GB-NOR Preview…Okla State Football…NL 1st Baseman
The NFL finally gets started tonight and after a summer of discontent the league is giving fans a great game to start it off with, as New Orleans goes to Green Bay. It’s a matchup of the last two Super Bowl champions, two of the league’s marquee quarterbacks and—more importantly—there’s a reasonable chance that the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs could come down to what happens tonight.
As part of the Notebook’s game previews this year, I’m going to introduce a new element and it’s the Projected Vegas Score(PVS). Nothing earth-shattering, it’s just the combination of the pointspread and over/under total combined to get the final score that lands closest to both, and allows for modest tweaking to get it to a true “football score” if such can be done without pulling it too far from its original starting point. The PVS for tonight is Green Bay 26 New Orleans 21. Let’s jump into the matchup and see how that looks…
The big battle of the night is going to be the Green Bay blitz packages, led by Clay Matthews, going up against Drew Brees. The Saints quarterback is outstanding and reading blitzes and getting rid of the ball, but there’s a distinct problem tonight and it’s that both Packer corners can cover man-on-man. If New Orleans is going to make Green Bay pay for their aggressiveness, then wideout Marques Colston has to beat either Charles Woodson or Tramon Williams immediately off the ball and get open quickly.
In return, New Orleans has to get pressure of their own. The Saints play a 4-3 and have two unestablished ends in Turk McBride and Jeff Charleston. But Green Bay has a potential vulnerability at tackle, where Chad Clifton is long in the tooth and Bryan Bulaga plays his first year at the position. The Green Bay offensive line also has to show it can establish the run, something they didn’t do most of last year, but suddenly found during their playoff run.
Green Bay’s big wild-card is the return of tight end Jermichael Finley, who missed the last 13 games a year ago, plus the entire postseason. Big and athletic, he is impossible to match up with—too fast to be handled by a linebacker, too big to be covered by a defensive back. With Aaron Rodgers already having a dynamite package of four receivers, Finley is just another jewel in the treasure chest.
Overall, I believe the Packers have too many weapons offensively and beating them in Lambeau too tall an order for anyone. I think the betting markets underestimate the Pack and that PVS is too close. Green Bay wins this one 31-17 and it never feels close.
OKLAHOMA STATE TAKES THE SPOTLIGHT
There are big expectations this year for Oklahoma State and tonight they get a chance to show off for a national audience, at least the few football fans who will watch Okie State-Arizona over the Green Bay-New Orleans NFL game. But if you do flip on ESPN sometime after 7:30 PM ET, you’ll see an OSU program that has an explosive offense, a decent defense and at least a puncher’s chance of making a dark horse run to a Big 12 title and possible trip to the national championship game.
Justin Blackmon is the top wide receiver in the country, and has a solid quarterback in Brandon Weeden to get him the football. And if you’re hoping to pressure Weeden into mistakes, don’t get your hopes up. The QB is protected by a veteran offensive line—all five starters return and four of them are seniors. Points are going to be scored in bunches this fall in Stillwater.
Defensively, Mike Gundy’s team needs to show it can consistently pressure the quarterback and tonight’s game will be a good test. Arizona has a good passer of its own in Nic Foles, and receiver Juron Criner can get open and make plays. Okie State has two senior defensive ends that need to play well this year, so keep an eye on Richetti Jones and Jamie Blatrick to see if they get their names mentioned. They match up with a completely rebuilt offensive line, so if the Cowboys can’t get pressure here, it’s fair to wonder what happens when they play Texas A&M later this month or Okahoma in November. If OSU can get a good pass rush, they have an experienced secondary on hand.
After tonight’s game, Gundy takes his team on the road. They go to Tulsa next Saturday, a decent program, but one Oklahoma buried 47-14 in the opener. If the Cowboys are an elite team, they should be able to do the same. Then on September 24 it’s a battle royal for Texas A&M and the right to see who’s the dark horse challenger to the top-ranked Sooners in the Big 12.
VOTTO STILL THE CLASS OF NL 1ST BASEMAN
Cincinnati’s Joey Votto rolled to an MVP award a year ago, as the Reds were a surprise division winner and the first baseman’s potent bat the biggest reason why. With Cincinnati a disappointment this time around, Votto isn’t get the same kind of attention. But he’s still the same explosive offensive threat, and still the National League’s top first baseman in what remains a close race, as the Notebook builds towards it’s season-ending All-Star ballot.
Votto’s power isn’t what it was last year, but he’s still slugging .523 and has hit 26 home runs. And he’s getting on base at an outstanding .427 clip. He does the advantage of hitting in Cincy’s hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark, but at the same time he really doesn’t have the offensive support around him that a Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols does. Which is why Votto is still holding on to my vote with less than four weeks to play.
Fielder and Pujols complete what’s a fantastic collection of first basemen in the National League Central. The Brewer first sacker is right on Votto’s heels, with a .406 OBP and better power, as 31 home runs key a .540 slugging. Fielder also has 108 RBIs. Pujols, in spite of a bad first month and them a DL stint with a broken wrist is still putting up good numbers. He’s still somehow up to 34 home runs, even with the missed time and is slugging .549.
Honorable mention goes to Colorado’s Todd Helton who has a .387 on-base percentage, but lacks the power to be an All-Star, Philly’s Ryan Howard, who has 31 home runs, but a sub-.500 slugging percentage. And the biggest honorable mention goes to a rising star in Washington, Michael Morse. His .366/.566 OBP/slugging line, plus 26 home runs make him a legitimate candidate to steal the vote for himself by year’ end. He just got a little later start than everyone else.
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