Pancakes In The Age of Enlightenment- The Gathering Shadow

First off, lets all give props to Oli Porter, who wrote in his “It’s Not Just Cricket” column last week that I am afraid of the Pope. That was gold! Secondly, if you haven’t read Steve Price’s “Speed Addicts” column yet, you have to check it out. I don’t know a lugnut from a chinnut, but his coverage of NASCAR has to be some of the best out there, anywhere. I’m just guessing on that.

Alright then, lets do it to it. Everybody welcome the Red Rose of Spain!

FREE AGENCY FLAMENCO- DIRTY AFC AND NFC SOUTH
NFC SOUTH
Atlanta Falcons
The Plan- The Falcons don’t have a lot of room under the cap, so they aren’t looking to make any big signings this offseason.

The Results- Thus far it has been a good offseason for the defending NFC South champs. LB Ed Hartwell was signed from the Ravens, and will provide another impact player to an already strong, if underrated defense. Atlanta’s other big signing this offseason was the unexpected retention of one of their own, special teams standout Alan Rossum. Rossum attracted a lot of interest but the Falcons locked him up with a 4 year contract. LB Ike Reese is another special teams demon and was signed from Philadelphia.

One loss that could come back to bite the Falcons though, is K Jay Feely. The Falcons were unwilling to meet his salary demands, and he signed with the Giants. Todd Peterson was signed from the 49ers to compete for the kicking job.

New Orleans Saints
The Plan- After last year’s dismal performance by the defense kept them out of the playoffs, the Saints are looking to upgrade the running game in order to control the clock and keep that unit off the field. To do this they are looking for road graders on the O line.

The Results- The Saints got exactly the man they were looking for in former Eagles G Jermane Mayberry. Mayberry is a nine year, punch you in the mouth veteran who does one thing very well, and that is run block. A very good signing. TE Shad Meier and RB Antowain Smith were also signed and will provide quality depth at skill positions.

On defense the Saints needed a lot of help. Their signing of former Bucs S Dwight Smith is a good first step. Smith can play safety or corner and is an asset against both the pass and the run.

While the Saints have made some nice offseason moves, their biggest move may be yet to come. It has been rumored that Red McCombs is looking to sell the Vikings, and buy the Saints and move them to San Antonio. McCombs of course denies this, but we’ll see.

Carolina Panthers
The Plan- STEROIDS for the punter! And lots of of ’em! They would also like a running back who brings more durability to the table than incumbents Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster.

The Results- The Cats saved cap room by bidding good day to WR Mushin Muhammad and CB Artrell Hawkins. Muhammad had a monster year in 04, but he’s 32 and the Panthers have Steve Smith and Keary Colbert in their plans, so Mushmouth was deemed expendable.

That do re mi was used to lure Packers OL Mike Wahle to Charlotte. Wahle is 27 and athletic and was a key component on the best O line in the game last year. He is a huge signing for the Panthers.

On defense, the Panthers got another talented player on the upswing in former Seahawk CB Ken Lucas. He’s still learning the nuances but should develop into a really good one. Former Texan Marlon McCree and ex-Colt Idrees Bashir were also signed to provide secondary depth.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Plan- The Bucs have been bad the last few seasons, and with their expected offseason losses this year, things could get worse in 05. Their secondary is expected to take a couple of hits in losing Dwight Smith and Dexter Jackson, and CB Mario Edwards could also be elsewhere. Signing a running back is the Bucs’ top offseason priority.

The Results- While the Bucs did lose Edwards and Smith, they managed to resign Dexter Jackson, which will help stabilize the secondary. They have also brought in assorted doodads such as Juran Bolden and Roderick Babers to throw into the DB mix. Their most high profile signing was to ink former Viking Chris Hovan, who is coming off a dismal 04 season that saw him benched by the end of the year. Hovan is a colorful player, but may be more sizzle than steak.

On offense, TE Anthony Becht was brought in from the Jets. Becht stands 6-5 and is pushing 300 lbs, so he will be like another tackle the field and could help the running game. The Bucs opted not to bring in a free agent running back, and it looks as if they will target one of the rich crop of backs available in the draft to fill that need.

AFC SOUTH
Indianapolis Colts
The Plan- The Colts are never really big players in the free agent market, so don’t expect too much activity from them. A lot of eyes are on RB Edgerrin James though, and a trade could be a possibility.

The Results- No team has had a less eventful offseason than the Colts have. They slapped the franchise tag on James, so he will be a Colt for at least one more year. Or will he? Word is the Colts are still actively shopping the Edge that ISN’T sleeping with Lita. They did lose two significant players on offense though, with G Rick DeMulling and TE Marcus Pollard departing. Pollard has a ready replacement in Dallas Clark. The loss of DeMulling may be a little more difficult to remedy.

Jacksonville Jaguars
The Plan- The defensive unit was good last year, but in order to make it dominant the Jags would like to add a pass rushing defensive end.

The Results- Former Broncos DE Reggie Hayward is the Jags’ man at defensive end. He is a pure pass rusher and had 10 ½ sacks in 04, and 8 ½ in 03. He is the impact pass rusher that they were looking for. Cowboy DE Marcellus Wiley was also signed, and the Jaguars hope he can recapture the form of 2000 and 2001, when he collected over 23 1/2 sacks in two seasons. DT Tony Williams was also signed, and the former Bengal had been a solid performer before missing 10 games with an injury last year.

The Jaguars have opted to build on their team strength this offseason by fortifying the defense. The offense still needs a lot of help though.

Houston Texans
The Plan- QB David Carr needs better pass protection, and somebody besides Andre Johnson to throw the ball to.

The Results-
The Texans really haven’t done much of anything this offseason outside of taking care of their own. They have signed a couple of marginal linebackers in Miami’s Morlon Greenwood and Cincy’s Frank Chamberlain, but they are also set to lose LB Jamie Sharper. Not a whole lot here to discuss.

Tennessee Titans
The Plan- A lot of the high priced talent that the team went 5-11 with last year will be allowed to make their money elsewhere in 05. Chief among them will be CB Samari Rolle and WR Derrick Mason.

The Results- There are a lot of high priced homes for sale in Nashville right about now. Not only have Rolle and Mason signed elsewhere, but DE’s Kevin Carter and Carlos Hall, OT’s Matt Martin and Fred Miller, TE Shad Meier, and RB’s Robert Holcombe and Antowain Smith have all signed elsewhere.

Thus far the only free agents to sign with the Titans is former Redskin kicker Ola Kimrin, who I presume will be taking over for the departed Joe Nedney, and D lineman Kyle Van Den Bosch. It looks like the Titans have decided to blow this thang up and rebuild. We will see how it works out.

How About Some Baseball??

DOES APRIL BASEBALL MATTER?
In a 162 game MLB season, the first week of games can’t possibly make that big of a difference, can it?
Well, in the 5 seasons since the turn of the millennium, there have been 40 available playoff spots. Of those 40 squads that have made it to the postseason, a grand total of SIX had a losing record after the first Sunday of play. Those 6 teams? Well you’ve got the 00 Mets and Giants, the 01 Braves, Diamondbacks, and Yankees.

In the last 3 years, you have ONE team that finished the first week under .500 and still made the playoffs, the 03 Braves.

That means that if your team had a losing record when you opened up your morning paper this past Monday, past history strongly indicates that they are not going to make the playoffs this year. So who is this bad news for in 2005?

NY Mets- The Metros started the season 1-5. Meet the Worst Team Money Can Buy, 2000!

St. Louis- Did they do it with smoke and mirrors last year? A 2-3 start to 2005 indicates they did.

Pittsburgh- They scored 10 runs total in their first four games en route to finishing the week at 2-4.

Colorado- As if their 1-4 start isn’t bad enough, they are wearing purple vests now.

Seattle- A brutal pitching staff overshadowed their improved lineup as they stumbled to 2-4.

And finally…
Boston- The Red Sox got bitch slapped by the Yankees in the season opener, and dropped 2 out of 3 to the Graphite Jays over the weekend. “Fever Pitch” was beaten handily at the box office by some crapfest casting Matthew McConaughey as an action star. Quick, somebody find Curt Schilling’s bloody sock!

Speaking of the bloody sock, for what it’s worth, I once attempted to pitch a high school game with no nail on the index finger of my pitching hand. THAT, my friends, is pain. I didn’t last an inning, but I tried. Where are my residuals!?!?!?

MENTALLY HANDICAPPING THE NBA PLAYOFFS
With March Madness behind us, we are now prepared for April Anarchy, May Mass Hysteria, and June Jim Jam. I speak of course, of the NBA’s second season. So what is my half-cocked prognosis for the postseason? Let’s take a look. The pairings may change from what we actually see, as this is based on standings as of 4/14.

1ST ROUND
EASTERN CONFERENCE
MIAMI VS. PHILADELPHIA
Miami’s barely lost 4 games in the Eastern Conference ALL YEAR. How is anyone in the East going to be them 4 times in 7 games? Philly actually would be a tough matchup for a lot of teams, but not for the Heat.
HEAT 4, SIXERS 1

DETROIT VS. CLEVELAND
The Cavaliers are in a free fall. Chances are they won’t even be in the 7 slot when the playoffs actually start. Either way they aren’t going to win a postseason game.
PISTONS 4, CAVALIERS 0

BOSTON VS. WASHINGTON
This is an exciting matchup. Both teams have a lot of firepower. The Wiz have been struggling of late, but come playoff time I think that Gilbert Arenas has the intensity and the ability to carry his team to a series victory.
WIZARDS 4, CELTICS 3

BULLS VS. PACERS
Another great matchup. Indiana has been red hot as of late, but so have the Bulls. A lot depends on whether or not the Bulls will have Eddy Curry back. The Pacers haven’t beaten the Bulls since they got good though, so I’m going to have to go ahead and take the Bulls.
BULLS 4, PACERS 2

WESTERN CONFERENCE
PHOENIX VS. MEMPHIS
There have been chinks showing up in the Suns’ armor as of late. For the first round, though, all that means is that it won’t be a sweep.
SUNS 4, GRIZZLIES 2

SAN ANTONIO VS. DENVER
Chances are the Spurs won’t be facing the Nuggets in the 1st round, but that’s how it shakes out right now. The Nuggets are white hot, but it’s the Spurs, and it’s the playoffs, so that means the Spurs win.
SPURS 4, NUGGETS 2

SEATTLE VS. HOUSTON
Right now, the Sonics would probably only be able to take 1 game in a best of seven with Golden State, who won’t be in the playoffs. This team overachieved for much of this year, but the jig is up. TMac and Yao advance.
ROCKETS 4, SONICS 1

DALLAS VS. SACRAMENTO
This series has become an annual event. The Kings ain’t what they used to be though, and are barely a .500 team vs. the West this year. The Mavs advance with room to spare.
MAVERICKS 4, KINGS 2

2nd Round
EASTERN CONFERENCE

MIAMI VS. WASHINGTON
The Heat lost only 1 game in the Southeast Division this year, and that also happens to be the division the Wiz play in. So I’m gonna go ahead and say that the Heat will roll.
HEAT 4, WIZARDS 1

DETROIT VS. CHICAGO
If Monday night’s game between these two is any indication of what a playoff series between these two would be like, then this one could be a classic. The Pistons have the experience though, so they will beat the Bulls like its 1989.
PISTONS 4, BULLS 3

WESTERN CONFERENCE
PHOENIX VS. HOUSTON
Houston is 4th best in the league in points allowed. They also are 9 games over the .500 mark on the road. Those are impressive numbers. Impressive enough for me to call an upset here.
ROCKETS 4, SUNS 2

SAN ANTONIO VS. DALLAS
Again, until somebody besides Shaq beats the Spurs in the playoffs, I can’t pick anyone else to beat them.
SPURS 4, MAVERICKS 2

Conference Finals
EASTERN CONFERENCE
MIAMI VS. DETROIT
This is going to be a great series, and the Pistons won’t give up their title without a fight. Ben Wallace will give Shaq all he can handle, but Dwayne Wade is the superstar the Pistons just don’t have, and he will put the Heat over the top.
HEAT 4, PISTONS 3

WESTERN CONFERENCE
SAN ANTONIO VS. HOUSTON
The Spurs will sweep this series.
SPURS 4, ROCKETS 0

NBA Finals
MIAMI VS. SAN ANTONIO
All this work to get to such an obvious conclusion. I feel so empty.
HEAT 4, SPURS 2

So that’s it for this week! I leave you with a picture of these two douchebags. See you next week.