Saturday, September 08, 2012

Playoff picks destined to be laughably wrong

NFC Playoffs
1. San Francisco
2. Atlanta
3. Chicago
4. Dallas
5. Green Bay
6. Carolina

Wild Card Games
Chicago over Carolina
Green Bay over Dallas

Divisional Games
Atlanta over Chicago
San Francisco over Green Bay

NFC Championship
San Francisco over Atlanta

AFC Playoffs
1. Baltimore
2. Houston
3. New England
4. Denver
5. Cincinnati
6. Buffalo

Wild Card Games
New England over Buffalo
Denver over Cincinnati

Divisional Games
Baltimore over Denver
Houston over New England

AFC Championship
Baltimore over Houston

Baltimore over San Francisco in the battle of the Harbaugh brothers

Friday, September 07, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: The American Football Conference

One of the reasons I'm really excited about this season is that it's the first real indication of team strength that we've seen in the NFL in three seasons. Last season was damaged due to the lockout, and the year before that, teams didn't make many moves due to uncertainty about the future collective bargaining agreement. So this year, we see which teams got better, which teams got old, and which teams are building for the future. This dynamic couldn't be any clearer than it is in the AFC.

I said, "I'm a giant douche bag!"
AFC East
1) New England Patriots (12-4)
2) Buffalo Bills (10-6)
3) New York Jets (7-9)
4) Miami Dolphins (2-14)

As long as Brady and Belichick are together, this is a playoff team, but everyone gets older. The Bills take another step forward, building on their potential from last year's surprising start. The Tebow circus in New York will more than likely usher loudmouth HC Rex Ryan out the door. Miami, like Tampa, features a professional [sic] football organization.

Are you sure? I thought the
Village People had a football player.

1) Baltimore Ravens (13-3)
2) Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
3) Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)
4) Cleveland Browns (5-11)

The Ravens need to take advantage of what is almost certainly the last hurrah of their Hall of Fame-bound veteran defenders. It's also time for Joe Flacco to take the same leap forward that Eli Manning did last year from game manager to clutch time leader. Also, his receivers need to HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL! Marvin Lewis will continue to overachieve with a Bengals team that will be better still than last year. My friends who are Steelers fans will hate me for saying this, but they are just getting too old, and Ben's health is a huge concern this season. Cleveland is, well, Cleveland, and that ain't good.

Nah, it doesn't make any more sense
when you turn it upside down.
1) Houston Texans (13-3)
2) Tennessee Titans (8-8)
3) Indianapolis Colts (4-12)
4) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)

If Matt Schaub can stay healthy, the Texans are my top pick to represent the AFC in the Superbowl this year. The Titans are still developing under Jake Locker; Andrew Luck will put up some great numbers, but the Colts are obviously still operating under the rebuilding paradigm. Jaguars players can look forward to shopping for real estate in southern California in a year or two. Blaine Gabbert would have done much better in Minnesota.

OW! MY NECK!! Sorry guys,
I was just messing with you!
1) Denver (10-6)
2) San Diego (9-7)
3) Oakland (8-8)
4) Kansas City (6-10)

Come on, would I ever pick against Peyton Manning? If they went 8-8 with Tebow, they should, at the very least, win the division. San Diego will keep spinning its wheels until they hire a new head coach. Oakland will continue to baffle us with potential that's never fulfilled (kind of like Carson Palmer's career), and sorry KC fans...I'm just not feeling any love for Romeo.

Tomorrow: Playoff picks destined to be laughably wrong.

Monday, September 03, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: The National Football Conference

Sing along with me..."It's the most wonderful tiiiiiime, of the yeeeeeeear!" This week marks the beginning of the new NFL season, that glorious time of hopes, dreams and new least until Tuesday morning, when 1/3 of the fan base realizes this year is going to just suuuuuuuck! Since my favorite teams are the Vikings, Rams, and Colts Broncos, I expect to be 200% disappointed in precisely one week. In the meantime, my guess is as good as yours as to how the NFC is going to shake out. Check back after Christmas in order to more effectively flame my stupidity.

1. Dallas (10-6)
2. NY Giants (9-7)
3. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9)
4. Washington Redskins (6-10)

Dallas has too much talent on both sides of the ball not to take a conference that will be down in terms of record due to Superbowl hangover and depletion of roster (Giants), age and injuries (Eagles) and rookie QB with mad skills but rookie experience ('Skins). It's the Cowboys by default...I think.

1. Chicago Bears (12-4)
2. Green Bay Packers (11-5)
3. Detroit Lions (10-6)
4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)

This year is the year Jay Cutler finally stays healthy, stays upright, and puts together a division-winning season. Green Bay will fall victim to a suspect defense, the Lions will take a step back after finally crawling out of the basement, and the Vikings...well, at least they're getting a new stadium and won't be moving to Los Angeles.

1. Atlanta (12-4)
2. Carolina (10-6)
3. New Orleans (9-7)
4. Tampa Bay (5-11)

Matty Ice and the Dirty Birds are probably the most explosive offense in terms of both running and passing in the division, and head coach Mike Smith will have them back in the playoffs as a division winner. Cam Newton will propel the Panthers back into playoff contention and be part of the MVP discussion. New Orleans will play hard but eventually succumb to the devastation wrought by their bounty conviction. Tampa Bay still features a professional [sic] football organization.

1. San Francisco (13-3)
2. Seattle Seahawks (8-8)
3. St. Louis Rams (6-10)
4. Arizona Cardinals (3-13)

The Niners win this division by default, racking up six division wins just by showing up. The smartest thing this organization did since drafting Joe Montana was hiring Jim Harbaugh as their head coach. Seattle doesn't have an experienced QB at the helm, which will cost them 2-3 wins they could have had otherwise. The Rams will show improvement under the lash of new HC Jeff Fisher, and the Cardinals get to draft Matt Barkley out of USC. I mean, what could go wrong drafting a USC QB #1?

Later today (maybe) or this week (perhaps): AFC Preview

Saturday, August 25, 2012

I finished a triathlon!

Today I completed my first triathlon, and I learned the most important lesson: my training really didn’t prepare me for the intensity of the experience, but finishing has strengthened my resolve to train harder and smarter for the next time around.

We arrived (me, Amy, and our son Scott) at Lake Wappapello in southeast Missouri a little after 6 a.m. The parking lot at the visitor’s center was more than half full, and the bike racks were filling up quickly. Most of the competitors were clearly experienced triathletes, and I felt just like the new kid on the first day of school.

I was worried at first about the water temperature—the air was in the upper sixties when we arrived—but that didn’t turn out to be the major issue. As it turned out, I trained for a completely different environment. I did all of my swimming in a pool, but the lake’s water was so murky that swimming face down in the water was pointless. I tried to swim freestyle with my head up to keep on track with the buoy markers, but before long, I had to resort to breaststroking.

Anyone who remembers me from high school swim team knows that breaststroke was by far my worst event. Slow. Tired. Ugh. But I had no choice. By the time I made it to the furthest marker, I had 180 yards to go, and I could barely breathe. I switched to a slow backstroke and tried to conserve energy, but it took all I had left just to stay afloat and keep moving.

By the time I reached the boat ramp exit, I was spent, gasping for air and barely able to move. Lesson learned: if the event is open water swimming in a lake, train with breaststroke instead of freestyle. But the damage was done, because physically, I never did recover. I might have been better off just sitting out for five or ten minutes until my heart rate dropped, but I had already done what I was determined not to do—blow out my energy on the swim.

The bike route was next—almost 16 miles with a bunch of killer hills. By the time I got past the second mile, the leaders of the race were already on their way back. I had to not only walk up the first big hill, but I had to stop to catch my breath and lower my heart rate. I was breathing so hard that I started coughing, and even as I write this, I can’t take a deep breath without coughing—it feels like bronchitis. On the bright side, the rest of my body feels okay, and my pulse rate and blood pressure are both great.

As I mentioned earlier this week on Facebook, there was a steep hill that went for almost a full mile just after the halfway turn. I didn’t get far before I had to walk, but at least another biker was in the same spot, and we got to experience a little camaraderie on the way up. Once I made it to the top, getting back took a while just because I kept my bike low-geared and tried to conserve as much energy as I could for the run.

The run was uneventful—it was more like a walk interrupted by periods of slow jogging. This was the one area where my training did pay off. I knew to save enough energy on the bike that I could do 5 kilometers without collapsing. The final 3/4-mile ran along the long, straight road long the top of the lake dam. I had my iPod playing my two favorite finishing songs: “Rooftops” by Jesus Culture and “Cannons” by Phil Wickham, and even though I was the last to cross the finish line, the crowd at the finish was clapping and cheering me across the line. I found one last burst of speed, crossed the line, then collapsed in a heap of exhausted joy.

At one point during the bike ride, when it felt like I would never be able to finish, I wondered if I would even want to try this again. Now that I’ve had the day to consider the experience, I definitely want to do another triathlon. Next time I’ll know how to train better and what to expect. Perhaps the next time, whenever and wherever that may be, I’ll be able to enjoy the experience while I’m in the midst of it instead of just the satisfaction of knowing that I finished.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Into Uncharted Territory

About six weeks ago, I wrote here that my goal of completing a triathlon was my version of a midlife crisis. Turning 44 and watching my weight creep back up over 225 after getting as low as 205 (my marriage day weight) was disheartening. I have type 2 diabetes (thank you, Coca-Cola!) and was facing the prospect that my window for significant physical activity was rapidly closing.

Being a married father of six kind of rules out skydiving and mountain climbing for me, so this seemed like the kind of "big" physical challenge that carried an aspect of uncertainty. Could I really do this? A sprint triathlon for a forty-year-old is no big deal, but I was pretty sedentary before starting out on training for this event.

So what did I do this past week? I swam for 600 yards on two occasions. I biked for 30 minutes, ran for 10, and then walked for 20 (these are called "brick" workouts because when you're done, your muscles feel like bricks). On Saturday, I ran four miles in 50 minutes, and then yesterday, I biked 20 miles in a little more than an hour-and-a-half, followed immediately by a 30-minute walk covering two miles.

It was in the walk that I realized that I'm doing things physically today that I've never done at any point in my life, much less middle age. I played football and wrestled a little in high school, but I never took that seriously.

In college, I could run a mile in 6.5 minutes, but I also smoked about a pack of cigarettes a day. Twenty years ago I was 24 years old and weighed about 190. But I also smoked and drank to excess on a regular basis. Could I have trained for a triathlon back then? I'm sure that I could have, but I sure didn't, and I wouldn't have been interested in doing so, either.

I quit drinking about five months after turning 24, and that caused my smoking to increase dramatically for the next couple of years. I got married at 27, and two things happen to a lot of men that happened to me: having a loving wife means you're less concerned with staying fit and looking good, and my wife was (and still is) a tremendously good cook. I put on 30 pounds in the first year I was married and never took it off until last year, when I went from 265 to 205 by radically changing my eating habits in response to the diabetes diagnosis.

Physically, I never did more than walking and occasionally jogging while losing the bulk of my weight. But since the end of 2011, I've been backsliding into bad eating habits and avoiding exercise. However, the past six weeks of training have brought me to a place I've never been before. I can run for almost an hour and still function for the rest of the day. I biked 20 miles yesterday, and I'm walking around today (but sore, ouch! so sore).

The triathlon is 19 days from today. I'm no longer wondering or even worried if I'll finish. Now I'm actually starting to think about finishing times and maybe even competing for a spot in the top three. My body is transforming itself in ways that I never experienced, even when I was younger and it would have been easier to achieve this level of fitness. Who knew that my midlife crisis would actually turn out to be productive?

Monday, July 02, 2012

Triathlon Training: Week One Review

Last week, I wrote about my plans to compete in a sprint-distance triathlon at the end of August. In preparation for this, I found a great website called that has a newcomers training program. Because it's an 11-week program and I only have nine weeks to train, I jumped in at the end of week two on the training schedule. So what I'm calling my week one review is actually the third week in the newbies training schedule. However, I'm a strong swimmer and a regular walker, so I wasn't starting from "couch potato." Here's what happened:

Monday's an official "day off," but the program recommends at least two days of light weight training, a good balance of upper- and lower-body conditioning, so I went through the program. They say to keep the weight light, which is great for me, because in terms of weight-lifting, I am really weak—I mean 5-lb. or 10-lb. dumbbells max weak. Really, really sore after this.

Swam 300 yards, walked/jogged 20 min. Piece of cake, but still really sore, especially in my lats and delts, which makes swimming painful at first.

The training program said to bike six miles, but I was supposed to bike eight the previous Sunday and only did six, so I did eight today. However, my old bike went kaput while I was trying to make it road-ready, so I had to invest in a new mountain bike. Sometimes I am just grateful that Walmart really does sell for less. Loved the new bike (pictured right) and did eight miles on a really hot day.

Swam 400 yards, which is the swimming distance, but not all at once. I'm actually swimming an extra hundred yards more than the training schedule says because I'm already such a strong swimmer. The twist today was that as soon as I got out of the pool, I walked 30 minutes. I'm not as sore as I was just a few days ago, and I felt good after the walk. Another plus, our local indoor pool also has an indoor walking track, so I avoided the 100+ degree heat.

Another "day off," another day of weight training. Same weights, but not as sore. Progress!

Like much of the country, we are in a terrible heat wave in southeast Missouri. Today I had a 30-minute run scheduled, so I did it at 9 a.m. before the thermometer got into the nineties. The temperature topped out at 107 in the afternoon—too hot for late-day training.

Sunday's temps were even higher than Saturday's, so I got up at 6:30 a.m. and did ten miles on the bike before going to church. Advantages: cooler, little car traffic, getting stronger on the bike. Disadvantages: Dogs. Lots of dogs out in the mornings. They do not like bicycles. When I finished the ride, I walked/jogged a quarter-mile just to see if my legs would hold up—they did. For the first time, I started to feel like I could actually do this thing!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Midlife Crisis

So I turned 44 this past Thursday. A few days before that happened, I told my wife, Amy, that I wanted to talk to her about something. We found a quiet spot in the back of the house, and I laid it all out for her.

"I'm going to have a midlife crisis," I said. "I'm not buying a sports car, and I don't want a girlfriend. I want to do a triathlon." Being the type of supportive wife that she is, she was supportive of the idea. I, on the other hand, suspect I have no idea what I'm getting myself into.

I found the entry form at the local indoor swimming facility. I had lunch back around Christmas time with an old friend from grade school, Chuck Mickey, who competes in those "Strongest Man" competitions that you sometimes see on ESPN at odd hours. We talked about a lot of things, but he planted an idea in my head about staying in shape in our forties: "You gotta compete, man."

I found out in November of 2010 that I ate myself into Type II Diabetes. That first year was all about eating healthy and exercising. I dropped from 265 to 205 in nine months. For the past year, I've been backsliding here and there, and I've crept back up to 225. Just managing my diabetes isn't going to be enough motivation for me. So I'm gonna compete.

I'm going to use this blog for the next two months to keep a running diary of my training progress. The triathlon is scheduled for Saturday, August 25 at Lake Wappapello, about half an hour from where I live. I found a great website, that has all kinds of great training information. I also have a friend at church, Tom Pierce, who's a fitness fanatic. I don't know if he inspires me or scares the hell out of me. It's probably a little bit of both.

It's a "sprint triathlon," which means 400 yards swimming, 15 miles bicycling, and 5 kilometers running. My goal is to finish without dropping dead during or shortly after. The training program I'm using is an 11-week program, but with the event approaching, I'm jumping right in at the end of the second week of training.

So what have I done so far? I swam 600 yards Friday afternoon. The swimming is a piece of cake for me. I'll just need to train to build my endurance, but the swimming is definitely my strong suit. I haven't been on a bicycle in a couple of years, so that's going to be interesting. I'm scheduled to ride six miles tomorrow. Today I ran/walked (that's the training plan) two miles in twenty minutes. I'm tired!

I hope those of you who follow "The Sandlot" will follow along with me on this little journey. I don't mind turning 44. I like the maturity that forty-plus years affords. But I'm planning on working through my late sixties before I retire. When that happens, I want to be fit and healthy enough to enjoy a few of those golden years. So I'm gonna compete.

And I'm gonna finish.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

NFL Wild Card Weekend: Sunday's Games

Atlanta at New York Giants, 12 p.m. CST (FOX)
My gut is telling me that Atlanta could pull off the upset in this game, but after watching Houston dominate Cincinnati on both sides of the ball yesterday, I can't go that way. Why not? I think the Giants are better than Houston, they're playing at home, and Atlanta is a dome team playing outside. Added to that, if there was an offensive MVP for December, it was definitely Eli Manning,  who has been cash money in the fourth quarter this season. Atlanta has been inconsistent at best, while the Giants have once again put things together late in the season. I think the Giants win this one without the need for Eli's fourth quarter heroics.
Giants 31, Falcons 17

Pittsburgh at Denver, 3:30 p.m. CST (CBS)
I was chatting with my good friend Tuck last week, who is a Steelers fan. I asked him if he was worried about Ben Roethisberger's bad ankle and the Steelers' offensive struggles recently going up against a good Denver defense and Tebow's unlikely success. His reply: "If I gave you Tebow, and I took [Troy] Polamalu and [James] Harrison, would you take that bet? Of course you would—IN BIZARRO WORLD!" That about sums it up for me. Harrison is going to torment Tebow, and when he throws up (pun intended) one of his dying quail passes, Polamalu's going to grab it and take it to the house. Again, I don't see any fourth quarter heroics in this one.
Steelers 34, Broncos 13

Saturday recap
Houston 31, Cincinnati 10
Kudos to the Texans for winning their first playoff game in franchise history, and they did it by outplaying the Bengals on both sides of the ball. If I were the Ravens, I'd be worried about stopping the Texans' running game since I'm gonna have to keep double-coverage on Andre Johnson. T.J. Yates has his work cut out for him against the Ravens defense, but he didn't look like a rookie yesterday; Andy Dalton did.
My prediction: Bengals 17, Texans 13

New Orleans 45, Detroit 28
I decided last week that since I don't have a horse in this year's race, I wanted to climb on the "Who Dat?" bandwagon. Having said that, I was a bit worried in the first half. Detroit was making huge plays on offense, and the Saints gave up two turnovers. Then the second half rolled around, and the Saints did their Road Runner imitation. Remember when the coyote got up to top speed and almost caught the Road Runner? RR would then turn around, go "Meep-Meep!", stick his tongue out, and then kick in the afterburners, leaving the coyote in the dust. That's the Saints. If someone knocks off Green Bay next week, the Saints are going to the Superbowl.
My prediction: Saints 45, Lions 38