Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Ho hum, just another week in the wild world of sports... yeah, ok buddy.

This has been an unreal week already, and today is only Wednesday. From Schilling to Spahn, Cartwright to 'Zo, and oh yeah, don't forget football.

Let me preface this column by saying that I know I told you I would write a hockey column soon. And I will, just as soon as there is nothing else to write about. It's not that I don't like hockey, it's that the sport is pretty hard to follow up here, as only two channels carry the games and even the local team doesn't get all of its games televised. The Bruins are one of the most historic franchises in SPORTING history, yet even with a good team they still don't sell out games or get ratings. Sad.

So let's move on to other news. First, the passing of Warren Spahn, the greatest lefty of all time. No, that's not opinion, that's fact. He has more career wins than any other lefty, and he missed 4+ years to serve in WWII. When was the last time a modern day player took off a few years to go serve his country? Spahn could probably have won 500 games at the rate he pitched; he's 6th all-time with 363 wins, behind five of the greatest pitchers ever (Cy Young - gee, that name rings a bell, Walter Johnson, Grover Alexander, Christy Mathewson, and Pud Galvin - personally, I'll admit I've never heard of Pud Galvin).

He was a Hall-of-Famer, a 14-time All Star, and a 13-time 20 game winner. He pitched complete games in 382 of his 665 career starts. That's insane. His last 20-win season came in 1963 when he went 23-7 with a 2.60 ERA... at the age of 42. THAT'S insane. The old mantra of "Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain" was so true because those two pitchers were so dominating that they were almost guaranteed a victory every time, much like the modern day Randy Johnson / Curt Schilling combination in Arizona. Warren Spahn will be remembered as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, and the best ever to toss it from the south side.

Speaking of Curt Schilling, it appears the Red Sox have a new #2 starter. I hope. I can't even comprehend the starting rotation of Pedro, Schilling, Wakefield, Lowe, and either Burkett or Suppan next year. But Schill still has to waive his no-trade clause, which is apparently more difficult to do than anyone imagined. Schilling doesn't want to pitch in a fly-ball park because he is a fly-ball pitcher, so the Sox management found a new stat to show that overpowering fastball pitchers (Pedro, Clemens, etc.) have been able to pitch in Fenway with relative ease. Schilling wants a contract extension so that he can retire after this contract. Fine, he's in pretty good shape, give him a 3 year extension to bring him up to the age of 41 (he's 37 now) and then he can retire after that.

Maybe the Sox can even go after an Andy Pettite or a Greg Maddux now as a #3 guy (can you imagine either of them as #3 guys?) behind this unreal starting two. I don't think Steinbrenner is going to let Pettite out of his sight for the next five or six years, and he might just pull another Mo Vaughn / Bernie Williams deal like he did back in 1997. You all remember that, right? The Sox had decided to focus on signing Williams away from the Yankees rather than devote time to their own guy, Mo Vaughn. What happens? Williams agrees on a 6 year - $90 million deal from the Sox, but then renegs before signing because Steinbrenner offers him the same deal and he wants to stay as a Yankee. Mo Vaughn, meanwhile, decides to sign with the Angels for about the same amount yearly, and the Sox get left with no legit power threat for a few seasons until Carl "T-Rex" Everett and Manny Ramirez sign in 1999 and 2000.

Speaking of Manny, would anyone be against a Manny for A-Rod deal? Think about it, the salary actually goes up a little, but they could move Nomar midway through the season. I would make the trade, put A-Rod at second (Walker's arbitration eligible) until near the deadline, then move Nomar for young power pitching - Brandon Webb or Dontrelle Willis both come to mind, or perhaps Eric Gagne who was almost traded for Nomar last year. If the Sox dump Manny on Texas and take A-Rod's contract, they could sign a young second baseman, say, Luis Castillo, to put at second once Nomar moves. It's pure speculation, but it could work. Think about this lineup: Castillo (2B) - Damon (CF) - Nixon (RF) - A-Rod (DH) - Nomar (SS) - Ortiz (1B) - Mueller (3B) - Millar (LF) Varitek (C). Varitek as a legit #9 guy? Wow, remember all those records they set last year, they might all get shattered if this happens...

Now, the NBA. A month into the season and two underachieving teams have fired their coaches, the Bulls and the Magic. Bill Cartwright probably deserved a little more time to try and get through to what essentially amounts to a college team with all of the youth he had. Doc Rivers, however, deserved a lot more. Yes, he got canned after his team lost 10 straight (it's 13 now), but the consecutive losses aren't his fault. He got saddled with a team that looked wonderful on paper, T-Mac, Grant Hill, and then a bunch of character guys, plus enough money to sign over a marquee free agent or two the past few seasons. But then they lost out on Duncan, Kidd, Olowakandi, and everyone else they wanted. Grant's ankle will never get better. T-Mac's back just can't carry everyone, and suddenly they're staring a 10 game losing streak straight in the face one year after going to the playoffs. So, natural reaction? Fire the Head coach and top assistant in order to promote the second assistant. There's a great line relating to firing a head coach to promote an assistant: Do you think that the assistant had all the answers the whole time, but was just keeping them to himself? Bring in an outsider (this goes for the Bulls too).

But this isn't all on Rivers. The GM and the team management deserve a little of the (dis)credit for this team as well. Look at the marquee names they've had on their rosterr just since 1998: T-Mac, Grant Hill, Keon Clark, Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Corey Magette, Matt Harpring, Troy Hudson, Mike Miller, Earl Boykins, c'mon, there's three former and probably at least one future all-star just in that list. But only two are still with the team, and only one is still playing. Oops.

Hindsight is 20-20, and the deal to send Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins to Detroit in a sign-and-trade for Grant Hill will probably come back to haunt the Magic. But think about it for a second. Grant Hill already had a bad ankle before going to Orlando. The Magic could have probably gotten him for much less, and still kept Wallace. So what it comes down to is just poor decision making by the team ownership and management. It's not something that Rivers should have been punished for. Just cut Hill at season's end, eat the cap hit (he's never going to play again) and re-build from there.

Finally, Alonzo Mourning. When I was younger, I, like many young boys, collected sports cards. I still do. But in 1992, when Zo and Shaq were the two hot commodities, I had reached my card-collecting peak. I thought that these two guys were going to change the way the center position was played, and I wanted to collect as many cards of these two as I could because I knew they were both sure-fire Hall-of-Famers. Well, I was half-right.

Nothing against Mourning, he was a hell of a player; no one had more heart or determination than him. But a Hall-of-Famer? I just can't see him enshrined alongside Jordan, Olajuwon, Robinson, Barkley, Ewing, Malone, Stockton, Shaq (eventually) and all the rest of the best players from the decade of the 90's. I understand that Barkley, Stockton, Ewing and Malone (so far) never won titles, but that shouldn't necessarily be the determining factor here. Zo never won ANYTHING. I don't think he ever got out of the first round of the playoffs, and if he did, I know he never reached the NBA finals. Every other person named at least made it to the Finals, some multiple times. And four of them won a title multiple times. If Kevin Garnett were to retire today due to injury, would he be a Hall-of-Famer? Jason Kidd? Paul Pierce, T-Mac, Iverson? The only legit "young guns" that could retire today and be Hall-of-Famers are Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.

Alonzo Mourning will go down as perhaps one of the top 10-20 centers to ever play the game. But I just don't see him in Springfield anytime soon.



I had the privilege and honor of meeting Coach Don Shula this past weekend at a dinner at Foxwoods. I got a great framed and autographed picture of Coach Sula and Coach Ditka, although Ditka didn't make it after a car accident and hip surgery. I have to say something right away: Coach Shula is truly one of the most likeable sports celebrities I've ever gotten to meet. Granted, in my short life there haven't been many, and only two other marquee names, but Coach Shula was just genuine. He had pictures taken with each and every one of the 200 guests, he joked with some of us, and he got up to the podium after dinner and recounted some of the best games in football history, because he was involved in them. He told us about Super Bowl III against Joe Namath, he recounted his infuriation in the "Snow Plow" game in New England (heh heh heh), and he reminisced about some of his favorite players and moments. But he told one story that really made everyone laugh, so that's the one I'll tell you.

He was getting ready for his final Super Bowl appearance by going over his routine and calming down. He told us that he usually tried to find a nice quiet place to sit down and read some notes, but more importantly to get his head straight and think about what he wanted to tell his team. Usually, it ended up being the bathroom. So he was standing in front of the mirror in a bathroom rehearsing his speech, when the owner's wife walked in looking for him.

"Are you OK Coach?" she asked.

"Yeah, I'm just getting my notes together" he replied.

"Well, are you a little nervous about the game?"

"Nervous, why would you think that? This is the fourth Super Bowl I’ve been

in." Shula replied.

"Then why are you in the women's bathroom?" the owner's wife asked.

Coach grabbed his papers and went to the locker room.

Now on to this weeks' picks. Last week I went 7-9 (i'm getting worse) for a season record of 27-29-3. No pushes for 2 weeks now, weird. Here come this weeks picks. I'll try to keep it short.

Packers (-7.5) over LIONS: It's a thanksgiving day game in Detroit that once again no one outside of these two cities will watch because they'll be sleeping off the turkey hangover. The Packers look poised to take over the NFC north right now, especially with Minnesota facing the Rams.

COWBOYS (-3.5) over Dolphins: Dallas looked really good against Carolina last week, and if they can shut down Steven Davis for four quarters, what makes anyone think that they can't stop Ricky Williams?

RAMS (-5.5) over Vikings: Beating up on the Lions does not automatically make you a contender again. Nor does barely escaping the Cardinals. There's no field advantage here because they're both dome teams. When all outside fators like that are equal, just take the favorite. They're the favorite for a reason, you know.

BEARS (-4.5) over Cardinals: God, can we just cancel this game? No one wins. The Bears stink, the Cardinals really stink, no one will watch this. The only way to pick a winner here is to see where it's played. Hmm, a team from Phoenix playing in Chicago in late November? Let's just say it'll be a bit chilly. Take da Bears and hope Kordell gets to play again so I can make fun of him next week.

TEXANS (-3.5) over Falcons: So much for Michael Vick coming back for this game. I finally dropped him from my fantasy reserve list after hoping for a quick recovery. At least I got Jay Fiedler off waivers. Anyway, the Texans looked very good against a strong New England team last week, so even though the Falcons almost upset the Titans, they ost their #1 RB Warrick Dunn for the season, so don't expect much out of them in the final weeks.

PATRIOTS (+3.5) over Colts: It scares me to bet on the home team's games. If they win and I have money the other way, I'm happy and mad. If they lose and I have money on them, I'm doubly pissed. That being said, I'm putting down dough on the pats this week. Harrison's gimpy, Pollard's out, Edge won't do much against the Pats, so it's all on Peyton, and I think we've see Bill Belichick can game plan for one player (anyone remember Super Bowl XXXVI?)

Bills (+4.5) over GIANTS: You see, the Giants just aren't as talented, coordinated, or lucky as the pats. They can't pull off the Bill Belichick patented Monday Night Football giveaway safety move. Is this going to be a trend now? Once again, the Giants dig a hole they can't get out of. They just don't want to win anymore. Take the Bills and the points, and laugh all the way to the bank.

Bengals (+2.5) over STEELERS: Wait, is that a +2.5? How's that? Um, aren't the Bengals in first place, and the Steelers are horrible? The only reason they've got 4 wins is because they get to play Cleveland a couple of times. This isn't even hard, the Bengals are playing on Pride right now, the Steelers are playing just to stop being laughed at and questioned. But this division is up for grabs (first place is 6-5, last place is 4-7). Take the Bengals and cross your fingers it doesn't go to overtime.

Eagles (+1.5) over PANTHERS: Wow, what a game. Second-best game of the week, behind Indy/N.E. The Eagles are playing damned good football right now, and I don't see the Panthers getting in their way. If the Bengals are playing on Pride, the Eagles are playing on Stubbornness. Remember how people wanted to bench McNabb a few weeks back? Now he's getting serious MVP consideration. As much as I like the Pats, I think it's going to be Eagles / Titans in the Super Bowl, provided McNair isn't too hurt. Take the points and don't change that channel.

Broncos (-3.5) over RAIDERS: I just hate the Raiders, OK. That, plus they can't possibly go on a 3-game winning streak after a 5-game loser, can they? And there'sno way the Broncos are as bad as they looked against the Bears last week, are they? Hmmmmm.....

Chiefs (-7.5) over CHARGERS: Here's my "over 5.5 points but I'm still taking them" team of the week, and maybe the year, the Chiefs. I wouldn't be surprised to see KC put up 50 in this game, or to see Priest go for 200+. Trent Green is becoming the big game QB Dick Vermiel always knew he could be, and that'snot good for opposing teams. With a weapon like Holmes in the backfield, even a mediocre QB could dominate.

SEAHAWKS (-7.5) over Browns: I almost left eh B in Brown in lower-case. This team is so inconsistent, it's scary. Put up 44 on Arizona (a 3-8 team), then only got 6 against Pittsburgh (a 4-7 team). Not much difference in the teams, so why the difference in scores? Because this team just can't put together two quality games, whether they're high quality or low. The Seahawks on the other hand, are looking to kill the next moving object they see after giving up 41 in the second half and OT to Baltimore last week. Couldnt' they see Marcus Robinson in the end zone? I mean the guy is pretty tall.

Saints (-2.5) over REDSKINS: Not happening this year for the 'Skins either. They looked good for one week, then went right back to making stupid mental errors and quitting in the fourth quarter. They had that game against the Dolphins last week, and they gave it up. Now Bruce Smith, one of the classiest guys in the league, is going over the coach's head to the owner to ask for more playing time? Last time I checked, owners didn't decide who played when, they just decided who got paid.

Bucs (-5.5) over JAGUARS: The Bucs looked really good on Monday night, albeit against a Giants team that has quit this year. The Jags have a QB controversy between two marginal, at best, QB's? That's not a good sign. 5.5 points or 55.5 points, take the Bucs. Well, if it were 55.5, you might consider taking the Jags.

Titans (-2.5) over JETS: 2.5?!?! Why, because it's in the Meadowlands? c'mon people, weather doesn't make up for, oh, that's right, no McNair. Hold on a sec....

JETS (+2.5) over Titans: There, much better. No McNair, no McWin.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Just so no one is kept waiting, I have chosen to simply make my football picks quickly so that I can devote an entire column to my dinner tomorrow with Don Shula (Ditka got in an accident and won't be there...). So, in no particular order....

Panthers (+2.5) over COWBOYS / PACKERS (-5.5) over 49ers / Patriots (-5.5) over TEXANS / Lions (+10.5) over VIKINGS / Colts (-3.5) over BILLS / BROWNS (-2.5) over Steelers / JETS (-4.5) over Jaguars / EAGLES (-5.5) over Saints / Seahawks (+2.5) over RAVENS / Bengals (-2.5) over CHARGERS / Rams (-7.5) over CARDINALS / Bears (+10.5) over BRONCOS / Oakland (+11.5) over CHIEFS / Titans (-7.5) over FALCONS / DOLPHINS (-6.5) over Redskins / BUCS (-5.5) over Giants

7-9 last week... 20-20-3 overall. About as even as you can get. See you all next week. Promise to have at least one good story and hopefully a good picture of/with Coach Shula.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Yes, I know it's Tuesday. I'm bored, and there have been a few developments over the past few days that need to be addressed. Besides, Thursday is going to be reserved for football picks. This column might jump around a little bit, and will certainly hit on more than one topic, so strap yourselves in and hold on.


Can we just give the Comeback Player of the Year award to Vin Baker right now? Seriously, I know that there are others deserving of consideration (Alonzo Mourning comes to mind), but Vinnie is looking absolutely outstanding through the first 10 games of the season. He's coming off a season in which he had to stop playing halfway through because of a "heart condition" that actually turned out to be chronic alcoholism.

So far this year, he's averaging 15.1 points, 7.3 boards, 1.4 assists and even a half a block (0.4) every game. All of those numbers are stunningly similar to his career averages (16.9pts / 8.2reb / 2.1ast / 1.1blk) This guy is back, and now everyone in Boston can understand where the Antoine Walker trade came from. If Baker keeps playing like this, the Celtics could be serious contenders in the East, with three bonafide 20-point scorers every night (Pierce, Baker, and LaFrentz).

That brings me to my next NBA point. Realignment?!? Wait a minute, didn't the Charlotte Hornets just move to New Orleans two years ago because the fans in Charlotte were so horrible? Then why in hell should an EXPANSION team go there? Does anyone think that the Bobcats are going to play well enough to draw 15,000 fans a night for the first, oh, let's say five years? I suppose that the NBA does need another franchise to make an even 30, but in Charlotte? Why not Vegas? Or maybe a fifth California team?

And when the hell was the last time there was a bobcat in Charlotte? That's almost as bad as the Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies, or Utah Jazz... almost. Seriously, new teams or teams that change cities really have to change their names accordingly. At least there are actually hornets in New Orleans.

So now we get back to the realignment thing. Under the new proposal, there would be three 5-team divisions in each conference instead of the current two 7-team divisions. Well, there's a few problems here. First, the aforementioned Hornets really got the raw end of this deal, because they have to go from being a perennial 4-6 seed in the East playoffs to being probably no better than 10th in the West, and out of the playoffs.

So the new Eastern Conference divisions will be the Southeast (Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, and Washington?), the Central (Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indiana, Milwaukee, that's fine), and the Atlantic (Boston New York, New Jersey, Toronto, Philadelphia). And the Western Conference divisions look like this: Southwest (New Orleans?!?, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Memphis?), Northwest (Utah, Denver, Minnesota, Portland, Seattle, only one team actually in the Northwestern US...), and the Pacific, or California division (Golden State, LA Lakers, LA Clippers, Phoenix, and Sacramento).

So that puts 15 teams in each conference, in three divisions of 5 teams each. Why not just divide it by conference and that's it? Division winner doesn't mean much anyway; the playoffs are just the eight best teams from each conference, with seedings based on division winner, then record. Now we'll have three division winners and five wild cards, as opposed to two division winners and six wild cards before. Just make it into two conferences and take the top eight. Simple. Damn. Stern needs to retire or hire me as a consultant.


The awards given out this year by Major League Baseball were a complete and total farce. Angel Berroa over Matsui or Baldelli? ALEX RODRIGUEZ over everyone else eligible? C'mon people. The only awards that were truly no-brainers were Barry Bonds's stunning 6th MVP (3rd straight) and Eric Gagne's 1st Cy Young.

Let's start from the top. AL ROY Angel Berroa. Yeah, he had a great season. And he certainly sparked a Royals team that hadn't even sniffed a third place finish in the last ten years, let alone FIRST for much of the summer. But Hideki Matsui contributed to the Yankees in ways that Berroa did not. Matsui was a clubhouse presence, he was adequate defensively and even filled in at center field for the time that Bernie Williams was hurt. They each batted .287 and had only one point difference in their OPS' (.789 for Berroa to .788 for Matsui). Baldelli batted .289 and has a .742 OPS, but he energized a club that needed a solid leadoff or #2 guy, and needed a solid center fielder to replace Randy Winn even more. But for me, this decision was between Berroa and Matsui, Baldelli faltered after the break, as did his team.

So the final numbers look like this: Matsui had 16 more hits, 14 more doubles, 33 more RBI, and 34 more walks. Berroa had 10 more runs, 6 more triples, 1 more home run, 19 more steals, and a .016 higher slugging percentage. So, when it comes down to it, who contributed more? Matsui, without a doubt. More pressure, more attention, bigger stage, and he stepped up to all of it. Now the bigger issue, why was he left off of ballots?

I understand that some writers felt he shouldn't be considered because of his prior playing experience. Really? Kinda like Hideo Nomo or Ichiro or Kaz Sasaki weren't considered because of prior experience? Oh, that's right. All of them won the ROY. Maybe those writers should consider the name of the ROY trophy: The Jackie Robinson award for the Rookie of the Year. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Jackie Robinson have a little experience in another league prior to playing in the majors? Angel Berroa was great, and in any other circumstance, certainly deserved to win the award. But Matsui just deserved it more.

Interesting side note to this award; the two writers who left Matsui off their ballots were both from areas who's home teams were defeated by the Yankees in the playoffs: Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Yankees beat the Twins and Red Sox on their way to LOSING the World Series. Just wanted to remind everyone that the Yankees LOST.

Now, the AL MVP. Personally, I'm speachless. I think that maybe this is a kind of payback for A-Rod losing the award in any of the past 5 seasons, when his numbers were clearly superior than this year, and yet he still lost. In There are at least three other people who deserved this award, but there was no real clear-cut guy, so A-Rod got it.

I think that either of two Red Sox players, Manny Ramirez or David Ortiz should have gotten much more consideration. Jorge Posada also had an MVP season. And if the Blue Jays had continued their hot streak of mid-summer, Carlos Delgado would have been a no-brainer. Shannon Stewart also should have rated higher, but he moved during the season and that hurt his candidacy. Nomar hasn't been an MVP-type player since he broke his wrist, and this year was no different. But I'm going to take the same perspective on this that Jayson Stark took. Where would the Rangers be without A-Rod? That's right, still in dead last place. I can remember at least five games that David Ortiz won for the Red Sox this year, not counting the playoffs. Same goes for Manny Ramirez and Posada. Five games might not sound like much, but when the Sox only won the wild card by two games and the Yankees only won the division by six...

All things considered, yeah, A-Rod was an MVP CANDIDATE, but shouldn't have been a winner, at least no this year. He was the best player, not the most valuable.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Back from Sin City, and what have I learned? Hmmm......

  • Always hit on 12 with a 2 showing. Not quite sure why, but it seems to work.
  • The trend is your friend. Learned that little tidbit from a roulette dealer who tried to understand why I kept betting against the color streak on the board. Told her it was an old system a friend of mine used to employ. Didn't work.
  • Free drinks are godly, but not when you're trying to add up the cards in front of you in blackjack. Learned that the hard way after hitting on 13 with a 4 in front of the dealer. Got a 9 and was pretty happy, until I realized I didn't have 12 to start with and I had just lost $40. Damn lack of math skills.
  • Pacific Standard Time (PST) is the greatest invention ever. I love to wake up at 9:45AM and realize that football about to start. Which leads me to...

The most important thing I learned while vacationing in Las Vegas...

  • If you write a weekly column and use that space to predict football winners, you should probably put money on all of the games, not just a few. I lost every bet I made this week. Oops.

With that being said, I didn't do very well at all last week, especially in games I put money on. I went 5-8-1 last week. Damn those half points in OT. But at least I picked the two biggest surprises right, Chargers and Falcons. Last week, I actually laid dollars on the Colts, Ravens and Cardinals. Ugh. For the season, or at least the last 2 weeks, which is when I started picking games, I'm 13-11-3. Hey, I'm ahead, and in gambling, as long as you don't lose, you've won. Read that again, it'll make more sense the second time, especially when you see that all important 3 in my overall record.

So, how do we stand for this week's games? To be honest, I've only gotten to look at the games and spreads a little, so I'm not sure how accurate I'll be. Lets put it this way, I'm not actually betting this week. Not for lack of confidence, but because I'm out of money. Also, before we start, is anyone actually reading this? More importantly, is anyone actually using my advice in their own sporting lives? Just wondering if this matters to anyone but me. I know a few of you read this every week, because we've talked about it. But for the rest of you... is there anybody out there?

OK, OK. To the picks. This is a tough week, a lot of big point spreads. Let's see how my rule holds up...

Texans (+7) over BILLS: Houston really isn't as bad as everyone thinks that a second-year franchise should be. Buffalo really is as bad as everyone says they are. Throw in Drew Bledsoe and his "I still get to keep that Super Bowl ring" expression everytime he gets helped up off the turf, and I can't see the Bills covering here. Just not happening. Plus, Domanick Davis against this rushing defense? C'mon people, this really isn't rocket science.

EAGLES (-3.5) over Giants: I met a real nice Giants fan (I know, oxymoron) in Vegas at a table I was playing. He said something to me that just makes sense. The Giants just don't look right this year. Any team that can storm into Minnesota and beat one of the 2 remaining undefeated teams, then lose to ATLANTA?!? And a Vick-less ATLANTA?!?!? The Giants have absolutely no identity this year. They're not the hard-nosed smashmouth team of the 80's and early 90's. Their coach looks like he's going to implode any day. Their offense is led by a QB who just a few years ago had "lost the desire to play football", and now they have to go into Philly, the city with the toughest fans, hands down. This game is for NFC East supremacy, and the Giants don't have it this year. Theyll make a run at the wild-card, but not the division. Plus, Donovan will break out of his slump.

Cardinals (+6.5) over BROWNS: Yeah, I know the rule. And I'm sticking to it, even though it was only 2-2 last week. The Cardinals are suddenly not the worst team in football, that honor goes to Oakland. The Browns run defense couldn't stop Steven Hawking at this point, let alone Marcel Shipp. I realize Priest didn't exactly have stellar "Priest-like" numbers last week against Cleveland (92 rushing, 66 Receiving, 2 TD, and that's NOT-stellar...), but this is still the same Cleveland defense that let Jamal Lewis break the single-game rushing recotrd AFTER HE TOLD THEM HE WAS GOING TO DO IT! Butch Davis has to be feeling a little pressure here. On the other hand, Dave McGinnis has 3 wins for the Cardinals, and since no one would have been surprised if they were winless this year, that's pretty impressive. Look for them to get #4 this week.

BENGALS (+7) over Chiefs: Two things come into play here. 1) The 6 pt. rule. 2) The Bengals are a decent team. They're not making a playoff run anytime soon, but they're decent. I don't think that they'll win the game, but I certainly think they can cover that 7 points. Although, I thought the same thing about the Browns against the Chiefs last week... oops. The Chiefs are the real deal. Don Shula, Larry Czonka, and the rest of the '72 'Phins are going to have that champagne on ice for awhile. I truly think that the Chiefs will go undefeated until AT LEAST the Broncos game, and maybe the whole year. Speaking about Coach Shula, I have the distinct honor of attending a dinner with him and Mike Ditka in about two weeks. I know, it's pretty damned cool. And you're probably wondering how I get that opportunity... well, you'll just have to wait for the stories, and pictures. Oh, back to the game. Chiefs win, Bengals cover the points.

Rams (-6.5) over BEARS: Damnit. There's always one game every week that makes me throw out my 6 point rule. If it wasn't the Bears, this wouldn't be it. But c'mon! The Rams over the BEARS?!? This really isn't hard to call. The Rams offense, weak as it was last Sunday, could still roll this Bears team without Bulger OR Faulk. Just throw the ball to Tory Holt and Ike Bruce ALL DAY LONG. The Bears defense is middle of the pack against the run, and a little better against the pass. But numbers aren't always everything. True, they don't allow a lot of yards overall, but they allow big plays all day long, and as we all know, one big play can turn momentum on it's heels. Take the Rams, leave the points.

PANTHERS (-6.5) over Redskins: This is another tough one to call. If Steve Spurrier has fun with his offense, the Skins might surprise a lot of people. But He doesn't have the talent to just go wild all the time. Patrick Ramsey, though untouched last week (yes, you read that right), might not make it the whole season if they don't consistently stop the rush and establish a running game. Trung Candidate/Rock Cartwright/Ladell Betts are not going to get it done. Which brings me to the story of the game, "The One That Got Away: The Stephen Davis Story". Wow. That was just a colos-ss-sal mistake by Spurrier and owner Dan Snyder (note the extra S's). Stephen Davis is going to absolutely torch the Skins any way he can. If they shut down the run, he'll catch passes. If they stop him coming out of the backfield, he'll return kicks. If they stuff him on special teams, he'll play safety. No matter what it takes, he'll do his best to kill them. Screw the rule, Panthers cover.

TITANS (-10.5) over Jaguars: Wow, sometimes the gambling gods really do like me. 10.5 points?! I know the Titans are the best team in the NFL right now (their defense can and eventualyl will stop the Chiefs) Defenses will be the key to this game. These two teams are in the bottom 10 in passing yda allowed (Titans #31, Jags #23), but they are two of the best against teh run (TEN - #1, JAX - #6). So since both teams should be able to pass at will, who needs their running game more...? Titans win big. Plus, remember my philosophy about not betting against future NFL MVP's, especially not at home? Yeah, thought so.

Ravens (+5.5) over DOLPHINS: Last Sunday's games were absolutely travesties for these two teams. The Ravens aren't going to beat ANYONE turning the ball over 428 times a game. At least I knew the Dolphins weren't going to get it done against the Titans. So why take the Ravens here? Two words: BRIAN GRIESE. To anyone who might be in southern Florida that doesn't already know this, he sucks. Absolutely, unequivocally, sucks. Ray Lewis should rack up about 3 sacks, and maybe even a pick. The Dolphins defense, like the Titans and Jags, is great against the run (#2) and lousy against the (#26). The Ravens (as if this surprised anyone) are #2 against the pass and #8 against the run. Ricky WIlliams has not looked good the last few weeks, and even though the Ravens are relying on a new starter (Anthony Williams?), I still think the Ravens will at least cover, if not win outright.

Falcons (+8.5) over SAINTS: Let's not get carried away here folks. The Saints aren't suddenly Super Bowl contenders just because they get to play the Falcons again. Atlanta looked good last week against the G'ints, and they've gott feel rejuvenated with news of Mike Vick practicing this week. They'll take the points and so would I. Here's the scary thing. The Falcons aren't eliminated yet. Just suppose that they keep getting these 7 points or bigger in spreads. They can surprise a lot of people. Right now, Atlanta is 2-7, division leader Carolina is 7-2. Even though they look good, Carolina could certainly tank the rest of the season (remember last year). The Bucs don't have it, period. New Orleans, well, they're New Orleans. If the Falcons can hold on this week and beat the Saints, they tie the Bucs in division record, and they get even closer to the top. If Vick is back next week or two, they're got a legit shot. Right now, they're 5 back with 7 to play. It's a long shot, but still...

Jets (+6.5) over COLTS: Wow. Four weeks ago I had Indy in the Bowl, taking out KC and Tennessee on the way. Now...? They can play D anymore. What teh hell happened against, uh, THE JAGUARS? The last time the won by more than 1 score was 3 weeks ago, against teh Texans. And they still allowed 21 in that game. They've allowed 21, 17, and 28 in their last three games against Houston (win), Miami (win), and Jacksonville (loss). Now those aren't exactly offensive powerhouses this year, are they? That being said, the Jets are, gulp, good? Again, let's not go nuts, they are 3-6. But they're only 2 games out of the wild card to Denver. All that being said, I took the Colts -6.5 last week, and they burned me. Not again.

Chargers (+8) over BRONCOS: Flutie!, Flutie!, Flutie!... actually, more appropriately, Kanell, Kanell, Kanell... 'Nuff said.

BUCS (-4) over Packers: For as bad as the Bucs looked the first time against Carolina, they looked 10x better this go 'round. And still lost. Yet somehow, I don't think that it'll be too hard for them to cover against the Packers. In fact, I'm making this my "Game of the week". Yeah, um, whatever that means. All kidding aside, Ahman Green has got to protect the football better, or else he's going to have a short career, no matter how many yards he racks up. I don't care if this guy runs for 3000 yds in a season, if he has 2+ fumbles a game, the yards just don't matter. Bucs win, Brad Johnson, the single most underrated QB now that Stev McNair is the MVP, will have a good game, as usual. Anybody else realize that this guy has 2300+ yds, 18 TDs and only 9 INTs? Didn't think so.

Lions (+10.5) over SEAHAWKS: I just really don't know how Seattle is still tied for first in their division. They can't run consistently. Matt Hasselbeck has a rating of 85.1, which is actually pretty impressive considering he has virtually no receiving corps - leading receiver is Darrell Jackson with 34 catches for 604 yds? These guys need Koren Robinson to break out of this season-long slump in the worst way. They're not going to cover against a Lions team coached by a man trying to prove he still has it. The Seahaws need help, fast. They need a consistent Shaun Alexander, they need a more efficient Matt Hasselbeck, but they need some receivers. Why did they let Joey Galloway go again?

Vikings (-5) over RAIDERS: 11 Weeks ago this looked like a laugher. Still does, just the other way around. The Raiders are short one reigning NFL MVP, and are also one year older. The Vikings defense is looking like a seive at this point, after 3 straight losses allowing 29, 30, and 42 points to the Giants, Packers and CHARGERS? Wow. Well, don't worry, not even a Rick Mirer Noter Dame Hail Mary could pull the Raiders through this one, and you have no idea how happy it makes me to say that. I do feel bad for Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, but hey, it had to end sometime.

PATRIOTS (-4.5) over Cowboys: As a very wise man once said, "When Vegas gives a 4.5 point spread, they have no idea what going to happen either." So here's what I see happening. Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick match wits for three and a half quarters to a 13-13 tie, with both TDs coming on defense or special teams. Then, midway through the fourth, Belichick decides to bring in Drew Bledsoe, fresh off his latest 4 INT 16 Sack performance against the Texans, and has him stand on the Cowboys sideline. Parcells' blond hair dye finally seeps into his brain, and for some reason he pulls Carter for Bledsoe. Drew promptly gets nailed and coughs up the ball, leading to a Patriots possesion and yet another 4th quarter game-winnig drive for Tom Brady in relief of Drew Bledsoe, Pats win 20-13. OK, so maybe it doesn't happen that way, but the Pats win and cover. No way Parcells goes 3-0 against former teams, not in Prime Time, in Foxboro, against fans that love and hate him all at once.

49ERS (-4) over Steelers: Would someone please remind Bill Cowher that Jerome Bettis is roughly 127 years old and needs a cane to get around his house in the offseason? It's just not funny anymore. The Steelers are 3-6 (which stunningly puts them in a tie for 3rd in their division, 2 games back. I love realignment and "parity"). Amos Zeroue needs to start. Jerome Bettis is a great back who has had a great run, but it's time. Tommy Maddox is a mediocre quarterback who had almost as improbable a run as Kurt Warner, but it's time. Play out the season, draft a real QB, get some offensive line help and some secondary help. Until then, take your medicine and play the hand you're dealt. You have one of the best receiving trios in the game, in the top three with Dallas (Glenn/Galloway/Bryant) and St. Louis (Holt/Bruce/anyone else). Just throw jump balls if you have to, your guys will get it. Especially against the Niners secondary. But we all know Bill Cowher is going to try to stuff Bettis downthe Niners throats, and for that reason, Niners win big and cover. I'll even call a score: 28-16.

So, a recap: Texans / EAGLES / Cardinals / BENGALS / Rams / PANTHERS / TITANS / Ravens / Falcons / Jets / Chargers / BUCS / Lions / Vikings / PATS / 49ERS

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Alright, back to the real posts. Let's get serious about football. I realize that I started to talk football in the last post, but by the end of it I was pretty tired and out of witty euphemisms (hope that's spelled right).

I've also been contacted by my loyal reader and told that I need to back up thoughts with facts. So I'll do my best here. I'm also going to talk a little fantasy, but mostly gambling. You see, this weekend I return to Las Vegas for the 2nd time in 4 months, so my mind is full of dollar signs and point spreads right now.

For the record, I was 8-3-2 with the spread last week (I'm not counting the Pit/SEA game because I made a pick based on a coaching move that didn't happen. Won't make that mistake again). I'd say that's a pretty good record for my first week of handicapping "on the record". So, away we go... (Home team in caps, as always)

Falcons vs. GIANTS (-10.5): No, that 10.5 isn't a misprint. The Vick-less Falcons really are that bad. That being said, my general rule is never give more than 5.5, because 1 TD throws it all off. And I know that using my logic, giving more than 2.5 is a problem because 1 FG throws it off, but it's my plan and I hate math, so let's leave it at 5.5. So I guess what I'm saying here is that the Falcons really are that bad, but c'mon, 10.5 points? You gotta think that if the Giants get up by more than that (and I'm sure they will at some point) that they will kinda back off alittle so as not to run up the score, and the Falcons will probably get a garbage score late in the game. Take Atlanta and the points.

Seahawks (-3.5) vs. REDSKINS: I'd like to think that Steve Spurrier has enough left in his book of magic to pull this one out, but did anyone see his face during last's week's schelacking against Dallas? And do we give Patrick Ramsey the NFL Tough Guy award right now? Do you think he had any say in whether or not he'd get to start this week, or did he just show up and look at the depth chart, then run to get extra pads. Anyway, the Seahawks take this one. Shaun Alexander should have a nice game too, I mean, the 'Skins D made Troy Hambrick a fantasy stud last week. And I'm quite proud of myself for nailing the 'Skins blowing an important kick last week. Brought a smile to my face, even though I don't really like the Cowboys.

Cardinals vs. STEELERS (-7.5): Once again, a spread over 6. Amazing as it is, the Cards are on a winning streak, albeit only 2 games. But has anyone noticed that the Steelers are quietly in last place in the AFC North? Yes, that's the same division as the Bengals. I don't think any coach is on the hot seat as much as Bill Cowher, not Spurrier, not Bill Callahan, not Marty Schottenheimer (but he's close). And give credit to Arizona coach Dave McGinnis for letting Marcel Shipp show his talent. The boy can flat out run. Watching him in the red uni's reminds me of Forrest Gump at Alabama... Um, just take the Cards.

Bears vs. LIONS (-2): Well, that certainly was an impressive showing vs. the Raiders last week, wasn't it? Sure glad I called that one right (sounding my own horn.... and we're done.) Let's see if the Lions can stop a team with an actual running game, not Charlie "He's still playing?" Garner. Is anyone else as inconsistent as him? Shaun Alexander has that whole "Any given Sunday, I could run for 200 and 5TDs or 20 an 3 fumbles" vibe, but Garner doesn't even offer that much hope. So what I'm trying to say is look for A-Train to have a nice day as the Bears take this one.

Texans vs. BENGALS (-5): Phew, glad it's not -6. The Bengals actually look pretty good right now, though that stumble against the Cards wasn't too fun to watch. I'd like to get a line on Bengals total wins vs. Corey Dillon trade demands though, might make some nice money there. Personally, I'll take the Bengals. Cincy isn't exactly the most inviting city this time of year, weather-wise. So figure a team from Texas isn't going to be ready for it, especially a Texas team playing home games in a dome. That, and David Carr might not be back in time. I can't tell you how many times I cursed Tony Banks last week, and how many times I absolutely exploded at Steve Smith. Ass.

Dolphins vs. TITANS (-5): Wow. Game of the Week! Seriously, what a game this is going to be. I'm not even sure how to handicap this one. Personally, I don't think either team will have a 5 point lead at any time during the first 3 quarters, but it's the 4th that matters and I've learned NEVER to bet against future League MVP's (read: Steve McNair). Take Tennessee, but don't watch the game, it's going to go back and forth all day and the stress will kill you.

Colts (-6.5) vs. JAGUARS: OK, I have to break my own rule. Take Indy. Yeah, 6.5 is a lot to give, but c'mon, it's the Jags. Plus, I just traded for Marvin Harrison in a fantasy league, so look for Peyton Manning to throw 16 TD's, all to receivers not named Harrison. Seriously though, The Colts' offense is just too damned good for a team like Jacksonville to stop, and Indy's defense is finally looking like a Tony Dungy coached team. I wouldn't be surprised to see a shutout here. The Jags are too young and inexperienced.

Browns vs. CHIEFS (-10): Just too much. Classic trap game. The Chiefs are probably still riding high off their last game, 2 weeks ago in a laugher over Buffalo (28-5 at the half? Are you kidding me?!) But next week they get the Bengals, who could cause problems spreading the field then stuffing Corey Dillon down the defensive line's collective throat. As for the Browns, this week's QB-du-jour is Kelly Holcomb. Maybe they could sign Danny Wuerffel just to get one more rider on the carousel. Personally, I say start Couch on the road and Holcomb at home. Couch's home record is lousy over the last 2 years, ever since the home crowd started booing him and cheering his injuries. I wouldn't want to play in front of that, and I would kill for a shot with an NFL team. Still, 10 points is too much. Browns cover.

Vikings (-6) vs. CHARGERS: Ugh. I hate to say this, but the Chargers are going to cover this spread, and I think they're going to win outright. The Vikings have lost 2 straight, their owner is pissed, their QB just remembered that he's contractually obligated to turn the ball over 4 times a game, minumum, and now they're playing a team with nothing to lose? The Chargers aren't going to the playoffs, why not just play for pride from here on out? The Vikings are pressing to hold onto their lead in the NFC North. Chargers "shock the world", just like every other underdog for the last 5 years. Take the points.

Bills vs. COWBOYS (-4): Ever look at a game and just think "Wow, I can't tell what the hell is gonna happen here"? Well, here's my dilema. The Cowboys have the best 3-man receiveing corps in football. The Bills have the 3rd best passing defense in the NFL, the Cowboys are #1. Guess which 2 QB's I have on my fantasy team. The Bills can always just rely heavily on Travis Henry, he's a good enough back to provide the passing game some relief. And Bledsoe is a much better QB than Carter. But I think that Dallas will cover this game. The Bills are coming off the bye, and I'd be willing to bet that they still can't find a way to stop Bill Parcells and his band of merry men. Plus, who knows how to stop Bledsoe better than the man that drafted him #1 overall 10 years ago?

Jets (-3.5) vs. RAIDERS: RE-MATCH! Yeah, well, almost. Last time they met there was a little more on the line than fighting for last place in their respective divisions. Neither of these teams really has to worry about the playoffs, so I think that both of them play with heart and for pride. Of course, the Jets will be fielding better quality players at the skill positions (Pennington and Martin vs. Garner and, gulp!, Rick Mirer?!) Look for a rejuvenated Jets team now that Pennington has had a little more time to learn the offense. Jets win and cover.

Ravens vs. RAMS (-7): Could you lower that number just a little? Like 1.5 points or so? I really want to take the Rams here, Faulk's back, they're back at home, and Torry Holt is a monster this year - 978 yds. and 9 TDs after only 8 games? Wow. But the Ravens are playing damn well this year, and once again they're relying on a big, strong RB and their rock-solid defense to get them through, only this year it is Jamal Lewis instead of Priest Holmes back in 2000. This game will be a real test for them and their young secondary, but I think they'll pass. Take Baltimore and the points.

Eagles vs. PACKERS (-4.5): No love for the Eagles, even after a 4 game winning streak? C'mon people, the Pack aren't that good, and the Lambeau mystique was melted away last year by Superman in the playoffs. Brett Favre still has a broken thumb, although he ddn't look too shabby against the Vikings, what a cannon that man has. I don't think the Pack will cover here, especially if the Vikings lose and they realize that they can't lose ground in the NFC North. Look for whatever runningback starts for Philly to have a good game, the Pack's run defense looked pretty shakey versus Minnesota.

So, to recap: Falcons / Seahawks / Cardinals / Bears / BENGALS / TITANS / Colts / Browns / CHARGERS / COWBOYS / Jets / Ravens / Eagles

But for now, it's Vegas baby, Vegas.