Thursday, August 27, 2009

From Ashes . . .

He has risen like "The Greatest Clutch Hitter In Red Sox History." You call it cliche, call it used up, I'll refer to it one way: Bone Chilling. Those are the only words which my vocabulary can pull togeter to describe a swing of the lumber, turn down the lights, walk off homerun from David Ortiz.

Written off by many, including myself, and still David Ortiz wraps a game winning homerun around Pesky Pole to close down The Fens for the evening. The Red Sox designated hitter has gone through the most trying of big league seasons in his 12-year career. Nearing two months into the season before David Ortiz blasts his first homerun of the year. Two weeks before his second dinger reaches the cheap seats. Was David Ortiz just finished? Were the injuries to much to return from? Had David Ortiz gotten old that quick? Was this the deteriorating of our legend in the making? Then the shoe drops. David Ortiz included in the now famous steroid testing of 2003? Was this unreasonable Red Sox fan hell? Believe it. How do you move forward Big Papi? Ortiz' struggles at the plate continue and fans are becoming inpatient. Management brings in multiple first base/DH types to boost a hurting Red Sox lineup. Could things get worse for the one they call Papi?

While still hitting .227, David Ortiz has been on a virtual tear since leaving The Bronx back on August 9th. In 15 games played since that day, Ortiz has ripped 7 homers, including Wednesday nights game winner. Not only has Papi's power struggle ended, he's beginning to pick up ducks on the pond on his way back. Over this stretch, Papi has banged in 16 runners on 16 hits. Six multi-hit games in recent weeks have the Sox back atop the Wild Card and sitting
with a slight lead. The once left for dead superstar has rebounded over the past three months clobbering 22 homers and 70+ RBI. It is more than fitting that we celebrate the first walkoff homerun from David Ortiz since 2007 on the day Massachusetts honors it's greatest political icon of the past 50 years. Senator Kennedy's passing reminds us of a man who despite the setbacks both personal and professional, despite the negativity and the naysayers, you can push past that and remind everyone what you are capable of. Not many politicians could move through their issues, some brought on by their actions and some not, but Senator Kennedy could. David Ortiz was in the midst of his most trying season by far, the events of the past seven months have not been kind to our once seemingly stainless slugger. However on the day we mourn the loss of a great inspiration like Edward Kennedy, we watch that larger than life grin go across David Ortiz' face as he crosses homeplate in victory.

I'm not so calais to compare leaving the scene of a fatal accident to being accused of using performance enhancing drugs, that wasn' the point. The point is to watch David Ortiz and Senator Kennedy both rise froms trials and tribulations to succeed on a larger stage. I want to take time to both recognize our great Senator and also remind fans that David Ortiz isn't done just yet, as far as counting him out goes? I won't do it again. David Ortiz rises from the ashes, and my hat goes off to that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Been There, Done That

The New England Patriots are scary good. The New York Giants aren't far behind; take that for what it's worth. After watching parts of each teams first preseason games and witnessing their acquisitions in action, I'm sold.

From The Meadowlands: The New York Giants feature one of the most dynamic ground attacks in the entire league. The punishing Brandon Jacobs and the speedy Ahmad Bradshaw combine to give the G-Men a 1-2 punch that is difficult to match. Jacobs is coming off his second straight 1,000 yard season and second straight season averaging 5.0 yards a carry. Impressive when you realize he's been splitting time with other backs like the previously mentioned Bradshaw and Derrick Ward who became a Buc this past offseason. Jacobs may weigh in at over 260 pounds but make no bones about it, he uses every last pound to smash through defensive lines and wake up the second level. You'd be hard pressed to find a tougher back to tackle this side of Marion Barber than Brandon Jacobs. Ahmad Bradshaw will be stepping into a more definitive role in the Giant offense this season. In just 67 carries in 2008, Bradshaw rushed for 355 yards. In the process, giving the Giants yet another back to average 5+ yards per carry. With the departure of Ward, Ahmad Bradshaw is likely to see his attempts increase ten fold. The 5-9 back gives the Giants breakaway speed in the backfield, to use an overused term he gives them lighting to go with their thunder. Last season Bradshaw had 4 separate carries in which he rushed for 20+ yards including 1 of 77 yards. Jacobs & Bradshaw = Dangerous. Final Thought: Eli Manning adjusting to a new and very young receiving corps. and the Giant defense hoping for a injury free Osi Umenyiora in 2009. It'll be the ground attack that launches the New York Football Giants to an NFC Championship in the coming season.

From Foxborough: When I think Patriots and 2009 one thing comes to mind; Revenge Season. After the defeat in the Super Bowl back in January of '08 and the subsequent season ending injury to All-World Quarterback Tom Brady in the opener a year ago, the Patriots missed the playoffs. Now comes, the redemption season. Brady is healthy and looking sharp in his first two preseason games. Head Coach, Bill Belichick, has re-stocked the defense. Oh, and he's given Brady more weapons on offense than ever. (1) Tom Brady returning doesn't just "make" the Patriots better, it makes them super-natural. Tom Brady carries a chip on his shoulder from 2008, Tom Brady is a 3x Super Bowl Champion, and let's face it he's flat out unflappable. (2) Free agent veterans are a luxury when used correctly. Corey Dillion was, Antoine Smith was, and Rodney Harrison was. Enter the likes of Fred Taylor from Jacksonville. Cornerbacks Leigh Bodden, Shawn Springs, and receiver Joey Galloway. Asked to play designed roles based on their age and remaining gas left in the tank. (3) Know your expendable. Words Teddy Bruschi, Vince Wilfork, and any & every defensive back the Patriots have had should come accustomed to hearing. When the Patriots make draft picks like Jerod Mayo, the 2008 draft pick turned 2008 Defensive R.O.Y. When the Patriots draft former Boston College standout Ron Brace, Vince Wilfork should understand the Patriots are taking insurance on his expiring contract. New England is three steps ahead of everyone in the league, consistently. Final Thought: The Pats work harder in the offseason than most teams do all regular season. In 2008 they turned a kid who hadn't taken a snap since High School into the hottest available quarterback in the hot stove season. Would you be surprised if they trail blazed through the regular season yet again? Of course not.

My NFL preview is just days away, but I couldn't help myself. The Patriots and Giants are on a collision course for January/February football and given what I've expressed, it's hard to argue against that. Two teams with no-nonsense head coaches. Two teams with ring touting quarterbacks. Finally, two teams with a winning attitude that gets you to the postseason and further. Could the Super Bowl prediction be as easy as Patriots v. Giants? I think it can!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Enough Already (After I'm Done)

Mike Vick . . .Brett Favre . . .Mike Vick . . .Brett Favre. The two most talked about quarterbacks headed into the 2009 NFL regular season. Really!?!? One quarterback who hasn't played on Sunday afternoons in over two seasons. Another who remains a giant question mark, in his decisions, his play, his age, and his health. These are the quarterbacks we're drooling over!?!?!

Before I proceed allow me to fill you in on a few important details. (1) NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, only conditionally suspended the fallen from grace quarterback for the first six weeks of the season, October 19th to be exact. You've got a wait. (2) Brett Favre is returning from injury and at this point is about as good at making decisions as Lindsay Lohan on a Saturday night. Not to mention that Minnesota should be sticking to the ground game with the best back in the league. And (3) There are important quarterback story lines we're missing by following these two.

With that being said . . . (here's what you've missed)

Jay Cutler & The Windy City. He has the current top selling jersey in the NFL. He's playing in NFL rabid Chicago. He has more talent than any Bear quarterback in probably twenty years. When the 2009 season kicks off Jay Cutler will have all eyes on him. Maybe the Bears defense is a little older in the tooth and this move is too little to late. However, if your a Chicago Bears fan whose has sat through the Brian Griese/Rex Grossman/Kyle Orton era, Jay Cutler is a godsend. In Cutler's 2nd & 3rd seasons in Denver, the 6'3" quarterback threw for an average of 4,000 yards a season and 22 TD passes, something they haven't seen in Chicago in a long time. Yes, Jay Cutler has his own set of question marks. Is he to much of a risk taker? Why would the Broncos be so anxious to deal a quarterback with this big of an upside? How much has he matured? Finally, is his big arm & big confidence just a product of Denver's offense? Rift between Cutler and Devin Hester already? Entering his 4th year in the NFL Jay Cutler is front and center on my list of quarterbacks to watch in 2009. The top quarterback in the Norris Division will surely change the landscape of football in Chicago.

Stafford, from Heaven To Hell. Your B.M.O.C. in Athens, Georgia with hopes of a Heisman Trophy just one year ago. Today, your the future of a franchise playing in the most depressing city in America. Sound enticing Sam Bradford? The former Georgia Bulldog is presented with one of the toughest tasks the NFL could create for a rookie quarterback. Matthew Stafford will takeover the helm of a team coming off an 0-16 record and suffering from years of embarrassment both on and off the field. Once lining up alongside the best of college football players in the country, Matthew Stafford will meet reality this fall and unlike Matt Ryan, they'll be no Michael Turner to help him. This is truly a Heaven to Hell situation. In his first NFL outing, a preseason game in front of the Ford Field fans, Matthew Stafford threw for 114 yards on 7 completions. The jury on Stafford will be out for quite sometime, but from wire to wire we'll be following his every move. The Lions first win & Stafford's first touchdown pass, the young quarterback will wake us all up and hope for the best. If you can make it in Detroit, you can make it anywhere.

When They Were Kings. Quarterbacks for opposing teams in college football's biggest game of the past ten years. The '06 Rose Bowl seems a long time ago for both Vince Young & Matthew Leinart. Staring into the NFL quarterback abyss, these two former All-Americans have been passed by. For Young, you've got to really question his mental capacity at this point. The rookie sensation turned NFL Madden cover boy is now a legitimate backup in this league. The Titans #2 quarterback has suffered personal setbacks this offseason and on the field setbacks last season. With the Titans looking to win right now, it should come as no surprise that Vince Young isn't the guy they turn to. His career surrounded with questions at this point, where will Vince Young come into play this season? Or will he? And Matt Leinart? Leinart went from hyped up Cardinal quarterback in his rookie campaign of 2006 to playing in just 11 games over the past two seasons watching Kurt Warner lead "his" team to a Super Bowl. Matt Leinart is currently slotted as the Cardinals 2nd or even 3rd string quarterback with no sign of a starting job coming any time soon. The former Heisman Trophy winning college quarterback has seen his stock slip worse than Citibank. For Leinart and Young, playing in a game that matters is a distant memory and doesn't look like it'll come to them in the near future. Can these two get off the sideline in 2009?

Mike Vick is going to play a limited amount in this coming season. Brett Favre couldn't get through last season healthy. This season I'm concentrating on the "other" stories. Brady's return in New England. Cassel & The Chiefs. Can Romo win a playoff game? Is Phil Rivers taking the Brady/Manning leap? Will Vince Young & Matt Leinart see the field? Can Matthew Stafford win now? Is Jay Cutler the answer in Chicago? These are the real quarterback questions in the NFL, not how many touches can Michael Vick get and will Brett Favre be playing in 2010! God Damn I can't wait for the season to kick off!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Three-Hundred: Keep It Real

Sidenote: I'd like to thank every last one of you for reading my columns over the past two plus years. Today marks the official release of my 300th entry and all things aside, I'm a little surprised. To all who offer up numerous words of encouragement and support, I thank you. This hobby of mine truly wouldn't be what it has become if I didn't believe you enjoyed it as much as I do.

Whoa! Now let us get after another installment of Keep It Real Friday. For those of you who haven't read the first 299 columns, I won't hold it against you but I will fill you in. Keep It Real Fridays are designated to keep all things in sports, in check. I.E. Coach XYZ tells you his players are going to war, I follow with a fast reminder that Pat Tillman was going to war and your playing a game. Picking up what I'm putting down? Good.

Let's Get After It (That's catchy!)

Mike Vick is an Eagle, why wasn't this more obvious? Does anyone else remember their fans throwing snowballs at Santa? Or booing Michael Irvin's broken neck? This was a brilliant idea, believe me. Controversial yes, but great none the less. Word to the PETA supporters, stay 1,000 feet from any Eagle fan and you'll be doing yourself a favor. On the field, Michael Vick can add yet another dimension to an eccentric Eagle offense. Undersized versatile wideouts, a streaky veteran quarterback, running backs that do everything but carry the water jugs, and now your going to add Michael Vick? Scary. It's hard to argue that the style of what Michael Vick is and what Donovan McNabb has been isn't similar. Maybe Andy Reid believes that Donovan can teach Michael what to do with his game after he's got some years on him, if that's his direction; pure genius. I'm shocked that I never came to this conclusion before but Philadelphia is a perfect place for Michael Vick and his trailer full of baggage. Those fans, that town, they'll rally behind anyone. Allen Iverson? Mitch Williams? Donovan McNabb? If you can bring something to the table they are just as much on your side as anyone. If the City of Brotherly Love can erect a statue for Rocky (a fictional boxer), they can protect Michael Vick from the hoards of people who attempt to pile on. PETA beware, this ain't your type of town. Keep It Real!

Hey Bronson! Move along! How did Reds pitcher, Bronson Arroyo, become the voice box of Major Leagues? In my "not so humble" opinion, Bronson Arroyo is a moron plain and simple. Over the past couple weeks Arroyo has been throwing his two cents into the Steroid Ring, first
speaking out about his carelessness during the early 2000's in regards to muscle supplements specifically andro, and this week speaking of his continued carelessness and disregard for appropriate supplement use. Now it's my turn Bronson. (1) Your actually a .500 pitcher in your career 81-81, with a career earned run average of 4.38, unimpressed. Bronson whatever your taking, up the dosage. When Big Mac popped flintstones he crushed homerun records. When Roger Clemens had a little extra, he won 300 games. When Barry Lamar rubbed on "the clear" he became the greatest offensive weapon of all time. Whatever it is your using it isn't the answer, I'll point to your win-loss record to bring that home. (2) What would make you think we cared when you spoke? Your Bronson Arroyo and if you hadn't had the fortune of playing in a Red Sox uniform, we wouldn't even know your name. Fact. Bronson, Keep It Real!

Tiger, Tiger Woods Ya'll. Love me some Tiger Woods. At some point over the last 299 columns I must have mentioned a thing or two about the greatest sports icon over the past twenty years, if not, well here goes. Tiger Woods is what no one else can be. Maybe golf isn't your typical sport, basketball, football, hockey, whatever. However, what Tiger Woods has done for golf is what our president is doing for politics. It's acceptable to the next generation to tear up the greens rather than the blacktop. It's acceptable to the next generation to wear your own initials on your hat rather than a symbol or a brand. Tiger Woods isn't Ali, and it's because of people like Ali that Tiger Woods never had to choose to fight another mans war. Tiger Woods isn't Michael Jordan, his jerseys aren't flying off the shelves. Nope, Tiger Woods is bigger than all of that. Do you know why we watched the World Golf Championship this year? It isn't a major tournament, no one is getting a green jacket. We watched the tournament because Tiger Woods was in contention. Do you know why were talking about the PGA Championships on Thursday night? Because Tiger just slapped around a 67 in the first round to take day 1. Tom Brady is a 3x Super Bowl winning quarterback, not many can say that. But do you know whose knee was a bigger concern for the worlds sports fans, Tiger's. Move over Michael, no one is and will be bigger than Tiger Woods. Keep It Real!

Late Addition: Alot of negative feedback about my confidence in Josh Beckett as the American League Cy Young. Even more feedback once Justin Verlander pitched a 4-hit, 8 inning gem against Boston on Thursday afternoon. But since you asked for it, may I remind you that YOU asked for it, I'ma make you believers. In 8 of his 23 starts, Beckett has allowed exactly ZERO earned runs. Against both the Yankees & Tigers, two playoff hopefuls, Beckett is 4-0 which doesn't include a 7-inning, 4 hit, 0 earned runs performance against the Yanks this past weekend. Boasting a record of 14-4 gives him the highest win total in the Major Leagues. Furthermore, he's overdue and with all respect he's earned it. Between May 5th and June 26th the Red Sox ace allowed just 15 earned runs in 10 straight starts, and after his first three starts in August where Beckett has allowed just two runs he seems to be back on pace. I'm not trying to take things away from pitchers like Justin Verlander but he isn't Josh Beckett. Final thought: In at least three of Beckett's five no decisions this season he's allowed only two runs. I know you could say it about any pitcher but Josh Beckett is inches away from having 17 victories at this point. Cast your vote for Verlander if you want but Josh Beckett is the games elite starter. KEEP IT REAL!

That's all for this week but you can check out the latest episode of The RightNow Podcast on iTunes or by clicking on that link. Also you can follow the co-hosts tweets on Twitter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A.L. Contenders & Pretender

When we're talking American League and the postseason you know the usual suspects: Yanks, Sox, & Angels. Every season gives us what the A.L. Central has to offer which is less than we expected, and each season someone plays tricks on us. The '05 White Sox, the '06 Tigers, and of course the '08 Rays. However, the way the Tigers have played Advil for the Red Sox this week, we're left with one question. Whose is really contending for that 4th playoff spot in the American League?

American League Contenders [Wild Card]

The Boston Red Sox are still breathing. Despite suffering a six game road losing streak last week, including four in the Bronx, the Red Sox are still out in front of the Wild Card chase, albeit a thin game and a half lead. Since returning from New York the Red Sox have taken three straight over American League Central leader Detroit, and seem to have found their stroke. In each victory Jason Bay has launched a Fenway blast that remind the faithful of better days earlier this season. Fueled by the ejection of Kevin Youkilis on Tuesday night, Mike Lowell has gone 5 of 7 including three dingers since replacing Youk in the lineup. Final thought: Josh Beckett is the only A.L. Cy Young candidate who will be playing for something down the stretch. Wednesday night Beckett notched his major league leading 14th victory, questions?

The Texas Rangers are in this fight. For the first time in years the Rangers have some arms to go along with their bats. Tied for 4th in the American League in team earned run average and 5th in opponent batting average the Rangers are within striking distance of the Red Sox for the 4th and final playoff spot. Much like the Yankees, the Rangers only need to have their starting pitching not put them in a hole. An offense featuring Michael Young (140 hits, .317 BA), Nelson Cruz (25 HR's), and fellow All-Stars Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton, starters like Kevin Millwood and Scott Feldman (11-4) just need to eat innings and keep the runs down. Final thought: The Rangers are 24-13 within their division this season. If it comes down to it, you should know the Rangers dominate the American League West.

The Pretender [Wild Card]

The Tampa Bay Rays Yes, I'm calling it rightnow. The defending A.L. Champs are finished, el fin. This is more about what the contenders have than what the Rays don't. Carlos Pena is the only 30+ home run guy in the American League, I get that. However, James Shields & Matt Garza are a combined 14-16 and despite their recent success I'm not buying it. They've got to finish the season in the American League East, a division which they are just 23-16, five fewer wins in the division than both Boston & New York. Three remaining series against the American League West including two series against Texas, did I forget to mention their 8-17 record against the A.L. West? It's not to say that the Rays don't have a powerful offense (3rd in the majors in runs scored) and it isn't to take anything away from a team that handed the Red Sox a plane ticket home last season but the Rays just aren't selling us right now. Final thought: Does J.P. Howell, the newly appointed Rays closer compare to the likes of veterans Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon? A combined 60+ saves recorded for the Yanks & Sox closers, who shuts the lights out for the Rays?

Look for the N.L. verson of Contenders v. Pretenders on Saturday morning. A quick reminder for the fans of LynchyRightNow: You can follow myself and co-host of The RightNowPodcast, Joe Roche, on Twitter and check out the RightNowPodcast weekly at RightNowPodcast.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I'm Miserable!

Nothing like a 5-game August skid to ruin my mid-summer. As the Boston Red Sox continue their recent (for lack of a better term) slump, I'm left to wonder if the Boston way of doing business, is the right way? Sure, two World Series rings in five years is better than the rest but is it good enough now? Before the Yankees turn today into Sunday, Bloody Sunday I've decided to attack my misery head on, you know like David Ortiz attacked that steroid issue . . errrrr maybe not so much that way.

We get it, you've spent it. I'm going to admit it, the spending New York has done has had an immediate impact. $16.5 Million for A.J. Burnett this season has got the Yankees 10 wins and set them up for a few others. Burnett is a work horse and can pitch against the best of them. A.J. has notched 123 strikeouts which is good for 9th in the A.L. and allowed just 120 hits in 22 starts, better than the likes of Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, and even Roy Halladay. C.C. Sabathia and his back loaded contract giving him just $15 million this season has won 12 games for the Yanks this season. Sabathia is 4th in the entire Major Leagues in innings pitched, if your going to pay another start upwards of $15 million a year he better be starting every fifth day and getting past the fifth inning, two things Sabathia does. Then there is the masterful 2-hit, seven and 2/3 innings, shutout of the Boston Red Sox yesterday afternoon. Worth every penny. Finally, the $20 million plus being shelled out to first baseman Mark Teixeira. The newest Yankee is hitting just 0.016 shy of .300 to go along with his 28 homers and 82 RBI. Any question why the Red Sox were trying to acquire the former Ranger, Brave, and Angels slugger? The protection Teixeira gives Alex Rodriguez has been evident and will only help to give the Yankees the toughest 1-2 punch since the days of Ramirez & Ortiz. Deep pockets has its benefits, you got me.

Their rotation is rounding out. After witnessing the starts of Burnett & Sabathia, any Red Sox fan has got to be a little squeamish. The reason the Yankees didn't make a strong push for Halladay and or Cliff Lee? They are fine exactly where they are. Timeout: Allow me to point this out to you. As a member of the New York Yankees pitching staff, one does not need to have an earned run average south of 4.00, it isn't needed. Currently the Yankees represent the Majors best record at 68-42. Damn advanced thought, the Yankees have more wins than anyone yet rank 18th in team ERA. This staff doesn't need no-hitters they need inning eaters. (insert C.C. Sabathia weight joke) Back to it . . . C.C., A.J., & Joba all anchor the Yankees staff with earned run averages from 3.67 to 3.76 and that is all they have to do. With tonight's starter Andy Pettitte slotted as the #4 starter on the staff the Yankees are asking him to do one thing, get to the pen intact. As always with any staff you've got to stay healthy but if they do, with home field playing at that bandbox of a new Yankee Stadium, it'll be tough to get out alive. Why didn't the Yanks go out and give up prospects to lock down Halladay? They simply didn't need to.

While the Boston offense is looking to get off the mat, the Yankee offense is scary. Sure their new digs help 'em out in the homerun department (6 hitters with 15+ homers) but the Yanks are a top five team in batting average, total bases, homers, and rbi. From Robinson Cano hitting .314, good enough for 10th in the American League to Johnny Damon on track for a career high in homers (20) with nearly two months remaining in the season, the Yanks are turning it on offensively. The captain, Derek Jeter, has 19 stolen bases to go along with his .312 batting average, getting on base and pushing the issue while on base is a science Jeter has perfected. The 2009 version of the Yanks isn't just A-Rod, Teixeira and the usual suspects, it's Nick Swisher the right fielder whose already slapped 18 homers and drove in nearly sixty runners. It's the 37-year old veteran Yankee catcher, Jorge Posada hitting .281 nearly 60 percentage points better than the Red Sox veteran catcher, Jason Varitek. It's the newly acquired Eric Hinske who provides the Yanks with even more pop off the bench 5 homers in 11 games. The Yankee offense doesn't let up and for teams like the Angels, Tigers, and yes even the Red Sox, it's a scary reality.

Were we stand . . .

Jon Lester has to turn in a good night. Seven innings, two earned runs on five hits then leave it up to the pen. Coming off two straight masterful pitching performances by Yankees C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, Jon Lester has to assert his status as a forceful #2, now more than ever. With uncertainty surrounding the departure of John Smoltz to triple A ball, the season-long uncertainty around Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the currently laid up Tim Wakefield, the once deep Red Sox staff consists of: An Ace, the corpse of Brad Penny (5.20 ERA), the question mark that is Clay Buchholz, and of course Lester. The Red Sox have seen their American League East lead evaporate since the break and are now on the verge of watching their American League Wild Card lead do the same. Sunday night baseball is the stage, his foe is veteran lefty Andy Pettitte, and Jon Lester must deliver for the BoSox. Making me feel better: Lester has struck out 17 Yankees in two starts this season.

Now excuse me while I prepare to watch game 4 of this bloody weekend series in the Bronx, with one hand over my eyes.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dust It Off

32 teams officially back at it. Training camp is in session and the NFL is back on our mind. The readers of LynchyRightNow are clamoring for The League and Sunday afternoons. All due respect to the MLB trading deadline and all things NBA summer league but I agree with the readers . . .

Let's Get After It.

With all the off the field dramatics of the NFL season and seven months removed from play what September game(s) are you looking forward to most? - Angelo, Albany

What?!? You didn't enjoy the life and crimes of Plaxico, Pacman, Vick, and Stallworth?!?! Back to the field. Two games I've circled on my calender for September. (1) Week 1, September 14th. All eyes on Monday Night Football and the Buffalo Bills in Foxborough, MA. Say what you want about Terrell Owens but he can make even Buffalo sound exciting. Coupled with the full return of All-World quarterback Tom Brady, and we've got ourselves a show. No team in the NFL has done more to improve themselves than the New England Patriots. Adding veterans like Greg Lewis, Joey Galloway, and Fred Taylor on offense the Patriots are giving Tom Brady plenty of capable weapons around him. As for the Bills, don't count them out. Buffalo is the ultimate wild card. Adding talents like T.O. and Dominic Rhodes the Bills could give Trent Edwards a fantastic offense around him. Bills v. Patriots on MNF, doesn't get better than that to open the season up. (2) Week 2, September 20th. Sunday Night Football live at the home opener of America's Team. As the Dallas Cowboys unveil Cowboys Stadium to the world and welcome the division rival Giants the NFL season officially gets under way. As a Cowboy fan I may be bias . . . . yep, I'm bias. This is the first regular season game in Cowboys Stadium. Eli Manning v. Tony Romo. If you can't get up for Giants & Cowboys, I suggest Cialis. The Giants layed an egg in the 2008 playoffs and the Cowboys are hoping that the departure of "the wideout that shall not be named in conjunction with this franchise" will bolster an offense that promised us playoff wins. If we've learned anything from Jerry Jones this night doesn't go by without some fireworks, both on the field and off.

What team is this years Arizona Cardinals? - Ben, Austin

By Arizona Cardinals do you mean which 40-1 odds team will return to the Super Bowl? None. However, I like the Houston Texans if your looking for Super Bowl long shots. 8-8 in two straight seasons yet I like 'em. Run the ball and play defense, two things the Texans can do. Adding USC super rookie Brian Cushing through the NFL Draft, placing him alongside additional offseason acquisition Cato June and of course DeMeco Ryans, the dominating Texan linebacker. With Super Mario Williams rushing the passer coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he's developed into one of the top pass rushers in the league if not THE top pass rusher in the league, the Texans defense will be hard to stop. To go one step further, 2008 rookie sensation Steve Slaton does wonders for the Texan offense. With Slaton providing the breakout ground game and quarterback Matt Schaub staying healthy the Texans should be just as dangerous as ever. Oh, and that dirty little secret that Andre Johnson is top receiver in the NFL, isn't such a secret any longer. Andre Johnson is a DB's worst nightmare, flatout. So to answer your question? It's reasonable that the Houston Texans could be playing in the postseason, and that'd be somewhat of a shock to most. (Even though I don't believe they've ever had a winning season)

Can we get a breakout rookie? Given the team they were drafted to which rookie do you think can have a Matt RyanESQUE season? -Stephanie, Lansing

I've thought about this believe it or not. Right from your neck of the woods, Big Ten country, comes Beanie Wells. The defending NFC Champion Cardinals drafted right at #31. However, the success of Beanie Wells depends on his ability to stay healthy. Wells whose suffered injuries late in his Ohio State career needs to stay on the field to be the breakout rookie the Cardinals need. The running game is exactly what the Cardinals need to stay atop the NFC West. With Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin returning for yet another year the Cardinals offense is set to make the same run. Chris Wells adds a running style the Cardinals have lacked. A power runner who can open holes and keep the defense honest with the big wide outs sprinting down the field. What the Cardinals have lacked in their running game with Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower, Chris Wells can deliver. The '07 & '08 collegiate 1,000 rusher is a 240 lb. back who can storm the NFL if he stays on the field. That might be a big IF.

What team changed themselves the most from last season? More so what team owns the title "favorite"? - Steve, San Diego

Same team, same title. Ugh, the Philadelphia Eagles. As much as it pains me to name an NFC East foe as the Super Bowl favorite, I buy it. Giving Brian Westbrook help in the backfield in the form of rookie Pittsburgh back, LeSean McCoy. Hoping to duplicate their 2008 draft success of DeSean Jackson, the Eagles select Missouri speed man Jeremy Maclin. Donovan McNabb happy yet? Despite the injury to linebacker Stewart Bradley the Eagles will be playing defense with more hunger than ever given the death of legendary defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. If any team knows what they are doing, it's the Eagles. Mainstays such as Lito Shepperd and Brian Dawkins are out but in comes former Patriot Ellis Hobbs to join his former teammate, Asante Samuel. The left tackle Jason Peters from Buffalo arrived in Philly via trade to further improve that offense. I'm of the opinion that till the Eagles are buried, they're never dead and you should be too. Just when you think Donovan is about to let you down, he shocks you. So no, I'm not going against Philly, ever again.

What star is approaching NFL MVP caliber? Will there be any surprises in 2009? - Rich, L.A.

One answer: Phil Rivers. Coming off his best season of his career Phil Rivers has smashed his way through. In 2008 the San Diego quarterback threw for over 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns. The San Diego Chargers have one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league who has finally matured. Past Brady & P. Manning, it'd be hard to argue that Phillip Rivers isn't the leagues next best quarterback. The Charger offense that Rivers leads was one of the most efficient through the 2008 season. At just the 25th ranked team in passes attempted, Phil Rivers & Co. ranked 7th in yards per game. Tied for 5th in fewest interceptions and tops in quarterback rating. If there was ever a year to catch people sleeping it'd be 2009. With the quick rise of the Kansas City Chiefs and a new coach at the helm in Denver, San Diego suddenly becomes the least interesting story in the AFC West. Just what the doctor order for Phillip Rivers. I expect big things from the Charger quarterback in 2009, so should you.

Don't look now bout the NFL season is fast approaching and with the majority of baseball cities out of it, that means you Baltimore, Kansas City, and Cleveland, I have just one question for you . . .Are you ready for some football?