Friday, December 29, 2006

End-of-Year Grades (part two: NFL Midwest teams)

While I am an unapologetic St. Louis homer, I also acknowledge spending ten years in the NFL wilderness while the Gateway city was without an NFL team. In that time, I was already a Minnesota Vikings fan—my first-ever NFL experience was watching Fran Tarkenton play, and I was hooked from that point on—but in between the Deadbirds leaving and the Rams' arrival, I followed two AFC teams identical in proximity to St. Louis: Kansas City and Indianapolis. (I couldn't follow the Bears for the same reason because of their rivalry with Minnesota. I freakin' HATE Chicago and all their stupid teams. Yeah, I even rooted against MJ and the Bulls in '93 when they played the Suns in the finals. Sue me.) So for this, I still follow my surrogate "home town" teams. Divided loyalites? Not at all. I always pull for the Rams first, then the Vikings, but as much as KC and Indy are shown in the southeast Missouri TV market, it's good to have a cheering interest in both of them.

Minnesota Vikings—Final grade: D+
It's just borderline criminal (pardon the pun!) that this Vikings team could so lose its offensive identity in the same year that they rediscovered a Purple People-Eating defense. This unit leads the NFL in run defense. Their offense runs the ball well behind an effective offensive line. Sounds like a recipe for success, right? Except that their pass defense is less-than-mediocre, their secondary is just putrid at times, and they have no downfield scoring threat whatsoever. This is an offense that can't get it done more than five yards at a time, and once you get in the red zone, that just isn't going to cut it. Brad Johnson is a good role-player if you need a dependable backup; he's just not going to lead a team to the playoffs. Tarvaris Jackson should have been starting QB eight weeks ago. This is simply a lost season, and in a weak NFC, that's simply inexcusable.

Kansas City Chiefs—Third Quarter grade: C+
They can upgrade to a B- if they somehow manage to sneak into the final wild card playoff spot, but that seems unlikely given the advantages that Denver, Cincy and the Jets have over them. Herm Edwards probably exceeded expectations for this team; Damon Huard filled in for the injured Trent Green admirably, and Larry Johnson is a man among boys. But this was still Dick Vermeil's team, and they've gone from "veteran" to just "old." Will Carl Peterson decide to rebuild or just try to restock? I think they need to scrap the whole thing, identify their QB of the future and build around that guy and L.J. On the defensive side, KC has always had tough defenses, but the modern blueprint has shifted against from speed to size and strength. They will have to shift likewise to keep up with the AFC's top defenses.

Indianapolis Colts—Third Quarter grade: C-
I understand why so many people don't like Peyton Manning. I always hated John Elway, Joe Montana and Dan Marino when they were in their prime. Hey, I hate Brett Favre when he's on the field, even though I admire his talent and guts, but he plays for an enemy team. I had a hard time learning to cheer for Montana when he was traded to KC because I had spent a decade screaming for his head as he eluded opposition defenses. So I understand that Peyton rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Having said this, anyone who says they would not want him on their team is either a liar or delusional. He's simply the best QB of his generation, and when he's done, he will have broken all of Dan Marino's records. Don't give me Tom Brady, either. If Manning was drafted by the Patriots, he'd have three rings and Brady would be toiling away on some other team. Think Brady would look great in Cleveland? Houston? Arizona?

But here's the thing: this Indianpolis defense is the worst NFL defense I've ever seen. Period. Worse than the expansion Tampa teams of the late 1970s, worse than the 80s-era Cardinals, worse than the worst you can think of. They don't even look interested out there. They can't get off of blocks. They barely attempt to arm tackle. They can't cover receivers. They're gutless, witless and hopeless. If I'm Bill Polian, I tell Tony Dungy he's got one year to fix the defense. Then I fire the D-coord and hire someone from Baltimore like the linebackers or secondary coach, and I spend all my draft picks and most of my free agent dollars on defensive playmakers. Every team in the league has figured out how to beat Peyton Manning: don't let him get on the field. It doesn't matter if he throws four touchdown passes; your four plus a game-winning field goal (e.g., Tennessee, Houston) gets the job done. This team is one-and-done in the playoffs, and everyone knows it. Including Peyton Manning.

Coming tomorrow: Mizzou sports, including Sun Bowl wrap-up

Thursday, December 28, 2006

End-of-Year Grades (part one: St. Louis)

St. Louis CardinalsFinal Grade: A
The postseason still lingers like a wonderful dream made all the more wonderful by the fact that it really happened. The end-of-year collapse saw a 7.5 game lead dwindle down to nothing but the sickening thought of the undeserving, underachieving Astros crashing the postseason party one more time at the Cardinals' expense. Then Spezio's miraculous triple against Milwaukee saved us for one more day, the last game of the season. We lost. But so did Houston. The clubhouse claimed the champagne tasted just as sweet, but backing into the playoffs never led to glory.

Then came the Padres, whom LaRussa keeps tucked away in his back pocket. Left coast pretenders. Surf and sun wannabes who couldn't hit a Cardinals pitching staff led by Cy Young ace Chris Carpenter. They were gone in four, leaving a gleeful chorus of Eastcoast Sports Promotion Network "experts" to pick the Mets in four or five.

How many unlikely heroes stepped into the lore of Cardinals legend in the NLCS? So Taguchi, hitting the unlikeliest of homers since Kirk Gibson to win game two. Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver, the journeyman and the reject, both stepping up to shut down the overrated Mets hitters. Yadi Molina, the defensive whiz who was an offensive whiz-in-your-pants all season hit the shot that gave the Cards the chance in game seven, leading to Adam Wainwright's two miraculous strikeouts, the final one coming with two outs and bases loaded. The Cardinals win the pennant! The Cardinals win the pennant! I could still hear Jack Buck urging us all to "go crazy," the voice of God's angel who spoke to me from the time I lay in my crib to the day he was called to the highest of all luxury boxes. At this point, just the pennant would have been enough.

But it wasn't. The World Series was reviled and ignored by the East Coast intelligentsia, odious hypocrites one and all, for if the Cardinals had been the Red Sox, they would have been celebrated as the ultimate team in overcoming adversity. Instead, the Cardinals were condemned as "not belonging" and "undeserving." But as Lou Brown told his Cleveland Indians in "Major League," "I'm for wasting sportwriters' time. Let's see if we can give them all a nice big shit sandwich to eat." Open wide, ESPNers. Anthony Reyes, remarkable. Chris Carpenter, transcendent. Jeff Suppan, reliable. Jeff Weaver, championship. Baseball's Field of Dreams has never really been in an Iowa cornfield; it's found in the shadow of the Arch in downtown St. Louis. We are the champions of the world.

St. Louis Ramsthird quarter grade: C+
This season is all about wasted opportunities. This is not a good football team, but it does have some good players—Bulger, Jackson, Holt, Bruce, Little, Wilkins—and some potential for improvement on both sides of the ball. But two blown games to the beatable Seahawks and that putrid roll-over-and-die loss to the excrement that is the Arizona Cardinals is the difference between winning the division and hoping desperately that the Giants, Panthers and Falcons all lose this weekend (certainly within the realm of possibility) while we beat the corpse of the Minnesota Vikings. If this all happens, then we get a wild card game, probably in Seattle, which we could win. I don't foresee the Rams reproducing the Cardinals miracle, but the late season surge does give me some hope that Scott Linehan can still be the right man for the job. Goal #1: Teach Alex Barron how to count and how to remember the correct snap count for 30 seconds at a time.

St. Louis Bluesfirst quarter grade: C- (up from F)
New head coach Andy Murray is doing remarkable things with this team. I watched a bit of a game from one of Mike Kitchen's last efforts, and the Blues looked like bar league players—slow, sluggish, confused, dispirited. In a memorable shootout loss to Nashville the other night, the Blues went toe-to-toe with the Central Division leaders and came within an inch of gaining the shootout victory. They probably won't make a run at the playoffs this year, but I have a good feeling that Murray is going to turn this Blues team into a club that no one else will want to play in the spring, especially teams who need points to stay in or get in to the playoffs. Legace's looking firm in goal, our veterans are charging the net and the youngsters are playing with speed and passion. I think Dave Checkett's rebuilding effort is starting to pay off.

Coming tomorrow (I promise!): Vikings, Colts & Chiefs

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

What am I thankful for, sportswise, this Thanksgiving?

The 2006 World Series Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals. El Hombre. Jimmy Baseball. Mighty Mouse. The Speizer. Yadi. Scotty. Carp. Soup. Weaver. Wainwright. Dunc. Don Tony. And a big, sharp stick in the eye of the east coast sports establishment.

The NFL. Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy, Kurt Warner, Dick Vermeil, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt. Thanksgiving Day football.

I'm thankful that Gary Pinkel has raised expectations for Mizzou football to the point that our 7-4 record is considered a disappointment. I'm thankful that Mike Anderson is teaching Mizzou basketball players how to play defense.

I'm thankful that Tuck still cares about hockey enough to keep me interested. I'm thankful for friends here at home who like to play pick-up two-hand-touch football on Friday afternoons. I'm thankful when one of my kids sits down with me to watch whatever game is on ESPN, regardless of the sport.

I'm thankful we live in a country and a time where things are still good enough that we can care about sports without feeling trivial or guilty about it. And most of all, on a Thanksgiving Day when I'm celebrating 14 years of grateful sobriety, I thank God for all he has given all of us inside and out of the sports world.

Thanksgiving Football Picks
Miami at Detroit
Miami would have been a completely different team with a different QB starting the season--this is patently obvious--but their recent resurgence has more to do with their defense (especially Jason Taylor) playing up to their potential.
Dolphins 24, Lions 14

Tampa Bay at Dallas
Sure, Romo's the real deal at QB, but the Dallas story is their defense. They beat down Indy's receivers and kept Rhodes and Addai from gaining any momentum on the ground, as well as keeping Peyton running (sort of) for his life. Dallas was my early NFC Champ pick (not on this site, though, not after I looked at the records), but in an open division with no clear favorite, I think they have to be second behind Chicago now.
Cowboys 31, Bucs 13

Denver at Kansas City
[comments unavailable to those without NFL Network]
Chiefs 27, Broncos 24

NL MVP Voting
For all the stats that tell the story of why El Hombre should have been the MVP over Philly's Ryan Howard, see Bernie Miklasz's story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. For my take, it's just this simple: If you were a major league general manager, would you trade Albert Pujols for Ryan Howard, straight up? I didn't think so.

Friday, November 10, 2006

NFL Week Ten: Who the Heck Knows Anymore?

Read Bill Simmons’ column today at about the topsy-turvy NFL season and how it has made picking winners almost impossible. He expresses all my ideas perfectly. I’m really not even sure what to expect—there’s really no way to expect any type of consistency from anyone other than Arizona, and theirs is bad consistency. You can’t even count on the Colts—they played pretty good defense in beating the Pats last week (and my “man crush” on Peyton Manning only grows!).

Green Bay at Minnesota
I wouldn’t be a Vikings fan if I didn’t pick purple to win at home against the cheese eaters, but I’m sure not confident about it.
Vikings 19, Packers 15

Baltimore at Tennessee
What’s that on the field? Behind the center? No, not the QB, that thing on the QB’s shoulder. What? Oh, that’s Steve McNair’s giant chip for the team that didn’t just throw him out with the trash but put him through the compactor and incinerator first. Gotcha.
Ravens 31, Titans 13

Houston at Jacksonville
The Jags are winning just enough games to stay in the wild card discussion, but their offensive resurgence is due to backup QB David Garrard filling in for injured (and previously ineffective) Byron Leftwich.
Jag-wahrs 34, Texans 10

Kansas City at Miami
Let me get this straight—Herm Edwards coaching Damon Huard has the Chiefs in the playoff hunt? Go figure (and thank Larry Johnson).
Chiefs 27, Dolphins 14

New York Jets at New England
Anyone else think Bradychick is going to take out last week’s Colts frustrations out on the Jets? Me too.
Patriots 30, Jets 7

San Diego at Cincinnati
With all their offseason thug and knucklehead legal problems, it was inevitable that Cincy would suffer on the field. Plus, the O-line is keeping Carson Palmer on his back as often as Madonna in the 1980s (Ba-doom CRASH!).
Chargers 24, Bengals 17

San Francisco at Detroit
I don’t think Detroit is as bad as their record, and they might have found the right chemistry with the new coaching staff. I don’t like Frisco on the road at all.
Lions 28, 49ers 20

Washington at Philadelphia
Who knows? Philly’s coughed up a hairball the past three weeks, while Washington had a big (and unexpected) win over Dallas at home last week. Since logic tells me the Skins have the momentum…
Eagles 24, Redskins 22

Buffalo at Indianapolis
Everyone repeat after me: “I will not doubt Peyton Manning any more during the regular season.”
Colts 37, Bills 23

Cleveland at Atlanta
Can I get the phone number or website address for the “Michael Vick Psychic Hotline” so I can figure out which version will show up this week?
Falcons 26, Browns 19

Denver at Oakland
I should be stupid enough to pick Oakland, what with the way things are going, but not after that wretched game last Monday. How the heck did this group warrant two Monday night games?
Broncos 34, Raiders 6

New Orleans at Pittsburgh
I don’t care about their records—Tuck would never speak to me again if I actually picked the Saints over the Steelers. I just can’t see it happening, anyway. I really think Pittsburgh will put together a decent game this week, and I still don’t believe in the Saints. I just don’t.
Steelers 20, Saints 17

St. Louis at Seattle
I’m 38 years old, I’ve had two knee surgeries, I’m 6 feet tall and weigh 260 pounds, and you know what? I could gain 100 yards against the Rams defense. Only a sucker would take the Rams, outdoors, on the road on the West Coast.
Seahawks 38, Rams 17

Dallas at Arizona
I’ve run out of ways to insult the Deadbirds.
Cowboys 42, Deadbirds 10

Chicago at New York Giants
Home field advantage tips the scales until Rex Grossman shows he can win a big game on the road.
Giants 24, Bears 20

Tampa Bay at Carolina
This looked like a great game at the beginning of the season. I hope ESPN gets the NFL to do that “flex schedule” thing that NBC has with the Sunday night game. My pick this week to replace this boring dog? Chargers-Bengals or Washington-Philly. This game will have all the excitement of televised poker.
Panthers 20, Bucs 6

Last week: 7-7
This season: 84-44 (.656)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

NFL Week Eight—Sub .500

Last week was my first sub .500 set of picks this season, so I hope I can get back on track this week. I'll have some final World Series thoughts posted in the next few days, followed by a look ahead at what the Cardinals might do next year. In the meantime, with humility and trepidation, here are this week's picks.

Seattle at Kansas City
Larry Johnson and the Arrowhead crowd tips things in favor of the home team.
Chiefs 26, Seahawks 16
Not as much defense as I would have expected.
KC 35, Seattle 28

San Francisco at Chicago
This one oughta get everyone talking about "undefeated season" again, even though it's not going to happen.
Bears 38, 49ers 9
Just brutal. They should have ended this game at halftime for mercy's sake.
Chicago 41, SF 10

Baltimore at New Orleans
Can we compare Sean Payton, Drew Brees and Reggie Bush to Mike Martz, Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk? Are the 2006 Saints following in the footsteps of the 1999 Rams? This game will test their ability to beat a good defense. On the other hand, the Ravens have no offense at all.
Saints 20, Ravens 13
Can someone please tell me who Baltimore is? I can't figure this team out. I'm still not convinced they're for real, but they just keep winning.
Baltimore 35, NO 22

Houston at Tennessee
I'm going with Jeff Fisher over Gary Kubiak.
Titans 28, Texans 20
And that was a good decision.
Tennessee 28, Houston 22

Arizona at Green Bay
I wonder if Brett Favre is who Denny Green thought he was?
Packers 31, Deadbirds 21
Yes, he was.
GB 31, Arizona 14

Tampa Bay at NY Giants
I'm taking Eli and Tiki at home for the rest of the season. These guys are about to emerge as the best team in the NFC East.
Giants 27, Bucanneers 14
The Giants are now listed as the #4 favorite to win the Superbowl by the Vegas Sports Book. Go figure.
NYG 17, TB 3

Atlanta at Cincinnati
Cincy showed me something last week against Carolina, and I think Carolina's better than Atlanta. The Falcons' offense has also proved inconsistent, so I doubt they'll light it up two weeks in a row.
Bengals 20, Falcons 17
he Bengals are like Buffalo for me this year--I never know what they're going to do, but it's always the opposite of what I expect.
Atlanta 29, Cincy 27

Jacksonville at Philadelphia
The Jags are falling to pieces, while I look for the Eagles to put it back together this week at home.
Eagles 24, Jag-wahrs 13
Wrong, wrong, WRONG!!! THE EAGLES SUCK!!!!!
Jax 13, Philly 6

St. Louis at San Diego
The Rams on the road, outside on the West Coast. See the SF game, suckers.
Chargers 31, Rams 17
You'd have to be stupid not to pick this one right.
SD 38, STL 24

Pittsburgh at Oakland
I don't care if Tommy Maddox is recalled to play QB, Cowher's not losing this game.
Steelers 27, Raiders 7
Just shoot me. But shoot Tuck first, 'cause he can't believe how crappy the Steelers have looked this year.
Oakland 20, Pittsburgh 13

Indianapolis at Denver
I don't feel good about this, but I'm sticking with Peyton as long as I can just to piss off the haters. A Denver win won't surprise me, though.
Colts 24, Broncos 23
I can't mock the haters this week, because Superman's about to meet his kryptonite in Foxboro this Sunday.
Indy 34, Denver 31

New York Jets at Cleveland
Why did the NFL give Cleveland another team? Tradition is one thing, but a sucky team is still a sucky team.
Jets 26, Browns 10
Games like this make picking NFL winners such a frustrating enterprise. I'm just grateful the only thing I'm gambling is my credibility.
Cleveland 20, NYJ 13

Dallas at Carolina
I love watching the Dallas franchise fall apart at the seams. It's the most exquisite schadenfreude.
Panthers 30, Cowboys 7
Carolina has reached Buffalo/Cincinnati proportions for me. They're completely unpredictable--or maybe just not that good.
Dallas 35, Carolina 14

New England at Minnesota
Brad Childress has convinced this Vikings team that they are winners. I'm picking them to take an inconsistent and (so far) untested Pats team down on Monday night.
Vikings 24, Patriots 21
Usually somebody calls the cops when they see a beatdown like the one Bradychick put on the Purple last Monday. I felt like puking by the end of the first quarter. Now we have to face the reality of another @%#$^&*@#%$&! Patriots Superbowl win. To quote Bill Simmons, "I will now light myself on fire."
NE 31, Minnesota 7

This week: 7-7
Last week: 6-7
This season: 70-30 (.700)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

NFL Week Seven: The Comeback?

After a monumental 14-0 record in week five, I came back by missing five games before the 3:15 p.m. CDT games even kicked off. Here at The Sandlot, that's just unacceptable. Let's see if the ever-unpredictable NFL decides to realign itself with universal laws of cause and effect.

San Diego at Kansas City
Up-and-coming QB, dominating defense, NFL's best player at RB, meet...the Chefs (no, still not a typo).
Chargers 42, Chefs 9

Jacksonville at Houston
Hey, have I already mentioned how Houston should have drafted Reggie Bush? Somewhere in the world, Sam Bowie is breathing a sigh of relief that he is no longer the stupidest first-round pick in professional sports history (selected over Michael Jordan!). By the way, Chris Berman and the rest of America's pronunciation-challenged announcers: It's "JAG-wahrs," NOT "JAG-wires." (I'm not even going to discuss the pretentious faux-British car commercial announcer who says "JAG-you-are." Ugh!)
JAG-wahrs 31, "Didn't draft Reggie Bush"es, 13

Carolina at Cincinnati
As much as I criticize the Eastcoast Sports Promotion Network for their s0-laughably-obvious-it's-pointless-to-deny East Coast bias in baseball, they also know their stuff rock solid in football (which is less subject to regional bias because of the NFL's competitive balance). The point was made that Cincy's O-line is beat up, which allows defenses to shut down Rudy Johnson in the running game and get pressure on Carson Palmer to disrupt their passing game. They also pointed out the Carolina often starts slow and comes on strong later. In the battle of the big cats, I'll take blue over orange.
Panthers 27, Bengals 17

Detroit at New York Jets
Man, I feel sorry for the regional TV audiences who get stuck watching this dead dog of a game.
Jets 21, Lions 17

Green Bay at Miami
ESPN's "Sports Guy" Bill Simmons writes, "If Brett Favre can't cover a five-point spread against a 1-5 team with Joey Harrington at QB, he needs to retire immediately. And I mean, immediately. Within 10 seconds of the final whistle." I couldn't agree more.
Packers 24, Dolphins 10

New England at Buffalo
Buffalo always does the opposite of what I think they will do, so if I predict them to lose a game they should lose, they usually win. But since I think this is an upset special for Buffalo, then I should pick them to lose. But if I think they will lose, does this mean they will win? I freaking HATE Buffalo for picking purposes!
Patriots 23, Bills 16

Philadelphia at Tampa Bay
I'm just not picking a 1-4 team with an unknown QB to beat the Eagles, who are coming off a tough road loss. If I'm wrong, so be it, but I'm sticking with Philly until they give me another reason not to.
Eagles 17, Bucs 13

Pittsburgh at Atlanta
Since no one can run effectively on Pittsburgh's defense, and Atlanta can't do anything offensively other than run, I'm taking the team that's rising upward over the one who's falling back to the pack.
Steelers 23, Falcons 16

Denver at Cleveland
Denver's winning again because they're letting their defense dominate while keeping it simple on offense so Plummer's not put in the position to make his characteristic killer mistakes. This formula will continue to work against a terminally mediocre team like Cleveland.
Broncos 24, Browns 6

Arizona at Oakland
Denny Green's probably threatened to kill and eat raw the entire team if they lose this game. Expect Matt Leinart to have a huge day against the putrid Oakland secondary.
Deadbirds 31, Dead Pirates 21

Minnesota at Seattle
No, I'm not picking against Hasselbeck at home. It doesn't even matter how well the Vikings' defense plays, because this team is incapable of scoring offensive touchdowns. I like Brad Johnson as a backup, but he's not taking this team anywhere except next year's draft.
Seahawks 28, Vikings 9

Washington at Indianapolis
Peyton Manning, haters. Washington is starting TWO backups at cornerback. That ought to be good for at least 4-5 TD passes.
Colts 41, Redskins 17

New York Giants at Dallas
I don't even know what to make of this one. Heads, Dallas; Tails, Giants. (flipping coin) Okay, it was tails.
Giants 24, Dallas 21

Thursday, October 19, 2006

My Game Seven Prediction (postgame update)

Sometimes I love it when I'm wrong. The icing on the cake is that the Fox Sports brass is already bemoaning their deflated WS ratings while the "experts" at the Eastcoast Sports Promotion Network are still trying to figure out how Suppan and Weaver beat their beloved Mets.


Mets. (wrong!)


If you've learned anything from my blog, it's this:

My team always loses. (except for tonight!)

Go Detroit! (Go down in flames!)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

NFL Week Six Picks (and what we learned)

Houston at Dallas
This ought to put off the “yank Drew Bledsoe” chatter off of sports radio for at least another week. Houston is just a terrible team.
Cowboys 33, Texans 9
Cowboys 34, Texans 6--we learned that Dallas can beat up a bad team.

Philadelphia at New Orleans
I expect the Saints to play another tough game at home, but Philly’s just got too much on both sides of the ball.
Eagles 27, Saints 17
Saints 27, Eagles 24--we learned that the Saints are for real, and that Philly doesn't have enough playmakers to be a championship team.

Seattle at St. Louis
No Shawn Alexander? Look for a steady diet of blitzes on Matt Hasselbeck, as well as a good day for Marc Bulger and the Rams receivers at home. If Scott Linehan can figure out how to consistently get the ball into the end zone, watch out for the Rams to start scoring lots of points.
Rams 24, Seahawks 20
Seahawks 30, Rams 28--we learned that Josh Brown could probably kick a 65-yard FG indoors, that Matt Hasselbeck doesn't need a running game, that the Rams pass defense sucks and that the Rams are still second-class citizens in the NFL for right now.

New York Giants at Atlanta
I like Vick and Dunn at home better than Eli and Tiki on the road, but I’m not real confident about the pick. This game could easily go either way.
Falcons 20, Giants 17
Giants 27, Atlanta 14--we learned how to stop Atlanta's running game and that Eli's going to be an elite QB very soon.

Tennessee at Washington
Jeff Fisher deserves a better team than the one he has; Joe Gibbs should have done a lot more with the team he has.
Redskins 30, Titans 14
Titans 25, Redskins 22--we learned that Jeff Fisher is a better coach than Joe Gibbs, and maybe the Titans weren't wrong to draft Vince Young.

Buffalo at Detroit
I should pick Buffalo, but the Bills never do what I pick, so I’m going to hope the Lions finally get it together on both sides of the ball this week (but don’t count on it).
Lions 27, Bills 24
Lions 20, Bills 17--we learned that I can pick a correct point spread from time to time.

Carolina at Baltimore
Both teams have good defenses, and Baltimore’s is probably a bit better, but Carolina’s offense is miles better than the Ravens, so I’m going blue over black-and-blue.
Panthers 17, Ravens 10
Panthers 23, Ravens 21--we learned that maybe Kyle Boller wasn't the problem with the Baltimore offense, and that Carolina's the most dangerous team in the NFC.

Cincinnati at Tampa Bay
I look for Cincy to bounce back big after a tough loss and a bye week to put together a game plan.
Bengals 31, Bucs 20
Bucs 14, Bengals 13--We learned that Cincy was overrated from the start this year, and maybe Carson Palmer came back too soon from his knee injury.

San Diego at San Francisco
Well, this doesn’t hardly seem fair, now, does it?
Chargers 38, 49ers 7
Chargers 48, 49ers 19--we learned that Phillip Rivers is a potential star, and SD is the one team no one wants to play.

Kansas City at Pittsburgh
I don’t like KC on the road with a backup QB against a defending championship team that will be nothing short of desperate for a win this week.
Steelers 23, Chiefs 13
Steelers 45, Chefs 7 (not a typo!)--we learned that Big Ben's not dead yet.

Miami at New York Jets
Man, do I feel stupid for picking Miami to win the AFC East. I’m not sure they can win four games this season.
Jets 28, Dolphins 6
Jets 20, Dolphins 17--we learned that the Jets suck only slightly less than Miami.

Oakland at Denver
All the pejoratives have been exhausted to describe this putrid Raiders team.
Broncos 27, Raiders 3
Broncos 13, Raiders 3--we learned that the Broncos don't have enough offense to go to the Superbowl this year, regardless of how well their defense plays.

Chicago at Arizona
Oh, the cruelties of the NFL scheduling system…
Bears 49, Cardinals 0
Bears 24, Cardinals 23--we learned to stop comparing this Bears team to 1985, and we were reminded that Bill Bidwell's Deadbirds will always find a way to lose. They don't just need change of ownership; they need an exorcism.

This week: 8-5
Last week: 14-0
Season: 64-23 (.736)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

NFL Week Five Picks: Home Cookin'

Almost nothing but home teams on my pick list except for the two Missouri teams, both of whom are playing bad 1-3 teams on the road. I went with a bunch of road winners in week one, so maybe this set will do as well. Frankly, it's hard to pick against the home teams this week due to the matchups. On with the picks...

St. Louis at Green Bay
I went back and forth on this one. If the Rams offense reverts back to form and Favre has a big day against the Rams' secondary, the Pack could take this one. On the other hand, Favre is hurt, his O-line stinks, and their defense is really, really bad. I think either way you look at it, the odds are in St. Louis' favor. Hopefully last week's scoring binge blew the cobwebs out of the passing game. Note to Jim Haslett: Blitz early, blitz often.
Rams 29, Packers 17

Tampa Bay at New Orleans
Even with an expected loss at Carolina, the Saints didn't show as much of a letdown as most people expected, and if a couple of breaks go their way, they beat Carolina and sit at 4-0. As it stands, they should be able to beat a Tampa team with no proven QB and the rest of its parts in disarray.
Saints 24, Bucs 10

Tennessee at Indianapolis
The only thing of interest in this game is the over-under on Colts points.
Colts 42, Titans 6

Detroit at Minnesota
Another game I can't decide without the flip of a coin. The Vikings offense has been nonexistent so far, but their defense has been solid, so I think they'll run on the Lions' D, control the clock and grind out another low-scoring win. I like Brad Johnson, but he's got to lead this team into the end zone if they want to be relevant this year.
Vikings 17, Lions 13

Buffalo at Chicago
They should institute a mercy-rule clause for this one.
Bears 38, Bills 0

Washington at New York Giants
Brunell and Portis looked good last week beating Jacksonville, but I'm also beginning to wonder if Jax's first few games weren't an aberration caused by the fact that offenses usually start much slower in the early weeks of the season. I think Coughlin, Eli and Tiki all right the Giants' ship this week with a tough victory in a close game.
Giants 27, Redskins 24

Cleveland at Carolina
How come Carolina gets to play a schedule that looks like the first few weeks of the D-1 college football schedule? How about some freakin' competition already? Cleveland! Sheesh!
Panthers 31, Browns 13

Miami at New England
This game is simply cruel and unfair. Oh, well.
Patriots 35, Dolphins 3

Oakland at San Francisco
The Niners looked really bad on the road against the Chiefs, but the Chiefs were coming off a bye week and still pissed about the Cincy game. Frisco's played pretty good at home, and the Raiders are on the verge of total disintegration.
49ers 37, Raiders 14

Kansas City at Arizona
Matt Leinert will get his first start at the Pink Taco, but Herm Edwards should have the KC defense thirsty for rookie blood. As long as they can tackle Edge James, they should be able to bust through that terrible Arizona O-line and make Matt's day just miserable. Damon Huard looked more than competent as Trent Green's placeholder last week.
Chiefs 30, Cardinals 16

New York Jets at Jacksonville
The Jags have one more game--this one--to prove to me I wasn't right about them in the first place with my preseason preview. I don't believe they'll lose a third straight, though, any more than I believe the Jets can have two quality road games in a row. I'm not confident about this pick, but I'm less confident in the Jets' ability to win in the Jags' house.
Jaguars 23, Jets 19

Dallas at Philadelphia
This is such a grudge match, it feels like it should be on Pay-Per-View. I don't think the real story here is T.O. I think it's about how an aggressive Philly defense will be able to stop the Dallas run and pressure immobile Dallas QB Drew Bledsoe into taking costly sacks and making ill-advised passes that get picked off. This will be a low-scoring defensive struggle that will ultimately come down to turnovers, and I see Philly on the plus side.
Eagles 24, Cowboys 20

Pittsburgh at San Diego
Pittsburgh is coming off a bye week, which should be good for Big Ben at QB, but they're playing in San Diego, who should be doubly-motivated after a stupid, unnecessary loss last week against the Ravens. Look for another low-scoring defensive gem, but the Chargers just have more offensive weapons at this point--as long as Rivers doesn't throw untimely picks again.
Chargers 20, Steelers 13

Baltimore at Denver
I still don't think Baltimore is for real, but they get their chance to prove it at Mile High this Monday night. If Shanahan could figure out the N.E. defense, I think he can beat these guys, too.
Broncos 20, Ravens 13

Last week: 9-5
Season 42-18 (.700)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

NFL, end of First Quarter

Lots of people like to do power polls for the NFL. Why bother? What matters is the standings and who gets into the playoffs. After the first four weeks, here's what we have to work with:

1) Chicago Bears (4-0, lead North)
2) Seattle Seahawks (3-1, lead West)
3) New Orleans Saints (3-1, lead South)
4) Philadelphia Eagles (3-1, lead East)
5) Atlanta Falcons (3-1, 2nd in South)
6) St. Louis Rams (3-1, 2nd in West)

The Bears are the overwhelming favorite to secure home field advantage, and in a few weeks, people will start comparing them (wrongly) to the 1985 team (the best football team ever in the history of the NFL, and we will NOT discuss it) and start asking the inevitable 1972 Dolphins question. Seattle will need to show that they can win on the road without Shawn Alexander. The Saints will fall back behind Carolina (who's getting healthy) and Atlanta. The Eagles can consolidate power in the East by beating the now doubly-hated Cowboys (as if they needed further reason to hate anything in Philly). The Falcons will compete with Carolina for the South title. The Rams have to prove that they can win on the road and that their offense can produce like it did against a bad Lions defense when it faces better competition. Right now, I can only designate Chicago and Seattle as sure-fire playoff locks; Philly and Atlanta look good; I don't see New Orleans or St. Louis staying in playoff contention.

1) Indianapolis Colts (4-0, leading South)
2) Baltimore Ravens (4-0, leading North)
3) New England Patriots (3-1, leading East)
4) Denver Broncos (2-1, leading West)
5) Cincinnati Bengals (3-1, 2nd in North)
6) San Diego Chargers (2-1, 2nd in West)

Indy's a lead-pipe cinch to clinch home-field advantage for the entire playoffs; I don't see them losing more than 2 or 3 games all season. They have already shown a toughness and resiliency in the past two weeks that we haven't seen in the past. The Ravens can't be for real, can they? Sure, their defense is great again, but can they really limit opponents to less than 16 points each week? I'm still not convinced. New England is Jason Voorhees, Mike Myers and Freddy Kruger all rolled up in one. Just when you think they're dead, they jump back up and kill you. They'll win that crummy division because of the crummy competition. The Broncos won't win more than 9 games with Plummer at QB, so they'll fall back. Cincy got cocky and got knocked in the dirt against N.E.; we'll see if it helps them grow up or throw up. I still think the Chargers will win the West. All six teams have a legit shot to make the playoffs, with Indy and N.E. locks, Cincy and S.D. better than 75% chance, Baltimore and Denver less than 50% chance. We'll take another look at the state of the league after halftime--week 8.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Cards-Padres, game one review

Message to the Eastcoast Sports Promotion Network:

CHRIS CARPENTER! What, sucker?!

ALBERT PUJOLS, beeyotch!!!

Eat it, you Connecticut wussies!

Monday, October 02, 2006

MLB Division Series Preview

American League
Detroit at New York Yankees
Jim Leyland should get manager of the decade for the job he’s done with this previously moribund franchise, but they’ve been running on fumes for more than a month now. It took everything they had just to hold on to their playoff spot, and they ended up dropping the division title in the end. Detroit has youth and talent, but the Yankees have veteran experience, and that counts for so much more in the playoffs than the regular season.
Yankees in four games

Oakland at Minnesota
I know Minnesota’s got Johann Santana and have been on an epic tear, but I have to think that Oakland has been lurking under the radar and will give the Twins more than they can handle. However, I have to stop short of picking the A’s to win the series because of Santana and the Twins’ pernicious (and stupid) home field advantage. I hate the freaking Metrodome as both a Vikings fan (1998 NFC Championship) and a Twins hater (1987 World Series).
Twins in five games

National League
Los Angeles Dodgers at New York Mets
I like the Dodgers in this series because the Mets remind me of the Cardinals of the past two years—clinched early, didn’t do much the last few weeks, short on starting pitching and relying on hitters who may or may not come through. I like the Dodgers’ pitching much better, and I like their veteran leadership better than the Mets youngsters.
Dodgers in four games

St. Louis at San Diego
Okay, so the Cardinals squeaked in; at least they got in. But it would be foolish to think they are going to get on a roll now when they haven’t been on any sort of roll since before the All-Star break. Can the Cards steal this series? It is possible, but only if Chris Carpenter wins both his starts and Albert hits like Babe Ruth while getting some timely support from Edmonds and Rolen. The Cardinals have had good luck against San Diego in past playoffs, but I can’t believe that the Birds have anything to offer after the last horrendous month. On the other hand, since the “experts” at the Eastcoast Sports Promotion Network don’t even think the Cardinals deserve to be here, there’s nothing I’d like to see more than a Redbird upset…but I’m not predicting it here.
Padres in four games

Saturday, September 30, 2006

NFL Week Four Picks

Friends, today is my 11th wedding anniversary, so it's just "quick picks" this week.

KC over SF
Larry Johnson and the KC home field advantage too much for young but promising Niners.

Houston over Miami
Anyone else want to pick Daunte Culpepper on the road? Me neither, even at the city that didn't pick Reggie Bush.

Dallas over Tennessee
T.O. circus or not, the Cowboys are just better than the Titans.

Indy over NY Jets
All the haters want to talk about is how "Jax punched Indy in the mouth." Yeah, but who won the game, haters? Who was the last man standing, haters? Peyton Manning, haters.

Minnesota over Buffalo
Simple math: the Vikings are better than the Jets, and the Jets beat Buffalo in their place.

San Diego over Baltimore
In a matchup of tough defenses, San Diego's offense is vastly superior.

Carolina over New Orleans
Carolina's getting back on track, and N.O.'s due for a big emotional letdown after their great performance Monday night.

Atlanta over Arizona
Kurt Warner's last stand.

St. Louis over Detroit
Because I'm a homer--sue me.

Cleveland over Oakland
Because Oakland's going 0-16 this season.

Jacksonville over Washington
The Jags will take out some of their Colts-inspired anger management issues out on the Skins this week.

Cincinnati over New England
Old boss, meet the new boss.

Seattle over Chicago
I'm picking the champs until somebody beats them. Plus, Seattle's much better than Minnesota, who almost (and should have) beat the Bears last week.

Philly over Green Bay
Despite my preseason picks, I like Philly to win the NFC East.

Last week: 8-6
Season: 33-13

Friday, September 29, 2006

Expiration Date: Ten Years

The Cardinals' end-of-the-year collapse is, in the long run, irrelevant. This is a team that has only one legitimate major-league caliber starter (Chris Carpenter) and only one hitting threat (Albert Pujols). Other than Scott Rolen, who looks exhausted both offensively and defensively, the team is staffed by bench players and third-tier free agents for position players and a bullpen better suited for Memphis or Springfield.

The reason the Cardinals have stayed in first place for so long has more to do with the mediocrity of the other teams in the division than with anything the Cardinals have accomplished. They are a .500 team, and they are lucky to have won as many as they have. Even if they hold off the Astros and squeak into the playoffs, there should be no reasonable expectation of their escaping the first round of play.

What this season really indicates is the end of Tony LaRussa’s term as Cardinals manager, and there’s no reason to blame him, or the players, or the management, or even the owners. It’s simply part of the natural cycle of managers in Major League Baseball.

Most Cardinals fans think of the Whitey Herzog era as the golden age of modern Cardinals baseball, and in a way, it certainly was. Herzog was the last manager to win the World Series (1982), and he won two other NL Pennants (’85 and ’87).

But Herzog also underachieved in the two World Series he lost, mismanaging his pitching staff (a common LaRussa criticism) and allowing his offense to crumble under pressure. At the end of Whitey’s term, his team simply quit playing for him. Whitey managed the Cardinals for 10 years.

The legendary Red Schoendienst, who managed during Bob Gibson’s best years and won the WS in ’67 and the NL in ’68 also managed for 10 years before stepping down. Joe Torre only lasted five years, but he was dealing with the end of the brewery ownership and the inept GM skills of Dal Maxvill.

LaRussa is finishing up his tenth year, and it’s clear that the best thing for everyone concerned—fans, players, coaches, management and ownership—is an amicable, “it was wonderful while it lasted” divorce. There’s no need to feel traumatized; it’s simply part of the natural order of things. It’s time for all of us to move on. This epic collapse is simply bringing that fact to an undeniable recognition.

LaRussa, should he choose to continue his career, will certainly have another successful run. And if history is any indication, the Cardinals should be rejuvenated under a new skipper. There will be many names brought to bear, but let me mention Jose Oquendo and submit that he may again be the Cardinals’ “secret weapon” to bring glory back to Cardinal Nation.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

NFL Week Three Picks--oh, the humanity!

Strange to say, but only three weeks into the NFL season, we have already come to the point where half the games could possibly define the fate of individual teams and the course of the season as a whole. Why? Because some teams are an unexpected 2-0 and could assert dominance in their divisions, while other 0-2 teams risk watching their playoff hopes fall away before we’ve reached the first quarter post.

Having said all this, the matchups this week are an absolute picker’s nightmare. I’m standing at 25-7 for the season, but I can see myself picking 4-10 this week. I’m so glad I’m not a gambler; this week just smells like an “I’ve got to start working weekends at Wal-Mart” experience.

Carolina at Tampa Bay
Steve Smith returns like a superhero to save Carolina’s season and wreck what’s left of Tampa’s. The question from here on out is, “What does Jon Gruden do with Chris Sims?” How long will it be until Tampa’s offense scores a touchdown? What’s the NFL record?
Panthers 27, Bucs 9
Just how bad is Carolina? Yeah, I know they won, but just barely, on the foot of clutch kicker Jon Casey. Maybe you have to give Gruden credit for getting his team back in, but Carolina sure doesn't look like NFC champs by any stretch of the imagination.
Panthers 26, Bucs 24

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
It all comes down to this for me: Cincy believes that if Carson Palmer hadn’t been injured against the Steelers, they would have been the ones going to Detroit. This is, plain and simple, a revenge game where the Bengals show they are the alpha dog in the AFC North.
Bengals 24, Steelers 17
I'm gonna have to get Dish Network, I guess. My local CBS station was carrying the atrocious Tennessee-Miami game instead of this one. Guh! The Steelers path to the playoffs just got harder; now they have to win in Cincinnati just to even the series.
Bengals 28, Steelers 20

Green Bay at Detroit
This should be the week Mike Martz takes his offense off of the city streets and onto the Interstate; Favre may still have another good week, but Green Bay doesn’t have any defense, especially a secondary. Fantasy geeks who took Jon Kitna should feel good this week.
Lions 27, Packers 13
Packers 31, Lions 24

Tennessee at Miami
I’ll take Miami this week in spite of Culpepper just because Tennessee is such a mess right now. I agree with Jeff Fisher taking it slow with Vince Young; losing is losing—there’s no point in killing your rookie QB when it won’t make any difference.
Dolphins 17, Titans 6
Yikes, Miami is a really bad football team. I thought Saban would have a better team than this. Yuck.
Dolphins 13, Titans 10

Jacksonville at Indianapolis
The Colts had trouble with the Jags last year, when Indy was clearly the better team. Now, Indy’s taken a step back in the running game with the loss of Edge James, and their defense is suffering key injuries. In the meantime, Jax has built the most intimidating defense in the league. My gut feeling says Indy simply cannot win this game.
Jaguars 21, Colts 17
Boy, Indy really showed me something last week by withstanding an early barrage of absolute dominance by the Jags without falling apart. Peyton looked like a warrior in the second half, and even though it won't silence the haters (who simply live to hate because Peyton's not on their team), the Colts asserted themselves as the favorites again in the AFC.
Colts 21, Jags 14

NY Jets at Buffalo
Buffalo’s defense is the exact opposite of the Rams’ offense: it’s much better than I thought it would be, and until they show me something different, all things being equal, I’m sticking with them, especially at home against the Jets.
Bills 17, Jets 13
Oh crap, I forgot about Buffalo's offense! And so did they!
Jets 28, Bills 20

Washington at Houston
The question to be asked at each and every Texans game for the rest of season is, obviously, “Why didn’t you idiots take Reggie Bush?” If they had Reggie, people would consider that they at least had a fighting chance every game. As it is, does anyone think to themselves, “Well, the Texans have Mario Williams, and he ought to be able to stop Portis and Brunell!” Yeah, me neither.
Redskins 23, Texans 14
Even though Houston's baseball team is going to steal the NL Central away from the Cardinals here in the last week, I can take solace in two facts: 1) the worst president in the history of the U.S. claims your smog-ridden hellhole as home; 2) Reggie Bush! Reggie Bush! Reggie Bush! Reggie Bush! Reggie FREAKIN' BUSH!!!!!
Skins 31, Mario Williams 15

Chicago at Minnesota
Probably the most intriguing matchup of 2-0 teams because those of us who are fans (Vikings and Bears both) want to know if our team is for real. For the Bears, they need to find out if Rex Grossman’s the real deal; for the Vikes, we just need to know if the first two games were just a fluke. As much as it pains me to pick against the Purple, especially at the Dome, I just can’t see the Bears defense giving up more points to Brad Johnson and Chester Taylor than Grossman and company is going to score on the Vikes’ D. I think it’s close, but I don’t think the Purple has as much talent yet as the Black and Blue.
Bears 27, Vikings 20
The Vikings are for real, I think, but they also have a low-octane ball-control offense that leaves them absolutely no margin for error. If this team turns the ball over--like they did Sunday--then they'll lose close games. They need to shake off this game and focus on next week. I really like Brad Childress--he's right out of the no-nonsense Bud Grant mode this team needs.
Bears 19, Vikings 16

Baltimore at Cleveland
Baltimore is really benefiting early in the season from a relatively easy schedule. The real test for them—and more to the point, their offense—will come against Cincy and Pitt. But until then, they can run up their record on also-rans such as the Browns.
Ravens 21, Browns 10
What the heck? You mean Steve McNair's 57 years old? The Ravens won't be able to beat a team with a decent offense.
Ravens 15, Browns 14

Philadelphia at San Francisco
I think the Eagles are going to bounce back after last week’s choke against the Giants, and I think the Niners will be overconfident about beating the Rams’ hapless offensive (non)attack. This one won’t really be close.
Eagles 31, 49ers 14
Philly better work on closing out games, even with a big lead.
Eagles 38, Niners 24

NY Giants at Seattle
I wouldn’t count on the Giants come-from-behind win as a sign of things to come. Seattle, who simply doesn’t lose at home, is going to bring them back down to earth. In a weakened conference, all Seattle needs to do is win enough games to clinch home field, and it should be another trip to the NFC Championship.
Seahawks 23, Giants 16
Seattle looked invincible last week, but then Shawn Alexander came up with a broken bone in his foot. If teams can shut down the run now, will Hasselbeck still be able to pick apart secondaries like he did Sunday? This weeks showdown in Chicago will be very telling. Oh, and someone tell Eli Manning that the first three quarters count, too.
Seahawks 42, Giants 30

St. Louis at Arizona
I said it last week: until the Rams offense comes to life, I’m just not going to pick them on the road against a team that can score, and the Cardinals should score more than enough to beat the Rams, who simply aren’t capable of scoring more than 17 points. Look for Kurt Warner to have a huge day against his old mates.
Cardinals 31, Rams 13
I hate to say it, but Warner looks just done. Hey, it happens. He had a storybook run in St. Louis, but Matt Leinert's gonna be starting this season, sooner or later. The Cardinals choked this one up just as if they had never left St. Louis. Oh, and I still loathe Marc Bulger.
Rams 16, Cardinals 14

Denver at New England
It seems apparent at this point that Jake Plummer sold his soul to the devil last year, only to see Old Scratch renege on his deal in favor of Ben Roethlisberger. Satan’s just fickle, I guess, except where the NY Yankees are concerned, of course.
Patriots 38, Broncos 16
I've never been so glad to be wrong. The Patriots' dynasty is over. Oh, they'll still win their division--because it stinks--but they're not getting out of wild card weekend.
Broncos 17, Patriots 7

Atlanta at New Orleans
Sure, N.O. is the sentimental favorite, what with all the Katrina recovery hoopla, but Atlanta’s one of the top three teams in the NFC right now, and all the Reggie Bush magic in the world is not going to be able to stop the Falcons’ running attack. It ought to be an emotional MNF broadcast, though, and worth tuning in to.
Falcons 30, New Orleans 17
So, was this the emotion of the moment, or is New Orleans really the dominant team in the NFC South? And what happened to Atlanta's offensive attack? The beauty of the NFL is that every week brings new surprises and a host of unanswered questions--it's like "Lost" as a reality series.
Saints 23, Falcons 3

Last Week: 12-4
Season: 25-7

Saturday, September 16, 2006

NFL Week Two Picks—updated with comments

Well, I started off the season pretty good last week at 13-3, though if I had gone with common sense and picked Pittsburgh and Jacksonville at home, it would have been 15-1. Sometimes you can just think these things through too much. Let's see how Week Two goes...

Carolina at Minnesota
It's clear what Brad Childress is trying to do—he's turning the Vikings into an NFC East team: determined running game that grinds you for four quarters, a possession-smart QB who doesn't make mistakes and a blitzing defense that keeps constant pressure on the opposition. On the flip side, Carolina has too many injuries to win in a Metrodome that should be completely geeked out to have something good to cheer about on the field again.
Vikings 24, Carolina 13
Give lots of credit to that Carolina defense, but the Vikings find a way to get it done at home. Next week's battle with Chicago is actually meaningful!
Vikings 16, Panthers 13 (OT)

Detroit at Chicago
I'm so encouraged to see Detroit players making promises they can't keep when they're only 0-1. This one's gonna get U-G-L-Y. Urlacher might actually decapitate Jon Kitna. Seriously.
Bears 31, Lions 3
Well, I was really close to calling this one on the money, wasn't I?
Bears 34, Lions 7

Houston at Indianapolis
So, let me get this straight. Houston execs say they drafted Mario Williams because it was more important to stop Peyton Manning than to score points? Suddenly the whole "George W. Bush, native of Houston, Texas" makes perfect sense.
Colts 41, Texans 10
This game was over at halftime; CBS cut away coverage in the second quarter when it was 27-3. The only reason Houston scored 24 is that Indy put their cheerleaders in on defense in the fourth quarter.
Colts 43, Texans 24

New Orleans at Green Bay
I'm so old, I remember when Green Bay was the joke of the league, just an awful team that had fond memories of the glorious championship days of the past. Hey, it turns out history does repeat itself, doesn't it?
Saints 24, Packers 14
Reports of the death of Brett Favre have been greatly exaggerated. Reports of the nonexistence of the Packers' defense, however, have not. It's hard to win when you can't stop the other team from scoring.
Saints 34, Packers 27

New York Giants at Philadelphia
Yeah, the Giants looked good at home against Indy, even though they lost, and Philly did play at Houston, but my gut tells me not to pick against Philly at home right now. Any of my readers with gambling problems, however, should avoid this game like the plague.
Eagles 24, Giants 21
The Eagles should be kicking each other in the butt tonight after pissing away a 17 point lead in the fourth quarter at home. Give the Giants credit for coming back, and Eli had a HUGE day, but this collapse was just inexplicable for an Andy Reid defense. Eagles fans: I suggest Jack Daniel's with dinner tonight.
Giants 30, Eagles 24 (OT)

Oakland at Baltimore
To all of my readers with gambling problems: This is your sure thing. (I am NOT advising anyone to gamble, of course, and you should keep in mind my frequent and persistant incorrectness.)
Ravens 48, Raiders 0
Okay, so it wasn't that bad, but Oakland is easily the worst team in the NFL.
Ravens 28, Raiders 6

Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Turns out the heavy traffic in western Florida was me and all the other jumping off the TAMPA bandwagon. Go figure. Betcha wish you had gone ahead and taken Mike Vick when you had the chance to draft him in your fantasy league. Sucker!
Falcons 27, Bucanneers 17
I can't believe I predicted that Tampa would score two touchdowns. So what does Chucky do now, hit the "eject" button on Chris Simms? Did anyone think Tampa would really be this bad? BTW, Vick ran for more than 120 yards, fantasy geeks!
Falcons 14, Bucs 3

Cleveland at Cincinnati
Well, look at it this way...Bill Belicheck will probably give Romeo Crennel his old job back next year.
Bengals 38, Browns 9
So, how many Bengals fans are checking for Miami area hotel reservations in early February, hmm?
Bengals 34, Browns 17

Buffalo at Miami
Okay, so Nick Saban's had almost two weeks to plan for his home opener after Culpepper spit up that game against Pittsburgh, and Buffalo just came off a gut-punch loss in an effort to upset the Pats? I smell rout.
Dolphins 35, Bills 13
Okay, the next time I pick Miami to win this year, someone send me an e-mail with these two words: "Daunte Culpepper." Thanks, I appreciate that. Could Buffalo be this year's surprise worst-to-first team? Not in their division, but they are no pushovers, that's for sure. Let's see what happens now that teams start taking them seriously.
Bills 16, Dolphins 6

Arizona at Seattle
I can't do it. I just can't. I'm sorry Kurt, you're my guy, and I'm pulling for you, but you're just not the Vikings or the Rams. No sucker picks for the Cardinals—I wasted too many years as a kid with your team for that.
Seahawks 24, Cardinals 17
This was about what I expected.
Seahawks 21, Cardinals 10

St. Louis at San Francisco
I kept hearing this line in my head last week after the Rams' stellar effort on defense. I can't quote it directly because my mom reads this, but it's in the third act of "Pulp Fiction" after Jules and Vincent clean up the car, and they, along with Jimmy and The Wolf are admiring their handiwork. They're all very excited until The Wolf reminds them, "Let's not start [kissing] each other's [mouths] just yet, gentlemen." I want to see the Rams beat the Niners on the road, especially since they didn't look that bad against Arizona last week. Expect the Rams offense to find their groove this week.
Rams 31, 49ers 13
Let's see, what did we have in this game? A crushing mistake on special teams coverage, wide open opposing receivers running untouched in a clueless Rams secondary, gaping running holes in the defensive line, crappy tackling, no pass rush, spotty play by a makeshift offensive line, inexplicable play calling, infuriatingly stupid penalties and a quarterback who acts like he just joined the club and met his teammates about an hour before gametime. Does that sound about right? It sure sounds like the Rams to me. This was a winnable game, even up until the end, but I don't have any faith whatsoever in Marc Bulger. As a matter of fact, I despise him. The good news is that as long as he can't execute Scott Linehan's offense (which is a good one—it worked great in Minnesota and Miami), this is probably his last year with the Rams. Until this offense gets going—and I have to see it before I'll predict it—I'm considering the Rams underdogs for the rest of the season.
49ers 20, Rams 13

Tennessee at San Diego
Do you think Jeff Fisher actually updates his resume on the sideline in between plays? I mean, because there's no way he can survive this disaster, right? Fisher's great, but he's just screwed with this team. They don't have any offense whatsoever. He might as well play Vince all the time. Hell, institute the option wishbone—it couldn't be any worse. Oh, and it's now about 16-17 weeks until Marty's annual playoff C-H-O-K-E.
Chargers 35, Titans 6
Don't get excited,'s still Marty Schottenheimer, okay?
Chargers 40, Titans 7

Kansas City at Denver
Who's Damon Huard?
Broncos 38, Chiefs 16
Good grief, Jake Plummer has got to be sweating more than Albert Brooks in the anchor chair in "Broadcast News" about now. If I'm Jason Elam, I'm going to dinner tonight with Plummer's AmEx card. Oh, and Kansas City deserves Herm Edwards for the whole 1985 thing. No, I'm not going to get over it.
Broncos 9, Chiefs 6

New England at New York Jets
This is one of those games that I can think myself into circles over. See, Jets coach Eric Mangini was the Pats D-coord for Belicheck, so he knows the defense and knows how to attack it. But Belicheck knows what Mangini knows and that he knows it, so he's likely to do something different. Oh, screw it. Do I think the Jets will beat the Pats? Not bloody likely.
Patriots 23, Jets 17
It looked like the Pats were going to run away with this one, but the Jets made it a bit more interesting at the end. NE's 2-0, and probably 3-0 after getting Denver next week, but I'm certainly not afraid to play them if I'm one of the legit contenders in the AFC (Indy, Cincy, Pitt, Jax, SD).
Patriots 24, Jets 17 (oh, so close to perfect!)

Washington at Dallas
There's just no way on earth that Parcells is going to lose this game. Bledsoe's going to be on a shorter leash than a rabid pit bull. With no Clinton Portis, the 'Skins are bringing a knife to a gunfight.
Cowboys 30, Redskins 20
It should be clear to everyone by now that the NFC East was vastly overrated by most folks in the preseason. I think ten wins probably takes the division, and it looks like the Giants are the early favorite. Washington doesn't even look like an 8-8 team at this point, and Dallas is just average.
Cowboys 27, Redskins 10

Pittsburgh at Jacksonville
I'm just not going to pick against the Pittsburgh defense until I see someone with a legitimate chance to beat them. So far, I can't say that about anyone, especially a Jacksonville team that has serious injury problems on defense. It's close, but it's still the champs.
Steelers 24, Jaguars 21
Big Ben probably came back too early, but Chaz Batch wouldn't have beaten that defense last night, anyway. If Jacksonville can get their offense going, they have a legitimate shot at winning the AFC. Jack Del Rio is my early favorite for Coach of the Year.
Jags 9, Steelers 0

This week: 12-4

Last week: 13-3
Season: 13-3

Monday, September 11, 2006

Rams Recap—Week One

I had this nagging sense all week that the Rams would upset the Broncos—I remembered Miami's trouncing of Denver in week one last year—but this game was much more of a nail-biter than it needed to be. All in all, I was happy with the results, and I think there are far more positives than negatives, especially considering they beat a team that finished 13-3 last year and was the runner-up in the powerful AFC.

The Good
Well, duh! Did anyone believe that with their personnel upgrades and leadership from defensive maniac Jim Haslett that they wouldn't be better? Well, maybe not this much better. I loved their blitz schemes; they never showed the same look twice, and Jake Plummer never knew where the next rusher was coming from. Leonard Little was like Nicholson in "The Shining"--relentless and unstoppable. The secondary made some HUGE picks when they had to, and they did a much better job stopping the run than anyone expected them to against Denver.

The Bad
Too many interference penalties on the secondary, for starters. I hate giving away first downs. They also gave up too many big runs from scrimmage; it's clear they miss having run-stopping strong safety Adam Archuleta as the last-resort in the middle. I'm sure Haslett will address that problem this week. The team was also visibly tired at the end of each half, although the offense was partly to blame for that.

The Good
They moved the ball up the field well for several drives, even though they did not score a TD. Ball control is the most important factor. Steven Jackson showed how strong a runner he is, moving a whole pile of defenders forward on several runs. The line protected Bulger reasonably well, and the receivers did their usual outstanding job--when they actually had a chance to catch the ball.

The Bad
Lack of red zone TD's was their biggest problem, obviously. Why is this? Lousy timing between Bulger and his receivers, lousy blocking by the o-line inside the ten, unimaginative play-calling by Scott Linehan--pick your poison. The good news? Offenses always look shaky in the first four weeks of the NFL season. It takes time for a precision offense to gel, and it also takes time for an o-line to develop a tough, run-blocking attitude. Look at Notre Dame's first week offense compared to how they played this past weekend against Penn State. I expect the same difference next week from the Rams offense.

Special Teams
The Good
Jeff Wilkins is so money, he knows he's money. Other than Adam Vinitieri (I still can't believe the Pats let him go, and to Indy, no less; watch and see how much they regret that), I wouldn't pick anyone other than Wilkins to kick. As far as kick coverage, they didn't give up the big play, which is all you ask of the coverage units.

The Bad
Other than a holding penalty that negated a good punt return, I have nothing bad to say about special teams, which is reason enough to be grateful that Mike Martz is languishing in the coaches' box in Detroit.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

NFL Week One Picks

Bit of honesty to start off with--in my mind, I picked Miami to beat Pittsburgh, so I'm going into Sunday 0-1 for the season. Oh, well. Let's see what this season brings us. I hate picking before week four; you really have no idea what you're going to get until then. I'd probably do just as well by flipping a coin.

NY Jets at Tennessee
Just hope you don't have to watch this game on your local affiliate with nothing else to see. This is easily the worst game of the week, but since someone has to lose...
Jets 17, Titans 6

Philadephia at Houston
Philly's hoping for a comeback year, while Houston's got to prove to their fan base that picking Mario Williams over Reggie Bush wasn't the biggest mistake in NFL Draft history. I like McNabb much better than Carr
Eagles 20, Texans 10

Cincinnati at Kansas City
Cincy--highest powered offense in the league; Marvin Lewis-led defense. KC--oldest offense in the league; bad defense. LJ could run for 200 yards and it's not going to matter.
Bengals 42, Chiefs 17

Denver at St. Louis
I'm just stupid, but I'm going to pick the Rams, and here's why: Denver has a brewing QB controversy, no established running back and inflated expectations of success after last year. No one expects the Rams to do anything, but I've got a gut feeling that Scott Linehan and Jim Haslett were playing possum in the preseason. It will be close, but I'm taking the Rams in an upset. (Oh yeah, and I'm a total St. Louis homer. So sue me.)
Rams 24, Broncos 21

Atlanta at Carolina
Carolina's expectations are so huge, and combined with the absence of Steve Smith and the fact they lost last year's season opener at home to New Orleans, I'm picking the Vick's in a road upset.
Falcons 27, Panthers 23

Baltimore at Tampa Bay
People in the Tampa/St. Petersberg metro area will find it difficult to travel on the roads shortly after the game due to all the people jumping off the Ravens' bandwagon. Don't drive angry!
Bucs 24, Ravens 9

Buffalo at New England
Aww, come on...
Patriots 35, Bills 7

New Orleans at Cleveland
One team has no defense, the other has no offense. I'm picking Drew Brees and Reggie Bush over the Browns' D.
Saints 28, Browns 24

Seattle at Detroit
What makes you think Mike Martz will have any more luck beating Seattle this year than he did last year? Jon Kitna's no Marc Bulger, that's for sure. I also think Seattle's playing all season with a big chip on their shoulder.
Seahawks 31, Lions 17

San Francisco at Arizona
Kool-Aid? Big Red Kool-Aid? It's cheap! It's always been cheap! Have some! It's good!
Cardinals 33, 49ers 13

Chicago at Green Bay
Maybe Brett Favre can con the Packers' ownership into trading him to the Bears right before the game starts, because that would be the only way he wins this Sunday.
Bears 24, Packers 6

Dallas at Jacksonville
Dang it, I just don't like Jacksonville, even at home, especially against this version of Parcell's defense and you-know-who lighting up the Jax secondary. I think the Jags are overrated this year; look how they got exposed by the Pats last year in the playoffs. This one will be fun to watch if you like vicious defenses beating the crap out of each other.
Cowboys 20, Jaguars 14

Indianapolis at NY Giants
Look at it this way--if you really needed to win a game (at least in the regular season), who would you take, Peyton to Marvin Harrison or Eli to Jeremy Shockey? Yeah, me too. Besides, it should be clear that I couldn't be more of an Indy apologist if my last name were "Dungy."
Colts 31, Giants 20

Minnesota at Washington
There's no friggin' way I'm not going to pick the Vikings in the season opener. Cut me; I bleed purple.
Vikings 30, Redskins 24

San Diego at Oakland
Oakland sucks. Eat my shorts, Randy Moss.
Chargers 38, Raiders 7

Check back on Tuesday to see how I did!

Friday, September 08, 2006

NFL 2006 Preview: Playoff Picks

Before I offer my playoff picks, I have to amend my Pittsburgh prediction from earlier in light of last night's game. Charlie Batch won't kill the team before Big Ben returns, and that defense is just nasty-awesome. I'm revising their record to 11-5. I still think Miami wins the AFC East—Culpepper will play better against lesser defenses; they almost won that game last night. Anyhoo, here are my playoff seeds, game matchup predictions and Superbowl pick. And yes, I'll be revising these at midseason when my wrongness is even more apparent. (Shuddup, shuttin'up, you!)

NFC Playoff Seeds
1. Seattle, 14-2 (West)
2. Carolina, 14-2 (South)
3. Dallas, 12-4 (East)
4. Chicago, 9-7 (North)
5. Atlanta, 12-4 (Wild Card)
6. NY Giants, 11-5 (Wild Card)

AFC Playoff Seeds
1. Indianapolis, 14-2 (South)
2. Miami, 13-3 (East)
3. Cincinnati, 12-4 (North)
4. San Diego, 12-4 (West)
5. Pittsburgh, 11-5 (Wild Card)
6. New England, 11-5 (Wild Card)

Wild Card Weekend
Dallas over NY Giants
Atlanta over Chicago

Cincinnati over New England
Pittsburgh over San Diego

Divisional Playoffs
Seattle over Atlanta
Carolina over Dallas

Indianapolis over Pittsburgh
Cincinnati over Miami

NFC Championship
Seattle over Carolina

AFC Championship
Indianapolis over Cincinnati

Superbowl XLI
Indianapolis over Seattle

Don't like the picks? Hit comments and show me what you got.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

NFL 2006 Preview: AFC North and West

We have a Tuck sighting! Off the starboard bow! He's firing with both barrels now! Today's picks should REALLY piss him off big time!

1) Cincinnati (12-4)
2) Pittsburgh (9-7)
3) Baltimore (7-9)
4) Cleveland (4-12)

I love the Bengals this year, provided Carson Palmer stays healthy. His knee will make everyone nervous for the first few weeks, but if it holds up, this team will be an offensive powerhouse that should blow most teams right out of the stadium. They will be the most explosive offense since the Vermeil/Martz-era Rams, and you know Marvin Lewis' defense won't stink, either.

Bring on the hate, haters. Pittsburgh is going to have a tough year because of injuries and subtractions. No Bettis, no Heinz Ward (for a while), no Randle-El, no Rothlisburger for the first couple of weeks (at least) spells danger. Have you looked at their schedule? Miami, at Jacksonville, Cincinnati, at San Diego, Kansas City, at Atlanta. Good God! They could start the season 0-3 and possibly 1-5. I'm being optimistic picking them to finish 9-7.

It seems like there's a lot of folks jumping on the Baltimore bandwagon. Not me. Ray Lewis and Jamal Lewis are both a year older, and anyone who thinks Steve McNair is the savior of this team didn't watch any of Tennessee's games last season. Sure, McNair's tough and competitive, but he's also 68 years old.

Cleveland...who plays for Cleveland? Who's their quarterback? Starting running back? Defensive star? Anyone? Yeah, that's what I thought.

1) San Diego (12-4)
2) Denver (11-5)
3) Kansas City (8-8)
4) Oakland (4-12)

San Diego finally gets a break in the schedule, which should put them over the top. New QB Phillip Rivers will get help from all-world RB LaDanian Tomlinson. This will give Marty Schottenheimer yet another opportunity to choke in the playoffs.

Denver will be an interesting team to follow just to see how many interceptions Jake Plummer has to throw before Broncos fans start clamoring for impressive rookie Jay Cutler to take over the starting job. I just want to watch Mike Shanahan's head explode like a nuclear device.

Kansas City's going to be mediocre because Trent Green, while a great guy, is too far over the hill to make a difference, and their new head coach, Herm Edwards, has his picture in the dictionary next to the word "mediocre."

Oakland can only aspire to mediocrity. Outlaws and scumbags might have worked for Al Davis back in the days before the salary cap, but these days the NFL is all about not making mental mistakes like turnovers and stupid penalties. Guess which team has led the league in penalties for about the past five years? I hope Randy Moss enjoys watching the Superbowl on television--again!

Tomorrow: Playoff and Superbowl picks