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Week Eight Picks

October 29th, 2004 Comments off

You’ve heard about this thing with the baseball, right? This thing where the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. That. And, um, just in case you didn’t … well, they did. And so what does that mean to football? Two things. First, and most exciting, it means baseball season is over. So now we can all just concentrate on the real sport. Right? I mean, after the parade and whatnot. Also, it means that none of that ridiculous sports stuff counts anymore. Not that it ever did. But if you thought it did, stop thinking that. Because the Sox winning the series doesn’t mean the so-called Curse of the Bambino has been broken or lifted or reversed. It means there never was a stinkin’ curse to begin with (which, of course, we all knew anyhow). And if there never was a curse to begin with, then neither was there every any of that other stuff. There’s no billygoat thing in Chicago. And there’s no Redskins as predictors of the election outcome. And there’s no none of that stuff. What there is is teams playing against other teams and mostly trying to win and sometimes trying not to lose and some other times trying not to lose too badly. So there you go.

OK, football. It looks like we’re in for some very watchable games this weekend. And, with upset week just behind us (they never come two in a row), the straight-ahead picking is mostly pretty simple. Except where it isn’t. And even then, with the handful of close games on the board, you don’t really need to wrack your brain or scour the stat sheets looking for clues. Just go ahead and toss a coin. Heads, Kansas City has the ball last and wins. Tails … well, you get the point. Things are, of course, a good bit more complicated against the spread, but even there some of this stuff looks pretty cut-and-dry to me. But then, as I may have mentioned once or twice before, listening to me is a good way to ensure you’ll lose money. (Except on my final pick of the week. That one’s a mortal lock.)

Arizona (+3) at Buffalo
If this game were happening two weeks from now, when it’ll be clear that Arizona is getting better as the season goes on, the spread would be reversed. But it isn’t. So you’ve got a chance to get in on a bargain here. Take the Cardinals with the points, because they’re winning this one outright.

Baltimore (+8) at Philadelphia
Donovan McNabb should do his pal and new teammate Terrell Owens a favor and not throw any short passes to the loudmouth wide receiver. Because if Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis gets an opportunity, he’s gonna make T.O. pay for his off-season dis of the Ravens in broken bones. And, you know, much as I dislike Lewis, I kinda hope he gets to take his shot. One way or the other, Baltimore’s gonna give Philly a game. The Eagles are having trouble against the run, which means Chester Taylor and Musa Smith should do well. (If Jamal Lewis weren’t serving a suspension, the Eagles would be in real trouble.) Go ahead and take Philly straight up, but you can count on Baltimore to cover.

Cincinnati (+3) at Tennessee
Oh, man, I’m glad I don’t have to watch this game. I don’t even really want to think about this game. So let’s say … ohhhhh, I don’t know … let’s just go with Tennessee to win and Cincy to cover. But I’m really, really just pulling this one out of my ass.

Detroit (+3) at Dallas
I like this. This watching Bill Parcells lose his shit as his career nears an end. And I’ll tell you, I’d just love, love, love seeing Detroit go into Dallas and beat the Cowboys. I’m not counting on it, though. But, you know, I have a long, long history of picking Lions games wrong. So maybe I’m just taking Dallas to cover because I think that means it’ll go the other way.

Green Bay (-2) at Washington
No, this game doesn’t really have any bearing on who will win the presidency (see above). It does, however, have quite a bit to do with which team will have half a chance of salvaging its season and which will continue the slide toward a top-10 draft pick in 2005. Yeah, Brett Favre’s ailing. And he’s had another awful week in his personal life. But Favre’s shown over and over again that difficulties in his personal life don’t affect him professionally. Instead of getting distracted by that stuff, let’s look at where the strengths lie here. Green Bay’s offense has come on like crazy of late, with both Favre and Ahman Green finding their game. Washington, meanwhile, continues to rely on Clinton Portis for much of its offense. That’d be OK if it were Green Bay’s run defense that had suffered some key injuries of late. But the run D’s getting healthier, and the Skins don’t have the stuff to exploit Green Bay’s issues in the secondary. Look for a close, high-scoring game and look for Green Bay to pull it out at the end or in overtime by way of Mr. Ryan Longwell’s always accurate leg.

Indianapolis (-1) at Kansas City
I don’t know who’s gonna win this game. Neither do you. Know why? Because neither of us knows who’s gonna have the ball last. Figure that out and you own this thing. Otherwise, do what I did: Take the home team. (But, really, keep your money away from this. Unless you wanna be the over. That’s pretty safe.)

Jacksonville (+1) at Houston
Byron Leftwich and David Carr make this one of the most exciting games of the week between two teams no one was supposed to care about. And here, again, there’s almost no telling which squad will come out on top. So, once again, you take the home team.

N.Y. Giants (+6.5) at Minnesota
I used to have the Giants D on my fantasy team. They were awesome. Then I waived them the week of their bye, ’cause I simply will not carry two Ds on my roster. And some other guy snatched them. I was pissed until they got smoked by Detroit. And then I looked at their schedule and realized I’d have waived them this week anyhow. Look for both offenses to have big days on the ground. But the Vikes will do better in the air, and that’s why they win this by four.

Atlanta (+6.5) at Denver
Who bounces back from their big, embarrassing week-seven loss? Could be either of these squads, but you’ve gotta go with the home team over the guys who are on their second-straight road game.

Carolina (+8) at Seattle
In which the Seahawks get of the schneid and commence a four- or five-game winning streak, KoRo or no KoRo. They’ll cover, too.

New England (-3) at Pittsburgh
For at least the fourth time this season, the Patriots face the team that experts claim is certain to end New England’s amazing winning streak (now at 21 games). The strategy, it appears, is keep picking against the Pats because eventually they’re going to lose and you’ll get to say you saw it coming. And, of course, any team can beat any other team … blah, blah, blah. But there’s a reason the Pats are favored by three on the road. Pittsburgh is 5-1 and looking pretty good, but, much like the Jets, they haven’t beaten anybody. The Steelers’ opponents this season are a combined 14-25. They’ve played exactly one team that currently has a winning record: Baltimore (4-2), who beat them 30-14. Now, the Steelers did have Tommy Maddox under center that day. And they’ve come on since switching to rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger. But the kid has yet to be truly tested. That changes Sunday. The Pats D will have the rookie’s head spinning out of control by the middle of the second quarter. He’ll throw no fewer than three picks, one of which will go for six the other way. The Pats win 27-10.

Oakland (+6) at San Diego
Man, do the Raiders ever suck. All the changes this team made in the off-season. All the big free-agent acquisitions. All the promising draft picks. And they just suck, suck, suck, suck, suck. If I didn’t have the amazing Pats to fall back on, I’d be depressed beyond belief. The surging Chargers win this one by 10 or more (which sucks).

San Francisco (+1.5) at Chicago
One of these teams is gonna have to lose this game. That won’t be easy by any stretch, though it could prove a bit easier for Chicago if the Niners remember they’ve got Kevan Barlow on their team.

Miami (+6.5) at N.Y. Jets
You know what I learned watching the Jets-Pats game at Gillette last weekend? The Jets are a good team. Much better than I’d like them to be. They still never had a chance of winning that game with New England, but I’d bet they can probably beat at least 28 teams in the league on a good day. Miami could beat maybe one or two. And none of them are the Jets. Take New York and give the points. Miami’s secondary is tough, but their run D isn’t, and Curtis Martin’s gonna go on a major tear.

John Kerry (pick ‘em) vs. George W. Bush
I’m not a big fan of either team in this contest. They both spend too much time working the right sideline for my taste. And I’ll be voting for neither. Still, given the facts, if it’s a decision between one or the other there’s only one way any sane person can go. The incumbent is certainly liar, probably a criminal, and without question an incompetent. He may be the single worst president in U.S. history. And although the polls say half of America hasn’t figured that out — or is too greedy, self-righteous, hateful or stupid (or some combination) to care — my sense is that the polls are missing some important voters. I also look at the fact that, historically, voters still undecided on election day go 65-85 percent in favor of the challenger. So go ahead and put your money on Kerry. He’s gonna win this one by at least a touchdown.

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Eagles? Yeah, Right

October 26th, 2004 Comments off

There was a drunken Eagles fan sitting a few rows in front of me Sunday afternoon at Gillette. I knew he was drunk because … well, because he was quite obviously drunk. I knew he was an Eagles fan for the same reasons that everyone in section 120 knew he was an Eagles fan: He had his little Eagles cap on and he kept pointing to it as he demonstratively and smugly rooted for the Jets.

Why the Jets? Wouldn’t the Jets have been 6-0 right now if they’d won on Sunday? Sure. But no one out there is holding the Jets up as a better team than the Eagles and no one is about to (except, of course, for Jets fans, who always think their team is the best in the league even though they’re mostly always wrong). Mr. Drunken Eagles Fan wanted the Jets to win, because, at least in his little brain (which wasn’t as well hidden behind his snookered little expression as he might have thought), a Pats loss would have proven that the Eagles are the best team in football, which, apparently, is what Eagles fans think anyhow. At least that’s what one gathers looking at the lede copy on this weeks power rankings at NFLcom and ESPN.com.

Yeah, um, sorry, drunken Eagles fan guy. Sorry, Eagles fans everywhere. The simple fact is that the Patriots remain the NFL’s best team. You can crow about your team all you want, but it’s not gonna change that fact.

The Eagles are undefeated, just like the Pats, yes. And they look like a damned good football team, probably the second best in the league at this point (though don’t go saying anything about that in front of Colts fans — they’re a very, very sensitive bunch), but they’re not the defending champs (in fact, they have a bad habit of choking in the post-season, which keeps them from getting to — forget winning — Super Bowls) and they haven’t won 21 games in a row, which is to say, they’re not the Pats.

Drunken Eagles Fan guy made sure we all knew where he was during both of the Jets’ first-half possessions, particularly during their single scoring drive. At every first down, he stood up, faced the rest of the section and signaled the call like a ref, then pointed to his little cap. When Chad Pennington ran around the left end for a one-yard touchdown just after the two-minute warning, he faced the section once again, arms raised, smug smile polluting his stupid face. I don’t know where he was when the Pats scored at the end of the half. And we never saw him at all during the second half. Maybe he was passed out. Maybe it was just that it had become as clear to him as it was to the rest of us that, close as the game may have appeared on the scoreboard, the Jets weren’t getting out of Foxborough with a win that day. And in the estimation of virtually every football expert in America, the Pats were gonna remain the best team in the league.

Some people might feel bad for a boob like that. But I didn’t.

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Football Boy Stands Bemused

October 26th, 2004 Comments off

I get it, I really do, but I’m still a little annoyed. And more than a bit perplexed frankly. About the Red Sox, that is. Or, more to the point, about how the Sox are getting all the attention from the New England sports media these days.

I got to thinking about this last night while watching the Cincinnati Bengals beat up on the Denver Broncos (who didn’t even look like they were interested in playing, never mind winning — upset week) and looking at my local paper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette (I’d provide a link, but they make you pay to use the site so why bother?).

At the top of the Gazette’s sports front were three stories about the Sox and their less-than-thrilling victory in game two of the World Series Sunday night. Three stories. Not local stories, either, but AP stories. Three of them. And a color photo of Curt Schilling. Taking up the entire top of the section front. Then, below the fold, a single story about the Patriots’ victory over the Jets Sunday afternoon. One. An AP story, like the Sox pieces. About what was maybe the best defensive football game I’ve seen this season. About the Pats’ 21st consecutive victory. About a win that broke a 62-year-old record for consecutive wins in regular-season games (the new mark is 18). About a game that gives the Pats the edge in one of the NFL’s tightest divisional struggles this season. One story. Below the fold.

The Pats are getting the same treatment pretty much everywhere you look or listen these days, too. It goes like this: Sox, Sox, Sox, Sox, Sox and, oh, yeah, the Pats. And while second billing to the Sox — who are, after all, playing for a championship — is to be expected at this point, one might expect a little better than an aside for what is without any question the best professional sports team in the region.

I mean no disrespect to the Sox or their wonderful, loyal fans. In fact, as I pointed out in an essay posted last week on The Moon Hoax, I’ve found myself more excited about the Sox than I thought I could be. I’ve actually been watching baseball games with interest, which happens once in a blue moon. What the Sox did last week in coming back from 0-3 to beat the Yankees is amazing. (And I recognize that no professional baseball team, and only two professional sports teams, had ever come back from being down three in a seven-game series before, so that’s huge all by itself.) The fact that the Sox are in the Series is remarkable. The fact that they’re ahead 2-0 is almost too much to believe. So, yeah, it’s great. The Sox deserve all the praise and attention they’re getting.

Still and all, the Pats could probably expect a little more notice than they’re getting here at home (they’re certainly getting plenty of it nationally). The Patriots team that is playing right now is arguably one of the best professional football teams ever to take the field. They are inarguably the best in their league right now. And they are inarguably making football history. Furthermore, I’d argue that what the Pats are doing right now is ultimately far more impressive than what the Sox are doing.

Two teams make it to the World Series every single season in Major League Baseball. And one of them wins. Every season. Without fail. Now, the Sox are rarely one of the teams playing in the Series. And they haven’t been the one to win it in 86 years. (And there’s that whole chimerical curse thing involved, yes.) But that doesn’t change the fact that the only thing the Sox have done that stands alone in their sport was accomplished nearly a week ago. Playing in the World Series may not be ordinary for the Sox, but it’s entirely expected in baseball.

The Pats, meanwhile, are not merely defending champions in their league, not merely the winners of two of the last three Super Bowls (an amazing accomplishment, as football fans know, though I wonder if those on the periphery have any idea of how difficult and rare a thing that is), and not merely the winners of a franchise-best six straight to begin a season, but they have done something that is unheard of in their sport. It’s not simply that no team before the Pats had ever won 21 straight games (including post-season games). No team before the Pats had ever won 19 straight. No team. Ever. And no team since the 1933-34 Chicago Bears, who played in a much, much different league than the Pats do (the NFL then wasn’t nearly as competitive a league as it is now), had posted 17 regular-season wins in a row. The Pats, as noted, have 18. Even if this team’s streak ends with a loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday (the opening line on that game has the Pats favored by three), they’ll have crafted a record that is likely to stand for 50, 75, 100 years … maybe forever. Because, as those of us who follow the sport know, it is all but impossible to win 21 or 18 (or, hell, eight or nine most of the time) straight games in the NFL. There’s simply too much talent, too much balance and too much to go wrong for teams to do this.

Add to all that the fact that the Pats-Jets game on Sunday was a classic struggle with the team’s only real division rival, and the fact that the Pats held on and won in a week when seven out of 14 NFL games ended in upsets, five of them going to teams that went in as underdogs by six or more points (look, upset week in the NFL has big mojo; you can believe that or not, but it’s true), and you’d think someone around here would have taken their eyes off their damned baseball scorecard long enough to notice.

Again, I don’t mean to come off as anti-Red Sox. I’m very much pro-Red Sox. I’ll be watching tonight for sure. I hope the headlines on tomorrow’s sports sections are all about the Sox going ahead 3-0 in the Series (though I realize how hard that will be to do against this Cardinals team in their home park). And if the Sox go on to win the Series, I’ll be excited for them and for their fans. It’ll be an amazing moment in Boston sports history, one I’ll be glad to have witnessed. But It will still be nothing more than what lots of other teams have done before and that lots of other teams will do in the future. The Pats, meanwhile, are making NFL history. And it baffles me that the team making a huge mark on its sport is getting so little notice for it.

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T-Shirts

October 25th, 2004 Comments off

If you’re one of the people who asked about You Can’t Not Beat The Jets T-shirts out at Gillette over the last couple of weeks only to be told I couldn’t sell you one (I can’t sell anything out there, because I’ve got no vendor license — and I’m not gonna apply for one since I’m mostly there to give away stickers and see a game), or just someone who’s plain old interested in a T, shoot me an email and we’ll set it all up.

As you know if you’ve seen the T (I don’t need a license to wear one), it’s a nice little shirt. White, heavyweight, 100 percent cotton, with a two-color design (I can send you a jpeg if you haven’t seen it). I’m not making a big deal of it, because I’m not really in the T-shirt business, but I did print a bunch of them just because I wanted to, so they are available.

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Week Seven Picks

October 23rd, 2004 Comments off

It’s upset week. I can feel it in my bones. And there’s not a damned thing I can do about it. Neither can you. And what it all means is that if you’re involved in a straight-up picks pool, you’re pretty much fucked. Six or seven games this week are gonna end in huge, huge upsets. Teams that have no business winning, that come in as major underdogs are gonna walk away with victories. But there’s absolutely no telling which six or seven teams. Try to guess them and get them wrong and you could go 2-12 on the week.

If you’re in a pool with no year-end contest, go nuts. Use the Diane Chambers strategy of picking based on which city has the better symphony orchestra, ’cause who knows. If your pool has a year-end, and you have a shot at it, write the week off. Pick conservatively and let the guy from accounting who picks based on which team’s city has more Fortune 500 companies or the woman from HR who picks based on which team’s name makes her dog bark loudest take the damned week. It’s all you can do. If you’re betting, go with dogs to cover; you’ll have at least as good a chance at winning as you ever do (which is pretty much none). And no matter what, of course, don’t listen to me. I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Atlanta (+4) at Kansas City
An Atlanta win here wouldn’t be a huge upset. The Falcons have definitely come on in recent weeks. And Kansas City may or may not have found its way. I think the Chiefs will score just slightly more often than Atlanta, though, so I’m going with the Chiefs to win, but not cover, in a high-scoring game, but I wouldn’t blame you for going the other way.

Buffalo (+5.5) at Baltimore
Chester Taylor and Musa Smith will be splitting carries for the Ravens in the absence of suspended Jamal Lewis and the question has been, which guy will have the big day. Neither. The Bills know how to stop the run. Unfortunately for Buffalo, though, Baltimore’s D knows how to stop just about everything. Look for a defensive touchdown (an interception return by Baltimore) to make the difference. Take the Ravens to win and cover.

Chicago (+7) at Tampa Bay
The Bears have no quarterback. The Bucs have Joe Jurevicius healthy and ready to play for the first time in a year, and Michael “Dickface” Pittman heating up since returning from his slap-on-the-wrist suspension. And Brian Griese didn’t look as bad as one might have expected Monday night. Still, it’s a short week for the Bucs, so while they should win, it probably won’t be by a touchdown. (And if I were looking to tag those big upsets I’ve been talking about, this is one of the games I’d be looking at.)

Detroit (+6.5) at N.Y. Giants
Are the Giants as good as their record? The answer to that comes here. A yes can come in one of two ways. First, we’ll see if the Giants O line can open holes sufficient to buy Tiki Barber a 100-plus yard day. No one’s gone for 100 against the Lions’ D so far this season. If Barber can be the first, you’ll get a good indication of whether the Giants can rely on him to have big days through the season. If the Lions do shut down the run, we’ll see if Kurt Warner is able to get things done without the kind of ground support he’s had thus far this season. Warner’s been looking great, but I still have my doubts about the guy. I’ll be interested to see what happens when he has to play under real pressure. This much is for certain: The Lions aren’t gonna be able to do much against the Giants’ very impressive D. So if either Tiki or Kurt steps up, New York should be able to win and cover. I’d put my money on the Giants, giving the points, if I were stupid enough to make a bet this week.

Jacksonville (+9) at Indianapolis
The Jags have to win this one to keep any hope of contending in the AFC South alive. Unfortunately for them, they have absolutely no chance. Jacksonville couldn’t stop Indianapolis three weeks ago at home, and they’re significantly more banged up now than they were then. Combine that with the fact that this game happens on a carpet and you have Indy putting up about 500 yards of offense and four or five TDs. Jacksonville, meanwhile, has a gimp at QB and no one who can catch the ball even when he delivers it to them. Take the Colts and give the points.

Philadelphia (-7) at Cleveland
Pretty soon, Antonio Bryant, whom the Browns acquired in a trade with Dallas this week, is gonna make his presence felt, and help Jeff Garcia prove Terrell Owens wrong. Probably not this week, though. Bryant’s an amazingly talented wide receiver, but he’s not someone who’s gonna find his way in a new system in a matter of a few days. It’s too bad, too. It’d be nice to see Garcia and the Browns shove one down T.O.’s big, stupid, homophobic mouth. And with Jerome McDougle out, this would be the week to do it. But probably not. The Eagles should win it, though I think the Browns do manage to keep it closer than a touchdown.

San Diego (+3) at Carolina
Here’s an upset in the making. Not a huge one, to be sure, but an upset nonetheless. Carolina’s in the midst of a major post-Super Bowl collapse. And San Diego’s been coming on like crazy over the last few weeks. The Chargers win this one by a touchdown.

St. Louis (-6) at Miami
There isn’t an upset week anywhere with powerful enough mojo to lift the pitiful Dolphins over the Rams. There just isn’t. Don’t look for a high score here, maybe 27 points total, but most of those (all but three or seven) will be put up by the Rams.

Tennessee (+6.5) at Minnesota
Randy Moss may not play, which means Daunte Culpepper may only throw for three touchdowns this week. That’s at least one more than Steve McNair will manage. Take the Vikes and give the points.

N.Y. Jets (+6) at New England
It’d be nice to believe that this game couldn’t possibly produce one of the big upsets I’m predicting. You can’t not beat the Jets and all. And, really, there should be nothing for Pats fans to worry about. The Jets are 5-0, yeah, but they’ve beaten all of nobody. Their only opponent so far this season that doesn’t have a losing record is San Diego, which is 3-3 and wasn’t as good as they are now when they lost to New York. So the Pats should cruise and complete the week’s New England over New York sweep. But the Jets always play the Pats tough. Curtis Martin is having a monster season. And the Pats, while they appear to be getting better, have struggled against the run so far. New England finds ways to win games, though. Plus, they’re at home, and they know this is a crucial division matchup (don’t forget, it was a loss to the Jets that kept the Pats from winning the AFC East in 2002). So take the Pats straight up, but expect the Jets to keep it closer than six.

Dallas (+3.5) at Green Bay
This game almost has to end in an upset. Yeah, the Pack looked like they found themselves again last week. And, yeah, it’s hard to figure they’ll keep losing at Lambeau. And, now, the Cowboys aren’t all that great. But the Boys are better than the Pack this season, and, well, that’s gonna have to be enough. Take the Cowboys to win it straight up.

New Orleans (+3) at Oakland
I’m a Raiders fan and I can’t figure out how the Raiders are favored in this game. The way Oakland’s been playing, coupled with the fact that Deuce McCallister appears to be back in good health spells upset here. Not a major upset, but an upset nonetheless. I wish I could pick it different.

Seattle (-7) at Arizona
Here’s another game I’d look at if I were inclined to try to ID those shocking upsets ahead of time. Sometimes when a team starts strong, then goes into a slide, the way Seattle has, they keep sliding for three or four games. Plus Arizona’s fresh off a bye and Dennis Green says he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve. And the loss of Grant Wistrom should be pretty tough on the Seahawks D. But I’m not looking to tag those big upsets, so I’m taking the Seahawks straight up (but the Cards to cover).

Denver (-6) at Cincinnati
My grandmother will be starting at running back for the Broncos this week. She’s 88 years old and care barely walk. I think she’ll put up about 150 yards behind some of the most incredible run blocking you’ve ever seen. And by Tuesday morning, she’ll have been picked up in every fantasy league in America. Give Gram your support. Take the Broncos and give the points.

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Even Assholes Get It Right Sometimes

October 20th, 2004 Comments off

I’m not a big fan of Steve Largent. But that has nothing to do with his football career. The guy was a great football player; no one can take that away from him. My dislike for the man has to do with his political career. I just don’t have much use for right-wing fuckheads. Never did. So it’s good to know that the NFL’s Steve Largent (as opposed to politics’ Steve Largent) is a class act.

It’s not a huge deal or anything, but Largent didn’t have to let Jerry Rice wear his number. He could have told Jerry that number being retired meant something to him and made Jerry pick a new one. But he recognized that the number means something to Rice, too. Little stuff sometimes says a lot (though not enough to make me feel any more warmly toward Largent as a human being, because he’s still a great big pile of shit in that regard).

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Week Six Picks

October 17th, 2004 Comments off

I’m coming in way late this week. And I’m not sure how much I have to say (and most of it’s probably wrong), but here you go.

Carolina (+9) at Philadelphia
Something in my gut says there’s an upset brewing here. But something in my head says that thing in my gut is a fried pork dumpling that’s angry at the world. And since I don’t take advice from pork dumplings (or, really, any angry food product) I’m going with the heavy favorites to win straight up at home, though I bet Carolina does find a way to keep it within six.

Cincinnati (+3) at Cleveland
And the least awful team in Ohio is … Cleveland, by a margin of seven points (this week).

Green Bay (+2) at Detroit
How can … ? Wait, where am I? This is … This is … Oh, man, Detroit giving two to Green Bay? Really? And what’s weird is, the Lions are gonna cover.

Houston (+6.5) at Tennessee
Have the Titans really turned it around? Does that big game against Green Bay Monday night mean they’re still a powerhouse? For the answers, see Green Bay at Detroit just above. Take Tennessee straight up, but expect Houston to cover.

Kansas City (-2.5) at Jacksonville
That old Jaguars D, she ain’t what she was cracked up to be. Neither is the Chief’s O. I’m probably wrong, but I’m thinking the home dogs find a way to get it done.

Miami (+5.5) at Buffalo
Miami should think about just forfeiting some of these games rather than traveling all that way just to lose. Don’t expect much offense either way in this one. Buffalo wins 9-0.

San Diego (+4.5) at Atlanta
Maybe the Chargers aren’t so awful this year after all. Bully for Marty Schottenheimer. Still, Atlanta bounces back after losing to the Lions and puts the Chargers away by at least a touchdown.

Seattle (+4) at New England
The Seahawks are this week’s most popular upset pick. It’s understandable. The Pats have to lose eventually. And the Seahawks have the weapons to get the job done. It could be a long day if the Pats can’t stop Shaun Alexander. But I get the feeling listening to Bill Belichick and his players talk about what a great, tough team Seattle is, that the New England brain trust has figured out a way to get the job done. This thing goes to the wire and the Pats win it by virtue of a long, late, accurate kick by Adam Vinatieri.

San Francisco (+10) at N.Y. Jets
The Jets aren’t as good as their record. But they’re better than the Niners. They’ll win and, while no one should ever take an NFL team to cover by 10, the Jets will probably do it.

Washington (+1) at Chicago
The Redskins absolutely have to win this game. But they won’t. Chicago by three.

Denver (-1.5) at Oakland
Aw, hell. I’m taking Oakland, but it’s just because I’m a fan. (And I’m not putting any money on this.) We all know Denver’s gonna win.

Pittsburgh (+3) at Dallas
Bill Parcells says Ben Roethlisberger is the best young quarterback he’s seen in years. That means he’s planning to go after him bigtime and thinks he can get the kid’s head spinning. He can. But doing it will give Duce Staley the room he needs to post a 150-plus-yard day. And with Vinny Testaverde under pressure and throwing picks, shutting down Roethlisberger won’t be enough. Look for Pittsburgh to pull off the upset.

Minnesota (-3.5) at New Orleans
Somebody’s gonna have a big day on the ground for the Vikings, who apparently are as deep at running back as the Broncos. Randy Moss is gonna catch two TDs. And the Saints are gonna score a good bit, too. Bet the over. And take the Vikings to win it straight up, but the Saints to keep it to within a field goal.

Tampa Bay (+6) at St. Louis
Man, ABC’s gotta be loving this exciting Monday Night Football schedule. It’ll be November 8 — Minnesota at Indy — before there’s anything worth watching on a Monday night. Between now and then: Denver at Cincinnati and Miami at the Jets. Who can even stay awake for these games? Rams by 17.

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Bold Print

October 14th, 2004 Comments off

Apparently, not everyone in the Patriots’ organization was reluctant to talk (or even think) about the team’s winning streak prior to last Sunday’s record-setting win over the Miami Dolphins.

I was unaware of this until Keith Gentili (who plays a central role in chapter nine of This Pats Year) emailed to hip me to it, but tickets to the New England-Miami game included some bold predictions. Specifically, the tickets include a slightly disguised “19 in a row.” They also depict Patriots players Tyrone Poole and Eugene Wilson, numbers 38 and 26 respectively, in action. The digits in Poole and Wilson’s numbers add up to 19. There’s an official in the picture, too. He’s wearing number 19.

Pretty nifty little trick there. Kinda runs counter to what the team is all about — that is, the whole one-game-at-a-time philosophy — but, you know, what’s right for the guys on the field isn’t necessarily what’s right for the folks in the PR and ticket offices. They can (and probably should) spend time thinking about streaks, since that’s pretty much the game their heads need to be in.

I guess the ticket makes a nice instant collectible for those who were at the game, too. And so it’s not surprising I’d find out about it from Keith, whose business is collectibles.

Keith is part of a very cool company called That’s My Ticket, which creates personalized displays for collectible/memorabilia sports tickets. Neat operation. Nice way to preserve one of those tickets, too, if you happen to have one.

I wish I had one of them, not so much for the collectible aspect (I can’t keep anything in good condition, so why bother?), but because I’d love to have been there on Sunday. Oh, well. With any luck, I’ll get to see the Pats post win number 20 this weekend. If I manage to find a scalper offering a half-decent ticket at a not-entirely outrageous price outside the stadium (I’ll be down in Foxborough handing out stickers anyhow, so I’ll definitely check out what the scalpers are asking with an eye toward getting in — buying singles you can sometimes do OK — oftentimes the guy had four, sold three to one group at an obscene price and just wants to dump the last one and go home before he gets arrested), I’ll be sure to take a close look at it.

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Week Five Picks

October 8th, 2004 Comments off

So here’s my Patriots-based question for a football “expert” for today, directed to Adam Schefter: What on earth leads you to believe that New England could possibly ever have “an inferiority complex in regards to New York” that has anything to do with the Patriots/Jets rivalry? Have you watched much football over the last 35 years, dipshit? Are you aware that the Jets haven’t played in, let alone won, a Super Bowl since 1969? Did you know that? Are you aware that the Pats have played in four Super Bowl’s since then? Or that the Pats have won two of the last three Super Bowls? Did you know those things? So what fucking inferiority complex are you talking about, exactly?

OK, I feel better now. Let’s get to this week’s games.

Looks like the straight-ahead picking is a breeze. I mean, yeah, there’s a game here, a game there that could go either way. And there’s bound to be at least one big upset, though I’m not gonna try to find it. But for the most part, you know where these games are going. Picking against the spread, on the other hand, is a nightmare. Once again, we’re looking at giant gaps and no way to know whether they’re justified. Overall, I’d say your best bet is to count on some defenses starting to really step up and look at taking some of the dogs to keep it close. But as I’ve said before, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, do whatever you do, don’t pay attention to what I have to say.

Cleveland (+6) at Pittsburgh
Old rivalry blah, blah, blah. Important to the fans blah, blah, blah. Here’s what counts: Ben Roethlisberger is playing better football than he has any business playing. Duce Staley is back in a big way. And Lee Suggs can’t win football games all by himself (or even with a little help from William Green). The Browns do their best and keep it to within four, but the Steelers win.

Detroit (+6.5) at Atlanta
Part of me wants to believe the Lions really can pull off the big upset here. It’s not that I dislike Atlanta. There’s just something likeable about Detroit. Won’t happen, though. The Falcons have been winning with defense. And the Lions offense is too banged up to produce, anyhow. So take Atlanta and give the points.

Miami (+12.5) at New England
Here’s why this game scares me: Miami is going nowhere this season. They’re toast. And so the only thing they can possibly do for the home crowd is protect the record their team shares with four others by snapping the Pats’ 18-game win streak. Expect them to bring everything they’ve got. But, if the Pats play well, expect that not to be nearly enough. Take the Pats straight up, but the Fins with the points. The real margin on this one’s a touchdown, maybe 10 points.

Minnesota (-4) at Houston
Everyone’s favorite upset pick: Houston to make it three in a row. The Vikes are missing their two stud running backs, Michael Bennett, who’s hurt again and Onterrio Smith, who’s finally serving his four-game substance abuse suspension. And Randy Moss has gone gimpy. Doesn’t matter. Moe Williams will step up, and Moss will do just fine. Think about taking the points, but don’t even consider taking Houston straight up.

NY Giants (+3.5) at Dallas
Kurt Warner vs. Vinny Testaverde? Ugh. Don’t get me started. The big difference between these two overrated has-beens is that Warner can get the job done when he’s got the right talent around him, unlike Vinny who sucks no matter what. And Warner appears to have the right talent around him this season. Take the Giants with the points. Take the Giants straight up. This is where you’re upset is at.

Oakland (+9) at Indianapolis
With any luck, Kerry Collins will actually throw the ball to some Raiders receivers this week. Or not. And it doesn’t matter, because the Raiders D isn’t gonna stop Peyton Manning anyhow. Take the Colts. Give the points. Shit.

Tampa Bay (+3) at New Orleans
Chris Simms makes his first start under center for the Bucs. And the Saints have themselves a field day. New Orleans can’t lose; and they can’t win by less than a touchdown, either.

Buffalo (+6.5) at NY Jets
Poor Drew. Poor, poor Drew. The Jets by 14.

Jacksonville (-2.5) at San Diego
If the Jaguars had an offense, they’d be favored by a touchdown. But they don’t. The Chargers appeared to grow an offense last week, but I bet it shrinks back away on them this time out. Take the Jags and give the points.

Arizona (+1) at San Francisco
There will be something very closely resembling a football game played in San Francisco this weekend, but not here. Arizona probably pulls off the upset. Just don’t tune in to find out unless you’ve been having trouble sleeping.

Carolina (+5.5) at Denver
Carolina absolutely has to win this game if they’re gonna stop their post-Super Bowl slide. But they’re not gonna, even if Denver has to start pulling fans out of the stands to play running back. The Broncos win it by three or four.

St. Louis (+7) at Seattle
The Rams defense has given up an average of 137 yards a game on the ground this season. Emmitt Smith, who’s like 90 now, ran for 87 against them in week one. Michael Vick, T.J. Duckett and Warrick Dunn combined for more than 200 in week two. Saints backup Aaron Stecker picked up 102 in his first start in week three. And the only reason Kevan Barlow only got 42 yards last week was that the Niners got so far behind so early on that they couldn’t afford to run the ball. So what do you think happens when they face Shaun Alexander? I’ve got a pretty good idea. The Seahawks win this one by 10.

Baltimore (+1) at Washington
So Jamal Lewis sets some friends up to score some blow while he’s in college and he ends up doing four months and sitting for two games, while Ray Lewis does … um, whatever it was he did or didn’t do … and walks away without so much as a slap on the wrist. I don’t know. Seems kinda off to me. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t mean anything to this game. Jamal’s playing. Still, I don’t see Baltimore’s D, good as it is, to have any better luck stopping Clinton Portis than it did with Preist Holmes. I like the Skins straight up and giving one.

Tennessee (+3) at Green Bay
How did this end up being the game both teams have to win to salvage their seasons? I don’t know. And neither, I’m guessing, do the folks at ABC Television. The Pack won’t drop three straight at Lambeau. I’m sure of it. Take them straight up. As far as the spread goes, I think we’re looking at a push.

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Respect

October 7th, 2004 Comments off

You know what’s gonna turn me into an honest-to-god Patriots fan?

Nope, not Super Bowl victories. Those are awesome and exciting and fun to watch. But they haven’t made me a true Pats fan yet. Nor is it win streaks. It’s amazing to see a team win 18 in a row and all — and, hell, I hope they win 18 more (though it’ll be no less stunning if their streak stops on Sunday) — but that hasn’t done the trick. And it won’t. It’s not the idea of a dynasty either. The Pats may well be in the midst of a dynastic era, they may be a team that I’ll be proud to tell my grandkids I watched play, and the very idea of that is incredible. But, nope, that’s not it.

It isn’t even the fact that this Patriots organization is the finest top-to-bottom organization I have seen in my more than three decades as a football fan. The Patriots do what it takes to put winning teams on the field. They put the game first. They put the team first. And they know the way to craft winning teams isn’t necessarily with the biggest names, but with talented players who can execute a well-crafted system. They also seem to realize that you have to change with the times, adjust as you go, which tells me they could keep on winning for a long time to come. It’s inspiring is what it is. And, as I followed this team through the 2002 season (yes, even a rough season like that) while reporting This Pats Year, I became convinced that the Pats represent the model of what a professional sports organization ought to be. It brought me closer than I’ve ever been to becoming a true Pats fan. But it didn’t quite get me there.

So what’s edging me up toward the line now? Indignation. Pure and simple. The football experts of this world are pissing me off and making me feel like I need to rally ’round the Pat Patriot banner (or, shit, the damned Flying Elvis if that’s what it takes).

Have you caught this week’s installment of HBO’s Inside the NFL? I have. And let me tell you, Bob Costas, Cris Collinsworth, Dan Marino and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Cris Carter, the hosts of that show, had me foaming at the goddamned mouth. They talked about the Patriots’ ongoing winning streak, which is now 18 games and more than a year old, and the fact that the Pats have the opportunity Sunday against the Miami Dolphins to set a new NFL record for consecutive wins. Right now, the Pats are one of five teams in NFL history to win 18 straight. The Chicago Bears did it in 1933-34. The Miami Dolphins did it in 1972-73 (a run that includes their perfect 1972 season). The San Francisco 49ers did it in 1989-90. And the Denver Broncos did it in 1997-98.

No team has ever made it to 19 straight. And the Pats may not yet. Sure, Miami is heading into Foxborough on Sunday with an 0-4 record, no offense and no ability to stop the run on D. And the Pats are off to a 3-0 start (though it’s worth noting that they’ve really only beaten one good team so far this season). So it’s looking pretty good. But you know what they way about any given Sunday.

Whether the Pats break the record is immaterial, though. What’s important right now is that the Pats have tied the record. They did it by winning their last 12 regular season games in 2003, three playoff games, including Super Bowl XXXVIII, and their first three this season. That’s damned impressive and it ought to get the Pats some much overdue respect. And in some circles it has. But not with the guys on Inside the NFL

Collinsworth think the Pats are just lucky. His evidence? They drafted Tom Brady in the sixth round and he’s turned out to be maybe the best quarterback in the league. Ex-Dolphin Marino, who didn’t join the team until a decade after the undefeated season and doesn’t have a single ring to show for all his talent and all his years in the league (classic choke quarterback; he’d be on fire all season long, but when it got to the playoffs he never could close the deal), figures you haven’t really done anything that impressive until you’ve gone all or most of a season without losing. All four think the Pats’ average margin of victory, nine points, isn’t as powerful as the ’97-’98 Broncos’ average margin of victory, 13. And none of them believes what the Pats have accomplished is anywhere near as impressive as what the ’72 Dolphins did.

Mike Schlereth and Joe Theismann feel much the same way, as expressed in this week’s ESPN.com Fact or Fiction. Theismann says, “The Pats have achieved what five other teams have done and I don’t see how that’s as impressive as what just one team did.” So, Joe, if the Pats beat Miami Sunday and extend their streak to 19, something only one team will have done, is that as impressive as what just one team did? Schlereth figures the Pats haven’t really been tested like his Broncos were when they got to 13-0 in the ’98 season. That’s real pressure, he says. Yeah, Mike, there was really no pressure at all when the Pats went into Super Bowl XXXVIII riding a 14-game win streak, baby. That was a fucking cakewalk.

Look, only one team has ever gone an entire season without losing. That’s an amazing accomplishment, certainly one of the most impressive team accomplishments in NFL history (if not the most impressive), but 18 straight wins in the era of the salary cap and parity is unreal. And it the Pats go 19 in a row, it’ll be another one of the most impressive team accomplishments in league history. Better than the ’33-’34 Bears. Better than the ’89-’90 Niners. Better than the damned ’97-’98 Broncos. And we can debate all day about whether it’s as good as the ’72-’73 Fins (though if the Pats manage to avoid the trap game against Seattle in week six and get to 20 or beyond — hell, you know, you can’t not beat the Jets — the arguments that this team isn’t more impressive than that one are gonna start to look pretty damned weak, too).

What I don’t understand, though, is why can’t this team get the respect it has earned? What is so difficult about acknowledging that this is one amazing football team? You don’t think it’s a dynasty in the making? Fine. That’s OK. Maybe you’re right. You don’t think these Pats are as good as those Fins or those Broncos or those Niners. OK. You’re mostly wrong, but OK. That’s your opinion. But at least stand back and give this team props for what it’s done and what it’s doing. They’ve earned that much. Haven’t they?

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