This entry will be analogous to throwing a curveball in a hitter-friendly (2-0 or 3-1) count. To take a venture into the political and policy making arenas and aside from our usual sports-dominated production, here goes nothing.

If you haven’t yet read this article from this past Sunday’s New York Times, please take the time to do so:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/us/even-critics-of-safety-net-increasingly-depend-on-it.html?pagewanted=1&hp

As a person whose head usually spins in multiple directions when conversations embark upon tax rates and the current drudgery of the American economy, Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff have done a wonderful job in making sense of safety net and entitlement programs and how increased government spending to support Americans who rely on these benefits have created numerous financial problems not only in terms of our ballooning national debt, but also for younger generations including my own.  In reaction, I offer the following questions and analysis as some food for thought.

Neglecting the “Lower” Class? Or Expanding It?

Appelbaum and Gebeloff state that the government safety net was created to prevent Americans from entering poverty levels, but according to their findings, the poorest U.S. citizens no longer receive a majority of government benefits, in turn increasing their chances to remain at the bottom of the economic food chain. In fact, “The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007,” with the middle class now receiving more assistance and making up for the eighteen percentage disparity.

This statistic now raises a couple of highly debatable questions. Is it right for the government to turn its back on the poor and deprive them of essential help they need for survival? Or do Americans who fall into the middle fifths in terms of affluency among American households (members of the 21-40% and 41-60% brackets), those who we have traditionally referred to as the “middle class”, now possess income rates and wealth amounts that qualify among the poverty level? In other terms, does this increased amount of government assistance the “middle class” is receiving actually render that classification obsolete? Have they actually joined the ranks of our nation’s poor, further widening the economic inequality gap?

The Baby Boomer Effect and the Budget

Alarmingly, Appelbaum and Gebeloff reveal that over a course of a decade, the amount of revenue that both federal and state governments spend on safety net programs has dramatically risen, expanding from 37 cents on the dollar in 2000 to 66 cents on the dollar in 2010. And this has all taken place after one Medicare expansion, two recessions, and three rounds of tax cuts, not hikes. Furthermore, government dedication to assistance programs will only increase, as the Congressional Budget Office projects “that government spending on medical benefits, even taking into account the cost containment measures in the 2010 health care law, will rise by 60 percent over the next decade.” Largely responsible for this abnormality? The Baby Boomer generation, as more of its population enters into retirement, ages, and inevitably incurs more medical problems.

Confounding logic: A Backwards Political Trend

Contemporary American politics have also bucked the age-old criticism of democracy that citizens will dry out their country’s currency by demanding more spending than taxes. It makes sense. Theoretically, if you want to get more than what you pay for, you will elect officials who promise to increase spending.

But according to Dartmouth Professor Dean P. Lacy, not so fast. Over the past thirty years, Lacy has found that support for Republican candidates, who usually promise to cut government spending, has increased in states where the government spends more than it collects. Plainly speaking, in areas where people have a greater dependance on government assistance, there is inexplicably more support for Republican candidates, who actually want to cut government spending, and in turn, the benefits it provides.

When looking at the contrary, the results are just as odd. Lacy concluded that in those states that pay more than taxes they they receive in benefits, backing of Democratic candidates (who usually want to increase government spending) is more prevalent.

Talk about a conundrum.

Our Enlarging Debt and the Frail Future of the American Dream

Whatever your individual beliefs on tax rates are, the fact that two/thirds of state and federal revenue is spent on safety net programs has to be concerning, and with the overwhelming majority of Baby Boomer population entering it’s twilight years, that percentage will only go up if tax levels remain the same. Obviously this is a problem, but what needs to be done?

Do we hike taxes, thereby allowing the enlarging eligible population to continue receiving its entitlements, but at the expense of younger generations, including those looking to find work and/or who are already succumbed in other debt accumulated by student and housing loans?

What about keeping tax rates at the same or even lowering them? These two options could provide a couple of outcomes, neither of which is favorable. First, government could just dedicate an even larger percentage of its revenue to safety net programs, thereby covering everyone who needs them. But the downside is that this approach would simultaneously drain resources needed to fund other vitally subsidized sectors, such as defense, education, infrastructure, and medical and technology research. If the same or less amount of money is coming in, other areas will indefinitely take a hit. Don’t want to pay more taxes but also want your medicare? Be prepared for a weaker homeland security, a lesser quality of education for your kids, and far more potholes.

Or we could just lower the quality of benefits safety net programs provide. With stagnant or lower tax rates this would still allow for ample funding of the other important aforementioned areas, however in turn we would be reducing the quality of lives for those who rely on the programs. Grandma may not be able to get a hip replacement. Uncle Jeremy potentially couldn’t receive a new liver. Always wanted to retire somewhere warm? Better not rely on Social Security to help out on payments for that beach side condo.

I don’t have the answer. But no matter how you look at it, sooner or later we aren’t going to be to enjoy all the luxuries the American Dream once offered. Whether we lose these comforts in terms of our nation as a whole (ex: a seemingly invincible military, the best universities on the planet, the most efficient and cleanest forms of transportation) or as individuals (the opportunity to go to college, take a vacation, repair/buy a new car), the hits will be felt by all.

Buckle up your seat belt.

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San Francisco will have more reason to celebrate come Sunday

And we’re down to four.

By the end of Sunday night, the participants in Super Bowl XLVI, to be held on Feburary 5 in Indianapolis, will be determined. After this past weekend’s shocking upset (New York over Green Bay), last second thriller (San Francisco over New Orleans), and the Massacre in Foxboro (New England over Denver), Sunday’s conference championships can only hope to as entertaining. Below are predictions for this weekend’s two games.

(In chronological order)

AFC Championship

#2 Baltimore Ravens @ #1 New England Patriots, Sunday 3:00 PM EST

 Coming off of their Divisional Round obliteration of the Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos, Tom Brady and the Patriots host Joe Flacco and the Ravens, who arrive Sunday fresh off their 20-13 victory over the Houston Texans. Brady enters the contest red hot after torching the Donkeys for 363 yards passing along with 6 TD’s. Although he was mysteriously held out of practice today, Brady should be healthy for Sunday’s game and will have TE Aaron Hernandez back at his disposal, who was  previously considered to be questionable after suffering a concussion against Denver. Additionally, Brady will continue to look towards WR Wes Welker and TE Rob Gronkowski ,who caught a combined 16 passes for 200 yards and four touchdowns last weekend.

Based on playoff history, the Ravens should come into New England with an aura of confidence as it has been only two years since they manhandled the Patriots in the 2009-10 Wild Card Round in Foxboro, winning that contest by a lopsided score of 33-14. With the psychological aspect in place, Baltimore will turn to Flacco and RB Ray Rice to lead the scoring against the Patriots defense, who have had trouble stopping the pass this season. Rice is a fantastic pass catching back and should see plenty of work in that area on Sunday. Further, LB’s Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs will look to put increased pressure on Brady and limit his openings in the middle of the field where Hernandez and Gronkowski do most of their damage.

Who Will Win and Why:

The determining factor in this game will be how well Baltimore’s vaunted defense contains Brady and the explosive New England offense. Hernandez and Gronk are absolute monsters who run extremely well, so if Brady has time to throw and can exploit some potential mismatches in the coverage game, the Ravens will be in deep trouble, especially if Baltimore All-Pro FS Ed Reed is limited in mobility. The Ravens shouldn’t have too much trouble putting up points, and I expect Rice to definitely have a bigger and (more productive) role than last weekend, when he accumlated only 81 total yards (61 yards on the ground and 20 in the air).

As a history major in school, I believe that the past will be repeated in this game. It will be a shoot-out, however John Harbaugh will march his squad into Foxboro and stun Brady and Belichick, advancing Baltimore to their first Super Bowl in over a decade. Final Score: Ravens 34 – Patriots 31

NFC Championship

#4 New York Giants at #2 San Francisco 49ers, Sunday 6:30 PM EST

In a matchup not many people were expecting, rookie superstar head coach Jim Harbaugh and the gritty Niners play host to Tom Coughlin and Big Blue, led by veteran and Super Bowl Champion QB Eli Manning. The G-Men come to the Bay Area after an unprecedented late season-push, first by winning the NFC East title in Week 17, knocking off Matt Ryan and the Falcons in the Wild Card round, and then shocking the world by defeating Aaron Rodgers and the 15-1 Packers in last weekend’s grudgematch in Green Bay. San Francisco’s pride and joy is their defense, which managed to do just enough to contain Drew Brees and New Orleans last Saturday. Led by All Pro LB’s Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman, the Niners will look to put pressure on Manning and force him out of his comfort zone. On the other side of the ball, San Fran will utilize RB Frank Gore to run for tough yardage and eat up clock while playing conservative through the air, as QB Alex Smith and TE Vernon Davis have formed quite the duo. In Saturday’s win over the Saints, Davis hauled in seven passes for 180 yards and two scores, including the game-winner with just nine seconds left.

The G-Men come into Candlestick clicking on all cylinders. Before the start of the season, Manning selm-proclaimed himself as an elite quarterback, and his 2011 regular and postseason performances have validated that statement. After throwing for almost 5,000 yards and 30 TD’s in the regular season, Manning lit up Green Bay for 330 more and three scores last weekend, building upon his 277 and three-TD effort against Atlanta in the Wild Card round. Against the Niners, Manning will look to throw often, usally in the direction of WR’s Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, his two star wideouts who both eclipsed the 1,000 yard receiving mark in the regular season. On defense, New York puts a ton of pressure on the quarterback, and will look to DE Jason Pierre-Paul and LB Mathias Kiwanuka to continue that effort.

Who Will Win and Why:

As it will be in the AFC title bount, the x factor in this game will be how one team’s defense controls the other’s offense, in this case it being the Niners D vs. Manning and Co. If the San Fran can generate enough turnovers (they came up with five last week vs. New Orleans) and get the ball in the hands of Gore, then they can tire New York and eat up valuable clock time. However, if the G-Men’s RB tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs prove to be effective, than Smith and the Niners may have to play catch up and chuck the rock to maintain pace, which is not a very favorable strategy.

As I voted against the Niners’ D last week, I have learned from my mistake and will not do so again. San Francisco will feed off an electric Candlestick Park and claim the NFC title in a defensive battle, setting up a Harbaugh Bros Super Bowl. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Alex Smith will have a chance to win a World Title. Final Score: Niners 21 – Giants 17

Eli Manning and the Giants Keep Rolling

Time to play Monday morning quarterback. Here is a quick roundup of important sports news from over the weeekend, everything from NFL playoffs to PGA Golf, with brief description and analysis.

NFL Playoffs – Divisional Round

Niners 36 – Saints 32

In what was argubaly the most entertaining game over the weekend, QB Alex Smith’s touchdown pass to TE Vernon Davis (already being labeled as “The Grab”) with nine seconds left cemented San Francisco’s spot in the NFC Championship game for the first time in almost a decade. New Orleans seemed to have the game won after a phenomenal 66 yard touchdown catch by New Orleans TE Jimmy Graham with less than two minutes to go, however Smith impressively and surprisingly showed saavy veteran leadership in leading the Niners down the field on the subsequent drive. Personally, I was surprised by how composed Smith played and how the New Orleans offense seemed to have no answer for the Niners’ ferocious pass rush. San Francisco definitely thrived off its homefield advatange, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they shut down the Giants in next week’s contest.

Patriots 45 – Broncos 10

As the score dictates, this game wasn’t even close. John Fox and his vaunted Denver defense seemed to have no answer for Patriots QB Tom Brady, who looked brilliant once again in the postseason. On the other side of the ball, New England’s defense was impressive, as they forced QB Tim Tebow out of the pocket, creating many hurries and a couple of turnovers. Tebow and Denver were unable to get basically any momentum, and with the score 35-7 at halftime, it was all but over way too early. New England prepares to host Baltimore in next week’s AFC title game, as the mythical yet ultimately disappointing of Tebow and Denver’s season comes to a close.

Ravens 20 – Texans 13

QB Joe Flacco and the Ravens punched their ticket to the AFC Championship in New England, as they defeated RB Arian Foster and Hosuton by a touchdown. As usual, Baltimore’s defense kept the Ravens in control, but Foster did have success, rushing for 132 yards and a score. Going against a Ravens defense in Baltimore in the playoffs would be a challenge for any rookie QB, and Houston’s T.J. Yates certainly was no exception as he threw for three picks, one of which came on a fourth down hail mary pass late in the fourth quarter. Baltimore has to be feeling confident as they head up to Foxboro, where they have knocked out the Patriots in the 2009-10 playoffs.

Giants 37 – Packers 20

This was by and far the biggest surprise of the weekend. Behind a red hot Eli Manning, the G-Men stomped into Lambeau Field and left the Packers wondering what could have been. Manning hooked up with his favorite WR Hakeem Nicks for over 160 yards and two scores, while counterpart Aaron Rodgers and his wideouts could not find any consistent chemisty needed to even the scoring. Once considered to be a postseason pretender, New York is firing on all cylinders right now and looks for another upset this weekend, as they head to San Francisco and take on the Niners for the NFC title.  Although disappointed, Green Bay will reload and should head into the 2012-13 season as a Super Bowl favorite once more.

NCAA Basketball

#22 San Diego State Aztecs 69 – #12 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels 67

Jamaal Franklin’s five footer with three seconds left gave the Aztecs a huge win over their conference rivals in front a sold out crowd at Viejas Arena. With the win, San Diego State improves to 15-2 and has undoubtedly established national crediblity in what was supposed to be rebuilding year. Continuing Mountain West conference play, Steve Fisher now takes his team to the hostile environment of Albuquerque, where the Aztecs will square off against a very tough New Mexico squad. Picked by many as the preseason conference favorite, the Lobos also enter the game sporting a 15-2 record.

MLB Free Agency

According to ESPN Baseball Analyst Jim Bowden, the Texas Rangers do have the financial resources to sign both RHP Yu Darvish AND 1B Prince Fielder, currently the top two free agents left on the market. Fielder, whose future has been discussed in a recent article on The Word, apparently had a very promising meeting with Rangers representatives in Dallas over the weekend. The acquisitions of both him and Darvish would give the AL West even more firepower, as the Rangers would counter with the rival Angels’ recent pickups of C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols

The Washington Nationals and newly acquired LHP Gio Gonzalez also agreed on a contract extension that will keep the southpaw in our nation’s capitol through 2016.

NBA Basketball

Clippers 102 – Lakers 94

Chris Paul and the Clippers continue to make a statement as they knocked off a second elite team in the span of four days. Kobe Bryant did have 42 points for the purple and gold, but Paul and his cohort Blake Griffin’s double double (22 points, 14 boards) solidifed the win for Lob City in The Battle of LA.  The win did not come without repercussion however, as Paul hurt his ankle late in the game and is considered day-to-day after undergoing an MRI.

PGA Tour

While displaying an atrocious facial salad (aka mustauche), Johnson Wagner won the Sony Open with a final round 67, finishing two shots in front of second place finishers Harrison Frazar, Charles Howell III, Carl Pettersson, and Sean O’Hair. With his victory in Honolulu, Wagner earned an automatic spot in this year’s Masters.

A few teams would like to Prince's muscle to their lineups.

With the first games of MLB Spring Training only two months away, the most prized free agent still left on the market is first baseman Prince Fielder, who has spent his whole career (a little more than six seasons) with the Milwaukee Brewers. Coming off a 2011 season in which he basically hit .300 (.299) with 38 HR’s, 120 RBI’s and had an OPS of .981, Cecil Fielder’s son and his agent Scott Boras are going to be looking for a big pay day. While no one doubts the type of money that will be thrown Prince’s way, much speculation has evolved over how many years Fielder will get in his new contract. Serious questions remain regarding his health (his weight hovers anywhere from 270-290 lbs.) and teams are therefore understandably reluctant to sign him to a six or seven year deal if they think he won’t be able to keep in shape. In this post, we explore the eight teams we think have the best chance of landing Fielder (in order of how he fits financially and strategically within the organization, while taking in rumored interest).

The Clear Favorite

Washington Nationals – In the past couple of weeks the Nationals have emerged as the front runner to sign Fielder. GM Mike Rizzo is not shy about handing out big deals (see: Jayson Werth) and rumors have swirled that the Nats are still looking to make an offseason splash after missing out on 1b Albert Pujols and LHP’s Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson. Additionally, Rizzo is comfortable in dealing with Boras, as he has signed multiple of his clients in the past (see: Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Alex Meyer among others). While the organization has publicly stated that Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse have the one bag job on lock, Washington would not hesitate to sign a talent like Fielder, put LaRoche in a utility role and keep Morse in the outfield. Finally, the increased revenue Nats will be pulling in with their growing tv deal with MASN may allow them to shell out the bucks and years Prince and Boras are wanting.

Definite Possibilities

Baltimore Orioles – The other team involved in the MASN TV market is also rumored to be enamored with Fielder, and his signing with the O’s would definitely make a statement in the AL East. Currently the Birds have the inconsistent and somewhat unproven Chris Davis starting at first, so Prince definitely would fit in their lineup. The big question that remains is whether owner Peter Angelos wants to take the high-risk investment in signing Fielder to a long contract. If Angelos and Co. can sell Prince on a short-term, high-money deal (say a 2 yr/$40-$50 million pact), than I would consider them very favorable players. Otherwise, he may be looking somewhere else.

Florida Marlins – Aside from the Anaheim Angels (I refuse to call them the absurdly Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), the Fish have made the biggest waves in terms of organizational improvement this offseason. Along with moving into a gorgeous new ballpark and getting new uni’s to go along with it, Owner Jeffrey Loria has reached into his pockets and given big money to SS Jose Reyes, Buehrle, and RHP Heath Bell. God knows where all this money is coming from (recently the SEC launched an investigation into Loria’s books), but I wouldn’t put it past him to break the bank again and go after Fielder. 2011 All-Star Gaby Sanchez currently mans first base for the Marlins, but if Prince were to come to town I think he’d more than oblige to move into the outfield.

Texas Rangers – Odds of Prince signing with the reigning AL Champions hinge on one man, Yu Darvish. As the Rangers won the right to sign the Japanese fireballer, they are primarily focused on getting him in a Texas uni before they consider Fielder. If they fail to reach an agreement with Darvish (which appears to be highly unlikely given how talks are going), then I might bump up Nolan Ryan’s squad in the “Clear Favorite” section with Nats. If they do sign Darvish, you have to wonder if they’ll have the money left over to make a run at Fielder. In the instance Darvish signs and the Rangers can sell Prince on a short-term deal without a huge financial commitment then I could see this happening, but otherwise the chances are slim. It does make me salivate to think of how many runs Texas would put up when their heart of the lineup would consist of Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Fielder, Nelson Cruz, and Adrian Beltre.

Los Angeles Dodgers – I was contemplating putting the Dodgers in the “Longshots” category, but the idea of Frank McCourt signing Fielder to drive up the price of L.A. in his impending sale of the team just makes too much sense. Getting Prince in Dodger Blue and hitting him alongside Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier would dramatically increase the value of the team, and with reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw coming back to lead the rotation, Prince and the Dodgers would have a great shot at winning the NL West in 2012. So far McCourt and GM Ned Colletti have strictly ruled out any big offseason signings, but I don’t buy it. After all, is Frank McCourt a trustworthy guy?

Long Shots

Seattle Mariners – Some rumors state that the M’s do have the money to sign Fielder to a big deal, others insist they don’t. In the instance they do, I have a tough time seeing Prince agreeing to play half of his games at spacious Safeco Field. Additionally, Justin Smoak looks like Seattle’s first basemen of the future, so unless Prince is comfortable in DH’ing for the rest of his career, you can probably consider the Mariners out of the mix.

Pittsburgh Pirates – I love this option. GM Neil Huntington and the Buccos like to stir things up, and signing Fielder would probably be the biggest MLB Free Agent coup in recent history. The only way Fielder gets to the ‘Burgh is via a one or two year deal that pays him more than market value (possibly upwards of $25 million/year), but I’ll still say it’s possible. Given how the NL Central has either stagnated or regressed in talent (probably with the exception of the Reds), Prince in black and yellow would give the Pirates a legitimate chance to win their first division title in almost two decades.

Milwaukee Brewers – The only chance Prince returns to the Brew Crew is in the instance he signs a low-year, big dollar deal. Milwaukee would love to have him back, but unfortunately their payroll cannot afford Fielder’s demands for the long term. With reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun subject to miss the first 50 regular season games because of a failed drug test, the Brewers are going to be craving offense to keep them in the NL Central hunt. However, the idea of Prince coming back to his roots is just too unfeasible to me. In the chance that Fielder remains unsigned with only a week before Spring Training than Milwaukee may have a shot, but even then it would still be considered unlikely.

For many teams, Griffin IS the future

“One man’s loss is another man’s gain.”

(Or in this case, an entire organizational gain)

On Wednesday, former Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, who in 2011 led the Bears football team to its best record in the program’s history (culminating with a shoot out victory against Washington in the Alamo Bowl), announced that he is forgoing his senior season and becoming eligible for the 2012 NFL Draft. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, who has turned heads making equally impressive plays with both his arm and his feet, is currently projected to be a top ten, if not top five, pick in April’s draft. Below, The Word explores possible landing spots for this hot commodity.

Who’s In On Griffin (Teams are listed in draft order)

St. Louis Rams – With all indications pointing to the Colts taking Stanford QB Andrew Luck with the top pick, the Rams would be foolish not to consider Griffin at No. 2. Yes, it is has only been two years since current QB Sam Bradford was chosen by the team as the top selection in the 2010 Draft, but injuries and a regression in performance have not helped Bradford’s chances. Additionally, the Rams will have a new coach at the helm in 2012 who may want to implement his own philosophy with his own personnel. If that person should be Jeff Fisher (who reportedly does not hold Bradford in the highest light), then St. Louis’ chances of choosing Griffin increase. Finally, if they do decide to stick with Bradford, they should have plenty of interest from other teams wanting to trade up and take Griffin second. Either way, the Rams are in a very good spot.

Minnesota Vikings – This may be a little bit of a stretch, but hear me out. By spending last year’s first round pick on QB Christian Ponder, the Vikes seemed to signal to the rest of the league that the former Florida State Seminole was their QB of the future. And while Ponder did get some crucial experience this year after aging veteran Donavan McNabb flamed out, he still has a long way to go. If Griffin somehow makes it to No. 3 (assuming the Rams don’t take him and/or other teams don’t trade up), Minnesota definitely should consider him. There are obviously bigger holes of need than at the quarterback position (both the O-line and D-line along with the secondary come to mind), but can you imagine how explosive of an offense the Vikes would have with Griffin, WR Percy Harvin, and RB Adrian Peterson (assuming he returns healthy from that terrible knee injury he suffered at the end of the season)? That possibility may be too entertaining for Minnesota to let go, especially when they desperately want a new stadium. RG3 may just be the necessary marketing tool to achieve that.

Cleveland Browns – If Griffin makes it to this spot, Cleveland will take him. Current signal caller Colt McCoy is a solid player and possesses winning intangibles, but he lacks the arm, strength, and speed needed to be consistently successful in the physical AFC North. Griffin on the other hand would be a dream come true to Browns fans. He possesses anything and everything you want in a franchise quarterback, and would bring excitement and a superstar-type identity that the Cleveland sports community so desperately craves after LeBron James left them high and dry. I honestly believe that if there is one team who needs Griffin the most, it’s the Browns. Look for them to do anything and everything they can to get RG3 into the Dawg Pound on draft day.

Washington Redskins – In terms of needing Griffin, the ‘Skins are a close second to the Browns. Rex Grossman and John Beck do not appear to be even close to the answer, and for a team whose past decade of play is completely embarrassing given their proud tradition, any sense of hope for a near resurgence would be welcomed with open arms. Head Coach Mike Shanahan is probably salivating at the mouth when dreaming about getting a guy like Griffin, but the odds of it actually happening may be pretty slim. As I said before, in no way do the Browns let Griffin go by with the fourth pick, so if the ‘Skins truly want him, they are gonna have to trade up. St. Louis or Minnesota may reap the rewards of a possible bidding war between Washington and Cleveland.

Miami Dolphins – Among other things on the wish list, the ‘Fins would like a QB. Chad Pennington has a limited ceiling, and while Matt Moore did experience some success this season, he is not the long-term answer for Miami. Again, any team who picks after Cleveland is going to have to trade up to get Griffin. The thought of him, Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, and Brandon Marshall all on the field at once is pretty dreamy, but I don’t think the ‘Fins go all out in April. This squad should be considered as a wildcard for RG3.

Seattle Seahawks – With all due respect Seattle fans, any team that has Tavaris Jackson as their QB1 is always on the prowl for someone better. And while RG3 represents a definite upgrade over Jackson, Seattle is going to need to make a big push to move up from pick No. 12 and grab Griffin before either Cleveland or Washington does. If Pete Carroll really wants to, the Seahawks do have the young talent to make an attractive offer, however I think that they will stick with Jackson for another year and look to make a run at Matt Barkley (whom Carroll recruited while at USC) in 2013. Consider Griffin an extreme stretch for the ‘Hawks.

Arizona Cardinals – Sticking in the NFC West, the Cards have the next pick , and like Seattle, hold an uncertain future at the quarterback position. Arizona invested a lot in Kevin Kolb, but unfortunately a disappointing 2011 has potentially raised more questions than answers regarding his role with the team. Backup John Skelton has shown promise in his limited time under center, so maybe Arizona sticks with Kolb/Skelton one more season. Additionally, this team desperately needs help along the offensive line, so Griffin may not be such an appealing selection.

San Francisco 49ers – This entry is solely based on my lack of confidence in Alex Smith to lead a team deep into the playoffs. I understand that San Francisco has had a great year and are still in the running, but you cannot tell me that Smith has the ability to make the passes needed against defenses like the Ravens or Steelers and in turn, win a Super Bowl. And while Jim Harbaugh has expressed his full confidence in Smith, it is scary to think what the Niners would look like with Griffin behind center. The glaring problem I see in this scenario is San Fran’s reluctance to part ways with any of their good, young talent in a trade, something they will undoubtedly have to do if they want to have shot at landing Griffin. For a team that is by and large the best in their division, Griffin should be considered a fantasy, and an unrealistic one at that.

My Predictions:

(In order of likelihood, here are my predictions of who gets RG3):

1. Browns

2. Redskins

3. Dolphins

4. Vikings

5. Rams

6. Seahawks

7. Niners

You're gonna need to do a lot of this Timmy.

After a very long hiatus, I am returning to offer my thoughts and predictions on this week’s NFL Divisional Round Playoff Games. Without further ado, let’s get started.

(Games in chronological order)

NFC Seed #3 New Orleans Saints at NFC Seed #2 San Francisco 49ers Saturday, 4:30 PM ET

In what could quite possibly be the most entertaining game of the entire weekend, Sean Payton’s Saints and their high-octane offense led by All-World QB Drew Brees square off against Jim Harbaugh’s Niners, proud owners of the league’s best defense. New Orleans is coming off a 45-28 drubbing of the Detroit Lions during last weekend’s Wild Card round, a contest in which they racked up an astounding 626 total yards of offense. To put pressure on Brees and contain his plethora of scoring options (including WR’s Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, TE Jimmy Graham, and RB/WR Darren Sproles), Harbaugh will turn to his All-Pro LB duo of Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. Along with their overall superiority in team defense, the Niners also possess the league’s best turnover margin with an outstanding +28. If they can force Brees to make some ill-advised decisions and retain control of the ball, this game could be theirs to lose.

Who Will Win and Why:

They say that defense wins championships, and while I often tend to agree, I am blown away with the Saints’ seemingly effortless ability to move the ball down field and score points. Can Alex Smith and Frank Gore go mano y mano with Brees and put up big offensive numbers? Me thinks not. I have much respect for the Niners and Harbaugh (they truly have had a great season), but in the end I don’t think they’ll be able to stop the Breesus train from rolling on into the NFC Championship Game. Final Score: Saints – 34  Niners – 17

AFC #4 Seed Denver Broncos at AFC #1 Seed New England Patriots Saturday, 8:00 PM EST

If you told me three months ago that the Denver Broncos would make the playoffs, much less advance to the second round, I would have given you 20-1 odds and probably put my life savings against them. Truth of the matter is, here they are. Owners of a 8-8 record (good enough to win the futile AFC West), and captained by the part disciple/quarterback/ pop culture icon Timothy Richard Tebow himself, the Donkeys find themselves taking on Bill Belichik and Brady’s bunch in Foxboro. How Tebow keeps on making plays with his arm is unknown to me (in case you haven’t noticed, he isn’t the most proficient passer), but no one can deny that the man wins. Since taking over the Broncos, Tebow has instilled leadership, discipline, and persistence into his squad, all of which were visibly demonstrated in Denver’s dramatic overtime victory over the favored Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend. On Saturday however, the magical season may come to a halt. Belichik and Brady lead a Patriots team that can put up points at will, with Tom Terrific utilizing his spectacular receiving core of WR Wes Welker and TE’s Aaron Hernandez and All-Pro Rob Gronkowski to score, and score often. If there is a weakness in New England, it’s their defense. The Patriots lack the pass rush and secondary depth to halt many offenses, so if Tebow can use his wing once again, this one may be close.

Who Will Win and Why:

While you can count me as one of the newest bandwaggoners of Tebowmania, I unfortunately believe that even he won’t be able to pull out a victory in this one. Denver’s ferocious pass rush of DE Elvis Dumervil, and LB’s Von Miller and D.J. Williams may put enough pressure on Brady to force some turnovers, but I have a hard time believing that the Patriots lose in Foxboro, in January, and after a first round bye. It was a great run for Tebow and Denver, but the buck stops here. Final Score: Patriots – 31 Tebows – 21

AFC #3 Seed Houston Texans at AFC #2 Seed Baltimore Ravens Sunday, 1:00 PM ET

The question in this matchup is as follows: “What Ravens team will show up: The one who trashed the Steelers in both of their regular season battles, en route to winning the highly competitive AFC North, or the squad that lost to both the lowly Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars, games that were almost inexplicable in nature?” If it’s the former, expect this to be a great game as the Ravens will turn to RB Ray Rice and QB Joe Flacco to mix it up against a stingy Texans defense. If it’s the opposite however, this contest will have upset written all over it. Baltimore cannot afford to come out flat and let Houston’s two-headed rushing attack of Arian Foster and Ben Tate possess the ball for an extended period of time. As usual, the Ravens defense is among the league’s best, so the Texans will probably utilize Foster and Tate as much as they can in order to control the clock and ground and pound. The true wildcard in this grudgematch? Texans QB T.J. Yates, who will face the biggest challenge of his young career going into blustery Baltimore against the likes of Ray Lewis & Terrell Suggs.

Who Will Win and Why:

I believe that Houston can win this game, and if QB Matt Schaub and DE Mario Williams were healthy, I’d honestly consider them as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. However, the truth hurts. With Yates behind center and the absence of Williams leaving rookie J.J. Watt to lead the pass rush, Houston is lacking in the veteran experience needed to win games like these. When you couple it with the fact that Baltimore plays extremely well at home, I’m picking the Birds in a close one. Final Score: Ravens 24 – Texans – 21

NFC #4 Seed New York Giants at NFC #1 Seed Green Bay Packers Sunday, 4:30 PM ET

In a game that many pundits are calling as a potential upset, Tom Coughlin takes the G-Men up to frosty Lambeau to battle Aaron “Discount Doublecheck” Rodgers and the NFL’s best regular-season team, the 15-1 Pack Attack. Big Blue is coming off a resounding 24-2 Wild Card round victory over the Atlanta Falcons, however facing Rodgers and crew at home presents what is arguably the biggest challenge any NFL team will face this entire postseason. Nonetheless, New York is firing on all cylinders and will be led on offense by QB Eli Manning (one of the game’s most underrated passers), a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw with Brandon Jacobs complementing him, and the ever dangerous wideout tandem of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. In comparison, Green Bay will rely on DT B.J. Raji, LB’s Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk, and the ageless CB Charles Woodson to shut down Manning and Co. While these names sound impressive on paper, the Packers’ D has been suspect, and the Giants may have the right tools to exploit their weaknesses.

Who Will Win and Why:

I believe that this will be a high-scoring affair. Rodgers and his supporting cast (inluding WR’s Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, and TE Jermichael Finley) can score on anyone, and I do believe that Manning and the Giants are playing their best football of the season.  However when it comes down to the nitty gritty, the advantage the Pack have at home cannot be overlooked, and Rodgers will once again put his team one step closer to the Big Dance. Final Score: Packers – 38 Giants – 31

2011 MLB Draft Recap

Posted: June 9, 2011 in Baseball, Sports

5o rounds and 1,530 players later, the 2011 MLB draft has come to a close. Out of the 33 picks in the first round, yours truly predicted……wait for it….three correct selections in his mock draft. Gerrit Cole went to the Pirates, Dylan Bundy heard his name called by the Orioles, and Francisco Lindor got picked by the Cleveland Indians. Final score? 3/33 = 1/11, which is lower than 10% (for all of you non-math majors). Maybe I should focus on other hobbies.

As with all drafts, there are winners and losers. Some teams picked extraordinarily well, others wasted fantastic opportunities. In my opinion, here are the squads that came away from the draft with sterling grades and others that exited with disappointing results.

Winners 

Arizona Diamondbacks –  Kevin Towers’ first draft as the GM of the Snakes couldn’t have gone any better. Granted Arizona had two the first ten picks, but the way they addressed those picks really pushed them to the top of this list. With the third and seventh overall selections, Towers went with two pitching prospects in RHPs Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley, both of whom have enormous upsides. Bauer may be only a year away from cracking the starting rotation, and Bradley has the stuff of a potential ace. With their hitter friendly ballpark, the D’backs need to draft and develop pitching from within their own system as no sensible free agent hurler would ever sign a contract with them. Towers adhered to this strategy and it dramatically paid off, as he also picked studs LHP Andrew Chafin and RHP Anthony Meo, both of whom could join Bauer on the major league staff in no more than two years. Add in South Carolina’s Matt Price and TCU’s Kyle Winkler to the mix, and the potential pitching depth of Arizona’s farm system has never been better.

Bauer

Washington Nationals – For the third straight year, GM Mike Rizzo and the Nats took arguably the best player in the draft. Because of concerns about an injured shoulder, Rice 3B Anthony Rendon (who was the preseason consensus No. 1 pick), fell into Washington’s lap at No. 6. Not only did Rizzo and the Nats receive the best overall hitter in this year’s draft class, they also selected Kentucky RHP Alex Meyer with the 23rd overall pick, tremendous value for that slot. Both Rendon (who will probably move to 2B because of Ryan Zimmerman) and Meyer could be in the big leagues in less than two years. Additionally, Washington’s third and fourth selections, JC OF Brian Goodwin and TCU LHP Matt Purke (who in the preseason was a projected Top 3 overall pick), will help the Nats dramatically if they both sign. Coupled with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nats’ first four picks from 2011 form an exciting core of young talent.

Tampa Bay Rays – When you have more than ten of the first hundred overall selections in a draft this deep in talent, you’re almost assured of coming out smiling. Tampa Bay used its picks wisely, choosing prep flamethrower Taylor Guerrieri, LSU outfielder Mikie Mahtook, and prep SS Jake Hager all in the first round alone. Combine that with their additional seven picks in the supplemental round, which included SEC Pitcher of the Year Grayson Garvin out of Vanderbilt, and the Rays did extremely well. And while I may be biased, the Rays picked my former college teammate and good friend, RHP Brooks Belter out of Occidental College, in the 25th round. That’s icing on the cake for me.

Milwaukee Brewers – Like the Diamondbacks, the Brewers had two picks high in the first round at Nos. 12 and 15 overall, and like Arizona, they added two college pitchers who could be inserted in their rotation within the next two seasons. At 12, the Brew Crew took Texas RHP Taylor Jungmann, who might have the best pitching statistics in all of college baseball this year. Three slots later, they went with Georgia Tech LHP Jed Bradley, who some (including me) had going in the top 10. If they can keep their big three of Marcum, Grienke, and Gollardo in intact, Milwaukee might have the best staff in baseball when Jungmann and Bradley arrive.

Pittsburgh Pirates – The No. 1 overall pick, RHP Gerrit Cole from UCLA, is an outstanding prospect. But what the Pirates did with their second and third picks show just how serious they are about winning. To begin Round 2, the Buccos added Dallas HS OF’er Josh Bell, who is considered by many to be the most unsignable player in this draft. If GM Neil Huntington can somehow get Bell’s John Hancock on a contract, he may have pulled off the biggest coup in recent draft history. Along with Bell’s monster stick, the Pirates also took Indiana OF/1B Alex Dickerson with their third round pick. Dickerson, a San Diego native, is a mad raker as he captured the Big Ten’s Triple Crown last year. If the Bucs can come away with Cole, Bell, and Dickerson, watch out.

Losers

Los Angeles Dodgers – I know I am reaching here, but the Dodgers’ financial limitations severely impacted their ability to draft quality first round talent in the first round. Don’t get me wrong, LHP Chris Reed out of Stanford is an outstanding pitcher, but taking him when somewhat easy signs such as Mikie Mahtook, Tyler Anderson, and Matt Barnes were still there amazes me. Reed appears nothing more than a fast moving bullpen arm (a la Chris Sale), but maybe the Dodgers found something. Me thinks not.

New York Mets – When Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson was serving in the same role for the Padres, it was tough to be a fan. As if the Mets could get any worse, in the first round they selected prep OF Brandon Nimmo, who hails from Wyoming. While Nimmo is a first-round talent, he is very raw and hasn’t had much exposure to good competition as his high school didn’t even have a baseball team. He is at least four years away from a major league roster, and when the Mets desperately need help at the major league level, picking a high-risk prospect like Nimmo over more MLB-ready and established players like Sonny Gray, Matt Barnes, and Jed Bradley doesn’t make sense to me.

Kansas City Royals – As my previous two “losers”, this rating is based primarily on their first round selection. However, if the Royals do sign that first round pick, uber athlete HS OFer Bubba Starling, this team will easily become a “winner”. It probably seemed impossible for the Royals to pass on Bubba, who lives less than half an hour away from Kaufmann Stadium, but GM Dayton Moore has his work cut out for him to try and get Starling to decommit from a football and baseball scholarship to the University of Nebraska. In my opinion, picking the close-to-MLB ready Rendon and instilling him in an organization with the likes of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Christian Colon, Mike Montgomery, and Danny Duffy would have been the best way to go, but Starling is an extremely attractive piece. As I said before, this grade is subject to change.

Starling

Congratulations

Ever since I first set foot on a diamond, it was my dream to become a professional baseball player. However, with tremendous size (I peaked at 5’9”), using a surgically repaired elbow to throw, and not being blessed with very fleeting speed, my vision of putting on a MLB uniform sadly ended last year. Although disappointing, I am extremely thankful for the wonderful people I had the opportunity to play with and be coached by, and I will carry with me some of the best experiences an athlete can have for the rest of my life. With that being said, I am extremely humbled and honored to know many players in pro ball right now, and that list significantly grew over these past three days. Congrats to everyone who was drafted, especially to these young men who I know, played with or against, and will continue to follow over the course of their successful (and hopefully long) baseball careers.

Mark Haddow – OF taken by the Chicago White Sox in the 24th round (UC Santa Barbara)

Haddow

David Colvin – RHP taken by the Seattle Mariners in the 27th round (Pomona-Pitzer)

Alex Sunderland – RHP taken by the Seattle Mariners in 38th round (Claremont Mudd Scripps)

Ian Durham – RHP taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 28th round (Cal Lutheran)

Mike McCarthy – RHP taken by the Boston Red Sox in the 14th round (Cal State Bakersfield)

McCarthy

Josh Osich – LHP taken by the San Francisco Giants in the 6th round (Oregon State)

Jeriel Waller – OF taken by the Oakland Athletics in 47th round (Grossmont JC)

Chris Epps – OF taken by the Houston Astros in the 45th round (Clemson)

Epps

Chris Mazza – RHP taken by the Minnesota Twins in the 27th round (Menlo)

Bobby Shore – RHP taken by the Seattle Mariners in the 41st round (Oklahoma)

Tony Nix – OF taken by the Washington Nationals in the 50th round (UC Riverside)

Brooks Belter – RHP taken by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 25th round (Occidental)

Belter

Mitchell Beacom – LHP taken by the San Francisco Giants in the 20th round (UCLA)

Ryan O’Sullivan – RHP taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 4th round (Oklahoma City)