Thursday, November 27, 2008

NFL 2008 - Week 13

Week 12: 8-8

[Woooooo-hoooooooooooooooo! Non-losing week! Wooo-hoo!]

Overall: 77-87-3

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:

LaDainian Tomlinson -- Pomeranian Tomlinson

[Gold. Just gold]

The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:

Lee Evans -- Bee Evans
[Not my best work; I feel like the Buffalo Bills deserved better]

Normally I pick Thursday games on Thursday afternoon, and then post a full preview on Fridays. But I'm certainly not going to feel like working on that this weekend, so let's just do them all now. What am I worried about; I'll have a crappy week with lots of bad picks? Been
there!

Let's start with the three Thursday games…

TITANS @ Lions +11

The Lions have to win one, don't they? Nobody goes 0-16. Maybe that's not the case… last year, more than a few people assumed that the Patriots would lose in the regular season, just because nobody goes 16-0.

As far as the Lions are concerned, maybe we should just be saying that no team has gone 0-16 yet.

(although they still host the Vikings coming up; they'll win that one. It'll be 2001 all over again; that year, the 0-12 Lions finally won a game when they hosted Dennis Green's Vikings. TheLions are in line to be 0-12 again this year when they host the Vikings a week from Sunday)

Seahawks @ COWBOYS -12.5

The Cowboys look like they might be back. The Giants are the best team in football, but who knows who the #2 team in the NFC is? It could just as easily be Dallas as anybody.

CARDINALS @ Eagles -3

A few weeks ago I said the Eagles were good; I'm not so sure now. The Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb era could be coming to an ugly end sooner rather than later.

Also, the Cardinals can clinch the NFC West in Philly on Thursday. In Week 13. With their eighth win. Not a murderer's row, that NFC West.

COLTS @ Browns +5

Around the same time I said the Eagles were good, I implied that the Colts weren't. I'd like to take both of those assertions back now, please, if I could.

The Colts have won their last four games, but by an average of four points. Still, I'm okay with giving away five, because the Browns are kind of a mess. And because the weather in Cleveland on Sunday isn't supposed to be terrible. A little snow; nothing the Colts shouldn't be able to handle.

RAVENS @ Bengals +7

Baltimore hasn't really had any problems on the road of late, and they really shouldn't have any problems with the Bengals.

In fact, the Colts, Ravens and Patriots, all 7-4, are essentially fighting for their playoff lives every week now; it might not be a good idea to pick against any of them unless you really think you have to. All three teams are in second place, all three teams are really good, but due to the fact that there are only two Wild Card playoff spots available, one team is likely to be left out of the postseason mix (technically they all three could make it if one or more of them end up winning their division, but then that leaves either the Steelers or Jets out of the playoffs, which is just as crazy).

DOLPHINS @ Rams +7.5

I could only find one website willing to list a line for this game, I suppose due to the uncertainty about Rams starting quarterback Marc Bulger. I think that the way the Rams are going, they could start the genetically engineered clone offspring of Johnny Unitas and Sammy Baugh at quarterback and it wouldn't matter much.

49ERS @ Bills -7

Don't let the Bills' offensive explosion against Kansas City last week -- or their winning record -- fool you… they're pretty lousy. I know I haven't give you much reason to believe me this season, but, believe me on that.

The 49ers are lousy too, of course, but, my point is… you know what? Let's move on to Panthers-Packers.

PANTHERS @ Packers -3
We know the Packers are an up-and-down team; we know the Panthers are among the class of the NFC. Home field advantage, it is often pointed out, is generally thought to be worth about three points. Are oddsmakers saying that they think these two teams are equally matched?
I'm not sure I agree.

Saints @ BUCCANEERS -3.5

Here's the thing, and, I looked it up: NFC South teams are 7-0 at home this season within the division. It would follow, then, that NFC South teams are 0-7 on the road this season within the division.

It looks like the Saints are getting hot at the right time, I'm still not all that impressed by the Buccaneers, but I'm not going to go against a nice, juicy trend like 7-0. Can't do it. Wanna do it;
can't do it.

GIANTS @ Redskins +3.5

Remember at the beginning of the season when the Redskins fired off four really good wins against four good teams on the way to a 4-1 start?

Yeah; that was right around the time John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate and took a sizeable lead in all of the national polls.

Things change.

Meanwhile, the Giants are the sort of team that can go on the road, play without two of their marquee offensive names (Burress, Jacobs) for the bulk of the game, and still beat a playoff-caliber team decisively. In other words: the Giants are really, really good. They weren't the last remaining undefeated team in the league this year, and it's hard to get too excited about anyone this early when just last year we saw an undefeated team lose the Super Bowl, so that might be why you're not hearing quite as much about the Giants as you ought to be. You will soon.

FALCONS @ Chargers -4.5

Close personal friend Bill Simmons has floated a theory on his podcast a few times this season: it takes two years for the effects of a bad coach to show up on a good team. He has floated this theory as a way of explaining Norv Turner's 2008 San Diego Chargers, who are 4-7 after making a trip to the AFC title game last season.

And then you've got the Falcons, who just got done blowing out a really good Carolina team and who could make a major playoff push if they win this week at San Diego and next week at New Orleans. Although I wouldn't hold my breath as far as that New Orleans game goes; that's an NFC South road game, and we know how those go.

Steelers @ PATRIOTS -1

Matt Cassel seems to be taking all of the Tom Brady comparisons to heart; just a few days ago he knocked up a B-list starlet and then ditched her for a European supermodel. Later this week, he plans to pose for some sexually suggestive photos with farm animals and talk about how much he likes internet porn.

To complete the picture, on Sunday he'll lead the Patriots to win over Pittsburgh in a gut-wrenching fashion that makes every Steelers fan feel like they have to puke.

BRONCOS @ Jets -7.5

Let down? Let down, anyone? Do I hear let down?

Chiefs @ RAIDERS -3

The Chiefs have played some close games, is the thing. But the Raiders should have enough.

BEARS @ Vikings -3.5

I swear, I meant to pick the Vikings last week. I don't know why I didn't type it up that way in last week's column; I knew they were going to beat Jacksonville. You watch a team enough, sometimes you just know. Like how I knew that they would beat Carolina in Week 3. Still, they're playing for the outright lead in the NFC North on Sunday night; I've got to go back to picking against them for misery insurance. And because when they do win, it's usually an
excruciating, last-second affair, which means that I can't possibly give away three-and-a-half points.

Three, maybe; not three-and-a-half.

Jaguars @ TEXANS -3

Yech. ESPN should hire the Sklar brothers to goof on this game live as it happens; then, I might watch.

Friday, November 21, 2008

NFL 2008 - Week 12, Part Two

Week 11: 6-10

Overall: 69-89-3

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:
Rams @ 49ERS -6.5

Peeee-yew.
[the 49ers won 35-16, and the game pretty much stunk]

The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:
The Eagles are damn good, but they play in the brutal NFC East. As such, they can't possibly afford to lose winnable games if they want to have any shot at the playoffs. I suspect they'll come out Sunday and tear the Bengals limb from limb, just to be safe. They know they can't afford to take any game for granted.
[the Eagles pretty much played like crap and, after their game with the Bengals ended in a tie, Donovan McNabb admitted that he had no idea ties could happen in the NFL. This despite the fact that in the 2002 playoffs he quarterbacked the Eagles against the Falcons, who had a tie on their record that year]

Before we get to the picks, let's talk about a disturbing trend in the NFL.

Last Sunday's Steelers/Chargers game marked the second time in as many weeks that NFL officials prominently blew a relatively easy interpretation of the rules.

Referees -- like other, regular people -- make errors in judgment; until that glorious day when games are officiated by artificial intelligence, removing human error and allowing the players -- and only the players -- to determine outcomes once and for all, this will remain a fact of life. Sports fans have no choice but to live with, and hopefully to tolerate, blown judgment calls (such as holding, pass interference, etc.). What should not be tolerated is apparent ignorance, or incorrect interpretation, of basic rules.

Two weeks ago, the Vikings were awarded a safety after Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was whistled for a penalty in his own end zone. So far, so good; the problem was that the officials announced the penalty as an "illegal forward pass." Now, if you've watched much football, or if you've ever seen any football, or if you've even heard of football, or if you have feet, you probably know that teams are allowed one forward pass per play, and that pass must be made behind the line of scrimmage, and you can throw the ball pretty much any way you want, including underhanded, like Rodgers happened to (I imagine a few other obscure rules governing forward passes exist, but they're not relevant here). Rodgers was in his own end zone, which means that he was, by definition, behind the line of scrimmage. It goes without saying that no Green Bay player had thrown a previous forward pass in the course of that same play as Rodgers scrambled away from the Vikings pass rush. As such, the officials' call of an illegal forward pass was indeed a bizarre one, because in that specific situation Rodgers couldn't possibly have thrown an illegal forward pass even if he had suddenly been seized with the overwhelming desire to do so.

Apparently the league later altered the game log to state that the officials had called intentional grounding; this would have been an incorrect call, as there was a receiver in the general vicinity of Rodgers pass, but at least it would have been merely an error in judgment and not a misinterpretation of basic NFL rules.

A week later, an officiating mistake at the end of the Steelers/Chargers game didn't affect the outcome but caused an estimated $64 million swing among sports bettors. The Steelers, five-point favorites, led 11-10 in the closing seconds as the Chargers lined up for a last-second play that, in effect, had no chance of working. But why not try, right? After a completed forward pass and a lateral, a second Chargers lateral was broken up, hit the ground, and was scooped up by Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu and returned for a touchdown. This made the score 17-10, which meant that the Steelers had covered the spread on a freaky, last-second fluke play. This might have stood as one of the greatest moments in sports gambling history, something like the Music City Miracle and Robin Ventura's game-winning grand slam single combined.

Replay officials looked at the play again, and initially the referee signaled that the touchdown was good. Just as the game's broadcast ended, though, CBS showed the final score as 11-10, with little explanation. We'd all just seen Troy Polamalu score a touchdown; why on earth had it been disallowed?

The NFL confirmed shortly after the game that the touchdown should have counted, which was cold comfort for those who had bet on the Steelers, seen their bet come through on one of the craziest plays in recent memory, and then had the touchdown erroneously disallowed (the NFL is officially unconcerned with point spreads, but common sense tells us that a large measure of the league's popularity is due to gambling, and such popularity is unlikely to last if the integrity of the league's final scores is called into question).

Still more frustrating is the revelation that stupid, lazy miscommunication turns out to be the culprit. I'll explain, since to the best of my knowledge nobody anywhere else really has. The play was relatively simple: Chargers QB Philip Rivers threw a garden-variety forward pass to LaDainian Tomlinson, who caught it and then lateralled to Chris Chambers, who attempted to pitch it back to a teammate. The Chambers lateral was broken up and hit the ground before it was returned for a touchdown.

The NFL released a statement attempting to clarify the error; in part, it read that the Tomlinson pass "was initially ruled a legal backward pass but then reversed in replay to an illegal forward pass," and that "[t]he officiating crew mistakenly determined that the backward pass that Polamalu legally recovered and returned for the touchdown was the pass that was reversed in replay to being forward and illegal."

They won't come out and say it, but, clearly, here's what must have happened: at some point, after initially reviewing the play and calling the touchdown good, the officials on the field got word that "the lateral" was, in fact, an illegal forward pass. Officials must then have concluded, without bothering to think much about it, that "the lateral" in question was the one made by Chambers, the one eventually scooped up by Polamalu. One problem: that pass had clearly, even to the naked eye, gone backwards, by at least two or three yards. Any officials watching the play as it happened should have had no trouble seeing this. But, hey, they replay guy just said
that "the lateral" was, after further review, an illegal forward pass. Who are you gonna trust, the replay booth or your own lyin' eyes? Apparently, in all the hoopla, everyone on the officiating crew just forgot that there had been another lateral on the play that the replay booth could have been -- in fact, was -- referring to. "Well," the officials must have thought, "the replay booth says that the Chambers lateral was an illegal forward pass. We could have sworn we saw it go backwards by a good three or four years, but oh well." Obviously, no one of the officiating crew thought to ask the all important question, "are you sure we're talking about the same lateral?"

When a legal backwards lateral, like the one attempted by Chambers, hits the ground, that's simply a fumble. When a forward pass -- legal or not -- hits the ground, the play is dead. Since they thought Chambers' lateral was an illegal forward pass, officials ruled that once it hit the ground the play was dead and the game was over. What should have happened, as confirmed by the NFL, was that San Diego should have been penalized for Tomlinson's illegal forward pass. Pittsburgh would have had the right to decline that penalty, which they certainly would have, since no team would ever voluntarily give up even an inconsequential garbage-time touchdown.

Two major foul-ups in two weeks. As I said, fans have no choice but to live with blown calls (for now). We shouldn't have to live with ignorance and incompetence.

On to the games… can I avoid getting into double-digits in the loss column this week? Only time will tell. Also, since I clearly have no aptitude for picking NFL games -- maybe since I don't really watch very much football anymore -- and since I've already blathered on long enough, in lieu of analysis I'll just provide you with my pick for each game, followed by what I would imagine to be each team's most prominent "Zooperstar" (Zooperstars are weird, mascot-like characters that derive their names from animal puns of famous athletes. Whale Gretzky, for instance. Or Clammy Sosa. Snail Earnhardt, Jr. You get the idea).

Bengals @ STEELERS -11

[you'll notice that I finally picked a Thursday night game correctly]

Bengals: T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- T.J. Houshmandzebra
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger -- Ben Mothlisberger

Texans @ BROWNS -3

Texans: Mario Williams -- Mariorangutan Williams
Browns: Kellen Winslow II -- Pelican Winslow II

Bills @ CHIEFS +3

Bills: Lee Evans -- Bee Evans
Chiefs: Larry Johnson -- Dromedary Johnson

PATRIOTS @ Dolphins -1

Patriots: Matt Cassel -- Rat Cassel
Dolphins: Ronnie Brown -- Ronnie Brown Bear

Jets @ TITANS -5

Jets: Brett Favre -- Brett Larvae
Titans: Kerry Collins -- Kerry Collie

Eagles @ RAVENS -1

Eagles: Brian Westbrook -- Lion Westbrook
Ravens: Ray Lewis -- Manta Ray Lewis

49ers @ COWBOYS -10

49ers: Frank Gore -- Frank Boar
Cowboys: Tony Romo -- Pony Romo

BUCCANEERS @ Lions +7.5

Buccaneers: Warrick Dunn -- Warrick Dung Beetle
Lions: Daunte Culpepper -- Doggie Culpepper

Vikings @ JAGUARS -2.5

Vikings: Gus Frerotte -- Gus Ferret
Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew -- Maurice Jones-Kangaroo

BEARS @ Rams +8

Bears: Kyle Orton -- Crocodile Orton
Rams: Marc Bulger -- Shark Bulger

Raiders @ BRONCOS -9.5

Raiders: JaMarcus Russell -- JaMarcus Mussel
Broncos: Champ Bailey - Chimp Bailey

PANTHERS @ Falcons -1

Panthers: Jake Delhomme -- Snake Delhomme
Falcons: Matt Ryan -- Bat Ryan

GIANTS @ Cardinals +3

Giants: Plexico Burress -- Plexico Burro
Cardinals: Kurt Warner -- Kurt Wormer

REDSKINS @ Seahawks +3.5

Redskins: Clinton Portis -- Clinton Porpoise (or, if you prefer, Clinton Tortoise)
Seahawks: Matt Hasselbeck -- Cat Hasselbeck

COLTS @ Chargers -2.5

Colts: Peyton Manning -- Pigeon Manning
Chargers: LaDainian Tomlinson -- Pomeranian Tomlinson

PACKERS @ Saints -2.5

Packers: A.J. Hawk -- ... (sorry; I couldn't think of one for him)
Saints: Reggie Bush -- Reggie Bush Baby

Thursday, November 20, 2008

NFL 2008 - Week 12, Part One

My weekly incorrect pick for the Thursday night game:

Bengals @ STEELERS -11

(look for more on the Steelers in tomorrow's full column)

The Best Show on TV, Part 10

The Best Show on TV

"The Office" (NBC) -- 2/9/2006 - 4/2/2006
"Huff" (Showtime) -- 4/6/2006 - 8/26/2006
"Big Brother" (CBS) -- 8/26/2008 - 10/4/2006
"South Park" (Comedy Central) -- 10/4/2006 - 11/30/2006
"The Office" (NBC) -- 11/30/2006 - 1/14/2007
"24" (FOX) -- 1/14/2007 - 4/5/2007
"30 Rock" (NBC) -- 4/5/2007 - 4/10/2008
"House" (FOX) -- 4/10/2008 - 10/5/2008
"Dexter" (Showtime) -- 10/5/2008 - 11/18/2008
"The Shield" (FX) -- 11/18/2008 - present

I've been a bit worried lately. I was facing something of a lose-lose situation with the seven-season run of "The Shield" coming to an end. You see, if I gave the show the Best Show on TV Title as a sort of lifetime achievement award, it might compromise the integrity of this list. Yet if a show as great as "The Shield" went off the air without ever having held the Best Show on TV title at any point in the title's almost three-year existence, it might compromise the integrity of the list.

My worries intensified as Season 7 debuted with confusing, convoluted episode after confusing, convoluted episode. The series finale airs on November 25th; what was I to do? But then, in the last couple of weeks, things got really good.

And, after Tuesday night, I needn't worry anymore.

[warning: mild "The Shield" spoilers ahead. Although, to be honest, if I hadn't ever seen "The Shield," and then I read the following, and then I went and watched "The Shield," I would think to myself, "you know, those spoilers weren't so bad"]

In the show's pilot, Los Angeles police detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) murders a fellow cop. He does this because the officer was a mole, assigned to Mackey's "strike team" to bust them for their rampant corruption. When he and his team aren't working on the case of the week, the majority of Mackey's time throughout "The Shield's" run has been spent trying to stay one step ahead of politicians, fellow cops, internal affairs guys, family members, gang bangers and anyone else who might be able to put him away for the murder. Or for any of the myriad crimes he and his team committed in its wake.

Which brings us to the final scene in Tuesday night's episode. For reasons that I won't get into, Vic is offered a deal by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They want his connections to L.A.'s criminal underbelly, and they imagine he's not much dirtier than your average dirty cop. Just as his crimes are finally about to catch up with him, he is offered immunity for any and all prior crimes to which he confesses at the time he signs the deal, and only for those prior crimes to which he confesses at the time he signs the deal. ICE knows he's not squeaky clean, but they figure maybe he falsified some reports here, ignored some gang activity there, or roughed up a
suspect once in a while, all in the name of getting the job done.

Instead, in a scene that I would describe as downright Shakespearean if I wasn't worried that would under-sell it, Vic must sit in a room, across from another human being, and confront exactly what he has done and what he has become by literally saying the words out loud. The look on Michael Chiklis's face as he lists all of his transgressions, his fate predicated on forgetting none of them, lets us know that for
Vic, finally having to say it means it's real. All those things he did: they're real. That's him. He can't hide behind his rationalizations any longer. Meanwhile the entire deal is contingent on his providing the full measure of his efforts to ICE, which will now be looking for any excuse to break the agreement.

What will such a man do now? Will he opt for a scorched-earth approach, attempting to burn down everything and everyone around him in an effort to secure his own freedom? Will he decide that enough is enough, and agree to accept the punishment he must know he deserves? The way "The Shield" has set it up, no one knows. At this point, I doubt that Vic himself knows. I can't imagine a series finale with higher stakes. I can't wait to see what happens.

Friday, November 14, 2008

NFL 2008 - Week 11, Part Two

Week 10: 6-8

Overall: 63-79-3

When a 6-8 week represents a marked improvement, I think it's safe to assume it's not your year.

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:
Raiders stink.
[Carolina played pretty dreadfully and still managed to cover a 9.5-point spread in Oakland]

The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:
RAMS @ Jets -9
[The Jets won by 44 points. You'd think I would learn to stop picking against them. Maybe next week...]

Jets @ PATRIOTS -3

The Jets won 34-31 in overtime; it looks like we can look forward to me picking the Thursday night game wrong as a new weekly feature.

Broncos @ FALCONS -6.5

Four games is a pretty small sample size; nevertheless, the Falcons have yet to lose at home. The Broncos' winning record is almost some sort of bizarre joke; they're like a mocked-up version of a good team, like those fake cars that Michael Keaton and George Wendt try to pass off at the end of Gung Ho. That's right: Gung Ho. That's the reference I went with. It's a brand new week, kiddes, and I'm feeling good about things.

Texans @ COLTS -8

"How I Met Your Mother" -- which, if you aren't watching, you must -- introduced another new and immediately indispensable phrase into the cultural lexicon this week: The Cheerleader Effect. The Cheerleader Effect occurs when a group of women, as a whole, combines to look much better than the sum of its parts. None of the individual women might be particularly good-looking upon closer inspection, but from across the room they appear to be a group of hot chicks.

That's what the 2008 Colts are: a Cheerleader Effect of a football team. From across the room you see the winning record, you see Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, you see Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney, you see Tony Dungy over on the sidelines; why, they hardly look any different than the team that won the Super Bowl a scant 21 months ago. But take a look at the parts: Manning is battling injury and isn't quite himself, Harrison is aging faster than Tom Skerritt, Sanders is always banged up, Freeney isn't the dominant player he was a few years ago, Dungy be thinking about retirement and have one foot out the door, and the team, while 5-4, has actually trailed by double-digits at some point in three of its five wins.

It would be hard to make the case that the Colts should be favored by eight, but, luckily for them, they're playing the Texans this week. As I pointed out last week, the Texans looked like they might be in the mix after a three-game winning streak against the Dolphins (decent), Lions (really bad) and Bengals (really, really bad), but after two losses against two decent teams since that streak, I think we can declare the Texans' season a lost cause. Sorry, guys. I really thought the fact that one of your players celebrated a touchdown with the Conan O'Brien "string dance" would have been a harbinger of great things for you.

Raiders @ DOLPHINS -10

The Dolphins haven't beaten anybody by as much as ten points since Week 3, but, the Raiders are certainly the team against which you'd expect them to buck that trend.

Miami's "Wildcat" offense -- in which a running back takes a direct snap from center --has been the talk of the NFL thus far in 2008, and other teams have run their own versions of it in recent weeks. The degree to which the NFL is a copycat league never ceases to amaze; every NFL coach and coordinator knew that this particular football tactic existed prior to the Dolphins' unveiling of it in Week 3, and yet nobody was using it at all. It has been around essentially as long as football itself, but, now that the Dolphins are using it, other teams suddenly thought, "oh, yeah, let's try it too?" If it's so great, why weren't you already doing it? What the heck are they paying you for? Huh?

Ravens @ GIANTS -7

Atlanta's rookie quarterback Matt Ryan is getting a lot of attention this season, and deservedly so; the Georgia Dome was a mausoleum last season, and Ryan, along with new coach Mike Smith, have helped resurrect the Falcons franchise much more quickly than almost anyone thought possible.

But let's save some rookie quarterback love for Baltimore's Joe Flacco, who was playing for the Fightin' Blue Hens of the University of Delaware this time last year, facing off against the likes of Towson, Monmouth, New Hampshire and James Madison. Flacco has survived a rough start (one touchdown against seven interceptions as the Ravens opened the season 2-3), the quantum leap in the quality of competition he's facing, and the fact that he looks like Adam Carolla's little brother and has become the type of solid, mistake-free quarterback (six TDs, zero INTs and one fumble during Baltimore's current four-game winning streak) that these Ravens have always depended on in order to win.

That said, Flacco and his mates face the best team in football on Sunday in the defending champion New York Giants. The Giants run the ball better than any other team in the league, while the Ravens stop the run bette than anyone. It should be a tough, physical, grinding kind of game, and I hate to give away seven points, but the Giants are just so darn good, so let's take them.

Lions @ PANTHERS -14

It's not that Carolina is incapable of honking a game here or there ("here" being Minneapolis and "there" being Tampa, if you look at their schedule so far this year), but they're not going to do it at home against the worst team in the league.

Meanwhile, Daunte Culpepper is back in the NFL and starting for the Lions, and, take it from a lifelong Vikings fan: Daunte Culpepper does not go on the road and beat good teams.

EAGLES @ Bengals +9

The Eagles are damn good, but they play in the brutal NFC East. As such, they can't possibly afford to lose winnable games if they want to have any shot at the playoffs. I suspect they'll come out Sunday and tear the Bengals limb from limb, just to be safe. They know they can't afford to take any game for granted.

Bears @ PACKERS -3.5

The Bears really don't have any bad losses (the four teams that have beaten the Bears are a combined 28-8 this season) this season. The Packers haven't lost to a team without a winning record, either... tell you what: let's go with the Packers, just because they probably need this one more. You don't want to fall two games out of first place with only six more to play.

[note: originally, the above read "let's go Packers, just because they probably need this one more." I changed the wording, because I'll be damned if I'm ever going to write the words "let's go Packers" in any context. So there]

SAINTS @ Chiefs +5.5

The Chiefs have actually been in their last three games, against three decent-to-excellent teams. The Saints are slipping, their playoff hopes getting slimmer by the minute (yes, even this minute, while they're not even playing. I know; it's weird). Still, I couldn't feel good picking the league's worst defense, Kanas City, against the league's best offense, New Orleans. I'd like to pick the Chiefs this week to beat that spread at home, but I just can't.

Vikings @ BUCCANEERS -4

Back when the Vikings and Buccaneers used to be in the same division, and would therefore play each other twice every season, they used to split those two games almost without fail. The year the Vikings went 15-1 in the regular season? That one loss was, of course, to Tampa Bay; they even split that year.

These two teams could both wind up in the playoffs (if the Vikings get exceedingly lucky), so I'll hope that Tampa Bay wins this one. That way, if they play again, the Vikings are a shoo-in.

Rams @ 49ERS -6.5

Peeee-yew.

Cardinals @ SEAHAWKS +3

The Seahawks are pretty much out of it, so hosting first-place Arizona this week is about as close as they're going to get to a playoff game. They're playing for pride at this point. Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck ought to return from injury this Sunday, and something tells me that the Cardinals are due to honk one here.

TItans @ JAGUARS +3

This should be a heck of a game; the Jaguars really need it to keep their slim playoff hopes alive and avoid having 2008 turn into a crushing disappointment after coming in with very high expectations.

The Titans come in at 9-0, and I have a feeling that this could be the game after which everyone does that spin where they say it's actually good that they finally lost, because now they don't have to worry about winning streaks and being undefeated and whatnot. I never really bought into all of that until last year, when, as we saw, the Patriots came into the Super Bowl at 18-0 looking really uptight and ended up giving the game away. Now, I suspect there might be something to it. Am I saying the Titans will lose on purpose? No...

Wait, why not? Screw it: I guarantee that the Tennessee Titans will lose Sunday's game in Jacksonville on purpose. Why not? I'm 63-79-3 this year; what have I possibly got to lose?

Chargers @ STEELERS -5

I don't know what to make of these Steelers; not at all. The Chargers should be able to throw the ball on them, but, who knows? Ben Roethlisberger is still banged up and the Steelers secondary is depleted, but, who knows?

I think, ultimately, I'm going to have to get over my suspicions that the Chargers are going to turn things around and be an elite team again this year. Let's start by picking against them right here, okay?

COWBOYS @ Redskins +1.5

The Redskins are banged up at running back, and haven't looked particularly impressive for the last month or so. The Cowboys are getting Tony Romo back, albeit with a balky finger on his throwing hand. A loss to Washington would go a long way toward completing Dallas's free-fall from "consensus best team in football" to "on the outside of the playoff race, looking in." Dallas coach Wade Phillips even got the dreaded "the coach's job is perfectly safe" kiss of death from owner Jerry Jones this week.

Can I abstain? Can I just pick neither team? No? Well, I'll take Washington, with much trepidation.

No, wait: Dallas. I just realized I feel just a little bit better about Dallas.

Browns @ BILLS -5

The Bills need this one desperately. Hopefully that'll be a good enough reason to take them.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

NFL 2008 - Week 11, Part One

Jets @ PATRIOTS -3

I feel very good about this one.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

NFL 2008 - Week 10, Part Two

Week 9: 4-10

Overall: 57-71-3

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:

(oh, who even cares anymore?)

The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:

(see above)

Titans @ BEARS +3

Because the Titans have to lose at some point, and what better time to pick that than a week in which they not only play a first place team on the road, but also a week in which they were featured on the cover ofSports Illustrated? I'll not bet against that powerful curse.

Jaguars @ LIONS +6.5

Things were looking so good for the Jaguars on the evening of October 12th. They had won three of their last four after a shaky start and were heading into their bye week on the strength of a road win over the first place Broncos. Not only that, but after the respite came a stretch of games against the Browns, the Bengals and the Lions, teams whose combined record at the time was 1-14. Life was good.

Then, of course, the Jaguars came out and lost to Cleveland at home and Cincinnati on the road. Will they lose to the suddenly competitive -- if still winless -- Lions? I don't know. What I do know is that I don't want to give the Jags six-and-a-half points, not with the way they've been playing lately.

RAVENS @ Texans +1

It looked like the Texans were on a roll there for a while; they weren't. They fattened up on the likes of the Dolphins, Lions and Bengals (which, as the Jaguars proved, is not exactly easy, but, still), and then couldn't really hang with the decidedly average Vikings last week.

Normally the smart money won't back a rookie quarterback on the road, but Baltimore's Joe Flacco doesn't make a ton of mistakes. The Ravens' defense, on the other hand, is capable of causing the other team to make plenty of them.

Bills @ PATRIOTS -3.5

The Bills aren't that good. Most teams, if things break just right and they hit a relatively easy chunk in their schedule, can win four games in a row. That's what happened with the Bills, I think, when they started out 4-0 and suckered us all in. They've shown themselves to be pretenders now. And, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Patriots just don't lose two games in a row.

Saints @ FALCONS -1

Big game; the Saints are in last place in the NFC South but, at 4-4, are only two games behind the first-place Panthers. The Falcons are only one game out of first in the same division, but haven't beaten an NFC South opponent yet. Both teams are still alive for the playoffs; the loser of this one will have a tougher road to get there.

Seahawks @ DOLPHINS -8

These two teams have basically just switched places in the NFL hierarchy since last year: the Dolphins are good now, and the Seahawks are hopeless.

PACKERS @ Vikings -2.5

I will not talk myself into thinking that the Vikings have the stuff to get it together and make a playoff run. I will not talk myself into thinking that the Vikings have the stuff to get it together and make a playoff run. I will not talk myself into thinking that the Vikings have the stuff to get it together and make a playoff run. I will not talk myself into thinking that the Vikings have the stuff to get it together and make a playoff run.

I'm not going to set myself up for that sort of a fall.

RAMS @ Jets -9

My heart's not in it this week, folks. You lose ten games a week for like a month straight in your picks column and see how you feel, okay?

PANTHERS @ Raiders +9.5

Raiders stink.

Colts @ STEELERS -3

I'm not sure it matters this week who plays QB for Pittsburgh; they'll be fine.

Chiefs @ CHARGERS -15.5

You just can't ever be sure whether the Chargers will be great or whether they'll be listless and sloppy. They haven't played a great game in a little while, and they're all rested up from their bye week, so I'll take them. Even though that point spread is ridiculously high.

GIANTS @ Eagles -3

I need to see the Eagles beat another good team before I'm completely convinced.

49ers @ CARDINALS -9.5

The Cardinals start to pull away from the rest of the field in the NFC West. I know; I never in a million years thought we'd ever see anybody write that sentence, either.

NFL 2008 - Week 10, Part One

Broncos @ BROWNS -3

(This game is starting in just an hour or two; I wanted to get my pick on the record on time)

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Little Bit More About Election 2008

Well, it's a good thing for McCainiacs that the Washington Redskins no longer predict the outcome of the presidential election. It used to be that if the Redskins won the final home game they played before an election then the party in the White House would retain it, and if the Redskins lost the final home game they played before an election then the opposition party would win. This held true for a staggering 17 consecutive elections. In 2004, however, the Redskins lost their last home game before the election, yet the Republicans held onto the White House.

Tonight, of course, the Redskins hosted the Steelers on "Monday Night Football" and lost. Thanks to 2004, though, that doesn't necessarily spell doom for the McCain campaign.

Also, as an addendum to my previous post, I would say that if I were feeling particularly cheeky I would predict a final electoral count of Obama 303, McCain 235, with Obama picking up the electoral vote that goes with winning the Omaha, NE congressional district (Nebraska and Maine don't allocate their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis).

But I wasn't feeling sufficiently cheeky, and I didn't predict that. If it ends up 303-235, and I missed out on the chance to be pretty much the only person in the world who called it, I shall, as Prince Humperdink once said, be very put out.

Election 2008

Since I pick NFL games every week, I may as well make an election pick as well. It looks to me, right now, just hours before election day, that the best McCain can realistically hope for is 260 electoral votes. Some columnists say that if he wins every state where he's within five points, he wins the election. This is only true if you cherry-pick your polls; indeed, if McCain wins every state in which any poll shows him within five, he'll win handily. Heck, if most of the undecideds break towards McCain he wins, albeit with very little room to spare.

But I don't think that's going to happen. I mean, if Obama can't manage to lose Pennsylvania despite essentially promising to bankrupt the coal industry, and with Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha calling his constituents racists and rednecks, then it really just isn't McCain's year.

You heard it here first:

Obama 302, McCain 236.

Obama wins California, Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

McCain wins Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

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