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Archive for October, 2008

Week Nine Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 31, 2008

Obviously my predictions need to be taken with a grain of salt, since I once again managed to be woefully incorrect on the World Series.  I have to admit I really thought the two day layover in the middle of game five gave the Rays an advantage, but alas, the Phillies got the job done, and deserve all the credit for doing so.  From the looks of the awful TV ratings, it seems as though I was about the only one to watch anyway.  (The ratings numbers can’t have been helped by Saturday’s massive rain delay and accompanying 10 pm. eastern start time, or by the Barack Obama ad running on seemingly every channel opposite the conclusion of game five).  Incidentally, not shockingly to those who know me, my TV was on the game, not on politics.  I realize that’s not a choice people needed to make in most time zones where the game didn’t overlap, but it did where i live in the Mountain time zone.  My viewing choice would have been the same no matter what party was on the infomercial.  Sports just flat trumps politics in my household, that’s the way it works.  We all clear on this?  Excellent!  Now to the picks:

Last Week: 8-5 (.615)  Season: 71-44 (.617)

– Bills over Jets: Last week the Jets barely beat a Kansas City team that they were supposed to destroy.  Frankly, Kansas City had the upset pulled off if not for some ultra conservative play calling by Herm Edwards on the Chiefs’ last possession they had with the lead, which resulted in a three and out, and allowed Brett Favre a chance to drive the Jets for a go ahead touchdown.  The Jets have turned it over more times than their opponents in their past three games, and they’ve somehow managed to win two of them.  That is not a recipe for success if it keeps up for the Jets.  Buffalo meanwhile is coming off a surprising loss to Miami, and knows they must win this one to maintain their division lead with a Patriots showdown looming next weekend.  I expect a big rebound game from Trent Edwards and I expect the Bills defense to force Favre into a couple of turnovers he won’t be able to recover from.  Buffalo gets the win at home.  

– Broncos over Dolphins: I know I seem to always fall into the trap of picking my team to win, but this is one that the Broncos should be able to get regardless of badly they’ve played recently.  They are coming of a much needed bye week, they are getting injured players back (Tony Scheffler, Brandon Stokley, Selvin Young), and the running game will also get the added bonus of Ryan Torain’s much anticipated debut.  If he is still available in your fantasy league, claim him now, because it’s only a matter of time before Torain is the starter.  Torain was the talk of training camp before he got injured, and he should shine in Denver’s system.  In any case, the Broncos offense should be able to get back on track in this game against a Dolphins pass defense that is ranked 25th.  Miami did get the win last week against Buffalo, and should be able to run the ball with Ronnie Brown and the Wildcat formation, but they don’t have enough offense to keep up if Denver is clicking.  The Broncos get a narrow home win.

– Jaguars over Bengals: I simply refuse to give up on Jacksonville.  How this team is 3-4 is absolutely beyond me.  If they can’t win their next two games (this one and the Lions next week), then I suppose there really is no hope for them.  I still think the Jaguars will be a playoff team when everything is said and done, but they need Maurice Jones-Drew to be more dominant, and they need David Garrard to manage the game better.  Jacksonville let a home game slip away against Cleveland, and they know that urgency is starting to settle in with the AFC race so tight.  Going on to road to Cincinnati and all the empty seats that await is not intimidating, and the Jags’ defense shouldn’t have any trouble harassing Ryan Fitzpatrick or shutting down Cincinnati’s less than stellar running game.  The Bengals’ passing game doesn’t have much hope either after Chad Johnson (or Ocho Cinco or whatever) and T.J. Houshmanzadeh have now both disappeared for weeks.  Jacksonville wins in a laugher here.

– Browns over Ravens: This should be a very good, low scoring, defensive game.  Baltimore clobbered the Browns in Baltimore week three, but this is always an emotional game for the Cleveland fans since the old Browns left for Baltimore in 1995.  Cleveland is playing infinitely better since that week three meeting, and gave a very impressive performance in Jacksonville that made me wonder if I wrote them off a little too early after their 0-3 start.  The Ravens have been very impressive too, and would actually be in playoff position if the season ended today.  Joe Flacco had by far his best game as a pro against the Raiders last week, and Willis McGhaee finally looks healthy.  That being said, if Derek Anderson can avoid costly turnovers against the Ravens defense, Cleveland will sneak away with a win in this one.  

– Texans over Vikings: In a mini-upset pick, I think Houston will continue their winning ways in the Metrodome.  The Texans have now won three straight, and their offense has looked more and more impressive each week (I’m still kicking myself for stupidly cutting Matt Schaub in one of my fantasy leagues after week three).  Houston’s passing game will cause all kinds of problems for a Vikings secondary that gave up 48 points to a less than explosive Bears offense before the bye.  Minnesota has had a disappointing start and has certainly failed to meet the preseason hype, and they will be a desperate team playing in front of a raucous home crowd, but I just can’t see how they’ll be able to contain Houston’s offense.  Even a huge day for Adrian Peterson may not be enough to keep up, and on a hunch I say Houston wins a close one at the wire.  

– Packers over Titans: MAJOR UPSET ALERT.  I’ve had a gut feeling on a couple of these this year (Cowboys-Rams being right at the top), and while I have by no means gotten them all right, I have a real gut feeling on this one.  Tennessee has no doubt been the league’s best team with their 7-0 start, and they’re coming off a real emotional Monday night win against the Colts, and that’s why I sense a letdown here.  The Titans have a day less preparation, while the Packers are coming off a bye and will be well rested and healthy.  Green Bay is also two weeks removed from their big win over the Colts, so they won’t have that lingering in the rear view mirror anymore the way it’s still fresh for the Titans.  The key for Green Bay is to avoid turnovers against Tennessee’s stout defense, but I think the Packers will be able to run with Ryan Grant.  If they can, Aaron Rodgers should have an opportunity to make some plays.  Tennessee is built to win a tight, low scoring game, but what if Rodgers has a big day?  Can the Titans offense keep up?  A hunch says Green Bay pulls the upset and knocks off the league’s last unbeaten team.  

– Buccaneers over Chiefs: Needless to say, I am not picking an upset here, although the Chiefs actually did show a surprise pulse last week.  They were actually able to run a little with Jamaal Charles, Tyler Thigpen gave a performance actually resembling an NFL quarterback, and the defense was able to force turnovers.  The problem for Kansas City is that they’re about to face a Tampa Bay team that is hopping mad after they felt they gave one away in Dallas.  The Buccaneers defense has been awesome all year, and Thigpen will find it much harder to move the offense against it than he did against the Jets.  The Buccaneers’ offense has been up and down this year, but it seems like the trend should be up against the Chiefs.  Jeff Garcia is a smart, veteran QB who will not be rattled by the Arrowhead noise, and the Bucs will be able to withstand the early Chiefs’ punch and have enough to pull away for a road win.  

– Falcons over Raiders: Atlanta was needless to say screwed last week in Philly.  Down by six with just over two minutes to go, and receiving a punt, this sequence ensued.  Despite the fact that Adam Jennings clearly didn’t touch the ball, the refs said he did, and gave the ball to Philadelphia.  Brian Westbrook sealed the Eagles’ win with a touchdown run two plays later, and the Falcons were robbed of a chance to potentially take the lead with plenty of time on the clock and roughly 60 yards to go.  Since there was over two minutes on the clock, replay couldn’t be initiated by the booth upstairs, and the Falcons couldn’t challenge because they used their three timeouts to conserve time on defense while the Eagles were trying to get a first down.  This is a ludicrous flaw in the challenge system: should the Falcons have been asked to save a timeout just in case of a blown call?  Of course not.  The challenge system does not take into account blown calls after all challenges have been used.  This is a rant better served for another column, but the point is the Falcons gave a very admirable performance on the road in a hostile road environment, and by all rights may have had the game stolen from them, and I say they will be highly motivated to make a statement against the Raiders.  Oakland looked awful in Baltimore (what else is new?), and it seems like the Raiders should already be trembling of the thought of a very angry, motivated Atlanta team.  Oh, and the Falcons just happen to have more talent.  Atlanta wins in the Black Hole, erasing the memory of a bad loss in Philadephia

– Giants over Cowboys: This NFC East rivalry always bears watching, particularly after New York’s playoff win in Big D last year.  Dallas is still without Tony Romo for one more game (he is expected back Nov. 16 after next week’s bye), so the Cowboys certainly face an uphill battle in the Meadowlands.  Dallas did sneak away with a much needed win against Tampa Bay, and could still find themselves 5-4 after the bye even with a loss here.  Still, the Cowboys are in flux for this one, with Brad Johnson looking over his shoulder at Brooks Bollinger if he has a bad start to the game.  The Giants continue to prove that their title last year was not a fluke, and that everyone who predicted them to miss the playoffs this year (and in many cases finish under .500) seriously missed the boat.  The Giants showed a lot of guts picking up a win in Pittsburgh in a physical game where a lot of teams would have folded up.  This one actually has the look of a blowout if the Giants continue to be able to run the ball effectively and pressure the quarterback they have all year.  The Giants continue to flex their dominance in this one.  Is a Mount TO eruption coming if he has another bad game?

– Eagles over Seahawks: Seattle came out of nowhere and blew out the 49ers last week, although that may not be saying much.  (The Mike Singletary press conference video you’ve surely seen by now says it all about the state of things there).  Given that, we’re not giving Seattle much credit for that one.  Matt Hasselbeck is still out and so are most of his receivers, and that can’t be a good thing for Mike Holmgren’s club over the long haul.  The Eagles showed how their offense is really dangerous when Brian Westbrook is healthy, and that’s another uh oh for Seattle.  Even though the Seahawks are at home, that won’t be much help against the Eagles’ pressure defense, which is sure to have a field day against Seneca Wallace.  Philadelphia is one of the best teams in the league when healthy, and they frankly should have no problem rolling here.  

– Bears over Lions: This is my eliminator pick this week.  Sure, the Lions showed some fight at home against Washington, but they folded like a house of cards when it counted.  Chicago’s offense gave a complete performance against the Vikings before the bye, and the defense has been swarming.  Even though the Bears have given up more points than usual, they’ve made up for it by forcing turnovers at key times and even scoring touchdowns.  This is not good news for Dan Orlovsky, who has not yet shown he can handle pressure well.  Couple that with Detroit’s inability to consistently run the ball, and the Bears defense should be in for a feast.  Chicago is tied for the lead in the NFC North, and they know they need to win this one with a big game against Tennessee coming up.  Chicago should win this one easily.

– Cardinals over Rams: This should be an entertaining game that actually has a lot of subplots.  The former St. Louis Cardinals return to Missouri to play St. Louis’ current team, the Rams.  Dick Vermeil, the coach of the Rams’ 1999 Super Bowl Championship team, is back to be honored in a pregame ceremony.  Kurt Warner, the quarterback of that team, returns as a member of the Cardinals, and is having a great year to boot.  Not to mention, the Rams are slowly showing signs of making a play in the NFC West, where no one has really managed to take control.  The Rams gave great effort in New England last week and if nothing else showed they are not lumped with the dregs of the league.  Arizona is the current leader, and they can extend that with a road win here.  The Cardinals took a tough loss in Carolina last week even though they showed they could play with the Panthers on the road. (West coast teams are still winless when facing an early kick on the east coast this year).  A couple of quick second half turnovers doomed Arizona last week, but their high octane passing game should have a big day indoors on the carpet at the Dome.  The Cardinals continue to surprise with a hard fought win, and a happy homecoming for Warner.  

– Colts over Patriots: Upset alert.  The Sunday night game is one that for the past few years has easily been the league’s showcase game.  These two teams have always battled at the top of the AFC, and had three memorable playoff meetings this decade.  Some luster is taken off this year’s meeting with the absence of Tom Brady and the Colts’ struggles this year.  The Patriots have shown a lot of gusto starting 5-2 without the league’s top quarterback, and came from behind to beat the Rams last week.  As Matt Cassel feels more comfortable, big plays are starting to open up for Randy Moss and Wes Welker.  Indianapolis is coming off two tough losses, but returns home and gets reinforcements.  Top running back Joseph Addai and run stuffing safety Bob Sanders are both expected to be back Sunday night, and that will give the Colts a huge boost in a game they absolutely must win if they want any chance of staying in the AFC race.  The rivalry nature of this game, and the desperation the Colts are surely feeling will be the swing factors as they pull off the upset at home.  One thing is for sure, I know with absolute certainly that Peyton Manning will not allow himself three bad games in a row.  

– Steelers over Redskins: The Monday nighter should be a great one, and it’s not because of the halftime interviews of Barack Obama and John McCain (in fact that should be an excellent time for a bathroom break).  The Steelers lost a tough one to the Giants last week, and will be looking to rebound on a national stage.  Washington is coming off a win over Detroit, but lost Clinton Portis to an ankle injury late in the game.  He still rushed for 125 yards, and says he will be ready to go for the Steelers, but is he 100 percent?  The Redskins have been one of the league’s top surprises at 6-2, and should be fired up for a Monday night game at home, but they haven’t faced a defense as physical as Pittsburgh’s since their week one loss to the Giants.  Pittsburgh will have a fire in their belly as well, and will be able to run the ball with Willie Parker.  If Portis is indeed beat up, the Steelers defense will smell blood in the water and force Jason Campbell to beat them.  Campbell has played well, but a hunch says the Steelers D will be slightly better.  Pittsburgh wins what should prove to be one of the best Monday night games of the year.  I believe the Steelers and Redskins are both playoff caliber teams, and an interconference loss shouldn’t be crippling to either one.  Keep in mind Washington already has all three division road games out of the way, which will really help them down the stretch.

BYE: Chargers, Panthers, Saints, 49ers

NOTE: Those of you need to submit picks and/or fantasy lineups before first kickoff, keep in mind that starting NEXT WEEK NOV. 6 the Thursday night games begin.  Make sure any picks and lineups are turned in accordingly.

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Baseball Chaos?

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 29, 2008

As game five of the World Series gets set to resume tonight, I am definitely intrigued.  Never before have we seen a World Series game get suspended due to rain.  I think I am one of the few out there that doesn’t blame Bud Selig for starting the game as scheduled Monday night.  The rain hadn’t come yet when the first pitch was thrown, and the forecast didn’t indicate that there would be enough precipitation to cause the playing conditions to go astray so quickly.  When the rain did come, everyone tried to make the best of a bad situation for awhile, until it got to the point where play couldn’t continue.  I don’t think anyone would say it’s ideal to have a two day gap between the top and bottom halves of the sixth inning, but it is far preferable to the alternatives: handing the Phillies the title after a shortened five inning win, starting the game over, or forcing the action through unplayable conditions. 

I am intrigued to see the three and a half inning shootout of sorts tonight.  It will be a sprint to the finish so to speak, with each team going to the bullpen right away.  Philadelphia gets the “advantage” so to speak of getting three extra outs to play with, since the game will resume in the bottom of the sixth.  It will be interesting to see if the Rays keep the momentum they gained by tying the game in the top of the sixth two days ago.  It will be interesting to see if the Phillies get the same lift from their home crowd the way they have this entire series.  It is needless to say highly unusual to see a game “started” with a pinch hitter, as will be the case tonight for the Phillies, unless they wish to have Cole Hamels bat and give the Rays a free out.  It is also interesting to note that the Rays figure to have all the momentum if they can sneak away with a win, with the final two games of the series awaiting back in front of their fans at Tropicana Field.

It is interesting to note that before a very recent rule change, the Phillies would have been awarded the win even after the Rays had tied the score in the sixth inning.  I think Bud Selig seems to get a bad rap a lot of the time, for he is really being roasted here for allowing the game to start at all, and for allowing the game to be played in such conditions.  Selig certainly has had his dubious moments, but this is not one of them.  I applaud the decision to both start the game as scheduled, and the decision to stop it when they did.  Sure, a two day delay isn’t ideal, but it’s much better than seeing the champion decided by weather. 

For the record, my prediction still stands: the Rays will come back and win tonight, and they will win this series in seven.  The Phillies will feel the pressure tonight, and would not be able to recover from a loss tonight, facing the task of winning back in the Dome.

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Week Eight Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 24, 2008

Much needed bye week for my Broncos, who will need it to get everyone healthy they can.  I’ve run out of things to say after the embarrassment in New England, so let’s get right to the picks.  

Last Week: 10-4 (.714)  Season: 63-39 (.617)

– Bills over Dolphins: Buffalo showed it is for real with a huge win last week against San Diego.  Trent Edwards has done a solid job managing the game for the Bills, and their young players really seem to play well together.  The Bills already have a road win over Jacksonville on their resume in addition to the win over the Chargers thanks also to their outstanding defense.  They shouldn’t have much trouble containing Miami’s offense on the road, even though the Dolphins have shown they can score at times this year.  Chad Pennington has had trouble against aggressive defenses and Buffalo is certainly in that category.  Miami will keep it close for awhile but the Bills will ultimately win this one.  

– Patriots over Rams: Who are the real Patriots?  Are they the team that destroyed Denver, or the one that imploded against San Diego?  The real answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, which means that in typical New England fashion they will probably find a way to make the playoffs.  It is interesting to note that Matt Cassel is starting his career in similar fashion to the way Tom Brady started his.  Brady took over early in the 2001 season for an injured Drew Bledsoe and struggled early in the year before rounding into form about midway through.   Cassel turned in his best performance by far last week against the Broncos, and faces a favorable matchup this week as well.   The Rams have won two in a row, and are clearly a different team with Jim Haslett running things, but going on the road and winning in one of the league’s toughest venues is too much to ask for them.  Patriots win easily.  

– Jets over Chiefs: This might have to go down as the most sure fire pick in NFL history.  The line on this game is 13, and I’m frankly shocked it isn’t much higher.  I’m so shocked in fact, that I’m downright giddy that I picked this weekend to go to Vegas, which means I can make easy money on this game.  The Chiefs will start Tyler Thigpen at quarterback, which is bad news for KC automatically because he can’t play worth a lick.  Larry Johnson has had his team ordered suspension extended another game, which means the Chiefs will also have no running game to speak of.  The Chiefs’ defense has also been horrible, or didn’t you see the Titans rush for 332 yards at Arrowhead last week?  (Check out the hole on LenDale White’s 80 yard touchdown run, looking at that you’d be nuts not to start every Jet you have in fantasy this week, especially Thomas Jones).  Throw in the fact that the Jets are hopping mad they gave one away at Oakland last week, and you have a guaranteed Jets blowout.  Needless to say this is my selection in second chance eliminator pool this week.

– Ravens over Raiders: Baltimore’s defense returned to form last week in Miami, where they completely shut down Miami’s trick formations, and even scored a touchdown, which had always been their trademark.  The Raiders snuck away with a win last week thanks to the Jets’ inability to capitalize, but they’re going to find it absolutely impossible to move the ball in any way against Baltimore.  The Raiders can’t run the ball consistently and JaMarcus Russell will have trouble finding throwing lanes against Baltimore’s ballhawking secondary.  The Ravens have been stellar at home this year, with the only loss coming at the end against undefeated Tennessee.  Willis McGahee is finally healthy, which means the Ravens will have no trouble running the ball effectively.  This will be trademark Baltimore Ravens game, where they win with running and defense.  Ravens by at least two touchdowns in this one.  

– Texans over Bengals: Houston has won two in a row, and they’re in the midst of a stretch where five of six games are at Reliant Stadium.  Matt Schaub had a field day against Detroit last week, and that will continue against a Bengals defense that hasn’t come close to stopping anyone.  Andre Johnson is continuing to emerge as one of the league’s top receiving threats and the Texans have also found a running game with Steve Slaton.  Cincinnati kept it close for three quarters against Pittsburgh last week, but they wore down big time at the end.  The Bengals defense is on the field way too much because the offense can’t move the ball with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center.  You do have to figure the Bengals have too much talent not to get a win at some point this season, but I would be highly surprised if it came here.  The Texans keep it rolling at home.  

– Jaguars over Browns: Jacksonville is fresh off a bye week, and that is bad news for the Browns.  The Jaguars in many ways are fortunate to be 3-3, but they are now entering the easier part of their schedule and are primed to make a move.  Jacksonville rediscovered its running game against the Broncos before the bye with Maurice Jones-Drew finally breaking out for a big day (to be fair that could be more Denver’s defense).  The Browns surrendered over 200 yards on the ground to Washington last week, so the Jaguars should have a big day on the ground as well.  Derek Anderson reverted to form in a bad way against the Redskins, completing just 14 of 37 passes for 136 yards.  That does not bode well for Cleveland against Jacksonville’s excellent defense.  Is the Brady Quinn watch back on?  It might be if Anderson has another bad day.  Jacksonville should win this one fairly easily.

– Steelers over Giants: This is quite possibly the game of the year to this point, let alone the game of the week.  I went back and forth on this so much I’ve been wondering if I could get away with picking a tie.  Of course that would be the ultimate copout, so I went with the home team because the Steelers always rise to the occasion for a big game at Heinz Field.  The Giants are an outstanding road team which doesn’t really make that a cinch, but they did implode in Cleveland two weeks ago and slogged their way to an ugly win last week against San Francisco.  Eli Manning is arguably playing better than his brother Peyton this year, so that has really helped the Giants, but Pittsburgh is getting great play from seemingly anyone in the lineup.  Last week Mewelde Moore stepped in for Willie Parker and ran down Cincinnati’s throat (of course it was the Bengals).  This will be a fantastic game that should go down to the wire, but again the home field edge will make the difference for Pittsburgh.  Incidentally, did you see the phenomenal block by Hines Ward on Cincinnati’s Keith Rivers?  Every receiver in the league should be required to watch that video to see how they should block in the running game, as well as to learn there is more to playing wide receiver than catching the ball.  Obviously it’s unfortunate that Rivers got injured on the play, and for the record we never advocate injury here, but it is still an example of why Hines Ward is one of the great teammates in the league, willing to sell out even when he isn’t the focal point of the play.  

– Chargers over Saints: This game will be played in London, which is ridiculous from the Saints’ perspective because they are giving up the home game, even after they had their entire home slate wiped out in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina.  This puts the Saints at a disadvantage in so many ways, not the least of which is that their division rivals get an extra home game, plus don’t have to deal with a midseason overseas trip.  What’s worse for the Saints is they will be without Reggie Bush, who had arthroscopic surgery on his knee and will miss 2-4 weeks.  New Orleans did get Marques Colston back last week, but he was ineffective and was held without a catch.  San Diego also has its own issues after the loss to Buffalo, and they are still trying to get LaDainian Tomlinson on track.  The fact that the Chargers went straight to London from Buffalo also puts them at a travel disadvantage along with the Saints.  All things considered, this is not looking at all like the showcase game the league hoped it would be when they picked it for the London matchup.  Oh, and both teams are extremely desperate for a win to stay in their respective races.  A hunch says San Diego gets it together and wins a close one.

– Cowboys over Buccaneeers: I’m having a hard time jumping off the Cowboys bandwagon completely for several reasons, not the least of which is that I picked them to win the Super Bowl.  That being said, Dallas is clearly dysfunctional, as proven by their loss to the Rams (which I correctly predicted, but we don’t generally brag here).  Brad Johnson will start at quarterback, but the fact that the entire team has actually been aware of it all week may help.  I really thought the Tony Romo will he or won’t he play situation last week was a real distraction for the team.  It will still be interesting to see how Roy Williams fits into the offense or if T.O. can get back on track after four subpar games in a row.  The Buccanneers are playing extremely well, and their defense will certainly pose a difficult challenge for Dallas, and the Bucs’ offense has been better with Jeff Garcia.  All that being said, Dallas knows their entire season may well hinge on this game, with road games against the Giants and Redskins looming.  One would think that type of desperation should be enough to give Dallas a jolt needed to get a much needed home win, unless of course the soap opera season is already beyond saving.    

– Eagles over Falcons: Philadelphia is coming off a much needed bye, which allowed them to get Brian Westbrook and others healthy.  They’ll need Westbrook against a Falcons team that is arguably the league’s biggest surprise at 4-2.  Matt Ryan is playing as well as any rookie quarterback has in recent memory, and the Falcons are starting to believe they can win, even getting a road win at Lambeau Field in week five.  This will certainly be a more difficult road test though with the notoriously hostile Philly fans, especially against an Eagles offense that has its full complement of players for the first time in awhile.  Philadelphia is already looking up at the Giants and Redskins, plus they may have an opportunity to distance themselves from the Cowboys.  Home cooking and the return of Westbrook lifts the Eagles to the win, but it wouldn’t be surprising if this game is competitive into the fourth quarter.  

– Redskins over Lions: Washington snuck away with one last week against the Browns, benefiting from a late missed field goal by Cleveland.  Still, the Redskins are looking like a playoff team again this year, particularly with Clinton Portis running wild.  Jason Campbell has shown so far that he has been able to make good decisions for the most part.  Detroit meanwhile actually showed some spunk last week, nearly erasing a 28-0 deficit to Houston and making things interesting at the end.  I believe the Redskins will ultimately win, but something does smell fishy here.  The Lions are due for a good performance at home, where they have not played well this year.  Washington is in a potential trap situation with a Monday night game against Pittsburgh on the horizon, followed by a string of big division games.  I say Washington will win, but an upset is not out of the question here.

– Panthers over Cardinals: This is a very intriguing game.  Carolina looked like their old selves last week as they rolled over the Saints, while Arizona is coming off a bye following a dramatic win over Dallas.  Jake Delhomme had one of his best games last week, and the entire offense looks like it is benefiting big time from the return of Mushin Muhammad, who returned after three years with the Bears.  The Carolina running game also has nice balance with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.  The Cardinals have also been very stellar offensively, with Kurt Warner having a huge year so far.  The Cardinals also benefit from the return of star receiver Anquan Boldin, who missed several games after getting his bell rung in week four against the Jets.  Still, Carolina is extremely difficult to beat at home, and Arizona hasn’t really proven they can win away from the desert yet.  The Panthers will win a relatively close one here.

– 49ers over Seahawks: San Francisco is the latest team to see if a midseason coaching change will work, having axed Mike Nolan after the Giants loss.  Mike Singletary takes over the coaching duties, and he should bring some intensity to the defensive side of the ball, having been one of the best linebackers in the league himself with the Bears in the 80s.  J.T. O’Sullivan may be on a short leash at QB, so he’ll need a big game heading into the bye week, but he should be able to get it against a Seahawks team that is barely a step above terrible.  Frank Gore should be a guarantee for a huge day, especially with a large chip on his shoulder after being held to 11 yards last week.  The Seahawks are decimated with injuries to be fair, but they don’t seem be playing with any intensity, and they seem to be really overmatched against most teams.  Keep in mind the Niners have already won in Seattle, and are going for a season sweep.  San Francisco wins.

– Titans over Colts: This should be a good Monday nighter.  It will be my first chance to actually sit down and watch Tennessee, since their games are never shown in my area.  The Titans defense has been among the best in the league this year, and means bad news for a Colts offense that really struggled last week in Green Bay.  Indianapolis will once again be without Joseph Addai, which will make it difficult if not impossible to run on Albert Haynesworth and company.  I do expect a better game from Peyton Manning than last week, for he has always had decent games against the Titans, even on the road.  Still, there is nothing the Colts seem to be able to do about their inability to stop the run, which is bad news when you’re facing Chris Johnson and LenDale White.  The Titans will also get a huge lift from what is sure to be a raucous crowd, and that will be one of the sway factors for the Titans.  If there is an early Colts turnover, they could even easily end up at the wrong end of another blowout.  Tennessee gets the win, and with it practically buries the Colts already in the AFC South.

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World Series Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 22, 2008

I’ve said all along from day one that I would be first to be up front about erroneous predictions on my part.  It only seems fair if I’m going to call out others for being wrong.  In light of that, let’s look back at my baseball playoff picks.  Let’s just say that i only got one series right out of seven.  In an effort to save face, I offer a revised World Series prediction below. 

ALDS: Angels over Red Sox in five: The Angels were the best team in baseball during the regular season, and had everything clinched several weeks before the end of the season.  The Red Sox are not healthy. 

The Red Sox bats ended up booming in this series and proved to be the difference.  The Angels had chances, but couldn’t get the timely hit.  A rare blown save by K-Rod in game two didn’t help matters either.   

Rays over White Sox in four: Chicago has momentum, but they will have a letdown at Tropicana Field.  Tampa Bay’s surprise story continues, thanks in part to Carl Crawford’s return.

This is the only series I got right.  Tampa Bay’s young lineup was able to get the job done in this series (particularly Evan Longoria). 

NLDS: Brewers over Phillies in five: C.C. Sabathia is the difference for Milwaukee as the Brewers bats outslug Philly in a high scoring series.

Sabathia got shelled in game two and was essentially a non-factor.  Philadelphia clearly had the better offense in this series. 

Cubs over Dodgers in four: The Dodgers benefited from the Manny Ramirez trade, but the Cubs have the pitching and the emotion of Wrigley in the first two games.

Turns out the “emotion” of Wrigley was of a different variety.  Did the Cubs feel the pressure of the Curse?  We may never know, but the Cubs imploded at the wrong time, while LA was red hot. 

ALCS: Angels over Rays in seven: The Angels are deep, have a solid lineup, a terrific rotation, and a shut down bullpen.  Their experience is the difference against the young Rays.

The series between the Rays and Red Sox proved to be terrific.  As it turned out, Boston’s experience was not enough to overcome the young Rays.  Tampa showed a lot of gusto rebounding from their game five debacle. 

NLCS: Cubs over Brewers in six: The Cubs owned the Brewers during the regular season, and that continues in the playoffs.’

Philadelphia continued to amaze in the NLCS, beating the Dodgers even though Manny Ramirez hit over .500 in the series.  The Phillies proved that their offense can get the big hit even against a bullpen as good as LA’s. 

World Series: Cubs over Angels in seven: This would be one the best World Series matchups in a number of years.  The Cubs get it done because a 100 year drought seems long enough, and why not end it on a nice round number?

So maybe Phillies-Rays isn’t as sexy as a Cubs-Angels World Series would have been, but it will still be a very entertaining series.  Both teams can swing the bat, the Phillies featuring Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, and the Rays sporting the young guns of Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton.  Both teams stack up well with their rotation, the Phillies sporting Cole Hamels and Brett Myers, while the Rays can counter with Scott Kazmir and James Shields.  Philadelphia appears to have a slight edge in the bullpen with closer Brad Lidge, but the Rays may have found an answer for that role in David Price, who got the final four outs of the ALCS game seven against Boston.  Tampa Bay has home field advantage thanks to the American League winning the All-Star Game, and the Rays have been very tough to beat at Tropicana Field all year.  The Phillies have also been successful at home this year, and should have a raucous atmosphere for their home games, but the extra game at the Trop will ultimately be the sway factor for the Rays as they complete arguably the most surprising season in MLB history, completing their worst to first turnaround.   Keep in mind also, the Phillies have been off for a full week while the Rays just wrapped up the ALCS on Sunday.  As the Rockies proved last year, the time off isn’t always a good thing. 

The Pick: Rays in seven.

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More Bad News in Broncoland

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 22, 2008

The Broncos defense has obviously struggled this season, and their struggles will certainly continue with the news that Champ Bailey could be out at least a month with a torn groin.  Bailey is nothing short of the best cornerback in the game, and even though he has only one pick so far this season, keep in mind that teams refuse to throw at him because he’s so good.  Case in point, Bailey completely shut down Randy Moss for a quarter and a half last night, but as soon as Champ left the game, the Patriots were able to get Moss the ball and he was able to score two touchdowns.  Make so mistake about it, the Broncos’ biggest defensive weakness may still be an inability to stop the run, but Bailey’s absence will not do anyone on that side of the ball any favors.  

The Broncos really find themselves at a crossroads in more ways than one during this bye week.  Yes, they will get their injured players back on offense, including tailback Ryan Torain, who is expected to make a big impact after he dominated camp.  That being said, the Broncos will not be able to replace Bailey in the secondary easily, if at all.  If we’re going off a 4-6 week timeline, Bailey will at minimum not return until Nov. 23 against the Raiders, and could well be out until Dec. 7 against the Chiefs and maybe even beyond.  The Broncos in many ways find themselves fortunate they aren’t going against many of the top passing attacks in the league during that stretch, but defending Braylon Edwards in Cleveland week 10 is a big concern now, as is facing the Falcons and their surprising rookie quarterback Matt Ryan in the Georgia Dome the next week.  Injuries are definitely part of the game, but the Broncos are now facing a challenge in the coming weeks that they weren’t counting on in any way.  None of this seemed possible when the Broncos raced out to a 3-0 start, but now Denver has lost three of its past four games and the prevailing feeling within the organization and the fan base is disappointment, not of excitement for what lies beyond.  One thing is for sure, if the Broncos do manage to return to the playoffs this year, they will have definitely earned it.

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Can This Even Be Fixed?

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 21, 2008

I can sit here and look at the standings after week seven and say that the Broncos are 4-3, that they are still in first place in the AFC West, and they would be in easy playoff position if the season ended right now.  That seems impossible right now after the trouncing they got tonight at the hands of the Patriots of all teams.  Did the Broncos really allow Sammy Morris to rush for 100 yards IN THE FIRST QUARTER?  The same Sammy Morris who had ran for a high of 63 yards (and just 169 all season) in a game all year?  The same Sammy Morris who averaged 3.2 yards a carry coming into tonight’s game and saw it balloon to a beyond ghastly 8.6 yards a carry against Denver?  Heck, even BenJarvus Green-Ellis (yes that is a real player), who I had literally never heard of before tonight, rushed for 65 yards on 13 carries, to the tune of five yards a carry. Was this the same Patriots running game that managed just 106 yards as a team the week before against San Diego?  The answer for the Broncos is unfortunately yes (More on the awful Broncos run defense below).  

To watch the Broncos the last month makes you scratch your head and wonder how they’re in first place.  Tonight they committed FIVE turnovers to New England’s zero.  I don’t care if you’re the ’72 Dolphins going against North Dakota Tech, if you turn it over five times on the road, including your first two possessions, your odds of winning are never good.  Say what you will, but the Broncos were moving the ball great on their first possession until Andre Hall fumbled.  If they score on that drive to take a 7-0 lead instead of turning it over, the entire game would have likely unfolded very differently.  But Hall’s fumble sucked the air out of the Broncos’ offense, and if that one didn’t his second one on the next position definitely did.  Of all the stats in sports, and a lot of them are certainly without much value in relation to the final score, the one stat that almost always translates into wins and losses, regardless of sport, is turnovers.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the Broncos have lost the turnover battle handily in each of their three losses this year, and losing it 5-0 to the Patriots explains away much of the blowout loss right there.  

While the turnovers are obviously a huge factor in the Broncos’ recent struggles, the complete lack of a run defense this year is almost more alarming.  This season the Broncos have already allowed:

– 97 yards rushing to the Raiders’ Justin Fargas in week one, easily a season high for the Raiders back that is rapidly losing playing time to Darren McFadden and has seen his yards per carry decline dramatically each week.  Fargas’ 42 yard run against Denver is by far his longest of the season.  

– 53 yards on just seven carries to San Diego’s Darren Sproles in week two (in addition to a 66 yard touchdown on a screen pass that essentially amounted to a run).  Sproles has made at best cameo appearances for the Chargers since then (140 total rushing yards on the season), and in his last game against the Bills had just one yard rushing and five yards receiving.  

– 198 yards (to the tune of 7.1 yards per carry) to the Chiefs’ Larry Johnson in week four (including a 65 yard run on the game’s second play).  Johnson has been noticeably absent in KC since then, rushing for two yards on seven carries at Carolina and then getting himself suspended by the Chiefs for his off the field activity.  

– 125 yards to Maurice Jones-Drew in week six, including a back breaking 46 yard TD run to break the game open.  This came after he was held to just 7 yards the week before against Pittsburgh, and had been held to 32 or less in three other games.  Not to mention that Jones-Drew’s performance against the Broncos came behind a banged up offensive line that featured two backups.  

– The aforementioned monster game (well, half) from Sammy Morris, who finished with 138 yards despite only playing the first half.  Morris’ previous season high was 63 yards for an entire game, which he easily eclipsed against Denver in the first quarter alone.  Morris had been held to 26 yards on 10 carries the week before against San Diego, and he only needed 16 carries to destroy the Broncos.  Morris actually had three games of 27 yards rushing or less coming into the Denver game (including week two at the Jets where he had ZERO yards on 8 carries).

Right now I am absolutely petrified of the remaining backs on Denver’s schedule: Ronnie Brown, Jamal Lewis, Michael Turner, Darren McFadden (as faster and better version of teammate Fargas), Thomas Jones, Larry Johnson again (assuming he isn’t still suspended), the DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart combo in Carolina, Marshawn Lynch, and LaDainian Tomlinson (and probably Sproles) in the final game.  The point here is the Broncos have allowed more rushing yards (1,082) than any team except Kansas City, and they are allowing opponents to average 5.4 yards per carry.  That is simply not acceptable.  In order to even have a chance to be a good defense in the National Football League, you must be able to stop the run.  If you can’t, anything else you might have going for you on that side of the ball is completely irrelevant.  Case in point: the Broncos actually sacked Matt Cassel six times tonight, but did it really do them any good?  It doesn’t matter if you can rush the passer or if you have great corners if you are not able to stop the run.  It is easy to complain for example that the Broncos only have two interceptions for the season, but that number is partially a result of the team’s failure to stop the run.  Why would any offensive coordinator throw in Champ Bailey’s direction when he knows he can chew up yards the easy way on the ground?  Overall, the Broncos are 30th in the league in total yards per game (ahead of only the Chiefs and Lions), allowing close to 400 yards per contest.  Do those look like the numbers of a contending team?  Frankly they look like the numbers of a last place team.  Heck, even the horrible Cincinnati Bengals are better than Denver in both total defense (331 yards per game) and run defense (allowing 4.4 yards per carry – a full yard less than Denver).

If the Broncos want to go back to the playoffs this year, it is imperative that they shore up their porous run defense.  If that doesn’t improve, the Broncos’ second half prospects look very gloomy indeed.  Yes, they currently sit 4-3 and are in the AFC West lead, but there is no way that will last with a run defense this bad.  Even though the offense is not blameless in relation to their turnovers, they can’t be expected to score 40 points every week to win a game even if they hang onto the ball.  Then again, the offense surely has to feel the pressure to carry the team the way the defense has performed this season.  The bye is coming at a good time for the Broncos, and perhaps they can use it to regroup.  Despite all this, as mediocre as the AFC West is this year, I still think they can overtake San Diego for the division title.  This team still has talent and potential, and if the NFL has taught us anything, it’s that things do change week to week.  This can be fixed, even if it won’t be easy, and even if it seems impossible after the embarrassment in Foxboro.  One thing to keep in mind as a final thought: Mike Shanahan has never missed the playoffs three straight seasons in his career, and that is enough to keep me optimistic about the remainder of the season.

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Week Seven Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 17, 2008

Before we get to the NFL picks this week, I have to admit that I didn’t watch the entire ALCS game last night between the Rays and Red Sox.  I turned the game off when the Rays entered the bottom of the seventh inning with a 7-0 lead and Scott Kazmir pitching a shutout.  Imagine my surprise when, a little while later, I flipped back expecting to see postgame reaction of the Rays victory, only to find the game had only progressed to the 8th with Tampa clinging to a 7-6 lead.  “NO! What the hell happened?”, I screamed to the room at large.  If you haven’t already guessed I am rooting for the Rays for several reasons, not the least of which is a refusal to root for the team that swept my Rockies in the World Series last year, but it also has a lot to do with rooting for the underdog.  Watching the rest of the game was exactly like watching a train wreck.  The Rays gave up the tying hit on a Coco Crisp single in the 8th, then wasted an opportunity with two runners on in the top of the 9th, only to kick away the game on a throwing error by Evan Longoria and a walk-off single by J.D. Drew.  It would seem easy to blame the Rays bullpen for not holding the lead for Kazmir, but Boston does deserve credit.  Sure. David Ortiz had been in a slump, but he’s still David Ortiz, one of the best playoff clutch hitters in MLB history.  The Red Sox clearly got a tremendous lift from the Fenway Park crowd, most of whom stayed for the finish.  (Side note: How dumb would you have to be to leave ANY playoff game early?  Seriously, if you leave a playoff game early, you should receive an automatic lifetime ban from the stadium.  If you’re going to bail out, give your ticket to a real fan who cares!  Sometime I would very interested to hear from fans who leave these games early, to find out what exactly they were thinking).  The energy provided by the fans who stayed gave Boston all the momentum they needed, and to their credit they capitalized.  From a fan’s perspective it will no doubt go down as one of the great games in MLB playoff history, but did it completely turn the series around?

This is the type of loss that really has to be devastating for Tampa Bay, considering they allowed the biggest playoff comeback since 1929.  This is a Red Sox team that erased a 3 games to 1 deficit against Cleveland in the ALCS last year and came back from 3 games to 0 against the Yankees in 2004.  Boston does not know how to quit, and even though the series is headed back to Tampa, the Rays won’t be helped by the legions of Red Sox fans that will surely be able to elbow their way into Tropicana Field.  What Tampa does have going for them though is James Shields on the mound tomorrow night, going against Josh Beckett.  Shields has been dominant all year for the Rays and actually pitched very well even in defeat in game one, while Beckett got shelled in game two and is clearly not healthy.  The key for the Rays is they need to quickly forget about how close they got last night, and remember this simple fact: to make the World Series they need to win one of two at home this weekend, where they have been nothing less than stellar all season.  That doesn’t seem so bad for Tampa now does it?  The fact is the Red Sox will not die quietly, and obviously deserve a great deal of credit for their comeback win, and the question is, can the Rays kick it back up a notch? It should make for great baseball this weekend, and I guarantee I’m not the only one hoping Tampa Bay can get the job done and complete their Cinderella season.

Now on to the picks:

Last Week: 8-6 (.571)   Season: 53-35 (.602)

– Bills over Chargers: This should be a fantastic game.  The Chargers looked like the favorites they were expected to be in trashing the Patriots last week, while the Bills come off a bye and will get the benefit of Trent Edwards back in the lineup after he suffered a concussion against Arizona.  San Diego should keep it close for a majority of the game, but the Bills will be highly motivated to prove they aren’t a fluke.  The Buffalo crowd will be fired up for this one, and that combined with the early kickoff time will spell doom for San Diego.  It’s a script that never seems to fail in the NFL: west coast team playing on the east coast in an early kickoff (10 a.m. pacific) = win for the home team.  The Bills gain legitimacy with a huge win. 

– Dolphins over Ravens: Both teams are coming off losses, but the Dolphins have not only the home field edge, but also know that Joe Flacco has not played well on the road for Baltimore.  In fact, the Ravens’ offense has been practically non-existenton the road this year, while Miami’s defense has played very well at home.  Miami continues to improve and is certainly one of the surprise teams in the league.  The Dolphins also continue to fool teams with their creative formations and plays, and they should be able to come with at least one play to surprise the Ravens’ defense and pull out a win in this low scoring affair.

– Jets over Raiders: It should not have come as a surprise to anyone that the Raiders’ coaching change had no impact, and likely made things a lot worse.  Oakland did nothing right in their loss to New Orleans, and even a return home to the Black Hole will not help.  The Jets are in the midst of an easy part of the schedule and have not wasted any time taking advantage.  Brett Favre has unequivicably proven he can still play at a very high level, and he seems like he’s getting more and more comfortable in the offense each week.  The Jets win what should end up being a yawner.

– Steelers over Bengals: How bad is it in Cincinnati right now?  This should give you a pretty good idea.  This means there could well be more terrible towels in the stands at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday then there will be Bengals fans.  The Bengals once again start Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, which gives them about a 0.10% chance to win against anyone, even at home.  Factor in Chad Johnson being unhappy as usual, and the fact that they’re playing the Steelers, and well, that chance goes down to about 0.00000000001%.  Pittsburgh has absolutely owned the Bengals for the past few years anyway, let alone when Cincinnati is a complete mess.  Even if Willie Parker can’t play, Pittsburgh should win this in their sleep.   

– Redskins over Browns: This one is certainly tricky after Cleveland’s spectacular effort on Monday night and the Redskins’ surprising loss to St. Louis.  This game will go a long way toward helping us find out a lot about both teams, as both really need the win to stay in their respective division races.  Clinton Portis should be able to continue running well for Washington, but the Browns also seem like they have finally found their offense again.  Perhaps Derek Anderson will continue to play well if he knows he’s not liable to be yanked for Brady Quinn at any time.  That being said, a hunch says that Jim Zorn and his staff will not allow Washington to drop two home games in a row, and for that reason I take the Redskins, but you might as well flip a coin here. 

– Texans over Lions: Houston finally picked up a win last week, and that should really give the Texans confidence heading into this one.  Houston is in the midst of something you never, ever see in the NFL: they are entering game three of a four game homestand, and five of six at Reliant Stadium.  This came about because of rescheduling needs due to Hurricane Ike, but with the remaining home games all winnable (the Bengals and Ravens remain on the home stretch), Houston seems likely to make a big, big move in the AFC.  Even though Houston started 0-4, and even if that proves to be too much to overcome, the Texans will be a major player in the AFC race.  As for Detroit?  This play says it all.  The countdown to next year has already begun.

– Colts over Packers: The unquestioned game of the week.  Indianapolis finally looked like themselves last week, and there was even a Marvin Harrison sighting!  Green Bay slugged their way to road win in Seattle, and will obviously benefit from a return to Lambeau Field.  The Packers have played reasonably well considering the slew of injuries they’ve been dealing with, and it stands to reason that Ryan Grant should be able to gain 100 yards against a defense that has had trouble stopping the run without Bob Sanders.  This seems to be the consensus anyway even though the Colts completely shut down Baltimore’s running game last week.  Still, a great game like this often comes down to the quarterbacks, and I’ll take a (now healthy) Peyton Manning over Aaron Rodgers 100 percent of the time.  The Colts have debunked the myth for several years now that they can’t win away from the Dome, and they get an important road win here to get back on track. 

– Titans over Chiefs: It seems as though Days of Our Lives has made its stop in Kansas City this week.  Tony Gonzalez remains with the team after they refused to honor his trade request, and Larry Johnson will not suit up for the Chiefs because he violated team rules this week.  Kansas City playing one of the best defenses in the league without any threat of a running game?  Case closed, the only question here is how much the Titans will win by.  Besides, Johnson rushed for only two yards on seven carries last week against the Panthers, so is Kansas City really missing anything anyway?  Then again, every time I say the game is a guaranteed blowout we have an upset or near upset (see the Minnesota-Detroit game last week, which the Vikings barely won).  You could make the case that Kansas City will benefit from the Arrowhead crowd, but really, do you see the Titans imploding here following a bye week? I sure don’t.

– Rams over Cowboys: MAJOR UPSET ALERT.  The Cowboys have struggled for three weeks now, getting a win only because they got the gift of a home game against the Bungles.  Dallas does not know who will start at quarterback.  Will it be Tony Romo with a broken pinkie finger, or Brad Johnson?  How will new receiver Roy Williams fit in?  His presence should make it interesting to see how Mount TO will be affected.  The Dallas secondary is also in shambles, as they will be without Pacman Jones and Terrence Newman.  I sense a huge passing day for Marc Bulger and Torry Holt, who is waiting to break out after a really slow start.  How quickly the mighty have fallen, I have a hunch that St. Louis wins this at home, being that they’re playing much harder for new coach Jim Haslett.

– Giants over 49ers.  This is not a good week for San Francisco to be making the trip east.  The same thought from the San Diego-Buffalo game about a west coast team and an early east coast kick also applies here, but a larger factor is the Niners will be facing a really angry Giants team.  The defending champs know they laid an egg in Cleveland, and they’ll be out for blood on Sunday.  The 49ers have shown some spunk offensively, mainly thanks to Frank Gore, who should really be getting the ball more, but their defense won’t have any answer for a motivated Eli Manning and company.  The Giants also know they enter the really tough part of their schedule and need to win this game.  This should be another blowout in the Meadowlands.

– Bears over Vikings: Both teams are 3-3, and both have been really up and down in the early part of the year.  This should be a really tight, low scoring, defensive game, which gives the Bears an edge, especially at Soldier Field.  Kyle Orton has actually been playing pretty well for the Bears, and I actually give him a slight edge over Gus Frerotte in the quarterback battle.  The deciding factor could very well be turnovers, and both defenses are capable of forcing mistakes from the other team.  I go with Chicago primarily because they’re playing at home, and I would probably take the Vikings if the game were in the Metrodome.  The winner of this game will have at least a share of the lead in the NFC North. 

– Panthers over Saints: This should be a very entertaining game in the NFC South.  Carolina will be highly motivated after getting blown out last week, while the Saints are on a roll coming off a blowout win.  Both offenses are capable of lighting it up, with Reggie Bush and Steve Smith usually stealing the show for their respective teams.  New Orleans should get star receiver Marques Colston back, which will clearly help their offense.  Carolina will be looking for a better effort from their running back duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, plus they hope Mushin Muhammad will be healthy enough to play.  The difference in this game is likely to be Carolina’s motivation factor playing at home, and Smith should be able to outshine Bush, but not by much.  Carolina wins a squeaker. 

– Buccaneers over Seahawks.  This game could very well be second fiddle in the central Florida area if the Red Sox and Rays are playing game seven at Tropicana Field Sunday night.  If that’s the case, it will be interesting to see what kind of crowd is on hand for Sunday Night Football at the pirate ship.  Tampa Bay in any case should have little trouble winning easily, with a defense that is suffocating as always under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.  Seattle continues its musical chairs at quarterback with Seneca Wallace likely to get the nod after Charlie Frye struggled last week and Matt Hasselbeck still at least a week away from returning.  Lots of quarterbacks is never a good thing, and the Bucs defense is licking its chops in excitement.  The fact that Jeff Garcia is healthy and playing well again can’t hurt either.  If there is an ALCS game seven, Tampa sports fans at least shouldn’t have to worry about the football game after the first quarter.  Tampa Bay by at least three touchdowns in this one.

– Broncos over Patriots: The Monday night game this week is a really good matchup of two teams coming off a loss.  Denver should get some reinforcements with the return of Eddie Royal and likely Tony Scheffler, although Brandon Stokley is questionable with a concussion.  The Broncos defense has struggled against the run, but the Patriots have really struggled to run the ball in recent weeks.  Going with one of the weekend themes of looking at quarterback play, how can anyone possibly go with Matt Cassel over Jay Cutler?  Partially on that note, the Brandon Marshall has a better chance for a big game than Randy Moss because Moss will be matched against Champ Bailey.  The deciding factor here is actually history: the Broncos are the only team in the NFL with a winning record against the Patriots since 2000.  Denver has actually won five of its past six games against New England, including three in a row.  Mike Shanahan is 8-3 against the Patriots and Bill Belichick is just 2-9 against Denver.  So even in the height of the Patriots’ dynasty, they still always struggled against Shanahan.  Now that New England is clearly down without Tom Brady?  The Broncos get a much needed win entering the bye week. 

BYE: Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Arizona

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That’s Why They Play the Game!

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 14, 2008

– Giants over Browns: This has mismatch written all over it.  The Giants are without question the best team in football through the first month, and they will be heavily favored in this one.  It’s a weekly theme, but the Giants continue to prove wrong all the so-called “experts” who picked them to miss the playoffs.  How on Earth could anyone have predicted them to miss the playoffs after taking a look at their soft early schedule?  Even without Plaxico Burress last week, they didn’t skip a beat at all as they destroyed Seattle.  Cleveland for whatever reason has yet to bench Derek Anderson in favor of Brady Quinn, even though the Browns only have a win this year because the Bengals gave it to them.  I hate to say I told you so, but the Browns are not a contender in any way, and continue to prove they were a big time fluke last year.  Think the Monday Night Football crew regrets selecting so many Browns games yet?

Ummm…yeah, so I clearly misfired on that one.  I promised at the beginning of the season I would be the first to admit my prediction errors, and here you go, that was a big one.  In my defense I wasn’t by any means the only one.  Eight of the nine pickers on espn.com picked the Giants.  (On the flip side, I did correctly predict Arizona’s win over the Cowboys, but that’s not the topic here).  It certainly seemed going in that the Giants had the best team in football by far, while the Browns had clearly struggled coming into the contest.  Sure, the Browns had the bye week to regroup and were playing in front of an enthusiastic home crowd, but the Giants had won 12 straight games away from Giants Stadium dating back to September of last year, including their miraculous playoff run, so it wasn’t like the crowd was going to adversely affect them.  I certainly did not expect Derek Anderson to save his job, which he did with a 301 yard, two touchdown effort.  I absolutely didn’t expect a breakout game from Braylon Edwards, who had been notably absent the first four games of the season for the Browns.  Most of all, I didn’t expect the Giants to implode the way they did.  Eli Manning in particular was not the same last night as he was early in the year, throwing several crucial picks at inopportune times. 

So what does all that mean in the grand scheme of things in the NFL?  For starters, it’s only one game so it’s difficult to ascertain whether that was one egg laid by the Giants or whether there is a larger concern for the defending champs.  Likewise, are the Browns back among the contenders, or did they just have everything going well for one night?  It’s the same theme every week but it bears worth repeating: the NFL season is such a roller coaster that things really do vary radically from week to week, making it difficult to predict the games, which in turn is what makes the league so great.  Who expected the Rams to beat Washington Sunday?  Sure, I said a Rams win wouldn’t be surprising, but I didn’t actually go out on a limb and pick them.  Did anyone really expect the Vikings to struggle in any way against Detroit, and would need a last second field goal to win?  How about the Falcons?  Show me anyone that thought they would start the year 4-2, and I’ll give you the oceanfront property I own in Wyoming for free, no questions asked. 

How about the games coming up this weekend? Cowboys-Rams looked like a guaranteed Dallas blowout victory a month ago, even two weeks ago.  Now?  The Cowboys are without Tony Romo (broken finger on his throwing hand), Pacman Jones (suspension), Terence Newman (sports hernia), and Felix Jones (hamstring).  Besides all the injuries, the Cowboys have lost two of three, and very nearly all three if not for a sloppy win against the winless Bengals.  Terrell Owens has been essentially shut down for three straight games, tallying just four catches for 36 yards in the loss to Arizona, and now will undoubtedly be petulant when he’s not getting downfield looks from Brad Johnson over the next month.  The Rams meanwhile are coming off a win and will be coming back home.  Granted, despite all that Dallas is still favored to win the game, but is it a gimmie in any way?  Absolutely not.

It will be needless to say interesting to see how things really do shake out at the end of the season.  I still think teams like the Jaguars, Chargers and Colts that are hovering around .500 will be major players in the AFC.  It will be interesting to see if Buffalo and Tennessee can keep up their fast starts in the AFC, or if Atlanta and Arizona can stay in the chase in the NFC.  Will the Cowboys fold? Are the Redskins for real?  What about the Broncos, will they be able to hold off San Diego?  Who are the real Patriots, will they end up being in the mix, or is their dynasty derailed for the time being?  Who will win the NFC North, where three teams currently sit 3-3?  For that matter, who will come out of the NFC South logjam, where every team is .500 or better?  The point is everything is up in the air, and that will ultimately make mine or anyone else’s predictions look like garbage at the end of the year.  The fact is it is most likely no one will end up being completely correct or close to it.  Even the winless Bengals and Lions are likely to shock somebody at some point, for there has NEVER BEEN an 0-16 team in NFL history.  So while I may have looked foolish with my pregame assessment of the Giants-Browns game, at least I still went over .500 for the week, which means i did better than 5 of the ESPN experts for the week.  Considering the state of the NFL these days, that doesn’t seem to be too bad at all.  Besides, if I really could pick the games that well, I wouldn’t be bothering to write about them here, and I would be enjoying my weekly fortune from Vegas.  Until I get that patent for the time machine approved, the teams of the NFL will just keep proving me and everyone else who doubts them wrong.

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Week Six Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 10, 2008

Before we get to the NFL picks for the week, I have to say I am almost more excited about the Saturday slate of college action this weekend than I am about the NFL games.  On Saturday you have Oklahoma-Texas, a game that is WAY more important than that overhyped Ohio State-USC game from a few weeks ago.  OU-Texas might well end up being the game of the year, as both teams have dominated so far this year.  You also have LSU-Florida in Gainesville, which will no doubt be a critical game in the SEC.  My Missouri Tigers will continue to try to put up 50 points each week against Oklahoma State, which has also been averaging 50 points a game this year, so that game should be a very entertaining wild shootout.  I also want to keep an eye on another high powered offense in Texas Tech.  Will they put 70 points up on Nebraska?  The mixture of college and pro action, plus the baseball playoffs and the start of NHL make this a wonderful time on the sports calendar for sure.  Now, on to the NFL picks. 

Last Week: 7-7 (.500)  Season: 45-29 (.608)

– Dolphins over Texans: Miami has defeated the two AFC Championship Game participants from last year, which is no small feat even if the Patriots and Chargers may not be as good as last year’s versions.  Ronnie Brown seems fully recovered from last year’s ACL injury and that is bad news for opponents.  Houston is coming off quite possibly its worst loss in franchise history, losing s 27-10 lead with 4;40 to play last week against the Colts.  Matt Schaub is back at QB for the Texans, but there is simply no immediate recovery from that kind of debacle.  Miami keeps the momentum going on the road.

– Jets over Bengals: New York is coming off a bye, which means Brett Favre had a chance to further get comfortable with the offense.  The Jets are still very much within striking distance in the AFC East, and they know they need to take care of business at home.  Cincinnati has played to its competition thus far this year, which could make this a much closer game than it may appear on paper.  The Bengals have talent despite being 0-5 so the Jets need to be careful, but a hunch New York wins at home, even if its not by a wide margin.

– Colts over Ravens: Logic says i should go with Baltimore.  Their defense is playing great, and they should be able to run the ball against a Colts defense that hasn’t been able to stop the run this year.  Then again, I have to think the Colts gained quite a bit of momentum with their wild comeback win in Houston.  Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning, and he has always owned Baltimore even in the heyday of the Ravens defense.  Marvin Harrison can’t possibly continue to be invisible can he?  Even if he is in this game, the Colts still have Reggie Wayne.  Indianapolis finally gets its first win at new Lucas Oil Stadium.

– Broncos over Jaguars: This should be a tight low scoring game, much like the Broncos-Bucs game last week.  Jacksonville held the ball over 40 minutes in last year’s meeting, so expect the Jags to run, run, run again.  The Broncos did do much better against the run last week, while the Jags have struggled to run it in every game this year except against the Colts.  Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew combined to only rush for 30 yards last week against Pittsburgh, so the Broncos have a chance to continue improvement against the run if they stay disciplined.  Denver will be without tight end Tony Scheffler, so the Broncos will need a big game from Brandon Marshall.  It says here that’s a given after he was shut down last week.  Denver has just enough offense to win this one.

– Saints over Raiders: New Orleans gave one away last week against the Vikings.  The Saints know they have more talent than their 2-3 record indicates, and they may only need to wait one more week before the return of star receiver Marques Colston from a thumb injury.  The Raiders are coming off a bye, and of course their soap opera press conference and firing of Lane Kiffin.  As messed up as the Raiders organization is, a coaching change is not going to help them win this one.  After this one the Saints do not return to the Superdome until Nov. 24, due to a “home” game in London against San Diego at the end of the month.  The Saints know they must get this one, and they will.

– Cardinals over Cowboys: Major upset alert.  The Cowboys have struggled the last two weeks, and if they were playing virtually anyone other than the Bengals they wouldn’t have won last week.  Dallas also has an added distraction this week of more off-field trouble for Pacman Jones which can’t help.  Arizona meanwhile, has shown they have one of the top passing games in the league, and their defense got a huge boost last week with the return of hard hitting safety Adrian Wilson.  The Cardinals have won 8 of their last 10 at home, and it’s not all opposing team fans in the stands anymore.  Arizona wins in a shootout.

– Eagles over 49ers: Philadelphia is also much more talented then their 2-3 record indicates.  The Eagles are coming off two tough losses and now have a road game against a team with potential to surprise.  If the Niners do get a consistent outing from J.T. O’Sullivan, an upset is not out of the question.  If he is erratic, the Eagles offense should be able to do enough to win.  Dononvan McNabb gets receiving threat Kevin Curtis back, which should also open up opportunities for DeSean Jackson.  Philadelphia knows it can’t afford many more slipups in the rugged NFC East.

– Redskins over Rams: Washington is arguably the league’s biggest surprise at 4-1.  The Redskins are coming off back-to-back division road wins against Dallas and Philly, and now have a couple of friendly home games coming up.  The Redskins do have a guard against a trap here though, with the Rams coming off a bye and a coaching change, plus the reinstatement of Marc Bulger at quarterback.  A Rams victory would not come as a complete shock just because of the bye and a chance to regroup, but it is impossible to give them the nod on the road when they haven’t shown anything at all this year.  Washington gets the home win.  

– Bears over Falcons: Atlanta at 3-2 is simply stunning.  Maybe I’m just slow to get on the bandwagon here, but I can’t see Matt Ryan having the success he’s had so far this year against Chicago’s defense.  The Bears defense makes life hell for any quarterback, let alone a rookie.  Then again, Matt Ryan did win at Lambeau last week, which is also rare for a rookie.  Still, if Kyle Orton plays as well as he did last week, the Bears should have enough to win this game.  Chicago can really take control of the NFC North in the early going if they pull off this road victory.  

– Vikings over Lions: Detroit is well in the running for the worst team in the league.  They are frantically trying to trade guys who don’t want to be there before the deadline. (Roy Williams anyone?) They are a complete mess on defense because they haven’t used any high draft picks on that side of the ball in years.  Minnesota is coming off a big road win that may have saved its season.  I really hope you’re not going against Adrian Peterson in your fantasy league this week, because he’s about to have a monster day.  The only question here is how much the Vikings win this game by.  

– Packers over Seahawks: This will be a very ugly game.  Seattle is so banged up on offense that Matt Hasselbeck will still start at quarterback despite not practicing all week due to a shoulder injury.  Half of the receivers are still out as well, and Seattle is coming off a 44-6 blowout loss to the Giants.  Green Bay has lost three in a row, and is also riddled with injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  This is very clearly not Seattle’s year, and the Packers know they can stay in the NFC North race with a road win.  Green Bay wins the dud game of the week.  

– Panthers over Buccaneers: I expect a great game in this one.  Carolina is red hot, and will try to win on the road against a good Bucs defense that is always very tough at home.  I go with Carolina on a hunch because Jake Delhomme has always had good success in his career against Tampa Bay, and the dual receiving threat of Steve Smith and Mushin Muhammad is causing all kinds of trouble for defenses.  Tampa Bay goes back to Jeff Garcia at quarterback, but I don’t think the Bucs have enough offense to keep up.  Carolina wins.  

– Chargers over Patriots: San Diego will be highly motivated in the Sunday nighter for several reasons.  The Chargers have lost three in a row to New England, including two playoff games.  San Diego also is a desperate team at 2-3, and knows they can’t afford a loss at home being that they’re already facing a two game deficit in the AFC West.  The Chargers will also be out for blood after the allowed a winnable game to slip away in Miami.  The Patriots may be 3-1 yes, but they haven’t really proven they are completely their old selves after the Tom Brady injury.  The raucous home crowd under the lights is the sway factor as the Chargers notch the W.  

– Giants over Browns: This has mismatch written all over it.  The Giants are without question the best team in football through the first month, and they will be heavily favored in this one.  It’s a weekly theme, but the Giants continue to prove wrong all the so-called “experts” who picked them to miss the playoffs.  How on Earth could anyone have predicted them to miss the playoffs after taking a look at their soft early schedule?  Even without Plaxico Burress last week, they didn’t skip a beat at all as they destroyed Seattle.  Cleveland for whatever reason has yet to bench Derek Anderson in favor of Brady Quinn, even though the Browns only have a win this year because the Bengals gave it to them.  I hate to say I told you so, but the Browns are not a contender in any way, and continue to prove they were a big time fluke last year.  Think the Monday Night Football crew regrets selecting so many Browns games yet?

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Now the Road Gets Rockier….

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 7, 2008

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” –  George Santayana, The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress: Reason in Common Sense 284

If you had told me before the start of the season that the Broncos would be 4-1 and would own a two game lead in the AFC West through five games, I would have first thought that you were crazy, but I also would have taken that in a heartbeat no questions asked.  Well here we are five games into the season, and the Broncos are possession of said two game lead in the division.  Granted, the one loss was an embrassing one to a bad Kansas City team, but the Broncos did bounce back with a terrific defensive effort against an underrated Tampa Bay team.  The Broncos finally got excellent pressure on the quarterback, first on Brian Griese and later on Jeff Garcia, and the defense gave a much better effort against the run.  Granted, that isn’t saying much after they got shredded by Larry Johnson, but the defense showed it is capable if need be of carrying the team on a day the offense may not be on its top game.  While this is all great, it is only a start, nothing more. 

The optimistic side of me is definitely excited about the 4-1 start.  Generally speaking, a good start can lead to a good finish.  The other side of me says that we’ve been down this road before, only to see the Broncos not finish the way they started.  Two years ago in 2006, the Broncos actually started 4-1, and later were 7-2, before finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs.  In 2004, the Broncos started 5-1, ended up 10-6, and lost a wild card game to the Colts.  The year before in 2003, the Broncos started 5-1, finished 10-6, and lost a wild card game to the Colts. (No I did not accidently retype the sentence, ’03 and ’04 were identical in that regard in Bronco land.)  Or we could even take 2002, which saw the Broncos start 4-1, and later 6-2, and miss the playoffs with a 9-7 record.  The one recent exception was 2005, when the Broncos did successfully parlay a 5-1 start into a 13-3 record and an AFC Championship Game appearance.  The point is, yes the Broncos have gotten off to a good start, but that’s all it means.  It is important that the Broncos do not repeat their second half failures of this decade.  There is a lot of season to go, and the Broncos will need to keep playing at a high level to maintain their position in the AFC West.

One thing about the NFL is the outlook of any team can really vary radically from week to week.  It is also true that a team’s perceived strength of schedule can vary even more wildly from week to week.  Are you playing a team when they’re on fire?  Are you catching them while injury riddled?  Are you playing a team from the other conference in between two division games?  There are so many x factors in the NFL schedule that make it really difficult at best to determine exactly how hard or easy a team’s remaining schedule will be.  Right now though, it certainly looks like the Broncos’ schedule is about to get tougher.    The Broncos face Jacksonville at home on Sunday, a team that has traditionally given them trouble and will be desperate after last week’s loss to Pittsburgh.  Then the Broncos are at New England in a Monday nighter before the bye.  The Broncos also have trips to Atlanta, Carolina, and the Jets that could all be potentially difficult, plus what is shaping up to be a monster home game in December against Buffalo.  Even the home game against Miami suddenly doesn’t look the gimmie it appeared to be a month ago.  Of course, all of this could easily change next week, but the point is while the Broncos are off to a great start and have beaten good teams so far, they must continue to play well and stay focused if they want to keep pace with the other top teams in the league. 

Injuries of course also have a huge impact, and the Broncos will be without top receiving threats Eddie Royal AND Tony Scheffler on Sunday against the Jaguars, and possibly beyond.  Both players left Invesco Field on crutches after the Tampa Bay game, Royal having suffered an ankle injury and Scheffler a groin injury.  For Jay Cutler to lose two key receiving targets simultaneously could be awfully tough to overcome.  Factor in that Selvin Young also got banged up against Tampa and may miss next week, and the Broncos find themselves really shorthanded against a Jaguars defense that loves to be physical and play a tight, low scoring game like what the Broncos saw last week.  The Broncos do still have a lot going for them, and will need guys like Brandon Stokley and Michael Pittman to step up and play well. 

This is not meant to be doom and gloom and be pessimistic about the Broncos’ prospects the rest of the season, but rather to caution about getting too carried away just yet.  The Broncos have gotten off to a fast start and that’s important.  It’s also important that they keep it up.  Keep in mind the Broncos were 8-0 at home in 2005 when they made the AFC Championship Game.  They are 3-0 at home so far this year, and have another important home game on Sunday.  As long as the Broncos take Jacksonville seriously they should be fine, but they can’t afford letdowns like what they had in Kansas City.  There is a lot of season left, and the Broncos do have the tools to build on their fast start, but that’s all it is right now: a start.  The Broncos had better hope this season turns out more along the lines of 2005 and the late 90s, and not 2002, 2004, or 2006.

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