Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Top 10 Sports Blogger Resolutions for 2010

10) Cut back on the mentions of how Kobe Bryant Is An Anal Rapist, because it brings in unfortunate search engine traffic

9) Pick the Steelers to win every game until their worry-wart fans pay me off

8) Continue to hate Brett Favre for the right reasons

7) Cover the three sports that the blog is devoted to, regardless of the value of my real or fake teams

6) Maintain journalistic credibility by refusing to whore it up for the advertisers, unless they pay extra

5) Avoid obvious seasonal posts like, um, this one

4) Create a podcast, so that the creative output can be ignored in multiple media

3) No, seriously, stop pointing out how Kobe Bryant Is An Anal Rapist, since it also sets up the site for possible legal action on the off chance that he, well, isn't

2) Quit the game if I ever lose the fire, or the conviction that I'm not doing my best and most original creative work

1) Ignore any and all resolutions

Laying down

Why, exactly, are people lauding NFL teams for throwing games?

This was a consistent point in the coverage of the Colts fold over the weekend -- that since they had won enough games to have the #1 seed, that they had earned the right to lose games on purpose. But seriously, why is this laudatory?

You can't sell this on the Preventing Injury front... because the simple fact of the matter is that the great majority of NFL players that have the most obvious impact on a win or loss are not at the highest risk to injury in the current game. Kurt Warner is a guy with concussion issues, a pass-happy offense, and a willingness to hang in the pocket forever; he's also made, by my count, 39 out of his last 40 starts. Brett Favre has made so many consecutive starts, even the Favre-happy media has gotten tired of mentioning it. Peyton Manning is at 191 consecutive starts, Eli Manning is at 86, Drew Brees is at 79, and the list goes on.

If you really want to push the injury angle, at least push it to the running backs, who are seemingly the most concussed position on the field. Or the defensive secondary, which is where the blown hamstrings happen from guys making bursts of speed on recovery. You can also feel free to feel for the linemen on either side of the ball, who are always a leg sweep away from a lost career, and could also be at risk for long-term brain damage due to the constant head collisions.

Still, there's a lot that you can do to limit the risk of injury in a game without just pulling the starters en masse. You can split the snaps among more backups. You can slow the pace of the game by calling more running plays and fewer timeouts. You can also have your QB use up the game clock on every snap. It's not that hard to manage the game while also minimizing the injury risk.

But since there is no way to make things foolproof, and it's been well-established that teams who have won enough games have earned the right to do whatever they want, regardless of the integrity of the game... well, why are the Colts (and to a very similar extent, every other team that can't substantially change their playoff seeding, such as the Bengals, Patriots, Packers and Cardinals) even playing the game at all?

See, there's really no reason, once you've opened up Pandora's Box of Not Trying, you can *really* not try... and protect your special teams players and backup linemen, who, after all, have value as well. And I'm sure all of the people who have paid top dollar for seats and satellite rights will be happy to know that these are just the rules of the game now.

So, by all means, gentlemen... go all the way with this abuse of the regular season. Just forfeit the game by refusing to play at all. According to the NFL rule book, it will all go into the books as 2-0 victories, we'll get to watch the spectacle of paid Lemur heads having to defend the move, and the gamblers and fantasy honks of the world will all have their heads explode, leading to untold benefits to the species.

Or, um, better yet? The NFL, the league that chooses to spend its time figuring out how to fine people for touchdown celebrations, will finally get around to fixing something that people actually give a damn about.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NFL Week 17 Picks: The Silly Season

Ah, week 17, where the only thing left to be discussed is roto points leagues, idiot fantasy leagues, and playoff seedings. Sprinkled in the handful of competitive and meaningful games are fair contests of dog teams, unfair contests of tanking teams, and everyone more or less trying to figure out where the good first-round matchups are going to be.

Meanwhile, I've got work to do; trying to get to .500 or better in the picks, trying to suck out a money finish in the points league, and more or less finishing strong. It'd also be nice if I could get over the Steel Wool Throat Death Bug that's been plaguing and muting me for the past three freaking days. So you know the week is nonsense, and I know the week is nonsense... but what the hey. People bet the Pro Bowl and the exhibition games too.

And with that, on to the picks!

* * * * *

Indianapolis at BUFFALO (NL)

At what point does, let's not put too fine a point on it, gambling... wag the dog in the NFL? Indy's quit job last week swayed a lot of money towards New York in a nice conspiratorial way over small market Jacksonville. This week, they'll go on the road to a cold place against a team that always messes up their pick for next year by winning games late in the year. Plus, they've also gotten nice empty calorie numbers lately out of Terrible Owens (for the year, he's now in the mid-20s among all WRs for fantasy points, with 818 yards and 5 TDs from scrimmage), which makes me think they'll bring him back next year. This will be a first class fold job, and I'd like to see it followed up by a shocking upset in their first playoff game; it would be karmically right, on a lot of levels.

Buffalo 24, Colts 13

JACKSONVILLE at Cleveland (-1.5)


The Jaguars still have a chance in hell shot at a playoff berth in the uber-complicated AFC race, but that's not the reason why I like them this week. The reason why I'm going this way is that I think Cleveland RB James Harrison, who has been huge for the past couple of weeks, runs out of gas here, especially against a Jaguars team that will make someone else beat them. When your best WR is Josh Cribbs or Mohammed Massaquoi, and the QB is Derek Anderson, who dreams of 50% completion percentages. Cleveland Fan, of course, dreams of an actual NFL caliber QB.

Jaguars 20, Browns 17

CHICAGO at Detroit (+2.5)


Was that MNF performance from the Bears a preview of a return to glory in 2010? It sure looked that way, especially in the first half, but the trouble is that the QB Jay Cutler trade means that their draft next year is not going to be very good, and the available free agent talent is also not going to help them very much. But if they simply can drop Cutler's terrible picks down to one a game without turning him into a game manager, they'll have a dramatically better offense... just in time for the secondary to start failing, due to injury and age. Ah, welcome to the treadmill, Bear Fan. At least you look like you've got a QB again.

As for this week, the Lions are horrible, will likely play the truly wretched Daunte Culpepper, don't have their starting RB, use a hobbled Calvin Johnson as their top WR, and the defense is actually worse than the offense. Cutler will give his fantasy owners one more reason to hate him, since they all lost months ago.

Bears 31, Lions 20

SAN FRANCISCO at St. Louis (+7)


And to think, there was actually some movement behind the idea that the Rams could win a few games this year, since they had dark horse WR candidate Donnie Avery, stud RB Stephen Jackson, and onetime stat pusher QB Marc Bulger. Too bad the lines were still horrible, and the defense is at least 2 years away from ordinary.

Meanwhile, the Niners have been feisty, especially on defense, and are sucking in chits for 2010 Surprise Team status. I'd feel better about their chances to move up if their QB wasn't Alex Smith, though he's better than the other clowns they've had in the past few years. If he can keep the job in 2010, I like their chances to get a wild card gig, if only because they should go 5-1 in the division, given how well they match up against Arizona. This will be a lot of Frank Gore, and a lot of Ram turnovers.

Niners 27, Rams 13

PITTSBURGH at Miami (NL)


Another battle between teams with a playoff prayer, and a probable shootout, given the fact that the Steelers pass defense seems to now consist of Sack Or Six. At least it gets the ball back to the offense quickly.

I just don't see the Dolphin weapons being able to make enough open catches to hold serve, and it's not as if the Steelers are ever really a road team, given how their fans travel, especially when it gets cold. I'm not sure this game will end up mattering, but both teams will play like it does, and it should be one of the better games of the day.

Steelers 34, Dolphins 27

NEW YORK at Minnesota (-9)


Which terrible quitting team do you like here -- the one that has opened the door to playing on the road in the playoffs, or the one that gave their last chance at the playoffs and the last game at their stadium with a turd for the ages?

In such a battle of beatables, I like avoiding the big point spread, especially because Giants QB Eli Manning is going to put up numbers against this secondary, especially indoors and with these weapons. The Vikings will win, but not cover, and it wouldn't even shock me if they don't do even that.

Vikings 31, Giants 24

ATLANTA at Tampa Bay (-1)


The Bucs are getting some action here for coming up with a road win over tha Saints, but as nice as that was, coming up with a punt return touchdown and a missed field goal doesn't exactly fill me with confidence for a repeat in Week 17. Give me the road Falcons to win the battle of turnovers, since rookie QB Josh Freeman is still a giveaway machine. Both of these secondaries are turnstiles, by the way, so take the over, really.

Falcons 28, Bucs 24

NEW ORLEANS at Carolina (NL)


For the past month, QB Matt Moore has been the game manager the Panthers needed to go to the playoffs; it's too bad that he didn't get the gig until it was too late. This week, I think the bubble bursts a little bit, because he really is a limited game manager, rollout type, and RB Jonathan Stewart can't keep carrying the full load. Besides, the Saints are actually still going to the Super Bowl, and this week, they are going to remind everyone why.

Saints 31, Panthers 16

NEW ENGLAND at Houston (-8)


A big line because Vegas thinks that the Patriots are going to mail this in, but I think they're going to run the ball well enough to keep this close, and the Texans are just erratic enough to keep a game close, even if they need it. I also just don't see them having enough of a running game to dominate, and if I'm going to give up eight points, I want some domination. Look for New England to continue to drive fantasy owners insane by playing running back bingo, but when all of the guys are the same talent level, why not just go with a fresh hand?

Texans 24, Patriots 20

PHILADELPHIA at Dallas (-3)


Oh, how I hate this game. Dallas is at home, healthy, and seemingly on a December run for the first time since the Aikman Era. But they still have holes -- a #1 WR (Miles Austin) who CB Asante Samuel can neutralize, trouble in the red zone, dicey special teams, real trouble in the defensive passing game if they don't get big quarterback pressure -- and coach Wade Philips is actually worse at game management than Andy Reid.

This isn't to say that the Eagles will walk. They are way too scattershot in the red zone, the defense has been pretty bad for weeks now, and they've had enough injuries recently (center Jamal Jackson is making me worry hard) to cause potential holes. It will be a four hour hairpull, a back and forth battle, with big plays all over the place, and the winner will have no real confidence over the loser, because it will come down to a half dozen plays or less. But for what it's worth, give me the road team -- who should have won the earlier game, if not for terrible officiating.

Eagles 34, Cowboys 31

Kansas City at DENVER (-13.5)


I hate giving up this many points, even for a road team, but the Chiefs are turnover machines that don't match up at all well with the Broncos. Denver needs the game and some help to make the playoffs and become a kitteny-soft out, while the Chiefs need nothing more than to stay warm and enjoy their time away from tyrant coach Todd Haley. That off-season isn't long enough, gentlemen.

Broncos 31, Chiefs 17

BALTIMORE at Oakland (+10.5)


Another game were I hate to give up the points, but the Ravens are in Win and In mode, and have a season full of film that show how the Raiders are prone to playing above their talent level. I don't see them sleeping early; I do see RB Ray Rice going for 200 yards. Oakland's also just not disciplined enough to avoid turnovers here, and the home crowd is very liable to get ugly with early adversity.

Ravens 27, Raiders 13

Green Bay at ARIZONA (-3)


An utter crapshoot of a game; both teams could send in the clowns early depending on what happens in the early games. All I can do is go off the available talent, which is that the Packers have issues in the secondary, and I just like the Cardinals talent on the lines more. If you are putting serious coin on this game, you either have inside information or a gambling problem. And in all likelihood, both.

Cardinals 24, Packers 20

Washington at SAN DIEGO (-4)


If the Chargers go with Billy Volek, Jacob Hester and a billion other no-names here, I still like them more than the Redskins, because man alive, the Redskins are horrible. If new GM Bruce Allen doesn't take dynamite to this roster and coaching staff, he's got a tolerance for thieves and vermin. Then again, he did take the job in the first place...

Chargers 24, Redskins 10

TENNESSEE at Seattle (+4.5)


Light a candle in the window for Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck, who really needs to hang it up rather than come back and take another 10+ games of blunt force trauma behind this trainwreck of a line. I'm also not a fan of their weapons (RB Justin Forsett is a change of pace back that's stretched to a full-time role, the WRs are all flawed and flaky), and the defense doesn't show up enough, even at home -- witness the recent fold job to the Bucs. Against the still frisky Titans, QB Vince Young will have a bounce back game, and RB Chris Johnson will continue to assault the record books.

Titans 27, Seahawks 17

Cincinnati at NEW YORK (-10)


The playoff wet-nursing of the Jets continues, with a Bengals team that has nothing to play for facing a Jets team that they might have to face again next week at their place. So even if they want to do the honorable thing and play hard, they really shouldn't... and given how frisky the Jets defense is, there's really no reason to play the starters, especially QB Carson Palmer. Mighty fine choice of Flex Game there, NBC!

Jets 24, Bengals 13

Last week: 7-8-1

Year to date: 113-120-6

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NESW Drop: Enemies List Vol. 8

Your drop is here, and the hate took a lot out of a weak and ill man this week. So go click already. It's just this close to perfection, really.

Monday, December 28, 2009

NFL Week 16: You Crap The Bed

This week on You Crap, we're brought to you by Etsy, the eBay for breath taking moments of Craft Gone Wrong. When it's time to make your excretions fashionable, go to Etsy for gifts that will make her say I Want A Divorce. Show her that you care so much as to think that she's up to her ears in $40 dollars of crap!

You all know how we play the game. Each week, we give you the chance to out-think people who are actually paid to make NFL decisions. Now, let's all play... You Crap The Bed!

1) You are Tampa coach Radio Raheem Morris. With 5 minutes left to go in the fourth, you are down by seven to the Saints, with a 3rd and 1 from the Saints 19 yard line. On third, you give the ball to Cadillac Williams, who is stuffed for no gain. On fourth down, you choose to:

a) Go for it and run it again, since the Saints can be had on the ground and the running game is the best part of what you've done today

b) Kick the field goal, since you are going to need it to win the game anyway

c) Um, seriously, run it or kick the field, as rookie QB Josh Freeman isn't exactly the model of accuracy

d) Throw it to WR Antony Bryant, who might be your best offensive player, or TE Kellen Winslow Jr., your leading receiver for the day

e) Throw it to third down back Earnest Graham, who has been your best pass catching option out of the backfield today, and just might be the subject of a little bit of defensive attention

If you choose (e), congratulations... you crapped the bed! But your special teams bail you out with a punt return touchdown to tie the game with 2:25 left, the defense gets similarly lucky with a missed field goal at the end of regulation, and you hit the winning figgie in overtime to pin back to back losses on the Saints. Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than smart.

2) You are Oakland coach Tom Cable. Down 23-9 with less than five minutes left in the fourth, you have a first and goal from the Browns 2 yard line. In the next three plays, you choose to:

a) Run the ball with power back Michael Bush, who has ran the ball for over five yards a carry today

b) Run the ball with speed back Darren McFadden, who has ran the ball for over three yards a carry today, and has also been a good pass catching option, so the defense can't just key on him to run it

c) Run the ball with one of your speedy wideouts, since that is, well, something they can do, unlike catching the ball on pass plays

d) Run the ball with QB Charlie Frye, since that prevents you watching him throw it

e) Put the game in the hands of Frye on a throw to WR Louis Murphy, rather than, say TE Zach Miller, WR Chaz Schilens or McFadden

If you choose (e), preferably while huffing glue, congratulations... you crapped the bed! And you've won a near-interception (don't worry, Frye will toss another pick in a couple of minutes) and drive stop, along with Yet Another Loss that you can blame on your QB, rather than, say, the coaching staff that can't seem to adjust to limited QB talent. Bring in JP Losman!

Well, I'm afraid that due to operator illness, that's all we have time for this week. But remember, with a little fiber, determination and inspiration -- or, if all else fails, something that makes you feel so very, very pretty -- you too can... Crap The Bed! Good night, everybody!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Eagles - Broncos Notes

I woke up this morning with a terrible throat and a slowly building fever and headache, so buyer beware on the coverage here. At least the death bug waited until after the holiday. And let's get on with it...

> First drive for Denver sees a disturbing third and 10 timeout, just because it's always worrisome when the team blows timeouts. At least the resulting down is pretty awesome, as Broncos QB Kyle Orton craps himself on a blitz, resulting in a defensive touchdown on a grounding that doesn't go forward. Looks like a 50-50 call, but replay challenges on seven point plays with any hope are pretty automatic. The zebras overturn it, and that's a big damn deal, really. Mitch Berger's punt for White is weak, and Green starts at their own 36.

> B Dub starts in the backfield, and QB Donovan McNabb misses WR DeSean Jackson on a fly against CB Champ Bailey; DJ was open, but the pass wasn't very accurate, and unlike most flies to DJ, Bailey was in the picture. A give to Weaver gets three, and the third down is a bad sack from the gun, with a bailout flag against White S Brian Dawkins, trying to cover TE Brent Celek. Nice to see that Dawk hasn't gotten suddenly good at that since leaving the laundry.

> McCoy with a burst for eight. Dub gets four on his first action since the concussion, and it's nice to see him well. Don throws a laser to DJ for a first down, just one of those balls that make you smile. Weaver for power on a keeper. Dub with a quickness for 9 on the right side, and wow, he looked good on that. A fresh and healthy Dub in January is downright ticklish. More from the gun as Don tries Dub on Dawk, and the old man gets away with a hold that seems to make all concerned parties giggle. Weaver for three satisfying middle yards -- he hurts people who try to tackle him -- and the tenth play of the drive is a terrible sack and fumble on pressure by Elvis Dumervil. Gahhhh. RT Jason Peters wearing the goat horns there, but if you want to give the QB some grief for not sensing the rush, I won't fight it.

> Denver gets the ugliest four yards ever on a fake Wildcat and Orton stumble before taking the checkdown in the flat. RB Knowshon Moreno gets a couple as the defensive line looks OK. On third and four, Orton from the gun is coerced by DL Juqua Parker, who is able to throw the lineman into the QB for a pinball sack and stop. First team to block wins; Berger follows up his terrible punt with another one. Useful.

> A lovely screen to McCoy goes for 40 yards, and man, he's got a quickness. He's also clearly been taking lessons from Dub on the straightarm, having shed Dawk on the play. Don finds DJ for an 11 yard angry laser. Celek can't handle the next one, which was a little off, and C Jamal Jackson goes down. Not good. Cole and Gillies in, and WR Jason Avant makes an amazing fingertip catch on a slant to get it down low; a flag takes away the catch and replaces it with a first down. From the 8, Weaver crunches it to the five. Dub takes a direct snap to the two, just to make McNabb's fantasy owners throw up. On third from the gun, order is restored on a center cross to DJ, and a defensive holding flag is declined. After the David Akers PAT, it's 7-0 Green, and the offense looks right; really good touch from Don on a fadeaway pass.

> Akers has a nice kick and gunner Tracy White takes the man down with professionalism. White goes three and out on nice tackling by CB Sheldon Brown on a bubble screen to WR Brandow Marshall. White compounds the problem with WR Brandon Stokely puling his way into an unsportsmanlike for not getting the PI call; he also contacts the zebra with a dumb hand motion, and he's tossed. Wow, that was dumb; White now only has three healthy wideouts, and only one of them is really any good (Marshall).

> The next drive is Green kill shot time; Don hits DJ, then Celek on a really nice catch by the TE. Man, I do not miss LJ Smith. At All. After another Don laser sets up second and a half yard, they don't convert and I'm tempted to go into You Crap mode... especially when the drive ends on bad Direct Snap Punt Return to DJ, who can't make five men miss and limps off. Joy. Akers from 39 is good, and it's 10-0 Green at the end of the first quarter.

> White's next drive gets their initial first down on an open spot in the zone to reserve WR Brandon Lloyd, and Moreno slops it up the middle. Another nice throw by Orton to Gaffney pulls in another big chunk as CB Asante Samuel is surprisingly off the ball. Very bad coverage of the bubble screen to Marshall gets another nine yards, setting up third and one. FB Patrick Hillis doesn't get much on a dive, and the measurement is just short. On fourth and inches from the 16, it's another huge play... and White does the smart thing by trying Moreno off right for the conversion. TE Tony Scheffler and CB Brown can't control a dart, with S Quentin Mickell making a nice play in coverage. A dumb three yard out to Marshall works perfectly for three yards. On third and seven, Gaffney shakes off a couple of bad skill shot hits as Mickell, Brown and Joselio Hanson all go for concussions rather than containment, and gets the touchdown. Gahh. I was not expecting Vengeance to be Jabar Gaffney's. Green 10, White 7. and it's a game.

> S Macho Harris runs it out of his own end zone badly, but McNabb connects with Celek as Dawk doesn't get there, and that's a thirty yard honk. Dub wakes up the echoes with a nifty spin move en route to a six yard gain; the Eagle skill players are just making White miss right now. A tip ball stops a play to DJ where the wideout is wide open; damn. On third and four, Celek is as open as a TE will ever be, and he finishes the 47 yard touchdown on a pass that he could have called a fair catch on. Wow, White looked terrible on that play. 17-7 Green, and have I mentioned that the offense looks good? It does.

> White goes three and out as the CBS heads talk about how the defense is playing too conservatively. Small note: the defense has forced four three and outs and has given up one touchdown in 22 minutes. In other news, toilets flush downward and Phil Simms is an idiot. Berger's first decent punt of the day shows continuing justified cowardice of DJ -- I wouldn't punt it to him either -- and another killshot opportunity.

> Celek and Dawk engage in a public display of affection, then McNabb keeps the chains moving on his usual underwhelming sneak. The TE already has 121 yards; ye gads. Shady McCoy getting a little too cute with the feet on plays that don't have a lot going for them. WR Jeremy Maclin goes for a lot on a center zone pass, and Too Many Weapons is playing in your mind; that's five plays of more than 20 yards from scrimmage. Weaver gets the edge, and there might not be another little-known power back in the league that moves the sticks there. A laser to Avant, and it's Live Surgery time for Green. This isn't a stat that usually matters much in Eagles games, but they are up 17 to 11 in time of possession, with over a three to one edge in yards from scrimmage. I'm trying not to overstate the case here, as White isn't a real contender, but um, still. Wow.

> The first ugly screen in many a game loses two yards to Dub, as the team lets the clock run. A shovel to Dub doesn't fool Dawk, and on third and five with the clock getting short, ugliness prevails on a false start and a fumbled snap by Don. Fah. Teach me to say nice things about them. Akers from 45 nails his 30th of the year, the most in the league, and it's 20-7 Green, in a game that feels a lot less close than that.

> On the next kickoff, Buckhalter hobbles off, and it just breaks your heart. The man's 31 now, which is to say probably just one more ding away from being over, and CBS points out that White's lack of depth at wideout -- thank you, Brandon Stokely -- made him take the field on that play. With 21 seconds left, Orton's hand is hit on a surprising pass attempt, and it's almost picked by special teams gunner Tracy White for a coup de gras. They try again on second down, with White eating Moreno, and White coach Josh McReynolds waves the flag. That's it for the first half.

> Green ball to start the second as Harris takes a learning knee for the touchback. Don finds Maclin for 25 on a slant that I suspect DJ would have taken to the house. With all day to throw, McNabb makes a bad decision towards CB Champ Bailey, who takes it away from DJ, and that's bad all over.

> White ball and Broderick Bunkley goes off, not helping anyone's mood. A slow blitz gives up an out to Marshall, who makes Samuel miss -- really not one of Asante's better games here -- for a first down. The run defense has been good today, and stops Moreno for a loss, but a face mask on Trent Cole adds 15. Brown takes down Marshall on a throwback screen; nice tackle by the corner. The White offense becomes Every Play To Marshall, and I'm not sure I'd do anything differently, really. Buck returns in time to see a tip ball fall in front of Hanson, and dammit, that has to be caught. Mickell covers a third down screen beautifully, and White settles for a figgie try on fourth and 13 from the 15. The 32 yarder is good, and it's Green 20, White 10. The offense is going to have to put this away.

> Shady through a big hole for a first. A less than thrilling pass execution sets up second and ten. More Shady dancing gets five. On third and six with all day to throw, McNabb airs it out 50 yards on a rope, and DJ adjusts while Bailey does not for a huge flag. Dub for five feel good yards to the left, and the running game now has 19 carries for 68 yards, compared to the passing game's 23 for 267. On third and six from the gun, McNabb is flushed out and throws it away, but the laundry is against the defense to move the chains. Another big flag, and to be honest, it's kind of ticky-tack on the linebacker trying to cover Celek. It sets up a laser tip drill that's collected by Avant for seven, and I suspect that CB Reynaldo Hill is going to have a broken finger to go with the seven points. Green 27, White 10, and we've got 22 minutes to keep people healthy here.

> Green has now scored the most points in a year in their history, and White is looking like they are packing their bags for the airport with false start penalties. Orton turtles up for a train wreck sack from DL Darren Howard, and that was Good Times. A perfect bubble screen to Buck stops the bleeding for a huge gain and a first; ouch. Scheffler hauls in a 26 yard seam route that Green fan has seen all year long to the TE. My headache isn't getting any better. Orton throws it away more than any other QB in the league, and it finally draws a grounding call as Brown writhes on the ground; not good, again. Week 17 might be send in the practice squad, folks. Samuel redeems his day with his ninth pick of the year, just a great break and leap on the ball, and Green takes 45 yards in celebration flags just, really, for the hell of it. You've never heard a stadium more angry while up 17; turns out they were right.

> Green starts at the one with a fumbled snap, and Don recovers for no gain. Aii. Don misses DJ on an open out, as well as an open center wideout, and this game is still in play thanks to the flags. Sav Rocca's punt of the day is craptastic, and a flag puts it on the Green 25. This game is way too close for what's happened on the lines.

> Moreno is devoured by LB Akeem Jordan; Green defense is playing angry. Gaffney gets six yards to set up a big third down, since there is still, somehow, 18.5 minutes left in this hairpull. Lloyd avoids a tackle on a slant for the first; man alive, the Denver offense is dull. Marshall for a few more, then a vanilla bubble screen to Gaffney that leaves Brown stationary. He needs time off, folks. Immediately. With the PAT, it's Green 27, White 17, and back to the offense to put it away. Writing that is getting dull.

> And, well, just that fast, we have a game again... as Harris continues his bad day of returning kicks by putting it on the ground. I think I'm going to be sick, really. Third turnover of the day. Marshall for yet another bubble screen is stopped by Jordan. Then Moreno for an easy center zone, with MLB Will Witherspoon getting roasted on the play. That's 14 White points in 49 seconds, and if you have any faith in this defense to overcome adversity, you are better than me.

> Harris sits, to the relief of the fans. A screen fools no one and is blocked. Big momentum to White here. Don takes a bad sack as CBS's Jim Nance notices that the home crowd isn't happy. In other news, Jim Nance is an idiot. Third down is another terrible sack. and that's a three and out. The third quarter finally, mercifully, ends. Green 27, White 24, and I''m having a hard time remembering a worst five minutes of Eagles football.

> Rocca gets into one for 60 yards, but the return is 21, so it's the same as always. Cole shows some pride and racks up a sack. Three men cover the bubble screen to Lloyd, with Cole stopping the play. On third and 18, Green needs a stop and the laundry flies, with the refs nicking Howard for a neutral zone infraction. Still third and long, and Brown makes the play of the day by shaking off the injury to knock down a long attempt to Marshall. Cagey play. After the Berger punt and DJ fair catch, there's no flag for incidental contact on the returner, and Eagle Fan is still less than thrilled. One more time on the offense to eat clock and win.

> Weaver into the line for a couple. Good protection but a bad ball from McNabb, and the wideout was not open at all. DJ can't bring in a ball that Bailey gets a finger on, and that's another deadly three and out, with no time off the clock. Forget everything I said about the offense. Bailey limps off; that might be helpful. Rocca's punt is good, but the coverage is high, and that's going to be 15 gift yards from the refs. Gahhhh.

> Buck starts the drive with three to midfield. Gaffney gets five on the same out they've been running all game. On third and two and a huge down, Orton takes it from the gun, avoids pressure and misses Marshall. McReynolds sends in Berger, and doesn't get that much from it, as DJ collects it at the 19. A little less than 11 minutes left now.

> From the gun, Dub runs for two. They need a first down in the worst way, really. Again from the gun, he goes long to Maclin, who can't bring it down, and that's what drives you crazy about this offense; allergic to grinding it out. Third and 8 from the 21 is something like the fifth straight three and out, and just to prolong the agony, they can't get the play called on time. This game has now gone past three hours of Real Time, and it's even money who ends first -- me or it. After the commerce, McNabb from the gun connects with WR Reggie Brown, but the ball is marked a yard short with a pretty bad call, and for once Reid doesn't challenge. Rocca's punt is terrible, and it gets 28 yards out of bounds. Gahhhh.

> I don't really want to watch anymore, between the illness and the game, but the job is the job. Moreno on a screen almost gets a lot, but is tripped for five. From the gun, Moreno gets two, and it's another big third down. From the gun, Orton calls time; neither team is really impressing me right now. 8:40 left. From the gun again, Orton avoids pressure and finds Gaffney for 18 yards. I'm kind of numb right now. The 187th bubble screen goes through Samuel's hands to Lloyd for two. The 188th bubble screen to Marshall is stopped by Hanson for a loss of four. Orton barely escapes a sack to get it to Buck for five, and it's figgy time. Matt Prater hits from 46 yards, because long field goals are never missed by the team going against my laundry. Gahhhhhhh. White 27, Green 27; 17 unanswered by White. A little more than six minutes left.

> Dawk doing Spasmodic Dance on the sidelines. Harris puts it on the ground again, but it's miraculously recovered, and I'm really ready to see anyone else return these. Don takes a terrible sack by Dumervil, and this is not a rerun. It's the end's 17th of the year, and a 10 yard loss. The offense then moves all over pre-snap, because they've been replaced by the preseason team in the last four series. Second and twenty five sails through Maclin's hands; the wideout was very open. Third and twenty five changes the game, as Don channels 1993 for a 27 yard scramble for the first. He's also grabbing the hamstring, of course, because even the good plays in this game are bad.

> Dub for three. An out to Maclin is ruled incomplete, and it's not reviewed, wisely. Another huge third down from the gun goes to Maclin, and he's tripped a yard from the sticks. Oh dear.

> From the 49 with 3:08 left, Reid chooses to avoid You Crap and punt, and it would be nice if Rocca makes the play seem smart. It's caught at the 8 with no return, and the Broncos can win it.

> From the gun, Orton gives to Buck; Jordan meets him the hole for a yard gain. With the clock running, Orton pulls it down and complete to Lloyd, but a hold brings it back. Second and 14 from the five. Gaffney gets it to the nine on a middle zone, and we'll have third and nine from the ten after the two minute warning. Big noise from Green Fan. Orton from the gun, of course. He avoids a near safety sack, and there's a hold that brings it back but isn't a safety. For a moment, the penalty is accepted, but sanity prevails, and White punts from the 17 on fourth and two. Reid's decision to punt works out. Berger finally gives DJ a ball to return, and he's taken down at the White 42 with 1:41 left.

> A give to McCoy for two and the clock runs; Reid is going to win this or take overtime. From the gun, Don throws an absolute laser to Maclin at the 13, and we're going to have a booth review or a riot. Game in the balance here, and I think Maclin's got a 70-30 chance of getting the call. The zebras reverse it, and that's just beyond huge. Fifty nine seconds left, ball on the Bronco 13, and two timeouts left for White.

> Dub moves the pile to the right for no gain and a White timeout. Weaver to the ten and centers it; that's White final timeout. With CBS fellating Akers (stop your freaking reverse jinx, you bastards), Green needs to run a third down play to get the clock down; Don sits forward for a yard, and Akers comes on with seven seconds to go for the go-ahead figgie. It's a 27 yarder, and it's only five feet to the left from perfect. We'll all take it. Green 30, White 27.

> Squib time for the win, as well as the likely Stanford drill for White. I'm not calling it a win yet; it has been that kind of game, really. Akers keeps it in bounds, and two laterals later, it's over. Phew.

Well, thirty minutes of great play, followed by twenty five minutes of pretty terrible play, and it's kind of the 2009 year in microcosm. Enough talent to dominate, enough big plays to make it easy, but not enough focus to be what they could be. One more game to see if they can get the division, and maybe even the #2 seed, in a conference in which the top teams have looked very mortal in the last month. We've had worse years.

Top 10 NFL Week 16 Ad Questions

10) Why does Continental Airlines want to imply that their customers are spoiled douchebags?

9) Are NFL fans really making Lego structures with their kids that aren't profane?

8) Why are sleazy guys promoting the Chevy Malibu, or am I being too hard on Howie Long?

7) How is a red Pac Man that looks to cause back pain going to help someone quit smoking?

6) Why is Domino's unable to explain just exactly how they "improved" their "food"?

5) Does Santa Claus pay for his operations via commercial endorsement, or is Mercedes Benz (and, to be fair, a million other advertisers) just creativity-free hacks?

4) How do morons playing golf in the snow sell Hondas?

3) Will Jarrod With Tits make you buy more Taco Bell?

2) Is there something in Corona that makes football play by play guys sound bored by a game winning field goal?

1) How can I learn how to drink like the drunk drivers with the filled cars in the PSAs? Those guys are my heroes...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A brief and inadequate seasonal note

On the off chance that you are reading this on a day with Importance, consider the tale of the guy who does contractor work around my house (despite the name of the blog, I'm pretty useless with tools).

A month ago, his father starts having health issues. It's, um, brain cancer. And not the cheery kind. A week ago, his (very) elderly mother in law slipped and fell, cracking her hip in the snow. His family is having quite a month, really.

His father is in good spirits, because from what I can gather, he's a pretty great Dad, and when you are one of those, you know that life is much more than about you.

That, or he's on powerful drugs. One or the other.

Today, I'm going to go to the mall for the last things that we don't need, spending money we don't have, and then go to the supermarket for more stuff we don't really need. Tomorrow, my family will tear open presents for far too long, because it is the nature of my people to express their love in Stuff. We'll also see other relatives and repeat the process.

And really, that's all fine and good, and so is caring about other stuff that isn't very important (hint: you usually read about it on this very blog)... but it's a little more mission critical to have the people you care about around in the first place.

Because, well, as valuable and important as a holiday and family are, the greater value is living this one, right now, fully -- because there's no guarantee that there will be others. Existence is a soap bubble, made bearable and wonderful by the shared illusion that it will (mostly) be here tomorrow, and the year after that.

But it doesn't have to be.

So go hug your kids, or spouse, or mom, dad or sibling, and let them know in as non-creepy a way as possible that you appreciate them sharing their time with you. It's what they do for you, and, well, they don't have to.

They have options. Everyone does.

And as a final point before I get back to the usual business of the blog (and yes, similar work schedule and product is planned), thanks for sharing your time reading this. Because you have options, and yet, you choose to.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

NFL Week 16 Picks: Scrooge Me

Ah, the holiday season. Where my fantasy teams have turned to dust, my real team is in Please God, Don't Let Anyone Get Hurt Before The Games Really Matter, and my very real team (i.e., the family) is so very less than thrilled to see Papa Shooter go into the bunker to come up with blog grist and the picks column. This column was written at 4am, 51 hours before Maximum Claus, under the vague hope for a holiday miracle (i.e., a big winning picks week to save me from the ignominy of a sub .500 year in the money decisions). As always, buyer beware. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be visited by the ghosts of all of my fantasy teams in a vengeful dream series, with starring roles for Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick, and that I'll wake up in time to throw out all of the presents and set fire to the fake tree. It's been kind of a rough year, really.

And with that, on to the picks!

* * * * *

SAN DIEGO at Tennessee (-3)

Another intriguing NFLN only game, this one on Christmas Day, just to make sure that the network that you don't get delivers yet another reminder that the league will not leave well enough alone on any day of the year. Hey, NFL? Why isn't there a game on Christmas Eve? And New Year's Eve? And New Year's Day? Some of us are still married and living in homes. Quit making it so easy on us!

The Chargers, you may have read, have not lost a regular season game in December since the Ryan Leaf Era, simply because this is how Norvalicious keeps his job every year. It's a less inspiring statistic when you remember that they play in the AFC West, where December games mean angling for draft picks for two of three division rivals, and collapsing in the stretch like the Cowboy Lite franchise that Denver has always been for, well, the third. This game is also officially worrisome for the road team because of the otherworldly Chris Johnson going after Eric Dickerson's single-season record, and the fact that the Titans need this game much more than the Chargers do, seeing how San Diego's win over the Bengals last week pretty much wrapped up the #2 seed in the AFC for them. But when push comes to shove, I just like the Chargers' big receivers and QB play more than the home team, and suspect that the Titans are too distracted by Johnson's year to make enough plays in play-action to win this. Sadly, this is probably your game of the week.

Chargers 27, Titans 20

BUFFALO at Atlanta (-8)


I'm missing something here. Atlanta uses the Jets' confounding inability to score in the red zone and a last-minute touchdown to win a post-elimination game in New York last week. Buffalo hangs tough with the Patriots in a seven point loss at home, with the defense holding Tom Brady down to 115 yards through the air. Neither team has anything to play for, and the home team is missing their top running back, Michael Turner. And the spread is... eight, just because the home team is .500 and the road team is 5-9? Looks too generous to me, especially when Buffalo is getting production from the running game, and the Falcons crowd consists of people from Atlanta, which is to say, gutless front runners.

Falcons 24, Bills 17

Kansas City at CINCINNATI (-14)


Is it too soon to ask that a Bengal get arrested in remembrance of deceased WR Chris Henry? Probably, but I'm going there anywhere, Porkopolis Fan; the mawkish sentimentality for a spectacularly wasted life just grates. By this point in the evolution of the species, just about every team has been Touched By Tragedy, right? Can't we get the grief counselors in to have a team just, you know, put the black patch on and get on with things?

Three years ago at one of my previous comedy relief advertising start ups, a popular coworker up and died a week before Christmas. Everyone lost their discharge for the better part of two weeks, with funerals in New York and his hometown taking up mindspace that, well, seemed to have more to do with people showing us How Sensitive They Were and less to do with processing the event and its meaning, assuming that Young Party Guy Dies has any meaning beyond Young Party Guy Dies. There's also this: teams that dedicate their years to Dead Guys just don't seem very likely to be pouring champagne on the ground for the brother that ain't around from, well, a championship trophy. Jerome Brown, Sean Taylor, Chris Henry: three ghosts that just didn't perform in the clutch. And yes, I am filled with the Christmas Spirit.

Getting back to the game at hand, the Chiefs lost last week to a 2-win Browns team because they couldn't cover kickoffs, or have enough sense to just kick the ball out of bounds. Seriously. On the road against a Bengals team that still has something to play for, I'm expecting roadkill, and lots of fingers pointed to the sky. This running up the score touchdown against a terrible defense? It's for you, Chris!

Bengals 34, Chiefs 16

OAKLAND at Cleveland (-3)


JaMarcus Russell leads a last-minute comeback on the road in Denver. I want you to really roll that around, along with the fact that the Raiders are probably still in playoff contention had they (a) started Brad Gradkowski and/or Charlie Frye from the start of the season, and (b) just settled, for the love of Cthlulu, on a sane RB rotation for the year. If it's Decemember, then it's time for a disturbingly fresh Michael Bush to look like Prime Era Bo Jackson. It's the Raider Way.

Meanwhile, Cleveland won on the road in Kansas City on the back of RB James Harrison, who had the fantasy day of the ages for almost no team, and will follow that up with some 8 carries for 20 yards effort in a timeshare this week against the Raiders, if only to make every last person in America hate Eric Mangini. (Why? Because when the utterly toothless Cleveland passing attack is on a third stringer from the street... thatsa spicy turdball.)

In other news, this game will have *huge* implications in fantasy football championships, because someone's going to win from Bush, Harrison, or some other bizzaro play (Darren McFadden? Joshua Cribbs? Chaz Schillens? The utterly random crapshoot plays are endless!) winning the lottery. Yes, I am bitter. Give me the road team, just because Raider Fan needs to bellow about how their team's .500 record on the road for 2009 and quality wins over a number of tough opponents means that Al Davis is not insane and ineffective.

Raiders 20, Browns 16

Seattle at GREEN BAY (-14)


Hey, want to know who's a really terrible, terrible team? That's right, it's Seattle, who officially went Big League Quit last week at home against the one-win Bucs, losing by 17 (!) on a day where Forked Back QB Matt Hasselbeck threw four picks. This week, they go into Cold Wisconsin to meet the truly cheesed Packers, who lost on a last second play to the home Steelers while giving up over 500 yards of passing offense to the defending Super Bowl champs. Expect the kind of bounce-back game from the home defense that, say, the Eagles gave to the Niners after the Giants game, or that the Giants gave to the Redskins after the Eagles game. I'd be tempted to go with the home team for twice this point spread.

Packers 34, Seahawks 10

Houston at MIAMI (-3)


Is there something in the water in Houston? Last week, for the fourth time this year, the Texans gave the ball to a RB, watched him fumble, then yanked him for cause. It's happened to Steve Slaton, Chris Brown, Ryan Moats and now, Arian Foster, with all of these guys claiming the lives of fantasy footballers from coast to coast. The death of the Houston running game has been one of those under-the radar killers this year, along with the Steelers' inability to cover kicks, the inability of a half dozen teams to throw the ball more than five yards downfield, and the inequality of head injuries (sudden, shocking ones bad, repetitive, every down ones good).

Miami blew a golden chance to make the last two weeks of the season intriguing by losing in overtime to the Titans last week, despite 349 yards from QB Chad Henne, who will, I am certain, be touted as a sleeper in 2010 and fail his owners utterly, because he'll still have no consistent weapons at WR or TE. The Texans nearly ended their meager hopes in a 3-point win over the one-win Rams. Miami has real secondary issues that are pretty scary against a team with Andre Johnson, but Texans' coach Gary Kubiak has to lose his job for cause this year, and this is the week he does it. Besides, it will allow Houston to finish at .500, which is, I think, part of their charter.

Dolphins 27, Texans 20

Jacksonville at NEW ENGLAND (-8)


If you are tempted, as I was, to take the road dog against that tempting eight point line, just remember the following. First, that the Jags are 2-4 on the road this year, and many of those four have been blowout awful. Second, that they lost to the Colts last Thursday despite their offense playing pretty great. Third, that at 7-7 they have frittered away the lead that they held on the rest of the conference for the right to get punked in wild card weekend, and fourth, that RB Maurice Jones Drew is starting to look well and truly spent.

This Patriots team is due for a first round exit, and doing it with smoke and mirrors. But there will be snow in New England, and a road team that's dreaming of open golf dates in January.

Patriots 20, Jaguars 10

TAMPA BAY at New Orleans (-14.5)


Now that the Saints have lost perfection but still kept their #1 seed, is there any reason for them to play hard against the suddenly frisky Bucs? I'm not seeing it, especially now that Tampa has finally come to its senses and made Derrick Ward the lead back in the offense. New Orleans has been spoting big leads to the opposition for weeks now, putting everything on QB Drew Brees to make the comeback, and the defense looks a lot more ordinary when they aren't playing with a lead. So long as rookie QB Josh Freeman doesn't go INT-happy, the road team will cover, and Saints coach Sean Payton will try to get his running game in order and his QB sharp, but in no danger.

Saints 31, Bucs 21

CAROLINA at New York Giants (-6.5)


Oh, Panthers Fan. Had you only had this Julius Peppers and this QB (Matt Moore) from the start of the season, what a year you might have had. Well, OK, it's much more likely that you'd be 8-6 instead of your current 6-8, and that it woudln't have been all that different, but you'd still have avoided that disastrous Delhomme experience, and WR Steve Smith's fantasy owners wouldn't have spent months dreaming of owning NY's Steve Smith.

As for the Giants, I'm seeing them as a little too fat and happy following their MNF clowning of the Skins in DC, and QB Eli Manning has never been a great cold-weather Meadowlands QB. They'll win this game to stay alive in the playoff race, but the potential for a loss is a lot greater than a cover. Especially with Smith 1.0 facing that secondary, since he's, you know, a lot like DeSean Jackson. (I think I just made Blue Fan quiver. A lot.)

Giants 24, Panthers 20

Baltimore at PITTSBURGH (-3)


The best game on the Sunday 1pm slate, and perhaps the first time in this series where you really feel good about betting the over. Neither of these teams is anywhere near where they need to be on defense for December, but with big play QBs and emerging RBs leading the way, they might just be able to outscore someone with a road upset in round 1. Really, there might not be two more similar division rivals in all of the NFL right now.

The series has hinged in recent years on Baltimore getting jobbed by the refs / self-destructing in close games, and it's too much of a trend for me to ignore. I also just think more of the Pittsburgh passing game, which showed signs of unstoppability with breakouts from the backup WRs last week against Green Bay. There's also the fact that the Ravens have been very susceptible on the road (2-4), while Pittsburgh is 5-2 at home. Just a huge, huge game.

Steelers 34, Ravens 30

St Louis at ARIZONA (-14)


Last chance for QB Kurt Warner and the Arizona offense to show its teeth and make everyone think they are a more solid playoff team then they really are, before Week 17 Clown Time. The Rams actually stayed competitive for a long time last week against the .500 Texans, but I'm seeing them man up and lock down that #1 overall pick with an epic quit on the road in the desert. How Stephen Jackson is still playing and playing well, no one knows, but I'm convinced that the existence of fantasy football is the only thing that's kept him going all of these months.

This one will be a blowout, not because the Cardinals' offense is really that good, but because their defense feeds on turnovers, and the Rams are awfully generous in that regard. (Also, the Cards have been just bad enough at home this year, and Warner still gets up for torturing the old laundry, to make them not sleep on this one.)

Cardinals 38, Rams 16

Detroit at SAN FRANCISCO (-12)

Do you really feel good about a 12-point spread to a team with nothing to play for? You do when they are playing Detroit, who probably used up their Trying Hard games last week at home against the Cardinals, and are still winless on the road this year, which means that they haven't won on the road since Twittering was a purely offline verb. The Niners don't quit under coach Mike Singletary, and their defense will take advantage of Detroit turnovers, which is to say, their defense will take the field against Detroit. Look for TE Vernon Davis to continue his shocking statistical ascendancy to the title of Best TE In Football here; he's really not all that good, but that's what happens when you are the best receiving option on a team with a fixated QB who is trying for safe deep balls.

Niners 31, Lions 10

New York Jets at INDIANAPOLIS (-6)


The last unbeaten team gets a home game agains the cursed Jets, who still have playoff hopes, a running game, a good defense and the dreams that the Colts are looking to avoid Perfection Talk by subtly throwing a game. I'm just not seeing it with Turnover Machine QB Matt Sanchez on the road, especially after an inexcusably mistake-filled loss at home to the playing for nothing Falcons.

The game will also be fascinating to watch for this reason: QB Peyton Manning will throw for big yards by avoiding CB Darelle Revis. Other teams might, you know, want to study how he does that. I think it involves using his eyes to see where Revis is, then not throwing it there. That Manning, he's so cunning!

I also think the Colts are secretly playing for perfection, if only to give them one more way of making the case that they, and not the Patriots, are the true Team Of The Decade. It also helps that unlike the Patriots, the Colts don't have a Super Genius Cheating Coach Who Craps The Bed Repeatedly With Bad Fourth Down Decisions (And yes, that's just me goading Masshole Fan, who already has his head in the over from a year in which the Lakers and Yankees are champions. The Colts, hopefully, get them to turn up the gas on all of the burners. Happy Christmas!)

Colts 27, Jets 13

Denver at PHILADELPHIA (-7)


The reeling Broncos come to town for the homecoming of safety Brian Dawkins, who will be treated with love and respect by his old team in warm-ups and player introductions, then be exploited in coverage against TE Brent Celek during the game. As worrisome as WR Brandon Marshall and TE Tony Scheffler may be in this game, the Eagles offense provides bigger problems for the opponents, and I can't say I'm too scared of a team that's dropped six of its last eight. I'd also say more about the Eagles winning streak and prospects in the conference, given the difficulties of the top two seeds last weekend, but when you do that in this town, you get the stink eye from the Doomed Are Us crowd. It's enough to know what they need this game to keep the division lead, and that Kyle Orton in a must game on the road just seems like a non-starter.

Eagles 31, Broncos 20

Dallas at WASHINGTON (+6.5)

How can anyone, really, take the Skins at home after that MNF clowning? Simple; it's Dallas. This game is always close, no matter what the talent level and motivations of the two teams, and the Cowboys are well and truly capable of sleeping their way through three quarters before putting the hammer down. Besides, QB Jason Campbell needs to help the Skins make a bad decision with him in free agency, and SNF games have a tendency to stay close, if only to keep NBC alive as a network. (This conspiracy theory would get much more play if this were the NBA.)

Dallas will, of course, win this game, probably with musical kicker Shane Suisam having his revenge on the team that booted him two weeks ago. It will also set up Dallas for a winner-take-all division game at home against the Eagles in Week 17, which, along with the Colts going for perfection, will be your early Hype Machine candidates. Start the hype now!

Cowboys 24, Redskins 20

MINNESOTA at Chicago (+7)

Yeesh, is this game a mess to pick. You are either going with His Favreness in the middle of a December swoon in cold weather, or the 5-9 Bears, who defined new degrees of quit last week in Baltimore, and have lost 6 of their last 7, with only a win against the Rams breaking the misery. They haven't had a 100-yard rusher since Week 4, and QB Jay Cutler hasn't broken 210 yards passing since Week 10. The teams are also prone to playing close games, and the Vikings haven't been able to run the ball well for months now; when you get three yards a carry with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, you've got an offensive line that's just, well, offensive.

After going back and forth on this one several times, I finally went with the Vikings, just because I think Cutler can't stop turning the ball over under the lights, and his recent December history is even worse than Favre's. The Vikings also need this game to keep their #2 seed hopes alive, whereas the Bears need nothing more than the end of the season. But man, how sweet would it be for the Vikings to keep stinking up the joint? Very sweet indeed.

Vikings 24, Bears 16

Last week: 7-7-2

Year to date: 106-112-5

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

NESW Drop: Enemies List Vol. 7

Today's list takes you everywhere from real sports to fake sports to real transportation and fake heroes. It's all new, it's all hate. Enjoy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Redskins Should Not Be Allowed To Use Sharp Scissors

So I'm watching the end of the first half of MNF, with the Giants leading the Redskins 24-0, and the Skins "driving" thanks to a long, barely completed fly pattern to Santana Moss. After a desultory out to useless wideout Antwan Randle-El, the Skins decide to give up and try the figgie, using their final timeout with two seconds left.

Then, The Dumbness really overwhelmed. I'll explain this slowly, and remember, I'm not making any of this up.

The Skins then tried a "swinging gate" kind of play, with seven guys from the nine on the line moving out to the left. The Giants called timeout, rather than let the gadget play continue. OK, fine, fun's fun and Washington is just going to kick a field goal. Um, no... they then do it again... and the ensuing gadget play involves snapping it to the holder, who then throws it up for grabs to the left as three rushing linemen make a wish, with the snapper not making contact on *any* of them. The pass is -- shockingly! -- underthrown and intercepted, as the Giants defensive linemen refused to count to Three Mississippi before rushing, and only the Giants laughter on the return prevents the play from failing to go for six.

To be fair, there was no way the Redskins were coming back to win this game, even had they kicked the figgie, and, well, not been utterly and completely dominated in ways that brought a new low to a franchise that keeps finding loose floorboards. But when your coaching staff is giving a new working definition for idiocy, it should be noted. We've been chronicling similar moments all year on You Crap The Bed, but at least on most of those plays, you could see some logic behind the dumbness. Not here. This play caused many people watching the game to not just boo, but just plain *leave*, rather than even boo, which shows a fair amount of sense from Skins Fan, I think. It's cold outside, this game will wind up as a 45-12 embarrassment, and your football team is run by people who are three steps removed from being smart enough to eat paste. The Lemur's Mike Tirico might have said it best, actually: "What in the wide world of sports was that?"

And don't think that the players didn't notice, either. Consider this less than upstanding quote for the bingo men from Skins DL Albert Haynesworth: "I don't think really this team is that bad. The players ain't that bad."

Bad, Fat Albert? No. Mind-boggingly stupid to the point of needing adult supervision? Closer. Oh, Daniel Snyder, how much does the rest of the division love you?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

NFL Week 15: You Crap The Bed

This week on You Crap, we're brought to you by Ex-Lax, the chocolated laxative for constipation. The really wonderful thing about a classic product like Ex-Lax is it's such a classic for prankery; there really hasn't ever been a summer camp or frat house that didn't think it was Crazy Bonzo Fun to make someone lose five pounds the very hard way with it. As a matter of fact, I'm fairly sure that recreational purposes probably makes up a good 20 to 30% of their market share.

You all know how we play the game. Each week, we give you the chance to out-think people who are actually paid to make NFL decisions. Now, let's all play... You Crap The Bed!

But before we play the game, a brief moment of explanation. You Crap is not meant to chastise ballsy calls that didn't work out; we are not here to always say no to onside kicks, going for it on fourth, or playing everything tight to the vest. Rather, we're about making sure that truly stupid, indefensible decisions are noted for the record. Just as, well, pooping in your bed is an indefensible decision. And with that, let's get to it!

1) You are Eagles coach Andy Reid. After a quick opening touchdown, your offense has had two straight three and outs, and lead 7-3 at home against the Niners with a minute left in the first quarter. On third and one, you give Michael Vick the ball for a running play that doesn't work. On fourth and one from your own 29, you choose to:

a) Punt the freaking ball. Be patient. You aren't winning the line of scrimmage consistently right now, the Niners are getting nothing out of their punt return game, and you just can't risk the road team getting that much momentum.

b) No, seriously, for the love of God, punt the freaking ball. Punter Sav Rocca hasn't even been horrible, and there is just no reason to risk a short field.

c) Well, if you have to go for it, maybe you give it to your best running QB -- oh, wait, Vick's limping off. You're still going to go for this? Sneak with McNabb, I suppose, though that really doesn't work as much as you'd hope...

d) Um, go for it I suppose, but do something that doesn't involve the middle of the line, where ex-Eagles Takeo Spikes and Michael Lewis are stunting in a big way because they've seen this movie before

e) Go for it with Weaver right into the guts of the defense, because That's Manly, dammit

If you chose (e), congratulations... you crapped the bed! But your defense then saves your very large amount of bacon, as CB Sheldon Brown causes a fumble in the red zone on the ensuing drive, then your offense goes 94 yards for a touchdown. Why, you were just showing a Belichickian confidence in your team, right?

2) You are Denver coach Josh McDaniels. In a must-win game at home against the surprisingly game Raiders, you hit a 62 yard pass to stud WR Brandon Marshall, setting yourself up for a first and goal from the Raider 2. The score is 16-13 Broncos with just over six minutes left.

In the next four plays from close in, you choose to:

a) Give Marshall at least one chance at punching this in, given that he's, well, your best offensive player by a very wide margin, and already has one touchdown in the third quarter from in tight

b) Treat this as four down territory and make sure that power backs Knowshon Moreno and Lamont Jordan have reasonable chances to get this in

c) Use the mobility of QB Kyle Orton to your advantage with a QB draw and/or rollout and option moves, perhaps with criminally underused dynamic wideout Eddie Royal

d) No, seriously, use Marshall; he's a freaking beast, and besides, if you don't and it doesn't work out, he's liable to get snotty about it in the post-game press session

e) Throw it on two of three plays to TE Tony Scheffler, because nothing quite sets the tone for a game by trying, unsuccessfully, to trick a team, rather than beat it at the goal line, and it's not like the Raiders could possibly score the winning touchdown late

If you chose (e), preferably while laughing at the QB antics of JaMarcus Russell, content in the knowledge that the Raiders could never win with a last-minute touchdown on the road to cripple your playoff hopes... well, congratulations. You Crapped The Bed! And you've won a sixth loss of the year, the knowledge that your team has dropped six of your last eight games after a 6-0 start, and the thanks of a half dozen teams that are dreaming of taking that final playoff spot from you. Oh, and the knowledge that if you somehow blow this, estimations of your Annual December Collapse are going to start feeling Dallas-esque. Well played!

3) You are Dallas coach Wade Phillips. On the road in New Orleans against the unbeaten Saints, you are clinging to a 24-17 lead, with the home team scoring 14 unanswered in the past five minutes of game plan. Needing a clock driving that ends in points to salt away the win, your offense proceeds to get you just that, with QB Tony Romo getting big chunks of yardage to WR Miles Austin. With first and ten from the Saints 11, with 3:55 left, you choose to:

a) Keep the ball in Romo's hands, since he's hot right now and, well, the franchise

b) Run it to make sure the clock keeps running, but try fresh speed backs like Felix Jones or the relentlessly underused Tashard Choice

c) Throw it to TE Jason Witten, who is Romo's favorite "security blanket" target, and yet downright ignored when it comes to red zone chances

d) Play tight to keep the clock running, but don't just turtle up, since place kicker Nick Folk has missed more field goals than any other kicker in the league

e) Run the ball on internal dives to spent fighter Marion Barber and outside threat only Felix Jones, because it's clear that Folk has used up his yearly quota of shanked kicks... despite the fact that before the kick was tried, the NFLN coverage showed him missing all over the place during *warm-ups*, inside a dome, without a rush

If you chose (e), preferably while preparing your post-game speech of how loyalty to a guy like Folk pays off when he makes "seal the deal" kicks... congratulations! You Crapped The Bed!

And you've won of the funniest moments of the regular season to date as your hopeless shanker bangs one off the upright, the sure knowledge that owner/GM/cray person Jerruh Jones will have Folk released not just from the team, but from this mortal coil. and at the time, perhaps several pounds of earthy worry in the seat of your pants. Luckily for you, your defense actually makes a stop and saves your season, but don't let that stop the fun.

Well, I'm afraid that's all we have for this week. But remember, with a little fiber, determination and inspiration -- or, if all else fails, some poison in the brownies -- you too can... Crap The Bed! Good night, everybody!

Eagles - Niners Notes

> You might have heard; we had snow this weekend. A lot of it, really; enough to make me remember my time at college, and college, well, sucked for that. The snow made the start of this game delayed until 4:15 EST, which is one more reason to worry, really: the Niners being a West Coast team going to the East Coast and all. But really, at this time of the year I am just a worry machine; between the fantasy playoffs and the real-world playoffs, I'm caring way too much about the game right now. That, and I'm absolutely gassed from shoveling snow for five hours this weekend, and the continuing adventures of my old man digestive system. Let's just go to the game, shall we?

> With Tony Siragusa spouting dire BS about how passing will be impossible in these conditions, Quinton Demps starts with a strong return, and QB Donovan McNabb then (horrors!) throws the ball on a screen to FB Leonard Weaver for a nice start. Another pass to Weaver is blown by the refs, and we're actually going to see two straight weeks with a successful Andy Reid replay challenge. What team is this again? Weaver again around the corner on a toss sweep for seven, and RB LeSean McCoy goes power for the first down. The drive ends with a nice improv by McNabb to (of course) WR DeSean Jackson, and it turns out that DJ can score from under 50 yards. After the Akers PAT, which shows no effect of wind, it's 7-0 Green after 2:13 of action. Useful all over, and Tony Siragusa is an idiot. In other news, the sun rises in the East.

> The Niners answering drive is TE Vernon Davis and RB Frank Gore, which is to say, exactly what you'd expect and worry about. On a third and three just outside of field goal range, the defense stiffens as WR Jason Hill can't make the catch, and coach Mike Singletary elects to try a 51 yarder with kicker Joe Nedney; he makes it, of course, because that's something that happens a lot to my laundry. 7-3 after just 5.5 minutes of play here.

> 1,200 people, we are told, worked to get the field and stadium in condition for this game. Ah, the power of money. Where were you people when I was clearing my driveway?

> A poor little three and out response from Green, with two poor throws from McNabb. The Niners are secretly terrible at punt returns, so Sav Rocca's 44 yarder was all net.

> Gold's drive starts with a penalty on CB Asante Samuel that negates good pressure, but on the next play, S Quinton Mickell starts to make up for last week's awful game with a beautiful pick on a deep seam route. It acts as a reasonable arm punt, and the Fox heads chastise Vernon Davis on the play; they may have a point. Green replies with a three and out with a deep ball to WR Reggie Brown on third that works like much of Reggie Brown's career, really. Another terrible return for Gold sets them up at their own 27.

> I'm enjoying Gold's desire to throw the ball rather than hand it to Gore, but in the obvious second down running situation, it's a big hole for the first. Worrisome. The defense does stand up nicely on two more gives to Gore, and sends a lovely blitz on third and eighth to force the incomplete. Joselio Hanson, it's nice to have you back. DJ lets the punt go into the end zone for a touchback.

> Don has all day but doesn't find DJ; not good. Weaver gets four out of nothing on second. RT Jason Peters gets a quick five for the offense by moving to get the flag, but the third down Line of Scrimmage Punt Return play by back-up QB Michael Vick doesn't really work, and amazingly, they burn a timeout and choose to go for it on fourth and inches from their own 29. Vick's limping right now, which doesn't exactly sadden me as a McNabb fantasy owner, but that is worrisome for Green's long-term prospects. The fourth down call is Weaver into the gut, it fails miserably, and I've got a You Crap moment as Niner LB Takeo Spikes and S Michael Lewis have a vengeance moment. Gahhhh.

> CB Sheldon Brown then has his best moment of the year with a strip of WR Delanie Walker in the red zone, giving Green the ball back. Potential game-changing play there, especially as the next drive sees an obvious PI call against the defense, then McNabb hitting TE Brent Celek and Jackson for first downs in big Niner holes in the zone. There's even a Kevin Curtis sighting, which gets a big cheer from the crowd; McNabb is just throwing lasers right now. Impossible with this wind!

> After a timeout, McCoy can't get free on a shuttle pass. On third and six from the eight, Don channels 1997 with a touchdown scramble, and the play stands on a defensive penalty. I'm amazed that Don had the wheels for that, really. Big play by the QB, and that's a 94-yard drive, the longest of the season, to go up 14-3. Wow.

> Gold's answering drive is low voltage with Gore, with another nice Hanson blitz to force third and long, and Samuel caps it with the third Gold turnover of the half with a nice read of Gold QB Alex Smith. There's a reason why Alex Smith hasn't been real good in his career, kids, and that's Samuel's 8th pick of the year. Someone might want to start mentioning him as being, well, good.

> With the short field, the offense could be in Kill Shot territory here, and they get it to the red zone with Celek and Weaver with a quickness. Weaver again to the 10, then McNabb gets batted down again. I'd really like to know why this seems to be happening more this year, and whether it's a league-wide thing or just a McNabb thing. On third and five from the ten, McNabb misses Avant on another obvious defensive hold, and that's a potential four point penalty there. Weaver on a toss sweep goes nowhere, and he really is the feature back now. Don has nothing on a second down play and airmails it. Third and goal is a big damn deal for many reasons (Don's my fantasy league QB), and the QB escapes again to give time on a misdirection play, but with nowhere to go, Don takes the figgie. Damn. Akers converts, and it's 17-3 2ith 4:25 left.

> Next kickoff sees the Niners Josh Morgan hop up and make himself a huge target; the Green special teams oblige. A direct snap to Gore does damage for 17, especially if you were, like me, dreaming of a half-ending offensive drive. If there is a less threatening QB on the run than Smith, I haven't seen him, which really doesn't bode well for their comeback dreams. Third and thirteen sees the QB overthrow Davis, and Green will get it back before the half. Niner punter Andy Lee has done a great job today in terms of keeping DJ's punt returns under wraps, and Green will start with 2:09 and 84 yards to go, one timeout.

> McCoy for six on a draw before warning, then Curtis drops a first down out. DJ breaks a crossing route for 39 yards, and it's continually amazing to see a guy this small just plain dominate. McCoy with a great play to get 10 yards and out of bounds on a screen play. DJ almost makes a highlight film play at the pylon, but the ball is too high to corral on a one-hand catch. Weaver on a give as Green realizes they have plenty of time, but it doesn't fool the defense. McNabb then makes a bad decision to try to force it to DJ for an end zone pick; he had better short options but got greedy. Ouch.

> Green calls a timeout, and Smith obliges with a pick from pressure, and hey, that's the defense I thought was lost for good last week in the Meadowlands. Singletary all over Smith on the sideline. McNabb to Avant for a first down, but Weaver gets into an inexcusable argument as the clock runs; Reggie Brown saves the field goal only. After the Akers figgie, it's 20-3 Green, and I'm pretty sure that's going to wind up being the difference in my freaking roto game. Green is all smiles on the sideline anyway, because they enjoy driving me crazy. The squib is covered, and that's the half.

> Gold starts the second half with a huge kickoff return, and maybe that's them starting to Play Desperate. Gore loses ground as Trent Cole eats him. Then a false start, as the Niners continue to do their Not Ready For Playoff Time Football impersonation. Gore gets little on a middle run on second and 16 -- curious play call at best -- and the long third down sees Smith take the checkdown to WR Michael Crabtree for his first reception of the game and a fourth down. Gold goes for it on fourth and three, rather than try a 54-yarder or punt, and the defense blows the kill shot opportunity by missing WR Josh Morgan on the out, with Samuel compounding the error by whiffing on the tackle. Ouch. Broken play incomplete on first down is followed by Gore for little to the right. Another big third down here, potential four down territory. Smith from the empty gun goes to Morgan again, and this time Samuel levels him to set up fourth down; Singletary takes the field goal. 20-6 Green.

> McNabb starts the next drive with another terrible pick, this one in double coverage forcing it to Jackson, with Dre Bly making the pick, and Green is doing all they can to keep this game interesting. Cole comes like a house of fire on first down as Gore whiffs on the block, and that's a nice 10 yard loss on first. Second down is a rollout and checkdown to Gore, who gets little. The long third down is a points moment, and Gold gets away with early movement on the line. Smith takes a checkdown to Hill to set up fourth and five, and Singletary goes for it again; once again it looks like the line moves early, but Smith finds Davis for the first. This game is getting antsy. Gore for three, then a way too easy touchdown to Morgan, and we've got a very real game now. 20-13 Green, with 10 points in four minutes for Gold. Nothing comes easy, does it?

> Next drive sees McNabb look off Celek to get it to DJ for the first; nice to see him thinking again. Next play has DJ wide open for a 50+ yard TD, but the pass misses; that would have been immense. McCoy goes for eight on the right side as the Niner defense looks shaken by the deep ball. McNabb scrambles for a big gain on third and two, but it comes back on a hold. Third and 12 is a check down to Celek that's stopped two yards shy, and Reid chooses to punt here, maybe because they don't have Vick for the third down play, and the punt is downed at the one... but two flags blow it, as Hanson touches the ball after being shoved out of bounds. Maddening. The re-kick goes into the end zone, of course. That's two flags for 56 yards in the last two minutes, and this game is getting very, very irritating.

> My irritation level grows much on a 37 yard gallop by Gore as the run blitz misses, and the damage to my fantasy team and real team? Getting to be total here. Adding to the fun is that the Shooter Wife has sent the kids down to ask irritating questions and be bored. As the confrontation escalates, Gore breaks another big one, but a hold brings it back. DL Mike Patterson eats backup RB Michael Robinson to stop the bleeding. Crabtree makes a man miss, but not two, setting up a huge third and eight; the Eagles send pressure and Smith is useless against it, and that's a very big stop. Lee punts it to the 11, and the last play of the third quarter is a good run by McCoy. Green 20, Gold 13.

> Racing around on the quarter break to handle the children makes me miss a deep ball to DJ, but not the end of the drive, and McCoy caps it with a two yard touchdown; Green 27, Gold 13, 11:32 left in Gold's season. The lack of a touchdown for my QB more or less clinches it for my fake team, but what the hell, we're clearly not going to be happy about a lot of things today, right? Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, scores his third touchdown in Pittsburgh, and it's a runaway now. I'd also like to thank the Seahawks for quitting even at home to the one-loss Bucs right now; blow that team the hell up now, please...

> With the tide clearly turned, Gold takes a three and out as bored Eagles fans start throwing snow; the drive punctuates with Chris Clemons swallowing Smith for a punctuation sack. With 10:42 left, this one is a drive away from kneel down. A clown time tip to Brown is followed by a ball to Avant and we're on the move, but Spikes eats a screen to McCoy for a loss. End around to DJ gets yard, what should have been a flag, and a snowball assault from the stands as Darryl Johnston gets moralistic. Green calls timeout at the end of the fracas, and we'll have third and four after the commerce.

> From the gun, McNabb misses Avant; I think he might have gotten it with his legs, and Gold still has life. Rocca's punt is downed at the 13, and it's on the defense to end it.

> Crabtree on the bubble screen loses yards to Hanson; just rarely a good play. An out to Crabtree gets yards, and it's looking like Stat Pad Time. Third and two is Smith on the run getting bailed out by Sean Jones not looking for the ball; Green screams about the flag, but there's a reason why Sean Jones was freely available talent. Smith almost connects with Hill in the end zone, and the snowballs are starting to get pretty obnoxious, really. Gold continues to move the ball but burn clock, with Smith to Morgan and Davis. Clock runs nicely as Smith sneaks oddly for the first; the ball comes loose at the end, but it's all post-whistle. Gold does not quit, give them that. Brown makes a great tip on a deep ball, and Mickell almost comes up with it, but there's a reason Mickell isn't a world-class wideout. And you have to be impressed by a team taking a delay of game penalty in a two-minute scramble drill, which Gold did next...

> Hanson brings down Hill in bounds to set up third and seven; tick, tick, tick. Heavy pressure prompts a throw to Davis that the TE wasn't expecting, and we're on another kill down, this one a fourth and seven. Green calls time to get it right. From the gun, Smith is sacked by Cole from a four man rush, and that should be that. If you want to be encouraged by this defense, note that they keep coming up with kill shot sacks; both this week against Gold, and last week against Blue. The game ends with Green pounding it with Weaver and McNabb connecting with Celek on a third down, and that's that.

With the win, the Eagles clinch a playoff spot and stay ahead in the division; the team with the real worry now are the Giants, who had to be counting on the Cowboys losing in New Orleans. And if the Vikings somehow lose tonight in Carolina... well, hope springs eternal. And that hope is Brett Favre on the road, in cold weather.

Top 10 NFL Week 15 Ad Questions

10) Why are women who appreciate gifts from Kay Jewelry childishly afraid of thunder?

9) Does Alka Seltzer really want to target their product to Lumberg-esque management tools?

8) How sad does your life have to be to think that a leased Ford is a festive holiday gift?

7) Is anyone really thinking that they are living better after they buy things from Wal-Mart?

6) What does it say about McDonald's "food" that they are sponsoring a movie that's mostly made with unreal simulations?

5) Why does making children wear matching racing crew attire and sing about their love for a car toy seem like a good holiday gift idea?

4) Don't Sony and Best Buy's prices have to be higher, since they have the expense of all of those celebrity panelists hiding in the walls?

3) Why is Michael Jordan's understandable distaste for Charlie Sheen a reason to buy underwear?

2) Is anyone else intimidated by Autozone's squadrons of identical Matrix-esque cars swooping into position?

1) Are Bud Light drinkers so suicidal from their choice of beverage that they let dogs drive, or is it more of a stupidity thing?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Week 15 NFL Picks: Merry And Dead

One of the great (well, OK, not great: pretty terrible, actually) signs of getting older is not being able to keep up with stuff. When you become one of those people who look at the calendar and lose it because there is just X days left until Christmas, that's a sign that Life Is Passing You By. Better get your butt out to the stores now now now now NOW, while you still have a chance of buying something to convince the people in your life that you are not as amoral as you really are.

There is also this: Christmas, over the course of your life, is a sine wave. It means the world to you when you are a kid, because it's the one time of the year when you get stuff at the same time as your friends. So even if you didn't get the object of your desire, maybe someone else did, and you can use each other's. Birthdays are random and provoke jealousy and insecurity; Christmas is just everyone hitting the lottery.

The Shooter Eldest had her Santa Bubble popped a few years ago at the hands of a know-it-all friend, and since we don't lie to her (yet another sign that we're bad parents), it stayed popped. She has, however, gleaned that Santa Belief is something her parents encourage, especially since she's got a younger sister. So she's been peppering us with questions about the mechanics of the Claus, as if it's a conversation we want to have. The inclination to jerk a thumb at the hiding in plain sight bags of crap and say, "I got your Santa right there"? High.

But the Claus lives on, in every hunched back, swollen credit card balance and endured carol, because it needs to, really. January and February, when there is less NFL football, no MLB baseball and the sad reality that those Christmas miracles and failed covers have to be paid for, is when The Sad needs to happen. Not now. Besides, I've got a precious little Christmas miracle of my own to share with you, assuming you can come back to the earlier point about not being quite ready for the holiday this time around...

I've never wanted to become one of those people who had the lights up in October, or needs to have a big damn display on the house. While I enjoy upstaging the neighbors as much as the next guy (especially the people who park at the end of my driveway, in the hopes that I'll buy them new cars if they just leave them in my blind spot long enough), it just doesn't manifest itself in the blinking.

The gifts for the away people have been ordered and sent, and the gifts for the home folks are proceeding with all reasonable speed. It might not be the Best Christmas Ever, but it'll be, well, a Christmas. All you can hope for in a jobless economy that employers are using like a boa constrictor to keep wages and bonuses down. (Hi, people who read this blog at my day job! Join me for some every day lunch time store brand oatmeal, won't you?)

This year, my most prominent Christmas display (so far, this year) is a light up deer that won't stay upright. His head also lolls badly to one side from all of the time that is has fallen down. Merry Christmas, kids! Santa brought us a dead deer that we can't even eat!

So when I see the bright lights on the neighbor's houses, it fills me with a sense of... needing someone to blame for not getting my own up. And the answer is, of course, the NFL. I haven't seen nearly enough Dallas losses yet to make me think it's truly Yuletime, because the NFL failed to schedule Week 1 near Labor Day, forced the bye down our throats, and ate more of my time in December with their asinine mid-week games. The clocks are wrong, the seasons are out of order, the planet is screwed...

And I've found a scapegoat for my humbuggery -- football. It's a Christmas Miracle -- an original entry to the picks column that I haven't written before, in three years of writing this column.

Thanks, NFL! It's just what I wanted. And you too, Dear Reader. I hope you're feeling as warm as a dead deer.

And with that, on to the picks!

* * * * *

INDIANAPOLIS at Jacksonville (+4)

Ah, the relentless and joyless pursuit of perfection for these Colts, especially against an inexplicable team with no real home field advantage. It really does seem like the Colts are hoping to lose a game, just so they can start the subs in peace and get to that extended rest that will wind up costing them big in a second round upset. Wait, why are they looking to rest everyone again, especially considering that their only Super Bowl win of the Manning Era came when they had pedal to the metal until the end of Week 17?

This line opened at +4, then got taken down amidst the uncertainty that the Colts may decide to fellate the '72 Dolphins and start the scrubs. I'm betting that they don't, and that the relentlessly mediocre Jags don't have enough to take them down even if they do. RB Maurice Jones-Drew is starting to show serious fading issues, WR Mike Sims-Walker can't stay in the lineup due to health issues, and QB David Garrard really doesn't look good with secondary weapons. Or, for that matter, against a speed rush.

Oh, and kudos to the NFL for shoehorning this game, along with the next one, to their irritating house cable network. That way, very few people will see it, and the game will blow, as part of the karmic God's vengeance against this greedhead play. Well done!

Colts 24, Jaguars 17

DALLAS at New Orleans (-7)


Are you enjoying this Cowboy December Swoon more than previous years, or less? I'm still a fan, but it's feeling a little forced now. As much as wondering whether QB Tony Romo's choice of post-game Jaunty Hat signifies something, or whether coach Wade Philips cries himself to sleep at nights while chewing a pile made of bacon, it's just not the same without Terrible. There's no wild card in the mix to truly snap and give us something memorable in the post-game apology fest. It feels like a re-run. Just like this week.

The Saints have been showing signs for months now that they can be had, from an inconsistent running game to the knowledge that if you get enough hands up in the pass rush, you can disrupt QB Drew Brees, at least a little. I still think the Saints are going to win this game; I have 99% confidence in it, really. But cover a 7 point spread? Don't they need to ratchet up the heartbreak more than that? If I could ever bet on a push, this would be the game.

Saints 30, Dallas 24

New England at BUFFALO (+7)


To like the Pats to cover in this game, you've got to (a) think that WR Randy Moss is going to bounce back from the Quit Job that he's been doing for the past few months, (b) think that QB Tom Brady is going to be able to shake off a laundry list of injuries, (c) think that their running game will show up on the road, and (d) ignore the historical evidence that this series has always been close in western New York. I could give you one out of those four, or even two. But all of them? Nah.

Look for the plucky Bills to continue their bid to knock the interim off Perry Fewell's coaching title, and the Bills to cover -- and maybe even surprise. It's not like the Patriots secondary can cover anyone, and the Bills WRs do have talent. (Along with a million other problems, of course.)

Patriots 24, Bills 20

ARIZONA at Detroit (+10.5)


No one cares, of course, but last week's MNF stinkjob in San Fran was the perfect storm of Cardinal crapitude for me personally. Needing a solid effort from QB Kurt Warner and WR Anquan Boldin to make hay in my most important league, I got... seven turnovers. Needing the Cardinal defense to shut down Niner RB Frank Gore to hold off my main rival for that money, I got... 150+ kitteny soft rushing yards with a touchdown, and more yards out of the backfield. And this bastards did the *exact* same thing to me last year in New England! I will now make Yosemite Sam noises while cursing myself to play this demonic game.

Anyhoo... Detroit, you might have noticed, isn't very good, especially when QB Matthew Stafford isn't healthy enough to play and convince them that life is a cruel joke that keeps making them watch Daunte Culpepper. Without RB Kevin Smith, they are actually about to get worse, at least in the short term. As for the Cardinals, I still think they might be the third best team in the NFC, at least when non-49er laundry is in front of them, and the RBs aren't playing hot potato with the football. And if Capn Jebus and Sulky Q want to make up for lost weeks with eight combined touchdowns? I'll still be cheesed. But much, much less.

Cardinals 45, Lions 13

Miami at TENNESSEE (-4)


Two teams I like -- solid on the lines, good defenses, much less dangerous when injured (Miami with RB Ronnie Brown, Tennessee with QB Vince Young). I'm going with the home fires here because I think Young plays and plays well, and because I'm not ready to trust QB Chad Henne on the road with these wideouts yet. Both teams will be much better in 2010 than they are right now, and if you've got a spot to stash a guy for a keeper league, you'd do well to spend it on Titans WR Kenny Britt. From what I can tell so far, he's got no flaws or limitations, and while he might not ever put up the numbers, to this offense he's going to be Andre Johnson. And that ain't half bad.

Titans 20, Dolphins 13

Cleveland at KANSAS CITY (-2)


Give it up to the Mangini; they haven't quit, and their startling win over Pittsburgh last week might have actually saved their coach for next year, but only because writing that just made Cleveland Fan put his head back in the oven. However, QB Brady Quinn isn't ready to replicate that success in back to back weeks, and the Chiefs are going to welcome back #1 WR Dwayne Bowe, giving them multiple deep threats against a secondary that's easily threatened. Assuming the Chiefs OL can keep QB Matt Cassel clean, this will be the one game this year that convinces Chiefs management that they need to keep their terrible first year coach, too. It's like one of those asinine Christmas party games in which everyone passes around the gifts they don't want.

Chiefs 27, Browns 16

HOUSTON at St. Louis (-12.5)


Here's how bad it's gotten for the Rams: they didn't start QB Kyle Boller last week, and it got even worse for them. That's what happens when the third-string guy is, I am not making this up, someone by the name of Craig Null, who was coached in college by... wait for it... Ryan Leaf. Has there ever been a worse name and lineage for an NFL QB? We're going to have to wait a generation for something like this again, but I have dreams for the future coaching work of JeMarcus Russell.

As for this game, QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson will play pinball, you will hate it if they aren't in your fake team's laundry, and it will be very, very over by the third quarter. Also, if you have RB Stephen Jackson, you're screwed. About time, really.

Texans 34, Rams 9

Atlanta at NY JETS (-6)


If the Jets only had a QB. Then I could lay these six points without fear, because I'd know that the defense wasn't going to have a short field, the running game wasn't going to face eight in the box on many meaningful downs, and that the team wasn't just, say, a special teams blunder away from blowing a cover. But they don't.

Fortunately for them, however, the Falcons have already played their game of the year behind backup QB Chris Redmond, and it was last week, when they got close but no cigar to the unbeaten Saints. This week, on the road, they're going to fail to pack their hearts, and also, a healthy running game. Besides, CB Darrell Revis needs to add a TAInt to his resume.

Jets 24, Falcons 17

San Francisco at PHILADELPHIA (-8)


Normally when a team, especially a young club with injury issues and a finesse defense, goes off on a winning streak, there is a hiccup. Prosperity does not always agree with a club; they get complacent, and suddenly you've got an upset. Does this Eagles team fit that bill?

Well, not this week. Thanks to the worst game by an Eagles secondary in forever, they won't be lulled to secure sleep in this week's film session. San Francisco's evisceration of the Cardinals also increases the Don't Sleep faction; it also kept the point spread on this game in that sane and worried realm. The Niners have a long plane ride, an early starting time, and cold weather awaiting, none of which they will appreciate.

The visitors do have two of the pieces that cause me concern. First is the shockingly competent work of TE Vernon Davis, and the second is the power back work of RB Frank Gore. But WR Michael Crabtree and QB Alex Smith are going to hold up their end of the deal...and more importantly, the Niners won't get to QB Donovan McNabb fast enough to keep the Eagle WRs from running clear.

Eagles 31, Niners 13

Chicago at BALTIMORE (-10.5)


Just how bad is this Bears team, really? Bad enough that if you drafted anyone of any consequence from them for your roto team, you were DOA before Thanksgiving. Bad enough that management has to be wondering whether they need a QB along with everything else in next year's draft. (They do, if only because no NFL team should be without a credible backup in this age of concussion.) Bad enough that I'm pretty sure that Baltimore is going to roll up over 200 yards of rushing in this game. Bad enough that owners of RB Ray Rice will continue to wail and gnash their teeth over all the points that their man surrenders at the goal line to the undead Willis McGahee and the cold weather La'Ron McClain.

This one won't be pretty, and will make Ravens Fan far too confident about making the playoffs and doing damage when they get there. They might even be right about that.

Ravens 38, Bears 17

CINCINNATI at San Diego (-7)


Two teams that I like, but not so much as to think they are really battling for the title of AFC #2. The Chargers have continued their usual pattern of December magic under Norvalicious with a convincing road win in Dallas, while the Bengals started to show cracks on the road in Minnesota. The point spread seems too high, especially with RB Cedric Benson running well for the Bengals and RB LaDanian Tomlinson running badly everywhere but the goal line for the Chargers, but the Charger deep passing game is officially worrisome for the Bengals, especially when it concerns TE Antonio Gates.

I like the road team to cover here, but unless and until Cincy QB Carson Palmer can get his game in gear -- last week, viable secondary options went begging in Minny -- these guys are a prime candidate for a one-and-done playoff appearance. The defense isn't good enough to carry the day with a 17 point effort, and right now, that seems to be the top end of what the Bengals offense can produce.

Chargers 26, Bengals 20

Oakland at DENVER (-14)


Oh, Oakland. Having finally found a guy to give you just ordinary production from the QB spot in Brad Gradkowski... you watch him go down in the so predictable I should have made more of it loss last week at home to the Redskins. And now, you go on the road to a Denver team that's still in the playoff hunt, has the kind of defense (i.e., competent, at home) that just destroys your 1970s-esque throwback weak sauce, and has enough patience in the running game to turn your bunch of front-runners into speed bumps by the third quarter.

And the final indignity.... the team is signing JP Losman. (And only four months too late to do any real good, not that he's ever done anyone any real good.)

At least punter Shane Lechler will enjoy the thin air as he looks towards Decade Two of being the NFL's MVP -- Most Valuable Punter.

Broncos 24, Raiders 6

GREEN BAY at Pittsburgh (-1.5)


Something that has always irritated me about the NFL is how Dallas has managed to have themselves as America's Team. It's a complete lie; America is not fake southern, quite this obese or stupid or drug addled, and nowhere near as ready to think kindly on oil men. If such a thing as America's Team exists, it is one of these franchises - midwestern, successful, solid and historic. I'd give the nod to Pittsburgh, since coal mining and binge drinking seems more 'Murkin than cheese eating and binge drinking, but it's a small difference.

IWith five straight losses, nothing to play for, a concussable QB and a defense that gives up massive plays in the passing game, I can't in good conscience take the Steelers here. So they will, of course, win handily against a Packers team that seems destined for a wild card berth and third loss to the Minnesota Favres. What a nightmare. It *has* to happen, right?

Packers 27, Steelers 20

Tampa Bay at SEATTLE (-7)


Rookie QB Josh Freeman is a turnover machine for the ages, the Seabags tend to actually play well at home, it's a forever flight for the warm-weather Bucs, and anyone who watches this without money on the table or a lifelong laundry problem needs counseling. Along with me, who has to care about this game due to The Horror That Is Fantasy Football, and a commitment to streaming defenses. Next year, I'm getting myself a membership to Gamblers Anonymous for Christmas.

Seahawks 27, Bucs 13

Minnesota at CAROLINA (+8)


Oh, and here's one more turd in the stocking from the NFL Network: by having both undefeated teams playing early, they've deprived America of anything close to a compelling SNF matchup. (And NBC -- um, you really couldn't flex out that Packers - Steelers game, and are counting on the nation's elderly to tune in fof Favre? I hope your prescriptions run out.)

I actually think the game will be close, because (a) QB Brett Favre is too old to be out at night in cold weather, (b) Carolina can run the ball, especially against an injured Viking defensive line and linebacker corps, and (c) I need RB Adrian Peterson to man up and give me big numbers, so he, um, won't. In fact, he's going to put it on the ground, and Favre will turn it over, and my blackened little heart will laugh and laugh and laugh at the upset. The power of (Carolina QB) Matt Moore Compels You!

Panthers 20, Vikings 17

NY GIANTS at Washington (+3)


The final nail in the coffin for Jim Zorn, who was probably just a winning December away from... still losing his job. The perils of working for Daniel Snyder, folks. Washington has actually looked frisky for much of the last two months, and the Giants' problems in pass defense were put on broad display last week against Philly. But I just don't trust the Redskins to get it done in a tight game (see Orleans, New), and the point spread gives you no comfort. Besides, WR Hakeem Nicks has finially supplanted WR Mario Manningham to give the G-Men the tandem they should have had weeks and weeks ago, and QB Eli Manning just has more weapons and time than QB Jason Campbell.

Giants 24, Redskins 20

Last week: 9-7

Year to date: 99-105-3

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