Friday, October 10, 2008

Free Kicks

Wow, we have been so focused on College Football this week, huh? From The Express to Tommy Bowden to Ralph Friegen and the entire ACC coaching situation we have officially entered the heart of football season. #11 Florida vs. #4 LSU. #5 Texas vs. #1 Oklahoma. #17 Oklahoma St. vs. #3 Missouri. This is a good weekend for college ball, don’t blink. However, I think it is time to switch gears a little, focus on some non-college football for a bit- but once Saturday comes, don’t forget to line up for the kick.

Trouble Brewing

For as long as I have been making Ravens predictions for this season, I have been anticipating the biggest problem being injuries on defense. It is difficult and sometimes unfair to anticipate injuries- they are largely unpredictable and by no means the fault of the player. On the other hand, one cannot help but look at the injury report and see that it may be coming to fruition. Two defensive tackles, including stalwart Kelly Gregg are on IR, which will force Ngata and Bannon to play much more than they should. Dawan Landry is out and will be out for a while longer after his horrific injury and Samari Rolle continues to recover from neck surgery earlier this month. With backup linebacker Antwan Barnes questionable but likely to play, that is but a short list of defenders already going down.

The Ravens also don’t have a bye week to look forward to after the Texans game was moved in Week 2. The defense currently ranks 1st in the NFL, allowing fewer than 200 yards of offense per game- as the injuries mount however, the entire unit could suffer. With the team relying on the defense for field position (and points) behind a rookie quarterback and a classic inept Ravens offense, injuries will be important to watch down the stretch- and it’s only Week 6!

The Lesser of Two Ev- No, Just the Red Sox

Two Division opponents, one easy choice. It is easy to identify with the Tampa Bay Rays. They are perennial doormats, not finishing anywhere above 4th place since their inception in the mid 90’s (oddly enough, around the same time the O’s went “south” as well). They were built in much the same way as Andy MacPhail plans to build the Orioles- through the farm system, with a few shrewd free agent signings and trades (the Scot Kazmir robbery of the Mets for one). They struggle to put fans in the seats, and are your typical fan base unaccustomed to winning and numb to losing. This could change all that, but for now they are everyone’s underdog.

The Red Sox are the new Evil Empire. Gone are the days of claiming to be the little guy against the big bad Yankees. No team with a payroll over $100 million is ever an underdog, period. Red Sox fans are garish, obnoxious, and generally offensive in their claim of both moral superiority for having been losers and team superiority for being consistent winners as of late. There is nothing to feel sorry for in Boston, nothing to sympathize with, nothing to relate to- and no reason to root for the Sox over the Rays. Some might consider this series a wash for O’s fans with two division opponents after one another. For me, it is all about the little guy- Floridians might not care, but I care about the Rays.

Flesh Wounds

Consider this the opening shot of Around the Harbor to your 2008-2009 basketball season. You could also consider it the second injury-related post in a single Free Kicks- hey, it happens. Either way, you have to be nervous if you are a Wizards fan right now. With Gilbert Arenas out until December (which isn’t too nerve-wracking as the Wiz did pretty well without him), you could rely on Antwan Jamison to pick up the slack. But then he went down with a knee strain, followed up the very next day by Brendan Haywood’s wrist surgery which is likely to put him out for at least 4 months. Backup C Eton Thomas is back healthy, but it could take a while for this unit to gel until the stars of this team can take over. Basketball is all about chemistry, and with players coming on and off the injury list the first month of the season could put the Wizards in an early hole in the Southeast.

Luckily, it’s the Southeast. Miami and Charlotte are still years away, and Atlanta barely got into the playoffs last year (I won’t believe that the Hawks are a threat until they win with consistency). Additionally, Dee Brown is twice the point guard he is made out to be, and his time in Turkey added some much needed maturity and polish to his game. His quickness will make him an excellent change of pace from Arenas and enable the Wizards to distribute the ball much more effectively to get more players involved in the offense (not that the offense has traditionally been a problem).

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