Archive for October, 2013

Week Nine NFL Predictions

Posted: October 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

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Last Week: 5-8
2013 Season: 48-65-6

Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) AT Miami Dolphins (3-4)

The Spread: Cincinnati by 3
The Pick: Cincinnati
The Score: Cincinnati, 28-14
The Rationale: Thursday Night Football has been a disaster this year. Tomorrow’s affair has a chance to be just as brutal as the red hot Bengals invade South Beach to take on the hapless Dolphins. Miami has lost 4 in a row after a 3-0 start and will have to face a Bengals team that made mincemeat out of the Jets on Sunday. The short week could help the Dolphins. Although, they’re coming off a road loss to New England. So, I doubt it makes much of a difference.

Kansas City Chiefs (8-0) AT Buffalo Bills (3-5)

The Spread: Kansas City by 3
The Pick: Kansas City
The Score: Kansas City, 19-13
The Rationale: I know that Kansas City’s schedule is a joke and that they have been playing close games against inferior teams. But, the Bills are still rolling with Thad Weber. Against the best defense in football, I just don’t have faith that Buffalo can put up enough points even if they hold K.C. to less than 20.

Minnesota Vikings (1-6) AT Dallas Cowboys (4-4)

The Spread: Dallas by 12
The Pick: Dallas
The Score: Dallas, 35-21
The Rationale: The Cowboys under Jason Garrett are the picture of inconsistency. They’re 4-4 overall (3-1 at home,  1-3 on the road) and have played close games in all of their losses. This week, they get a nice rebound game against one of the worst teams in football. The Vikings are a disaster.

Tennessee Titans (3-4) AT St. Louis Rams (3-5) 

The Spread: Tennessee by 3
The Pick: Tennessee
The Score: Tennessee, 20-10
The Rationale: The Rams could see themselves occupying a top-10 pick next spring now that Sam Bradford is out for the season. Their backup, Kellen Clemens, played admirably against Seattle on Monday (even if the Rams didn’t score a touchdown). They’ll have trouble against a good Titans defense.

New Orleans Saints (6-1) AT New York Jets (4-4)

The Spread: New Orleans by 7
The Pick: New Orleans
The Score: New Orleans, 28-17
The Rationale: It’s Rex vs. Rob in the Ryan Bowl! In the end, I think that it’s more of a competition between Drew Brees and Geno Smith. I’ll let you figure out which one of them I think will come out on top.

San Diego Chargers (4-3) AT Washington Redskins (2-5)

The Spread: San Diego by 1
The Pick: San Diego
The Score: San Diego, 34-28
The Rationale: The Chargers have actually been strong against the NFC East this season, including a road victory over Philadelphia in week two. The Redskins have injury issues at QB and their defense has been nonexistent this season. Coming off a bye-week, I expect Philip Rivers to have a huge game.

Atlanta Falcons (2-5) AT Carolina Panthers (4-3)

The Spread: Carolina by 9
The Pick: Atlanta
The Score: Carolina, 20-17
The Rationale: Who would have thought that the Falcons would be toast this early in the season. It’s a sad shame that Tony Gonzalez will never get the opportunity to win a ring. A great warrior and competitor, Gonzalez was the subject of trade talks this week. But, the deadline came and went with the former Minnesota Golden Gopher still in an Atlanta uniform. This should be a  close game between two divisional opponents. But, I’m on the Cam and Luke bandwagon!

Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) AT Oakland Raiders (3-4)

The Spread: Oakland by 1
The Pick: Oakland
The Score: Oakland, 20-17
The Rationale: I’d love to pick the Eagles here. I had this game penciled in as a win from the time the schedule came out. But, the performance of the offense the last two weeks coupled with Oakland’s superior defense prevents me from doing so. I honestly think that Nick Foles will get it together and give the Eagles a fighting chance. But, I cannot pick them after the last two weeks of letdowns.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7) AT Seattle Seahawks (7-1)

The Spread: Seattle by 17
The Pick: Tampa Bay
The Score: Seattle, 26-10
The Rationale: What a great game! Seattle would probably be my pick to cover if they were healthy. Injuries on offense have limited their proficiency the last few games. That’s the only reason that Tampa keeps it within 20 in Seattle.

Baltimore Ravens (3-4) AT Cleveland Browns (3-5)

The Spread: Baltimore by 3
The Pick: Baltimore
The Score: Baltimore, 27-16
The Rationale: Cleveland will roll with Jason Campbell again. He performed decently against Kansas City. Meanwhile, the defending champions need to turn their season around following the bye-week. It’s a great rivalry as the old Browns take on the new Browns. I’m old fashioned. So, I’ll take the Ravens.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5) AT New England Patriots (6-2)

The Spread: New England by 8
The Pick: New England
The Score: New England, 27-13
The Rationale: How lucky are we to be treated to a matchup between a rapist and a cheat? It should be extra fun to watch the Steelers’ QB run around avoiding the rush like he’s trying to cover up a rape in a restaurant bathroom. New England’s pass rush is top notch. Lock it down.

Indianapolis Colts (5-2) AT Houston Texans (2-5)

The Spread: Indianapolis by 3
The Pick: Indianapolis
The Score: Indianapolis, 29-24
The Rationale: Case Keenum is under center again for Houston, who look to keep their thin playoff hopes alive. Both teams are coming off of a bye. Expect Andrew Luck to continue his ascent to the top of the NFL.

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Ah, 1999. Y2K fever was ambushing America, Bill Clinton was still doing his thing in the White House, and I was nothing but a wide-eyed fifth grader at Buckingham Elementary. 1999 may have been the final year of the old-millenium. But, it was the beginning of a new era in Philadelphia sports. The Eagles, fresh off a 3-13 campaign under Ray Rhodes the year prior, had just hired a young QB coach from Green Bay named Andy Reid. The burly offensive guru was pressured by many to select Texas Longhorns’ RB Ricky Williams with the second overall pick. Luckily for both Reid and the city’s sake, he bucked that suggestion.

Round 1, Pick 2 – QB Donovan McNabb, Syracuse

Short-term impact: McNabb started six games his rookie year, playing as well as rookie QB’s could be expected to back then. He defeated the ultimate Super Bowl champions, St. Louis, in week-17 of that season. A game that, if I might add, yours truly was present and accounted for. The following season, McNabb began to establish himself as a star in the league, leading the Eagles to their first playoff berth since 1996. Grade: B

Long-term impact: Donovan McNabb spent 11 seasons in midnight green, leading the Eagles to playoff berths following eight of those campaigns. Of course, few will forget his spectacular moments like 4th and 26, the broken-ankle game vs. Arizona, or his spectacular runs against Washington in 2000. For all the good, though, comes plenty of bad. McNabb was never able to get the Eagles their first championship in the Super Bowl era. But, he was able to turn a franchise, defeated from the dismal decade of the 90s, into a force once again. Grade: A-

Relative Value: It’s hard to argue with the value of McNabb’s selection. It came one pick after Cleveland bungled their franchise’s first selection with Tim Couch and one pick prior to Cincinnati taking the pathetic Akili Smith. If Reid had drafted either of those two, I’d imagine that he would not be coaching right now. Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Champ Bailey, Daunte Culpepper, and Jevon Kearse also went in the first round in 1999. Few would have had nearly as much of an impact as McNabb ended up having. Grade: A

Round 2, Pick 35 – LB Barry Gardner, Northwestern 

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Short-term Impact: Gardner was an athletic linebacker out of Big Ten Northwestern whom Andy Reid fell in love with during the offseason scouting combine. His combination of speed and strength made him a worthwhile gamble at 35th overall. Gardner would start 18 games over his first two seasons. But, never stood out in Jim Johnson’s aggressive defense. Grade: B-

Long-term Impact: Gardner’s most memorable play will forever be he and Blaine Bishop chasing down Tampa Bay WR Joe Jurevicious during the 2002 NFC Championship Game. That play changed the momentum of the game and, really, the Andy Reid regime. Gardner never started another game after 2000 until that Sunday afternoon in South Philadelphia. That game would prove to be his last in an Eagles uniform. Gardner would suit up in 46 more games with the Browns and Jets before retiring following the 2006 season. Grade: D

Relative Value: He was selected one pick before Mike Peterson, a vastly superior player at the same position. Pro Bowlers taken in the same round include T Jon Jansen, DE Mike Rucker, CB Dre Bly, and WR Peerless Price. Grade: D

Round 3, Pick 64: G Doug Brzezinski, Boston College

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Short-term impact: A BIG man out of Boston College, Brzezinski’s selection played immediate dividends for the Eagles. The 6-4, 305 pound behemoth started all 16 games his rookie year, quite the feat for a rookie from the Big East. Grade: B+

Long-term impact: Unfortunately, Brzezinski fell out of favor rather quickly. He was replaced in the starting lineup by John Welbourn in 2000 and only started six more games from 2000-2002 with Philadelphia. He would go on to play two more seasons with the Carolina Panthers, starting just 8 games and appearing on their 2003 Super Bowl roster. Grade: D

Relative Value: Four Pro Bowlers were selected in the third round: OLB Joey Porter, DE Gary Stills, WR Marty Booker, and K Martin Gramatica. Brzezinski played relatively well his first season in Philadelphia, then tapered off. Grade: C

Round 4, Pick 97 – T/G John Welbourn, California

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Short-term Impact: The Eagles selected offensive linemen with back-to-back picks in the middle of the 1999 draft. Welbourn was the opposite of Brzezinski. He only played in one game during his rookie campaign before emerging as a solid starter later on in his career. Grade: C-

Long-term impact: Welbourn was a mainstay on the Eagles offensive line during their first three NFC Championship Game appearances. He started 55 games at either tackle or guard from 2000-2003 with Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Welbourn was never able to reach the Super Bowl in midnight green, as he was dealt to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2004 in exchange for 2nd and 4th round draft picks (used to trade up and select G Shawn Andrews). He would play four more seasons in Kansas City before retiring following 2007. Grade: B

Relative value: It’s difficult to argue with a fourth round selection who eventually starts 55 games for you at a solid level. The Eagles could have taken DE Aaron Smith or WR Brandon Stokley. But, it’s not as though either of those players would have made nearly as much of an impact during Reid’s glory years. Grade: A-

Round 4, Pick 128 – SS Damon Moore, Ohio State

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Short-term impact: A former Ohio State standout, Moore started just one game his rookie year in the NFL, recording one interception in the process. Grade: C

Long-term impact: Moore made his presence known in 2000 and 2001, when he started all 32 regular season games for Philadelphia. The brightest moment of his career, undoubtedly, came during the team’s 2001 Wild Card victory over Tampa Bay. Moore recorded three interceptions that evening, including a pick-six of Brad Johnson that sealed the triumph. He would tear his ACL in St. Louis during the 2001 NFC Championship Game. After he struggled in training camp that summer, the team released Moore. He played six more games with the Chicago Bears before retiring following 2002. Grade: C+

Relative value: You’re not going to find too many stars drafted late in the fourth round. Moore was a solid starter for a couple of years, even if he was the obvious weak link in the secondary. Grade: B-

Round 4, Pick 130 – WR Na Brown, North Carolina

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Short-term impact: Brown started 5 games his rookie season, recording 18 catches for 188 yards and a touchdown. Brown became notorious for performing brilliantly during practice before becoming invisible during the games. Grade: D

Long-term impact: The former Tar Heel is remembered solely for his back-of-the-endzone touchdown reception during the Eagles’ 21-3 victory over Tampa Bay in the 2000 playoffs. That game got the Andy Reid era underway, and was the only moment that anyone will remember from Na Brown. He was released following 2001 and never played in the league again. Grade: D+

Relative value: The only WR taken after Brown who did anything impactful was Donald Driver. Still, the selection of Brown was a sign of things to come over the next decade, as Reid would continue to draft mediocre wide receivers with no future impact on the team. Grade: D

Round 6, Pick 172 – Fullback Cecil Martin, Wisconsin

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Short-term impact: Martin split time with Stanley Pritchett his first few seasons in the NFL, starting 15 games in 1999-2000. He recorded his first touchdown during the 2001 season, his first as the full time starter at fullback. Grade: C

Long-term impact: Martin was a strong lead-blocker for Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter during his time in Philadelphia from 1999-2002. He also caught a touchdown pass during the Eagles’ 34-19 victory over the Chicago Bears in the 2001 NFC Divisional Playoffs. After he was released in 2002, Martin played 1 game with Tampa Bay in 2003 before retiring. For a sixth-round fullback, Martin made some memorable plays. Grade: B

Relative value: Say what you will about drafting a fullback. But, Martin was better than most of the sixth round picks in 1999. The lone Pro Bowler was TE Desmond Clarke. Grade: B

Round 6, Pick 201 – WR Troy Smith, East Carolina

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Short-term impact: If you’ve never heard of Troy Smith. Well, I don’t blame you. Perhaps the worst selection of the Andy Reid era, Smith played just one NFL game during his entire career. It came during his rookie season, when he made his lone career reception, a 14-yard catch from Koy Detmer against the New England Patriots. Grade: D-

Long-term impact: Seeing as how Smith was cut the following spring and never played another down in the league; it is impossible for this not to be a failing grade. Grade: F

Relative value: Green Bay selected multiple Pro Bowler Donald Driver 12 selections later. Grade: F

Round 7, Pick 208: TE Jed Weaver, Oregon

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Short-term impact: The cousin of Jered and Jeff Weaver, Jed was a burly, lumberjack-esque tight end from Oregon. Weaver would play just one season in Philadelphia, recording 11 receptions for 91 yards in 10 starts in 1999. He also made the All-Rookie team for those efforts. Not bad for a seventh round pick. Grade: B-

Long-term impact: Weaver was let go following his strong rookie campaign because the Eagles had Chad Lewis and Luther Broughton already on their depth chart. He would go on to play five more seasons with his best statistical year coming in 2003 with San Francisco (35 receptions, 437 yards, TD). Weaver would play on the 49ers, Eagles, Dolphins, and Patriots. The greatest of irony came in 2004, when Weaver and the Pats defeated the Eagles to win Super Bowl XXXIX. Grade: B+

Relative value: For the Eagles, the value was not that great. Yes, Weaver was a strong rookie in 1999. But, his best moments came elsewhere, including a championship in New England. For a fullback taken in the seventh round, Weaver made a strong career for himself. Grade: A-

Round 7, Pick 251 – DT Pernell Davis, UAB

Short-term impact: You know a player made zero impact when one cannot even find a picture of him on the internet. When Pernell Davis is searched for, one will only find an assortment of mugshots. The former UAB standout played in just two games his rookie season without recording a statistic before being shipped to NFL Europe. Grade: D-

Long-term impact: None. Davis broke his leg in 2000 with Frankfurt and was released by the Eagles in 2001. He was retained on their practice squad and signed a two-year contract following the season by Cincinnati. But, he was released by the Bengals in training camp. Grade: F

Relative value: The third to last pick in the draft, Davis was only ahead of P Rodney Williams and FB Jim Finn. Grade: C

1999 Draft Review

Best selection: QB Donovan McNabb
Worst selection: WR Troy Smith
Best value: T/G John Welbourn
Worst value: LB Barry Gardner
Overall grade: B

The Reid Review

Posted: October 28, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

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It has been a tough couple of weeks for the Philadelphia Eagles and their faithful. Not only has uneven quarterback play betrayed the team in back-to-back divisional losses. But, the former head-honcho in the City of Brotherly Love, Andy Reid, continues his dominant debut in Kansas City. Reid’s Chiefs, 2-14 a year ago, are now 8-0 and will likely remain undefeated into their week 10 matchup against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. 

This, predictably, is leading many of the Monday morning quarterbacks and vocal villains to chastise the Philadelphia organization for letting Reid go in favor of Chip Kelly. After all, it’s not as though the Eagles were 4-12 last year and 4-8 to begin the year prior under Reid’s leadership. Oh, wait…they were. The difference between Philadelphia and Kansas City is not the head coach. The difference is a decade of drafts. Let’s keep in mind that the Chiefs, who had one of the worst defenses in football from 2002-2009, have been drafting defensive talent for years. Last season, a campaign in which they finished worst in the NFL in overall record, Kansas City sent 6 defensive players to the Pro Bowl. Meanwhile, Reid’s Eagles sent no one to Hawaii. 

The goal, with the “Reid Review” series, is to go back and review every single one of Reid’s drafts in Philadelphia. Every pick will be graded based on its short-term impact, long-term impact, and relative value. Each draft as a whole will then be graded, beginning with his very first draft in 1999. Hopefully, by the time this review is done, we will have a better view of just how mediocre Reid’s drafting has been. 

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When the Phillies were upstart contenders in the mid-2000s, it was their high-powered offense that led the way to victory. A lineup consisting of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Jimmy Rollins sent shivers down the spine of opposing pitchers. However, this offensive juggernaut has been in sharp decline ever since Brad Lidge mowed down Eric Hinske to capture Philadelphia’s second championship five-years ago.

Ruben Amaro, for all his failures in addressing the bullpen and the farm system, should be mostly chastised for his inability to build a sustainable offensive force. Gone are the days when the Phillies would outslug opponents on their way to victory. Instead, Amaro decided to build the franchise around veteran pitching. Few will argue against the team’s acquisitions of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. After all, they provided the necessary punch to lift Philadelphia to the best-record in baseball in 2010 and 2011. However, no pitcher is going to win if they don’t get a single run of support. We saw this sad statement become fact in the team’s last postseason game. Despite Halladay’s complete game gem against St. Louis in game five of the 2011 NLDS, the Phillies lost, 1-0.

Since that day two years ago, Amaro has done little to improve the lineup. He passed on Michael Cuddyer (.331-20-84), Josh Hamilton (.250-21-79), and the rest of the potential free agent acquisitions the last two seasons. The Phillies’ GM also failed to address the offense through trade, where such forces as Justin Upton (.263-27-70) and Carlos Beltran (.296-24-84) have propelled their teams to postseason berths.

Instead, Amaro has tried to paint a picture of success by spending big on starting pitching (Lee, Hamels, and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will combine to make $193 million until their contracts expire) and late-inning relief (Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams will make a combined $33 million). This is not a terrible strategy. Few teams win without dynamic pitching. But, even fewer teams win without clutch offensive performers. After all, the Phillies won their title with a rotation consisting of such dynamic hurlers as Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers, and Joe Blanton.

When Amaro has failed, he has failed dramatically. Signing Raul Ibanez to a three-year contract in December, 2008 was his first major move on the job. Raul was strong for a two-month period in 2009. But, his dismal performance compared to his price tag in 2010-11 showed that Amaro still had a lot to learn. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he has.

Following the Phillies’ five-game playoff loss to St. Louis in 2011, Amaro had to have known that the offense was not good enough as currently constructed. He had just spent a large amount of capital on Hunter Pence, only to trade the outfielder a year later to San Francisco for ten-cents on the dollar. The GM then went out and acquired such luminaries as Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix, both of whom were utter failures in red-pinstripes.

Last year, instead of acquiring Cuddyer or Hamilton, Amaro traded Vance Worley and Trevor May for OF Ben Revere (.305-0-17). Ben is a great guy and a decent fielder and leadoff hitter. But, the kid has never hit a MLB home run (and has only one in his entire MiLB career). That is hardly the difference between a mediocre offense and a championship caliber one. The outfielder would play just 88 games this season, and the Phillies’ inability to overcome injuries to Revere and Howard (.266-11-43) would contribute greatly to their inability to drive in runs. Delmon Young (.261-8-31) was yet another bargain basement bum that Amaro relied upon this season.

Some will argue that Amaro’s biggest problem is the contracts that he doles out. It is difficult to argue that the Howard and Rollins contracts were pitiful. Utley’s recent extension, while not a dramatic overpay, also has the potential to blow up in the organization’s face. But, the biggest problem with Amaro has been his inability to find that diamond in the rough. His predecessor, Pat Gillick, was able to minimize the pain of poor contracts like those given to Adam Eaton (3 years, $24 million prior to 2007) and Jamie Moyer (2 years, $16 million prior to 2009) by acquiring cheap, cost-effective talent. Acquisitions like those of Werth, Greg Dobbs, Tad Iguchi, Chris Coste, and Victorino helped to turn the Phillies’ offense into the juggernaut it once was. Yes, Howard’s ability to hit 50+ home runs in those days helped. But, the numerous clutch hits provided by the players named, all of which came very cheap when Gillick was the GM, were what really revved the Philadelphia engine.

Enough of the past. What about the future? Amaro goes into 2014 with a target on his back. If the Phillies don’t finish above .500, he will likely see his time in the City of Brotherly Love run out.

Below is a roundup of the Phillies’ financial situation as well as a projected 2014 lineup with the team as currently constructed:

Guaranteed Contracts

SP Cliff Lee – $25 million
1B Ryan Howard – $25 million
SP Cole Hamels – $23 million
2B Chase Utley – $15 million
RP Jonathan Papelbon – $13 million
SS Jimmy Rollins – $11 million
RP Mike Adams – $7 million
SP Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez – $4 million
Total – $123.5 million

Arbitration Eligible Players (With Estimated Contract Value)

RP Antonio Bastardo – $2 million
SP Kyle Kendrick – $6.6 million
INF Kevin Frandsen – $1.3 million
OF John Mayberry – $1.7 million
OF Ben Revere – $1.5 million
OF Casper Wells – Non-tendered
OF Roger Bernadina – Non-tendered
SP Jon Lannan – Non-tendered
Total – $13.1 million

Philadelphia is currently estimated to have $136.6 million committed to just 13 players. Granted, it remains to be seen whether or not Frandsen or Mayberry will be tendered a contract. The Phillies will also likely have a cheap bullpen, as the likes of Justin DeFratus, Jake Diekman, and Joe Savery proved they deserved a shot in 2014. The lineup, as currently constructed, looks like this:

CF Ben Revere
SS Jimmy Rollins
2B Chase Utley

1B Ryan Howard
LF Domonic Brown
3B Cody Asche
C Erik Kratz
RF John Mayberry

That’s hardly a contender’s lineup card. Especially when one considers the inability of the Big Piece to stay healthy. The bench is even uglier:

OF Cesar Hernandez
OF/1B Darin Ruf

C Cameron Rupp
INF Kevin Frandsen
UTL Michael Martinez

As one can see, the Phillies have a majority of their holes on offense. If they do go with Asche (.235-5-22) at the hot-corner until Maikel Franco is ready, that will eliminate one need. Really, the franchise’s biggest needs at this point are catcher and corner-outfielder. Carlos Ruiz (.268-5-37) rebounded well in the second half after a dismal beginning to 2013. He is a free agent for the first time in his career. Unfortunately for Chooch (and fortunately for the Phillies), the catcher’s market is flooded this winter. Below, we take a look at the best available catchers and corner-outfielders as free agency approaches:

Free Agent Catchers

1. Brian McCann, Atlanta – .256-20-57
The longtime Atlanta backstop is hitting free agency for the first time. He’s also picking the best time to do it as three of MLB’s highest spending teams, the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Phillies are all looking for catching help. McCann is inarguably the best offensive catcher available. But, he is also likely to receive at least a 4-year deal. Approaching his age-30 season and with the free spending Red Sox and Yankees likely to pursue, it would seem unlikely (and perhaps unwise) for Amaro to spend big in both money and years to the former Brave.

2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston – .273-14-65
The former Atlanta prospect, who was one of many shipped to Texas in the 2007 Mark Teixeira deal, saw his career rebound the last two seasons with the Red Sox. “Salty” is your classic low-OBP, high power catcher. Another drawback is his poor defensive prowess, as Boston has used David Ross in late-inning situations this season. Saltalamacchia is likely to receive a multi-year deal (two or three years) at $8 million or more. The good news is that he is a switch-hitter in a Philadelphia lineup full of lefties. The bad news is that he cannot hit lefties (.206-16-66 compared to .263-52-209 vs. RHP). He’s certainly an option. But, far from the best.

3. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia – .268-5-37
Despite his suspension for Adderall this season, you would be hard pressed to find a Philadelphia fan with many negative things to say about “Chooch.” A Phillies lifer, Ruiz has been one of the most clutch hitters in the organization over the last decade. The good news for Philadelphia is that Ruiz doesn’t seem likely to receive the amount of interest he might have if the team had not exercised their option on him last winter. He also has made it public that he would like to finish his career in Philadelphia. Ruiz remains the likeliest option behind the plate next year. A two-year contract worth $4-7 million per season would be an adequate bridge to the team’s plethora of young backstops including Rupp, Tommy Joseph, and Gabriel Lino.

Best of the Rest

AJ Pierzynski, Texas – .272-17-70
He is 37-years old and a lefty. Doesn’t seem like a good fit.

John Buck, Pittsburgh – .219-15-60
Buck began 2013 as one of baseball’s hottest hitters. Then, the summer came. He has hit a combined .207-27-103 in 216 games the last two seasons. That doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence that he could handle a full-time role at this point in his career.

Dioner Navarro, Chicago – .300-13-34
Navarro is a curious case. The backstop for the 2008 AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays saw his career come crashing to a halt from 2009-12, as he averaged .215-4-17 over that time frame. But, 2013 saw him reestablish his worth with Chicago. He’s an intriguing buy-low candidate. But, for a team with playoff aspirations, he would be a better backup than starter.

Geovany Soto, Texas – .245-9-22
Soto, the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year, has seen age get the better of him the last few seasons. After he compiled a brilliant .264-51-186 stat line from 2008-10, Soto saw his numbers drop dramatically as the new-decade emerged. He has hit just .220 over the last three years, and is likely to receive a one-year contract yet again.

Free Agent Corner-Outfielders

The Phillies cannot go into 2014 with John Mayberry starting in the outfield. They also seem apprehensive to go with Darin Ruf in right despite his strong half-season with the club. If they are intent on bringing in a free agent, these are the targets that they should approach:

1. Shin Soo-Choo, Cincinnati – .285-21-54
Choo picked a good time to experience a career year. After being acquired by Cincinnati last winter, the Korean outfielder put together a brilliant campaign. He is likely to receive a 5-6 year deal in the $80-100 million range. But, it could be worth it. The 30-year old has played in at least 144 games in four of the last five years. In each of those campaigns, Choo has provided at least a .373 OBP. This past season, his first in the National League, Choo was among the league’s leaders in OBP at .423. For a Phillies team without table-setters at the top of the order, the oft-walked Choo could be the perfect fit.

2. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis – .296-24-84
The Phillies have flirted with Beltran twice before. First, when he was a free agent back in 2004 prior to signing with the New York Mets. Then, at the trade deadline in 2011, when the team balked at New York’s asking price before dealing for Hunter Pence. He’s 36-years old, which suggests that he is unlikely to receive more than a two-year contract (although Amaro signed 37-year old Ibanez to a three-year commitment in the past). Coming off back-to-back stellar offensive seasons, the switch-hitting Beltran would be a great fit in Philadelphia. There are a couple of problems, however. Beltran is expected to receive serious interest from the Yankees, who have a hole in their outfield. He is also not the defender that he once was, and will likely move to DH soon enough. If Beltran can be had for 2 years, $30 million, it would not be the worst decision that Amaro could make.

3. Curtis Granderson, New York – .229-7-15
What a difference a year makes. If Granderson had been a free agent last winter, he would have likely received a $100 million contract. Now, coming off an injury riddled 2013, the three-time All Star could be looking at a “prove-it” deal. There’s no doubting his power (84 home runs in 2011-12 with the Yankees) or his defensive prowess. Granderson’s question marks have always related to his inability to get on base. If the Phillies are looking for a run-producer this offseason (as they should be), they are unlikely to find more bang for the buck than Granderson.

4. Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston – .298-9-53
Ellsbury is a talented player. There is little denying that. His combination of speed, defense, and surprising power make him a dream in the eyes of MLB GMs everywhere. The problems, though, are durability and value. The former Oregon State Beaver has played in 150+ games just twice (2009 and 2011). His miraculous 32 homer campaign in 2011 seems like the outlier, as Ellsbury’s 9 homers this year matched his second highest total. If Ellsbury could stay healthy, he would be a $100 million player. Someone like Seattle might still be willing to give him that kind of money. But, it would be wise for Amaro to view Ellsbury with caution.

5. Marlon Byrd, Pittsburgh – .291-24-88
Byrd picked a tough time to have a career year and enter free agency. Despite his spectacular 2013, Byrd still figures to be no higher than fifth on most team’s boards. That could be a positive for a team like the Phillies, who have plenty of holes to fill with a finite amount of financial resources at their disposal. The former Phillies’ prospect has bounced around quite a bit in his career. He’s got good pop and strong defense. His lone drawback is his terrible plate discipline (144 K, 31 BB). Byrd is likely to demand a multi-year deal. But, 2 years, $10 million would be a cheap, alternative option to the high-priced talent above him.

Best of the Rest

Nelson Cruz, Texas – .266-27-76
Cruz was suspended 50-games for steroids this past season. But, he still has impressive pop (20+ home runs each of his five full MLB seasons) and is a right-handed bat. One has to question what role steroids played in his success, though.

David Murphy, Texas – .220-13-45
Murphy picked about the worst time to have the type of dismal offensive campaign that he experienced. In the four years prior to 2013, the 32-year old averaged .285-14-57. He’s a lefty who can’t hit southpaws, so Amaro’s interest would seem remote. Still, if he can be acquired for cheap, he could be an intriguing platoon option with Darin Ruf.

Mike Morse, Baltimore – .215-13-27
His stellar 2011 (.303-31-95) seems like the outlier. Morse rose to fame with those numbers when he was a National. After being traded to Seattle last winter, the injury problems that riddled his career returned. Morse has played in over 100 games just twice in his 9-year career. There seems to be no chance that he would receive a multi-year contract this winter.

Philadelphia, as mentioned in past posts, has holes to fill in both their rotation and bullpen. But, their greatest need remains their beleaguered offense. If the Phillies can find a quality outfield bat, retain Ruiz, and supplement their offense with a strong bench; they could find themselves back in contention in 2014. This season was a poor one, and it’s no surprise that the blame has gone right to the front office with Ruben Amaro. If he doesn’t find the right chemistry this winter, it could be his last chance to pull the strings as a member of the Phillies’ brass.

Week Eight NFL Predictions

Posted: October 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

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Last Week: 5-9-0
2013 Season: 43-57-6

What has happened this season? Last year, SkoodSports put together a brilliant record against the spread. 2013 has not been as kind. It was yet another below-.500 week for the prognostication section of the blog. Of course, my Tigers-Dodgers World Series prediction was just as brutal. We are approaching the halfway point of the season, and this might just be the week that it all gets turned around. The good news is that yours truly is still alive in the 94.1 WIP Suicide Pool. The winner receives a championship ring from Mark’s Jewelers. Of over 25,000 original contestants, just about 4300 remain. It’s going to go right down to the wire. But, SkoodSports can taste the sweetness of the champagne just months away.

Carolina Panthers (3-3) AT Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-6)

The Spread: Carolina by 7
The Pick: Carolina
The Score: Carolina, 26-14
The Rationale: Thursday Night Football has been brutal this season. The best things about the Thursday broadcasts in 2013 have been the beautiful Priyanka Chopra’s pre game performances. This week will prove to be no different. Yes, the Panthers are about as consistent as a 90-year old’s bowel movements. But, the Buccaneers are consistently awful. I’ll take Cam Newton.

Dallas Cowboys (4-3) AT Detroit Lions (4-3)

The Spread: Detroit by 3
The Pick: Detroit
The Score: Detroit, 27-17
The Rationale: The last time these two teams played, Calvin Johnson victimized the Dallas secondary. Flash forward to this season, and you’ll find a Lions team with a better run-game than in recent campaigns. The Lions lost a tough home-game against the Bengals last week (a game that yours truly correctly predicted a 27-24 final). I doubt they fall twice in a row at Ford Field. Couple that with the fact that Dallas is playing their second straight road game, and I think Detroit gets a critical victory over a playoff contending club.

Cleveland Browns (3-4) AT Kansas City Chiefs (7-0)

The Spread: Kansas City by 9
The Pick: Kansas City
The Score: Kansas City, 23-12
The Rationale: I’ll remain skeptical on the Chiefs’ ability to win in January with their offense. But, I am not skeptical about their ability to beat the Cleveland Browns by double-digits at home with Jason Campbell under center for Cleveland. Granted, Campbell is probably a better option than Brandon Weeden, who has solidied himself as just another awful story in an anthology of poor decisions made by that organization. Campbell will get a rude awakening against the best defense in the National Football League.

Miami Dolphins (3-3) AT New England Patriots (5-2)

The Spread: New England by 7
The Pick: New England
The Score: New England, 24-14
The Rationale: The Patriots lost a heartbreaker last week to New York. I believe that Bill Belichick will have his team ready to play against another division rival this week. The Dolphins have been free-falling after a fast start. They can’t protect Ryan Tannehill, who has spent more time on his back this season than a yoga instructor.

Buffalo Bills (3-4) AT New Orleans Saints (5-1)

The Spread: New Orleans by 12
The Pick: New Orleans
The Score: New Orleans, 38-17
The Rationale: Talk about a lopsided affair. I just don’t foresee a scenario where the Bills’ offense can keep up with the Saints in The Superdome.

New York Giants (1-6) AT Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)

The Spread: Philadelphia by 5
The Pick: Philadelphia
The Score: Philadelphia, 35-28
The Rationale: Michael Vick returns to the field for Philadelphia, and it cannot come soon enough. The Eagles saw last week just how raw Nick Foles is. His inability to turn busted pass-plays into large gains with his legs made most Eagles fans clamor for Vick’s return. They’ll get their wish. They’ll also get a victory against a Giants team that has yet to prove they can stop the elusive QB.

San Francisco 49ers (5-2) AT Jacksonville Jaguars (0-7)

The Spread: San Francisco by 17
The Pick: Jacksonville
The Score: San Francisco, 27-13
The Rationale: I don’t believe that Jacksonville has much of a shot to win this game. Granted, San Francisco has to travel basically across the entire planet en route to London. But, the Jaguars’ inability to move the ball offensively will only be further hampered by the dynamic defense of the 49ers. Seventeen points is a lot in an NFL game, which is why I have Jacksonville covering.

New York Jets (4-3) AT Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)

The Spread: Cincinnati by 7
The Pick: New York
The Score: Cincinnati, 23-20
The Rationale: The Jets have a pretty good Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing going on. That, I suppose, is to be expected with a rookie QB at the helm. Meanwhile, the Bengals continue to establish themselves as the kings of close ballgames. Only one of their five victories have been by more than a touchdown. The Jets’ defense should keep it close. But, the Bengals will eek out a close one.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4) AT Oakland Raiders (2-4)

The Spread: Pittsburgh by 3
The Pick: Pittsburgh
The Score: Pittsburgh, 19-13
The Rationale: The Steelers won a typical Baltimore-Pittsburgh matchup last week by relying on their defense. The passing game is not going to improve all that dramatically. But, the offense as a whole has been dramatically better since LeVeon Bell returned to the lineup. The Raiders’ defense is underrated. But, the offense led by Terrelle Pryor will have a tough time putting together drives against a rejuvenated Pittsburgh D.

Washington Redskins (2-4) AT Denver Broncos (6-1)

The Spread: Denver by 13
The Pick: Denver
The Score: Denver, 41-27
The Rationale: The Broncos were shocked by a Colts team that has clearly established itself as a contender. However, the Broncos will return home this week to take on a Redskins team that, defensively, has resembled Grambling State more than an NFL team. Washington has allowed at least 27-points in all but one of their games so far (a 24-14 victory over the daunting Oakland Raiders). In their four losses, Washington has allowed 33, 38, 27, and 31 points. In last week’s exciting victory over Chicago, the Redskins allowed an astounding 41 points, many of which were scored with career backup Josh McCown under center for the Bears. Peyton Manning should have another field day. Anyone playing him in fantasy football this week should already be preparing for a loss.

Atlanta Falcons (2-4) AT Arizona Cardinals (3-4)

The Spread: Arizona by 3
The Pick: Atlanta
The Score: Atlanta, 24-14
The Rationale: I almost thought that I read this wrong. Yes, the Falcons are going across the country. But, it is not as if Arizona is an incredibly difficult place to play. Two of the Cardinals’ three victories have come at University of Phoenix Stadium, and both of them were against east coast teams making the cross-country trip (Miami and Carolina). Atlanta knows the task ahead of them. The Falcons, after a brutal start, need to win nearly the remainder of their games to solidify a playoff spot for the fourth straight season. I don’t know if they’ll do it. But, I believe they will find a way to overcome injuries and travel to beat Carson Palmer’s Cardinals.

Green Bay Packers (4-2) AT Minnesota Vikings (1-5)

The Spread: Green Bay by 10
The Pick: Green Bay
The Score: Green Bay, 27-14
The Rationale: Another dandy of a primetime game this week. The Vikings are going back to Christian Ponder after a dismal start from Josh Freeman last Monday. In their second consecutive primetime game, they’ll hope to rebound against a Packers team that is hitting its stride after a 1-2 start.

Seattle Seahawks (6-1) AT St. Louis Rams (3-4)

The Spread: Seattle by 12
The Pick: Seattle
The Score: Seattle, 31-10
The Rationale: The Rams are so desperate for QB help that they reportedly solicited the services of Brett Favre this week. That doesn’t bode well against Seattle, whose defense has made opposing QBs shiver. Seattle is only favored by 12. But, I don’t think they’ll have much trouble circling the wagons on St. Louis.

There have been many notorious cheaters in baseball history. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was perhaps the most well known. The man at the center of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal was accused (potentially wrongfully) of conspiring to fix the 1919 World Series. Since then, the sport has had its fair share of unethical actions. Steroids, amphetamines, drugs, and gambling have been the focus of the media and players alike. But, after watching last night’s game one of the World Series; it was quite clear that something deceitful was going on.

Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester pitched his heart out. The 29-year old slammed the door on St. Louis with 7.2 shutout innings pitched. Lester, long a postseason hero in Boston, earned the victory to improve to 5-4, 2.22 in 12 career postseason appearances. But, the concern this afternoon is whether or not Lester’s heroic performance was, in fact, fraudulent.

The baseball rulebook clearly states that no foreign substance is allowed on the pitcher’s person when the hurler is on the mound. This rule is punishable by ejection and, perhaps, suspension. From the video above, as well as the picture below, it is clear beyond reasonable doubt that Lester had a foreign substance on his glove. The umpires, if they were doing their job correctly (which is a rarity these days), should have addressed the issues and ejected Lester from the game.  Instead, they were oblivious to the issue.

Not surprisingly, Boston is ready to defend their pitcher. After all, this is the same town that cheated their way to three Super Bowl titles in the early-2000s. It’s also the same town that chastised the New York Jets and accused the NFL of cheating last Sunday. So, the hypocrisy is alive and well in New England this fall.

The Red Sox probably would have won last night regardless of whether or not Lester was ejected. The Cardinals shot themselves in the foot over and over both in the batter’s box and in the field. But, one thing is absolutely certain. Jon Lester, a fabulous pitcher when he is not perpetrating a fraud, had an illegal substance on his glove. It is inarguable, and anyone who does is no better than the Republicans in Congress who continue to claim the ACA is the worst thing to happen to America since slavery.

I won’t say that Lester’s crime rivals Shoeless Joe’s or even the steroid abuse of the 1990s. But, in the realm of sports, cheating on the field is a dramatic situation. Yes, Lester probably would have pitched well regardless of whether or not he used a foreign substance. But, Barry Bonds likely would have hit 600+ home runs regardless of whether or not he used steroids. But, we still all find a way to chastise him and limit his achievements for it.

The Red Sox will probably win the World Series in 2013. I just wish that they would do it without illegal assistance. With blood, sweat, beards, and now foreign substances; there may be no stopping the ethically shaky roster that Ben Cherrington put together.

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Maybe after the World Series, Jon can tell us exactly what that green stuff is.

Week Seven NFL Predictions

Posted: October 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

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Last Week: 6-8-1
2013 Season: 38-48-6

It’s been a tough season from the very start. Getting back to .500 is not going to be easy. Certainly not when I continue to churn out 6-8 weeks. It’s going to require a focus on success…a passion for prediction. I have a feeling that week seven is the beginning of an impressive turnaround.

Seattle Seahawks (5-1) AT Arizona Cardinals (3-3)

The Spread: Seattle by 7
The Pick: Seattle
The Score: Seattle, 23-14
The Rationale: The Cardinals are 2-0 at University of Phoenix Stadium this season. The Seahawks’ only loss came on the road. Still, Carson Palmer has been a turnover machine the first six games. You combine that fact with the talent on Seattle’s defense, and you have an easy pick.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-5) AT Atlanta Falcons (1-4)

The Spread: Atlanta by 9
The Pick: Atlanta
The Score:
Atlanta, 27-10
The Rationale:
Who would have thought that last year’s NFC runner up, the Atlanta Falcons, would sit at 1-4 after five games. Against most, Atlanta would be considered an underdog; especially without Julio Jones. But, Mike Glennon and the Buccaneers’ offense would find it difficult to defeat a Lane Kiffin coached team at this point.

Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) AT Detroit Lions (4-2)

The Spread: Detroit by 3
The Pick: Cincinnati
The Score:
Cincinnati, 27-24
The Rationale:
The Bengals are used to close games this season. All but one of their wins was by a touchdown or less. If Cincinnati can grind it out with Giovanni Bernard and then Benjarvis Green-Ellis, they should come out on top.

Buffalo Bills (2-4) AT Miami Dolphins (3-2)

The Spread: Miami by 9
The Pick: Buffalo
The Score: Miami, 26-19
The Rationale:
Coming off their bye week, the Dolphins should make it out with a divisional victory this week against Buffalo. The Bills have serious injury problems under center, leading the team to sign Matt Flynn earlier this week. That is never a good thing.

New England Patriots (5-1) AT New York Jets (3-3)

The Spread: New England by 4
The Pick: New England
The Score:
New England, 27-17
The Rationale:
The annual countdown to the Patriots’ postseason choke job begins. After all, this is a team that has made the playoffs all but one year since 2005 and has not won a single Super Bowl over that timeframe. For some reason, their fans feel entitled to rip on other fan bases whose teams have struggled in the postseason. But, that’s just par for the course for Boston, a city whose fan base has eroded into a cohort of whiny, spoiled fools. They’ll come away with a win this week against Geno and the Jets. But, January won’t be so kind to Bill Belichick and his smug group of thugs and uggs.

Dallas Cowboys (3-3) AT Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)

The Spread: Philadelphia by 3
The Pick: Philadelphia
The Score:
Philadelphia, 33-27
The Rationale: 
No Murray. No Ware. One of the worst pass defenses in football. That, my friends, is why the Eagles will defeat the Cowboys on Sunday. Feed the ball to McCoy to set up the play-action and the Eagles should be able to outscore Tony Romo.

Chicago Bears (4-2) AT Washington Redskins (1-4)

The Spread: Washington by 1
The Pick: Chicago
The Score:
Chicago, 30-20
The Rationale:
Call me crazy. But, I see no reason for Washington to be favored in this game. The Redskins have done nothing offensively this season. They’re also 0-2 at home with their only victory this entire campaign coming in Oakland. The Bears are coming off of a Thursday night victory over the Giants and will have 10 days to prepare for RG3’s gimpy knee. Bears, outright.

St. Louis Rams (3-3) AT Carolina Panthers (2-3)

The Spread: Carolina by 7
The Pick: Carolina
The Score:
Carolina, 28-14
The Rationale:
The Rams were outgained by Houston last week. But, turnovers allowed St. Louis to cruise to victory over the Texans. The Panthers, meanwhile, absolutely destroyed the Vikings in Minneapolis. This will be a statement game for whoever wins as the loser will be left looking at what might’ve been in their 2013 season. Cam Newton was extraordinary last week and I expect that trend to continue as we get deeper into the season.

San Diego Chargers (3-3) AT Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6)

The Spread: San Diego by 9
The Pick: San Diego 
The Score:
San Diego, 38-21
The Rationale:
The Chargers caught the Colts in a classic trap game on Monday night. Their defense did a good job on Andrew Luck. But, it was the offense that kept the former #1 pick off the field by managing the clock admirably. San Diego won’t have to worry about keeping the ball away from Jacksonville’s QB. In fact, they might want the opposite considering how inefficient the Jaguars’ offense has been.

San Francisco 49ers (4-2) AT Tennessee Titans (3-3)

The Spread: San Francisco by 4
The Pick: Tennessee
The Score: 
Tennessee, 20-17
The Rationale: 
I get it that San Francisco is supposed to have figured it all out by now. But, the 49ers have been about as consistent as a 95-year old’s digestive tract. The injuries they have suffered on defense coupled with Colin Kaepernick’s inconsistency on offense have left this team somewhere in between contender and pretender. I think that the Titans hold fort at home and knock off the 49ers.

Cleveland Browns (3-3) AT Green Bay Packers (3-2)

The Spread: Green Bay by 12
The Pick: Cleveland
The Score: 
Green Bay, 23-14
The Rationale: 
It is amazing how much respect Green Bay gets just based on their name. The Packers could have Mike McMahon under center and they’d probably still be favored over Cleveland. Yes, Aaron Rodgers is still around. But, the former Super Bowl MVP has few healthy targets after James Jones and Randle Cobb went down last week. I think the Packers can still win at home. But, the Browns’ defense will at least keep it interesting.

Houston Texans (2-4) AT Kansas City Chiefs (6-0)

The Spread: Kansas City by 8
The Pick: Kansas City
The Score: 
Kansas City, 24-13
The Rationale: 
The Texans have fallen hard this season. With Matt Schaub now out, they’ll take their 2-4 record into undefeated Kansas City behind TJ Yates or Case Keenum. In other words, get your popcorn ready.

Baltimore Ravens (3-3) AT Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4)

The Spread: Pittsburgh by 1
The Pick: Baltimore
The Score:
Baltimore, 16-12
The Rationale: 
This should be yet another classic AFC North bloodbath. The Steelers are somehow still alive after an 0-4 start. With a win this week, they’ll be just a half-game behind the Ravens. But, one has to consider the fact that the Pittsburgh offensive line is a joke. The Steelers will tease their toothless fans. But, in the end, the defending champions will be celebrating once again.

Denver Broncos (6-0) AT Indianapolis Colts (4-2)

The Spread: Denver by 7
The Pick: Denver
The Score: 
Denver, 38-24
The Rationale: 
I’m really supposed to believe that the Colts’ secondary can defend the many weapons at Peyton Manning’s disposal. Yes, if Robert Mathis can create pressure; that should ease the tension on the secondary. But, teams have not had a whole lot of success at pressuring Manning. I don’t see why a team that couldn’t stop Phillip Rivers is expected to limit the greatest QB in NFL history. Peyton will get his revenge on the Colts.

Minnesota Vikings (1-4) AT New York Giants (0-6)

The Spread: New York by 4
The Pick: New York
The Score: 
New York, 23-15
The Rationale: 
I am sure this is exactly what ESPN was hoping for when they scheduled this game last spring. I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch a matchup between two teams that are a combined 1-10? The Vikings looked absolutely atrocious last week and whilst the Giants haven’t exactly been world beaters; their placement at home in this game gives them an edge over the hapless Vikings.