Today's list has some big wins for the league, none of them any easier to implement than the change of kicking tee. Really, it's a slam dunk.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
> Who, exactly, do you expect to want to coach your team, given your track record of, um, "support"?
> Do you remember a young fellow by the name of Shanahan? About twenty years ago, you stiffed him out of money, it didn't work out so well for you? No, didn't think so.
> You do realize that the team before Lane Kiffin wasn't, you know, really in the NFL at all? I get that he wasn't exactly leading a world-beater... but, um, jeez.
> "Professional liar"? Well, um, OK then. How much do you enjoy lawsuits, really?
> Thanks to, well, your own actions about twenty years ago, you do know that there's a whole mechanism in place to make sure that coaches get paid when batshit owners try to welch? No, again, didn't think so...
(Feel free to play the video while you read this. And fire up.)
Something I used to do a lot on this here blog (you can, as Yogi says, look it up) is go off on esoteric rants inspired by things that no self-respecting sports fan would read, or at least admit to.
Eventually, I'll tie it all back to sports in some faltering way that would make a pot-smoking undergrad wince, and causes my religious friends to chuckle sadly in the knowledge that they won't have to put up with me in the better next place.
And now that 90% of you have had your eyes glaze over and look for the scroll bar, let's get into it, shall we?
In a recent piece in the London Review of Books, a writer worked over some philosophical constructs in an effort to explain something small and inconsequential; ergo, why the world exists. (He eventually came to the same conclusion that I do in this post, but since you don't read the London Review of Books, you'll just have to suffer with my mangling of it. Ha ha!)
Accepting the belief in a higher power, and hence, the disqualification of the emotionally unsatisfying Random Chance Accident, you get two motivations.
1) Because it had to (determinism, fate, destiny), and
2) Because someone wanted it (free will)
Now, determinism is a relatively simple argument to make, or at least it was when I took intro philosophy in college some 20 (aii!) years ago.
Ergo, that if you simply know enough about the creator and its thought processes, you can predict everything said creator will do.
Let's reduce this from The World and Its Creator to This Blog and Little Ol' Me for a moment, to make things easier to understand. Now, if you punch in all of my vitals into a computer, you would get that I read learned nonsense, run out of things to say about the NFL on Tuesday morning, feel compelled to fill the bloghole, am too far away from the start of the NBA season to go there, and am waiting for the White Sox and Twins to work out the last playoff spot before writing up MLB playoff picks.
You could predict (did?) that I'd write something like this today, and if you knew my reading materials yesterday, might even have guessed the subject matter. I'm a fairly simple piece of meat, and predicting my performance shouldn't be too difficult, provided, of course, that I don't get wind of what you are doing. That would give me the heebie-jeebies, and I'd probably react with a tangent that made no sense to throw the prediction off the path.
Tony Kornheiser eats puppies.
Which, of course, you could also predict, in that Tony Kornheiser really does eat puppies.
But let's escape that rabbit hole of Pot Logic for now, and put determinism on the back burner as, once again, Emotionally Unsatisfying.
Back to option 2, free will. The preferred option for all of us, really, in that it makes us all much more interesting pieces of meat, and for deities alike, since a determinist Creator doesn't seem like any kind of fun at parties. (There are, of course, philosophical arguments against the existence of free will, but they are made by people with scraggly beards who make no money and are no fun in the sack, especially the women. So we're sticking with Free Will.)
So the world -- and this blog, and the eventual crux of this post, which is Your Team Fandom -- exists not from something pre-ordained, or even the long-ago child abuse of a parent who indoctrinated you in the ways of That Laundry.
It exists because you chose it, and continue to choose it, even if you are not aware of the choice. (Just *try* to Geddy Lee out of your head now. I dare you.)
And now, to the thrilling climax... why choose, of all things, to make a world, or root for That Laundry?
It's a mess, complicated, never seems like it will pay off with the goods. Even when it does seem to work out, you know it's just going to break your heart later. The fear of losing is much greater than the joy of winning, after all. And the nonstop praying! It's enough to make you stop watching and go read a philosophy book instead. (OK, maybe not.)
And well, that's it. It's art.
Art is something that lives for its own sake, maddening or not. It can't be explained fully, or even usually very well, but simply experienced. Its motivations are inherently private, and yet shared across consciousness, in a way that makes us all a little more aware that We Are Not Alone. Do it long enough, and it becomes a vice, in that it's mostly a diversion in a life filled with things to divert you.
So, final question time... if sports fandom is, just like life, an art... are you taking joy in your creation? Or are you torturing yourself and others with it?
If the answer is yes, signify your joy or misery by making no sign or comment.
Thy will be done.
Surprisingly entertaining game out of Pittsburgh, where the Ravens impressed me more in a 23-20 road loss than they had in their previous two wins. Quick points...
> Joe Flacco looks like a QB, and LeRon McClain is a beast of a fullback. In 2-3 years, the Ravens might have something special... but only if they add a mess of skill players, especially at wideout and tight end. Derrick Mason can't last forever, Mark Clayton looks lost, and Todd Heap is absolutely spent.
Oh, and Flacco's got to be quicker at getting rid of the ball, and not holding it so long that he gives up fumble sack touchdowns. That was huge.
> Pittsburgh ended the game with one healthy running back (Mewlede Moore). Baltimore has that effect on people.
> Rashard Mendenhall's day while subbing for Willie Parker: 9 carries for 30 yards, 1 catch for 6, and a fractured shoulder that will land him on the IR. The only thing that is keeping me from an epic whiff on the fantasy value of Parker is health.
> The Ravens defense is a classic Ryan unit -- physically punishing, and always prone to dumb penalties (tonight's was a 15-yarder that gave a moribund Pittsburgh attack life) and critical mistakes (tonight, a Santonio Holmes touchdown where three guys whiffed in the secondary). The Steelers were able to change the mood a bit by going to no huddle, but that's not the whole story, or a unique situation.
> Hines Ward was able to draw a 15-yarder when it was absolutely essential. One suspects that he draws more of those than any other WR in the league.
> The Pittsburgh OL continues to have issues, but not nearly as many as last week in Philly. Big Ben's very good at making people miss and making plays on the run, but if they don't get this fixed at some point, they are going to see more of Byron Leftwich than they want to see.
> The Pittsburgh crowd was quite bent at 13-3 in the third quarter, with the offense not scoring a touchdown in forever. Telling, and more so for the telling point that the Steelers remain a finesse team. The division is probably theirs for this year, but next year... maybe not.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Today's link is one of those hard research pieces where I had to, you know, look in the mirror and stop cringing long enough to type.
It'll also be an interesting experiment to see how many people fly off the handle and accuse me of saying something terrible about the Matt Bryant tragedy. Of course, what I'm really doing is chastising people who would take advantage of that situation. (And for the record, no, I didn't own Bryant in any of my leagues yesterday. But what a value!)
From the league front page: "The Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball season ended with the games played on Sunday, September 28th. Statistics from the Tigers vs. White Sox game on Monday, September 29th, will NOT count in fantasy scoring."
Now, I'm not in any H2H championship, but if I were... well, um, today's game between the White Sox and Tigers is in the regular season. Why is it unique among all games played in MLB this year to not count?
Here's your headline from today's New York Times: "Mussina's 20th Victory May Be His Last." The story notes that the 2008 Yankees ace has an expired contract, a 40th birthday celebration in December, and a family that wants him home for good. (He's also, of course, the oldest guy to win 20 who hadn't before, and stops being the guy with the most wins to never win 20 in a season. Whatever.)
Now, here is the list of pitchers who voluntarily retired in the last 100 years after a 20 win season.
Who did it, of course, for crippling elbow pain in a time when medical technology could offer him no relief... so you can argue about the voluntary part there, too. (To be sure, there were also two Black Sox who won 20 and never pitched again. Hence, the qualifier "voluntarily.")
Now, everyone in pinstripes has to honor Mike and his possibly quitting talk, since he's a decent guy who didn't suck at all this year, and telling a guy that he's full of crap for wanting to walk away from a probable eight figure salary in 2009, not to mention his continued assault on Mount 300 (with the win yesterday, he's at 270), is rude. Besides, he's going to the Hall -- no Cy Youngs or World Series championships , but a jaw-dropping .638 winning percentage, and only five guys have more wins and a higher rate (Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Roger Clemens, Lefty Groves and Randy Johnson).
If and when he gets hurt or ineffective, maybe then he gives it up. If and when the Yankees decide to screw around with his contract, and try to pay him as someone who will give them less than 200 innings with a 4.5 ERA, a 1.3 WHIP and a 13-8 record (i.e., what he's overwhelmingly likely to revert back to next year, given that his recent career seems to be an every-other year thing, and no one knows if the new stadium will be as kind to right-handed pitching as the old), maybe he gets bent and holds out. If he has to go ply his trade in, say, Pittsburgh for a comparative pittance, maybe then he quits.
But it's not as if the Yankees have many better ideas than him right now, or that a guy who's made over $133 million in MLB is really going to turn his nose down at $10 million more... especially when he's only two to three years away from 300, and the team would really like some new history to be made at the new yard.
The family can wait. They have for this long.
Last year, the immortal Brian Griese, Cedric Benson, Brian Berrian and Moose Muhammad went 90 yards in the last two minutes to win on the road in Philadelphia. The loss was in the early season, and while mind-blowingly frustrating, didn't seem like it was a make-or-break game for the Eagles season.
Eventually, they missed the playoffs by a game (letting the Giants in), and well, the Bears game might have been the difference.
This isn't to say that last night's teeth-grating loss in Chicago will be the difference between the Birds and the post-season; there is, after all, 12 games left to play, and the schedule still seems relatively palatable. Win next week against Washington at home, and then in San Francisco, and you're sitting at 4-2 at the bye. One suspects that if they get to that point, they might not even be in last place in the division anymore, though it's hard to say. Last night's loss was the first time an NFC East team lost outside of its division this year.
Here are five more quick points to chew over as you ponder what might have been...
> Many people, by reflex, will question the Eagles head coaches for calling goal line plunges with three minutes left in the game. I don't, or at least, not particularly. The bigger issue was that the Eagles back-ups -- Max Jean-Gilles in for Shawn Andrews, Brent Celek in for LJ Smith, and Buckhalter, Booker and Hunt in for Westbrook -- just didn't do the job. Then, the defense didn't hold the Bears without a first down when it had to. You can blame that on coaching if you like, but it's also damming of the Eagle back-ups. This was a team failure in all aspects -- coaching, defense, offense and special teams.
> As for why you run it there, I think Reid was thinking in two ways. First, that he wanted to give some confidence to his offensive line to get the job done... especially as they had held the ball for almost all of the second half, and should really have been wearing the Bears down by then. Secondly, I suspect that he wasn't terribly thrilled by the idea of a holding penalty or pick from the 1 yard line. At least with the running play, failure meant that the Bears were at their 1, with a defense that could have gotten them a safety on the next play. Get that, and you have the ball down by 2, with a free kick and 2 minutes left. I'm fine with the play call; not so much with the execution.
> Lost in the loss, the continuing disappointment that is kicker David Akers. His 50 yard try wasn't close; his 47 yarder hit the pole and stayed out. Had either gone in, the Eagles are kicking a field goal and taking the lead with three minutes left. (Setting up, of course, a Devin Hester kickoff return that would have given the Bears great field position prior to their own game-winning drive. Fah.)
Akers hasn't been reliable from outside of 40 yards for some time, and when you are on the road without numerous starters, you really don't have the margin for error that a kicker who can't hit from distance eliminates. I get that they are comfortable with him, and it's nice to have a kicker who doesn't shy away from contact in coverage. But he's got to do better, or they've got to move on. This isn't a new problem.
> Readers of the blog will note my longtime and mostly unwavering support of Donovan McNabb. But... is anyone else kind of tired of the "number of fourth quarter comeback wins" graphic that every broadcast crew feels compelled to post in crunch time of every game?
Don's been the QB for 75 Eagles wins. Some of them, especially over the near-decade he's been playing here, are going to involve fourth-quarter comebacks. If you are going to give me the number, also give me the percentage.
> A common theme in both losses: the pass defense not showing up until the second half. Last night, this led to three Kyle Orton touchdown passes (a career high), all of them from distance, all of them to very open receivers. While things got buttoned down more in the second, it was more a factor of increased pressure than better coverage; Orton missed several wide-open targets on downs that would have made a huge difference in the game. When the Birds signed Assante Samuel, this was supposed to give them three exceptional cover corners in an era of football when, well, you need three. So far, not so much.
Oh, and a bonus... I'm not sure why Lorenzo Booker is in the NFL. Didn't we already have this player, but quicker and even less able to block in pass protection, in Ryan Moats? If the Eagles get into a situation where both Westbrook and Buckhalter are unavailable again, it won't go well for them. (And if they aren't thinking about re-staffing the position this morning, they should be.)
Your list of hate is here, and after that frustration fest in Chicago tonight, I'm leaving the computer before I, well, completely forget that whole Reasons to be Happy crap that's under this post.
Oh, and by the way, the Carnival has undergone a serious face lift. If you haven't been over there in a while, lots of stuff changing.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Last night, I was back in the casino at the poker tables, with a new plan of sucking less and getting better cards. It worked!
(And yes, I know this is Not Sports and probably dull as dishwater to the non-poker players out there, but I like to take care of the degenerates, too.)
The game plan was to play tighter and fold on more hands pre-flop. It's requires a strong amount of patience, and the bigger problem is going on tilt as you think about what might have been.
So yes, you'll remember (for a disturbingly long time) the time you folded K-8 and had it show up as a full house on the river... but not, of course, the twenty odd hands where that move would be rewarded. Be happy for things that, well, you might otherwise take for granted.
For me, these things include:
> The 80 to 90% of the time that my commute doesn't go wrong
> The fact that the Shooter Wife doesn't give me grief over, well, periodic poker excursions
> The lunch options near my office, which give me a fair amount of choices for very reasonable coin
> The folks that come to the site, and
> Andy Reid, who has given Eagle Fan the best decade in our history.
(And if you're truly curious... I had queens twice, got lucky on the river once, and cleaned out another player who went to the river with jacks. It's a much simpler game when you play tight, really.)
I missed this while dealing with other stuff, but Paul Newman died today, at 83 years of age. I could talk about his charitable works, his ability to piss off Richard Nixon and Joe Lieberman, his longtime marriage despite being a Hollywood guy who probably had any number of opportunities to mess around... but this is a sports blog, so the important thing is to note that he stars in the best sports movie ever made, "Slapshot."
No, I'm not interested in arguing about this. Slapshot is the best sports movie ever made.
Now, I know that it's two different movies in one, and that a grimy character study of a small town turns into a slapstick flick when the Hanson Brothers show up. I'm also aware that Newman did many better movies than this one, and that there are people -- wrong people, of course -- who would prefer "Hooisers", "Rocky", "The Natural", "Field of Dreams" or "He Got Game."
But well, comedy always gets short shrift when it comes to the ranking of entertainment, and it really shouldn't. It is harder, I believe, to make someone laugh than it is to make someone sad... and Newman made you do both.
Friday, September 26, 2008
The Truth is The Truth again after a perfect week 4. I hope you cashed in on last week's picks. We're going to ride our mojo into week 5 and make everyone some coin again. We here at FTT are givers. So hop on board and enjoy the ride. We're now 12-8 for the season after picking 5 games last week and telling you to double up on the Virginia Tech game. The Truth has another Lock of the Week double down special for you. The giving, it hurts!
Michigan State -8.5 @ Indiana. I'm tempted to recommend the over here at 51. Both teams can put up points. But IU's lost by 3 TDs to Ball State last week leads me to believe they won't hang with MSU past the first.
> The Warriors won't punish star young guard Monta Ellis for injury himself in the off-season on a moped, an activity specifically prohibited by his contract.
A few things here... first off, I have no idea how you hurt yourself on a moped to the point where you are going to miss months, unless there's alcohol or severe parkour-ing involved.
Well, OK, maybe there is a way...
I also don't know how you don't want to punish the guy, especially considering that the Warriors in the post-Baron Davis Era are overwhelmingly likely to miss the playoffs, since Ellis becoming an immense star was their only chance to stay relevant in the West. Considering that the 0-8 start from last year (with Stephen Jackson's suspension being the big factor) was a direct cause of missing the dance.
Anyway, here's the money quote from Warrior GM Chris Mullin...
"I think he'll learn a lot about himself. He'll be able to draw back to it. I told him myself, if this could trigger him to really committing to an offseason program, then all of a sudden we've got a guy 24, 25, that's really got it together. We might be able to look back and be OK."Um, sure, Chris. The same way that your alcoholism turned out to be a big help in your playing days...
> Brett Favre is walking with only a slight limp, and should be good to go next week against the Cardinals.
I am shocked, shocked to discover that Brett Favre generated some additional media coverage that turned out to be a big waste of time. Shocking!
> Reports out of Seattle are that the Mariners, the first team in MLB history to finish with the worst record with a $100 million+ payroll, hate star OF Ichiro Suzuki.
Now, to be fair, Ichiro's OPS this year is the lowest of his career, and he's lost the extra-base power that used to make him good, if never quite the weapon that some people have seen him as. In terms of performance for salary, he's not doing them any favors. But we're still looking at a solid OBA and base runner, a plus defensive player, and a guy that's on pace to get hit #2,000 in his ninth MLB season, next year.
Oh, and there's also this -- he might be the only guy on the team that Mariner Fan actually likes. (With the possible exception of Brandon Morrow.)
So it doesn't really matter who wanted to wring Ichiro's neck, under the idea that he was "selfish" about his hits and stats, rather than winning. Um, not to belabor the point here, but who on this team knows a thing about winning, really? Raul Ibanez? Jarrod Washburn? Adrian Beltre?
Oh, and one final thought... how the hell did they spend over $100 million on this roster, really?
The link today is a cheap shot at the city of Cleveland's expense, and here is where I give you the obligatory "I keed, I keed" moment to let Cleveland Fan know there's no hard feelings.
Actually, er, um, no.
Not to take this too far into the gaping gutter that is presidential politics, but in 2004 (you know, back when I wasn't convinced that the media and populace weren't irredeemable), I canvassed and cold-called, since California (where I lived at the time) wasn't in play. This wound up manifesting itself in a lot of work in Nevada, but it also touched on cold calls and letter writing to people in Slow High O.
It was regrettable work.
I also have been to Cleveland in the mid-80s, and dear Lord, that was a bad stadium. I've been to Olympic, Riverfront, Three Rivers and a host of Florida minor league rat holes for spring training games... and they were all better than that hole.
So Cleveland can go pound sand, the same way that Philly can, or Detroit, or Buffalo or Pittsburgh or a dozen other multi-team metropolises. And as for Gilbert getting all thin-skinned for his town... dude, you've got the best basketball player in the world (arguably) playing in a secondary media market, before his big contract. What makes you think that the speculation would be any different if he was in, well, just about 20 other NBA towns?
Thursday, September 25, 2008
As a writer of a picks column, it's my duty to bitch and moan about how the first bye week just cripples the NFL schedule. It always seems to take out some of the most intriguing teams, and to leave nothing but dog games in its wake. Waah, waah, waah.
But really, I don't have that much of a problem with it, other than to look suspiciously at the timing if it doesn't seem to work out just perfectly for my Eagles.
The reason why, of course, is because with fantasy football and picks, it really doesn't matter if the games are good or not.
Take Falcons-Panthers, for instance; it should be a slugging yawnathon between two teams that, if they find themselves in a playoff game with a good opponent and the world hasn't changed a lot, should get rolled. If you watch it, it'll probably be tedious.
But with your intriguing fantasy plays in the game -- can Michael Turner give you points when he isn't playing against a terrible defense? Will Steve Smith become, well, Steve Smith again? -- it's fascinating. Just so long as you don't watch it too closely.
FTT continued its three-week reign of hard-core, triple penetration profitability by going 10-6 ATS last week, our third straight +.500 week, and our second of three where you really would have made some nice coin. Can the gravy train continue? Well, who the hell knows, really?
However, on one thing we can depend -- the search traffic for this picks column is going to really, really disappoint some people.
On to the picks!
(As always, your home team is caps, and the pick is in italics.)
Minnesota at TENNESSEE (-3)
And here we come to Bye Week Bitch Fest #1, aka the idea that Frerotte vs. Collins (what is this, the mid-90s NFC East?) would be one of the more intriguing games in week 4... and that said game would have huge implications to the playoff race. Yes, folks, QBs just aren't that important, at least not in games when neither team really has one.
I'm going with the road underdog Vikings here. Do I feel good about picking Gus Frerotte on the road against an undefeated Titans team, especially one that's been dominant defensively? Well, of course not. But if you were to look closely at the Titans' win last week against the Texans, you'll see some cracks in the foundation. They let Steve Slaton, Houston's rookie RB, run for 116 yards in a breakout game. If it weren't for some bad moments in the red zone, the Texans would have given the Titans everything they can handle.
This week, they get Adrian Peterson, who I'm thinking is just a little bit better than Slaton, especially now that he's had a little more time to heal a balky hamstring. They also face a Viking defense that's damn near impossible to run against. Finally, I keep thinking that (a) the Titans are not really ready to start 4-0, and (b) the NFC is just better than the AFC now, and that you need to keep things like that in mind in tight games. (As for Frerotte... I'm trying hard not to think about the media mouth jobs he'll be getting after saving the Vikings season by getting them back to .500. Eww.)
Vikings 20, Titans 16
Denver at KANSAS CITY (+9.5)
Denver is, on offense, a dead ringer for last year's Patriots team, a fact that the guy that drafted Jay Cutler in your fantasy league probably hasn't stopped mentioning. Defensively, they've been worse -- a lot worse -- so no one has accused them of running up the score or being anything but lovable.
This week, they get the I-AA Chiefs, who are burdened with a terrible "star" in Larry Johnson, a dream of getting *back* to Damon Huard, and a 2008 highlight film that will consist entirely of Tom Brady getting hurt.
I think Denver wins and covers just because I can't imagine the Chiefs keeping serve, even at home. I also think Denver gets a big lead and just tries to get out by taking time off with the running game, but all of that's beyond the point, unless you are playing the over. Denver wins and covers.
Broncos 28, Chiefs 13
San Francisco at NEW ORLEANS (-5.5)
The Saints keep losing targets -- two weeks ago, Marques Colston, last week, Jeremy Shockey -- while throwing out big offensive numbers. The Niners come off their second straight win (albeit a home job over the I-AA Lions) and a sneaking suspicion that they can contend this year, since, well, what the hell, it's just the NFC West. Someone's got to contend, after all.
My money is on the home town Saints, because I'm just not seeing this Niners team being able to operate in a road dome, and because the surviving Saints wideouts are actually still OK. Oh, and this Drew Brees guy is OK, too. Finally, this actual gambling tidbit... the Niners are 2-6 ATS on the road in their last 8 road games. That win in Seattle said more about the Seabags than it did about the Niners.
Saints 28, Niners 21
Arizona at NEW YORK JETS (-1.5)
The Jets are 2-6-1 in their last 9 at home ATS, and they also have the fun of flying back East with the short week after putting up numbers without consequence in a rolled over loss against the Chargers. The Cardinals continue their East Coast swing by moving north from Washington, where they were in the game until a bad no-call pick against the Redskins.
This Cardinals team should be better -- and isn't that a constant complaint of the past five years -- and against a Jets team that got torched by Phillip Rivers and the Charger targets last Monday, I'm looking for more of the same from Warner, Boldin and Fitzgerald. The Jets will also have more than a few chances against a Cardinals secondary that gave Jason Campbell a ton of opportunities last week, but I like the chances of the Cardinals defense to rebound better than I do the Jets, despite the slight Revenge Game motivation for one-time Cardinal Thomas Jones. Expect a shootout.
Cardinals 34, Jets 31
Green Bay at TAMPA BAY (-1)
The Packers come off a dispiriting home loss to the Cowboys, while the Bucs escaped Chicago with a pass-wacky win from the Lazarus-esque Brian Griese. Packer corner Al Harris will also miss this game, which makes all of those Tampa WRs you just picked up in your league *much* more entertaining.
I like the Pack here, as Ryan Grant slowly gets his fantasy owners off the ledge and Aaron Rodgers continues to show that he's a little bit more than a system QB, but it'll be more than a bit ugly. For the Bucs, they need to run the ball a lot better than they did last week to be a serious contender, because Griese will eventually show them why three other teams gave up on him. Including, well, them.
Packers 27, Bucs 20
Atlanta at CAROLINA (-7)
Matt Ryan and Michael Turner have been the biggest matchup plays in the NFL this year -- huge against the I-AA Lions and Chiefs, invisible against the actually in the NFL Bucs. This week, the yo-yo swings back to a competent NFL defense in the Panthers, and I'm counting on the pendulum doing bad things to the improbably first-place Falcons.
Look for Delhomme to Smith to make a stirring return, and for Ryan to struggle with game maintenance in the face of a fierce Panther rush. If you're picking a confidence game this week, take the Panthers (yes, even over Dallas), because there's never going to be a better time to take Carolina...
Panthers 28, Falcons 10
Houston at JACKSONVILLE (-7.5)
Two disappointing teams in the sudden train wreck that is the AFC South, and one of them will feel a whole lot better about life after this one. The Jags cut off Peyton Manning's escape win strategy last week in Indy, while the Texans folded late against the Titans, putting starting QB Matt Schaub's job in jeopardy.
I like the Texans to cover here as Schaub starts to enjoy life with a good rookie RB (Slaton) to keep the defense honest, especially given the Jags' historic tendencies to play to the opponent's level. As a matter of fact, given the Jags' offensive line injuries, I was even tempted to make this one an upset special... but, well, the Texans do have that disquieting tendency of falling apart late.
Jags 27, Texans 24
Cleveland at CINCINNATI (-3.5)
The very last chance, one suspects ever, for Derek Anderson to show that he wasn't just a flash in the pan. Even if he does, the Why Did Everyone Put Them In Prime Time So Much Browns will go back to killing their fantasy owners in the succeeding weeks, as their schedule is a mess. At least this week, their offensive line should dominate, but given that they haven't really done that all year, it's hard to expect them to flick the switch now.
As for Satan's Own Bengals, they almost pulled off a big-time upset last week in New York, and could look primed to finally break into the win column as well. Carson Palmer started to look like an NFL QB again, and Chris Perry gives them hope of a running attack that isn't just a case of reminiscing about when Rudi Johnson was good.
In a shootout game that will convince foolish people that both teams won't lose double-digits in games this year, give me the home team. Oh, and don't take the sell-high trade offers that you'll be getting from the people that drafted Ohio's Best on their teams this year. It won't work out well for you.
Bengals 35, Browns 31
San Diego at OAKLAND (+7.5)
Bettors love the Sunday trap game, where a home team rolls someone on MNF and then looks sluggish with the short week of work, especially when it's on the road. Those people are probably still avoiding the Raiders to cover, as the Chargers really just snapped back to form last week. (Besides, the Trap Game is mostly a myth -- you remember it when it happens, but forget all of the other times when the favorite rolls.)
Besides, the Raiders don't really (shh!) enjoy a home-field advantage; the locals have seen way too much bad football to give them support at this point, and when they fall behind, it gets eve uglier than usual. The Raiders lost a heart-breaker in Buffalo last week, and still have the bizarre Lane Kiffin Fired Or Not thing happening. Let's just say I don't like their chances to bounce back.
Finally, this: LaDanian Tomlinson has spent his entire career fattening up his numbers against the Raiders. His fantasy owners are expecting 3 TDs this week, and they'll get them.
Chargers 38, Raiders 17
Buffalo at ST. LOUIS (+8)
The second straight week where the Bills get a terrible opponent and a big money line. Will I get sucked in to the suck of St. Louis to cover, yet again? Well, why not -- it's only cost me money for two straight weeks and made me look like an idiot -- but this is just too many points for a road team in a dome that's been more lucky than good so far.
Expect the Rams to get a little juice from switching from Marc Bulger to Trent Green, simply because Green isn't turtling up for the sack every third throw like Bulger is right now... and also, because, well, he probably no longer has the ability to recognize fear after nearly being made brain-dead last year in Miami. The Rams will be winless last year, but the number's just too big.
Bills 31, Rams 24
Washington at DALLAS (-11)
Exposure time for the 'Skins, who step up in class after two straight weeks winning at home against average teams in New Orleans and Arizona. Dallas is the best team in football until injuries and chemistry prove to be their downfall, and they won last week in Green Bay despite not really playing all that well, especially on offense.
At home against a hated rival, expect them to turn up the jets a bit, then cover late with the offensive line exerting their will. It's a simple strategy, and it will work so long as they are healthy. (What's the opposite of knocking wood?)
Cowboys 38, Redskins 24
Philadelphia at CHICAGO (+3)
Maybe I'm missing something here. The Eagles have looked like one of the five best teams in football. The Bears are starting Kyle Orton. The Eagles put Ben Rothlesberger and Byron Leftwich on their ass eight times last week. The Bears... are starting Kyle Orton. The Eagles have completely shut down Willie Parker and Stephen Jackson, so Matt Forte shouldn't hold too much terror. Chicago... just gave up 400+ yards to Brian Griese at home.
It also doesn't help the home team's chances that Devin Hester is still sidelined. The Eagles' STs are better than they've been, but that doesn't mean (see Jones, Felix) that they can't be had. And, this just in: they are starting Kyle Orton. I like this spread for just the Eagles defense against the Bears offense.
Eagles 24, Bears 10
Baltimore at PITTSBURGH (-7)
The second of two night games where the outcome of the game is highly dependent on the presumed incompetence of one of the starting quarterbacks. Rookie Joe Flacco takes his game manager ways into Pittsburgh in an attempt to keep the surprising Ravens undefeated. I'm not seeing it, even for a Steelers offense that's going to be missing Willie Parker, and is still wondering what the hell happened to that offensive line last week in Philly.
I've got to say, this line is making me highly uncomfortable. Flacco has looked competent and composed, and the Steelers really had the air let out of the balloon last week. But when a home team wins, it usually covers... and it's not like the Ravens have skill players that fill you with fear. (At least, not since Todd Heap became, well, a heap.)
Steelers 21, Ravens 13
Last week: 10-6
Year to date: 29-18
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Early link tonight, because dammit, when Matt Millen gets canned, you have to move fast.
You know, faster than Mike Williams.
Anyway, take a click, because unless I miss my guess, it's the only wrap-up of the Millen Era that uses the word "scat." (Well, hmm, maybe not...)
Jay Glazer, of FOXSports.com, reports Detroit Lions team president and general manager Matt Millen has been removed from his jobs with the team. It is not clear if Millen was fired or removed himself from the equation. The Lions are an NFL-worst 31-84 since Millen took over in 2001.
First Isiah, now Millen. Dammit, don't these people realize that I need easy targets to fill the bloghole?
Best fact about Millen -- not the 7.5 year reign, not the unspeakably awful record, even better than the blown draft picks -- is this.
He ranked second in the NFL among GM pay.
My friends, we will not see his like again. (Oh, and H/T once more to Original Mookie for the heads up.)
What did you get for YED? I always get the same thing: a simple moment of relief and peace as I realize that the rats with cocaine-like nature of Yankee Fan is being slowly but surely weaned into something more like, well, the rest of MLB fandom. Did you know that there are people who can use a restroom without assistance that have never known a Yankee championship year? That's change we can believe in, America!
Let us not let the corpse get cold. The finger pointing begins with...
> Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy winning fewer games than (many) middle relievers
> Robinson Cano's bad start that turned into a bad everything
> The usual bench woes that aren't defensible at any level for a team with this payroll (Morgan Ensberg! Wilson Betemit! Chad Moeller! The usual clown car parade of replacement starting pitchers!)
> A-Rod's injury in the early season, DP-filled August, and overall failure to walk on water while providing tabloid headlines (clearly, he needed the divorce to be spread out longer, as that was the only time this year that he was really raking)
> Derek Jeter being the most overrated player in MLB this year, and for much of the year, having a bad enough year that even the media noticed
> The Kyle Farnsworth for Ivan Rodriguez trade that wound up hurting both clubs
> Joba Chamberlain looking like an ace, then breaking down (really, the Fork Moment of the season)
But really, the single biggest thing that happened to the Yankees this year was that the doormats of the AL East got good. Tampa Bay might be the best story in baseball this year. Toronto was better. Even the Orioles were plucky for vast portions of the season, with an offense that was more like the Yankees' usual wrecking crew than the Bombers were. Add it up, and you've got a team that was, on some level, lucky to be in contention this long.
Will they be better in 2009? You'd have to think so, given that the new stadium isn't going to fill itself at the prices they're charging for it, and New Yorkers aren't likely to fill the place for years just because it's new. (That's more of a flyover country thing.) The starting 9 is liable to have huge turnover (Giambi, Posada, Cano and Cabrera being the primary targets), and what stays (Jeter, A-Rod, Nady, Damon) isn't getting any better at their ages.
As for the rotation, anyone that thinks the starting rotation has to be better with a more mature Hughes and Kennedy... well, they should realize that they are really not likely to get 19 wins from Mike Mussina again. Chen Ming-Wang should be a solid comeback candidate, but I would submit that a guy who puts a lot of balls in play with what usually is a bad defensive infield behind him really isn't something that you count on to be an ace.
There's also this: Tampa Bay isn't a one-year wonder. The Red Sox may have issues, but they've also got a farm system that gives them better than replacement level players, more often than not. Toronto and Baltimore don't look like utter doormats anymore. The new Stadium could (one would think have to) be less of a home-field advantage than what it's historically been. The new Stein is going to start flexing his muscles soon, and there's no reason to think that Joe Girardi will survive a second year out of the limelight; the resulting instability and opportunity to extend bizarre organizational politics into the manager's office could put them back in the bad old '80s days.
Add it all up, and you have a division where I think the Yanks are more likely to finish last in '09 than first. Which means we'll be celebrating Yankee Elimination Day earlier, which would be just peachy on many levels. Now, if we can only have them infect the Red Sox, too...
A big lovely list today, with high hopes for links and big blog traffic that will, like everything else that I spend time and effort on, sink under the waves with speed. Click and read it anyway, just to prove my bitter, bitter self wrong.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
As predicted here, the Chargers blew out the NY Bretts last night on MNF. Here are my takeaways of what we learned from the game.
> The bloom is coming off the Favre rose pretty quickly, really. San Diego had three picks last night (two of them from the Sainted One), and could have had a couple more. The thing about Favre's picks is that they really don't all come from the man trying to force things or going for big plays; he throws picks of every variety, really, which is something you have to do if you are going to throw more of them than any other QB that has ever played.
In the first quarter, with the game in the balance, Thomas Jones comes out in the flat, then turns the pattern upfield. Favre throws five yards behind him, and Antonio Cromartie makes a great break on the ball but can't make the catch. It's an easy pick-six if he brings it in, but it goes in the scorebooks as just an incompletion.
Now, if a rookie QB makes that play, it's part of the learning curve. If Tarvaris Jackson or Rex Grossman makes that play, it's grounds for benching. Brett Favre? It's part of the whole package, baby. One question: why?
Either he doesn't know the playbook -- at which point, um, you can and should take him to task for being unprepared and/or moronic -- or he simply made a glaring physical or mental mistake. Or, and this is really the crux of the biscuit, maybe he's just not very accurate anymore, even in the short game, which is where most of his passing happens now.
The Jones ball wasn't even a pick, but it was just awful on every level. The MNF guys all took the opportunity to polish Cromartie's knob, and he is a pretty great young corner, albeit a big gambler. But what they missed is the biggest reason why, if Brett Favre is the quarterback of a team that you care a lot about, you better have a lot of other good things going on with your team.
> San Diego might still win the West -- eventually, Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall have to stop being Brady to Moss, don't they? -- but I don't see the window of opportunity looking very wide for this team any more.
Without Shawne Merriman, they don't get enough push (even when the game was close and the Jets had abandoned the run) on defense, and the secondary, while good, isn't great -- Jammer is reliable but not a shutdown guy, Cromartie will bite on pump fakes and take bad lines, and the safetys don't do enough.
But the most telling point about the Chargers is the coverage teams. Kickoff and punt coverage is an early indicator of a team's talent pool. If your team is covering these well (without using starters), it means that the back-ups are athletic and have the building blocks in place to be productive players. When they don't cover, it means that the tail end of your roster is being staffed by reaches and draft busts who have the gig because they couldn't find anyone better.
Now, the Jets do have outstanding kick returners. Leon Washington is among the top five in the NFL at it, and they had Jerricho Cotchery bust a big one when Washington was gassed in the fourth. The Chargers also were kicking off all night, thanks to the porous Jets secondary and a good night for QB Phillip Rivers. But the Chargers threw in the towel on it at one point (squib kicks, pooch kicking), and that was with a kicker (Nate Kaeding) who usually is good for putting some distance into his kickoffs.
Since the Chargers have the very dangerous Darren Sproles returning kicks, and Kaeding and Scifres doing good work with their own feet, there are very good individual performers on the Charger special teams. No one is going to think that they will lose because of them. But I'm here to tell you, it ain't necessarily so. I've watched enough Eagle Football under the Reid Era to know... if your coverage teams are costing you yards every game, that eventually comes back to haunt you.
> In the fourth quarter, with the game officially into Pump Your Stats Mode (and who says that real football doesn't care about fantasy?), the Jets went into a spread offense with no RB at all (so much for that canny pick of Thomas Jones on my part in too many leagues) and moved the ball. Given the situation of the game and their need to get Saint Brett up to speed with the offense somehow, this made all the sense in the world, and if the Jet defense had shown up at all, they might have found themselves in a game late.
But in going for two down two scores, the spread went from useful to downright silly. After three consecutive Charger penalties on pass plays, the ball was at the half-yard line. The play call then wasn't a plunge into the line, an inside draw handoff, or even a simple Favre sneak. Instead, it was another pass, this one incomplete. Was head coach Eric Mangini still paying attention, or does he not trust his team -- with a physical offensive line that they spent big bucks on (Alan Faneca, Damien Woody) -- to not get a half yard?
> I don't watch college football, so maybe I'm missing something here. Three games into a pro career is hardly the time to break out the fork.
But, um, Jets fan? If this guy in the Vernon Gholston jersey is a football player, I'm an airplane. And that was after he got his very first professional tackle (yay! in only his third game!) and recovered a fumble. Let's just say that your video montage of draft pain just got a little longer...
> I realize this last point is blasphemy, but if I was a Jets fan last night, I was more scared -- and well, you can add much before that -- when Sproles had the ball in his hands, not Tomlinson.
Maybe LdT is still coming back from injury and rust, and maybe Sproles is never going to be a guy you can give the ball to 20-25 times a game, considering that he's all of three inches taller than me. But he's got a burst that the reputed #1 RB in all of football just doesn't have any more.
Having said that, I'd still give you Thomas Jones for him in trade. Quickly.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Today in Florida, the Phillies won and took a 1.5 game edge in the division, cutting their magic number to six. Even in the event of a division collapse, they would still be up three games on the Brewers for the wildcard, so it's very likely that they are going to be playing meaningful baseball after next Sunday.
The game was also notable for the 15th (!) win of the season for the 45-year-old Jamie Moyer, who went six effective innings (1 earned run, 7 base runners, 4 whiffs) and lowered his ERA to 3.78. His 1.34 WHIP tells you that he's been doing some of this with (a lack of) smoke and mirrors, but it's Jamie Moyer; you can argue that he's spent his entire career doing it that way.
The win was Moyer's 245th, which doesn't sound like a terribly meaningful milestone, but there's this... with the win, the ageless lefty is now in the top 50 all-time in baseball history. He passed Dennis Martinez to break into that group.
Roll that around in your head a little. Baseball has been played for 120+ years, with tens of thousands of men taking the mound. Moyer, a guy whose talent probably wouldn't get a second look from a scout for anything but a minor league filler job, has won more games than all but 50 of them.
He is, of course, not done yet. Six more has him pass Bob Gibson. Nine puts Jack Morris in the rear-view mirror. Twenty takes out Bob Feller. There are others, of course, but for the most part, you haven't heard of them, because they played baseball before you were born.
And if he feels like pitching until he's 50, and doing it effectively for a team like the Phillies that gives him good run support? He wins 300, breaks into the top 25, and probably makes the Hall of Fame with the most unlikely resume in the institution's history. (If you want to break this into lefties, of course, he's probably in the top 20 of those already.)
And if you really think that he can't do it... well, why? Is he going to start throwing too hard and ruin things?
> Does Wes Welker still think that Assante Samuel going to the Eagles was just about getting paid, and that by leaving the Patriots, he wasn't interested in playing for championships?
> Is Patriot Fan -- you know, in the theory that any of them still exist -- disappointed in the Dolphins' lack of sportsmanship in running up the score?
> Does your schedule still look easy to you?
> Given the amount of booing and early exits, how soon until you turn on Belichick?
> How quickly did you list your remaining tickets for this season for sale?
So they played the final baseball game ever at Yankee Stadium tonight, between two teams that history will little note, nor long remember. The third place team in the division, the hometown Yanks, beat the fifth place team in the division, the Baltimore Orioles. It was a 7-3 win, with Andy Pettite getting the win and Jose Molina, of all people, getting the final home run in the Stadium's 85 year history. Short of a collapse and comeback for the ages, the Yanks are done for the year.
A person from outside of sports would, of course, wonder what the big deal is. A building is a building is a building, and while Yankee Stadium history is clearly the most jam-packed in terms of having more important moments than any other MLB arena, it's not as if the place itself made it all happen.
And yet, as you see the shots of old men and little kids fighting back tears as they watched the Yankees take a victory lap -- and kudos to the Yankees for not holding to their base nature and making people vacate immediately -- you had to feel for them on some level.
The end of a place where you have memories is a reminder that all life is finite, all moments are fleeting, and that you have to take pleasure with the knowledge that it's all tied into the meaning that you give it.
It's just a building, except that it's not.
It's just a game, except that it isn't.
And baseball, even for the Yankees, always ends in the small heartbreak of autumn, when the leaves begin to fall and the cold begins to creep in, and the weather itself reminds you that everything changes, whether you wish it to or not.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
A few quick points from a game that never felt certain, despite an utterly dominant performance by the defensive line...
> Today's game showed you just how valuable Brian Westbrook is. Correll Buckhalter made a pretty great play for the game's only touchdown, and Lorenzo Booker had a few good moments. But without B-Dub, an offense who got the ball back all day was only able to produce 13 points. (Admittedly, McNabb getting banged up didn't help matters either.)
Westbrook had X-rays that showed his ankle wasn't broken, but he was on crutches in the locker room afterward, and will have an MRI tomorrow. I wouldn't expect him on the field next Sunday night in Chicago, which makes a game that shouldn't have been too difficult a little more challenging... but the Bears just got beat by Brian Griese today, so I'm still liking the Eagles' chances.
Long-term, of course, no Westbrook = no Super Bowl chance. And with the NFC East now standing at a cumulative 10-2, with the only losses for the two 2-1 teams coming on the road in the division, there isn't much margin for error.
> The worry before the season started for Pittsburgh was the offensive line, which wasn't good last year, when they still had Alan Faneca. Man alive, were they awful today. On one play in the fourth quarter, the Eagles rushed three in a prevent defense, and two of the three linemen got to Ben Roethlisberger clean.
Now, I've been watching football for thirty years, and I've never seen that play before. Perhaps the Steeler OL was just befuddled by the variety here, or were all looking out for the extra man that had been coming all day, but good grief. The Steelers may still be the best team in the AFC -- the position isn't really as contested as you might think, considering the undefeated teams in the conference are Buffalo, Denver, Baltimore and Tennessee -- but man alive, do they have some work to do on the line.
> Punter Sav Rocca was a problem for the Eagles last year, along with the coverage units and just about every other aspect of the special teams. He's not anymore. Phil Simms went overboard in his praise for him today to the point of easy parody (as you'll see in the Epic Drop), but in a field position game in the second half, he was worth about 40 to 50 yards, and his 64-yard crush job after an ugly three and out drive was just what the doctor ordered.
> Brian Dawkins had the play of the game, really, with a flying punch job that forced a fumble and made me laugh out loud. Dawkins might not be what he once was, and you can take advantage of him, especially in a head-on match-up with an elite tight end (and the NFC East is sadly rife with them).
But no one can take away that he's still a pretty good safety (better than Sean Considine on his best day), and that he shows absolute joy in playing football. You can forgive a lot for that. Especially when you consider that no other safety in football seems as interested in posing like Wolverine, or looking like he was squeezing out a log in celebration...
> As meaningful as the nine sacks that the Eagles had today, don't sleep on the job they also did on the Steeler ground game. Willie Parker had 13 carries for 20 yards today, and if you toss out his long of 8, he got a yard a carry. That's the most encouraging thing from the win, really -- that they can, potentially, be that special as a defense, especially after the Dallas breakdowns.
> Simms talked about the Eagles defensive pressure today as if it were purely a matter of exotic blitzes, but 7.5 of those came from the defensive line. This was Ryan-esque domination from the line, and it won the game in, perhaps, the most primal way possible.
It's not how you usually win games in this century, or in the Reid Era. But that didn't make it any less satisfying.
Here's your link, and while I could talk about any number of things, I had to dwell in the land of the Regional Color shot, once again.
Did you know that cheese is made in Wisconsin? I had no clue, really; it had somehow evaded my notice in the hundreds of other video montages that have been prepared and produced over the years. Maybe a few hundred more, wildly similar, video montages over the remaining years of my life might do it.
Hey, broadcast honks that are wasting my time and yours with this nonsense? Show me something new. Cut to an office complex where people are filling cubicles, just so that I know that people in Green Bay have the Internets and electricity and e-mail. Cut to someone at an Appleby's ordering the appetizer sampler -- and wow, it's actually a lot like the ones we have near us! Find a postal worker filling a mail box with junk mail, or a nest of pudgy white kids fast-twitching their way through the tricks stage on the latest Tony Hawk game on their Wii.
Because, well, I've been to Green Bay. It's a small town, like a college town, really, and it has a lot more of the mundane than the cheese-producing. No one who has watched your telecasts over the years know this. And so long as you're introducing civics lessons in the middle of my damn football game, let's go whole hog. I want to know testing scores for the schools, the local crime rate, and what the housing market is like. Maybe we all should move there.
Somewhere, honestly, there is a broadcast mogul to be, maybe in high school or college, who is preparing for a career that will redefine televised sports. This person will, I am utterly certain, show just the game, and come to the realization that serving the base, hard-core consumer with just product, analysis, extensive replays of more than just the ball... will make us happy.
And that happy viewers are better than the people who wonder, game after game after game, why we need to see that Wisconsin makes cheese. (This just in... in Seattle, they throw fish!)
Friday, September 19, 2008
It's been a tough season for my picks so far. We are struggling at 6-8. Time to turn things around. And how do you change your mojo? That's right, a road trip! So all picks this week will be on road teams. Let's make this exciting.
Vanderbilt +7 @ Ole Miss. Vandy is not only undefeated this season, but is 3-0 ATS. And they have proven the past few years to be great road dogs ATS. So we'll take the 7 points, thank you very much.
LSU -2.5 @ Auburn. Always a fantastic game. Auburn's D is fantastic but their offense just can't put points on the board. So I like LSU on the road here.
Miami -3 @ Texas A&M. Another game where I don't necessarily think the favorite is that good, I just think A&M is that bad. Tough to play at Kyle Field, but I think the Canes will over match the Aggies.
Georgia -7 @ Arizona St. Georgia has turned into this years "We don't get enough respect" team. They are looking to light it up after their tough roadie last week. Arizona St. - verdict is still out on whether they are a contender or a pretender. Let me save you the analysis - pretender.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
Virginia Tech +3 @ UNC. I can't believe I'm betting on the Hokies again and as my lock of the week. But I like them here as a touchdown favorite. But giving them 3 points is too good to pass up. Lay two units on this game.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
It's Friday Tangent Time. Y'all have been warned.
A train ride on regional rail is mostly dull. People get into their newspaper, their handheld, their laptop and 95% of us don't talk, especially if it's an early hour or a car that isn't cramped and jammed. If it's late and/or packed, you might get some grousing or jerk moves, but it's just a grind commute; it doesn't need a lot of chatter. It's actually kind of nice, in that you can, as I do, get some work or reading done.
The last 5% will teach you something, as anything will, if you give it a chance. (Mostly just patience, but hey, take the teaching and move on.)
What has happened on my train in the last week has been a lot of guys drinking from brown bags. Well dressed guys, who don't seem entirely comfortable with drinking in public like this. Drinking because, well, they are scared senseless by what's been going on in the economy, specifically the markets and how it relates to their continued employment, and need something to take the edge off. (And yes, it's been far from a random occurrence. So far this week, I've seen a half dozen people in this boat. It's A Movement.)
This is, of course, as unsettling as you want to make it, but on the off chance that you are somehow reading this blog and thinking that life is more or less peachy, that no change is needed, and that times are not bad... um, not so much.
Hard times, are, of course, relative. The people who are downing brew or stronger at 6pm on a weekday as they wonder who in the office will be shown the door tomorrow -- assuming, on some level, that it wasn't and/or won't be them -- don't appear to be starving, or deprived of electricity, or at any real danger of being sold into slavery. By the standards of, oh, 90%+ of the world's population, they're doing swell.
But that doesn't mean that today, and this week, is a hell of a lot more worrisome than last, or the month before that, or that they've got any real hope that the holidays this year will be one to remember fondly. Or that retirement and all of the other things that people hope, plan and work for haven't just entered Commode Land.
In times like this, you can put your blinders on, focus on the work that's at hand, and try to ignore the feeling that you're being led to the killing flood. Or you can drink on trains and become paralyzed by the process and the fear. Neither choice is all that encouraging, really.
Or you can do what I do, and think too much about how to fill the bloghole, whether your NFL picks are sound, and who you should play in your fantasy football leagues. Ah, sweet sweet distraction, my own personal 40 ounce body bag...
Here's your link, and yes, the inspiration is from a comment that I'm not going to get into here.
I'm also, of course, convinced that someone is going to take this the wrong way and assume I'm a horrible person, because, well, people don't read things for subtle points, especially here in Blogfrica. It's all good, though, since I haven't insulted Vince Young in, like, hours...
Were you aware that over 10% of your yearly ration of NFL games for the season have already been played? Personally, I'm outraged by this on many levels, most of them manifesting as self-hatred. Why, I've missed whole series of games -- and I call myself a blogger. It's disgraceful. I can already feel February's cold chill on me, when the only thing I'll have to comfort myself with is a non-Bush presidency, the NBA, MLB spring training, college hoops, hockey and maybe a vacation. Damn you, NFL! In just about five months, I'm going to be mildly inconvenienced!
Anyway... last week was a back and forth affair, as good moments like Indy on the road, Carolina and New England in pick'em wins and the Pack covering a big number in Detroit were negated by the Raiders, Giants, Skins and Bills all being better than I thought. We still paid the bills at 8-7, but only just. So, on to the picks!
Kansas City at ATLANTA (-3.5)
A game that will make you long for February, really. The Chiefs are coming off a de-pantsing by the previously DOA Raiders at home, while the Falcons stayed with the Bucs for a long time despite Matt Ryan suffering big-time growing pains. Neither team should be trusted to find their ass with both hands and a map, but Atlanta's at home, with the better RB (Michael Turner, not Larry "Runs, And Bitches, Like Your Grandmama" Johnson), QB (Ryan over practice squadder and Coastal Carolina's own Tyler Thigpen), WR (Roddy White over Dwayne Bowe, in the battle of the only guys on the field that are fairly certain to be in the league in 5 years) and home crowd.
If you're betting this game, you also probably are a regular at the dog track... and I'm there with you. Avoid the nachos.
Falcons 20, Chiefs 16
Oakland at BUFFALO (-8.5)
Everyone's darling in the AFC East gets a big home number and, one imagines, an inordinate amount of Suicide Pool action. They are coming off a show-us win on the road in Jacksonville, and come home to a Raider team that seems to be trying to get head coach Lane Kiffin fired by taking football back to the Bronko Nagurski age -- seriously, Jemarcus Russell threw for less yards than his wideout's jersey numbers last week, and it's not like Kansas City has shutdown corners. I think he gets a little more this week, in that it would be impossible to get a little less, and it's hard to give up this many points to a team that's facing a potentially dominating RB in Darren McFadden.
It won't be pretty, but it will be a cover, especially if Buffalo QB Trent Edwards gets greedy on the Raiders' (overall) good corners.
Bills 21, Raiders 14
Tampa Bay at CHICAGO (-5)
Am I going with back to back road dogs? Hell and yes. The Bears are coming off a late-game road collapse against a frisky Panthers team, while the Bucs let the Falcons stick around for far too long last week before putting them away with Earnest Graham's first good run of the day. Against the vaunted Bucs Cover Two, I don't see Kyle Orton playing mistake-free football, and I also don't see Matt Forte being able to keep the sticks moving enough to matter. The schedule also helps the Bucs here, as cold-weather games in Chicago were really not their cup of tea in the old alignment.
Finally, there's this -- it's Brian Griese's Revenge Game! You're not going to stop Brian Griese in a revenge game!
So give me the Bucs in a mild shocker -- not just a cover, but a win -- that really won't be that much of a shock, given that the Bears start Kyle Orton. (Also, to be fair, because if Vince Young had Orton's options at wideout, he'd be dead already. I am so mean and racist!)
Bucs 17, Bears 13
Carolina at MINNESOTA (pick em)
The home team is going -- by choice! -- to Gus Frerotte, which helps to explain the lack of home-field favoritism, despite the really good home field advantage that the Vikings have in their dome. The Panthers are coming off a bit of a gift win against the Bears, and while they were able to run the ball with good success with Jon "Moment of Zen" Stewart in the second half, I don't see them having the same patience or effectiveness in a loud dome. If Matt Forte can go for big yards against Carolina, Adrian Peterson can go for two times big yards... and probably will, since Frerotte will resemble, at times, an NFL quarterback. Plus, with his experience, he only makes 6 bonehead throws a game, which is a distinct edge over Tarvaris Jackson's even dozen.
There's also this: the Vikings need this game a lot more than the Panthers, and will play like it... despite the return of Steve Smith. Hey, after the Panthers lose this game, can everyone start telling the Steve Smith Is A Team Cancer story? That's always fun.
Vikings 17, Panthers 10
Miami at NEW ENGLAND (-11)
If Matt Cassel is ever going to put up numbers for his increasingly bitter fantasy owners (and yes, the owners of Randy Moss are thinking about a class-action suit), it would have to be this week against the moribund Fish, who allowed Kurt Warner to achieve a perfect quarterback rating in last week's immolation in the desert. Miami hasn't been able to run the ball worth a damn, and the Patriots know all about how jumping Chad Pennington's routes. To all the people who bought my pre-season hype on Ted Ginn Jr., I am very, very sorry... and happy as punch that he never found his way to any of my rosters.
I'm looking for the Patriots in a blowout that will make stupid people start to wonder if they'll be better without Brady after all. The answer is, um, no.
Patriots 34, Dolphins 17
Cincinnati at NEW YORK GIANTS (-10)
The other big number that I'm willing to lay this week is the Giants, just to ensure that they struggle. Big Blue used some late game Marc Bulger pathos to cover the spread in St. Louis, while the Bengals continued to swap the e for a u in their name against the Titans. All of the wheels are off the Carson Palmer bus, and the defense seems to be the same old fluffy soft tabbies you've known and started all of your fantasy league players against. Thanks to the Rams, Cincy isn't the worst team in the league, but man, they are awful, and you'd have to think that Marvin Lewis is wondering how to get out of his housing investment in a down economy.
Big Blue has shown a quiet ability to ground bad teams into putty with their triple-headed running game and reasonable mid-range passing game, and the pass rush still has more than enough push to make a bad team worse. I don't think they are all that good, but the Bengals sure aren't the team to exploit them, at least not at this point in the year.
Giants 27, Bengals 16
Houston at TENNESSEE (-5)
The Texans, fresh off a hurricane-inflicted early season bye, come to the surprising 2-0 Titans, who rode the competent game manager hand of Kerry Collins (hey, he knows how to throw to the wide receivers! that's useful!) to a by-the-numbers win over the Bungles. I kind of like this Texans team, or at least I did until they became de facto homeless. With a bye and something to prove, I think they cover, but don't win; the Titans just run and defend too well for that, and the Steve Slaton Breakout Game (Be patient! It's coming!) isn't happening yet. But it'll be tight.
Collins, by the way, is the rich-man's Gus Frerotte, in that when he hurts himself against a wall, he's probably drunk at the time.
Titans 20, Texans 17
Arizona at WASHINGTON (-1)
Let's try this again... hotshot NFC passing team comes to the nation's capital to play a 'Skins squad that shouldn't be very good, given their wideouts and coaching changes. Last week, it was New Orleans (albeit without Marques Colston, which might make a world of difference). This week, it's the Cardinals, fresh off a romp over the fetid Fish. I'm giving the edge to the Cards, because I actually do believe in their defense a little, and dammit, someone has to not be very good in the NFC East.
Oh, and if you're looking for fantasy league advice on whether to start Kurt Warner in this game, just check my lineups before gameday; if I have him in, you get him out, and vice versa.
Cardinals 24, Redskins 17
Detroit at SAN FRANCISCO (-2)
Original Mookie, a longtime FTT contributor who lives in the Bay Area, tells me that the locals are far too enthused about JT O'Sullivan, who has been collecting nicknames (JTO, JT Throw, Jay-T) like he's, you know, a real quarterback. Bringing your team back on the road in Seattle after you've hit the ground eight times, and preventing the locals from having to watch more of Alex Smith, is nice. But keeping your QB from taking eight sacks is, well, better.
This is the game that Frank Gore fans have been salivating over, but it's also a bit of a danger game, in that the Lions probably won't be playing from two touchdowns down for most of the game, as is their usual wont. I'm even tempted to pull the trigger for the road dogs here. But any time your team is auditioning Shawn Alexander and Cedric Benson as back-ups during the week, that reminds me... hey! Matt Millen isn't very smart! Stay away from him and his utterly, utterly awful football team!
Niners 24, Lions 21
St. Louis at SEATTLE (-6)
The Rams have looked like the worst team in the NFL for two straight weeks, while the Seahawks are going through whatever walks the streets and plays wideout. Missed in last week's collapse against the JTOs (see, that nickname has legs) was Julius Jones going for 100 yards and giving fantasy league owners a hope in hell that the Seattle running back committee had a chairman. This week, he'll find the going nice and easy against a Rams team that looks like it's trying to get head coach Scott Linehan fired before the leaves fall, and your over-under on the next Marc Bulger injury is two weeks. Take the under.
Oh, and if you were fooled into taking Stephen Jackson in this year's draft, you can stop paying attention to your fantasy league team any time now, really.
Seattle 27, St. Louis 17
New Orleans at DENVER (-5.5)
The week's best candidate for the over -- any over -- comes in the high air of Denver, where the hometown Broncos are still living in the afterglow of Ballsy Mike Shanahan and his Ballsy Two Point Conversion Win. Left unsaid in the celebration of the Rat's Balls is the fact that he probably went that way out of a sincere desire to not see his defense take the field again for another seven days, win or lose, but 2-0 is 2-0. For the Saints, they lost the chance to make a statement that the 2006 Good Times were back in a stumbling road loss to the Redskins. Now, they have to contend with the thin air and continued lack of Marques Colston, while Jeremy Shockey's owners are officially bent out of shape. The real culprit for the Saints, of course, is the running game, where Pierre Thomas has clearly taken over for Deuce McAllister but without the old production, and Reggie Bush is well on his way to becoming the most overrated player in the NFL.
Despite all that, I like the Saints to at least cover here, as it's tough to give up this many points in a game that should be Last Ball Wins, and I'm not quite buying the idea that Jay Cutler is going to rewrite the record books *just* yet.
Broncos 38, Saints 35
Pittsburgh at PHILADELPHIA (pick em)
No respect for the home town team, who have a make or break game this week against the visiting Steelers in a match that deserves Prime Time a lot more than the Jets and Chargers. Pittsburgh comes off a workmanlike road win in post-hurricane conditions in Cleveland, while we all remember what the Eagles were doing in last Monday's game for the ages in Dallas. I like the Birds here for the following factors:
1) Ben Rothlesberger got a little banged up last week, and I suspect he's not 100%.
2) Pittsburgh's offensive line isn't the backbone of the team, which means that TE Heath Miller stays in to block a lot. As Jason Witten showed in the second half in Dallas, the way to roast the Eagles secondary is to throw to a quality TE on deep middle passes, and watch him torture the new fraud that's in Brian Dawkins' jersey, or the old fraud that wears the Sean Considine gamer.
3) DeSean Jackson's end zone antics notwithstanding, the presence of the new #1 WR on the team means more holes for Brian Westbrook, and I think this is the week that Andy Reid takes advantage of that.
4) Donovan McNabb is, inexplicable fumble notwithstanding, playing at too high of a level right now to lose at home.
5) The Eagles simply need the game more than the Steelers, who know, on some level, that their division is going to be a walk in the park this year.
6) The AFC isn't better than the NFC anymore.
7) Mike Tomlin in a big game is still suspect.
8) I think the Eagles defense and special teams are better than the MNF game, and that they come out and show it.
As you might be able to tell by all the reasons, I'm still nervous as hell about this game, and not just because a loss will put them at least two games behind either the Cowboys, the Giants, or both. From the moment the schedules were released, this was the keystone game for the Eagles' season, especially with the short week of work. Here's hoping they are up to the task.
Eagles 27, Steelers 24
Jacksonville at INDIANAPOLIS (-3.5)
This line was released prior to the Bob Sanders injury news, but as good as he is, I suspect it won't move things too much in either direction. Jacksonville comes in 0-2 and desperate, while the Colts are .500 thanks only to the Houdini act they pulled last week in Minnesota. I like Indy in this game because they are at home, Peyton Manning looks to be getting the rust off, and the Jags are still hurting bad on the front line.
Besides, if you can't keep Trent Edwards, Lee Evans and Fred Jackson from beating you at home, why should you be able to beat Manning, Reggie Wayne and Joseph Addai on the road?
Colts 27, Jags 17
Cleveland (-1) at BALTIMORE
The hurricane-induced bye will kill the Ravens later this year, but this week it helps them a lot as they prepare for an 0-2 Browns team that has coughed up both games at home, albeit to quality opponents. The problem for the Browns is that what was supposed to be an explosive offense has been terrible, and their defense isn't exactly giving them short fields, either. For the Ravens, expect the defense to come out loud and proud in this one, and for the home team to win a field position battle in which Joe Flacco looks better than Derek Anderson, simply because he won't be playing with one eye over his shoulder.
Brady Quinn needs to be prepared to come into this game, and to hope like hell that he doesn't; it'll be much easier to keep the job with a week of practice and a win next week in Cincy.
Ravens 16, Browns 14
Dallas at GREEN BAY (pick em)
Surprising line on this one, where you'd think that Cowboy Luv and continuing skepticism over Aaron Rodgers might make the road team a field goal favorite, but maybe the bookies are thinking that everyone will play off that MNF and travel disadvantage. I like the home team here, because I think they have the ability to cover Jason Witten better than the Eagles did, and because I think Dallas will come into the game gassed from the MNF shootout.
Besides, as everyone is slowly starting to realize, the Packers have outstanding lineplay and skill people... and when you have that, the name on the back of the quarterback's jersey is not going to be the only thing that matters.
Packers 31, Dallas 28
New York Jets at SAN DIEGO (-6.5)
Watch this one with the sound off, unless you really, really want to hear Tony Kornheiser examine every minute detail of Brett Favre's New York Odyssey. The Chargers could not ask for a better get-well opponent, and after last week's Hochulicide in Denver, I'm betting that they come out hard and heavy against a Jets team that seems to have missed its opportunity. It's also not as if they don't have experience in coming back from early season holes in the Norv Turner Era. I'm looking for at least two turnovers from Number Four, and an easy Charger cover -- even if they don't get full participation from LaDanian Tomlinson -- with a special assist coming from the kicking game.
Finally, just to get you in the mood for the MNF telecast, here's a quick preview...
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Chargers 30, Jets 17
Last week: 8-7
Year to date: 19-12