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