Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Week 4 NFL Picks: Gambling Nerdly

When you study math at higher levels, you (a) miss a lot of parties, and (b) became imbued with a weird energy. In my post-college slacker years, I knew some high level math people; they were even more bent then the rest of us, and some in that crowd drank blood for kicks. (On the plus side, if the girl will drink that, she'll do, um, lots more stuff. On the minus side, you're not the first to take advantage of the opportunity. 20 years later, and I'm still with the cringing.)

Anyhoo... our monkey minds really can't work out infinity or pi. The first is impossible to contemplate, and the latter leads you chanting numbers like a mental patient. And yet we use these concepts on a daily basis and make equations work with them. There is no such thing as a perfect circle, and yet we can imagine them quite easily. It's all quite curious, and makes for a strange cross-section of people who work in the field; bloodless priests with computers and imagination who would not, on the whole, be comfortable with faith, even as they show it.

Gambling, of course, is all about the math, even when it isn't. So be careful where you cast your Stone of Nerd, because we're all nerds about something. The fact that we are willing to throw hard-earned cash after our nerding does not make it less nerdly; it might even make it more so. (We're still better than most, though. So long as you aren't going in for die-cast figurines of your fantasy league players, which I'm kind of amazed that no one has brought to market yet. I mean, enough with the bobbleheads. But I digress.)

Last week we broke through nicely to erase the week one tragedy, and we're over .500 for the year. So I get to keep my thumbs, which is nice, because I use those guys a lot. Hopefully, we can keep up the momentum and buy back our legs.

And with that collection of unseemliness out of the way... on to the picks!

BALTIMORE at New England (-2)

Two weeks ago when New England played the BMore-esque New Jack Jets, they got punched in the mouth and lost. This week, they get a team with probable advantages at QB and RB, and a solid enough offensive line (especially behind solid and large rookie Michael Oher) to make a pass rush problematic. Joe Flacco has gaudy numbers on the year, and Tom Brady does not. In other words, night is day, day is night, and Bill Belichick's pact with Satan may be up. It's been a fun month to be a Patriot Hater.

Can the tottering Empire pull it together? Of course; this Ravens team is not as good on defense as their reputation (see how many yards Philip Rivers put up on them two weeks ago), and Flacco really hasn't faced an opposing coach that can mess with his mind yet. The Empire also gets Wes Welker back, and that might prove doubly useful, since rookie Julian Edelman could theoretically get Joey Galloway off the field and Tom Brady off the roof. Dreamboat is not taking his regression to the mean well here.

It also doesn't help that Patriots Fan is clearly the most spoiled fan in the NFL, and gives his team little if any boost. Part of this is a league-wide issue, where wealth has trumped passion in all of the seats that are close enough to make a difference. After the near perfection year, a workmanlike offense just doesn't do it for them. They just aren't going to be happy for a while, really.

But it's more than just an offense that's a little less than expected; it's also that the past few drafts have been meager at best, and the margin for error is a lot less than it used to be. Truth be told right now, this Patriots team is a paper tiger, with the added worry that Randy Moss is going back to taking plays off. Against a Ravens team that still has some defensive playmakers (paging Ed Reed), that's a whole lot of trouble. And in this game, unlike last week, Fred Taylor can't save them.

Ravens 31, Patriots 17

Tampa Bay at WASHINGTON (-7)

First things first; there is no truth to the rumor that this game will be blacked out regardless of the turnstile count as a matter of preventing a war crime. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, it's time for the worst going to be .500 team in NFL history to take advantage of the only other franchise in the league with a worse coaching situation (and man alive, this year it's a competition). Raheem Morris of the Bucs has gone back and forth so much on his QB, he's in danger of losing the entire team over it, and the once-fearsome Buc defense have become equal opportunity turnstiles. In Week One, Tony Romo threw for his career high in yards, most of them on embarrassingly easy fly routes. Last week, the Giants turned them into pewter gravel while limiting their offense to Pop Warner numbers.

Both of these teams are so loathed by their fan bases right now that you are better off being the road team. Despite that, I like the Skins here, because at least their offense moves the ball a little, and because in a battle of two coaches that won't be employed in this capacity for very long, go with the slightly more experienced one. I guess.

Redskins 24, Bucs 16

TENNESSEE at Jacksonville (+3)

The latest must win game for the Titans comes in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars are coming off a surprising gift win against the giving Texans. The road team could have taken the Jets out had they had any fourth quarter offense, but that was not to be, and now they get a Jaguars team that's starting to define the term home field disadvantage.

I'm looking for a little bounce-back from Kerry Collins in this game, and the Titan defense making anyone but Maurice Jones-Drew beat them. I'm also not expecting David Garrard to get that done, because his wideouts are pretty weak, and his offensive line fairly porous. Maybe all of those people staying away from the stadium in Jacksonville have a point.

Titans 27, Jaguars 16

OAKLAND at Houston (-9.5)

The Texans have done nothing this year to make you trust them with a big number, and yet here they are with a big number. That's the magic of the Raiders, who have done nothing to make you think they can compete, let alone cover, and especially JaMarcus Russell, who is only a bad attitude away from being this generation's Ryan Leaf. (Like the Highlander, there can be only one.)

Let's cut to the chase here, since without fantasy football, no one could care about this game. The Texans give away long touchdowns like free dinnerware; they just can't help themselves. If butterfingered Darren McFadden can't put up 100 yards and a touchdown here, he never will.

If the Raiders can force turnovers and not make their own, they can cover this number; the Texans play to the level of the opponent and put the ball on the ground. Andre Johnson will also disappear from the Asomugha. Houston will more than make due with Steve Slaton and Owen Daniels, but the nice thing about Russell is that he's so inaccurate, he's not even a pick magnet. The Raiders will cover.

Texans 27, Oakland 20

Detroit at CHICAGO (-10)

America's real team, the impossible to dislike Detroit Lions, got their first win in the iPod Age last week against the hilariously inept Redskins. Meanwhile, the Bears were striking a blow for sartorial sanity on the road in Seattle, where poor karma and the magic that is Seneca Wallace gave Jay Cutler the wiggle room he needed to move to a 2-1 start.

This week, the Bears will give their fans a monster chubby with a squash win. Matthew Stafford has his moments, but this Bears defense is too complex for a man in his fourth NFL start, and with Kevin Smith sidelined, he'll be asked to do way too much to keep things close. As low as people were on Cutler in Week One, that's how high they'll be after this game. It's pinball time.

Bears 41, Lions 23

CINCINNATI at Cleveland (+6.5)

The Battle for Ohio is looking very much like a Bengal Stomp, with the high-flying tabbies near the top of the division following their upset over the defending champions. Meanwhile in the town the NFL forgot, and should forget some more, some are calling new head coach Eric Mangini the very worst hire in NFL history. That may seem farfetched to you, but then again, you probably haven't seen the Browns play. Let's hope that God continues to favor you in that way.

I suspect this game will be closer than many anticipate, because the Bengals really aren't used to prosperity, and I have my doubts about Marvin Lewis keeping their heads on straight. You could easily see them spending all week in practice working on their touchdown celebrations, then failing to show up for the first 2.5 quarters of this game. The Browns also do have some run-stopping ability, which would take away the best part of the Bengals game right now (that'd be the astonishing career resurrection of Cedric Benson). But try as I might into talking myself into a Browns cover in this game, I can't, because this offense is just that awful, and the Bengals defense really isn't that bad. Actually (shh!), they're pretty good. Especially at getting after the passer.

Bengals 24, Browns 10


Look at the bright side, America: the Colts won't be on prime time, and the Seabags won't be wearing those hideous lime jerseys. We're all good in the hood! Indy had a highly impressive win in Arizona following a short week, while Seattle coughed up a late lead at home against the Bears.

To beat the Colts, the theory goes that you need to limit Peyton Manning's chances and wear out their speed defense with a solid running game. That's really not Seattle's game in any venue, least of all a road dome. Normally in this situation, the Bags fold early and often, with lots of hurt feelings and heavy pain for the quarterback and anyone foolish enough to bet them.

The Colts could kick out a letdown game; Dwight Freeney should miss this one, Seattle's really not a traditional rival, and after running the Miami/Arizona road gamut, you could see them sleeping a little on this NFC West team. But Indy doesn't strike me as the type to let complacency kick in, and Manning's good at keeping the hammer down (and his numbers up) in such situations.

This is one of those lines that will change dramatically depending on the injury reports, but the special joy of this column is that I get to go earlier than most, so I'm going to work under the impression that the bruised ribs of Matt Hasselbeck will take another week off. If he does start, this number is closer, simply because Hasselbeck is accurate enough to take advantage of TE John Carlson, who Wallace murders. But not by enough to cover the spread.

Colts 27, Seahawks 17

NY GIANTS at Kansas City (+10)

Can the Chiefs be any worse than they looked last week in Philadelphia? Probably not, and they do tend to pop up twice a year and give teams real trouble at home... but it's still very difficult to imagine them holding their own against the NFC East bullies. When your best defender is the unspeakably ancient Tedy Bruschi, and your best offensive plays all involve obvious holding calls, and your rookie coach is that special combination of arrogant and stupid... well, it's just not a terribly conducive atmosphere for a cover.

Having said that, the Chiefs will move the ball a little this week, since they'll get back Dwayne Bowe and Matt Cassel will have another week of shaking the rust off. Unfortunately for them and me, this Giants team is better right now than the Eagles, much more physical, and very prone to taking all of the air out of a bad team's home stadium.

Giants 24, Chiefs 13

NY Jets at NEW ORLEANS (-7)

September's Super Bowl in the Bayou, and a classic Defense Vs. Offense matchup that, well, isn't really that. Or at least, just that.

The Jets came very close to stumbling last week against the not quite desperate enough Titans; only some very weak performances by their wideouts (we don't expect them to be good, but it'd be nice if they caught passes that hit them in the hands occasionally) kept the media men in the win column. The Saints broke out their heretofore unknown ground game to grind the Bills into a fine powder while simultaneously causing Drew Brees's fantasy owners to all gnash their teeth silently, because you just can't complain about the guy after the start he's had.

Historically, my tendency is to overrate offensive teams in these kinds of matchups, because I just think they've got more margin for error. But this game isn't really like that. The Saints don't have a terrible defense anymore; they are opportunistic, get after the passer relatively well, and aren't hopeless in coverage. The Jets have a very good offensive line and running game, but they aren't going to be able to run it 45 times against 8 and 9 defenders in the box, and while I think their receivers (especially Jericho Cotchery and Dustin Keller) are underrated, that still doesn't mean they are world beaters.

On the other side of the ball, the Jets will potentially be missing Lito Sheppard, which means you're going to see a lot of yards for the WR who isn't being covered by Darelle Revis. I also don't think that Marques Colston is going to suffer the total shutdown that Revis has given to Mssrs. Moss and Johnson, because Colston really is more like a tight end than a #1 WR in many sets, and the Jets aren't going to let home run threat Devery Henderson run free. In other words, we're looking at one of those classic Too Many Weapons games. Especially if the Jets have to defend a short field.

And that, finally, is the crux of the biscuit. You'd have to be some kind of QB to win a road game in a loud dome against a pinball machine in your fourth career start. Sanchez has many fine qualities; he's fearless, OK with the decision making, can go deep and has strong accuracy. He's also not ready to win this game on his own, and he'll need to be.

Saints 34, Jets 20

BUFFALO at Miami (+2.5)

Hey, did you hear that Terrell Owens is going to avoid controversy this year? He's decided that since the media is just trying to goad him into saying negative stuff, he's not going to give them anything. Nope, that's the Old Terrible, the one that had to have attention, the one that would, say, become the whole story in a week after his consecutive games streak is ended, and the world became very aware that he's really not worth the trouble anymore. No, Terrible would never do that!

Look, it's real simple. Owens isn't very good anymore. His hands are very suspect, he doesn't get separation, his wheels are now ordinary, he's no longer a threat to break a tackle and take one deep. He takes plays off if he doesn't get the ball early and often, and there's a reason why he hasn't been an active player on the winning side in a playoff game since he was a pup.

He's also, of course, the last thing that this Buffalo team needs, where overmatched game manager dink and dunker Trent Edwards is being asked to be Jim Kelly II, when the best thing the team does is hand off to Fred Jackson. I'd usually like the Dolphins here, but I'm just not seeing Chad Henne being able to do that.

Bills 24, Dolphins 18

DALLAS at Denver (+3)

How many weeks do I have to pick against this Broncos team? Last week in Oakland, they continued to drain my bank account and sanity with a ball control win over a Raiders team that would be better off if someone poisoned JaMarcus Russel's feed bag. And yet the Raiders would have still been in the damn game if Darren McFreaking Fadden could, um, hold on to the damn ball. Maddening.

To damn the Broncos with the faintest of praise, they do seem to have a less sieve-like defense than expected. A healthy Champ Bailey and an angry Brian Dawkins will get you that, and Elvis Dumeril has risen from the dead to give them one more speed rusher than I was counting on. But against a Cowboys team that's good at rushing the ball before the weather grows cold, and with a QB-TE combo that will exploit Dawkins et al, that ends. Dammit.

Dallas is fighting off the short week, altitude, and Tony Romo's first episode of Early Season Suck. But there's a reason why the man has good numbers and the mistaken belief that he's a star, and that's because he pads his numbers against crud teams. Despite the 3-0 start, that's Denver. Finally.

Cowboys 27, Broncos 13

St. Louis at SAN FRANCISCO (-10)

The Niners were just one play - one very long odds play - from a 3-0 start and their division by the throat. Now, they are just a game ahead of the old guard Cards and Hawks on the sub .500 suck line, and hopefully, nice and pissed off about it.

But they are young, and might be looking past the Rams. You could hardly blame them, really. St. Louis hasn't been a threat to anyone but the people who draft Stephen Jackson in their fantasy league for years now. If there is a division rivalry here, it's escaped the notice of the rest of the league.

St. Louis comes into this game with a QB with a pulse, since Marc Bulger has quite predictably hit the med tent. Kyle Boller might do OK here; the Niners did show secondary weakness last week. But the Ram WRs are not as good as the Minnesota Vikings. Or, possibly, the Northeast Vikings, who are my high school team.

Shaun Hill will have to do more this week, as Frank Gore is down and Glen Coffee is weak tea at best; there's nothing here, beyond having the role against a bad team at home, that makes me think he's worth of attention. Instead, count on a nice little Vengeance Game for Isaac Bruce, and the continued career rehabilitation of Vernon Davis, who is the tight end on the Cedric Benson All Salvage Fantasy Team.

Niners 27, Rams 16

SAN DIEGO at Pittsburgh (-6.5)

One of those classic Need Games between two teams that haven't looked as good as they should. The Chargers partied hearty as soon as Chad Pennington was hurt, racking up a win that didn't look anything like the final score. The Steelers lost in their home away from home to the Bengals, in a game with multiple fourth down conversions.

The defending champs have other worries. There are conflicting reports that youngsters Limas Sweed and Rashard Mendenhall are either coach killers or just performance impaired. The offensive line gets exposed by their uncompromising QB, and the defense can't be special with Troy Polamalu in civvies. But sorry, Steelers Fan... I still like your team this week.

Unless LaDanian Tomlinson's menses clears up to 100% power, the Chargers won't have a credible internal running game, or a RB that can pick up a blitzer. (That is the reason, fantasy honk, why Darren Sproles will never fulfill your Tiki Barberish dreams.) Pitt lost last week to a balanced Cincy attack with Cedric Benson doing real damage. If Philip Rivers has to throw it 40-plus times -- and he will -- the Steelers will have a half dozen strongly negative plays, despite potentially scary matchups against the emerging Vincent Jackson and the strangely underused Antonio Gates.

They'll also have a win. But not a cover.

(Oh, and if you are still on the fence about this pick, just chant the following mantra. Norv... Norv... Norv... He makes the bad feelings go away. Provided, of course, you are not a Charger Fan.)

Steelers 24, Chargers 20

GREEN BAY at Minnesota (-3.5)

Farvageddon I in the Twin Cities, with the sky-high Vikings coming off their double reverse theft game (yes, they got lucky with the last second touchdown, but the Niners can't expect to score on a field goal block very often, either) in a battle for the top spot in the NFC North. The Pack comes in with a wearout win over the terrible Rams, and have real issues on the offensive line, where they have been doing so little as to start bringing in new bodies off the street. The Vikings look to be the class of the division so far, with a growing stable of weapons (Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Visanthe Schiancoe and, oh yeah, Adrian Peterson) making everything look purple.

And yet, I have unease about this team beyond His Favreness. The running defense might not be as good as advertised; Frank Gore looked Ok against them before he got hurt. Brad Childress hasn't gotten any better at this whole coaching thing. They might be scary in special teams with Harvin, but they won't get a home run from that every week, and they are also prone to lapses.

Finally, there's this. Karma dictates that Favre suffer for the massive heel turn he's taking here. I'm thinking we're going to see a few very lucky plays go the way of the road team, along with some ref calls.

Packers 31, Vikings 21

Last week: 11-5

Year to date: 24-23-1

Top 10 ways Terrell Owens is being goaded by the media

10) Continually asked if he wants to knock a battery off their shoulder

9) Cameras are routinely turned on when he talks, for no good reason

8) Writers keep missing all of the good things he brings to the table, like, um, hold on, we'll think of something

7) Has to withstand the constant attention of tens of people in upstate New York

6) Made him film an extraordinarily unpopular reality show against his will

5) Keeps asking him if he wants to join in their fun game of throwing people under buses

4) Just like opposing cornerbacks, have no concept of personal space

3) Read his Twitter account, which is totally unfair, since that's just for the fans

2) Won't stop asking him if we're at a losing season yet

1) Just won't treat him like any other washed-up, butter-fingered, injury-prone team cancer that hasn't won a playoff game this century

Monday, September 28, 2009

Top 15 reasons the Eagles are working out Jeremiah Trotter

15) It would be like having a coach on the field, only without all of that speed

14) Would give Jon Runyan company on the bus to Atlantic City

13) Thirty one other NFL franchises must be wrong

12) Levon Kirkland can no longer fit outside of his house

11) Trotter comes with his own throwback jersey

10) Byron Evans wouldn't accept the charges

9) Just want to find some way to really piss off Omar Geither

8) It's a way to keep him off the streets and methadone

7) Need someone to make Michael Vick feel fast in practice

6) Bill Bergey is enjoying retirement too much

5) Having an actual run-stopping linebacker just seems kinda retro cool

4) Until they sign him, they can't release him again

3) Chuck Bednarik is 84, and still a guaranteed unnecessary roughness flag waiting to happen

2) As Trotter is only 33, by the Brett Favre corollary, he has at least 7 years of tread left on the tires

1) After that Sheldon Brown mask embarrassment against the Saints, it has become clear that the defense desperately needs someone who has a cool celebration dance

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Top 10 Week 3 Ad Questions

> Is anyone else a little creeped out by the cultlike overtones of the "You Want The NFL, Go To The NFL" campaign? I like the league and all, but I keep expecting that guy to tell me I need to shave my eyebrows, move to Southern California and change my shoes...

> Speaking of cults, does Sony have to include Peyton Manning in every ad, and if so, why?

> Speaking of Peyton, why does he hate cheerleaders in HD? Feel free to phrase your answer in the form of a question about his sexual preferences.

> Who do you hate more; the guy that screams JACKPOT! over having an extra nickel of cheese baked into his crappy Pizza Hut pie, or the Bud Light informercial pitchman? I'm going with the latter, but only because he gets more screen time. Whaddya say, Pizza Hut -- give the man a chance to really engage my ire. It's time.

> All afternoon, I wasn't sure who was going to get my business when I bought my next jet engine. But then GE came through in the SNF game, so now I know. Admittedly, it might take, well, the rest of my life to be able to afford a jet engine, or to have some reason to buy one, and if I were a GE shareholder, I'd probably wonder why on earth the company is spending their ad dollars this way. But, hey, you have to build brand, and GE has definitely done that.

> I insist that the NFL investigate Buffalo Wild Wings. Dammit, we can not have a league where the referees are this compromised. (And hey, BWW guys, if you are going to show a league of shaky refs, go with pro hoops. It's more or less assumed.)

> Is there really a need for a 99-cent per call service to answer questions that you could, well, answer with 30 seconds and The Google? I'm amazed that KGB exists, and that they have enough funding to pay for ads.

> Is there anything -- and I'm willing to take Congressional action, or perhaps a military takeover of the networks -- that we can do to equalize the volume of ads, game play, and HD vs. non-HD channels? I can't be the only person annoyed by this.

> In regards to prescription treatment options, with all of these times that I've wanted to quit cigarettes and haven't, I've really had a long time smoking. And here I thought these things were bad for you!

> I know what I'm always getting at the Olive Garden. It bears a strong resemblance to the Cleveland Browns. And it's never ending, too!

NFL Week 3: You Crap The Bed!

Yes, it's the return of the game that lets you try to out-think people who are actually paid to make NFL decisions. Wake the kids and phone the neighbors, because it's time for... You Crap The Bed!

> You are Eagles head coach Andy Reid. You have a 4th and 1 on the Chiefs 41 with a 14-0 lead at home in the second quarter. Do you:

a) Punt and keep the Chiefs pinned down

b) Run it with rookie LeSean McCoy, who has a 1 yard touchdown and has broken ankles all day;

c) Run it from the wildcat formation with noted matchup problem Michael Vick

d) Try a power move with fullback Leonard Weaver, or

e) Scramble inexperienced QB Kevin Kolb to the right, giving him one good option (TE Brent Celek), who is behind the line when he catches the ball and DOA as soon as he touches it

If you chose E... you crap the bed! And you've won life for the road Chiefs, who then take the de facto turnover and drive for a (momentarily) life giving touchdown.

> You are Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn. You desperately need a win to keep your job, and you are playing the Lions in Detroit. With the score tied at zero in the first half, you have a fourth and goal on the Lions 1. Do you:

a) Throw to tight end Chris Cooley, one of the better players in the NFL at his position and a matchup problem for the Lions defense

b) Put the ball in the hands of QB Jason Campbell, who really needs to make a few plays if he's going to keep the job

c) Throw the ball to Santana Moss, who will finish the day with 10 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown, because the Lions do have a few issues about covering WRs

d) Spread the field and run wide, maybe with actually healthy running back Ladell Betts, or

e) Have starting running back Clinton Portis, who has been slowed all week with injury issues, try some slow lateral move in the middle of the field that will get stuffed and give the Lions life

If you chose E... you crap the bed! For the second straight week, too. You've won the first Lions win since 2007 (yes, really), a loss where your embattled QB threw for 340 yards, 2 TDs and a pick, and the continuing unsparing hatred of Redskin Nation, at least those of whom are still paying attention. Congratulations!

> You are 49ers coach Mike Singletary. It's the last play of the game, with the Vikings on your 32 yard line. The score is 24-20 in your favor, and if you can just keep His Favreness out of the end zone, you've got a 3-0 start in your piss-poor division, along with an absolute theft of a road win, seeing how star RB Frank Gore left with an injury, backup RB Glen Coffee didn't do anything, and you had a 10-point swing on a blocked field goal for a touchdown before the half. Do you:

a) Blitz Favre, so that he doesn't have time to throw the ball 50 yards into the end zone

b) Rush nearly no one, since anything short of a 32-yard gain doesn't matter

c) Line up 10 guys at the goal line to knock down any thrown ball

d) Call time out so that your defense is fully rested when they have to defend the final play of the game, or

e) Run your ordinary four down linesman defense, because Brett Favre is just an overrated guy who can't possibly complete a deep ball that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat

If you chose E, preferably while fondling your Flavor Flav-esque oversized crucifix... you crap the bed! And you've won the latest treasured memory for the nation's Favre Hags, a week's worth of Gosh That Brett's A Gunslinger, and your glum visage on every NFL highlights film of the season. Congratulations!

Well, that's all we have time for this week. But remember, with a little fiber, determination, and poise, you too can... Crap The Bed! Good night, everybody!

Late Game NFL Notes

> I'd like to thank my local Fox affiliate for not televising the Seahawks game in HD. Those lime green monstrosities might have broken my set. (In other Karmic News, they lost.)

> In his third year in the NFL, JaMarcus Russell is, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst starting QB in the league, and the Broncos continue their utter mastery of the Raiders in Oakland. Today's abomination: 12 of 21 for 61 yards and 2 picks. He did also run for 22 yards. If Jeff Garcia was still with this team, I think Raider Fan would be crying for him. As is, they have to be wanting Bruce Gradkowski, which is a sentence that has never before been written in English.

> So much for this rivalry being all about the vengeance of Mike Shanahan. Denver is now the worst 3-0 team in the history of the world, but with the Raiders and Chiefs looking so utterly horrible and the Chargers in Year Three of Wasting Talent With Norv, maybe they are a 10-win playoff team. And if so, I can not wait to wager against them in a home playoff game...

> I love Darren McFadden's talent, but as long as he wants to put the ball in the ground in the red zone, he's going to make me love it less. For a team with as little quality QB play as the Raiders get, there is no way you can be less than perfect in any other area of the game.

> The shot of LaDanian Tomlinson on the sidelines was accompanied by the announcers talking about how he might not be back for next week's game against Pittsburgh, either. I think I can speak for all of his fantasy league owners when I say take your time, sir. It's your time of the month, and we'd hate for you to come back when you are not so fresh.

> I'm not sure I'm ready to live in a world where Cedric Benson provides value even in tough matchups, or looks like he's got the talent that you might associate with the #4 pick in the draft. But his 23-yard fourth quarter touchdown killed me in one league, helped me in another, and didn't shock me in either. He's something now.

> I'd like to thank Big Ben for diversifying the offense with throws to rookie Mike Wallace. It made my investment in Santonio Holmes so very, very happy. (And in other Karmic News, they lost.)

> If you've ever though unkindly towards Chad Pennington, you are not familiar with the magic that is Chad Henne. Having him in the game made the Charger defense actually looks like the squad that you might want in your roto league.

> Who knew that the Bills had it in them to inspire a downright boring game from Drew Brees? The touchdowns went to the running backs, Brees threw for an utterly ordinary number of yards, and the defense spent the day sacking Trent Edwards and more or less amusing themselves. The Saints are becoming downright intriguing.

> With the game on the line, Carson Palmer converted two fourth downs, with the second coming on the play of Brian Leonard's life. The Steeler defense looked gassed and overmatched physically -- yes, Mr. Polamalu is missed -- and suddenly and shockingly, the Bengals have a team. That's the first time since 2001 that the Bengals won at home against Pittsburgh. Had the Stokely Miracle not happened, a 3-0 record and an awful lot to like about themselves. Wow.

> On the road in Seattle, Jay Cutler was 21 of 27 for 247 yards with 3 TDs, 1 INT, and a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, leading your team to a comeback win after being down 13-0.

But remember, Kyle Orton is 3-0. He must be better.

Early Game NFL Notes

> Kyle Boller came in for the Rams to actually give them a pulse with touchdown passes. I'm not sure that Rams Fan knew how to react to that, really.

> In the first half in Detroit, the Redskin rushing offense was 5 carries for 0 yards. Hard to do, really. Even harder to lose to Detroit; congratulations on Motown for their first win in the age of Twitter, the iPod, and the non-rotary phone.

> Tampa had 19 yards on 14 plays in the first half, and honestly, from watching a few plays, I'm not sure how they managed that much. Byron Leftwich might be the most mechanical man to ever play quarterback in this league. This game was so dull, the New York affiliate switched to another game, right around the time that David Carr made an appearance.

> Up 13-7 with a field goal attempt before the half, the Vikings suffered a block for a touchdown, making for a 10-point swing and a 14-13 Niners lead. I thought only my Eagles were allowed to do that, really.

> Tom Coughlin likes the call being inside the opponent''s 20 yard line with the football "The Green Zone." That's because Tom Coughlin is a stone cold pimp, and if you do not score points in that situation, he slaps you like you owe him five dollars. Beware Tom Coughlin.

> The Chiefs reportedly spent 30% of their time in practice this week preparing for the Wildcat. That only has to be a benefit, really. And another indictment of the Chiefs.

> In further news about teams that really shouldn't be in the NFL anymore, the Browns gave Derek Anderson some play as soon as they were down by 27 points to the Ravens on the road.

Brady Quinn, the UFL is calling. Accept the charges.

> Some folks, looking at the poor history of SEC wideouts, his similarity to Bernard Berrian and his own questionable health history and route running, thought that Vikings WR Percy Harvin was a poor selection. Um, not so much, really.

> This just in: if you are relying on Kerry Collins to win a road game against a tough opponent, you are not going to the playoffs. The Titans stopped the Jets on 11 straight third downs in today's game, and still couldn't get it done.

> As a Steve Slaton owner, I've had to endure bad play for most of the year, along with the dumbness that is Chris Brown at the goal line. After today's crunch time fumble at the goal line, costing his team the game to the previously moribund Jaguars, I'm kind of hoping that we're down with that.

> Give the devil his due: an absolute found money escape for the Vikings today with a last play touchdown from Brett Favre to Greg Lewis (no, really) for the win. If I were a Niners fan right now, I'd go find something to kick. A lot. A 10-play, 80-yard drive for the win with no timeouts, and I don't even think Favre believes what he just did in his first home game in the new laundry. I'm not saying that Niners coach Mike Singletary is taking this hard, but I think he just threw away his big huge golden cross necklace. The Vikings are 3-0 and appear to have a hammerlock on the NFC North.

Eagles-Chiefs Notes

> If there's a faster man in the NFL than DeSean Jackson, I haven't seen him. His huge plays in this game made it comfortable, and remember, he was probable for this game with a groin problem. He's also right to think ahead about touchdown celebrations, and showed his toughness on a fourth down slant for a first down. The Man Love Is Growing.

> In the first two games of the season, rookie RB LeSean McCoy looked tentative and fumble-prone. In this game, he looked like Brian Westbrook II, Electric Boogaloo. I don't know how much that is the Chiefs, and how much of it was McCoy, but in any event, encouraging.

> There is one significant advantage of the Wildcat, in that it helps to limit Cap'n Andy's tendency to put too much on his QB. Kevin Kolb had a big fantasy day in just the first half, mostly on throws that weren't that hard.

> I get that you probably can't give Jamal Charles all of the touches in Kansas City, since he's not that big. But unlike starter Larry Johnson, Charles occasionally makes good things happen for the offense, and appears to actually want to play football. If new coach Todd Haley doesn't ditch LJ by midseason, he's an even bigger idiot than he's looked like so far this year.

> Having been officially spoiled by DJ in his rookie year, I remain unimpressed by rookie WR Jeremy Maclin. There's just nothing here that I haven't seen from, say, Reggie Brown, who, um, you can have. But he did make a great catch on an out for a first down in the third quarter, so, patience.

> If there is a bigger security blanket in the NFL then Brent Celek for Kevin Kolb, I haven't seen it. Kolb should just stick his thumb in his mouth when he throws to him, and the Eagles should play the theme from "Peanuts".

> In Kolb's first two starts, he's led field goal scoring drives in the last minute, with both drives showing solid understanding of clock fundamentals. It might be the most encouraging part about his time under center. That, and the zip he shows on some throws; he might just have a stronger arm than McNabb right now.

> Akeem Jordan is, so far, my defensive MVP for this team, if only because he's also the team's best non-DJ player on special teams. His technique may not be perfect, but he's just got a motor and quicks.

> The Chiefs are really, really good at having their good plays called back for flags. They might be the best in the league at making sure their holding penalties cause the biggest breakouts; even in garbage time, a touchdown was called back on a Charles run.

> You know you've spent too much time watching preseason when... you notice how Danny Amendola isn't just gone from the practice squad, but now returning kicks in St. Louis. Between Amendola and Hank Baskett, the NFL is validating the Eagles; talent evaluation; it's not like when Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell went from starters here to out of the league everywhere else.

> Actual commentary from Grade Z level color commentator Solomon Wilcots: "No double coverage on Bobby Wade." Um, seriously, Bobby Wade demands more than Asante Samuel? Somehow, um, no. And I know he scored a touchdown late. Whoop de damn do.

> If your last name was pronounced Suck Up, don't you think that you'd, you know, change it? Or at least say that it's French, and the p is silent?

> In the third quarter, down 24-7, just to underscore the earlier point about Larry Johnson... the Chiefs call a fake punt to convert a fourth down. They then follow up on that potentially momentum changing play by... calling two straight meh runs by Johnson, the second of which results in a more or less game-ending fumble, and he compounds the error with a defeated challenge. The Chiefs are really, really, special. I think the Eagles will have a harder time next week on their bye.

> I'm not saying the Eagles put this one in cruise control in the second half. But it's rare that you see defenders yawning during the snap count.

> In the non-Jeff Garcia garbage time today, there were no penalties, sacks or turnovers. Having said that, the offense was not actually perfect; there was some weakness in short yardage, Kolb threw a ball that should have been picked, and the wideouts did drop a ball or two. But still, pretty close to perfect.

> For all of you out there who drafted Michael Vick for your fantasy league smartness, you can move on now. There are other places to get two yards.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Join Or I'll Remain Peeved

I've been playing fantasy basketball for many years. I've also been begging people to play fantasy basketball for many years. Except for the begging, it's actually my favorite fantasy league. Here's why.

1) No stupid park effects. Picking the right players for your starting lineup is difficult enough without worrying about rain or snow in football, or some wind or bandbox killing your pitchers in baseball. Basketball, it's the same everywhere. Just like they say in "Hoosiers."

2) Everybody can do everything. Need a save? You better have the single guy on the pitching staff that's getting them. Didn't get #1 wideouts? You're boned.

But the NBA offers a million ways to get to a win. There are guards that block shots. Centers that shoot three pointers. Power forwards that get assists. It's very liberating, and a lot of fun. When your point guard blocks a shot, you geek hard, kind of like when a catcher steals a base, or your running back throws a touchdown.

3) It rewards knowledge of the league. In baseball and football, the won-loss record of the team doesn't matter very much for the value of any particular player. Sure, maybe a running back from a bad team gets pinched a little as his team throws a ton in catch-up situations, a QB from a team that gets a lot of leads might sit out some fourth quarters, or your starting pitcher might not win as many games. But for the most part, you can pretty much draft players and forget about the overall records of the teams.

In the NBA, knowing which teams are going to suck matters, because those are the ones where the star players are much more likely to "get hurt" and ease off on the minutes when their teams are eliminated in March and April. You also have to ease off the guys from the very best teams, since they wind up losing minutes, and minutes drive everything. Lose enough games, and a lineup shuffle will happen. If you don't watch wins and losses, it costs you in the long run.

4) Overtime. In baseball, extra innings means extra at bats from offensive players that never do enough with them. In football, overtime almost never happens, and even when they do, the extra numbers never add up to much.

But in the NBA, overtime -- and even double and triple overtime -- happens just enough to occasionally give you a Big Stiffie of oversized numerical goodness. Fantasy sports goodness is all about the outliers, and when your point guard pulls off 20+ assists in a double-overtime barn-burner, you're loving life. A lot.

5) It's niche-y. Fantasy football has become the old Yogi Berra joke -- it's so popular, no one goes there anymore. Every ticker tells you the stats you need, you can talk about your team with people in the office who just auto-drafted for fun, and they are kicking your ass. It's maddening.

With pro hoop, it's still kind of underground, and just a lot more fun. Trust me on this. Fantasy sports fist pumps are best served in private.

6) It totally saves the winter. January and February is pure misery for fantasy players, unless you do a basketball or hockey league. If you are the kind of fantasy football player that mopes his way through December onward because you've got no more juice in the games, the Association will save you.

* * * * *

Now, here's the pitch.

I will either run a live auction (preferred) or a serpentine draft. Either way, it will be a roto league. There's a dorky trophy involved, and if we do an auction, a big board, a room full of guys ragging on each other, and all of the pure fun that is a live draft. The draft will be at my place in Central New Jersey (about halfway between New York and Philly, and close to trains), and if you aren't local, it's no problem; we'll be doing a conference call and web meeting to keep you involved.

Anyway, I need to fill the league the last slots. If you're interested, email me at If you know anyone who's an NBA fan and can forward this along, I'd also appreciate it. If you can link this post and spread the word about the openings, that's also a big help. They'll be glad you did.

Week 3 NFL Picks: Quitting Time

By this point in the NFL season, despite all evidence to the contrary, we don't really know who is going to make the playoffs. Injuries and ill luck can still take down even the strongest team, and it's rare that teams go wire to wire. There are some 2-0 teams that aren't going to the playoffs (I'm looking at you, Denver), and there very well may be an 0-2 team that qualifies (Tennessee might be the best of that lot).

But we are very, very aware of who the terrible teams are. Kansas City, St. Louis, Cleveland and perhaps Jacksonville and Tampa Bay are a game away from all hope being extinguished, but realistically, there's no odds that you could give me that would make me take the under bet of losses for that group at 50. And when you look at the historic numbers, no team comes back from an 0-3 hole, let alone teams that have looked as bad as they have. Finally, now that Detroit has shown us all what's possible with last year's imperfection, maybe we even have someone willing to mail it in for the entire year.

A man can dream. And Lions Fan can feel marginalized even in their suffering, since they won't even have The Time Without Any Wins At All to themselves...

Washington at DETROIT (+6)

I missed this on Sunday, but it should be noted that Washington coach and super-genius Jim Zorn chose to go for it on fourth down deep in Ram territory while holding a 9-7 lead last week, only to fail and have his team get a defensive stop to secure the win. It was such a bad decision that even the paid mouth jobbers (in the guise of franchise legend and voice Sonny Jurgenson) threw the team under the bus, much in the same way that Tony Dorsett did to Tony Romo in Dallas. You've got a special franchise when wins cause this much anguish.

That, and the fact that the team is going to waste a good defense with the least explosive offense outside of Cleveland... and Skins Fan? That defense won't be very good for very long, because Albert Haynesworth can't stay healthy and will soon realize that he's gonna get paid even if he doesn't try super hard, and that the world will little note nor long remember who tried and who didn't for a fourth-place team.

Maybe your next coach will be better, if only because your crazy shrunken Scientologist owner has to give up eventually and realize that someone else has to be better at this than he is. Then again, maybe I'm just the Evil Lord Xenu. It's amazing how often you run into me, when you are Daniel Snyder.

For the Lions, they spent another week being praised like Special Olympians for taking a lead and sacking His Favreness, but eventually the Viking defense created turnovers and Adrian Peterson created touchdowns. (I have one roto league in which I'm 2-0, mostly because I had the keen insight to take AP with the first pick. Auctions, people. Auctions.) I think this is the week that Calvin Johnson's growing rapport with Matthew Stafford brings multiple touchdowns, and that Jason Campbell really shows how much the Skins want a quarterback controversy to go with the rest of their circus. Besides, at some point, Detroit's got to win a game. Maybe not more than one, but it's a start.

Lions 24, Redskins 16

GREEN BAY (+7) at St. Louis

If He Who Shall Not Be Ignored was still in Wisconsin and starting, do you think there would be a QB controversy by now? The team would still have the promising Aaron Rodgers on the bench, would still have missed the playoffs last year due to a surprisingly pliant defense and subpar offensive line, and would still be dealing with too many turnovers to overcome. The only difference now is that since Rodgers has had the good sense to provide fantasy football value and the world has slowly -- very slowly -- started to think about football beyond intelligent design deus ex machina moments of Grit, Heart, Determination and Being A Winner. So there's no hue and cry to try someone else behind center (and, well, also they don't really have a #2 that excites anyone).

Then again, it'd help if Rodgers himself would start doing more to win games late, especially against historically terrible teams like the Bengals. Last week's loss really wasn't the man's fault, but still sent millions of suicide pool pickers to the sidelines in hatred, and being quarterback means you get inordinate blame and credit. Rodgers would probably be a better field general if he weren't spry; just as sports highlight shows has hurt basketball by making everyone disdain the mid-range game, quarterbacks are all now trying for their Big Ben / Eli Manning moment of prolonging the play and Being The Superhero. For a guy like Rodgers, who combines some good athleticism with an injury history, this way lies madness; especially since the Packers wideouts get open more by route and size than speed and leaping ability.

All of that, by the way, won't matter a fig in St. Louis, where the Rams are 0-2 after two DOA road "efforts", and QB Marc Bulger has to look at increasingly dusty playing cards to find a year when he wasn't utterly horrible. I know his offensive line are turnstiles, his wideouts are the worst in the league, and his defense rarely gives him a short field, but the fish stinks from the head down. And Bulger's interest in grabbing some ground against any kind of pass rush is unmatched in the NFL since Bobby Hoying, plus he has zero athleticism to avoid the rush. Stephen Jackson will have numbers against a Packers team that got exposed by the immortal Cedric Benson at home, but that will only matter for a little while.

Packers 31, Rams 20

SAN FRANCISCO at Minnesota (-7)

Can the Niners seize control of their division with an underdog win in Minnesota against the Love Boaters? I'm going to give them the full throated FTT Kiss Of Gambling Death by getting away from my losing disrespect. They just might be the best team in the NFC West, and one more win this week will get them to Intriguing Cinderella status. And if they ever manage to get Michael Crabtree signed, they'd be downright dangerous in attracting stupid money to their cause, not that I'm really expecting anything on that front. I suspect at this point that Coach Mike Singletary wants Crabtree around just to yell at him.

These are two surprisingly similar team. Both have struggled to fill the QB position, and finally thrown up their hands and gone for a journeyman that needs to be reined into a short passing game to avoid crippling mistakes. They both depend on their star running back in a non-committee situation for nearly all positive value over the mean. They both have head coaches that, despite reasonable won-loss records, people feel unsure about, for fairly good reasons (Tarvaris Jackson, Casual Nudity and Press Conference Buffoonery). And they both have to feel good about their defenses after two weeks of effective play. Niners LB Patrick Willis is the best player at his position that not enough people now about, and the Williams Wall remains the source of good fun in the land of a thousand lakes and 45 billion mosquitoes.

In most weeks, the difference between Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore, along with the home dome advantage, would be enough. But not in September, and not in a game where the defense is going to make His Favreness throw the ball more than five yards at a time. This week is when the Sage Rosenfels whispers start.

Niners 24, Vikings 17

Atlanta at NEW ENGLAND (-4)

Has the window closed on the Patriot Empire? Last week's de-pantsing at the hands of the new bully Jets had all of the feel of An Ending, with Dreamboat Brady reduced to back foot hot read desperation to spent fourth receivers (seriously, Patriot Fan is pining for the cut Greg Lewis, rather than the fossilized Joey Galloway, which if just a Sammich of Sadness on every level), and the ineffective committee running attack is cutting no ice. Remember that if not for a gift collapse from the Bills, the Patriots could be a first class fire drill right now, with massive What's Wrong media jobs and the collective Woe Is Us whine job that only Massholes can really express. (That's because they are so, so literate.) Dreamboat has been mostly tentative and terrorized, and the defense contains much more than they crush. It is, right now, a finesse team that's just a hair off, a fine sports car with a nasty engine clank. They'll be fine in time, assuming health and Belichick's continued pact with Satan, but right now, things aren't right.

This week, they get the homecoming Matt Ryan, the rampaging Tony Gonzalez, a physical Michael Turner and the rest of the 2-0 Falcons that bear a reasonable resemblance to those mean green people that made last week so unpleasant. The difference, of course, is that the game is at home, and the Falcons aren't bringing anywhere near the kind of defensive wood that New York does. Which would point us in the direction of Shootout, but I'm not seeing the team's offensive lines being able to keep their QB clean long enough for that to happen. If Patriots coach Bill Belichick wants to start seeming like a genius again, he'd start building an identity around his running game, but this week, he won't need it.

I'm going with the home team Patriots, but I'd really like to be wrong. The idea of a sub .500 year for Belichick and a massive crisis of faith in Masshole Nation is just fantastic, but I just don't think the Falcons have it in them to win a nice to win game against a near desperate home club with pedigree.

Plus, well, God just doesn't love us that much.

Prove me wrong, Lord and Dirty Birds...

Patriots 26, Falcons 20

TENNESSEE at New York Jets (-3)

Last call time for last year's top seed in the AFC, and they get a road game against the new squash artists. Are the Jets ready for front-runner status and full-throated media attention? No, and here's why. In the first two weeks, the team has gone against teams with clear #1 receivers, and Darrelle Revis (note previous picks columns for my manlove for the man; he's the new Nnamdi Asomugha, only better, because I don't have to spell-check his name) has made Andre Johnson and Randy Moss completely invisible, and Matt Schaub and Tom Brady completely irrelevant. This week, who does Revis shadow? Justin Gage or Kenny Britt, with Kerry Collins under center facing a blitz-happy defense. It's like having a pair of aces against low hole cards, and it's not as if Collins has never faced a blitz before. The Jets are going to get cracked here.

The Titans will run the ball even when it doesn't work, because this game for them will be all about avoiding the Collins TAInt. Eventually, even against a defense with Kris Jenkins, that will work, because Chris Johnson might be the best home run hitter in the business right now, and even LenDale White is right when you give it to him 15 to 20 times a game. Teams don't go to the penthouse this quickly, and 13 win teams don't fall apart this fast. And finally, there's that whole Need vs. Want thing going on here, with the road team heavily on the side of Need. Bet the under on points, and the over on punts.

Titans 16, Jets 13

Kansas City at PHILADELPHIA (NL)

Successful head coaches in the NFL are, on the whole, productively stubborn managers. They push their men to play in a certain way, to make certain sacrifices, and to maintain a certain standard.

The downside of this is that they can lack a certain flexibility. When Andy Reid is missing QB Donovan McNabb, very little is scaled back or not tried; there is a system, dammit, and the quarterback will conform to it. It doesn't matter that the system takes years of in-game action to master, or that very few people on the planet have McNabb's talent; Andy will simply Coach Harder, and the quarterback will do the job.

In the long run, this is a good thing. It means that the Eagles remain dangerous to opponents even with replacement-level talent, and that they won't hold on to McNabb for a return of the glory years when he's in his late 30s. They've also won more than you'd expect them to when Number Five is unavailable, and been able to move backup quarterbacks for value.

But in the short run, it is maddening, especially if you have an interest in keeping a speed defense off the freaking field. (It's also the same reason why the man refuses to call running plays as something more than an amusing side project.)

This week against Kansas City, Kevin Kolb will chuck it 40+ times despite rampant Wildcattery from Michael Vick and others. The Eagles will fail to exercise proper Ball Security, keeping the road team in the game well into the second half. And then the defense will make a play or two, a quick strike will put the game into the comfortable zone, and the stadium will exhale, and try to forget that the whole scary drama could have been avoided with a simpler game plan, and a more physical defense.

(Oh, and it doesn't hurt that the Chiefs are one of the six worst teams in football, and liable to lose this game on their own turnovers.)

Eagles 34, Chiefs 17

NY GIANTS (-7) at Tampa Bay

Eli Manning's breakout month continues, as the quietly terrible Bucs pass defense (when Trent Edwards and the Bills rack up yards, You Are Officially Terrible) play host to the emerging Mario Manningham / Steve Smith combo that are making Giants Fan forget that Tumor guy and the idiot jailbird that shot himself. If you drafted Brandon Jacobs in your roto league, you can feel good about your dreams of a 20-TD year, because the man's going to have opportunities, at least until the weather turns windy and Eli's noodle arm fails to get it done. You'd think that for the money they are paying him, the man could actually throw the ball with velocity.

Tampa's setting up to have one of those terrible teams that fantasy players love, since the defense gives up pinball numbers and the offense will play against prevent defenses for two quarters a game on the average. Get your Aaron Brooks-esque juice from Byron Leftwich while you can, people, because once it becomes obvious to the management that 10+ losses are coming their way, there's going to be a rush to judgment on rookie first-round QB Josh Freeman, who will be worse than Leftwich in the short run, and maybe even the long. Good thing the team is going retro with their jerseys this year, just to make sure the carpet matches the drapes.

Giants 34, Bucs 23

Cleveland at BALTIMORE (-13.5)

I keep forgetting to play "Eliminator" or "Suicide" pools, so I'll make the retroactive picks of Week 1, New England (phew!) and Week 2, Washington (I'm so daring!). Which means that you should totally trust me and the Ravens in this matchup, which actually has elements of worry about it. After all, Cleveland is trying to avoid the 0-3 death sentence, Baltimore is coming off a tight West Coast win, and the team's parentage and ancestry means that there's enough hate in the stands to spill over onto the field.

But all of that is overthinking the following, incontrovertible point: Brady Quinn is going to play quarterback for a road team that's facing the Baltimore defense, and second year QB Joe Flacco is showing signs of breakout. Sometimes, it's just that easy, and if there were good odds on the Raven defense outscoring the Cleveland offense this week, I'd think about that bet. Hard.

Ravens 27, Browns 6

Jacksonville at HOUSTON (-4)

The yo-yo Texans get the big home number and love against the reeling Jaguars, who are one more loss away from making all of the Maurice Jones-Drew owners tear something out of their scalp. The Jaguars have been dumb all over and a little ugly on the side, and looking very similar to their cross-state Buccaneer brethren as the source of cheap QB numbers from a chuck and duck guy who will play from behind from now until January. Which is hard to do, considering that the Jag WR corps is the very late model Torry Holt, a hyphenated injury-prone wonder in Mike Sims-Walker, a TE who was a drop machine last year (Marcedes Lewis) and backup WRs who are so meh that they actually mourned the loss of Troy Williamson last week. Yes, that Troy Williamson.

The Texans are starting to get antsy about their own feature back, last year's rookie flash Steve Slaton. Double S put on some pounds in the off-season to be better in the red zone, and as a result, he's been worse in every other zone this year, with moronic fantasy honks wondering if now is the time to roster vulture/goal line/ made of balsa wood back up Chris Brown. It's not and he ain't; Slaton rewards your patience this week. Assuming, of course, that the Texans don't just want to pad Matt Schaub, Owen Daniels and Andrew Johnson's numbers instead.

Texans 38, Jaguars 17

CHICAGO (-3) at Seattle

One of those lines that I hate to make a pick on, because the spread should change all the way up to game time depending on the status of Seattle starting QB Matt Hasselbeck. With the Hass, the home team has the ability to stretch the field (especially to TE John Carlson), Nate Burleson and TJ Houshmanzadeh have an extra incentive to run, and the Bears can't stack the box against the meager offering that is the Hawk ground game. With Seneca Wallace in there, all of the receivers take a hit, the box will be jammed like the front row of a Killers concert (this is why I listen to new music, really; to be able to pass with the kids on left field allusions), and the home team will try to win via the practical magic known as Game Management. Not exactly a riveting strategy, especially for a team with a very good base defense and an emerging QB in Jay Cutler.

If the Hass is able to shrug off the rib pain and go, expect a quarter or two of inspired home team play, and the Hawks' home bully / road speedbump tendency is well pronounced. But I think this is the week that Matt Forte reminds the world that he's actually really good, and the Bears' defense shows they can put a QB -- even a mobile one like Seneca Wallace -- on the ground without Brian Urlacher on the field. There's also some chance for Gregg Olsen to do some damage here, as the Seabags can forget about the TE, and Bears rookie WR Johnny Knox has been doing enough to make teams adjust their top level coverage.

Bears 27, Seahawks 20

NEW ORLEANS (-6.5) at Buffalo

The league's premier pinball machine comes to western New York, where the no-huddle Bills promise to make this a game where you can not stop thinking about betting the over. But the hidden thing about this Saints team, and the reason why I think they are more than a September fad, is that they have a handful of defensive veterans (Darren Sharper chief among them) who are prone to taking advantage of the opponent's mistakes, and when you play from ahead as much as the Saints will this year, mistakes will be made. This isn't to say that that the Saint defense is actually very good; it's not and won't be, seemingly, in my lifetime, especially since the offense isn't exactly dominating time of possession. But it will be good enough.

As for the Bills, I suppose you can say that they are just a collapse away from being a 2-0 team and leading their division. But they are a mediocre mix of talent at best, Terrible Owens really isn't all that special any more, and the Saints are just way too damned good for Trent Edwards to keep up with.

Saints 31, Bills 20

PITTSBURGH (+4) at Cincinnati

Another bad team with a story as to why they aren't undefeated, the Bengals rode huge days from Cedric Benson and Antwan Odom to a shocking win last week in Green Bay, while the Steelers were blowing a highly winnable road game in Chicago with faulty field-goal kicking. The Bengals defense could be better than usual, the McBeams do miss safety Troy Polamalu, and Willie Parker might remain the most overrated player in the NFL... but, um, these are the Bengals going against the defending Super Bowl champions, in a game that they want. I'm looking for a big effort from the defense, Big Ben to make some places while evading the rush, and Carson Palmer to continue to be the least-known liability in the league.

Steelers 24, Bengals 17

Denver at OAKLAND (-2)

Will Kyle Orton ever know defeat as the stating quarterback for the Broncos? After two games, his winning percentage puts people like Jay Cutler and John Elway to shame, and this line is a national outrage, that the man is getting this little respect from the fans and gambling public. Come out, come out, everyone who wanted to tell me how he'd be better than Cutler for fantasy purposes! Your man needs your support!

As for the home team, they won last week on penalties and punts in Kansas City, with the offense finally punching it through on a Darren McFadden run late. The effort led Chief Fan to want to run their new coach out on a rail, and have him take the shiny new QB -- you know, the one that caused all of the trouble in Denver in the first place -- with him. Such a fantastic division, this.

I hate to put anything at risk with Special Olympian JaMarcus Russell at the helm, and the Broncos have spent most of the last decade killing the Raiders, especially on the road... well, things have changed without Mike Shanahan at the helm, and J-Russ is going to have big home/road splits. At home, he's just bad, and just bad is going to be enough here.

Raiders 17, Broncos 14

Miami at SAN DIEGO (-6)

Two teams coming off heartbreaking losses. The Chargers got stuffed on a Special Norv Moment, with Darren Sproles getting the rock in a power dive formation while Ray Lewis screamed like a man getting away with murder. (I kill me!) The home team has serious issues with the health of the offensive line and LaDanian Tomlinson making the team one dimensional on offense, and a defense that hasn't been dynamic at all yet. The Dolphins are in an 0-2 hole with an offense that seems impossible of making a big play, with top WR Ted Ginn Jr. in particular looking helpless.

The number is too large for comfort for a Turner coched team, since they can crap the bed at any time... but I like the home team to have a breakout day against a club with a short week and no playmakers. I also like Tomlinson's chances of giving a raised middle finger to his haters, even if it's only in the short run, because that loss against the Colts is one of those games that cause a team to doubt their coach. With good reason. (And if the Fish can't stop Peyton Manning at home with a ridiculously rested defense, why should they do any better against the rested Charger weapons on the road?)

Chargers 34, Dolphins 13

Indianapolis at ARIZONA (-2.5)

The second straight trip under the lights for the Houdini Colts, who get the similarly QB dependent Cards in a game where the announcers will heap enough praise on the signal callers to keep them buffed and polished until November. Arizona road pinpoint passing from Kurt Warner and an Antrel Rolle field kick block and touchdown to a win in Jacksonville, while the Colts escaped Miami with their time of no possession win on MNF.

This game lines up perfectly for the Warners; it's at home, against a defense that isn't very good, with the benefit of the road team getting the short week. Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston looked much healthier, and even the running game doesn't look terrible. I like the team from Tempe here.

Cardinals 26, Colts 21

Carolina at DALLAS (-9)

Now, here's the home opening opponent the Cowboys really wanted; a team with a much more suspect quarterback, an offensive line that doesn't stand out, and a fresh new broadcasting crew to fellate Jerruh for his Jerruhsoleum.

The Panthers can win this game; they will be desperate to save their season from an 0-3 hole, and Steve Smith by his own damn self is a great deal of trouble. Marion Barber is likely to stay out, leading to overpassing and the return of Evil Tony Romo. We could see a first-class turnover fest.

But I think Romo Ono will shake off last week's nightmare, and that the Carolina catastrophe won't end until someone puts a stake into Jake Delhomme's chest. Paging AJ van Helsing...

Cowboys 27, Panthers 16

Last week: 8-7-1
Year to date: 13-18-1

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Woo, With a later option for Hoo.

You are looking live, to get all Musbergerian on you, at the new Sixers duds. Elton Brand is said to like them, but Elton Brand also likes fluroescent lights, because the hum is like angels. I'm pretty sure that Thaddeus Young is there as part of some elaborate third-year hazing prank. (And yes, this kind of thing is why I subscribe to the email newsletter, but do not buy tickets...)

The MLB September Drama Solution

Tonight on the Lemur, you have really the perfect storm of Northeast Corridor love: the Yankees win the AL East, and noted Boston lover Peter Gammons, in a column linked right next to the game story, advocates for an expanded baseball playoffs. Because in a year with zero compelling team races, we clearly need to invent something.

(A small moment for the Empire: Woo. You clinched with a sacrifice fly and didn't even really celebrate, because for Empire Fans, a ticket to the playoffs is like buying car insurance. Woo.)

Look, I realize that we're never going to put the toothpaste back into the tube and lose the wildcard. With an odd number of divisions, we'd either need to go to an NFL style East, West, North and South divisions, which would most likely mean expansion and/or making a team switch leagues, a la the Brewers, in a time where baseball is more likely to contract than expand. Realistically, since there are only four teams in the AL West and six in the NL Central, there's a reason to move this way, but as no one wants to either move to California or spend all of their time traveling to California, there really isn't much enthusiasm for that.

Getting back to Gammons, the problem with expanding the playoffs is twofold. First, you cheapen the division races, which has already happened irrevocably with the induction of the wildcard, so maybe it's a matter of being no longer a virgin, but still. The second issue is that unlike in football, the wildcard is really not that big of a disadvantage; home field in baseball is maybe a 5 to 10% boost. Second, there's the not inconsiderable matter of a longer playoff calendar for a sport that should not be played in very cold weather.

And third, you have the specter of just who would go to the dance; in the AL this year, you'd get Texas and Seattle, which is to say, two teams with fewer than 90 wins in a middling division. In the NL, it would currently be the Giants and Braves, which is to say, a team that should be karmically banned from meaningful games for their complicity in L'Affaire Bonds, and a club that spent most of the past two decades failing to sell out playoff games while doing the Tomahawk Chop. For this, we should expand the playofffs?

I get that the Year Without A Pennant Race is a problem, especially when you usually get them. But what MLB needs to look at are the underlying reasons *why* you didn't have a pennant race: revenue sharing that's inadequate, coupled with no real reason for the low market teams to spend money.

If you really want drama in every season, there's a better way. Bounce the worst team out of MLB evey year, and promote a minor league team up.

I've been dreaming of relegation and revolution, complete with an abolition of the slave minor league system, for decades now. It remains likely that it will never, ever happen; the lords of baseball hate uncertainty, and MLB franchises are worth so much more than AAA fiefdoms as to make a swap inconceivable in the market.

But we are also well into our second decade of reality television programming, with people being voted off islands, weakest links being bounced, etc., etc. If MLB really wants to steal back any amount of the thunder that the opening weeks of the NFL, it needs to do something dramatic, and losing the Orioles and Nationals (the current two worst records) for, say, the Charlotte Knights and Brooklyn Cyclones...

Well, seriously. Wouldn't you love to see Peter Angelos removed from MLB by force, along with the final solution for the Zombie Expos? Wouldn't a third strike failure for baseball in the District work on every level? And how many years can this region have the worst possible baseball without consequence?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ten MNF Thoughts for Colts-Dolphins

> With eight seconds left in the first half, the Fish allowed Peyton Manning to complete a 20 yard out with a clock stop, setting up a bank shot from Adam Vinatieri to tie the game. And in that moment, I'm pretty sure every Dolphin Fan knew they weren't really going to win this game, because that's just not the kind of thing you can allow and win, really. (Besides, the Colts have been pulling Houdini acts like this one for years now, especially on the road.)

> Hey, Andy Reid. Despite not pulling this one out, the Dolphins blueprint for this game would have been a lot more interesting than what you tried against the Saints. It's actually fun to punch the other team in the mouth, even if you are going to do lots of The Tricksy. Try it sometime. Like, say, next week.

> The Dolphins were 11 for their first 15 on third down. This, with Chad Pennington at QB, and a collection of wide receivers that stretch the meaning of the word "serviceable." If you think the Colts defense has limited evidence of vertebrae without Bob Sanders, you'd be absolutely right.

> On his fourth quarter tying touchdown run, Donald Brown showed exactly why fantasy honks salivate over the idea of him taking over the timeshare from nominal starter Joe Addai. Man's got a burst, and if Addai's not hearing footsteps, he's deaf.

> Dallas Clark owners, and I am one, this was a fantastic game for you. And if you've got a dumb owner in your league, it's time to move him in a trade, because there's too many ownable TEs out there, and a lot of his yards go away if Anthony Gonzalez ever gets healthy and/or productive. He's not getting 183 yards and a touchdown again. (Der.)

> Miami's ownership finds it fun to bring in local celebrity owners like the Williams sisters, Jimmy Buffet and others. I'm wondering why more teams don't do this, really; it's not like you really give up anything of consequence, and it gives tabloid television the juice it needs to get your club some PR. So long as your celebs aren't ridiculous, it's a win.

> At some point as a society, we're going to be nostalgic about games where the teams had to deal with baseball infield dirt, right? (And, um, seriously. It's 2009. All the money the NFL has, they can't figure out a way to put grass down for the game?)

> Down 4 with 3:18 left, the Fish called a draw (tackled in bounds), then huddled, then called time out. Forty two seconds of time for that running play. Then another run, inside, for a tackle in bounds, leading to a shotgun third down call where Pennington could not get the play off before the two minute warning. It all lead to Hail Mary throws despite third down conversions in the last 30 seconds, and me being highly overjoyed at the knowledge that there *is* a worse clock management team than my Eagles! I feel so relieved!

> The Colts had the lowest time of possession for a winning team in 32 years. And Miami, you deserve it, because you make the world watch Ted Ginn, and because your clock management at the end of this game was so bad, I expected you to huddle up on clock kills. But the Colts have Real Problems on defense, at least until they get Sanders back.

> I don't mean to complain, really. I have a crew of people who actually focus on the game at hand, and nothing they said tonight made me want to smash my head with a claw hammer. But, um, Jon Gruden? You really don't need to over-emphasize obvious points, anymore than Ron Jaworski needs to say National Foot Ball League. We're all fans here, and we've all watched football before. Dial it up a notch, OK?

Making It Better For Jerruh

As I watched yet another Romo Ono collapse to the Giants last night, it was brought home, yet again, how much we owe to the owner of America's Impossible To Parody Team. And I started thinking -- how can we, as a nation, make things better for Jerruh Jones?

First, I think we should give the man his own jersey number and merch sales (with a big Number One, of course). Considering that the current leaders in NFL jerseys sales are the Collect Every Jersey Favre Set and Backup QB Who Shall Remain Infamous, I think the Jerruh Jersey is gonna move. Besides, I bet the man will get a kick out of seeing his own laundry in the stands; it'll be just like when the media slobs his knob, only with more of a cult overtone, rather than a paid worker.

Second, there's the rather difficult matter of trying to put 100K cornfed asses in the seats, because anything else is just going to kill the vibe of the place. At the ruinously expensive and Enron-esque new yard (enjoy your economic colonic, Cowboy Fan!), more is more is Goddamit It, I Said More. When economic reality kicks in and the place is only two-thirds full, it's just going to get, you know, silly. And we can't have that.

Even by NFL standards, which start at ridiculous (especially in a bad economy), this place is muy loco. I think my favorite touch is the second-string skank "Cage Dancers" in the rafters. These emergency back-up objects are a great way to make sure that the front line doesn't get uppity, and show that Jerruh is a hep cat with his finger on the pulse of the public. In 1967.

And here's where the man just inspires me. Jerruh, why stop at caged heat? For these prices, give us Titty Ushers. Titty Parking Attendants. Titty Janitors. Butch Titty Security Guards, so that we've got something for the differently wired ladies and the menfolk that need more humiliation than even your team can provide. We'll all pay more if our scalper is a Titty Scalper!

And dammit, make sure there is a Pangalactic Smorgasborg of Tail. If I can't afford top-notch trim in a suite, there should be a nice middle class option with double the meat and all of the trimmings. I also demand a Happy Meal of speed, fat and starch, and I think we all know what that entails. Perhaps with a little keepsake toy for the kids. I'm seeing different colored shirts, so I know my tier of worker. Or perhaps we can just do the old-fashioned Texarkana way, by race. It's affirmative!

Finally, we should think about the long-term sustainability of the Jerruhsoleum. As the franchise decays into increasing irrelevance, we're going to need thousands of Road Fans to pay full price, so that the dear boy keeps thinking that everything is going well for him. It's like a casino; there are only so many locals who are going to keep coming back without hocking their fillings.

And that leads me to the final point. There is, really, no good reason why the Cowboys are in the NFC East, other than politics. And since the national television numbers have changed in the past few decades, the benefit of having New York, Philly and DC on the dance card has changed dramatically as well. It's well past time for the Cowboys to be playing New Orleans, Tampa and Atlanta in a true NFC South, which slides Carolina into a much more suitable NFC East I-95 Division.

(And while we are fixing things, put Baltimore in the AFC East so that we can have more train turf wars, and Buffalo in the North so that people from those four cities spend less time away from their couches. The nation's roads and bridges undergo enough stress without moving that much tonnage.)

When we're all done, we'll ensure that Jerruh will have fewer empty seats near his auxiliary trim, and less ridicule when they show his Davisian reaction shots to his perennially overrated team in the owner's box.

It is, after all, the least we can do for a man who has brought us a millennium of playoff-victory free Cowboy football.

Besides, he's going to just keep delivering the goods, especially in the coming years.

You know, when he gets *really* crazy...

Top 10 Week 2 NFL Takeaways

> Every year, I get sucked into thinking that the Seahawks team that plays in Seattle has any resemblance to the Seahawks team that plays on the road. Gah.

> Shocking, isn't it, to see Tony Romo turn the ball over in a tight game and the Cowboys to lose a game in a big new yard that's filled with people in the close seats that are too wealthy to cheer all that loudly. In the immortal words of Nelson Muntz, Ha Ha!

> Also in that game, the possible emergence of a new true #1 WR in Mario Manningham. I don't know if he's really that good or if the Dallas secondary is just that bad -- why is Ken Hamlin in the NFL? -- but between him and Steve Smith, and the Giants have something going on. Probably not enough, but something.

> The Raiders won a road game where their quarterback was 7 of 24 for 109 yards, and their running backs ran it 22 times for 70 yards. Hard to do, folks.

> Note to NFL highlight producers: we don't really need to laud the quarterback for every terrible effort that they make in throwing a block. We get it: it's cute when they try to be actual football players. It's like when people put clothes on dogs. Enough already.

> I work in New York, and for the most part, there are wide sections of the town that don't give too much of a damn about sports. Too many teams, too many people from other parts of the world. So no, it's not really going to get too overwhelming when Jets Fan gets his full gloat on for punching the Patriots in the mouth. I hope.

> There are worse professional football team than the Cleveland Browns. But only because the UFL exists. One offensive touchdown in the last eight games. No, seriously.

> I'm not sure if the Cardinals are actually good, or the Jaguars are just secretly horrible. But on the bright side, at least we won't have to hear that West Coast team playing the 1pm EST Sunday game crapola, at least not in games where Kurt Warner completes over 90% of his passes. Wow.

> I understand that the Redskins have fans, and a win is a win is a win. But honestly, 9-7 for your home opener against the truly terrible Rams? It makes me wonder if a coach has ever been fired after a win.

> Pittsburgh could have lost in Week One, but got bailed out by a weak performance from the opposing team's kicking game. They lost today from their own weak kicking performance. Usually it takes the full season to have stuff like that even out.

Top 10 Eagles-Saints takeaways

> The most disquieting way to have a bad defensive game is when you know that the opposition is going to run the ball, they run it, and you can't stop it anyway. And the image of Mike Bell running is the real disturbing point of this football game -- not the usual Drew Brees excitement. Because the Eagles pass defense usually comes around, and the special teams rarely stays bad for more than the first month or two. But bad run defense, in Week 2? That's disturbing.

In the Reid Era, big point blowouts like this one almost always lead to a defensive player or two losing their starting job. If I had to guess who was going to find themselves benchward after this game, it'd either be rookie safety Macho Harris, or perpetual linebacker disappointment Omar Geither. But honestly, outside of Akeem Jordan, I don't know if anyone really played well in this game, including supposed stars like Asante Samuel and Trent Cole.

> Kevin Kolb's final numbers (31 of 51, 391 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs) really don't represent the kind of day he had. For most of the game, he was operating under Game Manager mode, with an inordinate amount of Tricksiness going on; it seemed like every drive had some Wildcattery, with some out and out spread offense weirdness thrown into the mix. He pumped up his numbers with some throws against the prevent, and the final pick was just a pointless Hail Mary pick after a curious Reid timeout.

If you want to be encouraged, there was very good two minute work at the end of the first half, and a half dozen or more good throws into tight spaces. But you also have to note his Feeley-esque interception lapses (both of the first two were pretty awful, and the second wound up being a TAInt), which is a chilling recurring issue for the Birds under Reid when McNabb isn't available. The only backup in the McNabb era to not have this issue was Jeff Garcia, and Kolb showed enough that I doubt we're going to see any meaningful number of snaps for Garcia this year.

> I've officially lost all patience with punter Sav Rocca. I understand that he's got a big leg and will stick his nose into a tackle with his oversized self. But the inconsistency is just maddening, and I just don't need this much excitement from the punter. I realize that he's got compromising photos of Reid, and that we're going to be putting up with him until next year at least. But he's not a strength, and not going to become one.

> If you want to beat the Eagles secondary, you don't do it with the small fast speed guys, a la Carolina Steve Smith, or even the deep burners like Randy Moss. Instead, you go for a big possession receiver type, which is usually a tight end... or in the case of the Saints, Marques Colston. Add up his numbers with the loathsome Jeremy Shockey, and you've got 12 for 147 and 2 touchdowns today, though when the QB completes passes to nine different receivers and spends most of the second half waiting for the game to end, it's hard to really point to a single issue.

> The hidden villain of this game was the Eagles offensive line. Too many missed assignments, and an erratic running game against a defense without a great amount of pedigree, at home. After last week's game where big running numbers were pasted on the road in Carolina, curious. And disappointing.

> DeSean Jackson remains the most intriguing young offensive player in the Reid Era. And yes, I know that Brian Westbrook developed during Cap'n Andy, but the thing about B-Dub is that he came on quietly, in the shadow of Duce Staley. Jackson's been the best at his position for this team from the day he joined the squad. He just makes everyone else seem slow, and old.

> Brent Celek is white, physical, reasonably healthy, sure handed, and has saved Eagle Fan from ever having to look at LJ Smith again. If there were a stock market on jersey sales, I'd buy shares in his laundry.

> A mildly encouraging moment: kickoff returner Ellis Hobbs bouncing back from an opening second half fumble to post a solid return and set up the second half touchdown. It's not really a mitigating performance -- the turnover set a terrible tone and put them in too deep of a hole -- but at least Hobbs didn't go into a shell.

> Here's what life is like under Reid right now: you see plays like Westbrook trying to complete passes to Leonard Weaver, and so much Wildcatting that it's a little unsettling. I spent my formative years as an Eagles fan dreaming of a more innovative offensive game plan, mostly because we knew we didn't have the line or talent to win straight up. Now, we dream of a coach that actually lets the line and talent try to win straight up, but since he loves The Tricksy so much... not gonna happen. And when Michael Vick is active next week against the Chiefs? Yikes.

> I can't say I was all that upset by this loss, for one simple reason: the Saints are a (much) better team right now. Maybe they won't be later, especially if they keep losing RBs (Mike Bell went down in this game, Pierre Thomas really doesn't look right, and Reggie Bush might be the most overrated player in the league), and they are going to need home-field in the playoffs, since they are a passing dome team. But right now, they are just too much. Way too much.

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