Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cubs Trade 12 days for 1 year with Top Prospect

With Major League Baseball's Opening Day just around the corner and Spring Training nearing its end, the Chicago Cubs have been all the rave up to this point. After what could very well end up being a historical off-season for the franchise which saw the signings of one of the top two free-agent pitchers on the market in Jon Lester and arguably the best skipper in the bigs in Joe Maddon, Kris Bryant who is not only Chicago's top prospect but is the number one prospect in the Majors, has been tearing the cover off of the ball this Spring. The 23-year old third baseman which has also seen some playing time in the outfield, leads the league in home runs this Spring and has Cubbie fans licking their chops looking into what should be a very bright future for an organization which hasn't won a World Series title in over a century. 

In just 14 games this Spring, Bryant, a Las Vegas native and graduate of Bonanza High School, has belted 9 home runs, while driving in 15 RBIs and logging a robust .425 batting average, the type of numbers that would usually result in a player being a lock to get the opening day nod at the hot corner. But not in this case. Monday, the Cubs made a decision that was sure to grind the gears of Bryant's agent Scott Boras and the MLB Players Association alike when Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein announced the team's plan to have Bryant start the season at the Minor League level. Though the news of the team's decision is fresh off the presses and was finally made official, sources around the ball club say Epstein and company had their minds made from the start which has caused the Cubs front-office to be the target of criticism from those on the outside looking in. But if we're talking solely from a business standpoint while keeping the future in mind, the front-office made the decision every single one of us would make if we were at the helm. 
By having Bryant start the year in the Minors, they can delay the start of his service clock and thus gain another full year of his services as he won't become eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season instead of 2020 had he made the opening day roster. To dumb it down some; if the Cubs can wait it out for the first nine games of the season (12 days), they'll have another year's worth of Bryant's services which considering his potential, is a no-brainer. Not to mention the championship drought that lingers on the north side of Chicago. If I'm a fan of the Cubs, I'm thrilled that the brain trust has their eyes focused on the bigger picture and that's the future of the franchise, opposed to the front-office giving him the green light to start the year only to watch him struggle out of the gates and send him back down to the Minors. Or worse, witness him become a free-agent and sign elsewhere a year earlier than he could have had we been patient for an additional two weeks. 

Bryant's red-hot hitting this spring is no fluke as the second overall pick of the 2013 MLB Draft also hit a league-leading 43 home runs in the Minors last year which should bring smiles to the faces of fans sitting in the bleachers at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. With such bright young talent as Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler already on the big league roster and prospects Javier Baez and Addison Russell in the Minors and next in line to be the core of the franchise, the Cubs should be a fun team to watch and a contending powerhouse in the NL Central for many years to come.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rangers, Phillies bit by Injury bug

As if the odds weren't already stacked against them in their respective divisions, the Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies are two teams that could ill-afford the absence of a key cog in their pitching rotation. Unfortunately, Spring Training has been none too kind to either ball club as they prepare for the regular season without the services of two of the game's most premier pitchers.  

After being shutdown for the last seven weeks of the 2014 season with mild inflammation in his right elbow, Rangers hurler Yu Darvish was expected to be good to go at the start of spring training this year. But after pitching only one inning in his spring debut on March 5, the 28-year old Japanese sensation was pulled from his outing when he experienced tightness in his triceps muscle. An MRI would spell even worse news, however, as damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in Darvish's right elbow was revealed, resulting in Tommy John surgery which would put an end to any chance of the 3-time All-Star pitching again in 2015. Already expected to be long shots fighting to stay afloat in the AL Western division with two American League powers in the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics as well as the much improved Seattle Mariners, the news of Darvish being on the shelf for the season is devastating for fans in Arlington. Texas finished with the worst record in the American League last year at 67-95 thanks in large part to the struggles and absence of first baseman Prince Fielder and though they should finish with a higher win total than they did a season ago, anywhere ahead of a fourth place finish in the division would be a surprise for a Rangers ball club that's only four seasons removed from back-to-back World Series appearances. 
As for the Phillies, another ball club not expected to be contending for a title this year, the injury to left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee is as unfortunate as any. Not only because the 36-year old Lee is still among the best lefty's in the league when healthy, but because it ends any chances the Phils had of dealing the southpaw in return for a prospect or two to help speed up Philadelphia's rebuilding process. Since signing a 5-year, $120 Million deal with the Phillies in December of 2010 and taking less than he could have made elsewhere to return to play in Philadelphia where he helped lead the Phillies to their second consecutive World Series during in his first stint with the ball club after being acquired at the trade deadline in 2009, the franchise has been unable capture the success they achieved in Lee's first two seasons. For Lee, who last pitched on July 31 before being placed on the 60-day disabled-list after sustaining the same injury a season ago, it'll be the third attempt to rehab from a torn common flexor tendon in his left elbow while shaking off the idea of having surgery which would cause him to sit out the season.

With $37.5 Million remaining on his contract which includes a $12.5 Million club option to buyout in 2016, the former Cy Young winner hopes the third time will be a charm as his road to recovery figures to be a long one before we'll get to see if the 4-time All-Star can make a return to the mound in the city of Brotherly Love. Without Lee, the Phillies who finished last a season ago (73-89), will have their hands full in an NL Eastern division which homes a number of clubs that are expected to improve from last season as well as arguably the favorite to win it all this season in the Washington Nationals. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Willis, Borland sudden Retirement leaves gaping hole in 49er Defense

What started as a nightmare of an offseason for the San Francisco 49ers with the firing of head coach Jim Harbaugh, has now gone from bad to worse with the news of not one but two of the team's star linebackers announcing their early retirement from the game of football less than a week between one another. After learning just days ago that the 49ers would be without All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis who has been the heartbeat of the San Francisco defense since being drafted eight years ago, news broke that the team's brightest young star on defense -- Chris Borland, is also walking away from the sport just one year into his professional career. While Willis, 30, admitted it was past injuries that led to his decision, most notably those to his feet which he explained have bothered him for years during his press conference, the 24-year old Borland cited the dangers of what could happen rather than what did as his reason to hang 'em up. 

It's no secret that the game of football is as dangerous as any with what we know today regarding the studies of repeated head trauma that occur during tackles and after doing his research, Borland is among those well aware of the safety concerns and long-term effects it could have on ones life. But it does come as a shocker with Borland announcing his decision so early on in his career. Selected out of the University of Wisconsin in the third round of last year's NFL Draft, Borland shined and was a tackling-machine for the 49er defense after getting the starting nod in Week 7 when asked to fill in for the injured Patrick Willis. From his Week 7 start until Week 15 when he suffered an injury of his own, the rookie linebacker led the league in tackles with 98, eight more than the next closest player during that span and was awarded Defensive Rookie of the Month for the month of November. Borland led the 49ers with 108 total tackles while averaging a tackle per every 4.5 snaps played which was the best in the league. In the wake of Willis announcing his retirement plans, the expectations for Borland next season were sure to skyrocket following his impressive rookie campaign. Instead, the team will now be left searching for an alternative replacement who's unlikely to step up in the way Borland was capable of while also holding their fingers crossed that Pro Bowl linebacker NaVorro Bowman can return to full strength after missing all of last season with ACL and MCL tears in his left knee. 
As if the 49ers weren't already expected to showcase a completely different team defensively in 2015 under a new regime with former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio departing for the Chicago Bears, the franchise will virtually feature an entirely new roster with both Willis and Borland gone as well as fellow linebacker Dan Skuta, cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox all signing elsewhere for bigger paydays. The defense isn't the only area that was dealt a blow in the early goings of the offseason, however, as the Niners' o-line saw their 3-time Pro-Bowl guard Mike Iupati sign with the rival Arizona Cardinals. Another name that will soon follow is Michael Crabtree who's a free-agent and isn't expected to return with the team that drafted him in 2009. And then there's the franchise's all-time leading rusher in Frank Gore who inked a contract with the Indianapolis Colts over the weekend after 10 memorable seasons in San Francisco. The busy free-agent frenzy wasn't all about losing players, though, as the 49ers also made a number of acquisitions by signing 3-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle/defensive end Darnell Dockett who the team is quite familiar with having played his entire 11-year career in Arizona. Other signings include cornerback Shareece Wright formerly of the San Diego Chargers, running back Reggie Bush who gives the Niners another dimension in the running game after spending the last two seasons with Detroit and former Ravens wide-out Torrey Smith who provides the 49er offense with a deep threat they've so desperately needed. 

As for the linebacker position, the unexpected retirement of two of their top three players at the position has to throw off the team's initial plans heading into next month's NFL Draft, but it's better to have happened now rather than after the draft. It would be hard not to see the Niners address the position come Draft day, however, unless they plan to hang onto Michael Wilhoite who was recently placed on the trading block or decide to possibly kick the tires on LB Nick Moody who saw limited action on the field a season ago.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Friday, March 6, 2015

Tough start for Defending Champion Giants

Before their title defense could even begin with the start of Major League Baseball's regular season still a month away, the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants were dealt a sizable blow in just their third Spring Training outing of the year. Facing Corey Black of the Chicago Cubs, Giants outfielder and clubhouse ringleader Hunter Pence took a pitch high and in off of his left forearm in the sixth inning that caused him to exit the game. With everyone in the dugout from manager Bruce Bochy on down fearing for the worst, x-rays revealed a non-displaced fracture in the ulna bone which will keep Pence on the shelf for 6-8 weeks. 

Although the timing of the incident is somewhat fortunate given the injury occurred prior to the regular season, Pence will be without the benefit of working on his timing at the plate and everything else that Spring Training allows you to prep for. And while Pence expressed no ill will towards Black and even replied to his tweet which Black issued to wish the Giants outfielder a speedy recovery to which Pence replied, "It happens my friend. Thanks for the concern, it's part of the game we love." With the timetable for Pence's return out of his favor given he currently owns the longest active streak in baseball having played 383 consecutive games which will now be in jeopardy, life without their iron man won't be long for the Giants but it'll still take some getting used to, granted Pence has appeared in every single game since San Francisco acquired him midway through the 2012 season.

Since his arrival to the ball club, Pence leads the team in home runs, runs batted in and extra-base hits. But he's meant more to the team than just a statistical leader and everyday gamer, he's been the voice and soul of the ball club during two of their three title runs. The injury to Pence opens the door to a number of outfielders looking to get some playing time including Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez and non-roster invitee Justin Maxwell. The resilient Hunter Pence has plans of returning sooner than team doctors have ruled him out for but waiting out the full 6-8 weeks might be best as the Giants look to win their fourth World Series title in 6 years and put an end to the curse (if you wanna call it that) of the even numbered years.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Remodel down South

Predicted by many in and around the baseball community as a dark horse to contend for a title in the NL Western Division last season, the San Diego Padres fell short of those expectations by finishing 77-85, good enough for third in the division. And though championships aren't won in the offseason, one thing that's certain is the impressive offseason the Padres and their newly hired general manager A.J. Preller have put together prior to the 2015 season.

After missing the postseason for an eighth straight season last year, the Padres front-office made it their priority to put an end to that in 2015. Having been a relatively quiet club during the offseason in years past, the San Diego Padres have caught everyone's attention while being this offseason's most active team by far. Along with their new GM came some new talent which the Friars were able to acquire both via trade and the free-agent market thanks to an increase in payroll which will set a new franchise record and is closing in on the $105 Million mark. San Diego's busy shopping spree begun with the acquisition of Matt Kemp whom they landed from the rival Dodgers. While adding a player of Kemp's caliber alone in years past would've riled up the Padres fan base, they weren't finished there as a deal to land Justin Upton from the Braves was the next item on their list. With two of the three outfield spots being claimed by new faces, Preller made it a whole new cast by completing the trifecta and bringing in Wil Myers from Tampa Bay.
The trio of new outfielders gives San Diego one of the best looking outfields on paper. If Kemp, who's often injured and is several seasons removed from being the NL MVP runner-up, can stay healthy, Upton is able to regain the confidence he had at the plate as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks while often facing the Padres and Myers can to return to his 2013 form when he took home AL Rookie of the Year honors, the Padres will have themselves a star-studded outfield. The flurry of moves didn't stop there, however, as veteran shortstop Clint Barmes, third baseman Will Middlebrooks and 2014 All-Star catcher Derek Norris were also added into the mix along with pitchers Brandon Maurer, Shawn Kelly and Brandon Morrow. But just when you thought he was done, A.J. Preller complimented his already stellar body of work by adding that final cherry on top in the form of one of the top free-agent pitchers on the market -- James Shields.

It was learned early Monday morning that Shields was the last of the major free-agent dominoes to fall when he and the Padres agreed to a 4-year deal worth $75 Million. The signing of Shields, a 33-year old native of southern California, is the richest contract in the club's history, surpassing the 3-year, $52 Million deal with former Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy in 2007. Having topped the 200 innings pitched mark in eight straight seasons, Shields comes as durable as any but not without a bit of concern regarding the workload on his arm. Not to mention, no pitcher threw more pitches last season than Shields did as he helped guide the Royals to their first World Series appearance in over 30 years. But calling a pitcher friendly stadium like Petco Park home for the next few seasons should help keep Shields among the game's most reliable hurlers on the mound. Not a bad offseason for a guy who's only been a GM since August, right?
But don't go thinking Preller's busy spending and team renovation didn't come without risk, though, as he had to part with a good portion of players including some of the club's top picks and prospects and in the process is letting us know that San Diego is ready to compete now as they look to dethrone the higher powers within the division in L.A. and San Francisco in what's been a two-team race for the past several seasons.

 Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Monday, February 2, 2015

Last second Turnover Dooms Seattle in Classic Super Bowl

Leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, many had predicted an intense, close football game that would come down to the wire. And what transpired between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots for Super Bowl XLIX was nothing short of an instant classic. With such story lines as Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll vying for back-to-back Lombardi Trophies and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick looking to further cement their names among the game's all-time greats heading into the match up, only one team's hopes and dreams would come to fruition. For the Patriots who had not won a playoff game away from home since the 2006 season, a win would tie QB Tom Brady with Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to win four Super Bowl's. But standing in the way of Tom Terrific was a Seattle defense which has earned its way into the discussion of potentially the greatest defense the NFL has ever seen. And with the Seahawks trying to become the first back-to-back champs since the 2003-04 Patriots, there was plenty to be played for.

Though the game's first quarter would be a scoreless one, it wouldn't go uneventful as a missed roughing the kicker penalty on New England's opening-drive followed by a red zone mishap by Tom Brady made for an entertaining opening quarter. After forcing a three and out on Seattle's first drive on offense, Brady marched the New England offense all the way down to the 10-yard line where he would be picked off in the end zone. Under heavy pressure, Brady had his pass intercepted by Seattle's Jeremy Lane in what would be his only mistake of the ball game. However, the Seahawks would fail to capitalize on the turnover and Brady would make them pay for it by scoring a touchdown on their next drive as he found receiver Brandon LaFell in the end zone. If the mistake on the early interception by Brady woke up the Patriots, Brady's touchdown had awoken Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense as the Seahawks tied the game two drives later on Marshawn Lynch's touchdown. After becoming the first QB in Super Bowl history to not have a single pass attempt in the first quarter, Wilson found a friend in rookie wide-out Chris Matthews who's 44-yard reception helped set up the easy score.
Seattle's successful trip to the end zone would help ignite four consecutive scoring drives for the Seahawks but not before Brady could pull his team back on top, capped by a touchdown hauled in by Rob Gronkowski from 22-yards out. With only 31 seconds remaining before the end of the first half, Seattle fans would've been more than satisfied with a field goal to cut the deficit to four heading into the half. But back to back plays of 19 and 17 yards followed by a 38 yard gain on a pass along the sideline which ended with a face mask penalty on the defense, would lead to a gutsy decision by Pete Carroll. With just 6 seconds before the end of the half, Carroll elected to gamble with a shot to tie it. A decision which would pay off as Wilson once again connected with Chris Matthews, this time in the end zone to tie the game at 14-all. Whatever Carroll and the Seahawks coaching staff addressed in the locker room during the half payed dividends on the field as Seattle came out guns blazing to start the second half. After scoring on a Steven Hauschka field goal to take their first lead of the ball game, Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner stepped in front of Gronkowski to force the turnover as Brady was picked off for a second time. 

Six plays later, Wilson found a wide-open Doug Baldwin on the right side of the end zone to give Seattle a 24-14 lead. Having allowed 17 unanswered-points, New England was in need of score. Facing a 10-point deficit entering the fourth quarter against the most dominant defense in the league, it would be up to Brady to rally his team to victory. The odds would be stacked against him, however, as teams with two interceptions thrown in the Super Bowl were a combined 4-28 all-time. Not to mention Seattle owned a perfect record of 18-0 over the last three seasons when leading by 10-points or more heading into the 4th quarter. After setting an NFL record by starting in his sixth Super Bowl, Brady added another record to his resume as he surpassed his boyhood idol Joe Montana for the most touchdowns in Super Bowl history (12) by finding Danny Amendola from 4-yards out to pull New England within a field goal. In need of a stop on defense, the Pats forced a Seattle three and out which put the ball back into Brady's hands with just under 7 minutes remaining. 
Using his pinpoint precision to perfection, Brady made a series of short passes to march his team down the field. And before you knew it, the Patriots were starring down the end zone with a chance to recapture the lead. Battling a concussion which he chose to play through as we learned after the game, Julian Edelman who caught a game-high 9 passes for 109 yards, capped off the drive by scoring the go-ahead touchdown to give New England the 28-24 lead. But as brilliant a job Tom Brady did in executing the Patriots' touchdown scoring drive, he left Russell Wilson with just over 2 minutes in regulation which as we all learned in the NFC Championship is more than enough time for the former third round pick who also had the two-minute warning and all three timeouts to play with. And after a 31-yard pickup on a pass down the sideline to Marshawn Lynch of all people on first down, we were all reminded why Wilson and the Seahawks were knocking on the door of winning their second consecutive championship. Then came arguably the most miraculous catch in Super Bowl history as a pass intended for Jermaine Kearse was deflected and then juggled by Kearse who was on his back and still managed to come up with the catch for a 33-yard pickup. 

Though Kearse deserves all the credit in the world for being able to hang on to the ball, the awareness by New England safety Malcolm Butler should not go unnoticed as he was the one who tipped the ball and still got up in time to push Kearse out of bounds. Had it not been for Butler's awareness, Kearse would've scored easily. But even then, Butler felt as though he let his team down as he made a play on the ball and yet Kearse still came up with the catch and a big one at that. Butler, an undrafted rookie out of West Alabama had only 15 career tackles under his belt in 13 games and had never recorded a single NFL interception. But just two plays later, the man who had been employed at a Popeye's chicken shack before Bill Belichick gave him a look, would make the biggest play of his life. With everyone on planet earth anticipating Marshawn Lynch who had been on an absolute tear the entire second half to rush the ball, we were given a surprise. Facing a 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line, Pete Carroll elected to roll the dice as Russell Wilson stepped back to pass. With Ricardo Lockette cutting inside, Wilson threw his way but Butler read the play and jumped out in front of him, cutting him off and nabbing the ball for the interception. 
And while it would be only the first interception thrown from the 1-yard line this entire season, it couldn't have come at a more crucial time. But even after coming up with the pick, the game wasn't over yet as the Patriots were at the 1-yard line and were in need of some wiggle room as a kneel down would've resulted in a safety. Hoping to draw a defender off-sides before hiking the ball, Brady and company succeeded as linebacker Michael Bennett who had been penalized more than anybody in the league this season for off-sides, jumped the gun one final time, costing his team a shot at making the stop. The costly penalty would stir emotions as the two teams came to blows when a fracas broke out on the very next play, resulting in Seattle's Bruce Irvin being ejected. He wouldn't miss much, however, as Brady knelled on the very next play to end it, sealing the victory and dethroning the Seahawks as New England completed the 10-point fourth quarter comeback which tied them for the largest comeback in Super Bowl history.

Super Bowl MVP would be awarded to Tom Brady who for the fourth time in his career led his team on the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl, taking home the honors for a third time which ties him with Joe Montana for the most all-time. The triumph puts Brady alone in the discussion of the game's greatest QB's of all-time alongside Montana. As for Bill Belichick, only he and Steelers legendary head coach Chuck Noll have coached a team to four wins in the Super Bowl which undoubtedly has to catapult him to the top of the list. Then again, we might have to keep our breathe held with the ongoing investigation revolving 'Deflate Gate' and wait to see how if at all it effects the legacy of Brady & Belichick. 
As for Seattle, the Seahawks become the first defending champs to lose in the Super Bowl since the 1997 Green Bay Packers who lost to John Elway and the Denver Broncos. With everyone and their brother in utter disbelief that Pete Carroll who took full responsibility for the decision, chose to pass on second down instead of handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, the play will go down as arguably the worst play-call in Super Bowl history, so bad that some fans have even called for his job (and head). Personally, I thought Russell Wilson would have and should have got the nod to run it in, but that's just me. For what it's worth, the NFC's No. 1 seeds have now lost 6 of the last 8 Super Bowl appearances. And while it's defense that normally wins championships, not this time around as teams with the No. 1 ranked scoring defense during the regular season have now fallen to 13-4 in the Super Bowl. Despite the loss, the Las Vegas sports books didn't hesitate to label Seattle as the odds on favorite to win it all next season. But with their defensive coordinator out the door on his way to claim the head coaching position in Atalanta and the NFC Western division only getting better year after year, it won't be an easy task to make it back to the big game, let alone win their division. 

In my opinion, Super Bowl XLIX was a game that'll go down in the history books as one of the most memorable games in Super Bowl history and was a true emotional roller-coaster. The game broke the record as the most watched event in American television history and truly had it all as you went from thinking a Seattle comeback was inevitable given the way they were marching down the field towards the end, especially after Kearse's divine catch, and then the unthinkable happened. We can only hope as fans that next year's Super Bowl which will be league's 50th, will be half as exciting as this one was. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Super Bowl XLIX Preview

With the 2014 NFL season nearing its end, Super Bowl week is officially upon us as the table is now set for Super Bowl XLIX with the defending Super Bowl champion (12-4) Seattle Seahawks squaring off versus the (12-4) New England Patriots. Though both teams will represent their respective conference as the number one seed, the road to the Super Bowl for these two teams couldn't have been any different from one another. With Seattle coming back and surviving by the skin of their teeth by knocking off the Green Bay Packers in an overtime thriller, New England took a much different route by punching their ticket to the big game and beating the Indianapolis Colts in blowout fashion but not without a little bit of controversy. 

As hyped up as the match up has been, all the chatter has revolved around the footballs used in last Sunday's AFC Championship game in New England. During the 41-7 blowout victory by the Patriots, 11 of the 12 balls used came back under-inflated. With someone in or around the Patriots organization deliberately deflating the footballs used, the spotlight has been placed on the duo of Pats QB Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick in what's been appropriately coined, "Deflate Gate." Both Brady and Belichick denied knowledge of the incident Thursday when speaking to the media. While many have found it hard to believe neither Brady nor Belichick were aware of the fix, there's also those who believe this can't possibly be the first time the Patriots or the mastermind behind it all have done this which begs the question -- Is the Patriots' legacy tainted? Having averaged 12 wins a season since 2001, it's not the first time New England has been accused of cheating as we can all recall the 'Spygate' incident. 
Though it's often been compared to scuffing a baseball, a practice often utilized by pitchers to gain an advantage over the batter, what I'd like to know is how an official didn't once take notice of the deflated balls considering they touch and prepare the ball before and after every single play. While the league moves forward with their investigation, it's unlikely Commissioner Goodell takes any disciplinary action until after the conclusion of the season which is basically letting the Patriots off Scott free. Then again what could the league possibly do to discipline Bill Belichick at this time, suspend his future Hall of Fame quarterback from the biggest game of the season which would be the equivalent of handing Seattle the Lombardi Trophy? Sure having a Patriots-Colts rematch to determine the AFC Champion would be the ideal outcome, but that wouldn't happen in a million years. Nor should it because regardless of the air pressure in those footballs, I'm not convinced it played that big of a role in the 34-point outcome. With the way Patriots running back LaGarrette Blount was pounding the football, the Colts couldn't have stopped him if he was carrying a loaf of bread.

But back to Super Bowl Sunday where despite all the controversy leading up to the big game, the match-up figures to make for a much more exciting and more competitive game than the 43-8 massacre that the Legion of Boom served up on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos a year ago. Seattle proved last year that a dominant defense should not be overlooked when facing a high-powered offense. And while we'll basically be seeing the same thing this time around, New England has by far a better defense than the one Broncos head coach John Fox took with him to last year's Super Bowl. But what I think will be the key to the ballgame is whether or not the Seattle defense can get into the head of Tom Brady and the Patriots offense the same way they did Peyton and the Broncos last season. From the first play on when the ball sailed over Peyton Manning's head and into the end zone for a safety, the Broncos played scared and directly into the hands of Seattle's head coach Pete Carroll. And while I'm not betting on this game being anywhere near the one-sided affair that last year's Super Bowl was, I still see the same team coming out on top when it's all said and done. Though I hope I'm wrong, I've seen Russell Wilson and the Seahawks escape from the jaws of defeat and pull out way too many victories when they've been dead in the water and should have been on the losing end which is why I think they still have one more win left in them. 

Prediction: Seattle 27-24 New England. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Friday, January 16, 2015

From one Jim to another

After three consecutive trips to the NFC Championship followed by a disappointing 8-8 finish in 2014, the San Francisco 49ers brain trust decided to bid a farewell to head coach Jim Harbaugh as the two sides agreed to mutually part ways. With Harbaugh landing a job with his alma mater Michigan, the 49ers were left with a head coaching vacancy. After an extensive search to find the team's next head coach which included the interviewing of 8 other candidates, the 49ers had their man all along in Jim Tomsula. A name not widely known outside of the Bay Area, Tomsula has been on the 49ers' sidelines through the teachings of several head coaches with the likes of Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary and the recently departed Jim Harbaugh. And now, team owner Jed York and GM Trent Baalke will hand the gavel to Tomsula.

Despite his inexperience, Tomsula does however have a 38-7 victory over the Cardinals under his belt in the one game that he served as an interim head coach after the firing of Mike Singletary in 2010. Before that, you'd have to go all way back to 2006 when Tomsula served as head coach of NFL Europe's Rhein Fire who finished the season 6-4 with Tomsula at the helm. But experienced or not, not a single player has expressed their doubts regarding the 49ers new hire. Players took to Twitter to congratulate and express just how happy they are for Tomsula and how excited they are to be playing under him which tells a little about the guy and how much of a players coach he is. Something Jim Harbaugh was not, according to murmurs in and out of the 49ers locker room. Since Tomsula joined the team as the defensive line coach in 2007, only the Baltimore Ravens have allowed fewer rushing yards per rush at 3.6, one tick fewer than San Francisco's 3.7.
From a fan standpoint, the decision comes as somewhat of a surprise given the 49ers aren't too far from being Super Bowl contenders once again and yet they decided to hire someone with little to no head coaching experience. Not to mention the mountain high expectations Tomsula inherits from coach Harbaugh who went 49-22-1 during his tenure with the Niners and led the team to three consecutive NFC Championships in his first three seasons, a feat no other coach has accomplished. But perhaps Tomsula's 8-year familiarity with the team and its personnel will make up for that, knowing from the inside what kinks need to be worked on in order to help the team take that final step. With defensive coordinator Vic Fangio reportedly on his way out and offensive coordinator Greg Roman already agreeing to join the Buffalo Bills under the same job title, the 49ers will feature an entirely new coaching staff under Tomsula.

Whoever Tomsula decides to hire to stand alongside him on the sidelines or in the booth, will be given the task on offense to help mentor and groom QB Colin Kaepernick to regain his form after a down season which I blame in large part on Greg Roman's misuse of the duel-threat QB and poor play-calling. As for the defensive side of things, Vic Fangio's replacement will be taking over a defense which ranked fifth overall this year despite being without one of if not the best linebacker tandems in the league for most of the season.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Peyton Manning's cloudy Future

Uncertainty in the air - Since the start of the Peyton Manning era in Denver some three seasons ago, the Denver Broncos have done nothing but break records and win games during the regular season. Their success in the postseason, however, not so much. Then again, that's the one knock on one of the game's all-time great signal callers. With just the one Super Bowl victory under his belt, Manning has had the pieces in place during his time with Denver to change that. But a disappointing loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in his first year with the Broncos in 2012 followed by a 35-point shellacking to the Seattle Seahawks in last year's Super Bowl, has deprived him of that second Lombardi Trophy that he has tried so hard to capture. 

And then there was Sunday's loss at the hands of Peyton's former team -- the Indianapolis Colts, the most recent disappointing postseason finish which has many pondering; could we have seen the last of No.18? While there's no denying Manning still possesses the skill set to play in this league despite his age, would he be willing to take on another trying offseason of training, mental preparation and everything in between? When being asked about his future following yesterday's 24-13 loss which eliminated Denver from the playoffs, the 5-time MVP was noncommittal in his answer while leaving us on the edge of our seats. Clouding Manning's future even more so is the news of Broncos head coach John Fox mutually agreeing to step down from his position with the team. Under Fox who signed a contract extension during the offseason, the Broncos have won AFC Western Division titles in each of his first four years with the team. Fox coached the team to an impressive record of 46-18 during the regular season, but it was his 2-3 record during the playoffs coupled with philosophical differences from those of Broncos GM John Elway which led to the two sides parting ways.
With Fox out the door and offensive coordinator Adam Gase likely to follow with offers of a possible head coaching position if he doesn't receive one from Elway himself, the likelihood of Manning deciding to call it quits would most certainly improve assuming Peyton would oppose the idea of welcoming a new offensive system. And with the relationship between Manning and Gase being a close one, who Elway and company decide to go with to fill their head coaching vacancy could be the deciding factor in whether or not the soon to be 39-year old Manning returns. Not to mention the many play-makers on offense that are set to hit the free-agency market including Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker to name a few. Though it's been reported that Manning played Sunday's game with a torn quadriceps muscle, it would be hard to blame the loss on that alone given Indianapolis admitted to stealing a page from Seattle's book by taking away the middle of the field and forcing Manning to try his hand at the deep passes along the sideline that he just wasn't able to make like he so often has in the past.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

49ers End Season with a 20-17 Win in Harbaugh's Final game

With the 49ers already eliminated from playoff contention, there was still plenty to play for in Sunday's season-finale against the division-rival Arizona Cardinals. While a win was needed for San Francisco to finish the season at .500, both Frank Gore and Anquan Boldin had their eyes set on reaching personal milestones. With Frank Gore needing only 38 yards rushing to reach the 1,000 yard mark for the eighth time in ten seasons and Anquan Boldin knocking on the door of back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons receiving, both would reach their quotas by the end of the day.

Entering the game, Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley had not thrown a touchdown pass in a record 228 pass attempts, the longest dry spell to begin a career. But by the time this one was over, he would throw not one but two touchdowns including one on Arizona's opening drive as he connected with receiver Michael Floyd on a flea-flicker from 20-yards out. Colin Kaepernick and the 49er offense would need only three plays to answer with a touchdown of their own as Kap found a wide-open Anquan Boldin down the middle for a 76-yard score to tie the game at 7. Though San Francisco would pull ahead with a 13-7 lead on a pair of Phil Dawson field goals in the second quarter, it was Arizona who would take a 17-13 lead into the half as Lindley connected with Floyd for a second time, this one coming from 41-yards out just before halftime.
With the 49ers having played their best ball offensively all season during the first half of games only to vanish come the start of the second half, the San Francisco offense was once again only able to score once in the second half, but it would be all they needed in this one. Kaepernick and Gore teamed up to march the team down the field with their legs before Kaepernick found a wide-open Bruce Miller in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead score. With the Niners leading 20-17, the Cardinals were given one final chance to tie or pull ahead with possession at the start of the 2-minute warning but the San Francisco defense would come up big, intercepting Lindley for a third time as safety Craig Dahl out muscled receiver John Brown for the ball in mid-air. After coming up with the game-sealing interception, Dahl sprinted to the sideline and handed the ball to coach Jim Harbaugh who was later given a Gatorade bath by his players in what many have speculated will be his final game as head coach. 

Even before the final whistle was blown on Sunday, Jim Harbaugh's future with the team was all the buzz. Another Niner who's future with the organization is questionable is that of running back Frank Gore who in the final year of his contract with the team, became one of only eleven players to rack up eight or more seasons of 1,000 yards rushing and only the second active player with such numbers alongside Steven Jackson. While it's not yet known if Sunday's 20-17 win over the Cardinals was the final game for Frank Gore in a 49er uniform or any other uniform for that matter, the 5-time Pro Bowler has proved that he still plenty of gas left in his tank. Gore finished the game rushing for 144 yards on 25 carries. Meanwhile, receiver Anquan Boldin caught two passes for 81 yards on the afternoon to become one of only four players in franchise history to log consecutive 1,000 yard seasons receiving. 
As for Colin Kaepernick who managed to play turnover-free football, the 49er QB threw for 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Arizona's Ryan Lindley threw for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns while being picked off three times in a losing effort. With the win, the 49ers closed the season at .500 for an even 8-8 record and deprived the (11-5) Arizona Cardinals of their first 12-win season in franchise history.

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