Archive for December, 2004

Cards a few players away from contention

Thursday, 30 December, 2004

The off-season is just around the corner and for the Arizona Cardinals, the question is what to do about the quarterback situation.

Josh McCown has shown some upside as of late. In the St. Louis game two weeks ago, he looked solid, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another two.

Last Sunday against Seattle, however, he looked like a rookie again, making some questionable decisions at times. But then again, McCown threw three deep touchdown passes (two to Larry Fitzgerald and one to Anquan Boldin) that made him look like he actually has a bright future as the Cardinals starting quarterback.

Head Coach Dennis Green stated that McCown will indeed be the starting quarterback of the Cardinals next season. But then again, he also said that Pete Kendall would be the anchor of the offensive line before cutting the center in training camp.

As of right now, the Cardinals would own the seventh pick in the draft. The quarterback class of 2005 should be a weak one meaning if the Cardinals decide that McCown is not the future of this ball club, they will need to weigh their options heavily before investing millions of dollars on a top ten draft pick.

The free agent market isn?t much better.

If the Cardinals can develop a running game over the off-season, the offense will open up for McCown and he may work out after all.

At running back, the Cardinals have Marcell Shipp coming back next season. In 16 games last season, Shipp ran the ball 228 times for 830 yards. In 2002, Shipp ran the ball 188 times for 834 yards and six touchdowns. So his numbers aren?t all that bad, he just simply didn?t have the receiving threats that he will have complementing him next season.

If the Cardinals want to look elsewhere for a running back, Derrick Blaylock of Kansas City and Nick Goings of Carolina are restricted free agents; Kevin Faulk of New England and Reuben Droughns of Denver are both unrestricted free agents and Duce Staley of Pittsburgh is a free agent.

Coming out in the draft will be Cedric Benson, who had four straight seasons of over 1,000 yards rushing for Texas; Ronnie Brown, who can do it all from Auburn; and Carnell Williams of Auburn.

In my opinion, the Cardinals should draft a running back, perhaps Ronnie Brown, with their top ten pick. They should keep McCown and hope he can come out in 2005 with some poise running a wide open offense.

The Cardinals then need to seek a shut down cornerback in free agency. This off-season, Chris McAllister will be available via free agency, Champ Bailey will be a free agent, Troy Vincent will be available, and Charles Woodson will be an unrestricted free agent. If Dennis Green and the front office can come out aggressive this off-season and pick up a top tier cornerback, the Cardinals defense will improve drastically.

As of right now, the nucleus is there for the Cardinal defense. They have Bertrand Berry, who will be playing in the pro bowl this year, and Darnell Dockett, a rookie who showed signs that he will be a solid defensive tackle in the NFL, running the line. Carlos Dansby, who also showed signs of future greatness at linebacker and safety Adrian Wilson, who just signed a five year deal to remain an Arizona Cardinal, in the defensive backfield.

With a shut down corner and possibly another solid linebacker, which they should use their second round pick on, the Cardinals defense will be something to fear come next season.

Despite their 5-10 record heading into the final week of the season, the Cardinals showed some upside in the desert for the first time since 1998 when they last went to the playoffs. And as you can see, they are a mere three players away from becoming a playoff contender.

Now lets see if the front office can put their act together and take advantage of this upside.

Week 17: Waiver Wire

Thursday, 30 December, 2004

By Zack Cimini

Week seventeen incorporates two obstacles for fantasy teams. With NFL teams already having secured playoff locks, the majority of coaches have decided to rest their starters after a quarter or two. It?s reminiscent of the preseason, and has brought up the fact that fans don?t pay for complete season tickets to be robbed of a final game. You can?t make everyone happy, and any coach will say, ?take it how it is? to a fan. Their home team is obviously doing something right if they are able to rest in the last week.

If you?re in a crazy league that decides to have a championship game in week seventeen, then you?re in a rut with the Colts. Peyton Manning may be worth a shot at starting because he is capable of putting up a complete game in one quarter. But if you have Edgerrin James or Marvin Harrison, it may be wise to stay away from them. You can ill afford to miss out on potential points from the third or fourth quarter from them.

So if you have solid backups at those positions, this is when that analyzing and bench production will be put to test. If Dominic Rhodes or James Mungro are on the waiver wire, it may be a gamble worth taking to pick one of them up. Both have been fantasy life savers a few times in their careers, and this weekend could be another.

Week 16: One Week Wonder

Thursday, 30 December, 2004

By Zack Cimini

The Vikings offense is high potent but Michael Bennett?s success in week sixteen is definitely a one week wonder. He has been on the pine for the majority of the year, and disappointed many owners with his downfall. Minnesota has already made it clear that they don?t have a definitive starter and will use a cluster of players. Bennett benefited from Smith?s illness last week and showed that he is capable in case the situation presents itself again.

Bennett is the fastest back in the league, and may be on the trading block in the off-season with the Vikings crowded backfield. Onterrio Smith, Mewelde Moore, and Moe Williams all are directly involved, even though the Vikings don?t focus on the running game at all. It?s an unusual proposition, but the Vikings like to take their chances with Culpepper and their receivers.

If needed though, this team could run the ball every down like a high school football team and succeed. So if Culpepper were to go down, the assumption of the Vikings being at total disarray is false. The Vikings could flip the script and try to develop the running game to open up the passing attack.

Either way none of the Vikings are a solution to your fantasy football team until the Vikings decide on a feature back. Whoever plays the best in the playoff run should get full attention towards strengthening that outcome. So just keep your eyes on this situation.

Early Mistrust

Wednesday, 29 December, 2004

By Zack Cimini

Lets take it back to August when you were game planning for that potential sleeper. Every owner feels they?ve had a successful draft, but it?s even better when you land your sleepers in late rounds. While you talk trash about how everything fell into your hands like you wanted, the other owners are laughing at your jabbering. Then the season starts and what do you know your sleepers are producing.

As your sleepers are producing it brings up a misconception that makes it tough on the owner. You have your higher profiled athletes either not producing to their form, or riding the bench gaining quality points. You?re automatic thought is to take a look at offers from opposing teams or waive the player if he is not producing. Shockingly, in a few leagues I saw owners waive Plaxico Burress after the first few weeks. As soon as they waived him is when he had his best stretch of the season during weeks four through ten, in which he had at least six fantasy points each week to go along with four total touchdowns. From then on he fell off the map because of the rising play of Antwaan Randle El and injury. The owner that picked him up definitely gained in that stretch as he used Burress as his third wide receiver to go along with Randy Moss and Darrell Jackson.

Don?t get caught up on your bench players taking over your team. Here is a breakdown of some players that rose quickly, but fell just as fast.

Thomas Jones
Jones was considered to be a sleeper because of his potential and new environment. Any time you have a new starter at running back that back is going to get a lot of attention in the fantasy world. Still, most owners didn?t want to risk having Jones as their second back, so he slipped into the fifth or sixth rounds. For almost two months Jones was proving to be well worthy of his pick, and was making his way into owners starting lineups. He had five touchdowns in seven games, and looked well onto his way of having a break through year. Then the Bears offensive production fell tremendously without Rex Grossman, and on top of that Jones got hurt. Since that early start he went without a productive game until this past week.

Quentin Griffin
Here is a guy that was being praised like no other in the preseason and first few weeks of the regular season. Outrageous comparisons to Barry Sanders because of his stature, and another legacy back to add to Denver?s history were insane. He had an explosive week one but then fumbling problems and the emergence of Reuben Droughns canceled his season. Any thoughts of being a backup to Droughns were thrown out as well as he was determined out for the season with a knee injury.

Warrick Dunn
His early success in the touchdown category was expected to be a pattern by fantasy owners. Throughout his whole career he has always been a monster for yards, but six touchdowns in the first five weeks were raising eye brows. The Falcons then finally started using TJ Duckett more, and Dunn was banged up with a few injuries here and there. Still in all he has had a great year and is a quality number two fantasy back, if you want to get a top quarterback or wide receiver early.

Clinton Portis
There is nothing more disturbing to an owner than to have a star running back that jumps on and off the radar every other game. Portis?s all around stats look great, but he has caused many owners to have a heart attack this year. He has had too many games were he has been quiet and ineffective, and we hope that has to do with being on a new team that is trying to find itself offensively.

The moral of the story is too think ahead for the whole season and not just stretches. If a player is quiet early on in the year just be patient, but do not waive that player for nothing. The waiver wire is as thin as can be, and an automatic assumption is that your player would be picked up in a heartbeat just based on hope and revival. An impatient owner is going to have a long struggling mid season. I?ve seen plenty of owners start off 4-1 and have a successful start, only to go on a three to five game losing streak because of them banking on certain players.

Part II: NFC Outlook

Wednesday, 29 December, 2004

By Zack Cimini

This is part two from the AFC outlook story posted on Monday. The NFC may have looked ugly all season long, but the wild card teams are loaded with talent and could shock people. Philadelphia and Atlanta definitely have a better shot at being knocked out than do New England or Pittsburgh.

NFC

1. Philadelphia
The Eagles may have lost on national tv, but there appears to be no apparent danger in front of them. Donovan McNabb led the Eagles on a touchdown on his only drive, and the majority of the players on the field from then on were second and third stringers. Andy Reid realizes has figured out a strategy after being in the NFC championship game many of times. You can tell that the Eagles have a swagger of confidence but yet are fully focused on their goals.

2. Atlanta
All of the talk in preseason was about Matt Schaub, and on Sunday he couldn?t get the job done against the Saints shaky defense. It just goes to show that Vick is this offense, and the whole DVD (Dunn, Vick, Duckett) package is going to need to be there for the Falcons to succeed. Even though they?ll get a bye, their playoff ride may be short lived if they have to face Green Bay or Minnesota.

3. Green Bay
Many people forget that this team was 1-4 at one point. It looked as if Brett Favre would finish this year on the pine, instead of having a competitive chance in January. The defense has been improving, and as long as Brett Favre limits his mistakes this team can beat any team. Favre gets a lot of the credit, but the truth is he is surrounded by tremendous talent. There isn?t another team that can say they have all three components like Favre does. He has a great offensive line, an All-Pro running back, and three top quality receivers. Their wild card matchup against Carolina or the Saints will be scarier than if they play the Falcons in the divisional round. For some reason you have the feeling that Favre and McNabb will get another shot at each other.

4. Seattle
It took awhile for the Seahawks to get in the playoffs but they did it, and now it?s a whole different ball game. In order for any advancement to be made, the Seahawks will need a fully healthy Matt Hasselbeck. Trent Dilfer may have been able to get the Ravens to the Super Bowl, but this defense isn?t even close to the ability of the 2000 Ravens. The luxury of having Shaun Alexander as their back may pay huge dividends in cold weather games. There isn?t a team that can?t stop him, and he has proved that with the most consistent year of any back.

5. Minnesota
The Vikings control their own destiny and shouldn?t have a problem defeating the Redskins to clinch the fifth seed. If it were to happen, we all know that their wild card game against Seattle will be a shootout. Randy Moss is back to his old form, and Michael Bennett is even getting involved with the offense. This team is always in games until the end, and that is always a beneficial plus come playoff time. As long as they have a healthy Randy Moss they are unlimited in what they can do.

6. Carolina
The winner of the Panthers or Saints game will get the last spot, and have a nice matchup against the Green Bay Packers. The Panthers are on a roll, and would present problems to any team with their defense. After starting 1-7, this team must feel that they?ve earned new life to respond to last year?s results. What was thought to be an improbable task could end up happening. It took this team awhile to make the transition of being without Stephen Davis or Deshaun Foster? so just imagine where they could have been? They would likely be in Atlanta?s spot with 11 to 12 wins. Never count out the heart of a champion as Rudy Tomjanovich has said, because this team is relentless.

Take Notice

Monday, 27 December, 2004

By Zack Cimini

Write this down right now ? Larry Fitzgerald is going to lead the league in touchdown receptions next season. If anyone has followed the path of this youngster, his ability to make jump ball catches is uncanny. Randy Moss and Terrell Owens both have their different attributes that make them unstoppable. Fitzgerald is a combination mixture of Owens and Moss, to make himself right up there with the elite. It?s like he has been molded as a ?create a player? in a video game and this is the result. He has Moss?s speed, and Owens physical presence against defensive backs that leave them hopeless. Any thoughts of a sophomore jinx for next season can be thrown out the window. Fitzgerald will be a top five receiver statistically in the NFL next season, if not number one.

The Arizona Cardinals faded off the radar with any chances of going to the playoffs on Sunday, in a 24-21 loss to Seattle. Seattle came to play and the loss can be taken as a lesson for the Cardinals young team. During the loss though the Cardinals fought back just like they had all season, after being down 24-7. All it took was a few throws by Josh McCown to Larry Fitzgerald on seemingly playground type plays. Forget the razzle-dazzle drawn up plays, McCown just waited for any opening of a one on one situation with Fitzgerald and just threw it up. On Fitzgerald?s second twenty-nine yard touchdown reception all McCown did was a quick pump fake to draw the safety to the left, and quickly lobbed up the ball inside the right post for Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald went up like a basketball defender shielding for a rebound and fought off swipes of the football too still hang onto it. The professional manner Fitzgerald displayed afterwards even further shows how much this young man is devoted to the game.

Most young athletes? cough cough? all athletes would have paraded around showboating for attention after that type of catch. Instead Fitzgerald quickly jumped up and tossed the football to the referee and ran off the field. It was the type of demeanor that gave the body language of someone hunger for more. The Cardinals defense though was unable to stop the Seahawks on the next drive, and they ran out the clock.

It?s a forgone conclusion every year that the Cardinals will get no exposure on national tv, so it?s hard for many fantasy owners to evaluate any Cardinals athlete (Except for Direct TV customers). There is no doubt that Arizona will be an explosive offense next year with the best group of receivers in the league. Anquan Boldin has finished the season strong, and many people forget that Bryant Johnson was the Cardinals first round pick ahead of Boldin. He has developed nicely and is unnoticed because of the overwhelming attention his complement receivers get.

Marcel Shipp will be back next year, and that will improve the Cardinals offense tremendously. The only decision that needs to be made is what to do at quarterback. Josh McCown has shown improvement, but is it enough for Dennis Green? The athletes that surround McCown could make any average quarterback look great, so imagine what an established quarterback could do?