Monday, January 24, 2011

Super Bowl XLV: Packers vs. Steelers

After an exciting Championship Sunday this weekend, the Super Bowl has been set, as the Green Bay Packers outlasted the beat up Chicago Bears, while the Steelers roughed up the Jets. The Pack will appear in their first Super Bowl since 1998 and the Steelers will try to win their 3rd Super Bowl in the last 6 seasons.

I wasn't really surprised with the outcome of the NFC Championship game. The only thing that did surprise me about that game is how the Bears hung around after Jay Cutler got knocked out of the game. Aaron Rogers didn't have a game to remember, going 17-30 with 244 yards, 0 TD's and 2 Int's, and the Packers didn't get much of a running game. James Starks led the charge with 74 yards on 22 carries, but that kind of rushing output isn't going to get it done vs. a team like Pittsburgh's. What did work for Green Bay though, was that rock-solid defense, which was a little spotty towards the end of the season in the early rounds of the playoffs. They showed up on Sunday though, and caused headaches for every single part of the Chicago offense. The Green Bay defense picked off Chicago 3 times, and didn't allow 100 yards rushing to their dynamic duo of Chester Taylor and Matt Forte. Their D was definitely on Sunday, and it really bailed out their Green Bay's suspect offense. I know he's had a very up-and-down season, but I'd really look into using Brandon Jackson a lot more in the Super Bowl. He seems like he's more of a "home run" threat than Starks is, and is much more adept in the passing game. Aaron Rogers seems more at ease with him back there as well.

In the other game, the Steelers got off to a tremendous start, putting up a 24-3 lead by halftime, then just kind of cruised in the 2nd half to the victory. The Jets made some noise in the 4th quarter, but couldn't get into the endzone when they needed to, and the Steelers big lead prevailed. Like Aaron Rogers, Ben Roethisberger had a horrible game, throwing 2 picks with no touchdowns and threw for just 133 yards. Granted, he was going up against the best pass defense in the league, you still expect more in a championship game out of a 2-time Super Bowl winner. Rashard Mendenhall made up for the lack of passing game by going for 127 yards and a score on the ground, and really helping Pittsburgh control the clock in the 2nd half. Mark Sanchez threw the ball pretty well, but the Jets just couldn't muster up a running game against the Steelers defensive front, and that's what really cost them... I really don't know who I'm taking in this game quite yet, as both teams seem to have some weaknesses, and appear pretty darn even on paper. If Green Bay can get a running game going though, I think it could be their year.

Much More Super Bowl Coverage to Come Here @ The Bay Area Sports Journal

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A's Add Fuentes on 2-Year Deal

The A's continued their impressive offseason this week by announcing the signing of former Angels and Rockies closer Brian Fuentes. The A's will give the lefty $10.5 million over the next 2 seasons to serve as the primary left-handed set-up man to Andrew Bailey.

Bailey will join fellow newcomer Grant Balfour as main set-up men, as Billy Beane has turned this A's bullpen into a powerhouse. Not only has Beane added Josh Willingham, David Dejesus and Hideki Matsui to the offense, and Rich Harden back to the rotation, but he's quietly put together a bullpen that should challenge anyone's in baseball. Bailey is one of the brightest young closers in the game, and he already had a nice supporting cast around him last season, know it's dominant. The A's are bringing back only 1 reliever who had an era over 4 last season (Michael Wuertz) and will also be getting some help from one of the starters now that Harden has joined the team. With the former A's ace back in tow, it gives Beane an extra starter to add to the bullpen, or possibly use as trade bait to obtain more offense. As they sit right now though, the A's are in pretty good position in the AL West. The Rangers still look like the team to beat, but they lost a huge piece of their team in Cliff Lee, and the Angels have yet to replace Vlad Guerrero, and their pitching staff has some question marks. I actually think the A's have a shot in this division if they can stay healthy and get a few breaks.

When looking at the names they've lost and the players they've gained, they have to be considered as one of most successful teams this offseason. The only guys they've lost are Rajai Davis, Jack Cust and Vin Mazzaro, and they've replaced them with Dejesus, Willingham, Matsui, Harden, Balfour and Fuentes. Clearly, they're in a much better position now than they were at the end of 2010 and they actually had some good things going for them towards the end of the year. I think Beane is taking a page out of his cross-bay rival Brian Sabean's book by acquiring all of these players outside the organization. Normally Beane does his best to pile up young prospects and develop them into major leaguers. But I think in this case, Beane sees how good of a young rotation he has in play, and probably figures that if he can add as much depth to the team and get as much talent in as realistically possible, then they should do it, even if it means going outside the organization. He's made smart trades and a few key signings and has put together a team very similar to the Giants team that won the World Series in 2010. Not really one big star on the diamond, but a bunch of talented players who play the game hard, and fundamentally sound while hopefully letting their pitching set the tone.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

NFL Playoff Picture

It was upset weekend in the NFL during the wild card round of the playoffs last weekend, as all lower seated teams pulled out the victory, none more impressive than the Seahawks dismantling of last years Champion New Orleans Saints.

Peyton Manning and the Colts were upset by the Jets, and fading Packers took care of Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles last weekend as well, but I think we're in for a different story this weekend. The number 1 and 2 teams from each league will get into the action (Atlanta and Chicago in the NFC; Pittsburgh and New England in the AFC) this weekend, and I'd be surprised if more than 1 of them didn't find their way to their respective League Championship game. The one upset I could see in the works could be #6 seated Green Bay taking down the NFC's top seated Atlanta Falcons. Now is the time for Aaron Rogers to really make Green Bay fans forget about Brett Favre, and since I picked them as my super Bowl favorite coming into the season, there's no way I can back out now. I was a little worried about their running game, but after seeing James Starks run wild last weekend (123 rush yards), and knowing Brandon Jackson will at least give you something each week, either in the receiving game or rushing department, I think they'll be just fine. And I just don't see Atlanta prevailing in this one, even with home field advantage and the rock solid Matt Ryan at the helm for them. I still think it's Green Bay's year.

As far as the other games this weekend, I like Chicago over Seattle, New England over the Jets and Pittsburgh over Baltimore. I like the way both Seattle and Baltimore played last weekend, but I don't see them getting the same breaks two weeks in a row vs. superior football teams. Baltimore is a little bit unpredictable, just because of all those offensive weapons they possess, and the fact that their defense can knuckle up at any give time and become a brick wall. So, if the Ravens can get out in front of Pittsburgh early on Sunday, I think they could have a legit shot at pulling the upset in Steeler country. As far as the other NFC game, neither the Bears or Seahawks impress me too much, which is why I figure the winner of the Packers/Falcons game will likely represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Matt Hasselbeck turned back the clock last week and played like it was 2005 again vs. New Orleans, but Chicago will have a more complex defensive scheme coming at him, and are much healthier and rested than the Saints were....With the teams remaining, my Super Bowl pick is Green Bay vs. New England!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jim Harbough Named 49ers Head Coach

Well, it became apparent over the last few days that Jim Harbough would be coaching in the NFL in 2011, and it's now official that he'll be leading the San Francisco 49ers after singing a 5 year, $25 million deal with the Niners Friday.

I am writing this before the press conference, and I have no idea on which coaches Harbough plans to retain or which ones he'll let go, but right now, you have to be feeling pretty good if your a 49ers fan. After a flat-out disappointing showing in 2010, the 49ers didn't even allow Mike Singletarry to finish the season as head coach. So, for the first time since signing Mike Nolan, the 49ers started their offseason without a Head Coach. That didn't last long though, as they had their sites set on Harbough, and blew him out of the water with their offer. I don't know how much Eddie D. had to do with this move, but I don't think it's a coincidence that the 49ers targeted their man and got him after bringing Debartolo into the mix. Now I'm curious to see who Harbough retains on the 49ers coaching staff. I'm hoping for a whole new philosophy, like no more 3-4 defense and a much more aggressive offensive attack, and I think Harbough will end up implementing both of those things.

Now, all that said, and as much as I endorse this signing, bringing Harbough in itself isn't going to turn this 49er team into a 10-game winner, they still have a ways to go and really need to figure out an identity both offensively and defensively. First and foremost, they need to figure out who exactly will be behind center for them next fall. There aren't really any free agents who stick out at you as potential QB's to build around. Mike Vick and Peyton Manning are both potential free agents, but Manning isn't going anywhere and I think Vick has found a home in Philly. The Niners could decide to deal for a quarterback, and if they do decide to go that route, one option I'd look into would be Philly's Kevin Kolb. The disgruntled youngster has never gotten the opportunity he was expecting in Philly, and he has done some very good things for that offense when given a chance. He's got kind of arm and decision making ability to be a starter in this league, no doubt, and right now, between free agents, and guys who could be realistically be available through trade, he'd be my top choice. They could still decide to go through the draft again for their QB, but after the Alex Smith failure, I think they may want to go with more of a sure thing. Andrew Luck would have been a legitimate target, but unfortunately, he's going back to Palo Alto for his junior year.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year Brings Big Change for 49ers

Well, I know it's not news fresh off the wire, and has been bantered around for a few days now, but after Mike Singletarry's firing, and with the potential pursuit of Eddie DeBartolo, we definitely wanted to get in our 2 cents, being a 49ers-based site and all.

As your well aware of by now, Mike Singletarry is done as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and the Niners followed that move with the summoning of former 49ers Team President and NFL-Guru, Eddie DeBartolo, as a consultant to the General Manager. His main goal will be to help the Niners figure out their next head coach, as well as some possible draft input, as the Niners will be sitting pretty come April's draft. After wrapping up the season at 6-10, the 49ers should again find themselves back in the top-10 of the draft, giving them a shot at obtaining Andrew Luck if he does indeed decide to move on to the NFL this year. After his performance in the Orange Bowl, I don't think Luck has anything else to prove in college yet at the moment, Luck is leaning towards returning to Stanford for his Junior year next fall. He hasn't yet made any official announcement yet, but I'm sure he wants to try and bring a National Championship home to Palo Alto, and the Cardinal could be the favorites to do so in 2011, with the return of their star QB.

If they are unable to land the Orange Bowl-MVP, Luck, I'd look for the Niners to turn their attention towards either Arkansas' Ryan Mallet or Washinton's Jake Locker. I really like Locker's potential coming into this season, but he had an off-year in 2010, and struggled to complete over 50% of his passes. Still though, I think I would lean towards the more athletic Locker than the big-armed, big-bodied Ryan Mallet (6'7", 240 pounds). The 49ers need to add a quarterback this offseason, and I really don't see them doing that through free-agency. There aren't going to be many quality guys available in free agency either, so I think their best chance at getting their QB of the future will indeed be in the first round of this upcoming draft.