My Predictions and Picks for the 2013 NFL Season

Is it still too early?

 

Final Standings:

NFC:

East:

1. New York Giants – 11-6

2. Dallas Cowboys – 10-6

3. Washington Redskins – 7-9

4. Philadelphia Eagles – 3-13

North:

1. Green Bay Packers – 13-3

2. Detroit Lions: 9-7

3. Minnesota Vikings: 8-8

4. Chicago Bears: 7-9

South:

1. Atlanta Falcons: 12-4

2. New Orleans Saints: 10-6

3. Carolina Panthers: 8-8

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers : 5-11

West:

1. Seattle Seahawks: 11-5

2. San Francisco 49ers: 10-6

3. St. Louis Rams: 6-10

4. Arizona Cardinals: 3-13

 

AFC:

East:

1. New England Patriots: 11-5

2. Miami Dolphins: 10-6

3. Buffalo Bills: 4-12

4. New York Jets: 4-12

North:

1. Cincinnati Bengals: 10-6

2. Baltimore Ravens: 9-7

3. Pittsburgh Steelers: 8-8

4. Cleveland Browns: 6-10

South:

1. Houston Texans: 11-5

2. Indianapolis Colts: 10-6

3. Tennessee Titans: 4-12

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-14

West:

1. Denver Broncos: 13-3

2. San Diego Chargers: 10-6

3. Kansas City Chiefs: 6-10

4. Oakland Raiders: 5-11

 

Playoff Seedings:

NFC:

1. Green Bay

2. Atlanta

3. Seattle

4. New York

5. New Orleans

6. Dallas

AFC:

1. Denver

2. New England

3. Houston

4. Cincinnati

5. Indianapolis

6. San Diego

 

Playoffs:

Conference Title Games:

NFC: Seattle over Green Bay

AFC: Denver over New England

Super Bowl: Denver over Seattle (MVP: Peyton Manning)

 

Awards:

NFL MVP: QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay

Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, New England

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota

Defensive Player of the Year: CB Richard Sherman, Seattle

Offensive Rookie of the Year: WR Tavon Austin

Defensive Rookie of the Year: LB Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh

Comeback Player of the Year: CB Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay

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Don’t Look Now, But Here Come the Yankees?

Two weeks ago the New York Yankees were left for dead, and for good reason. A 6-12 slide out of the All-Star break left them one game over .500, 11 games out of first and seven games out of a playoff spot. It looked as if the season were on the verge of being sunk especially after the team was embarrassed in San Diego and swept in Chicago by the dreadful White Sox.

Since that disastrous road trip, however, they’ve pulled off a 11-3 run to inch closer into the thick of things again. They took two of three against the reigning American League champions on two walk off hits by Brett Gardner following blown saves by Mariano Rivera, who is not immune to the Titan Miguel Cabrera much like the rest of baseball. They took three of four from the dreadful Angels and took two out of three in an emotional series at Fenway (although a sweep would have been a serious game changer and a three game bite on the Red Sox’ division lead instead of just one. After sweeping a four game set against Toronto they’ve now won five in a row ahead of a huge series in Tampa Bay.

Honestly, it’s not really absurd to say A-Rod getting plunked by Ryan Dempster on Sunday at Fenway is inspiring this team. Girardi got fired up, Alex got his revenge later that game which sparked the winning rally that game. Even David Ortiz admits Dempster may have woken a sleeping giant.

How have they done it? They are finally healthy and their offense has gone from being historically awful to extremely potent. Over this 11-3 stretch they’ve scored 83 runs (5.93 per game). With Granderson and A-Rod back and healthy, re-acquired Alfonso Soriano having a week for the ages this past week and Derek Jeter on his way back from another, this lineup is looking bullish after being bearish for the entire season.

They’re only half a game from leap-frogging Baltimore in the chase and 3.5 games behind Oakland for the second wild card, but they haven’t inched much closer to Tampa Bay, who is also red hot. They have their chance now. Of their final 37 games left in the season, 28 are against AL East foes, eight versus Toronto, six versus Tampa Bay, seven versus Baltimore and seven versus Boston. They are done playing the Rangers and Athletics, the two teams competing for the West crown with the runner up a likely wild card berth, so the division may be more of a realistic target than beating the AL West runner-up at the moment.

This will start with this weekend in St. Petersburg against the Rays. It’s probably the biggest series of the season and the Rays know it, they know the Yankees coming. They adjusted their rotation to throw their three best pitchers against the Bombers. Friday Hiroki Kuroda takes on the rookie Chris Archer (130 ERA+, 1.11 WHIP). Saturday two former Cy Young lefties butt heads yet again as a struggling CC Sabathia takes on the resurgent David Price (116 ERA+, league leading 5.58 K/BB rate). The finale stars the also resurgent Ivan Nova (2.30 ERA in his last eight starts since returning to the big leagues) against Alex Cobb (134 ERA+, 1.15 WHIP). If the Yankees are going to take this series and continue their roll to a potential playoff berth, the starting pitching HAS to get it done, especially Sabathia.

Anything less than two out of three is unacceptable. A sweep of the Rays although unlikely would do some serious damage and make some big time noise throughout the American League as it would bring them to within two games of the wild card. Also this weekend Baltimore (1/2 game ahead of New York) plays Oakland and the Red Sox visit the absurdly hot Dodgers, so the Yankees will make up ground on whoever loses these series assuming their do take care of business at Tropicana Field.

This is the stretch run for the year. It’s do or die time for the New York Yankees. Every game is Game 7.

Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain: The Aces That Never Were

About six or seven years ago, the Yankees had one of the most improved minor league systems in baseball, thanks to a new commitment to growing young talent by general manager Brian Cashman. He wanted to try to keep the team competitive by growing arms and bats in the place of the usual expensive acquisitions they would have otherwise made.

The cream of this crop was a 20 year old right-handed from Southern California, a first round pick in the 2004 draft. At the same time, another 20 year old out of Lincoln, Nebraska was taking the minor leagues by storm and only made it to the big leagues only a year after being drafted. Their names were Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, and they were the face of what was supposed to be a new era of Yankee baseball, one that would focus on improving and sustaining the franchise through a surplus of young talent for years to come. Chamberlain and Hughes would be the centerpiece for this new golden era.

Chamberlain, armed with a high 90s fastball and a devastating slider, became an instant rock star in his debut in 2007, showing mortality only in the infamous bug game in Cleveland in the ALDS. He would make his move to the rotation in 2008 and dominated until injuring himself in August.

Hughes struggled in his first three years in the big leagues as a starter, but found a home in Joba’s old role, the bullpen as Mariano Rivera’s 8th inning set-up man for the 2009 World Champions. At the same time, Chamberlain struggled and labored through the 09 campaign thanks to an innings limit that routinely forced him to exit early down the stretch and almost blew Game 4 of the World Series.

In the 2010 season, Hughes beat out Chamberlain for a rotation spot and took the AL by storm, winning 18 games and earning an All-Star appearance in Anaheim. Chamberlain struggled in a role he once dominated, and lost the set-up job to David Robertson, the likely successor to Rivera next season. Hughes struggled down the stretch and was light up twice in the ALCS to Texas.

For the next three years, both pitchers continued to struggle. Chamberlain was forced to get Tommy John surgery in 2011 and has never been the electric reliever he once was. In fact, even worse. Hughes struggled with a “dead arm” in 2011, won 16 games in an up-and-down 2012, and has struggled big time with a 4.99 ERA this year. Both are free agents this winter, but it is unlikely either will make a good pay day, and the Yankees probably will not bring either back.

Alas, the two pieces of what should have been the feature stars of a new age of Yankees baseball, their own version of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, never panned out and busted, after all the signs of talent  and the nasty stuff they once had. Why did this happen? It’s not like they weren’t good enough. They were. Injuries had a lot to do with it, as Hughes pulled his hamstrings in his rookie year while pitching a no-hitter in Texas and suffered a dead arm in 2011, same year Chamberlain had Tommy John.

But you know what, this one’s on the Yankees front office.

Ever since Chamberlain came up, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Joba Rules” repeated several times, referring to how the team would use him. In 2008 they kept him in the bullpen until there was a need for starting pitching, and still tried to keep him under wraps, like limiting his innings. In 2009 it really hit the fan when they decided to put an innings limit on him.  Through the end of July he was 7-2 with a 3.58 ERA and was finally starting to pitch more effectively. But then manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman began to put an innings and pitch limit on him. In his last nine starts, he never threw over 100 pitches and only pitched into the sixth inning. His ERA ballooned to 4.75 that season and that was the end of Joba Chamberlain as a starting pitcher.

The Yankees never learned their lesson with Joba, as Hughes’ effectiveness as a pitcher waned when they tried to coddle him, and many of the Yankees’ more recent former top pitching prospects like Manny Baneulos and Dellin Betances have gotten hurt or pitched so ineffectively as a starter they had to become a reliever. Heck, look at the Nationals and how well their team has done since the 2012 playoffs after shutting down Stephen Strasburg. It’s understandable that teams do not want to force their young arms too hard as fledgelings, but their conservative handling of them can often hurt them anyway.

If the Yankees are going to get back to being World Series contenders, they need to be less conservative with any future young arm that climbs his way through the minors. Otherwise, they’ll just be another huge waste of talent like Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes.

Front Office To Blame For The Beginning of The Yankees’ Decline

After getting swept in the League Championship Series last fall, the New York Yankees went into the off-season with a lot of work to do. Knowing Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter would likely be out until the middle of the season, they needed to make upgrades. They also needed to fill holes in the outfield and at catcher. However, they needed to do this on a budget, as ownership wanted to cut the team payroll to $189 million for the 2014 season, which limited their options and caused people to forget the likes of Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn donning Pinstripes.

As a result, the Bronx Bombers went out and signed old foe Kevin Youkilis for a one year deal for $12 million. Instead of resigning Russell Martin, who signed a two year deal for $17 million with Pittsburgh, or bringing in A.J. Pierzynski or Mike Napoli to play catcher, they decided to go with journeyman Chris Stewart to be the primary starter with Francisco Cervelli and later rookie Austin Romine splitting time with him. In the outfield, they gave a 39 year old Ichiro Suzuki a two year deal for $13 million, and after Curtis Granderson’s injury in Spring Training, traded for Vernon Wells, owing him about $14 million total for this year and next. Yeah, even though they already stated they wanted to cut payroll, they went out and added more and in the form of awful, washed up players. Instead of adding cheaper but useful players like Nate Schierholtz or Mike Napoli that would help stick to this $189M plan but still help this team compete, they added expensive, old scrubs.

This spare parts strategy seemed to pay off, at least in the first two months of the 2013 season when they peaked at 30-18. Since then they are just 27-38, seven games out of a playoff spot. The offense is just atrocious, with only soon to be free agent Robinson Cano and perhaps Brett Gardner as the only reliable, above average players. The pitching besides Hiroki Kuroda and Mariano Rivera has also struggled in the last two and a half months, with even CC Sabathia having the worst season of his career. Derek Jeter looks like he can’t play everyday anymore, Mark Teixeira is another albatross contract and Alex Rodriguez is all over the news for the wrong reasons besides his poor play.

Clearly, after 19 seasons, 17 playoff appearances, 13 division titles, seven league pennants and five world championships, it’s time for the Yankees to rebuild, but thanks to this front office, particularly general manager Brian Cashman and owners Hank and Hal Steinbrenner the process will be even longer and very painful. For the next three years, they will have over $65 million invested in Rodriguez, Teixeira, and Sabathia, all looking the wrong side of 30. Unlike the 2008-2009 offseason, the Yankees’ last spending spree, the free agent market in the coming years will also be scarce, as many mid/small market clubs have locked up their stars, like Justin Verlander or Evan Longoria.

This would lead them to try to rebuild the way they did in the early 90s, through the minor league system. However, it is very dry at the moment with little talent ready for the big league level in the immediate future, as any legitimate prospects in the recent past were either traded (Jesus Montero) or otherwise ruined by the organization’s poor handlement (Joba Chamberlain, Dellin Betances).

Perhaps the biggest cause for the upcoming drought is this team’s inactivity at the trade deadline. Sure, they traded for Alfonso Soriano and got the Cubs to pay for the massive majority of his contract like the Angels did for Wells, but you’d think this would mean they are serious in trying to make a push for the playoffs this year and more moves would be coming, but they did nothing. They didn’t get a third baseman, as the Yankees are starving for offense there. They still have no catcher and no shortstop either.

With so many holes, a realistic and more wise option would have been to become sellers. To be free agents Cano and Kuroda could have gotten a mother-load of prospects if Cashman played his cards right. Remember who the Mets got for Carlos Beltran two years ago? That’s right. Zack Wheeler. Cano in his prime and healthy could have gotten even more than Beltran was worth. Now they will either lose him for nothing or give him a ridiculous contract. Teams hungry for back end starters like Atlanta or the Dodgers also could have given up something decent for Phil Hughes, also to be a free agent.

There seems to be IS a total lack of direction in this organization. They seemed to have deceived the fans and the media into thinking they’re trying to put a winning product on the field but are doing it by simply adding has-been names and more albatross contracts, rather than doing it by replacing aged players with younger ones with enough talent to stick around and excel, at least enough to be apart of a future. They poorly equipped themselves for the season, perhaps on purpose. Instead, this team is old, washed up, and simply unwatchable.

Yes, a dry spell was going to happen sooner or later. But Cashman and the Steinbrenners blew several chances to rebuild on the fly and now, this team is headed for the abyss. For perhaps a long time. Get ready Yankee fans. It’s going to be painful.