published Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

5 at 10: NFL Power poll, Titans and Falcons, and Braves making (non)moves

From the "Mama McNabb stage here at the Al Davis Studio," here we go...

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    Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) runs with the ball during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Giants Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NFL Power poll

This has been a very enjoyable and intriguing NFL season. And the team rankings across the league have morphed into a bizarro sandwich in which there's no debating which teams are the bread (the unbeaten Packers are the top and the winless Colts are the bottom slice), and all the other sandwich items can be flipped or reversed or stacked however you want.

Quick side note: This season has been enjoyable in part because of the great story lines and more importantly because the games have been so entertaining. Makes a pretty strong argument against the value of preseason, huh, since the labor lockout cut into preparation time around the league? (Yes, we had almost forgotten about the labor lockout, too. Let's just move along.)

Top 5

1) Green Bay: Duh.

2) New England: Seems like the Pats have an emotional edge right now that is paying dividends. Brady snapping at the OC and big tight end Rob Grnasdhakoskiskisski or whatever his name is has become a combo of Mark Bavaro, Dave Capser and Kellen Winslow.

3) New Orleans: On turf, the Saints may be the best team in football. Alas, there is not turf at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, and that's where the road to the Super Bowl will lead.

4) Pittsburgh: The Steelers are banged up and are tied at 10-3 for the best record in the AFC (although Baltimore holds the tie-breaker in the AFC North standings) and face an interesting dilemma: Go for home-field advantage or make sure your stars are healthy for the playoffs.

5) Baltimore: The best team without an elite QB. And there's the award-winning back-handed compliment for Joe Flacco this morning.

Bottom 5

28) Jacksonville: Do you think the attendance-starved and QB-needy Jaguars would like to have a mulligan in the 2010 draft when they picked defensive end Tyson Alualu 10th in the first round? Remember that Tim Tebow, who grew up near Jacksonville, was picked 15 spots later. Is there one player who would mean more to a franchise in the combination on the field and in the stands than Tebow for the Jags? No way.

29) Washington: Gross. Here's another question: During the era of political correctness correcting team names, how did the Redskins survive? Isn't that the worst of all the Indian names? Chiefs and Braves and Warriors were either terms or roles of honor. Redskins... not so much.

30) Minnesota: Who did more to damage their legacy in the last three years, Brett Favre or Donovan McNabb? And considering each hit rock bottom in Minnesota, here's saying the over/under on the number of free agent QBs looking to join the Vikings this offseason is 0.3. (Take the under.)

31) St. Louis: The Rams' loss to Seattle on Monday was the worst Monday Night Football matchup the 5-at-10 can ever remember. Being on Monday night used to be a big deal. Now it appears it is not unlike church league youth basketball and everyone gets to play. Hey, we got nothing against church league youth hoops mind you, we just don't plan on watching it unless we have a tot in the game. And "Hey, we're better than church league youth hoops and the players' parents are going to watch," is certainly not the desired message of the MNF brand.

32) Indianapolis: Duh.

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And how about those Falcons and Titans

The Falcons are 8-5 and in line for a playoff spot and have underachieved.

The Titans are 7-6 and have some work to do to get to the playoffs and have overachieved.

The Falcons have a bevy of talented skill guys that are playing well enough to win.

The Titans two best skill guys are an oft-troubled and injured receiver and a running back who seems to either get 160 yards or 16 depending on the game.

The Falcons coach had to be removed from the team plane Sunday for chest pains.

The Titans coach will finish second in NFL coach of the year voting behind the guy leading the unbeaten Packers. (And yes, the 5-at-10 owes Mike Munchak a huge, "We're sorry," because Coach Munchak is way better than we expected and we're big enough to admit it.)

So where does that leave us? The Falcons are without a first-round pick next fall and need to push all their chips into making the playoffs. That starts Thursday against the hapless Jaguars. And if the Falcons can get in, anything is possible. Remember the Packers won the Super Bowl last year as the No. 6 in the NFC. Plus, this team could be dangerous since it has as good a five-person skill package as any team in the NFL. (Look around, and who has a better QB-RB-TE-WR1-WR2 combo than the Falcons' Matt Ryan-Mike Turner-Tony Gonzalez-Roddy White-Julio Jones?)

For the Titans, a playoff trip would be awesome in its awesomeness, and in our mind would catapult Munchak past Green Bay's Mike McCarthy for coach of the year. (Which would be more impressive, going undefeated with Aaron Rodgers and Co. or getting to the playoffs with a team expected to be among the worst in the league, especially when your new staff had no offseason to implement its styles and systems?) They way Munchak and Co. have brought Jake Locker along has been spot-on (and if compspeed is sold on Locker, we're in too). But there is so much to build on with this Tennessee team, and the ability to move higher into the first round to get some defensive athleticism or find that elusive (and dependable) No. 1 receiver — we see you Justin Blackmon — would be huge for Locker and the Titans.

Right now, the Falcons are desperate and have all their chips in the middle. The Titans are playing with house money.

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    Atlanta Braves left fielder Martin Prado sits on the bench after the Braves lost 4-3 in 13 innings in a baseball game to the Philadelphia Phillies in Atlanta on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Braves making (non)moves

The Atlanta Braves have declined to tender contracts to reliever Peter Moylan and utility infielder Brooks Conrad. We're OK with both of those decisions. Moylan was injured most of last season and could be a candidate for the Braves to retain at a cute-rate price, if they decide to do so. Conrad was an OK reserve, but your utility guy should be a better fielder than he is/was. So it goes.

Among the other news in the Braves' news release announcing the decision to let Moylan and Conrad become free agents was the list of four players on the 40-man roster that are arbitration-eligible. Here's the 5-at-10's view on how to handle each:

Right-handed pitcher Jair Jurrjens: Deal him as soon as possible. His value will never be higher than it is right now. He got a lot of breaks and pitched very well in the first half of the season, but he has three above-average pitches, and that's about it.

Left-handed pitcher Eric O’Flaherty: An invaluable piece to the bullpen, which is the overwhelming strength of this Braves team. Sign him long-term and embrace the fact that you're signing a guy that is currently your seventh-inning guy (at seventh-inning guy money), but has the stuff to be your eight-inning guy or even your closer.

Infielder/outfielder Martin Prado: Let him ride. If he's in a Braves uni next year great. If he's part of the deal to upgrade the outfield and the line-up great.

Outfielder Michael Bourn: Sign him long-term. Now. He's young and talented and plays great defense. Plus, in coming years of the post-steroids era, speed and batting average will be more valuable commodities. This could be the Braves lead-off hitter for the better part of the next decade.

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This and that

— There were more than a few raised eyebrows during the bowl selections. (Unbunch your undergarmets, P-Davi, this is not about Bama in the title game.) The most alarming bowl bid was delivered to Virginia Tech, which was invited to the Sugar Bowl after getting pistol whipped by Clemson in the ACC title game. One of the arguments for picking Va. Tech was its fan base and the ability to fill the venue. Well, now there's news that just over half of the 17,500 Sugar Bowl tickets that were allotted to the Hokies have been sold. In fact, the school is pleading with its fans to buy more tickets. Somewhere Johnny Boise State Fans just started giggling.

— Firings are never easy, but here's saying the 5-at-10 will miss Tony Sparano and his ever-present sunglasses (he has an eye condition that requires the full-time shades, so just like Corey Hart, he wears his sunglasses at night, too) on the Miami sideline. Jokes and one-liners about his namesake — Tony Saprano of HBO mob fame — aside, Sparano seemed to be a guy that cared for his players and got more out of that bunch than most coaches would have. It's hard to blame the coach of a team in a QB-driven league who is not given a reliable QB. Quick name three QBs that have started for the Dolphins since Dan Marino retired? And remember Marino retired in 1999 (hard to believe it was that long ago, right)?

— Jerry Sandusky waived his preliminary hearing Tuesday and will head straight to trail. We all feel the same way about this scumbag, so let's just move along.

— The last huge impact free agent left on the market is Prince Fielder, the former Milwaukee first baseman. There appears to be eight teams with a legit chance, and two of them are in the NL East. If the Marlins or the Nationals add the big-swinging Fielder, the Braves will be no better than the third best team in the NL East. Thank goodness for the Mets.

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Today's question

The 5-at-10 loves, Loves, LOVES Christmas. Always has and always will. You know this.

This week our questions have been/will be about Christmas and sports. Monday was passive/aggressive Christmas cards, and there were some great ones (to Nick Fairley, to Lane Kiffin, even to Al Davis — well payed indeed).

Today, we want you to share the best sports-related Christmas gift you can remember getting. It could be a football, an autographed something or tickets — it's your gift and your call.

We'll start: When we were 12, the 5-at-10 parental units delivered on a legit L.A. Dodgers' Starter jacket that was just like the ones the big leaguers wore. It was SO sweet. The pre-teen 5-at-10 didn't take it off until mid-June (and yes, it got a little warm that summer but we were up for the sacrifice).

Best sports-related gift... whatcha' got?

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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Blueoval said...

My Christmas gift one year was Reggie White. It was the year he was drafted by the Memphis Showboats. My mom's cousin was a UT booster and he called one Christmas Eve morning to ask if my dad could bring me over to the Valleybrook clubhouse for lunch. After a few minutes Reggie walked in and gave me one of his autographed UT game jerseys. I still have it and will never forget that day.

December 13, 2011 at 10:44 a.m.
jgreeson said...

Oval —

That's an AWESOME story.

Merry Christmas.

— 5-at-10

December 13, 2011 at 11:12 a.m.
chas9 said...

In East Ridge, circa 1960, there were still plenty of vacant lots, and on them we improvised our baseball fields, using rocks for bases. Equipment was scarce, so those who had gloves left them in the field when the sides were retired, and still some fielders had to play bare-handed.

Early on, we'd use a scrap of lumber for a bat. Later, my brother and I joined Joe Engel's Knothole Gang, and got to see a Lookouts game for 15 cents. We went on bat night, and came home with two cheap bats, definitely not Louisville Sluggers. One bat split apart quickly, but the other served us well and long.

For a ball, we wrapped electrical tape around a small rock. We upgraded when somebody scrounged a ball whose cover was off leaving the winding threads exposed.

Came the time I was feeling really down because I didn't get to join my brother spending a few days out of town with our cousins in Eastman, GA, so my father took me down to Lookout Sporting Goods on Broad Street.

We left with a regulation baseball still in its box! Genuine unblemished white horsehide with red stitching, signed by Warren Spahn. I passed many hours examining every square millimeter of this wondrous object, turning it over in my hands, and I slept with it nearby.

As one of five kids, the virtue of sharing selflessly had been strongly inculcated in me, so I assumed my brother and I shared ownership of the ball, just as our bicycle and BB gun were shared possessions. Only after the ball was well worn, brown and scuffed, was it explained to me that the ball had been mine alone, to compensate me for missing out on the cousins' visit.

I guess it's better I didn't know, since the virtue of sharing has stayed strong within me.

The ball wasn't a Christmas gift, but the Daisy BB gun was. Probably my favorite Yuletide present ever. And when my brother shot out the neighbor's window, I shared in that, too. We both had to go knock on the door and apologize.

December 13, 2011 at 11:36 a.m.
jgreeson said...

9er —

Merry Christmas. Another great story.

The 5-at-10 is an only child so we always enjoy those family stories.

Here's another great sports gift we can recall:

Super Toe, the blue, hard plastic field goal kicker that you smashed on the head and he kicked the little football toward the plastic goal posts. Our hand starts hurting every time we tried to turn Super Toe into Mick Luckhurst.

— 5-at-10

December 13, 2011 at 1:23 p.m.
Walden said...

Jay- One that sticks out for me is when I got that metal vibrating football game one year in the mid-to-late 70's. I know a lot of people complained that you really couldn't make the players do what you were supposed to be able to, but if you set up the perfect wedge formation, your guy could take that little foam football all the way!

December 13, 2011 at 1:39 p.m.
Walden said...

I just remembered, my two teams on the aforementioned game were the Cowboys and the Broncos. I must have gotten that game for Christmas in 1978... I was a HUGE Cowboys fans when I was a boy (Landry, Staubach, Too Tall, I mean come on!). Now, not so much.

December 13, 2011 at 1:43 p.m.
memphisexile said...

Toss up between two different ones, both from Mrs. Exile. One was a copy of the front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune from when the Saints won the SB, the other was an official #18 LSU jersey. While this is not widely known, since Matt Mauck wore the 18 jersey in the NC in the 2003 season, it has become a tradition at LSU for Miles and the former wearers of 18 to choose someone with leadership and high character to wear it. So, a pretty cool jersey to have imo.

On a side note, I may be giving a great one this year when a give my Vols fan brother a pair of pants with a unique shade....

December 13, 2011 at 1:44 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Walden —

Those electronic games were just a tick before the 5-at-10's time. Although we remember getting one of those hand-held electronic Mattel Mr. Football games. The hard white plastic kind. Wow, how far have electronic football games come in the last 30-plus years?

This had the little blip and you could move him up and down and forward and you tried to work around three defenders. Then a few years later there was Mr. Football II and Coleco's Mr. Quarterback.

Good times indeed. (Although if she reads this, the Mrs. 5-at-10 just realized why we spend so much time digging on our Blackberry — it started with that stupid Mr. Football game in the late 1970s).

Exile —

Two strong gifts right there. What color is the No. 18 jersey, and that's a cool story. (Didn't Jacob Hester wear 18, and who wears it this year? And since Patrick Peterson and Honey Badger have worn No. 7 the last four years, do the leaders get No. 18 and the all-world DBs get No. 7? )

As for the gifts, don't jump ahead on Christmas question week and reveal a gift you may deliver.

— 5-at-10

December 13, 2011 at 2:03 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

SuperToe (the Spy and his sibling nearest in age had one. Not one each. One to share. Which of course led to the nearly daily donnybrook. Not that much was needed to start that. But I digress....) was awesome in its awesomeness.

December 13, 2011 at 2:54 p.m.
eljefe said...

It truly seems like there is a great sport's gift every year for different reasons. Having children and watching them get excited about sports is one of the greatest gifts a father can have.

The answer to name three Dolphins QB's since Marino left is also the answer to the names of Disney Dwarves that did not make the film's final cut: Crummy, Lousy and (expletive deleted).

Marino actually gave me a Christmas gift one year when I met him. By meeting him I mean he looked at me with utter contempt and had me and other so-called VIPs thrown out of the weight room at the Dolphins then-brand-new training facility in Davie, FL. Unfortunately, we needed to walk through the weight room to access the locker rooms. Ebenezer Marino aside it was a great time and really cool event.

Merry Christmas, Dan

December 13, 2011 at 3:17 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Spy —

We went through more than a few Super Toe dudes at the casa de la 5-at-10. Several. Including one year, Mr. Toe did not make it to New Year's because he kept going wide right. (Yes, there was tragic Super Toe accident that included heat and melting parts. If we had to list that Super Toe on the modern day NFL injured list it would have been: Super Toe — out, melted helmet and broken-off-foot.)

Jefe —

No wonder Ray Finkle wanted to pop Marino. (Laces out Dan. LACES OUT.)

Great point about little kids and Christmas. Our 4-year-old got an AU football and an AU tackling dummy last year and LOVED them. Of course, after this year, being able to accurately throw a pass and/or wrap up and make a tackle appear to be frowned upon by Auburn. So it goes.

— 5-at-10

December 13, 2011 at 3:30 p.m.
chas9 said...

This evening UTC plays (0-1) Spalding Elementary. Really? 0-1? Do they even really have a team?

December 13, 2011 at 3:36 p.m.
jgreeson said...

9er —

We thought the Mocs were taking on Judge Smails' grandson Spalding. SPALDING.

Hey Spalding vs. 5 Mocs may seem like a mismatch but remember, "I want a hamburger. No, cheeseburger. I want a hot dog. I want a milkshake. I want potato chips..."

Spalding will get nothing and like it.

— 5-at-10

December 13, 2011 at 5:02 p.m.
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