The Celtics are the first team in NBA history to start 4 seasons with a record of 16-4 or better. This bodes well for the Celtics but it was just last year where they had the same record and after their Christmas day win over the Orlando Magic reverted to a .500 team. I believe the Celtics are a better team than last year especially when Kendrick Perkins returns to the lineup which should be sometime after the All-Star break. They also only had reserve guard Delonte West for a few games after he went out with a broken wrist. Jermaine O’Neil another off season pickup to help bolster the frontcourt has only played in a handful of games but is due to return shortly. Shaq and Rondo has missed a few games with nagging injuries but they don’t appear to be injuries that will keep them out of the lineup for an extended period of time.
The Celtics currently are winners of 10 straight but they face a tough test on Wednesday when they head to Madison Square Garden to take on the suddenly relevant New York Knicks who also have a long winning streak of 8 games. Amare Stoudemire has been a beast during that winning streak scoring over 30 points in all of their victories. The good news for the Celtics is they will have Kevin Garnett to bring his defensive intensity and hopefully limit him in the paint and on the offensive glass. Kevin Garnett is finally fully healthy and you can tell. He is scoring both inside and out and he is able to go up for ally oops and is rebounding at an elite level. Ray Allen is also playing at a high level and is the Celtics second leading scorer at 16.6 point a night. Paul Pierce is also having another great season as the teams leading scorer right at 18 a game. The key to the Celtics is Rajon Rondo. As Rondo goes the Celtics will go. Rondo is attempting to be the first player since John Stockton to average 14 assist a game. This is a feat that he is capable of doing if he can stay healthy. Rondo is a very unique player, he has the ability to get to the basket whenever he wants but his court vision also allows him to find the open man once he penetrates to the bucket. When Rondo runs the offense the Celtics are capable of putting up big numbers on the offense end.
The bench which was one of the Celtics weak points last season has been fantastic this season. There have been several games where bench players had to step into the starting lineup and have held their own. The loss of Delonte West does hurt but they have players like Von Wafer who are capable of stepping in and playing some minutes. Glen Davis is off to the best start of his career averaging 11.7 points a game while shooting a high field goal percentage and grabbing a little over 5 rebounds a game. Nate Robinson has also done a good job bringing energy off the bench and also filling in for Rondo for a few games. The biggest surprise this season has to be the play of rookie center Semih Erden. Erden may not have the numbers to back that statement up but with Kendrick Perkins starting the season on the disabled list and the other big guys Shaq and Jermaine O’Neil missing games, Erden has held his own when given the opportunity to play big minutes.
The Celtics are clearly going to be a contender again this season. The difference between this year and last could be their ability to gain home court advantage through the playoffs. With Orlando struggling and Miami getting off to a slow start they have build themselves a little cushion to work with.
Game of the Day: The Jaguars and Texans had one of the best endings to a game all season so they get my nod for Game of the Week. At halftime it didn’t look like this would be a candidate with the Texans trailing 17-3. The Texans turned it on in the second half and came all the way back to tie it up at 24 with just over 4 minutes to play. The Texans had the ball around mid field as time was about to expire but fumbled and the Jags recovered. After a 5 yard pass to Mercedes Lewis that set up Jags quarterback David Garrard for the Hail Mary attempt as time expired. Mike Thomas caught the ball at the one yard line off of a deflection from a Texans defender and ran it into the end zone. The Hail Mary worked and the Jags escaped with a victory. Garrard was spectacular throwing for 342 yards and 2 touchdowns and Maurice Jones-Drew also had a very good game reaching the 100 yard rushing mark to go along with 2 touchdowns.
Fantasy Stud: In a losing effort Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe had a fantasy feat against the Broncos secondary. Bowe had 13 receptions to go with his 186 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Chiefs fell behind big early on and were forced to throw almost the entire game. If you’re not a Chiefs fan and have Bowe on your team this was the best thing that could have happened as he was targeted often.
Fantasy Dud: Payton Manning gets the fantasy dud of the week. Manning for the second straight week was ineffective and it looks like all of the injuries to the skilled positions might be starting to affect Manning. Running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart were both inactive along with receivers Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Blaire White, and Anthony Gonzalez. The Colts were always ahead so it didn’t look like they were too intent on passing all over the place but for those who drafted Manning early on in their drafts they expect 300+ passing yards with 2-3 touchdowns every week. Manning only threw for 185 yards 0 touchdowns but at least he didn’t throw any interceptions.
Surprising performance: The Dallas Cowboys were the surprising performance on Sunday. They went into the New Giants Stadium and completely dominated the first place Giants who were once of the hottest teams in the entire NFL. Interim Head Coach Jason Garrett must have really had a good week of practice and had the Cowboys ready to go up against the Giants. It was only 3 weeks ago that the Giants put up 45 on the Cowboys in Dallas so the Cowboys were looking to avenge that defeat. John Kitnas was impressive throwing for 327 yards on only 13 completions to go along with 3 touchdowns and only 1 interception. Dez Bryant continued his stellar rookie season by 3 balls for 104 yards and a touchdown with the bulk of those yards coming on a 46 yard touchdown reception. Felix Jones also made his biggest contribution of the season by scoring on a 71 yard screen pass. The Cowboys defense held one of the best runners in the league to only 73 yards on 20 carries which is less than 4 yards a carry.
Disappointing performance: The Steelers were really disappointing to watch on Sunday. Going into their game with the Patriots they knew the Ravens lost a heartbreaker on Thursday night so they had a chance to take the lead in the division. At home against the Patriots you think they would be ready to play but they fell behind early. After 3 quarters they trailed 23-3 failing to establish any offensive rhythm. They got it going in the 4th quarter scoring 23 points but it was already too late and they couldn’t stop the Patriots at any point. The Patriots scored 16 in the 4th quarter and squashed any chance the Steelers had of making a great comeback. The Steelers host the suddenly hot Raiders next Sunday so they have no time to sulk over the defeat.
What had everyone buzzing? I already touched base on it earlier in my Game of the Week but the Hail Mary pass to win the game for the Jaguars definitely had everyone buzzing on Sunday and into Monday morning. I rarely get a chance to see a play like that succeed but everything just happened to fall into place. The Jaguars said they practice that particular play every week but they never actually throw the football they just run through the motions and prepare for what might happen in that situation. The defender on the Texans made the right play as all players are taught to swat the ball down rather than go to catch it. The defender batted it down but it fell right into the hands of Mike Thomas who then crossed the end zone and celebrated the victory. It truly an amazing play to end a game.
Injury impact of the day: The Dolphins decided to go with Chad Pennington this week and two plays into the game the often injured quarterback went out with a shoulder injury. Later in the game former starting quarterback Chad Henne went out with an injury. Tyler Thigpen came in and threw a touchdown pass in 1 of his 6 attempts. The Dolphins escaped with a win but it remains to be seen who will be starting in the coming weeks.
The college hoops season is less than a week away from starting so it’s time to preview what should be an amazing season.
My Preseason Top 10:1. Duke Blue Devils: The defending national champs return most of the core from their title team plus the additions of McDonalds All-American point guard Kyrie Irving who has the potential to be the best point guard in the nation this year. They also get transfer Seth Curry who is expected to make big contributions. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are the key returning starters from last season’s team. Singler is a pre season All American so big things are expected out of him in this his senior season. The Plumlee brothers should also be improved and will be big contributors on the defensive end as well as the post game. Duke is going to be the clear favorite to repeat but there are plenty of competitors that are looking to steal the spotlight.
2. Michigan State Spartans: The Spartans look to make it back to the final four for the third straight year and return the core of last season’s team. Raymar Morgan is gone but they still have a talented set of guards in Kalin Lucas, Korie Lucious, Durrell Summers and highly touted freshman Keith Appling. They also have veteran bigs Delvon Roe and Draymond Green. Even more important is that all of them have experienced deep tournament runs which will help them not only in big ten play but on their journey to another final four.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes: It’s not often you lose the national player of the year and still remain in the top 10 never mind the top 5. This year’s version of the Buckeyes is talented and has added some big time freshman. Jared Sullinger is the most touted of the freshman and will be an immediate contributor but welcome Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and J.D. Weatherspoon. Thad Matta is going to rely on his veterans David Lighty, Jon Diebler and William Buford to assist in the freshmen’s transition to the college game. Lighty who is a fifth year senior has final four experience from the days of Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daquean Cook. If the freshman play as expected this will be a dangerous team.
4. Kansas State Wildcats: Kansas State was a win away from a final four last season and will look to improve on that this year. Their best player Jacob Pullen is back and ready to take this team to the next level. They lose Dennis Clemente who a very big part of the team. Curtis Kelly will anchor the inside in this his senior season. The Wildcats are hoping for some improvement in their sophomore bigs Wally Judge and Jamar Samuels. Judge was a McDonalds All-American and showed flashes of his potential at times last season but their success this season could rely on the jump he makes from freshman to sophomore.
5. Villanova Wildcats: Villanova loses their All-American point guard Scottie Reynolds but still brings back the core of a team that was upset early in the tournament last season. Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes will anchor the back court now and they have the ability to put points up in a hurry. They also have tons of depth in the back court in their Sophomore guards Malik Wayns and Dominic Cheek. Along with those talented guards Nova has a solid interior with Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou leading the way. Look for Isiah Armwood to have a bigger role this season and McDonalds All-American JayVaughn Pinkston should provide more depth at the forward position.
6. Pittsburgh Panthers: Pitt is always ready to play big time basketball and this season is going to be no different. Them and Nova should compete for the league title in the big east but the Panthers feel like this is the year they break through and make it to the final four. Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wannamaker lead the team this season who is always sound on defense and rebounds very well. Dante Taylor needs to make big strides from his Freshman season and give Pitt a dominate inside presence. Gilbert Brown should also see an increase in his scoring with the graduation of Jermaine Dixon.
7. Kentucky Wildcats: Kentucky lost 5 players to the first round of the NBA draft but still rank in my top ten because they bring in the nations best recruiting class. John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton are now in the NBA but Coach Calipari reloads with Brandon Knight, Enes Kanter, Doron Lamb, Terrance Jones and Stacey Poole Jr. all of which were ranked in the top 40 in the national recruiting rankings. Kanter has some questions about his eligibility and if he is not allowed to play Kentucky will be hurt. Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins are the veteran players on this years team and will need to make solid contributions. Like last year Kentucky will go as far as their freshman take them.
8. Baylor Bears: Like Kansas State Baylor was also just short of making the final four. They lose Tweedy Carter and Ekde Udoh but bring in one of the best freshman in the class Perry Jones. J’Mison Morgan was granted the ability to play immediately after transferring from UCLA. Morgan was once a highly touted recruit who couldn’t quite get it together at UCLA so a change of scenery might be what he needs. Quincy Acy is also back after having a strong tournament. Baylor would be rated higher but the uncertainty of their start shooting guard Lacedarious Dunn is still in question. Dunn was suspended indefinitely after being arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. If Dunn plays Baylor will be in contention for a final four.
9. North Carolina Tar Heels: The Tar Heels are coming off of a very disappointing season after starting last year with high ones. The freshman class Roy Williams brought in didn’t pan out as well as he hoped. This year they are bringing in a sure thing in Harrison Barnes who was picked as a first team All-American by the AP which never happens for a freshman. Kendal Marshall also joins the program and is billed as a big time point guard prospect. The other big freshman addition is Reggie Bullock who has range well beyond the three point line. Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Larry Drew will really determine how this team plays this season. Zeller needs to stay healthy which he hasn’t done in his first two seasons. John Henson needs to continue with the way he played in the tail end of the season after he came in with big expectations.
10. Kansas Jayhawks: Kansas lost a lot off of a team that was expected to win it all last season. Gone is Cole Aldrich, Sharron Collins, and Xavier Henry but the Jayhawks added Josh Selby who they expect big things from. The Morris twins Marcus and Markieff give the Jayhawks a very good starting frontcourt but lacks experienced depth. Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed give Kansas veteran backcourt help. The most important member of this years team might be junior guard Tyshawn Taylor. Taylor has big expectations coming into Kansas and has been up and down his first two seasons. If he can make a big leap than Kansas will be a player in the Big 12.
Preseason All American teamJacob Pullen- Kansas StateMalcolm Delaney- Virginia TechKalin Lucas- Michigan StateKyle Singler- DukeJaJuan Johnson- PurdueFreshman of the Year: Harrison Barnes- North CarolinaFinal Four:DukeMichigan StateBaylorKansas StateNational Champ: Michigan State
It’s been a long time since Raiders fans had anything to be excited for. But right now the Raiders sit at 4-4 and they host the top team in the AFC West the Kansas City Chiefs who sit at 5-2. The Raiders are a missed 30 yard field goal away from being 5-3 but as a long suffering Raiders fan I am happy to see them with a meaningful game past week 8 of the season. The key to the Raiders offense has been the play of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush at the running back position. When McFadden missed a few starts the Raiders offense really struggled but when he is out there they are a threat for a big play every time. McFadden has 668 yards and 4 touchdowns on 122 caries and also has 217 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. As you can see McFadden is an intrical part of the lineup and when he is in the lineup the Raiders are a much better team. Michael Bush had also filled in well for McFadden and as a change of pace running back. Bush has 307 yards and 4 touchdowns to go along with 127 receiving yards.
The passing game has been an issue at time this year but it is a great improvement over last year. It appears that Jason Campbell is going to be the guy after he was benched earlier this season but re-emerged once Bruce Gradkowski was injured. Raider quarterbacks have thrown for a combined 10 touchdowns and 8 interceptions so they need to limit the interceptions with a lot of good defensive teams coming up on the schedule. Zach Miller has been the best receiving option on the team at the Tight End position. He is a matchup nightmare for all linebackers. He leads the team in receptions, targets, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns along with 8 plays of over 20+ yards. The two second year wide receivers are the next best options for the Raiders passing attack. Louis Murphy and Darius Heyward-Bey have combined for 40 receptions and 603 yards with each scoring a touchdown. Heyward-Bey is coming off of his first career 100 yard game but a bulk of it was on a 69 yard touchdown pass.
The Defense has been very good as of late especially against the pass. The Raiders ranks 4th in opposing passing yards allowed per game at 182.6 per game. A lot of that has to do with the presence of all everything cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Asomugha has be ability to shut off half of the field. The run defense has been a problem but is showing signs of improvement.
The Raiders host the Chiefs before their bye week and then embark on a tough part of their schedule. They have road games against the Steelers, Chargers, Jaguars, and Chiefs while hosting the Dolphins, Broncos, and Colts. I see some winnable games in the late portion of the season but it will be tough for them to make the playoffs. All I know is if they can beat the Chiefs this weekend anything is possible.
Game of the Day: There were a few games that could have taken this honor but the Ravens/Patriots game was very entertaining from start to finish and it had to come down to a late field goal in overtime to decide the victor. The Patriots welcomed back former Super Bowl hero Deon Branch and he didn’t disappoint catching 9 balls for 98 yards and a touchdown. Tom Brady was intercepted two times but the Patriots still managed to put drives together and scored when they needed to. Steven Gostkowski hit a game tying field goal with just under two minutes to go in regulation and then hit the game winner with 1:56 left on the clock in overtime. The Ravens had two chances in overtime but failed to get themselves in position for a potential game winning field goal. The Pats were able to get their revenge after an embarrassing defeat at home to the Ravens in the playoffs last season.
Fantasy Stud: This week goes to Jeremy Maclin the second year wide receiver out for the Eagles. Maclin had 7 receptions for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns one of which was for 83 yards. Maclin is a speedster and picked saw more opportunities once DeSean Jackson went out with an injury. Maclin has been a solid fantasy wide receiver this year and will continue to be a big play and deep threat for the Eagles as the season continues.
Fantasy Dud: I am going with Phillip Rivers here, Rivers was going up against the Rams after a loss against the Raiders and failed to deliver. Rivers passed for 249 yards with only 1 touchdown and threw an interception. The Chargers failed to score a touchdown in the first half and by the time it looked like they were ready to make a comeback it was too late. The Chargers lost 20-17 and fell to 2-4 including being winless on the road at 0-4.
Surprising performance: The surprise performance of the day for me was is a tied. One I am going to go with the Seahawks impressive road victory over the Bears. The Bears improved to 3-2 on the season in Pete Carroll’s first season and they were able to hand the Bears their second loss on the season. Matt Hasselbeck was efficient throwing for 242 yards and a touchdown but most importantly he didn’t throw any interceptions. The Seahawks got good production out of their running backs Justin Forsett and newly acquired Marshawn Lynch both of them each ended up getting into the endzone. The other surprise was the Dolphins victory over the Packers. The Packers have been dealing with all kinds of injuries but I expected them to bounce back after their tough loss to the Redskins and pick up a win. The Packers rallied to tie it with 13 seconds left but were taken down in overtime thanks to a 44 yard field goal from Dan Carpenter. The Dolphins improved to 3-0 at home and sent the Packers to a 3-3 record.
Disappointing performance: I was very disappointed in the Raiders performance. They had a great chance to get to 3-3 and pull within 1 game of the AFC West division lead they failed to show up. They got deep into the red zone twice in the first half and had to rely on two field goals which would ultimately cost them the game. The defense played pretty well but seemed to get tired towards the end of the third quarter and into the fourth. They allowed big play after big play which resulted in two 49er touchdowns both of the passing variety. The Raiders now sit at 2-4 and appear to have issues at quarterback as Jason Campbell has not been what I expected he would be to this Raiders team.
What had everyone buzzing? Without a doubt the Dallas Cowboys being 1-4 has everyone around the league buzzing. The Cowboys were popular Super Bowl picks and have failed to live up to those expectations. The Cowboys continue to commit silly penalties after they score touchdowns and put their defense in a terrible position. Tony Romo also continues to make mistakes in important situations. This week was no different with Romo throwing 2 costly interceptions. The Cowboys run game has also been non existent this season which puts more pressure on Romo. If the Cowboys don’t get a win next week against the Giants you can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.
Injury impact of the day: The Chargers had a couple injuries that could limit their offense in the coming weeks. All Pro tight end Antonio Gates suffered a sprained toe and the Chargers hope that he can give it a go against the Patriots next week. They also lost wide receiver Malcolm Floyd to a strained hamstring. His status for next week is doubtful. So in a must win game for the Chargers they could be without two of their best receiving threats.