Monday, January 22, 2007

Recap from McCarran Airport

I have absolutely no words to describe the football game I just watched. I have no intentions of trying to recap the game, or explain what happened. I'm simply not that good of a writer. What I can do, is ramble on for awhile, with no discernible end in sight, until my flight from Las Vegas back home to Boston decides to take off (my travel adventures this week are a whole other post, which will be forthcoming - just as soon as I confirm that I'm not slandering any of the involved parties...)

First things first - I apologize for my abbreviated picks post on Wednesday. There's no excuse for me mailing it in like that. I should have plugged in the laptop to avoid battery loss, or else wait until I landed in Vegas before posting (though in fairness, I've been without Internet access since I left Orlando. I'm in withdrawals.)

Now, quickly, let me say this before I sign off here to board my flight. Every member of the Colts' offensive coaching staff deserves a raise. I have never seen a team turn a game around after halftime the way the Colts did tonight. They found every hole in coverage, they pushed the line of scrimmage forward by four yards every time the ball was snapped. They absolutely dissected the Patriots. And more importantly, though their defense was not stellar (27 points to a team with "Ricochet" Caldwell as their #1 receiver is nearly the definition of "not stellar") they held just enough, and at the right time, to win the game.

Peyton Manning finally has half the monkey off his back. He's made it to the Super Bowl, and he did it by going through his biggest nemesis. He's leading the team that opened as a 7-point favorite at the Mirage (I know - I walked across the street and checked...).

And as of right now, I cannot see any way that I will pick the Colts to win it all in two weeks. Or at least not to cover.

Forgive me for cutting this off so abruptly. My flight will be boarding in a few minutes, and I still have to repack my carry-on bag, charge my phone and MP3 player, take two sleeping pills, and find a bathroom. Plus, I need to try to find a way to block the last seven hours out of my memory.

I'll be back in a day or two, hopefully with some cogent analysis of this game (and maybe even some talk about the Bears/Saints). Sorry I couldn't find a hotspot to live-blog the games today - after the 500 hits I got on here last Sunday (Thanks again to everyone who tuned in), I really wanted to do it again. Maybe for the Super Bowl.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

2006 NFL Playoff Picks - Conference Championships

OK, after my epic first crack at the live blog format from this past Sunday (Part 1 Part 2 Part 3), I've learned a few things...
First, don't try to type, watch a crucial football game, and eat/drink all at the same time. Especially not if you are typing on a laptop that is plugged into a wall to charge. Twice I had to catch may laptop out of mid-air to save near disaster. Life lessons people.
Second - do not watch football (really, sports in general) with people who do not understand the game. Family is an exception, but not entirely. There is nothing more annoying to me than having to explain what is happening after every play, what a "pick-6" is, why a play won't be overturned, etc. My mother gets almost a free pass from me, since she did teach me to love sports and all. By everybody else - if you're going to watch a football game on the couch next to me, don't say things like "Now, which team is the Patriots again?" Seriously. You might lose some teeth.
Third - I'm not quite as bad at picking playoff games as I thought. I'm 5-3 for this postseason, which is vastly superior to my usual playoff record after two rounds, which tends to lean to the wrong side of .500.
And fourth, I'm beginning to think a lot more people read what I write than I originally assumed. During my live blog day, I had over 400 hits to this site (which is, by far, a personal best for me. The previous high was just over a hundred during the Red Sox' 2004 World Series run...) But one hit in particular impressed me. It came from within the domain, and it remainded here for a couple hours. It also browsed around the archives a little. So, if any ideas of mine have inspired you guys (like my stance - it's on Shanoff's page at about 12:21 in the comments section - that anyone suspended for using PEDs should forfeit any chance to earn individual honors for the rest of that season... hmm seems that one got noticed) I'm happy to help.

Also, before I put in my short two cents on this week's games, allow me to pass along a few notes from the Orlando Area. I'm sitting in the airport as I type this awaiting my flight to Vegas (via Denver, naturally), and I've got an hour to kill. So here goes:
Charleston, SC, is the absolute middle of nowhere. I thought the Philadelphia Airport was the worst possible place to be delayed during a long flight - I was horribly misinformed. The Charleston Municipal Airport is basically three airstrips in the middle of a couple thousand mobile homes. But hey - now I know what a "double-wide" looks like. And where else in America can you watch a 787 (44 windows on the plane... ridiculous), four Naval Fighter Jets, and a freaking bi-plane take off, all from the same runway, within the span of two hours???
Something I've always wandered about, and now I have an answer to. In Buffalo, New York, "Buffalo" Wings are just called "Wings", or maybe "Hot Wings" (I have confirmation on this from a college friend born and raised in Buffalo.) So I've always wondered if "Florida Oranges" would just be called "Oranges" down here in Florida. Nope. Apparantely, they're a little more proud of their geographical affiliations with food down here. Florida Oranges are still Florida Oranges, even in Florida. Little things like this amuse me...

Onto this week's picks:

Saints (+3) over BEARS: Nothing about this Bears team inspires me anymore. Even the defense has shown major flaws in the past month and a half. I cannot support a team that is going into the Conference Championship Game, as the top seed and home team, and still has the threat of a full scal quarterback controversy looming as a potential disaster. Sorry, can't be done. Besides, if you don't think the NFL is "doing everything in their power" to get the Saints into the Super Bowl this year, you're fooling yourself.
The Pick: Saints 27, Bears 17

Patriots (+3) over COLTS: Look, if you think I'm picking against the Pats after what they pulled off this past Sunday, you're nuts. They shut down the best team in the NFL. And yes, the Colts did a pretty nice job against the Ravens - I'm not taking anything away from that. What made this pick for me - aside from common sense - is that Tony Dungy is giving his players most of this week off. That is a tactic that NEVER works. Plus, I really hate Peyton Manning. By the way - I'll be watching this game in The Mirage sportsbook, which is just freaking awesome.
The Pick: Pats 24, Colts 16

And with that, my plane is about to board, so I'm out of here.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Live Blog - Pats-Chargers Divisional Round - Second Half

8:25 I'm honestly speechless. I knew it would be a close game, but not like that. I've gotten four phone calls in the six minutes since the game ended. My mother called me to tell me that people near her house were shooting off fireworks... and it's only a second round playoff game! I'll say this as a Patriots' fan - we all talked a pretty big game this week. Everyone around here was 100% convinced the Pats would win this game, and most of them thought it wouldn't be close. But we were all terrified. You'll hear a lot of talk about "Never a doubt" and that, but let me tell you something - I am a card carrying, pom-pom waving, nver say die member of Patriots' Nation (or whatever you want to call us... Patriots' Asylum, maybe), and this game scared the shit out of me. I'm going to go to the airport, pick up my co-worker, and then go down somewhere between three and thirteen beers. Good Night, and thanks for reading.

8:16 Here's the kick... nothing more to do but watch and cross my fingers... snap, kick, MISSED IT!!!!!!!!!!!! That's it - I'm going to bed.

8:13 Atta boy... another rookie earning his paycheck tonight. Now, just hold for 1:10... with no timeouts and a first year QB. By the way - that god Mike Turner fell down on that kickoff return - otherwise, he was breaking that kick. There was no one within ten yards of him on that cut.

8:11 I remember last season, the Chargers had a heartbreaking loss to Philly on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. I don't know why, but I'm getting a really bad vibe about that right now. And if it happens, assume I had a heart attack and collapsed, because I certainly won't be posting anymore tonight.

8:07 By the way - it needs to be said. Marty Schottenheimer has, so far, coached this game brilliantly. The Chargers played as well as they could have played, except for a few key drops and some inopportune bounces that went New England's way. It also should be noted that my boss retreated to his bedroom at halftime to avoid my yelling. He hasn't been seen since, except to tell me that the upstairs toilet is now clogged.

8:06 Third and Ten... 2:42 to play in the 4th... HOLY SHIT!!! Reche Caldwell is my new hero! How the hell did he make that grab, and even more, how the hell did he stay in bounds to pick up those extra yards?! Pats ball inside the 20 now... just hold the ball, kill the clock, and kick the figgie. Please...

8:01 Earlier this week, I had a debate with someone within the comments section on Shanoff's blog about whether or not Asante Samuel was a top-5 cornerback. I said he was, at best, a top-25 - that he was a ball hawker who could easily be burned. I take it back - he had completely shut off the right side of the field today.

7:58 Now the Pats need to slow down Tomlinson. It's time to clamp down on those six yard runs. They eat the clock and advance the ball too much. Need to slow LdT down and force Rivers into passing situations. Like this upcoming third and four...

7:54 Touchdown to Caldwell. Had to know the Pats were going to try to get him his touchdown back in San Diego... Time for the 2pt try... NICE! Direct snap to Faulk! Tie game baby... but 4:36 on the clock is scary as hell...

7:52 New England's driving... down to about the 13 yard line. They still need the TD and 2pt conversion, but it needs to be said - they're leaving too much time on the clock here. 4:47 and counting in the fourth. 2nd and 1 from the 4-yard line. Time to run the ball

7:46 Holy shit holy shit holy shit holy shit holy shit.... Fourth Down, interception, fublmed, New England recovers, first down. My head hurts.

7:40 Here's what I wrote on Thursday, at the end of my Weekly Picks Post: "If I’m New England, I’ve got to believe that if my team is within eight points, we’ve got a shot to win." Well, it's 21-13 Chargers, with about 8 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, and I can't tell you I feel supremely confident about this game. The Pats have a shot, but unless they find some bigger holes in the Chargers' defense, this one is all but over. Let's see a big kick return here...

7:37 Yup. The Pats guessed wrong on the LdT penalty kick again - touchdown, and it's a seven point game, soon to be eight.

7:36 Thereis no reason Antonio Gates should ever have less than two people covering him. Of course, the one the Patriots put on him on that third down completion is vastly better than the zero people covering Gates on the 19-yard pass a few plays back. I guess the improvements come in small increments... And there's the Chargers following my advice again - only throwing to the people being covered by either Artrell Hawkins (Gates) or Ellis Hobbs (Vincent Jackson). First and Goal Chargers... wonder what's going to happen here.

7:31 And LdT goes off for another 14, as sadly, no one broke his leg. Oh shit, wait - he's limping! I swear to God - someone in the Patriots organization is reading this page. And I thank you... Damn, LdT's back in. I must type really slow.

7:29 I just realized - I will never be able to accurately gauge how many people decided to check out the live blog today. I made the mistake of refreshing my own page after almost every update, which counts as a unique hit. I'm an idiot. Feel free to use the comments section to identify yourselves, if you are so inclined. Otherwise, I'm going back to watching a crucial 4th and 2... Oops, nevermind. The Pats are going to punt.

7:24 Count me among those people who think that Budweiser probably could have found better "athletes" to put in the commercial with Jay-Z than Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick. I mean, driving and alcohol - there's two things that go together real nicely. (EDIT: Before you say it - I'm not a complete nASCAR neophyte - I know Dale Jr. drive the Budweiser car. Still...)

7:21 And there's your complete momentum swing! Rosie Colvin making one hell of an interception there, plus the 15-yards for the blatant LdT facemask... whoa whoa whoa! "The payer's hand slipped right over the helmet and never grabbed the face mask..." My ass! See, LdT is dirty, he just never gets caught. That's it - I'm openly rooting for someone to take out his knee on the Chargers' next drive. By the way, if the Pats end up winning this game, the entire defense gets a game ball.

7:19 "For those expecting to see 60 Minutes..." Seriously, who is tuning into CBS right now, seeing that football is on, and deciding to change the channel because 60 Minutes has been pre-empted? Anybody? Or are they all too old to hear me, and way too terrified of the Instawebs in the eBay to ever read this... By the way - nice to see at least 15 people have been checking in periodically through the day here. Glad to have you all aboard.

7:15 Open mouth, insert foot. "I'm starting to feel better about our special teams." Naturally, Gostkowski shanks the ensuing kickoff out-of-bounds, giving the Chargers the ball on the 40. Great.

7:12 Logan Mankins is not having a good day. Two holding penalties, and the unbelievable offensive pass interference. For a game that had no flags for the first quarter and a half, there's been a lot of yellow on the field ever since. Also, Tom Brady doesn't look right today. He's made some terrible decisions, and missed some wide open receivers - including Ben Watson just now on a wide-open touchdown strike. I'm in the camp that Brady has been injured most of the year, but played through it. The Pats are going to settle for a field goal attempt from about 35 yards out... and... it's 14-13. I'm starting to feel better about our special teams.

7:09 Remember how I said Clinton Hart made the biggest boneheaded play on defense today for the Chargers... nope. Drayton Florence - welcome to the spotlight. After Brady fumbled on third and 13, Florence decided to head butt Daniel Graham, after the play, to prove just how big of a man he is. Enjoy riding the bench for the rest of the game, kid.

7:06 An offensive lineman just got flagged for offensive pass interference. I've officially seen everything.

7:03 The Rookie earns his roster spot... David Thomas recovering the ball after Eric Parker muffed a punt. Also, Eric Parker came out of the scrum and nearly collapsed on the field - he's in bad shape right now. He got speared in the side while he scrambled to try to recover his fumble... This could be the tide-turning moment - let's hope Brady doesn't throw another stupid pick here. (I never thought I would say/type those words in succession)

6:56 Hmmm. It seems my math skills never developed past kindergarten. I only listed two plays below, not three. But rather than simply "edit out" my mistake, I'm sheding light on it, for you all to openly ridicule.

6:55 If I'm the Chargers, I call three offensive plays from now on - run left with LdT, throw to whoever Ellis Hobbs or Artrell Hawkins are covering. Also, after the back judge correctly called VIncent Jackson's catch out-of-bounds, it needs to be said: for as much shit as we all give the refs in football, they make a hell of a lot of good calls with little to no time to work with. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm sure there's a ticky-tack pass interference call on the patriots I nee to scream about.

6:51 Wow. If Luis Castillo dropped about sixty pounds and started thowing lame duck passes to no one in particular, he could easily pass for Rex Grossman. Also, it's nice to see the Chargers copying the Patriots' quick-snap QB sneak on third and short. Works just about every time.

6:49 Another terrible, inexcusable pick by Brady. That was just plain ugly. He either underthrew Troy Brown by about 10 yards, or missed Reche Caldwell by about six yards to the left. Doesn't help when you throw off your back foot either...

6:42 Ah... the dreaded phone call. But it turns out, this co-worker is a big football fan and doesn't want to miss any of the game while driving back to the hotel, so he's going to sit in the airport bar and watch the second half! I'm not going anywhere until the clock reads 0:00 or the score is completely out of hand. By the way... seems like the Patriots are following my game plan - giving LdT his yards, forcing Rivers to beat them. Of course, if the Chargers' receivers could actually hold on to the ball, this would be a vastly different game. Currently, Chargers receivers have one reception - a 21-yard grab by Eric parker. Tomlinson, Neal and Gates have accounted for Rivers other six completions and 96 yards.

6:34 And onto the second half. I'm fully expecting the phone to ring any minute now with my summons to the airport, but until that happens, I'm here, blogging away. This is kind of fun - let's see how long until my fingers fall off. And unfortunately, I can't have a Ronnie Lott procedure done in my hotel room to keep me going...

Live Blog - Pats-Chargers Divisional Round - First Half

6:26 I think I need to start a new post for the second half and any overtime that may occur. And I'm really starting to wish I had spoken up and grabbed a six-pack of Miller Lites. Damnit. Water for me...

6:22 Halftime. I need to take a breath. 14-10 Chargers, Patriots get the 2nd half kick. I'd say that after the way New England played the first 28 minutes of that half, this is as good a position as they could have hoped to be in. Also, my boss just woke up from his power nap and watched the two-minute drill laying on the couch. His analysis of the drive and score? "Interesting." Yeah - he's not much of a sports fan (as evidenced at lunch today when he said "Now, who is Ted Williams again?").

6:19 TOUCHDOWN. Nice! I've been sitting here for the past ten minutes saying "They need seven... they need the end zone... they need a touchdown... Why are they running?" Yeah, ignore that last one. I should know better than to doubt Bill Belichick by now. Stupid, stupid...

6:11 Correct me if I'm wrong, but in a twominute drill, don't you try to run as many plays as possible, without letting the clock run out? Why, then, have the Patriots run five plays on this drive - four of them runs? The clock keeps ticking, and they still aren't across the 50 yard line. It vexxes me... I am extremely vexxed.

6:04 It's fairly disgusting how good LdT is. But just remember, he's a dirty player. So no more accolades for him. Just faint praise. But that screen was a thing of beauty to watch, even if it was painful as a Pats fan. Luckily, the Patriots allowed Michael Turner to walk in to the end zone on the next play, so LdT wouldn't get the touchdown on his stats...

6:01 Sadly, the only positive I can come up with right now is that Todd Sauerbrun is having a very nice game. He's already got two punts over fifty yards. Of course, with the ineptitude of New England's offense today, he's getting plenty of practice.

5:56 Artrell Hawkins just came free on a blitz and slammed Philip Rivers. I have no idea how Rivers held onto the ball there - he had his arm completely cocked to throw, and managed to hold the ball with only one hand all the way to the ground. Also, on the replay CBS showed, LdT clearly took a dive right at Tedy Bruschi's knees while an offensive lineman was holding Bruschi up. So LdT has lost all respect from me. He's a dirty player - he just doesn't get caught.

5:53 OK, that was funny. The Chargers kicked off to the Patriots. There was a flag (the first of the game at 7:14 in the second quarter...) for a facemask on the Chargers. But as the ref was announcing it, the Chargers defense was milling around in the background, walking towards the ball... until they heard the call. All you could see was seven sets of legs walking left and stopping on a dime, turning around and walking to the right. And naturally, as I type all of this, Brady thrown a terrible interception. Looked like Donnie Edwards was the receiver. This does not inspire confidence in me.

5:48 Hmm... 2nd Down and 1 from the two-yard line. Gee, I can't imagine what play the Chargers could run here. How about, oh, I don't know... maybe a run to LaDanian Tomlinson? I mean, could it be more obvious? It's like a penalty kick in soccer - you know it's coming, you just have to try and guess which side to run to.

5:45 Incomplete pass. Bullshit. Whatever. 2nd and 10 from the 42 yard line for the Chargers, instead of 1st and ten from the three for the Patriots. I can't even get worked up about this. By the way - it's almost unfair to ask the 5'9" Hobbs to cover the 6'4" Gates. He's giving up seven inches, for Christ's Sake!

5:42 No way this Gates "catch/fumble" at the one-yard-line holds up under the inevitable review challenge... I think it's a fumble, but it's close.

5:40 Martyball is dead! going for it on fourth and one twice in the first half? Well, this one proved to be the right decision, as fourth and one netted about twenty yards on a simple off-tackle left run. By the way - I'm removing the "PM" from these posts. I think we all know which half of the day it is.

5:38PM OK, here's my question. If Todd Sauerbraun was available earlier this season, why the hell did the Patriots ever bring back Ken Walter? The guy has like a 26-yards-per-punt average! I prefer my punters to be juiced up anyway - maybe they'll even throw a block or make a tackle...

5:27PM After the first quarter, LdT has 52 yards on seven carries. Just under 8-yards-per-freakin'-carry! But, the Pats still lead. I'll give Tomlinson 350 yards rushing, just as long as the Pats win the game. By the way - nine posts in the first quarter and twelve since the pre-game show ended. There's no way I can keep this pace up. My fingers will explode at some point.

5:25PM And the Pats are on the board first. Personally, I would have gone for it on fourth down, but Belichick proved me wrong, sending in Stephen Gostkowski for a 50-yard field goal. 3-0 Pats. Funny - New England went for it on fourth down roughly 372 during the regular season, leading many to believe they didn't trust their rookie kicker. But they gave him three opportunities last week against the Jets and once from long distance today, and he's delivered.

5:20PM I never want to hear Phil Simms say "Tom Brady can stick it in some tight spots, you know..." again. Oh wait, he's still talking... "Tom can do it long, and soft, or he can push it hard..." I feel dirty just typing this. Of course, some jackass in the Eagles/Saints game yesterday said that Jeff Garcia "took a hit in the backside". That would be funny enough by itself, but he went on to say how Garcia probably "preferred it in the backside, because no one likes taking it in the front." I can't even keep typing.

5:16PM I've got to remember to tone down my yelling at the TV right now - my boss is taking a "power nap" upstairs after flying four times and working three 8-hour shifts in the past four days. It's probably OK, since I've got a screaming sore throat... HOLY SHIT! Great push by Mike Vrabel around the end, strips the ball, and the Pats recover - all on 4th and 11. It's almost like Marty Schottenheimer went for it there just to disprove his "conservative" critics. Works for me...

5:13PM I've got a real bad feeling that the Chargers are the first team this year to realize that Ellis Hobbs is a terrible cover cornerback. I've got an even worse feeling that if LdT keeps turning five-yard losses into 12-yard gains, it's going to be a long day for the Pats.

5:08PM Two drives, two three-and-outs for the Patriots. Hmm. Pretty inauspicious start to the game here on offense. By the way - I don't know why everyone was so surprised over the Shawne Merriman steroids scandal. The guy always looks like he's jacked up to the n-th degree. Plus, that little sack dance seems kind of "twitchy" to me, like he's got excess energy and needs a way to get it out. maybe it's just me.

5:01PM I like what I see so far out of the Chargers' offense - that is to say, I like the fact that they seem to be completely incompetant without LdT running like crazy. Simms keeps saying that Rivers doesn't look rattled by the pressure, but he's already made a couple bad choices, not to mention that he's only completed two passes for about 11 yards. Now if the Patriots could get a first down or two and get out of the shadow of their own goalline, they might be in business.

4:56PM Clinton Hart... welcome to infamy. That might have been the easiest pick not thrown by someone named Grossman, Plummer or Bledsoe. That's what you get for trying to make a hot-dog basket catch - just put your hands up and grab the ball. By the way - there's about a 98% chance that The MightyMJD and I are writing the same thing at the same time right now...

4:49PM Oh, apparantely the game started. Oops. I was in story-telling mode. Gee, no surprise - LdT has a couple big plays already. Nice. Damn, what if I was right when I said the Pats would give LdT his yards, but force Rivers to beat them...

4:45PM Something else I should mention. Since I'm in Orlando for a work conference, five other people from my company are also in town (though only two other have arrived as of right now - my two bosses...) Anyway, one of my bosses landed a few hours ago, and I picked him up at the airport (I'm the only person with a rental car). We went out to lunch, and he decided to go to a supermarket for food, just in case he gets hungry. We're walking through the aisles, and the store sells alcohol (not something I see everyday, living in Massachusetts). So he looks at me and asks "Oh, do you want something to drink for the football game?" Now, I enjoy my job, so I'd prefer not to down a fifth of Jack watching the Pats and end up looking like a total lush in front of my boss, so I simply respond "Yeah, I could go for a drink or something." I should have clarified the "something" - he bought a six pack of Mike's Hard Lemonade. And I can't even complain.

4:41PM Thank God - it looks like I get Jim Nantz & Phil Simms on the broadcast. I'm not exactly thrilled, but at least I don't have to listen to Dick Enberg referring to "Terry Bruschi" and "Todd Brady". No, I'm not making either of those up.

4:35PM Yup, here it is - the new post. By the way, CBS is running one of those "let's look back at the season" montage packages... first of all, isn't this they type of thing that you run during your final broadcast of the season? Doesn't CBS have the AFC Title game next week too? Also, they showed multiple clips from games that were broadcast on other networks... I thought that was against some type of archane NFL broadcasting rule... whatever. I'm getting a drink before the game starts.

Live Blog 101

4:31PM The restraints of modern technology will make the decision for me - the laptop battery is about to die, meaning I will have to sit inside for most of the first half of the upcoming game to let it recharge. Also, I'm going to start a new post for the first half of the Pats/Chargers game, just to re-organize my thoughts (even though I seriously doubt it will help.)

4:28PM I've got a serious decision to make here. I can either suffer through the CBS announcers (likely to involve some conbination of Dick Enberg and/or Randy Cross) or I can pop in the iPod, but not be able to make snide comments on the terrible announcing. Tough call. Of course, I could just turn off the TV and go listen to the game in the rental car. I don't think the Wi-Fi access would reach to he parking lot though...

4:24PM Holy Crap! I just terrified myself. I flipped the TV to over to CBS-4 for the Patriots game, and I was greeted by... figure skating? What the Hell? Then I suddenly remembered I was in Orlando (the weather, birds, live grass and all should have told me...) and the stations are, surprisingly, not the same as they are in Boston. How about that?

4:21PM Robbie Gould... hero? Or the next Bartman in Chicago? Snap, kick... Hero. Nice.

4:19PM Third and ten, and the Seahawks choose to let a reciever run free up the slot for about twenty yards. Hmm. Curious decision. Personally, if I was their defensive coordinator, I might have told one of my players to cover Rashean Davis. Maybe it's just me.

4:17PM Watching the Seahawks line up to punt, I just keep thinking to myself "I'll take Devin Hester for the win..." I'm such a loser. Luckily for Seattle fans, the punter Plackemeyer is smart enough to not put the ball anywhere within 30 yards of Hester.

4:14PM It's funny... do you think FOX keeps that "We want the ball and we're gonna score!" tape cued up for all Seahawks' playoff games, just in case they make it to overtime again? I mean, they had that ready awful fast. I'd like to see the Bears' run end here, just because if the stars align and the Patriots & Bears made it to the Super Bowl, twenty years after their last playoff meeting, I'd be subjected to two straight weeks of Super Bowl Shuffle highlight films. Of course, it could lead to a resurgence of Refrigerator Perry sightings, so maybe there would be a silver lining...

4:08 PM Overtime. Great. I always wondered what would happen if a playoff game were decided by a coin flip. (Yes, I remember the Packers/Seahawks debacle. Oh, but in case I didn't, FOX just provided me with a handy-dandy reminder. By the way - I had bet on the Seahawks that day. I was not pleased. Funny that the Seahawks didn't even allow Hasselbeck near this toss today...)

4:02PM Nobody wants this game. Chicago goes three-and-out, then decides to punt the ball into the end zone and give Seattle 1:40 and three timeouts to drive fifty yards. Remember, the Seahawks have Josh Brown - a game winner from 50 is well within his range.

3:58PM Seattle just basically gave the game away. They went for it on 4th and 1 from the Chicago 46-ish yard line. Hasslebeck blew the snap, couldn't get a clean handoff to Shaun Alexander, and the play lost three yards. Chicago only needs about 30-35 yards here to get the winning field goal. Amazing.

3:45PM There's two things I should probably mention immediately. First, I'm sitting in a lounge chair inside a screened in porch at the condo that my company rented for the conference. It's about 74 degrees with a little breeze and almost no humidity - basically, it's perfect. So if I suddently don't post anything for an hour or so, assume I fell asleep. Or I'm at the airport. Second, I made the mistake of not checking the lounge chair before sitting down... it rained this morning. The chair had quite a little puddle in it. And I am far too stubborn to let something as small as some water and a wet ass deter me from sitting perfectly still, watching football and typing. And as I finish this little rant, Joe Buck just manage to work in the most blatant promo I think FOX has ever run... "And we're back here in Chicago, it's 24 to 24, and the season premiere of '24' is tonight on FOX...". If I didn't need to hear the phone ring, I'd already have my headphones on.

3:40PM Devin Hester is an absolute beast. It's too bad that play got called back on a penalty - that's the type of thing that can absolutely turn the entire game around. Especially with only 10 minutes to go in such a close game. By the way - the whole "Live Blogging" idea looks like it just got completely shot to shit - I have to drive to the airport to pick up one of my co-workers sometime around 6:30 or 6:45. You know, pretty much during the 4th quarter of the Pats' game... Figures.

3:30PM Hmmm... interceptions on back to back plays. See, this is why I can't get too excited
about any of the teams left in the NFC - I just don't trust any of their quarterbacks at all. Although, I am looking forward to at least one more game of Rex Grossman just saying "Fuck it - I'm going long!" at least once or twice, kind of like he just did to end the Bears' last possession with another three-and-out.

3:15PM I'm going to try my hand at Live Blogging today folks. I know what you're thinking - "Dear God - head for the hurricane shelter! Stock up on bottled water and bread!" But don't worry. I expect this to be no less of a disaster than that time I tried to bike to work in the morning but forgot I worked 37 miles from my house. (That's much funnier if this was television and I could insert a Family Guy-style flashback right here...)

That analogy makes more sense if you know the whole story. Needless to say, that day qualified as a disaster.

By the way - I'm only running the Live Blog on the Blogger/BlogSpot site. So if you're reading the Xanga site, you're reading the finished version. Not that it's going to be any different from the Live version - I have no intention of clearing up spelling errors or grammatical inconsistencies. Just saying, is all...

I'll be back with some nonsensical ramblings about Florida and the things I hate most about travel, and maybe I'll even talk about football before the Patriots game starts.


Just checking in...

So, if I told you before the game started that Peyton Manning would be held to 15/30 for 171 yards, zero touchdowns, and 2 INTs, you’d naturally assume that the Ravens probably won the game.

What if I also told you that the Colts, as a team, had only 261 total yards and never got the ball into the end zone? You’d have to believe that the Ravens probably won by two scores, right?

Hmmm. Funny thing, this sport called “football”. Stats don’t always tell the whole story.

Indy upset the Ravens 15-6. Remember when I called the Bears/Seahawks game tonight probably the worst playoff game of the entire playoffs? Yeah, I take that back. I’m actually glad I missed all but the fourth quarter of the Colts/Ravens game yesterday – my head probably would have hurt more than it already does.

Anyway, I’m on the ground in Orlando, in the hotel, waiting for my conference to begin so I can immediately start counting down the seconds until I go wheels-up for Vegas. I’ll try to check in tomorrow or Tuesday, or maybe live during the Pats/Chargers “Game to end all games” later today.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

2006 NFL Playoff Picks - Divisional Round

I’m positively giddy right now. It’s like a perfect storm for me this weekend.

Saturday, I leave for a four day conference in Orlando. I’ll probably miss the early game, which sucks, but I’ll get to see the roof come off the Superdome (bad analogy, sorry) when the Saints play their first home playoff game in over a decade.

Sunday, I’ll be fully entrenched in the best playoff game (Pats/Chargers) and the worst (Bears/Seahawks). More importantly, I won’t be flying during the Patriots’ game this year. Thankfully.

And, then, of course, I now have the opportunity to bet, heavily, against Rex Grossman in the playoffs. Three days before I go to Vegas.

Sometimes, things just all come together in a nice little package…

RAVENS (-3.5) over Colts: Oh, no, look out! The Colts are rejuvenated! They’ve regained their confidence on defense! They shut down the mighty Chiefs’ offense, and kept Larry Johnson in check! Of course, that was a team coached by Herman Edwards, a man whose postseason decisions make Marty Schottenheimer look like a playoff genius. Listen, this year’s Ravens is almost an exact copy of the 2000 Ravens – they have a dominant defense, great special teams, and a competent offense that protects the ball and doesn’t turn it over. Plus – do you have any faith in Peyton Manning, on the road, in the cold, against a defense that likes to blitz and knock the snot out of their opponents? Me neither. The Pick: Ravens 27, Colts 16

Eagles (+5) over SAINTS: This pick hurts. There’s nothing I would like to see more, as a football fan, than the sight of the Saints rolling through the playoffs and reaching Super Bowl XLI. But the Eagles are firing on all cylinders and are coming off a great win against the Giants last week. I expect the Superdome to be deafening – louder even than the Falcons game - I expect Reggie Bush and Brian Westbrook to both do something spectacular, and I expect Drew Brees to throw for over 325 yard. But I also expect the Eagles to win. The Pick: Eagles 34, Saints 23

Seahawks (+8.5) over BEARS: I’ve changed my mind since Tuesday. There’s no way I’m giving up 8.5 points, with Rex Grossman starting at quarterback, to a team fielding the reigning MVP, a halfway decent quarterback, and the game’s best kicker this season. There is no way in my mind Seattle doesn’t get at least a back door cover here, something late, in garbage time. Chicago should still win the game, but I can’t imagine there’s one Bears fan in the country who feels supremely confident right now. The Pick: Bears 24, Seahawks 16

Patriots (+5) over CHARGERS: I cannot wait to watch this game. Seriously – I wish they could just play it right now. I’m going to be sitting in a hotel room all day Sunday just waiting for this game to kickoff. And the worst part – I have to watch the game with my boss. I think I might just find the nearest bar. This game has a lot of intriguing angles, so I’m going to break them down individually:

n Marty Schottenheimer: Choke Artiste. Look, I’m not going to sit here and defend Schotty’s less than stellar 5-12 career playoff record. What I am going to do is completely disregard most of it – he’s only been in the playoffs once with this Chargers’ team (and it wasn’t really even “this” Chargers team – 2004 with no Rivers, no Merriman, and no Castillo). Sure, he’s gotten conservative in the past. But he’s also got the most explosive offensive team he’s ever had. If he chokes this one away, he’s destined to always come up short.

n LaDanian Tomlinson: One-Man Wrecking Ball. There is no one player in the NFL that can stop LdT man-to-man. He’s just too quick and too strong. But if there is one person that can figure out a game plan to take LdT out of an offense, it’s the man in the grey hooded sweatshirt that will be standing on the other sideline. The funny thing is, I think the Patriots are going to do the exact opposite of what everyone is saying – I think they’ll do their best to slow Tomlinson down, but focus more on badgering the wide receivers and forcing Rivers into major mistakes.

n The Patriots’ “mystique”. There is no bigger believer in the philosophy of “They’re the Patriots – they’ll figure out a way to win” than me. In this game, it seems like they have the superior coach, quarterback, and defense (the Chargers’ D was vastly overrated this season). Essentially, San Diego’s running and kicking games are their only real advantages. The mystique/experience of the Patriots might show itself, but more likely, the inexperience of the Chargers will be a bigger story.

n The “respect” factor. Most of the so-called “experts” are split almost 50/50 on this game. That means the Pats can’t really play the disrespect card too effectively (though everyone knows they’ll find some type of bulleting board material to get jacked up). But what not many people – outside of the Greater New England area, of course – are talking about is the fact that the Chargers had a tendency to play to the level of their opponents. They may have ended the season on a 10-game winning streak, but only three of those games were by more than eight points. If I’m New England, I’ve got to believe that if my team is within eight points, we’ve got a shot to win.

In the end, I think the Patriots’ experience (or the Chargers lack thereof) plays the biggest role in this game. I think the fact that Philip Rivers has never had to face a Belichick game plan will end up being huge. And I think that, sadly, Marty Schottenheimer will earn his reputation as a big-game choke artist. The Pick: Patriots 34, Chargers 31

While I’m here – anybody got any suggestions for a decent sports bar and a couple good Mexican places near Walt Disney World? I’m desperate to not have to sit in my hotel room with a couple people who don’t follow football trying to watch the Pats game Sunday. Any help is greatly appreciated.

Random programming note: since I’ll be traveling until the 23rd, I’ll most likely be unable to post anything on here until after the Super Bowl Match-Up is set. I am planning to bring a PDA with Internet capabilities with me, and if I can figure out how, I will do my best to update this page – even if it’s nothing more than quick picks (with lines Live from The Mirage!) or a random Vegas update.

Until then,


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

2006 NFL Playoff Ranks - Divisional Round

Holy Crap! It’s Tuesday already? Damn, the past few days have flown past.

Of course, the next few will drag on interminably, as I wait for Saturday to get here so I can head to the airport for my 10 days away from the world at a conference and then a much needed vacation.

So, fair warning – I’ll post today, and again Thursday night/Friday morning with my picks for the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. Then, just like last year, I’ll be spending the next four days at a work conference, and the following five days enjoying general debauchery in Vegas.

Today’s post is going to be relatively short, just a quick ranking of the teams still left in the playoffs, as well as those eliminated last week.

And, as much as I’d like to make some type of crack here about the Giants, Jets, or Tony Romo in general, I’ll refrain. For now…

2006 Divisional Round Rants & Ranks

1. Baltimore (2): I know – theory of inertia and all, they shouldn’t move up based on a bye, nor should the Chargers move down. But I’m not 100% sold on Philip Rivers’ ankle being healthy, am I am 100% convinced that the Ravens’ defense is the best in the AFC, if not the NFL. They allowed the fewest points (201) and the fewest total yards (4225). Steve McNair has provided them with a competent quarterback to lead the offense… they just seem scary right now.

2. San Diego (1): Duh. This is going to be a hell of a good weekend of football…

3. New England (3): I honestly can’t wait to be sitting in Orlando, drinking a beer, watching the Patriots/San Diego game on Sunday. Funny thing – last year, I missed the Patriots’ second round game because I was flying to San Diego for this conference. This year, the conference is in Orlando – the Patriots are in San Diego. Next year, take a wild guess which SoCal city will be hosting the conference? Yup – San Diego it is. The Pats will probably end up in Jacksonville – a drivable distance from Orlando.

4. New Orleans (4): They probably match up a lot better with the Seahawks than they do with the Eagles. In fact, it’s a shame that this game is being played in the second round – I’m fairly certain that the winner of this game, if they don’t lose any key cogs to injury, will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

5. Indianapolis (6): Dominant win in a game that most people thought would be a lot closer. The defense looks like it could have enough to stop the Ravens – the question is, will the offense have enough in their bag to get past the Baltimore D. And even more – when was the last time Indy’s offense was the part of the team that worried you heading into a game?

6. Chicago (7): They’re going to destroy Seattle. They might not score an offensive point – they’ll still win by three scores. Two weeks for that defense to scheme a way to slow down Matt Hasslebeck and what appears to be a hobbled Shaun Alexander is almost unfair. Of course, we said the same things before last seasons Divisional Round game against the Panthers…

7. New York Jets (8): Helluva game Sunday. I had the pleasure of attending my first game in Gillette Stadium. Picked a good day. Now I am giddy with the thought of a Belichick-run defense getting the first crack at Philip Rivers in the playoffs…

8. Philadelphia (5): They needed a kick at the end of regulation, at home, to defeat the worst of the twelve playoffs teams. That does not inspire confidence in my proclamation that the Eagles were the second best team in the NFC.

9. Seattle (10): I can’t imagine they have any more luck left in their bag-‘o-tricks. By the way; believe me if you will, but I absolutely predicted the blow up by the Cowboys at the end of the game. Sitting on my buddy’s couch, the instant the Jason Witten first-down conversion was overturned, I turned to a group of people nearby and shouted “There is no way they make this kick – something freakish is about to happen. Parcells has too much of a history with kicks – there is no way this kick goes through the uprights…”

10. Dallas (9): Wow. The only way I can sum up the end of that game is with this photo, apparently snapped by an intrepid sideline photographer with a very good lens...

11. New York Giants (15): Well, at least they put up a fight. That’s about the best thing I can say about how the Giants’ season ended. Even a friend of mine, a lifelong Giants fan, sent me an e-mail today saying “well, with a new coach, new QB, and new RB we should be pretty awesome…” Not exactly a ringing endorsement for his team’s chances. (By the way, I took the opportunity to remind him that the Giants also need a new GM, defensive secondary, and a multitude of other things. Good thing they traded away all those picks – Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman, and Nate Kaeding – for Eli Manning.)

12. Kansas City (12): There’s no one left to rank, that’s the only reason I didn’t drop them. But going an entire half without recording a first down is the definition of offensive futility. How Herm Edwards didn’t make any type of personnel adjustment – i.e. sit Trent Green’s useless ass on the bench – is completely beyond me.

I’ll be back Thursday with the Picks. 2-2 last week (though I actually had money on the Cowboys +2.5, even though I picked the Seahawks to cover on here…).


Thursday, January 04, 2007

2006 NFL Playoff Picks - Wild Card Round

Ah, the first week of the NFL playoffs. What better time than now to talk about…

…Baseball. Naturally, right?

Well, I’ve made promises to people, and they must be kept. And so, without further ado, I am going to give credit where credit is due.

When the Milwaukee Brewers come from out of nowhere and shock the world by being “the Tigers of 2007”, you can all say you heard it here first. And of course, I heard it first in a conversation with my friend and temporary (because it’s free) legal counsel, Vinny.

I’ll quote the conversation (or at least the good parts) at the end.

So, now that our little unpleasantness is out of the way, what say we dive right into a spirited preview of the four NFL Wild Card Round Playoff Games this weekend? Anybody up for that? Good…

As always, lines from and home teams are in CAPS


Chiefs (+7) @ COLTS: Ask any football fan what the worst possible playoffs situation could be for the Colts, and they’ll answer the exact same way: Facing a team with a dominant running game. Well, that’s exactly what happened. They drew the Chiefs and the uber-talented Larry Johnson. So, of course, the Colts have absolutely no shot at winning this game, right? Well…

Let’s not forget, the Colts have a pretty talented offense of their own. And while their running game isn’t what it has been in years past (just imagine if they’d kept Edge and drafted to fill in needs at linebacker and defensive line?), but they still have Peyton Manning and two of the top fifteen wide receivers in the league.

The way to beat the Colts is to keep their offense off the field (see Texans, Houston). But if Indy gets the touches on offense on Saturday, I’ll always take them in a shootout. Besides, the Chiefs’ defense isn’t exactly comparable to the ’86 Bears.

The Pick: Colts 31, Chiefs 20

Jets (+8.5) @ PATRIOTS: There’s two ways to look at this game. A) The Patriots and Bill Belichick are going to exact some serious revenge for the way the Jets dominated them, in Gillette, in November.

Or, B) The Jets have absolutely no fear of the New England “mystique”, nor do they fear Belichick, Brady, Bruschi, or anybody else wearing a flying Elvis helmet, and they march into Foxboro Sunday afternoon and take care of business once again.

Personally, I think the game is going to come down to a couple of factors. The Jets inability to stop the run (ranked 24th, allowing 130ypg) against the backfield of Corey Dillon & Laurence Maroney could allow the Patriots to dominate time of possession and field position all day long. But the Patriots’ inability to cover anyone on punts and kickoffs this year (net average of only 36.2 yards per punt) means that the Jets could be looking at a short field all day and won’t need much clock to move the ball. And yes, I’m carefully glossing over the entire “rookie kicker who’s never kicked under pressure” situation for New England.

I can’t imagine this game will ever really get out of hand, and even though I can easily see the Patriots potentially blowing the Jets out of the water, I don’t think Eric Mangini will let that happen.

The Pick: Patriots 27, Jets 20


Cowboys (+2.5) @ SEAHAWKS: Talk about a lousy match up. Oh, wait that’s right… it’s the NFC. They’re all lousy matches. Anyway…

The Cowboys limped into the playoffs, losing three of their last four and only beating the Falcons, who hadn’t beaten a quality opponent in the six weeks previous, and were basically playing out the string. The shine is definitely off Tony Romo – Bill Parcells will be happy we’ve all put away the anointing oils.

Of course, the Seahawks aren’t exactly world beaters right now either. They had lost three straight before pounding the wholly awful Bucs in Week 17. Hasselbeck and Alexander have been back together for six weeks now, and the Seahawks are 3-3.

The question becomes – which team can hold it together longer Saturday night? Neither team was particularly good stopping the pass the year (Seattle 16th, Dallas 24th), but the Cowboys were reasonably good at slowing down the run (10th, Seattle 22nd). If the Cowboys can slow down Shaun Alexander and force Matt Hasselbeck to beat them, they stand a good shot of winning.

Unfortunately for my namesakes in Big D, I don’t think they can do it.

The Pick: Seahawks 27, Cowboys 17

Giants (+7) @ EAGLES: I’m beginning the think more and more that I might have been right a while back when I suggested that the Giants had been playing possum for the past two months, luring everyone – even their own teammates! – into believing that they were a sub-standard, non deserving playoff team.

I mean, c’mon people – are you really that confident in Jeff Garcia leading Philadelphia into the Promised Land? The man hasn’t had a productive season since the days when I could wake up at noon and consider it “an early day” (2002 for those of you who don’t know me personally).

Let’s look at it a different way. The Eagles couldn’t stop the run for most of year, but were good against the pass. The Giants can’t stop the pass to save their lives, but were pretty solid against the run. That means that the Eagles’ biggest weapon, Brian Westbrook (one of the most underrated players in the league, by the way) could easily get shut down completely. While the Eagles could shut down Eli Manning, there’s no reason to believe that Eli wouldn’t do that to himself anyway.

It’s going to come down to one thing – if Tiki Barber & Brandon Jacobs are able to grind out yards and dominate the time of possession, the Giants could hold on and win this thing outright. But even if they don’t, seven points is too much to give up in any NFC game.

The Pick: Eagles 24, Giants 20

Now, fair warning and full disclosure – I am terrible at picking against the spread in the playoffs. I don’t know why – I’ve been sub-par, at best, in all three seasons of picking games. That’s why I didn’t give a full playoff prediction and try to pick the winners all the way to the Super Bowl – I’d just jinx whichever team I picked.

Quote of the Week:

As promised, the prediction of my boy Vinny (via IM), regarding the Brewers in 2007. And, of course, my smart-ass response:

Vinny: I want you to record this: Vinny says the Brewers are this year's Tigers. Not going to the World Series, because the Mets are doing that, but they will win the Central and go to the playoffs.

Me: well, if they don't go to the World Series, then they're not this year's Tigers… they're this year's Mets

The cheap shot was too easy. And when the Brewers finish yet another season floundering around .500, feel free to refer back to this page and mock him.

Of course, judging by recent history, .500 might just be enough to take the NL Central and the World Series.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Final Regular Season Rants & Ranks

I’m currently watching what might be the most boring first half of college football all season long in the Rose Bowl. And I’m saying this as a Michigan fan. The Wolverines look like they’re in trouble right now, but I guess that’s what happens when you get stuck in a bowl you don’t want to play in, against a team that probably didn’t deserve to be in a BCS bowl at all.

Sorry. I needed to vent.

Hope everyone had a happy & safe New Year’s Eve. Personally, I was figuratively sick all day at my own stupidity, and then literally sick all night due to what I can only assume was food poisoning, since I never started drinking.

I know you’re all thinking the same thing to yourselves right now… “But why were you sick all day long? Your Patriots dismantled the Titans and nearly moved up to the #3 seed in the AFC playoffs, your picks went 12-4 on the day to raise your overall record to 128-122-7 for the year. It seems like the day was perfect!”

Well, dear reader(s), it was nearly perfect. You see, I rarely trust myself, especially when it comes to money. Even though I know how well I tend to do over the final three weeks of the season (31-15-2 in 2005, 20-12 heading into this week in 2006), I still couldn’t bring myself to “invest” any more on games this year, choosing instead to save the money for my upcoming trip to Vegas.

Of course, the investment could have paid off. Big.

Remember last week when I detailed my betting philosophy of one “cover-my-ass” bet, one “big bet”, and a handful of “in between” bets? Well, this week I placed “theoretical” bets, where I just put the bet in but never actually finalized it, just to see the numbers and payouts. Here’s how things would have broken down:

“Cover-my-ass” bet:

3-team parlay:

Lions (+13)

Giants (-2)

Rams (-2.5)

That was a win.

“Big” bet:

7-team parlay:

Giants (-2)

Chiefs (-2)

Texans (-4)

Lions (+13)

Cardinals (+14)

49ers (+10.5)

Rams (-2.5)

That was also a win.

In fact, of all the games last week, the picks I felt least confident about were Colts (-9) since they had very little to play for, Eagles (-8) because they could already have the division and the #3 seed locked up before kickoff, Cards (+14) over Chargers because, let’s face it, they’re the Cardinals, and the Bills (+9) because I just hate relying on J.P. Losman to cover on the road, let alone against a defense like Baltimore.

I freely admit that I screwed up the Raiders pick, though I doubt I would have put any money on Oakland, seeing as how I hate the Raiders.

Those were the only four games I missed, and the Cardinals somehow managed a cover.

The “Big Bet” paid off at approximately 150-1. Generally, that’s a $50 bet.

The “Cover my ass bet” paid off at about 15-1. That’s usually a $20-$30 bet.

Everything else in between is put in at about $25-$50, and pays off between 15-1 and 150-1. You do the math.

But honestly, who wants to pay off all the bills and still go to Vegas with $10k in their bankroll?

Let’s just get into the final ranks of the 2006 season. I’ll come back later this week with playoff thoughts, pre-game rankings, and of course, more picks…

1. San Diego (1): Another week, another win, another week atop the rankings. The only thing that might hurt them is, surprisingly, the bye. For a team firing on all cylinders like the Chargers are, the last thing they need is to sit around and watch other teams play. Of course, the rest should help Philip Rivers’ ankle.

2. Baltimore (2): Did you see any reason not to think they’re the second best team in the league? I certainly didn’t.

3. New England (3): They got the best possible match-up for the first round, and assuming they take care of business on Sunday, they’ll have to hope the Chiefs upset the Colts so the Patriots don’t draw the Chargers in the second round. Otherwise, they’ll be packing it in early again this year.

4. New Orleans (4): Not dropping them for a loss in a meaningless game when they never played their starters. If Jamie Martin is the starting quarterback in two weeks, then they’ll have some bigger problems than a small drop in some random blogger’s NFL Rankings.

5. Philadelphia (7): Admittedly, the Falcons quit about three weeks ago. But that was one more win, over a supposedly good NFC team, for the Eagles to hang on their resume. The way things are looking, they won’t get a shot at Dallas and Terrell Owens back in Philly, which is a downright shame.

6. Indianapolis (9): The Dolphins certainly didn’t look like they were taking that game seriously, and the Colts still came out with a win. They still allowed 150 rushing yards on 26 carries (5.8 yards per), which could bite them in the ass against the Chiefs.

7. Chicago (5): I have absolutely no confidence in this team being able to beat the Saints or Eagles. And yes, I’m penalizing them for losing a meaningless game – Chicago played their starters and still looked awful.

8. New York Jets (10): Right now I can’t imagine how to choose between Sean Payton and Eric Mangini for Coach of the Year. They both went into bad situations, coaching the teams with the #2 and #4 worst records from last year, with absolutely zero expectations. I give the nod to Sean Payton, even though Mangini probably had more pressure in New York. Payton made the Saints relevant again, with a new starting QB, and got them the #2 seed in the conference.

9. Dallas (8): OK, it’s officially more than just a hiccup. This team has many, many problems, not the least of which is #81 and his mouth. If the season keeps going this way, I can’t imagine Bill Parcells will want to come back and deal with it for one more year.

10. Seattle (13): Guess I have to put them up here, considering they’re the #4 seed in the NFC and a division winner and all… Can’t say I’ve got much confidence about them after the first round though.

11. Pittsburgh (14): Highest rank for a non-playoff team. Of course, I still believe they’d have at least two more wins if they were an NFC team. Or if their quarterback weren’t a complete idiot.

12. Kansas City (16): Guess that “too little, too late” comment from last week was just a bit premature. They played a hell of a game against Jacksonville (almost coughing it up at the end), and got every break they needed. Now, they have the best possible situation, with the league’s second leading rusher against the league’s worst rush defense. Could get interesting…

13. Tennessee (6): OK, I’ll get off the Titans’ bandwagon. By the way, I don’t care how electrifying a player Pac-Man Jones is to watch. By all accounts, he’s a complete scumbag as a person. And I’m holding back from my real feelings.

14. Denver (12): I feel like a real ass today, after I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon (and the past three or four weeks, really), ripping on Darrent Williams for being possibly the worst defensive back in the NFL. I even invoked the names of Mike Rumph and Chris Canty. Then I wake up today to see he was killed in a drive-by shooting last night, and I suddenly feel the urge to remove my foot from my mouth.

15. New York Giants (19): Like I said in the picks – wouldn’t it be amazing if they were just screwing with our heads all this time?

16. Jacksonville (11): Like I’ve been saying all year – I have no idea what this team is. Byron Leftwich is gone next year. David Garrard is not a competent #1 QB in the NFL. But I can’t see them spending a high round pick on another quarterback. I just don’t know what to do with them.

17. San Francisco (17): Frank Gore has established himself as the heir apparent to Tiki Barber’s #4 spot in fantasy football drafts in 2007. Alex Smith might be moving up a few draft boards too. Now they just need some help on defense, and they could be a serious threat in the NFC.

18. Cincinnati (15): Thank God for the Steelers. If the Bengals had found a way to back into the playoffs, I probably would have gone off on some sort of spree…

19. St. Louis (20): Big, big win over the Vikings. Even if it didn’t mean anything but a little incentive for next season. They’ve got some competition in their own division, but they could be a decent sleeper pick for the NFC next year.

20. Green Bay (21): If that was Brett Favre’s final game in the NFL (and I believe it was), he picked a hell of a way to go out. Traveling into his teams’ arch rival (who just happened to be the #1 seed in the conference based largely on a dominant defense) and putting up decent, if not outstanding numbers while his team controlled every aspect of the game. His career might not end with a Super Bowl like John Elway, or even a playoff berth. But if it ends, it ended on a high note.

21. Atlanta (18): Jim Mora got canned today. Mike Vick is still the starting quarterback (even though Matt Schaub almost won the game for them yesterday). I know Arthur Blank is infatuated with his QB/RB hybrid under center, but at some point they’ve got to start looking at the only thing in on the offense that hasn’t really changed in the past five years… Vick is still cashing a paycheck based on his playoff win in Lambeau. Even the trip to the NFC title game two years ago was more a product of great defense and decent offense.

22. Arizona (23): I just think they’ve got the best chance to win in 2007 of any team left on the list. They’ve got the pieces in place for a great offense over the next few seasons if the upgrade their offensive line. And even better, they no longer have Dennis Green roaming the sidelines. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Green & Steve Marriucci switch places, with Green moving to the NFL Network in 2007.

23. Carolina (22): Congratulations – you beat a team with absolutely nothing to play for. After a couple of years, you can’t keep saying “just imagine how good they’d be without all the injuries”. Maybe the injuries aren’t such a freak thing after all.

24. Houston (26): Well, they did get a win, even if it was over the Browns. Can’t say I’m all that impressed with their team, or even really anticipating their chances in ’07. But they did get a win.

25. Buffalo (24): Their defense really impressed late in the season, even if they gave up 19 to Baltimore this week. The offense still needs to make the leap next year, or else whatever chance they have at a playoff berth might go out the window.

26. Miami (27): So maybe this Cleo Lemon kid can play after all. I mean, he still hasn’t won a game, but damn he’s got a rocket for an arm. Watched him throw a pass 65 yards in the air yesterday, completely overshooting a wide open Chris Chambers. Then, on the final play of the game, he scrambled left to avoid a rush and flicked a pass five yards over the end zone, throwing back across his body, airing the ball out more than 50 yards. If he’d had a little more accuracy during the game, Indy might be staring at the #4 seed in the AFC right now.

27. Washington (28): Don’t ask me why they get a jump after a loss to the Giants. I just can’t put anybody else up this high.

28. Minnesota (25): There are going to be a lot of holes for the Vikings to fill this off season. They need help at QB, even if Tavaris Jackson pans out. They desperately need some receivers (hey – isn’t Steve Smith a free agent? And Randy Moss looks to be available from Oakland…). They need help in their pass defense. Really, the only things they had working this year were both sides of the running game.

29. Detroit (32): Allow me to plagiarize myself from the #31 team last week: “They can’t even screw up effectively.” The Lions managed to beat the Cowboys, in Dallas, thereby finishing the year at 3-13 and moving down from the #1 overall pick to the #1 overall spot. Well, at least they’ll save salary cap space.

30. Cleveland (30): I wish I could think of something positive to say about this team right now. Um… Kellen Winslow looks fully recovered and might be one of the top three tight ends in football next year…

31. Tampa Bay (29): I guess they listened to me, locking up Chris Simms’ for the next two seasons, giving them enough time to look for the next franchise quarterback… Have the Bucs ever had a franchise quarterback? Vinny Testaverde? Does he count?

32. Oakland (31): The only thing they can do with the #1 overall pick next year is take a quarterback (JaMarcus Russell if he declares, otherwise Brady Quinn or Troy Smith), or else trade the pick for a boatload of other help and try to rebuild all the problems they have. A franchise quarterback is a nice luxury to get in a draft, but there doesn’t look to be that once-in-a-lifetime talent in this year’s crop. You know, like a Vince Young or Matt Leinart – the two guys Oakland passed on last year.

Well, USC is about to finish off the Wolverines - how the hell did the Trojans lose to UCLA? – so, I might as well end this here. Best wishes for the New Year, and I’ll see you all in a couple days.