Friday, December 30, 2011

The Poker Diaries: Two Hours To Idiocy

So, long story short: I gave up the budget dreams and played a tournament. Just one; just the 8:15 for $100, $85 going to the pot, $15 to the vig. Just under 45 players, since the Borgata controls half of the dwindling amount of poker played in the area, and a third of them female. Not to be sexist, but not the most daunting field I've ever faced. And for a while, it was going so well. But let's just give out the info now, for the benefit of tomorrow night's adversaries.

(Oh, and keeping up on the earlier theme of Don't Go To Harrah's? This poker room is demonstrably worse then mine. The chips have no denominations, the cards aren't as good, the tables don't have speed felt, there's a live band blaring away 100 feet away, and the poker software doesn't update very well at all. You can do better, at Steamboat and Borgata and Harrah's Chester and Delaware Park and Parx and most assuredly at my house, every third Friday, with no rake. Moving on.)

My starting table was as cherry as you could get; borderline drunk chatterbox from Queens, just a ticking time bomb of going to give his chips to somebody, on my right. Too-tight woman who has to tell me about folding her low pocket pair that hits on the river to my left. Guy at the end of the table who likes to expose his muck. Two loose young guys who raise and fold if challenged. And dealers that seem too bored by the whole thing to avoid exposing burn cards pretty routinely. Oh, and there's also lots of free information on flinching from overbets on value, then calling when you put in less. It Didn't Suck. Especially when I kept hitting flops and getting dealt big pairs.

The first hour gets me slowly but surely up to 18K as everyone plays little stack poker. I hit a boat on the river with K-Q as a baby flush holder failed to price me out, then paid me off on the river. A short stack shoved against my K-K big blind; his A-10 caught nothing. After the break, Drunk Guy called my re-raise with an open-ended straight draw, then went all-in as I hit on the turn. I was so sure we were chopping, I miscalled the outcome, only to be corrected by the table. Embarrassing, but cards speak better than idiot players, so. By the time the table broke, I was stealing blinds, still getting hands, and was the big stack at the table by a factor of 4 to 1.

But then... how many times has this happened to you, my poker brethren? Once the tables break, you find yourself surrounded by strangers who have no fear of your tight and right play, because, well, they've seen none of it. And you need to throttle down, and you go card-dead, and get antsy. I folded something like 20 hands with my stack, trying to remain patient and get information on the new and much harder table... when I get A-J offsuit in middle position. Blinds are 800-1600. The under the gun calls, and I make it 4800 to go, thinking that with the table playing this tight, I'm either going to get into no worse than a coin flip with a short stack... and then the next biggest stack, in the big blind, makes it 10K. Under the gun folds, and I'm so lost in thought about the play that I don't even realize it for a minute, or get corrected by anyone at the table. (Yes, dealers are very sharp here.) I'm putting the big blind on air, a dominated ace, or at worst, somewhere in the 7-7 to 10-10 family... in other words, something a good player folds when his tournament life is on the line. And I haven't played a hand in forever, and raised.

I think he'll cave. So I shove.

And for about two minutes, it seems like the right play. He's in agony over the move; he counts chips, looks at my stack, says nothing but thinks it over long enough to make me think that it's Hollywood, like he's just building drama over throwing away suited connectors or some lesser hand. I'm pretty I gave him no information, but you never know. And then he calls, and turns over the worst realistic hand for mine, and why he's been agonizing over it: a pair of jacks. They hold up, and I'm down to 11K. Seven big blinds, dead man betting. And everyone knows it.

Six hands later I see a playable hand again (Q-10 hearts) and get into a 3-way all-in that could triple me back to relevance. The others in the hand are a woman holding A-Q offsuit and the guy holding all of my chips with, yet again, J-J. The flop gives me nothing more than a runner-runner straight draw that whiffs, and that's that. From 34 big blinds with 3 tables left in period 7 to done in two hands, just the way you, well, aren't supposed to do it.

There's a special feeling of sick you get when you blow a tournament, really: just a stomach-churning aura of Dear God In Heaven, I Don't Think I'm Ever Going To Win Anything Ever Again. And honestly, such premature dreams; winning back a portion of the trip, having some confidence by cashing for the first time ever in a casino tournament, ending what has been a challenging and frequently disappointing vacation on a high note, having a Poker Diary entry that ended happy for the first time in too long. Instead, just another clear air turbulence moment of blow up, just another misread in a long, long line of them, just another case of the game you love being something that you really aren't very good at.

And, of course, had my tormentor thrown away his jacks the first time, or I caught an ace... well, who knows, really? That's poker. Horrible, maddening, should be outlawed poker. I'm so ready to host tonight's game.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Blue Balls In A Whorehouse

So this week, Dear Reader who tolerates my occasional foray into pokerspeak, I'm on "vacation." As you might have read a few months back, at my family's behest, it's in Atlantic City, at Harrah's Resort in the Marina. As I write this, I'm about 150 feet away from the first place where I ever played poker in a casino. It's also, as I write this, the 56th hour that I've been on the premises.

You and I share something; the number of bets we've made in this place during that time. Zero.

Why the non-action? Well, let's see. First and foremost is the No Real Money, which has been growing in its problem nature for two months now, and doesn't seem to be getting any better. Second is the nature of the Shooter Kids: active, demanding, easily bored, looking for runaround time, hungry for time with Dad who works too much, blogs too much, watches sports too much and generally could be more active in their lives. Third is the Shooter Wife, who has a gig on Sunday that needs practice time. So most of my waking hours are spent in thrall to the kids. There's a reason why WSOP champions are in their 20s and childless, folks.

There's also this: spending time in a casino without gambling is like spending time in a bar as a designated driver, or time in a whorehouse as the janitorial staff. After a while, you just start to resent everyone around you for having the means while you do not. And Harrah's was entirely the wrong choice for the family, too. While the room was cheap and nice, everything else is crazy money, and the nice pool area is restricted to 21 and up. I, of course, didn't know this coming in. So I've spent the last 3 days in the Family Fun Center ghetto, where the chlorine is strong enough to kill all of the little ones urine and the cry of MARCO! POLO! is ever-present, pitched to scatter vermin, and giving me this lovely little twitch to match the one I'm getting from Not Gambling. Oh, and the fitness center is 18+, which means my gymnast girls can't even grab a dumbbell to keep me company on the treadmill, because you don't break rules in a casino. The Eyes Are Everywhere, after all.

Crazy money, you say? $12 a day to access the Internet. $5 to park. $11 for two pastries and a chocolate milk. $80 for 2 adults and 2 kids to eat a dinner buffet. $65 for the same to eat burgers; $12 for a takeout burger and soda. $65 for soup and 2 burgers for room service when the kids are nauseous from the chlorine pool they can't stop wanting to go in. We've brought in soda, milk, cereal, bowls and spoons to beat the bastards off of breakfast gougery, gone out to see the December sights (Lucy the Elephant is fairly worthwhile, and I took the Chipmunk bullet so the wife could see Sherlock Holmes 2) and eat anywhere else, and watched my dream of vacation on $150 a day go down faster than my usual poker tournament performance. At least the Internet works well enough for me to hit my crappy free online poker methadone.

In short: I need a vacation from my vacation, and if I actually play well in Friday's end of year tournament with the yearly championship and somewhere around $1200 on the line... it'll be a freaking miracle. Which is to say, the same thing it would be otherwise.

But if I leave you with anything, make it this: don't take your family to Harrah's in Atlantic City. It's just not worth it. Though my hatred of the management is giving me the consolation that, if nothing else, I'm denying them the poker vig they'd be shaking me down for, had I actually money left to play...

Week 17 NFL Picks: The Silly Season

For those of you that don't follow pro golf -- and really, in the After Tiger age, who does? -- there's a portion of the season that no one really pays all that much attention to. Events are mostly for fun and money, you get lots of weird formats and pro-ams, and players freely miss events because, well, it's the holidays, you could play 52 weeks a year if you wanted to, and life's too short to just chase every dollar. Or so I imagine. They call it the Silly Season.

With so much of the NFL playoff picture already wrapped up, and with the teams that are already out staring down the barrel of a meaningless Adrian Peterson knee injury to failing to contend in 2012 as well, we're going to get a lot of silly this weekend. But hey, no one ever asked us to pick all of the games, right? So... on to the picks!

* * * * *

DETROIT at Green Bay (+3.5)

The Packers have nothing to play for, and a mean defensive line to fear. The Lions are in, but trying very hard to be the road team that knocks off the NFC East winner, rather than the road kill that the Saints will treat like a pinball game. So, let's just say they've got the edge in motivation, and be done with it. Besides, Matthew Stafford, assuming he can remain upright through four quarters, might just be good enough to cover the line on his own, seeing how Green Bay's defense really isn't very good. (And if you are conspiracy minded, you can also assume that the Pack will throw the game to make the playoffs actually seem not so inevitable.)

Lions 24, Packers 20

SAN FRANCISCO at St. Louis (+10.5)

The Niners harbor #2 seed dreams; the Rams are operating with their 3rd QB and a probable lame duck coach. Let's just say this looks like a bargain, in that I expect the Niners to score more than 10.5 points.

Niners 20, Rams 6

NY Jets at MIAMI (-1)

The touts say that the Jets still have a realistic chance at the playoffs and something to play for... but these clowns couldn't get up for a home game and the battle of New York last week, so expecting them to come up big in a road game against a team that might be better than them anyway (in that Matt Moore has more big play potential than Mark Sanchez, which is to say, any) just isn't in my wheelhouse. Of course, this is usually when Rex Ryan is at his best. So flip a coin, then smack yourself, then bet this game. That's kind of how it works.

Dolphins 23, Jets 20

CHICAGO at Minnesota (NL)

One of those who knows games against two teams working with contingency QBs. Normally you'd go with the home team in this situation, particularly when Devin Hester is gimpy, but the Bear defense has a way of making mobile quasi-QBs like Joe Webb come back to earth with a quickness. Besides, the Vikings have more to lose for, if you catch my drift.

Bears 20, Vikings 13

Buffalo at NEW ENGLAND (-11.5)

The Patriots have a possible #1 seed and Tom Brady usurping Drew Brees on their mind, while the Bills are just trying to avoid embarrassment. Considering that they beat the Pats earlier this year, I'm not expecting Belisatan to take the foot off the gas pedal anytime soon. He's also got a habit of playing starters in meaningless games, a la the Wes Welker injury a few years ago; don't look for him to learn a lesson, since he's so smart and all.

Patriots 38, Bills 20

Carolina at NEW ORLEANS (-9)

Lots of people getting on the Panther Bandwagon for 2012, when QB Cam Newton will completely vault over any chance of a sophomore / turnover machine jinx and lead a club with few quality defenders to a double-digit win season. Or, well, not. The Saints are peaking, and seem interested in increasing their point differential for the BCS. Or something like that.

Saints 34, Panthers 20

Washington at PHILADELPHIA (-9)

Oh, count your blessings, Eagles Fan! For one of the very few times ever, your laundry is going to win its last game of the season. You have the bestus coach in the history of the franchise, the bestus owner, the bestus stadium, maybe even the bestus running back. So what if the year was a maddening collection of hubris, gutlessness, carelessness and quit, wrapped in the warm gauze of cotton candy easy wins against teams with no good QB play? We'll get to do it all again next year, with almost the entirely same cast! Also, you could root for the Redskins. Woof.

Eagles 27, Redskins 13

INDIANAPOLIS at Jacksonville (-4)

Oh, you poor Colts fans; if you didn't have a decade of Hall of Fame QB play and a Sexy Rexy giftwrapped Super Bowl in your recent past, I'd have actual sympathy to go with this fake stuff. After a year of dodging the winless bullet, QB Dan Orlovsky has dragged you up from the depths of history to just the depths of the league, and put your #1 pick at peril. And he's going to keep doing that, if only because (a) the Jaguars actually suck worse, (b) if he wins this game, he gets a #2 job backing up Pained Peyton next year, and (c) his coach wants to win the game, too, to make his feeble case at continued employment. If you watch, or bet, this game, you have a problem.

Colts 20, Jaguars 10

Tennessee at HOUSTON (+3)

The Texans don't have as much to play for, but they also have extra rest and the stink of that loss against the Colts to get out of their mouth. Look for a bounce-back against a Titans team that contended without anyone getting excited about them all year. Oh, and RB Arian Foster is going to win someone some money this week.

Texans 24, Titans 16

Tampa Bay at ATLANTA (-12)

How do you think the Bucs management is going to fire Raheem Morris? Me, I think it will be via third-class mail, just to show him that he's worth that little. Or maybe they'll trust one of the current players to do the job. Just don't make it LeGarrette Blount, who will drop the pink slip so many times it will be unrecognizable by the time it gets to him, or Josh Freeman, who's sure to give it to the wrong guy 20 or 30 times. Or any of the other 43 players on the active roster, who will wind up just giving up on the trip to Morris's house. Oh, and bet the Falcons, because they have something to play for, home field, weapons, talent, heart, etc.

Falcons 34, Bucs 14

Baltimore at CINCINNATI (+3)

I'm actually surprised the line is still this low; it started at 1.5. The Ravens should win the game. They have more experience in games that matter, the better defense, the game-changing RB, the veteran QB. But they also stink to high heaven on the road this year, and the Bengals need the game as well. And in a close game on the road, you know what's going to happen, right? Raven penalties on defense, freakouts at the refs, and QB Andy Dalton to WR AJ Green for the win. And Steeler Fan loving every minute of it.

Bengals 24, Ravens 20

PITTSBURGH at Cleveland (NL)

The Steelers will know whether to play hard or not before the game starts, but even on the off chance that this won't matter to them, I like their chances. There's just more weapons here (as in any), and the Browns are just, well, hopeless. As usual.

Steelers 24, Browns 10

KANSAS CITY at Denver (-3.5)

The shorthand of this game is Kyle Orton vs. Tim Tebow, but there's more to it than that. The Denver defense lost its magic when S Brian Dawkins stopped being able to make the call; without him, they are just not sure of themselves. Tebow himself has regressed to the mean on turning the ball over; you can run a ball control offense with 0 to 1 turnovers per game, but you can't get away with it when it's 2 and up. And Kansas City, especially on defense, has been downright stiff in the second half of the season. Had they made a figgie last week against Oakland, they'd still be alive for the postseason in the Wacky West. I think they end the Miracles before the playoffs start.

Chiefs 24, Broncos 16

San Diego at OAKLAND (-3)

Will the Chargers play hard in the Norv Turner swan song? Maybe, but Norvalicious is still going to throw the ball too much and ignore the Raiders' main defensive weakness in his bid to get QB Philip Rivers to 25 INTs for the year, so I don't like the road team's chances. Especially after spitting the bit last week in Detroit, when they still had something to play for. Look for Oakland to run it a lot, dust off RB Darrin McFadden for playoff use just to make his fantasy owners a little more bitter, and win going away. Next stop: a playoff loss, the Bengals getting even more from the Carson Palmer heist, and the highlight of the franchise for the last 10 years. Woo.

Raiders 31, Chargers 24

SEATTLE at Arizona (-3)

There's talk that the Cardinals might want to end the Kevin Kolb Era early, since they have a buyout and he's made of balsa wood and glass... but enough time with John Skelton, and the sad options that are out there in FA Land, should cure them of that delusion pretty quick. As for Seattle, they are clearly a better team than they were a year ago, but the Niners made that hollow consolation indeed when it comes to playoff reservations. There's the seeds of a good division out here, honest.

Seahawks 23, Cardinals 17

Dallas at NY GIANTS (-2.5)

It's for all the Tostitos in New York this week, as the season ends with a winner takes nothing of real consequence game for the NFC East. (Just like last year's epic Rams-Seahawks game.) Dallas comes in with a de facto bye and a banged-up QB with a history of chokery in playoff-esque situations. New York comes in off their biggest win of the year, home field advantage (real, in this case, as it's going to be cold and nasty), and WR weapons that can really stretch the field, assuming they actually, well, catch the damn ball. But the game will come down to the Giants' pass rush against the Cowboys' offensive line, and after watching Big D look like turnstiles against my sad laundry... well, I think this is the game where Jason Pierre-Paul becomes a mainstream superstar. (That little whimper you heard is me thinking about the Eagles taking Brandon Graham instead of him.)

Giants 31, Cowboys 20

Last week: 8-7-1

Year to date: 122-109-7

Career: 527-514-24

Top Ten Reasons Why Mike Brown Thinks The Lakers Are Going To The Playoffs

Despite the team's shaky start, the departure of Lamar Odom, cloudy injury future for Kobe Bryant and the continuing horror that is a Derek Fisher / Steve Blake point guard platoon in the ultra-competitive West, the new Lakers head coach is certain that his team has the postseason in its future. What makes him so confident?

10) Has already seen the TNT playoff schedules

9) Knows that Phil Jackson really didn't do anything to get all of those rings

8) Understands that Kobe is at his best when he's out chasing tail

7) Thinks that Andrew Bynum will fix everything when he comes back from his suspension, and that once he's back, he's never going to get hurt or commit any more thuggings

6) Believes the team has only just started to scratch the surface of Josh McRoberts' talent

5) Is completely behind the Artest for World Peace trade

4) Hasn't been told that the Clippers got Chris Paul yet

3) Is counting on a big bounce-bank year from Troy Murphy, since lumbering white guys always come back well from injury and multiple teams giving up on them

2) Understands that the shortened sprint schedule has to help older teams with lots of playoff minutes

1) Refuses to believe that the Cavs got as far as they did despite, rather than because of, him

Monday, December 26, 2011

Five Obvious Points About Drew Brees Breaking Dan Marino's Record

5) This won't stand for 20+ years, the way Old Isotoner's did. Brees will be lucky to own this thing more then 3 years. Unless, of course, he keeps raising his own bar.

4) I have no doubts that Brees is among the best to ever play the game. But he still operates in a dome, with a pass-happy coach, in a division not known for its stout defenses or its inclement road weather. It's basically the equivalent of a Colorado Rockie breaking Bonds' single-season home run record. Or, you know, a great player ramming PEDs into every orifice. One or the other.

3) This would be a much bigger deal in a bigger media market. The NFL is pretty good about spreading the love around, and when you have Pittsburgh and Green Bay ruling the roost, it's hard to cry small market poverty. But the simple fact of the matter is that finding Saints fans 10 years ago was about as easy as finding Rams fans today. It's a constituency of locals and his roto owners, despite the ring. I have no idea why. Maybe it's because he's short.

2) The Chargers moved the wrong QB. Philip Rivers has done fine things in San Diego, and has been a prime reason for their success. He's not as good as Brees. Period. Moving on.

1) Had Miami signed Brees... they'd be a better team today, but there's no chance that Brees would be setting records or getting HOF consideration. But take heart, Fish Fans: you had Marino once upon a time. And no one that you've wanted to remember since...

Eleven NBA Christmas Wishes

With the season starting today and realizing just how much I missed the action, a few wishes for the beleaguered league and its fans.

11) Intentionally fouling players goes away. As I write this, I'm watching Clips-Warriors, and new Golden State coach Marc Jackson has decided to show us all that he's a genius by fouling weak free throw shotoer DeAndre Jordan every chance he can. It is, of course, unwatchable, and I'd love for a ref who watches this to just start adding in unjustified technical fouls on the Warriors every time they do it, to knock it the hell off. Basketball has artistic merit, dammit, and stopping the play every 20 seconds to hack a guy is just beneath any team with standards. Knock it the hell off.

10) We have a true contending surprise. Right now, you can rattle off a half dozen of the usual suspects who should contend for the NBA title. They include the final four teams from last year (Miami, Dallas, Chicago and Oklahoma City) and the two traditional powers (Boston, LA Lakers). And if the title is won by one of these favored six, or if they wind up playing for the title, no one will blink too much, though that would mean one hell of a comeback year for either of the old guard.

But if one of the cognoscenti small-market and rising clubs -- defined here as Indiana, NY Knicks, Memphis, LA Clippers, and maybe even (gasp) Atlanta, Orlando, Philly, Phoenix, Portland or Houston -- can make a Final Four run?

Well, maybe we actually have some of the unpredictable nature that has helped the NFL succeed so much, or has breathed temporary life into so many different MLB markets. I get that the league is all about rewarding greatness, and that the playoffs are all about coronation champions, rather than honoring the underdog. But at some point, it gets a little old.

9) The Hornets find a buyer. It's absurd that the league has been holding a club in thrall for years, in a small city that hasn't really supported pro hoops on two different occasions, with cuckolded trades and a clearly cursed lineage. They aren't getting another Chris Paul, and you don't recover as a small market club, when your superstar leaves. So let's see this club get a buyer, then move (Kansas City, Seattle, or the eternal fever dream of Las Vegas, awaits).

8) The Maloof Goofs sell the Kings. Look, I don't know how you lose money running a casino, and I don't much care. All I know is that the Maloofs held a city that has done everything to support their team hostage, and that Anaheim needs an NBA team the way that Disney needs more money. And I just don't buy the idea that Arco Arena, one of the few places in the NBA that gave a true home court advantage, is no longer a place you can host a game for a competitive franchise. Bullsquat.

7) Health. With the sprint season, the big worry is that guys are going to be out of shape, banged up, and that we're just going to play the attrition game. But maybe, just maybe, today's player is a little too aware of social media, knows that they are going to be judged hard by a crowd that wants to crap all over the league, and might even have been scared about having to find a gig overseas to get well and truly chubbo. Besides, with the possible exception of Big Baby Davis, Boris Diaw and Eddy Curry, are there really any goo buckets left in the Association?

6) A breakout rookie. Kyrie Irving looks like he's going to be good to me, and I have my eye on a few other guys, from what seemed like one of the weakest rookie crops in years. But it doesn't take much to change that story; a few highlight reels, a hot month or two from a guy taken outside of the lottery, one spectacular Ricky Rubio montage, and we'll be good. It doesn't take much.

5) Absolute silence from the owners. If, in a month or two, we hear from some aggrieved small market cyst talking about how they got hosed from the new CBA and should have held out for more... well, there are reasons why the super-wealthy hire bodyguards. With luck, very inept bodyguards.

4) A step up in broadcast talent. Marc Jackson is in Golden State, hoping to inspire the Warriors with his religious faith and Cookie Monster voice. TNT is experimenting with Shaquille O'Neal in the studio chucklefest, which won't make the show better directly, but might inspire Charles Barkley to not coast outside of the playoffs. Because, well, he does.

3) Good attendance. In Philadelphia, the new owners are doing everything short of giving the seats away to get bodies in the stands. It looks like, from the first day games, that other teams are doing all they can to pump the numbers as well. It bums me out when visible seats are empty; let's hope they get filled. Cheaply.

2) A mild Heat rehabilitation. Look, I'm not asking for the world to love Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Company; I'm just asking for the hate to match the crime. Wronging Dan Gilbert and choosing to work outside of Toronto and Cleveland, combined with some weak PR skills and need for attention, should not qualify you as Villains Of The Millennium. Root against them all you like, but dont' tell me that there's something uniquely loathsome about these guys that you can't say about, oh, the Lakers. Or the Celtics. Or the Knicks. Or the Clipper management. Or Marc Cuban. Or Portland's management. Or...

1) David Stern retires. He's old, corrupt, obnoxious and clearly in the way, and now that the CBA exists, there's really nothing left for him to do. Sell the Bugs, take your media-appointed tongue job, and go discover what every sports league commissioner learns; that your importance exists only while you have the job. And not one minute more...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from the dojo

Here's the view of the side room to the Man Cave, which has now been turned into the gymnastics dojo for the Shooter Kids. Not seen: neoprene weight set and resistance bungy bands, all designed to help take my Level 1 and 3 spawn to, well, higher levels.

Best of all was the reaction... because I had them completely convinced that we were setting the room up just for a guest bedroom, and didn't see it coming. Those presents are the best. Along with, well, working out with them this morning.

Probable light posting schedule this week, as I'll be on the road. But you never know.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Top 60 Eagles - Cowboys Takeaways

The first meaningless game in the history of my laundry in years. But dammit, the takeaways do not end the season early!

60) Chad Hall is much better at taking a knee on deep kickoffs than Dion Lewis

59) Mike Vick had the presence of mind to throw up a jump ball to Riley Cooper after a face mask, leading to a 41-yard catch and flag, and an injury to the wideout

58) Brent Celek's return to relevance continues, just in time for people to get fooled into taking him next year in fantasy

57) This game stopped mattering at 4:27pm, when Mark Sanchez took a safety and ended the season

56) Effective blitzing and the Giants putting it away made the Cowboys bench Tony Romo with a quickness

55) Jason Babin hit Romo's hand with his helmet, which is bound to be a 15-yard penalty and a fine next year

54) Not to cast doubts on the severity of Romo's injury, but I'm pretty sure he was quoting Rodney Dangerfield's lines from "Caddyshack"

53) Stephen McGee in for Romo isn't going to help Jason Babin's chances for breaking Reggie White's sack record, if you need something to feel good about today

52) Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie made a nice break on a ball, one play after getting schooled for a first down, which is basically the essence of the DRC Experience

51) On two straight completed screens, the Cowboys lost five yards, showing a little more hope for 2012 Linebackers

50) Vick avoided a safety for a 20-yard pickup to Jeremy Maclin, and all it cost was the health of both players

49) DeSean Jackson on an end-around when the line makes some blocks just seems crazy easy, really

48) As the year has gone on, Shady McCoy has started to take those "Barry Sanders" comments a little too much to heart

47) The late hit on Jeremy Maclin was so obvious, it got three different flags

46) Jason Avant's turnover from a touchdown is one of those super skill plays that only a remarkably well-coached team that should have the same coach forever can make

45) It's kind of noteworthy that the Fox broadcast crew didn't know the rule, or more likely care, on Avant's turnover

44) Dez Bryant argues no-calls better than any Dallas WR since Michael Irvin

43) Vick had so much time to throw on the play that started the drive with 55 seconds left in the half, it killed the clock

42) I'm not saying that this game lacked drama, but I did fall asleep for a significant amount of time

41) It really would have been nice to see this team play a season where they showed any sense of heart, clue, or timing

40) DJ was clearly more excited by Maclin's touchdown than, well, Maclin

39) Anyone who thinks this Cowboys defense is ready to win a playoff game is high

38) I'm not sure why Rob Ryan is a genius, unless being pregnantly fat as a male requires genius

37) Cullen Jenkins shed a block and stuffed the runner on third and short, wrapping up the Most Valuable Free Agent signing award of 2011

36) Chad Hall successfully lulled the Cowboys' special teams to sleep with fair catches, then actually made a decent return

35) Vick's moves on the penalty play for throwing the ball beyond the line of scrimmage defined "sandlot", as well as "insane" and "dangerous"

34) The subsequent intentional grounding call showed that Vick sometimes (all the time?) cares more about highlight shows than intelligence

33) The Eagles celebrated a special teams play that resulted in a 15-yard flag, because apparently hitting a punt returner who does not signal for a fair catch and squats a little when the catch is made is now a flag

32) Martellus Bennett showed that you don't need to be TE1 to make hay against the Eagles

31) Nate Allen hit Miles Austin on a play where the WR redefined the phrase "alligator arms"

30) When the Dallas defense gets a semblance of a pass rush, Ryan seems just a hair more genius-like

29) Chas Henery seemed inspired by the Jerrytron, at least until late in the game

28) Trent Cole's 10th sack of the year was downright manly

27) Romo's original hand cast with ice pack barely fit in the stadium

26) The TE screen to Celek that went for 39 yards was aided immensely by Terence Newman ignoring the play

25) At some point, you have to wonder if you can really win games with a QB that gets as many passes knocked down as Vick does

24) Alex Henry has now made 13 straight field goal attempts, which means special teams coach Bobby April must also be retained in 2012

23) Juqua Parker's slingshot sack, while in no way dirty, would also be a fine against a superstar QB

22) Chad Hall has clearly taken over for DJ on punt returns, only about two months too late

21) McCoy limped off the field with a clearly audible f-bomb

20) DeMarcus Ware's 18th sack of the year was fairly gruesome, and inspired the rare third down concession draw from Reid

19) Henry actually crushed a 51-yard figgie, by far his best effort of the year, then impeded a possible touchdown kickoff return

18) Brian Rolle nearly had a TAInt, but that would have required him to have hands

17) McCoy went off on a cart, but came back later, which seems like it's just being down for personal stats

16) The Cowboy loss ensures that the NFC East division champion won't have ten wins for the first time in 40 years, which seems to come as some kind of shock to people who are paid to cover football, as if it's news that the division isn't very good any more

15) Derek Landri's sack showed that the only guy the Cowboys are blocking today is Jason Babin

14) Seriously, Bryant never finishes a play without some kind of anger, which doesn't bode well for his professional future

13) McGee telegraphs screens like nobody else in the league, but to be fair, you probably would as well if you got hit half of the times you dropped back to pass

12) On fourth down and trying to preserve the shutout, Bryant beat Nnamdi Asomugha, just to continue the streak of guys beating Nnamdi in the fourth

11) Jason Witten passed Drew Pearson in the all-time Cowboys receiving records in fourth quarter garbage time, which might have been the first real cheer heard from the home crowd today

10) Joselio Hanson broke up a touchdown pass to save the shutout, which is the closest thing to clutch that happened in this game

9) Henery had a punt blocked with 25 seconds left, maybe out of sleepiness

8) McGee showed some top-drawer athleticism to avoid a sack and keep the non-shutout hopes alive

7) For the second straight game, Miles Austin scored a meaningless score late and seemed to care hard about it

6) The loss of the shutout shows that April must go

5) Ronnie Brown recovered a squib kick, which might have been one of his more useful plays of the year

4) The win gives the Eagles a chance to go .500 with a win against Washington, which must matter to someone

3) The idea that you can lose the division when you are 4-1 in it is all kinds of Raiders special, really

2) The amount of drama that Joe Buck and Troy Aikman gave to the Cowboys avoiding the shutout was laudable

1) I can't bet against the NFC East winner in the playoffs fast enough

NFL Week 16 Top 10 Ad Questions

10) At what point will Domino's stop insulting the people who have been buying their "food"?

9) Does Sprint's unlimited data turn their users into completely obsessed cell phone tools?

8) Why is Santa running to Target, unless he has explosive diarrhea?

7) If Santa is magic, why does he need an iPhone, and if the coverage or gadget fails, does that mean Christmas is ruined?

6) Why are Chevy buyers afraid to be honest with Santa about their hunting habits, seeing how Santa is omniscient?

5) Does Blackberry sell phones now, or just trippy '80s neon bikes?

4) Why does Allstate think that a tree should smell like making love to a lumberjack, since that probably involves fecal matter, body odor and ejaculate?

3) If I shop at Best Buy, will I spend Christmas Eve on my roof in the snow, waiting to be an assclown to Santa?

2) Don't the Christmas ads for Corona seem like the last moments of a suicidally depressed and isolated drunk?

1) Shouldn't the NFL Network stop spending so much money on touch screen technology, and, well, actually get on some cable systems?

and a bonus... If I drink Pepsi Max, will I be as big of a winner as Rex Ryan?

Ten Fantasy Basketball Sleeper and Busts

Yes, I know; too late to help your league, you hate the NBA, it's Christmas, it's cold, there are wolves after you. Sack up and dig in.


1) Pau Gasol. I don't know what's wrong with his head, and neither do you. But I do know that the Lakers are going to need him to be one of the top 15 players in the Association, and he's going to have to do that while getting all of those guys on defense that Lamar Odom used to erase. Let's just say he's not going to appreciate Josh McRoberts (or Luke Walton!) very much. Oh, and the Lakers are old, and on the outs, and Kobe Bryant lost faith in him a year ago. Kind of a problem.

2) Blake Griffin. In the real world, he'll be fine; in the numbers game, he's going to stop playing 38 minutes a game and start watching other people dunk a lot as well, because the opposition is going to do everything possible to prevent Chris Paul from turning every game with him into Lob City. Look for the Clips to share the wealth a lot more than they used to. Also, and it's a pretty big problem at this point... when you take Blake, you lose FT%, even to the guy that owns Dwight Howard. Not helpful. And finally, there's this: who really thinks the Clippers can have nice things?

3) Paul Pierce. The eternal under the radar ugly superstar just seems like he's wearing out, and unlike fellow stablemates Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, he's going to hurt you in the percentages on the way down. Add in the collective shiva that the old guard is still sitting for Kendrick Perkins, the lack of depth now that Jeff Green is sick and Big Baby Davis is gone, and a sense that he's just got too many miles on the tires to keep it up, and I can assure you that he won't be on my team.

4) Steve Nash. The eternal source of three, assists and great percentages is at that point in his career when he can't stay healthy anymore, and while he had fun making Marcin Gortat fantasy relevant last year, you have to wonder how long that will last. The smart thing for Phoenix would be to move him to a playoff team that can hide his defensive shortcomings and limit his minutes, and both of these things are, of course, death to his nerd owners. Stay away.

5) Luol Deng. Last year's sneaky great small forward is going to see a solid 5 minute per game reduction in his burn, as the Bulls are just going to have more margin and bench time than last year's learn as they go bunch. Add in the probable bounce-back year for Carlos Boozer and the infatuation they seem to have for the empty calories that is Rip Hamilton, and I don't like it. Still a great player in the real world, of course.

(More with less comment: Kevin Love because he'll actually get some rest this year, Monta Ellis because he's getting his minutes messed with and then traded for 40 cents on the dollar, Rajon Rondo because his head has been well and truly messed with, Manu Ginobili because he won't stay healthy with this schedule, and Paul Milsap because the league has film on him now, and Al Jefferson is going to spike his usage with less weight and more time with Devin Harris.)


1) Russell Westbrook. Can a first round pick be a sleeper, especially when he seems a step behind Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose in the Yahoo game as point guard eligible? Yes, because the Thunder play fast, had no meaningful personnel turnover, and he's still young enough to get better. Assuming he doesn't start freezing out Kevin Durant like he did in last year's inexplicable playoff run, I like his chances to be a 20-6-10 guy, and a part of a large number of championship teams. Oh, and unlike Wade and Rose, no real injury history here. Lots to like.

2) Josh Smith. The longtime multi-cat defensive hammer and three-point abomination is said to be down 30 pounds, which is kind of crazy for an energy guy in the first place. There's just a lot of everything here, and with deep sleeper Jeff Teague settling in at point guard for the corpse of Mike Bibby, I like the Hawks' chances to get up and down in the open court more. The 48%/75% percentages mean that he won't hurt you anywhere now, either.

3) Chris Bosh. Ride the unlikable to a grab in rounds 5-6, a solid 1-2 rounds too late, for a PF with C eligibility that plays a ton of minutes, does a little bit of everything except shoot threes, and helps you in both percentage categories. Unlike his running mates, he actually played well in all three rounds of the playoffs, and he's also said to have lost weight and gotten good and mean in the off-season. It won't be as good as when he was the whole show in Toronto, but it's going to be very good indeed, especially if Wade or LeBron James gets banged up (and they will).

4) Marcus Thornton. Man, I love this guy; but it's not hard to love a 21-5-3 who shoots 45/80 and drains 2 three-pointers a game while *also* being a borderline top 10 guy in steals. Wait, you didn't know Marcus was all that? That's because you are making the mistake of thinking that his time in Bugland was relevant, when they gave him 16 minutes a game and eventually shipped him out so that they could see more of Marco Belinni. (No, seriously.) I don't doubt that Marcus isn't really as good as these numbers, and they he gives it all back on defense... but on a Kings team were everyone is playing matador, you aren't pulling the guy who fills it up at the other end. This is fantasy gold right here.

5) Nick Young. The very definition of an empty calorie scorer... but the nice thing about the league is that if you get to 35 minutes a game, empty calories still add up to a meal. Nick is going to be the only consistent three-point threat on a Wiz team that's going to be looking for home run balls, and with talent in short supply here, he's going to play 35 minutes a game. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he gives you 22-4-2 with 3+ three-pointers a game, and you might not even have to pick him before the bench slots are getting filled.

(More with less comment: Kenneth Faried in Denver, who might be an elite energy player. Zach Randolph because people still doubt his physique and head, and shouldn't. Besides, he qualifies at center. Jarrett Jack, who will give someone 15 games of PG1 play, and will then get traded to some team who he will disappoint. Chuck Hayes, because Sacramento will play at a high tempo and he'll be the only one getting the hustle numbers, and the max minutes. And Ben Gordon, who finally gets big minutes with Hamilton in Chicago, and will use them to tweak up to relevance, especially on the bench for teams that need threes.)

We thank you for your indulgence, and return you to actual ball, which will happen in just another 36 hours or so...

Friday, December 23, 2011

FTT Off-Topic: Rescue Me

Now on Netflix Instant, it's the full run of the FX drama about New York City fire fighters, which ended in 2011 after seven seasons. I really liked this for the first few years, as the anti-hero aspects of Denis Leary's protagonist wasn't something you saw evreyday, and the willingness of the writing staff to kill off characters meant that you didn't get too set in your ways, or locked into a formula.... but as I was getting to what Oscar Wilde called a grand finally, rather than a grand finale, I came to this realization.

"Rescue Me" is basically the same show as "Sex In The City", only for guys.

Here's how.

> Both are set in New York City, and couldn't really be set anywhere else. Whenever the location goes too far away from the essential main character of New York, it suffers.

> Both shows overuse the main appeal of the show; i.e., plainly unrealistic conversations between the main characters.

> Both shows start off as must-see TV with great writing and casts, and eventually devolve into self-parody.

> Both shows try to be realistic, but eventually toss that to the gutter because showing characters scrambling for cash and living from paycheck to paycheck just isn't in the wheelhouse of television writing for very long at all.

> Both suffer from unrealistic continuity. In season 7 in particular, you even have a news media plot in which coverage of the main protagonist's sordid past is considered, with a plainly irritating wink-wink at the audience over how absurd it would be for one character to have done all of this.

> Both lead character actors (Sarah Jessica Parker and Denis Leary) should, well, not be in lead roles anymore on just looks alone. I'm not trying to be mean about this, but there's a reason why we don't put 50-plus year-olds in lead roles. We're monkeys; we weren't meant to live past age 30 to 35, and there's just a hard-wired visual prejudice against seeing people like that gettting it on. Not to be crass or catty about it, but it's just painful after a while to look at them.

> After a while, the central conceit of the show -- will Parker's character settle down, will Leary's character straighten up -- just fails, and you kind of stop caring quite so much. Maybe there's a dramatic limit for how long you can draw something out, or how many seasons a show can or should last... but honestly, by the middle of season six, I had to fight through the urge of just putting this in the background.

> And yet, having said all of that... both shows are plainly worth watching, with the high points being downright riveting, and win on the merits of being a show you haven't seen before. Blaming it for wearing out its welcome after many years of entertaining you just seems kind of petty.

So if you've got some time to spend (and have already watched "Breaking Bad", which is just the best damn thing ever), give it a spin. But just accept it for what it is, and don't get too irritated with it when it loses steam. And appreciate the fairly solid guy dialogue, the solid amount of quality cougar trim, the solid comic set pieces of guys giving each other crap, the nice plot device of talking to the dead, and more. It' a mixed bag, but one that winds up on the positive.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

NFL Week 16 Picks: Winning Out

So in my town of football, there are two camps; those who have checked out on this Eagles team for months and refuse to get sucked into the false dawn of a two-game winning streak to get to 6-8, and those that think if they just somehow get themselves into the dance, that they'd be a hard out... and even imagine some kind of miracle scenario where they get to the NFC championship game in Green Bay or New Orleans. You know, kind of like the 2008 year, when Michael Bush gave the laundry the chance to run all the way to Phoenix and Coach For Life Reid's second loss to Kurt Warner with a Super Bowl on the line.

That's kind of like the rest of the NFL, really; the vast majority of people are done with their fantasy leagues, trying to figure out a playoff window, or just getting their ducks in a row because, well, it's Christmas. I'm more in the latter camp myself, but the picks have been going well, and in a world where the Chiefs can beat the Packers, the Giants can get absolutely hammered by the Redskins, and the top seeds all seem about as sturdy as a house made of straw, you just let it ride. And pick every game, and try to make a few more bucks for the holidays. And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

HOUSTON at Indianapolis (+6)

Now that the Colts have their relief win, and the Texans their dispiriting loss, it's time for the classic reversion to the mean game... especially since the Texans need the win for playoff positioning, and the Colts need the loss to make sure that Jim Caldwell gets canned, and that they get Andrew Luck in the draft. The number gives me no pause, because I think the Texans are up for a long time in this one, and put it away with the running game late.

Texans 24, Colts 13

DENVER at Buffalo (+3)

Here's the really funny thing about the Tim Tebow Era... as he's getting better, his team is getting worse. Last week in Denver, they ran out to a big early lead with a ton of rushing yards in the first quarter, but the defense could not hold it despite a huge time of possession edge. Assuming he can avoid an early stink bomb in Buffalo, I think they get the lead this time and hold it, if only for the fact that Buffalo's tight ends don't present nearly the same problem as New England's. Also, it's not as if the Broncos can't play in the cold.

Broncos 24, Bills 16

Arizona at CINCINNATI (-4)

Reality check time for second-string QB John Skelton, who will have the usual rookie QB road blues against a Cincy team that's still in the fringe of the playoff hunt. (Well, technically, so are the Cardinals, but please.) I think the Bengals get a defensive score in this one, which will make the cover a lot easier.

Bengals 27, Cardinals 17

Jacksonville at TENNESSEE (-7.5)

Which Jags team shows up -- the guys that beat down the quitters in Tampa, or the ones that got absolutely handled last week? I'm looking for the latter, if only because the Titans haven't quit, and are probably well and truly bent over being the only Indy Victim this year.

Titans 31, Jaguars 10

OAKLAND at Kansas City (-2)

I'm going contrarian here... I just don't see the Chiefs coming up with great back to back games, even at home, even against a Raiders team that can't stop the run. It's not a charming feeling going with Carson Palmer on the road, but it's also not thrilling to go with Kyle Orton, either. And neither of these teams can be trusted. So go with the road dog in a coin flip.

Raiders 25, Chiefs 24

MIAMI at New England (-10)

Miami still has a bit of fight in them, and the Patriots tend to let late covers happen, especially at home, where they like to take their foot off the gas and the starters in the fourth quarter. Take advantage of the too much number, and know also that this defense means that all things are possible. Especially if you get pressure on Dreamboat Brady, which I think the Fish can do in this one.

Patriots 31, Dolphins 24

New York Giants at NEW YORK JETS (-3)

Rex Ryan said that he had the better team this week, and the nasty little fact of things is that he's right. They run the ball better, they stop the pass better, they seem to care for their coach, and they play in a much better division. They also benefit from playing the Giants when their starting TE is banged up (since, as Brent Celek just demonstrated, the Jets are awful against TEs right now), their secondary is in tatters, and they've been in a tailspin for much of the last two months. One more domino falls for the Eagles playoff run. And an 8-8 division champion. Bleah.

Jets 24, Giants 20

ST. LOUIS at Pittsburgh (-17)

Pretty big line for a home team that can't run the ball, protect the QB, or keep him healthy. The Rams aren't going to score very much in this game, and they aren't going to win it, either. But they will cover, if only because this Steeler team doesn't lock it down on defense nearly well enough to cover this line. And if Big Ben misses the game...

Steelers 20, Rams 6

MINNESOTA at Washington (-6.5)

I'm going with the road dog here mostly because I think that some Skins Fans might actually be starting to think that Rex Grossman might be their QB in 2012, and that it might not be another year of their lives wasted. The Vikings also have some players, and the line is too high for a dog team. Especially one that has burned up any good energy from their home crowd for, well, most of the century.

Vikings 24, Redskins 20

Tampa Bay at CAROLINA (-7.5)

Not sure I'd take the Bucs to cover 10 points on the road against any team in the league, let alone one with actual offensive weapons and reasons for hope. The season can't end fast enough for Buc Fan, who has had to endure a team-wide mutiny of quit that came out of the clear blue sky. When a talented young team goes this far south this quickly, it's just not pretty at all.

Panthers 31, Bucs 17

Cleveland at BALTIMORE (-13)

The dreaded every other week problem for the Browns, who get to go to Baltimore to face a team that got punked in San Diego, needs the game to lock up the division, and just plain owns them. Browns Fan, take heart: Art Modell has to die one day. But for now, continue to test that patience of yours.

Ravens 31, Browns 17

SAN DIEGO at Detroit (-3)

Is Norvalicious going to save his job yet again? Charger Fan sure as hell hopes not, but after another solid win against a talented team, it might be inevitable. Assuming that the road team can keep its QB upright. they'll take advantage of a suspect secondary and a Detroit offense that's one dimensional and turnover prone.

Chargers 24, Lions 20

PHILADELPHIA at Dallas (-3)

There's just no getting rid of Coach For Life Andy, is there? Nope, and maybe not even the Little Moron That Could, Juan Castillo, who has somehow parlayed two wins over suspect Fish and Jets teams into a chance to keep his defensive coordinator job despite rampant malpractice and screwups that cost this team an easy ride into the playoffs. As for this game in question, it will mean something to both teams, and it will be decided by the club that doesn't crap the bed with turnovers. So, basically a coin flip, but I'll take the team that has the best RB in the game, and a growing sense that Destiny is coming again to save their status quo. Their horrible, maddening, exasperating and alienating status quo...

Eagles 24, Cowboys 20

SAN FRANCISCO at Seattle (+2)

Who would have thought that Marshawn Lynch against the Niners' defense would be a meaningful matchup in December, let alone something borderline historic? The Niners still look like a one and done limited playoff team to me, but maybe I'm judging them too harshly, especially if they can start getting TE Vernon Davis back to being a consistent threat. There's also something inspiring about a team that just doesn't allow anyone to run for a touchdown against them; I'm envious, really. As for the Seahawks, there's something happening here, but they are still a fair number of linemen away from it being consistent.

Niners 20, Seahawks 14

Chicago at GREEN BAY (-13)

Sure, the Pack is beat up and not playing for anything, but the Bears are either going to go with Josh McNown or Caleb Hanie, on the road, against a club that wants to prove that last week was a fluke. This doesn't add up to a road cover. It might not even add up to a road cover in the first half.

Packers 31, Bears 10

Atlanta at NEW ORLEANS (-7)

Finally a solid game on MNF, where home field and superior firepower adds up to the Saints putting the NFC South to rights. Atlanta won't get as close as they did in the fourth and Mike Brown Is A Moron game, and with Dan Marino's all-time passing record in sight, it's very possible that this one gets a little out of hand. Nice year to be a Drew Brees owner in fantasy. (And no, I'm not. Sigh.)

Saints 34, Falcons 24

Last week: 8-7-1

Year to date: 114-102-6

Career: 519-507-23

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The 2011-2012 NBA Year In Predictions

So here we are, five days before the start of the NBA 66-game sprint season, and we're still shuffling out free agents, injuries, the intrigues of major trades, the importation of overseas talent in a few months and more, more, more. It's a fool's errand to predict what will happen, but you don't care about the NBA without an awful lot of foolishness these days. So let's have at it, shall we?

Eastern Conference

1) Miami 48-18
2) Chicago 46-20
3) Boston 40-26
4) Atlanta 39-27
5) Orlando 37-29
6) Indiana 36-30
7) New York 34-32
8) Philadelphia 33-33

Miami over Philly, Chicago over New York, Indiana over Boston, Atlanta over Orlando

Miami over Indiana, Chicago over Atlanta

Miami over Chicago

A few things... I hate picking the Celtics as 14 games over .500 in an off-season where they dangled their point guard off a bridge, and they lost depth with Jeff Green's ailment and Big Baby Davis leaving for greener pastures. But they know how to play together, they have a coaching and home court advantage, and the Ray Allen - Kevin Garnett - Paul Pierce troika are still too ornery to let the defensive intensity slide. But if any of those guys go down, look out below; as the 7-game difference between third and out shows, it's not going to take very much to be gone here. I'm probably also overvaluing Orlando, but think Dwight Howard Contract Year is a mighty powerful motivation. Indiana looks dangerous to me, I don't like the Knicks to stay healthy, and my Sixers could actually be a lot better than this, but probably won't be. As for the playoffs, the only upset is Indiana rolling out the old in the first round; otherwise, this is a lot of same-old same-old, which is what should happen in a year where talent moves aren't going to work very well, due to the awkwardness of playing with new players.

Western Conference

1) Oklahoma City 44-22
2) Dallas 42-24
3) LA Clippers 40-26
4) Denver 38-28
5) San Antonio 36-30
6) Memphis 35-31
7) LA Lakers 34-32
8) Phoenix 33-33

OKC over Phoenix, Dallas over Lakers, Memphis over Clippers, Denver over San Antonio

OKC over Memphis, Dallas over Denver

OKC over Dallas

Wow, is this going to be a train wreck. Even if a team starts to separate themselves, the schedule is going to murder everyone, and the teams that have depth (Denver, Memphis) don't quite have the frontline talent to win the fresh games. I like the Thunder to be the best of a very tight pack, with Dallas having their bacon saved by the Lamar Odom trade. The Clips are going to be everyone's fun team in the regular season, but look out for Denver, who are going to be an energy monster with an even greater home court advantage than usual. As for the Lakers... wow, I don't like their energy or their chances. But at some point, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have to turn it around, and Kobe Bryant drags them over the finish line. To the mother of all vengeance sweeps from Odom and the Mavs.

The Finals... OKC over Miami. And LeBron James officially becomes known more as a punchline than anything else.

Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving

MVP: LeBron James

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard

All-NBA First Team: Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Chris Paul.

All-NBA Second Team: Bryant, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade.

All-NBA Third Team: Carmelo Anthony, Zach Randolph, Paul Pierce, Danny Granger and Al Horford.

All-Rookie Team: Irving, Kenneth Faried, Derrick Williams, Ricky Rubio and Bismack Biyombo

Coach of the Year: Doc Rivers

Monday, December 19, 2011

Top 10 reasons why the Mavericks are not getting their due

According to starting forward Shawn Marion, the Mavericks are being overlooked by the national media in their attempt to repeat as NBA champions. Why is the national media disrespecting the champions?

10) Reflex action to believe that any team from Dallas is actually a pure pretender

9) Still having a hard time believing that a team with a 87-year-old starting point guard could take home the hardware

8) Dirk's ex told them they won, and we all know how trustworthy she is

7) Once they lost J.J. Barea, there's no one around to provide spunk and get Andrew Bynum suspended

6) If your team brings in Vince Carter, that pretty much kills any residual joy from a title

5) When the NBA lockout happened and Marc Cuban somehow kept to the party silence line, the media had to exact a terrible vengeance

4) With Tyson Chandler now in New York, the team might set a new NBA record by having absolutely no blocked shots this year

3) It's to be expected, given how much better the Lakers are now, and how the Heat are just filled with guys you can count on in the crunch

2) As any knowledgeable NBA observer can tell you, this title was entirely the doing of DeShawn Stevenson, and he's gone now

1) The next NBA champion that feels that they have received enough respect will be the first... ever

Sunday, December 18, 2011

50 Eagles - Jets Takeaways

Well, despite everything they have tried to do this year, the Eagles still actually have a playoff possibility in this game. Which means they get to lose one more meaningful game at home this year, or save Coach For Life Reid's job. Either way, Philly Fan loses, but you knew that already, right? Let's get to it!

50) Not to say this team has a home field disadvantage, but on the first big play to Brent Celek, the crowd yawned

49) For the second straight week, Casey Matthews actually made a play, and is showing some signs of actually belonging in the NFL

48) The Jets' offense didn't exactly cover themselves with glory in trying to tackle Juqua Parker on the Eagles' first touchdown

47) The fact that the Eagle defense got a score, a sack, and two straight three and outs while the crowd went meh tells you a little something about how much this town has checked out on this team

46) For the second straight week, Curtis Marsh made an absolutely inexcusable special teams mistake, showing that Colt Anderson really was that important

45) Celek's third touchdown of the year was downright manly

44) Jason Babin is going to break Reggie White's single season sack record, which kind of makes all of us who actually saw White play very, very sad

43) If you had two seconds left in the first quarter for this week's first pointless Eagles timeout, you win the pool

42) Michael Vick drew a 15-yard penalty for charging into a linebacker, because that's just what happens in the NFL now

41) DeSean Jackson made a key third down catch on CB Darrelle Revis, and made sure to celebrate, since it's not going to happen that often

40) Vick scored on a rushing touchdown for the first time in a year on a play that very few QBs ever make, proving that his ribs aren't so bad any more

39) Brian Schottenheimer showed he's a genius by having success running in the middle, then failing on runs to the outside

38) Part of the reason why the crowd didn't seem too into this game is the fact that a solid third of them were rooting for the Jets

37) Shady tied Steve van Buren's club record for rushing touchdowns in a season, which is kind of amazing, seeing how Shady had to pretty much succeed in every opportunity he had this year to get that many scores

36) Mark Sanchez is really good at holding the ball until a sack can materialize

35) As Dion Lewis' kickoff fumble showed, the decay in the special teams in the last month has been pretty dramatic

34) Plaxico Burress getting the defensive PI call on Nnamdi Asomugha showed that the WR doesn't need a chance at the ball for the call to be made now

33) Santonio Holmes scored down the gut, then went for a flapping Eagles taunt, just to show that he doesn't care about the scoreboard

32) McCoy lost a fumble for the first time all year, and at just about the worst possible time, which is to say, the only time this team makes turnovers

31) For everyone who says that Jackson has checked out on his team, please note that he's the guy who's always making the tackle on turnover returns

30) Six turnovers in 27 minutes in dry weather should tell you all you need to know about the quality of both of these teams

29) Noting that our high draft picker can't even try from 60 yards, that the offensive line can't defend on a Hail Mary against a 3-man rush, and that we might have had time to make the last drive count for points had we not wasted two timeouts earlier just shows that you're an irrational Coach For Life Andy Reid Hater

28) Antonio Cromartie's second half kickoff return was another We Miss Colt Anderson moment

27) Sanchez seemed to collapse from ennui, or just has a ridiculous glass jaw

26) Jeremy Maclin blocked two different guys on a 73-yard play to Celek where the tight end looked like he needed an oil change late

25) McCoy's 19th score of the year might have been his easiest

24) Just in case Eagle Fan was developing hope for the playoffs, Asante Samuel and DeSean Jackson left with hamstring injuries

23) Not to put too fine a point on this, but the Jets might have played their worst game of the year, and right tackle Wayne Hunter in particular was completely overmatched

22) Babin's third sack of the day was entirely one-handed, as he's obviously getting bored of the two-handed variety

21) Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Jamar Cheney combined for a pick, which made Cheney the first Eagles LB in 15 years to have 3 picks in a year -- no, seriously

20) Jerome Kerley picked up an unsportsmanlike flag for blocking after a fair catch signal, or doing what Brian Mitchell did for his whole damn life

19) Castillo actually looked happy to be a coordinator today, and for actual cause, which means he'll get to keep his job, too

18) The Eagles' idea of killing the clock with a late lead: having Mike Vick run around for 15 seconds and take a big hit

17) McCoy's third touchdown of the day... might have been easier than the second

16) When Vince Young comes in and we don't all hate it, you know it's a pretty odd day in the life of the 2011 Eagles

15) The team may have finally figured out a way to avoid blowing a fourth quarter led -- i.e., have such a large one that it's impossible to do it

14) On some level, Philly Fan is disappointed that he didn't get to boo anything today

13) Babin picked up a roughing the passer flag in garbage time for making Sanchez smell his glove

12) Burress became the latest WR in the fourth quarter to beat Asomugha for a touchdown

11) Young, in case you were wondering, is still completely horrible

10) When Mark Brunnell and Joe McKnight are in, you can safely stop writing game notes

9) The Jets have never beaten the Eagles in a regular season game, which would mean something if the teams met more than 8 times in 38 years

8) Honestly, it's kind of hard to draw any real conclusions from this game beyond the Jets played turrible

7) Between this and the Patriots de-pantsing God and Country in Denver, CBS kind of took a hard day in the ratings

6) New York is still in line for a playoff spot, which is to say, none of this really mattered

5) Reid went to Mike Kafka for the kneeldown, because he wasn't sure that Young was smart enough to execute that play

4) Rich Gannon made multiple references to Mike Vick's hyperbaric chamber, because that was far more interesting than anything else in this game

3) The big win means that Reid and Castillo are clearly going to get contract extensions, just to make sure Eagle Fan takes no joy in the win

2) Next week's False Hope Bowl in New York will now be downright interesting

1) There will be at least one more meaningful week of Eagles football in 2011, assuming there was such a thing as any meaningful weeks of 2011 Eagles football

Top 10 NFL Week 15 Ad Questions

10) Why do I want to buy a mobile phone from a provider that makes their products in a pink-haired midget sweatshop?

9) If I get wish-granted powers from using State Farm coverage, how does that routinely avoid pornography?

8) Do Wal-Mart's retarded cow customers all react to price-matching offers by looking like they are about to have a bowel movement in the middle of the store?

7) Why does Ford think it's a good idea for Mike Rowe to harass people at the mall?

6) If I buy a pair of Pumas, will they stay on my feet, or will they self-replicate, stick to the ground, and plot a course for any pursuer?

5) Can someone please stop the iPhone from littering the world with app balloons?

4) How does behaving like a tool to Santa Claus help to sell electronics, especially given the fact that presents from Santa are free?

3) If you are intrigued by the leather inside a Jeep, aren't you kind of, well, a freaky pervert that usually doesn't get their needs taken care of in mass market adertising?

2) Do I have to believe in a creepy Santa to buy my woman something from Kay?

1) Is there some federal law requiring 1 out of every 3 seasonal ads to use the dance of the sugar plum fairy music?

In News Even Fewer Of You Care About Than Usual: The NBA Fantasy Auction Draft

Last year's team won it all, as a fell-into-it pick fo Derrick Rose worked like gangbusters, and early season health translated into a lead where I was able to move Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson for Steve Nash and Monta Ellis. (The joy of keeper leagues.) Combined with all-year goodness from Dwyane Wade, Al Jefferson and Nene, I had enough to take down by second league championship in nine years. Fantasy basketball is actually my favorite roto sport of all, because you actually have to know about the won-loss record of various teams, since minutes will change if a team tanks. So here's the starting lineup; asterisk players were keepers. (12 players, 8 categories with the usual pieces but no turnovers, roto scoring, full year.)

PG Derrick Rose $25 *
SG Dwyane Wade $50 *
G Devin Harris $8 *
SF Michael Beasley $6 *
PF Al Jefferson $31 *
F Elton Brand $14
C Nene Hilario $7 *
U Kobe Bryant $48
U Caron Butler $5
B1 Nick Young $1
B2 Kenneth Faried $1
B3 John Salmons $1

I sort of fell into Kobe at $48. I'm not a huge fan of his this year; divorce and a lot of miles on the tires with a clearly worse team is not going to do good things for his ratios, and if the team struggles to make the playoffs, there's no telling what he might do (mostly, take a ton of time to come back from an injury). But at $48 for a potential top 10 player, as well as a guy who might just go on a four-month bender of stat-tastic hate, it's a gamble I had to take. (Besides, I was out of position on Dirk Nowitzki.)

Elton Brand is my first Sixer of note for years and years. He's a pretty steady presence by now, and just might be far enough past the injuries to show a little more growth. There's also something appealing about a possible 16/10 guy who doesn't kill your ratio numbers.

Caron Butler at $5 made me really happy, in that I kept getting aced out of the guys I wanted, and was really worried that I wasn't going to get a credible starter to fill my roster. On a Clippers team that has actual breakout potential, he could deliver a lot more value. And if he has issues, John Salmons does a lot of everything, and the percentages should be taken care of by the others.

Threes could be a problem, which is why Nick Young is on the roster. He's pretty strong empty calories, but I hold out hope that he can add a little more to his game with minutes and experience. It's the rare NBA player who can't fall into a few assists, boards and steals if he's on the floor for 30+ minutes a game. Finally, Kenneth Faried just seems like a reasomable hope for the kind of multi-category fantasy goodness that only comes from a guy who makes the NBA on energey and athleticism. It's a long shot, but I could see him being a poor man's Shawn Marion type.

I'm probably going to struggle in threes and free thow percentages, do well in points, asissts and boards, and generally contend. So long, of course, as we stay healthy. That's the secret truth of sports in general, and fantasy sports in particular; you aren't winning if you aren't lucky and healthy.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

2011's Top 10 Flashes In The Pan

In the lobby of my business hotel while on my latest trip, I pawed through a newspaper, mostly to distract myself from the same-old same-old breakfast. In that dead tree of local advertising, I found this small tidbit: Jessica Lynch, the one-time cause celebre / manipulated tool of the American media who wanted to put a blonde white woman in the middle of the Iraqi war effort, has completed a teaching program. She will now, presumably, go further into obscurity, and spend the remainder of her working days trying to duck a decreasing number of guys at paret-teacher nights who want her to talk about her brush with fame.

And kudos to her for that, really; it can't be easy to turn aside dubious stardom for a far more ordinary, albeit sustainable, life. I'm sure that someone offered her five figures and up to disrobe before a camera. It speaks to an odd but potent amount of personal honor, or maybe just shyness, that she had the fortitude to say no to that. It's her life and her choice, and as choices go, that one is pretty great; I hope my grown daughters would, in a similar circumstance, do the same.

But what it made me wonder about is the following; who is important right now in our Blogfrican world that, well, won't be six months from now? And more importantly, will there be any surprise to it at all?

10) Jose Reyes. Hard to say this signing was such a splash now that the Marlins were already trumped by the Angels landing Albert Pujols, but a week later, it's still hard to see what the Fish were thinking. Reyes isn't the type of guy who is going to drag a team to contention, stay "healthy" if the team is out of it and there are no personal goals to achieve, or age well. The only way he'll be relevant outside of fantasy sports again is a trade.

9) Jimmer Fredette. Last week, the Kings made a small under the waves signing: guard Marcus Thornton, who they stole from the Hornets, to a multi-year and suspiciously large contract, at least to people who actually believed that the NBA owners were going to practice austerity given the HORRIBLE FINANCIAL CONDITIONS they've been under. (Wink, wink. Having the media report your lies as fact is fun, isn't it?) Anyway, assuming that Thornton doesn't rest and vest with his new deal, this speaks volumes to what the Kings are going to do at the off guard position; play the unknown athletic black guy who's actually kind of good, rather than the college white boy freak show who will sell jerseys and tickets for a very brief period of time, before the world realizes that unlimited shooting range doesn't translate when half of the league can outquick you. The college game does not translate to the NBA, people...

8) Billy Beane. You could argue that he's not even relevant now, but as the latest same-old same-old sales (hey, Josh willingham hit here a little in 2011; that means he's gone in 2012) and moves of young plus pitchers for dubious returns show, there's nothing new under the sun in Oakland. Which makes anyone with a pulse wonder; why is he still there, when presumably there are other, more plush clubs willing to pay for GM magic? Because (a) he's a part-owner and in there like a fat woman in a hot bathtub, and no other team finds him all that magical. Count the 47 remaining A's fans in that group, by the way.

7) Peyton Manning. Have you noticed how quickly corporate America has moved to new spokespeople during NFL games? It's because no one wants a guy who isn't playing, no matter the reason, and the dirty little secret of Elder Manning is that he really might not ever play again. The lifetime records don't really mean that much (in this pinball football age, they won't last more than 10 years anyway), it's not as if he hasn't banked enough coin in his life to buy a country or six, and if he leaves now, he gets to keep his health, his reputation, and his one laundry icon image. Especially if/when the Colts suck into Luck. And it's not as if any new team's fan base is going to be very understanding of any struggles or patient in any way. This way lies Favre...

6) Kobe Bryant. Not exactly a good week for the best 2-guard of this century; he loses his best 2-way teammate (Lamar Odom) for nothing of tangible value, the team signs a defensive hole (Josh McRoberts) to play the 4, and after David Stern caves to small marketeers, the club more or less emasculates what's left of Pau Gasol. Coach Phil Jackson is gone, and the boarder Clips are now the chic pick in front-runner LA. Oh, and he's got more miles on his legs than a Kenya marathoner.

Does he pule for, or get, a trade? Unlikely. Can the team bring in Dwight Howard, Superman-like, to make them relevant again? Can't imagine it; there are no young assets here that make sense for Orlando to start over with, and after that Shaquille O'Neal experience, you had to think that Orlando isn't anxious to continue the trend of sending great big men to Staples. Can Andrew Bynum stay healthy while becoming a top five option in the pivot? Hell no; Bynum can't even stay on the court when he is healthy now, having gone all Wrestling Heel on JJ Barea in the foldo sweep against the Mavs last year. Add it all up, and it spells the long dark twilight. At least he's getting paid. A lot.

4) Bill Cowher. Here's a fun little fact about coaching NFL games that the national media never seems to get: you really shouldn't do it into, say, your '50s. By that point, you are old enough to be well and truly out of touch with your players, and you are also, due to the continuingly curious hiring standards of NFL ownership, not likely to be their skin color. You're going to be out of shape while demanding that they be in it. You are going to be stuck in an offensive and defensive mode of play calling that was forged 20-30 years ago, for the most part, without enough adjustment and evolution into stuff that actually works now. You will also be far more likely to have grown children that demand your time; you neglect them at your peril. And you just find yourself passing out at your desk if you try to live the same hours as an obsessive 20-something.

This is why young men win the World Series of Poker. This is why old coaches that go into broadcast booths never seem to leave them. And this is why Bill Cowher, who left on his own accord and will never, ever, walk into a situation with better ownership or a more forgiving fan base, ain't taking big dollars to go to Jacksonville or Miami or Kansas City or any other place you can mention. But he's very flattered that you all keep pining for him.

3) Chris Berman. There is no better tenured position for a celebrity in America than to be a sportscaster. You don't have to be good at your job, funny, likable or even self-conscious enough to understand that your worth in this world is maybe a thousandth of what you think it is. All you need is for the viewing habits of the public to not change, and for the most part, they don't. The people who have been watching the World Wide Lemur now have been doing it for so long that they just don't think about it. Seriously, when's the last time you actively thought about which channel you were putting on for pre or post-game timewaste?

So why will this change? Because cable is going (has to go) to a la carte pricing; the economy, and the ever-growing number of cord-cutters, especially among young people without ingrained habits (i.e., the people that advertisers absolutely have to reach), demands it. When that happens, the gross numbers for ESPN go down, and the bean-counters there will start to put a hard eye on what they can live without. Oh, and add to that point the little joy that is the NFL getting bigger and bigger contracts from them. All of which is eventually going to lead to some suit asking this asshat to take a 30-40% pay cut or retire. One assumes that won't taste too good, and a diminished role will ensure. And the ratings... won't change a whit. But your life will be better, really. So enjoy that when it happens.

2) David Stern. Oh, he's not going away anytime real soon; we'll still be looking at his craven puss in June as he makes some awkward speech on the floor at the Finals, and tries to ignore the boos (good luck with that) from any sentient fan. But he's got about as much credibility now with the players and media as a Wall Street lobbyist. From the lockout lies to the Chris Paul debacle, piling up on top f the Seattle screwjob and the Vancover screwjob and the enforced white man's wear for players that could buy and sell him on the open market... it's all old, old, old. No one likes, respects, or fears him anymore, and as soon as the Hornets are sold off, he'll be about as relevant as Bud Selig in MLB. And possibly less well-liked. (Wow.) So why on earth should he stay, other than spite?

1) Tim Tebow. The overwhelming answer to this question, if only because QBs that take 20-30 hits a game by design can't possibly have a long NFL career. Independent of any other factor at work here -- the massive media coverage, the clear flint eye from his own management, the sense that every wacky running game play gets schemed and solved with a quickness in the NFL (remember the WILD! Cat?)... this ain't going to last. It just can't. So, you know, enjoy it while you can, crucisniffers....

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sports Socialism

According to a fun little piece in the Gray Lady today, the average American television cable or satellite subscriber pays about $100 a year for sports programming... whether they watch it or not.

Which, of course, speaks to two very different points:

1) A solid majority of the American populace are subsidizing activities they do not approve of with their entertainment purchase, or to make things more clear, being robbed each and every day, most clearly by ESPN, and

2) When, not if, things go to an a la carte basis, everyone who watches sports is going to pay roughly twice as much as they currently do for cable and satellite.

And when that day happens... we'll pay it. Maybe we'll give up good beer for weak, or a restaurant trip a month, or movies in the theater or a half dozen other things, but sports programming won't be one of them. At least, not for the hardcore folks.

Now, there's also this.

When you read how television networks have paid some ungodly number for the rights to broadcast the NFL... that's eventually coming from you. When you see the whiz bang graphics, sets and remote broadcasts from the World Wide Lemur, that's coming from you. When you watch anything but game, you enable all of this all the more, because those ratings get wrapped into the same fat cigar of burned cash.

So, if you'd like your cable bill to stay sane after the inevitable a la carte price surge, because non-sports viewing cable subscriber is well and truly ready to just go to the Internet (in the guise of Netflix, Hulu, and a load of other providers) for their entertainment needs...

Turn off anything that isn't game. Turn off games that you are just watching in the background. Walk away from the yammer shows, the replay replays, the pregame hype, all of it. And slowly, slowly, slowly start to put the toothpaste back in the tube and starve the beast.

Before, well, it starves you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Top 10 reasons why the NBA allowed the Chris Paul to the Clippers trade

10) Unlike the Lakers deal, this ensures that Paul won't be going to a major market

9) Wanted to make Bill Simmons way too happy

8) Controlled experiment to ensure that both CP3 and Blake Griffin suffer career-ending injuries

7) Pretty sure that Paul will skip the team at the end of his contract, which means more exciting PR next summer

6) Kia called in one hell of a favor

5) After 30+ years of doing just enough to get revenue sharing checks, it's just so cute now that the Clips are actually trying to win games

4) Dan Gilbert said this trade was OK

3) After last week's cuckolding and media smackdown, even David Stern isn't so tone deaf as to cancel another deal

2) Paul didn't choose to go to the Clippers, which makes it all OK

1) At the end of the day, just can't say no to that lovable old teddy bear Donald Sterling

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Week 15 NFL Picks: The End Is Nigh

Most years, I get wistful about the end of the NFL season. The weather is turning cruddy, the weekends will start being all about individual games that might not be all that interesting, it's going to be another eight months before the sport that Americans care about more than any ten others, and... nope. From the lockout mind games to the most disappointing team in my franchise's history, from the constant cuckolding of defensive players to the worst season in my fantasy football experience, I just want it over already. Sorry if you feel differently, or are a Packer fan, or are getting your Jebus on with Tim Tebow, but I'm just not feeling it. Even though the picks are making money. And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

Jacksonville at ATLANTA (-11.5)

Can Maurice Jones-Drew go for four touchdowns in back to back weeks and give the Jaguars a semblance of a pro offense?


So take the Falcons, especially at home, and don't worry your pretty little head about the points, because the Jaguars defense is secretly beat up. And the Falcons are starting to look like a frisky little under the radar playoff team, especially if they somehow get a home game. Too bad they play in the same conference as the Packers and Saints.

Falcons 31, Jaguars 13

DALLAS at Tampa Bay (+7)

What the hell was that, Tampa? A complete and utter de-pantsing to the cross-state rival Jaguars speaks volumes about the level of quit in this year's secret stink team. Oh, and by the way, Delusional Eagle Fan? After Dallas wins this game, the Eagles will be mathematically eliminated. Expect it to be obvious by halftime, even though the Cowboys aren't nearly as good without RB DeMarco Murray.

Cowboys 24, Bucs 10

Miami at BUFFALO (+1.5)

New coach, road game, cold weather, against a team that has a home crowd and gives a damn. A week ago, when the Fish were looking frisky, this might have been a game, but not any more. Besides, with Matt Moore shaking off the effects of a concussion, this might be the return of J.P. Losman to upstate New York. Bills Fan, try to contain your joy, and remember the good times. After all, I'm pretty sure he was better than Trent Edwards.

Bills 27, Dolphins 17

SEATTLE at Chicago (-3.5)

I realize this is a sucker bet. I know that Chicago at home in December has mystical powers, that Seattle are weak kittens on the road, and have a short work week after beating up the Rams. But when push comes to shove, I just can't go with Caleb Hanie anywhere, especially with no Matt Forte, a week after they got their season Tebowed. Besides, the Seattle defense is really coming on, and they already have a few more road wins than usual this year.

Seahawks 20, Bears 13

Tennessee at INDIANAPOLIS (+7)

Two straight road covers for the still winless Colts, who are at least still trying to avoid Perfect Misery. This week, they get the Titans at home, and I think they keep it close one more time... and maybe even steal one. Hey, it's Christmas. And going 0-16 is really, really hard.

Colts 24, Titans 23

GREEN BAY at Kansas City (+14)

I'd take this line at 25, frankly; the Packers are close enough to the finish line that they can taste it, and the Chiefs under a new coach still have the problem of No Actual QB on the roster. Once Green Bay takes the lead, the defense will add to it, and QB Aaron Rodgers is just operating at another level. One that eliminates back door covers.

Packers 41, Chiefs 13

CINCINNATI at St. Louis (+7)

I'm traveling this week, which meant that I got to watch most of that MNF Rams travesty... and wow, is this every inch of a 2-win team. Incapable of coping with any kind of blitz, with one pro level WR on the roster, and so clueless at the goal line that poor RB Stephen Jackson just about had to throw a fit to get a try. I don't understand why anyone involved in this organization should still have a job, and this week against a Bengals team that's in dire need of a win, they won't do much for their collective resumes.

Bengals 27, Rams 16

NEW ORLEANS at Minnesota (+7)

Some of the steam went out of the Christian Ponder bandwagon last week, and with the Saints coming to town and rounding into playoff shape, it's not going to get any better. And an indoor road game doesn't really seem like a road game for the Saints, does it?

Saints 34, Vikings 20

WASHINGTON at NY Giants (-7)

Do I really think the Skins can win in New York? No, not really, even though the G Men have a nasty little habit of pulling the rug out from under their supporters whenever they start feeling a little too good about themselves. But do I think they can keep it close, considering their defense did the deed early this season in Fedex Field, and how QB Rex Grossman is having one of those periodic bouts of competence? Sure. And Delusional Eagle Fan, this is the other lead pipe lock of how your team's 4pm game will mean nothing.

Giants 24, Redskins 20

Carolina at HOUSTON (-6.5)

A big line, even at home, against a team that has stat filling QB Cam Newton... but the Texans are just too good at running the ball, and the Panthers too poor at stopping the run, to keep this close late. Plus, the Panthers are turnover prone on offense, and the Texans' defense is downright opportunistic. And also smelling a first round bye in the AFC playoffs.

Texans 27, Panthers 17

DETROIT at Oakland (+1.5)

On some level, don't you wish this game was being played without refs, and maybe in an octagon? Just dispense with any idea of footballery and see which team can be Muy Macho / Underhanded / Dipshitastic. But alas, this one will be handled by an officiating crew that clearly lost some form of bet with the league offices, and will likely wind up dropping thirty flags on the ground before it's all said and done. Having said that, give me the road Lions for the win, since their QB isn't a turnover machine, and their defense offers more than token resistance against the run. But please, bet the penalty over ahead of the actual line.

Lions 31, Raiders 20

NEW ENGLAND at Denver (+7)

Take heart, Tim Tebow Haters; the evil that is Bill Belichick will come to God's Own Football Field and end this silliness. For one week, at least. The secret sauce in Denver's winning streak is that the defense has been rested even on three and outs, and never put on a short field. New England does not care about short fields. Denver has been able to play aged safety Brian Dawkins every step of the way, because they haven't faced a QB/TE tandem that can overpower him; QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski are the NFL's best in this regard, and TE Aaron Hernandez ain't exactly chop liver, either. And once you get two touchdowns up on Timmy Time, and take away the patience and attrition war that makes fourth quarter and overtime magic possible... well, it doesn't look good. At all. (But take heart, Denver Fan. It'll all seem much better next week.)

Patriots 27, Broncos 13

NEW YORK JETS at Philadelphia (-3)

Really, Las Vegas? All it took was one road win over the freaking Dolphins to install the most disappointing team in franchise history as a road favorite against a team with a playoff pulse? Not buying it, not even for a minute, because this game didn't look good in September, let alone in December.

The Jets are going to zone and scheme the secretly mediocre Eagles offense. RB Shonn Greene will run for triple digits and control the clock. Jets Fan will show up by the ten thousand, because most Eagles Fans have been trying to move these seats for months.

Oh, and there's also this. The Jets will care about winning this game. The Eagles won't. Kind of an important point, really. This might be your lock of the week, on many, many levels.

Jets 27, Eagles 17

Cleveland at ARIZONA (-6.5)

A big number for a below .500 home favorite that might be starting its nominally back up QB, but man alive, this Browns team is just DOA right now, and also probably working on its second QB. Five years ago, that might have seemed interesting, in that Seneca Wallace had some interesting potential... but we've all seen enough of it since then to know better. Assuming the Cardinals get to 17 points, and their defense and special teams might do it by themselves, they'll cover.

Cardinals 20, Browns 9

BALTIMORE at San Diego (+1.5)

Here's another team that Vegas is liking a little too much. San Diego has two wins against two teams (Jacksonville and Buffalo) that aren't going to the playoffs. They also have a history of performing better in December, and some finally healthy WRs. But they don't have an offensive line, or a QB that keeps away from turnovers under pressure, and the Ravens have bigger dreams than this. I think the mos talented and physical team in the AFC puts it together this week. (And oh, the defense seems better without MLB Ray Lewis. Someone might want to note that in the media, assuming they can stop slobbing Ray Ray's knob for a minute.)

Ravens 27, Chargers 20

PITTSBURGH at San Francisco (-2.5)

The problem with the Niners, and the reason why they are going to be one and done in the playoffs, is that they are a bad offensive team in the red zone. And that, more than anything, is why you should not believe this whole QB Alex Smith is Now OK idea. Against a Steelers team that's always been good at minimizing the damage and knows how to close in December, they'll learn another painful lesson of why they aren't really a contender.

Steelers 24, Niners 19

Last week: 10-6

Year to date: 106-95-5

Career: 511-500-22

Ads In This Size Rule