Thursday, September 25, 2008

NFL 2008 - Week 4

Week 3: 12-4

Overall: 26-20-1

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:

I don't think that the Jets are all that great, even with Saint Favre under center, and I think the Chargers will win a no-doubter.

The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:

I'm still not sold on the Pats with QB Matt Cassel at the helm. Their defense has looked impressive, but against the Chiefs and the Jets. And the Chiefs and the Jets are not exactly the 1999 Rams on offense.

But the Dolphins may be even worse, so it would be silly not to pick New England this week.

[considering that I first picked the Dolphins, then changed my mind, and then the Dolphins won by 25 points, that was indeed a dumb thing so say]

A very nice week, but I won't do too much crowing since, as I've said before, you can't really know anything until about Week 5.

So, one more week until this gets really easy!

Week 4 Byes: Lions, Colts, Dolphins, Patriots, Giants, Seahawks

Browns @ BENGALS -3.5

Nearly everyone remembers last season's crazy 51-45 Browns-Bengals shootout in Week 2 that kick-started the Browns' run to playoff contention. Nearly no one remembers the 19-14 Bengals win in Week 16 that effectively killed the Browns' playoff chances. We ought to remember that the Browns are 0-3, demoralized, and probably just plain bad, while the Bengals, though also 0-3, can't be demoralized because everyone assumed they would stink, still have some weapons on offense, and looked tough on the road against the defending champs last week.

Texans @ JAGUARS -7.5

The Texans have lost by 21 and 19 and haven't played a home game yet. The Jaguars have lost by seven, lost by four and won by two. Something's gotta give. I say Jacksonville's offense -- particularly quarterback David Garrard, whose four interceptions through three games eclipsed his entire 2007 interception total by one -- gets back on track. It's said that the Jags saved their season with their last-second win at Indianapolis on Sunday; if they handle the Texans they'll be fine going forward at 2-2.

Falcons @ PANTHERS -7

After the Michael Vick saga, and after their coach up and quit before last season even ended, the rebuilding Falcons are an admirable 2-1. That said, they could very well be the most underwhelming 2-1 team we've seen in quite a while. They've won two home games against the Lions and the Chiefs, who are not only two of the worst teams in the league but arguably two of the worst NFL teams in years.

When they had to go on the road against a playoff-caliber team they lost 24-9 to the Buccaneers, with rookie QB Matt Ryan posting no TDs, two picks and a less-than-robust 29.6 passer rating.

And lookie here: this week, the Falcons go on the road against a playoff-caliber team in the Carolina Panthers. Sure, the Panthers only managed ten points against the Vikings last week, but the Vikings defense is really good; I'm not sure the same is true for Atlanta's. Carolina gets an easy win.

BRONCOS @ Chiefs +9

With the Broncos defense going up against the Chiefs offense, you've got the proverbial moveable force meeting the resistible object. The Broncos are rolling, though, 3-0 even if they easily could have lost their last two; and it's hard to imagine a team in worse shape than the Chiefs. The poor, poor Chiefs.

Listen, I know that Seattle sports fans have gotten a lot of attention lately, what with the Mariners being terrible, the usually-strong Seahawks getting off to a bad start and the SuperSonics up and leaving town. And, as I noted last week, we all know that God hates Cleveland. But can you imagine being a Kansas City fan? It's a small city in the middle of nowhere, so we forget what Chiefs-slash-Royals fans have gone through. The Royals have had one winning season in the last 14, and the last time the Chiefs won a playoff game you -- and I mean you, specifically -- hadn't heard of Sandra Bullock or email.

Three times since they last won a playoff game, the Chiefs have entered the playoffs at 13-3, with a first-round bye and Super Bowl hopes, and have been upset at home in the AFC divisional playoffs. Three times!

Do you know who the last Chiefs quarterback to win a playoff game was? Go ahead, guess. You won't believe it. Seriously, guess.

Nope; it was Joe Montana. Joe Montana! Yes, that Joe Montana, who's so old you can barely remember when he was even playing! You know who the running back was in that last playoff game the Chiefs won? Marcus Allen! Marcus Freaking Allen! Whose earliest years in the league were juuuuust barely captured on color film!

Do you know who the Chiefs beat in that, their last playoff win, in 1993? The Houston Oilers! Who most people can barely even remember having been a team!

Okay, I'll stop.

[it's just that as a Vikings fan, you have little choice but to mock those few fans who are less fortunate in order to try to make yourself feel better]

[and, inevitably, you remember that the Chiefs, of course, beat the Vikings in Super Bowl IV]

[Shit.]

49ers @ SAINTS -5.5

Faithful readers will remember that a 5 or 5 1/2 point spread is, I contend, the oddsmakers' way of letting you know that they don't think you have a clue about this game. Usually they're right; I don't. Last week, though, I made some pretty good guesses and went 4-0 in such games.

The Saints have lost tough games against decent teams, and no one's convinced about the 2-1 49ers yet, particularly since they started 2-1 last season on their way to a 5-11 campaign.

So to which of the following, time-tested game-picking maxim do we adhere?

- The 49ers stink, or

- Don't trust the Saints?

Since the Saints are playing at home, let's just go with them and move on, no?

CARDINALS @ Jets -1.5

"Hey, we went 4-12 last season; what do you think our problem was?"

"Um... I know! Our quarterback wasn't old enough! He was only in his early 30s!"

"Hey, you're right!"

Scene.

PACKERS @ Buccaneers -1

Brian Griese of the Buccaneers threw 52 passes in the second half last week as Tampa Bay came back to beat Chicago in overtime. Seeing as how the NFL record for pass attempts in a game is 70, one can infer that 52 passes in a half is quite a few. Not sure what that means for this week's game, but, it bears mentioning.

Let's pretend for a minute that the Packers didn't just lose decisively at home to the Cowboys; the Cowboys are the best team in the NFL. Most everybody would lose decisively at home to them (until they choke again in the playoffs, at least). The Packers are still a strong team; they were one of the best teams in the league last season and, except for that loss to the Cowboys last week that I've already decided we're disregarding, have looked almost as good this season.

And I still contend that the Bucs are middle-of-the-pack outfit. For some reason I'm utterly convinced of that; they could go 15-1 this season and I'm pretty sure I'd still argue that they're a mediocre team.

Vikings @ TITANS -3

This had been noted elsewhere, but, could anyone have imagined two years ago -- let alone two weeks ago -- that a Gus Frerotte/Kerry Collins quarterback clash would be a marquee Week 4 matchup with the potential for major playoff implications before the season is out?

There's a decent chance that the defenses in this game could outscore the offenses. I'll just take the misery insurance and pick Tennessee.

Chargers @ RAIDERS +7.5

I counted on the Chargers to win big last week, and it paid off. Don't ask my why, but I'm counting on the Chargers to let the Raiders keep it close this week.

Ordinarily you'd assume that a team going through such mishegas as the Raiders would fold up shop (can you "fold up shop?" If you can, then that's what I'm suggesting such a team would ordinarily do) and just mail in the rest of the season, but the Raiders followed up a decisive road win in Week 2 with a close game against a tough Bills team in Buffalo last Sunday.

Now a division foe is coming to town, the fans are excited, that 41-14 travesty of a loss to the Broncos in Week 1 is ancient history... yeah, I'm talking myself into the Raiders again, to at least keep it close.

BILLS @ Rams +8

The struggling St. Louis Rams look to quarterback Trent Green, hoping he can help end the culture of losing that has befallen the team in recent years.

A nice thought, and one the Rams had -- word-for-word -- back in 1999! Remember? Green was the brand spanking new quarterback for a Rams team that had been the losingest NFL squad of the 1990s, and hopes were high. Then Green got hurt before the season started, unheralded backup Kurt Warner filled in, and the team won its first Super Bowl; it's pretty unlikely that this go-round of Trent Green To the Rescue will produce a Rams Super Bowl title.

I'd talk a bit about the Bills, too, but to be honest I know almost nothing about them other than the fact that they're 3-0.

Redskins @ COWBOYS -11

Last week, the Cowboys beat the Packers on the road by 11 points. This week, the Cowboys host the Redskins. I think the Packers are better than the Redskins. So, I'm picking the Cowboys, even with the 11-point spread. I know you usually depend on this site for trenchant, insightful analysis, but that's the best you're going to get.

I'd really love to pick the Redskins, since it's a tough divisional matchup and it's easy to imagine it being close, but, the Cowboys are too good; I've got to keep picking them until they fail the cover the spread.

(and yes, I know they failed to cover the spread two weeks ago at home against a divisional opponent, and now I'm saying I can't possibly pick them to fail to cover the spread at home against a divisional opponent. Be quiet)

EAGLES @ Bears +3

The shakier the Colts look, the less impressive the Bears' Week 1 win in Indianapolis appears. Based on that win, I'd assumed that Chicago was back to their 2006 Super Bowl form; now I'm not so sure.

The Eagles are banged up, but running back Brian Westbrook and quarterback Donovan McNabb say they'll play. Even if they can't, running back Correll Buckhalter should prove an adequate replacement for Westbrook, and if McNabb can't go maybe they can see if Marky Mark can fill in at quarterback.

You know, from that movie where he played for the Eagles?

[folks, some weeks your heart is completely into your NFL picks column, and some weeks it isn't]

[needless to say, this week it IS! Come on! Marky Mark? Since when is that not comedy gold, people?]

[don't worry, we're almost done...]

RAVENS @ Steelers -5

Good defenses, bad offenses (plus, Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger is banged up). Probably a low-scoring game; don't bet on a team winning by more than 5.

[... see?]


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Bad

Please see the comments section of my previous post for an explanation of why that post makes no sense.

Fuzzy Math?

Last night's season premiere of Boston Legal featured a wrongful death lawsuit against a tobacco company. David E. Kelley informed us via his TV mouthpiece, James Spader's Alan Shore, that "in 2005, [tobacco companies] spent more than 15 billion on advertising and promotion." Moments later, in the very same closing argument, he tells us that "last year alone, they made 12 billion dollars in profits."

I understand that 2005 and "last year" -- i.e. 2007 -- are not the same. Even so, it doesn't take a math whiz to notice something amiss. Either the writing is unclear, or David E. Kelley believes that tobacco companies are so evil that they gleefully throw away $3 billion every year for the privilege of killing people with cigarettes.

And you know what? I don't care; I love Boston Legal. As a moderate conservative I'm forced on a weekly basis to confront passionate, intelligent arguments with which I disagree. The mental gymnastics required of me are something that I will sorely miss when the show goes off the air at the end of the season. May we all have a place where opposing viewpoints are broadcast so competently.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

NFL 2008 - Week 3

Week 2: 8-6-1

Overall: 14-16-1

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:

It's like they're giving away money this week, isn't it? The Lions defense got carved up by a rookie QB and a career backup running back last week; do you really think the mighty Packers will have any trouble with them?

The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:

The 49ers stink, probably, but injuries have so depleted the Seahawks at wide receiver that, out of desperation, they just went and signed a couple of those guys who catch the fish that they throw at Pike Place Market.

I think those fish guys will get the job done.

Chiefs @ FALCONS -5.5

I said something last week along the lines of a five-point spread being a "Vegas has no idea" line. Thinking it over, I had it wrong; a five-point spread is actually a "Vegas thinks you have no idea" line.

And Vegas is right, in this instance; I don't really have much of an idea. I think this number might be lower if the Falcons hadn't won relatively big in Week 1. Then they lost relatively big last week. So who knows?

Well, one thing everyone knows is that the Chiefs really stink. I didn't spring for the DirecTV football package this season (good thing, too; if I'd had to watch that Vikings-Colts game live I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have survived it) so I was stuck with Raiders-Chiefs (the L.A. CBS affiliate apparently thought we'd rather watch that than a good game), and never did I think we'd see the day when there were large patches of unoccupied seats in Arrowhead Stadium at kickoff of the Chiefs home opener. Against the Raiders, no less.

You know it's really bad when a Vikings fan can look at the Chiefs' quarterback situation and think to himself, "wow, there but for the grace of God goes my team."

Raiders @ BILLS -9.5

Sure, the Raiders won in Kansas City last week, but they're in disarray. Nobody wants to be there, from the players to the coaches. When the attitude of everyone in the organization is less "we're going to win it all this year, yay!" and more "I didn't know it was even possible to be this miserable while making this much money," you're probably not winning two straight road games.

They're begging you to consider taking the Raiders, aren't they, with that ten-point line. I won't bite. It seems like every year a team seemingly comes out of nowhere, builds some momentum, gets every bounce and, before you know it, makes the playoffs at 12-4. This could be the Bills' year, and a home game against the Raiders could be Buffalo's coming out party.

BENGALS @ Giants -13.5

Faithful readers will remember that last week, I predicated my picks on the idea that I would want to be able to justify my incorrect picks after the fact. "Hey, how could I not pick the Cowboys, as good as they've been?," I imagined -- and later found -- myself saying after they failed to cover the 7-point spread in their 41-37 victory over the Eagles. I went a middling 8-6-1 last week, as we've seen, with no major regrets.

I tell you all of this because I'm abandoning it this week, or at least for this game. For reasons that remain unknown even to me, I'm taking the Bengals in this one. I suppose I figure that the Bengals offense can't possibly continue to be as bad as it's been, and the Giants -- last week against the Rams notwithstanding -- don't seem to be the type of team that scores a crapload of points.

So we'll see; it's a reckless pick, but maybe it will pay off.

Dolphins @ PATRIOTS -12.5

I'm still not sold on the Pats with QB Matt Cassel at the helm. Their defense has looked impressive, but against the Chiefs and the Jets. And the Chiefs and the Jets are not exactly the 1999 Rams on offense.

But the Dolphins may be even worse, so it would be silly not to pick New England this week. And, while I may be -- and sometimes am -- wrong, you've got another thing coming if you think for one solitary second that I'm going to be silly.

Texans @ TITANS -5

The Texans are coming off of a bye week, but, I'm not sure that means they'll be incredibly well-rested. I mean, there's the "banging your way through the hotel staff at some secluded Caribbean resort" bye week, and then there's the "fleeing a catastrophic hurricane" bye week, and Houston's bye week was more the latter than the former.

This was supposed to be the Texans' year (isn't it always?), but they looked pretty bad in Week 1. And the Titans look like they're for real, that kind of tough, smashmouth team with a suffocating defense and a grinding running game that needs only a competent quarterback who can keep the mistakes to a minimum (and, as luck would have it, I have just described Titans quarterback Kerry Collins, who's starting on Sunday).

Buccaneers @ BEARS -3

What a nice Week 3 game, huh? Even if it does feature two starting quarterbacks -- Brian Griese of the Bucs and Kyle Orton of the Bears -- who very recently used to back up Rex Grossman (which would be a little like a boxing match between two guys who had each recently lost a fight to Arvid from "Head of the Class").

I'm not sure these two teams are as evenly matched as the oddsmakers seem to think they are (seeing as how home field advantage is generally though to be worth three points). The Bears beat the Colts in Indy and then lost to a Carolina team that I'm convinced may well be among the NFC elite, while the Buccaneers, I contend, are a middle-of-the-pack outfit. Maybe we were all wrong about Chicago; maybe last season was the fluke, and the 2006 Super Bowl team represented the real Bears.

Cardinals @ REDSKINS -3

If you look at the Cardinals schedule, you can make the case that they could very well win the NFC West and make the playoffs without beating a single decent team. They haven't beaten one yet, and the Redskins seemed to show that they were decent last week, when they beat a decent Saints team.

I really think the Cardinals are finally going to the playoffs, but they might go 7-9 as they do. It's not as if they've got no chance against the 'Skins, but I'll believe they can beat a decent team when I see it.

Panthers @ VIKINGS -3.5

Picking with my heart rather than my head; with all the excitement at the beginning of the season, I can't bear the thought of the Vikings starting out 0-3.

But the Vikings aren't a completely irrational choice; their defense has been really good, and it looks like they're making the switch at quarterback from Tarvaris Jackson to Gus Frerotte, the world's second-most famous football-playing Gus (the most famous being the titular field goal-kicking mule from the 1976 Disney movie "Gus," starring, among others, Tim Conway, Dick Butkus, Bob Crane, Johnny Unitas, Tom Bosley, Don Knotts and Ed Asner. If you haven't seen it, you must).

SAINTS @ Broncos -5.5

You know, I'm not convinced about either of these teams. The Broncos, by all rights, should be 1-1 with their one victory coming over a bad, bad Raiders team. The Saints have played two good-but-not-great teams, beating one. So, just because I need some road teams in there, I'll pick the Saints (and, it should be noted, this game has the "Vegas thinks you have no idea" point spread, and I, in fact, have no idea. Vegas is smart).

LIONS @ 49ers -4

The first of two games in a row that, although it's only Week 3, promise to have absolutely no effect on anything relating to which teams ultimately make the playoffs. But, much like how it's the pee-break categories that often decide the winner of the Oscar pool, games like this often decide whether you put up a good week or a bad week, and there's nothing you can do about it.

I still think the 49ers are bad. I talk once in a while about how good teams, even borderline-great teams, have a hiccup every once in a while where they lose to a team they shouldn't. It should follow, then, that bad teams have a hiccup every once in a while where they beat a team they shouldn't. Really, every team in the NFL has tons of good players; a weird bounce here or there, and any team can beat anyone else (I'm really breaking some news with that revelation, I know). You only have your best ideas about what's most likely to happen; that's all you can go on. And I think the 49ers are likely to lose to the Lions by more than four.

Rams @ SEAHAWKS -9.5

There's really no way a person can justify picking either of these teams this week, is there? The Seahawks have fallen far and fast, but, since they still might be able to talk themselves into believing that they've got a shot at the playoffs if they win this week (even if I'm pretty sure that's not the case), I'll go with them.

Steelers @ EAGLES -3

I think we've got a good idea what to make of the Eagles; this game could well turn out to be a referendum on the Steelers. Are they really the best team in the AFC? If they are, you have to think they'll win this one.

I'm more sure that the Eagles are a darn good team, capable of holding serve at home, than I'm sure that the Steelers are one of the two or three best teams in the league. Throw in the fact that Big Ben is a little banged up at quarterback for the Steelers, and I'm willing to give the Eagles a shot.

Browns @ RAVENS -2.5

Because it's pretty obvious that God hates Cleveland.

JAGUARS @ Colts -5.5

Another five-point line, and another "no idea" game for me. Both teams desperately need a win, both teams are looking up at the Titans, both teams have been disappointing thus far. I like the Jaguars; the Colts had no business winning against the Vikings (a competent offense would have been up 30-0, not 15-0, over the Colts last week), and the Jaguars are too tough to expect them to lose by six or more.

COWBOYS @ Packers +3

I think the Cowboys are emerging as the team to beat in the NFC, if not the entire NFL. They'll win in the road, they'll win in shootouts, they'll just win. That classic Monday-nighter against the Eagles was too close for comfort; I don't see the Cowboys letting the Packers hang around on Sunday night.

Jets @ CHARGERS -9

The case has been made that no team ever suffered worse back-to-back losses than the Chargers the last two weeks, and that could well be true. First, they lose to Carolina on a last-second heave into the end zone. They, they lose to the Broncos in part because a referee blows a premature whistle on a play that would have wrapped up the game for San Diego (and I say "in part" because although the proper call would have certainly given them the game, the blown call didn't necessarily lose it for them).

I don't think that the Jets are all that great, even with Saint Favre under center, and I think the Chargers will win a no-doubter. They'd better, if they have any intention of getting into the playoff picture this season.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Sorry, Everybody

In my most recent NFL picks column, posted yesterday, I made a joke about hurricanes (specifically Katrina and Gustav). As difficult as this might be to believe, as I wrote and posted that column it completely slipped my mind that Hurricane Ike was bearing down on Houston and the Texas coast.

Just like I let Senator Obama off the hook (somewhat) earlier this week, believing that he wasn't referring to Sarah Palin as "a pig," I will let myself off the hook (somewhat) this week, asking you to believe that I'd forgotten about Hurricane Ike when I wrote my NFL picks.

But, in the same way one should know not to make a "lipstick on a pig" joke when running against a ticket that features a women whose most famous line thus far has involved lipstick, one should also know not to make hurricane jokes when a major US city is in the path of a potentially devastating hurricane.

So, sorry about that one, folks. I will, in the future, endeavor to heed a version of the advice I myself gave out just a few days ago, and think before I write each word.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

NFL 2008 - Week 2

Well, I said you can't really know anything until about Week 5, didn't I?

Week 1: 6-10

Overall: 6-10

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:

I don't trust the Chargers; never really do.

The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:

I'm picking the Raiders.

TITANS @ Bengals -1

I had to quadruple-check this line to make sure it was right. What exactly did the Bengals do last week in their 17-10 loss to the Ravens that makes anyone think they can beat a tough team like Tennessee? Or is it all this weirdness with Vince Young? Whatever it is, I don't buy it.

No truth to the rumor, by the way, that the Bengals wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco -- formerly Chad Johnson -- is planning to legally change his name to Chad Dos Dos, after the 22 receiving yards he had in Week 1.

Bills @ JAGUARS -5.5

The five-and-a-half point spread is, I think, Vegas's way of saying, "We have no idea." The Bills were supposed to be bad and the Jaguars were supposed to be good, yet Buffalo throttled the Seahawks last week while Jacksonville was losing to the Titans.

But then, Jacksonville always has trouble with the Titans. And the Seahawks, though they've won five straight division titles, have been decimated by injury.

So who knows? I'll take the Jaguars.

Raiders @ CHIEFS -3.5

Woof.

COLTS @ Vikings +2

What in the world to make of this game, huh? The Vikings came within a last-minute interception of possibly beating last year's NFC title game favorite on the road, while the Colts lost at home to one of last year's NFC also-rans. But can the Colts be all that bad? Can the Vikings be all that good?

Having watched both the Colts and the Vikings play last week, I say "no" to both. Minnesota is clearly just a quarterback away from contending, but one can perceive a sinking feeling throughout Viking Nation, a creeping dread that it's never going to come together for Tarvaris Jackson. It might be a good idea to pick against the Vikings until they give you a reason to do otherwise.

As for the Colts, unless further evidence comes to light, I'm going to assume that last week's game against the Bears was just a weird hiccup, and they'll be fine.

Bears @ PANTHERS -3

The last time Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme played a full season, Carolina went 11-5 and reached the NFC title game. I'm not saying Jake Delhomme is the be all and the end all, but he's a fine quarterback and the Panthers looked sharp last week against a good (if untrustworthy) Chargers team. I don't know what got into the Bears last week in Indy; I wouldn't look for lightning to strike twice.

PACKERS @ Lions +3

It's like they're giving away money this week, isn't it? The Lions defense got carved up by a rookie QB and a career backup running back last week; do you really think the mighty Packers will have any trouble with them? I know the Packers offense didn't look incredibly good against the Vikings, but, the Lions defense is not the Vikings defense (I'm sure NFL bylaws would prevent such a thing).

GIANTS @ Rams -8.5

On the one hand, you wonder if any line could ever be too high when you're talking about the 2008 Rams. On the other hand, you know that the Giants aren't really an explosive, high-scoring team.

You know what? I took a few fliers last week; I ended up looking over the 10 games I lost and, for the most part, thinking to myself, "well, that was a dumb pick... I should have seen that coming... I don't know what I was thinking on that one..." This week I'll try to stick to picks where, even if I'm wrong, I can look back and say, "Well, sure, I missed that one, but it's not like I was going to pick the Rams." This week, I'm focusing on making mistakes I can live with.

As opposed to, like, picking the Raiders.

SAINTS @ Redskins pk

Will this game mirror the 2005 hurricane season, with Washington being completely unprepared for New Orleans? Or will it mirror the 2008 hurricane season, with Washington over-preparing for a New Orleans onslaught that fails to materialize? Is that a distasteful analogy? Probably, but, it's tough to think of something different to say for each one of these games.

It was only one game, but, the way the Redskins looked last week, a person could believe that the Redskins might be hopeless. And the way the Saints looked last week, a person could believe that the Saints might be back to their division-winning 2006 form.

Falcons @ BUCCANEERS -7

This line might be a little bit higher than one would expect, since the Falcons creamed the Lions last week and the Bucs lost in New Orleans. Even so, Atlanta's Matt Ryan is a rookie quarterback going up against a playoff-caliber team in his second-ever NFL game. Plus, can Atlanta count on running back Michael Turner to repeat his 220 yard, 2 TD performance against a stout (if aging) Tampa Bay defense? I submit that they cannot.

49ers @ SEAHAWKS -7

The 49ers stink, probably, but injuries have so depleted the Seahawks at wide receiver that, out of desperation, they just went and signed a couple of those guys who catch the fish that they throw at Pike Place Market.

I think those fish guys will get the job done.

PATRIOTS @ Jets -1.5

I think the Patriots could start current USC backup quarterback Aaron Corp and still beat the Jets on Sunday, so the fact that they're starting former USC backup quarterback Matt Cassel doesn't give me cause for concern.

I realize that there was much hype regarding the Jets' Week 1 victory over a Miami team that went 1-15 least season and, if anything, has gotten worse since then; it was almost a surprise that Sports Illustrated didn't superimpose Michael Phelps's eight gold medals around Brett Favre's neck on this week's cover. I also realize that the Patriots almost lost to the awful Chiefs last week. I realize that Tom Brady's injury was a devastating blow to New England (though I would reassure all of this site's female readers -- if there were any -- that since Brady's injury was to his knee, doctors say the risk is minimal that he will emerge from this ordeal any less handsome).

But riddle me this, Batman: in the 21st century, what is the Patriots' winning percentage in games in which they've been able to convince themselves that they're being counted out and/or disrespected?

(hint: if it were possible to have a winning percentage higher than 1.000, that's what it would be)

Chargers @ BRONCOS +1.5

If I were only to go by last week's games, I'd assume that the Broncos were better than the Chargers. So let's do that.

(for what it's worth, I had remembered -- incorrectly, it turns out -- that the Broncos were bad last year. They got blown out really badly a couple of times, but, in fact, they were 7-9 with two overtime losses. So they weren't that bad)

Dolphins @ CARDINALS -6.5

Is this the year the Cardinals finally get over the hump and make the playoffs? Normally, that notion would make me laugh so hard that anyone who saw me might be forgiven for thinking that I was watching a particularly good episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond." But not this year; if the Seahawks turn out to be bad -- and with their lame duck coach and an even lamer receiving corps, that's a distinct possibility -- then the NFC West is the Cardinals' for the taking, because the 49ers and Rams have about as much chance of winning that division as I do.

Ravens @ TEXANS -4.5

The Ravens beat a bad team last week, while the Texans lost to a really good one. How should I know what's going to happen on Sunday? What am I, writing an NFL picks column?

When in doubt, go against the rookie QB on the road, I suppose.

STEELERS @ Browns +6

If their demoralizing Week 1 blowout loss at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys is any indication of things to come, it looks like head coach Romeo Crennel will not be taking the Browns to the Super Bowl. Which is a shame, because "taking the Browns to the Super Bowl" means "pooping," and the closer Cleveland gets to contention, the more we get to hear about "the Browns" going to the "Super Bowl" from people who don't realize what they're saying.

What with the injury to Tom Brady and the lackluster play of the Colts, we could easily see coach Mike Tomlin take the Steelers to the Super Bowl, but even the most imaginative mind would have difficulty coming up with a way to make a poop joke out of that.

Eagles @ COWBOYS -7

The game of the week, to be sure, and on "Monday Night Football" to boot. Both teams were supposed to be good going into the season, and both teams looked really good last week. The only way I can pick this game is to live up to my decree of earlier in this column and take the pick that I'd be able to justify even if I lost. And I can easily see myself saying, on Tuesday morning, "hey, how could I not pick the Cowboys, as good as they've been?"

That doesn't mean I'd touch this one with a ten-foot pole if the whole point of this column wasn't to pick every game, though.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

"Lipstick On a Pig"

Just a bit ago Barack Obama was speaking in front of a crowd, working the theme that McCain-Palin was just more of the same. "You can put lipstick on a pig," he said, "It's still a pig."

Many in the blogosphere have, apparently, already decided that the comment was a personal insult directed at Sarah Palin, who famously said during her speech at the Republican convention that the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull was "lipstick."

This couldn't possibly have been intentional. Say what you will about Obama; I can't imagine for a millisecond that he's either that mean, or that stupid, or both. I am as certain as one can be about anything that if it had occurred to Barack Obama that his "lipstick" comment could (and almost certainly would) easily be interpreted as a personal slam on Governor Palin -- who is widely agreed upon not to be a "pig," by any stretch of the imagination -- he wouldn't have said it. Whether or not a person in Obama's position should have known better than to say such a thing is obvious: he should have. But what it says about Obama, if anything, is less clear. We all have our brain farts, after all.

"Lipstick on a pig" is an old turn of phrase, and a decent one (I prefer "turd in a prom dress," but, given Sarah Palin's beauty queen background, that might not have gone over particularly well either). But when the opposing ticket features a woman, you might want to do all you can to avoid any references to makeup, dresses, boobs, or anything of the sort. Especially when you've already been in some hot water to referring to a female reporter as "sweetie," which a lot of people thought was a big deal, but I didn't. Throw in his comments about how Hillary Clinton "periodically, when she's feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal," and one might be forgiven for concluding that Obama is a chauvinist.

I don't think that. I do wonder what in the world has possessed him not to be incredibly, incredibly careful when using words that might have certain gender connotations, to be sure. But the very fact that he used the phrase "lipstick on a pig" is enough to satisfy me that he wasn't calling Sarah Palin "a pig." There's no way -- no way! -- he would have said that if he'd realized what he was saying. When her big line is "lipstick," you really need to stay away from "lipstick on a pig," but I'm letting him off the hook for this one, and I think everyone else should, too. Even though he should have been, he clearly wasn't aware of how his comment would be received.

And, to prove my point ever further, here's what -- according to Politico.com -- Obama said after "you can put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig":

"You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still gonna stink."

That's right: running against a ticket that includes a woman, he followed up "lipstick on a pig" with a reference to a stinky fish smell. You can't possibly make this stuff up, folks.

Senator Obama: I like you. I'm not voting for you and I hope you don't become president, but I like the cut of your jib, I don't believe for a minute that you're a sexist, and you seem like a good, well-intentioned man.

Really, though. As Marge once said to Homer: think before you say each word.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

NFL 2008 - Week 1

And we're off and running with another season of the NFL and, perhaps even more importantly, another season of my NFL picks column!

With the caveat that I believe you can't really know anything until about Week 5, here are my picks for Week 1.

REDSKINS @ Giants -4

Yes, the Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions. You sort of have to keep reminding yourself of that, don't you? It's not every season where the Super Bowl champ ends up being a team that no one -- and I mean no one -- was talking about until the end of the conference title games. Many times last year I referred to the Giants' annual late-season Tom Coughlin choke job; I think it's fair to say that in December '07 and January '08, it did not materialize.

But the Redskins made the playoffs last year at 9-7, only one game worse than the 10-6 Giants. Plus, they beat the Giants on the road. In fact, last year, the Giants lost their last four home games. This year is not last year, to be sure. But the Giants have lost key players, and those who are paid to say such things say that the Redskins seem to have improved. Good enough for me.

BENGALS @ Ravens +1.5

The Ravens are starting a rookie quarterback, the University of Delaware's own Joe Flacco. Now, it's been a decent few weeks for guys named Joe from Delaware, and Rich Gannon showed us that a former Fightin' Blue Hens QB can go on to become league MVP (yes, Rich Gannon is a former NFL MVP. Between this and the revelation that the Giants won the Super Bowl last year, I'm really dropping some knowledge on you, aren't I?).

But the Bengals, for all of their troubles, can score. And the Ravens defense isn't getting any younger (though, in the defense of those individuals who make up the Ravens defense, few people do). The fact that the birds are 1.5-point dogs at home tells me that nobody feels good about them, so, neither do I.

Jets @ DOLPHINS +3

I believe the Jets have offensive line issues, which is not the best scenario when you've got an aging quarterback who's been with the team for just a few weeks. Throw in the Madden cover jinx, and the Jets and Brett Favre are doomed.

And, in a historic occurrence, I will now type the sentence, "Plus, Team X really has a great chance to win this week because they've got Chad Pennington at quarterback..."

Plus, the Dolphins have a great chance to win this week because they've got Chad Pennington at quarterback. After spending his entire career with the Jets, Pennington knows them like the back of his hand. Look for the Dolphins to match last year's win total in Week 1.

Chiefs @ PATRIOTS -16.5

It's more that I think the Chiefs will be bad than I think the Patriots will be anywhere near as good as they were last season. And we know the Patriots are not above running up the score after the outcome of the game has effectively been decided. It's not so easy when you're playing a great defensive line (like that of, say, the 2007 New York Giants), but luckily for them (and me!) the Chiefs traded their one great defensive lineman to the Vikings.

Texans @ STEELERS -6.5

I'd love to tell you that the Texans are finally going to make the playoffs this year, but I'm just not sure I can do that. Yes, they were 8-8 last year and will probably be better. But in the brutal AFC in general, and the especially brutal AFC South in particular, 10-6 didn't even make the playoffs last season. Look at Houston's schedule: at Pittsburgh, hosting Baltimore, at Tennessee, at Jacksonville, hosting Indianapolis. It's pretty easy to imagine them sitting there at 1-4, even if they're good. Which they probably are.

They might even be better than the Steelers. But Pittsburgh (the team and the city) will really be up for the game, and it can be a tough place to play. It's not that difficult to imagine the Steelers winning by a touchdown.

Jaguars @ Titans +3

The Jaguars are supposed to join the NFL elite this year. It seems to me like teams that are forecast to become elite eventually do (as opposed to team that are forecast to be playoff sleepers; those teams usually flop. Of course, maybe it's just that the frequency with which the Cardinals are chosen as a sleeper pick ends up skewing the numbers).

The Titans were awfully tough last season; this is really a marquee Week 1 matchup in the aforementioned especially brutal AFC South.

LIONS @ Falcons +3

Last year's Lions were like Tara Reid: they started out sort of hot, but then it just became a disaster. Still, Detroit has some talent on offense, and -- unless somebody on the Atlanta roster has some sort of plate-spinning or machete-juggling abilities that I'm not aware of -- the Falcons don't.

SEAHAWKS @ Bills -1

The Seahawks have made the playoffs the last five years. The Bills haven't made the playoffs in a year that starts with "2." Last season is not this season (by definition, in fact), but, I'm not sure what makes anyone think the Bills will be better than the Seahawks. Although generally playing at home is seen to be worth a 3-point advantage, I think, so the Bills being favored by 1 means people think the Seahawks are actually better.

Anyway, take the Seahawks.

Buccaneers @ SAINTS -3

The Saints were such an up-and-down team last year; who the heck knows what they'll do? Especially now, before Week 5?

But I think the Buccaneers, who make the playoffs last season, weren't that great and will regress toward the mean (which is actually a pretty specific prediction if you think about it, considering that they went 9-7 last year).

Rams @ EAGLES -7.5

You don't really have much choice when a team everyone thinks will be pretty good hosts a team everyone thinks will be pretty bad, do you?

The Eagles will be in the mix; they went 8-8 and missed the playoffs last year, their season derailed by a three-game losing streak to the Patriots, the Seahawks and the Giants. That's a team that finished the season undefeated, a division title winner, and the Super Bowl champs. Tough draw. This year the sailing is somewhat smoother.

COWBOYS @ Browns +5.5

The Cowboys were essentially the class of the NFC last year. They may not have won a playoff game since the internet (that's not a typo; they haven't won a playoff game since the internet), but they're a hell of a team and everyone thinks they'll play in the Super Bowl this year.

Cleveland had a promising 2007 but looked pretty bad in the preseason, especially when they wore those solid-brown-colored pants that, at the risk of being indelicate, made them look like their legs were made of poop.

PANTHERS @ Chargers -9

The Panthers have been away too long; it seems like they've got to be in it every few years. I'll miss Vinny Testaverde and David Carr from a comedy standpoint, because Panthers QB Jake Delhomme is neither super-duper old nor looks exactly like Superman. But in all other respects, a game and healthy Delhomme serves the team better.

And I don't trust the Chargers; never really do.

CARDINALS @ 49ers +2.5

Kind of a dog of a game, huh?

Bears @ COLTS -9.5

It pretty much depends on how healthy and ready to play Peyton Manning is. Even if he's at 75%, the fact that the Colts are opening up a new stadium and the fact that the Bears are starting a white guy named "Kyle" at quarterback should make for a big win for Indy.

Don't start a white guy named "Kyle" at quarterback. You'd think teams would have learned that by now.

VIKINGS @ Packers -2.5

If the Vikings secondary is any good -- and I mean any good -- the Packers could be in for a long, long Monday night. I think the Vikings offensive line will hold even with Bryant McKinnie serving a suspension, I think Adrian Peterson will be huge this year, and I think -- at least I hope -- that Packers QB and Brett Favre replacement Aaron Rodgers will get rattled.

I'm trying to temper my excitement for the 2008 Vikings, because history suggests that they will not win the Super Bowl (them never having won the Super Bowl). But I expect big things, Minnesota. Big things!

Broncos @ RAIDERS +3

Yeah, I'm picking the Raiders. Deal with it.

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