Saturday Night Fever (BCS Chaos)

Posted: 19th November 2012 by Jeff Plattner in College Football

On Saturday afternoon, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, off to a 10-0 start for the first time since 1993, took the field of Notre Dame Stadium for Senior Day versus the 5-5 Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The Irish, huge favorites to win the game, found themselves on the outside looking in at a shot to play in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. Ranked No. 3 in the BCS behind the Kansas State Wildcats and Oregon Ducks, Coach Brian Kelly and the Irish were “just trying to win football games.” If Notre Dame were to defeat Wake Forest and USC in their final two games, they would complete the school’s first perfect regular season since 1988, the year of Notre Dame’s last national championship. Before ousting West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl that season to win the title, the No. 1 ranked Irish had one final regular season test; go on the road and beat USC. Saturday afternoon in Notre Dame Stadium ended in a 38-0 victory over Wake Forest and to complete a perfect regular season, the Irish found themselves again with one more test; go on the road and beat USC. However, the Irish were in a position where they could go to USC, beat the Trojans, and still not be chosen to play in the BCS National Championship Game. They needed help…and boy would they get it Saturday night.

Everybody thought the top-ranked Kansas State Wildcats had one more test before the Big 12 Championship Game; the Texas Longhorns. Everybody was dead wrong. Heisman trophy front-runner Collin Klein and the undefeated Wildcats traveled to Waco, TX to face the 4-5 Baylor Bears Saturday night, a game that figured to be quite one-sided. Instead, the Bears stunned K-State by jumping out to a 28-7 lead with just 2:54 to go in the first half. Frantically, Klein and the Wildcats scored ten quick points before halftime and headed to the locker room relieved, only down 28-17. The feeling of relief would go away quickly in the third quarter, as Baylor ran all over a reeling Wildcats defense, blowing the game wide open and seemingly crushing K-State’s title hopes. As the teams lined up to begin the final 15:00, the scoreboard read Bears 52 Wildcats 24. That would be the final, as Baylor used 342 yards and 5 TDs on the ground to knock Kansas State out of the BCS title chase. With Notre Dame fans elated at what had just taken place, things were about to get even better.

2,080 miles away, in Eugene, OR, the No. 2 ranked Ducks had their hands full as well. After averaging more than 19ppg in the first quarter, through their first ten contests, Oregon was blanked in the first against a stout Cardinal defense. A Marcus Mariota TD pass late in the second quarter knotted the game at 7-7 and that’s how it stood at halftime. For the second straight game, Heisman hopeful RB Kenjon Barner was held to under 70 yards rushing and 0 TDs. Despite Barner’s struggles, De’Anthony Thomas put the Ducks up 14-7, midway through the third, capping Oregon’s most impressive drive of the night, one that covered 95 yards in 16 plays. But the Ducks could not put the Cardinal away and a miraculous TD catch in the back of the end zone, by Zach Ertz, tied the game with 1:35 to go. Oregon’s title hopes hanging in the balance, the game headed to overtime. A quick three and out by the Ducks culminated in a missed 41-yard field goal, kicker Alejandro Maldonado’s second miss of the night on just his third attempt of the season. With a field goal enough to win it, Oregon was in trouble. On a 4th and 5 from the Oregon 20-yard line, kicker Jordan Williamson, just 12 for 21 on the season, lined up a 37-yard field goal. As the kick sailed through the uprights, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sailed into the No. 1 ranking in the nation for the first time in nineteen years.

The help the Irish so desperately needed had come and in doing so, Baylor and Stanford had also re-opened the BCS National Championship Game door for the SEC (Southeastern Conference), most likely Alabama or Georgia. Barring an improbable loss to 3-8 Auburn on Black Friday, the Crimson Tide will meet the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game on December 1st, the winner playing for the national title. Saturday night was complete and utter chaos and the BCS world was flipped upside down. And while the SEC is almost once again assured a spot in the title game for seventh consecutive year (the past six winners have all come from the SEC), the Fighting Irish still have work to do. It’s been a long time since Notre Dame has won or even played in a national championship game. How long? Nobody on the current Notre Dame roster had been born yet when Tony Rice, Rocket Ismail, and Michael Stonebreaker led the 1988 Fighting Irish to the title, but heading into the final week of the 2012 season, this Irish team faces the same hurdle the ’88 team faced; go on the road and beat USC. Carrying the No. 1 ranking with them, this time it’s Everett Golson, Manti Te’o, and Tyler Eifert’s turn to prove they belong in the BCS National Championship Game.

 

Chasing Rings (written November 11, 2012)

Posted: 17th November 2012 by Jeff Plattner in NBA

Bill Russell has eleven. Michael Jordan won six. Magic Johnson has five, as does Kobe Bryant. Tim Duncan has four and Larry Bird three. But for some stars, an NBA championship ring can be as elusive as a snake in tall grass. The six men listed above have many things in common, but a rather rare commonality between all men is that they won three or more rings with one team. Since the NBA’s inception in 1946, only players from the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles/Minneapolis Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs have won three or more rings, while doing so with the same team. Furthermore, in this 66-year span, 43 championships have been won by these four franchises, with Boston (17) and the Lakers (16) leading the way. With titles so difficult to obtain, players now more than ever have began “chasing rings.”

During his time in the league, Michael Jordan prevented many NBA greats from winning a championship ring. In the NBA Finals, Jordan knocked off five of his 1992 Olympic teammates, en route to his six rings. In 1993 Jordan and the Bulls defeated Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns and in back-to-back years (’97 and ’98) Karl Malone and John Stockton’s Utah Jazz fell to the Bulls in the Finals. But before all of this, in 1992, just six weeks prior to the start of the Barcelona games, Chicago defeated Clyde Drexler’s Portland Trailblazers; Jordan’s second ring. The loss was Drexler’s second NBA Finals defeat in three years. The Finals loss was followed by two straight first round exits by Drexler and the Trailblazers and suddenly, entering his twelfth year in the league, “Clyde the Glide” saw his window of opportunity closing. At the 1995 trade deadline, Portland honored Drexler’s request to be traded to a contender and shipped him back home to the defending champion Houston Rockets. Four months later, Drexler, reunited with college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon, had successfully tracked down his first NBA championship ring.

2003 was a huge year in free agency for the Los Angeles Lakers. With two strokes of the pen, the Lakers had acquired over 55,000 career points, nearly 19,000 career rebounds, and almost 13,000 career assists. In his nineteenth season, as a last ditch effort at winning a ring, 39-year-old Karl Malone signed as a free agent with the Lakers. A week before his 35th birthday, Gary Payton did the same. In their prime, Payton and Malone both saw Michael Jordan spurn their greatest opportunities for a ring. With time running out, Malone and Payton figured there was no better way to taste what an NBA championship felt like than to join Shaq, Kobe, and a Lakers team that was just one year removed from a three-peat. After finishing second in the Western Conference, the Lakers easily advanced to the Finals, needing no more than six games in any series. However, with the Detroit Pistons waiting in the wings, the Lakers would meet their match in the Finals. Behind the brilliant play of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, the Pistons would dominate the series and send the Lakers home in just five games. Malone would go on to retire having never won a ring, while Payton bounced around the league for three more years, just long enough to latch onto Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat in 2006. Reunited with Shaquille O’Neal, Payton would win his first championship in his sixteenth NBA season. Hungry for a ring himself, thirteen years into his career, Alonzo Mourning joined Payton and that Heat team, also earning his first ring.

In recent years, many other players have successfully chased down rings of their own; Glenn Robinson (San Antonio Spurs in 2005), Michael Finley (Spurs in 2007), Peja Stojakovic (Dallas Mavericks in 2011), and most recently Juwan Howard and Mike Miller (Miami Heat in 2012) to name a few. However, others have fallen short in their quest for a ring.

Where can 2013’s ring chasers be found? Look no further than the two teams many picked to meet in the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers. With a 2008 championship ring on his finger, Ray Allen turned his back on his Boston Celtics teammates, taking far less money to join LeBron, Dwayne Wade, and the Heat. In his seventeenth season, Allen seeks his second title. Following Allen to Miami was fourteen-year veteran Rashard Lewis, who is looking to be fitted for his first championship ring. Lewis and Allen will spread the floor out even more for LeBron and Wade, making it that much more difficult for opponents to defend the Heat. While Allen and Lewis signed with the Heat as free agents, out west the Lakers were wheeling and dealing to obtain two ring-deprived stars. Sixteen seasons and no rings were enough for Steve Nash to decide it was now or never and that joining forces with Kobe Bryant was his best shot at a title. Not long after Nash landed in L.A., Dwight Howard finally managed to pout his way all the way across the country and in a trade that once seemed improbable, Howard landed in L.A. with Kobe and the newly acquired Nash. While Allen already has the one ring and Howard figures to have many years ahead, Nash and Lewis are hungrier than ever before. Will their dreams be answered in 2013 or as their careers wind down, will their chase for a ring be all for not?

2012-13 NBA Preview: Part III

Posted: 29th October 2012 by Jeff Plattner in NBA

Northwest Division

1.    Oklahoma City Thunder:  In a shockingly sudden move Saturday night, OKC traded 6th man of the year, James Harden (and others), to the Houston Rockets, in return for guards Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round draft picks, and a second-round draft pick. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook still the one-two punch in OKC, Martin should step right in to replace Harden as a key, third scoring option. With getting rookie, Lamb in the deal, the Thunder add a long, athletic guard, who can score and is a solid defender. With the move coming so late in the preseason, it may take OKC some time to mesh, but they should still be able to hold off the Nuggets for first in the Northwest. Prediction: 59-23

2.    Denver Nuggets: The acquisition of Andre Iguodala turns the Nuggets into legitimate contenders in the west. The reason being, Iguodala is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. The Nuggets have been anything but a strong defensive team the past few years, but adding an elite wing defender, in a conference that features Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant, was a golden move by Denver. While Iggy also fits in seamlessly with the run and gun offensive style of Denver, the lack of a go to star could hurt come playoff time. Prediction: 57-25

3.    Minnesota Timberwolves: While 50 wins were a real possibility a few weeks ago, now with Ricky Rubio AND Kevin Love out for the foreseeable future, the Wolves will simply try to tread water for the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season, until Love returns. Replacing the likes of Darko, Wes Johnson, and company with players, who actually perform when on the floor, is reason enough for Wolves fans to be optimistic. Love should return around the beginning of December, which means he’ll miss about 15 games. If the Wolves can enter December around 6-9 or 7-8, they should still be in good position to make a playoff run. Prediction: 45-37

4.    Utah Jazz: The Jazz snuck into the playoffs, as the No. 8 seed a year ago, and were quickly destroyed by the Spurs, in a four-game sweep. They add Mo Williams and Marvin Williams to the starting lineup. Paul Millsap is one of the more underrated players in the game and Utah has plenty of young potential, in the form of Gordon Heyward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, and Enes Kanter. Provided their stars stay healthy, the Jazz should again challenge for the No. 8 seed. Prediction: 42-40

5.    Portland Trailblazers: It’s sure to be a frustrating year for All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and the Blazers. Portland matched Minnesota’s offer sheet to retain Nic Batum. However, rookies, PG Damien Lillard and C Meyers Leonard figure to jump right into the starting lineup. That doesn’t say much about the rest of the lineup, which is extremely thin. Prediction: 25-57

Central Division

1.    Indiana Pacers: With Derrick Rose on the shelf for a better part of the season, the Pacers should cruise to first in the Central. Indiana did nothing flashy in the offseason, although they did trade Darren Collison, replacing him with D.J. Augustine. If Paul George can continue to develop into an all around star, the Pacers could challenge the Heat in the east, if not, Miami’s path to their third straight NBA Finals could be as easy as a stroll on South Beach. Prediction: 54-28

2.    Chicago Bulls: As mentioned above, the Bulls will be without former MVP, Derrick Rose, for much of the season. However, with the frontline trio of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah still in place, the Bulls still figure to be a playoff team. The PG trio of Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, and rookie Marquis Teague, although nowhere nearly as effective as Rose, are at least serviceable at the PG position. They will win ugly games, as they’ve become known for. Prediction: 43-39

3.    Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis will continue to be a backcourt that can light it up on any given night. By trading for Samuel Dalembert and drafting John Henson, Milwaukee addressed many weaknesses; defensive rebounding, defense in the paint, and shot blocking. While re-signing Ersan Ilyasova was a good move, in the end, the Bucks did nothing to make you think they’ll do anything other than what it seems like they always do; challenge for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. They’ll fall short again this year. Prediction: 37-45

4.    Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs found a backcourt mate for Kyrie Irving, by selecting  Dion Waiters, No. 4 overall in the draft. Waiters should add a much-needed scoring punch, as he excels at slashing to the hoop. While the front court is decent, with Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson, we all know this team is only as good as Irving makes it. In just his second year, he is already on the brink of stardom. Although the Cavs should take another step in the right direction, they are a solid SF away from being considered a playoff team. They should look to solidify the SF spot through the 2013 NBA draft, in which they will have options. Prediction: 35-47

5.    Detroit Pistons: The Pistons will be bad, but the positive spin on that is that management already knows this. They finally rid themselves of Ben Gordon’s contract and continued to bring in some talented youngsters, primarily rookie PF Andre Drummond, who, if he learns to consistently play hard, could be a perennial All-Star. The positivity pretty much ends there. Prediction: 25-57

Plattner’s Postseason Predictions

Western Conference MVP: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City)

Eastern Conference MVP: LeBron James (Miami)

Western Conference Rookie of the Year: Anthony Davis (New Orleans)

Eastern Conference Rookie of the Year: Bradley Beal (Washington)

Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers over Denver Nuggets 4-2

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat over Indiana Pacers 4-2

NBA Finals: L.A. Lakers over Miami Heat 4-3

 

2012-13 NBA Preview: Part II (Pacific and Atlantic divisions)

Posted: 23rd October 2012 by Jeff Plattner in NBA

Pacific Division

1.    Los Angeles Lakers:  What L.A. lacked the most last season was a quality PG. The remedy? Shipping four future draft picks to Phoenix and landing 2-time MVP, Steve Nash, who instantly became the most likeable Laker since Magic Johnson. And then just when L.A. gave you the slightest reason to not hate them, they went out and traded for Dwight Howard! But was there really any doubt that sooner or later Howard would wind up in a Lakers jersey? I think not. With a fairly easy schedule to begin the year, Kobe, Nash, Howard and company should have plenty of time to mesh before things get more difficult after Christmas. Anything less than a trip to the NBA Finals would be a big disappointment for the Lakers. Prediction: 57-25

2.    Los Angeles Clippers: Five months removed from a 2nd round sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, the Clippers still have a bad taste in their mouths. While the additions of Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Grant Hill, and Willie Green make the Clippers deeper than a year ago, the key to their season is the progression of PF Blake Griffin. Griffin, a nightly highlight film, must do more things well to become a complete player. A good start would be to work on improving at the free throw line, where he shot a putrid 52% last year. Prediction: 47-35

3.    Golden State Warriors: Remember when Baron Davis was a Warrior? Better yet, remember when he was a legit ballplayer? Yeah, not many of us probably do, but regardless, that was the last time Golden State made the playoffs and surprisingly, it was only six years ago. Getting back to the playoffs for the second time in nineteen years will be no easy task, but the Warriors are much improved. If Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut (missed a combined 94 games in 2011-12) can somehow stay healthy and Klay Thompson and rookie Harrison Barnes consistently knock down shots, it’s not crazy to think that the Warriors could find themselves battling for the No. 8 seed in the west. Prediction: 38-44

4.    Sacramento Kings: 22 wins per year. That’s what the Kings have averaged over the past four seasons. What they’ve lacked during that horrendous stretch is not talent, but rather the presence of any sort of team leader. With some terrible contracts on the books (they owe Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, Chuck Hayes, and Jason Thompson a combined $84 million guaranteed), the Kings have somewhat handcuffed themselves for the next few years, but drafting Kansas PF Thomas Robinson 5th overall in June’s NBA Draft, Sacramento took a step in the right direction of improving their culture. Prediction: 31-51

5.    Phoenix Suns: Phoenix should have asked Timberwolves fans how fun it is to have Wesley Johnson and Michael Beasley in your starting lineup. Well, here you go. An absolute waste of the No. 4 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, Johnson was arguably the least effective player in the league in two seasons with the Wolves. A poor ball-handler, Johnson is forced into being a jump shooter because he cannot create shots for himself. One problem; he can’t shoot either. A ball stopper who almost exclusively settles for jumpers, the most frustrating part about Beasley’s game is his refusal to attack the rim, pass the ball, or take a step back and at least turn those long 2’s into 3-point attempts. Prediction: 24-58

Atlantic Division

1.    Boston Celtics: This will be the best divisional race in the NBA, with four possible playoff teams coming out of the Atlantic, but until somebody supplants them atop the division, the Celtics are again the favorite. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are aging, but this is Rajon Rondo’s team and the Celtics will go as far as he can take them. Upgrading a bench that was dreadful offensively was the primary concern this summer. The addition of Jason Terry along with the returns of Avery Bradley and Jeff Green, from injuries, is sure to help. Courtney Lee, a career 38% three-point shooter replaces Allen and offers a more stable defensive option in doing so. The loss of Greg Stiemsma will hurt and rookie Fab Melo will be asked to become the shot-blocking presence off the bench. Prediction: 49-33

2.    Philadelphia 76ers: With the loss of not only Andre Iguodala, but also Lou Williams and Elton Brand, it was extremely difficult to justify putting Philly ahead of both New York and Brooklyn. Here’s the justification. a) Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner showed flashes last season and both are on the verge of breakout seasons. b) Sure it took giving up Iguodala to get him, but the acquisition of Andrew Bynum gives Philly the best center in the east and a force that the rest of the conference will have a heck of a time stopping. c) The 76ers are great at sharing the ball, something New York and Brooklyn may struggle with. Prediction: 47-35

3.    Brooklyn Nets: Adding Joe Johnson is nice, but Deron Williams is the key, as the Nets make the move to Brooklyn. With Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, and Brook Lopez rounding out the starting five, the Nets look really nice on paper…until you get to the bench. Their lack of depth and inability or unwillingness to defend, whichever it is, will be what keeps the Nets from being contenders in the east.  Prediction: 45-37

4.    New York Knicks: For 26 games, Linsanity captured the entire nation. And then it was gone in the blink of an eye, as Jeremy Lin missed the final month of the season with an injury. After bringing life back to a stale New York Knicks organization, the Knicks thanked Lin by letting him go. So, instead of paying the 24-year-old potential star, New York decided to spend the money on 28-year-old below average PG Raymond Felton, as well as nearly over the hill Jason Kidd (39) and Marcus Camby (38). So, while the Knicks are again clearly Carmelo Anthony’s team, raise your hand if you think that’s a good thing. Bueller??? Bueller??? Prediction: 44-38

5.    Toronto Raptors: If the Raptors have two things going for them, it’s that a) they’re the best NBA team from Canada! And b) they play in the Eastern Conference. 45-103 in the last two seasons, the Raptors have a steep hill to climb. With the average age of their starting five just over 23 years old, inexperience will undoubtedly cause them to lose close games. A former No. 1 overall pick, in his 7th season from Italy, it is simply time for Andrea Bargnani to become a star. Prediction: 36-46

 

2012-13 NBA Preview: Part I (Southwest and Southeast divisions)

Posted: 17th October 2012 by Jeff Plattner in NBA

Southwest Division

1.     San Antonio Spurs:  Will the Spurs ever go away? As long as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili make up the core of the team, you can be sure the answer to that question is, no, they will not go away. Despite finishing near the top of the league every year, San Antonio continues to find ways to add or develop solid role players, through the draft or by other means. Last season, Danny Green, Steven Jackson, Kawhi Leonard, and Tiago Splitter were those players. With Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili a combined 101 years old, the clock on another title for this group is ticking, especially with Ginobili’s contract up at year’s end. Prediction: 62-20

2.     Memphis Grizzlies: The key to a big season in Memphis is not only their frontline, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, but also whether or not Rudy Gay is ready to take the next step. With All-Star talent written all over him, Gay has not quite been able to put it all together. An incoming trio of guards off the bench; Jerryd Bayless, Tony Wroten, and Wayne Ellington will look to soften the blow of O.J. Mayo’s exit to Dallas. Prediction: 53-29

3.     Dallas Mavericks: The championship team of just two years ago has been almost completely disassembled, with the only key contributors still around, being Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion. The Mavs hope Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, and Chris Kaman can do the things Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and Tyson Chandler were able to do in 2011, helping propel Dirk and the Mavs to the NBA title. Don’t count on the same results. Prediction: 46-36

4.     New Orleans Hornets: Gone are Rashard Lewis, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, Jarret Jack, and Chris Kaman among others. A total of zero fans in New Orleans will miss any of those guys. Everybody loves rookie No. 1 pick Anthony Davis and his signature unibrow, but in all reality, the success of the Hornets season hinges on the health of SG Eric Gordon. A pure scorer capable of stardom, injuries have riddled his last three seasons and Gordon played just nine games last year. Davis should immediately be a top-5 defensive big man and the addition of PF Ryan Anderson provides the Hornets with a second reliable scoring option, after Gordon. This team is very different from last year’s 21-45 Hornets team. Prediction: 38-44

5.     Houston Rockets: Much like the Hornets, Houston waived goodbye to a host of regulars; Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, and others. However, an offseason mission to acquire Dwight Howard did not end as planned and now the Rockets seem to be in rebuilding mode, with a very young, inexperienced team. Jeremy Lin headlines an incoming group that includes Omer Asik, Carlos Delfino, and rookies Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones, Royce White, and Donatas Motiejunas, who comes over from Europe. While it looks ok on paper, the wins will take a few years to follow. Prediction: 32-50

Southeast Division

1.     Miami Heat:  Anything less than a repeat will be considered a failure for LeBron and company. The starting lineup remains the same, but the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis give the Heat even more deadly shooters from the outside. With a dominating NBA Finals performance, LeBron solidified his spot as the best all-around player in the game today. With an abundance of talent, Miami should be able to play the entire regular season on cruise control and still win the Southeast by 20+ games. With the balance of the power out west, I fully expect LeBron and the Heat to return to the Finals. Prediction: 63-19

2.     Atlanta Hawks: Yet another team with many new faces, the Hawks managed to ship Joe Johnson and his massive contract out of town, while also parting ways with the disappointing Marvin Williams. The thought of shedding Johnson’s contract is that it frees up the money needed to help lure PG Chris Paul to Atlanta, the team he wished he had landed on out of college. Two All-Star talents, Al Horford and Josh Smith are still in place, so the season will be far from miserable, but with an unspectacular supporting cast, Hawks fans may be cheering for the 2013 offseason and thoughts of CP3 before long. Prediction: 44-38

3.    Washington Wizards: With a starting five of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, and Nene, the Wizards are finally legit again. Washington hasn’t made the playoffs in five years and has averaged just 22 wins per year since 2009. The offense of Wall and Beal combined with the defense of Ariza and Okafor and the selflessness of Nene will keep this team in the postseason race out east. The Wizards bench, though not crazy deep, has a little bit of everything. Jordan Crawford (scorer), Jan Vesely (great athlete), Chris Singleton (defensive stopper). Prediction: 40-42

4.     Orlando Magic: It seemed like it took the Magic forever to get rid of Dwight Howard. And when they finally did, what did they get in return? A sub-par SG, an aging PF, who never met expectations, and three, most likely, low first round picks. Also shipping Ryan Anderson out of town does not help the Magic’s case. A credible team for the better part of the last decade, Orlando has quickly become a non-factor in the league. Let the rebuilding begin. Prediction: 25-57

5.     Charlotte Bobcats: One of the more confusing things in sports to try and figure out is what the heck the Charlotte Bobcats are doing. Drafting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made sense because he’s a player who dedicates himself to the game, plays his heart out, and does a little of everything. However, for a team that has next to nothing, Kidd-Gilchrist may not be the best building block. The addition of SG Ben Gordon, when you could have drafted potential star Bradley Beal at SG, is a head-scratcher. One look up and down the Bobcats roster tells you they have a long, long way to go and only two pieces (Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker) to build on. 7-59 a year ago, the addition of Kidd-Gilchrist plus 16 more games on the schedule and you’d have to figure they at least hit double-digits in wins this season, right? Prediction: 17-65

 

Meet your Timberwolves

Posted: 4th October 2012 by Jeff Plattner in NBA

With the Minnesota Timberwolves season opener against the Sacramento Kings, slated for November 2nd, just over a month away, it is time to meet and start getting excited about your 2012-13 Timberwolves squad. After just one season as head coach of the Wolves, Rick Adelman helped David Kahn majorly overhaul of the roster. Gone from a year ago are Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington, Darko Milicic, Anthony Tolliver, Wesley Johnson, and Brad Miller. Replacing the departed is a group of much more promising talent; Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Dante Cunningham, Alexey Shved, Greg Stiemsma, and recently acquired Louis Amundson. By now we should all know the mainstays; Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Derrick Williams, Luke Ridnour, and J.J. Barea, as well as Malcolm Lee, who appeared in game action only after the March 9th Rubio injury. But who are all of these new faces and where did they come from? Let’s get to know your new Minnesota Timberwolves.

SF – Andrei Kirilenko: 6’9” 235lbs

In the 1999 draft, Kirilenko was the 24th overall selection by the Utah Jazz. The Russian played ten seasons with the Jazz before deciding to take his game back home during last season’s NBA lockout. In his time with Utah, AK47 as he’s referred to, averaged 12.4ppg, 5.6rpg, 2.8apg, 2.0bpg, and 1.4spg. Known for doing a little bit of everything, one look at his stats will definitely back that up. A career 47% shooter, Kirilenko thrives getting to the basket and in the mid-range game. This summer, in London, he led team Russia to the Bronze medal.

SG – Brandon Roy: 6’6” 211lbs

A star at the University of Washington, Roy was actually drafted by the Timberwolves, 6th overall, in 2006, but traded for Randy Foye on draft night. A three-time NBA All-Star for the Portland Trailblazers,knee problems derailed Roy’s career and his return to the NBA seemed doubtful, not too long ago. During his five seasons with the Blazers, Roy averaged 19ppg, 4.3rpg, and 4.7apg. However, his knees have not been the only injury concern of his career. Roy missed 89 total games while in Portland. After undergoing “the Kobe” surgery, Roy declared that his knees were once again healthy enough to pursue an NBA comeback. If the Wolves limit his minutes, he could be a great addition.

SF – Chase Budinger: 6’7” 218lbs

MVP of the 2006 U.S. Junior Olympic Volleyball Tournament and 2006 National HS Volleyball Player of the Year, don’t be fooled by Budinger’s looks. He is an amazing athlete. A 2009 second round pick of theDetroit Pistons, Chase spent his first three NBA seasons with the Houston Rockets and was sought out by former coach, Rick Adelman, mainly for his ability to knock down the corner three, something the Timberwolves were dreadful in doing last season. In 2011-12, Budinger shot 40.2% from beyond the arc, but 48% on corner threes. The Wolves would love that trend to continue.

G – Alexey Shved: 6’6” 182lbs

Kirilenko’s countryman, Shved too earned an Olympic bronze medal, in London. In the Bronze medal game victory over Manu Ginobili and Argentina, Shved poured in 25 points, to lead the Russians. A professional since 2006, Shved made his Euroleague debut in 2007. At 23 years of age, he is a work in progress. Though he has a tendency to make mistakes, Shved has sneaky athleticism, is a great ball-handler, and passes the ball well. His defense needs plenty of work.

F – Dante Cunningham: 6’8” 230lbs

A journeyman in his young career, the Wolves are Cunningham’s fourth team in four years. A very solid role player, Cunningham will not force shots, as he is fine doing the dirty work. He plays hard on the defensive end, can block shots and does not make many mistakes on the offensive end of the floor. He may remind you a little bit of Anthony Tolliver, only without the 24% three-point percentage, as Cunningham attempted just 2 three’s all of last year, while Tolliver heaved up 101.

C – Greg Stiemsma: 6’11” 260lbs

The 27-year-old from Randolph, Wisconsin made a name for himself in last year’s Eastern Conference Playoffs, spelling Kevin Garnett for the Boston Celtics. Stiemsma, known for his defense and shot-blocking ability, played some big minutes in the Atlanta and Philadelphia series’ before mostly riding the pine against the Miami Heat. Something the Wolves have lacked for a while now, Stiemsma had twelve games last season with three or more blocked shots. He did all of this while averaging less than 14 minutes per game. Truly earning his way to the NBA, Stiemsma’s route to the league? Turkey in 2008, South Korea in 2009, Sioux Falls Skyforce in 2009-10, he was briefly with the Timberwolves in 2010, though did not appear in a game, he then signed a 10 day contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was then off to Turkey in 2010-11 before returning back to the NBA D-League, again playing for the Sioux Falls Skyforce in 2011. And on December 19, 2011, Stiemsma finally signed a rookie contract with the Boston Celtics.

PF – Louis Amundson: 6’9” 225lbs

Another journeyman and NBA D-Leaguer, Amundson was the 2007 D-League Rookie of the Year, with the Colorado 14ers, before making his rounds in the NBA. Philadelphia, Utah, back to Philadelphia, Phoenix, Golden State, Indiana, and now Minnesota has been Lou’s journey thus far. Much like Cunningham and Stiemsma, Amundson is a guy who won’t kill you when he’s in there, because he understands his role. Unlike Stiemsma, he won’t block a lot of shots, but also unlike Darko, when he’s around the basket, Lou will actually finish with a powerful dunk instead of a Darko-esque missed finger role.


Week 4 Quick Picks

Posted: 30th September 2012 by Jeff Plattner in NFL

With a good but not great 11-5 record in Week 2 and not enough time to get around to my Quick Picks in Week 3, we are back at it in Week 4. If this young NFL season has proved anything to us, it is that anything and I mean ANYTHING can happen. Oh, by the way, it’s good to have the regular officials back.

Cleveland (0-3) at Baltimore (2-1)

The Browns will keep this one closer than it should be, thanks to the ridiculously quick turnaround for the Ravens, from Sunday night to Thursday night. However, at the end of the day, even with a lack of rest and preparation time, Baltimore is just too good to lose to the Browns at home. Ravens 23 Browns 14 (this was written prior to the start of the Thursday night game, I promise. I’m just THAT good!)

Carolina (1-2) at Atlanta (3-0)

Eli Manning and the Giants shredded the Panthers secondary last Thursday. Expect more of the same in this one, by Matt Ryan and his good buddies, Roddy White and Julio Jones. To have any chance, Carolina needs to establish a ground game. Falcons 34 Panthers 16

New England (1-2) at Buffalo (2-1)

In losing two straight, Tom Brady and crew have looked like anything but the Patriots team we’re used to seeing, albeit against two very good defenses in Arizona and Baltimore. The Bills have lost three of their top offense weapons in the first three weeks (Fred Jackson, David Nelson, and C.J. Spiller), although recent reports say Jackson and possibly Spiller should be ready to go on Sunday. If the reports are false and neither Jackson nor Spiller are able to play, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will depend heavily on WR Stevie Johnson, RB Tashard Choice, and TE Scott Chandler. Patriots 31 Bills 17

Minnesota (2-1) at Detroit (1-2)

Minnesota shocked San Francisco last week, but that was in the comfort of the HHH Metrodome. Just 4-13 since 2010, the Vikings have been a bad road team. The Lions, owners of the top passing attack in the NFL, will use their bread and butter against a weak Vikings pass defense, which is misleadingly ranked 8th in the league. Lions 33 Vikings 27

San Diego (2-1) at Kansas City (1-2)

The Chiefs finally woke up versus New Orleans, scoring 21 straight points, late, to stun the Saints, coming back from a 24-6 deficit. Jamaal Charles (rushed for 233 yards and 1TD vs. New Orleans) and the NFL’s top rushing attack is the key to this one. The Chargers have taken 7 of the last 9 from the Chiefs, but have dropped their last two at Arrowhead Stadium. KC rides the momentum of last week to pull to .500. Chiefs 32 Chargers 27

Seattle (2-1) at St. Louis (1-2)

In one of the most controversial wins in NFL history, the entire nation seems to have forgotten about the horrible calls that went the Packers way during their go-ahead drive, before the Seahawks eventually won the game. Anyway, that’s old news, but Seattle is simply the better team here. Seahawks 19 Rams 16

San Francisco (2-1) at NY Jets (2-1)

The 49ers got a wake up call from Minnesota last week, so you can be sure Coach Jim Harbaugh will have his team focused this week. The loss of Jets CB Darrell Revis (ACL) will make things easier on the 49ers in the passing game, but they could also enjoy success in the running game, which New York has struggled defending thus far. The 49ers avoided the dreaded west coast team flying all the way to the east coast and then playing a 12pm EST game, by practicing in Ohio all week, at Youngstown State. May not seem like a big deal, but it is. 49ers 27 Jets 16

Tennessee (1-2) at Houston (3-0)

Somebody finally got it right, for the Titans; that somebody is NOT Chris Johnson. Through three games, Johnson has amassed a whole 45 rushing yards on 33 carries. On the other hand, after getting crushed in weeks 1 & 2, Jake Locker and the Titans passing game was excellent in an OT win over the Lions. Bad news for the Titans…the Houston Texans are not the Detroit Lions. Texans 36 Titans 17

Miami (1-2) at Arizona (3-0)

The Cardinals are a surprising 3-0 and they can thank their opportunistic defense that has 12 sacks and 6 takeaways through the first three games. With rookie Ryan Tannehill taking snaps for the Dolphins and a hobbled Reggie Bush, not 100%, the Cardinals should be licking their chops. Cardinals 23 Dolphins 13

Cincinnati (2-1) at Jacksonville (1-2)

Maurice Jones-Drew put to rest any conditioning questions, with a 177-yard, 1TD effort on 28 totes, against the Colts. The Bengals rush defense is even worse than Indy’s, so expect another hay day from MJD. On the other side of the ball, Cincy’s A.J. Green trails only Calvin Johnson in receiving yards. He should feast on a weak Jaguars pass D. Get ready for the MJD-A.J. show. Bengals 31 Jaguars 30

Oakland (1-2) at Denver (1-2)

With New England, San Diego, New Orleans, and Cincinnati to follow, Peyton Manning and the Broncos need to take the reigns and win this one or they could be digging themselves out of a big hole. It should be a good, old fashioned, Wild West shootout, but in the end, Peyton and the Broncos should expose a porous Raiders D. Broncos 32 Raiders 24

New Orleans (0-3) at Green Bay (1-2)

Could there possibly be a worse position for the 0-3 Saints to be in on Sunday?? Reeling after blowing a 24-6, late third quarter lead to the Chiefs last week, they stumble into Lambeau Field to not only face the Green Bay Packers, but a Packers team that is furious after losing to the Seahawks, last Monday night, on the last play, on an extremely controversial call that would wind up being the straw that broke the camel’s back. The call was so bad that the NFL and the regular officials magically reached a new collective bargaining agreement no more than 24 hours later, after reportedly “not being close” just days before. Aaron Rodgers and the Pack will roll over a Saints defense that hasn’t been able to stop a nosebleed this season.  Packers 42 Saints 27

Washington (1-2) at Tampa Bay (1-2)

Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III (RG3) has lived up to the hype and then some, so far this season. With two of the worst pass defenses in the league, most of the focus in this one will be through the air, so look for a big day from RG3 and Tampa QB Josh Freeman. The Bucs sneakily have the top rush defense in the NFL, but even that won’t be enough to hold off RG3 and the Redskins. Redskins 27 Bucs 23

NY Giants (2-1) at Philadelphia (2-1)

The Giants will again be without No. 1 WR Hakeem Nicks, so for the second straight week, Ramses Barden will get his chance to shine. He did not disappoint in the 36-7 drubbing of the Carolina Panthers last Thursday, finishing with 9 catches for 138 yards. My gut tells me the Eagles will try and stick to the ground game, not allowing Michael Vick to be exposed to so many hits, as he was beat up badly in last week’s whooping in Arizona. LeSean McCoy has a big game and the Eagles squeak out a close one. Eagles 23 Giants 21

Chicago (2-1) at Dallas (2-1)

Both teams are coming off wins, but neither looked overly impressive in doing so. The status of Bears RB Matt Forte could have a huge bearing on the outcome of this game. If he plays, QB Jay Cutler gets back his safety net, who he loves dumping the ball off to, when his receivers down field aren’t open. Entering the 2012 season, Forte had 223 receptions in his first four years in the league. In that same span, Bears backup RB Michael Bush had just 91 receptions. Forte will wind up playing Monday Night and his impact in the passing game will be the difference. Bears 24 Cowboys 23

Week 2 Quick Picks

Posted: 14th September 2012 by Jeff Plattner in NFL

Chicago (1-0) at Green Bay (0-1)

The Packers will play mad tonight against the Bears, not wanting to have anything to do with going 0-2, having played both games at home. Packers 27 Bears 17

Kansas City (0-1) at Buffalo (0-1)

The Chiefs were bad, but the Bills looked awful against the Jets. Two young speedsters, Jamaal Charles and C.J. Spiller will have a lot to do with the outcome of this game. Both will have big plays, but Spiller’s will be a difference maker. Bills 31 Chiefs 27

Cleveland (0-1) at Cincinnati (0-1)

The Bengals were trounced by Baltimore on Monday Night, however rookie QB Brandon Weeden’s 5.1 passer rating for the Browns in Week 1 is enough to take Cincy in this one. Bengals 27 Browns 13

Minnesota (1-0) at Indianapolis (0-1)

AP will run wild on the Colts defense and Andrew Luck will keep Indy in the game by throwing all over a terrible Vikings secondary. It took Minnesota a last second 55-yard FG and OT to get by the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, at home. Mr. Luck gets his first NFL win in his first NFL home game. Colts 27 Vikings 24

Oakland (0-1) at Miami (0-1)

Look for a huge game from Darren McFadden. Ryan Tannehill will find work versus the Raiders defense much nicer than facing the Houston Texans last week, but it still won’t be pretty. Raiders 23 Dolphins 16

Arizona (1-0) at New England (1-0)

I would say there’s no chance the Patriots lose this game, but then again isn’t that why they play the games in the first place? Larry Fitzgerald must come up with a career game here for Arizona to really have a chance, because the Cards are going to have to keep up with Brady and the high-flying Patriots offense. Patriots 34 Cardinals 17

Tampa Bay (1-0) at NY Giants (0-1)

The defending Super Bowl champs currently sit in the NFC East cellar. Somewhat surprised last week against the Cowboys, much like the Packers, the Giants will not let themselves dig an 0-2 hole to begin the season. With their schedule, an 0-2 start means some must wins beginning in Week 3. Giants 30 Bucs 20

Baltimore (1-0) at Philadelphia (1-0)

One of the better matchups of the week, the Ravens are fresh off a Monday Night beat down of the Bengals, while the Eagles barely snuck out of Cleveland with a win. With the way Michael Vick struggled against the Browns defense, I don’t see him putting it all together against one of the best defenses of the last decade plus. Ravens 24 Eagles 20

New Orleans (0-1) at Carolina (0-1)

The man everyone is comparing to Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, tore up the Saints secondary in his pro debut. So what will the real Cam Newton do? Expect a big day for Cam, but the Panthers just may have to run for more than 10 yards if they plan on winning this game. Bounty Gate definitely affected the Saints in Week 1. Brees and the Saints could be in for a long season if they don’t figure things out soon. Saints 31 Panthers 30

Houston (1-0) at Jacksonville (0-1)

The Texans can pretty much moonwalk to a 2-0 start if they so choose. With the Jags biggest offensive weapon, Maurice Jones-Drew, still working his way back from an extended holdout, don’t expect the Jags to be in this one for long. Texans 37  Jaguars 16

Washington (1-0) at St. Louis (0-1)

RG3 enjoyed a monster debut last week against the Saints, while the Rams nearly shocked Detroit. RG3 and the Redskins offense will be challenged against a crafty Rams defense, but simply challenging them won’t be enough. Redskins 24 Rams 16

Dallas (1-0) at Seattle (0-1)

Tony Romo looked good in Week 1, albeit against a depleted Giants secondary. Seattle has one of the biggest home field advantages in the league and if they can get the running game going early, with Marshawn Lynch, it may play a huge factor. Seattle 19 Dallas 17

NY Jets (1-0) at Pittsburgh (0-1)

While the Jets looked great against a Bills defense we all thought would be better, the Steelers proved their offensive line is patchwork, giving up five sacks of Ben Roethlisberger and averaging less than three yards per rush. However, the Steelers manage to get the job done in an ugly, defensive struggle. Steelers 16 Jets 13

Tennessee (0-1) at San Diego (1-0)

Chris Johnson is running out of chances to remind us what kind of running back he used to be. Probably to no surprise, his 11 carries for 4 yards versus the Patriots was a career low. Johnson’s had twelve 100 yard rushing games in his past 33 games after having twelve such games in his 2,006 yard season of 2009. The Chargers looked bad against Oakland on Monday Night, but good enough for the win. Chargers 24 Titans 20

Detroit (1-0) at San Francisco (1-0)

After going into Lambeau and proving they are a team to beat in the NFC, the 49ers host the Lions in a rematch of one of last seasons best finishes. San Fran will aim to tame the Lions Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson connection. Last year, the 49ers and Frank Gore ran all over Detroit. Will they do the same this week? 49ers 33 Lions 28

Denver (1-0) at Atlanta (1-0)

Just their fourth meeting since John Elway led Denver past the Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII, Peyton Manning now leads the charge for the Broncos. Matt Ryan had a blast taking his two stellar weapons, Roddy White and Julio Jones, for a spin in Week 1. Expect an aerial attack from both sides in this one. Whichever duo is better White/Jones or Demaryius Thomas/Eric Decker will win the game. Falcons 34 Broncos 19

2012 College Football Preview

Posted: 12th September 2012 by Jeff Plattner in College Football

With two weeks of the college football season already gone, we’ll take a quick conference-by-conference look at the teams to keep an eye on throughout the 2012 season.

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)

Predicted Atlantic Champ: Florida State – QB EJ Manuel leads an offensive attack that features a solid receiving corps along with RB duo James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. The No. 4 scoring defense in the country returns nine starters, including star CB Xavier Rhodes.

Coastal Champ: Virginia Tech – Like FSU, the Hokies return nine starters on a defense that ranked No. 7 in scoring a year ago. However, the offense has been almost completely overhauled, the biggest loss being Giants first round pick, RB David Wilson.

Don’t Sleep On: Clemson – A Sept. 22nd matchup at Florida State will go a long way in determining who wins the ACC Atlantic division. Eager to move on from their 70-33 Orange Bowl beat down from West Virginia, the Tigers survived a week one scare from Auburn. QB Taj Boyd, RB Andre Ellington, and WR Sammy Watkins lead a high scoring offense.

Big East

Champ: South Florida – They travel to Louisville on Oct. 20th. The winner of that game has the inside track to the conference championship. A balanced offensive attack is led by duel threat QB B.J. Daniels, who enters the season with nearly 8,000 career all-purpose yards and 58 TDs.

Don’t Sleep On: Louisville – This is a two-team race, Louisville has a softer schedule.

Big Ten

Legends Champ: Michigan – The Legends division champ will undoubtedly come from the state of Michigan and I give the Wolverines the edge for one reason; QB Denard Robinson. After a horrible performance at defending National Champion Alabama to begin the season, Robinson recovered versus Air Force with 426 total yards and 4 TDs.

Leaders Champ: Ohio State – It is clear the Wisconsin Badgers miss former QB Russell Wilson, who won the starting job for the Seattle Seahawks as an NFL rookie. Coach Urban Meyer will not tolerate mediocrity. The key to his offense and ultimately the Buckeyes success is Sophomore QB Braxton Miller.

Don’t Sleep On: Michigan State – Gone are QB Kirk Cousins and WR BJ Cunningham, however, RB Le’Veon Bell could be in for a monster season for the Spartans.

Big 12

Champ: Oklahoma – The Sooners will have to contend with Texas and Kansas State for the conference title, but my edge goes to Oklahoma, mainly because of their huge advantage at the QB position. Landry Jones enters the 2012 season with 9,000 more career passing yards and 75 more passing TDs than David Ash and Collin Klein (Texas and Kansas State’s starting QBs) combined.

Contender: West Virginia – College football is close to making no sense whatsoever. I cannot get over the fact that the Mountaineers and TCU are in the Big 12 and Texas A&M is not??!! But whatever, money is the root of all decisions in the game today, so Big East or Big 12, West Virginia is still a very good football team. QB Geno Smith leads the Air Raid offense; ask Clemson if it’s any good!

Contender: Texas – With stars like DEs Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, CBs Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs, and FS Kenny Vaccaro, the Longhorns have one of the top defenses in the nation. If they can get things clicking on the other side of the ball, watch out.

Don’t Sleep On: Kansas State – While Klein, mentioned above, is not much of a pocket presence, his 27 rushing TDs last season were good for second in the nation, only behind Wisconsin’s Montee Ball (33). However, as quickly as Klein and the Wildcats can put points on the board, the Wildcat defense can give them up just as quickly. The must fix that problem if they plan on competing with the big boys.

Pac-12

North Champ: Oregon – The Ducks backfield of QBs Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett along with RBs De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner probably could have medaled in the 4×100 meter relay at the London Olympics. That’s how fast they are…crazy fast. The story for the Ducks, as always, will be whether or not they can stop anybody. In their two losses last season, they gave up 39ppg.

South Champ: USC – Like the Ducks, the Trojans are clear-cut favorites in their division of the Pac-12. What can you say about QB Matt Barkley and WRs Robert Woods and Marqise Lee other than WOW! With the addition of Penn State transfer RB Silas Redd, the rich just get richer. Mark Saturday, Nov. 3rd on your calendar. That’s when the Trojans host Oregon, a game that’s sure to be a shootout.

Southeastern Conference (SEC)

East Champ: South Carolina – How effective RB Marcus Lattimore can be after returning from an Oct. ACL tear will have a big impact on how far the Gamecocks go. However, unlike his high-scoring offensive teams Coach Steve Spurrier became known for while at Florida, Spurrier’s defense is what the Gamecocks are known for. DE Jadeveon Clowney and FS D.J. Swearinger are his best on that side of the ball.

West Champ: Alabama – The defending champs shredded Michigan to the tune of 41-14 on opening weekend. The Crimson Tide may have lost five players to the top 35 picks of April’s NFL Draft, but teams like Bama don’t sit around and feel sorry for themselves. With Trent Richardson gone, the rushing attack will be more balanced. QB AJ McCarron looks to top 3,000 yards and 20 TDs for the first time.

Don’t Sleep On: Georgia and LSU. The Bulldogs and Tigers boast two of the top defenses in the nation and we all know what that can do when it comes January. The last six national champions all hail from the SEC. In those six championship games, they have given up an average of just 15.3ppg.

Notre Dame

Because they refuse to join a conference and I’ve been a Fighting Irish fan as far back as my memory goes, Notre Dame gets their own special section in my preview. Yes, it’s been 19 years since the Fighting Irish have been able to string together back-to-back 10 win seasons, so we won’t waste a ton of time here. With a ridiculously hard schedule that includes games @ #10 Michigan State, @ #5 Oklahoma, and @ #2 USC as well as home games versus #17 Michigan, #21 Stanford, and #25 Air Force, don’t expect the Irish to finish the season with more than 8 or 9 wins. Irish fans looking for bright spots will point to a very solid defensive front four and one of the top LBs in the nation, Manti Te’o.

For those of you who are disappointed to have seen nothing on our undefeated Minnesota Gophers (2-0), we’ll dedicate next week’s entire column to them.

2012 NFC PREVIEW/PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

Posted: 1st September 2012 by Jeff Plattner in NFL

NFC West

  1. San Francisco 49ers: Best-case scenario – Randy Moss has one more great year left in him, as he tops 1,000 yards and 12TD, while upgrading the offense enough to get past the NFC title game and into San Fran’s first Super Bowl since 1994. Worst-case – Moss wears out his welcome with yet another team and is cut by midseason. Alex Smith turns back into the bad Alex Smith and the 49ers miss the playoffs as Seattle wins the west. Prediction: 11-5
  2. Seattle Seahawks: Best-case – Sidney Rice starts all 16 games and quickly becomes the favorite target of rookie QB Russell Wilson, who is so good, Matt Flynn never even gets a chance. Worst-case Marshawn Lynch comes back down to earth, doesn’t come close to 1,000 yards rushing, both Wilson and Flynn struggle mightily, and Rice misses another eight or nine games with injuries. Prediction: 8-8
  3. Arizona Cardinals: Best-case – Whoever is playing QB (Skelton for now) stops overthrowing Larry Fitzgerald by 10 yards and Fitz has a monster season. Ryan Williams emerges at RB and Patrick Peterson leads the league in INTs and punt return TDs. Worst-case – Skelton and Kolb are so atrocious at QB that Fitzgerald demands a trade. Meanwhile, the running game remains poor and Michael Floyd is bad on and off the field. Prediction: 4-12
  4. St. Louis Rams: Best-case – Coach Jeff Fisher rejuvenates Sam Bradford, who recovers from an awful 2011 and the Rams rookies shine, making up for what seemed like a completely botched draft. Worst-case – The Rams finish with three or less wins for the fifth time in six years. Prediction: 3-13

NFC South

  1. New Orleans Saints: Best-case – The Saints don’t miss Sean Payton or anyone else lost from the bounty scandal. Drew Brees is like a player-coach on offense, they continue to roll over opponents as if nothing happened this offseason. Worst-case – The loss of Payton is catastrophic and the team looks lost all season long. Prediction: 12-4
  2. Atlanta Falcons: Best-case – Matt Ryan finally has his breakout season, topping 4,500 yards and 35TD. Contrary to popular belief, Michael Turner does not break down this season. Roddy White and Julio Jones are both Pro Bowlers. Worst-case – Ryan struggles to win the big game and goes to 2-8 in his career versus New Orleans. Turner goes down early and the running game never recovers. Prediction: 9-7
  3. Carolina Panthers: Best-case – As impossible as it may seem, Cam Newton is better than last season. The backfield of Williams, Stewart, and Tolbert abuses opposing defenses and rookie LB Luke Kuechly is an instant star. Worst-case – Cam comes nowhere close to his rookie numbers, Steve Smith breaks down and the defense is bad again. Prediction: 8-8
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Best-case – The Bucs realize they have found their RB and S of the future, as Doug Martin and Mark Barron are great in their first years. Worst-case – Freeman is bad again and Vincent Jackson’s attitude gets in the way. Prediction: 3-13

NFC East

  1. Philadelphia Eagles: Best-case – The “Dream Team” finally puts it together, with expectations not so lofty. Michael Vick plays all 16 games for the first time since 2006 with Atlanta. Lesean McCoy becomes the first RB to win the MVP since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. Worst-case – We all know the Eagles season hinges on the health of Vick. Once again, Vick cannot stay healthy and the Eagles fail to meet expectations. Prediction: 10-6
  2. New York Giants: Best-case – Eli Manning continues to cut down on the turnovers, Nicks and Cruz are dominant, and Jason Pierre-Paul breaks the NFL sack record in just his third year. Worst-case – The schedule, which includes non-divisional opponents of San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Green Bay, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Baltimore proves too brutal for the Giants to reach the playoffs. Prediction: 9-7
  3. Dallas Cowboys: Best-case – With his new guidelines, Dez Bryant stays out of trouble and realizes his true potential, posting career numbers of 80+rec. 1,200+ yards, and 12TD. Everyone else (mainly Miles Austin, Jason Witten, and DeMarco Murray) stays healthy.  Worst-case – The defense is once again very average and Romo is left slinging the ball to the likes of Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, and John Phillips, as one weapon after another goes down due to injury. Prediction: 9-7
  4. Washington Redskins: Best-case – RG3 enjoys any such year remotely close to Cam Newton’s rookie year. As the go-to-guy, Pierre Garcon shows he is a real talent and Coach Shanahan’s RB-by-committee features no star, but is extremely effective. Worst-case – RG3 cannot adjust to the speed of the NFL game and Shanahan is forced to go back to Rex Grossman as his QB. Prediction: 3-13

NFC North

  1. Green Bay Packers: Best-case – The Packers ride a 16-0 record, which was an arm’s length away last season, into the playoffs, where they don’t slow down. Green Bay wins their second Super Bowl in three years and becomes the first undefeated team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins, in doing so. Worst-case – Aaron Rodgers gets injured. Prediction: 13-3
  2. Chicago Bears: Best-case – With the additions of Brandon Marshall and Michael Bush, a significantly upgraded offense can score with anybody. Cutler helps Marshall become the Bears first Pro Bowl WR since Marty Booker in 2002 and only second since 1970. Worst-case – The defense, which was middle of the pack last season, regresses to the point where the Bears are now losing 34-31 games instead of 17-13 games. Prediction: 11-5
  3. Detroit Lions: Best-case – Matthew Stafford repeats his 2011 performance and Detroit, who rushed for just 1,523 yards last season (Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 1,606 by himself) finds any resemblance of a sustainable running game to help keep defenses honest. Worst-case – Stafford and Calvin Johnson battle injuries all year. Prediction: 10-6
  4. Minnesota Vikings: Best-case – Adrian Peterson does not reinjure his knee and Christian Ponder is able to complete at least 75% of pass plays by still standing upright. Worst-case – AP suffers another traumatic knee injury. Prediction: 4-12

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers

Defensive Player of the Year: DE Jason Pierre-Paul – New York Giants

Offensive Rookie of the Year: QB Robert Griffin III – Washington Redskins

Defensive Rookie of the Year: S Mark Barron – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Breakout Candidates: RB DeMarco Murray – Dallas Cowboys

Breakout Candidates: WR Pierre Garcon – Washington Redskins

Playoff Predictions

NFC Wild Card: San Francisco over Detroit

NFC Wild Card: Chicago over Philadelphia

AFC Wild Card: Houston over Cincinnati

AFC Wild Card: Kansas City over Buffalo

NFC Divisional Playoff: San Francisco over New Orleans

NFC Divisional Playoff: Chicago over Green Bay

AFC Divisional Playoff: New England over Kansas City

AFC Divisional Playoff: Houston over Baltimore

NFC Championship: San Francisco over Chicago

AFC Championship: Houston over New England

Super Bowl XLVII: Houston over San Francisco