Monday, November 29, 2010

Top 10 reasons to suspect Vincent Jackson's latest injury

10) Keeps forgetting which leg he should limp with

9) Had dinner reservations for the second quarter

8) Keeps calling Norv Turner by his new nickname, "Whatever"

7) His trip to Hawaii to scout out Pro Bowl lodging seems less and less plausible

6) Kept telling Legedu Naanee and Seyi Ajirotutu to work suspiciously hard in practice

5) His Web browser history shows research on which substance to abuse next

4) Only did enough reps in the weight room to last for three plays

3) Prepped that whole "trying too hard" storyline with his favorite sportswriter in advance

2) Doesn't know the team's won-loss record, opponent or travel itinerary

1) Somehow, AJ Smith's hardball holdout negotiations don't always work out

Eagles -Bears Road Diary - It's All My Fault

So this past weekend, The Truth, a season-ticket holder to Da Bears, passed his end-zone seats to me, since my Eagles Laundry was the opponent, and he was out of town with Thanksgiving festivities. Having more time off than sense or cash, I called up The Shooter Mom (heretofore, TSM) and asked if she was up for a car road trip. Despite an 0-2 record for games we've attended (opening game losses to the Packers in Green Bay and the Giants at the Linc), she said yes, because my mom is better than your mom, or at the very least, much more hardcore about her love of football. (She remembers what is was like when the Eagles were the champions of the NFL, which means that she remembers JFK. Anyway, enough of that before she has me killed.) Here's what happened.

We started out from the Man Space around 4am on Saturday morning for the 12-hour drive to Chicago. TSM rented a Kia SUV with high gas mileage -- wise, considering that we were going to put four figures of miles on it -- and picked me up after her bartending shift. Armed with AAA maps and a GPS, we got to Chicago in roughly the correct amount of time, but after getting off I-80 too early, used the GPS to take the shortest route to the hotel... which basically involved going through Bad South Chicago, albeit it in enough daylight that it was more depressing than distressing. Let's just say this: they know how to use plywood on windows down there. And you want to be the guy selling the plywood. He's doing really well.

We finally found the hotel, a Hampton Inn next to Chicago Midway Airport. A quick word about Midway. You know how if you are driving south on I-95 outside of Newark, NJ, the planes flying into the airport look like they are going to take the tops off 18-wheel trucks? It's got nothing on Midway. Deciding to go for Giordano's deep dish pizza (outstanding, BTW, and I'm still eating the leftovers now, 36 hours later), we took a walk down South Cicero... and damn near felt like ducking from a half dozen Southwest planes rumbling in for landing. You've never seen anything like it. I'm amazed they haven't shaken the White Castle arches off.

One great dinner later, we headed back to the hotel to discover that Eagles CB Asante Samuel, aka the defensive MVP this year with a league-leading 8 INTs, did not make the trip due to a knee issue. Considering that this meant that neither CB was a starter a month ago, and the team was not exactly awash in cover guys even when healthy, this was Officially Worrisome. It was also telling that Michael Vick had never beaten the Bears, that DE Julius Peppers was downright terrifying, and that LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are really good against the signature play of the Andy Reid Eagles, the halfback screen. But the Bears still had a poor, turnover-prone offense, and the Eagles still had Vick playing at the highest level of his life. Someone was going to expose the home team, right? Right?

On game day, we got up in time for the complimentary breakfast (not bad), then drove down to the game. This was a mistake. Parking at Soldier Field is something of a nightmare if you don't have prior arranged tickets; you'd be much better off taking the train, but we didn't know how to do that. So after 30 minutes of driving around and asking clueless people wearing traffic vests where to go, we would up paying the most I've ever seen for parking -- Fifty U.S. Dollars, No, Seriously -- to park. I'm still kind of amazed about this; I've paid $600 in this life for a functioning car, so $50 to park one is just never going to be OK. Live and learn.

We went into the place early and walked around, checked out the merch (I bought a stuffed bear and a foam claw hand for the Shooter Kids, who like bears, if not Da Bears), and went to our seats. I'm also kind of amazed that there don't seem to be any sports bars or merch stands near the place; it really does call to mind the Vet Stadium Quarantined Venue Experience, which is to say, kind of bad planning. I'm sure the locals know where to go if they aren't tailgating, but it wasn't obvious to us, so...

Soldier Field is a nice enough yard; it keeps its history well, then shoves the modern luxuries on top, where you can for the most part ignore them. The concourses are split in two on the upper levels, so that you can get from place to place without getting in too much of a bottleneck, but they don't really have enough restrooms. It also doesn't really do that much to cure the idea that it's just a giant concrete and glass ashtray. Unlike Green Bay, you don't get the sense that you are in a place that's seen football for the better part of a century. It is to Lambeau as Yankee Stadium is to Fenway, if you catch my drift, and it's not really worth a trip for itself.

Anyway, back to the practicals. TSM wound up missing most of the third quarter for waiting for a stall, and I probably would have whiffed on a good amount of game time had I not bailed on the second quarter with 40 seconds left. Concessions are decent and reasonably priced, the merch wasn't too penal, and the views of the city from the top level, where we were, are kind of great. So great, in fact, that some 20-something winner of a future Darwin Award wound up falling to his death on Sunday in an attempt to smoke an illegal cigarette. Oh well, at least he died doing what he loved...

This is as good a place as any to talk about Bear Fan. He's more or less the same guy as Eagle Fan; prone to chanting profanities, convinced the zebras are out to get his laundry, way too anxious about any negative play, not terribly interested in anything that gives credit to the opposition, and someone whom you do not make eye contact with if you are rooting for the other team. TSM and I spent much of the game giving covert fist bumps to each other when the Eagles did something good, and avoiding Bear Fan's whirling arms, sloshing beer and need to high five people after big plays. If Vick played for another team, he'd have gotten the same treatment at the Linc, and the last minute chanting of how My Laundry Sucks was also something I didn't take personally. (And if you don't want to hear them sing that damn song, bring a defense.)

Another sign of trouble: the game was moved from 1:05 to 4:15. Joy. So the 42-degree day that had as much sun and tolerability as my weak sauce NoCal climatized self could hope for got a six degree drop and a nice spike in the wind. Being forewarned enough to have multiple layers everywhere, I was fine for every place but the feet. The same went for TSM. We watched the early games on my Blackberry and the Bears' pinched video board, checked on our fantasy players, and commenced to wait.

For whatever reason, the Bears had multiple technical issues at the game, leading to audio-only highlights, NFL Red Zone cutaways to utterly irrelevant Rams-Broncos highlights, faulty fan contests and more. The PA announcer also had a unique way to pronounce Jason Avant's name ("Ay-Vent"?), and the club does nothing to inform you of other games that are going on (perhaps because the two teams that Bear Fan cares about, the Vikings and Packers, were already done by the time this one started). But the sight lines were good, and after two big-play Bear drives gave the home team an 11-point lead, Vick and Company set out to putting order to chaos with a lot of easy middle of the field throws to Avant and Jeremy Maclin. With two minutes left to go in the first, the team had a 19 to 10 minute edge in time of possession, a first and goal against a flagging Bear defense, and a stadium of angry and defeatist people that seemed more interested in yelling dog killer profanities than the football game.

And then the disaster -- i.e., Vick's first interception of the year, on a tipped ball -- happened, and the game went All Bears for about an hour. First, the defense fell apart for the third time in the half, allowing embattled Bears QB Jay Cutler to pick up his third strike of the game. Then in the third quarter, the Bears went on an 18-play drive with multiple back-breaking third down conversions, with pressure on Cutler becoming a thing of the past, and the secondary continuing to miss tackles and coverage.

By the time the comeback started, it was fairly well managed by the Bears defense, and while there's something to be said for a team that doesn't quit until the whistle, what you also don't say about them is that they are true contenders for a parade. I still think they are a fraud and that the Eagles might be a better team, but all that might get us right now is being a better fraud. But since this is the NFC 2010, check back in a week, because the top teams will have changed.

By the time it was all over, we were cold, depressed, taking the wrong route back to the parking lot, and facing 12 hours of driving, plus 30 minutes in a traffic jam, for our fandom. As always, I enjoyed time with TSM; she's awesome. And I don't hate the Bears now, or their fans, any more than I hated the Packers or their fans after that debacle. And one of these years, we're going to schedule a road game where the trip back doesn't make us feel silly for going in the first place. Moving on...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Top 10 things the Broncos learned from taping the 49ers practice

The Broncos and coach Josh McDaniels were fined a combined six figures for a Spygate-style illegal taping a month ago, leading to the possible banning for life of flunkie Steve Scarnecchia. But what did the team learn from the footage?

10) The Niners really like to give the ball to RB Frank Gore

9) In a shocking revelation that they totally missed from the game tapes, Troy Smith is different from Alex Smith

8) Cheating helps, but not as much as having players with talent, motivation or competent coaching

7) No one believes it when ex-Patriots employees deny wrongdoing

6) Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall seem a little less blameworthy for their depatures now

5) Every time a Broncos employee lies about cheating, Baby Tim Tebow cries

4) There is absolutely nothing suspicious about how McDaniels and the Broncos hired Scarnecchia despite his earlier Spygate involvement

3) If this isn't enough to convince the NFL to stop exporting terrible football teams to the UK, nothing will

2) This won't be the last time that the adjective "unwitting" will be applied to the Mike Singletary Niners

1) When you are facing a 1-6 NFC West team that's coached by a man who once dropped trou as a halftime motivational tactic, you must take extraordinary measures to learn their strategic innovations

Friday, November 26, 2010

Top 10 things Cleveland Fan should do for LeBron James' return

On December 2nd, LeBron James comes to Cleveland for the first time as a visiting player. You only get this one chance to impress us before the media goes back to ignoring you for, well, the rest of your lives. Bring the "A" Game, people, or just go to the 8 minute mark in the following clip.

10) Stand as one when he is introduced, then turn their backs to him in a wave formation, Klingon-style

9) Bring a kid from the Boys or Girls Club to the game, and when LeBron is looking, punch the kid in the face

8) Chant the Heat's won-loss record for the entire game

7) Wear as many Delonte West jerseys as possible

6) Given that the Cavs are hiring extra security for the event, make as many threatening gestures as possible every time that James has the ball, so that the team feels that it got its money's worth

5) Come to the game with as many disparaging signs about Akron as possible

4) Studiously avoid any Nike attire

3) Match James' performance by pretending to cheer for him, and then turning on him when it really matters

2) Cheer respectfully for his years of service, if only to blow the minds of the national media that has already written the story in advance

1) Boo him every time he touches the ball, and get really angry when his team wins

And for site archivists, this is Post #3000 in FTT History, which means that we're very persistent, and not very bright.

Part 2 Week 12 NFL Picks: I'm As Scared As You Are

Continuing the theme of Think Less and Win More, I'm now 15-3-1 for my last 19 picks against the spread, which is awfully helpful, giving that taking the kids on vacation this week was only slightly less expensive than joining a big cash poker game with guys who can see your hole cards. Now, if only gambling were legal, or something.

Anyway, I'm still on quasi-vacation, so the picks will be a little less verbose, and hopefully a little more useful, than usual. And with that, on to the picks!

* * * * *

Green Bay at ATLANTA (-1)

I like both clubs, but the Pack does have problems with teams that run the ball well, and Falcons QB Matt Ryan just doesn't lose at home. After last week's slapping of the Vikings, this looks like a letdown week for the Pack.

Falcons 27, Packers 20

PITTSBURGH at Buffalo (+5)

Not sure what's going on here; the Steelers showed they can crush an outclassed opponent like the Raiders last week, and the Bills already have their win for the year. Despite the beat up Steeler offensive line, this is an easy cover. Hell, the Steeler defense might take of the spread by themselves.

Steelers 24. Bills 10

Carolina at CLEVELAND (NL)

The Browns might suffer for a lack of QB Colt McCocy, but it's not like the Panthers are still trying, or healthy, or competent. Look for a lot of RB Peyton Hillis here.

Browns 20, Panthers 6

JACKSONVILLE (+9) at NY Giants

Are the Giants a paper tiger team that's engaged in an annual swan dive that would usually result in the coach or QB getting run, only to be forever spared by the 18 And One Very Big One takedown of the Patriots? It's pretty to think so, especially against the startlingly above .500 Jags... but in all likelihood, they win this one. But maybe not cover.

Giants 27, Jags 20

MINNESOTA at Washington (-3)

Are the Vikings really going to spring to life just to show up ex-coach Brad Childress? Well, maybe, and the Skins aren't exactly good either. I still think that DC United could win this, just because they need to jerk their fanbase around some more, but a cover might be asking too much.

Redskins 21, Vikings 20

Tennessee at HOUSTON (NL)

Two teams that have to be hating their coach right now, so give me the home team with the better offensive weapons. Oh, and with the actual NFL starting caliber QB.

Texans 24, Titans 20

Miami at OAKLAND (NL)

Bounce back game for the Raiders, who weren't as good as they looked in their run-up to the AFC West lead, nor as bad as they looked in last week's de-pantsing against the Steelers. The Dolphins aren't the Steelers, though they have been a good road team this year. It'll be close, but go Black.

Raiders 27, Dolphins 24

KANSAS CITY at Seattle (+1)

Just not buying the usual Seahawk home field advantage here, especially with TE Tony Moeaki back and the Chiefs' running game hitting on all cylinders. Besides, the Chiefs can play defense.

Chiefs 24, Seahawks 17

PHILADELPHIA at Chicago (+3.5)

I'll actually be at this game, which means the Eagles are well and truly cursed. But beyond supernatural effects, Bears QB Jay Cutler is the living embodiment of a QB who fails against a complex, pressure-based defense. It'll be close until Cutler really craps the bed late.

Eagles 27, Bears 16

ST. LOUIS at Denver (-5)

Give me the Rams on the road here, not that anyone should think they can predict the Broncos, for no other reason than the Rams are still playing for something.

Rams 24, Broncos 20

TAMPA BAY at Baltimore (-6)

Just not feeling the love for a Ravens team that has struggled in the secondary, especially against a spunky Bucs team that may have found the answer to their power running game. It'll be a dogfight, if not a full upset.

Ravens 27, Bucs 24

San Diego at INDIANAPOLIS (-3)

Just can't see the Colts struggling for a full month, even against laundry that normally slaps them down, since the Chargers are a little beat up as well, and even when healthy, don't emply real shutdown CB play anymore.

Colts 31, Chargers 24

San Francisco at ARIZONA (+2.5)

Hoo boy, ESPN really got a turd here. I'll just go with the home team and try not to watch. Won't be hard.

Cardinals 20, Niners 16

This week (so far): 3-0

Year to date: 75-76-1

Lifetime: 355-353-24

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Part 1 Week 12 NFL Picks: The Less I Try, The More I Win

So last week, in the run-up to a long vacation and a ton of car travel, I didn't spend the usual grinding amount of time on the picks. Instead, I went with feel, didn't sweat the small points, and avoided any grand theory. And promptly had my best week in years, nearly drawing up to the .500 mark for the year and lifetime. It's kind of absurd, really.

So in this abbreviated column, posted from an undisclosed location in western Georgia from a blogger that's more or less filing these in to make sure I keep the streak of picking every game... well, take 'em to the bank. And best of wishes for a great Thanksgiving...

NEW ENGLAND (+7) at Detroit

Sure, the Lions can score some points in this game; the Patriots are a middling defensive unit, and the Lions have moved the ball a ton for a team with their won-loss record. But I know these truths to be self-evident; a dog early game on Turkey Day is not optional. It is absolutely necessary.

Patriots 31, Lions 20

NEW ORLEANS (+1) at Dallas

I know the Cowboys have won every game in the Jason Garrett Era, and that the Saints on the road are no bargain. I also know that the Cowboys can't protect the QB or run the ball, and that the Saints defense can make some plays against teams that aren't careful with the ball. When Jon Kitna is your QB, that describes you. A lot. Besides, America needs to see the Cowboys torn apart on national television, on a holiday. It's important.

Saints 34, Cowboys 17

Cincinnati at NY JETS (-9)

Not only are the Bengals a dead team walking with a ground game that isn't good enough to keep this game balanced... but they've also just seen their best WR in 2010 (Terrell Owens) mouth off about how Jets CB Darrelle Revis is ordinary. Prepare to see a 3 catch, 30 yard kind of day for TO, and several picks for QB Carson Palmer.

(The rest of the picks will be posted before Sunday, God willing and the vacation doesn't end in tragedy.)

Jets 24, Bengals 13

Last week: 12-3-1 (wow!)

Year to date: 72-76-1

Lifetime: 352-353-24

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I got yer "class" right here

by Tracer Bullet

Let's talk about class, shall we?

The sporting world has been abuzz with the word class lately. With Wisconsin laying a beatdown for the ages on Indiana, there were those who accused Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema of lacking class because his team was still throwing the ball late with a 63 point lead.

Those accusations echoed earlier complaints because the Badgers attempted, and made, a two-point conversion against the hapless Minnesota Golden Gophers in a game that finished 41-23.

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid faced similar catcalls because the Birds were still throwing the ball and blitzing the Washington Redskins late in a game that ended 59-28.

Every year, we get a certain number of blowouts and like clockwork, someone is accused of being classless.

Let me tell you what I think about "class," class go suck a, well, Shooter won't let me curse, so let me say that class can go suck a bag of over-warmed phalluses.

"Classless" is the cry of the loser, the whine of the defeated. "Stop punching me in the face." You want me to stop punching you? Put your damned hands up and fight back, damn you. Or admit defeat, surrender and take your beating like a man. A small, puny man with thin arms and little pride.

Now, as an Eagles fan, I'm used to being accused of being classless. In fact, I got into an argument about that very thing on one of my favorite Eagles blogs.

We were laughing at Manningface, one of the greatest gifts ever given NFL fans and a commentor said we should stop. "My friends accuse Eagles fans of being classless," he said. "They say we take pleasure in the suffering of others. Stooooooop."

Now, it seems the answer to this problem is obvious: Get new friends. The other almost as obvious answer is to tell your friends to perform an anatomically impossible act and then die in a fire. The least likely solution is to stop laughing at Manningface. I'd sooner stop laughing at children falling down than give up Manningface.

Should one strive to emulate fans in Los Angeles who arrive late to Dodger games and leave early? Or perhaps fans at the University of Michigan where they look askance at those who would cheer too loudly? Mayhap one should look to Atlanta where fans . . . are mostly theoretical.

No, if you root for the wrong team, I want you to suffer. I want to enjoy your suffering. You could have been an Eagles fan; you knowingly and willfully made poor life choices and I feel no pity for you. I will sup the tears of your infinite sadness, Scott Tenorman, and I will enjoy every second of it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2012 NFL Uniform Apocalypse

Last week, there were online rumors that Nike (who has contracted to take over the NFL uniform licence in 2012), will be sexing up the unis of every NFL team in their signiture unholy-Oregon-Ducks-meets-XFL style.

Of course, the uniforms all look pretty ridiculous. And before anyone gets too up-in-arms, the rumors have been proven false. The prototype pics, as it turns out, are a product of some fan's Photoshop-fueled imagination.

Personally, when it comes to uniforms, I'm a traditionalist. I like the classic look of the Steelers, the Colts, the Raiders, and the Bears.

And I hate... well, there's lots of things I hate.

I hate it when a team changes it's uniform color to some non-committal, in-between color. (e.g. Seahawks. Eagles.)

I hate uniform changes that add a bunch of ill-advised panels and piping. (e.g. Bills, Bengals)

I hate it when teams unnecessarily add black to their color scheme. (e.g. Lions. And again, the Eagles.)

I hate alternate jerseys. (e.g. the Bears in orange, the Seahawks in fluorescent green.)

And I really hate the whole mix-and-match mentality where teams eschew an every-week trademark look in favor of having a different pants/jersey combination just about every week.

But, you know, looking at the fake prototypes (and here is a page of links to the proto-unis for all 32 NFL teams)... why the hell not? The toothpaste is already out of the tube. More teams than not already look better in their throwbacks than their current garb. From this point on, it's just not realistic to hope for an NFL where every team wears classy, traditional-looking jerseys. So why not just go whole hog and let Nike have their way? Don't tell me that fans wouldn't line up in droves to buy the replica gamers.

(OK, maybe Patriots fans wouldn't be quite so enthusiastic about wearing that Captain America getup.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ten Eagles-Giants Takeaways

Production from me should be down this week, as I'm on vacation. Please check the blog anyway, as I'm hoping for support from Other Tools to keep everyone amused. And here's what I've got from the TV that showed me tonight's game, a scant 1,100 miles south of the Man Cave...

10) Is there something wrong with David Akers, or does he just break out in hives when he sees Big Blue? The man did hit four out of five figgies tonight, but nearly all of the makes were hairy, the miss was a block that nearly went for six, and the kickoffs were as bad as I've ever seen him. I'm really hoping he's hurt, actually.

9) It was a meaningless play at the end of the game, but it was still nice to see MLB Stewart Bradley get a pick on a ball to a TE. He remains the main coverage guy on those throws, and if he can get better at it, a major way to attack the defense goes out the window. Also noteworthy is that Giants TE Kevin Boss did little tonight, though he probably had a very valid beef with a lack of PI call on S Nate Allen in the second quarter.

8) As meaningful and essential as the win was, it should provide a wealth of good/bad film for Eagle oppos to use against QB Michael Vick. The man missed some very open WRs tonight, and WR Jason Avant blew a bunny TD, but the Giants had a very strong scheme against him, and gave some real clues to the future on how to stop him. That would include varying the blitz packages, force him to his off hand to make the chance of throws much less, go for the strip whenever possible, and take every chance you can to put a smack on him, since his prowess as a runner basically means the refs don't call roughing half as much as they do non-mobile QBs. In other words, what Jim Johnson did to him in a NFC championship game a lifetime or three ago. It still works.

7) Anyone who thinks that this win makes the Eagles the best team in the NFC is smoking something. All they did was hold serve, at home, in a game where a fourth down run went to the house on a length of DE Osi Umenyiora's finger, which is how far away the Giant standout was from forcing a fumble on the flip. And they could have still easily won this game, if their QB were only capable of falling down without disaster. Besides, it's not as if the Packers don't have the head to head advantage, that the Falcons might have a very different outcome in a home game, or that the Saints aren't defending Super Bowl champions with a very strong last couple of weeks. Green stayed in the conversation this week, and made their path to the playoffs much more possible; nothing more.

6) What on earth is Giants coach Tom Coughlin doing with the challenge flag after Eli's Boner? The play is going to be upheld, he loses the chance to challenge again for another minute, and that time out could have been a very big deal if his defense suddenly didn't become allergic to RB Shady McCoy in crunch time. I get that a reversal is huge, but that had no chance of happening. It's not just Blue that's got a recent history of fading down the stretch; it's also the coaches.

5) I'm starting to love this young and gritty Eagles team; it's explosive and talented and seems to be having fun. But good grief, it picks up yellow laundry like a concierge working on commission. (Many less tasteful jokes considered and rejected there.) That's seriously tempering my playoff dreams here, along with the next point...

4) As good and careful as Vick has been with thrown balls this year, he's bound to throw some picks soon. It's amazing to me that after 11 years of a QB with one of the lowest INT rates in the history of the game, Green's actually gotten better on that metric this year. Of course, if Vick goes down and QB Kevin Kolb has to take over again, all bets are off.

3) How on earth does CB Asante Samuel fumble the possible clinching return on (Yet Another) Eli pick tonight? I get that the man is trying to make a play, but I'd happily take the CB taking an intentional knee there, rather than give RB Ahmad Bradshaw a chance to be the hero.

2) Honestly, how long does Eli's Magic Month buy him in NYC? Performances like tonight, when he more or less costs his team the game with repeated weak-arm mistakes under duress, make me wonder. A lot. And continue to be appreciative of his presence there, because honestly...I think I was more scared of Kerry Collins in his time in that laundry. Or maybe even Jared Lorenzon, just because the man made cannibalism of a blitzing DB seem like a very real option.

1) Not to belabor the point or minimize a tense and exticing game... but my abiding image from this one will be how Green won because Eli couldn't slide, fumble and chew gum at the same time. If my family weren't all around me sleeping off 1,100 miles of car travel, I'd have been laughing like a hyena. A hyena on really, really good drugs. Blue Fan, I'm so glad he's all yours...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Top 10 reasons why MLB is going to expand the playoffs to 10 teams

10) If they just expand the field long enough, the Brewers are sure to qualify

9) Now that we've eliminated pennant races, we need to figure out some stronger way to emasulate the regular season

8) Gives MLB more October games to get slaughtered in head to head matchups against the NFL

7) The more teams that make it, the better the chance that the MLB+ teams won't win the World Series, so that the league can continue to sell that parity myth

6) It will be an important part of the league's game plan to win back fans after a pointless lockout, PR-crushing steroid scandal, or snooze-incuding offensive slowdown

5) Increases the chance of us finally getting a playoff game with a below .500 team

4) In two of the last three years, we had to endure an AL playoff season without Boston or New York, which can clearly never happen again

3) More playoff games means more games on at odd hours and cable channels, which the league just can't get enough of

2) Improves the likelihood of some young pitching phenom actually haven to work more than 120 innings

1) Critical step towards making the MLB regular season just as meaningless as the NBA or NHL

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Top 10 NFL B-Rolls We Don't Need To See Anymore, And Possible Alternatives

A B-roll, for those of you who don't cotton to techie TV jibber jabber, is the canned stuff that they show you, usually under the advertiser list, when the game comes out of commercial. Usually, it then runs for another 5 to 15 seconds as the announce team vamps, and then we're back to the game. And here are the specific little film snippets that, after a lifetime of watching football, I don't need to see anymore. You either, I'm thinking.

10) All Thanksgiving Film Ever.

The Film: Turkeys, turkeys, turkeys for as far as the eye can see.

The Insult: Gosh, look at all of these things we're about to kill so we can be more obese. Let us start eyeing up individual victims, perhaps with a big lip-smacky moment from the announcing team, so that everyone involved can sound like Hannibal Lecter for a moment. Fun!

Alternatives: Leaf piles. Kids playing a touch football game. High school football, since that's a huge part of that day. People in their kitchens basting the bird, working on cookies, pulling out pies. Gigantic pumpkins. It's the best holiday of the year, and you people are making it look like nothing more than sanctioned and celebrated murder. Knock it off.

9) San Diego

The Film: The ocean, the beach, and the fact that while everyone else in the country is freezing their nuts off, these people are Living In Paradise.

The Insult: Not only are the Chargers frequently better than their opponents, but they get to live here? Next time, I'm rooting for the wildfires. (Seeing how the Shooter Brother lives out there, that's a joke. But with some steel to it.)

Alternatives: The Gaslight District is really nice, and there's some historic merit to the old Spanish dwellings that have been preseved from before the area was gringo. I'd also give an eye tooth if the cameras took a spin out to the Rivertucky areas, wher ethe world's pornography is made, and the dark side of the California dream is on permanent display. I'd also take lines at the border, just so people in Red States could start puling. That's all good, really.

8) Pittsburgh

The Film: Steel being made. As if that's got more impact to the local economy at this point than, say, glass blowing.

The Insult: Pittsburgh has transformed more than any other American city in the past 50 years, from a dying coal-checked pollution-fest to a mecca for tech and higher education. And yet, NFL viewers don't ever see that. It's wrong, if only because it keeps Cleveland and Detroit from thinking there's any other way to be.

Alternatives: Monster sandwiches, if we must go with food. The Andy Warhol or Fred Rogers museums, if we want to blow people's minds; I'm quite partial to the room with floating silver pillow balloons, myself. Or just all of the bridges over all of the rivers, which makes going through the place something out of a medieval novel about dwarves. There are options.

7) Green Bay

The Film: The disquieting sight of cheese and/or sauerkraut being made. Yum, I hope mine got extra shovel and boot grit!

The Insult: I'm not sure there is one. Or that Green Bay Fan, who is the nicest person you will find in an NFL stadium, would take offense anyway. Let's just move on.

Alternatives: Lambeau Field, please. The place is gorgeous, historic, dripping with cool merch and good sight lines, and gives every other city a chance to see what a stadium should look like -- swells in heat in the back with the TV screens with the worst view, and the diehards up front screaming their heads off when the Pack needs them most.

6) New Orleans

The Film: Mardi Gras revelers in costume. I suppose this beats Katina footage.

The Insult: The city is open for the other 51 weeks of the year, too.

Alternatives: The place is rife with spooky-cool mansions -- there's a reason why vampire hags love the place. Alligator is served here; show us some of that. Hurricanes can put you three sheets to the wind in half an hour, and should be celebrated. Cajun food is fun to look at, especially if you don't have to listen to the pompous chef drawl in his fake accent about it. Open it up a bit.

5) Oakland

The Film: Morons in costumes.

The Insult: The vast majority of Raider Fans are not cross-dressers, face painters, or extras in a Mad Max movie. Luckily, the Raiders sell out the yard so infrequently that these guys haven't gotten a book and movie deal. Yet.

Alternatives: Alameda is a hidden jewel of an island right next to the town. Jack London Square is nice. The pier at Berkeley is right out of a movie. Oakland has any number of awesome and authentic restaurants. And all of these things would get us away from the leathers and feathers crowd...

4) San Francisco

The Film: The Golden Gate Bridge, a Dungenes crab, or a streetcar.

The Insult: We've all seen these things a billion times. Move on.

Alternatives: Alcatraz rocks (hah! I made a funny). Golden Gate Park has any number of spectacular views. A quick jaunt on the Pacific Coast Highway will stay with you for your whole damn life. They make chocolate there. And so on, and so on.

3) New York

The Film: The Blade Runner neon trap that is Times Square, or the Statue of Liberty

The Insult: No native actually goes to either of these places. Ever.

Alternatives: Too numerous to count, but if you have to go someplace famous, the Empire State Building is still old-school cool, and Central Park is actually the place everyone likes. I'm also a fan of the view you get over some of the bridges. Of course, since the games are actually in New Jersey, you don't see so much of this footage anymore, anyway...

2) Seattle

The Film: Thrown fish at Pike's Place

The Insult: One of the most beautiful cities you've ever seen, with 150+ years as a port and melting pot where Asia meets the U.S., in an isolated cocoon that's so remote, it almost feels like Alaska some days... reduced to vending.

Alternatives: Paul Allen spent an ungodly amount on the Jimi Hendrix museum, and even that doesn't take away how cool Jimi is. Footage of Mount Rainier works. Drive a half hour in any direction, you'll be in spooky cool dark woods. Honestly, filmable stuff is not rare here.

1) Philadelphia

The Film: Cheese Steak Assembly.

The Problem: Honestly, the process hasn't changed for something like 50 years now. We're pretty sure that everyone who has wanted one has had one.

The Insult: America's first capital city, one of the half dozen largest cities in America, home to over 300 years of history, reduced to a freaking sandwich. It gets old.

Alternatives: If it must be food, show a pretzel being knotted. That's kind of cool, and we do eat a ton of those things. Or a Tastykake being crimped. That's oddly enjoyable, and definitively local. Of course, if you want to actually show something of the city, try Ben Franklin Parkway, or the Franklin Institute, or the Art Museum, or the Italian Market.

Add your own in the comments. I'm sure I've missed some doozy cliches for Chicago, Miami, Detroit, New England and others...

Mea Culpa Cap'n

About two years ago, Eagles coach Andy Reid had what might have been his worst day as a football coach. Down in a road game to the raging Ravens in the second half, he pulled struggling decade-long starting QB Donovan McNabb to put in the ice-cold and completely unprepared Kevin Kolb. It was indefensible on every level, even if you wanted McNabb run, since Reid was putting a player into a situation where he had no chance of success, and potentially losing his locker room in the process. The decision backfired badly, with Kolb ending his day with a 102-yard TAInt to Ravens S Ed Reed, and in the resulting media firestorm, I joined a growing chorus of people who had decided that ten years was enough with the Fat Man.

The club then went on an improbably month-long joyride through the division, with McNabb in particular shining, ending in a road loss to the Kurt Warner Cardinals in Arizona, in yet another championship game that was there for the taking, but not taken. While I appreciated the run and deeply enjoyed seeing the division subjugated under the Green wheels again, with particular delight in McNabb's scramble and phone call in the Meadowlands, I didn't change my base opinion. Reid had to go for the team to reach the next level, because he could not be trusted to make the right decisions under pressure, and you can't have that from your coach in today's NFL, since the teams are rarely more than a couple of plays apart.

(Of course, Reid and the Eagles could give the fleas off the business end of a rat for what I think; after all, I'm one of millions of followers of the laundry, and it's not as if the money they'll make from me, via TV ratings, merch and the very rare game ticket, will change all that much depending on the regime. I watched this team when the QB was Bobby Hoying. It's much nicer to watch them when they are good, but let's face it; no matter what happens, I'm watching them. It's a life sentence. Back to the column.)

Fast forward to 2009. On my way to a poker game, I tuned into a pre-season game on the car radio to discover that one of the most notorious athletes in the world, and a man who I had made considerable hay from as a blogger, was now joining the team. The player, of course, was Michael Vick, and he spent the next four months looking like a sad shell of his former self while running a set of plays that looked like they were designed for a wideout, rather than a former MVP. Vick's 2009 was the very epitome of sideshow; he no longer had great speed, still had terrible mechanics and accuracy, and gave the non-Eagles public aid and comfort by making the rest of us deeply uncomfortable due to his regrettable past. I grew to hate the Wildcat package, wondered what on Earth the coach was seeing, and added the acquisition to the list of reasons why Reid must go. (The much bigger team failing in 2009 was the inability to find tolerable linebackers. But the Vick package was far more grating.)

Now 2010. After shipping McNabb to prime vengeance position in DC, the team continued to toss off useful older pieces like CB Sheldon Brown, RB Brian Westbrook, a passel of linebackers who seemed like they could be coached up, and the special teams coach who had coaxed a fairly good year out of his charges. With the team, as always, under the cap, the suspicion was that they were going to rebuild on the cheap, endure a ton of picks from the accurate enough to be dangerous Kolb, and wait for the defensive draft picks to emerge. I didn't see more than a 6 to 8 win season, wondered if Reid would be around long enough to see the club come out the other side, and stayed in the camp of Coach Must Go.

Now? Well, not to get too exuberant over one game... but I'm going to get too exuberant over one game. Vick is the best fantasy QB in the game, and no worse than top five overall by any measure. The starting wideouts are the fastest in the league, and the reserve wideouts make plays in special teams and catches in the spread. The offense fears no down and distance, has recovered nicely from what seemed like a devastating injury to FB Leonard Weaver with castoff Owen Schmitt, and might have the best backup QB in the league in Kolb, who has shown considerable strength of character in the loss of his starting job.

On defense, they get after the passer better than they have in years, and they've managed to turn a turnstile CB (Ellis Hobbs) into an Al Harris-esque pit fighter (Dmitri Patterson) over a bye week. The linebackers, while still not world-class, are significantly improved, and CB Asante Samuel is having the best year of his career. Even the kicking game, long a source of erosion and dislike, has turned around, with K David Akers turning back time and P Sav Rocca having the best half-season of his time in the US.

And the credit for a very large part of that has to go to Reid.

He's the guy that saw Vick's potential and put his neck out on the line for him, then held the faith even when the game tape did neither of them any favors. He's the guy that was had the stones and dispassion to move on from McNabb. And in nearly a dozen years on the job, he's always had the touch with QBs, from getting the last good games of Jeff Garcia's career to making multiple teams think that AJ Feeley was worth a draft pick. Save for Doug Pederson and Mike McMahon, his judgment with the most important position on the field has been sterling.

He's the guy that has gotten out in time from any number of declining assets (Brian Dawkins, Terrell Owens, McNabb, Brown, etc., etc.), with history invariably proving him right. He's the guy that's fearless about identifying and eliminating problem personnel; the team rarely gets caught extending a contract on anyone that doesn't work out. (Though Brent Celek is making me rethink that a bit.) And yes, he's the guy who can't make a replay challenge to save his life, control his weight so that he doesn't look like a walrus on my screen, or give a straight answer in a press conference following a loss. I still have my doubts that he's ever going to win a championship.

But he's the right choice for the job, and I was wrong to think that he wasn't.

The saving grace for the Fat Man is that he *knows* every problem that he has, and actively works to fix them. For the first five years of McNabb's tenure, Reid saddled him with a collection of wideouts that were mostly laughed at by the rest of the league. Now, he might have the best. His special teams were a source of coverage worry; now, they grade out well, and with Bobby April in the fold, should continue to get better. His short yardage game can still make you pull the hair out of your head, but it's no longer an open sore, and as the league has moved closer to his pass-pass-pass ethos, he's looking like some kind of prophet. The team went out and got linebackers who can run in the off-season, and while the overall defense is still light against a power running game and big TEs, and too young to be truly trustworthy, they no longer look helpless against the things that always killed them before. If and when they get the penalty situation under control, they could be dangerous.

So the game hasn't passed him by, he's still one of the hardest workers in an industry filled with grindstone types, and his personnel choices are lights out -- and will be even when Vick stops being interception-free, or healthy, or any of the other calamaties that are in the future. (Remember, in the future, we're all dead. Cheers!) Hell, he might even stop wasting timeouts and replay challenges one of these years.

So Andy... here's my apology, borne out by the results, ground out over the years, and buoyed by your remarkable foresight on the quarterbacks. You've earned it back. You were right, and I was wrong. And I'm very, very happy to have been wrong. Now, please go win the rest of your games this year, so I don't have to take this back.

Week 11 NFL Picks: A World Without Defense

Last week, 13 different NFL quarterbacks threw for over 300 yards, a new record for a single week in the league's 80-year history... and the question isn't why it happened, but why there weren't more. With the gazelle wideouts in an increasingly hitting DB lion-free environment, penalties and life-changing fines looming over every seam route, and the constant cheerleading for more and more scoring, we're in a situation where a half-dozen teams or more are expected to play a pinball game for you. And for the most part, they do.

Some of this is, of course, historic talent. The Eagles under Michael Vick in particular looked unreal, and seemed to care not a whit that their opponent was at home, rested, and playing in a monsoon. But most offenses were like the nearly 500 yards of Matt Cassel (Matt Cassel?) Chief Losing, or the simple dink, dunk, and out work from the Tom Brady Patriots. You can argue that the defenses need to do more to get pressure on the QB, but if you touch that guy late or on the head, it's 15 yards now. So it's not like bringing the house is a really appealing option. Increasingly, the league just comes down to whether the offense is making mistakes; if they aren't, they score. Nothing more than that.

The league, seeing a ratings gain in a fragmented and recessionary media market, can't get enough of it. And I'm here to tell you that the bubble hasn't even come close to bursting. Pinball games are more fun for fantasy leaguers, heighten the taste for longer highlight reels, keep everyone from thinking about concussions and brain damage, and allow us all to think that our game of vice and more vice is as safe as a casino in every city. We're all grown-ups here, and we've all been hoping that our favorite laundry could put up 50 points on any given Sunday. Put another scoop of sugar on the ice cream and let's eat.

(And if you don't believe that offense sells tickets and defense sells nothing, consider this: Arena Football has existed for something like 20 years with basketball-esque scores. The XFL, which prized hard hitting over everything else? One year and done. Back to the column.)

Don't expect the weather to save the defense, either. Last night's MNF scoregasm wasn't just a pinball game on one side; the inclement weather didn't change either teams' playcalling one whit. Climate change means that the winter games are less wintry, and new stadiums mean that many of those games will be played in pristine conditions. Balls are cycled out fast enough that they can't become waterlogged, and the new yards, for the most part, enclose the stadiums to protect the swells from wind. Everything's coming up pinball.

Is there anything that can be done to get the balance back? No, but I'd push for two changes right away. The first is that there is no reason why offensive pass interference isn't penalized as severely as defensive pass interference. If we're ready to give 40-yard penalties in one direction, the same should go the other way. The offenses can convert any down and distance in the current climate, anyway. And the second is that if an offensive player flops, that should be 15 yards, an ejection, and the immediate removal of any and all commercial endorsements, and possibly their man parts. Because we're about five minutes away from wideouts flopping like concussed salmon for calls in crunch time, and getting them, and Euroball breaking out. And no one wants that.

So in the interim... my betting advice is to bet the over. After that, bet the over. Then bet the over some more. And try not to think too badly of the defender when they look anemic at contact, or have their arm tackle ran through. If your game check and livelihood was on the line every time you got near a wideout, you'd be doing the same thing.

And with that... on to the picks!

CHICAGO at Miami (-1.5)

A short week for both teams as the NFL Network's reign of Thursday Night Terror continues. The Bears are poised to be the worst division leading team this side of the NFC West, while the Dolphins are reduced to third-string QB Tyler Thigpen, who is experienced at providing numbers in blowouts from his time with the Chiefs. Chicago kept QB Jay Cutler clean for last week's home game against the DOA Vikings, while the Dolphins gutted out a win despite the M*A*S*H* routine. This week, in a moment of hold your nose, pick a team and hope, I'm counting on the Bears defense to force more errors than the Dolphins collect, especially with LT Jake Long questionable. I'm also counting on you not minding, at all, that your cable sysetem won't carry this game.

Bears 24, Dolphins 20

CINCINNATI (-4.5) at Buffalo

The Bills finally won a game last week, and have another very winnable one this week, as the woebegone Bengals come to town. Last week, Cincy became the first team with a known running back to have trouble running the ball against the Colts, mostly because RB Cedric Benson has reverted to his earlier persona as Three Yards And A Cloud Of Suck. I've been wondering why coach Marvin Lewis has been so anxious to become a losing team that throws the ball all the time, since QB Carson Palmer is an affront to the eyes that needs to be a bad back-up at this point in his career... and well, OK, apologies to Marvin. At least when you throw it this much, points eventually happen against the late-game prevent defense, and right now, Palmer looks more likely to have a career renaisance that Fat Ced. What a train wreck.

For Buffalo, they barely hung on against the Lions, and continue to try to prove to the world that RB CJ Spiller wasn't just a bad use of the pick given the talent that was on the roster, but a bad football player all around. This franchise is just special. Short bus special. So give me the Bengals, for only one reason: Terrell Owens to have a vengeance game at the only franchise that he ever played for that doesn't care enough to boo his return. Bills Fan is too busy pricing ovens to put his head in for that sort of thing.

Bengals 27, Bills 17

Detroit at DALLAS (-7)

Our annual Thanksgiving teams (WHY, NFL, WHY? WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN TO CHANGE THIS?) square off in a battle of frisky 2-win teams. Dallas appears to have a pulse after last week's shocking win in New York, with interim coach Jason Garrett making his bid to be the latest fad for owner Jerruh Jones to project about. From where I sat, it looked more like the biannual game where QB Jon Kitna looks acceptable, against a highly suspect Giants secondary that's entirely dependent on the defensive line to avoid being exposed... but it's not as if that doesn't describe Detroit, too. I'm still mad tht this team got WR Dez Bryant in the draft, even if they desperately needed offensive linemen instead.

The Lions can't run the ball, can't avoid turning it over when they pass it, and give up too many big plays, especially on the road. Even here, even now, the line is warranted. Besides, now that Dallas is trying again, they are good and rested. Kitna Will Have His Revenge!

Dallas 31, Lions 20

WASHINGTON at Tennessee (-6.5)

The million dollar question: how much of the Monday Night Massacre was the Eagle offense playing at Killing Speed, and how much of it was the Redskins being the hapless jabronie that's there to put opponent over? I'm betting more on the former, especially if Washington doesn't have a repeat auto-abort of its starting RB in pre-game, and if QB Donovan McNabb can continue to make former Arena Leaguer Anthony Armstrong look like a real live NFL wideout. McNabb earns his money, folks. Besides, this might be the one game a year that Albert Haynesworth tries to earn his game check. Or then again, maybe not. Woof.

Redskins 23, Titans 16

KANSAS CITY (-7.5) at Arizona

Man, the wheels fell off the Chiefs in a hurry, didn't they? From a road loss to the Raiders where they had the game in their grasp but let it slip away, to a blowout stat pumper effort against the Broncos where they stared at the ceiling for Jebus Tebow. That'll leave a taste. The Cards have only another half dozen games to lose before they are eliminated in the West, and the league's worst QB situation is there to lead them every step of the way. I'm kind of amazed that WR Larry Fitzgerald hasn't developed a convenient injury to get himself out of this mess yet. The Chiefs will run the ball well on short fields.

Chiefs 27, Cardinals 13

GREEN BAY at Minnesota (+3)

Here comes Aaron Rodgers, like Samuel Jackson in "Pulp Fiction" quoting his avenging angel Scripture, to rid the world of the Favre Problem once and for all. Please, Aaron Rodgers, show no mercy.

The Pack come off a bye to face the Coach Hating And Ready To Die Vikings, who might be pinning their hopes at avoiding embarrassment on the return of WR Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice. The only problem is that Berrian's horrible and Rice's not really back yet, and this team doesn't have problems at wideout; it has them just about everywhere else. Our long national nightmare is nearly over, assuming your nightmares don't involve Tarvaris Jackson. Me, I see that more as comedy than horror. (And if you want to know exactly when the Vikings have mailed in the year, just check to see when RB Brandon Jackson is carving up yards on the ground. That's the litmus test of quit.)

Packers 34, Vikings 17

Houston at NEW YORK JETS (-5)

Yeesh, what a hateful line. The Jets play to everyone's level and should never be considered anyone's idea of a safe cover; they've spent the last two weeks on the road, letting inferior teams take them to overtime, then capitalizing on brain farts for wins. The Texas are 4-5, on a 3-game losing streak, and just spit the bit on a fumble in field goal territory leading to a gut-breaking divisional road loss on a Hail Mary. They probably have enough to hang around this game and get the cover with a dispiriting late loss, especially against a Jets team that will be missing WR Jerricho Cotchery, and enduring the not very surprising erosion of RB LaDanian Tomlinson. If QB Matt Sanchez is hobbled, that also doesn't help. But none of it will matter, because it's the Jets' year, and more importantly, really not Texans coach Gary Kubiak's. And the Jets will do as much as anyone in the league to take WR Andre Johnson out of the mix.

Jets 27, Titans 20

OAKLAND at Pittsburgh (-9)

To the great joy of superstitous Zinzer fans, I'm off them with this big number. The defense has taken a clear step backward (age?), the offensive line is patchwork, and QB Ben Roethlisberger is going back to his old "I'll Hold The Ball Long Enough To Do Something Heroic" routine that produces more sacks than anything else. The Raiders are good at getting after the QB, excellent at running the ball (and did you notice how Patriots RB Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis had some serious yards? Telling), patient enough to stick with a game plan as the game stays close, and absolutely playing with house money, since they are coming off a bye and a heavy dog. At least the Steelers finally ran K Jeff Reed, so that their last-minute field goal will make them winners. Just not against the spread.

Steelers 24, Raiders 21

BALTIMORE (-10) at Carolina

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the very worst team in the NFL; your underpaying and ready to roll up the sidewalks Panthers. Unable to find a QB that even resembles a professional body, unable to keep either of their plus running backs healthy, with a defense that's reaching Discouraged Worker status, a lame-duck coach and an ownership situation that's cutting corners and looking forward to Nuclear Winter Lockout. What a seamy place Charlotte has been with pro sports; from Rae Carruth to Fred Lane to Bobby Phillis, George Shinn, the Hornets leaving and the Bobcats behaving more like a welfare franchise than an entrepenurial enterprise... well, it's been about as bad as any sports situation in the last 20 years, but since it's a media backwater and new, no one notices or cares.

Look for the Ravens to paper over their serious secondary issues for a week, and provide nice fantasy goodness for once for their offensive players. They aren't as good as their record, and in reality I'm pretty discouraged by this squad, but none of those holes will be found by a squad as motley as these cats.

Ravens 31, Panthers 6

Cleveland at JACKSONVILLE (-3)

The Little Team That Doesn't against the Zombie Playoff Cruds, in a matchup that's a single question test for whether or not you have a gambling problem. I have no idea which Jags team will show up, and you have to think that Browns QB Colt McCoy will respond well to finally facing an opposing team that doesn't have recent Super Bowl rings... but there's also the inevitable letdown that the Mangini should feel after last week's brain fart against the Jets. Also, CB Sheldon Brown going down really doesn't help. Give me the Jags, a B12 shot, and take away my 1-day chip.

Jaguars 24, Browns 19

ATLANTA (+3) at St. Louis

The rising Dirty Birds travel to a relatively friendly road dome to oppose Rookie of the Year candidate Sam Bradford and the not ready for winning time Rams. If the Falcons are the team we think they are, they'll take care of an inadequate but game team on the road, probably by controlling the clock with RB Michael Turner, then getting big plays from WR Roddy White (clearly the best fantasy play in the league today, and it's not even close) and TE Tony Gonzalez. But what they really need is for QB Matt Ryan to be the guy on the road that he is at home. If and when that happens, this might be the best team in the NFC. If not, they'll just win their division. Really not much that variance at work here.

Falcons 27, Rams 17

Seattle at NEW ORLEANS (-12.5)

Two teams that have destroyed me all year when it comes to picking their games. The Seahawks are somehow 5-4 despite being a terrible road team with quarterback health issues, mediocre at best running backs, and line play that doesn't really do much for anyone. They lead the worst division in NFL history, mostly because someone has to, and from starting off 3-1 in the division. In weeks 7 and 8, they lost two games by a combined score of 74-10, and they are the only division leader to allow more points than they have scored.

The Saints are 6-3 despite being a clear step behind what they were last year, with an offense that's purely ordinary in terms of points per game, with near losses to terrible teams like the Niners and Panthers, and actual losses to the Browns and Cardinals (Cardinals?). They finally looked like themselves last week in Carolina, but beating Carolina right now is only slightly more difficult than showing up to play the game.

This week, I'm looking for the home team to continue the mojo, and the Seahawks to fulfill their destiny of being a terrible road team. Mostly because it's November, and it's time for teams like the Saints to show their pedigree.

Saints 31, Seahawks 16

TAMPA at San Francisco (-4)

Testing time for the upstart Bucs, who have been riding QB Joshua Freeman to a winning record despite being in the toughest division in the NFC. They get a road trip to San Fran, where the Niners have a 2-game winning streak after a 1-7 start, which in the NFC West means that they are about two good weeks from being at the top of the division again. Behind retread sparkplug QB Troy Smith, who exploded for 356 yards in a season-saving win last week against the Rams, they seem to have a purpose again... but the bar is higher against the Bucs, and there's a reason why Smith was freely available talent, after all. This week, he'll remind everyone why.

Bucs 20, Niners 17

Indianapolis at NEW ENGLAND (-3

Gahhh. Just when it seems like the New England engine had run aground into a cold and brutal NFL world of people who smack their itty bitty whitey wideouts around and run it down their sweet little throats, up from the ashes come the Belichicks to play their best game of the year. It's just plain maddening, really. And with a home win this week against the smoke and mirror Colts, who can't seem to hold a practice without losing another key weapon, things are looking particularly rosy. The Colts were lucky to escape the Bengals last week with a home win, one week after getting bottled up for most of a road loss to Philly. They can't run the ball, have the usual light in the loafers defensive issues, and don't seem too urgent about winning games, since their division is comprised of three teams they always beat when the money is on the table. But betting against Peyton Manning is usually about as much fun as... betting against the Patriots. Gahhh. Look for the home team to control the clock and get the win. And there's also this: it's a day game. Manning usually isn't as good in those.

Patriots 24, Colts 20

New York Giants at PHILADELPHIA (-3)

The over on this game started at 47.5 and went to 49 in a heartbeat; I'd take it up to 55.5, personally. Both teams have gaping holes in the secondary, erratic pressure from the front four, and are facing an offense with exceptional talent at the offensive skill positions. Unless this game is played in a sandstorm, the points will flow, and it will come down to which team makes the mistakes. Right now, that's not Michael Vick, who has 11 TDs, 0 INTs, a 62% completion percentage, 1 fumble and nearly 8 yards a carry. Good grief.

Adding to the good Green feelings is the fact that the Giants will be without third-down safety blanket WR Steve Smith, and prototype red zone size monster WR Ramses Barden. So that means that WR Mario Manningham will have to come up big, and while he does have talent, he doesn't have the most consistent hands. Provided the Eagles can get Vick to finish the game, and assuming that the Giants ground game doesn't go for 200 yards, the home team wins. Which also means they should cover.

Eagles 34, Giants 30

Denver at SAN DIEGO (-9.5)

I truly hate this line; the Chargers have been a terrible favorite this year, and the Broncos are capable of big numbers. Adding to the fun is the fact that the home team doesn't seem to be capable of getting through a game without a punt being blocked, and that lifeblood TE Antonio Gates is still questionable due to injury. At least they get back prodigal WR Vincent Jackson, and are coming off a bye. They have also got a history of late season surges, and a truly terrible opponent this week, albeit one that can put up numbers in the passing game. It'll be a shaky cover, but a cover nonetheless.

Chargers 34, Broncos 24

Last week: 6-8

Year to date: 60-73-12

Lifetime 340-350-23

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ten Points about Eagles-Redskins

No play by play this week; I was taking care of the Shooter Kids, which made that level of detail work impossible. So here are the ten long-form thoughts about a plainly ridiculous game...

1) If the Eagles can keep QB Michael Vick healthy, and if the line can keep giving him a chance to make plays... well, what is supposed to be a rebuilding year could be an awful lot more than that. Some of the plays that he made in this game were just absurd on every level, and while you also need to give credit to the Eagle wideouts, the explosiveness that was shown here was just something out of a video game. I've been watching football for 35 years; I've never seen any offense, let alone one in this laundry, that did what they did tonight. The only thing that kept the Eagles from triple digits was the club wanting to take time off the clock, and coach Andy Reid's basic sense of human decency. He was that good.

2) Nothing the Skins could have done tonight would have made a difference, but it's still noteworthy that coach Mike Shanahan did very little to make things difficult on the road team tonight. In the first quarter with the game running away, the play calling was uninspired and unthreatening. With his defense in tatters, he never called a trick play on special teams, never went for it on fourth down, never adjusted his defense to just rush two and try something different. Instead, he took his beating, off a bye week, like the old and tired loser that he is. Oh, and he's also now locked into QB Donovan McNabb when he probably doesn't want him. Good luck with all of that, Mike.

3) CB Dmitri Patterson had a few ugly moments in this one, but he also had a third quarter TAInt and more positive plays than negative, and showed a nice recovery from mistakes. He's going to be the primary target for the opposition every week, but after last week's solid effort against Peyton Manning and tonight, we can safely say that we've seen the last meaningful role for CB Ellis Hobbs. And not a moment too soon.

4) I'm as big of an apologist for McNabb that's ever walked. Tonight, he was terrible on third down -- the Skins were 0 for 10 on third down, and McNabb ranks something like 38th out of 39 qualifying QBs on third-down efficiency. And while he still throws some of the best deep balls in the league, and certainly wasn't the biggest reason why his team got toasted, that deep ball looks an awful lot like the last piece to go at the end of days. Let's just say that Redskins Fan can't be too happy about owner Daniel Synder giving him a contract extension, and a big chunk of guaranteed money, right about now...

5) It's a small point, but the trade of RB Mike Bell to the Browns for RB James Harrison looks like grade-A thievery. Harrison's burst is just a plus, he rarely goes down on first contact, and while he might never be much in the passing game or a terribly large part of the attack, he's just a good football player. Bell, not so much.

6) In the third quarter on a broken play, Vick was caught and slammed by safety LaRon Landry. It might have been the best play of the night that the defense made against him. And it gained two yards. That was the kind of night it was for the home defense.

7) There's bad, there's miserable, and there's getting your spine ripped out on national television, in the rain, as tens of thousands of Enemy Fan laughs at your pain, the same way they did during baseball season. If this wasn't the most miserable night to be Redskin Fan, I'm not sure what is. (Then again, after this many years of Daniel Snyder, I'm thinking they are used to it.)

8) Another game, another experience where the opposing team's #1 WR could join the witness protection program. CB Asante Samuel is a routine commuter to the Pro Bowl, and given that the other side is manned by a fifth year guy that 's making the first starts of his NFL career, I'd go hard after him as well. But the point needs to be made, especially when the puling begins about how Samuel shies away from contact. He's really, really good, and for more than gambling to make big plays.

9) When your franchise thinks that a 39-year-old speed WR is worth a roster spot, that's an indictment of your franchise and the way they make decisions. The Skins employ WR Joey Galloway. Nuff 'said.

10) On the final touchdown to WR Jason Avant (and Avant had a very nice game tonight, too, and that's a big deal, given that TE Brent Celek is the most overrated guy at his position this side of Jeremy Shockey, since his next catch in traffic this year might be his first), Vick had 8 seconds to throw, and looked for all the world like a maestro orchaestrating the other 21 men on the field. Like a marionette, he made DE Albert Haynesworth jump into the air to block a pass that never came, then fall down and quit. That, more than anything else, is the visual takeaway I'll keep from this game: a QB, playing at a level that very few have ever reached, making the other team look silly. Amazing on every level. See you next week.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Top 10 Eagles - Redskins Takeaways

10) It's good that the Redskins were coming off a bye, otherwise this could have gotten ugly

9) The Eagles' biggest problem in this game was that David Akers was really getting worn down

8) If you didn't have Michael Vick in your roto league, you got owned

7) Luckily for the defenses, the rain slowed things up

6) The Redskins became the first team in NFL history to score garbage time touchdowns in the second quarter

5) DeSean Jackson's fantasy owners feel very cheated, seeing how Vick kept spreading the joy around

4) After a year of watching the Phillies Fan own their Opening Day, then the Eagles eviscerate them at home, you can sort of see how DC Fan is pretty tired of them

3) The Redskins defense quit so much, the Eagles were even successful in short yardage running plays

2) The Eagles set a team record in total yards, most points in a first quarter, and most panting mouth jobs from a broadcast team in one telecast

1) Daniel Synder is the best owner ever, assuming that you don't root for the Redskins

Top 10 reasons why the Redskins signed Donovan McNabb to a $78 million extension

10) He promised that if they did the deal, he'd be sure in shape, knowing the two minute offense, and willing to win tonight's game

9) You always want to give a an injury-prone 34-year-old guy having his worst statistical season five years with $40 million in guaranteed money

8) Dan Snyder wants to show Mike Shanahan that's he's not the only guy in town who can make very bad decisions

7) Sexy Rexy Grossman was getting a little too big for his britches

6) They really weren't interested in Michael Vick after all

5) McNabb is part of their big picture plan of winning the league in 2004

4) The club understands that with this line and wideouts, you need to overpay

3) Congress isn't the only organization in town that's used to paying far more than market rate

2) Once Terrell Owens and Freddie Mitchell threw McNabb under the bus again, the 'Skins just felt even more sorry for him

1) Dan Snyder is the best Redskins owner ever, provided you aren't a fan of the Redskins

FTT Off Topic: True Green

FTT Off Topic is a recurring series of not particularly sports related posts for people who just like the writing. Skip at will; y'all have been warned.

Six months ago, my clothes dryer broke. It's one of those appliances that came with the house, so I had no attachment to it, but as we are first-time homeowners, that's not exactly a new situation. The cylinder spun, but without heat, so it didn't seem like a big cost... but voila, $125 I didn't really have. As a backup, since I needed clothes dry as soon as the machine went down, I went to my local home improvement store and bought a clothes drying stand.

I'm a little odd, I suspect, from most guys; laundry has always been something I take care of. Part of this is the OCD, and part of this is just the ability to churn through busy work. Having laundry pile up for more than a week sets my teeth on edge and makes me unhappy on every level. It's just something that has to get done, dammit, so I'll just go do it. Besides, those six-odd years of living at college and then on my own had an impact. So this is my area.

A week later, the dryer broke again. Same issue. And rather than calling the repair guy back, I just bought a few more racks, and went full-time to that solution instead.

Now, a few points about my environmentalism. Despite the presence of a hybrid, the nearly universal use of compact fluroescent light bulbs, my voting pattern, my single-car household and my dependence on public transportation, it's not doctrinaire. I recycle, but I also use too much; the bins outside my home on trash day look like a frat house. My lawnmower is electric because I want quiet and a lack of gasoline stink more than I want power. I don't log many miles on my bike anymore, especially now that I take more meetings with top management. When we had to have the carpet replaced, I chose a comfortable and lower priced option over a more environmentally correct solution. When we shop for food, we don't limit ourselves to local cuisine only, and produce goes bad far too often. The home is heated, too often, by burning something like a thousand gallons of heating oil a year in the winter. It's cooled, too often, with air conditioners that aren't always necessary in the summer. And so on, and so on.

If everyone lived as we did, the planet would be in better shape, but we'd still have an immense problem. Our carbon footprint is smaller than most, but still a trainwreck. I'm pretty sure that when I'm older, there will be things that we do that my kids will be appalled by, the same way that kids have always. But back to the dryer.

When you ask people what household appliance they can't live without, which is a longstanding public survey, you see how we've all become remarkably dependent on technology in the last 20 years. Your iPod or MP3 player, once you get to the point of having your entire musical library in your pocket? Essential. High-speed Intenet connections? Intolerable in its absence. A cell phone, GPS, cable with all of your niche channels, or Netflix Instant with your queue, or a cranking DVR... they all move from useful convenience to appendage with startling modern speed. And the clothes dryer, like the dishwasher, has been part of the same trend. We used to feel shamed about needing these things; now, not so much. The percentages of people who feel like they *have to* have these things has gone from the 40s to the 80s.

Of course, people all over the world live without clothes dryers. And have for, well, tens of thousands of years. And so, for the past six months, has my family.

It's not a panacea. The hours per month that I spend hanging and checking clothes for moisture aren't thrilling. My odd private shame moments and rain-tastic New Jersey weather means that hanging clothes outside isn't a very appealing option, so our eco-win is mitigated by running fans and a dehumidifier in the laundry room when clothes are hung up. Fabric softener that you add to the washing machine really doesn't do that great of a job, so nothing ever feels as fluffy. My clothes have a starchy quality now that takes some time to get used to, and the whole process every week makes me feel like I'm poor, when we really are not. (There is a difference between poor and having little disposable income. I keep telling myself this as the balance owed on the house doesn't change.)

It's also what real environmentalism feels like, I think. Technology is only going to go so far in getting us out of the hole that it helped build. There is no convenient and eco-friendly way to dry clothes in a fraction of the time that evaporation uses, just as there is no eco-friendly way to travel far away from your home for a vacation.

There are simply choices, of which a clothes dryer is one. And until more of us make the choices that take some pain, admittedly with the nice benefit of a lower utility bill, we're really not treating the planet or our checkbook in the way we should. And that's all that I've got to say about that.

NFL Week 10: You Crap The Bed

This week on You Crap, we're brought to you by Hair Removal Pro, the makers and vendors of pubic and scrotal hair clippers. And considering the hot mess that are made by our contestants every week, it's just a good idea to have less in the way, if you catch my drift.

You all know how the game is played. We give you, the couchbound public, a chance to match wits with the people who are paid to play, coach, write, and make decisions about NFL games. Choose unwisely, and you too can... crap the bed!

1) You are Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf. After today's lifeless loss to the Bears in Chicago, your win-now team is 3-6 on the year, three games out of the division lead, and the same three games out of a possible wild-card berth with seven games to play. Rent-A-QB Brett Favre has announced that he isn't coming back for 2011, and hope for the future seems in very short supply. After today's game, you choose to:

a) Fire coach Brad Childress, who has clearly lost the locker room to the point where a half-dozen active players went to the press to say how much they hate him

b) Fire coach Brad Childress, who released WR Randy Moss without consulting you, and seems to be doing everything he can to make sure that WR Percy Harvin takes a swing at him

c) Fire coach Brad Childress, who insisted on drafting unheralded QB Tarvaris Jackson, then played him despite terrible results, then kept him for years after it became quite obvious that he'd never be much of anything

d) Fire coach Brad Childress, who assumed the position so hard for QB Brett Favre that any thought of benching His Brettness for performance became impossible, creating a double standard of non-accountability that utterly and completely poisoned your roster

e) Announce that Chilly's job was safe for the time being, because it's not as if a moribund Dallas team showed a pulse from a coaching change, or that anyone who roots for the purple wants Chilly around, or that you've got a good interim choice already around in defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier

If you choose (e), congratulations... you've crapped the bed! And you've won another brief period of time with Mr. Warmth, with the strong likelihood that more of your players will go over to the dark side of not giving an effort, all for no discernible gain whatsoever, since the chance of this team of dead men squawking have about as much chance of making a playoff run as I do of turning into an airplane. Well done!

2) You are Cleveland Browns' coach Eric Mangini. Nearing the end of the overtime period against the Jets, you get the ball at your own 3-yard line with 1:35 to go. Your offense has very little in the way of deep threat ability, and the Jets are one of the best defensive teams in the league. You choose to:

a) Run the ball multiple times with RB Peyton Hillis, since there's realistically no chance of winning this game, but every chance of losing it, and you need to kill the clock and take your tie

b) Give the ball to WR Muhammad Massaquoi (sadly, not Joshua Cribbs, who was lost to injury earlier in the game) on some kind of end-around or Wildcat toss, since that keeps the ball on the ground but adds a level of explosiveness that Hillis doesn't have

c) Run a bootleg with QB Colt McCoy, who is young enough to have some quicks, and especially with the threat of Hillis and Cribbs on the field, might wind up uncovered for a nice field-changing play

d) Throw it, but make damned sure it's a very high percentage pass, maybe a bubble screen to WR Chansi Stuckey or a flat throw to Hillis, so that the clock keeps running no matter what

e) Throw a deep ball to TE Ben Watson -- no, seriously, Ben Watson -- on first down, since the incomplete will allow for the Jets' final two timeouts of the game to be relevant and give them the ball back with time left on the clock

If you choose (e), congratulations... you've crapped the bed! And you've won the Jets getting the ball back, setting up the missed tackle to touchdown play that will set up the second straight week in which an opponent gift wraps an overtime win to the Jets. Also, you've made a few hundred more Cleveland Fans want to kill themselves, in what might be the most prolonged stretch of teeth-grinding insanity-producing fail fail fail in the history of American sport. Well done!

3) You are FTT Writer DMtShooter. With a week to go before a vacation and a beautiful day outside, you choose to:

a) Get some housework done, since you'll have house sitters over to take care of the pets, and you don't want them to think you are a complete slob

b) Go outside with your kids, as it's a beautiful day outside and this being the East Coast, it's not as if there will be many more of these to go around this year

c) Catch up on your sleep, seeing how your commute, day job and increasing age means that you are prone to micro-naps that are just plain sad

d) Look for discounts online for your trip, seeing how you are going to a part of the world that just preys on tourists like yourself, or

e) Blog on a day when the only 4pm game is Cowboys-Giants, also known as two of your least favorite teams in the league, knowing that every possible outcome with the possible exception of a plague outbreak is going to be unsatisfying

If you choose (e), congratulations... you've crapped the bed! (You also left Matt Cassel on your fantasy bench, played Willis McGahee, Joel Dressens and the Pittsburgh defense. Pure joy.) And you've won a sad little grind of a day in which you can barely fill the recurring You Crap The Bed feature, since Norv Turner was on bye, Andy Reid works on Monday, and most of the games were well behind the crapping range. But hey, with age comes... a crushing lack of dignity. Yes, that's it. And a desperate need to fulfill your obligations, even if they are self-assigned.

Well, that's all we have time for this week. We'll see next time on... You Crap The Bed! Good night, everybody!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Top 10 NFL Week 10 Ad Questions

10) How much new engineering do you really need to put Taco Bell stuff into a different format?

9) Is there a single better indication of the class war in America than the annual seasonal presence of new car ads with gift bows on the roofs?

8) Can Miller Lite be brought up on war crimes for their Europen Man Thing ad, and how on God's green earth does this sell beer?

7) If the future President is dependent on the ability of a phone to change a train ticket, doesn't this tell you everything that you need to know about our hopes as a country?

6) Why should I invest with a broker that thinks everything is made out of rice?

5) What does Optimum think that bellowing, fat and clumsy men are the best way to sell their services to me?

4) How surprising is it, really, that Chad Ochocinco trains at home with video games, in a room that has paintings of himself?

3) Haven't the families of our soldiers sacrified enough without having to resort to gifts from Kay Jewelry?

2) If I get a PlayStation 3, do I have provide food and shelter to a smarmy Sony executive, and if so, why would anyone ever buy one?

1) When you buy a Coors Light Home Draft box, doesn't this say all that anyone needs to know about your home?

Top 12 NFL Week 10 Takeaways

12) The Jets and their opponents should just start every game tied at 20 and in overtime

11) The only late game shown in the greater New York and Philadelphia megalopolis was Giants-Cowboys, because the NFL and networks just wanted to ensure that you saw the first game of the Jason Garrett Era

10) We can go back to knowing that Cedric Benson utterly, completely and irrevocably sucks

9) The most bitter guy in your fantasy football league is the guy that lost Dallas Clark and didn't get Jacob Tamme, and yes, that would be me

8) If the QB gets the pass off under pressure and gets hit, it's now a penalty more often than not

7) Through the simple application of competence, Colt McCoy could be the best Browns II QB ever, even better than Derek Anderson's Fluke Year

6) The Bears are one of the (very) few teams in the NFL that should be allowed to wear their throwback uniforms

5) Chad Pennington is now so well-versed in the Dolphins system that he can get hurt in a quarter, rather than a month

4) Buffalo finally won a game, at home and in miserable weather while nearly choking in the last seconds, just to make sure that their fans didn't really enjoy this week, either

3) Now that the Vikings are well and truly done, the club can finally go to a QB that nobody wanted for a coach that nobody wanted

2) The Texans have stepped up their game from trying to get coach Gary Kubiak fired to trying to get him to kill himself

1) It's really not Cleveland Fan's year

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Top 11 Cowboys Head Coach Candidates

With no one really trusting in the skills of interim Princetonian Jason Garrett, and the media being unable to ignore America's Trainwreck, speculation has started on who will get the gig in 2011. Let's just say that we're not buying the idea, even for a second, that the team is going to settle for anything less than a household name...

11) Marty Schottenheimer. Fits the bill as a quick improvement specialist, might be enough to get you his well-regarded son as an offensive coordinator / heir apparent, and would certainly get the defensive house in order fairly quickly. Sure, his record in playoff games is right up there with people who start land wars in Asia, but the Cowboys aren't about playoff success. They are about dominating the media until then, selling out the stadium, and making people think they are contenders when they really aren't. That's Schottenheimer's MO in a nutshell.

10) Bill Parcells. What, you don't think Jerruh Jones can't give the Big Blowhard enough money and power to rent 2-3 years of personnel push and game-day disasters? Just because the man never goes back to one of his previous stops doesn't mean that he can't be bought. Or, at the very least, rented.

9) Rob Ryan. So what if he looks like a particularly obese manatee, or a trailer-park land whale that skipped the nausea and went straight into unexpected labor? He's the Only Available Ryan on the market right now, assuming you can airlift him out of the Cleveland coordinator job, and that's got to be worth something. Especially if his team beats the Jets this weekend.

8) Tony Dungy. Sure, he's said that he has no interest in the job, and he's got to be comfortable in his role as National Scold on NBC, and Big Gay Hating Father Whose Son Killed Himself. (Oh, wait, was that too mean, soon, or accurate? It's OK; The Dung is so danged Christian, I'm sure he'll forgive me.) QB Tony Romo isn't exactly Peyton Manning, so Dungy wouldn't be adding to his ring collection here. But he'd prevent a train wreck.

7) Brian Billick. It's been way too long since God's Gift To Coaching prowled a sideline, and since the 'Boys do have some offensive talent, maybe he can go back to being an offensive super-genius. At the very least, he's got the ego for the job, and anyone that can win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer as his starting QB has to have some kind of witchcraft around.

6) Bill Cowher. Like Dungy, only on a giggling jackass show that nobody watches -- seriously, someone needs to file a workman's comp claim under the idea that you can't be this exposed to fake laughter without it doing long-term health damage. Cowher's still young enough that he can probably do the gig well instead of just well-known, and he'd be better than what they'd had. But probably not given enough of a leash to really change things.

5) Dick Vermeil. One more dinosaur, only with a ring, an odd habit of weeping with change in the barometric pressure, and a track record of impaling himself on a task until he more or less kills himself over it. I can't imagine he could give the Cowboys more than two years of not enough, and I really hope that he's too old and intelligent to go near Jones. But money changes things, and since it would be something of a nightmare scenario for Eagle Fans of A Certain Age, it'll probably happen.

4) Jon Gruden. Oh, please, please, please... The MNF Motormouth stalking a sideline again, making faces like a man with severe constipation? Even better considering that his track record is that he can only win with another man's talent, and that he eventually turns the roster into sludge. Oh, and he'll bring in a half dozen crud QBs. That's important, too. Come on, Jerruh. Make THIS GUY your man!

3) Jimmy Johnson. You think he's making enough money on Fox... but then you see him hawking boner pills on late night Lemur. It's unseemly. Not as unseemly as how the Cowboys have been playing for the past month, or as unseemly as going back to a guy that ran him before... but unseemly nonetheless. This one would be fun for the utter and complete insincerity that you'd see at the press conferences...

2) Mike Ditka. So what if he's way past the bend, was a disaster in New Orleans, and probably can't stand up for three hours at a time due to the ravages of age, drink, and a diet that probably consists entirely of meat and starch? He's got a ring on his finger, the ability to make a defense seem to give a damn, and the chance to make post-game press conferences watchable. After so many years of Wade Philips, that will all seem good. Just not real good.

1) Norv Turner. OK, this one is more of my fever dream, but he does have a history with the Cowboys, a track record of offensive success, and the very real possibility that he's going to be available for employment oh, well, any minute now, really. Troy Aikman will vouch for him, and that's important, because Troy has been hit in the head a lot. Do it, Jerruh, do it!

Ads In This Size Rule