Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Helton Deal Dead?

All reports indicate that talks are cooling with the Rockies to acquire Todd Helton. Lots of different reports - one saying that Colorado was only willing to eat around $25-30 million of the remaining $90 million on his contract - and another saying the Rockies insisted on both Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen (in addition to Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez). I'd only do this deal if Colorado absorbed half the money, and if either Hansen or Delcarmen was included. Another thing to ponder is that there's some bad blood between the front offices of these teams - stemming from all things, the aborted deal a while back for someone named Larry Bigbie. Adding fuel to the fire, some reports have said the Sox are pissed that the Rockies publicly threw Lowell and Tavarez' names out there so quickly. Could the Yankees be showing some late interest in Helton? They signed Doug Mientkiewicz in the offseason because they can't afford to play Jason the Juicer there anymore -- but Helton would be an upgrade. And that would be a little zing at the Sox. Stay tuned - something tells me this deal isn't completely dead.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Schilling's Not Going Away Anytime Soon

Semi-big announcement today on the local sports radio station. Curt Schilling, who had been contemplating retiring after the 2007 season, just informed the masses that he's planning to play in 2008 and possibly beyond. Schilling's a spotlight hog, and can be incredibly cheesy at times, but he's still a hugely positive piece of this team. He said he's in negotiations with the Sox right now for beyond 2007, and if they can't agree to terms, he's willing to pitch somewhere else - except New York. Hear that, Traitor Johnny?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sox-Rockies Talking Swap

Lots of talk today that the Sox are on the verge of acquiring longtime Rockies' 1B Todd Helton. The Sox would give up Mike Lowell, Julian Tavarez, and possibly either Manny Delcarmen or Craig Hansen in the deal - and the sides would split the remaining $90 million on Helton's contract. ESPN's Buster Olney has been all over this story like flies on you know what.

While I'd rather it was Youkilis heading out west instead of Lowell, I like the deal. I understand Helton's not the mega-star he was earlier this decade, but he is a superior defensive first baseman (three Gold Gloves) and he's the kind of guy who would be a great complement to the big boppers, Manny and Ortiz. Helton makes pitchers work, and would slot in nicely right after J.D. Drew in the lineup. If Lowell stayed on (I believe he's only got one year left on his contract), the Sox would have the best corner infield defense around.

At any rate, if the deal goes down here's what the lineup would look like:

SS Julio Lugo
3B Kevin Youkilis
DH David Ortiz
LF Manny Ramirez
RF J.D. Drew
1B Todd Helton
C Jason Varitek
CF Coco Crisp
2B Dustin Pedroia

Not too shabby. Can you say high pitch counts?

One Week Later...

...it still hurts. It's been six days since the Colts eked out a Super Bowl berth over the Patriots and the dissection, analysis, and overall bitching continues. All of which speaks to how great a game it was.

In my humble opinion, it may have been the best playoff game I've ever seen - crappy outcome aside. All the Patriot haters across the land - and there are many of them - are trying to equate the Pats squandering an 18-point lead to the "Greatest Choke in the History of Sports", aka the Yankees' losing the 2004 ALCS to the Sox. Not even remotely close. These harebrains are overlooking two things - the crazy Bills-Oilers playoff game 14 years ago where Frank Reich led the Bills back from a 32-point deficit, and the simple fact that a) the Patriots had no business beating the best team in football the week before, and b) it was an utter miracle that they came within two blown refs' calls and four measly yards from going to another Super Bowl.

What makes the sting still intense almost a week later is just how winnable this game was. We were on the doorstep of witnessing history, but so many pieces made this one unravel. First, the players and the coaches made key mistakes at crucial times. No question about it, so let's get that one out of the way. Belichick should have burned a timeout in the 4th quarter, which would have given Brady more time on the last drive, Brady made some bad reads and panicked on the game-ending pick, Reche Caldwell had some gigantic drops, Laurence Maroney looked at times like he was running with concrete boots on... and on and on.

Unfortunately, there were other outside forces conspiring against our squad. Key injuries to Rodney Harrison (think the Colts' not having Bob Sanders) and Junior Seau (who may have provided some speed at ILB). Having to travel to the west coast the week before and pour it all out to beat the Chargers. The flu that traveled through the locker room in the week leading up to the game. Key injuries (Faulk) during the game. And some poor, poor refereeing. I understand the Pats have been mostly beneficiaries during this amazing run, but some of the calls that were made against them Sunday night - in a game with enormous stakes - were just atrocious. The two that continue to piss me off the most are non-interference call on Caldwell in the end zone, and the call that was made on Hobbs when he had his back turned on Wayne. Caldwell was absolutely mugged and Hobbs didn't touch Wayne - not to mention the fact that the ball was uncatchable. And this was an all-star ref crew? BRUTAL. My question is this: if coaches can review plays that are called, why can't they review plays that aren't called? Give them one challenge per game. And I say this not because of this particular situation and the fact that I'm a Pats rooter - I've always felt the most important thing is to GET IT RIGHT. Making the blood boil more, the NFL office came out yesterday and said the refs did indeed blow those two calls. The Colts' can thank the lucky horse shoes on their helmets for their all-expense paid trip to Miami. Though I do give a lot of credit to Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark. Manning was downright surgical when he needed to be, and Clark was immense. The Patriots had no answer for him. And I guess I'm happy for Tony Dungy - who seems like a genuinely nice guy. Other than that, I detest the Colts and I'm rooting for da Bears.

Anyway, this one's in the record books as an L but something tells me it's going to linger for quite some time - both with fans and the players. I'm trying to stick to the high road in thinking that this was an enjoyable season that came out of nowhere. We're so spoiled around here, and in many ways I hate what success has done to us - but this season was a gift. The last two weeks (Chargers, Colts) rivaled the joy felt in the first Super Bowl season. We should be proud of what these guys pulled off. According to this well-written piece from the Globe's Mike Reiss, Coach Bill is.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


I'm gonna be guilty for BUI - blogging under the influence - but what the hell... how can I not let the stream of consciousness flow from my skull after this one? If anything, it will be therapeutic. It hurts right now - really smarts, to be honest -but I told myself to be appreciative of this year, and I'll try to stick to it.

But GODDDDAAAMMMMMMMMMIT. We're up 18 points after Asante Samuel's pick-six and all looks rosey. Then all hell breaks loose. I'm trying to think 'be classy' here. Really, I am. I respect Peyton Manning and feel good for Tony Dungy. I'm glad this didn't come down to an Adam Vinatieri field goal. But I can't get the no interference call on Reche Caldwell out of my head. He was completely mugged, and you know if it was Reggie Wayne, the yellow hankies would have been raining out of the second balcony. The love tap to Peyton's head for roughing the passer was lame. The phantom call on Troy Brown. Caldwell's huge drops. I know - coulda, shoulda, woulda - but I just needed to get that off my chest.

I can't believe they lost this game. I don't understand what happened to Corey Dillon - are we going to hear a Roger Clemens-esque story here? Was he too tired to go back in there? The guy went from being a stud in the first quarter to being featured on milk cartons. I don't get it. Maroney was a huge disappointment in this one. I thought he had a chance to make a big impact, but instead all we saw was a lot of hesitation at the line of scrimmage and a bunch of 1-yard gains. In the 4th quarter, when it really counted - and again, my brain is a bit clouded right now - I think I saw a little too much of Heath Evans? And who was No. 52 playing linebacker? Johnny Rembert? Oh, how I wish Junior and Rodney could have suited up for this one.

Still, with a minute left, a couple of well-preserved timeouts, and the ball in Tom Brady's capable hands, the Colts' four-point lead didn't seem insurmountable. And then he threw the pick, to another guy named Marlin no less - but this one had the presence of mind to just lay down. Game over.

All that said, the Colts' offense woke up for this one in a big way and they deserve credit for that. I think the big swing was when Peyton drove his team down the field for three at the end of the first half, and then they took the ball for a big chunk of time to begin the second half. After that, the Pats' D was gassed. Dallas Clark was immense in this one, outshining both Harrison and Wayne. And, of course, Peyton answered his many critics by making the big throws when they needed them. It was pretty cool to see how Peyton couldn't watch when Brady was driving with less than minute left. That's respect. Fear, even. And it was also classy on the part of Tedy Bruschi and some other Pats' veterans to find Peyton in the postgame scrum, shake his hand, and wish him well. The guy has been a valiant competitor.

In the end, it's an instant classic that the NFL Network will no doubt be re-playing some night this week. For us, though, it's a classic for all the wrong reasons. A punch to the gut that will hurt for a long time. The Pats could have gone to the Super Bowl and they would have steamrolled (like the Colts will) over the Bears. But it wasn't meant to be. I suppose we can take solace in the fact that the Pats weren't expected to be in this situation to begin with - remember early in the year when Brady was going ballistic over his lack of receiving depth? Seems like eons ago. And all of a sudden, Caldwell and Gaffney are making big grabs. And in crunch time in the AFC Championship game, we had guys named Baker and Alexander on the field. No excuses by any means, but I'm just saying we should appreciate what this team did this year. We're so goddamned spoiled.

I'm rambling, and it's time to go to bed. I think that was relatively therapeutic. I'll let you know in the morning. Twenty-five days until pitchers and catchers report.

Pats-Colts Update

Wow, couldn't have asked for anything better than what we've seen so far. The Pats are up 21-6 at the half, and it's been a completely balanced effort. Dillon has run far better than I thought he would, Brady has been his usual magical self with some clutch darts, and the defense - particularly the secondary (think they had a chip on their collective shoulder going into this one?) has been positively outstanding.

Peyton and the Colts have been taken out of their rhythm, though they did string together a nice no-huddle drive in their two-minute offense at the end of the half. The hayseed got hot but the drive only resulted in a field goal.

Three huge, gargantuan plays so far:

1) The fumble that wasn't a fumble on the Pats' first drive. Maroney looked like he was handling a stick of butter on a handoff down by the goal line, the ball popped loose and it looked for sure that the Colts recovered. Alas, the ball kept scooting and one of the big Pats O-liners jumped on it in the end zone. The rabbit's foot made the flight to Indy.

2) Brady's 3rd down pass to (who else?) Troy Brown on the second drive that put the Pats up 14-3.

3) Asante Samuel's imitation of Ty Law, picking off a Manning-to-Harrison pass and waltzing into the end zone for a 21-3 lead.

The Pats D-line deserves huge kudos for their pressure on Peyton during the first half. They have to put the nail in early - can't let these guys get back into this.

Yup, He's One of Ours

Check out what this sly cat is wearing to the Pats-Colts game this evening. That takes some serious balls. Good thing he's wearing a hard hat.

One surprising note: just read that the RCA Dome only holds 57,000 people. Would have bet it was much more.

Meanwhile, momentum is shifting in the Bears-Saints game as Reggie Bush just hauled in a Drew Brees pass deep in Saints territory and sprinted for an 80-yard-plus TD. 16-14 Bears, and the folks in Chicago are getting very nervous.

Hour and a half until the real Super Bowl kicks off.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, Peyton couldn't sleep, he just sat on the couch'

Some thoughts while wondering what Complainian Tomlinson and Marty Schamenheimer must be thinking today, knowing they'd be facing that porous Colts rush D tomorrow...

- I love how everyone and their brother has become a football analyst over the past year or so. I can't tell you how many e-mails I've gotten with guys talking about 'Cover-2,' or 'putting 8 men in the box.' Why just the other day, my 65-year old mother in law said to me, 'Brady and Manning have an average QB rating of 47.52 in these playoffs. Which one's going to reverse the trend on Sunday?" Ok, I made that up. But you get the point. It truly has become America's game, and we're all a bunch of know-it-all's.

- I don't think we could ask for two better games. The Bears and Saints were clearly the best teams in the weak-sister NFC all year long, and the Patriots-Colts battle is tailor-made for TV from a gajillion different story angles. Let's dive in to Bears-Saints first...

Saints @ Bears, Sunday, FOX, 3 p.m.

The Bears suck. Plain and simple. Worst No. 1 seed in the history of the NFL, if such records were kept. For the first half of the year, their vicious defense masked Grossman's warts. Through the second half, though, their defense - particularly the secondary - has played like a bunch of Spanish bullfighters. I think I saw a stat that they're allowing 285 yards per game through the air over the last couple of months. That's not a good omen, especially with Drew Brees coming to town. You can talk all you want about home-field advantage for the Bears, and the bone-chilling cold - in my humble opinion, it ain't gonna matter. Not only can the Saints air it out, they've also got the best 2-back tandem left in these here NFL playoffs in Deuce McCallister and Reggie Bush. Not having seen much of the Saints on TV this year (except for their Dallas demolition one Sunday night), I was hugely impressed with Deuce last week against Philly. The guy's a friggin' bull. And when you pair him up with the silky smooth Bush catching passes in the flat, you can take your Cover-2, 8 men in the box, and whatever else and stuff it up your anus. Can I name a Saints defensive player? No - wait, maybe that chicken Fajita guy. And that corner they kept picking on last week, Fred something or other. I still think the Saints take this one, and march on to an absolutely improbable berth in Super Bowl XLI.

Saints 26, Bears 16.

Patriots @ Colts, CBS, 6:30 p.m.

You may have heard. The Patriots are playing the Colts again in a big game. Peyton tries to rid himself of those little gray-sweatshirt wearing demons he sees in his sleep one last time. And that annoying all-american QB who's standing in his way. Tom Brady's like that guy in your circle of friends who's good at every goddamn game. You know the guy I'm talking about? Never picks up a golf club, but shoots a 77. Runs the table in pool. Draws a full house in high-stakes poker. Kicks your ever-loving ass in Scrabble. We all know guys like that. Throw in 'dates an ultra-hot Brazilian supermodel,' and Christ, he must want to kill him. But I digress.

The game. Let's just say 6:30 tomorrow night feels like an eternity. Most of the experts across the country are calling for a long overdue Colts win. It's Peyton's time, they say. The Colts have made themselves better, to that there's no doubt. They've got the clutchest (I can make up words, it's my blog) kicker in NFL history on their side, two All-Pro wideouts, a stud TE, and an extremely impressive rookie RB. They've also got Bob Sanders, who just might be the greatest football player of all-time, period. (Sarcasm). And of course, they've got the hayseed throwing seeds. I actually don't mind Peyton that much, and I respect his skills, but I do engage in a bit of schadenfreude whenever I see him windmilling his arms, bitching out his receivers or the refs, and generally acting like an over-tired 3-year old. The Colts have also supposedly improved their defense - which, like the Texas Rangers and pitching - has always been their Achilles heel. They added some big dude named Booger, and along with HOFer Sanders, they're the modern-day version of the Steel Curtain. Sorry - I ain't buying the whole deal.

All the pressure here is on Peyton and the Colts. They've finally got their home game that they've whined about for the last five years. Unfortunately, the hillbillies at the RCA Dome are going home sad tomorrow night, victims of another Brady-Belichick theft. Having OD'd on all the analysis and dissection this week, here are my keys to the game:

1) Laurence Maroney needs to be a factor. Look for the Pats to come out with a much more balanced offensive game plan between the pass and the run. The Colts are good at stopping the north-south type runner that Dillon is, so it's going to be imperative for Maroney to eat up some huge chunks of yardage and get into a groove. If he shows some success on the edge early on, look out. I also think he's going to do something special on a punt/kick return during this one.

2) The Pats D-line needs to get angry. The prideful unit of Seymour, Warren, Wilfork, Green, Wright, et al, got pushed around last week by the massive Charger offensive line. Look for them to come out possessed and put a number of hits on Peyton. Getting him out of his rhythm starts with these guys, and they've been the anchor on D all year long.

3) Special teams. I know it's a cliche. Special team play is always crucial. And I know the Colts now have our Hall of Fame kicker. But I think New England will win the battle of field position in this one. Todd Sauerbrun has been a godsend, Stephen G kicks 'em off farther than Adam (keep it in bounds, please), and I like how our coverage team is playing.

4) Manning will throw more picks than Brady. Just a hunch, but if you had to make a bet on which QB will reverse this trend, wouldn't you go with Brady? I thought so.

What worries me? PLENTY. The noise is going to be insane. Reggie Wayne. Dallas Clark. A quick Colts lead. That the Pats had their Super Bowl last Sunday. That about sums it up. If the Colts ride the early emotional momentum and go up by 10 or 14 in the first half, it's over.

What excites me? That the whole country is sick of the Patriots. That this franchise has been to 4 of the last 6 AFC Championship games, a remarkable feat in any era, let alone the parity-ridden NFL of this decade. That Bill Belichick and Tom Brady won't lose to the Colts twice in one year. That the Colts will see something they've never seen before.

When they beat the Colts, the experts and naysayers across the land will all have to admit that we're witnessing the greatest modern-day dynasty in professional sports. I can't even process the hatred toward the Pats if they're fortunate enough to face America's Team, the Saints, in the Big Game.

Okay, enough with that kind of talk. Let's just say 6:30 can't come soon enough.

Patriots 28, Colts 19

Thursday, January 18, 2007

First the Bolts, Now the Colts

Okay, so it's taken us a few days to digest and recap the remarkable game that took place out in San Diego last Sunday. That's what we like to do here - lay back in the weeds, carefully assess, and then put our own spin on it.

First of all, as Patriots fans, we have to remember sometimes how absolutely BLESSED we are. We have a chance to win our fourth Super Bowl in six years, and we almost forget that we lost one in 1997 during the Great Tuna Escape. Imagine that - we've gone from Rod Rust and Tommy Hodson to forgetting about a Super Bowl appearance! That's what the amazing Brady/Belichick combo has done to us. And we need to savor it.

Okay, that said, what a freaking ballgame last week. It had everything and I honestly don't know where to begin. So a few notes:

- The better team in terms of talent may not have won, but the better TEAM most certainly did. I know it's a cliche, but when you have guys like Antwain Spann and James Sanders contributing to a playoff win, it's a credit to the coaches and the mentality that pervades this organization - and it starts at the top. Take a bow, Bob Kraft.

- Tom Brady was terrible for the majority of this game, and he can thank Troy Brown profusely for removing the goat horns. The pick he threw with a little more than 6 minutes to go should have been the fatal blow, but Troy's defensive instincts (above) saved the day...

- ... as did the hare-brained "coaching" of Marty Schottenheimer. How dumb was he? Let us count the ways. Let's go for it on 4th and 11, and punt on 4th and 4. Let's listen to an over-eager rookie QB's pleas to review an obvious call so we can lose a timeout down the stretch. And if memory serves correctly, the Bolts had the ball with 4 minutes and change left, and the first play was a handoff to Tomlinson. Then, inexplicably, Philip Rivers throws two incompletions and it's fourth down very quickly. I don't understand how you don't just keep giving it to LT. I didn't know what Martyball was, but now I do. D-U-M-B.

- First half MVP for the Patriots? Hands down, Todd Sauerbrun. The Pats spent most of the first half operating out of their own end zone, and Sauerbrun came through huge with some booming blasts.

- No one's talking about the job the Chargers' O-line did, but we didn't hear the names Seymour, Warren, Wilfork, etc., much. No wonder LT had 73 TD's this year.

- Early on, I thought we might be headed for another Miami debacle, where Brady just looks confused for the whole game. His TD throw right before the half halted that thinking in its tracks. When you watch it again, the pass he thew to Gaffney was made on the run, off the wrong foot, and it was pinpoint accurate.

- Where were former Chargers' Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau for this one? I heard through the grapevine last week that Seau got into a little tussle out in a Cali bar before the game when some fans started dissing the Pats. Get him back here next year - it's interesting that we haven't seen any articles getting Rodney/Junior's thoughts on the Pats' postgame celebration.

- Stephen Gostkowski made a lot of Pats fans feel better with his confident, clutch kicks. I've stood over 10-foot putts on the muni course for $10 and my legs are shaking like a leaf. How about lining up a 31-yarder in a playoff game before 70,000 screaming fools and a national TV audience? Takes a special breed.

- And finally, back to that celebration. A couple of thoughts. First, I love that LT was pissed off after the game, and make no mistake, he was pissed because his team lost and his dream year went out the window. That's emotion, and I wish there was more of it in sports. I understand his anger over the Pats' celebration. Rosevelt Colvin, Ellis Hobbs, Daniel Graham, and Vince Wilfork all decided to head to mid-field after Nate Kaeding missed his FG, and they did a little (ok, a big) jig on the Charger logo. There were some imitations of Shawne Merriman's "Lights Out" dance. I think all of that is okay, and not just because I'm a Patriots fan. They won a game they didn't deserve to win, against all odds, and Christ, it's sports. However, making the choke sign in the direction of the Chargers (as Graham supposedly did), and yelling into the Chargers locker room after the game (Colvin) takes it a step too far. And LT implicating Belichick was lame. These two teams tangle next year, so circle that one.

- Regardless, the Patriots move on and can now win their 4th Super Bowl in six years - a feat that the Steelers pulled off in the late 70s, early 80s. Much more on the Pats-Colts game in the next few days.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Fab Four

The best weekend in the NFL gets underway today, meaning it's almost time to put a stop to the overanalysis paralysis and just watch some football. It kills me how many fans, bloggers, etc., think they're experts in the area of X's and O's these days. For those keeping score at home, yours truly went a spectacular 4-0 last week and nearly predicted each game on the button. For this week's picks, thought we'd have a little fun with the boys from Liverpool.

The Ringo Starr Game
Seattle (+9) @ Chicago
Sunday, FOX, 1 p.m.

Ringo was always the odd duck in the group, the one who was there by accident. Great drummer, don't get me wrong, but he was the odd duck of the group and he should be sending a portion of his lifelong gratuities to Pete Best and George Martin. Like Rodney Dangerfield, Ringo never got any respect.

The Bears and Seahawks shouldn't be here either, for reasons too numerous to count. But because NFL rules stipulate that an NFC team must take part in the Super Bowl, these two mediocre teams are still alive. For the Bears, has there ever been a least respected 14-2 team in NFL history? Rex Grossman is Ringo Starr (actually, that's a huge insult to Ringo - I take it back) and the world is just waiting for another implosion, this time on a bigger stage. For Seattle, they wouldn't even be here this weekend if Tony Romo could've executed a simple field goal snap. The Bears will find a way to win this game - on the backs of their defense, of course - but I think Seattle keeps it close. Too bad they can't both lose. Bears 23, Seahawks 19

The George Harrison Game
@New Orleans (-5) vs. Philadelphia
Saturday, FOX, 8 p.m.

If anyone in the Beatles could be underrated and underappreciated, I always felt it was George. Dark, brooding, quiet - but when he branched out and wrote his own stuff, it was pretty damn good. No one's really talking about this game - the Colts/Ravens and Pats/Chargers are getting most of the air time - but this one could be awfully entertaining.

We all know about the great story of the Saints. The flooding from Katrina put the city of New Orleans on its backside, and it's still having trouble getting up. The emotional connection to the Saints has been played from every angle, and to have a team on the rise and going in the right direction has done wonders for New Orleans' psyche. On the field, I just feel like the Saints have too much talent not to beat Philly. They need to find a way to duplicate what they did against Dallas earlier in the year in that awesome Sunday night performance. The Eagles have been on an amazing run since Donovan McNabb went down, and they will put points on the board against the average Saints defense. But I think the run comes to a screeching halt in N'Awlins. Saints 34, Eagles 24

The Paul McCartney Game
New England (+5) @ San Diego
Sunday, CBS, 4:30 p.m.

Alright, stick with me here - the links to the Beatles are getting a little harder. I'm tying Paul to the Pats/Chargers game simply because when I think of McCartney, I think he was the flashiest of all the Beatles in terms of his singing and bass-playing skills. He and Lennon both had their own talents, of course, but Paul was never shy about showcasing his.

When you look at all four games this weekend, the one with the most obvious talent on the field - on both sides of the ball - is this game. In fact, this game could be the Super Bowl and I think NFL fans across the world wouldn't be disappointed. The Chargers have an all-world running back, an efficient QB, and a stout defense. The Pats have an all-world QB, a good RB tandem, and an even stouter defense. This one has been dissected and picked apart like that frog you had to maim in junior high biology class. In the end, and call me a homer, I think the Pats find a way to get it done.

Tom Brady is one of the biggest reasons why. The guy is a born leader, and one of the least discussed angles to this game is how the Pats' offensive line will need to submit its best performance of the year against the likes of Shawne Merriman, Shawn Phillips, etc. You just know Brady will have these guys fired up. I'm not saying the Chargers won't give Brady & Co. fits - they'll certainly have their moments - but I think the offense will do enough to win the game. When you look at the Chargers' dynamic offense, it really revolves around two guys - Tomlinson and Gates. Philip Rivers does a fine job, but the Chargers don't have the diversification of plays that the Pats have at their disposal. We've got two running backs capable of making big plays, and three tight ends who can hurt you at any time. It just seems to me that the Pats have more options on the table. I do have recurring nightmares of Vrabel and Bruschi chasing LT, but I'm taking the Pats to emerge victorious in one of the best games of the Brady/Belichick era. Patriots 30, Chargers 24

The John Lennon Game
@Baltimore (-4) vs. Indianapolis
Saturday, CBS, 4:30 p.m.

Again, maybe a stretch - but Lennon to me was the conflicted, brilliant one in the group. There were always forces colliding from within, and what greater two forces colliding on this NFL weekend than the Colts offense versus the Ravens' sick defense?

I haven't seen the Ravens play at all this year, so I can only go by what I've read and heard. The defense is probably the best we've seen in Baltimore, and that's saying something as we all know. But it's the offense - resurrected by Steve McNair - that makes the Ravens that much tougher. If the pathetic Chiefs were able to baffle Peyton Manning last week, what do you think the Ravens are capable of doing to the hayseed? By the end of this one, Peyton could be throwing the ball to anyone and may join his younger brother on the All-Color Blind team. It's not hard to Imagine a Ravens win. Ravens 22, Colts 14

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Story Lines Galore

I can't get the Carly Simon song "Anticipation" out of my head. The Patriots - the dominant NFL franchise of this decade - play the Chargers - the best team in the NFL in 2006 - on Sunday, and it cannot come soon enough.

The story lines are abundant, going back to last year when SD coach Marty Schottenheimer openly wondered whether the Pats had sustained too many boo-boos to remain at the top after his team had whipped them. As you may recall, Tom Brady got a little agitated at ol' Marty.

This year, you have the best, most overhyped story in football (Chargers and LT) going against the story that's always under-reported (Pats' consistent success). As proof, the Chargers will send nine guys to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, while the Pats will send one. Not saying it's not warranted, but that's always how these things work. As a subplot, Chargers QB Philip Rivers is on the AFC team, while Tom Brady - who should be there considering the patch job he's had to work with this year - won't be wearing a flowered shirt and lei.

In terms of X's and O's, you've got one of the league's best rush defenses (NE) against what may be the best running back our eyes will ever see (LT). The Pats counter with their best RB tandem in recent memory in Dillon and Maroney. You've got the smartest, most cunning QB in Brady going against a tremendous front line and outstanding linebackers. You've got three productive tight ends for the Pats (Graham, Watson, Thomas) going against the best in the game in Antonio Gates. And one that I wish could have come true - we could have seen former Chargers Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison knocking heads with their old franchise. Rodney was unceremoniously cut from SD a few years back and tell me he wouldn't have played with an even bigger chip on his shoulder than usual. Unfortunately, he's already been ruled out. (Damn you, Bobby Wade. Your penance will come.)

Anyway, it should be one hell of a game. Predictions and analysis to come.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sympathy for the Devil

Alright, so I spent a fair amount of time last night with my buddy to the left - and it feels like Keith Moon's doing a drum solo in my skull right now. But I can tell you who I'm glad I'm not this morning, even though he may be waking up next to Carrie Underwood. One Anthony Romo. (Second place: Terry Glenn).

I mean, the poor bastard. I'm not a big fan of the Cowboys or anything, but I do have a heart somewhere beneath all that rum swimming around my upper body cavity. A 19-yard field goal to win the game and advance to the next round in the playoffs. A chip shot. A layup. A free lunch. And he f'd it up. I will say this - that ball looked awfully damn slippery on TV. But you obviously have to get that one down. Romo's roller-coaster season now includes goat horns of epic proportions.

The first game yesterday proved that the best strategy in predicting games is to take the anticipated story line and flip it on its head. Going into the game, the Colts couldn't stop Stevie Wonder from running the ball down their throats, and everyone thought points galore would be scored. What happened? The anemic Chiefs offense didn't record a first down until midway through the third quarter, and the Colts defense rose to the occasion, limiting Larry Johnson to 32 yards rushing.

So what are the story lines for today's games? It's a little murkier, but most people think Pats-Jets will be a barnburner, and the defenses will rule. So go with a Patriots blowout and the over. In the second game, the general consensus is that the Giants are one more minor speed bump on the way to the Super Bowl for the suddenly steamrolling Eagles. So in other words, you may want to give some love to the Jints today.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Playoffs??!!! Playoffs??!!!

In the immortal words of ex-Colts coach Jim Mora Sr., the NFL playoffs commence this weekend with four games on tap. Today, it's the Colts and their vaunted aerial attack against the Chiefs with Larry Johnson and a gargantuan offensive line. Tonight, the struggling Cowboys take on the Seahawks in Seattle. Tomorrow, it's a resumption of the Border War with our Patriots playing the J-E-T-S in Foxborough at 1, followed by Eagles-Giants at 4:30. As someone who picked all the games in this wacky, stupefying 2006 season, I am quite pleased there are only four to analyze this weekend. Following are my predictions for the first round, with some guest analysis (and then some) from a loyal reader on the Pats-Jets tilt.


@Indianapolis (-7) vs. KC
TV: NBC, 4:30 p.m.
Whatever bonus money the Chiefs get for making the playoffs, they should immediately write a check to the Denver Broncos, who managed to self-implode over the last two weeks of the season, allowing KC to back into the tournament. The first thought when this matchup was announced was 'wow, Indy cannot stop the run (see Jacksonville, week 14) and they have to face Larry Johnson.' As the week has gone on, however, I've come to my senses and now realize that while LJ will get his yards, you can't bet against Peyton, Marv, and Reggie on their home field in the playoffs. Another factor is the emergence of Colts rookie RB Joseph Addai, who while not spectacular, has gotten the job done late in the season. The Colts also are expecting the return of apparently the single greatest DB who's ever played pro football in Bob Sanders. I don't know who Bob Sanders is, but everyone seems to talk about him like he's friggin' Ronnie Lott. Anyway, while I positively detest the Colts and their a-hole GM - and I think the Chiefs can keep it close for stretches - I'm going with Indy in this one. 31-20.

Dallas (+3) @Seattle
TV: NBC, 8:00 p.m.
All the "experts" seem to agree that this is the toughest game on the board. Two underachieving teams who lucked into the dance. Dallas, like their grumpy coach, is one big, fat enigma. They were world-beaters during the Tony Romo craze but have looked very ordinary of late. They're an enigma because of the sheer depth of talent they have. On offense, they've got the wideouts in T.O. and Terry Glenn, the stud TE in Witten, the gifted RB in Julius Jones, the smarts and strong arm with Romo. I think the biggest disappointment in Big D has to be the D, though. If I could buy stock in 'the Cowboys defensive coordinator will be fired after this season," I'd be loading up in a big way. The Cowboys have an impressive front line, good backers and a solid secondary led by Roy Williams. Just plain hard to figure them out. Seattle is another puzzle. They lost their leaders (Hasselback and Alexander) at various points during the regular season and have never really found their way. Deion Branch has been disappointing. When I look at this game and try to find the main reason to take the Seahawks, it's their ridiculous home-field advantage. When the crowd's roaring, you simply can't hear yourself think in that building. All that said, I'm going with the more talented Cowboys. Something's gotta give for this sinking ship and for some reason, I'm seeing T.O. come up big after the late-season griping about lack of touches. Dallas, 23-16.


@New England (-8) vs. New York Jets
TV: CBS, 1:00 p.m.

(analysis and dissection courtesy of Jam) "I see Pats-Jets playing out one of two ways - both with Pats coming out victorious. First, the basics. Weather should not play a factor. Temps should be in the high 40's/low 50's and a quick check of the Doppler shows some high clouds but no precipitation until later in the night with a low pressure system moving in from the west. But, of course, New England weather is a crazy thing and could change. However, I don't see Mother Nature playing a factor in this game. It was great to see Pats QB Tom Brady throw the deep ball with some success last week against Tennessee, and the latest news indicates that the Jets left CB, Andre Dyson, will not play with a knee injury. He's probably their best cover guy. Their other 3 primary DB's are all 5'10" marginal players - Poteat, Miller and Barrett - and rookie Drew Coleman. Because of the past success the Pats have had on the ground against the Jets, I think the Jets will look to stop the run first. Contrary to most prognosticators, I actually see the Pats setting up the run through their passing game. I see them establishing the pass early in the game, and then we'll watch Dillon and Maroney all day. However, even if they don't establish the pass early, the Pats will still be able to run on the Jets. New York does not have a good run defense. Regardless, I expect the Pats to come out throwing - and successfully. I also see some big, game-changing deep plays through the air. The rags keep picking on the Jets O-line because they have two rookies, but I think they’re better than people think – allowing 34 sacks over the course of the season against some fairly tough defenses. Also, Pennington is smart picking up defenses; and with their short passing game he's not standing the pocket for long periods of time. The problem for the Jets O-line is that Mssrs. Wilfork, Warren, and Seymour are monsters along the defensive front line. I'm slightly concerned about Seymour's health. I haven't seen anything in the papers but he's been on the sideline a lot lately, probably due to the ongoing elbow problem. Wilfork is also nicked up, having missed the Pats’ last 3 games. I see the Pats coming out with their standard 3-4 defense, but I'd love to see them bring up their safeties - almost like a 3-5-2-1 to cut down on that pussy short game run by Chadwick Pennington. I'm sure we'll see some f'd-up zone coverages from the Pats, and blitz packages that come from the middle of the line (not the corner blitz) on 3rd and long. (As a side note, the Jet's have one of the better 3rd down conversion ratios in the AFC, but I attribute that to the fact that they aren't penalized a lot and have a lot of 3rd-and-short situations.). Getting back to the Jets offense ... they have been able to run the ball against the Pats - even with unspectacular and unknown running backs. And they have been able to move the ball through the air with Cotchery and Coles. My money says they will not be able to run the ball, and will have moderate success through the air. The absence of Rodney Harrison cannot be taken lightly. The Jets’ receivers are fast, and Rodney won’t be there to make them think twice. This makes it more important for Wilfork, Seymour and Warren to get to Pennington. They can't give Cotchery and Coles the time to get open and find the soft spots in the defense. Special teams and turnovers are always important. Jets’ return man Justin Miller is a Pro Bowler for a reason, but Maroney is also special (Pats are tops in the league in kickoff returns). New England will take care of the ball and defend against any big plays on special teams. This can always be a game f-er but I'm not seeing it this weekend. I think both teams will be able to move the ball with some success. However, Belichick will scheme a way to contain the Jets offense (especially in the red zone), and all the Pats need to do is execute on offense and they will run away with this game and then run out the clock in the 4th quarter. Look for Reche Caldwell to have another big day." 27-13 Pats victory.

New York Giants (+7) @Philadephia
TV: FOX, 4:30 p.m.

I know, I know - Philly and Jeff Garcia have been the late-season story in the NFL. And I still think they'll win this game, but I think it's going to be by a razor-thin margin and I say that because of one man: Tiki Barber. I don't care about the brilliance of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and all the crazy blitzes that team runs. Tiki can be a one-man wrecking ball when he wants to be, and though I hate him (had on my roto team all year - 2 TDs all season, 3 last week), there's something to be said for this possibly being his last game. I think he comes out possessed. Eli, of course, worries me in a big way but look for Tiki to take some of the pressure off. As for the Eagles, it's hard to bet against the momentum they have, the D they have, and the insane home crowd that will fill up Veterans Stadium or whatever the hell it's called these days. Eagles, 20-16.

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