Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Toronto Claims Green

The Toronto Maple Leafs have claimed forward Travis Green off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks.

Green will cost Toronto $500,000 against the salary cap, which is not much when you are bringing in a player who has more than 900 NHL games to his credit. This will be Green's second stint with the Blue and White.

Green will add some stability to a depleted Leaf lineup after not being given much of a shot of cracking the lineup in Anaheim. The Maple Leafs have suffered injuries to five of their top eight forwards.

Green has previously played with Anaheim, Boston, Toronto, Phoenix and the New York Islanders. His strengths lie in the defensive forward role; a strong faceoff man and good penalty killer.

Erik Westrum was sent down as a result of the Travis Green aquisition.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

McGuire should be in Cooperstown

Infamy is a version of fame.

That's one reason why Mark McGuire got screwed Tuesday when he received only 23.5% of Hall of Fame votes.

Big Mac, by the numbers the seventh best home-run hitter of all-time, is one of the most important parts of baseball history. And while the Hall of Fame is meant to honour the game's bests, it is also supposed to document the history of America's greatest pastime.

That's why Pete Rose should be there. And that's why Mark McGuire can now join him as an outcast.

But Rose was barred from the game, and that's why his name stays separate from the Hall. Now, remind us again, what exactly did McGuire get caught doing?


McGuire is simply a great player, caught up in a sour era, and in the wrong place at the wrong time. He picked the wrong year to retire: just before the rest of the (supposed) juiced sluggers of his generation.

And so the former Cardinal and Athletic, and only player in baseball history to hit 70 home-runs prior to the Barry Bonds fiasco, is the man taking the heat for his peers. McGuire presented the first opportunity for baseball writers across America to condemn the wrongdoers of the steroid era.

But, is that right? I mean, in the eyes of the law it isn't. And, after all, he never failed a drug test.
Well, he actually never had to take one. See Major League Baseball didn't have a steroid policy in Big Mac's days. The drugs were in no way against league rules. And in most countries (and in the United States with a prescription) they were a-okay on "the streets" as well.

So, tell me again. Why should we condemn a "cheater" that was never caught? And even if he did get nabbed, it wouldn't have been against the rules.

And why McGuire? I mean, Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame, isn't he?

Here we are with a man who ADMITTED to cheating, not once, but almost EVERY TIME he took to the mound, right there in the Hall with all the rest of the game's greatest ever.

Perry was loveable, and when he talked about his days of doctoring baseballs, media and fans tended to almost applaud him for it, appreciating his efforts.

Mike Schmidt is in the Hall. He says he would've taken the 'roids in his day if they were available. And who's to say most of the players from the pre-steroid era wouldn't have? It's not like these guys had cleaner souls or pourer consciences.

Likely, many players from the game's past would have juiced if the opportunity was presented.

In fact, most of the greatest players from the sixties and on were popping "greenies" (look it up, they are a form of speed) before each game. Are you going to tell me no Hall-of-Famers hail from that group?

But, like in McGuire's career, substances weren't tested for in the Majors at that point.

The technology has merely changed, and the drugs have become more notable in public discussion. Why should current players (I.e. McGuire) pay the price, while everyone in the past years of baseball gets away scot-free.

It's really as simple as this: the game of baseball has to be correctly documented in the greatest Hall of Fame in sports. And to leave Mark McGuire out would be to neglect an important part of the history of this game.

And as long as the rules of baseball haven't been breached by a player, nobody (especially a sports writer on a clear vendetta) has the right to vote against him based on their personal beliefs.

Sports writers who do this are abusing their privilege, which is to cast an objective vote based on the accomplishments of the player in the game of baseball. If he didn't break the rules, voters really don't have the right to use off-the-field criteria in their judgments.

Heck, Ty Cobb was known as a racist - undoubtedly an off-the-field issue, but his ghost resides in Cooperstown.

Mac didn't break any rules, and we doubt many voters would deem his stats to be un-Hall-worthy.

It has to be remembered that it isn't the Writers' Hall of Fame. Writers are merely the watchers of the game of baseball, with the ability to compare historical stats and accomplishments and determine if a player deserves to be put up there with the best in history.

And, aside from a shaky Grand Jury testimony and some andro apparently spotted in his locker, Big Mac is right there with the best home run hitters ever.

He may go down in the history books as infamous, but his contributions to the game - bringing fans back to the parks for the first time since before the 1994 strike - will surely place him among a select few in regards to impact on the history of Major League Baseball.

Friday, January 05, 2007

You're Fired Week

The sixth season of Donald Trump's egotistically charged The Apprentice debuts across America Sunday night. Which means the nation will again have the opportunity to see someone feel the wrath of Trump's "You're fired" each and every week.

Ironic that the show kicks off at the conclusion of what could be called "You're fired week" in the National Football League.

The week following the end of the NFL regular season is always interesting for a couple of reasons (other than the obvious anticipation of wild card weekend). First, we can sit back and analyze coach and coordinator dismissals, and try to determine who will fill the vacated spots in each city, and second, we can breakdown who should have gotten the boot, but didn't.

This year was less entertaining than in the past. Thus far, only two coaches have been officially fired (Dennis Green following three lousy seasons in Arizona and Jim Mora after the Falcons missed the playoffs for the second straight year), two have left on their own preference (Nick Saban jumped from the Miami Dolphins to the SEC's Alabama Crimson Tide and it isn't official yet but Bill Cowher looks like he will break from the Steelers after 15 years) and one has "resigned" (Art Shell "decided" - with added emphasis on the quotation marks - to part ways with the Raiders after only one, horribly unsuccessful season).

So we may only see five new head coaches in the league next year. That's if Cowher doesn't accept Saban's old post in Miami and Mora doesn't find work in Arizona.

Time to speculate on who will fill the five empty roles in Pittsburgh (assuming Cowher does in fact leave), Atlanta, Miami, Arizona and Oakland.

Pittsburgh Steelers

This might be the best job to try and fill from within. There's one way to tell: the incredible amount of attention the team's offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt, has already received on the open market. Whisenhunt's name has popped up as a possible candidate for several jobs around the league.

So, why not take advantage of the fact he's already in Pittsburgh? The Steelers may in fact do that, and we think they eventually will. The only way it doesn't happen is if the Cardinals or Falcons fail to land their first options and one of those teams sweeps up Whisenhunt before Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney and G.M. Kevin Colbert can do anything about it.

If for any reason Whisenhunt doesn't get, or take, a promotion, watch for Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to be the Steelers' man. A hard-nosed defensive guru, and a former finalist for other jobs, Rivera would fit in nicely in Steel town.

Who they should go with: Whisenhunt
Who they will go with: Whisenhunt

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have looked into interviewing Rivera, and apparently have interest in 49ers assistant coach Mike Singletary. Either way, they seem to love the Chicago Bear connection, and that's not a bad way to go. But, we don't think Singletary is ready to be an NFL head coach yet.

Atlanta gave Mora his first NFL head coaching job, and Mora's immaturity proved to be his demise. In light of that, they would probably love to bring in someone with experience, but we wouldn't recommend Dennis Green because, well, by all indication he's lost his mind.

Jim Haslett immediately comes to mind as a guy who has the experience, has many years ahead of him, and knows the ropes of coaching a) in the AFC South, and b) an erratic, pocket-breaking quarterback.

Who they should go with: Haslett
Who they will go with: Rivera (if they can get him)

Miami Dolphins

If Cowher finds his way out of Pittsburgh and into Miami, it won't be without controversy and expectations. The original reason Cowher was expected to step down from the Steelers job following this season was fatigue. The man just needed a break.

But if he jumps to Miami, who may be willing to pay big bucks following the Saban embarrassment, it will prove to Steelers fans and players that money was indeed at the forefront of his departure. The Dolphins would reportedly have to give up draft picks to the Steelers in a John Gruden-Bucs-Raiders-esque situation, but we think they will cave and give it all up to bring in arguably the best coach in the game.

That's how desperate the Fins are, and that's what they'll do.

We can't argue against it. Cowher said he'd listen, and if he'll come to Miami it'd be ridiculous for the Dolphins not to bring him in. The whole situation (debacle) is just a little strange, and we think it will sour Cowher's era in Pittsburgh just a tad.

Who they should go with: Cowher
Who they will go with: Cowher (if he'll do it)

Arizona Cardinals

The Cards are the other team interested in Whisenhunt. They also have interest in, for a reason beyond us, Houston Texans assistant coach Mike Sherman. I guess they already tried the successful old guy, and now it's time to try the unsuccessful old guy? The young Cardinal players would tune out Sherman (just like the Packers did) faster than they did Green.

If Arizona is smart, they'll go after Whisenhunt hard. But we don't think the Steelers will let him get away. We haven't heard this name tied to this team yet, but is seems to make the most sense: Detroit offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

Martz, who had one of the more successful seasons of his career despite the Lions bad record, is said to be better suited for coordinator-type jobs because he isn't the best decision-maker and goes a bit nuts upstairs a few times a game. But he'd be a great fit in Arizona, working with one of the most talented young offenses in football and playing his old team, the St. Louis Rams, twice a year.

Who they should go with: Martz
Who they will go with: Sherman (if they do indeed miss out on Whisenhunt)

Oakland Raiders

With word only coming late Thursday Shell wasn't coming back, not much has been put out there in regards to who the Raiders might be interested in bringing in.

Singletary is a Raiders kind of guy, and could jump the pond from San Francisco. We'd imagine the Raiders would give him a call based on reputation, Al Davis loves reputation. But they'll likely go after the best coordinator they can bring in.

Whisenhunt isn't a realistic possibility because he turned the Raiders down last year, and we would understand if that happened a lot again this time around.

Who they should go with: Rivera (it'd have to be one hell of a pitch)
Who they will go with: Haslett (in other words, they'll do opposite what the Falcons do, and possibly reuinite him with ex-Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks)

Now, this is assuming no other coaches get the axe between now and the beginning of next season. You'd think it would be fair to assume every coach with a playoff team is safe, but Tom Coughlin isn't a sure shot to stick around with the limping Giants and rumour has had it Tony Dungy would fit nicely leading his alma mater, the University of Minnesota. Bill Parcells has said he and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will iron things out after the playoffs, and at that point Parcells will know if he will stick around in Dallas or not.

Last season, five coaches lost their jobs during You're Fired Week. So again, this is a tame year. But history shows that when teams want to make changes, they make them right away. We can't imagine any other moves, aside from the three playoff coach possibilities above, will be made.

But how about the lucky ones? How about those coaches that probably should have been let go but survived? We can only spot one this time around.

Joe Gibbs, Washington Redskins

They tried. It was cool for a bit, it didn't work. Can't the 'Skins just admit it failed, just like the Steve Spurrier experiment, and move on? Nope. Dan Snyder's ego is too much like Trump's.

Gibbs has gone 21-27 and won one playoff game in three seasons with one of the most talented and expensive teams in football. You'd think Snyder, a guy who puts winning above all else and doesn't tolerate much, would have stepped in after two losing seasons out of three, but Gibbs is still employed despite the struggles. He's 66-years-old, and hasn't really improved the team at all in three years.

To boot, the Redskins have the highest paid (and some would say the best) defensive assistant in the game, waiting to be plucked by one of the many teams that will show interest in him this off-season. Gregg Williams, who has head coaching experience, would be a great replacement for Gibbs.

But, unless Snyder is delaying his decision (possibly to give Gibbs a chance to "walk away" like Shell in Oakland), Gibbs will get a fourth year on the Washington sideline.

The reason so few coaches received pink slips, and only one should have but didn't, is because so many coaches have taken brand new jobs the last couple years. Those coaches inherited, usually, bad football teams. It takes time, and that's why the Gary Kubiaks, Rod Marinellis and Romeo Crennels remain safe.

But watch out Jack Del Rio, John Fox and John Gruden. Your teams are too talented to miss the playoffs another year. And we can pretty much promise it: If your squads aren't playing football in January, 2008, the three of you will be the next to hear those dreaded words.

"You're fired."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Runaway Sage Coach

Only one year removed from winning a BCS National Championship with his LSU Tigers, Nick Saban was moving on to the big show. Despite his devout-sounding promises he'd be in Louisiana for good, Saban jumped ship when he was offered the chance to step in for Dave Wannstedt and take the reigns of the Miami Dolphins.

Hurricane Katrina forced Saban to return to Baton Rouge one more time. The Saints couldn't play in New Orleans yet in the wake of the destruction, and the Dolphins had to travel to Saban's ex-home stadium October 30, 2005.

Saban wasn't crestfallen, nor were the fans at Tiger Stadium.

Miami beat the Saints 21-6, and the crowd praised Saban most of the way. They cheered him, they kissed him, they hugged him, they even made a sign that read: "Welcome Home Nick."

Maybe we can blame that on Katrina too. Maybe Louisianans had experienced too much pain to jeer a sports figure. Maybe that would seem silly and insignificant in the greater scheme, considering the circumstances many in the state faced at the time, and still face today.

The fans at Tiger Stadium felt proud that day. Surely they missed their coach, but they didn't get mad.

Second chances, however, are easy to grant. It's third ones that are hard to gain. And we doubt Saban will get away with another knee-jerk swap like this in his career.

Saban put on another Oscar-worthy production for Dolphins players, fans and media in the last month of the season. And as the Alabama Crimson Tide continued to get turned down by second-rate coaches, taking reputational hit after hit, Saban's name heated up from simmer to boil in rumour mills and NCAA message boards nation-wide. And as the whispers became screams, and eventually declarations ("Saban or the Highway"), the Dolphins coach stuck with the front stating he was staying put come hell or high water.

Wednesday, two days after the first losing season of his career ended, Saban announced (well, he let his high-and-dry owner, Wayne Huizenga, spill the beans) he was off to Alabama for eight years and $32 million. I suppose that high water did come, in the form of a tide.

Now, it's 'Bama embracing this traitor. But when you play with rattlesnakes, sooner or later you're going to get bit.

Those crimson tides can turn in landlocked Tuscaloosa, it doesn't take much. The bets can start now: How long will Nick stick in The Heart of Dixie?

You can be damn sure 'Bama football fans expect a lot. And, based on history, you can expect Saban will board a jet (maybe for the Jets?) as soon as trouble finds his new program.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Nedved Claimed By Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers have reportedly claimed 35-year-old Petr Nedved off waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers. Early reports had the Senators claiming him, but with the Oilers being lower in the standings, they had the first chance at him.

The Senators are close to getting guys back and healthy anyways so the need was not as pressing in Ottawa as it was in oil country.

The Oilers will only have to pay half of the $2.356 million Nedved is signed to. The other half will be paid by the Flyers.

Monday, January 01, 2007

TFS NFL Regular-Season in Review

Who would have expected the New Orleans Saints to make the playoffs, let alone gain a first-round bye?

Then again, who would have expected Randy Moss to catch only 42 balls? The guy long considered one of the best receivers in the league wasn't even the best on his team.

Who would have expected the 252nd pick of the 255-pick NFL draft to finish with over 1,000 receiving yards?

While we're at it, did anyone think Mr. Yearsawayfromready Vince Young would win more games than the prodigy from five years ago, David Carr? Or the as many as Eli Manning? Young also won, just barely, more games than Tony Romo.

Wait, who the hell's Tony Romo?

Forgotten in 17 weeks are Drew Bledsoe and Kerry Collins, T.J. Duckett and Mark Brunell, Kevan Barlow (for the most part) and Donovan McNabb (due to injury, of course). Yeah, who would've guessed the Eagles would be resting Jeff Garcia in week 17, protecting him from injury so the team could be healthy for their wild-card game? Most people didn't even know Garcia was still in the league headed into the 2006 season.

New on the scene? Marques Colston and the aforementioned Young made waves. Young's fellow first-round quarterbacks, Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler, experienced success too. Cutler came close to leading his team to the playoffs.

The Texans went with defense instead of taking Reggie Bush at the draft. Bush arrived. So did that Houston defense (at least the youth). First overall pick Mario Williams was decent, but it was the first pick of the second round, DeMeco Ryans, who made the biggest statement. Ryans led the league in tackles, picked up 3.5 sacks and a pick.

The Raiders are going nowhere fast, but walk away from a 2-14 season with two signs of hope. 1) They were the worst team in the National Football League and are on the clock with the first overall pick in the draft, and 2) they had one of the best secondaries in the league in 2006. The Raiders offense scored only 12 touchdowns in 16 games, but who new Nnamdi Asomugha heading into the '06 season? Anyone? The Pro-Bowl Snub-o'-the-Year was Champ Bailey Jr. Nobody threw Asomugha's way. Nobody. He's only missed two career games, but his interceptions season-by-season in his four-year career: 0, 0, 0, 8.

While we're on rookies, you may not have known them, but now you won't forget Maurice Jones-Drew and Marcus McNeill. In our opinion, that's the battle for the NFL's offensive rookie of the year. Jones-Drew finished 25th in the NFL in rushing despite being the backup in Jacksonville and averaged a league-best 5.7 yards-per-carry. McNeill stepped in to play the most important offensive line position on a decent line, and helped LaDainian Tomlinson have one of the best rushing seasons in NFL history.

Oh, yeah. I guess it's time we touch on that. Just as a side note, LT did score 31 touchdowns, threw for two more, led the league in rushing, and pretty much carried the Chargers to a 14-2 record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The craziest part? Not everyone is letting him run away with the league's MVP award.

...Which leads us to: The TFS Awards (Legit NFL ones first, followed by TFS-original accolades)

Coach of the Year: Eric Mangini, New York Jets
Runner-up: Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Payton and Mangini had identical seasons record-wise, but Mangini did it in the tougher conference and with less to work with. The Saints turned things around big time in 2006 thanks to key pieces Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister. The Jets did it with a fragile Chad Pennington (who wasn't even all that good), no true starting running back, and Jerricho Cotchery as their best receiver. The defense was good, but for the most part, Mangini made this work with literally no true stars.

Offensive Player of the Year: LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers RB
Runner-up: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints QB
Although the debate can be made that either could be MVP, nobody is going to argue against LT for offensive player of the year. He, without a doubt, had one of the best offensive seasons ever. He had a total of 2,323 yards and 31 touchdowns without even scoring in the final two games of the season. Oh yeah, and he threw two touchdown passes.

Defensive Player of the Year: Jason Taylor, Miami Dolphins DE
Runner-up: Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears LB
Taylor's team isn't going to the playoffs. Urlacher's is. But this isn't the MVP and we are basing this decision on stats and dominance. And despite the Dolphins struggles this season, Taylor made a bigger difference on his team's defense than any other player in the league except one: Shawne Merriman.

That's where the debate begins. Some feel Merriman shouldn't have a shot at the award because he had to sit out four games thanks to a steroids suspension. We agree, but don't think a rule has to be set in place by the league. First, because the likelihood of anyone having a good enough season in 12 games to have a shot at an NFL award is very low. Merriman is an anomaly. Second, because we don't feel players should be penalized for behavioural suspensions. Getting into a scrap during a game and receiving a two game suspension shouldn't mean you don't have the right to win an award. Steroids are different, however. Merriman only made a difference for his team in 12 games, because he only played that many. And although he was by far the most dominant defensive player in the league (and we wonder why San Diego is so dangerous?) when he played, we rule him out for simply not playing enough games to be a big enough difference-maker. He almost still was, though, and watch for him next season to be the winner of this and/or more. But, we digress.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Marcus McNeill, San Diego Chargers OT
Runner-Up: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars RB
It is remarkable that Vince Young, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, etc. don't even get runner-up honours for this award. But it's no knock on them. This was just, simply put, the best year for rookies the league has ever seen.

McNeill isn't the sexy or popular pick, but made the biggest difference on the best team in the NFL. It's easy for a rook to make a big difference on his bottom-feeder team, but in this case we are talking about a guy who has played in the most important spot on the offensive side of the field in the game of football, aside from quarterback and running back. And as a rookie, his tailback broke records and his quarterback - in his first year as a starter - stayed upright. Philip Rivers was only sacked 27 times in 16 games. By contract, Oakland Raiders quarterbacks Andrew Walter and Aaron Brooks were taken down on 72 occasions.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: DeMeco Ryans, Houston Texans LB
Runner-Up: Mark Anderson, Chicago Bears DE
There is really no debate here. Anderson and Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk had great seasons, but you could argue Anderson was more a product of the system and fortunate to be part of such a talented defense. Hawk just wasn't as good. I mean, Ryans led the entire lead in solo tackles, think about that. In his rookie season, he mustered 155 tackles and 3.5 sacks on a bad team. He and Mario Williams will be a great defensive combo for years to come.

Comeback Player of the Year: Travis Henry, Tennessee Titans RB
Runners-Up: Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals QB; Chad Pennington, New York Jets QB; Deuce McAllister, New Orleans Saints RB; Fred Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars RB
Why so many runners-up? This is by far the toughest award to call this season. All five of the players listed above deserve a shot at the award, and arguments can be made for each.

Palmer came back from the most grueling injury possible, on shorter than expected recovery time, and barely lost a step. More yards but less accuracy than last year, but Palmer still ended up with 28 touchdowns and 4,035 yards (second only to Peyton Manning). Only one year removed from what was said to be a "devastating and potentially career-ending" knee injury, that's one heck of a season.

Pennington couldn't stay healthy for two years and it was looking like he was one injury-riddled season away from the end of his career. The Jets were even reluctant to give him another shot, and took quarterback Kellen Clemens high in the '06 draft. Penny responded with the best season, yardage-wise, of his career. He still made more mistakes then he used to, but the most important part is Pennington played 16 games for the first time in his career and the Jets are in the playoffs.

Things couldn't have been worse for McAllister at the end of last year and early in the off-season. D-Mac was placed on the injured reserve and missed most of the season with a torn ACL. Then the Saints went and drafted running back Reggie Bush with the second pick in the draft. McAllister stepped up, though. He recovered from the knee injury, and embraced his role as the mentor, pairing up with Bush to make one of the best split backfields in the league.

Taylor returned to form after an injury-plagued 2005 season and put up 1,146 yards. He only scored six times thanks to Maurice Jones-Drew, but showed he can still play at 30 years of age.

We haven't even heard Henry's name mentioned in comeback player of the year talks, but he stands out in both requirements for the award in our opinion. The first requirement: the player's stats must increase dramatically from the season or seasons prior. Henry quietly put up 1,211 yards on the ground without always being the number one option in Tennessee (Chris Brown was still technically the man coming into the year). In his previous two seasons, Henry only managed 661 yards in 20 games. The Second requirement: the player has to have come back from an injury or a circumstance that has forced them to lose a step. Henry missed 12 games in 2004 and 2005. Eight because of injuries and four due to a substance abuse suspension. He bounced back from both speed bumps to have one of the best seasons he's ever had. His 4.5 yards per carry was the best of his career.

Most Valuable Player: LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers RB
Runner-Up: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints QB
Give full credit to Peyton Manning and Brees. Both the Colts and the Saints wouldn't even be .500 without those two quarterbacks. And yes, we agree the Chargers might still be a playoff team without LT. But the Chargers are the best team in the NFL with LT, and there is no way you can deny him the award considering that and the fact he put up all those gaudy, historical numbers. How we need 500 words to breakdown the comeback player of the year and only 90 to justify the MVP is beyond us...

Goat of the Year: Shayne Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals' field goal unit
Runner-Up: Mathias Kiwanuka, New York Giants DE
Brown doesn't deserve all the heat for ruining the Bengals season, forcing them out of the playoffs when all they needed to do was win one of their final three games to get in. Cincinnati indeed only needed one win. After scoring to bring the Bengals within a point of the Broncos nine days ago, the Bengals field goal team bungaled the extra point as the Brad St. Louis snap missed holder Kyle Larson. Denver 24, Cincinnati 23.

Brown made five of his six field goal attempts in those final three losses. But his miss was a relative cinch, and would have beaten the Steelers and made Bengals fans forget the fiasco at the end of the Denver game. Instead, Graham sliced the hell out of a 39-yard attempt with only eight seconds on the clock in a tie game. The Bengals offense never got the chance to see the ball in overtime. The Steelers won on three plays and the Bengals season came to a halt.

Nothing spells g-o-a-t more than two botched and failed field goal/extra point attempts at the end of back-to-back games when all the team had to do was make one and they'd be playing in January.

The runner-up, Mathias Kiwanuka, plain and simply helped the Giants along (in a bad way) on their dreaded second-half slump. Whether it be Kiwanuka infamously failing to wrap Vince Young up on a late-game drive on an attempted sack that would have sealed the victory for the G-Men, or his failure to hold on to a fumble recovery in a loss to the Cowboys the following week, he was undoubtedly a goat.

Best Quarterback: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Runner-Up: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts
Nobody would argue with these guys as one and two. They were simply the best leaders, statistically and morale-wise, in the league this year.

Best Running Back: LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers
Runner-Up: Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams RB
The only debate here would be who the runner up is. Jackson had a ridiculous season, and nobody noticed. He had more total rushing/receiving yards than anyone else in the league, including LT. Larry Johnson deserves credit for another fantastic season, but Jackson had 135 more total yards. With Tiki Barber retiring, and with all due respect to Frank Gore, the clear top three running backs in the NFL heading into next season: Tomlinson, Johnson and Jackson.

Best Wide Receiver: Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts
Runner-Up: Chad Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
After a bad start, Johnson proved how dominant he can be with the best receiving second-half in the league. But Harrison still has the best hands around. Yeah, yeah, he has Manning throwing to him, but some of the grabs this guy makes makes you realize it often doesn't matter who throws him passes. His numbers (95 catches, 1,366 yards and 12 TDs) are only matched by Johnson and Terrell Owens. We already justified his edge over Johnson, and we feel the decision to go with Harrison over T.O. is obvious.

Best Tight End: Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
Runner-Up: Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City Chiefs
Gonzalez' and Gates' numbers could not have been more identical with exception to touchdown grabs. Gonzalez caught 73 passes for 900 yards and gates caught 71 for 924. But in the TD category Gates won 9-5, giving him the award. However, there is no disputing these two are the best two tight ends in football. Both could be hall-of-famers.

Best Offensive Lineman: Jonathan Ogden, Baltimore Ravens OT
Runner-Up: Walter Jones, Seattle Seahawks OT
Both tackles are considered the best two in the game, and while we left Jones off our starting Pro Bowl roster, we consider this an off-year for pretty much the entire 'Hawks offense. Jones at least relinquished the runner-up spot. But leading the way for Jamal Lewis and keeping Steve McNair healthy were tough tasks, and Ogden did both impeccably to maintain his reputation as the best in the game.

Best Defensive Lineman: Jason Taylor, Miami Dolphins DE
Runner-Up: Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers DE
Taylor, our defensive player of the year, is the undisputed winner with 62 tackles, 13.5 sacks, and nine, that's right NINE forced fumbles. Peppers was at one point in a battle with Taylor for this award. But he, and the Panthers for that matter, fell off. Fifty-eight tackles, 13 sacks and three forced fumbles look good nonetheless.

Best Linebacker: Shawne Merriman, San Diego Chargers OLB
Runner-Up: Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears ILB
Sure, we can deny him an official award (defensive player of the year) based on missing four games because of that steroids suspension. But there is only so much we can do to a guy that puts up 63 tackles, 17 sacks, a pick and four forced fumbles in 12 games. Urlacher was again consistent and dangerous in anchoring the best defense in the NFC, but for the first time in his career failed to register a single sack.

Best Defensive Back: Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos CB
Runner-Up: Adrian Wilson, Arizona Cardinals SS
Nobody was close to Bailey, who despite quarterbacks hardly ever throwing his way had a tied-for-league-best 10 interceptions and made 86 tackles. Wilson is a different kind of player. He is the kind of guy that can do it all, and he did just that this season with 85 tackles, four interceptions and five sacks.

The TFS ALL-Pro Team

QB: Peyton Manning, Colts
Despite Brees, we'd go with Manning if we had to pick any QB to start for our team in one game for everything. Wouldn't you?
RB: LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
That is all.
FB: Lorenzo Neal, San Diego Chargers
He's the best in the game and would obviously know how to work with LT behind him.
WR: Marvin Harrison, Colts; Chad Johnson, Bengals
These two had the best two seasons in the league and would give you a nice mix. One is a prime possession guy and the other goes deep more often than not.
TE: Antonio Gates, Chargers
We already justified Gates over Tony Gonzalez.
OT: Jonathan Ogden, Ravens; Walter Jones, Seahawks
This is becoming more and more obvious as we go.
OG: Steve Hutchinson, Minnesota Vikings; Will Shields, Kansas City Chiefs
The most mobile and highest touted guards in the NFL. Both led the way for great backs this season, and aside from the Trent Green incident (which had nothing to do with the Chiefs O-line) both kept their quarterbacks healthy.
C: Olin Kreutz, Chicago Bears
You can also make a case each year for Jeff Saturday and Matt Birk.
K: Matt Stover, Baltimore Ravens
Despite Robbie Gould and Nate Kaeding getting the Pro-Bowl vote, the 38-year-old Stover had the best season in football, going 28 of 30.

DE: Jason Taylor, Dolphins; Julius Peppers, Panthers
Nobody, pass-rushing-wise, dominated on the line like these two.
DT: Tommie Harris, Chicago Bears; Kevin Williams, Minnesota Vikings
Harris is so young, and so good. Williams continues to dominate alongside Pat Williams on the Vikes D-line.
OLB: Shawne Merriman, Chargers; Adalius Thomas, Baltimore Ravens
With Merriman justified, look at the stats Thomas put up in his contract year. He might have been the best player on that Ravens defense. And that's saying a lot.
ILB: Brian Urlacher, Bears
One of the best middle linebackers in football for, what, six years now.
CB: Champ Bailey, Broncos; Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders.
One comes from a good defense, the other a bad one. One has a rep. as the best in the game, the other was until recently virtually unknown. They have come together to be the scariest two corners in the league.
S: Adrian Wilson, Cardinals; Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens
Reed had a bit of an off year, and still put up 60 tackles and five picks.
P: Shane Lechler, Oakland Raiders
Best numbers, despite one heck of a season from Brian Moorman in the gusty Buffalo weather.
KR: Devin Hester, Chicago Bears
Sorry, Dante Hall, but this was the best kick-returning season ever.

The TFS Top 10 Stories of the Year

1. The New Orleans Saints
What the Saints have done, out of nowhere, at such a time for the city of New Orleans is unbelievable.

When this team started off hot it excited people. Everyone was saying, "Gee, what a nice start. Although we all know it won't hold up, it sure is nice to see them start well! It makes the whole city of New Orleans feel better." Nobody in their right mind thought a team with a linebacking corps made up of Scott Fujita, Mark Simoneau and Scott Shanle was going to keep this up.

They did. And now they're headed to the playoffs with a bye to boot.

2. LT
We've lauded over LaDainian Tomlinson's amazing 2006 season throughout this year in review, but it's what LT's career is turning into that really puts things into perspective.

The 27-year-old Tomlinson is already 24th on the all-time rushing list. Six seasons into his career, he has more yards than Earl Campbell and more touchdowns than O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson and Barry Sanders.

No running back, except LT of course, has ever scored in 18 consecutive games. Nobody but LT has been able to rush for 9,000 yards in his first six seasons. And no one scored 100 touchdowns faster than the man who can already call himself the San Diego Chargers all-time leading rusher.

We could be looking at the best running back of all-time only entering his prime.

3. The Ravens Defense
Everybody talks about the 2000 season in which the Ravens won it all despite a Trent Dilfer-led offense because the defense was arguably as good as or better than that of the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Well if that D was only as good, this one could be better.

Compare the starting 11 from 2000 to the starting 11 from this year:

Yeah, the 2000 team had Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa stuffing the middle. Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett were only average defensive ends though, and when you compare that line to this year's (Terrell Suggs, Trevor Pryce, Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg) you see the team has simply become more pass-rush oriented on the line. They rely more on the linebackers to stop the run.

That's where things begin to slant towards 2006. Ray Lewis, Bart Scott and Adalius Thomas make up the undisputed best linebacking unit in the league. Lewis: 103 tackles, 5 sacks; Scott: 103 tackles, 9.5 sacks; Thomas: 83 tackles, 11 sacks. That is simply ridiculous. The 2000 team possessed a younger and stronger Lewis, alongside Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper. Those guys were good, but nothing close to the Lewis-Scott-Thomas combo.

In the secondary, Duane Starks and Samari Rolle cross each other out as second corners behind Chris McAlister - who has only gotten better with age. That 2000 Ravens also had Rod Woodson, which does speak volumes for its depth. But now the secondary possesses a defensive player of the year winner in Ed Reed and rookie sensation Dawan Landry.

It's close. The 2000 team had a lot of experience, but some of the youth from that squad has become the experienced on this one.

That team gave up only 165 points. This year's squad gave up 201. That's the big difference. We don't give that too much credence. The 2000 Ravens will always have 165. This year's team, however, scared teams to the same extent. They gave up a couple more points a game, but the talent-level is as good if not better.

4. Tony Romo
There was talk in the pre-season that Drew Bledsoe was going to be replaced as the Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback by some guy named Tony Romo who had never started an NFL game.

Bledsoe held on to his job going into the opener, and the Cowboys went on to have a successful start to the season, but Bledsoe's numbers weren't good. Sure enough, in week seven Romo stepped in and took over as the Cowboys' new quarterback and the media's new lover.

Romo could do no wrong. And in the quality quarterback-less NFC, he was voted on to the Pro Bowl team. He hit his peak in primetime, a 38-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which he tossed five touchdown passes.

Since then, Romo has thrown six touchdown passes and eight interceptions in five weeks, and the Cowboys have gone 2-3.

The spark has gone out, but for a while there Tony Romo had a nation in love with him.

5. Jeff Garcia
Same thing as Romo, but this time it's a guy with experience who got hot at the right time, and he's yet to get cold.

Garcia stepped in in week 12. The Eagles had just been plowed by the (at the time) lowly Tennessee Titans and lost their franchise player, Donovan McNabb, for the season. Garcia took over and everyone expected the Eagles would again play out the string and hope McNabb recovered in time for training camp.

But Garcia's been nothing short of incredible. Ten touchdown passes and only two picks and 95.8 QB rating in six games, five of them wins. And Philly is off to the playoffs, with Super Bowl hopes in a poor conference.

6. Bengals in Trouble
Eight members of the Cincinnati Bengals were arrested in 2006. Eight.

Normally, the number is zero. But once in a while you'll see one, maybe two guys arrested on a team in a given year.

The infamous Portland "Jail Blazers" from the early part of this decade went through several arrests. But eight in a season is unheard of. Things got so bad commissioner Roger Goodell involved himself, lending support to players.

We guess it isn't a coincidence the Bengals had a bad season while going through this craziness.

Eight arrests, eight wins. Makes sense.

7. Tiki's (and Brett's?) Swansong
Despite being on the top of his game and still in his prime, Giants running back Tiki Barber announced early in the season 2006 would be his last in the NFL.

Despite being washed up and well past his prime, Packers quarterback Brett Favre refused to announce whether or not 2006 would be his last in the NFL.

Then again, we shouldn't be surprised. Barber has a rumoured $10 million TV contract sitting in his lap. In other words, he'll make almost as much money to sit around and talk sports and news, something he's stated he has a passion for, as he did getting banged up and shortening his predicted lifespan on the football field. Sounds like a smart guy to us.

As for Brett...

Who knows. And it's getting to a point that we say: who cares? The networks took the opportunity to soak up the possible goodbyes by airing Favre's last two games, both wins. NBC made a mockery of flex scheduling by picking up a meaningless Packers-Bears game (that will become even more meaningless when Favre announces he's coming back) instead of what could have been a potentially important, playoffs-at-stake game.

Despite the tears, we may see more Brett in '07.

8. TO
We promise not to get into it. Too much TO can be dangerous to one's health. But to outline:

In September, Terrell Owens reportedly attempts suicide when he takes too many painkillers. He goes on to play that week, and his publicist becomes infamous for stating, "Terrell has 25 million reasons why he should be alive."

In December, Owens apparently spit in the face of Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall. He confirms it in a postgame interview, gets fined $35,000, and denies it.

On several occasions throughout the season, Owens expresses his displeasure with either his quarterback, his coach, his team as a whole, or anything that comes to mind.

9. Parity... well, sort of
It's getting out of control, and it's leaning one way much more than the other. Not only is the AFC ridiculously stronger than the NFC, but the league just doesn't have very many good teams or bad teams anymore. Everyone is just, okay.

Eight teams finished 8-8. One of them made the playoffs. Almost half the league (15 of the 32 teams) finished within one game of .500. Only four teams won 12 games, and only four lost 12.

It is indeed a close league. Anyone can beat anyone on any given Sunday. But what's really remarkable is the difference between the AFC and the NFC.

In the AFC, a 9-7 team missed the playoffs. In the NFC an 8-8 team made the playoffs. That just shouldn't happen. If you argued that Denver, Cincinnati and Jacksonville (probably the best three teams to miss the post-season in the AFC) would be right there with Chicago and New Orleans atop the NFC, not many people would disagree with you.

Like the American League and the Western Conference(s), there is a slant amidst the parity. But this is unlike anything we've ever seen.

10. Fall of Super Bowl Teams Continues
The Super Bowl jinx continues. That's six straight years a team from the Super Bowl has missed the playoffs the next season.

It looked for a while it would again be the Super Bowl loser that would miss out on the post-season. With Shaun Alexander and Matt Hasselbeck hurt, it looked like the Seahawks were in trouble. They pulled it out, but the Steelers didn't.

Pittsburgh has seemingly been jinxed ever since they won the Lombardi Trophy last February. Jerome Bettis retired, Ben Roethlisberger almost died, Santonio Holmes got drafted - then arrested. The team had to deal with injury after injury, and never got on track.

The Steelers are the first team since the 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers to fail to make the playoffs after winning the big game. But this is the wild part: The Super Bowl loser, until this year, hadn't made the playoffs since the Tennessee Titans did it, in 2000!

And a regular-season in review wouldn't be complete without some playoff prognostication. The TFS Playoff Predictions tells you who to put your money on and why.

Wild-Card Round

Kansas City, 35 @ Indianapolis 28: The upset of the weekend. There's always at least one and this matchup is a nightmare for the horrid Colts run defense. Larry Johnson will run all over the Indy defense, and the Chiefs - who are peaking at just the right time - will keep the momentum going into the second round.

Dallas, 17 @ Seattle, 20: A close, low scoring game falls the home team's way. The Seahawks, like the Chiefs, are peaking at the right time. Whereas the 'Boys limp into the playoffs, blowing a once comfortable division lead. This will be Terrell Owens' last game as a Cowboy.

New York Jets, 10 @ New England, 27: The Pats at home in January is tough to pick against, especially against a Jets team that is playing above its head. We just don't see Chad Pennington beating Tom Brady in January, regardless of what that defense can do.

New York Giants, 20 @ Philadelphia, 28: Tough Sunday for New York football fans. The Eagles are rolling and the G-Men are not. The 2006 Giants are one of the worst playoff football teams in league history. 28-20 is being nice.

Divisional Playoffs

Kansas City, 21 @ San Diego 42: The Chargers should be juiced to open the playoffs in front of their home crowd and shouldn't have any trouble against a six-seed that they handled in the regular season at Qualcomm Stadium.

New England, 10 @ Baltimore, 24: The Ravens end the Patriots Super Bowl hopes on the power of the NFL's best defense based on two weeks rest and home-field advantage.

Seattle, 10 @ Chicago, 28: The Bears are in the same situation as the Ravens, and win easily at Soldier Field.

Philadelphia, 17 @ New Orleans, 24: This one could be the game of the playoffs, and the Saints - who are clearly the better team - come through at home. Four bye-week teams: four wins.

Conference Championships

Baltimore, 24 @ San Diego, 28: Never mind the game of the playoffs, this is the game of the year. And although we love that Ravens defense, home field could be key for the Chargers. We think LT will do whatever is necessary to win this football game.

New Orleans, 31 @ Chicago, 28: The upset of the year has the miracle Saints coming through in Chicago. This is where we think Rex Grossman blows up, and that ultimately does the Bears in.

The Super Bowl

San Diego, 35 VS New Orleans, 10: The Saints can't get it all, and this Chargers team is just too good offensively and defensively. Realistically, the AFC Championship game acts as the Super Bowl, because LT wins the game MVP and the Chargers trounce the Saints in the first blowout Final since Tampa Bay wiped Oakland four years ago.

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