Friday, September 30, 2005

NFL Week 4: Flip a Coin

Sorry, Sandlot readers, but this one's gonna be short. Tonight's my 10th wedding anniversary, so Mrs. Sandman gets my undivided attention, and you all get what's left of a typically useless Friday afternoon at work. BTW, in Sandman's Socialist Paradise, the work week ends on Thursday so every weekend's a three-day snooze-fest. On with the (abbreviated) picks:

Buffalo at San Antonio (neƩ New Orleans)
I don't trust Buffalo on the road for one minute, and the Saints will be fired up for something resembling a home crowd. Saints 24, Bills 10

Detroit at Tampa Bay
The Cadillac rolls on. Bucs 34, Lions 13

Indianapolis at Tennessee
The Colts are a better team than the Rams, but Tenn's at home... (flipping a coin) Heads, Indy. Colts 17, Titans 13

San Diego at New England
All hail the champs. Patriots 27, Chargers 20

Seattle at Washington
I'm not taking Seattle on the road unless someone spots me three touchdowns first. Redskins 23, Seahawks 18

St. Louis at New York Giants
The Rams suck eggs in the Meadowlands. Giants 38, Rams 23

Denver at Jacksonville
Yeah, I remember week one in Miami, suckers. Jaguars 31, Broncos 20

Houston at Cincinnati
The Bengals are going to be 4-0. (cue Michael Stipe "That's great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane...") Bengals 41, Texans 10

New York Jets at Baltimore
The battle of two teams without quarterbacks (Zzzzzzzz!) Ravens 9, Jets 3

Philadephia at Kansas City
McNabb hurt at Arrowhead? Uhhh, gimme KC, please. Chiefs 24, Eagles 17

Minnesota at Atlanta
Whoever's doing NFL scheduling has a sick sense of humor. Falcons 70, Vikings 3

Dallas at Oakland
Heads, Dallas; Tails, Oakland... (flipping coin) Raiders 20, Cowboys 14

San Francisco at Arizona
Does it even matter? Niners 17, Cardinals 6

Green Bay at Carolina
I'd feel a lot better about my schadenfreude at the Packers' misery if the Vikings didn't stink like a dead skunk. Panthers 27, Packers 13

Last week: 10-4
Season record: 27-19 (.587)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

NFL Week 3: Desperate Times

Well, so much for Chris Carpenter winning the Cy Young. Another reason that I love the NFL is that Sunday's weekly angst over my teams' latest self-destruction distracts me from the baseball Cardinals annual post-season collapse. It's always something: Vince Coleman, Don Denkinger, Jack The Gimper, the Heftybagdome, the 3-1 Atlanta collapse, losing Daryl Kile, the Scott Rolen collision I, Carpenter's nerve damage, the Scott Rolen collision II...and the Cubs think they're cursed? Being a sports fan is like having a chronic disease, and since misery loves company, you all get me NFL week 3 picks:

Atlanta at Buffalo
It's games like this that make picks so challenging. Each team played well at home in week one, then stunk it up on the road in week two. I think I'm giving Buffalo the home edge, but this game could go either way. Bills 21, Falcons 20

Cincinnati at Chicago
Lots of folks jumping on both these bandwagons. Cincy won't light up the Bears defense, but likewise, the Bears don't have enough offense to overcome a Marvin Lewis coached defense. Bengals 24, Bears 14

Tampa Bay at Green Bay
This one's gonna be really ugly for Packers fans. Buccaneers 34, Packers 13

Cleveland at Indianapolis
Does anyone really think that, in the scheme of things, Trent Dilfer will have two good weeks while Peyton Manning will have two bad weeks? I sure don't. Colts 45, Browns 16

Tennessee at St. Louis
Let's ask Jeff Fisher how he feels about coaching in the Jones Dome. I like the Rams at home by at least seven points, but who knows? Mike Martz could find several new and different ways to screw up what should be an easy win. Rams 24, Titans 17

Carolina at Miami
Same problem as Atlanta/Buffalo, but I think Carolina's defense makes the difference in a low-scoring game. Panthers 17, Dolphins 9

New Orleans at Minnesota
Everything about the Vikings screams "desperation, must-win game." I know I'm biased when it comes to the Purple Ones, but I've got a strong gut feeling that Daunte's gonna have a big game against a tired and demoralized the-city-formerly-known-as-New-Orleans team. It won't be easy or pretty, but these guys have to play like their jobs depend on it, because they do. I think they will. Vikings 28, Saints 24

Jacksonville at New York Jets
Another coin flip. Leftwich might not play for the Jags, which raises scoring concerns for them. At the same time, can we expect Chad Pennington to play any better against the Jags defense than Peyton did? Probably not. Jaguars 23, Jets 19

Oakland at Philadelphia
After Oakland starts 0-3, maybe we'll stop hearing about what a difference-maker Randy Moss is. Look for the Eagles defense to shut him down just as they did in the NFC Divisional playoffs last winter. Eagles 31, Raiders 13

Dallas at San Francisco
Bill Parcells is pissed. No, really. Bill Parcells is pissed. Cowboys 27, 49ers 6

Arizona at Seattle
Until the Cardinals patch up an offensive line that looks like a Louisiana levee, Kurt Warner might want to consider some additional medical insurance. Arizona's certainly capable of winning this game, and Holmgren's certainly capable of coughing one up, but I'm not putting my pick on it. Seahawks 24, Cardinals 14

New England at Pittsburgh
Lots of experts expect NE to "bounce back" with this game. Huh? Carolina just showed the rest of the NFL how to beat the Pats: run up the middle and control the ball with a short passing game. Just so happens that the hallmark of the Steelers' offensive scheme is running up the middle and possession passing. Add in a tough Pittsburgh defense, a delirious home-field crowd and AFC Championship revenge, all the ingredients are there for a big home win. Steelers 31, Patriots 17

New York Giants at San Diego
The Giants aren't as good as they look, and San Diego's not as bad as they've looked. I'm sticking with the home team for the ESPN game. Chargers 23, Giants 20

Kansas City at Denver
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know how hard it is to play in Denver. The only problem is that Denver stinks. They have a porous defense, a certified mental case at QB and a head coach who looks like a prime candidate for spontaneous human combustion. I look for the KC offense to have a big-time scoring festival while the improved defense takes out last seasons frustrations on a certain reptile in the backfield. Chiefs 38, Broncos 20

Baltimore, Detroit, Houston and Washington

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

NFL Week Two post-mortem

Detroit at Chicago
My pick: Bears 13, Lions 6
Actual score: Bears 38, Lions 6
Well, so I was half right, at least. With the rest of the NFC North sucking eggs this year, Chicago can win the division by default. Oh, how I wish we could have shipped Martz to Chicago and kept Lovie in St. Louis…

Minnesota at Cincinnati
My pick: Bengals 31, Vikings 17
Actual score: Bengals 37, Vikings 8
I realized, in horror, that my Yahoo fantasy football team had autodrafted Culpepper as my starting quarterback. I dropped him faster than the government can award a huge no-bid contract to Halliburton. Mike Tice’s firing I give an over/under of Week Six, and we might have to start thinking about winning the Matt Leinart sweepstakes in the next draft.

Baltimore at Tennessee
My pick: Ravens 17, Titans 9
Actual score: Titans 25, Ravens 10
This pick is my own fault for not realizing that Baltimore didn’t have a quarterback to start the game. Duh!

Jacksonville at Indianapolis
My pick: Colts 42, Jaguars 20
Actual score: Colts 10, Jaguars 3
Kudos to the Colts defense for actually winning a game that the offense couldn’t. Experts made a big deal about the Jags playing the Colts tough, and they were right in this case. Manning will have to make adjustments to win at Jacksonville later this year.

San Francisco at Philadelphia
My pick: Eagles 27, 49ers 16
Actual score: Eagles 42, 49ers 3
Wow, so much for the decline of the Eagles, huh? They regain their spot as the NFC favorite to go to the Superbowl.

Buffalo at Tampa Bay
My pick: Buccaneers 21, Bills 17
Actual score: Buccaneers 19, Bills 3
It’s bad news for the rest of the league that Tampa has re-established both their power running game and their stifling defense. Can we call it “Return of Chucky”?

New England at Carolina
My pick: Patriots 24, Panthers 10
Actual score: Panthers 27, Patriots 17
So Belichek and Brady are actually human? So their defense, without Tedi Bruschi in the middle, has trouble stopping the power running game? Carolina has just shown the rest of the league how to beat these guys. Let’s get busy!

Pittsburgh at Houston
My pick: Steelers 31, Texans 13
Actual score: Steelers 27, Texans 7
It’s about as close as I thought it would be, which was not at all. Teams looking for a defensive coordinator (hello, Minnesota?) should take note: Dom Capers will probably be available next year. As of now, the Steelers look like the top team in the AFC.

St. Louis at Arizona
My pick: Cardinals 34, Rams 20
Actual score: Rams 17, Cardinals 12
The Cardinals should have won this game long before the last-second drive that stalled. Martz wouldn’t stay committed to the run late when he needed to run out the clock. Instead, he relied on limp-armed, lame-brained Marc Bulger, who just seems freaking clueless about 70 percent of the time. If Green can give Warner some offensive line protection and cut down on the stupid mistakes, they can still compete in the weak NFC West. The Rams looked bad winning a game they probably should have lost, and almost did.

Atlanta at Seattle
My pick: Falcons 38, Seahawks 14
Actual score: Seahawks 21, Falcons 18
That heap broken down on the side of the road with two flat tires is the Atlanta bandwagon. Seattle’s not this good, but they made Atlanta look muy mal.

San Diego at Denver
My pick: Chargers 24, Broncos 14
Actual score: Broncos 20, Chargers 17
Does Drew Brees worry that he’ll arrive at the stadium to find Phillip Rivers parked in his space? He should.

Cleveland at Green Bay
My pick: Packers 20, Browns 10
Actual score: Browns 26, Packers 24
I mean, come on, Trent Dilfer does have a Superbowl ring, you know. Yeah, right. My only consolation this season (other than anticipating the firings of Martz and Tice) is the knowledge that the Packers are gonna suck as much as the Vikings. Uff-da!

Miami at New York Jets
My pick: Jets 24, Dolphins 21
My pick: Jets 17, Dolphins 7
I’m still not putting three plays worth of trust in Chad Pennington, though.

Kansas City at Oakland
My pick: Chiefs 31, Raiders 21
Actual score: Chiefs 23, Raiders 17
So if Randy Moss is All That, how come Oakland is 0-2? Kudos to Chiefs defense for getting it done when it counted. KC’s winning the AFC West (duh!).

New Orleans at New York Giants
My pick: Giants 30, Saints 14
Actual score: Giants 27, Saints 10
Don’t fret, Saints fans—this week you get to play the Vikings!

Washington at Dallas
My pick: Cowboys 35, Redskins 13
Actual score: Redskins 14, Cowboys 13
I hate both these teams, so a tie would have been ever more satisfying. But since I hate Parcells worse than Gibbs, I’ll take the loss of what looked like a sure pick with the knowledge that Parcell’s ain’t getting any sleep until maybe Thursday night after coughing up what looked like a sure win at home. (insert Nelson Muntz sound fx: HAA-Ha!!)

This week: 9-7
Last week: 8-8
Season record: 17-15 (.531)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

NFL Week Two Picks

Last week was a disaster in terms of picks, proving once again that expert opinion is as useless as preseason games in determining the success of a team once the real games start. I am thankful, however, that the NFL season has started in time to help distract me from the fact that the Cardinals can't beat the Cubs and may not clinch the division in Chicago at all this weekend. LaRussa better hope his pitchers can throw playoff shutouts, or else St. Louis area golf courses will be filled with baseball players taking an early leave of the postseason. Thankfully, I don't have to watch baseball on Sunday afternoons. So here's what to watch in NFL Week Two tomorrow:

Detroit at Chicago
Detroit won impressively over Green Bay at home last week, while Chicago's defense couldn't overcome their offensive impotence. I like Lovie's Bears to win their home opener in a low-scoring defensive game. Bears 13, Lions 6

Minnesota at Cincinnati
The Vikings are a popular pick in this game, with people saying they'll play with more intensity, not make as many mistakes, Culpepper'll play better, etc. Don't believe the hype. The Bengals whomped the Browns last week, they're playing their home opener, and the Vikings stink, stink, STINK outdoors on the road. This one's not even going to be close. Bengals 31, Vikings 17

Baltimore at Tennessee
The Ravens have too much defense for the Titans to overcome. They held Peyton Manning to one lousy field goal drive in the entire first half against the Colts last week. Just think what they'll do to senior citizen Steve McNair. Ravens 17, Titans 9

Jacksonville at Indianapolis
Colts home opener? Manning & Co. on the Indy speed turf? No. 2 of the 16 needed for home field advantage. Colts 42, Jaguars 20

San Francisco at Philadelphia
Thus endeth the Niners winning streak. Eagles 27, 49ers 16

Buffalo at Tampa Bay
I guess this is where we find out which of these two teams are for real. As for me, I have no idea. Both of these teams beat bad teams last week, so it's hard to determine what's what. All things being equal, I guess I'll give the edge to Tampa's defense playing at home. Buccaneers 21, Bills 17

New England at Carolina
Superbowl rematch? Hardly. Belichek won't fall into the trap of not expecting Carolina to be motivated to play the champs and to not fall into an 0-2 hole. But Jake Delhomme's carriage appears to have turned back into a pumpkin. They're not going to score on the Pats' defense today. Patriots 24, Panthers 10

Pittsburgh at Houston
Tuck is all-knowing. Tuck is the foundation of all wisdom. Tuck says Pittsburgh will crush Houston. Tuck knows all, sees all, foretells all. Tuck is wise and good. (Okay, crow sufficiently eaten now?) Steelers 31, Texans 13

St. Louis at Arizona
So which team will regroup? As I said earlier in the week, Martz doesn't game plan. Assuming that Denny Green will, and that Warner should be motivated to have his best game in years, I'm going with the Deadbirds over the Lambs in the desert. Cardinals 34, Rams 20

Atlanta at Seattle
After Monday's game, I think you have to put Atlanta at the top of the NFC power rankings. I don't think Seattle has much chance of stopping Vick's offense. Falcons 38, Seahawks 14

San Diego at Denver
Denver stinks. Chargers 24, Broncos 14

Cleveland at Green Bay
Brett Favre is going to have to win this game by himself. Since it's Cleveland, he can probably pull it off. Packers 20, Browns 10

Miami at New York Jets
Was the Miami offensive powerhouse the real thing? Was the total ineptitude of the Jets on both sides of the ball a mistake or an indication of things to come? My feeling is that Miami's offense was an indication of Denver's shortcomings, while the Jets were ambushed by a Kansas City team that will be better than most people expected. Herm Edwards will have his team—and his quarterback—ready to play this week. Jets 24, Dolphins 21

Kansas City at Oakland
One of the best rivalries in pro sports takes on a new twist with Randy Moss in the mix. Moss will have the Black Hole fans worked up into their characteristic sociopathic froth, but the KC running game is going to rule the day. Look for KC to double- and triple-team Moss to prevent big plays. Lacking that, Oakland doesn't have much more to offer. Chiefs 31, Raiders 21

New Orleans at New York Giants
I know the NFL wants me to think that the Saints are the home team, but since they're playing the freaking game at the Meadowlands, the home of the Giants since Reagan was president, I'm not buying it. I'm also not thinking that the Saints can match the emotional intensity of beating a division rival last week. Giants 30, Saints 14

Washington at Dallas
These are the types of games that Bill Parcells lives for, and it's clear that he wants to win another championship, while Joe Gibbs looks like he only wants to win a NASCAR Nextel Cup. It's all about priorities. Cowboys 35, Redskins 13

Last Week's Record: 8-8

Monday, September 12, 2005

NFL Week One Wrapup

What's all that smoking wreckage crumpled in the ditch on the side of the road? It's the remains of the Carolina, NY Jets, Minnesota, Arizona, St. Louis, San Diego and Baltimore bandwagons. Who left all those skidmarks as they raced away? Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Dallas. Who's that guy on the side of the road with egg on his face eating a humble pie with crow filling?

Uhh, that would be yours truly, The Sandman.

I was absolutely bamboozled by the first week of the 2005 NFL season. I only racked up a dismal seven correct picks this weekend (Monday night game hasn't started yet; I picked Philly, but at this point, who the heck knows?), but I'm sure I'm not alone. My plan is to offer weekend picks on Friday with a Monday evening post-mortem. Here's the bitter results from Sunday...

SF 28, STL 25
I finally figured out what's wrong with Mike Martz. He doesn't game plan. Not one bit. I don't know if he's incapable of game planning, or just too stubborn to do it, but he doesn't do one darn thing to prepare for another team. The Rams were completely baffled by the Niners defense and their offensive line had bigger holes than the hull of the Titanic. They couldn't stop Tim Rattay's (!) passing game, and their special teams were even more atrocious than last year. A couple of minutes of game film from Mike Nolan's defense in Baltimore would have given any other head coach a clue, but Martz is so in love with his own abilities, he thinks his plan is superior to any other, regardless of preparation. Game planning is the key to Bill Belichek's success, it's why the Pats are the dynasty of the 2000's instead of the Rams, and it's the reason why Georgia and Stan should put Jeff Fisher's cell phone on speed dial. Over-under on Martz's firing: nine games.

TB 24, MIN 13
The Vikings' offense was supposed to be just as good without Randy Moss. It was much worse. Culpepper looked hideous, his worst performance by far as a pro quarterback. The Vikings' defense was supposed to be much improved. It wasn't. It was much worse. They let a previously impotent Tampa offense run and pass virtually at will. Mike Tice was supposed to show he could make a championship push as a coach. He can't. He ought to start checking the want-ads for high school assistant coach positions, because his days in the NFL are numbered (if God is merciful). The Vikings were supposed to be Superbowl contenders. They aren't. Some things never change.

NYG 42, ARZ 19
Speaking of things that don't change, there are the Cardinals. Going into the season, this is the line that many, myself included, bought into: Dennis Green, experience, savvy head coach; Kurt Warner, former league and Superbowl MVP; young receivers filled with talent; exciting running back in Marcel Shipp; improved defense ready to compete for a division championship. Here's the reality: These are the Arizona Cardinals, owned by Bill Bidwell, the worst franchise in the NFL. Does anyone knows what grows in the desert? That's right: nothing at all. This is the team where careers go to die, forever. Ugh! On the bright side, they'll probably beat the Rams next week.

NYJ 7, KC 27
The only reason this game wasn't 42-0 was because Herman Edwards is an old friend of Dick Vermeil. A less merciful coach could have run the score way up on the hapless Jets defense. Dick should teach his old offensive coordinator in St. Louis a little thing about game planning. They stopped the run, neutralizing Curtis Martin, which put the game in the hands of Chad Butterfingers—I mean Pennington—who folded up faster than the Bush administration's latest round of excuses under constant pressure from the KC defense. This offense looks like an absolute juggernaut at this point; we'll see if the defense is just good enough to get them through the playoffs.

NO 23, CAR 20
I drank the Carolina Kool-Aid against my better judgment; I figured since so many others had them going deep in the NFC, there must be something there. Nah. Good for New Orleans, the team without a city. Let's just call them America's Team this year, okay? The American Saints. Let's see if they can keep the emotional intensity next week against the Giants; it's a total rip-off that the Giants get to play at home when they should have been on the road; a neutral field would be more appropriate.

TEN 7, PIT 34
Yeah, I take back everything I said last time about Pittsburgh. They're gonna win the Superbowl.

DAL 28, SD 24
So, which one sold his soul to the devil, Parcells, Bledsoe or both?

IND 24, BAL 7
One down, 15 to go. Peyton, it's not about TD passes or yardage or even an MVP, it's about home field advantage in the playoffs. It's everything, absolutely everything.

All the others: A good start for Buffalo; a promising (and convincing) start for Cincinnati (though I'm still not convinced—it was Cleveland, after all); a frustrating loss for Lovie Smith (you should have signed Kurt Warner!) as the Bears coughed up a great defensive game on the road due to a total lack of offensive skill; Seattle loses on the road, as usual (is there a more overrated coach than Mike Holmgren?); Miami shocks the entire league as Gus Frerotte jumps on the "sold my soul" bandwagon; and finally, someone needs to tell Brett Favre that it's not too late to retire—he's really not going to want his last year in the league to be this bad, because it's gonna be.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

AFC Preview

I’ll have to pull this all off in one day, now, since the season starts tomorrow. It’s not too late to join The Sandlot’s Pigskin Pick’em league—check the earlier post for details on how to join.

AFC East
1. New England Patriots—Best coach, best QB, defending champs...until someone beats these guys, I’m not gonna pick against them.

2. New York Jets—I think they’re ready to take the next step this year; unfortunately for them, the best they can hope for is a wild card berth because of the guys living in the penthouse suit above them.

3. Buffalo Bills—I’ve got a good feeling about their team, but I don’t really know what to expect from second-year QB J.P. Losman, so I can’t say “playoffs” yet with this bunch.

4. Miami Dolphins—Nick Saban’s gonna have this team back in the playoff 2007. For now, they still stink, but I also think they’ll play spoiler late in the year.

AFC South
1. Indianapolis Colts—Repeat after me: “We must secure home field advantage.” Nothing else matters for this team.

2. Houston Texans—This is who I think will be the “come out of nowhere” team in the NFL this year, similar to the Rams in 1999. They’ve got an exciting young quarterback, a solid coach in Dom Capers and a potentially great defense. If they turn out to be a big surprise this year, it won’t surprise me.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars—They surprised a lot of teams last year and looked they would make a run in January, but fell just short. Many expect they will take it to the next level. I expect that teams will start game planning for Byron Leftwich, and he’ll take a couple of steps backward.

4. Tennessee Titans—I like Steve McNair, and I love Jeff Fisher so much that I hope the Rams hire him to replace Mike Martz after this far-too-old team finishes last in their division. Time to rebuild!

AFC North
1. Baltimore Ravens—I don’t like Kyle Boller, but you don’t have to be a great QB to succeed in Brian Billick’s system (see Superbowl winning QB Trent Dilfer for references); the Ravens’ vicious defense will be enough to win the North.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers—With both running backs hurt and Ben Roethisberger poised to experience a sophomore slump, I can’t expect the Steelers to repeat another title run. (And now, Tuck will attempt to light my hair on fire...)

3. Cincinnati Bengals—Put down the Kool-Aid, step away from the Marvin Lewis bandwagon, and look closely at the tiger stripes on the helmet. We okay now? Good.

4. Cleveland Browns—Don’t believe all the Carson Palmer hype. Romeo Crennel needs at least two years to remake this defense. Like Saban in Miami, he won’t be a factor until 2007.

AFC West
1. San Diego Chargers—The best running back in the NFL, another surprisingly good campaign from Drew Brees, and the worst playoff coach in the history of league will still find a way to cough up the season. Do you think Bernie Kosar sends Schottenheimer a box of dead flowers every year before the AFC Championship?

2. Denver Broncos—Just because their home field advantage is good for six or seven games, plus two or three on the road, which should be good for second place.

3. Kansas City Chiefs—Defense? What’s a defense? We’re supposed to play defense? How does that work?

4. Oakland Raiders—Does anyone look more clueless on the sidelines than Norv Turner? He looks like my 10th grade civics teacher when you’d ask him a tough question—completely dumbfounded. And what’s all this talk about Randy Moss making such a big difference? Tell me, how many rings did he win in Minnesota? That’s what I thought.

Playoff teams:
New England
San Diego

New York Jets

You probably noticed I didn't pick playoff winners or Superbowl teams in either conference. That's because getting it right is like winning the lottery. I'll make those picks before the playoffs start, and we'll see if I picked the participants correctly. Hey, it's my blog, it's my rules!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

NFC Preview, Part Two

Hey Sandlot readers, don't forget to join our "Pigskin Pick-em" league at Click on the link listed under "Recent Posts" for details on how to join. So without further delay, here's the rest of the NFC team predictions...

NFC North
1. Minnesota Vikings—Of course I'm going to pick the Vikings to win the division; I ALWAYS pick the Vikings to win the division. What's different this year? Well, they'll actually win it. With an improved defense and no more Randy Moss distractions, look for Daunte Culpepper to have a career year. If they can secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs, we'll probably have a rematch of the 1998 NFC Championship and one more chance at redemption (God, please!).

2. Green Bay Packers—but only because Favre's the Man. The rest of the team stinks on ice. Fortunately for Green Bay, so also does the rest of the division.

3. Chicago Bears—So how many years has it been since the Bears had a legitimate quarterback? Twenty? Lovie should have signed Kurt Warner when he had the chance.

4. Detroit Lions—Hosting the Superbowl is the only involvement this franchise will ever have with the championship game. Steve Mariucchi deserves better than this. He should be coaching Favre in Green Bay and Mike Sherman should be stuck with this atrocious bunch.

NFC West
1. St. Louis Rams—I think they'll have enough offense to win nine or ten games, which should be enough in the West. Steven Jackson will be an All-Pro running back, Marshall Faulk will make some huge plays as an all-purpose back (I think he'll catch more passes than he'll have run touches), and the O-line just HAS to be better than last year (there's nowhere to go down from "worst"). The defense and special teams, once again, will determine whether they can advance in the playoffs.

2. Seattle Seahawks—The so-called experts like Seattle to win the division again this year. My question is why? They should have the helmet logo in the dictionary under "inconsistent."

3. Arizona Cardinals—I was all excited about Kurt Warner playing for Dennis Green with a cadre of young receivers and a revamped defense...and then I saw their schedule. Unless Warner has a year like he did in 1999, I don't see any way this team can finish better than .500, and no one's more disappointed about it than I am. If I'm wrong about one pick, I hope it's this one.

4. San Francisco 49ers—New coach, bad QB, rookie QB on the bench, tragedy during training camp...there's not much else that can go wrong with this once-proud franchise. Good riddance, says me—I always despised the 49ers in their heyday. Sip that with yer chardonnay, suckers!

Division Winners:
St. Louis

Wild Cards:

Tomorrow: AFC Preview, part one

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

NFC Preview, Part One

This is my opinion. If you disagree with my opinion, then that's what the comments pop-up is for. I've purposely not included predictions of records; it's just too hard to determine exact records with all the different variables involved. I'm gauging my predictions based on my overall impressions of the team and their prospects this year. I'll make playoff picks after I complete each division. And away we go!

NFC East
1. Philadelphia Eagles—Owens may not shut up, but he also wants to prove that he's worth the money they're not going to pay him. This will almost certainly be his last year in Philly, but in any case, he's playing for a new contract. McNabb will have another huge year, and their defense is still the best in the conference. An easy pick to win the East.

2. Dallas Cowboys—Bill Parcells in his third year overseeing the resurrection of Drew Bledsoe. I have it on good authority that Julius Jones is going to have a huge year. With a weak schedule, it looks like playoff time for the wild-card Cowboys.

3. Washington Redskins—Will Joe Gibbs decide to return exclusively to NASCAR? Probably, after this group underachieves again this year. You know, there's a reason that Jacksonville decided to discard Mark Brunell.

4. New York Giants—No quarterback and a sociopath for a head coach: it couldn't happen to a nicer gang of alleged football fans. I hope this group goes 0-16.

NFC South
1. Atlanta Falcons—This is a team on the rise, with a hungry young head coach, an improving defense and the most exciting athlete in professional sports in Michael Vick (and yes, that includes LeBron James). Don't be surprised to see Atlanta in Detroit come January.

2. Carolina Panthers—After getting off to an atrocious start last season, Carolina just missed a wild card berth with a late-season surge. A year removed from their Superbowl hangover, Jake Delhomme should revert to his free-wheeling gunslinger style, and their defense will dominate games. My solid pick for one of the two wild-card spots.

3. Tampa Bay Bucanneers—Do you really want to stake your season on Brian Griese? I wouldn't, either.

4. New Orleans Saints—Everybody's sentimental favorite this year, for obvious reasons, but they're not going to be able to overcome playing the entire season on the road, not to mention the possibilities of moving permanently to San Antonio, a real probability if they have to demolish the Louisiana Superdome. Oh, and Jim Haslett still looks like Boggs from The Shawshank Redemption.

Coming tomorrow: NFC North and West predictions

p.s. Scott Stevens retired from the NHL today, forever crushing the hopes of St. Louis Blues fans that he may someday return to wear the note. The Stevens decision was the biggest screw-job in the history of professional sports: it was completely disproportionate, unfairly biased toward an East Coast team (what else is new), and dealt a blow to the Blues franchise that they never really recovered from. Idiotic decisions like this help explain why the NHL has been reduced to a minor-league sport. Now I have to watch clip footage of Stevens hoisting the Cup in a NJ Devils sweater. Thanks, ESPN—I have to go puke now.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Join The Sandlot's Pigskin Pick'em League

Exclusively for readers of The Sandlot, I've created a private league in's "Pigskin Pick'em" game, which allows you to pick the winners of NFL games each week. National winners earn cool prizes; league winners earn bragging rights, which aren't worth anything in terms of cash value, but it does enable you to gloat on a weekly basis. I'll keep a regular post after each week's results where I'll heap praise upon the entry with the best picks.

To sign up, enter this link in your browser address bar:

Once here, you'll need to sign up for an entry if you've never played ESPN fantasy sports before. If you have, simply log in with your user ID and password. The game will ask you to create a team entry. This is where you will name your team for The Sandlot league. Click on the "Create Entry" button to proceed.

At the next screen, name your team (be creative!), indicate whether you want weekly e-mail reminders to make your picks (useful for forgetful doofuses like me), and select "no point spread" for the scoring type. Our league is just straight-up winner/loser picks. When you're done, click "submit entry settings."

Your first week's picks grid will come up at this time. But you need to join the league first, so click on the link above the picks that says "Create or join a group." There is another link just below the grid that says "Group Directory" that you can also click on; it takes you to the same place.

At the top center of the Group Directory listings is a search window. Enter "The Sandlot" and click on the button that says "Search by Name." When the name comes up on your screen, click it to access the league. The next screen will show current listing of teams in the league. Click on the link that says "Join this group." After you click, the next screen will ask you for a password. Type in sandman26 and then click "Join this group."

You will now see your entry listed with the rest of the teams in the league. To access your picks, simply click on the name of your team. Remember that NFL Week One officially begins Thursday night, so you need to make your picks early this week. If you don't join until later, remember that our league drops your worst week, so you can still catch up with the overall standings.

Here's looking forward to a great NFL season and weeks of fun slamming each other for picks missed, praising those amazing sleeper picks, and ultimately giving praise and honor to the season winner (uhh, that'll be me! Really? Prove me wrong, then!).

Friday, September 02, 2005

Labor Day Weekend

Just a quick note to The Sandlot readers:

I'm taking the weekend off to enjoy the Labor Day holiday. I'll be back next week with my always-controversial NFL season preview and picks, so start sharpening your swords and axes now.

I'm setting up a private league for ESPN's Pigskin Picks for Sandlot readers; this is the free weekly "pick the winners" football pool. Match your wits and predictions against the rest of the Sandlot community.

Many of us know people directly affected by the disaster in New Orleans. Prayer is always warranted, of course, but if you can donate time, money or resources to the relief efforts, that's a more practical way to help. If you know of resources that are looking for support, you can post the links in the comments section.

What about sports? Cards' magic number is 16, the Rams offense looks good, the Vikings are a tantalizing mystery, Mizzou's gonna stink in football and basketball, and if I had half a billion dollars I'd buy the Blues and hire Tuck as my President and GM.

Happy Labor Day.