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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, July 20, 2015 at 10:30 AM



By Jim Hurley:

Go ahead and check those NFL agendas - there's five teams opening camps between now and this coming Sunday (that's Cleveland, Houston, Minnesota, Oakland and Pittsburgh) and so get ready for pads to be poppin' all around the league way before we even flip the calendar page to read August.

And get ready for plenty of conversation regarding quarterback play: We could be overestimating things but it sure looks to us as if there will be a minimum of six teams in which a battle will be taking place for the starting spot and so let's weigh in on a couple of QB derbies right here/right now:

BUFFALO - The Bills can say all they want that one-time first-round draft pick E.J. Manuel remains entangled in a heated competition for the starting job with veteran journeyman Matt Cassel but better believe a "tie goes to Manuel" who has shown new Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan that he sees the field well and can make that dramatic downfield strike. Manuel - a third-year pro who was benched last year - actually may rate the edge in the competition based on the ability to make big plays with his legs - the 32-year-old Cassel isn't real nimble - and, no, we're not forgetting about longtime Baltimore Ravens-backup QB Tyrod Taylor who completed just 19-of-35 passes in four prior years in the NFL.

WASHINGTON - This is not a broken record, although it sure seems like one: The starting quarterback position is Robert Griffin III's to lose ... got it? Last year Griffin III started seven games overall, came off the bench in two others and finished an uninspiring season with 1,694 yards passing with 4 TDs and 6 INTs and take note he was sacked some 33 times. Still, in Year II of the Jay Gruden Era, you get the sense that Griffin III will get the proverbial benefit of the doubt should the quarterback battle be contentious as main backup Kirk Cousins threw nine INTs in his five starts and third-stringer Colt McCoy (91-of-128 passing for a 71.1 completion percentage) simply lacks the necessary arm strength (and the body) to hold down the fort at #1 for any real prolonged period of time. Maybe Gruden knows his not-so-subtle criticisms of Griffin III last year didn't work real well and so expect more "positive re-enforcement" this summer in 'Skins camp and expect this NFC East team to better "marry" this idea of a run-minded quarterback operating a drop-back pass attack. Or else maybe we'll hear a bit more about pie-in-the-sky trade that would send Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton - a former Gruden protégé - to the nation's capital, but don't bank on this happening, okay?

In other NFL Training Camp News & Notes ...

Is it fair to claim that San Diego Chargers' third-year head coach Mike McCoy is on the "hot seat"? May not seem so but last week AFC West beat writers gathered and they "voted" that McCoy faced more pressure to win this 2015 season than any other divisional head coach but we keep thinking with no TE Antonio Gates (suspension) for the first four games this year and all the Chargers-to-Los Angeles rumors, how can McCoy and Company tune out the distractions and win?

In case you're wondering, the Chargers are a collective 19-15 SU (straight-up) and 18-15-1 ATS (against the spread) in McCoy's two years on the job and that includes a 27-10 AFC Wild Card Playoff win at 6-point favorite Cincinnati two years ago that was followed by a ultra-competitive 24-17 AFC Divisional Playoff loss-but-cover at 7.5-point fav Denver - last year San Diego failed to make the playoffs while losing three of its final four games as the offense registered 14, 10 and 7 points in those losses. Lots of folks will be closely eyeballing rookie RB Melvin Gordon - the 15th overall pick in last spring's draft and, believe it or not, he was the only offensive player drafted by the Lightnin' Bolts this year ...

What's gonna make the Detroit Lions tick this year? The NFC North crew - which has not won a playoff game since the 1991 season - spent the offseason waving bye-bye to superstar DT Ndamukong Suh and RB Reggie Bush (among others) but most in-the-know folks feel the Lions must get an "elite QB" season from Matthew Stafford who signed a three-year, $53 million contract back in 2013. Note last year Stafford threw for 4,257 yards with 22 TDs and 12 INTs but he was sacked a whopping 45 times. Talk about Suh all you want but if this "youngish" Lions' offensive line doesn't protect Stafford better this year than Jim Caldwell's club surely will fall short of expectations ... again.

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers are banging outs lots of winners in Major-League Baseball these days and all you need to do is check in either right here online or via our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 any time after 1 p.m. Eastern time for the weeknight action, after 11 a.m. ET for weekday games and after 10 a.m. ET for Saturday/Sunday/Holiday Winners. Plus, the Football Season is right around the corner with the NFL Hall of Fame Game just the start of all the summertime action - can't wait! Make sure you sign up today for the whole NFL Preseason ... it's always a major money-making time of the year for the Jim Hurley Network!



Here's the $64,000 question that must be posed to Major-League Baseball executives once again: Are bullpens more important than a team's starting pitchers?

Okay, so we do come off a post-All-Star Game weekend in which we had 12-, 13- and 18-inning games and so - no kidding - you better have high-quality bullpens to get through that many outs but the fact of the matter is bullpens usually are the make-or-break item as to whether your team gets to the post-season and then measures how far your team goes in the post-season.
See Kansas City Royals, 2014, right?

Well, as we enter a new week in baseball - one in which bullpens will be ultra-important in the series pitting the New York Mets at Washington, Minnesota at the Los Angeles Angels and Pittsburgh at aforementioned - we decided to rank our top five bullpens (and it's not all based on bullpen ERA, folks!) plus remember we just come off an All-Star Game in which the winning AL side employed four relievers to go along with four starters (with Minnesota's LHP Glen Perkins securing a second save in as many years in this game) while the NL utilized five starters along with three relievers:

#1 KANSAS CITY - Okay, so the Royals do indeed sport the best numbers among relievers with a collective 2.17 ERA with an astounding 18-5 mark that shows the Royals win the late-and-close games in which relievers RHP Kelvin Herrera (14 holds), RHP Wade Davis (5-1, 14 holds and 9 saves) and usual closer RHP Greg Holland (20 saves and a 10 K-per-9 inning ratio). Note that Kansas City is a rock-solid 12-7 in one-run games this year. Plus, the KayCee bullpen is deeper and better than any corps we've seen in years - and good enough to get KC back into the World Series again come October/November.

#2   PITTSBURGH - The numbers say the Pirates' pen has converted 31 saves with All-Star RHP Mark Melancon leading the pack with 29 saves but he's far from a one-man wrecking crew, to be sure. Clint Hurdle's club sports three pitchers with between 13-to-20 holds including still-underrated LHP Tony Watson who has surrendered just 31 hits in 43 innings while pitching to a minuscule 0.93 ERA.
So should it really come as any surprise that the Pirates are an electric 20-13 in one-run games this season?

#3 BALTIMORE - Sure, the pure stats say the Orioles only rank sixth in the bigs when it comes to bullpen ERA (2.85) but consider that Buck Showalter's relievers have allowed opposing batters to hit a puny ,222 against 'em and we are talking the American League East, you know. The Birds' bullpen owns a 16-10 record and keep in mind two of the pen members were named to last week's All-Star Game with LHP Zack Britton the proud owner of 24 saves and an 0.98 WHIP while set-up man RHP Darren O'Day is 5-0 with seven saves and a tiny 0.84 WHIP and while we're tossin' names around there's RHP Brad Brach who has yielded just 34 hits in 44.2 innings this year and this 6-foot-6 kid has six holds and a save. Give the O's the bullpen edge for third place in our Jim Sez rankings ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros and New York Mets.

NOTE: Lots of NFL, NCAA Football and LMB goodies straight ahead in the next week/month of Jim Sez and don't forget we'll get you College Football Conference-by-Conference Reports plus lots more!

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