1. TITANS VS. JETS TONIGHT - SOMETHING TO LOOK FOR
The Jets come to town with a slim chance of making the playoffs. How slim? 51% chance IF they were to win their final 3 games. A Titans win would lower the chances to a Blutarsky-esque Zero point Zero. So perhaps the Titans can generate some motivation from this: "We're not good, but we sure as heck aren't going to let the JETS get to the playoffs." The Jets play solid defense, but their offense has struggled all year. The Titans defense, which has made some modest gains over the last few weeks, should be able to match up just fine. The key will be the Titans enigmatic offense, and whether this can finally be a week that the four 1st round picks (Jake Locker, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, and Chris Johnson) can put it all together. Titans fans are growing increasingly skeptical. Lets focus on Britt and Wright this week:
A. Kenny Britt - It has been a tough season for Britt, but he has shown some signs of life over the last couple of weeks. Still, he ranks 76th in WR efficiency out of 79 qualifiers (WR with at least 45 passes thrown to them) according to FootballOutsiders.com. He has caught just 53% of the 76 passes thrown to him. For that to be at all efficient, there has to be a high percentage of his catches that get big chunks of yardage, yet he has only 6 catches of 20 or more yards. He has also failed to draw a single defensive pass interference penalty this entire season - a surprising stat based on his size/speed combination. For Britt to be the monster he can be eventually, he must start to catch a higher rate of the passes thrown his way, and get some more big plays downfield. He showed that last week in Indy, catching 8 of 9 for 143 yards. Stringing together a couple more big games would do wonders for the outlook of the passing game. Tonight he will likely go up against veteran CB Antonio Cromartie, who has done a very good job against #1 WR's despite the absence of injured star Darrelle Revis. Again to reference FootballOutsiders.com, the Jets pass defense ranks 4th in effectiveness against the opposition's top WR. Watch how often the Titans try to get Britt matched up against someone OTHER than Cromartie, and how he does straight up against the long athletic Cornerback.
B. Kendall Wright - While the Jets, as we've noted, are good at controlling #1 Wide Receivers, they struggle vs. #2's (28th in the NFL). This could give some opportunities to Wright, who must improve drastically to be worthy of the first round pick the Titans used to get him. On the surface his team leading 59 catches look impressive for a rookie. But he has been targeted a team high 97 times, and has only amassed 9.4 yards per catch. Most of what the Titans throw to him are underneath routes and WR screens. This should result in a higher catch rate than he has (61%-- which is the same as Calvin Johnson's- who gets WAY more action down the field by comparison). Wright's runs after the catch haven't been enough to make up for this. Thus there are way too many passes thrown to him that don't move the needle (incompletions, or short insufficient gains). As a result Wright ranks 73rd in WR efficiency according to FootballOutsiders.com. There is time for him to improve, but he must shake this pattern. We'll see if he can take some baby steps tonight with some favorable matchups.
2. THE ZAX and THE NHL LOCKOUT
Ever read as a kid the story of "The Zax" by Dr. Seuss?
Obviously the NHL owners and players haven't. Has to do with being stubborn and unwilling to compromise, and as a result the world moves on and passes them by. You cannot read this and avoid thinking of the ongoing madness of the negotiations, which have now hit a new level of animosity. The NHLPA is in the process of dissolving the union, which would free them to sue the NHL to get the Lockout lifted. This was effective for Executive Director Donald Fehr back in 1995 as the leader of the MLB players union, and it effectively ended the strike which wiped out the 1994 World Series. To counter, the NHL has filed a lawsuit in New York asking for the courts to declare the Lockout Legal, thus preventing the Union from winning the battle through the courts. For more detail on this (or if you're looking for an equivalent to a root canal, read this piece from TSN): http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=411804.
83% of NHL fans on a TSN poll believe the season is going to be cancelled. It will be without a change in mindset. Maybe next season as well. So to Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr (aka the North Going Zax and the South Going Zax) - read some Dr. Seuss and get a little perspective. Please.
3. R.A. DICKEY SAGA WINDS DOWN
Interesting next chapter in the never dull life of Nashvillian, Knuckleballing, Cy Young Award winning, Mt. Kilimanjaro climbing hurler R.A. Dickey. The Mets have shopped him around in their attempt to rebuild, and succeeded in getting a package of players which will help them over the next couple years. As a Met fan, the deal makes sense. Two excellent prospects from the Blue Jays, who are "going for it" after years of being irrelevant. The only thing that remains is for Dickey to agree on a contract extension with Toronto. He has been given a 72 hour negotiating window to get this done. He would never have chosen to play for Toronto, but he stands to get a much better contract because of it. Only he can decide if this is a fair tradeoff. It remains to be seen how easily this negotiation will go compared to the one with the Mets, which was frustrating to say the least given his low demands. Dickey is an excellent communicator, and never hesitated to make his feelings known to the NY media. As you can imagine, the media up there in turn will never hesitate to eat up every word- and that has been both good and bad for R.A. For some perspective on how this has been played in NYC, here is New York Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner (a Vanderbilt grad). Great piece: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/17/sports/baseball/r-a-dickey-deserved-better-from-mets.html?smid=tw-nytimessports&seid=auto&_r=0