of experience in the NHL, Richards has shown tremendous leadership qualities and always plays hard. Since he made his debut with the Flyers, it has more been a question of "when" he would be captain, not "if". Expect Richards to be the Flyers captain for a number of years considering his contract doesn't run out until 2016.

The Flyers also named Simon Gagne and Kimmo Timonen as the alternate captains. Timonen was probably the only other player considered for the captaincy and could have been given the role if Richards wasn't deemed ready. The Flyers captain last season was Jason Smith, who signed with the Ottawa Senators this offseason.

Phillies = First Place, Ryan Howard = MVP

(AP Photo/John Amis)
The Phillies are back where they belong. Thanks to a huge day at the plate by Ryan Howard, the Phillies beat the Braves 8-7, and, with the Mets losing again, vaulted back into first place in the NL East. The Phillies have now won 5 games in a row while the Mets have now lost 4 of their last 5. Seems a lot like 2007, doesn't it?

Howard went 4 for 5 in tonight's contest, including the game winning home run in the 8th inning. Howard also his career-high 3rd triple of the season and drove in 3 total runs in the game. It's now time to add Ryan Howard's name to the NL MVP discussion. In a year where no one seems to be a run-away choice for the award, how can you not consider a guy who leads the majors in homers and RBIs by a wide margin? Howard's 45 homers put him ahead of Adam Dunn by 8 and his 136 RBIs put him ahead of Justin Morneau by 10. The knock on Howard is the strikeouts (190) and the batting average (.249) but he has been much improved at the plate since the All-Star break, hitting .262 and striking out once every 3.4 at bats, which is an improvement over his first half where he hit .234 and struck out once every 2.8 at bats. Plus, Howard is a top player on a team that looks like they are headed for the playoffs.

I'm not saying that Ryan Howard should win the MVP if the season ended today, but at this point his name has to be entered into consideration. Most "experts" think that Chase Utley is the better candidate from the Phillies, but he has had too many long stretches where he looks normal, and his batting average will end up below .300. Albert Pujols seems to be the experts choice right now for MVP, but his team isn't even going to make the playoffs. Howard's numbers make him an unconventional choice, but since there isn't a clear cut winner, it might be a season where an unconventional pick makes sense.

The Phillies are back where they belong and Ryan Howard should be back where he belongs: amongst the best in the league.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Flyers goalie Niittymaki has surgery, out 4-6 weeks

The Flyers will be opening camp soon, and they will find themselves without a backup goaltender. Antero Niittymaki, the backup to starter Martin Biron, had surgery on his left hip last week, and will miss 4 to 6 weeks as he recovers. Niitymaki's surgery was considered minor, but he will still miss the start of the regular season, meaning the Flyers will need to look elsewhere, at least for a few games, for a backup goaltender.

One option for the Flyers will be their former 1st round pick, Maxime Ouellet, who was invited to training camp following the Niitymaki surgery. Ouellet was drafted by the Flyers back in 1999 and then traded in the infamous Adam Oates deal. Ouellet never turned into the star goaltender that he was projected to be as he has bounced around the AHL and played only a few games in the NHL with the Washington Capitals and the Vancouver Canucks. If he earns the backup spot at the beginning of the year, he likely won't last long once Niittymaki is ready to play. The Flyers could also use Phantom Scott Munroe as a backup for a short period of time.

Check back on this site regularly for news on the Flyers. With preseason games starting next week and the season less than a month away, there should be plenty of Flyers news to discuss.

Tough loss to swallow for the Eagles

(AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
I have just a few quick thoughts after a draining Eagles loss to the Cowboys on Monday Night:

-First of all, it was a tremendous game, at least offensively. Lots of big plays and tons of scoring made it a very entertaining game. I just wonder what happened to the defense in this one. Yeah, the Eagles forced Tony Romo into a few big turnovers, but they couldn't make the big stops when they needed them.

-The Eagles offense was good but not great. Donovan McNabb looked solid for most of the game when he had time to find his receivers, but as the game wore on the Cowboys pressure was forcing him to do too much. It also didn't help that the Eagles have several third string wide receivers that probably had trouble getting open, but McNabb had to do too much dancing in the pocket. He definately looks like the young, nimble McNabb of a few years ago, but he can't do it all on his own.

-DeSean Jackson is a bonehead. See my previous post for the video. At least he made up for it with several nice catches later in the game.

-The last play in the game was also stupid. What is Andy Reid thinking calling a dumb hook and ladder play withthe game on the line? It was 4th and 17, not 4th and 40. McNabb could have easily found someone open downfield if a better play was called.

-The special teams took a step back tonight. They looked more like the 2007 Eagles special teams in how they gave up the big return for a touchdown and had a few penalties on returns of their own. Jackson never had any room to make any plays on his punt returns because no one blocked for him.

The loss is a tough one for the Eagles and their fans, but it's not the end of the world, nor the end of the season for that matter. The Eagles showed that they are just as good as the Cowboys, and a few bounces or a few less fumbles would have led to a win for the Birds. Things don't get any easier against the undefeated Steelers next week, but at least that game is at home. The Eagles defense will need to step things up against Pittsburgh because the Steelers D won't let Philly put up 37 points.

Monday, September 15, 2008

DeSean Jackson is a bonehead

There's no excuse for this play. I love the guy, but you can't do something like this in the NFL:

At least the Eagles still had the ball and scored on the next play.

Eagles/Cowboys Inactives for Monday Night: Brown still out

The Eagles and Cowboys announced their inactive players for the Monday Night Showdown:

Eagles: DE Victor Abiamiri, WR Reggie Brown, WR Kevin Curtis, QB A.J. Feeley, G Mike Gibson, OT Winston Justice, LB Joe Mays, G Mike McGlynn

Cowboys: CB Alan Ball, QB Brooks Bollinger, DE Stephen Bowen, S Courtney Brown, OT Doug Free, G Montrae Holland, WR Sam Hurd, G Kyle Kosier.

The Eagles list is almost exactly the same as last week, except Mike Gibson sits out while DE Bryan Smith gets to suit up. The Eagles will once again rely on DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, Hank Baskett and Greg Lewis to do the receiving, although I expect a heavy does of Brian Westbrook tonight. The Cowboys don't have any surprise inactives, they seem healthy and ready to go.

Enjoy the game tonight, GO BIRDS!!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Phillies sweep their way to Wild Card tie

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Just when you think they're done, they drag you right back into it. Just a few days ago, things seemed dismal for the Phillies, who trailed the Mets by 4 games in the NL East and trailed the Brewers by 4 games for the Wild Card. With around 15 games left to play, those leads seemed nearly insurmountable.

Of course, when we are talking about the Phillies, no lead seems insurmountable. The Phillies took 4 straight games from the Brewers and vaulted their way to a tie for the Wild Card. In the process, the Phillies have also climbed back to 1 game behind the Mets for the division lead. Now, with 12 games remaining, the playoffs are back in play in a big way for the Phillies.

The Phillies finished off their sweep of the Brewers with a pair of wins in a Sunday doubleheader. In the first game, the Phils got a solid outing from Joe Blanton and then broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the 8th by scoring 4 runs to carry them to a 7-3 win. Ryan Howard homered in the 6th inning, his 5th homer in 7 games, and Shane Victorino hit a 3 run shot in the 8th to give the Phillies a big lead to work with.

The second game of the doubleheader was all about Brett Myers. Myers needed only 95 pitches to pitch a complete game 2 hitter and led the Phils to a 6-1 victory. Myers, who pitched on 3 days rest, was efficient as he threw strikes and let his defense do most of the work. 65 of his 95 pitches went for strikes as he coasted to victory.

Things look up again for the Phillies in another topsy-turvy season. With the sweep, they greatly increased their chances of making the playoffs as both the division and the Wild Card are now in their sights. While the Phils have no games left against either the Mets or the Brewers, only 3 of their remaining 12 games are against opponents that are above .500. Here are the schedules of the Phillies and the two teams they are in closest competition with for the playoffs:

Phillies: 3 @ Braves, 3 @ Marlins, 3 vs. Braves, 3 vs. Nationals

Mets: 4 @ Nationals, 3 @ Braves, 4 vs. Cubs, 3 vs.

Brewers: 3 @ Cubs, 3 @ Reds, 3 vs. Pirates, 3 vs. Cubs

The hardest schedule amongst those three is the Brewers slate, as they have to play the Cubs 6 more times. The Mets schedule is slightly tougher than the Phils because they have to play the Cubs while the Phils get 6 against a weak Braves team. The Mets also have two more games than the others and no days off.

With 12 games left, the Phillies are right where they want to be. They have to keep playing hot and they don't have to rely on someone to take a nosedive for them to get into the playoffs. The next two weeks should be very exciting!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The NFL goes on without Brady: NFL Week Two Predictions

Well, that was an interesting way to start the season! The Colts, Chargers and Jaguars, three teams that I thought would be Super Bowl contenders in the AFC, all lost. The Falcons and Bills both dominated their opponents by showing surprising competency on offense. And, oh yeah, Tom Brady is done for the year.

Needless to say, I didn't think any of those things would happen when I made my Week One picks. While I did get a respectable number of my picks right (10 of 16), I hope to do better in Week Two. But if the supposed juggernauts keep losing, I don't see anyone can predict what's going to happen from one week to the next.

All picks are made strictly based on who I think will win and do not take the spread into consideration.

Record Last Week: 10-6, .625
Overall Record: 10-6, .625

Sunday Day Games:

Titans @ Bengals Rookie Chris Johnson looked awesome against the solid defense of the Jaguars last week as he averaged over 6 yards per carry. Hopefully he will get the majority of the carries over the fat whale Lendale White who averaged 2.7 yards per carry. The Titans will likely be without Vince Young who seems to be breaking down both physically and mentally, but how much would not having Young really hurt them? The Bengals defense has been broken for years now but it appears their offense has taken a turn for the worse. Carson Palmer completed only 10 of 25 passes and looked tentative in the pocket. My pick: Titans and it probably won't be close.
Packers @ Lions The Aaron Rodgers era started with a pretty decent effort and a win for the Packers. The Lions season started with some of the worst defense I've ever seen. I mean, the Falcons rushed for 318 yards against Detroit? Seriously? With a rookie quarterback at the helm? Matt Ryan may never have an easier game in his career and now it's Aaron Rodger's turn. My pick: Packers

Raiders @ Chiefs Do I have to pick a winner? The Raiders looked terrible against the Broncos and the Chiefs couldn't even beat the Matt Cassel-led Patriots. Both teams are losers in this game and so is anyone who actually tries to watch. My pick: The Chiefs do play better at home and the Raiders suck no matter where they play.

Giants @ Rams It's hard to tell if the Rams were as bad as they look or the Eagles were as good as they look. One thing is for sure, the Rams can't block anyone, meaning Marc Bulger is going to be flat on his back for most of this game even against a depleted Giants pass rush. My pick: Giants by two touchdowns

Colts @ Vikings I expected the Colts offense to be out of sync against the Bears but I didn't expect their defense to let the Bears run all over them. If Matt Forte can run for 123 yards against the Colts, imagine how many Adrian Peterson will get! I still think Peyton Manning will find a way in this one, there is no way he will let the Colts start the season 0-2. My pick: Colts in a close game

Saints @ Redskins Reggie Bush looked rejuvenated last week as he showed off some of his big-play ability that has been missing since he left USC. Jason Campbell looked clueless against the Giants, it appears that the West Coast offense has hurt his head. I have never bought into Campbell as a legitimate NFL starter. My pick: Saints

Bears @ Panthers The two most surprising teams from Week One square off here. I picked against the Panthers last week saying that a team full of Steve Smith's couldn't beat the Chargers. Smith still won't be back but I think the Panthers have enough other weapons to beat the Bears. Besides, if their defense stiffens up a lot more than the Colts D did last week, Carolina won't need to put up a ton of points. My pick: Panthers

Bills @ Jaguars Two more teams I was wrong about last week. I am definitely starting to re-think my pick of the Jaguars as a Super Bowl team, they looked bad against the Titans. Not only could they not run the ball, but David Garrard turned the ball over three times (2 int, 1 fumble), something he never did last year. Despite their banged up offensive line, you can't keep both Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor down for too long, so expect the Jags to bounce back this week. My pick: Jaguars

49ers @ Seahawks The Niners look pretty bad but at least they aren't the worst Bay Area team. They can't expect much from J.T. O'Sullivan when his only offensive weapon is Frank Gore. Speaking of offensive weapons, who exactly is Matt Hasselbeck supposed to throw to? When recently signed (former Eagle) Billy McMullen figures to be one of their top targets, you know the team is having problems at wideout. Fortunately for Seattle, they could have a whole receiving core of Eagles castoffs like Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell and James Thrash and still beat the Niners. My pick: Seahawks

Falcons @ Bucs Who saw that Falcons running attack coming? Fantasy owners of Michael Turner were ecstatic with his huge running output in Week One but they shouldn't be surprised when he fails to rush for 220 yards in the next three weeks combined. The Bucs have some problems at quarterback but their defense should be able to stifle the Falcons if they just put eight men in the box and force Matt Ryan to throw the ball. My pick: Bucs

Ravens @ Texans This is a tough one to predict. The Ravens aren't as good as they looked in Week One and the Texans aren't as bad as they looked. I like both defenses but each team has holes on offense. Who is going to catch the ball in Baltimore? Who is going to run the ball in Houston? Seeing as how they only scored 17 points against the terrible Bengals defense in Week One, the Ravens offense is clearly the one with bigger problems. My pick: Texans at home in a strong bounce-back effort

Patriots @ Jets A huge opportunity has fallen into Brett Favre's lap. With the injury to Tom Brady, the Jets have a chance to seize control of the AFC East. The dream that all Jets fans have now is of Favre leading them to the division win and then carrying them through the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, the Patriots aren't dead just yet. Bill Belichick, the mad genius, has now been given the perfect motivational tool. Everyone thinks the Patriots are done without Brady, but Belichick will find a way to rally the troops around the loss of their star quarterback. He always seems to do more with less anyway and now Belichick has been given a chance to prove how good of a coach he is. Expect him to rise to the challenge. My pick: That being said, I still like the Jets this week at home

Dolphins @ Cardinals The Dolphins already look better than they did last season. Having an experienced quarterback like Chad Pennington run the show will make a big difference for them. I don't think they've improved enough to beat the Cardinals, though, and that's saying something. My pick: Cardinals

Chargers @ Broncos This would have been a no-brainer pick a week ago. Now, the Chargers have lost their best defensive player and the Broncos are coming off a stellar performance against the Raiders. Of course, the last three words of the previous sentence mean that the Broncos really haven't done anything yet. I expect the Chargers bounce back, although if they don't we really have to wonder what it is about Norv Turner teams and why they continue to get slow starts to the season. Regardless, I just can't see a team with L.T. and a still-dominant defense start a season 0-2. My pick: Chargers

Sunday Night Game:

Steelers @ Browns The Browns season already looks a little bleak. After getting worked by the Cowboys in Week One, the Browns have to play a Steelers team that destroyed a decent Texans team last week. After one bad game there already seems to be a quarterback controversy brewing in Cleveland but I have no idea why anyone would be clamoring for Brady Quinn to be your quarterback. Be careful what you wish for, Cleveland. The Steelers looked awesome on offense and if they can get their defense back to an elite level they have a chance to take over in the Bradyless AFC. My pick: Steelers

Monday Night Game:

Eagles @ Cowboys Don't bash me Eagles fans. I love the Birds, so this is the most painful pick for me to make. I want to get my picks right, not be a total homer. The Cowboys simply have too much talent on both sides of the ball. Their defense is miles ahead of what the Eagles saw in Week One, and while they won't shut down Donovan McNabb, they will certainly slow him down like they did at the end of the season last year. Their offense is also scary good and not just because of the Tony Romo/T.O. connection. Marion Barber and Jason Witten are the true offensive MVPs for this team. The Eagles, despite their three 100 yard receivers in Week One, lack the weapons on offense to keep up with what Dallas has. DeSean Jackson will have another solid game but we all know enough about Hank Baskett and Greg Lewis to know they can't be counted on to produce every week. My pick: Cowboys. I like the Eagles to knock off the Cowboys later in the season when the game is in Philly, but I think the Cowboys will pull this one out in a close game.

So those are my picks for Week Two. If you agree or disagree or have picks of your own, feel free to leave comments!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bullpen, offense fail sliding Phillies

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Brett Myers has been nearly unstoppable since his stint in the minors, posting an ERA below 2 and striking out batters at a high rate. Myers finally looked human today against the Marlins as he gave up 4 runs, but he still pitched well enough to give the Phillies a chance to win. Unfortunately, the offense came up small for the Phils and the bullpen imploded in the late innings as the Phillies lost 7-3.

Myers did strike out 9 batters, but his performance was slightly overshadowed by his Marlins counterpart, Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco allowed 3 runs in his outing and looked sharp as he fought out of jams. The Phillies offense did their part in helping Nolasco out as they grounded into double plays, struck out (7 times) and were caught trying to stretch singles into doubles (Chase Utley in the 1st). The biggest positive offensively for the Phils was Ryan Howard, who hit his major league-leading 42nd homer.

The bullpen was the biggest culprit in the loss. With the Phillies down 4-3 in the 9th, the bullpen was unable to keep it close, allowing the Marlins 3 more runs to blow the game open. Chad Durbin, who seems to have worn down after a long season of tons of innings, gave up a lead-off single and then intentionally walked a batter. He was then yanked in favor of J.C. Romero, who also seems to be wearing down, and he allowed 2 runs to come in on a double.

The Phillies are fading at exactly the wrong time. Their loss today puts them 3 games behind the Mets and 4 behind the Brewers. While they are still in striking distance, they can't count on a team like the Mets to completely fade down the stretch, so they need to step up and start winning games. With a four game series with the Brewers this weekend, the Phillies could go a long way towards solidifying their Wild Card chances with a strong showing. Of course, if they lose three of four or even all four games, their season would basically be over.

Now is the time for the Phillies to pull off some of the magic tricks they used last year to vault into the playoffs. They better start winning before it's too late.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sixers extend Mo Cheeks

The Sixers have all the players in place to field a competitive team for the next few years and now they have their coached locked up for the foreseeable future. Maurice Cheeks, who signed a one-year contract extension back in February, signed another contract extension that will keep him in Philly. Terms of the deal were not announced, but the Sixers will have Cheeks under contract for at least the next two seasons.

While Cheeks is not considered one of the best coaches in the league, with the job he did last season, he certainly deserves to be a part of a Sixers team he helped take from a rebuilding team to a possible contender. Cheeks did an excellent job weaving in the young players last year while playing to win.

GM Ed Stefanski can now sit back and relax and watch the team he has created work with the coach he wants at the helm. There was some question when Stefanski came in as to the future of Cheeks but it's clear that Ed thinks Mo is the right man for the job.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Eagles destruction of the Rams in 38 seconds

This video pretty much sums up how the Eagles/Rams game went this weekend:

What a hit! Sheldon Brown absolutely CRUSHED Steven Jackson. Jackson got up, and even celebrated making the catch, but that's pretty much the only thing the Rams had to celebrate all day.

Hat tip to whoever it was who uploaded that to YouTube!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Phillies split with Mets, remain 2 games out

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Sunday was a long day spent on the couch for most Philadelphia sports fans and they were rewarded with wins in 2 out of the 3 games. Of course, the Eagles won handily, which meant the Phillies split their doubleheader with the Mets.

The first game was all about Jamie Moyer. Moyer gave up only 2 hits in 7 shutout innings as he slow-pitched the Phillies to victory. Greg Dobbs hit a 3-run homer that put the Phillies up big and they coasted for a win that pulled them within one game of first place.

In the second game, everything went wrong for the Phillies. The Phillies struck first with a run in the top of the first inning but the Mets struck back in the bottom of the first against Cole Hamels. Thanks to a pair of iffy calls, one of which Charlie Manuel's arguing about got him tossed from the game, the Mets scored 3 runs to build a lead they never gave up. Carlos Delgado added a pair of solo homers to increase their lead and the Phillies never really threatened to get back into the game.

Despite the split of games with the Mets on Sunday, the weekend has to be looked at as a success for the Phillies. They took 2 of 3 against the first place Mets to decrease their divsion lead down to 2 games and now have 19 games to catch New York. After last year, 2 games seems like nothing. The Phillies don't face the Mets again this season, so from now on they have to take care of business and hope that the Mets slip up. Given the lack of a bullpen, I think the Mets will be blowing a game or two, it's up to the Phils to capitalize.

Eagles crush Rams in season opener

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Could you ask for a better start to the Eagles season? The Eagles dominated the Rams in every facet of the game in a convincing 38-3 win in their first game of the season. The Birds looked good on offense, racking up over 500 yards of total offense. They looked good on defense as they kept the Rams out of the end zone. They also looked good on special teams as DeSean Jackson had some great returns. It was exactly the game you wanted to see from the Eagles against a weak opponent like the Rams.

From the opening drive, the game was never in question. The Eagles got the ball first and marched it right down the field, finishing the drive with a Donovan McNabb 1 yard pass to Brian Westbrook. The Eagles then stopped the Rams and marched right down the field again, this time scoring on a L.J. Smith touchdown reception. Then, after a short lull, the offense exploded with a 90 yard pass from McNabb to Hank Baskett. The Rams blew the coverage as a wide open Baskett took it the distance. The Eagles built their lead to 21-0 and never looked back.

The second half featured more of the same. DeSean Jackson capped a great day at wide receiver by making a 60 yard punt return that led to an Eagles field goal. The Eagles also added two rushing touchdowns and could have scored again but they downed the ball in the red zone to melt the clock and secure the victory.

The offense was the story of the day, putting up huge numbers and coming up with tons of big plays. McNabb finished with 361 yards and 3 touchdowns and looked fluid and strong in the pocket. Westbrook rushed for 91 yards and averaged nearly 5 yards per carry. The Rams couldn't stop him all day. Three receivers also had 100 yard days for the Eagles. DeSean Jackson had 106 yards, Greg Lewis 104 and Hank Baskett 102. Who needs Kevin Curtis or Reggie Brown?

Even Kevin Kolb had a good day as he subbed in for McNabb late in the game. Kolb made several nice passes and drove the Eagles right down the field. He looked like he could have led the Eagles to victory today, too.

The offense put up the big numbers, but the defense also came through for the Eagles, sacking Marc Bulger 4 times and coming up with several big stops. They didn't pick off any passes, although several balls went in and out of defenders hands, including an interception Asante Samuel dropped that would have been returned for a touchdown. Samuel made up for it by allowing the Rams best receiver, Torry Holt, to catch only 1 pass all day.

Sheldon Brown also had the hit of the game, crushing Steven Jackson after he caught a pass. Brown knocked Jackson's helmet right off his head:
All in all, the Eagles looked dominant. This game was partly a showing of how good the Eagles are and partly a showing of how terrible the Rams are. The Rams offense was abysmal as they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with bad penalties. Their defense was also confused most of the time as several Eagle receivers were wide open. The Rams have a long season ahead of them and they'll be lucky to win 5 games.

Great start of the season for the Eagles. Of course, the real season begins next Monday night as the Eagles look to take the momentum they got today to Dallas. Expect things to be much harder for the Birds in that game.

Click here for my Live Blog from the game.