The good, bad and ugly

NFL Week 9 observations: Eagles emerge in NFC

Don't sleep on the Saints. Michael C Hebert, New Orleans Saints

The picture is becoming clearer as the season progresses. There’s now a clear cut favorite in the NFC (Philadelphia Eagles). However, we still don’t know who the class of the AFC is yet. There are also teams that appear destined for a top 5 draft pick.

The Good

-Travis Kelce scored a touchdown for the Kansas City Chiefs against the Dallas Cowboys. He proceeded to celebrate with teammates Tyreek Hill and Demarcus Robinson by having a potato sack race. As a fan of touchdown celebrations, I’m happy to see them back.

-The aforementioned Eagles are now 8-1 and seem like a freight train barreling downhill sans brakes. Carson Wentz is now the best quarterback in the NFC East, and making his case for being considered a top tier quarterback in the league period. Add to that the fact that they just got Jay Ajayi for peanuts, this team is going to be a tough out come playoff time.

-Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is proving he’s worth being the highest paid player in the league. After Calvin Johnson retired, a lot of people thought Stafford would struggle to put points on the board. Stafford has not only survived losing his best weapon, but he has thrived. A 30-10 on Monday Night Football at Lambeau vs. the Packers is a good way to show people. So is going 26/33 for 361 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions.

-The New Orleans Saints won. Again. This is their sixth in a row after starting 0-2. Drew Brees has been himself, but it’s the commitment to the run and much improved defense that have led to this win streak. Starting to think they are for real.

The Bad

-Lions running back Ameer Abdullah stated that he wants to be the Lions’ every down back. With two fumbles inside the red zone, the score could’ve been worse. Abdullah was promptly replaced by Theo Riddick. He will be lucky to see more than 8-10 touches over the next few weeks.

-The Atlanta Falcons lost 20-17 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. They fall to 4-4 on the season and are two games behind the Saints for the division lead. The Super Bowl swoon is in full effect. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the loss of Kyle Shanahan as the play caller is hurting them more than they care to tell.

-The New York Giants were put out to pasture 51-17 by the up and coming Los Angeles Rams. The young Rams were led by former number one overall pick, quarterback Jared Goff. While the Rams are helmed by a young quarterback, the 1-7 Giants are considering hitting the reset button by sitting long time quarterback Eli Manning.

The Ugly

-Speaking of the Giants…perhaps it the 3rd and 33 play was a window into their 2017 season. They had the Rams dead to rights on the play. Goff threw an innocent wide receiver screen to Robert Woods, who promptly made a house call. Giving up a ton of yards on a 3rd and 33 is one thing. Letting the other team get a first down is another. But letting them score?!? Totally unacceptable!

-Tampa Bay Buccaneers went down at the hands of the Saints 30-10 Sunday. Adding salt to their 2-6 wound, quarterback Jameis Winston will be shut down “for a few weeks” to help him recover from worsening a shoulder injury, wide receiver Mike Evans will be suspended vs the New York Jets next week for delivering a behind the back cheapshot to Saints’ cornerback Marshon Lattimore, and defensive end Willaim Gholston appeared to have sustained some sort of neck injury. Huge disappointment considering some picked them as Super Bowl contenders.

-During the Cincinnati Bengals/Jacksonville Jaguars game, Bengals wide receiver AJ Green managed to let Jags Cornerback Jalen Ramsey get under his skin. Green was pushed by Ramsey after a play. Green took it upon himself to apply a terrible rear naked choke to Ramsey, then throw several punches. Both ended up ejected from the games. Although Ramsey was caught instigating the scuffle, it was Green who escalated things very quickly.

Behind the Eagles is a cluster of teams who could be contenders, or pretenders depending on which of their multiple personalities decides to show up on any given Sunday. There’s also a crop of young quarterbacks (Wentz, Goff, Mariota, and Deshaun Watson) who appear ready to take the mantle from the older, more established guard (Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Brees). However, a special shout out to Arizona Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson. He sat unsigned more a large portion of the offseason, ultimately, deciding to sign with the Saints. After being traded to the Cardinals, Peterson became their featured running back. Sunday, he toted the rock 37 times! That’s one for every year he’s been alive, plus 5 more for good luck! If the NFL is a drug, I don’t want to go to rehab for my addiction!

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Can Hunter Brown replace an Astros legend like Peña did? Composite image by Brandon Strange.

It’s official. Justin Verlander’s time with the Houston Astros has come to an end after he agreed to a two-year, $86.7 million deal to be the newest pitcher for the New York Mets.

Now with the 39-year-old, soon to be 40-year-old, in a different shade of blue and orange, Houston’s starting pitching rotation has completely turned over a new leaf. What exactly is next for the group?

Verlander, who joined the Astros at the last hour in 2017, helped lead Houston to two World Series championships, and he was a key figure in the organization during his tenure. His latest season, coming off Tommy John Surgery, was nothing short of sensational.

He won his third AL Cy Young award by unanimous vote. He led Houston with a 1.75 ERA, a WHIP of 0.83, and an 18-4 record in his starts. In the postseason, Verlander’s run was filled with more ups and downs, but he also accomplished new accolades, including getting his first career win in the World Series in the pivotal Game Five. Replacing his production will be a tough task.

The Astros, overall, are in great position with their starting rotation. Framber Valdez presumably slides in as the new No. 1, although he is in arbitration with the team. The same goes with Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy, all of whom showed they can start, and who are also in arbitration or close to entering it.

Lance McCullers Jr. is the only starting pitcher with a long-term deal in place as of now, however, his health and ability to stay on the mound for Houston has been a long-time concern. The name that is interesting for the Astros is Hunter Brown.

The 24-year-old appeared in 10 games for the Astros in 2022, including three in the postseason. Coincidentally, Houston won every game in which he made an appearance. In the short sample size, Brown pitched in only 20.1 innings with a 0.89 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and a 2-0 record in the regular season.

Most importantly, Brown showed flashes of brilliance in the postseason. The most noteworthy performance came in Game Three of the American League Divisional Series against the Seattle Mariners.

With no room for error, the young pitcher came into a scoreless game knowing that one swing of the bat could hand Houston a loss. He not only managed to control the nerves in front of a hostile crowd that hadn’t seen a postseason game in over 20 years, and he pitched two scoreless innings, only allowing one hit.

Again, only a short resumé, but impressive nonetheless. Brown should have a rotation spot secured. Ultimately, the Astros need to see if his flashes were previews of a young, bright career. Best-case scenario, Brown could become the 2023 version of Jeremy Peña, which would be incredible for the Astros.

Owner Jim Crane said a week ago during José Abreu’s introduction news conference, Houston can never have enough pitching. The Astros could kick the tires on available free agents.

With the Astros saving $43 million in 2023 had they matched the Mets’ offer for Verlander, and Crane also saying the biggest needs were an outfield player and a catcher, it would not make sense for Houston to spend big on another pitcher, especially one that would be fourth or fifth in the rotation.

However, it would make sense to bring one on a budget, with the promise of competing for another championship.

Some names worth taking a look at could be Nathan Eovaldi, who is from Houston, Noah Syndergaard, who the Astros saw in the World Series, and Corey Kluber. All three pitchers had an ERA of 4.34 or less in the 2022 season, and according to Sportico, are anticipated to have a market value less than $17 million, which also offers the Astros flexibility to improve other positions.

What the Astros do, only Crane, and probably Jeff Bagwell, know. One thing is for sure, regardless if a new face is brought in or not, Brown deserves a spot in Houston’s 2023 starting rotation.

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