Friday, November 30, 2007

NFL 2007 - Week 13, Part II

49ers @ PANTHERS -3

Here's what I've got so far:

- I thought I remembered that Vinny Testaverde won the Heisman Trophy when he was in college, but then I looked it up, and it turns out I was wrong. Vinny Testaverde played against Heisman in college.

- Packers backup QB Aaron Rodgers looked sharp and ready to play in Thursday's game against Dallas, which isn't surprising since he's spent two years studying under Brett Favre. Panthers quarterback Vinny Testaverde, on the other hand, once spent two years studying under Plato.

- The Philadelphia Eagles, despite losing to New England by a field goal, may have discovered how to beat the Patriots. Sort of like how Panthers quarterback Vinny Testaverde, when he was a kid, discovered the Bering land bridge.

- It looks like quarterback Vinny Testaverde is back in the saddle for Carolina, which is funny, because Vinny Testaverde used to sit in a saddle on his way to school when he was a kid. Because cars hadn't been invented yet, because he's so old.

- Remember in Spider-Man 3, when he turned into the black Spider-Man and got evil and stuff? Apparently, that's happened to Superman, too! (oh, David Carr. What would this column be without you?)

Anyway. The Panthers have to win at home sometime. And, though the 49ers finally won last week, I don't think a victory over the Arizona Cardinals has ever been a guarantee that your team is necessarily back on track.

Jaguars @ COLTS -6.5

I saw that this line has moved from Colts by 7 to Colts by 6.5. There's a weird football gambling superstition about going with one team when everybody's backing the other, but in this case, it might be a good idea. Sure, the Colts are missing Dwight Freeney and Marvin Harrison. But they've got pretty much everyone else, and this idea that the Jaguars always play them tough was pretty much done away with after Indianapolis beat them in Jacksonville 29-7 in October.

And sure, Jags QB David Garrard missed some of that game. And sure, Garrard hasn't thrown an interception since, like, Vinny Testaverde's dad was born. But I like the Colts to assert their AFC South supremacy here.

Chargers @ CHIEFS +6

The Chargers are inconsistent. The Chargers won last week. Therefore, by some sort of mathematical property that I don't feel like looking (or making) up, the Chargers will not play well in Kansas City this week. Plus, 4-7 though the Chiefs may be, Arrowhead Stadium in December is no joke.

Jets @ DOLPHNIS -1

The Jets are underdogs against an 0-11 team? What, did they hire Dennis Green as their coach last week and not tell anybody but the Vegas oddsmakers?

But seriously folks, as far as the Dolphins go, you can only lose so many close games. They've been in almost every game; sooner or later they're going to win. Sooner (i.e., Sunday), I predict. I mean, think about it: at this point in the season, if you're 3-8, maybe it's a little tougher to get up for a game (not that NFL players aren't professionals, and able to get up for every game to a certain degree. Still. There's got to be different levels of "up;" I don't care who you are).

But if you're 0-11, you've only got five more chances to avoid the humiliation of the NFL's first-ever 0-16 season, you're going to carpe every diem you can.

LIONS @ Vikings -4

I'm going to keep picking against the Vikings, just for misery insurance. If they keep winning and it costs me one game a week, I'll take that (and like it).

How about this: Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was apparently given the nickname "All Day" by his mother because, as a child, Peterson had so much energy that he could run all day. This was shortened to A.D. by the time Peterson became a college star, which led to the perplexing, ridiculous situation of a man whose initials were A.P. being referred to as A.D.

Then what happens? Peterson gets drafted by the Vikings, only to enter into an NFC North division that already has a running back named Adrian Peterson (of the Chicago Bears). How confusing! What's a sports fan to do? How can we possibly tell which Adrian Peterson is being referred to in any given sports discussion?

Well, there you go. Adrian Peterson of the Vikings has been known as "A.D." since he was a kid. It's spooky, isn't it? It's just like Mel Gibson's kid with all those glasses of water in Signs.

SEAHAWKS @ Eagles -3

The Seahawks are hot. The Eagles seem to have disproved the old idea that there are no such things as "moral victories" in the NFL, managing to lose to the Patriots by only a field goal. I called the Eagles "disasters" earlier in the year, and now they're 5-6.

I don't take kindly to being proven wrong; I think the Eagles will be disastrous and the Seahawks will keep on winning.

Falcons @ RAMS -3

We're reaching premium "who cares" status with some of these games by now. It's Week 13; that tends to happen. If we can count on the Rams not screwing up the snap from center at the one yard line on their last play of the game, we should be okay with this pick.

Texans @ TITANS -4

After sitting out three games (all Titans losses) with an injured hammy, Tennessee's beastly defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth is expected to play in this game. So are the Houston Texans. All of this leads me to believe that the Titans will cover the spread.

Bills @ REDSKINS -5.5

Who knows how the Redskins will respond to Sean Taylor's murder? It's distasteful even to think of such a thing in the context of picking a winner against the spread, I know. What a horrible thing to have happen.

BROWNS @ Cardinals pk

Let's see... will a good team beat the Cardinals? Well, that depends... what year is it, currently? Huh? Oh, I see; it's any year in which the NFL has operated? Okay. In that case, I'll pick against the Cardinals.

BRONCOS @ Raiders +3.5

Since it's almost impossible to imagine a way in which the Broncos will be able to manage to kick the ball to Bears return man Devin Hester in this game, I'll take Denver.

BUCCANEERS @ Saints -3.5

I had to triple-check this line to make sure I hadn't gotten it wrong. Apparently it opened at 3 and then went up to 3.5; evidently people couldn't wait to bet on the 5-6 Saints to beat up on the 7-4, first-place Buccaneers. I don't get it at all; either everybody else knows something I don't, or I know something everybody else doesn't. Frankly, I'm not sure which is scarier.

Giants @ BEARS +1.5

Sure, Eli Manning threw four interceptions on Sunday against the Vikings, and the Vikings scored three times on returns. But that's what always happens.

I wondered last week whether the Giants had, in fact, began their annual Tom Coughlin late-season choke job with that 16-10 win over the Lions, only we didn't notice because the Lions started out hot and we though they were good and thus mistakenly gave the Giants credit for beating a good team.

Well, the Giants answered that for us by letting the worst pass defense in the league score three touchdowns on interception returns in a gruesome 41-17 loss to the Vikes. And now they're favored on the road?

Bengals @ STEELERS -7

The Steelers, after that Monday Night Football fiasco with the rainy, muddy field, are due for a big win at home.

PATRIOTS @ Ravens +20

The Patriots might hit triple digits in this one.

If Randy Moss decides he wants to play, that is. According to ESPN's Ron ("Jaws") Jaworski, Moss took some plays off during Sunday night's game against Philadelphia. It's more than a little appropriate that Jaworski would be the one to point this out; Patriots fans, feel free to watch this week's game with those first two notes of the Jaws theme in your heads ("duuuuh-Dun").

Every time Moss dogs it on a route... ("duuuuh-Dun")

When he doesn't throw a block he might have... ("duuuuh-Dun")

When he appears not even to try to break up an interception... ("duuuuh-Dun")

Have fun with all of that, New England!


Any Vikings Fan.

The five I feel good (or, if not good, better than the others) about:

Jaguars @ COLTS -6.5
BROWNS @ Cardinals pk
BUCCANEERS @ Saints -3.5
Giants @ BEARS +1.5
PATRIOTS @ Ravens +20

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

NFL 2007 - Week 13, Part I

Packers @ COWBOYS -7

Brett Favre has been playing as if he's under the impression that it's the mid-90s, not 2007. As such, I think it's only natural to assume that he'll honk a big game against the Cowboys.

[and, by the way, enough whining about this game being on NFL Network, and therefore unavailable to the majority of viewers in the United States. Unless you have the NFL Sunday Ticket package which is exclusive to DirecTV, almost every big game is unavailable to the majority of viewers in the United States. So fix that first, and then I'll feel bad for the people who don't have NFLN. Thank God I had the wherewithal to set myself up in a home that gets DirecTV and NFL Network]

Monday, November 26, 2007

Week 12 Wrap-up

Week 12: 11-5

Overall: 81-82-10

Games I Felt Good About in Week 12: 3-2

Games I've Felt Good About Overall: 28-31-1

I Told You I'd Get Good At This Once the Season Got Going a Little Bit More...

Week 6 through Week 12, Overall: 52-43-5

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:
And speaking of quitting on your coach and showing no heart whatsoever: ladies and gentlemen, the Tom Coughlin-era New York Giants! Sure, they beat the Lions in Detroit last week, but, only by the score of 16-10. Can't the argument be made that the Lions' long-standing tradition of being horrible simply overcame the Giants' recent penchant for folding like a well-made tent?
The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:
I'm picking the Giants...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

NFL 2007 - Week 12, Part II

SAINTS @ Panthers +3

So, are the Saints bad again? Because they haven't looked particularly good the last two weeks, losing twice after that four-game winning streak of theirs. The Panthers, meanwhile, started 4-2 and looked like a playoff contender, but have lost four in a row while sticking with a starting quarterback who at one point shared the planet with President Kennedy over a guy who once shared a planet with Jor-El.

[you've missed the "David Carr Looks Exactly Like Superman" stuff, haven't you. Admit it]

Anyway, I'm not positive that I can count on the Saints, but, I'd rather do that than count on the Panthers.

Titans @ BENGALS +1.5

Titans defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth has emerged as a dominant player, but he's been out of action since getting banged up in Tennessee's November 4 win over Carolina. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Titans have lost their last two games (and they haven't been particularly close). Haynesworth might play on Sunday, but he's unlikely to be 100%.

Tennessee needs to win this one to stay in the thick of the playoff hunt, while the Bengals are going nowhere; it seems like an obvious Titans pick, but, I don't like it for some reason. I think the Bengals take it.

Make no mistake: the Bengals are bad. But, they can score points in bunches, while the Titans offense can't always be counted on.

Texans @ BROWNS -3

The Browns won a big one in Baltimore last week, but the story of the game was Cleveland kicker Phil Dawson's crazy field goal that forced overtime. What most of us learned while watching the game is that, for reasons that defy logic, field goals are not reviewable under the NFL's instant replay policy.

As a long-standing proponent not only of instant replay in sports in general (there's simply no good argument against it, and if you think there is you're wrong) but of the NFL's instant replay policy in particular (which are largely intuitive and sensible, or at least that's what I'd thought), I was taken aback by this. What possible reason could there be? I heard some talk about field goals that sail directly over one of the uprights; fine. I can understand that one in theory, although it seems daft not to look at a replay just to see if a camera somewhere had a better angle than an official if there's any doubt.

But Dawson's field goal doinked off an upright, hit the goalpost support behind the crossbar (thus making it, by rule, a successful field goal attempt), and then bounced back over the crossbar and landed in the end zone. One official standing under the goalpost called the kick no good, and one official declined to signal. Replays clearly showed that the field goal was good, and, although they deny it, officials on the field obviously communicated with people who had seen the definitive replay evidence before reversing the call on the field and giving the Browns the field goal that was rightfully theirs.

So, NFL folks: here you've got a situation in which replay evidence showed with 100% certainty that a field goal was good, yet the officials at the game technically weren't allowed to use replays to determine this fact. Care to explain that? Well, this column by ESPN's Mike Sando tells us that certain league officials assert the following, arguing against amending replay rules to include field goal attempts:

There simply aren't enough cameras to provide irrefutable video evidence for all field goal tries, and even if there were, different angles might produce different interpretations, league executives said.

These league executives were speaking on condition of anonymity, undoubtedly because they were too stupid to remember their own names. The NFL should fire these people immediately. In fact, since they spoke anonymously, the NFL should fire everyone who works for it, just to be sure they get these idiots.

Honestly. I've heard a lot of stupid stuff as pertains to sports, but, this might be the stupidest. The argument of these "league officials" is mind-blowingly dumb, given that a) there was irrefutable video evidence for this particular field goal try, and b) all angles produced the same interpretation.

What possible reason could there be not to allow the use of replay in field goals provided irrefutable video evidence exists, as it did on Dawson's kick? No possible reason, that's what.

Also, I've been watching football for the better part of three decades now, and, do you know how many major disputes I can remember about whether a field goal was good? One. This one we're discussing, in fact. I don't recall any other controversy regarding a made/missed field goal call by an official (though Sando's article mentions one from 42 years ago, presumably the only other such dispute in NFL history). This entire argument is largely academic, in fact, because whether or not the league lets officials use replay on field goals, a dispute like this is unlikely ever to come up again.

Still, if the NFL doesn't allow replay to be used for field goals starting next year (I don't believe they can change rules like this during the season, which makes sense), it will be the stupidest decision in the history of sports.

Yeah, you heard me. The stupidest decision in the history of sports.

And the Browns will cover the spread against Houston.

Bills @ JAGUARS -8

Who knows with the Jaguars, huh? You've got to figure they're back on track with David Garrard back at QB, but eight points? The Bills had a nice little winning streak going up until last week, when they, you know, lost by 46 points. Jacksonville's looking to stay hot, and who knows? With the Colts banged up, they might even make a run at the division title.

Eight points, though? Oh, all right.

Raiders @ CHIEFS -5.5

Not much going on here; neither of these teams is going anywhere. You hate to have to pick either of them. But, that's why they pay me the big bucks.

Vikings @ GIANTS -7

Ah, the memories. Vikings at Giants. One can't help but think of that miracle fourth-quarter comeback that wouldn't have occurred if instant replay had been in effect because Jake Reed's second foot was clearly out of bounds in the back of the end zone, a game that probably saved Vikings coach Dennis Green's job (and to think: we were actually excited that the Vikings won that one. How young and foolish we were).

Of course, that led, three years later, to the memorable "41-donut" game, where Green's Vikings showed as little heart as has ever been seen in the NFL playoffs.

(Green would respond, of course, by going out the next year and losing to an eventual 1-15 team, losing to an eventual 2-14 team, and quitting before the season was even over)

And speaking of quitting on your coach and showing no heart whatsoever: ladies and gentlemen, the Tom Coughlin-era New York Giants! Sure, they beat the Lions in Detroit last week, but, only by the score of 16-10. Can't the argument be made that the Lions' long-standing tradition of being horrible simply overcame the Giants' recent penchant for folding like a well-made tent (people often say "fold like a cheap tent;" I'm forced to point out that tents are generally intended to fold, so one that folds and folds well probably wouldn't be cheap)?

I'm picking the Giants, if only because the Vikings haven't strung together two good games in quite a while. I'll close with a joke I thought of a few months back, which I maintain would have been absolutely hilarious if I'd come up with it ten years ago:

"Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green recently published his autobiography, No Room For Crybabies. According to Green's publisher this was a truncated version of the book's original title, No Room For Crybabies... But Plenty of Room For Dessert."

SEAHAWKS @ Rams +3

The Seahawks don't quite have me convinced yet, and I wish the Rams were still really, really, really bad instead of just bad, because then this would be an easier pick. But Seattle's the smart choice here, I think. I hope.

Redskins @ BUCCANEERS -3

If it's possible for a .500 team with an outside shot at a playoff berth to be playing out the string, I think that's what the Redskins are doing. They were nice enough to beat the spread for me in Dallas last week, but I don't expect too much from them in Tampa.

49ERS @ Cardinals -10.5

What a strange and disturbing world this is, where the Arizona Cardinals can be favored by 10.5 points over anyone, under any circumstances.

Last week I said that if the 49ers lost bad, I would never pick them again. Luckily for me they only lost by four, or in future years I might have regretted not qualifying that statement should they re-emerge as a powerhouse. And the 49ers did beat the Cardinals in Week 1, back when everyone thought the 49ers might be good. We know now they're not. But can they manage to lose by less than 11? Let's hope.

BRONCOS @ Bears -1.5

The Broncos are hot all of a sudden. How did that happen? Just two months ago I called them "bad," and then the went out and lost by 18 and by 39 (at home!). Now they're tied for first place and coming off two straight big wins over good teams.

The Bears are going the other way; they haven't looked good all year and one hears of discord on the team. It's pretty much do-or-die this week, and there's not a lot to suggest that the '07 Bears have the stomach for that.

Ravens @ CHARGERS -9

I'm not sure where San Diego's points are supposed to come from, but then again Baltimore really doesn't have anything to play for anymore this season. Still, the Ravens defense is full of proud competitors who won't let up even if the team isn't going anywhere. Of course, San Diego is loaded with talent like LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates on offense, and QB Philip Rivers has shown that he's capable of putting a really good game together. Although he hasn't put one together in a while.

I'm just going to pick the Chargers and move on, before I find myself in some sort of swirling, Wallace-Shawn-battle-of-wits logic morass.

EAGLES @ Patriots -24

24? Come on.

Dolphins @ STEELERS -16

16? Okay.

The five I feel good (or, if not good, better than the others) about:

Texans @ BROWNS -3
Vikings @ GIANTS -7
Redskins @ BUCCANEERS -3
BRONCOS @ Bears -1.5
EAGLES @ Patriots -24

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

NFL 2007 - Week 12, Part I

This week, we'll have a little mini-column picking the Thanksgiving Day games, and a regular, main column on Friday or Saturday picking the rest. I'm not going to pick Sunday games on a Wednesday, for crying out loud. I know what happens when you mess around like that. I saw Matthew McConaughey get beat up by Armand Assante in Two For the Money. You think I want any of that noise? Because if that's what you think, then I hate to break it to you, but, my brother, you are sorely mistaken.

PACKERS @ Lions +3.5

That whole thing where the Lions were going to be good was fun for a little while, wasn't it?

Doesn't it just seem like some teams in some sports -- the Detroit Lions, the Arizona Cardinals, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Tampa Bay Rays (seriously, that's their name now) -- are just meant never to be good? And, if in fact that's true, aren't the Lions absolutely one of those teams?

I don't care what the Packers do, I still don't trust them. However, they're hot. And the Lions -- like The B-Sharps during their recording of "For All The Latest Medical Poop, Call Surgeon General C. Everett Koop" -- are not. Watch: this will be the week I finally decide that I can't keep picking against the Packers, so of course this will be the week that Brett Favre chooses to turn back into 21st century Brett Favre and start chucking stupid interceptions in crunch time.

But, I've finally decided that I can't keep picking against the Packers. Even if I'll never trust them, and this is one of those games were I feel like I'm being forced to pick a certain way. I hate it. I hate the stupid Packers. I hate their stupid, awesome uniforms and their stupid, awesome stadium and their stupid, awesome quarterback. I hate being a Vikings fan. I'm starting to feel like the Packers are America, and I was born in Botswana or somewhere.

(and for those of you Michael Moore fans out there who can't stomach that analogy, feel free to think of the Packers as New Zealand. Or Denmark)

JETS @ Cowboys -14

The Jets, even if they're bad this year, don't really tend to get blown out, and maybe that out-of-nowhere win over Pittsburgh on Sunday was a sign of things to come. Maybe it was a fluke.

And maybe you can't really call a 9-1 team shaky, and maybe the Cowboys haven't really given anybody any reason to think they're shaky, but, for some reason, a while ago I decided they were shaky. I picked against them last week and they didn't cover the spread, so maybe they'll do me the same favor this time out.

(I kept trying to talk myself into picking the Cowboys here because they're 9-1, but I couldn't. So, I figured, go with my gut. And what a gut it will be, come Thursday evening)

COLTS @ Falcons +11.5

The Colts without Dwight Freeney and Marvin Harrison just aren't the Colts (for those of you who don't follow the NFL incredibly closely: think "Cheers" without, say, Carla and Norm).

Luckily for Indianapolis, though, the Falcons are, in fact, the Falcons.

[note: you'll notice that I've eschewed my typical "Games I Feel Good About This Week" feature in this particular mini-column. The reason is simple: I don't feel particularly good about any of these three games. That feature will return in the regular, full-length column on Friday. Or maybe Saturday. I'll get it up before Sunday's games, I promise]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Week 11 Wrap-up

First, the bad news. It's looking more and more like my incredible, near-psychic Week 6 through Week 9 run of 35-17-2 may have been more the product of good luck than of vast, reliable football knowledge. The last two weeks, I'm 6-23-3, which is comically, cartoonishly awful.

But the good news: it's looking more and more like my pathetic, near-brain-dead Week 9 through Week 10 run of 6-23-3 may have been more the product of bad luck than of minimal, unreliable football knowledge. Like I pointed out before: you couldn't possibly flip a coin and go 1-12-1, as I did last week. I must know something; it's just that what I know is wrong!

Also, a note on this week... look for two NFL picks columns: a mini one on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, wherein I pick the three Thanksgiving Day games, and a full column on Friday or Saturday, where I handle the rest of the week.

Okay, I've stalled long enough. On to the brutal, brutal numbers.

Week 11: 5-9-2

Overall: 70-77-10

Games I Felt Good About in Week 10: 1-4

Games I've Felt Good About Overall: 25-29-1

Yeah, But Still...

Week 6 through Week 11, Overall: 41-38-5

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:

Since Halloween the Falcons have looked sort of like an NFL team; this is the week we all remember, "oh, yeah. The Falcons are bad."

The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:

Really? The Vikings are going to score five points without Adrian Peterson? How are they going to do it... skeleton power?

Turns out they did it against a horrible Raiders team, with a running back who gained over 1,000 yards last season running behind one of the best offensive lines in football. Mea culpa on that one, Steve Hutchinson, Matt Birk and Bryant McKinnie.

I still don't think the Vikings are going anywhere this season, but, at 4-6, they've officially closed the discussion (which was going on between me and no one else, frankly) of whether they'll be the worst Vikings team of all time. They may not even be the worst Vikings team of the Brad Childress era. We'll see.

Friday, November 16, 2007

NFL 2007 - Week 11

BUCCANEERS @ Falcons +3

As unthinkable as it would have seemed at the beginning of the season, the Falcons can claw their way back into the NFC South playoff race with a win against Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Falcons haven't really beaten a decent team yet, though. And, with a victory over Atlanta, the Buccaneers would be sitting in the fabled catbird seat. Since Halloween the Falcons have looked sort of like an NFL team; this is the week we all remember, "oh, yeah. The Falcons are bad."

Browns @ RAVENS +3

What a difference a year makes, no? Last year the Ravens had the NFL's second-best record, and the Browns hadn't had a winning season since Tara Reid was hot. Now, barely over halfway into the '07 campaign, Cleveland is favored at Baltimore? The Browns have piled up a few wins against a few not-so-impressive teams, but they surprised and impressed with their showing in Pittsburgh last week, even though they lost.

Still... I'm not convinced that the Browns are ready to wear the big boy pants. If they take care of business in Baltimore, I'll obviously reconsider.

Cardinals @ BENGALS -3

Woof. You've got two teams that are capable of scoring in bunches, but quite frequently don't. I'll hold my nose and take the Bengals, if only because Arizona hasn't been good on the road.

PANTHERS @ Packers -9.5

Did someone just say "good on the road?" The Panthers are 4-1 on the road; apparently nothing could be finer than getting the hell out of Carolina.

And I still don't trust Green Bay, even though there's a distinct possibility that they'll be playing in the Super Bowl this year. The Pack is ranked first in the league in passing... and last in the league in rushing. You can't just keep winning like that. They won't let you play the Vikings every week.

I'm going with the rare "Road Team Will Beat the Spread, But Lose the Game" prediction, normally fraught with peril. I say the Packers win a close one. But I'm picking against the point spread officially, so if the Pack loses I still get to count this one. Follow?

SAINTS @ Texans -1.5

The Saints bandwagon overturned last week with a home loss to the winless Rams. I think that was an anomaly, much like, oh, I don't know... just to pick a random anomaly... Houston's 2-0 start. I know you pick an NFC team on the road against a bye-week-rested AFC team at your own risk, but, I like the Saints.

Chiefs @ COLTS -14.5

Yes, the Colts have fallen back to earth. But hey, you and I both know: those weren't really the Colts. This week they won't have 94 key players out with injuries (maybe just 60 or 70), and Peyton Manning won't throw 6 interceptions. They'll be fine. Against a Chiefs with quarterback Brodie Croyle making his first career start, they'll be fine.

Chargers @ JAGUARS -3

Seriously, Jaguars: make up your minds. Stop teasing us. Either be good or don't. It's too hard to try and pick your games every week. Luckily, the Chargers offense stinks.

RAIDERS @ Vikings -5

Really? The Vikings are going to score five points without Adrian Peterson? How are they going to do it... skeleton power?

(sorry. Needlessly obscure "Simpsons" reference there. When you're a Vikings fan, and you're writing about the 2007 Vikings -- and Adrian Peterson isn't playing -- you've really got to make your own fun. In fact, let's take our minds off of the Vikings by looking at some of the awesome, awesome lists from, shall we?)

DOLPHINS @ Eagles -10

The Eagles have been going lose, win, lose, win, lose, win since Week 2 now. They won last week, but, it's hard to imagine they'll lose to the Dolphins. It's a little easier to imagine they'll beat them by 11 or more, but, not much easier. Dare I make two " Road Team Will Beat the Spread, But Lose the Game" picks in one week? I do.

Giants @ LIONS +3

One of these 6-3 teams isn't for real. This game should help clarify that.

Here's what the Giants have done in the Tom Coughlin era:

2004 - Started 5-2, finished 6-10.

2005 - Went 11-5, okay, fine; but lost 23-0 at home in their first playoff game.

2006 - Started 6-2, finished 8-8.

2007 - Started 6-2, finished... ? .

This, my friends, is more than a pattern; it's a way of life. The Giants, it could be said, are the new Vikings (6-0 to 9-7 in '03; 4-1 to 8-8 in '04; 4-2 to 6-10 in '06). And the Vikings are, like, the new getting punched in the balls.

Also, the Lions have been good-slash-excellent at home this season. And they're three-point underdogs in Detroit?

STEELERS @ Jets +9.5

The Jets just haven't been losing by much, have they? Still... you kind of feel like that gutty Steelers win over Cleveland last week is the sort of game after which at elite team (like, say, the Steelers) goes out and just lays waste to its next opponent. And, really, in the grand scheme of things, who ever went broke picking against the Jets?

REDSKINS @ Cowboys -10.5

Oh, dear. The Cowboys are the class of the NFC, certainly. They've just finished up beating two division foes, decisively, on the road. But this line is too high, this game is too important to the Redskins' playoff chances, and Tony Romo is too capable of turning back into a toad for three hours on any given Sunday. It kills me, but, I feel like I've got to take the Redskins.

Rams @ 49ERS +3

The 49ers are just terrible, aren't they? I mean, so are the Rams, but, the 49ers... pew. And Alex Smith is now out at quarterback, and while he hasn't been great, I don't think there's exists a scenario outside of someone being held captive and threatened with death by torture unless they can produce, within the hour, a balding 6'4" man who went to Fresno State in which anyone might possibly ever utter the words "Thank God Trent Dilfer's here!"

That was a long way to go for a joke, I know, and you'll probably respect me even less when you notice that I have, in fact, actually picked the 49ers. The Rams are averaging 15 points a game, folks. Under 12.5 you don't count last week, when they accidentally won in New Orleans. If the 49ers lose this one bad, I'll never pick them again. That's my promise to you.

Bears @ SEAHAWKS -5.5

Speaking of things you'd never think anyone would ever say as far as NFL quarterbacks go: "Oh, no! Brian Griese is injured! Now we'll have to settle for the guy who quarterbacked us into the Super Bowl last season."

It seems like Devin Hester gives the Bears a puncher's chance in any game, but I'll assume the 24-0 Monday night thrashing of San Francisco gave the Seahawks some momentum they'll be able to build on this week.

PATRIOTS @ Bills +16

The Bills are on a nice little four game winning streak (against sub-par teams, but, a winning streak is a winning streak), and I don't think it's inevitable that they'll simply consent to being embarrassed by the Patriots. I think they'll put up some semblance of a fight. That said, the Patriots are just so, so good, and this could end up being a 20-point game while still seeming closer than that. I was all set to pick against the Patriots, but, I just can't. Damn it. I really want to, too.

TITANS @ Broncos -2

It comes down to this: was Tennesee's ugly home loss to Jacksonville on Sunday a hiccup, or a sign of things to come? I'll go with hiccup. And the Broncos still aren't good.

BUCCANEERS @ Falcons +3
SAINTS @ Texans -1.5
RAIDERS @ Vikings -5
Giants @ LIONS +3
TITANS @ Broncos -2

Thursday, November 15, 2007

NFL picks coming...

My dear reader(s?):

The NFL picks are usually up by now; I know. They're coming. Maybe not in the next couple of hours, but, they'll definitely be up by... let's say... Saturday morning.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Week 10 Wrap-up

I feel I should be allowed to speak in my own defense following my picks this week. I have two points to make.

1) I announced in my picks column that I felt a bad week coming on. I mentioned this twice, in fact. I said, specifically:

I'm feeling a pretty bad week coming on, so you probably shouldn't listen to me about anything else this week.

and, in discussing the line on the Bears-Raiders game:

See? This is why this is such a horrible week.

So, I think I proved that I know enough to know when I have no idea.

2) I don't bet on games, as I've said (unless I'm in Vegas. Which I almost never am). If I did bet on games -- if, for the sake of argument, I bet $100 on every game every week -- I would have looked at this week's games, shaken my head, and taken my entire weekly gambling budget and bet it on the Packers. As such, I would actually have won more money this week than in any weeks previous. So there.

Week 10: 1-12-1

Overall: 65-68-8

Games I Felt Good About in Week 10: 1-4

Games I've Felt Good About Overall: 24-25-1

Just to show you that this week was the exception rather than the rule...

Week 6 through Week 10, Overall: 36-29-3

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:

No WAY the Vikings keep this close. Absolutely NO WAY. I can't imagine the Packers will be dumb enough to let Adrian Peterson beat them and inept enough not to be able to exploit the Vikings' horrible pass defense.

The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:

[This, minus the above.]

Thursday, November 08, 2007

NFL 2007 - Week 10

Falcons @ PANTHERS -4

Panthers haven't won at home yet; don't they have to eventually? Four is higher than I'd like (I'd be more comfortable with three), but, the Falcons are bad. And Vinny Testaverde might start, instead of David Carr. That's always a good sign for Carolina. For anybody, really.

Vikings @ PACKERS -5.5

No WAY the Vikings keep this close. Absolutely NO WAY. I can't imagine the Packers will be dumb enough to let Adrian Peterson beat them and inept enough not to be able to exploit the Vikings' horrible pass defense.

Broncos @ CHIEFS -3

Larry Johnson might not play, but the Broncos are bad. The Chiefs aren't going to lose two in a row at Arrowhead in the thick of a playoff race. They're in first place, you know. And, to reiterate: the Broncos are bad.

Bills @ DOLPHINS +3

It's almost impossible to think that the Dolphins will go winless; they're coming off of their bye, and they're playing the Bills, who are good, but not so good you can't imagine them losing to the Dolphins.

Rams @ SAINTS -11.5

The Rams are just so, so bad. Some weeks ago I recommended that, when picking Rams games this season, you pretend you just woke up from a coma that started in August of 1999. By the same token, when picking Saints games for the rest of the year, you should probably pretend that you missed the first month of the 2007 NFL season, when the Saints went 0-4. They're 4-0 since. Sure, that's against mostly bad teams, but, the Rams are a completely bad team.

Browns @ STEELERS -9.5

The Browns are pretty good, but, the Steelers have been absolutely unstoppable at home this year. If my quick math is correct (and, to be honest, there's no reason to believe that it is), the Steelers' smallest margin of victory at Heinz Field this season has been 21 points.

This could be a tight game, because the Browns could turn out be tough enough to give the Steelers a tight game, but I'm really just protecting myself with this pick. If you pick the Browns, and then they get blown away like every other Steelers opponent in Pittsburgh this year, someone could say, "what were you thinking? The Steelers have blown away every opponent in Pittsburgh this year!" And if you pick the Steelers but they don't cover, you've got a good excuse: "How was I supposed to know? The Steelers have blown away every opponent in Pittsburgh this year!"

Hence, the pick.

Jaguars @ TITANS -4

Just when I think the Jaguars are good, they go out and crap the bed in New Orleans. The Titans just keep winning, somehow, even if it would be scientifically impossible to put up fewer fantasy points at quarterback than Vince Young and still manage to win real live games.

Eagles @ REDSKINS -3

The Eagles are really bad, guys. Listen to me about this, if you listen to me about nothing else this week (and, in fact, I'm feeling a pretty bad week coming on, so you probably shouldn't listen to me about anything else this week.

Bengals @ RAVENS -4

The Bengals are in the middle of a lost season, while the Ravens are tied for the seventh-best record in the AFC (and six teams make the playoffs). The Ravens can't possibly afford not to take care of teams like the Bengals if they hope to have any chance.

LIONS @ Cardinals -1

Last week I said I was done getting burned by a lack of faith in the Lions. Maybe they won't beat this spread, but, I'd sleep better Sunday night knowing that I didn't back the Arizona Cardinals over a 6-2 team that's probably headed for the playoffs.

Cowboys @ GIANTS +1.5

Tough one; I think the game will be close, so, if the spread was three points either way I'd just pick a close game and that would be that. Since I can't decide, I'll just take the Giants because they're rested up from their bye week and I don't like the Cowboys. Also, Tony Romo's due for another stinker of a game pretty soon.

I'd expect the Giants to fold again this year, but, none of their key players are currently announcing their retirement effective at the end of the season and going on endlessly about how unimportant football is in their lives, Tiki Barber.

Bears @ RAIDERS +3.5

See? This is why this is such a horrible week. The Bears are bad, but, so are the Raiders, but, are the Raiders this bad? Are they Lose By Four at Home to a 3-5 Team bad?

I practically wanted to flip a coin on this game, but, I will say this: it's nice to see the Curse of the Super Bowl Loser back in full effect (in recent years, the team that loses the Super Bowl goes on to miss the playoffs the following season). I was getting worried there, what with last year's Seahawks coming within an overtime loss of playing in the NFC title game.

COLTS @ Chargers +3.5

Who can possibly guess what the Chargers are going to do? This is why this week stinks. Don't expect me to go 9-5 again, folks.

By the way, Patriots fans have officially gone 'round the bend. A Boston camera guy who's miraculously named neither "Sully" nor "Fitz" (look at him!) claims the Colts pump in artificial crowd noise to mess with opposing teams, and that this was "confirmed" by an RCA Dome "security guard."

NotSully reports that, when the Patriots had the ball, the crowd noise was almost deafening, but when the Colts were on offense to RCA Dome was quiet. Why, it's almost as if the Colts fans in attendance realized that they could create some sort of home field "advantage" by being noisy when the Patriots were attempting to communicate signals on offense, and remaining silent while the Colts were operating with the ball.

Also, they provide "proof" in the form of the CBS feed in which it seems that a "skip" in the audio can be heard. This could only have been the Colts cheating, right? I mean, what are the odds that the audio issue could possibly have had something to do with CBS, huh? Like, a billion to one? When's the last time a network's broadcast of a live sporting event was anything less than completely perfect? It must have been the Colts cheating.

Hey, Boston sports fan: your teams win everything, all the time. Feel free not to be completely miserable. I know that's what you're used to, and if that's not your identity then you might have to admit that you're (gasp!) just like every other freaking sports fan in the country, and you're not special just because you're from Boston. But feel free.

49ERS @ Seahawks -10

I think you could make a living betting against the Seahawks this year. They shouldn't be favored by 10 against anybody, even the 49ers. Well, maybe the 49ers. But still.

The five I feel good (or, if not good, better than the others) about:

Falcons @ PANTHERS -4
Vikings @ PACKERS -5.5
Eagles @ REDSKINS -3
Bengals @ RAVENS -4
LIONS @ Cardinals -1

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Week 9 Wrap-up

Week 9: 9-5

Overall: 64-56-7

Games I Felt Good About in Week 9: 3-2

Games I've Felt Good About Overall: 23-21-1

Just for fun...

Week 6 through Week 9, Overall: 35-17-2

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:

The Bengals are just bad. Yet they're favored. It is because Chad Johnson comes up with touchdown celebrations that are funny 70% of the time (and pretty lame otherwise)? Is it because they had a decent season two years ago? What indication have the Bengals given that they should be favored on the road against any team in the NFL, let alone a Bills squad that's two last-second field goals away from being undefeated at home?

The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:

What do the Jaguars have to do, go around shaking the shoulders of random people they meet on the street and screaming, "Hey! We're good!" The Saints have built a three-game winning streak against two teams who are very bad (Falcons and 49ers) and one team that somehow has a winning record despite being pretty lousy (Seahawks). The Jaguars, on the other hand, are good.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Oscar Picks, Year Three... And-a-Half???

[note: not long ago, Athletic Reporter Co-Creator and Photoshop Guru Jameson Simmons e-mailed out a mock-up of his glorious Oscar pool ballot, which he was using to tweak the program in advance (well in advance) of next year's Academy Awards. Rather than list last year's nominees he made up his own, using fake (but real-sounding) movie titles and the names of real Hollywood stars. It was breathtaking; the kind of thing that makes me want to poop my pants with glee. I realized that I had absolutely no choice but to do what you are now about to read. The following takes place in an alternate universe that is exactly like our own, except that the 2008 Oscars are days away, and the nominees are made up of the films on Jameson's mock-up. Oh: and the Minnesota Vikings have multiple Super Bowl victories to their credit. Because why not? Enjoy]

Hey, kiddies, it's that time of year again! That's right: time for the glorious, fabulous, often maddening, always fascinating Oscar Pool, as well as the accompanying Athletic Reporter Oscar Picks column! I've got some making up to do, after my solid but unspectacular record in the picks column and my utter failure in the pool last year. Fear not, though, dear readers, because this year I've seen the bulk of the nominated films, and can offer the sort of expert advice I simply haven't been able to give before.

Let's get started, shall we?

(these are my predictions for who will win, it should be noted. Who will win, not necessarily who should win)



Rita Wilson's War

Other Nominees:

France, 1820
My First Caliphate
The Wasted Life

I know the Oscar rule of thumb has been that the film with the most nominations usually wins Best Picture, but that rule hasn't been quite as hard-and-fast of late (last year's most-nominated film, Dreamgirls, didn't even receive a Best Picture nod). So France, 1820 (nine nominations to Rita's eight) is some people's pick, but I think that the lack of any acting nominations for France portends a lack of Academy-wide support. Besides, it racked up a bunch of noms in costume and art direction-type pee break categories that Rita was, perhaps, not quite "epic" enough to contend in. So, sure, it was the most nominated movie, but... eh.

The Wasted Life was well done, was a pretty brutal portrait of American frontier life, but was a relatively "small" movie and was mainly just a downer. Not the kind of thing Best Pictures are made of, and I'm not sure enough people saw it. But if I had to handicap the race I'd say it was probably running a solid third in this category.

My First Caliphate, for all the controversy that surrounded it before it was released, was ultimately staid and sedated, almost to a fault. It featured some flawless performances but, as far as I'm concerned, never coalesced into an affecting film. It aimed for the heart, but it only hit the head (and, because of the 177-minute running time and my large Diet Coke, so did I. Twice).

And, as I always mention, every year some often dumb and always undeserving little comedy sneaks into the Best Picture field, certain to be completely forgotten about in the next few years (like, when's the last time you heard anybody mention Chocolat?). As such, the less said about the slapdash mishmash of clichés and lame set pieces that was Magnified -- and the less said about the hacky, one-note supporting "performance" by the usually good, herein bad and now inexplicably nominated John Lithgow -- the better.

So, Rita Wilson's War, then. I know we've been hearing the comparisons to Being John Malkovich ever since the project was first announced, but, really, all the two movies have in common is a trippy sort of surrealism and a famous person or two (Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, most notably) playing themselves. I don't think the Malkovich factor will hold Rita Wilson's War back at all, and I don't think Hollywood will be able to resist awarding a movie that so skillfully uses industry in-jokes while taking care to entertain and avoid alienating those who aren't as in the know. The uproarious cameo by Spielberg alone was almost worth a Best Picture trophy (especially in what I think was a bit of a lean year), but I still can't figure out why more people aren't talking about that blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance from everyone's favorite former governor, Jesse Ventura. Anyway, Rita Wilson's War stands above the field in terms of originality, sheer quality (in my humble opinion) and critical acclaim, and since the Academy has shown a willingness of late to award Best Picture to movies that actually are set in the present day (The Departed, Crash, Million Dollar Baby), I'll say Rita over France.



Stephen Frears, Rita Wilson's War

Other Nominees:

Doug Liman, Can Only Feel Diamonds
Martin Scorsese, France, 1820
Clint Eastwood, My First Caliphate
Paul Greengrass, The War Birds

This category is actually one of the easiest of the night; Frears has won every major award short of the Heisman Trophy (for which I think he actually finished like fourth). And, in case you never actually looked, he really does have quite an impressive -- and eclectic -- body of work (Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, High Fidelity, The Queen and now Rita Wilson's War).

I don't see a director whose film isn't nominated winning this year (they never really do), so there go Liman and Greengrass. Clint Eastwood already has two Best Director wins, and I think if you really got down to it, most movie lovers would be forced to admit that My First Caliphate probably doesn't crack his own career Top Five.

And it would be harder to discount Scorsese if he hadn't finally won last year. But he did. So push all your chips to the center of the table when Best Director comes up; you won't have to worry about it.



Rupert Everett, Shy and Alive

Other Nominees:

Matt Damon, A Frank Portrayal
Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson's War
Kevin Kline, The First Man Home
Robert Redford, Notebook

I heard once, a few years ago, that nobody has even won Best Actor when his Best Actor nomination was the only nomination that film received. I don't feel like looking that up to find out it it's true, mainly because even if it is it won't be for long. Only Hanks's Rita has received any nominations anywhere else, and although Hanks is great in the movie, if he's going to get a third Oscar it's going to be some other year.

This has been a weird one to predict: Kline won the SAG award; Damon won numerous critics' awards; the Golden Globe went to France, 1820's Sam Rockwell as Prime Minister Elie Decazes, and then Rockwell didn't even get nominated here; Redford's nomination seems to have come out of nowhere (and, many feel, at Rockwell's expense. In fact, if Rockwell had been nominated, I dare say he'd have been my pick)...

I'll go with Rupert Everett; not only does it seem like he's getting a surge of late buzz, he's actually the only guy in this category who hasn't already won an Oscar in some category or another. And, as much as I enjoyed Rockwell and was surprised that he was left out, Everett's portrayal of 18th century civil rights crusader Horatio Tardwell pretty much had everything: he's mentally handicapped, he's British (the actor and the character), and (spoiler alert!) he dies at the end. All stuff that Academy voters eat up with a spoon.



Sandra Bullock, Torn From the Top

Other Nominees:

Frances McDormand, The Franken File
Julia Roberts, My Skirt Ripped!
Meryl Streep, I Appeared In a Movie This Year... er, I mean... My First Caliphate
Hilary Swank, Bible Murder

One of the other putative "no-doubters" of the night, or, at least the one acting category of the four that's closest to being a sure thing. I don't have much to say about any of these movies, so I'll just say this in regards to Sandra Bullock: Hey! Hey, Academy! If you keep giving Oscars to beautiful women whose main performance feature is that they dressed up ugly, then beautiful women will continue to dress up ugly to try to win Oscars! And no one wants that. We want to look at hot women being hot. That’s why we have Hollywood. Next time you've got a script with an ugly chick in it, maybe think about hiring, like, Joy Behar instead of Jessica Biel. That's all I'm saying.

Two other points about Best Actress:

1) If Annette Bening were also nominated this year, I'd be picking Hilary Swank to beat her again,


2) You'll hear bitching from time to time about how hard it is for women in Hollywood, but, let me just ask: did Richard Gere get nominated for Pretty Woman? Did Aaron Eckhart get nominated for Erin Brockovich? Did Hugh Jackman get nominated for My Skirt Ripped!? No, they didn't, did they. An actress can get nominated for just about any kind of movie, whereas an actor pretty much has to play a President or a retard (wait until they make a movie about George W... some lucky actor will get to play both! Ha! Get it? Because he's stupid and evil! I'm so brave for joking like that! Speak truth to power!)



Christopher Guest, Frances Harper

Other Nominees:

Javier Bardem, Under the Waning Moon
Samuel L. Jackson, The Short List
John Lithgow, Magnified
Kevin Spacey, The War Birds

This was the toughest one by far, and I admit to sort of throwing up my hands and voting with my heart on this one. According to almost every barometer of Oscar buzz, it’s pretty much a three-man race between Guest, Bardem and Jackson, but I’ll take Christopher Guest with his chilling portrayal of the psychologically abusive patriarch in Frances Harper. If you didn’t see the movie, first of all, shame on you, and second of all, by way of describing Guest’s performance: imagine if Count Rugen, the character Guest so skillfully played in The Princess Bride, had been 50% smarter, 20% more evil, about half as funny, and scarier than any character in any movie ever. That will give you a pretty good idea of what Guest did with Solomon Harper. Christopher Guest has given so much to movies over the course of his career; it’s time that movies gave back.

(should I throw in a “dammit!” here? Oh, why not?)

Christopher Guest has given so much to movies over the course of his career; it’s time that movies gave back, dammit!

Then there’s Bardem and Jackson to contend with. Bardem’s been nominated before, and he just has this stink about him of a guy who in no way won’t win an Oscar someday. In Athletic Reporter Co-Creator and Photoshop Guru Jameson Simmons’s Oscar pool, you’re given 10 points per category to parcel out as you wish; I don’t know that I’ve ever split any points in an acting category but, as much as I’m pulling for Guest, I might have to throw a couple of points Bardem’s way.

And then there’s Jackson; he’s never won an Oscar, he’s a big movie star, and he’s black. So, he’s got a hell of a lot going in his favor as far as this is concerned (the last few years they've been giving out Academy Awards to black actors like it's going out of style). I’m sure he’ll also win an Oscar someday, but for the sake of Christopher Guest I hope that day is at least a year away. Plus, he was only in two scenes in The Short List, and although there’s almost universal agreement that he made the most of them, the movie didn’t make as much of a splash as he did and, as far as I’m concerned, it is unlikely to be remembered much beyond the next few years.

Kevin Spacey’s already got two Oscars, and, if John Lithgow wins I’m really going to have to move to some country were they don’t even allow movies. Like, Saudi Arabia or somewhere.



Catherine Keener, Reverse Cowgirl

Other Nominees:

Julie Delpy, The War Birds
Olympia Dukakis, After the Depression
Téa Leoni, My First Caliphate
Rita Wilson, Rita Wilson’s War

Tough category, but, I’ve got to figure it’s finally Catherine Keener’s year. Leoni won the National Board of Review award and most of the early cricits’ prizes, but Keener took the SAG trophy and looks to be coming on strong. She’s been Oscar-nominated for a couple of movies and egregiously snubbed for others (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, anyone?), but, her daring, hilarious, ultimately tragic performance in Reverse Cowgirl will probably be impossible to ignore. Plus, if you really think about it, she technically avoids the old “hooker with the heart of gold” cliché because, in the strictest sense, she’s actually playing a madame.

Téa Leoni’s performance was very strong as well, but not as flashy as Keener’s, and for once I’ll decide not to mind if that’s all the Academy sees fit to consider. Rita Wilson, ironically, wasn’t actually all that integral to the happenings of Rita Wilson’s War, though she was plenty good in the film. In a slower Best Supporting Actress year she’d have a darn good chance.

Julie Delpy is being given pretty long odds, and, although it probably won’t happen, it would be kind of nice to see past winner Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck) receive that second Oscar she so clearly deserved for Too Many Grandmas.



Aaron Sorkin, Rita Wilson’s War

Other Nominees:

Guillermo Arriaga, Aim Higher
Iris Yamashita; story by Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis, Bits and Bytes
Guillermo del Toro, Scamp
Peter Morgan, The Wasted Life

And so, prodigal son Aaron Sorkin returns after taking a beating from the Jesuslanders, welcomed by the nurturing bosom of Hollywood liberals.

But seriously, Rita Wilson’s War might just be enough to wash the stink of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” off of Sorkin’s legacy, and considering how much I thought “Studio 60” blew, that’s saying something. Movie critic Manohla Dargis memorably called Rita Wilson’s War “a movie that Charlie Kaufman himself couldn’t possibly get high enough to write,” and, if you’ve seen it, that pretty much says it all. If you haven’t, then, there’s really no way to do it justice. Well done, Sorkin.



Patrick Marber, The War Birds

Other Nominees:

Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer; story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Anthony Hines, Todd Phillips, Alabaster Disaster: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Michaelangelo’s Gay Secret
Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, France, 1820
William Monahan, Into War
Todd Field and Tom Perrotta, Under the Waning Moon

I always talk about how one of the screenplay Oscars is essentially given away as a consolation prize for Best Picture (Little Miss Sunshine won a screenplay award last year, if you’ll remember), and I suspect that will happen to some degree with War Birds. A mild surprise to be left out of the Best Picture category, The War Birds is partially based on an obscure German biography of World War I flying ace Manfred “The Red Baron” von Richthofen, which is why it was slotted into the Adapted Screenplay category; but Patrick Marber fleshed out large portions of the story himself to create characters and scenes that weren’t in the book (or any book, for that matter).

Director Paul Greengrass’s dogfight sequences (the airplane kind, not the Michael Vick kind) were really well done, which makes it also a bit of a surprise that War Birds didn’t receive a Visual Effects nomination (maybe because they didn’t actually even look like special effects). A small but passionate following of fans seems to consider The War Birds to be the best movie of the year, so it’ll probably be acknowledged with a screenplay win. I suppose there's a chance that this could be the one major award that France, 1820 scores, but, I really think that for all the hullabaloo over that movie when it came out in July, people are, for the most part, over it by now.



Living in a Dirt Box, Germany

Other Nominees:

For This Day, Sweden
Home Without You, Canada
Open Sesame, Egypt
The Tallest Nun

According to some, the title Living in a Dirt Box could have been translated more accurately from the German. The movie is supposed to be a canny satire about tabloid journalism; I’ll have to take that on faith, as I haven’t seen it. I bet against Germany and The Lives of Others last year and ended up regretting it, so, I’ll stick with the Krauts (I’m half German; I can say that. You can’t. That’s our word).


And that’s it for what I like to think of as the “major” categories; as I do every year, I’ll cut-and-paste what I wrote in 2005 to explain how the rest of it works:
For the major categories, I'll give you my analysis; for the others [i.e., the "pee break" categories], I'll just tell you who Entertainment Weekly says is going to win (that's what everybody does anyway. Like you've got any clue about Best Documentary Short).
Last year, I believe I did some actual research into some of these categories, and, for the most part, it cost me. You only end up seeing something that will throw you off. I’ll stick with EW unless I really, really think I’ve got to strike out on my own, in which case I’ll let you know that’s what’s going on.

BEST ART DIRECTION: EW says Jeannine Oppewall, Gretchen Rau, Leslie E. Rollins, France, 1820. It’s got to win something, right? And these categories are harmless. Other than maybe After the Depression set decorator Nancy Haigh’s mom, who really cares if France, 1820 beats out an overall better movie for an award here?

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Wally Pfister, The War Birds. Although France, 1820 can’t be counted out here. This category is usually (not always, but usually) just an award for “most sweeping shots of the outdoors,” and to prove it, as I always do, here are Best Cinematography’s last several winners: Pan’s Labyrinth; Memoirs of a Geisha; The Aviator; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Road to Perdition; Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; American Beauty; Saving Private Ryan; Titanic; The English Patient; Braveheart; Legends of the Fall.

BEST EDITING: Clare Douglas, Christopher Rouse, Richard Pearson, Underwater Dynamo. This one often matches up with Best Picture, but it might not this year, since Rita Wilson’s War editor Thelma Schoonmaker just won last year for The Departed, and since Schoonmaker, who has edited nearly all of Martin Scorsese’s movies, underwent a highly publicized rift with the director last year, the reasons for which have never been addressed by either party in public (and not to be unkind, but I think it’s safe to assume that it’s wasn’t a lover’s tiff, because, guh).

Scorsese’s France, 1820 was, in turn, edited by Steven Rosenblum, and industry scuttlebutt suggests that, in some circles, sides have been taken and lines have been drawn in the sand as far as Editorgate goes. I (and Entertainment Weekly) look for Schoonmaker and Rosenblum to split the vote and Underwater Dynamo to emerge as the victor.

And let’s face it, maybe it should; was there a slicker, more fun, more thrilling movie all year? You got your Nicolas Cage, you got your Ryan Reynolds, you got your Danny DeVito, you got your Zooey Deschanel running around in a bikini pretty much the whole time... good stuff. Any given year’s box office champ/loud fun blockbuster usually takes home some technical awards, but Underwater Dynamo was probably deserving of a Best Picture nomination in its own right (I mean, Good Lord, if there’s a spot being taken up by freaking Magnified...), and I like it to sneak in there and grab Best Editing also.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Philip Glass, Me and Your Cousin. Evidently it’s Philip Glass’s year; he’s lost thrice before. I didn’t particularly notice the score in Me and Your Cousin, which may not be the best sign; I’m not sure film scores are necessarily supposed to be like major league umpires in that respect (i.e., you never notice the really good ones). But I certainly can’t claim that Glass’s score was particularly offensive.

Really, though, every year that Carter Burwell doesn’t win this award is a year that I just get closer and closer to joining al-Qaeda.

( I mean, really. I saw Miller’s Crossing on TV just the other day. You know what won Best Score the year Miller’s Crossing came out? Neither do I! Neither does anyone, because whatever movie it was, it’s score couldn’t carry Miller’s Crossing’s score’s jockstrap!)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “Slow,” from Friar Bait, music and lyrics by Randy Newman. I happen to love Randy Newman’s stuff. I really liked Friar Bait, too; I thought it was Disney’s best hand-drawn animated offering in quite a while, and I was surprised it was left off of the Best Animated Feature list. I did think that the decision to promote Bait from Friar to Master at the end of the movie was unwise, and probably cost them a good chunk of box office from some of your more conservative moviegoing parents.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Mark Stetson, Neil Corbould, Richard R. Hoover, Jon Thum, Underwater Dynamo. EW says Panic Island, but, I think a substantial voting block will toss Underwater Dynamo a bunch of Oscars for most -- if not all -- of the categories in which it’s nominated. In fact, I think the smart money might be on Underwater Dynamo to emerge as the most-honored movie of the night.

BEST SOUND EDITING: Christopher Boyes and George Watters II, Underwater Dynamo. Keep ‘em coming, boys!

BEST SOUND MIXING: Paul Massey, Christopher Boyes, Lee Orloff, Underwater Dynamo. EW agrees with me on the last two, by the way. Or, I should say, I agree with them.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Sharen Davis, France, 1820. Is there any chance that a movie called France, 1820 wouldn’t win a costume design Oscar?

BEST MAKEUP: David Marti and Montse Ribe, Underwater Dynamo. The makeup in France, 1820 was your pretty standard period stuff. Also: I'm not saying it should beat Dynamo here, and I hate to admit it, but, I sort of liked MonsterFace. I mean, Rob Schneider as a guy who inexplicably develops a condition that makes his face appear monstrous and gross to everyone else, only when he looks in the mirror he sees himself as normal? You’ve got to admit, MonsterFace mined all possible comedy out of that situation, and then some. And Norm Macdonald’s cameo was, as it is in all Rob Schneider movies, off-the-charts hilarious.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Up. Always bet on Pixar. It should be noted that Koala Spaceship was pretty cute, but, I think to take home the Oscar you’ve got to at least attempt to appeal to adults as well as kids, and they really didn’t.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT: The Bastard Potato. If you say so, Entertainment Weekly.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Anniversary at Birkenau. People have confused Anniversary at Birkenau with the also-nominated Birkenau: An Anniversary, but the two are similar in title only. Anniversary at Birkenau unearths the story of a Jewish couple who celebrate their first wedding anniversary at the Birkenau concentration camp in 1944 only to be executed the following day; Birkenau: An Anniversary cobbles together present-day interviews with Holocaust survivors and American soldiers done on or near the 60th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.

I haven’t seen either movie, but EW says Anniversary at Birkenau, and all I can tell about it is that I did recently get out of a screening of a different movie at the same time as an Anniversary at Birkenau crowd, and I actually heard someone say, “I never would have thought the Holocaust could seem that sad.” So, it must get the job done.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Unexpectedly Quaint. A New York power couple quits the rat race and starts up a Vermont B&B. It would sound like a lame mid-season CBS sitcom starring Mark Feuerstein (at least Mark Feuerstein) if it weren’t a true story and, according to EW, this year’s Best Documentary Short front-runner.

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT: Lavate las Manos. Oh, busboys. You can’t not be funny.

And there it is, friends. Another Athletic Reporter> Oscar Picks column in the books. It really seems like the Oscars come sooner and sooner every year, doesn’t it?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

NFL 2007 - Week 9

49ers @ FALCONS -3.5

Both of these teams are awful, but the Falcons have played some decent teams close. The 49ers, however, haven't won since Week 2 and have looked pretty bad in most of the games they've played since. Last the Niners were a somewhat encouraging 7-9, but it looks like they're regressing.

Bengals @ BILLS +1

The Bengals are just bad. Yet they're favored. It is because Chad Johnson comes up with touchdown celebrations that are funny 70% of the time (and pretty lame otherwise)? Is it because they had a decent season two years ago? What indication have the Bengals given that they should be favored on the road against any team in the NFL, let alone a Bills squad that's two last-second field goals away from being undefeated at home?

Once a week there's a line that just confuses me. Of course, I usually pick that game wrong anyway. We'll see.

Broncos @ LIONS -3

Time for this week's rant:

Lions quarterback Jon Kitna has apparently caught some flak for the Halloween costume he and his wife chose this week. A little over a year ago, Lions assistant coach Joe Cullen was arrested twice, once for getting drive-thru at a Wendy's while naked, and once for DUI. While we can all agree that drunk driving is a serious issue, and while I may not really have any problem with the idea of driving naked, the Cullen story was inarguably hilarious. So, Kitna and his wife went as a naked coach and a Wendy's employee. It might have been slightly funnier had the wife been the naked coach and Kitna been Wendy, but that's beside the point.

Now it seems that some local panties have been bunched, and Kitna has issued what seems to be genuine apology for all of the ruckus he caused.

America, you can't make Halloween into this great secular holiday, you can't constantly encourage the pushing of the Halloween costume envelope, and then bitch about it when people step over some perceived "line" (it should be noted that, according to Kitna and others within the Lions organization, Joe Cullen was okay with the Joe Cullen costume). You can't take perverse glee in last year's glut of Dead Steve Irwin costumes and then get the vapors when someone shows up in a costume that recalls a local story that was preposterous rather than tragic. If you've got a problem with what Halloween is becoming, that's one thing. But don't take that out on the Kitnas and their relatively harmless costume. This isn't Prince Harry dressing like a Nazi, here.

Anyhoo, the Lions have beaten two good teams in the last two weeks, and the Broncos are a road team that just had to play on "Monday Night Football." I'm done getting burned by a lack of faith in the Lions.

Packers @ CHIEFS -2

I think everyone assumed, even before the season started, that this week's Colts-Patriots matchup would be a battle of first-place teams. But Packers-Chiefs, too? Not a lot of people saw that coming. I still can't decide if the Chiefs are good. Then again, I still can't decide if the Packers are good, and they're 6-1. I do know that Brett Favre is a threat to lose any game he plays. He and the Pack are due for an off week, no?

CHARGERS @ Vikings +7

Man, the Vikings stink. I was thinking of having some folks over to watch Colts-Patriots this weekend, and a friend of mine wrote an e-mail saying that he was going to be out of town, but he'd love to get together at some point in the future for a less important football game, "possibly one involving Brooks Bollinger."

I was then forced, as a Vikings fan, to admit that, with Kelly Holcomb and Tarvaris Jackson as my other choices, it is my wildest dream that all Vikings games of the immediate future involve Brooks Bollinger. That's how bad it's gotten.

JAGUARS @ Saints -3

What do the Jaguars have to do, go around shaking the shoulders of random people they meet on the street and screaming, "Hey! We're good!" The Saints have built a three-game winning streak against two teams who are very bad (Falcons and 49ers) and one team that somehow has a winning record despite being pretty lousy (Seahawks). The Jaguars, on the other hand, are good.

Redskins @ JETS +3.5

The Jets have been in almost every game, and things can only go so bad for an NFL team. What if new starting quarterback Kellen Clemens has a good day? Could happen, right? And the Redskins don't blow anybody out. Except for that one week when they did.

I don't know. I don't know or care about the Redskins or the Jets, which maybe I shouldn't be admitting in a column devoted to the NFL. But I just don't care.

Cardinals @ BUCCANEERS -3.5

The Buccaneers are weird; just when you think they're good, they go out and be bad. Looking at their schedule, though, I don't see where they've lost to a bad team yet (ignoring for a moment that they lost to Seattle, who I called "lousy" just a few paragraphs back). Do they lose two winnable home games in a row? I say no. And if they win, do they do it by more than 3.5 points? I say yes.

PANTHERS @ Titans -4

The Panthers are 4-0 on the road and 0-3 at home; I'm done fighting that (besides, the Titans haven't won by more than four in a while). Plus, as I've now turned 30, Panthers quarterback Vinny Testaverde gives me hope. Playing quarterback in the NFL at 43, Testaverde lets me know that I could stay in optimum physical condition for at least the next decade-and-a-half. I mean, I'm sure I won't, but, I could.

Seahawks @ BROWNS -1.5

Who saw the Browns coming?

TEXANS @ Raiders -3

Nobody's going to be watching this game so I won't waste too much time on it, other than to say that Sage Rosefels is starting at quarterback for the Texans, and I think a guy who almost completed the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history against a solid Tennessee team can probably handle the Raiders.

COWBOYS @ Eagles +3.5

I wish I didn't have to pick this one, since I feel like the Eagles could give the Cowboys a game. Still, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was seen with Britney Spears in L.A. during Dallas's bye week, and you can call me crazy but that still means something to me, dammit. Sure, if he'd somehow managed to hook up with the 1999 version of Britney Spears last weekend, I'd really have no choice to predict that the Cowboys would somehow manage to win the Super Bowl this Sunday. As it is, I have to believe they'll beat the Eagles by at least four.

Ravens @ STEELERS -9

Almost there...

PATRIOTS @ Colts +5

Woo hoo! The greatest regular season NFL game in the history of the universe! No undefeated teams have ever met this late in the season! Manning and Brady! Dungy and Belichick! Woo hoo!

I think the Patriots will take it, but I'll be rooting for the Colts. I don't regard the Pats as the Evil Empire that lots of NFL fans do these days, but I really like the Colts.

And I'll say this about Patriots coach Bill Belichick: it sure does take enormous balls to continue to blatantly cheat while you're in the process of deliberately running up the score against your opponents to try and get back at the league for punishing you for blatantly cheating. Enormous balls. Well played, sir.

The five I feel good (or, if not good, better than the others) about:

Bengals @ BILLS +1

CHARGERS @ Vikings +7

Seahawks @ BROWNS -1.5

Ravens @ STEELERS -9

PATRIOTS @ Colts +5

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