Ranking the 10 NHL Teams With the Best Chance at Winning the Cup

As some of you may know, after an incident occurred on Twitter, I was suspended for 30 days from Bleacher Report; however, I still want to keep writing until it is lifted on March 30th. I have already apologized to Bleacher Report for the incident and I want to apologize to all of my readers as well. All of you have been very supportive of my articles and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it, it really does mean a lot.

Now lets get to business. With almost every team in the NHL having around 10 games left in the regular season, I felt it only fitting to rank the ten teams with the best shot at winning the Stanley Cup. Lets get to it!

Dark Horse Sleeper: Winnipeg Jets

Okay this might be a bit of a stretch but hear me out here. The Jets currently sit three points out of the 8th and final seed in the Western Conference, but only five points out of the division lead. It is completely realistic that the Jets could surpass the Capitals and Panthers and gain the number three seed in the West. Blake Wheeler is having a career season (58 points in 68 games) and if the Jets were to win the conference and get a series, and possibly more with home-ice advantage, it’s not impossible to believe that a team that was so bad a year ago that they were relocated could make some noise in the playoffs.

10. Chicago Blackhawks

The Stanley Cup champions from two years ago have yet to find the rhythm that had them raising Lord Stanley’s cup in 2010. Shaky goaltending and an inability to win on the road have been two issues that have followed Chicago all season. Corey Crawford has yet to really shine since taking over the starting job, and his .901 save percentage is good enough for 40th among NHL goaltenders. The plus side here is that the Blackhawks have the experience and the star power to make a legitimate run at another title. Guys like Marian Hossa, Johnny Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp have all been there before and know what it takes to win it all. The biggest problem is that with a road record of 14-18-3 it is going to be very tough for the Hawks to win multiple series where they don’t have home-ice advantage. If Crawford continues to under-perform, the Windy City will be on the golf course in a hurry.

9. Dallas Stars

The Stars currently sit in front of the Pacific Division and have been on an absolute tear lately, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Dallas has been led by 26-year-old Loui Eriksson, who is averaging just under one point a game. They have also had stellar goaltending as of late by Kari Lehtonen, whose .925 save percentage is good enough for 7th best in the entire NHL. If this team continues to streak as the playoffs approach, they could really make some noise. The problem with the Stars is that their lack of experience and inability to bury the puck could lead to their ultimate demise. Their 188 goals for this season is only the 7th highest in the Western Conference.

8. Nashville Predators

Although they sit behind the Stars in the standings, Nashville has six more points (I hate the way the seeding works in the NHL). The entire fate of the Preds rests on the shoulders of their 29-year-old goaltender from Kempele, Finland. Pekka Renne has been unreal this year, his 39 wins are the highest in the league and he also leads the league in shots against and total saves. Nashville is probably not going to have one series with home ice advantage but is a very good road team, they’re 18-13-2 away from the Sommet Center. Players like Martin Erat and David Legwand will need to produce some scoring in the playoffs in order for them to make a solid run but if Renne continues to flash the pads the way he has all season, Nashville becomes a legitimate contender.

7. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers are a team that have been streaky all year, but look to be heading in the right direction as the playoffs draw close. The Flyers have won 7 of their last 10 games and currently sit 5th in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers have a star player in Claude Giroux and that is absolutely crucial when it comes to making a deep playoff run. They also have been one of the best road teams in the NHL this year, which will be substantial considering that, like the teams behind them on this list, they will probably not get a series with home ice. Their 22 wins on the road this season are the most in the Eastern Conference, and tied with Vancouver for the most in the entire NHL. The issue with the Flyers is that they have had goaltending issues all year, and although Ilya Bryzgalov has 28 wins this season, his 2.53 goals against average is ranked 23rd among all netminders.

6. Boston Bruins

The season ending injury to Tukkaa Rask might be the main reason why the defending champs fail to make a serious run at the cup this year. Sure, he’s only the backup goalie; however, Tim Thomas will have to play the remaining games of the season to make sure the Bruins stay atop the Northeast Division, which they currently are only ahead of the Ottawa Senators by one point. But with two less games played than the Sens and the rising star power of Tyler Seguin, the Bruins shouldn’t have a problem winning that division. Their strongest point is that they lead the entire NHL in goal differential this season, with a +53 rating, but having Marty Turco as their backup goaltender is going to cause all kinds of issues. Turco has only started one game since signing with the Bruins, and he was pulled after allowing 3 goals on 6 shots. If anything were to happen to Thomas, they’re done, it’s that simple. Best case scenario is a tired Tim Thomas will have to win 16 playoff games to bring home the cup. And at the age of 37, that might be asking a little too much.

5. Detroit Red Wings

A team that once looked like it was by far the best team in the NHL just a month ago has gone way downhill in the past couple weeks. In their last 10 games, the Wings are 3-6-1, and have lost 5 of their last 6. They are yet to win a road game in the month of March and have lost their last two games to the L.A Kings and Anaheim Ducks by a combined score of 9-2. The scariest part for Detroit is that unless they find a way to move ahead of St. Louis in their division (they are currently 7 points back), they will have home-ice for at best the first round and that’s it (unless two out of the top three seeds in the West are upset in the first round). Out of their 44 wins, only 16 of them have been away from Joe Louis Arena, and past years will show that you have to be able to win on the road to bring home the cup. The amount of star power in Detroit is incredible, with guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterburg and Nicklas Lindstrom, the Wings definitely have the talent to win it all. But whether or not Jimmy Howard will be able to carry them all the way through the playoffs is yet to be seen. Howard is 108-51-28 in his regular season career for Detroit, but just 12-11 in the playoffs.

4. Vancouver Canucks

No surprise that the Canucks are going to be one of the favorites once again to win the Stanley Cup. After being a game away from winning the cup last year, Vancouver picked up right where they left off this season. The Canucks have all of the components that make a Stanley Cup winning team: experience, star power, and goaltending; however, they lack depth in scoring. Outside of the Sedin twins, only three players have 40 or more points this season. They are definitely a serious contender this year, but by no means the favorite. They also still lack the toughness that it will take to win the whole sha-bang-a-bang. The Bruins wore them down in the Finals last year, and their inability to handle gritty play is something that has haunted them in the past and will continue to haunt them as the playoffs approach. I do like that General Manager Mike Gillis traded Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres for 6’4” power-forward Zack Kassian and Samuel Pahlsson to try and fill this void, but I don’t think it will be enough to turn the tide. I also think that they may regret giving up Hodgson, who was a surprising scoring threat this season – when he was traded he had 33 points in 63 games. They are definitely a serious contender this year, but by no means the favorite.

3. St Louis Blues

I know. They have been a great story and currently have the best record in the entire NHL and have only allowed an absurd 139 goals this year (1.95 goals per game); however, there are so many red flags that come up for the Blues. The first one is their ability to score, or lack there of. They only have 186 goals for this year. To put that into perspective, the Edmonton Oilers, who are currently in 14th place in the Western Conference, have 185. David Backus and T.J. Oshie are tied for the team lead in points with 48, which is good enough for 67th place in the NHL. I know the old saying – defense wins championships, and that case can be proven when you look at how the Boston Bruins won the cup last year. But that same Bruins team still had four players that had more than 50 points in the regular season, and the Blues are probably only going to have two. The other is youth and lack of experience – outside of Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, there is very little playoff experience on the roster. The player that will determine how far the Blues go is David Perron. After missing more than a year due to concussion like symptoms, Perron has been great. He has 35 points in 46 games and if he can get hot come playoff time, there is no reason why the Blues can not win the cup. The other thing that gives the Blues an advantage heading into the playoffs is that they will probably have home ice throughout the playoffs… they’re 28-4-4 at home this year.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

The return of Sidney Crosby is absolutely huge. A team that has the second most points in the Eastern Conference, and is currently riding a 9-game winning streak, just added arguably the best player in the world to their roster. If Crosby can stay healthy for the rest of the season, and play at the level he was at before his concussion-like symptoms returned for the second time, the Penguins are without a doubt the favorite to win it all. There are countless pros when looking at Pittsburgh: Evgeni Malkin is leading the league in scoring with 84 points, James Neal has set career highs in goals and assists and has proven that he is a legitimate scoring threat, Marc-Andre Fleury has been phenominal with a record of 37-14-6, they have the 5th best powerplay percentage (19.7%) as well as the second best penalty kill percentage (89.4%), and are tied for third in the NHL for the most goals for (219). So how can they not be the favorites as of right now? Well, they’re an average team on the road, just 18-13-3 this year, and the only team that has been playing better hockey than them this season just so happens to be in the same division…

1. New York Rangers

How fitting that the first game in which Sidney Crosby will play since December 5th happens to be against the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers. They are currently 44-18-7 and would have an even better record if they weren’t 3-7 in overtimes and shootouts. Every aspect is accounted for. Scoring? Check. Goaltending? Check. Experience? Check. Star Power? Check. On paper the Rangers are scary good, but this has been the case for many years and they’ve failed to win the Stanley Cup. They are in my mind without a doubt the favorite heading into the playoffs, but by no means a lock to win it all. The one thing that worries me about the Rangers? Their powerplay percentage is only 14.6%, which is the worst in the Eastern Conference, and the 3rd worst percentage in the entire NHL. Special teams is huge in the playoffs. They have a great penalty kill, but if they can’t find a way to bury the puck on the man advantage they could find themselves in some trouble.

A crazy playoff scenario? If the standings stay the way they are at leagues end, and the 1-4 seeds in the Eastern Conference all win their first round series, the Rangers would play the Penguins in the second round. One of arguably the two best teams in the entire NHL heading into the playoffs would be eliminated before the conference finals.

What do you guys think? Do you agree or disagree?

 

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The 10 (Active) Athletes We Love to Hate

Merry Christmas! Today is a day where we should all be thankful for our friends and families. It’s a day where we shove our faces at Christmas dinner and have the exact same conversation about what were doing with our lives about 15 times with different relatives. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to attend a Christmas party and have that conversation another 30 times. But I want to focus on something that makes us all happy, watching athletes we hate get beaten. The Bills 40-14 destruction of Tim Tebow and the Broncos yesterday prompted me to lay out a feast of hatred for my readers. Enjoy.

Honorable Mentions:

Tim Tebow, Albert Haynesworth, Alex Ovechkin, Sean Avery, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Kurt Busch, Alex Burrows, Cristiano Ronaldo.

10. Ron Artest … I’m Sorry: Metta World Peace (Los Angeles Lakers)

Oh yeah, he's a rapper too.

Talk about a class act, Artest apparently changed his name to Metta World Peace in order to help “inspire the youth.” Coming from the guy who jumped in the stands at the Palace in Detroit and started one of the biggest brawls in sports ever, and coming from a guy who thanked his psychiatrist after winning the NBA championship a few years ago, I find this hard to believe. There is never an excuse to attack fans, unless you’re Mike Milbury (the Boston Bruins shoe incident from 1979)… because that was just hysterical. A main reason why Artest is an athlete you love to hate is because he just lives in his own little world, and has absolutely no sense of reality, or respect.

9. Chad OchoCinco (New England Patriots)

Another guy who decided to change his last name for no particular reason at all, OchoCinco has been a player that sports fans have loved to hate for years. OchoCinco is one of the arrogant athletes who hit his prime for about a season but his mouth never stopped running. His over the top press conferences, ridiculous touchdown celebrations, and outrageous reality show moments are just the tip of the iceberg on why fans love to hate him. The fact that he is in New England now, a team hated pretty much every where except Massachusetts, doesn’t help his like-ability at all.

8. Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)

This one hurts to write because as most of you know I am an enormous Penguins fan, and if I wasn’t this name might be higher on this list. There are many components to why Sid is hated, and I understand all of them. The first is the fact that he is without a doubt the best player in the world, and with great talent comes great skepticism. But that’s not enough to make this list, Crosby dives, he whines, he pouts, he can’t grow facial hair, and he put a javelin in the hearts of Americans by scoring on us in overtime of the Olympic Final in 2010. Now the fact that he has been out indefinitely twice due to multiple concussions, his toughness is being questioned by even his own beloved fans.

7. Philip Rivers (San Diego Chargers)

One of the cockiest athletes in America, Rivers is another guy who is unbelievably unprofessional when it comes to making big plays. Talking trash to players is one thing, but Rivers has been caught multiple times talking trash to opposing coaches, which is highly frowned upon at any level. For a guy who has never won a ring, and never really came close for that matter, it’s enjoyable as a sports fan to watch such a cocky athlete continuously go downhill. The fact that the Chargers are 7-8 this year has even the public in San Diego whether or not he should stay or go.

6. Phil Mickelson/Tiger Woods (PGA Tour)

Accused of Adultery vs. Accused of being an Arrogant Prick

It is tough to say who golf fans love to hate more when it’s between Tiger and Phil. If you aren’t a huge follower of the sport you might wonder why someone could hate the pudgy, lovable lefty. Well, let me clear that up for you. Mickelson is known around tour for having almost zero respect for any other player that he tees up with. He is also notorious for his outrageous sports betting that he checks on his smart phone throughout rounds, and gives off that arrogant presence that isn’t really acceptable in a gentleman’s sport like golf. Take in mind that Woods is still heavily loved by fans, and Mickelson used to be his biggest threat to take away tournament victories from him, and you find a guy that a lot of fans love to watch hit the ball in the lake. Oh, and the fact that lefty’s wife is a bombshell doesn’t help his case. Tiger on the other hand… well do I even need to explain myself? He committed a disgusting amount of adultery and it cost him his wife, his image, multiple endorsements, and tens of millions of dollars. It always is Team Phil or Team Tiger. Pick your side.

5. Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles)

The guy got convicted of dog fighting… come on. He might be one of the most electrifying players in the game today, but he is also someone who at one point in time was the most screwed up loyally. Drive drunk and kill a man? America forgets, just ask Donte Stallworth. But kill a bunch of innocent dogs, now that’s just isn’t American.

4. Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)

When you think of crimes that are worse than holding your own dog fighting ring, only a few come to mind, one of those being

Ben, I know you're in the NFL but how could you cheat on her!?

rape. On the field, Roethlisberger is one of the toughest, and most feared quarterbacks by opposing defenses. In nightclubs, I’m pretty sure he is equally feared by opposing bachelorettes. Roethlisberger has never spent a night behind bars, yet he has been convicted of sexual assualt twice. Outside of Pittsburgh, he is the NFL player that sports fans love to hate the most.

3. Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)

If there is anything that Kobe has taught us, it’s if you ever get caught cheating on your wife, while being accused of rape at the same time, just buy your wife a $4 million diamond ring and you’ll be fine. Don’t have that kind of money? Tough luck bud, and enjoy your time behind bars. On the court, Kobe is looked at as a ball hog and a guy whose selfish mistakes can cost his team victories, although he is still one of, if not the best player in the league right now. But no one likes a rapist, which is why Kobe is hated with immense passion throughout the United States.

2. Alex Rodriguez (New York Yankees)

First off, he’s a Yankee, and they’re only loved by people that are from a certain part of New York, because pretty much the rest of the world hates that money pumping franchise to death. Then take into account the fact that he used steroids, which in my mind should have much more severe punishments for infringements, then take into account that he has dated the likes of Cameron Diaz, Elaine Spottswood, and Kate Hudson (just to name a few). Finally, understand that a man who was found guilty of cheating (by taking steroids) in America’s past time gets paid $32,000,000 a year… if you didn’t hate him before, you should now. Oh, and he only hit .276 last year and only played in 99 games, which means he got paid $323,232 per game.

1. Lebron James (Clev… I mean Miami Heat)

 

Welcome to Cleveland.

I could write a novel on why this guy is hated. I’ve seen first hand what he did to Cleveland fans when he left, and I think that people from outside of the state of Ohio don’t really understand it to the fullest extent. Cleveland has perhaps the most passionate fan base in America, yet their sports teams continuously fail them every year. Cleveland hasn’t won a major sports title since 1964, and that was before the Super Bowl era. Put that into context, there are 47 year old Cleveland natives who haven’t lived to watch their beloved city win a championship in any major sport. Lebron was supposed to fix that. Lebron said he would fix that. “I won’t stop until I bring a championship to Cleveland,” he said. Take into consideration that he is from Akron! Lebron KNOWS the pain that the state of Ohio and the city of Cleveland have had to endure and yet he still left. But he didn’t just leave. He had a one-hour special on ESPN to announce his cowardly exit. He joined the likes of Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to win “not 4, not 5, not 6” NBA championships. Lebron James is an egotistically selfish coward, which is why the entire sports world loves to hate him.

Week 14: Start Em / Sit Em

Start Em:

Michael Turner (RB, Atlanta Falcons) – Turner has been a frustrating case for fantasy owners this season, and last week was more of the same. He only rushed for 44 yards on 14 carries against the Texans, but this week there is hope. His groin should be fine by Sunday, and he faces a Carolina run defense that he torched in week 6, where he rushed for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Maurice Morris (RB, Detroit Lions) – Even with Kevin Smith named the starter last week, Morris still put up decent fantasy numbers after Smith left the game when he re-injured his ankle. Morris is a duel threat, and is a solid flex play this week, especially in PPR leagues.

LaGarrette Blount (RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – It is tough to put someone in the lineup who only had 18 yards rushing last week and averaged under 2 yards per carry, but Blount hasn’t been completely at fault for the weeks where his production has lacked. In the games that Tampa competes, Blount tends to do quite well, and they shouldn’t have an issue staying in with the Jaguars this week.

Matt Hasselbeck (QB, Tennessee Titans) – In week 12, Eli Manning threw for over 400 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Saints. Last week, Matt Stafford threw for over 400 yards and had 1 touchdown against the Saints. Expect at least 300 yards and a few touchdowns from Hasselbeck this week against the same defense that has been crushed in garbage time.

Carson Palmer (QB, Oakland Raiders) – Pretty similar logic here, Green Bay will slaughter the Raiders, leaving plenty of room for Palmer to throw for yards and touchdowns that will matter to fantasy owners, but have zero effect on the actual game.

Nate Burleson (WR, Detroit Lions) – He would have had over 150 yards receiving last week had he not been flagged for offense pass interference twice. He still managed just under 100 yards,and he is as solid a WR2 as they come.

Jeremy Maclin (WR, Philadelphia Eagles) – He is expected to return from injury this week, and with Vick expected to return at QB, the two should pick up right where they left off. Hopefully he is the spark plug that the Eagles need to give them some optimism as the year winds down.

Torrey Smith (WR, Baltimore Ravens) – There is nobody in the Colts secondary that can come close to matching the outside speed of Torrey Smith. Expect Ray Rice to have the biggest day out of anyone in fantasy this week, but Smith should be able to burn Indy for a couple big plays.

Kellen Winslow (TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – He has 18 catches in the last 3 weeks, and the Jaguars give up more points to opposing tight ends than any other team in the NFL.

Jacob Tamme (TE, Indianapolis Colts) – It’s last year all over again, with Dallas Clark out look for Tamme to step in and become a top ten fantasy TE from here on out.

Tampa Bay D/ST – Currently ranked the 28th best fantasy defense, they are a huge sleeper this week against a Jaguar defense that is as one dimensional as they come. If they can shut down Jones-Drew, they will definitely be a top 10 defense this week, and possibly even higher.

Sit Em:

Ben Roethlisberger (QB, Pittsburgh Steelers) – Big Ben has been a top 10 QB all season, but facing a Cleveland Browns defense that allows the fewest points to opposing quarterbacks should shy you away from this matchup.

Mark Sanchez (QB, New York Jets) – Sanchez has only 345 yards passing in his last two games and now is going to see the 11th ranked Kansas City defense. This game will be low scoring, and the Jets will rely heavily on their run game. Don’t expect much from Sanchez.

Jonathon Stewart (RB, Carolina Panthers) – Don’t get too excited about his 80 yards and a touchdown last week. I don’t want to say it was a fluke… but it was a fluke. Leave him on your bench, and enjoy watching him struggle against the Falcons 5th ranked run defense.

Frank Gore (RB, San Francisco 49ers) – I know it is hard to bench a running back that is currently in the top 15 on the year in fantasy points for running backs, but look at his last three games. Gore is only averaging 66 yards per game on the ground in the last three weeks, and he hasn’t had a rushing touchdown since week 8.

Rashard Mendenhall (RB, Pittsburgh Steelers) – Remember how I said that he has to score a touchdown to even be relevant? Well the Browns have only given up 10 all year, so depending on him scoring is a bit of a risk, especially with Isaac Redman getting the goalline touches.

Johnny Knox (WR, Chicago Bears) – The matchup is really good on paper, but the problem is that the Broncos have such long drives, the Bears offense will barely see the field. Knox will need to break a long catch in order to make him start in your lineup, and frankly I think that’s asking a little too much out of him without Jay Cutler under center.

Mike Wallace (WR, Pittsburgh Steelers) – *See Ben Roethlisberger*

Laurent Robinson (WR, Dallas Cowboys) – He had a great run, but Robinson is now hobbled by a shoulder injury, and with Miles Austin expected to return this week, expect Robinson’s output to go downward quickly.

Demaryius Thomas (WR, Denver Broncos) – He is a one hit wonder, and the secondary he played last week was atrocious. The Bears defense will do a much better job containing Tebow, and will make sure that Thomas doesn’t find 10 yard gaps with no one around to cover him.

Aaron Hernandez (TE, New England Patriots) – The sixth highest projected tight end on ESPN won’t have even a top 10 day on Sunday. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since week 9, and with Gronkowski the main target in that offense, it’s hard to ask much more out of Hernandez.

Detroit Lions D/ST – Without Ndamukong Suh in the lineup, this defense is not even close to as dynamic as they were earlier in the year. There are far better options this week, even though they are facing a beat up Minnesota Vikings squad.

Dream Team:

QB 1 – Aaron Rodgers

QB 2 – Matt Stafford

RB1 – Ray Rice

RB 2 – Maurice Jones-Drew

WR 1 – Calvin Johnson

WR 2 – Percy Harvin

WR 3 – Wes Welker

RB/WR 1 – Michael Turner

RB/WR 2 – Arian Foster

RB/WR 3 – Victor Cruz

TE – Rob Gronkowski

D/ST – San Francisco 49ers

K – David Akers

10 Fantasy Football Lessons Learned from Week 13

1. Malcomb Floyd’s return helps V. Jackson, and Gates

Vincent Jackson has been a yo-yo all year long when it comes to producing fantasy points. In weeks 9-12, his receiving yardage went the following: 141, 22, 165, 25. With Malcomb Floyd back in the lineup, Philip Rivers finally has the depth that he has been searching for all season. Teams are no longer going to be able to double team Jackson or Gates, because Floyd’s speed will cause single coverage nightmares all day long. With a consistency finally established, feel free to deploy Gates and Vincent Jackson with no worries of a setback.

2. Say Goodbye to Michael Bush

He might get one more week without Darren McFadden in the lineup, but after the atrocious performance he put up against Miami, it is safe to say that Bush is all but done in terms of fantasy relevancy. He had a good run during weeks 9-12 as the starter in Oakland, but with his last starting gig a road game against the Packers, it is going to be tough for him to produce big numbers. If your playoffs start next week, and you have already locked up a playoff spot, try and trade him for someone who will help you throughout weeks 15-17 like C.J. Spiller or even Marion Barber.

3. No Heart in Desean

One of the most dynamic players in the NFL has just had a terrible year for fantasy owners who drafted him as a top 10, and some even a top 5 receiver. With the Eagles now at 4-8, thus mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, it is hard to imagine Desean Jackson doing anything outstanding. His heart doesn’t seem to be in it, and even though Vick is going to return to the lineup this week… there isn’t much hope.

4. The Hot Commodity: Marion Barber

With Matt Forte going to be sidelined due to a sprained MCL, the Bears offense is going to have to get big things out of Marion Barber if they have a shot at making the playoffs. Barber has already established himself as the first candidate for the goal line carries, and he shouldn’t have trouble touching the ball 20-25 times a game considering he did that in Dallas for years. He might not be worth a start this week, but he is definitely worth picking up to see how Chicago uses him.

5. Flip a coin: Heads start Mendenhall, Tails don’t

Pittsburgh has completely established themselves as a pass first offense, which is really awkward when it comes to the Steelers tradition of hard knock football. Mendenhall has only had more than 70 yards rushing in a game once this season, but he has been stellar in the red zone. It is a huge gamble, but when he scores he is a great guy to have in the lineup. It is just impossible to guess when that is going to happen.

6. Jacob Tamme with Deja Vu

When Dallas Clark went down last season with an injury, Jacob Tamme stepped up and became a top ten fantasy tight end. Now I know that Curtis Painter is not even on the same planet as Peyton Manning, but he is a pretty solid replacement. He has 13 catches in the last 3 games, and he will eventually find the endzone.

7. Chris Johnson is Back

If you drafted him, I hope you didn’t trade him. Chris Johnson has been the most distributed player throughout ESPN fantasy leagues, and whoever ended up with him is ecstatic now. CJ has had 100 yards rushing in three of his last four games, and there is no reason to believe he will stop any time soon. The most important statistic is that he is finally getting his touches, he’s averaging just over 21 carries over his last four games.

8. Ryan Matthews is Finally Relevant

Ever since coming into the NFL, there were high hopes that Ryan Matthews was going to be a huge force in the world of fantasy football. He has failed to deliver thus far, but the past two weeks he is showing great strides. He has rushed for over 100 yards in the last two games, and he now faces a Bills defense that has been horrendous against the run. Expect big things from him this week.

9. Andre Johnson is Done

If you have him, just drop him and let him be someone elses problem. He has been a fantasy nightmare this year. After 25 catches through his first 4 games, he missed 6 straight weeks due to injury, and now his hamstring is bothering him again and chances are he sits this week as well. Even if he comes back during your playoffs, T.J. Yates is still his quarterback, and he is way too risky to start.

10. Trade Steven Jackson

He is averaging under three yards a carry in the past three weeks, and look at who he plays in weeks 15 and 16: Cincinnati, and at Pittsburgh. Good luck. Both are two of the best run defenses in the NFL and if Jackson can only put up 42 yards on 15 carries against Seattle… I’m not seeing much hope here. Once again, try and find someone who NEEDS him this week, and give yourself somebody that is going to help you in the playoffs.

 

ESPN, Herm Edwards, and Mark Schlereth Disrespecting the NHL

I recently wrote an article on five reasons why NBA fans should tune in to watch the NHL this season; however, I never belittled the NBA in any way, or tried to make a claim that hockey is an overall better sport than basketball. I never claimed that it was a talentless sport, or that the sometimes lack of physical play leads to a belief in basketball players not being top tier athletes.

The NHL has always sat in the back seat of ESPN’s highlights. When a coach in the NFL gets fired, there is a five minute argument over whether the decision was right, who should replace him, etc. When an NHL coach is fired, they’ll just say “so and so has been fired…” Next topic. Even while the NBA was suffering in a lockout, there was more repetitive, meaningless coverage of that league moving nowhere than there was of NHL highlights. For the entire 60-minute program, hockey fans are lucky to see highlights of one or two games, and maybe one goal or save that appears on the top 10, which will always be overshadowed by a routine dunk. It sickens me, but that’s how ESPN has operated since the NHL lockout cost them the entire 2004-05 season. It bothers me, but I have gotten over it.

Over the last week however, I have been sickened by the amount of publicly slandering remarks made toward the NHL, and toward the sport of hockey as a whole. I am used to the almost daily, ridiculous comments made by Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd, but the main problem is that they are teaching the millions of ESPN viewers that it is okay to belittle hockey. Colin Cowherd commonly makes negative remarks toward the NHL mainly to generate ratings. His co-host, Michelle Beadle, dated NHL analyst Matthew Barnaby for over a year (they broke up in June), and is a huge ambassador of the game. She loves it, and she always defends it.

Linda Cohn is another great example of somebody who has commonly had to defend the sport, live on the air, against other anchors during Sportscenter. Cohn played hockey her whole life, growing up in New York – she was talented enough to make her high schools boys hockey team, and was the goalie for the college hockey team at SUNY at Oswego.

Steve Berthiaume, another New York native, is another ESPN anchor who has come to the support of the game. Although he is commonly known for his reporting on the sport of baseball, Berthiaume has the ultimate respect for all sports he covers, which is something that could be taught to all of ESPN’s personnel.

Now on to what is making me absolutely livid:

It all started on Tuesday, when during what seemed like a normal show of NFL32, a remark about hockey came into play. Herm Edwards immediately laughed at the inquisition, and then came up with the following quote: “Please, I’m here to talk about real sports.” Look Herm, I have all the respect in the world for the NFL, I really do. The least you can do is have a little respect for a sport that is followed by tens of millions of people.

The most awkward part of the whole thing was that the question was steered toward hockey after a fight broke out in a football game. There used to be a debate at which sport was tougher. You can’t compare football and hockey in terms of toughness, but you can compare the NFL and the NHL in terms of toughness. In today’s NFL, if you touch the quarterback, or make a big hit – it’s a penalty. If you push a guy after the whistle – it’s a penalty. If you punch a guy in his helmet – it’s a penalty, a fine, and an ejection. Bottom line is I am sick and tired of NFL analysts belittling the fact that there is still some grit left in the NHL. Sure, Shanahan has stiffened suspensions this year, but fighting has gone up, and physical play is still maintained as the most successful way to shut down top lines.

I almost lost it when Edwards said that, but hey I’ll give him a break. He’s as respected as a guy gets in the world of the NFL. Sure, it drove me crazy to listen to an NFL analysts say anything negative about a sport that I will absolutely guarantee he knows nothing about. I guarantee he doesn’t know how to skate, and I would be shocked if he could tell me what icing or offsides is.

I tweeted my frustrations (@ShaneDarrow), but I eventually got over it. I figured it was a slip of the tongue, and considering the environment he was in, it was socially acceptable at the time. Then yesterday happened.

I try to watch Sportsnation every time I can, it really is an informative show and I enjoy the common debate between Michelle Beadle and Colin Cowherd. Their jokes are usually pretty weak, but the show is entertaining because they go over all sports, and every issue surrounding them, and there is a lot of viewer participation. They usually bring on a guest to help host the show, and yesterday they brought on Mark Schlereth. Here is how the show ended:

During the three tears segment, the last clip was an unbelievable fight between Aaron Asham and John Erskine, two of the best fighters in the league. The last time these two teams played, Asham knocked out Jay Beagle, who hasn’t played since, so it wasn’t surprising to anyone that Erskine was going to step up and go toe-to-toe with him. Here’s the clip of the tilt:

While showing the clip on Sportsnation, Beadle showed her usual support for the fighting aspect of the game. Surprisingly, Colin Cowherd wasn’t really belittling the fight, but he still showed his absolute lack of knowledge for the sport. To paraphrase, he said that they were throwing haymakers, and if the guy in the red landed one, then the guy in the white would have been in trouble. Are you kidding me? Can you imagine if they said that about two players in the NFL? When Ndamukong Suh stomped Evan Dietrich-Smith (see how I actually know their names Colin?), imagine if someone said “Oh man, the guy in the blue is probably going to get suspended for kicking the guy in the white.” The analyst at hand probably would have lost their job.

That wasn’t the end of it. As the camera panned out, Beadle called out Cowherd for his lack of knowledge on not knowing who neither Asham nor Erskine was (even though Michelle said both their names 15 seconds earlier). It was a fun poke at Cowherd, and Beadle played it perfectly. Out of no where, Mark Schlereth looks at Colin and says the following, “I agree with you, that sport is just dumb.”

Mull that over.

Looks like there's a lot of smart thoughts going on upstairs...

WHAT!? You were a guard in the NFL, and you were drafted in the 10th round. If the standard 7 round draft was in play today you probably wouldn’t even have a career in sports right now. Mark, you have absolutely zero knowledge of hockey, and no one even asked for your opinion! Just sit at your table, and keep your mouth shut until somebody asks you whether or not Tim Tebow should be in the pro bowl. Better yet, sit there until someone asked you how to block, because that is all you did your entire career. I couldn’t believe what I heard, I mean I had to rewind it on DVR about ten times to make sure that what I thought I heard, I actually heard.

This is the point I want to make:

You can have your opinion on how you feel about sports. Different people have different opinions about different things, and I will do nothing but respect your passions as long as you respect mine. I am personally not a huge fan of soccer, but I would never publicly belittle the sport, because that is the respect you give to other sports fans who love it. To say that I have lost a tremendous amount of respect for Mark Schlereth is an absolute understatement. The immense amount of classlessness that has been shown by ESPN analysts when referring to the NHL is absolutely unacceptable for an on air anchor, especially those with no knowledge of the sport to begin with. The immaturity shown by Schlereth during Sportsnation was even taken back by Cowherd, who usually closes out the show but was left in an awkward silence after realizing what was just said.

I would love for Mark Schlereth to read this and find a way to explain to hockey fans everywhere what compelled him to say that on the air. I would love for Mark Schlereth to get in an educated argument with myself or any other enthusiast of the game, and have him explain his reasons for why he finds the sport I grew up loving “dumb.” I would love for Mark Schlereth to issue an apology on behalf of the tens of millions of people that were taken back by his comments. I would love to see someone from ESPN call him out, and have him realize that when he is an anchor for the “world wide leader in sports,” he should probably take in to consideration the other sports that the station represents.

Will any of these ever happen? Of course not. Would somebody with the arrogance to call the entire sport of hockey dumb, live on the air, take the time out of his day to respond to an aspiring sports writer who has the integrity to call him out for his inexcusable actions? No.

There are hundreds of different junior, collegiate, and professional leagues in North America alone. Every single beauty that has ever laced up a pair of skates is effected by comments like those of Herm Edwards or Mark Schlereth.

Will the slanderous comments of the NHL end any time soon? Probably not, but I couldn’t stand in silence any more. It just absolutely disgusts me.

Have you ever heard Matthew Barnaby or Barry Melrose say anything negative about the NFL, NBA, or MLB? No. Because these men have class. They were raised on a sport that taught them that.

Oh and Schlereth, if you apologize to me personally I will wish you the best of luck in your acting career. Seriously, your role in the soap opera Guiding Light really moved me… Absurd.

Fantasy Football Rankings: Week 13

Quarterbacks:

1. Aaron Rodgers

2. Drew Brees

3. Tom Brady

4. Matthew Stafford

5. Cam Newton

6. Eli Manning

7. Tony Romo

8. Ben Roethlisberger

9. Ryan Fitzpatrick

10. Matt Hasselback

11. Josh Freeman

12. Philip Rivers

13. Christian Ponder

14. Tim Tebow

15. Dan Orlovsky

16. Carson Palmer

17. Joe Flacco

18. Alex Smith

19. Matt Ryan

20. Matt Moore

 

Running Backs:

1. Ray Rice

2. Matt Forte

3. Frank Gore

4. Marshawn Lynch

5. DeMarco Murray

6. Lesean McCoy

7. LeGarrette Blount

8. Roy Helu

9. Reggie Bush

10. Michael Bush

11. Shonn Greene

12. Maurice Jones-Drew

13. Chris Johnson

14. Beanie Wells

15. Willis McGahee

16. Michael Turner

17. Kevin Smith (assuming he starts) … Maurice Morris if he doesn’t

18. Ryan Matthews

19. BenJarvus Green-Ellis

20. Brandon Jacobs

21. Steven Jackson

22. Jonathon Stewart

23. James Starks

24. DeAngelo Williams

25. Darren Sproles

26. Rashard Mendenhall

27. Toby Gerhart

28. Cedric Benson

29. C.J. Spiller

30. Pierre Thomas

 

Wide Receiver:

1. Percy Harvin

2. Wes Welker

3. Calvin Johnson

4. Greg Jennings

5. Victor Cruz

6. Stevie Johnson

7. Steve Smith

8. Larry Fitzgerald

9. Hakeem Nicks

10. Brandon Marshall

11. Roddy White

12. Dwayne Bowe

13. Brandon Lloyd ; Laurent Robinson if Miles Austin doesn’t play

14. Vincent Jackson

15. Jordy Nelson

16. Marques Colston

17. Nate Burleson

18. Plaxico Burress

19. Antonio Brown

20. Doug Baldwin

21. Pierre Garcon

22. Santonio Holmes

23. Mike Wallace

24. Dez Bryant

25. Pierre Garcon

26. David Nelson

27. Mike Williams (TB)

28. A.J Green

29. Lance Moore

30. Eric Decker ; Miles Austin if he plays

31. Andre Johnson

32. Deion Branch

33. Nate Washington

34. Anquan Boldin

35. DeSean Jackson

36. Santana Moss

37. Michael Crabtree

38. Reggie Wayne

39. Laurent Robinson if Miles Austin does play

40. Damian Williams

 

Tight End:

1. Rob Gronkowski

2. Jimmy Graham

3. Fred Davis

4. Jason Witten

5. Brandon Pettigrew

6. Antonio Gates

7. Kellen Winslow

8. Jermichael Finley

9. Tony Gonzales

10. Vernon Davis

11. Dustin Keller

12. Mercedes Lewis

13. Scott Chandler

14. Jake Ballard

15. Aaron Hernandez

 

 

Start Em / Sit Em – Week 13

Start Em:

Nate Burleson (WR, Detroit Lions) : The Lions go on the road to play the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night, and for anyone who watched the Monday Night game this week, it’s pretty obvious there will be a lot of points scored. The Saints look unbeatable and unstoppable at home on the offensive side of the ball, but when they grab a large lead there will be a lot of time for Burleson and the Lions offense to produce in garbage time. Over the last 3 weeks, Burleson has 20 catches for 185 yards and a touchdown. His counterpart Calvin Johnson has only 16 catches over that same span. Teams are starting to double up on Calvin and it is leaving room for Burleson to maneuver across the middle of the field. He is the dominant WR2 for the Lions. Oh, and did I mention that Victor Cruz, WR2 for the Giants, just had 9 catches for 157 yards and 2 touchdowns on Monday Night on the road against New Orleans? Burleson has his breakout game on Sunday night. Oh, and he’s available in 83.2% of ESPN leagues.

Eli Manning (QB, New York Giants) : It’s hard to ever recommend a quarterback that is coming off a short week, but Manning is also coming off of a 400+ yard, 2 TD game. The Giants can’t run the ball at all, and they are playing a must-win game against the undefeated Green Bay Packers. Will they win? Not even close. They are going to get demolished again, which means a ton of garbage fantasy points for Eli. Even though they are 11-0, the Packers are giving up 278.8 yards per game through the air – good enough for 2nd to last in the league. In order for the Giants to have any chance in this game, they are going to have to throw a lot. Don’t be surprised if Eli ends up around 50 pass attempts. He should easy clear 300 yards, and have at least a couple touchdowns. He’s averaging 316 yards and just under 2 touchdowns a game in his last 5 starts.

Roy Helu (RB, Washington Redskins) : Is it finally time to trust a running back that is coached by Mike Shanahan? My vote is yes, and Roy Helu is that guy. The 23 carries that Helu received last week was the most by a Redskins RB since Tim Hightower in week one. Add that he had 162 total yards, including seven catches, and Washington may have finally figured out they have to heavily involve Helu into the game plan in order to give themselves a chance to win. The biggest advantage for Helu is that he is healthy, and very well rested. Helu only has 27 carries over the last 6 weeks, so there should be plenty of gas left in the tank. The matchup isn’t great, as Rex Ryan and the New York Jets are known for their tough run defense; however, the Jets have given up 10 rushing touchdowns on the ground this year – good enough for the 7th most in the NFL.

DeAngelo Williams (RB, Carolina Panthers) : I know I know, he has had an absolutely abysmal season, and if it hadn’t been for his two touchdowns last week it would have been another average at best day for someone who was drafted as a top 15 RB. Hear me out on this one though, the 25 carries he has in the last 2 games is the most of any two game span this season. He also has 174 total yards over the last two games, which is more than Frank Gore, Michael Turner, Reggie Bush, and Mike Tolbert. If Carolina just finds a way to stay in the game, Williams will get his carries and the chance to control the clock. With defenses now zoning in on Newton closer, they seem to forget about whose coming out of the backfield. The last factor is that Carolina is playing at Tampa Bay, who is sporting the 3rd worst rushing defense in the league – averaging just under 140 yards a game, and has given up 13 rushing touchdowns in 11 games.

Antonio Brown (WR, Pittsburgh Steelers) : Brown started the year on the depth chart as the Steelers number 4 WR, but has worked his way up and is now Pittsburgh’s WR2. With defenses zoning in on Mike Wallace, Brown is becoming one of Roethlisberger’s favorite targets, and his production in the last month and a half shows that. Brown has 30 catches for 445 yards over his past 5 starts – both of those totals are higher than those of Mike Wallace. He only has one touchdown, but it hasn’t been due to a lack of targets. Cincinnati boasts a good pass defense, but 3 weeks ago Brown had 5 catches for 86 yards against them, which makes him a pretty solid flex start.

Dez Bryant (WR, Dallas Cowboys) : Bryant was supposed to be one of the most dynamic receivers this year, and when Miles Austin went down a lot of owners thought this would help Bryant even more. The exact opposite happened – defenses have been playing press coverage on Bryant all the way down the field and making somebody else on the field beat them, thus the emergence of Laurent Robinson. With Miles Austin expected to be back this week, the depth of the Cowboys receiving core will be back, and Bryant will be the beneficiary. Dallas is also playing at Washington – the 8th worst pass defense in the league.

Antonio Gates (TE, San Diego Chargers) : Missed 4 weeks earlier in the season due to injury, but after the Chargers bye it’s like he never lost a step. In the last 4 games Gates is averaging just under 6 catches a game, for 65.5 yards and has 3 touchdowns. Now, he gets to face a Jaguars defense that allows the 2nd most fantasy points to tight ends… you probably weren’t sitting Gates anyway, but now you can start him with confidence.

New England Patriots D/ST : Last week, the Patriots defense got destroyed by the Eagles, and Vince Young threw for over 400 yards. However, the 20th ranked fantasy defense of the Patriots are playing the 0-11 Colts this week, which doesn’t even have a fourth of the fire power that the Eagles do. Indy announced today that Dan Orlovsky will be starting over Curtis Painter, and if that makes you nervous when you deploy the Patriots defense you are crazy. Remember, Orlovsky is the QB that ran 5 yards out of the back of the endzone for a safety when he was with the Lions. He is also the QB that led Detroit to an 0-16 season. The Colts can’t run, they can’t throw, and Julian Edelman returned a kickoff for a touchdown a couple weeks ago so there is some hope there.

Every Patriot : As I just mentioned, they are playing the 0-11 Colts… it’s going to be a blowout. Brady, Welker, Branch, Gronkowski, Hernandez, Green-Ellis, and even Woodhead in 12 team of deeper leagues all should start.

Lance Moore (WR, New Orleans Saints) : If you are in a deep league and are looking for a risky play, give Lance a go. Anyone except for Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles on the Saints roster is a risky start, but Moore does have 4 TD’s in his last 4 games… something to consider.

Automatic Starts: QB – Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Stafford, Newton, Fitzpatrick, Romo; … RB: McCoy, Foster, Rice, Forte, Peterson, Jones-Drew, Turner, Sproles, Gore, Murray, Matthews, McGahee, M. Bush (if McFadden out); … WR: Welker, Cal. Johnson, Smith, Cruz, Wallace, Jennings, Nelson, Fitzgerald, V. Jackson, White, Bowe, Nicks.

Sit Em:

Nate Washington (WR, Tennessee Titans) : Week 11 was a fluke. He is getting a significant amount of targets but he is the only receiving threat on that team since Kenny Britt got hurt. Not including week 11, Washington has averaged 2.4 catches for 24.8 yards a game. Those are barely rosterable numbers. If Tennessee wants to go any where they are going to have to learn how to run the ball, and although Chris Johnson finally figured out how to do that last week, don’t count on it to be consistent. Washington is a dud in an offense that hasn’t found a way to be successful as a unit all year. Leave Washington on your bench this week until he proves he can perform on a weekly basis.

James Starks (RB, Green Bay Packers) : I honestly don’t understand why he gets such high projections on ESPN each and every week. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since week 1 and he hasn’t had more than 13 carries in a game all season. The Packers are a strict pass offense, and with all the weapons in that lineup, Starks will not get the touches that he needs in order to be placed into your lineup. When Grant was hurt, Starks was given the opportunity to show the organization that he was going to be the guy going forward, and he failed to do that. With Grant healthy, there is just no reason to start him.

Toby Gerhart (RB, Minnesota Vikings) : If Adrian Peterson plays then this is a no brainer sit, but even if AP doesn’t play I still don’t think you can rely on Gerhart to produce. He got the start last week and scored a touchdown, but if he doesn’t score you are absolutely screwed. He has terrible hands out of the backfield, adds nothing to the passing game, and he just isn’t a downhill runner that can commend a starting job. He’s a great short yardage guy that you love to throw in on 3rd or 4th and 1’s, like how the Steelers utilize Isaac Redman, but as a starter he’s not going to do much. Last week he had 17 carries for 44 yards… so if you want a guy whose going to average 2.6 YPC… Gerhart is your guy.

Andre Johnson (WR, Houston Texans) : Coach Kubiak admitted that he thought he played Johnson a little too much last week after he hadn’t played in over 2 months due to injury. If Schaub was at the helm, I would say deploy him as you usually would. But he is coming into a situation with a quarterback who he has never taken reps from in his career. I believe that defenses are going to load the box in order to stop Arian Foster, but the risk of T.J. Yates being able to throw Johnson back into fantasy relevance just seems like a pretty large task. If you have no one else, then you have to start him, considering you drafted him real high, but don’t expect anything above 50 or 60 yards.

Anquan Boldin (WR, Baltimore Ravens) : I can make this one short. Cleveland gives up the fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and he only has 7 catches in the last 3 games. There are definitely better options.

C.J. Spiller (RB, Buffalo Bills) : When Fred Jackson went down everyone thought that Spiller would step up and become a top ten fantasy running back. Well, we all learned real fast that Jackson was just an absolute beast this year and that Spiller won’t even come close to that hype. 19 carries for 55 yards last week, and now that Tashard Choice has been around for more than a week, expect him to get involved more in the offense and take touches away from Spiller.

Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas (RB, New Orleans Saints) : Sproles is the only back in this offense that you can start with any confidence. Ingram’s 13 carries last week were the most he’s gotten since week 7 – he’s just too unpredictable. Pierre Thomas is the same way, you can’t start him with any confidence. He’s only had 10+ carries in a game once this year, and with all the weapons in New Orleans you just never know who will be holding the ball in the end zone.

Tim Tebow (QB, Denver Broncos) : Denver will probably win again behind the spiritual powers of Tim Tebow, and I know that he runs the ball a ton which is great for fantasy; however, somebody is eventually going to figure him out. I think that it’s Willis McGahee who runs all over the Dolphins this week, not Tebow. I enjoy watching him play because the offense that Denver runs is like nothing else in the league, but I just can’t recommend that you start a quarterback who is averaging 105 passing yards a game in his last 3 starts.

Eric Decker (WR, Denver Broncos) : Touchdowns in 3 of his last 4 games… he also has only 7 catches in those 4 games. He is Tebow’s favorite target, but Tebow just doesn’t throw the ball enough to risk starting him.

Every Kansas City Running Back : Don’t try to get cute, neither McCluster, Jones, nor Battle has proved they deserved to be started in a fantasy lineup.

Owen Daniels (TE, Houston Texans) : Hasn’t had a touchdown since week 4, hasn’t had more than 71 yards or more than 4 catches in a game since week 5, and now his quarterback is T.J. Yates… find somebody else.

Jabar Gaffney (WR, Washington Redskins) : Had a great week two weeks ago and really showed some promise in the world of fantasy football. That is until last week when he showed us that it was an absolute fluke. He only has two touchdowns since week 1, and only one game of more than 100 yards receiving. On top of it all, he faces a New York Jets defense ranked 7th against the pass.

Matt Ryan (QB, Atlanta Falcons) : He has been a top 10 quarterback all year, but I don’t see him putting up anything special against a Houston defense ranked 2nd in the league in pass defense. The Texans only give up 176 yards per game through the air. Atlanta will implement Turner and Snelling more into their game plan and it will be a bland game for Ryan. He’s been hot the last 4 weeks, but Houston will put out the fire.

Green Bay Packers D/ST : This week’s game against the Giants is going to be an absolute shootout. The Packers are a top 10 fantasy defense, but you’ll want to avoid them this week in a game where they will give up a bunch of garbage yards in the second half.