Thursday, September 29, 2011

NFL 2011: Week 4 Picks

What an exciting Week 3 of NFL we just had? At one point, all eight early games were one score games in the 4th quarter. Thanks to DIERCTV Game Mix, I had a very exciting morning of football on Sunday, although overwhelming at times. Later in the afternoon, the Packers' trouncing of the Bears made my day. YOTTO ("Year of the Take Over") indeed!

Wish I had done a little better on my picks against the spread, but hey, you can't have it all. I am going to try do a better job this week:

New Orleans Saints at Jacksonville Jaguars (+7)

Drew Brees carried the Saints on his back to make an improbable comeback against Houston last week. As predicted by many, including yours truly, this game was a shootout. And that always favors the Saints at home, especially when they are going against a Wade Phillips coached defense.

The Jaguars managed to keep the game against the Panthers close in the monsoon game last week. Blaine Gabbert looked raw. But can you blame him after being forced into the starting QB role in Jacksonville? Even though the Jaguars are given 7 points at home, it's hard to pick them against the Saints.

Outright Win: Saints
v/s the Spread: Saints (-7)

Washington Redskins at St. Louis Rams (PK)

The Redskins defense is deceivingly good. Except for the fact that they keep getting burnt when they go on all out blitzes time after time, especially on 3rd and long situations. A little conservative approach might go a long way in making the defense more effective. Bad Rex Grossman showed up last week when he faced pressure from the Dallas D line. The pressure up front won't be as good this week.

The Rams are in a 0-3 hole now. Still, not to anyone's surprise, they are still more than alive in the NFC West. But a loss here might get them closer to the edge of the cliff. They will have to play a disciplined game and learn not to shoot themselves in the foot. A lot will also depend on how much load Stephen Jackson can carry. I'm not going against a team that has its back to the wall.

Outright Win: Rams
v/s the Spread: Rams (0)

Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns (-1)

Kenny Britt's injury is a huge loss for the Titans. Especially with Chris Johnson not taking off; at least not yet. Matt Hasselbeck should now find a new favorite target to keep the Titans offense going. The Browns offense seem to be better than their stats indicate. Their defense is also pretty solid. This will be a close game.

Outright Win: Browns
v/s the Spread: Browns (-1)

Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals (+3.5)

Are the Bills are for real? A come from behind win after being down 21 points against the Patriots does make a strong case. But the caveat here is that it was against the Patriots defense. Playing the Bengals on the road should be walk in the park for a 3-0 Bills team, you would think. But this has all the makings of a trap game, with the Bills still basking in the limelight after beating the Patriots. A let down is likely.

Then again, they are going against Andy Dalton and the Bengals, who might not even have Cedric Benson to pound the rock. So I think the Bills will survive this one.

Outright Win: Bills
v/s the Spread: Bills (-3.5)

Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs (+1.5)

The Vikings seem to have a split personality. The "first half" Vikings seem to be able to score some points and also keep opponents from scoring a whole lot. The "second half" Vikings find a way to give up the lead built up over the first half and some more. Why they don't let Adrian Peterson carry the team on his back in the second half of every game, I will never understand.

The Chiefs played the Chargers hard, almost pulling off an upset there. But I wouldn't read too much into it. The Chargers under Norv Turner, as usual, get creative in making things harder for themselves every September.

Outright Win: Vikings
v/s the Spread: Vikings (-1.5)

Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears (-6)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What spirit of cricket?

What spirit?

In his Cricinfo piece dated September 23’rd 2011, Harsha Bhogle eulogizes Jacques Kallis. Kallis, you see, took an opposing team’s fielder at his word and decided to walk back to the pavilion without waiting for the third umpire’s decision. Kallis, you see, did not wait for modern day technology to validate the fielder’s take on the event that had just transpired. Mr. Bhogle equates this trust in a rival with a mythical spirit of cricket and wishes for a world where every cricketer did the same.

I respect Mr. Bhogle but he is wrong in his implication that this is what happens in an ideal world. Furthermore his statement that he hopes for other cricketers to do the same is antithetical to the core objective of the participants in the sport that Mr. Bhogle obviously loves and is paid to cover. We see similar coverage in public policy and politics all the time where pundits fantasize about people holding diametrically opposing views coming together for the ‘common good’. Such coverage tends to completely ignore the obvious goal with which the same politicians got to a position of power in the first place – To advance their agenda!

In the game referenced above, Jacques Kallis was a paid member of the Kolkata Knight Riders. For his services, he was being paid $ 1,100,000 by Shahrukh Khan and Red Chillies Entertainment. Basic economics and civil society rules mandate that Jacques Kallis owes a fiduciary responsibility towards his employers to do the best he can on and off the field to help the team win games. The more games that the Knight Riders win, the more joy they provide to their fans and stakeholders. The more games they win the more money their owners make.

While batting for the Knight Riders, Jacques Kallis’ focus should solely be on scoring as many runs as possible as quickly as possible. This would go in sync with the team’s goal to win more games. Unless he believed he was a liability to the team’s goal, he should not be trying to get himself dismissed. I am yet to see evidence of Kallis considering himself a liability seeing that he continued to play for his side and even captained it in future games. By doing what he did, Jacques Kallis was working against the interests of the very people who had time and money invested in him. Jacques Kallis was betraying the trust of those who paid him $1,100,000. Even if the catch were taken cleanly and even if the fielder was a modern day incarnate of Harishchandra, Jacques Kallis needed to wait for the umpires to tell him he was out. What if the third umpire did not have access to a camera angle that confirmed the catch was taken cleanly? What if the bowler had overstepped? What if the fielder believed he had done nothing wrong but had actually taken the catch on a bounce?

Also, after all the match fixing scandals the sport has been through, should we not be more skeptical of someone willing to be dismissed voluntarily? Let’s substitute Jacques Kallis with Mohammed Aamer or Salman Butt and the teams with Pakistan and New Zealand? Would Mr. Bhogle have termed this an example of sportsmanship or would he have lent a more skeptical eye? What if Jacques Kallis did what he did because he had a contract to play for Auckland in 2013? I agree that the earlier statement is a completely unsubstantiated allegation but isn’t that the skepticism we should show in this day and age in a sport with more money than ever before?

The only spirit the sport of professional cricket needs to have is the same that the fields of medicine, engineering or journalism have – To do one’s best within the rules in pursuit of his/her team’s/employer’s goals! By romanticizing a quality that is feel-good at best and betrayal at worst, Mr. Bhogle is way off base.

Hope you agree! Feel free to comment below, email me at shyam dot uw at Gmail or tweet me at shyamuw if you have thoughts on this?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

NFL 2011: Offensive Domination... and Week 3 Picks

Offense! ...... Offense!.... and more Offense!

That's been the theme over the past two weeks in the NFL. For purists like me, that's bad news. Where is the hard nosed defense oriented football that I love? Various theories are out there to try explain this historically high production of offense league-wide, ranging from: "rules being tailored favoring offenses over the last two decades", "pandering of QBs, allegedly for their safety (while other position players are dropping like flies with serious injuries on a weekly basis)" to "alleged increase in complexity and effective execution of offensive schemes".

While all the above reasons might be factors, I think the most obvious reason is probably the most impactful reason for this onslaught of offense that we are witnessing: The Lockout.

Typically, defenses, even on teams that have continuity in terms of player personnel and coaches, have a lot to work on in terms of getting on the same page. These days, no team plays their base defensive sets. More often than not, they have some kind of hybrid personal groupings and sets they use.

For example, the Chicago Bears have a base Tamp-2 Defensive scheme. But unless they are playing with a lead, you will hardly see them play their base, 2 deep safety scheme. Another example: the Packers. Dom Capers is supposed to be running a 3-4 defensive scheme. But their most common defensive alignment is a 2-4-5 scheme. Even in that scheme there are so many subtle variations in their defensive play call every snap.

In essence, the Defensive playbook has become almost as complicated as its offensive counterpart. The added complication to defenses is that all 11 players on the field should be on the same page. There is no one person on defense, unlike the QB in an offense, who will have control of the ball after the snap and can potentially dictate terms and/or cover for mistakes made by team mates. That makes it all the more imperative for the defensive players to spend some off-season down time on learning various nuances of their defense.

The lockout this past off-season, cut out all mini-camps and had a very very small duration of training camp before pre-season started. That time was barely enough for teams to install new schemes they usually add during a typical off-season, let alone brush up on nuances on the existing playbook. The lockout also took away so much practice time that helps in getting defensive players getting the feel for playing with their teammates; both new additions as well as, to a lesser yet noticeable extent, returning teammates. That's why, in my opinion defenses are lagging behind offenses in being prepared for the regular season. I blame that stupid lockout!

This theory will be proven right if the offensive production league-wide tapers down as we go deeper into the season, when defenses start getting used to playing their complicated schemes and teammates.

On to the Week 3 picks now...

San Francisco 49ers at Cincinnati Bengals (-3)

The 49ers blew a great chance last week to take one game from a pretty good team at home, whose starting QB was out for more than quarter; and the niners had a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter! Now, they have to go on the road and face a feisty Bengals team with no superstar on it, but manage to keep games close and could do just enough to pull this one out.

Outright Win: Bengals
v/s the Spread: Bengals (-3)

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills  (+8.5)

Two undefeated teams! This would have been a legit narrative to describe this match up, except the Bills have not beaten the Patriots in their last 15 meetings. With the Patriots offense clicking like it is, with Brady at the helm, spreading the ball around to everyone on the offense but his linemen. I expect that trend to continue.

But I have to say the new Bills offense might prey on that Patriots secondary and keep this closer than most people think. I am shocked that Ryan Fitzpatrick is still so under-rated. The kid from Harvard is dealing it right now. Save me a seat on that Fitzpatrick bandwagon.

Outright Win:  Patriots
v/s the Spread: Patriots (-8.5)

Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints (-4)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Thank you, Mr Rahul Dravid

The Hypothesis:

If you repeat a lie often enough, enough people will believe it. Several politicians make it big solely on this premise and call it strategy! My first dalliance with this was when the ‘Rahul Dravid is not a fit for One Day Cricket (ODI)’ meme started doing the rounds in 1998. An honorary body of selectors working with the most parochial of goals in an environment where they were accountable to no one decided that Rahul Dravid’s mastery of his craft was not a fit for limited overs cricket. A compliant and ridiculously incestuous media kept telling the public that Rahul Dravid was too slow and hence the selectors were correct. The theme stuck and to this day there’s no gathering of desi cricket fans where this is not regurgitated like it was taught in IIT class. Sin/Cos is Tan and Rahul Dravid is a technically sound player but not a good fit for ODIs. A pity that this was also the most common thing I heard on the day of his last one-dayer. Writer after writer crafted epitaphs on the lost opportunities and the inability for Dravid to do more than play second fiddle!

The truth:

Let me try to unravel this myth by seeking refuge in first principles.

The goal of a team in the broadest terms of limited overs cricket is to score more runs than the opposition does. At the crudest level, this extrapolates to maximizing the runs scored in every legal delivery. If batsman X has a lower run rate (runs/balls) than batsman Y it does seem intuitive and logical to the mind that Y is a better fit for limited overs cricket. This is what is most commonly represented in assertive statements such as “Dravid is too slow and as good a fit for ODIs as Yuvraj and Sehwag.”

The dissonance here though is in that each team can only afford 10 dismissals during these 300 legal deliveries. With each dismissal, the marginal value of every remaining delivery increases. Batsmen 1-11 of team ‘SLOG’ could have a higher run rate than batsmen 1-11 of team ‘FORWARD DEFENSE’ while scoring fewer runs and losing the game. An ability to play out as many of the 300 deliveries as possible while scoring as many runs in a consistent repeatable basis is a better way to represent a team’s goal in limited overs cricket.

With me, so far? Thanks to the amazing STATSGURU resource offered up for free by the wonderfully generous people at Cricinfo, we know that Rahul Dravid averaged 48 balls per outing. So on average, the Indian team could confidently and realistically expect Rahul Dravid to face a sixth of the total number of deliveries in an ODI inning while scoring 34 runs himself. This ability to maintain a career average of nearly 40 while facing eight overs himself is what Dravid brought to the table, year after year. This is the ability that manifests itself in several huge partnerships. This is the skill that is subjectively referred to as ‘playing second fiddle’.

To put in perspective how difficult and unique this skill is, there are 60 batsmen who have scored more than 5000 runs in ODIs. Removing those who played the bulk of their cricket in the 70’s and 80’s, the only batsmen who faced as many deliveries per inning are Matthew Hayden, Marvan Atapattu, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis and Saurav Ganguly. Only two of them had ODI careers as long as Dravid’s and none of them have a strike rate that is significantly higher than Dravid’s 71.24 (Ganguly has the highest strike rate of 73.7).

Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina are treated as ODI specialists and have dazzled audiences en route to a World cup triumph. They are all talented batsmen in their own right, but between them they average 33 balls an outing! A batting order of seven Sehwags will score 245 runs and will never survive into the 40’Th over. Someone needs to ensure the team sticks it out for 50 overs and maximizes its chances at the biggest possible score. For fifteen years Rahul Dravid has done that! And he did all this while being shunted up and down the order like an elevator operator. Also, he selflessly kept wickets for over 70 games so that less talented sloggers like Mohammed Kaif, Amay Khurasia and Dinesh Mongia could get in to the side as the seventh batsman! No contemporary Indian ODI batsman comes close to Dravid's combination of time on the pitch plus run scoring ability. Cricket is no dewy romance but Dravid's absence from the format will make the Indian fan's heart grow fonder! Maybe then maybe, Dravid's value will be appropriately measured.


We all have sucky lives made suckier by incompetent middle managers and clueless bosses. Rahul Dravid has had his fair share in nincompoops like Narendra Hirwani and Krishnamachari Srikanth. These beautiful minds decided at various points that Dravid could not contribute in ODIs. Someone who did so much for Indian cricket could not partake in the country’s greatest moment in a generation (World Cup 2011).? Him not being a part of that will always rankle me and is one of the great injustices of Indian cricket. On the other hand, I now feel far less worse when slighted or overlooked by my managers! If Dravid could deal with it, so can I!

Beyond the numbers:

All numbers aside, Dravid's batting brought me joy. His composure, stylish strokeplay and unqiue consistency provided many a memorable cricket watching experience. When the numbers fade into the scrapbooks of tomorrow, I will forever remember this knock against Pakistan. Too often in the past India had choked away great Sachin starts. I will always maintain that the only thing that day that prevented a Chetan Sharma like generation-long scar was Dravid’s calm and skill.

I will forever remember him doing the dirty work and handling testing conditions so others could feast off the old ball like in this game and this game and this game ! I will never forget how he steered India to victory at Lord’s here! The win set the tone for one of the most memorable tours an Indian team would ever have. And when all else fails in a Dravid vs. X argument, I will play this card on my way out - the record for the second fastest Indian 50 in ODIs.


No one thinks a baseball team with 8 home run hitters is a recipe for success. But somehow a naked number known as strike rate has defined the concept of an ODI batsman to a passionate public. The lack of nuanced analysis/understanding on what constitutes a good ODI player has made a fan base remember a legendary cricketer for precisely the wrong reasons. With improvements in conditioning and access to the sport, it is likely that there will be batsmen who play for as long as Dravid did while achieving similar success. It is my hope that with nuanced analysis Dravid’s ODI career be measured and valued appropriately for the successful team player he was. To call him a slow player unsuited to the format does a great deal of disservice to the man and the sport.

Thanks for the memories Dravid,


Friday, September 16, 2011

NFL 2011: Week 2 Picks

Looking at performances league-wide after Week 1, makes us wonder if defenses have not really caught up with the readiness of offenses. Could the short off-season be a reason for that?

I know this much for sure, my picking performance has taken a hit, because of my the reduced off-season. Still, may take a week or two before all the murkiness in the water clears away and we can identify the contenders from the pretenders.

On to the picks.....

Oakland Raiders at Buffalo Bills (-3.5)

Are the Bills for real? They just dismantled last year's AFC West winners in their house. And it was not even close. Chan Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick may not be a glamorous coach-QB duo, but it's worth keeping an eye on what they do the next few weeks. They may not be a contender being in the AFC East division, but they could have something brewing up in Buffalo.

The Raiders had a nice win of their own on the Road at Denver last week on Monday Night Football. Their offense was not very impressive in terms of execution, but they sure proved that they are more than willing to run the ball up your throats and at the same time are unafraid to mix it up and throw the ball in run situations. Hue Jackson has the team fired up and ready to play. Unfortunately, they are playing in the eastern time zone in the morning game on Sunday; after playing the second Monday Night game. Bad recipe for the Raiders, historically. And oh, they are not playing one of their AFC West foes.

Outright Win: Bills
v/s the Spread: Bills (-3.5)

Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts (+2.5)

The Browns seemed lost on defense against the Bengals last week. They somehow always managed to keep AJ Green uncovered. I am confident they will only improve entering Week 2. And it helps that the Colts are in shambles without Peyton Manning. If the Browns think they are a team ready to make the next step, they cannot afford to lose this game.

Outright Win: Browns
v/s the Spread: Browns (-2.5)

Kansas City Chiefs at Detroit Lions (-9)

The Chiefs, first off, are not good. Cracked ribs for Matt Casell and season ending injuries to Tony Moaki and Eric Berry sets them back way behind the curve. Going to be a long season for the Chiefs. The Lions are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They had a bad start on the road against the Bucs last week. Still, they managed to keep their heads in the game and win by more than a comfortable margin. Impressive.

Outright Win: Lions
v/s the Spread: Lions (-9)

Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans (+6)

Saying the Ravens laid a beat down on the Steelers last week would be the understatement of the season, yet. The Ravens seem to be in mid season form right away. Ray Rice looks real good and ready to run over opponents all year. Vonte Leach has a lot to do with that. The defense seems re-energized and are playing younger than their age. The Titans had no business staying close to the Jaguars last week, but forht that fluke unintentional fumble-pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Kenny Britt. It might take a while for the Ttians offense to settle in under their new QB. Meanwhile teams will follow the blueprint of stuffing the run and challengin the Titans to throw.

Outright Win: Ravens
v/s the Spread: Ravens (-6)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings (-3)

Tampa Bay would want to beleive last week's loss was more about the Lions being good than the Bucs taking a step back from last season. Luckily for them, all NFC South teams lost this week, so they didn't lose ground to anyone. Even though this is a road game, they are getting a chance against a team whose QB, Donovan McNaab threw for a mamoth 39 yards. No that was not a typo. McNaab didn't even throw the width of the football field the entire game!

Outright Win: Bucs
v/s the Spread: Bucs (+3)

Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets (-9)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

NFL 2011: Week 1 Picks

Picking games for Week 1 of the NFL season is never easy. All predictions are bound to be based on some ad hoc combination of the previous year's performances, off season moves and speculation on how those moves are going to help or hurt each team. As I have the past couple years, I am going to try give it a shot again this year.

Also this year I'm going to make five "5 STAR" picks; meaning these are the ones I consider locks against the spread.

Pittsburgh Steelers (+1.5) at Baltimore Ravens

As it has been for the better part of the past decade, it's going to be a close, defense dominating, low scoring game. Although the Steelers have a stronger head to head over this matchup the past few years, more often than not, it has come down to a play or two in the 4th quarter. With the core of both teams intact from last year, I expect this game to play out the same way.

I expect Big Ben to have a big year this year, with Emanual Sanders and Antoonio Brown having break out potential ala Mike Wallace last year. Ray Rice is also set to have a monster year, especially with the Ravens signing FB Vonte Leach to block for him.

Outright Win: Steelers
v/s the Spread: Steelers (+1.5)

Detroit Lions (+1.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Everybody in the whole wide world are expecting the Lions to have that break out year. That makes me doubt if it will happen. No doubt, they will be better than last year and may even be the 2nd best team in the NFC North. But I do not see them making the playoffs with that secondary. Add an injury or two (Hello Stafford! Hello Jahvid Best!) to the mix, its going to make it all the more harder for them.

The Bucs on the other hand might have that let down after a successful 2010 campaign. But I think, with Josh Freeman and Legarette Blount, they will be a force to reckon with in the NFC South again.

Outright Win: Buccaneers
v/s the Spread: Buccaneers (+1.5)

Atlanta Falcons (-3) at Chicago Bears

The Falcons spent a lot (in terms of draft picks) to draft Julio Jones. But I am not sure how an extra wide receiver, as good as he might turn out to be, resolves the issues the Packers seemed to take advantage of in the playoffs last year. And the Bears, as usual, are going to be a tougher out than people initially make them out to be.

Outright Win: Bears
v/s the Spread: Bears (+3)

Buffalo Bills (+6) at Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs were a playoff team last year thanks to some lucky bounces here and there in close games and a rather easy schedule, with the AFC West being weak and drawing the NFC West on their schedule. This year might be a little more bumpy. The Bills are a tough team to gauge at this point. They could end up being a front runner in the Andrew Luck stakes or could surprise a few with a slightly better season than last, especially if they can improve even a tad bit on defense.

Outright Win: Chiefs
v/s the Spread: Bills (+6)

Indianapolis Colts (+9) at Houston Texans

As I am writing this section, news just broke that Peyton Manning had another procedure on his neck and is likely out for the rest of the season. This is bad bad news for the Colts. Manning means so much for their offense, not only because of his QB play, but the play calling, audibles and adjustments he makes at the line of scrimmage. Not to mention his leadership and preparation all-through the year. Todd Kerry Collins could hold his own, but it may take him a week or two to get to know tendencies of his WR and other offensive weapons. Even so, I don't see them making the playoffs, with all those holes in their team that Peyton usually masks with his stellar play.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Green Bay Packers 2011 Season Preview: The Super Bowl Title Defense Begins

I am a little late this year in getting out my Packers season preview, barely making it before the season starts. And the good thing about being late on this is we have the final 53 man roster out already. Although, that list could change before kickoff this Thursday.

For hard core Packer fans there is not much new here. I will just go through the roster, position by position and give my thoughts on where they have improved and where they have potential weaknesses.

Overall, the Packers are bringing back the same core of starters as last year's Super Bowl team. Except, they have their famous "guy lost to the IR in 2010" back. That list includes big-time potential players like Jermicheal Finley and Ryan Grant. Like most Championship teams, they lost a few guys to free agency. But the roster was not ransacked by other teams like it usually is. Still players like Cullen Jenkins (to the Eagles), Brandon Jackson (to the Browns) and Daryn Colledge (to the Cardinals) will be missed. I know, I know. I included Colledge in that list, in spite of all the Colledge bashing that has been going on lately about his toughness, was a solid plug in the O line.

It should be noted that the Packers managed to get back a couple of key guys in spite of them being free agents, most notably, James Jones and John Kuhn. Also a solid draft class (as always) added by Ted Thompson and his crew will try to contribute right away. Well, at least some of them. Also, let's not forget the guys that were added as undrafted free agents. Some of them might end up being valuable contributors, if not full time starters even.

The decision on the fringe guys to make the 53 man roster seems to be based on trying to keep the best "athletes" rather than players with most experience or past contributions. Which might lead to a lot of tough decisions, but is a overall smart way to go about it.

Let's go position-by-position:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Hunt for Orange October: Bleak Outlook for the SF Giants

What a roller coaster ride this season has been for the defending World Series Champions. First couple months of the season, the SF Giants were Kings of winning close games. Their stellar pitching from last year (3.36 ERA in 2010), hard as it may be to believe has been even better this year (3.13 ERA till end of August 2011). That was followed by an average month of July and then an abysmal August; a month that had futility of historic proportions.

So, why the hiccup? Why are their playoff hopes as defending Champions hanging off a cliff entering the last month of the regular season? The short and easy answer: abysmally weak offense.

Digging a little deeper though, I think the reason for their downfall could be a mixture of three different (yet related) factors:

1. Injuries

Yes. Every team is affected by injuries some time or the other and it is lame, borderline hypocritical and totally unfair to other teams that also have injury issues.

But as the cliche goes, IT IS WHAT IT IS! Its no secret that the Giants offense has been too top heavy with Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff and Freddy Sanchez (and Pablo Sandoval this season) as the core, surrounded by streaky role players. If you lose two of the three most important guys from last year, it's definitely a deep hole to recover from. Not to mention that the other one has been in a season long "slump".