What Lies Ahead in 2012?

It’s a question that’s taken us a week and a half to ponder. Instead of doing some drawn out, convoluted previews for each sport, I just sent out a survey with several questions on each major sport and here’s what we’re thinking about the next twelve months in sports. Joining us is our special guest Jeremy from Fairly Kickass.
NOTE: Armando originally sent his answers to me in hot pink. I’ve kept this color just to mock him. Feel free to also make fun of him from here on out.

Q1: Is Andrew Luck really the best QB in the 2012 Draft and what team will he fit in best with?

Armando: If you asked me this question at this time yesterday, I would have said no. But after watching him perform last night – albeit in a losing effort to Oklahoma State – you can call me a believer in Luck. Dude didn’t just play QB; he played General. He was the Erwin Rommel of the Stanford offense. (too soon?) He looked like another very solid QB, a future HOF’er, and one that will very likely be Mr. Luck’s teammate in Indy, to answer the second question: Curtis Pai… no, I’m sorry, I can’t even do that in jest. I’m obviously talking about Dan Orlovsky.

TJ: He is the best, period. RG3 has a lot of hype right now, and will be a great addition to a team with the right pieces (remember Cam Newton?), but he is a little too Tebow and not enough Brady for my taste. Luck is a solid QB who may struggle as a rookie if forced to start, but will be a Pro Bowl QB in years to come.
    I think the Colts need to trade this pick away, so I’ll avoid them (even though they probably take him anyway) and say San Francisco would be the best fit for him. Not going to happen if they don’t trade WAAAY up, but that’s where I think he’d shine with a solid WR corps, good RB, and a stout defense (it doesn’t hurt that Harbaugh is out there and it’s close to home). He would also be a great fit in Arizona, who have to be thinking about drafting a QB after the Kolb debacle. He’ll be a Colt, though, so it’s moot.

Casey: I have to agree with Armando here on a few points. Yes, Luck is the best in 2012, the Fiesta Bowl proved that to me. The reason that the Colts will take him is that he shares some of the characteristics with Peyton Manning. Look, Jim Irsay has to be facing the fact that his franchise quarterback may never play again. Of the current draft crop, Luck is the most likely to be able to take on the roles that Peyton has held in that offense for so long. He’s shown the leadership and the vision to be able to be Peyton’s replacement.

Jeremy: I think he’s probably the best suited to perform in the NFL. RG3 is pretty stellar, though. While there are those among us who might compare him unfavorably to Tebow, There is also the possibility of him performing as “I’m Back Bitch” Vick. I still vote in favor of Luck…but look for Griffin to go early. Also, with the apparent need for a QB depth on the bench, I think there are several that get oft overlooked: Brantley, Wilson, and Lindley come to mind.
     As far as who will take him…any of the teams that would draft him seriously need him. However, I think the Rams would benefit most. If the Colts draft him, they should trade him to the Browns or somebody.

Q2: Will Tim Tebow be able to continue as a successful starter in the NFL in 2012?

Armando: To answer that question, one has to really define “successful”. Will he be one of the top statistical QBs in the NFL in 2012? Of course not. Will he give Denver more opportunities to win than other QBs? Depends on the QB; I don’t think anyone in Colorado would cry over someone like Tom Brady or Drew Brees taking the reins. What TT WILL do, however, is rally the city around the team, something that hasn’t been done since the Elway years – and Elway had some of the greatest ever at their respective positions to do it with him (Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, Bill Romanowski, Steve Atwater, the list goes on).
     Generating ticket sales, merch, and just a general buzz for football altogether in the Mile High City, is where TT will be successful. Will it translate into potential deep playoff run? I would be inclined to say “no”, but the dog-faced bastard has proven me wrong before. Even if it doesn’t, he will still be a success for the Denver Broncos organization as a whole.

TJ: He plays in the AFC West, so he may continue to win games, but he’s just not good. If he can show something against the Steelers’ in round one, I may rethink this stance, but I haven’t seen anything good from outside of the last 5 minutes of any game.

Casey: I kind of wanted to excuse myself from this one because of my dislike for the Tebow Hype Train. Even after watching the Steelers defense lift him to a playoff win last night. But, will he continue to win games? Yes, that defense is going to help him out big time, especially in the AFC West. He really is multi-talented, I like to think of him as this generation’s Kordell Stewart. Good? Sure. Will he set the world on fire? Not really. Do I want to set the 8,000 media people crawling up the poor kid’s ass on fire? Yes, yes I do.

Jeremy: He’ll continue to be hit or miss…just as about half of the starters in the league.

Q3: Which NFL team will be a surprise success in 2012?

Armando: I think saying the Colts would be a bit of a cop-out, so I’ll go a different route: the Carolina Panthers. Think about it: Cam Newton (as Dan/Tim know, I affectionately refer to him as “CFN” or “Cam Fucking Newton” because of how awesome he is) was arguably the best rookie in a VERY deep class this year; DeAngelo Williams was FINALLY starting to earn that $43m contract that he was paid in the second half of this season; and Steve Smith is… well, Steve Smith.
    Their defense is all-around garbage (24th in passing yards, 25th in passing TDs, 25th in rushing yards, 29th in rushing TDs), so drafting a solid playmaker who can make immediate dividends is a must – someone like Dre Kirkpatrick, Morris Claiborne or Alfonzo Dennard would do nicely. Alternatively, a bit of help on the O-line would give Cam even more time to get his rocks off, and this draft class is full of solid talent in that category, led by the phenomenal Matt Kalil (who would literally play alongside his brother, Ryan).

TJ: Is it a surprise if San Diego does well? If so, they’re my pick. They have to figure things out eventually, and after the firing of Norv Turner, I think they’ll get there. If that doesn’t count, I’ll go to Arizona, even if Skelton remains their top QB.
Casey: I don’t think it’ll be a surprise if San Diego plays well. The surprise will come if they play well in December and January. I think I’ll take the easy route out and say Carolina, who showed glimpses of a team ready to go to the next level. If they’re active in the offseason on the defensive side of the ball, I’m ready to call them the darkhorse in the NFC South.

Jeremy: I think with some good off-season strategy (not to mention a full pre-season), we’ll see some great performances next year from St. Louis (which would be a huge surprise), and Detroit (which will only be somewhat surprising).

Q4: Which team will feel a decline due to age of their core first: Baltimore, New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, or New Orleans?

Armando: Pittsburgh, without question (sorry Tim). Ben Rothelisberger is already starting to fall apart, and he’s not even 30 yet. Speaking of 30, only 4 defensive starters for the Steelers are under that magic age marker: Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Ziggy Hood (BEST. NAME. EVER.) and William Gay. The offense isn’t nearly as aged, but since the defense is really the keystone to every successful Steeler squad, I have to think that they will face a sooner and sharper decline than anyone else.

TJ: None of them. I don’t know if anyone realizes this, but those four teams draft and build better than any other professional sports teams. I’m not saying that Pittsburgh isn’t due for an off year soon, but it’ll be one year. The same goes for the Ravens. There may be a one year slump, but it won’t last because they are a solid organization.
     Green Bay would have to consider it a decline if they don’t it all every year this decade, so they’ll decline in that respect. But ultimately, I see them being a power in the NFC for years to come.
     New England may decline soon, but I think that has less to do with age than it does with people realizing that their defense sucks and offense doesn’t work if you cover Gronk and Welker.

Casey: I think that we’re starting to see Pittsburgh slip. They may need a year to get the younger parts of their team up and running (and healthy). Green Bay, New Orleans and especially New England need to make serious moves on defense to avoid a backwards fall. They were the three worst defenses in the league and in a season or two with defensive coordinators catch on, they’ll be toast.

Jeremy: I feel like New Orleans has already started the decline, despite some fantastic games this season. Same with Pittsburgh. Though this season is not a good indicator, due to the pre-season distresses. Injuries early in the year prevented some of the more heroic players on either of these teams from doing their jobs, but some of them (ahem, Polamalu) simply didn’t perform expectations.
The late season loss Green Bay suffered clearly displays their need for a perfectly healthy Aaron Rodgers & Co.

Q5: How much will the NBA lockout affect this season in retrospect (i.e. ticket sales, TV ratings, free agent impact)?

Armando: Dramatically. Not only will sales and ratings suffer from the cocktease of the CBA negotiations, but also from the lackluster class of rookies, and the wearing-off of the excitement that the Heatles brought last season (even though, arguably, they have a better team this year). There are tons of very talented, very exciting teams out there – the aforementioned Heat, the Mavs, the Lakers, the Clippers, the Thunder, the Bulls, the list goes on – but sadly, no one will care.

TJ: None. The lockout couldn’t have come at a worse time (in theory) for the NBA after their highest ratings in years and fan interest at an all time high, but I’m an optimist and choose to believe that if you’re going to have a lockout and a shortened season that doing it when the fans will come back is better than when they don’t give a rat’s ass.
     The only thing that will be negatively affected is ticket sales, but that’s mainly because of the condensed schedule and shortened season. The casual fans might not buy in as often, but the season ticket holders will be unfazed by all of this. (NOTE: immediately following the CP3 trade, I looked for Mavs or Spurs home games against the Clippers…and I don’t even like the NBA)

Casey: I don’t like the NBA either. However, all I have to say is take a look at what happened to baseball after the 1994 strike and how long it took them to come back.

Jeremy: I don’t think it will affect ticket sales any more than the average everyday diva bullshit that we see in the NBA.

Q6: Who will end the 2012 season in worse shape, the Lakers or the Mavs?

Armando: The Lakers for sure. The Mavs could have a lackluster season and still win the SW Division, but the Lakers will have a real threat in the LA Clippers lingering in the Pacific Division. Still too early to tell, and still probable that both teams make the postseason, but I would rather be the Mavs if I had to choose, with all things considered.

TJ: Lakers. After Bynum’s inevitable injury, the Lakers will become a sub-par team that limps into the playoffs and dies on the court.

Casey: The Lakers, because I think this is finally the year the Kobe’s age shows and he’s unable to win by taking his normal 97 shots a game.

Q7: Will the Los Angeles Angels make the playoffs this season after their free agent spree this winter?

Armando: We’ve seen it before – a team gets a ton of stud acquisitions in the offseason, and has a total stinker the next season. Why? Chemistry, or in this case, the lack thereof. Stud players aren’t studs because they just sit back and play their part, or because they’re hard working grinders, or because they’re good in the community. Stud players are studs because they’re better than everyone else, or at least a vast majority of everyone else.
     A lot of times, they didn’t get to be the best by sharing and being nice; they got there by being relentless, cutthroat sharks. And relentless, cutthroat sharks don’t necessarily play well with one another. The Angels will have an okay season, and probably won’t win the division (Yu Darvish got the AL West on lock, son) or even snag a wild card, but the following season they will be World Series contenders for sure.

TJ: Oh god, yes. The Angels had a solid chance of making the playoffs before their spree. Yes, the Rangers or Yanks/BoSox/Rays would have needed to slip a little to open the door, but it was still a real possibility. Now, the bigger question has to be: can the BoSox or Rays take the Wild Card spot from the Rangers?

Casey: Absolutely. They addressed two major holes in getting Pujols and Wilson and they’ve now got enough firepower to compete with the Rangers. Will they end up like the Yankees as of late.

Q8: Which MLB team has the best chance of a positive rebound this season?

Armando: The Flor… uh, I mean the Miami Marlins. New name, new look, new ballpark, and a new manager (Ozzie Guillén) to breathe some fire into what has been a flat organization for a decade. Sure, José Reyes isn’t Albert Pujols, but he’ll still do pretty well for himself. Veteran closer Heath Bell and longtime ChiSox slinger Mark Buehrle will also bring a breath of fresh air to an org that desperately needs it. Miami could definitely turn some heads in the NL East, and at the least will likely not be finishing in the basement again.

TJ: Define “positive rebound”. The power is pretty well established in all divisions and I don’t see that changing any this year (STL and Milwaukee may transpose and the Angels/Rangers swap, but that’s it). That being said, all the patsies are still patsies.
     I’ll say the Reds may bounce back and has a late-season shot for the Wild Card.

Casey: I don’t want to sound like a homer, but I think the Indians will bounce back and finally bring all their young talent together at the same time. I won’t go so far as to predict a division title or a full, healthy year from Grady Sizemore. But they’ll finally get it together, prove that their youth approach hasn’t been in vain, and get two players onto the All-Star team.

Q9: What kind of impact will Ryan Braun’s positive test for PED’s and his resulting suspension have on the Brewers and on baseball?

Armando: For the Brewers, it spells a fall from grace, a likely first-to-last plummeting within the NL Central, especially since Prince Fielder is probably gonna be Audi 5000 before too long. The rotation (anchored by solid Zack Greinke) will be a high point, but without any bats it’s gonna be tough for the Brewers to really get off, and there aren’t that many big names available to fill the void that Braun/Fielder will leave. Yes, Braun will only be gone for about a third of the season, but it will probably take him 15-20 games to get back into the swing of it, taking them to about the All-Star Break, and likely into a hole that they won’t be able to dig themselves out of.
     For the game in general, it will be business as usual – it’s a victory for Bud Selig, and I’m sure he’ll let us all know that, but besides glee and celebration for the other teams in the NL Central, this really doesn’t change much.

TJ: It has no affect on baseball as a whole. I don’t think anyone sees positive test results as a shock anymore, so unless the impact is that MLB says, “Fuck it, we’ll just legalize the damn things,” I don’t see this being a surprise.
    For the Brewers, it sucks a big one. I don’t see Prince staying, so losing your next best bat for a chunk will really suck. I still think they’re a playoff team because of their pitching, but this really opens the door for Cincinnati to make a run.

Casey: I’m with them. The Brewers will start the season in a hole which may be all the motivation Prince needs to get out by the All-Star break.
     Sadly, I’m afraid that we as fans are starting to get jaded by positive test results, like we almost expect to be disappointed by those who are good.

Q10: Will Texas A&M; or Missouri have an impact in the 2012 SEC season?

Armando: Missouri has a great chance to run over the SEC East and find itself in a title game in its first season in the conference. However, a Tiger or a Tide will be standing in their way, and that’s a battle that they simply cannot win.

TJ: No. Both programs suck in comparison to the upper-tier of SEC schools.

Casey: I dunno. Will Texas A&M; be playing a full game of football or their usual 2-3 quarters? Seriously, Missouri competes for the SEC East crown depending on how much James Franklin advances in the offseason. They both are 3rd or worse in the West.

Q11: Will Ohio State improve in their first year under Urban Meyer?

Armando: OSU will have the best record in the Big Ten in 2012. Unfortunately, it won’t amount to anything, thanks to that teeny-tiny thing that went down earlier this year. Regardless, it will leave the fans wanting more, and 2013 could see the Buckeyes getting to the big dance (and perhaps winning it as they did 10 years prior, in 2003).

TJ: Hard to do worse than 7 losses, so yes. They are a 9-10 win team next season (to no avail) and will use that to catapult into a strong recruiting class and a Top 10 season in 2013.

Casey: Yes, although it’ll take a year for them to get used to Meyer’s systems. Good thing they have one entire season where they’re only playing to show off for recruits. I echo Armando’s sentiment that the Buckeyes will win a national championship during Meyer’s tenure.

Jeremy: We can only hope.

Q12: What is the deal with airplane food after all?

Armando: I wouldn’t know – I never fly far enough to even get a damn biscotti. You reading this, American Airlines? I WANT MY DAMN BISCOTTI!! Why did you make me lash out like this, dude? You know it’s a sore subject.

TJ: Depends on the flight. My international flights have had some great food. Honestly, I probably ate more on those flights than I do on a normal day. Just stick with the pasta and you can’t go wrong.

Casey: I know! It’s looking at you like, “C’mon! I dare you!”. And the guy next to me, he likes it! He can’t get enough of it! I’m looking for a dog to slip it to, this guy’s asking for thirds!

Jeremy: Dude, some people are allergic to peanuts. Do you carry an Epi pen?

Q13: What conferences will be represented at the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans?

Armando: Let’s see… the Big East, and… hrm… nope, that’s it. Syracuse, UConn, Louisville, and Marquette. No Duke, UNC, UK, OSU, MSU, KU, Baylor or Mizzou to speak of. Another twist is that the Big East champion (Georgetown) will get bounced early.

TJ: Big East and ACC. I would go all Big East, but I refuse to believe that both Duke and UNC falter early in the tournament.

Casey: Big East, Big 12 (can’t believe you guys are both sleeping on Baylor and/or Missouri) and the Big Ten. You decide who gets 2 in. Armando, didn’t you predict an all-Big East Final Four last year too?

Q14: Who could be this year’s Butler (mid-major to small team who makes a big run into the Tournament)?

Armando: I was gonna say Harvard before the other night, but considering how bad they looked against Fordham – Fordham! – I have to rethink it. Murray State is the sexy pick, so I’ll go Creighton instead. Already scored big wins against San Diego State and Wichita State this year, with another meeting with Wichita State still on the menu. They’re putting up over 83 PPG (good for 6th in the country), and they also boast the nation’s 2nd-leading scorer, Sophomore Doug McDermott (23.8 PPG to go with a respectable 8.5 RPG). The Missouri Valley Conference, surprisingly, is pretty deep this season, but Creighton is the cream of that crop.

TJ: I haven’t really seen enough from the mid-majors to pick one yet. Ask me again in February.

Casey: I still like Harvard. They’ve recovered well from the debacle at Fordham, slapping Dartmouth around on Saturday. Murry State and Creighton also both sexy picks. Look for Kent State to get over their MAC tournament hump and get to the Dance. This is an experienced team with some good wins behind them that can make noise in March. Also, New Mexico State has a ton of potential as well.

Q15: Moving to MMA, will Georges St. Pierre be the UFC Welterweight Champion at the end of 2012?

Armando: There are two very realistic scenarios that would cause that belt to be around someone else’s waist (cough Nick Diaz cough) at the end of 2012: A) if GSP doesn’t heal as quickly as expected, and Dana is forced to strip him, making Diaz the full champ; or B) if he rushes back to the Octagon before becoming 100% and gets punished by Diaz’s speed and boxing chops. As it stands, GSP can definitely have a full recovery, have a full training camp, and send Diaz back to that filthy hellhole he calls Stockton, CA… but that’s far from guaranteed.

TJ: In short, yes. All of Armando’s scenarios are possible (maybe even probable), but what we need to remember is that GSP hasn’t really come close to getting beaten…at all…in a long time. He’s the best, and I won’t believe that he’ll lose until I actually see it happen.

Casey: I think you’re forgetting a possible C) Dana, realizing the cash cow that GSP is for him, makes Diaz wait for St. Pierre to fully heal. That takes nearly the entire yea for him to heal and train and GSP, technically, finished 2012 still the champ. Then he gets outboxed by Diaz.

Q16: What fighters have the best chance of earning a title shot in 2012? (MMA)

Armando: I’m just going with the UFC here, since the UFC belts are the only titles that matter.

HW: Daniel Cormier
LHW: Phil Davis
MW: Chael Sonnen
WW: Nick Diaz
LW: Gilbert Melendez
FW: Jimy Hettes
BW: Renan Barão
FLW: Joseph Benavidez

TJ: Skipping due to amount sarcasm in my brain. Between injuries and weight classes that lack depth, I’d say pretty much anyone who can stay healthy can get a shot.

Casey: Let me cherry pick a few of Armando’s. Call me crazy, but I think Frank Mir will have worked his way back into a title shot by the end of the year. Two wins should do it. He takes out and up and comer and then a title eliminator in the 4th quarter and it’s 2004 all over again. Phil Davis, yes. He might not get it in 2012, but by the end of the year, he’ll be next in line. Sonnen, no brainer. Silva would probably get an immediate rematch if he lost, as the rubber match would sell out the Skydome again. Or Estádio do Maracanã. Jake Ellenburger should be next up at welterweight. Another guy that’s 2 wins away and should get them both this year. I agree with El Nino at 155. It’s only a matter of time before he gets his hands on UFC gold. Armando is too busy riding Jimy Hettes dick to see that he’s probably more than 3 wins away at 145, so that probably doesn’t get him his shot this year. 2013 is looking to be the year of The Kid, though. For now, you forgot about Hatsu Hioki. Again, 2 fights away. He takes out Bart-P in February, then it’s a title eliminator fight with Dustin Poirer and boom, title shot. At bantamweight, I gotta go with Renan Barao as well, as he’s the only guy in the top 10 right now that The Dominator hasn’t already dominated. Finally at flyweight, I like Benavidez to get a shot to become the first flyweight champ. Too bad he’ll have to go through Ian McCall, so he’ll need a few wins to get back to the belt.

Q17: Who will be the next fighter to retire?

Armando: Anderson Silva. If I may lazily steal from one of my previous articles:

What does he have to work for? He’s loved by an entire country, he’s earning Anderson Silva money, and he just has to beat one more dude to officially be crowned King of 185 Forever No Matter What No Backsies. He could go up in weight and clean out another division, but let’s face nature’s cold hard truth: he’ll be 37 in 2012, and Father Time will eventually catch up with him. To put it another way: if Fedor Emelianenko had retired after beating Brett Rogers, would he be viewed as the best HW, if not the best fighter, of all time? And Fedor still had several fighters that he hadn’t dispatched in his division.

Silva hasn’t lost in almost 6 years, and hasn’t been beaten in over 8 years. Why not beat Chael Sonnen in 2012, and call it quits after that? He’s never been knocked out, and never really been physically damaged in a fight – at least not since being in the UFC – so he can still have a very happy, healthy, post-fight life with his wife and 5 kids.

In a world where athletes usually go until they physically cannot go anymore, Anderson Silva can easily go out on top, all but cementing his Greatest of All Time status.

Casey: You make a good point with the Spider. But I’m going with Tito Ortiz. Mostly because I don’t want to see him fight anymore.

Q18: Will MMA be legalized in New York this year?

Armando: Yes, and not a moment too soon. NY legislators are too smart to realize that the UFC is a true force in the sporting world, and that MSG could easily host the most prolific card in UFC history, not to mention successful smaller cards in places like Albany, Buffalo and Schenectady (in reality, that whole answer was just a cheap excuse to type “Schenectady”).

TJ: Yes. New York has been stupid to hold out this long. Why would you not legalize a big moneymaker that draws lots of people/attention and has no negative consequences? Embrace the future, NY. Embrace the future.

Casey: What they said.

Q19: Looking ahead, who is your #1 pick for this summer’s fantasy football draft?

Armando: As much as I hate picking a QB with the top choice, I can’t think of anyone that I would rather have on my team than Aaron Rodgers. LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster and Ray Rice are certainly attractive options, but Rodgers is the fucking man, f’real son.

TJ: Hard to say. I still think Arian Foster or Ray Rice is #1 in a standard league. Rodgers and Brees were great this year, but I can wait and get Brady and/or CFN in the 2nd or 3rd round and still be happy (and I can wait even longer for Stafford). If I miss out on a top RB or WR in round one, I’m playing from behind, and I’m not spending the #1 overall on a WR.

Casey: I’m with TJ. I’ve always favored the strategy of getting a top RB and top WR in the first 2 rounds, so my pick is gonna be either Rice, Foster, or Peterson depending on how he looks after surgery.

Jeremy: I would shoot for Tom Brady, Calvin Johnson, Arian Foster, or Aaron Rodgers. That’s where the consistent points are.

Q20: Will you give any damn at all about soccer, either internationally or the MLS, this year?

Nope. Next slide.

Seriously though, I have no problem with the sport, and I recognize that it’s one of the oldest and most revered sports on the planet, but outside of a modicum of excitement during the World Cup, the sport is pretty dead to me.

TJ: Is this a World Cup year? Then no. I can only pay attention to a few things at once, and soccer is just outside of my scope. If the NBA season didn’t happen there would have been a window, but it’s gone now. I’m American.

Casey: Lemme see. There’s a good chance ManU won’t win the Premier League, the Champions League will be interesting even though it looks like it’ll go to a Spanish club. Fulham is making a move back to the middle of the table, the Crew are looking like they should have another strong go at the Eastern Conference, oh! and Euro 2012 this summer. Yes, I will give a damn about soccer! I’m the only one here that did in the first place. While moving this summer, I pulled off the road and stopped at a sports bar at 10am on a Sunday to watch the Women’s World Cup Final in the middle of nowhere Oregon. Not only do I know what a set piece is, I’ve run a few in my day…

Jeremy: International: Marginal interest.
MLS: not even a little bit

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