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Unfinished Business

Oct 21, 2014 -- 9:06am

It’s been an amazing run for the Royals to this point in 2014.  A roller coaster ride of a regular season finished with a late post season berth and a magical run to the World Series. Would all that be enough?

That answer probably can’t be answered until later.  How much later?  Well, in a week, if the Royals win it all the answer will be an easy one.  If the Giants win their third World Series in five years it may take a few months to decide if “getting there” was enough.

Not many expected the Royals to be here, but now that they are business needs to be finished.  No one knows this more than Royals fans who have waited 29 years between post season appearances. I’m often asked as a Cardinals fan why I care when the Cardinals lose in the playoffs because “you’re there every year.”  My response is you never know when it’s going to be your last chance in a while.

There will be big decisions in the off season…will James Shields be back, will Billy Butler and the Royals find a new contract that makes sense for both and can they afford to put millions to keep the Big 3 in tact.  Teams that come back whole the next year have trouble repeating a World Series run…a team with payroll restrictions and young players due a raise have it even tougher.

There is no guarantee of tomorrow so you must make the most of today.  The Royals are red hot and facing a team they match up well against.  Opportunity must be realized.  It’s hard to say there is pressure on a team few expected to even make it to this grand stage, but when the chances are so rare they have to be grasped. 

Maybe we will look back and see this as the beginning of a regular run into the postseason.  If not, a World Series win would let Royals fans look back and know that at least for one magical year their team did more than surprise…they became Champions. 

Knee Jerk Reactions

Sep 19, 2014 -- 12:04pm

Chiefs

It’s hard to get a read on the Chiefs after the first two games because they couldn’t have played with a more different effort and against two more different opponents.  People knew the schedule would be tougher this year, but game one  against the Titans wasn’t supposed to be part of that.  The Chiefs played with little emotion and a questionable game plan and fell flat. 

The effort, execution and plan were all better in Denver week 2, but the so was the opponent and the Chiefs fell just short.  It’s hard to hold much optimism for the tougher games on the schedule when the effort is inconsistent and still not enough on its better days. 

This week isn’t one of the tougher weeks for the Chiefs though against an equally inconsistent team in the Dolphins.  Playoffs seem like a long shot now so nothing is a must win…but for the Chiefs this may be one of the few “could wins” left on the schedule.  It looks to be a long year for the red and gold.

Mizzou

Tiger fans were split on expectations for the team going into the year.  That split almost mirrored the split on expectations for new starting QB Maty Mauk.  Mauk has performed well and so have the Tigers.  After sleep walking through a hot opener against a far inferior opponent, the Tigers have answered their other tests with high marks.  Going to Toledo could have proven tricky but Mauk and the defense were up to the task.  Central Florida tested Mizzou at their place a few years ago, but this time Mizzou won with ease pulling away in the second half. 

The biggest question for Mizzou now is how will they handle success.  After losing a lot of talent from last year’s team Mizzou’s new crop had something to prove.  They have to avoid the temptation now of thinking that job is done.  Indiana is a trap game and then the SEC slate begins with a tough trip to South Carolina…who already has a home win against Georgia on its resume.  The Tigers look good enough to steal a game most people think they will lose.  I see 3 losses on the schedule…four at worst.

K State

The difference between a special season and a good season is often razor thin.  That margin may have been used up by K State in the loss to Auburn.  The opportunity was there for a Cat win, but too many mistakes and miss-kicks left them just short of an upset  

The Wildcats look to have enough pieces to compete near the top of the Big 12.  And because of the way College Football is set up…and with the Big 12 being a round robin set up…K State still has everything in front of them.  Seeing some of the struggles they had against Auburns athletes I think the Cats will fall just short against Baylor and Oklahoma.  It will be another good season for Bill Snyder, but without the drama and finish of a few years ago.

Kansas

If the Jayhawks don’t beat Central Michigan it’s hard to believe they will beat anyone else.  Charlie Weis has to go.  Then, it’s just wait for basketball season.

Five for Sunday

Sep 05, 2014 -- 9:02am

Five Questions for Sunday

 

1.       Is a brand new offensive line ready for prime time?

 

The Chiefs offensive line is one of the youngest in the NFL.  Despite their age, there is some experience because Rodney Hudson, Eric Fisher and Jeff Allen have all gotten significant playing time early in their careers.  Early questions remain though with the suspension of Donald Stephenson and how that will effect things for the first 4 games of the season as the Chiefs shuffle the line to get by.  The answer to this question really comes down to the play if Eric Fisher.  If he can take strides and stay healthy the line could be ok.  If not, long year.  Also something to keep an eye on is if rookie guard Zach Fulton is ready to step up to the speed and power of the NFL.  If there is good news it’s that the Chiefs rely on the running game and in general run blocking is easier for young players than pass protection.

 

2.       Can Jamaal Charles repeat last years performance?

There is no doubt the Chiefs offense begins and ends with Number 25.  Charles was asked to shoulder 40 percent of the offense last year…and all signs point to another busy season this campaign.  Andy Reid will do a nice job of finding different ways to use Charles and if he stays healthy he should live up to the top fantasy pick he was in most drafts.

 

3.        How does Alex Smith handle the new contract?

Alex Smith and the Chiefs agreed to a new deal on the eve of the season and now we find out if he makes the Chiefs look good or puts them in a bind for years to come.  Signing Smith was almost a necessity…not because of how good he is…but because of how bad it could be if the Chiefs had to find a replacement.  Smith will make smart plays and finds ways to get the job done but he isn’t the type of quarterback to win a game on its own.  He needs playmakers around him.  We know about Charles, but can Bowe and the tight ends step up and take Smith’s smart, quick decisions and turn them into big plays?  That’s what this offense will need to be great.

 

4.       The secondary?

There is no specific question here…just the position group in general.  Eric Berry hasn’t been around much in the preseason and the Chiefs need him to be a playmaker to rescue this unit.  The Chiefs are going to as their corners to cover man to man and jam receivers…neither of which they have shown to be particularly good at.  This spot may really hurt the Chiefs this year…especially with games against Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady looming.

 

5.       Can Bob Sutton find a way to unleash his pass rushers?

If there is something that can mask the secondary it’s a good, and fast pass rush.  Sutton has tools here…Tamba, Justin Houston and rookie first round pick Dee Ford.  Can he find a away to get them…along with Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry…to the quarterback fast enough to protect a suspect secondary?  This unit is expensive and talented and needs to carry a defense with holes in other areas. 

Pre Camp AFC West Preview

Jul 18, 2014 -- 9:07am

Tougher schedules and simple math point to a regression for AFC West teams this year.  Last season 3 teams made the playoffs from the division…a rarity in the NFL.  What about this year?  Here are predictions for each team from a reporter that covers the team day in and day out. 

 

Broncos   (13-3, Lost to Seattle in Super Bowl 43-8)

Mike Rice, Broncos Studio Host

 

Key offensive player

Montee Ball

“It all starts with Peyton Manning, but beyond number 18 I look at a guy like Montee Ball and wonder how much he can improve and what impact he can have.  If Montee Ball can give the Broncos a more powerful running game, a more consistent running game, a more effective running game especially in short yardage I just think that makes this offense that much more explosive that much more dangerous.  It helps the cause late in the year when the weather is potentially bad.”

 

Key defensive player

Aquib Talib

“The way he can change the game from the cornerback spot can’t be understated.  He’s one of the best cornerbacks in the league.  He’s tough, physical and he has that nasty streak to him.  My perception of him is if you’re an offensive guy you don’t want to go up against him.  The Broncos needed that kind of player specifically in the secondary if you look at last year. “

 

Prediction for the team

12-4 (1st Place)

“I don’t see why they can’t get back to the Super Bowl.  They’ve got the guy at quarterback to be able to get it done.  I think they’ve upgraded in a lot of areas that they needed to upgrade in.  Chemistry since Peyton has been here has not been an issue.  It’s been very good.   I don’t see why they can’t get back to the Super Bowl.  I don’t see why they can’t win it.”

 

Chargers   (9-7, lost to Denver in the Divisional Round 24-17)

Judson Richards, Chargers Post Game Host

 

Key offensive player

Malcolm Floyd

“I was sure if he would return after the injury he sustained versus the Eagles.  He missed the entire year…is 33 years old.  Wide Receiver corps isn’t a strength for the Chargers.  Keenan Allen needs some help.   If Maclolm Floyd has a big year he is my X factor for the chargers.”

 

Key defensive player

Brandon Flowers

“The Chargers secondary defending the pass were 29th in the league last year…just downright atrocious.  Brandon Flowers needs to not only help that secondary but the secondary needs to get better to help the pass rush.  Being a Pro Bowler he’s got the best statistics in that secondary and he’s going to need to show that’s still the kind of ball player he is.”

 

Prediction for the team

10-6 (2nd Place)

“They need to get off to a really good start with the final five games on their schedule.  I do believe the way they finished last year was not a fluke.  I think they got healthy…(Head Coach) Mike McCoy figured some things out.   That’s more what they’ll look like than the team that found themselves at 5-7 at one point last year.”

 

Raiders   (4-12)

Damon Bruce, Afternoon Host on Raiders Flagship Station

 

Key offensive player

Matt Schaub

“Like with every other NFL team isn’t the answer quarterback…and I think that holds true with the Raiders.  This can’t be the second offseason in a row where they go out of their way to trade for and acquire a high priced veteran quarterback that has absolutely no impact on the upcoming season.  If Matt Schaub is Matt Flynn 2.0 all the compliments that (GM) Reggie McKenzie got this offseason are going to look pretty foolish.”

 

Key defensive player

Kahlil Mack

“Are the right people in place to build a winner?  The answers are easily seen through free agent and draft choices.  There’s been huge buzz about Kahlil Mack.  The players are getting him very positive early reviews calling him a physical specimen and a beast.  But let’s see how he looks when the lights go on for real.  Mack is not only going to be an important player on if the season will improve, but he’s a very important player in the arc of Reggie McKenzie’s career.”

 

Prediction for the team

6-10

“I think the Raiders are an improved football product but you’ll have to interpret that...you won’t be able to necessarily see it just in the record.  Their schedule is brutal…the hardest in the NFL according to last year’s winning percentages.”

 

 

Divisional Predictions

 

Rice

Broncos 12-4

Chargers 10-6

Chiefs 9-7

Raiders 6-10

 

Richards

Broncos 12-4

Chargers 10-6

Raiders 8-8

Chiefs 7-9

 

Bruce

Broncos 12-4

Chiefs 10-6

Chargers 9-7

Raiders 6-10

 

World Cup Success...A World Away

Jul 02, 2014 -- 9:50am

Soccer fever gripped the U.S. over the past few weeks as a dash of nationalism mixed with a pinch of hope to give hard core and casual soccer fans a reason to watch the World Cup.  In the end though we got a taste of just how far the U.S. still has to go to compete on the biggest stage.

Watch parties raged at Kansas City’s Power and Light district, Chicago’s Soldier Field and countless other large venues and small living rooms as people got together to root for the Red, White and Blue.  The show of support and interest is a good sign for soccer moving forward in the U.S.  More parents with encourage their kids to play the sport and more kids now know they can play soccer and get as many cheers as if they played baseball or football.  That’s another good step for the sport in this country.

It’s just a step though and the final few matches show U.S. soccer needs to take a big leap to compete.  The Men’s National Team looked like is belonged in group play against Ghana and even Portugal.  When they matched up against the higher ranked teams of Germany and Belgium though they looked far from being a threat.

The U.S. team has some great athletes no doubt.  It also has some very skilled players.  It didn’t look like they had the combination of those that matched up against the men from Germany and Belgium though.  Belgium players were crossing over on our players like Michael Jordan in his prime.  If looked like our players were having to try so hard to get in front of them that Blegium was simply able to change directions and be in open space.  Their passes were on the foot and easily controlled and moved forward.  The communication was silent but outstanding.  The U.S. did not look the same offensively.

When the USMNT tried to move the ball forward passes too often were just out of reach or too hard to be controlled.  Several miscommunications led to potential chances falling apart in the middle third.  Until pressed and behind a goal, the U.S. was able to muster little offense.  Only Tim Howards brilliance and the steady play of the defense kept the U.S. in the game.

Watching yesterday reminded me of watching the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics.  Sure other countries had some tall guys, some guys who could handle the ball and some guys who could shoot.  But none had guys who could do it all like we did.  The U.S. had 12 guys with amazing athleticism and skill…other countries were lucky to have a few guys with one or the other.  That’s what it looked like to me for the U.S. going against Germany and Belgium.

It’s hard to say what can close that gap.  Kids in other countries dribble a soccer ball as they walk to school.  Our kids dribble a basketball.  Kids in other countries play soccer every day.  Our kids play when they have practice or a game a few times a week if they don’t have a conflict with dance, piano or baseball practices.  Soccer, though gaining, remains low on the totem poll in the U.S.  It may take several decades for that to change.

World Cup Fever...or Maybe The Sniffles

Jun 13, 2014 -- 11:22am

World Cup Fever…Well Sniffles

 

The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT for cool twitter people) starts its World Cup journey Monday afternoon.  Has the US caught soccer fever…I say no.  It’s more of the case of the sniffles.

Let’s start with the fact that a large portion of the country isn’t sports fans and don’t care about anything with a ball.  Then add in the soccer haters…sports fans that refuse to acknowledge soccer is growing in popularity…or has any value whatsoever.  That makes a large group of people who will refuse to look at ESPN over the next few weeks.

I’m no soccer hater.  I will stay up to date with the US team and watch other World Cup matches when I can.  Whenever there is a worldwide competition our country is involved in I’ll pay attention.  At least until we are eliminated.  I think many are in my boat.

Then there is the 3rd spectrum.  The growing number of soccer enthusiasts.  They are the ones that will fill the P and L on Monday for the watch party, they own Sporting scarves, and they accuse you of just not understanding the sport.  They will be on your local news this week, they will talk about how tough the US group is, they will chant.  They will be in your face.

Because they will be so visible this week many will claim soccer is taking over the US sports landscape.  The popularity of soccer will be overblown.  The demise of other sports like hockey, basketball and baseball will be prematurely predicted.  Soccer is a growing sport in America…no doubt.  Soccer has passionate fans…what it lacks is secondary interest.

Secondary fans really make the NFL the beast that it is.  There are many people that have a fantasy team but couldn’t tell you who won last year’s Super Bowl.  There is still a generation of baseball fans that watch the sport simply because their dad and granddad did.  Soccer is without these fans right now.   

There are enough to fill the P and L for a watch party.  There are enough to fill Sporting Park.  But there aren’t many more paying attention outside of that.  Take this from a recent article on Sportingnews.com

“Still, MLS lags badly behind its American competition in television numbers. For example, the National Hockey League – easily the closest of the so-called “big four” U.S. professional sports to MLS in terms of ratings - averaged 392,000 viewers per game on NBC Sports Network in 2013, more than tripling the MLS audience.”

Soccer is here and is growing in popularity.  The World Cup will bring awareness to more fans and may convert a few.  However, it’s going to take more than just being in the World Cup to really grab the attention of America.  The USMNT needs to win. 

The record of the US in the World Cup is 7-16-5.

They’ve only made the semi-finals once…in 1930…the first year.

They didn’t even qualify for nearly 40 straight years. 

Winning…and winning big is what needs to happen to really capture the American sports fans heart.  And unfortunately even their coach doesn’t think that is likely.

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