Saturday, August 22, 2009

Phillies Still the Best Team in Baseball?

While attending a Phillies/Marlins game earlier this season, my friend and I couldn't help but notice the absence of any weak spot in the Phillies lineup. The game we attended was the second game of the first series following this year's All-Star Game that saw five Phillies make the trip to St. Louis, so it shouldn't have been much of a surprise to witness firsthand what Philadelphia had to offer. This was even before the addition of Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez, when Philadelphia's pitching was nothing to scream about.

As each Phillies batter stepped up to the plate, the big screen showed their season stats. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were no surprise, even Jimmy Rollins' solid numbers did not surprise me; but Jason Werth, Raul Ibanez and co.? I knew they were all-stars, but had no idea they were playing so well. Looking past the pitcher and whoever is setting up behind the plate, pitching against the Phillies is a complete nightmare for opposing pitchers. In the game we attended, Howard was even able to get past that ridiculous shift opposing teams put on every time he steps up to the plate.

With Phillies fans outnumbering Marlins fans at Landshark Stadium in Miami, it seemed an odd time to bring in Santa Clause for a Christmas in July celebration, but the old guy cruised around the warning track and around the infield anyway. The game was delayed when a South Florida evening thunderstorm moved in, and, having experienced these before, my friend and I decided to leave. The game would eventually resume and the Phillies went on to win 6-5 in the 12th inning.

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I already knew the Phillies were a terrific ballclub (they're the defending World Series Champs!), but sitting at that game in the upper deck behind home plate with the winds gusting and a nasty cloud threatening for virtually the entire game until finally letting loose, I started to doubt that any opposing team in the National League, even the mighty Dodgers, could take down this Phillies team. This year's Phillies already have a year's successful playoff run under their belt and the confidence that comes from winning the World Series.

Boasting a 69-50 record, the Phillies own the second best win percentage in the National League (.580) and are equal to the Dodgers (.593) in the loss column with 50. Four Phillies are among the top 20 Major League leaders in homeruns (Ryan Howard, 32, Jason Werth, 28, Raul Ibanez, 27 and chase Utley, 25). Jimmy Rollins has 15, making that five Phillies hitting double digit homeruns so far this season. Pedro Feliz and Shane Victorino have 9 homeruns each.

The weak spot on the Phillies roster was their pitching staff, but the addition of Cliff Lee has helped to quell many critics. Pedro Martinez, with only two starts and eight innings pitched this season mind you, hopes to fill the fifth spot in the rotation, sending the struggling Jamie Moyer to the pen. The return of Brett Myers, who pitched well in a one inning rehab start in the minors on Thursday, could mean help is on the way for the Phillies bullpen. Myers has been out since June with a hip injury.

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Normally a starter, Myers could work out of the bullpen for the Phillies to help bolster a banged up bullpen pitching staff that has been less than remarkable since losing J.C. Romero and Clay Condrey to injury. Myers was the Phillies closer in 2007, a role current closer Brad Lidge has had difficulty with this season.

As for the Phillies' strongest opposition in their division, the Marlins have been hot of late, winning three of their last four series and going on an historic streak of 15 consecutive games with at least 10 hits. Entering play on Saturday, the Marlins sit 5.5 games behind the Phillies for first place in the NL East. They'll have two more series against the Phillies (including the final season series in October) and more than a month to catch their division rivals before the postseason begins.

Besides being swept at the hands of the Marlins earlier this month, the Phillies have lost none of the momentum they carried into the All Star break. They even won two of three against St. Louis, their strongest opponent in the NL, decisively defeating the Cardinals 14-6 and 9-2 after dropping the first game of the series.

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With the addition of Matt Holiday and the continued excellence of Albert Pujols, the Cardinals look like the Phillies' biggest roadblock in the postseason. Even with an MLB leading .593 winning percentage, the Dodgers have been less than impressive since the break. They've lost some of their thunder from earlier in the season, even with the return of Manny Ramirez.

For the Phillies, and for every team vying for a playoff run, the next month is critical. With things tight in the NL East and the Marlins and Braves refusing to go away, the Phillies must take care of business in their division before looking ahead to the Cardinals and Dodgers in October.

With the Marlins and Braves looming, four series left against Florida and Atlanta, and their last series of the season coming against Florida at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the Phillies have a long way to go before they can focus on defending their title in October. It's no easy task, but with their incredible lineup and improved pitching staff, they have the tools to close out the season strong and make a rare run at a second consecutive World Series title.

Written By Danny Hobrock

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The US Open – Not Long To Go

The 2009 US Open is set to kick off on the 31st of August, and this is making a lot of people look closely at Masters Series tournaments preceding The Open. Roger Federer seems to be on course to win his 6th consecutive US Open, but all eyes continue to remain on Nadal. Rafael Nadal is being touted by many bookmakers and fans alike, to be the one person that can make inroads into this Federer territory.

When it comes to betting odds, Federer stands as clear favorite, with odds of 5:4 in his favor. Nadal, despite coming out of an injury induced hiatus, is the second favorite, with odds of 4:1. American Andy Roddick also has a fair chance of taking the cup, with odds at 12:1. Englishman Andy Murray has a better chance of winning according to odds makers though, with odds at 10:3.

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Djokovic and Del Petro’s odds are the same at 12:1 (also the same as Roddick). Robin Soderling and Fernando Gonzalez, although with outside chances, could end up making bettors some good money, with odds of their winning the championship at 60:1, and 100:1 respectively.

While Federer is the favorite for winning the championship, Nadal is the favorite for preventing a Federer victory. However, one should take into account that Nadal has taken a considerable time off this season, even losing his number 2 spot to Andy Murray in the process. What remains to be seen though, is whether Nadal’s knee problems will go away, or whether they will deteriorate further. Considering that he is only 23, he should ideally have a lot of tennis left in him.

In the lead up to the US Open and after coming back from injury, while Nadal didn’t perform too well at the Rogers Cup, he did do considerably better at the Cincinnati Masters. While Nadal needed two tie breakers to get past Andrea Seppi, his game against Paul-Henri Mathieu (#31) was much better, leading to a much easier win. However, after the match Nadal mentioned that his knee tendinitis was still an issue, and this could very well be an ongoing problem.

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Knowing that the hard court surface is hardly forgiving, the possibilities of Nadal being able to give his 100% this year at the US Open do remain a little slim.

Federer, on the other hand, is currently on a role. He has now surpassed Sampras’ record of the highest number of Slams won, and he’s also managed to win the previously elusive French Open this year. He comes into this tournament without any pressure, and would be looking forward to playing some great tennis.

Over the recent years, the only player who has repeatedly managed to stop Roger Federer in his tracks is Rafael Nadal. With doubts about Nadal’s fitness continuing to linger on, Federer surely seems to be the safe bet. For an outside chance and some good odds, the playing field is really wide open.

Written By Rajiv Baniwal

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Preseason Week 2: The Dolphins Vs. The Panthers

The Miami Dolphins are all set to play hosts to the Carolina Panthers later today. This is the second preseason game for both these teams and while the Panthers come into this meeting with a 24-17 loss against the Giants last week, the Dolphins' 12-9 victory against the Jaguars in the previous meeting could have them feeling quite confident.

While the game stood earlier at Miami -1.5, the Dolphins have since risen to being 3 point favorites. The over/under of this game stands at 33.5 total points. Odds of the Dolphins winning the Super bowl stand at 45:1.

The dolphins will be looking at keeping their winning momentum going, especially after having won the 2008 AFC East. They would also like to put their dismal 2007 season in the past. Being one up so far in this preseason, Steve Sparano, the team’s head coach, continues with his no nonsense approach, wherein waiting for a player to improve is just not an option.

This has been clearly evident in the case of Eric Green. Green, the 4 year veteran, has been unceremoniously axed, and rookies like Vonte Davis and Sean Smith are in line to serve as replacements. The Dolphins’ options for the position of the cornerback include Jason Allen, Nathan Jones, and Will Allen.

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This game will also go to show whether the Dolphins will have a good running game through the season, and whether that can lead to them having a better offense.

If the Panthers are to have any chance of winning this game, they will need their starters to run the ball against the Dolphins' starters. The Panthers’ defense does leave a lot to be desired, and they would be looking at bettering their 20th place in the last NFL season.

Miami coaches spent the entirety of last week emphasising running the ball, and doing it effectively. Blocking mistakes have been addressed, and these include mistakes made by the running backs as well as the receivers. Donald Thomas has been rightly promoted as the team’s starting guard. What remains to be seen though is how much improvement the offense will show.

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Also, while Sparano has been quite happy with Chad Henne’s performance against the Jaguars, Henne should expect to be under more pressure while playing the against Panthers defense. Sparano expects the pressure to turn up a notch, and has clearly said that he isn’t happy about the team’s inability to finish drives.

Speculations about Brian Hartland moving ahead of the regular No.3 receiver Greg Camarillo have also been doing rounds. If one assumes that the spots they earn are behind those of starters Davone Bess and Ted Ginn Jr., then the other 2 receiver spots would have James Robinson, Anthony Armstrong, Brandon London, and Patrick Turner in the fray.

This is also being viewed as Chris Williams’ chance to make amends. Despite his bad decision of fielding a punt within his 5, his returns against the Jaguars did impress coach Sparano.

While the Dolphins are favored to win this game, if they wish to succeed in the 2009 season, they will have to dig deep, become more dynamic, and run the football like they actually should.

Written By Rajiv Baniwal

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Friday, August 21, 2009

The Future of Plaxico Burress and the New York Giants

On the 20th of August, Plaxico Burress, New York Giants’ wide receiver, plead guilty to a charge concerning possessing a weapon, and is looking at serving a two year sentence in prison. While this could do down to twenty months on account of good behavior, this could very well be the end of his NFL career.

Burress had accidentally shot himself with a pistol in a New York night club in November, 2008. It did not take long for the Giants to release him of his services after the story surrounding his arrest was made public. Burress is likely to begin serving his sentence sometime in September, and the earliest he can be expected out is only in April, 2011.

Losing Burress will have an effect on the Giants chances of winning the Super Bowl. While they have been given 13:1 odds of winning the Super Bowl; their NFL total season win stands at 9.5 wins.

However, even without the presence of Burress, the Giants still look like a fairly formidable team. Their quarterback, Eli Manning, has been working hard in keeping their defense together. Also, while their defense coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, has moved to the St. Louis Rams, their defense is said to be as good as it was when they won the 2007 Super Bowl. Bill Sheridan, the team’s former linebackers coach is now the team’s defense coordinator.

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Also, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have gotten hold of Derrick Ward, the Giants’ offensive still boasts of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. The one drawback being that with Burress out of the picture, the Giants will have to depend on lesser known receiving corps such as Sinorice Moss and Domenik Hixon.

Burress, however, still has a chance of getting back into the NFL. The Washington Post has reported that as per an announcement made by the NFL, Burress stands suspended from the league but will be reinstated once the sentence is completed. The written statement that has been issued by the league goes on to say that Burress has been suspended from the league by the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, and that he has been informed that he cannot make deals with any team as long as he does not complete his sentence.

People have actually started placing odds on whether Burress will ever partake in an NFL game again.

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People who think that he won’t, have their reasons. Burress is already close to being 32 and by the time he comes out of prison he’d be 34. Besides, his reputation of not being a hard worker, and his list of injuries, precede him. While his physical abilities and his height will make teams think about getting him on board, his absence from the game for 2 years might prove to be his undoing. Besides, his attitude has never found too many takers, and his showing up late or not showing up for meetings, trainings, and treatments, was always a problem.

Burress now has until 2011 to see the folly of his ways. Would that be enough time for him to make amends with the Giants? Time will surely tell.

Written By Rajiv Baniwal

Underdog NFL Teams to Watch

With preseason just getting underway, it might seem foolish to try and predict the Super Bowl winner. As any sports bettor will tell you though, this is the best time to get your bets in, especially if the team you favor is an underdog. Teams like Buffalo, Arizona, and New Orleans all offer current odds at 20:1 or higher. Yet with restructuring both on the field and on the sidelines, these teams offer prices that might disappear as the season goes on.

The Buffalo Bills acquired WR Terrell Owens during the off-season. While his stats have not been consistent from season to season, he had over 1,000 yards last year. This is a huge addition to a team that has struggled over the past several years. Although he is currently on the injured list, he will be back in plenty of time for the regular season. With Trent Edwards adding another year of experience as QB, this might be a dangerous combination.

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Larry Fitzgerald was ranked the #1 pick for wide receivers by Sports Illustrated. In addition to this, the Arizona Cardinals have the #5 ranked QB in Kurt Warner. While their defense has a bit to be desired, the Cardinals look to have a much stronger offense than last year. At 30:1 odds, Arizona appears to be one of the better deals when it comes to long shots.

New Orleans QB Drew Brees is possibly the best quarterback in the game right now. With more passing yards than anyone else in the NFL last year (316.8), Brees has a mediocre at best defense to protect him. If the team can get their act together, Brees may find himself leading a postseason-bound team. In fact, New Orleans is currently leading their division in the preseason. Don’t forget Reggie Bush, either. Although Bush missed half of last season, he still put up numbers that prompted SI to rank him #31 in the NFL amongst running backs.

Written By Mathew Young

Preseason Week 2: The Vikings Vs. The Chiefs


The preseason game where Brett Favre is scheduled to make his first appearance for the Minnesota Vikings is all set to take place today. The Vikings will play host to the Kansas City Chiefs in a game that has the Vikings as 3.5 point favorites. News surrounding Favre refuses do die down, and this is a match that is bound to receive a lot of coverage, with all eyes set of Favre.

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Favre’s one year contract with the Vikings will see him as the team’s new offense commander. Reports about Favre not being up to the mark during practice sessions have been doing rounds and whether he is to receive any playing time in his comeback game remains to be seen. However, reports coming in about the quarterback Sage Rosenfels are all good.

The Chief’s second team will need them to play harder if they are hopeful of a positive result. Tom Haley, the team’s new Head Coach, has been involving his talented rookie running backs with the offence during the team’s practice sessions. Also, while quarterback Matt Cassell’s appearance in his debut for the Chiefs was quite brief, one can expect to see much more of him in this game against the Vikings. His back-ups, Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen are being looked upon as good preseason tandems for people betting during the preseason.

The focus of this game, however, will remain on Favre. While some are viewing this as simply the tail end of his career, the fact remains that he has considerably improved the Vikings’ chances of winning the NFC North, the NFC championship, and the Super Bowl. As of now the Vikings are listed at +130 for winning the NFC north, at +500 for winning the NFC championship, and at +1300 to take home the Super Bowl.

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Favre, despite his age, has proved his skills as a quarterback time and time again. If his shoulder doesn’t give him too much trouble because of the offseason surgery he underwent, he will continue to be a force to be reckoned with; and definitely quite an improvement over Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels.

If Favre plays to his potential and helps the Vikings achieve success this season, he could also be a contender for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, for which his chances stand at +1800.

However, not everybody favors the possibility of Favre taking the Vikings all the way. This was made quite clear in Bloomberg Television’s interview with ex-broadcaster and Hall of Fame coach, John Madden. 73 year old Madden is of the opinion that Favre’s fitness levels do not really matter now, in a week from now, or in a month. What matters, according to Madden, is how Favre will feel when it gets to the playoffs. “I don’t know if he can hold up”, is what he said.

With the playoffs still a while away, all eyes are now focused on this upcoming preseason game between the Vikings and the Chiefs.

Written By Rajiv Baniwal

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Maic Man vs Baby Bull

In a classic battle of speed versus power, Paulie “The Magic Man” Malignaggi takes on Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz Saturday night on HBO.

While this matchup doesn’t carry the big names of Mayweather, Pacquaio or Hopkins, the fight should provide a fair amount of entertainment. The Magic Man is 26-2 but has lost against the two fighters he faced that are in the upper echelon of the sport.

Miguel Cotto broke multiple bones in Malignaggi en route to a decision win and Ricky Hatton won by TKO in the 11th round. Unfortunately for Paulie, Diaz is the same type of fighter as his previous conquerors.

Diaz has also struggled as of late and comes into the bout with a 34-2 record. The Houston native put together a very impressive run early in his career, going 33-0 before dropping two-of-three fights over the past two years. Diaz also fought top-notch competition in his losses against Juan Manuel Marquez and Nate Campbell. The Baby Bull was KO’d by Marquez and lost a split decision to Campbell.

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Diaz has fought better competition over the course of his career and has knockout power in his right hand. He is also coming in as the betting favorite at 4-1. As the fight has come closer to fruition, Malignaggi went from being a +300 underdog to +400 while Diaz is hovering around -500 to -550. There is also an OVER/UNDER line set at 11.5 rounds with the OVER tabbed at -250.

Although he is the heavy dog, Malignaggi could provide the big payoff for anyone that loves the long shot. He needs to use his jab and be as elusive as possible. Diaz is known to come in and throw furious combinations and he comes close to letting loose upwards of 100 punches per round. He is also known to fade as the fight progresses.

The Magic Man has a two-inch height advantage along with a three-inch reach advantage but that shouldn’t matter all that much. One of the bigger factors is that the fight is at the Toyota Center, in Diaz’s back yard.

Malignaggi has openly complained about the location as well as the officials scheduled to oversee the action. “You have Gale Von Hoy, a judge from Texas who scored the Chris John-Rocky Juarez fight a draw. Then you have Raul Caiz, a mexican judge from California who is anything but neutral. The referee is Laurence Cole and all you have to do is look him up to see his past,” the Brooklyn based Italian fighter told BoxingScene.com.

This may ignite a fire underneath Malignaggi, but it also may indicate that he has already lost the mental battle before even stepping in the ring. The Magic Man will have to pull out all of his tricks to stop the Baby Bull, but if he does, he could hand a few risk takers a decent amount of cash.

Written By Brian Radewitz

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Week 1 - The Packers and the Bears: Battle Ready

One of NFL’s oldest rivalries is set to renew when the Green Bay Packers take on the Chicago Bears at home in week one of the upcoming NFL season.

While fans of both sides will be hoping for victories against each other, many now have a common agenda; that the Vikings, with their newly acquired Favre, lose badly even when they play the opponents of this fixture. Favre’s inclusion into the Vikings has been in the news of late and is certainly receiving mixed reactions.

Bears fans have every reason to dislike Favre. This can either be simply because he once wore a Packer uniform, or because of the excessive hype he’s always received. Many Packers’ fans no longer like Favre because ne no longer wears their colors. Either ways, a Bears and Viking game is bound to have some Packers supporting the Bears, and vice versa; history in the making.

Coming back to the Packers Vs the Bears game, punters aren’t really expecting too much movement in the betting line unless unexpected injuries crop up in either side. While both these times are expected to get better through the season, the Packers could very well end up being the better of the two in this season’s NFC North battle.

The odds for the Bears are placed slightly lower than the odds for the Packers (the Bears +184 as compared to the Packers +200). The Vikings, on the other hand, have the shortest odds (+162). While this might not be he league’s best division, it can surely be looked upon as being amongst the most competitive.

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While the Bears’ offence over the last season has gone up a notch, their defense seems to be heading in the opposite direction. Also, the absence of the two times ‘All Pro’ Mike Brown will put considerable pressure on the team. The Bears also need to find an all important pass rush in order to emerge victorious.

However, fans as well as experts are of the opinion that the presence of Jay Cutler will turn tides in favor of the Bears; their last season’s 9 – 7 record notwithstanding. That, after all, was attributed to the team’s fairly inconsistent quarterback performances. Cutler is someone who can be seen to help his team in both sides on the field. While his offensive play is known to be right up there, he can also be of considerable help in the defense.

The Green Bay Packers can definitely not be written off and they have truly made this NFC North season into a three team battle. With a good season of fourth quarter plays and a changed 3 – 4 defense, they could definitely be in the reckoning. While a lot depends on Aaron Rodgers, if he comes through and if the team’s defense can make quick adjustments, the Packers could very well be the pick of the season.

Which ever way the tides turn this season, one thing can surely be expected. Owing to the signing of Brett Favre by the Minnesota Vikings, Packers and Bears fans are going to be a little less hungry for each others blood.

Written By Rajiv Baniwal

American League East Update

Are the Yankees the best team in the Major Leagues? Right now, according to their record, it appears so. With a seven game lead over Boston, the Yankees are poised to win the toughest Division title in all of the American League. Derek Jeter, perennial superstar, is 5th in the American League in batting average (.331). Teammate Mark Teixeira is tied for the lead in the home run category with 31. With more wins than any other team in the majors, the Yankees are the team to beat.

That’s not all that is going right for the Yankees, New York also has the widest margin for a lead in their division: 7 games. They’ve won 7 of their last 10 games, and they have the best home field record of any team in the majors.

The rebirth of the Red Sox cannot be underestimated, though. David Ortiz is finally showing signs of life after an atypical horrendous first half of the season. Over the last four games, he has been hitting .455. Compare that to his season average (.224)- it’s no secret that Big Papi is finally back in the swing of things. Rumors of his performance-enhancing drug charges aside, Ortiz is starting to look like the man who set a Red Sox record for home runs in a season back in 2006.

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The departure of John Smoltz is another key factor in the Red Sox’s renewal. The struggling 42 year old is only 2-5 for the season with an ERA of 8.33. Smoltz was released earlier in August and was picked up by the Cardinals. The removal of Smoltz clears up some room for other starters. Tim Wakefield, although injured at the present, will be a major factor upon his return. The same is true for Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Some things have been consistently great for the Sox, especially Jason Bay. 8th in the League for home runs (27), Bay is having the best season of his career. If the Red Sox can make the postseason, Bay will most likely be the man to watch out for. Josh Beckett is pitching well, too. With 14, he is tied for the lead in the league for wins with the Yankees’ CC Sabathia. Beckett (3.38), however, has a lower ERA than Sabathia (3.58). Jon Lester and Beckett are both ahead of Sabathia when it comes to strikeouts as well. What does this mean? When the Sox are hot, they are going to out pitch the Yankees. This did not show in the Yankees recent sweep of the Sox though.

Will there be another Yankees-Red Sox match up in the postseason? You can count on it. The Red Sox, at least in recent years, have performed extraordinarily well under pressure. With a mediocre mid-season showing, the Red Sox are in desperate need of a turn around. They are playing well at just the right time. As far as the AL champion is concerned, it’s still too early to tell. The luck of either team in this last part of the season can change at any time and it doesn’t matter who has the best record when it comes to the postseason. It’s the team with the best momentum that is going to go on to the World Series.

Written By Matthew Young

The Vikings and the Favre Effect

A record number of tickets have been sold for Minnesota Viking games ever since the team has signed Brett Favre. Until last night, more than 10,000 seats for single games and 3,000 season tickets had already been sold. The Vikings’ Vice President – Sales & Marketing, Steve LaCroix, told Bloomberg a day after the signing happened, “It’s been as active as we’ve been in the ticket department in one day, for sure.”

Brett Favre holds the distinction of being the NFL’s all time leading passer and he’s also earned the title of being the NFL’s Most Valuable Player three times. This come back season will be his 19th season with the NFL.

Favre’s being on board has already changed things considerably for the team. It is now being viewed as one of the league’s ‘glamour’ teams, and also one that is quite strong on paper.

This, in a way, is also being viewed as a big risk taken by Brad Childress, the Vikings’ coach. With 2 years still to go on his existing contract, there are people who are looking as this as a do-or-die approach.

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Things that can go in the Vikings’ favor is that with Favre on board they can certainly expect to score more, thereby not just securing Childress’ future, but also the teams’ marketing efforts, a rise in ticket sales, etc.

Favre, who is 39 now, is expected to perform at his best during the coming season. If he can end up living to the expectations of coach Childress, the Vikings would surely be a team to watch out for this season.

A clamor for tickets is already underway, and seats for the upcoming game to be played against the Green Bay Packers can only be availed on in the form of season tickets. This is after the fact that for many games last season the Vikings actually had to struggle in avoiding blackout deadlines. The number of seats that are available for the pre-season game against Kansas City, where Favre is to make his come back, are already quite limited.

While supporters of the Minnesota Vikings do have mixed reactions about Favre’s getting on board, it seems like they will also have to be content with odds in the Vikings’ favor falling considerably. The chances of the Super Bowl being won by the Vikings have gone up, and this has been seen through the odds presented by various odd makers.

Before the signing of Favre, the odds for the Vikings winning the Super Bowl stood at 24:1, and now that Favre is on board, the odds have dropped to 14:1. Their odds to win the NFC title have gone from 15:2 to 13:2. This is certainly quite an effect for a single player to have made.

What this simply means is that while Viking fans who place bets on the team winning would surely celebrate a Vikings’ victory, they would also have to deal with having earned lesser money through their bets.

Written By Rajiv Baniwal

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Smoltz To Start For Cards; Just Don't Get Used To It

Sitting comfortably with a six game lead over their division rival Chicago Cubs, the St. Louis Cardinals add a former Cy Young winner and future Hall of Famer to their pitching staff. The Cardinals sign John Smoltz hoping that he will either fill in as their fifth starter, or give them a right handed option out of the bullpen.

Smoltz has had great success as both a starting pitcher and a closer throughout his career. Smoltz led the NL in wins in two seasons (1996 and 2006) and saves in 2002. The Cardinals are hoping that his versatility will help them down the stretch and into October.

The General Manager of the Cardinals, John Mozeliak, said that Smoltz is likely to start on Sunday in San Diego. He says that pegging Smoltz as a starter was not a "negotiating ploy" on Smoltz's part. Mozeliak said, "The reason for the start was just to get him work and know what we have." Based on Smoltz's performance Sunday (or whenever he actually starts), the Cardinals will decide how to use the 42-year-old.

Smoltz is the latest Cardinals addition in a season that has seen St. Louis revamp their roster with several new faces. Outfielder Matt Holiday joined the team via a trade with Oakland in late July shortly after shortstop Julio Lugo was acquired from Boston. Utility infielder/outfielder Mark DeRosa was traded to St. Louis in late June from the rival Cubs.

For anybody wondering why the Cardinals, in the midst of an important divisional race, would go out and take a chance on an over-forty pitcher whose performance this year was nothing short of dismal, realize that this comes with very little risk to St. Louis.

To begin with, St. Louis is responsible for roughly $102,732 in salary to Smoltz this season, plus any postseason award bonuses that he may earn. That is a prorated portion of the Major League minimum of $400,000. Boston, who signed Smoltz to a 1 year $5.5M contract before the season, absorbs the bulk of his contract.

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On the baseball side of things, if Smoltz bombs on Sunday and throws another stinker then kudos to the Cardinals for giving him a chance to earn a spot in the rotation, but he'll almost certainly be relegated to a spot in the bullpen if that is the case. If he is put in the bullpen, don’t expect to see Smoltz closing out many games, the Cardinals already have a pretty good closer in Ryan Franklin (1.16 ERA, 30 saves, 2 blown saves and a .185 opponent batting average).

Smoltz started eight games for the Red Sox, failing to ever pitch more than six innings. In his last start on August 6, he allowed eight runs in 3.1 innings. In his previous three starts he allowed five runs in six innings (7/31), six runs in five innings (7/26) and six runs in 5.2 innings (7/20). He allowed at least five runs in six of his eight starts this season. He is a future Hall of Famer who has clearly past his prime and is out of place in any rotation in 2009. Unless the change of scenery works miracles for Smoltz, don't expect him to start more than a game or two for St. Louis.

It's worth pointing out, however, that Smoltz impressed at the beginning of most of his starts this season. In reverse chronological order:

· August 6: In the debacle in New York, his last outing as a member of the Red Sox, he held the Yankees scoreless through the first two innings and allowed only a run in the third before his fourth inning meltdown.

· July 31: He held the Orioles scoreless through two at Camden Yards.

· July 26: About a week earlier, he held Baltimore to one run through two innings in Boston.

· July 20: He held Texas scoreless through three innings before allowing a run in the fourth and five runs in the sixth inning.

· July 11: He allowed only one run against Kansas City, the sole run coming in the fifth.

· July 6: He held Oakland to zero runs through three innings.

· June 30: The first of his three starts against the Orioles, he held Baltimore scoreless through the first two innings before allowing a run to score in the third.

· June 25: In his Red Sox debut against the Nationals, he allowed four runs in the first inning and another in the third, his only poor showing to begin a ballgame this season.

Smoltz is best used out of the bullpen in the waning part of his career. He seems to have an inning or two in him before he gets blown up. Smoltz will prove useful to the Cardinals down the stretch if they use him as a middle reliever in the sixth, seventh or eighth inning before bringing in Franklin to close the game in the ninth. The guy hasn't completely lost it; he was just used poorly by Boston. Then again, Smoltz did appear willing to come out of the bullpen at the beginning of the season before later balking at the idea. So who really knows who's to blame for his failure in Boston?

With Boston slipping and St. Louis moving closer and closer to the postseason, the change of scenery may do Smoltz some good; as long as his new scenery is from the right field bullpen in Busch Stadium, of course.

Written By Danny Hobrock

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Players Quiet in the NFL this Preseason, But Not the Coaches

Normally preseason football comes with the usual headlines of holdouts, a little trash talk and a few training camp fights. This year is no different except for the fact that it is the coaches, not the players, who are splashed across front pages of newspapers all over the country.

The two most notable head honchos have been Rex Ryan of the Jets, and Tom Cable of the Raiders. Ryan has made a name for himself by calling out Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick, criticizing his former team and picking a fight with Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder.

Ryan and Crowder exchanged words for two days as the linebacker joked about the enthusiasm the new Jets’ coach had. Ryan didn’t hesitate to shoot back, stating he didn’t know who Crowder was until he made those comments. “I don’t know this Channing Crowder. All I know is he’s all tatted up, so I guess I ought to be nervous about him,” Ryan stated during a news conference. He also said that if he were younger he would “probably handle him myself.”

The war of words continued that night when Crowder was being interviewed by the Miami Herald and stated Ryan should know who the middle linebackers are in his own division. He added that he would “have beat the hell out of that big old joker. Or if he really wants to go retro, my daddy or my uncle could have handled him.” The following day Ryan proceeded to say, “I’ve walked over tougher guys going to a fight than Channing Crowder.”

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If that wasn’t enough entertainment for one week, Ryan set his sights on his former team. He not only used an expletive during a news conference that was televised live on the team website, but he ripped into the Ravens for giving a rookie No. 99. The number was that of former defensive end Michael McCrary, whom Ryan was close with in his time in Baltimore. “I am disappointed that they gave his jersey to some rookie who hasn’t proven (expletive),” Ryan said during the conference.

Not even the Patriots’ coach was safe as Ryan continued to run his mouth, talking about everyone and everything he could think of. Ryan initially stated that he “didn’t come to New York to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings,” during a radio broadcast. He later clarified that he was just letting everyone know that he is not afraid of his rivals’ coaching staff.

Luckily for Ryan, the Oakland Raiders stole a few headlines this week as Coach Cable reportedly sucker-punched one of his assistants during a practice.. The fight put assistant coach Randy Hanson in the Queen of the Valley Hospital for a possible broken jaw.

The league is investigating the incident and the coaching staff, along with the players, has been pretty tight-lipped on exactly what happened during the scuffle. All of this drama should make for a pretty good season, and to think, we haven’t even heard much from actual players like Terrell Owens or Chad Johnson yet.

Written By Brian Radewitz

2009 NFC West Preview

To win the NFC West in recent years, you had to get past the Seattle Seahawks because they had won four straight divisional titles. Now the detour goes through the desert, as the Arizona Cardinals are reigning champs. They played in one of the most thrilling games in Super Bowl history, but their term might be short-lived, as each team has their eyes set on winning the divisional crown this season.

In order of finish:

1. Arizona Cardinals
Coming off a surprising playoff run, the Cards feel they’re legitimate Super Bowl contenders for the upcoming season. QB Kurt Warner loves throwing the football in the open field to his talented duo Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, who are capable of making big plays. Last season, their passing game proved that they didn’t need an effective running game to be successful. Rookie RB Chris “Beanie” Wells could alleviate this problem and vault the Cardinals into a return appearance to Florida come January. Their defense isn’t much of a concern, as their young secondary gained valuable experience from last year’s post-season.

2. Seattle Seahawks
New head coach Jim Mora Jr. hopes to bring a defensive mindset to a team that relied heavily on outscoring their opponent under former coach Mike Holmgren. The lone bright spot on this years’ roster could be the linebacker position. You add first round pick Aaron Curry to a group led by perennial Pro Bowlers Lafa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill, and this trio could become the league’s best backers by season’s end. WR T.J. Houshanandzadeh, who was signed in the off-season, is an ideal route-runner but isn’t the dynamic playmaker that QB Matt Hasselbeck desperately needs to be successful this season.

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3. San Francisco 49ers
The Niners are everyone’s popular “sleeper” pick for the playoffs especially after finishing 5-2 under Mike Singletary, who replaced Mike Nolan as head coach. His biggest objective coming into 2009 is cutting down his team’s turnovers. The 49ers tied the Denver Broncos for the worst turnover ratio (-17) in the NFL, and it will be tough to be a contender if you cannot hold onto the ball. RB Frank Gore is an underrated back and his role in the offense could be significantly more for the coming season. Their defense is led by inside backer Patrick Willis, who is an extension of his coach (Singletary) on the field.

4. St. Louis Rams
The days of “Greatest Show on Turf” are gone and the defense will struggle as their rookies will have to adjust playing at the professional level. But, the Rams appear to be moving in the right direction. Rookie LB James Laurinaitis and former Giants S James Butler will have key roles in the blitz-happy defense implemented by new head coach Steve Spagnuolo. It will be tough for the offense to throw the ball, as second-year WR Donnie Avery appears to be the lone receiving option for QB Mark Bulger on the roster. The Rams may need a season or two before becoming a serious contender for the NFC West title.

Written By Thomas Conroy

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The PGA Twist!

Tiger Woods was dethroned, and how. It’s been well documented that never before in his career had he ever lost a major after having the 54 hole lead. This, he has managed to do fourteen times in the past. However, change has come to the world of golf in the form of the South Korean, Yang Yong-eun; winner of the 91st PGA championship.

Yang Yong-eun left no stone unturned in the lead up to his three shot victory at the PGA championship. Koreans around the world are celebrating, and the sport is sure to receive a significant boost back home, which saw the rise in popularity of the sport when fellow countrywomen Se Ri Pak won the US Open and the LPGA way back in 1998.

People who’d put money on Yang winning the tournament were delighted as they made around $12,500 for every $100 that was placed. People who backed Yang after Friday got odds of up to 425:1, meaning they made $42,500 for every $100 that they’d bet.

Talk about the ‘tiger’ losing his invincibility factor has already started doing rounds.

The current world number 54, Stephen Ames, who came 24th in the standings and made over $50,000 in prize money said that he was quite happy with the way the tournament turned out for him. About the Yang victory, he was of the opinion that this was “good for golf”, making it more exciting.

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Yang came into the last round with a 2 shot deficit but he did not look or feel beat. The 2 shot deficit was overcome by the ninth hole. This put him neck to neck with one of the best golfers that the world has seen. Yang did have a chance to shut Tiger out at the 17th hole by taking a 2 shot lead into the final hole when Tiger bogeyed on the 17th; but that was not to be, as Yang also bogeyed on the same hole. While Yang’s approach on the 18th was pretty much where he wanted it, Tiger’s approach found his ball on the rough. Yang ended up finishing the round with a birdie, as well as the championship.

However, not all Tiger backers ended up being disappointed. While this news did come as a blow to countless Tiger Wood fans, an Irish bookmaker is said to have blundered big; by paying out all Tiger backers half way through the tournament. Paddy Power, the Irish bookmaker, has reportedly paid out around 1.5 million Euros to everybody who’d placed bets on Tiger Woods.

This did backfire quite badly and the bookmaker would have suffered much more had the heavily backed P. Harrington won the title. A statement that the firm released post this debacle said, "It takes a special kind of dimwit to turn what should have been our best ever golf result into our worst.”

What’s ironic is that a very few sports-books had posted odds for Yang Yong-eun when the tournament began. People who backed him though, aren’t complaining.

Written By Rajiv Baniwal

Delaware – A Victim of Double Standards?

While close to 40% of the NFL teams have made various ‘lottery’ deals to try and cope with the ongoing fiscal times, the NFL continues to remain steadfast in its opposition to gambling. It has even gone to the extent of trying to stop States such as Delaware from going ahead with their ‘single game’ betting system.

The way it appears, the NFL seems to be ok with gambling as long as it retains control of the way it functions within the league.

The state of Delaware certainly doesn’t seem to have it easy, with a Delaware appeals court expediting an appeal by the ‘NCAA’ and 4 other major sports leagues, who are trying to stop the new State law that will permit sports betting within the state. Betting is scheduled to start on Sep 1. The hearing is set to take place on the 24th of Aug.

The NCAA is basically opposing all kinds of sports betting, and has also made it clear that student athletes stand to lose eligibility and can even face legal consequences in they partake in sports betting.

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The state, of course, is not taking this lying down. Delaware State attorneys have approached the federal court to dismiss the appeal that involves the State’s new betting policy. The attorneys, in their filing, stated that in no way did the judge abuse his powers in denying the injunction. The appeal, according to them, should also be dismissed because the involved leagues will fail to show how they see sports betting causing them any immediate harm, or why it is necessary for the appeal to be immediately heard.
Getting back to the NFL, the question remains as to why it continues to fight against betting on NFL games by government regulated betting on one hand, and hires a convicted felon in the form of Michael Vick on the other. Michael Vick, for the uninitiated, is a man who was convicted for financing, supporting, and participating in a ‘dog fighting’ betting ring that was spread across many states. The reason that supports Nick’s inclusion into the NFL is said to be that he ‘excites’ football fans, thereby leading to higher revenue for the NFL.

What really seems to be ticking off the NFL at the moment is that all forms of legalized sports betting will begin in Delaware from the beginning of next month; and players will then be able to legally bet on college football as well as the soon to begin NFL season. This is essentially keeping the serious betting aficionado within the state as opposed to his/her travelling into Nevada.

For instance, betting at the Delaware Park will see the betting windows open on all 3 levels. The tellers will simply wear different shirts to distinguish between sports betting and betting on races. Players will then be able to place a myriad of bets which would include single game bets, halftime bets, future bets, and other kinds of wagers that are already fairly commonplace.

While there continues to be a whole lot of attention that this issue is getting, how it will pan out will only be seen in the days to come.
Written By Rajiv Baniwal

Gambling State University: The School of Sports Handicapping

With the NFL preseason nearing its midpoint, the news of Favre's return to the NFL breaking, and the pennant races heating up, another major life changing event is about to occur. The kids are going back to school. High School and College campuses will soon be flooded with students trying to register for classes in order to prepare for their future careers.

What advice would you give your son or daughter, whom you have invested years of hard earned cash and sweat saving for their education, came home and announced to you, "Dad, I think I want to study to become a professional Sports Handicapper?" We all love what we do. The thrill of the competition and the adrenaline rush that comes from watching the games with some action on them is incomparable. Nevertheless, when Jr. tells you his major is going to be Sports Handicapping, are you game?

What classes would you advise your kid to take? The most obvious choice would have to be Math. But specifically, what kind of Math would be the most beneficial? I would recommend a class on probability and statistics. Baseball is the most statistically based sport there is. Understanding the meaning of batting averages, ERA, and On-Base Percentage can be huge in determining and Over and Under play or picking the winner.

What about psychology? Knowing how human beings including players respond to life situations can be very important in handicapping a game. Realizing the tendency for teams to react with pride after a huge loss or to respond with overconfidence after a huge win can help you decide to back a team that was crushed on their last play or fade a time that's head has grown so large that it is about to burst. Yes, a course or two on individual and group psychology would come in handy for the budding sports handicapper.

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How would a history course help the development of a young handicapper's mind? All sports have history and historical trends play a huge role in deciding future events. If something has happened over and over again, the probability of the same thing happening in the future is greater. A pitcher who has never won in a certain stadium is not a good bet to win there in the future. If a certain team has a rivalry game with another such as the Michigan-Ohio State classic, there might be a tendency to treat that game as more important and "look ahead" to it the week before.

Would taking an English Literature class be a waste of time and money for a future professional handicapper? Of course not! Sports teams and seasons have storylines. Just as a fictional novel unfolds and a good reader makes predictions about what's coming in the next chapter, sports teams and players act out predictable roles that reflect human nature. The same skills of analyzing characters and predicting how they will respond to new conflicts transfer over to "real life" on the grid iron or diamond. If you haven't seen the similarities between the NBA and a soap opera you haven't been listening to ESPN. Last year, Rasheed Wallace's comparison between the NBA and the WWE did not get him fined but is so far fetched.

Wouldn't taking a couple foreign language classes help with the pronunciation of the names of players in all sports? It used to be mostly the hockey names that gave announcers and handicappers fits. Now it's all sports. The sporting word is a global village and the more languages and cultures you know about the more informed your pics are going to be.

Throw in a geography class while your at it. Travel schedules are key in knowing who will have jet lag. Knowing the climate and weather conditions can factor in as well.

Maybe that's why sports handicapping is so rewarding and so difficult. To be an expert you must be highly informed about a wide variety of topics. Anything subject helps your brain analyze, gather, store and retrieve information, and make predictions based on probability, historical trends, or an understanding of human nature has to be included on your reading list. Whether your goal is to use Sports Handicapping as a hobby, entertainment, or even a professional career, going back to school is a good way to gain the skills to be a success.

Written By Steve Saylor
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Young Guns You Can't Ignore

When placing a bet on a baseball game there is a lot more to look at than how the teams have recently played or what their overall records are going into the match-up. Opposing pitchers, line-ups and weather conditions all factor in but many of us don't have the time to check all of that out while placing a quick bet on our phones. Here is a look at the top pitchers to put your money on, or to stay away from if your favorite team is facing these guys.

Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Josh Beckett. Yea, yea, we've heard enough about them prior to and during the season. Everyone knows the big name, older men on the mound, but not many know the younger guys that are on the prowl, lighting up their opposition. Here is a look at ten of the best hurlers in the league that are under 25 years old.

The youngest of the group is Rick Porcello. Only 20 years old, Porcello is putting his name out there as possibly one of the best prospects in the league. He has gone 2-1 in August with a 2.45 ERA and seems to be getting better and better as time goes on. He is still very, very young and needs some work but if Detroit is playing anyone other than the Yanks or the Red Sox, there is a good chance he leaves with a win.

Mostly everyone knows the emotional 23-year-old in the Bronx, but still people don't believe he is a reliable starter. Joba Chamberlain has gone 8-3 overall and is 6-1 with three no decisions since June 24. This is the time of the year that Joba shines and no one should put their money down against the future of the Yankees rotation.Also just 23-years-old, Felix Hernandez is making a name for himself on the mound.

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The Mariners' young gun is 12-4 overall with a 2.72 ERA and is 3-0 this month. Hernandez is a gem, plain and simple, and he rarely puts out a bad performance. Chances of Seattle winning when he is scheduled to make a start are always good and everyone should be rushing to place a bet when they see his name on the card.

A more obscure starter is Tommy Hunter from the Rangers. Texas has gone 6-2 in the last eight games that Hunter (23) has started and he has gone 3-1 in August. He also holds a 2.64 ERA and the Rangers have a decent enough offense to put some runs on the board behind Tommy. A quick glance at the betting lines, most are tempted to go against the faltering Cleveland Indians. Don't be too quick to make that wager though, especially when Aaron Laffey (24) is taking the hill. Laffey is 3-0 (1.35 ERA) in August and 7-3 overall. The kid is killing it and the heat seems to bring out the best in him.

The 25-year-old group has the biggest names of the bunch with Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir, San Fran's Tim Lincecum and Florida's Josh Johnson.Kazmir is 3-1 in his last four starts and has proven to be a consistent pitcher. Lincecum is 12-3 overall with a 2.19 ERA and has 205 Ks on the year. He is also 3-1 in his last four appearances and has a 1.52 ERA so far in August.

As for Johnson. He is 5-0 in his last six starts and is 2-0 in August. Johnson is 12-2 overall record and a 2.85 ERA. Ubaldo Jiminez (25) has turned it up as of late with the Rockies and has gone 3-0 this month while posting a 1.19 ERA. His overall record is unimpressive at 10-9 but as we enter the final stretch, Jiminez should put up some good numbers for Colorado.

Lastly, Giants' Matt Cain (24) has had a solid year with a 12-4 overall record and a 2.49 ERA. Although he is 0-2 in August, that shouldn't turn away any betters when he takes the mound for San Fran.Anyone looking to place a bet, or just watch the future stars of the league, should keep an eye out for this group of young men. They aren't guaranteed winners, but they are as close as you will get in the final months of the season.

Written By Brian Radewitz

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With Vick in the Mixm Put Your Money on the Boys From Philly.

The Eagles haven't quite revamped their team this year but they do have a slew of new faces and a legit chance to win the NFC East. The addition of Jeremy Maclin (WR), LeSean McCoy (RB) and Jason Peters (OT) has given the team a serious offensive upgrade.
Ranked sixth in scoring last season, Philly could easily find themselves in the top five this year and we haven't even gotten to what type of damage Michael Vick could do.Sure he hasn't played in about three years, but what do you think he was doing while in prison?

I'm sure he wasn't sitting around perfecting his knitting or writing poems to loved ones. There is a lot of time to work out in the pen and Vick will undoubtedly step on to the field in peak condition.McNabb recently told reporters that the two QBs may even take the field at the same time throughout the season. Even if they don't, now defensive coordinators have to prepare for that situation.But imagine if they do! With the two hurlers standing side-by-side, linemen have to wonder where the ball is going. If it goes to McNabb, does he pitch it to Vick to run on the outside, or hand it to Mike and let him toss it down field? Does Vick get the snap and flee-flick it to McNabb, run it around the end, or throw it himself?


There are a ton of options and I'm sure the Eagles will try a couple of them periodically just to keep everyone off balance. The Eagles were one of the first teams to implement two running backs in the offensive scheme with Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter. Now they may be the first with two QBs. That is if everyone stays healthy.
McNabb has seen his share of injuries over the years, and with the fall of Kevin Kolb as the premier backup, Vick is as good a replacement as you can get.Worst case scenario: McNabb gets injured early and Vick takes the helm. He has a top ten RB in Westbrook, a few good receivers and a great offensive line to give him room to run or throw. Best case scenario: McNabb and Vick head-up the first quarterback-by-committee team and confuse opponents all season long, win the division and roll to the Superbowl.

If they win, Philadelphia will see riots in the streets and the city will be set ablaze. Not to mention, they put a little extra cash in your pocket and hand you bragging rights for choosing Philly long before anyone else. Also, for anyone that wants to know about the Eagles' defense. They only lost Brian Dawkins.

The team returns 10 starters from a defense that ranked fourth against the run last season and has some talent in Asante Samuel, Chris Gocnog, Quintin Mikell and Quintin Demps. The Eagles come with 6-1 odds to win the NFC East and 12-1 odds to win the Superbowl in many books.

Written By Brian Radewitz

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rumors of Favre Rumors at Vikings Camp: If True, How This Would Affect the NFC North

What? You thought it was over? Rumor has it that a Favre/Vikings deal is imminent according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports.

Glazer reports one Viking as saying, "I'm telling you it's already done. Right after the Indy game (first preseason game). I don't think anyone here doesn't think that." Another is reported to have stated, "I don't know if it's done, but I think he'll be in by the third preseason game."

Whether this means that we can expect to see Favre donning the Viking purple, or whether it means only that Favre's face will flash across our television every 20 minutes for the next three weeks is yet to be seen. But Glazer, who claims to be a betting man in his article, is betting on the former.

It's been a crazy couple of days in the NFL and television analysts seem to be confused about which subject to place front and center. They're torn between focusing on Michael Vick's return to football with the Philadelphia Eagles, highlighting Raiders head coach Tom Cable's alleged face-breaking blow to an assistant coach and reverting to their non-stop coverage of the Brett Favre will he/won't he story.

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There's also T.O.'s return to Bills practice, the last minute signing of Stephen Strasburg by the Washington Nationals and the potential 2011 lockout in the NFL, but my guess is that Favre's return will dominate coverage and he'll hold one of his famous news conferences that's meant to clear things up but actually leave us with even more questions than when we began. Seriously, we've reached Episode V of this saga.

If he does end up signing, the most important question becomes: what impact will he have on his new team? How will he impact the Vikings if he steps on the field as the starting quarterback in the season opener? The answer is tremendously, and it has little to do with his place as a top-tier quarterback.

If Brett Favre is a starting quarterback in the league next year he will not throw for 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns, but he will be a major step up from anything the Vikings have at quarterback as they stand now. Of course, he's Brett Favre and accomplishing the unexpected is in his nature, so he very well could throw for 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns, but I wouldn't bet on it. If Favre is in the league next season, expect to see a good showing, but not a great one.

With Favre on their side, however, the Vikings will have a formidable quarterback to throw the ball to their talented crop of young receivers including rookie Percy Harvin, veteran Bernard Berrian and the buzz worthy Jaymar Johnson. Favre will prove to be a step up from Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels, both of whom look to be best suited as career backups, albeit fine career backups, rather than starting quarterbacks.

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Without Favre, the Vikings are the third best team in the NFC North behind the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears (in no particular order). With Favre, the Vikings are the best team in the division, proof of how much the quarterback position means to a team's success.

Of course, if the Vikings brought in a game managing quarterback with a likeness to Jeff Garcia, Gus Frerotte, Trent Dilfer or Brad Johnson, they'd probably still be the team to beat in the NFC North.

Although Jackson threw only two picks in his nine games last season and impressed after being benched following a Week 2 debacle, he still finds himself competing for the starting job with Rosenfels; more proof that the Vikings have yet to find their guy and that Jackson has yet to really impress his coaches enough to secure a starting job with or without Favre.

Like a man with little confidence and few options who continues to come back to his nagging girlfriend, the Vikings are letting their romance with Favre extend for far too long. It would serve the Vikings, and Favre's reputation, well to either kill any possibility of a Favre return, or bring in the almost 40-year-old quarterback once and for all.

Written By Danny Hobrock

Monday, August 17, 2009

Keeping Your Head When Your Team’s Stars are Losing Theirs in Baseball


Betting on baseball over the season is an emotional rollercoaster ride for many handicappers. With so many games played, the emotional drain of the game is inevitable. Too many times what we see before we go to bed at night has too big of an impact on how we bet at the window or on-line the next day. It is imperative to the health and welfare of your bankroll to not over react to the highlight reel. Saturday night is a perfect example of how important it is to use and not lose your head while betting on Baseball.

As I was watching ESPN SportsCenter before going to bed Saturday night, I saw three gruesome beanings and decapitations on the big screen. The first was the line shot
that ricocheted off the cranium of the Korean pitcher Hiroki Kuroda of the Los Angeles Dodgers of LA; not to be confused with the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim. The Dodgers went on to lose 4-3 to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Fortunately, tests revealed no fracture or internal bleeding. This is good news for Dodger fans but bettors did not forget the bleeding they experienced at the window or in their account the next day. The Dodgers had a 3-0 lead at the time of the decapitation. How did the team respond? While some people stayed away from the game or took the Snakes as a knee jerk reaction, the LA Dodgers came back with a vengeance 9-2 over Arizona.

The second dome to receive a dent was that of David Wright. The NY Mets had already suffered enough. With a DL as long as the New York City subway line, the last thing they needed was to have their clean up hitter, one of the only consistent bats they have left, take one in the head. With the count 0-2, Matt Cain of the Giants released a four-seam fastball that beaned Wright in the left temple.

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As depleted as the NY Mets line-up is, they still have veteran Fernando Tatis to take is place in the lineup. Now here is point that many miss. What is David Wright's batting average? Currently, he is batting .324 while his replacement, Tatis, is hitting .250. As a short term replacement, do you really think the difference of 32.4% chance of getting a hit is that much higher than 25%? Is it enough to move the betting line or to change your opinion about who might win the game?

Many people over react to the loss of a star player and forget that each team has a full roster of players who are able to pick up the slack. Over the long haul, I agree that Wright is going to produce more numbers than Tatis but in the short run the difference is not likely to be noticeable. So how did the NY Mets respond? With a 3-2 victory to reward the NY Mets ticket holders who were not ready to bail out after yet another star was sent to the hospital seeing stars.

The final incident came in the Texas Rangers vs. Boston Red Sox matchup. A Fernando Cabrera fastball bounced off his shoulder and struck him in the batting helmet. He angrily responded to pitcher and to catcher Jason Varitek and let his displeasure be known as he took first base. The next day he took revenge by getting a home run and knocking Boston out of first place in the wild-card hunt. Texas won the game 4-3.

So, what do we observe from these three scenarios? Each time a player was hit in the head their team pulled together and produced a win. Does that mean it is a law, just wait until someone gets beaned and then go the other way? Of course not! What it does mean is that it is a mistake to over react to bad news on the highlight reel and let that play too big of a role in deciding what will happen the next day.

Do your homework, keep your head on your shoulders! Even if your star player just lost his.

Written By Steve Saylor

Smoltz's Next Destination: Rotation or Pen?

There was a time when facing the Atlanta Braves was a nightmare. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz toyed with opposing batters from 1993 to 2002, the decade the trio shared the rotation. The Braves were NL East Champions 8 times in that span. Those days have long since been over.

Glavine is a free agent after being released by Atlanta after a one year return to the team. Maddux has retired after spending the last years of his career with a few teams, and Smoltz's shore-lived tenure with the Red Sox has come to an end.

After rejected a minor league assignment, Smoltz now finds himself on the trading block as the playoff races heat up. The thought of playing with kids just getting over their acne didn't appeal to Smoltz, who, at 42, probably wants the chance to win on the big stage at this point in his career.

Despite several poor showings this season, there may be a market for Smoltz after all.

Smoltz is 2-5 in eight starts this season with an 8.32 ERA. Not exactly the John Smoltz opposing batters grew to fear as one of the National League's prominent starting pitchers, and later in the 9th inning as an exceptional closer. So what good is a 42-year-old pitcher who has clearly past his prime in the rotation and in the bullpen?

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It's his veteran leadership and experience that attracts teams. It's rumored that the Marlins, Cardinals and Dodgers are interested- all three playoff contenders entering the second half of August.

For the Marlins, Smoltz could help propel the Marlins' young rotation past Colorado for the NL Wild Card. Josh Johnson has proven to be a Cy Young contender this season, although beating out Tim Lincecum will be near impossible, but after Johnson the rotation has been volatile. Chris Volstad has been the steadiest after Johnson. Ricky Nolasco has been up and down all season; he was even sent down for a stint in the minors. Not only would Smoltz give the Marlins an anchor at the bottom of the rotation, he'd give the young pitchers a brain to pick at.

Complicating matters for the Marlins is Anibal Sanchez who has impressed in his latest minor league rehab start. The Marlins could call on Sanchez to start as early as this week, likely taking Sean West's spot at the bottom of the rotation.

Although it would make the most sense to work Smoltz out of the bullpen, expect to see him in the rotation if he is signs with the Marlins, despite the apparent quagmire that Sanchez's return and signing Smoltz would create. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez is familiar with Smoltz after spending a few years as a coach with the Braves from 2003 to 2006.

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Smoltz makes the most sense as a reliever for both the Dodgers and Cardinals as well; however, he does not appear to be willing to accept a role out of the bullpen despite having expressed a willingness to do so before signing with the Red Sox before the season.

The Cardinals find themselves in a tight battle with the Cubs for the NL Central title and could use a John Smoltz on their pitching staff. Faltering of late, the Dodgers would also do well by bringing in Smoltz to help bolster their own pitching. The Marlins, who have never won a division crown despite having won two World Series titles, find their playoff hopes once again clinging to the wild card race. Smoltz's presence in Miami would help steady a team of never-been-there's and would gain a following among the young pitching staff.

Wherever he goes, Smoltz offers more off the field and in the bullpen than on the mound as a member of the starting rotation. Some may say that he's had a Hall of Fame career, and some managers, including Gonzalez, believe he's got something left in the tank. When Smoltz is picked up by another team after Boston releases him, we'll see if his showing in Boston is representative of what he has left or if he does in fact have a little something left in the tank for September and October.

Written By Danny Hobrock

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

2009 NFC South Preview

Last year, no division was more competitive than the NFC South, as no team finished under .500 for the season. Both the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons made the playoffs, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have only themselves to blame for missing the post-season. The New Orleans Saints hope to improve on their 8-8 record for the 2009 season. Again, the experts are projecting at least two teams from the NFC South to make the playoffs again…which two remains to be seen.

In order of finish:

1. Atlanta Falcons
Coming off a surprise appearance in last season’s playoffs, the Falcons hope QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner will continue to improve and help lead them to a 2009 divisional title. Turner bursted onto the scene with a 1600 yard Pro Bowl season after spending several years as LaDanian Tomlinson’s caddy. The Falcons may need to lessen his workload this season, and Jerious Norwood could add more explosiveness to their offense. Newcomer TE Tony Gonzalez will give Ryan another sure-handed receiver inside the red zone. The Falcons defense will be an issue, as many felt they overachieved all last year on their way to a Wild Card berth. And to make matters worse they lose two starters via free agency without signing anyone to replace them.
2. New Orleans Saints
They’re two seasons removed from playing the Chicago Bears in the NFC title game, and the Saints are ready to rebound in their attempt to recapture a playoff berth. Head coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees are perfectly in sync to lead the league’s most explosive offense this season. Yes, Brees will still continue to pick apart defenses with his precision accuracy, but for the first time, the Saints will have a running game in Pierre Thomas to give them a balance attack. The key for the Saints will be how much defensive improvement has been gained in the off-season. Last season, they had issues with their secondary play and they address those issues with the key signing of S Darren Sharper, who will bring veteran leadership to a troubled group.
3. Carolina Panthers
Last year, the Panthers won their division largely due to playing an easy schedule. But 2009 will be different, as they will have to play 13 games against teams that were .500 or better last season. One thing that will remain the same is the Panthers’ running game being an integral part of their offense. They have a good, young offensive line that opens large holes for two talented young backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The defense may be having their last roundup with this group of players; DE Julius Peppers already has one foot out the door in Carolina and others may follow after the 2009 season.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After last season’s collapse, the Bucs cleaned house. Out went Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden; in came a new, young regime of GM Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris to lead an inexperienced team into battle against the NFC South. Bryon Leftwich is a temporary stop-gap at the QB position until first round draft pick Josh Freeman is capable to take over at the position. The Bucs’ pass defense should again be one of the leaders in the NFL, as veteran CB Ronde Barber will lead a group that finished third in the league with 22 interceptions last season. Unfortunately, their front seven received a major overhaul in the off-season, gone are run-stuffing LBs Derrick Brooks and Cato June and they’re replacements are young and prone to making mistakes. This could make winning a hard proposition for the Bucs this season.
Written By Thomas Conroy

I Took What!?!? Part Two

Bronson Arroyo knows what he took. He's one of the few to admit it. Arroyo said that he took andostenedione, despite the rumors that it had been tainted with steroids, leading up to the 2003 tests. "I took androstenedione the same way I took my multivitamins. I didn't really know if this was a genius move by Mark McGwire to cover up the real [stuff] he was taking, but it made me feel unbelievable. I felt like a monster." He also admitted to taking amphetamines before they were banned by the MLB. If amphetamines had not been banned, Arroyo has said that he would still be taking them.

Arroyo lives dangerously. He's decided to continue taking over-the-counter supplements that are currently left off of Major League Baseball's approved supplements list. This comes after his statement that he wouldn't be surprised if his name turned up on the list of 104 players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003; a statement he made shortly after two of his former teammates in Boston- David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez- were revealed to be on that dreaded list.



So why does he continue to take these supplements? "I haven't failed any tests, so I figured I'm good." He revealed that he takes 10 to 12 supplements a day (not sure how many are or are not on the approved supplements list) and on days he pitches, he says that he takes an additional four supplements. The MLB makes it easy for players. They've created a sort of 'Supplements Bible' for players to take home and live by. There's no telling how many other players continue to take supplements not on the MLB's approved list, but Arroyo claims, "I have a lot of guys in [the locker room] who think I'm out of [my] mind because I'm taking a lot of things not on the list." I guess most of the Reds aren't as daring as their fearless pitcher.

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Pointing out what some may consider hypocrisy on many fans' behalf, Arroyo said, "You were happy if the Red Sox won 95 games. You'd go home, have a cookout with your family. No big deal."

Bill Simmons, in a column published by ESPN.com, touched on this subject in perhaps the best examination of the psychology of today's baseball fan, who must take into account steroid use, tainted records, tainted championships and the legacy of their favorite players. Simmons wonders if Cubs fans are happy to have dodged an "asterisk title" thanks to the infamous Steve Bartman incident in the 2003 NLCS.

"Nope," he concludes, "They remain devastated. So crushing losses can't be de-tainted, but tremendous victories can still be tainted. Confusing, right? That's why I don't believe in asterisks. The Cubs…fans would have switched places with the '04 or '07 Red Sox in a heartbeat."

Pretty heavy stuff, huh? My guess is that Simmons is right, and that fans in Chicago would take a Cubs victory even if it meant that half of the 2003 team would eventually turn up on the government's list. At least the curse would be over. Just ask a Red Sox fan. After they finish denying or dodging any questions regarding the legitimacy of their '04 and '07 World Championships, they'll tell you that they'd prefer a tainted championship over none at all. Boston's curse is finally over and has been for five years, legitimately or otherwise.

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To some fans, taking PEDs was just fine so long as their favorite players weren't caught. They'll take those shiny trophies. They'll take those bragging rights. They'll take the elation the fan feels when their team rushes the infield after winning the big one. They just won't stand for what may have played a role in getting the team that far in the first place.

I am maintaining the stance that I took in the first part of the 'I Took What!?!?' series: "I'm not so sure that the PEDs [Ortiz and Ramirez] had ingested singlehandedly propelled the Red Sox to the World Series. It probably made them better players and, as a result, made the team better, but to give all the credit to PEDs would be absurd. That would be ignoring the contributions that Josh Beckett, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Lowell and others made in the 2007 season. Or the role of Curt Schilling and others in 2004. And you have to wonder which of Boston's opponents were 'powered' by steroids as they moved through the playoffs. And you have to wonder how many pitchers Ortiz and Ramirez faced on the way to the World Series whose stuff was a little better thanks to PEDs. So did PEDs play a role in the output of Ramirez and Ortiz? Probably. But I'd be extremely hesitant to admit that it was the sole reason they won two World Series titles in four years."

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While Arroyo is content to live out the rest of his career on the edge, others will struggle to overcome accusations and positive tests, while others will fight back against suspicion. The steroid era will forever live under a black cloud left courtesy of uber-competition, mega contracts and out of this world endorsement deals. Players probably felt that they were only following suit by taking PEDs; that they were keeping up with their competition and, by taking steroids, they were getting better so that their team would win. Simmons asks fans what they would have done in the same situation. Who among us can sit high on a cloud of judgment and really bash these players for using PEDs when most people would have probably done the same thing? Everybody was doing it. It's unlikely that protecting the sanctity of the game was at the forefront of any player's mind.

But they had to know it was wrong. We, the judgmental public, know it was wrong. Players cannot be handed a free pass because everybody was doing it. You wouldn't let your husband or boyfriend streak through the Quad because "Everybody's doing it!" The criticism is a good thing. It shows that baseball is changing for the better. Today's players will be less likely than ever to experiment with new supplements to gain a competitive edge.

Oh wait, at least one might. Is it wrong of Arroyo to take supplements that are not on the approved list as long as he continues to test clean? Or is it just stupid? I'm going with stupid. Until he tests positive. Then it's wrong, right?

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Simmons goes on to speculate about the cloud of doubt that will surround players like Albert Pujols despite having passed every test thrown his way and carrying "himself with dignity even as fans whispered about him and reporters peppered him with PED questions."

So what can Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and other players do to eliminate any and all doubt? Simmons has a suggestion: "…I would hold a news conference every night, pee into a cup in front of reporters, then hand the sample to a drug-testing lab technician with a big smile on my face." Absurd, right?

Written By Danny Hobrock