Saturday, October 31, 2009

NFL Week Eight Picks: Languishing in the more! (update)

Didn't get a chance to post last week's picks, though they were typical of how this season is going—fully half of each week's games are unpredictable coin flips. At least ten teams are so maddeningly inconsistent from week to week, winning by double digits this week, losing to a one-win team the next, that I am now fully qualified by my sub-.700 record to appear on ESPN's "NFL Live" as one of their "experts." Not that it matters, but on with the picks.

Houston at Buffalo
Coin flip number one. Which Houston team will show up? The Matt Schaub juggernaut or the mediocre moo-cows? And what about Buffalo? Will Harvard QB and Rams castoff Ryan Fitzpatrick jump start the Bills tepid offense? Nobody knows! That's my point!
Texans 31, Bills 17 [HOU 31, BUF 10]

Cleveland at Chicago
Coin flip number two. Cleveland has no offense, but they have played games where the defense is quite stout. Chicago has all the personality of a manic-depressive schizophrenic. While everyone is talking about the Cubs and their Billy Goat curse, why don't we talk about the Bears obvious QB curse? Cutler showed signs of greatness in Denver, while Kyle Orton was third-string in Chicago. Now Cutler looks like Rex Grossman and Orton's a legit MVP candidate. Who can we pin this curse upon? Jim McMahon? Mike Ditka? Bob Avellini?
Bears 20, Browns 6 [CHI 30, CLE 6]

Seattle at Dallas
Not exactly a coin flip, but Seattle looked better than the are early in the season, while Dallas has obviously underachieved. Now that things are balancing out, this should be an easy win for the home team, which tells me I would be smarter for picking Seattle.
Cowboys 38, Seahawks 13 [DAL 38, SEA 17]

St. Louis at Detroit
The Rams will win this game with strong defense against Detroit's inept offense as well as controlling the ball behind Steven Jackson. The Rams, despite their losses, have been showing visible signs of improvement, while Detroit has been backsliding since their sole win over the disastrous Redskins.
Rams 21, Lions 17 [STL 17, DET 10]

San Francisco at Indianapolis
Look for Frisco to hang in early on the virtue of their defense, but Peyton Manning is having a career year, and they will pull away in the second half for a comfortable win.
Colts 41, 49ers 24 [IND 18, SF 14]

Miami at New York Jets
Slightly more people are picking the Jets, but the Dolphins destroyed them in Florida, so I don't see this rematch as any kind of advantage for Gang Green. They can't stop Miami's running game, and Sanchez played awful against their defense.
Dolphins 33, Jets 14 [MIA 30, NYJ 25]

Denver at Baltimore
Coin flip number three. Denver's been great, while Baltimore has stumbled against New England and Minnesota, games they should have won. But the Ravens are coming off a bye week, and Denver's probably due for a close loss. This game can and will go either way down to the wire, but I'm giving the slightest of edges to the home team.
Ravens 28, Broncos 27 [BAL 30, DEN 7]

New York Giants at Philadelphia
Coin flip number four. Will Eli play better? How will Bradshaw's broken foot affect the Giants' running game? (Answer: poorly) Will McNabb and company play up to their potential? (Answer: do they ever?) Again, I have to give the slight edge to the home team with the understanding that if the Giants team from early in the season shows up, it's an easy New York win.
Eagles 24, Giants 21 [PHI 40, NYG 17]

Jacksonville at Tennessee
So the Titans have to win a game eventually, right? An Jacksonville's due to lay another egg this week, right? And Vince Young will play like he has everything to prove, right? And the Titans will rally around Jeff Fisher amidst rumors of "trouble" with owner Bud Adams, right? And if the Colts aren't in town, the AFC South home teams have the edge in divisional games, right? I don't know if I'm right about this at all, but here goes...
Titans 28, Jaguars 24 [TEN 30, JAX 13]

Oakland at San Diego
Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that paves the way for a new L.A. stadium. Oakland's been mentioned as a possible tenant. Just brilliant. That's like building a luxurious new home and leasing it to a meth head. Meanwhile, let me remind you that San Diego gave away Drew Brees for Phillip Rivers, the douche who ESPN's "experts" love more than any other QB except for...
Chargers 38, Raiders 7 [SD 24, OAK 16]

Minnesota at Green Bay
...boy wonder, Superman, Messiah, Aaron Rodgers, who has already been enshrined by the aforementioned "experts" in his own brand-new wing in the Hall of Fame. If Minnesota's QB was named "Brandt Fisher," and the "experts" could cast aside their schoolgirl crush on Aaron McDreamy, the head-t0-head matchup would obviously favor the Vikings. Having said that, Packers fans and some players will be bent on revenge over their "traitorous" former hero, proving once again that Packers fans are the whinest, most delusional and pathetic excuses for football fans anywhere. Three years of glory vs. decades of futility. Just shut up. Here's hoping BRETT FAVRE (suck it, monkeys!) shuts them all up decisively.
Vikings 33, Packers 27 [MIN 38, GB 26]

Carolina at Arizona
At least this one is easy—Carolina stinks, Arizona is on its way back to the playoffs and another divisional title.
Cardinals 34, Panthers 12 [CAR 34, ARZ 21]

Atlanta at New Orleans
Ladies and gentleman, your 2009-2010 NFC Champions...
Saints 44, Falcons 31

This week: 11-1
Week six: 8-6
Last week: 9-4
This season: 70-33 (.680)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

NFL Week Six Picks: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Can an undefeated team get some love this week?

Minnesota over Baltimore
Commentators are still hating on Brett Favre, ignoring the fact that Baltimore has coughed up two games they should have won.

Cincinnati over Houston
Are the Bengals for real? It looks that way, but contenders win games like this—at home over a lesser opponent.

Green Bay over Detroit
The odds makers predict a Packer blowout, but that's residue of Favre-hatred, which is linked to an overabundance of Rodgers-love. The Lions will make this close, just not close enough.

NY Giants over New Orleans
Everything would seem to favor the home team, but I think the Giants are a much tougher team. If the Saints want to be the best, they have to beat the best.

Pittsburgh over Cleveland
Lose this game, and the Steelers may not get the chance to defend their title.

Carolina over Tampa Bay
A truly putrid match-up that really could go either way.

Washington over Kansas City
I've picked two or three games over the past few weeks billed as "can't miss" picks by the geniuses at ESPN Radio. They've missed every one. They love KC at DC this week. Ergo, take the 'Skins.

Jacksonville over St. Louis
Lambs simply do not have enough talent to beat this defense on the road. Plus, stupid mistakes are killing whatever momentum they generate.

Seattle over Arizona
The Gridbirds should win this one going away, and they could if they play to their potential, but I haven't seen it yet—they can't get one game where offense and defense both play well at the same time. Seattle's huge win over Jax at home last week should carry over into this divisional game.

Philadelphia over Oakland
Only watchable for die-hard Eagles fans.

New England over Tennessee
Should we start worrying about Jeff Fisher's job? Is this unthinkable?

NY Jets over Buffalo
I really thought the Bills would be better than this, but they may be worse than the Rams.

Atlanta over Chicago
I think Lovie Smith needs a better offensive staff. His D is stout, but explain why Kyle Orton is lighting it up in Denver when he couldn't even start in the Second City.

Denver over San Diego
I'm no fool—when you're rolling sevens, keep laying your money on sevens.

Last week: 9-5
Season: 53-23 (.697)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rush got "Dixie Chicked" out of the NFL

Fox Sports Radio, which has a tendency submerge itself in the political swamp of its corporate master, the GOP propaganda machine that is Fox “News,” was blathering away this morning about how the “PC police” had chased poor Rush Limbaugh (hereafter referred to as “FB,” which stands for “Fat Bastard”) out of the group bidding to buy the St. Louis Rams. Right-wing whining aside (poor, poor rich white men—they don’t have any wealth or power, boo-hoo), this was an economics decision driven by political reality.

Fat Bastard got “Dixie Chicked.”

Remember a few years ago when Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines said from a concert stage in London, England, that she was ashamed that President George W. Bush and she were both from the state of Texas? Free speech, right? Well, in America, we don’t really believe in free speech for everyone. We only approve of free speech that we agree with. Everyone else needs to shut up or be forced to shut up.

In the case of the Dixie Chicks, country music stations stopped playing their songs, and inbreds everywhere crawled out from underneath their trailers to burn their Dixie Chicks CDs. Setting fire to anything we don’t like—witches, books, Muslim countries—is the American way, after all. They responded by breaking their contract with their country label, signing with a rock label and winning a bunch of Grammies. Living well really is the best revenge, it seems.

Well, FB was one of the loudest promoters of that anti-DC sentiment, so the irony here is just chocalicious, the fact that his own public statements, of which there is a long and vomitous record, has resulted in economic consequences. To be precise, St. Louis Blues chairman Dave Checketts dropped FB from his group that is bidding to purchase the Rams because it became clear to him that FB’s presence would result in failure.

But isn’t this a result of political correctness? Absolutely not. FB is a racist, pure and simple. If you don’t think so, then you don’t know where he’s from. I’m from the same place, southeast Missouri. I grew up in a town smaller than his hometown, but it’s only 75 miles away and culturally identical. This is still, culturally speaking, the Confederacy. You still hear racist jokes targeted at African-Americans. People still use the “n-word” regularly to refer to anyone with brown skin. FB’s audience is partially composed of this remnant of the racist south, and his popularity stems from the fact that he says things on the radio that people would get fired for saying in real life. Haters love to have their hatred validated.

Now, combine this element—the central element of FB’s success, mind you, not just a few random statements taken out of context, but the whole raison d’etre of his career—and mix that into St. Louis. St. Louis is a strange place. It’s mostly liberal, but with strong pockets of radical conservatism, people for whom Dick Cheney is the ideal politician. It’s mainly segregated, with black living in the north city and county and whites in the south city and south/west county, but with pockets of multicultural tolerance.

For the average St. Louis Rams fan, FB wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there are a lot of people in the St. Louis area, and the surrounding eastern half of the state, that would have completely abandoned the Rams had FB become even a minority (savor the irony) owner, myself included. I would have sold every scrap of Rams clothing I own, never tuned in to another broadcast, never attended another game, or done anything to contribute one thin dime to the franchise.

Now, if even 25 percent of current Rams supporters feel this way, how would this have affected the franchise? No more home game sellouts, which means local TV blackouts and loss of ad revenue. A mostly empty stadium with no hope of upgrades or improvements. With the lack of revenue, the team would surely languish at the bottom of the league, unable to sign big-name talent or lure free agents—especially African-American players—to a team owned in part by a man who said that NFL games are like gang wars without knives.

The NFL is full of controversial figures, many of whom are very conservative in their politics, some who may even refer to their own black players with the “n-word” behind closed doors. The difference is they don’t make millions of dollars pushing these ideas on the radio. If they did, the same firestorm of controversy would certainly result.

This is a free country. FB is free to say whatever he wants to say. But the rest of us are equally free to tell him that his hatred for every American who isn’t rich, white, male and conservative is something we don’t want behind our football team. But what if all this results in the Rams leaving St. Louis? As a lifetime St. Louis sports fan, I can honestly say I’d rather have no team at all than one owned by someone like him.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

NFL Week Five: Quick Picks (update with results)

Had a big yard sale yesterday, so the weekend's been hectic. Here's today's picks...

Buffalo over Cleveland
This is a game that has pick disaster all over it.
Somebody stop me before I pick Buffalo again—Browns 6, Bills 3.

Pittsburgh over Detroit
Culpepper should throw three picks against Steeler defense.
Is Detroit improving, or should we be worried about Pittsburgh? Steelers 28, Lions 20.

Dallas over Kansas City
Aren't the Cowboys better than they've played so far?
I'm not sure they are, but does anyone think they're a legit playoff team? Cowboys 26, Chefs 20.

Vikings over Rams
I'll be angry if this game is even close.
This is exactly the kind of game the pre-Favre Vikings would have lost—Vikings 38, Lambs 10.

Giants over Raiders
Is Al Davis even still alive?
This was embarrassing, even by Oakland's low standards. NYG 44, Oakland 7.

Eagles over Bucs
McNabb returns to crush hapless Tampa.
Tampa looks like an expansion team again. Philly 33, Tampa 14.

Panthers over 'Skins
Carolina stinks, but Washington is even more dreadful.
Has anyone seen Jim Zorn's resumé on Carolina 20, Washington 17.

Ravens over Bengals
Contenders over pretenders in the NFC North.
Yes, the Bengals are for real, and the Ravens better figure out their offense if they want to be back in the picture. Cincy 17, Baltimore 14.

49ers over Falcons
Mainly because the game is in Frisco.
Holy asskicking, Batman! Guess the Falcons are a lot better than I thought, and the 49ers aren't quite as good as they've looked. Atlanta 45, SF 10.

Seahawks over Jaguars
Jax is due to lay another egg, and Seattle's a tough place to win.
Guess I was really, really right about this one. Seattle 41, Jax 0.

Cardinals over Texans
Kurt Warner gets his groove back at home.
Yeah, but what about that defense coughing up a big lead? Shaky...Arizona 28, Houston 21.

Patriots over Broncos
Let's see how "for real" Denver is this week.
Really for real. They're going to win the AFC West in a walk, and this was one of the most entertaining football games I've watched. Denver 20, NE 17.

Colts over Titans
Man crush alert! Man crush alert!
Peyton's got five consecutive 300+ passing yards games now, just one shy of the record. Their next opponent? The Lambs. I think he'll tie the record. Indy 31, Tenn 9.

Jets over Dolphins
Mainly a defensive game, I think, and NY gets the edge.
Not a defensive game, and entertaining score-fest that went to the wire. This is why we love football! Miami 31, NYJ 27.

This week: 9-5
Last week: 10-4
Season: 53-23 (.697)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

NFL Week Four: Who's on MNF this week again?

Thirteen and three last week, and I stupidly hoped to pick a Rams upset in the home opener. Durr.... The Vikings better shore up their secondary, or Aaron Rodgers is likely to pass for 300 yards. I still think the story of the game will be Adrian Peterson, not Brett Favre. Look for AP to shine in the Monday night spotlight this week. Here's my picks:

Detroit at Chicago
Hope you enjoyed that win last week, Lions. This week, back to reality.
Bears 33, Lions 13

Cincinnati at Cleveland
Are the Bengals for real this year? Who cares this week? They're playing one of the league's worst teams. People need to learn that working for a good coach doesn't make you a good coach. Have any of Belichick's disciples actually succeeded anywhere yet? Yeah, but the book's still out on the Broncos. Let's see how they fare against Dallas this week.
Bengals 38, Browns 16

Seattle at Indianapolis
I despise the Seattle franchise, so watching my man Peyton shred the Seahawks secondary is going to make my Sunday afternoon—provided my stupid cable company carries the game. Now that Tyler Hansbrough's playing for the Pacers, all Indy sports must automatically count as home games in Poplar Bluff.
Colts 30, Seahawks 14

NY Giants at Kansas City
Best, meet worst. Worst, meet best. Best beats worst.
Giants 37, Chefs 6

Tampa Bay at Washington
Just what the struggling 'Skins needed—the worst team in the league coming to town.
Skins 33, Bucs 3

Tennessee at Jacksonville
How is anyone supposed to pick this game? Jax got killed by Arizona, who stunk it up at home against San Fran, just one week after almost beating Indy. Last week, just to confuse things, they beat Houston in a shootout. Meanwhile, last year's highest wins team (13-3) with maybe the best head coach in the league starts out 0-3, losing two close games and a shootout against the same Houston team that Jax outscored. What the #&@%!? I should just flip a coin.
Titans 24, Jaguars 23

Oakland at Houston
To call the Oakland Raiders a tire fire is an insult to tire fires.
Texans 37, Raiders 13

Baltimore at New England
Old boss, meet the new boss.
Ravens 21, Patriots 17

NY Jets at New Orleans
Drew Brees is must-see TV. Too bad the networks schedule prime games based on last year's teams.
Saints 31, Jets 24

Buffalo at Miami
I wouldn't bet on Chad Henne if you put a gun to my head.
Bills 27, Dolphins 16

Dallas at Denver
Dallas stood toe-to-toe with the Giants and almost won the game, then outslugged a still-tough Carolina defense. Denver beat Cincy on a fluke play, then beat Cleveland and Oakland, two huge doormats. Even at Mile High, I give Dallas the edge in this one.
Cowboys 24, Denver 20

St. Louis at San Francisco
This is going to make those humiliating games from the pre-Vermeil and Warner '90s look like relaxing walk along the beach on a warm summer day.
49ers 49, Rams 0

San Diego at Pittsburgh
The Steelers have to win this one at home, right? Right? Because they're freaking killing me week after week, and I'm going to jump ship if they blow this one.
Steelers 13, Chargers 10

Green Bay at Minnesota
Go ahead, make it all about Brett Favre. Focus on the passing game and trying to humiliate the old man. All the better to clear the running lanes for AP. Get this through your head, losers: Favre's a role player, and he knows it. This game will be about physical domination, and the Vikings will impose their will on a young and often erratic Packers squad. And did any of you really think I would pick differently?
Vikings 31, Packers 20

Last week: 13-3
This season: 34-14 (.708)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

NFL Picks Week Three: Still woozy from last week's beating (early game update)

My boys are playing youth football, so yesterday was their first round of games. I've also been under the weather this week, so it's quick picks today. I'll add more comments after the games. I need to do much better than last week, where my picks looked like something you'd see from the "experts" at ESPN.

Pittsburgh over Cincinnati
Roethisburger and company will bounce back big, and they own the Bengals.
Bengals 23, Steelers 20Troy or not, there's no excuse for choking this game up.

Detroit over Washington
Washington barely beat the Rams at home, so I see Detroit playing big at home and winning today.
Lions 19, Skins 14Jim Zorn's job is officially in danger as of today.

St. Louis over Green Bay
Same goes for the Rams; they played well enough to win last week, and I think the Packers will take them too lightly.
Packers 36, Rams 17another hard-fought effort on the part of the Rams, but their secondary got torched for too many long plays, and their offense just doesn't have enough play makers. Patience is a virtue, Rams fans; we're building for 2011.

Minnesota over San Francisco
Favre and Peterson will be geeked up for the Vikes' home opener.
Vikings 27, 49ers 24This is exactly why we needed Brett Favre; there's no way that T-Jack or Sage-Ro takes them on that last drive or makes that last pass. Niners are for real, folks, and they're going to win the NFC West.

New England over Atlanta
If the Pats lose at home to a dome team, you can scratch them off this season. I'm picking them because Brady and Belichick have always won when their backs are against the wall.
Patriots 26, Falcons 10Reports of the Patriots' death have been greatly exaggerated.

NY Jets over Tennessee
Rex Ryan has given this team a whole new (and nasty) attitude.
Jets 24, Titans 17What the heck is wrong with Tennessee? I would say QB, but their defense isn't getting it Albert Haynesworth, perhaps?

Philadelphia over Kansas City
No McNabb? Vick's role unknown? Defensive questions? Doesn't matter when playing the woeful Chefs.
Eagles 34, Chefs 14no, that's not a typo. Until they win, they are a ragtag band of former sous-chefs led by perky, plucky Rachel Ray.

NY Giants over Tampa Bay
Tampa's probably regretting firing Jon Gruden right now, dontcha think?
Giants 24, Bucs 0Again, will someone explain to me why Superbowl winning coach Jon Gruden was fired so they could hire someone almost eight years younger than Brett Favre to coach this woeful bunch? Can the Chefs or the Lambs get this bunch on their schedule?

Baltimore over Cleveland
The Ravens look better and better each week.
Ravens 34, Browns 3especially when they play a team as bad as the Browns.

Houston over Jacksonville
Matt Schaub just looked cosmic last week.
Jags 31, Texans 24Wait a minute...Jax coughs up a hairball at home last week, while Houston outscores Tennessee in Nashville, then this? Sometime the NFL just doesn't make sense.

Chicago over Seattle
Without Matt Hasslebeck, Seattle's not much better than St. Louis.
Bears 25, Seahawks 19

New Orleans over Buffalo
The Saints are scoring like a tween geek playing Madden NFL.
Saints 27, Bills 7

Denver over Oakland
Don't know how they're doing it, but the Broncos are winning somehow.
Broncos 23, Raiders 3

San Diego over Miami
This is purely about home field.
Chargers 23, Dolphins 13

Indianapolis over Arizona
Don't pick against my man crush.
Colts 31, Cardinals 10

Dallas over Carolina
Anyone looking for a defensive coordinator? John Fox should be available by the end of the season.
Cowboys 21, Panthers 7

This week: 13-3
Last week: 8-8
This season: 34-14 (.708)

Friday, September 18, 2009

NFL Picks: Week Two

Week one was pretty good, although I felt like the fluke ending of Denver-Cincy and Arizona's receivers baffling inability to catch wide-open screen passes kept me from the 15-1 start I deserved. Week two is always tricky—we never know if week one was what to expect this season, overplaying (Kansas City) or slow start (Arizona). I feel confident about these picks, so it's probably feast or famine.

Update: Uhh, how can I describe my picks this Sunday? It was like when Andy Dufresne first met the "sisters" in the laundry at Shawshank State Penitentiary.

Carolina at Atlanta
These are two teams going in different directions. Atlanta has a great young quarterback, and up-and-coming coach and all kinds of good buzz. Carolina has a washed-up quarterback, a coach probably on the firing line and nothing but bad vibes.
Falcons 24, Panthers 13 (ATL 28, CAR 20)
Delhomme had a better week, but Atlanta is the top of that division now.

Minnesota at Detroit
Here’s the difference Brett Favre makes for Vikings fans—last year, we wondered if our quarterback was the reason we would lose the game. Now we know that Favre could, if needed, win a close game. With Peterson, Taylor and Harvin running the ball, the Vikes offense could be as effective as their defense.
Vikings 31, Lions 17 (MIN 27, DET 13)
Brett Favre had a QB rating of 115 this week. Suck it, monkeys!

Cincinnati at Green Bay
The Bengals need a hug after coughing up that game to Denver last week. You don’t need to travel to Lambeau Field after that kind of a loss.
Packers 35, Bengals 9 (CIN 31, GB 24)
Wait, I thought Aaron Rodgers was the football Jesus!

Houston at Tennessee
I would like it if someone could explain why Houston got an expansion franchise after the good team moved to Tennessee.
Titans 23, Texans 10 (HOU 34, TEN 31)
Would someone like to explain the mysterious disappearance of the Tennessee defense? Give credit to Houston QB Matt Schaub for a great game.

Oakland at Kansas City
Both of these teams played much better than anyone expected, but Baltimore is really good, and San Diego is overrated, so I’m going with the Chefs at home.
Chiefs 17, Raiders 14 (OAK 13, KC 10)
Note to self: Don't pick KC again.

New England at NY Jets
Why oh why do teams taunt the Patriots and make bold claims about imminent victory? You don’t poke a hungry bear with a stick…duh!
Patriots 38, Jets 20 (NYJ 16, NE 9)
Tom Brady is not 100% after knee surgery, just as Tiger Woods wasn't. It takes two years for the knee to be completely healthy. I'll call it now--Pats don't make the playoffs this year.

New Orleans at Philadelphia
With a healthy McNabb, this is a shootout. With Kevin Kolb making his first pro start and 83-year-old Jeff Garcia backing him up, I’m going with the New Orleans scoring machine.
Saints 30, Eagles 21 (NO 48, PHI 22)
No one in the league wants to try to defend against this Saints offense. Just terrifying.

St. Louis at Washington
I remember when the Rams were really, really good. That was awesome. This is not.
Skins 27, Rams 6 (WAS 9, STL 7)
Rams played hard again, but they just don't have enough playmakers. And Donnie Avery must coat his hands and arms with Crisco.

Arizona at Jacksonville
Kurt Warner wasn’t great last week, but he wasn’t helped by receivers who couldn’t catch water with a bucket. I don’t see them faring much better traveling to the East Coast to play a defensively tough Jags squad.
Jaguars 21, Cardinals 14 (ARZ 31, JAX 17)
Yeah, Kurt Warner's a hall of famer, and the Jags are D-O-N-E.

Seattle at San Francisco
After the beating they put on the Rams, I’m going to stick with Seattle until San Fran shows me something more consistent.
Seahawks 26, 49ers 19 (SF 23, SEA 10)
Okay, they showed me. The Vikings are in for a tough home opener next week. Hasslebeck's hurt again, so goodbye, Seattle.

Tampa Bay at Buffalo
Just for the sake of karma, Buffalo deserves this one.
Bills 24, Bucs 17 (BUF 33, TB 20)
Karma says, "Okay."

Pittsburgh at Chicago
No Polamalu is still better than no Urlacher.
Steelers 33, Bears 17 (CHI 17, PIT 14)
Jeff Reed misses two field goals? Am I cursed this week?

Cleveland at Denver
I think Cleveland’s better than Denver, but I also think Mile High is a huge home field advantage.
Broncos 16, Browns 12 (DEN 27, CLE 6)
Maybe Denver's better than we thought. Let's see them against a top team first.

Baltimore at San Diego
Folks, the Baltimore Ravens are for real this year. I currently have them ranked fourth in the AFC after Pittsburgh, Indy and New England. All the idiots drinking the “Chargers in the Superbowl” Kool-Aid need to remember three things: 1) LaDanian Tomlinson is over the hill; 2) Norv Turner is an idiot; 3) Phillip Rivers is a douche.
Ravens 38, Chargers 17 (BAL 31, SD 26)
Home field was good for an extra score for SD.

NY Giants at Dallas
I don’t usually do this, but SportsCenter tonight pointed out that the Giants are injured, Eli’s never won in Dallas, and Tony Romo is 4-0 over New York at home. I’ll give this one a shot, just once.
Cowboys 27, Giants 20 (NYG 33, DAL 31)
Eli Manning is one cool customer, and this is the last time I listen to ESPN.

Indianapolis at Miami
Hate the Anthony Gonzalez injury, but hey, it’s Indy. I don’t pick against my man crush.
Colts 20, Dolphins 13 (IND 27, MIA 23)
I think the defense is still taking IV fluids, though

This week: 8-8
Last week: 13-3
Season: 21-11 (.656)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

On the first day of Christmas...(updated)

...the Vikings gave to me: Brett Favre as starting QB. It's week one of the NFL, and as usual, here are my game picks. These are the same picks I entered in's Pigskin Pick'em by the way, so I'm not being wishy-washy with my choices. Also, it's been a busy weekend, so my commentary will be brief. Check back later for results and recaps, and as always, I welcome your comments.

Pittsburgh (13) over Tennessee (10)
Yes, I got my pick in on time Thursday, so this counts.
...but it was a lot closer than I thought it would be.

Atlanta (19) over Miami (7)
Close game, but I'm giving Atlanta the home field edge.
...but give Miami's defense credit for keeping it close.

Cincinnati (7) over Denver (12)
Denver's on the road with no QB and Carson Palmer is healthy again.
...fluke plays like this game-ender are why I never gamble real money on sports.

Minnesota (34) over Cleveland (20)
I think AP may break 150 yards rushing today.
...Brett Favre will be the first one to tell you that this is Adrian Peterson's team. BTW, he had 180 yards and 3 TDs. You should have drafted him for your fantasy team, chump.

Indianapolis (14) over Jacksonville (12)
Watch Peyton light up the Jags defense with his corps of young receivers.
...or not. Whatever, we'll take the win ugly, too.

New Orleans (45) over Detroit (28)
The Saints might be my sleeper pick for this season.
...the Saints' offense is just scary this year.

Dallas (34) over Tampa Bay (21)
The Cowboys stink, but Tampa's in utter chaos.
...but can Tony Romo play this well every week?

Philadelphia (38) over Carolina (10)
Superbowl or bust for this Eagles team.
...just a reminder—I have Minnesota and Philly in my NFC Championship.

Baltimore (38) over Kansas City (24)
The Ravens are contenders, while KC is still in rebuilding mode.
...but give KC credit—they played a hard-fought, close game.

NY Jets (24) over Houston (7)
I still don't understand why so many people pick the Texans to have a good year.
...still don't understand.

NY Giants (23) over Washington (17)
It's hard to beat the Giants at home in the Meadowlands.
...the NFC East is just crazy tough—the best division in the NFL.

Arizona (16) over San Francisco (20)
Warner throws more than 300 yards and 3 TDs.
...uhhh, yeah, not quite. Guh.

Seattle (28) over St. Louis (0)
The Rams might win this game, but Seattle has a considerable home field advantage.
...if the Rams ever move, St. Louis shouldn't worry—they already don't have a professional football team.

Chicago over Green Bay
I like Chicago's defense better than the Packers', and Cutler gives the Bears enough offense to win.

New England over Buffalo
Tom Brady re-establishes his command of the football universe.

San Diego over Oakland
Al Davis could use an intervention.

Season record [as of Sunday afternoon]: 11-2 (.846)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This won't come as a big surprise...

Okay, here are my NFL picks! Guess who I'm picking to win it all this year?

AFC East
New England Patriots—Brady returns with a grudge.
Buffalo Bills—Terrell Owens plays nicely with others.
Miami Dolphins—tougher schedule brings 'phins back to reality.
New York Jets—Mark Sanchez is no Joe least, not yet.

AFC North
Pittsburgh Steelers—the champs repeat.
Baltimore Ravens—still punishing opponents on defense.
Cincinnati Bengals—at least their offense will be entertaining.
Cleveland Browns—basically a tire fire.

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts—Manning throws for more than 30 TDs.
Tennessee Titans—Kerry Collins is old; Vince Young is bad.
Jacksonville Jaguars—tough defense, boring offense.
Houston Texans—go ahead, pick them as your sleeper.

AFC West
San Diego Chargers—win by default because this division is putrid.
Denver Broncos—Bowlen will regret turning his staff over last year.
Oakland Raiders—still a grease fire.
Kansas City Chiefs—in year nine of their "rebuilding" plan.

AFC Wild Cards
Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles—offense is full of playmakers; defense playing for memory of Jim Jackson.
New York Giants—Eli still needs better receivers.
Washington Redskins—don't like any of their QBs, especially since they cut Chase Daniel.
Dallas Cowboys—would you want Wade Phillips coaching your team?

NFC North
Minnesota Vikings—Brett Favre. Adrian Peterson. Vicious defense. The time is now.
Chicago Bears—Cutler plays well; defense is always tough.
Green Bay Packers—Rodgers plays well; defense stinks.
Detroit Lions—a floating oil fire.

NFC South
New Orleans Saints—an offensive dynamo.
Atlanta Falcons—taking a step back this year.
Carolina Panthers—happy trails, John Fox.
Tampa Bay Bucanneers—can you name anyone on their roster?

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals—Warner to Fitzgerald and Boldin.
San Francisco 49ers—Singletary needs a quarterback.
Seattle Seahawks—new coach, old QB, not much talent.
St. Louis Rams—better than last year, but still a long way to go, and I hate Marc Bulger.

NFC Wild Cards
New York Giants, Chicago Bears

AFC Championship
Pittsburgh over New England

NFC Championship
Minnesota over Philadelphia

Minnesota 27, Pittsburgh 24

That was probably the least surprising pick of all time, right?

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Genius" only goes so far

While I'm eagerly awaiting tonight's home debut by new Cardinals pitcher John Smoltz, I'm also still steaming over Thursday's pointless and unnecessary loss to NL Central also-rans Houston Astros. What is it about these guys that baffles us so much? They're a sub-.500 team with aging stars—why can't we hit a single with a guy on second?

I'll tell you why: because Tony LaRussa keeps putting Colby Rasmus and Rick Ankiel into the lineup. Results? Pop-ups, weak ground outs and infuriating strike outs, especially from Ankiel, who couldn't find the strike zone if you lit it up with bright neon-colored laser beams.

LaRussa's continued reliance on these two sure outs means that a more effective lineup hasn't had time to gel. So I would like to humbly submit my own lineup proposal, one that gives us the best chance of wrapping up this division before the middle of September.

1. Skip Shumaker—RF
2. Brendan Ryan—SS
3. Albert Pujols—1B
4. Matt Holliday—LF
5. Ryan Ludwick—CF
6. Mark DeRosa—3B
7. Yadier Molina—C
8. Julio Lugo—2B
9. pitcher

Yeah, I know I'm putting Skip back in the outfield after playing a better-than-expected second all season, but you've got to keep both him and Lugo in the lineup. If you need to bring a left-hander off the bench to pinch hit, Ankiel and Rasmus are still good for three strikes.

There's no way LaRussa's going to change his mind—he kept putting Chris Duncan on the lineup card until John Mozeliak had no choice but to trade him for everyone's collective sanity, but if the Cardinals keep taxing their bullpen, wasting quality starts and stranding men in scoring position, it's just the type of thing to give the Cubs hope for a late, last-gasp run.

Don't be like a James Bond villain. When you've got your enemy on the ground and under your boot, step on his throat until he stops breathing.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Smoltz Adds Another Dimension

Cardinal Nation watched with particularly high interest and anticipation Sunday afternoon as the Redbirds wrapped up a four-game series with the Padres in the perpetually beautiful San Diego weather. Tony LaRussa used yet another pitcher in the useless five-hole in the rotation, inhabited this season by minor-league pitchers like Todd Wellemeyer and Mitchell Boggs. Today, however, the man on the mound was a pitcher who could take a weekend off to pose for his bust in Cooperstown—John Smoltz.

Released by the Boston Red Sox for eight inefficient starts, it was hard to know what to expect. Smoltz is certainly one of the smartest and most experienced pitchers. Heaven knows Cardinals fans remember what it was like to watch him dash our World Series hopes back in 1996. Former Cy Young winner, the only pitcher in major league history to record both 200 wins and 150 saves, Smoltz is a living legend. Now he joins fellow living legend-in-the-making Albert Pujols to see if the Cardinals can climb that mountain yet again.

What would the Cardinals get from Smoltz today? Average stuff? Blasted out by the third inning? Unexpected strength? Wit and resolve without much physical skill left in the tank? None of the above—five innings, three hits, no walks, nine strikeouts that included seven in a row. Smoltz didn't just exceed expectations; he hit them further out of the ballpark than El Hombre's opposite-field homer.

With afterthought pitcher Kyle Lohse-er on the DL again, Smoltz just advanced himself into the fourth spot in the rotation, as the Cards recalled Mitchell Boggs to once again pitch out of the five spot, a role that has become the equivalent of a Star Trek enlisted man wearing a red tunic on an away team.

Everyone knows that Smoltz brings a wealth of experience and leadership into both the clubhouse and the dugout, and no one in my generation has pitched better in the postseason with perhaps the exception of Curt Schilling. That was what we expected, and it is certain to make a difference in the stretch run.

But what Smoltz showed us today is that if he can duplicate today's masterful performance a few more times, the Cardinals have a legitimate chance to win four out of every five games the rest of the way. It allows Lohse to get fully healthy as well as taking some of the pressure off of Boggs or whoever else they throw to the Wolves on day five.

Smoltz really did show flashes of his old brilliance today. His arm simply isn't strong enough to throw a 90-plus mph fastball anymore, but at age 42, he was painting the corners and spinning his split-finger pitch off the edge of the table like his vintage days in Atlanta. Even after two errors put men on first and second with no one out in the first inning, he stayed cool and kept throwing ground ball outs. Even if his arm is 100 percent, his mind is still strong enough to get batters out.

For all the fan crap GM John Mozeliak has taken—and much of it was deserved last year—he has done more than any other GM in the major leagues to set his team up for a postseason run. In a seven game series, we would pitch two Cy Young candidates, Carp and Waino, ground ball wizard Joel Piñero, and possibly future Hall of Famer John Smoltz. That sounds like a winning rotation to me.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Americans are Communists

For all of the bluster about Obama being a liberal (he isn't) who is leading the U.S. into socialism (it's not) and all the concurrent yelling and screaming about FREEDOM!!! ...the truth is that most Americans, when push comes to shove, are really communists at heart. I don't mean theoretically sounds Marxists or Chinese Communo-capitalists or Latin American popular dictators—I mean old-school European Soviet Communists; you know, the kind who talk about "we're a democratic and free country," but who really mean, "you are free to do only what we say you can do."

I first realized this at the beginning of the decade when I served a three-year term on our city council here in my home town. Part of my duties included serving on a number of citizens advisory boards, including the one for Parks and Recreation. The park department had successfully passed a modest sales tax increase to fund their operations, and after several years of outstanding management with no pay raises at all, the Park Board budgeted a substantial raise for the director. People here freaked out. We had a public hearing at the library, and there were more than 50 people there, and they all basically had the same thing to say: "I couldn't get that big of a raise at my job, so why should he get such a big raise?"


Practically everyone who has a comment on Brett Favre and his recent signing with the Minnesota Vikings, including my childhood hero and the reason I'm a Vikings fan, Fran Tarkenton, are communists. The line basically goes like this: "Favre said he retired. He has no right to come out of retirement. The Vikings said they were moving on. They had no right to sign Favre after all."

Give me a freaking break, communists. Let me address the critics one by one.

Fran Tarkenton: Dude, I love you; you're my hero, and I'll always cherish the memories, but here's the reality—no one outside of Minnesota even knows who you are anymore. Who's next, Bud Grant? I would give anything to have seen you raise that Lombardi trophy, but you had three tries to get it done and came up short each time. Chill out on the anger. The Vikings are better with Favre than without him.

Sports writers and TV commentators: These people are maggots and parasites. I think about them the way Lou Brown, manager for the Cleveland Indians in "Major League" does: "I'm for wasting sports writers' time; let's see if we can make them eat a s*** sandwich." They all whine about how sick they are of the Brett Favre story, then talk about it all day long. LIARS! You love Brett Favre! You worship Brett Favre! You light candles at an altar in the break room in prayer that Favre does this year after year so you have something to talk about! Does anyone think the national media would have more than 30 seconds to talk about the Vikings other than, "Vikings lose, their QBs suck," with their previous QB staff? Please...

Green Bay Packers: I'm an old-school Vikings fan, so anything that cause pain and angst for Packers fans and players gives me the warm, soothing comfort that only schadenfreude can bring. Upset? Burning Favre jerseys? Losing sleep at night? Eating way too many sausages? Slipping deeper and deeper into dysfunctional alcoholism? Good! It's what you cheese heads deserve!

Minnesota Vikings: Let me quote former Jets and Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards: "You win...the game!" The only Vikings players upset with the Favre signing are named Sage and Tarvaris (stupid names for QBs anyway). The fact of the matter is that if either one of them had enough skills to start and win in the NFL, none of this ever would have happened. Favre was Minnesota's best option to win it all now, this year, while all their pieces are in place. If you want to know the reality of this signing, look at Vikings single-game and season ticket sales since the signing was announced—they had to shut it down because the demand crashed their computers. Real Vikings fans know that T-Jack was worse than Marc Bulger; we were never going to win with him. Rosenfels was a backup on a Houston team that can't finish better than .500. Neither of these guys was going to take us to the top of the mountain. Maybe Favre won't, but we know that he can.

Everyone else: Freedom means freedom to do something that you don't agree with or like. It also means the freedom to voice your displeasure, but when your only argument is, "He said he retired; he should stay retired. The Vikings shouldn't have signed him (even though he was a free agent) because it's not fair to the other quarterbacks. Favre shouldn't play for Minnesota because he used to play for Green Bay," then as far as I'm concerned, you're one of those sad people in the library complaining that someone else doing a different job than you do for a different company than you work for is getting a raise that seems too big just because you've never gotten one of those yourself. And when you demand that everyone be treated the same, and you impose arbitrary rules upon everyone else based on your perception of what constitutes fairness, then that makes you a...


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Oh Happy Day!

The Minnesota Vikings signed Brett Favre yesterday...

Does this mean the Vikings are the NFC favorites to go to the Superbowl? To win the Superbowl? Well, to paraphrase Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction, "Let's not start sucking each other's [lollipops] just yet." While this Vikings fan is excited that we have a quarterback with the experience and skills to win it all, I also want to break this down calmly and rationally.

• Best run-stop defense in the league—you just can't run on them.
• An improving secondary anchored by Antoine Winfield, who just signed a big contract.
• The best running back in the NFL, Adrian Peterson, paired up with pro-bowl caliber running back Chester Taylor—simply the best ground attack in the league.
• First-round pick Percy Harvin adding blinding speed to the passing game and possible the running game as well. This guy's faster than AP, if you can believe that.
• Possibly the best offensive line in the the league, and certainly the best left side tackle and guard to protect Favre's blind side as well as clear out running lanes for the ground game.

• Experience that no other Vikings QB even comes close to.
• The ability to complete third-down passes into tight zones and past defenders.
• The arm strength—surgically rebuilt and tested—to heave the ball downfield to Harvin or Bernard Berrian.
• Mental toughness and on-field leadership, especially late in games.
• Two Superbowls, one win, and the desire to go out on top just one more time.

• Almost 40 years old. I'm 41, and a long walk makes me sore. Can he physically endure the grind of a five-month season?
• Surgically repaired arm that is still not 100 percent.
• Throws lots of stupid interceptions.

Will this work? Experience says no. Joe Montana was younger and healthier when he was traded to Kansas City, and although he made the Chiefs exciting contenders, he couldn't get back up the mountain. On the other hand, the Vikings have had luck in the past with over-the-hill QBs such as Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham. If we only had Randy Moss around for one more season, as well.

Look, here's the bottom line for me. I'm thinking about the Vikings' playoff loss at home to the Eagles. All Tarvaris Jackson had to do was complete a few short third down passes, but every time he just threw the ball into the turf. The Eagles put nine men on the line to stop AP because they knew T-Jack couldn't complete a pass. With Favre, if any defense stacks against the run, he connects for a long pass. If they play nickel, one of the runners gains ten yards. Pick your poison, but the Vikings are good for at least 24-28 points a game this season.

Will all this translate into postseason glory? Who can tell? Last season, it would have been easy to pick Pittsburgh since they're good every year and almost always in the discussion, but Kurt Warner and the Arizona freaking Cardinals? I dare you to find anyone who picked them to win the NFC. Winning a championship takes luck, good health, fortunate calls, hard work and mad skills. With Favre, all the pieces are in place. But they still have to play the games.

But boy, will these games be fun to watch.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Restarting for a new (sports) year

For any of you who have tuned in to "The Sandlot" in the past, consider this a new beginning. For those who are visiting for the first time, welcome to sports commentary from the common-sense view of the devoted van. You won't get endless analysis, obscure 1970s references, and certainly no trace of East Coast bias. What you will get is honest fan opinion that mainly focuses on Midwest sports teams.

I haven't posted at all over the summer, mainly due to an unusually busy real-life workload. Now that fall has arrived—at least in terms of a new school year, if not yet reflected by the weather—it's high time for me to tune back in to the pulse of sports.

Baseball is reaching the height of its pennant races. The Cardinals added three important pieces—Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa and Julio Lugo—but didn't strengthen their starting pitching or their right-handed bullpen. They only have three dependable starters, Cy Young candidates Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, plus the rejuvenated Joel Piñero, but Kyle Lohse has not shown the form that distinguished him last season. They don't have a fifth starter at all. Will this be enough to keep the Cubs at bay until the playoffs? Is there any chance they might pick up released future Hall of Famer John Smoltz? Will Tony LaRussa ever stop bringing Dennys "Restaurant" Reyes out of the bullpen? Stay tuned—we will keep our attention focused on baseball's best player, Albert Pujols, and the rest of the Redbirds as they fight for another NL Central title.

Fall means football, and long-time readers know that I'm all about the pigskin, both college and pro. Let's start with my alma mater, the Missouri Tigers. The so-called experts, those guys who get paid to give you what I do for free, have picked them to finish at least behind Nebraska in the Big 12 North. Granted, losing Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman leaves some substantial shoes to fill, but the lack of expectations combined with the potential shown by new sophomore starting QB Blaine Gabbert (highly recruited by Nebraska, by the way) may surprise a lot of doubters once the conference season starts. I'm picking the Tigers to go 8-4, by the way. Not great, but I went to Mizzou during the Woody Widenhofer and Bob Stull errors. (No, I didn't mean "eras.")

Picking pro football results is a bit easier than baseball picks—it's a shorter season, and coaching and talent eliminates about 25 percent of the teams before the season even starts—but it's always a surprise to see who's left standing come January. I will return on opening week with a series of divisional previews, but for now, here's what I'm looking for with the teams I follow: 1) Will Brett Favre really stay retired, or will he take once last shot at glory and try to take the Vikings to the Promised Land at last? This much is clear—all the championship pieces are in place except for the guy under center. Answer: no one knows, probably not even Favre himself.

2) How bad will the Rams be this year? Answer: pretty bad. They don't have any talent, and they have maybe the worst QB in the league in Marc Bulger. New head coach Steve Spagnuolo will bring energy and toughness, but this team will be lucky to make it to six wins. Look for them to jettison Bulger at the end of the season when his ridiculous contract won't kill their salary cap number.

3) How will the Colts react to a new head coach? Answer: It's too soon to tell. Peyton Manning is still the best QB in the league, but does he have the skill players around him to reach another championship? Jim Caldwell was hand-picked by Tony Dungy to succeed him, but the Colts also lost their offensive line coach and offensive coordinator—the only ones Manning has ever played under—to retirement. With the departure of Marvin Harrison, this may just be too many changes to cope with in a division with Jacksonville, Houston and Tennessee.

What else is on the horizon? Hometown hero Tyler Hansbrough starts his rookie season for the Indiana Pacers, the St. Louis Blues try to build on the promise of last year's playoff season, the Mizzou basketball team returns from a Sweet Sixteen run in the Big Dance last year, and Shaq and LeBron team up to try to bring a championship to Cleveland for the first time since...well, I'm not old enough to remember.

Welcome back to The Sandlot. Stop by, read, comment, and be the best fan that you can.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge

Well, friends, it's that time of year again: March Madness, where you get to test your expertise, luck and/or psychic abilities in trying to win your brackets. If you want to play against the denizens of The Sandlot, go to and enter the Tournament Bracket challenge. At some point, you will see a link that will allow you to "Create or Join Group." Search for "Sandman's Sandlot," then join the group. You can enter up to 10 different brackets, but you must enter before this Thursday, so get started now!