Sunday, October 19, 2008

NFL Picks, Week Seven

The Big 12 North should just become a separate football conference. The likes of Mizzou, Kansas and even Nebraska just can't compete with professional-level programs like Oklahoma and Texas. I guess it was fun while it lasted, but college is even more divided between haves and have-nots than the pros. Speaking of the NFL...

BUFFALO over San Diego
Bills are coming off a bye week, and San Diego has stunk on the road this season

BEARS over Vikings
No coach is more hated by both fans and players than Brad Childress.

Steelers over BENGALS
I'm not sure why Marvin Lewis doesn't just walk away from this mess.

Tennessee over KANSAS CITY
KC's simply overmatched talent-wise in every phase of the game.

CAROLINA over New Orleans
Two unpredictable teams, and Carolina is my kryptonite pick, but I'm still taking them at home.

ST. LOUIS over Dallas
No Romo, Rams at home and fired up over their first surprising win under Haslett—I know this is a stretch, but you have to take risks to win.

MIAMI over Baltimore
Okay, I'm not picking against Miami this week. Let's see how this works out.

NY GIANTS over San Francisco
The Giants will bounce back big after their dispirited loss to Cleveland last Monday.

HOUSTON over Detroit
I have nothing to say about this awful game except that it better not be on TV in Missouri.

NY JETS over Oakland
Yeah, firing Lane Kiffin was a great idea, Al. All your ideas are right, Mr. Davis. Would somebody tell me when Monty Burns bought the Raiders?

WASHINGTON over Cleveland
The Skins will bounce back, while the Browns will have a letdown.

Colts over PACKERS
I can't believe I need to say this, but don't sleep on Peyton Manning.

TAMPA BAY over Seattle
Good grief, Seattle is a god-awful team. They might actually finish behind the Rams at this point.

NEW ENGLAND over Denver
Denver is terribly inconsistent, and the Patriots don't usually lose two in a row, especially playing Monday night at home.

Last week: 10-4
Season: 57-31 (.648)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Quick Picks (and late) for NFL Week Six

You'll have to take my word that these were my ESPN Pigskin Pick'em Picks; you can see for yourself by navigating with the site link to the left and searching group "The Sandlot."

Atlanta over Chicago (correct)
Carolina over Tampa (wrong)
Washington over St. Louis (wrong)
Houston over Miami (correct)
Indianapolis over Baltimore (correct)
Minnesota over Detroit (correct)
New Orleans over Oakland (correct)
NY Jets over Cincinnati (correct)
Denver over Jacksonville (wrong)
Arizona over Dallas (correct)
Philadelphia over San Francisco (correct)
Green Bay over Seattle (correct)
San Diego over New England (correct)
NY Giants/38 over Cleveland/13 (wrong)

This week: 10-4
Last week: 8-6
Season: 57-31 (.648)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

NFL Week Five: Heads Are Rolling

In this week's edition of The Sandlot (sorry, but teaching 21 credit hours this fall means you get picks guaranteed only, plus bonus rants after Mizzou loses to either a) Nebraska or b) Texas and after Pujols gets screwed out of the MVP because of the retarded unwritten rule that only a player on a playoff team can win the award), we take odds on which NFL head coaches will be next on the chopping block and when they can expect the ax to fall. On with the picks...!

Chicago at Detroit
Now that Matt Millen's gone, Rod Marinelli should go ahead and put his house up for sale. Odds of firing: 85%; timing of firing: end of regular season; Lovie Smith looks safe.
Bears 31, Lions 21 [CHI 34 DET 7]

Atlanta at Green Bay
Atlanta's new coach is so new I can't think of his name; Mike McCarthy's safe in Green Bay because he went "all in" on Aaron Rodgers, who looks like a real NFL QB. Both coaches: safe this year.
Packers 27, Falcons 17 [ATL 27 GB 24]

San Diego at Miami
Miami's coach is hand-picked by Bill Parcells, so I consider him safe this year since that team has no expectation. Norv Turner's toast if the Bolts don't at least make the AFC title game, and even that may not be enough. Turner's firing odds: 60%; timing of firing: after playoff failure.
Chargers 33, Dolphins 20 [MIA 17 SD 10]

Seattle at New York Giants
Seattle's Mike Holmgren has already announced his retirement at the end of this season, so he doesn't count. The Giants will certainly keep Tom Coughlin unless this team has some unforeseen dramatic meltdown, which seems unlikely. Coughlin: safe this season.
Giants 38, Seahawks 14 [NYG 44 SEA 6]

Washington at Philadelphia
Jim Zorn is a first-year coach who shows more than just potential; he could take the Skins back to the Superbowl in a year or two. Andy Reid is an institution in Philadelphia; he will coach this team until he decides to leave—the Eagles' owner has complete faith in him. Both coaches safe this year.
Eagles 27, Skins 24 [WAS 23 PHI 17]

Kansas City at Carolina
I think the Chiefs value stability and recognize that Herm Edwards is rebuilding a very young team. Last week's win over Denver took him off the hot seat. John Fox is probably safe in Carolina, another stable franchise, even if they don't make the playoffs in a much-stronger NFC this year. Edwards: 20% chance of firing after season; Fox: 30% chance of firing if Panthers finish below .500.
Panthers 30, Chiefs 10 [CAR 34 KC 0]

Tennessee at Baltimore
Jeff Fisher's not going anywhere except to wherever they present the "NFL Coach of the Year" award...and just maybe back to the Superbowl. John Harbaugh's a first-year coach with a rookie QB, but he's already exceeding expectations. Both these guys are super-safe.
Titans 23, Ravens 19 [TEN 13 BAL 10]

Indianapolis at Houston
I have a very strong feeling that Tony Dungy will retire after this season, especially if they don't make the playoffs. It may be time for a change in Indy. Tony looks tired, and so does the team. Gary Kubiac probably hasn't had a fair chance to win in Houston, and with the hurricane this year, his job is probably safe. Chance of Dungy fired: none; chance of Dungy retiring: 70%; chance of Kubiac fired: 25%.
Colts 24, Texans 20 [IND 31 HOU 27]

Tampa Bay at Denver
Mike Shanahan's title is "Coach for life" in Denver. Chuckie's safe in Tampa, too, especially since they look like the favorites in the NFC South. Both coaches safe.
Broncos 41, Bucs 33 [DEN 16 TB 13]

Buffalo at Arizona
Dick Jauron has a legitimate chance to dethrone the Patriots in the AFC East. He looks safe...duh! Ken Whisenhunt has Arizona on the rise--at least offensively--but never underestimate the chances of the Bidwell's stupidly firing a good head coach. Jauron: safe. Whisenhunt: 15% chance of firing if Arizona misses playoffs.
Cardinals 34, Bills 27 [ARZ 41 BUF 17]

New England at San Francisco
Who is the head coach in Frisco now? I honestly can't think of the guy. Whoever he is, he ought to be kissing Mike Martz's big white butt with serious enthusiasm, because Martz's offense has made the Niners potentially relevant again. I guess that Belichick guy's probably safe, too, ya think? Niners' anonymous coach: 10% chance of being fired and replaced with Mike Martz. Belichick: -5000% chance of ever being fired again.
49ers 31, Patriots 17 [NE 30 SF 21]
p.s. I looked it up; his name is Mike Nolan. Oh, yeah.

Cincinnati at Dallas
This is an interesting game because you have a legitimate Superbowl contender in Dallas and a legitimate train wreck in Cincy, and both of them are highly likely to jettison their head coaches. Win or lose, I think Wade Phillips will either retire after winning a Superbowl or get fired after failing one more time to please his monomaniacal owner, Jerry Jones. Dallas is moving into a billion dollar new stadium next year, and if Jason Garrett isn't their new head coach, I'll pick the Rams to win the Superbowl next year. As far as Marvin Lewis is concerned, I don't think he'll make it to December. Wade Philllips fired/retired after season: 90% chance; Marvin Lewis fired in-season: 80% chance; after-season: 100% chance.
Cowboys 45, Bengals 16 [DAL 31 CIN 22]

Pittsburgh at Jacksonville
Two young coaches, both of whom aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Both coaches safe.
Jags 27, Steelers 21 [PIT 26 JAX 21]

Minnesota at New Orleans
The reason that the Vikings don't have a quarterback is because Brad Childress convinced himself and the organization that Tarvaris Jackson was ready to be the starting quarterback. The window of opportunity in the NFL is very narrow (see St. Louis, 1999-2002). The Vikings have maybe two years after this one to get to the top before they have to start over. If TJ is not the answer, then Childress has to pay the price. Then again, these are the Vikings. Chances Childress gets fired: 20%; How much Childress deserves to be fired: 95%; New Orleans' Sean Payton looks safe this year.
Saints 20, Vikings 9 [MIN 30 NO 27]

This week: 8-6
Last week: 9-4
Season: 47-27 (.635)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

NFL Week Four Picks—I'm back in the game! (updated with results)

After a dismal week three, I opted for mainly home cookin' last week, and I upped my percentage (now up yours) to .638--take that, experts! This looks like a boring week in the NFL, with the first round of byes, good teams gone bad and boring matchups abounding. Hope the NFL's not as upset-happy as the NCAA was this week; Mizzou better be grateful they had a bye, because most of the rest of the top 10 got beat. On with the picks!

Cleveland at Cincinnati
Even Ohio's tuning this game out. Since they both stink on ice, I'm going with the home team, who at least tried to win on the road against the Giants last week. But that doesn't mean I care.
Bengals 21, Browns 13 [CLE 20 CIN 12]

Minnesota at Tennessee
Yeah, I'm definitely not feeling the Gus Frerotte magic against the NFL's best head coach.
Titans 20, Vikings 7 [TEN 30 MIN 17]

Denver at Kansas City
If the NFL had a mercy rule, this one would be over at halftime.
Broncos 44, Chiefs 20 [KC 33 DEN 19]

San Francisco at New Orleans
Sure, New Orleans has no defense, but Frisco's gonna have to show me a road win in a tough venue before I'm volunteering to drink this Kool-Aid. Plus, Mike Martz never wins in the Big Easy.
Saints 27, 49ers 24 [NO 31 SF 17]

Arizona at New York Jets
Flip a coin. Yes, the Jets stink, but I hate Arizona on the road, despite my Warner for MVP campaign. Like the Niners, the Gridbirds gotta show me the money before I show them the love.
Jets 26, Cardinals 19 [NYJ 56 ARZ 35]

Green Bay at Tampa Bay
Well, it looks like Tampa is my pick kryptonite this year, so since I like the Packers, I'm picking the Bucs.
Bucs 31, Packers 27 [TB 30 GB 21]

Atlanta at Carolina
I'm thinking the Matt Ryan rookie year pattern is win, lose, win, this week, he's due for a loss.
Panthers 37, Falcons 23 [CAR 24 ATL 9]

Houston at Jacksonville
Jags got a huge lift with a big win at hopelessly diminished Indy last week. No way they're gonna roll over for the Moo Cows.
Jags 24, Texans 10 [JAX 30 HOU 27]

San Diego at Oakland
If Lane Kiffin is looking for a temp job after this week, there ought to be an opening in St. Louis. It couldn't possibly be worse than working for Al Davis.
Chargers 35, Raiders 17 [SD 28 OAK 18]

Buffalo at St. Louis
If St. Louis had gotten an expansion team instead of Jacksonville, they would have called them the Stallions. If the Rams were the Stallions, I could say, "They shoot horses, don't they?" At least in this case, they should.
Bills 41, Lambs 10 [BUF 31 STL 14]

Washington at Dallas
With all due respect to my loyal Steelers readers...Ladies and gentlemen, your 2008 Superbowl Champions: The Dallas Cowboys!
Cowboys 39, Skins 27 [WAS 26 DAL 24]

Philadelphia at Chicago
I don't like the Bears bumbling offense against the nastiest defense in the league, even at home.
Eagles 24, Bears 13 [CHI 24 PHI 20]

Baltimore at Pittsburgh
I don't care who's hurt and how bad, there's no way Pittsburgh is going to lose a division game at home on Monday night.
Steelers 17, Ravens 13 [PIT 23 BAL 20]

This week: 9-4
Last week: 12-4
Season: 39-21 (.650)

Friday, September 19, 2008

NFL Week Three Picks (updated)

I got killed last week thanks to a bunch of stupid late-game comebacks. Looks like lots of home team winners this week. Well, let's roll the dice.

Kansas City at Atlanta
So, which is the worst franchise in Missouri?
Falcons 27, Chiefs 6 [ATL 38 KC 14]

Oakland at Buffalo
The Bills resurgence continues. How long until we see Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas up in the press box with Marv Levy. Let's party like it's 1995, baby!
Bills 35, Raiders 17 [BUF 24 OAK 23]

Tampa Bay at Chicago
Brian Griese has shown that he can't win in Chicago. Look for Lovie to be more aggressive with the offense in the second half to avoid another late loss.
Bears 23, Bucs 20 [TB 27 CHI 24]

Houston at Tennessee
The Titans are on a roll now with Kerry Collins providing stable leadership, while the Texans, like the Astros (now in free-fall), are a team without a city.
Titans 30, Texans 13 [TEN 31 HOU 12]

Carolina at Minnesota
Gus Frerotte at QB? Adrian Peterson injured? Panthers on a roll? Everything points to a sure-fire Carolina win, which is why they will lose. Remember, the Panthers are this year's pick kryptonite (win when they should lose, lose when they should win).
Vikings 24, Panthers 21 [MIN 20 CAR 10]

Miami at New England
The Matt Cassell era continues! In retrospect, Bill Parcells will be sorry for turning down Arthur Blank and the Falcons. The football gods will punish him and the Fish this year for his two-timing ways.
Patriots 31, Dolphins 10 [MIA 38 NE 13]

Cincinnati at New York Giants
Another big win for the defending champs, still playing like champs. Meanwhile, Marvin Lewis is still cashing paychecks.
Giants 38, Bengals 7 [NYG 26 CIN 23]

Arizona at Washington
Kurt Warner, MVP. This year. I mean it.
Cardinals 28, Skins 24 [WAS 24 ARZ 17]

New Orleans at Denver
Mike Shanahan, coach of the year.
Broncos 33, Saints 23 [DEN 34 NO 32]

Detroit at San Francisco
I think Mike Martz will unleash every trick in his arsenal to crush the team that was so inept they couldn't run his genius offense. Why does Matt Millen still work in the NFL? He's so incompetant, he should be part of Pres. Bush's economic team.
49ers 41, Lions 27 [SF 31 DET 13]

St. Louis at Seattle
The end of Scott Linehan (not his fault) and hopefully, GM Jay Zygmunt (all his fault).
Seahawks 31, Rams 20 [SEA 37 STL 13]

Cleveland at Baltimore
I think a well-rested Ravens team will handle the tired and already beaten-up Browns in a typical AFC North snoozefest.
Ravens 17, Browns 13 [BAL 28 CLE 10]

Pittsburgh at Philadelphia
When one team only scores 10 against a team that gave up 28 to the team that gave up 38 to the team they're playing this week, and that team has an injured QB...I'm not saying, I'm just saying.
Eagles 34, Steelers 27 [PHI 15 PIT 6]

Jacksonville at Indianapolis
They should call last week's fourth quarter at Minnesota "How Peyton Got His Groove Back." Besides that, Indy simply OWNS the Jags, even last year when the Jags were good. Everyone on TV talks about how "physical" the Jags are, and how they "punched" Indy in the mouth. Uhh, guys, whydontcha check those final scores, eh?
Colts 29, Jags 16 [JAX 23 IND 21]

Dallas at Green Bay
Okay, here's the deal. Green Bay just barely squeaked by Minnesota at home, and the Vikings have no freaking offense whatsoever (yes, Peterson is great, but no one can run against 11 in the box, for Pete's sake). Meanwhile, Dallas just hung 41 on the great Philly defense. Aaron Rodgers, welcome to's called your first loss as a starter.
Cowboys 35, Packers 27 [DAL 27 GB 16]

New York Jets at San Diego
Stay unlucky, San Diego. They need to stop whining about last week and go take care of business. Mangini, in the meantime, seems to have forgotten that this Favre guy can kind of throw the ball a little bit.
Chargers 34, Jets 20 [SD 48 NYJ 29]

This week: 12-4
Last week: 8-7
Season: 30-17 (.638)

Friday, September 12, 2008

NFL Week Two Picks (updated with comments)

I was feeling really good about myself last week around 3:30 p.m. Then San Diego blew up at the end, Indy choked against Chicago, TJ threw that late interception and Oakland reminded us why they've been so bad for so many years. Ten and six isn't terrible for Week One, but I have higher standards than that. Let's see if last week's performances are actually indicative of this week's results. On with the picks!

Tennessee at Cincinnati
I honestly think that the Bengals team has completely checked out on Marvin Lewis. This is a team that, like St. Louis, needs a clean sweep from the president's office to the janitor's closet. In the meantime, the AFC's meanest defense should pick up where Baltimore left off last week. Kerry Collins is more than capable as Vince Young's stand-in; he could end up just being his replacement.
Titans 24, Bengals 7 [TEN 24 CIN 7]
Perfect! As I expected, Collins has been named QB from here on out.

New Orleans at Washington
The Saints are once again finding their rhythm on offense, while Jason Campbell struggles to learn another system. Someone needs to tell Dan Snyder that turning over a pro staff every two or three years is a sure-fire recipe for the kind of mediocre football we expect from D.C., where mediocre means you get to serve as leader of the free world.
Saints 30, Skins 20 [WAS 29 NO 24]
Saints have no defense, and Jason Campbell looked much better this week.

Chicago at Carolina
I don't think the Sunday night game was a fluke. I've always though Orton was a better choice at QB than Grossman. Factor in Forte as the featured running back and a healthy Brian Urlacher--my choice right now for defense player of this century--and the Bears are lurking as a potential NFC power again. I don't believe in Carolina, despite what they did in San Diego, because it's clear San Diego was a one-year wonder. That's Norv Turner for you.
Bears 27, Panthers 23 [CAR 20 CHI 17]
How in the world does the Bears defense blow a 17-3 lead. Guh!

Buffalo at Jacksonville
The Bills are a team with no expectations on the rise; the Jaguars are a team with high expectations but not enough talent to fulfill them. Everyone thought bringing Marv Levy back to the front office was a huge mistake, but he's been the architect of successful football in Buffalo before. Besides, I hate Jacksonville. They're my anti-Vikings; I always pick against them.
Bills 21, Jags 17 [BUF 20 JAX 16]
I hate being right all the time, but I said Buffalo would be up and Jax would be down this year.

Green Bay at Detroit
Okay, so Aaron Rodgers played well. Did anyone think he wouldn't? He's been studying under Brett Farve for three years, he was a highly skilled and successful D1 college QB, and the Packers staff gave him a game plan that George W. Bush couldn't screw up. Expect more of the same this week against one of the five worst organizations in the NFL.
Packers 38, Lions 10 [GB 48 DET 25]
Anyone can rock Detroit; let's see how they look next week against Dallas.

Oakland at Kansas City
I'm so old, I remember when this game used to matter.
Chiefs 24, Raiders 7 [OAK 23 KC 8]
Why is Lane Kiffin about to be fired while Herm Edwards is secure?

New York Giants at St. Louis
If the G-Men throw a shutout, can we expect Linehan's resignation next week? No, that would make too much sense. Like Cincinnati, every executive and coach on this team needs to be fired. I'm beginning to wonder if the Rams are doing to St. Louis what they did to Anaheim--suck on purpose to the point where what's left of the fan base doesn't care when they leave. I'm just about there with this perpetually inept regime. This team is just embarrassing.
Giants 41, Rams 0 [NYG 41 STL 13]
A big loss at Seattle will be the end of this inept team. Let's hope so.

Indianapolis at Minnesota
This is like two of my kids coming to me and asking which one I love the best. "Gosh, Minny, I've loved you for almost 30 years, but you've disappointed me so many times. Even so, I've never given up hope for you. And Indy, you've only been with me for a decade, but you've made me so proud with your success. But it seems like you're getting older, and you don't have the same drive to succeed you once did. Aw shucks, it doesn't matter that neither of you will win it all this year. I still love you both. It's just that this week, I love Minny a little bit more."
Vikings 28, Colts 17 [IND 18 MIN 15]
This just in: Gus Frerotte replaces Tarvaris Jackson at QB for rest of season. Hey Vikes: give Daunte Culpepper a call, wouldja?

San Francisco at Seattle
Seahawks 17, 49ers 7 [SF 33 SEA 30]
Guess Mike Martz still has some genius in him, eh?

Atlanta at Tampa Bay
Tampa's another misfire on my preseason radar. I forgot to read the carbon-14 dating tests on prehistoric QB Jeff Garcia. Now the Bucs' season is in the hands of Brian Griese, a QB so inept that the Chicago Bears released him. That's right--he's not good enough to play QB for Chicago. This game's all about the running backs, so I'm going with the guy who gained an eighth of a mile last week.
Falcons 31, Bucs 19 [TB 24 ATL 9]
I'm so stupid; rookie QBs never have two good games in a row. Dur!

New England at New York Jets
Hey, remember that scene in the classic Prince movie "Purple Rain" where Prince's dad shoots himself in the head, then the next night in the club, Morris Day walks up to Prince and says, "How's the family"? Think Mangini walks up to Belichick and asks, "How's your QB?" ROTFLMFAO!!!
Jets 27, Patriots 13 [NE 19 NYJ 10]
Oh, that Bill Belichick. Sorry, my bad.

Miami at Arizona
I'm feeling it's Kurt Warner's year, y'all. I'm feelin' it big time.
Cardinals 34, Dolphins 16 [ARI 31 MIA 10]
Kurt Warner, MVP 2008; is he legit Hall of Fame candidate if that happens?

San Diego at Denver
Okay, okay, Cutler's the real deal. Even the Eastcoast Sports Promotion Network gets one right every once in awhile. I think Norv Turner loses his job if the Chargers miss the playoffs this year. I also think Mike Shanahan is the most overlooked coach in the league. Did you know he's been in Denver for 14 years? Amazing! That's like 50 years for a normal job.
Broncos 38, Chargers 20 [DEN 39 SD 38]
Stay whiny, San Diego. If you could play "D" the ref wouldn't be an issue.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland
Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2008 Superbowl Champions!
Steelers 41, Browns 16 [PIT 10 CLE 6]
What a boring game this was. I fell asleep...literally.

Baltimore at Houston
Bill "Sports Guy" Simmons wants to nickname Joe Flacco "The Chef." I'm good with that. "The Chef is really cookin' tonight in Houston!"
Ravens 24, Texans 14 [game postponed]

Philadelphia at Dallas
Something very strange has happened to me--I like the Dallas Cowboys. No, seriously, I like watching this team. I like Romo, I like T.O. (loved the sprint start celebration), I really like Marion "the Barbarian" Barber, I like Wade Phillips, I even like Jerry Jones and his freaky E.T. facelift. I like Donovan McNabb too, but I don't like Philadelphia. With a fan base that surly and miserable, it's just hard to be on their side. They're like Chicago Cubs fans--you just want to keep them miserable because they'd never really enjoy success; they'd just compare it to their previous lifetime of misery. And yes, I know from experience, Vikings fans are the same way. So, in case you missed it, I've fastened my seat belt on the Dallas bandwagon this year.
Cowboys 31, Eagles 27 [DAL 41 PHI 37]
Best Monday night game I've seen in years. This is why the NFL is the greatest sport on earth.

This week: 8-7
Last week: 10-6
Season: 18-13 (.580)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

NFL Picks, Week One (updated 9/9/08)

Remember, you can join "The Sandlot" group at's "Pigskin Pick'em" game—it's free and fun, so click on the link to the left to get started. On with the picks for Sunday; I already took the Giants over the Redskins, so I'm 1-0 to start.
Updated Tuesday with scores and comments! Week One is always the toughest because preseason doesn't give you a real sense of what the teams will look like. I got off to a good start and then ate a bucket of worms Sunday and Monday nights. I'll get back in stride next week. In the meantime, let's review...

Detroit at Atlanta
The car wreck meets the 18-car interstate pile-up.
Lions 24, Falcons 6 [ATL 34 DET 21]
Who knew about Matt Ryan and Michael Turner? There's life in Atlanta, and Detroit is horrible again.

Seattle at Buffalo
The Bills are my kryptonite; if I pick them to win they lose, if I pick them to lose they win. It's infuriating. Having said that, I don't like Seattle at all this year, and I think Buffalo will be tough at home.
Bills 20, Seahawks 17 [BUF 34 SEA 10]
Not a big surprise, really. Buffalo could be the team to make the move in the AFC East now that Brady's gone.

Jacksonville at Tennessee
The so-called experts are falling all over themselves to anoint Jacksonville as the next big thing. They did that with Carolina a couple of years ago, too, and see how that turned out. Tennessee's defense is downright vicious in Nashville. Watch this game if you liked the movie "Gladiator."
Titans 27, Jaguars 24 [TEN 17 JAX 10]
What's going on with Vince Young? This could be Kerry Collins' team in just a week or two. And does Jeff Fisher have room for Daunte Culpepper on the roster if Vince is gone for the year?

New York Jets at Miami
More stupidity from the so-called experts, taking Chad Pennington and the dismal Miami team over the Brett Favre version of the Jets. What? Have they seen Pennington play before? Or Favre?
Jets 31, Dolphins 10 [NYJ 20 MIA 14]
The Jets made this one too close.

Kansas City at New England
Remember Rocky's first bout against Clubber Lang in "Rocky 3"? Something like that.
Patriots 45, Chiefs 7 [NE 17 KC 10]
I doubt that Matt Cassell is the second coming of Kurt Warner.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans
I think Tampa is going to win the division, but I also think the Saints will give the hometown fans a lift after another rough hurricane experience.
Saints 31, Bucs 27 [NO 24 TB 20]
I wish I could have watched this one instead of the beatdown in Philly.

St. Louis at Philadelphia
I just don't like the Rams, and I think Philly will beat them up at home.
Eagles 37, Rams 17 [PHI 38 STL 3]
If the Rams did move away from St. Louis, would anyone care? They may have sunk to the position of worst franchise in the league. If Linehan lasts until Halloween, I'll be shocked.

Houston at Pittsburgh
Houston is another team the s.c.e. like as a "sleeper." Well, I think they "suck."
Steelers 35, Texans 14 [PIT 38 HOU 17]
Ladies and Gentlemen, your Superbowl champs for 2008: the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cincinnati at Baltimore
Ocho Cinco trumps rookie QB from Delaware.
Bengals 28, Ravens 13 [BAL 17 CIN 10]
At least the Rams have competition for the cot in the basement. Who will go first, Marvin Lewis or Scott Linehan?

Carolina at San Diego
The Chargers just might go all the way this year. Carolina, as usual, will fall far short.
Chargers 30, Panthers 16 [CAR 26 SD 24]
Carolina, my Buffalo in the NFC. Mark the Chargers down for "done" with NE and Indy.

Arizona at San Francisco
Hey, I'm a Kurt Warner guy. The Rams never should have let him go.
Cardinals 27, 49ers 20 [ARZ 23 SF 13]
QB rating of 94, 200 yards and a TD—how much do the Rams miss Kurt Warner? The Cardinals are going to win the NFC West by default.

Dallas at Cleveland
Tony Romo will be this season's MVP.
Cowboys 41, Browns 24 [DAL 28 CLE 10]
Ladies and Gentlemen, your NFC Champions: the Dallas Cowboys.

Chicago at Indianapolis
Yeah, keep telling yourself Peyton's not 100 percent. Marvin, too. Go ahead.
Colts 38, Bears 9 [CHI 29 IND 13]
Seen Meg Ryan lately. Yeah, that old and that bad. That's the Colts. Didn't see it coming. Sorry.

Minnesota at Green Bay
Aaron Rodgers, meet the NFL's best defense.
Vikings 24, Packers 17 [GB 24 MIN 19]
Vikes were just two plays—botched punt coverage and the TJ pick late—from winning this game. TJ's going to be all right at QB, and the Vikes will bounce back from this. It was a hopeful loss.

Denver at Oakland
Oakland will be much improved this year; don't hate Lane Kiffin because he's young—he's got a strong football pedigree.
Raiders 20, Broncos 17 [DEN 41 OAK 14]
Can I have a mulligan on Oakland? Can we force Al Davis into retirement for the good of the league?

This week: 10-6
Season: 10-6
Average: .667

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Play "Pigskin Pick'em" with The Sandlot, now with season picks!

NFL season starts tonight! Get your picks in! Start here to create your entry:

After you create the entry, join the group "The Sandlot"; you should see my entry, Bluff City Bombers.

NFL preview:

No one is ever right about these things, so I'll spare you the deep analysis and just name teams.

NFC: East—Dallas; North—Minnesota; South—Tampa Bay; West—Arizona; Wild Cards—NY Giants and Philadelphia

AFC: East—New England; North—Pittsburgh; South—Indianapolis; West—San Diego; Wild Cards—Jacksonville and NY Jets

NFC Championship: Dallas over Tampa Bay
AFC Championship: Pittsburgh over New England
Superbowl: Pittsburgh over Dallas

You're welcome.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Eye of the Tiger? Uhh...not quite yet.

I wasn't able to post at my promised weekend time because I was:
a) on vacation out of town
b) practicing with my band
c) watching movies with my kids
d) locked in the bathroom, head still in the toilet, in the aftermath of MU's Saturday night's "win" over Illinois.

It's a trick question. I did all those things this weekend. Those who have chosen to drink the MU Kool-Aid about winning the Big 12 and competing for a national championship only have to look at the teams ahead of us in the national polls. USC, Ohio State and Oklahoma all destroyed their competition in the opening week. Missouri? A gut-wrenching, nail-biting, cover-your-eyes almost awful collapse against obviously inferior competition.

Sure, the Mizzou offense put up 52 points. Guess what? It should have been at least 72 points. They had more three-and-outs in the second half than a quarter of St. Louis Rams possessions. The play calling was stupid and unimaginative. My nine-year-old son could have called better plays than that. They ran when they should have passed, passed when they should have run, and were totally predictable when it came to converting big third down plays.

I don't even want to write about the defense at the risk of making myself sick again. Where in the world was the secondary? Didn't someone remind Pinkel to recruit cornerbacks? The guy playing left corner looked like ME! That is, 40 years old, 255 pounds, creaky knees and SLOW! The Illinois receiver who caught all those second half TDs and gained about six miles in receiving yardage was a converted defensive back who had never caught a pass in a game until Mizzou's defense turned him into the second coming of Jerry Rice.

Good teams win, but great teams in college put their feet on the throat of their opponent and press down until all signs of life are gone. Missouri was up by 25 points late in the third quarter, but they let their feet up and acted like the game was already over. They didn't drop in most polls, but they didn't move up, either.

They have their home opener this weekend against tiny little Southeast Missouri State. Anything other than 77 to nothing isn't going to impress me at all. Maybe Mizzou still remembers what it was like to be on the losing end of a beatdown, but in the Darwinist world of college football, the winners are the merciless predators, not the cute and fuzzy stuffed animals.

Friday, August 29, 2008

That's why we call him "El Hombre"

If the Milwaukee Brewers don't make the NL playoffs this year--especially if they are caught and passed by the Cardinals--they will almost certainly look back at Wednesday night's game with angst and regret. Just as Jim Croce warned us about tugging on Superman's cape and spitting into the wind, you just don't mess around with El Hombre.

Brewers reliever Carlos Villanueva was certainly pumped up after putting what was, for all intents and purposes, the last nail in the coffin of the Cardinals' season. There was only one problem. Instead of merely celebrating, he decided to point to the Cardinal dugout. I can certainly understand why he would feel this way; the Brewers were about the knock out the division's perrenial champion, the team that had for so long stood in their way.

The problem was, El Hombre didn't take it that way. Albert Pujols charged out onto the field and called Villenueva out in front of his teammates, the home crowd and Cardinal nation. Literally dangling on the precipice of elimination, the Cardinals pulled another escape worthy of the Road Runner.

Now the hard work begins. The Cards still have 3-1/2 games to make up and no margin for error. But as I said in a previous post, there's just no argument for anyone else to be NL MVP other than "El Hombre": Albert Pujols.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

No Room for Error

You want to know what's so deliciously wonderful about the great American pastime of baseball? It's that it's so cruelly unforgiving. The fans of Cardinal Nation realized that last night as they watched an overachieving Cardinals team get outmatched and outmanned by their wild card superiors, the Milwaukee Brewers.

It just doesn't seem fair that hopes are brought this far to be brought down to earth so suddenly. But that's baseball. Baseball doesn't care. Baseball is unforgiving. It's 162 games that, in the end, only leaves room for four teams to play in postseason. It doesn't matter that the Cardinals will probably end up with a better win-loss record than the champions of either the East or West divisions, because they'll still end up third in the Central. And that's baseball.

Baseball doesn't care. Baseball wants to crush your hopes. Baseball let Red Sox fans suffer for 86 years. If baseball has any sense, it will watch the Cubs make it to postseason only to fail, fail, fail once again, leaving Cubs fans writhing in a century of agony. Because that's baseball, and baseball doesn't care, and it's just so beautiful.

I can see now why purists like Bob Costas and George Will resisted the change to the wild card format. Baseball was much more cruel when each league only had two divisions, only two chances to play for the pennant. Old time baseball was positively despotic: the team with the best record in each league after 154 games got to play in the World Series. No playoffs. No wild cards. Just the sharp razor of cold reality.

But this format is equally cruel. Coincidences of geography mean that teams with lesser records will play for glory while those who wear the Birds on the Bat plan vacations and schedule tee times. That's okay, because baseball doesn't care. The Cardinals won it all two years ago with the worst regular season record of any champion in the history of the game, but they still won, because baseball doesn't care.

The NFL tries not to care, but their system still has enough room to allow a third-place team with a good record to make it into the playoffs. Witness last year's AFC South—the Jags and Titans still made it in despite finishing behind the Colts. The NBA and NHL care too much; their regular seasons are virtually meaningless with the number of playoff teams it allows. Twelve teams for the NFL; 16 for the NBA and NHL.

But baseball doesn't care who deserves to be in the postseason, or whose fans want it more, or who the media hopes will play. Baseball is baseball, nine perfect innings of hopes and dreams and wishes that 29 out of 30 times each year are blown away like the dust of a dry infield, left to fade into the twilight of an October that wasn't meant to be.

Only eight teams will endure the season, only four in each league. More deserving teams with better records and flashier pitchers and more powerful hitters will stumble and fall to lesser clubs who remember that baseball doesn't care about these other things.

Baseball is a cruel and wonderful game because it doesn't care about anything other than what happens between the foul lines and inside the box score of each inning. Just as we must give thanks to God in the bad times as well as the good, so should we praise the genius of baseball even when our postseason hopes have, for this year, faded away.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Why Baseball Writers Don't Matter

By the end of this season, Albert Pujols will probably have won the NL batting title. He will have amassed more than 30 home runs and 100 RBIs with a better than .300 average for the eighth consecutive year since his major league debut. Here is the complete list of players who have accomplished that in the history of professional baseball:

Albert Pujols

That's it. No one else comes close. Not Ty Cobb, not Rogers Hornsby, not Ted Williams, not Babe Ruth, not Lou Gehrig, not Joe DiMaggio, not Pete Rose, not even Stan Musial. Just Albert Pujols.

In a year in which the Cardinals were supposed to finish well below .500 and in the basement of the NL Central, they're still the only competition chasing the Milwaukee Brewers with a legitimate shot to catch them. The Cardinals only have two more games left, and they have to win them both to stand a chance. A split won't do, and losing both would essentially end the season.

So the Cardinals are accomplishing the impossible with no-name starting pitching—both their aces, Wainwright and Carpenter, have been injured for most of the season—and a bullpen that has blown more saves than any other team. Hitters like Rick Ankiel, Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick have all emerged this season in part because they see hittable pitches; hurlers would rather try to make the other Cardinals hit into outs than to pitch to Albert.

Pujols has not only dominated at the plate, he's making a stunning case to win this year's Golden Glove award at first base. Although many sluggers have been nothing more than fence posts and backstops at first—the most convenient NL position for big hitters whose fielding skills are suspect at best—Albert brings a third base mentality to the opposite corner. Witness the throwing play he made last night to gun out the lead runner at third on what should have been a routine sacrifice. He can play deep in the hole or on the line.

So who are the baseball writers touting for NL MVP? David Wright (NY) and Chase Utley (PHI). Wow. Two east coast guys. Go figure. If either the Mets or the Phillies were in the NL Central, they'd be in fourth place behind the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals. Ask any GM in baseball, in either league, which player they'd rather have: Wright, Utley or Pujols. That's my definition of a no-brainer, which is also what this year's MVP race should be. And that, my friends, is why baseball writers don't matter—they too are "no brainers."

Don't forget—check out a new post from "The Sandlot" every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Steven Jackson is not the savior

It's apparent that St. Louis Rams fans have cause to be slightly more optimistic about the Rams' chances this season in a weak conference with a favorable second half schedule now that holdout running back Steven Jackson has signed a new contract that guarantees him $11 million in bonus money and $20 million over three years if he stays healthy.

But anyone who believe Jackson was the last missing piece of the puzzle for the Rams to return to the playoffs is sorely mistaken. This team has some glaring personnel problems that have yet to be fixed. Even if Jackson exceeds expectations, no one should expect this team to compete for a playoff spot, and here's why...

Quarterback: I've never been a believer in Marc Bulger, even when he was playing at a Pro Bowl caliber, at least statistically. He's been beat up with sacks and hard hits for three seasons now, and he's definitely got that Chris Miller concussion vibe going now. Happy feet, poor accuracy, lack of leadership. Teams rise and fall with their QB, and Bulger doesn't have what it takes to lead a team into the playoffs.

Offensive Line: The line is putting most of its hopes into the healthy return of Orlando Pace. But even if the Big O is healthy, he's still been in the league for more than a decade. That type of wear takes its toll. Where else did the O-line improve? Center? Right tackle? I didn't think so. Jackson won't run for much if that line doesn't open holes for him.

Running Backs: Jackson can't carry the ball 40 times a game. Who's gonna spell him? Who's the fullback? Who can come in as a blocking back on passing downs? Who can catch a pass out of the backfield on second and short? After Jackson, this team has no depth.

Receivers: Other than Torry Holt, is there anyone who can catch a pass on this team? Is there anyone who can get downfield and hope that Bulger actually puts the pass in their area code? Maybe Jackson can catch a few passes out of the backfield, but since defenses will key on him, that doesn't seem like a great option.

Defense: We can hope that Leonard Little and Chris Long put pressure on the quarterback, but the inside of that line is dismal in terms of both stopping run and getting to opposing quarterbacks. The linebackers are even worse, and let's not even talk about a secondary that continues to get burned in the passing game. This is going to be an atrocious defense this year, maybe one of the worst in the league.

Coaching: I was a Scott Linehan fan when he was running Daunte Culpepper's offense in Minnesota, but those days are long gone. He's working with a team that doesn't respect him, and even with Al Saunders running the offense, it's unlikely that Linehan will survive this season as head coach unless the team finishes above .500.

I'm glad Jackson ended his holdout, but he's proven to be mentally and physically unprepared for games in the past. The fact that he's also been injury prone doesn't help, since he hasn't had a full camp to get into game shape. He's unlikely to be a real factor in a game until weeks four or five. I wish I had better news, but to paraphrase Rick Pitino from another time and place, Marshall Faulk isn't walking through that door.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Potential Misery of High Expectations

No one in my generation—or probably my father’s generation, for that matter—has any prior experience with the expectations placed on this year’s University of Missouri football team.

I went to Mizzou from 1986 to 1992, enduring the end of Woody Widenhofer experience and the entirety of the Bob Stull reign. Those were heady days, let me tell you. No one needed to pay for admission to a football game; all you needed to do was walk into the lobby of any on-campus dorm hall, and any number of tickets would be thumbtacked to the bulletin board. Most of them were still there after Mizzou’s latest embarrassing loss.

Compare those dismal days to today’s Tigers. They’re defending a Big 12 North title. The team fully expects to not only return to the Big 12 Championship game but to actually beat Oklahoma (or anyone else there) for the conference title. Chances are if they accomplish that unprecedented feat, they’ll be in a BCS bowl game—maybe even the national championship.

How will this team deal with these expectations? In a few short years, they’ve gone from doormats to underdogs to contenders to favorites, and now they are the targets, the team to beat in the conference.

The pressure to go undefeated will be enormous. With the continuation of the ridiculously stupid BCS system, no team can afford even a single loss, especially early in the season. While MU’s schedule doesn’t look impossible, no team can be overlooked. Just ask Michigan about Appalachian State.

How will head coach Gary Pinkel guide his team through these uncharted waters? How will Chase Daniel respond to the season-long questions about a national championship and a Heisman Trophy? Will skill players such as Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman and Derrick Washington keep last year’s high-octane offense running at top speed? Can the defense stop the run and hold down opposing offenses?

These are all questions we’ve never had to ask before because we’ve never been in this place before as Mizzou fans. I’ve always taken it as a given that the Tigers would break my heart. I just never imagined that someday it would actually matter if they did.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Don't Give Up the Wild Card(s) Yet

I don't know who should be dancing on top of the dugouts at Busch Stadium alongside Fredbird—Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers—but one of those legendary horror movie bogeymen should definitely be the alternate mascot for the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals. By all accounts, the Redbirds should be dead and buried, but here we are with about six weeks left in the regular season, and the Cards are only two games behind Milwaukee in the Wild Card standings.

The recent success of Chris Perez in the "not the" closer role leaves the open spot in the rotation for the impending return of Adam Wainwright. If the recent successes of Joel Piñero and Todd Wellemeyer can be repeated—and if they can start scoring some runs for Kyle Lohse—it's conceivable that we can simply use Chris Carpenter in spot starts as a tune-up for the playoffs.

Regular Sandlot readers know I'm hardly a blind optimist—well, except when the Minnesota Vikings are involved (this is our year...really, this is it...I'm not even kidding!)—so let's look at the schedule:

The Cardinals will face the following teams: Cincinnati (54-69, eight games); Pittsburgh (55-67, five games); Atlanta (55-67, three games); Houston (62-60, three games); Florida (63-60, three games); Arizona (63-59, seven games); Milwaukee (70-53, two games); Chicago (75-47, six games). Out of those, 17 are road games (though the Cards have been a good road team this year), and 20 are at home. Throw out the Cubs and Milwaukee, and the rest of their opponents are currently a combined nine games over .500. Practically speaking, they need to win two out of three in series against the lesser teams, beat Milwaukee twice and split even with the Cubs. This would leave them around 24-13 for the rest of the season; 93-69 for the season.

Sound impossible? It's what it's going to take to overtake the Brewers and keep pace ahead of NY and Philly in the East or LA and Arizona in the West. What about the Brewers? Four against San Diego (47-75); six with Cincy (54-69); nine (!) against Pittsburgh (55-67); three against Houston (62-60); two more with LA (63-59); three with NY (66-56); four at Philly (65-57); two at St. Louis (69-56); and six with the Cubs (75-47).

St. Louis plays Houston, Florida, Arizona, Milwaukee and Chicago as teams with winning records. Milwaukee gets Houston, LA, NY and Philadelphia. They have 17 road games and 22 home games, an edge over the Cardinals. If we keep their current win percentage of .569, that figures a stretch run record of 22-17, or 92-70 for the season.

It's not going to be easy, but it is going to come down to the stretch. The biggest wrinkle is that Milwaukee's last six games are at home against Pittsburgh (done) and the Cubs, who may be resting everyone for the playoffs by then. The Cardinals have four at home vs. Arizona, who could still be fighting for the West Division title, then three at home with Cincinnati.

Every game counts from here on in. The Cardinals have to win two out of every three just to have a chance. It's improbable, but most of the paid experts in Butthole, CT picked the Cards to finish worse than San Francisco (51-70). As the immortal Lou Brown said in "Major League," "I'm for wasting sports writers' time." So am I. Let's play ball.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

2008 NFL Draft...semi-live diary

Hello, NFL fans and Sandlot readers. I had promised a live draft diary of this year's first round draft, but it looks like I'm only going to have 60-90 minutes of live blogging. Family obligations require me to leave the house later this afternoon. But at least I'll get the Rams at #2 and hopefully most of the first ten picks. Here we go...

#1—Miami Dolphins
Jake Long, OT, Michigan—The least suspenseful number one in history. At least Bill Parcells knows that a winning team must begin with a dominating left tackle. I've heard concerns about Long's pass-blocking skills, but as a run blocker, he's like a bulldozer, and since Parcells prefers a run-oriented balanced offense, and because Miami doesn't have an established, quality QB yet, there was really no other choice at the top.

#2—St. Louis Rams
Chris Long, DE, Virginia—I'm just thrilled about this pick. Chris is just freaking HUGE, and his family pedigree is impeccable. Howie Long is an NFL hall-of-famer, and Chris should bring the same intensity to the Rams defense. The defensive line in St. Louis just got faster, stronger and more intimidating. Chris is wearing his Rams cap on ESPN right now. Looks great. Outstanding pick! As a Rams fan, I'm very excited.

#3—Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College—Another total no-brainer. Atlanta has to have a new franchise QB to replace the face of the franchise from Michael Vick to Ryan, who just looks like the young Dennis Quaid character in the movie "Everybody's All American." I bet the pre-draft interview went something like this: "Do you like animals? What about dogs? Do you own a dog? How big is your dog? Is your dog...aggressive?" Atlanta fans (cough, cough) need to be patient. Ryan will stink for two years, just like every other rookie starter (including future HOF Peyton Manning), and there are many other holes to fill in the wake of the Vick catastrophe.

#4—Oakland Raiders
Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas—This is a stupid pick, in my opinion, with Glenn Dorsey still available. Did anyone watch Missouri's defense shut down McFadden in the Cotton Bowl back in January? They totally overpaid for someone who's not going to make nearly the impact that Dorsey would have playing in the middle of the Oakland defensive line. Typical Al Davis—going for style over substance. Quote me on this: McFadden will not have the same kind of rookie season as Adrian Peterson had in Minnesota. Why not? Offensive line, of course.

#5—Kansas City Chiefs
Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU—Great pick for the Chiefs, the cornerstone of a rebuilding defense. He'll love playing for Herm Edwards, and Edwards will build his team around Dorsey. If he stays healthy, he'll be a perennial pro bowler on the defensive line. He would have been a good fit for any of the first four teams as well, but sometimes need trumps talent. The folks in KC should be celebrating right now.

#6—New York Jets
Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State—A monster pass rusher, the only question is whether he can play with consistent intensity throughout an entire pro game. In the Jets 3-4 defense, he'll play outside linebacker but also be heavily involved in rushing the QB. Jets head coach Eric Mangini is a defensive guy, and he knows that in order to beat the Patriots in the AFC East, you have to start with the defense. Solid pick for the J-E-T-S.

#7—New England Patriots
traded pick to New Orleans Saints...

#7—New Orleans Saints (traded from New England)
Sedric Ellis, DT, USC—Simple matter of need once again. The Saints stunk on defense last year, and just like Dorsey for KC, Ellis should be a cornerstone in the center of the Saints defense from this point on. Obviously there is a lot of quality in the top half of this year's draft. No team has done anything really stupid so far.

#8—Baltimore Ravens
traded pick to Jacksonville Jaguars...

#8—Jacksonville Jaguars (traded from Baltimore)
Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida—I'm not sure why Jacksonville traded all the way up from 23 to 8 to get this pick. His draft stock had risen this week; he's tall and fast, but seems a bit undersized for a pro DE. Jacksonville took this guy for one reason, I think: to beef up their pass rush in the AFC South against Peyton Manning and Vince Young. Time will tell if this turns out to be a good pick for the Jags.

#9—Cincinnati Bengals
Keith Rivers, LB, USC—Cincinnati is a mess; the only real consideration here is whether this is a high-character individual. The Bengals need to winnow out the thugs and replace them with honor students, and reports indicate that this is what they're getting in Rivers.

#10—New England Patriots (traded from New Orleans)
Jerod Mayo, ILB, Tennessee—This sends a clear signal about next year's Patriots: the key to their defense is their linebackers, and Bruschi, Vrabel and Seau are all too old to get the job done. Belicheck's going younger, and based on past success in the draft, I'm certainly not going to argue with this pick.

#11—Buffalo Bills
Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy—Because someone in the AFC East has to be able to cover Randy Moss and Wes Welker. McKelvin also has the ability to return kicks, though he's also been prone to fumble.

#12—Denver Broncos
Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State—Denver needs two things on offense: pass protection for Jay Cutler and run blocking for the usually effective Denver running game. Clady is an impressive physical specimen at 6-6, 309 lbs., and he should be a good fit for a young Denver offense. As I've said before, winning is predicated by the offensive line, and the O-line starts with the left tackle, and Clady was the best one on the board.

That's it for me for live blogging...I'll be back tonight or tomorrow with the rest of the first round picks and my commentary. Thanks for joining me for an exciting NFL Draft first round!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blech! Bad weekend for the Dreadbirds

Oh, so this is the Cardinals team most of the rest of the sports world expected to see: rotten starting pitching, anemic offense and Little-league caliber defense. After an 11-1 spanking of the equally rotten San Francisco Giants, the Cards spit up two ugly losses in a row, dropping out of first place in the now-quality NL Central and heading to Milwaukee and Pittsburgh for two games each against division foes.

My last post talked about bouncing back after a tough loss. Now the Cardinals have had two tough losses in a row at home. Sometimes getting on the road can be good for a ballclub. Getting away from home, distractions, bonding as a unit, all these things can benefit a winning team.

But who exactly are these guys? Are they the team that started 12-5, or are they the team that lost ugly the past two days? Yes, it's still early in a long season, but by the time we get to August and September, the standings can make a fan ache for the one that got away back in April and May. And since the Cardinals obviously do have some holes in their roster and some serious questions about long-term endurance this season, nothing other than a 3-1 road trip is going to allay those nagging doubts that the team brought about this weekend.

There is hope on the horizon, of course. Mark Mulder pitched six shutout innings in a rehab start, and Chris Carpenter is scheduled to throw BP soon. They could take starting spots in the rotation from whoever is struggling, be it Looper—who, let's face it, was overdue for an ass-kicking like yesterday's—Piñero or Wellemeyer. Don't overlook GM John Mozeliak's ability to trade for a big bat or infield help, either. The biggest difference between this year and last year is that we actually have options for change.

Two losses won't ruin the season, that's for sure. But the team looked tired and listless, and that's a bad sign. Let's hope Tony can push the right buttons tonight up in Cheesehead Land.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cardinals Bounce Back

What's surprising about the St. Louis Cardinals so far in the first month of the season, at least to me, is how much I look forward to watching the games. I didn't follow the team at all last year. They were boring, listless, lifeless; they gave away outs and games like they didn't care. The knock on them this year was all the players who had left. It turns out most of those players were dead wood. This team is exciting to watch because they are clearly competing in every aspect of the game.

I was especially interested in seeing how this team bounced back after puking up what should have been a sweep of division challengers Milwaukee in a disappointing day game loss. Instead of licking their wounds, the Cardinals took out their frustrations on San Francisco starter Matt Cain, who had just pitched a no-hitter into the 7th inning last week against the Redbirds. Cain was gone by the fourth inning, giving up eight runs, including homers by Chris Duncan and Phat Albert Pujols.

Once again, Cardinals pitching was dominant. Dave Duncan reclamation project Todd Wellemeyer threw seven strong innings, only giving up one sloppily manufactured run in the third. Nomadic reliever Ron Villone got the cleanup duty and finished the eighth and ninth without incident.

This club may lack the names that attract the attention of the Boston-New York obsessed national sports media, who only speak of the Cubs when they speak of the NL Central at all, but these players are all exceeding even the most unrealistically optimistic expectations of die-hard homers in Cardinal Nation.

The middle infield, which was supposed to be as weak as George Bush's economic policies, has looked like Ozzie Smith and Tommy Herr so far. Cesar Izturis and Adam Kennedy are playing the type of defense that made their reputations, except they haven't played that way since 2004. No one could have expected the highlight-reel quality of their defense so far. And they're both producing offensively as well.

Troy Glaus hasn't gotten on track with his bat yet, but the fact that he can catch and throw at all makes him an improvement over all-DL-all-the-time Scott Rolen. When Glaus finally breaks out and hits for his usual career numbers, the middle of our lineup—Ankiel, Pujols, Glaus, Ludwick—is just going to be plain scary. Speaking of those couple of outfielders, the "starting five"—Ankiel, Ludwick, Duncan, Schumaker and Barton—are ranked at the top of most offensive and defensive categories as a group of outfielders.

All in all, there's no reason to think this start is a fluke. Let's see if they can figure out SF ace Lincecum today, who shut down the Birds last week on the West Coast. Cardinals starter Joel Piñero is overdue to join in the parade of unexpected success.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Lazy Friday

Oh, it's a lazy, lazy Friday here at The Sandlot. All my professional colleagues have headed off for an early start on their weekend, leaving me alone to goof around on the Internet. Granted, this isn't really different from any other Friday afternoon for me, but at least I can watch YouTube videos without looking over my shoulder with my mouse poised on the "pause" button. (Check out the Weird Al Yankovic collection, faves are "Ebay" and "White and Nerdy." Just hysterical.

Most of you who read this blog already know this, but if not, I live in Tyler Hansbrough's home town, Poplar Bluff, MO. Most people around here are going nuts with the NC gear--my first grader was asking if he had a power blue shirt to wear to his school today for "North Carolina Day." Sorry, but I subscribe to Bill Simmons' idea that unless you went to that college, work for that college or pay for your kid to go to that college, you can't wear the gear. I'm Mizzou black and gold, through and through.

That doesn't mean I'm not pulling for Carolina. Their my bracket pick to win it all, and I feel confident that they should beat Kansas by double-digits. I also picked UCLA to beat Memphis, but I'm getting such a good vibe from Calipari's bunch this year. I felt that same vibe before last year's tourney and picked Memphis to make the Final Four in every single bracket they played. I think that made me a bit gun-shy this year, along with the way they got pushed around at home by Tennessee, a team I never thought highly of. So despite my brackets, I think Monday night will be North Carolina vs. Memphis. When's the last time both teams scored more than 100 points each in a college championship? Never...the only team that broke 100 was UNLV in 1990.

I know it's still early—really early—in the baseball season, but let's take a peek at the standings in the NL Central, shall we?

Somebody needs to alert the fans in Chicago to put those World Series victory parade plans on hold for just a day or two. Would somebody please explain the national fascination with a team that hasn't won Jack Schmidt in 100 years? No wonder we elect morons as our national leaders. Who ever heard of a culture that celebrated incompetence and failure like we do? I'd almost be happy if they did win a title just so everyone would shut the heck up about them. At least we don't hear about that stupid Red Sox curse anymore. Nah, I take that back. I hope the Cubs lose for another 100 years.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

This is why I don't ever vote Republican

from the case files of the morality police...

This story contains the shocking news that young, handsome, single, multi-millionaire NFL quarterback Matt Leinart was photographed drinking beer and soaking in a hot tub with young, beautiful single women.

It's a shame that young, handsome, single, multi-millionaire NFL quarterbacks are no longer allowed to use their age, looks, availability, money and fame to have a good time while they're young enough to enjoy it.

The continued existence of "party pics" from the University of Missouri from 1986-1990 effectively eliminates any possibility of my running for elective office. Way back when Dennis Miller was both funny and relevant, he asked an audience, "When did this country become Gladys Kravitz from 'Bewitched'?" Good question.

And yes, I have daughters. What if they were in the picture? First of all, I may not approve of the drinking, but if they were 21, all I could do is counsel for common sense and using a designated driver. As far as the hot tub goes, they all have swimsuits on, and last time I checked, this wasn't a Muslim nation. My girls could definitely do much worse than catching the eye of a young, handsome, single, multi-millionaire NFL quarterback.

Is this all we have left to be outraged about? Aren't we getting our asses kicked in two wars? Aren't we planning--that's right, actually planning--on paying $4 a gallon for gas this summer? People want to get worked up about this? "Young rich guy parties with pretty girls!"

Evidently this is what passes for offseason news for the Arizona Cardinals. Karma dictates we cannot pick them to finish above .500 this fall, does it not?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Several reasons why the Cardinals aren't going to suck as much as all the pointy-headed experts want you to think...

Whenever the gurus at the Eastcoast Sports Promotion Network or their competitors at Sports snobs Illustrated (we know more than all you rubes) start rubbing their oracles about how dismal the St. Louis Cardinals will be this year (one imbecile predicted them to have the worst record in the NL, below Pittsburgh and San Francisco!), my heart fills with hope.

You see, St. Louis is a proud franchise with a tradition of success and excellence. Those other bottom feeders, like the previous teams mentioned, plus Tampa, Baltimore and Kansas City, haven't even had winning seasons since Reagan was napping in the Oval Office. The Cardinals are just two seasons removed from winning the World Series.

Sure, this is a rebuilding year, but I don't see anything but good news ahead from this point. One of the prime criticisms of the "experts" is the loss of veterans such as Jim Edmonds (old, slow, can't hit), David Eckstein (can't hit or get on base), Scott Rolen (bitter and broken-down), Juan Encarnacion (can't hit or catch fly balls), Kip Wells (corpse) and Walt Jocketty (last great trade: Larry Walker, four years ago).

In their place, we have a group of young players with all the potential in the world for breakout seasons. Yes, the outfield is still a defensive adventure, especially wherever Chris Duncan is involved. But Rick Ankiel is fast, and you can't teach fast. He'll learn and improve. Add his bat, Duncan's power and Skip Schumaker's emerging skill as a lead-off hitter, and it's a stronger offensive outfield than last season's.

The infield corners are solid. Troy Glaus will outshine Scott Rolen both offensively and defensively simply by showing up every day to play and avoiding the disabled list, where Rolen's name might as well be written with a Sharpie marker. And as long as Albert Pujols shredded elbow doesn't explode in a shower of blood, bone and ligament tissue, he'll continue to be Phat Albert. Don't underestimate his leadership and competitiveness; Albert hates to lose and won't accept anything else from his teammates but maximum effort.

Yes, the middle infield stinks, but I expect Cesar Izturis to either produce or sit down in favor of Brendan Ryan. Adam Kennedy will either regain his Anaheim-era skills or give way to Aaron Miles. We could still see a trade for a better shortstop—think Anthony Reyes—before summer is half over. And don't forget that we still have the best defensive catcher in baseball with Yadi Molina. If he can even hit .250, he's a huge asset.

Okay, the pitching staff. We've got Wainwright, Looper and Lohse. Those are three quality starters. The four and five slots are Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer. Before the All-Star break, it is conceivable that those spots will feature Mark Mulder and Matt Clement. If that happens (and yes, it's a big if), we still have Joel Pinero looking for a spot after his rehab. Assuming the staff takes shape (of course it's a huge assumption), this takes the pressure off Chris Carpenter to return too soon from Tommy John surgery. We still have a solid bullpen, and we still have a healthy Izzy to close games.

Either way you look at it, our pitching is better up and down than last year, plus we have prospects in Memphis who could fill a slot. Last year was a pitching disaster; it's unlikely this year will be as bad. Finally, the front office all has something to prove. Tony LaRussa loves overachieving in the face of low expectations, and his competitive drive will be akin to Lou Brown's from "Major League," who was in favor of "wasting sportwriters' time" and serving them all a big s*** sandwich. I expect TLR shares those sentiment. New GM John Mozeliak wants to prove he was the right choice to follow the successful tenure of Walt Jocketty. Even lead owner Bill DeWitt wants to show St. Louis fans that he still wants to win. (Aside: It's stupid for fans to criticize Cardinals ownership as "cheap"; they have a $100 million payroll, for Pete's sake. Be grateful you don't root for the Florida Marlins.)

Last night's opener was all rolling the Cardinals' way, with a 5-1 lead in the third, two RBI for Rick Ankiel, a homer for Albert and a promising start for Adam Wainwright. Too bad none of it counted after the rains came. But it was a portent, I believe, of sunnier days ahead for Cardinal Nation. And if that's not enough to make you happy, consider this...the experts anointed 2008 World Champion Chicago Cubs lost their home opener to Milwaukee. Happy 100th Anniversary, small bears!

p.s. My good friend Tuck posted this excellent cartoon about the aforementioned "chosen ones" way back in February. You can view the cartoon by clicking HERE.