Archive for the ‘Okafor’s Corner’ Category

Prior to the beginning of the NBA Finals, I declared that Kevin Durant was rapidly becoming a complete player and because of that, he would one day surpass LeBron James while both players were in their respective prime. Up until the Finals, Durant had displayed an all-round game. He ccreated for his teammates, rebounded at a high clip for a small forward, and defended well when called upon (See his lockdown of Kobe Bryant in the second round). Durant has always been regarded as a scorer—nothing more, nothing less—but his play during the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs demanded that we change our perception of his game.

Well, now four games into the Finals, the perception that Durant is only a scorer and is far from being a complete player seems fitting and his glaring weaknesses are one of the main reasons that the Thunder find themselves down 1-3. Scott Brooks has some culpability for his consistent, gross mismanagement of his lineup configurations but as the inarguable best player on his team, Durant has disappointed in every game of the Finals since than game 1.

His defensive play has regressed to the point that OKC has determined that it’s best that they assign him to one of the Heat’s worst offensive players (Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, etc.) in order to avoid getting into foul trouble. And even when put on the aforementioned players, he has struggled to defend them. Last night, Cole and Chalmers had their best game of the series and Durant primarily defended them. Granted that Cole and Chalmers were the beneficiaries of passes from James when OKC doubled or shaded players his way while he worked in the post, but the need to employ that strategy is a direct result of Durant’s inability to defend his position. Durant’s poor defensive ability has also negatively affected James Harden in an indirect way. Harden has been repeatedly called upon in this series to defend James, who is at least three inches taller and 35 pounds bigger. The constant battle with a player that is substantially bigger is tiring and partly explains Harden’s struggles on the offensive end.

Durant has also struggled mightily in other areas during the Finals. During the regular season, he averaged eight rebounds and 3.5 assists per game and 7.9 and 4.75 respectively in the first three rounds of the playoffs. But in the Finals, those numbers have dipped to 4.2 rebounds and 2 assists per game, numbers that aren’t commensurate with a player that is widely regarded as the second best player in the NBA.

Due to his underwhelming all-around performance in the Finals, Durant has failed to seize an opportunity to establish himself as the best player in the game or at the very least, complicate the discussion. As James is on his way to winning his first Finals MVP, it is as clear as ever that he is the best player in the game and will hold that title throughout his prime.

As Nike propagated a few years back: We are all witnesses.

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Basketball is a team game. Five players working in concert is paramount to winning at the highest level. Kobe Bryant blatantly disregarded that simple, well-known since-the-grade-school concept last night when the young and spry Oklahoma City Thunder unceremoniously knocked the slow-footed, ground-bound Los Angeles Lakers out of the playoffs.

Bryant was far from the main culprit for the loss last night. Terrible pick and roll defense, an ineffective bench, and very little production from the point guard position (1-7 FG, 8 points) were the main reasons for the loss but Bryant’s attempt at being a one-man show certainly didn’t help. To beat a team that is better than you (yes, OKC was definitely the better, talented team) requires every player on your team to be engaged and playing at their highest level.

Bryant wasn’t interested in incorporating his teammates (ZERO assists). From the start of the game, he was only concerned about himself. Rather than think “What can WE do get this win?,” his mindset resembled more like “What can I do to pull out this victory?”.

That same attitude contributed to the Lakers’ downfall in Game 2 and undeniably cost the Lakers game 5. Down the stretch in game 2, Kobe was held scoreless, took several questionable shots, and committed several critical turnovers. In the fourth quarter of game 5, Kobe missed eight out of 10 shots while Bynum, who played extremely well in the first half, was only afforded four shots in the second half.

Lambaste Pau Gasol all you want to for his passive, inexcusable mistake in the final minute in which he opted to turn down a wide-open 10-15 foot jump shot and make a cross-court pass that was picked off by Kevin Durant. But be aware that the blame for the Lakers losing the double-digit lead in the fourth quarter rests almost entirely on Bryant’s shoulders and his poor shot selection.

Arguably, the Lakers could be up 3-2 right now but instead, the offseason has come for them. This team was flawed and probably never had a legitimate chance to compete for the title. Their bench production was one of the worst in the league, outside shooting was a constant issue, and the lack of a playmaker besides Bryant wasn’t sufficiently addressed.

To compete for a championship in the future, the Lakers will try to ship out Gasol for several players and/or might try to trade Bynum for Dwight Howard, but the first step should be Bryant realizing that he no longer is good enough to be the best player on a championship team. He isn’t the same player that he was when the purple and gold defeated the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals. His skills have diminished and will continue to do so.

Unfortunately, Bryant’s salary will be going in the opposite direction. The Lakers are scheduled to pay roughly $28 and $30 million to Bryant in the next two years. Good luck putting together a championship team when you owe that much money to a declining player who is no longer a top-5 player and whose salary accounts for close to half of the salary cap.

During the NBA All-Star break, superstar point-guard, Chris Paul, appeared on the B.S. Report and offered this nugget on how he has modified his game in hopes of cutting down his injuries.

“I think back [to] my first two years in the NBA, I was top-5 in the NBA in free throws attempted per game. I just went in there reckless. I remember I cracked my ribs. I was getting injured and stuff like that and then I got the mid-range and just started pulling up. I’ll still go in there depending on the game situation but just being able to stop in the middle of the lane and shoot it before the defense gets to me to put you on the floor and stuff like that.”

Paul exaggerated his rank in the league as it pertains to free throws per game—he only ranked 22nd and 42nd in free throw attempts in his first two seasons—but his style of play has changed. According to hoopdata.com, Paul’s shots at the rim per game have dropped from 4, 3.9, and 4.4 during in his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th seasons respectively to 2.9, 2.1, and 2.8 in his last three (hoopdata.com didn’t start collecting data until 2007, Paul’s second year).

There is a lot of logic to Paul’s thinking. Attacking the rim results in many violent collisions and presumably, your chances of suffering a significant injury increases with each collision. However, he neglects to mention that injuries happen at any place on the court—see Ricky Rubio’s ACL tear or Chauncey Billups’ ruptured Achilles tendon—but limiting your amount of advances at the rim in order to avoid injuries does make a lot of sense, especially for someone as small as Paul [6 feet tall (barely) and 175 pounds].

Derrick Rose should adopt Paul’s mindset and adjust his game in a similar fashion. Relentlessly and fearlessly, Rose attacks the rim with a ferocity that is unmatched by very few, resulting in countless, cringe-inducing tumbles. This season, he has averaged 6.3 shot attempts at rim per game, placing him 3rd among guards and 12th overall, per hoopdata.com. Unfortunately, at just over 6-1 and 190 pounds, the pounding that comes from driving in the lane with great vigor takes a great toll on Rose’s body. Until this year, he was able to avoid the injuries that cause a player to miss a significant amount of time.

This past Sunday, Rose suffered an injury for the fourth time this season. First, it was a turf toe, then back spasms, followed by a torn groin, and most recently, a sprained ankle that caused him to wear a protective boot on Monday and miss the game against the New York Knicks on Tuesday. Unlike Rose’s first three seasons during which he was extremely durable—only missing a total of six regular season games—he has missed 23 games this year.

It should be noted that his increased absence this year is partly due to the shortened season—the rapid succession of games doesn’t afford players the usual time to heal between games—and since the Bulls have played very well without him, the team can afford to give him lengthy periods to recuperate. But considering Rose’s relatively small size coupled with his predominantly attack style of play, it is not outrageous to think that his inability to stay healthy this season indicates that there may be future injury-plagued seasons if he doesn’t alter his game.

The trade acquisition of Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins brought a lot of joy and excitement to Bears’ players, fans, and to me. The Bears acquired Marshall for one third round pick in 2012 and another in 2013 even though he is big, physical, tough, has good football intelligence, good hands, is unquestionably a top-10 receiver, and is only 27 years old. Marshall greatly enhances the Bears’ receiver group and his presence allows the other receivers to play roles that better fits their skill levels. Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, and Devin Hester will be bumped down a peg. They now will become the #2, #3, and #4 receivers respectively and consequently, they should produce at a more consistent rate. Also important is that Jay Cutler is enamored with Marshall.

I was giddy, elated, and euphoric—or any word that denotes a positive mood—when I first heard of the trade. The move was so surprising and hard to believe that a friend called me confirm that the reports are true. In the minds of many, the Bears completely fleeced the Dolphins. The Dolphins acquired Marshall from the Denver Broncos two years ago for two second round draft picks yet they traded him away for only two third round picks despite the fact that Marshall is still an elite receiver.

That prompted the question: Why were the Dolphins willing to trade a highly valuable player for something far below his worth?

Jeff Darlington, current NFL Network reporter and former Dolphins beat writer, reported on his Twitter account that the “Dolphins believe getting rid of Marshall will allow new coach to put his program into place without issues or distractions,” per his sources. The “issues or distractions” refer to the several legal troubles that have plagued Marshall since his days at the University of Central Florida. He has been arrested seven times and has had several more bouts with the law. Other NFL pundits speculated that Peyton Manning might have indicated to the Dolphins that he has no desire to sign with the Dolphins if Marshall is still apart of the team.

Whatever the reason was, I was well aware that Marshall came with plenty of baggage and was still comfortable with the acquisition simply because he had conducted himself as a civil citizen since the time that he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder last summer. Some of his misconducts are the result of suffering from the disorder and I was confident that Marshall could stay away from trouble as long as he continued to work towards quelling the disorder.

But the recent altercation involving Marshall at a nightclub during which he allegedly punched a woman has certainly shaken my confidence. Nevertheless, I still approve of the trade despite all the signs that say that I should condemn the move because Marshall provides the Bears with a much-needed, legitimate #1 receiver.

 

 

Melo is not a TRUE Superstar!

Posted: February 23, 2012 in Okafor's Corner

In the NBA, the word “superstar” has a dual meaning. The term can denote an athlete whose skills transcend their on-court prowess in ways that lead to greater attendance at games and greater television ratings. The term can also signify an athlete whose on-court game is of the elite class—the best of very the best.

What differentiates the two meanings is one’s status. To fall into the former group requires a fun playing style, a high level of production, and most importantly, high name-recognition. Performance is the only factor that matters when determining who falls into the latter category.

In the case of Carmelo Anthony, it is undeniable that he fits the mold of the players whose talents go beyond what they accomplish on the court. Melo plays an exciting brand of ball, has consistently put up numbers at a high level for many years, and is one of the most recognizable NBA players.

But to call him a superstar if his performance is solely considered would be misguided. Here are the reasons for why I believe that Melo is NOT a true superstar:

1. Defense

Carmelo Anthony is a very BAD defender. His complete disregard for that side of the ball is very disappointing considering the fact that he is capable of playing good defense night in and night out. SI.com’s Point Forward does an excellent job of detailing Melo’s failures on defense.

2. Playmaking

A playmaker is someone that can create for himself AND for others. In essence, playing with a playmaker will result in easier shots and presumably, better results for you. There are varying styles of playmaking. The typical playmaker is someone who employs the drive and dish method (i.e. LeBron James, Chris Paul, Deron Williams). Those players tend to drive past their defender using their superb dribbling skills and usually, will pass the ball to the open man when the defense converges on them.

The other style of playmaking centers on a player’s incredible shooting ability. Great shooters create open shots for their teammates because to counter the shooter’s range, help defense principles will have to be compromised. The players that fall in this category are Dirk Nowitzki and to a lesser extent, Kevin Durant. See SI.com’s Point Forward description of Dirk Nowitzki for more explanation.

There are also different levels of playmaking. For example, LeBron James is one of the best playmakers while Joel Anthony is one of the worst. As for Melo, he is somewhere in the middle. He has the requisite skills to be an excellent playmaker but his style of play prohibits a higher rating. He is neither an elite creator off the dribble nor do defenses fear his shooting ability similar to how defenses fear Nowitzki’s or Durant’s.

3. Playoff Success

In the eight years that Melo led his team to the playoffs, his team has been eliminated in the first round all but one time. Some people would excuse his team’s lack of success in the playoffs because he played in a very competitive Western Conference (true) and played with a weak supporting cast (false) for most of his career.

4. Melo is not a Top-7 Player

Every year, the number of players that comprise of the elite group fluctuates. The number is usually around seven, give or take 1-2. For this year, based on my observations, I believe that only seven players are currently true superstars and Melo is not in that group. He certainly is not a better player than LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, and Kevin Durant.

Now, a player can still be true superstar even if one or more of the aforementioned categories apply to them. For example, Kevin Garnett failed to lead the Timberwolves past the first round until his 8th season. But no one would question that during his prime, Kevin Garnett was a bona fide superstar. He played excellent defense, created plenty of open shots for his teammates, and was legitimately an elite player for many years.

Carmelo Anthony is a great talent but must improve on some areas before I will regard him as a true superstar. He is simply a star.

“Really lookin forward to #Bulls vs. #Heat. Regardless of the outcome, I will still think tht the Heat r better than the Bulls. #NBA ”

“The #Bulls hve improved w/ addition of Rip but the #Heat hve also gotten better w/ the addition of Battier & Norris Cole. #NBA

“A lack of a big man that is good at pick&poppin AND pick&rollin is killin the Bulls rt now. Boozer no longer is good at pick&rollin. #NBA

“The #Bulls need to stop playing one on one ball. Leave that to the#Heat#NBA

“Rose has been bailed out by some pretty poor calls today. #NBA

“Phenomenal shots by #DRose but damn son! Pass the ball to the open man. Those tough shots do not consistently go in.#Korverisopen

“It looked to me like LeBron travelled bfor he made tht hook shot.#NBA

“This game feels like the ECFinals all over again. Bulls struggle to score in 4th when LeBron is put on DRose. #NBA

“C’mon Rip. Keep DWade away from the paint! Back off if you have too! Sigh #NBA

“Unbelievable. It is time to start treatin DRose the same way tht we treat LeBron when it comes to free throw makin in the 4th quarter.#NBA

“Thibs should be yelling at Rip for not boxing out DWade. And DWade was def in bounds. #NBA

“Has lost all faith in DRose’s ability to take down the Heat by himself. 2 critical missed FTs & 11-28 fg. He needs help!! #Bulls #Heat #NBA

 

 

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Kenneth Allen finally emerges from the Thornwood High School’s men’s locker room around 20 minutes later than he had promised. He had taken a shower following the morning’s cross country practice and is now cleaned up and ready to be interviewed.

As he approaches, I ask Allen why it took him so long to shower and get dressed and the 17-year-old Junior responds, “I like to be fancy.”

An honest answer, indeed.

Allen is wearing a light grey, Thornwood shirt with blue letters across the front. Two hours earlier, he had arrived to practice with the shirt placed on a hanger, a scene that happens before every morning cross country practice. The shirt appears to be ironed with no visible wrinkles and his jeans are crisp as well. He is rocking pristine, white Samoas shoes. The lining of his hair is sharp and a well-kept jerry curl hairstyle sits atop his head.

Similar to many teenagers, Allen cares about his appearance, but the peculiar level of attention to detail that he shows towards his looks—a constant topic of playful ridicule by his teammates and coaches—differentiates Allen from his peers.

However, beyond his preoccupation with his appearance, what truly distinguishes Allen is his exceptional track ability.

Well Accomplished Despite Youth

In his sophomore year, Allen dominated the Junior Varsity Southwest Suburban Conference championship. He finished second in the open 100, prevailed in the open 200, and won the open 400 by 30 meters. A few weeks later, Allen led off the Thornwood High School 4×400 meter relay team that finished first at the class 3A State Championship. And then to conclude the season, Allen was apart of the 4×400 meter relay team that finished second at the 2011 New Balance Outdoor National High School Track and Field Championship, which took place at North Carolina A&T University in June. Comprised of seniors except for Allen, the team ran a time of 3 minutes and 14.07 seconds, breaking a 30-year-old Thornwood High School record by 3 seconds.

Conference champion. All-State athlete. High school All-American.

Outstanding accomplishments made even more remarkable by the fact that Allen achieved the aforementioned feats in only his first season running track.

“[We are] always looking for the next big thing and it could be Kenneth Allen. He is definitely on track. He is right on pace as one of the best sophomores to ever come through here,” says Brian Evans, head coach of the Thornwood Boy’s Track & Field team. “Very bright future for Kenneth Allen and he could leave here as the fastest guy.”

That is very high praise considering that Thornwood High School has a very rich boy’s track & field history. Thornwood won the class 3A State Championship four years consecutively from 2001-2004 and the majority of the many pictures taken of Thornwood all-state athletes that are framed and mounted on the walls of the hallway leading to the athletic director’s office belong to boy’s track & field standouts. Recently, to compensate for the gradually decreasing space for mounting pictures, Thornwood elected to heighten the requirement for a track & field athlete to appear on the wall. No longer does merely an appearance at State sufficiently warrant a picture; only a fifth or better finish at State suffices.

Deficient in Focus and Maturity

Allen first developed an interest in track during his freshman year at Thornwood. He played football for Thornwood in his freshman year and in accordance with his fickle disposition towards sports, he quickly lost interest in playing football. “I used to always come home and complain like ‘I can’t wait till football is over. I can’t wait. It is so boring and stuff like that,” recalls Allen.

Meanwhile, Allen was enrolled in an art class taught by Evans and regularly, track athletes stopped by the class to visit Evans. Sporadically, some of the track runners appeared sporting medals bestowed upon them as a result of winning a race or a meet. The medals greatly appealed to Allen and from then on, he coveted the shiny pieces of metal. Seeing the medals engendered his interest in track.

Eventually, in the fall of his sophomore year, Allen decided to try his hand at track and the first step was to join cross country because it provided valuable offseason training for track. Although he inconsistently attended cross country practices—he only attended a total of five—Allen managed to finish All-Conference in the Junior Varsity division.

The absences at the cross country practices were a microcosm of the issues that Allen needed to resolve before he could reach his full potential. He was immensely talented but lacked in focus and maturity. Overtime, he has improved in those areas and is now the epitome of perfect attendance at practices. According to Evans, Allen did not miss any summer and cross country practices in 2011.

“This is the kid that we couldn’t get to come out a year ago,” reflects Evans. “Again, that is part of the maturity but also, I think that he’s also starting to see that if I put my energy and focus into one direction and I give it my all, I can be really good.”

High Expectations for 2012

How good Allen will be in the 2012 track season is unknown but Evans has lofty expectations for Allen and perhaps more importantly, Allen expects plenty from himself. Allen wants to make it to State and Nationals in the 4×400 meter relay and personally, run 48 seconds in the open 400. Evans foresees that success will be much more difficult to achieve this season because Allen will not surprise anyone. “You are not a secret anymore. So, now that target kinda gets on you,” says Evans. He anticipates that Allen will have to compete with excellent contemporaries from Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Nequa Valley High School, and Northside College Prep High School for the first place spot in the open 400 at State.

While Allen worries about how to fix the misaligned strand of hair or how to wash off the speck of dirt on his shoes, he will strive to continually improve and will gladly welcome the increase in attention that, presumably, will occur if he remains on this path to high school track superstardom.

“He likes the glory. He likes the spotlight. He likes the picture and the name in the newspaper. He likes his name on the announcements. He likes the picture on the wall. He loves it,” says Evans. “Hopefully he is the superstar but not because he told you about it.”

Pujols accepted a 10-year, $254 million deal to play with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim yesterday. Here are my top-3 winners and losers.

Winners

1. Albert Pujols

I cannot conceive any reason for why Pujols is not the biggest winner. He is now a quarter-billionaire and upgraded his living residence. Los Angeles is a much more exciting and enjoyable city to live in than St. Louis. Plus, he went from a perennially contending team to another team that will be a perennial playoff contender in the foreseeable future.

2. The National League Central Division (every team except for the Cardinals)

The best player in the game will no longer terrorize the teams for a total of 70+ games each season. What is not to like about that if you are the Reds, Cubs, Pirates, or the Brewers?

3. St. Louis Cardinals

Losing Pujols will certainly leave a tangible impact on the Cardinals. The Cardinals probably will take a step back this season and they no longer will reap the large revenue that the team would have made if Pujols was chasing the all-time home run record in a Cardinals uniform. But, that contract will become a very undesirable, huge burden 5-7 years from. Look at how the money owed to Alfonso Soriano have limited the Cubs ability to make moves. The lack of production at the second-half of the contract will outweigh the production at the beginning of the contract.

Losers

1. St. Louis Cardinals’ Fans

There is an affinity that fans develop for the players on the team that they root for. That affinity is even greater and stronger when the player is a superstar, especially a superstar that was an integral part of two championship teams. To not be able to watch that player perform anymore is saddening.

2. Miami Marlins

Reportedly, the Marlins aggressively pursued Pujols. Add him to Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez and the Marlins become a bonafide playoff contender and significantly increase excitement and attendance in a city where people attend games only when an exciting product is on the field.

3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The Angels lost the least because they acquired a great player that will engender public intrigue and excitement for the team. That means a substantial increase in revenue is in the horizon. I chose to not put them in the winner section because this contract will be considered an albatross several years from now.

Only a few hours after David Stern nixed the trade that will send superstar Chris Paul from a small-market team to a big-market team, reports emerged that another superstar is likely to be traded from another small-market team to another big-market team. This time around, the superstar is Dwight Howard.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported last night that Dwight Howard is on the verge of asking the Magic to trade him to the New Jersey Nets, soon to be the Brooklyn Nets. On the surface, it seems that Howard will inevitably end up with Nets because of several reasons:

 1.The Nets are his preferred destination.

 2. Howard will not return to the Magic after the season and therefore, the Magic must trade Howard to avoid losing him for nothing.

 3. Teams will not trade for Howard if he does not assure them that he will sign a long-term extension.

All those reasons lead to one conclusion: Howard has ALL the leverage in this situation. The team that he wants to play for will be team that the Magic will trade him to and ultimately, the Nets will be that team.

But a problem could potentially emerge. The package that the Nets are reportedly willing to offer the Magic is not appealing. The package comprises of Brook Lopez1, two first-round draft picks, and probably a few more insignificant players. Also, the Nets are reportedly willing to take back Hedo Turkoglu and his atrocious 3-year, $38 million contract.

The Lakers and the Bulls are other teams rumored to be interested in acquiring Howard and they can offer a more attractive package. Assuming that the trade of Paul to the Lakers will remain vetoed, the Lakers could offer the Magic a combination of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and some other players/picks. The Bulls could offer Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson or Omer Asik, and some draft picks. Those packages are definitely more appealing than what the Nets will offer.

So, what if the Magic approach Howard and ask that he consider going the Lakers or the Bulls?

Apparently, Howard is attracted to the Nets because the team will play in a big market city (the Nets will call Brooklyn their home starting in the 2012-2013 season) and seemingly, the Nets will become a legitimate title contender the minute that he arrives. Well, the Lakers and the Bulls neatly fit into both criteria. Behind New York City, Los Angeles is the biggest market followed by Chicago. With Kobe and Howard, the Lakers will be viewed as a team that can defeat the Heat, the prohibitive favorite to win the championship. Pair Howard with Rose and a healthy Boozer and one can reasonably argue that the Bulls are the best team in the East.

So, I ask again. What if the Magic approach Howard and ask that he consider going the Lakers or the Bulls?

What happens after the question is asked will depend on if Howard is hell-bent on playing for the Nets. If Howard is fixated on playing for the soon to be Brooklyn Nets then Howard will certainly end up with the Nets before the end of the season. If not, then the Lakers or the Bulls are the next most logical destination. As a Bulls fan, I am hoping that the latter, rather than the former, is the reality. At least, in the latter, the Bulls will have a chance to acquire Howard.

1 As a center and measuring at 7 feet tall, he averaged a measly total of 6 rebounds per game. And this guy is the central piece of your trade proposal? Really? Not to mention, Lopez is a poor defender.

Twitter: Follow @five2pickup

Week 12 Picks – Cheeks

Posted: November 27, 2011 in Okafor's Corner
Tags: , , ,

Week 11 Picks

Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams (-2.5) – Sam Bradford should be decidedly better over whoever the Cardinals decide to throw out at quarterback. Give me the Rams and the points.

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (-9.5) – For the second consecutive year, Rex Ryan is giving the Jets’ backup quarterback, Mark Brunell, some reps in practice late in the season in hopes to motivate Mark Sanchez. Honestly, it is a waste of time because Brunell at his best at this point in his career probably isn’t better than Sanchez at his worst. Anyways, all this talk about the Jets’ offense is irrelevant for this game because similar to the game between these two teams earlier in the season, the Jets’ defense will dominate and will be the primary reason for why the Jets will pull off the victory. Take the Jets and the points.

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (-7.5) – Valiant effort by Dalton and the Bengals in the last two weeks (vs. Steelers and at Ravens). This week will not be nearly as difficult as the Browns are one of the worst teams in the league (that 4-6 record is very deceiving). I expect the Bengals to bounce back and blow out the Browns. Bengals win and I am giving the points.

Houston Texans (-6.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars – Matt Leinart appeared on the Rich Eisen Podcast earlier in the week and tried to defend his decision to pass on competing for a starting job for the Seahawks in the offseason. Amongst other things, he cited how he would have had to learn a new playbook in a short amount of time if he left for Seattle as the reason for why he decided to stay with the Texans. To his credit, he noted that Tavaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst would have experienced the same unfavorable situation. To his detriment, pointing that out invalidates his reason. Oh Leinart. Sigh. Well, No Schaub, no worries. Texans win but I am taking the points.

Carolina Panthers (-3.5) at Indianapolis Colts – Many people are predicting that this game will be a blowout. I wonder if they are aware that the Panthers’ defense is ranked 27th in total yards allowed and 31st in points allowed. Plus, the Panthers are playing on the road. Panthers win but I am taking the points.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans (-3.5) – This was the toughest game for me to predict this week. The Titans are maddeningly inconsistent and the same can be said of the Buccaneers. I’ll go with the Titans simply because they are playing at home but I’ll take the points.

Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons (-9.5) – Adrian Peterson will not play in this game. That is all that you need to know. Give me the Falcons and the points.

Chicago Bears at Oakland Raiders (-3.5) – I would pick the Bears if Jay Cutler were playing. But he isn’t and despite the fact that Palmer will not have his best offensive weapon and best two receivers (Darren McFadden, Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore) at his disposal, I still think that the Raiders can and should emerge victorious. Raiders win but I am taking the points.

Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks (-3.5) – The Seahawks are quietly sporting a defense that ranks 11th in total yards allowed and more pertinently, 8th in rush yards allowed. That does not portend well for the Redskins, who bases their offense on the run. Sexy Rexy will follow a pretty good performance against Cowboys with a multiple interception game, resulting in a Seahawks win. Take the points though.

New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5) – The Eagles’ defense finally performed at a high level last week. Was it because they have figured out how to play well together in the new scheme or because the Giants took the Eagles lightly? I honestly do not know but I do know that the Patriots will win and cover.

Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers (-5.5) – The fighting Tim Tebows versus the Superchargers: A Clash of Teams Going in Entirely Opposite Directions. The Broncos have won three straight and the Chargers have lost five straight. Rumors about the impending end of Turner’s tenure have been swirling. Criticize Turner all you want for the Chargers’ poor season but be aware of this, Rivers has thrown four more interceptions than his previous season-high in only 10 games. More than likely, the Chargers will be leading the division right now if Rivers had played to his standards.  Chargers win and I will give the points.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (-10.5) – The debate about Tyler Palko or Kyle Orton at the helm will be insignificant. The Steelers’ offense is playing at a high level right now and their defense should be able to shutdown a KC offense that is without two out of three of their most important players (Jamal Charles and Matt Cassel). Steelers win and I’ll give the points.

New York Giants at New Orleans Saints (-7) – Prior to the start of the season, I told Mr. Bunk that the Giants will finish the season at .500 and will not make the playoffs. Midway through the season, I certainly did not think that my prediction would come true. Well well well. The Giants are 6-4 and arguably have the most difficult schedule (Saints, Packers, and two games vs. the Cowboys) down the stretch relative to the other NFC wildcard contenders (Bears, Cowboys, Falcons, and Lions). I just might be right after all. Saints win and I’ll give the points.