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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fantasy Basketball Week 7 News and Notes

It could have been worse, but Danny Granger owners received some bad news early this week, as the Pacer fantasy monster succumbed to a heel injury that will put him on the shelf for a minimum of four weeks.

After a slow start, Granger was beginning to heat up, and at the time of the setback that finally shut him down, he was averaging better than 24 points, six rebounds, and almost three converted three-pointers per game. Unless you are in a ridiculously shallow league, there is no single player out on the wire that could possibly approach the huge numbers that Granger posts. Hopefully, the four to six weeks doesn't turn out to be two or three months. What better place to look for relief than the Pacers themselves.

The most attractive Pacer that may be available on your waiver wire is Dahntay Jones. If the Duke product is not available, Brandon Rush may be able to provide decent scoring and three's. Assuming Mike Dunleavy is not available, other Indiana plug-in's include Tyler Hansbrough, who's begun scoring and rebounding well, albeit in limited minutes, or Roy Hibbert, whose recent woes have likely found him waived by many fantasy owners. Regardless of who you grab, you'll need additional help while Granger is out. Let's hope for a speedy recovery.

The devastating season-ending knee injury to hard-luck Greg Oden has created an opportunity for veteran Joel Przybilla, although the real benefactor here is Lamarcus Aldridge, who will likely enjoy a jump in both rebounding and scoring numbers.

Josh Howard returned to the Dallas lineup earlier than expected, and wasted no time as he dropped 20 points in 26 minutes in his first game back from a nagging ankle injury. Howard owners may want to temper their expectations, however, as the Mavs coaching staff is going to continue to bring him off the bench, and keep him out of back-to-back games for awhile.

Owners that are in need of point guard stats may want to consider grabbing Jarrett Jack, in anticipation of lengthier than projected absence of Raptor starter Jose Calderon. Jack had been playing well off the bench for Toronto prior to Calderon's hip injury, and could provide some short-term value.

After a 26 point tease, rookie James Harden returned to single digits and is really trying his owners' patience. If you haven't already dumped the underachieving former Arizona State guard, it may be time to cut your losses.

In Motown, Rodney Stuckey has strung four straight 20-plus point performances together. The Pistons court general was being pushed by Will Bynum earlier this season, but has taken hold of the starting gig. Stuckey won't continue to average over 20 points per game, especially with Rip Hamilton returning to the court, but count on "Hot Rod" to continue to post consistent lines night-after-night.

Up in Beantown, a healthy Kevin Garnett and the red-hot Celtics are running on all cylinders. KG is sizzling, having shot an absurd 77% over a five game stretch. Point man Rajon Rondo has been equally as proficient, turning in a week that saw him produce 16 points, over 12 assists, over 2 steals per game."Double R" added a triple-double to his rapidly improving resume as well.

Finally, a "slightly" older point guard, 2-time league MVP Steve Nash continues to defy father time, as he leads the league in assists, including an 18 dime effort earlier this week. Nash is also putting up stout scoring numbers this season, routinely surpassing the 20 point mark.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rivalry Week

Although not the circumstances that Bears fans were hoping for in mid-December, this week’s matchup with the rival Packers represents an opportunity to build on last week’s victory over St. Louis, as well as disrupt the Green Bay playoff run.

The 5-7 Bears play host to the 8-4 Packers on Sunday, in a game that should prove to be critical to the post-season hopes of Green Bay. Coming off an impressive Monday night win over the Ravens at Lambeau, the Packers march into town trailing the Vikings by two games in the NFC “Norris” division.

The Packers have very little margin for error if they expect to remain in the playoff hunt. Along with the Pack, Dallas, Philly, and Arizona share 8-4 records. The Giants are just a game back at 7-5, and the Falcons are still alive at 6-6. The Cards will take the NFC West. Of the remaining five teams at 8-4, 7-5, and 6-6, only two will earn a Wildcard spot. The Chicago Bears can play a role in derailing the Packers come Sunday afternoon.

Considering the Pack will be facing a road game in a short week, the possibility of an upset by Chicago is viable. It’s a nothing-to-lose scenario fore the Bears, but in order to play with the Packers for 60 minutes, both the offense and defense will have to play mistake-free football.

Aaron Rodgers is continuing to prove that he is on the verge of quarterback superstardom, as he enters Week 14 with MVP type numbers. The Packer QB has thrown for 3399 yards, 25 touchdowns, and just 7 interceptions. Rodgers is also completing over 65% of his passes. The Green Bay defense has been equally impressive all season, as it ranks number three in the NFL, yielding just 86.3 pass yards per game. The run defense has been stout as well, surrendering a stingy 87.2 yards per game, good for fourth in the league.

What these statistics mean to the Bears is simple. Keep Rodgers and the Packer offense off the field by playing ball control, error-free football. On defense, it will be critical to play opportunistically, as Chicago will be facing an offensive machine that will likely be slowed only by turnovers. A big play or two will be needed if the Bears expect to have any chance to stay with the explosive Packers. These guys are not the St. Louis Rams.

The lowly Browns shocked the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers last night in Cleveland. Anything is possible in a rivalry game. This Bears group is certainly more talented than the Cleveland bunch. It will take a near-perfect effort by the Bears, but I think this team will rise to the occasion and get it done.

Bears 17 Packers 14

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mike Hollis Interview

This NFL season marks the 15th anniversary of both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers. I recently chatted with one of the original Jaguars, former Pro Bowl kicker Mike Hollis. We discussed the early days of the franchise under Tom Coughlin, where the Jags have gone since the 1995 inaugural season, and the life of an NFL kicker.

Mike Hollis spent seven of his nine years as an NFL placekicker with the Jacksonville Jaguars. During his career, Mike converted 200 of 250 field goal attempts, which included a streak of 20 consecutive conversions. Additionally, Hollis was selected to the Pro Bowl following the 1997 season, and still ranks among the best in NFL history in a number of kicking categories, including highest conversion percentage of field goals of 50 or more yards and post-season field goal kicking accuracy. All tolled, Mike scored 879 regular season points.

In 1995, the Jacksonville Jaguars played their inaugural NFL season. Far from the prototypical NFL city, this unexpected winner of one of only two new teams since 1976 quickly rose to the top of the league. By only its second year in existence, the Jaguars had earned the right to play in the 1997 AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots. An incredible sophomore season ended just one game shy of the Super Bowl. Mike shared some of his memories of that group, led by Tom Coughlin.

“We had a very unique group of guys that had one goal in common. Tom Coughlin did a great job of getting those kinds of guys together on one football team”, said Hollis.

That Jaguars team seemed to thrive as the underdog, much as the city did during the franchise selection process that preceded inception into the NFL.

Success continued for the team, as the Jags reached the playoffs the following three seasons. Although a Super Bowl appearance was not to be, the fledgling franchise was able to go from “new kid on the block” to perennial playoff contender almost instantly. As Mike would reveal, however, the decline in Jaguar victories seemed to coincide with a change in philosophy around the locker room.

Speaking of his frequent visits to the Jaguars facility after his retirement, Mike says, “I didn’t see the same chemistry or the same camaraderie”.

When I asked Mike what he thought was the biggest difference in the game today, versus when he was playing, he said, “I just don’t see the same sort of commitment amongst the team and players that I did back then”.

The same lack of commitment has reached the fan base as well. Whether it’s due to the floundering economy, or just simply the shortage of victories in recent years, the Jaguars “faithful” have failed to consistently attend games the way they had in the early years.

Hollis seems to believe that the swoon in fan support stems not only from a down economy, but also from the aforementioned change in philosophy by the organization as a whole.

“Tom Coughlin had an addendum to every player’s contract, and that was that we were required to make at least three public appearances during the season, and that I believe is no longer a requirement”, explained Hollis.

Less visibility in the community is something that Hollis feels is contributing to the growing apathy among Jaguars fans. Mike does not, however, believe that the proximity of the Florida Gators program affects the overall interest in the Jaguars, citing, “If that was the case, I don’t think that the Arena League would open a franchise here in Jacksonville again”. The Jacksonville Sharks will begin play in 2010.

With regards to Mike’s specialty, the kicking game, he had much to say about the coaching and development of today’s players.

“Kicking has not gotten to a point where it’s got a consistent, basic fundamental. There are too many coaches out there that don’t know what the heck they are talking about, and they are teaching different styles and different techniques”, says Mike.

To address what he believes are serious inefficiencies in the handling of young kickers, Mike launched his Jacksonville-based “Mike Hollis’ ProForm Kicking Academy”. It’s at this academy, where Mike and his staff rely on the practice of teaching technically precise kicking methods to students. It’s Mike’s belief that too many NFL teams are looking to physical, athletic types, over those that possess more of a technically sound skill set.

“I can kick the ball as far, sometimes, as Sebastian Janikowski. It’s not about size, it’s about the technique and how you utilize 100% of your body behind the ball”, contends Hollis.

The “Mike Hollis’ ProForm Kicking Academy” was started by Mike Hollis, after seeing so many kickers from the high school to the NFL level make subtle and correctable errors in their kicking game.

Mike has worked with some of football’s most talented kickers, including former NFL kickers Shane Andrus and Nick Novak, as well as Florida Gator kicker Caleb Sturgis. According to Hollis, Novak recently auditioned for a return to the NFL with the Washington Redskins.

The academy is not for everyone, as Mike is focused on teaching those that truly have the passion to commit themselves to the craft long-term. “The ones who are expecting to get a quick fix, they will not succeed. They will not have any success in our academy. We don’t want to take their money”.

For more information on the “Mike Hollis’ ProForm Kicking Academy”, please visit:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Back to Basics

Following a string of four consecutive defeats, the Bears desperately needed to get back into the win column on Sunday against the hapless Rams. A vintage ball control and defensive minded performance moved Chicago to 5-7. The fundamental approach carried the Bears to a 17-9 win heading into next week’s rivalry matchup with the Packers.

Using a familiarly successful formula, the Bears took to the ground as they rushed 38 times for 120 yards. Defensively, Chicago prevented the Rams from registering any touchdowns, as St. Louis was just 2-14 on third down on the day. Jay Cutler was efficient, throwing for 143 yards on 8-17 passing, a touchdown and no interceptions. There was nothing flashy about Sunday’s win, but perhaps that how this team needs to get it done.

Matt Forte cashed in on his fourth TD of the season in the first quarter. All tolled, Matt ran for a respectable 91 yards on 24 carries. Kahlil Bell chipped in with 35 yards on 11 carries of his own.

The Bears did use the big play a couple of times to set up scoring opportunities. Jay Cutler connected with Devin Hester on a 48 yard pass, which set up the first Bears TD, a 1 yard plunge by Matt Forte. On the following possession, Earl Bennett scampered 71 yards on a catch and run, which resulted in a Robbie Gould field goal. Those ten points would prove to be enough to finish off the Rams.

St. Louis stud running back Steven Jackson was able to gain 112 yards on 28 carries, but the Rams offense was kept out of the red zone in 12 of 13 Rams possessions.

Chicago turned the ball over just once, a Matt Forte fumble, while forcing a Rams fumble and Kyle Boller interception.

The players were more relieved than anything else, able to avoid what would have been an extremely embarrassing defeat. Next week, the Bears get a shot at the Packers, who have to travel to Soldier Field, coming off short rest and a physical matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. On a playoff push, Green Bay cannot afford to slip up in Chicago next week.

For the Bears, the stakes won’t be as high, but a rivalry game is always a tough battle, and Chicago has an opportunity to throw a monkey wrench into the playoff plans of the Packers. I think the Pack will be weary and ill-prepared for this road game.

Bears 17 Packers 14

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Looking for Respect

In a season of unfulfilled expectations, the 4-7 Bears look to regain some respect, as they host the 1-10 St. Louis Rams on Sunday afternoon.

Any hope of a late-season playoff push was lost last week, as the Bears were crushed by the high-octane Vikings. Entering Week 13, the Rams are not surprisingly a one-win team, facing yet another offseason of major roster adjustments.

More than anything else for Chicago this week, as well as and the next four, brings an opportunity for the current roster and coaching regime to exhibit professionalism and heart. Should the Bears come together, and somehow “run the table” a 9-7 season would certainly do wonders for the confidence of this team going into next season, in addition to the possibility of the Lovie Smith administration being retained for another year. If the Bears can take care of the lowly Rams this week, ample spoiler opportunities lie ahead versus Green Bay, Baltimore, and Minnesota. On the other hand, is this Bears team in a position to look past anyone?

St. Louis heads into town with back-up QB and former Raven Kyle Boller at the helm. The oft-injured starter Marc Bulger went down a couple of weeks ago, and remains sidelined for this week’s game. With the exception of RB Steven Jackson, the Rams do not possess any playmakers on either side of the ball. St. Louis ranks near the bottom of the NFL in nearly all offensive and defensive statistical categories. A home loss this week would be disastrous for Chicago.

Should the Bears be able to regain any semblance of the team that devoured the Rams 27-3 in St. Louis last season, the four-game skid will come to and end.

If Jay Cutler expects to lead this team to greener pastures over the next few years, he had better get started by taking this team on his shoulders NOW, and generating some excitement that can be carried into 2010 and beyond.

As inconsistently as the Bears have played all season, they are clearly the superior team in Week 13. A home date in December against a 1-10 dome team should result in nothing less than a convincing victory.

The Bears will stop the bleeding this week.

Bears 24 Rams 10

Monday, November 30, 2009

It’s Mel Kiper Time

Any hope of a Chicago Bears playoff appearance this season was dashed in the dome yesterday, as the Vikings rolled to a 36-10 victory over the struggling Bears. The 40-year old Brett Favre was simply brilliant, as the 3-time NFL MVP threw for 392 yards and 3 touchdowns on 32-48 passing. An unprecedented fourth MVP award for the ageless Favre is certainly within reach after 11 games.

No surprises in Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon, except perhaps the rather pedestrian 25 carries for 82 yards and touchdown for Adrian Peterson. The Vikings were able to move the ball up and down the field all day, with little resistance from the Bears pass rush. A pass heavy and balanced offensive scheme worked to perfection for Favre and the Vikings. Four Minnesota receivers hauled in a half dozen catches apiece, plus an additional five Favre passes caught by tight end Vinsanthe Shiancoe. The touchdown passes were evenly distributed as well, with a single TD thrown to Percy Harvin, Chester Taylor, and Shiancoe.

The Vikings were an astounding 12 of 18 on third down. Chicago forced just one turnover, and registered a lone sack in another ugly defensive showing. The Bears offense committed the same types of back-breaking errors that have plagued the team all season long. Jay Cutler threw a pair of costly interceptions, bringing his season total to 20. The shoddy Bears offense line surrendered four sacks on the day, and did nothing for the running game, which gained a measly 43 yards all afternoon.

After a scoreless first quarter, Minnesota got on the board with a 15 yard TD play from Favre to Percy Harvin. The Bears were able to answer a couple of minutes later on a Cutler to Johnny Knox TD play that covered 24 yards. That was about it for the Bears. By the time the halftime whistle blew, Chicago was staring at a 24-7 beat-down, officially closing the books on the 2009-10 season.

With five games remaining on the schedule, the Bears look to salvage some pride, as management begins to evaluate the performance of the current roster and coaching staff in preparation for the offseason and draft.

A Bears season that began with a new quarterback, and high hopes at 3-1, has quickly dissolved into one that will certainly bring major changes prior to kickoff in the Fall of 2010.

Chicago is now on the clock.