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

Monday, September 04, 2006

NFL 2006 Preview: AFC East and South

Tonight we move our attention to the AFC, where the likely Superbowl champion will emerge—again. Let's just hope it's not that team in Massachusetts.

1) Miami (13-3)
2) New England (11-5)
3) New York Jets (7-9)
4) Buffalo Bills (5-11)

Nick Saban did a lot more last year with the Dolphins than anyone thought he would, and that was without a real quarterback. Now he's got Daunte Culpepper, who should have a HUGE chip on his shoulder and something to prove to the rest of the league. Their defense will be nasty and almost impossible to score on. I like this team a lot this year.

New England is getting old, and they may have shot themselves in the foot with this Deion Branch non-signing problem, but as long as the names "Belichick" and "Brady" are on the top of the letterhead, they're a safe bet to win double digits and compete for a playoff spot.

The Jets will improve on defense thanks to Belichick disciple Eric Mangini, their new head coach, but I won't put any faith into Chad Pennington, and he doesn't have many weapons to go to anyway. Buffalo still thinks it's the mid-1990s with Marv Levy running the football operation. Someone explain to me why Buffalo has a team and Los Angeles doesn't?

1) Indianapolis (14-2)
2) Jacksonville (10-6)
3) Houston (6-10)
4) Tennessee (2-14)

Indianapolis won't flirt with perfection—I have them losing early in the season to Denver—but they will continue to focus on home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and this year Dungy and Manning won't let the game get away from them the way they did against Pittsburgh last year. In fact, I see them following the Steelers' gameplan: lose the playoffs as big favorites, learn your lesson, go out and win it all the next year. Oops, I just gave away my playoff predictions, didn't I?

Jacksonville will continue to serve as the bridesmaid in the south, although I see them falling back a bit due to a tougher schedule than last year. Houston will make some progress with new head coach Gary Kubiak, though I think he would have been better served with Reggie Bush. Tennessee will only win two games because it's just as hard to lose them all as it is to win them all. Jeff Fisher's gonna wish he had taken the job in St. Louis instead, Vince Young or not. By the way, he'll be starting by week seven and getting killed every Sunday. Happy trails!

Tomorrow: AFC North and West

Sunday, September 03, 2006

NFL Preview 2006: NFC North and West

Continuing with our look at the NFC, we now cover the last two divisions.

1) Chicago (9-7)
2) Minnesota (9-7)
3) Detroit (4-12)
4) Green Bay (4-12)

Notice something about those records? It's not an accident; we have two mediocre teams at the top of the division, and two very bad teams at the bottom. Chicago should continue to be tough on defense, but they don't have any offense, and by the time someone figures out that Brian Griese should be the starting quarterback, they'll have five or six losses. Maybe they'll get lucky and Rex Grossman will get hurt early in the season--again.

Minnesota is breaking in a new coach with a 37-year-old quarterback, no number one wide receiver and a running game that is better suited to appear on the side of a milk carton. About the best this team can hope for is to appear on ESPN more often for game highlights rather than the Minneapolis police reports.

Detroit might show flashes of Martz Madness on offense, and new head coach Rod Marinelli is certain to bring a bit more discipline to the team, but with a GM almost as incompetent as Isaiah Thomas in Matt Millen, they just don't have enough talent to compete with anyone else but the other bottom-feeders in the league.

Speaking of bottom-feeders...expect a major league case of buyer's remorse for Brett Favre that he didn't go ahead and retire last year. This is a bad, bad, bad football team.

1) Seattle (14-2)
2) Arizona (9-7)
3) St. Louis (7-9)
4) San Francisco (3-13)

I know everyone is talking about the curse of the SB loser (hasn't made the playoffs in six years or something like that), but take a look at Seattle's schedule--I picked them to lose twice because no team has gone undefeated since 1972, but they have a legitimate shot to run the whole table. Plus, they should play with a chip on their shoulder because they did get jobbed twice, and big, by the refs last February.

Arizona's a trendy pick for a lot of "experts," and I would love to see Kurt Warner take another team to the promised land, but we have to be realistic: this is still Bill Bidwell's team, and this is probably as good as it gets. They have a tough schedule, especially on the road, and until I see some evidence of an offensive line, I'm not betting any "straight cash, homey" on Warner starting the whole season.

The Rams are the parallel of the Vikings: new coach, suspect quarterback, unproven running game, nonexistent defense, inept special teams. Can Marc Bulger play like a Pro Bowl QB? Can the Steve and Steve show (Jackson and Davis, BTW) gain meaningful yards on the ground? It all depends on an offensive line that has been truly offensive in terms of quality of play for the past three years. Don't get me wrong, I hope the Rams show me something surprising. I have faith that Scott Linehan and Jim Haslett can get things straightened out on both sides of the ball, but I still look at their schedule and don't see any better than .500 in their 2006 future. Better luck next year, guys.

I hate San Francisco. I still remember how cocky and strutting they were back in their glory days. Enjoy the sewer, boys--you deserve it. I hope they go 0-16, but they do have Green Bay and Detroit on their schedule.

Tomorrow: AFC East and South

Saturday, September 02, 2006

NFL 2006 Preview: NFC East and South

It's here! It's finally here! The NFL season is less than one week away, and unlike this miserable baseball season, where the Cardinals have been in first place most of the year and still played like losers, I'm going into the NFL season with absolutely no illusions—both of my favorite teams, the Rams and the Vikings, are going to stink like roadkill on a hot August afternoon. But this will not stop me from making my annual preseason predictions, which, like those made by paid "experts" at ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, CBS, etc. all, are almost certain to be wrong. Since when did being wrong ever stop me? I'll do the NFC in two parts first, then two parts for the AFC, then playoff predictions leading up to Thursday night's kickoff. And away we go...

1) Dallas (12-4)
2) NY Giants (11-5)
3) Washington Redskins (8-8)
4) Philadelphia Eagles (6-10)

I'm picking Dallas for one reason: this is Bill Parcells' third year in Dallas, and he usually takes a team to the Superbowl in his third year. So are they my SB pick? Let's not get ahead of ourselves yet, please. I think Bledsoe's going to have a good year; I think that wide receiver will be a difference maker for their offense, and I think they've got far and away the best defense in the NFC.

This year will be Eli Manning's coming out party, but they have a tough road schedule, and I also have to wonder how much Tiki Barber has left in his tank. Running backs usually from hero to zero in just a few months. Manning's going to have a huge year passing, though, and he'll score enough to balance out a typically tough Tom Coughlin defense keeping games close.

The Redskins have an injured running back, an ancient quarterback and not much else on the defensive side. I just don't think they can score enough points to go better than .500. I'll say the same thing for Philadelphia—other than Donovan McNabb, can you name another offensive starter? Their running back hasn't played in more than two years. They'll give teams defensive trouble, but they'll lose double digits because of their inability to score touchdowns.

1) Carolina (14-2)
2) Atlanta (12-4)
3) Tampa Bay (11-5)
4) New Orleans (4-12)

I hate to pick Carolina because they are the "trendy" SB pick by all the so-called experts, but when you consider their weapons on both sides of the ball with their schedule, I don't see them really losing more than about three games unless they get hit hard with injuries.

This is the year Mike Vick puts it all together and has an MVP-caliber season, along with a powerful running game and an aggressive defense. Atlanta will be the team that nobody else in the league wants to play.

Chris Simms will solidify himself as the starting QB in Tampa, and that defense will be good again, but not really great. I don't think their players are as talented position-for-position as the other teams in the division, but they'll still compete for a playoff spot.

While Drew Brees and Reggie Bush will bring a new level of excitement to a city that needs something to cheer about, but they need a lot more than just two talented stars (a defense would be a good start) to bring a winning record to the Crescent City. Better luck next year, guys.

Tomorrow: NFC North and West