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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Must See Sports - First Weekend of October 2014

Last week's advantage/disadvantage record, excluding series: 10-4
Last week's advantage/disadvantage record, in series: 4-0
2014 Advantage/Disadvantage Record, excluding series: 49-36
2014 Advantage/Disadvantage Record (series only): 8-1

Thursday, October 2

Major League Baseball

American League Division Series - Game 1
Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels
Jason Vargas - Royals (11-10, 3.71 ERA) vs Jered Weaver - Angels (18-9, 3.59 ERA)

The Angels have the better pitcher on the mound, the better batting order, and are at home

Advantages: Game - Angels, Series - Angels

American League Division Series - Game 1
Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles
Max Scherzer (18-5, 3.15 ERA, 252 Ks) - Tigers vs Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34 ERA)

Baltimore is solid from top-to-bottom in the field, has a strong bullpen, and one of the best managers in the game in Buck Showalter. Detroit is ridiculously potent in its batting lineup, with a monstrous starting rotation for the playoffs. Its bullpen is a black hole. The Tigers will need eight or more solid innings from their starters to have a good chance to win games in this series. However, I expect reigning American League Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to deliver just that in Game 1.

Advantages: Game - Tigers, Series - Orioles

Buck Showalter wants more where this came from after leading the O's to their first division title in 17 years. 1
Friday, October 3

Major League Baseball

American League Division Series - Game 2
Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles
Justin Verlander (15-12, 4.54 ERA) - Tigers vs Wei-Yin Chen (16-6, 3.54 ERA) - Orioles

Justin Verlander has been unpredictably feast-or-famine. In addition, I don't think the O's will be swept in its home stand of this series. Back to Motown, all knotted up!

Advantage: Orioles

American League Division Series - Game 2
Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels
Yordano Ventura (14-10, 3.20 ERA) - Royals vs Matt Shoemaker (16-4, 3.04 ERA) - Angels

The pitching matchup gives the Royals their best chance to win a gae in this series. That doesn't mean I think it will happen.

Advantage: Angels

National League Division Series - Game 1
St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers
Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA) - Cardinals vs Clayton Kershaw (21-3, 1.77 ERA, 239 Ks) - Dodgers

This game has the potential to be an instant classic. Both pitchers are All-Stars. Both batting lineups are loaded with studs. I'm not suggesting this game is a slam-dunk for the Dodgers against the defending National League champions, but there is no way I can pick against the soon-to-be back-to-back National League Cy Young award winner and probable 2014 N.L. MVP taking the hill for L.A..

Advantages: Game - Dodgers, Series - Dodgers 

National League Division Series - Game 1
San Francisco Giants at Washington Nationals
Tim Hudson (9-13, 3.57 ERA) - Giants vs Stephen Strasburg (14-11, 3.14 ERA, 242 Ks) - Nationals

The Nationals finished with the best record in the league for a reason. The pitching matchup is one-sided, the Nats have better position players, and they are at home.

Advantages: Game - Nationals, Series - Nationals

Winning the N.L. West has not been a problem for Adrian Gonzalez and the Dodgers. Winning the pennant hasn't happened for them since 1988.
Saturday, October 4

Major League Baseball

National League Division Series - Game 2
San Francisco Giants at Washington Nationals
Ryan Vogelsong (8-14, 4.00 ERA) - Giants vs Jordan Zimmerman (14-5, 2.66 ERA) - Nationals

Once again, the pitching matchup is one sided. Vogelsong has got to give the Giants at least six innings in this game just to not risk jeopardizing the bullpen for the game(s) back in San Francsico. That may or may not happen. Fresh off of throwing a no-hitter last Sunday, I doubt Jordan Zimmerman will have any shortage of confidence.

Advantage: Nationals

National League Division Series - Game 2
St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers
Lance Lynn (15-10, 2.74 ERA) - Cardinals vs Zack Greinke (17-8, 2.71 ERA, 207 Ks) - Dodgers

This could be another great game. However, while I understand that Lance Lynn had a breakthrough season in 2014, I simply do not have confidence in him as a postseason starter. Add in the fact that he is pitching on the road in a matchup against the former Cy Young winner in Zack Grenke and I can't wrap my mind around a victory in this game for the Redbirds.

Advantage: Dodgers

NCAA Football

#6 Texas A&M Aggies at #12 Mississippi State Bulldogs

Which Texas A&M will show up? On paper, they are better than Mississippi State and the Bulldogs are due for a letdown following the stunning upset at LSU. Still, the Aggies' defense has had some head-scratching moments. I am not convinced that this team has sealed up all of the painfully obvious leaks from last season, though they appear improved.

The Kenny Hill (A&M, 1,745 yds., 17 TD, 2 INT) vs Dak Prescott (MSU, 964 yds., 11 TD, 2 INT, 378 rush yds.) QB matchup should be compelling.

Advantage: Texas A&M

#3 Alabama Crimson Tide at #11 Ole Miss Rebels

Ole Miss is flying high, hosting its most meaningful SEC West contest in years. Expect them to come back down to Earth after Saturday. The Rebels are not strong enough on the ground to control the tempo of the game enough to beat Alabama.

Advantage: Alabama

#14 Stanford Cardinal at #9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Cardinal has a defense that is to be reckoned with. However, I don't think they have enough to contain a rejuvenated Notre Dame offense with quarterback Everett Golson (1,142 yds., 11 TD, 2 INT) back for 2014, especially at Notre Dame, Indiana.

Advantage: Notre Dame

#15 LSU Tigers at #5 Auburn Tigers

I have almost no confidence in my LSU Tigers' ability to go on the road to Jordan-Hare Stadium and rub out the defending SEC champions. Freshman LSU QB Brandon Harris (394 yds., 6 TD, 1 INT, 73% comp.) has offered glimmers of hope for the Tigers, but I am not hanging my hat on that hope.

Advantage: Auburn

Alabama coach Nick Saban is on a mission to turn Ole Miss cheers into tears. 3
Sunday, October 5


Arizona Cardinals (3-0) at Denver Broncos (2-1)

The Cardinals are the last of the unbeaten teams in the NFC. I expect that to end. Their defense has been stout and Drew Stanton has filled in very well for the injured Carson Palmer. However, Peyton Manning is playing at home and coming off of a loss.

Advantage: Broncos

Cincinnati Bengals (3-0) at New England Patriots (2-2)

The Bengals are the last of the unbeaten teams in the AFC. I expect that to continue. The Patriots are in a lot of trouble and the Bengals, frankly, look like the 2014 version of last year's Seattle Seahawks so far. The game is at Foxboro, though.

Advantage: Bengals

Major League Baseball

American League Division Series - Game 3
Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals
C.J. Wilson (13-10, 4.51 ERA) - Angels vs James Shields (14-8, 3.21 ERA) - Royals

"Big Game" James gives the Royals their best chance to take a game in this series. The Royals fans will get one more chance to show their appreciation for a great season. Break out the brooms.

Advantage: Angels

American League Division Series - Game 3
Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers
Bud Norris (15-8, 3.65 ERA) - Orioles vs David Price (15-12, 3.26 ERA, 271 Ks) - Tigers

This is a complete mismatch on the mound. As long as the former Cy Young winner, David Price, doesn't get into a lot of long innings or any wide early deficits, I don't think the Orioles have a shot in the Tigers' home playoff opener.

Advantage: Tigers

Expect the Bengals to sock it to the Pats on Sunday night. 4
Monday, October 6

Major League Baseball

American League Division Series - Game 4 (if necessary)
Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers

While the starters are not yet known for Game 4, as we don't even know if there will be a Game 4, this is the point in the series in which I think the Grand Canyon sized hole in the Tigers' pitching staff - their bullpen - begins to catch up to them regardless of who starts on the mound. Even if the great Max Scherzer starts (and Brad Ausmus is likely to save him for a Game 5), I have doubts as to whether or not he can deliver enough innings in Game 1 and in Game 4 and help deliver Tigers wins in both games.

Advantage: Orioles

American League Division Series - Game 4 (if necessary)
Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals

I don't expect a Game 4 to be necessary, but if it is, I like the Angels.

Advantage: Angels

National League Division Series - Game 3
Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals
Unknown - Dodgers vs John Lackey (14-10, 3.82 ERA) - Cardinals

The Dodgers are either going to give the ball to Dan Haren (13-11, 4.02 ERA) or Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-7, 3.38 ERA) if Ryu's shoulder is healthy enough for him to start. Regardless of who in Dodger Blue takes the mound, I expect Lackey and the Cardinals to demonstrate the value of playoff experience and home field advantage.

Advantage: Cardinals

National League Division Series - Game 3
Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants
Gio Gonzales (10-10, 3.57 ERA) - Nationals vs Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98 ERA, 219 Ks) - Giants

The pitching advantage and home field advantage swings to the Giants for Game 3.

Advantage: Giants

Tuesday, October 7

Major League Baseball

National League Division Series - Game 4 (if necessary)
Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants

The idea that Nationals Manager Matt Williams would start Stephen Strasburg on the road on three days of rest is far fetched. I expect Doug Fister (16-6, 2.41 ERA) to get the ball for the Nats, most likely against the hot handed Jake Peavy (7-13, 3.73 ERA). Fister has been consistently tough all season, but I think the home field advantage and the possible availability of starter Tim Lincecum as a reliever (and a backup plan) tips the odds in a Game 4 ever so slightly to the Giants.

Advantage: Giants 

National League Division Series - Game 4 (if necessary)
Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals may be tempted to pitch Adam Wainwright on three days of rest if the Cards are facing elimination. However, I would not expect the Dodgers to respond in kind with their ace. The more likely matchup would be Dan Haren for the Dodgers and Shelby Miller (10-9, 3.74 ERA). Playing at Busch Stadium with the bullpen that the Cardinals have, I think Miler has a better than 50/50 chance to help get his team to a Game 5.

Advantage: Cardinals

Wednesday, October 8

Major League Baseball

American League Division Series - Game 5 (if necessary)
Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles

This will most likely be a rematch of Scherzer and Tillman. Playing in Baltimore in a deciding Game 5, I think that the Tigers would need eight or more innings to win this match, much like I think they would need in Game 1. I don't know if Scherzer will deliver that twice on the road in one series. My gut tells me that if this game goes to the Tigers' pen, the O's put it away. I think a narrow, but decisive edge goes to Baltimore in a Game 5.

Advantage: Orioles

American League Division Series - Game 5 (if necessary)
Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels

Royals manager Ned Yost deserves a solid gold medal if he gets his team to a fifth game in the ALDS.

Advantage: Angels

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Circle of Football Life

When: Sunday, September 23, 2001
Where: Foxboro, Massachusetts
The Game: New York Jets at New England Patriots

The Situation: Jets linebacker Mo Lewis levels Drew Bledsoe as Bledsoe was running out of bounds. Bledsoe was briefly knocked unconscious, suffered internal bleeding and a collapsed lung. Bledsoe returned a series later, then left the game for good. Unknown, second-year backup Tom Brady replaced Bledsoe, ineffectively, throwing for less than 5 yards per attempt and no touchdowns. The Patriots would lose, 10-3, falling to the dreaded 0-2 record.

The Result: As the expression goes, "The rest is history." Brady remained the starting QB for the remainder of the season on the way to a victory in Super Bowl XXXVI and the beginning of a Hall of Fame career. Bledsoe, who had just quarterbacked the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI five years earlier, would only appear as a backup for the remainder of the season.

Bledsoe, who had just signed a record 10-year $103 million contract in early 2001, was traded to the division rival Buffalo Bills during the 2002 offseason. Bledsoe had some good years with the Bills and a solid debut season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2005, but he would never throw another postseason pass. Brady went on to play in four more Super Bowls, winning two. Ironically, Bledsoe was benched in Dallas and replaced by Tony Romo, who also would go on to have a long career as the Cowboys starter.

The moment the NFL changed.

When: Monday, September 29, 2014
WhereKansas City, Missouri
The GameNew England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs

The Situation: During a pummeling on the road at Arrowhead Stadium, Tom Brady caps an abysmal evening by throwing a pick-six to Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah in the fourth quarter of a nationally televised embarrassment that was decided at halftime. Trailing 41-7, Brady is benched and replaced by rookie second round draft pick Jimmy Groppolo out of Eastern Illinois. Garoppolo is effective in relief, completing 86% of his passes, including one touchdown in at 41-14 debacle.

The Result: Brady is not getting benched for this week's Sunday Night Football game against the favored Cincinnati Bengals. But the clock is ticking on Brady's time as the Patriots' starter. Another repeat of Monday night - a poor enough performance by Brady to merit him being benched and another good relief appearance by Garoppolo - could signal the beginning of the end of Brady in New England.

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick already demonstrated, when launching Brady's career, that he has limited loyalty to quarterbacks based on past success. The Patriots have demonstrated the willingness to eat a large signing bonus in exchange for a younger, less expensive, high-potential quarterback when Brady's career was launched 13 years ago. Jimmy Garoppolo was not drafted in the second round to sit on the bench forever; he was drafted to possibly eventually replace Tom Brady one day.

"One day" could come much sooner than expected for the 37-year-old Brady, who is next-to-last among current NFL starting quarterbacks in yards per game (Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders). When times are tough, the backup quarterback is often the most popular player on the team. Certainly, the notion that an established starter and elite quarterbacking talent who was part of multiple Patriots Super Bowl teams would be forsaken by his long-time Head Coach is ludicrous, right? Ask Drew Bledsoe.

History inevitably repeats itself in football.

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Videos from YouTube.

Friday, September 26, 2014

All Washed Up

Derek Jeter's penultimate home game has come and gone. He is still retiring. The Yankees are still not going to the playoffs. The Baltimore Orioles are still the 2014 A.L. East champs.

The biggest non-story of the night was the biggest story of the days leading up to last night's game: the weather. A 50/50 chance of rain was forecast for Thursday evening, threatening to rain on the Jeter Parade and disappoint thousands of fans who paid a steep premium on the secondary market to be in the audience for this last goodbye.


The waterworks help up in the sky. They also held up in The Captain's eyes at the start the the came. As the Bronx crowd chanted "GREAT-EST EV-ER!" after the opening pitch, the jumping of Jeter's nerves were visible in the expression on his face. After launching an RBI double in his first at bat followed by stealing third base and eventually scoring, to the delight of the crowd (chanting "DE-REK JE-TER! - clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!), he appeared more settled down.

During Jeter's career, the Yankees missed the playoffs three times: in 2008, 2013, and this season. Jeter was injured for all but 17 games last season and the Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention during a season-closing road trip at the end of the 2008 season. The Yankees were mathematically eliminated from the 2014 playoffs after Wednesday afternoon's loss against the Orioles. This means that Jeter's career home finale was the first and only home game in his career - spanning 20 MLB seasons - that was completely meaningless for any Yankees' postseason implications.


With all of the build up over the evening and the weather and the absence of the Yankees from the postseason, etc., one may expect that Jeter may show up and go an unremarkable 1-for-something and perhaps trot off of the field in the top of the 9th inning to 50,000 fans standing and cheering. If you haven't seen any highlight shows, Jeter served up one more highlight reel for the fans.

The Yankees led by three going into the top of the 9th only to watch the lead evaporate on a two-run home run by Adam Jones followed by an improbable two-out, game-tying solo home run by Chris Pearce. Keep in mind that, at this point, Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda had retired 16 consecutive Orioles batters. Joe Girardi inexplicably elected to summon closer David Robertson, who gave up the aforementioned booty, instead of rolling with the red hot Kuroda. The notion that Jeter would get an at-bat in the 9th was improbable.

The rest is history. Following a lead-off single and a sacrifice bunt to move the runner to second, Jeter came up to bat. The first pitch was served right down Broadway and Jeter delivered a game-winning RBI single to right field. Storybook moment: delivered. Game over....

While the Mr. November and the New York Yankees will not be a part of October baseball, last night's Yankee Stadium sendoff was noteworthy event. Yours truly is no Yankee fan, but I have a profound appreciation for milestone moments in sports. In addition, Derek Jeter is one of the all-time greats in American sports and a class act. In spite of the anti-climactic end to the Yankees' season, Last night's final Bronx farewell was a fitting finish for The Captain.    

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Retweet of the Day - September 25, 2014

Derek Jeter is playing in his final home game at Yankee Stadium tonight. Some have speculated that it may be the final game of his career and that he may not play in the three game road series at the Boston Red Sox. So tonight's contest against the 2014 American League East Division champion Baltimore Orioles could be all she wrote for The Captain.

You don't need me to tell you that this is Jeter's swan song. Today's retweet, from Blake Holtzhower (@BlakeHoltzhower)   reflects how omnipresent the Jeter Farewell Tour has been in recent days:

"Drinking game: Take a shot every time ESPN reminds you Derek Jeter is retiring."

It's a man-tearjerker.

Gatorade ad posted on YouTube.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chicken Little Tigers

And the annual ritual is underway, again. It's happening earlier than normal this year, but it is happening right on schedule.

The LSU Tigers under Les Miles have suffered their first loss of the season. Like most years, that first loss has come to an underdog opponent; they are usually favored most weeks. Unlike most years, the Tigers dropped one at home to a visiting underdog opponent. And unlike any year in this century, they were slapped around the building by visiting underdog opponent Mississippi.


And here we go. The Golden Age of LSU Football is coming to and end! LSU is going to go winless in SEC play! Everyone knew this would happen when Nick Saban left (almost 10 years ago)! It's time to finally FIRE LES MILES TONIGHT!!!

"What? You think I haven't heard it all before?" 1

Slow down, Chicken Little Tiger fans! The sky is not falling. What happened is that LSU lost by six points to Mississippi State University, 35-29, for the first time since 1999 and for the first time at home since 1991.

What happened is that LSU's game plan ignored the strength of MSU's defensive front seven while ignoring the Bulldogs' relative weakness in the secondary and failing to adjust. What happened was that the Tigers were completely unprepared for the dynamic playmaking potential of MSU quarterback Dak Prescott. What happened is that LSU Head Coach Les Miles earned an "F-" for preparing his team to play its SEC opener last Saturday.

Nobody saw MSU QB Dak Prescott, right, coming. 2

Les Miles did not forget how to coach football; his local critics likely think he never could in the first place, but I'll let his win-loss record over nine years speak for itself. LSU was not overrated at #8, going into last Saturday's game; the team was just three weeks removed from erasing a 17 point deficit at a neutral site to beat a ranked Wisconsin team. And while LSU had some of its shortcomings exposed, it didn't lose to a hapless SEC opponent.


Last Saturday had factors that combined for the perfect storm for LSU to suffer a loss to an underdog opponent. LSU is a team that is not set up to beat its opponents with passing. Starting sophomore QB Anthony Jennings of LSU is not a good passer. He, generally, appears comfortable managing the LSU offense and handing the essential duties of a quarterback in that offense.

LSU has an embarrassment of riches in its backfield. Between the (unreasonable) Heisman expectations of freshman RB Leonard Fournette to the power and experience of senior Kenny Hilliard to Terrence McGee and the rest of the Clydesdale horses lined up behind Jennings, this offense is capable of overwhelming opponents with sheer brute force.

LSU has a young but incredibly athletic and opportunistic defense. Its front seven can smother an opponent's running backs. The defensive backs are as quick and opportunistic as any in the SEC. So why did LSU lose?

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Regional and national pundits often commented on the rapid development of the MSU program under Coach Dan Mullen. Dak Prescott was (unrealistically) whispered as a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate and (reasonably) expected to have a breakout season. The Bulldogs' front seven was regarded by many SEC media pundits as possibly the best in the SEC. This is not "your daddy's" Mississippi State team.

Les Miles game planned as though none of those Bulldogs improvements took place between last season and this season. Miles stubbornly tried to run the ball down the Bulldogs' throat and when that was not effective, they ran the ball some more. Instead of taking advantage of what appeared to be a porous MSU secondary, Miles and Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron insisted that LSU's strength could better MSU's strength. In addition, while I'm not sure if Dak Prescott expected Dak Prescott to have the spectacular breakout performance he had, the Tigers appeared to be completely flat footed and unable to adjust to him until LSU was in a 24-point hole late in the game.

Mississippi State students (especially Prescott, in the middle of the swarm of cheerleaders) make a rare trip back from Baton Rouge with a reason to smile. 3

Chin up, Tigers fans. In spite of what can only be described as an uninspired embarrassment and butt-whooping at the hands of MSU, the fact is that LSU has the ball in Bulldogs' territory on the final play of the game with a change, albeit a slim one, to win the game. Freshman backup quarterback Brandon Harris came off of the bench and, with his rocket arm, almost led the Tigers to three rapid-fire touchdowns in the final minutes of the game. It would have been one of the most miraculous comebacks in the history of college football. What was evident was Harris' enormous potential.

If "if" were a fifth we could stay drunk all day. LSU did not win. It was completely out-coached, out-manned, and out-physicaled by a Mississippi State team that came to Baton Rouge focused with a plan an three and two-thirds quarters of pristine execution of that plan. The better team won on Saturday. However, Mississippi State looked its absolute best and LSU looked its absolute worst. A savage beating at the hands of a conference rival can force a team to look hard at itself, humble itself, and make tough adjustments. Based on the prior nine years under Les Miles, there is no reason to expect those corrections not to happen.

Brandon Harris, right, provided LSU a spark with the speed of a bolt of lightning in the 4th quarter. 4
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Monday, September 22, 2014

NFL Quarterback Rankings 2014

It is that time of year again. Football is here! Last year, just before the beginning of the preseason, the Hat Trick ranked the starting quarterbacks from all 32 NFL teams.

This year, it comes a little later. Several teams did not decide their starting quarterbacks until after the conclusion of the preseason. There are 10 starting NFL quarterback who were not starters heading into training camp in 2013 Today, the Hat Trick will toss in its two cents for the 2014 season. Better late than never...!

Are you ready for some football?
Top Tier

1) Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos - Last year's preseason rank: 2 (difference = +1)

Welcome back to the top of the mountain, Peyton Manning. Manning demolished records as he led the Broncos roughshod over the AFC on the way to Super Bowl XLVIII. This year, the Broncos are expected by many, myself included, to repeat as AFC Champions. John Fox is a good coach, but the expectations are a Mile High because of the future Hall of Famer.

2) Tom Brady, New England Patriots - Last year's preseason rank: 3 (difference = +1)

I wrestled over whether or not to put Brady in the top spot. He did more with less last year than any quarterback in recent memory. However, Manning's (far from eroded) physical skills, the results of their AFC Championship Game meeting, and expectations for 2014 for both Manning and his team (compared to Brady and the Patriots) give Manning just a tick over Tom Terrific. My fanhood may tip the scales ever so slightly, too!

3) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers - Last year's preseason rank: 1 (difference = -2)

If I were starting a franchise today, I would draft Aaron Rodgers first. His dip from #1 to #3 is more of a reflection on the superhuman performances of his two outranking elders last year than any fault of A-Rodg. The absence of recent playoff progress is not boosting his ranking, either. Still, this guy has everything: feet and footwork, arm strength, quick decision making ability, and the "it factor".

4) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints - Last year's preseason rank: 4 (difference = 0)

Several years ago, a Falcons fan said (in a chain email including me and a number of Louisianians) that he thought Drew Brees was the most accurate passer in NFL history. At the time, I thought he was in Rome and doing as the Romans. Now, I think he was swallowing his Dirty Bird pride and admitting what he was observing. If you cut me, I bleed Black & Gold, but I can also take off my black and gold colored shades. Brees would be well atop Mount Hat Trick were it not for his tendency to commit the few turnovers he commits at the most painful and costly times for the Saints.

5) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts - Last year's preseason rank: 14 (difference = +9)

This guy is a superstar. Leading his team back from the second-largest deficit in NFL history in the first round of last year's playoffs against the Kansas City Chiefs illustrated a microcosm of his potential. Luck, like Tom Brady, also did a lot with a little, especially after his primary receiver, Reggie Wayne, went down with a knee injury at mid-season. The offensive line was average. His receiving corps was average. The defense in place to take pressure off of Luck and the offense was mediocre at best and the special teams (sans Adam Vinatieri) often looked confused. It won't get much better this year, but Luck will always give the Colts a chance to win.

Manning has the best chance of any of the elite quarterbacks to return to the Super Bowl. 1 
Tier 2

6) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers - Last year's preseason rank: 6 (difference = 0)

Big Ben can makes plays and keep the Steelers in any game at any time. Judging by the roster, he will need to do just that. The defense is long-in-the-tooth and the offensive teammates surrounding Roethlisberger are average. Expect a win-loss records not consistent with his QB ranking of #6. Expect Roethlisberger to pump the Steelers into the .500 neighborhood in spite of lacking .500 talent.

7) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons - Last year's preseason rank: 7 (difference = 0)

Last season was an aberration for the Falcons and hence Ryan's performance. With healthy receivers and the first unit defense back in place, expect the Falcons to remain competitive through the end of the season. Matty Ice can flat out ball when he is in a rhythm and help his team outscore any opponent. They'll need it. The Falcons' defense is as intimidating as vanilla ice cream.

8) Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers - Last year's preseason rank: 9 (difference = +1)

It is simple. When Rivers is not making mistakes the Chargers' air attack is very hard to stop. He has already sucker punched the Legion of Boom from Seattle. Rivers has proven he can solve Denver's defense. Rivers is a QB who can lift up the players around him and for that reason, his team can never be overlooked in any week.

9) Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks - Last year's preseason rank: 16 (difference = +7)

Winning a Super Bowl has that effect on a QB's Hat Trick ranking. To borrow a line from the 1988 classic, "Coming To America", THE BOY GOOD! Wilson is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league. What he lacks in stature and arm strength, he compensates for with the old gray matter and his ability to extend plays with his feet.

I think of Russell Wilson as Tom Brady with quick feet. Wilson is the prototype of a new wave of quarterbacks that will dominate the league in the coming decades. Super Bowl XLVIII was just the beginning.

10) Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys - Last year's preseason rank: 10 (difference = 0)

The Cowbys are going to suck this year. They will suck less because of Romo. Romo is not in the elite tier of QB's but he is a playmaker who keeps drives alive and games alive in spite of the people around him and in spite of the playcalling.

The magnified late turnover keeps Romo down. But I think that the eye of the average fan often misses the fact that said turnover would not be in a position to be costly were it not for Romo keeping his team alive longer than is often deserves to be.

11) Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears - Last year's preseason rank: 11 (difference = 0 )

Yeah, yeah...he is kind of a jerk. It's getting old. Cutler is a physical specimen with a rocket for an arm and good intestinal fortitude. He makes plays that lesser quarterback cannot. I've observed Cutler's maturity since joining the Bears and he appears, to my untrained eye, to have evolved, over the past two seasons, into the kind of teammate a teammate would want to have.

Don't hate the player; hate the game.

12) Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers - Last year's preseason rank: 17 (difference = +5)

♪ "He's the man; he's the man; he's the ma-an!" ♫

Any doubts I had about Kaepernick going into a sophomore slump were erased last season. Kap is on his way to becoming an elite NFL QB in the coming years. At the moment, I think of him as a poor man's Russell Wilson. Slightly more physically gifted...prone to occasional games in which one wonders where his head is. Still, the 49ers will be a Super Bowl contender every year a healthy Kaepernick is under center.

Steelers fans are going to witness the value of Ben Roethlisberger during a season they may likely want to forget. 2 
Tier 3

13) Eli Manning, New York Giants - Last year's preseason rank: 5 (difference = -8)

Eli Manning was able to help his team win because he could compensate for his physical deficiencies with the players around him. The pieces around him are not the same as when the Giants were winning Super Bowls and it shows. It has significantly affected his decision making. Eli and the G-men may be in for some lean years until the roster is rebuilt and gains experience.

14) Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers - Last year's preseason rank: 18 (difference = +4)

Newton is on the cusp of breaking into the ranks of the "top two" tier quarterbacks. Newton can not only make plays with his legs, but run opponents over in the process. At the same time, he has demonstrated the ability to stretch the field. Seasoning and experience could give him a chance to evolve into a very special player.

15) Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens - Last year's preseason rank: 8  (difference = -7)

Considering that the Super Bowl XLVII champions were completely dismantled on the defensive side of the ball prior to the 2013 season, I thought Flacco held it together. Still, Flacco was exposed as more of an advanced game manager than a play maker.

Putting the right players around Flacco will give him an opportunity to win games every week, including the big game - the Super Bowl. But at this point in his career, it is clear to this blogger that he cannot put a team on his back and carry it deep into the postseason like a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning type.

16) Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals - Last year's preseason rank: 12 (difference = -4)

With the talent around him, all Dalton has to do is not put his team in harm's way during the postseason to contend for a Super Bowl. Dalton has flashes of excellence. But his team does not need him to be excellent, just competent. The sooner he realizes this, the sooner he can grow into a QB approaching excellence.

17) Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions - Last year's preseason rank: 13 (difference = -4)

Stafford is a tough QB to read. Without a doubt he has the physical tools - size, arm strength, toughness. Six years into his NFL career, I am still undecided as to whether or not Stafford has "it" and can rise to the level of one of the star signal callers in the NFL. For another year, I have to reserve judgment.

18) Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals - Last year's preseason rank: 26 (difference = +8)

Arizona was the perfect fit for Palmer and as a result, he has shown that he can give a good NFL team a chance to contend for the playoffs.

19) Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs - Last year's preseason rank: 19 (difference = 0)

Alex Smith will not lose games for his team. If everyone else (including the Head Coach) does what they are supposed to do, he can help make sure his team wins the games. Guys like Smith don't make it into the Hall of Fame, but they play for a long time and, every now and then, they get their squads to the Super Bowl.

20) Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles - Last year's preseason rank: none

Foles came on strong for the Eagles last season and played a big part in getting them to the playoffs. Still, the information on Foles' ability to perform is limited. I need to see a solid sophomore season before moving him up the Hat Trick ranks.

Gravity is real. 3
Tier 4

21) Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins - Last year's preseason rank: 24 (difference =+3)

I was on the fence regarding whether or not to place Tannehill into Tier 3 or Tier 4. Tannehill can make that choice easy for me in 2015 - one way or another.

22) Robert Griffin, III, Washington Redskins - Last year's preseason rank: 15 (difference = -7 )

I have crystal stemware that doesn't break as easily.

23) Geno Smith, New York Jets - Last year's preseason rank: none

This guy could have a long, above-average career or be a fly-by-night QB on the bench by the time his rookie contract expires. Either way, a Rex Ryan team is not the place to maximize his potential. Regardless, young Smith has to play the cards he was dealt. Having veteran Mike Vick as his backup and possible mentor could aid in his development. But in his second season, there are more "unknowns" than "knowns" surrounding Smith.

24) Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns - Last year's preseason rank: none

Someone told Brian Hoyer he could be a legitimate starting NFL quarterback. Someone told him he could outperform first round draft pick and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and keep him on the bench during his rookie year. Apparently, Hoyer believed it.

Because the Browns lack the offensive skill position players Hoyer needs around him to make the Browns into a serious playoff contender, I think that it is only a matter of time before Hoyer yields the starting job to Johnny Football. Still, Hoyer has shown that he can add value to an NFL roster and has greatly helped increase his expected career longevity.

25) Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans - Last year's preseason rank: 27 (difference = +2)

He'll win some games by default but he'll be on someone's bench next season.

Perhaps Tannehill would be more motivated if he didn't already have the hot wife. 4
Tier 5

26) Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston Texans - Last year's preseason rank: none

He clearly went to Harvard. He has outsmarted the entire Texans' coaching staff into letting him start.

27) Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings Last year's preseason rank: none

T-minus x-number of weeks before the Teddy Bridgewater era begins in Minnesota. In fact, it may have already started. Cassel's 15-minutes will be up and long overdue after the 2014 season.

28) Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders - Last year's preseason rank: none

Carr might not be a bust like his brother (first pick in the 2002 NFL Draft) David. But, like David, he is on the worst possible team to cut his NFL teeth.

29) E.J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills - Last year's preseason rank: none

In my opinion, Manuel should have been more of a developmental project than a high first round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He may be on his way out of Buffalo after just his second season. That is what happens to teams that overreach at the most important position n the field.

Just because he went to "Haaaaaaah-vard" doesn't mean he can think the Texans to victory. 5

Toilet Tier

30) Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Last year's preseason rank: none

It's nice that McCown parlayed his fill-in duties with the Bears into a starting job. Now you see why he is a career backup.

31) Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars - Last year's preseason rank: none

I cannot think of a worse place for an NFL rookie QB to try to have an impact. Still, he's a better option than (former Jags starter) Chad Henne.

32) Austin Davis, St. Louis Rams - Last year's preseason rank: none

Who the hell is this guy?

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Retweet of the Day - August 15, 2014

The Daily Hat Trick Retweet of the Day is back! While preseason football is underway, the live bullets aren't flying yet and media outlets still need a little filler fodder for discussion. From Johnny Manziel to Michael Sam to 24 hour coverage of who is going to play with LeBron James in Cleveland, sports media can beat a dead horse like no other at this time of year.

Today's retweet is from Luke Matthews (@30Matthews):

"If ESPN doesn't send me an alert the next time LeBron or Michael Sam farts I'm going to be highly upset."

Taco night in Rams training camp?
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On to the Next One

Rory McIlroy's well publicized break up with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki was followed by rapid improvement and success in McIlroy's golf game. On Sunday, McIlroy won the PGA Championship, his second consecutive major tournament and fourth in his career. He has been quoted as saying that his golf game improved after the split because he could focus more on his game. Wozniacki is the subject of today's Chick Pic.

I guess Wozniacki, right, and Serena Williams, left, put their little beef behind them. And in Serena's case, it's way...waaaay behind her. 1
That's how great it is to be Rory. He can kick her to the curb! 2
Giggity.... 3
Kim Clijsters (right) giggity.... 4
I don't even recognize her as an underwear model (but I'd like to get familiar! ZING...!). 5
Looks great in a dress.... 6

Looks great sitting down in one, too.... 7

Rory is taking the whole situation in stride. 8
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

People who know me personally know that I am seldom at a loss for words. But today, I strained to find a subject to discuss. Truthfully, the current events subject dominating my thoughts was the tragic apparent suicide of actor and comic Robin Williams.

While he had a hysterical stand-up bit with his “theory” on the invention of the game of golf and a dramatic scene in Good Will Hunting involving Carlton Fisk’s dramatic home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Williams is not a sports figure. However, there are some public figures whose lives transcend their core subject matter associations.
There is not a one of you reading this blog who hasn’t observed Williams’ work. I doubt there is one of you who haven’t had some joy or enrichment brought to your life at some point by his work. Whether you grew up on Mork & Mindy, enjoyed being a kid or felt like a kid again from his portrayal of Peter Pan in “Hook”, a Genie in “Aladdin” (my personal favorite), or a cross dressing dad in “Mrs. Doubtfire”, appreciated his side-splitting stand up acts, or were taken in by his dramatic acting roles, Williams probably touched your life for the better in some way.
We’ll get back to sports tomorrow at The Hat Trick. Today, I wanted to remember a talented man whose work nearly all of us knew and enjoyed. He is a man the world has lost and is mourning today.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Wide Lefty

Rory McIlroy won the 2014 PGA Championship at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, shooting a 68 on Sunday to finish 16 under par. McIlroy finished one stroke ahead of Phil Mickelson and two strokes over Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson in a highly competitive major tournament, the last of 2014. McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, won his fourth career major tournament. McIlroy made his final two puts to seal the win in near darkness, due to a near two hour weather delay yesterday.


Phil Mickelson narrowly missed big shot after big shot that could have potentially shaved that once stroke differential off of ol' Lefty's score, including a 25 foot putt for eagle on the 7th hole that missed by inches. Rickie Weeks narrowly missed a putt on the final hole that would have tied him with Mickelson. The fourth round of the PGA Championship was a contest of inches. Golf fastest rising superstar, had the inches on his side. I can only imagine that Mickelson spent much of yesterday evening kicking himself after being so close but so far away so many times in the final round.

It was that kind of day for Lefty. 3


Last month, I suggested that, notwithstanding McIlroy's rise to the undisputed ranks of golf's elite, neither he nor anyone would go on a tear the likes of Tiger Woods at the turn of the century (Woods missed the weekend cut after finishing six over after the first two rounds). While I stand by that hypothesis, a year in 2015 like his year in 2014 could cause me to question that assertion. Move over, Tiger, now there's something Rory-er.

This photo isn't from Sunday, but the picture says a thousand words about the juxtaposition of the careers of McIlroy, left, and Woods, right, right now. 1

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Behind Every Good Man

On Tuesday, NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich hired former WNBA star Becky Hammon as an assistant coach. The hiring makes Hammon the first woman to be a full time, paid assistant coach in the history of the NBA. Once again, the NBA is ahead of the curve of social progress.


Beyond the fact that Hammon’s gender makes her hiring historic, I think this story is going to fade quickly. It will come and go whenever a member of the media wants something to write about or talk about, likely with more going than coming. Someone at some point will do or say something insensitive related to Hammon’s gender. It, too, shall pass.

I don’t know anything about Hammon’s knowledge of X’s and O’s. We are all acutely aware of the legacy and elite level of achievement of Popovich’s NBA head coaching career. Pop is five time NBA Champion as coach of the Spurs. He is the most accomplished active NBA head coach.  He is going to coast in to the Basketball Hall of Fame when he decides to retire and is eligible. In short, Coach Popovich’s selection of Hammon is all I need to know about her qualifications.

Considering the man who made the hire, I have little doubt about Hammon's coaching potential. 1


What none of us can truly know until we see the curtain rise on the 2014-2015 NBA season is what differences, if any, will there be in the dynamic of a woman coaching men. As human beings, we approach the opposite differently, even if slightly, in different situations. How will it translate in the hyper-competitive NBA on a team seeking its third consecutive Western Conference title and back-to-back NBA Championships?

Also, whether Hammon is successful or not (see her boss for why I think she will be), she will not be the last woman to coach in the NBA. She will not be a one-off. The WBNA has a plethora of knowledgeable players with high basketball IQ’s. The NBA is always looking for talent. It is inevitable that the men’s league will pick people with coaching potential from the women’s league, just like it does from the Developmental League and did with the now defunct Continental Basketball Association.

The question is: as more women enter the NBA coaching ranks and succeed, how long will it be before there is a woman hired as the Head Coach of an NBA team. It may not happen this year or even this decade, but Hammon has broken the glass ceiling of coaching. It’s only a matter of time before a woman is hired for the top job.

How long will it be before that happens and how long before a woman is the leader of men? What kind of personality in a woman will it take to manage and coach and lead and discipline 15 elite, millionaire, alpha-male jocks? Being an assistant coach is at a completely different level of demand than being the guy (or the girl).

Hammon in the WNBA. 3

Another question I have seen floated since Tuesday’s announcement is: will there ever be a woman to play in the NBA. Hammon gave the answer that every knowledgeable sports enthusiast already knew: “No.”

This isn’t the playground, it is major league sports. Sure, a high school girls hoops team could smoke a bunch of dudes without the technical knowledge or benefit of coaching that the girls team possesses. However, on the whole, men are bigger, stronger, and faster than women. The same applies when skimming the tiny, elite percentage of people occupying the 450 active roster spots in the NBA.

People who have played and closely followed sports know this truth. Casual fans or non-fans simply intrigued by the historic nature of Hammon’s hiring may not grasp or even buy into this concept. Consider that dunks are a routine occurrence, often a dozen times per night, in an NBA game and the vast majority of NBA players can go above the rim with ease. In the 18 year history of the WNBA, there have only been 20 dunks recorded by five players*.

This is the only competitive dunking involving a woman most of us will ever see live with our own eyes. 2

Hammon’s hiring is because of what she has upstairs, developed by years of what her body could do while competing against similarly talented peers. She need not be able to posterize Tony Parker to be effective from the sideline. Talk about it today. It will be yesterday’s news before tomorrow.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Snap, Crackle, and Pop

The uncertain fly in the ointment in any athlete’s career is the possibility of, impact of, and recovery from injury. Whether a setback is temporary, prolonged, or career ending, they all have a profound effect on the sport and the athletes most connected to them in the sport. Three recent injuries have rocked the world of sports. The severity of the injuries are the inverse of the status of the players injured, but have impacted their respective sports profoundly.


Tiger Woods is the most accomplished and famous golfer of his time. While he is past his prime, he won more tournaments in 2013 than any other golfer and re-surged back to the world’s #1 ranking. Tiger has been nagged by injuries in recent years. He recently had back surgery that forced him off of the PGA Tour.
Woods returned for the Quicken Loans National tournament, missing the cut.Woods then competed in his first major tournament in the British Open, though he struggled and flamed out after a promising start in the first round. Woods recently withdrew from the final round of the Bridgestone invitational this past weekend due to pain in his back. Woods was three under par through the first three rounds.

There is much speculation about this recent setback for Woods. Will he participate in the upcoming PGA Championship? Will he be on the Ryder Cup team next month? The big questions are: 1) Can he be the #1 guy in golf again (on the course) and 2) When will it happen? This latest setback at best raises uncertainty about the future of Woods (and the popularity of golf as a whole) and at worst is another step in the decline of the greatest golfer of the 21st century.

Tiger's final shot at the Bridgestone. Not unlike a few unfortunate consumers of the tire.... 1


Indiana Pacers forward Paul George’s injury was so gruesome that I could not create a catchy subtitle for this section in good conscience. George suffered a compound fracture of his leg in international competition with Team USA, preparing for this year’s World Cup. He will miss the 2014-2015 NBA season.

George is a young guy and unlike ligaments, tendons, vertebrae, and joints, broken bones (particularly in young, healthy men) usually heal fully. George should be back at a high level one day. However, the window for the Pacers to win a title may have just shut with George’s injury. The competitive landscape in the NBA’s Eastern Conference is shallow and with LeBron James’ return to Cleveland and the breakup of the Heatles, the two time conference runner ups appeared to have their best opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals in spite of losing guard Lance Stephenson to free agency.

Now, George will not play next season. All Star forward David West, the veteran leader of the team, will be in his mid-thirties by the time George returns. The uncertainty hanging over the Pacers makes them a less attractive free agency destination to attract supporting players. It may be time to rebuild in Indianapolis.

James Harden, huge beard, right, comforting Damon Lillard, left. 2


New York Giants running back David Wilson was an embattled player in just his second year in the NFL. He began last season with an acute case of fumble-itis that jeopardized his status as the starting running back. He suffered a neck injury in Week 5 of the 2013 that ultimately ended his career.

David Wilson had spinal fusion surgery following the injury. He was cleared to return to football contact activities in late July. He suffered a burner in practice last week (a compression of the bones in the neck/spine). Today, Wilson and the Giants put out a statement indicating that he would be placed on injured reserve, meaning he cannot play this season, and that doctors are advising him not to play football again.

David Wilson is only 23 years old and it appears that his NFL career is over. Wilson came into the NFL in 2012 after demonstrating a wealth of potential at Virginia Tech. While he never had a breakout in the NFL, and in spite of the aforementioned struggles last season, Wilson demonstrated the talent to be a serviceable, productive, long-term NFL player.

In spite of the increased focus on player safety, football is a dangerous, high impact sport. It is a dangerous game. The future of no player is certain and careers can end in a flash. Wilson’s sudden departure from the game is another banal reminder of that dark reality.

Giants Training Camp 2014.... In just hours, Wilson's career will be over. 3
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