Sunday, December 28, 2008

What Do I Know?

If there's anything I have learned from today, it's that picking NFL games is not easy. With my current standing of 4-6, and the Chargers appearing to have a win versus the Broncos secure (that will set me back to 4-7), it is safe to say I didn't do too hot. And there's another interception for the Chargers. But hey, I took some chances. Touchdown San Diego: 38-13. My two upset alerts kept it close. The Lions hung in there until the end. The Saints had Carolina beat until a last second field goal by Kasay. And Drew Brees was a completed pass on his last throw away from breaking Dan Marino's record. I took a chance on the Bears, but Andre Johnson and the Texans were too much for the Bears' defense. Carney's missed field goal cost me my Giants pick. And the Buccaneers and the Jets just didn't perform. However there is no need for me to make excuses. I made my picks and like in most poker games as of late, the chips failed to fall my way. Aside from my inability to pick in Week 17, I also learned a few other things about the NFL.

1. The Lions aren't the only pathetic team in the NFL. Let's not forget to add the Buccaneers, Broncos, and Jets to the list. After a disappointing loss to Brad Johnson and the Cowboys, the Buccaneers won 3 straight and had a lot of analysts believing in the team. However, with a playoff spot easily within site, the Buccaneers lost, and they lost, and they lost twice more. They were even humiliated by the 6-8 Chargers and 4-11 Raiders at home. To summarize in one word: pathetic. But hey, Philadelphia couldn't be happier about it. The Broncos held a 3-game lead in their horrid division with 3 weeks remaining, but failed to muster up a win in all 3 weeks, allowing the 4-8 Chargers to come all the way back and win the division at 8-8. Impressive guys. And the Jets, fresh off their two wins against Tennessee and New England, must have felt a little overconfident for the next 5. Favre's arrogant comments after the Tennesee win, saying something along the lines of, "I'm not saying we're the best team in the league, but we just beat the best team in the NFL" (seemingly inferring that they were indeed the best), proved to be laughable as they lost 4 of their last 5 games when it mattered; failing to even make the playoffs. The Lions should be ashamed of their record-breaking season, but if its any comfort to them, they should know that they're not the only pathetic team in the league.

2. The lower seeds are the ones to watch out for. The teams that generally make noise come playoff time are, more often than not, the hottest teams going into the playoffs. Who's hot? Indianapolis, San Diego, Miami, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Four Wild-card teams and a #3 and #4 seed. It'll take some hard-fought road wins, but these teams are very capable of making a run at the Super Bowl. Indianapolis has won 9 straight and are confident as ever. The Super Bowl champs from two years ago look top notch and are undoubtedly the hottest team in the NFL. The only question mark appears to be the running game. If Addai can get going, this team will be lethal in the AFC race. San Diego is riding a four game win-streak entering the playoffs, emerging from the worst division with an 8-8 record. However, they cannot be overlooked. They've been a threat to win the Super Bowl the last few years, and aside from the loss of Shawn Merriman, they're the same team. A first round upset of Indianapolis would make a huge statement, and scare a lot of AFC teams. The surprise team of the year, Miami, has won five straight. In a tight playoff race with New England and New York, the Dolphins never faltered. It has been a storybook season for the Dolphins who tied the biggest turnaround in NFL history, rebounding from 1-15 season just a year ago. I don't think it'll end as Cinderella-esque as a Super Bowl title, but the Dolphins will certaintly be able to build from this for years to come. Atlanta and Baltimore look stronger every week, and I fear Philadelphia in the NFC. There's no one they think they can't beat out of the NFC, and their defense and offense are clicking at just the right time. I think the only thing that could slow them down would be a lapse-game like the one in Washington last week.

3. It's time for Jerry Jones to coach the Cowboys. I'm tired of hearing Jerry Jones criticize his players and coaching staff. He takes chances on all of the ex-convicts and troublemakers, encourages drama, and expects his coaches to overcome it. I think it's time for Jones to walk the walk rather than continue to talk the talk. Seeing him coach would give me so much enjoyment, because he seems to think he knows everything. Oh ya Jerry? I say prove it. Show Wade Phillips what he's doing wrong. Help Tony Romo win the big game. Keep TO in line. Toughen Marion Barber up so he doesn't sit any more games out with an injury. It's so easy from upstairs in the booth right? Be a man and put the headset on. Rest the team on your shoulders and see what happens. I think it would give a much needed laugh to NFL fans across the country.

4. Chad Pennington deserves some respect. For years I've ridiculed Chad and his arm strength. But that never stopped Chad. He just kept playing his game, and doing it well. And look where it has gotten him. Back in the playoffs after leading his team to a division-clinching win against the team that no longer needed his services: the New York Jets. Good for you Chad. Not only did he display an arm strength I hadn't seen from him since his days at Marshall, he also made few mistakes, and came through for his team when they needed him. It's been a storybook year for Chad and the Dolphins. It was hard-earned and much deserved. It was nice to see a good guy like Chad overcome two rotator cuff injuries (unheard of), and stick it to the team that sold him out for Old Faithful.

5. If it wasn't obvious before, Brett Favre should retire already. A good team took Brett a long way last year. Then he sold out the franchise that had been good to him for so long and signed with the Jets. The washed-up Favre had a nice stat-padding game versus the Cardinals and rode Thomas Jones to an 8-3 record early on. But when the season carried on, and the Jets relied more on Favre (why I don't know), his age caught up to him and the Jets' losses nearly caught up to their wins. Throughout the year Favre made countless terrible decisions, costing the Jets many crucial possessions and games. It was only fitting that Favre ended his season on a bonehead, rushed play he called himself, tossing what would be the game-ending interception; the story of his season. He finished the year with 22 TDs and a league-leading 22 INTs. He certaintly widened the gap for his career interceptions record. Yet Favre, somehow made the Pro Bowl. That makes sense right? Phillip Rivers was tied for the NFL lead with 34 TD passes to only 11 interceptions and Chad Pennington had 19 TDs to 7 INTs, throwing for more yards than Favre in the process. Oh yeah, and they made the playoffs too. I would be embarassed to go to the Pro Bowl if I were Favre. So what did Brett accomplish? Once again, the Jets failed to make the playoffs. Mangini is now fired, because Brett didn't like being treated equally with all the other players. Ya see at Green Bay Brett could do whatever he wanted and no one ever yelled at him. Mangini scolded Favre for his reckless throws and decisions, and Favre couldn't take the heat he deserved. He wasn't pampered like he was in Green Bay, so he complained. Now Mangini is without a job. Favre can hurt the Jets in two ways: returning or leaving. Either way the Jets will struggle. I say get out of there why you can Brett. You already missed the perfect season to throw in the towel (last year), it's only going to get worse. Do yourself a favor and retire.

6. Drew Brees is a heck of a quarterback. Drew I hope that team builds around you sometime soon, because you've been a real diamond in the rough. He deserved that record this year. Unfortunately his receiver quit on his route and cost him the passing record I thought would forever be untouched. Who knows, maybe next year Drew. If the Saints could string together a defense and stay healthy on offense they would be something else. Only time will tell if that will ever happen. Until it does, hang in there Drew.

7. Hats off to Matt Cassel and Bill Belichick. After losing the NFL's best player, it would be easy for a coach and team to roll over and give up on the season. But not Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Many people expected the Pats to explore the free agent market. However, Belichick said from day one that Matt Cassel was their quarterback. He stood by his quarterback through the tough weeks and built a confidence in him and his team that only grew stronger as the season went on. A chaotic season left the 11-5 Patriots out of the playoffs (only the second time that has ever happened). But the Patriots showed themselves what they are capable of and found an emerging bright star on their roster. Belichick put forth quite possibly his most impressive season as a coach. It should be interesting to see how Cassel fairs in his second season if Brady is forced to sit out another year. Could we have a quarterback controversy with Tom Brady? Wouldn't that be something?

Images taken from Yahoo! Sports

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Up For Grabs...

With only one week remaining in an eventful NFL season, both the AFC & NFC playoff spots are far from set in stone. Five teams in each conference remain in contention. The AFC East is up for grabs between three teams (Miami, New England, & New York). All are eligible for the last Wild-card spot as well. San Diego, at 7-8, and Denver, at 8-7, sadly still control their own fate. And the Ravens are in with a win as well. On the NFC side, Minnesota and Chicago are fighting for the NFC North title, and Dallas, Tampa Bay, and even Philadelphia have a shot at the Wild-card. I cannot remember a closer playoff race. Even though anything can happen, I'm going to tell you what I think will happen. Here's a breakdown of the games that matter.

Chicago 27 - Green Bay 20 (tonight)
In their last meeting, Green Bay embarassed the Bears 37-3. I look for a complete turnaround in Chi-town, as the Bears keep their playoff hopes alive.

Next week:
Jacksonville 13 - Baltimore 16
It's easy to overlook the 5-10 Jaguars, as we almost saw last week with the Colts. The Ravens are a good home team and showed what they're capable of against Dallas. I look for them to squeeze out a victory, earning a trip back to the playoffs.

Miami 24 - Jets 30
Although Chad only came inches short of taking down the Jets in their first contest and the Dolphins seem to be even better, I think the home team takes this one. The undeserving pro-bowler, Brett Favre, has been horrid as of late, making countless reckless decisions. However, he's always been one for the big game. And this one's a big game. I think his luck lands him the 10-6 record I predicted for them the day he signed.

New England 34 - Buffalo 20
The Patriots are a big game team. The Giants shocked them last year, but they won't let the Bills. Matt Cassel has been a great story for the Pats, and should carry a confident New England team to an unexpected 11-5 record.

Denver 24 - San Diego 23
Denver has been pitiful as of late, and San Diego is looking its best. The Chargers have the home crowd on their side and are out to avenge the unfortunate miscue by Ed Hoculi in Week 2. Brandon Marshall, like most followers of the game, seems to be doubting his team (Denver). However, midway through the season I said this division title would come down to this game and that Denver would pull it out, so I'm standing by that prediction.

Giants 27 - Minnesota 20
The Giants don't need to win this game. The Vikings own the Giants. Darren Sharper owns Eli Manning. But last year the Giants decided not to lay down against the Patriots in Week 17, and look what it got them: A Super Bowl Championship. Even so, I think it'll be best to let Jacobs lay down and nurse his knee for the playoffs. The Vikings are going to want this game more. Adrian Peterson is good, real good. But the game is in Minnesota. I like Eli and the Giants in a dome. I think the Bears will be thanking them come next Sunday.

Oakland 10 - Tampa Bay 27
Tampa Bay was really pathetic this week. I mean they were bad. But they'll get a win, and hope for a Dallas loss.

Dallas 20 - Philadelphia 23
I really thought Philadelphia would win out and steal the last playoff spot. But unfortunately for them, they rolled over against the Redskins and killed almost any chance of making the playoffs. What better way to salvage likely missing the playoffs? Ruin Dallas' playoff hopes. I think Donovan, Andy, and Brian, will do just that. Maybe next year TO.

Chicago 21 - Houston 16
This is a tough one. Houston is real good at home. This would be a horrible way for the Bears to go down, but would make sense judging by their season thus far. I gotta take the Bears though. It'd be ridiculous if they made the playoffs. But maybe, its just ridiculous enough.

Upset Alerts:
Carolina 27 - New Orleans 38
Home teams just win in these divisional matchups. Drew Brees is going to throw for exactly 402 yards and break Marino's single-season record for passing by 1 yard, and John Fox will be in disbelief as the Falcons earn a first round bye in the playoffs. Michael Vick will realize his term with the Falcons is over, but Jerry Jones will take a chance on him.

Detroit 34 - Green Bay 23
The Lions will head into Lambeau and win their Super Bowl on the frozen tundra of Lambeau field! How? I don't know. Something crazy will happen.

Practically EVERY game matters this weekend! It's pretty ridiculous. But then again, Dan Orlovsky did drop back out of the endzone, then continue to roll out out of bounds for 5 yards before realizing he's an idiot.

So what does this all mean? Here's how the playoff picture will shape up:

1. Tennessee Titans
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. New England Patriots
4. Denver Broncos
5. Indianapolis Colts
6. Baltimore Ravens

1. New York Giants
2. Atlanta Falcons (what!?)
3. Chicago Bears
4. Arizona Cardinals
5. Carolina Panthers
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Filling the Voids...

Flashback to two weeks ago. The Giants were sitting pretty at 11-1. They held the #1 spot in the NFL Power Rankings. And it seemed they were likely to make a run at a second straight Super Bowl title. Now take yourself back to today. Here's a recap of the last two weeks. First, the Giants' star wide receiver, Plaxico Burress, was placed on their reserve/ non-football injury list. In short, his season and quite possibly his term with the Giants, is over. After the Giants assured fans they would move on and play at the same level without Burress, they were dominated at home the next weekend versus the Eagles (20-14). Thanks to a Dallas loss though, the Giants clinched the NFC East and stayed confident the team would be fine. But the game against Philadelphia brought another problem, aside from the loss. To add insult to injury, Brandon Jacobs' questionable knee took more of a beating and now leaves him sidelined until further notice. Last night, with a crucial game next week against Carolina looming, the Giants rolled into Dallas, looking to bounce back. They had the opportunity to cripple the Cowboys playoff hopes and maintain some separation from the Panthers for home-field throughout the playoffs. However without Jacobs and Burress, the Giants offense made the Cowboys' defense look like the best in the NFL. The offensive line surrendered 8 sacks and suffered what Giants' fans can only hope to be a minor injury to offensive tackle, Kareem McKenzie. Eli barely completed 50% of his passes, throwing two interceptions in the process. And the NFL's leading rushing attack, with a Jacob-less backfield, was held to just 72 yards on the ground. It was ugly and well, pathetic. The Giants defense played strong, but with no help from its offense, it was only a matter of time before the Cowboys scored some timely TDs, en route to a victory (20-8). In summary, it has been a bad couple of weeks for the Giants. And by the looks of it, it might only get worse.

As I watched every aching moment of the game tonight, I could only find myself thinking of the potentially dismal future ahead. The Giants cannot use the excuse that it was simply one of those "let-down" games. In a rivalry game as big as the one versus Dallas, that's hardly an excuse. The worst part is, Dallas isn't that good. For most of the game, they had just trouble moving the ball as the Giants did, but I noticed a distinct difference. Dallas was up against a solid defensive unit that battered Romo; yet they stayed confident. The Giants, on the other hand, looked flat-out scared and lost. The offensive line was dominated, the wide receivers were pressed on the line, and Eli didn't know what to do. He sat in the pocket and took a beating, time, after time, after time. They were flustered the entire game and never had any type of rhythm on offense. They looked like a team with no confidence in themselves, wishing the reliant stars in absence were there.

Jacobs is the heart of this football team. He's a near unstoppable force in the backfield that actually puts fear into the linebackers attempting to hit him. There's no other running back in the game a person could say that about. He doesn't get hit...he hits people. Once the opposing defense is keyed in on stopping Jacobs, Ward's change of pace gives him an extra step on defenders. With 1/2 of the puzzle gone, the NFL's leading rushing attack isn't so effective (as was seen in Dallas).

Burress is a much bigger loss than people realize as well. Yes, his numbers were hardly impressive this year, but that's not what it all boils down to. Plaxico brings an element to the field that no other Giants' wideout can. He forces you to double cover him, and yet he can still make big plays in the process. At 6'5, 232, with speed, defenses cannot ignore him. This creates room for Toomer, Smith, Boss, and Hixon to get open from all angles. It also alleviates the pressure of making the big play, because they all know Plax can cover their slack if need be. With Burress gone, it puts the burden on the rest of the guys to carry their own load in more difficult coverages with more difficult matchups. With his receivers struggling to get open, Manning feels the pressure in the pocket much more, and his chances of getting a good throw off diminish. An unproductive Burress did a lot more for this Giants team than I think they realize.

For the Giants to have a shot at the Super Bowl they need at least a few things to happen. Jacobs and McKenzie need to get healthy and return to the lineup at full strength. Additionally, Gilbride needs to create a new look for his offense without Burress. And lastly, the Giants need to find that confidence they had in themselves last season. They cannot afford to let back-to-back losses set them back and strike their confidence. With a healthy lineup and a new scheme, the Giants can pull-off what they set to accomplish. However without Burress, it is going to take a lot more than they thought to do so. With the injuries that they have, and the absence of Burress, the Giants aren't the team they were just a few weeks ago. Unless things change, a repeat is unlikely.

Images taken from Yahoo! Sports

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Week 12 Picks...

Okay, so three weeks ago I struggled a little with my picks (2-3). But in my defense, I took some chances, and two of the three incorrect picks were very close games. After two weeks of rest, I'm ready to take some more chances. Here goes nothing.

New England 27 - Miami 20
Miami trounced New England 38-13 in week 3. However, I haven't seen too many teams fool Bill Belichick twice. Even with the Wildcat offense, I cannot see Ronnie Brown and the Dolphins running all over the Patriots defense again (even with Adalius Thomas out). With that being said, I still think Miami will pose problems for the Pats. Last week, Matt Cassel showed us he could respond to those types of problems. In the battle of the Bills (Belichick & Parcells), I'm taking the Pats in a close one.

New York Jets 19 - Tennessee 23
Two weeks ago, I started thinking the Jets were going to be the team to hand the Titans their first loss (if the Jags did not). Well, today isn't too weeks ago. Since then, the Titans have overcome a 14-3 deficit against the Jags, and Jeff Fisher has jumped out of a helicopter (arriving at practice, in an effort to motivate his team. I don't know what Jeff will have to do to get them past the Steelers and Colts, but at least he doesn't need to do anything extreme to get them past the Lions on Turkey Day. Oh, and just to comment on this weeks game: the Titans defense should slow down Thomas Jones and capitalize on some dumb throws by Brett Favre en route to victory.

Carolina 30 - Atlanta 17
Last week started what I anticipate to be the decline of this year's surprise story: the Falcons. Carolina's defense should take Michael Turner out of the game. Although Ryan has progressed since their last meeting, I think Carolina's defensive pressure should be too much for him as well. Throw in the one, two punch of DeAngelo Williams & Jonathan Stewart, and its easy to see why the Panthers should be a lock to win in Hot-Lanta.

New York Giants 31 - Arizona 27
This is a real tough call. The Giants are arguably the best team in the NFL right now. On the other side, the Cardinals are impressing all as of late. Kurt Warner has been the surprise player of the year, and Larry Fitz & Anquan Boldin are practically unstoppable. If the Giants defensive front can get pressure on Warner, and I think they will, Boldin & Fitz will have little time to get open. Boldin is such a threat receiving at the line of scrimmage that I do think the Cardinals will generate a lot of scoring, but with the Giants run game controlling the ball, and enough pressure to force a fumble or two out of Warner, the G-men should squeeze out a victory.

Indianapolis 31 - San Diego 20
It's been a surprisingly tough year for the Bolts, who at 4-6, need a victory if they want to preserve any hopes of winning the division. Unfortunately for them, the resurging Colts are coming into town. Look for the Bolts' struggles to continue, with a two-touchdown loss to Peyton and the Colts. I still wonder, was it really worth getting rid of Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season, just because of one playoff loss to the Pats? I'd be worried if I was Norv Turner.

Green Bay 24 - New Orleans 34
New Orleans has had a disappointing season thus far, but there's still a small window of opportunity left for them to make a move. The return of Reggie Bush would help. After all, in his last appearance on Monday night, Bush dazzled spectators with two punt returns for TDs (three if he hadn't slipped on the turf). While Bush's return is still left uncertain (I think he'll give it one more week of rest), I think the Saints will pull it out either way. The Packers defense has been tough as of late, but Drew Brees has been something else thus far. The Saints love playing in front of that home crowd as well.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Down to the Wire...

With the NFL season just past its midway point, and the playoff future of many teams still left uncertain, I thought I'd make some predictions. Here's what I expect to see come January:

AFC East:
New England Patriots (11-5)

If I've learned anything from this decade in football, it's that you can never count out a Bill Bellichek coached team. Even in the absense of stars Tom Brady, Rodney Harrison, and now Adalius Thomas and Laurence Maroney, I still think the Patriots will win their division. Matt Cassell has been up and down at times, but in the last few weeks he has demonstrated an ability to lead. The Patriots have also managed to keep the running game going in the absense of Maroney. They rank 7th in the NFL in rushing, and the recent emergence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (I know, that's a lot of first names) shows an indication that their ranking may only get better. The Patriots have also shown they are confident enough in Cassell to take chances down the field. As Moss and Welker continue to gain confidence in their quarterback, the only place the Pats can go is up. Oh and right, they're already in first place in the division.

AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
This division will come down to one game. December 14th, Steelers vs. Ravens, at Baltimore. While the Ravens defense may be thriving once again, its the Steelers that hold the NFL's top defense. Combine that with a more experienced quarterback and a Pro-Bowl running back's return, and its easy to see why the Steelers should prevail. Both teams face a tough road ahead, but the Steelers are just a little bit better.

AFC South: Tennessee Titans (13-3)
This one isn't that difficult. At 9-0, the Titans are pretty much a lock for the division title. Their final 7 games are fairly tough though. I expect their undefeated season to come to an end in the near future, and with a comfortable division lead in the final weeks, I expect to see some more losses to teams vying for playoff spots.

AFC West: Denver Broncos (9-7)
The AFC West has really fallen off this year, huh? Even so, someone has to win the division. I think Denver will squeak it out in the last game of the season against the Chargers. I haven't given up on Jay Cutler, and I think RB Ryan Torrain should be the surprise sensation that vaults the Broncos into the playoffs.

AFC Wild Cards:
Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Manning and the gang have looked like anything but the Colts of recent years this season, however, I think we'll see a late season surge from them. They seemed to be back on track these past two weeks, and they've successfully made it through a brutal schedule. The road ahead matches the Colts up with five, below .500 teams. If the Colts maintain their current groove and avoid lapses against inferior opponents, they should coast into the playoffs.

New York Jets (10-6)
Well, as I predicted on the day of the trade, Brett the Jet should propel the Jets to the playoffs. Although lately it doesn't seem like Favre deserves the credit. The Jets have a great running attack, in Thomas Jones & Leon Washington, and their defense has really bailed them out as of late. With a schedule as weak as they have ahead, it would be sad for Brett and company to miss the playoffs.

NFC East: New York Giants (13-3)
Even with the toughest schedule to close out the season (remaining opponents have a combined .621 winning percentage), I still see the Giants taking the NFC East. They've put themselves in a good enough position to withstand the tough road ahead. The division should continue to beat each other up. Barring injuries, I think the Giants will continue to show the league why they are the defending Super Bowl champs.

NFC North: Chicago Bears (10-6)
I should hold my breath when saying this, but in honor of my dear friend Christoph Schoenbeck, I'm taking the Bears. Minnesota came through with a big win last week versus Green Bay, but they face a difficult schedule to close the year. Even though Chicago has blown games I didn't think were possible to, I just have a feeling they're going to pull it out. Their defense is strong, Orton's playing great and should return from injury in a few weeks, and Matt Forte has been all that Cedric Benson was not.

NFC South: Carolina Panthers (11-5)
Carolina has really impressed me over the last few weeks. I doubted them early in the season, but they've proved me wrong, week in and week out. Delhomme has been consistent as always, and young backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have been great compliments to star wideout, Steve Smith. They also have a strong defense to sweeten the pot. Look for them to edge out the division title from the Bucs.

NFC West: Arizona Cardinals (10-6)
Who needs a young franchise quarterback like Matt Leinart, when you've got 37 year-old Kurt Warner? The Cardinals certaintly don't. Warner's looking young as ever these days, and Anquan Boldin seems unstoppable. Even after a near career-ending play that sidelined Boldin for two games, he still leads the NFL in TD receptions with 10. He sure is making a case for himself in a contract year. When Boldin is covered, Warner has Larry Fitz, speedster Steve Breaston, and RB Tim Hightower to look to. Ironically, the team oddly resembles "the fastest show on turf", Warner's old supporting cast.

NFC Wildcards:
Washington Redskins (11-5)
Expect the NFC East's surprise team of the year to hold off both Philadelphia & Dallas for a WildCard spot. The offense has come together under Jim Zorn more quickly than anyone would have ever expected. Portis has been having an MVP-like year, Santana Moss is torching defensive secondaries, and Jason Campbell isn't making mistakes. Expect a big win for Washington versus Dallas or Philly to secure a second place finish in the competitive NFC East.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)
From Day 1 it was considered a lock for three NFC East teams to make the playoffs, but I don't think its going to happen anymore. The NFC South has surprised everyone with three teams at 6-3 or higher right now. I think the NFC East will continue to beat each other up, opening the door for Tampa Bay to steal the last playoff spot. Dallas could turn it around and take the spot, thanks in part to their 13-9 win over Tampa earlier in the year, but I can't see it happening right now. Yes, Dallas does have Romo back, but I expect problems in their defensive secondary to prevent them from redeeming themselves for last years unexpected loss in the playoffs. Tampa Bay's schedule isn't much easier, but it should be just easy enough to get them into the playoffs.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Friday, November 7, 2008

Another Night, Another Upset...

Last Saturday, fans across the country watching to see if Texas could survive its last difficult test before the Big 12 championship, got quite a show. The Longhorns, fresh off wins against #1 Oklahoma, #11 Missouri, & #7 Oklahoma State, seemed almost unbeatable coming into the game. But Texas Tech was looking to show the country that there was more than one undefeated team in Texas; they did just that.

For the first time this season, the Red Raiders, criticized for having no defense, silenced the critics with a defensive pounding right from the start. On Texas' first possession, running back Chris Ogbonnaya was swallowed in his own endzone by a fired up Texas Tech defense for a safety. The defense didn't stop there. They continued to bruise Texas' offensive line, constantly applying pressure on QB Colt McCoy, and produced a few 3 and outs and many short drives for the Longhorns. They held Texas to a first half total of only 6 points.

On the offensive side, Texas Tech lived up to their hype. They moved the ball efficiently and with ease throughout the first half. QB Graham Harrell found different targets all over the field. However, Texas' defense was able to slow them down near the redzone, and thanks in part to a dropped TD pass in the endzone, the Red Raiders went into the locker room with a 22-6 lead at the half. A score that, although a blowout, didn't do justice for the dominance Texas Tech showed.

In the second half, just like he had against Oklahoma, WR Jordan Shipley got Texas going with a 45 yard punt return for a touchdown. With the score at 22-13, and a Texas comeback knocking at the door, Tech's defense rose to the occassion again. This time it was safety Daniel Charbonnet coming through in the clutch, with a 23 yard interception returned for a score, to put the Red Raiders up 29-13 in the 3rd.

But Texas wasn't done yet. QB Colt McCoy showed why he was the favorite to win the Heisman, leading Texas back with three scoring drives, throwing two TD's (91, 37) in the process. The third and final scoring drive put Texas up for the first time, 33-32 with just 1:29 remaining.

Fortunately for the Red Raiders, their offense had already scored 10 times this year in a 1:30 seconds or less. They also had a confident quarterback at the helm, looking for revenge on the school that said he wasn't good enough to lead their team. Well Texas, it looks like you were wrong. Harrell led his team all the way down the field, and in quick fashion. On 1st & 10 at the Texas 28, with only 15 seconds remaining, Harrell fired a ball into the flat that bounced off the hands of his intended receiver & floated for what seemed like a year in the air. As it came down into the arms of a Texas defensive back, it appeared the Longhorns had survived again; someway, somehow. But wait. Unexplainably, the gift of an interception slipped right through the hands of the Texas defender, giving new life to the Red Raiders with just 9 seconds to go. At the 28, Texas Tech faced a 45 yard field goal with only a walk-on halftime contest winner and a shaky backup to kick it through the uprights. For these reasons, Texas Tech tried to squeeze in one more play. A quick out-route to make the kick a little shorter would probably be the way to go, right? Wrong. How about a downfield pass to the best wide receiver in the country, Michael Crabtree? Yeah, that'll do. If you had never heard of him, and you've seen ESPN in the last week, you know him now. Crabtree casually ran down the sideline in double coverage, probably thinking, "Yeah, I'm about to score the game-winning touchdown", made a play back to the ball thrown behind him, and made a leaping grab near the sideline at the five. Every fan watching must have thought it was over, knowing Crabtree would naturally run out of bounds to set up a nice chip-shot field goal. But no, Crabtree decided it would be best to just break a sure tackle while tip-toeing the sideline, and run it right in the endzone for the win. It was unbelieveable.

With Texas being the third #1 to go down this year, Alabama was finally given a taste of the nation's top-ranking. Texas Tech's upset didn't go unnoticed though. They jumped up to the #2 spot in the country, with a BCS title bid in their hands. It's only a matter of whether or not they can hold on. It won't come easy though. Texas Tech has to take down #8 Oklahoma State and #4 Oklahoma, in Oklahoma, all before the Big 12 Championship. If they can somehow survive those three tough tests, they'll find themselves in the BCS National Championship. Can they do it? It is possible. Will they do it? I can't see it happening. If they can survive this weekend, I expect to see Oklahoma play the role of the spoiler again, and end their perfect season. I will certaintly be rooting for them though. Texas Tech is the most exciting team in the country, and I would certaintly rather see them play, than a Penn State team who's only significant victory came against one of the many overrated teams in the Big 10, Ohio State. The upsets never seem to stop coming though. It should be a crazy finish.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Boys Are Back in Town...

For 9 1/2 months the Cowboys have had to live with the question of "What if?" on their minds. Last January, people and analysts galore had been talking about the Patriots final test for 19-0; the highly favored Cowboys out of the NFC. All Dallas had to do was take down the Giants, who they easily handled twice already in the regular season, and the Packers, who just didn't seem quite up to par. But getting past their divisional foe was much harder than expected. As Romo let his last pass fly into the arms of R.W. McQuarters in the endzone, the Cowboys season ended in immediate fashion, and much more prematurely than expected. For the next three weeks, Romo and company had to sit at their homes and watch as the Giants lived their dream. I'm sure there's not a day that goes by that the Cowboys don't think about that game.

With Romo now standing at 0-2 in the playoffs as a starting quarterback, he's more motivated than ever to get over that hump. The Cowboys made it their mission to make sure an upset like that never happens again. They took a chance on Adam "no longer Pacman" Jones, drafted Felix Jones, and even recently picked up the "offensive" Roy Williams. When Tom Brady went down, it was almost as if their goal was placed on a platter for them. But who would've thought that the ever so confident and underappreciated Giants would still be winning games? The Giants stayed neck and neck with Dallas and later passed them for first place in the power rankings. Then the Cowboys hit another setback when quarterback Tony Romo broke his finger. They've also lost Adam Jones, and lost to the Redskins, Cardinals, and Rams. Now Brad Johnson is leading the helm, with an injured TE, a surprisingly shaky offensive line, and an underproducing star wide receiver with a flare for the dramatic. What's happening in Big D? This wasn't part of the plan.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, next week they have a bye, and Romo & Witten should return in Week 11. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the same guys searching for revenge on the Giants for the last 1o months will not all get their shot at redemption. Lucky for them they'll have a shot once more this year, and possibly in the playoffs, where it truly matters.

Don't count Big D out though. Just because they're absent a few players, doesn't mean they can't pull off the upset. Their defense picked it up last week behind the play-calling of Wade Phillips, and the Giants have always struggled against the likes of backup quarterbacks. Confidence is great, but overconfidence has cost the Giants many times in the past. Because it's such a big rivalry though, I expect the Giants to bring their A game. I'm taking the Giants with a 30-17 victory at home.

Here are some other predictions for Week 9:

Baltimore 16 - Cleveland 24
The Browns are a much better team than they were in Week 3 against the Ravens. Look for them to avenge their 28-10 loss with a big home win to put them back at .500.

New England 28 - Indianapolis 24
I don't know why, but I've just got a feeling about this game. It would make sense that with Brady out of the mix, Indianapolis should easily win. But Manning & the Colts are off their game as of late, and Cassel seems to be getting more comfortable with his role as the starter. I think the Patriots receivers are starting to have confidence in him as well. I see the Pats squeeking out a victory in Indy.

Pittsburgh 23 - Washington 17
As good as Washington seems to be this year, I think Pittsburgh is just better. Pittsburgh got bruised up against the Giants last week and injuries in their special teams could create some problems tomorrow, but I think Big Ben & the Steelers will show their resilience in a tough win on Monday night. The "Steel Curtain" should slow down Portis, and Pittsburgh may even see "fast" Willie Parker back in action. Regardless, it should be a great Monday night game.

Upset Special:

Green Bay 23 - Tennessee 17
The Titans have had a quite a run thus far at 7-0, but I think Mercury Morris and the 1972 Dolphins will be popping champagne once again come Sunday night. Tennessee's defense has been it's cornerstone all year long, but I see them giving up a touchdown more than their running offense can score against the Packers. Collins hasn't made many mistakes, but having no offense through the air is going to catch up with them eventually.

Image taken from

Thursday, October 16, 2008

One Crazy Year...

Aside from the Rays turnaround in Tampa Bay, I don't think there's anything more unexpected in sports than this year's football season. Most of it just doesn't make any sense. It's as if Tom Brady's injury sent everyone in disarray. Looking at the list of all 32 teams, I couldn't tell you who the favorite is to win it all. Steve Young said he wouldn't count the Falcons out. The Falcons! The 4-12 Falcons from last year! The same team that coming into this year didn't have a quarterback, a coach, or a team with any morale? Now they're 4-2 and in contention to win the competitive NFC South? What!?

Three weeks ago "Big D" looked unstoppable. Oh what three weeks can do. Now the Cowboys have an ailing quarterback, Adam "no longer Pacman" Jones has been suspended indefinitely from the league, and TO (who argued he wasn't getting the ball enough after a game in which 33% of the plays went to him) now has to deal with possibility of being outshadowed by the stats of the great Roy Williams. Just like when TO's double coverage left Terry Glenn open for touchdown after touchdown. That could be interesting. Big D might stand for Big "Drama" in the coming weeks for America's team.

How about the New York Football Giants. They were awesome...and then Monday happened. As soon as every analyst started calling them the best team in NFL (finally some respect for the Super Bowl champs!), the 1-3 Browns made an embarassment out of them on national television. As a Giants fan, I hope they take the loss as a wake up call. They can't afford to be overconfident. They got to 5-0, playing with a chip on their shoulder. They're going to have to continue to play with something to prove every week if they want to keep the league's respect.

Chicago on the other hand, has no one's respect right now. They've defied odds to lose games this year. They blew a 14-point lead against the Panthers, a 10-point lead in the last 3 minutes against the Bucs, and after scoring a touchdown to take the lead against Atlanta with 11 seconds left!, they still somehow managed to lose. If the Bears could protect leads no one should ever blow, they'd be 6-0 and atop the NFL power rankings right now. Imagine that.

Then there's the Redskins. After completing the impossible task of winning back-to-back games on the road in the NFC East, Washington lost to a St. Louis team poised to go 0-16. How is that even possible? Well, because that's the NFL. Year in and year out, it continues to be the most unpredictable sport. How else could you explain Chris Berman's preseason Super Bowl pick of the Colts over the Seahawks? It's the same reason 40% of our fantasy football rosters are different come Week 4. It's why they run those classic "4 months earlier" commercials at the end of the season, when they mock confident fans' preseason predictions. There's just no way of knowing. Here's what I think I know about the NFL:

1. The Saints are for real. I said it last week in their loss to the Vikings: If they can clean up their act and rid themselves of the bonehead mistakes, they'll win the NFC South and be a threat to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

2. The Colts are finding their groove. After their 17-point come-from-behind win against Houston, I said to myself, this could be one of those season-changing moments that turns it all around for the Colts. After a 31-3 shellacking of the Ravens this past week, Peyton and the Colts look to be back on track.

3. The Giants will be fine. Every team needs a slap in the face once in a while to remind them it takes more than just showing up to a football game to come away with a victory. The Giants will recognize that their recent successes came from playing with something to prove, and get back to that mentality.

4. The Browns might be back to true form. They made some adjustments in their offensive style of play, and took it to the Giants on Monday. They no longer have the pressure of expectations to deal with; almost everyone has already written them off. They've gotten a lot of their prime time games out of the way, and have the chance to play under the radar for the rest of the season; a role they seemed more comfortable with last year.

5. Lastly, if there's anything we can tell from the season thus far, it's that nothing is a guarantee. I expect to see a lot of shake-ups in the divisional races in the next few weeks to come. No lead will be safe for quite some time. The competition is on even grounds this year in the absense of Tom Brady, and everything appears to be up in the air. It should be quite an interesting year in the NFL.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tough Luck...

Last night, America got its first taste of the Reggie Bush they knew so well in college. For the first time in his three year NFL tenure, Bush left fans across the country saying, "Now that's a #1 pick right there". If you thought his 71 yard punt return for a TD was just a fluke, odds are Reggie's next two returns changed your mind. Before his second return, Bush raised his arms in an effort to get the crowd going, almost as if he knew he was going to break one again. When he caught the ball, it didn't look like he would, but after a few jukes and some broken tackles, Bush found himself about to round a corner at full speed, with only the punter to beat down field. Unfortunately for Reggie, he ran into the only thing that could stop him, a slick spot on the turf that tumbled him to the ground at the 50. The Saints took 3 to tie it up, came up with another defensive stop, and out again came Reggie. Apparently Childress (the Vikings head coach) didn't think it was possible to break three punt returns in a row. Well...he was wrong. Reggie weaved through the Vikings special teams again, turned on the after burners, and left Minnesota, once again, in his dust. As electric as the crowd was, and as amped as the Saints were, it wouldn't be enough for New Orleans.

Reggie's night was overshadowed by misfortune and poor play from his supporting cast. Poor play that continues to hinder the Saints potential to be the NFC Championship finalist it was just a few years ago. The talent is there. New Orleans has an offensive genius for a coach, a top 3 quarterback in the game (maybe #1 right now), a playmaker in Reggie Bush that can change the game with one touch, and a deep receiving core. Last night, their defense even showed flashes of brilliance as well. Yet somehow, someway, the Saints can't seem to get the "W" at the end of the day. Even when they dominate games, they still manage to lose.

Last night was bizarre. Brees described it as the weirdest game he's ever played in. The Saints had 375 yards of total offense and two punts returned for a score. The Vikings had just 270 yards of total offense. Throw in the 354 return yards for New Orleans compared to the 117 for the Vikings, and any person that had only seen the stats would assume the Saints won in a blow out. Yet the final score in the SuperDome last night was 30-27 Vikings.

The Saints had 11 penalties for 102 yards. They also turned the ball over 4 times and failed to recover an onside kick. Gramatica missed two field goals, one of which was blocked and returned for a TD. That's pretty pathetic for a professional football team. You can't expect to win with this many miscues. To give the Saints some benefit of the doubt, the officiating didn't help their cause. Ed Hoculi again finds himself on the hotseat, because of some of the calls he and his officiating staff missed last night. One of the Saints' turnovers came on a Reggie Bush fumble that never would have occurred had the officials not missed a blatant facemask take Bush to the ground, which left the ball vulnerable to be punched out. Hoculi and his crew also missed a helmet-to-helmet hit that should have resulted in a 15 yard penalty at the end of a pass play from Brees to Miller. Odds are a 31 yard field goal would have been easier for Gramatica to knock through the posts than the 46 yarder he missed without the penalty tacked on. Good thing the game wasn't decided by 3 points, or else that call would have had strong and controversial implications on the result of the game.

Regardless of the mishaps of the officials, the Saints can't look for excuses. Yes, Sean Payton had reason to be irrate with Hoculi and his staff, but he had just as much reason to be irrate with his players. They let a game get away from them that they dominated. They controlled the first half, yet were still losing. Then Reggie came to the rescue in electric fashion, giving the Saints a chance to put all their miscues aside and all the bad calls behind them; but they still lost. A bonehead pass interference penalty put the icing on the cake, setting the stage for an easy game-winning field goal for Minnesota.

Ron Jaworski set aside some time during the game to forget reminding the fans to protect the quarterback (at Joe Theisman's request I'm sure), and made a very true comment about the NFL. He said that in this game, its easier for teams to "lose" games, than to "win" them. This proved to be true last night for the Saints. At 2-3, New Orleans remains in last place in the NFC South, kicking themselves for the fact that they could just as easily be 5-0 right now. The Saints, to me, are still a top team in the NFC. In the next few weeks, most of their stars are scheduled to return from injury. If they can clean up the mental mistakes they've made thus far in the season, New Orleans should emerge as the NFC powerhouse they were just a few years ago. The talent is there, but the smarts have yet to be seen. Look for New Orleans to clean up their act and make a run at the postseason.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Not Chicago's Finest...

It's been 100 years, and the same sadness that has loomed over the Cubs franchise for so long, still resides at Wrigley Field. Even in a season that generated so much promise, the Cubs fell short of their goal. And to add insult to injury, their disappointment came in embarassing fashion. This was supposed to be their year. The same Cubs' fans that, for so long, watched their team expecting the worst, were confident their sorrows were over. But what happened? The Chicago faithful has been left stunned for the past 24 hours, trying to find some logical answer to that question. I myself can't seem to find a reason. After seeing their 4 error performance in Game 2, I too, almost found myself believing in the curse. What occurred in the infield that game, was just too unreal.

The only explanation I can come up with for Chicago's collapse, is that they ran into an underrated and well-coached team in the Dodgers. Los Angeles finished 17-8 in September to capture the season-long divisional race it had with Arizona. Although the Dodgers had a somewhat easy schedule down the stretch, they didn't squeeze by the teams they faced, they annihilated them. Combine their hot play as of late with the playoff experience and knowledge of Joe Torre, and you've got yourself a team poised to make a run, if not at least some noise, in the playoffs. Let's also not forget about Manny. Since the addition of Manny, the Dodgers are 33-23. The organization felt his presence from Day 1. Ramirez is batting .394 with 19 homers and 56 RBI's, since joining LA. Stats that can only be described as "straight diculous", as Stuart Scott would put it. With numbers like those, it's no wonder Ramirez has helped transform the Dodgers into a World Series contender.

All in all though, it's not the Dodgers talent that should be evaluated right now, it's the Cubs play that should be called in to question. A week ago they were the NL's best team; the favorite to win the World Series. Now they find themselves watching the rest of the playoffs from home with their families. Another catastrophic collapse in Chi-Town. The Cubs' lineup couldn't touch the Dodger pitching. They put too much pressure on their pitching staff to be perfect. A task near impossible against a strong Dodger lineup. Lowe, Billingsley, & Kuroda made the Cubs look silly at the plate. Soriano, the multi-million dollar all-star, went 1-14 with 4 strikeouts in the series. Fukudome was 1-10; Ramirez & Soto, 2-11. The Cubs' all-stars proved to be complete non-factors in the series. You can't expect to advance with stats like that.

So once again, Cubs fans are forced to postpone their joys and happiness for at least another year. Hopefully, at least not for another hundred. It begs the questions: Is the curse real and what can the Cubs do to overcome it? What made the ball bounce the way it did at Wrigley in Game 2? Why couldn't the middle infielders execute a routine double play they've completed over and over throughout the course of the season? Once again all these questions are left unanswered, and will leave Cubs fans dumbfounded over the course of the next 6 months. I wish I had the answers. I myself was pulling for the Cubs this postseason. In fact, I've been pulling for them all season long. The Chicago faithful deserves a World Series title. I think they've had enough misery and disappointment to deal with in the last century.

I also feel terrible for good ole' Steve Bartman. I can't imagine what life is like for him these days. The man, a diehard Cubs fan, had to leave the city he loved so dearly and hideout somewhere in Florida. He's hated by all the people he cheered alongside for so long. When Buckner returned to Fenway and told the story of the hardships he had gone through in the last 20 years, I couldn't help but feel terrible for him. Yes, Bartman made a mistake. But Cubs fans can't say that Chicago didn't have a chance to win that game. It was still in their own hands to win that game and that series, and they blew it. The Cubs need to get their mind off the curse, and play the way they know they're capable of playing.

While it's unfortunate the Cubs have to wait another year for another shot at breaking the curse, they have to realize they still have a team very capable of doing the deed. They hit a slide at the wrong time. That doesn't mean they won't get hot come next October. They need to shake this year's ending off, and comeback with something to prove next season. I still think this squad can be the one to end the curse that has haunted this franchise for the past century. In fact, if this team sticks together, I don't see this curse lasting more than two or three more years. Until then, we wait.

Chicago, hang in there. Your finest hour will come.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Thursday, October 2, 2008

My Power Rankings Through Week 4...

Today ESPN came out with its weekly updated power rankings for the NFL. The results were as follows:

1. New York Giants (3-0)
2. Tennessee Titans (4-0)
3. Dallas Cowboys (3-1)
4. Buffalo Bills (4-0)
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)

Now although ESPN is arguably the most credible source for sports analysis, I'm hear to question their rankings. So here are mine:

5. San Diego Chargers (2-2)
Although it is understandable San Diego has slipped in the rankings, based on their 2-2 record thus far, as far as I'm concerned, they're still a top five team to beat. San Diego is basically seconds away from being undefeated right now. They gave up a game-winning TD in week 1 to Carolina on a phenomenal catch by TE Dante Rosario as time expired. Just when the lightning didn't think it could get any more heartbreaking, Ed Hochuli blew his whistle a second too soon on the season's most controversial play, giving Denver the second chance it needed to beat the Chargers. Those few seconds are the difference between the Chargers being 2-2 and 4-0. Let's not forget that Ladanian has seen limited time with an injury as well. Without Merriman, the Chargers have dropped a little in my power rankings, but they're still a top five team in the NFL to me.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)
While the Steelers may be nursing injuries right now, I don't believe it takes away from their talent. "Fast" Willie Parker will be back in action soon enough, and when "Big Ben" recovers from the shoulder injury he's nursing, the Steelers should look like a championship caliber team again. They've fought the weather and some tough defenses on national television, and prevailed in both games. Their only loss came against a strong Philadelphia defense, in a game in which Big Ben was sidelined in the second half with an injury. Look for a healthy Steelers team in the next few weeks to turn some heads around the league.

3. Tennessee Titans (4-0)
At 4-0, I think Tennessee deserves some respect. However, I'm not jumping on their bandwagon just yet. They've had some quality wins and their defense looks strong; I'm not denying that. However, I just can't see them stacking up against the top teams in the NFC. I also anticipate AFC teams, like the Chargers, Steelers, Bills, Broncos, and maybe even the Colts, emerging as bigger AFC powerhouses as the season drags on. Tennessee's wins over Jacksonville and Minnesota were impressive, but Jacksonville has been struggling and the Vikings seem to have issues right now. They didn't beat the Vikings team many predicted to win the NFC North. It should be interesting to see how Tennessee fairs with a pretty difficult schedule for the rest of the year.

2. New York Giants (3-0)
The Super Bowl Champs, my team, the New York Football Giants, have picked up where they left off last season, winning games. And thanks in part to Dallas, Green Bay, Philadelphia, San Diego, New England, and Pittsburgh losses, the Giants have moved up in the ESPN rankings to #1. Their preseason rank was #6; where's the respect for the Super Bowl champs? The truth is, they haven't been given any, even as Super Bowl champs; until now. The way ESPN sees it, the Cowboys beat the Eagles, the Redskins beat the Cowboys, and the Giants beat the Redskins; therefore, the Giants deserve the #1 ranking. While this may be true, it's hardly analyzing. The fact of the matter is, head to head, the Cowboys seem to have an edge on the Giants. That doesn't mean that when it matters, the Giants can't outperform them. They proved they could in the playoffs last season. But before I put the Giants ahead of the Cowboys in the power rankings, they have to prove to me that taking down "Big D" wasn't a one-time thing. To be honest, I have faith in the Giants. I just need to see them show faith in themselves, and execute when they roll into Dallas. All they need to do is play every game like they have something to prove. They can't let the ESPN power rankings fool them. They need to understand that no one thinks they're as good as they are. If they play to prove they deserved the Super Bowl title last year, they'll be a hell of a football team this year.

1. Dallas Cowboys (3-1)
If my analysis of #2 didn't ruin the surprise, my #1 right now is the Cowboys. Big D is out for revenge. They realize a legitimate chance at a title was stripped from them last year. They were the big favorite entering the playoffs, and let a wild card and division rival steal their hopes and the Lombardi trophy. Now Dallas, especially with Tom Brady sidelined for the season, sees a clear path to becoming NFL champions. They're looking to leave Texas Stadium, in it's last year, on top of the world. They have the components to do it too. They've got the best offensive line in the game, a solid ground game (which they need to utilize more), the best wide receiver in the game, and an extremely talented tight end and quarterback. If their defense helps Dallas' offense outplay opponents, the Cowboys will be the team to beat again in the NFC come playoff time. Only this time, they won't be looking ahead to an intimidating 18-0 opponent, when the Giants come into town.

ESPN rounded out the top 10 with: 6. Washington (3-1), 7. Carolina (3-1), 8. San Diego (2-2), 9. Philadelphia (2-2), 10. Tampa Bay (3-1).

Here's the rest of my top 10: 6. Denver (3-1) 7. Washington (3-1) 8. Philadelphia (2-2) 9. Buffalo (4-0) 10. Tampa Bay (3-1).

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tide Rolls Over Georgia...

The "Game of the Week" turned out to be hardly a game. #8 Alabama rolled into Georgia, and the Tide left the Bulldogs washed away. The 41-30 final fails to give Alabama its true justice. The game was an absolute rout, decided in the first half. It seemed everytime I looked at the television screen, a man in crimson was crossing the goal line. Bama dominated the game on both sides of the ball. Its defense swarmed Stafford and the Georgia offense, forcing turnovers and making plays left and right. On offense, Coffee and the rushing attack pounded through Georgia's defense for three first half scores, and John Parker Wilson found Julio Jones for a 22 yard scoring strike to close the half. At that point the score was 31-0, as Georgia fans sat in silence, shocked at what they were witnessing.

Stafford and Georgia made the score respectable in the second half, but were well aware of the true massacre that took place. After outscoring the Tide 31-10 in the second half, they still found themselves losing by 11. The game was never close. The only man that appeared to be unhappy on the Alabama side, was head coach Nick Saban. Saban was irrate with how Alabama played in the second half. He wanted the final score to make a statement, not just the halftime score. Whether Saban was happy with the finish or not, the AP Poll still recognized what transpired Saturday night. Sunday evening, the Crimson Tide found themselves ranked #2 in the country, only trailing Oklahoma for the top spot. It only took five games for the Tide to roll from its preseason ranking of #24 to the nation's second best spot. Saban and the boys now stand poised for a title run. Currently LSU and Auburn are the toughest challenges that lie ahead, both hoping to spoil Bama's run.

Thus far, Alabama has shown the country that it is a force to be reckon with. They have dominated both prime time games they have appeared in, upsetting two top 10 teams. Now that they've proved their worth, it is up to them to prove they can handle the pressure of being at the top. A pressure that in just five short weeks has taken down the likes of USC, Georgia, and Florida. More often than not, it is easier to be the team gunning for the best, than the team everyone is gunning for. This explains Saban's disgust with their second half performance Saturday night. Alabama looked soft for the first time this year. They became overconfident and showed weakness. This is exactly the kind of attitude Saban knows has cost top ranked teams their title hopes in the past. Saban expects them to play will aggresiveness and dominate for all 48 minutes of every game. With this mentality and proper execution, Alabama could find themselves unbeaten, hoisting up a National Championship trophy come seasons' end.

What's the likelihood of this? Alabama has been my team since the start of the year. Saturday night convinced me that they were the best team in the country (when playing at their best). How they respond at #2 or possibly #1 in the next few weeks is the key. When they play like they have something to prove, I think they're the nation's best. They need to play every game with that same mentality. If they do so, and I think they will, they'll find themselves atop college football come January. On paper, playing at LSU will be their biggest test. In reality, with the way they have played against top 10 teams thus far, I think its the unranked teams they have more to worry about. They cannot afford any USC-like lapses versus an unranked opponent like Ole Miss or Tennessee. With that being said, go Bama!

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Sunday, August 24, 2008


For 3 years the USA Men's Basketball team kept one goal: to win Olympic Gold. Anything less would be considered a failure. When people said it couldn't be done, they worked harder. After years of embarassment, Team USA needed to redeem themselves. Jerry Colangelo proved to be their savior. He stepped on board as the National Director of USA Basketball, and put together a team of stars he knew could coexist as one. Since their last victory in the Sydney Games of 2000, USA players had been criticized that they couldn't play together. It was perceived that their egos and shoe deals were of much higher importance to them than their country. But many NBA stars refused to fall into that stereotype. Colangelo found those stars, and brought them together in 2006 to save USA Basketball. Last night, their 3 year journey came to a close. But not until after their dream to redeem, had become a reality.

That reality didn't come easy though. It was a long commitment that asked USA players to give up their summers and offseasons. With the international level of competition as high as ever, Team USA could no longer get away with throwing a few stars together a couple weeks before the Olympics. The international teams had been playing together for years, and the international game was much different than the NBA game. For these reasons, the gap that had once separated USA teams from their opponents by 40 to 60 points was narrowed to 2 or 3.

But this year Team USA came out with a fire and a determination to prove themselves. They swept their pool and cruised past their quarter and semifinal matches. In those 7 games, they won by an average of 30.3 points per game. It appeared the US dominance was back. But there was still one more hurdle to leap. Team USA had to take down the World Champion, Spain. And they knew Spain would be out for revenge of Team USA's 37 point route of them just a week before.

Team USA was right. Spain did come to play. At one point both Spain and the US were shooting at around 70% from the field well into the first quarter. Both teams came out firing.

With Lebron and Kobe in foul trouble, Wade and Paul stepped up. Paul kept the offense moving. He found the open guys, got to the rim, and drew fouls. Wade was a spark off the bench as usual. He outhustled everyone and caught fire from the field.

Both teams went back and forth for the first half. Team USA found itself in its biggest deficit of the tournament, trailing by 5 at one point, but they always responded. The game really lacked any defensive play whatsoever. USA led 38-31 after one, and 69-61 at the half.

USA held a slim lead for most of the second half. Every time Spain made a run, USA responded. With just over 3 minutes remaining, Bryant converted a 4-point play that seemed to put the game out of reach. He held a finger to his lips, notioning to the raucous Spain crowd it was time to quiet down. Spain then answered with back-to-back baskets by Juan Carlos Navarro and Carlos Jimenez to cut the deficit to just 4 with two and half minutes to play. Wade countered with the final dagger, burying a 3 on the next possession. A few free throws later, Team USA finally felt that redemption. A redemption they worked three years for.

How might you ask did USA accomplish this feat of redemption? Teamwork. They all played with the same golden mindset: It's not the names on the back of our jerseys that matter, it's the 3 letters on the front.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Madden Curse...

To honor the release of Madden 09 today, I thought I'd address the issue of the curse. A curse so befuddling, you simply cannot help but believe it. Madden is probably hands down the best sports video game of all time. Year in and year out most of the American male population purchases the video game. I know guys over 40 that still play. It's a part of the game of football. It gives all of us guys out there that couldn't cut it in the NFL a chance to win the Super Bowl. It's America's video game. ESPN even made a TV show about a group of guys riding around in an RV just playing each other in Madden. That's pretty serious. It's the craze of the video game nation.

Thanks in part to the great successes of the game, it became a huge honor to make the cover of Madden for football players. If you were on the cover of Madden, you were obviously doing the right things the year before, and expected to have an equally successful upcoming season in the NFL. But as the hype of the game rose, the pressure to live up to the status as Madden cover model equally climbed. Insert: the curse. Since the arrival of Playstation 2, no player on the cover of Madden has lived up to their expectations. The honor has left player after player with ill-fated seasons and careers. Let's break them down.

2001: Eddie George

George was a Heisman trophy winner, the NFL Rookie of the Year, and a 4-time pro-bowler (1997-2000). He also led the Tennessee Titans to the Super Bowl in 2000. If you notice however, that Madden cover says 2001 under it. After he made the cover, George would go on to average almost 600 yards less a season than he had his first 5 years in the NFL. Injuries would plague him and his career would only last 4 more years. With his successes, went the success of the Titans. George would never make another Pro Bowl and lose all of his prestige.

2002: Daunte Culpepper

In 2001, Culpepper impressively led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, earning the cover honor. In 2002, Culpepper only managed to start 11 games in which he led the Vikings to a dismal 4-7 record. He missed the last 5 games with a season-ending injury. Daunte also managed to lead the league in interceptions with 23, even though he missed 5 games. Culpepper rebounded in 2003 & 2004, but met more ill-fate with injuries that have caused him to miss 30 games in the last 3 seasons. He's been on 3 different teams in the last 3 years and currently stands teamless.

2003: Marshall Faulk

Going into 2003, Faulk was the best player in the NFL. As the centerfold for the "Greatest Show on Turf", Faulk was practically untouchable. He was coming off four consecutive seasons of 1300+ rushing yards and 2000+ total yards. He had been to the Super Bowl in 2 of his last 3 seasons and won the NFL MVP in 2000. After his appearance on the cover, Faulk became troubled by some injuries and began to age before he healed. He never reached the 1000 yard rushing mark after he made it on the cover.

2004: Michael Vick

Vick is perhaps the biggest victim to the curse. Michael was the former #1 pick overall in the 2001 NFL Draft, but since has fallen quite a long way. He is far and away the most athletic quarterback to ever play the position. The man is unstoppable in the open field. When he turns on the jets, there is no defender that can catch him. However the Madden curse was somehow able to. Vick was always one to put his body on the line for the extra yard. A devotion coaches and fans thought might have more risk than reward. Just a few months after Vick took a previously under .500 Falcons team to the playoffs and past the Packers (GB's first career playoff loss at Lambeau),Vick found himself sidelined for 11 weeks with a broken leg. The break came one day after Madden 2004 had been released in stores. Since the injury, Vick has been good, but not great. On the field, his Falcons have fallen out of playoff contention the last few years and off the field, the Falcons woes are the least of Vick's worries. After pleading guilty to allegations of involvement in dogfighting, Vick finds himself in prison until 2009. He can only pray he gets reinstated to the NFL.

2005: Ray Lewis

In an attempt to end the curse, Madden decided to give the honor to the unbreakable Ray Lewis. Lewis was the most fearsome player in the NFL and considered indestructible at that time. But not even those credentials could save him from the curse. In 2004, Lewis' numbers dropped substantially. In 2005, the unbreakable Lewis tore his right hamstring and was forced to miss the final 10 games of the season. Since then, Lewis' play has declined and the Ravens defense is beginning to show signs of age and weakness.

2006: Donovan McNabb

Prior to his appearance on the cover of Madden, McNabb had it all. He had been selected to the Pro Bowl 5 consecutive years and had led the Eagles to the NFC Conference Championship 4 years in a row. He also had a near Super Bowl victory under his belt. But the man that had turned the Eagles franchise around fell victim to the curse as well. In 2005, fresh off his appearance on the cover, McNabb, a non-believer in the Madden curse, went down with a sports hernia in week 1. After fighting through the pain for 9 games, McNabb re-injured himself and finally decided it was best to take the safe route, opting for season-ending surgery. Culminate the injuries, with all the TO problems and Philadelphia's newfound lack of appreciation for their quarterback, and it is easy to see just how badly the curse hit Donovan.

2007: Shaun Alexander

Fresh off a season in which Alexander led the NFL in rushing (1880), set the record for most TDs in a single season (28), and made it to the Super Bowl, Shaun found himself on the cover of Madden. Shaun helped the curse stay true to form, breaking his leg in just the third week of the season. He missed 6 weeks and failed to rush for 1000 yards for the first time in 6 years. Since the injury, Alexander's skills have faded and he is currently left without a team to play for.

2008: Vince Young

Madden turned the tables again in '08, going with an elusive young quarterback for the cover. Known for his toughness, Young never missed a game due to an injury in high school, college, or the pros. But Madden caught up to the durable Young and sidelined him for a week in '07. Where the curse really hit Young the hardest though, was in his play. Vince threw only 9 TDs as oppposed to his 17 INTs. The Titans were also easily exited from the playoffs in the first round.

So yeah, it's been a rough road for the Madden cover models. Now Madden opens it's door to Brett Favre. Why do you ask? Because he was retired. There it was. The perfect answer to the curse. With Brett on the cover, the curse would be over. So what does Brett do? He un-retires from football. So far on the cover Brett has already tainted his career, ruined the prestige and respect he left with, and been turned down to play for the city that loved him dearly for so many years. And get this, now he's a Jet. The curse is laughing right now, because it knows this couldn't get any easier. Favre has really set himself up to keep the curse alive. Oh well EA Sports, maybe next year. I'd say put John Madden on the cover, but I fear something fatal might happen to him.

Images taken from Google Images

Monday, August 11, 2008

Who's Talking Now?

Last night I witnessed swimming history. I watched what most believe to be the greatest swimming relay of all-time. A race that featured five teams break the previous world record for the event. Five teams! A race where two teams shattered the mark. But only one was victorious. That team, was the U.S.A.

To kick off the match, the greatest swimmer of all-time, Michael Phelps, hit the water first for the U.S. Just an hour after Phelps had swam in a qualifier, he was forced to put his stamina and endurance to the test in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay. In the first 50 meters Phelps looked drained, but he turned on the jets on the way back, closing the gap behind the leader to practically nothing. Weber-Gale's turn was next. He did exactly what was expected of him, gaining the lead for the U.S. The third swimmer in the relay was Cullen Jones, the young, rising star for the U.S. He swam hard, but the French were too much. By the time he touched the wall he had fallen behind by roughly .60 seconds.

The final man to hit the water was Jason Lezak. He was matched up against one of the best in the world, Alain Bernard of France, who already held the .60 second lead mentioned earlier. The same man that had earlier made a statement about the Americans saying, "We're going to smash them. That's what we came here for". By the time Lezak made the turn at the wall, Bernard's lead had grown to .82 seconds. The announcer had already declared France the winner. There was nothing the U.S. could do. It was insurmountable.

But Jason Lezak was tired of losing. He refused to quit, as he desperately tried to catch the wave of Bernard. As they raced down the stretch I think myself and all of America watching found ourselves saying, "Come on. Go, go, go!", as Lezak slowly cut the gap on Bernard. The tension in my family room was on the rise, and I found myself nervous for a swimming match as it came to the closing seconds. Finally, trailing with only 5 meters left, Lezak was right there with Bernard needing an improbable surge for the Gold. He reached within himself and found just that in the last meter. Staring into the eyes of Bernard in the last moment, Lezak outstretched the Frenchmen, touching the wall just 8 hundredths of a second before Bernard. My family and I sat in silence for the second it took to put up United States with a #1 next to it in their lane. Once it was up, an outburst of celebration erupted in my family room. Many friends of mine found themselves screaming in joy. It was truely a unified American moment.

This race epitomized the Olympics at its best. This was why we watch. What a triumphant moment it was for America. The exuberance on Phelps' and the other swimmers' faces said it all. It was a feeling everyone watching in the States must have felt. I know I did. Let's hope the rest of the Olympics can be just as exciting and entertaining, and bring us more moments that make us feel proud to be an American.

Hey France, that just happened!

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Sunday, August 10, 2008

No Doubt About It...

As a fan of basketball and well, America, I hope today's opening round game for the U.S. Men's Basketball team was a sign of what's to come for the rest of the competition. A game that was close for awhile against China, turned into a 101-70 rout. For the U.S. to open up versus the Olympic host was a daunting task. China has a strong team and fans on their side. It was a game of great magnitude; a game China wanted to come out and take from the U.S.

While their hopes were conceivable at the start, Team USA quickly made them seem far too ambitious as the game carried on. China came out with something to prove, knocking down threes and holding the U.S. stars in check. But once Lebron and company got going, there was no looking back. When Jason Kidd took his first rest, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade came off the bench with a spark. They got the transition game going, leaving China in their dust. The U.S. run-n'-gun style offense was too much for the Chinese. It led to dunk after dunk for Team USA. With each slam, the U.S. got more and more confident and more and more amped. They refused to be embarassed.

The game featured a lot of flash. The "Flash" himself, D-Wade, completed many acrobatic plays, including a few exciting dunks en route to his game-high 19 points. The man that really stole the show though, was Lebron. King James was unstoppable. Playing alongside the best in the NBA gave Lebron the space to go to work. China couldn't afford to send double and triple teams at James, because his teammates were just as capable to hurt them. With a spread court, James got to the rim at will and finished with authority. The most authoritative coming as the recipient of an alley-oop from Wade in the second quarter. He put on a show on the defensive side as well. On a fastbreak for China, James hustled the length of the court to pin the layup attempt on the backboard. Later that quarter, on a shot block attempt, he actually caught the ball during its flight to the basket. As usual, Lebron was a man amongst boys.

But the real story was the job Team USA did as a whole. The 31 point victory against a talented Chinese squad was a great start to the games for the U.S. If the team can continue to keep its transition game running and their defensive pressure on, they should have a legitimate shot at the Gold. Round 1 of their shot at redemption was a success. The USA powerhouse appears to be back.

Images taken from Yahoo! Sports

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New York Lands a New Jet...

Well, I had no interest in talking about Brett Favre anymore, but he went out and did the one thing that could cause me to; he signed with the Jets. The most boring franchise in football made their most exciting move since acquiring Curtis Martin (not to overshadow their acquisition of Boomer Esiason in 1993). A move so exciting that 40,000 Favre jerseys were sold within 24 hours of the news (a new record). The acquisition of Favre does a lot for the organization. Here are some pros and cons.

The Pros:
1. The Marketing Aspect:
As mentioned earlier, over 40,000 jerseys were already sold in the first day. The Jets are bringing in one of the greatest, some would argue the best, quarterback of all-time. The move has rejuvenated the spirits of Jets fans, and has them looking forward to the upcoming season. I would be surprised to see any open seats at Jets games this year. It's the biggest marketing move they've made since acquiring Ian Eagle to announce.

2. The Potential for Success in the Present:
Let's face it. The Jets might have improved this year, but there was no way they were making the playoffs in the AFC with Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens battling it out for the starting job. They were either going to have an inexperienced, young QB leading their mediocre offense, or a QB with the arm strength of an 8-year-old. That's just not going to cut it. Now they bring in a quarterback with almost every career record at the position. A quarterback, that at this age, still came only 3 points shy of the Super Bowl last season. Oh, and he throws about 60 mph faster than Pennington and 61 yards farther (Favre's max 70 yards - Pennington's max 9 yards). Jets fans will no longer have to hold their breath when a safety has a chance to go from sideline to sideline during the flight of a pass to make an interception. Expect a much better year for the Jets than they would've had without Favre.

3. The Mentor Aspect:
No longer will Kellen Clemens have to listen to advice about how to hit the wide receiver on the short crossing route, dump it off to the fullback, or underthrow your receiver enough so that he can make a play on the ball before the cornerback. Now his advice will come from one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. That sounds like a better deal to me. The knowledge Favre gives Clemens could prove to make the move worth it no matter how badly Favre plays for the year. Favre is surely passed his physical peak in football, but his mental smarts are definitely still there.

The Cons:
1. The Playbook:
Let's see. We've already reached the preseason and Favre knows how many Jets plays? Zero. Memorizing a playbook is an extremely difficult task. Favre mastered the Packers playbook, because he had years to do so. On every play, the quarterback has to know every player's next move in order for the play to work. Sure Favre can hit his targets, but if his wide receivers are on different pages than him, the incompletions and interceptions should come a plenty. We'll have to see just how quick a learner Brett is. Especially since he was mentally strained enough to retire just five months ago.

2. Can he fit in Mangini's offense?:
Mangini structured his playbook around Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens. Brett Favre is pretty much the anti-Chad. Mangini is going to have to open up the safe and bring out the playbook featuring plays of 10+ yards. Then he has to teach them to the offense. At least he's got time to do that at training camp. Oh no wait, he doesn't. Hopefully, Brett won't slow them down too much.

3. The Chemistry:
Brett's team chemistry on the Jets consists of backup tight end Bubba Franks. That's pretty much about it. On the Packers, Brett had a rhythm with his receivers. He practically knew what moves his receivers would make before they did. He doesn't have that with the Jets. That's kind of a problem.

All in all, weighing both the pros and the cons, I'd say the pickup will do more good than harm for the Jets. As for Brett Favre, I think his decision to return to the NFL was a poor one. In my eyes, the whole ordeal has tainted his image. He left the toast of the town. Now everyone seems to be sick of him. Well, except Jets fans. The former Packer-for-life was turned down to play for that same franchise. Look for Favre to help the Jets win a few more games this year. It'll take a while for him to learn and get used to the system, but as the season moves along he'll help the Jets. It's also a great marketing tool for the Jets and Favre's knowledge should prove to be very valuable for the young Kellen Clemens.

Lastly, let's not forget about how stacked the AFC is. This isn't the NFC North Brett. I don't expect the Jets to make the playoffs. Their fairly weak schedule we'll give them a chance, but there's just too much competition. Additionally, Brett is on the cover of Madden. His re-entrance to the NFL has already set him up perfectly to keep the curse alive.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports