Welcome to the north side, Mr. DeJesus (and goodbye Soriano?)

The following is my latest article for The Hardball Times.

Today, the Cubs signed David DeJesus to a two-year, $8.5 million deal with a third-year option worth $6.5 million with a $1.5 million buyout. In other words, the Cubs signed a defensively adept outfielder/health risk with an average/slightly above average bat to a two-year, $10 million deal with a third-year marginal option cost of $5 million.

Using last year's market win value, they are essentially paying for a +1.0 WAR player each of the next two years (three, if they exercise his option). As identified in our 2012 Cubs offseason article, this is an excellent buy-low move.

Given DeJesus' age and health risks (he is 32 and only played a combined 222 games between 2010 and 2011, only once playing 150 games in a single season and only twice playing 140 over his eight-year major league career), $5 million a year might seem like merely fair compensation, while a two-year deal with a mandatory buyout might seem slightly generous.

However, contrary to that gut reaction, it is an extremely team-friendly deal in more ways than one. It not only is an expected surplus-value-providing contract, but, as will be explained below, it is also one that empowers the Cubs with extra payroll/positional flexibility to move Alfonso Soriano.

Let's begin by looking at DeJesus and his contract. First off, he is coming off his second-worst year in the majors since his rookie season. He only batted .240/.323/.376 (.309 wOBA), which is what enabled the Cubs to sign him so cheap in the first place.

However, even with such a poor batting line, DeJesus was still worth +2.2 WAR last season. Thanks to strong outfield defense (career +6 UZR/150 defender in the corners) and above-average base running (as measured by UBR) abilities (this despite being a career 51-for-97 base stealer), DeJesus is still an above-average major league player when his bat disappoints and he only plays 130 of his team's 162 games.

Accord to the world according to xBABIP, DeJesus was pretty unlucky with his balls in play in 2011. His .274 BABIP last year was a career low (by .015 points), and despite an uptick in strikeouts (17.0 percent compared to a career rate of 13.4 percent), DeJesus continued to drive the ball with authority (20.2 percent line drive rate). The result was an expected BABIP of .309, which was a full .035 points ahead of his actual results.

If we adjust DeJesus' batting line to reflect his xBABIP-based "true talent" line, then we should have expected him to hit .268/.347/.388 (.735 OPS) last season. Using his career BABIP rate (.316) in lieu of xBABIP, we could have expected a marginally better batting line of .273/.352/.393 (.745 OPS).

Oliver projects DeJesus for a .326 wOBA in Oakland for 2012 (.741 OPS). Such an improvement would mean the addition of 7-8 batting runs to DeJesus' 2011 batting value, bringing his expected 2011 WAR production to right about +3.0. And that's before you consider the move from spacious Oakland to Wrigley.

Those numbers might be off his career batting line of .284/.356/.421 (.776 OPS), but when you consider that the Oakland Colluseim played as a far worse hitters park than Kaufman Stadium last year, as it has for the past few seasons, especially for left handed batters—Kansas City has a slightly inflating wOBA index of 103 for lefties, while Oakland has a deflating index of 95—then the numbers really are not that far apart. And remember that offense around the league as a whole was down last year relative to the past few years.

So let's say DeJesus' talent line is not far off his career rate, maybe slightly below it. What can we expect from Wrigley's effects on DeJesus? For starters, it should help boost his very average power. Wrigley Field has a 120 index for left-handed home run power. That means DeJesus should be capable of 15 or more dingers if he can play 150 games (a big if, of course).

Wrigley also means that DeJesus should see a jump in his overall wOBA production. The Friendly Confines is one of the more notorious hitters parks in the National League, and as hinted above, the park tends to help left-handed hitters more than right-handed hitters.

Given that DeJesus was worth +2.2 WAR in only 131 games last season in one of baseball's most offense-zapping parks, I full expect him to be worth at least +3.0 WAR at Wrigley next season—keeping all else constant—with +4.0 WAR upside if he can stay healthy. At the very least, he should be able to turn in a pair of +2.0-2.5 WAR seasons for the Cubs.

If we pessimistically assume the DeJesus will only be worth between +4.0 and +5.0 cumulative WAR over the next two years, that makes his contract worth between $10 and $15 million dollars in "surplus" value to the team. If he is capable of something more, say +7.0 WAR over the next two years, that surplus value conceivably jumps to $25 million.

Let's take the pessimistic median of these projected ranges, for simplicity's sake, and assume for a moment that DeJesus' contract is worth a surplus value of $16 million over the next two years. What does this mean for the Cubs?

It means they are able to move Soriano without being prematurely forced to lean on Brett Jackson, for two reasons. First, DeJesus can simply take over Soriano's spot in the lineup. DeJesus has mostly played right the past few seasons, but he is no stranger to left (let alone center) field.

More importantly, however, it allows the Cubs to "eat" more of Soriano's salary without any real effect on the team's relative payroll and production. For every surplus production dollar that DeJesus is worth to the team, that is one dollar that can give away, for nothing, without changing the pre-signing status quo.

Soriano's remaining contract is essentially a three-year, $54 million deal. That's an $18 million annual expenditure, or $4 million more per year than Adam Dunn is making. If the Cubs were willing to eat half of Soriano's salary ($27 million) to move him before the DeJesus signing, this deal could potentially mean the team could eat up to an additional $16 million without being in any worse of a financial situation in terms of dollars spent and expected wins.

In other words, they potentially could be offering teams a three-year, $11 million-dollar commitment to obtain Soriano. That's roughly the fair market value of a single season of a player like Carlos Pena, which would make Soriano incredible attractive to even small-market teams.

More likely, however, it means the Cubs can now eat half of Soriano's salary without handcuffing their productive future (they go from "eating" $26 million to effective "eating" $10 million). While the money will still be sunk into Soriano's contract regardless, the value gained from the DeJesus deal will recoup much of that sunk cost.

Of course this all assumes a relatively flat aging curve and no adverse changes in health, which are bold assumptions. Nonetheless, I think this will prove to be a fantastic deal for the Cubs and a great sign of the shrewd, positive things to come during the Epstein/Hoyer era.

Worst QB League Update- Week Eleven

NOTE TO LEAGUE: I'm dropping Tampa Bay for San Diego
Cubsfan drops Detroit for Buffalo

1) The 'Bright' One

Total: 1,063
Last Week: 34

Washington: 2
Indianapolis: 0
Denver: 5
Philadelphia: 27

2) Steven Anderson

Total: 777
Last Week: 113

Seattle: 22
San Francisco: 5
Cleveland: 11
Arizona: 75

3) Dan Bennett

Total: 771
Last Week: 89

Miami: 1
Oakland: 16
Kansas City: 37
NY Jets: 35

4) Adam "Sexy Rexy" Kaplan

Total: 735
Last Week: 23

Jacksonville: 12
Chicago: 0
Tampa Bay: 4
Baltimore: 7

5) Cubsfan4evr1

Total: 591
Last Week: 49

Carolina: 31
Minnesota: 29
Tennessee: 5
Detroit: -16

Mental vs. Physical Quarterbacks

Bill Simmons has a theory that something like 70% of being an NFL quarterback is all mental. Do you have your head on straight? Do you have the intangibles to be an NFL quarterback? Good. I don't care if you can't throw for more than 15 yards, put on this helmet and go win some games young man!

I jest but I do think there is a lot of truth in this theory. I think in order to be an elite quarterback you not only need to physical skills to, you know, complete passes but also that drive in you to want the ball with four minutes left, you're down by five, to drive the ball downfield and score a touchdown. I think there's a certain "it factor" like guys like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning has that other quarterbacks just don't have.

There are some quarterbacks that do have these intangibles. A certain je nais se qua if you will. But they can't throw the ball. Then there are others who have all the physical skills in the world but will never be elite because they mentally aren't there. Here's my list of some current NFL quarterbacks that fall into these categories.

Mentally Awesome, But Can't Hit The Broad Side Of The Barn

- Mark Sanchez (NYJ)

Mike Lombardi said that if Mark Sanchez, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, and Aaron Rodgers were all getting in a car, everyone would throw Sanchez the keys and have him drive. He's that type of leader.

That being said, he can't throw worth a damn. Recently, we here at GOI ranked all active quarterbacks we would rather have that Sanchez. Myself and The 'Bright' One named 32 quarterbacks we would rather start for our team than Sanchez. As Nate Ravitz said on Fantasy Focus, he's a quarterback with accuracy issues. Not a good combination.

- Timmy Tebow (DEN)

Sure he may have God on his side along with a college style offense, but what he doesn't have is the talent to throw to his receivers. Denver recently won a game when Tebow only completed two passes. TWO! Throughout Tebow's career he has a 44.8 completion percentage. Even Rex Grossman could complete one pass out of every two.

The other week an acquaintance came up to me and said, "Did you know Tebow does not have a lot of interceptions?" to which I replied, "Well it's hard for any defender to intercept Tebow when he under/over throws his intended receiver on every pass."

But hey, all he does is win.

- Vince Young (PHI)

Tim Tebow, this is your future. Late game comebacks can cause you coast and be the toast of the town for a year or two but soon you'll be a career back up.

That being said, at one point in time I liked and was a big fan of Young's "intangibles". But lack of talent and being prone to turnovers will came back and hunt you. Always.

- Matt Ryan (ATL)


Ryan is well respected in the league and absolutely deserves to be a starting quarterback (which is more than can be said about many names on this list) and he's known for coming up "clutch". He's known for being a great leader and helping his teams win games.

But I've got news for you- he is not a good quarterback. Let's go through Ryan's YPA the past three years.

2011: 13th
2010: 27th
2009: 21st

The vast majority of Ryan's career he has been mediocre at best. People criticize Flacco for not being able to win games and I think Ryan falls right in with in 2008 Draft-mate.

Can Hit The Barn and Hit It Hard, but They Just Don't Want To

- Matt Leinart (HOU)

Like Young, I once touted Matt Leinart (OK, what I really said is Leinart had the potential to be a great quarterback) but Leinart just wants to hold a clipboard.

During the summer, ESPN reported that then free agent Matt Leinart was going to sign with the Seattle Seahawks. Then the Seahawks signed Tarvaris Jackson and Leinart said to himself, nope, Jackson's too good. I need to stay here in Houston.

Leinart even stated that he wanted to be on a team in which he could be the starting quarterback. So he choose the Houston Texans over the Seattle Seahawks. Of course, Matt, that's the real reason. I guess now he gets his chance but he would have started all 10 games for the Seahawks had he chosen to go.

Also, when you're fucking a different chick each night and getting paid at least $400,000 to stand around for three hours once a week I guess it doesn't sound all that bad.

- Jay Cutler (CHI)

Jay Cutler was drafted one pick after Matt Leinart. (Also, I just realized, they both were in the same draft as Vince Young- who also happened to show up on this list. Just a coincidence.) Jay Cutler has amazing arm strength and throws one of the prettiest deep balls I have ever seen. He probably has the physical ability to make every throw. But that doesn't mean you need to attempt to make every throw and squeeze balls where they shouldn't be squeezed (haha Balls. Squeeze. Sorry, continue). Now I have seen a progression from Cutler during his tenure in Chicago and he was playing great during the Bears five game stretch here in 2011, but he's not even close to being mentally there. He has the physical talent to be an Aaron Rodgers but the reason he's in a class by himself underneath a lot of guys is because of his head.

- Tony Romo (DAL)

Tony Romo is known for coming up short in the clutch. I do believe that if he was playing in say Buffalo or Seattle that no one would notice but because he plays for the most popular team in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys, his mistakes are amplified. But with that being said, he had repeatedly messed up in the 4th quarter and on the very last play of the game over and over again. (Although, I would like like to point out for the record that at least Tony Romo has won more playoffs games than Matt Ryan).

I do not believe there is some inherent mental defect that Romo falter in the clutch and I think his situation is more like Alex Rodriguez in baseball. All Yankee fans complained about A-Rod because he couldn't play well during the playoffs. But then the Yankees won in 2009 and all was forgiven for A-Rod. Once Romo has one good playoff run all will be forgiven.

But for right now, Romo's career puts him on this list.

New Spin-Off Blog

Anyone who knows me knows that I have been getting into craft beer over the past two-plus years. Given my penchant for writing and desire to appreciate beer styles more by breaking down and analyzing individual brews, I have created a new blog to catalog my beer exploits and experiences (including my periodic attempts at home brew).

The tentative title? SaBEERmetrics. Check it out. Cheers!

The Detroit Lions Are A Bad Match-Up For The Green Bay Packers

This pains me to say. I hate to say it. I hate to say anything good about them. They are my hated rival and I go to school with a bunch of their fans and they annoy the crap out of me. Yet I'm objective. The Green Bay Packers are a really good football team. In fact they are probably going to repeat as Superbowl champs.

OK, now that that is out of the way, let me tell you why they are not going to be undefeated.

This Thanksgiving (in four days as of the writing of this post) they face the new-and-improved Detroit Lions IN Detroit. As good as the Packers look and as good as they Packers have been, they face their toughest game of the year against the Lions.

There are two ways to defeat Aaron Rodgers. The first is match Rodgers in scoring. Aaron Rodgers is going to put up points but if you have the ball last and end up scoring on the final drive of the game, you can defeat the Packers. During the 2009-10 playoffs in the Wild Card Round, Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals was able to defeat Aaron Rodgers- by putting up 51 points. In overtime. Kurt Warner had to throw five touchdown passes just to defeat Rodgers and the Packers 51-45.

The second way to defeat Aaron Rodgers is to not allow him to throw. This is no easy feat. Rodgers has a plethora of targets who are speedy route runners and Rodgers is extremely mobile and accurate and releases the ball very quickly. However, the last team to shut down Aaron Rodgers- the Detroit Lions.

In Week 14 of the 2010 season, the 6-10 Lions (2-10 before the start of the game) was able to beat the Packers by a score of 7-3. Aaron Rodgers' numbers in the game: 7 for 11, 46 passing yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT. I've heard people have the audacity to say "Well, Aaron Rodgers had to leave the game so of course the Lions were able to win." B.S. First, the Lions suffocated every play Rodgers was in on. Second, Rodgers played all of the first quarter and 95% of the second- and still only allowed him to score three points.

(QUICK NOTE: It is not a good idea to stop Rodgers' receivers. He has too many guys to throw to and if you give Rodgers time, he will make plays, get first downs, and eventually score)

Unfortunately for the Green Bay Packers, the Detroit Lions can do both. Their amazing defensive line that stopped the Packers last year has been improved by the addition of rookie Nick Fairley and their overall defense is better than it was last year. This defense line is amazing at pass blocking and are athletic enough to get to Rodgers.

Plus, the Lions have something they did not have last year: Matthew Stafford. Just watching the few games Stafford has played in before 2011, you knew the talent and skills were there it was just that he couldn't stay healthy. Now that Stafford has started all 10 games this season, he has proven how good he is. Further, Green Bay ranks 31st in passing yards given up per game and 24th in YPA allowed.

Now the best way to defeat the Lions is to run on them. Detroit currently ranks 5th in passing yards allowed per game but only 28th in rushing yards allowed. Good for the Lions because the Packers do not really run the ball (Green Bay ranks 17th in rushing attempts) and they're not very good at it (they rank 24th in YPA).

It is true that Stafford and the Lions have shown vulnerability (see: their loses to Chicago and San Francisco) and they too have an extremely one dimensional offense and a one dimensional defense. However, the dimensions the Lions are good at are the reasons that they are a bad match up for the Green Bay Packers.

Why The Bears Shouldn't Be Worried That They Lost Jay Cutler

ESPN.com reports that Jay Cutler will miss the rest of the 2011 regular season due to a broken thumb on his throwing hand. While it's certainly not a good thing for the Bears to lose their starting quarterback, they shouldn't be worried. Why?

Reason One: The Bears have been winning games on running and defense

During the Bears current five game winning streak, Cutler has been really good. Not only do his throws like sharper and he's absolutely not making dumb throws like he has been doing the past two years, but he's only gotten sacked five times and he has a 7:3 TD/INT ratio. But with that being said, this team is a classic Chicago Bears team. They have been winning with an effective Cover-2 (this year), have been creating turn overs, been having Matt Forte run 99 yards and then have Marion Barber punch it in from the one-yard line. Since the passing debacle that was the Bears/Saints game in Week 2, Mike Martz has been running the ball first and then have Cutler pass second. As far as I know, guys like Forte, Barber, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Julius Peppers are still healthy.

Reason Two: Caleb Hanie is not half bad

While we really have not seen a whole lot from Hanie, I like what I have seen. I've been to multiple training camps to watch Hanie play and I was really impressed when he replaced Cutler (and Todd Collins grumble grumble) during the 2010 NFC Championship game and from what little I have seen from him. Plus, see Point One. This team is not designed around throwing the ball and I think with an emphasis on Forte in the offense, Hanie will be fine.

Reason Three: The Bears have an easy schedule.

Here's the rest of the games that the Bears have- at Oakland, vs. Kansas City, at Denver, versus Seattle, at Green Bay, and at Minnesota. The only game on that schedule that scares me is at Green Bay. The Bears are in the driver's seat to earn the fifth seed in the playoffs and even without Cutler, I'm confident they can do that.

OK, now here are some reasons I might be worried as a Bears fan.
- Cutler has an amazing deep ball. Defenses always have to respect the deep ball which in turn spreads opposing defenses thin. With Hanie now starting defenses can move up like what my fellow school chums did whenever I came to the plate during kickball games and thus the Bears will have a tougher time running the ball.
- The Bears Cover-2 is designed to play with a lead. The Bears have actually been scoring a lot of points of late (the Bears have been averaging 32.2 points during their five game winning streak) and with Hanie in instead of Cutler, the Bears defense will not only be on the field more but will have a tougher time holding down opposing offenses.

That being said, I'm confident the Bears can rally to a one and done play off birth. GO BEARS!!!

As a bonus: here's GOI's famous awesome Caleb Hanie video:

The Evolution of Tom Brady's Patriots

The Drew Bledsoe Era (2000)

For the longest time the New England Patriots were a terrible organization. I mean Washington Redskins and pre-2011 Detroit Lions terrible. No, it wasn't Bill Belichick that brought the Patriots out of their slump, it was Bill Parcels and a number one overall pick named Drew Bledsoe. In 2000, the Patriots drafted Tom Brady in the 6th round. Even though the team already had their franchise quarterback and had no use for Brady, the team drafted him anyways. Further proof how much the Patriots loved Bledsoe (besides the numbers he was putting up), they offered him a record (at the time) ten year/$103 million dollar salary in March of 2001. Whoops.

Tom Brady's Stats: N/A

The Defensive Era (2001-2003)

Bill Belichick has always been a defensive guy. It may not seem like that now but Belichick won a Super Bowl with the Giants as Bill Parcells defensive coordinator before he ever was a head coach. Belichick came into the Patriots with two main goals: establish a great defense (slash a great team) and do it as cheaply as possible. In free agency he went out and got veterans like Mike Vrabel and Roman Pfifer to go along side linebacker/defensive end guys already on the roster like Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest. In 2001 Belichick drafted in the first round a kid out of Georgia named Richard Seymour (DT). Belichick set up a 3-4 scheme with an emphasis on versatility. Linebackers and defensive ends that were dropped by other teams flourished in Belichick's system which focused heavily on confusing opposing offenses.

Belichick went out and got some scrubs to help out his offense, guys like wide receiver David Patten and running back Antowain Smith to low but heavily incentive-laden deals. Plus, the Patriots already had an elite wide receiver on their roster- Terry Glenn.

Belichick originally designed his system around a versatile and cheap defense and around his franchise quarterback- Drew Bledsoe. Reports indicate that Belichick was not thrilled with the huge contract Bledsoe received considering how economically fiscal he was trying to be, but he had a franchise quarterback nonetheless.

Then Bledsoe gets injured in Week One of the 2001 season and never started another game for the Patriots.

Jets DE John Abraham tackled Bledsoe hard in the middle of the game which caused Bledsoe to gt a concussion and have internal bleeding. Belichick puts in this youngster from Michigan by the name of Tom Brady. Then wouldn't you know it, the Patriots not only go on and make it to the Superbowl, but they defeat the Greatest Show On Turf.

People forget many things though about Brady early in his career. First, Bledsoe didn't go away in 2001. Bledsoe was eligible to play later in the 2001 season but Belichick chose to stick with Brady because his team was winning. Also, Bledsoe played in the second half of the Patriots/Steelers 2001 AFC Championship game and led the Pats after Brady got injured to a game-winning drive towards the end of the game.

Second, Brady was not *that* good of a quarterback early in his career.

While the Brady-led Patriots won both the 2001 and 2002 Superbowls, Brady was really only good in the fourth quarter of those games. Most of the early Brady-led teams were won by defense and special teams, not offense. The Pats needed something called "The Tuck Rule" in order to defeat the Raiders during the AFC Divisional Round.

Tom Brady's Stats: 61.9 completion percentage, 3,409 passing yards/year, 23 TD/year, 12.67 INT/year, 1.82 TD/INT, 6.64 YPA

The Corey Dillon Era (2004-2006)

The Patriots finally had a running back! Most of the Patriots offense was centered around Brady and his passing attack. Sure the Patriots had guys like Kevin Faulk, backs who were versatile enough to block and catch, but were really not all that great at running. You know that essential skill every running backs needs to have. So in 2004, the Patriots traded away a second round pick for Bengals running back Corey Dillon. Rudi Johnson was emerging in Cincy after Dillon got injured and Dillon got upset so the Bengals traded away their "troubled" back.

Before we move on, I just need to go on a tangent real quick. When Dillon was complaining about his reduced role in Cincy before he got traded, he made it public that he wanted out. Then, when he came to New England, he was quiet as a mouse. You didn't hear a peep out of him. Commentators and those in the media use Dillon as an example now of how Belichick can take on troubled athletes. Bullshit. Not that Belichick can't take on troubled athletes, but the fact that Dillon was labeled a troublemaker. Same logic that because Chad Ochocinco danced in the endzone he was automatically deemed a hindrance to his team. Dillon just wanted to be the main guy and as history as shown us, it sucks to be in Cincy and that front staff is stubborn to the point of retardation. (Hell, Marvin Lewis is still their head coach). Maybe Corey Dillon should not have make his frustrations public, but he was never a troublemaker from the getco.

Anyways, off tangent. Brady now has started to emerge as an elite regular season quarterback, the Patriots finally have a running back that's legitimately Pro-Bowl worthy (Dillon did go to the Pro Bowl in 2004), and the Patriots defense full of former nobodys is still holding strong.

The 2004 Patriots was the most well-rounded team Tom Brady has ever played for and that showed when the Patriots won their third Superbowl in three years.

Dillon played two more years with the Patriots but never replicated his 2004 season again and was cut by the Pats in 2007 with Laurence Mauroney now becoming the main back for the Patriots.

During this time we also start to see signs of a shift away from a defensive oriented team to an offense oriented team which is almost epitomized by Brady's stats. Brady went to his second and third Pro Bowls in 2004 and 2005 and in 2005 Brady, for the first time in his career, had a 4,000+ passing yard season.

Although do not get it twisted, the Patriots were still good from 05-06 and they were still winning games and going to the playoffs. In 2005 the Patriots won the AFC East with 10 wins and in 2006 they won the division again going 12-4.

Tom Brady's Stats: 61.9 completion percentage, 3,777 passing yards/year, 26 TD/year, 13.33 INT/year, 1.95 TD/INT, 7.45 YPA

The Record Breaking Season (2007)

During the off-season the Patriots traded a 4th round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders for Randy Moss and offered free agent Wes Welker a one year/1.35 million dollar contract. Finally Brady had some legitimate receivers to throw to. As well as David Patten and Deion Branch worked within Belichick's offensive system, these guys would barely be number three recovers for most other franchises (In fact, look how well Branch ended up in Seattle).

Then Spygate happened. The Patriots were playing the New York Jets- led by former Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini- and whooped them 38-14. Eric Mangini then decided to be a little bitch and ratted out Belichick for stealing signals. So what did Belichick do? He said to everyone "fuck y'all" and starting running up the score on everyone. This caused the magical record breaking season for the Pats.

We all know how this season went. Brady threw for a record 50 touchdowns. Randy Moss caught a record 23 touchdowns (just FYI Jerry Rice caught 22 touchdowns in 12 games. Moss did it in 16. Barely). The Patriots went 16-0 and won their first two playoff games leading to Tom Brady's fourth Superbowl appearance.

Sadly, the Patriots lost to the Giants. While the defense was able to hold and contain Eli Manning for the vast majority of the game (I mean, come on, Eli needed a no-name to catch the ball on his head slash have Pats safety Rodney Harrison be an idiot and not knock the ball down in order to win), the Giants defense did what no team was able to do throughout the 2007 season- put a halt to the Tom Brady and the Patriots offense.

This brings me to the Pats defense. While statistically we do not to start to see the Patriots defense falter, philosophically we do. As we will see later, this will bite them in the ass. This change of philosophy was evidenced by the Pats signing linebacker Adelius Thomas to a five year/35 million dollar contract. The Patriots hadn't needed to pay big money for a linebacker before because they were able to find versatile, hungry guys to play for them. After New England starting winning Superbowls, signing veteran linebackers was even easier. New England was the place you could come to in order to retire on a high note (at least that was their sales pitch). But Thomas was a big name. He was extremely talented yet versatile enough and willing to play in a Belichick defense. However, two years later Belichick got pissy at him, starting benching him, and eventually released him after the 2009 season. This was just an indication and a foreshadow of what was later to become of the Patriots defense and its philosophy.

Tom Brady's Stats: 68.9 completion percentage, 4806 passing yards, 50 TD, 8 INT, 6.25 TD/INT, 9.4 YPA

The Matt Cassel Era (2008)

During the first game of 2008, Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard dives at Brady's feet in an attempt to sack him. However, what Pollard ended up doing was three things. First, he caused Brady to tear up his knee which in turn caused Brady to miss the entire 2008 season. Second, he changed the way officials and referees call penalties for quarterbacks. Now if a defender looks at a QB wrong his team is charged with a 20 yard penalty. Third, we finally got to answer the question: What was the cause of the Patriot's success: Tom Brady or Bill Belichick? The answer: both.

First, let's take a look at what this offense looks like without Tom Brady. This team still had Wes Welker and Randy Moss as wide receivers. Plus, the Patriots had one of the best offensive lines in the game. What's been going unnoticed throughout Belichick's tenure in New England was his stock piling of offensive lineman.

The Pats drafted Dan Koppen in the fifth round of the 2003 draft. He has been to a Pro Bowl. The Pats drafted Matt Light in the second round of the 2001 draft. He has been to three Pro Bowls. The Pats drafted Logan Mankins with their first pick in the 2005 draft. He has been to three Pro Bowls. Three-fifths of this offensive line are Pro Bowlers and the other two lineman who started for the Patriots in 2008 (Dan Connelly and Nick Kaczur) no slouches themselves.

With the great O-line and wide receivers the Patriots had, it's no wonder they were still able to put up points. While Cassel ended up putting good end-of-the-year numbers, those numbers are skewed a bit by two 400 yards passing games he had in Weeks 10 and Weeks 11. Throughout Cassel's first ten games he only averages 200 passing yards per game (Also, as a Cassel fantasy owner this year and as a guy who rode Cassel to a fantasy championship, I can tell you that I was not starting Cassel until Week 12)

Cassel wasn't losing games for the Patriots and the defense hadn't completely fallen off yet as the Patriots went 11-5 yet missed the playoffs (even though San Diego got to go to the playoffs at 8-8 just because they won their division)

Tom Brady's Stats: N/A

Everybody Leaves (2009)

Things change. It's the way of the world. Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis and Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel left after the 2004 season to pursue head coaching gigs after they won three Superbowls with the Pats.

In 2009, everybody seemed to have left.

Another aspect of this entire post that has not been mentioned was the Pats Vice President Scott Pioli. Belichick brought in Pioli when he got hired by the Patriots to help run the front office. The two clearly brought magic and great things to the franchise. Then, in 2009 Pioli leaves the Patriots to become the Kansas City Chiefs GM. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels also leaves to become the new Denver Broncos head coach. The Pats then trade QB Matt Cassel to Pioli's Chiefs which in turn caused the Denver Broncos to trade away their Pro Bowl and franchise QB Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears (Thank you Josh McDaniels!) Rodney Harrison and Tedy Brushci retired in 2009 and the Patriots shipped Mike Vrabel to Kansas City in the Cassel trade.

These changes did not seem to have any short term effects as the Patriots won ten games in 2009 and again won the AFC East. But these changes become extremely important for what the Patriots are today.

One of the main reasons Tom Brady and the Patriots won three Superbowls was because of Belichick's defense and his ability to pick linebackers/defensive lineman to fit his scheme. However, after 2004, Belichick stopped doing that. As mentioned earlier, the Adelius Thomas signing was the beginning of the end for Belichick's defensive scheme. The loss of the scheme along with losing most of his core defensive nucleus of guys caused the Patriots to start to lose their defensive identity.

Tom Brady's Stats: 65.7 completion percentage, 4398 passing yards, 28 TD, 13 INT, 2.15 TD/INT, 7.8 YPA

The Defenseless Era (2010-2011)

For the past season and a half, Belichick's team has focused so heavy on the offensive side of the ball to win games and watched his defensive side suffer. Everything the Patriots had done defensively since 2004 has now started to catch up with the team.

In 2010, we saw that the Patriots didn't need their defense to win games like they did in the early 2000's. The Pats won 14 games and earned the #1 seed in the AFC. Tom Brady only threw four interceptions during the 2010 regular season and only threw an interceptions in two regular season games. They shipped out Randy Moss early in 2010 and created an offense around Wes Welker and Deion Branch; an offense that didn't turn over the ball. There have only been two quarterback seasons where a quarterback finished the season with a TD/INT ratio above 6:1- Tom Brady in 2007 and Tom Brady in 2010.

To further emphasize the offense, BenJarvis Green-Ellis emerged as an elite running back for the Patriots scoring 13 rushing touchdowns and also did not fumble the ball. The Patriots also signed RB Danny Woodhead off of the Jets practice squad to make their 2010 team one of Tom Brady's most explosive seasons ever.

The Patriots also drafted two great tight ends to help the offense (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) in 2010 who have become great players for the Pats. In the 2011 draft, Belihick drafted an offensive lineman in the first round and two running backs in the second round.

However, the lack of defense caused the Patriots to lose to the Jets in the first round of the playoffs in 2010. The Jets defense shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots defense was so bad that they were not able to shut down Mark Sanchez. As Jets LB Bart Scott famously said after the game:
[Haters] talk crap about the defense, like we ain't the third best defense in the league. All we here is about they defense, they can't stop a nosebleed! 25th in the league, and we the ones that get disrespected!?
Scott's comments would hold especially true for the Patriots 2011 season. As of the writing of this post, the Patriots defense is 17th in terms of points allowed, 9th in terms of rushing yards allowed, and last in terms of passing yards allowed.

Tom Brady's Stats: 66.0 completion percentage, 278.08 yards/game (Brady has only played 25 games through these two seasons. This number extrapolated to a full seasons would average 4,449.28 yards/season), 59 TDs, 14 INT, 4.21 TD/INT, 8.14 YPA

So what does this all mean? I don't know. In 2011, the Patriots still look like they are going to win their division. They may not be winning games like they used to but they're doing better than their AFC East rivals the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.

What about going forward? I think as long as Bill Belichick is the Patriots head coach, they will continue to win games and win a lot of them. He's an extremely smart man and knows how to run an offense (even though he might now know how to pick wide receivers). He knows first and foremost that nothing happens without an offensive line. In the 2011 draft he drafted Colorado offensive lineman Nate Solder who looks amazing. I feel like the the quarterback has eight seconds to throw the ball of every play for the past ten years. I believe Belichick will continue to draft offensive lineman because he knows that is his bread and butter. He also has an elite quarterback waiting in the wings- Ryan Mallet. I have no doubt that in 3-5 years when Brady starts being washed up, Mallet will take his place and help the Patriots score points and win games.

However, the Patriots defense going forward scares me. Since 2004, the Pats have not focused on their defense (at least like they used to) and have not been doing anything close to what the did a decade ago in order to help them get back to winning Superbowls. To me this 2011 season looks like a trend, not an outlier. Since 2007, the Patriots have shown that if they do not improve their defense, they will not win another Superbowl.

Worst QB League Update- Week Ten

NOTE: Adam Kaplan drops San Diego and Cincinnati for Tampa Bay and Baltimore

1) The 'Bright' One

Total: 1,029
Last Week: 199

Washington: 30
Indianapolis: 80
Denver: 50
Philadelphia: 39

2) Adam "Sexy Rexy" Kaplan

Total: 712
Last Week: 77

Jacksonville: 27
Cincinnati: 16
Chicago: 24
San Diego: 10

3) Dan Bennett

Total: 682
Last Week: 69

Miami: 12
Oakland: 10
Kansas City: 23
NY Jets: 24

4) Steven Anderson

Total: 664
Last Week: 34

Seattle: 10
San Francisco: 5
Cleveland: 12
Arizona: 7

5) Cubsfan4evr1

Total: 542
Last Week: 130

Carolina: 27
Minnesota: 28
Tennessee: 5
Detroit: 70

2012 Offseason Outlook: The Chicago White Sox

My latest article for The Hardball Times.

One of a series on dilemmas facing major league teams this winter.

There are three ways to build a baseball team, though the three methods are the ends and the middle of a continuum. The White Sox seem stuck at one end, and it's not clear how they can change that this offseason.

The first way to build a contender is organically, relying heavily on successful scouting and development of players in the farm system. This is the method the Tampa Bays Rays have followed so successfully, and though not the easiest way to build a team—it requires good projection by scouts—it is most appealing method for small market teams.

Of course, not even the Rays' deep farm system can churn out a full 25-man roster, so organic growth must be supplemented by shrewd trades and free agent signings. This means exploiting market inefficiencies and avoiding brand names, like signing Kyle Farnsworth ("washed up") and letting Rafael Soriano ("the next Jonathan Papelbon") walk. Because young talent is cost-controlled, and because shrewd free agent signings tend to be some combination of short-term commitment and relatively low-cost, "misses" in current years tend to have a lower impact on future years. At the same time, more players are required to contend because the young talent tends to be more raw. The need for more good decisions is especially true when the organizational philosophy is to build a stable of young 3 WAR players with upside, rather than around a perennial 8 WAR player.

At the other extreme of team building is signing players who are already good to fill out your roster through free agency pool and big trades. This approach is somewhat attractive because players between ages 27 and 30 tend to "be what they are" and are more projectable in the years immediately following. These players also are more established, meaning they can sell jerseys. On the other hand, these players cost more money and more contract years, or cost big prospects who are young, cost-controlled and potentially the source of many future years of value. The back end of most large free agent contracts, where money is often backloaded, can turn once-stars into untradable albatrosses. And overvaluing a free agent or acquired player—think Barry Zito or Vernon Wells—can make even the early years of the contract ugly.

In this category, misses not only hurt now, but they can cripple a team's future. It can have big results, but it requires the franchise using it to be able to eat massive contracts, or otherwise be so bloated with inefficient contracts for several seasons that it is unable to contend. This approach is best embodied by the Yankees, and teams that are trying to "win now" by mortgaging some or all of their future (the 2008-2011 Brewers, for example). Teams that employ this strategy tend not to get high draft picks (surrendered to Type A signings), and any drafting successes they do have are often used as leverage to bring in "younger" talent through trades.

The middle ground between these two strategies blends signings and drafting to form the nucleus of the team. This could be done by signing a young free agent stud like Prince Fielder and using the farm system to build around him with young. above-average major league talent. It could alternatively mean developing a superstar stud (think Albert Pujols, Evan Longoria or Troy Tulowitzki), signing him for a very long time, and then using the free agent market and swapping young talent to fill team holes. The middle ground can take many creative forms, the best of which are embodied by the Cardinals and Rockies. "Misses" are can be stomached and "hits" do not need to be as dramatic because moves tend to be one at a time as needed and built around some long-term nucleus. Provided the middle ground is done right, rebuilding and reloading should be the "simplest" under this method because the right young players will steadily trickle in, contracts won't cripple, and free agency can be used to fill the needs the farm system cannot provide.

The White Sox are the small market team of big markets. Compared to the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox and even Dodgers, the White Sox are the Pirates. They are just barely a top 10 revenue franchise, according to Forbes estimates. Yet, they've tried to build a team like the Yankees. Their 2011 payroll was seventh overall, just a few million behind the Cubs. Depending on what the Cubs, Yankees and Angels do this offseason, the Sox could have the fourth highest payroll in baseball next year, behind only the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies.

General manager Kenny Williams uses his farm system as a trade block. Sometimes this approach has worked, as with the team's trades for Jim Thome, Gavin Floyd and John Danks. More often, however, these trades have not worked out, and when they didn't, the Sox either sold low or cut bait (e.g., Nick Swisher). Being trade-focused, the White Sox have not been nearly as heavy-handed in the free agent market as the Yankees, which is why unjustified moves like using Mark Kotsay at DH did not cripple the team's future. Alas, given their lack of player development, heavy reliance on building through trades and recent spending binge spending, the result has been practically the same. Only the White Sox do not have the same resources as the Yankees to eat bad contracts—or, ironically, as good a farm system to reload through. (Who expected the Yankees to have a borderline top five farm system?)

What does this mean for the Sox?

In theory, the Sox have the short-term pieces in place to compete. They were just a few games under .500 in a relatively weak division last year, and BABIP luck did not fall their way. Then again, the Indians have upgraded their weak pitching with groundball specialists Ubaldo Jimenez and Derek Lowe, the Twins can't be any worse next year than they were this year, and the Tigers are still in a very good competitive position.

Who knows if Paul Konerko can keep up his late-career resurgence, though there is no reason he cannot be a +3 WAR first baseman if healthy in 2012. (Oliver forecasts a .289/.359/.497 triple-slash line). Alexei Ramirez, athletic and just 30, has turned into an All-Star shortstop.

You have to imagine that Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham have nowhere to go but up from last year, right? Rios' xBABIP says he should have hit .275 or so last season, but except for April and May of 2010, he has been a negative asset for the Sox in every other month. Rios does not have much room to improve at 31, and he may just be an overpaid league average player at this point. Still, league average is not awful.

And then there is Adam Dunn. Even though he fell off horribly, Dunn's true talent line lies somewhere in between his 2008 and 2011 numbers. In the world according to xBABIP, Dunn's expected BABIP was .060 points higher than his actual, meaning his "luck neutral" slash line last year should have been a still pathetic .191/.319/.317. Dunn's appendectomy may have had some impact on his swing and ability to turn on the ball last season. Expect a lot of rebound.

But rebound means a .235/.350/.450 slash line—or about what Carlos Pena did for the Cubs this past year. That would be productive, and add a relative offensive boost to the 2012 White Sox, but it is not the impact bat they quite expected when they handed Dunn $56 million. They might as well have just re-signed Jim Thome who, despite playing in only 201 games over the past two years, has produced 4.5 wins above replacement for under $5 million. Compare that to the -4.3 WAR of combined DH production of, and the $17.3 million the Sox paid to, Kotsay, Manny Ramirez, and Dunn over the past two seasons. A +2 WAR season for Dunn next year is entirely in the cards, but the Sox will be overpaying for that production by about 35 to 50 percent, depending on the price of a win this offseason. Given Carlos Quentin's defense, it is a wonder that the Sox needed to bring in a DH at all (although when you look at defense through Jermaine Dye-tinted, rose colored glasses, everyone looks like Franklin Gutierrez).

Mark Buehrle may or may not re-sign, but the 2012 roster is looking a lot like the 2011 roster with a healthier Jake Peavy and an emerged Sergio Santos. They should be very competitive in the short run. The long run is a much uglier story.

The White Sox will have two major players hitting free agency after 2012 in Quentin and Danks. Peavy, who has a $22 million team option for 2013, will almost unquestionably be let go for the price of the $4 million buyout, but he'll save the team a net $13 million. Floyd might also reach free agency, though I expect the White Sox to exercise his $9.5 million team option. Meanwhile, the Sox' payroll will experience a mild offsetting payroll jump from the back-loaded contracts of Dunn, Rios and Ramirez—this before any possible arbitration raises. The White Sox already have a payroll just under $130 million, and it is a serious question whether they can maintain or extend their payroll beyond that amount. Anyone who thinks that young players Dayan Viciedo (projected .748 OPS), Alejandro De Aza (projected .752 OPS), Zach Stewart (projected 5.30 ERA), and Phil Humber (projected 4.30 ERA) are the answers to the Sox' future holes might be strongly mistaken. That's not to mention the current hole at third base (Brent Morel projects for a .703 OPS).

Through a decade-plus of trading, Williams has decimated the White Sox farm system. At least that much is certain. Heading into 2011, the White Sox were universally regarded as having a bottom five farm system. Marc Hulet went so far as to rank the Sox farm system as the worst in baseball last year, behind even the Brewers. Especially with the graduation of Chris Sale from prospect status, the Sox do not have anyone who would qualify as a prospect, let alone a top 10 prospect on most other teams.

The Sox only have two viable choices: Go all in for 2012, or hold a 50-75 percent off Macy's Spring Day Sale, hope to save some money and start the rebuilding process sooner than later by targeting very young prospects in low levels in the minors. I doubt Williams will opt for the latter strategy, especially not after all the White Sox have tried to do to rebuild the fan base over the past decade. As a result, we may see Williams try to spin a few trades and short-term-risk signings to shore up the 2012 roster. If the Sox are in contention by the All-Star break, I would not be surprised to see Viciedo on the move. An underperforming team would likely see Danks and Quentin depart early.

At some point, the White Sox are going to have to start reloading for the future, and they'll have to start from square one. At the moment, they do not have a nucleus core of players who are relatively young and figure to be productive for a long time. Ramirez, Rios and Dunn will be around the longest, and they're all in their 30s. Beckham's fallen off the map since 2009—those second-half flashes of hope in 2010 seem lost in a putrid 2011 campaign. Tyler Flowers projects as potentially a slightly above average major leaguer, but he's no core-nucleus to build around.

The future is ugly for the White Sox. But hey, at least Ozzie Guillen is gone and 2012 should be fun to watch. The White Sox are approximately in the same boat as the Cubs were heading into 2009, only with a lot fewer projected wins.

Worst QB League Update- Week Nine

WAIVER NOTICE: Starting in Week 10 Adam Kaplan drops Dallas Cowboys and picks up San Diego Chargers

1) The 'Bright' One

Total: 830
Last Week: 111

Washington: 15
Indianapolis: 72
Denver: 9
Philadelphia: 15

2) Adam "Sexy Rexy" Kaplan

Total: 635
Last Week: 83

Jacksonville: 0
Cincinnati: -5
Chicago: 2
Dallas: 0

3) Steven Anderson

Total: 630
Last Week: 106

Seattle: 37
San Francisco: 0
Cleveland: 27
Arizona: 42

4) Dan Bennett

Total: 613
Last Week: 45

Miami: -5
Oakland: 18
Kansas City: 12
NY Jets: 20

5) Cubsfan4evr1

Total: 412
Last Week: 0

Carolina: 0
Minnesota: 0
Tennessee: 0
Detroit: 0

2012 Offseason Outlook: The Chicago Cubs

The following is a sneak peak of my upcoming article for The Hardball Times. The management section will be different, but I thought this draft would make an interesting read.

Hiring Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer was a great step forward for the Cubs organization, whose last World Series appearance was 1945.

For the past 30 years, since the team passed from the Wrigley family, Cubs' ownership has rarely seen the team as anything more than a cash cow. Cubs games are a unique social experience that blend booze and brotherhood with more than 100 years of bad luck. Wrigleyville is a one-of-a-kind sports neighborhood that surrounds the field with good eats and plenty of bars. The atmosphere is safe and always welcoming (unless you are a Cardinals fan, in which case you get an in-all-good fun jostling). The slightly intoxicated Cubs fan -- second only to Wisconsin in inebriation per capita -- tends to be a complete 180 from the associated personality of a Philadelphia [choose your sport] fan*. This is why the Cubs are the lovable losers, who live at what has been dubbed the friendly confines. Heck, we're world famous for our bleacher bums.
*To be fair to those Phillies fans who threw batteries at J.D. Drew, some Cubs fan once threw a battery at former Cub Jacque Jones. Still, no stadium full of Cubs fans has ever booed Santa Claus."

Even though the Cubs are only sporadically good due to a history of poor management, unfortunate drafting and bad trades, their games have historically sold. People come for the environment more than the product on the field, to experience and take part in the fun. Over the past 30 years, the social aspect of Cubs games has grown from the bleacher bums, who are being phased out for overpriced corporate outings—the "white collar social." Wrigley Field has become the epitome of the casual—not to be confused with fair-weather—fan. It has evolved into more of a place to go than a place to truly care about the result.

Now, with more than a hundred years since the Cubs' last World Series win and with the losing teams of the past two seasons, fans are proving they are finally fed up with the way the organization has been run. This year, tickets to Cubs games could be purchased on StubHub for as low as $1. Even the "guaranteed to sell out" games, such as those against the Cardinals, did not sell out toward the end of the season. And even when the tickets sold—many purchased on speculation with the intent to resell—seats remained empty, poking holes in vending sales.

Firing general manager Jim Hendry in favor of guy who "embraces the numbers" was a big step forward for an organization that has not played "smart baseball." By all accounts, Hendry is one of the nicest guys in the business, and a real class act. Alas, Hendry's tenure as the Cubs' GM was marred by bad drafting, albatross contracts that featured no-trade clauses and player options, and disappointing failure despite three playoff runs. Hendry went all-in from 2007-2009. Had it paid off with a World Series berth, Cubs fans could probably stomach the team's current state of affairs as the cost of glorious success. But that success did not occur. Some great trades early in his role as the Cubs' G.M. (e.g., stealing Aramis Ramirez and Derek Lee), were countered by equally bad losses (the Juan Pierre deal and the Alfonso Soriano contract).

Even though the Cubs are one of the top five organizations in terms of revenue and payroll, throwing money around on players rarely solves one's problems unless you are New York. Even Boston, in a great position at the moment, has its issues due to a few big, bad salaries. If you are going to spend big, you need to hit. A big organization like the Cubs can afford to miss every now and then, but not consistently, and with the magnitude of commitment they did from 2007-2009.

New owner Tom Ricketts, in dropping Hendry in favor of Hoyer, and hiring Epstein as the president of baseball operations, indicated to Cubs fans that he cares about, and is committed to, winning. With Hoyer and Epstein aboard, and with the Cubs' payroll demons slowly but steadily shedding over the next two or three seasons (Soriano is signed through 2014), an era of sustainable success akin to Boston's past decade could be upon us. Drafting and prospect loading will be key over the next couple of years, as will be finding good low-risk, high-reward contracts that could return dividends.

The Cubs have a long way to go toward competing, but putting the right people in charge is a major first step. The Cubs have lacked a philosophy and direction, and this is one of the (many) things that has kept the Cubs from sustainable success. Since the mid-'90s, Cubs management has always talked about a youth movement when things got their roughest, only to catch lightning in a bottle a few years later and try to capitalize on that flash by sacrificing the future for the now. Toggling between rebuilding and going all-in over the past 15 years is just one reason the Cubs are in the position they are today, but it is a big one.

With the foundation laid, there is much work left ahead. Let's look at the state of the team, starting with the Cubs' strengths.

Up the middle

The Cubs' clearest strengths come at the hardest-to-fill positions. Between the young shortstop/second baseman Starlin Castro (depending on how his defense continues to develop) and the underrated power and patience of catcher Geovany Soto (new manager, less Koyie Hill?), the Cubs have mainstays at two of the most important spots on the field.

Provided the Cubs new manager gives Soto the playing time he deserves (despite being healthy over the past two seasons, he was in only a combined 230 games), they should see a modest offensive boost from 2011. Soto took a step back in terms of his walk rate and strikeout rate, which had progressed over the past few seasons, but still managed to turn in a respectable +2.1 WAR despite a .280 BABIP and limited playing time. The power that people were worried had disappeared stuck around, more or less. Power was down across the major leagues this year, and I expect Soto's ISO to be back over the .200 plateau in 2012. His defense, to the extent you trust the plus/minus system for catchers, has progressed from horrible to bad to average over the years, which is encouraging.

At second base, the Cubs have rookie Darwin Barney. Despite a hot-then-cold first/second half split, Barney was worth +2.2 WAR over 143 games. In other words, he is a slightly above average player making the league minimum for another two seasons. The Cubs could do worse, and keeping Barney frees up resources for the Cubs to spend elsewhere. If the Cubs want to take a low-risk, high-reward approach to the shallow free agent pool, however, Kelly Johnson could be a fit. That would slide Barney over to third base, where the Cubs have no one to play at the moment.

Johnson is a very attractive free agent because he possesses +4 WAR potential, as evidenced by 2007-08 and 2010, though 2010 was bookmarked by by two pretty disappointing seasons. If the Cubs do not sign a second baseman like Johnson and slide Barney over, they will need to bring in some outside help at third base, potentially in the form of Michael Cuddyer, but more on that below.

Meanwhile, in the upper minors, Brett Jackson continues to develop as the Cubs' center-fielder of the future. Jackson does not have an MVP or superstar ceiling, but he should be a consistent All-Star in his prime. Jackson has issues with strikeouts, but has a modest (20+ home run) power upside, speed and athleticism. Those should combine for a handful of 3-4+ WAR seasons if he can just cut down the whiff rate. That may be a big if, but Jackson is the most exciting Cubs hitting prospect to reach the upper minors in the past 10 years. He should arrive around the All-Star break.

Though the Cubs have strong enough starters, they lack depth up the middle. Their utility guy this year was a combination of Blake DeWitt, DJ LeMahieu and Jeff Baker, none of whom are anything but replacement level. LeMahieu probably has the most value of that group, given his age (23), but he is a light-hitting, no-walking, no-running middle infielder who is just a DL stopgap with a decent glove. If anyone up the middle for the Cubs gets injured for an ex tended time, there's not an even "average" replacement. Perhaps the Cubs will target a low-cost Jamey Carroll type in free agency; more likely, LeMahieu will have a graduated role in 2012 doing what he did down the stretch in 2011.

Corner infield

The Cubs are not just weak at the corners. They do not even have players reasonably scheduled to play third base, right field, or first base.

With Aramis Ramirez declining his player option (saving the Cubs $2 million in the process), the closest thing the Cubs have to a third baseman at the moment is Barney, who is playing second. Josh Vitters is the team's only prospect at the position, and he's been a massive disappointment to date, with neither walks nor power over the past three years. Vitters is only 22, so perhaps he has time, but it is hard to teach players with no patience at the plate how to walk. Vitters is playing pretty decently in the hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League, but those stats have to be taken with a grain of salt. A realistic outcome of the third base situation would be Johnson or Michael Cuddyer. He's 32, but third base is a vacuum for the Cubs and the third base free agency pool is shallower than the girls of the Jersey Shore. A three-year, $30-35 million deal may be in the cards for Cuddyer. Ramirez, to the extent he wants a four-year deal, is going to end up as an Oriole—where Cubs go to retire.

Right field is just as open as third base. Bryan LaHair could get first dibs on the gig in spring training, but, like many a Cubs hitting prospect over the past five years, he's approaching 30 has minimal major league experience. If the Cubs are going to give LaHair a chance at a full time gig, they might as well let him play first base. They would be better off letting the younger Jackson try out for right to get some major league experience for when he slides over to center field in 2013. That is not to say that LaHair isn't a promising power bat, but he is a first baseman in outfielder's clothing in right.

If the Cubs want to go outside the organization, Grady Sizemore on a one-year incentive-laden deal could make a lot of sense, as could a low-cost one- or two-year deal for David DeJesus as a stopgap until Jackson arrives. Either could get full-time outfield duties in 2012, and likely 2013, assuming Marlon Byrd gets traded to a contender in need of an outfielder upon Jackson's arrival. Josh Willingham could also fit as an interesting power bat if he is willing to take a two-, rather than three-, year deal.

In left field, Soriano is going nowhere. The Cubs could bring back Reed Johnson on another one-year deal as a fourth outfielder, but they also have Tony Campana and former first-round pick Luis Montanez trolling around as outfield defensive replacements at the league minimum.

The Cubs also need a first baseman, and lucky for them, not only is a lot of money coming off the books, but two of the four best guys are currently on the market. The Cubs, along with the Mariners and Nationals, are probably among the favorites to sign Prince Fielder. With the Cardinals having won the 2011 World Series in Disney-magic fashion, Albert Pujols leaving St. Louis seems a longshot at this point, but the Cubs are one of two teams, the other being Toronto, that could feasibly offer the slugger $300 million if they really wanted to.

Though both Fielder and Pujols are great players who would make great additions, the Cubs should save their money. Pujols, to the extent he would sign with someone other than the Cardinals, is more of a "win now" player. He will be 32 next season, and though his career-low WAR total is 5.1, that low figure came this year. Pujols should keep being great over the next few years, but aging curves are never gracious to athletes in their mid-30s who aren't on the juice. Pujols has been relatively healthy over the past few years, which is encouraging, but can he maintain health and production four, five, and even six years into a multi-year contract? Cubs fans know what happened to Soriano by 2009, and though Pujols is an infinitely better player than Soriano, there is no reason to expect him to maintain a +6-9 WAR pace into his age 35 season, which is what he would have to do to be worth his contract. Just ask the Yankees how that monstrous Alex Rodriguez deal is working out for them.

That said, Pujols has the type of plate discipline skills that age well, even with a power decline. But the Cubs are not in a position to win now. They are not even in a position to likely win in 2013. They need to rebuild. By the time the Cubs realistically can compete again, Pujols will be into his mid-30s, and by then, he will be eating up resources relative to his production that the Cubs could better allocate elsewhere.

Then what of Fielder, who is four years Pujols' junior? Fielder is probably the better player to sign for several reasons. The first is that he will cost less money than Pujols. Of course Fielder is also a lesser player than Pujols, but a lot of Pujols' superior present value would be lost on a non-contending team like the Cubs. Fielder is also younger, by four years, and he would still be in his prime, albeit the tail end of his prime, by the time the Cubs are competing again. Age and cost would make more sense as a long-term contract for a team that is not trying to "win now."

However, Fielder is not much of an "athlete" in the traditional sense of the word. We all know the real reason that the Brewers couldn't resign CC Sabathia after 2008 was that there was not enough food in Milwaukee to feed the two of them. Fangraphs had an excellent article about Fielder's expected aging curve a few weeks ago, noting that fat baseball players tend to age substantially less gracefully than other players:


Do you remember what happened to Dmitri Young after he turned 31? Or Pat Burrell at 32? Or what happened to Adam Dunn this season? Nonathletic power hitters seem to fall rapidly when they hit their 30s, and even if their offense rebounds some, their defense remains atrocious. Fielder should be a fine player the next three or four seasons, but no better than Soriano by the time he is 33, and the Cubs would be paying him more than Soriano money for several years after that point.

So what should the Cubs do? In the short run, they'll certainly need a stopgap. This is where LaHair comes in. He has flashed really good power and patience for the Cubs (and before them, the Mariners) in the upper minors over the past few seasons. He also held his own for 20 games in the majors last season. Oliver projects LaHair as a .350-wOBA capable major league hitter (.800+ OPS) with a respectable on-base percentage and .200+ ISO power over the next two-plus years. His 2010 and 2009 major league equivalencies (MLEs) essentially agree. If nothing more, then, LaHair should be your very average first baseman, with some upside.

LaHair won't be a long term option, but he can certainly hold the place until 2014, when Joey Votto is a 30-year-old free agent. Votto is substantially more athletic than Fielder, and he'll be a couple of years younger than Pujols, and he is one of the most talented hitters in baseball. The Cubs would save money over the next two seasons, which could be allocated to Votto in the future, while being a better position to know what they'll need when they're in a position to compete, rather than guessing now and tossing around a lot of money to players who may or may not be worth it by 2014/2015.

Or the Cubs could turn back to Carlos Pena on another one-year deal, though the Pirates may offer two or three years out of desperation.

That is at least what I would do. However, the Cubs are probably going to sign Fielder for Carl Crawford money, in which case I hope I am dead wrong about how he'll age.


A major strength of the Cubs over the past decade, the rotation is currently in shambles and lacks an ace.

Matt Garza is the closest thing to an ace the Cubs have, but he's more an elite No. 2 type. Garza saw a huge jump in his strikeout rate when he moved to the National League this past season, though much of his whiff gain seemed to fizzle away in the second half. Garza's peripherals indicate he's capable of much better than his 2011 results in 2012. However, the Cubs gave up more in prospects to get Garza than the Brewers gave up to get Zack Greinke, and the value of a cost-controlled pitcher of Garza's talent is essentially lost on a team like the Cubs.

Ryan Dempster exercised his player option, and will return in 2012. Dempster was never an ace, but he's been a solid No. 2 starter for the past four years. Though 2011 was a disappointment by ERA/WHIP standards, Dempster's peripherals were essentially in line with his 2007-2009 performance heading into September, when he seemed to wear out down the stretch.

Beyond Dempster and Garza, the Cubs rotation has a lot of question marks. Will Carlos Zambrano be back? Probably not, and he most certainly will not return in 2013. Can Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner stay healthy for the Cubs? If each can, which Randy Wells—the one from the first or second half—will show up? Will Cashner's third pitch ever develop so that he can take the leap from questionable mid-rotation starter to a solid No. 2 type? Trey McNutt is the Cubs' top pitching prospect, but he took a major step back in Double-A last year—his strikeout rate fell and his walk rate spiked. McNutt looks to repeat Double-A next year, and could arrive in mid-2013 if all goes well, but he is no sure thing and is no ace even if he does pan out.

The Cubs gave a lot of starts to terrible pitchers in 2011. Among Casey Coleman, Doug Davis, Ramon Ortiz, Rodrigo Lopez, and James Russell, the Cubs gave 49 starts to substantially below-average pitchers. Of that group, only Lopez's 4.40 xFIP was within even 15 percent of league average. For 2012, the Cubs are going to need to bring in someone to shore up the back of the rotation. Joel Pinero is the most attractive and reasonably attainable free agent pitcher on the market for cheap. What Pinero lacks in strikeouts he makes up for in ground balls and a very limited walk rate. Pinero was kind of a disaster last year, so he should not cost too much on an incentive-laden one-year deal.

Javier Vazquez is another attractive name, worthy of a multi-year deal now that his velocity is back, but all signs currently point to him either retiring or returning to the Marlins. Likewise, Mark Buehrle would be a great innings eater, but would likely cost too much for what he does, and is more likely to stick with the White Sox or go to the Marlins, who probably will make a more attractive offer to fill out their team before the opening of their new stadium. The Cubs aren't likely to go after any of the "big" free agent pitchers, though a run at Yu Darvish could prove fruitful. Perhaps the Cubs can convince Roy Oswalt to come aboard at the right price, or woo Chris Capuano with a one-year deal.

In the bullpen, Carlos Marmol is still the Cubs closer, and Sean Marshall, who was a decent lefty starter a few years back, will remain an elite setup man. Kerry Wood could return on another one-year deal.

Jeff Samardzija will almost certainly be back; he has a $3 million option for 2012, which the Cubs probably will decline and work out a more team-friendly deal in light of how he's performed the past few years. Samardzija was serviceable in 2011, but he has to slash the walk rate. People not named Carlos Marmol have no excuse for walking 13.2 percent of the batters they face.

Chris Carpenter should be an interesting bullpen addition, assuming he is not converted back into a starter. Carpenter has control issues, but he also routinely hits triple digits on the radar gun and punches out a respectable number of batters with a strong groundball rate. If Carpenter cuts down the free passes, he could develop into an elite reliever for the Cubs. As a starter, he has a very limited ceiling because he really has only two pitches (and no control). Marco Mateo could also be good reliever, but like many before him, he is a high-strikeout, high-walk guy who cannot be relied upon in high-leverage situations. And if If Mateo is questionable, the rest of the bullpen is a double question mark. Between Chris Archer (in the Garza deal) and Jose Ceda (in the Kevin Gregg deal), the Cubs have traded away most of their electric relief arms in recent years. Jay Jackson has plateaued in talent as he reached the upper minors as a starter, so perhaps as a converted reliever he could develop into a reliable reliever for the Cubs given his good control and respectable strikeout rates as a starter. Rafael Dolis, a converted position player, could develop into a Sergio Santos type given his 96 mph fastball and supposedly electric slider/changeup combo, but his control needs a lot of work before he becomes a high-leverage reliever.

These question marks mean that the Cubs bullpen, outside its top three names (four, if Wood returns), is going to be a mess of young, rough, and still-developing pitchers unless Hoyer and Epstein find someone better (and relatively cheap) on the free agent market. On the brigh tside, the Cubs bullpen is entirely cost-controlled, so at least it won't be an expensive disaster when a starter gets knocked out early.


Tim Dierkes did a great job covering the Cubs' projected 2012 payroll situation last month.

Though the Cubs have had one of the highest payrolls in baseball in recent years, most of those contracts are finally starting to come off the books. Between Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome, the Cubs are going to save $30 million in payroll. Another $5 million, half of Pena's salary, will be gone as well, though all of that and then some will go toward salary boosts for Soto, Garza and Byrd. John Grabow is off the books as well, which saves the Cubs roughly $5 million. If the Cubs can get some team to eat $5 million or so of Zambrano's salary (the Marlins?), they could free up between $30 and $40 million for 2012 when other players who will not be returning are considered.

In addition to that money, the Cubs will have Zambrano's $18 million, Dempster's $14 million, $6.5 million from Byrd, and another $5 million from Pena coming off the books for 2013, giving the Cubs between $50 and $60 million to work with over the next two seasons. Unfortunately, Soriano's $18 million per year will be around another three seasons, though the Cubs could move him to an AL team in need of a DH if they are willing to eat a lot of the salary. Even with Soriano on the books, Epstein andHoyer should be able to afford the necessary pieces, though one hopes a lot of the money is spent on the 2012 and 2013 drafts.


The Cubs' farm system is a disaster. Though they lacked a true star heading into 2011, the Cubs had enough depth to make them a borderline top 10 farm system. The Matt Garza deal eliminated almost all that depth, and what the Cubs are left with is a questionable No. 2 starterm in McNutt, a flawed but promising center field prospect in Jackson, and a prototypical Cubs prospect in Matt Szczur: a speedy "tools" guy who does not walk and has almost no power, like Montanez. The Cubs' top draft pick in 2012, Javier Baez, is a promising third base prospect (his shortstop defense is probably not good enough to stick), who could leapfrog Vitters with a good 2012 season in the minors. Hayden Simpson was a questionable pick in 2011, and his first year in the minors was a disaster.


Mike Quade is out, and it looks like Mike Maddux is the favorite to replace him. That could create an interesting dynamic because he could bring in his brother Greg to join the coaching staff. The Maddux brothers know quite a lot about pitching, and they could teach the Cubs young pitchers a lot of valuable game theory in addition to polishing their pitching mechanics. If Mike Maddux does not join the Cubs, Greg Maddux, who worked as a special consultant to Hendry, probably will not return in 2012 due to family issues.


The Cubs are a disaster at the moment, but Tom Ricketts is laying the foundation necessary to rebuild not only the team, but the franchise. Epstein and Hoyer have a long, uphill battle, but they are the right guys for the challenge. The Cubs have a foundation to build on with good up-the-middle starters. Corner positions are much easier to fill and the Cubs will have the payroll to make the necessary moves. The future of the Cubs rotation looks to be somewhat of a mess, with lots of question marks surrounding their prospects. They will need to bring in some outside help or make some very good draft picks and-or trades in the next couple of years.

What do you think about the Cubs' 2012 and future outlook? What moves would you like to see the Cubs make and why? Who is excited for the Epstein-Hoyer era to begin?

Fun Facts: 2011 NFL Edition

The NFL season is now halfway done so I thought I'd post some fun facts and tidbits that you probably didn't know.

- Through 16 games in 2010 Mike Wallace was the number one receiver in terms of both DVOA (value per play when touching the ball) and DYAR (total value). This year Mike Wallace is also number one in both DVOA and DYAR.

- The Green Bay Packers have three players that are currently top five in DVOA: James Jones (2nd), Jordy Nelson (3rd), and Greg Jennings (5th)

- There are only three quarterbacks with double digit interceptions. First is Philip Rivers (11). Tied for second is Josh Freeman (10). The third? Drew Brees (10).

- Despite turning the ball over so much, Drew Brees is 3rd in DYAR, 4th in DVOA, 3rd in WPA, and 2nd in EPA (see: AdvancedNFLStats.com)

- Eli Manning is currently ranked second in terms of Yards Per Attempt

- Matt Ryan is currently ranked 26th

- Ryan Matthews currently ranks first in terms of WPA and WPA/game

- Arizona CB Patrick Peterson currently ranks 1st in terms of average yards per punt return. Devin Hester ranks 3rd.

- 30 kickers have not missed an extra point this season. Two have missed one extra point: Carolina's Olindo Mare and Cincinnati's Mike Nugent

- There are four kickers who have not missed a field goal: Matt Bryant, Josh Scobee, Nick Folk, and Mason Crobsy.

- Wes Welker currently leads all receivers with Yards After the Catch. Matt Forte is second.

- There is only one non-quarterback player responsible for more than one two point conversion: New Orleans' Lance Moore (2)

- Reggie Bush is not completely terrible. He has a 4.5 YPC, good enough for 19th among running backs.

- Chris Johnson has been completely terrible. His 2.8 YPC ranks 28th out of 28th among all eligible rushers.

- Carolina's Steve Smith is responsible for 19 first downs and leads all NFL receivers. Wes Welker is second with 13.

- If the playoffs started today: The Chicago Bears would be a playoff team. The New England Patriots would be a wild card team. The Baltimore Ravens would not be in the playoffs.

- There out of the top five in the NFL and three out of the top four in the AFC teams in terms of points allowed per game are in the AFC North: Baltimore Ravens (15.7), Pittsburgh Steelers (17.4), and Cincinnati Bengals (17.6)

- Due to my fandom of the Bengals this year I now know how to properly spell "Cincinnati" without using spell check.

- If the season ended today, the Indianapolis Colts would win Andrew Luck

- The Detroit Lions lead the NFC in terms of takeaway/giveaway differential with (+13). The Philadelphia Eagles are last with (-7). The Buffalo Bills lead the AFC with (+9). The Pittsburgh Steelers are last in the AFC with (-10). All four teams will probably make the playoffs.

- Matthew Stafford has not missed a game yet.

- Jahvid Best has.

- Speaking of the Detroit Lions, they currently are leading every team in the NFL in terms of point different (+92).

- According to Football Outsiders the Chicago Bears have the 27h best passing offensive line. According to Advanced NFL Stats the Chicago Bears have the 3rd best offensive line in terms of passing WPA and the 17th best in terms of passing EPA. They are not last in any category.

- Aaron Rodgers is first in terms of QBR with 86.5. Second place is Tom Brady with 76.6- almost ten points lower. Aaron Rodgers is first in terms of NFL Rating (aka quarterback rating) with 125.7. Second place is Tom Brady with 104.4- 21.3 points lower.

- Aaron Rodgers is really really good.

- Chad Ochocinco is not. He has 9 catches off of 16 targets and only 136 yards. Deion Branch has been infinitely better. I told you Deion Branch would be better than Ochocinco at the beginning of the season.

- Rob Gronkowski is 2nd among tight ends in terms of DYAR and 4th in terms of DVOA. Aaron Hernandez ranks 19th in DYAR and 23rd in DVOA. I told you Rob Gronkowski would be better than Aaron Hernandez at the beginning of the season.

- I may be wrong on Gronkowski vs. Hernandez by season's end.

- My fantasy team in the Game of Inches league is third in terms of fantasy points scored (946). My team is first in points scored against them (1029). No other team has more than 950 points scored against them. I'm 3-5. I know nobody cares about how other people's fantasy teams are doing but I'm pissed. This sucks.

The NFC Wild Card Picture

Since I decided to write about how I think the AFC wild card teams will turn out I decided to follow it up with my NFC predictions. This list is not how I think will make it to the playoffs, but who has the best chances of not winning their division but still earning a wild card birth.

1) Detroit Lions

I think the Lions are the clear cut favorite to earn at minimum the 6th seed


The Lions easily have the best defensive line in the NFL led by Donkey Kong (Ndamukong) Suh with Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams, and the now healthy rookie Nick Fairley. When you have the best D-line in the game you set yourself to have a great defense. Even though the Lions back seven is pretty shaky, their line pressure more than makes up for it. In fact, the Lions are second in the NFC in terms of points per game allowed (first is San Fran).

Not only can the Lions stop teams from scoring but their offense is electric with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson scoring points left and right.

Listen, the Lions are a good football team and no matter what, if you're a good football team you're going to win games and thus earn a playoff birth.


The Lions can be beat

Detroit has some great strength (i.e. their passing game and their D-line) but they do have weaknesses which teams like the 49ers have exploited.

The Lions have a great passing D (6th in the NFL in yards allowed) but a terrible run defense (third to last in rushing yards allowed) and despite how good that front line is, they can be beat by quick passes. They have Aaron Rodgers (twice), Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, and even Jay Cutler left on their schedule which all have the ability to find holes in their defense. Plus running backs like Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Darren Sproles, and DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart to rush all over the Lions. I'm not saying the Lions aren't good enough to adjust their defense to neutralize all these offenses, they absolutely are (except for maybe Green Bay's) but those offenses aren't a walk in the park either.

The Lions are also extremely one dimensional on offense. It's Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson and that's it. And if you shut down Calvin Johnson then you shut down down the entire Lions offense. Again, no easy feat, but something that can very easily be accomplished.

The 49ers and Falcons showed the league a blueprint on how to beat the Lions- something I'm not sure teams had when the Lions started off 5-0.

Lastly, their schedule is not the easiest. They still have to face Green Bay twice, the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome, and get the San Diego Chargers at home. None of those games are slam dunks to me and three are division games.

2) Philadelphia Eagles

While Eagles certainly have a chance to win their division I think they dug themselves in too much of a whole to win it.


The Eagles have a top five offense. Right now they are 9th in the NFL (5th in the NFC) in terms of points scored and now that Michael Vick has stopped turning the ball over so much, the Eagles are using RB LeSean McCoy more (and better) and Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant are stepping their game up, this offense looks great. Even though DeSean Jackson has essentially been a no-show all season, this offense can both run on you and pass on you.

The Eagles also have history on their side. Say what you want about Andy Reid but he just wins down the stretch. Remember a few years ago when Donovan McNabb went out and Jeff Garcia won like eight straight games in a row? The Eagles are one of the few teams that I trust to go undefeated the rest of the year.


I think last week was the first week in which Michael Vick finished a game healthy. I like Vince Young and Mike Kafka as back ups to start a game or two but it gets hard to force these guys into crunch time week after week.

The Eagles also have a tough schedule on their plate. They still have the face the Bears (4-3), Patriots (6-2), Jets (4-3), Giants (5-2), and the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington.

Lastly, while the Eagles have really good defensive players on their team, their defensive coordinator is terrible and does not utilize his players effectively. That's what you get when you hire your former offensive line coach to be your defensive coordinator and have nobody showing him tapes on Nnamdi in Oakland on how to use him correctly.

3) Chicago Bears

Call it bias, but be honest, you can not name another team in the NFC that I haven't already named or will win the division.


Matt Forte. 'Nuff said.

The Bears are actually running a more efficient offense since their debacle in Week Two against the Saints where the blitz friendly Saints D destroyed Cutler. Since then Mike Martz has introduced a heavy dose of Matt Forte in both the passing and rushing game and Cutler has not thrown an interception in three weeks.

The other thing the Bears have on their side is an easy schedule. They still haven't played anyone from the weak AFC West yet, they get the Chargers and Chiefs at home (the former I still believe as a good team and the latter who has one of the best home field advantages- Arrowhead), the Denver Broncos who will probably be led by Brady Quinn, the Oakland Raiders (who will be led by Carson Palmer and watch how terrible Palmer will be the rest of the year), the Lions and Packers at home and Seattle and Minnesota. The only game that scares me is the Packers and the Bears play the Packers very well at Soldier- even against Aaron Rodgers.


It's still turnover prone Jay Cutler. While he's been good of late he still has the potential for 4-5 turnovers every week.

Plus, I don't think the Bears are as good of a team as either the Packers, Lions, Giants, or Eagles which puts them in a disadvantage to try and earn a wild card spot. I think the Lions are guaranteed to get a wild card spot and if I'm picking the Eagles versus the Bears, I'll pick Philly. Especially considering I think the Eagles defeat the Bears this upcoming Monday at Lincoln Field. The Bears are not in the driver's seat to control their own destiny (even though the Bears are currently the 6th seed in the NFC as of the writing of this post).

Neither their offense or defense has been amazing and I don't think either have top five potential. They have not been *that* good at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks or stopping the run and if any team shuts down Matt Forte then their offense is done.

4) Atlanta Falcons

If the playoffs started today, Atlanta would finish 8th (Tampa Bay would be 7th because they defeated the Falcons once this year)


Atlanta's offense still consists of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez. If I'm an opposing defense there's not a single player that I want to say "OK, you try and beat me" like a Kerry Collins led Tennessee Titans with (good) Chris Johnson. The team also has a pass rush (soon to come) of John Abraham and Ray Edwards. The team just came off of a win of the Lions in Detroit and they look like a team finally putting it together.


First losing to Tampa Bay and the Bears, the teams directly ahead of them in the playoffs standings doesn't help them. Secondly, while they have a boatload of talent, they're just jot utilizing it properly. Their offense ranks 17th in points scored per game and 20th in points allowed per game.

Even when this team was clicking (like it was last year when they went 13-3 and earned the first seed in the NFC) I didn't trust them. Matt Ryan for his career has a low YPA (this year, even with Julio Jones, Ryan ranks 26th of all active quarterback behind the greats like Curtis Painter, Joe Flacco, Tarvaris Jackson) and no one on their defense truly scares me either. Clay Matthews scares me. Donkey Kong Suh scares me. Julius Peppers scares me. No one on Atlanta's defense scares me and I said that last year.

5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Defeating division rivals New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons always helps with both winning a division and playoff births but this team just looks terrible. Last year, the Bucs won nine games because of the emergence of Josh Freeman, Mike Williams, and LaGarette Blount. All three of those guys have taken a step back this year. Blount had been injured, Williams looks terrible and looks like the third best receiver on his team, and Freeman looks like he reverted back to his rookie season rather than improving on his sophomore season.

Tampa just had their bye so we'll see if they fixed their problems but until they show me that they can play like they did last year, then I believe their chances of earning a wild card spot is low.

6) Dallas Cowboys


Well, they dooooo have the same record as the Philadelphia Eagles, so theoretically it's possible


They have Tony Romo starting at quarterback and they're currently not in first place.

7) St. Louis Rams

OK, here me out. I know they have the worst record in the NFC and only have one win, but if they win their next 9 games they can go 10-6!

There's no amount of money or odds you can give me that I would bet on about the Rams making the playoffs, but coming into the season you could see how front loaded their schedule is (although he all thought San Fran would be just as terrible at the rest of the NFC West).

To me, the Rams are the best worst team and they still get to play Seattle and Arizona twice and the Cleveland Browns. That's five games right there that's winnable and if the Rams do win all those game then they're 6-6 and potentially in the hunt.

Unfortunately they do have to play San Francisco (twice), the Cincinnati Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers which would put the Rams back at 7-9 again, but hey, a boy can dream can't he?