The Least of These: Previewing the East’s Basement Teams

Josh: Ladies and gents, the NBA is a mere 14 days away! On Tuesday, October 27th basketball tips off in Chicago, IL as the runner-up Cavs take on the Bulls. Will it be an Eastern Conference Finals Preview? What about the Atlanta Hawks, who won 60 games last year to lead the East? Can the Wizards, Raptors, or Celtics make the leap to the top of the conference? Can the Heat come together? Will Philadelphia finally get the #1 overall pick?

The questions abound, and now is the time to answer some of them. For the next 2 weeks, Wesley and I will unlock the secrets of the NBA to you, previewing both conferences and then sharing our playoff, award, and prop bet picks. Wonder where your favorite team will end up? Want to hate on the Knicks? Then hop on board as we kick off preview season with the dregs of the Eastern Conference**

**Teams were divided arbitrarily into 3 tiers by general contender status for the upcoming season; the ordering within each tier means nothing. Similar to the Brooklyn Nets’ season.

We start off with the most popular tank since Cuban’s show, where Sam Hinkie hopes one more flatline sets his team up for future dominance.

070815_jahlil-okafor_600Philadelphia 76ers

Catch You Up: They purposefully jettisoned veteran talent, shuffled their young talent, and look uninterested in being competitive following last year’s 18-64 record. They did draft Jahlil Okafor to give them 4 young centers, although Joel Embiid will miss the season again with another surgery.

Breakout Player: I think Nerlens Noel is ready to become a Serge-Ibaka type player, running the court and emphatically rejecting all visitors to the rim. Is he develops some range, he could feasibly pair with Okafor or Embiid.

Hotseat: Sam Hinkie has the full green light here, so he’s bizarrely safe; likewise I think Brett Brown is not going to be punished for having to endure this teardown. With the way Hinkie has shot players out of Philly using a T-shirt cannon, with Michael Carter-Williams being last year’s victim, I could see Okafor being sent packing if he doesn’t display the sort of skills Hinkie wants. Just a hunch, but I think it’s in play.

Believe it or Not: Philly won a playoff series just 3 1/2 years ago. Seriously. They haven’t been bad your entire life, it just feels that way. Also, the 76ers owner is also the owner of Chuck E. Cheese, which is going to add beer and win to their menu to lure parents to take their kids more frequently.

Best case scenario: They are in most of their games, with Noel, Okafor, and some of the other young talent showing promise, but lose the vast majority of them and finally get the #1 overall pick. The Lakers finish with the 4th pick (goes to Philly), the Heat wobble to a 9th place finish in the East and the 11th pick in the draft (goes to Philly), and the Thunder make the playoffs (pick goes to Philly). Embiid recovers fully, Saric comes over, and this team faces next year with some actual optimism.

Worst case scenario: They win just enough games to slip to 4 or 5 in the lottery, Noel and Okafor can’t play together, and Embiid has to retire.

Prediction: I think Hinkie wants one more year of not winning, especially with a weak draft coming next year. The last year of tanking will deflate their win total, which I think could be higher with some real talent on this team. Watch out in case Kendall Marshall or Pierre Jackson show some skills. 19-63, 5th in the Atlantic

Wes: So, “conceed for Embiid” hasn’t really panned out, and he is maybe one more injury away from being the second coming of Oden (Yeah, they’re about the same now), further proving that this rebuild is becoming a joke. You can call this whatever you want, just don’t forget to call it simply a crying shame. This team has so much potential, but drafting 7 centers, pushes you further from your goal than you might understand. If Noel becomes “the Brow”, then we’ll talk. Until then, give me death or give me the Sixers! I’ll take death, please. 22-60, last in the Atlantic.

al-jefferson-nba-charlotte-hornets-media-day-850x560Charlotte Hornets

Catch You Up: 33-49, 11th in the East. Not much to be said here. Losing Kemba during the back half of the season, really did take its toll on the team. Oh, Al Jefferson needs some new knees too.

Breakout Player: I really hope it’s Frank Kaminsky. Frank has all the skills to be the #4 they’ve needed. He can pass well, draw the double with some ease and still get to the lane really easily. I think he game will translate very well to the NBA level, and he will be in the running for the Rookie of the Year title come the end of the season.

Hotseat: Michael Jordan? Maybe this is a stretch, but if they don’t look competitive this year, I think you could be looking at some real changes coming down the pipeline for this team.

Believe it or Not: The revenue from a Frank Kaminsky commercial will give the Hornets enough money to buy out the Latvian national team 4 times over. Your move, Latvia.

Best Case Scenario: Kaminsky hits a game winner every night, sending the city into a frenzy and having the intercom play, “Everything is awesome” after every win.

Worst Case Scenario: “Tiny Dancer” is played after every loss, bringing Adam Morrison out of the depths of Gonzaga.

Prediction: Kemba and Frank are going to be killer on NBA Jam, but until then….brace yourselves. 32-50. Last in the Southeast. First in Fashion.

Josh: This team has Kemba, who wins games at the end (don’t tell me he doesn’t!! I defy the numbers here), Big All making things happen on the block, and Frank the Tank doing…something? But will the injection of random “shooters” save this team’s spacing? Color me skeptical. If MKG was healthy they could easily be the 8th seed, but with him out I think they just as easily follow Wes’ prediction and drop below the Magic. 29-53, 5th in the Southeast

c82cd68a8917319debf6716491b8c686_crop_exactNew York Knicks

Catch You Up: Last year this team imploded, with Anthony not returning from the All Star Break due to injury and an ugly 17-65 record could only net them the 4th pick, where they took Kristaps Porzingis out of Latvia. Striking out with the big free agents, they cracked open their “fragile, overrated veterans” binder and started writing checks, adding Robin Lopez, Aaron Afflalo, and Derrick Williams while re-upping their toothless bench unit.

Breakout Player: I have no issue with their selection of Porzingis, and he could certainly develop into a star. But this year, the breakout candidate is rookie Jerian Grant. After a standout senior season at Notre Dame, Grant could see the keys to Derek Fisher’s engine early, and he could make some things happen.

Hotseat: Carmelo Anthony, believe it or not. This team’s only surefire talent picked money over wins last offseason; however, his presence on the roster means this team has to press to win now, which they aren’t very equipped to do. He and Phil may work out a plan to trade him to a contender and net the Knicks some future assets.

Believe it or Not: The Knicks signed Sasha Vujacic back from the grave – err, playing in Europe. The New York Times somehow decided he would bring “stability.” No really. Google “Sasha Vujacic Offers Knicks Stability.” It’s a real thing!

Best case scenario: Carmelo decides missing the playoffs is not an option and goes Kobe circa 2007 on the East, and the supporting cast manages just enough to sneak them into the playoffs.

Worst case scenario: Melo heads to Chicago in January, which sends back Doug McBuckets, Taj Gibson, and a couple of picks. Wait, that sounds like a great scenario for them. Hold on:

The actual worst-case scenario: Melo gets hurt again, Lopez gets arrested for actually killing a mascot, and Phil quits to take co-ownership of the Lakers as lil Buss steps down.

Prediction: This team has no reason to tank, no real reason to win, and I think their signings were underwhelming and won’t really help. 22-60, 4th in the Atlantic

Wes: My 2nd favorite NBA Jam team! Melo and Porzingis. or Porzingis and Grant. Either way, Spike Lee should get his documentary ready. This is going to be a bloodbath. 27-55, 4th in the Atlantic

aaron-gordon-channing-frye-elfrid-payton-nikola-vucevic-victor-oladipo-nba-indiana-pacers-orlando-magic-850x560Orlando Magic

Catch You Up: 25-57, last in the Southeast. Hey, they were in some close games though!! A for effort. Vaughan was a bad coach, so who’s to say Skiles will be much worse?

Breakout Player: Dear God I hope it’s Mario Hezjona. But if not, I think Elfrid Payton takes one more step up as a Gary Payton like guard. He’s got the skills and the defensive know how, it’s just time to piece it all together. But come on Mario, we need you to freak out on someone, at least 4 times a game. If you want a good gauge of a temper during a Magic game, look up the T-Mac game when he punts the ball into the Jumbotron.

Hot Seat: Mickey Mouse. Word on the street is that he’s looking at going to LA for nothing. A third party is rumored to be interested in him, but they have not revealed themselves fully, but their pen name is “D. Duck”. More to follow.

Believe It or Not: Shaq jerseys are still being sold on Orlando and in the past 4 years, no jersey has sold more than Shaq’s. HUGE ISSUE.

Best Case Scenario: Hezonja freaks out on Skiles and coaches the team.

Worst Case Scenario: Hezonja wins Rookie of the Year and becomes a team player. Spice it up, Mario!

Prediction: I close me eeeeeeyyyeeess…only for a moment, but the moment’s goooonnneeee…We are undefeated right now; and I don’t wanna lose that. 36-46, 4th in the Southeast.

Josh: That jersey issue is actually a really big deal. Orlando desperately needs a new face of the franchise to step up and fill the Dwight void. Could that be Oladipo? Super Mario? Regardless, this whole team needs to take a step together. Skiles could get them to take one, but I’m not convinced it’s a huge step. I’m somewhat skeptical of Tobias Harris, of their spacing, and of the Wesley jinx (he also roots for Portland…case in point). 32-50, 5th in the Southeast

imageBrooklyn Nets

Catch You Up: Last Year the Nets finished 38-44, sneaking into the playoffs as the 8th seed before losing in 6 to the top-seeded Hawks. With no incentive to tank (their first rounder goes to Boston) the Nets re-signed Brook Lopez and Thad Young and added Andrea Bargnani (superstar!). They cut ties with oft-injured Deron Williams and traded away Mason Plumlee for the rights to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson out of Arizona.

Breakout Player: To be honest? There isn’t one here. The Nets have assembled a collection of mediocre young players and aging vets; I will say that Brook Lopez could have a career year as the clear #1 option on offense. 24-10 is in play for him. You know, with no defense.

Hotseat: Billy King, the Nets’ GM, has managed to trade away all of this team’s young talent and draft picks and attained only the second round for his troubles; another terrible season where they watch the Boston Celtics draft Dragan Bender should see him cleaning out his desk.

Believe it or Not: The Nets, through draft wizardry, will either lose their pick or have to swap to a worse position for 5 straight years. Go Nets!

Best case scenario: Lopez stays healthy and scores in bunches, Hollis-Jefferson can play the gritty 2-way role Pierce filled a few years ago, and they scrap their way to another playoff berth and a .500 record.

Worst case scenario: Lopez and Barngani are hurt, none of the young players develop, and Hollins punches Billy King after King trades away Hollis-Jefferson for Mike Miller and Jameer Nelson. They watch Boston draft in the top-3.

Prediction: I see no reason for optimism here; this team is bad, the coach can only do so much, and they will stagger to an unlucky 13th place finish in the conference. 28-54, 3rd in the Atlantic

Wes: What can be said about the Nets? I think this is just one of those teams, you’ll be forced to watch every now and then, because someone will do something so foul, you’ll wanna gouge your eyes out. 28 feels low, but I’m not going that much higher. 32-50, somewhere over the rainbow.

Hope you find your way home Brooklyn! And for our readers, check back tomorrow as we move to the East’s Middle Class – those teams that won’t feasibly compete for a championship, but will be in the playoff mix. If you have anything to say, feel free to let us know, either on Facebook or in the comments below. Thanks for reading!!

Burglary: Which lurking AFC teams could steal their divisions?

For the past month, the AFC division picture has been pretty straightforward. Denver/New England fight for the top seed; Indy runs away with the AFC South. AFC North is going to be a dogfight, but 3 of the 4 are locks and we’re just figuring out the order.

But now? Nothing’s for sure anymore. New England has looked great, but Miami has too, and don’t forget that the Dolphins beat the Patriots back in Week 1. Before the season the chatter was that San Diego had a shot at Denver’s division title; now the Chargers are trying to stay afloat, but the Chiefs are tied with Denver atop the division. And the AFC South? Well don’t look now, but the Texans are one game back and have the easiest remaining schedule in the league. You thought all of the drama was going to be in the NFC? Well, think again. Which division leaders can lose their spot? We’ll start with the least likely.

Pats Dolphins

AFC East: Not Going to Happen…Probably:

No team outside of the Arizona desert has been hotter the past 6 games than the New England Patriots. They are 8-2, tops in the AFC, and have blown out the other current division leaders during that 6-week span. They cycle through running backs like they’re on one-month leases, and yet are in the upper half of the league in rushing yardage. Their Hall of Fame Quarterback still can’t execute high-fives, but he is certainly executing an offense – top 10 yet again, with a healthy and high-spirited Gronk leading the way on the ground and through the air. This team is menacing.

However, this 6 game win-streak hasn’t done much to distance itself from second-place Miami, which has won 4 of its last 5 to sit two games back of the Patriots. Miami still has games against Minnesota and the Jets, twice, and matches New England in division and conference losses, with one and two, respectively. The Dolphins’ defense is destroying opposing quarterbacks; they are #2 in yards against, #4 in points against, #2 in pass yards against, #3 in sacks, and #3 in opponent’s quarterback rating. This team is fearsome, and Cameron Wake is certainly showing up in the nightmares of guys like Kyle Orton and Jay Cutler. The offense is doing enough, with Tannehill proving he can be a starting NFL quarterback and rookie Jarvis Landry joining the unfathomable Class of 2014 Receivers.

Miami is playing great, but the Pats are playing even better. Can Miami catch New England and end a 10-year streak of Brady-led Patriots teams winning the AFC East? If so it will come down to the schedules. The Patriots still have to host Detroit and Miami, and travel to Green Bay, all three of which are daunting games. Not to mention they still need to travel to play the New York Jets, where they have lost 3 of the last 5 times. Miami still has Baltimore and Denver on their schedule, but they get Baltimore at home, and their game against Minnesota is a cupcake the Patriots simply don’t have. There’s no reason to pick the Patriots to suddenly start losing, but if they do, Miami could be chomping at the bit for that Week 15 matchup.

colts12luck-vs-texans99watt

AFC South: Well…JJ Watt is Really Good, So Maybe?

JJ Watt is amazing. He has scored on offense and defense, he has piled on sacks, hits, hurries, run-stops, tackles-for-loss, turnovers, passes defensed, and terrifying facial expressions with blood pouring down his face. His catch on Sunday had a very high degree of difficulty for anyone, let alone a defensive end. His impact on the defense can’t be properly quantified, but this is a team that is 8th in the league in points allowed despite not having a ton of other good players out there. And an offense that consistently put them in poor positions. Well, until Sunday. Ryan Mallett had the first above-average quarterback showing for Houston all season, throwing for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Browns. His 81.9 passer rating would trail only Aaron Rodgers if he had played enough snaps to qualify. And while Arian Foster sat out Sunday’s game, he is 3rd in the league in rushing yards (2nd in yards-per-game) and is thought to be coming back this weekend.

Is it possible they can turn a new leaf on offense and make a push for the postseason? Absolutely. And on the surface, it seems like Indianapolis would be vulnerable to such a move. Losers of 2 of their last 3 games, the Colts experienced blowouts at the hands of Pittsburgh and New England sandwiched around a blowout win over the New York “are they even playing football” Giants. They lost their top running back, Ahmad Bradshaw, to injury, as well as their most talented tight end, Dwayne Allen. Their defense has been riddled with injuries and isn’t a lock to get everyone back anytime soon.

So Houston wins the division? Not so fast. Indy may have had its stumbles, but it’s also a team talked about as a Super Bowl contender and for good reason. The Colts are first in yards per game and third in points per game (they were passed by Green Bay and New England this past weekend). Andrew Luck is an MVP candidate and leads the league in almost every rate passing statistic. While they have lost by some large margins, every loss was to a team currently in first place in its division, and they beat Baltimore and Cincinnati. The Texans, on the other hand, have a quarterback with one career start and a defense that lives and dies by one player. If he were to get hurt, their chances of doing anything would disappear. Their win Sunday over Cleveland was their only win over a team currently above .500, and they lost a game to the Giants in September.

For the AFC South, it all comes down to the schedule. The Colts have a league average schedule the rest of the way; the Texans have the easiest slate in football. Indy has trips to Cleveland and Dallas left on its slate, while Houston faces Baltimore and Cincy at home. The finish should come down to their rematch in Week 15. Unfortunately for Houston, that will take place in Indy. With one loss to Indy already in the books, Houston probably can’t sneak past. But with JJ Watt, anything is possible.

Chiefs Broncos

AFC West: It’s So Crazy, It Just Might Happen:

This time last year, Denver and Kansas City were tied atop the AFC West, at 9-1. Over the last 6 weeks of the season, the Chiefs went 0-4 against playoff-bound teams and finished 11-5; the Broncos went 1-2 against playoff-bound teams (their one win coming against the Chiefs) and finished with an AFC-leading 13-3 record. Fast forward to November 2014, and the Chiefs and Broncos again share an identical record, this time a more modest 7-3. Can Kansas City flip the script and finish this season on top? Something that seemed ridiculous just a few short weeks ago now seems to be entering the realm of sanity.

3 weeks ago Denver was on top of the NFL world. They were 6-1, universally recognized as the best team in the league. They held wins over 5 teams in playoff contention, including being the only team to defeat the Arizona Cardinals. Their one loss was in overtime at Seattle, the most reasonable loss in football. The Kansas City Chiefs had begun the season 0-2, and as Week 9 began they were above .500 for the first time all season at 4-3. Wild Card contention seemed to be all they could fight for; they had a 51% chance of making the playoffs, but only a 4.5% chance of winning their division.

Then everything changed, and drastically. Denver was blown out by the Patriots, then struggled in the first half against Oakland before pulling away in the second half. Kansas City won games against the Jets and Bills to step one game behind Denver. Then the Denver-disaster that was Week 11 happened. The Broncos, playing the 3-6 Rams, tripped and fell flat on their face. Their top-flight offense scored only 7 points, they lost key players to injury, and genuinely looked bad. The Chiefs, playing those same Seattle Seahawks who had knocked off Denver, hung on to win. To add insult to injury, the New England Patriots also won, basically eliminating Denver’s shot at the #1 seed (dropped 30% just in that one week). But more than that top seed, their division title is at stake.

Tied at 7-3, the two teams’ schedules the rest of the way are anything but identical. First, Denver only has one cupcake on their schedule – a home game against Oakland in Week 17. They have to go on the road to play the Bengals and Chargers, and they have to host the Dolphins and Bills. If the Broncos struggled with the Rams’ defensive front, they are not going to have an easy going against the front fours from the AFC East. None of those games are cake walks. The Broncos have the 3rd toughest schedule in the NFL the rest of the way.

Kansas City, on the other hand, has a somewhat easier route. They have to travel to Arizona and Pittsburgh, but they are hosting San Diego and still have two games against Oakland remaining. The kicker is that they are hosting the Denver rematch in two weeks. With their pass rush, and the uncertainty of some of Denver’s players, they could very well be favored in that game. In total, the Chiefs’ schedule ranks out at 10th.

If Kansas City, led by a fearsome pass rush and a ball-control offense, can win the rematch against Denver and sweep Oakland, they will almost definitely own the tie-breaker against the Broncos and have the inside track on the division title. Also interesting? If they do win the division, they hold the tie-breaker over the New England Patriots as well. 0-2 to the #1 overall seed? Well, crazier things have happened…

AFC North: Put in Your Hand and Draw out a Name:

I chronicled each team’s route to winning the division last week; I still think Baltimore takes it. However, it should be noted that Cleveland has the 3rd easiest schedule in the league remaining…with Josh Gordon, could they make a push down the home stretch? Only time will tell…

How’re They Doing? Ranking the QBs Thus Far

Everyone’s always debating who is the best QB and who isn’t, so I thought I would weigh in. To put my own personal spin on it, I’m ordering them based on how they are playing and succeeding this season. I’ve grouped them into tiers that reflect the company they’re keeping. And for once, there is absolutely no bias present here. I ranked the Redskin low and the Steeler and Cowboy much higher than I wanted to. So there you go!

After my rankings I have Week 11 Picks and my College Basketball Final Four. So read it all!

The MVP Contenders:

1) Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
2) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
3) Tom Brady, New England Patriots
4) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

This is the cream of the crop in the NFL right now. Most everyone’s Top-5 list would include these, based on almost any metric. For current performance, these guys can’t be touched. Manning continues to dominate on the best team in the league, Brady beat Manning and refuses to allow his team to decline, and Rodgers and Luck are putting up video game numbers on 6-3 teams. Best out there right now.

russell-wilson_3

Perennial Winners:

5) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Stealers
6) Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
7) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
8) Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

Some may be a little shocked to see Drew Brees so far down this list; the fact of the matter, however, is that his team is below .500 and I don’t think, if you put him on a team with poor skill players, that he would put up big numbers. So he drops to #7. Big Ben showed that when you’re already good and you get hot, you can break records and destroy good teams. He then goes out and has games like last week against the Jets, so he can’t be any higher. Wilson is solid and consistent and his teams win a lot, and Rivers is an elite guy surrounded by a team with a lot of weaknesses. Any team in the NFL would be glad to have these guys, but they’re a step below.

Stafford

Having Success this Year:

9) Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
10) Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
11) Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
12) Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
13) Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

These aren’t all the QBs having success this year, but they are those passers who can’t consistently win or put up the numbers of the first two groups, but who are having solid seasons this time around. Joe Flacco recently won a Super Bowl, followed that up with a terrible season in 2013, and now is back to good-if-not-great form. Ryan Tannehill is putting up good numbers for a Dolphins team that wants to make the playoffs; Alex Smith is managing an above-average offense in the direction of a second-straight Wild Card. Tony Romo is much maligned and disliked by this author, but his team is 7-1 when he plays the whole game and he destroyed an NFL team while playing with two broken bones in his back last week. I must reluctantly give him credit for that. The guy trying to take the step up this year is Matt Stafford, who puts up crazy numbers with Megatron and mediocre ones without; regardless he has no run game and his team is 7-2, so he’s doing something right.

Hoyer

Can Do It, But Not On Their Own:

14) Eli Manning, New York Giants
15) Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
16) Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
17) Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns
18) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

This was a weird group to nail down. Guys like Matt Ryan and Eli Manning seem to be a victim of their offensive lines and defenses; they’re putting up decent numbers but are unable to get wins. Cam has been banged up, has the worst offense 2-11 in the league, and is caught in the NFC South curse. Kaepernick has been wildly inconsistent but his team has a winning record. The most 2014 success of the group goes to Brian Hoyer, who has basically no track record and has merely ok numbers. Give these guys weapons and a good defense, they’re in the playoffs. Give them neither, and they’re in trouble.

Need a Lot of Help:

19) Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
20) Michael Vick, New York Jets
21) Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia Eagles
22) Kyle Orton, Buffalo Bills
23) Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

Another step down finds us among those guys who need a lot of help. Dalton, Orton, and Sanchez have been to the playoffs (and gone deep in Sanchez’ case) on the back of elite defenses, but probably can’t lead a team their themselves. Vick has also been deep in the playoffs, and carried them there, but his days of playing at that level are behind him. Cutler is a guy who broods and throws interceptions and makes fans hate him, and his flashes of sheer brilliance are overshadowed by his slumps. He’s probably in the 3rd group before this season; now he’s in the fifth.

Drew Stanton

Not Sure What to Do this These Two:

24) Drew Stanton, Arizona Cardinals
25) Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

These guys are hard to nail down. Stanton has been a decent backup for his career, but was never a contender for a starting position. Now he finds himself (again) at the helm of a first-place team, and his previous stint was anemic offensively. If he can guide them to a first-round bye, he’ll jump in these rankings. If he is struggling to hang on to 16-13 wins, then he’ll probably stay around here. Griffin was a revelation as a rookie, a jumpy turnover machine in his second, and hasn’t really played enough this year to form an opinion. If he can stay healthy and move through his reads, he deserves to move up. But if he’s the guy who played last season, then he’s fighting to stay here.

The Young Guns – Jury’s Still Out:

26) Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
27) Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
28) Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
29) Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee Titans
30) Ryan Mallett, Houston Texans

First time starters need a little time for an accurate opinion to form. Out of this bunch, Carr has played the most and probably shown the most ability, even if it has come with a terrible running game and little to no defensive help. Bortles is putting up numbers on a team that keeps losing, while Teddy has managed to win some games without accumulating TDs. Mettenberger seems to have some more fire than the guys previously ahead of him in Tennessee, but that hasn’t translated to wins. Mallett is a complete unknown, but giving him a try in Houston was the right move.

We Know They Aren’t Good – Why are They Starting Again?

31) Shaun Hill, St. Louis Rams
32) Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

No one has any idea what happened in Chicago last year, but it was a career anomaly for McCown. He was terrible before, and he’s been terrible this year. Why the Bucs went away from Mike Glennon to put McCown back in makes no sense. Hill is a guy who can put up numbers in a pass-happy system, but he doesn’t tend to win a lot of games. These guys don’t have upside, they’re injury risks, and they don’t make sense for teams to be starting if they aren’t playing for anything.

Well, there you have it. All 32 starting QBs definitively ranked and divided into tiers. If you were wondering about where non-starting QBs rank, Palmer would have been 10th, Foles would have been 25th, Bradford would have been 23rd, Locker would have been 26th, and Tim Tebow is 1st.

 

Week 11 Picks

It’s a quarterback’s game nowadays, and in light of that, I will put my new rankings to good use. For each game, the team with the higher-ranked QB wins. No matter what. Here we go!

Ryan Tannehill 20, Kyle Orton 13 – Ryan Tannehill was able to shake off a slow first half and put points on the board; Orton was not.

Cam Newton 27, Matt Ryan 24 – Neither of these guys are playing very well; however, Cam can do the most with a terrible offensive line, while Ryan just doesn’t have enough time to do anything but dump it off to his backs. Advantage Cam.

Drew Brees 34, Andy Dalton 24 – I think the Bengals bounce back a little and put some points on the board. However, the Saints are at home, Graham will be playing ticked off, and Brees is an NFL quarterback. Dalton…well, we aren’t sure.

Brian Hoyer 27, Ryan Mallett 6 – There is no evidence thus far that Ryan Mallett is good at anything but holding a clipboard. And there is evidence that this Cleveland team is playing pretty good. And if they win they will be 7-3 when Josh Gordon returns. He may propel Hoyer up a tier just by showing up.

Peyton Manning 41, Shaun Hill 17 – Denver doesn’t shut anyone out; the Broncos get out to such a lead that they relax and teams score once or twice in the 4th quarter. So Hill may throw for a buck-90 and a score. But Manning will have already done his work by then against this porous secondary. Emmanuel Sanders wants a TD? You got it. Welcome back Montee Ball – here’s a screen pass for a score. Both Thomases? Sure! 4 TDs for our #1 QB.

Russell Wilson 24, Alex Smith 20 – Both of these defenses are playing pretty good; Seattle is stuffing the run and Kansas City is shutting down the pass. But I think some points will still be scored, and I think WIlson runs for another 80+ yards and pulls this one out. Two good teams, but one has to lose.

Eli Manning 26, Colin Kaepernick 24 – I don’t think this is San Francisco’s year. They have been struggling in most games they’ve played, and against a tough schedule have barely emerged over .500. Seattle and Arizona are both ahead of them, as are Dallas and Green Bay in the Wild Card race. So they lose in an upset in the Meadowlands. You think I’m just picking the Giants because I inexplicably ranked Eli above Cap earlier in this piece? Well, no comment.

Robert Griffin III 30, Josh McCown 20 – McCown is playing really bad right now, despite the presence of Mike Evans and Mike Evans’ huge wingspan. The Redskins aren’t exactly rolling, but Griffin moved the ball two weeks ago against a defense slightly better than this one. The Redskins get another win to push their draft pick even later…

Jay Cutler 24, Teddy Bridgewater 20 – Here’s where the system breaks down. Sometimes there are other factors that are involved, like the fact that Chicago is playing worse than Oakland right now. But a rule’s a rule, and Cutler is theoretically the best QB, so- WAIT, you know what?? My blog, my rules, and I say this one gets an exception.

VETO: Teddy 34, Cutlet 24 – Vikings pass rush dominates Cutler, Teddy enjoys his new toy named Kyle Rudolph.

Philip Rivers 30, Derek Carr 22 – The Raiders play the Chargers tough, and Carr tossed 4 TDs against them earlier in the season. But Rivers likes playing at home, and he will get this team back on track, at least for this week.

Matthew Stafford 17, Drew Stanton 16 – This will be a tight one; if Palmer was playing the advantage would go to the Cards. But with Drew behind center, and Megatron towering over Patrick Peterson, I think the Lion pull this out.

Aaron Rodgers 44, Mark Sanchez 38 – It’s a shootout! Sort of. I think they duel for a half, then Rodgers pulls away in the second before the Eagles get a late meaningless TD to draw closer. Jordy is uncoverable by this defense, and likewise the Eagles run game is going to get going to the tune of 250 yards and 3 scores between McCoy and Sproles.

Tom Brady 38, Andrew Luck 34 – Now this will be a shootout. Brady has dominated the matchup thus far, standing 3-0 against Luck. But I think Luck holds his own this time, and the Colts will even hold a 4th quarter lead. But Brady is playing too well, and Luck needs one more year before he steps onto the pedestal.

Ben Roethlisberger 23, Zach Mettenberger 9 – Big Ben doesn’t exactly get back on track, but LeVeon Bell controls the clock and this Pittsburgh defense has a throwback performance that completely shuts down young Mettenberger.

Final Four

College Basketball – Starts Tonight!

I’m definitely more of a pro sports fan, but I began as a college basketball fan watching Duke games with my grandparents, and I still love to watch it. I can’t watch Wednesday night “Wake Forest vs. NC State” games anymore, nor most of the “Kentucky-Florida” types, but I still try to watch Duke games and I binge watch in March. Just to get this out there:

Final Four Picks: Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, UConn

National Champions: Arizona Wildcats

Have a great weekend everyone!

Why the Ravens, Bengals, Browns, and Steelers will win the AFC North

All for one and one for all!! Why can’t all four teams in the AFC North make the playoffs? In a feat of NFL insanity, all four teams in the league’s most competitive division have 5.5 or 6 wins, separated by no more than a half game total. Let’s walk through why every single team will win this division.

Baltimore Ravens – The cream will rise to the top, and the Ravens are clearly the cream of this division. Only 21 months removed from winning a Super Bowl, this collection of players knows how to win. The Ravens have finished under .500 only once in the last 10 years; that kind of consistency will send them to the playoffs once again. The Ravens sport the best point differential in the division, which is a better indicator than win-loss record of how good a team really is. They also don’t have any bad losses – all four have come to teams currently with a winning record. They have also played 5 of their 6 division games, which means while the rest of the division beats itself up the Ravens will cruise to 10 wins and a home playoff game.

Cincinnati Bengals – Who won the division last year? That’s right, the Cincinnati Bengals. Why is everyone jumping ship when the Bengals are only a game out of first? Sure they played a bad game last Thursday, but every team does – the Steelers, Ravens, and Browns all have big losses on their resumes. No team in the division has the weapons this Bengals team has; likewise, no team has experienced as many injuries to those weapons. Tyler Eifert went down in Week 1, Green missed the majority of 3 games, and Gio Bernard has missed two games thus far. Well, Green is now healthy, and Bernard and Eifert will be back in the next couple of weeks, giving Andy Dalton the set of dynamic weapons he has sorely missed. The defense has been strung out by the anemic offense; once they get going the defense will be able to defend longer fields and leads, and the Bengals should win the majority of their remaining games. Plus they have that tie in hand, which will keep them from getting caught in unfavorable tie-breakers and instead keep them a half-game ahead of the pack.

Cleveland Browns – First place belongs to the Cleveland Browns – in Week 11!! It’s been a long time for tortured Browns fans, and they deserve this. Maybe the magic of Johnny Football takes effect even if he isn’t playing? Regardless, the Browns have earned first place, and they won’t relinquish it. Brian Hoyer has staved off Manziel and kept this job, putting up solid number despite being without Gordon (missed every game thus far), Cameron (missed 6 games) and Andrew Hawkins (2 games) – in other words, their three best pass-catchers. Putting up enough points to win every week with Jim Gray, Miles Austin’s warm corpse, and Travis Benjamin has been nothing short of amazing. The defense has been up and down, but they are heating up now, and have held their division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to 3 and 0 points, respectively. Their 2-2 division record is deceptive, as they are two last-minute field goals away from being undefeated in division play; no other team in the AFC North can boast that. They are +47 in division games; no other AFC North team even has a positive point differential in the division. And if all of that wasn’t enough, Cleveland will be either 6-4 or 7-3 and will add 2013’s best receiver, Josh Gordon; no other team will add a player of that caliber. This Browns team could be very, very dangerous.

Pittsburgh Steelers – To start, the Steelers are a bunch of malevolent cheaters who kick canes out from under old ladies and who think Jar Jar Binks is the best part of Star Wars. However, in sports cheaters can still win things, as evidenced by Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, and the entire University of North Carolina. And Pittsburgh has something the rest of these teams don’t; an Elite QB. Say all you want, but Roethlisberger has two rings and has carried subpar offenses and subpar offensive coaching to a ton of playoff wins. They have blown out other playoff teams in Indianapolis and Baltimore, and notched wins against Cleveland and Baltimore. LeVeon Bell is the best running back in the division, and Antonio Brown is every bit as good as A.J. Green and Josh Gordon. Pittsburgh is never down for very long; they’ll bounce back and be a playoff team – and division winner – this year.

02_AFC-NorthReport_news

What if they all tie?? – That’s a great question, and to figure it out I hopped on the playoff generator and picked out the remaining games of the season. And the outcome told me three things:

  1. It’s almost impossible for the teams to finish in a 4-way tie; the Bengals’ tie with Carolina makes that virtually impossible. They seem to have more of a chance at finishing a half game or a game and a half out of first, but it could also help them avoid an unfavorable tiebreaker and win the division. But most likely it hurts them more than helps them
  2. Baltimore wins the tie-breakers if the other three all tie, either at 11-5 or 10-6. Baltimore has solid results in the conference and the division, and will come out on top if they win the games they should the rest of the way.
  3. Cleveland has a tough schedule – I think they’re the second best team in the division, but they have the hardest schedule. They have a good shot at a Wild Card, but they’ll need another win in the division and a strong showing in the games they should win.

My Pick: I think the Baltimore Ravens have the best overall roster in the division, as well as the best coach, and are going to win this in the end. I also think either Pittsburgh or Cleveland grabs the #6 seed. The Bengals have too many injuries and will drop out. As far as my heart, I will be right beside my wife in rooting for a Cleveland playoff run.

Fantasy Studs Who Carried you to Victory

Most if not all of you reading my blog are Fantasy Football players. This week, I noticed that a substantial amount of players I was starting, or were being started against me, had huge games. So I decided to take a moment and highlight those players who, if you started them, most likely won you your fantasy league. Scoring is based on a standard PPR league. Players that played the JV team residing in Chicago are included despite the competitive advantage they had.

QB: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (48 points) – I’m sure by now everyone has heard about Aaron Rodgers’ phenomenal night. Against a Bears team that was supposed to challenge Green Bay for the NFC North crown, he put on a passing clinic. Green Bay scored a touchdown on all 6 of their first half possessions, and all 6 scores were throws by Rodgers. He threw Red-Zone bullets to his tight ends, perfectly thrown bombs to his wide receivers, and got to sit back and watch Eddie Lacy score on a long screen pass. Only one other time in NFL history has a QB thrown for 6 TDs in a half, and that was Daryle Lamonica back in the early 70s. Rodgers also set the record for most career TDs of 70 yards or more, with 16, after his 73 yard strike to Jordy Nelson. If you had Rodgers, you’re probably winning this week.

WR: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers (33.2 points) – Rodgers had to throw to somebody! Jordy Nelson has become the most dominant home receiver in football, which I didn’t know was a thing but appears to be his thing. He has averaged 18.4 points on the road this year, as opposed to 25.6 points at home. His road total would be good enough for 8th in the league; his home numbers would lead the league. He slammed that point home last night, catching all six of his targets for 152 yards and 2 TDs during the rout of the Bears. How a guy like Nelson gets open against anyone just baffles me, but I guess when you’re that good, you get open. It should also be noted that Nelson’s most impressive play of the night may have been one that didn’t get him any Fantasy points; just keep an eye on the extra effort at the end of Lacy’s TD:

Nelson block

WR: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (33.8 points) – I’m sure that Jason Witten, Jerry Jones, and every Dallas fan worldwide missed Tony Romo last week, but perhaps no one missed him more than Dez Bryant. With Romo, Dez is a top-5 receiver; with Wheeden, his production tumbles down the list. When you have a QB that can’t accurately do anything with the football, it’s hard to do much of anything. Bryant responded to Romo’s return with a show for the London crowd, catching six passes for 158 yards and 2 scores, including a pair of highlight reel plays where he broke countless tackles by the hapless Jaguars defenders. The Jacksonville coaching staff looked at the success of the Washington and Arizona defenses blitzing the Cowboys line and decided not to blitz and instead give the guy with two broken bones in his back all day to throw. It didn’t end well, unless your name is Dez. His day ended quite well.

RB: Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks (41.3 points) – Beast Mode took over the Seattle train yesterday, carrying the ball 21 times for 140 yards and 4 touchdowns, adding a reception for another 23. He ran over defender after defender, playing with an edge as if he was personally furious with every Giants’ player. 6 TDs in 2 weeks is very impressive for a running back, and he now leads the league in rushing scores. Just don’t get in his way – it’s safer that way.

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RB: C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos (26.3 points) – Our unlikely participant in today’s blog post, Anderson gets a boost into the top 2 with our PPR scoring (anywhere from #5-#3 otherwise depending on your scoring). But he certainly earned it. Anderson put up 13 carries for 90 yards, a good if not stellar rushing line. His impact came in the passing game, however, as he caught 4 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. Ronnie Hillman became a bystander as Anderson took over the job for yesterday’s game, providing solid pass blocking as well. Apparently it doesn’t matter who you are, if you can get snaps behind Peyton Manning, you put up points.

TE: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (29.6 points) – Yesterday Jimmy Graham caught 10 passes. 10 passes is a lot, boys and girls, for anyone. Those 10 catches went for 76 yards and 2 touchdowns. The talk today, however, hasn’t been about the catches that counted, however, but rather the ones that didn’t. Graham was ruled to have pushed off on a Hail Mary pass as time expired that he caught in the end zone; if that catch counted Graham would have tied Lynch for the most non-QB points of the day. Still an impressive line for the best tight end in football.

Graham push

Defense: Arizona Cardinals (25.0 points) – Defenses are all scored differently, but I think we have to assume the Cardinals scored the most in everyone’s leagues. They allowed 14 points, dropped Austin Davis 6 times, has two interceptions, one forced fumble, and oh yeah, those two game-sealing defensive touchdowns. The Cardinals’ defense stepped up when their team needed them, and Fantasy owners benefited.

Hope you didn’t start them…

QB: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals (-1.76 points)
WR: Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals (2.10 points)
WR: Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys (0.00 points)
RB: Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins (1.60 points)
RB: Ronnie Hillman, Denver Broncos (4.20 points)
TE: Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers (1.80 points)
DST: Cincinnati Bengals (2.00 points)

Midseason Award Check: Plus Week 10 picks

Welcome to the midway point of the 2014 NFL Season! We have had offensive explosions, defensive stops, and special teams gaffes galore! We’ve had coaches pulling challenge flags from pockets, belts, and socks (seriously, why do coaches keep them in their socks? Tom Coughlin threw a challenge flag too late Monday Night, because he had to dig it out of his sock. What is the benefit to keeping it down there??). We have had defensive ends catching touchdowns, wide receivers throwing touchdowns, and the Detroit Lions being completely unable to kick field goals. Players have been suspended, reinstated, and wrongfully cut after they were wrongfully not cut. Or something.

In other words, it’s been a roller coaster ride. And as we always do, we’ve loved every minute of it. At points I’ve evaluated many of my preseason predictions, and at the end I’ll have a short section on many of my predictions. But our main task here is to identify who the leading candidates for each of the major awards are. I’ll give my preseason and Week 5 selections for that award, then outline the main candidates, then give my current pick with runner up. Let’s go!

MVP

Preseason pick: Drew Brees   —   Week 5 Pick: Phillip Rivers

Well, this one changed drastically. Phillip Rivers was putting on a QB clinic through 6 weeks, leading the league in passer rating, yards-per-attempt, and completion percentage. After a 3-week losing streak, the Chargers’ playoff odds dropped from over 70% to less than 20%, and Rivers has dropped to 7th or worst in all of those categories as he has spiraled out of the entire discussion. A run by San Diego to make the playoffs may resurrect his campaign, but until further notice he’s not on our short list.

Some guys are on that short list, including Big Ben, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning. With continued success, any of those guys could win this award. DeMarco Murray is showing he can’t carry a team without Romo taking snaps, and so he took a hit, although he’ll probably continue to be in the conversation as long as he puts up numbers. Carson Palmer is the QB of the best team in football, but he missed 3 games and probably can’t crack the top 5 yes. A candidate for “player of the past 3 weeks” is Pittsburgh receiver Martavis Bryant; he has 5 touchdowns in 3 career games, a number that would pro-rate to 27 scores over the course of an entire season!

My pick here, though, leads the league in yards by a huge margin and is on pace to (barely) break Manning’s yardage record from last year. He also leads the league in touchdowns, yards per game, completions, and fantasy points (yeah, I have him in a league). The Colts are in the mix for the #1 seed in the AFC, and get to play the Patriots to establish that goal in just a couple of weeks. Despite a subpar offensive line and absolutely no running game, he and his beard have destroyed opposing defenses. Unless the Colts drop off precipitously, I think this award will be his by the end of the year.

Midseason Pick: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (Peyton Manning)

Luck

Defensive Player of the Year

Preseason Picks: JJ Watt   —   Week 5 Pick: JJ Watt

Defensive player of the year is a hard award to nail down; defensive players rarely have the same impact as quarterbacks and running backs do, and their impact is harder to identify. When a guy occupies three blockers because he is playing so well, his other teammates will get the sacks and tackles for loss available to them because of his big impact. And that stuff doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.

Luke Kuechly leads the league in tackles by a solid margin, with Lavonte David behind him; their teams are both well under .500, though. CJ Mosley and Daryl Smith are 3rd and 4th, and they are on a winning team – but it’s the same winning team, Baltimore. Vontae Davis of the Colts leads the league in passes defensed, and Tashaun Gipson of Cleveland has 6 interceptions, two more than anyone else. Marcell Dareus leads all defensive tackles with 7 sacks, and has been a monster for Buffalo’s run defense.

In the end, however, I think it comes down to Justin Houston and JJ Watt. Houston has 12 sacks (on pace for 24), three more than anyone else (and 3.5 more than Watt). However, that’s basically all he has (not trying to diminish how dominant those sack totals are). In addition, Houston started strong last year (11 sacks in 8 games) before finishing the season with only those 11 total sacks. JJ Watt has been a monster all over the field. He is 4th in sacks with 8.5, and out of players with at least 5 sacks, he has the most tackles (39), passes defensed (7, 5 more than anyone else), interceptions, fumble recoveries, defensive touchdowns, and offensive touchdowns. His diverse impact transcends his team’s win-loss total. This award is his to lose. It doesn’t hurt if you inspire Halloween costumes too.

Midseason Pick: JJ Watt, Houston Texans (Justin Houston)

jj-watt-costume

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Preseason Pick: Brandin Cooks   —   Week 5 Pick: Kelvin Benjamin

This one has centered around the wideouts from Week 1, and continues to do so. The top rookie signal-callers are stuck on mediocre teams (Carr, Teddy, Bortles) or stuck on the bench (Manziel). There are a handful of running backs who have had a big game or two – McKinnon, Hill, Mason, West – but none who have sustained success. And Jace Amaro has probably been the best rookie tight end, and he has averaged 32 yards a game with only one touchdown total.

No, it’s been the wideouts making the buzz, and lots of them. Twelve rookie receivers have caught multiple touchdowns; Watkins, Benjamin, Bryant, and Hurns all lead the way with 5. Brandin Cooks and Allen Robinson lead the way in receptions, while Watkins and Benjamin sit in a virtual tie for first in yardage. John Brown of Arizona has played a key role on the best team in the league, and Taylor Gabriel has averaged 18 yards a catch to lead all rookies who have caught at least 5 passes. In other words, this receiving class is deep, and very good. We haven’t even mentioned Jordan Matthews, Mike Evans, Davonte Adams, Jarvis Landry, Donte Montcrief, or Odell Beckham yet. Wow.

You can take your pick for who is the best; to this point I think Watkins has been the most integral to his team’s success, and Benjamin has the stats to be right there with him. But I could change my opinion weekly with this group.

Midseason Pick: Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills (Kelvin Benjamin)

Sammy Watkins, Josh Robinson

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Preseason Pick: Jadeveon Clowney   —   Week 5 Pick: C.J. Mosley

We obviously have no idea how Clowney would have played if he was healthy; sure I blew the Drew Brees preseason pick, but I nailed Watt, Cooks is right there in the mix, and Clowney wasn’t a crazy pick. I had Mosley as my runner up before the season, my pick 5 weeks ago, and now he’s strongly holding down the fort as the best rookie on defense.

There are other candidates, to be sure. Kyle Fuller and Jason Verrett have had solid seasons as corners, but they can’t stay healthy enough to stay in the mix. Aaron Donald is a beast in the middle of the Rams’ line, but it’s a line that has struggled for much of the year and only now is coming on. Anthony Barr is probably the next solid candidate, with 58 tackles, 4 sacks, a forced fumble, 3 fumble recoveries, and a huge defensive touchdown for their overtime win against Tampa. However, Mosley has 85 tackles, 25 more than the next guy, as well as 2 interceptions, a forced fumble, and a defensive touchdown. He’s been the best defensive player on a really good defense. He’s going to take this award running away.

Midseason Pick: C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens (Anthony Barr)

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens

Coach of the Year

Preseason Pick: Bill O’Brian

I didn’t re-pick this at the Week 5 mark; I am not sure who I would have chosen at that point. Thankfully, the field has cleaned up a bit. Some coaches are doing a remarkable job, but that’s nothing new – Belichick is coaching an injury-riddled mess of a defensive front-seven into a powerhouse; Chuck Pagano has the Colts defense playing solid football every week they don’t play Pittsburgh; and Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy, and Mike Tomlin have all righted ships that looked a little shaky earlier this year.

However, this seems to be a 3-man race at this point, although if Chip Kelly turns Mark Sanchez into a Pro Bowler he may jump the field. Jim Caldwell has taken an underachieving Lions team and made them overachieve, fielding the best defense in football in the process, but he hasn’t exactly shown off his coaching skills in doing so. Two weeks ago in London he was the 31st worst coach in football; luckily he was matched up against #32. So he’s disqualified in my book, and hopefully the books of the voters.

That leaves us with two. Mike Pettine has the Browns at 6-3, which is 2 more wins than they won all of last year. They also have a +37 point differential, which is actually better than anyone in the NFC but Philly, and second only to Baltimore in its division. That number is exactly the same for inter-division games, while the other three teams are all in the negatives. Their defense started a little shaky but has grown week by week, and was the 6th best pass defense in the league going into last night; they’ll probably jump a couple of spots with their performance against Andy Dalton. Pettine has done a great job of coaching.

However, he’s been working with most of his cards; while Jordan Cameron and Andrew Hawkins have missed time on offense, and Pro-Bowl center Alex Mack is out for the year, his defense has mostly been healthy. The exact opposite is true for Bruce Arians and the Cardinals. Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, John Abraham, and Matt Shaughnessy have all missed time on the defense; Carson Palmer missed 3 games himself with nerve damage in his shoulder. And yet the Cardinals have a top 5 defense, the best record in football, and are only playing better and better every week. Bruce Arians, along with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, have worked magic keeping this team playing at such a high level.

Midseason Pick: Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals (Mike Pettine)

PNI1028-spt cards

Week 10 Picks in 5 words or less:

Cleveland 21, Cincinnati 20: Andy Dalton, 2.0 quarterback rating

Atlanta 30, Tampa Bay 16: McCown bad, Ryan good

Kansas City 23, Buffalo 16: Justin Houston levels Kyle Orton

Jacksonville 20, Dallas 13: Blitz Romo, you win. #Dallasuk

Baltimore 45, Tennessee 20: Raven beat up bad teams

New Orleans 31, San Francisco 24: Saints win at home

Pittsburgh 37, New York Jets 19: Two more for Martavis Bryant

Denver 42, Oakland 31: Carr dominates garbage time

Arizona 24, St. Louis 20: Michael Floyd has his breakout

Seattle 40, New York Giants 17: Giants drop passes, Seahawks don’t

Green Bay 38, Chicago 31: 5 TDs between Jordy, Alshon

Carolina 23, Philadelphia 20: Sanchez? Don’t make me laugh

Klay’s Day in the Sun

This past weekend Klay Thompson put an emphatic stamp on the NBA landscape, being named the Western Conference player of the week after leading the Golden State Warriors to a 3-0 record to sit atop the West. As a Warriors fan, I had a front-row seat to the Class-A film that was the Weekend of Klay.

Any weekend where you are promised $70 million is by definition a good weekend. Finding a $20 bill in my pants pocket would make mine; Klay Thompson signed a contract for over 3 million twenty dollar bills this past Friday. Yes, I realize it’s impossible to picture 3 million twenty dollar bills. Maybe picturing Scrooge swimming in gold would be helpful.

Scrooge

That’s Klay Thompson right now, enjoying the security and benefits of his new max contract. Now, for those unfamiliar with the NBA contract system, there is a cap for how much money a player can make every year; that number is determined by how much revenue the league brings in as well as how long a player has been in the league. For instance, when LeBron James signed a “max contract” this past summer, he signed for 20,640,000 a year. Klay, however, is a 4th year player coming off of his rookie deal; he signed a max deal, but his per-year salary will be $17,000,000.

This contract was basically a lock to happen for months, since Golden State turned down the Timberwolves’ offer to swap David Lee and Klay Thompson for Kevin Love and Kevin Martin. In doing so, the Warriors made a statement that they intended to build their team around the Splash Brothers, emphasizing continuity and team unity rather than offensive potential. In addition, they felt (and feel) strongly that Klay was a better fit for what they want to do than Love. Klay is key defensively for their system, taking on the larger of the two guards on the other team, allowing the smaller Curry to guard someone more his size.

I’m not going to rehash everything that was discussed when the trade was turned down; at the time I read all about the advanced metrics, which don’t like Klay, and decided I wanted the Warriors to trade him for Love. But they didn’t, and the more I’ve thought about it I am completely on board with their decision. They are keeping this core together, and it’s a core they believe in – they are willing to make a championship run with these guys. I agree with them – these guys, Curry-Klay-Iggy-Draymond-Barnes-Lee-Bogut, can win a championship. Maybe swapping Klay and Lee for Love and Martin wouldn’t have that same potential.

Klay’s camp wanted a max contract not only based on his scoring totals, or his place as a top-5 shooter in the league, but his strength at a weak position leaguewide. James Harden is generally accepted as the 2-guard in the NBA; who is second? Kobe and Wade have dominated the position for years; both are clearly in the twilight of their careers, so it’s hard to identify where they are. Aaron Afflalo, Monta Ellis, JJ Redick, Wesley Matthews, DeMar Derozan, Jimmy Butler…are we going to say any of those guys are the second best shooting guard in the entire league? Klay is an elite shooter, a developing offensive player in general, and he is way ahead of guys like Kobe and Harden on defense. His camp made the statement ‘Klay Thompson is the best 2-way shooting guard in the league” this summer; while it seems slightly presumptuous…what if it’s true? Well, Thompson certainly came out this year ready to prove that right.

Klay USA

Carrying his Gold Medal performance at the FIBA World Cup into the season, Klay had a solid opener last week, dropping 19 points and 6 assists while going 9-10 from the free throw line. He had a poor shooting night, though. That cleared up in a hurry.

A day after signing his extension, Klay and the Warriors took on Kobe and the Lakers. And showed off why he deserved all of that money. Thompson displayed an array of moves in dropping a career-high 41 points on 14-18 shooting; most of the game he and Kobe guarded each other, and Thompson destroyed him. During the third quarter the two began playing one-on-one; Kobe made some insane shots with Klay draped all over him, and Klay answered every time. Then, once the fourth quarter began, Klay smothered Bryant, who only made one shot in the 4th. Bryant’s final line? 28 points on 12-28 shooting. That’s why Klay not only deserved his contract, but is one of the 2 or 3 best 2-guards in the league. No one else can drop 41 while guarding one of the best offensive players of a generation.

Klay

And Klay wasn’t even close to being done. Sunday night Golden State turned around and headed up to Portland for their first real test of the season. The game was phenomenal, with no team taking a commanding lead throughout. Thompson dropped 20 in the first half, and during the back-and-forth final period unleashed a nasty dunk on Portland center Robin Lopez.

Klay

Late in the 4th quarter (as in about 10 seconds left) the Warriors got awarded the ball after it went out of bounds off of a Blazer. Steve Kerr drew up an inbounds play, and instead of choosing his All-Star point guard, he picked Klay.

Ball in play, Klay darts towards the hoop, catches the ball, then with (very good) defender Wesley Matthews draped all over him, rises up and nails the shot. Warriors lead, 91-90, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in winning 95-90.

Klay yeah

3 days, 3 stellar performances for the Western Conference Player of the Week. Klay Thompson deserves every penny of that contract, and he showed that by dominating the next two games. Aldridge played really well Sunday, but Klay was the best player on the court two nights in a row. I’m not saying he’s better than Aldridge or Lillard or Curry, just that he out-played them all. And that’s becoming a common practice for this kid (I say kid, but he’s 7 month older than I am). He leads the league in scoring, is second in made 3’s, and the Warriors are 3-0. Sounds like a pretty good weekend to me.

Now excuse me as I go search my pants pockets…