Big Ern’s NFL Mid-Season Report Card

Matt Ryan led the 2007 BC Eagles to a Top 10 National Ranking. 5 years later, he’s piloting his soaring Falcons (7-0) toward the top of the NFL.
(Source: boston.com)

So, we’re halfway through the 2012 NFL Regular Season.  Let’s just say the First Semester is over, and as college students so frequently like to summarize: “Mistakes were made!”  At the conclusion of one of the most turbulent (literally now in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy) first halves of a season I can ever remember, the NFL has only one unbeaten team (the 7-0 Atlanta Falcons) and a whole lot of question marks surrounding some of its Flagship Franchises who have dropped several winable games, resulting in parity the likes never before seen in the NFL.

So Ern is going to issue a Mid-Season “Class Rank” to each team along with a “Letter Grade” for how well Big Ern feels each team has utilized its talent thus far, both on the field and on the sidelines in the face of scheduling, injuries, officiating, etc.  Ern will also display his Original Prediction for each team’s 2012 record so you can see how the Ernster is projected to finish as well !  So without further suspense, here we go:

1. New York Giants (6-2)     (A -)       Ern: 12-4 (NFC East Champs)

The Giants are the defending World Champs who have balanced both a difficult schedule and an injury to one of Football’s most explosive players – wide receiver Hakeem Nicks in order to remain atop the NFC East.  They have already faced Dallas twice, splitting the season series – surviving on Sunday afternoon with key defensive plays in timely spots.  The Giants have already overcome their first challenge from rookie phenom RG3 and the Redskins as Eli Manning hit Victor Cruz with a bomb in the closing seconds.  With a commanding victory over the 49ers in the NFC Title Rematch also on their resume, the Giants are currently Valedictorian of the NFL Season.

2. San Francisco 49ers (6-2)  (B +)             Ern: 12-4 (NFC West Champs)

The 49ers should be 7-1 right now, on course to obtain Homefield Advantage in the NFC Playoffs.  Instead, San Francisco suffered a hickup at Minnesota (bringing Coach Harbaugh down to a B+) and the 49ers currently find themselves behind New York (via tiebreaker), undefeated Atlanta, and Chicago in the NFC.  The Niners have had some impressive wins – a complete domination at the Jets and last night’s pulveration of the Cardinals in the desert.  If San Francisco is going to claim Homefield Advantage this year, they are most likely going to have to win Either at New Orleans (11-25) or at New England (12-16) – both very difficult places to play.

3. Atlanta Falcons (7-0)           (A +)                 Ern: 8-8

Well, Boston College’s own Matt Ryan needs only one more win to achieve Ern’s 2012 Prediction.  See, sometimes even the Experts can mess up this stuff!  You have to give “Matty Ice”, Coach Mike Smith, star wideout Roddy White, and the rest of the Falcons the only A+ in the NFL for the First Semester.  With the Saints struggling on the both sides of the football, Atlanta appears to have a clear path to the NFC South Title.

4. Houston Texans (6-1)           (A)                   Ern: 10-6 (AFC South Champs)

Speaking of Homefield Advantage, the Houston Texans have the inside track in the AFC, effectively 2 games ahead of 5-2 Baltimore by virtue of their Reliant Stadium slam dunk of the Ravens in October.  The Texans appear to have a cakewalk the rest of the way with their toughest remaining games at Chicago (11-11) and at New England (12-10).  Even if they lose both of those games and win the rest, Houston would still finish 13-3.  However, the strangest part of the Texans schedule is the last 3 games, 2 of which are both against the Colts, who are all of a sudden 4-3 and poised to compete with anyone, led by rookie sensation Andrew Luck.  The Texans had best keep their eyes on Indianapolis!

5. Chicago Bears (6-1)            (A)                   Ern: 12-4 (NFC Wild Card)

The Word that Big Ern would currently use to describe the Chicago Bears is “Solid”.  Coach Lovie Smith is “Solid”.  QB Jay Cutler is “Solid” (for the first time ever this late in season!).  Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is “Solid” (both literally and figuratively).  And wide receiver/kick returner Devin Hester is “Solid” (ErnBlog Word of the Day) too.  The Bears have only lost one game in 2012 – at Green Bay in Week 2.  Chicago will eagerly anticipate their rematch with the Packers on December 16 – a chance to win the NFC North.

6. Green Bay Packers (5-3)       (B)                  Ern: 12-4 (NFC North Champs)

Ern gives the Packers a straight B.  Yeah, that hurts, doesn’t it Aaron Rodgers?  Well, you know what?  You frankly just have not played that well in 2012.  So the officials screwed you guys in Seattle on Monday Night Football?  Yeah, we all saw it.  But once again, when you score 12 points on the road in the NFL, all bets are off.  The Packers had better get going, because even though they pulled off the Lombardi in 2010, playing on the road in the postseason is no picnic!

7. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)          (B +)                Ern: 10-6 (AFC Wild Card)

The Ravens literally have the #7 Spot by One Point over the Patriots, whom they defeated 31-30 on September 23.  At this point, the Houston Texans really are the only AFC team deserving of going to a Super Bowl.  Although QB Joe Flacco (very under-rated) is having another strong year for Baltimore, the Ravens defense is aging.  Future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis is out for the season.  If that isn’t a devastating injury, I don’t know what is.  Looking at Baltimore’s remaining 9 games of the season, I see only one seemingly easy win – this Sunday at Cleveland.  Ern sees a rocky road the rest of the way for the Ravens.

8. New England Patriots (5-3)        (B -)                  Ern: 13-3 (AFC East Champs)

So far, with a B-, the Patriots have the worst Midseason Grade among the NFL’s George Peabody Medal Contenders.  I’ll get more into George Peabody Medals (a suburban Massachusetts topic) in my first book.  But right now, let’s get to the Patriots.  Their secondary is horrible.  The best player in the New England secondary is Devin McCourty – a third-year corner from Rutgers who is a better kick returner than a defensive player!  One of these years Belichick has got to ask someone for help with these Drafts!  Bill, you’re a genius on the field, a wizard at practice, an innovator in the filmroom.  When it comes to picking college football players in New York City on a Thursday night in late April, I think there are folks better at that.  Just saying.

But it’s not the Patriots’ failure to pick the right players that saddles them with the B-.  It’s New England’s failure to not realize until Week 8 in London against the St. Louis Rams that they need to blitz their linebackers and attack quarterbacks in order to attempt to conceal their primary weakness in the defensive backfield.

While the Patriots offense often appears unstoppable, it frequently breaks down in the red zone, resulting in field goal attempts by historically reliable Stephen Gostkowski.  Well, this year, Gostkowski’s missed a few, including a potential game winner against Arizona.  Big Ern is not going to criticize the field goal kicker.  He’s going to criticize New England’s offensive coordinator – Josh McDaniels, who on multiple occasions this season has chosen to completely abandon the running game.  In the Patriots’ two best games of the year thus far (at Buffalo and this past Sunday against the Rams), the New England offense featured a well-balanced attack of Tom Brady short to medium-range passing and the Stevan Ridley/Danny Woodhead/Brandon Boldin/Shane Vereen running game.  If the Patriots refuse to run the football in the key games (note the Seattle game in particular), Big Ern does not see them making the trip to New Orleans in February for the Really Big Game.

9. Miami Dolphins (4-3)        (A -)                 Ern: 8-8

Big Ern’s impressed with the Dolphins.  He’s impressed with Coach Joe Philbin, Cameron Wake, Reggie Bush, rookie QB Ryan Tannehill, and now backup QB Matt Moore who came in out of the bullpen on Sunday to bury the Jets.  The rest of the way, Big Ern sees the Dolphins beating Buffalo twice and New England once.  If Miami could then muster up 2 more wins along the way (home against Tennessee?  home against Jacksonville?), can you say, Playoffs?

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)     (B)                Ern: 11-5 (AFC North Champs)

11. Denver Broncos (4-3)          (B)               Ern: 10-6 (AFC West Champs)

The Broncos shouldn’t have a problem winning the West, but without better defense in the Playoffs, Denver will be a quick out.

12. Arizona Cardinals (4-4)           (B)                Ern: 4-12

13. Seattle Seahawks (4-4)          (B +)             Ern: 7-9

14. Minnesota Vikings (5-3)          (A -)              Ern: 5-11

15. New Orleans Saints (2-5)        (C)                Ern: 12-4 (NFC South Champs) 

16. Washington Redskins (3-5)   (B +)              Ern: 7-9

17. Oakland Raiders (3-4)              (B)               Ern: 9-7

18. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4)          (B)                Ern: 7-9

19. Dallas Cowboys (3-4)              (C +)              Ern: 10-6

20. Indianapolis Colts (4-3)           (A -)              Ern: 6-10

21. Detroit Lions (3-4)                    (C +)             Ern: 10-6  (NFC Wild Card)

22. San Diego Chargers (3-4)         (C)               Ern: 7-9

Norv Turner is So Done there.

23. Buffalo Bills (3-4)                      (C +)            Ern: 9-7

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is good.  Coach Chan Gailey is good.  Pick defensive free agent acquisition Mario Williams – not so good.

24. Tennessee Titans (3-5)                (C)            Ern: 5-11

25. St. Louis Rams (3-5)                   (C +)          Ern: 2-14

Big Ern loves Coach Jeff Fisher.  He’s the Man.

26. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)              (D)          Ern: 6-10

I knew this team was gonna suck.

27. New York Jets (3-5)                       (F)           Ern: 11-5 (AFC Wild Card)

Big Ern can’t understand why Tim Tebow is not playing QB for the New York Jets.  The Jets need to win the rest of their games to hit Ern’s projection.  Fat chance!

28. Carolina Panthers (1-6)                (C)           Ern: 8-8

Cam Newton’s gonna make a second half comeback.

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)    (B -)           Ern: 4-12 

30. Kansas City Chiefs (1-6)            (C -)           Ern: 9-7

Come on, Romeo Crennel !  What’s going on in KC?

31. Cleveland Browns (2-6)              (C)             Ern: 2-14

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)          (C)            Ern: 1-15

Jags on track for Ern-projected 1-15.

 

Pitchers in the Fall Classic Spotlight

I remember being disappointed on a Saturday afternoon in June 2010 as Mike Brown and I headed down to the Bayside San Francisco Ballpark to watch our Red Sox in Interleague Play.  We were supposed to see a matchup between the Giants Ace – Tim Lincecum and Red Sox youngster Clay Buchholz.  Unfortunately, amidst the sparkling picturesque atmosphere of the Park (our right field seats partially faced the Pacific and Willie Mays was down on the field participating in a ceremony – Goosebumps), I was quickly disappointed when Lincecum had been scratched.  Early in the game, Clay Buchholz hurt his leg rounding first base after hitting a single.  At that moment, neither Brown or I had any idea that EITHER the Red Sox 2010 season would spiral out of control (Buchholz missed at least a month and Dustin Pedroia had been injured the previous night against the Giants, fouling a ball off his foot, and he would practically miss the rest of the season) OR that the Giants would amass a Post-All-Star Break Rally that would propel them all the way to the World Championship – a five-game domination of the Texas Rangers.  We didn’t get to see Lincecum; But we did have the opportunity to view the early Major League images of then 21-year-old Giants rookie lefthander – Madison Bumgarner.

The Giants lefty sensation – Madison Bumgarner
Source: cbssports.com

The Red Sox beat the Giants that Saturday afternoon.  Darnell McDonald hit 2 home runs.  Remember him?  Yeah, we traded him to the Yankees.  But that’s not my point; – Last night is my point as we were treated to an old fashioned Pitchers’ Duel at AT&T Park in Game 2 of the World Series!  Madison Bumgarner (now 23) faced-off against Detroit’s scrappy starter – Doug Fister.  If the name Fister sounds tough, the righthander proved it in the early going of last night’s game, when a line drive off the bat of Gregor Blanco bounced off the side of his HEAD for a base hit, one of only 4 hits allowed by Fister over 6 strong innings.

The Tigers tough Starting Pitcher – Doug Fister
Source: detroit.cbslocal.com

After last night’s game, Tigers Manager – Jim Leyland (a character right out of the movies himself) described his trip to the mound after Fister was struck with the line drive.  Leyland said that the Trainer asked Doug some questions (probably to ensure that the pitcher was not suffering a concussion).

The Three Questions:

1) Where are you?

Fister: San Francisco

2) What are you doing?

Fister: Pitching in the World Series

3) What game is it?

Fister: Game Two

After that, the Trainer looked at Leyland and indicated that Fister was ready to go.  The wily old manager handed his Starter the ball, nodded to him, and returned to the Detroit dugout, as the San Francisco crowd applauded.  If that wasn’t a scene right out of Major League movie series starring Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger, I don’t know what is!

However, in the end, Bumgarner’s efforts prevailed.  The young lefty hurled seven shutout innings in a masterpiece, scattering only 2 Tiger hits.  Boy, has that youngster come a long way since Giants Manager – Bruce Bochy summoned him to the mound on my first Saturday in San Francisco!  The Giants clipped the Tigers, 2-0 to take a 2-0 lead in the Fall Classic, now headed to Detroit’s Comerica Park for the next three games.  Bumgarner also earned a shutout victory in the 2010 World Series over the Rangers.  That has historical significance, because now Bumgarner is only the SECOND pitcher in HISTORY to record a shutout in both of his first two World Series starts.

The only other pitcher to EVER accomplish that feat was Christy Mathewson, also of the Giants – the NEW YORK GIANTS.  In 1905, Mathewson pitched in the World Series for the first time against the PHILADELPHIA ATHLETICS.  Who would have ever imagined at that time, that when the Giants played the Athletics in the 1989 World Series, that only SAN FRANCISCO BAY would have separated the two teams?  And that the World Series would be interrupted by an EARTHQUAKE?  Anyway, Mathewson pitched Games 1, 3, AND 5 of the 1905 World Series, all shutout victories for the eventual 1905 World Champion Giants.  So, if Madison Bumgarner can shutout the Tigers again, he will join Mathewson as the only pitcher to toss shutouts in his first THREE World Series starts!      

Happy 50th Birthday St. Adelaide’s!

Source: stadelaide.com

Had the privilege to attend the Jubilee Celebration for St. Adelaide’s Church’s 50th Birthday at DanversPort Yacht Club last evening.  The West Peabody, MA Catholic Church opened on October 11, 1962 per the decree of Boston’s Cardinal Cushing.  The Cardinal decided that the new Church for the rapidly growing section of West Peabody would be named in honor of Saint Adelaide of Burgundy (Italy), who was the Holy Roman Empress from 962-991 (married to Holy Roman Emperor Otto).  (source: wikipedia.org).  Saint Adelaide (a queen) is remembered historically for her affection to the poor and community service.

The St. Adelaide’s Church Jubilee Celebration was attended by the longest serving Pastor of the Church – Father Robert Blute, Former Peabody Mayor – Mike Bonfanti, memorable CCD Teacher – Lenny Petrone, and Peabody High School History Department Legend – Francis “Frank” Xavier Hardy.  Mr. Hardy explained that in addition to walking, he has currently added WEIGHTLIFTING to his retirement exercise repertoire.  Who knew?

I sat next to my Mother – Ann D’Errico Kappotis from St. Adelaide’s first ever Holy Communion Class of 1963.  Her smiling face was pictured along with her other second grade friends in the Jubilee Program.

Ern’s Numbers of the Day – Political Edition

As we all know, Former President Ronald Reagan was an Actor. Here he is starring as “Big Ern” in “Big Ern Goes to Texas”.
Source: philebersole.wordpress.com

Big Ern’s Primary Number for Today is 30.

As in, what a difference 30 Years makes?

First of all you probably couldn’t envision 2 US Presidents more different than President Barack Obama and the President back in 1982 – Ronald Reagan.

Let’s look at some other Numbers to compare:

Dow Jones Industrial Average:

                  1982:  Hits 1,000                  2012:  13,500

Prime Interest Rate:

                   1982:  12%                          2012:  4.5%

National Deficit:

                   1982:  $800 billion               2012:  $13 TRILLION

No wonder why the Stock Market grew by a multiple of 13.  Apparently we borrowed all of that money?

Ern gathered this 1982 information from President Reagan’s journal entry for Wednesday, October 13, 1982 (almost exactly 30 years ago) collected within The Reagan Diaries – a 2007 New York Times bestseller, edited by CBS News Historian – Douglas Brinkley. 

This journal entry also points out that ABC News refused to televise President Reagan’s primetime speech on the economy that evening.  How many news media outlets won’t carry as much as a Presidential soundbyte in 2012 ?

ErnBlog Numbers of the Day

47:

The number of Fourth Quarter Comeback Victories engineered by Peyton Manning, through last night’s epic 35-24 triumph over the San Diego Chargers.  Number 47 tied Dan Marino’s NFL Record.

 

Peyton Manning (right) continues to catch up to and surpass other NFL legendary QBs, like his current General Manager – John Elway (left). (Source: usatoday.com)

67:

The Number of 300-Yard Passing Games that Peyton Manning has amassed in his career – an NFL Record.

The Last Day of the Season

Today, Wednesday, October 3rd is the last day of the 2012 Major League Baseball season.  And despite the critics of changes made to the sport’s postseason schedule for this year (myself included), there is arguably more On The Line today and tonight than there has been on any Regular Season calendar date since Major League Baseball expanded its playoffs to include the ALCS and NLCS back in 1975.

Where do we start?

The Amazing 2012 Oakland A’s are similar to their 2002 “Moneyball” Edition from 10 years ago.
Source: Ezra Shaw from Getty Images

There is really only one place to start.  With the 2012 Oakland Athletics.  With a low-payroll cast of characters (Can you name any of the Players in the picture above?), Oakland General Manager – Billy Beane with his on-field sheriff – Manager Bob Melvin have put the A’s not only in position to compete in the AL West, but on the doorstep of the Division Title tonight!

If Oakland (already assured a playoff spot) defeats the two-time defending AL Champion Texas Rangers this afternoon at home (3:30), the A’s will be crowned Division Champions for the first time since 2006.  It would be the 5th Division Title for Beane (2000, 2002, 2003, 2006), who is portrayed by Brad Pitt in a phenomenal sports movie – Moneyball (2011) – based on a Michael Lewis biography chronicling Beane’s transformation of a low-budget, asset hemoraging AL West “cellar dweller” to a perennial playoff contender.

Where do we continue?

The surprising 2012 Baltimore Orioles have been led by enigmatic Manager – Buck Showalter.
Source: beltwaysportsblog.com

Baltimore Orioles Manager – Buck Showalter finally has his shot to fire back at the Yankees – the team that fired him back in 1995.  Do you remember?  The AL’s first ever Wild Card spot just wasn’t enough for George that season.  When Seattle’s Ken Griffey, Jr. tripled into the cavernous Kingdome outfield, driving in three runs off New York reliever “Black Jack” McDowell, the Mariners completed a miraculous comeback to eliminate the Yankees.  Then, George threw a tantrum and Buck was out the door, clearing the path for Joe Torre.

The 2012 Orioles (also already assured a playoff spot) beats Tampa Bay tonight and can get the Red Sox to beat the Yankees (Good Luck!), the Orioles will force a one-game AL East Division Title Game against New York on Thursday at Camden Yards.

What else is On the Line?

Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera is challenging Yaz’s Triple Crown from 1967.
Source: cbsnews.com

Miguel Cabrera of the AL Central Champion – Detroit Tigers is batting .331 with 44 home runs and 139 RBI, leading the American League in ALL THREE categories, heading into the last day of the season.  Interestingly enough, Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox also slugged 44 home runs when he won Baseball’s last Triple Crown back in 1967.  Remember, that in 1967, Minnesota’s Harmon Killebrew also smashed 44 homers, tying “Yaz”.  But the Triple Crown honors Being Tied for a statistical lead as Winning that Title.

But as the Peabody High School Class of 1997 Guidance Counselors understood, but the Class of 2001 Guidance Counselors failed to understand (perhaps I’ll pen a description of that some other time), you cannot be tied for a percentage – which Batting Average is.  Miguel Cabrera is batting .331 and his next nearest competitor – All-Star Rookie – Mike Trout of the Angels is batting .324.  If Cabrera chooses not to play tonight in Kansas City, Trout would need to go 6-for-6 in Seattle tonight (extremely highly unlikely).  Most games do not even avail a player with 6 At-Bats.

So, if Cabrera doesn’t play, he basically would win the Triple Crown (unless Josh Hamilton of the Rangers hits 2 home runs). But, where’s the Honor in that?  The last time that a player amassed a batting average of .400 or higher was Ted Williams in 1941.  He didn’t win the AL MVP Award that year because the sportswriters hated him.  Remember that in that same year, Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees recorded a hit in a record 56 consecutive games.  So the sportswriters had an easy out – they just gave the MVP to DiMaggio.  But, what is more Valuable that Williams’ attitude going into the final day of the Red Sox 1941 Season?  Williams was batting .3997, which would have been rounded up to .400, rolling into a Doubleheader on the last day.  When presented with the option of sitting out the final two games, Williams laughed and took the field for both.  “The Splendid Splinter” got 6 hits in 8 At-Bats that day and finished with a batting average of .406.

So I hope Miguel Cabrera takes the field against the Royals tonight.  First of all, it’s the right thing to do.  Secondly, if I was ever in position to win a batting title, I would want to get a a hit in the last game of the season.  If Cabrera goes 1-for-4, he’s basically all set.  The only way Trout can pass him is if the Angel goes at least 4-for-4, and if Cabrera doesn’t get a hit in at least 4 At-Bats.  I hope Miguel gets his Hit and his Triple Crown!