The Top 15 of 2011…

throne

Not on the List; Impressive Nonetheless

With 2011 in the books, I think it’s time to look back on what was an extremely productive year for hip-hop music. Of course we had some memorable releases from the best in rap, from Game to Rick Ross to Weezy and Drake, the rap scene was NOT short on stars. The brightest of the stars being an historical release from arguably the two biggest in the game: Kanye West and Jay-Z.

While Watch the Throne is NOT on my list of the 15 best releases of the year, nor would it be on the list for my 20 or 30 best releases of 2011, I still don’t think you can make a list without mentioning the album. In my lifetime, I don’t think there’s ever been as successful of a collaboration of two superstars since WTT, and it’s hard to see there ever being one again. While the quality of music that resulted was less than desirable for my taste, it didn’t suck. Which is more than you can say about Best of Both Worlds, and almost every other high-profile collaboration release to date. Not only did it not suck, but it was pretty damn good.

Filled with quality songs, and even a few classics, WTT was good. Not great, and far from the best for either party involved, but certainly worth a mention as a footnote on this list.

Now, to the real list. It’s just hip-hop at this time, and I’m debating on letting out another mini-list for non-hip-hop related albums but we shall see. I based my decisions on two factors. First, obviously overall quality was one of the biggest factors. From lyrical content to beats to playability, it all factors into how good the release was. Second, I looked at how long the said release was in my rotation. Even the greatest album of all time can’t stay on repeat forever, but it can have a damn good run, so I took that into account- how long was it before I retired this? I know, there’s nothing mathematical about my decisions, nothing out of this world as far as calculations go. It pretty much all came down to what was the dopest of the dope?

 

#15 - Bad Meets Evil - Hell: The Sequel

So, I say all that business about collaborations above, and then the first release I highlight on my list is a collaboration from two major artists. This guy’s a fuckin hypocrite huh? Not so fast. I know Eminem is as big as they come in the rap game and arguably with more worldwide notoriety than Jigga and ‘Ye combined, but Royce Da 5’9″? Not so much. While I love Royce, and I’ve been a fan since the first “Bad Meets Evil” song off the Slim Shady LP, I’m definitely in the minority.

A Detroit legend, Royce does not back down from Em in anyway on this album. I know it’s ballsy to say, but I’d argue that Em even gets overshadowed by Royce on this release, and that’s not a slight towards Slim in anyway, it’s just an acknowledgement of how serious Royce is on the mic.

Tracks to listen to: “Welcome 2 Hell”, “Im on Everything”, “Lighters”

#14- Kendrick Lamar - Section.80

Kendrick’s first release since gracing the cover of XXL’s Freshman Class of 2011 issue, Section.80 is fucking GREAT. I wish I could push this up into my top 5, but I never got to dedicate the time to this album as I should have. In another couple of months, come back to me, and I might tell you this is top 5 of the year. Check my favorite song from the album below, “ADHD”:

 

Tracks to listen to: “No Make Up”, “Poe Mans Dreams”, “Keisha’s Song”

 

#13- Classified - Handshakes

Classified is an artist that I’ve long been aware of, but never really listened to…until now. I obtained Handshakes and Middle Fingers and just kind of sat on it. Never threw it into my whip until early summer, when I wanted to give something new a shot. So I put the CD into my rotation, and there it sat for about a month on repeat. Dude’s got some serious lyrical talent, and you can definitely hear and feel his passion in his delivery. My favorite line of the entire album comes in the intro “Ups and Downs” when Classified rhymes “I ain’t as quick thinkin as I once was, I guess that’s what smokin J’s and blunts does”.

If you can, do yourself a favor and check out this album from the Canadian rapper, and all you Madden 2012 players, you might even recognize “That Ain’t Classy” from the game’s soundtrack.

Tracks to listen to: “Ups and Downs”, “Unusual”, “Desensitized”

#12- Lupe Fiasco - LASERS

I’m going to let you know right now- Lupe Fiasco is my favorite rapper ever. Not only is he my favorite, but I 100% think he’s the greatest rapper to ever live, and that’s me trying my best to be unbiased. I just don’t think anybody can match Lupe’s wordplay, flow, intelligence and just plain knowledge on the mic.

That being said, yes, L.A.S.E.R.S. is only at #12 on my list. While the album was almost near the top as far as rotation play for me, the overall quality was slightly lacking for something that’s coming from the friend of the people. I’m still trying to think of a reason that this album was shelved for so long, because it’s really a record label’s DREAM. Every song is catchy and radio friendly (for the most part), and while there is some small political posturing, nothing is offensive to the point to stymie record sales.

Great release, but see his Friend of the People mixtape for something a little better, lyrically.

Tracks to listen to: “Till I Get There”, “Beautiful Lasers”, “Never Forget You”

#11- The Weeknd - House of Balloons

Just outside of my top 10 is the release from Toronto’s own The Weeknd. My first and last R&B inclusion on the list, House of Balloons plays more like a soulful rap album than it does a lame R&B mixtape. See “Glass Table Girls” below for the best track on the album.

 

Tracks to listen to: “High to This”, “The Morning”, “Coming Down”

 

THE TOP 10

For my top 10, I’m going to avoid any write-ups and just stick to the script: the music. I don’t think these 10 releases from 2011 need any opinionated explanations from me at all. They simply should be allowed to let their own quality speak for itself.

#10- Hoodie Allen - Leap Year

 

 

Tracks to listen to: “James Franco”, “Song for an Actress”, “Moon Bounce”

 

#9- Tyler, the Creator - Goblin

 

Tracks to listen to: “Her”, “Goblin”, “Golden”

 

 

 

#8- Dom Kennedy - From the Westside with Love 2

 

Tracks to listen to: “O.P.M.”, “I Love Dom”, “When I Come Around”

 

#7- J.Cole - The Sideline Story

 

 

Tracks to listen to: “Lights Out”, “Dollar and a Dream III”, “Nobody’s Perfect”

 

#6- Grieves - Together/Apart

 

Tracks to listen to: “Falling From You”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Sunny Side of Hell”

 

#5- OnCue - Can't Wait

 

Tracks to listen to: “Feel Tall”, “Running”, “Cigarettes and Perfume”

#4 - A$AP Rocky - Live, Love, A$AP

 

 

Tracks to listen to: “Palace”, “Peso”, “Trilla”

#3- Logic - Young Sinatra

 

 

Tracks to listen to: “Shine On”, “Live on the Air”, “One” ALL OF THEM!

 

#2- Atmosphere - The Family Sign

 

 

Tracks to listen to: All of Them!

 

#1- Big K.R.I.T. - Return of 4Eva

 

 

Tracks to listen to: Seriously, ALL of THEM!

 

 

Just a word on my top two. Atmosphere’s album is amazing, front to back, every song hits like a fucking jackhammer and it easily sat in my rotation for the longest. The same reason I love Atmosphere is the same reason I can’t put them at #1- variety. If you can listen to The Family Sign and not FEEL anything, then you’re not a human being. So powerful, so emotional, the entire album is like poetry and tragedy on wax.

But, I need something more if you’re my album of the year. I need some BANGERS, I need something to play if, hypothetically, I were to be lighting up a FAT spliff to go alongside the heartfelt crooning. So, while Family Sign is probably my favorite album, I have to give the best release of 2011 to Big K.R.I.T. for his effort on Retun of 4Eva, which is by the way, not a major album release, it’s merely an independent studio album, something akin to most rapper’s mixtapes.

Needless to say, I’m beyond pumped to see what comes from Krizzle in the new year, as he stole 2011 in my opinion, with an album that was released early and still hasn’t come out of my rotation. It’s got serious bangers (Time Machine, Rotation), bluesy tales (Rise and Shine, Dreamin’), and funky rhymes (Get Right, R4 Theme Song) and like any good sports team it has its superstar, or what I consider the best song of 2011 – “The Vent”.

I’ll leave you with a part of Krit’s fucking CLASSIC first verse from “The Vent”, an expression of his approach towards music, a validation of his talent, and at times I feel like he took some of these words right out of my own thoughts:

I do this for the love, and it’s free of charge
I don’t need jail to be behind bars
This is purely art, in my Grandma’s household this was surely taught
Don’t be naive, yea these time’s is hard. In the midst of all the glamor, hope you find god
I never wished to be the burden bearer
But souls need saving and it’s now or never
Shock value is all they wanna see
It’s us against them, and it’s just you and me
Try to take heed what I say in my songs
Forgive me if I ever ever steered you wrong
Most people stop for signs, but I’ve driven through it
If it don’t touch my soul, then I can’t listen to it
The radio don’t play the shit I used to love
Or maybe I’m just growing up
I never seen a star on a red rug
If I wanna see stars I just look above
To the Heavens…

 

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NFL…Playoffs?!…

JIM

Yes, Jim, the God Damn Playoffs!

The NFL’s 2011 regular season has come to an end and even though we already have coaches being fired, other coaches getting ready to pack their bags, and the Colts gearing up for their first #1 overall draft pick since Peyton Manning, we here at The Universe are not desperate enough to ignore the real story: the Playoffs!

I can begin with thanking the good Lord above for leaving that fat slob Tex Ryan and that nooodle-armed Pretend-xican of a QB Mark Sanchez far from our playoff blotter. I want nothing more than to see them fail, year after year (well, maybe I’d like it more if BOTH the Jets and Giants failed, but…can’t win ’em all). Sometimes, I stay up late at night wishing that all the feet in the world just disappeared along with every bottle of Cheese Wiz. That’s how much I enjoy seeing Tex Ryan NOT getting what he wants. Hell, he clearly eats everything else, so you’d think he’d enjoy eating his words after this season’s Super Bowl talk, and maybe he does, but I must say he handled it like a coach should: shouldering all the blame. Which is more than I can say about that coward Santonio Holmes. Woof. I hope Bart Scott gave him a tombstone pile driver from hell after that game!

Alright, that’s enough of that. I can’t stand the Jets and their terrible coaches/players, but I don’t want to give them any more attention than they’ve already suckled out of the NFL’s magical teet of a season. Let’s move on to some winners!

I’m going to go team-by-team, breaking down the AFC first, followed by the NFC, and within those breakdowns, we’re going to be making a little progression towards the ultimate goal: that Vince Lombardi trophy!!

AFC:

New England Patriots (13-3)

The Patriots’ destruction of the Bills in the final week of the season helped solidify the #1 overall seed in the AFC for them as well as home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. This team is obviously one of the most well-coached in the league and is a legitimate powerhouse for the ‘chip. They get a first-round bye which helps Belichick and the gang get a head-start on their potential opponents which is scary. Their offense is as always, legendary, but what distinguishes this year’s Pats’ offense more than any other one we’ve seen from them since the 18-0 Randy Moss team is the big-play ability of The Gronk and Aaron Hernandez. Not since Moss have we seen a red zone threat like these two, and I’d argue they’re even better than Moss in that not only are there two of them, but their athletic prowess is much better as well. They’re big, they’re strong and they’re ridiculously skilled in both blocking and receiving. Sprinkle a little Wes Welker on top and this is arguably the best Pats’ offense, ever.

That being said, this team possesses a GLARING weakness that cannot be overlooked: their defense. Ranked 31st in the league overall, Belichick throws out a sieve of a secondary every game, and if Andre Carter or Shaun Ellis forgot to drink their Ensure that morning, their pass-rush is just as porous. It’s been said that you can’t win a championship without defense, and there’s nobody in the world praying that this isn’t the case more than Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. And speaking of the Bill, who was once such a vaunted strength for this team, his sideline magic hasn’t done squadoosh for the Pats in the way of playoff victories since 2007!

Luckily for the Pats, there’s really only one team on the AFC side of things that can pass the ball well enough to expose their secondary. Unlucky for them, however, is that they’re probably going to be facing that team in the 2nd round in the form of Ben Rapelisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Final Prediction: Super Bowl Pretenders

Baltimore Ravens (12-4)

Coming in at the #2 spot is Bodymore’s favorite team, the Ravens. As always they have one of the best defenses in the league and though time has slowed them (Ray Lewis in particular) somewhat, Ed Reed, T-Sizzle and Haloti Ngata are still in their prime. Yes, Lewis has slowed, but name 5 other MLB’s that you’d rather have leading your defense when it matters than Mr. Five-Deuce. You can’t, because he’s a born leader of men and let’s not forget that Lew Dog had a nice 4-game respite about 3/4 of the way through the Ravens season. Nobody in the playoffs benefits more from a first-round bye than the Ravens do as they can come into the playoff stretch fully rested and focused for a ‘chip.

rizzle

Not Since Napolean Has Such Big Expectation Been Shouldered by Such a Small Man

They’re not ONLY defense, however. A one Mr. Ray Rice will be the first to tell you this, and I will agree, that he is without a doubt the key to Baltimore’s Super Bowl engine. Rice has gotten 15 or less rushing attempts 5 times this year and in those 5 games the Ravens are 1-4 (the lone win coming against the lowly St. Louis Rams). Using Rice a lot eats up the clock, giving the defense plenty of rest and keeping scoring responsibility out of Joe Flacco’s hands. John Harbaugh needs to utilize his stud of a back early and often, especially if (and when) they get matched up against division rival Pittsburgh down the road.

The key for the Ravens’ success comes down to the play-calling of Harbaugh. Will he be content to pound it, and pound it, and pound it with Ray Rice until the long pass to Torrie Smith or Anquan Boldin becomes open? Will he wise up and ask as little as possible from Joe “Spatter Cannon” Flacco? I think he will, and I think the Ravens have a legit shot at gold. Final Prediction: Super Bowl Contenders

Houston Texans (10-6)

Dragging themselves into the #3 ranking are the Houston Texans. Losers of 3 straight, the Texans look ripe for an embarrassing showing in their first-ever playoff appearance. Not so fast. This team has the league’s 2nd-rated Total Defense and Rushing Offense; two stats the are synonymous with winning franchises. Whether it’s Ben Tate or Arian Foster rushing the ball for them (or both?!), this team should not be laughed at. And if you do laugh, get ready to be punched in the face by Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans and the rest of that beastly defense. Their defense is good enough to dominate and win in an ugly game, and they’re going to have to be dominant because this offense is seriously lacking through the air.

Obviously, you’ve heard of their QB troubles and now it looks like TJ Yates will be gone as well, so we could be looking at a team that’s going to be starting Jake “I was a Free Agent to start the year because I was cut by the FUCKING BROWNS” Delhomme. As good as this defense is, I don’t think this TEAM is good enough to get any further than the second round as evidenced by their losing streak to end the season which came at the hands of 3 teams with a combined 17-31 record (Carolina, Indianapolis, Tennessee). Ultimately, I think they beat the Bengals at home, then get blown out by the Ravens on the road. Final Prediction: Super Bowl Pretenders

Denver Broncos (8-8)

No team has had a larger, more undeserving spotlight this year than the Denver Broncos. I’m sorry, but it’s just true, and believe this when I tell you, I am a TEBOW FAN! As much as I love Tebow though, this team has won this year thanks almost exclusively to a FILTHY defense and stout rushing attack. Led by co-defensive rookie of the year Von Miller (see below for my other co-winner), John Fox’s defense completed an amazing turnaround not only from last year’s group which ranked dead last in total defense, but also from a dismal start to 2011. Paired with this young and able defense is a rushing attack that’s true and tested featuring “Whatchu’ talkin’ bout” Willis McGahee, Lance “Gimee da” Ball and even Tim “The Toolman” Tebow. It’s no secret what this team is going to try and do: run, run the ball, and run the ball some more. They feel as though if they’re slightly ahead or within striking distance come the 4th quarter that they’re going to win the ball. And why blame them? They have Tim Tebow in the backfield…

timmy

The Craze That's Sweeping the Nation: "Tebow Losing"

The same Tim Tebow that willed the Florida Gators to a national championship, started his NFL career 8-3 and along the way drew comparisons to God’s other favorite son- Baby Jesus. Like I said, I love the kid, I want him to win EVERY single game EVER. I don’t think there’s ever been a better example of a Professional in the NFL. But let’s be real here, while he’s very capable of doing amazing things and willing his teams to victory through faith alone, he’s more Mother Teresa, less Jesus. He will persevere and reach deep into his soul to do wonderful things, but the guy is NOT a miracle maker. His inefficiencies at this point in his career are just too much to overcome, and I think his coach’s lack of faith in him hurts the team the most. I get that he’s not a great passer, but 271 passing attempts vs. 122 rushing attempts? Come on, man!

This is a fun team to root for, but certainly not a fun team to watch. Final Prediction: First-round losers

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)

Meet the team that’s going to be the Judas to Tim Tebow’s Jesus. Uncalled for, I know, but the first-round match-up between the Steelers and Broncos could turn into an ugly demolition. The Steelers are my AFC pick for the team you least want to play. Battle-tested, well-coached, and disciplined this is yet another “Pittsburgh Steelers” team. I use quotations because there’s something about the Pittsburgh franchise that constantly produces humble, under-the-radar, championship caliber teams year after year. This year is no exception. Assuming the Big Rapist is healthy and ready to go, Pittsburgh possesses arguably the most balanced team on both sides of the ball in the league. It’s looking like they’re going to be without starting RB Rashard Mendenhall for the duration of the playoffs, but if there’s any position in this league that can simply be “plugged in”, it’s running back (see the 2010 Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers). Isaac Redman has proven plenty able to take over for Mendenhall and in an offense that relies more on passing than rushing, Steelers’ fans shouldn’t worry.

I don’t even have to go into their defensive prowess, I’ll simply list what may seem like a Pro Bowl roster, but in reality is what is starting for the Pittsburgh defense: Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, James Harrison, Casey Hampton, Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, and Ike Taylor. This is a Super Bowl winning, nay, a Super Bowl WON defense that could be the x-factor in the Steelers run this year.

That being said, there’s one thing that concerns me about this team: their performance in big games. Their four losses this year came at the hands of the Ravens (2), Texans, and 49ers. Some may say that means they don’t have a single “bad loss”, but I would argue that they only have A SINGLE “good win”. Their Week 8 win against the Patriots in Pittsburgh is the only win on their schedule that impressed me. They had a chance to stand out by beating any of those 3 teams above, but they couldn’t get the job done and a combined record of 3-4 against playoff teams (2 wins coming against the barely eligible Bengals) doesn’t strike me as impressive in any way.

That being said, I think the Steelers roll all the way into the Conference finals against the Ravens in Baltimore. Who wins this game, it’s anybody’s guess, but I think a Steelers’ victory comes down to the old law of common sense: it’s damn near impossible to beat a good team 3 times in one season in the NFL. Final Prediction: Super Bowl Attenders

Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)

Another team limping into the playoffs, the 9-7 Bengals make a surprise appearance in this year’s playoffs. Picked by every person with a brain to finish near or at the bottom of the AFC, Andy “Red” Dalton, AJ Green and a surprisingly potent defense all came together to create a magical season for the striped cats. You can argue that no matter where this playoff run goes, it will be a success as it gets some playoff experience under Dalton’s belt and it saves Marvin Lewis’ job (one of the most underrated coaches in the NFL) for one more year. Combine all this with the fact that Cincy pulled an Ocean’s 11 on Oakland’s draft pick vault, and this team is set for long-term success all around.

But, I don’t think this year’s going to amount to much. Granted, they get a dream match-up in the first round against the STRUGGLING Houston Texans, but I don’t even see them winning that game. Maybe if they pulled off that final week victory against the Ravens I’d be singing a different tune, but their offensive talent is simply not enough to challenge the Texans’ defense. In what could be the ugliest game of the playoffs, I see a young Cincy squad succumbing to Texan mania. Final Prediction: First-round losers

NFC:

Green Bay Packers (15-1)

The defending Super Bowl champions saunter into the #1 overall seed in the NFC and end the year with the best overall record in the NFL. Their offense comes equipped with the same championship pieces of a year ago PLUS a newly emerging star in Jordy Nelson, a fully healed Jermichael Finley, and a double-headed monster at RB in the form of a healthy Ryan Grant and 2nd-year man James Starks. The #3 ranked total offense in the league is led by co-MVP Aaron Rodgers, and backup Matt Flynn proved in the final week of the season that a Colts-esque crumble if the starter goes down WILL NOT happen here. Add return man Randall Cobb and this offense is no joke. With the best QB in the league calling the shots, it would NOT be a hard sell to have the Pack being the first team going back-to-back since 2005.

the champs

This Belt Is Up For Grabs

But, just like the New England Patriots, this team has a MAJOR flaw that cannot be overlooked: defense! The worst statistical defense in the league belongs to the Packers, and one has to wonder whether that can be overcome. “Well, they won it last year with the same defense” some may say, but that’s simply not true. Last year’s defense was ranked 5th overall and it lost KEY pieces in its transition to this year in the form of DE Cullen Jenkins (Free Agency), MLB Nick Barnett (Free Agency) and defensive quarterback S Nick Collins (injury). You’d think that’s not enough to cause such a massive downfall, but losing Collins for the year is arguably the second-biggest injury loss throughout the league behind Peyton Manning in Indy.

As bad as this defense is, the Pack still managed to flirt with perfection and lock up Lambeau for their run at repeating. The Pack will be a tough team to face, clearly, but I think they ultimately come undone due to their porous defense. The Chiefs’ supplied the formula on how to beat them: stingy defensive line play paired with a solid run game and a QB who doesn’t make mistakes= a Packers loss. New Orleans certainly is not going to pull this off against the Pack, but fortunately for Bourbon Street’s finest, they won’t have to- Green Bay loses a heart breaker to…be revealed shortly. Final Prediction: Super Bowl Pretenders

San Francisco 49ers (13-3)

My personal favorite of the playoff teams this year comes in the form of the team from the Bay. I can’t help but root for them: they’ve got a coach that I like in Jim Harbaugh, a QB I can’t help but root for in Alex Smith, and a defensive leader in Patrick Willis who will not only knock your fucking block off, but who has a pretty amazing story himself. The winners of one of the weakest divisions in football, I’m not sure what to make of the Niners just yet. While Smith has played extremely well leading the West Coast styled-offense, it’s no secret that this team’s success is rooted in their defensive performance. The 4th-ranked defense in the league is led by the Ray Lewis clone, Willis, and co-defensive rookie of the year Aldon Smith. While Willis is the unquestioned leader, and Smith is a sack machine (his 14 fell a half sack short of Jevon Kearse’s rookie record), the kudos doesn’t stop there as the defense features 4 Pro Bowlers total. Carlos Rogers is resurrecting his career at CB and 2nd-year LB NaVorro Bowman is 2nd in the league in tackles while uber-underrated S Dashon Goldson is finally getting the recognition he deserves. I watched this team play against the Steelers in Week 15 on MNF and it was one of, if not THE most entertaining game I watched all year. This defense is a thrill to watch and I can’t help but root for Jimmy Harbaugh to continue bringing San Fran W’s.

I also can’t help but wonder just how good this team is. I don’t know if it’s their record the past couple of years, the fact that Alex Smith is their QB, or that this is essentially the same EXACT team that has played so terribly the past 3-4 years; their only relevant addition being Coach Harbaugh. I want it to be true, but I simply can’t believe it: can a coach REALLY make this big of a difference? I don’t know for sure, and while I will say that the Niners are a contender, I will also say that they could be packing their bags after going up against Drew Brees and New Orleans in Round 2. I’m not sold on the Niners’ title chances at this point because they’re such an enigma, but they have the talent (9 Total Pro Bowlers) and the determination to do it. Final Prediction: Super Bowl Pretenders

New Orleans Saints (13-3)

Naw’lens is led by red-hot, record-breaking Drew Brees and a Sean Payton orchestrated offense that could probably outscore an NBA team. Fresh off a season in which he broke Dan Marino’s record for total passing yards and set a new record for completion percentage, Drew Brees looks prime to bring another ring to the ‘Nolia. Owners of the #1 ranked offense in all of football, New Orleans can hang enough points on the scoreboard to beat anybody. For some reason, teams continue to sleep on the best TE in football, Jimmy Graham, and whether they overlook him or simply can’t contain him, Darren Sproles is the best all-purpose RB in the league. Sproles and Graham, to me, are the difference between this Saints team and last year’s Saints team (the one which experienced a significant Super Bowl hangover). Sproles’ production on special teams is Hester-like in that if you don’t kick AWAY from him, he WILL give his offense a short-field to work with. And handing the ball to Drew Brees within 60 yards of the end zone is something you simply cannot do if you want to beat the Saints. Then there’s Graham, whose skill is just beginning to take shape. I will now become the Saints’ offense as well as Johnny Beatwriter, as I play the dual role of interviewer and interviewee: Who are you going to go to on 3rd and short? Jimmy Graham. Who are you going to go to when you need a big play? Jimmy Graham. When nothing’s working and you need a spark, who are you going to turn to? Jimmy Graham. One number, one play, whose number are you calling? Jimmy Graham. Jimmy Graham is the answer to any question you could ever have about this Saints’ offense, from A to Z, Brees and Payton channel everything through the former Hurricane basketball player.

ds

Darren Sproles: Another Little Guy With Big Responsibility

Yet the offense is anything but one-dimensional. They have a stable of stud RB’s as well as a talented core of WR’s. How’d they ever lose, then, you ask? Well, their defense is certainly a weak spot. While not as bad as Green Bay’s or New England’s, New Orleans’ defense is far from a dependable unit. Ranked 24th overall, they lack a double-digit sack producer and they only have one player with more than a single interception (Patrick Robinson has 4). You can attribute some of these gaudy defensive numbers to the fact that teams who face them are constantly playing from behind, but the simply fact of the matter is this defense does not cause turnovers. They are the worst of all NFC playoff teams in turnover differential (-4) and when you’re on the field as much as they are, you’d expect more TO’s, but that’s just not the case.

That being said, I have the confidence in defensive coordinator Greg Williams to game plan like a champ and shore up any deficiencies come playoff time. The difference between the Packers and the Saints? Their second round match-up. Final Prediction: Super Bowl Attenders

New York Giants (9-7)

The New York Football Giants come in at the 4th seed after finally showing up in a win and get in scenario at home against the Cowboys. The Giants are without a doubt my second most hated team behind the Jets, but for some reason I’m okay with them getting into the playoffs. Maybe it’s because She-Li Manning finally dropped the “mediocre QB” label in my book, or because as much as I hate the Giants I don’t think there’s a better coach in the NFL for them than Tom Coughlin, and this playoff appearance saved his job. Let me rephrase, the appearance didn’t save his job, but the performance they’re about to put on without a doubt will. Remember my earlier claim about a mystery team dethroning the Packers? Well, meet surprise guest #1- the New York Giants. Obviously, in order to face the Pack the Giants must first beat the Falcons and the Saints need to prevail against the Lions but I foresee both “musts” occurring. This Giants team barely squeaked into the playoffs not because of a lack of skill or talent, but because they seem to always do this, every year. They kind of sandbag it throughout the season, tuning out Tommy C and letting their opponents push them around. But they’re in, again, and they’re my NFC pick for the team you least want to face.

Their defense isn’t what it has been in the past, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential for that and more. With Jason Pierre-Paul taking over for Osi Umenyiora as the freak pass-rusher, and Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Aaron Ross, Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara anchoring the league’s most underrated secondary, this is still a New York defense. A New York defense that can give the likes of Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers FITS. The only question mark I see with this team is their ability to stop the run, with an AWFUL line backing corps, the G-Men face a potential first-round exit when they go up against the run-happy Atlanta Falcons. I don’t think that happens, however, and I see the Giants rolling into Lambeau come round 2.

And that’s where Eli Manning comes in. Yes, the Giants defense can stymie Aaron Rodgers, but if Eli is back there throwing interceptions left and right it won’t matter in a Packers blowout. What the G-Men need is consistent Quarterbacking and I don’t think they’ve ever had as consistent or as good quarterbacking as they do this year. Pre-season, I was the biggest Eli hater around, attributing his Super Bowl win to a great defense more than anything else. While my stance on that win hasn’t softened, Eli’s now one of the Giants’ biggest strengths, and when you throw out an offense with Eli, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, you have a shot at hanging with Rodgers and co.

I think the G-Men are destined for an NFC championship game match-up with New Orleans. And while the Giants have a defense that can stop Aaron Rodgers, something that the Patriots and Saints don’t, I don’t think they have enough offense to compete with the Saints in the Super Dome. There’s something about that place come playoff time that’s special. Brees, at home, on turf= scary. The G-Men knock off the Pack, but go down in the bayou. Final Prediction: Super Bowl Contenders

Atlanta Falcons (10-6)

Leading what could be the 2nd most balanced football team in the NFL is young QB stud Matt Ryan. Matty Ice turned in a hell of a year for the Peach State’s favorite team. While Ryan went from possible weak spot to obvious strength, much like Eli Manning did, the Falcons’ offense took a major step back in the run game. The addition of Julio Jones could have been what led to a change in philosophy from pound on the ground to air it out, or it simply had to do with an added trust of Ryan. I’m not sure what it was, but the way this team is built now makes for a very good regular season team, but they’re simply not good enough to compete in the playoffs. They grab a short straw in having to travel to the Meadowlands to face the Giants and despite having an above average offense and defense with no glaring holes, the Falcons will be heading home early. Not much to say here other than they’re still young, and their future is amazingly bright. Final Prediction: First-round Losers

Detroit Lions (10-6)

A posh pick to make the playoffs this year, Detroit didn’t disappoint its many believers by just squeaking into the final wild card spot. Matt Stafford is clearly the answer in Detroit, when healthy, and Titus Young emerged into a solid 2nd option in the passing game. Their defense is accentuated my head coach Jim Schwartz’s intensity and the nasty play of 2nd-year DT Ndamukong Suh. While I love the direction this team is headed in, I think they face an unfortunate situation in round 1 by having to head down to Naw’lens to face the Saints. I like this team against the Falcons, Giants and Niners, but NOT against the Saints. Again, not much to say here beyond the fact that this was a hard fought and successful year for the Lions. They have a glaring need at RB for the future, but can they really afford another first-round miss on offense? I don’t know how they shore up their running game moving forward, but if they develop a refined rushing attack and add another play maker or two on defense then the Lombardi trophy could be parading down the streets of the Motor City next year. Let’s hope it doesn’t get stabbed, shot or robbed in its time there. Final Prediction: First-round Losers

Super Bowl Prediction

So judging quickly by my write-ups, we’re looking at a Saints vs. Steelers Super Bowl which would make the 2nd in the past 4 years for whoever were to win (2nd in 3 for the Steelers). While I think defense is important, and it’s a must to win a championship, I don’t think the Saints’ defense is THAT bad to where you’d have to say the offense won in spite of it. I admittedly do NOT like the Pittsburgh Steelers. They’re too Yankee-like for me: business-like, professional, winning; but they play with some serious fire (see: James Harrison). While I think Pittsburgh can easily win this game based on the simple fact that Ben Rapelisburger is THE BEST big game QB in the league (yes, over Brady and Rodgers and Colt McCoy [joke]) because of his ability to prolong plays, I don’t think they do it.

Super Bowl 46 is taking place inside, on turf, where Drew Brees and co. make their living. If this game were being played outside, in the northeast somewhere I don’t see how the Steelers lose. But, because it’s clearly going to be an offensive-led, high-paced battle, I don’t think the grit and experience of the Pittsburgh Steelers can outmatch the intensity and talent of the New Orleans Saints.2012 Super Bowl Champions: the New Orleans Saints

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Get Used to Seeing This

Fantasy Basketball…

FINALLYYYYY….the NBA HAS…come back to our hearts….and along with it comes my 2nd favorite of all fantasies (behind a Black Swan sequel involving myself, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, some feathers, hard alcohol, some ballet shoes…okay I’ll stop), Fantasy Basketball! I’ve got a little league going with some of my buddies and we had our draft last week and much like I did for my Fantasy Baseball league I’m going to run through the draft with a little bit of commentary. Yes, there is a reason I have not revisited that Baseball team…it was a VERY rough year.

Back to basketball, we’ve got a ten team, head-to-head format going with each team having 11 players. Yes, that adds up to 110 players being owned so we’re going to have some pretty stacked teams and a waiver wire that any 12-team 13-player league member would salivate over.

So draft time rolls around and I do little-to-no research on how this is going to go down. I usually like to freelance when it comes to NBA as I am the ULTIMATE fan: I watch, I analyze, I criticize and I just feel like I know what it takes to WIN on the court and especially on the internet! Pretty big nerd, I know, but I live for the NBA.

Given that, and the countless amounts of drafts I’ve been through let me tell you this: there are two draft positions that I absolutely hate to draft from. First, the SMACK dab in the middle of the round pick. Having to draft one player, then waiting another 9-11 picks until you draft your next player makes it extremely hard to set up any kind of consistency or plan. It’s a pain in the ass and I hate being there. BUT, it’s doable. I’ve won/contended plenty of times from the middle of the round despite my disdain for it. The other position that I LOATHE, and cannot seem to EVER put together a contender from: the #1 overall pick. I hate it. Yes, you get to pick the VERY best player in the league, but you only get to have 1 of the top 15 players in the league. Since this isn’t REAL basketball, having THE very best player does not help you as much as having TWO of the best players. I’d much rather have two top-15 players than the best player and the 25th best player. When it comes to fantasy, quality matters only so much, and in the case of the first 2 rounds, quantity is the real harbinger of victory.

Having said that, I log in and guess where this guy is drafting from? Shotgun, #1 pick. So not only am I in a hated position, but I’m also stuck with a serious quandary: Lebron or Durant? Should be a fantasy GM’s dream, but it’s not. Not only do I have to make this pick, but I can’t accurately assess what my second pick will be since it’s so far away. I can take a GUESS, using ESPN’s pre-draft rankings I saw that Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Eric Gordon are ranked 18-23. So the best I can do is ASSUME that a quality rebounder/shot blocker will be available with my second pick.

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The First Member of the Fatboys

Lebron or Durant. It plays through my head non-stop as the 10-minute clock rolls down to start time and I weigh each. PROS- Lebron: Stat stuffer across the line, boards, points, assists, possibly peaking this year. Durant: defending scoring champion, great shooter, #1 option, 3PMs, still nowhere near his ceiling. CONS- Lebron: shaky shooter, possible TO machine, not the clear #1. Durant: low assists, high TO, durability concerns with new schedule? It was difficult, very difficult but what it came down to for me was Josh Smith, rebounding and defense. Lebron’s rebounding, steals, and blocks were much better than K.D.’s, but I decided to take the gamble that Josh Smith would be there for my second pick so he could easily make up for those gaps. So, with the first pick in the 2011 CBA Fantasy Basketball draft the NYC Fatboys (an ode to my favorite Knickerbocker pudgsters from the past-Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Rony Turiaf and the present- Baron Davis) took Kevin Durant, SF from the Oklahoma City Thunder!

I pulled the trigger, and from there this is how the rest of the first round shook out:

1 NYC Fatboys Kevin Durant, OKC SF  
2 Team 2 LeBron James, Mia SF
3 Team 3 Chris Paul, LAC PG
4 Team 4 Dwight Howard, Orl C
5 Team 5 Derrick Rose, Chi PG
6 Team 6 Dwyane Wade, Mia SG
7 Team 7 Russell Westbrook, OKC PG
8 Team 8 Deron Williams, NJ PG
9 Team 9 Kevin Love, Min PF
10 Team 10 Amare Stoudemire, NY C

Lots of PGs going in the first round as expected and some quality boards. All in all, exactly how one would expect the first-round to unfold. After my first pick, I’m banking on Josh Smith falling to me at #20. Smith is a player that has long been a member of my fantasy basketball teams. I don’t know if it’s his lack of airtime or superstar status in the league but he always seems to drop into my lap in drafts. And I love it. The dude does everything, and he REALLY excels in his consistency. A game won’t go by without 15+ points, 7+ board, 2 blocks, a steal, and a assist from the guy. Throw in the fact that he stopped gunning threes and his FG% has turned into something amazing as well. I figured he’d be a perfect compliment to KD, making my team a threat in all categories after taking him. He picks up where KD leaves off in FG%, blocks and steals and doesn’t hurt me anywhere.

But, it just wasn’t meant to be as the second and third rounds unfolded like this:

11 Team 10 Monta Ellis, GS PG
12 Team 9 Stephen Curry, GS PG
13 Team 8 Pau Gasol, LAL PF
14 Team 7 Carmelo Anthony, NY SF
15 Team 6 Blake Griffin, LAC PF
16 Team 5 Dirk Nowitzki, Dal PF
17 Team 4 LaMarcus Aldridge, Por PF
18 Team 3 Kobe Bryant, LAL SG
19 Team 2 Josh Smith, Atl PF
20 NYC Fatboys Al Jefferson, Uta C  
21 NYC Fatboys John Wall, Wsh PG  
22 Team 2 Chris Bosh, Mia PF
23 Team 3 Rudy Gay, Mem SF
24 Team 4 Zach Randolph, Mem PF
25 Team 5 Eric Gordon, Nor SG
26 Team 6 Danny Granger, Ind SF
27 Team 7 Al Horford, Atl C
28 Team 8 Kevin Martin, Hou SG
29 Team 9 Rajon Rondo, Bos PG
30 Team 10 Joe Johnson, Atl SG

Imagine my feeling as I’m sitting at #20, one pick left in front of me and the only guy on my radar is Josh Smith. You have names like John Wall, Chris Bosh, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph sitting out there and my buddy in front of me pulls the trigger on Smith and transitively, my hopes. Nobody else on the board has a statistical repertoire like Smith does, so I panic. I weigh taking Gordon and Rondo, but I realize I’d instantaneously give up TOs & FG% without solidifying a W in any category since the three players I’d have are SO varied. I thought about Gay and Granger but the very reason I though about it (athletic 3’s who do everything) ultimately undid that plan (I can’t start a draft with 3 SFs).

I ultimately settled on Al Jefferson and John Wall and I regretted it as soon as pick #22 went on the clock. I like Jefferson. I like him a lot. I picked him because his FG% is among the best in the league year after year and he’s a big man that will not crippled my team’s FT numbers. Not only that but he’s been upping his blocks as of late. Combine that with his guaranteed LOCK of 15/10 every game along with my mistrust of Al Horford and he was a no-brainer. Granted, Utah is LOADED in the front court, but I think Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are both at LEAST a year away from threatening Al’s production.

There I sat at 21 with a center and a forward and I felt a serious lack of assists on my squad. A PG was a must in my mind at this point and there were two out there that I was looking at: Wall and Rondo. I knew that on my next pick the BEST option available at the point would be a POSSIBLE Steve Nash/Kyle Lowry combination. Good, but not starting PGs on a championship fantasy team. In going with Wall I went with the flair, the possibility of awesomeness, the hype that surrounded the mythical beast. With an average draft position of #17 I thought to myself Wall was going to be a steal @ 21 and all those people taking Wall in the top 15 COULDN’T be wrong, right? Wrong.

Don’t get it twisted, Wall could turn out being the best player on my team. The kid’s wicked talented and is clearly the best player on his team in Washington. His points, steal and assist  numbers are going to be ridiculous. But, he just wasn’t the right fit on my team with Durant and Jefferson already in the mix. Hell, in hindsight, Rondo wasn’t either. What I needed right there was another big man, not a PG. My team was on the verge of dominating in boards, TOs and FG% for the year and then I grabbed a player who’s going to have 2-12 shooting nights combined with 8 TOs. What I really should have done right there was take Zach Randolph and said PEACE to any competition in those 3 categories. I knew as soon as I clicked draft that John Wall was the wrong pick there, and as rounds 4, 5 & 6 rolled out, I was under the gun to make up for that pick:

31 Team 10 Nene, Den C
32 Team 9 Joakim Noah, Chi C
33 Team 8 Paul Pierce, Bos SF
34 Team 7 Steve Nash, Pho PG
35 Team 6 Tyreke Evans, Sac PG
36 Team 5 David Lee, GS PF
37 Team 4 Gerald Wallace, Por SF
38 Team 3 Andrew Bynum*, LAL C
39 Team 2 Andre Iguodala, Phi SF
40 NYC Fatboys Jrue Holiday, Phi PG  
41 NYC Fatboys Serge Ibaka, OKC C  
42 Team 2 DeMarcus Cousins, Sac PF
43 Team 3 Paul Millsap, Uta PF
44 Team 4 Andrew Bogut, Mil C
45 Team 5 Ty Lawson, Den PG
46 Team 6 Marc Gasol, Mem C
47 Team 7 Marcin Gortat, Pho C
48 Team 8 Kyle Lowry, Hou PG
49 Team 9 JaVale McGee, Wsh C
50 Team 10 Stephen Jackson, Mil SG
51 Team 10 Mike Conley, Mem PG
52 Team 9 Manu Ginobili, SA SG
53 Team 8 Dorell Wright, GS SF
54 Team 7 Ray Allen, Bos SG
55 Team 6 Devin Harris, Uta PG
56 Team 5 Luis Scola, Hou PF
57 Team 4 Raymond Felton, Por PG
58 Team 3 David West, Ind PF
59 Team 2 Kyrie Irving, Cle PG
60 NYC Fatboys Greg Monroe, Det PF  

I had Jrue Holiday, Serge Ibaka, and Greg Monroe lined up before the draft started as my potential steals and I was very happy to get all three. I think Monroe and Holiday are going to be top-30 players come the end of this season as they fill up the stat book. I also reached a little bit for Ibaka, but I didn’t think I’d be able to get him and Monroe if I didn’t pull the trigger on him then and in a round that featured mediocre big men like Marcin Gortat, Andrew Bogut and Marc Gasol, he was a good pick within the context of the round.

The reason I wanted Monroe and Ibaka was that together they make the best fantasy big man in the league. Their FG% and defense simply add to my dominance in those categories and with their potential to put up big offensive numbers this year I had to pair them together. I like Monroe better than all the big men in these three rounds outside of Cousins and Noah (Bynum’s injury history is scary, as is David West’s relocation).

At this point I have a squad of Kevin Durant, Al Jefferson, John Wall, Jrue Holiday, Serge Ibaka and Greg Monroe. That’s an auxiliary statistician’s dream and it was clear to me that it was time to re-focus on putting the ball in the basket for rounds 7-11:

61 NYC Fatboys Danilo Gallinari, Den SF  
62 Team 2 Brandon Jennings, Mil PG
63 Team 3 Tim Duncan, SA PF
64 Team 4 Brook Lopez*, NJ C
65 Team 5 Andrea Bargnani, Tor C
66 Team 6 Andray Blatche, Wsh PF
67 Team 7 Luol Deng, Chi SF
68 Team 8 Jason Kidd, Dal PG
69 Team 9 Tony Parker, SA PG
70 Team 10 Michael Beasley, Min SF
71 Team 10 DeAndre Jordan, LAC C
72 Team 9 Wesley Matthews, Por SG
73 Team 8 Roy Hibbert, Ind C
74 Team 7 Carlos Boozer, Chi PF
75 Team 6 Elton Brand, Phi PF
76 Team 5 Tyson Chandler, NY C
77 Team 4 Jason Terry, Dal SG
78 Team 3 Lamar Odom, Dal PF
79 Team 2 Jason Richardson, Orl SG
80 NYC Fatboys DeMar DeRozan, Tor SG  
81 NYC Fatboys Channing Frye, Pho PF  
82 Team 2 Trevor Ariza, Nor SF
83 Team 3 Darren Collison, Ind PG
84 Team 4 Jose Calderon, Tor PG
85 Team 5 Kevin Garnett, Bos PF
86 Team 6 Chris Kaman, Nor C
87 Team 7 Chauncey Billups, LAC PG
88 Team 8 James Harden, OKC SG
89 Team 9 Marcus Thornton, Sac SG
90 Team 10 Jameer Nelson, Orl PG
91 Team 10 Derrick Williams, Min PF
92 Team 9 Kris Humphries, NJ PF
93 Team 8 Emeka Okafor, Nor C
94 Team 7 Corey Maggette, Cha SF
95 Team 6 Caron Butler, LAC SF
96 Team 5 Nick Young, Wsh SG
97 Team 4 Kemba Walker, Cha PG
98 Team 3 Richard Hamilton, Chi SG
99 Team 2 Antawn Jamison, Cle PF
100 NYC Fatboys Toney Douglas, NY PG  
101 NYC Fatboys Ed Davis, Tor PF  
102 Team 2 Jarrett Jack, Nor PG
103 Team 3 Nicolas Batum, Por SF
104 Team 4 Anderson Varejao, Cle PF
105 Team 5 Anthony Morrow, NJ SG
106 Team 6 Rodney Stuckey, Det PG
107 Team 7 Arron Afflalo, Den SG
108 Team 8 Boris Diaw, Cha PF
109 Team 9 Baron Davis*, NY PG
110 Team 10 D.J. Augustin, Cha PG

For the final 4 rounds I focused on improving my offensive #s and I think I did so very well by adding two of the best shooters in the league in Danillo Gallinari and Channing Frye, and in Demar DeRozan I think I picked up a potential superstar who could be looking at a breakout year (pretty good for the 8th round). I took Douglas because he’s going to put up some very good offensive numbers while B-Diddy is out (which will probably be all year), and I took a non-gamble on Ed Davis upping his #s this year.

In the end, I’ve convinced myself I have the best team in the league, but I do that every year. This team is high-rish, however, as I banked a lot on players like Ibaka, Monroe, Wall and DeRozan continuing their development. Let’s say they used this lockout time to just sit and chill and forget about basketball, what I have now is a team full of underachievers and some major trade bait in Kevin Durant and Al Jefferson. Hopefully, this isn’t the case, and I don’t think it will be because I’ve got a very young team and with the schedule set-up this year I think young players will reap the benefits the most with veterans taking games off here and there.

Ultimately, the only thing I can hope for is a season that won’t be effected by injury as there is nothing worse than having a quality team stricken by the limping ghost. This is why Fantasy is so magical, it REALLY helps me understand the pain and anguish that a real GM feels- underachieving and injuries, Bill Polian (Colts) and Howie Roseman (Eagles), let’s hope I won’t be joining you this year, weeping from the booth.

 


Some Quickies…

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The Most Prized Piece in the NBA

This week’s Quickie Edition is headlined by the one and only Chris Paul. There’s been some serious squabbling going on in the NBA since last week when David Stern vetoed a deal that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers for a pack of over-aged, over-priced stars (Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom). Everyone in the league and media were up in arms about the Angel of Stern flexing power he shouldn’t have.

I’m not going to debate about the correctness of the veto. The bottom line about the veto is this: the NBA owns the Hornets, so Stern has every right to veto this trade as part-owner. Whether or not it was right, it was fully within Stern’s rights. Complicated, but not really.

Now, Stern claims hit was vetoed due to “basketball reasons”, and while it seemed every member of the media was crying that this was as fair as a trade as the Hornets could ever get. It was said that the rebuilding effort was perfectly set-up by acquiring the talent listed above (all near or above 30), and that Stern robbed GM Dell Demps of a deal that the Hornets CLEARLY came out ahead in.

Well, another trade proposal has come to light that proves that all these “experts” are retarded. All it took was an extra couple of days and the Hornets seem to have transitioned from 3 elderly talents and a #1 pick, to grabbing 2 young studs, 1 HUGE expiring contract and another #1 pick. Word on the street is the Clips have offered Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and a #1 pick for Paul. This was exactly why Stern HAD to veto the Lakers trade- CP3 is a SUPER MEGA STAR, and he was 100% worth more than the lot of good players that the Hornets were originally set to receive.

In Gordon, the Hornets are set to receive a young star that is BETTER than all the players involved in the Lakers deal NOW. And at 23, the kid’s got a ceiling that’s about as high as any 2-guard in the league. The owners may still have a beef becuase Paul’s still going to a large-market, but there’s absolutely NO reason this deal should be vetoed. Throw in Aminu who’s a 21 year-old oozing potential, and Kaman’s expiring contract, this deal is proof that not only COULD the Hornets do better, but that Stern’s veto had some legitimate merit to it.

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 Next, The Roots just dropped their latest studio effort Undun, and from the first listen, it’s a must get. The Roots crew is one of my favorite hip-hop acts of all time. I love their style which always features live instruments, and Black Thought is easily one of the 10 best rappers of all time. Undun is a concept album along the lines of Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool,  following a fictional character Redford Stephens from birth to death in a story of the streets.

The storyline of this album is so well-developed and so deep that Black Thought has already touched on the possibility of a movie: “It’s definitely a set-up for there to be something cinematic or theatrical,”. That’s a high expectation for a rap album, but it’s been up to par thus far.

Check out my favorite song from the album below, “Make My” featuring a Universe favorite Big K.R.I.T.

3/4 NFL Season Wrap-Up…

As we near the end of the NFL’s 2011-12 regular season, why not take a look back at some bold predictions I had made (on two separate occasions here & here) that in retrospect made me look like a complete idiot. While we’re back there, we can even take a look at some predictions I made that make me look like a GENIUS!!!

I Was Way Wrong About:

I can’t go any further without mentioning him. Cam Newton. Cam, fucking Newton. The runaway lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year was far from a favorite of mine at draft time. I slammed Newton as a cocky, fame-inspired son of a preacher man. A preacher man I felt was ruining Cam’s career before it even started. Not sure exactly what I said, but it was something like this:

“It seemed to me like he [Newton’s father] was at the forefront, exploiting, if not at least utilizing, his son’s talents. I think this approach by parents lends to a certain, how you say, wackiness feature in their children (See: aforementioned Lohan, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, and Justin Bieber [this kid’s only a couple years away from crack and street BJs, I’m tellin you!]) Add in Cam’s comments about wanting to be some sort of cultural icon, and you get a guy whose first and second priorities are obviously NOT football and football.”

rivera and newton

This Pair Has Struck Gold in Cam-olina

Far from high praise for what has so far been the most productive rookie QB in the NFL since Dan Marino in 1983. I’ll admit it, I was dead wrong about Newton, and I blame it on Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.

I’m not one to make excuses for being completely wrong, but I fell victim to the plague that hits every draft in all sports, year after year. The plague that over analyzes talent to a fault. The reason I thought Cam would be a bust is because of the baggage that came along with him. It was baggage that included a father asking schools for money and a player who was READY for Hollywood. That’s where I went wrong. This baggage wasn’t inhibiting Cam, it had already made him ready for the spotlight. His father was guilty of doing everything he could to make his family’s life better. A far cry from past family baggage cases like Todd Marinovich (overbearing father) and Jamarcus Russel (just a straight family of goons). The Newton family’s only fault was that they cared too much. They didn’t ignore their son, or push him too hard. They clearly knew the talent Cam had, and knew exactly what they could get as a result of that.

That brings me into the biggest aspect of Cam’s game that I overlooked: his talent. I harped on his decision-making and accuracy as the two biggest FAILS of his repertoire. I pointed out that not only was he in an offense at Auburn that simplifies his reads to 1 or 2, but that his biggest decision to be made on each play (run or pass) is usually based solely on the behavior of one defensive player. Throw that into the mix with the fact that the guy couldn’t hit the broad-side of a fucking barn at gun point and I figured it was a LOCK for him to fail. Again, I fell victim to the devils, McShay and Kiper who say that accuracy and decision-making are skills you cannot teach.

Wow, was I wrong. Cam has shown that his accuracy and decision-making inefficiencies are insignificant in the grand scheme of it all. I never took into account that the kid’s really only had a single year of high-level coaching (and I would barely call Gene Chizik’s staff @ Auburn high-level), and I clearly slept on the fact that the Panthers would tailor an offensive scheme perfectly for him. Rob Chudzinski took away Cam’s two biggest faults by making this an offense that goes all out. The majority of the passes go deep down-field, making accuracy a non-factor- just get it in the vicinity and let Steve Smith do the rest. There are few 10-15 yard patterns calling for Cam to thread the needle between LB’s and Safeties, and when all else fails it’s set up for Cam to run it, and at 6’5″, 250, Newton has already broken the QB rookie record for rushing TD’s.

All these factors were naively overlooked on my part, and I certainly apologize for sleeping not only on Cam Newton, but also the staff of rookie head coach Ron Rivera. The Panthers are in good hands as it’s clear that Cam has that “It” factor, or as it is going to be renamed shortly, that “Tebow” factor.

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DaQuan Bowers Was My #1 Pick?!?!?

The next thing I was clearly wrong about was my alternative suggestion for the top overall pick, DaQuan Bowers. Let me first preface this by saying that when I made my initial suggestion, Bowers’ injury problems had not yet been brought to light. Nonetheless, I will still say that was fucking STUPID. Bowers has played in 13 games this season so the knee injury has clearly not been much of a factor. From what I’ve seen, Bowers has struggled with the speed, strength, and size of NFL O-linemen. A measly stat line of 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks doesn’t even put Bowers into the discussion for defensive rookie of the year on his OWN TEAM (that distinction belongs to 1st-rounder Adrian Clayborn [33 tackles, 6.5 sacks] and 3rd-rounder Mason Foster [63 tackles, 2 sacks].

Granted, he’s still an amazing talent that could just need some time to develop and I STILL think he can be a dominant pass-rushing force in this league, but that’s just not enough for a top-10 pick. Bowers is a case where McShay and Kiper were right about baggage: injury baggage (see: Sam Bradford), is a very real factor and it has proven to be influential when it comes to the draft. I’m not giving up on Bowers yet, but clearly I was wrong in my predictions.

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On to my next boneheaded prediction: Zach Miller. I proclaimed Miller as one of my most influential FA’s available this off-season alongside Paul Posluszny and Jonathan Joseph (two players I will get to momentarily). Miller went to a Seahawks squad that also picked up Sidney Rice.

Now, I blame most of Miller’s sucking on the team he signed with and granted, I picked Miller as influential BEFORE he signed with Seattle, but that shouldn’t matter. When you’re billed as a top-tier FA, I feel like you need to be able to contribute no MATTER the system you go to.

My biggest praise of Miller was in his ability to help the running game. Yes, Marshawn Lynch has more yards this year than he’s had since 2008 (and is on pace for a career year), but Seattle’s rushing offense is a measly 26th overall. You can blame that on injuries (Tavris Jackson, Sidney Rice) and departures (starting C Anthony Spencer), but again, none of that should matter in the end. The Raiders clearly do not miss Zach Miller (especially after adding Kevin “THE” Boss), and the Seahawks clearly are no better WITH Miller. I took a swing at this one, and missed terribly.

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And as far as this final proclamation of idiocy I merely have three words to say: THE…..PHILADELPHIA…..EAGLES.

I WAS WAY RIGHT ABOUT:

Believe it or not, I made some golden predictions before this season started that, paired with the awful ones above, make me look a tad better than Skip Bayless. Yes, there was the easy lock of the Patriots in the Super Bowl (in progress) but beyond that here’s what I’m proud of.

joseph

J-Squared Locks H-Town Down

Jonathan Joseph. The Houston Texans’ off-season CB addition that has proven to be more valuable than Nnamdi to the Eagles. I said right here that Joseph would be the single most influential off-season signing and he has proven to be just that. On a Houston defense that lost its best player for the year (Mario Williams),  Joseph was exactly what the doctor ordered in H-Town. With a shut-down corner in the mix, the Texans are the league’s #1 overall defense, and as a team they just KEEP winning sans the Matt’s in the backfield (Schaub/Leinart).

I’m not naive enough to say that Joseph is the ONLY reason this defense is so damn dominant (Wade Phillips has a lot to do with it as well), but adding a lock-down corner to the mix like Joseph is puts a lot more freedom on the table for play-calling. Rookie DE J.J. Watt has also proven to be an amazing off-season addition but what this really comes down to is that Phillips CAN unleash a pass rush any time he wants because he knows that Joseph will be able to cover the other team’s best receiver by himself. This effect, originally known as the Deion effect, has been made famous in New York with Darelle Revis.

Staying on the defensive side of the ball comes my next “Told you so…”, Paul Posluszny of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The ball-hawk of a MLB was extremely overlooked in the off-season by everyone but myself and apparently Jack Del Rio. In fact, this is what I said about the Poz:

“The Poz goes to a Jaguars team that desperately needs a tackle-machine like him in the middle and I see that Defense being a top-10 squad, maybe even top-5 if their young D-Line keeps developing.”

And wouldn’t you know, guess who’s sitting at #4 in total defense for the year? Yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars. I’m not going to gloat about this, or analyze it, that’s just a NASTY defense that REALLY needs a QB to help them out. Honestly, had the Jags held on to David Garrard, we’re talking about a Wild Card winner at LEAST in Jacksonville this year.

fatboy

If This Isn't the Face of A Blunted Cheeseburg-Addict IDK What Is

Finally, I would like to touch on Nick Fairley. I blasted Fairley alongside his former teammate Cam Newton for being overrated and over valued coming into the NFL Draft. I’ve already covered how WRONG I was with Newton, but can’t I cover how RIGHT I was with Fairley? Yes, the man missed almost half of the season with injuries but that’s no excuse. He’s still seen the field in 7 games and in those games he’s posted 9 tackles and 1 sack. Ew. Fairley’s injury to me clearly originates from a lack of work ethic and laziness that has carried over from college. Yes, he was a monster on the field in his last year at Auburn, but where was the track record before that?!

The Lions have been hesitant to play Fairley and Ndamakong Suh together and it’s less of a contrast of styles and more of a contrast in demeanor. Suh is a god damn monster out there who goes balls to the wall from sun-up to sun-down. The last thing the Lions need is Suh to ruin the psyche of their newest, pudgiest defensive addition. This could very well be a DaQuan Bowers-type situation where Fairley needs some time to develop. But as a top 15, non-QB pick, you don’t want development, you want results. Nick Fairley, thank you for wrapping up my record of genius predictions.

Some Music Quickies…

Picking up again after a prolonged absence, this time I only have my own laziness and Red Sox anguish to blame. My prediction for my boy Jacoby to win the MVP soured as soon as the Sox underwent the biggest act of crumbling since the Yankees in the ’04 ALCS. Yes, the Braves September collapse was damn near worse this year, but they’re the Braves. They made like 36 World Series in the ’90’s and only won once, what do you want from them?

Anyways, Tiger finally won a tournament again. Maybe now the golf fan base will once again reach beyond the stone-laiden driveways and boxwood borders of the upper-middle class.

Miguel Cotto just beat Antonio Margarito as if Cotto was Puerto Rican and Margarito was Mexican, oh wait. Side note: the hatred between Puerto Rican and Mexican athletes is funny to me. Mainly because very few people outside of those countries A) care and B) can even distinguish the difference. Also, the PR/Mexico rivalry finishes a distant second in the “People we know want to kill each other, but we can’t tell who is who” list behind the timeless China vs. Japan. Some say USA vs. Britian is up there too, but I just don’t see it.

And if you don’t read another single word I scribe today, do yourself a favor and click here to see “The 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011”. Powerful stuff to say the least. The broad in #7, however, needs to look into a career in the adult films industry after taking a facial of that magnitude.

Coming shortly is my look at the NFL season to date, complete with a recap of my bold predictions regarding the draft and FA’s. An apology to Cam Newton will be included following my harsh criticism of the Panthers for taking him #1.

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There’s been a lot of good music over the past couple of months to hit my ear lobes. None of it should be mentioned before this guy though- OnCue.

Cuey

Cuey's Submission for Tape of the Year

OnCue is a rapper who was born and raised in Connecticut, but over the past couple of years relocated to Brooklyn, NY to focus on making his music. Being a Connecticutian, obviously I’m going to do what I can to rep for my state when I deem necessary. I even met the kid when Red Bull sponsored a party at my boy’s house @ UConn and invited Cuey to perform Guerilla-style in the basement (By the way, unfamiliar with him at the time I called him soft and whined aloud about Red Bull bringing in a nobody. Damn, I wish I could take that back). But this plug has nothing to do with Connecticut, or any personal connections at all. This kid can simply make great fucking music and Can’t Wait, his 5th career mixtape, is no exception.

He’s got a style I can best describe as a more talented Kid Cudi. Not to say Cudder isn’t talented, he just can’t rap like Cuey. On Can’t Wait, Cuey brings in his usual life experiences to influence his music. Essentially left to support himself and his mother by his drug addicted father and brother, the dude’s got plenty of emotional gasoline to fuel his fire. The most powerful rhyme of the album comes on the final track, “Alive” and it’s directed at his parents: “Yeah Mommy I fuckin love you/ no one gonna hurt you anymore, Angels above you/ Dad, I forgive you I pray you remain clean/ I’m just glad you’re alive to see me live out this dream”

It’s not all sad raps, though. Cuey brings in a big name in Mike Posner on “Kinda Late”, an ode to all the ladies throwing themselves at the two up and comers, and he dedicates another one to the ladies in “Cigarettes and Perfume”. And then there’s my personal favorite “Feel Tall” which is more about his struggle with success than his struggle to succed.

The bottom line is this: Can’t Wait transcends genres, it’s a complete album front to back, it’s powerful and moving, and it’s free. It’s fucking free, so download it and let it play from beginning to end. I guarantee you won’t be able to stop after that one time through, but hell, if you don’t like it who cares. Just set your alarm clock to wake you up a minute early for 60 days to get a refund on those 60 minutes you spent on the album. Check out “Feel Tall” below, and under that is “Your Own Supply” from his Leftovers mixtape.

 

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Now, for the rest of the music scene right now in order of how quickly you should go get this sheeeiiitt (Clay Davis):

ASAP RockyLive Love ASAP

Born in Harlem but heavily influenced by Houston, ASAP Rocky is what’s great about hip-hop. Common sense tells us that a chopped and screwed style rapper cannot bring serious lyrics, and serious lyricists cannot present their product in a chopped and screwed style. ASAP Rocky says fuck common sense.

I guess this dude’s been opening up for Drake on Drizzy’s national tour and he’s been blowing up big time as a result. Haven’t seen his (Drake) show, nor do I plan to, but this is another free gem over on DatPiff. I recommend listening to this CD at an extremely loud volume, preferably on an excellent sound system in a dope whip. Or a 2005 Chevy Malibu if you don’t have the dope whip. Check the thugged out video for “Peso” on YouTube, and one of my favorites from the album “Trilla” below:

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Yelawolf – Radioactive

A favorite of The Universe and the pride of Gadsden, Alabama unleashed his first retail album November 21st. One of the few retail albums I’m ever going to plug, this one is a product of Shady Records and is certainly worth the 9$ price tag.

I first saw this guy open up for B.O.B. in Boston and I slowly became a fan throughout his set. Not universally known until his appearance on the now legendary Shady 2.0 BET awards cypher, Yela brings an extremely unique style to the game. Definitely check out “Write Your Name” and “Throw It Up”

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Childish GambinoCamp

Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, aka Troy from NBC’s Community brings my next retail album suggestion. Again, well worth the $9, Gambino is a ridiculous talent that brings SERIOUS heat on the lyrical front. Think Kanye West when he was still hungry. Check out “Sunrise” below:

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MacklemoreThe Unplanned Mixtape

Not gonna lie about this one, this is not a new release but I just got turned on to the Seattle MC within the past couple of months. Macklemore routinely teams up with producer Ryan Lewis to make seriously good music. Introspective, thoughtful and unique to say the least, check out the hilarious video for “And We Danced”. Apparently Mack had some serious drug addiction issues in his past but personally I’m glad he got it sorted out because he makes some great music. My personal favorite is below, “Wings”, which is a dedication to America’s fascination and obsession with Nike and Jordan kicks.

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B.O.B.EPIC & Lupe FiascoFriend of the People

Probably my two favorite artists out right now and certainly two of my favorite of all time just so happen to drop two brand new mixtapes. EPIC is Bob’s effort and is probably more listenable to for the average music fan. Filled with ridiculous beats and always hard rhymes, Bob picks up right where The Adventures of Bobby Ray left off.

Lupe’s Friend of the People is highly political, and continuing with Lupe’s garage music themed mixtape output, very raw. The beats are more bluesy and melodic than they are hip-hop as most of the samples are from emo-rock bands such as M83.

Nevertheless, both tapes are must-downloads.

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Casey VeggiesSleeping in Class

My final retail album suggestion comes from LA’s own Casey Veggies. An affilitate of OFWGKTA, Veggies has been a veteran of the rap game since he dropped Customized Greatly Volume 1 as a 16-year old. That mixtape was a CLASSIC, and this album surely doesn’t disappoint either. If you don’t want to buy the album, head over to Datpiff and download some of his mixtapes. They don’t disappoint. Below is “Ridin Round Town” from Sleeping in Class.

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Th@ Kid – Ratboy

Lastly, go check out Cali-native Th@ Kid. I don’t know too much about this dude outside of his Facebook information but he puts in serious work to make his music. Check out his website here, and look into following him on Facebook and Twitter. A self-proclaimed “Night Rat”, Th@ Kid is young and hungry. Think Mac Miller mixed with Kendrick Lamar. My favorite song of his “New White Kicks” is below.

Some Quickies…

First, rest in peace to Dan Uggla’s bid for Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak. Uggla went 0-for on Sunday against the Cubs to halt his season long 33 game hit streak. Uggla’s been awful this year so far, and it would have been comical if we had a man of Uggla’s resume coming close to the greatest record in all of sports.

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Some NBA stuff:

Josh “Jorts” Harrellson made the news, and not for his Bill Wenningtonesque skills. The New York Knicks draftee (whom I strongly disapproved of here) spent his Sunday night out in Lexington getting sauced up at a local watering hole…and the simple fact that this story does not end with Jorts getting arrested is proof enough to me that he will never be in the NBA. I guess Jorts and some redneck homies were just hanging out by their truck just like rednecks do (you know, go to a bar, get drunk, but hang outside of the bar gathered around the rigs) when some drunk bastard comes stumbling out of the bar, jumps in his hemi, and punches it in reverse right at Jorts and his crew. Assuming that this was not a rabid Knicks fan, that was a hell of a scare for Jorts, I believe that.

jh

Jorts

Anyway, Jorts clears house of his friends, lets his truck get smashed and then proceeds to disable the driver and his trucklike some 7 foot, 350-pound, ogre-ish, Steve Segal….wait….Jorts proceeds to disable the driver and his truck like Steve Segal. Noticed some redundancy there. So, shit, Jorts is already warming himself up to the media…maybe I’m wrong about this guy’s chances in the league.

Onto another subject, it looks like the NBA players are going to do everything they can to prove me wrong when I called their overseas bluff. With there being talks of everyone from Kobe to Metta World Peace playing in every league but the NBA, it’s not looking so good for my prediction of the Pros staying home. That being said, I’m still holding on to that prediction, I think a lot of this is a smoke show to add to the Union’s leverage. If the players show they don’t need the owners, the owners may turn in to that slightly better looking boyfriend who never appreciated his younger girlfriend until he saw her on the arm of the nerdy kid from their neighborhood, which caused the better looking boyfriend to fall into a tailspin of “Pleaaaaaaaase take me backkkkk”.