I spoke with a couple of my Detroit sports blog brethren and got together a little roundtable to discuss all of the issues of the day. We're going to try and do this every month, so here goes. We've got Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience and Bandy from Michigan Sports Spot as well as yours truly. Here we go...
Bandy: Sitting at 6-2 is quite a feat for the Lions considering their defense. I think everyone & their mother realized that the Lions finally have a top tier offense, after years of top offensive picks. The icing on the cake was the Calvin Johnson pick during the last NFL draft. The question mark for me is the defense. Don’t get me wrong, that was quite a defensive performance against Denver, but we really didn’t see the true Denver offense. They had to put second string QB Patrick Ramsey on the field after Jay Cutler took a hard hit from the entire D-Line of the Lions. Even if Denver had their full offensive product on the field, they’re not a top notch offense like they’ll see in the 2nd half of the season. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with facing inferior competition early in the year. It will give the Lions confidence moving forward into the 2nd half.
Another key point of the 1st half is that they’ve not had to endure many injuries on either side of the ball. If they can stay healthy & positive, it’s going to be a great year.
All things considered, I see the Lions supporting John Kitna’s 10 win prediction, but that’s it. My prediction at the end of the end of this season is a wildcard berth with a record of 10-6. The roar WILL be restored!
BAW: I'm actually pretty bullish on the Lions. I had them at 5-3 in my preseason game-by-game predictions (@ Chicago was the loss I had predicted for them) so this is pretty much where I thought they would be prior to the start of the season. I said they'd be 9-7 then (and was laughed at by anyone I told) and now I'm willing to say that they are going to go...12-4.
I know, I'm crazy but hear me out. I think they can take out the Cards this week in Arizona, even though historically it's not been a place where the Lions have played well. I then think they can beat both the Giants and Pack to go to 9-2. Then lose two of the next 5 games to finish a solid 12-4 which probably wins them the North and gets them a first round bye.
I just don't think the Packers, Giants, and Cowboys are as good as people think and I think the Lions can beat all three of them (especially at home). As long as the Lions front four play well they will have a chance to be in every game. The offense is much more balanced since the return of Kevin Jones, and the O-Line has also been better at keeping Jon Kitna off of the turf. I think the Lions could be a lot like last year's Saints, but maybe, just maybe, they could go further....at least there's hope and that's something we haven't had in Detroit for awhile.
Question 2 - Michigan and Michigan State played another classic this weekend, but after it was over both sides seem to be talking a lot of trash. Do you think this is a healthy development for the rivalry and where do you see Michigan and Michigan State going the rest of the year? Will Sparty make a bowl? Can Michigan beat the Vest?
Big Al: First off, a rivalry needs both teams to be a threat to win, not a threat just every 5-6 years, as Sparty does currently. 8 years out of 10, the Wolverines to the Spartans are the equivalent of a hammer to a nail. But the trash talk, hurt feelings, and Dantonio's Tressel-like focus on Michigan will put a life into the series it sorely needs. As for this season, I'm not at all confident that Sparty will get to 6 wins. The talent just isn't there. They have to beat Purdue, as I don't see them beating Penn State. I'll go out on a limb, and say Sparty finishes 5-7, missing out on a bowl...Again. As for the Wolverines, I have no reason to believe that the end of the 2007 season will be any different than the last 4 seasons. Cheatypants McSweaterVest has Lloyd Carr's number, plus tOSU will be playing for a spot in the BCS title game. I hate to say it, but the bucknuts win...Again.
Then Michigan will go out and lose whatever runnerup bowl they end up being invited to play. Only 1 thing might change my prediction, if Lloyd announces he's stepping down before the tOSU game. Then all bests are off. Otherwise, it's a 9 win season. They've had a nice recovery from the debacles that were the Appy St and Oregon games, but it's still been a VERY disappointing season overall. If there is a program in DIRE need of new blood, it's Michigan.
Bandy: There is no doubt in my mind that this is a healthy development for both teams & also, for the Big Ten. This rivalry has always been a ‘Michigan’ rivalry, not a Big Ten rivalry. It shouldn’t be that way. The trash talking will get both teams more exposure & hopefully, attract more attention (& hopefully recruits) to both teams. This is especially good for MSU, but they need to back up the trash talking.
As for the rest of this year, I believe that the outcome & extracurricular activities of the MSU/Michigan game will help MSU. They will play the rest of the year with something to prove & with good effort, will perform well both against Purdue & Penn St. Even though they will perform well, I still don’t see them winning both games (which is what they’ll need to make a bowl this year). I believe MSU will lose to Purdue in a close game & beat Penn St. at home. The Penn St. win will drive them into the off-season on a positive note.
As for Michigan, the road is tough without a doubt. Games against Wisconsin & THE Ohio State are about as tough as it gets in the conference right now. I believe Michigan will beat Wisconsin in an ugly game as both teams are hobbling right now. In the Michigan/Ohio St. finale, Michigan will bow down to the Buckeyes tough defense and lose in a close game. The only reason I think it will be close is because this game is always a good matchup, regardless of the team’s talent or injury situations. From there, Michigan will make it into a New Year’s Day bowl.
BAW: I think the trash talk is a good thing for the rivalry...to a point. I think MSU needs to keep things a little quieter until they actually win a game. Michigan didn't start any sort of trash talking until they took care of business on the field, and I think Sparty would be well served to take that kind of approach. That being said I think the bad blood that's developed can only be a good thing.
As far as MSU's season is concerned I think the telling thing this week was the fact that they were still dwelling on the Michigan game two days after the fact. They put SO much on this game that I think losing it the way they did could be a big letdown. I think they CAN win both of these games, but I don't think they'll actually win either of them. There is a big potential that they could get blown out at Purdue if they're not focused and if that happens I don't see a rebound against Penn State. If they really want to prove they're not the "Same Old Sparty" they'll show up at Purdue this week and get the win. Then they can finally start talking bowl against Penn State.
And that brings me to my Wolverines. Am I the only one who thinks they can beat the Buckeyes? Seriously? This week's game doesn't mean much on the Big Ten side of things, but I can tell you that a 10-2 season looks better than a 9-3 season in the end. With PJ Hill probably out for the game, I think Michigan wins by a couple of touchdowns. Wisco's pass defense isn't good at all and with Henne and a (healthy) Hart I think Michigan will take the win, and with that out of the way the focus goes to the Buckeyes....
I think Michigan wins that game. First of all they are at home, and second OSU hasn't played a tough close game all year long and I think that's going to catch up to them. Michigan has shown (both at Illinois and at State) that they can come back and win in the clutch in hostile environments. OSU, on the other hand, hasn't been challenged all year and it will be interesting to see how they react to a close game situation. Plus after the first two games of the season, all the players know their only road to redemption goes through the Buckeyes and I think they will rise to the challenge.
Question 3 - The Pistons are off to a 3-1 start and two of those wins were without Richard Hamilton. Are you happy with what the Pistons did in the off season and what do you think they are going to do this year?
Big Al: Despite Joe Dumar's threats to make a major change in the team's makeup, they did deserve 1 more chance to make a title run. Plus Rasheed Wallace will a much more enticing player to trade once he's into the final year of his contract, which is next season. My magic 8 ball sees a replay of '06-'07. I see another 50 win season, Flip Saunders leaning on the starters too much), not developing the bench despite the cries from the fans, media, and Dumars (I have to see it, to believe it, as the call for developing their youth/bench has been the Pistons' stated goal for the last 4 seasons, yet it never happens), leading to the team running out of gas in the conference finals.
Much like Michigan needs fresh ideas, I think the same is happening to the Pistons. If we see another flameout like the one against the Cavaliers in the ECF? It'll be time for a big shake up of the roster, with Billups and Stuckey the untouchables, and we say "Thanks for the memories" to 'Sheed.
Bandy: I was ecstatic with the way the Pistons handled their offseason moves. Chauncey Billups is the heart of this team & bringing him back was a must. That was the first great move. The second great move was sending Chris Webber packing. Webber is way past his prime & doesn’t fit the blue collar work ethic that the Pistons thrive on. They made a couple good draft picks, mainly Rodney Stuckey, which will sure up their backcourt in the future. Joe Dumars has done a fantastic job with the talent he’s acquired & is now showing his plans for the future. Jason Maxiell was a force in the pre-season & can challenge for the starting spot at power forward.
Overall, the Pistons again are contenders in the East & also in the run for the NBA championship. The main challengers in the east will be Boston of course, with their additions of Kevin Garnett & Ray Allen. Boston has started to build a team similar to the Piston’s foundation & the city of Boston is yearning for a run back to the NBA finals. They haven’t had a team this talented since the days of Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, & Robert Parish. I believe that Boston is the only other team in the east that can match-up with the Pistons & challenge for the east crown.
My prediction is the Pistons will make the NBA finals again….but will have to face the superior opponent in the San Antonio Spurs. I really want to give the Pistons the nod in this match-up, but I can’t. The Spurs are too strong across the board. Spurs win….again, in 6 games.
BAW: I'm pretty happy with the way the Pistons handled the offseason (and that's not just because Rasheed is on my fantasy team). I think they addressed their biggest problem and that was finding a bench scorer who could drive and make his own shot. Stuckey looks like he's going to be that guy when he heals from his injury. I also really like the addition of Afflalo as a defensive stopper and the subtraction of Chris Webber's sorry ass. He seriously had my vertical leap (which is not good) during the playoffs last year.
That being said there are still some problems. They aren't deep as far as big men are concerned and if Sheed or McDyess go down with any significant injury they could be in trouble. That being said I don't think it's going to matter what happens in the regular season with the Pistons as they could be seeded between 1-4 and be okay.
I think the Pistons are the favorites in the East. Even after the first few games I still don't believe the Boston hype. I think that team has flaws (DEFENSE) and I think they will be exposed come playoff time. The Bulls haven't gotten any better (unless you count getting that freak Joakim Noah as improvement) and the Cavs have gotten worse. I just don't see any of these teams challenging the Pistons, especially a Pistons team that can play the "disrespect" card.
So I see the Pistons winning the East Finals and playing a close tough series with the West Champs (Spurs). Can they beat the Spurs? Sure. Will they? Um...I already predicted a 12-4 season for the Lions...so what the hell. I think the Pistons beat the Spurs in 7 in San Antonio. Yeah, I said it.
Question 4 - The Wings are also off to a hot start this season. Can they return the Stanley Cup to Detroit? Do you think Hasek will be durable enough for another run? If not do you think Osgood is the goalie to take them there?
Big Al: Much like the Pistons, the regular season means little to the Red Wings, it's all about the playoffs. Till then, the fans will bitch and moan about the crappy schedule, the lack of playing "Original 6" teams (Save for the Blackhawks, of course) on a regular basis, the Red Wings bring an eastern time zone team in the Western conference, and Gary Bettman. In other words, it's just like any other NHL season.
I'm bullish on Osgood, as he's off to a 8-0-0 start while Hasek's been laid up, so the crazy ass Czech hasn't been missed. I'm fine with the 2 goalies splitting time between the pipes, anything to keep the decrepit Hasek, and his gimpy hip and groin, healthy for the playoffs. Hasek is in Detroit for 1 thing, a long playoff run, period. Osgood is in Detroit for 1 thing, to be Hasek's affordable insurance policy, period. As good as Ozzie has played, any playoff success will hinge on Hasek. The Wings will go as far as his craziness and groin will take them.
The Red Wings will win the Central easily, win 2 hard fought playoff rounds while the fans lose copious amounts of sleep, and lose in the WCF to the Sharks.
Bandy: The Wings are as good as any other team in the West, no doubt. The issue this year is that there really isn’t a clear cut best team in the West. I think the title is up for grabs as much as any other year. That being said, the Wings have a great chance to make a run at the cup. Dominik Hasek will be a key part of that run though. He’s getting up there in age & durability is definitely a concern. Even though Hasek is a concern, there is an excellent backup in the mix being Chris Osgood. He can definitely carry the load if necessary & has shown that so far this year.
Keeping Henrik Zetteberg & Pavel Datsuyk healthy are keys to a successful offensive season. They will carry the load on on the scoring side of things for the Wings. Tomas Holmstrom will also play a key role. Keeping all three of these guys healthy is a key to making a run.
All things considered, I think the Wings will make a run into the playoffs, but probably will not make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. The reason I say this is that this team is not as dominant a team as there have been in the past. Also, they are lacking some leadership in my opinion. I think they’ll make the playoffs, but not make it to the finals. The team looks good so far, but it’s still early in the season.
BAW: The regular season means nothing to the Red Wings. They play in a terrible division and will rack up win after win after win, and probably challenge for the President's Cup again. YAWN, wake me up when it's playoff time.
That being said I think Zetterberg has turned the corner and is a full on bad ass. The man is unstoppable so far this season, and that can only mean good things for the Wings.
Osgood worries me a little. I know he's won a Cup before and he's on a hot streak right now, but Hasek played out of his mind during the playoffs last year and that wasn't enough and I still think he's better than Osgood. I think they need Hasek back in order to challenge for the Cup.
In the end I see the Wings making another run to the conference finals at least. The NHL playoffs are such a crap shoot and I'm sure the Wings will run into another hot goalie (they always do) that can easily end their season. They'll challenge for the West crown, but I think somewhere along the line they'll fall short.
Question 5 - Last but not least the Tigers head into what could be called a very pivotal off season. They have already acquired Edgar Renteria and Joel Zumaya has been lost to either a box or a dirt bike (don't know about the dirt bike...heard that rumor from McCosky who apparently reported it off some blog...nice responsibility...) What do you think should be the number one priority this offseason for the Tigers? Do you think they should go after A-Rod, Schilling or Mariano? If you were Dombrowski what are the moves you make? How much more are Hot and Ready Pizza's going to be if we sign A-Rod?
Big Al: We found out this week that Shilling is off the market, so he's not in the mix. As nice as his 50 HR's and 150 RBI's would look in the lineup, A-Rod is a luxury the Tigers don't need, and probably couldn't afford. I'd target Mariano Rivera, as the pen is the Tigers most glaring need, thanks to that rouge box that attacked Zumaya.
No matter what, the bullpen should be Dombrowski's 1st priority. with the finding (At the very least) 1 starting pitcher a close 2nd. I can live happily with the current lineup, but a LH bat would be a nice addition, but not absolutely necessary.
If I were in Dave Dombrowski's shoes, I'd do the following...
A. Right now the Tigers are short both a closer, and a set up man at the back end of the pen. So that's why, out of the 3 FA's you mention, I want Rivera. Without question. No doubt about it. Get out the checkbook, and make it happen! My 2nd choice would be former Tigers property Francisco Cordero, 3rd is Eric Gagne, with Todd Jones as my FA closer of last resort. In a prefect world, I'd sign both Jones and one of the above. No matter what, they HAVE to sign one of those 4 closers, (t looks as if The Rollercoaster is the Tigers' 1st choice), then dig up a set up man as well. Say Scott Linebrink? David Riske? Take a flyer on Kerry Wood?
B. Starting pitching, preferably 2 starters. Though the Tigers are claiming that they only need 1 starter, I'm leery of automatically giving the 5th rotation spot to 1 of the group of Miller/Tata/Trahern/Vasquez/Spring training phenom. Despite Scott Boras' posturing, I think the Tigers sign Kenny Rogers. I'd like them to also go for Carlos Silva, he won't come cheap. It would take a Gil Meche style contract to get him.
C. A left had hitting corner outfielder. Personally, I like Luis Gonzalez as a 1 year stop gap, as part of a platoon with Marcus Thames. Basically, anyone other than Timo Perez would be a solid upgrade.
Bandy: First of all, let me make a comment on the Edgar Renteria signing…..PHENOMENAL! This was a great pick-up for the Tigers. I realize there are a lot of people out there who are against sending some prime talent away, but let me tell you….the Tigers change to win the World Series is NOW. They have a great core group of players that can take them all the way next year. There are, however, some areas they’ll need to address during the rest of the off-season, but finding someone to play shortstop in place of Carlos Guillen was a #1 priority. Now that that issue has been resolved, they can address one other area….pitching.
The pitching staff has a good core of youngsters, but they’re one starter away from being solid again. As much as I love Nate Robertson as a person & team mascot, we need to sure up the #5 in the starting rotation. Verlander & Rogers are solid. Bonderman has shown Cy Young potential, but appears to fall off towards the end of the year. Andrew Miller will be a stud in the next couple years. That leaves one spot open. Nate Robertson is a great guy like I said, but he doesn’t have the power or the movement needed to be a shutdown starter. I think he’d be effective coming out of the pen.
Now, the question is who to go after? If there’s a year for free-agent pitching, this is it. I would love to see the Tigers make a run at Tom Glavine, as another left-handed starter. As of now, he’s a desirable free agent for many teams, including his old team the Atlanta Braves. He’s heading towards the end of his career, but if I were him, I would want to be playing for a contender as my career was coming to an end. This would sure up the starting rotation & also fit the Tigers current roster….as an older, experienced player. I’m sure there are many people though who would not like Glavine, but I stick with my feelings about the Tigers’ situation…they need to win now!
As for A-Rod, I really don’t see that happening. I would really love to see A-Rod at 3rd base in Detroit, but is it really necessary? You can argue either way, but my feeling is no. That’s a hefty investment on one player to make & I don’t think Mike Illich will do it. That money can be spent in other places, like pitching, & get a better overall outcome. Additionally, Jim Leyland loves Brandon Inge as a fielder. He might not be the best hitter for average, but he’s got good pop in his bat for someone hitting 9th in the line-up.
In summary, looking at their current situation, they need to address a starting pitcher & possibly another long reliever. They could also move Robertson to the pen & just address the 5th starter. Bottom line is that they have some options. Other than that, I believe the Tigs are contenders…..again.
BAW: I think the key to this entire offseason is what the Tigers do at closer. With Zumaya out, this is going to be their most important offseason move. I don't see any reason you don't get out the checkbook and get Mariano Rivera. He's the best closer out there and he's what the Tigers need. I like Todd Jones, but I don't think my heart can take another season of him closing. Plus, Rivera is the best one out there. GO GET HIM! I also think they need a set up man as well, I would have to agree with Al as to getting Cordero, although his American League stats scare the crap out of me.
I also think they need to resolve this Kenny Rogers situation now that Curt Schilling is no longer a possibility. The Tigers have Bonderman, Verlander and Robertson in the rotation right now and they really need Rogers for a fourth spot. I also think they should sign another veteran pitcher to fill the fifth spot and let Andrew Miller develop more in the minors. Miller could be brought up in the event of injury but I think he'll be better served with a stint in Toledo.
Now for the position players. I think getting Renteria was a great move, but I think they need to at least extend him for another year. He's not worth a one year rental for what was given up. While I would LOVE to see A-Rod here I don't think it's going to happen. I think he's priced himself out of the Tigers market and they'll use their money elsewhere. Leftfield continues to be a problem and I think they need to find a left hand hitter to platoon with Marcus Thames. Corey Patterson comes to mind but I don't know if he'll go for a short term deal (the Tigers won't sign anyone long term with Maybin waiting in the wings) but he's a guy who likes to strikeout and that could be a problem. Luis Gonzalez is an idea as well, and he seems like a guy who may take a short deal to return to the Tigers.
Well there you have it. The first of what will (hopefully) be many monthly roundtables between some of Detroit's sports bloggers. Hopefully you enjoyed it. If you have a blog and you would be interested in joining us just drop me a line. Until next time....