Monday, January 21, 2008

Conference Championship Games Wrap-up

Man, I hate the Packers. I hate them so, so much. The one game -- the one game! -- in the entire history of the Green Bay Packers franchise that this Vikings fan actually wants them to win, because it would lead to the coolest Super Bowl ever, and they go out and stink up the joint.

Oh, well. At least Brett Favre proved to anyone who was actually watching that he doesn't belong in the top tier when it comes to ranking the best NFL quarterbacks of the recent era. Yes, he won a Super Bowl. So did Trent Dilfer. And I know he's set a lot of records, but, you probably would too if you played for six hundred years. He's a fine quarterback; I'm not saying he's not. But he proved he doesn't belong up there with the likes of Elway, Marino, Montana, Manning or Brady. Those guys could usually be counted on not to kill their own teams quite so often.

So at least there was that.

Conference Championship Games: 0-2

Playoffs Overall: 5-5

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:
I'm wary about getting too excited about a Patriots-Packers Super Bowl before Sunday's games; like Cubs-Red Sox World Series we were so cruelly teased with in 2003, it seems far too good to actually happen.
The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:
But then you look at these matchups, and you can't help it.
Remember; I'll be back at some point this week with something, even though there's no NFL this weekend. That's right: there's no NFL this weekend. Please, try to remain calm.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

NFL 2007 - Conference Championship Games

Here's the thing: Patriots-Packers II (don't forget XXXI) would be the most anticipated Super Bowl in history, and probably the most widely watched television event in years. It would feature the only two current NFL quarterbacks that my wife might have a chance of actually identifying [I realize it might seem weird that I don't think she could identify Peyton Manning, but, a) his commercials -- of which there are thousands -- pretty much just run during sports shows, which she would never watch, and b) for a woman who seems pop-culturally literate and lives and works in the Los Angeles area, she can really surprise you. Like last week, when she had no idea who Michael Bay was. Am I a jerk for being stunned by that?]. It would, in the minds of a lot of sports fans, pit good vs. evil. It would cast one of the nation's most beloved, accomplished athletes as a scrappy underdog going up against the kind of soulless, win-at-all-costs operation that makes your over-the-top, slick-haired, ozone-polluting, toxic-waste-dumping '80s action movie villain look like some sort of Care Bear. And not the grumpy one, even; the one with like a rainbow on its chest.

I can't really even think of an event in sports history that compares; some have brought up the 1980 USA-USSR Olympic hockey semifinal game, which is somewhat apt because the Packers (Brett Favre aside) are a young, likeable, relatively inexperienced bunch going up against a joyless, cyborg-like group of win-bots who don't give a damn about you or your family. The Patriots may as well come out with C.C.C.P. on their jerseys.

(That would be the angle, anyway. I personally like the Patriots even though I imagine Bill Belichick is a jerk, and as a true Vikings fan I can't possibly root for the Packers. At least, not admittedly)

But that's what has the potential to be so dangerous this week: Patriots-Packers is almost too good to actually happen. Stuff like that doesn't happen in real life, right?

I mean, if you were making a movie about a fictional quarterback, you'd have him go to a small Southern college and excel, go to a Southern team but never get to play, and then get sent to Wisconsin (brr!). He'd win a Super Bowl right away, and everything would be gravy.

But then, things would take a turn. He'd lose the Super Bowl the next year to an older, better quarterback, all the while fighting a losing battle against pills, booze and partying. His wife would finally tell him, "It's me or the lifestyle, honey." A kindly old veteran whom our young quarterback helped win that long-awaited Super Bowl title would help him get right with his family and with his God. Our quarterback would turn things around in his personal life, starting charities and becoming a pillar of the community, growing into a national hero.

But our movie isn't over. Our hero's father passes away, as does the beloved veteran who helped our man turn his life around. His Mississippi hometown is flattened by a hurricane, he has a couple of sub-par years on the playing field and he starts to wonder if maybe this part of his life hasn't passed him by.

Nope, he decides. I'm coming back for another year. And then what happens? His team starts winning. And winning. And winning. They get all the way to the Super Bowl, one last hurrah for our hero, but there's one more problem. Their opponents are none other than an undefeated juggernaut -- winners of three of the last six Super Bowls -- who happened to have been caught cheating at the beginning of the season and laughed it off on the way to 18 straight wins.

At this point, any fan of sports movies would have to say, "Come on. That's stretching it a little. Do they have to be undefeated and have been caught cheating that same year? That seems unlikely, if not impossibly convenient for this storyline."

That's why I'm wary about getting too excited about a Patriots-Packers Super Bowl before Sunday's games; like Cubs-Red Sox World Series we were so cruelly teased with in 2003, it seems far too good to actually happen.

But then you look at these matchups, and you can't help it.

Giants @ PACKERS -7

My little "movie of Brett Favre's life" bit from before leaves one thing out: he should be facing the Cowboys in Dallas, where he's never won in his career, then moving on to play the undefeated juggernaut in the Super Bowl. That would be a better storyline than the "who cares" Giants coming into Lambeau and getting pasted. The Giants vaunted pass rush -- like the Seahawks vaunted pass rush before it -- could have a little trouble gaining traction on the frozen tundra (Sunday's Green Bay forecast calls for a high temperature of 4, with flurries), and, let's not forget, the Packers' offensive line has received one or two vaunts of its own. They pushed Seattle around and ran all over them, and they should do the same to New York.

Meanwhile, the Giants put together 57 yards of offense in the second half last week on a nice warm artificial surface in Dallas in a game that I'm still not convinced they actually won.

And finally, I don't think the Giants can count on Brett Favre being as distracted this week as Cowboys QB Tony Romo was last week. A thorough study has revealed that this is the most attractive Favre groupie in all of Wisconsin.

Chargers @ PATRIOTS -14

The Chargers have the Colts' number. Nobody has the Patriots' number. No chance they lose this game, and it's probably not close.

The Super Bowl is two weeks after the conference title games, but, I'll be sure to put something up next week, too. In the middle of what promises to be the best Super Bowl hype ever!


Monday, January 14, 2008

Divisional Playoffs Wrap-up

Divisional Playoffs: 1-3

Playoffs Overall: 5-3

Bleh. Everyone else picked the Giants, and I thought all the favorites would cover (or, at the very least, the Giants wouldn't be the underdog that beat the spread), so I'd be 3-1 and everybody else would be 2-2. Instead, everybody's 2-2 and I'm 1-3. Oh, well. Next week everybody's going 2-0 (Packers and Patriots, not to spoil the column).

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:

The Packers should really just roll.

The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:

Yes, San Diego did beat the Colts at home back in November when Peyton Manning threw six interceptions, Darren Sproles gave the Chargers two kick returns for touchdowns, Adam Vinatieri missed a clutch field goal and key players Marvin Harrison, Anthony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark and Tony Ugoh were injured and couldn't play for Indianapolis. If all that stuff happens again, the Chargers might have a chance. If not, probably not.


Friday, January 11, 2008

NFL 2007 - Divisional Playoffs

Seahawks @ PACKERS -8.5

As I was watching the Seahawks surrender a 13-point lead to the Redskins in the fourth quarter of last week's game, I thought to myself, "You know, maybe I shouldn't have picked a team with a lousy offense to cover the spread in a playoff game." Luckily, the Redskins don't happen to be all that good, and the Seahawks went in to win rather comfortably.

This week, I'm pretty sure it'll catch up with them. Everybody and his dog is looking forward to the "Can Brett Favre Finally Win in Dallas?" storyline next weekend, and the Seahawks certainly won't be the ones to spoil that. The Packers should really just roll.

And, since I can't think of anything else to say about this game, I'll talk about something an announcer said last week that I thought was pretty silly. Some team -- I forget which; why don't we say for the sake of argument that it was the Redskins, even though it probably wasn't -- was about to score a touchdown after having scored a touchdown a few minutes ago. As they were getting ready to run a play, the announcer said something about how the Redskins are about to have scored "14 unanswered points."

Is that really a thing? Isn't that just one team scoring a touchdown, and then the same team scoring one more touchdown before the opposing team happens to tally any intervening points? It's not that big of a deal. "35 unanswered points," sure. "24 unanswered points," I'll give you. "17 unanswered points," maybe. But 14? Wouldn't you have to assume that almost half of the touchdowns scored in the NFL are scored by the team that last scored points?

And declaring those 14 Redskins points (seven of which were hypothetical; remember, the Redskins were merely about to score) to be "unanswered" was a little bit unfair. I mean, the extra point goes through the uprights, and immediately the Seahawks are blamed for not "answering?" The Redskins haven't even kicked off to them yet; when were they supposed to have "answered" that second touchdown? During one of those Coors Light commercials?

And if you're going to go that far, aren't all points, in all sports, basically "unanswered?" For at least a little while? "A nice shot by Kobe Bryant to start the ballgame, and the Lakers have now scored two unanswered points."

Let's calm down a little bit with the "unanswered," is what I'm saying.

Jaguars @ PATRIOTS -13

Much like Lloyd Bridges' character in Airplane! picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue, the Jaguars picked the wrong season to be the dangerous Wild Card team that nobody wants to play. That sort of thing might work in a weird year when the Colts choke away a big playoff game, somebody else is nice enough to knock off the defending champs so you don't have to play them, and the other conference really has nothing to offer in the way of opponents (I'm looking at you, 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers); but it's not going to fly when you have to go up against the best football team in the history of the world (which is how this year's Patriots -- unless they don't win the Super Bowl -- absolutely must be regarded).

It's difficult for me to imagine how excited the Patriots are going to be to get the playoffs started. And this Jaguars team, for all the talk about how dangerous they are, gave up 19 fourth-quarter points to a somewhat shaky Steelers offense last week and very easily could have blown the game. Something tells me the Patriots might not let them off that easy.

Besides, even those who say that they can't stand the Patriots, that they're cheaters, that they're sick of them winning all the time... don't they all actually want to see Colts/Patriots and Cowboys/Packers in the conference title games next Sunday? Wouldn't those be the most highly anticipated conference title games ever? Undefeated Patriots vs. Defending Champion Colts! Brett Favre vs. His One Remaining Hurdle (remember: the year the Packers won the Super Bowl, the upstart Carolina Panthers were nice enough to knock the Cowboys out of the playoffs so Green Bay didn't have to play them)!

Can't Seahawks, Jaguars, Chargers and Giants fans even agree that it couldn't get any better than that?

Chargers @ COLTS -9

As I watched the Chargers trailing 6-0 to Tennessee at halftime of last week's game, I thought to myself, "You know, maybe I shouldn't have picked a team with a lousy offense to cover the spread in a playoff game." Luckily, the Titans don't happen to be all that good, and the Chargers went in to win rather comfortably.

Yes, San Diego did beat the Colts at home back in November when Peyton Manning threw six interceptions, Darren Sproles gave the Chargers two kick returns for touchdowns, Adam Vinatieri missed a clutch field goal and key players Marvin Harrison, Anthony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark and Tony Ugoh were injured and couldn't play for Indianapolis. If all that stuff happens again, the Chargers might have a chance. If not, probably not.

And the Colts, let's not forget, are the defending Super Bowl champions. I know, it's weird! You'd assume it was the Patriots, wouldn't you?

The Colts, though, could really be the Malcolm in the Middle of this year's playoffs. By which I mean you could very well spend almost no time thinking about them, and then, when you finally do stumble across them, you say to yourself, "Man, this Colts team is really good! And why am I surprised that they're this good? I knew all along they were this good, I just sort of forgot! Also, the chick who plays the oldest brother's wife is hot!"

(I guess that last part doesn't apply that much to the Colts. Or, maybe it does. Cooper Manning is probably married to a good-looking woman)

Giants @ JESSICA SIMPSON'S BOYFRIEND'S TEAM -7.5

Really, people. The Cowboys are still the Cowboys. The Giants are still the Giants. Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin are still Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin. Don't be worried about Tony Romo not being ready for the game because he spent a few days in Mexico with Jessica Simpson. I think he'll be fine. In fact, I think he'll be particularly relaxed and ready to focus like a laser beam on the task at hand.

I mean, on the list of things that are going to relax a guy, I have to figure a weekend in Mexico with Jessica Simpson would probably be somewhere near the top. That should even be an expression. "A weekend in Mexico with Jessica Simpson" could replace "a day at the beach."

"Hey, Bob. How was the meeting with the new clients? I hear they can be pretty demanding."

"No, not at all. In fact, it was a weekend in Mexico with Jessica Simpson."

or...

"Oh, yeah, honey. I can't wait to go and stay with your vegetarian aunt and her four kids." [roll of the eyes] "It's gonna be a regular weekend in Mexico with Jessica Simpson."

or...

"Man, I hear you had to pull an all-nighter? How was it?"

"Well, it was no weekend in Mexico with Jessica Simpson, I can tell you that."

And so on.

Anyway. It seems like the Giants are the trendy pick this week, which worries me for the Giants' sake. I don't tend to like the trendy pick, because the trendy pick's opponent has access to various television shows and publications that spend all week trumpeting the trendy pick, and whatever tiny chance exists that the favorite might have taken the trendy pick lightly gets thrown out the window when the favorite realizes that quite a few people expect them to lose to the trendy pick.

Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin are going to go into Dallas and stick with the Cowboys in the playoffs? People realize that's what they're picking when the pick the Giants to beat this point spread, right?

Madness.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

What Norm is Thankful For

He's been out of the spotlight for a little while, but it's important to remind ourselves once in a while that not only is Norm Macdonald the funniest human being on the planet, he's the funniest human being on the planet by an order of magnitude.

Listen to this clip from November (it's on YouTube but it's audio only) of Norm on Dennis Miller's radio show, reading a list of what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving. Do it quick, before YouTube makes them take it down.

Wild Card Playoffs Wrap-up

Wild Card Playoffs: 4-0

Playoffs Overall: 4-0

Nice start, huh? You know you had a good round of games when the Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week feature must necessarily come from a game you picked correctly.

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:

Sure, last year's Cowboys came into a playoff game in Seattle at 9-7 and would have beaten the Seahawks had Tony Romo not bobbled a snap on a field goal attempt in the 4th quarter. But this year's Redskins are not last year's Cowboys. By definition.

The Seahawks are 7-1 at home this season (the "1" being a weird hiccup against a Saints team that went on to put together a four-game win streak that ended with a 41-24 slaughter of Jacksonville), and I don't see the Redskins coming in and giving them too much of a game.

The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:

[I]f any team is due for a playoff win, isn't it the Giants?

[The Chargers were way more due for a playoff win, it turns out]


Saturday, January 05, 2008

NFL 2007 - Wild Card Playoffs

It's Wild Card Weekend in the NFL playoffs, otherwise known as "The Weekend Before the Good Teams Play." The goal, I suppose, is an 11-0 playoff record against the point spread, which, to my knowledge, has only been accomplished once in recorded history (by this guy, two years ago).

Can we do it?

Unlikely, almost to the point of being statistically impossible.

Still, it would be something, wouldn't it?

Redskins @ SEAHAWKS -3.5

It seems like lots of folks are backing the Redskins based on the four-game winning streak they put together to end the season and sneak into the playoffs. The idea is that the team is rallying around teammate Sean Taylor's death and the emotion will carry them deep into the postseason. It might work, but I'd be more comfortable betting against the 9-7 team with the career backup at quarterback and the borderline-senile coach when they're going into what has quietly become one of the NFL's toughest places to play.

Sure, last year's Cowboys came into a playoff game in Seattle at 9-7 and would have beaten the Seahawks had Tony Romo not bobbled a snap on a field goal attempt in the 4th quarter. But this year's Redskins are not last year's Cowboys. By definition.

The Seahawks are 7-1 at home this season (the "1" being a weird hiccup against a Saints team that went on to put together a four-game win streak that ended with a 41-24 slaughter of Jacksonville), and I don't see the Redskins coming in and giving them too much of a game. And, even if there weren't any other reasons to pick Seattle, I can make the pick for old time's sake. I was in Las Vegas a couple of years ago and a decent portion of that weekend's gambling strategy depended on the Seahawks covering the spread against Washington, which they did. Good times.

(of course, another part of that weekend's strategy was to ignore the blackjack tables, where, for some reason, I consistently get clobbered. That part of the strategy, I didn't employ. Bad times)

Jaguars @ STEELERS +2.5

For one thing, I won't be watching this game with Beallsville, PA's own Joe Wright, so the Steelers have a fighting chance. For another thing, it's not as though Week 15's Jaguars-Steelers tilt in Pittsburgh was a Jacksonville blowout (though the nationwide stampede to pick Jacksonville might make you believe otherwise).

Yes, the Steelers are going to be forced to play their third-string left tackle. But apparently he's played before, and played just fine. Plus, you've got Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor offering up bulletin board material, which is just something you don't want to do when Pittsburgh is involved. I've noticed that Pittsburghers will come at you with a vengeance if you diss anything having to do with their fair city. Sienna Miller referred to the city as "Shitsburgh" a couple of years ago, and, when's the last time you heard from Sienna Miller? Yeah. She vanished like a fart in the wind. Fictional weatherman Phil Connors, of Groundhog Day fame, had the audacity to suggest that he was too good to waste his talents at a TV station in the Steel City, and he ended up trapped in a hellish nightmare from which death itself could not rescue him. Lord knows what's in store for Fred Taylor.

At the risk of incurring karmic wrath, though, I've got to point out that such a strong reaction to an insult does bely a little bit of insecurity. Methinks Pittsburgh doth protest too much, is what I'm saying. I mean, when someone rags on L.A., we're like, "Whatever, man. I'm headed outside in shorts in January, on my way to the neighborhood supermarket to buy some cheap, delicious avocados. While there, I'll undoubtedly cross paths with at least five women who are twice as hot as anyone you ever went to high school with. Enjoy your freezing rain!"

GIANTS @ Buccaneers -3

I was all set to pick the Buccaneers, then I noticed that the Giants were 7-1 on the road this year, with a seven-game road winning streak. So there that is. Plus, if any team is due for a playoff win, isn't it the Giants? Do you know what their last playoff win was? Anyone? Bueller? It was the infamous 41-donut, on January 14, 2001. That's right: the Giants last won a playoff game when Bill Clinton was president. Oh, I know plenty of teams are working on longer droughts (most teams, in fact), but, the Giants are a marquee franchise and they make the playoffs almost every year. Seems like they ought to pick up a postseason win once every seven years or so, doesn't it?

That's all I can think to say about this game; it's the most uninteresting playoff game in some time, and whoever wins stands virtually no chance of winning next weekend.

Titans @ CHARGERS -10

Speaking of standing virtually no chance of winning... the Tennessee Titans! I know they almost beat the Chargers in Nashville earlier this year. They won't beat them Sunday.

And, with that, I'm off to bed. It's late.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Week 17 Wrap-up

Week 17: 6-9-1

Final 2007 Regular Season Record: 120-122-11

Not too bad for a first try. Not too good, but, not too bad. Next year, we'll really kick some butt.

Games I Felt Good About Last Week: [I forgot to do this, which is just as well, since this feature won't be back next year. It wasn't interesting]

Games I've Felt Good About Overall: 35-44-1

We'll be back with full columns for the playoffs. See you in a couple days.


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