Archive for August, 2009

Falcons’ Anderson knows his guarantees are running out

This is what Jamaal Anderson looks like after a sack. It's a rare photo. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

This is what Falcons end Jamaal Anderson looks like after a sack. Only a couple of these photos exist. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

FLOWERY BRANCH — There is an incentive bonus built into Jamaal Anderson’s contract that will pay him $5 million if he reaches 30 career sacks before the end of this season or 40 sacks before the end of 2010. Let’s go out on a limb here. That bonus is sitting under a tree in Never Never Land.

Went out to the Branch Wednesday ostensibly to chat with Falcons defensive end John Abraham for a column. But while there, I figured I’d check in with the other end, Anderson, who was the eighth overall draft pick in 2007 but obviously hasn’t played like it.

Anderson had two sacks last season. That’s two more than he had the year before. Now, you can understand the poor kid being traumatized by his first season in the NFL. The draft was followed by all matters concerning Michael Vick, which was followed by the realization that Bobby Petrino was …

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Hawks: Are they still only fourth best in NBA’s East?

Maybe you've heard: These two guys are now teammates in Cleveland.

Maybe you've heard: These two guys are now teammates in Cleveland.

In engineering one of the busiest and most successful summers in Hawks’ history, general manager Rick Sund strengthened the bench (Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith), drafted a talented guard (Jeff Teague) and retained the team’s top three free agents (Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia).

Only one problem: Atlanta might still be only the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference.

What are your expectations for the Hawks next season?

  • No. 1 in the East.
  • No. 2 in the East.
  • No. 3 in the East.
  • No. 4 in the East.
  • No. 5 or worse in the East.

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This week’s signing of Smith concluded the Hawks’ significant moves this off-season. Here’s my question for you: What should the expectation be?

Everybody ahead of them in the East (Cleveland, Boston, Orlando) also got better. So did some teams behind them, though probably not enough to crack the top four. …

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Struggling Chipper: ‘A moral victory for me is a walk’

As this look would suggest, Chipper Jones needs a rest. (AP photo)

As this look the other night would suggest, Chipper Jones could use a rest. But it's a bad time to ask. (AP photo)

The Braves are playing their best stretch of baseball in more than three years. Chipper Jones, the player who usually helps get them there, is playing his worst.

If you’re Jones, the season has been a mixed blessing. He spoke two weeks ago about how much he enjoyed being part of a playoff race again. But two weeks ago, he wasn’t in a stretch of one hit in nine games. Two weeks ago, he wasn’t so clearly on pace to put up some of his least productive offensive numbers since his rookie season — this despite actually leading the team in games played — and openly speaking about how physically and mentally worn down he felt.

“I can sit here and tell you all of the things I’ve done wrong this whole year [mechanically], and the list is long and boring,” Jones said Tuesday. “But the bottom line is, you get a pitch to hit pretty much every at-bat, and if …

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Braves’ playoff race: Do you still chop ’til you drop?

Jeff Francoeur says it's not the same as it used to be in Atlanta.

Heading out to the stadium later to see if the Braves can keep pace in the National League wild card race, since it looks again like there’s no way they’re going to keep pace with the Phladelphia Phillies in the East Division. But I came across this New York Times story in which Jeff Francoeur takes a few shots at his former team and this market, to a degree, and it got me wondering about something.

I’ve thought all along that if the Braves made the playoffs this season, after what it had been through, it would excite the fan base more than at any time in the last 10 years. Why? Because it would be unexpected. That’s about the only thing that gets most Atlanta sports fans excited: something new, cool, unexpected. Win all the time and it gets old. Folks became jaded during the run of 14 straight division titles, and by the late 1990s the feeling was, “I’ll get excited again when there’s a reason to get …

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Countdown: Gundy (quack), Vick (Goose), Holtz (turkey)

The Count's also getting a little pudgy.

The Count doesn't like to argue.

In case you missed it, the annual college football argument season officially kicked off Saturday when the Associated Press released its opening national rankings.

I’ve never quite grasped why the rankings fuel such vitriol between fan bases. But it’s what gives college football part of its “charm,” I suppose, and some of that would be lost if we had an actual playoff system instead of the BCS, which of course is the basis for a whole different argument.

Speaking of which, I’ve dug up video footage of the very first argument between a Georgia and Georgia Tech fan. The accents have changed a bit through the years, but I’m sure you’ll recognize the same themes. Ready, set, argue! And after that, The Count will guide you through this week’s Countdown.

Me? I’ll be in the corner over here, trying to sip a Grey Goose and pineapple juice without anybody noticing.

The first Georgia vs. Georgia Tech argument

10. A little paranoid, big fella?

Oklahoma …

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Braves’ playoff chances only ‘cool,’ according to website

This would be Bobby Cox's reaction . . .

This would be Bobby Cox's reaction . . .

So if you’re obsessed with this Braves’ stretch drive and you bow at your Brian McCann shrine every morning and you’re wondering if a six-man rotation with Tim Hudson would blow away the rest of the National League and the last thing you want to hear is how two numbers geeks from MIT believe the outlook doesn’t look so good – well then, you may not want to read this. (No wait! Stay! I need the page views!)

There’s a website you may have heard of: coolstandings.com. It actually has been around since 2005. But since I’ve never been a big numbers guy, I guess it has eluded me, until alert reader “Stephen” tipped me off.

In short, coolstandings.com calculates every team’s division, wild card and overall playoff chances based on a half-dozen statistical factors, which I’ll get to in a minute. Bottom

. . . if you asked him what he thinks of coolstandings.com.

. . . if you asked him what he thinks of coolstandings' view of the Braves

line: According to the site’s co-creator, …

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Lions shouldn’t rush Stafford if he’s not ready

Matthew Stafford is already feeling the heat in the NFL.

Matthew Stafford is already feeling the heat in the NFL.

The problem with Matt Ryan is he has ruined it for everybody else. Ryan had an off-the-charts first season with the Falcons and so now every team and fan base with a No. 1 draft pick at quarterback thinks, “Our rookie quarterback can be off the charts, too!”

Should Matthew Stafford start for the Lions this season, regardless of his pre-season stats?

  • Yes.
  • No.

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If the Detroit Lions make that mistake, they’re going to screw up Matthew Stafford. And it’s not as if this franchise hasn’t wrecked quarterbacks before.

Stafford has played in two exhibitions. He has shown he’s not ready to step into NFL starting job yet. He has struggled with his feel in the pocket and anticipating defense adjustments, and it’s certainly way too early to assess leadership abilities. All three were knocks on him before the draft. Two exhibitions (one start) hardly define a career. I still …

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Braves taking survival in playoff chase to new levels

Brian McCann didn't do too much Sunday: Just five RBI, including the tie-breaking two-run single in the eighth. (AP photo)

Brian McCann didn't do too much Sunday — just a homer, five RBI and a tiebreaking, two-run hit to give the Braves a 7-5 win over Florida. (AP photo)

Regardless of whether this Braves’ season ends in a division title, a wild card berth or one minor spasm short of the playoffs, this much can be said about them: They chose the most difficult way to get there.

Fall behind? Rally late.

Lose four regulars? Start an outfield worthy of camp Disney but somehow get by.

Drop game one of the series (again)? Feh! Come back and win the next two (again).

“I don’t know what the [expletive] is wrong with us – we lose the first game every time,” Bobby Cox said Sunday, the sting of those words softened by a slight smile and a post-game victory cigar.

They won again Sunday, 7-5. They won after blowing an early 3-0 lead and falling behind, 5-3, thanks to another dreadful start by Derek Lowe (20 hits and 13 runs, 11 earned, allowed in his last 8 2/3 innings). They won despite …

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AP poll dance: Gators 1, Dogs 13, Jackets 15 (and closing)

Here Mark Richt, just slightly ahead of Paul Johnson. Looks just like the pre-season rankings.

Here's Georgia coach Mark Richt, just slightly ahead of Tech's Paul Johnson. Funny. It looks just like the AP's pre-season rankings. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com)

The AP’s pre-season poll released Saturday confirmed what we already knew: Georgia is not number one. Georgia Tech is not number none. And the perceptions of the two programs have gone in opposite directions.

As for which team is better going into the season, I’ll let you guys fight it out. But there is not a strong consensus among voters. AP pollsters placed Georgia 13th overall and Georgia Tech 15th, the same as the coaches’ poll (although the AP has them separated by Boise State; the coaches by Oregon). But it’s somewhat of an historic poll because it’s the first time Tech has cracked the AP top-25 pre-season rankings since 2001. It’s also the first time both schools are in the pre-season poll since 1999.

Biggest non-shock of all: Florida is No. 1, getting 58 of a possible 60 first-place votes. (The other …

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Thrashers’ good fortune: Kovalchuk’s here, Heatley’s gone

Dany Heatley is neither stable nor great any more. (AP photo)

Former Thrasher Dany Heatley is neither stable nor great any more.

Question: How screwed up does somebody have to be to demand a no-trade clause in his new six-year, $45 million contract extension, only to ask for a trade one year into the deal, only to then reject a trade because he doesn’t like the team he was going to be dealt to?

This is a hockey blog. But non-hockey fans, hang with me here for a minute because this crosses over lines for all sports.

I covered the Thrashers in their first three seasons. If there seemed two absolutes about the franchise’s future, they were this: 1) Dany Heatley would be their captain and leader for several years to come; 2) Ilya Kovalchuk would be their wonderfully talented but volatile scorer for years to come. And if the team ultimately had to choose one over the other somewhere down the line for financial reasons, it figured to be Heatley. He would become one of the faces of Atlanta sports.

Never could I have imagined that Kovalchuk …

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