Sunday, September 30, 2012

Eagles Nip Giants in Heart-Pounding Finish

EAGLES 19
GIANTS 17

A difficult situation is getting worse for the defending Super Bowl Champions; Big Blue blew a late 17-16 lead, falling to the Philadelphia Eagles 19-17 in the waning seconds, dropping their second divisional game of the season, while falling to 2-2 on the season. With the Eagles 3-1, and Cowboys 2-1 going into Monday Night Football, the Giants are now stuck looking up at their two biggest rivals, and staring at an uncertain future.

The Giants face a very difficult schedule in the coming weeks, and if New York doesn't get things straightened out, it could be a very disappointing season.

Even though the Giants drove down the field for a potential game winning field goal which Lawrence Tynes missed by mere feet, they didn't deserve to win the game. They never had a lead in the contest and watched as the Eagles gashed them for 191 yards on the ground, including 125 yards by LaSean McCoy.

They watched as Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson played pitch-and-catch for much of the evening, and, when New York did grab the lead late, they couldn't hold on to it.

This was not a pretty game for the Giants offense either. They went five straight possessions in the first half without scoring a point, punting on each of those possessions. It was not until the third quarter that the offense put a solid drive together. The combo of Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown ran for 25-yards on the Giants first possession of the third quarter, and Eli Manning hit Domineck Hixon for 13 yards before finding Victor Cruz for a 14-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10.

The Eagles quickly answered when Michael Vick hit tight end Brent Celek for 27 yards and ran for 18 more to set up an Alex Henry field goal to make it 13-10.

Once again, the Giants offense disappeared. Manning drove Big Blue into the red zone, but was picked off by Domineck Rodgers-Cromartie on a terrible screen pass that ended a potential scoring drive. This eventually led to an Eagles field goal to make it 16-10.

With 9:30 remaining, Manning flexed his fourth quarter muscle, orchestrating a crisp five play 83-yard drive, highlighted by completions of 31 to Ramses Barden, and 41 yards to Cruz. With New York knocking on the door, Manning found Bear Pascoe in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

Inspite of their poor play, New York had a lead.

However, Vick and Eagles made the Giants defense look foolish on a 12 play, 75-yard drive. McCoy killed the Giants for 32-yards rushing on the drive; New York never had an answer for the shifty back. The impressive time-consuming drive led to another Henry field goal. But with 1:52 to go, it left little room for error by New York.

When the Giants needed Manning at his very best, he couldn't deliver. The Giants got two very fortunate pass interference calls, especially one on Philly corner Namdi Asomugha, who didn't appear to grab Barden at all. He was flagged setting up a first down for the Giants at the Philly 27. However, Manning was unable to move the Giants any farther.

Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes, who has won so many games in the past, got the shot to end it for the Giants, but he his kick fell just short of the goal post; Giants lose.

With the loss, the Giants are now in last place in the NFC East, trailing Philly, Dallas and Washington. While New York is 2-2 on the year, they are 0-2 in the NFC East, which is a huge turn of events for a team that had such high expectations this year coming off its Super Bowl title. The Giants get to Cleveland next week, a game they should win easily, but, after that, it gets rough. San Francisco, Washington, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Cincinnati highlight the upcoming schedule. If the Giants have any hopes of getting back to the postseason, they are going to have to turn things around real fast, especially in divisional play.

Pathetic N.Y. Jets Shutout by 49ers

49ERS 34
JETS 0

Can you say embarrassing?

Disgusting?

If you can bring yourself to utter either of those two adjectivals,then you watched one of the worst games in the history of the New York Jets franchise.

The effort the Jets put forth Sunday afternoon against the San Francisco 49ers was so inconceivably pathetic, so terrible that it became abundantly clear that the Jets are in for one of the worst seasons in franchise history.

The fear of what could go wrong is going hideously wrong.

The New York Jets put up a stinker in every sense of the word as the 49ers shut out and otherwise humiliated the Jets 34-0 in front a stadium that was nearly half full with San Francisco 49er fans!!

Believe it or not for almost three quarters, the Jets had a shot in this game. They were down a mere 10-0 coming into the second half; the Niners offense had not moved the football well against the Jets defense, and veteran kicker David Akers missed two field goals; yet, this offense was again anemic.

Mark Sanchez was terrible. Whenever the Jets offense had the football, Sanchez threw a number of lazy incompletions, with passes going in and out of the hands of his receivers, or falling short of their intended targets. He got sacked five times, one that resulted in a fumble that led to a 49ers field goal in the second quarter.

He later threw an interception into the defensive line. Fortunately for him, it was not turned into points, as Akers missed his second field goal of the game.

As the game drearily wore on, and the longer the Jets defense stayed on the field, the more productive the Niners offense became. Alex Smith, who was under zero pressure all day long, hit Mario Manningham for 12 yards, and Delanie Walker for 25 more yards to the Jets 1. Three plays later, Frank Gore plowed it in from two yards out to make it 17-0 Niners. Ball Game.

With the way the Jets were not moving the football, they only had 88 yards of offense in the first half, so the competitive nature of this game was dead. Now the question was, how much worse could this nightmare get.

Trust me, it got worse.

On the Jets second play of their ensuing drive, Santonio Holmes pulled up lame after making a catch at the Jets 47. He fell to the ground writhing in pain. As he grabbed his left leg, Holmes let go of the football, and San Fran. corner Carlos Rogers astutely picked up the fumble and returned it 47 yards for the touchdown.

Yet, the larger concern for the Jets was the health of their wide receiver. New York had already lost Darrelle Revis to an ACL injury the week before, and losing Holmes, the only legit receiver on this team, would be crippling.

Reports are that Holmes injured his foot, but he will have an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of the injury. If Holmes should miss time, it will affect the Jets offense greatly. They are already bereft of talent. They have no running game, their other wide receivers are very young and have not shown much potential, and, adding insult to injury, their quarterback is a disgrace.

Holmes was the only reason they won last week; without him, they will be hard pressed to move the football against anyone. Terrell Owens anyone? Maybe even Chad "OchoCinco" Johnson.

The Jets nightmare performance continued into the fourth quarter when Punter Ryan Malone had his punt blocked, and San Francisco recovered it at the Jets four! A few plays later, the Niners put the game away 34-0.

The Jets have lots of issues. One of the most obvious is the quarterback situation. Mark Sanchez's job is now not safe. He has done nothing to prove that he deserves to remain the starter; instead, he has reverted to the inept play that raised eyebrows throughout his four-year career. It is becoming more and more obvious that the Jets do not have a quarterback, and the hunt for the next one needs to begin in earnest. This is not a call for Tim Tebow or Greg McElroy, but, at some point, both will get a chance to start under center.

The blame for the lack of depth on this team fits squarely on the shoulders of ... GM Mike Tannenbaum, who has done a terrible job building this roster over the past four years. What team doesn't have a competent running back or back-up? What team doesn't have a competent offensive line, quarterback and wide receiver with solid fill-ins? Not many, except for the Jets.  Change is coming to Florham Park whether Rex Ryan, Mike Tannenbaum and company like it or not.

And talking about disgraceful, here is the big difference between New York Jets' fans and fans of other teams in the NFL: The Jets fan didn't do themselves any favors on Sunday, and again made the case that they are the most fickle, fair-weather fans in the sport since nearly half the stadium was filled by San Francisco 49ers fans. For every green jersey, there was four or five red jersey's in the stands; the Niner fans outnumbered Jets fans in their OWN STADIUM! It was like a road game for the Jets, and the Niners fans got louder, louder and louder as the game wore on. It was as if the game had moved to Candlestick Park. If you had to count, there were about 30,000 49er fans in the building!

The fact that Jets fans were willing to sell off their tickets to 49ers fans is an absolute joke, and again signifies the problem with the Jets ticket sales. They are not selling seats to their fans in their own stadium. Nobody is biting on the PSLs nor the reduced tickets in the upper deck. Instead, they are going on sale online, and fans of the opposing team are picking them up. If the Jets want to have a true home field advantage, reduce the ticket prices, and welcome the die-hard fans back to the ball park.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Open Mike 09-26-12 NFL Ref Lockout Fiasco

In Hour One of the Open Mike Program, host Michael Cohen is joined by two special guests: John Patterson, co-host of “Let There Be Country,” aired on WFDU 89.1 and Adam Clarkson, DJ and sports talk host on WPSC 88.7. The trio talk about the absurdity surrounding the NFL Ref Lockout and what it means to have the real NFL refs back on the field.  They then change course and break down the Jets phantom victory over the Miami Dolphins, with a critical analysis of the Jets struggling offense, and quarterback Mark Sanchez.
open mike 09-26

In Hour Two of the Open Mike Program, Michael Cohen, John Patterson and Adam Clarkson talk about the Giants big upcoming battle against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night, as well as the resurgence of the New York Yankees, as they make their charge into the postseason. Then things get interesting … to say the least … as the fellas are joined by the NFL Picks Announcer Guy!  Open Mike 09-26-pt2

NFL Refs Finally Return After Disastrous Lockout

The sweeping and wide negative reaction from the Monday Night Debacle between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, was more than enough to get both the NFL owners, and the referees to come to an agreement on a new contract, ending the lengthy Ref Lockout that had stained the style of play over the first three-weeks of the season.

As everyone knows, Week Three will be best remembered for the number of horrific on field calls, pass interference penalties, coaches and players yelling at clueless replacement officials, and of course the phantom touchdown in Seattle.

The moment Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate was credited with a touchdown when it was so obvious that it was Green Bay corner M.D. Jennings had come down with the football, the negative feelings felt by so many fans, coaches, and players became even louder, and the desire to have the REAL NFL refs return became more apparent.

Early Thursday morning, the League and the NFLRA came to an agreement on a brand new eight-year deal, with the signing of that deal to come this weekend before kick-off on Sunday. That said, Commissioner Roger Goodell lifted the lockout in time for the Thursday night's game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns.

Even with the lockout lifted, what has occured over the last three weeks was a huge black eye to Goodell, his power, and credibility within the League. He postured definantly throughout this process, refusing to budge on a new deal. Even when the controversial touch ... I mean ... interception happened, Goodell and the League only released a statement stating that pass interference should have been called, but the touchdown should NOT have been overturned.

Are we supposed to be blind, Mr. Goodell? Sure you patched things up fast with the officials while in damage control mode, but the fact is that there are too many games that were affected wrongly by the replacement refs. Sure, the Green Bay Packers (1-2) will likely make the playoffs, but the margin between 1-2 and 2-1 is huge. They will have to spend the next two weeks trying to get back over .500 and are now in for a dogfight in the division. If Green Bay were to miss the playoffs by the smallest of margins, everyone will look to this game, which cannot be erased.

Expect the officials to get standing ovations all weekend. Already in Baltimore, veteran official Gene Steratore and his crew received a warm ovation from Ravens fans and warm greetings from both the Browns and Ravens players. Just goes to show that all aspects of this great game of football are greatly appreciated and cherished. Whenever someone tries to mess around with it, it disturbs the world order of football.

Football games are not supposed to go 4 or 5 hours; football games are not supposed to have 25 combined penalties in a single game; there should not be ridiculously long pauses to determine a simple replay challenge; and nobody should call a touchdown when they don't know what they are looking at. The replacement refs hurt the NFL. It will take a week or two of solid NFL football from the style of play to the officiating to begin to take the bad taste out of all our mouths.

Either way, it is nice to have the regular refs back on the field. Play ball!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Jets' season sunk with Darrelle Revis out for the year

It was an ugly sight.

As Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas burst through the tackles, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis tried to make a play for his team that had spent the entire afternoon tripping over themselves in South Beach. However, as Revis made his move for Thomas, his foot went left, while the rest of his left leg went right, and the Jets famed corner found himself in a heap on the grass, clutching a shattered knee.

Revis tore his ACL, an injury so severe that it will require season-ending surgery.

He will have to wait two to three weeks before he has the surgery, and, once it is completed, he will be on the self for the next six to nine months.

This means that the Jets will have to rely solely on the combo of Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson and others to get the job done for the rest of the 2012 season.

For a Jets team that was already licking its wounds from a rather lackluster effort in their 23-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins, this injury will not help.

Revis is the best player on the team. He, alone, strikes fear into the hearts of opposing quarterbacks who do not dare throw the ball in his direction, because, if they do, it will either be picked off or knocked away. Revis built a reputation as a shutdown corner of some of the best wide receivers in the game that enter "Revis Island" at their peril.

For a defense that has struggled to generate a pass rush, Revis was the one guy who could help create that rush with his ability to cover top wide-outs, forcing opposing quarterbacks to look for different options.

All one has to do is look at the Jets 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh this year to see what life without Revis is like. It wasn't pretty. Ben Roethlisberger tore apart the Jets defense, and the secondary couldn't cover anybody.

Without Revis, it is fair to say that this Jets season is destined for failure.

They don't have an offense that inspires confidence. Their quarterback is a total mess; they have no idea what to do with Tim Tebow; they can't run the ball and don't have the horses at wide reciever to win shootouts.

Now they don't have a complete defense that can stop opponents and keep games close. That is a dangerous combination for a team already walking a tightrope.

The Jets better hope that they get the best out of Cromartie and Wilson for the rest of this season, or else the Revis injury will be one of many sad headlines in this 2012 season. 




Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dolphins Gift Wrap Victory for Atrocious Jets

JETS 23
DOLPHINS 20 

Okay; so the Jets won the football game. Congratulations, Jets fan; go crazy. Now a reality check: This team is in big, BIG TIME trouble. The victory does not excuse the fact that Gang Green did everything they could do to lose the ball game; fortunately for the Jets, the Dolphins were much worse than they were ... much worse.

If it weren't for Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter and quarterback Ryan Tannenhill, it would be Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez wearing the goat horns. He was a total disaster from start to finish. From the opening play when Sanchez's first pass was intended for .... ummm ... nobody, the toss fell incomplete, and it became apparent that Sunday would be a very long afternoon for Gang Green. Three plays later, disaster struck when Sanchez threw a pick that landed in the hands Miami cornerback Richard Marshall.

The Dolphins proceeded to drive the ball down the Jets throat with the power of Reggie Bush, who ate up 31 yards on five carries, setting up Daniel Thomas' one-yard plunge, giving Miami a 7-0 lead.

Bush played a large role in this game, and it was not a good thing for the Dolphins this week. Bush injured his knee just before halftime and never returned to the game. Before the injury, Bush ran for 61 yards on 10 carries, and his presence was greatly missed for Miami, as the Dlphins offense got worse and worse as the game wore on.

Meanwhile, Sanchez did everything he could to stink it up for the Jets. He was inaccurate, overthrowing his receivers on numerous occasions; when he had guys open, he missed them badly. When he had guys in tight coverage, he tried to zip it in only to have defenders block it. He was bad. He was terrible.

At one point, the Jets had a first and goal at the one yard line, but they couldn't get it in. Sanchez was nearly sacked on second and goal yet decided to throw it up to Jeff Cumberland, who was wide open, but but he overthrew him by 10 feet!

With Miami leading 10-3 early in the third quarter, the Jets got a huge break when Tannenhill rolled to his right and tried to force the ball down field only to have LeRon Landry step in and pick it off, bringing it back for the game-tying touchdown.

Then on Miami's next possession, Thomas fumbled the ball right back to the Jets, giving New York great field position. What did Sanchez do with this opportunity? He squandered it. On 2nd and goal, the Jets tried to run the wildcat with Tim Tebow, but the back-up quarterback was sacked for a three yard loss. Finally, Sanchez put an exclamation point on the benighted drive by throwong an interception into the hands of Chirs Clemons.

Luckily for the Jets, the Dolphins offense began to stall. They couldn't move the ball past their own 40 after the interception and turned the ball back to the Jets.

Like clockwork, Sanchez and company screwed it up. On what should have been an easy dump off pass to Tebow in the flat on third down, Sanchez hit Tebow in the head with the football! Not exactly the helmet catch -- not even close.

Finally, Miami's offense put a solid drive together. An 11 play, 72-yard drive, highlighted by big completions to Devon Bees and Anthony Fasano, set up shop for Jovorskie Lane's touchdown run.

However, once Miami got back in front, they played not-to-lose-ball. They had one nice drive at the start of the fourth quarter, but Dan Carpenter missed a 47-yard field goal. While Carpenter has a history of hitting 40+ yard field goals, the Dolphins could have gotten closer, but Tannenhill kept overthrowing his receivers with one bomb after another. By the time Miami got to the Jets 35, it was ridiculous.

Miami went into a proverbial funk after that missed field goal; their offense failed to get the football out of their own endzone on their next two possessions. Time after time, the Jets were given life, and finally they took advantage, when Sanchez led them on a long touchdown drive.

He hit Santonio Holmes twice for gains of 18 and 15 yards, before finding Jeremy Kerley in the end zone for the touchdown, giving New York their first lead at 20-17.

The Dolphins finally collected themselves, drove down field in the final two minutes and tied the game on a Carpenter 41-yard field goal. If Carpenter had hit the field goal earlier in the game, this one would have been the game-winner.

In overtime, neither team played like they wanted to win. Sanchez nearly threw his third interception on the day when he tried to get rid of the ball on a sack. Sanchez once again failed to move the Jets offense, and Miami got a chance to win the game.

Tannenhill did everything right here, including hitting Brian Hartline for 41 yards on a play that looked like the turning point of the game; however, Miami stalled at the Jets 32, setting up a 48-yard attempt for Carpenter. The snap was good, but the kick was wide left.

Again, the Jets were given a gift. Sanchez hit Holmes for 38 yards to position New York for the field goal; however, that wasn't to be the end of this bizarre day. Kicker Nick Folk had his field goal blocked, but Miami head coach Joe Philbin called a timeout as the kick happened, nullifying the block, and, essentially, blowing his own team's chances. The end result: a Jets win.

So, while this is "win" for Gang Green, it didn't feel like it. The Jets were awful offensively, highlighted by the poor performance from the quarterback who looked rattled, was inaccurate, and looked like he wanted no part of a Miami defense that wasn't any good anyhow.

As for the Tebow wildcat formation, it proved to be a waste of time. The Jets have no idea what they are doing with Tim Teobw. It's pretty clear, they have no plan in mind whatsoever. When they put him in the game, everyone knows what Tebow will do with the football before it even happens. The Jets need to scrap this idea and get Tebow out of town, or actually commit to playing him, because Sanchez is not doing anything that instills confidence that he is the quarterback of this team.

Defensively, the biggest news of the day was the loss of Darrelle Revis. Revis was lost in the third quarter with a knee injury and never returned. It is not known at this moment what the severity of the injury is, but if Revis is out for an extended period of time that will be a colossal loss for New York.

So, yeah, it was a win, but the Jets are in big trouble moving forward.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Giants Blow Away Cam Newton & Panthers

GIANTS 36
PANTHERS 7 

No Hakeem Nicks? No Ahmad Bradshaw? No David Dhiel? No problem.

Three days after their dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Giants destroyed the Carolina Panthers 36-7 on Thursday night, as back-ups Ramses Barden and Andre Brown led the way for Big Blue.

It didn't take long for the Giants to find the end zone in this one, as quarterback Eli Manning picked up right where he left off against Tampa Bay.  Manning hit Victor Cruz for 12 on the first play of the game, then connected with Barden for eight more yards. Two plays later, Brown found a crease and dashed up the middle for 31 yards to move the ball to the Carolina 22.

Three plays later, Manning found tight end Martellous Bennett in the end zone for the score. It was the third straight game in which Bennett recorded a touchdown.

The Giants offensive onslaught continued, as Manning completed five of six passes on Big Blue's next series, before Lawrence Tynes connected on a 47-yard field to make it 10-0 Giants.

With the Panthers completly discombobulated on two offensive series, the Giants took full advantage, and put the game away early in the second quarter, when Brown scored on a 1-yard plunge to make it 17-0. The Giants scored on their first four possessions, extending their lead to 20-0 right before the half.

Defensively, the Giants confused last year's Rookie of the Year Cam Newton all night. Using several different blitz packages, the Giants got to Newton, sacking him twice, hurrying him all night, and forcing him to throw three interceptions. Even though Newton threw for 242 yards, it was a soft 242, as the Giants D never broke against the Panthers vaunted offense.

As for the stars of the show. Andre Brown was incredible. Last week he burst onto the scene rushing for 71 yards, this week he may have taken Ahmad Bradshaw's job with this performance. Brown ran for 113 yards and two scores. He has a head of steam that has been lacking in the Giants ground game for a few years.

As for Barden, his efforts showed how deep the Giants receiving corps truly is. Barden had a career day, hauling in nine catches for 138 yards, as the Panthers double-covered Victor Cruz all night. With Barden's superlative effort on Thursday, the Giants can rest assure that they have a guy who can step in if Hakeem Nicks should miss any more time. 

The Giants looked mighty impressive on Thursday; for the first time this year, it looked like the club that won a Super Bowl last season. Now Big Blue gets 10 days off before a monster clash with the Philadelphia Eagles in week 4.
 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Open Mike 09-19-12 NFL Week 3 Preview

In hour one of the Open Mike program from September 19, 2012, host Michael Cohen takes a look back at the Giants amazing 41-34 victory over Tampa Bay, and the Jets discouraging 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh, and previews both team’s upcoming match-ups for week 3.

Open Mike 9-19

In hour two, Michael gets a special phone call from Triple Coverage’s Mike Sanfilippo to discuss the NHL Lockout and the Yankees playoff run. Both Mike’s give their latest take on whether the Yankees have enough to hold off the Baltimore Orioles and win the Eastern Division once and for all. The duo also looks at the importance of the next few weeks on the New York Giants football schedule.  open mike09-19

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Jets Disappear in Pittsburgh as Steelers Romp

STEELERS 27
JETS 10

So much for all of that good feeling.

The Jets went right back to their same ole tricks in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers, who were without Pro Bowlers Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, thoroughly dominated Gang Green 27-10 on Sunday.

The Jets opened up the game on fire; quarterback Mark Sanchez completed four of his five passes for 80 yards, culminating in a touchdown to Santonio Holmes on a 14-yard slant; then, the Jets offense went on vacation.

The Jets offense stank it up. Mark Sanchez, pathetic; the play-calling by Tony Sparano, dreadful; the Jets receivers, hideous. The last time the Jets scored in this game, both tight end Jeff Cumberland and receiver Stephen Hill killed this offense by dropping catchable footballs which forced the Jets to settle for a Nick Folk field goal.

Sanchez, who had a much ballyhooed opener against the Bills, was bad. He reverted to some of his old tricks, under-throwing and over-throwing receivers, holding onto the ball way too long, and taking costly sacks. He was b-a-d. You can't kill the offensive line on this one because the time was there to throw, but Sanchez couldn't find his receivers, and his receivers never got open. When they did get open, (Holmes, this means you), they dropped the football!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the Jets clearly missed Darrelle Revis, as Ben Roethlisberger picked apart the Jets secondary for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Revis' absence became painfully obvious as Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace found themselves open in single coverage on several plays, all afternoon.

The straw that broke the camel's back happened in the third quarter when Roethlisberger withstood a Jets blitz and fired a Hail Mary air toward the end zone; Wallace come down with it in single coverage against Antonio Cromartie, who was nowhere near Wallace. 20-10, Steelers.

Cromartie and Ellis Lankster had given so much space to the Steelers wide receivers that any one of them could have walke, and still made big plays for Pittsburgh.

Finally, about adversity: Both teams came into this game missing some of their key pieces, but it was the Steelers who relied on the arm of Roethlisberger to carry them to victory. His effort Sunday against the Jets is the main reason the Steelers are 1-1 and not 0-2. Hence, the importance of having a franchise quarterback.

The Jets will try to say that missing Revis and tight end Dustin Keller, was the main reason they lost this game; the fact is the Jets were down 20-10 for much of the second half. To any other game and any other team, a 10-point deficit is nothing, especially in today's NFL, but with Sanchez in the saddle, the game felt lost from the get-go. This was a great chance with many of the Jets troops missing for Sanchez and the Jets receiving corps to take another step in their development, but, instead, they came up small.

In the NFL, teams have to find a way to win games without some of their better players; the Jets don't have the leadership to even make that possible. The rest is just excuse-making.

Giant Comeback Avoids Incredible Disaster

GIANTS 41
BUCCANEERS 34

The score after three quarters: 27-16, Tampa Bay.

The story: Eli Manning was horrible, throwing three interceptions, one of which was brought back for a touchdown. The Giants three turnovers resulted in 21 Tampa Bay points, and New York, once again this season, struggled to score inside the red zone.

 For the entire first half, Manning was awful. Whenever it seemed he was on his way to driving the Giants down the field, he would either throw an interception, or he watched the football pop out of the hands of his tight end and wide receivers.

Bigger mistakes came in the second quarter. On a third down, Manning was looking to dump the pass off the Victor Cruz to pick up a first down, but he threw it right into the hands of Brandon McDonald who brought it back forty yards. That set up a Doug Martin touchdown run, giving the Bucs a 17-6 lead.

The worst came on an interception to former Raven Eric Wright, who brought it back 60-yards for a touchdown; thus endeth the first half.

You could hear the catcalls for the head of Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. The Giants were staring at an 0-2 start, an abyss lined with unspeakable misfortune.  The same Giants fans who were so fast to fall in love with their team last December, were about to break out into their typical, cynical selves all over again.

Then, came the fourth quarter where the Giants scored 25 points to the Buccaneers 7, resulting in a
final score of the Giants 41, the Buccaneers 34.

Just like that, the Giants had turned around an impending disaster into one of their finest moments. Who knew?

The Giants come-from-behind victory began inconspicuously as the Giants pushed the ball deep into Tampa Bay territory; however, once in the red zone, the Giants stalled on two incompletions by Eli Manning, including one where he missed a wide open Victor Cruz in the end zone; the drive ended with New York's fourth field goal of the day to cut the Bucs lead to eight, 27-19.

Even though they were down eight, it felt like the game was going to be a loser. The Giants had done nothing inside the red zone all day and watched mistakes propel the young Buccaneers to a large lead.

Then, everything changed. The Giants defense, which had played a lot better in the second half, forced Tampa Bay to punt after Josh Freeman's pass to Mike Williams fell short of the first down marker.

With the football back, Manning went back to work; he found a wide open Cruz streaking down the left sideline and hit him in stride at the forty. Cruz raced to the end zone for the game-changing touchdown. Suddenly, an afternoon that seemed lost, turned 180 degrees on an 80 yard touchdown pass. The Giants capped off the comeback when Andre Brown plunged into the end zone for the two-point conversion, tying the game at 27.

Metlife Stadium went totally nuts. The Giants D forced a Tampa Bay three-and-out, setting the stage for another dramatic Manning drive.

Manning hit Martellus Bennett for 14 yards on first down. He connected with Hakeem Nicks for 20 yards. Nicks had a monster afternoon. He hauled in 10 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown. Finally, Manning went to Bennett in the middle of the end zone for a 33-yard score, giving Big Blue a 34-27 lead.

However, the Buccaneers would not go away. Josh Freeman was finding guys wide open in the middle of the field like he had earlier in the contest. He hit former Colts tight end Dallas Clark three times for 36 yards, spotting the ball at the Giants 41. Finally, Freeman launched one down the ballpark, landing the football in the hands of Williams for the tying touchdown.

Only problem for Tampa Bay, they left too much time on the clock for Eli. With 1:58 to go, Manning calmly led the Giants downfield for the winning score. He hit Ramseus Barden for 24 yards; then he hit a steaking Nicks for 50 yards to move to the Tampa Bay 11. Finally, Brown plowed through the line for the touchdown, giving the Giants a 41-34 lead.

There was still one more pass for Freeman, but his bomb down the middle of the field was picked off by Michael Boley to end it.

Oh boy! 



NHL Lockout Begins

It only took eight years for everything to fall apart ... again.

Eight years ago, the NHL imposed a League- wide lockout that cancelled the entire 2004-2005 season. Unlike the NBA and NFL lockouts of the past couple of years, nobody missed the NHL when the entire season was cancelled. A League that has struggled to garner ratings and fans over the years, had the most labor unrest over the last 20 years with three lockouts and a player strike.

The latest NHL lockout began in earnest at midnight when the CBA expired, and both the players union and the NHL owners remain far apart on a new deal; revenue sharing is the main sticking point in the deal.

The lower revenue teams (Columbus, Minnesota, New Jersey) want to be on an equal footing with the high revenue teams (N.Y. Rangers, Boston, Detroit), hoping that the League can make a 50/50 split of revenue sharing, something similar to MLB where the lower rung teams are making money to stay competitive with the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers. As a result, look up the AL East standings, and see Baltimore and Tampa Bay in a dead heat with the Bronx Bombers for the division title.

However, the biggest issue is player salaries. The NHL feels that player reveune is too high and wants to scale it back. As of 2010-2011, players reveune was 57 percent of the League. The players do not want to take a major cut in pay and do not want to have to pay back the League for money they earned from their respective franchises.

Here is a link to the NHL lockout rules.

With Donald Fher, best known for leading the MLB players union in 1994 that cancelled the World Series, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who has presided over three lockouts during his tenure, this could be a lengthy lockout.

 "Today, we suggested that the parties meet in advance of the owners' self-imposed deadline of midnight tonight. Don Fehr, myself, and several players on the negotiating committee were in the city and prepared to meet. The NHL said that it saw no purpose in having a formal meeting," NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said in a statement. "There have been and continue to be private, informal discussions between representatives of both sides."

In a lengthy statement posted on NHL.com, the League said it remains "committed to negotiating around the clock to reach a new CBA that is fair to the players and to the 30 NHL teams." ESPN.

The real losers are the NHL fans, and the League itself which struggled to win the fans back after the last lockout in 2004. One can argue that it was not until the last season that the NHL was starting to return to its pre-2004 form; however, since 2004, the NHL has struggled to find a television home, moving from FOX and ABC to little known stations like Versus and NBC Sports Network. Even the Stanley Cup Finals were broadcast on Versus over the years because nobody cared.

Well, now nobody will care. The NHL, when it returns, will be firmly entrenched as the least popular sport in the country. Too bad, because after last spring's postseaon, it looked like things were finally turning around.



Friday, September 14, 2012

Open Mike 09-12-12 Week 1 Recap & Yankees AL East Race

Both the Giants and Jets came into the 2012 season with drastically different expectations. They both came out of week one with dramatically unexpected results. The Jets lit up the Bills 48-28, while the Giants lost a key NFC East battle to the Cowboys. Michael Cohen recaps the week one action in this first hour of Wednesday night’s show.
Open Mike pt1 1

The New York Yankees have fallen back to the pack over the past month, while the Baltimore Orioles have surged to the top of the AL East standings. Who will win this I-95 battle when it is all said and done? Michael Cohen and Bret Leuthner discuss the stretch run of the MLB season.
Open Mike pt2

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sanchez & Jets Offense Wakes Up to Maul Bills

JETS 48
BILLS 28 

Who knew that Mark Sanchez and company had it in 'em? The once-maligned quarterback and Jets offense had a coming out party against the Bills in Week 1, blowing out Buffalo 48-28 before a 3/4-filled Met Life Stadium.

Sanchez had arguably the best game of his entire professional career. He completed 19 of 27 for 266 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Most importantly, Sanchez completed 70 percent of his passes and had a quarterback rating of 123.4, his best start ever.

The Jets and Sanchez came into this game with plenty of doubters, which was understandable. Sanchez led a beleaguered Jets offense throughout the 2011 season; moreover, the Jets hadn't scored a single touchdown in the pre-season this year. There was ample reason for people to question whether Sanchez was the Jets franchise quarterback. While Sanchez will not quiet all of the questions about his abilities after this performance, he gave the Jets a glimpse of what he can be if he can mature into a top professional quarterback.

At the onset of the game, it looked like the story of the day would be Same-Old-Sanchez as the quarterback tried desperately to throw a pass while on the run, only to have it picked off by Jeff Cumberland.

Fortunately for the Jets, the turning point of the game came quickly when Darrelle Revis stepped in front of a pass by Ryan Fitzpatrick and picked it off, giving the Jets the ball.

From this point, Sanchez took care of business. While out of the shotgun, he hit Jeremy Kerley for 21 yards down the sideline to get the ball to the Bills 37 yard line. Six plays later, Sanchez found Kerley in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown.

Sanchez's precision would continue on the Jets next drive. Out of the shotgun again, Sanchez hit Dustin Keller for seven yards and Santonio Holmes for nine. Two plays later, Sanchez found rookie reciever Stephen Hill, who beat his man in single coverage, and hit him with the deep ball, a 33 yard touchdown to give Gang Green a stunning 14-0 lead. At this point, Sanchez had completed six straight passes from late in the first quarter into the second quarter.

After a Buffalo three-and-out, Kerley once again made his presence felt, taking the punt back 68 yards for a touchdown, leaving MetLife Stadium in bedlam as New York extended its lead to 21-0.

The Bills offense shot themselves in the foot all afternoon, turning the ball over four times, three of which came in the first half and led to 17 Jets points.

With New York now leading 27-7, Fitzpatrick was picked off by Antonio Cromartie who went coast to coast for a touchdown to open up the second half.

Fitzpatrick was given a huge contract by the Bills in the middle of last season, and once again, he proved that he is a turnover machine. He threw 23 interceptions last year and has already thrown three this season. If Buffalo fans are not questioning their front office's decision-making with regard to the quarterback right now, I don't know when they will.

 As for Sanchez and the Jets, the key to their success was the shotgun formation. The Jets had Sanchez play out of the shotgun on 15 plays during the course of the game, and it allowed Sanchez to quickly throw the football without any worry about pressure upfront. In the past, when the Jets had Sanchez play under center, they had him do a quick three-step drop in the pocket and quick release, instead of the conventional seven step drop; this strategy proved to be a huge problem for him last year. The adjustment was a huge success this time around.

The Jets also spread the Bills out, featuring a number of four and five wide receiver sets, which baffled the Bills secondary. With the quick passes, Buffalo was rocked back on its heels, allowing Sanchez to find open receivers all over the field. 

Case in point: Sanchez found a wide open Kerley in the middle of the field for a 27 yard gain after he dropped back in the shotgun. Two plays later, a quick two-step drop back by Sanchez and a decisive release to Hill, who was pulling toward the sideline, resulted in Sanchez's third touchdown of the day, making it 41-7, New York.

Kudos also goes to the Jets offensive line which did a fantastic job in neutralizing defensive end Mario Williams, who became invisible the entire day.

The one concern for the Jets is the running game. While Shonn Greene ran for 94 yards, he averaged 3.5 yards a carry and never got any steam going in the running attack. The fact that Sanchez was able to have a huge day despite the lack of a running game was both a testament to himself, the Jets pass protection, and the poor play of the Bills.

As for Tim Tebow,and what is a story without mentioning his name, he was putrid. In the dozen plays that Tebow saw during the game, he did nothing. He ran for only 11 yards on five carries, and the Bills defense stuffed him up every time the guy touched the football. If this is the plan Rex Ryan and Tony Sparano have for Tebow, it was a total waste of time. Tebow is taking plays away from an offense that was clicking on all cylinders, and his presence is looking like a wasted roster spot.

If we can credit Tebow with anything, it is the fact that he has lit a fire under Sanchez to step up his game this season.

While it is easy to say that Sanchez has arrived and matured, let's cool our jets; no pun intended. Sanchez has to show that he can play at this high level consistently over the course of a very long season. He will go up against a ferocious defense in three of his next four games: at Pittsburgh, versus San Francisco, and versus Houston.

So, Sunday's efforts against Buffalo could be the high water mark of the season, unless Sanchez continues to wow us.

If I were a betting man, I would wager the law of averages that Sanchez and the Jets return to normal next week in the Steel City. Then again, nobody thought they would even put up 20 points on Buffalo, let alone 48.

Sundry notations: The Jets staged a nice halftime ceremony for Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin, who had his number 28 retired. Joe Namath and Don Maynard were on hand for the event. Meanqhile, owner Woody Johnson and GM Mike Tannenbaum were booed by the fans.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Saints Players Win Appeal in Bounty Case, Can Play Sunday

Huge developments in the Saints Bountygate scandal has blown up just hours before the rest of the NFL opens up week 1 of the 2012 season.

A three-man arbitration panel ruled to overturn the suspension of the four players who were suspended by the NFL for their involvement in the "pay to injury" scandal that rocked the league at the end of last season.

That means, Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita, and Anthony Hargrove could play this season. Vilma was suspended for the season, Smith and Fujita were suspended eight games, and Hargrove was suspended four games.

Keep in mind these players are out of shape. They were not allowed to train with their  respective teams during training camp and pre-season. So these guys have to get back into football shape fast  if they are going to help out their teams this season.

It could be a month before any of these guys are ready to play in a game, so they are going to miss games anyway because of this situation.

Vilma and Smith are still on the Saints. With those two back, it only helps New Orleans return to form this year. The Saints have added Steve Spagnolo at defensive coordinator, and with Curtis Lofton at middle linebacker, the Saints will have a loaded defense.

Hargrove is now with the Packers, and Fujita is in his second year with the Cleveland Browns.

The lift of this ban does not pertain to Saints head coach Sean Payton, Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt, or Saints GM Micky Loomis. All three have to serve out their suspensions, because they are not part of the players union, which helped end the aforementioned suspensions.

This is a huge black eye for the NFL. It shows that commishoner Roger Goodell does not have the power that he thought he had when he levied these suspensions during the spring. There is nothing Goodell can do now, other than to bit his lip in frustration that his ruling went by the wayside.

The NFL also looks bad, because they allowed New Orleans to continue their bounty program for three years running from 2009-2011 before the lawsuits on concussions started to pile up. That being said these players should not be allowed to play. This sends a terrible message to the rest of the league.

All Tied Up, Orioles Pound Yankees to tie for first

ORIOLES 10
YANKEES 6

Attention Yankees fans: The Baltimore Orioles are for real, and they are not going away any time soon.

The once pesky Orioles are now starting to become a big headache for the New York Yankees, winning five of their last seven contests against the Bombers, including last night's dramatic come-from-behind victory.

The Orioles pounded out six home runs, including two from new Yankees nemisis Mark Reynolds. Reynolds has six home runs against the Yankees this season, and has hit a homer in three straight games, and eight dingers in the O's past seven contests. The guy is on fire, and apparently, loves to torment the Yankees.

Baltimore jumped out early when Adam Jones' single drove in J.J. Hardy with the games first run in the bottom of the first. Later that same inning, O's catcher, Matt Wieters cracked a three-run blast to left to give Baltimore a 4-0 lead.

Yankees starter David Phelps, who looked so good a few weeks ago was dreadful. He lasted only four innings, giving up five runs on six hits. Phelps go the no decision, but his poor efforts of late highlight the fact that the Yankees do not have enough starting pitching to go forward in 2012.

The Orioles continued to pound the Yankees in the fourth, when Robert Andino, that's right Robert Andino, hit a solo shot to give Baltimore a 5-1 lead. Then in the sixth, Reynolds hit his first blast of the night to make it 6-1 O's.

Then, the Yankees came back with a five-run eighth inning. RBIs by Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson brought home two runs to cut the deficit in half. Next, Chris Dickerson drove in Eric Chavez with a bases loaded walk to make it 6-4. Finally, Ichiro Suzuki finally delivered with a two-run single to tie it at six.

However, that was as close as the Yankees would get. Adam Jones, who has seen plenty of down days in Baltimore, brought Oriole fans to their feet when he launched a solo home run, in the bottom of the ieighth, to give the Orioles a 7-6 lead. That homer was only the beginning, as Reynolds and Reynolds and Chris Davis hit home runs in the same inning to make it 10-6 Baltimore.

The Yankees who have been struggling with runners in scoring position all season went 3-for-7 with RISP on Thursday, and had four two-out RBI hits on the night.

But, once again, pitching was the main issue for the Yankees defeat. With the unreliable Phil Hughes on the mound tonight, if the Yankees should lose again, they will be looking up at Baltimore in the standings. So much for a 10 game lead in July -- the Yankees collapse is well underway.

Big Blue Meltdown, Giants Wilt in Opener vs. Boys

COWBOYS 24
GIANTS 17 

Talk about getting off on the wrong foot. Riding the glory of their latest Super Bowl championship, the New York Giants came out flat in their season opener against the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday night.

The Giants watched as Tony Romo picked apart a beat up secondary, as he and a virtual unknown named Kevin Olgetree lit it up all night long.

The Giants who were without Terrell Thomas (ACL, out for the season) and Prince Amakamura, badly missed them, as Kenny Phillips and Corey Webster had no answer for the Cowboys young receiver who dominated the game.

As for Romo, it was one of his best games of his career. He picked apart the Giants for 307 yards, and was nearly perfect, completing 22 of 29 passes with three touchdowns and a pick.  The biggest turning point of the game in the second quarter, when Romo found an open Dez Bryant streaking down the sidelines for 38 yards to spot the ball at the Giants 15. Three plays later, Romo avoided pressure from his left, lept into the air and dipped the ball down the middle to an open Olgetree for the touchdown. 7-3 Dallas.

As for the Giants offense, they couldn't get anything going. The running attack was invisible for the entire night as Dallas stuffed running back Ahmad Bradshaw for 78 yards on 17 carries. If you take away one nice 33 yard scamper by Bradshaw in the fourth quarter, he only ran for 45 yards on 16 carries. David Wilson, the much bally-hooed running back out of Virginia Tech was ineffective. Two carries for four yards, and he was benched in the second half.

Eli Manning had a rough night. He was sacked three times, and never got on the same page with his receivers, especially Victor Cruz. Cruz, who burst onto the scene last year was targeted 11 times, and dropped five passes, including one in the endzone in the second quarter that would have been a touchdown.

It seemed like the Giants' offense was stuck in cement all night long, failing to move the ball effectively at all for much of the evening.

With Dallas up 7-3, Romo once again found Olgetree break free from coverage, and hit him in stride for a 40 yard touchdown to blow it open, 14-3.

While the Giants answered quickly with a Bradshaw 10 yard touchdown to make it 14-10, never once did you get the feeling that Big Blue was going to come all the way back in this one.

Dallas had been here before. Last season they opened the season at MetLife Stadium, in primetime, against the Jets. They held a 24-10 lead on Gang Green, before a blocked punt and a Tony Romo fumble led to a Jets 27-24 victory. Dallas blew four games last year when they led by 14 or more points, and they were determined to close it out this time around.

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (131 yards on the night) carried the ball for 33 yards on the next Dallas scoring drive, which led to a Romo touchdown pass to Miles Austin to extend the lead to 24-10.

While the Giants did score on the next possession, Dallas forced them to eat up seven minutes of clock, since they played in a very tight zone coverage during that possession.

After getting the ball back, the Cowboys put the game on ice, when Romo found Olgetree again on a third and 10 for an 11 yard gain to end it.

For the Giants this was a bitter disappointment. The Giants came into the season with very, very high expectations and to drop a divisional game at home was a very poor start. The Giants can rebound, they face the Buccaneers next week at MetLife, but they will have to play a lot better on offense, and have to find someone who can cover a wide receiver or two.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Open Mike 09-04-12 NFL Week 1 Outlook

In hour one of Open Mike from September 4, Michael Cohen is joined by Mike Sanfilippo, Joe LaMorte, and Sean McKelvey to discuss the opening night game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. The group also previews some of the key match-ups in week one of the 2012 NFL season.

Listen via posterous.

In hour two of the Open Mike show from September 5, Michael Cohen, Mike Sanfilippo and Sean McKelvey talk about the New York Yankees collapse. Are the Bombers doomed to suffer a Met-like fate? Finally, Mike and Mike go at it in a debate about whether Mark Sanchez is a top quarterback in the NFL. Listen on Poseterous!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

NFL 2012: Giants Look to Defend Title, NFC Preview

Last season the New York Giants stunned the NFL by once again sweeping through the NFC playoffs as a heavy underdog and ultimately beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. With two Super Bowl titles under their belts over the last four years, the Giants look to make the NFC theirs in 2012. However, with a deep conference, it will be tough for Big Blue to repeat. As the Giants get set for kick-off on Wednesday, let's look at the rest of the NFC.

NFC East:
N.Y. Giants (11-5): It will be tough for the defending champions to repeat. The Giants have a tough schedule and clash with the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys twice this year. Sure it's tough, but that's when the tough get going, n'est pas? The G-Men have been there and done that: In 2008, they came off the high of a Super Bowl title to capture the league's number one seed; however, I never felt that team could repeat because they were riding the high of 2007 all year. This year's version is focused and ready to rock and roll.

Eli Manning is in the prime of his career and could have an MVP year, with the likes of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson around him. Keeping Eli upright will be key this year, especially with a makeshift offensive line.

On the defensive side of the ball, expect Big Blue to have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, with Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and company leading the way. The big issue is the secondary with its loss of Terrell Thomas (ACL) and Prince Amakamura, who is expected to be back real soon.

With a more focused approach in 2012, expect the Giants to win this division.

Philadelphia (10-6): Andy Reid is on notice. Weeks after the tragic death of his son before training camp opened, Reid learned that owner Jeffery Lurie expects the Eagles to not only win but to win big this year, or Reid could be looking for a job next winter. Last season the Eagles were infamously dubbed the Dream Team by Vince Young, and Philly went ahead and put up a stinker of a season in 2011. Now they HAVE TO become the Dream Team.

The key for the Eagles this season is Mike Vick. Vick was beaten up in pre-season and was even injured. Keeping Vick upright is the most important factor for the Eagles this year. Two years ago when he was healthy, he made the Eagles a formidable factor in the NFC. He will have to reclaim that mojo again in 2012. This is also a big year for wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who played poorly last year, mostly due to contract issues. Now happy, Jackson is expected to pick it up this season.

Expect the Eagles to be right there for the division title; the pressure is on. The Eagles will defiantly be a playoff team this year.

Dallas (8-8): Speaking of pressure, the Dallas Cowboys know something about that. Jason Garrett is under pressure to get this Cowboys team moving. After two years this team still has underachieved in the eyes of its fans and wacky owner Jerry Jones.

Big question: Can Tony Romo get the monkey off his back? Romo is a good quarterback, but he has been plagued by bad luck, poor decision making in crucial situations and brutal losses to the Eagles and Giants over the years. If Romo and the Cowboys can exorcise the demons, it could be a successful year in Big D, but that might be asking too much.

Washington (6-10): With the addition of Robert Griffin III, the Redskins have a renewed hope for the future with a brand new franchise quarterback. Griffin is a gifted athlete who can both run like a running back and throw the football with the best of them, at least that's what people say. However, the NFC East is not the Big 12. Defenses are much bigger and tougher in this division, and Griffin will get beaten up this season for sure.

This is a big year for coach Mike Shanahan. He has to not only win this year, but he has to pave the way for Griffin to become a top quarterback in this game. If neither happens, Shanahan could be out.

The ground game will also be key for Washington this year. They have mixed and matched with Roy Helu and rookie Alfred Morris. Someone has to step it up and take the load off of Griffin's shoulders this season. Eventually, the Redskins will be good, but it might be a couple years away.

NFC North
Green Bay (13-3): No team was more disappointed with the outcome of 2011 than the Green Bay Packers. The Pack was 15-1 last season, had the best offense in football, and looked poised to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. However, a flat performance against the Giants in the NFC Divisional playoff cost them a chance to repeat.

The Pack is back with the same cast on offense. Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in the game. Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and James Jones lead the most lethal passing attack in football. The addition of Cedric Benson in the backfield makes Green Bay that much more formidable.

The key for Green Bay is their defense. The Packers were 32nd in the NFL in pass defense. They gave up big plays at the most inopportune times and had a hard time getting to the quarterback. This was surprising for a unit that has guys like A.J. Hawk, Clay Matthews, and Charles Woodsen. This unit has got to play better if the Packers are to have any chance of getting back to the big show. 

Chicago (11-5): The Bears are looking really good right now, on paper. The team added receiver Brandon Marshall to team up with his former Broncos teammate, quarterback Jay Cutler. Marshall's best days were in Denver when Cutler was the team's quarterback. With these two now together again, many expect the Bears to be a huge contender this season. Keep in mind, however, that Cutler has a propensity to be inconsistent, and Marshall has a propensity for dropping passes.

The ground attack is awesome. The combo of Matt Forte and Michael Bush give the Bears arguably the best running attack in football. Not many teams can say they have two 1,000 yard rushers on their team.

Of course, the Bears are about defense. Like the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bears could be showing age on D. Brian Urlacher missed most of camp after recovery from knee surgery. If he returns to full health, it will only help this team. This is also a big year for coach Lovie Smith, who is the second longest tenured coach in the NFL behind Andy Reid. Smith has been in Chi-Town for a long time and has one Super Bowl appearance to show for it. Now is the time.

Detroit (10-6): The Detroit Lions are a very talented and very combustible group. Their offense is dynamic led by quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson; however, a rash of on- field and off-field distractions give people pause. Led by troubled defensive linemen Ndamukong Shu, the Lions have to get the knuckleheads under control if this team is going to be successful. That responsibility falls at the feet of coach Jim Schwartz. Expect Detroit to put up a ton of points, give up a ton of points, and hover around .500 as the year's biggest bust.

Minnesota (5-11): The Vikings are going nowhere. Amazing to think this team was in the NFC title game as recently as 2009! Outside of running back Adrian Peterson and defensive end Jerod Allen, the Vikings are devoid of great talent. Christian Ponder is still a project, and time could be running out on coach Leslie Fraizer. Keep in mind the Vikings are about to build a new stadium, so bigger days are ahead after this season.

NFC South
New Orleans (11-5): Yes, I am taking the Saints to win the South. Even with all of the bountygate hoopla in the background, the Saints are still a team with which to be reckon. The defense might be missing a few guys, most notably Jonathan Vilma who is suspended for the season. With Steve Spagnolu taking over as the defensive coordinator, the Saints will get past the dark days of Greg Williams and bountygate. Spags coaches a physical brand of defense, and remember, he did his best work as a defensive coordinator when he was with the Giants.

Offensively, the Saints still have Drew Brees and an offense that can put up big numbers all season. Many have pointed out that Brees and the Saints offense will miss the presence of coach Sean Payton, who was also suspended for the year because of the bountygate fiasco. However, last year, when Payton missed time with an ACL injury, it was offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael called the plays to great success. In short, the Saints should be fine.

The main issue is head coach. With Joe Vitt and Aaron Kromer sharing head coaching duties, too many voices could become an issue. The Saints will miss Payton's command on the sidelines this season.

Atlanta (10-6): Can we trust the Falcons? This is supposed to be their year, especially with the Saints dealing with all of these bountygate issues, but this is a Falcons team that has yet to win a playoff game in the Matt Ryan era and has been pretty soft in recent years. Sure the Falcons have the talent to win the South and get deep into the playoffs, but at some point, they have to actually do it. I'll believe it when I see it.

Carolina (7-9): Another team with high expectations. Quarterback Cam Newton broke onto the scene last year, making Carolina one of the most dynamic offenses in the sport. Newton can throw like Peyton Manning, and he can run like Mike Vick, which makes him a very difficult person to defend. With Newton, the ageless Steve Smith, and combo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the extended troika makes the Panthers very scary.

However, the Cats can't defend. They could have easily been 10-6 last year, but were 6-10 because they couldn't close games out. The Panthers defense has to shore up things this year, and Newton has to reduce the turnovers. The Panthers are good, but I think they are another year away from the Promised Land.

Tampa Bay (5-11): Former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano takes over a Bucs team that is looking to rebuild. Josh Freeman needs to have a big year at quarterback to convince Schiano that he is the franchise. The Bucs already determined that Doug Martin is a better back than the very large LaGarrett Blount. There will be plenty of growing pains for Schiano in year one.

NFC West
San Francisco (10-6): The San Francisco 49ers are a carbon copy of the Baltimore Ravens. Not only are both coached by a Harbaugh, but both teams feature top defenses, a top ground attack, and a quarterback that makes its own fanbase queasy.

No defense was better than San Fran's last year. Justin Smith became a household name with his play. NaVorro Bowman also had a year to remember with 143 tackles. The Niners have the D to get it done and keep them in contention for the NFC crown.

However, they don't have enough fire power on offense. Alex Smith was asked to manage the game, and he did just that, but when he was asked to win the game, Smith just didn't have it. He is not a franchise quarterback, and the 49ers even tried to get rid of him for Peyton Manning this year. Plus, the talent is not great. Frank Gore is getting out, and outside of Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, there isn't a second and third option at wide receiver. This team will struggle to score, so the D better be there again.

St. Louis (7-9): There is no way in "h-e-double hockey stick" that Jeff Fisher is going to stand for a 4-12 season for the Rams. It's not happening. This is a coach who found a way to make the Tennessee Oilers/Titans into a top franchise in this league in the late 90's and early 00's. He will find a way to do it again in St. Louis. Fisher has a franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford; he has a top back in Steven Jackson; however the Rams still need help on the line and at wide receiver. This will be a rocky year, but a step in the right direction for the Rams.

Seattle (6-10): Everyone now loves Russell Wilson. Careful, people; remember, Wilson was having great success in pre-season. Wilson, the 5'10" slash quarterback, ironically has taken the job away from Matt Flynn, who was a highly touted back-up quarterback to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay over the past few seasons. Flynn came to Seattle with great fanfare but lost out to Wilson this summer. This better work for Pete Carroll. Not only are the Seahawks hard to watch because of their uniforms, but if they stink, it could get ugly.

Arizona (5-11): Ken Whisenhunt can't make a decision. Go with Kevin Kolb, or go with John Skeleton. Make a pick already. The Cardinals coach could be in trouble; it's been four years since the Cardinals stunned the world and made it to the Super Bowl. Since they have not replaced Kurt Warner and outside of receiver Larry Fitzgerald, there is not much there.

NFC Playoff picture:
1) Green Bay 13-3
2) N.Y. Giants 11-5
3) New Orleans 11-5
4) San Francisco 10-6
5) Chicago 11-5
6) Philadelphia 11-5

NFC CHAMPION

NFL 2012: AFC Preview & Predictions

The 2012 NFL season is just a couple days away from kick off. After a long and interesting off-season, football is finally back. Let's look at the AFC.

AFC East
New England (13-3): While there have been a lot of moving pieces on this Patriots team over the last decade, one thing has been a constant for the Pats: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Those two alone are the sole reason why this Patriots team will once again remain atop the AFC East. However, their run of consistent Super Bowl success might be coming to an end, if it hasn't already.

Last season, the Patriots were exposed all year as a terrible defensive team, and they have drafted heavily on the defensive side of the ball; nonetheless, it remains to be seen if that will make the difference this time around. The Pats will win the division, but if they run into a physical team in the playoffs, they will be eliminated quickly.

Buffalo (9-7): The Bills are one of those over-hyped teams coming into the 2012 season and for good reason. Buffalo got off to a sizzling start last year only to collapse down the stretch. Part of the reason for Buffao's late season woes was the absence of Fred Jackson. They will have him healthy this year, which will take pressure off Ryan Fitzpatrick. For the Bills to have success though, Fitzpatrick has to do a better job with ball control.

Defensively, the Bills will have a fierce pass rush with Mario Williams installed at defensive end. Look for the Bills D to keep them in it all season long.

N.Y. Jets (7-9): What a nightmare. As has been discussed on this site and many others throughout the off-season, this team is a disaster waiting to unfold. They gave Mark Sanchez a five-year contract, only to go out and trade for Tim Tebow days later. The Jets tried to sell the idea that Sanchez is their guy, but, in reality, they are getting ready for Tebow to be the quarterback. Sanchez didn't help himself by turning the ball over 26 times last year and lacked leadership. Tebow is a leader, but not a good quarterback.

Other than that, the Jets have offensive line issues still, even with the trade of Wayne Hunter. Shonn Greene is not a franchise running back, and the receiving corps is a total mess. The Jets defense might be good this year, but Gang Green will be "leading from behind" most of the year because the offense is a joke. This summer the Jets first and second units didn't even score a touchdown!

Marvelous start. Look for Mike Tannenbaum to pay the ultimate price if this season goes down the drain.

Miami (5-11): The Dolphins are rebuilding. There is not much to get excited about here. Joe Philbin, after staring on "Hard Knocks" this summer, seems to have a very steady hand on this franchise, but it will be a long, grueling process for Miami. The Dolphins feel that Ryan Tannehill is ready to be their starting quarterback, which means more growing pains for the young fish.


AFC North
Baltimore (11-5): How the Ravens respond to the hangover from last season's hideous loss in the AFC title game will go a long way in determining their fate in 2012. The Ravens were a Lee Evans catch away from going to the Super Bowl, yet, as we all know, Evans dropped an easy touchdown pass, and Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field goal, killing the Ravens dreams.

The Ravens are getting older in some spots. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are still kicking, and both will try to defy Father Time for at least one more season. They will miss Terrell Suggs, who is out for the season with an Achilles tendon tear. The Ravens were third in total defense last year and should remain one of the league's top units unless age finally takes its toll.

Offensively, this is Joe Flacco's year (isn't every year supposed to be Flacco's year). He has to show that his effort in the AFC title game was no fluke and move this team over the top. They have the talent from Ray Rice to Torrey Smith, now they have to finish.

Cincinnati (10-6): Watch out for the Bengals. Some will say that Cincy is destined to be disappointing this season, since they surprised so many in 2011. Not so fast. The Bengals have a franchise quarterback in Andy Dalton, who is the real deal, and they finally have a number one receiver, who is not a nut case, in A.J. Green.

That said, there are concerns about the Benglas running attack. Cedric Benson is now in Green Bay, and the Bengals are now relying on the inconsistent BenJarvis Green-Ellis to carry the load. While Green-Ellis ran for 1,000 yards two years ago in New England, he ran for only 600 + yards last season. Granted the Patriots rely more on passing the football; however, this will be the first time that Green-Ellis has played on a team that will ask him to carry the rock 250-300 times this season. The one positive is that Green-Ellis has a nose for the end zone, having scored 24 touchdowns over the past two years.

The Bengals don't jump out on paper when it comes to defense, like the Steelers and Ravens do, but the unit was a top 10 defense in 2011; nonetheless, injuries to Robert Geathers and Carlos Dunlap remain issues. Expect Cincy to push for the division title with the other two rivals in this division. 

Pittsburgh (10-6): Who are the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into 2012? Asking this question in years past would be considered blasphemous, but this is truly a serious question coming into 2012. Last season the Steelers watched the Baltimore Ravens sweep them clean in the division, and their once vaunted defense was exposed by Tim Tebow and the Broncos in the playoffs.

The issues: Ben Roethlisberger's health. Can Big Ben remain healthy for an entire season is a huge question for this team. While Roethlisberger has played through injuries in the past, he has not played a complete season since 2008.

Add Roethlisberger's health issues to the fact that the Steelers ground attack has been handicapped by injuries to Rashard Mendenall and Issac Redman and health looms as a major concern coming into 2012. Mendenhall has been the biggest concern since he suffered an ACL tear in Week 17 last year, but he is still slowly on his way back to regaining full strength. He will not be available for Week 1 at Denver, and if he should miss more time, it puts that much more pressure on Big Ben to get it done.

Also, the addition of Todd Haley as offensive coordinator could be a problem since Haley is hated everywhere he goes.

Defensively, the Steelers have shown age. James Harrison, James Farrior, Troy Polamalu and company are not spring chickens anymore. 2011 could have been the sign that Pittsburgh is on the downside of their great run; 2012 could be the final act.

Cleveland (3-13): Umm. Okay, what can I say about the Browns with the first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. You've got it: nothing to be excited about here. Trent Richardson, the new hope at running back is already battling injuries, and the placid Pat Shermer is surely to be the next coach fired.  Sorry Browns fans.

AFC South
Houston (12-4): This is supposed to be a big season for the Texans. They have the pieces offensively with quarterback Matt Schuab, wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster. They also had the second ranked defense in football last year, which stunned many.

However, like all teams, the Texans are not perfect. The Texans will need for Schaub to remain healthy. Houston played the final drive of the season with Tyler Yates at quarterback. While Yates acquitted himself well, if the Texans had a healthy Schaub, who knows how far they could have gone last year. Keep in mind, Houston was on its way to a first round Bye before Schaub was hurt. Schaub is one of the game's top quarterbacks; he only makes Houston better, as does Andre Johnson, who missed time last year with injury. When healthy, Johnson can be the best wide receiver in football.

Defensively, the Texans did lose some depth on the front with the departures of Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans, and they lost cornerback Jason Allen to the Bengals in the off-season. The Texans will have to come up with a fresh pass rush, which means more will be expected from Conner Barwin, who recorded 11.5 sacks. If the Texans can rush the passer with as much fervor as they used to when Williams was around, this could make the Texans into a true Super Bowl contender.

Tennessee (7-9): Okay, let's face it, the Titans stunned us all when they went 9-7 last year with a rookie coach and a team that was rebuilding. They will not surprise this time. The big headlines here are the health of running back Chris Johnson, and the move to quarterback Jake Locker. The Titans feel that Locker is ready to be a full time starter, but I, for one, have a hard time accepting this move when veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who won nine games last year, is sitting on the bench. As for Johnson, expect him to have a bounce back year, but he is nowhere near the player he was three years ago.

Indianapolis (6-10): A new era is taking hold in Indy. With Peyton Manning out of town, the Colts look to similar success with rookie Andrew Luck. The kid is the real deal. He looked really good in the pre-season, and now we have to see him translate that to the regular season. Luck will suffer his bumps and bruises this year, but expect the Colts to win more games in his rookie year than in Manning's rookie year back in 1998. Luck has the advantage of having Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Donald Brown with him on offense. The Colts also play in the NFL's weakest division. Six wins is not out of the question.

Jacksonville (4-12): Refer to the Cleveland Browns. Another disaster. Maurice Jones-Drew ended his long holdout, but he will suffer the consequences and will not put up big numbers this year, unless he is traded by the October trade deadline. Rashard Jennings is the man now in the J-Ville backfield. The only thing interesting other than this drama is how long owner Shahid Khan grows his mustache. In other words, get back to me when and IF the Jags move to L.A.



AFC West
Denver (11 - 5): Oh goody, Peyton Manning is back! Let's be honest, doesn't Manning look weird in a Broncos orange and blue jersey? Just a teeny bit? Either way, John Fox and John Elway are happy that they don't have to answer questions about Tim Tebow anymore, but if both expect Manning to be the same Peyton Manning from 2010, they will be greatly mistaken. While Manning is a great player, his skills will be diminished by the amount of time he missed because of neck fusion surgery. Also, every hit Manning takes will be under a heavy media microscope.

Keep in mind, Manning had the good fortune of playing games in December and January in a dome in Indy over the past 14 years; now he will have to play in the cold-thin air of Denver which could be an issue for a quarterback who always struggled outdoors in the bitter cold. 

Unlike past seasons, Manning will have to rely on a strong running game to help him out; that is where Willis McGahee comes in. Fantasy owners pay attention: McGahee is going to have a big season with Manning in Denver.

If everything goes according to plan, and the Broncos don't suffer the same fate the N.Y. Jets faced when they acquired Brett Favre in 2008, then Denver should win this division and get into the playoffs.

San Diego (10-6): This is it for the Chargers and coach Norv Turner. The players know it. The coaches know it. For years the Chargers have come into a season with Super Bowl expectations only to be disappointed by a mediocre regular season or a bitter post-season defeat (Google Nate Keading and Jets). 

For the Bolts to be successful, they need Ryan Matthews to return from injury at 100 %. Matthews has game breaking ability on the ground and is a serviceable receiver too. While Phillip Rivers is one of the game's best quarterbacks, he is playing with an injured Matthews, an aging Antonio Gates, and a missing Vincent Jackson (FA to Tampa Bay) to throw to anymore. This could get rough for the Chargers and could cost Turner his job if 2012 is another 9-7/8-8 finish.

Kansas City (8-8):A lot of people have jumped on the KC bandwagon mostly because of the team's strong finish under Romeo Crennel, and their upset victory over the then unbeaten Green Bay Packers last December. Let's take it easy. Last time I checked, Crennel did a horrible job as head coach of the Browns, and the KC offense is 110% predicated on the running of Jamal Charles. Charles missed most of the season last year, and if KC does anything in 2012, they need Charles to reclaim his role from two years ago. Matt Cassel is an nice quarterback but not one that strikes fear into opponents. At best, this Chiefs team will push the Chargers and Broncos all season but won't get past .500.

Oakland (4-12):Another year, another new coach for the Raiders. The Raiders named Dennis Allen head coach after letting go of the popular Hue Jackson at the end of 2011. Not sure what Allen can bring to this team other than the fact he is young. Jackson was a better coach and should not have been fired, in my opinion. The question in Oakland is: can Carson Palmer return to his old fo...oh, wait, we have been asking this question about Palmer for six years now; excuse me.

AFC Playoff picture:

1) New England (13-3)
2) Houston (12-4)
3) Baltimore (11-5)
4) Denver (11-5)
5) Cincinnati (10-6)
6) San Diego (10-6)

AFC CHAMPIONS: 

Bumbling and Stumbling Yankees Now Hold a 1-Game Lead in East

The Yankees are officially in free-fall. A ten game lead on the Baltimore Orioles back on July 18 has totally evaporated, as the aging and injured Yankees are in the midst of a Met-like collapse down the stretch in this 2012 season.

The Yankees lost two of three to the Orioles over the weekend, then dropped a series opener in Tampa Bay to watch their lead over the O's shrink to a single game, and their lead over the Rays shrink to two and a-half games.

There is enough blame to go around with this Yankees club. Whether it be their obvious lack of starting pitching, or their lack of clutch hitting in crucial situations; the Yankees have watched their season go from a season of incredible possibilities to a season of gloom and doom.

First the obvious, the Yankees lineup is depleted without the services of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeria. While Rodriguez returned to the Yankees line-up last night, it will take him a while before he reclaim the prowress that makes him one of the top paid players in the game. That being said, before the injury Rodriguez was having a terrible season. Rodirguez has 15 homers and 44 RBI, and at 37, it will be harder for A-Rod to be that guy who can make the big difference in a game.

As for Teixeria, the Yankees desperately miss his glove and bat. He has missed the past two weeks with a calf injury, and while he is making his way back, his absence has put a lot of pressure on Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano to get it done in the middle of the order.

As a result the Yankees have seen their other hitters suffer. Nick Swisher is hitting .136 over the last seven games, while Cano is hitting .160, Raul Ibanez is hitting .154, and Granderson is hitting .167 during the recent slump.

 Even Granderson and Cano have been dealing with injuries. Granderson had missed time with a hamstring injury, and on Monday night, Cano injured his hip and is listed as day-to-day. With the mounting injuries and the reliance on secondary players, the Yankees offense has gone stagnant.

This team cannot rely on the likes of Ibanez, Chris Stewart, Ichiro Suzuki, and Eric Chavez if they have any vision of winning this division and getting back to October in one piece.

And then there is the most glaring problem: pitching. The Yankees do not have enough starting pitching. Outside of CC Sabathia and the remarkable Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees rotation has been abysmal.

Phil Hughes has been vastly inconsistent; his record shows this at 13-12 with a 4.18 ERA. Hughes has become so unreliable that even if the Yankees make the playoffs, starting this guy in a big postseason game could be a huge mistake. Just take a look at his effort against the Orioles over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Ivan Nova has struggled all year trying to find his secondary pitches, and has pitched to a sub five ERA as a result. Freddy Garcia has been woeful, and David Phelps has been struggling of late.

The Yankees have missed Andy Pettitte, who hasn't pitched since injuring his leg in late June. Pettitte gave this rotation a jult early in the year, and without him have been struggling to find people to pitch and pitch well.

Here is where the blame really falls on the shoulders of Brian Cashman. He could have, and should have tried harder to trade for starting pitching, but because of the Yankees commitment to lowering their budget by 2014 to $180 million, Cashman decided not to go after the high priced pitchers like Matt Garza, and Ryan Dempster when they were available.

Instead he threw his eggs into the basket of Ichiro and Casey McGehee, two guys who really don't change this Yankees team dramatically. While Ichiro was a great player during his prime years with the Seattle Mariners, he is not the same guy. Sure, Ichiro is good for a stolen base here and there, and he can snare a fly ball in the gap every once in a while, he is not the same player. Since joining the Yankees he has hit only .275 and scored nine runs; Ichiro is also struggling during this team-wide slump batting .174.

Then there is McGehee, who was a total waste of a trade. The Yankees traded Chad Qualls, a reliever they could have used down the stretch for a guy who does many of the same things Ibanez, Chavez, Jayson Nix and Chris Stewart do. Bringing him here has been a total waste of a roster space. When the Yankees could have gone after a starter or a reliever, they saddled themselves up with McGehee. Big mistake.

That being said, can the Yankees get out of this funk? Sure, they are the Yankees for a reason. But if it does happen, the Yankees will have to do something they have not done all season, hit in the clutch. The Yankees are hitting only .230 as a team with runners in scoring position and two out. They have also failed at the comeback victory in the 8th and 9th innings of games, a Yankees staple over the years. The Yankees were also winless for a long stretch this season, when they didn't hit a home run.

These are all red flags and signs of a team that will have a very abrupt stay in the playoffs if they get there. Maybe it is fair to say that after years of dominating the AL in regular season play, younger teams like Baltimore and Tampa Bay are starting to catch up. They are talented, fiesty, and hungry to win, whereas the Yankees are aging, relying on the past to get them through.

Clearly nobody fears the Yankees anymore.