Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Win is a Win is a Win...

Imagine how good the Bears would be if they had Tom Brady calling the signals? Fortunately for us, they don't. They've got Rex Grossman - aka Train Rex as the Chicago Tribune called him on Monday - and they may become the first clear-cut conference leader to change QB's on the fly in like, a really, really long time. I mean, the Bears are 9-2 and they're calling for Grossman's head. Could we see a Romo/Cutler deal in the Windy City? Brian Griese is the alternative, so it may be awhile.

Bears fans are screaming bloody murder because while their team definitely played well enough to win on Sunday - Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson are an underrated RB tandem and their defense came as advertised - their QB is just killing them. He threw three picks, all to Pats CB Asante Samuel, including the game-ending heave he tossed just after the Bears recovered a huge Corey Dillon fumble will 1:30 to go in the game. Has anyone seen Rex and Eli Manning in the same room together?

To be fair to Rexy, the game itself was filled with turnovers. As a buddy noted Monday morning, it was an alternately fun, frustrating, positively bizarre football game. I mean, Tom Brady - never to be confused with Mike "Two Fingers" Vick as a runner - made the big play of the game, scrambling for a first down late in the game and juking Brian Urlacher badly in the process.

Looking ahead, you have to think that the Bears, Cowboys, or Seahawks (who got Hasselbeck and Alexander back this week) will represent the NFC in Miami come February. The AFC, on the other hand, is wide open with the Colts, Ravens, Chargers and Pats near the head of the class, and the Chiefs and Broncos looming as possibilities. Could we see a 20th anniversary rematch of the Bears and Pats, hopefully with a much different outcome? If Rexy's still the pilot, count on it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

By The Numbers

Some interesting stats to ponder as we eagerly wait for the Bears-Patriots showdown:

- All of the Pats' 7 wins this year are against teams currently with losing records

- The team has installed FieldTurf in the two weeks that have passed since the Mud Bowl against the Jets. Tom Brady is 19-1 on turf in his career.

- The Pats have won 17 of their last 19 games vs. the NFC

- Since 2001, New England is 33-6 after Thanksgiving

- The Chicago Bears, a team that has been in existence since 1920, has only played the Patriots in Foxboro twice -- in 1988 and 1997. The Pats won those two games by a combined score of 61-10. Of course, the Bears made up for that discrepancy in January 1986 in a bigger game.

- When the Pats are on offense today, they have to protect the ball at all costs. The Bears have 29 takeaways this season, which have resulted in an amazing 119 points.

- Everyone's talking about the ferocious Bears' defense, which has given up an average of around 12 points per game this year. Quietly, the Pats' D has given up an average of 13.

- Wanna bet Belichick had the Pats focusing on third down conversions this week? They're in the back of the pack at 41% converted, while the Bears have allowed 28% to opponents.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

J.D. Coming, Manny Going?

There hasn't been a peep about the ongoing negotations between the Sox and Dice-K, but today we read in the Globe that the team is closing in on signing J.D. Drew. Gordon Edes is reporting that Drew's asking price is $14 million per, and he's looking for a long-term (4 yrs. or more) deal. That's a lot of clams for a guy who is perpetually hurt, and has only touched the 100-RBI mark once in his career. They are no doubt mesmerized by his .400+ OBP over the last three years. Don't get me wrong - I understand that Drew is a big upgrade over Trot and can see him easily sliding into the 5-hole in the lineup. But it's only a good move if Manny stays on board, and we're hearing all sorts of buzz that he's being shopped around again, this time with more interested suitors.

In his blog today, ESPN's Buster Olney has items on both Drew and Manny, saying that the former may lack the intestinal fortitude to be a success in pressure-packed Boston.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Tryptophan Effect: NFL Picks, Week 12

Turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, booze, annoying aunts, uncles and cousins... and it all revolves around football. Thanksgiving is hands down the most underrated holiday on the calendar. All you need to do is get your arse to the dining table, compliment the chef, drink a few beers, and watch grown men try to kill each other from the comfort of your plush sofa. I now understand why all my uncles took naps following the Turkey Day dinner. The bird contains tryptophan, which makes you drowsy. Have insomniacs tried this?

Anyway, I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving tomorrow. Time to make the Week 12 picks. I went a wild-cardish 9-7 last week, raising the season mark to 67-73-5. I'm inching closer to .500. For the first time ever, we get three games tomorrow. The lame Lions-Dolphins matchup is the early game, followed by Cowboys-Buccaneers, and the best one of the day, the Broncos visiting Arrowhead to tangle with KC at night in a big game for both squads. Let's roll.

Miami (-3) @ Detroit: Forget tryptophan for insomnia. This game might do the trick as well. When your biggest angle is Joey Harrington returning to face the Lions, you know you're in trouble. The Dolphins seem to have figured out something, so they should take this one. (TV, CBS, 12:30)

@Dallas (-11) vs. Tampa Bay: Lot of points, I know, but I just can't see Tampa Bay's offense putting up points against a damn good Dallas defense, led by the hard-hitting Roy Williams. I'm also liking what I'm seeing out of Tony Romo, who seems to be building confidence each week. Cowboys win, 28-13. (TV, FOX, 4:15)

Denver (-1) @ Kansas City: This line's been going back and forth, which means we could be in for a whale of a game. Should be plenty of intensity, with the Chiefs trying to pull into a tie in the AFC West with the Broncos. If Plummer sucks the bit, will we see rookie Jay Cutler? If Trent Green can't get it done, will Damon Huard return? One week after getting gashed by LT, Denver goes up against LJ - but the Chiefs don't have the supporting cast that the Chargers do. I'm going with Mike Shanahan in a must-win game. Jake Plummer be damned. (TV, NFL Network, 8:00)

Arizona (+6.5) @ Minnesota: Just a hunch. If the Desert Dogs don't win, they'll keep it close. Edgerrin is due to break out any week now. Edgerrin? Edge? You out there? Cardinals cover.

Carolina (-4) @ Washington: This one jumped out at me when I first looked at the lines on Monday. Carolina is finally rounding into form, and they get to face a floundering team trying to break in a rookie QB. That, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. Mr. Campbell, meet Mr. Peppers. Panthers are the pick of the week.

Cincinnati (-3) @ Cleveland: The Bengals are another team that could be settling into a groove, and they're riding the strong right arm of Carson Palmer as they try to nail down a playoff spot. A rough and tumble low-scoring affair, with the Bengals coming out on top.

Houston (+6) @ NY Jets: Yes, the Jets should win the ballgame, but the Texans are like a dingleberry that won't go away. They're sticking around till the bitter end, which means they'll cover the six. Screw you, Bill Simmons. I'm coining this the Dingleberry Effect before you do. (TV, CBS, 1:00)

@Buffalo (+3) vs. Jacksonville: Love the home 'dog here. The Jaguars looked impressive Monday night against the Giants, but to be fair, the Jints are Red Sox-banged up on defense and the Bills are strong, particularly in their own house. The loss of DB Donovin Darious also hurts the Jags. Bills are the pick.

@Atlanta (-3) vs. New Orleans: Who the hell knows? The Saints throttled the Falcons back on the inspirational opening Monday night game at the Superdome, and I'm going with the revenge factor. Falcons win, keeping in mind that every time I use those two words in a sentence, they lose. (TV, FOX, 1:00)

@Baltimore (-3) vs. Pittsburgh: The Steelers will become the first Super Bowl champion to not make the playoffs since - um, I'm not sure and I don't feel like looking it up. They got a reprieve last Sunday with that lame shuffle pass, but they will go down this week to the new and improved Ravens.

San Francisco (+5.5) @ St. Louis: The Niners are the trendy pick over the last couple of weeks but you have to give them their due. Frank Gore has returned to stud form, the defense has been stellar, and the coach, Mike Nolan, actually looked pretty good in a suit last week patrolling the sidelines. Can you just imagine all the positive fashion reviews he got last week in, um, fashion-conscious San Francisco?

@New England (-3) vs. Chicago: Easily the game of the week. The Bears, per usual, look frighteningly awesome on defense and they're getting the job done on offense even though Grossman has been grossly inconsistent. Once again, this is a bet on Tom Brady, and I think the Dillon/Maroney duo can find some holes. Maroney should get the bulk of the work as Dillon was dinged up last week. The Patriots actually ripped up their field over the last two weeks and replaced it with FieldTurf. Should be interesting to see what the impact is. My only worry with this game is that we have to listen to smug Joe Buck. (TV, FOX, 4:15)

NY Giants (-3) @ Tennessee: The Giants are in disarray - Tiki criticized the coaching today - but if they have to circle the wagons this is a good team to do it against. Eli Manning has been horrible the last few weeks, but should do enough right to pull it out.

@San Diego (-13) vs. Oakland: You can talk yourself into taking the points and the Raiders, but have you been watching what the Chargers have done the last couple of weeks? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Chargers in a cake walk, with LT scoring 15 touchdowns.

@Indy (-9) vs. Philly: Not what the NFL TV scheduling Gods had hoped for, not after Donovan McNabb went down with an ACL tear last week. The Eagles are as cooked as Kramer's career, and Indy doesn't have to deal with any undefeated talk. Playing free and easy, the Colts will cruise. (TV, NBC, 8:15)

@Seattle (-9) vs. Green Bay: Another crappy game for the Kornheiser crew. I can't believe I'm taking Seattle after their pathetic display against the 49ers last week, but the Niners, I think, are a lot better than people are giving them credit for. The Packers looked horrible last week in getting waxed by the Patriots, and Brett Favre looked particularly horrible - overthrowing and underthrowing receivers at every turn. The Seahawks must be happy that the Seneca Wallace Experiment is officially over. Matt Hasselbeck returns for this one (Shaun Alexander came back last week) as Seattle tries to get it together for a postseason run. (TV, ESPN, 8:30)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Voters on Crack

The AL MVP winner was announced today and there's good news and bad news. The good news? If you detest everything about the Yankees, the fist-pumping, overrated pretty boy to the right did NOT win the award as many had predicted. Instead, Twins 1B Justin Morneau surprised everyone and took home the hardware. The bad news? David Ortiz was punished even harsher for not wearing a glove. Can you believe that Big Papi did not receive one first-place vote, and only got one second? Twenty-eight "writers" voted, with 15 giving their top vote to Morneau and 12 going with Jeter. Ortiz got 11 third-place votes, 5 fourths, 7 fifths, 3 sixths, and one (who's this absolute moron?) seventh. This is what 54 HRs, 137 RBIs, 115 runs, and a .413 OBP gets you. I truly wonder what would have happened if he had clouted 60, which he may have to do to just to earn a goddamn second-place vote. Unbelievable. But we're happy that the stinkin' Yankee didn't win it.

In other news, baseball owners are again throwing money around like drunken sailors. Alfonso Soriano (.231 with RISP in '06) signed an 8-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs, and word has it that several teams are interested in Manny. All of a sudden, 2 years and $38M doesn't look so bad. Reports have the Sox talking to the Rangers (Michael Young? Yes please...) and the Angels. I'm all for trading Manny, but they damn well better get something to fill that gaping hole in the lineup. JD Drew alone isn't going to cut it. They may be thinking that adding Drew and Julio Lugo will cushion the blow, but I still think you need another bopper.

Going around the lineup, my biggest concern is entering the season with Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia as everyday regulars. I admire Youk for his intensity, etc., but there's no way in hell he should be penciled in as the automatic starter anywhere. He hasn't earned that yet, but I get the feeling he thinks he has. And Pedroia didn't show much last year, though I know they have high hopes for him.

Of course, there are a plethora of additional concerns, but let's save that post for a rainy day.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

NFL Picks, Week 11

Well, well, well... finally, a reasonably good week in this ass-backwards NFL season. The final record from week 10 was 8-8, bringing the season mark to 59-66-5. This is the week that we pull closer to .500. I can feel it in the darts.

Before we get to the NFL, though, we are just mere hours away from the titanic Ohio State-Michigan game this afternoon. No. 1 vs. No. 2. Blood rivals. And to top it off, legendary Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler passed away suddenly yesterday. Absolutely surreal. Growing up, I was a huge Michigan fan. Loved the maize and blue uniforms, and the helmets. Still do, in fact. When it came time to think about applying for colleges, Michigan was my out-of-state choice and I actually got in. But I ultimately decided to stay close to family and friends. That remains my one major college regret - not being able to experience a Saturday in the life of big-time college football. Cowell Stadium up at the University of New Hampshire didn't quite cut it. Anyway, even though I'm partial to the Wolverines, I don't see how Ohio State loses this game at home today to cap off its all-around dream season. Buckeyes 21, Wolverines 17, and I wouldn't mind being wrong.

Now, for the guys who get paid to play football for a living...

Atlanta (+4) @ Baltimore: Strictly a pick based on the fact that Ray Lewis will be out again and Mike Vick might have a better time dancing through the middle of the line. This is actually a matchup of the two teams that have given us major fits all year long so maybe it will end up in a tie. I'm going with the Falcons and the four.

@Houston (-2.5) vs. Buffalo: On paper, this looks like a cure for insomnia but this could actually be a competitive ballgame between two perpetually crappy teams. To its credit, Houston for the most part has been playing people pretty tough this year, and while Buffalo has an edge on defense, their offense is still being led by Jonathan Paul Losman. I'm going with the Texans in their house.

@NY Jets (+6.5) vs. Chicago: Could be a letdown game for the J-E-T-S after an inspiring win over the Patriots last week, but I think they'll keep it close. Mangini will figure out a way to keep the pressure on Grossman. Interesting factoid: the Bears will be playing in the Meadowlands for the second week in a row. Jets are the pick.

@New Orleans (-3) vs. Cincinnati: That loss to the Chargers last week - where San Diego roared back from a 28-7 halftime deficit and put up 42 points in the second half - had to deflate the Bengals, who have really underachieved all year long. With 5 losses, their margin for error the rest of the way is razor thin. The Saints on the other hand are in control of the NFC South and they've played well at home. I'm going with N'Awlins in this one.

@Miami (-3) vs. Minnesota: The Daunte Culpepper Bowl, only he'll be watching from the sidelines with a backwards baseball cap on. The Vikings' decline has been precipitous. It's one thing to get pasted by the Patriots, quite another to not even put up a touchdown against the 49ers. The Dolphins have been steadily improving, so they get the call.

New England (-6) @ Green Bay: The Patriots keep getting six, it seems, and I keep taking them each week and losing. This week, goddammit, it stops. On the frozen tundra. Tom Brady will distribute the ball like a Vegas card dealer, the Dillon/Maroney tandem will awaken (still can't figure out why they're not using Maroney more), and the D will rise to the occasion. Brett Farve-ray won't know what hit him. Pats 31, Packers 14. (TV, CBS, 1:00)

Oakland (+9.5) @ Kansas City: I've been riding the Raiders the last couple of weeks and it's worked pretty well. I know Arrowhead is a difficult place to play, but I don't think the Chiefs are good enough to be favored by this much. This game marks the return of Trent Green, who was severely concussed on the first Sunday of the season. Warren Sapp just needs one lick to send Trent back to la-la land. Oakland covers.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) @ Cleveland: Cleveland keeps talking about the 41-0 shellacking it took at the hands of the Steelers last year, and odds are Romeo Crennel will use that to his team's advantage. But it won't be enough to stop Fast Willie Parker. Jerome who? The Steelers take care of business and keep their season alive - for now.

@Carolina (-6.5) vs. St. Louis: The Panthers may have rediscovered their mojo in the second half Monday night against Tampa Bay. They - along with the Dolphins - get the award for co-enigma of the year, but it's pretty hard to bet against Steve Smith and Julius Peppers. Cool name, Julius. Remember Orange Julius? Sorry, I digress. I'm going with the Panthers.

@Philadelphia (-13) vs. Tennessee: My first instinct: that's a boatload of points. My second instinct: I think the Eagles have found their stride and should lay a beating on the Titans. I'm going with the second. Eagles in a (moderate) rout.

@Tampa Bay (-3) vs. Washington: Wow, this one's a complete head-scratcher. Who the hell cares who wins? There is some excitement in that the 'Skins are starting former Auburn QB Jason Campbell for the first time to see what he can do. Tough to make your debut against a good defense like this one - at least I've heard they're still pretty good. I'll take Tampa at home.

@Arizona (-2) vs. Detroit: Another big-time snoozer. My goodness. I really have nothing to say, except I'm going with the Cardinals.

Seattle (-3) @ San Francisco: Niners coach Mike Nolan has been given permission by the league to wear a suit on the sidelines - not sure if it's for this game or for a future one, but I think it's pretty cool in a Tom Landry kind of way. Pretty interesting that baseball managers wear uniforms, basketball and hockey wear suits, and football coaches wear kind of a mixture of casual/golf course clothes, or hooded sweatshirts that look like they were found in a long-forgotten cardboard box. Can you imagine football coaches wearing pads? Anyway, on to the game -- all signs point to the Seahawks getting both Hasselbeck and Alexander back, which means the line will undoubtedly go up by tomorrow. That's why I do this stuff the day before. Seahawks should be able to win by more than a field goal. (TV, FOX, 4:15)

@Dallas (E) vs. Indianapolis: At first glance, it's a bit surprising that this is a pick 'em game, but then you look a little deeper at the numbers and the matchups and it really is pretty even-steven. The Colts may be 9-0 but it's one of the weakest 9-0's in recent memory. Peyton will get his, but Tony Romo will also be able to exploit the Colts secondary, and I like Julius Jones over Joseph Addai. The Colts go down to the Cowboys and the '72 Dolphins are tipping back champagne Sunday night. (TV, CBS, 4:15)

San Diego (+2.5) @ Denver: Did NBC pay extra for these games? In successive weeks, they've had Pats-Colts, Bears-Giants, and now Broncos-Chargers. Not too shabby. I think the Chargers and LT are the real deal this year, and QB Philip Rivers is vastly underrated. I understand the Mile High advantage, but I think a bet on Tomlinson is a bet well placed. Chargers will win, or at least cover. (TV, NBC, 8:15)

NY Giants (+3.5) @ Jacksonville: A few weeks ago, these two teams were mentioned as being postseason probabilities. Not anymore. Jacksonville is going through a quarterback crisis, and the Giants are banged up - and probably wishing they had drafted Philip Rivers over Eli Manning during that whole ridiculous charade. Tough call, but I'll go with the G-men to win or at least keep it tight.

That's my story - and I'm sticking to it. Let's be careful out there.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Japanese Jewel

$51.1 meeeeeeel-yun dollars. That's what the Red Sox ponied up to win the bidding process for Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka. Of course, we've known for several days now that the Sox were in the driver's seat. The only suspense was how much they'd dole out. Gammons was among many that got the team right, the dollar amount wrong. Even Tom Verducci from SI was off. The only guy out there who mentioned north of $50 million was ESPN's smooth-talking analyst Orestes Destrade. Nice scoop by him. The clock now begins ticking, as the Sox have 30 days to seal the deal. Theo has had reasonably good dealings with Scott Boras, and most seem to think that will continue.

Cranking Up the Hot Stove

Getting back to hardball for at least one post (maybe more), the big news of the week so far revolves around Japanese phenom pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The 26-year old gyroballer has officially been put on the market by his team, the Seibu Lions, who invited MLB teams to submit bids for the rights to negotiate with the righty. The usual suspects were in on the hunt (Yankees, Red Sox and Mets), and it's also believed that the forever pitching-deprived Rangers took part. ESPN's Buster Olney broke the news late last week that the Red Sox had submitted the highest bid, and that has since been backed up by several other media reports, including from Peter Gammons, who indicated that the Sox had submitted a mind-boggling number of $42 million. Again, this is just for the right to sit across the table from Scott Boras and try to hammer out a deal. If no deal gets done, the Lions don't get paid.

Matsuzaka's stock rose big-time in the World Baseball Classic, during which he and his gyroball/sinker were positively unhittable, and the Sox had been keeping a close eye on him well beforehand. Some have speculated that the Red Sox are merely trying to keep the pitcher out of pinstripes, but MLB.com's Ian Browne begs to differ, and I tend to agree. The deal makes a mountain of sense for Boston. We need pitching help, and the free agent market is thin. Jason Schmidt is made out of papier mache, and Barry Zito is incredibly overrated and probably headed to the weak-sister National League anyway to pad his stats. The move also makes a ton of sense from a marketing/revenue standpoint. We'll get official word tonight on who the highest bidder is, and then let the fun begin.

Of course, Theo is doing his best Bill Belichick imitation down at the GM meetings in Naples, Fla. (That's him to the right in the picture, getting ready for the GM's bowling tournament. Two thoughts here. 1) Bowling?? And 2) Theo has certainly come a long way fashion-wise since a year ago. From gorilla suit to Tommy Bahama.) Word in the Boston papers is that Theo is going hard after J.D. Drew (just look at his OBP and you'll see why) and others are reporting that he's made offers to at least two free agent pitchers, one of whom I hope is Ted Lilly. The Sox desperately need at least one southpaw in the rotation, assuming Jon Lester - who's battling lymphoma - isn't ready to go.

Other news and notes:

- Justin Verlander and Hanley Ramirez took home the AL and NL Rookie of the Year Awards, respectively. Verlander would have been pushed more by our boy Papelbon if he didn't get hurt at the end of the season, and I'm just not ready to discuss former Sox property Ramirez. All I can say is that we're still looking for a shortstop.

- Rumors are swirling that the Phillies will be big players for Alfonso Soriano, who will demand mega-bucks, and that the Yankees may look to fill their 1B hole with Nomar Garciaparra.

- The Yanks have already made a couple of moves, sending disgruntled OF Gary Sheffield to the Tigers for three prospects, and Jaret Wright to the Orioles for a box of baseballs.

- Best pre-meeting move? The Indians getting 2B Josh Barfield from the Padres. Mark my words - the son of Red Sox killer Jessee is going to be a damn good one.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

NFL Week 10: The Carnage Continues

The Dolphins crush the Bears. Tom Brady throws 4 picks. Just two of the bigger proof points from Week 9 that the NFL is pure madness this year. I went 5-9 on the week, bringing the yearly total to 51-58-5. Lots of work to do to get back to .500 or above.

Here are my quick-hit thoughts on each game. As always, be careful out there.

Baltimore (-7) @ Tennessee: Two forces colliding here. The Titans got slammed last weekend against Jacksonville, and will be out to show people that they're not as bad as they looked. They probably don't want to go through a week of practice like they just had ever again. One question for you though - name three offensive starters on the Titans. Not easy is it? On the other side of the ball, it's the return of Steve McNair and the Ravens D is its old, terrifying self. Take the Ravens and the points.

@Indianapolis (-12) vs. Buffalo: This could be a letdown game for the Colts after last week's big win against the Patriots, but I don't think so. Indy is on a roll, and they'll keep rolling over the McGahee-less Bills. By the end of this one, you'll know the Bills DB's names by heart.

@Atlanta (-8) vs. Cleveland: I keep getting the Falcons wrong, but that means I'm also due. Atlanta is clearly a better team than the Browns, and all you need to know is that it's Mike Vick vs. Charlie Frye. 'Nuff said.

Green Bay (+5.5) @ Minnesota: An old-time Norris Division battle. Minnesota's hard to figure - they seemed to be in a groove before the Patriots gutted them, and they've been circling the drain since. All I know about Green Bay is they've got Favre and Green, and rookie LB A.J. Hawk looks like the real deal. I'll go with the Packers and the points, but proceed with caution.

@Jacksonville (-10) vs. Houston: The Jaguars are slowly forming into a force to be reckoned with in the AFC. QB David Garrard gives them a different look than Byron Leftwich, and time will tell if Jack Del Rio is in the midst of making a change. Bottom line: Jacksonville is solid on both sides of the ball, and they'll be looking to avenge that horrendous 27-7 loss to the Texans a couple weeks back.

@Miami (-1) vs. Kansas City: Man, the Dolphins actually looked like a team last weekend against the vaunted Chicago Bears. Funny what a little pressure on the QB will do for both the defense and the offense. Ronnie Brown should slice and dice again, and while LJ will get his fantasy points, Miami's defense will stand tall. I'm going with the Dolphins.

@New England (-10.5) vs. NY Jets: The Patriots should lay the hammer on the Jets this weekend, solidifying their grip on the AFC East. The last time these two met New England raced out to a big lead and then let the Jets back into the game on some ridiculous catch and runs by their receivers. If memory serves correctly, Pennington could have won the game with a successful Hail Mary at the end. Different story this time as Pats roll. (TV, 1:00, CBS)

San Diego (-1) @ Cincinnati: All the makings of a good game. An absolute must-win for the Bengals, who can't risk falling any further behind the front-running Ravens. They've been schizophrenic all year long, and all I can tell you is that I've started Jon Kitna over Carson Palmer in my fantasy league two weeks in a row. San Diego is the better team, and while the Bungles might get some juice from the hometown crowd, I'm sticking with the hot Chargers, who also are looking to keep pace with Denver.

@Detroit (-6) vs. San Francisco: The Mike Martz Effect is starting to pay some small dividends for the long-suffering Lions. Don't get me wrong - they're no threat come playoff time, but they can give opposing defenses fits, and it says here the Niners will have a tough time containing Kitna, Kevin Jones, Roy Williams, et al. Lay the points with the Lions.

@Philadelphia (-7) vs. Washington: See the Atlanta reference above. The other time that I just cannot get right to save my life this year is the Eagles. Donovan McNabb looks like a worldbeater one week, and then Tony Eason the next. The egg they laid against the Jaguars two weeks back was putrid. And of course, I'm going with them again this week because I'm a sucker. Andy Reid did not lose his coaching skills overnight. Joe Gibbs may be heading back to NASCAR-land soon.

@Oakland (+9) vs. Denver: My what the hell pick for the week. I think Denver wins, but I'll take the points with the Raiders playing in their madhouse. I know Andrew Walter is still their QB, but their defense has been coming on of late and the Broncos aren't really scary against good D's.

New Orleans (+5.5) @ Pittsburgh: I don't understand why the Steelers continue to be Vegas' darling. They haven't shown anything for about a month now, and they're still favored every week. I realize this is a huge, must-win game for them - at home - but I'm going with the resurgent Saints to at least cover and possibly steel away with a victory. (TV, 4:15, FOX)

Dallas (-6.5) @ Arizona: Watch, this will be the game that Edge breaks out and displays his old skills. For such a loud free agent pickup, he's been awfully quiet. The Cowboys lost a heartbreaker last weekend but they'll pick their game up in the desert. Romo leads them to a must-have win.

St. Louis (+3) @ Seattle: Another pick going against the grain and Seattle's best-in-the-league home field advantage. Seneca Wallace may have a cool name, but he's no Matt Hasselbeck. The Seahawks encountered a battle Monday night against the Raiders. The Rams should put up a better fight.

@New York (E) vs. Chicago: Should be a doozy. The weather forecast is calling for wind and rain in the Meadowlands Sunday night, which could mean a low-scoring affair. I think the Giants take this one. Tiki will control the clock and the Giants may have learned a little something from Nick Saban's defensive playbook last Sunday against Rex Grossman. Pressure him and he becomes a smaller, Jewish version of Drew Bledsoe. (TV, 8:15, NBC)

@Carolina (-9.5) vs. Tampa Bay: What gives with the lame Monday night matchups the last two weeks? Is it next Sunday yet? I'll go with the Panthers against the rookie QB. Can't wait to hear which guys are on Tony Kornheiser's fantasy team.

If you're one of the few hearty souls who read this through, do yourself a favor and pick the exact opposite. Happy Sunday.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

NFL Week 9: Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

Well, if I was a baseball player my 3 out of 10 mark last Sunday would make me one of the game's better hitters. But in today's parity-ridden NFL, where if anyone tells you they're doing well with their weekly picks they're absolutely, positively lying, 3 out of 10 puts you right in the middle of the mediocre morass. After coming out of the gate pretty nicely, the season mark now stands at 46-49-5. But I ain't giving up. After all, did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!? ("The Germans bombed Pearl Harbor??" "Leave him alone - he's on a roll...") This week, I'm going with the dartboard method. No analysis, no research. Just blind luck. Because that's truly what NFL predicting is all about these days. Onto the darts.

@Detroit (+5.5) vs. Atlanta: This one could be an aerial display, given what Ron Mexico has done the past few weeks as well as his underappreciated counterpart, Jon Kitna. The Lions stink - this much is true - but I also think the Falcons (like their flashy QB) are completely overhyped and will look past the Lions. I like the Kitna vs. Falcons DB matchup, and the fact that Kevin Jones is running with authority. The Lions are the pick.

@Baltimore (-3) vs. Cincinnati: This one's for superiority in the AFC North, and logic says the Ravens should take it on their home turf. Of course, it doesn't help the Bengals' cause that nutbag Bengals WR Chad Johnson has managed to rile up Ravens LB Ray Lewis. But getting back to football for a minute, the Bengals have just plain stunk since the Patriots laid the lumber to them, and the Ravens - with Brian Billick now calling the shots for the offense - seem to have awoken from their slumber. (Like that? Lumber, slumber?) I like the Ravens in this one.

Dallas (-3) @ Washington: Call me crazy, but I think Tony Romo's got a chance to hold onto this job for awhile, despite what Drew Bledsoe's blog says. The kid showed me something last week against Carolina. Not only does he have a strong arm, but he can adjust on the fly and get the extra yards with his own legs. The only way Drew can get yards is if he just falls down, but he's usually falling down well behind the line of scrimmage. For all the noise, Dallas has a pretty good nucleus with T.O, Terry Glenn, Julius Jones, and Jason Witten, and their D is solid. Dallas takes it, bringing more misery to the 'Skins.

Green Bay (+3) @ Buffalo: I saw J.P. Losman a couple weeks back against the Patriots. I'm going with Green Bay.

@NY Giants (-13) vs. Houston: I'm going to say it now, on Saturday, November 4, 2006. The Giants are going to the Super Bowl, and they're going to get beaten by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. How ya like them apples? The Giants are in a groove, and in my humble opinion, they have the best balance in the NFC. The Bears might quarrel with that, and they’ll get to settle the issue next Sunday night at the Meadowlands. For now, the Jints and Tiki should run all over the eternally pathetic Texans.

Kansas City (+3) @ St. Louis: I know it’s not the cozy confines of Arrowhead Stadium, but how can you look past what Larry Johnson has done the past few weeks. My goodness. And to think this guy was backing up Priest Holmes a short while back. Plenty of points should be scored, with the Chiefs coming out on top.

@Chicago (-13.5) vs. Miami: As The Who sang, I won’t get fooled again. I actually thought the 49ers might give the Bears a little bit of a fight last week, and that dart was completely missed the board and landed on the pool table. Now the Bears’ exhibition season continues with a matchup against the dreadful Dolphins. Miami’s D might be able to stop the Bears from getting 40+, but it ain’t gonna be pretty. Lucky for me, I get to watch this game since I’ll be in sunny Florida on Sunday.

@Tampa Bay (+1) vs. New Orleans: And this is the other great game I get to watch. I’m just so fortunate. I guess that’s what satellite dishes are for. The Saints got pummeled by Baltimore last weekend while the Bucs lost by 2 touchdowns to the Giants. Really no clue on this one – but because we have to pick ‘em all (it’s in the rulebook). I’ll pin my hopes on Tampa Bay’s defense to rise to the occasion at home.

@Jacksonville (-9.5) vs. Tennessee: Another underwhelming affair. The Jags had a boring but effective win over the frustrating Eagles last weekend, and all reports say that David Garrard will again be taking the snaps. He’s not a threat with the pass, but the kid can run. He’s also a new member of the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars (link), in terms of guys you thought were white based on their names but they’re really black. Tennessee’s run defense is dreadful, which could spell a big day for Garrard, and RB’s Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Go with the Jaguars.

Minnesota (-5) @ San Francisco: The Vikings have to be out to prove that they’re not as bad as Brady & Co. made them look last Monday night – and the Niners could be the right medicine at the right time. Look for Chester Taylor to have a good game, leading the Vikings to victory.

Cleveland (+12.5) @ San Diego: Hey, what the hell. You have to throw a surprise dart every now and then. The Chargers will be without Shawne “I didn’t do it” Merriman for this one, and really, it’s all about LT when it comes to the Chargers. Philip Rivers isn’t going to scare Romeo Crennel and his defensive troops. Romeo will try to take away LT, and I think he’ll be moderately successful. Take the Brownies with the points.

Denver (+2.5) @ Pittsburgh: The second-best game on the board this weekend, with two teams coming off tough losses. The Broncos lost a nail-biter to Indy last Sunday, while the Steelers lost to the Raiders in the most humiliating fashion possible. Pittsburgh will no doubt be revved up in front of the hometown crowd, but I think the Broncos can run on these guys and if Big Ben had problems with Oakland’s secondary, wait till he gets a load of Denver’s.

@New England (-3) vs. Indy: This game really can’t come soon enough. You’ve got all sorts of sub-plots: the return of Adam Vinatieri, the Peyton-Brady talk, the hatred between Bill Belichick and Colts’ executive Bill Polian, and how could we leave this out, the much-discussed issues with the Gillette Stadium sod. Let’s tackle each, briefly. I think the Pats made a rare miscue when they let Vinatieri walk. I understand the whole value thing, but he was one of those rare cases where you make an exception. Isn’t an extra mil worth the late-game comfort? Especially considering how many tight games the Pats have played in recent years? Peyton vs. Brady? No contest. Manning is Marino, Brady is Montana. Who would you rather have? The Belichick-Polian thing is amusing. Supposedly it goes back to the 90’s when Polian was in charge of the silver-medal Buffalo Bills and BB was with the NYG. The two men just don’t have a lot of nice things to say about each other. An article in the papers this week said that some press box observers overhead Polian yelling ‘break his leg’ when Doug Flutie scrambled for a run in last year’s Colts victory. And finally – the grass. The middle of the field has been like playing in a sandbox all year – I’m surprised the kickers and holders don’t bring out little plastic pails and shovels and make sand castles. It’s the same for both teams, but the Patriots have finally acquiesced and made some improvements. We should see a green field come Sunday eve. Oh yeah - a prediction. Pats 28, Colts 20. Indy can’t stop Dillon and Maroney.

Oakland (-7.5) @ Seattle: Not exactly a riveting Monday nighter, but sometimes these are the ones that turn out pretty good. Seattle’s injuries (Hasselbeck, Alexander) have taken a toll, but they did manage to put up 28 points last week against the Chiefs. I think I could actually pull together a team that could put up 28 on KC though. The Raiders, on the other hand, walked away with a gift-wrapped win last week, but their defense is playing pretty well. Just don’t lose by more than 7, baby. I’m going with Oakland.

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