In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I have developed the following list, expressing one thing that each of the nine New York/New Jersey professional sports teams should be thankful for during this holiday season. Also, I have provided each team with one concept that they should be unthankful for at this current time.
1. New York Giants: Perry Fewell
First-year Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell has revived the Giants' defense after a disappointing 2009 season under Bill Sheridan.
Eleven months ago, the Giants’ defense was the laughing stock of the NFL. After Steve Spagnuolo kept the defense among the top units in the league for two seasons as defensive coordinator, Bill Sheridan looked lost on the sidelines in 2009. After the Giants’ 5-0 start, Sheridan’s defense allowed an average of 32.4 points per game over the next 11 games, leading to a 3-8 record and a seat on the couch during the playoffs.
In his first season as the Giants’ defensive coordinator, Fewell has rejuvenated the Giants’ defense, rising to the top-ranked defense in the league for a large chunk of the season (the defense has since dropped to #2 in the league). Fewell has propelled the Giants pass rush (27 sacks), a staple of the team dating back to the late 80s reign of Lawrence Taylor. Osi Umenyiora has led the charge, posting eight sacks and an astounding seven forced fumbles. On the opposite side of the defensive line, Justin Tuck has put up similar numbers with seven sacks and four forced fumbles. Third-year cornerback Terrell Thomas has also been a huge beneficiary from Fewell’s system, leading the team with 59 tackles and three interceptions.
Honorable Mention: The Dallas Cowboys tumble to the bottom of the NFC East
The Philadelphia Eagles are the Giants’ only legitimate competitor for the division title. The usually dangerous Cowboys got off to a 1-7 start and even now at 3-8, pose no threat at a playoff spot. The only current desire in Big D is to spoil the playoff run of the arch-rival Eagles, as Coach Jason Garett tries to prove his worth to Owner Jerry Jones.
Unthankful: Matt Dodge
The rookie kicker has been virtually unpredictable, unleashing punts anywhere from 25 yards to 70 yards throughout the season. It seems that every time the Giants need a big kick, Dodge shanks his punt, while every time the Giants need to pin the opponent, Dodge puts his boot through the end zone. Worst of all, Dodge can barely hold onto the football, bobbling multiple balls on routine snaps. It’s only a matter of time before Coach Tom Coughlin picks up the phone and gets Jeff Feagles back in uniform for the final games of the season.
2. New York Jets: LaDainian Tomlinson
LaDainian Tomlinson, who was originally brought in to backup second-year running back Shonn Greene, is among the league leaders in rushing yards.
The 31-year-old was supposed to be washed out. He was only able to run for 730 yards in the horrendous AFC West during the 2009 season. He was supposed to serve as a mentor to an up-and-coming pro-bowler.
Now, eleven games into the season, Tomlinson looks possibly destined for his sixth Pro Bowl, running for 741 yards and receiving for 329 yards, while scoring five total touchdowns with zero lost fumbles. Tomlinson’s rushing success has taken some heat off of Mark Sanchez on the offensive side of the ball, not forcing the Jets to rely too heavily on the quarterback. Shonn Greene is now also finding more success than he did at the beginning of the season (70 rushing yards tonight against the Bengals), as Tomlinson has beaten down on opposing defenses at the beginning of games.
Honorable Mention: God
God has shined his brightest lights upon the Jets in the past three weeks. In Detroit on 11/7, Nick Folk kicked field goals as regulation time expired and in overtime for a victory over the Lions. One week later, Santonio Holmes caught a touchdown pass in the final minute of overtime to defeat the Cleveland Browns. Then last week, Holmes came through again with a six-yard touchdown pass in the last ten seconds of regulation against the Texans.
Unthankful: The Patriots’ success
This season was supposed to be the year that the Jets finally surpassed the New England Patriots in the AFC East. The Patriots came into the season with a mostly unknown defensive core and an unpredictable rushing unit led by veteran Laurence Maroney. By week four, Moroney was out of Foxborough, along with future Hall-of-Fame receiver Randy Moss. The Pats looked as if they were headed for a rebuilding era and the media even speculated that Tom Brady could be sent off during the season, as well. However, Coach Bill Belichick quieted the naysayers as usual and has lead the Patriots to a 9-2 record through Thursday, tied with the Jets at the top of the league. Belichick has found success with a rushing game led by two undrafted running backs, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, and a receiving core headed by a reborn Deion Branch, who the Patriots got rid of in 2006.
It would be extremely unfortunate to watch the Jets finish with one of the top records in the league, but go into the postseason without any sort of bye or home-field advantage. With a trip to Gillette Stadium still looming, the Jets still have a ton of work cut out for them if they want to play in East Rutherford in January.
3. New York Knicks: New acquisitions not named Amare Stoudemire
New point guard Raymond Felton has sparked Coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo offensive style, along with the help of multiple other new acquisitions.
When Knicks President Donnie Walsh signed Amare Stoudemire in July, he knew that he was bringing in a five-time all-star, who could take any defender in the league in the paint. Walsh could safely pencil in at least a 22 PPG and 8 RPG season from Stoudemire, but he had no idea what to expect from all of the other Knicks’ imports (the Knicks only retained five players from the 09-10 season, meaning that the organization had to bring in ten new players over the summer).
The new Knicks not named Stoudemire have been a pleasant surprise for the fans at Madison Square Garden. Raymond Felton, a point guard who had not scored more than 14.4 ppg in a season, has averaged 17.8 PPG and 8 APG. Felton’s high-powered game has fit perfectly in Coach Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo style, as the UNC grad has reminded the league about why he was once a fifth overall draft pick.
Some other surprises have been Ronny Turiaf and Landry Fields. Turiaf, a 6-10 center, may never learn to score in the post or shoot foul shots, but the dude can play defense, a concept of basketball that has been missing in New York for the past decade. Turiaf averages about two blocks and one steal per game, but those numbers are misleading, considering that he has led most opponents to stop attacking down low against the Knicks. Turiaf’s importance to the team was especially shown by the fact that the team went 0-3 while the new fan-favorite sat out with a sprained knee.
Fields, the 39th overall pick in last May’s draft, has started all 16 games, averaging 11 PPG and 7 RPG. The 6-7 guard has also used his tremendous wingspan to be a force on defense, posting 14 steals and 4 blocks on the young season. The Stanford grad appears to be a bright spot for the future of the rising Knicks.
Honorable Mention: Toney Douglas
The second-year guard has been somewhat inconsistent, but has had brief stints of stardom, including a 30 point performance against the Bulls on 11/4. His defensive presence is also above average for a guard, as he has averaged 1.6 steals per game in an average of just 24 minutes of work.
Unthankful: Timofey Mozgov
The 24-year-old Russian was brought in to give the Knicks a scorer in the post to compliment Stoudemire, but Mozgov has not yet even reached double figures in a game thus far. Mozgov can also barely even rebound, averaging only 2.6 boards per game.
4. New Jersey Nets: New role players
Head Coach Avery Johnson and rookie forward Derrick Favors provide hope for the new-look Nets.
A huge reason that the Nets finished the 09-10 season with a 12-70 record was that the team could not find support from their role players. Brook Lopez and Devin Harris played solid at the top of the Nets’ lineup, but players like Chris Douglas-Roberts, Courtney Lee, and Yi Jianlian did not show up all season.
This year, new acquisitions Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, and Jordan Farmar are all exhibiting career highs in PPG (12.7, 11.4, 8.4, respectively), propelling the Nets to five wins in 15 games (already 42% of the way to the team’s victory total from last season). Rookie Derrick Favors also has proven his NBA readiness, averaging 8 PPG and 6 RPG on the season.
Honorable Mention: New management
The Nets picked the right year to go 12-70. The pain of the Nets’ 09-10 run was soothed by the approved transfer of the team into the hands of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. Prokhorov’s wallet quieted the complaints of fans, who quickly began to look toward the possibility of a successful future for the team, rather than the dreadful past .
Along with Prokhorov, new General Manager Billy King and Head coach Avery Johnson arrived in Newark this past off-season. King brought in the Nets’ new team of role players and Johnson has brought a sense of energy to the Prudential Center, similar to the one that he brought to the city of Dallas a half-decade ago. Things look like they can only get better in New Jersey.
Unthankful: Troy Murphy
The veteran forward/center was brought in to bring a much-needed paint presence to help out Lopez, while mentoring Favors. However, Murphy spent the preseason and the season’s first three contests battling injuries before scoring just 4.4 PPG in five games. In his fifth game, Murphy injured his foot, leaving him in street clothes for the past two and a half weeks. Now, Murphy is clashing with Johnson, as the player and coach argue over Murphy’s current medical status.
5. New York Rangers: American-born Forwards
Brandon Dubinsky (L) and Ryan Callahan (R) have sparked success at the Garden, despite injuries to key players.
Who says Americans can’t play hockey? While predicted by many to finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Rangers have gotten off to a hot start thanks to a trio of American forwards, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Brian Boyle.
Dubinsky, who was one of the final men cut from last February’s U.S. Olympic Team, leads the Rangers with 12 goals and 19 points. Seven of those goals came during the 12 games that the Rangers played without two-time all-star Marian Gaborik, who sat out with a shoulder injury. The 24-year-old has proven himself as a leader of the young Rangers and has been the Rangers go-to man in the late minutes of close games.
Rochester, New York native Ryan Callahan has enjoyed tons of success playing alongside Dubinsky, posting 5 goals and a team-leading 12 assists. Callahan has also exhibited an ability to perform in the clutch, seen especially last week in Pittsburgh when the winger pocketed a pass from Dubinsky for a Rangers overtime win. The grinder also leads the team in hits with 93, one behind Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck for the league-lead.
The biggest surprise in the Rangers offense, though, has been Massachusetts native Brian Boyle. In 107 career games, Boyle had just 12 goals prior to the start of the season. Coach John Tortorella had Boyle slotted to play on the fourth line as a 6-7 bully that could bring short bursts of energy to the club. Twenty-three games later, Boyle has 10 goals and is now used more often on the powerplay than as an enforcer.
Honorable Mention: Martin Biron
The veteran goalie has been flawless in the net, boasting a 2.15 GAA and a .920 save percentage for a 5-2 record. Biron is making an argument to surpass Henrik Lundqvist as the starting goaltender for the Blueshirts. Either way, Rangers management is happy to have two reliable goalies to choose from for every game.
While the Rangers are satisfied to be sitting at seventh place in the East right now, the team could have an even better record if it were not for a multitude of injuries that have sidelined key players. Vinny Prospal, a 58-point scorer last season, has missed the entire first two months after having knee surgery, while Captain Chris Drury broke his left index finger in the one game that he has played in all season. As mentioned before, last year’s top scorer, Marian Gaborik, missed 12 games with a shoulder injury. Along with Gaborik, important role players Michal Rosival, Matt Gilroy, and Todd White have also missed extended periods of time due to injuries.
6. New York Islanders: John Taveras
There isn't much to be thankful about on Long Island, but 20-year-old future star John Tavares is something to appreciate.
The Islanders, who have not won a game since October 21, do not have much to be thankful for, but they can still be embrace the fact that they have last year’s first overall pick, John Tavares. Tavares is the team’s co-leader in goal scoring with 8 goals, despite missing three games with a concussion early in the season. He has also made linemate Matt Moulson a much stronger presence on the ice, as Moulson currently leads the team with 13 points and is tied with Tavares with 8 goals. The 20-year-old Tavares expects to mature and bring brighter days to Uniondale.
Honorable Mention: Rick DiPietro
No, he is not the starter at the Nassau Coliseum, but DiPietro is finally healthy. Currently in the fifth year of his fifteen-year contract, the longest ever in NHL history (Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year deal failed), DiPietro has been healthy for the longest period of time since the 07-08 season. The 29-year-old still has the potential to be one of the top goaltenders in the league, as he was when he was an all-star in 07-08, and a healthy season as a backup could start his rejuvenation. Either way, the Isles are stuck with his contract for ten more seasons, so any degree of success is good to hear.
Unthankful: Everything else
The Islanders have lost their past 14 games, including six by one goal. The team also went through an ugly coach turnover, as Scott Gordon was relieved of his coaching position to become an advisor at the front office, while Bridgeport Sound Tiger (AHL) coach Jack Capuano was put in charge of the team. Still, Capuano has simply extended Gordon’s 10-game losing streak to 14.
7. New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur
Things may seem bleak in New Jersey, but the Devils can still rely on Hall-of-Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur
Simply put, the Devils can’t score. Jason Arnott has lit the lamp eight times this season, but Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson are a distant second with just four goals. The Devils should have even less than their measely 16 points thus far, but Brodeur continues to bail the team out, as he’s done for the last 20 years. His 2.74 GAA and .901 save percentage are among the league’s best, and since a rocky first two games, he has only allowed more than three goals twice. As the season moves along, the Devils can be thankful that they still should return to the playoffs for the fourteenth consecutive season thanks to the always reliable #30.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Elias
Again, the Devils need to be thankful that they have reliable veterans that can bring them back to the playoffs. Elias, who has been the face of the offense for 15 seasons, is off to a stellar start with a team-leading 11 assists. As soon as the veteran can find his own scoring touch, he will make his line one of the most dangerous in the league.
Unthankful: American forwards
While the Rangers’ yankee forwards are finding their strides this season, the situation across the Hudson is a whole different story. Zach Parise, who averaged 88 points over the past two seasons, has already missed one month due to a torn meniscus and is expected to miss at least two more before returning to the ice. Jamie Langenrunner, last February’s Olympic captain has been out, as well, missing six games with an upper body injury. Brain Rolston also missed 14 games after having sports hernia surgery and has only 2 points in the 8 games that he has played in.
8. New York Yankees: Yankee Loyalty
No matter what the media says, long-time Yankees Mariano Rivera (L), Derek Jeter (C), and Andy Pettitte (R) are not going anywhere unless either of the three choose to retire.
Enough with the Jeter, Rivera, and Pettitte nonsense. Jeter, first of all, is not going anywhere. He grew up worshipping the Yankees and has lived the dream for the past 15 years, with no interest in going anywhere else. Jeter also knows that the Yankees are the only team willing to pay the veteran shortstop the big bills and is only looking for a longer contract, so he doesn’t have to deal with this media crap within the next few years. The Yankees need Jeter to be the face of the franchise and Jeter needs the Yankees to continue living his dream. The Steinbrenners are trying to act as tough as their father would have, but unlike the Torre negotiations of 2007, Brian Cashman should step in this time to talk some sense into the erratic owners. I expect a three-year $48-million contract to be signed within two weeks.
Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees other two meaningful free agents, are going through similar contract negotiations, but yet a bit different. Rivera has always been a Yankee, his family lives comfortably in Harrison, and he has no desire to finish his career elsewhere. Also, unlike Jeter, who will arguably be the Yankees fifth or sixth top hitter in the order next season, Rivera may still be the best closer in baseball, making him even more important to the team. I expect a three-year $42-million deal within two weeks, as well.
Finally, with Pettitte, we know he’s not going to try the playing close to home thing after that failed with the Astros, so his only options are to stay with the Yankees or retire. He wants one more shot at a final title and will sign a one-year $12-million deal within the next two months (and then he’ll do it all again next off-season).
Honorable Mention: The fall of the rest of the AL East
When the 2011 season begins, the Yankees will be “The East,” according to the logic of Evan Brooker. Throughout the 2010 season, the Yankees found themselves in a dogfight for the AL East title with the Red Sox and Rays. At one point in the season, the trio boasted the three best records in all of baseball. However, the rival Red Sox have already lost clean-up hitter Victor Martinez to the Tigers and all-star third baseman Adrian Beltre has been offered a five-year $64 million contract by the Oakland Athletics. With David Ortiz aging, and Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, and Daisuke Matsuzaka battling injuries, the Red Sox will need to make a big splash this off-season to compete with the Yanks in 2011.
Similarly, things are not looking bright for the Rays, last year’s division winner. Carlos Peña and Carl Crawford, two of the Tampa Bay’s top hitters over the past five seasons, are free agents and will likely look for big money elsewhere. Also becoming free agents are Rafeal Soriano, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Chad Qualls, and Randy Choate, five relievers who gave Manager Joe Maddon one of the best bullpens in the league down the stretch in 2010. While the small-market Rays will return their young starting rotation, as well as all-star Evan Longoria, General Manager Andrew Friedman will likely stay quiet this off-season, building up the farm system for another burst at the World Series two or three years from now.
In terms of the rest of the division, the Baltimore Orioles looked sharp under Buck Showalter during the second half of 2010, but they just don’t have the experience yet to make a run at the playoffs, especially on the mound. Likewise, the Blue Jays showed they could hit last season, leading the league in home runs, but I just can’t see their pitching staff improving enough to compete with the Yankees in one season.
Unthankful: The Dave Eiland situation
Yes, the Yankees’ pitching staff looked atrocious in the ALCS, but other than that one week, most of the rotation was sharper than ever in 2010. Phil Hughes emerged as a top-tier starting pitcher, going 18-8 with 146 strike outs and only 58 walks. While only able to pitch in 21 games, Andy Pettitte looked brilliant, going 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA, his lowest since 2005. C.C. Sabathia also dazzled as the Yankees’ ace, going 21-7 with 3.18 ERA and 197 strikeouts, narrowly missing a Cy Young Award.
Eiland was let go for the pitching collapse in the ALCS and the atrocity of Javier Vazquez and A.J. Burnett throughout the season. However, Vazquez had a 4.91 ERA during his first stint in pinstripes and should not have been expected to do any better a second time around. Burnett may not have had a good season in 2010, but Eiland became his first pitching coach to ever keep his arm healthy for two consecutive seasons. The Yankees may have made a costly mistake releasing the same pitching coach that won a World Series title just one year ago.
9. New York Mets: The Omar Minaya/Jerry Manuel Era is over
New General Manager Sandy Alderson hopes to improve the Mets after replacing Omar Minaya.
The Mets still have contract issues, injury woes, and a convicted felon as a closer, but there is a sense of excitement surrounding the new front office in Queens. New General Manager Sandy Alderson built up the Oakland Athletics into a World Champion in the 80s, grooming Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, while mentoring a young executive named Billy Beane along the way. In the last few years, Alderson molded the San Diego Padres into a constant playoff contender, despite having one of the smallest payrolls in all of baseball. Alderson has never headed a big market team like the Mets, meaning that the sky could be the limit for the GM.
Met fans should also be excited about the signing of Terry Collins as manger, no matter what the media is saying right now. Collins has been on the Mets’ radar for the past decade and has the fiery attitude of Jerry Manuel, with about three times as much experience, coaching two teams already in the United States and one in Japan. Also, Collins was the Mets’ minor-league field coordinator last year, meaning that he is familiar with the Mets’ prospects and which young players may be useful for the big club.
Honorable Mention: Possible Young Talent
The Mets’ farm system has not been known for being too strong as of late, but the team may have finally groomed a set of youngsters that can provide a foundation for the future. At first base, Ike Davis hit 19 home runs and drove in 71 runs as a rookie in 2010, proving himself as a reliable left-handed power hitter in the middle of the Mets’ lineup. Catcher Josh Thole also brings about a great deal of potential, hitting .286 in 255 career at-bats over the past two seasons.
On the pitching end, 24-year-old Dillon Gee posted a 2.18 ERA and 17 strikeouts in five September starts last season. Mike Pelfrey, Jonathan Niese, and John Maine are all also still in their twenties and have the potential to lead a respectable pitching staff, despite the fact that Johan Santana will likely be out at the beginning of the season.
Unthankful: Carlos Beltran
The underachieving outfielder’s seven-year $119 million contract will finally end after the 2011 season, but Beltran doesn’t want to go out without making some noise. The 33-year-old’s legs are not what they used to be, and it would be in the Mets best interest to move Beltran to right field, allowing the healthier Angel Pagan to patrol the vast centerfield valley of Citi Field. However, Beltran insists that he can still play centerfield and has expressed no interest in giving up the position. Alderson and Collins have quietly discussed the issue, but have said that they will wait until spring training to make a decision. With Beltran’s abnormally large ego, things could get ugly very fast in Queens. And to make matters worse, Beltran recently expressed that he wants to play out the rest of his career in a Mets uniform. When will Beltran, who hasn’t played a full season in three years, finally realize that his prime is long gone?