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AFC/NFC Divisional Playoff Preview


BY NEAL MALONE

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (+10) AT CHICAGO BEARS – Soldier Field, 1 PM ET, Sun.

BREAKDOWN: There are endless storylines heading into Sunday’s matchup between the Seahawks and Bears. Instead of listing them off and writing for days about how unlikely and ridiculous it is that these two teams are playing for a spot in the NFC Championship Game, I’m going to focus on a few of the main points heading into Sunday.

Breaks.  Luck.  Good Fortune.  Whatever you want to call it – the Bears have had it all year long.  From the Calvin Johnson “completing the process of the catch” debacle in Week 1 to the privilage of playing third-string starting quarterbacks THREE times this season, the Football Gods have been smiling down at the Bears.  But that was just in the regular season.

Now, Lovie Smith and Co. have the opportunity to host the Seahawks, one of the league’s worst road teams,  in the NFC Divsional Round of the playoffs.  It goes without saying that the Bears meeting the Seahawks this Sunday, rather than the Eagles or Saints, required a highly unlikely scenario to come to fruition.  But apparently those Football Gods I mentioned weren’t exactly finished helping the Monsters of the Midway – which brings us to their opponent.

It was only 10 days ago when the Charlie Whitehurst-led Seahawks held off the St. Louis Rams at Qwest Field to clinch the NFC West Division Championship – and what a great game it was.  Oh wait, not exactly.  As much as I’d love to talk about how enthralling that 16-6 Seattle win was, the main point is that they earned their spot in the playoffs.

You may not have believed they deserved a postseason spot at the time, but after watching them dismantle the New Orleans Saints defense on the ground and through the air, it’s clear that even the mediocre can make something happen in the playoffs if they put their minds to it.

Should the Bears be scared?  I don’t know…it’s hard to say.  On one hand, the Seahawks won’t have their raucous home crowd behind them.  In fact, they’ll play in front of a raucous crowd on Sunday – the only thing is it’ll be a Soldier Field home crowd and they’ll be vigorously rooting against them.

But after seeing brute strength from Marshawn Lynch on the ground and unflappable poise from Matt Hasslebeck in the pocket, the Bears defense will certainly have to be on high alert.  One thing is for sure – this isn’t the same team the Bears faced in Week 6 at Soldier Field.  The Seahawks won that game 23-20.

BOTTOM LINE: It would be hard to believe the Seahawks could come into Soldier Field twice this season and leave with a win both times.  The Bears have drastically improved on offense since their Week 6 loss to Seattle, with Jay Cutler beginning to come into his own near the end of the season.  First career playoff game or not, if Jay Cutler plays within Mike Martz’s offense and doesn’t try to force anything, the Bears will be fine – not to mention the Chicago defense is far superior to that of the New Orleans Saints, who gave up 41 points to the Seahawks last week.

PREDICTION: Bears 31, Seahawks 21

GREEN BAY PACKERS (+2.5) AT ATLANTA FALCONS – Georgia Dome, 8 PM ET, Sat.

BREAKDOWN: Facing a healthy Aaron Rodgers has been a scary proposition for defenses over the course of the last several weeks.  Toss in a new-found running game and you’ve got a very scary Packers offense.

Rodgers was incredibly efficient in the Pack’s wild-card win over the Eagles in Philly last week.  He only threw for 180 yards, but he had three TD passes without an interception.  Only 180 yards, you say?  Well, that was because he finally had some help on the ground – and it came from an unlikely source.  James Starks, who appeared in just three regular season games, ran for 123 yards on 23 carries, giving Green Bay a rare 100-yard rushing performance since the injury to Ryan Grant.

All this talk about the Packers and I still haven’t talked about Clay Matthews, Trumond Williams, or the rest of the Packers defense.  Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers had an amazing gameplan, which contained Michael Vick and limited the impact of LeSean McCoy.  When a big play was needed at the end of the game, Williams made it, picking off Vick in the end zone to clinch a trip to the Divisional Round.

It was a great road win for Green Bay, but now they head to a place that has been just plain cruel to it’s visitors.  Matt Ryan’s ridiculous record at the Georgia Dome got a reality check in Week 16 against the Saints, but it still gives the Falcons incredible odds.  The poised, experienced offensive combination of Ryan, Roddy White, Michael Turner, and Tony Gonzalez will most likely prove tough to deal with from the Packers’ standpoint.

The Falcons defense is also worth mentioning.  They’ll allow you to move the ball and put up some points, but they rarely give up a lot.  The Falcons are 10th in the league in rushing defense, so if they can stop the run and force the Green Bay offense back into a one-dimensional unit, then you may start to see Aaron Rodgers force a few throws.

Keep in mind, the Packers won’t be able to use their “cold weather” advantage on Saturday because the game will be played in a dome.  The Packers are always a team that competes well in the elements and the Falcons are probably the exact opposite, but Mike McCarthy’s team won’t have Mother Nature on their side.  Look for the noise of the home crowd in the dome environment potentially get into the heads of the Packers’ players.

BOTTOM LINE: If Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk can set a tone early with a few sacks or hits on the quarterback through blitz packages, I can see Matt Ryan getting out of sync with his receivers.  Green Bay blitzes so much that if they execute correctly, it can completely get to the opposing quarterback’s head and neutralize their skill set (like Michael Vick last week).  Also, look for Aaron Rodgers to take some shots down the field to guys like Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and Jordy Nelson.  Their running game was good last week, but who knows how much help Rodgers will have in front of the dome crowd from an unproven James Starks.

PREDICTION: Packers 27, Falcons 24

BALTIMORE RAVENS (+3) AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS – Heinz Field, 4:30 PM ET, Sat.

BREAKDOWN: How ’bout this for a football game? When you talk about tough, smashmouth NFL teams, look no further than the Ravens and Steelers.  Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed for the Ravens.  James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley for the Steelers – and that’s just naming a few defensive players from each team.

The season series between these two teams suggests that it’s going to be a good, old-fashioned dogfight (not an intentional Vick reference).  Each team came away with three-point road wins at the other’s stadium.  Neither were high-scoring and with these two defensive units, you wouldn’t expect anything else.

Sure, Joe Flacco has Ray Rice to hand the ball off to and T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Anquan Boldin as receiving targets, but to think they’re going to blow up Dick LeBeau’s well-established 3-4 defense is a little unrealistic.  The same goes for the Steelers, who boast some of the toughest offensive guys in the league in Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall, and Hines Ward.  I just don’t see them picking apart a defense that is led by the always-wise and experienced Ray Lewis.

It’s hard to speculate what to expect from the Steelers this weekend – of course outside of the usual, grind-it-out performance they’ve become famous for over the last several years.  But on the Ravens side, the NFL nation got a pretty good idea of where their level of play is at the moment when they crushed the Chiefs in Kansas City last weekend.  Look, Arrowhead Stadium isn’t an easy place to play by any stretch of the imagination, but the Ravens took the crowd out of it and simply dominated.  They forced turnover after turnover against Matt Cassel, letting the defense create the opportunities for the offense.

While the Ravens easily took care of business in the wild-card round on the road, don’t overlook the Steelers (not that you were going to anyways).  The Ben Roethlisberger Era can be justly characterized as one full of “ugly wins.”  But the key word is W-I-N – that’s what the Steelers do.  No matter how banged-up their team is or how workmanlike their performances may seem, you can never count out the guys from Pittsburgh, winners of two of the last five Super Bowls.

BOTTOM LINE: As crazy as this NFL season has been, you can pretty much count on this game being close.  Each defense is too mentally and physically tough for it to heavily swing in one team’s favor.  You know Roethlisberger will probably produce a few big plays, but what I’m interested in is what the Pittsburgh running game can do in this game.  The Steelers offensive line can be dominant at times, especially behind left guard Chris Kemoeatu.  If Mendenhall can produce a big day on the ground, I give the Steelers the advantage at home.

PREDICTION: Steelers 23, Ravens 20

NEW YORK JETS (+8.5) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – Gillette Stadium, 4:30 PM ET, Sun.

BREAKDOWN: Going into a road game in the playoffs against Tom Brady, I’m pretty sure it’s not the brightest idea in the world to call him an asshole – but Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie did it anyway.  I guess one could say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when you’re referring to Jets players and coaches.  Sure, Rex Ryan didn’t take it as far as Cromartie, but he’s been gabbing since day one in New York, and his big mouth seems to be spewing word vomit more and more as time goes on.

Let’s just get one thing straight – Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the NFL.  Sorry, Peyton Manning fans.  The guy has three Super Bowl rings and seems to have opposing defenses figured out each and every week, no matter what kind of defensive strategies they try to throw his way.  Brady has also openly used the fact that he was a 6th-round draft pick as motivation to prove everyone wrong throughout his NFL career – and he’s obviously done that and more.

So, I’ll ask again – why exactly would you want to piss him off EVEN MORE at this point in the season?  Brady thrives on competitive jabs like the ones from Cromartie and Ryan.

All things aside for a moment, you have to give the Ryan and the Jets credit.  Going into Indianapolis against #18 in the playoffs is tough and they emerged victorious, showing a lot of team character on the way.  They have had their backs against the wall several times this season as well as last season and yet they’ve shown the ability to persevere and win playoff games.

Unfortunately for the Jets, “the buck stops here.”  “All good things must come to an end.”  Whatever cheesy phrase you want to use – what I mean is IT’S OVER.

By intangibles and mere principle alone, the Patriots will beat the Jets.  Remember, this is without even considering X’s and O’s.  But since I brought it up, let’s discuss….

The Patriots actually have a running game unlike the Colts.  The Law Firm a.k.a. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been running over kids since his mid-season emergence as the starting running back.  His running style has been the perfect compliment to Brady’s precision passing attack, which involves the always-productive Wes Welker, the reborn Deion Branch, and two trusty rookie tight ends in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.  The balance of the Patriots offense will cause major problems for the Jets, who surrendered 45 points to the Pats in Week 13 and 38 points to the Bears in Week 16.

While Darrell Revis continues to maintain his status as a shutdown corner, Antonio Cromartie has emerged as anything but one.  Cromartie was torched by Jay Cutler in Chicago and was to blame for Manning’s 57-yard TD pass to Pierre Garcon last weekend.  Add Cromartie’s struggles to the “unkind” words he had for Brady this week, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster with the Patriots quarterback as the smiling chef.

As for the Jets’ offense, they’ll have to do better than 17 points.  Now, I’m not saying the Patriots defense is miles better than that of the Colts, but there is a noticeable difference.  I’m expecting Brady and the New England offense to put up over 30 points, so Mark Sanchez is going to have to find a way to score early and often.  The Jets showed signs of offensive prowess against a more than decent Bears defense, putting up 34 points in their late-season loss at Soldier Field.  It’s that type of performance they’ll need if there going to have to keep up with the Pats.

BOTTOM LINE: The Jets may be talking a big game, but I’d say their trash talk is more of a sign of nervousness than anything.  They’ve added fuel to Brady-Belichick fire and in the playoffs, I don’t see how that is a good thing for a Patriots opponent.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jets put up a fight because they do seem to have an undying swagger that can’t really be explained.  But in the end New England at home will be too much for New York, no matter how much they talk before the kickoff.

PREDICTION: Patriots 37, Jets 20

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Failed USA World Cup Bid An Absolute Travesty


BY: NEAL MALONE

The sport of soccer has come a long way in the United States over the last decade and many    thought it would take another huge step in the right direction today with the announcement of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup host nations.

In the running for the 2022 Cup, the USA had obstacles of Qatar, Korea Republic, Japan, and Australia to overcome in order to be elected the host nation.  Unfortunately for the USA, the smallest nation proved to be the biggest winner in this morning’s draw.

Qatar, a Middle-Eastern desert nation with a population of just 1.7 million, was awarded the opportunity to host the World Cup in 2022, leaving the American bid team shocked.

Should the USA be surprised?  Disappointed?  Outraged?

I would say so.  After all, the 1994 World Cup on American soil was wildly successful and to this day has generated more revenue than any other Cup.  Some may say, “that was then, this is now,” but there is no reason to believe the incredible American sports culture wouldn’t shatter the previous mark set in ’94.

Not after the sport’s growth in America.  Not after the US Men’s National Team’s momentous performances at the 2009 Confederation’s Cup and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

It just doesn’t make sense – and you saw that sentiment on the faces of the American bid committee that included former President Bill Clinton, US Soccer President Sunil Gulati, US soccer star Landon Donovan, and Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman.

Several things became clear after processing FIFA’s decision to award the tournament to Qatar…

-Less about FIFA doubting that the USA was a strong candidate, more about the prospect of bringing the tournament to a new   nation and new region.

-Money trumps all (Qatar threw outrageous amounts of money towards their bid process.  The country has lots of new money from oil industry, real estate development, etc)

-Extensive construction, climate risks, infrastructure issues, and country size is apparently no concern

So on one hand, the USA can hang their heads high and realize that it was less about them and more about Qatar.  The problem with that notion is that Qatar wasn’t even a good candidate in the first place (outside of the fact that they’re from the Middle East, where a tournament has never been held).

A nation that is smaller than the state of Connecticut, Qatar has a lot of work to do.  The extreme desert heat will force them to install state-of-the-art air conditioning systems at each stadium to prevent the players, coaches, and fans from overheating.

Uhhh…health risk, anyone?  What if the systems backfire, then what?

Qatar also needs to construct nine World Cup-quality stadiums within the next 12 years – not to mention all of them need to feature those expensive, stadium-wide air conditioning systems I mentioned above.

Look, you could go on and on with reasons why Qatar shouldn’t host the 2022 Cup, but the real story here is the impact it could have on soccer in America.

At a time when fan interest and sport growth is at an all-time high, the USA didn’t exactly need a setback in the momentum department.  A successful bid would have only continued the growth in popularity, especially when the 2010 Cup is still fresh in Americans’ minds.  Now, the failed bid seems like yet another defeat, much like Chicago’s 2016 Olympic push.

Fans will get over it, though, and yes, no matter what the sport of soccer will continue to grow in America.  The problem is the rate at which this growth takes place.  The real benefactor of a successful bid would have been Major League Soccer, America’s main professional league that continues to develop in a manner that not many predicted.

The majority of MLS teams already have or are currently constructing their own soccer-specific stadiums by now, but the ones that don’t have a stadium just yet would have had their facility hopes fulfilled if the USA had been awarded the Cup over Qatar.  The new stadiums would be built at the very least for World Cup training and many would probably host actual games.

Not only would the MLS likely see a wealth of new resources, the league would surely experience a spike in fan interest as another added perk.  Whether or not the increase in interest would come before or after the Cup is unknown, but the overall exposure would be invaluable in the league’s constant struggle for American sports relevance.

The impact the 2022 bid could have had on American soccer is supremely underestimated.  The amount of resources and man power it takes to put on a successful world event like the World Cup is unbelievable.

It’s America.  Everyone knows that if we were the hosts, we would have made sure it would be the most spectacular World Cup to date.   As Americans, we always have to be the best, right?  It’s because of this principle that I believe Major League Soccer would have found itself with a tremendous amount of resources that would have potentially had the power to align them with the elite soccer leagues in the entire world.

The real treat in this whole process?  We now know that, as a host nation, Qatar gets an automatic berth into the 2022 tournament, thereby taking away a spot from a national team much more deserving of the competition.

Tryouts for Qatar’s team start….NOW!

 

 

 

 

 

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NFL Picks for Week 1


Ahh, finally.  Week 1 in the NFL is here.  The Saints have already defeated the Vikings 14-9 to kick off the season.  Here’s my selections for the rest of Opening Weekend.

Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears

I think the Bears win this one despite themselves.  The Lions are a fast-improving squad, but the Bears have the better football team right now.

Bears 24, Lions 10

Carolina Panthers at New York Giants

The Giants get to officially open the new Meadowlands Stadium with what should be an easy win over the Panthers.   Matt Moore is a good young quarterback, but the Giants are the better team.  Add in the emotion of Week 1, new stadium, all that stuff, the Giants win easy.

Giants 35, Panthers 10

Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers

In one of the better matchups of the week, I’m looking for the Falcons to go into the Steel City, and leave with a win in hand.  With Big Ben out for four games, the Steelers aren’t the same team.  The Falcons are the chic pick in the NFC South, and I think they get off to a good start here today.

Falcons 20, Steelers 17

Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I read a profile of Eric Mangini in the NFL Preview issue of ESPN the Magazine, and it truly sounds like he’s got things going in the right direction.  They have serious questions at quarterback with Jake Delhomme, but they’re still a better team than the Bucs. 

Browns 14, Bucs 7

Denver Broncos at Jacksonville Jaguars

The Broncos will be without a few key players from last season.  Brandon Marshall took his talents to Miami and Elvis Dumervil is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.  That being said, Kyle Orton is a winning quarterback, and sources say the Broncos will mix things up and give Tim Tebow some playing time.

Broncos 20, Jaguars 10

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans

If there’s one trap game in the NFL this week, this is it.  The Colts are coming off the dramatic loss in the Super Bowl, and the Texans always give them a run for their money.  The Texans keep getting better, but the Colts could be the best team in the league this year.  The Colts ultimately just have too many weapons.

Colts 41, Texans 24

Miami Dolpins at Buffalo Bills

Not much to talk about in this game.  The Dolphins are an underrated football team in my opinion, and they take care of business up there in Buffalo.

Dolphins 28, Bills 7

Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans

The Jason Campbell era begins in Nashville today, and while the Raiders will be better, the schedule this week isn’t exactly helping them out.  Vince Young came back to lead the Titans back into the playoff hunt last season.  He continues his resurgence today and the rest of the season.  Oh, and there’s that Chris Johnson guy.

Titans 35, Raiders 10

Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots

One of the best games on Sunday, this one is an intriguing matchup.  The Bengals obviously at Terrell Owens to the mix, and the Patriots get Wes Welker back after a knee injury.  Can Batman and Robin co-exist in Cincinnati?  How will Tom Brady celebrate his new contract?  The edge goes to the home team here, but I won’t be surprised if the Bengals pull this one out.

Patriots 32, Bengals 28

Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams

I have a funny feeling about this one.  The Sam Bradford era gets under way in St. Louis, and I think he’s going to be a star.  They’ll have a good enough offense with Stephen Jackson, though they’re missing Donnie Avery.  The Cardinals had quarterback controversy in the preseason, and I’m not entirely sold on Derek Anderson’s ability to replace Kurt Warner.  Arizona is better, but St. Louis could surprise.

Rams 20, Cardinals 16

San Fancisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

The Niners are a sneaky pick to come out of the NFC West, though it really shouldn’t be that sneaky.  It’s a bad division, and they should get off to a good start in this Week 1 divisional matchup.  Pete Carroll makes his Seahawks debut, but it’s a losing one at home.

49ers 21, Seahawks 14

Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles

No McNabb, no problem?  I don’t think so.  Not today anyway.  The Eagles got a bad draw in Week 1, as the Packers are a lot of people’s favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.  Aaron Rodgers is quickly becoming an elite quarterback, and the defense should improve in their second year playing a 3-4.

Packers 31, Eagles 17

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins

Donovan McNabb has to be feeling snake-bitten.  He’s got a new team, new coach, and new opportunities, but guess what?  For his third game in a row, McNabb has to line up against the Cowboys defense.  Another Super Bowl favorite, the ‘Boys are licking their chops to get another shot at McNabb.  Redskins are better, but Cowboys win out.

Cowboys 28, Redskins 14

Baltimore Ravens at New York Jets

I’m going to be all over the Jets this season, and we’ll get a good idea of how they’ll be right off the bat.  The Ravens are actually getting much better on offense.  If it wasn’t for Chris Johnson, Ray Rice would be the talk of the NFL, and Joe Flacco is a good quarterback.  As for the Jets, I think Shonn Greene is going to have a breakout year now that he’s the featured guy. 

Jets 24, Ravens 17

San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

This is a Monday Night Football game?  Chargers over Chiefs.  Not much else to say.

Chargers 31, Chiefs 3

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To Tebow or Not To Tebow?


BY NEAL MALONE

Tim Tebow is a charming, engaging, well-spoken philanthropist off the field.  He also happens to be one of  the most intense, hard-working, and successful college football players of all time.

So is it even humanly possible to NOT like this guy?

Well, yes.  Absolutely, as a matter of fact.

You see, the same Tim Tebow charm that has wooed the majority of the country over the last few years seems  to be wearing off.  Not with everyone, but you can sense some people may be growing tired of Florida’s Golden  Boy.  So I’m going to examine the two sides of Tebow and give my own opinion of him.  Most importantly,  though, I want to know what the readers think because it seems like you either love him or you hate him.  I  want to hear your take, but first, let’s take a look at the two sides of the Tim Tebow argument…

-Tim Tebow: Love Him

Not only does Tim Tebow worship God and praise his existence with every waking moment, he is God!  I mean, what’s not to like about this guy?  Philanthropy is his middle name…whether it’s going on mission trips to rebuild poverty-stricken areas or visiting sick children, this guy loves helping others.

Unlike most football players, Tebow isn’t a meathead…in fact, he is intelligent.  He was a model student athlete at Florida and is about as well-spoken as it gets when it comes to athletes, pro or college.  Not only does Tebow have wholesome values and a strong academic record, he is a hard-working football player on the field.  And that’s just a start.  He provides unmatched motivation to his teammates, he brings an intensity to the game that is rarely seen, and he is a hell of an athlete.

He has tremendous body strength and great speed, but also possesses an underrated arm.  His skill set is rare, but his work ethic far surpasses anything you see on a regular basis among other athletes.  Add onto that his passion for the game, and there is no way this guy won’t make a solid NFL player.

-Tim Tebow: Hate Him

Is there anybody more exhausting than this guy?  I mean, come on, turn off the act for awhile, buddy!  His philanthropy and religious values may be real, but why does he have to tell everybody about it?  And the interviews he gives…oh man, it’s the same thing every time.

We know that he works hard and loves the game of football, but he is way too hyped up about it all the time.  Mix it up, man…you can be calm and laid back during an interview…it’s okay!  Perhaps this is just jealousy talking, but can’t Tebow do something wrong?  He makes everyone else feel like a pile of horse manure…to the point where people just plain despise the guy.

As for on the field, talk about a player who is overrated!  I don’t care how much intensity and passion he has, NFL defenses won’t even be close to phased by him.  He won’t be able to run nearly as well in the pros and he has years of development to go before he can emerge as a legitimate NFL pocket threat.  Tebow is the classic case of a good college player who won’t translate well to the pros.  Oh yeah and that boyish charm?  You can forget about hard-nosed professionals thinking twice about falling into his emotional trap.  To them, he is just another guy they can hit as hard as they can.

-My Verdict

While I think Tebow is a genuine person and a driven football player, I easily tire of his persona…or at least the persona we see on camera.  It’s just obnoxious to me.  The same passion from Tebow that most of the country responds well to, I just think is exhausting.  I think that if it weren’t for his incredible work ethic and desire, he would be a total flop in the NFL.  But that’s not the case…we’re talking about a guy who just can’t seem to be denied when he sets his mind to something.

I still don’t think he’ll be a household name in the NFL, but he’ll definitely earn a few paychecks.  If he were to tone down his intensity and become more of a normal person, I think I would like him a lot more.  But for now, he is just an act to me, whether it’s fake or not.   He’s like that kid in your middle school class that is really nice, but you still don’t like him because he doesn’t really bring anything else to the table.

What do you think of Tebow?  Is he a hero, champion, stud, model citizen, etc?  Or is he just plain annoying and overrated?  List your comments below!

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Life With The St. Paul Saints


BY NEAL MALONE

After a brief hiatus from posting on The NBR, I’m back with an update from St. Paul, Minnesota.  I’m just beginning what should be a long, but extremely exciting summer of minor league baseball.  The St. Paul Saints, who play in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, will be my team this summer.

Broadcasting games and working in media relations will be my main duties for the Saints, but as I’ve discovered this week…I’ll be doing just about everything for the Saints.  Whether it’s brainstorming for promotion ideas, selling tickets, writing press releases, or painting the fence, I’ll be a big part of what the Saints do this summer.

Some may scoff at the less glamorous tasks, but I’ve chosen to embrace them.  You never know what you can take away from something unless you try it out and work hard at it.  This very mindset seems to be shared by all of the Saints employees, which makes the atmosphere around the stadium very refreshing.

The city of St. Paul adores the Saints…yes, they adore an independent league baseball team!  Their attendance numbers are through the roof compared to their divisional opponents…and much of that can be attributed to the goofy, yet genius promotions that they put on throughout the season.  The fun atmosphere makes you wonder who built the foundation of the organization.  Perhaps it may not surprise you then that Mike Veeck, son of legendary White Sox owner Bill Veeck, and Bill Murray, longtime comedian and actor, are primary owners of the team.

As the season approaches, there is a buzz around the stadium.  I’ve met with the manager and a few of the players and I’m intrigued at each of their paths to St. Paul.  A few players have tasted the major leagues, others have made it only as far as AAA or AA.  But the bottom line is these guys can play.

I picked up one of our pitchers from the airport yesterday…and he started railing off some of his former teammates like the Tigers’ Justin Verlander, the Twins’ Michael Cuddyer, and the Cubs’ Jeff Baker.

I’m excited to say the least.  To have the opportunity to be on the air for a team that generates so much excitement in a big market like Minneapolis-St. Paul is cool.  I’ll have more updates soon.

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Playoffs Provide Rose A Chance To Court High-Profile Free Agent


Rose could be Chicago's key to a big free agent offseason

BY NEAL MALONE

The Bulls shocked everyone when they nearly disposed of the heavily-favored Boston Celtics in an epic first round series last year.  Derrick Rose fulfilled his star potential, practically taking over a few of those playoff games on the offensive end.

Fast forward to this year’s first round matchup with the Cavaliers and no one is expecting the Bulls to match what they did against the Celtics.  While the Cavs are likely to trample the Bulls, the series isn’t a complete waste of time for Vinny Del Negro’s men. 

In fact, this series presents the Bulls with as good of a 2010 free agent  recruiting opportunity as any. 

Take a guy like Chris Bosh, who is sitting at home after missing the playoffs, wondering what his next move should be.  If he sees Derrick Rose turn in a few jaw-dropping performances, it could very easily sway him in Chicago’s direction.

Sure, a win or  two against the Cavs could show the 2010 free agent class that the Bulls are close to success, perhaps only missing one piece of the puzzle. 

But, for me, it’s all about Derrick Rose. Every top shooting guard and big man dreams of having a point guard like Rose.  He is the type of player you win championships with.  Whether it’s Bosh, Joe Johnson,  Dwayne Wade or anyone else, their selling point could very well be Rose. 

Everyone in Chicago knows what this guy is capable of…now it’s time for the rest of the league to see him take over a game in a playoff setting. 

With the recent news of a tiff between coach Vinny Del Negro and GM John Paxson, the Bulls are desperately seeking a way to present themselves as an attractive destination for a big-time free agent. 

I think it’s safe to say that a solid team performance against LeBron and the #1-seeded Cavs would be a start.  But the surefire way to court a free agent this playoff season would be some good publicity…Derrick Rose-style.

It’s time to show D. Wade, King James, Joe Johnson, and Chris Bosh what kind of point guard they could be sharing the court with next season.

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Neal Co-Hosting “2 Guys and A Mic” From 10-11 AM


Hey everyone, if you’re bored at work or want something to listen to while you’re doing stuff around the house today, go online head to talkzone.com to listen to “2 guys and a mic.”  It’s a light-hearted sports radio show, highlighting both local and national sports news.  So join the “Coach” John Cohn and I this morning from 10-11 AM.

Click here to listen live at the website.

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