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Saturday, November 26, 2011

NFL WEEK 11

**OML Weekly Rankings will resume in Week 13**

WIDE RECEIVERS
Brian Dezelske highlights three running backs who will "POP," and three who will "FLOP."

Mike Wiliams (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) @ Tennessee
Last week’s performance was what lil’ Mikey Williams’ owners have been waiting for. Finally! Maybe I’m over-excited and letting my emotions get the best of me, but I feel a repeat coming.

He’s struggled with top-flight DB’s this year, so there’s cause for concern about his matchup with Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

Don’t sweat that this week. Tasting the end zone last week should motivate him to finish the season on a strong note, and that starts with building off of his big game against the Green Bay Packers.

Laurent Robinson (Dallas Cowboys) vs. Miami
Laurent Robinson has been popping for the last four weeks in a row, having scored five times in that span.

He continues his momentum this week, extending his scoring streak to five games against a sub-par Miami Dolphins secondary that ranks 25th against the pass.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Robinson went 7/79/2 on Turkey Day. Kudos to Brian for the great call, and my apologies to readers for not getting this nugget posted sooner! - RB

Wes Welker (New England Patriots) @ Philadelphia
Our esteemed followers are going to think I’m nuts, and there may be some truth to that, but not when it comes to Wes Welker flopping all over the place this week like a fish out of water.

It’s simple. The first six weeks of the season he ripped off four 100-yard games and hauled in six TD’s. Since week six he has 1 such 100-yard and zero TD’s, and in four of the last five games he’s failed to eclipse 50 receiving yards.

The major reason for this is Rob Gronkowski taking over as the league's premier tight end, and teams focusing all their attention on stopping Welker. 

DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles) vs. New England
I know every DeSean Jackson owner is super excited about starting him against worst pass defense in the NFL, but slow down just a little bit here.

He still only has two 100-yard games on the year to go with two touchdowns, and you can be assured that Bill Belichick will have a game plan devised to take away the long ball—Jackson’s specialty.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

NFL Week 10

**OML Weekly Rankings will resume in Week 12**

QUARTERBACKS
Ryan Boser highlights three quarterbacks who will "POP," and three who will "FLOP."

Tim Tebow (Denver Broncos) @ Kansas City
Mark Sanchez (New York Jets) vs. New England
Matt Cassell (Kansas City Chiefs) vs. Denver

Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) vs. Houston
Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears) vs. Detroit
Tom Brady (New England Patriots) @ New York Jets

Click here to read all 32 quarterback breakdowns at Bruno Boys.

RUNNING BACKS
Joey Cavalier highlights three running backs who will "POP," and three who will "FLOP."

Ben Tate (Houston Texans) @ Tampa Bay
The Houston rushing attack is simply unstoppable. Even with Arian Foster playing like he did last year, Ben Tate is still producing. He has 100-yard performances in 2 of his last 3 games. With Andre Johnson likely to miss another week, look for the Texans to run the ball early and often against a Tampa Bay defense that is without Gerald McCoy. Tate will have another shot at 100-yards in this game. 

Reggie Bush (Miami Dolphins) vs. Washington
Oddly enough, Reggie Bush has become the focal point of the Dolphins offense. With Daniel Thomas taking the back seat as he heals up, Bush will get the bulk of carries against a Redskins’ defense that has cooled off significantly after a hot start. Bush looks for his 3rd straight game with 100+ total yards and will be given the opportunity to do so. Bush makes for nice flex start this week. 

Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans) @ Carolina
Last week, CJ racked up 110 total yards against a tough Bengals defense. Now Johnson has a chance to build off of last week’s success against a feeble Carolina defense, which ranks 28th against the run, and has been unable to stop opposing running backs all year long. Johnson is a solid RB2 this week that has low-end RB1 upside. Plug him in to your lineups and finally get your money’s worth!

Brandon Jacobs (New York Giants) @ San Francisco
After doing a nice job filling in for the injured Ahmad Bradshaw last week, Jacobs gets another chance to prove that he can play at a high level. Bradshaw is out for the second straight week and Jacobs will get the start. Too bad the Giants play the 49ers, a team that has been a nightmare for opposing running backs. Jacobs will get a lot of carries, but will have a tough time doing anything with them. Only start Jacobs if you are desperate.

Cedric Benson (Cincinnati Bengals) vs. Pittsburgh
Despite the fact that Benson has been given the ball an average of about 21 times per game, he only has two 100-yard games to show for it. This week he will likely get 20+ touches against the Steelers defense. The only problem is the Steelers have been absolutely lights out against the run this year. Look for better options this week, as Benson is likely to disappoint and put up a lame stat-line.

LeGarrette Blount (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) vs. Houston
Overall, Blount has run the ball well this year, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. The problem for the Blount-man is that when his team gets down, he watches the game from the sidelines. That could easily happen this week against the Texans. Houston has been putting up a ton of points early in games. Thus, Blount has a good chance of being neutralized and watching much of the game with his Tampa Bay Buccaneers baseball cap on.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Brian Dezelske highlights three wide receivers who will "POP," and three who will "FLOP."

DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles) vs. Arizona
It’s been a rough year for D-Jax owners so far, and that’s hard to wrap the mind around since this is a contract year. Jackson just can’t be kept locked up much longer, and facing the Arizona Cardinals is just what he needs to break out. The Cardinals rank 28th against the pass and struggle with covering speedy receivers—Mike Wallace torched them for a 95-yard touchdown in week 7. It can be unsettling to plug feast-or-famine players into your lineup, but the Cardinals offer an abundance to feast on.

Jordy Nelson (Green Bay Packers) vs. Minnesota
Jordy Nelson and the undefeated Green Bay Packers face the Minnesota Vikings this week on Monday Night Football. With Antoine Winfield coming back this week and sure to be on Greg Jennings most of the day, Nelson is sure to have a big day working the rest of the Vikings DBs. He’s more than just a flex play this week—he’s a solid WR2 play in all leagues.

Percy Harvin (Minnesota Vikings) @ Green Bay
Percy Harvin is another receiver that’s been having a hard time breaking out this year, although he has been more involved in the offense with Christian Ponder under center. The Green Bay Packers have the second worst pass defense in the NFL, and show no signs of being able to fix that any time soon. Now that Ponder has had two full starts under his belt, one already being against the Packers, his growing confidence should play into Harvin’s favor. Look for him to have right around 80 receiving yards and a score. Three or four carries for some rushing yards aren’t out of the question either.

A.J. Green (Cincinnati Bengals) vs. Pittsburgh
A.J. Green faces a pretty tough Pittsburgh Steelers defense this week and it could spell trouble for the young receiver... indirectly. The Steelers' front seven are sure to put tons of pressure on young rookie QB Andy Dalton—pressure that Dalton hasn’t seen yet this season as a rookie. If the Cincinnati Bengals offensive line can control the Steelers pass rush, Dalton and Green could have a nice day, however, I just don’t see that happening. Dalton is going to get his first taste of what a real defense and he won’t like it.

Brandon Lloyd (St. Louis Rams) @ Cleveland
I'm just not buying Brandon Lloyd as a legitimate No. 1 receiver in St. Louis. I know he had a nice game last week, but I feel that was just a flash in the pan. This week Lloyd will go up against Joe Haden of the Cleveland Browns, who’s one of the best young players in the NFL that nobody talks about. The Browns are ranked 1st in the NFL against the pass and a huge reason for that is Haden. If you have other options at the WR or flex position, don’t hesitate to sit him.

Greg Jennings (Green Bay Packers) vs. Minnesota
In week seven, Greg Jennings had seven catches for 147 yards and a touchdown in the Green Bay Packers' 33-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings. However, Antoine Winfield was not playing that week. He’s back this week and will be on Jennings all game long, with defensive help rolling over to that side of the field as well. I know if you have to start him if he’s on your team, just don’t be surprised if he has one of his least productive outings of the year.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Minnesota Wild: Snap-Shots and Takeaways



By Joey Cavalier

It is finally time to check in on our Minnesota Wild. You know, the only team in Minnesota that wins games (save for the Lynx!). “Snap-Shots and Takeaways” is a series that will continue throughout the season. It will be random and quick-hitting, as I discuss the different areas of the Wild’s success and failures. Today we are talking about coaching, offense and defense. Next week I will touch on the Wild’s special teams and goaltending.

Let’s drop the puck!

 Coach
 When Mike Yeo was given the job as Wild head coach, I was very skeptical. However, the first-year coach has shown why he was given the job. He has fashioned the Wild into a “tough team to play against” (Yeo’s own words). He has displayed a sense of composure that most first-year coaches do not possess, as he has coached the Wild to a 19-point start through their first 14 games (the Wild are currently tied for 3rd in the Western Conference!). Time will tell if Yeo can keep this pace up, as well as solve the Wild’s deficiencies, but as for now, Yeo has done an excellent job as head coach.

Offense
Even after acquiring Danny Heatly and Devin Setoguchi via trade this past offseason, the Minnesota Wild have struggled to manufacture offense. Believe it or not, the Wild are currently 27th in the NHL with only 2.21 goals per game. That’s not the end of it either; they rank 26th in the league with only 26.6 shots per game. That’s not very good…

Though the Wild have been struggling as a team to score goals, the forwards have been doing their part in putting up offense. Guillaume Latendresse, Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Heatley and Setoguchi all have 8 points or more on the year. Cullen has been a pleasant surprise, and he is finally playing to his potential. Latendresse has played well, and looks like he is back to pre-injury form. Heatley has been working magic in the clutch with two game-winning goals on the year. The Wild forwards, as a group, haven’t exactly put holes through the back of the net, but they’ve accounted for 27 of the team’s 31 goals on the year and have at least been consistent in the way that they produce.

I fully expect the offense to improve as the season goes on, as chemistry grows and as players get accustomed to Yeo’s newly installed system.

Defense
The Wild have one of the youngest blue-lines in the entire league. Nate Prosser (25), Justin Falk (23), Jared Spurgeon (21) and Marco Scandella (21) have all been seeing significant ice-time while Greg Zanon and Clayton Stoner are recovering from injuries. This unit is currently a two-sided coin: they have been stellar defensively, yet they have been less-than-stellar offensively.

The Wild defensemen have only scored four goals through 14 games. That is just garbage. Marek Zidlicky has been the biggest letdown of the bunch, as he was supposed to be “the guy” on the blue-line with the departure of Brent Burns. Zidlicky has been completely ineffective as an offensive-defenseman. He has no goals on the year and only four assists. Scandella leads all Wild defensemen with 2 goals and is showing great promise as an offensive-defenseman. As the season goes on, and as Scandella continues to get opportunities, I believe that he will become the Wild’s No.1 defenseman. Replacing Brent Burns is no easy task, but Scandella is showing that he is the most capable of doing so.  

Though the Wild defensemen have struggled to generate offense, they have done a great job keeping the opposition away from the net and off of the scoreboard. The Wild are currently 2nd in the NHL with 1.79 goals against per game. That is largely due to the elite goaltending of Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom, but the defensemen have certainly done their part. The youthful blue-line is showing a lot of promise, along with a sound understanding of the game.  They have been blocking a ton of shots, hitting hard and playing “smart hockey.” They have also shown physicality in front of the net when things get heated and when fists are flying.

Overall, it has been an exciting start for this Wild squad. For the first time in years, Wild fans have something to be excited about. Hopefully, they can build off of this early success and become a true Stanley Cup contender as the season matures. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Minnesota Twins Offseason: Part 4 of 4 (SP/RP)

By Matt Tschida

STARTING PITCHING

CURRENT (How 2011 Started and Ended)
Started: 
1. Francisco Liriano
2. Carl Pavano
3. Nick Blackburn
4. Brian Duensing
5. Scott Baker

Ended: 
1. Carl Pavano
2. Brian Duensing
3. Anthony Swarzak
4. Scott Diamond
5. Liam Hendricks

2012
1. James Sheilds/ErikBedard/Other FA/Trade?
2: Scott Baker
3: Carl Pavano
4: Francisco Liriano
5: Nick Blackburn

The Twins' starting rotation was realatively healthy for the majority of the 2011 season, but as the Twins were eliminated from any kind of playoff push in August and September, they shut down every starter who had any sign of injury (which was probably the smart thing to do). The Twins thought that Francisco Liriano was ready to be a consistent force in their rotation, and at least duplicate his 2010, but other than his no-hitter his season was miserable. Brian Duensing could not repeat the success he had in the 2nd halves of 2009 and 2010. Nick Blackburn was his typical inconsistent self, putting together a great month or two and having two or three awful months. Carl Pavano was respectable, but didn’t have quite the success he had in 2010, mostly due to a major decline in the defense behind him. Scott Baker was having a career year until injuries once again plagued him. To make matters worse, top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson had a less-than-stellar first half of the season, and ended up needing Tommy John Surgery.

On October 4th, Bil
l Smith said that the starting pitching is one of the many priorities the team has to address, as they plan to move one or two starters into the bullpen. The obvious person to move into the bullpen is Brian Duensing. He showed great flexibility in 2009-2010 out of the pen, and would help solidify the left handed relief options. I think it’s a foregone conclusion that Kevin Slowey will get traded, and a good fit for him would be trading him to the Colorado Rockies for RP Rafael Betancourt. The Rockies already have 2-3 other set-up relief pitchers and only have 2 pitchers who started more than 17 games for them last season, so it would be a good fix for both teams. The Twins may have to throw in a minor league player to make the deal work.

With the Twins moving a starter to the bullpen and likely trading Kevin Slowey they will need to pursue a free agent starter and/or trade for a starting pitcher. Obviously, the Twins would like to get an “ace” pitcher, but it will be difficult to do without breaking the bank. C.J. Wilson will likely get $18M/year or more, and while Mark Buehrle will probably be more affordable, he's said he would like to re-sign with the White Sox. Here’s a few other options that might be more realistic for the Twins this offseason:

James Shields (Tampa Bay) Shields had a breakout season this year, going 16-12 and striking out 225 in just under 250 IP. He also notched 11 complete games (imagine how much Bert would like this addition), and his 2.82 ERA was a career-best. It’s hard to determine what the Rays would want in return for Shields, but this is definitely a good time for them to sell considering he had a 5.18 ERA in 2010. He signed a team-friendly contract that pays him (team options for each year) $7M in 2012, $9M in 2013 and $12M in 2014. I’m guessing the Twins would need to package centered around Denard Span to land Shields. The main reasons his name has been floating around the trading block are that the Rays generally trade their players before they start making a lot of money, and they already have a 1A starting pitcher (David Price) and 1B starting pitcher (Jeremy Hellickson) with a 3rd ace-quality pitcher (who many scouts believe he has the best stuff out of all three) ready to start next season in the rotation in Matt Moore.

Wandy Rodriguez (Houston) – Houston is definitely in rebuilding mode, and they've put Wandy on the trading block before. It’s not surprising that multiple teams claimed him when he was put on waivers in August, but the Rockies and Astros couldn’t come to an agreement.  He has thrown at least 191 innings in the last three seasons, and his highest ERA was 3.60, with K/9 at 7.82, 8.22, and 8.45. Houston probably won’t need major league-ready talent, but would likely demand a couple top 10-15 prospects from any team wanting him.

Erik Bedard (Red Sox) – Bedard proved this season that if he can stay healthy he can be effective. He struck out 125 batters in 129 1/3 IP with an ERA of 3.62. The last time Bedard had an ERA over 4.00 was in 2004. The biggest issue with Bedard in the past five season has been his health. If the Twins could get a bargain for Bedard like the Mariners did (one year at $1M), it would be a no-brainer. I would actually be fine with the Twins signing Bedard to a one year deal at a base of $3-$4M with incentives based on innings pitched. I’m guessing someone like the Red Sox or Yankees will be in the running for Bedard as well.

Edwin Jackson (St. Louis) – Jackson is a little like Liriano in that he has all of the pitches to be successful, and even a potential ace, but has yet to put it all together and become a consistent pitcher. One year he’ll post a 3.62 ERA and the next he’ll put up an ERA of 4.47. I have a hard time justifying signing a pitcher who is as inconsistent as Jackson to a multi-year contract for big money when a team is trying to be budget conscious.

Javier Vazquez (Florida) – Vazquez can be dominant at times, but for the most part he is a league-average pitcher. If the Twins were to move a second starter to the bullpen (likely Blackburn) and they could get Vazquez at a reasonable price to be a 4th or 5th starter, that would be a quality signing. Possibly in the one-year, $5M range. Vazquez helped his stock out a little bit by only giving up two earned runs and 24 hits in his last six starts of 2011.



RELIEF PITCHING

CURRENT
Closer: Joe Nathan
Set-up RH: Matt Capps
Set-up LH: Glen Perkins                                                     
RHRP: Alex Burnett/Lester Oliveros/Jim Hoey/Kyle Waldrup
LHRP: Jose Mijares/Phil Dumatrait
Long Relief/Spot Starter: Anthony Swarzak

2012 
Closer: Drew Storen
Set-up RH: Rafael Betencourt
Set-up LH: Glen Perkins
RHRP: Kyle Waldrup/Alex Burnett/Lester Oliveros/Carlos Gutierrez
LHRP: Brian Duensing/Jose Mijares
Long Relief: Anthony Swarzak/Jeff Manship

As noted in the starting pitching section above, I would trade Kevin Slowey to a team in exchange for a quality relief pitcher—note to Bill Smith: quality relief pitcher, not a hard-throwing project, but a quality relief pitcher. Kevin Slowey still has upside, and starting pitchers are generally more valuable than relief pitching. With that said, the Twins may need to throw in a minor league prospect (not a top prospect but a B-C prospect), because Slowey’s value really is about as low as it has ever been. 

As you can see I have Drew Storen listed as the team’s closer next year. I am a huge fan of Storen and was all for trading Denard Span at the trade deadline in order to get him. I would revisit that offer at the winter meetings and aggressively pursue this trade. Many Twins fans were upset that we were considering this trade because Bill Smith made a huge mistake in 2010 by trading a top catching prospect (Wilson Ramos) for a below average closer/average set-up pitcher (Matt Capps). Twins fans need to understand Drew Storen is NOT Matt Capps.  Storen is actually an elite closer who is still only 24 years old. Another reason I would go for this trade is it saves the Twins a lot of money. Instead of spending $7-8 million on a closer, they would be spending just over $400,000. Think of it this way: Would you rather have an outfield of Tosoni/Revere/Cuddyer and have Storen as the Twins' closer (who, I remind you, would hopefully be the team’s closer for the next 5-10 years—he’s under team control through 2016) or Revere/Span/Tosoni with Nathan as the Twins' closer. To me it’s virtually a no-brainer.