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Sunday, October 29, 2006

NFL Mid-Season Update 


New England Patriots---Right where we thought they’d be. No wide receivers, no problem, some of the best coaching minds in the league have found a way with tight ends, running backs, and the great Tom Brady. Have to believe there will come a point where they miss Adam Vinateri, perhaps not until the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl, but there will come a time.

New York Jets---A shock. Eric Mangini is far and away the coach of the year at the halfway point. Sure the schedule has been easy, but was anyone, anywhere predicting over .500 this year?? Kudos to Chad Pennington on a remarkable comeback.

Buffalo Bills---Too bad they have J.P. Loserman quarterbacking, because they have a lot of other talent. One of the many teams that has to be re-thinking passing up Matt Leinart on draft day. Wait ‘til next year, may trade up for Brady Quinn come April…

Miami Dolphins---Over-hyped. Culepepper as the Clarion warned you in our preseason predictions, was a creation of Randy Moss. The defense has gotten old, all at once. Suddenly, Nick Saban is no longer a genius. They are making a lot of pundits look bad, and may end up the year with so many holes and flaws that their slogan next year is wait ‘til 2008.

Only the Patriots will make playoff noise from the AFC East. Jets might sneak in, but won’t last.


Indianapolis Colts---Same old, same old, a great passing offense, and the unstoppable Peyton Manning are paired with NO defense. A great regular season, heading for ignominious playoff defeat. Will miss Edgerrin James running and blitz pick-ups even more at playoff time.

Jacksonville Jaguars---Have been hammered by injuries on defense. Byron Leftwich has been inconsistent and totally immobile at QB. It is time for former ECU Pirate David Garrard to get a look see running the offense, before this season slips completely away. 9-7 does not guarantee a playoff berth in the competitive AFC.

Houston Texans---Mario Williams over Reggie Bush, eh? Looking worse and worse every week. Could there be any other team in the AFC who is more pissed about New Orleans 5-1 start? At least the Texans will have another high draft pick next year and a chance to get it right.

Tennessee Titans---Good news Titans fans, Vince Young is up to page four in the playbook. At this rate he will finished the first chapter before the end of his third season. Bad news for divisional opponents, by the end of his third season his prodigious talent and leadership skills may mean it doesn’t matter that he can’t read the playbook. By the way, how’s about that University of Texas education? No, no, no, they don’t just automatically give the football players passing grades, there, do they?

The Colts, led by Dungy and Manning, will once again wilt in the AFC playoffs.


Baltimore Ravens---Enigmatic. Bill Simmons insists they are still going 8-8. We’ve seen flashes that make us think a playoff run is possible. Can Steve McNair stay healthy? How much tread is on Jamal Lewis’s tires? Where would they be if they hadn’t let Chester Taylor leave for Minnesota? Defense is still tough and capable of leading a deep playoff run.

Cincinnati Bengals---Carson Palmer was at a 100% before the season or so they said. This week he says he is now back to almost 90%. Say what? Spin is devouring what little integrity the Bengals had left. How’s about staying out of the police blotter for a few weeks, guys? See if that helps your season.

Pittsburgh Steelers---As the Clarion warned you in pre-season, they miss the big, banging running back. Fast Willie Parker is not the answer for that role. Ben Rothelsberger is playing like a guy who bounced of the windshield of a car in the off-season. Defense may not be able to carry the load alone.

Cleveland Browns---We keep hearing Romeo Crennel is on the verge of getting things right. We want to believe. Charlie Frey looks like he has some tools and some leadership skills. But, Browns fans probably can’t wait for the start of the Cavs season, at least there’s hope. And that says it all when you are pinning your hopes on the Cavs season. Hey they don’t call it, “The Mistake on the Lake” for nothin’.

Only the Ravens are capable of big things in the playoffs. Steelers would be lucky to sneak in at this point. Bengals are too soft, and will be one and done.

AFC West

Denver Broncos---Wow. We owe Shanahan an apology. What a defense! We knew about Al Wilson and Champ Bailey, but the overall performance has been stellar. So good it hasn’t mattered that Jake the Snake has thrown 7 INTs and only 4 TDs. However, that will catch-up with them eventually. Jake is not the kind of QB that one rides to Super Bowl glory.

San Diego Charges---Phillip Rivers on the other hand is exactly the kind of QB one follows to Super Bowl glory. Too bad he is shackled to Marty “chicken bone in the throat” Schottenheimer. LDT and Michael “Burner” Turner are excellent backs. Shawn Merriman’s suspension exacerbates the linebacker problems the Chargers were already having. Another year with a lot of a talent, another year of a disappointment, but don’t feel too bad for Chargers fans, they live in San Diego.

Kansas City Chiefs---Put them under things that makes us go hmmm. Thought they were done when Indiana University alum Trent Green went down on a brutal, brutal hit in week one. On top of that Larry Johnson, has way underperformed expectations. Lo and behold, an enigmatic, emotionally voluable running back from Penn State, that’s rare. The Chiefs get blown out by the Steelers, but then rebound to beat the Chargers…Quien sabe?

Oakland Raiders---Even worse than projected, and the Clarion had only penciled them in for four wins. Why didn’t they trade Randy Moss or Jerry Porter to the Patriots at the deadline? Raiders season is over, and they could have at least gotten a couple of draft picks for next year. Another team that passed over Matt Leinart, here so they could play the eminently forgettable Andrew Walter.

Only the Broncos have the juice for playoff glory, but before it is all said and done they will be undermined by Jake Plummer.


New York Giants---Playing well in a division that has been weaker than was supposed in the preseason. Lots of talent, especially at the skill positions, but is Eli Manning ready for big things? The Clarion wants to say no, but there is a gut feeling around the office that maybe this is a Manning who can win. Still, Coach Tom Coughlin will find a way to screw-up in the playoffs, and Tiki will most certainly be back next year.

Philadelphia Eagles---What can we say? Ouch. McNabb has played great. Westbrook has stayed healthy. The receivers have come up much bigger than expected. The defense hasn’t been awful, but oh that Philly luck, almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

Dallas Cowboys---Lucky to be where they are and now depending on Tony “I threw my first regular season pass this year” Romo to carry the load. Well, he’s more mobile than Bledsoe, but so are certain bulldozers. This will be Parcells last season and in a way it is too bad. Hopefully, he has a few good one-liners, about wideouts, “She” and “To” on the way out.

Washington Redskins---Decent roster undone by a QB with a pop-gun arm. It doesn’t matter how long Al Saunders playbook is, if Brunnell can’t throw the ball farther than ten yards. The big questions in Washington the rest of the season will be, will Joe Gibbs comeback and should he.

Giants are fastest out of the gate, but despite three horrible losses, the Clarion has a lot more confidence in Philly’s playoff potential. Eli Manning can only some day dream of being the QB Donovan McNabb already is.


New Orleans Saints---Obviously, THE surprise team of the league this year. The Clarion told you Drew Brees was and is good. Reggie Bush is the real deal. But please, even our New York connections didn’t warn us that Hofstra wideout Marques Colston was this kinda player. The Saints lack of depth will get them down the stretch, and they will be lucky to hold on and make the playoffs. Nonetheless, a feel good season in a place that needed it and something to build on for next year.

Incidentally, read this fascinating take from a New Orleans local on why it wasn’t totally misguided to spend money rebuilding the Superdome early in the New Orleans recovery process. Superdome rebuilding from the N.O. Times Picayne Once again, thanks to Bill Simmons for steering us to this article.

Atlanta Falcons---Enigmatic. What the Clarion has learned so far: Michael Vick is a sick talent. Nobody matches up with him. Warrick Dunn is a future Hall of Famer. D’Angelo Hall is a heckuva cover corner. Is it enough? Jim Mora Jr. is a lousy coach. Defensive End John Abraham is a softy. Says here, maybe they sneak into the playoffs, but for them to go anywhere in those playoffs will require Michael Vick miracles. Sadly his career arc is starting to resemble that of Barry Sanders.

Carolina Panthers---They miss the big banging back almost as much as the Steelers do. Jake Delhomme is a good QB, but not the kind of guy you want throwing 40 times a game, even if the Panthers have the best wide receiver combo in the league in Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson. Jake with 40 throws is just waaaay too may opportunities for the other team to go pick 6. Panthers must fix their running game before the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers---Chris Simms will be an excellent pro quarterback for somebody, perhaps not John Gruden, but for somebody. Bruce Gradkowski has been another MAC QB revelation. Where do they find these guys? Defense, outside of Ronde Barber, has looked old. Playoffs in this hyper-competitive division would be a minor miracle at this point.

The Clarion still believes the Panthers' roster has Super Bowl caliber talent. John Fox is among the best coaches in the league.


Chicago Bears---Living up to the Monsters of the Midway moniker. Whoa, what a defense!! Not only that, six games and Rex Grossman hasn’t gotten hurt yet. Recent match-up with the Cardinals shows they still haven’t gotten it all figured out yet, but beware even the special teams is clicking. Field goal kicker Robbie Gould is 36 for 36 on field goals and extra points this season, and the lightning quick return man, from the U, Devin Hester, has already taken two to the house and leads the NFC in punt return average. Dangerous.

Minnesota Vikings---A surprise, led by excellent offensive line play and the steady hand of Brad Johnson. How can we still be underrating Brad Johnson after all these years? He’s got the old Al Davis mantra down pat, “Just win, baby.” The Vikings are capable of making the playoffs. Could they make a post-season run? The Clarion thinks not.

Green Bay Packers---How many years ago should Brett Farve have retired? Maybe the day after he gave Michael Strahan the freebie sack to break the single season sack record. Farve is reaching the point of tarnishing a great career, at least Marino was hanging on at the end because he had never won a Super Bowl. Brett can’t say that, and the Clarion can’t say why he is hanging on. Our hope is he doesn’t take the big hit that he has managed to avoid his whole career before it is over. This season for the Packers, by the way, is long since over.

Detroit Lions---The most fascinating story of this Lions’ season is how Matt Millen has a job. How’s about three years in a row picking wideouts in the first round?!? Two of whom don’t have a single catch this year, one of whom isn’t even on the roster. Five wins will be a stretch. Will Millen be around to pick a wideout high in the first round, again next April? Stay tuned. Too bad about the Tigers, Detroit, by the end we were pulling for ya.

Chicago looks great. Somehow, the Clarion doesn’t believe it. They will miss injured all-everything, turnover forcing, safety Mike Brown and they still don’t have anyone on their roster fast enough to tackle Steve Smith come playoff time.


Seattle Seahawks---Looks like the curse of the Super Loser is alive and well. Welcome to the Seneca Wallace era. Among the quarterbacks that the Clarion counted as better than Seneca Wallace in his college days were former New York Jets and 49ers safety Scott Frost and the immortal Moses Moreno. Still the ‘Hawks should hang on for the division title in the league’s worst division.

St. Louis Rams---Playing way above their heads versus an easy schedule. Things get tougher the next four weeks, with San Diego, Kansas City, Seattle and Carolina. Better than 1-3 in that stretch would be a shock. Better than 8-8 for the season would be a surprise. The Rams they are improving, but are not there yet. Getting rid of Mike Martz was a great first step.

San Francisco 49ers---The Clarion would have bet heavily that there was no chance, no way, we’d be writing a mid-season NFL review that had the 49ers anywhere but last in their division. Kudos to Coach Mike Nolan, who looks like he might be building something in the ashes of Eddie DeBartolo’s arson job. Alex Smith may not suck as bad as we thought. Frank Gore has been a shocking surprise, if up and down. Of course, it always helps to have the Cardinals in your division.

Arizona Cardinals---Strike up the band. Where’s Pete Townsend when you need’em? “Won’t Get Fooled, Again.” Every time we say that with the Cardinals, we get sucked into another crummy season. How is that possible? Incidentally, Leinart is going to be great. Their wideouts are great. Edgerrin James once was great. Their new stadium is great. And the Bears are what they thought they were. While the Cards are what they have always been, LOUSY. However, they can boast of the rant of the year so far

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Beer League Softball Stars won't cut it in NY 

The Clarion was told the answer earlier this week and we couldn't manage it.

We sent a lightly mocking email out to a few of our Mets friends the day after El Duque’s calf injury. We had a modicum of sympathy for these Mets fans. El Duque, Orlando Hernandez, was their second tragic, serious injury to a starting pitcher in two weeks. Pedro Martinez had just found out that he had a major injury to his shoulder, in addition to a calf problem of his own. Still seeing the Mets suffer has been a hobby for 19 years. We've loathed the Mets for more than double the time the Clarion's loved the Yanks.

Yet, one of those Mets fans replied back to the Clarion’s email slight with the perfect three and a half word answer, “You gotta believe!” And lo and behold, if the Mets aren’t up 2-0.

Unfortunately, we were unable to respond with similar faith in our beloved Yankees. Two weeks ago, as the playoffs approached, the Clarion was a little worried. Today, the Yanks stand on the precipice. The beginning of our uncomfortable feeling started the moment they began to move back to the slow pitch, beer league softball line-up by putting Sheffield at first base. A line-up of All-Star’s indeed, please, Jason Giambi might be an All-Star at keg parties and strip clubs, but on the field? A-Rod, he is an All-Star in April or any game the team is winning or losing by more than eight runs.

This column however is less about today and more about what next. The Clarion thinks even if the Yanks miraculously escape this series with the Tigers, defeat lays ahead. We cannot muster the Mets fan’s faith. We cannot believe that a team built this way is going to succeed. In fact, they haven’t been able to win it all with this group. In our mind’s eye the downfall began with a Luis Gonzales single off of Mo Rivera, over a drawn-in infield, in Arizona, 2001. Things haven't been the same since.

Today the Yanks must get a lead against a guy who was second in the league in strikeouts, Bonderman. Other than Jeter and Posada the rest of the fellas are tighter than the skin on Joan Rivers face. A-Rod is the most nerve wracked of all, but it is pervading the team and Joe Torre has done nothing to change it. So today it comes down to winning with Jared Wright, a guy who might have been considered the 6th or 7th best pitcher when the Yankees left spring training in Florida. Here they are again in October with the season on the line and the lack of pitching and defense is killing them.

Here’s a link to the guy from the New York Daily News making much the same point…

No matter what happens today, the Clarion is done with A-Rod. Goodbye. Like we said, two months back, just before the Bobby Abreu deal, we’d love to see the Yanks trade him for Chipper straight up. From a strategic point of view, we’d spend Steinbrenner’s money to pay the Braves the difference between their salaries. But the again, that’s the thing, it is not our money. It’s Steinbrenner’s. At this point, though, hey whatever, we hope Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman can trade him for two decent minor league pitching prospects, or straight up to the Devil Rays for Scott Kazmir. A 60 win Tampa Bay team would be the perfect place for A-Rod to feel comfortable he’d hit 50 dingers and have 140 RBIs.

Also, as far as the Clarion is concerned, porn star look-a-like* and all but admitted juicer Jason Giambi could go, though we hear his contract makes him all but unmovable.

*This line was borrowed from Bill Simmons column, but it is so right on the money.

As for Gary Sheffield, good riddance, goodbye, don’t let the door hit you in the ass.

The guys who came up through the system can stay, Jeter, Posada, Cano, Mo, Melky.

Other keepers include Matsui, Damon and Mussina, though he should be no more than the number three starter next season.

Pitching and defense. Can the Yanks get some pitching and defense?

If the Yanks lose today, Joe Torre, beware for your job security. All the talk is about re-tread, dirty pool player, Lou Pinella, but don’t forget Joe Girardi. The Clarion does not want to see Torre go. But if the Yanks lose today there will be big changes in the Bronx. If it has to happen the Clarion would much prefer the fired Marlins skipper or if there were someway to steal Willie Randolph back from the Mets…

Okay, that when you know it’s time to end a post, when the Yankees fans are talking about anything they want from the Mets…

Sad note on the A-Rod era, the Yanks are 3-10 in the post season since Game 3 of 2004 LDS against the Red Sox.

What the Clarion would like to see next year’s Yankee line-up look like

CF Damon
SS Jeter
RF Abreu
3B Jones, Chipper
DH Matsui
2B Cano
C Posada
LF Cabrerra

Alternating in 9 spot and DH/1B/Outfield
Andy Phillips


what the Clarion would sign for today over the current line-up

CF Damon
SS Jeter
RF Abreu
LF Matsui
DH Giambi
2B Cano
C Posada

Alternating in 7 and 8 spot and DH/1B/Outfield
Andy Phillips

Hitting 9th
3B Prospect to be named later

One final note, regular readers know the Clarion hates the wild card, period. It devalues baseball best asset, the annual tapestry of the 162 regular game season. But if they have to have it, have to let extra teams in to boost their revenue, KNOW that the best of five series SUCKS!! The playoff series need to be best of seven from the beginning. How can you turn an event that runs from April to October into a crapshoot that takes less than a week. The NBA doesn’t get through half a playoff round a week, and their playoffs have something like seven or eight rounds.

Not that the NBA playoff scheduling is to be emulated, but baseball’s playoff schedule runs against the flow of the good of the game. Just another reason, the used car salesman, Bud Selig must go. They should go back to two division winners from each league, only, make the playoffs...it'll never happen...and oh and the team with the best record gets home field in the World Series...a current Bud Selig brainswamp has the outcome of an exhibition game deciding home field in the World Series...

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