Archive for December, 2010

Inside the Blue Zone 12-27-10

December 29, 2010

I want to start this Blue Zone off by thanking Russell Salvatore for preventing me from buying tickets to that abysmal game I witnessed on Sunday. As part of my three-day Christmas break I was strongly considering attending the Patriots game, but thanks to Mr. Salvatore’s generosity I got the chance to watch it on tv. What a great Christmas present right? Not even close to being great. I would’ve rather unwrapped a can of sardines than watch that game over again.

For the first time in few years I was thinking to myself that this will be the game that Buffalo ends its 15-game losing streak to New England and what did the Bills do?   They let Tom Brady and the Patriots slap them around the field and flat out embarrass them.

There is not as much to note this week, but here’s my best shot: Apparently Buffalo’s lack of a tight end really affects the defenses ability to cover one, Seven turnovers! and another undrafted player stepping up.

After 14 games you would think the defense would’ve figured out how to cover a tight end, but apparently that isn’t the case yet. The Buffalo defense had its worst showing yet against tight ends, allowing Rob Gronkowski and Alge Crumpler to catch three touchdowns this past Sunday. I really want to like Paul Posluszny, but when you cant cover the 300-pound Crumpler you shouldn’t be starting in this league. For those keeping track this season, the Bills have now allowed 11 touchdowns to opposing tight ends. Buddy Nix better upgrade at tight end this offseason so the defense can get some much needed practice in.

New England has a total of nine turnovers all year and Buffalo had seven last game, see what’s wrong here? I’m not saying the Bills would’ve have won minus the mistakes, but it would have been a lot closer than it was. In his worst game in a Buffalo  uniform (five turnovers), Ryan Fitzpatrick showed why he will always be a mediocre quarterback and never elite. Fitzpatrick is essential to the rebuilding of the team, but it’s to serve as a mentor and back-up to the future signal caller.

Congratulations to Naaman Roosevelt, who finally got the opportunity to shine and he made the most of it. The St. Joe’s graduate, caught four passes for 74 yards in the first extended action of his career. Roosevelt will have an even better chance to keep impressing with David Nelson having a slim chance to play against the Jets.

One game left, keeping hanging in there Bills’ fans!

Inside the Blue Zone 12-21-10

December 21, 2010

The role of spoiler has become common place for the Bills over the last decade. What could make this year’s season ending stretch a little different is the chance to end two divisional foes postseason chances. Well after squeaking out a 17-14 win over Miami on Sunday you can check one of the those teams off the list.

With its fourth win of the season, Buffalo virtually ended any chance the Dolphins have of making the playoffs. Although it wasn’t the smoothest of games for Buffalo, there were several positive things to take from the game: Did anyone miss Lee Evans?, this weeks “What’s the Word” with George Wilson discusses him taking Donte Whitner’s job, how is Kyle Williams not in the top-five in Pro Bowl voting? and CJ Spiller is still not effective.

How’s this for Buffalo’s wide reciever group on Sunday: A seventh round pick and three undrafted free agents. Chan Gailey continues to plug guys into his offense and they don’t disappoint. David Nelson caught a touchdown in his third straight game and Steve Johnson had his first big game since his big drop against the Steelers. Naaman Roosevelt made the first two catches of his career and Donald Jones continues to impress with his speed. The big question is with Roscoe Parrish and Marcus Easley back next season does this make Evans expendable? It’s way to early to even think about that, but if this rag-tag group of recievers continues to impress it will certainly become an interesting topic.

Oh Whitner, to bad you weren’t a fourth line player for the Buffalo Sabres because about the only good thing you do is lay body checks on the field. Delivering a big hit every once in a while certainley isn’t going to get you the big money that you think your worth. Whitner has failed to live up to the billing as a  top-ten pick, but Wilson on the other hand continues to overachieve. Wilson, a converted wide reciever, has backed up Whitner the last five seasons and has eight career interceptions compared to his five. I’m not saying Whitner has to perform at the level of Ed Reed, but he has to do more than lay a couple of big hits per game. It looks like Whitner wont be back next year because he’s clearly full of himself and intent on testing the free agent waters. With Whitner out of the picture the Bills should turn their attention to signing Wilson, their other free agent safety.  

For the past few years I’ve told my friend countless times the one thing the Bills really lack is that stud player on defense that other teams fear. Well I think they may have found one in Williams. I talked about Williams in the first edition of Inside the Blue Zone and he has continued to impress in the weeks since. The former fifth round pick was consistently in the Dolphins backfield on Sunday and he showed his strong football instinct by sniffing out a screen play to Ricky Williams. Not since the days of Takeo Spikes have the Bills had such an impact player on their defense, now lets hope Buddy Nix can build around him!

I still don’t know what to make of Spiller’s rookie season. At times he looks like he’s auditioning for a dance class and other times he shows why he was the ninth overall pick. Spiller saw some extended action on Sunday and really didn’t do anything of note. Looking back at the 2010 draft I wish the Bills would have gone in a different direction (Anthony Davis, Jason Pierre-Paul, Jermaine Gresham) with the pick because they had/have many holes. I do have faith that Gailey will get Spiller turned around  and by this time next season teams will know how dynamic of a player he is. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Until next week, Go Bills!

NFL Power Rankings

December 16, 2010

It seems somewhat foolish to write our first NFL Power Ranking 14 weeks into the season but I thought it would be a good tool to use to assess the Bills draft status in the offseason and to examine how far they’ve come this year (yes even at 3-10). Let’s start at the top.

1. New England Patriots (11-2): It really pains me to say it but the proof is there: the Patriots are without a doubt the best team in the league. With absolute thrashings of the Jets and Bears in consecutive weeks the Pats look unstoppable.

2. Atlanta Falcons (11-2): I was tempted to put the Steelers here but the Falcons are so damn good at home and it’s almost a certainty that they will be playing host throughout the playoffs.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3): Troy Polamalu is the best defensive player in football, they have two other defensive players in the top ten (Harrison and Woodley), and Roethlisberger is better on one foot than 90% of the quarterbacks in the league with two.

4. New Orleans Saints (10-3): The Saints looked like they were in for a Super Bowl hangover but after winning six in a row with a vastly improved defense, the Bourbon Street boys look pretty scary heading into the playoffs.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (9-4): Michael Vick is a shoe-in for Comeback Player of the Year and most likely MVP, and leads an absolutely electric Eagles offense. I guess Andy Reid knew what he was doing bidding adieu to Donovan.

6. Baltimore Ravens (9-4): A subpar second half performance against a desperate Texans team dropped the Ravens out of the top five but don’t be fooled, the Ravens still have a great D and plenty of firepower on offense.

7. New York Giants (9-4): Losing Steve Smith for the season hurts but Hakeem Nicks is getting healthy and the Giants pass rush may be the best in the league. This week’s game against the division rival Eagles should be a good test for Peyton’s little brother and the G Men.

8. New York Jets (9-4): The Sanchize is back to his old tricks, LT looks like the average player of the past few years, and Rex Ryan has been left speechless (thank the lord) for the past few weeks.

9. Chicago Bears (9-4): What is there to say about the Monsters of the Midway? Urlacher, Peppers and Briggs are all beasts on defense but with an average offense at best it’s tough to see this team going very far in the postseason.

10. Green Bay Packers (8-5): This was the toughest decision I had deciding between Green Bay, Indy, and Kansas City but with Aaron Rodgers in the lineup there’s no question that the Packmen are the most talented team. Therein lies the problem however. With Rodgers out of the lineup, Matt Flynn was absolutely pathetic against the Lions and concussions are a tricky thing. Without Rodgers in the lineup the Packers will have to rely heavily on Clay Matthews and their strong D.

11. Indianapolis Colts (7-6): No you’re not reading that record wrong, the Colts are a game over .500 through 13 games, their worst record since 2001. All the blame can’t go on Peyton’s shoulders with the team struck hard by injuries this season. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Colts will head back to the playoffs this season but this week’s game against the Jags is make or break for Indy.

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5): Without a doubt the biggest surprise success story in the NFL this season. Surrounded by young talent in LaGarrette Blount, Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams, Josh Freeman is proving to be a great young QB and leader. If it weren’t for recent season ending injuries to Gerald McCoy, Aquib Talib, and Quincy Black on defense and the nightmare of a division the NFC South has turned out to be, the once lowly Bucs would be in the top ten.

13. Kansas City Chiefs (8-5): The Chiefs proved that they can’t rely on their running game every week after that trouncing at the hands of the Chargers this week. It was surprising to see just how bad KC can be without the slightly above average Matt Cassel at the helm. They better hope he heels quickly from that appendectomy or teams will continue to stack the box and take away the two headed monster that is Thomas Jones and Jamal Charles.

14. San Diego Chargers (7-6): Talk about an enigma wrapped in an anomaly, the league’s best offense and defense add up to a 7-6 record. The Bolts thoroughly dominated the division leading Chiefs this week but still need to fight for their playoff lives. It shouldn’t be too hard with the 49ers, Bengals and Broncos rounding out their schedule.

15. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-5): This may seem a little bit low for a division leading team but I just can’t buy into the Jags yet. Maurice Jones-Drew is heating up at the right time for the surprising Jaguars however, and if they are able to take down the mighty Colts for the second time this season, effectively clinching the AFC West, the Jags should be propelled into the top ten.

16. Miami Dolphins (7-6): The Fins just seem to have the Jets’ number. Without that victory this week there’s no way Miami is as high on this list. Chad Henne is a pathetic excuse for a quarterback and the running game has been a non-factor for the majority of the season. This Dolphins defense really needs to get more credit. Cameron Wake is an absolute monster and Carlos Dansby may be the most underrated free agent acquisition of the offseason.

17. Oakland Raiders (6-7): The Raiders are another huge surprise this season and though their loss to the Jags this week may have effectively ended their playoff aspirations, Tom Cable has this team heading in the right direction. Darren McFadden is finally showing that explosiveness that made him a top five pick and there are some building blocks on defense with the likes of Kamerion Wimbley and Rolando McClain. With a solid free agent/draft class the men from the Black Hole could be contenders in the AFC West for years to come.

18. San Francisco 49ers (5-8): As much as it pains me to put a team from the NFC West in the top 20, the 49ers are clearly the most talented team in the worst division in football. Keep in mind they have played a tough schedule this year but have proven they can play toe-to-toe with the likes of the Saints and Packers. San Fran has been very disappointing this year but even at 5-8 they are only one game out of the division lead. If Alex Smith can show some consistency over the last few weeks and the niners can somehow get past the Bolts this week, they should be heading to the playoffs with a .500 record.

19. St. Louis Rams (6-7): Sam Bradford is a shoe-in for Offensive Rookie of the Year and the Rams have had an impressive season but this team still feels like they are another year or two away from truly contending.

20. Houston Texans (5-8): The Texans have taken it on the chin down the stretch, their defense is one of the worst in the league, and Gary Kubiak’s job is in serious jeopardy. Still, this Texans team has the best quarterback, running back and wide receiver of any of the 5-8 teams and has played an absolutely brutal schedule this season. They did have a great second half against the Ravens on Monday but fell short in overtime and effectively ended any legitimate shot of making the playoffs. At least it seems that they have found a franchise runner in Arian Foster to complement Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson.

21. Seattle Seahawks (6-7): Even at 6-7 and a share of the NFC West lead with St. Louis, I still feel this may be too high of a ranking for the Hawks. Matt Hasselbeck is in the twilight of his career, Marshawn Lynch has been anything but impressive since he was sent packing from Buffalo, and their defense is nothing to write home about. The 49ers showed who the superior team (if there is such a thing) in the NFC West is after manhandling Seattle on Sunday.

22. Washington Redskins (5-8): Give McNabb some credit. He’s surrounded by an offense who doesn’t run the ball effectively on a consistent basis, a wide receiving corps that’s headlined by Santana Moss, a defense who can’t stop anyone and all of a sudden a special teams that can’t snap the ball correctly on an extra point. I’m sure Daniel Snyder will open up his checkbook this offseason to surround McNabb with some legitimate talent on both sides of the ball but one has to question whether or not it’s too late for the former All-Pro QB. Donavan hasn’t set the league ablaze with his numbers this season and maybe you can attribute that to the lack of talent on offense but he’s approaching the wrong side of 30 and you have to wonder how much longer he can be efficient for.

23. Minnesota Vikings (5-8): If it weren’t for the Dallas Cowboys, the Vikes would without a doubt be the most disappointing team in the league this season. After showing signs of life against the Bills last week, the roof caved in, in more ways than one, on the Brett Favre-less Vikings against the Giants in Detroit on Monday night. So Favre wasn’t the answer, Jackson isn’t the answer, does Ziggy Wolf consider drafting a quarterback in the offseason? An offseason without the headache of Brett Favre’s decision to return looming in Minnesota, the Purple People Eaters should focus on finding the right coach, plugging some holes in the draft and getting back on track in 2011 (if there is a season that is).

24. Tennessee Titans (5-8): After losing six straight it’s apparent that Jeff Fisher vastly overestimated the impact that Randy Moss could have on his anemic offense. Moss isn’t the only one to blame however. CJ2K is going to fall drastically short of his preseason prediction of becoming the league’s all-time single season rusher and the quarterback position is in complete disarray with the ancient Kerry Collins and Rusty Smith (or whatever the hell his name is) at the helm and the constant headache that is Vince Young.

25. Dallas Cowboys (4-9): You have no idea how badly I wanted to put Jerry’s boys dead last on this list but you have to give Jason Garrett some credit with the team’s mini-turnaround. The Boys quit on Wade Phillips half way through the season and abandoned any hope of even making a run at the playoffs. It looks like they are starting to warm up to the thought of Garrett taking over on a permanent basis however. Dallas is 3-2 since Garrett took over after taking out the Giants and Colts and having strong performances against the Eagles and Saints as well.

26. Buffalo Bills (3-10): I’ve said that I would rather watch this Bills team than any other Buffalo squad in the past half-decade on multiple occasions this season. The game against the Browns on Sunday may have been a yawner but Buffalo has shown glimpses that they may not be as far away from contention as everyone thought going into this season. I may be an optimist when it comes to the Bills and it seems like we say this every year but the Bills were only completely out of two or three games this season. They suffered through a brutal schedule, a poor defensive scheme, and several injuries but came out realizing that they may actually have some professional football players on this roster. Fitzy seems like he can right the ship for a few years, Stevie Johnson is a solid number one receiver even with the drops, and Kyle Williams is a beast. A solid free agency period and draft class this offseason could be the key to the turnaround for this franchise.

27. Cleveland Browns (5-8): Like the Bills, the Browns have shown glimpses throughout the season, staying close in just about every game and even taking down the Dolphins, Saints and Patriots. The Browns probably deserve to be higher on the list than the Bills and maybe even the Cowboys but after getting a chance to watch them for an entire game I realized that this team really isn’t that good. Peyton Hillis is having an unbelievable season and their defense, which is filled with no-names, is actually pretty solid but I didn’t see anything to make me believe that they can get it done through the air. It does look like this team is also heading in the right direction and with a solid offseason, who knows what the Browns could do in 2011.

28. Detroit Lions (3-10): Taking down the Packers is no small feat even if they were without Aaron Rodgers in the second half. Keep in mind that the Lions are down to their third stringer Drew Stanton and they pretty much shut down Rodgers when he was in the game. This is a promising team bursting with young talent in Calvin Johnson, Alphonso Smith, Ndamukong Suh, and Matt Stafford when he’s healthy. Now there are rumors that the over-paid but dominant when he wants to be Albert Haynesworth wants to be reunited with Jim Schwartz in Detroit. Suh and a happy Haynesworth would be a formidable duo in the middle of that Lions defensive line.

29. Arizona Cardinals (4-9): How sad is it that with a 4-9 record the Cardinals are not mathematically eliminated from the NFC West race? I was completely wrong about Arizona this season. I thought they would substitute not having Kurt Warner with a two-headed monster at running back in Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells. Neither have done anything of substance this season. Don’t count the red birds out just yet though. With three winnable games against Dallas, Carolina and San Francisco left on their schedule and some serious help, the Cardinals might be able to pull off a miracle and take the toilet bowl of the NFL which is the NFC West crown.  

30. Denver Broncos (3-10): Read Killer’s Korner from last week and you’ll know exactly how I feel about the Broncos. Kyle Orton looked down right pathetic against a weak Arizona defense and the Broncos D gave up 43 points to a Cardinals offense that was led by John Skelton in his first career start. Let the rebuilding begin in Mile High.

31. Cincinnati Bengals (2-11): It only took him 14 weeks to finally start pointing the finger at everyone else but T.O. might actually be right this time. Marvin Lewis saved his job with an impressive start last season but the Bungles fizzled out at the end of the year. Terrell Owens is having a great season Ochocinco has played well in stretches but Carson Palmer keeps on finding new ways to lose games. There’s no doubt that Lewis will be ousted in the offseason but it may be time for Cincy’s front office to take a long hard look at their franchise QB. If their futility continues, they will have a shot and Cam Newton or Andrew Luck in April. Will the temptation be too much for Mike Brown?

32. Carolina Panthers (1-12): I’m not even going to waste my time. They are a horrible team, with no offense, no defense and soon to be no head coach. There’s no quick fix in Carolina but if their miserable season means they get a chance to draft Andrew Luck in April then it might all be worth it.

Late edition of Inside the Blue Zone

December 16, 2010

Because of the blackout and the need to do laundry I was only able to catch the final 10 minutes of Sunday’s game, but after a long week I have all the information I need on the game to piece together the Blue Zone.

Here are my thoughts from the game: Buffalo won’t quit, Arthur Moats keeps making plays, Jake Delhomme is terrible, Dick Jauron has left the building and the offensive line rebounded nicely.

I continue to be impressed by the amount of the fight the Bills show every game. A week after getting its teeth kicked in, Buffalo came back and punched the Browns. The Bills embraced the bad weather and played smash mouth, possession football.

With Cleveland needing a score late in the game, Moats went around All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas and stripped Delhomme to give Buffalo the ball. He finished the game with a total of four tackles and he finally looks to be getting comfortable at outside linebacker. It’s looking like the Bills might have found another late round star in Moats. Oh and its official, Moats’ hit on Brett Favre last week ended his consecutive games played streak at 297.

What happened to Jake Delhomme? Here’s his stat line from Sunday: 12-for-20, 86 yards and one ugly interception. Two years ago he was the steady leader of the Carolina Panthers and now he looks like he belongs at McDonalds. It’s sad to see a solid veteran like Delhomme fizzle out like this, but he has to be thinking about hanging it up.

What’s that I saw? The Bills know how to make adjustments during a game. Under Jauron, Buffalo would stick to its game plan and hope for the best, but not under Gailey. This is one thing that has been apparent all season and Sunday provided even more evidence of it.

After suffering a few injuries against Minnesota, the offensive line looked as good as new against Cleveland. Eric Wood came back into the lineup and made a seamless transition to center and Chad Rinehart showed some of the promise that made him a third round pick for Washington.

Here’s hoping to a strong a finish for the Bills!

Bills find success late

December 12, 2010

To say the Buffalo Bills are bad at drafting is like saying the sky is blue. From Erik Flowers to Aaron Maybin, Buffalo has flat out missed on several top picks over the last decade. Despite the first round flops the Bills have developed quite the knack for finding hidden talent. Buffalo has developed an uncanny ability to find undrafted gems and an occasional late round starter.

Starting with Pat Williams in 1997, I’ve compiled a list of undrafted free agents and late round draft picks (fourth round or later) that Buffalo has hit on. These players might not all be stars, but they’ve managed to stick in the NFL and have had solid careers (or look to be on their way to solid careers).

1997: Pat Williams (undrafted)

1999: Brian Moorman (undrafted by Seattle, but got first real chance with Bills in 2001)

2000: Sammy Morris (fifth round)

2002: Justin Bannan (fifth round)

2003: Terrence McGee (fourth round)

2004: Jason Peters (undrafted); Jabari Greer (undrafted)

2005: Jim Leonard (undrafted)

2006: Kyle Williams (fifth round); Fred Jackson (undrafted)

2008: Demetrius Bell (seventh round); Steve Johnson (seventh round)

As for 2010 we will have to wait and see but, from the looks of it Arthur Moats (sixth round), David Nelson (undrafted) and Donald Jones (undrafted) look like they could eventually make this list.

Now if this group of players does anything for you it should give you some confidence in the guys make the decisions on draft day and beyond. It still isn’t enough to cover up the long list of misses in the first three rounds. With the draft being crucial to the blue print of any team, Buffalo has to start hitting on the big ones and it sure wouldn’t hurt to keep finding guys like Kyle Williams in the fifth round.

Killer’s Korner

December 10, 2010

What an action packed sports week. The BCS Championship is set and will feature two of the most exciting offenses in the country; Brett Favre learned the hard way that nobody crosses the Moats; we said goodbye to Ron Santo and Dandy Don; Iron Mike and the Italian Stallion head to the boxing Hall of Fame; and Tom Brady tore the Jets apart in what may have been the most overrated game in NFL history. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s a preview of some other stories that leapt of the page this week: Josh McDaniels gets the axe for being a chip of the old block (and a 3-9 record); Albert Haynesworth’s mouth costs him four massive paychecks and thousands of Whoppers; Urban Meyer calls it quits again; and the Major League Baseball free agency frenzy starts with a bang.

Five weeks after Josh McDaniels tried to pull off Spygate 2.0 and a little more than a season and a half after he was hired as the Broncos head coach, he received the inevitable axe on Monday. In his second season as the head man in Mile High, McDaniels led the Broncos to a dismal 3-9 record and a 5-17 overall record since his team got off to a promising 6-0 start last season. That’s just a taste of the hole that he’s left the Broncos in during his short-lived tenure. Upon his arrival, McDaniels felt the need to alienate himself from his star wideout and franchise quarterback. Jay Cutler departed for Chicago before last season while Brandon Marshall headed to South Beach this summer. Kyle Orton, Cutler’s replacement for the time being, has performed admirably this season but what does the future hold for this once proud franchise with Tim Tebow at the helm? Sure he’s pounded the ball into the endzone on some goal line opportunities this year but what’s going to happen when he needs to sustain drives and carry this team down the field with more than just grit? I won’t even begin to mention the shambles that the defense is in with Champ Bailey set to test the free agent market this offseason and Elvis Dumervil’s torn pectoral muscle which cost him the season. The connection between Brandon Lloyd and Orton may be exciting to watch this season but don’t kid yourself, McDaniels has set this team back to full rebuilding mode for the foreseeable future.

Evidently somebody does put baby in the corner. After whining during the entire offseason about the Redskins switch to the 3-4 and his general lack of interest in playing this season, the former Defensive Player of the Year and $100 million man got on Mike Shannahan’s last nerve on Monday after he stated that he would not speak to his head coach for the rest of the season. Haynesworth’s punishment for his insubordination will make his pockets just a little bit lighter as he was suspended for the Redskins’ remaining four games. 20 games played, 12 games started, 53 tackles and 6.5 sacks equals a seven year $100 million contract. Money well spent Dan Snyder. Good luck trying to unload that contract this offseason especially with the uncertainty surrounding the CBA.

For the second time in less than a year, Urban Meyer is calling it quits in Gainesville. Two years removed from hoisting the BCS Championship trophy over his head, Meyer assures that this time his resignation is for real. In the Brett Favre retirement era, it’s tough for us to believe anyone who says they’re hanging it up and come back for another run. After claiming health concerns as his reason for initially resigning last year, Meyer claims that this time it’s all about his family. Meyer sacrificing his prominent career as possibly the best head coach in all of college football is no doubt a selfless and admirable act, but one has to wonder if the Gators’ disappointing season didn’t have something to do with his departure. When Meyer arrived at Florida via Utah he inherited an embarrassment of talent and recruited a golden goose in Tebow. It is somewhat peculiar that the year Tebow leaves for the NFL Meyer announces his resignation. I can understand the reasoning behind his initial decision considering the drop off between Tebow and John Brantley but it almost seems as if Meyer wasn’t up for the challenge. I can’t imagine that Meyer won’t step on the field again one day in the near future but it is somewhat disappointing to see a 46 year-old coach in the prime of his career walking away from the game no matter what the reason.

Oh how the tides have turned in Major League Baseball in a matter of one week. There was a huge power shift in the AL East, two teams in the AL Central added some pop to their lineups and the Washington Nationals are actually a free agent player? Here are my winners and losers thus far in MLB free agency.

Winners:

  1. Boston Red Sox: I guess the Sox were pretty bitter about missing out on the party this season. They certainly made up for it this week, landing prized slugger Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres and inking Carl Crawford to a massive seven year $142 million deal. Not only did Boston nab perhaps the most coveted player in the free agent market, they did it in grand fashion, stealing him away from the Yankees clutches and making the Rays lineup that much weaker in the process. It doesn’t appear that John Henry and Theo Epstein are quite done yet either. The BoSox reportedly offered free agent catcher Russell Martin a contract on Thursday which would sure up their weakest position and make their line up even more formidable.
  2. Washington Nationals: Who would’ve thought that the Nats would be a player this offseason? Landing Jason Werth is the biggest free agent signing in the team’s short history since their move to the nation’s capital. He didn’t come cheap at $126 million but this signing could ring in a new era for Washington baseball. Werth’s signing proves that the Nationals front office is willing to break the bank to bring in talent and could entice more big names to consider D.C. in the not so distant future.
  3. Chicago White Sox: Welcome to the American League and the Designated Hitter position Adam Dunn. Dunn brings some much needed pop to the cleanup spot for the White Sox and he no longer has to be burdened with playing an actual position in the field. Dunn immediately makes Chicago a threat in the Central. Resigning Paul Konerko for three years was a great move to.

Losers:

  1. Tampa Bay Rays: What a difference an offseason can make. During the first real week of free agency the Rays are down a starting first baseman, a leadoff hitter, and could soon lose their number two starter in Matt Garza and two all-stars in Jason Bartlett and Rafael Soriano. The Rays may have quickly dropped from first place to fourth best in the AL East. At least the fans in Tampa Bay won’t know what they’re missing this season.
  2. Chicago Cubs: It’s tough to consider a team a loser after they just snagged a slugger who has averaged 40 home runs a year over the last three seasons but how in the world do you give Carlos Pena a $10 million contract after he failed to hit .200 this season. When will the Cubbies learn that these ridiculous contracts can seriously impede your ability to be a contender? Case in point: Alphonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano. The Cubs could quickly go from losers to winners if they are able to land Garza however.

Inside the Blue Zone 12-6-10

December 6, 2010

What a difference a week can make. If someone would have told you before Sunday’s game that Brett Favre was only going to play three snaps and that the Buffalo secondary would pick off four Minnesota passes you would’ve thought there is no way they could lose, right? Dead wrong!

Here are some the things that stood out to me in the Vikings 38-14 thrashing of the Bills: Favre dared to “cross the Moats” and paid the price, Leodis McKelvin might have some Chris Watson in him, Jared Allen looks back to form, ask Demetrius Bell, Anyone seen Duke Preston?, Buffalo’s o-line is hurting and finally, it looks like the Bills’ secondary knows how to catch the ball.

Might we have seen Brett Favre take his final career snap against the Bills? Arthur Moats drilled Favre from behind on the third play of the game to knock the quarterback out of commission. Favre has reportedly suffered a shoulder sprain so it will be interesting to see if he will give it a go this weekend. Moats, a defensive end at James Madison, is showing some promise as he learns the outside linebacker position. And hey even if he doesn’t pan out, Moats’ hit will make a good future trivia question if Favre is forced to call it quits.

Is it possible that Buffalo has yet again missed on a first round pick? Well if you watched McKelvin play yesterday you might think so. In a span of five plays McKelvin got out-worked and allowed a touchdown, fumbled a kick return and got called for pass inference to set-up another Minnesota score. When the Vikings weren’t running the ball it was clear who they were attacking and McKelvin had no answer. McKelvin has to learn to not let one bad play get to his head because he’s an important part to the Bills’ future. With Terrence McGee consistently on the mend and McKelvin’s inconsistent play, Buffalo might need to add cornerback to its endless need’s list this offseason. Patrick Moran of Buffalo Sport’s Daily brought the idea of the Bills needing a corner to my attention with this article.

Besides our wide receiver group, the second most notable thing to take from this season has been the play of the offensive line. Leading the way has been Demetrius Bell, who has been developing quite nicely at left tackle. Well it looks like he forgot how to block on Sunday because Jared Allen just owned him. To Bell’s defense, he wasn’t playing with the same offensive line that has looked so good in recent weeks. Early in the first quarter center Geoff Hangartner went down with a knee injury which forced right guard Kraig Urbik over to center. Urbik, who was filling in for the injured Eric Wood, suffered a similar knee injury late in the game. Looks like Buffalo will be holding try outs for offensive lineman this week, anyone seen Melvin Fowler or Duke Preston? With three-fifths of the line injured, let’s hope Gailey and Nix can patch something together.

One positive from the game is Buffalo doubled its interception total to eight on the season. Drayton Florence nabbed two, McKelvin had one and Donte Whitner finally managed to make a play by picking off the fifth pass of his career. Yes I said that right, Whitner has five interceptions in five seasons. Brutal.

David Nelson finished Sunday’s game with four catches for 34 yards, which included his first career touchdown. The undrafted rookie has developed quite the chemistry with Fitzpatrick and is relied upon to make clutch catches on crucial downs. I look forward to seeing Nelson develop in the upcoming years. Make sure to check back later in the week to read a little bit more about Nelson and the rest of the Bills undrafted free agents they’ve developed.

A Harsh Dose of Reality

December 6, 2010

Well it looks like the Bills had the wool pulled over our eyes for the past several weeks. For the first time since the Jets game in early October, Buffalo actually looked like a 2-10 team against a subpar Brett Favre-less Minnesota Vikings team that fired their head coach two weeks ago. Heading into the game Sunday it looked like an extremely favorable matchup for the Bills. Favre has had a pathetic “final season”, Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart were both banged up, All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson was out and Leslie Frazier was coaching his second career professional football game. So how did Buffalo manage to lay an egg against the 4-7 Vikings on Sunday?

Things were looking up for the Bills early in the first quarter after Arthur Moats knocked Favre out of the game with an absolutely vicious hit which led to Drayton Florence’s first INT of the game. Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo offense couldn’t do anything with the turnover however (which was the case for the majority of the game). The Bills even managed to take the early lead when Florence took his second pick of the game back 40 yards for the score. That’s when it all came unraveled however. Jackson led the Vikes on a long scoring drive after the pick and on the ensuing kickoff Leodis McKelvin, who had an absolutely miserable game, fumbled the ball away on the return. Aided by the short field and McKelvin’s pass interference on Bernard Berrian near the goal line, Peterson punched it in to give the Vikings the lead and the Purple People Eaters never looked back.

With the exception of McKelvin’s miserable play, the most frustrating part of the game on Sunday was the complete and total ineptitude of the offense. Fitzy was a shadow of his 2010 self and looked more like the career back-up he was prior to this season. You can’t judge a player on one game but if that were the case we would be screaming for the Panthers to win a few more games this season and hoping like hell that Andrew Luck comes out in the 2011 draft.

Don’t get me wrong; what Fitzpatrick is doing this season is nothing short of miraculous, considering his resume, but there have been several instances this season that make me question whether or not Fitzy has what it takes to be a franchise QB. On a week by week basis Fitzpatrick seems to make one or two plays that really make you scratch your head or even rip your hair out. Two fourth quarter picks in his first game of the season against the Patriots started the trend. The Jets and Jags games aren’t even worth mentioning but his breakout performance against the Ravens is a perfect example. Perhaps the most impressive game of his career, Fitzpatrick scorched one of the premier defenses in the NFL for almost 400 yards in a losing effort. He threw two costly interceptions to Ed Reed in the second half that completely swung the momentum in favor of the Ravens. The week after, against Kansas City the Bills were driving into Chiefs territory with under two minutes left when Fitzy through a wounded duck right into the awaiting arms of Eric Berry. Over the last few weeks he had seemed to break this vicious cycle with impressive performances against Chicago, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, but the progress came to a screeching halt this week. An interception, two fumbles (one coming on the snap at the one yard line) and several over or under thrown balls spelled disaster for the Bills on Sunday and left me to question Fitzy’s capabilities once again.

There’s much uncertainty with this Buffalo Bills roster heading into the offseason and no doubt one of the biggest question marks is at quarterback. Although there seems to be more pressing needs at linebacker, defensive end and offensive line, quarterback is still the most vital position to address. I’ll admit Fitzpatrick’s numbers this season are nothing to scoff at (2,384 passing yards, 20 TDs and 11 INTs) but these last four weeks are critically important for him to demonstrate consistency and prove that, with a better supporting cast, he can lead this team into contention in the near future. Let’s just hope this week was a fluke and Fitzy gets back on track against the 5-7 Browns next Sunday.

Killer’s Korner

December 1, 2010

This is the first installment of Killer’s Korner, a weekly perspective on the wide world of sports. This column will be posted every Wednesday night with my reaction to the weekly sports stories that peak our interest.

Here’s a preview of what’s going on in that sports crazed world of ours: Lebron’s two face act comes full circle; the Sabres may have found an owner with deep pockets who actually knows a few things about hockey; Derek Anderson loses whatever sanity he had left; and we say goodbye to a legend.

Almost five months after Lebron James rocked the NBA world with the absolute mockery that was “The Decision”, he returns to the city that once praised him as the second coming. Almost like a scene taken out of the 2008 blockbuster the “Dark Knight” the Lebron saga comes full face, so to speak. The parallels are endless between James and District Attorney Harvey Dent. Like Dent, who was epitomized as the “White Knight” of the fictitious Gotham City, James was praised as the savior of the Cleveland Cavaliers. When James was taken first overall by the Cavs in ’03 he brought something to the rust belt city that they hadn’t had in years: Hope. When he takes the court at the Q Arena on Thursday night however, that hope will be fully submerged and James, like Dent and his alter ego “Two-Face”, will complete his transformation from hero to villan.

On a lighter note, another rust belt city seems to have some hope of its own. Rumors ran rampant on Tuesday morning about the sale of the Buffalo Sabres to Pennsylvania billionaire Terry Pegula. Pegula is supposedly somewhat of a hockey nut with deep pockets who could be the answer this city has been searching for, for so many years: an owner who is willing to open up his checkbook to bring a Championship to Buffalo. After donating $88 million to Penn State to start their own hockey program it’s obvious that Pegula has the funds and the willingness to break the bank for success. This could be the dawning of a new age in Buffalo hockey. Lets just hope Golisano and Larry Quinn don’t muck it up like they’ve done so many times in the recent past.

What happened to Derek Anderson? I came to the realization a couple of years ago that Anderson’s breakout season in ’07 was a fluke but I think he’s finally hit rock bottom. Not only was his performance against the 49ers on Monday night putrid, his press conference after the game was certifiably insane. Anderson was questioned at the podium about why he was chuckling with guard Deuce Lutui during the fourth quarter of the Cardinals 27-6 pounding by the Niners. Instead of keeping his cool about the situation, Anderson went on a tirade about how he supposedly takes his job really f*%@ing seriously. Hard to believe considering the fact that his pathetic play this season led to his benching in favor of rookie Max Hall who can’t throw the ball ten yards down the field accurately. Well Derek, enjoy that one year $5 million contract you suckered the Cardinals into because you’ll probably be heading to the UFL next year. Was Matt Leinart really that bad Ken?

To end this weeks rant, I thought it would be appropriate to remember a great sports writer who we lost yesterday. Former Buffalo Sabres, ESPN.com, Sportsnet.ca and Sports Illustrated hockey writer Jim Kelley passed away on Tuesday after a year-long bout with pancreatic cancer. Kelley began covering the Sabres in 1981 and is probably most remembered for questioning Dominik Hasek’s “mental toughness” during the Sabres ’96-97 playoff run. Kelley didn’t make a lot of friends in the Buffalo community during that stretch, seeing as though Hasek was viewed as the Sabres entire team for the majority of the ’90s and questioning him was blasphemous in most people’s eyes. That was Jim Kelley though. He was unbiased, thorough, fair and called it like he saw it; everything a journalist should strive to be. To take a few lines from Kelley’s Sportsnet.ca bio in his own words: “I don’t ask you to agree with what I write, but I would hope you read it with an open mind, think about what’s being said and, hopefully, realize there is always more than one way to see the game.” You personified what it means to be a true journalist Jim and you will be truly missed.


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