Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reading Between the Lines – the Future of Major League Soccer

MLS Commissioner Don Garber discussed a variety of topics today on an All-Star weekend USAToday.com chat. Most notably, it was revealed that two Western Conference teams will move to the East next season with the arrival of expansion teams in Portland and Vancouver. This would leave the West with eight teams and increase the East to ten, and likely eleven with the addition of Montreal for the 2012 season. This left me wondering, why the disproportionate number of teams (11 and 8?). Why not just leave the East at eight next season, which will then become nine with the addition of Montreal in 2012?

Could the answer lie in MLS’ plans for future expansion? It’s no secret that the league wants to develop regional rivalries between teams like in the Northeast and Northwest (NY, New England, Philadelphia, DC and Seattle, Portland, Vancouver). Commissioner Garber mentioned “beyond 20 (teams)…” specific interest in Atlanta, San Antonio, San Diego, Detroit, and Miami. But Montreal only puts MLS at nineteen, did MLS just hint at who WON’T be getting the 20th team in Major League Soccer?
New York has been a popular rumor as a destination for MLS’ twentieth team, with a possible soccer-specific stadium near Citi Field and the owner of the NY Mets at the helm of the franchise.

It’s interesting to note that the league does not appear to be replicating England’s division structure with only twenty “premiere” teams and a relegation system – at least, not yet. Instead, MLS may add another handful of teams to its East/West conferences and look more like its North America counterparts for other professional sports. The inclusion of Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal can hopefully help to grow the sport in Canada as well, where a more competitive national team would create an intriguing additional rival for the United States and Mexico.

Ultimately, a relegation system further down the road would add an exciting dimension to North American soccer. And if new teams are able to create revenue, or at least break even, the more the merrier as long the quality of play continues to improve. With a larger league, the National team’s talent pool stands to gain as well as MLS clubs maintain youth training academies to identify and develop local prospects around the United States.

One question is how big is too big for MLS? Does concentrating teams in certain regions strengthen the league through local rivalries or limit the reach of the league to key markets in cities with other passionate sports followings (Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Charlotte, and New Orleans come to mind)? St. Louis, Phoenix, Ottawa, and Birmingham have also been previously rumored as possible expansion targets for the growing league.

Fantasy Preview: Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs
2008 record: 2-14
2009 record: 4-12
2010 prediction: 7-9

Week 1: San Diego
Week 2: at Cleveland
Week 3: San Francisco
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: at Indianapolis
Week 6: at Houston
Week 7: Jacksonville
Week 8: Buffalo
Week 9: at Oakland
Week 10: at Denver
Week 11: Arizona
Week 12: at Seattle
Week 13: Denver
Week 14: at San Diego
Week 15: at St. Louis
Week 16: Tennessee
Week 17: Oakland

The Chiefs will be a much more competitive team this year and have a friendly schedule to pick up some wins against lesser opponents. They are a bit unlucky to have such an early bye week. Todd Haley’s biggest additions this year might be on the sideline with Charlie Weis returning to the NFL as the offensive coordinator and Romeo Crennel his defensive counterpart. It's still an uphill battle, but they'll make some progress this year.

Matt Cassel struggled in his first year and never looked comfortable. A weak offensive line, a disgruntled Larry Johnson, and a new system were all contributing factors, but things will improve this year-not enough that you want him as your fantasy starter, but in a deep league he could be your bye week QB.

Running Back:
Jamal Charles rushed for 968 yards in the last 8 games to finish the season with a bang. Everyone likes to jump on the bandwagon and assume that if you double those numbers then that’s what he’d put up for a season. Not exactly. Charles is dynamic, but he’s not your #1 RB. He’s going to put up some solid numbers, quite possibly spectacular-after all he did average a mind boggling 5.9ypc, but there are better backs that you know can take the grind of a 16 game season. He’s your #2 or flex style pick, but he’ll be off the board by the 3rd round because someone will have him as this year's Chris Johnson.

Thomas Jones is another reason to give fantasy owners some concern about Charles being your #1RB back because Jones might be entering his 11th season, but he hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down. Last year with the Jets (and a great O-line) he ran for 1400 yards and 14 TDs. His production this year will be about half of that, but look for him to get goal line carries or those tough inside yards.

Dexter McCluster is their 2nd round pick who will play all over the field. They list him as a RB, but he’ll get more touches coming out of the backfield as a receiver or in a wildcat formation. Think Percy Harvin type athlete. McCluster is worth a late round pick up. Don’t waste anything before the 12th round on him unless he has a spectacular preseason, but he’s worth a spot on your roster.

Wide Receiver:
Dwayne Bowe is the best of the bunch, but he’s a headache. He’s a #2 or #3 WR on your team. Ideally, he’s the guy you bring in during bye weeks, but with a questionable QB and offense no telling about his production.

Tight End:
Leonard Pope will go into the season as the started, but they drafted Tony Moeaki in the third round this year to compete with him. Neither player warrants a spot on your roster.

Defense: They’ll be better than last year, but last year they were 30th in the league. This year maybe 25th. Drafting Eric Berry will improve the secondary, but he won’t help much with the front 7 that is still suspect.

Kicker: Ryan Succop-finally a player worth drafting-make him your Mr. Irrelevant and you’ll be happy. Missed 4 FGs last year and 3 of them were over 50yards. Now if only Cassel can get them within range.

Tomorrow: Oakland Raiders

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fantasy Preview: Denver Broncos

Team by Team Fantasy Analysis:
So everyday for the next month and 2 days I’ll profile each NFL team. We're going to start in the AFC West and eventually make our way east so without further adieu...

Update: Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter have both gone down with injuries. Moreno is out 3-4 weeks with a hamstring and Buckhalter hurt his back. Read more here.

2008 record: 8-8
2009 record: 8-8
2010 prediction: 8-8

Week 1: at Jacksonville
Week 2: Seattle
Week 3: Indianapolis
Week 4: at Tennessee
Week 5: at Baltimore
Week 6: New York Jets
Week 7: Oakland
Week 8: at San Francisco
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Kansas City
Week 11: at San Diego
Week 12: St. Louis
Week 13: at Kansas City
Week 14: at Arizona
Week 15: at Oakland
Week 16: Houston
Week 17: San Diego

Denver has a tough first 6 weeks to open the season. They could easily be 1-5 at worst, 3-3 at best. I’m going for a middle of the road and putting them at 2-4 with wins against Seattle and the Jets. The good news is that after week 6, they get some relief playing the bay area teams-although, Oakland and San Francisco will be better teams this year-especially Oakland-these are games that are must wins and Denver will squeak by w/a pair of W’s and then face KC at home after the BYE week, which should give them the edge against a divisional rival. Playing St. Louis and Houston at home in late December was a gift from the scheduling gods that killed them in September and October. But after all is said and all of Tebow’s scriptures for his rookie season are analyzed the Broncos will still be a bubble team of mediocrity at 8-8.

Quarterbacks: Simply put No. Do not enter, Do not pass go-go straight to fantasy jail if you pick up one of them up. Danger. Think radiation signs.

Kyle Orton will be the starter in September and it will be his unfortunate luck that the schedule could not be worse facing Baltimore, NY Jets, Tennessee and Indy. If only he’d be starting in December could he get some W’s. At best, in a 14-16 team fantasy league he is a back up, but definitely not worth picking up in the draft. Wire guy only.

Brady Quinn: Before McDaniels goes to Timmy as the starter, he’ll give Brady a shot. Since Quinn’s been in the league he’s never been able to play a snap without looking over his shoulder. This makes him well suited for playing for the Broncos, but unfortunately for Broncos fans-he’s usually too busy looking over his shoulder (or maybe in the mirror) to be an effective fantasy pick up.

Tim Tebow: Josh McDaniels will go out of his way to justify his idiotic decision to waste a first round pick on Tebow so with that in mind…he’ll get some playing time early in the season. They’ll design some short yardage plays to keep the drive alive, a wildcat-esque set and goal line settings to work Timmy in the game. Think: part decoy, part demigod. He won’t be in enough to warrant a draft pick, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he reaps the benefit of the schedule gods and finishes the season taking his team to another early (but by J. McDaniels standards) promising exit.

Running Backs: All you need to know is Knowshon Moreno (thank you cheese). Last year Moreno led rookies with rushing yards and TDs. He only averaged 3.8ypc, but he’ll be a bigger part of the offense this year and should break 1000 yards and 10 TDs. He’s good enough to start in most fantasy leagues.

Correll Buckhalter: He’ll be Moreno’s back up, but not worth handcuffing him. He’s in his 10th year in the league and will be used sparingly.

J.J. Arrington: Drafted by the Cardinals in 2005, Arrington has struggled to get his NFL career off the ground. He signed last year with Denver and blew out his knee. He’ll make the team, but has little fantasy value…ok, zero fantasy value.

Wide Receivers: Losing Brandon Marshall will hurt, not only the QBs, but also a guy like Eddie Royal who really benefitted from all the double coverage. But, there are a few guys, Royal included, who could be worth spots on your roster.

Eddie Royal: The 3rd year player will look to step up and go from sidekick to star. He’ll look to return to 2008 form when he had 91 receptions and almost 1000 yards. Last year he was a fantasy bust-only 37 receptions, 345 yards, and a bagel for TDs. A few reasons for the lower numbers last year: no Brandon Marshall for part of the season and no Jay Cutler, no Mike Shanahan. New QB, new coach, all led to a down year. Royal is worth a late round pick. He can provide some depth on your roster and you could walk away with a steal.

Brandon Stokley: The veteran receiver had his best years playing for another horse themed team. He’s not worth a spot on the roster.

Jabbar Gaffney: Gaffney was the best WR last year for Denver. He teamed up with Orton for 54 receptions and over 700 yards. Hardly the type of numbers that make you want to draft someone, but he’s worth a look on the wire if you need help in certain weeks

Demaryius Thomas: Rookie, Georgia Tech. I like Thomas. He was an acrobatic, big play receiver in college and could be the real deal. He’s someone to follow during the preseason as he could easily be a starter and impact player in Week 1.

Eric Decker: Rookie, Minnesota Another promising rookie to keep your eye on this season. He has great hands and had a reputation for never missing a targeted throw. A slot receiver with size?

Tight Ends: Daniel Graham-the veteran or Richard Quinn-the 2nd round pick last year. Go with Graham as a backup in 14-16 team leagues. If you’re playing a 10 or 12 team league you can do much better.

Defense: I never put too much weight on drafting Defenses or Kickers early and there is nothing about this team that says pick before the 16th round, but the Broncos traditionally have one of the better Defenses in the league. This year is no different. They’ll be a starting D in most leagues.

Kicker: Matt Praeter-see note on when to draft, but Praeter is worth drafting with your last (or if you jump the gun, 2nd to last pick). It’s painful to lose a game because you’re K shanks one wide right, but Praeter plays in Denver (thin air alert) with an offense that sputters inside the red zone so he gets lots of opportunities to put up points.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

CP3 to NYC

Rumors are Chris Paul is going to demand a trade out of New Orleans prior to this season starting and the Knicks are high on the list. The Knicks definitely have some trade-worthy talent and this would add further speculation to 'Melo joining Knicks in 2011 once his contract is up, which would make a formidable Eastern Conference loaded with the NBA's top talent.

Thoughts on who the Knicks would have to give up to get CP3 in NYC?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Welcome to New York

With millions of soccer fans in North America recovering from World Cup withdrawal, Thierry Henry is a recognizable international star who is a great addition for the New York Red Bulls and Major League Soccer as he can generate increased attention and interest both with television audiences and at Red Bulls games around the country. While the arrival of Thierry Henry has not created as much hype as when David Beckham signed his “total value” $250 million contact with the L.A. Galaxy, Henry’s overall impact on the league may be much more significant in the long-term.

ESPN may not feature Red Bull games just because of Henry (and for better or worse, the use of the “Beckham cam” that followed David around as he sat on the bench, warmed up, and ultimately entered the game instead of covering the action on the field), but that’s okay because a one-time event television audience isn’t what’s going to help the league develop. For the record, David Beckham brought an enormous amount of talent to the L.A. Galaxy, but his rollout and first few years were overshadowed by a forced and manipulated rollout/PR strategy that felt similar to the recent Lebronathon debacle.
Fortunately, the Henry announcement has been long anticipated yet modest. MLS is hoping that Henry and other big name signings encourage other players to accept one of each team’s three designated player slots. Immediately, Ronaldinho comes to mind as a recognizable soccer icon whose rumored move to the L.A. Galaxy would improve one of the better MLS teams and attract both national and international attention. At the same time, this would put the pressure on more conservative owners using one or even zero of their designated player slots to spend a bit more to keep up.

While MLS players were able to negotiate marginally better wages and standard contracts back in March, owners are kept from spending more than $2.5 million on their entire roster aside from the designated players whose salaries do not count against the cap.
However, it’s good to see MLS team owners not just spending limited resources to sign designated players for the sake of doing so. If a player doesn’t fit in a system or a more talented/recognizable player might become available next season, it’s worth it to wait. Major League Soccer is not the N.B.A. where Darko Milicic receives a multi-year, $20 million contract. The owner of the Philadelphia Union got it right, saying that spending big bucks on low-impact, low-revenue generating designated players is wasteful and will not grow soccer in the United States like directing more resources to the club’s youth academy systems.

All in all, while he’s not promoted as being the “ambassador of soccer” to the United States as Beckham was, Henry will look to make a huge impact for the Red Bulls and be part of a growing movement toward soccer in the United States. Stay tuned for a NYRB midseason report and predictions for the 2nd half of the season.

Theirry Henry will debut for the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on Thursday, July 22nd vs English Premiere League club Tottenham Hotspur.  Kick-off is at 8 pm with live coverage on Fox Soccer Channel.

Monday, July 19, 2010

2nd Year Studs, Rookies and Sleepers

1. Shonn Greene: RB, NY Jets
Great offensive line and surrounded by a lot of offensive talent means he’ll get plenty of yards and scores.

2. Hakeem Nicks: WR, NY Giants
His hands, routes, and size make him a QBs dream

3. Mike Wallace: WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
The only reason he’s 3 on this list is QB situation is a bit shaky until Ben comes back. Otherwise he’s 1 on this list.

4. Percy Harvin: WR, Minnesota Vikings
Harvin is an all around athlete making him dangerous as a receiver, returner, and even in wildcat situations.

5. (tie)Mark Sanchez QB, NY Jets/Matthew Stafford, QB Detroit Lions
Both rookies showed why they were top picks. Sanchez is lucky to have a ton of talent around him and as long as he’s a game manager he’ll have the opportunity to put up great numbers with one of the best O-lines and great position players in Cotchery, Holmes, Edwards, Greene, Tomlinson and Keller.

Stafford doesn’t have the talent surrounding him that Sanchez does, but Detroit had a good offseason and draft adding pieces around him. He showed a lot of composure through a bumpy rookie season, but he has Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, a solid TE in Tony Scheffler and Jahvid Best should be an upgrade at RB.

Rookies/Sleepers to watch
These are some rookies to keep your eye on in the draft. They’re worth picking up in mid to late rounds or off the wire, but they should be impact players this year.

1. Dexter McCluster Athlete, Kansas City Chiefs
It’s hard to know where they’ll play McCluster. He’s lightening quick, strong, and can play running back, wide receiver, QB in wildcat formations, and is a dangerous return man. With Todd Haley’s creativity he can do a lot with someone with McCluster’s skills.

2. Ryan Matthews: RB, San Diego Chargers
Matthews will be the rookie of the year. Chargers moved up in the draft to get him and many experts had him as the top rated RB in the draft. He’s a complete back and will play on the best team in a weak AFC West.

3. Dez Bryant: WR, Dallas Cowboys
Move over Roy Williams-you’re about to ride the pine. Bryant has legit size, good speed, and will tandem with Miles Austin to make Dallas the NFC East’s best offensive team.

Some sleepers...

1. Early Doucet: WR, Arizona Cardinals
Doucet will take over for Boldin in Arizona’s offense. With Larry Fitzgerald getting smothered, look for Doucet to get open and have a breakout year.

2. Jamal Charles: RB, Kansas City Chiefs
He’s a very loud sleeper the way he finished off his season, but I can see some people taking Justin Forsett or Reggie Bush ahead of him, which would be a mistake.

3. Louis Murphy: WR, Oakland Raiders
With a competent QB behind center look for Murphy to have a breakout year for the Raiders.

Knickerbocker Nation Summer League Wrap-up

Mike and Donnie must be pretty happy with how the summer league went for their rookies and 2nd year players. Summer league isn’t so much about wins and losses, but more about how the guys compete and handle the pressure. Clear standouts are rookie Landry Fields (SF, 6’7”) who averaged 15 points a game and shot an impressive 53% from the field. . I can see the Knicks trying to move Fields to shooting guard down the road. Toney Douglass was the appointed captain and averaged 14 points and 5 assists and looked good as the floor leader. Bill Walker dropped 25lbs this offseason and it paid off as he attacked at will and showed impressive range. Looks like the Knicks will definitely pick up the option on his contract and resign him. Jerome Jordan did a good job at center and should make the team. Rautins is a heady player, but really struggled with his shooting and will be on the bubble coming into training camp. All in all there are 4 players that are locks to make the roster with a few more in the mix.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

NFC Quick Hits

NFC North

Chicago Bears:
The Jay Cutler experiment last year was a failure, but not all his fault-a young wide receiving corps, bad offensive line, and an ineffective running game all contributed to the bears struggles. So what’s the forecast this year: Aromashodu at WR should be the standout of WR. Hester is best in a hybrid role, but not a #1 or 2 fantasy receiver. Forte has pressure on him after the Bears signing Taylor, but if he can get back to his rookie form he’ll be a top 10 back. Cutler is a #2 fantasy QB for now.

Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson is the best receiver on one of the worst teams and has done more with less than any player in the league. Stafford’s improved play will mean bigger stats for Johnson. The Lions gave Stafford some good weapons this year with Scheffler at TE and rookie Jahvid Best. Look for Best to take over for the oft-injured Kevin Smith.

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rogers is a top 2 fantasy QB. Brees may put up bigger numbers, but Rogers ability to get rushing TDs is often overlooked and a way to pick up extra points. Look for Finley to arrive as a top TE. Jennings and Drivers are solid picks, but both have had some injuries, but they’re both starters. Ryan Grant is a top RB and should get the bulk of the carries this year.

Minnesota Vikings: A lot of their offensive production depends on Brett Favre. If he comes back he’ll make a lot of fantasy owners happy-but even happier will be Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice- they could put up some monsterous numbers. Peterson is still a threat at RB. He’s got a ton of issues with fumbles, which makes him a goal line liability and is why the Vikings drafted Toby Gerhardt. Look for Gerhardt to be a guy who averages 5 yards a game with 2 TD’s. Shiancoe is a top TE. This team is loaded with talent…pending the return of their fickle and fearless leader.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: Roddy White, Matt Ryan, and Michael Turner. I think Ryan will have a good season this year and could be a #1 in some leagues, definitely a #2 in every league. Roddy White will continue to be his go-to receiver, but expect a lot of double-coverage. Tony Gonzalez continues to be productive defying his age. Turner proved he was the real deal last year before getting injured. If Turner’s your guy make sure you handcuff him as durability is still suspect.

Carolina Panthers: Looks like this is shaping up to be a tough year for Carolina. Steve Smith’s broken leg could keep him out of training camp and slow the veteran receiver down. I think this is the year that you pass on Smith until the 3rd or 4th round. Matt Moore will battle rookie Jimmy Clausen for the starting position at QB- look for Moore to be the starter in September, which bodes well for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart. Both get yards and scores and are safe picks for your 1 or 2 RB.

New Orleans Saints: A Drew Brees led team won’t have much of a let down after winning the Super Bowl. They’ll come back hungry and ready to defend the title, which is great news for fantasy owners. Brees is one of the few QBs who is worthy a first round pick. He spreads the ball and is surrounded with weapons at every position. Colston, Meachum, and Henderson will all get plenty of targets. Colston is still a #1 with Meachum and Henderson better situated to be your 2/3/flex options. Pierre Thomas will get the bulk of carries and is a fantasy starter. Only draft Bush if he’s sitting there in the 6th round or later. He’s too inconsistent and there are too many other options for him to be a starter on your team.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The only player that is a fantasy starter on this team is Kellen Winslow. Josh Freeman will remain to be up and down in his first full year as a starter. Cadillac Williams’ production is good, but not great and will split carries with Derrick Ward making them guys for the bye weeks.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: Cowboys offensively should be one of the more explosive and productive teams this year. Miles Austin will be a top receiver and Dez Bryant is a worthy pick up in the later rounds-kid can play. RBs are by committee. Both Felix Jones and Marion Barber will split carries. They’re both going to be productive, but neither are #1. Jason Witten is still a favorite target of Tony Romo and both are safe starters.

New York Giants: With a year playing together look for the young receiving corps to be much improved which makes Eli a legit starter in bigger leagues and definitely a worthy back up. Hakeem Nicks and Manningham will get plenty of targets. Manningham needs to have less drops. Nicks will have a breakout season and is a worthy #2. Boss is a backup TE in fantasy. Jacobs and Bradshaw will be another RB by committee with Jacobs getting the brunt of the carries. He’s a starter in most leagues and Bradshaw is worth a late round pick.

Philadelphia Eagles: They have some explosive position players. LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek should all be starters. The obvious question is if Kolb can get them the ball. My gut says that Andy Reid wouldn’t let McNabb go unless this Kolb was ready. Kolb just needs to be a game manager and get the ball into anyone of his play makers hands and they’ll make him look like a top fantasy QB.

Washington Redskins: An upgrade and motivated QB with McNabb will help this first year QB/Coached team. He’s not a starter in a 10 team league, but can be in 12/14 team leagues. He doesn’t have quite as many weapons as he did in Philly, but he’s a savvy veteran with a great offensive coach. Portis isn’t what he used to be, but worth a spot on your bench. Moss is a flex guy. Cooley is the only solid fantasy starter on this roster.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald will struggle this year. Losing Warner and Boldin will put a tremendous amount of pressure on him. He’s still great and can go up and get the ball better than anyone in the league, but don’t expect the massive numbers he’s put up in the past. If the offense doesn’t bomb-Doucet is a safe/sleeper pick as he’ll be the biggest beneficiary of Larry Fitz getting double teamed. Anderson and Leinhart aren’t worth spots on your roster. Beanie Wells showed some glimpses of being a starter and is worth a mid-round pickup.

San Francisco 49ers: Gore is another starting RB worth handcuffing. He takes a lot of abuse and is suspect to hold up 16 games. Crabtree should produce this year now that he’ll play a full season. Vernon Davis should still be a considered a top TE despite issues under center. QB remains to be an issue and Alex Smith is an iffy backup.

Seattle Seahawks: New coach, new QB? Hasselbeck might not make it through September as the starter and there isn’t a lot of depth behind him. Forsett should get a lot of carries and will be a nice surprise to someone who picks him up. Look for Rookie Golden Tate to make some headlines this year on a talent deprived team.

St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford is good. Unfortunately, the Rams offensive line is not. He’ll suffer through a tough rookie year as he doesn’t have a lot of weapons around him. This is the year Steven Jackson becomes human and starts that natural RB decline. And to make matters worse, Jackson and Bradford won’t get any help from their WR. Name one? Yea, I couldn’t either.

Friday, July 16, 2010

AFC Quick Hits

It's mid July so that can only mean one thing: the Hall of Fame Game and beginning of football is here! Today we have some quick hits on the AFC. Look for the NFC tomorrow and sleepers on Sunday.


Baltimore Ravens:
Ray Rice will be the best all around back in the league-especially in points per reception leagues. Boldin and Stallworth will provide quality targets for Flacco at WR opening it up even more for Rice.

Cincinnati Bengals: Palmer is a solid #2 fantasy QB going into this year. The Bengals tried to add some depth in the receiving core, but I don’t think it’s enough to make Palmer your starter, but definitely a competent bye week QB. Benson put up legit numbers on the field last year, unfortunately he’s putting up the wrong kind of numbers (as in arrests) off the field.

Cleveland Browns: Cleveland is cursed. When you’re kicker is your most consistent player it’s a bad sign- when they’re bringing in Bobby Engram as FA it’s a worse sign. Quarterback of the future(?) Colt McCoy should hold on to his clipboard like it’s his lifeline. Jake Delhomme has been in a funk since his playoff implosion a couple of years ago so not good news for Massaquoi. Jerome Harrison is the only bright light on the Browns.

Pittsburgh Steelers:
Losing your starting QB for 4 games hurts. The only good thing about it is that the Steelers go into training camp knowing this and can prepare for it-unlike Brady going down in the first game a couple of years ago. Runningback by committee is the most frustrating evolution for NFL fantasy owners and this could be the Steelers MO. If you have the chance- pick up Mike Wallace. He’ll be the number one target this year. There D will be solid as always.


Houston Texans: Andre Johnson has been arguably the best receiver in the NFL for the last few years. He’s a keeper and first round pick in any league. Jacoby Jones has been my Mr. Preseason for the past few years-if it ever translated into the regular season he’s worth a pick in the late rounds-a sleeper that has yet to wake up. Matt Schaub is frustrating for his inconsistency, but can put up some huge numbers and remains a starting fantasy QB.

Indianapolis Colts:
Peyton will continue being Peyton. Wayne, Garcon, Gonazlez, Collie and Dallas Clark give him plenty of quality targets. Reggie and Clark are his favorite targets in goal line passing situations. It will be interesting to see how Gonzalez bounces back from surgery, but could be Colts #2WR. Addai is good depth, but not a fantasy starter. Donald Brown will be the better back this season.

Jacksonville Jaguars: MJD will see his production drop this year, but he’s still a top 10 back and a starter on any team. Sims-Walker proved to be a quality receiver and #3 fantasy/flex player option this year. He’s not the issue, but the QB is.

Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson exploded last year-especially with VY as QB. That’s probably because the Titans have a more conservative, run friendly offense with VY under center. On any play Johnson's likely to break it for 30+ yards. It will be interesting to see if teams make the Titans beat them in the air and put 8 in the box daring Young to pass. That being said, Young had a solid season and is worth picking up in the late rounds or off the wire.


Buffalo Bills: No QB, no WRs, a good rookie in RB CJ Spiller to compete with Lynch. With the exception of Spiller, best to stay away from the Bills.

Miami Dolphins: Brandon Marshall, if he can avoid suspensions is a top WR. Brown/Williams are both solid RBs for the Dolphins, but not necessarily in Fantasyland. They can add some depth, but neither should be a starter. Biggest question for the offense is if Chad Henne is ready for the spotlight.

New England Patriots: They aren’t what they used to be but Brady and Moss are still starters in any league. Welker was missed last year and if he can return to 2008 form after a brutal injury then he’s definitely a starter in a points per reception league. No real RBs that are starters.

New York Jets:
I’m still not sold on Sanchez as being a starter, but the Jets have made a lot of moves this offseason to help him. LT is not the LT of old, but he is running behind the best O-line in the league. The real beneficiary of this will be 2nd year stud Shonn Greene. Cotchery, Holmes, and Edwards could make Sanchez look like the best QB in the league. Edwards has worked all offseason on doing something revolutionary for a WR-catching the ball! Cotchery and Holmes are the real deal with Kellar being a good #2 option at TE. Hard to say which receiver will be Sanchez’s go-to guy, but all should put up good numbers and can be # 2/3 fantasy receivers.


Denver Broncos: I am not a Tebow fan. I really wonder what Josh McDaniel’s et.al were thinking by using a first round pick on a fullback. Moreno is the only guy on this team that can be a starter.

Kansas City Chiefs: I like the Chiefs to improve a lot this year. Cassel is not a starter and not even a back up in a 10/12 team fantasy league, but Bowe very well could be this year. He’s a stretch as your 1, but if he’s on the board in round 3 or 4 he’s definitely worth picking up. Look for Jamal Charles to have another productive year. Thomas Jones will provide him a breather he needs and could steal away some goal line carries. Keep your eye on Rookie Dexter McCluster-he’s a player that can pick up a lot of all purpose yards as a WR/RB/KR.

Oakland Raiders: Jason Campbell might get this team out of the basement. Questions still around the O-line and unproven WRs, but Schilens will probably improve the most w/Campbell behind center. A good late round pick up who could be a sleeper. Zach Miller has been a consistent TE fantasy starter. His numbers will only get better this year. Avoid the RBs. McFadden at this point is still more promise than production, but is a safe spot on the bench of your roster.

San Diego Chargers:
I love Rivers. Top 5 QB in the league. Sproles and Matthews (rookie) will compete for the starting spot, but its Matthew’s to lose. He’s definitely worth a look and could be a top back this year with the heavy load of the carries. Jackson and Gates are still the top targets. Look for Floyd to get a lot more looks if you need to add a WR deep in the draft in a pass friendly offense.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

An E-Mail From Knicks General Manager, Donnie Walsh

Most e-mails I receive from the New York Knicks are promoting offers to see Cirque d’solei or to grab a luxury box for an upcoming concert.  Every now and again, a new player signing or a relatively important trade triggers a communication from the front office.  

Even though every NYK season ticket holder and anyone signed up to be an “insider” received it, Donnie Walsh sent me an email today with a status update that puts facebook to shame.  Let’s cut to the chase…

“For the first time in many years, we will be fielding a roster comprised of several young, talented and exciting players that are the key building blocks of our future success. At the same time, we have retained valuable cap flexibility, setting us up to be strategic and add additional key players over the next couple of seasons.”

As a longtime Knicks fan, Donnie couldn’t be closer to the truth.  For the first time I can remember, the Knicks aren’t fielding a roster comprised of several young players, but several young, talented, and exciting players.  Long gone are the days of Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari being brought down by an inept point guard and role players who on any other team would be coming off the bench. 

“Our biggest off-season move was the signing of All-Star power forward Amar’e Stoudemire…”

Donnie elaborates beyond stating the obvious, but really nothing else needs to be said.  It’s a bit of a risky move, considering Stoudemire’s past knee and eye problems, but he is one of the game’s best and is an upgrade over David Lee for a bit more money each year compared to the contract Lee got from Golden State.  Speaking of the Warriors… 

“A second key free agency acquisition was point guard Raymond Felton. One of the NBA’s quickest and toughest players, Ray is an ideal fit to run Coach D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense. We also traded for two solid two-way contributors in swingman Kelenna Azubuike and forward/center Ronny Turiaf, and added Anthony Randolph, an outstanding young forward who has the physical talent to be among the league’s best."

It’s amazing what the Knicks were able to get out of the sign and trade for David Lee – three players with low salaries and lots of upside and a future 2nd round pick.  Turiaf is an inside the paint bruiser  and Azubuike is a SF/SG who can put up some points coming off the bench.  I really like the Randolph pick up, especially since he is only due $1.8 million next year, but the Knicks must be really high on him to also commit over $7 million to Turiaf and Azubuike. 

Regardless, the Knicks this season will be more athletic and BIGGER – Stoudamire, Gallinari, Turiaf, Curry, Mozgov, and Jerome Jordan (if he makes the roster) are all 6’10” – 7’1” and there are rumblings of Earl Barron returning to hopefully pick up where he left off with a strong showing on a short-term deal to close the 2009 – 2010 season.  Not that I think it’s likely, but Shaq has also been mentioned as a possibility for the Knicks.  I’m not a huge fan but think he would fit in better with the current Knicks than he did in Cleveland.  And it would be a great move for O'Neil - there is no better way to make yourself relevant again than a late-career resurgence in the biggest market around and he could begin to develop his post-NBA plans (fingers crossed for a Kazaam sequel).

"The newest Knicks join our strong, promising core of young players including Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Toney Douglas. We have made great progress assembling a team with long-term success in mind, and will continue to explore the right opportunities to add complimentary players to our roster.”

While D’Antoni’s late game decisions sometimes leave me bewildered, the only personnel decision from last season I really questioned him on was continuing with Chris Duhon for so long instead of switching to Toney Douglas.  TD isn’t a natural point guard but an explosive 1 or 2 who can pull up, get to the hoop, and create havoc on defense.  If Douglas can develop the vision and creativity to make plays like Boston's Rajon Rondo, another 6’1” guard whose physical style creates turnovers and can change the momentum of the game, the Knicks will be just fine if the most attractive point guards on the market next summer (and possibly trade block sooner) re-up with their respective Western Conference teams or sign elsewhere.  And that doesn't even consider the potential of newcomer Raymond Felton who went just after Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the 2005 NBA draft...   

Players not mentioned in Donnie Walsh’s note?  Leaner and meaner Bill Walker, Timofey Mozgov, and Eddy Curry - the last remnant of the Isaiah Thomas debacle, even though the Knicks 2011 and 2012 drafts will again remind us of the lasting damage linking back to the Jared Jeffries salary dump last season to Houston.   

Anyway, thanks for the e-mail, Donnie.  We’re looking forward to another update, even if the Knicks' next big splash isn’t until February or July 82011.     

Knickerbocker Nation 7.15.10 Part I.

The NBA offseason has been one for the ages. Forget the Lebrocacle, which has taken the crownless king’s talents to South Beach and MEami to be forgotten. The Knicks have been clearing cap space for 2 years to get to this juncture and all signs point to them being half way there.

Key Acquisitions:

Amar’e Stoudemire

Raymond Felton

Anthony Randolph

Kelenna Azubuike

Ronny Turiaf

Timofey Mozgov

Key Losses:

David Lee

They now have some depth both in the front and backcourt with athleticism and length. With Felton we get a young, disciplined point guard that led a less than stellar Bobcat team to the playoffs last year. He has great instincts, distributes the ball like a point should and is the brain we need to lead Mike’s free flowing offense. Look for him to tutor Toney Douglass as his backup as Douglass provides some legit depth at the point.

The sign and trade for Lee was a great move that added 3 solid players for very little money against the cap. Turiaf is too short to be a true center, but he’s pretty wide and likes to bang bodies on the inside. So he’ll do the dirty work and could be an Oakley-esque defender in the paint. Azubuike will provide some depth at the SG and could challenge Chandler for the starting spot. Randolph is the player that could be a stud in this league. He’s definitely rough around the edges, but has great length, can spread the floor and be a dynamic player in Mike D’s system.

Landry Fields seems to be the only solid pick up in the draft. He’s averaging 16 points a game, shooting 55% from the field and has a knack for creating space while off the ball.

Most importantly and why we’re only half way there is that the Knicks are in great position to acquire another top player whether through free agency next summer or a trade this season. Part II next week.