By Dan Walk
1 Major League Baseball announced last week that it will implement instant replay on virtually every play but balls and strikes — including three managers challenges — in 2014. All I have to say is: It’s about time. I’ve been in favor of instant replay for years. It’s a necessary part of the game that baseball was way behind on. Forget the “human element” in baseball. Purists will tell you it’s wrong to add instant replay, but let’s be truthful here: Humans make mistakes; instant replay fixes mistakes. It’s that simple.
2 Just think of all the calls that would have been corrected over the last few years if there was instant replay. Armando Galarraga would have a perfect game on his resume. The Pirates’ late-season swoon in 2011 may not have started if not for that famed 19th-inning safe call in a game against the Braves. And there’s many others, including a few safe-out calls at home plate this season that have decided games.
3 Charlie Manuel got the boot as Phillies manager this past week and shortstop Jimmy Rollins took the words right out of my mouth, saying the players are the reason Philadelphia has been so bad this season. Manuel, however, is the easy scapegoat for Phillies brass since you can’t fire your whole roster — that is, unless you’re the Marlins. Like I said at the trade deadline, the Phillies needed to trade away their aging stars while they still had value. The Mets and Marlins will be better in a few years once they grow up. The Braves and Nationals should be at the top of the division for years to come. You can no longer spend your way out of a hole — ask the Angels. Philadelphia needs an infusion of young talent now.
4 It’s amazing how one minor injury in the NFL can cause such a commotion — and all the way across the country. When New England quarterback Tom Brady limped off the practice field on Wednesday, Las Vegas Super Book took all Patriots bets off the board, while online betting destination Bovada suspended all Super Bowl and AFC playoff odds. But soon thereafter, all was well. Boston wasn’t the only place that sighed in relief when finding out the injury wasn’t serious.
5 Continuing my weekly NFL divisional previews, let us move to the NFC South, which was dominated last year by the Falcons. Atlanta came within a few defensive stops of the Super Bowl, while the rest of the division finished 7-9. The Falcons are once again the frontrunner, but they won’t win the division by six games again. A big boost to a relatively unchanged Atlanta roster is the addition of running back Steven Jackson (Michael Turner is gone). Jackson will finally find out what it’s like to be on a winning team, while the Falcons offense will be incredibly hard to stop.
6 The rest of the division includes three teams jockeying for what will be one or possibly two playoff spots. All three will be improved, mostly because Sean Payton is back from suspension as Saints coach, Darrelle Revis is thrust into a bad Tampa Bay secondary when he’s healthy and the Panthers may have finally gotten better enough defensively to give Cam Newton a chance. Since this is now a quarterback league, I cannot see how the Saints could miss the playoffs for the second straight year behind Drew Brees. Pencil New Orleans in as an NFC championship contender with Atlanta.
7 The division of media interest always seems to be the NFC East, mostly because of the Cowboys’ popularity and because New York, Washington and Philadelphia are some of the nation’s biggest cities. Michael Vick, Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III and Eli Manning always grab the headlines, while I believe only the latter two are championship caliber quarterbacks and who knows if Griffin will be healthy? There’s always a lot of competition in this division, which usually is decided in Week 16 or 17.
8 When it comes to picking NFC East playoff contenders, let us first eliminate the Eagles, who have much to improve and are taking part in a new system under Chip Kelly. The Cowboys will also fail defensively or Romo will make enough mistakes down the stretch to provide another lost season. That leaves us with New York and Washington. Considering the Giants don’t have a question mark under center, I give them a slight edge. But the Redskins will be dangerous if Griffin plays 16 games.
9 I talk a lot about hype and the athletes who have and have not lived up to it. In the “have not” column this week is UFC heavyweight Alistair Overeem, who dropped to 1-2 in his UFC career after losing by first-round knockout on Saturday. Overeem has become a guy who’s easy to root against, considering he doesn’t seem to show any heart or desire if things don’t immediately go his way. He dominated Antonio Silva (for two rounds) and Travis Browne (for about three minutes) before both came back to gruesomely knock Overeem out. Once considered the best heavyweight in the world by some, Overeem has become a guy who is great on paper but unable to follow through in the UFC cage to this point.
10 Everyone remembers how I blasted Bellator MMA two weeks ago for headlining its first pay per view with washed-up fighters Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz. Well now, the card has some substance. Current Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler faces the man he beat for the title: Eddie Alvarez. The pair competed in one of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen two years ago, a bout that pushed Chandler to superstardom. Alvarez, however, won’t get his belt back. Chandler continues to improve and is a top-10 pound-for-pound fighter who isn’t going to lose until he someday moves to the UFC.