Category Archives: Football

Golden Oldies: When the Greats Fall


They come around every once in a while. The great teams that just seem to dominate their sport forever. You can look back at the legendary Montreal Canadiens teams in the NHL, the Denver Broncos with John Elway in the NFL, and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the NBA. All these teams had stretches where they were undoubtedly the class of their leagues. They also all suffered an end to their dominance.

Great teams tend to be built with a win now mentality. No matter how long they remain great, the cycle remains the same. Bring in the best of the best and take a run at a championship every year. Not a run in five years, a run this year. The cost of that is inevitably a loss of youth and prospects in exchange for top free agents and trades for aging veterans. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top current teams ready for a fall from grace.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers

Well, it’s starting to look like it could be a long season for the once formidable Lakers who, at the time of this writing, are sitting with a 9-11 record. Age is coming back to bite this team with five star players having over ten seasons of NBA experience. Two of those have over fifteen seasons of experience. Take a look at those five players, paying specific attention to their experience and age:

  • Kobe Bryant – 16 Seasons – 34
  • Steve Nash – 16 Seasons – 38
  • Antawn Jamison – 14 Seasons – 36
  • Metta World Peace – 13 Seasons – 33
  • Pau Gasol – 11 Seasons – 32

The ages range from 32 all the way to Canadian Steve Nash’s 38. While Kobe may have been the youngest player to reach 30,000 points, he’s no spring chicken either at 34.

The bottom line is these players are nearing or past the tail end of their prime seasons, and that’s shown this year with injuries and a losing record piling up. The Lakers can’t seem to keep up with the younger, faster teams and that may signal the end of the Lakers dynasty.

NFL: New England Patriots

How much longer can Tom Brady rule the NFL with an iron arm? At age 35, you have to think his time in the bigs may be coming to a close sooner rather than later. When you look at the quarterback he replaced (Drew Bledsoe) to take the starting job, you start to realize how long he has been in the league. That was back in 2001, and he has dominated ever since.

But the team has seen a number of pieces change over the years, and many of the great Patriots teammates from the glory years have retired. Gone are Mike Vrabel and Teddy Bruschi, leaving receiver Wes Welker, at 31, as one of the few remaining Super Bowl  legends. The Patriots have done a great job of replacing pieces as the team has gone along, but at this point they have begun fighting an uphill battle as their key components are getting older.

MLB: New York Yankees

Can you guess when Derek Jeter made his rookie debut for the pinstripes? No, it wasn’t along side the Babe, though it does feel like he’s been there forever. Jeter made his Yankee debut in 1995, one season before the insanely dominant Yankees teams won their first of five World Series from 1996 to 2009.

That’s why Derek Jeter is the perfect microcosm for where the Yankees are right now; clinging onto the past. The Yankees are old, and they are getting hurt. 38-year old Jeter’s injury in the play-offs showed how critical that one piece was to the entire team. They collapsed with the loss of their captain, and other veterans disappointed. Now the Yankees have announced 37-year old Alex Rodriguez will miss at least the first month of next year due to a hip injury. The Yankees cleared the farm to sign their stars and now are going to have to start rebuilding from scratch.

NHL: Not Applicable

Since we have no idea when the NHL will return, we can’t possibly know how old the players will be. Come on NHL, make this easier on us!

Advertisements

A Tale of Two Players


20121126-103844.jpg

When I used a first round pick this fantasy football season on Peyton Manning, most people scoffed. He’s too old, he’s coming off a season lost to surgery. But what people failed to realize is Peyton Manning has only done one thing in his career: win. It’s hard to find a guy with a track record as strong as Manning’s, play-off success not withstanding, so when he was available I snapped him up. And he hasn’t disappointed.

Manning has been consistently excellent this season, and has left me with no worries about starting him against any team in the league. One of the great comeback stories in my opinion.

20121126-103957.jpg

On the other hand, when I snagged Vernon Davis in the later rounds I was praised for a great late pick. One of the best Tight Ends in the NFL, it was a miracle he had fallen that far and was still available. However, it has been less than a dream season for Davis, with this weekend marking the lowest of the lows. Davis was held without a reception, tallying a whopping zero fantasy points and leaving me questioning whether I should start him or not.

It’s not a question of talent, but maybe system play. Davis is not being targeted or, as he suggested, his routes are not being adjusted to compensate for coverage. This leaves Davis as a questionable option; some weeks he can be huge while in others he becomes a non-factor.

And that’s the tale of two players: one who has exceeded expectations, and another who has underwhelmed. Who are your two players this season?

CFL Preview


It’s that time of year: the NHL play-offs are over, and the NBA play-offs are winding down. The MLB season has hit the dog days of summer and is nearing the all-star break. For many Canadians that means the countdown is on to the start of the CFL season. Let’s take a look around the league for the ANP Sports CFL Preview!

EASTERN CONFERENCE

  1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers
  2. Hamilton Tiger Cats
  3. Montreal Alouettes
  4. Toronto Argonauts

In a year where the Grey Cup will be held in Toronto, the Eastern Conference has become a lot more difficult thanks to some major offseason moves by perennial also-rans. Two of the longest tenured QB’s in the league made the move from the West to the East when the Tiger Cats traded for Calgary’s Henry Burris, and the Argonauts added Edmonton’s Ricky ‘Frito’ Ray. This season will be the biggest test yet to see if the old guard in the East can hold off the up and comers.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Bombers aren’t a flashy club, but last year’s Eastern Conference champs return mostly in tact from last season. Winnipeg’s offense isn’t flashy, but when quarterback Buck Pierce is healthy and playing they are competent and can compete against all but the top offenses in the league.

The Bombers are lead by a rock solid defense that finished with league leaders in interceptions (Jovon Johnson with 8) and sacks (Odell Willis with 13, a tie for first). The defense is back and should be as solid as ever this season as the Bombers try to make it over the hump and avenge a Grey Cup loss last season.

Make or Break Player: Buck Pierce, QB

For a team that doesn’t rely heavily on it’s offense, the quarterback position has been critical. Winnipeg has yet to add any true depth or contingency plan in case Buck Pierce goes down to injury, which is usually a matter of when and not if. When Pierce is healthy, the Bombers have a good enough offense. If Pierce is hurt, the Bombers don’t have a back-up in place that can win now.

Hamilton Tiger Cats

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats can be the most frustrating team in the CFL to watch. They have the kind of up and down offense and defense that can make and break a season. You don’t have to look any further than their play-off schedule last year. They met favorite Montreal in the Conference Semi-Finals and went on to win a 52-44 barnburner. Next week in Winnipeg they fell with an embarrassing 19-3 loss to the Blue Bombers.

With the exception of Avon Cobourne, the Tiger-Cats don’t have any proven consistent offensive threats. What they do have is a team buy-in philosophy that could push this team over the top if they ever find consistency. That’s why the Tiger-Cats made the major offseason move to try and finally solve their quarterback issues. Last year they were lead by the underrated and inconsistent Kevin Glenn. This year they’ll have MVP and former Grey Cup champion Henry Burris taking the snaps. Maybe this is the missing ingredient to making the offense more accountable.

Make or Break Player: Justin Hickman, DE

Tied for the lead in sacks last year with 13, Hickman is a critical member of the Hamilton defense. If he falls to injury or underperforms, the defense loses a valuable rusher on the degensive side of the ball. If that is the case, the new Henry Burris lead offense will need to gel far faster than if the defense was holding down the fort while they find their stride.

Montreal Alouettes

Is this the season that the ageless Anthony Calvillo finally comes down to earth? It’s hard to bet against the Alouettes QB, but after last season we could see the chinks in the armor and the possible end of the Alouette dynasty could be sooner rather than later. They got off to a slow start, and that’s a bad sign with a QB near the end of his career.

Yes, Calvillo ended the season as the passing yards leader. Yes, Richardson lead the legue in receiving yards. Yes, Whitaker lead the league in rushing yards. But the Alouettes are less than the sum of those parts right now. The Als should make the play-offs, but it will be a step backwards this year instead of a return to the finals.

Make or Break Player: Anthony Calvillo, QB

You can never count out the man who will be 41 in August. We did that once before, and he came back with a stronger arm than ever before. The Alouettes will live and die by this sword. If he goes down, the mystique surrounding the Alouettes offense goes with him and the team plummets back to earth.

Toronto Blue Bombers

The experiment is over and the Argos have decided to bring in an experienced QB this season to make a bid for the Grey Cup they’ll be hosting on home turf. Long time Eskimo and perennial top five QB Ricky Ray was brought over in the offseason in exchange for QB Steven Jyles and spare parts. It was an interesting move, and one that seems to have no immediate benefit for Edmonton. Toronto, on the other hand, are out of excuses at the QB position if this move doesn’t work.

Toronto’s offense has been anoemic for years, and their defense has been mediocre at best. Their hot streaks have seen them competing with other CFL clubs, while their average has been consistent losses.

Make or Break Player: Cory Boyd, RB

Cory Boyd, the one consistent threat on the Argonauts offense, needs to be great from the get go this season. Ricky Ray will take time to adjust to a new offensive system, and the Argonauts receiving corps will likely do him no favors. Boyd is the one man that can take the pressure off the new quarterback by starting the season with a solid ground assault.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

  1. B.C. Lions
  2. Calgary Stampeders
  3. Saskatchewan Roughriders
  4. Edmonton Eskimos

B.C. Lions

They won it all last year, and then lost a lot in the offseason. Team faces Brent Johnson and Wally Buono are gone, but don’t look for the Lions to take a step backwards this season. Replacing Buono on the sidelines is new head coach Rich Stubler. If there was a man to follow up the legend, this is it.

The Lions are still guided by steady hand Travis Lulay at QB, and future hall of famer Geroy Simon will still be the #1 target. The defense is largely unchanged, a surprise due to the number of players possibly jettisoning for NFL that chose to stay. That staying is due to an organization that has prided itself on stability under the leadership of Buono. The only other team that has been this consistently good for this long is the Montreal Alouettes.

Make or Break Player: Solomon Elimimian, LB

Last years tackles leader, the Lions will rely heavily on Elimimian now that Johnson has left for retirement. Elimimian will not only be counted on for field work, but look for his role in the locker room to grow this season as well. The Lions defensive system will fall on his shoulders.

Calgary Stampeders

It’s true the Stamps have lost their best quarterback since the era of Flutie, Garcia, and Dickenson. But that shouldn’t be scary to fans, since Calgary has been quietly developing Drew Tate into an excellent athlete more than capable of leading this club. In fact, the trade that sent Burris to Hamilton brought back former starter Kevin Glenn, arguably the perfect back-up for Tate. If Tate falters, Glenn has more than enough experience to keep the team afloat.

Tate should benefit from a full season without Smilin’ Hank, though. After Tate took over last season, the Stamps got better. If not for Burris being another legitimate option, Tate would have been the starter for all of last season, and who knows how well the team could have done then.

Make or Break Player: Jon Cornish, RB

Lost in the Henry Burris shuffle last offseason was the fact that the Stamps also released long time star running back Joffrey Reynolds. It was the right move at the right time, and it freed the Stamps up to promote strong Canadian Jon Cornish to that role. Cornish is ready, but if he falters there is little protection behind him.

Saskatchewan Roughriders

It looks like the era that saw the Green Riders go to three Grey Cups in four years (winning one in 2007) may be coming to a close. The chinks in the armor showed last year, and a team that has gotten by on guts for several years took a nosedive and finished last in the West with 10 points. That’s a full 12 points behind every other team in the West.

With that said, this team can’t be that bad. Every player the team has come to rely upon had an uncharacteristically lousy season, and even then they turned it on in the second half. Team and league defensive tackles leader Jerrell Freeman is gone, so the defense will have to man up. That might be the deciding factor in how Saskatchewan’s season goes, the ability of their defense to keep them in games if the offense struggles.

Make or Break Player: Darian Durant, QB

It always seems easy to pick the QB, but it’s definitely the case in Saskatchewan. Durant had been exceptional, even when serving behind Kerry Joseph, up until last season. The QB must regain his form for the Riders to have any chance at contending. Period.

Edmonton Eskimos

Perhaps no team took a bigger step backwards this offseason than the Edmonton Eskimos. Just when it looked like they had taken positive strides rebounding from the Danny Maciocia era in Edmonton, with a 22 point finish that had them tied for first in the West, things went off the rails. In the offseason GM Eric Tillman traded away face of the franchise QB Ricky Ray for a series of spare parts. Coming back to the Eskimos: journeyman QB Steven Jyles, young kicker Grant Shaw, and a draft pick.

With that trade, the Esks are left with a massive void at the QB position and nobody to fill it. While many people have been calling for the Esks to get rid of Ray for many years, none wanted to see that deal made without an immediate succession plan. Steven Jyles, a former Eskimo, couldn’t crack the starting line-up the last time he was in Edmonton, and he struggled as a starter with a mediocre Argonauts squad. Combine that with the loss of star running back Jerome Messam to the NFL and Eskimos fans may want to prepare for a long season of rebuilding.

Make or Break Player: Defense

The Esks don’t have one make or break player this season. They still have star receiver Fred Stamps, but without an established player to get him the ball he could be negated this season. The defense will be the key for the Eskimos. On a squad that has, for so many years, had a strong explosive offense, the Eskimos will limp along this season without Ray and Messam. It will be up to the defense to keep this team in games, and head coach Kavis Reed better hope they have it in them.

The Worst Contracts in Sports


20120511-095431.jpg

A month into a ten year deal and people are already calling Albert Pujols a bust in Anaheim. We’ve quickly forgotten his slow start last year (albeit not this slow) and have decreed it was all smoke and mirrors. The Pujols we thought we knew no longer exists, and the Angels are on the hook for nine more years after this. This should come as no surprise, since the Angels have a history of locking up players to bad deals. Vernon Wells, anyone?

But bad deals are not new territory, so here are a few of my favorites from around the world of sports.

20120511-095603.jpg

Barry Zito – San Francisco Giants

While recent performances have at least shown Zito to once again be a competent pitcher, let’s not forget what he was supposed to be when San Francisco signed him: an ace. A major free agent signing, Zito was stolen away from Oakland at the promise of giant sums of money. Particularly, $126 million over the course of a six year deal.

Now everybody thought the curveballer would easily translate his over .600 winning percentage in Oakland into a World Series title. Instead, he flat out bombed to the point where the Giants were hesitant to even start him. His tenure in San Francisco has been marred by movements from the rotation to the bullpen and back again. He hasn’t had an ERA under 4.00, and his win-loss percentage sits at a miserable .415. Ironically, he was a member of the team that finally brought a World Series title to San Francisco. But, by that point, he was an after note to stars Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson.

20120511-095727.jpg

Rick DiPietro – New York Islanders

Not one to be outdone by anybody, New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro out-ridiculous’d even the ridiculousness of Islander’s forward Alexei Yashin’s 10-year contract. In 2006, with one full NHL season under his belt, the budding star signed a 15-year, $67.5 million contract. When I say budding star, I mean a highly touted prospect that had shown he was at least qualified to back-up in the NHL with a 3.02 GAA and a .900 save percentage.

Since the signing, DiPietro has gone on to start 168 games over the course of six seasons. Ignoring even the middling numbers (his save percentage hovers around .900 for the most part), the biggest issue is he can’t stay healthy. In the last five seasons his highest game total is 26. Every other season in those five he hasn’t cracked the ten game mark. Because of that albatross, the Islanders haven’t been able to commit to a strong, young goaltender in their system. Instead they’ve been relying on other teams cast-offs, like Al Montoya, and stealing away returning KHL netminders, like Evgeni Nabokov.

20120511-095828.jpg

JaMarcus Russell – Oakland Raiders

It’s tough to be a proud franchise in one of the longest droughts of mediocrity on record. Being in that position can force your hand and lead to some poor decision making. That’s what can be said for the Oakland Raiders in 2006 when they made quarterback JaMarcus Russell the number one overall pick in the entry draft.

Let’s be clear: the pick isn’t the issue. While JaMarcus wouldn’t have been my number one pick, Brady Quinn hasn’t exactly turned into an NFL superstar either. The Raiders, who had been languishing since the career ending neck injury of QB Rich Gannon in 2004, needed the strong armed quarterback to lead the team. So, bottom line: the Raiders thought Russell was their man and we can’t fault them for that. What we can fault them for is the massive contract they have to an unproven player.

Russell was in the middle of a crybaby holdout when the Raiders caved and signed him to a six year deal worth $61 million, $32 million of which was guaranteed. Russell proceeded to show up out of shape and flame out in the NFL until his release from the Raiders in 2010. The contract hangs around the organizations neck until next season, even though Russell is technically off the books.

Three proud franchises, three terrible contracts. Personally I don’t think anyone should ever get a deal over five years, and most players should never get a deal over three. But that’s just my opinion, what are your thoughts? What are the terrible deals that are hampering your club right now? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

All images used in this are the property of their original owners. No infringement is intended.

%d bloggers like this: