Archive | January 2014

Peyton’s Legacy

By Christian Pierre-Louis

Almost two years ago, Peyton Manning came to Denver, not knowing how his tale would continue. Now he prepares to take over the Big Apple, one win away from winning that elusive second Lombardi Trophy. When Manning sat out the 2011 season because of a neck injury, he had plenty of time to contemplate life without football. Manning; the No. 1 high school recruit in the nation, the Heisman favorite as a Tennessee senior and No. 1 overall pick in 1998,  was suddenly an underdog for the first time, really ever.

Prior to Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots, Manning had received an assault of criticism on whether he would be able to lead the Broncos to a victory over the Patriots. During his career, the rivalry between Manning and the Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady, has been the source of many memorable moments in the NFL. However, Manning was able to overcome the harsh skepticism, and lead the Broncos to a 26-16 victory over the New England Patriots.

Peyton Manning hopes to win a second Super Bowl (via SportsPickle)

Peyton Manning hopes to win a second Super Bowl (via SportsPickle)

From the beginning of the game, the Broncos dominated the Patriots in every aspect, and in the end, the best team came out on top. The game started with Manning and the Broncos taking an early lead, and once they had it, there was no looking back. Manning had his way with the New England defense, toying with them at the line of scrimmage and his surgical precision was too much for Bill Belichick’s team to handle. The Broncos as a team controlled the ball for close to 36 minutes, whereas the Patriots only had possession of the ball for 24.

The defense for the Broncos also played exceptionally well, managing to stop the Patriots’ ability to score a touchdown for the first three quarters of the game. It was only in the fourth quarter of the game that a comeback sparked by Brady seemed possible, however, the performance of the Broncos during the first three quarters had separated them so far that lead prevented this from happening. Patriots coach Bill Belichick expressed his disappointment with his statement following the game, “I wish we could’ve done a little better today, especially me.”

Although the game was won by the Broncos as a team, Peyton Manning has received the majority of the attention following the Broncos win. With this win, Manning is looking at his third Super Bowl appearance, and an opportunity for a second Super Bowl victory. In addition, with this win Manning has ensured that his legacy continues into the Super Bowl.  Manning could be the first quarterback to have won a Super Bowl with two different teams if the Broncos win the Super Bowl. Following the game, the Broncos waited patiently to hear the news of whether they would be playing the San Francisco 49ers or the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

So it’s a Seattle-Denver Super Bowl, one full of intrigue and new story lines, seeing that almost every player in the game will be new to the Super Bowl stage. Every player but one. Peyton Manning is back for his third Big One, and the pressure is all on him to cap this underdog chapter in the Book of Manning and silence all his critics once and for all.

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Christian Pierre-Louis is a journalism major at Seton Hall University. He is a HUGE fan of the, LA Lakers, NY Giants, and NY Yankees. He is also an assistant sports producer at Seton Hall’s radio station WSOU 89.5 FM. You can follow him on twitter at @CPL_78.

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Who is Masahiro Tanaka?

By Ben Ozur

As is it wasn’t enough for the Yankees to sign All-Stars Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, they had to go out and get Masahiro Tanaka, a Japanese-born pitcher who was widely considered the best starting pitcher on the free agent pitcher. But, considering he has yet to pitch in the MLB yet, what should they expect out of him? The answer: there’s no real way of knowing.

There’s no denying the dominance that Tanaka presented in the Japanese league. Many people have compared him to Yu Darvish, the runner-up in the AL Cy Young award voting in 2013, in their numbers in the Japanese league and say that this is a good way to prove that he will have similar success in the MLB. What people neglect to acknowledge is that those numbers were also similar to those of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Though he had good numbers in his first few years in the US, he burned out quickly. Many people consider that hefty contract a failure for the Red Sox, but who’s to say that Tanaka won’t be the same for the Yankees?

In fact, if you were to rank the greatest Japanese-born pitchers in MLB history, once you get past Hideo Nomo, the list is really thin. The next few guys are most likely Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma (third in the AL Cy Young voting in 2013), Hiroki Kuroda, and Koji Uehara. The first two of those only have two years of experience, so there’s no way to call them successes quite yet. For the most part, there have been more failures from Japanese-born pitchers coming stateside, namely Matsuzaka, Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa, Hisanori Takahashi, Ryota Igarashi, and Yoshinori Tateyama. All of these guys were seen as high-ceiling guys, so teams paid them big bucks. None of them really panned out at all.

Masahiro Tanaka hopes to take New York by storm, after signing a monster sized deal with the Yankees

Masahiro Tanaka hopes to take New York by storm, after signing a monster sized deal with the Yankees (Via ChicagoNow)

What about his workload? He pitched in the Japanese league for seven years, collecting an astounding 1315 IP before the age of 25. That’s eerily similar to the beginning of Frank Tanana’s career. In his first six seasons (all of which were before the age of 25), he had 1321 IP. To that point, no one could deny the success Tanana had up to that point, considering his three All-Star appearances and three top-10 Cy Young award finishes. However, he really burned out. From 1979-1993, he had a 100 ERA+ (ERA adjusted for ballparks and league-average offense that year), which is considered league-average. In fact, from 1978-1993, he only had 6 seasons with an ERA+ over 100 (which means he was only above league-average 6 of those 16 seasons). With these two pitchers having very similar early-career successes and heavy workloads, could Tanaka burn out in a similar way that Tanana did?

It’s not a guarantee that Tanaka will be a failure (at least the Yankees hope not). With his dominant split-finger fastball, many people compare him to the early years of Iwakuma and Dan Haren. Those are two very favorable comps. But again, there’s no way of knowing.

Did the Yankees take a risk in signing this guy? Absolutely. The Yankees signed a guy that has not thrown a pitch against MLB hitters. Adding the $20M posting fee, they spent $175M to acquire his services for seven years. This is the exact same contract that the Mariners gave as an extension to Felix Hernandez. At the time of the extension, Hernandez was clearly a proven elite starting pitcher. The same cannot be said for Tanaka.

No one in recent history has dominated the Japanese league the way that Tanaka did (except for Darvish, perhaps). But that doesn’t guarantee success for him here in the United States. We won’t know exactly what to make out of this guy until he debuts with the Yankees.

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Ben Ozur is an absolute baseball guru. He is a huge Mets, Jets, Knicks and Islanders fan whose life revolves around fantasy sports.

Vikings Hire Zimmer

By Nick Vespasiano

Mike Zimmer was hired on Wednesday to be the ninth head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. The first time head coach was the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator since 2008 after holding the same position with the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys. The hire came just over two weeks after Leslie Frazier was let go by the team.

Personality wise, Zimmer’s blunt honesty sharply contrasts Leslie Frazier’s passivity. When addressing the media, Leslie was often painfully vague or sounded like he was just repeating what general manager Rick Spielman wanted him to say. Vikings management was not willing to give up on Christian Ponder despite his lack of talent and Leslie stood by as we lost game after game. Zimmer is not that kind of coach. He will not be Spielman’s “yes man” like Frazier was for three seasons. Had he been head coach of the Vikings during the Christian Ponder era, Zimmer would have put up more of a fight when Spielman insisted Ponder be the starter.

One thing Zimmer and the former Vikings head coach have in common is they are defensive minds. Excluding a dismal 2010 season, in his six years in Cincinnati, the Bengals yards, touchdowns, and points allowed per drive and sack totals trended from the bottom half of the league to the top ten. Last season the Vikings ranked 31st in yards allowed and last in points allowed. Zimmer’s defenses in Cincinnati featured very few Pro-Bowlers, but the Vikings hope he can improve their defense that lacks top talent.

Mike Zimmer will take over as the ninth head coach in Vikings history (Via The Enquirer/Jeff Swinger)

Mike Zimmer will take over as the ninth head coach in Vikings history (Via The Enquirer/Jeff Swinger)

Zimmer has proven he can revamp a defense but the Vikings have issues offensively as well. This new coaching staff will have to find a quarterback that can consistently give the team a chance to win. If that doesn’t happen, the team likely won’t win many games and Zimmer will be fired in a few years just like Leslie Frazier. The Vikings’ offensive success will depend on not only on acquiring a quarterback either in free agency or the draft but also on hiring the right assistant coaches. While the draft is not until April, assistant coaches are being hired right now. The Vikings hired Norv Turner yesterday to replace Bill Musgrave as offensive coordinator. As the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator last season, his offense had the 11th ranked passing game in the league despite an offensive depth chart worse than the Vikings’. While the offense will run through Adrian Peterson, Turner can help utilize weapons like Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings.

There are still many unknowns. There are still open assistant coach positions, free agency, and the upcoming draft. The roster and coaching staff are still incomplete but the Vikings seem to be moving in the right direction.

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Nick Vespasiano is a senior English major at St. Olaf College and aspiring sports writer. He was raised in Minnesota, favorite teams are the Vikings, Wild, and Twins. Favorite athletes are Randy Moss and Jaromír Jágr.

Broadway Johnny?

By Brett Malamud

Finally the time has come and the wait is over. After making his mark in the NCAA, Johnny Manziel has declared himself eligible for this year’s NFL draft. The Heisman winner is a projected top-ten pick with many even placing him in the top-five. While Manziel is a scrambling quarterback, he averaged 317 passing yards per game for a total of 4117 yards. This is 408 yards more than he threw for last season, a season in which he won the Heisman Trophy. In improving his passing game, Manziel had to take a step back in tucking the football and running. He rushed for only 53% of what he had rushed in 2012. However in the end, the touchdown totals remain to be consistent. Manziel finished with 47 touchdowns in 2012 and 46 touchdowns in 2013. Not too shabby when you consider the fact that Manziel threw for more yards than Andrew Luck did in any of his seasons at Stanford.

Manziel does have his problems though. He has been in the news for his behavioral issues. He was arrested back in 2012 for getting in a late night fight and possessing a fake ID. The issues continued even after he won the Heisman Trophy. He overslept while attending the Manning Passing Academy. He was kicked out of a University of Texas fraternity party. He also voiced his displeasure with Texas A&M by tweeting that he “can’t wait to leave College Station” after he received a parking ticket. His taunting on the field became quite the story during the 2013 season, and was regularly featured on ESPN. But the most notable issue came in early August 2013. The NCAA began investigating whether Manziel accepted payments from autographs that he had signed in January 2013. While it is widely believed that he did accept the money, the NCAA could not find any evidence and suspended him for only the first half of the season opener against Rice.

Johnny Manziel will enter the 2014 NFL draft as one of the top quarterbacks available (via Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Johnny Manziel will enter the 2014 NFL draft as one of the top quarterbacks available (via Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Right now if you look at the NFL draft order, Houston has the first pick. The Texans need a quarterback and are expected to draft Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater. The St. Louis Rams have the second pick and while it seems that they might need a quarterback, they have showed no indication that they want to dump Sam Bradford. The third and fourth picks belong to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns respectfully. Both teams need a quarterback. The Oakland Raiders sit in the five spot and the Vikings sit at the eight spot. It’s possible that they could each want to draft a QB as well. UCF quarterback Blake Bortles is on the board as well but it’ll be interesting to see which QB gets drafted first.

An interesting pick for Manziel though could be the New York Jets. The Jets currently hold the 18th pick. Now I’m not saying that Manziel is going to slip to the 18th pick. We did see Brady Quinn slip to the 22nd pick back in 2007, after being projected to go in the top ten. Manziel is not likely to slip based on the amount of teams needing quarterbacks. Therefore, only way the Jets can get Manziel will be by trading up picks to draft him. I think that a run at Manziel could be what the Jets need. Now I know some people look and they’ll say, “why would they do that?” Well, they’ve done it before. Back in 2009, the Jets traded up to the fifth pick to select USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. Now I know that didn’t turn out to be such a great decision now that Sanchez has lost the starting position, but Manziel is a bigger threat than Sanchez ever was. The Jets current starting quarterback, Geno Smith, had the lowest QB rating in the entire league. General Manager John Idzik stated at the end of their week 17 game that they will “look at quarterbacks” in the offseason. It is this statement that shows that Idzik doesn’t believe that Smith is “the guy.” If the Jets want to get their hands on a reliable quarterback for years to come, they must trade up and select Johnny Manziel.

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Brett Malamud is a Computer Science Major at Binghamton University. He is the co-founder of dabuzzza.com. His favorite athletes are Derek Jeter and Todd Bertuzzi. You can follow him on twitter at @brettnyy

US Men’s Olympic Hockey Team Announced

By Nick Vespasiano

Last week, the roster for the U.S. Men’s Olympic ice hockey team was announced for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. There are plenty of new faces on this team and some confusing exclusions. Hopefully the new additions as well as the thirteen returning players from 2010 can improve on the silver medal effort in Vancouver.

This year Team USA will feature five forwards making their Olympic debuts. T.J. Oshie, Max Pacioretty, Derek Stepan, James van Riemsdyk, and Blake Wheeler. At 27, Oshie and Wheeler are the oldest of the new crop of forwards. Pacioretty, Stepan, and Wheeler are statistically having the best NHL seasons of the new forwards, each just under a point-per-game. My favorite addition here is T.J. Oshie. His physical brand of hockey and goal scoring make him a complete power forward despite his average size.

Zach Parise hopes to lead Team USA to a gold medal this year (via NHL)

Zach Parise hopes to lead Team USA to a gold medal this year (via NHL)

Three active forwards are missing from 2010: Jamie Langenbrunner, Ryan Malone, and Bobby Ryan. Langenbrunner is currently a free agent and Malone has struggled this year with only nine points in 27 games. But with 18 goals and 18 assists through 44 games, the most puzzling omission for any position is Bobby Ryan. He was criticized by team management for not playing with the intensity they felt was needed. For whatever the reasons, his offensive skills, and those of Jason Pominville and Kyle Okposo with 18 and 17 goals respectively, were not enough to make the cut. The coaching staff was obviously looking for more well-rounded players and felt sacrificing scorers like these was worth it.

There are six new additions to the defensive core: John Carlson, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Paul Martin. Excluding Martin, all new defensemen are under 25, bringing some youth to the roster. Each of these new players brings a nice balance of offense and defense to the table, a shift away from the more offensive minded defensive group of 2010.

Chris Drury and Brian Rafalski have retired since the last Olympics. Active defensemen missing from the 2010 roster are Tim Gleason, Ryan Whitney, Erik Johnson, and Jack Johnson. Both Johnson’s were on the last Olympic roster, were highly touted first round draft picks, and could be considered top tier defensemen in the NHL. Their exclusion from the roster is an interesting choice. Other defensemen I thought had a chance were Kieth Yandle and Dustin Byfuglien. However, Yandle brings nothing more than other defensemen on the roster and Byfuglien is often knocked for sacrificing his defensive game for his offense.

Jimmy Howard will replace Tim Thomas as the third goalie. Statistically, Howard has no edge over Thomas this season. Both Ben Bishop and Cory Schneider have the edge statistically over Howard and should have at least been considered for the roster spot. All I can think of is Howard’s NHL playoff experience. His 42 playoff games are more than Bishop and Schneider combined. That high-pressure experience seems to be more valuable to the coaching staff than this season’s NHL stats.

Team management knows they made some interesting choices. Team general manager David Poile addressed this when the team was announced: “We did not pick the 25 best players, we picked the 25 players we thought gave us a chance to win the gold medal.” We’ll have to wait and to see. The US plays its first game Feb. 13 against Slovakia.

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Nick Vespasiano is a senior English major at St. Olaf College and aspiring sports writer. He was raised in Minnesota, favorite teams are the Vikings, Wild, and Twins. Favorite athletes are Randy Moss and Jaromír Jágr.