Thursday, June 28, 2007

Something To Consider In the Benoit Murders

Here's some things that are common knowledge amongst dorks like me who are wrestling fans:

1. Chris Benoit's wife Nancy used to be married to former WCW wrestler/writer Kevin Sullivan

2. Ten years ago, Sullivan scripted a wrestling plotline where Nancy left Sullivan after having an affair with Benoit. As sometimes happens in the wrestling world, "fake" became "real" and Nancy really did fall in love with Benoit, and leave Sullivan for him.

3. Anecdotal evidence says that Sullivan told Benoit, in all seriousness, that he would kill him for this.

4. Kevin Sullivan and Nancy Benoit at one point were in a wrestling stable known as "The Satanists", and it's long been thought that for Sullivan this was not a gimmick, that he was and still is, in fact, an actual Satanist, and that he had dragged Nancy into that world too while they were married.

5. Sherri Martel, a friend of Sullivan's and better known as former WWF wrestling manager Sensational Sherri, and a former manager of Sullivan's in WCW, died days before the Benoits of what police say were "unnatural causes", but believed to be some kind of poisoning.

6. Benoit's last coherent contact with anyone within WWE (aside from text messages within minutes of his death to friend and wrestler Chavo Guerrero Jr. giving his home address and instructions on how to enter his house) was a voice message saying that he thought Nancy and his son had food poisoning, that Nancy was vomiting blood (indicating something much more serious and toxic than regular food poisoning), and that they were going to go to the hospital. Benoit also was said to sound very groggy in this message, perhaps almost as if drugged.

Let's see...which makes more sense...

1. That Chris Benoit would, with seemingly no motive, kill his own wife and child, and himself in a bizarre, drawn out, ritualistic (Bibles were found next to the bodies of Benoit's wife and child)manner over 3 days


2. The Satanist who used to be married to Benoit's wife, who TOLD BENOIT HE WOULD KILL HIM, would himself or hire someone to invade Benoit's home after incapacitating Benoit thru a drugging, and his wife and kid by whatever toxic substance he had tested on Sherri Martel, (who possibly was killed because she may have known about Sullivan's plan) and then kill his ex-wife, the man she left him for, and their child, in a bizarre, drawn out, ritualistic manner over 3 days..

Fuck if all that doesnt sound suspicious and at least open to investigation, i don't know what does...

Up to Speed- San Diego Chargers

The 2006 season was a magical ride to the moon on a licorice whip for the Chargers. LaDanian Tomlinson had one of the most insane seasons anyone had ever seen. LT rushed for 1815 yards, had 508 receiving yards, and scored THIRTY ONE TOUCHDOWNS. It was a once in a lifetime performance (which means that it won't be repeated this year, otherwise it wouldn't be once in a lifetime, duh). Meanwhile, Philip Rivers stepped into the starting quarterback role and was better than hoped for, throwing 22 TDs against 9 INTs, and posting a 92.0 passer rating, which put him in the top 10 in the league in his first season of on-field action. To top it all off, the defense was 2nd overall in the league, led by second year linebacker Shawne Merriman, who had 17 sacks despite playing in only 12 games due to a steroid suspension. The team went 14-2, was top seed in the AFC, and seemingly poised to win it all.

Then, the Chargers did what they always do in the playoffs, which is to lose, right away. The supposedly impermeable defense frittered away a 14-3 lead, as first ballot Hall of Famer Jabar Gaffney ran roughshod over their secondary and the Patriots stunned the Chargers 24-21.

The playoff loss brought with it reprocussions, lots of reprocussions. The Chargers felt that they could not win a Super Bowl with a coach who had a 5-13 lifetime mark in the playoffs, and that they would be much better off with a coach who as a 58-82-1 record in all games, Norv Turner. So head coach Marty Schottenheimer was axed, becoming the first coach in the history of time and space to be fired after a 14-2 season.

Not only is last year's head coach gone, but so is the offensive coordinator (Cam Cameron, now the head coach in Miami), and the defensive coordinator (Wade Phillips, now the head cheese in Dallas).

The guillotine didn't stop at the coaching staff, either. Leading tackler Donnie Edwards is gone, along with fellow 06 starting linebacker Randall Godfrey. They'll be replaced inside by Stephen Cooper, and Matt Wilhelm, who will be starters for the first time in their careers.

Gone from the offense is WR Keenan McCardell, who was largely ineffective last year (not even a single stinkin' TD), his replacement as the third wideout behind Eric Parker and Vincent Jackson will be 1st round draft pick Craig Davis out of LSU. The Chargers are leaning heavily on Jackson to continue to develop into a stud receiver after he caught 6 TD passes in his second pro season.

The Chargers have some of the most talented players in the league on their side. Tomlinson, Rivers, Merriman, Antonio Gates, linebacker Shaun Phillips, and defensive tackles Luis Castillo and Jamal Williams are all probably among the top 50 players in the league today, and you can probably add left tackle Marcus McNeill to that list too. There is no question they have the players to win the Super Bowl this year. But let's take a look at the coaches who have won the Super Bowl recently:

Tony Dungy
Bill Cowher
Bill Belichick
Jon Gruden
Brian Billick
Dick Vermiel
Mike Shanahan
Mike Holmgren

I dunno, call me an idiot, but I think Marty Schottenheimer's name looks a lot less out of place on that list than Norv Turner's does. Now you're up to speed on the Chargers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Up to Speed- Washington Redskins

The Redskins were one of the league's biggest disappointments in 2006. They won just 3 of their last 12 games en route to a miserable 5-11 record after reaching the playoffs in 2005.

An injury to running back Clinton Portis had something to do with it, as he was limited to only 9 games, and over 1000 fewer rushing yards than he had in 05.

Even though QB Mark Brunell took the fall for this team, surrendering his starting job at midseason to second year player Jason Campbell, the real culprit here was the defense. A unit that was top 10 in the league in both 04 and 05 ranked 31st overall in total defense, and in the bottom 3rd of the league against both the run and the pass, putting a serious crimp in Assistant Head Coach-Defense Gregg Williams' reputation as a master defensive tactician.

Even though the star running back was hurt, and the starting quarterback was benched, the Redskins offense wasn't all that bad last year. The running game, which was 4th best in the NFL last year, should again be a force. Ladell Betts stepped in for Portis and ran for 1154 yards on 4.7 yards per carry (which is more than Portis averaged in either 04 or 05). This year, the Skins will presumably have both of those backs healthy and ready to run behind a very effective O-line. This should take some pressure off the still-developing Campbell, and presumable should open up some downfield opportunities for Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El, and Brandon Lloyd, who all had very disappointing 06 seasons.

A lot of painstaking effort is given to trying to mete out draft winners and losers. I, with confidence, can say the Redskins were a draft loser, and I can say that because the Redskins didn't have a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th round draft pick. It is not for nothing that they have become the Baltimore Orioles of football. They did, however, have the 6th overall pick and used it on safety LaRon Landry from LSU. Landry will start at free safety.

The other new addition on defense is MLB London Fletcher, who played well for Williams in Buffalo. Fletcher is not young by NFL standards (32), but he ranked 3rd in the league amongst linebackers in tackles last year, and 1st in passes defensed. He's effective against both the run and the pass and should be a nice addition to the defense.

The Redskins are very similar in makeup to their archrivals, the Cowboys. They have what could be an explosive offense, dependent on an inexperienced QB. They also have a weak defense that is generally relying on the same players who failed last year to not fail this year. The difference is, while they have the same strengths and weaknesses, the Cowboys strengths are stronger than the Redskins (I'd take Romo, TO, and Terry Glenn over Campbell, Moss, and Randle El any day of the week), while their weaknesses are not as weak (the Cowboys have some talent on their defense and a potential monster in DeMarcus Ware). The Redskins should do better than 5 wins this year, but they are no better than 3rd in their division. Now you're up to speed on the Redskins.

Monday, June 25, 2007

NFL Noodlings- Tank Johnson Released by Bears

- The Tank Johnson saga apparently has ended for the Bears today, as the team waived the defensive tackle. Johnson was recently released from jail, and was stopped in Arizona this weekend on suspicion of drunk driving. He's not the Bears' problem anymore, he's gone, and they will have to get 25 tackles and 3 to 5 sacks from the defensive tackle position from someone else in 2007.

- Every single NFL coach who struggles this season is going to have the mustachioed spectre of Bill Cowher looming over them. Already, Cowher's name has surfaced in rumors regarding the Cowboys' and Redskins' head coaching positions.

-2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Jason Taylor has expressed concern over the Dolphins' decision to make Trent Green their starting QB for this season. Given Green's concussion history, Taylor told Sports Illustrated, "One big hit, and he could be scrambled eggs". Then they could call him "Moons Over My-Hammy".

Up to Speed- NY Giants

If the way a team finishes up the season before is an indicator of the way they will play the next season, then the Giants are in a lot of trouble in 2007. After a 6-2 start that had people talking Super Bowl, the Giants fell apart, losing 6 of 8 to close the season. They snuck into the playoffs with an 8-8 record thanks to a very bad NFC, and predictable exited in the wild card round despite throwing a scare into the red-hot Eagles in a 23-20 loss.

In fairness to the Giants, Tiki Barber announced midway thru last season that the 06 season would be his last, and the team seemed to tank after that. However, in reality the Giants' struggles had everything to do with a terrible defense that ranked 25th in the league overall and 28th against the pass, and little if anything to do with Tiki's surprising announcement.

The Giants' problems on defense stemmed from a lack of a pass rush and a terrible secondary. They hope that getting Michael Strahan (7 games missed DTI last year), and Osi Umenyiora (5 games missed DTI) healthy will solve the pass rush problem. Umenyiora should be OK, but Strahan has now missed significant portions of 2 of the last 3 seasons, and being that he'll turn 36 this season, counting on him to be healthy is a risky proposition.

So we know the Giants think that injuries were the cause of half of their defensive problems last year. To shore up the other issue, the secondary, the Giants used their first round pick on University of Texas corner Aaron Ross. Ross will probably be expected to step in and start immmediately, but again, on one hand you're counting on a 36 year old pass rushing specialist who has spend most of the last 3 seasons being injured, and on the other you're counting on a rookie corner. I don't think you want to be doing either of those things.

Other than Ross, the only other new addition to the defense is former Chiefs LB Kawika Mitchell. Mitchell stays healthy and is pretty good against the run. He's nothing to get excited about though.

Meanwhile, with Tiki's departure, running back has become a major area of concern. Brandon Jacobs has served as the goal line back the last couple of years, but now he will be relied on to carry 15-20 times a game.

The Giants signed Reuben Droughns with the thought in mind that Droughns and Jacobs can combine to give the Giants a decent percentage of what they had in Tiki Barber. Droughns had more fumbles (5) than touchdowns (4) as Cleveland's running back last year, and averaged an anemic 3.4 yards per carry. At 29, he appears to be on the downside of his career.

So with the running game going from being the engine of the team to a huge question mark, the burden falls on Eli Manning to become the focus of the offense. Eli was squarely in the middle of the pack of NFL quarterbacks last year, his 77.0 passer rating was better than Matt Hasselbeck, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Rex Grossman, and Brett Favre, but it was also worse than Jon Kitna, David Garrard, David Carr, JP Losman, Chad Pennington, and Mark Brunell (?!?). For the Giants to have any chance this year, Eli is going to have to be a top 10 quarterback.

This team is in a lot of trouble. They were blindsided by the Tiki Barber retirement last year, and they really did nothing to address that. They also have a very shaky defense that is too old at some spots and too young at others. The angry mob will have its pitchforks and torches out, chasing Tom Coughlin all season, and chances are this will be the year they finally tar and feather him. Now you're up to speed on the Giants.

Friday, June 22, 2007

LJ Ready to Challenge the Chiefs

When I was a kid I had this game called "Challenge the Chief", there was this big plastic Indian who you had drop marbles in until he could no longer hold the marbles, then the marbles spilled everywhere. It was a very politically incorrect spin on many other Milton Bradley games that were available at the time.

Now it appears Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, who is coming off back to back 1700+ yard seasons, is going to challenge the Chiefs by holding out for a big money contract extension that will put him the same salary neighborhood as fellow AFC West superstar running back LaDanian Tomlinson.

While both are performing at a very high level, LJ has less than half the number of carries in his career as LT, which would suggest he has more mileage left him and would thus be more valuable.

Johnson shouldered a huge load last year with 416 carries, as Herm Edwards seems to have him on the fast track to playing wheelchair basketball with Curtis Martin by 2010. But he spent the first two seasons of his career as Priest Holmes' backup, and thus has only 892 career carries. Tomlinson has had over 300 carries in each of his six NFL seasons, and has 2050 carries lifetime. So while the town fathers have been clucking their tongues this offseason saying LJ may be due for a bad year due to fatigue, I don't think at this point he should really be all that fatigued.

LJ seems to have the Chiefs by the balls here. If they don't give him what he wants, then all of a sudden you have an offense with Brodie Croyle as the QB, and Michael Bennett as the feature back. That could make for a scary season in KC.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Up To Speed- Dallas Cowboys

As expected, the Cowboys season was a three ring circus. In one ring, you had Terrell Owens, who managed to squeeze in a vintage year of 1180 yards and 13 TDs despite a botched midseason suicide attempt. In another, you had Tony Romo, the quarterback who took over the reins at midseason and played like the reincarnation of the still-living Roger Staubach for a few weeks, before fading at the end of the year and then botching the hold on a chip shot field goal to seal the teams' fate in the wildcard round of the playoffs. Finally, there was the fat, grumpy ringmaster, Bill Parcells, whose perpetual look of indigestion we can only hope will be relieved by his decision to retire for the 4th time this offseason.

First and foremost, the Cowboys replaced Parcells with Wade Phillips. This will be Phillips 3rd go round in the NFL as a head coach, with previous reigns in Denver and Buffalo. He was the Bills head coach for the infamous "Music City Miracle" playoff loss to the Titans, so if other teams are smart, they will run crazy trick plays on every kickoff, as he has proven that he is helpless to stop them.

While there is a big change at the top, on the field they are pretty much bringing the same shiznit they did last year. On offense, Romo will begin the season as a starter for the first time, and again presumably have a couple very good veteran WRs to work with in Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens. Jason Garrett is the new offensive coordinator, and many think that Phillips is just keeping the head coaches' whistle wet for him until he gains some experience as a coordinator. The Cowboys also signed former high first round OL Leonard Davis to help open some holes for Julius Jones and Marion Barber.

On defense, the Cowboys big move was to sign former Seahawk safety Ken Hamlin to help shore up what was the NFL's 24th ranked pass defense in 2006. The pass rush wasn't atrocious last year, but it wasn't feared either. Outside of DeMarcus Ware the Cowboys didn't really have anybody who could pressure the QB consistently last year. They hope that LB Greg Ellis, who missed half of last year with an injury, will be back healthy this year to give them another threat.

You'll hear a lot this year about how the key to this team is Tony Romo, and blahdie blahdie Tony Romo this and ooogie boogie booogie Tony Romo that. He'll be under the microscope all year, but really, after seeing Rex Grossman take a team to the Super Bowl last year I don't think Romo is really the deciding factor on how far this team goes, he'd have to fuck up pretty bad to be worse than the NFC's Super Bowl QB last year.

What's going to make or break this team is whether the defense can stop ranking in the 20's in the league like it did last year and break into the top 10 or not. That's why they hired Phillips, a defensive guy, as head coach. I did see a really good defense represent the NFC in the Super Bowl last year, and unless the Cowboys D takes a great leap forward this year, they're going to exit early in the playoffs again. Now you're up to speed on the Cowboys.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bye-bye Barrett

Best. Photo. Ever.

Bucs QB Intrigue

Jon Gruden continues to tinker with his menagerie of quarterbacks. Yesterday he announced that Jeff Garcia, and not Chris Simms, will enter camp as his starting quarterback. He also took this opportunity to blow kisses at the purportedly retired Jake Plummer, implying that he would be welcome on the Buccaneers pirate ship this summer should Jake decide to end his "retirement" that began after he was traded to the Bucs this past spring.

Up to Speed- Philadelphia Eagles

A lot has happened in the NFL offseason, stuff that I totally spaced on while devoting my time to chronicling the White Sox' wretchedness. So in order to bring myself (and in the unlikely event anyone other than myself reads this, you dear reader), up to speed on the NFL's teams offseason shenanigans, I begin a new feature called, appropriately enough, Up To Speed.

Today I bring you Up To Speed on last year's NFC East champs, the Philadelphia Eagles.

2006 was a kwazy year for the Eagles, and this time they didn't even have TO to blame for any of it. Donovan McNabb went down for the year on Nov. 19 in the midst of a really good season for him. However, that wasn't translating to team success, as the Eagles had at that point lost 4 out of 5 to fall to 5-5. Jeff Garcia took over, and the Eagles got spanked by the Colts the next week to fall to 5-6, pretty much ending their season, or so you'd think. The Eagles caught fire after that though, winning 5 in a row to close the season, including 3 consecutive divisional road games. Garcia played better than he had in 5 years, and the Eagles came out of nowhere to win the NFC East before losing an entertaining divisional playoff game in New Orleans.

The run defense was bad last year, ranking 26th in the league, and surrendering 208 yards on the ground in the playoff loss. They hope that the offseason addition of free agent linebacker Takeo Spikes will help shore that up. Spikes has had two injury shortened, ineffective seasons in a row, and at 30 years old it's entirely possible that he'll never approach the high level of play he showed in Buffalo in 03 and 04.

Garcia is gone, leaving the Eagles to go be Chris Simms' boogeyman in Tampa. McNabb is back, although he's been apparently put on notice by the Eagles using a second round pick on University of Houston QB Kevin Kolb. As I noted yesterday there's whispers about him being headed elsewhere, which would leave the Eagles with the redoubtable AJ Feeley as their starting quarterback. I don't think McNabb is going anywhere, so let's plan on him being the Eagles QB to start the season.

McNabb clicked pretty well with WR Donte Stallworth early last year after Stallworth was acquired from the Saints. He'll have to work with a different deep threat this year, as Stallworth is gone to New England, replaced by former Rams slot receiver and very fast white man Kevin Curtis. Curtis has caught 10 TD passes in the last 2 seasons.

The Eagles will also have a change in the secondary, as safety Michael Lewis is gone, and will be replaced by 3rd year man Sean Considine.

The McNabb situation is going to be a week to week soap opera for this team. The Eagles played better last year when everyone thought they were dead and the heat was off of them. That won't be the case this year. McNabb and the Eagles will both be expected to perform at a high level. There's no reason to think that the offense won't succeed. The defense still will probably have trouble with the run though, and aging pass rushers Javon Kearse and Darren Howard will have to improve over last year for the Eagles to get pressure on opposing QB's (although 3rd year DE Trent Cole is developing nicely, as evidenced by his 8 sacks last year).

Expect the Eagles to be what they've always been in recent years, an exciting team with a cloud of controversy surrounding their talented quarterback. Now you're up to speed on the Eagles.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

NFL Noodlings

The White Sox incompetent boobery has killed any zest for the 2007 baseball season I once had.

The good part about that is now I have decided to get back to doing what I do best, covering the NFL.

- Pacman Jones, guns, and strip clubs go together like sausage, mozzarella, and pepperoni. The hot NFL story at this moment in time is something about him being arrested, or suspended, or executed, or something like that. Who the hell knows. I can't keep track anymore. I'm too busy tossing and turning at night wondering how the Titans will replace his 4 interceptions and middle of the pack standing in the passes defensed stats among NFL corners. After 2 years in the league, he is more prolific at being a sociopath than a football player, so it's probably time for the Titans to allow him to pursue that full time.

- Bears D-lineman Tommie Harris got caught in the football equivalent of staring at a hot woman in a restaurant while on a date with your wife when he said something to somebody about how the Bears would win the Super Bowl this year with Donovan McNabb as their QB instead of Rex Grossman. You won't find a bigger Rex-hater than me, but as far as Super Bowls go, by my count both Rex and Donovan have both been to one, McNabb was throwing up all over the field in his and passing out in the huddle, Rex fumbled 15 snaps in his. I don't think EITHER of those guys is beating Brady or Peyton in the Super Bowl any time soon.

- In more squeaky wheel news, Giants LB LaVar Arrington broke his leg and his arm in a motorcycle accident. This should render him even more useless this year than he was last year.

- Back in the world of linebackers who are still effective and relevant, Packers LB Nick Barnett might be looking at a suspension after being arrested for battery this week. Barnett is one of the better pass defending linebackers in the league. He'll be defending a lot of passes if he goes to jail for this, passes at his butthole, from men.

- Adrian Peterson (not the good Adrian Peterson, he's in Minnesota) is still penciled in as the Bears' #2 running back after the Titans re-enlisted Chris Brown. Brown is a Chicago (Naperville) native, and the Bears were the other team in contention for his services. Brown is one of 33 players (no joke) in the NFL named "Brown". He rushed for 1067 yards on 4.9 yards per carry in 2004, but only 156 yards in limited action last year.

That's it for today.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Tuesday, June 5, 2007