The Sound Off by Long Island Sound – November 22, 2013

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Boston Strong

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Boston Strong! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The last time the Boston Red Sox won the World Series at home was in 1918. Babe Ruth was pitching on that team. He was later traded, and created the Curse of the Bambino. This all changed after the 2013 World Series. Boston had many things to be happy about. When the World Series began, I believed that the Red Sox had the better players and the Cardinals had the better team. I was wrong. It wasn’t the prettiest World Series or the most exciting, but the storyline was poignant and fitting. After April’s Boston Marathon bombing, the Red Sox devoted the rest of the season to overcoming this disaster.  And the Red Sox overcame adversity in this World Series as well to come back and win three consecutive games to bring a championship title back to Boston.

Going into this matchup, the Red Sox were slight favorites to win it all, but everyone knew how capable the Cardinals team was. Both teams boasted clutch hitting and solid pitching all year, and this set up to be a pretty even and contested series. The pitchers were lined up, hitters rested and coaches prepared. The Cardinals and Red Sox had each won two World Series in the past  Decade. But Tony La Russa was not coaching against Terry Francona. A new generational rivalry was born with Mike Matheny and John Farrell as managers.

Game 1 ended shortly after it started. Adam Wainwright faced off against Jon Lester, a battle of aces.. This was supposed to be the tasty appetizer for an amazing entrée. However, the Cardinals came out flat and seemed scared. They committed two errors in the first two innings, including  botching a potential double play. This allowed the Red Sox to take a 5-0 lead after two innings and they cruised to a 8-1 victory. Mike Napoli had the big three-run double in the first and the tasty appetizer did not even make it around the table to serve everyone. It was a disappointing start from a competitive standpoint but a good omen for Boston supporters.

Game 2 featured Michael Wacha, Big Papi and some unusual plays. These three things would end up playing a huge role for the rest of the series.  Wacha was dealing like a used car salesman. Up 1-0 in the sixth, Big Papi David Ortiz belted a two-run homer to give the Sox the lead. However, the lead would evaporate in the next inning on a sacrifice fly. This bases loaded, one out sacrifice fly had the ball flying from right field, to the catcher and then into the stands past third base. Two runs scored on the play and one more came across when clutch Carlos Beltran singled in the next at-bat to make it 4-2 Cardinals. This was the final score.  An ugly series of events to give the Cardinals the game, but as they say, a win is a win is a win. The series all tied up like boy scout knot. Heading back to St. Louis for three games, the Cardinals seemed to have momentum.

The unusual plays did not stop there. In Game 3, the Cardinals jumped to a 2-0 lead against Jake Peavy in the first. The game was on cruise control until the fifth. The Red Sox tied the game with one run in the fifth and sixth. The see-saw battle continued when the Cardinals took a 4-2 lead on Matt Holliday’s double in the seventh..  However, the Red Sox quickly answered with clutch hitting by Xander Bogaerts to tie it at 4 in the eighth. Whew! I just felt my heart palpitate thinking about that game again. And I have not even got to the climax yet. Or the anticlimax.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out. Jon Jay hit a sharp grounder to second, but Dustin Pedroia alertly threw out Yadier Molina at home for the second out of the inning. This is where normal leaves the ballpark and drama dons a whole new wardrobe, or more appropriate, uniform. After Molina made the out, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried to throw out Allen Craig who went from second to third on the play. And similar to Game 2, the throw went wide and into the outfield. Craig broke for home like Forrest Gump in Vietnam while Daniel Nava fielded the ball in the outfield. Nava threw a bullet and Craig was tagged out at home. Extra innings, right? Wrong. Umpire Jim Joyce ruled obstruction on third baseman Will Middlebrooks and Craig was awarded home and the game ended in one of the most bizarre endings in World Series history. Both teams stormed home plate. The Red Sox were yelling at the umpire crew. The Cardinals were reluctant to embrace victory. The crowd was confused. The television audience waited for an explanation. Utter chaos. All in all, the correct call was made by the letter of the law, and the Cardinals had a 2-1 edge in the Series.

After an unusual ending to Game 3, the Red Sox found themselves with their backs against the wall in a pretty much must-win situation. The Red Sox had grown out their beards the entire season and a bearded man came to the rescue for Game 4. Jonny Gomes blasted a three-run homer to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth and that was all she wrote. The Red Sox won 4-2 and another abnormal play occurred to end the game. Kolten Wong was pinch-running in the bottom of the ninth and Beltran was up representing the tying run with two outs. However before he could get a crack at a good pitch, Koji Uehara picked off Wong at first to end the game. Wong made his appearance one to forget, and the theme of errors, great pitching and bizarre plays continued.  World Series tied 2-2. The plot was thickening. Announcers John Buck and Tim McCarver had clever stories to tell.

Game 5 was the most crucial game in the Series. Typically, the winner of this game takes it all and this trend did not disappoint. The aces were back on the mound and Lester continued where he left off. After Big Papi doubled in Pedroia in the first, Lester dominated on the mound. His only mistake was a mammoth of a home run surrendered to Matt Holliday in the fourth. He hit it so far that Bud Selig was able to grow a full beard before the ball landed. Knotted at one, the Sox had something brewing in the seventh. With Saltalamacchia’s throwing woes, veteran David Ross had gotten the nod as catcher in games four, five and six. And he and his beard delivered a game-winning double in the top of the seventh. The Sox tacked on one more on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. With Lester and Uehara baffling the Cardinals’ bats, the Red Sox won 3-1 and the usually energetic St. Louis fans were dead silent. Those fans are baseball smart, and they knew that their Cardinal team had blown two huge opportunities to take control in the series.

Heading back to Boston, Wacha was due to take the mound in Game 6. Despite Wainwright being the team’s ace, it was Wacha who had been the Cardinals’ best pitcher in the playoffs. John Lackey was the starter for the Sox, the same Lackey that started and won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series for the Angels. The weather was cold and the Bostonians were anxious to win. The game creeped into the bottom of the third scoreless with 2 outs, when Shane Victorino came to bat with the bases loaded. The “Flying Hawaiian” proved Wacha’s mortality by lacing a double off the Green Monster in left to clear the bases. The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead and never looked back. They never had to. Stephen Drew smacked a home run and the Cardinals for the third consecutive game could not deliver the clutch hits. They continually set the table, but nobody wanted to eat. Lackey gave up only run and Uehara fittingly recorded the final out as the Red Sox won 6-1 and became the 2013 World Series champions. Babe Ruth somewhere smoked a cigar in tribute. Boston won in more ways than one.

The St. Louis Cardinals led the major leagues with a .330 batting average with runners in scoring position during the year but batted just a puny .214 during the World Series. Some would say it was because of great Boston pitching. Some would say the Cardinals bats picked a bad time to go into hibernation. Who knows  the real reason. Ortiz won the World Series MVP boasting a videogame-like .688 batting average. Given the events of the bombing during the Boston Marathon, this World Series had much more meaning than baseball for the city of Boston. Especially the way the Red Sox overcame a deficit, unprecedented events and an intimidating opposing ballpark. Just like their city during the crisis, the Red Sox were resilient, galvanized and determined.

This World Series might not be as celebrated as the one that broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, but its importance to the city is invaluable. The St. Louis Cardinals are young and will be back for many years to come. They ran into the beards of the Sox. Was it inopportune hitting? Great pitching? Or could it be fate?  Maybe it just was not in the Cards. I do know that this World Series was an amazing one to cap off one of the best baseball playoffs I can remember. The better teams won. In the end, the best team won. Congratulations Red Sox. Boston has a lot to be proud of.

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NBA 2013-2014 Season Preview

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The Cover 4.com presents you with NBA 2013-2014 Season Preview! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

THE DAY IS FINALLY NEAR! Second only to my birthday, and slightly more exciting than Christmas; the Rose is finally surfacing out the concrete, and boy isn’t it a beautiful sight? Of course, it’s only right that I start the first topic of discussion for the season with Chicago’s hometown hero, Mr. MVP himself, Derrick Rose. Not only am I excited about his return, but every NBA advocate is eager to see what a season-and-a-half long rehab session can do to a player. So far in the preseason, Rose has not lost a step, in fact, he’s taken control of the floor as if he never left. And I’m going to go ahead and throw this out there. Michael Jordan missed an entire season as well; granted he wasn’t injured, but a season-long absence by a superstar is nothing foreign to the Bulls. What impresses me most is how Rose has gone as far as to share advice with the second best point guard in the league in suggesting that Thunder guard Russell Westbrook not rush to get back on the floor and to properly rehabilitate his injury.

Season Superlatives:

Most Valuable Player LeBron James (MIA)

  • Only reason why I say this is because LBJ is feeling himself, and rightfully so. Don’t expect to see him post 34 points per game (even though he is capable of doing so), but do expect him to fully utilize the new talents of Michael Beasley in his effort at his third title. But I’m letting you know right now, my mans D-Rose will NOT be “giving” anything to him. October 29 will be a dogfight. Rose is showing the league that he’s back and LBJ is growing hungrier to surpass Jordan.

Rookie of the Year – Victor Oladipo (ORL)

  • Let me tell you something about this 21-year-old stand-out stunner. After coming off a PHENOMENAL summer league season he continues to make sure his name Oladipo is no longer considered foreign with his preseason play. This kid is explosive when driving to the paint, as well as a real threat from the arc. How many rookies can you consider to be multidimensional? Even LeBron had to work on his shot when he entered the league. He’s already averaging six, four and two. No, not six points, six BOARDS, four assists and two steals each game. This guy’s hustle is exactly the spark that will make an immediate impact on any team.

Most likely to NOT Succeed – Utah Jazz

  • Plain and simple: I just don’t see it happening there. They’re too unstable at this point. They couldn’t do it with Deron Williams, so naturally, I don’t see Trey Burke staying much longer than three or four years.

Most likely to Lose Your Money in a Bet – OKC Thunder

  • I’m a believer that Kevin Durant is the most lethal threat in the league, and with Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson as their x-factors, the Thunder WILL be a contender…however, what’s a contender without the their oxygen tank? After last year’s playoff performance, it has been proven that Westbrook is the fuel that keeps this car going. KD just isn’t the same flamethrower without his igniter. Now, for the love of all NBA 2K14 games and tournaments that I will be participating in this season, I REALLY hope that I am wrong. But Westbrook has proven to be such an intricate piece to this puzzle that it will be nearly impossible to replace him.

The Zero to Hero Award – GoldenState Warriors

  • With the most impressive addition of Andre Igoudala in their front court and Andrew Bogut in the back, I see these guys being not-so-silent killers of the NBA. This summer, Poppa Thompson was very active in the mentoring and developing of his young offspring, Klay. With Igoudala in the lineup, the Warriors now have four potential/future all-stars in Iggy, Thompson, Steph Curry and Harrison Barnes bringing some serious energy off the bench, the Warriors will rise this year and present themselves as one of the top contenders if all goes right.

The Sixth-Man – Harrison Barnes (GS)

  • It is almost a sure thing that with Iggy moving into the lineup, Barnes will move into the sixth-man spot, and I believe it for the best. Barnes’ explosiveness and energy will allow the Warriors to compete the entire 48 minutes. Watch him work!

Most Likely to Be Named Top Dawg – The Heat versus The Field

  • As much as I hate to admit it, there aren’t many teams capable of doing what the Heat have the potential of doing. Making the finals three times in a row is a pretty remarkable feat, especially when your star player is at the pique of his prime. Don’t discount the improvements that Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn have made, but the Heat have something that other teams are still building on: CHEMISTRY! This bulls eye that is on the backs of the Heat organization is going to cause what I believe to be a chemical combustion that will lead to a phenomenal season, and likely a third consecutive ring for LBJ and his troops.

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Pitching Reigns in October

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Pitching Reigns in October! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The World Series matchup is set. The Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Two storied franchises competing against each other. The ratings will be high, well higher than usual.  It’s a rematch of the 2004 World Series where the Red Sox swept and broke the Curse of the Bambino. Truth be told, this World Series is a real treat, and on paper one of the best ones in recent memory. Both teams have big-time hitters, but it was the pitchers that dominated the League Championship Series. The adage, “good pitching beats good hitting,” came to fruition and showed who reigns supreme on a baseball diamond.

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We had two phenomenal matchups in the League Championship Series with the Dodgers-Cardinals and Red Sox-Tigers. At a glance, many experts agreed that the Dodgers had a better pitching staff than the Cards with Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke against Adam Wainwright and a bevy of young pitchers. Many experts picked the Tigers to win it all with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez over veterans Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy. Well the experts were right that the better pitching staff won, but it just was not the ones they thought were better.

Game 1 in the Cardinals-Dodgers series shaped the tone for the entire series. Greinke faced rookie Joe Kelly in one of many pitchers duels in the LCS. The Dodgers and Cardinals each scored twice in the third inning. Zeroes hung on the scoreboard the rest of the way like Christmas tree ornaments. The Dodgers did what they did for many parts of the season. They got runners on, they got them over, but could not get them in. They even had a runner thrown out at home in the top of the 10th by Carlos Beltran, whose big two-run double tied the game at 2. And to seal the deal, Beltran roped a double down the line for the game-winning hit to win 3-2 and commence a great set of LCS games. The lead in the series was up for grabs and the Cardinals took it and never looked back.

In Game 2, the Dodgers put out their best pitcher, maybe the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, but it was another pitcher who made a name for himself. Michael Wacha, another rookie for the Cardinals, outpitched Kershaw in a 1-0 ballgame. This was not a soccer game, but it felt like it when the Cardinals scored their only goal, I mean run. The Cardinals had all the momentum heading to Los Angeles, but they got blanked by the rookie this time for Game 3. Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched beautifully and beat the Cardinals 3-0. Are you sensing a theme with these recaps yet?

Michael-Wacha

A big hit actually took place in Game 4 when Matt Holliday hit a mammoth two-run homer to help the Cardinals beat the Dodgers 4-2. A two-run lead felt like a blowout given the circumstances. The Cardinals’ World Series berth was put on hold when Greinke dealt and the Dodgers finally got some big hits, taking Game 5, 6-4. Going back to St. Louis with the Cardinals up 3-2, everyone felt Game 7 was inevitable with Kershaw on the mound again. However, people forgot about the real ace of this series, Wacha.

Yes, his last name sounds like a Russian’s favorite liquor, but the only thing strong about Wacha is his arm and his pitches. He continued to dominate the Dodger lineup while Kershaw had an inning to forget. The Cardinals batted around in the fourth, tallying four runs, and in essence, punching their ticket to the 2013 World Series. They won 9-0. In six games, the Dodgers scored 13 runs and pretty much half of them came in Game 5. Not even the antics and over-the-top emotions of Yasiel Puig could carry the Dodgers. His flaws were exposed by a gritty Cardinals team, and so were the rest of the Dodgers. Wacha, a pitcher, was named NLCS MVP, and we might just be seeing the tip of the iceberg with this young stud.

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The Dodgers made one of the most amazing turnarounds during the regular season and brought baseball excitement back to L.A. However, in the end, the Cardinals reminded us that baseball is a team sport and the team that spends the most money is not usually the one who wins. The Cardinals proved to have the best pitching, and consequently, they are now in great position to win the 2013 World Series.

In the ALCS, The Tigers and Red Sox boasted two of the most potent offenses in baseball. What a joke! The only crooked numbers seen in this series were strikeouts and number of beards, and there were many of them on both sides. There were two 1-0 games. This is mind boggling to a guy who has watched the Tigers and Red Sox score at will like an Oregon football team playing Arkansas State all year. But it still happened.  Good pitching happened. The Red Sox lost Game 1 1-0. Enough said. Those are the highlights. In all seriousness,  Sanchez pitched effectively wild and did not allow a hit in six innings pitched. In fact, the Red Sox got their first hit in the bottom of the 9th to break up the no hitter.

Game 2 will go down as one of the gems of this postseason. Down 5-0 in the bottom of the 6th, the Red Sox again got their first hit late in the ballgame  when Shane Victorino broke up Scherzer’s no hit bid. This led to their first run of the series. Trailing 5-1 in the bottom of the 8th, the Red Sox loaded the bases for David Ortiz. And the Red Sox version of Beltran did it again. On the first pitch, he cracked a line drive over the right field wall to dramatically tie the game with a grand slam. Torii Hunter missed the catch and flipped over the short wall like a gymnast. It was electric. Even Stephen King got scared in attendance with the eeriness in the air. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 9th to win 6-5 and in hindsight, win the series for the Red Sox.

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Returning to Detroit, momentum was up in the air, but the Tigers felt confident throwing their ace Verlander out on the bump. The Red Sox countered with Lackey. Verlander was dominant, surrendering only one mistake to Mike Napoli in the 7th. a home run that barely cleared the fence in left. And that led to another 1-0 game. Lackey ousted the ace, like Wacha did. The Tigers could not deliver the clutch hits, like the Dodgers. The Tigers did tie up the series by roughing up Peavy in Game 4. They won 7-3, the only non-competitive game in the series, and it led to a pivotal Game 5. The Red Sox jumped to an early 4-0 lead and grinded out a 4-3 win. Closer Koji Uehara got five outs for the save and halted any chances of a Tiger comeback.

Down 3-2 in the series heading back to Boston, the Tigers still felt optimistic with Scherzer and Verlander lined up to pitch. Game 6 featured another grand performance from an unlikely hero. Pitching dominated again.  Through six innings, the Tigers led 2-1. In the bottom of the 7th, the Red Sox fans found the bases juiced with Victorino up to bat and then the unthinkable happened.  No he did not shave his beard before his at bat, but he smacked another Red Sox grand slam, this time over the Green Monster in left. Uehara closed the deal again for his third save in the series. Not to mention, he won the other game when the Red Sox walked off in Game 2. The Red Sox won in 6 games advancing to the World Series and Uehara, a closer, yet alone a pitcher, was named MVP of the ALCS.

Jon Lester

The Red Sox and the Cardinals batted poorly throughout the LCS, but they got the hits when they counted. It was their pitching that carried them to the World Series. Each team featured emerging stars winning MVPs. Wacha on the front end. He beat Kershaw and shutout the Dodgers twice.  Those two feats alone in one series are reason enough to retire. And Uehara impacted every single game the Red Sox won against the Tigers, winning one and saving three games. The entire country of Japan has new requested membership to Red Sox Nation.

It is usually the hitters that get the awards. Hitters get the highlights. The home runs and game-winning hits. Hitters are the ones that play every game and provide the most impact. However, the only thing the bats have been touching these playoffs are the racks after recording outs, and lots of them. The final four teams had the best pitchers in baseball. The Cardinals and Red Sox might not have better pitchers than the Tigers or Dodgers, but they pitched better in the LCS, when it mattered most. Their bullpens were better. Their closers were better. And now we, as fans, are better off with this fantastic matchup for this year’s World Series. Two respected and admirable teams facing off in late October.  What could be better than this? Seven games would be a nice early Christmas gift. Will the pitching dominance continue to trend or will the hitters get the last laugh? This baseball fan is eager to watch and see. Stay tuned.

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October 23, 2013

The Cover 4.com presents you with The Sound Off by Long Island Sound! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

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Long Island Sound
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The Win Now Indianapolis Colts

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The Cover 4.com presents you with The Win Now Indianapolis Colts! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Coming into the 2013 NFL season, people weren’t expecting the Indianapolis Colts to replicate their magical 2012 success. Admittedly, I was one of these people. Through five games, the Colts are 4-1. If I told you before the season that they would be off to this type of start, you might not have been surprised because their schedule had them playing the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars which would seem like relative locks for wins. The Colts, however, took a different and more impressive route to their first four victories.

Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis ColtsThe lone loss for the Colts was handed to them by the Dolphins. I went back and looked at the box score, and the results were peculiar. The Colts led in all significant categories (total yards, passing yards, rushing yards, first downs, third down efficiency and time of possession) and each team turned it over once. The final score was 24-20, and you could say the Dolphins escaped with a win by the looks of that stat sheet. Their four wins include the aforementioned creampuffs Raiders and Jaguars but what sticks out is an impressive and dominant win against the San Francisco 49ers and a nail biter victory against the Seattle Seahawks’ vaunted defense. The Indianapolis Colts are no longer a team that should be regarded as average or maybe even above average. Advanced stats and metrics have come a long way, and the Colts’ 2012 season screamed overachievement by having the look of a 7-9 team while going 11-5. If you want some more nitty gritty on that, this article does a pretty good job outlining just how lucky they were last season. I tend to side with advanced metrics more often than not, but sometimes numbers can’t account for a variable that defies the logic and objectivity mathematics gives us. That variable is Andrew Luck.

 

Colts-Blog-322x276At the end of the 2012 season, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III were the talk of the town. They were all young quarterbacks that seemed to be the future stars of the NFL. It’s hard to believe a No. 1 pick in his rookie season didn’t generate much buzz (either good or bad) after his first season, but this was just the case. People (read: ESPN) love to sensationalize stories and games even if they gloss over the players and teams that are doing just as well or even better. For ESPN, everything has to fit a narrative. Even though the numbers clearly show that Griffin and Wilson had better numbers, they were also put in better positions to succeed than Luck. For Griffin, Mike Shanahan created a hybrid offense that was tailor made for him to excel, the read option and having a surprise rookie year from Alfred Morris played perfectly with his strengths as a quarterback. For Wilson, he had the support of a top-five running back (Marshawn Lynch) and also had a top-five defense protecting the lead for him, so he was not forced to do more than he had to. Luck had none of these royalties the other two were afforded. You could make an argument that the Colts running back tandem was serviceable, but they can not hold a candle to Morris and Lynch. Beyond Reggie Wayne, they didn’t attempt to surround him with weapons in his first year, even though Coby Fleener and T.Y. Hilton have emerged as legit NFL starters after  promising rookie campaigns. On top of that, the Colts gave up the most QB hits last year (114) which over a 16 game season amounts to a little bit more than seven hits a game, a ghastly figure. And to boot, their defense was  No. 25 in yards allowed on defense, so more often than not Luck was made to throw when defenses were expecting it, and most likely forced throws to try and mount a comeback. All of these shortcomings were not lost on Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay, who addressed all the shortcomings of the Colts this offseason and during the 2013 regular season. Irsay, known for not being complacent and certainly not reserved, pushed all the chips to the center of the table and went all in to bring the Indianapolis Colts another Lombardi Trophy.

NFL: Preseason-Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis ColtsBy  saying Irsay “pushed all his chips to the center of the table” it may have given  the impression that he made a rogue decision. This is certainly not the case, it was a smart and calculated move that I would be very happy with if I am a Colts fan. Part of the reason Irsay did right by selling out for Super Bowl aspirations is because Luck (and all young players on rookie deals) are on dirt cheap contracts under the new CBA. Some numbers: Russell Wilson’s cap hit ($700,000) for this year means that Mark Sanchez will make more money in one game than Wilson will all season. Yeah. However, draft position matters. Wilson was drafted in the third round, so he is compensated less than Griffin and Luck, who are at $5 million a year. With such incredible signal callers at bargain prices, it gives teams a chance to sign impact players they might not be able to afford once those rookie contracts are up. However, before the new CBA was signed, teams had to shell out the big bucks for their first overall picks before they even took a snap in the NFL. Case in point: Jamarcus Russell, who the Raiders paid $61 million ($32 million of which was guaranteed) to be an overweight black hole under center. Somewhat related: new Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor requested to wear #2 for his jersey number after Russell was released and was denied because the team didn’t want another quarterback wearing #2 again. Anyway,  I am 100% on board with Irsay being all in; having a world class quarterback only making $5 million the next couple years is a luxury few are offered. But just because I agree with the strategy doesn’t mean I agree with what he did with all that cap room.

To be fair, Irsay did address all the aforementioned shortcomings with his team, he just went about it in an illogical and more expensive way that will eventually come back to bite him. For their offensive line, the Colts signed Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas. The Thomas contract was a savvy signing, but the Cherilus contract seems to be a gross overpay and is not even the worst one they made. The worst contract they made was to Erik Walden, an above-average linebacker but not one that you pay $4 million year. The last particularly bad contract that sticks out is the one they gave to the marshmellow man himself, LaRon Landry. Landry, a safety who is a workout freak, keeps putting on muscle to his frame even though it makes him slower in pass coverage, so apparently Irsay thought the next logical step was to pay him $6 million a year. I appreciate the effort Irsay put into making his team better, even if that effort was somewhat misplaced. The final move that made the Colts throw their hat in for a Lombardi Trophy was when they made an in-season trade a few weeks into this year for enigmatic running back Trent Richardson. Richardson’s body of work certainly suggested that he wasn’t worth the first round pick the Colts had to give up for him, but I thought maybe Indianapolis could put him in a better position to succeed (namely: not having Brandon Weeden as his quarterback). That seems not to be the case, as Richardson seems on his way to be labeled as a bust after being taken  No. 3 overall in 2012. Another swing and a miss by Irsay.

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I will just bluntly say what I was eluding to in those previous couple of paragraphs: Irsay was handed an opportunity on a silver platter and simply screwed it up. In a particularly weak conference, if Irsay had made savvier signings in the offseason they might have been able to afford a couple more key players that could contribute in a big way. The Colts made a big splash on the first day of free agency, overpaying players they thought would also be sought after. Smarter teams stayed complacent, waiting until they had the leverage to underpay players because the players had no other option but to sign (cough cough Aqib Talib and the New England Patriots). Looking back, you could say that I was somewhat piling on Indianapolis with the decisions that it made, but my claims were justifiable. The Colts are still a good, if not very good, team, and can do some serious damage in the playoffs assuming they make it. It seems like they will be, because it seems like someone has a Matt Schaub voodoo doll and is just endlessly jabbing it with every pick six that poor human being throws. With the Texans faltering, the division seems ripe for the Colts to grab a stranglehold on. Irsay may have screwed up some decisions this past year, but it may not end up mattering with a stud like  Luck under center.

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October 11, 2013

The Cover 4.com presents you with The Sound Off by Long Island Sound! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

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October 4, 2013

The Cover 4.com presents you with The Sound Off! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

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The Burning Questions After Four Weeks

The Cover 4.com presents you with The Burning Questions After Four Weeks! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

One fourth of the NFL season is already in the books. Apart from the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers, each team has played a quarter of their games. Some teams have surprised, while other teams have wholeheartedly disappointed. There have been devastating injuries and surprising players. And god forbid, a blockbuster trade!

Before we get on to the completely arbitrary questions I made up for myself to answer, obviously four games in the NFL is an incredibly small sample size. Even 16 games is somewhat small, the Detroit Lions last year looked like a franchise on the decline at 4-12. Now in 2013, they look like a team that is almost at an elite level that could steal the NFC North from the Chicago Bears and Packers. Basically, what I am saying is all the successes or failures of your favorite teams or players should be taken with a grain of salt, so what I am going to do is try to figure out how big that grain of salt really should be.

How good are the Denver Broncos?

1380585127000-USP-NFL-Philadelphia-Eagles-at-Denver-Broncos-001Really freakin’ good. But not as good as everyone thinks. Before the pitchforks come out, let me explain: For one, their first four games were played against some god awful defenses. How bad? The “best” defense they played this year was the one that kicked off this season, against the Baltimore Ravens. Playing in the shadow of Joe Flacco, Peyton Manning was literally untouchable as he fired seven touchdowns against the defense while effectively ending anyone’s fantasy matchup before they even got to the Sunday games. After four games, the Ravens are ranked as the 11th best defense. Then there is the 16th (Oakland) and the worst two defenses in the league, the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles, respectively. If you’re an advanced metrics kind of guy, it gets even worse. I’ll spare the jargon, but those four teams are even more miserable in defensive DVOA. Denver’s offense is incredible and fun to watch no doubt, but just keep that tidbit in the back of your mind as we progress through the rest of the season

hi-res-158026589_crop_650x440Secondly, the Broncos have had some devastating injuries that haven’t been exposed yet. To start off, they lost their stud left tackle Ryan Clady. Everyone tends to forget that Manning is 37 years old and only a year and a half removed from four neck surgeries. One wrong hit and he’s done for the rest of year, effectively ending the Broncos season. The offensive line thus far has only given up five sacks (sack numbers are admittedly fluky, QB pressures and knockdowns are much more telling but have not been updated as of right now). But like stated before, the defenses Denver will be playing in the future coupled with Clady’s loss is most definitely a cause for concern. On the other side of the ball Broncos fans should be a little more worrisome, as their two most dynamic defensive players still haven’t played. The ongoing Von Miller saga is not very encouraging, as well as Champ Bailey’s injury that seems either more complicated or more worse than Denver originally let on. So far, this defense hasn’t been , but with games coming up against formidable offenses, I am fairly confident this defense will be torn apart sooner rather than later.

What should I make of the Trent Richardson trade?

NFL: Preseason-Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis ColtsThis one surprised everyone, and if someone told you other wise I would be weary of a protruding wooden nose. So, why? Let’s tackle the Cleveland Browns. First, the Dawg Pound are under a new regime. Trent Richardson had Mike Holmgren blood all over his dreadlocks, and new GM Mike Lombardi wanted to start from scratch with the core he wants to keep. If you look up Richardson’s stats they are remarkably unremarkable, especially for a first round pick. So to get a first round pick for a third or fourth round talent? Everyone with a brain would take that. I personally think Richardson is overrated, but if you think he still has potential, than you probably didn’t like the trade; just keep in mind Cleveland’s o-line is above average and Richardson couldn’t do squat. Regardless, the Browns are clearly dumping every valuable asset to tank for Teddy Bridgewater or Jadaveon Clowney, except no one accounted for Brian Hoyer the Destroyer leading them to two wins which seemingly gets them out of contention for the first two picks. This franchise can’t do anything right. But seriously, expect Josh Gordon to be traded by Week 8, also.

On the Indianapolis Colts side, everyone kind of shrugged off Jim Irsay’s frantic tweets about a big deal and just assumed he was crying wolf (two fairy tale references in two paragraphs, mind you). Is it possible for me to be a fan of what both teams ended up with? The Colts are clearly all in, trying to fit as many impact players on this roster while still having an Andrew Luck contract on the books for dirt cheap. Now instead of Trent Richardson being the focus of a defense for them to shut down, he is now an afterthought compared to Luck and emerging weapons TY Hilton, Coby Fleener, and the always dependable Reggie Wayne; Richardson is finally in a place to succeed. We’ll know if he is a legit talent by the end of the season.

Let’s play the Grain of Salt game

This will be a (relatively) condensed version of the Denver Broncos section. Keep in mind, the Grain of Salt game can go both ways. For example, I think the Miami Dolphins are over achieving, so obviously I’m taking their success with a small grain of salt. But I also think the Bengals are under achieving, so I would take their poor record so far with an equally small grain of salt. Oh, you already understand how this rudimentary game works? Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult your intelligence.

new-england-patriots-nfl-training-camp-2013New England Patriots – We’re starting with them because I am an unapologetic homer. This grain of salt is relatively big. Look, I may be a homer but I am realistic. The amount of salt isn’t just because they are 4-0, it is because they are 4-0 without arguably the most dynamic tight end in the game and two rookie wide receivers who are on a crash course of learning the quirks of the NFL with an intense and screaming quarterback that would make a Marine drill sergeant blush. Their defense is stout (6th best scoring defense, 4th best DVOA) but I would be remiss to mention the absolutely devastating loss of Vince Wilfork. The Patriots are still here, but they never really left in the first place.

Cincinnati Bengals – Also mentioned above, all they need is Andy Dalton to step up. He may have gotten the benefit of the doubt by making the playoffs a lot early in his career, but under that red lettuce we’ve come to love and know might actually lay an average quarterback given a great chance to succeed. Like I mentioned in my preview, the Bengals gave him all the weapons to prove himself, and he is also backed with an above average defense to boot. This may be a ride or die season for the Red Rifle.

Jacksonville Jaguars – They would get the biggest grain of salt imaginable if this section were titled ‘The Jadaveon Clowney Grain of Salt Game’. Well, unless this comes to fruition.

Kansas-City-Chiefs-Team-Preview-2013-640x454Kansas City Chiefs – Almost everyone saw a Chiefs resurgence coming, but this team is legitimately good and will most likely snag a wild card spot with their 4-0 start. They have the second best scoring defense, but they have played a couple cupcakes. Alex Smith is doing Alex Smith things, which is not to turn the ball over and forgetting the NFL allows passes to be completed more than 20 yards down the field.

Miami Dolphins – Previously mentioned them, but I am not buying their success (or not buying their grains of salt?). Lamar Miller is a poor man’s Reggie Bush, meaning he is not a serviceable every down back but is more than capable of breaking off a big play. I like Ryan Tannehill more than I hate him, but that isn’t saying much. Their defense is right at league average, and their offense is ranked 8th in DVOA, but they are closer to the 17th best team (Oakland) than the second (Green Bay) so that is misleading at first glance.

What has gotten into Philip Rivers?

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh SteelersAll signs point to Philip Rivers making a trip in the offseason to the Nile River and washing away all evidence of Norv Turner off his body. But in all seriousness, it is safe to say Rivers has always been the same (more or less) he just hasn’t been able to stay upright. So far in 2013, Rivers has been sacked only three times (all against Chicago) while being taken down an egregious 13 times last year through four games. The previously mentioned Norv Turner absence may have injected some much needed faith, but the tangible results point directly to the offensive line’s big improvement.

So there you have it. I tried to keep it short in terms just because of half-season power rankings coming out after Week 8, where I will break down each team’s ascension or decension from my preseason rankings. Making fun of myself will most assuredly be included.

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NHL Season Preview Part 1:Atlantic Division

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The Cover 4.com presents you with the NHL Season Preview Part 1:Atlantic Division! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The 2013-14 NHL season is going to look a little different, in terms of teams, divisions and players, all of which have undergone major change. For the upcoming season, the realignment of the NHL is in full effect and there are new divisional names and a new playoff system.  The biggest change in the realignment is the shift of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference. There will be new rivalries that were never able to exist in the past. The playoffs will take 16 teams, eight from each conference, and seed them. Under the new alignment, Eastern Conference teams, now consisting of the Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions, will have 30 games against their division opponents and 24 games against conference opponents outside of their division as well as 28 interconference games. To start our season preview, lets take a look at the Atlantic Division.

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BOSTON BRUINS

The Bruins skated their way last year into the Stanley Cup Final facing off against the Chicago Blackhawks, but lost in six games. The Bruins had a bit of a wild offseason in terms of players coming and going. The Bruins traded young forward and former No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars after a disappointing year on and off-the-ice. His return netted the Bruins a natural goal scorer in Loui Eriksson, who will likely be paired on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Eriksson has been a reliable source of offense, producing three consecutive 70-plus point seasons before a subpar shortened season last year. Gone are Jaromir Jagr and Nathan Horton, but Boston went out signed 36-year-old Jarome Iginla in place of Jagr. Iginla is on the downside of his career, but he should fit in nicely with Boston’s style of play. The Bruins also lost defenseman Andrew Ference to Edmonton, which is their only notable loss on defense. Zdeno Chara will continue to lead the Bruins blue line as veterans Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg are dependable. Dougie Hamilton had an outstanding promising rookie year and could become a top pairing defenseman soon. Also in the mix are Torey Krug , who made a name for himself in the playoffs, Matt Bartkowski, Adam McQuaid  and Joe Morrow, who also came over in the Seguin trade. In goal Tuukka Rask looks to build off a career year and strong playoff appearance as he is now the long-term solution in net for the next eight years. If Rask goes down, Boston will be in trouble as backups Chad Johnson and Niklas Svedberg have little, to no NHL experience.  Boston should be the favorite for this division.

Sabres goalie Ryan Miller sits on the ice after being scored on  during their NHL hockey game in Toronto

BUFFALO SABRES

Buffalo is basically in a rebuilding mode as it has a very weak team and little depth on its roster. Thomas Vanek is the veteran and big name who is looking to lead and carry the team after having his most productive season last year. The forwards for Buffalo are less than ideal and more promise and future hope than what can you do for me now.  Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis are two of Buffalo’s most optimistic players as the youngsters combined for 65 points in 2013 and should be looking for a breakout year in a full season. Mikhail Grigorenko, who was looked at as a promising hope of offensive production last year as a rookie, struggled to find his game and managed just one goal in 25 games. He does have the size and skill to be productive if given a full season to play.  Other forwards include Ville Leino, who signed a $26 million contract two years ago, who needs to stay healthy and produce as he has been nothing but a bust thus far. Buffalo will also have the likes of Steve Ott, who is used to create space and open play for guys like Drew Stafford who had the one of the worst seasons of his career last year.  Once promising youngster Tyler Myers, a 6-foot-8 defenseman, saw his minutes drop as he became nothing but a problem every time he was on the ice. The Sabers need improved play from him moving forward to have any chance of success this year. In net, Ryan Miller who many thought would be dealt last year, is back. Miller has been in steady decline since 2010 and his backup, Jhonas Enroth, didn’t look very promising either last year. It looks like it is going to be along year for Buffalo and fans can expect trades to happen and wins hard to come by.

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DETROIT RED WINGS

The Original Six team joins the Eastern Conference this year and enters as an already formidable opponent. Detroit has wanted this switch for years and it finally has it now, as it has a time schedule that is much more suitable for the team.  Detroit will have a much easier conference than years past, but still play top division teams like Pittsburgh, Boston and Montreal. Detroit was expected to have a down year last year, but went beyond expectations. Detroit has an abundance of forwards but is $2.5 million over the cap, which it will need to get down to before October 2. They added long time Ottawa  Senator, Daniel Alfredsson, as their top free agent signing as well as Stephen Weiss who will be replacing Valtteri Filppula. Alfredsson should be motivated to win a Cup as Detroit is a legitimate contender and practically quit on Ottawa last year after going down in its series to Pittsburgh. Weiss escapes a bad Florida team and can finally just be the play maker he is, and not the go-to guy he was expected to be.  Having Pavel Datysuk and Henrik Zetterberg should help him finally be himself on the ice and see his creativity go to work. Darren Helm will start the season on the IR and has had trouble staying healthy. Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Mikael Samuelsson can all be depended upon and know what their roles are on the team. Their defense was a question mark heading into last season but this year, it should be a sound defensive unit. The defense is young, a change from years past and features Danny DeKeyser and Alexei Marchenko as players to watch. Ericsson, Kyle Quincey and Kronwall are the veteran leaders on defense.  Jimmy Howard has a chance to be a top goaltender in this league and his playoff success from last year shows he can carry them deep into the playoffs. Detroit will be fighting with the Bruins at the top of the Atlantic this year.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Florida Panthers

FLORIDA PANTHERS

There is not much to say about this team other than they are going to need a miracle to even sniff the playoffs this year. They have lots of high ceiling guys, but all offered minimal production. In 2012 they were the best team in their division, but are nothing more than basement dwellers now. They have the 2013 Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau, who is their top young forward trying to lead Florida back into hockey relevancy. They signed veteran Scott Gomez, who is nothing more than a wasted paycheck anymore, during the offseason and have invited goaltender Tim Thomas to camp for a tryout. Thomas took all of last year off and even if he does make the team, he is nothing more than a backup and mentor.  Florida is led by forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg on the first line. As I said before, hope is bleak in the SunshineState. A few other notable forwards will be Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall and Marcel Goc as bottom-tier players.  Jacob Markstrom is expected to be the team’s go-to goalie and Florida needs him to be its future goalie. It’s going to be a long year in Florida, not that many will notice, as the Panthers have one of the lowest attendance figures in the league. Count on them to finish last.

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MONTREAL CANADIENS

The Habs didn’t really do much in the offseason in terms of getting better, as they only signed Danny Briere, George Parros and Douglas Murray. None of those three are expected to be game changers for this team. Montreal is banking off its late season surge last year, and feels it already has the necessary pieces in place to compete. Its division gets a little tougher this year but it has the skill and speed to keep up. It needs size and toughness which is what Murray and Parros are for. David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Rene Bourque are expected to be the point producers while the bottom two lines expect to wear you down. Lars Eller, Brian Gionta and Brandon Prust are very tough bottom-six names who can give you problems and chip in on the score sheet.  Montreal has a lot of depth on its team and remains solid overall. PK Subban will be his usual self on defense scoring goals and creating problems for other teams, as he is one of the best agitators in the league. Alexei Emelin will also be a name to look for as a key on Montreal’s blue line. Carry Price is signed for another five years and he has become a reliable goalie after showing signs early in his career that he couldn’t handle pressure. Expect Montreal to be a top 3-4 contender in this division.

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OTTAWA SENATORS

Daniel Alfredsson shocked a lot of people in the NHL by leaving Ottawa. It was a true blow to the fans to see the sides only $1 million off and not get a deal done. Maybe he didn’t really want to come back? Either way, it can be argued the Senators made the biggest offseason trade, going out and getting high-scoring winger Bobby Ryan from Anaheim for Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen. Ryan had been dealing with trade rumors the past few years and he can finally just relax and know it is over.  Ryan will be playing top-three minutes every night and has play-making ability to open space and make his linemates better. Ottawa fans should be excited about this trade because Ryan brings a wealth of talent to an already highly-skilled team.  He should be on a line with (who I assume to be the new captain) Jason Spezza. Spezza is a great passer and there should be a lot of chemistry between the two. Rounding out that line will be Milan Michalek. Kyle Turris will play with newly signed Clarke MacArthur and possibly Cory Conacher or Mika Zibanejad. Erik Karlsson is looking for another nomination for the Norris Trophy this year after being injured for most the year on a play by Matt Cooke last year. The Sens also went out and signed Joe Corvo to play with guys like Eric Gryba and Chris Phillips on the backend. If Craig Anderson can stay healthy, he is a Vezina-type goalie who should be able to backstop this team into a playoff spot. Look for them to be fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the division.

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TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Longtime face of the franchise Vincent Lecavalier is gone. His offensive production won’t be missed, but his leadership will. This team is looking to rebound from being one of the worse teams in the league last year, something no one in the NHL saw coming. Valtteri Filppula was their notable free agent signing and was given a lot of money after a disappointing season in Detroit. General Manager Steve Yzerman believes he will have a bounceback year centering the second line with either Teddy Purcell, Alexander Killorn, 2013 No. 2 overall pick Jonathan Drouin or veteran power forward Ryan Malone. My guess would have to be Drouin because he seems more like a natural fit for that line, However, if Drouin struggles early, could he be returned to junior after nine games? I could see Killorn on the top line after he was one of Tampa’s most productive scorers in the AHL. Head coach John Cooper, who took over late last year, should have had more time to establish a system that uses a combination of speed and skill. It could lead to a tougher time for the defense, but their strength is going to be on offense.  Tampa needs to be more consistent this year, after starting last year hot and then resembling a team that forgot how to play. It could score goals, but it could not hold onto leads. In goal, the completion between Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback provides no clear cut favorite for now. Both are big goalies and have the skill set to be number ones, but Tampa is usually a revolving door of goalies. I expect Tampa to struggle this year defensively, and be a brink playoff team thanks to its offense.

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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

The Leafs have what might be their best team in more than 10 years, and they are deep with talent. Their top two lines will be Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk as line one and Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri and newly-signed David Clarkson on the second. I love the addition of Clarkson to this team because he gives them another big body on the top two lines and has proven he knows how to use his size around the net. Kessel is playing for a new contract and as the old adage goes, guys in contract years are motivated and should produce. The bottom six brings new addition Dave Bolland, fresh off a Stanley Cup with Chicago, and talented Russian Nikolai Kulemin. Dion Phaneuf is the team’s best defenseman and had an up and down year last year, but was still a reason for Toronto making the playoffs. He was top 10 defenseman scoring and was often paired against teams’ best players. He may not be a true shutdown defenseman, but he knows how create problems for setting up plays. Jake Gardiner is also a defenseman who will be the Leafs go-to offensive defenseman. Toronto’s biggest concern is its overall defense, as it are often facing a barrage of shots each game. Shots lead to scoring chances and this is something it needs to improve upon. In net, James Reimer is the starter while Jonathan Bernier will push for starting duties. Bernier was the Leafs trade acquisition from the Kings in June and is considered a future No. 1 if Reimer is not capable of fulfilling his duties. I expect Toronto to be a playoff tean this team year, somewhere in the 5-7 seed range.

The Atlantic Division will see the return of some of the sport’s best rivalries with Detroit joining the division again, and it will be a fun division to watch. We are only getting started here at the Cover 4 with our NHL season preview, and tomorrow we shift our focus out West to the Central Division. Today, we will leave you with our three choices to secure the divisional playoff bids:

Boston

Detroit

Montreal

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