Atlanta New Year’s Resolutions

This Thursday marks the start of a fresh year, 2015. It’s a chance for everyone to start anew and hope for a bigger and even better year. Each year people decide to make New Year’s resolutions because it is the popular thing to do and it gives you a goal to strive for if not in the long run, at least for the first few weeks (like getting in shape). Though many resolutions go to the wayside after the first month or so, I still think it is important to set some goals and resolutions to better ourselves. The resolutions I will put forth will not be for me, but for some Atlanta teams moving forward. Out with the old and in with the new, it’s time for some local teams to make some promises and to bring forth some change in 2015.

Atlanta Falcons

            Black Monday has brought the axing of Mike Smith after seven successful seasons and a 66-46 record in the regular season. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a 34-3 blowout loss at home which sealed the Falcons postseason fate along with Smith’s. Though he was Atlanta’s winningest coach in franchise history, his inability to win in the postseason (1-4) and his 1-14 record against winning teams the past two seasons was enough for Arthur Blank to make the switch. Atlanta’s New Year resolution should be to hire a defensive-minded coach and allow him to rebuild one of the league’s worst defenses.

The Falcons have always had the fire power on offense, but it has been their faulty defense that has done them in. The past two seasons they have finished 27th in the league in points allowed; too much for the offense to overcome. There have been some questionable moves including letting Brent Grimes, Thomas DeCoud, and John Abraham go too soon. The makeshift defense did the best they could but too many holes remained. Bringing in a defensive-minded coach would allow the team to put in better schemes and hopefully bring aboard some high quality players. The trio of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White seemingly should be able to function with any coach or coordinator. Recently fired Rex Ryan went to back-to-back AFC Conference Championship games with Mark Sanchez as his quarterback – yes, Mark Sanchez. Give Rex the weapons Atlanta has on offense, and allow him to run the defense and the Falcons might be in good shape sooner rather than later.

Atlanta Braves

            My resolution for Atlanta is to keep doing what they are doing and be patient. Continue to build the farm system and look forward to the opening of SunTrust Park in 2017. The NL East has gotten considerably tougher and it is the right move to blow things up and punt on the upcoming seasons. The cupboard was bare when John Hart took over, but he is now starting to add pieces to the farm and hopefully be able to reap the benefits in three to four years. It will be tough for fans to suffer through 70-75 win seasons, but they have to remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint and that good things will come in the future.

Atlanta Hawks

At 22-8, the Hawks are tied for the fourth best record in the NBA. Their resolution should be to make it to the conference finals. Atlanta has made the postseason in seven consecutive seasons and look to be a lock again for this year; however, the Hawks have lost in the first round three straight years before losing in the second round three years in a row before that.  As the story goes for all Atlanta teams, getting over the postseason hump is the most difficult thing to do. This could be Atlanta’s year with the East being watered down and the Cavaliers struggling to become dominant. The Hawks have been Atlanta’s most consistent team this past decade but you would never guess it by the lack of support. It’s time for the Hawks to take ahold of Atlanta and officially become the city’s number one team.

As with all resolutions, only time will tell if they will come to fruition or not. I wish everyone a safe and happy New Years and I will see you next year!

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Is the Light at the End of the Tunnel for the Mets?

It has been eight long and grueling years since the New York Mets have made the playoffs. Fans have ridden the emotional roller coaster of Oliver Perez surrendering a devastating home run to-be that was miraculously brought back in by Endy Chavez and turned into a double play on possibly the greatest catch in post season history. Just an hour or so later we had to suffer through the slow moving comeback that was built and eventually lost all steam when Carlos Beltran struck out looking against an Adam Wainwright curve ball which propelled Wainwright into elite status and the Mets spiraling into one of the most painful doldrums the franchise has seen.

The 2007 and 2008 last day losses that kept them out of the post season are too painful to relive. The rebuilding process and clearing house of Omar Minaya, Willie Randolph, and Jerry Manuel getting axed seems like ancient history. The Bernie Madoff scandal to this day seems to linger over the Mets franchise which has some people thinking the team is still strapped for cash while others think the stingy owning group of the Wilpons just don’t want to spend money. A New York team with a payroll barely reaching $100 million is almost unfathomable, but alas, the light seemingly is finally in sight at the end of the tunnel.

The prudent and methodical workings of Sandy Alderson have not wowed anyone, but the Mets slowly have built one of the league’s stronger farm systems and one of the MLB’s deepest pitching staffs in baseball with the likes young aces Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, the usually reliable veterans of Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, and the highly touted prospects Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and others. The Mets have begrudgingly made splash-worthy moves under the tenure of Sandy Alderson, but he has slowly tried to make the right decisions. Last season Curtis Granderson was brought aboard and was streaky with the Mets, but showed signs of life throughout the season. This year the oft-injured but productive Michael Cuddyer was signed to strengthen the offense, but still holes remain.

The Winter Meetings have come and gone and the NL East (aside from Philadelphia & Atlanta) has gotten stronger on paper. Whispers have swirled that the Mets, after passing on a bid to sign Jung-Ho Kang, are now slightly interested in acquiring Troy Tulowitzki. Alderson continues to deny anything being remotely close, but the fact that it is out there is interesting. The Mets are sitting on a plethora of MLB-ready pitching talent, and I say it is time to let it fly and roll the dice.

Tulo is injury-prone yes, and plays at Coors Field, but he is the big name that would get New Yorkers back interested in the team from Queens. Tulowitzki is a career .299, but hits just .274 away from home. If the Mets were able to send a package to grab him, he of course most likely will not hit .320 and won’t play 162 games. But a line of .280/20/90 is more than reasonable and would be a massive upgrade over Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores, who I still think can be a solid offensive player. Today on MLB Network Jon Heyman brought up the package of Syndergaard, Gee, Flores, Montero, and Kevin Plawecki for Tulowitzki and $30 million to help the salary the Mets will be taking on.  Syndergaard is the Mets’ No.1 ranked prospect while Plawecki and Montero come in at Nos. 5 and 8 according to Baseball America’s 2015 team rankings.

As much as a gamble it may be, it is a trade that I would push to get done. The Mets made a similar big splash six years ago when they traded Kevin Mulvey, Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, and Phillip Humber for Johan Santana. Out of those four prospects only Carlos Gomez has made an impact besides from Humber’s fluke perfect game. The simple fact is that prospects are prospects; they aren’t proven players. There are hundreds of prospects in each farm system and at the end of the day, it is all a crap shoot on who will turn into the next Derek Jeter and who will turn into the next Matt Bush. Farm systems can be easily replenished in just a year or two, but acquiring stars does not happen every day.

Worst case scenario, Tulo flops hard and Syndergaard proves to be the real deal. The Mets have been burned before with Mo Vaughn, Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, and so on and on, but the fact that you got burnt in the past doesn’t mean you have to stop trying. You have to be able to roll the dice. High-risk, high-reward moves are often the moves that can push a team from the bottom of the standings into playoff contention (Royals trading top prospect Wil Myers for Jason Shields). Sandy has seemingly been too scared to make a splash and go all out. If the cash is there, and the right move is there, its time to go all out and make something happen. He must know the fan base is getting tired of his frugal spending and his unwillingness to try and make the playoffs due to the fact that if he falls flat on his face, his time in New York may be up.

Alderson wants to temper expectations, but the fan base and even Terry Collins and the players know the time is now to make a push for the playoffs. Whether it is the blockbuster move trading for Tulowitzki, or another minor move shipping away Gee or Niese, the Mets are still a piece away from being able to call themselves locks for the postseason. Right now they are on the precipice of contending for a Wild Card spot. Its time for Sandy Alderson to grab the opportunity by the throat, and give it all they got to make the playoffs for the first time in eight long, and arduous years.

A Year in Review

As we close the books and flip the calendar on the year 2014, its time to recap some of the highlights and lowlights of our local teams this past year. In 2014 we saw the colossal downfall of the Braves, the scintillating start of the season for the Hawks, the surprise year of the Yellow Jackets, and the injury-plagued season of the Falcons. I’m here to handout grades this year and give you my perspective of the 2014 season.

Atlanta Braves

Atlanta started out the 2013-14 season strong and led the NL East for a majority of the first half, with a 52-43 record. However, the wheels fell off in the second half and heads began to roll. The Braves sputtered to 27-40 and finished tied for second place with the New York Mets at 79-83. It all went wrong with the putrid Atlanta offense which finished second-worst in the entire MLB. They averaged just over three runs a game in the second half and were left searching for answers. Greg Walker walked away from the hitting coach position after the season so he could leave on his own terms instead of being fired. This was just the beginning of the shakeup.  General Manager Frank Wren was fired after seven years at the helm of the Braves. John Hart has now taken over the team and has torn it all down trading away the beloved Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and cut ties with Jonny Venters and Kris Medlen. Hart recognized the Braves were not going anywhere with their current roster and instead decided to bolster one of the league’s weakest farm systems. It may hurt now Braves fans, but you are in a better position today to win a title than you were four months ago. Grade: C+

Atlanta Falcons

            Maybe no team has suffered more injuries specifically to their offensive line than the Falcons have this year. In most seasons, a 6-9 record would have teams doing major research on their draft board, but the NFC South has been so bad this year the Falcons have a shot to make the playoffs at 7-9 if they beat the Panthers next week. As nice as it is to say that you made the playoffs, let’s not kid ourselves. It has been another disastrous season for the Falcons and now reports have leaked out that Head Coach Mike Smith will not make it to the 2015 season. The offense has been solid but the Atlanta defense has been one of the worst in the league. The once feared Georgia Dome has lost its home field advantage along with the Saints and their Superdome. Of course it never hurts to make the playoffs, but in the grand scheme of things it’s just another banner hanging in the rafters, not a ring on the players’ fingers. Grade: C

Atlanta Hawks

            If someone told you at the beginning of the year that the Hawks would be Atlanta’s best hope at a championship team, you probably wouldn’t believe them, but alas, here we are and the Hawks have been mightily impressive this season with a 19-7 record and their longest winning streak in over a decade. Coach Budenholzer has instilled a winning philosophy and a defensive minded unit. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap anchor the team while Kyle Korver is having the best shooting season in history, slashing 51/53/96. Though the season is only a quarter of the way through, Atlanta has shown no signs of slowing down in the weak Eastern Conference and may be a dark horse to emerge from the East. Grade thus far: A

Georgia Tech

Seemingly on his death bed as head coach at Tech, Paul Johnson needed a big season to stick around and boy did he get it. A 10-3 season with a win over UGA was enough for PJ to secure a four-year extension with the Ramblin’ Wreck. An Orange Bowl berth against Mississippi State will end a successful season. Grade: A

Till Next Year

It has been a year full of ups and downs for our local teams. 2015 will surely produce more memorable moments, but until then, Happy Holidays and have a safe and Happy New Year!

Bowl Season Predictions

It’s officially the best time of year for football fans. The bowl season is here and there are plenty of massive matchups that will be sure to gather the family around the big screen. The best of the best will face off to determine who is for real and who is still a step behind. The playoff committee already has had fans on the edge of their seats with the final four selection and now all that is left is to play the games. I want to break down some of the biggest games including our local schools and give my synopsis on how they might play out.

Capital One Orange Bowl

Entering the season many people including myself thought that this could be Coach Paul Johnson’s final season at the helm of Georgia Tech. It seemed like the always unpredictable Jackets could either flop their way to a 6-6 record, or do something special to save PJ’s job; it looks like they chose the latter. Tech finished 10-3 and helped Coach Johnson secure a 4-year contract extension. They will have a tough test against formerly No. 1 ranked Mississippi State. By now you should know how Tech wins games; the triple option. Justin Thomas has dazzled at quarterback passing for 1,594 yards and rushing for 965. Seniors Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days both finished with over 750 yards rushing. Mississippi State has a stingy defense that allows under 20 points per game and is led on offense by Dak Prescott who has amassed 3,970 yards and 38 touchdowns. Tech will challenge the Bulldogs tough defense with their rushing onslaught. Mississippi State opens as a 7-point favorite. I could see this game going either way, but I think the Bulldogs’ balance will be too much in the end for Georgia Tech. Prediction: Miss St.

Belk Bowl

            A familiar face will greet the Dawgs in Charlotte. Todd Grantham leads a Louisville defense that once went four straight games without allowing an offensive touchdown this season. The quarterback position has been a rotating door for the Cards and has stymied them in losses to Virginia and Clemson. Georgia benefited from playing in the weak SEC East but did not win the division. Injuries and suspensions have riddled the backfield, but Nick Chubb has emerged as a star with 1,281 yards rushing. The Dawgs come in averaging 255 yards a game rushing, but Louisville allows the third fewest in the nation at 93.7. If Louisville can receive solid quarterback play on offense and force Hutson Mason to beat them, Grantham should be headed for success, but it is easier said than done to stop Georgia’s run game. UGA is a 6.5 point favorite in what could be a low scoring affair. I think the Cards could surprise Georgia with their defense, but Louisville’s lack of stability at the quarterback position is too much for me. Prediction: UGA

Final Four Playoff

            The stage is set: No. 1 Alabama vs No. 4 Ohio State. No. 2 Oregon vs No. 3 Florida State. There has not been one single dominant team this season, so it is anybody’s ballgame. I would have liked to see TCU in over Ohio State due to the Buckeyes’ brutal loss against Virginia Tech and the fact that they are down to their third string quarterback. Though I don’t believe that Alabama is the unbeatable team that many figure them to be, I think they will be able to handle Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes.

The real national championship in my opinion is Florida State vs Oregon. The nation’s two top ranked NFL quarterback prospects will duke it out to see who advances to the finals and possibly even who will be selected first overall. Florida State will need to come out strong like they did against Georgia Tech, but they will also need to get some stops. This game is a complete toss-up, but I feel like whoever wins will go on to win the championship. Alabama has shown cracks and was exposed badly in the Sugar Bowl last year. Florida State has enough blue chippers and Oregon has Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to shut down Bama’s one dimensional passing game. Prediction: FSU/Oregon

Why The Playoff Committee Got It Wrong But Will Never Admit It

Every season no matter what there will be debates on who was snubbed and who got the benefit of the doubt. Coming into this season with the new Final Four Playoff it was bound to happen. It was bound to have a deserving team sitting at home. Little did we know that the cases for two teams that got left out would be so strong. It was a difficult decision for the committee of course and they did the best they could. Sadly, I’m not here to give them a pat on the back and tell them “good job”. If you know anything about me, you shouldn’t be surprised that I’m here to give them a kick in the butt and ask them “What in the world did you just do?”

At the end of the day, the best team will emerge from the final four. I understand that. But the most important thing is giving the top four deserving schools a chance to battle it out. I understand that Bama is No.1, even though a strong case belongs to Oregon. FSU No. 3 is fine with me. They haven’t lost in over a year, and if they are for real they will beat whoever it is in front of them. My main quarrel is with Ohio State. The Buckeyes by far and away have the worst loss out of any single team in the top 10; an utterly putrid beat down by offensively inept Virginia Tech (6-6). The Hokies hung 35 points on Ohio State. I don’t understand the thought process of “it was early”. Does that mean the games we play in the first four weeks of the season hold no merit at all the rest of the way?

The only reason this loss in a massive thorn in my side is because the quality of wins are close if not go in favor of TCU, who I felt should have gotten the fourth seed. The talk of TCU not playing anyone out of conference needs to end. The Big 12 is light-years ahead of the watered down Big Ten, which easily is considered the worst out of the Power 5 conferences, especially when playing other Power 5 conferences. TCU smacked Minnesota (8-4) 30-7. That same Minnesota team lost by only 7 against Ohio State with a healthy JT Barrett. Hello? TCU’s only loss came in a come from behind defeat to the hands of Baylor who is a top 10 school, not a 6-6 school that is on a steep decline.

TCU beat then-ranked opponents: No. 4 Oklahoma (8-4), No. 15 Oklahoma State (6-6), No. 20 West Virginia (7-5), and No. 7 Kansas State (9-3).

OSU beat then-ranked opponents: No. 8 Michigan State (10-2), No. 25 Minnesota (8-4), No. 13 Wisconsin (10-3).

Ohio State simply overmatches opposing Big 10 schools with their athleticism. The Big Ten is a far cry from the ACC, SEC, and Big 12. Teams like Rutgers, Illinois, and even Minnesota just can’t matchup, but too many times was OSU pushed to the brink. Indiana, Penn State, Minnesota, and even Navy had chances to knock off the Buckeyes in the second half.

OSU ranks 4th in PPG, and 23rd in Points Allowed. TCU is 2nd in PPG and 16th in Points Allowed playing in a much more explosive offensive conference. The committee has goofed up and allowed another Big Ten school to pull the wool over their eyes. If JT Barrett or Braxton Miller were healthy, I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with them sneaking in, but letting a third stringer take his team to the Final Four just seems like too much to overcome. The last time OSU won a big bowl game was the 2010 Sugar Bowl, which has since been vacated. Last year Clemson beat the Bucks 40-35 in the Orange Bowl. And in 2011 it was Florida beating Ohio State 24-17 in the Gator Bowl. The Big Ten has been dominated in Rose Bowls going 2-8 in their last ten games.

It feels like the committee wanted to ensure Alabama a spot in the national title game. After getting a scare of having no SEC teams make the Final Four, it seems like the NCAA wanted to hammer down Alabama in the title game. I feel like whoever wins the Florida State-Oregon game will go on to be named the National Champs. Of course I will be rooting for Ohio State to make me shut my mouth and prove there is parity in college football, but I lean towards the side of Alabama winning by three scores. Hopefully the Final Four produces close games, or else it’s back to the drawing board NCAA.

The Slipping SEC (Featured in Score Atlanta Vol. 10 Issue 45)

Growing up and living in the south all I have heard the last decade is how football is king and how the SEC is bar none the greatest conference in the nation. Sure the SEC has flexed its muscle the past decade winning seven of the eight BCS National Championship games and of course, believe it or not, there is such a thing as SEC bias. There shouldn’t have been an Alabama-LSU rematch in 2011 and Alabama shouldn’t have been gifted the title when the committee allowed an overwhelmed Notre Dame team to play instead of a deserving Oregon squad who got beat on a last second field goal two years prior. Florida State ended the SEC reign of dominance after shaking off a suspicious slow start that many claimed was due to Auburn stealing signs in the first half.

Fast forward to this past Saturday with some of the oldest most bitter rivalries taking place. Four games saw the disrespected ACC play the almighty SEC. Of course anyone who knows college football knows that the SEC must have dominated its little brother the ACC right? Wrong. It was the ACC bowing its chest out and going 4-0 against the nation’s most beloved conference. Louisville took care of a game Kentucky team 44-40, Clemson shellacked preseason number nine South Carolina 35-17, Florida State played possum again but managed to win its twenty-eighth consecutive game by beating Florida 24-19, and of course Georgia Tech stunned Georgia 30-24. It’s fine to argue that all these teams came from the paltry SEC East, but when a conference is claimed to be the best, they can’t come up with excuses when they get shutout by an inferior conference.

Boiling Bob…

The love for the SEC spilled over into the coaching ranks and irked one big name coach last season. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops finally had enough of the swooning over the SEC. “So you’re listening to a lot of propaganda that gets fed out to you. You’re more than smart enough to figure it out. Again, you can look at the top two, three, four, five, six teams, and you can look at the bottom six, seven, eight, whatever they are. How well are they all doing?” Stoops was right. Perception is reality and when everyone is forcing you to believe the SEC is hands down the best conference, you have to take a step back and evaluate everything. Coach Stoops led Oklahoma to a 45-31 Sugar Bowl statement win over Alabama after being a 17 point underdog.

The Glory Days…

The SEC’s strength used to be its defenses. Those days are now over. Auburn hung 628 yards on Alabama and still lost in a shootout. The same thing happened last year in the SEC Championship when Auburn and Missouri combined for 101 points. The strength of the SEC has fallen back with the rest of the nation, and this season is no different. The self-cannibalization of the top SEC schools has begun. Only Alabama remains with one loss. If Auburn was able to get a stop on defense at all during the Iron Bowl, we possibly could have seen the mighty SEC left out in the cold with no teams entering the final four playoff. The latest AP poll now has just two SEC schools in the top 10, the lowest amount in what feels like years with how much respect the SEC has been given and how much other conferences have been disregarded.

The Pac-12 and Big-12 quietly have some of the better teams in the nation. The long argued idea of “Team X wouldn’t win six games in the SEC!” is a thing of the past. The nation has finally caught up to the SEC and there is great parity amongst the landscape of college football. Last season’s Florida State team might be the last dominant bunch we will see in the college football for a while. The final four playoff came at just the right time and will give fans an opportunity to see some great games. Hopefully the committee can select the right teams and give us the chance to see a game nearly as good as last year’s championship.