Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review of Brewers On Deck 2011

Papa Cheese (my Dad) and I attended Brewers On Deck 2011 at the Frontier Airlines Center. For those of you that don’t know, Brewers On Deck is basically a meet and greet for fans with most of the players, coaching staff, front office personnel, media people, and owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. The event drew record crowds with 11,299 fans (previous attendance record was 10,600 set in 2010) attending this year mostly to meet the new coaching staff and pitchers that are supposed to make the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers a playoff team.

Brewers On Deck 2011 had a main stage, an interactive stage, the 620 WTMJ stage, a team museum, memorabilia alley, a team store, an interactive FS Wisconsin stage, a Kids Zone, numerous concessions stands, 6 autograph stages, and of course the Klement's Racing Sausages.

There were many highlights with very few low lights at Brewers On Deck 2011. I took a bunch of pictures on my iPhone at the event that I will pepper in throughout the post to give those that were unable to attend the event an even better glimpse at what happened during Brewers On Deck 2011.

Main Stage Review:
There were a number of different Q&A sessions with various people within the Brewers organization. We were able to attend most of the sessions. Here is a quick look at each session we attended.

"Meet the coaching staff" hosted by Brian Anderson:
It was nice to see new manager Ron Roenicke and the rest of the coaching staff. Host Brian Anderson did a good job of moving things along and making sure we heard at least something from each of the coaches. Unfortunately the coaching staff kept everything close to the vest. Apparently they haven't talked about how they will slot their starters or their opening day lineup. Really? I have a hard time believing those discussion have not been ongoing all off-season. I understand that they do not want to give away too much information, but why not at least give us some information? The only real nugget we learned was that new manager Ron Roenicke wants to be more aggressive on the base paths than Ken Macha. That is not even that big of a nugget because Macha was one of the most conservative coaches in the last decade.

"Who Wants to be a Brewer?" with Casey McGehee, Ed Sedar, and hosted by Cory Provus:
This was a Brewers trivia knock-off on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. It was a good concept to pair a Brewer with a contestant with each correct answer giving the contestant an even better prize. Decent game but there is too much other good stuff to cover so let's move on.

"Meet Mark Attanasio, Doug Melvin, Gord Ash, and the Newest Brewers Pitchers" hosted by Bob Uecker:
I can't describe how nice it was to see Bob Uecker on his feet and healthy again. As I covered in an earlier Sunday Funday, Brewers fans should thank their lucky stars to still have Uecker in the fold. Uecker mixed in some funny nuggets while owner Mark Attanasio, general manager Doug Melvin, assistant general manager Gord Ash, pitcher Zack Greinke, and pitcher Shaun Marcum answered an array of questions. I was impressed with everyone on stage besides Zack Greinke. Not only were Greinke's answers almost inaudible, but as you can see in the picture, he squirmed in his chair and had absolutely horrible body language. There is no question that Greinke can pitch but his first impression to most fans was mediocre at best. I know Greinke has anxiety issues, I just didn't know they are that extreme.

"Name That Hit!" with John Axford, Zach Braddock, Craig Counsell, Randy Wolf hosted by Bob Uecker with Dean Rosko on the organ:
Much like "Who Wants to be a Brewer?" the game paired a Brewer with a contestant to correctly identify songs in order to win prizes. The preliminary rounds dragged because the only time a team got a song right was when they knew the song from the clue given by Uecker as opposed to Dean Rosko's rendition on the organ. For how well Dean Rosko tickles the ivory, it wasn't until the final round when Rosko played larger snippets of songs in rapid succession that the game got interesting. The final round was Counsell against Wolf. In terms of Brewers that seemed sports funny, those guys are very high on the list. For those that don’t know, sports funny means that athletes are by no means comedians. In fact, athletes would bomb as stand-up comedians but fans find them funny because they are funny…for a pro athlete. Much like the other game, another substantive panel would have been a much better addition to the event.

Interactive Stage:
A bunch of different things were going on here, a stage with a little bit of everything if you will. At one point there was a Q&A session with Rickie Weeks, Jonathan Lucroy, and Corey Hart. What made that Q&A especially awesome is that they took questions only from children. It was really neat to see the smiles on their faces as they got to ask questions of some of their favorite Brewers. Later when we passed by people with impressive voices were singing the Star Spangled Banner. This stage was sort of the jack-of-all trades stage. Great idea, great execution.

620 WTMJ Stage:
620 WTMJ is lucky have a presence at the event because terrestrial radio stations seem to be going the way of the dodo. Unfortunately like radio broadcasts themselves, the area always seemed sparse in attendance compared to other areas unless they were interviewing an actual player or someone from the front office. A better idea would have been for the Brewers to show off some of their new media offerings through or other in-game technology such as the features of the new scoreboard as opposed to having old media terrestrial radio on hand.

Brewers Museum:
The highlight of the museum was Papa Cheese sitting in the old bullpen cart that took players out to the mound at County Stadium. If I ever make it big I am buying that cart or making a replica to ride around my compound. There were a bunch of interesting nuggets in the museum but it was a little cluttered and disjointed. For example, they had a wall with information about the entire history of the franchise but it was hard to take it all in because it was written out in small type on one big wall. Besides that, it was a little light on historical artifacts. People that are willing to come to a baseball event on a Sunday morning at the end of January want to see more than just a few pieces of memorabilia and a wall with the history of the franchise. Most people probably skipped the museum because it didn't stand out and was thin on memorabilia. Next year I hope the Brewers put some more time and artifacts in the museum.

Sports Memorabilia Alley:
Speaking of memorabilia, it is a sad area to walk through because it consisted mostly of baseball cards and signed memorabilia of players that had a cup of lukewarm coffee with the Brewers. In fact the tables with Packers memorabilia seemed to create the most buzz. Just to drive the point home, the only thing I bought from sports memorabilia alley was a Super Bowl XLV program. Besides the sign to the left (I signed "Go Pack Go, Cheesehead Sports Nut") and sports memorabilia alley, the event did not have much of a Packers presence which was surprising to me since the Packers are less than a week from playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Kudos to the fans in attendance for keeping it mostly Brewers.

Brewers Team Store:
They had the standard stuff, nothing much to talk about so let's move on.

FS Wisconsin Stage:
There was a backdrop with an actual camera, teleprompter, and news desk. Fans could do an actual one-minute telecast using the teleprompter. Quick side note on using a teleprompter, it is much harder than it looks. I tried to use a teleprompter once and failed miserably. Back to the review. This stage was a great idea but poorly executed. FS Wisconsin should have had an actual anchor there the whole time. Not only would that have drawn more of a crowd but they could have given young kids pointers to increase their interest. Finally, why didn't they tape each segment and send it out digitally. Simple things like that would not only would have given fans a nice memento but been some quality free marketing for FS Wisconsin. You are on notice FS Wisconsin...get more out of your stage next year.

Kids Zone:
The Kids Zone was a great way to keep the little kids interested and active. The space was so big that there was an astro turf mini-field for clinics. The Brewers offered: throwing/catching basics with Jerry Augustine, hitting with Larry Hisle, pitching with Jerry Augustine, throwing/fielding with Jim Gantner, and catching drills/base running with Marcus Hanel. There was a mock mini-locker room, base running timer, speed pitch area, batting cage, and even a dance area off to the side to keep kids busy. The kids zone was well conceived and implemented.

New this year, your entry ticket got you one entry into a raffle for a chance to get a "premium autographs" from either Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Corey Hart, Bob Uecker, or Robin Yount. If your raffle ticket was pulled, you got the autograph for a $25 donation. Papa Cheese choose Ryan Braun and I choose Yovani Gallardo. We went .500. I missed the chance for Gallardo's signature by two spots...oh dang. Luckily Papa Cheese won so he got a picture signed by Braun. Check out the picture of Papa Cheese, aka The Silver Fox, (you heard me Anderson Cooper) with Ryan Braun.

The equation for professional athletes signing autographs is pretty simple: ask the fan their name, shake their hand, make quick small talk, sign something, and pose for a picture. I am a huge proponent of body language so I watched a number of players sign autographs to see how they reacted to fans. I did not get to see all the players sign but without question Ryan Braun was the only one that followed the simple equation. Here are my grades for the people that I actually saw signing:
- Zack Greinke: C+
- Rickie Weeks: A-
- Yovani Gallardo: B-
- Kameron Low: B
- Casey McGehee: B-
- Robin Yount: A-
- Latroy Hawkins: B+
- Ryan Braun: A+
- Manny Parra: B

There were long lines for all the other non-premium autographs (i.e. Low, McGehee, Hawkins, Parra, etc) that cost either $10 or were free. Quick side note, the cost of your autograph essentially told each player how secure their roster spot is with the Brewers in 2011. It seemed like people were waiting in lines more than actually going to the various events. As a way to alleviate all the lines, the Brewers should limit all autograph lines to a set number of signatures and then hand out tickets in a lottery system like they did for premium autographs. Not only would it allow people to enjoy the festivities more than just sitting in line, but it would allow the autograph sessions to stay on time because they all looked like they were running behind schedule.

Klement's Racing Sausages:
Last but certainly not least, check out me with the sausages. The Italian Sausage was mingling with other people but 4 out of 5 racing sausages is not too bad. I am pretty sure that everyone knows by now, but here is the lineup:
#1 - The Bratwurst
#2 - The Polish Sausage
#3 - The Italian Sausage
#4 - The Hot Dog
#5 - The Chorizo
Cheesehead Chick is partial to The Chorizo but I am still a traditionalist so my heart still lies with The Bratwurst.

Papa Cheese and I thoroughly enjoyed Brewers On Deck 2011. On paper the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers look like legitimate playoff contenders. Following the Super Bowl, check back for more Brewers coverage on the blog because spring training is right around the corner.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

2010 NFC Championship Game Review of Packers/Bears

The Green Bay Packers met the Chicago Bears for the 182nd time on Sunday, January 23, 2011 but that was only their second post-season meeting all-time. The first post-season meeting between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears came on December 14, 1941 at Wrigley Field. The Bears won round one but the Packers won round two beating the Bears 21-14 for the right to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV in the Jerry Dome in North Texas.

The Green Bay Packers became the 10th different NFC Champion in the last 10 years*. With only 16 teams in the entire NFC that leaves only six other NFC teams that have not won the NFC Championship in the last 10 years**. Of those six NFC teams only the Detroit Lions, thanks in large part to Matt Millen, have not won at least one playoff game since 2000. The NFL thrives on parity and the NFC sure does its part to send new teams to the Super Bowl year in and year out.

At kickoff it was downright balmy in the north end zone where Cheesehead Chick and I took in the game thanks to my very generous Uncle Phil and Uncle Tony. Once the sun went down between the 3rd and 4th quarter it got cold but it was actually really pleasant weather-wise for the first three quarters. Here are the "nuggets of information" that I gleaned from the NFC Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on January 23, 2011 deemed "Epic Showdown" by the souvenir cup:

Greg Jennings:
Starting with the first drive, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Greg Jennings were in sync. Rodgers found Jennings on consecutive plays to pick up 22 and 26 yards respectively. That helped Jennings on his way to amassing 8 catches for 130 yards. It took Rodgers almost two months to get on the same page with Jennings but as the NFC Championship showed, they are clicking on all cylinders now.

Jay Cutler's knee:
Just about everyone and their mother weighed in on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's knee by now. In fact, there has been so much coverage that it went from NFL players being critical of Cutler to a backlash against those players for speaking out against Cutler. Right after the game the entire Chicago Bears organization from middle linebacker Brain Urlacher to head coach Lovie Smith and everyone in between backed Cutler. That lead to a reverse backlash that made the NFL players that spoke out against Cutler look foolish.

What was lost in the shuffle is that Cutler played much worse (6 for 14, 80 passing yards, and 1 interception) than the Bears’ 3rd-string quarterback Caleb Hanie (13 for 20, 163 passing yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions). Cutler will most likely be the Bears quarterback for the next decade and his post-season performance will define how he is perceived in Chicago. If Cutler wants, he could have the city of Chicago eating out of his hand but that is not how he chooses to play it. Now Cutler's play on the field will have to improve in the playoffs or he will be remember for his knee as opposed to being the most physically gifted quarterback in Chicago Bears history.

Tim Masthay:
After not even having to punt last week against the Atlanta Falcons, Packers punter Tim Masthay helped take the heat off embattled special teams coach Shawn Slocum. Of Masthay's 8 punts, all of them landed inside the Bears' 20-yard line***. The Bears only had 48 punt return yards and 22 of them went to Earl Bennett on one return. Devin Hester (possibly the best punt return man in NFL) was limited to three punt returns for 16 yards. Masthay's stat line for the day, 8 punts for an average of 41.8 (34.5 net) yards with five punts pinning the Bears inside their own 20-yard line.

B.J. Raji's Interception:
Packers’ defensive tackle B.J. Raji being left off the Pro Bowl team is moot since he would be unable to participate. Raji’s performance against the Bears shows exactly why he deserved to be invited to the Pro Bowl though. Although Raji only recorded one tackle in the game, he was consistently double-teamed. Those double-teams opened up lanes for other defenders to make plays. All of that is window dressing to Raji's interception that he returned for a touchdown. The pick-six came with 6 minutes left in the game to put the Packers up 21-7. That play helped the Packers punch their Super Bowl ticket.

The Packers drafted Raji and outside linebacker Clay Matthews in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Although Matthews gets more praise because of the sack numbers he puts up, with out Raji occupying blockers, there is no way Matthews has any where close to the same production. Raji is one of the best up and coming defensive linemen in the NFL. I'll take it one step further; the NFC North might have the two best defensive tackles in the entire NFL over the next decade in B.J. Raji and Detroit's Ndamukong Suh.

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz's play calling:
Of the 64 offensive plays Martz called, the worst was the 3rd and 3 play call from the Packers' 27-yard line with 1:15 remaining in the game. Coming out of a timeout, Martz called an end around to wide receiver Earl Bennett. Packers’ middle linebacker Desmond Bishop tackled Earl Bennett for a two-yard loss on the play setting up a 4th and 5 from the Packers' 29-yard line with 47 second remaining. Martz had extra time to think about the play call and that's what he dialed up? Bennett is possibly the slowest wide receiver on the Bears' entire roster. Even if the play were dialed up for wide receiver Devin Hester it would be a questionable play call.

The only positive thing Martz did all day was that he kept running back Matt Forte heavily involved in the game. For the day Forte amassed 160 yards (70 rushing and 90 receiving) on 27 touches. After Forte the rest of the offensive superstars were non-existent: Johnny Knox had 2 catches for 56 yards, Devin Hester had no catches, and Greg Olsen had 3 catches for 30 yards. The Bears played half the game with a backup quarterback but that still does not excuse Martz from failing to get Devin Hester a single touch from the line of scrimmage in the NFC Championship game.

Sam Shields:
Packers rookie undrafted cornerback Sam Shields came up with three huge plays on the day:
#1) Strip-fumble sack of Cutler that was recovered by Forte.
#2) Interception of Cutler at the end of the first half at the Packers' 3-yard line to keep the Packers up 14-0 going into halftime.
#3) Interception of Haine with 37 seconds left in the game at the Packers' 12-yard line to seal the victory.

Here is my only complaint about Shields. Much like cornerback Tramon Williams against the Eagles two weeks ago, why did Shields try and return the interception? Shields picked the ball off with 37 seconds remaining in the game so the only way the Packers could lose the game at that point was if Shields fumbled the interception. It looked like Shields was trying for a pick-six. Sam Shields is one of the fastest players in the NFL but he has to be more aware of the game situation. Especially after Williams made the same mistake a few weeks ago, Shields should have learned and simply went down. Just to end on a positive note, Shields became only the 4th player in NFL Playoff history to intercept two passes and force a fumble in the same game.

Rodgers tackling Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher:
On 3rd and goal, eating the ball is much better option than throwing an interception. If the score were 17-0, the Packers essentially would have iced the game. Instead Rodgers gave the Bears life again. After throwing the Favre-like interception, at least Rodgers tackled middle linebacker Brian Urlacher at the Bears' 45-yard line to save a touchdown.

Bears Defense:
As Peter King pointed out in his Monday Morning Quarterback column, the Chicago Bears defense only allowed 14 points in 13 offensive drives in the NFC Championship Game. Furthermore, excluding kneel downs, the Packers offense only scored 41 points (5 touchdowns) on 34 possessions in the three meetings this season. For the day, the Packers were 1 for 8 on 3rd down. It was the tale of two halves. After surrendering 252 yards in the first half, the Bears only gave up 104 yards in the second half. Long story short, it was a typical Bears performance...great defense backed up by a horrible offensive performance.

What does this all mean?
The NFC is sending their second 10-win team to the Super Bowl since 2007****. Packer fans remember that the Giants beat the Packers in the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay to head to the Super Bowl. I attended that frigid game in person at Lambeau Field with my buddy Fernando. Seeing the Packers’ victory in person with Cheesehead Chick over the Bears at Soldier Field helped erase the loss to the Giants. It was sweet once the game was over but downright nerve racking being a fan of the road team in the NFC Championship Game. Kudos to Bears fans though, most were cordial and quite complimentary once the game finished.

The Packers joined three other NFL teams that have won three consecutive road playoff games to get to the Super Bowl:
- 2007 New York Giants - Won the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots
- 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers - Won the Super Bowl over the Seattle Seahawks
- 1985 New England Patriots - Lost the Super Bowl to the Chicago Bears

Finally, the 2010 Green Bay Packers became the first team since the AFL/NFL merger to never trail by more than 7 points through the NFC Championship Game. If you have read this far, you clearly have enough time to watch's highlights of the NFC Championship Game.

Check back for more coverage of Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

* – St. Louis Rams in 2001, Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, Carolina Panthers in 2003, Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, Seattle Seahawks in 2005, Chicago Bears in 2006, New York Giants in 2007, Arizona Cardinals in 2008, and New Orleans Saints in 2009.
** – Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, and Washington Redskins.
*** – Bears' 13-yard line, Bears' 3-yard line, Bears' 11-yard line, Bears' 16-yard line, Bears' 11-yard line, Bears' end zone, Bears' 10-yard line, and Bears' 18-yard line.
**** – The NFC also sent a 9-win Arizona Cardinals team in 2008.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Midseason Rankings of the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks

The 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks have been absolutely ravaged by injury. Only 41 games into the season the Bucks have already lost 155 player-games* because of illness or injury. That means the Bucks have missed on average 4 players per game, which has forced Milwaukee Bucks head coach Scott Skiles to use 13 different starting lineups. That has resulted in the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks putting together a disappointing record of 16-25 (only one game worse than they were last year). Let's not forget that the Bucks had zero expectations last year, but after making the playoffs, expectations were high heading into this year.

Before we jump into the rankings, here is how the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks stack up against the other 29 NBA teams:
- 30th in the NBA in points scored per game with 91.5 points
- 12th in the NBA in rebounds per game with 42.1 rebounds
- 30th in the NBA in assists per game with 18.0 assists
- 4th in the NBA is points allowed per game with 92.8 points
- 8th in the NBA in field goal percentage allowed with 44.6% shooting

Although I am starting to embrace NBA advance statistics** I will stick with a pretty simple one: if you only score 91.5 points per game but allow 92.8 points per game it is going to be hard to win games. Coming into the 2010-11 season most people thought the Bucks would have a hard time keeping everyone happy on the offensive side of the ball because there were more shooters than shots to go around. Ironically it is their defense that has kept the Bucks in games. When the Bucks score more than 100 points they are 7-2 but when they score less than 89 points they are 2-18. Unless the Bucks can figure out a way to score more points, they are lottery bound in 2011.

Let's take a quick mid-season look at the questions I posed about the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks before the season:

Will Bogut rebound from injury again?
It has been a mixed bag so far. It looks like Bogut's injury really has at least a year recovery time, which means Bogut probably won't be fully healthy till the 2011-12 NBA season.

How will the 8 new players mesh with the 7 holdovers from the 2009-10 team?
It is really too early to tell whether the players will mesh because they have not been at full strength all season.

Will Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings become an elite NBA point guard?
Jennings is just getting back into game shape after missing games since mid-December. Jennings looked on the cusp of being a top-10 point guard heading into the season, which is really saying something because the NBA has possibly the best crop of young point guards in league history right now.

How many players will Bucks head coach Scott Skiles use in his rotation?
Thanks to injuries, Skiles has been unable to develop a consistent rotation.

Will the Bucks move Michael Redd's expiring contract?
It looks like Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond is going to let Redd's contract expire because of a lack of takers and the labor uncertainty currently facing the NBA.

Rookie shooting guard/small forward Daringoton Hobson dropped out of the rankings because he was waived. Just to recap, Hammond traded shooting guard Jodie Meeks for a second round pick that he used to take Hobson. All along it looked like Hobson v. Meeks was going to take a few years to decide but Hammond settled that in less than a month...he should have just held onto Meeks.

As I do with all my Milwaukee Bucks player rankings, I am going to rank the players on the current Milwaukee Bucks roster from 15 to 1. In case you missed it, check out my initial rankings of the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks roster. There are a number of factors that determine each player's value: short-term expectations, long-term expectations, salary, relative strength at each position, and swagger. I know that some of those factors are subjective but it is my list. I will update the rankings at the end of the season. Without further ado, here is the initial list with their preseason rankings in parenthesis:

#15 (15) - Michael Redd (SG): With each passing day it looks like Michael Redd has played his last game in a Milwaukee Bucks uniform. The saddest indictment on Redd's career is that if you exclude his rookie season (played sparingly) and last year (out injured), Redd has only played on one Bucks team with a winning record. That sure does not sound like the impact you expect from a "max contract" player.

#14 (NR) - Anyone: I hate to pile on here but Bucks fans are really looking to turn the page on Redd. It is hard to say whether Jeff Suppan or Michael Redd signed the worst contract in recent Cheesehead sports history. At least with Suppan the Brewers did not do it at the expense of keeping a great veteran. In the case of Redd, the Bucks basically gave away Ray Allen to make way for Redd. Thank you very much Ernie Grunfeld. By the way, how is Ernie Grunfeld still an NBA executive? Back to this year, even if Redd is healthy by the end of the season the Bucks should tell him to stay away. The Bucks have not gotten comfortable with each other yet because of all the injuries they have suffered and Redd will only create more issues. The Bucks should consider buying out Redd and signing a few young guys that are hungry to contribute off the bench instead of trying to reintegrate Redd for 25 games.

#13 (10) Jon Brockman (PF): As the season wears on Brockman looks more and more like a warm body as opposed to a player with a big upside. Brockman has not seized his opportunities this year. Part of that could be blamed on the erratic playing time he has received but guys like Brockman need to capitalize on any opportunity they get if they want to play in the NBA as opposed to Europe.

#12 (11) Larry Sanders (PF): At the start of the season it looked like Sanders would essentially red-shirt this year and learn how to become a successful NBA power forward for the 2011-12 NBA season. Unfortunately Drew Gooden has been injured throughout the season so Sanders has been forced into action prematurely. Sanders has played alright but still has not proven worthy of being the 15th player selected in the 2010 NBA Draft.

#11 (12) Earl Boykins (PG): With Jennings out, Boykins has put together some impressive performances as a backup point guard behind Keyon Dooling. I highly recommend catching Boykins live at least one time because it defies all logic to see Boykins score on guys that are almost a foot taller that him.

#10 (13) Chris Douglas-Roberts (SG): Despite missing 16 games to an eye injury, CDR looks like a quality NBA scorer in the making. CDR has taken over a few games showing that he can create his own shot and finish around the rim with ease. CDR has a chance to crack the top-7 in the player rankings by the end of the season if he stays healthy and continues to score.

#9 (4) Carlos Delfino (SF): Unfortunately a concussion has forced Carlos Delfino to miss most of the 2010-11 NBA season. Delfino's post concussion symptoms are so bad that even watching television has caused Delfino problems. Professional sports are starting to take concussions much more seriously but I am still not too sure why it has taken so long. Delfino has struggled in the two games since he returned from the concussion. When Delfino gets back into game shape look for the Bucks to dramatically improve.

#8 (6) Drew Gooden (PF): This is more of an indictment on Gooden's inability to stay healthy as opposed to his production when he actually plays. When healthy, Gooden looks like a nice fit next to Andrew Bogut. Unfortunately Gooden has missed 16 games due to plantar fasciitis. Since Gooden is signed long-term, at some point the Bucks need to consider shutting down Gooden for the season since the 2010-11 season is looking like a lost season anyways.

#7 (5) Corey Maggette (SF): True to form, Maggette has put up numbers on a bad team. What is even more troublesome is that Maggette's post game comments have confirmed that he is a locker room cancer. I actually hesitate to put Maggette ahead of Delfino and Gooden but Maggette has been healthy so health alone earned Maggette the 7th spot.

#6 (9) Keyon Dooling (PG): With starting point guard Brandon Jennings out for an extended period of time, my assertion that having former back-up point guard Luke Ridnour on the roster has rung true. I am sure John Hammond regrets not re-signing Ridnour now, but the Bucks have to work with the players that are on the current roster. Dooling has played alright in place of Jennings but the Bucks sorely need Jennings in the lineup if they want to contend for a playoff spot.

#5 (7) Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (PF): The Prince continues to be a defensive stopper that is limited offensively. With the Bucks struggling to score, if The Prince could do anything on the offensive end he would garner even more playing time. Only time will tell but The Prince needs to huddle with CDR and Salmons to learn how to get better at creating his own shot.

#4 (8) Ersan Ilyasova (PF): I stand by my assertion at the beginning of the season that Ilyasova is a poor man's Dirk Nowitzki. Slowly Scott Skiles is starting to agree with me and give Ilyasova more playing time. Whether the increased playing time is because of injuries to other players or a renewed faith that Skiles has in Ilyasova is hard to tell. Either way Ilyasova belongs in the starting line-up.

#3 (3) John Salmons (SG): Unfortunately Salmons started off the season in a shooting slump. The boo-birds were out and some fans started to question whether Salmons was worth of the lengthy extension that he signed in the off-season. Salmons finally broke out of the funk and strung together some good shooting performances in December and early January. Unfortunately the injury bug recently claimed Salmons (surprise, surprise right). With CDR playing well, the Bucks are better off letting Salmons get healthy instead of forcing him back too early. Only time will tell whether Hammond overpaid Salmons but early indications are that Salmons is overpaid.

#2 (2) Brandon Jennings (PG): I made the assertion above that Brandon Jennings was on the cusp of being a top 10 point guard heading into the season. In my current point guard order of merit, here are the NBA point guards that are better than a healthy Brandon Jennings (worst to best) right now: John Wall, Devin Harris, Jason Kidd, Andre Miller, Jameer Nelson, Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Derrick Rose. I know there are some notable names that are not on the list but some of the guys omitted are too old (i.e. Chauncey Billups) while other guys don't play as a true point guard (i.e. Gilbert Arenas). The line of where Jennings can jump over the next few seasons is between Nelson and Parker until Nash retires. Let's check in on the aforementioned list at the end of the season to see if Jennings has passed anyone.

#1 (1) Andrew Bogut (C): The Bucks built their offense around a healthy Andrew Bogut. Unfortunately centers are injury prone (think Yao Ming and Greg Oden) so the Bucks need to be versatile on offense because there is a good chance that Bogut is going to continue to miss games due to injury throughout his career. The Bucks need to work on running multiple offensive sets because the chances of Bogut finishing the season healthy are remote. Yes the whole last paragraph was me trying to reverse jinx Bogut into staying healthy for the rest of the season.

I know my rankings are subjective, feel free to leave a comment below on whether you agree or disagree with my rankings.

* - Carlos Delfino missed 32 games, Chris Douglas-Roberts missed 16 games, Drew Gooden missed 16 games, and Brandon Jennings missed 16 game.
** - I plan on incorporating advanced NBA statistics such as usage rate, win score, and player efficiency rating in my final rankings.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2010 Divisional Round Playoff Review of Packers/Falcons

The Green Bay Packers killed two birds with one stone by beating the Atlanta Falcons 48-21 in Atlanta to punch their ticket to the NFC Championship Game against the Chicago Bears in Chicago. For one, the Packers avenged their Week 12 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta. More importantly, the Packers finally avenged their first home playoff loss in franchise history when the Michael Vick lead Atlanta Falcons beat the Packers 27 to 7 on Saturday, January 4, 2003. I saw the miserable playoff loss with my buddies Fernando, Gaber, and Sug at a bar in Punta Gorda, Florida. The Packers (the only holdovers are Chad Clifton, Donald Driver, and Mark Tauscher) enacted sweet revenge for us and the rest of Packers Nation eight years later. It took eight years but we can officially put that loss behind us and just remember the good times had in Punta Gorda fellas. Here are the things that stood out to me from the Green Bay Packers’ 48-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons:

Aaron Rodgers:
Against the Falcons Rodgers was 31 for 36 with 366 passing yards, 3 touchdowns (1 rushing touchdown) for a 136.8 passer rating. Rodgers really spread the ball around to his receivers: Greg Jennings (8 catches for 101 yards), Donald Driver (6 catches for 79 yards), Jordy Nelson (8 catches for 79 yards), and James Jones (4 catches for 75 yards).

Statistically speaking how well did Rodgers play against the Falcons? Football Outsiders have a statistic called “DYAR” or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement*. Basically it shows the degree of difficulty on the performance over an average player. Rodgers’ performance was the 4th best DYAR playoff performance since 1993 meaning great quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, and Ben Roethlisberger never had a game as good as Rodgers did against the Falcons. Who had the best playoff performance ever? Unfortunately it was Kurt Warner’s 385 DYAR (29 for 33, 382 yards for 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and 1 sack) against the Packers last year in their 51-45 overtime thriller.

In three playoff games with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the Packers’ offense has averaged 38 points a game. Furthermore, Rodgers became the 1st quarterback in NFL history to throw more than 10 touchdowns in his first 3 playoff games.

Christopher Owens:
Brian Williams beat out Christopher Owns for the nickel cornerback job for the Atlanta Falcons at the start of the season. Williams was inactive for the game so the Packers picked on Owens all day. After giving up a 102-yard kickoff return to Eric Weems, the longest play in playoff history, the Packers were down 14-7. That proved to be the last time the Packers trailed for the rest of the game because they drew two penalties on Owens that helped the Packers tie the game up at 14-14. As shown above, Rodgers spread the ball around to all of his wide receivers. Rodgers went after Owens for most the game because whoever was covered by Owens looked like Rodgers’ first read on most plays. Let’s move from the worst cornerback on the day to the best cornerback on the day.

Tramon Williams:
Cornerback Tramon Williams had two interceptions against the Falcons, both coming at the end of the first half to swing the game from competitive to a beat down. Let’s set the stage. The game was tied at 14 with two minutes left in the half when the Falcons gave up a sack to cornerback Charles Woodson that set-up a 3rd and 21 for the Falcons from the Packers’ 26-yard line. Instead of attempting a safe throw, Matt Ryan went for it all and threw an interception to Tramon Williams in the end zone. The Packers capitalized on the interception to go up 21-14.

The Falcons got the ball back with less than a minute remaining in the first half down 21-14. Thanks to consecutive pass interference penalties on Sam Shields and Tramon Williams the Falcons had the ball on the Packers’ 26-yard line. Following a sack by Claymaker, the Falcons were forced to use their last timeout of the half which gave them the ball on the Packers’ 35-yard line with 10 seconds left in the half. Despite having one of the best place kickers (Matt Bryant) in the NFL, the Falcons tried to pick up a few more yards on an out route. The smart play was to attempt a field goal to only trail 21-17 at the half. Instead, Tramon Williams stepped in front of the pass and returned it 70-yards for a touchdown to give the Packers a 28-14 lead heading into halftime.

The artist formerly known as Matty Ice:
Everyone used to like to call Matt Ryan "Matty Ice". Well he was Matty Ice against the cold. Ryan pushed his playoff record to 0-2 with 6 turnovers and a safety. Just to add insult to injury, Ryan lost more games in the last three weeks (2 games) in the Georgia Dome than he lost there in the previous three years (1 game). Ryan is clearly one of the best, young quarterbacks in the NFL but Rodgers catapulted ahead of Ryan in the quarterback pantheon because playoff wins are unfortunately how most quarterbacks are judged.

35 Consecutive Points Scored:
Following an NFL post season record 102-yard kickoff return by Eric Weems, the Green Bay Packers rattled off 35 unanswered points. Punter Tim Masthay's only work on the day was serving as a holder for the multitude of kicks (3 field goal attempts and 6 extra point attempts) for place kicker Mason Crosby. The Packers out-gained the Falcons 442 yards to 194 yards. Thanks in large part to Rodgers working the pocket perfectly on 3rd down, the Packers converted 8 of their 12 opportunities while the Falcons only converted 3 of their 10 opportunities.

Why the Pro Bowl is a joke:
Matt Ryan and Brent Grimes were voted into the Pro Bowl ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Tramon Williams. Don’t get me wrong, the Packers are sending an undeserved player in left tackle Chad Clifton in a “career achievement” vote but Rodgers and Williams might be two of the best three players on their team right now along with outside linebacker Clay Matthews. As a Packer fan I hope the Packer Pro Bowl representatives (Clifton, Collins, Jennings, Matthews, and Woodson) are unable to play in the Pro Bowl because they are getting ready for the Super Bowl but this game is a microcosm of how the Pro Bowl system is flawed.

Playoffs by the numbers:
In 1990 the NFL expanded the playoffs to include 12 teams. From 1990 to 2004, no 6th seed ever defeated a 1st seed. Since then, being a 6th seed is not all that bad. Starting in 2005, the 6th seed has defeated the 1st seed five times including twice this year (Packers over Falcons and Jets over Patriots).

From 1990 through 2001 teams with a bye in the first round of the playoffs went 39-9 in their first playoff game. In 2002 the NFL changed from 6 divisions to 8 divisions. Despite the number of divisions changing, the number of teams that made the playoffs stayed at 12. Something changed though. Starting in 2003, bye teams have gone 18-14 in their first playoff games and only 12-12 since 2005. Road teams only won 30% of playoff games up till 2005, since then road teams have won 45% of the time.

Finally, the Packers became the first team in post-season history to score at least 45 points in consecutive years. Check back for NFC Championship coverage on the blog this week as the Packers prepare for only their second post-season meeting with the Bears. The Packers will be looking to enact revenge for their loss to the Bears in their first post-season meeting on December 14, 1941 at Wrigley Field.

* = Gives the value of the quarterback's performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. DYAR (and its cousin, YAR, which isn't adjusted based on opponent) is further explained here. (Source)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2010 Wildcard Round Playoff Review of Packers/Eagles

The Green Bay Packers went on the road to beat the Philadelphia Eagles for the second time this season. Here are the biggest things that stood out to me from the Packers' 21-16 playoff victory over the Eagles:

Bottled up Michael Vick:
Let’s not forget that outside linebacker Clay Matthews is a big reason why Michael Vick is quarterbacking the Philadelphia Eagles. The Packers played the Eagles in Week 1 in Philadelphia. It was supposed to be Kevin Kolb’s coming out party after the Eagles traded quarterback Donovan McNabb to their division rival the Washington Redskins. Unfortunately for Kolb, Matthews knocked him out of the game with a concussion on a clean hit. Michael Vick came in to throw for 175 yards and run for 103 yards. Vick almost lead the Eagles to a come from behind victory over the Packers. In their second meeting of the season on the same field Vick threw for 292 yards and ran for 33 yards but it was not enough to beat the Packers. Vick threw an ill-advised pass up for grabs in the end zone that was intercepted by Tramon Williams to seal a victory for the Packers.

Miscues hurt both teams:
Usually in a playoff game if either team makes a critical mistake it leads to a loss. Both the Packers and Eagles made miscues that canceled their respective errors out. The Packers defense made a nice stand on the first drive but on the ensuing punt much maligned (mostly for off the field reasons) backup cornerback Brandon Underwood touched the ball with his foot despite the fact that the rest of the Packers special teams was trying to get away from the ball.

The touch was recovered by the Eagles giving them great field position. The Eagles were unable to punch the ball into the end zone and were forced to settle for a 41-yard field goal attempt by David Akers. Very uncharacteristically, Akers missed the field goal. Most Packer fans would consider that miss a make-up for the fumble since the Eagles did not “deserve” to get the ball anyway. Akers later missed from even closer on a 34-yard attempt.

Those missed field goals were covered up by the Packers own miscues. Right before halftime Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers found wide receiver James Jones in stride for what should have been a 63-yard touchdown. Unfortunately Jones dropped the ball so the Packers only lead 14-3 as opposed to 21-3 at halftime.

Not only did the half end in a whimper for the Packers but they started the second half with another big gaffe. Rodgers was stripped by Eagles defensive lineman Darryl Tapp on the first possession of the second half. Eagle defensive lineman Juqua Parker recovered the fumble at the Packers’ 24-yard line.

As you can see, the Packers and Eagles both had some major miscues that essentially canceled each other out.

James Starks:
After rushing for only 101 yards in three regular season games, rookie running back James Starks rushed for a rookie playoff franchise record 123 yards. Greg Gabriel, the former Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears and current contributor to National Football Post, recently pointed out that James Starks was almost a Chicago Bear. Although Starks contributed very little in the regular season due to injury, his performance against the Eagles justified Packers general manager Ted Thompson’s decision to use a 6th round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft on the often injured Starks. Keep in mind that if Starks had a clean bill of healthy he was a potential first round pick in the making after his junior year in college.

Aaron Rodgers:
Coming into the game Rodgers had a 0-1 playoff record but Rodgers really only made two mistakes in his first playoff performance against the Arizona Cardinals. Unfortunately one of them directly lead to the Packers losing. Fast forward to this year, Rodgers completed 18 of 27 passes. Rodgers had a pretty good game against the Eagles in a win but played much better last year in the Packers' playoff loss to the Cardinals. Aaron Rodgers' two playoff starts show that quarterbacks get too much credit when they win (i.e. Eagles playoff victory) and too much blame when they lose (i.e. Cardinals playoff loss).

What should the Eagles do with Michael Vick:
With the Eagles’ 2010 campaign coming to a disappointing end, the Eagles need to decide what to do at the quarterback position. After trading away a franchise quarterback (Donovan McNabb) in the off-season, they still have two potential franchise quarterbacks on the roster. The Eagles have Kevin Kolb under contract for the 2011 season for a little more than a million dollars. Michael Vick is set to become a free agent, which means the Eagles might be forced to put the franchise tag on Michael. It is amazing to think what happened between Vick’s last playoff start, the 2005 NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia playing for the Atlanta Falcons and today. Vick spent 18 months in federal prison for participating in a dog fighting operation. Vick’s jail time cost him two NFL seasons and millions of dollars. The Eagles put their faith in Michael Vick when no other team trusted Vick, how will that trust impact their negotiations?

Packers finally win a playoff game in Philadelphia:
Third times a charm. The Vince Lombardi lead Packers lost to the Eagles in the 1960 NFL Championship, which turned out to be Lombardi’s only playoff defeat. Even better the Packers officially put to bed “4th and 26” from a playoff game in Philadelphia that took place on Sunday, January 11, 2004. The Eagles were facing a 4th and 26 from their own 25 yard line, trailing the Packers by three points with 1:12 remaining in the game. Thanks to questionable coverage by Nick Barnett and Darren Sharper, former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb hit wide receiver Freddie Mitchell for a 28-yard gain to keep the Eagles alive. The Eagles kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime. Following an overtime interception by Favre, the Packers lost to the Eagles on a David Akers field goal.

With their playoff victory over the Eagles, the Packers now head to Atlanta to face the #1 seeded Atlanta Falcons. Check back for more Packers playoff coverage.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Week 17 of 2010 - Packers/Bears Review

The Green Bay Packers dispatched the Chicago Bears 10-3 to secure the 6th seed in the playoffs. Despite losing to the Packers, the Bears still lead the all-time series 92-83-6 (including the postseason). Here are the things that stood out to me from the Packers/Bears game from Week 17 of the 2010 regular season:

The Timeout by Lovie Smith:
With a little over a minute left in the 3rd quarter the Bears were facing a 3rd and 15 from their own 45-yard line. Bears head coach Lovie Smith called a timeout right before the ball was snapped. None of the players on the field realized and the Bears picked up the first down. Thanks to the time out the Bears did not pick up the first down on their actual attempt and were forced to punt.

Jordy Nelson:
On 3rd and 15 from their own 41-yard line the Packers ran a wide receiver screen for Jordy Nelson. The play was designed and blocked perfectly. If Nelson went inside instead of heading for the sidelines, which he should be doing anyhow since the Packers were trying to run down the clock, Nelson would have picked up the first down. Instead, Nelson got stopped a yard short and the Packers were forced to punt.

Tramon Williams punt return:
I have long been critical of the Packers using starting cornerback Tramon Williams as their primary punt returner because an injury to Williams on a punt return would be catastrophic for the Packers’ defense. I guess today is the reason why the Packers decided to stick with Williams despite the potential injury risk. After making the first guy miss, Williams gave the offense their best starting field position of the day. It was a nice return by Williams but I still contend that Sam Shields or Pat Lee have the same ability back there to make a return like Williams did on that play. All Williams had to do was make the first guy miss because the punt was perfectly blocked for may be the first time all season. Please McCarthy, put another guy back there to return punts.

Packers special teams still gave up a big return:
After tying the score 3-3 instead of going up 7-3 despite having 1st and goal from the Bears’ 1-yard line, the Packers tried a short high kick to limit the return. Despite having good intentions, the Packers gave up a big return and the Bears got the ball at midfield with 2:32 left in the 3rd quarter with the game tied 3-3. I have been very critical of special teams coach Shawn Slocum all season and this is just more evidence why Slocum looks out-coached more often than not.

Erik Walden filling in at outside linebacker:
The Packers have been in “next guy up” mode at the outside linebacker spot opposite Clay Matthews all season. The Packers already lost two outside linebackers for the season to injury (Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga) while another guy (Frank Zombo) has been out for an extended period of time. In a sign that this might be a magical season despite all the injuries that the Packers suffered the 4th guy in line to play, who was acquired during the season, put together one of the best defensive performances of the season. For the day Walden had 11 tackles and 3 sacks. Performances like that continue to earn Packers general manager Ted Thompson goodwill with the fans. Although Walden is anything but a household name even in Green Bay, he showed the promise that the Packers saw in him earlier in the season.

Bryan Bulaga looked like a rookie:
For the second week in a row the Packers faced one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Rookie offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga had possibly his worst game of the season. Not only did Bulaga commit silly penalties but he was consistently beat. Bulaga is only a rookie so days like that are expected. The Packers need to make better in game adjustments to help Bulaga when he struggles because the competition is only going to be fiercer in the playoffs.

Cover Bears wide receiver Rashied Davis:
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler tends to lock onto receivers, which either results in careless interceptions or a big day for that receiver. Davis was the leading receiver for the Bears (7 catches for 63 yards). Granted that is not a huge day for a receiver but it seemed like Cutler locked onto Davis on every third down play and still completed most of those passes. The Packers have to recognize that better and make the proper adjustments.

Packer punter Tim Masthay’s impressive performance:
Packers special teams maven Jarrett Bush downed a punt at the Bears’ 2-yard line to force the Bears to go 98-yards in less than 5 minutes to have a chance to end the Packers’ season on a two-point conversion. That was set-up by yet another impressive punt by Masthay. Coming into the season punter was probably the weakest position on the team but as crazy as it sounds, Masthay is turning into an above average NFL punter.

Mike McCarthy finally calling a play-action pass at the goaline:
After failing to score a touchdown despite having a 1st and goal at the Bears’ 1-yard at the end of the 3rd quarter, McCarthy finally wised up and called something different than his usual fullback dive up the middle. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers found a wide-open Donald Lee for the only touchdown of the game. McCarthy would probably say running in short yardage situations set-up that pass but it has taken way too long for McCarthy to realize that passing is better than running in that situation.

Jay Cutler somehow stayed healthy:
If this game was supposed to help Cutler prepare for his first ever post-season start it can only be teaching via the negative. For the day Cutler was 21 for 39 throwing for 168 yards, 2 interceptions, and was sacked 6 times...yikes.

Lovie Smith:
In Lovie Smith’s first press conference as head coach of the Chicago Bears he said that his #1 goal was to beat the Green Bay Packers. I give Smith credit for playing the game as if it mattered despite the fact that the Bears were already locked into the 2nd seed. As Smith intimated, you never want to let your divisional rival get into the playoffs. Smith is now 4-3 at Lambeau Field, 5-5 against Mike McCarthy, and 8-6 overall against the Packers. Will the Packers and Bears meet again in the playoffs? Odds say no because they have only met once in the post season and that was all the way back in 1941. Either way give Smith credit, he did his best to keep the Packers out of the playoffs.

Tip of the cap to Peter King:
Peter King in his Monday Morning Quarterback column compared the best three year stretch for Bart Starr and Brett Favre (keep in mind that Favre won three MVPs in 1995-1997) with Aaron Rodgers' first three years in the league:

- Rodgers (2008-10): 27-20 record, 2 playoff appearances, 12,723 passing yards, 86 touchdowns, 31 interceptions for a 99.4 passer rating.

- Starr (1964-66): 29-10-2 record, 2 playoff appearances, 6,456 passing yards, 45 touchdowns, 16 interceptions for a 97.0 passer rating.

- Favre (1995-97): 37-11 record, 3 playoff appearances, 12,179 passing yards, 112 touchdowns, 42 interceptions for a 96.1 passer rating.

Final regular season thoughts:
- Aaron Rodgers’ 98.4 career regular season passer rating is the best in NFL history for a quarterback with a minimum 1,500 career passes.
- The 2010 Green Bay Packers went 10-6 in the regular season. Of those six loses all of them came by four points or less: two overtime losses by a field goal, two losses in the waning seconds of the 4th quarter on field goals, and two losses by four points on the road minus Aaron Rodgers in crunch time.
- The 2010 Green Bay Packers never trailed by more than 7 points throughout the entire regular season. That is the first time that has happened since the AFL/NFL merger.
- The 2010 Green Bay Packers outscored their opponents by 187 points, which lead the entire NFL.

All of the aforementioned stats make the 2010 Green Bay Packers one of the most dangerous teams heading into the playoffs despite the fact that they are a 6th seed. The Packers’ road to the Super Bowl must come via three road playoff victories but with how well they are playing anything can happen.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cheesehead Sports Nut's Predctions for Cheesehead sports teams in 2011

I covered almost all the notable Cheesehead sports events of 2010 throughout so instead of looking back at 2010 I am going to do a non-traditional “Sunday Funday” post where I take a realistic look forward at what I think lies ahead for all the Cheesehead sports teams in 2011:

UW-Green Bay Phoenix Men’s Basketball:
Former Marquette Warriors standout guard and current UWGB head coach Brian Wardle has his work cut out for him. Wardle takes over a program that is trying to assimilate a number of new faces with a couple of veteran holdovers. UWGB has not made the NCAA Tournament since 1996, which was their 3rd consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and 3rd NCAA Tournament appearance overall. With UWGB in a transition year, their only hope of going to the post-season is to make their 3rd consecutive trip to the College Basketball Invitational (“CBI”). What is the CBI you ask? Teams that do not make the NCAA Tournament or NIT can be invited to the 16-team CBI. The tournament started in 2008, the past CBI winners are: Tulsa (2008), Oregon State (2009), and Virginia Commonwealth (2010). On February 19th UWGB plays a “Bracket Buster” game against another potential post-season hopeful. Even if UWGB wins their “Bracket Buster” game, unless they win the Horizon League Tournament to get an automatic NCAA Tournament the best-case scenario for UWGB is to make their 3rd consecutive trip to the CBI.

UW-Milwaukee Panthers Men’s Basketball:
The Horizon League has put more than one team in the NCAA Tournament only twice since 1982, which happened in 2007 (Butler and Wright State) and 2009 (Butler and Cleveland State). Its a long-shot, but after Butler came within a miracle shot of winning the 2010 NCAA Tournament, may be the Horizon League will get more bids. Highly unlikely, but possible. As a result, much like Wardle at UWGB, UWM head coach Rob Jeter has a tough road ahead in 2011. Expectations are a little higher for UWM than UWGB but an NIT bid is more realistic than an NCAA Tournament bid. Like UWGB, UWM plays their own “Bracket Buster” game on February 19th against another potential post-season hopeful. Much like UWGB, it is going to be tough for UWM to make a legitimate NCAA Tournament push without winning the Horizon League Tournament. Look for UWM to make their second NIT (went in 2004) as opposed to their fourth NCAA Tournament (went in 2003, 2005, and 2006).

Marquette Warriors Men’s Basketball:
Marquette continues to be an NBA pipeline with four current NBA players (Lazar Hayward, Wesley Matthews, Steve Novak, and Dwayne Wade) and one current NBA head coach (Doc Rivers). Thanks in part to the aforementioned players; Marquette looks poised to make their 6th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Marquette head coach Buzz Williams has done a great job landing stud junior college transfers but yet another early season transfer counteracts that for the second season in a row and fourth transfer since 2009. This year starting point guard Reggie Smith (6’0” and 175 lbs) out of Thornton Township High School in Harvey, Illinois requested a transfer. That comes on the heels of high profile freshman standout Jeronne Maymon transferring to Tennessee last season. Youssoupha Mbao and Brett Roseboro have also transferred from Marquette since 2009. For all the transfers that Marquette has had to deal with over the last few years, the program is still in goods hands with Buzz Williams in charge. As many people have pointed out, Williams is a much better in game coach than his predecessor Tom Crean. Furthermore, Williams continues to get the best out of his players. The only knock on Williams is that he has been unable to land quality big man to help them bang down low in the NCAA Tournament. Marquette should make a decent post-season run in the NCAA Tournament in 2011.

Wisconsin Badgers Men’s Basketball:
Whether it be tall athletic guys in the mold of Dirk Nowitzki (i.e. Jon Leuer) or athletic guards (i.e. Jordan Taylor), Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan continues to recruit the perfect players to fit his system. Bo Ryan takes those players and controls the tempo of almost every game. Some college basketball fans find Wisconsin’s style boring but there is nothing boring about imposing your own style on your opponents. Wisconsin has made 12 consecutive NCAA Tournaments. With Jordan Taylor, Jon Leuer, and Bo Ryan in the fold I expect Wisconsin to join Marquette in the NCAA Tournament this year. How far can Wisconsin go in the NCAA Tournament? The Sweet Sixteen seems very likely with the Elite Eight or Final Four being a lofty goal. Either way, look for Wisconsin to continue to challenge for Big Ten supremacy on their way to the NCAA Tournament.

Wisconsin Badgers Football:
Things are still raw following a disappointing 21-19 loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl. Despite the Rose Bowl loss, Wisconsin still put together one of their best seasons in the history of the program. There is no shame in losing to a team that looks like they deserved to play in the BCS National Championship Game. Unfortunately for TCU, Auburn and Oregon went undefeated in the regular season so they will face each other in the BCS Championship game because Auburn and Oregon come from power conferences (SEC and Pac-10 respectively). Wisconsin will lose the left side of their offensive line (Carimi and Moffitt), starting quarterback (Tolzien), and most likely lose their best defender (Watt) just to name a few. Fortunately for Wisconsin, they have a ton of talent at almost every position including running back where they might have five starting caliber running backs next year. Much like the Wisconsin basketball team, the Wisconsin football team imposes their will on their opponent in almost every game. Wisconsin plays good defense and pounds the ball on their ground with their impressive running game. Look for Wisconsin to rebound in 2011 and try to make consecutive Rose Bowl appearance for the first time since 1999 and 2000.

Milwaukee Wave:
Since the Wave only plays in the five-team Major Indoor Soccer League (“MISL”) it is hard not to pick them to win. Will the Wave be able to outlast the Baltimore Blast, Chicago Riot, Missouri Comets, and Omaha Vipers? Yes, I think so. What does that mean? Not that much. Either way the Milwaukee Wave franchise has been one of the most successful indoor soccer franchises over the last few decades. Look for that success to continue in 2011.

Milwaukee Admirals:
Since the Admirals are a feeder system to their parent NHL club the Nashville Predators the success of the Admirals can be measured on two levels. With both the Admirals and Predators looking like playoff teams, it could be a good year for the Milwaukee Admirals. Will the Admirals win the Calder Cup (Stanley Cup of the AHL)? Most of that depends on whom the Predators call up for the rest of the season so projecting the success of the Admirals is the hardest of all the Cheesehead sports teams. In terms of the best bang for your buck, the Admirals are at the top of the list for Cheesehead sports teams. The Admirals are always running deals, which make it fairly easy to get good seats for a quality hockey game. Add in that true Admirals fans are probably the second smartest fans behind Packers fans and taking in an Admirals game at the Bradley Center is a treat.

Milwaukee Bucks:
Injuries have greatly reduced the lofty expectations for the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks expected to start Jennings, Salmons, Delfino, Gooden, and Bogut. Unfortunately Jennings fractured a bone in his left foot, Delfino suffered a debilitating concussion, Gooden has been sidelined with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and Bogut has struggled coming back from his horrible fall at the end of last season.

With most of the Bucks starting lineup hampered by injury the Bucks have been forced to rely on reserves Keyon Dooling, Ersan Ilyasova, The Prince, Corey Maggette, Jon Brockman, Larry Sanders, Earl Boykins, and Chris Douglas-Roberts much more than expected. As a result, Bucks head coach Scott Skiles has struggled to find a consistent rotation. When healthy, the Bucks might benefit from the reserves getting more minutes but right now the team is just trying to tread water until they get back to full strength.

The Eastern Conference is very top heavy this year with five impressive teams (Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic) followed by a bunch of mediocre teams. When healthy the Bucks could challenge for a 7th or 8th seed but that most likely will net them a match-up with the Celtics or Heat. I expect the Bucks to make a playoff push but ultimately bow out of the playoffs in the first round. For better or worse the core of the Milwaukee Bucks (Jennings, Salmons, Maggette, Sanders, Gooden, and Bogut) are under contract through the 2012-13 season so the 2010-11 season might go down as a lost season which is fitting since it will be the last year of Michael Redd’s “max” contract.

Milwaukee Brewers:
The 2011 Milwaukee Brewers look to have one of the most formidable starting rotations in the baseball after acquiring Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Barring injury the Brewers 2011 starting rotation will be Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, Shaun Marcum, and Chris Narveson.

In order to acquire Greinke and Marcum the Brewers had to part with most of their young, talented players (Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, Brett Lawrie, and Jake Odorizzi) so the Brewers batting order will most likely be:
#1) Rickie Weeks (2B)
#2) Corey Hart (RF)
#3) Ryan Braun (LF)
#4) Prince Fielder (1B)
#5) Casey McGehee (3B)
#6) Yuniesky Betancourt (SS)
#7) Jonathan Lucroy (C)
#8) Carlos Gomez (CF)

With Hart signed through 2013 the Brewers need to get more out of him. I have long advocated moving Hart to first base or center field because it seems like Hart’s talents are wasted in right field. If the Brewers do not think they are going to resign Prince Fielder then they should move Hart to first base. If there is any chance of resigning Prince then move Hart to center field if Gomez struggles to start the season.

With a strong starting rotation, solid lineup, and above average bullpen the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers look like a preseason favorite to make a playoff run. All of sudden the N.L. Central looks top heavy with the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, and St. Louis Cardinals all fighting to win the 2011 N.L. Central division. Unless almost everything breaks right, the Brewers look more like a wild-card winner than a division winner.

Green Bay Packers:
The 2010 Green Bay Packers have faced more injuries than almost any other team in the NFL. 15 players have been placed on injured reserve. Of the 15 players placed on injured reserve: 6 were starters (Barnett, Burnett, Finley, Grant, Jones, and Tauscher), 4 were important backups (Chillar, Martin, Neal, and Poppinga), and 5 were just guys (Bell, Harrell, Havner, Newhouse, and Smith).

Despite suffering a ton of injuries, by beating the Chicago Bears at home at Lambeau Field earlier today the Green Bay Packers clinched the 6th seed in the NFC playoffs and an opening round match-up on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Packers knocked off the Eagles in Week 1 in Philadelphia but the Packers are 0-2 in the playoffs in Philadelphia. Furthermore, the Eagles are a much different team now than the one that the Packers faced in Week 1. For starters, the Packers knocked out franchise quarterback in the making Kevin Kolb giving Michael Vick a chance to shine. Vick took the opportunity and became one of the feel good stories in the NFL in 2010.

Unfortunately the feel good story is going to end next weekend in Philadelphia for Michael Vick. Since Vick is slightly hobbled, I expect the Packers to beat the Philadelphia Eagles. If that were the case the Packers would go on the road to face the Atlanta Falcons where they would hope to avenge their Week 12 loss in Atlanta. Whether the Packers can beat the Falcons on the road is essentially a coin toss. In an attempt to reverse jinx a win, I predict the Packers will lose to the Falcons to end a very impressive season.

If the NFL does in fact play football in 2011, look for the Packers to be the preseason favorite along with the 2011 Super Bowl champ. Not only will the Packers get back a ton of difference makers in 2011 (Barnett, Burnett, Chillar, Finley, Grant, Jones, Martin, and Neal) but they have their full compliment of draft picks in the 2011 NFL Draft so the Packers should open 2011 as the Super Bowl favorite.

In the spirit of celebrating the New Year I want to thank each and every one of my readers for their readership and support. I hope everyone is having a great start to 2011!