For the fan in enemy territory

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

NYFSJ Valentine's Edition III: Love it or Hate it

Today is a celebration of giving and receiving in the name of love. Mostly for the benefit of the department stores and various discount chain stores that like to capitalize on human emotion. This is a day that embraces all things love, but for the third time in the existence of this blog, I will address both love and hate.

More specifically, it is an annual segment in which I incorporate my six favorite New York sports teams by answering one question about each one. Last year, I made a statement about New York sports in general when I said the future is brighter for it and these teams are all moving in the right direction.

A year later, the Giants won the Super Bowl, the Yankees ran away with their division, the Rangers are in first place, the Knicks are on a hot streak and the talk of the NBA world behind new sensation Jeremy Lin, the Jets barely missed the playoffs but still have a good core coming back next season to build on and the Mets are healthy and entering their new season with a revamped bullpen.

It is a brighter future on all fronts. To continue the tradition, here is the third annual installment of "Love it or Hate it".

1) Love or hate the New York Jets last season? Hate. The Jets entered the season with such high expectations. They were coming off of back to back AFC Championship game seasons and with the addition of Plaxico Burress, the sky was the limit in 2011. The season was filled with boasting and bickering.

The doubts finally set in over Mark Sanchez when they were shocked by a last minute comeback loss to the Denver Broncos and took a playoff knockout punch from the cross town rival New York Giants. They struggled down the stretch and as a result of bad execution on both sides of the ball, they missed the playoffs as a result.

While the season was full of promise and eventually flat-lined out, it's not the end of the world. They have a core group of players returning from that defense and will be in a better position to draft a play maker in a few months. They may also be the front runner to re-sign Burress to acquire one of the many big time free agent receivers available this off-season.

This is truly a team that is one additional player away from making a deep run in the post season. Their issue last season was health. If they stay healthy next year and add one more receiver long-term, they could be a power house for the next few years.

2) Love or hate the New York Yankees this coming season? Love. The Yankees enter the 2012 season with several questions. They lost Jorge Posada to retirement and traded their biggest prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle for pitching phenom Michael Pineda. Pineda has one simple task: be a dominant number two starter behind C.C. Sabathia.

The Yankees are gambling on this one-two punch helping them go deep into the playoffs. They will win that bet. They have the offense, they have the starting pitching and the bullpen to wrap up games in the late innings. They have all the tools to get to the World Series this year.

3) Love or hate the New York Knicks playoffs chances? Love. The Knicks made a lot of noise in the shortened off-season. They cut ties with Chauncey Billups and added Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis. When added to Amare Stoudemire and Carmello Anthony, it was their hope this would secure the top seed in the division at the very least.

To this point, they are the eighth best record in the division and if the playoffs started today, they'd be in trouble. They have been on fire recently with the emergence of the relative unknown Jeremy Lin. While Anthony recovers from another injury and Amare takes time off to grieve a loss in the family, Lin has proven he can run the offense up and down the floor against anyone.

When they both return, Lin will be a mainstay in the starting lineup, not a sixth man off the bench. This chemistry will lift the Knicks back into the playoffs and they will win a series or two or three. If they are healthy, they have every chance of merging their talent and making a serious run for a title.

4) Love or hate the New York Rangers playoff chances? Love. After falling flat in the playoffs last season after losing Ryan Callahan, the Rangers entered the off-season determined to renew their efforts. The truth is that they were not too far off. They signed Brad Richards to compliment their offense and offer some support for their outstanding goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

With the trade deadline a few weeks away, they still may deal for another scorer, but the chemistry and defense of this team has brought them to first place in the division and among the top two teams in the entire NHL. I see them making a deep run in the playoffs. Whether it will net them Lord Stanley's Cup or not will depend on a few things, but they certainly are a much improved team and ready for their turn at success in the spotlight.

5) Love or hate the New York Mets this coming season? Love. I may be in the considerable minority here, but I believe the Mets will be healthier this season. After missing Johan Santana all season last year, suffering several injuries to key players like David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis and losing Jose Reyes to free agency due to a financial decision on the part of the team, things have looked bleak lately.

The Mets are healthier and have addressed their biggest Achilles Heel: the bullpen. They have moved their walls in a few feet and rearranged the dimensions of Citi Field in an attempt to reinvigorate their offense. I have a feeling it will work enough to give the starters a little extra run support. Combined with a healthy Santana and a healthier lineup, they will have a strong showing this season in a suddenly upgraded N.L. East.

6) Love or hate the New York Giants this last season? Love. I saved the champions for last. After a shortened off-season and a controversial free agency period where they failed to re-sign Steve Smith or Kevin Boss, the Giants entered the season with so many questions.

Eli Manning had the answer during the regular season. He carried this team without much of a running game and a suspect defense early on. The defense found their stride late and the running game found their strength in the playoffs to support Eli's campaign.

The end result was the second ticker tape parade in Manhattan in four years. They hoisted the Lombardi Trophy to the shock of everyone that was not a Giants fan. Giants fan have seen this before and were not surprised by the end result; they were ecstatic!

Now that the off-season is upon them, they face a few more questions. Will they be able to re-sign Mario Manningham or simply move on without him like they did Steve Smith? Will they give Victor Cruz a pay raise and a long-term deal?

Will they show Osi Umneyiora the money he has been demanding? Will they replace the TE position next season internally, through free agency or via the draft? It will be another exciting few months as the team prepares to defend their Super Bowl Championship.

Overall, as I mentioned last year, the landscape in New York sports is looking brighter. The city has a champion in football, and possible championship runs coming in the next few months in hockey, basketball and eventually baseball as well.

Every team has a good mix of youthful and raw talent, veteran experience and a fan base that has reason to be excited for the next several years. All of these teams have hope for their future. What's not to love?


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