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Week 2 NFL Picks

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment
 
 

Here's hoping these picks are better than Jimmy would have made

This for entertainment purposes only. Take my advice at your own risk as this writer does not have a great track record picking NFL games against the spread.

Chicago Bears +6.5 at New Orleans Saints: There are a few reasons for this pick. First, the Bears already look like they might be winning ugly again. They forced three turnovers last week against the Falcons with a fumble returned by Brian Urlacher for a touchdown. Second, Jay Cutler played well against a decent Falcons defense and the Saints defense doesn’t appear to be ready to stop any passing games yet either. Finally, the Bears are trying to work the karma angle. Julius Peppers reportedly rented a private plane to transport the Bears defense to attend the funeral of Brian Urlacher’s mother in New Mexico. If that doesn’t bring good karma, what will?

Kansas City Chiefs +8 at Detroit Lions: Great matchup. Uh, right. The game could be really ugly, or really ugly. If this one’s close, like I expect, then the scoring should be low and the Chiefs should cover a slugfest. Otherwise the Lions could blow them out like the Bills did last week. I’m looking for a little bit of a correction this week for the 2010 AFC West champs.

New York Jets +9.5 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Let’s assume that Luke McCown is going to have a world of problems against Rex Ryan’s defense and expect Ryan to load up to stop MJD. The Jets have plenty of offensive weapons to score enough to cover this one. Look for a Blaine Gabbert sighting in the late third quarter.

Oakland Raiders +3.5 at Buffalo Bills: The Raiders shouldn’t hand this one to the Bills like the Chiefs did last week. While the line looks to be begging action on the Raiders, the ability for the Raiders to cover even losing by a field goal is too good to pass up. The Bills had difficulty stopping the run last week until the Chiefs gave up on it. Rest assured, the Raiders won’t stop running on Sunday. Take the points.

Washington Redskins -3.5 vs. Arizona Cardinals: The Redskins were a lot better than most expected last week against the Giants. If you thought Cam Newton looked good last week, wait until Rex Grossman lights up that weak Cardinals’ secondary. Grossman could get off to a similar start to that great one he had in 2006 with the Bears when he looked like the league MVP in the middle of October. Typically, very good to great coaches take their teams from mediocre to playoff-level in the second year. While the Redskins didn’t look like that on paper coming into the season, it’s possible that they can make a run with their relatively weak schedule.

Baltimore Ravens -6 at Tennessee Titans: That line doesn’t look right, does it? This looks like another trap that I’m walking into, but since this is just for fun, I don’t care. The Titans are in the Andrew Luck chase and shouldn’t fall behind in that pursuit this week.

Seattle Seahawks +14 at Pittsburgh Steelers: The figuring on this pick is that the Seahawks should be covering for at least an hour. Also, Pete Carroll should have his boys “jacked up” for this one. That’s the real reason for this pick.

*****Green Bay Packers -10 at Carolina Panthers: (editors note: Beware of my 5-star special) This is the week that Cam Newton comes down to earth. To paraphrase Bill Parcells, you just know that Newton is “eating the cheese” this week after his extraordinary debut. But this is the Super Bowl champs, not the Cardinals. That’s Charles Woodson who just picked you off, Cam. Welcome to the big leagues. Oh, and the Panthers defense will have problems keeping Aaron Rodgers and company under 40.

Minnesota Vikings -2.5 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yuck. Not only would I not want to bet this game if I still did so, I wouldn’t even want to watch this if this was the only game on. Hold your nose and hope that Donovan McNabb can get over 100 yards of passing on the season.

Indianapolis Colts +2 vs. Cleveland Browns: Sorry, Vikes and Bucs, I take it back. THIS is the game I don’t want to watch. Kerry Collins will be a lot better this week and the Colts will not go winless without Peyton Manning.

Dallas Cowboys -3 at San Francisco 49ers: There are three reasons why the Cowboys are the pick. First, Jason Garrett has changed the culture around this team and should have them focused and playing well on Sunday. Second, Jerry Jones completely took the pressure off of Tony Romo’s 4th quarter collapse by calling his performance, “maybe the best one he’s had as a Cowboy.” Seriously. Third, the 49ers aren’t very good and aren’t playing the Seahawks this week.

Miami Dolphins +3 vs. Houston Texans: There are two reasons for this pick. First, never take into account how bad a loss is when a team plays the Patriots and Tom Brady is on. Second, never take a Gary Kubiak coached team seriously in back-to-back weeks.

New England Patriots -7 vs. San Diego Chargers: This pick is as simple as Bill Belichick versus Norv Turner. Oh, did I also say that the Hoodie and Tommy Locks have that “On a Mission” look? It could be 2007 redux in Foxboro this season.

Cincinnati Bengals +3.5 at Denver Broncos: The Bengals aren’t that good, but the Broncos shouldn’t be laying over a field goal to the CU-Buffs. Look for Andy Dalton to make a few nice plays and keep the mistakes to a minimum for the Bengals as they keep it close enough to possibly pull out in the end.

Atlanta Falcons +2.5 vs. Philadelphia Eagles: The future Super Bowl champs come to the ATL on Sunday. The Eagles ARE going to win the Super Bowl, right? Hold up a minute. Not this week. Everybody is down on Matt Ryan (not here) and talking about how they are in Mike Vick’s house on Sunday night. The Falcons are a very good, professional team that typically plays mistake free ball. Expect to see a crisper performance in the Georgia Dome by the home team and a close, hard fought win with a big game from Ryan.

New York Giants -6 vs. St. Louis Rams: The schizophrenic Tom Coughlin Giants typically start well and end poorly. Last week they got blitzed in DC. Expect the Giants to turn it around after a tough week at practice to beat the Rams without Stephen Jackson.

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Chicago Bears 2011 Kickoff Checklist for Success

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

 

The Bears look to take the next step this season and return to the Super Bowl for the first time in five years. One wonders how last season would have turned out if Jay Cutler hadn’t sustained his, now, infamous knee injury in the second quarter of the NFC championship game. This year, the challenges appear to be the increasing age of the defense and new special teams’ rules designed to eliminate kickoffs. The Bears are hoping that the second year of offensive coordinator Mike Martz can offset any drop off on defense or special teams.

 

Checklist

Jay Cutler needs to win over the complete confidence of his teammates

  • It might sound obvious, but this is a must if the Bears are even to return to the playoffs this season. While Cutler’s teammates publicly backed him after his game ending knee injury against the Packers, players on other teams weren’t as reserved about their feelings for the misunderstood quarterback. Cutler is renowned for his apparent aloofness and can’t possibly have the entire locker room on his side, especially after the long offseason.
  • What Cutler has going for him is this will be his second year playing in Mike Martz’ Greatest Show on Clumps of Grass offense. To help him, the Bears have brought in former Lion and Cowboys Roy Williams. While everybody else is laughing about this acquisition (maybe this writer is a little bit as well), Williams enjoyed his best seasons with Martz in Detroit and went to the Pro Bowl in 2006 after compiling over 1300 yards receiving. Everything is bigger in Texas as Roy knows and he has to be competitive enough to want to prove that he isn’t the Texas-sized bust that he was in Dallas, right? If Williams can regain his Detroit form, he should make for a solid addition and become a favorite target of Cutler’s. How much do you think Cutler’s teammates would respect him if he turned Williams back into a top receiver?

 

Matt Forte needs to continue to run like he did in the second half of 2010

  • After a tremendous rookie season in 2008, Forte followed up with very pedestrian production for the next year and a half. If wasn’t until the middle of last season that the Bears decided to recommit to the running game led by Forte. His numbers were much better in the second half, running for 668 yards and averaging over 5 yards per carry. That also coincided with a reduction in sacks on Jay Cutler. Once again, Forte should be counted on to establish an effective running game.
  • Marion Barber joins Forte and should help shoulder some of the short yardage carries that typically wear down backs over the course of the game and also lower their yards per carry. A blueprint for success this season will include between 15-18 carries per game for Forte as well as 3-5 receptions out of the backfield. Forte showed in the second half of last season that he had returned to his dynamic form of his rookie season. For the Bears to return to the NFC championship game or go beyond, Forte must remain at that level of production.

 

Devin Hester will still have a major impact on the Bears success this season

  • Some analysts feel that the game’s greatest kick returner has now been neutralized by the new kickoff rules. But what those analysts fail to do is look at the stats. Hester has only attempted 19 returns over the past two seasons. He hasn’t even returned a kickoff for a touchdown since the 2007 season. It will be on punts where Hester inflicts the most damage on the opposition now and there’s been no changes made to that area of special teams. With his 3 returns for a touchdown last season, Hester tied Eric Metcalf for the NFL record with 10 punt returns for a touchdown in his career. It almost feels like a foregone conclusion that he will break that mark, probably in Week One.
  • Hester and the punt return game is a huge weapon for the Bears. When teams kick to Hester, he typically burns them with returns exceeding 10 yards per return. But his value might be even more when opponents kick away from him. Punters are typically pretty good in today’s NFL, but when Hester’s on the field, some get spooked and kick the ball short and out of bounds. Teams frequently net less than 20 yards on punts when Hester is returning because the punters overcompensate to avoid the big return. On average, these “avoidance” tactics are even better for the Bears than an average return because they can avoid the cheap penalties that seem to accompany at least a quarter of the returns. This is Hester’s added value that doesn’t show up in the box score and will continue to be a factor in Bears victories this season.

 

Season Outlook

The Bears are an interesting team this season. Much of their success depends on Cutler’s ability to progress in the Martz’ system. Also, their division is going to be brutal this year with the defending champs looking great, the Vikings with less chaos, and the preseason darlings of the league, the Lions. An 11-5 record is probably not in the cards, especially with their first place schedule. The catch some scheduling breaks with the Bucs road game in England and the two best AFC West teams at home. They also have the benefit of their bye week coming before a Monday night game in Philly. But even if the Bears were to win 10 or 11 games again, the Packers appear to be too tough and were too unlucky during the regular season last year. They look more like a 13 win team than the 10 win team they were. That’s will be a tough mountain to climb for the team in the Windy City.

Minnesota Vikings 2011 Kickoff Checklist for Success

September 5, 2011 Leave a comment

 

Last year in the Twin Cities was a complete nightmare. First, the team imploded, and then the Metrodome imploded. This year, the Vikings have a new quarterback (Donovan McNabb), a new coach (last year’s interim coach Leslie Frazier), and a new roof for the dome. But with the Vikings’ lease expiring after this season, this could be their last season in Minnesota. They might follow the last Twin Cities franchise that wore purple with gold and head west to Los Angeles.

 

Checklist

Donovan McNabb is back in a West Coast Offense and out for redemption

  • The Vikings decision to beg Brett Favre to return last season led to disastrous results. The Redskins decision to trade for Donovan McNabb and teach him a new offense after playing in the same offense for 11 seasons led to an eventual benching and acrimony between McNabb and the Shanahan family. Now, McNabb is back in the West Coast Offense and playing for former Eagles defensive assistant, Leslie Frazier. Frazier coached in 2 NFC championship games with the Eagles and McNabb at quarterback.
  • The Redskins were a bad fit for McNabb, with inferior personnel and a completely new offensive system than McNabb has historically run. With the Vikings, McNabb will hand off to Adrian Peterson, a lot. He will play action pass with Peterson and find a high quality tight end in Visanthe Shiancoe and when McNabb loads up for the deep pass, he’ll have Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian to throw to. Harvin has many of the same skills as McNabb’s former Eagles teammate, DeSean Jackson. This group of skill players will put points on the board regularly and give the Vikings a chance to win every Sunday.

 

No Favre, no Moss, and no Chilly should result in a more stable environment

  • The distractions seemingly never ended last season for the Vikings. Coming off of a loss in the NFC Championship game, they were held hostage by Hall of Fame prima donna Brett Favre. Favre already had difficulty working with Coach Brad Childress. Randy Moss was acquired in the ill-fated trade with the Patriots a month into the season and then the Vikings poor play, and more important, dysfunctionality of the team, both on and off the field, led to Chilly’s departure midway through the season. The season-long collapse concluded with the real collapsing of the Metrodome roof, which led to a “home” game in Detroit and another home game at the University of Minnesota. It was a season that movies are made from. Horror movies.
  • The Vikings lost three games by 5 or fewer points in the first 6 games to leave them at 2-4. What would have happened had the Vikings won two of those games? They might have been able to muster another deep playoff run. But the losing and chaos mounted and most veteran teams tend to shut it down when the playoffs appear out of reach and that’s what happened here. With highly respected Leslie Frazier taking over as head coach fulltime and the high character Donovan McNabb taking over at quarterback, the Vikings should be able to right their ship and perform more consistently over the course of the season. This will most likely result in much better results, especially later in the season when the veterans on last year’s team were just counting the days until the season finished. This team will be a factor in the NFC playoff race this season.

 

Percy Harvin needs to have his “breakout” season

  • Percy Harvin is an extremely talented receiver with chronic migraine problems. Some might contend, tongue-in-cheek, that last season’s team issues only exacerbated his migraine problems. When healthy, Harvin has skills that match any speed receiver in the league. as mentioned earlier, McNabb is going to see a lot of similarities between Harvin and his former teammate, DeSean Jackson.
  • Harvin could be the player that makes the difference between the Vikings winning only 6-7 games to winning as many as 11 or even 12 games if he can be healthy every week. He’ll open up the deep routes for Bernard Berrian and the seams for Shiancoe. If the passing game is rolling, Adrian Peterson is going to have even more room to run. The hallmark play of the West Coast Offense is that crossing route that Jerry Rice made famous. Harvin has the skills to make at least one big play a week running that route like Rice did 20 years ago. Harvin the most dynamic offensive player on the roster besides Peterson. His health and performance could affect the NFC North standings more than any other player in the division, save Matthew Stafford.

 

Season Outlook

The Vikings prospects for this season are a potpourri of possibilities. They could start quickly and establish themselves as playoff contenders out of the gate. They still have the talent to be a 10-12 win team if healthy and focused. The first four games will tell the story. The Chargers are notoriously slow starters and the Vikings get them in Week 1. As long as they win at home, they have a chance to be 4-2 when the Super Bowl champions come to town in Week 7. But if things don’t go well to start the season and they continue to lose close games. This team could quickly revert to last year’s demoralized bunch and the looming stadium issue could force its way to the front of everybody’s conscience. The worst case scenario for this year’s Vikings team could mirror that of the 1995 Cleveland Browns. That team had modest aspirations and an expiring stadium lease. A slow start started to unravel the team on the field and off the field, Art Modell decided to move the Browns to Baltimore following that season. With the lure of a new Hollywood stadium and, as important, the big money that follows, the Vikings could find themselves as this year’s version of the 1995 Browns. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen here.

Detroit Lions 2011 Kickoff Checklist for Success

September 5, 2011 Leave a comment

 

The Lions are everybody’s “sleeper pick” after finishing last season with four straight wins and then posting a 4-0 preseason record this season. Hold on a second, folks. This is still the same Lions team that hasn’t had a winning record since 2000. The Lions did take a step towards respectability with their season ending win streak and will try to carry their momentum from last year and the preseason into this year.

 

Checklist

Matthew Stafford HAS to stay healthy and develop into a star

  • Duh, right? But this is what many people are overlooking as they rush to anoint the Lions as the new “it” team in the NFL. Franchise QB Matthew Stafford was limited to only 3 games last season due to shoulder injuries. While the Lions have solid backups with Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton, it’s Stafford that will be under center if this team is to exceed expectations and potentially reach a Super Bowl in the next 3-4 seasons.
  • Stafford is supremely talented with the skills to match his #1 pick in the draft pedigree. He’s not out of the lineup because of his toughness, either, as anybody who watched him in that 5 TD game in 2009 against the Browns would tell you. He threw his fifth TD pass after hurting his throwing shoulder. The Lions are slowly surrounding him with talented pieces to complement Megatron, Calvin Johnson. Jahvid Best and Titus Young are very good complementary pieces that will become more of a factor with a healthy Stafford. But in the end, Stafford’s durability will most likely be the difference between another losing season and contending for a Wild Card berth. Stafford will need to play and finish at least 14 games for the latter to materialize.

 

The Lions front four on defense are going to beat people up, but need to do it in a nice way

  • Ndamukong Suh ran away with the defensive ROY award last season as he’s already become established as an upper echelon defensive tackle. He’ll be joined at some point this season by first round pick Nick Fairley. Both are extremely talented players, with Suh having a non-stop motor that could drive him to Canton someday. But both have fits of undisciplined play that has resulted in 15-yard personal foul penalties. Suh was flagged 11 times last season and Fairley developed a reputation as a dirty player while at Auburn.
  • Young teams gain a lot on their enthusiasm alone, but can lose even more through a lack of discipline and maturity on the field. Suh and Fairley have a chance to be great and dominate together for the next ten seasons or more. Or they could flame out as a tandem in the way that John Henderson and Marcus Stroud did in Jacksonville a few years ago. Let’s hope for the former here and for that to happen, these two, along with their defensive mates, will have to become more disciplined. They have a chance to change every game they play in, especially if the secondary can hold up enough to allow Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril to join the two tackles on third downs. This four man front should wreak havoc on 3rd and long situations.

 

Good teams win the close games, can the Lions?

  • The Lions were 2-6 in games decided by 5 points or fewer in 2010. If they had only gone 4-4 in those games, they would have finished at 8-8 last season. The Lions were +4 in turnovers over the course of the season, but were also +4 in those 8 close games. They were winning the turnover battle but losing the close games. That means that it won’t be as easy as just forcing more turnovers to reverse their record.
  • The Lions gave up over 400 yards on defense six times and lost four of those games. Their defense will have to tighten up while continuing to win the turnover battle. In contrast, their offense only eclipsed 400 yards on three occasions and was outgained by their opponents by 74 yards on the season. While it might seem like the Lions hopes simply rest on their ability to outgain their opponents over the course of the game, the Lions lost five games where they outgained their opponents. They just seemed to lack that certain “something” that good teams have when playing close games. Their ability to turn that around could be the key to a winning season.

 

Season Outlook

If I were a Lions fan, I would be really excited about this season, too. They are developing a nucleus of young, impact players that could contend in the NFC North for the next 6-8 seasons. But the Lions and their fans need to keep the expectations in perspective. A 7-9 or 8-8 season would be a tremendous accomplishment for a team that hasn’t reached .500 since 2000. They should have a chance to get there, but it’s not a certainty; especially with their schedule. Don’t be surprised if they are called a “disappointment” by the fickle media if they only start 3-4. But they could be that with tough opponents in 6 of their first 7 games, including four teams with winning records in 2010 and the rebounding Vikings and Cowboys on the road. The rest of the schedule isn’t easy either. To this writer, expectations are tempered, in large part, to the difficult schedule as much as the checkered past of the franchise. Also, teams that have a turnaround in their record usually do it by dramatically changing their fortunes in the turnover battle, but the Lions are already winning that. From this perspective, a successful season would be around 8-8 and with 9 or 10 wins, Coach Jim Schwartz would have to garner some heavy Coach of the Year consideration.

Green Bay Packers 2011 Kickoff Checklist for Success

September 4, 2011 Leave a comment

 

The defending Super Bowl champions have to be at the top of the list of contenders again this season. Despite a modest 10-6 regular season record in 2010, the Packers were virtually unstoppable during the postseason. Don’t be fooled by those six losses as each was by four points or fewer.

Checklist:

Keep Aaron Rodgers healthy for at least 12 games and have him ready for another playoff run.

  • The Packers lost the two games that Matt Flynn received extended playing time while Rodgers was injured. Despite a plethora of receiving weapons, the Packers substandard running game was exploited with Rodgers out. They fared well against the Patriots run defense, but that was more due to the Patriots deficiencies than the Packers’ ability.
  •  Rodgers has elevated his play to the point where he has to be considered one of the elite signal callers in the league. Some, including this writer, feel that his new jewelry moves him into the top spot until further notice. Rodgers averaged two TD passes per week in 2010 and should surpass that total, if healthy, in 2011 with Jermichael Finley returning from injury. Finley has a chance to be the best pass catching tight end in the league in this offense if he stays healthy. Rodgers will be the prime reason for Finley’s ascension into elite status.

 

Develop a complementary rushing attack to create a potentially unstoppable offense.

  • The Packers were incredibly one-dimensional offensively last season; finishing 24th in the league in rushing while coming in at 5th passing the ball. The Packers were fortunate to face the Steelers in the Super Bowl as their weak pass defense and stout run defense was the perfect matchup. Despite leading for over 47 minutes during the game, the Packers only attempted 13 rushes, gaining 50 yards. If the Steelers had a better pass defense, the Super Bowl might have had a different result.
  • This season, the Packers get Ryan Grant back after he went down in Week 1 with a season ending ankle injury. In 2009, Grant rushed for over 1200 yards and 11 TDs. If Grant can return to form and the Packers can rely on late season find James Starks to spot Grant, the Packers offense could be virtually unstoppable this season. In addition, the Pack will have a rushing attack to help them in the typical messy winter conditions of December and January.

 

The Packers defense could give them the top units in the league on both sides of the ball.

  • The Packers offense, especially the passing attack, gets a lot of headlines and attention, but the Packers defense was ranked fifth in the NFL last season in total yards and only the Steelers gave up fewer points per game. With All-Everything Clay Matthews, budding superstar BJ Raji, and elite coordinator Dom Capers, the Packers defense should be at the top of the rankings again this season.
  • The only area of concern going into the season is with the aging Charles Woodson, who broke his collarbone in the Super Bowl. As long as Woodson doesn’t start playing to his age, the Packers defense has a chance to match their offense as the best in the league. That would most likely include a repeat trip to the Super Bowl.

 

Season Outlook

Unless the Packers continue to lose an amazing number of close games, they should win the NFC North title by at least two games. This should be the best defending Super Bowl champion since the 2004 New England Patriots won their third title in four years. The Packers don’t have the depth problems that many teams encounter when attempting consecutive runs at the title. That’s what separates the Packers from the previous six champions and why the Packers should repeat this season.

Most Revolutionary Moments in Sports

February 12, 2011 Leave a comment

The Bambino helped revolutionize the national pastime

With revolution in the air over in North Africa and the Middle East, it’s time to take a look at the most revolutionary moments in sports history that changed what we watched and how we watched sports.

1. Baseball rebounds from the Black Sox scandal by implementing rules that led to more home runs: After the Black Sox gambling scandal threatened the legitimacy of the preeminent professional sports league; baseball needed something to bring back the public to the fledgling national pastime. Baseball was on the brink of losing its legitimacy in the public eye and professional team sports as we know it wouldn’t be what it is today without baseball’s rebound from the scandal in the 1920’s. Babe Ruth led the way by revolutionizing the on-field product with his prodigious home runs, both in number and distance. The Yankees broke through with their first world championship and the team would become the biggest and most popular in American sports. The recovery, combined with the advent of radio, enabled fans to listen to their favorite teams in their living rooms and follow the games as they happened, without being at the ballpark. Everything that happened to baseball in this short period after the Black Sox scandal changed everything about baseball and the entire direction of sports in America.

2. Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier in 1947: One could argue this as the most important, but I don’t think this would have had the same effect on society if baseball hadn’t recovered from what could have been a crippling gambling scandal. But Robinson’s internal fortitude and perseverance to help integrate baseball was every bit as important to the civil rights movement as anything and anybody. By injecting black athletes into the mainstream of American sports, Robinson helped create the image of a society where people of all races could work, play, and compete as equals. Two decades later, Texas Western University would start five black players in the NCAA basketball championship game and win. This marked the first time that an all-black starting five had won. Eventually, every major college sports teams, including those in the South, would integrate and reap the on-field benefits that a culture of inclusion would have on their teams.

3. 1958 NFL Championship Game: This game is considered by many to be the best NFL game ever played. The Colts beat the Giants after scoring a touchdown in overtime and becoming the first “instant classic”. Football is the ultimate television sport and this game sparked an increase in popularity that led to the formation of the American Football League in 1960. Five years later, the rival league would pit their champion against the NFL champion in what would become the ultimate sporting event in the world, the Super Bowl. Joe Namath and the underdog Jets from the upstart league would win the third Super Bowl and the leagues would merge into one league following Super Bowl IV. Forty years later, the NFL stands as the new National Pastime and the most popular American sports league by a wide margin. The 1958 Championship Game started it all.

4. ESPN starts broadcasting in 1979: The “Worldwide Leader in Sports” changed how we view and follow sports through their cable network and subsequent new media platforms. The popularity of college basketball exploded with the nightly matchups featuring a screaming, passionate former college coach, Dick Vitale, making every game sound like the greatest sporting event in the world. The NFL would start broadcasting games on ESPN in 1987 and televised baseball beginning in 1990. This lead to more nationally televised games, more money, and increased exposure for the leagues. SportsCenter and the “moments” that have become a part of everyday culture became the ultimate viewing destination for sports fans to get their highlights and information about their favorite teams. With the internet, ESPN.com was instantly a must read site and led to the mainstreaming of sports bloggers, like the Sports Guy, who helped transform how sports are covered in a new media age. Everybody who didn’t take the traditional route to sports writing is a descendent of this transformational change in the media landscape.

5. Magic and Larry Bird faceoff in the 1979 NCAA championship game: This is still the highest rated college basketball game of all-time and sparked the biggest personal rivalry in basketball history. In addition to bringing unprecedented recognition to the Big Dance, they carried their new rivalry to the downtrodden NBA. Behind the Showtime Lakers and Big Three-led Celtics of the 1980’s, the NBA went from a struggling league with huge image problems to a legitimate challenger to baseball’s #2 spot in team sports popularity. Maybe the league would have become popular as soon as Michael Jordan arrived anyway. But the NBA had failed to capture the mainstream public’s imagination before the Celtics and Lakers rivalry of the mid-80s. When Jordan came along, he might have been just viewed as another great talent in the line of athletic wings Elgin Baylor and Julius Erving, but the newfound popularity of the NBA combined with Jordan’s talent to make him the most popular athlete in the world. He might not have been that had it not been for Magic and Larry.

6. Buster Douglas knocks out Mike Tyson: Douglas dispelled the mythology surrounding Iron Mike’s greatness and ended big-time championship boxing as we knew it. Boxing still has stars, but the heavyweight division has always been the main weight class and the champion has often enjoyed world fame. Boxing was the most popular sport early in the 20th century, ceding to baseball during the Babe Ruth era, and then having periodical revivals with iconic heavyweight champions like Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. Tyson was the next in that line of iconic greats. On February 11, 1990, twenty-one years before the people of Egypt ousted their leader, Buster Douglas changed the sport of boxing forever. There have been other glamorous champs in boxing, but none have approached the level of the great heavyweight champion since Tyson.

Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Preview

Let's get to next season

Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Preview

Head Coach: Mike Tomlin

  • He’s already got one Super Bowl championship. No worries here.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger

  • Big Ben is on track for the Hall of Fame as long as he keeps out of trouble. There are no issues with his play. Dennis Dixon is a restricted free agent and both Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich want to return.

Offense:

Skill: The Steelers are loaded with high quality pass catchers and the only question is whether Hines Ward will come back. Mike Wallace is a budding star and Emmanuel Sanders showed promise during his first season. Antwaan Randle El is steady and Antonio Brown was a nice find in the sixth round. TE Heath Miller is signed for four more years, but backup Matt Spaeth will be a free agent. RB Rashard Mendenhall started all 16 games and was solid, but probably needs the offensive line to be healthier. Mewelde Moore is a serviceable backup, but is a free agent and the Steelers might look for a younger alternative in the middle rounds of the draft.

Line: The O-line was average, but that was due to injuries. They lost both tackles with Willie Colon missing the entire season and Max Starks being done after 7 games due to injuries. Colon will be a free agent, but expect the Steelers to bring him back. Maurkice Pouncey is just the continuation of what Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson provided at Center and Chris Kemoeatu is good at LG. Ramon Brown played solid after replacing Trai Essex at RG. Flozell Adams was decent at RT and Jonathan Scott stepped in when Starks was hurt and was as good as you could expect out of a backup left tackle. They should be better next season if completely healthy with added depth.

Defense:

Front Seven: D-Line: The Steelers D-line is very good, but aging. In fact the oldest member of the line, Aaron Smith, was injured during their week 7 win in Miami and missed the rest of the season with a triceps injury. Second year DE Ziggy Hood was solid, but not spectacular replacing Smith. The historically great run defense starts with NT Casey Hampton and he was as good as ever, but will be 33 when next season begins. His backup, Chris Hoke, will be 35 and a free agent. The Steelers will probably look for some depth at NT. RE Brett Keisel’s beard might be gone next season, but he’s under contract for three more seasons and will be back. If Smith doesn’t return, Hood will probably start again and they will look for a young, potential replacement for Keisel in the draft. The Steelers just reload and do it better than anyone.

LBs: There isn’t a better linebacker corps in the league than the Steelers. ILB James Farrior will be 36, but he still looks great. Lawrence Timmons has fully established himself as one of the better inside backers as well. James Harrison might be the most feared player in the league and LaMarr Woodley is becoming a star on the outside, but is a free agent. If the Steelers are willing to spend big money, they could place the “Franchise Tag” on Woodley. If they let him go, second round pick Jason Worilds could replace Woodley. If the Steelers let Woodley walk, they could draft another OLB/DE type to compete with Worilds. 

DBs: The secondary is the Achilles heel of this great defense. Without the great Troy Polamalu, this secondary is average, at best. Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden provide adequate coverage at the corners, but the Steelers might look to upgrade with some youth here. Taylor is going to be 31 and is a free agent. McFadden will turn 30 during next season. Corner is like running back in that players usually don’t age well in these positions. Nickel corner William Gay is also a free agent. Ryan Clark teams with Polamalu at safety and is solid as well, but not great. He’s under contract for a few more years. This could be an area that the Steelers target heavily in the draft, especially if Taylor and Gay leave.

K: Shaun Suisham was solid after replacing Jeff Reed at midseason, but the Steelers might choose to draft somebody or go after a free agent like Adam Vinatieri.

Outlook: The Steelers are perennial contenders for a good reason. Nobody identifies players who fit into their system better than the Steelers. There’s no reason to not expect the Steelers to be contending for another Super Bowl appearance next season despite the heavy AFC competition. The Steelers are fairly young or have players in their primes at key positions. Only cornerback appears to be an immediate need for them in the offseason, if they keep their key free agents. Look for them to use their first rounder on a corner. They could also look for another DE high in the draft if Smith doesn’t return. Otherwise, their ready for another run.