Archive for December, 2004

Week Sixteen Picks

December 22nd, 2004 Comments off

Another bitch of a week for picking in the NFL. Bad teams playing bad teams (sometimes, in the NFC, in games with actual playoff implications). Good teams playing good teams (sometimes with playoff implications). Division rivals going head to head. And in a couple of cases, really good teams with nothing on the line traveling to play mostly bad teams with something on the line — which is to say we’ll have hungry starters going up against squads made up of guys who are two and three on their teams’ depth charts. Do you have some formula for sizing up that shit? Because I know I don’t.

Here’s what I think is gonna happen (and a warning that chances are I’m wrong about all of it):

Green Bay (+3) at Minnesota
Anyone out there interested in winning the fucking NFC North? I mean, I know the title doesn’t mean anything, since it’s pretty clear that there isn’t a team in the conference that can expect to get by both Atlanta and Philadelphia (T.O. or no T.O.), but, shit, you’d think some team would want to at least be able to call itself the division champ. This Christmas Eve meeting between two 8-6 teams will decide it (unless, you know, it ends in a tie). And so I guess you’ve gotta like the carpet team at home on the carpet. Take the Vikes straight up and, what the hell, give the points. What’s the difference?

Oakland (+8) at Kansas City
Should we expect another shootout in Kansas City? It all Depends on which Kerry Collins shows up, really. We all know the Chiefs are gonna put up some major points against the drunken stumblebums the Raiders are trying to pass off as professional DBs. The question is, will the Raiders have similar success against the Chiefs’ 32nd-ranked pass D? And the answer has everything to do with whether the Raiders starting quarterback is the guy who completed 21 of 37 passes for 371 yards and a five touchdowns, with only one interception, in week 15 vs. Tennessee, or the guy who went 14 for 28 for 166 yards with no touchdowns and a pick a week earlier at Atlanta. The Raiders don’t run the ball well either way. And without Priest Holmes, neither do the Chiefs. Defensive stats are of little help here. In terms of passing yards allowed per game, Atlanta falls between Tennessee and Kansas City in the bottom half of the rankings. But I took a look at passing TDs allowed, and the Chiefs (28) look a lot more like the Titans (25) than the Falcons (16), so I’m going with Oakland to hold Kansas City’s margin of victory to a touchdown or less.

Denver (-4) at Tennessee
Denver, which has been in collapse for some time now, isn’t quite out of the AFC playoff picture yet, which is the primary reason they’re giving four points here. But the Broncos, even at 8-6, have shown they don’t have the heart to win games. Indeed, they can’t even seem to find it in them to finish drives. Over their last two games, the Broncos have posted 817 yards but have scored only 37 points (though they did win one of those games, week fourteen at home against Miami). The Titans, meanwhile, have been playing their asses off — and losing. Tennessee (4-10) has 1069 yards and 73 points in their last two games, though they lost both. Denver has a better pass D than either of the Titans’ last two opponents — Kansas City and Oakland, the league’s worst and fourth-worst, respectively, in that category — but I still expect Tennessee to be able to put up some points, much as the Chiefs did against Denver last week. And while the Broncos offense should be much better than the Raiders and almost on par with the Chiefs, that hasn’t been the case of late. So, me, I see an upset in the making here. Take the Titans to win it outright.

Atlanta (+3.5) at New Orleans
How can the Saints, a team that seems determined to play beneath its abilities and find ways to lose games, be favored to beat the playoffs-bound Falcons? Easy. Atlanta coach Jim Mora, whose team has a lock on the conference two seed (and a week one playoff bye) and can’t do any better than that, has all but officially announced that a number of starters will be spending most of Sunday afternoon on the sidelines. The Falcons are required by the league to field a competitive team, but with Michael Vick nursing a sprained shoulder, it’d be hard to question a decision to hold him out. And with other starters ailing, Mora will certainly find a way to get the better part of his team out of the game by halftime at the latest. So you don’t bet on this game no matter what, because anything can happen. But if you’ve gotta make a pick, take the home team to win it. And if you have to pick against the spread, well, take the Falcons to at least make it look like they tried by keeping the difference to a field goal.

Baltimore (+5) at Pittsburgh
Baltimore played Indianapolis tough on the road last week. And Pittsburgh came within one bad bit of officiating to losing to the less-than-inspiring Giants. So the hope among New England Patriots players and their fans is that Baltimore, which is fighting for its playoff life, will be able to pull off the upset at Pittsburgh. That’s far from out of the question. Both teams have outstanding defenses, ranked first (Pittsburgh) and sixth (Baltimore) in the league. And Baltimore is only giving up 31 yards and half a point more per game than Pittsburgh. Plus, while rankings would make the team’s offensive differences appear to be huge (Pittsburgh’s O is ranked 19th, Baltimore’s 30) the Steelers are only scoring three more points per game than the Ravens. If the Ravens play as inspired a game and the Steelers play as uninspired a game as they did last week, Baltimore will pull off the upset. But playing for home-field advantage through the playoffs can be mighty inspirational. I see Pittsburgh pulling out a two-point victory in a nail-biter. I sure do hope I’m wrong. Go Ravens!

Chicago (+5.5) at Detroit
I’m thinking with the 32nd-ranked offense in a 32-team league in town, the Lions can probably afford to miss an extra point or two this time around. Take Detroit and give the points.

Houston (+7) at Jacksonville
A week ago, I thought Jacksonville’s playoff hopes were about to go out the window with a cold-weather game in Green Bay looming. I was wrong. And with the Broncos melting down and the Ravens appearing to be headed for a loss at Pittsburgh, the Jags have an opportunity here to make it a two-way race with Buffalo for the AFC six seed. I think they’ll make a statement here with a big win over the division rival Texans. Take the Jaguars and give the points.

NY Giants (+6) at Cincinnati
Giants rookie quarterback Eli Manning looked like he’d started to get a feel for NFL football last week against Pittsburgh. Eli turned in a respectable outing against the Steelers, who have the best defense in the league. And that allowed running back Tiki Barber to have his first decent outing in weeks. This time around, the Giants face a team with a defense ranked 19th overall and 26th against the run. If Eli really has figured things out, you can expect him to have a good day. Tiki should excel either way. And if the Giants D, which is ranked14th but is severely banged up and falling in the rankings, can keep the Bengals from posting more than three touchdowns, they’ll pull off the upset. I’m willing to take my chances. I’m taking New York to win it straight up.

San Diego (+7) at Indianapolis
This is certainly the difference between the three and four seed in the AFC and, depending on whether what happened in Miami Monday night was a fluke or a sign of things to come, could put the winner in contention for the conference two seed. The hopeful news for San Diego here is that they’ve got the league’s 11th-ranked defense, giving up only 318 yards per game. The not-so-hopeful news for the Chargers is that they’re giving three quarters of those yards in the air, which ain’t a good sign when you’re heading indoors to play the Colts. Indy quarterback Peyton Manning certainly breaks Dan Marino’s single-season touchdown record this week (Manning needs two passing touchdowns to top Marino’s 48) and the Colts win it by four or five points.

Buffalo (-11.5) at San Francisco
Running back Willis McGahee’s absence (he has a knee injury and is expected to miss this game) may take some of the explosiveness out of the Bills offense, but it won’t slow them down enough to keep San Francisco in this game. I like the Bills to win it by 10.

New England(-2) at NY Jets
The Pats had better recover quickly from their Monday night disaster in Miami, because, two-point underdogs or not, the Jets are a damned good football team, one the Patriots barely beat in Foxborough week seven (though the outcome of that game was never in doubt, the final was nonetheless 13-7). If Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is able to shake off his poor performance in the Miami game, or better yet, use that poor performance to motivate himself, the Pats should be able to pull out a victory and sew up a playoff bye week and a home game. New England running back Corey Dillon, who had 115 yards against the Jets in Foxborough, matches up slightly better against the Jets’ seventh-ranked run D than New York RB Curtis Martin, who had only 70 yards in that last game, does against the Pats’ run defense, which is ranked fifth. And in a game like this, unless someone throws four picks, the running game is what will make the difference. I like the Pats to bounce back and win it. And I think you can go ahead and give the two points.

Arizona (+7) at Seattle
Man, would I love to see Arizona win this game. If they could, it would ensure that the NFC West will be won by a team with a .500 record at best. And there’s some perverse part of me that would love to see that happen. What I expect, though, is for the hot-and-cold Seahawks to run hot this week, topping the Cards by exactly a touchdown.

Carolina (+3) at Tampa Bay
This is one of the toughest games of the week to call. These teams are division rivals. They don’t like each other one little bit. And they always play each other tough. The Panthers won their week 12 match in Carolina 21-14, but only because Martin Gramatica kept missing field goal attempts. The Bucs’ fourth-ranked defense should be able to stop Carolina’s offense. And if running back Michael Pittman can hold on to the ball pick up some yards on the ground as well as through the air this time (Pittman had just 29 yards rushing last time out, fumbling twice, but he caught eight passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns), the Bucs should be able to squeeze out a victory. Whether that’ll happen is anyone’s guess, but, as usual in games like this, I’m taking the home team. I guess I’ll give the points, too.

Washington (-3) at Dallas
Cowboys coach Bill Parcells is planning to start washed-up never-was Vinny Testaverde at quarterback again this week rather than giving young Drew Henson, who is supposed to be the club’s future, some valuable playing time. Why? Because even at a dismal 5-9 the Cowboys have an outside chance of making the playoffs as a wildcard team (sad, sad, sad NFC) and Parcells doesn’t wanna send his team the message that he’s given up on the season. What a complete fucking tool. Take Washington and give the points.

Cleveland (+7) at Miami
The only reason to even consider taking the Browns to cover in this meeting of 3-11 teams is the fact that the Dolphins could be headed for a letdown game in the wake of their huge Monday night upset over the Patriots. The Fins are playing better football under Jim Bates than they’d been playing this season with Dave Wannstedt as coach. The Browns, meanwhile, have been giving up crazy points on a weekly basis — they surrendered 58 to Cincinnati in week 12, 42 to New England in week 13, 37 to Buffalo in week 14, and 21 to San Diego in week 5 — and have scored next to nothing since that bizarre pointfest with Cincy (15, 7 and 0 in weeks 13, 14 and 15). So it’s fair to expect a blowout — if the Dolphins can stop celebrating their spoiler turn long enough to focus on the game before them. I think they can, so I’m taking Miami and expecting them to win by double the spread.

Philadelphia (+3) at St. Louis
The backward spread here isn’t really a reflection of the fact that the Eagles have lost wide receiver Terrell Owens for the balance of the regular season (and most, or all, of the playoffs). It’s a reflection of the expectation that Philly’s healthy starters will be on the bench. Like guaranteed NFC two seed Atlanta, the top-seeded Eagles, who will be at home through the NFC playoffs, have no incentive to try to win this game, and every incentive to let their banged up starters get some rest. Should make for some exciting Monday Night Football, eh? Well, you know what’s crazy? I don’t think the Rams starters can beat the Eagles second team. So I’m gonna go ahead and take Philly straight up. But I caution you against betting on this game. There’s simply no telling what’s gonna happen in a game like this.

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Week Fifteen Postmortem

December 21st, 2004 Comments off

Week fifteen was all about quarterbacks, for better and in some cases (see Monday night) for much, much worse. Except when it wasn’t. Here’s what I saw.

Pittsburgh (-10) at NY Giants
I said: Take the Steelers and give the points.
The final was: Pittsburgh 33, NY Giants 30
So what happened? Someone told Eli Manning he’s supposed to be a superstud. And if the Giants’ D weren’t so beat up, this one might easily have turned out to be the second biggest upset of the week.

Washington (-5) at San Francisco
I said: Take the Redskins and give the points.
The final was: Washington 26, San Francisco 16
So what happened? San Francisco quarterback Ken Dorsey threw four picks and even the best teams in the league can’t win when their quarterbacks perform that poorly (see New England at Miami below).

Carolina (+3.5) at Atlanta
I said: Take Carolina straight up and with the points.
The final was: Atlanta 34, Carolina 31
So what happened? Panthers coach John Fox didn’t have the cojones to let his offense try to win it at the end of regulation and, with their coach’s lack of faith in them fresh in mind, the Panthers blew it in OT.

Buffalo (-1) at Cincinnati
I said: Take Buffalo and give the point.
The final was: Buffalo 33, Cincinnati 17
So what happened? No real surprises here. The Bills are fighting to get into the playoffs. The Bengals are, as always, still the Bengals.

Dallas (+12) at Philadelphia
I said: Take the Eagles straight up, the Cowboys with the points.
The final was: Philadelphia 12, Dallas 7
So what happened? I’ll be honest. I just felt like 12 was a lot of points to give in an NFL match. I had no idea the Eagles were gonna lose Terrell Owens for the balance of the regular season and most of the playoffs (it’ll be all of the playoffs if they continue to perform this poorly without him).

Denver (-1) at Kansas City
I said: Take the Chiefs to win it outright.
The final was: Kansas City 45, Denver 17
So what happened? The Broncos are melting down. What a pity. No, no, really. I mean it. I feel awful for them.

Houston (+1) at Chicago
I said: Take the Texans to win it outright.
The final was: Houston 24, Chicago 5
So what happened? The league’s worst offense committed more turnovers (four) than it scored points (three). What a surprise.

Minnesota (-3) at Detroit
I said: Take the Vikings and give the points.
The final was: Minnesota 28, Detroit 27
So what happened? In truth, I should have been wrong on both fronts. The Vikings had no business winning this game. And if Detroit’s rookie long snapper Don Mulbach hadn’t fucked up the PAT with eight seconds to play, the Lions would have won it in overtime.

San Diego (-9.5) at Cleveland
I said: Take the Chargers and give the points.
The final was: San Diego 21, Cleveland 0
So what happened? I made the easy prediction that Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson would have a huge day against the league’s 31st-ranked run defense. He did just that, logging 111 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. And that’s the rest of the story.

Seattle (+6.5) at NY Jets
I said: Take the Jets and give the points.
The final was: NY Jets 37, Seattle 14
So what happened? The Seahawks took another giant step toward winning the NFC West with a record of 8-8 or 7-9. And won’t that be exciting for everybody.

New Orleans (+7.5) at Tampa Bay
I said: Take the Buccaneers and give the points.
The final was: New Orleans 21, Tampa Bay 17
So what happened? The league’s second best pass defense gave up a game-winning touchdown pass at the end of regulation. You can’t predict shit like that.

St. Louis (-3) at Arizona
I said: Take the Cardinals to win it outright.
The final was: Arizona 31, St. Louis 7
So what happened? Rams quarterback Chris Chandler lasted one quarter, during which time he threw six passes, two of which were caught, one by wide receiver Torry “Big Play” Holt (for a whole yard), the other by Arizona cornerback David Macklin. Then Jamie Martin stepped in. And he sucked, too.

Jacksonville (+3.5) at Green Bay
I said: Take the Packers to win, the Jaguars to cover.
The final was:
So what happened? Brett Favre is still one of the all-time great quarterbacks, but nothing lasts forever. A team can’t overcome three interceptions and a lost fumble by its quarterback, not even at home in the cold vs. a warm-weather squad.

Tennessee (+2.5) at Oakland
I said: Take the Titans to win it outright.
The final was: Oakland 40, Tennessee 35
So what happened? The good Kerry Collins showed up for a change..

Baltimore (+7.5) at Indianapolis
I said: Take the Colts and give the points.
The final was: Indianapolis 20, Baltimore 10
So what happened? Peyton Manning did something far more impressive (and far more frightening if you’re a fan of other AFC teams) than break Dan Marino’s single-season touchdown record (which Peyton will break before the season’s out): He put winning ahead of racking up individual stats. And while the Colts still have a long way to go and a lot to prove, there’s no denying that’s the kind of playing style that wins championships.

New England (-9.5) at Miami
I said: Take the Pats and give the points.
The final was: Miami 29, New England 28
So what happened? Possibility one: Somebody pulled some kind of Freaky Friday shit on Tom Brady and A.J. Feeley. Possibility two: Tom Brady got to thinking he could throw a completion from flat on his ass every week, and his team paid the price. Take your pick.

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I Think They’re Dipshits, Scott

December 20th, 2004 Comments off

Scott Brodeur at Blog Beat, who apparently is all about professional athletes acting like shitheads today, emailed to make sure I saw what Geep at The Sports Frog has to say about Raiders DBs Charles Woodson and Marques Anderson being arrested for public intoxication early this morning. Scott was making a rather transparent (and entirely friendly and well-meant) attempt to push me to tap into some of the anger with which I appear to be overflowing this afternoon.

“Oooh, attacking your squad — with cheap shots. Deserved cheap shots. But cheap shots, nonetheless!” he exclaimed electronically (really? an exclamation point? ’cause that just seems like a lot of energy to expend on such a statement).

I can’t get too upset about the alleged cheap shots there, though. Because, as I see it, Geep is going easy on these guys.

Seriously, what the fuck is up with these guys? What’s us with this team? And what the hell is Norv Turner gonna do about it?

All this shit just tells me it’s gonna be years and years (a decade or more, maybe) before the Raiders field a good team again. These guys can’t get even the simplest shit together. And you’ve got players doing what exactly? Celebrating? Was this act of idiocy the culmination of a night of celebration for the teams fifth fucking victory of the season? I sure as hell hope not. Because congratulations, assholes, you made it to 5-9. And you did it by just getting by a 4-10 team on a four-game losing streak.

But it can’t be that, because neither of those guys actually did anything in Sunday’s 40-35 win over the Tennessee Titans. Woodson sat on the sidelines nursing a booboo. And Anderson recorded a tackle. A tackle. (Of course, the sad thing is that tackle probably made Anderson a stats leader for the Raiders secondary in a game in which the team gave up 466 net passing yards and four passing touchdowns.)

It’s gotta just be that this is a team that is directionless, suffering from poor leadership from both its owner and coach and clearly incapable of finding a way to get its shit together. These guys should be dumped. Both of them. Not because what they did was so awful, but because of what their behavior reveals about their attitude, what that attitude represents, and what they represent, which is everything that’s wrong with this team. A truly great coach, a guy like Paul Brown, wouldn’t even have entertained tolerating this shit. They’d be gone. (And, yes, I know there’s a collective bargaining agreement and a salary cap and you can’t just go firing guys for getting drunk. So it’s not that I actually expect these guys to get canned. I’m just making a point.) Certainly, neither of them should see the field for the balance of this season.

And you know, there more I think about this, the more it burns me up. Here’s one guy (Woodson) who should be taking it easy until he gets healthy again and another who should be working on getting better at his job. Instead, they’re out boozing it up and acting like assholes the night after a game.

And it’s not like I thought the Raiders were gonna make a sudden run for the playoffs this season or anything (because it was clear by about week three or four that the team’s next post season appearance is gonna be some time coming), but I’d still hoped this team, having bottomed out (or so I thought) last year, was on the way back up. It’s depressing to get new evidence of how wrong I was.

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Week Fifteen Picks

December 17th, 2004 Comments off

Three days ago, I didn’t think this week’s games were all that tough to suss. I’ve changed my mind. This week is an absolute motherfucker.

Yeah, there are some obvious game here. The Browns can’t win. The Steelers, unfortunately, can’t lose. And there are a couple of others like that. But tell me who’s gonna win the Houston-Chicago game. Go ahead. Tell me whether Denver really should be favored by one at Kansas City. Or whether the hot-and-cold Falcons should be giving three and a half points to the streaking Panthers. And, OK, say you can tell me what’s gonna happen in those games, well then what are you doing here? I can’t help you. Clearly, you’ve got the advantage on me. Maybe you should write the free picks column next time. Go ahead. See if I care.

As usual, please don’t take my advice. You’ll only lose money.

Pittsburgh (-10) at NY Giants
Oh, my, young Eli, whatcha gonna do against the best defense in the league? Mr. Manning, who’s getting a baptism of fire in his rookie half-season under center for the Giants, didn’t fare so well against the Baltimore D last Sunday, throwing two picks and losing a fumble while completing just four of 18 passes for a total of 27 yards. He’s at home this week to face Pittsburgh, but I don’t expect that to make much of a difference. The Steelers D, which shut down Chad Pennington and Curtis Martin last weekend, should have a bit of an easier time with Eli and Tiki Barber, largely because of Eli’s lack of experience (it’s tough to be a rookie QB in September and October; it’s murder in December), but also because the Giants banged-up D won’t be able to stop Pittsburgh the way the Jets D did, which means less time on the field for the Steelers D and fewer opportunities for the Giants offense to call running plays. If Baltimore can beat you by 23, the Steelers can probably beat you by 11. So, you know, pick and bet accordingly.

Washington (-5) at San Francisco
Somehow, I’m not expecting the 49ers to have the kind of day against the Redskins defense that they had a week ago at Arizona. You have to like the ‘Skins to win this straight up, but picking against the spread here is no easy task, because Washington’s offense has a tendency to forget that it’s supposed to score points. If you’re one of those people who believes Joe Gibbs’ offensive schemes have begun to take hold, you take the Redskins. If you’re not. Maybe you look for the Niners to keep it close. If you’re undecided, like me, you toss a coin. Mine came down tails, so I’m taking Washington to make the difference two field goals.

Carolina (+3.5) at Atlanta
As the fans in Atlanta will happily attest, Michael Vick doesn’t have a whole lot in common with Chris Chandler beyond the fact that they play the same position. OK, so that’s not really fair. Chandler, who’s played for pretty much every team in the league at some point (and who, at 39, is old enough that during his first stint with the Rams, the team was still in Los Angeles.) had the two best seasons of his career under center with Atlanta. But my point remains the same: don’t expect Vick to go throwing six picks to the Panthers. In fact, history says Vick will have a big day; the Falcons have never lost to Carolina with Vick at QB. But the Falcons could be in for a long day here. They’ve lost one running back T.J. Duckett for at least two weeks to knee surgery. And the other, Warrick Dunn, will have to find a way to succeed without help from fullback Justin Griffith, an amazing run blocker, who’s gone for the season. That puts pretty much everything on Vick’s shoulders. And if you ask me, that’s a good scenario for the Carolina defense and the makings of an upset. I’m taking the Panthers straight up and, of course, with the points.

Buffalo (-1) at Cincinnati
The Bills go into this game knowing they absolutely can’t afford to lose. That’s their story for the rest of the season, in fact. You’re not getting into the playoffs in the AFC with a record of less than 10-6, which means winning out for 7-6 Buffalo, which has won its last four games, and seven of its last nine. Cincinnati saw its chances of making the playoffs ended last weekend in Foxborough, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do everything the can to spoil things for the Bills. Buffalo’s playing way too well these days to take the fall here, though. And Jon Kitna, who takes over at quarterback for Cincinnati for injured Carson Palmer, has to be rusty (though he didn’t show it last week in relief). I like Buffalo to win it by at least a touchdown.

Dallas (+12) at Philadelphia
This is the last game during the regular season that the Eagles have any incentive to win. In beating the Cowboys, they will shore up home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. That’s good news for the Eagles, who are banged up and need some rest. Better news is that this one will probably be well in hand by halftime, and ensure that Koy Detmer will take some snaps and Reno Mahe will get some carries in the fourth quarter. Does that allow Dallas to climb back within 12? Shit, man, I don’t know. Maybe. Don’t bet this game either way, because you never know. But if you have to make a pick against the spread, go ahead and take the Boys with the points just to be safe. Twelve points are still a lot in the NFL, after all.

Denver (-1) at Kansas City
Another shootout in Kansas City. You sorta havta figure the Broncos are gonna win this game. They’re playing for their playoff lives; it’s a big division game; the Chiefs D doesn’t match up well against QB Jake Plummer and the rest of the Denver offense; and the Chiefs are coming off a big, exhausting Monday night game with Tennessee. Still, the Chiefs are averaging eight more points a game than the Broncos. And they are at home. And I hate the fucking Broncos. So I’m taking the Chiefs with the point, partially out of a hunch they’ll fiind a way to win it, and partially out of plain old spite.

Houston (+1) at Chicago
You know, neither of these teams is very good. In fact, there’s little to recommend in either of them. Yet one of them is gonna come out of this game a winner. So do you take the 5-8 home team or the 5-8 team from the stronger conference? I say you take the 5-8 team that doesn’t have the league’s 32nd-ranked offense. That’d be Houston (to win).

Minnesota (-3) at Detroit
I’m sure I’m not the first to offer this advice to Vikings coach Mike Tice, but I’m gonna offer it anyhow: You’ve got a talented quarterback on your team, Mike. His name is Daunte Culpepper. It’s not Randy Moss. You do have an amazing wide receiver named Randy Moss, though. So, if you find your team in scoring position late in a close game this week, consider something revolutionary, like having Culpepper throw a pass and Moss catch it. Just a thought, Mike. And if you take that advice, my guess is your Vikings win this one by a touchdown.

San Diego (-9.5) at Cleveland
As has been the case more often than not with Cleveland’s games this season, I find myself with little to nothing particularly insightful to say here. Of course San Diego wins this. Of course Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson has a huge day against the league’s 31st-ranked run defense. And given the amount of time they’re likely to spend on the field, it’s a safe bet Cleveland’s 10th-ranked pass D has a tough time keeping up with San Diego QB Drew Brees, the fourth highest rated passer in the league. Might as well go ahead and give the points.

Seattle (+6.5) at NY Jets
The Seahawks can clinch a playoff berth this week if they win and the Cowboys, Giants, Lions, Panthers and Bears all lose or tie. Now that’s some kind of formula. Of course, the Seahawks can also earn a virtual lock on the NFC West title with a win and a Rams loss. I think St. Louis will come through (see below), but the Seahawks aren’t beating the Jets. Even if quarterback Chad Pennington comes out looking as rusty as he did last week against Pittsburgh (he won’t; Pennington’s struggling against good teams, but the Seahawks aren’t a good team), the Jets, who are battling to hold onto the AFC five seed, will get everything they need on offense from running back Curtis Martin. The Seahawks can’t stop average running backs; they’re certainly not gonna stop Martin, who’s having an amazing year. And the New York D should have no trouble shutting down the struggling Seahawks offense. Take the Jets to win it by a touchdown.

New Orleans (+7.5) at Tampa Bay
I don’t care what they did to Dallas last week, the Saints still have a D that’s 32nd against the run, 30th against the pass, and 32nd overall. I don’t care that San Diego got the best of them last week, the Buccaneers still have a D that’s second against pass, 22nd against the run and fifth overall. And that, not whether either team can make the playoffs (because neither will) is the difference here. Bucs running back Michael Pittman posts three TDs and Tampa Bay wins and covers.

St. Louis (-3) at Arizona
So far this season, Chris Chandler (see Carolina-Atlanta above), who will be starting under center for the Rams again this weekend, has been intercepted once every seven times he throws the ball. That’s not good. He’ll get that average down a bit this week, throwing only two picks in 25 or so attempts, but one of those will go for seven the other way as the Cards upset the Rams and all but hand the horrible NFC West crown to Seattle.

Jacksonville (+3.5) at Green Bay
Both teams need a win here. The Packers can clinch a playoff berth and render their Christmas Eve visit to Minnesota an opportunity to clinch the NFC North title and the conference three seed. The Jags have to win just to hold onto an outside shot at sneaking into the AFC playoffs as the six seed. The bad news for Jacksonville is that it gets real cold and real windy in Green Bay this time of year. And while Packers running back Ahman Green and Jaguars running back Fred Taylor are having similar seasons (both are averaging 4.5 yards a carry and about 82 yards per game), Pack QB Brett Favre is simply better suited to playing in bad weather than Jags QB Byron Leftwich. Green Bay’s D isn’t quite as good against the run as Jacksonville’s (giving up 110.8 yards per game vs. 101.3) so they Packers probably won’t cover, but they will win.

Tennessee (+2.5) at Oakland
For the second straight season the Raiders are in a state of total fucking disarray. They’ve got a backup quarterback who can’t get shit done under center (albeit this time while a more talented athlete sits on the bench). And their defense couldn’t stop a pickup offense featuring me and ten other overweight spazmos. So who’s gonna win? Don’t make me say it, OK. Just don’t. (But take the goddamned Titans and be glad you’re somehow getting two and a half points.)

Baltimore (+7.5) at Indianapolis
This game is in all likelihood the beginning of the end for Baltimore. As of right now, the Ravens, as the cliche goes, control their own destiny. If they can win out, they’re in the playoffs as at least the six seed and, if the Jets stumble, possibly the five. If they lose a game, they have to contend with the strong possibility that Denver will finish in front of them and that Buffalo or Jacksonville will tie them. If they lose two, they’re essentially cooked, as two of those three teams will surely outperform them, at which point it doesn’t matter what the Jets do. And here’s the thing: after this game against the Colts, the Ravens have to travel to Pittsburgh, where they simply are not going to win (would that they would). So a loss here all but ensures Baltimore’s downfall. And they’re headed for a loss here, though it’d be great if they could pull out a win and make Indy the probable four seed. (Indy, it seems to me, has a better chance than San Diego of knocking off Pittsburgh at Heinz Field. So, assuming Pittsburgh is gonna hold on and be the one seed — which seems likely, though back-to-back games with the Ravens and Bills won’t make for an easy way to end the season — you want Indy as the four seed so they’re likely to go to Pittsburgh in the divisional playoff round. And since the Patriots can beat both Indy and San Diego in Foxborough in January, it doesn’t much matter which team they get in the divisional round.) Anyway, I’m thinking Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who has 46 touchdown passes going in, at least ties and possibly breaks Dan Marino’s single-season record (48) and the Colts take it by 12 or more.

New England (-9.5) at Miami
You know what? Don’t talk to me about friggin’ trap games. It’s a division game. And the Pats are playing for a bye week and, more important, the possibility of creeping past Pittsburgh (should the Steelers lose in Buffalo in week 17) and grabbing home-field advantage in the playoffs. Don’t talk to me about Charlie Weis leaving for Notre Dame, either. There’s no more focused team in the league than New England. Talk to me about the Miami defense if you like. And the New England D. But if you do I’ll have to point out that Dolphins quarterback A.J. Feeley has an incredible knack for throwing touchdown passes to opposing DBs. Could this be the week Troy Brown finally scores on the defensive side of the ball? On Monday Night Football? That would be a gas. Either way, take the Pats and, yeah, might as well give the points.

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Danny Kanell? Really?

December 15th, 2004 Comments off

So OK, I know this at least brushes up to mean and everything, but it’s too fucking funny to resist. Here’s an email I just got by way of the link on my other blog, The Moon Hoax (which is where I posted my picks in seasons past (and, no, I’m really, really, really not making this up):

I am a die hard fan of Danny Kanell and i would like to exchange the link of my site with your site.
Our site information is
Title: Danny Kanell : A Great NFL player
I’ll be very happy if you could add a link back to my sites. If you’ve already linked to my website, please let me know which page of your website and i’ll make sure that your website will be listed on my site as well.
Email me at:
Best Regards.

I love the name of that site. Danny Kanell: A Great NFL Player.

Why do I love it? Simple: because Danny Kanell is easily one of the worst quarterbacks I’ve ever seen play the pro game. He was mediocre at best in college and he’s been all but a complete bust in the NFL.

The guy played three seasons for the Giants (during which time he started 20 games), then spent two with the Falcons (two starts, eight appearances, nine interceptions), then spent two seasons doing god knows what (playing flag football in the Greater Pensacola Bar & Tavern League, probably) before the horribly desperate Broncos brought him back last season to throw two touchdowns and five picks in five games. He’s thrown 31 TDs and 34 picks over his career (which, I guess, isn’t actually over; he’s still listed on the Broncos’ roster — right after Jake Plummer, in fact — though he hasn’t taken a snap all season), and has a career passer rating of 63.2.

If this is what counts as “a great NFL player,” the folks in Canton, Ohio had better get to planning a major fucking construction project.

Now, I don’t know, maybe Danny Kanell is just an amazingly fine human being. Maybe he supports every important charity under the sun. Maybe he’s adopted 57 armless and legless orphans from all over the third world. Maybe he spends his weekdays building HUD homes with his bare hands (he must do something with his time; I can’t imagine he’s needed at practice much). And if it turns out that any of these things are true, I’ll get how someone can be a die-hard Danny Kanell fan. But the name of the site isn’t “Danny Kanell: An Incredibly Kind-Hearted Man.” And “a great NFL player” Danny, unfortunately, most decidedly ain’t.

So just who is this die-hard Danny Kanell fan I got that note from? Is it Danny’s mom, by chance? Danny’s wife? Or Danny himself? Because I can’t imagine the fan club roster goes a whole lot deeper than that.

You know when I’ll be a die-hard Danny Kanell fan? Round about Jan. 15 or 16 when, having upset the Colts or the Chargers, the Broncos make their way to Foxborough for a divisional playoff game against the Pats, and Plummer goes down in the first quarter, and they put Danny in to throw picks to Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Earthwind Moreland or whatever random fan or overachieving Patriette New England has pasted in at cornerback.

Yeah, that’s it. Right around the time Michelle Carlucci tap dances her way into the end zone for her first career TD, I’ll officially become the fourth member of the Danny Kanell fan club. Until then, I’m just gonna have myself a quiet little snicker at Danny’s expense. It won’t be the first time.

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Week Fourteen Postmortem

December 14th, 2004 Comments off

You see, this is why I fucking hate weeks like week fourteen. Too goddamn many giant spreads. Means what? Means you know there’s gonna be a few upsets straight up, but you can’t for the life of you figure out where. And it’s even worse trying to pick against the spread, because what the fuck are you supposed to do? You look at the numbers and they tell you all the favorites should cover. Except you know they’re not all gonna cover, because they’re not all gonna win. And, in truth, probably only half of them will cover. But there’s no saying which half. So you guess. Me, I mostly guessed wrong. I was 12-4 picking straight up (no big accomplishment in a week like this — I picked conservatively; there were three upsets and I missed every one of them), but only 4-12 against the spread. Here’s a list of excuses.

Chicago (-7) at Jacksonville
I said: Take the Jaguars and give the points.
The final was: Jacksonville 22, Chicago 7
So what happened? I said Bears quarterback Chad Hutchinson, who had a big day in his debut in week thirteen, would struggle against the Jaguars D and he did. Chad threw for 212 yards, which ain’t terrible, but he had no touchdowns and he gave up two turnovers, which ain’t good. The good news for Chad is that his Bears host the Houston Texans, who have trouble stopping the pass, this week, so he might turn things around yet.

Cincinnati (+11) at New England
I said: Take the Patriots and give the points.
The final was: New England 35, Cincinnati 28
So what happened? It’s hard to prepare for trick plays, like fake field goals. And it’s all but impossible to prepare for a veteran quarterback you’re not supposed to face and who hasn’t taken a snap all season. Fortunately for the Pats, no one could ever prepare to stop a quarterback who can throw perfect passes while sitting on the field.

Cleveland (+11.5) at Buffalo
I said: Take the Bills straight up, the Browns with the points.
The final was: Buffalo 37, Cleveland 7
So what happened? Seventeen net yards of offense, that’s what happened. The Browns managed 17 net yards. Not for one play. Not for one series. Not for one drive, one quarter, one half. For the whole fucking game. Seventeen yards. If this were really the Browns — which, of course, it isn’t — Paul Brown would be spinning in his grave. Seventeen yards. There’s no accounting for that kind of incompetence.

Indianapolis (-10.5) at Houston
I said: Take the Colts and give the points
The final was: Indianapolis 23, Houston 14
So what happened? I said to ignore all the talk about how the Texans play good teams tough when they’re at home. I said Colts QB Peyton Manning would shred Houston’s suspect pass D and put up four, if not five, touchdowns. I take it all back.

New Orleans (+7) at Dallas
I said: Take the Cowboys straight up, the Saints with the points.
The final was: New Orleans 27, Dallas 13
So what happened? I didn’t think it mattered that the Cowboys got away with one in their Monday night win over Seattle coming into this game. I figured the Saints defense was bad enough that they’d lose no matter how not good the Cowboys really are, though I figured the New Orleans offense would score a bit. I was right about one of those things.

NY Giants (+10) at Baltimore
I said: Take the Ravens straight up, the Giants with the points.
The final was: Baltimore 37, NY Giants 14
So what happened? It wasn’t that I thought the Giants would keep it to within three or anything. I figured the Ravens would win by seven. I was thinking maybe 20-13 or something. I just didn’t think the Ravens had a 37-point game in them. I wasn’t counting on the Giants to give the ball away six fucking times. The good news for Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who looked awful, is that he’ll be facing the Steelers’ notoriously soft D this weekend, which should help him … wait, what’s that? you don’t say? … oh, umm, never mind that last bit. Sorry, Eli.

Oakland (+7.5) at Atlanta
I said: Take the Falcons and give the points.
The final was: Atlanta 35, Oakland 10
So what happened? What do you think happened? Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins completed all of 50 percent of his passes. And Falcons running back T.J. Duckett scored every third time he touched the ball (literally). That’s what.

Seattle (+7) at Minnesota
I said: Take the Vikings straight up, expect a tie vs. the spread.
The final was: Seattle 27, Minnesota 23
So what happened? I forgot about the Vikings’ traditional December meltdown. And Vikings coach Mike Tice apparently forgot that Randy Moss isn’t a fucking quarterback. Thanks for the reminders, Seahawks (I guess).

Miami (+11) at Denver
I said: Well, actually, I guess I didn’t say anything, but I implied you should take Denver and give the points.
The final was: Denver 20, Miami 17
So what happened? Dolphins quarterback A.J. Feeley managed to go a whole game without throwing a touchdown to a opposing DB, which is almost miraculous. In fact, Feeley only threw one interception all day, and both of his fumbles were recovered by his own teammates. Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, meanwhile, hit two Dolphins defenders. And one of Denver running back Reuben Droughns’ two fumbles went to Miami. That kept it closer than it ever ought to have been. I hope the Patriots are watching tape of what can happen when you don’t take a team like Miami seriously just because they suck.

N.Y. Jets (+6) at Pittsburgh
I said: Take Pittsburgh straight up, the Jets with the points.
The final was: Pittsburgh 17, NY Jets 6
So what happened? I figured Jets running back Curtis Martin would have a decent day and would keep his team in the competition. And while Curtis didn’t have an awful day (24 carries for 72 yards; three catches for 35 yards), especially considering how tough the Steelers D is, he sure didn’t do well enough to offset New York quarterback Chad Pennington’s three interceptions. And, unlike Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis, Curtis didn’t throw any touchdown passes. So there you go.

Detroit (+9.5) at Green Bay
I said: Take the Packers and give the points.
The final was: Green Bay 16, Detroit 13
So what happened? You know, I’m not sure. I said it wouldn’t matter that Green Bay’s defense had been giving up serious yards, and it sorta didn’t. Detroit had only 228 net yards (156 of them from one guy, running back Kevin Jones), which is pretty average as this season goes. Trouble was, the Packers only managed 301 net yards themselves. And, more important, the Pack’s offense kept stalling out in the red zone. And you just don’t cover nine-and-a-half-point spreads when you have to settle for field goals three quarters of the time.

San Francisco (+7) at Arizona
I said: Take the Cardinals and give the points.
The final was: San Francisco 31, Arizona 28
So what happened? You know what? Maybe 49ers fans are right; maybe running back Kevan Barlow really does suck. Maurice Hicks rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown in Barlow’s absence. And the Niners would have run away with this thing if their defense hadn’t collapsed in the last 20 minutes of regulation. Or maybe there’s something weird going on where the 49ers must always beat the Cardinals 31-28 in overtime (this game marked the second occurrence of that result this season). I suppose it could just be that.

St. Louis (+6.5) at Carolina
I said: Take the Panthers straight up, the Rams with the points.
The final was: Carolina 20, St. Louis 7
So what happened? I’m not sure what made me think the Rams, with Chris Chandler under center, would be able to keep up with the resurgent Panthers, but I’m looking into it. Chandler went 16 for 29 for 243 yards with one touchdown, and six picks. Chris might have a better day against Arizona’s D this week. Or he might not. One way or the other, the Rams’ season is pretty much cooked.

Tampa Bay (+5.5) at San Diego
I said: Take the Chargers straight up, the Buccaneers to cover.
The final was: San Diego 31, Tampa Bay 24
So what happened? With four minutes remaining and the game, which had been close throughout, tied, Chargers inside linebacker Donnie Edwards picked off Buccaneers quarterback Brian Griese and ran 30 yards for a touchdown. Three plays later, Griese, who’s starting to look like his old self after getting off to a good start with the Bucs, coughed the ball up at the Tampa Bay 28. Griese got his team down into scoring position once more before the game ended, but couldn’t close the deal. A field goal, followed by a failed on-side kick, kept the margin at seven. Oh, well.

Philadelphia (-9) at Washington
I said: Take the Eagles straight up, the Redskins to Cover
The final was: Philadelphia 17, Washington 14
So what happened? The ‘Skins still have a damned good defense and a mostly awful offense. The Eagles still have a damned good offense and an inconsistent defense. And when you put those things together, this is what you get.

Kansas City (+2) at Tennessee
I said: Take the Titans to win, the Chiefs with the points.
The final was: Kansas City 49, Tennessee 38
So what happened? “It’s a coin toss, really, so do what you like,” I said. “Me, I’m going with the home team to win it by a point. (Oh, and Priest or no Priest, I’m betting the over. Way, way over.)” With a minute and 39 seconds left to play, it looked like I’d picked it right straight up, wrong against the spread. With 32 seconds left to play, it was looking the other way around. And with eight seconds left, it was a done deal. What can you do? I got the over/under bit right, though. So that’s something. And, considering the way Denver played against Miami Sunday afternoon, you’ve now gotta think the Chiefs have at least an outside shot at fucking up the division rival Broncos’ playoffs hopes, which would be nice (said the Raiders fan, feeling miserable as all getup and desperate for company).

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 10th, 2004 Comments off

You’ve gotta figure there’s an upset or two brewing somewhere in the NFL this week. Right? I mean, you don’t get a week in professional football without at least one or two underdogs surprising the oddsmakers, the experts and everyone else. Not usually. Really, not ever. Trouble is, where? Which of this week’s array of heavy favorites will collapse? Which heavy dogs will come up big? I can’t for the life of me see one game in which an upset appears likely (which probably means it’ll be the second upset week of the season and there’ll be seven or eight around the league).

My advice? Well, if you’re in a straight picks pool and you’re out of contention for year-end cash, either crunch some numbers or listen to your gut and find two or three upsets to pick. If you hit ’em, you’re in the money, guaranteed. If you’re playing for year-end cash, just go down the list of favorites. You’re gonna take a couple of hits, but it’s better than risking missing five or six games by picking the wrong upset in a week when the player who’s smart enough to go conservative ends up at 15-1 or 14-2. If you’re betting against the spreads, find a couple of games where the lines are completely out of control and bet the dogs (don’t even think about betting favorites this week). If you’re picking against the spread in a pool, good luck to you; it’s a total crapshoot. Bet the over no matter what. And please, please, please be wise enough to ignore my advice.

Chicago (-7) at Jacksonville
So you’re impressed with Bears quarterback Chad Hutchinson’s 213-yard, three-touchdown performance in his debut as a starter last week, are ya? Well you should be. Just don’t let it cloud your vision. This week, Chad and the Bears face a team with an actual defense, a defense that’s had a chance to watch some tape of Mr. Hutchinson in action, a defense that pretty much shut down Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers Sunday night. Be smart. Take the Jags. And give the points.

Cincinnati (+11) at New England
There’s nothing scary about this game on paper. Yeah, the Bengals pulled off a big upset on the road last week against the Ravens, but the Ravens aren’t the Pats (as witnessed by New England’s week 12 dismantling of Baltimore), and the second of two straight road games is a lot harder to win than the first. Plus, the Bengals are giving up 142 yards a game on the ground, which, compounded with the fact that Patriots running back Corey Dillon is champing at the bit for a go at his old team, doesn’t spell a good day for Cincinnati. So … the only thing that makes this game scary is the fact that one or two teams that go in as huge favorites this week are gonna lose. And when the dust settles, people are gonna say, “How on earth could ___ lose to ____?” And the answer’s gonna be that they couldn’t, except that they did. Still, that’s just spooky shit, and you don’t pick football games based on spooky shit. So what you do here is take New England and, considering the fact that the Patriots have been ripping opponents to shreds lately, give the points.

Cleveland (+11.5) at Buffalo
Maybe this will be the game where the heavy underdog pulls off the big upset. It could happen. Buffalo just lost their pass-catching tight end Mark Campbell for the season. Bills QB Drew Bledsoe’s due for a letdown game. And, even though the Browns have mysteriously elected to start Luke McCown at quarterback instead of a once again healthy Jeff Garcia, you’ve gotta think wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who’s averaged 123 yards and two touchdowns over the last two games, has the potential to have another big day. So, yeah, it could happen. You wanna pick an upset? Think about this one. Me, I’m going with the Bills to win it, but the Browns to keep it to more like nine.

Indianapolis (-10.5) at Houston
If you’re like me, you’ve been hearing and reading a lot about how the Texans are better than their 5-7 record and about how they play good teams tough at home. Stop listening to it. First of all, the Texans are exactly as good as their record. Second, three of their seven losses have come at home, and while those were relatively close losses to good teams (seven points to San Diego, six to Minnesota and three to Green Bay), they were home losses just the same. Third, they give up just about 24 points a game. Fourth, they have the league’s 28th ranked pass defense and have allowed 29 passing touchdowns this season (that’s two and a half per game), the most in the league. What do you think that means with the Colts coming in to town? I’ll tell you what it means: Dan Marino had better be watching, because Peyton Manning is probably gonna tie and might even break his record for most touchdowns in a season. Manning has 44 going in. He needs 48 to catch Marino. Shouldn’t be a bit of a problem. So, you know, take the Colts and give the points.

New Orleans (+7) at Dallas
Who cares if Dallas got lucky against Seattle Monday night? Who cares if Keyshawn really caught the game-winning touchdown? Who cares if the Cowboys aren’t really that good? What matters is that the Saints defense still can’t stop anything — not on the ground and not in the air. New Orleans will probably score enough points to keep it closer than seven, but they’re not gonna win.

N.Y. Giants (+10) at Baltimore
The Ravens have had a couple of rough weeks. No question about that. But they remain a tough team to run the ball against, especially when they don’t have to worry about the pass. And with Giants rookie quarterback Eli Manning still getting his bearings, they don’t have to worry about the pass this week. Look for Baltimore to shut down Tiki Barber and win it by seven.

Oakland (+7.5) at Atlanta
Or maybe this will be the place where the big upset comes. Maybe. In an alternate dimension where Michael Vick plays for the Raiders. Take the Falcons and give the points. And leave me alone. I don’t want to talk about it.

Seattle (+7) at Minnesota
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren should officially shut up about whether a bad call cost his team a win against Dallas Monday night and start worrying about the game in front of him. The ‘Hawks have been doing nothing right of late. Their defense just got suckier with some key injuries. And they’re going in to play a Minnesota team that’s fighting for its playoff life (which, admittedly, is exactly what the Seahawks are up to). Look for Onterrio Smith to have a giant day against a rush D that can’t stop anything and for the Vikes to win straight up. Against the spread it’s a push.

Miami (+11) at Denver
Let’s see which quarterback throws more touchdowns for Denver in this game, the Broncos’ Jake Plummer or the Dolphins’ A.J. Feeley.

N.Y. Jets (+6) at Pittsburgh
I know a lot of people who see an upset coming here. Almost all of them are Patriots fans. And, look, I’d love to see the Jets pull off a win here. I mean, either way, this game helps New England, but the Pats can take care of the Jets themselves; a Pittsburgh loss would put the Pats’ chances to play at home through the playoffs in their own hands, which would be nice. And it’s not like a Jets win is out of the question. The Jets have an extremely good defense. New York only gives up about 16 per game, which is astounding given the wild scoring going on around the NFL this season. Plus, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a sore quadriceps that kept him out of practice one day this week; and wideout Plaxico Burress likely won’t play and certainly won’t be at 100 percent. Moreover, Jets running back Curtis Martin racked up 174 yards against the Steelers this time last year, and although this is a different Steelers team, this year’s Curtis is playing much better than last year’s Curtis. All that said, I think the two biggest factors here are that the Steelers are at home and that the Jets have to go without their best pass rusher, defensive end John Abraham, who sprained his right lateral collateral ligament last week and may miss one or two more games after this. Without Abraham, who leads the Jets with nine and a half sacks, it’s gonna be tough for New York to shut down the pass, which, of course, opens up the run. I see Pittsburgh winning here, but only by a point or two. But, weird as it is to root for the Jets, I hope I’m wrong.

Detroit (+9.5) at Green Bay
Green Bay’s defense has been giving up major yards to opponents of late. The couldn’t stop anything against the Eagles last week. And Detroit had a decent showing in their victory over Arizona. So what does that mean? Fuck-all, my brothers. It means fuck-all. The Pack beat the Lions 38-10 in Detroit, back in week six. They’ll probably do more of a number on the Lions this time around. Take the Packers and give the points.

San Francisco (+7) at Arizona
The fans in San Francisco are unhappy with the way 49ers running back Kevan Barlow has performed this season. (Barlow hasn’t done well — he’s got 629 total yards rushing and six TDs — but he’s had no support from the passing game, and his team has been so far behind so frequently that they haven’t been able to call running plays. But let’s see how much the enjoy seeing Maurice Hicks, just a month after being signed off the practice squad, try to run the ball if Barlow’s concussion leaves him unable to start this week. The Niners already are facing a game without starting QB Tim Rattay, who’s out with a foot injury and will be replaced by Ken Dorsey. Meanwhile, the Cards may have running back Emmitt Smith back on the field. Arizona also has gone back to its only half-decent quarterback, Josh McCown, after failing to make it work with Shaun King and John Navarre under center. If McCown can get past how shitty he must be feeling and play good football, Arizona should win and climb to within one win of a three-way tie for the division championship (see my series of increasingly obsessive posts on this subject below). Take the Cards to win and cover.

St. Louis (+6.5) at Carolina
The Panthers have won four straight. The Rams are lucky to be 6-6; they haven’t beaten a decent team in months. And the Rams aren’t going to beat a decent team this week. They will keep it closer than six and a half, though.

Tampa Bay (+5.5) at San Diego
Chargers wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who’s parting with Tampa Bay earlier this season was acrimonious to say the least, would probably love to have a hand in knocking the Bucs out of the playoff hunt in the NFC (to the extent that it’s possible to knock a team out of the playoff hunt in a conference in which 7-9 will probably get you there). Of course, the Buccaneers defense would probably love to have a hand in knocking McCardell out of the league for the rest of the season. I’m guessing the Bucs keep Keenan’s production to a minimum, which will maybe be a nice moral victory for them. In other news, the Chargers win it by three.

Philadelphia (-9) at Washington
I don’t know about giving nine to the ‘Skins. Yeah, the Eagles are winning games by giant margins. And no, you can’t expect the Redskins to score 31 points again this week (as they did against the Giants in week thirteen). But I do think Washington’s stingy D will keep it to more like a five- or six-point margin of victory for Philly.

Kansas City (+2) at Tennessee
Chiefs running back Priest Holmes is done for the season, which is equally true of both teams in this matchup. It’s a coin toss, really, so do what you like. Me, I’m going with the home team to win it by a point. (Oh, and Priest or no Priest, I’m betting the over. Way, way over.)

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It’s In The Cards

December 9th, 2004 Comments off

I am no longer alone on this Cardinals/NFC West thing. (Thanks to Memphis Bengal at The Sports Frog for tipping me off to the fact that the pros are now on the case.)

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Sorry, Tiki, But You’re Just Wrong

December 8th, 2004 Comments off

OK, Tiki, here’s the problem with your take on the glaring disparity between the quality of teams in the AFC and NFC this season. (And, no, this is not going to be about the potential for a 7-9 team to be the NFC’s four seed — see my last two posts — though that’s hardly beside the point.)

A) In interconference play this season the AFC is a combined 32-18. That’s a winning average of .640 (or, if you prefer, the AFC is winning nearly two thirds of all interconference games).

B) The AFC has six teams (including 6-6 Buffalo and 6-6 Cincinnati) that are undefeated so far this season against NFC teams (plus, Indianapolis has already completed a season sweep against the NFC North, a division that includes two strong NFC playoff contenders in Green Bay and Minnesota); the NFC has one team (your very own Giants) that is currently undefeated against the AFC, having beaten the 3-8 Cleveland Browns, but with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati remaining on its schedule).

C) Take away their records against the NFC and a good number of AFC teams end up around .500 (though, obviously, not the best teams in the conference, which win no matter what team they’re playing), which puts the lie to your assertion regarding intraconference parity.

D) The teams at the bottom of each conference have similar records (subtracting the worst of the worst, you see a bunch of teams in each conference at 4-8 or 5-7); it’s at the top where there’s real disparity. And that disparity is pronounced.

E) The current frontrunners for the five and six seeds in the AFC have 7-5 records. In the NFC, there are two 7-5 teams tied for the three seed (Green Bay and Minnesota); and two 6-6 teams tied for the four seed (St. Louis and Seattle) — these are prospective division champs. (No division leader in the AFC, meanwhile, stands at worse than 9-3). Plus, not only does a 10-6 finish in the AFC not guarantee you a playoff spot, but it appears likely that one or two AFC teams will reach 10-6 and miss the postseason, while in the NFC, 10-6 would be enough to win at least three, and probably all four, divisions. And not only will 9-7 in the NFC probably get a team into the playoffs, but 8-8 very likely would, and even 7-9 looms as a possibility (again, see the two posts immediately below).

Yes, Tiki, you’re right; the imbalance between the conferences does seem to be cyclical. But that is entirely beside the point. Because the point, for the nonce, is that the AFC is by far the better conference. And that point is irrefutable.

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Even More Ridiculous

December 8th, 2004 Comments off

I’m not sure why I’ve become obsessed with this, but I have, so bear with me. Here’s an update on the pathetic NFC West situation I wrote about yesterday (see “Ridiculous” just below).

As of this morning, Seattle is getting five and a half points from Minnesota, St. Louis is getting six and a half from Carolina, and Arizona is giving five and half to San Francisco. No big surprises there, but look at what this means. If the oddsmakers are correct about these games (that is, if they’re correct about the probable straight-up outcomes), this is what the NFC West standings will look like come Monday morning:

St. Louis, 6-7
Seattle, 6-7
Arizona, 5-8
San Francisco, 1-12

That would put Arizona, which right now has four wins going into the last four weeks of the season, one game out of a tie for first in its division.

Now, as noted below, in week 15, the Seahawks travel to the Meadowlands to play the Jets. It’ll be a second-straight road game for the ‘Hawks, who don’t play well on the road to begin with, and unless something horrible befalls a number of Jets players in Pittsburgh this weekend, Seattle is going to lose that game. So that’s Seattle at 6-8.

Also in week 15, the Rams travel to Arizona. This, obviously, is big. The Rams beat the Cards 17-10 back in week one, but that was week one. And if Josh McCown, who is returning to the starting QB position for the Cards this week, can get back to playing as well as he was playing before he was benched (he wasn’t tearing up the league or anything, but he was winning games), the Cards have a decent shot at winning that game (I’ll bet that unless something happens to change the picture this weekend, the Rams go into that game as two- or three-point favorites at best). If the Cards can pull off a win over the Rams, both teams will go to 6-8. That’s a three-way tie for first.

The tie-breaker in that scenario would go to the Rams, who would have the better won-lost record between the three teams having beaten Seattle twice and split with Arizona, while the Cards would have split with St. Louis and still have a game with Seattle pending (Arizona beat the Seahawks 25-17 in their first meeting week seven).

Let’s go ahead and look at week 16, shall we? St. Louis hosts Philadelphia. And unless Philly has wrapped up home field through the playoffs (which is entirely possible, maybe even likely) and opts to rest its starters the last two weeks of the season (which would be foolish and is unlikely) the Rams are going to lose that game. So there’s the potential for the Rams to come out of week 16 at 6-9. Arizona, meanwhile, travels to Seattle, where they’ll be underdogs by something like a touchdown. But, you know, so were the Cowboys. The Cards probably don’t win that game, but they could. And if they do, they eliminate the Seahawks from contention in the division, because even if the Seahawks win in week 17 and Arizona loses (doesn’t matter what St. Louis does), they’re cooked in the tie-breaker scenarios.

That leaves us with 6-9 St. Louis and 7-8 Arizona in contention for the division heading into week 17. Arizona is at home that week, hosting Tampa Bay. The Bucs will probably beat the Cards regardless of whether Tampa Bay has anything left to play for. St. Louis is on the road, playing the Jets, who will likely be playing either to secure a wildcard spot or the five seed (which will probably be the difference between playing at San Diego or playing at Indianapolis; neither is a great position to be in, but it ain’t a coin toss; I know I’d rather take my chances with the Chargers than face Indy in the dome). And if both Arizona and St. Louis lose, Arizona, 7-9, will win the NFC West. (Remember, even if Atlanta rests its starters and loses to Seattle, a 7-9 Seahawks team would lose the tie-breaker to Arizona.)

Unlikely? Sure it is. But not that unlikely. And remember, the real point is not that Arizona will (or even might) win the NFC West, but that the division winner (and conference four seed) will win the division with a losing record. And the more I look at things, the less unlikely that scenario appears.

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