Going into the season, I had extremely high hopes for the Green Bay Packers. I thought with Jordy Nelson back from his ACL injury, Lacy losing weight in the offseason, and signing Jared Cook, that the Packers would be back to the offense of old and put up big time and possible historic numbers on their way to the best record in the NFC. The offense this year has had their moments, but for the most part they've struggled.
This past Sunday, they played the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts came into the game ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in every defensive category, including 31st in the pass and 27th in scoring. This was supposed to be the game where the Packers continued their hot streak on offense and got back into the division lead. But instead they put up a pathetic 13 points through three quarters. They came back later in the 4th and made it look competitive when the Colts played prevent defense, but yesterday's performance was extremely disappointing and I believe has to be the tipping point.
This problem has been highly discussed in the media and across the Packers fan base. We all see that something is off. You can be like Colin Cowherd and say it's all on Aaron Rodgers, but lets be real here, the offense has been stale for the last few seasons. ESPN's Rob Demovsky has written plenty about it and ESPN's Louis Riddick has been saying for the last few weeks that teams are starting to figure out the Packers and their offense due to their lack of adjustments. The receivers aren't getting open like they used to, but even when I watch the games the route running is extremely average, and the play designs just lack ingenuity and creativity. Which lands on the head coach Mike McCarthy. Aaron Rodgers in the postgame also commented on the teams lack of energy. Saying it was evident on the sidelines and it's unacceptable considering the position that they're in. That's another thing that I think lands on the head coach as well.
(Above Link: Mike and Mike speak with Louis Riddick about why the Packers have been struggling. Starts at 4:30)
I don't necessarily think that the Packers need to replace McCarthy right now, but if things keep trending in this direction and they end up missing the playoffs because of this, then they need to seriously consider bringing in a new voice and a new offense. Possibly bringing in Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
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Another problem I have with the Packers and their direction is with General Manager Ted Thompson. He's very well known as a guy that loves his draft picks and doesn't dabble in free agency or the trade market much at all. During his tenure he's been able to hit in the draft, and when he does go out and sign players they usually do well (Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers), but right now what he's doing is not nearly enough.
Thompson doesn't go out into free agency because he likes to keep his cap space for the players they currently have on the roster. That's great and all, but when that talent doesn't develop like you expect, you run into trouble like they have right now.
John Elway the last few years has proved that you can be aggressive in free agency without being dumb. In Denver he's been able to bring in players that fit his system and have a huge impact, all while being smart with the money he's handing out. Green Bay might not be the market that Denver is, but I refuse to believe that players don't want to play in Green Bay. With a future Hall of Fame quarterback at the helm players will come.
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I'd also like to see Thompson be more aggressive in the trade market as well. This year there were several players that were available such as Browns CB Joe Haden and Bears WR Alshon Jeffery, but the player I'd like to see the Packers mortgage the future on is Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has become increasingly frustrated this year with the play of newcomer Brock Osweiler and has only one more year left on his deal. Hopkins has never had great quarterback play but still grew to become one of the most productive wide receivers in the game today. I have no doubts that Hopkins would take a bit of a discount to be able to play with a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers and I believe that Rodgers would be willing to restructure part of his deal to be able to bring a talent like that in.
In the end I think something has to change in Green Bay soon. Whether it's going out to bring in new personnel for Rodgers and McCarthy, or bringing in a new coach with a more dynamic offense and someone that's willing to adjust week to week like the Patriots do.
Because right now, what's happening on the field and in the front offense isn't cutting it and the Packers are wasting the prime years of Aaron Rodgers career. One Super Bowl win is not enough for this kind of talent.
Sunday was another frustrating day for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Sure they won, but Cam Newton once again took another illegal hit that went uncalled. Calais Campbell took a shot at Newton's knees that could have easily ended his season. The NFL put a rule in place to protect quarterbacks in the pocket on hits below the knees after Tom Brady had a season ending injury in 2008. (Video below shows NFL on Fox's Mike Pereira talking about the hit from Calais Campbell on Cam Newton)
This hit led Newton to make these comments after the game.
"I showed a lot of frustration today, and I apologize to the referee I was talking to. But I don't think there's a person that can go through what I go through and keep their head, you know what I'm saying? Hits to the head, that's one thing, but when you're not protected in the pocket, that's another thing. It became the story of my life ever since I came in. It's always, 'Oh, we missed that, I'm sorry.' That's bullcrap."
Many fans around the league are taking aim at Cam for whining and complaining and now players are doing the same. Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert went on to make these comments.
"Ben gets hit more than anybody in the league, and he never complains. C'mon, man. This is the game of football. If you're out there and you're scared to take a shot, then don't be out there, especially if you're a running quarterback. Defenses are going to take shots at you. Just the way, his style of playing football, how he celebrates, I guess he gives the guys a chip, like let's go hit the reigning NFL MVP."
Gilbert is right about one thing, this is football. But here is what Gilbert is wrong about, he's still a quarterback. Just because Newton is a big guy, doesn't mean he's immune to getting injured. Just look at Ben Roethlisberger's injury history. And here's another thing he's wrong about, just because he runs and escapes the pocket a lot, he should still be protected by the rules of the game. You're not allowed to launch yourself at another players head, like Denver did in week one. No ifs, ands, or buts about that.
The NFL did admit that the hit by Campbell should have been called, and even Roger Goodell himself said that he was going to talk with Cam Newton and the Panthers about how these games are called. I've been a longtime defender for Cam Newton before. I defended him walking off after the Super Bowl and I'm going to stick with him once again here. I think Cam is great for the game, I love his celebrations and I love how he plays the game. I like seeing players have fun and it makes the product that much better. You may not like Cam complaining, but he's bringing up a serious issue when it comes to big quarterbacks and running quarterbacks. These plays are dangerous plays and should still be called no matter how big the quarterback is. You wouldn't see the refs miss that call if it was Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers getting hit below the knees like that.
Whether it's because he's a big quarterback or not, there's still a reason why Cam isn't getting these calls, and it's something that the referees and the NFL need to get right. And Cam Newton in the end has a right and is right to complain about it, because it is his body being put in harms way.
The NBA season starts tonight (!!!!) and it should be another great season. The Cleveland Cavaliers got their first ever championship thanks to the heroics of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and the Golden State Warriors officially have the superteam they've always dreamed of by stealing Kevin Durant away from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although many see this season as just an inevitable road to a Cavs vs Warriors final, there's still a lot of intrigue to go around the league along the way. In this season preview I'll go down my predictions for each conference standings 1-15, end of the season awards, as well as the NBA playoffs. Let's get started with the Western Conference.
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1. Golden State Warriors Was anyone seriously expecting anything different? I don't see them challenging their record 73 win season, but they definitely won't face a challenge for top of the conference in the regular season. The Warriors now have 4 of the top 20 players in the league, and even if they rest guys regularly during the season (which they're expected to), they're still a 60-65 win team due to their star power and their depth.
2. Los Angeles Clippers I don't buy the Clippers as a championship contender, but there's no doubt they're an excellent regular season team. This season will be all about advancing in the playoffs though, due to Chris Paul's impending free agency. I think the Clippers have to get to at least the conference finals in order to be the favorite to keep CP3 next season.
3. San Antonio Spurs I think the Spurs are the 2nd best team in the West, but that doesn't mean they'll finish there at the end of the year. Kawhi Leonard will take a bigger role this year now that Duncan is gone (it started near the end of last season), but they're still a pretty old team. That means more rest for Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and even newcomer Pau Gasol. And if the rumors about LaMarcus Aldridge being unsettled are true, it could be the first turbulent year in San Antonio in the Popovich era.
4. Utah Jazz Surprised of the Jazz are up this high? Think about this. Last year, Rudy Gobert, Alec Burks, and Derrick Favors missed a combined 92 games and they still finished with 40 wins and 9th in the conference. They come back healthy this year along with a healthy Dante Exum and incoming veterans Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw. The Jazz already had one of the better starting 5s in the West and now they have the depth to make a run.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder Probably the most interesting team to watch in the West this year. We all know that KD left them this summer, and everyone expects Russell Westbrook to go on a tear without him, but let's not be so sure. In games without Kevin Durant since 2015 (48 games), Westbrook has put up insane numbers (30.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 9.2 apg) but that's only translated to a 25-23 record in those games. Oladipo has to make a big impact and Steven Adams has to step up in an increased role or this might not even be a playoff team. This team also doesn't have the depth to withstand long injuries.
Russell Westbrook without Kevin Durant since the start of 2015. (Stats via statmuse.com)
6. Portland Trailblazers The home of one of the best young backcourts in the NBA are in a tough spot here. They aren't good enough to contend in the West, but they should be solid enough to keep themselves in playoff contention. They have a pretty solid supporting cast around Lillard and McCollum, and they're one of the better coached teams in the league. Damian Lillard wants to win the MVP this year and if he can put together a great season, they could very well upset one of the top tier teams in the first round of the playoffs.
7. Memphis Grizzlies New coach David Fizdale is coming in implementing a new fast paced system. He has already told Zach Randolph that he'll be coming off of the bench this season which I think is a great idea, and he also has Marc Gasol taking threes! The signing of Chandler Parsons will be huge if he can stay healthy, but other than that they'll need their Conley and Gasol to carry this team to the playoffs.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves The Timberwolves have become the sexy up and comer team to make the playoffs this season and for good reason. I've been on the Wiggins bandwagon since before he even committed to Kansas and I believe he's a star in the making. Karl-Anthony Towns is another player that has all the makings of a superstar and could become an all-star this season. The hiring of Thibs was a home run move and being able to draft Kris Dunn as a possible Rubio replacement is a great addition as well. This team is young, but they'll be able to lock you up on defense and the combination of Wiggins and Towns will take this team to the next level.
9. Houston Rockets I haven't been sold on the Rockets for years, even when they did make their conference finals run. They brought in Mike D'Antoni but I really don't see how that helps. Their plan will be to do so well on offense that will win them games, but they'll need to play at least a little defense to meet their high expectations. They signed Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to big money contracts and they definitely won't help their defense. This is the biggest boom or bust team in the NBA. They'll either finish out of the playoffs, or they could be so explosive on offense that James Harden has an MVP season and the Rockets finish as a top 4 seed.
10. Denver Nuggets After the Timberwolves, the Nuggets probably have the best collection of young talent in the West. Two great young guards in Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray, and the play of Nikola Jokic could force Kenneth Faried out of town. I do think the Nuggets could sneak into the back end of the playoffs because they're well coached, play good team basketball, and have one of the better home court advantages in the NBA (even if their fans don't fill the place as much as they should). All they need is continued improvement from the young guys, and Danilo Gallinari to actually have a fully healthy season.
11. Dallas Mavericks Interesting approach the Mavs are taking this season. Taking the cast offs from the Warriors (Bogut and Barnes), and relying on old vets to keep to form (Dirk and D-Will). Love Dirk Nowitzki, but he's still going into his final years as a pro. If Barnes can prove that he's worth a max deal and produce like a #1 option, maybe they can keep their playoff spot.
12. Sacramento Kings The team Rudy Gay calls "basketball hell" has all the talent to make the playoffs, but something always seems to go wrong. Gay wants out and I'm sure he'll get his wish (although I'm not sure many teams actually want to give something up for him) and I think this is the deadline where they finally trade DeMarcus Cousins. He's a free agent in 2018 and there's no way he stays in Sacramento.
13. New Orleans Pelicans The Alvin Gentry experiment didn't start according to plan last year. The Pelicans took a step back after sneaking into the playoffs, but that had a lot to do with player personnel as well as injuries to Anthony Davis. This summer they were able to bring in young guys Langston Galloway and Solomon Hill, which should help their speed and outside shooting. But of course, their success will hinge on the health of Anthony Davis.
14. Phoenix Suns The Suns are another team with pretty solid talent and veteran leadership. They brought back Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley to go along with Tyson Chandler. Eric Bledsoe is back healthy and Brandon Knight could be a part of the 6th man of the year conversation if all things go well, and Devin Booker looks like a 20 ppg scorer. This team should be fun to watch if you have League Pass, but I think they're a year or two away from playoff contention.
15. Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant is gone so now the Lakers can finally embrace the rebuild, even if it was incredibly frustrating to see them shell out big bucks to Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng. D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram should make this team fun to watch and I hope that Jordan Clarkson can take the next step in his development as well. The future is bright in Laker land, even if they spend a few more years at the bottom of the conference.
The Toronto Raptors are one of several teams looking to upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East
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1. Cleveland Cavaliers There's been talk around writers about the possibility of the Cavs not being the #1 seed in the East in favor of a Toronto or Boston, but I don't buy it. I could see them resting LeBron this year more than most, but I think LeBron is driven to win his 5th MVP trophy and he can't do it by taking 2 weeks off in the middle of the season once again. This year it'll be more about coach Ty Lue managing LeBron's minutes better instead of giving him more nights off.
2. Toronto Raptors The Raptors lost breakout star backup Bismack Biyombo in the off-season, but they're still the 2nd best team in the East. They have 2 all stars in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas is still one of the better young centers in the NBA at 24 years old. They have great depth and one of the best home court advantages in the NBA. Should be another fun year in the 6.
3. Boston Celtics It's incredible how much hype has surrounded the Celtics this year. They haven't won a playoff series under Brad Stevens so far in his 2 years, but all of a sudden they're being talked about as the top threat to upset the Cavs in the East. I like the addition of Al Horford as much as the next guy, but someone needs to tell me how the Celtics do better than what the Hawks have been the last 5 years. A well coached team that plays pretty good defense, and really talented role players outside two pretty good players.
4. Indiana Pacers The firing of Frank Vogel for Nate McMillan was an odd choice to me, but I liked the other moves they made this summer. Thad Young at the 4 helps take the strain off of Paul George and Myles Turner showed in the playoffs last year that he could be a future all-star. Jeff Teague over George Hill seems like a small upgrade, and Al Jefferson as their 6th man was a great addition for them. Paul George should be one of the leading candidates for MVP this season.
5. Charlotte Hornets The Hornets are a well coached team that could have a top 5 defense this year. Kemba Walker is a dynamic guard and Nic Batum has been a great fit for this team. Letting go of Al Jefferson will allow this team to play a bit faster on offense and help them on the defensive end. Marvin Williams needs to keep his steady play and Frank Kaminsky needs to step up after a disappointing rookie year.
6. Detroit Pistons The loss of Reggie Jackson for the first 2 months of the season is going to hurt this team. Ish Smith is solid, but he's a backup at this point in his career. Andre Drummond will need to be a bigger part of this offense and Tobias Harris needs to improve his 3 point shooting to be a good fit in the starting lineup. Even with that, Stan Van Gundy coaching this team will keep them steady until Jackson returns around January.
7. Atlanta Hawks Losing Al Horford hurts, but I did like their signing of Dwight Howard this summer. I think he's a much better fit alongside Paul Millsap and Dennis Schroeder than he was with James Harden, and I also think that will lead to him enjoying basketball more. I don't buy his "soft" narrative because he's been playing through back pain the last 3 seasons. I think this offense will take a lot of pressure off of him and if he's not a distraction, the Hawks are still a playoff team. One thing to watch though will be Paul Millsap. If the team struggles around the deadline, the Hawks could end up moving him. They almost did this summer before Al Horford decided to sign with Boston.
8. Milwaukee Bucks Yep, you are reading this right. Even with the Bucks losing Khris Middleton for what's likely the season, the Bucks will make the playoffs. Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged close to a triple double after the all-star break and I see him taking an even bigger step this year as the primary ball handler. Giannis's time at point guard also led to a big jump in production for Jabari Parker. I also really like what I'm seeing with Matthew Dellevadova in a Bucks uniform. He's a steady hand that can do everything on the floor. And if they make the playoffs, Khris Middleton might even be able to come back and play.
9. New York Knicks Knicks have a good team on paper, but this isn't 2011. I'm willing to give Carmelo Anthony a slight pass for not making New York a contender during his time because he hasn't had much of a supporting cast. I think that Porzingis should take the next step and show he's the future of the franchise, and I also really like the addition of Courtney Lee. But with that, they need Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to stay healthy and there's no way I'm willing to bet on that happening.
10. Chicago Bulls The Bulls team has big names, but they make no sense. Their "big three" of Rondo, Wade, and Butler are okay, but none of them shoot the three even above average. The best one is Jimmy Butler and he only shoots 32%. There were stories about Butler clashing with Fred Hoiberg last year, and I wouldn't be surprised if those came back again this year.
11. Miami Heat It was fun while it lasted Miami. Dwyane Wade took your playoff hopes with him to Chicago. Whiteside is a damn good player, but without Wade there on the court with him can he be reigned in? It's also a shame that we might never see Chris Bosh on the court again. I'm sure Pat Riley is fine with taking a backseat this year to be focused on next summer's free agent class, but with the way he treated Wade this summer and the way he's treating Chris Bosh right now (holding him until March so he won't be playoff eligible) will stars look over there and wonder what their relationship would be?
12. Washington Wizards A playoff team two years ago, they missed the playoffs last year and I think they miss it again. John Wall is a top 7 point guard, but outside of him and Beal there's really not much. Markieff Morris is a nice player but no game changer, same goes for Marcin Gortat. In the end, I'm not counting on Beal being healthy enough for them to contend for a playoff spot.
13. Orlando Magic A lot of odd happening in Orlando right now. All their off-season additions (Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, and Serge Ibaka) all seem to lessen the role of Aaron Gordon. They got rid of Oladipo for a player (Ibaka) that won't help them catch a playoff spot and could leave next year, and they don't have much 3-point shooting outside of Evan Fournier. Will be a rough year for Magic fans.
14. Philadelphia 76ers They won't win a lot of games this year, but they should still be fascinating to watch. Joel Embiid is FINALLY healthy and could be a stud (even on a minutes restriction) and they brought over 2014 first round pick Dario Saric from Europe. It's just too bad that Ben Simmons got hurt in typical Philly fashion.
15. Brooklyn Nets The Nets have taken Philly's title of worst team in basketball. Their two best players are Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin, and the worst thing is that they don't have control of their own first round pick until 2019. Winning 15 games will be a struggle, and I think Brook Lopez will be in trade talks all year long.
MVP: LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers Runner Up: Kawhi Leonard - San Antonio Spurs
Rookie of the Year: Kris Dunn - Minnesota Timberwolves Runner Up: Brandon Ingram - Los Angeles Lakers