A-Rod, Jeter on the Comeback Trail for the Yanks

Will Jeter's return come with results and a switch from shortstop?

I have to admit I didn’t see the New York Yankees being as close to the top of the American League East standings as they as we get ready to enter July. With very little Mark Teixeira and no appearances yet from Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, it really is a testament to Manager Joe Girardi, General Manager Brian Cashman and the players themselves that they are still within shouting distance of division-leader Boston.

With Teixeira now under-going season-ending surgery on his wrist, the returns of Rodriguez and Jeter could not come sooner despite the fact that their expected return dates are still unknown as of yet. Obviously the Yankees would love to have the leadership and clutch-hitting of Jeter back as well as a powerful right-handed bat which A-Rod can hopefully provide.

What you should find intriguing about this is just what will the return of these two guys ultimately mean for the Yankees in the final three months of the Major League season.

The argument can be made that A-Rod may actually come in a provide more in the way of numbers. Actually, any improvement would help their 26th best batting average of .236 which makes their current standing all the more impressive. Rodriguez is of course coming off of hip surgery and on his new Twitter account last week proclaimed himself “ready” which didn’t sit well with Cashman who was pretty clear that the doctors have not officially cleared him yet.

The Yankees are desperate for some more power which A-Rod could provide when he returns.

Yankees’ President Randy Levine said “We need Alex back.” If he means in the purest baseball sense, which I believe he does, he is right. The problem is that A-Rod is such a polarizing figure that many fans will not be crazy to see him. Don’t forget he may have yet another performance-enhancing drug issue hanging over his head with the coming forward of the South Florida doctor. Levine isn’t a fool and clearly knows that the Yanks would love nothing better than to dump his monstrous salary which they are on the hook for for another few years. I don’t see any team wanting A-Rod regardless of how well he performs because of his contract so I believe the Yankees will have to eat it.

In Jeter’s case, he is recovering from that broken ankle suffered against the Detroit Tigers in the first game of the American League Championship Series last October. He was thought to be back for the season opener but suffered a setback in spring training. No figure in pinstripes will receive a more hearty welcome back than Jeter which of course is deserved but will he be able to put up productive numbers?

Perhaps the better question is from what position will Jeter be playing? His top replacement, Eduardo Nunez is getting ready to come off the DL as well and at 26 years old, has much better range than the 39-yeard old Jeter. It’s possible we could see Jeter in a DH role against left-handers because he still has great success against them versus only average success against righties. With Teixeira gone, is first place a possibility? From time to time I believe it is.

Honestly, I don’t think it matters if both men come back and play well in 2013. Boston appears to be deeper and have more pitching and the Baltimore Orioles could have the same thing said about them. I feel like Tampa will hang around but just doesn’t have enough horses while Toronto needed a recent 11-game winning streak just to pull back withing five game of the Sox. I have no doubt the Yanks will add some guys at the trade deadline if they are still hovering around the five-games out area. I don’t believe it will be enough however so put your money elsewhere because we all know A-Rod doesn’t exactly handle pressure very well.

Post-Draft NBA Odds for 2014

James and Spoelstra
James and Spoelstra
James and Spoelstra are favored to win a third-straight title.

I’ve been so swept up by hockey, baseball, Aaron Hernandez and the NBA Draft that I’ve completely forgotten to congratulate the Miami Heat on their riveting seven-game series win over San Antonio. This is the Heat’s third title and LeBron James’ second straight. We haven’t been witness to a Finals this good in years in my opinion and now we already turn our focus to the 2013-2014 season just days after the draft.

If you’re thinking of laying some dough on next year already then let me give you the top contenders and their odds and I’ll even throw in a few potential long-shots for your entertainment.

Miami Heat 2-1 The Heat did nothing to add to their roster through the draft because they didn’t have a pick but they did exercise options on Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen is sticking around as well. The big question I have for Miami is the health of Dwyane Wade. Reports are that he had his knee drained prior to game seven and it hampered him throughout the playoffs. He and Chris Bosh were both absent at times during the playoffs but they survived. Can they next season?

The Thunder added seven-footer Adams to bolster the middle.

Oklahoma City Thunder 11-2 I don’t believe the Thunder would have won the title this past season had Russell Westbrook not been injured but his loss certainly was the nail in the coffin of their playoff run. In order for OKC to be a legitimate threat next season they need a third scorer who used to be James Harden. His absence was especially glaring with Westbrook out. I love the Thunder’s first round draft pick in seven-footer Steven Adams of Pitt. He will provide tremendous size and a defensive presence despite being a bit raw.

Brooklyn Nets 10-1 The Nets jumped to this position with the trade that brings Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn from Boston but long-term I think this will hurt the Nets as they gave up youth and a lot of draft picks. What that means is they must win now and with a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd. The Nets will have a really good starting five and added Duke’s Mason Plumlee in the first round the other night. He will provide some rebounding and defense off the bench. The Nets have a very small window due to age and health of Garnett and Pierce and that makes me leery of laying cash on them.

Los Angeles Clippers 10-1 The Clippers immediately jumped to this spot with the addition of coach Doc Rivers who I believe will take both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to new heights as players. The Clips also added shooting guard Reggie Bullock from North Carolina in the draft. It’s amazing that a coach like Vinny del Negro was fired after a 56-win season but this is a player’s league and there was certainly friction. I expect the Clips to once again win the Pacific but I’m not sure I’m willing to lay money on them winning the title just yet.

The Longer Shots Golden State at 25-1 is one I’d take a shot on. The guard play is outstanding and if healthy the bigs can be effective. Atlanta Hawks 66-1 is another I like especially if they land Dwight Howard. I love their pick of Shane Larkin in the draft as he can provide solid minutes at the point to compliment Al Horford and company. Portland Trail Blazers 100-1 Portland was on the verge several times last season of making a go at the playoffs but fell short. I like the drafting of scorer C.J. McCollum and they added size and smarts with Jeff Withey from Kansas. I can see them making a run in the playoffs next year.

Fantasy Guys to Grab or Send to the Minors

Jed Lowrie is a guy that provides great depth to larger fantasy leagues.

The last thing I’m going to do is sit here and tell you that I’m a ‘Fantasy Sports Expert.’ I believe those titles are reserved only for those who must study an ungodly amount of statistical data that makes me want to go into the fetal position as I often did during 11th grade algebra. Admittedly, I’m an old-school guy when it comes to baseball. You can have your WAR and your WHIP all you want to and while I do agree they are useful tools I still like the straight-forward numbers of batting averages, on-base percentages and quality starts.

I also like ‘feel’ too. I think it’s important to look at a guy’s numbers over certain period and see what he is or isn’t doing. Take Oakland A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie for example. I’m in a keeper league with players ranging from extremely knowledgeable and aggressive to players who check their rosters once every three-four weeks. We play for an undisclosed amount of money that will not bankrupt us but certainly allows for serious bragging.

Back to Lowrie… I picked him up early in the season when my shortstop, Yunel Escobar was not producing. Lowrie started the season hot hitting three home runs in the first week! Just my luck because he hasn’t hit one since April 7th. With that said, in a 12-team league, he is still a guy you need to have on your roster because while he isn’t hitting for power, he does hit the ball.

Lowrie is now hitting .305 on the season and continues to collect RBIs and score runs. If I’m in a six to eight team league then Lowrie isn’t near my lineup at all but when you get into the 12 and higher leagues he becomes an extremely valuable asset to have. At this point in the season, you need to find guys like this who can compliment your power and big number guys.

Since joining the big club, Martin has gotten hotter and you should consider his services.

Here’s a look at some guys to consider and those you should send packing.

Top recently added guys on average from several different sites… Joaquin Benoit, RP Detroit. With Jose Valverde finally sent to the showers for good, it looks like the closer’s role will fall to Benoit. I think you’ll see positive results from him but he isn’t a guarantee every time so I’d be very cautious… Leonys Martin, OF Texas. This cat has hit in 11-straight games and provides players with decent power numbers as well as speed on the base paths. He’s a great play if you are dealing with injuries in center field right now… Nick Franklin, SS Seattle. Despite having just over 80 at-bats, the youngster gets the bat on the ball and recently had an eight-game hitting streak. He has a little bit of pop and good speed and should be considered in larger leagues where shortstops are injured or not delivering.

Guys you should send packing yesterday… Rick Porcello/Jose Valverde, SP/RP Detroit. Valverde is self-explanatory while Porcello is a little more complex yet related to Valverde. Porcello was having a strong year with improved innings and strikeout numbers until disasters in his recent starts. That could be because he knows he is trade bait as the Tigers look for a legitimate closer… Heath Bell, RP Arizona. With J.J. Putz coming back from injury I expect Bell to be removed from the closer’s role. He’s been very up and down in that spot anyway so dumping him might be a good move… Kelly Johnson,UTIL Tampa. Johnson has been mainly used at second base but Wil Meyers will hold that down now and despite 11 home runs, Johnson will spend even more time on the bench.


Hernandez’s Issues Illustrate That Little Has Changed

Hernandez's situation is unfortunately all too familiar despite the NFL's attempts to curb them.

The police in Massachusettes yesterday arrested Aaron Hernandez taking him in cuffs from his home around 9am. Within about 90 minutes, the New England Patriots cut ties with Hernandez by releasing him. This signaled that the Pats’ felt this was more than just an obstruction of justice charge and they were right. Hernandez was charged with six felonies including first-degree murder and the store inside of Gillette Stadium had already removed everything related to Hernandez from their shelves.

Regardless of what comes out of the pending Aaron Hernandez trial, a troubling trend has continued in the world of professional athletics and in the NFL in particular. Back in 2000, Baltimore Ravens’ star Ray Lewis was involved in a double-murder yet to what extent no one will ever know. He eventually plead to a charge of obstruction of justice which ironically is what Hernandez was facing before the murder charge was filed. Like the current case, Lewis’ had evidence come up missing or had evidence tampered with as well but this isn’t the point.

Over the last 13 years since the Lewis incident, we have seen similar brushes with the law with NFL players in which they are surrounded by their ‘friends.’ From Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones to Michael Vick to the infamous Vikings’ cruise, we have seen players surround themselves with people they believe to be their friends yet take advantage of them and their celebrity.

What is sad is that many of these individuals who find themselves part of an athlete’s ‘entourage’ are in fact lifelong friends who are genuinely wanted to be around but what is occurring is that these friends are taking advantage of the wealth and privilege of their professional football playing friends.

Adam Jones
Is Pacman really the guy we want speaking to NFL rookies?

In the current situation with Aaron Hernandez, many things have been coming to light about his past and none of them appear to be good. This current investigation may in fact be Hernandez’s third incident involving a shooting and there has been significant links to gang activity as well.

While having former players like LaVarr Arrington and Desmond Howard there were positive moves as was the addition of Niners’ tight end Vernon Davis who has matured a lot in his time in the league, the NFL still doesn’t do enough to make guys aware of what dangers are out there lurking. To their credit, the league did address the rookies in terms of sexual harassment and abuse but players still don’t understand how easily they can find themselves in a heap of trouble.

NFL players must recognize who their friends are versus who their ‘acquaintances’ are because the distinction can often be the difference between having a successful, long-term NFL career and one littered with poor judgement. When Michael Vick’s dog-fighting operation was discovered, the majority of people involved in it with him were lifelong friends. Did none of these guys understand what they were doing was wrong? The culture for so many of these players is to put their friends above everything else. It’s often admirable, but at the same time it’s also dangerous and leads to the problems that are facing Aaron Hernandez today.

Bringing Baseball Back into Focus



Puig, shown here in Spring Training, has been excellent since joining the team 19 games ago.

If any professional sports league is like a roller coaster it has to be Major League Baseball. America’s Pastime (arguable I know) starts with such excitement and promise for every team in the league in late March or early April and then goes through ups and downs that only the folks at Disney World or Six Flags could relate.

Baseball immediately shares time with college basketball’s Final Four and then gets some attention. Eventually the playoffs in both the NHL and NBA begin and baseball gets pushed to the back burner but before too long, the seasons end and baseball becomes the only game in town until NFL training camps open in late July.

If you’ve been sleep-walking your way through the baseball season because of your attention paid to hockey, hoops or horse racing, then I’m here to catch you up on what’s going on in the Majors.

Blue Jays
The hot Blue Jays have made the AL East the tightest and best division in baseball.

Best Division – Without question the American League East is the most competitive top to bottom especially with Toronto on an eleven game winning streak heading into play last night. All five teams in the division are separated by five games with Boston on top of the Orioles by two games, the Yankees by 2.5, and the Jays and Rays by five.

I honestly don’t think you’ll see a lot of movement in this division through the summer and into September because each team has flaws that aren’t going to be cured by a trade or two at the deadline. New York could get a boost from Derek Jeter’s return but when that is is anyone’s guess. Despite losing three of four in Detroit, Boston may still be the team to beat in the East.

Worst Division – Coming in ahead of the AL Central is the National League East where only Atlanta is above the .500 mark as they lead second-place Washington by six games and Philadelphia by 7.5. The Braves don’t really do anything amazing but they pitch extremely well and seem to get big hits when they need them most.

The Nationals have to be the most disappointing team in baseball right now as they sit at 37-38 heading into last night’s action. I certainly don’t know everything going on there, but I would not be a bit surprised to see a significant change either in the clubhouse or on the field because there is too much talent for this team to be where it is.

Breakout Player so Far – Since joining the Dodgers 19 games ago, Yasiel Puig has set the Majors on fire. The 6’3″ 245lbs outfielder looks as athletic as any player I’ve seen come up in a long time and the results are validating that. Puig is hitting .425 with six home runs and 12 RBIs. His on-base percentage is also solid at .462.

Unexpected Cy Young Candidates – When you think the Detroit Tigers and pitching, you think of Justin Verlander but not this year. RHP Max Scherzer is 11-0 and has a WHIP of .91 for the Central-leading Tigers. While his 3.05 ERA is a little high, it’s actually below his career average of 3.76. Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox is a strong contender in the AL as well.

Over in the National League, 23-year old Patrick Corbin of the Arizona Diamondbacks is 9-0 with an ERA of 2.19 and a WHIP of 1.00. While Lance Lynn, Jordan Zimmerman and Adam Wainwright are all at the 10-win plateau, should Corbin continue his unbeaten season he;ll be hard to beat at awards’ time.


Heisman Trophy Sleepers for 2013

The speedy Lache Seastrunk is one of my long-shot picks for the Heisman in 2013.

Because I cannot get past the fact that football is right around the corner I feel like I just have to comment on it these days. The National Basketball Association season is over and the National Hockey League season could very well come to an end tonight. That means we are left with baseball, Wimbledon and a few other fringe sport activities (don’t kill me for that soccer fans).

Earlier this week I broke down some reasons as to why or why not Johnny Manziel could repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner. There are of course other front-runners like Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and T.J. Yeldon. I think now more than ever however we must take time to look at some guys who really aren’t on the radar right now and the reason I say that is because of last year.

Did any of you or any experts for that matter have a freshman quarterback by the name of Johnny Manziel among the top 10 potential Heisman winners last summer? If you are claiming “yes” then you are either a pathological liar or incredibly clairvoyant. But this is exactly why looking at some guys who are nowhere near the top of most oddsmakers lists is crucial and is a good reason for you to consider some wagering options on them. These are strictly guys I think could be in New York come December if things go right for them.

Lache Seastrunk, RB Baylor 20/1Why he’s there? Speed and dynamic ability are what this redshirt sophomore brings to the table in Baylor’s wide-open offense. He was the Big 12 newcomer of the year last season and if the Bears are in the conference title race, he’ll be a big reason why. Why he’s not? It took Robert Griffin III two seasons to truly generate the attention necessary to earn his Heisman and the Bears’ defense gave up almost 38 points per game last year.

Gardner will force defenses to play the pass as well as the run in 2013.

Devin Gardner, QB Michigan 33/1Why he’s there? He’s more of a dual-threat than Denard Robinson because he throws very well and could rack up good numbers both in the air and on the ground. Why he’s not? If Michigan cannot improve on their 8-5 record from last year then it’s a moot point. They must be in contention for a BCS game in December.

Jeff Driskel, QB Florida 40/1Why he’s there? If Driskel can throw the ball better than last season and he can navigate a couple of tough games in the first half of the season I believe he’ll be there. Why he’s not? The Gators have six road games including Miami, LSU and South Carolina plus they have many key players from last year’s Sugar Bowl team off to the pros.

Ka’Deem Carey, RB Arizona 40/1Why he’s there? Because Rich Rodriguez’s offense is often overlooked as being ‘RB friendly.’ Carey can run and catch the ball well which will give him a ton of touches. Why he isn’t? The Wildcats will be breaking in a new QB and that often spells trouble especially early in the season.

Blake Bell, QB Oklahoma 40/1Why he’s there? Bell is not your typical OU QB. At 6’6″ and 240lbs he was used primarily in big formations and ran for 11 TDs on 60 carries last season. His ability to balance the Sooners’ offense could be huge. Why he isn’t? Let’s face it, the Sooners and Bob Stoops have under-achieved recently and can he adapt to more of a dual-threat type guy? Big games will dictate his chances.


Chicago is on the Verge of Another Stanley Cup

Kane collected two goals last night to put the Bruins on the brink of elimination.

The Chicago Blackhawks beat Boston 3-1 last night in Chicago to take a 3-2 lead in the series which at this point might not even be the biggest story going forward in this year’s Stanley Cup Final. Despite the fact the ‘Hawks are just a win away both they and the Bruins are facing the prospects of playing game six without one of their stars.

Boston’s Patrice Bergeron skated briefly in the opening seconds of the 2nd period before leaving the game and eventually was in an ambulance on his to the hospital. It was clear from watching Bergeron that something wasn’t quite right as he lacked confidence as he gingerly made his way to the bench. In the mysterious ways of NHL injury talk being what it is, the Bruins will only say it’s something “keeping him from playing.”

Common sense would tell us it has to be a “lower body” injury but who knows? Trying to figure out NHL injuries is like trying to figure out what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa.

Chicago is also dealing with an injury as well though as Jonathan Toews left the game in the 3rd period. Head Coach Joel Quenneville said the Toews’ had an “upper body” injury without elaborating any further. Toews sat on the bench throughout the third period but did not enter the game. Quenneville is hopeful that Toews will be available for game six but would only say they have to see how he is feeling today.

Both head coaches must now plan for the possibility of missing one of their top players for potentially one or two games. With both guys meaning so much to their respective teams, how the coaches adjust the lines will be crucial in what will be for the moment, the biggest game of the year so far.

The ‘Hawks have done well in tying up Zdeno Chara the last two games.

In the United Center last night, the Blackhawks were able to once again use their speed to create opportunities in front of the net. Patrick Kane had two goals and then Dave Bolland added an empty-netter late to preserve the win after Zdano Chara scored early in the third to draw the Bruins within one goal.

Chara has found himself in an interesting position over the last two games. In the high-scoring game four, Chara was on the ice for five of the Blackhawks’ six goals and then last night he again was victimized by being on the ice for two of the ‘Hawks goals. Every top defenseman goes through rough periods but its’ clear Chicago is targeting Chara with some physical play.

Brian Bickell has been the key instigator in getting a body on the 6’8″ Chara and the Bruins have been unable to do much about it. Bickell nailed Chara hard at one point during the game in front of the Bruins’ bench getting a vicious reaction from the Bruins, Milan Lucic who wanted to fight Bickell.

The Bruins have to channel that frustration towards to the net in front of Corey Crawford who was very good in goal last night stopping 24 of 25 shots. Many, including myself, thought Tuukka Rask would outplay Crawford and to this point, Crawford has been just a little bit better. Crawford’s one weakness seems to be his glove-side of late and I look for the Bruins to attack that heavily in game six.

Let’s assume that both Bergeron and Toews can’t go on Monday night in Boston. I’ll call it a push because both guys do a lot for each team and frankly are irreplaceable. Boston is a tough, veteran club that will need to get out early in order to rely on their defense but I think Chicago has found some weaknesses and I see them hoisting the Cup in Boston Monday night.

Analyzing Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Chances in 2013

Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel
Can Manziel overcome the attention and loss of key players to repeat as the Heisman winner?

I always enjoy summertime for a bevy of reasons and not just because it means hot weather. It also means that the college football season is within shouting distance of stadiums across America and for all of its’ flaws, college football still remains one of the top draws for American spectators. This season offers a couple of rare opportunities for teams and individual players and of course that means interesting and exciting wagering options for you.

First of all, Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide has an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done for over 70 years. They are going for their third-straight national title with Minnesota being the last to accomplish the feat long, long ago. I’ll certainly tackle their chances of this later this summer because today I’m focusing on one of the individual possibilities for 2013.

Texas A&M’s quarterback Johnny Manziel enters the season with the rare opportunity to win a second-straight Heisman Trophy. Only Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won two straight stiff-arming trophies and that was back in the 1960’s. Most recently, Florida’s Tim Tebow had a chance to repeat as the Heisman winner but it was not to be.

The question for us is whether we think Johnny Manziel is different. We know he is different from Tebow in many ways off the field but will he be different on it in the sense that can he complete the back-to-back? Here are some thoughts as to why he may or may not win the trophy again.

Why Manziel Will Win the Heisman Again – First all you need to do is look at the schedule. The Aggies play their first four games of the season at Kyle Field with the third of those being defending national champion Alabama in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams. It was last year of course where Manziel burst onto the national scene when led the Aggies past the Tide in Tuscaloosa. Having ‘Bama at home will help Manziel because Nick Saban will not make the same mistakes he did last season with his defense of Manziel.

After road games at Ole Miss and Arkansas, Manziel returns home for another four-straight home games in which the Aggies will be favored in each. The final two games of the season are on the road at LSU and at Missouri. While there are potential stumbling blocks for Manziel, the schedule really couldn’t set up much better for him.

Secondly, his new quarterbacks coach might just be able to take him to a new level. Following the departure of former coach Kliff Kingsbury, a friend of Kingsbury comes aboard with a tremendous pedigree. 33-year old Jake Spavital will take his tremendous knowledge of the position to College Station where he could help Manziel in many ways.

Spavital has worked with QBs Brandon Weeden, Case Keenum and Geno Smith. He has coached with Aggies’ Head Coach Kevin Sumlin before at Houston and has worked under West Virginia Head Coach Dana Holgerson when they were at Oklahoma State. Spavital’s youth could be a key factor in being able to relate to Manziel’s off-field issues as well.

Manziel must navigate the treacherous waters of the media in order to repeat.

Why Manziel Won’t Win the Heisman – In a word, immaturity. Just last week, Manziel, who is no stranger to social media, tweeted out that he “Can’t wait to leave College Station.” Most people took the comment as an ‘uh-oh’ moment but then Manziel clarified his tweet and said it was due to his frustration with a parking ticket on campus. Either way, this is the type of stuff Manziel has to avoid. He already has celebrity status that makes it difficult for him to cross the campus so he must be careful.

The other reason is history which just doesn’t bode well for Manziel. Often the focus is on the return of the man himself and what is forgotten are those who helped him win it in the first place. Manziel has lost his starting left tackle Luke Joeckel and also his go-to receiver Ryan Swope to the NFL. While A&M will still have tons of talent on the field, will it be cohesive enough with Manziel especially in crunch-time.

Manziel enters the season as a 9/2 favorite to win the Heisman again and he should be the favorite but I would be cautious only because of past history. The schedule sets up well enough for him to go at least 10-2 as he did last season. Those two losses however cannot come with poor performances.

How the Issues in New England Could Alter Your Wagering

Aaron Hernandez
Aaron Hernandez
Hernandez's pending arrest is already changing the Pats' forutnes for 2013.

There was once a time when there were teams in the National Football League that seemed immune from the off-field problems of their players. Teams like New England, Pittsburgh and San Francisco were becoming poster children of how to keep players in line when they were on the line of scrimmage.

Those days are long over in Pittsburgh and now New England has even been penetrated by negative off-field news and this is far from just a ‘minor issue.’

An arrest warrant is expected today for Patriots’ tight end Aaron Hernandez on a charge of obstruction of justice. Hernandez is at the very least going to be in in trouble for destroying evidence such as home video surveillance equipment and a cell phone. Those charges could be ramped up if further evidence implicates him in the death of a friend and semi-pro football player who Hernandez was with just hours before he was believed to have died.

This is the cherry on a sundae of odd and unfortunate happenings in New England of late and taken as a whole, you have to consider strongly whether you feel the Patriots can remain a solid contender for the AFC East title, the AFC Title and a Super Bowl Title.

Gronkowski is expected to be on the PUP list to start the season leaving the Pats with fewer weapons.

Much was going to be expected of Hernandez going into the season considering that his fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski is coming off both back and yet another forearm surgery. ‘Gronk’ is expected to start the season on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) List. Also this month the Pats’ signed Tim Tebow who was thought to be done with his NFL career at least as a quarterback. New England claims he was signed as a QB and that’s where he reportedly worked during the team’s mini-camp last week.

I’d be re-miss if I didn’t mention that Patriots’ owner Bob Kraft is also missing a Super Bowl ring which he alleges was taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting. Putin claims it was a gift and the ring is now in a library in Russia. While this may not impact what happens on the field in 2013, it is however just another sign that the normally infallible Patriots are taking shots from all sides.

Right now over at bovada.com, if you look at the over/under for expected win totals by NFL teams this season you’ll notice they are listed in alphabetical order and when you get down to the “N’s” you find no New England Patriots. There is a clear reason for that because until more is known about Hernandez’s playing status, it would not be in your best interest to wager on them. With no Hernandez, no Gronkowski and oh ya, now Wes Welker, this offense looks more and more less potent.

The Patriots are still currently listed at 8/1 to win the Super Bowl which puts them behind San Francisco and Denver. I fully expect those odds to drop over the coming weeks. They are also listed at 3/1 to win the AFC and are listed only behind Denver. I would have to expect those numbers to change as well.

The good news for the Patriots is that the AFC East is not expected to be overly challenging. The New York Jets are in a potentially ugly QB situation while Buffalo is dealing with a new coach and QB questions of their own. Only the Miami Dolphins appear to be a challenge right now with what they’ve done in free agency but they have a second-year QB from whom much is expected.

Any way you slice it, the Patriots are in unfamiliar territory right now and these individual events grouped together signal serious caution for you and your wagering possibilities.

So Much at Stake Tonight in Miami

LeBron and Parker
LeBron and Parker
I believe one of these two men will ultimately be the difference tonight in game seven.

I feel bad for ‘real’ Miami Heat fans. These are the ones who have been fans since the team arrived twenty-some years ago and have stuck with them through thick and thin. These fans have been unfortunately grouped in with what I like to call “LeHeat” fans. These are the people who couldn’t have jumped on the LeBron James-to-Miami bandwagon soon enough and were probably the ones who gave up on their team in the waning moments of Tuesday night’s game.

If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, with the Heat staring a Finals’ loss in the face, fans streamed out of the American Airlines’ Arena and then were videotaped trying to get back into the building when they realized the Heat had come back and had forced overtime. As Chris Bosh said to those fans, “Don’t come to game seven.”

Chances are that many of those fans will be at game seven tonight on South Beach and like the rest of us, they’ll be expecting a classic final game where either the San Antonio Spurs or Miami Heat will be crowned champions.

Danny Green
Green needs a hot-hand again for the Spurs to have a shot.

How the Spurs Win Tonight… This is easier said than done, but the Spurs have to put the game six loss in the past and I think they will because of their veteran leadership. It’s tough knowing the trophy is just seconds away from being yours only to see it put back in the case. I really believe the Spurs will put this game in the hands of Tony Parker and let him take it from there.

The gameplan was as expected in game six. With Danny Green hitting so many threes, Gregg Popovich knew the Heat would have to attack the perimeter and that left Tim Duncan more room to operate and he didn’t disappoint. As far as Green is concerned, he was just 1 for 7 from the field and 1 for 4 from three-point range on Tuesday night and must hit some more shots to keep the Heat honest.

How the Heat Win Tonight… My first thought is that they need to come out aggressively and hot right off the bat. They have so much momentum right now and they must capitalize on that and keep the Spurs on the ropes. Should they come out flat and let San Antonio gain the upper hand early then I have my doubts that they’ll be able to make the run they did in game six.

In part, that could be on LeBron to keep the fire lit. He has not started well in most of the games in this series and should he warm up early that could spell doom for San Antonio. Much like Parker can’t do it all, neither can James. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh don’t have to be brilliant but they have to contribute and knock down shots when they are there.

Typically in games like this we see a guy come through who isn’t always known as a superstar. Will it be a Norris Cole or a Mario Chalmers for Miami? Perhaps a Boris Diaw or Gary Neal comes up big for the Spurs? I’m not suggesting a massive amount of points from these ‘non-stars,’ but big shots and big defensive contributions could make the difference.

Prediction: Miami enters as a 6-point favorite tonight and I think that is going to be right on the spot. Looking at the overall health of the two teams, both are tired and worn down but Miami’s stars are a little younger and I think that will make the difference in the end. I like a big night from LeBron who desperately needs to win to avoid a 1-3 record in the NBA Finals and I think you’ll see a game of runs tonight but in the end, I like the Spurs to keep it within six, but look for the Heat to win the title.