The Patriots are an 11-0 juggernaut, Tom Brady is the prohibitive MVP, and he can largely thank two outstanding offseason pick-ups: receivers Randy Moss (71 catches, 1,095 yds, 16 TDs as of Dec. 2) and Wes Welker (81 catches, 878 yds, 7 TDs). Moss was acquired from the Raiders for simply a fourth-round draft pick in 2007, while Welker came from the Dolphins for second- and seventh-round picks. That is pure highway robbery, and a small price to pay for a shot at a perfect season in the modern era.
2 of 15Brad Mangin/SI
Giants don't re-sign Barry Bonds
Oakland A's third baseman Eric Chavez claims that Barry would have been a great fit in Oakland, but it's Bonds' old team that looks ingenious after declining to re-sign the embattled slugger in September.
3 of 15AP
Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen to the Celtics
If the Boston Celtics' pristine record are any indication, this Kevin Garnett fellow and his friend Ray Allen are doing good work for the C's. Forming a latter day "Big Three" with Paul Pierce, Garnett is averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds, while the former Jesus Shuttlesworth is chipping in 20 points and averaging 3.6 assists.
4 of 15Heinz Kluetmeier/SI
The Vikings draft Adrian Peterson
Adrian "All Day" Peterson was taken seventh in the 2007 NFL Draft. That would make six teams filled with deep remorse, if you're scoring at home. The Raiders, Lions, Browns, Cardinals and Redskins all passed on the youngster that many are already hailing as one of the best backs in NFL history.
5 of 15AP
Cowboys hire Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett
Sure, Bill Parcells might have overseen the drafts which laid the groundwork for this year's renaissance in Big D. But not until head coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett took over management duties did everything click into place for the resurgent Cowboys. Since those hires, Dallas has gone 11-1 while supplanting the Eagles as beast of the NFC East. But most impressive has been the sound of silence from a certain outspoken wide receiver's direction -- a reflection of Phillips and Garrett's laissez-faire leadership style.
6 of 15Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Red Sox sign Hideki Okajima
When the Red Sox inked lefty Hideki Okajima out of Japan, he was initially thought to be Robin to Daisuke Matsuzaka's Batman: a side-kick who could speak the language and help him adjust to life in the United States. Amazingly, however, Okajima not only cost tens of millions of dollars less than the bank-breaking Dice-K, but arguably turned in the better rookie year. Okajima and his funky, literally head-turning delivery served as the foundation for the World Champion Red Sox bullpen, turning in a 2.22 ERA, .202 BAA and 0.97 WHIP in 69 IP. He also cost $2.5 million over two years with a $1.75 million club option for 2009.
7 of 15Simon Bruty/SI
LA Galaxy sign David Beckham
Sure, you can decry the L.A. Galaxy's signing of David Beckham for a number of reasons: the fact that he got injured during the season, the incredible hype surrounding his arrival, and maybe the amount of millions spent (250 of them; that is, a quarter-billion dollars). However, the sheer fact that you can muster that many reasons also means that you heard about it, and, in turn, express some level of care about Major League Soccer--two things that probably would have never happened otherwise.
8 of 15David Bergman/SI
The Browns quarterback shuffle
The biggest surprise in sports this year might be the Cleveland Browns, the team everyone and their mother picked to finish in the cellar of the AFC. Credit the franchise with not panicking and starting rookie Quinn. If it had, it would have missed out on the revelation that is Derek Anderson (pictured). Instead, the Browns traded opening day starter Charlie Frye to the Seahawks for a sixth-rounder and switched to Anderson, who has them in the playoff race. Take that, mom.
9 of 15Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Indians put Fausto Carmona in the rotation
Where would Cleveland have been without Francisco Carmona in its starting rotation? Probably without those nifty 2007 ALDS shirts, that's where. Way back in March, the Indians demoted Adam Miller to the minor leagues and penciled in Carmona -- a converted, uninspiring reliever -- for the fifth starter spot. Since then, the 24-year-old made management look like prophets as he emerged as one of the best pitchers in the American League, going 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA.
10 of 15John W. McDonough/SI
Pittsburgh hires Mike Tomlin
Shouldn't somebody tell Mike Tomlin it's not easy to replace a legend? Since team president Art Rooney II tabbed the 34-year-old wunderkind for Pittsburgh's head coaching vacancy, Tomlin has provided a seamless transition from Bill Cowher, a beloved coach whose 15-year tenure included a Super Bowl XL championship. The Steelers have sprinted to a 9-3 start and appear poised for their third AFC North title in four seasons.
11 of 15Darren Carroll/SI
Joba Chamberlain joins the Yankees bullpen
The poster boy for the Yankees' new young pitching movement was Joba Chamberlain, the unhittable right-hander out of Lincoln, Neb.. On Aug. 7, the Yankees called up the once-obscure power pitcher and immediately put him in the bullpen, unveiling to the world his three-digit fastball (that is, 100 mph) and plunging slider. The Yankees implemented the "Joba Rules," a set of guidelines designed to protect the young pitcher's arm, but as time wore on the team realized his true value to the organization. He ended the year as the Yankees' best pitcher, posting a 0.38 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in 24 IP, striking out 34, as he provided the bridge to Mariano Rivera in a successful playoff race. (The gnats in Game Two of the ALDS were in no way his fault.)
12 of 15AP
Paul Holmgren Overhauls Cellar-Dwelling Flyers
When the NHL installed rule changes emphasizing speed in the wake of the lockout, few teams adjusted as poorly as Philadelphia. As a result, one of the NHL's most consistent franchises missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years and set a franchise record for losses during the 2006-07 season. But GM Paul Holmgren has reconstructed the Flyers into an Atlantic Division frontrunner in a matter of months, acquiring goaltender Martin Biron (trade) and center (Daniel Briere) from the Sabres, along with Kimmon Timonen and Scott Hartnell in another trade with the Predators.
13 of 15Brad Mangin/SI
Jack Cust Trade
One of the more lesser-known trades in Major League Baseball deserves some recognition as another shrewd move by Oakland A's GM Billy Beane. Jack Cust was a former top prospect who went nowhere with the A's and the Padres. In May, however, Oakland acquired Cust from San Diego for "a player to be named later or cash considerations" -- also known as "nothing." All he did since leaving the Pacific Coast League for MLB is post a .400 OBP, 26 HRs and 82 RBIs while anchoring the A's offense. Again: not bad for nothing, is it?
14 of 15AP
Minnesota hires Tubby Smith
Here's what Tubby Smith (right) did to become the most divisive and embattled figure in the Bluegrass State: The Kentucky hoops coach averaged 25 wins a season, made the NCAA Tournament every year and won a national championship in his first season after taking the reins from Rick Pitino. Exhausted with the stratospheric expectations in Lexington and the never-ending public debate on his job status, Smith privately inquired about the Minnesota coaching vacancy -- and athletics director Joel Maturi jumped at the opportunity to bring an underappreciated top-tier coach to Minneapolis.
15 of 15Greg Nelson/SI
Arizona State hires Dennis Erickson
Arizona State athletics director hired well-traveled collegiate and NFL coach Dennis Erickson to replace Dirk Koetter just 12 months ago -- and the returns on the investment have been immediate. The Sun Devils peaked at No. 4 in the BCS rankings before finishing with a 10-2 record and a share of the Pac-10 conference championship.
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