- The Season's Over -

Detroit Pistons Desperately Seeking Direction

November 18, 2010

Ben Wallace Detroit Pistons

Ben Wallace Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Brian Spencer

Anybody who’s tuned into these early weeks of the NBA season knows that the Detroit Pistons are a ticking time bomb, and that things could get a lot worse before they get a lot better. Players are feuding with coaches, coaches are feuding with players, and judging by all the empty seats at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the fans want nothing to do with the mess.

In the standings reality, however, at 4-8 they fall squarely into the also-ran column and are not yet a true cellar dweller a la the Clippers, Raptors, 76ers, etc… but they’re getting close to joining that rarified sewer air. With a little more luck–and talent–they could easily be 6-6, even 7-5, after dropping their first two games by a total of four points, then blowing a 21-point second-half lead in their third loss. Oh, sure, they’ve looked dreadfully listless and are clearly lacking in chemistry, but don’t believe everything you’re reading: despite all the turmoil, this team has actually been competitive most nights, and in the weak Eastern Conference they probably have enough talent to squeeze into the playoffs.

That said, it’s time to light this bomb’s fuse and blow this feeble version of the Pistons to bits. It should start with Tayshaun Prince, who seems to be doing everything in his power to force his way out. His body language has been embarassing for a guy raking in $11 million on the season and who’s asked to do very little besides hustle and set a good example; so far he’s done neither. There’s no place for Richard Hamilton anymore, either, not with Ben Gordon starting to heat up and be the lights-out scorer we know he can be. He has enough depth behind him.

Hamilton and Prince played starring roles in Detroit’s six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, winning is all they know, and now that they’re losing on a team that’s rebuilding and trying to find its way, their hearts simply don’t seem to be in it. Understandable, to a degree, until you remember, again, that both are being paid handsomely to play a game they love. (Hamilton is guaranteed $12.6 million this season and the next two.) And don’t give me this “money isn’t everything” garbage: of course it’s not. But are we so used to athletes annually being paid more than the GDP of hundreds of small countries that salary, and return on that salary, should no longer be a consideration?

I’ve rooted for both these guys for such a long time, and I want to see them both succeed again–but elsewhere. No, this franchise cannot fully move into the future until it fully lets go of the past. (It’s worth noting, however, that Ben Wallace, the other holdover from the franchise’s most recent golden era, is still doing his best to be the hustling, banging, rebounding, defending warrior he’s always been in Detroit; his impact on the game, however, just isn’t the same at 36 years old. Don’t worry, though, it looks like he’s interested in playing defense even after his playing days are over.)

Of course, jettisoning their longtime stars is just the beginning.

More on the state of the Detroit Pistons after the break….

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1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Nov. 18, 2010 at 7:28am in ETB Articles, NBA, NBA Fantasy News

Shaun Hill is Never Sexier Than Tom Brady

November 15, 2010

Tom Brady PatriotsBy Brian Spencer

I should have known better.

Heading into the Patriots’ Week 10 matchup with the Steelers in Pittsburgh, Tom Brady had been performing like your everyday, run-of-the-mill fantasy quarterback. Since Week 3 against the toothless Buffalo Bills, Goldie Locks had thrown more than 2 TD passes just once and had yet to top 300 yards passing in any game, period. Real-life wins and losses matter not in the ratings driver that is this imaginary sport: while Brady was leading his Patriots to the top of the AFC, he was simultaneously barely keeping millions of imaginary teams above water, including mine.

Detroit Lions backup Shaun Hill, on the other hand, had become a viable low-end QB1 for over a month after stepping in for the injured Matthew Stafford (he of the golden throwing arm with a throwing shoulder made of Pyrite). During a four-week span before he suffered an injury of his own (broken left forearm), Hill posted the highly useful totals of 1,130 yards passing (including two games with over 330 yards), 8 TDs, and 6 INTs. The picks limited his value, to be sure, but two or three of those were the receiver’s fault, not Hill’s.

You know where this is going, right?

Fast forward to Week 10, which saw Brady travel to Pittsburgh to take on one of the best defenses in the league, and Hill make his return behind center for the Lions at Buffalo, which was fielding one of the statistically worst defenses in the league. Things hadn’t been the same in New England since Brady lost his lone, consistent playmaker in Randy Moss; things also hadn’t been the same–in a good way–in Detroit since Calvin Johnson began flexing his muscles, Nate Burleson came back to the lineup, and Brandon Pettigrew had developed into one of the NFC’s leading pass-catching tight ends.

In the end, I went against my best judgement (and my own fantasy advice) and got cute: I played the matchup and started Hill. That didn’t work out so hot:

Brady: 30-43, 350 yards, 3 TDs, 1 rushing TD, 35.87 fantasy points
Hill: 29-50, 323 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 17.64 fantasy points

That’s a difference of about 18 points; I lost my matchup by 23, but that’s besides the point. (Adrian Peterson, I don’t appreciate that performance, buddy.)

In getting cute and benching the guy I drafted with my second-overall pick for a guy I picked up on waivers, I rode short-term logic and ignored long-term results. Real-life results like the fact that Brady has a higher career QB Rating against the Steelers than anybody else, and that Brady has beaten Pittsburgh six of seven times and four of five times in Pittsburgh. And that Brady has proven he can step up in big games regardless of who he’s throwing to. Hill? Well, Hill has a YMCA physique, journeyman’s pedigree, and wears honolulu blue for a team that never, ever wins on the road.

I don’t expect you to care about my fantasy team’s fate, specifically, but there’s a moral to this story: don’t bench your studs, especially this late in the season. Don’t outsmart yourself. You drafted these guys in the first, second, and third rounds for a reason, and even if they’ve underperformed up until this point, you can’t turn back now as long as they’re healthy. Roll with ‘em and hope for the best.

Tom Brady Photo Credit: Icon SMI

1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Nov. 15, 2010 at 10:14pm in NFL, NFL Fantasy News

Jason Thompson Deserves Another Chance, and Other Assorted NBA Notes

November 10, 2010

By Andrew Thell

Jason Thompson- Somebody should make a play for Sacramento Kings big man Jason Thompson. He’s wasting away in Sac Town, and it’s painful to see that kind of talent go to waste. Thompson has been pushed out of the rotation with the arrival of DeMarcus Cousins and Samuel Dalembert, but it wasn’t long ago the third-year player was considered a significant building block for this franchise. Thompson has good size, a strong offensive repertoire with decent range and plays with a lot of energy underneath. He can rebound and score around the basket, and he should only get better at those things as he fills out. He reminds me a little bit of Chris Bosh, but with more natural rebounding tendencies and less pure shooting skills.

The Kings have asked Thompson to play some small forward, but that’s a foolish idea. He’s 6-11 and 255 lbs. and needs to be playing near the glass to be effective. Paul Westphal is giving JT just 15 minutes of a run a night to this point after the he averaged 28 and 31 minutes a night in his first two seasons in the league. To me that says a lot about the third-year power forward’s availability. Any team in need of a big who can contribute now and has some pretty good upside long-term should be interested. Toronto, Cleveland, Detroit, Oklahoma City and Phoenix strike me as especially good landing spots.

Jason Thompson photo credit: Yahoo!/AP

- I know he’s been consistently filling the point and rebound columns of the box score for eight years now, but it’s a shame to see Zach Randolph coming back after the youngsters in Memphis got off to such hot starts. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that while Randolph was sidelined with a tailbone injury Rudy Gay and Mike Conley got off to blazing starts, easily the best of their careers. It’s true that Marc Gasol was also out a few games to start the season, but he plays within the offense and is nowhere near the black hole on offense Randolph is.

- The Jeff Teague era is coming in Atlanta, and it may be sooner than later. Mike Bibby brings some veteran savvy and outside shooting to the table, but that’s about it at this point. He’s turning into a liability on defense and he can no longer use his quicks to draw defenders and find the open man. Teague isn’t what you would call a pure point right now, but he’s fast and very good at penetrating and getting to the rim. Though he might not have the blinding acceleration, he reminds me of Lou Williams, but Teague’s not quite there with the offensive polish yet. Still, he’s dynamic and in the Hawks’ new motion offense I don’t think it will be long before he represents an upgrade over Bibby once the team gets acclimated to Teague’s style of play.

- Paul Millsap‘s massive game in the Jazz’s big comeback win against the Heat was an anomaly, but it wasn’t a fluke. Millsap has always worked his ass off around the basket on offense and defense, which is what has earned the former second-round pick a pretty big role with Jerry Sloan in recent years. But he’s also worked very hard on his offensive repetoire of late and it’s shown so far this season. Somewhat lost in the 46-point line from Tuesday was the fact that Millsap hit 3 threes after coming into the season having hit just 2 threes in his career. It was a desperate situation and he’s not about to start playing that far away from the basket, but it just shows how improved his jumper is and the kind of confidence Millsap is playing with right now.

Critiquing Walt “Clyde” Frazier, a look at the Dallas big men, and checking in with Charlie Murphy and Prince, after the jump…

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1 CommentPosted by Andrew Thell on Nov. 10, 2010 at 10:25pm in NBA, NBA Fantasy News

How About That Thomas Jones?

November 10, 2010

Thomas Jones Chiefs

Thomas Jones Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Brian Spencer

Thomas Jones just can’t get any respect.

One season removed from his fifth consecutive season with at least 1,110 yards rushing, the 11-year vet has found himself in the unfortunate, totally-not-his-fault position of being the roadblock that’s holding the dynamo that is Jamaal Charles back. When the Kansas City Chiefs signed Jones in the offseason to a two-year, $5 million deal, most of us thought it was both a vote of no-confidence by KC brass in Charles’ ability to be “the guy”, as well as a foolish bet on a fading horse with a lot of miles on his hooves. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it 10 more times: the dropoff for over-the-hill running backs can be a precipitous one, and Jones seemed like he was heading for a LaDainian Tomlinson-like fall.

Well, LT has been borderline brilliant during the first half of his bounceback season for the New York Jets, Charles has proven he’s quite capable when given the opportunity, and Jones, well, he’s been solid, not spectacular, but I’m guessing solid and effective is better than most people figured he’d be. Together with Charles, Jones has helped elevate the Chiefs’ rushing attack to the top of the NFL at 179.6 yards per at the season’s halfway point. He’s ran for 570 yards (4.2 YPC), scored 3 TDs, and has not turned the ball over. That puts him on pace for his sixth-straight season with at least 1,100 rushing yards; folks, it’s time to give credit where credit is due.

I know: Charles needs more touches. I don’t disagree. I’ve already watched more bits and pieces of Chiefs games this season than I probably have the last few seasons combined, and it feels like every time I look up Charles is sprinting between the tackles for 25 yards, taking it around the end for 34 yards, and generally threatening to take it all the way every time he gets his hand on the ball. His 719 yards rushing are good for sixth-most in the NFL, and of the 17 running backs with at least 500 yards rushing, he has the least amount of carries with 113; only two backs in this group, Tomlinson and LeSean McCoy, have less than 130 carries.

Forget about Charles though…

Still, it’s not Jones’ fault that Charles isn’t getting as much burn as he could and probably should be: the guy’s not just going to step aside with a polite curtsy and defer to the youngster. Time and time again, it seems like Jones is the fall guy, the obstacle, the unwanted producer in the backfield who’s to blame for holding somebody or another back. In Chicago, it was Cedric Benson who was given every opportunity to unseat Jones, but failed. Last year in New York, it was Shonn Greene who, until the playoffs, couldn’t usurp a significant amount of carries away from Jones. Now, it’s Charles, though in this case it seems more like coaching strategy, game planning, and depth than anything else.

Drafted seventh overall all the way back in 2000 by the Arizona Cardinals, Jones’ career got off to an inauspicious start. He failed to break 511 rushing yards in any of his three seasons in the desert, then moved on to Tampa Bay for a season. He had the look of career journeyman. Another bust in a long line of first-round running back busts.

Then something happened: a guy who I believe came into the league with a reputation for speed began running harder, stopped going east and west, hit the holes, and became somewhat of a bruiser. At 5-10 and 212 pounds, he’s certainly never been a “power back” in the mold of, say, Brandon Jacobs, but for the sake of the Chicago Bears and Jets, thank God he’s not Jacobs. In three seasons with the Bears, Jones rushed for nearly 3,500 yards and 22 TDs, and in the same amount of time with the Jets totaled 3,800 rushing yards and 31 TDs.

If he stays healthy, in a few weeks Jones will eclipse the 10,000 rushing yards and 70 career TDs marks. Only 24 other RBs in NFL history have exceeded that number, and by the time he calls it a day he could easily find himself in the top-18. That’s remarkable for a guy who’s mostly flown under the radar during his 11 NFL seasons, and to me, he’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.

There’s nothing wrong with clamoring for more Jamaal Charles; I want to see it too, but Thomas Jones has earned his carries this season. He deserves every single one of them.

2 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Nov. 10, 2010 at 8:35am in ETB Articles, NFL

Believe It: Oakland Raiders In the Hunt for AFC West After Downing the Chiefs

November 8, 2010

Darren McFadden of the Oakland Raiders

Darren McFadden Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Joel Martin

It’s rainy season in the Bay Area, and the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders brought sloppy play to match the sloppy weather in Week 9. The game was billed as the coming-out party for two former contenders returning to the spotlight, but I saw two young, undisciplined teams with a lot of talent. Check back in a couple years and we’ll have some contenders. Yesterday, penalties said it all: 14 penalties on the Raiders and 12 on the Chiefs (tying a season high in the NFL).

Chiefs Running Backs

The lead story of this one has to be the Chiefs’ running back situation. We all know that head coach Todd Haley’s been playing an odd game with how he distributes the workload between Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles, but until now it hasn’t cost them a game.

Yesterday against one of the worst run defenses in the league, a week after Charles went off for 238 total yards, he was again the clear backup. This makes no sense at all. Thomas Jones is a fine back, but he’s not in the same league as Jamaal Charles. The latter goes for at least six yards on 60% of his carries, and averages 6.5 YPC overall. Jones gets you two or three yards, with the occasional run of 5-10, for 4.0 YPC overall.

The Chiefs should have Charles as the feature back with Jones coming in to rest him, not the other way around. You saw it Sunday every time KC touched the ball. The commentary crew kept talking about how the Raiders had really “shown something” with their run stopping on Sunday, but that was only true with Jones carrying the ball. When Charles ran the ball, they looked porous and slow. For the game, Charles ran 10 times for 53 yards (5.3 YPC), while Jones ran 19 times for 32 yards (1.7 YPC).

If you reverse the carries and assume the same YPC, the Chiefs run for a healthy 118 yards instead of a pedestrian 85 and probably win handily instead going to overtime again, this time losing. Now obviously that’s a big assumption, but 45 extra rushing yards means a couple of extended drives, possibly a field goal or touchdown, and less time at the end of the game for Oakland to mount their comeback.

Either way, Chiefs win.

The only thing I can think of to justify the carry distribution is keeping the veteran happy. That works as long as you keep winning, but now that it cost them a game, I have to imagine they’ll see the light.

Raiders’ Running Backs

The first possession for Oakland was three runs to Darren McFadden, all to the outside. If he gets around the corner or catches a pass in the open he’s great, with good speed and leaping ability. But they didn’t go to the middle, and there’s a reason. He’s tall (6’2”/210lbs) and runs with a very upright style. This works for Adrian Petetrson (6’1”/220lbs) because of his strength, but I haven’t seen the same from McFadden. Power sweeps to the outside were his bread-and-butter in college, and the Raiders seem to have finally figured it out.

It often seems like McFadden has been disappointing us for years, but he’s actually only 23 years old. If offensive coordinator Hugh Jackson can tailor the offense to his abilities, big things will continue. That said, the Raiders should keep Michael Bush involved through the middle, and if they do he’ll stay a viable fantasy option. (The Raiders also have a delicious playoff schedule for running backs – @JAC, DEN, IND – so he’s a good target for a cheap trade if you’re looking ahead to December already.)

Coaching

These coaches are part of a new breed in the NFL, proving it on consecutive drives in the first quarter. On fourth down at the Oakland 45, Todd Haley was in his “four-down mode” (he tells the team on first down that they’ll go for fourth-and-short) but the Chiefs were pushed back by a false start. Instead of taking his medicine and punting, Haley calls fake punt and switches to the wildcat formation. The play came up short, but just barely.

Coming back the other way, the Raiders came up empty on three downs. Fourth down arrives, and Tom Cable calls fake punt. Again, they came up short, but the exchange was telling. I think we’ll see more of this in the coming years. For fantasy owners, this might make offensive players on these teams more attractive. The math says this approach gives your team a higher chance of scoring, which is good news for their skill players.

More on the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs after the break….

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No CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Nov. 8, 2010 at 5:18pm in ETB Articles, NFL, NFL Fantasy News

It’s Going to be a Good Season, Folks

November 5, 2010

GD Productions presents your NBA highlights of the month for October. There’s no other sport in the world that can provide a highlight package so laden with grace, power, elegance, personality and raw athleticism from just the first five days of a season.

It’s going to be a good season, hoops fans.

No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Nov. 5, 2010 at 11:32am in NBA

NBA Notes One Week into the 2010-11 Season

November 3, 2010

Dorell WrightBy Andrew Thell

- I was excited when Dorell Wright got a fresh start through free agency, signing with the Golden State Warriors back in July. He’s always been a pet player of mine who just couldn’t seem to put it all together in terms of health and consistency in his limited chances. The former preps-to-pros 19th-overall pick has all the talent in the world, but throughout his six years in Miami he had a hard time cracking the starting rotation and staying on the floor. When he’s been out there he’s always flashed athleticism and range though, topping out in the 2007-08 season with modest, but efficient, totals of 8 points and 5 boards with nearly a steal and block per on 49% FGs and 83% FTs in just 25 minutes a night.

Even with Don Nelson out of town, I can’t think of a better landing place for Wright’s versatile and up-tempo talents than Golden State. He won’t keep this up, but so far the results have been good: 20 points, 5.5 boards, 4.5 threes, 1.3 steal and 1.3 block on 51% FGs in 37 minutes a night (the most of his career by a long shot). Again, this shooting won’t keep up (especially from deep), but Wright is a rangy 6-8 athlete who can score and put up hustle stats on this fast-paced offense. I’m taking a flier on my fantasy teams, and as one of my 30 Players I Want to See More Of from last season I’m happy he’s finally getting tick and producing.

(Dorell Wright photo credit Yahoo!/AP)

- Listen, I was a big Chris Bosh fan. He seems like a nice, affable guy and he’s a great basketball player – or at least he was. But when Bosh signed with LeBron and Dwyane this summer he basically threw in the towel on being his own man and a franchise leader (same goes for LeBron) and signed up to ride coattails and be a role player. I know winning is what this game is all about, but I have a hard time respecting his decision. It’s like when Karl Malone made his last-ditch bid for a ring with the Lakers in 2003, except even more pathetic with Bosh having his whole promising career ahead of him. I would have really liked to see Bosh get it done somewhere as “The Man,” and maybe we will someday, but I don’t have a whole lot of interest in watching this 13 points and 6 boards on 10 shots a game business.

- You’ve read it everywhere else already, but here’s the obligatory “Rajon Rondo is ridiculous” report: after dropping 17 dimes with 0 (zero) TOs against the Pistons on Tuesday and 15 more on Wednesday the wily son of a bitch is averaging 16.4 assists per game and set an NBA record with 82 assists in his first five games. He’s officially in the discussion for NBA’s best point guard, and if you’re booting free throw percentage on your fantasy team he’s easily one of the most valuable players in our imaginary game.

- I think Mike Conley‘s new five-year contract worth $40 million surprised everybody, but the kid has been playing lights-out so far this season. The astronomical 3.4 steals per game will come down, but if he can maintain that 16 points and 9 assists per game while playing heady defense he might just be worth it. When draft night rolled around in 2007, who woulda thought Conley have the best career of the Ohio State products on the board?

- I really like Larry Drew’s new motion offense in Atlanta, and at 5-0 the early returns have been good. With so many young athletes who can dart around the court in the half-court and without any plodders on the roster is makes a lot of sense for the Hawks. Al Horford‘s numbers have been pretty similar to last season thus far, but he looks good. In the games I’ve caught Horford is showing improved moves and footwork on the blocks and better touch on his intermediate jumpers.

- The early returns on Blake Griffin are promising, but perhaps not as great as the hype machine would lead you to believe. Don’t get me wrong, the guy is extremely explosive and attacks the rim and glass with reckless abandon. He oozes potential, but he’s also putting up big numbers on a very bad team and is still as lacking in polish as many of the pessimists thought. The 17 points and 10 boards per are great, but 46% FGs and 52% FTs aren’t so great and in five games Griffin has blocked just one shot. If he can stay healthy big things are coming, but it’s going to take some time. Or maybe I’m just bitter I traded him before the season on my keeper team …

Checking in with John Wall, Brook Lopez, Mike Fratello and more, after the jump …

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No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Nov. 3, 2010 at 10:24pm in ETB Articles, NBA, NBA Fantasy News

You Are What You Are in the NFL, Except When You’re Not

November 2, 2010

Kyle Vanden Bosch Detroit Lions

Kyle Vanden Bosch Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Brian Spencer

Detroit Lions (2-5): In years past, a 2-5 mark in the standings next to the Lions likely meant two things: they were lucky to get those two wins, and they were probably on their way to 2-10. Not these Lions. The offense has suddenly become explosive, and is ranked first in the NFC at 26.1 points per. Perhaps more importantly, they’re fielding the NFL’s best defensive line–yep, I said it, the best–and superstar rookie DT Ndamukong Suh (27 tackles, 7 sacks, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD!) is running away with Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl honors.

This just might be the most exciting young team in the NFL. At 2-5, all indications are that the Lions are on their way up–nobody will be looking forward to playing them in the last half of the season.

Oh, shades of “the same old Lions” still haunt and threaten this team–the special teams coverage against the Redskins last week nearly killed them, and the inopportune fumbles are troubling–but unlike in years past, this group has proven they are not quitters and they are not going to be rolled over by just anybody. If there was any justice in the world they’d be posthumously awarded the win they deserved in Week 1 over the Bears, and at 3-5 actually be harboring realistic playoff hopes in the weak NFC; technically they are still in the hunt, you never know, but it’s unlikely. They still need another strong offseason, and history shows GM Martin Mayhew has it in him to make the right moves.

Don’t laugh, but this week’s home tilt against the New York Jets is the first legitimate measuring-stick game this franchise has been involved in for years. Vegas has only installed the visiting Super Bowl contender as 3.5-point favorites; could the Lions actually pull this one out? Yes, yes they can. They might not, but they can.

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4): So remind me again what the plan is here this season? Next season? Five years from now? Are the Jags trying to build around Maurice Jones-Drew? Are they or are they not confident in David Garrard? What kind of team are they trying to build? Can anybody outside of Jacksonville name more than one player on that starting defense? Can anybody in Jacksonville name more than one? I didn’t think so.

In this parity-driven league, the bland, directionless Jaguars are .500 and still firmly in the playoff picture, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a worse, more discombobulated-looking team than this one is. Kudos for their 35-17 thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys, and a job well done to the much-maligned Garrard for absolutely lighting up that porous ‘Boys defense (17-21 for 260 yards, 5 total TDs), but on most weeks this team is just brutal to watch; their -61 point differential on the season is proof.

The second half of their schedule should bring the Jags back down to earth, and that’s the best thing that could actually happen for this franchise. Outside of MJD there really aren’t many building blocks here, and they desperately need to start accumulating some. Head coach Jack Del Rio needs a playoff berth to keep his job, but even that might not be enough. Two things I still can’t figure out: how they managed to beat the Indianapolis Colts in Week 4, and why this franchise hasn’t been relocated yet.

Thoughts on the Bears, Cowboys, Chiefs, Saints, and Vikings after the break…

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3 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Nov. 2, 2010 at 7:20am in ETB Articles, NFL

     

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