Thursday, April 30, 2009

No Howard, no problem for Magic as they close out Sixers

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
With Dwight Howard out due to suspension and Courtney Lee sidelined with an injury, Game Six appeared to be in the bag for the Sixers. Philly figured to be a lock to take Game Six at home and force the series into a seventh game back in Orlando, where anything could happen. Well, it didn't quite work out that way.

Someone forgot to tell the Magic that they weren't supposed to win without their best player. As often happens when teams are without their top scoring threat, the rest of the Magic played with extra intensity and played arguably their best game of the playoffs in dismantling the Sixers, 114-89.

Orlando came out firing, making shot after shot to build a double digit lead early in the first quarter. With Dwight Howard out, the Magic focused on shooting threes and finally starting hitting them consistently, something they hadn't done all series long. Their defense wasn't spectacular, but it didn't need to be because the Sixers couldn't hit a shot all night.

Philly was used to falling behind in this series but they always found a way to get back into the game. Tonight was a different matter, however, as they came out flat and never seemed to respond to the first punch the Magic delivered. The Sixers played without any urgency, as if they would win the game simply by showing up because of the Howard suspension. They never tried to take the ball down the lane and take advantage of not having Howard blocking shots in the paint, instead they stuck to the outside and took jumpshots. And, as we all know, the Sixers do not shoot well from the outside.

So ends another Sixers season in the first round of the playoffs. It's hard to get too upset at the Sixers for bowing out in the first round, especially since they were without Elton Brand, but that doesn't mean we should be happy with how they played in Game Six. They were in front of their home crowd and yet the Sixers completely lacked energy and had long stretches where it didn't even look like they were trying. As you know, we don't put up with that in Philly, so the Sixers were rightfully booed throughout the game.

The Sixers once again made things interesting in the first round of the playoffs, but once again they proved that they aren't ready to play with the big boys when it matters. As fans, all we can do is hope that a healthy Elton Brand would have made a world of difference for the Sixers. We'll have to wait to find out in the first round next year.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round Predictions

Just because the Flyers have been eliminated doesn't mean we should all stop paying attention to hockey! The NHL playoffs only get better the farther they go, plus there are some great match-ups to look forward to. After going a mediocre 4 for 8 on my first round predictions for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, here are my predictions for the second round:

Eastern Conference
(1) Boston vs. (6) Carolina
Boston in Six
I am still in shock that the Devils, with their stellar defense and Hall of Fame goaltender, lost a Game Seven in regulation when they had a one goal lead with a minute and a half left. A lot of the blame has to go to Martin Brodeur for letting in a couple of softies, but a ton of credit also has to go to the Hurricanes for bearing down and pulling off the unlikely victory. The Bruins have been sitting around and getting rusty waiting for the second round after sweeping the Habs so there is some temptation to take the Hurricanes in the upset. While I don't think the Bruins will be getting to the Stanley Cup Finals, I do see them getting past a Carolina team that lacks firepower. Boston will have a true test in the next round.

(2) Washington vs. (4) Pittsburgh
Washington in Six
This is the matchup the NHL, and the rest of the hockey world, wanted to see. The stars will be all over the ice as Ovechkin will square off against both Crosby and Malkin. This series will be won, however, by whichever team plays defense. Besides that, the Caps and Pens come into this series from complete opposite ends. Washington outplayed the Rangers for the entire first round series but were stifled repeatedly by Henrik Lundqvist and that kept New York in the series. The Penguins, on the other hand, were outplayed by the Flyers on most nights and were kept alive by some timely saves by Marc-Andre Fleury and when the Flyers failed to capitalize on their opportunities. For that reason, I like the Capitals to get past the Penguins because they are simply playing better hockey right now. It should be an entertaining, high-scoring series, just what the NHL wants.

Western Conference
(2) Detroit vs. (8) Anaheim
Detroit in Five
The Ducks got the matchup of their dreams in the first round when they got to play with nothing to lose and beat up on a talented but physically weak Sharks team. The Sharks are the ultimate playoff tease and were so tense as they worried so much about finally doing something in the playoffs, they were ripe for the picking. The Red Wings are the polar opposite from the Sharks. Detroit will not be pushed around and they know how to deal with pressure in the playoffs. The Wings do have some weaknesses, particularly in goal, but the Ducks don't have enough strengths to do anything about it.

(3) Vancouver vs. (4) Chicago
Vancouver in Seven
I was surprised by how Chicago's young stars came through against the Flames in a physical series. Calgary pushed the Blackhawks as hard as they could and the kids pushed back and showed they weren't scared of the playoffs. I expect a similar series here against Vancouver, although the Canucks are just a better team all-around. Vancouver might have some rust issues after coasting past the Blues in the first round but I they have more than enough talent on offense and in the net to beat out the Hawks in the end.

So those are my predictions. Let's hope I can do better than my abysmal showing for the First Round picks.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Phillies overcome Hamels injury with home run barrage

(AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr)
Cole Hamels just can't catch a break. In his first start since Prince Fielder hit a line drive off his shoulder, Hamels was cruising against the Nationals, pitching 4 and 1/3rd scoreless innings. Then, as luck would have it, Hamels was the victim of another freak injury when he rolled his ankle trying to field a bunt. The early word is that Hamels sprained his ankle but there is talk that he won't miss his next start and it's very unlikely he will go on the disabled list.

You have to feel for Hamels, he just can't seem to get his 2009 season going. After a dominating playoff performance last year, Hamels hoped carry some momentum into a possible Cy Young season this year. Due to a stretch of bad luck, instead he has already suffered his third injury of the young season.

The Phillies would not be denied in this game, however, and beat the Nationals 7-1. After crushing 2 grand slams yesterday, the Phils continued their homer party with 4 dingers tonight, 2 from Chase Utley and one each from Pedro Feliz and Raul Ibanez. The man rapidly becoming a fan favorite, Ibanez, continued his torrid start to the season and now has 7 homers on the year to go with a .355 batting average. He has made everyone quickly forget about Pat the Bat, who is not hitting much with the Rays this season.

The Phillies offense has repeatedly bailed the pitching out. While it is nice that the offense is capable of exploding on a nightly basis, eventually the Phils will need to get something from their starting pitching. Hamels' start tonight was progress, let's hope he can heal up and avoid a stint on the DL.

Experts weigh in on the Eagles Draft

The experts have weighed in, and the consensus is that the Eagles fared well in the 2009 draft. In fact, according to a consensus of experts put together by ESPN.com, the Eagles had the best draft of any team. While we really can't tell anything about a draft until 3 or 4 years down the road, it's nice to know the initial results are positive. Here is just a sampling of what some experts are saying about the Eagles draft:

Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com: A+
If you count adding left tackle Jason Peters and corner Ellis Hobbs, they had an amazing week.

Mel Kiper, ESPN: B-
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was a good pick, but he needs to work on his route running to be a consistent threat in the NFL. Running back LeSean McCoy was a good selection in the second round and so was tight end Cornelius Ingram in the fifth round. The fifth round was a good round for the Eagles, who also picked up cornerback Victor Harris and offensive tackle Fenuki Tupou.

John Czarnecki, Fox Sports: A
When rating this draft, start by remembering the Eagles used a first-round pick for Buffalo offensive tackle Jason Peters, who has Pro Bowl talent. Peters will team with ex-Bengal Stacy Andrews to give Donovan McNabb two new protectors on the outside. Then, the Eagles lucked into Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin, who was rated No. 1 at his position on 18 teams' draft boards. Then in the second round, Pitt running back LeSean McCoy was another steal with 53rd overall pick. McCoy will give Brian Westbrook a breather this season. Virginia Tech cornerback Victor Harris has only 4.6 speed, but he should be a core special-teams player. Harris did have 15 interceptions. You have to like the trade with New England in order to land cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who gives the Eagles some added depth in case they ever deal unhappy starter Sheldon Brown. Florida TE Cornelius Ingram could be a steal if his knee is OK.

Clifton Brown, Sporting News: A
Their offense has become more dangerous. Jeremy Maclin is a threat as a receiver and a returner. Running back LeSean McCoy can make people miss and can catch the football. Tight end Cornelius Ingram fits their system as a receiver. And they traded Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters before the draft.

Charles Robinson, Yahoo Sports: B-
Maclin should be another instant impact guy, like DeSean Jackson was last season. McCoy doesn’t have elite speed, but he can make defenders miss and could develop into an NFL starter. Ingram will be a liability in run-blocking. After Maclin and McCoy, there may not be many future starters.

For my full run-down of the Eagles draft, click here.
I give the Eagles an A, by the way, simply because they got a ton of value with every pick and when you count the acquisitions of Jason Peters and Ellis Hobbs in with the draft, I don't think you could ask for anything more.

How do you grade the Eagles draft? Vote in the poll on the left!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Eagles sign 9 Rookie Free Agents

Just because the draft is over doesn't mean the Eagles are done bringing in rookies! As soon as the draft ends, teams hit the phones to try to sign players that went undrafted. Occasionally, teams find a diamond in the rough, most often these players are the first cuts in training camp. Here are the undrafted rookies the Eagles have signed so far:

Josh Gaines, DE, Penn State
--Defensive co-captain at Penn State had 8.5 sacks in college

Reshard Langford, S, Vanderbilt
--4 year starter, racked up 247 tackles and 8 picks

Marcus Mailei, FB, Weber State
--Competition for Leonard Weaver, good receiver out of the backfield

Walter Mendenhall, RB, Illinois State
--Younger brother of Steeler Rashard Mendenhall, will be lucky to stick as practice squad player

Dallas Reynolds, OG, BYU
--I wonder why the Eagles signed someone from BYU? Has played all 5 positions on the offensive line

Brandon Robinson, WR, Boston College
--Gained over 2000 yards at BC

Courtney Robinson, CB, UMass
--May have potential as a darkhorse candidate for returning kicks since he is the UMass all-time leader in kickoff return yards

Sam Swank, K, Wake Forest
--David Akers always needs to have some competition to keep him working hard

Marcus Thigpen, RB, Indiana
--Another player with kick return potential, is third in Indiana history with 4,658 all-purpose yards

None of these players jump out at as college studs, although if you watched Penn State at all this year you remember Gaines. Including the draft, the Eagles got a nice mix of multiple players at nearly every position, except for on the defensive line, where they only added Gaines. Clearly the Birds feel set there since they also didn't draft any D-linemen, a rarity for them.

Philadelphia Eagles 2009 Draft Round-up

The Eagles came in with a plan for the 2009 NFL Draft: upgrade the skill position players and give Donovan McNabb some more weapons. Since they couldn't get Anquan Boldin in a trade, the Eagles did the next best thing and got one of the top wideouts in the draft. Since they couldn't get Tony Gonzalez in a trade, they went and got a steal in the 5th round when they drafted a tight end with second round talent. The Eagles also shrewdly got a running back in the second round who many thought had first round talent. Where the Eagles didn't like the talent, they traded down. And, of course, the acquisitions of Jason Peters and Ellis Hobbs have to be included with the draft since they were traded for in exchange for draft picks. In all, that makes for a solid draft for the Eagles. Here is a complete rundown of each player selected by the Eagles in the 2009 draft:

Round 1, pick 19 (19): Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri
The Eagles traded up to get Maclin, so you know Andy Reid just had to have him. He reminds me a lot of DeSean Jackson, and that's a good thing. Maclin is small but is incredibly fast and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, hence his 32 touchdowns in 28 college games. While he isn't the big receiver many Eagles fans hoped for, you don't really need that kind of receiver in a West Coast offense, anyway. Maclin also figures to be used on kick and punt returns which is where I would expect him to excel this coming year.


Round 2, pick 21 (53): LeSean McCoy, RB, Pittsburgh
Sports Illustrated projected the Eagles would take McCoy with their first round pick, so you can imagine the value the Eagles got when he fell to them in the second round. McCoy has tremendous quickness and great hands, just like Brian Westbrook, which means he is a perfect fit for the offense. McCoy will be everything that Lorenzo Booker wasn't last year, he will be the perfect guy to spell Westbrook. He isn't a change of pace back but should Westbrook go down for a few games, it will be nice to know the Eagles running attack won't be stuck in neutral.


Round 5, pick 17 (153): Cornelius Ingram, TE, Florida
Many experts are calling this pick one of the steals of the draft. Ingram missed the entire 2008 season with Florida recovering from an ACL injury, but he is considered a tremendous athlete who has second round talent if he is healthy. Had he stayed healthy, his mix of size and speed could have made him the top tight end selected in the draft. The Eagles hope Ingram can get healthy enough to be their primary pass-catching tight end in the coming years.

Round 5, pick 21 (157): Victor Harris, CB, Virginia Tech
"Macho" Harris is another value pick for the Eagles, a second/third round talent who is dealing with an injury to his foot. While he may be a step or two slow to be a solid cover corner in the NFL, the Eagles could ultimately give him a shot at a safety spot. With all of the top corners (Samuel, Brown, Hanson, Hobbs) already on the roster, Harris may be forced over to safety to get playing time, anyway.


Round 5, pick 23 (159): Fenuki Tupou, OT, Oregon
With their third pick in the 5th round, the Eagles went with more of a project player. At 314 pounds, Tupou is certainly big enough to be an NFL tackle but he has a ways to go in terms of learning how to block the kind of size and speed he will see in the league. Tupou is more of a gamble than the first four players the Eagles took, but with the third 5th round pick it doesn't hurt to take a risk.

Round 6, pick 21 (194): Brandon Gibson, WR, Washington State
Gibson could be a real steal this late in the draft. After a stellar 2007 season at Washington State where he racked up 1,180 yards receiving and 9 touchdowns, Gibson struggled through his senior year and his draft stock fell. Gibson can't entirely be to blame since Washington State as a whole really struggled in 2008, but he will need to prove that his last college season was not his true talent level. Gibson is probably a longshot to make the team unless the Eagles keep 6 or 7 recievers so a year on the practice squad is probably in order.

Round 7, pick 4 (213): Paul Fanaika, OG, Arizona State
Andy Reid must have really liked the Pac 10 this year because this is the third straight player taken from the conference. Fanaika is a big boy, at 6 foot 5 and 327 pounds, but he is likely just practice squad fodder. Most scouts think he doesn't really have a position along the offensive line which doesn't bode well for a future in the NFL.

Round 7, pick 21 (230): Moise Fokou, LB, Maryland
The Eagles went very light on defense this year, Fokou is just the second non-offensive player. Fokou figures to have a chance to make the team if he can learn to play special teams. There might also be some openings at linebacker on the Birds so Fokou has a decent chance to be a backup.

So those are the Eagles selections for the 2009 Draft. Add your comments on the Eagles draft below, and be sure to grade their draft in the poll to the left!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Eagles acquire CB Ellis Hobbs from Patriots

In a move that may be insurance in case disgruntled cornerback Sheldon Brown holds out, the Eagles acquired cornerback Ellis Hobbs from the Patriots for two 5th round picks, choices 137 and 141 overall. Hobbs has been a starter for the Patriots the last two seasons, picking up 4 interceptions in that time. He is entering the last year of his deal so he will likely be an Eagle for only one season.

While the Patriots secondary was considered pretty awful last season, the acquisition of Hobbs gives the Eagles a crowd of players at the cornerback position. If the Eagles keep Brown, they will have 4 players to fill three spots when you add in Asante Samuel and Joselio Hanson. Hanson recently signed a contract extension, so you can bet the Eagles will want to let him play nickel corner, making Hobbs just a 4th corner should Brown stay in Philly.

In terms of value, Hobbs was a great pickup for the Birds. He provides Sheldon Brown insurance at a very low price. If he doesn't get a lot of time in the secondary, Hobbs also has experience returning kicks, something the Eagles always need help with.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Eagles wrap up first day of draft with RB LeSean McCoy

The Eagles have certainly made offense a priority. After taking wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in the first round, the Birds took another speedy skill position player for the offense: running back LeSean McCoy from Pittsburgh. McCoy is a shifty back with great hands who can make big plays out of the backfield. Seems like the perfect backup for Brian Westbrook, and the Eagles running back of the future.

Many experts thought McCoy had first round talent, so the Eagles got a steal with the 53rd pick in the draft. In fact, Sports Illustrated thought the Eagles would take McCoy in the first round, so you can imagine how happy the Birds were when McCoy fell in their laps in the second round.

The Eagles will now likely address their defense on day two of the draft because the offense is set. Including the free agent signings, the trade for Jason Peters and these draft picks, the Eagles are loaded on offense. Somewhere, Donovan McNabb has to be smiling.

Eagles trade up, select WR Jeremy Maclin in the first round

The Eagles are always good for a surprise on draft day, and they didn't disappoint this year. First, the Birds traded up from pick number 21 to pick 19, giving up their pick at 21 and a 6th rounder. With pick 19, they then selected wide receiver Jeremy Maclin from Missouri. Maclin is another speedy receiver, like DeSean Jackson, who can spread the field and beat people deep. He was a clutch reciever who caight a number of third down passes and also caught 32 touchdown passes in 28 college games. Maclin also was a stellar kick returner at Missouri so I wouldn't be surprised if the Eagles use him there.

The drafting of Maclin also likely means the Eagles are not going to acquire Anquan Boldin, unless they move one of the receivers already on their roster to get him. The selection of Maclin is a bit curious because the Eagles really don't have a need for another receiver like him, but the team doesn't really have any glaring needs that absolutely must be addressed in the draft. The Eagles don't really have any holes anyway, although many would have preferred if they picked up a possesion recevier rather than another speedster.

Let's see if the Eagles have any other moves up their sleeves. There is still plenty of time to go get and get a backup for Brian Westbrook.

Flyers blow three goal lead, get eliminated by Penguins

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Talk about a game with a roller coaster of emotions. After jumping out to a 3-0 lead early in the second period of Game 6, it looked like a given that the Flyers would be forcing a Game 7 against the Penguins back in Pittsburgh. But, from the moment the Flyers got that three goal lead, the Penguins took over the game, scoring five unanswered goals to earn a 5-3 victory that eliminated the Flyers from the playoffs.

The entire game seemed to turned shortly after Daniel Carcillo fought Maxime Talbot in the second period. The fight happened just 15 seconds after the Flyers scored their third goal and it worked like a charm to fire up the Penguins, who scored 14 seconds after the scrap. From that point on, it was all Penguins, who attacked the Flyers relentlessly, getting several power play chances and eventually tying up the game before the second period was over.

The Penguins had all the momentum in the third period and got an early goal to break the tie and never looked back. The Flyers tried to rally back into the game and had several good opportunities but the Marc-Andre Fleury from Game Four showed up and stood on his head to keep the Flyers at bay. Philly threw everything they could at Fleury but he remained calm and turned aside every attack.

The Flyers looked to have the game won when they jumped out to a 3-0 lead after goals by Mike Knuble, Joffrey Lupul and Danny Briere. The big lead had the stadium jumping and the Flyers buzzing, but the Penguins kicked things into another gear from that point forward. It's difficult to say if the Flyers let up at all with the lead but they certainly weren't playing with as much desperation as they were at the beginning of the game.

So ends another Flyers season at the hand of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I will have more to say about what possible changes they should make in the offseason at a later time, but it is safe to say that this season was a disappointment. When you have a young team like the Flyers who went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, you expect them to build on that and go at least as far in the playoffs and maybe get to the Stanley Cup Finals. Instead, the Flyers were up and down all year, completely lacking consistency, and that cost them a higher seed in the playoffs and therefore an easier first round opponent. The Flyers also blew it in the last game of the season when they failed to wrap up home-ice advantage over these Penguins.

Another year, another disappointment for Flyers fans. Philly still has a tremendous nucleus of players, so if they can just add another defenseman and figure out what to do in goal, they will still have an opportunity to contend for the Cup for the next few years. Not a bad season by the Flyers, but it's fair to expect much more in the future.

Philadelphia Eagles Draft Day Coverage

The wait is finally over! What will the Eagles do with their remaining first round pick? Do they go running back or stick to their usual formula of taking a lineman? Will they finally pull off a trade for Anquan Boldin? I will be following the draft all day, hit refresh for the latest updates!

9:50 pm
-Denver takes Richard Quinn with the last pick of the second round. So ends my draft coverage! Look for a wrap-up article coming soon.

9:10 pm
-Eagles make quite a steal by drafting McCoy. He's got first round talent.

8:17 pm
-LeSean McCoy, running back from Pitt, is still out there. Hopefully he falls to the Eagles at pick number 53. Sports Illustrated thought the Eagles would pick him in the first round.

7:40 pm
-The Cardinals pick up a steal with Chris Wells late in the first round. Wells had top 5 potential, nice work by Arizona to pick him up. Crabtree to the Niners still might be the best value pick but it's close.

6:50 pm
-No word on any Boldin trades. I think Rosenhaus was just trying to stir things up. The Eagles are out of the picture now, anyway, unless they picked Maclin to move him to Arizona.

6:38 pm
-More info on Jeremy Maclin

6:13 pm
-Now we have Eagles news! Birds trade up and pick Jeremy Maclin, a wide receiver. Interesting choice, probably means we can forget about Anquan Boldin.

5:29 pm
-The player everyone thought the Eagles would take is gone: the Broncos take running back Knowshon Moreno. Should the Birds still go with a running back?

5:20 pm
-Nothing doing on the Eagles front right now. It's probably another hour and a half until they make their first pick. Hope everyone is watching the Flyers, they need a goal to stay alive.

5:00 pm
-The first Eagles draft news of the day. Agent Drew Rosenhaus expects his client, Anquan Boldin, to be traded by the end of the first round. Step up, Birds!

4:57 pm
-Um, Raiders, didn't you realize Michael Crabtree was still on the board? Al Davis is such a joke.

4:55 pm
-Sorry for the long delay, I was busy watching the Flyers get dominated by the Penguins. The Jets made a solid move in trading up to draft Mark Sanchez. With Favre retired, they needed a QB of the future. While I'm not sold that Sanchez is all that good, the Jets need someone to take the reigns.

4:04 pm
-The Lions do what we all know and take Matthew Stafford from Georgia. They hope he can save their moribund franchise. Good luck, Matty!

3:25 pm
-Added a poll to the left. What position should the Eagles draft with their first pick? I think it's finally time to get a good backup running back who can spell Brian Westbrook.

3:15 pm
-There was word earlier today that the Eagles were asking the Broncos about the availability of tight end Tony Scheffler. The Broncos have had Scheffler on the block for a while now but they have been asking for a first round pick, which is ridiculous. If he can be had for a 3rd round pick, the Eagles should jump. It's pretty clear the Birds are looking at all options at tight end.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Young, Sixers shock Magic to take series lead

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)
The Orlando Magic were considered by many to be an elite team that had a great shot at knocking off the Cavaliers or Celtics and making it to the NBA Finals. They won 59 games in the regular season and were led by a dominant big man in Dwight Howard. The Sixers limped into the playoffs with a .500 record and were simply happy to be there and not expected to do much of anything in the playoffs without Elton Brand.

Three games into this first round series and you would swear these two teams switched jerseys. After each team took turns dominating in the first two games of the series, the Sixers made the most of their home court advantage and jumped out to a double-digit lead midway through the second quarter. The Sixers saw that lead swell to as much as 17 points in the third quarter before the Magic finally woke up and took over the game, pulling it close and tying it up late in the 4th quarter.

Enter Thaddeus Young. With the game tied at 94, Young made a layup with 2.2 seconds left to give the Sixers the win over the Magic, 96-94. It was only Young's third basket of the game, but he made it count when it mattered. Andre Iguodala had another big game for the Sixers, putting up 29 points, 4 assists, 2 steals and grabbing 7 boards. Iggy once again missed two crucial free throws at the end of the game and he once again escaped being the goat due to a last second shot. Andre Miller also nearly put up a triple double with 24 points, 7 assists and 9 boards. Think the Sixers should make every effort to re-sign this guy?

While the Magic did have a big comeback to make this one a game down the stretch, their play has been nothing but disappointing. Dwight Howard was basically forced to do everything by himself tonight, dropping 36 points on 12 of 16 shooting. Orlando isn't getting much from its role players and its getting absolutely nothing from its bench, two factors that could lead to an early playoff exit for any team.

The Sixers are holding true to recent playoff form. If you remember last season against the Pistons, the Sixers won Game 1 by a large margin, got blown out in Game 2 and went on to win Game 3. Of course, last year they subsequently lost Games 4, 5 and 6 and were ousted from the playoffs by Detroit. So, what makes things different this year? For one, the Sixers actually look like they are just as good as the Magic. When they played the Pistons last year, Detroit had long stretches where they weren't even trying and that's why the Sixers were able to surprise them. The Magic seem to be doing everything they can in this series but the Sixers are simply outplaying them right now.

Hopefully everyone is jumping on this Sixers bandwagon, they look poised to have an interesting playoff run. Jump on, there's plenty of room!

Phillies explode for 7 runs in the 9th to down Marlins

Talk about an offensive explosion. After 8 innings of baseball that looked just like Thursday's game against the Brewers where they nearly got no-hit, the Phillies offense finally came alive in a big way against the Marlins. After managing only 3 hits and striking out 8 times against young Marlins ace Josh Johnson, the Phils bats pounded Marlins relievers for 5 hits and 7 runs in the 9th inning to earn a 7-3 victory in Florida.

Shane Victorino had the big hit of the game when, with the Phillies down 3-2, he smashed a grand slam to clear the bases and give the Phils the lead. Chase Utley also homered and Jimmy Rollins and Matt Stairs each had an RBI.

The Phillies starting pitching once again put the team in an early hole as Brett Myers (surprise, surprise) gave up a 3-run homer to Dan Uggla in the 1st inning. The starting pitchers have given up way too many homers this season and it has forced the team to have to come from behind nearly every game. Myers did bear down after giving up the homer but it would be nice if the Phils could get some consistency out of their pitchers sometime soon.

Thanks to the late outburst, the Phillies avoided getting completely shut down offensively for the second game in a row. Charlie Manuel has good reason to be upset with this team, they are still a long way off from playing like the World Champs that they are.

As the Anquan turns: Boldin rumors are flying

Rumors always swirl right before the NFL Draft, with players being made available and teams trying to move up and down in the draft. Anquan Boldin has long been rumored to be on the move out of Arizona due to contractual issues, and today a series of rumors began flying out of Arizona that signify his situation might be sorted out soon.

The first bit of information that came out today was that the Cardinals have lowered their asking price for the star receiver. Arizona originally wouldn't settle for anything less than a 1st round pick but today they said they would be willing to accept a 2nd round pick packaged with a player. ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reported this info that made it seem like the Cards were getting desperate and trying to move Boldin right away. Might I suggest Reggie Brown and the Eagles 2nd this year?

Ah, hold on Eagles fans, not so fast! The Cardinals GM Rod Graves then came out and said that he hasn't lowered the price for Anquan Boldin because he isn't really on the market. Graves also said that the team is still trying to sign Boldin to an extension and they think they can get one done sooner later than later.

But wait, there's more! According to Sal Pal again, the Eagles officially made an offer for Boldin: a 3rd round pick this year, a 2nd round pick in 2010 and Winston Justice. The Eagles have plenty of draft picks and have been willing to shop Justice, so the deal makes sense on their end. However, on the Cardinals end, it does seem like a bit of a lowball offer.

And the Cardinals apparently agree! The Cards officially rejected the Eagles offer and instead seemed to have struck up some kind of agreement with the Tennessee Titans. Apparently, at some point, Boldin's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, had some contact with the Titans, presumably to talk contract extension. So, the Titans must have had an offer on the table that the Cardinals liked?

Actually, not really. The Cardinals once again publicly stated that they are not trying to trade Boldin and that they have rejected all offers from other teams. Arizona has made it clear that they are listening to offers, but not actively looking to deal Boldin.

So, what do we make from all of this speculation and rumor? Anquan Boldin can be had for the right price. The Cardinals are denying that Boldin is available because they don't want to just throw him on the market and get lowball offers, but they clearly are willing to move him if they get offered a good package of picks and players. This move, if it happens at all, will likely go down tomorrow during the draft. If it doesn't happen tomorrow, then it probably won't happen at all.

As I have stated all along, if Anquan Boldin is on the market, the Eagles better be putting all of their effort into trying to bring him to Philly. If he can be had for a 2nd round pick and a player, there is no excuse not to get something done.

Keep checking back for the latest Boldin rumors! Things are going to get really interesting in the next 24 hours.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Biron blanks Penguins to keep Flyers alive

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
In the 2008 NHL Playoffs, Martin Biron played the best hockey of his career and the Flyers rode him to the Eastern Conference Finals. This season, Biron hasn't been bad but he also hasn't been great, and the Flyers have floundered as they were pushed to the brink of elimination by the Penguins after a Game 4 defeat. If the Flyers were going to make a comeback in the series, they would need Marty Biron to play like he did last year.

Which is exactly what Biron did in Game 5 as he shut out the Penguins in a 3-0 Flyers victory. Biron held off a strong initial rush by the Penguins, who tried desperately to score the first goal, and made 28 stops in all. Marty was able to coast later in the game as the Flyers played great team defense that limited the Penguins scoring chances. It was the kind of defensive effort coupled with strong goaltending that is a staple of teams that go deep in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Flyers didn't explode offensively in this game but they did score timely goals. After a scoreless first period, the Flyers got on the board when Arron Asham netted a rare goal. Rookie sensation Claude Giroux and Mike Knuble also scored for the Flyers. It was Knuble's first goal in the playoffs and it was a long time coming.

The series will now return to Philadelphia for Game 6, something the Penguins desperately wanted to avoid. With the rabid Philly fans rocking the house, the Flyers have a huge home ice advantage. If they can find a way to win Game 6, then it's all on the line in a Game 7 where anything can happen.

I was one of the many who thought the Flyers season was over after losing Game 4. It's amazing how one win can turn all of that doubt into hope. Winning two more games, one at home and one on the road, doesn't seem like too tall of an order, especially for a streaky team like the Flyers.

Tony Gonzalez traded to the wrong Birds

One rumor that had been gaining steam recently was the Eagles wanting tight end Tony Gonzalez. News had surfaced that the Eagles were willing to give the Chiefs a 3rd round pick for the veteran Pro Bowl tight end. Gonzalez would have been a great fit with the Eagles, a significant upgrade over the departed L.J. Smith as the primary pass-catching tight end.

Unfortunately, the Eagles were outbid. Gonzalez was traded to the Atlanta Falcons today for a 2nd round pick in 2010. It's a pretty good price to pay for a tight end who caught 96 passes and 10 touchdowns last season. The Falcons are an elite offense now, with Pro Bowlers at tight end, wide receiver (Roddy White) and running back (Michael Turner) and a future Pro Bowler at quarterback in Matt Ryan.

The Eagles are still left searching for a top pass catcher. Anyone heard any good Anquan Boldin rumors lately?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Penguins, Fleury push Flyers to the brink of elimination

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
The NHL playoffs are all about goaltending. The team that has the hottest goaltender always wins, no matter how well the other teams plays. Such was the case tonight as the Flyers completely outplayed the Penguins, yet lost 3-1 because Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stood on his head all night. The loss pushes the Flyers to a 3-1 series hole and puts them in a near impossible uphill climb.

The Flyers out shot the Penguins 46-26 and had 8 power play chances but just couldn't get anything past Fleury. After a scoreless first period, Pittsburgh scored two goals (one of them a very questionable goal by Sidney Crosby) in the second and then sat back and let the Flyers attack. The Flyers were finally able to solve Fleury midway through the third period when Dan Carcillo notched a rare goal which brought the fans out of their seats for the remainder of the game. The Flyers had chance after chance as time ticked away but couldn't get anything past Fleury and eventually gave up an empty net goal that iced the game.

This loss likely signals the end of the Flyers season. There is little chance the Flyers can win three straight games against a Penguins team that is so evenly matched with Philly. On top of that, two of the last three games are in Pittsburgh, so the Flyers are basically toast. It will be a disappointing quick exit out of the playoffs for the Flyers, especially after the run they made last season. I will write more later in the offseason about what changes the Flyers should make, but it's clear that they need to do something to shake up this inconsistent group.

For today, however, tip your cap to Marc-Andre Fleury. As much as we all hate him, he had a tremendous game for the Penguins. There really wasn't anything the Flyers could have done to change the outcome of Game Four.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Eagles response to Sheldon Brown's trade demands? Classic

Earlier today, news broke that Sheldon Brown wanted out of Philadelphia. I speculated that the Eagles wouldn't trade Brown, but I didn't expect the Birds to respond to quickly and forcefully. The Eagles released the following statement:

“It’s very unfortunate and counterproductive that Sheldon has chosen to go public with his feelings about his situation," the team said in a statement. "After thorough evaluation by himself and discussions with his family and agents, he chose to accept an extension of his rookie contract early that provided his family financial security for the rest of his life. It removed any concerns about health or performance that all other players in his draft class had to worry about. He has three years remaining on that contract and, after taking the signing bonus and his first two years of salary into account, we feel that Sheldon is being paid fairly. Focusing only on a player’s salary for a given year is not a valid analysis.

“There have been league MVP’s, Super Bowl champion quarterbacks, and perennial Pro Bowlers who have been in a similar situation. All of their teams have required them to wait until their contract expired or there was only one year remaining before any adjustment took place. It is only in the most extraordinary, in fact, less than a handful of circumstances in the last ten years that any players two new years into a contract with three years left have been adjusted. We don’t think this qualifies as an extraordinary circumstance.

“Sheldon’s comments under the circumstances actually serve to devalue him in a trade if we were willing to consider it; which we are not.”

I don't know what's more shocking, the beatdown they gave Brown or the fact that the Eagles actually responded publicly at all? Score one for the Eagles, but this should only further anger Brown. I would expect a holdout now.

Here we go again: Sheldon Brown demands trade

Stop me if you've heard this one before: a cornerback for the Eagles is demanding a trade. No, Lito Sheppard hasn't found his way back on the team, this time it's Sheldon Brown who wants out. According to ESPN, Brown is frustrated with his contract and would like the Eagles to trade him to a team that is willing to give him a better deal. Brown does have a bit of a gripe because he is underpaid compared to what a cornerback of his talent should be making but he is under contract through 2012 following an extension he signed back in 2004. With that many years left on his deal he doesn't have any leverage to force his way out of town.

Just because Brown wants a trade doesn't mean the Eagles will trade him. In fact, reports have already surfaced that the Eagles have flatly denied Brown's request. It would be nice to hope that the Cardinals would want Brown and the Birds could take Anquan Boldin in return, but I don't see the Eagles even thinking about trying to move a young cornerback who costs them so little against the cap. Brown better get used to the idea of staying in Philly.

It's possible Brown is just bringing up this request now because he wants to pressure the Eagles into giving him a new deal. He sees that the Birds recently gave Brian Westbrook a new deal and they just signed Jason Peters, perhaps they would be willing to throw some money Brown's way? There is no way to know what the Eagles are thinking, but I think it's safe to say they won't be trading Sheldon Brown any time soon.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sixers shock Magic with thrilling come from behind win in Game One

(AP Photo/John Raoux)
They say winning is contagious, and what happened in Philadelphia sports today is proof of that saying. First, the Phillies won with a walk-off home run by Raul Ibanez. Then, the Flyers played their best game of the playoffs and turned away the Penguins. Finally, the Sixers turned in the most surprising performance of all as they knocked off the Magic, 100-98, in a thrilling come from behind win.

The Sixers were down as much as 18 in the third quarter but used a 39-19 run to pull off the shocking victory over the favored Magic. Philly got back into the game thanks to the contributions of several players, including Donyell Marshall, who had three 3's and 11 points in the 4th quarter, and Theo Ratliff, who played a bunch of minutes down the stretch and had a key basket late in the game. While Marshall hit a huge three to tie the game with 34 seconds left, the biggest hero of the night was Andre Iguodala, who, with the game tied at 98, hit a tough fall away shot with 2.2 seconds left to give the Sixers the win. Iggy didn't have a great game overall, shooting 10 of 23 for 20 points, but he made the big basket when it counted.

For those with good memories, you will remember that the Sixers series against the Pistons last season started in the exact same fashion. The Sixers came back from 15 down to knock off Detroit in Game One of that series, just like they did today against the Magic. Hopefully this Orlando series will turn out differently, but it is important to remember this is just one game in a seven game series. Orlando is still the better all-around team and they could easily beat the Sixers down in Game Two, but winning this first game is huge for Philly. They have taken the home court advantage away from the Magic; if the Sixers can somehow win all of their home games in the series, they will move on.

So caps a great day in Philly sports. Your heroes for the day are Raul Ibanez, Claude Giroux and Ander Iguodala. It's nice to have this ray of hope after an otherwise depressing week of tragedy and bad losses.

Flyers use energy and intensity to down Penguins in Game Three

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Now that's more like it! The Flyers, in winning Game Three against the Penguins 6-3, showed everything they seemed to be lacking the first two games of the series: intensity, a sense of urgency and the ability to not take bad penalties. Maybe it was the home ice or maybe it was the realization that their season was on the line, but whatever it was, the Flyers from the 2008 playoff run finally showed up.

The Flyers jumped out to an early lead when Jeff Carter scored a nice goal, his first of the playoffs, and Mike Richards added another just five minutes into the game. Philly played with a ton of intensity, hitting the Penguins every chance they got and getting into fights after nearly every whistle. Slowly but surely, the Penguins did fight back into the game as they scored a goal late in the first period and early in the second to tie the game at 2. The Flyers would not be denied, however, and scored the next three goals in the game to take a commanding lead that they never looked back from.

The biggest story of the game, besides the increase in energy as a team, was the emergence of Claude Giroux. Giroux, who is just 21 years old, had an amazing game in just the third playoff contest of his career. He had a goal and an assist, with the goal coming on a nice feed from Danny Briere and the assist coming off a beautiful pass to Simon Gagne for a shorthanded goal. No matter how this series turns out, it has been amazing to watch Giroux step right into his first playoff series and shine.

The Flyers seem to have life again despite trailing 2-1 in the series. Game Four is basically another must-win game since it's unlikely the Flyers will be able to win two games in Pittsburgh. Of course, if they show up with the same intensity and drive to win that they showed today for the remaining games of this series, they shouldn't lose again.

Sixers vs. Magic: Series Breakdown

After making my NBA Playoff Predictions yesterday, it's time to take a closer look at the Sixers series with the Magic, which gets under way today. While Philly has a slim shot of getting past the Magic, you can bet their running style will help them win a game or two in the series. The Magic are an elite team in the league, but they don't have a ton of playoff experience, so they aren't unbeatable. Here is my breakdown of the series.

Backcourt: This is the one place the Sixers have a decided advantage. Ever since Jameer Nelson went down, the Magic backcourt has been nothing but average. They did go out and acquire Rafer Alston to run the point and he has done a solid job but is still prone to turning the ball over. The Magic also start Courtney Lee at shooting guard, and he is basically in there for his defense and to hit an open shot now and then. Neither of those players scare you. The Sixers, on the other hand, have one of the better point guards in the league in Andre Miller. Somehow, Miller seems to get better and better every year and his 16.3 points per game and 6.5 assists per game demonstrate just how good he was this year. The other Sixers starter is Willie Green, who isn't anything special but can make shots and is smart with the ball. EDGE: SIXERS

Frontcourt:
This is where you really see the glaring differences between the Magic and the Sixers. Dwight Howard is easily the best player in this series and the Sixers have absolutely no one that can guard him. Samuel Dalembert has had some success in the past at slowing Howard down but I can see him getting shut down for more than a game or so. Besides Howard, the Magic also have one of the best forward combos in the league in Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. Both players averaged over 16 points a game this season and can knock down threes at will. The Sixers have some talent of their own at forward but they don't have anyone that quite matches up with Orlando. Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young are both quicker and more athletic than the Magic forwards and they will really thrive when the pace quickens. They will struggle when things slow down to playoff basketball pace, meaning more half court action and slower developing plays. At center, Dalembert has had a bit of a disappointing season for the Sixers, but he still alters shots on the inside and can grab boards. EDGE: MAGIC

Bench: The Sixers bench is made up of a lot of guys who do one or two things well but have big holes in their games. Marreese Speights is probably the best player off the Sixer bench and can fill up the stat sheet no matter how many minutes he plays. For a defensive presence, the Sixers turn to the bruising Reggie Evans and Royal Ivey. Evans will likely spend part of the series beating up Dwight Howard, trying to frustrate him out of his game. For offense off the bench, the Sixers turn to Lou Williams who can fill it up but is adverse to playing D.

The Magic bench isn't anything special but they have several guys who can step up in a pinch. Mickael Pietrus has shown that he can score in bunches and D up hard when he gets extended minutes so he is easily the best player off the Magic bench. Orlando also has three point ace J.J. Redick who can do nothing but shoot. Marcin Gortat is probably the best Magic player you have never heard of, he is mostly a defensive player who can bang inside and block shots. The Magic also have a veteran presence off the bench in guard Anthony Johnson. EDGE: MAGIC

Prediction:
The best the Sixers can probably hope for in this series is what they did in the playoffs last year: steal a couple of games and make the favored team sweat it out. The Magic simply aren't a great matchup for the Sixers, especially considering Orlando has won 8 of the last 9 times these two teams have played. The Sixers can steal a playoff game here or there if they are allowed to get out and run, so that is why I like the MAGIC IN SIX. One has to wonder if the Sixers might have been better off losing to the Cavs in the last game of the season and facing off against the K.G.-less Celtics. One also has to wonder what impact having a healthy Elton Brand would have in this series.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lights out Lidge's streak is over

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Someone broke Brad Lidge. After 47 straight saves, including a perfect 2008 season, Lidge has blown his first save as a Phillie. More importantly, the blown save led to the Phillies losing their third straight game, 8-5 to the Padres.

We all knew the streak had to end sometime but it was still shocking to watch it happen. Lidge came into the game with a 5-4 lead and gave up 4 runs, 3 of them coming on a Kevin Kouzmanoff homer. Lidge looked shaky throughout the inning and had a couple of close pitches that were called balls that seemed to rattle him a bit. Much credit has to be given to Lidge for his tremendous streak but it will be interesting to see how he responds next time he is given the ball in a save situation. He was known to have a fragile psyche in the the past, especially after Albert Pujols crushed one of his pitches in the playoffs, but I bet Lidge bounces back like nothing ever happened.

Looking at the bigger picture, this is two games in a row where the Phillies gave up leads. The reason the 2008 Phillies were so good was they had a bullpen that was lights out; the moment the starting pitcher was taken out of the game it was nearly automatic that the bullpen would close things out. This season the pitching has looked awful from the starters down to every last bullpen pitcher as the team has given up 70 runs in 10 games. That's 7 runs a game! I don't care how good the Phillies offense is, no team can win if they give up 7 runs a game.

The honeymoon of the 2008 World Series has clearly worn off. This season is only 10 games old but so much has already happened with this Phillies team. Let's hope they have what it takes to fight through the adversity and be a better baseball team. Lord knows we can't take many more losses to the crappy Padres.

NBA Playoff Predictions: Round One

It's time for the NBA Playoffs! While we appear headed for an inevitable Lakers/Cavs NBA Final, the first few rounds of the playoffs should be filled with great series and interesting matchups. The Western Conference is once again loaded from top to bottom and features several teams that could conceivably contend for a title if the Lakers weren't so good. The East isn't quite as deep but it is very top heavy with the Cavs, Celtics and Magic being the only teams with a shot to go to the Finals. Of course, with the injury to Kevin Garnett, we may be able to cross the Celtics off of that list.

Here are my predictions for the first round of the NBA Playoffs:

Western Conference
Lakers (1) vs. Jazz (8)

Lakers in 4

The Jazz aren't quite the same Jazz teams that we are used to, meaning they have no shot against the Lakers. L.A. is my pick to win the title and I don't see them having any problem sweeping past the Jazz. The only thing standing in the way of another Lakers title is the health of Andrew Bynum, although they will probably win it all even if he can't contribute. This is the year Kobe finally gets his ring without Shaq.

Nuggets (2) vs. Hornets (7)
Nuggets in 6
Chris Paul will be the best player on the floor but that doesn't always translate to having the best team. Ever since they stole Chauncey Billups from the Pistons, the Nuggets resemble much more of an actual basketball team than the collection of individual players they once were. While the Nuggets aren't quite as good as their number 2 seed indicates, they should still have no problem with a Hornets team that seems to lack depth and isn't quite ready to beat an elite team. New Orleans also went out with a whimper in the regular season, finishing under .500 in their final 21 games, so the Nuggets should be primed to knock them off.

Spurs (3) vs. Mavs (6)
Spurs in 7
One thing everyone should have learned by now is that you can never count the Spurs out, even with Manu Ginobli out for the season. They have little shot of advancing past the second round, but they can almost win first round playoff series' in their sleep. The Mavericks finished out the season on a roll but I think Tim Duncan and the experience of the Spurs finds a way to outlast the Mavs in a long, grueling series. Duncan is hobbled but no one can guard Tony Parker on the Mavs.

Blazers (4) vs. Rockets (5)
Blazers in 6

Is this the year the Rockets finally win something in the playoffs, the year when Tracy McGrady is hurt? Nope! The Blazers are inexperienced but they are ready to make the leap into the second round. I even see Portland giving the Lakers a tough series in the second round. In a few years, this Blazers team will be special, for now they are just really good.

Eastern Conference
Cavs (1) vs. Pistons (8)
Cavs in 5
I'll give Pistons one game because of their veteran know-how. LeBron and the Cavs will slip up in Game Four in Detroit after winning the first three games of the series and then smoke the Pistons in Game Five. Cleveland should be on cruise control until the Eastern Conference Finals.

Celtics (2) vs. Bulls (7)
Celtics in 6

This series just got a lot more interesting with the injury to Garnett. The Bulls are red-hot and will pose a real challenge to the defending champs. That said, even without KG, the Celtics have plenty of guys that have done it before and will be able to do it again, at least for a round.

Magic (3) vs. Sixers (6)

Magic in 6
I will have a full in-depth preview of this series up later today. I would love to pick the Sixers in an upset, but there really isn't anything that points to them being able to knock off Orlando. Many "experts" are calling for a Magic sweep, but I think the Sixers will surprise a few people, much like they did last season against the Pistons. The biggest issue facing Philly is they have no one who can guard Dwight Howard, not that anybody in the league really can. Howard should easily go for 20 and 20 every night, so it will be up to Reggie Evans and Sam Dalembert to try to keep him from dropping 40 on the Sixers. Philly will make things interesting from time to time with their run and gun style, but it won't nearly be enough against a slightly overrated but still good Magic team.

Hawks (4) vs. Heat (5)
Heat in 7

This one is my only upset in the first round, and I would barely call it an upset. Dwyane Wade is good enough to carry his team to three wins on his own, if he gets any help at all for a game the Heat should get past the Hawks. Atlanta will be looking for some of the playoff magic they had last season when they shocked the Celtics, but without anyone that can really guard Wade, I don't see how they can beat the Heat. Atlanta is the better all-around team, so this should make an interesting series of one against many.

So there are my predictions. Let me know your thoughts or if you agree or disagree!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bad penalties cost Flyers in Game Two overtime loss to Penguins

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Flyers coach John Stevens was not happy with how the Flyers took bad penalties in Game One that led to the Penguins cruising past Philly in Game One. He stressed that his team would be more disciplined for Game Two and that would translate to a much better effort.

Stevens was right. The Flyers were more disciplined in Game Two against the Penguins, at least for the first 45 minutes or so. With the Flyers up 2-1 late in the third period, Jeff Carter was called for hooking Jordan Staal. Carter clearly did nothing wrong on the play as Staal made a smart play to make it look like Carter's stick was hooking him down. Regardless, the Penguins proceeded to tie the game up on the ensuing power play, forcing the game into overtime, where the Flyers really came unhinged.

After a tense 15 minutes of up and down overtime action where the two teams traded chances, the Flyers found themselves on the power play with a great chance to win the game. Two terrible penalties by Mike Knuble and Claude Giroux later, the Flyers are down 5 skaters to 3 and basically hoping the Pens didn't score. Bill Guerin did the enevitable and won the game for the Penguins, 3-2, giving Pittsburgh a commanding 2-0 series lead.

We always talk about the Flyers being a team that uses toughness and grit to will themselves to victory. When the Flyers stay within themselves and don't become over-aggressive, they are a great team. When they take dumb penalties, like Knuble's stupid cross-check on the power play and Giroux's mindless slash, they are a boneheaded team that doesn't deserve to win.

Those two penalties negated all the positive things the Flyers did for the first three periods of the game. Because, really, the Flyers played much better in Game Two than they did in Game One. They played with much more intensity, jumped out to a lead in the first period and showed a willingness to make the tough plays and do the little things it takes to win. No one will remember all of those good things they did; instead, they will remember the two dumb penalties the Flyers took that cost them the game.

The series will now return to Philadelphia with the Flyers down 2-0, but it isn't over yet. The Flyers need to win the next two games to get back into it, but they are still very much alive. That is, they are alive if they play smart hockey and stay disciplined. If the Flyers lose either Game Three or Game Four, they are done. There is no way the Flyers are going to be able to pull off 3 or 4 straight wins against this Penguins team.

There isn't much that separates the Flyers and the Penguins. Game Two was an evenly played contest between two very evenly matched teams. If the Flyers could have kept their heads, the game likely would have gone one or two more overtimes and it would have been won on a lucky bounce here or there. Unfortunately for the Flyers, their discipline failed them at the wrong time.

Eagles land Jason Peters

As rumors about a possible trade for Anquan Boldin continue to swirl around Philadelphia, the Eagles appear to be closing in on a deal that would shape up their offensive line. According to several sources, the Eagles appear close to acquiring Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters from the Buffalo Bills, likely for one of their first round picks. Peters has been looking for a bigger contract from the Bills but has been unable to get the deal he wants so Buffalo has been shopping him around the league. While he is under contract through 2010, the Eagles would still likely want to sign Peters to an extension if they acquire him.

The trade itself makes a ton of sense for the Eagles, especially if they can sign Peters for long term. Peters would fill their current hole along the offensive line and he is still only 27 so he could be in Philly for a while.

If the Eagles do give up a first round pick to get Peters, they are essentially guaranteeing that they won't be trading for Anquan Boldin. The Cardinals have said they want 1st and 3rd round picks for Boldin and I doubt the Eagles would trade away both of their first round picks for veteran talent. I don't mind the Eagles pulling the trigger for Peters because, as much as I like Boldin, their need along the offensive line is greater than their need for another wide reciever.

UPDATE: The Eagles have acquired Peters for their late first round pick, a 4th rounder and another pick in 2010

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Carcillo out for the Flyers, Sbisa in?

The late Game One outburst, where the Flyers racked up 21 penalty minutes in the final 20 seconds against the Penguins, will cost the Flyers a player. Dan Carcillo, who nailed Max Talbot in the back of the head in the final seconds of the game, will be suspended for Game Two against the Penguins. In a play that didn't draw a penalty, Carcillo hit Talbot in the head with his stick. Carcillo is denying that his stick hit Talbot in the head, instead claiming that is was his hand, but either way it was an unnecessary play in the waning seconds of a 4-1 loss.

I'll let you be the judge as to whether the play deserves a suspension:


The Flyers have a few options for replacing Carcillo in the lineup. The most likely choice would be having defenseman Luca Sbisa suit up and play on the wing with the 4th line, although the Flyers could also re-call someone like Andreas Nodl for a game. Playing Sbisa on the wing, or even as a 7th defenseman, seems like a good idea just to get the rookie some playoff experience.

As for Carcillo, I still can't believe the Flyers gave up Scottie Upshall AND a second round pick to get this guy. I know the move was made to clear up salary space but Carcillo has been a completely useless player. He is an agitator, but the team already has plenty of that kind of player. He takes dumb penalties and puts the team on the penalty kill, really doing more harm than good. Scottie Upshall was also an agitator but he would get under the other teams skin with his grit and hustle. That trade may go down as one of the worst in Flyers history.

Sixers vs. Magic: Series begins Sunday

After losing 6 games in a row, the Sixers surprised everyone by actually knocking off the Cavs, who rested all of their starters, and moving up to the 6th spot in the Eastern Conference. Moving up to the 6th seed means the Sixers actually have a shot to compete in the playoffs, since they match up much better with Orlando, the 3rd seed, than they do with Boston, the 2nd seed. Here is the schedule of games for the first round series between the Magic and Sixers:

Game 1: Sun., April 19: at Orlando, 5:30 pm
Game 2: Wed., April 22: at Orlando, 7 pm
Gm. 3: Fri., April 24: at Philadelphia, 8 pm
Gm. 4: Sun., April 26: at Philadelphia, 6:30 pm
Gm. 5: Tue., April 28: at Orlando, TBD
Gm. 6: Thu., April 30: at Philadelphia, TBD
Gm. 7: Sat., May 2: at Orlando, TBD

I will have more analysis on this series later, but the Sixers are going to have to play much better basketball if they want to do any damage against the Magic. My initial prediction is Magic in 6. Check back later for more on the Sixers and the rest of the NBA Playoffs.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Flashback to the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals: The Flyers get worked by the Penguins

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Talk about starting the playoffs off with a whimper. If I put as much effort into this post as the Flyers showed on the ice tonight, I would write about two sentences. The post would get pretty good in the middle but the beginning and the end would be completely worthless.

In a game that looked way too much like the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals, the Penguins manhandled the Flyers in a 4-1 victory to take the first game of the series. The Flyers barely showed up to play, apparently unaware that the playoffs even started today. The Penguins stars led the way as Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby both had a goal and an assist. Marc-Andre Fleury also played well in net for the Penguins when he had to, although there were long stretches where he could have been napping.

The Flyers did show some life in the second period but didn't get any goals to show for it. Inexplicably, the team woke up at the end of the game and decided that beating people would solve all of their problems, getting 21 penalty minutes in the final 20 seconds of the game. They may want to try those kind of tactics when they can actually do the team some good.

There isn't much else to say about the Flyers after this game. Whether it's a matter of the Penguins having their number or that the Flyers simply aren't any good, Philly got worked tonight. We all know that the Flyers can play better than they showed tonight, we have seen it all season long. During stretches, they can be one of the best teams in the league. The problem is, in other stretches, they can be one of the worst. Whichever Flyers team shows up in Game Two will go a long way to determining if this will actually turn into a series.

The optimistic Flyers fan will point to the fact that they lost every Game One in last years playoff run. The pessimistic Flyers fan will point to the fact that they lost Game One against the Penguins last season, too, and we all saw how that turned out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Flyers vs. Penguins: First Round Breakdown

Here we go again! Every Flyers player and fan has been waiting for this ever since the Penguins handled Philly in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. It's time for the Keystone Clash to continue, this time early in the playoffs when both teams are fresh. A lot has changed since these teams last met in the playoffs, including the Flyers being much healthier along the blueline and the Penguins being robbed of much of their depth in the offseason. Having won 18 of their last 24 games of the season, the Penguins are the hotter team entering the series, but you can throw away records and streaks when these two teams play. Expect a long, hard-fought series between two teams that truly do not like each other with the winner emerging battered and bruised after 6 or 7 grueling games. Let's take a closer look at how these two teams matchup and see who comes out ahead.

Offense: This essentially boils down to depth vs. top-end talent. Everyone knows about the Penguins top two scorers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who both finished with over 100 points on the season and are a threat to make a pretty play every time they touch the puck. After those two, the offense takes a big dive, with Chris Kunitz and Jordan Staal the next biggest threats. Since they lost Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa in the offseason, the Penguins secondary players haven't been nearly as good and that leaves the Pens with really only two scoring lines. Of course, they do get plenty of offense from defenseman Sergei Gonchar, but if the top scoring threats can be slowed down (not an easy task), there is little bite left in the Penguins attack.

The exact opposite can be said of the Flyers, they have depth all throughout their forward lines. Six forwards scored 25 goals, the most for any team in the league, and those six don't include Danny Briere and Claude Giroux, who weren't with the club for most of the season. The Flyers roll three solid scoring lines, with tremendous depth down the middle in Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Giroux. The 4th line is largely a throw away line, although Darroll Powe has proven to be an effective penalty killer. With the Flyers, other teams have to pick their poison. Should the Penguins put out their shut down defensemen against the Gagne/Richards/Knuble line or against the Hartnell/Carter/Lupul line? And what do you do against Giroux and Briere, who have eyes in the backs of their heads and routinely make beautiful passes? It's not an enviable position to be in. Because of that, I give the Flyers a slight edge in offense. The Penguins top two are incredible talents but no team in the NHL can match the depth the Flyers are throwing out there.

Defense: This is the biggest difference between the series last year: Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen are healthy. The rest of the Flyers defense is nothing to get too excited about, although Ryan Parent has been solid when paired with Timonen. The Flyers certainly spend most of their cap money on forwards, and it shows in their lack of depth on the blueline. It will be nice to have Luca Sbisa back with the club as the 7th defenseman but one has to wonder if the rookie will be able to step up to the intensity of playoff hockey if he suits up.

The Penguins defense is solid but unspectacular. Sergei Gonchar is the blue chipper on the back line and is arguably the best offensive defenseman in the league. Hal Gill and Brooks Orpik are also solid stay-at-home defensemen who lead the rest of the disciplined blueliners. Pittsburgh as a team plays a really aggressive style which leads to both the forwards and defensemen trying to force turnovers, so any weaknesses they have on D can be masked. For this reason, I give the slight edge to the Penguins. The Flyers defense is prone to too many breakdowns and that will kill them against talent like Crosby and Malkin.

Goaltending: Martin Biron and Marc-Andre Fleury put up very similar numbers this season but got to those numbers in very different ways. Biron has been up and down all season, looking locked in one night and completely lost the next. He hasn't proven that he is a true number one goaltender in the NHL, although if he can somehow flip the switch and play like he did in the playoffs last year, things would be very different. Fleury is the more consistent goaltender, playing well in the playoffs last year and covering up the mistakes that the Penguins attacking style can sometimes leave open. Everyone knows that NHL playoff series are won by whichever goaltender is hotter, so Fleury gets the edge in the goaltending department because his play has heated up down the stretch. Look for Biron to do everything in his power to prove that he is a better goalie than he has shown recently.

These two teams appear to be about as even as you can get. The Penguins are the slightly better team on paper but the Flyers are known for overcoming long odds in the playoffs. While you may accuse me of being a homer, I like the Flyers to win the series in seven games. It will be a tough series between two teams determined to have the same playoff success they had last season. This will easily be the best series in the first round, with plenty of entertaining games and lots of interesting matchups to follow. Hopefully the Flyers can slow down Crosby and Malkin enough to get themselves out of the first round. From there, let's hope they aren't too beat up to make another deep run.

Eagles 2009 schedule released

We already knew which teams they were going to face, but today we learned the exact order:

Week 1: 9/13 Eagles @ Panthers, 1 pm
Week 2: 9/20 Saints @ Eagles, 1 pm
Week 3: 9/27 Chiefs @ Eagles, 1 pm
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: 10/11 Bucs @ Eagles, 1 pm
Week 6: 10/18 Eagles @ Raiders, 4:05 pm
Week 7: 10/26 Eagles @ Redskins, 8:30 pm (Monday Night)
Week 8: 11/1 Giants @ Eagles, 4:15 pm
Week 9: 11/8 Cowboys @ Eagles, 8:20 pm (Sunday Night)
Week 10: 11/15 Eagles @ Chargers, 4:15 pm
Week 11: 11/22 Eagles @ Bears, 8:20 pm (Sunday Night)
Week 12: 11/29 Redskins @ Eagles, 1 pm
Week 13: 12/6 Eagles @ Falcons, 1 pm
Week 14: 12/13 Eagles @ Giants, 8:20 pm (Sunday Night)
Week 15: 12/20 Niners @ Eagles, 1 pm
Week 16: 12/27 Broncos @ Eagles, 1 pm
Week 17: 1/3 Eagles @ Cowboys, 1 pm

Note the Sunday Night games in Weeks 9, 11 and 14 and the Monday Night game in Week 7.

At first glance, the schedule looks pretty easy in the beginning, with three home games and a bye in the first 5 weeks, and at the end, where they finish with the Niners and Broncos at home before the traditional Cowboys game to end the season. The middle weeks (7-14) are much more difficult, where they face all of their divisional rivals and have games in San Diego, Chicago and Atlanta, all tough teams.

We knew the schedule would be more difficult this year, since the Eagles have to face the NFC South, a division that has four solid, playoff contending teams. The Birds do counter that with the easier AFC West, a division that had no team over .500 last year, but the Chargers will still be a tough matchup.

The road to the playoff seems more difficult at first glance this year, although you can never tell how good any of these teams will be in April. What we do know is that there will always be 6 tough games against the NFC East every year and how well the Birds fare in those games is always an indication of whether they will make the playoffs or not.

Eagles 2009 schedule coming today, opponents already known

The day many football fans have been waiting for is here! The NFL will announce its full schedule of games Tuesday during a two hour special on the NFL Network. This day is highly anticipated as fans want to know when their team will be playing its big games and who gets the prime time slots.

Of course, we already know who the Eagles will be playing, we just don't know when. The NFL released the list of teams the Eagles will play back in January:

Division Games:
Cowboys (2x)
Giants (2x)
Redskins (2x)

Home games:
Saints
Chiefs
Niners
Bucs
Broncos

Away Games:
Falcons
Panthers
Raiders
Chargers
Bears

As you can tell, the Eagles will play the entire AFC West and NFC South, and then the Niners and Bears are thrown in. The schedule looks tougher this year, with the NFC South coming off a great season and the always tough divisional games, although you can never tell how good these teams will be until the season starts.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round Predictions

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are here! It's one of my favorite times of the year, so I thought I would share my predictions for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I will have a more in-depth preview of the Flyers series tomorrow.

Eastern Conference:
(1) Boston vs. (8) Montreal
Boston in 6
Oddly, the Bruins and Canadiens faced off in the first round last year but their seeds were reversed. These two teams are huge rivals so that could make for a pretty good series, and while I do think that Boston is due for an early fall, the Canadiens are too dysfunctional and don't have anyone who can stop the puck.

(2)Washington vs. (7) New York
Washington in 5
The Rangers are lucky to even be in the playoffs, they won just enough games early in the season that they were able to hold on in the end despite playing terrible hockey down the stretch. The Capitals offense is already electric so just watch what happens when they get to skate circles around the Rangers weak defense. If Henrik Lundqvist stands on his head, the Rangers could stretch this series out.

(3) New Jersey vs. (6) Carolina
New Jersey in 6
The Hurricanes are one of the hottest teams in hockey but the Devils are one of the most consistent. It's remarkable that New Jersey was able to win the Atlantic Division with Marty Brodeur out for a chunk of the season. They might win a few early but Carolina isn't physical enough to hang with the Devils in a long series.

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Philadelphia
Philadelphia in 7
This one should be the best series in the first round, and I'm not saying that just because I am a Flyers fan. These two teams despise one another and after the Eastern Conference Finals last season and 6 games this year, there is plenty of bad blood to go around. The series will really be a tale of the Flyers depth versus the Penguins two scorers. Depth always wins over a couple of stars in the NHL playoffs, so I like the Flyers in a long, tough series. More on this series to come.

Western Conference:
(1) San Jose vs. (8) Anaheim
San Jose in 7
The Sharks reward for getting the number one seed in the West is a killer matchup with the Ducks. Anaheim is built for the playoffs with plenty of strength and experience and the exciting young forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. San Jose can play any style, though, and while they tend to fizzle in the playoffs, the Sharks will find a way to push their way past the Ducks.

(2) Detroit vs. (7) Columbus
Detroit in 5
The Red Wings are the safest pick of any team to get past the first round. Columbus is simply just not good enough and they are just happy to be in the playoffs. The Wings are scary deep and are my pick to win the Cup. Again.

(3) Vancouver vs. (6) St. Louis
Vancouver in 6
St. Louis is a great story of how far they have come to fight their way into the playoffs, but the story ends here. The Canucks, with solid forwards, a deep group of defensemen and an elite goaltender, are too good all-around to lose in the first round. The wild card in this series is Mats Sundin, who hasn't seen the playoffs in what seems like a decade. There is no telling what he is going to do.

(4) Chicago vs. (5) Calgary
Calgary in 6
The Flames really bolstered themselves at the trade deadline when they acquired Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold. They are going for broke, and while it might get them out of the first round, I don't see them getting past Detroit or San Jose. The Blackhawks are a good, young team, you shouldn't feel too sorry for Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane when they get eliminated, they are going to be in the playoff mix for the next decade.

Those are my picks for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Check back tomorrow for a more complete breakdown of the Flyers/Penguins series.