Friday, September 30, 2011

NFL Pick Week Four: The Secretly Awful Last Week Before The Byes

It's a staple of every NFL picks column; the gashy complaint about how the bye week ruins your fantasy team / viewing pleasure / gambling problem. But here's the dirty little secret about Week 4, the last full week without byes for the next bit of forever; there are an astounding amount of dog games this week between teams that have absolutely no hope already, and the calendar has barely turned to October. But since we all love football -- really, too much -- we're just going to eat it all and not complain, because complaining is, well, gashy. So... on to the picks!

* * * * *

CAROLINA at Chicago (-7)

Just too many points for a frisky Panther team that can move the ball and rush the QB, even though their secondary is pretty awful. Last week, the Bears ran the ball hardly at all in their loss to the Packers, and wasted the coolest special teams play ever on a phantom holding call. They'll win this game, but play at a slow enough pace to keep it close, and Cam Newton will continue to ring up nice hollow numbers.

Bears 24, Panthers 20

BUFFALO at Cincinnati (+3)

Everything screams letdown game here for the Bills, and the Bengals defense is a little better than advertised... but Cincy is also a terrible home team, with just 2 wins in their last 8 games, and the Buffalo offense is putting up too many points to lose the kind of game that the Bengals win. Cincy will run RB Cedric Benson for 3 yards and a cloud of suck some 25 times, but not 40. Those extra 15 carries go for 90 yards and break you, but getting to that point takes a lot.

Bills 24, Bengals 17

Tennessee at CLEVELAND (-1)

An improbable matchup of 2-1 teams. The Browns get back RB Peyton Hillis, have home field, and are just an absurd letdown to the Bengals in Week One from leading the division. The Titans are living on some late career mirage year from QB Matt Hasselbeck, but if that continues without WR Kenny Britt, I'll be amazed. True, teams are selling out to stop RB Chris Johnson, but he's looking past his sell-by date, and on the road against the surprisingly composed QB Colt McCoy, I don't like their chances.

Browns 23, Titans 16

DETROIT at Dallas (-1)

Let's see... Dallas barely survived a MNF game in which QB Tony Romo was given the greatest media mouthjob ever given to a man who couldn't score a touchdown in the red zone. Detroit comes in after a massive come from behind road win in Minnesota, a place they haven't won in forever. And sure, this is a letdown game for them in a tough place to play, and DeMarcus Ware could end all of the good times in one moment for fragile QB Matthew Stafford... but youth will be served, and the talent level on this Detroit team is striking. Besides, the Dallas OL is still a mess, and DT Ndamokung Suh is ready to do some damage.

Lions 30, Cowboys 20

MINNESOTA at Kansas City (+2)

The game that inspired the lede for this week has the woebegone visiting the woeberiffic. Give me the team with the surviving superstar RB, the QB that was once good, and has played half of their games -- well, the first half -- well. And if you watch the game without laundry affiliations or fantasy juice, you have a gambling problem. A big one.

Vikings 20, Chiefs 13

Washington at ST. LOUIS (Pick 'em)

Finally, a winnable game for the Rams, who have combined a nasty schedule with skill player injuries and poor luck to start the year winless, but not hopeless. The Skins come in to a loud dome with a short week, a defense that does better on grass than turf, and well and truly due for a Rex Grossman meltdown game. Besides, the Rams still have time to win the NFC West and all.

Rams 24, Redskins 17

San Francisco at PHILADELPHIA (Pick 'em)

Superstition aside, the Niners are a bad road team, a West Coast club playing a 1pm EST game on a Sunday, with a struggling running game. They come into the Linc to face an Eagles team that has won the majority of snaps in all three games, but keep giving up big plays on both sides of the ball to look worse than they are. QB Michael Vick should play; whether he plays well or not is another matter entirely. TE Vernon Davis could easily go for triple digits and two scores here, but it won't be enough. This is the week that Eagle Fan starts to hope again.

Eagles 31, Niners 17

NEW ORLEANS at Jacksonville (+7.5)

The stat heads say that the Jags' pass defense, so bad in 2010, is much better now... but we're talking about three games, one of which was played in a monsoon, and the others against a Jets team that was running out the clock and a Titans team that was in Week One mode. I'm not saying that they are not better, but I am saying that they are not good, and the Saints are welcoming back WR Marques Colston. Sure, the grass isn't a plus for them, but the Saints have too many weapons, especially at TE.

Saints 34, Jaguars 20

PITTSBURGH at Houston (-4)

Total feel pick here; I just don't think the Texans can handle so much prosperity and a 4-0 start. The Steelers have been a pretty easy team to predict so far this year: if they do not turn the ball over, they win, and if they do, they struggle mightily. This Texans defense doesn't do that nearly enough, and with RB Arian Foster coming back this week, there's going to be some disjointed flow in the offense. Something of an upset here.

Steelers 27, Texans 24

New York at ARIZONA (Pick 'em)

Heavy moving line here, with as much as a 4.5 point swing on some lines, on a classic trap game. New York has been very good on the road in the early part of the year under Eli Manning, but I still like the Cardinals here, just because Blue's secondary is still beat up, and Eli's due for a letdown game. Besides, the NFC East just, well, isn't very good.

Cardinals 31, Giants 27

Atlanta at SEATTLE (+5.5)

QB Matt Ryan is a pretty simple guy to figure out; aces at home, deuces on the road. This week he goes about as far as he can go to face a Seattle team that showed a spark in a win last week against Arizona. And sure, the Seahawks got a little lucky with some missed figgies, and they still start QB Tarvaris Jackson, who is well and truly awful. But now he's got an actual WR with some chemistry in Sidney Rice, and the line is just too big for Ryan's past track record on the road.

Falcons 24, Seahawks 20

Denver at GREEN BAY (-13)

The sneaky fantasy play this week is QB Kyle Orton, available in just about every possible league, against the Packers. But all of that presupposes that the Broncos are actually going to make a game of this, not fall behind by a ton, or that the Packers aren't just going to have a racehorse game or two here. Denver will score some garbage time points, but not enough to make the cover.

Packers 38, Broncos 24

NEW ENGLAND at Oakland (+4.5)

If you want a truly depressing stat, look at the Patriots record following a loss in the Belicheat Era; it's downright astounding. This Raiders team is physically dominating, enjoys a good home field advantage, and has the most talented RB in the conference in Darren McFadden, and the Patriots' defense is going to give up some points. But Oakland's not disciplined enough to handle prosperity, and NE is going to scheme them to death.

Patriots 26, Raiders 20

MIAMI at San Diego (-9)

I just can't give this many points to a Chargers team without TE Antonio Gates, where QB Philip Rivers might be hiding an injury, and the defense nearly gave up a lead to the freaking DOA Chiefs at home last week. Miami isn't good or anything, but they don't quit and lose late, which means a cover.

Chargers 24, Dolphins 17

NY JETS at Baltimore (-4)

Schizo Game! Give me the team that lost last week against the team that won, because neither of these teams are capable of consistency. QB Mark Sanchez is making The Leap right before our eyes, just in time to cover for RB Shonn Greene's descent into the mundane. For the Ravens, RB Ray Rice is the monster, but this offense doesn't score real points unless QB Joe Flacco is hitting the deep ball, and that just does not happen against the Jets.

Jets 27, Ravens 24

Indianapolis at TAMPA (-10)

Another fabulous streaming alert for fantasy players; grab the Bucs' defense at home against the Curtis Painter Colts, on the road, in a quasi short week after a deflating SNF game. Peyton Manning isn't coming back, the Bucs are going to pound the ball with RB LeGarrette Blount to prevent any kind of turnover problem that could cost them the game, and they will eventually turn the undersized Colts defensive line into pudding. When an undersized defense quits, it's 5+ yards a carry and ugly, ugly, ugly. Yet another in a long line of MNF games you can miss. Thank you, NFL schedule makers!

Bucs 27, Colts 10

Last week: 8-8

2011-12: 28-17-3

Career: 435-422-18

ALDS and NLDS Predictions: Momentum Vs. Talent

After the Best Night in Baseball History Ever, we're right into the first two games of the postseason today, with the American League kicking things off. In other words, it's prediction time. Let's have at it!

* * * * *

Tampa at Texas

The defending American League champions have home field, a rested rotation, and the knowledge that they won their division without much drama at all, simply by being better. They've got a meat grinder of an offense with Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, etc., et cetera -- it's just deep and experienced and super grindy. You used to be able to beat them in the bullpen, but ever since adding Mike Adams and Koji Uejara down there, the bridge to the end of the game has been much better. If the starting pitching is not top tier -- and it isn't -- it's not awful either, and they aren't going to panic if things go badly for them at the start. They could easily go back to the Series.

As for the Rays, momentum is an exciting mistress... but there are holes a plenty in this lineup. Desmond Jennings hasn't hit for a month, BJ Upton makes a lot of outs, and they've gotten very little out of catcher and shortstop this year. The offense pretty much ends with Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, Casey Kotchman, Johnny Damon and Evan Longoria; in the playoffs, that's usually not enough. As for the arms, everyone's young and throws the hell out of the ball, but David Price has been secretly terrible for the last month, Jeremy Hellickson nibbles too much, and they are starting rookie Matt Moore in Game one. He was awesome in his last start, but Young Pitchers Will Break Your Hurt, and so will these Rays. Rangers in five.

Detroit at New York Yankees

It's rare to think that a 5-game series will be decided in Game One, but it will... because that's the game that Justin Verlander will pitch in New York against C.C. Sabathia, and neither of these teams is going to recover from their ace going down. Especially not the Tigers, but the trouble is that they've got (much) better starting pitching, especially with Doug Fister a solid matchup against the Yankees' lefty bats.

I'm also not entirely sold on Ivan Nova, the Yankees' Game Two starter. Having watched him hard for the last three months as a spot starter on my fantasy team, he just doesn't miss enough bats, and is prone to big innings against with defensive lapses. Put him in a must win Game 2 situation against an improbably effective Fister, and I could see the Yankees actually going winless in New York, though they probably won't.

In Detroit, the hometown Tigers are going to have something that the Yankees don't usually encounter until October -- a united home crowd that well and truly hates them. This is one of the hidden plots of MLB+ teams, and why they frequently fail in October; they just aren't prepared to play games where they hear concentrated hate, at least not in anywhere near to what the other teams deal with. Even in Boston, there's 10-20% Yankee contingent in the crowd, because the seats are so expensive and the commute from New York isn't that penal. Very few people from the New York area, or ex-pats, are going to Detroit by choice, even for elimination games for their team. They just aren't fun, and when you are going to Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, or a 3-days rest Sabathia to get things back to the Bronx, it's even less fun.

Can Detroit hit enough to win this, or close games with the occasionally shaky Jose Valverde? Just enough, with Miguel Cabrera getting a little help from Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila (the secret AL Rookie of the Year with an .895 OPS behind the dish). There will be games in this series where the Yankees crush them like bugs, where Curtis Granderson shines his MVP credentials, where Robinson Cano looks like the game is beneath his make it look easy talent. They've also got the much better bullpen, if a game goes into extra innings and long.

So what happens? A split in New York. A split in Detroit. And Verlander, on rest and on target, looming in Game Five. Give me the Tigers, in five.

Arizona at Milwaukee

This series isn't going to be seen, but it might be the most fun. Two young teams with emerging arms, some of the best young power hitting outfielders in the game in Justin Upton and Ryan Braun, the going-away party for Cecil Fielder, and a Rays' team that's been winning Those Games all year. You know Those Games; the ones where bizarre stuff happens and you should not win, but you do anyway. As for the Brewers, they've got a suspiciously great top three of the rotation in Yovani Gallardo, Shawn Marcum and Zach Greinke, and the home field advantage. This could be a great, great series.

I'm going to go with the DiamondBacks on this one, just because I think you can pitch to the bottom part of their lineup more than the DBs; once you get past Braun and Fielder, there's a lot of men left on base. The DB bullpen isn't as good, and neither is their top three, but Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and Josh Collmeter aren't awful, and the Brewers haven't had a good defense in, well, forever. At the end of this, give me Geraldo Parra and Ryan Roberts over Nyjer Morgan and Corey Hart. And Arizona to win in four.

St. Louis at Philadelphia

Three days ago, before the Real Phillies showed up and ended the Braves just to be mean, no one in town was feeling all that great about the playoffs. We were either going to get a Braves team that was going to be playing with house money from avoiding the greatest collapse in September history, or a Cardinals team that was coming in like a house on fire, with an offense that's downright frightening.

Now? The Cardinals struggle mightily with the Astros, needing the start of the year from Chris Carpenter to cash in the engraved invitation that the Phillies sent them. They've spent the last six months playing spin the bottle with closers, and Matt Holliday and Rafael Furcal are banged up. And there's still that little matter of what happened to them in March, when Adam Wainwright went down and everyone in town wondered if they'd be better off just cashing in their chips and retooling for 2012.

Game One will be Kyle Lohse vs. Roy Halladay, and while Lohse has been good down the stretch, that's a mismatch. Game Two is Cliff Lee versus Edwin Jackson, and while Jackson is capable of greatness, he's also capable of complete meltdown; there's a reason why a man with his stuff is, at age 28, on his sixth franchise, with a 60-60 record and 4.46 ERA and 1.48 WHIP.

Which gets us all the way to game three before the Cardinals can fire with Carpenter, and he's faced with Cole Hamels, who isn't exactly devoid of postseason success. And as a guy who has watched Carpenter hard all year, I can tell you that he's at the age where back to back dominant starts don't happen.

Personally, if I was Tony LaRussa, I'd be getting to Jaime Garcia a lot faster in this series than Game Four; I think he could steal you a game against the Phillies lefty-dominant bats. But I'm not even sure that Tony's heart is entirely in this, given his age and possible future employment; you don't get the feeling that he wants to be here without Albert Pujols.

Put it all together, and you have one of those mismatches on paper that all too often goes awry; there is a reaosn, after all, why the MLB playoffs are so excitingly random. But I have to pick the team that has the starting pitching advantage in every game. Phillies in four.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Game The League Can Not Destroy

I have to tell you, folks, as an A's fan, the last few years haven't been fun at all. Every other franchise gets a stadium that you'd want to go to, or at the very least, the hope of one coming soon. Every other franchise either gets to sign a free agent or two; we shop from the remainder bin for the broken down and the never was. We've lost hope of good everyday position players coming through the minors, and the young pitchers are clearly just here on loan. There's no more than a few guys from the team that are fantasy relevant, and seeing them on highlights or television just doesn't happen.

So I don't really have a team anymore, and going to a game now is a major hassle and investment. I've gone from 20 games a year to maybe 2 or 3, for roughly the same money. And a few weeks ago, the pennant race looked to be as dead as a doornail.

And then... the game overcame the league, as it so often does.

Tampa started winning games and looking frisky. St. Louis swept the Braves to give themselves hope. The DiamondBacks ripped off improbable win after improbable win. The Angels refused to give up the ghost, and had jackrabbits all over the lineup that were fun to watch. Even the Giants made a move. And the Red Sox and Braves went into swoons for the ages.

So tonight, with more or less four straight hours of back and forth and craziness going on, was just all kinds of awesome. Oh, and the fact that it wasn't for certain spoiled children? Here's a tweet from four hours ago:

This isn't fun. You can't tell me this is fun.
And, um, is there anything more off the mark than that, really? I was bouncing from channel to channel all night, feeling so happy for Dan Johnson, so bad for Marco Scutaro, so amazed that the Rays just wouldn't quit when down 7-0 in the eighth...

Well, let's just call a spade a spade on this, shall we? Boston Fan isn't a baseball fan; Boston Fan is a Boston Fan. I don't care how much you love your team, tonight was an awesome night for baseball, and the capper of an amazing month.

Next year, the Rays will lose more young talent. The Cardinals will watch Albert Pujols walk away to greener pastures. (Maybe.) The Yankees will make the playoffs for the 17th out of 18 years, an absurd achievement in a league where only 8 out of 30 teams make the playoffs, and injuries can decimate any team in a heartbeat. Eight teams will create 80% of the revenue, and MLB- teams will have to make the all-in or fire sale decision.

But the bases will still be 90 feet away, the mound will be 60'6. Some young guys that you've never heard of will dominate; some superstars will fall off the planet. No matter how bad the powers that be try to game this to the big teams, no matter how slow and agonizing some games will be, no matter how obnoxious the telecast crews or analysts... they can't ruin this game. No matter how hard they try.

So, yes. Tonight was fun. And with any luck, the playoffs will be as well. (Go Rays.)

Top 10 Consolations for Red Sox Fans

10) With any luck, that's the last time Jonathan Papelbon can ever hurt you again

9) David Ortiz is bound to come back slimmer next year

8) Now you know that the team can fall apart just like in the good old days

7) It's possible that you can somehow hate the Yankees even more now for sending in the AAAA guys

6) You are certain to remember Jon Lester's year for more than God peeing on it

5) You can always take pride in the fact that you aren't a Brave Fan

4) Carl Crawford is going to come so cheap in your fantasy league next year

3) Even you take joy in all of the celebutard Red Sox fans that are going to be sad now

2) Admit it, you are secretly happy that you've got Most Historic Collapse to pule about in print for a few decades to get back your How We've Suffahed cred back

1) You stopped watching baseball weeks ago

Top 10 Consolations For Braves Fans

10) With any luck, that's the last time Derek Lowe can ever hurt you again

9) Chipper Jones is bound to come back healthier next year

8) Now you know that the team can fall apart without Bobby Cox

7) It's possible that you can somehow hate the Phillies even more now

6) You are certain to remember Craig Kimbrel for his rookie save record, and not his season-blowing save

5) You can always take pride in the fact that you aren't a Red Sox fan

4) As the Mets showed a few years ago, crushing September collapses don't ruin your up and coming young talent at all

3) It's not as if you were really counting on winning playoff games, or going to them

2) Let's face it: you'd rather watch Albert Pujols in a playoff series, too

1) You don't actually exist

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Let Them Eat Stupidity

So here's what was sent to the NBA negotiations, just in time for some press photos and blog grist, and the whole thing looks just too perfect to be true, doesn't it?

And as simple and fun and elegant as this was... couldn't have someone sent an erotic cake to Stern instead, since he's just been giving NBA fans the shaft for 3+ months now?

(Oh, and as to why the players should not just take 50% and be happy about everything? Because the large market franchises are already making money, the small market ones will continue to lose it regardless of the percentages involved, and that's just not how negotiations are done. At least, not when both parties are acting in good faith, which the owners are most assuredly not.)

But hey, cake!

Fantasy Baseball Is Punishment For Our Sins

In March, I prepped for the league.

In April, I drafted.

Ever since, I have massaged and managed, tweaked and fiddled, all to get so close to the finish line. The champion has already been determined; he's a monster that can only be taken down, I think through league-wide collusion with everyone agreeing to delete all of his trade requests without countering

But there's still good money -- 3X the buy in -- for second, and a 1X buy in for third. Fourth place would be the same as last year, and cause me to become insufferable on levels that are in no way justified by the amount of cash involved. But so be it.So as the clock runs out on the regular season, every single little moment -- every ratio quirk, every non-start from a player who is being rested before the playoffs, every good moment for the other four teams -- is just Mad E Ning.

So as I'm up late dealing with a crisis at the day job, here's what I see...

1) Blake Beavan, a Seattle starting pitcher who was good his last time out, facing a terrible A's team in the SafeCo Pitcher's Protection Haven... gives up 7 ER in 5 IP. The A's had 4 baserunners and 4 whiffs the rest of the night. This guy was beyond horrible. Oh, and the Mariners scored no runs while he was in the game.

2) Hiderki Kuroda, possibly making his final start for the Dogepos in a year where he refused a trade rather than leave the team, pitch six scoreless innings in Arizona to mitigate the Beavan Mess... but the Dodepos, of course, score a whopping one run while he's in the game, and promptly give that one back on the next two hitters as soon as he's gone. No win for you.

3) Micah Owings coming in for the DBacks and giving up 5 ER to blow any chance of a save for my Javy Guerra grab... but wait!

4) Blake Hawksworth doesn't cover first, then gives up enough additional two out damage to create a Guerra save opportunity after all! It's all going to work out! Until...

5) Guerra comes in with absolutely nothing, walking the first man. But that's OK, because we just need a single freaking out, and Ryan Roberts has never hit a grand slam... well, OK, that's no longer true. Grand slammy, DBacks win, and my team is now at risk for its own Braves/Red Sox-level collapse.

And yes, I know this means nothing to anyone other than me, and unless tomorrow is a raw boned disaster, I'll still take down the 3X cash out, and feel reasonably relieved at the payday. But if tomorrow closes the same as today? SO. MUCH. HATE...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

FTT Off-Topic: A Brief Moment of Linguistic Crankiness

This morning, as I was driving the eldest to school, I was listening to the local radio station, one that hosts a live music series. They were doing an improbably large countdown of their favorite artists over the years, then followed it up with this highly forgettable song from the '90s...

Now that I've ruined your mind, a disclosure: I led a band in the '90s. Did it for the better part of the decade. Played a couple of hundred gigs. Showcased for industry, got backstage action, did regrettable things with regrettable substances, spent too much money and yada yada yada. Don't have much in the way of regrets; we took our shots and I learned a lot about life, but in the final analysis, we weren't good enough to do it for a living. No shame in that. We tried with our whole hearts and left it all out on the stage. The odds are against you every step of the way, after all.

At no point did I ever refer to myself as An Artist. Frontman? Sure. Singer-songwriter? OK. Musician? Flattering, but I'll take it. It would probably make someone who went to Julliard and played for their childhood wretch, but those people tend to wretch pretty easily, so.

Artists are people who don't, as a rule, perform the same thing over and over again for people drinking beer. They also do not make the act of performing their work an intrinsic part of the content, or collaborate with multiple people who perform more or less mechanical roles to contribute to The Art. They generally work alone, obsessively, breaking rules and caring little for commercial viability, because their brains are wired not so much with How Neat It Is To Be An Artist, but that they are spectacularly ill-equipped to be anything but what they are.

You know, kind of like this.

Finishing the hat. Where there never was a hat. Yeah, that's Art, dammit.

What I did, and what all of these musicians did when they came to your studio was Craft. Learn the freaking difference.

There's nothing wrong with Craft. But it's not freaking Art, you morons, and to call it that shows that you need to feel so good about your opinions on Craft that it must be elevated to Art... because you can't take that you really love something that isn't Art. That would imply that your mind doesn't think about the finer things enough, or that the things you like that everyone else likes aren't good enough to be discussed.

And there's honestly few things in this world then when someone has to elevate a good, noble and true Craft into Art, AKA Something It Ain't, just because they are too insecure to like it for what it is.

Craft. Not Art.

We now return you to your normally scheduled sports blog. (Which is... almost entirely Craft.)

Top 10 reasons why Cedric Benson is getting suspended

Bengals RB Cedric Benson is staring down the barrel of a suspension today, with a hearing scheduled to determine whether his off-season conduct, arrest and incarceration demands further league sanction. Why is the NFL willing to take this extra step?

10) Roger Goodell has Bernard Scott is his fantasy league and is tired of carrying him around for no reason

9) It's the only way to get Marvin Lewis to try something new, or remind him that he does, in fact, have a head coaching job

8) Distracts the local populace from the fact that their team is the only club in the NFL without an indoor practice facility, GM, or footballs

7) Retroactive anger over that whole Terrell Owens / Chad Ochocinco reality show

6) If they let Ced walk over this, lots of other guys would engage in drunken boating and repeat arrests in their old college hometown

5) When in doubt, suspending the franchise that hired Chris Henry, Pac Man Jones, Boomer Esiason, Cris Collingsworth, Sam Wyche, Corey Dillon, Carl Pickens, Ki-Jana Carter, Akili Smith, David Klingler, Levi Jones and so many others just seems natural

4) It's not as if Benson's on an NFL team that matters, so suspending him is just kind of fun, really

3) This time, he's sure to learn his lesson, straighten up, fly right, and become a contributing member of society

2) He's going to be out of the league in another 2-3 years, tops, so you've got to get all of the suspending in now

1) He might be gay, a pot smoker, a drunk, a locker room lawyer, a drunken boater, fat and just not very good

Who's Rooting Against The Rays

Tonight in Tampa, James Shields slipped the Rays past a mixed squad of Yankee regulars for yet another win in a September that's been more fun for them than ice cream in bed. Tonight in Baltimore, the exceptionally resilient Orioles -- seriously, Buck Showalter has a gift for ending lost cause years strong -- extended the Worst September Evah in Boston with another gut-busting win. Tonight in Los Angeles, the Rangers finally put the Angles to rest, as Nefty Feliz snuck a fastball past Howie Kendrick to end the Angels' last hope. And after 160 games, the Red Sox and Rays are even, with two games left to decide the American League wild card after the Rangers finally put the Angels to bed.

America loves an underdog, and has spent much of the last 10 years watching Boston Fan wave their ass at us, then turn to tell us about their feelings about waving their ass at us; this should be a slam dunk national wave of approval for the young and freewheeling Rays. But beyond Red Sox Nation, there's another very sizable contingent of people rooting for the Sawx. MLB itself, and every channel that broadcasts the games, buys ads, or sells apparel. Lots of people, really.

Now, here's what's on the line in the last two games of the season: Tens of Millions of Dollars. No, seriously. That's the difference between playoff games in the Tampa market and playoff games in the Boston market, and the simple fact is that Boston Fan does not watch the playoffs when Boston Team isn't in them. (But hey, remember, they are True Fans. Just ask them.)

One of the perks of the current job is that I get to learn things about MLB, as they are a client. And one of those things is that six to eight teams make up over 80% of their income. No, seriously. The ratio is that high, and there's really no reason why there should not be an official tiered system where BOS NYY PHL SF STL LAA CHC NYM play in an 8-game Mega Division where every game is on national television and Dodger Fan pules that Frank McCourt has cost them Tier 1 status, at least until the Bernie Madoff situation boots the Mets.

And sure, there are other mid-market teams with much to say about things. Texas has talent and a payroll, and there's always a team or two on the rise, like Milwaukee, that has a brief turn in the spotlight. But the Top 8 clubs draw the money, are never more than one good off-season away from going back to the playoffs regardless of the quality of their farm systems, and will, in my lifetime, finally get well and truly tired of this revenue sharing system that does nothing for them.

But all of that, of course, is in the future. In the here and now, we have the lovely sight of Boston Fan behaving as if the last decade of unbridled douchebaggery never happened, and How They Have Suffered, and it's all that I can do to keep from trolling Red Sox boards and networks to enjoy the misery. But that's not what I really want to talk about here.

Instead, I want to ask the question that will never, ever be answered, but would make every ounce of sense to an outside perspective with a reasonable understanding that Tens of Millions Of Dollars matter...

Why doesn't MLB have the umpires throw the last two games to make sure Boston stays in, and Tampa stays out?

Because it would destroy the integrity of the game. Because it would be an abomination on every level. Because there's the long-term dream that more than these eight major franchises will draw the money, because they really don't want things to be this top-heavy.

But then again, there's tens of millions of dollars on the table here. And powerful media companies, and multinational corporations, and so on, and so on.

Which tends to make any reasonable person go hmm... especially if the umpiring plays any part of the last two games. (And oh, if St. Louis were the small market team, and Atlanta was the monster? You could start wondering hard about that gift umpire game against the Pirates earlier this year, couldn't you?)

So watch the last two games.

And wonder.

About how a league could ever get to the point where you'd wonder about this...

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Calls You Should Not Get

So with Michael Vick having his non throwing hand broken today, he felt moved to complain about the calls that he doesn't get. This isn't, of course, a new issue, and seems to only come up in moments of great frustration, such as today's loss to the Giants. Here are the money quotes:

“I felt like I got hit late. No flag. Broke my hand. That’s it. Trying to protect myself. Didn’t get a flag. And that’s pretty much been the story for the last three weeks. Obviously, at some point, something catastrophic is going to happen, and I broke my hand.”

“Everybody saw the game. I’m on the ground constantly. All the time. Every time I throw the ball, in all my highlights and just watching film in general, every time I throw the ball, I’m on the ground, getting hit in the head, and I don’t know why I don’t get the 15-yard flags like everybody else does."

“But I’m not going to complain about it, just making everybody aware and hopefully somebody will take notice. The ref has to do their job and I’m not blaming the referees by any stretch, I’m just saying everybody on the field should do their job.”

Well, he's got a point. But let's just call this out for what it is, shall we? There are, basically, five categories of QB in regards to getting a call.

1) Tom Brady and Peyton Manning -- i.e., superstar QBs who don't run, appear in commercials, have been on the scene for 5+ years, and aren't above taking every possible advantage in lobbying the refs. These guys get calls that make neutral fans queasy, and old-time football fans sick.

2) Matt Hasselbeck and Kerry Collins -- Older, non-mobile white QBs who stay in to take hits and/or don't play for particularly good offensive lines. You can also throw in Eli Manning and Philip Rivers here, too. These guys get a few borderline calls, especially at home.

3) Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers -- younger stud QBs who don't run, don't have the same level of commercial attention, and are occasionally mobile, but do have Super Bowl rings to get the benefit of the doubt. In general, they deserve the calls they get.

4) Donovan McNabb and Jasom Campbell -- older black QBs who used to be mobile, but aren't so much anymore, and take the occasional big hit because they aren't as quick as they think they are. They might get a call or two more than they were young, but they are behind the norm.

5) Michael Vick, and perhaps Cam Newton and Vince Young -- athletic black QBs who make plays with their legs and basically are treated as running backs who throw the ball. These are the guys you can pretty much still hit every play, the way that every QB was treated up until about a decade ago.

Now, the simple fact of the matter is that Vick hasn't gone from Tier 5 to Tier 4... and unless there's a remarkable metamorphosis and/or life-threatening situation that more or less martyrs the man and makes him immobile but still effective, he never will. It's the leveling that happens to a great talent or a tough player, and far from unique in athletics. Shaquille O'Neal was fouled on nearly every play of his life in his prime. Bo Jackson took huge hits. Eric Lindros in his prime was held more than any other player in the NHL; so was Mario Lemieux. The refs, when in the presence of a talent that gets to the Unfair Level, tend to level things out. It happens at every level.

Now, here's the really awful part about this, and the thing that no Eagle Fan wants to hear while Vick is the franchise... I don't want to watch football in a world where the Vicks are treated like the Mannings. I'd rather have football go back to what it was like when I grew up, where intimidating the skill players was the red meat vice that is football. But those days aren't coming back.

So why go for a world where Vick dies young? Because defense is damned near impossible to play right now as is, and if everyone got treated like the Tier 1 QBs, the game is going to be unwatchable. (And yes, it's wrong on every level that there's a clear level of racism in who is getting a call on these things -- on some level, I'd like to see Tim Tebow get some run in Denver, just to see if he leads the league in flags drawn. But let's just ignore that elephant in the room right now.)

The game's already dangerously close to pinball right now as is, with a degree of protection and security for skill players that everyone else on the field can only dream of. (Don't believe me? Take a look at the Raiders-Jets game today, where a Woo! Moment happens as a Jets DL is decleated by a lineman on a reverse for TD. Why is hitting a defenseless offensive skill player worth 15, but there is no such thing as a defenseless defensive player?)

I don't really want to see more roughing the passer flags. Just as I don't really want to see more instant replay challenges, or defensive players sacrificing their tackling technique for fear of flags and fines. But that game's not coming back.

And why, exactly, has the NFL gone to this point? Because offense gets ratings, and poor skill players are hard to watch. Consider why every other minor pro football league doesn't get run; there are no Vick-level talents in the CFL, UFL, XFL, Arena Ball Et Al. The powers that be think that pinball games are ratings magnets, but they are missing the point that it's actually artistry, not production.

Which is the clear Catch-22 at the end of all of this. As much money as Vick pulls in when he's on his game, in terms of higher ratings and jersey sales... he's never been the real pinball point guy; per capita, you're better off with Matt Schaub, really, But Schaub's highlights aren't anything like Vick's.

So my guess is that Vick's actually going to start drawing more laundry, assuming he can keep playing through the latest malady in his increasingly brittle body. But if you feel a little disgust in the pit of your stomach, Eagle Fan, as you see these flags come around? That's your conscience. And the knowledge that if Vick were on the other side, you'd want Trent Cole to take his head off without a flag, too...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Top Ten NFL Week 3 Ad Questions

10) If you have a wireless network, does that mean you can just let your pets run loose?

9) If you trade Reggie Bush for a pizza, will the pizza get hurt soon afterward?

8) How did a beer company ever have enough money to hire both Gramatticas?

7) If I shop at Lowe's, will my life go by with alarming speed in a dizzying blur of unlikely dancing?

6) Can someone please arrest Simon Cowell for littering, and then go for wildly aggressive sentencing?

5) If I use Google, will my kids age 10 years in 30 seconds in a Pixar-styled attempt to make me weep for my ever-increasing mortality?

4) If I drink Coors, will Miniature Jim Mora invade my dreams, or just make me question my sanity?

3) What kind of nightmare dystopia does Allstate think I live in, where runaway refs destroy homes and property in a Road Warrior-esque scenario of death and carnage?

2) Why does Ford think that angry Boston doucebaggery sells trucks?

1) Did National make Patrick Stewart go all Queen Mum in his voiceover, or is that just how he talks now?

30 Eagles - Giants Takeaways

30) When your call on third and short is a reverse toss to a wideout, that doesn't exactly speak to confidence in your short yardage running game

29) For the third straight game, the Eagles fell behind early, and for the second straight game, they blew a fourth quarter lead

28) Blue Fan had to achieve orgasm over Steve Smith's day of utter futility

27) If your QB has just been concussed last week, maybe splitting him out wide in an ineffectual WILD!cat isn't the best idea

26) The Fox analysis crew seems to care more about time of possession than scoreboard

25) Kurt Coleman managed to take Casey Matthews off the hook for Worst Defensive Play of the Day in just ten minutes

24) In the second quarter, the Eagles called eight straight running plays, just to give us a taste of what they could actually be if Andy Reid weren't Andy Reid; in a startling coincidence, this was their best quarter of the day

23) In case you had any doubt, the Eagles' best offensive player is LeSean McCoy

22) This game should put to rest the idea that the Eagles defense is elite

21) What Ahmad Bradshaw did to Nate Allen isn't usually seen outside of prison, and Nate's Defensive Rookie of the Month award from last year seems to have come a long, long time ago

20) On fourth and three and going for a kill shot, Blue went for an empty backfield and threw a 1-yard out to Travis Beckum, who decided to just stay down rather than try to get the first down

19) At this point in his career, it's not a question of what position Matthews should play at, it's a question of whether he belongs on the roster at all

18) According to the refs, you can scuffle legally now, at least for one play

17) These teams, you will be surprised to learn, do not like each other

16) McCoy's 11 yard touchdown run brought back memories of Barry Sanders, and made Tom Coughlin hop like a very angry bunny

15) Punting out of bounds isn't such a great idea when it means your punts suck

14) On the first half ending figgie, Vick didn't know it was fourth down, which doesn't exactly fill you with confidence that he was all the way back from the concussion

13) The Wide Nine stance is the clear cause of all good or bad defensive plays by the Eagles defense

12) Fox's analysts were far too happy about a fumble recovery and rush by Jason Peters, rather than the awful ball protection shown by Vick earlier in the play

11) Once again, Green's red zone offense was just shameful

10) So far, that Steve Smith signing is working out just fine for Blue

9) On fourth and one at 40, up 2 with 11 minutes left, with the defense coming off two straight three and outs... Reid went for it because the short yardage running game had been going so well, and he wanted to make sure he had the ability to say he needed to coach better in the post-game press conference

8) Brian Rolle proved, for just one play, that you can defend downfield while wearing Eagles laundry and being listed as a linebacker

7) On the coup d'etat touchdown, Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo believed that sending 10 men at the QB was the right play against a team that likes to throw screen passes

6) With two fourth quarter picks, Mike Kafka's era as Back Up QB Savior lasted just seven days

5) Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes today with a 145 passer rating in breaking the 6-game losing streak to Green, which should buy him at least two days of amnesty from the New York sports media

4) If you had told me that a Giants WR would have 3 TDs against this secondary, I would have thought you were on something that can only be achieved via prescription

3) Now that Vick has been unable to complete two straight games, and is probably done for much more, we can pretty much cement this team's status as Most Disappointing

2) Green had 75 more rushing yards than Green without a big day on the ground from Vick, which seems more than a little impossible

1) While we realize that it's a long season and that it's silly to overreact in September, there's no reason right now to think that Green is a playoff team

When You Are Not Papa Smurf

Part of the continuing Poker Diaries. As always, feel free to bail on these if it's not your cup of degeneracy.

Saturday night, I took up the invite from one of my old friends and poker regulars to come sit in at his friend's game. I probably wouldn't have gone if it weren't for his offer to drive and my kids suddenly coming down with an illness that made leaving the house a little more appealing, especially after a day spent with them. But my buddy went out of his way and I appreciated the gesture, so let's roll.

It was a simple single table setup, with the kind of fun eye-widening talk that you only get at home games. Tournament, then cash, and by the time everything ended, I was chopping the first place prize in the former and taking down a nice little payday in the latter. As we were driving back, my friend told me that it was good to see me win, since the home game hadn't gone that way for me so much this year, and how he feels that everything I've got going on during that game puts me at a disadvantage.

And while I'd like to think this isn't the case, because I play that game more than any other... well, the numbers are with him. I've played poker 20 times in 2011; 13 times at my home, twice at other people's home games, once at a country club tournament, and the rest at casinos. The 35% of the time that I've played outside my home has brought home nearly 80% of my profit for the year.

Now, during a game at my house, I do a lot of things. I prep the room, clean up afterward, pass out rebuys, keep a chip count during the breaks, color up the lower denominations, update the player of the year standings, make sure the money is right... and I've never really felt at a disadvantage from all of this, since I've been so engaged with everything that's going on. I don't ever feel overwhelmed by what I've got to do to run a good game, and I get whatever help I ask for from my regulars.

But, well, then there are the numbers.

Tonight on the big blind in the case game, there were raises before my action, where I held A-K off suit. With 4 callers in front of me and a raise, I doubled the bet and saw three go to the flop. With 2 low hearts and a queen in front of me, I had squat... but ran the value bet continuation bluff that only works if you are able to broadcast power to the rest of the room. Three agonized folds later, I raked the pot as the super-aggro player on my right talked about how smart his A-K laydown was. OK then, sir.

Does this play work at my game? Probably not; I also doubt I even try it, since I've been so conditioned to getting c-bets called, with several any-two-cards players running white hot this year.

So if I run OK in casinos, and I run OK in other people's games... why don't I run OK in my own? Ah, the subtle pleasures of mind trash. Self-generated, like all of it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Giants Are Killing The A's

This has been a long time in coming, and probably really too obvious to write... but can't we just all admit that the San Francisco Giants are doing everything they can to make the Bay Area a one-team town?

First there is the domination of the local media. Second is the cockblocking of the move to San Jose, under the rather nebulous claim that because they have had a single A minor league team for the past few years, it's their territory. (I can tell you from living out there that San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco have about as much in common with each other as Manhattan, Newark and Hartford, CT. And the final and most obvious point is how they've won a Series, and taken out the last barrier to superiority.

There is, of course, nothing "wrong" about the Giants wanting to do this. If the A's were to cease to exist on the local market, that would have to add up to a long-term gain in audience, both at the stadium and over broadcast media. They'd be more or less in the same situation as the Phillies, only without a team for hundreds of miles.

The problem is that what's good for the Giants isn't good for baseball in this case, and it's really not good for the poor players and people that took on rooting for this laundry in better times. And it's not as if this market isn't large enough to support two reasonable franchises, if there were only a credible stadium and media deal.

Instead, they'll either toil on as MLB's resident zombie franchise, with GM Billy Beane consoling himself with the "Moneyball" release or Premier League footie, because those are both far more entertaining than the leaky bucket that is this franchise. If he didn't have equity and, in all likelihood, a parent's desire to not spend all of his waking hours in the office, I'm sure he'd have gone to a place with more possibilities by now. Or maybe he just wants to avoid major market criticism for things like moving out Carlos Gonzalez and Andre Ethier for pennies on the dollar.

Tomorrow morning, I'm hoping to go see "Moneyball", and remember that magical night ten years ago when Scott Hatteberg ended the Royals' attempt to not lose the 20th straight game. It was a filled house, one of the best games I've ever seen, and made me so unbelievably grateful to be an A's fan. And that day will never, ever come again.

The Giants won. And man alive, do I hope they never win again.

Friday, September 23, 2011

When Cheap Heat Fails: The Bad Tooth Falls Out

I'm sure that if you look outside of this site at the rest of Blogfrica, you've already seen this lovely image. It tells you something about my life now that it was posted two days ago, and I'm just seeing it now, filling the blog hole at the end of the week.

And all I can think is that the scales have finally, completely, fallen off my eyes. My blood pressure doesn't rise from this, and I'm not moved to rant. It's more like watching some heel wrestler come out to crickets as he tries every desperate ploy to get booed.

You don't need to watch ESPN, read their magazine, look at their Web site, listen to their podcasts. Ever again. You probably shouldn't. I haven't since June. I'm much happier now that I don't.

You see, my job used to help this kind of behavior. I commuted 16 hours a week, spent another 40 to 45 in my office. And when there wasn't enough to do -- and there wasn't enough to do on many days, because that's just the way the business went -- I would look at, listen to the podcasts, and more or less allow this poison into my mind.

Now, things have changed. So, so, so much for the better.

The day job now is working from my home, in the Man Cave, pinging different designers, looking at statistics, managing the process. When things are slow, as they sometimes are, I do some quick housework, or advance the laundry, or check on the kids' homework. Maybe I listen to some stand up on Pandora, or put my iPod on. But after months of flood work and off-hours writing, I've quit the World Wide Lemur cold turkey.

And when you look back at it now, after so many years of having this burr under your brain... man alive, what a waste.

ESPN is, simply, the Fox News of sports, in that it has a dominant market position and public awareness, but has increasingly little to do with sports. You don't need to watch Fox to know the news; you don't need to watch ESPN to watch sports. You should just go straight to the league networks (I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed the MLB.TV hook up in the last few months) instead, because while those places are clearly PR propaganda of the highest order, at least it's game-centric.

ESPN is all of that, just without game, even when they show the game.

So let them do the same thing as always, but more, in the sports media equivalent of tying off while jerking off, because you just aren't feeling enough shame from the old ways. In another couple of years, maybe they'll just take the regional network approach to the final level, and just have the on-air talent take on accents, and stop showing any out of market highlight, or introduce the major market only fantasy leagues.

Go for it, boys. Best of luck.

I'm done with you, have been done with you for months, and don't miss you at all. You used to be great, but that was over half of my life ago, and those days aren't ever coming back. You aren't necessary to my enjoyment of sports; in fact, you actively ruin it. So who needs you?

Top 10 reasons why the NBA is postponing training camp

10) The union hasn't agreed to a revenue split of none

9) After 84 days of lockout, it seems a shame to not go for 100

8) Just became aware that they actually have training camps

7) Want to really jerk around the 48 people who play fantasy basketball

6) Know that, thanks to the continued dilution of the college game, there aren't really any rookies of consequence this year anyway

5) The Celtics and Lakers told the NBA they didn't want it, and it's not as if anything happens without their say-so

4) Wouldn't want anything to distract from those Rucker games everyone's enjoying so much

3) Would distract from all of the top pro action in Turkey

2) Only have eyes for the WNBA finals, which is actually happening, I think

1) Having a training camp would imply that there's going to be a season, or that the league still actually exists

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Week 3 NFL Picks: A Shocking Outburst Of Profit

Great googly moogly, we had a week here at the old pickatorium. Any number of half point covers, a slam dunk upset grab that the world missed with the Titans taking out the Ravens, and some significant cash. If this sort of thing keeps up, people might actually think I know something. So let's get right to proving that entirely wrong, shall we?

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

NEW ENGLAND at Buffalo (+9)

Oh, it's been a fine year for fantasy point pushers. Between the Lions coming through with late round goodness and the Bills giving top-tier QB play out of the fungible Ryan Fitzpatrick, it's been pinball all over, and this week in Buffalo will be no exception. The Patriots haven't shown any great gain from their highly drafted defense, and the Bills just got gashed by Jason Campbell, for heaven's sake. The 50.5 point over is a cinch, and while the Patriots will miss TE Aaron Hernandez, the skill position talent doesn't matter that much when the line keeps QB Tom Brady clean, and they face little resistance.

Patriots 34, Bills 24

San Francisco at CINCINNATI (-3)

Last week in San Francisco, Niners rookie coach Jim Harbaugh was faced with a short fourth down at the Cowboys 38, up a touchdown in the early part of the fourth quarter. Rolling the dice with new kicker David Akers, he watched his new acquisition drill a career long of 55 yards straight and true for a 10 point lead... only to find laundry on the play. Dallas was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for an illegal launch maneuver to try to block the kick, a 15 yard penalty. At this point, Harbaugh had three options.

1) Take the penalty and restart the drive at the Cowboys 23

2) Keep the points and kick off from midfield, or

3) Stick his thumb up his butt and do a little dance

Harbaugh took option 2, which is to say option 3. Then he watched Tony Romo come off the bench to lead a heroic comeback and overtime win... that would, of course, not had been at all possible if he had taken the penalty and ran more time off the clock.

On the road in Cincy, against a defense that's showing some friskiness and an offense that's not missing Carson Palmer at all, he's going to have to actually manage to win, not lose. It's going to work about as well as that penalty call. And if you don't think that decisions like that can lose the locker room, especially for a franchise that's been down for years and still is trying to wet nurse Alex Smith into a winning experience... well, um, no.

Bengals 24, Niners 16

MIAMI at Cleveland (-3)

Two franchises on the uptick, though you won't know it by the skill positions or won-loss records. I'm going with the road team because I think this is one of those games where Chad Henne doesn't seem totally useless, and the 0-2 team needs it more than the 1-1 team, even on the road. Besides, the Browns have no one who can contain WR Brandon Marshall, which is going to lead to opportunities for WR Davone Bess, too.

Dolphins 24, Browns 20

DENVER at Tennessee (-7)

Just too big of a line for a Titans team that looked awful in Week One, then shocked the world with a stuff job of the slumming Ravens last week. RB Chris Johnson is still struggling, QB Matt Hasselbeck won't have as much time as last week, and WR Kenny Britt won't run roughshod over CB Champ Bailey. Besides, I like WR Brandon Lloyd's chances for a nice bounce-back game against CB Cortland Finnegan, who might be one of the more overrated players in the NFL. The Titans will win, but not cover.

Titans 24, Broncos 20

DETROIT at Minnesota (+4)

The new darlings of the NFC North go to the 0-2 Vikings, who are going through the second year of imported big name fossil QB in the fretful waste of RB Adrian Peterson's prime. Minny might be desperate enough to put forward a good effort, but the Lions' defensive line will get to QB Donovan McNabb early and often, and it's hard right now to see how QB Matthew Stafford isn't going to get to 30+ points, even on the road in a loud dome.

Lions 34, Vikings 20

Houston at NEW ORLEANS (-4)

The Texans have raced off to a 2-0 start and the presumptive lead in the AFC South, but they step up in class in a big way with this road test in the bayou. The Saints roared back to .500 with a dismantling of the Bears, and they'll do much the same to the Texans, who have looked better than they are due to weak competition. And while the Texans are better on defense this year than last (a lot better, actually), they aren't ready for this kind of test yet. Oh, and RB Ben Tate isn't going to sneak up on anyone this week, either.

Saints 31, Texans 20


This one's purely for the brave of heart, as no one knows whether QB Michael Vick will play or not... and I'm taking the home team either way. There's a reason why the G Men are 0-6 in their last half dozen tries against the Birds, and that reason is that they can't cover the wideouts, and haven't been able to generate 60 minutes of defensive pressure. I'm not sure either of these things change regardless of who is behind center, and on the other side of the ball, QB Eli Manning is going to miss TE Kevin Boss and WR Steve Smith something fierce, though they will run the ball well. Oh, and kudos to Green for finally accepting reality and moving LB Jamar Cheney to the middle. He's not that great, but at least he's not an open sieve, either.

Eagles 27, Giants 21

Jacksonville at CAROLINA (-3.5)

Finally a win for QB Cam Newton, who has put up big numbers out of nowhere for the Panthers, who get a winnable home game against an awful Jaguars team that looked completely lost in New York against the Jets. Look for WR Steve Smith to keep up his crushing recovery year, and for RB Maurice Jones-Drew to continue to toil into obsolescence.

Panthers 26, Jaguars 13

NY JETS at Oakland (+3.5)

There's something awful about taking the Jets on the road in Oakland with a backup C against a fierce DL... but eventually the line will get worn down, and then the secondary will look as kitten-soft as they did in that inexcusable second half collapse against the Bills. The Raiders actually match up well with the Jets, and RB Darren McFadden is going to crank up another 120+ yards of combined yards... but this team isn't good enough to beat a playoff team while giving up their usual dozen back-breaking penalties.

Jets 23, Raiders 17

BALTIMORE at St. Louis (+3.5)

Here comes the anger game for Baltimore, who will take advantage of the injury-ravaged Rams offense and inadequate red zone performance for a straight up punking of the reeling Rams. It doesn't hurt at all that the Rams have the short week, and that the Ravens are actually better on a fast track than you might imagine for an AFC North power team. This line might be the bargain of the week; Baltimore won't screw the pooch for two weeks in a row.

Ravens 27, Rams 20

Kansas City at SAN DIEGO (-15)

An immense line for a flawed home favorite, but the Chiefs are just that awful right now, and the Chargers are going to come in angry after last week's loss in New England. As for the Chiefs, if they simply get through 60 minutes without having a player leave on a cart, it'll be their best game of the year.

Chargers 31, Chiefs 10

GREEN BAY at Chicago (+4)

The Packers are 2-0 but with a deficient defense. The Bears are 1-1 and with an offensive line that's going to get their QB killed, and with a QB that many want dead anyway. In a case like this, give me the team with the higher ceiling, and that's the defending Super Bowl champions. But it's high time they showed more of their potential.

Packers 28, Bears 21

ARIZONA at Seattle (+3.5)

This Cardinals team can't stop the pass, which makes playing in Seattle against QB Tarvaris Jackson an absolute godsend. Look for the road team to have another sneaky good line from QB Kevin Kolb, who is settling in quite nicely in the desert, and for the Seahwaks to welcome WR Sidney Rice with 80 yards of well-compensated irrelevance. Oh, Sidney. I just hope you are still good when you finally escape Tarvaris.

Cardinals 31, Seahawks 20

Atlanta at TAMPA BAY (-1)

One of the best games on the docket this week. Give me the home Bucs, just because the Falcons don't travel well, and the Bucs finally got their running game moving last week in Minnesota. But realistically, this game will come down to whatever team avoids the two turnovers that the winning defense will generate.

Buccaneers 26, Falcons 24

Pittsburgh at INDIANAPOLIS (+11)

The SNF game that NBC would love to flex out will actually be a little closer than advertised, simply because the Colts are desperate, with a little more time to get QB Kerry Collins acclimated, and the Steelers might just sleep a little on this game, seeing how the Colts have looked just absolutely feeble so far. It won't be a pretty cover, but it will be a cover nonetheless.

Steelers 19, Colts 10


Oh, dear Lord, are we really going to see the Rex Grossman Redskins go to 3-0, and suffer a week's worth of ESPN twaddle about how he's matured into a winner? Well, yes, because the Skins have a defense, a running game, and the benefit of the Niner defense injuring any number of Cowboy skill players. But even if Mssrs. Romo, Austin and Jones somehow do play and play well, these teams also stay tight... and it's a night game, with a national audience. Don't you like your chances of the Cowboys choking up that kind of game regardless?

Redskins 23, Cowboys 20

Last week: 12-3-1

2011-12: 20-9-3

Career: 427-414-18

Today in Uninformed Punditry

So what's filling other people's blogholes right now is whether or not Michael Vick should start for my laundry this Sunday against the Giants. And because this is the kind of decision that you don't need to have any kind of knowledge at all to weigh in about, it's the perfect grist, really.

Now, far be it from me to deride how anyone else gets traffic, seeing how I mostly don't. But before we get too far into this, a simple question...

Are any of you people doctors?

(and, a follow up)

Are any of you people Michael Vick?

Show of hands? Yeah, didn't think so.

See, the problem with having an opinion on this is that You Don't Know Squat. Same as me, really. I don't know what Vick's baseline brain patterns look like; after a couple of those turnovers against the Falcons on SNF, I wasn't sure he had any *before* getting hurt, let alone after. If he plays this week against the Giants, I'll do the same thing I do for every other game he plays: cross my fingers and hope for a win and health. It's kind of the deal here.

But to tie his playing time into a greater tale of how the Eagles are concussion fiends that rush back players, or how the QB has no long-term survival instincts, or that the team is desperate to live up to expectations, living in fear of the Giants pass rush, ready to transition to the Mike Kafka Experience...

Well, um, it's quite likely bullsquat, and even if it isn't, there's no reason to go into psychoanalysis about it. So can we just go waste our time in some other way?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

One Small Point In Re The Eagles Miss Kevin Kolb Meme

Um... you do realize that the team actually got something for him, right? And that the presence of that guy (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who admittedly has not looked like a Pro Bowler in the first two games) has actually helped a bit, in that it means less Joselio Hanson in your life?

And, um... what exactly would Kevin Kolb have done in relief of Mike Vick on Sunday night that Mike Kafka didn't do, with the possible exception of will Jeremy Maclin into making that fourth down catch that would have kept the game alive?

The devil's bargain that is Life With Vick is that your QB isn't going to take every snap; you will be lucky if he takes 75% of them, and 100% of the playoff ones. The amount of time you can expect him to miss (2 to 4 games) is significant, but in a weak division with a roster that's littered with playmakers on both side of the ball, and an experienced coaching staff, the difference between an exceptional backup QB and an ordinary one is, at most, one game. Compare that to the impact of a quality CB3 in a league where every good team has threats down to the 5-wide level, and it's not close. Either DRC is going to be more valuable to the Eagles this year than Kolb, or the Eagles are going to have a terrible year. No middle ground.

So if you'd like to put the toothpaste back in the tube and wish Kolb back on the roster... just stop it already. This offensive line got Kolb concussed in less than a half in his first game; it wasn't going to get a lot better over time. And as useful as Kolb has looked so far in two games in Cardinal Red, he was going to be a turnover machine at nearly the same rate that Vick's been here. Just without the same number of back-breaking wow plays.

This week, Vick will either test out enough to play against a Giants team that looks a lot like the Falcons team that just sneaked out a home win, only without the same talent at tight end, and a better ground game. If Kafka or Vince Young answers the bell, it'll be the same offense, because Andy Reid will never, ever call running plays, regardless of the talents of his personnel. And the game will be decided in the trenches, specifically as to whether Green's highly suspect LBs can keep Blue's run game to under 200 yards.

And no, Kevin Kolb wouldn't make a difference either way. So let's just move on, shall we?

Top 12 takeaways from the Full Tilt Poker mess

12) If you think that the government is too incompetent to run a poker game instead of these guys, you must not have ever heard of the lottery

11) That clicking sound you just heard is brick and mortar casinos rubbing their hands together in glee

10) We are supposed to feel very, very bad for famous poker players who got paid huge bank to front for thieves

9) Players who were defrauded are bound to stop bitching about this in just a couple of decades

8) In case you want to blame the Obama Administration for this alone, it was the Bushies who drove payment to the black market in 2007 by going after the financial companies

7) Since Howard Lederer is also in hot water over this, and the sister of Annie Duke, maybe the feds can go for a group family rate and give us a silver lining after all

6) Your home game just got more popular, and with wildly aggro players with even worse skin than your regulars

5) There are literally hundreds of guys who now won't be able to make the basement rent payment to Mom

4) Had the online poker sites only had the foresight to get into the mortgage business, there would have been federal bailouts rather than indictments

3) This is totally going to make the final table at the next WSOP Main Event be comprised of a bunch of guys you've never seen before

2) It's a remarkable story, if only for the fact that white men with money are getting prosecuted in the United States

1) We are shocked, shocked to discover that when you combine gambling with offshore companies and the Internet, something untoward might have been going on

Monday, September 19, 2011

Top 12 MNF Giants - Rams Takeaways

12) Starting 0-2 does not, in any way, hurt the Rams' drive to "win" the NFC West

11) It's really OK if you didn't watch, since this one had all of the electricity of Preseason Game Four

10) Even without Stephen Jackson and Danny Amendola, the Rams moved the ball up and down the field, because the Giants' secondary is just that hurt

9) The true breakout star of the Rams offense is kicker Josh Brown, because the Rams' red zone offense is just that poor

8) One of these years, DJ Ware is finally going to get those extra carries that Tom Coughlin always tells him he's going to get

7) As if there were any doubt, Giant Fan marked out for Lawrence Taylor, because they don't much care about tabloid this and rape that

6) The Rams have any number of WRs that would make you wonder if the UFL doesn't have more talent than this

5) For a double-digit home win where they led all night, the Giants subjected QB Eli Manning to a surprising number of big hits

4) St. Louis had good success in the first half in the no huddle, which of course meant that they didn't use it very often

3) Mercifully, the Giants killed the clock at the end of the game, allowing us all to get away from the awful MNF broadcast crew a little early

2) When you watch Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz drop third down balls, you realize just how much this team is going to miss Steve Smith and Kevin Boss

1) If you didn't fall asleep on this game, you either had money on it or have a lot of affinity for the laundry

FTT Off-Topic: First World Price, Third World Service

This last week, I had to take the kids in for shots. The eldest is damn near phobic of them, so it's always a challenge; she tends to freak out at the last second and twitch, which makes the whole thing worse. The youngest isn't as bad, but it's not exactly a fun experience. So be it. The reason why I was able to take the kids in was that I work from home now, with new medical coverage, and huzzah for all of that. The job transition means that I got new cards and fell off my schedule for a physical; normally I try to do this closer to my birthday, which is in June. So I stop by the receptionist station to get on my doctor's schedule. I can be here at any time, but it's not urgent. So when's the first available date?

Not in September. Well, sure. Who expects to be seen in less than two weeks?

Not in October. I guess he must give good physical.

Not in November. How presumptuous of me, to see my doctor in under two months.

Not in December. Well, the holidays are important. I hope there's nothing very wrong with me, since that would be a heck of a Christmas present.

January? Well, what's another month between friends. Besides, going outside in January is dangerous.

February? Now we're talking. Groundhog Day, or just 139 days after I scheduled the appointment, I get to have a physical.

Which leaves me with just one question.

Why, exactly, are we as a nation tolerating the relentless penetration without lube that is our insurance company riddled health care system?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Top 21 Eagles - Falcons Takeaways

21) Rex Grossman is the undefeated QB of the NFC East division leaders, which is one of those reasons why your old relatives idea that these are the End Times might not be wrong

20) NBC told the Falcons to go back to being a limited run-first team, as if this was going to be any kind of a bad idea against the Eagles run defense

19) Andy Reid actually won a challenge, and the world didn't end or nothing

18) NBC covered Brent Celek's injury as if he were actually fantasy relevant

17) For the second straight week, the Eagles fell behind early in a loud dome and didn't seem to care

16) Steve Smith looks awfully spry for a guy that should be on a PUP list

15) LeSean McCoy has a clear knack for drawing face mask penalties

14) It's scary just how much better this team is at run blocking than pass blocking

13) There's not much evidence that Mike Vick knew which team he was playing for tonight

12) The Eagles are the best defense you have ever seen that do not have a single useful linebacker or safety

11) The replay booth officials really wanted the on the field guys to enjoy their work for no reason tonight

10) Jason Peters blocked a CB 30 yards off the line of scrimmage on a touchdown run, ensuring his next Pro Bowl nomination

9) For the second straight year, Dunta Robinson showed he's better at Human Cannonball than playing cornerback

8) If you can figure out why Atlanta would defend wide on a first and goal at the 2 with Mike Kafka at QB, rather than sell out to stop the run, you are smarter than me

7) Atlanta Fan was angrier with a QB that threw 4 TDs in a game than you've ever heard

6) We've proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt. that Alex Henery is not Sebastian Janikowski

5) Jason Babin had a drive where he committed three penalties and reminded everyone that he is, in fact, Not Nearly As Good As Trent Cole

4) You really don't want to commit penalties on point afters now, since they make the automatic touchback into an automatic touchback

3) For all of the good that Jeremy Maclin did tonight, the only thing that anyone is going to remember is his game ending drop

2) If you can figure out this result, with the yards earned, turnovers, schizophrenic defense and 4 TD passes given up, you are better than me

1) This wasn't exactly the homecoming Mike Vick envisioned

Top 10 Week 2 NFL Ad Questions

10) If I shop for video games at Wal-Mart as part of my dead-end existence, do I have to also have slacker friends who break and enter my home?

9) Will Jennifer Lopez always perform a dance routine when she's pulled from her car by mobs of femme dancers, and how exactly does this sell cars again?

8) Will the creepy E*Trade baby ever grow the hell up?

7) Do I have to be an uberbitch to appreciate breakfasts from McDonald's?

6) Are horror movie trailers required to have that drag away moment in commercials now?

5) Is anyone else disturbed by how easily it is to believe Deion Sanders is a fairy?

4) Was anyone really waiting for Simon Cowell to come back to television?

3) When sharks are in a focus group, are they paid for their time in the meat of people who have eaten a Snickers?

2) If I drink Bud Light, will my friends arrange for me to suffer grievous harm, beyond the fact that I'm drinking Bud Light?

1) Does drinking Corona make you hallucinate, and if so, why is this a selling point?

Top 10 NFL Week 2 Takeaways

10) Your best offensive play in 2011 might be just to let a defender take a free run at your QB, since there appears to be no way to tackle him that isn't a 15-yard flag

9) Much to the chagrin of fantasy football twerps, Rex Grossman remains a turnover machine, which is to say he remains Rex Grossman

8) With their second straight win, the Lions are hotter than they have been at any other point in this century

7) Now that Terrell Owens is out of the league, there is no player that attracts more sideline coverage than Jay Cutler

6) After two weeks, the Steelers and Ravens are tied for first in the AFC North, because Baltimore tends to forget that all of the games on the schedule count

5) Cam Newton is looking like the next great fantasy QB that doesn't actually win in real life

4) There is some truth to the rumor that the Bears OL just lets Jay Cutler get sacked because they hate him so much

3) With Jamal Charles and Arian Foster both going down, we might have set a record for fantasy owner howling

2) I, for one, welcome our new Detroit Overlords

1) You can watch football for a very long time without seeing a game-winning touchdown that was as easy as what the Bills did to the Raiders

Friday, September 16, 2011

2011 NFL Week 2 Picks: The 3-Ring Circus Of Shame

I have three areas of concern every week when it comes to the NFL. The first and foremost is my laundry, the Eagles. The second and not nearly as important emotionally, but still pretty damned taxing, is my fantasy team, which might be the worst team I've ever had, and yet, I'm still not ready to throw in the towel and start preparing for next year. And the last is these picks, which mostly shame me when they are below .500, and at least give me the great out of blaming the timing of the column on things. Had I only known that... well, um, no. There were no last-minute developments to blame last week, no sudden injury moments to disturb my play. Instead, it just went two games over .500, enough to cover the vig and not much more, with the only super whiff coming at the game I attended, where the Rams got dinged early and often before missing the spread by a bunch. A game I was happy to be wrong about, of course.

This week, we get to see which of last year's good teams that stank in Week 1 just had a bump in the road, and which are in a world of hurt. We also get to see if the Bears are for real, if Oakland can start with two road wins, and if the Redskins are really the third-worst team in the NFC East. And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

OAKLAND at Buffalo (-3.5)

Buffalo put up 42 on the shockingly lifeless Chiefs last week on the road, while Oakland slowly but surely overcame a sea of penalties to choke out the Broncos at home. Neither of these old-time AFC powers is any real threat to win a playoff game, but it's nice to see them both give their fan bases a sign of life. This one will come down to whether or not the Bills' imported defense can make the Raiders throw it, and if their offensive line can give Ryan Fitzpatrick enough time to exploit the Raider secondary. Fitzy is mobile enough to stay alive in this one, and the Raiders give back too many plays via the ref, for the home team to lose. But they won't cover.

Bills 24. Raiders 21

Kansas City at DETROIT (-8.5)

Everyone's favorite emerging power gets a cupcake home game against the Chiefs, who were absolutely hammered last week at home. The Lions pulled off the upset in Tampa in a game that wasn't as close as the final score, and between the good signs generated by Matthew Stafford and the entertaining violence that this defensive line can do, there's a lot to like in Motown. Irrational excitement lies ahead.

Lions 31, Chiefs 17

Baltimore at TENNESSEE (+6.5)

The upset of the week comes in this classic trap game in the Music City, where Chris Johnson gashes the surprisingly vulnerable Ravens defense, which will be thinking a little too much of itself after that 7-turnover fluke game against Pittsburgh last week. This is why Baltimore can't have nice things.

Titans 24, Ravens 20

CLEVELAND at Indianapolis (+3)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen; the Colts are now home dogs to a team that just lost to Bruce Gradkowski at home, mostly because they forgot to play defense at the start of a snap. As much as I'd like to be contrarian here and think the Colts have a little pride or a dead cat bounce to them, I just can't. Peyton Hillis is the only guy on this field that will make anyone happy, and that includes all of the players.

Browns 20, Colts 16

TAMPA BAY at Minnesota (-3)

One of those Vegas Has No Idea games. Do you take the Vikings, who threw for less yards than one Sebastian Janikowski field goal last week, or the Bucs, who fell behind early, abandoned the running game and looked nothing like last year's band of plucky overachievers? Give me the road team, who should benefit from the aging and crumbling Williams Wall finally paying for the StarCaps follies. Besides, the only reason the Vikings covered at all last week was the Chargers having hopeless special teams. I'm looking for 100 yards of anger from LeGarrete Bloint this week, which is only 85 more than he had last.

Bucs 20, Vikings 16

Chicago at NEW ORLEANS (-7)

Well, OK then: let's try this again, shall we? Chicago's got a bad offensive line, had their kickoff special teams neutered, and isn't as good as advertised on defense. Of course, I said all of this last week, when they went out and crushed the Falcons. But this week, they face a Saints team with extra rest, that needs a win something awful, and is just better than them in any number of ways. I'm also not a big fan of this Bears team on the road, on a fast surface. The number looks high, but the Saints are going to cover it easily.

Saints 34, Bears 20

Jacksonville at NEW YORK JETS (-9)

I kind of hate this line. The Jets were beyond lucky to win last week, with only Tony Romo being able to save them from a pass-rush-free day against the Cowboys' suspect line. But I just can't pull the trigger with this Jaguars team, who define underwhelming even when they win. Besides, this is just not a great matchup for them; the way to beat the Jets is to play 3 and 4 WRs, spread the field and go for surgery. Jacksonville's not even sure that you are allowed to employ that many WRs.

Jets 26, Jaguars 13

Seattle at PITTSBURGH (-14.5)

Beware an angry old defense at home, with something to prove, against a team with a terrible offense that doesn't travel well. Even under the best of circumstances, this wasn't a good assignment for Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks, but with WR1 Sidney Rice still sidelined and not nearly enough going on in the running game, this one could get ugly. Besides, the Steelers aren't going to turn it over like that again for a long time.

Steelers 24, Seahawks 6

ARIZONA at Washington (-4)

OK, the Cardinals pass defense is awful... but Cam Newton made some plays in the game, and it still wound up as a 7-point home win, with a goal-line stand to close it out. Meanwhile on the other side of things. Big Red moved the ball well and left points on the board with a red zone turnover on a fumbled flip and missed chip shot figgie. From what I saw of this one, Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb looked like Kurt Warner II with his quick release and ability to get rid of the ball against and odd-man rush. On the road against a DC team that isn't as good as they looked against the Giants, they'll do more than cover. Expect something of a shootout here.

Cardinals 34, Redskins 24

GREEN BAY at Carolina (+10)

The Pack come in with extra rest, a whole of tape that show them to be careful, and the game's best offense. Carolina's also missing do-everything LB Jon Beason, which means this game is just going to be a matter of Pick Your Doom when it comes to trying to slow down Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers likes Pick Your Doom. A lot.

Packers 34, Panthers 17

DALLAS at San Francisco (+3)

An overreaction line to the Romo Collapse; it's not as if the Niners are actually good or something. The disturbing thing for Cowboy Haters is that their line actually looks competent, because the skill players were never the problem here. At least, so long as the game isn't against a playoff-caliber opponent, or matters very much in the long run. Romo's going to get back some fantasy goodness in this one.

Cowboys 28, Niners 17

CINCINNATI at Denver (-3.5)

The Bengals have a better secondary than you might think, some pluck, and patience in the running game. The Broncos have a gimping Brandon Lloyd, no running game at all to speak of, and a fan base that's anxious to start the #3 QB Era, because Denver Fan is surprisingly religious and wants to get their Tim Tebow on, and fast. They'll get their wish soon enough. But not this week.

Broncos 24, Bengals 21

HOUSTON at Miami (-3)

Man, I can't get enough of this line. The Texans have an extra day of rest, are just better, and didn't miss a beat with Arian Foster on the sideline last week. Score another week where the AFC South opens up wide for the Houston club.

Texans 27, Dolphins 17

SAN DIEGO at New England (-7)

Just too big of a number. especially when the opponent has tons of quality weapons. I realize that it's a long roadie, but this line is just too big for a team that just gave up 400+ yards passing to Chad Henne. Possible playoff preview here.

Patriots 34, Chargers 30

PHILADELPHIA at Atlanta (+3)

From watching it up close last week, you can't imagine how much a healthy Michael Vick saps the life out of an opponent; just a few How Did He Do That moments, and the defense just doesn't want to speed rush him any more. The Falcons are better than they looked last week in Chicago, but under the SNF lights and with way too many Vick Lovers in the stands, it's not going to show.

Eagles 31, Falcons 24

St Louis at NY GIANTS (-7)

Wow, what a terrible Week 1 for the Rams. They lose their best WR, RB and QB all in the same game, and their defense gets gashed as well. They might recover from it, but not on the road under the lights against an 0-1 Giants team that can rush the passer.

Giants 23, Rams 13

Last Week: 8-6-2

2011-12: 8-6-2

Career: 415-411-17

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