Sunday, November 30, 2014

Top 10 NFL Week 13 Takeaways

Screw That, Chant Your Asses Off
10) Now that they have a victory, Oakland is hard at work to make sure they don't lose the top pick

9) Carolina would have lost their game in Minnesota just on kicking plays

8) Ryan Fitzpatrick took back his job with the kind of steely vengeance that only a Harvard man on his sixth team can summon

7) It turns out that any Washington QB is turnover-prone, because, well, Washington is an absolute dumpster fire

6) Pittsburgh isn't going to go to the playoffs this year because, unlike every other team in football, they couldn't win games against the NFC South at home

5) The Giants lost in the largest comeback win in Jaguar history, mostly because their offensive players couldn't stop giving up fumbles for touchdowns

4) Cincy barely survived the Bucs, despite the game having no resemblance whatsoever to a playoff atmosphere

3) Tennessee went to Jake Locker, which went just about as well as you might expect

2) Buffalo survived a Johnny Manziel sighting and actual effectiveness, and yes, there may be deals available on Brian Hoyer jerseys

1) San Diego won in Baltimore on a last-minute TD pass that was set up by one of those DPI/OPI calls that makes Raven Fan so well-trained at chanting about bovine excrement

Top 10 NFL Week 13 Ad Questions

Curse You, Intellect
10) If Skelotor is hawking Honda, does that prove that Honda is evil, or that Robot Chicken has taken over an ad agency?

9) Are non-Verizon users plagued with ungrateful brats?

8) Is Pepsi the only thing causing America to send its veterans overseas?

7) Can anything make Terry Bradshaw stop talking about his personal medical problems?

6) Is anyone else bothered by the Clash, aka the most socialist and communist-friendly rock band in history, being used to sell bad luxury automobiles?

5) Why is it so hard for NFL players to talk about domestic abuse and violence, when it happens so often?

4) Is it possible to shop at Jared without dealing with a hopelessly smug customer service person?

3) Are Wal-Mart's ads meant to be a post-modern criticism and reduction of the horrors of capitalism, or is that just an unintentional by product of total incompetence?

2) Do Taco Bell consumers lose the ability to put their terrible fast food down, no matter what the social circumstance?

1) Are FedEx users prone to putting shoes on cats?

Mark Sanchez and the Sixers: Narrative Denied

Not Shown: Sports
So there are two main stories in my part of the world and laundry that I care about. They are:

1) How Mark Sanchez is having a career rebirth from being exposed to Chip Kelly, and

2) That the Sixers are now 0-16 to start the NBA season, and how everything involved in that is just the worst.

Let's take each in turn.

It's a truism in NFL commentary: the quarterback gets too much credit when a team wins, and too much criticism when a team loses. With Sanchez, I'm not sure there's ever been a more clear indication of the trend. In the Cowboys game, Sanchez is at the wheel as the team goes up 14-0 early... but the first drive is mostly set up by back to back runs for LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles for 55 total yards, and the second is finished by a 27-yard crossing pattern and score by WR Jordan Matthews where the man was open by yards, and just about any QB in the league completes that pass. On the third drive, Sanchez cost the team points by missing the similarly open WR Brad Smith, and refusing to take short first down yardage on third with McCoy in the flat, preferring instead the covered TE Zach Ertz in the end zone. The rest of the game was marked by similar weak work in the red zone, only 15 yards passing after intermission, and the single best point of not turning the ball over.

Now, did Sanchez actually play badly? Not at all. Not turning the ball over in 60 minutes of an NFL game is a great and wonderful thing, especially on the road. He kept the tempo up, and tempo is a massive thing for the Eagles. He converted on third down, and won a road game against a team that's over .500. But it's not as if he was the only freaking factor here.

The running game went for 250 yards. The special teams were their usual dominant selves. The defense made Tony Romo look hurt, and DeMarco Murray irrelevant. The QB contributed to the victory; he didn't create it.

But as for Sanchez having a career rebirth here? Let's see him win a game where the rest of the team isn't dominant. Let's see him win a game against a team that might not be secretly mediocre -- and yes, the Cowboys could easily tailspin their way out of the playoff picture, especially if they lose against Chicago next week, then have to come to Philly to face the team that just punked them.

Basically, let's wait and see what happens next week against the Seahawks, because if the Eagles win that game, 13-3 and a first-round bye looks in sight.

And if that somehow happens, we might have a much bigger story than Sanchez with a career rebirth to consider. Instead, it might be how Sanchez got himself, and a franchise, a ring. With, well, a lot of help from the running game, the defense, and the special teams...

2) The Sixers dropped their 16th in a row to start the season tonight, this time against a Mavs club that told F Dirk Nowitzki, still their best player, to take the night off for no other reason than they didn't think they needed him to win. And, well, they were right.

Now, no one in their right mind thought this Sixer team was going to be good. The whole point here, in GM Sam Hinkie's hard path to build something that isn't just an ordinary low seed, but an actual serious title competitor, is to bank hard for the future. But the question is whether the present is ruining the future, in that the entirety of the next good Sixer team is not all comprised of people who aren't here yet.

I don't know if G Michael Carter-Williams' progress as an NBA player is being ruined by all of the losing. I'm not even sure if he's actually all that great, independent of the losing. MCW has good size and realistic instincts, and has the raw skills to be a solid defensive player. He also is good in the open court, the only guy on the roster right now who could be in the rotation of a good club. But he might not be a starter on a playoff team. There's really no way to know except to give him a ton of playing time and see what happens.

How about C Nerlens Noel? Well, he's been as advertised. Raw on offense, trying hard on defense, growing in the role, but able to be taken out by any amount of veteran savvy. He's not likely to be the Rookie of the Year -- no one involved in what might easily be the worst team in NBA history is getting an award -- but he's been watchable.

Next up on things to think good things about is rookie swingman KJ McDaniels. He's been getting better every week, and if his good games ever coincided with one from Noel and MCW, the club might finally get a win. Highlight dunks and defensive closeouts are here, along with a shaky handle and inconsistent shooting. I think he's a keeper, but if he's the third best player on your club, your club is horrible.

I haven't gotten to the team's leading scorer (G Tony Wroten, a usage mirage and talent without intellect) or other starters (F/C Henry Sims, wretched, G Hollis Thompson, worse). There also hasn't really been a guy on the roster otherwise who looks like an NBA player, unless you want to think that Robert Covington or Jerami Grant might be something.

But that's all irrelevant, really. The only real question is whether the progress of the individual players are being ruined by the losing. And on that, there's no evidence. McDaniels' numbers have been on the upswing. So has Noel. We'll see if anything comes out of the benchies; considering how well the Association scouts, and the number of undrafted players on this roster, there's not much in the way of good odds, there.

So it really comes down, not to whether the team is suffering with the losing... but if Carter-Williams is.

He's the one with the reversion issues. He's the one struggling with a sophomore slump, or a longer than expected recovery from off-season knee surgery. He probably can't co-exist with Wroten (no loss, really), needs to improve his shot desperately and can't have done that with the rehab. He's the face of the franchise (as if they have one yet), the key to Noel getting good looks on offense, the guy with the trade rumors after the draft day machinations with Elfrid Payton, the guy with the ROY trophy.

Noel and McDaniels, along with Joel Embiid and Dario Saric? All likely to be parts of the next Sixer team that's worth watching for more than scouting for the future, especially if Noel and Embiid can co-exist in the same frontcourt.


Maybe. Maybe not. Especially if the next best player in the draft is a point guard, and so far, the top pick in the 2015 draft is Emmanuel Mudiay, a point guard from the Congo who makes people think of John Wall.

Because, well, the Narrative around the Eagles and Sixers Does Not Matter, and has never mattered, because the Eagles and Sixers are not sportswriters.

They don't care about stories, or narrative, because these things do not exist.

What exists are wins and losses. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Eagles - Cowboys Takeaways

Killshot Shady
> In retrospect, this game was over on the first drive, when RB Darren Sproles and RB LeSean McCoy went for 13 and 36 yards on back to back plays

> QB Mark Sanchez trolled McCoy's fantasy owners by keeping the ball on a carry when either could have scored

> It was nice of Dallas Fan to be nice and quiet during that first drive, when Red Zone Fail might have been a problem

> RB DeMarco Murray is, in fact, as good as advertised, in that he's got a knack for always falling forward

> Seeing CB Cary Williams make a great play on an out to WR Dez Bryant, then watching CB Bradley Fletcher get away with DPI on him a few plays later, was also all kinds of telling

> A better game than most for WR Riley Cooper, but I still would much rather see what WR Josh Huff can do with the snaps

> Even on a critical 3rd and 3 that could stop a drive cold, Eagles HC Chip Kelly believes in speed tempo, even when it results in having to rely on Cooper

> Sanchez to WR Jordan Matthews on the roll out, perfectly in stride, for the 27-yard TD and weekly mirage that the Sanchize is better than he is

> That capped a 7-play, 88-yard drive in two freaking minutes that honestly, no other team in the NFL makes

> This game was 14-0 in a real big hurry, and made playing defense for Green a lot easier than expected

> Either K Cody Parkey had a poor day on kickoffs, or Dallas STs were just too desperate to take touchbacks

> MLB Mychal Kendricks chased down WR Cole Beasley from behind in an impressive display of athleticism, even though it resulted in a 16-yard catch and run

> Dallas QB Tony Romo only really made one play of consequence to WR Dez Bryant today, a 38-yard sideline fly that set up a score over Fletcher

> When you watch the Eagles every week, it's kind of startling to see the other team struggle to get plays called before the play clock hits zero

> When Murray scored to make it Eagles 14, Cowboys 7, Joe Buck could not have sounded more overjoyed, though it's also true that every announcing team roots like hell for close games

> The difference today for McCoy running the ball today, versus much of the year, was that patient running was rewarded by a significant amount of pancaking from the offensive line

> When Sanchez is not decisive in getting rid of the ball, it's a sack and strip and disaster just waiting to happen

> It's so nice to root for a team where a sack and loss of 10 doesn't automatically mean two handoffs and a punt, especially when the next play after a sack is WR Jeremy Maclin for 59 cross-cutting yards

> Sanchez missed a crazy open WR Brad Smith as the Dallas defense either became very tired or their true selves

> On third and 3 from the Silver 13, Sanchez got greedy and went for TE Zach Ertz in the end zone, rather than McCoy for in the flat for the likely first down

> Between missing Smith and the McCoy/Ertz move, that's four points that a better QB doesn't leave on the field

> There are few things on this earth that are more porny to me than Bryant screaming at his teammates

> 3rd and 3 down 10 saw Romo miss TE Jason Witten to more than a few cheers from the crowd, and it became pretty apparent that the QB wasn't going to save his team tonight

> You have to love how annoyed Sproles looks when he doesn't score a punt return for touchdown on a play where he had a little room

> Dallas STs with the Stooge Moment of hitting each other to create a better punt, and were very lucky to avoid a muff

> After a healthy dose of Murray Is Good, it was nice for Silver to derp it up on third and three for early snap fail and gift sack for DE Vinny Curry

> The most important down of every Green drive is the first third down, because if they convert, the rest of the field goes like popcorn until the Red Zone

> By the end of the first half, Silver was left to frequent holds due to fatigue

> Sanchez set a career high for yards in a first half, and as it was just 200, that was a little sad

> McCoy with a convoy gets 9, and it's got to be fun to be a Green RB on plays like that

> The Eagles' idea of milking the clock is running plays where the opponent calls timeouts afterward

> I'd like to rename the Fade Pattern into the Hurl Pattern, since I usually want to do it when it's called

> Down 20-7 with a 2-minute drill and possession after the half, Silver had a chance to get back into it... but Beasley's fumble after a strip by CB Brandon Boykin killed that idea

> Not gonna lie: watching the irritating '80s rocker Beasley lip sync curse on national TV was a highlight

> S Nate Allen had a bunch of takeaways today, which might make him the defensive player of the week, despite being, well, Nate Allen

> When Sanchez didn't turn it over on second or third and goal on improv-ish looking passing plays, That Was Progress

> Third and 7 is an anxiety causing scramble and throwaway, and the third straight red zone fail

> Green had 292 yards of offense in the first half, but didn't win time of possession, and for God's sake, stop wasting the audience's time by pretending that matters

> Pitbull on for halftime Up With Everything performance that teaches America that Paul Shaffer can have a second life as a dance pop mediocrity

> On second and 1 after a Murray run, Romo looked deep for a long time with protection, then settled for Witten and small beer conversion, making me wonder if he was getting gun-shy

> DT Fletcher Cox with one of his best games in Green, and yeah, he's going to the Pro Bowl after doing that in front of a stand alone national audience

> McCoy's fumble was really untimely, and as much as I'd like to chastise the RB for it, the way RT Lane Johnson scraped him was pretty fluky

> Cox and DL Bennie Logan with the huge stop on Murray on second and 1 from the four; pretty much a four-point play

> On third and 3 from the 6, MLB Casey Matthews got to Romo for a sack, and the way this coaching staff has rehabilitated a previously useless player is huge

> Sanchez used his above average wheels to get 8 on a scramble, and did not fumble, so yay

> The QB then survived a scary shot to the head that made me wonder if we were going to have to see QB Matt Barkley (dear God, no)

> McCoy's killshot 38-yard touchdown run was one of the few times this year that the RB got to the second level and finished, and all kinds of great to see

> Fox's camera gets slammed in the post-TD celebration for Added Fun

> Being up 20 with 22 minutes left probably meant that most of America went back to awkward conversations with relatives

> Fox brought in Jimmy Johnson to talk about a 25-year-old beatdown, because this game is just getting to that stage

> Romo sacked by OLB Brandon Graham, then Bryant stopped for a yard by CB Nolan Carroll, as the back-up defenders made their bid to have highlights, too

> Allen lost an arm punt pick on 3rd and 14 on a hold by Williams that wasn't getting called the rest of the day

> When the refs let the secondaries be physical, Green wins; the sad part is that doesn't really happen in the NFL very much any more

> It's striking just how little Romo is interested in using his legs now, making me wonder if the back issue is worse than Silver is letting on

> Silver wasn't winning this game even if Romo played well, but Romo really didn't play well; when your QB throws into an area with multiple WRs running the same route, then arm punts a deep ball, that's bad no matter what the scoreboard says

> RB Chris Polk is Kelly's personal victory cigar, and going to fresh young legs deep in a game seems downright unfair

> In fourth quarter garbage time, Sanchez pump fakes on a scramble, 8 yards past the line of scrimmage, just for funsies

> McCoy's could have easily been his second fumble of the day on third and 2 in the red zone was all his fault, and needs to be cleaned up

> File under Hmm... Sanchez and Cooper getting into an argument, leading to a timeout, then Sanchez hitting an oblivious Cooper on a crossing route to fail on third and 4 in the red zone

> The Shorter Version of That; More Josh Huff Please

> Dallas KR Dwayne Harris had a lot of attitude all night, even before his ridiculous cheap shot late

> Romo had a "drive" with a 20-yard underthrow duck, a dump-off to Murray for 15, an underthrow to Bryant that allowed Fletcher to recover, missing Beasley by a country mile, and honestly, it was like Jet Sanchez was in his jersey

> Kendricks got on the highlight reel with his crush job on Murray on fourth and 1 for a six yard loss

> It's somehow even more insulting to the opponent when Green goes into Detention Mode with Actual Huddling

> Romo was hating on his coach when they punted with 6:32 left and down three scores

> No one's going to remember Polk's run on third for a near first down, but the man's got a little Marshawn Lynch in him

> The Harris cheap shot / obvious trolling fight bait would have led every highlight package if it happened against a star player

> The asshat move was penalized, but it still worked out for Silver, as the ball is at the 10, rather than as deep as if Carroll had downed it; the competition committee really needs to tweak on that

> Romo's umpteenth dying quail underthrow was another arm punt for Allen, and yeah, he's not right or not caring or not good

> Polk'a garbage time numbers got Team Rushing over 250, and that's also porny

> Huff lined up at RB and got six yards out of it, which was a little intriguing

> When Sanchez was in the victory formation, you could clearly hear E-A-G-L-E-S chants, which was fun

> Second-worst Silver loss on Thanksgiving ever... with the first also coming to my laundry in 1989, when Buddy Ryan tried to end Troy Aikmann before he even began with a still-satisfying avalanche of sackery

> Green is now 9-3, 3-0 in the NFC East, and back to dreaming about a first-round bye again

> Silver apologists in my Twitter feed want to talk about lack of rest for their team, as if (a) Green wasn't similarly stressed with a much earlier bye, and (b) the schedule just cropped up and took their coaching staff unaware

> There's still time for the Cowboys to lose out and go 8-8

Top 10 Thanksgiving NFL Ad Questions

More Pull Than Push
10) Can anything stop Geico from Push It Push It heavy frequency ads on every game ever broadcast?

9) Is Johnny Manziel known for anything but selling candy bars now?

8) If I book a flight on Southwest, will I develop an involuntary pimp walk?

7) When booking a Moses and the Pharaoh movie, shouldn't you make Moses a Jewish actor instead of, you know, Australian?

6) Can the Old Spice Weeping Mother ads get any creepier, really?

5) Are State Farm customers terrible at planning every major life event, and if so, wouldn't that make their premium levels higher?

4) If Chick Fil-A is right and beef is annoying, shouldn't we eat it out of spite?

3) Did you ever think you'd hear the words "bloody or black stool" during a commercial during an NFL game?

2) How many holiday seasons does Audi have to ruin?

1) Are all luxury cars sold during the Christmas season to people who should be the first against the wall during armed rebellion?

NFL Week 13 Picks: The True War On A Holiday

Old Saint Rush To The Bottom
Every year, social conser- vatives will bring up new points in the modern culture that show a "war" on Christmas, or Easter, or July 4, or any other holiday you can name. And this is all, of course, a great deal of hokum and bullsquat, since all of these warring moves are minor variances that can be used to stir the flock... but there is, of course, one holiday that is under exceptional attack.

It is, of course, Thanksgiving.

During my lifetime, this simplest and most perfect of holidays has gone into eclipse from the Christmas season, and now, outright class warfare. It used to be that everyone, more or less, got to enjoy Thanksgiving, since turkey was a cheap meal and no one worked. Now, turkey is increasingly rare and expensive, and more and more people have to work, because it's becoming a half-day off, or less.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but if you buy stuff on Thanksgiving, you are an asshat. You are letting yourself be bought for pennies on the dollar by capitalist stooges in a race to the bottom, and you are pretty much slapping the face of everyone who is being forced to work that day.

If you do go shopping, I hope you have a miserable time. I hope you encounter the worst that the nation has to offer, with cutthroats cutting you out in the parking lot, screaming slimebags in every aisle, the slowest and meanest customer service possible, and bait and switch pricing that makes you spend more than if you had simply shopped next week, like a person with self-respect.

It is nothing less than what you deserve.

Me, personally? I'm going to be home, watching football after a morning spent earning the time off cleaning up someone else's mess, because I'm a husband and father, and that's how it all manifests itself. If my kids and spouse help me, I'll be thankful for that. If someone else makes me great foo (they will), I'll be thankful for that. And I'll be most thankful that, for at least one more year, I'm allowed to celebrate a holiday that, if we aren't very careful, will just go away entirely within a generation. Swallowed whole by the rampaging mercantile demon of Q4.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

Chicago at DETROIT (-7)

Historically, Thanksgiving games in the Motor City are dreadful blowouts, devoid of drama, where you wonder if there could be some act of God or Congress that could end this tradition of a dull stand alone game. This year, that will all still be the case, except that the Lions will win, because the Bear defense is awful, and the Bear offense is going to give the ball up and set them up with short fields. It's just another manifestation of the tradition, really. (And it doesn't help that the Lions are smarting over the Patriots treating them like a speed bag last week.)

Lions 34, Bears 20

Philadelphia at DALLAS (-3)

For my laundry to win the game, they have to (a) control the Cowboy running game, (b) not give up massive plays in the passing game, (c) convert in the red zone, and (d) avoid turnovers. They'll do a good chunk of that, since their defensive line has been really good at stopping the run, and the Cowboy defense is not ferocious. They might even get yet another big play from their special teams unit, which is just having an absurd year of dominance. But it's hard to see how all of that happens, or that WR Dez Bryant wont' do as well as WR Jordy Nelson, or that TE Jason Witten isn't smacking his lips after seeing all of the yards that TE Delanie Walker got last week. Dallas can and will be beat -- in Philly in 3 weeks -- and they aren't going to win this division. But they are going to win this game.

Cowboys 34, Eagles 30

Seattle at SAN FRANCISCO (-1)

A de facto elimination game for these two bitter rivals, and both teams are surprisingly vulnerable. San Fran has no home field advantage, is brittle on defense, and hasn't been able to sustain a lot of offense. Seattle is bad on the road, pliable on defense, and lacking the kind of consistency in offensive line play that would let their ordinary or worse WR corps convert long third downs. They also just don't take the ball away the way they used to. I'll go with the home team in a wildly tight and physical game, with the loser getting immediately inducted into the NFC South so that the playoffs actually make sense.

Niners 20, Seahawks 17

Washington at INDIANAPOLIS (-9.5)

So the big story today is how the Slurs are benching one-time Franchise Savior QB Bob Griffin for the plucky QB Colt McCoy, a Detmer-esque talent who, unlike the star, actually seems like he wants to play football and/or perform as if he's been coached. It's the kind of move that Dan Snyder's team is great at, in that it's self-destructive, stubborn and ensures more time on the treadmill of stink that is this franchise's justly earned station in life.

McCoy does, actually, give the Slurs more of a chance in pulling off the upset, and the Colt defense isn't ferocious. But the overall talent level on this club is and has always been third division at best, and against the remorseless eating machine that is QB Andrew Luck, McCoy's just going to run out of caps for his pop gun. But with numbers that are going to be better than Bob's, for all that matters. The Slurs Are Smart!

Colts 38, Slurs 20

TENNESSEE (+6.5) at Houston

There's nothing terribly good about the Titans to justify the cover, but the festival of Meh also says that it's just too many points for a Texans club that is wasting the best years of JJ Watt's life with not enough other players on defense. Look for the roadies to stick around and cover.

Texans 24, Titans 20

CLEVELAND (+2.5) at Buffalo

One very big feel-good story against a lesser but still positive one. I like the Browns to take advantage of the short week for the previously snowbit Bills, mostly because I think the offensive line can fight the Bills DL to a stalemate. When you do that, you beat the Bills, because this secondary just isn't up to the task... and their offense doesn't have enough answers after fading rookie WR Sammy Watkins. The Brown Magic Year continues.

Browns 26, Bills 24

San Diego at BALTIMORE (-6)

Here's a secret: the Chargers might be one of the bigger frauds in the NFL. Winners of back to back games after the bye against sub .500 teams at home, they now get to travel cross-country for a 1pm game against the jelling Ravens, who need the game desperately to keep serve in the deep AFC North. Look for Team Purple to make QB Philip Rivers remember how hurt he is. A lot.

Ravens 26, Chargers 17

NY GIANTS (-2.5) at Jacksonville

Ready for another chapter in the coming out party of WR Odell Beckham, the only reason that Blue Fan isn't ready to call the year a total loss? This week, he actually gets a win to go with his fantasy-friendly numbers, because the Jags are turnover-prone with rookie QB Blake Bortles, and aren't going to be able to get enough of a consistent pass rush to cover for their sad secondary. It will be tight, and then not, and Becks will be the reason why.

Giants 27, Jaguars 20

CINCINNATI (-3.5) at Tampa

One more kitten-soft game for the We Like It Quiet Bengals, who are very good at winning 1pm games without significant television coverage, but spit the bit against actual opponents. With the exception of rookie WR Mike Evans, the Yucks aren't much in the way of opposition, and with their own shiny rookie (RB Jeremy Hill) leading the way, Orange will grind and then pop their way to a comfortably anonymous win. This is the kind of win that successful gambling years are made of.

Bengals 31, Bucs 20

OAKLAND (+6.5) at St. Louis

I don't know if you saw much of the first half of the Raider win against the Chiefs last Thursday, but the Silver and Black finally got around to giving RB Latavius Murray some carries with the game in doubt. Wonder of wonders, when you don't have spent forces like Maurice Jones-Drew or Darren McFadden clouding up things with utter lack of burst, they can actually move the ball. Murray runs too upright to avoid eventual injury, and Oakland is too cursed to have him stay good for very long, but in the short term, he makes this offense resemble an NFL team, and the defense actually has some young guys with promise. There's a mediocre team that's just ready to break loose here, and they'll cover against a similar Rams club.

Rams 24, Raiders 20

New Orleans at PITTSBURGH (-4.5)

I think the Saints are bad. I mean, really bad; lose the rest of their games bad, with QB Drew Brees qualifying as very overrated, with the coaching staff all getting run out of town, etc. They've certainly got the record to show it, and that record is even worse when you factor in their schedule. The Steelers are far from a steady cover -- I still get the shakes from that home loss to the freaking Bucs -- but they'll have more than enough to get the job done here.

Steelers 31, Saints 17

Carolina at MINNESOTA (-3)

Can any NFC South team win outside of its division? Probably not, and at this point, I think the Vikings have a pronounced edge at QB with Teddy Bridgewater. Minny's home field and defense will win this one, with WR Charles Johnson having another one of those under the radar fantasy win games.

Vikings 23, Panthers 17

ARIZONA (+3) at Atlanta

Testing time for Red, who still have a big lead in the division and an inside track to a bye... but now need to bounce back from the season's first really dispiriting loss, a mauling on the road in Seattle. Atlanta can get after you at home, and they've got some weapons on offense, but Red bring the heat as well, and they are better coached. It will be close, but they'll get it done, mostly with red zone defense. No one needs to actually win the NFC South.

Cardinals 23, Falcons 19

NEW ENGLAND (+3) at Green Bay

The weakest slate of 4pm games in NFL history -- seriously, it's just this one and the A-A game listed above -- is another de facto national game for both of these clubs, who need the screen time that way a fish needs a bicycle. Look for the Patriots to do enough on defense -- CB Darelle Revis will eliminate WR Jordy Nelson, and when you do that, the Pack just isn't the same -- to get ahead on serve, and QB Tom Brady will take this to be a measuring stick game. He's way too good in those. At least until the playoffs.

Patriots 38, Packers 27

DENVER (-2) at Kansas City

What was going to be a well set-up battle for the division is now one of those Oh Lord, Peyton Manning prime time games, with the Broncos breaking out the bully stick and Chiefs HC Andy Reid showing why his epitaph will say something about nice people and their relative finishes. I don't know if Andy is all that nice, and the Broncos aren't without flaws, but Manning has spent his life separating his team from also-rans, and that's this Chief team in a nutshell.

Broncos 31, Chiefs 20

MIAMI (-7) at NY Jets

Writing about the Jets is nearly as bad as watching them. It's nice that ESPN gives America several hours of their post-holiday life back, since this could easily be the seventh game of the weekend that people without NFL Sunday Ticket could watch. They won't watch it for long, as Miami is secretly good, and the Jets are, um, a long, long way from that.

Dolphins 27, Jets 10

Last week: 9-5-1

Year to date: 87-84-3

Career: 575-584-42

Monday, November 24, 2014

Top 10 NFL Week 12 Takeaways

Detroit and New England
10) Cleveland is now 7-4 with yet another last minute win, despite having their QB with 3 picks and 0 TDs

9) Chicago won by 8 at home despite being down 10 at the half, and being out-gained by 163 yards, because Tampa is just a turnover machine

8) St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher went to veteran QB Shawn Hill over rookie Austin Davis to avoid crushing mistakes, such as a last-minute pick on the goal line when down three

7) The Bengals won on the road again, because they are utterly dominant when it's a 1pm game where no one is paying attention

6) Seattle trucked the Cardinals at home to stay in the NFC playoff and West race, and to further prove that an unhappy Marshawn Lynch is just ruining that team

5) Peyton Manning bounced back from a poor game with a 4-TD performance, with Random RB (in this case, CJ Anderson) going for 167 yards and a TD

4) The Niners nearly lost to Washington on a day when the Slurs had only 106 yards in passing and 12 first downs, because they have that little of a home field advantage

3) New York lost after going up 11 on the Cowboys, giving up the lead, getting it back with three minutes left, and then crumpling like wet toilet paper

2) Teddy Bridgewater threw for more yards than Aaron Rodgers in a close loss, which is something for Viking Fan to hold on to, I guess

1) In a shocking development, New England crushed a talented but undisciplined team

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Eagles - Titans Takeaways

Trap Games Are Bullsquat
> Every time a good team plays a bad one, every pre-game analysis has to involve the words Trap Game, by Congressional rule

> This, of course, pre-supposes the idea that in a league where double-digit upsets are a weekly occurrence, that there is such a thing as truly good and truly bad teams

> The Titans win the toss and defer, KR Josh Huff continues the ST's magical year with a 107-yard touchdown return, and honestly, on some level, that was the game

> The rookie showed excellent strength in the straight arm to close the deal on the kicker and gunner, and yeah, that helps to start to redeem his year

> STer Brandon Graham with the close and pre-20 tackle, and yes, this is ST Dominance

> QB Zach Mettenberger was mounted on his first third down conversion attempt by LB Connor Barwin, doing his unspayed dog imitation

> McCoy for 15 on dominant blocking to the right, and honestly, any RB in the NFL can hit that hole

> QB Mark Sanchez to the crazy open TE Brent Celek for 16 cotton-soft yards, and yes, Celek is burying TE Zach Ertz with purpose

> Sanchez rolls and throws one away on a CB blitz, then it's McCoy for another big chunk of 12, with a near fumble at the close

> McCoy for 3 on jumps and jukes, then Sproles goes left and scores to continue his year of ridiculous touchdowns to touches ratio

> After Sproles scored, the Eagles have outscored the rest of the NFL, 14-6

> So, um, not much of a Trap Game, really

> Parkey with a short for him kickoff, and KR Leon Washington gets 45 yards on a lack of tackling return

> RB Bishop Sankey for 4, then 3, reasonable defensive line work on both plays

> 3rd and 3 and continue the runaway is Mettenberger to WR Justin Hunter, with clear DPI going uncalled, and if the refs are going to allow that, Green might win a playoff game after all

> The refs quickly made up for that with a phantom OPI call on McCoy that ruined a third down conversion

> This game would have been a full half of garbage time, rather than just a quarter, if PR Dexter McCluster hadn't picked up a room service hop off a muffed punt

> Blue's first three drives resulted in no first downs, and yeah, the defense was a little pissy after that Packer game

> CBS went to split screen to try to keep up with tempo, and mostly failed

> WR Brad Smith got de-cleated and hurt on a play that somehow wasn't a flag, with DPI on some other guy

> Sanchez almost had Mathews for another score, but a drop on contact took four points off the board

> Really nice game for LB Brandon Graham, who stopped Sankey for a loss of 3 by throwing his OL at him

> RB/WR/STer Dexter McCluster took a snap away from Mettenberger for a gain of three, on a play that looked ugly and random

> Sanchez's first INT of the day was bad for both him and WR Riley Cooper, who looked like he gave up on the throw

> Two plays later, Blue got back in the game on a 40-yard lucky tip to WR Justin Hunter

> Really lucky play for the road team, but just that quickly, it's a 1-play game

> McCoy went for 53 yards on great feet and acceleration, but true to his year, it didn't end with a a score or sexiness

> Sproles with his usual magic to convert a third and four, and honestly, he's just been absurdly good this year

> Blue uses RB Bishop Sankey to run back kicks, which seems like an absurd use of resources, given how he's the only good RB on the roster

> Mettenberger to Walker for 68 inexcusable yards, with LB Emmanuael Acho getting roasted, and yeah, Green misses LB DeMecco Ryans a lot

> Blue benefited from a bailout face mask on DE Vinny Curry, and honestly, if you are a QB, it makes sense to just duck and aim for face for hands when your line gets overwhelmed

> Greene gets a couple on poor tackling, then gets in with help from the heavy package, and why more teams don't do that against my laundry, I have no idea

> Thanks to two offensive plays and a flag, this blowout game is 20-14

> Huff's only kickoff return was his first one, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense

> Matthews might have the best hand fighting skills on the team as a rookie, which he showed on a cross for 20

> Third and 4 from deep figgie range is Sanchez to Ertz, who converts with some physicality

> Live play happens before a replay, which is fun; Ertz for 3 more before Griffin goes down with an ugly arm issue

> McCoy for a yard, then Sanchez to Cooper on a nice rollout, out at the 2

> Quick tempo give to McCoy, walks in for the score, and I love running plays against exhausted defenses from quick counts

> I don't know if TE Delanie Walker really is this good, but he's made himself into a player by working on his hands

> Kelly got Green another possession with aggressive timeouts at the end of the half

> The nice part about a high tempo offense is that you don't need to freak out and do different stuff late in a half

> Sanchez to Matthews, scrambles and stays alive, and converts nicely off a blitz

> Sproles made a great play to get 10 yards and out of bounds with no timeouts left

> Sanchez misses Maclin badly on an out, only to throw the exact same play again and have it work out

> Parkey from 49 missed by hitting an upright, preventing the Easy Cover for a few more minutes

> Funky turnover off a tipped ball, catch by an OL fumble and recovery by S Nate Allen, and more proof that OL should never handle the ball

> McCoy was just toying with the defenders at the close of a 14-yard run

> Sanchez's touchdown throw to TE James Casey, nice ball off play action, was the kind of throw that tricks people into thinking he might be more than a back up

> LB Trent Cole with the avalanche sack, backed up on the next play by a sack for DE Vinny Curry (wiped off with a hold), than another sack for Cole, and he's loving this game for his numbers

> I don't have much use for WR Riley Cooper, but at least he finished a play with violence to get the first before flopping like a Euro soccer player

> McCoy for 4 and 0, then Sanchez throws a terrible pick on a middle overthrow, and dear Lord in heaven, he's still Mark Sanchez

> Luckily, Blue gives the ball right back, as Sankey gives it up on pressure from DT Bennie Logan

> Sproles for 13 on a downright Matrix-esque play where he abused Titans S Michael Griffith

> It says something about how good Parkey has been this year that he looked off while going 4 for 5 on FGs

> Sanchez with his weekly near disaster on a shotgun snap, just able to throw it away, and it's amazing how a team this bad in the red zone can still score this many points

> Mettenberger to Wright on a cross for 28, sigh, this secondary

> Hunter has obvious physical gifts, but has no real clue how to use them yet

> Garbage time in this game was filled with all kinds of awkwardness, hurt feelings and head-scratching as to why Kelly didn't run clock

> Why Sanchez is trying to get Maclin for 50 late in the game with a huge lead, I'll never know

> It's as if Kelly has all of his guys in fantasy, and those on the other team, too

> RB Dexter McCluster's score ruined someone's fantasy league day

> Green actually huddled on a couple of plays late in this one, and yes, it was awkward for everyone

> Parkey's final figgie of the day from 50 was his best ball of the day, and if you had him in fantasy this week, you won

> Mettenberger finally throws a pick to CB Brandon Boykin, and yeah, not that many people left in the building to see that, actually

> 10 straight wins at home now, not that the Linc still feels like a terribly imposing place to play, really

> Green moves to 8-3, Kelly has one more I Beat Bad Teams moment, and we're all set up for Thanksgiving meaning way too much, assuming Dallas doesn't spit the bit against New York tonight

Top 10 NFL Week 12 Ad Questions

"Food" Fight
10) If I use Verizon FIOS, will all of my devices develop a Queen virus?

9) Does Subway really want to be affiliated with Bob Griffin any more?

8) Will Patrick Warburton paint himself for National as per his Seinfeldian past?

7) Are families with Nest Dropcams breeding terrifyingly self-aware children?

6) Do Ameritrade customers lose all sense of decorum for ordinary levels of customer service?

5) If I shop at Macy's, will I cover songs from "Grease" in ways that will make people want to beat me with a baseball bat?

4) Why are Subway eaters ready to murder each other over a sandwich?

3) Are the children of Prius owners as insufferable as their parents?

2) How sad is it that anyone could tell the story of their lives with a purchase from a mass-market jewelry store, anyway?

1) Will anyone make their choice of new car based on what a guy with a comb in his hair says?

Sports Gambling, Or Adam Silver Acknowledges Ugly, Ugly Reality

Nice Puppy
So the story this week in the Association (beyond, of course, the shocking news that LeBron James is aging, and when you import him to a team with maybe one positive defensive player, it does not translate into Automatic Domination)...

Is the reigning best Commissioner in American Sports (to be fair, he's competing against a turrible, turrible field), Adam Silver, has acknowledged that he thinks betting on his league's games should happen.

Legally, in America.

Tonight, just to make sure that no one else will follow him out on this short pier, Dallas Mavericks owner and perpetual mouth in search of a microphone Mark Cuban came out in support of such a thing, and even threw in the obvious troll bait of how it's un-American to be behind other countries on this.

And, well, sure. The Black Sox scandal was 95 years ago. Point-shaving scandals from college and pro games are relatively light. Every major league is already all-in on nerd nit betting, which is to say, fantasy (and yes, I know you don't need to bet anything to play fantasy, and I also know that you haven't been in a league like that, well, um, ever). Prop bets on who will win it all are part of every preseason prognostication, and over/under on games won are also rife. The only real problem for the Association is that point spreads are tough to pitch, since scoring in garbage time is usually lightly guarded.

So, what's changed, really? Well, the growing realization that we're in a helpless service economy, where fewer and fewer people make things, or buy things from the people who make such things. When I was a child, making a living as such a person was suspect, and when I was a teenager, making money as a professional gambler was something that didn't exist in the public's consciousness. Now, any number of people can rattle off the names of a bunch of poker pros, and there's no less stigma attached to it than being on television for any other reason.

The only difference is, of course, the chance that this could ruin the goose that lays the golden eggs. If (when?) the game's integrity is compromised by scandal -- and remember, Tim Donaghy showed that the Association's games are easily affected by such things -- it's a major issue, and maybe grist for all kinds of lawsuit. The Association should be compensated for taking on that level of additional risk to truly buy in for such things, but it's not as if that's been the way things have run in other countries.

A final word about all of this... gambling may be a victimless crime, or an increasingly prevalent vice, but it's still, well, exactly that. People are going to gamble with money they don't have, get well and truly hurt, and the money that will be made will go to corporations that don't really do an awful lot of good in the world with those proceeds. There's a reason why, in government circles, lotteries are called taxes on the stupid, and why communities surrounding casinos are littered with pawn shops, squalor and desperation.

I suppose that, like marijuana legalization, the benefits (taxes on the winnings for the public, reliable payouts for the players) outweigh the drawbacks (increased gambling adding to general misery, increased risk of corruption among players).

But this isn't a panacea, and we shouldn't just assume that people who oppose such things are on the wrong side of history. Just because something is inevitable, doesn't make it preferable.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NFL Week 12 Picks: Recovery Or Self-Delusion

Surviving in the NFL is, I think, kind of like being a closer in baseball. You have to get past the terrible games as quickly as possible, tell yourself the winning lie that it was just bad luck or the wrong day, and that you are really going to be fine, when in reality, of course, 31 of 32 teams aren't going to be.

And sure, there are teams that know they aren't good enough. Hell, the Raiders were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs before they finished eating their Halloween candy, and when you work in Oakland, where fandom requires cosplay, that's even more bitter. But the vast majority of NFL teams are on the knife edge of good enough and talented enough and lucky enough, so much so that a handful of turnovers or officiating calls can decide games, more than line play or schemes or all of the other factors.

(A small aside: this is one of the reasons, I think, why more and more teams are going to fast tempo offenses and games. If I can get more plays in the game, maybe I get another possession or two to happen, and maybe I'm able to take some of the variability of the game. It also points to why so many big spreads have been covered, and why individual games at night have been dogs. If you get up on, say, the Eagles, you're going to have a good chance to go up by more, and soon.)

So I'm going to pretend last week's spread nightmare didn't happen, what with the Giants coughing up untold opportunities to cover that +4 spread despite a turnover-happy QB, or the Steelers and Titans combining to drain the clock and ruin the cover, or how the Panthers took their foot off the gas and settled for the long figgie of loss at home. It's all gone now, along with any hope that the Eagles could make it to the Super Bowl with those corners, or that anyone can stop the Patriots (dear God in hell, can someone please stop the Patriots).

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

KANSAS CITY (-7) at Oakland

The Raiders have lost 16 straight games, and they don't seem that terrible, do they? QB Derek Carr has been able to avoid sacks, RB Latavius Murray and the WRs appear to have natural ability, and they just don't seem to be comedic in the way that terrible teams are supposed to be comedic. And yet here they are, 0-10 and getting closer and closer to history, without any really close calls to victory. Against a Chiefs team that has snuck their way into first place in the tough AFC West, they'll play tough and not cover a tolerable number, mostly because RB Jamal Charles is unfair, and RB2 Knile Davis is nearly as good as Charles. Also, the Chiefs might outscore the Raiders just on defense.

Chiefs 27, Raiders 17

CLEVELAND (+3) at Atlanta

Ready to hear an ungodly amount of words about WR Josh Gordon? You will... but honestly, you also probably should. Getting a true WR1 in the system might totally change the way the Browns are seen right now, which is to say, a nice story, defense and running game that will be DOA in a first-round playoff, mostly because they are surfing on the back of a week schedule. I think they are more than that, and even if they aren't, the Falcons can make you look like that way. In all kinds of a hurry.

Browns 26, Falcons 24

Tennessee at PHILADELPHIA (-11)

Every ingredient of blowout is present for this one. Clearly better team, at home? Check. Unequal rest? Yes, as Philly got the extra day over Tennessee, having lost at home on MNF. Rookie QB going into hostile territory? Mais oui; QB Zach Mettenberger hasn't ever stepped into a place like Philly before. Very pissed defense and special teams with scoring ability? Check and check. Tennessee's best hope at winning involves ball control, and the Green defense doesn't lose on middle runs. Add in the need for QB Mark Sanchez to ring up some numbers, and this is a game where you won't see the starters in the fourth quarter.

Eagles 41, Titans 24

Detroit at NEW ENGLAND (-7)

Wow, I hate giving this many points away. Detroit is just the kind of team, physically, that shows up in New England and ruins their lives in the playoffs, and the Pats won't be able to run to margin the way they did against the Colts last week. Detroit also needs the game something fierce after losing in Arizona, especially with the Pack looking like the NFC's new Big Bad. But CB Darrelle Revis can make WR Calvin Johnson as invisible as anyone, the Pats are too good at defusing pass rushes with screens, and the Lions haven't been a great road team for, well, ever. The home team covers late.

Patriots 31, Lions 20

Green Bay at MINNESOTA (+9.5)

Another potential blowout, but the Pack haven't been so good on the road, and some slight regression to the mean has to kick in at some point. I look for the Packers to grind this one out with RB Eddie Lacy and relative conservatism, and the Vikes to stay close with the home crowd and some exposure of the over-amped Packer defense. (You can't just move LB Clay Matthews to MLB and fix everything, can you?)

Packers 28. Vikings 20

Jacksonville at INDIANAPOLIS (+14)

Kind of the AFC version of the above game, with the noted difference is that the Colts are coming off a loss and angrier, along with facing a team that's more apt to turn the ball over. The Jags will get some points up, and maybe even sack QB Andrew Luck a bit -- the defense gets tot he QB, which is about the only thing they do well -- but eventually QB Blake Bortles will TAInt it up, and the Colts will cover the number.

Colts 41, Jaguars 24

CINCINNATI (+1) at Houston

Which Bengal team shows up this week -- the road club that stomped a mud hole into the Saints, or the home team that was utterly incompetent against the Browns, in a game where they could have seized the division? It's really more about the defenses they face, more than their own weirdness... but the fact that WR AJ Green looks right again gives me a lot of hope, as does the continued emergence of power RB Jeremy Hill. As for the Titans, they look better with QB Ryan Malett, but the way of such things is rarely smooth. And this secondary is still pretty bad.

Bengals 26, Texans 20

NY Jets at BUFFALO (-4)

This one's pretty simple: I think the Bills can dominate the game at the line level, and QB Michael Vick isn't going to be able to make enough plays to sustain drives. Buffalo's also going to be able to get the ball to WR Sammy Watkins, and the last time that happened, it wasn't good for Green. Add in the tough home field and elements, and this will be sloppy. The Jets don't do well with sloppy.

Bills 20, Jets 13

Tampa at CHICAGO (-5.5)

The 2-8 Bucs are alive in the NFC South "race", and they have a WR rookie stud in Mike Evans, who tore the Slurs apart last week in an improbable win. It gets harder in Chicago, where road teams generally don't do all that well, especially when they have porous secondaries.

Bears 27, Bucs 17

ARIZONA (+6.5) at Seattle

I've carried the water for the defending champs for a long time, and there are reasons to like them here. Home game, they are in real danger of missing the playoffs with a loss, Red doesn't really need the game and using QB2. But Seattle's passing offense hasn't been able to sustain drives, and won't be able to against these quality corners. This strikes me as a 3-point game, not a 7-point one.

Seahawks 24, Cardinals 20

St. Louis at SAN DIEGO (-4.5)

Hell of a win last week for the Rams, who shocked the world by taking out Denver at home... but home is home and road is road, and while the Chargers are beat up and seem vulnerable, it's hard to see how the Rams are ready for actual prosperity. Neither of these teams are going anywhere, but the Chargers are good enough at game planning to hide that, at least against a sub .500 team at home.

Chargers 24, Rams 17

Miami at DENVER (-7)

How quickly things change, eh? Short of an injury to QB Peyton Manning, this line changed a ton with last week's results. And there are good reasons to like the Fish here, not the least of which is longer rest and a solid defense... but altitude and winter weather are great equalizers, and Miami isn't going to be able to sustain drives in the passing game. Finally, this: Manning hasn't become Manning by failing to recover from poor games.

Broncos 28, Dolphins 17

Washington at SAN FRANCISCO (-9)

Should the Slurs bench Bob Griffin for Colt McCoy, or any other QB that gives them a chance to win without post-game interviews that appear to throw his teammates under the bus? Well, if winning games were really the thing that the Slurs should be doing right now, no... but the plain and simple fact of the matter is that the only thing left for this canker of a franchise is to figure out if Bob can overcome adversity and keep the job for more than some nice games in his rookie year. He'll get no favors from a Niners team that needs the game, knows that home field has not been kind and won't sleep on this, and has an offense that isn't suffering from overconfidence.

Niners 27, Slurs 16

DALLAS (-3) at NY Giants

This week's SNF game pits Big Blue, owners of a scary long losing streak that only survived last week through ridiculous play-calling and poor luck. They get a rested Dallas team that is getting the easiest schedule in the NFL this year -- seriously, a late season bye, Thanksgiving at home, "road" game in London against a terrible Jags team -- and as Dallas ratings are winning ratings for the NFL, my conspiracy antennae are up.

As for the game in question, Blue's too beaten up in the secondary, turnover-prone on offense, and not likely to get to QB Tony Romo and knock him out. But if they do... that's how they'd win this one.

Cowboys 27, Giants 20

BALTIMORE (+3) at New Orleans

I'm officially appalled by the NFC South, and actively rooting for the division champion to go 6-10, or something equally absurd. The Saints are missing WR Brandin Cooks, have a gimpy TE in Jimmy Graham, protection issues for QB Drew Brees, and Brees might not be all that great any more, either. Add that up to a defense that doesn't scare any one, and you are just left with home field at night. Against a rested Ravens team that needs the game to win an actually competitive division, that's not enough.

Ravens 31, Saints 23

Last week: 3-10

Year to date: 78-79-2

Career: 566-579-41

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Throw Me Low Smoke

Occasionally, life just gives you great opportunities. Tonight was one.

My company, through reasons best left undiscussed because that's a whole 'nother post that isn't really about what you come to this blog for, sponsors a table at an annual charity auction and banquet held by Major League Baseball. Normally we're able to fill that table with execs, clients and the like, and said folk get to meet and greet the players and ex-players. They are mostly hustle and community spirit award winners, as well as local MLB dignitaries. This year, the table was light, so one of our sales guys made me an offer: come on up and fill a seat, so we don't look bad. No worries, I'm there.

At this year's event were all kinds of notables from the recent and less-recent past. Wade Boggs, Brooks Robinson, Clint Hurdle, Josh Harrison, Ron Darling, Al Leiter and more, hosted by Gary Thorne, held at a really nice space in the southern tip of Manhattan. Everyone in the room can more or less buy and sell me, and everyone in the room (especially the players) is up to 2X my size. I've got nothing to sell, and I'm just here to do a solid for my company...

But, well, there's one guy on the list of dignitaries that fascinates me. Jim Bouton.

If you don't know the name, you really should. Bouton is the writer of "Ball Four", a seminal work of American journalism, and no, I'm not over-hyping it. Bouton's frank, candid, hilarious and touching story of what it was like to be scuffling along at the back end of pitching staffs post-injury in the awakening '60s made him persona non grata in baseball circles for a really long time...

But time heals, Bowie Kuhn ain't around no more, and MLB has just come to grips with the fact that Bouton's book grew the tent of baseball fandom. It also made me, in my teens, want to be a sports writer, and realize that you could be smart and like the game, even if you didn't go into full math nerd and sabermetric your way to obnoxiousness. (For the record, I see a place for all of that stuff, but if that's the only thing that keeps you watching baseball, you really need to go try derivatives or the bond market or something else where you can get all of that unfortunate meat out of the way.)

A side word first: in general, I do not believe in meeting your heroes. There's only one way for that interaction to go, usually, and it's not happy. As a 16-year-old, I got the chance to interview Kurt Vonnegut after he wrapped up an NPR interview, and as the author bemusedly went on auto-pilot for my too earnest questions, then shuffled his way out of the room before his PR handler could even make the cut motion, it was a hard thing to get over. I also have had experiences with musical celebs from helping to run a trade show, and gigging with my own band, that weren't always great. It's generally better to let the work live in your own mind, rather than press your luck with a personal experience.

But, well, um... Jim Bouton. The funniest, coolest and most real athlete to ever tell his own story. The guy who invented Big League Chew, which I inhaled as a kid? The guy whose sequels I read, who always seemed awesome in interviews, and the guy who basically predicted "Bull Durham" by reporting what his manager said to him during a visit to the mound. ("Throw him low smoke and we'll go pound some Budweiser." The Seattle Pilots were not overthinking things, folks.)

Hmm. Maybe after a drink or two to steady the nerves.

Another aside: I'm not a slam dunk at parties. I have social anxieties that I generally have to get over, either with determination or a little booze. I've got a bit of a muddled voice that can be hard to parse, and I'm the size of a middle schooler. You can, and would, overlook me, and I'm OK with that, much of the time. I stay out of a lot of fights, and try not to get on too many nerves. (Oh, and I also drink maybe once a month, and never to real excess, because, well, my late father was an alcoholic and a real mess, so I check myself from having Real Fun pretty quick.)

I wasn't exactly sure what Bouton looked like at this point in his life, and I'm not the kind of guy to just burst my way around the room asking for names... but then my sales guy tells me that, Whole E Crap, he's the celeb at our table. And no one at my company knows his backstory, and dammit they should, so I even have a reason to engage. And I do, and Bouton's warm and open and caring and Whole E Crap, Jim Bouton and I are just talking like guys.

It turns out that Bouton is as sharp as ever, generous with his time, thrilled to meet people who want to talk to him about his work as a writer, and still as genuinely subversive of the powers that be in MLB as ever. He delights in 50-year-old stories where he pranked a teammate, which reminded me of a 15-year-old story of doing that to a boss, and we're freaking kin. I thought I was going to fall on the floor trying to hold in the laughter as Thorne duly recited Bouton's statistics as a pitcher, steadfastly refusing to mention his book, as he went around the room to tell us who was who at all of the tables. And now my man is whispering snarky profanities in my ear, and I'm engaging with him, writer to writer, and it's like I've just made an immediate and great friend who I've kind of known for decades, but have just never had the chance to speak to.

So, in summation...

If you haven't read "Ball Four", do it.

If you get a chance to meet Jim Bouton, do that, too.

And if you want to buy the first baseball I've ever asked anyone to autograph, ever in my whole life...

It's not for sale.

Thanks again, Jim.

Monday, November 17, 2014

FTT Off-Topic: The Eldest And The Future

My kid's first professor
Not sports, you've been warned.

My eldest is 14 and a high school freshman. Like many such creatures, she's worried about what college and her life will be like, because planning everything out is something that people do, and not knowing where she will be or what she will do is intolerable.

I get that. So I jumped the gun by more than a wee bit, and took her to my college this weekend.

Why so soon -- literally years before the other kids? Well, my college is Syracuse University, and I don't really enjoy driving in snow, so making a drive up in deeper winter was not high on my list of priorities. She's also a gymnast, and has meets on two of three weekends in November, so yesterday was really the only day that was going to work.

Which was a bit of a large problem, in that it was the day after my every three-week Friday night poker game, which can run as late as 4am... and we were due in Syracuse, a 4+ hour ride, at 8:30 am. Things got done a little earlier than usual, so I was able to get an hour nap before getting her and a friend in the car for the ride up, but still, yeah. Tough grind.

A few words about Syracuse: I'm very conflicted about my time there. I got two degrees in three years, and have had a lucrative career as an adult with part of what I learned there as a base... but I also graduated with over $40K in debt (in 1990), despite working constantly throughout my time there. I worked 70+ hours a week while also taking a full course load, and I stole food and rang up credit card debt, and it was just nothing but struggle. The school also increased tuition by double digits every year while doing things like paying an ad agency several million dollars for a new logo, rather than let the kids learning such things take a shot at it for free. It's also something like $60K a year, so absent some absurd scholarship action or wildly happy moments in my professional life, it's not that feasible a place for her to go. She knew all of this going in, and that this was going to be a sales pitch. But it was also going to be a little bit more.

My school knows something about selling... so what they did instead of the usual tour of buildings and talks with teachers and students was to give their guests a couple of sample lectures, following a visit to individual colleges with your majors inside the main. The first bit was with kids from the school of education, in that my kid's first instinct for a profession is teacher; that was OK but middling. And the second session was with Professor Stephen Kuusisto, a blind man and the professor of disability studies, who you see pictured above. The professor is an expert on the changing definition and subject of how the defined disabled are integrating with society, and he's absolutely aces.

It turns out that the modern definition of disabled is purely an invention of the Industrial Age, with scary government and economic forces promoting the subjugation. That such people were employed once, and then not any more, and then eventually murdered by eugenics monsters, and even prosecuted if they just showed their face in public. (The last part? In America. Recently.)

And the magic is that my kid is getting it, understanding the vast majority of the vocabulary and concepts, and the scales of how she isn't smart enough to be on this campus, or that she wouldn't be able to understand what's being discussed... are just falling away. Next session wasn't as interesting, but my kid is as with it from an intellectual level. Then we have lunch in a residence hall, and the idea that you have to live off-campus? Fading. And so on, and so on.

We're a long way away from completing the process, and the money terrifies everyone involved. But the future has been seen, if not at my school than somewhere else, and that was so worth the pain and trauma involved in all of that driving, on that little sleep. And hopefully, I'll get to the point where my kid isn't applying to dozens of schools, having massive freakouts and a crisis in self-confidence.

Next, we'll work out visits to some other schools -- my wife's alma mater is West Chester, Rutgers and Princeton are close and relatively solid, I worked at Penn once and think it might be a good place for her, and I've got friends at Hofstra and North Carolina, and there are other ideas as well.

We've got plenty of time.

Especially when the future is no longer is filled with uncertainty and fear.

A good day.

Top 10 NFL Week 11 Takeaways

The last 9-1 Cards Team Was Pre-Color
10) After giving up 50 points in back to back weeks, Chicago held the Vikings to 10 first downs and 13 points, proving that if Bear Fan just boos long enough, everything will be all right

9) JJ Watt scored on the signature highlight of the week that didn't involve Mark Sanchez and a "Yakity Sax" soundtrack

8) If the season ended today, neither the Seahawks or Niners would make the playoffs, as neither has been well, very good this year

7) Someone has to win the NFC South, though the teams involved in that division truly beg to differ

6) Denver was held to 7 points in a road loss to the Rams that Jeff Fisher will use to remain employed for the next three years of sub .500 football

5) Bill Bellichick and the Colts made scrub RB Jonas Gray a star with 38 carries for 199 yards with 4 touchdowns, leading to a huge waiver wire rush and fail when he gets five carries next week

4) With QB Eli Manning having already thrown four picks against the Niners at home, the Giants called four straight passes, three of them fades, on first and goal from the 3 with five minutes left... leading to pick number five and the loss

3) Carolina's Ron Rivera played conservatively for a long field goal late against the Falcons at home, which was, of course, missed for the critical play in a 2-point loss

2) The Raiders have now lost 16 games in a row over the past two seasons, and are only 10 more straight losses from taking out the 1970s Yuccaneers as the most futile franchise in NFL history

1) Arizona beat the Lions behind all kinds of shady officiating and shakier quarterbacking, and the franchise is 9-1 for the first time in 66 years, with a 3-game lead in the division with six games to play

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Eagles - Packers Takeaways

Welcome To Pretender Land
> K Cody Parkey nearly fell during the opening kickoff, which was foreboding

> Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers saw no reason to focus on CB Cary Williams, since CB Bradley Fletcher was also found so very wanting

> Yellow did not bother with a running game for much of the day, because, well, um, why not

> K Mason Crosby, possibly the only Packer to not have a good day, drew in a 22-yard figgie, which is hard to do

> On Yellow's first sack. QB Mark Sanchez was taken down helmet to helmet by DT Latroy Guion, who turned RG Matt Tobin into a turnstile

> On Green's first down, Sanchez overthrew the covered RB Darren Sproles without a lot of pressure, the first of many huh decisions on the day

> There was no pass rush for Green during the part of the game that mattered

> Snap and fumble and big loss for 14 is a Yellow gift

> QB Aaron Rodgers to TE Andrew Quarless to convert 3rd and 18 redefined easy in our time

> On a 3rd and 10 to somehow get off the field, the Yellow QB hit TE Richard Rodgers for another easy one, and we were all reminded how losing LB DeMecco Ryans matters

> When the secondary blitzed, they didn't bother Rodgers at all, either

> Lacy through overmatched defense for 10 as CB Brandon Boykin is down, and this is looking like men against boys so far

> Rodgers continued the surgery with a throw to WR Davonte Adams, simple six yard slant and score, and Fletcher gets a friendly fire face mask as well as the TD against

> Polk puts it on the ground, but STer Brad Smith saved this from earlier garbage time with a recovery

> On 2nd and 7, Yellow declined a holding penalty, because they correctly just wanted to get to the third down conversion fail faster

> PR Micah Hyde with the return score made sure that all facets of the team got beat today

> STer Josh Huff with the whiff on that, and he's having a fairly tragic rookie year

> After 13 minutes, it was Yellow 17, Green 0, and over

> Under the heading of glimmers, Sanchez to Sproles for 16 on a well-done screen was pretty, and he also led McCoy perfectly for 18 at the end of the first quarter

> As soon as Fox cited the impossible to sustain small sample size red zone work by Sanchez, I knew that was going away, too

> On 3rd and 2, Sanchez got destroyed by LB Clay Mathews, who didn't bite on the run fake at all

> I suppose it was good that Sanchez was able to finish this game

> Parkey from 33 connects, so he didn't, for the most part, join in the suckage

> Parkey with another stumbling kickoff and tolerable outcome

> Yellow ran play action, as if Rodgers needed more time, for another 22 to Cobb

> There was a batted ball is the first half, so I can confirm that the Eagle defensive line did exist in this game

> Packer WR Randall Cobb out-toughed Williams for 11, which is a little disturbing when you remember that Cobb is a smurf

> Rodgers to Nelson for a 27 yard TD could not have been any easier for Yellow

> Nelson is just way better than Fletcher, or anyone else who plays CB for Green

> 24-3 Yellow, with Rodgers at 232 yards in less than 20 minutes of game play

> Just FYI, the single-game record for yards passing in a game is Norm Van Brocklin at 554, so yeah, the pace was not good

> Fox confirmed that Green Bay is better than any other place to watch football, eat meat, or be white

> I've seen every play from scrimmage this year, of course, and that slow left sweep has never worked

> 3rd and 6 and time for a sack is Sanchez missing Matthews, open and deep, and that's on the WR, too

> Lacy for 6 on a screen, and yeah, that was into a blitz, so even the play-calling stank

> Rodgers was actually sacked and fumbled on a play by DE Vinny Curry, but the room service hop let Yellow gain back much of the yards

> On 3rd and 7 from the gun, Rodgers hit Cobb for 13, as the WR left Fletcher's underwear on the ground

> Rodgers took a timeout, mostly because he looked incapable of stifling laughter, then ran for 16 for something new to do

> Rodgers used a lot of clock between plays, so as to not make the blowout too extreme

> Lacy scored through Fletcher to make it 30-3, and my laundry fought more after the whistle than before

> Sanchez had many issues with snaps in this one, which is not exactly new with him

> Even on a 3rd and 12 to convert with TE Zach Ertz, Sanchez left yards on the table with a relatively poor throw

> Foles to Matthews for 40 was nice work by both ends, and could have had 15 more on a late QB hit

> Sanchez pumps and misses Matthews, 18 seconds left in the half

> Slow tempo, Sanchez shakes off a sack, then overthrows Cooper, not very open in the end zone

> 3rd and 10 from the 10 with timeouts left is slow tempo and a near grounding

> So much for the Sanchez is Red Zone Magic meme, and RT Jason Peters got owned

> Parkey connected from 33 to make it 30-6 at the half

> A third down conversion to Maclin got the WR 26 fighting yards, so he didn't give up in this one

> The fumble to end that drive took out any cheap source of dignity or comeback

> That's equal parts a high handoff from Sanchez, and the RB paying too much attention to reading the coverage, so Sanchez got the turnover more on reputation than reality

> Rodgers with the deep ball to Nelson, but Fletcher separates it, and that's a nice play by the CB, which we should recognize, given its relative rarity

> A long clock after the bomb failed should have been a delay flag, and was finally grounding against Yellow, with CB Brandon Boykin ending the play by engaging in patty cake with Rodgers

> On 3rd and 22, the Green defense did get off the field, proving it was in fact possible to do

> Sanchez from the gun double pumped on the screen, but LB Clay Matthews ended it anyway, and that was one of many moments of bad comedy for the QB

> Sanchez throws it away on big coverage, and Yellow is now rushing few and making him by exact, which you will see a lot of in the future

> Sanchez missed an open Ertz, bad overthrow from a secure pocket, and yeah, he's still Mark Sanchez

> Jones with a weak kick, and we've got 28 minutes of garbage time ahead

> Rodgers from the gun shakes off pressure, then gets 16, and he's just unfair

> Rodgers with his first bad throw of the day, but it's safe and out of bounds

> Williams stopped RB James Starks on a screen, and yay, moments of defensive competence

> I did see Connor Barwin on the field today, just in case you didn't

> Sanchez to Celek for 10, good pocket, then McCoy for 5, not quite quick enough to get past S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who is down after the play ends

> The rookie S left under his own power, and for once, Eagle Fan can't really be all that grumbly about takes to stop tempo

> Huff drops a catchable ball, and yeah, he's keeping Brad Smith and Jeff Mahel employed

> LB Julius Peppers with the TAInt and Lambeau Leap, and yeah, he's still Mark Sanchez

> On the TAInt, Sanchez was flagged for a 15 yard clip, which I've never seen in 40 years of watching football

> If you wondered about seeing if QB Matt Barkley could be any worse, or why the last 21 minutes of this required the use of QB1 and RB1, you were not alone

> Maclin for 7 as Yellow looks fighty for turnovers

> McCoy for 13 on small pride by the OL, then Sanchez to Cooper for 14 off play action

> Sanchez misses Cooper, open in the end zone, and nope, neither of these guys are good enough, scheme be damned

> Sanchez to Ertz for 6, then misses Sproles, crazy open on the wheel route, could have been a score against the LB

> 4th and 4 as Yellow's crowd gets loud, and Sanchez hits Ertz for 22; small amount of hope that the TE is coming alive again

> McCoy for 4, then Maclin for 4 on slippery screen

> 3rd and 2 from the 10 is a screen to Matthews, and the rookie WR shows excellent strength with the straight arm for a score

> Not S Morgan Burnett's finest hour, but Matthews does have beast-like tendencies

> Kelly did not go for the onside kick while down 26 with 17 minutes left, because, well, he knew there was no point

> Max clock and Lacy for 6 and 5 and 37 and yeah, so much for the defense being able to stop the run, even when it's an obvious play call

> Rodgers throws one away on good coverage, then converts on 3rd and 10 for the 45th time today, this one to Lacy, who beasts his way through the Eagle defense for a 32-yard score

> After the touchdown, Yellow threw a bucket of confetti on Green while whistling "Sweet Georgia Brown"

> 46-13 Yellow after 45:20 of play, so, um, yeah, this isn't good

> McCoy for 6, Sanchez misses the covered Sproles on a what are you doing throw, then throws a terrible back foot pick against pressure

> You can safely end those Sanchez Renaissance memes now

> Crosby missed from 50, and honestly, the score could have been a lot worse today

> Kelly did what he could for the fantasy players of America

> Sanchez with the comedy snap fumble for the leisurely Yellow defensive score, and that one's going on the Benny Hill highlight reel, too

> C Jason Kelce has had problems with snaps since coming back from injury, and it's nice that Green is making sure this one is as bad as humanly possible

> Matthews went for 36 on a 3rd and 12 for the least relevant 100 yard yardage game ever

> Maclin ended the drive with a 20-yard score, so not as if Green quit out there

> Packer Fan lives to yell Kuhn, for some reason

> Flynn to Cobb for 12, and it looks like the WR snuck on to pad his numbers

> Cheap shot by LT JC Tredder on LB Trent Cole with 4 minutes left is a little telling

> Jenkins with a punt block as the Green ST pads their numbers, 5th of the year

> RB Chris Polk gets 3 as McCoy's fantasy owners curse a blue streak, then loses 2 on the stretch play that hasn't worked all year

> Sanchez to WR Brad Smith, drops a good ball at the 2, and yeah, he's not exactly pushing Huff for playing time

> Fourth and goal is Polk on the right side stretch for fail, just to make Yellow's defensive day complete

> Kneeling ends it, and my laundry is 7-3, but with nearly no chance of a first round bye, since they keep losing head to head against teams they might be competing with for slots

> That's the most points allowed in 42 years for my laundry, and a thorough beat down in every aspect of the game, on national TV

> Next week is a bounceback game against the putrid Titans, but honestly, it's kind of hard to care when the ceiling of your laundry has been shown so clearly

Top 10 NFL Week 11 Ad Questions

Yay, Ford
10) Is it fair to note that a chocolate diamond also looks like other brown things?

9) Are people who shop at Wal-Mart brain-damaged, or just the people who appear in their ads?

8) If I invest with Fidelity, will I be stalked by green lines that only I can see?

7) Do Honda owners enjoy imagining their action figures having sex?

6) Have all Budweiser drinkers driven their friends away with their choice of beverage?

5) Do Game of War users fantasize about snotty blondes wandering through combat?

4) Why does the Nationwide recovery agent do her work with such inefficient parkour?

3) Do eBay users really think they have lives of focused excitement, rather than just hoardy consumption?

2) Can anything stop the horror that is the croissant donut?

1) If I buy a Ford van, do I have to live in it?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Miami Misses An Opportunity

With 4:37 left in the fourth quarter of tonight's TNF game, the Dolphins took a sack that took them out of field goal position. Looking at a short punt with a 10-point lead on fourth and nine, the Fish then took an intentional delay of game penalty to give their punter a little more room. Buffalo declined the penalty, and Miami wound up punting without incident on the next play.

And all I could think of was... Miami, you freaking pushovers.

Why not take another delay penalty, and another, and another, until Buffalo just gives in and takes the flag? If you don't want to sit there with the clock not running, maybe just have players jump (or, hell, walk; no reason to strain yourselves) off sides. Do it long enough, make Buffalo decline penalty after penalty, and maybe one of their guys loses their composure and takes a swing at someone. Boom, 15 yard flag, first down, and a triumph for dickishness that will live in NFL lore forever.

Of course, had anyone actually done this, it would have been a major story, there would have been a competition committee meeting in the off-season that would have required a 15-yard flag for back to back intentional penalties, and so on, and so on.

Such a sad waste of an opportunity, Miami. Next time, stick to your guns, OK?

(Yeah, the Dolphins won anyway. Still. Principles, people. Principles.)

NFL Week 11 Picks: Anticipation

Poor Sad Maniac
There's a marvelous Lewis Black routine, back when he had the fastball more often than he does now, about antici- pation, and how golfers and gamblers alike are slaves to it. The time between when we make the picks and the games are actually played is just the best, because we can see how it all might work out, how the shot will follow the line in our minds, how we'll flop the nuts and get multiple bluffers firing away, and so on, and so on.

And of course, it goes for more than gambling. Vacations are about the day or two before they actually begin. Halloween is the excitement of being in costume and getting candy, rather than the bloated nightmare of having consumed it. Thanksgiving is days off (well, it used to be, until capitalism ended it, and if you shop on Thanksgiving, please stop reading this blog and go jump off a bridge, seeing how you've already ruined what used to be the best holiday of the year) and football and food, not the days of leftovers and unfortunate relatives. Christmas is about everything under the tree when it's all wrapped and shiny, not the piles of crap it turns into later. And so on, and so on. The journey is so much better than the destination, to the point of the only sensible course is to always be on the move.

Which just sounds exhausting, of course. Unless you love the journey. And, well, I do. Especially after back to back weeks when I'm 18-8 ATS, and no longer just paying the vig for the year. Hell, one more week of this, and I can even start redeeming my entire sad history of prognostication. Happiness is in sight, kids. Lookit that purty destination!

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * * *

Buffalo at MIAMI (-5.5)

Always a rough spot for the Bills, who have to take unseasonal weather, a long plane ride, a Dolphins team that just missed a major win in Detroit, and a Fin defense that might turn QB Kyle Orton into a pinata. The Bills are coming off their own defeat from the jaws of victory, having spit the bit late against the Chiefs at home.

Miami 27, Bills 17

MINNESOTA (+3) at Chicago

This isn't what gambling smart guys tell you to do, of course. Betting against a home dog with two straight 50-point blowouts, with the entire town looking to tar and feather everyone involved in the enterprise? That's the moment where bounce back happens, especially when you've got as much talent on offense as the Bears.

Except this: Minny's actually pretty good when QB Teddy Bridgewater isn't in a prone position, and the Bears aren't able to do that. And the purple defense is solid as well. Look for Bear Fan to turn toxic. Or, well, stay that way.

Vikings 30, Bears 24

Houston at CLEVELAND (-3)

Time to start taking the Browns seriously? Sure, now that RB Terrance West is giving shape to the RBBC, and the OL might be getting past the crippling loss of stalwart C Alex Mack. The defense has been good all along, and shh... WR Josh Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron might show up and make the passing game tolerable, too. They are going to win the AFC North, and only partly because of the schedule. (Also, I'm really liking the opportunity to bet against new QB Ryan Malett in his first start, on the road, in front of a Cleveland crowd that's wide eyed and throaty in their first taste of real prosperity. Shame it's going to end in a first round playoff loss.)

Browns 26, Texans 17

SEATTLE (+1) at Kansas City

Gut check time for the Seahawks, who need a real road win in the worst way if they still harbor the dream of catching up with the Cardinals and making people come to their crib on the way to the Super Bowl. As for the Chiefs, they have a real home field edge, and a defense that might well and truly throttle the pedestrian Seahawks attack... but eventually RB Marshawn Lynch makes guys flinch. The game of the week if you like offensive players getting hurt.

Seahawks 24, Chiefs 20

Atlanta at CAROLINA (-1.5)

Does someone have to win the NFC South? Both of these clubs say no, and in a game that should count as community service, I like the Panthers to bounce back with a pass rush. Woof.

Panthers 20, Falcons 16

CINCINNATI (+7) at New Orleans

When last we left the Bengals, QB Andy Dalton was playing one of the worst games of his life in a desultory home loss to the Browns. He's going to lose again this week, but it's going to be a lot closer, because the Saints can't defend, and he'll have two useful RBs, instead of one. Also, the Saints are just meh.

Saints 31, Bengals 27

Tampa at WASHINGTON (-7)

A lot of points to float for the Slurs, but the Bucs rival the Bears for sheer excellence in quitting, especially on the road. QB Bob Griffin the Whatevs looked good before the bye in Minny, and his WRs are going to put up pinball numbers against the improv act that draws paychecks from Big Pewter. Remember, the first rule of improv is "Yes, And."

Slurs 34, Bucs 20

DENVER (-9.5) at St. Louis

Tempted to take the home dog to cover after their invigorating win in SF, not to mention their lead and fade act last week in Arizona? Well, um, no, because they just aren't that good, and the Broncos are the new secret America's Team of travelers, with a whole host of Peyton Manning loyalists making the run from Indy. The Rams are going to QB Whatever Sean Hill, count on Kenny Britt to be their best WR, think Tayvon Austin is more than a draft bust, and go RBBC when they have one decent back (Tre Mason). It's nice that they've found a pass rush again and all, but you need a whole lot more than that to stop this machine. Especially when Hill turns it over due to rust and pressure.

Broncos 45, Rams 20

San Francisco at NY GIANTS (+4)

Is there hope for Blue to turn around its year and close with something approaching honor? Well, for 2.5 quarters in Seattle last week, sure... but then the run defense went into the fetal position, and WR Odell Beckham's shoulders broke under the strain of carrying an offense. There's talent here, and the Niners are not exactly reliable or a road juggernaut. They are also going to miss LB Patrick Willis something terrible, and QB Colin Kaepernick isn't accurate enough to sustain patient winning football. I like Blue to pick up a quality win here, especially with full-service RB Rashad Jennings ready to return.

Giants 24, Niners 20

Oakland at SAN DIEGO (-10.5)

Could the Raiders go winless? It's getting closer and closer to likely, honestly. And it's not even that they are that bad (and yeah, they're bad), it's that the schedule is just brutal. Their remaining home games (just 3, thanks to the London problem) are the Chiefs, Niners and Bills, and they are on the road for this game, the Rams, Chiefs and Broncos. It's hard to see them being favored in any of their games, and I suspect less than half of them are going to fewer than a touchdown.

So will the Chargers come in sleeping on this, and let the Raides sniff a win and cover? Unlikely. This was just a 3-point win for the Chargers five weeks ago, and the Chargers come in off a bye, with their last outing as that 37-0 de-pantsing in Miami, the third loss in a row after a 5-1 start. With RB Ryan Mathews back in the fold, a week of rest, and all kinds of motivation, they'll hunt. A lot. Poor Raiders.

Chargers 34, Raiders 16

PHILADELPHIA (+6) at Green Bay

A marquee matchup between two teams that have appeared to be at the top of the NFC food chain, but with absolutely no margin for error. The Eagles are the current #3 seed, but have two games against Dallas that will decide the NFC East... and unless they pretty much run the table, including this game, they could easily be on the road for every playoff game. Green Bay doesn't even qualify for the playoffs if the season ends today, thanks to the absurdly hot start that the Lions have had. So both teams need the game, are healthy, and come in on nearly equal rest and relative bye weeks.

Green Bay is probably better, due to one simple fact: they score touchdowns in the red zone. I'm also legitimately terrified of what WR Jordy Nelson will do to CB Cary Williams, who is becomingly increasingly exposed as the weak point in what has been a very good defense. Green is definitely better on special teams, and is putting together a damned near historic year on those plays. Yellow's defense isn't that impressive, unless LB Clay Matthews moving to the middle really is the only thing holding them back from greatness. And then there's the matter at QB, where Aaron Rodgers... well, wipes the floor with Mark Sanchez.

So why take Green to cover? The number is just too high. Green now has the second most sacks in the NFL, and when you can get to Rodgers, good things can happen... and Yellow's OL is beat up. Yellow's defense, particularly on the ground, can be had. The special teams might swing a play. And Green hasn't been out of a game at any point this year. I still think the home team wins, but it's going to the wire.

Packers 34, Eagles 30

DETROIT (+2) at Arizona

The other big 4pm game this week has the top two surprise seeds in the NFL meet in Arizona, where QB2 Drew Stanton will try to keep Big Red rolling against a Lions team with a big record and a healthy WR Calvin Johnson. I don't really believe in either of these teams this much, and Detroit was lucky to escape from the Dolphins last week at home... but the step down from Carson Palmer to Stanton is significant, and Red isn't making enough plays in the running game to make this a game manager kind of game. Unless CB Patrick Patterson can win his matchup against Megatron, this one is going to the road team. And, well, Patterson hasn't been that good this year.

Lions 26, Cardinals 20

NEW ENGLAND (+3) at Indianapolis

The SNF game this week has the Patriots coming off a bye and going into the Indy Dome to face the rolling Colts, ina battle of two clubs that look awfully unstoppable when up against bad defense. Both also may be better on defense than expected, with the Pats locking up WRs with Darelle Revis, and the Colts showing more of a pass rush than they have in years. The home team has even had some win out of their running game, which might be a good moment for their opponents, given how much damage QB Andrew Luck tends to do.

In a game like this, I tend to go more for the single best force, and in this one, that's TE Rob Gronkowski, currently hale and hearty and working at best in the game levels. He's going to do a lot of damage in this game, and when that happens, it usually provokes cascade failure on defensive adjustment, as QB Tom Brady then moves down the route tree and gets others in the mix. In a shootout, I also like the Pats to avoid the critical turnover, which in this game might mean any turnover.

Patriots 42, Colts 38

PITTSBURGH (-5.5) at Tennessee

If you can figure out how the Steelers go from 12 passing TDs in two games, then go into a game against one of the NFL's worst secondaries and get shut out until garbage time... well, no, you can't figure that out, because it just Makes No Sense At All. What is more predictable and disappointing is that unless this defense gets a pass rush, especially with S Troy Polamalu on the sideline, it can be pushed all over the field. And that's the hope for the Titans, who could slog their way to a win here... but they are more likely to make enough mistakes to take bigger chances, and give Black and Yellow a shot at short fields. Which would mean redemption from last week's game that clearly never happened.

Steelers 27, Titans 20

Last week: 9-4

Year to date: 75-69-2

Career: 563-569-41

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