Monday, December 31, 2007

My own personal sporting heaven

You know, once before in my life as a sports fan, I thought I was witnessing something special. Something once in a generation, if not once in a lifetime. I watched my two favorite professional sports teams win titles, with a third only a month away.

I wrote something heartfelt, something deep, something that I expected to only be able to write once. I wrote: "This year was Next Year."

Since that time - early into the New Year of 2005 - the Boston sports teams that I live and die with had combined for "only" one more major title - the Patriots over the Eagles a month later, their second Super Bowl in a row and third in four years, cementing their status as a bona fide dynasty. I'm not going to sit here and tell you it's been a drought, that we were long suffering fans, or anything like that. The Red Sox made the playoffs once, the Patriots twice, and I think the Bruins and Celtics even managed to win a couple games here and there.

But nothing, absolutely nothing I could imagine, had me even remotely prepared for what I witnessed in 2007. And I'm sad to see the year go.

I'm not nearly naive enough to think that anyone out there without a Boston affiliation has any interest in reading another drooling piece about the state of professional sports in 2007. Believe me, as a fan, I understand the disdain you all have for fans like that. I'm not going to say "we're better than you, and that's that." And I'm certainly not going to take the stance that somehow, because I'm lucky enough to support the teams that I do, that it makes me a better fan than you.

Because I understand just how lucky I am. I understand that I've been given an incredibly rare opportunity as a sports fan - the chance to watch and support potentially three championship teams in the course of less than one calendar year. The Red Sox started it with a World Series victory in October. The Patriots wrapped up what has to be one of - if not the single best regular season in NFL history. And the Celtics are currently on pace to break the all-time single-season wins record set by the Chicago Bulls when they finished the year at 72-10 - the Celtics have wrapped up their games in 2007 at 26-3 for a mind-boggling .897 winning percentage; one game ahead of the Bulls' pace, and one of only 4 teams with less than 10 losses (the only one with less than 7).

So when I hear people say that this was a bad year for sports, it makes me wonder; Why? Because of a couple scandals like Michael Vick & Tim Donagehy? Or because a Congressional Report told us what we already know - that give the choice between breaking a rule to gain lots of fortune & fame, or playing it straight and toiling in anonymity, most people would break the rule?

It's not like there wasn't always a lingering suspicion of gambling in major pro sports by players, coaches or officials. Let's face facts - there's just too much money to be made, and it's far too easy to keep it untraceable. And if there are people out there who honestly thought that Major League Baseball (or any of the major pro sports, for that matter) was completely clean, they are living in a fairy-tale world.

So what does that leave for arguments favoring a lousy year in sports? Monotony. Nobody likes to see the same people win all the time. Believe me - I know. I grew up as the Yankees, Cowboys, Bulls and Red Wings more or less dominated their sports for a decade. I had no stake in any of those teams, so I was more or less bored. My guys were consistently sent home early, if they even made the show at all.

So now that one specific city (or more accurately, one specific group of fans) just happens to be in the middle of one of the most unrealistic runs of all time, it makes everyone else bored. Disaffected. Angry. And to be honest with you, as a Boston fan, let me say this - we don't care.

We're caught up in the whirlwind around us right now, trying to soak in the fact that in the past two months the three biggest teams in the city have lost a total of three games, by a total of nine points (all by the Celtics). We're celebrating - not mourning - the fact that we just happened to luck into a perfect storm of fandom. And we're doing so because we all remember what it was like to watch everyone else do it.

None of us expect it to last forever. The Patriots will eventually lose another game (though not this season, and probably not for most of next). The Red Sox will enter 2008 as the presumptive favorites, but it's awful hard to repeat in MLB these days. And if the Celtics do manage to best the 72-win Bulls, they still have the little matter of beating the Western Conference if they make it to the NBA Finals.

But for now, we're just going to sit back and enjoy it. And if our best sports year ever just happened to be the cause your worst sports year ever, then so be it.

It could be worse. It could be Cleveland.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, December 29, 2007

2007 NFL Picks - Week 17

There's a serious problem with gambling on football in the final week of the season - more often than not, the games mean nothing. Looking at this week's schedule, there are exactly 6 of 16 games with legitimate bearing, either on the playoffs or on history.

So, basically, if you actually wager this week, it might be time to look into getting some help. And don't point fingers - I haven't had a dollar on a game since about Week 7. Not coincidentally, the same time that my picks started getting good again.

So when it comes to making picks on the games, it's basically a crapshoot. Which teams are going to sit their players, which teams just don't give a shit about the game, which players are more interested in the hot blonde in the front row than the hot route they're supposed to run. Essentially - take my advice at your own risk.

Lines from, and accurate as of 7pm Saturday night. Home teams in CAPS. 6-9-1 last week for a season record of 118-113-12. Just hoping to stay over .500 from here on out, and start fresh in the playoffs...

GIANTS (+14) over Patriots: This game could go one of two ways - either the Pats blow the wheels out in the first half and just roll over the Giants, then sit everyone in the second half leading to a garbage cover, or it's close going to halftime, both teams keep the starters in until about the 4th, and it's (at most) a 13-point win. Both teams have just gotta hope for no injuries.
Bills (+8) over EAGLES: I'm sure there's a reason for this, but with two teams that aren't making the playoffs, I've got to believe that an 8-8 finish for Buffalo means a hell of a lot more than it does for Philadelphia.
BUCS (-3) over Panthers: In one of many "Worst possible scenarios" this week, the Bucs are sitting everybody to get ready for the Giants next week. Meaning there's a good chance this game finishes with a total of 10 points scored.
DOLPHINS (+3) over Bengals: There are 10 teams that can theoretically finish at 6-10, 7-9, or 8-8. All of them are fighting for nothing more than a draft spot, so I'll take the team that's already locked up the #1 overall pick. Anybody follow that logic?
PACKERS (-5.5) over Lions: It's like nobody wants the #1 overall seed in the NFC. The Cowboys had it, then choked to the Eagles. The Packers just had to beat the Bears & Lions, but coughed one up in Chicago last week. Not that it matters this year, but it would still be nice for someone to pretend like they want to win.
TEXANS (-6.5) over Jaguars: See Bills, Buffalo. The Texans have a lot more to gain in future momentum than the Jaguars would theoretically lose by slowing down a little before a physical Round One game in either San Diego or Pittsburgh.
BEARS (+1.5) over Saints: New Orleans still has something to play for. It might be the longest of long shots, but they've still got a chance. Of course, they have to win on the road, in the cold of Chicago. Not happening.
Seahawks (Pk) over FALCONS: Raise your hand if, at any point in the past 13 weeks, you thought this line would be a "Pick-'Em" less than 24 hours before kickoff without any major injuries to Seattle players... If your hand is up, you're lying.
49ers (+10) over BROWNS: Browns win, Niners cover. This game becomes meaningless if the Titans win at Indy later in the night, but in the quirk of all quirks if both Tennessee and Cleveland lose, Cleveland gets the playoff berth. Talk about backing into a playoff spot...
REDSKINS (-9) over Cowboys: Not only do the Redskins still have a lot to play for, but the Cowboys are sitting just about anybody who has started a game on offense in the first 15 weeks. By the way - I take back everything I said about the Skins after Sean Taylor's death - they are playing with more motivation than any team I've seen in a long time.
Steelers (-3.5) over Ravens: I don't care how many players Pittsburgh sits, they're not losing to the Ravens. And they shouldn't have trouble covering 3.5 points. Baltimore is a lost team. They need help in at least three different positions, not counting Head Coach. And they look like they packed it in for the season with about 30 seconds to go in the Patriots' game.
Vikings (-3) over BRONCOS: I don't think I've correctly picked a Broncos game yet this season, so why start now, right? Just can't seem to figure these guys out.
Chargers (-9) over RAIDERS: San Diego is still playing for a chance to avoid Jacksonville in Round one (though Tennessee wouldn't be much easier). Although I've been calling for it all season, I actually feel bad for JaMarcus Russell having to make his first start under center this week. Tough way to learn kid - good luck.
Rams (+6) over CARDINALS: In yet another "who gives a crap game", offense should be on display in this one. Two teams with electric passing games and no semblance of a defense. Can't figure out why the O/U is only 48... seems a little low.
JETS (-6) over Chiefs: Might be Chad Pennington's final game as a Jet. Think the fans boo him off the field, y'know - for old time's sake?
COLTS (+4.5) over Titans: Just because the Colts are sitting Peyton Manning, and probably Joseph Addai & Reggie Wayne, it's not like the rest of th team is packing it in too. And if the Browns manage to choke away the game to the Niners, maybe the Titans get a little complacent...

RECAP: GIANTS / Bills / BUCS / DOLPHINS / PACKERS / TEXANS / BEARS / Seahawks / 49ers / REDSKINS / Steelers / Vikings / Chargers / Rams / JETS / COLTS

Just hoping for no worse than 6-10 this week. Just do enough to stay over .500 for the season.

See you in the playoffs. Lata.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, December 21, 2007

Week 16 Rants, Ranks, and Picks

I'm making blogging history here folks. Well at least I am on this page. Actually, not really. I've done this once before.

I'm blogging from the airport. (And a hearty "huzzah" comes from the crowd...)

Anyway, I'm flying back to Boston for the holiday, staying at home with family until next Wednesday. So obviously this week was been ridiculously hectic, topped off by a head cold that kept me out of work for two days, and a dislocated finger suffered through sheer stupidity on my part (big shock there). Anyway, what I'm trying to say is... I forgot to put up the weekly ranks on Wednesday. Or the pick for last night's Steelers/Rams game (though with a Steelers (-10.5) line, I was probably taking the Rams anyway... Let's just call it a loss.)

So, from the airport, let's get some abbreviated ranks and picks in here before I board my flight. By the way - for anyone familiar with Pittsburgh traffic... I left my office at 2:45 this afternoon... got to my apartment at about 3:15 (it's 1.2 miles away)... left my apartment at about 3:45... got to the exit for the Fort Pitt tunnel at 4:40 (it's about 7 miles from my apartment)... got through the tunnel at 5:12 (it's about 0.8 miles)... got to the airport about 20 past six. All told, it usually takes 45 minutes to get from my apartment to the airport... glad I left early for my 8:45 flight.

Onto the ranks, then the picks.

The Fave 5

1. New England (14-0): Picked them to win 20-3 last week, and if not fo a fluke blocked-punt-return-for-a-touchdown, they would have. Sometimes I even surprise myself.
2. Green Bay (12-2): Yes, Green Bay. I can't in good conscience put Dallas this high after the stink bomb against the Eagles. Indy rolled over to the Raiders, and probably won't play hard for another 3 weeks. And as good as Jacksonville has looked the past few weeks... I don't believe they could win in Lambeau right now. So that leaves Green Bay...
3. Jacksonville (10-4): But the Jags are just a hair behind the Packers.
4. Indianapolis (12-2): They've got no reason to play hard from now through January.
5. Dallas (12-2): I love the media hype over T.O.'s comments about Jessica Simpson. A caller on WEEI wummed it up nicely a couple days ago "Hey Tony, if you get depressed about everyone giving you crap about dating Jessica Simpson, just remember - you get to go home and f*** JESSICA SIMPSON". Good point by you.
Others receiving votes: Cleveland (they lock up a playoff berth with a win over Cincy this week... impressive stuff, even if they'll lose in Round 1), Pittsburgh (Didn't see it live, but Willie Parker's broken leg last night looked pretty gruesome), San Diego (The only team Cleveland has any shot at beating in the AFC playoffs).

The Foul 5

5. Oakland (4-10): Wasn't their defense suposed to be their strong suit this year? Really?
4. San Francisco (4-10): Damnit! Stop winning games and hurting the Patriots' draft chances!
3. NY Jets (3-11): Maybe it was just the weather, but they actually looked feisty last week. Shades of what could have been, you know, if they had a half-competant team.
2. Atlanta (3-11): Well, you certainly showed Bobby Petrino what he was missing out on when he left the team... oh wait - they lost 37-3? Hmm.....
1. Miami (1-12): Just imagine how bad they'll be the last 2 weeks with absolutely nothing to motivate them...
Others receiving votes: NY Giants (hard to put a 9-5 team here, but does anyone have faith in them in the playoffs? If they even make it...), St Louis (At 3-12 they should be in here, but thy played pretty well against a vastly superior Pittsburgh team last night), Baltimore (Absolutely no hope for this team...)

And quickly, some picks for the Week 16 games. Had a decent go of it last week, finishing 9-7 and bumping the overall record up to 112-104-11. And for the record, all 8 of my teaser specials hit last week. Naturally, I didn't bet it - $50 on an 8-team teaser pays out at about 35-1. You do the math...

Lines accurate as of 6:30pm Friday, and as always, supplied via Home teams in CAPS.

Cowboys (-11) over PANTHERS: Seems like a good time for Tony Romo to shut up... oh... just about everybody. And two or three long TD passes to #81 oughtta do the trick.
Browns (-3) over BENGALS: This line is pulled as of right now, but I can't imagine why it's only -3 to begin with. The Browns are a far superior team to Cincinnati - remember when their first matchup seemed like an upset win for Cleveland?
Packers (-9) over BEARS: Three straight road favorites, two in hostile stadiums. This week is already shaping up poorly.
COLTS (-7) over Texans: Even without trying, the Colts should be able to beat Sage Rosenfels and the rest of the Texans. But Mario Williams might feast on Jim Sorgi by about the third quarter.
LIONS (-5) over Chiefs: Yeah, sure. Whatever. Who the hell is going to watch this game? I'd be interested to see the ratings numbers outside of these two markets. even the numbers in these markets will probably suck.
BILLS (+3) over Giants: New York needs to win back some respect from just about everyone. even their own fans have lost faith at this point.
Raiders (+14) over JAGUARS: Too many points this late in the season. Even against the Raiders.
SAINTS (-3.5) over Eagles: The Saints still have something left to play for - shouldn't they be a much bigger home favorite? Sometimes I just don't get what the oddsmakers are looking at.
Falcons (+10.5) over CARDINALS: Not sure if the Falcons will score more than 10 points in this entire game, but I've got to think they're more than a little embarrassed about how they played last week. If not, expect a 2TD+ line next week.
Bucs (-6) over 49ERS: C'mon Niners! I know you've got in in you! 2 more losses - you can do it!
PATRIOTS (-22) over Dolphins: Supposed to be lousy weather in New England again this week. Difference from last week - If Cleo Lemon gets hurt, Miami doesn't have a former pro Bowler backing him up.
SEAHAWKS (-10.5) over Ravens: Is there anything more humiliating than being the only win on an NFL team's record for the year? I don't see Baltimore recovering, especially not at the hardest stadium in the NFL, with Kyle Boller under center.
Jets (+8.5) over TITANS: Another line that got pulled in the last hour. Still like the Jets here, if only because I don't like Vince Young.
VIKINGS (-6.5) over Redskins: Did we actually think Tarvaris Jackson would be able to ride that wave all the way to the postseason without a hiccup? Even worse - imagine if some "savvy" fantasy GM nabbed him on waivers for the fantasy playoffs... then had that stinkbomb in the first round?
CHARGERS (-9) over Broncos: If San Diego wins out, they probably get the #3 seed and legitimately scare me as a Patriots fan. Not as much as Indy or Jacksonville, but then again - those are probably the two teams the Chargers would have to beat to get to Foxboro.

RECAP: Cowboys / Browns / Packers / COLTS / LIONS / BILLS / Raiders / SAINTS / Falcons / Bucs / PATRIOTS / SEAHAWKS / Jets / VIKINGS / CHARGERS

One more week after this one. 20 games over .500 might be out of reach, but I'll be quite happy with 10 or 15.

Back after the holiday.


Labels: , , , , , , ,

Sunday, December 16, 2007

2007 NFL Picks - Week 15

Very quick picks today. Been busy and felt lousy this weekend. Sorry 'bout that.

Cardinals (+4) over SAINTS
Falcons (+13) over BUCS
DOLPHINS (+4) over Ravens
BROWNS (-5) over Bills
Packers (-8) over RAMS
Jaguars (+3.5) over STEELERS
Jets (+21) over PATRIOTS (Pats win by 17... 20-3)
Seahawks (-8) over PANTHERS
Titans (-4) over CHIEFS
Colts (-11) over RAIDERS
CHARGERS (-10) over Lions
Eagles (+10) over COWBOYS
Redskins (+6) over GIANTS
VIKINGS (-11) over Bears

That's a lot of road favorites... and a ton of great teaser games (Arizona, Tampa, Cleveland, GB, Seattle, Indy, Chargers & Vikings... wow.)

Back with the real stuff next week.


Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, December 13, 2007

207 NFL Season - Week 15 Rants & Ranks

Clearly, today is not the day to be discussing football. Maybe tomorrow with the rest of the picks. For today, let's just jump into the rants & ranks (oops... should have been up here yesterday. Sorry...) and the pick for tonight's Denver/Houston game and the Saturday Mega-Tilt between the 3-10 San Francisco 49ers (led by the immortal Shawn Hill under center, backed up by Chris Weinke) and the Cincinnati Bengals (they of the 5-8 record).

The Fave 5

1. New England (13-0): Oops. Looks like somebody woke them up. Any doubt that 16-0 is pretty much sealed up at this point? Any doubt that they don't give a shit unless the season ends at 19-0?
2. Dallas (12-1): All I thought when I saw the final score of this game was "How in the hell did that just happen?"
3. Indianapolis (11-2): Not going to lie - if they get healthy before the playoffs, they still scare the hell out of me.
4. Green Bay (11-2): Playing the flotsam and jetsam of the league like Oakland certainly helps pad their stats, but this team is still pretty damned good.
5. Jacksonville (9-4): In the NFC, they'd probably be undefeated. This team is scary good on defense, and the offense is apparantely a lot better than I thought.

Others receiving votes: Pittsburgh (Only 1 game up on Cleveland now, with the Jags next on the schedule. Good luck with that), Seattle (So maybe they're not as paper thin as I thought they were...), San Diego (Philip Rivers needs to get his team a lead before the final drive of the game).

The Foul 5

5. Baltimore (4-9): What a sorry excuse for a team they looked like last week. At least show up for one quarter guys...
4. Atlanta (3-10): I'm no Falcons' fan, but the screw job Bobby Petrino just pulled on those players, fans and owner is downright disgraceful. If you're a Falcons' fan right now, you've gotta think the season was being scripted by Vince MacMahon.
3. San Francisco (3-10): As above... they're starting Shaun Hill with Chris Weinke backing him up. I suppose it could get worse, though I'm not sure how.
2. New York Jets (3-10): Oh, now I know how - they cold be travelling to Foxboro to play a team hell bent on revenge, in a blizzard. I guess that's moderately worse.
1. Miami (0-13): I cannot express how much I want Cam Cameron not go to Michigan, but also to stay in the AFC East for a couple more years.
Others receiving votes: Cincinnati (somehow, 8-8 isn't out of the question for them), Chicago (Don't bother drafting a QB - send the '08 2nd and the '09 4th to Philly and get McNabb), Carolina (unless they're playing someone else on this list, they're not winning again in '07).

And quickly 2 picks for the "early" games this week. I was 10-6 last week to jump back up to 103-97-11 on the season. Slowly inching towards the 25-games over .500 goal...

Lines accurate as of 6:15pm Thursday night, and as always taken from Home teams in CAPS.

Broncos (-2) over TEXANS: I have no idea what to make of either team at this point. Both are 6-7 and not making the playoffs at this point. The Broncos are completely schizophrenic; the Texans are relying on Sage Rosenfels at QB. Both teams dismantled what should have been tough opponents last week. And I can't even use the AFC vs. NFC argument. I guess I just trust Jay Cutler more than I trust Rosenfels. Even on the road.

Bengals (-9) over 49ERS: The Bengals get the Rams, Niners, Browns & Dolphins to finish the year. See what I meant when I said they had a legitimate shot at finishing 8-8?

That's it for tonight. Back tomorrow with the Sunday/Monday picks.


Labels: , , , , , , ,

Friday, December 07, 2007

2007 NFL Picks - Week 14

Well, after a less than stellar 7-9 showing in Week 13, I'm looking for a rebound to boost my record back up to where it should be. I'm 93-92-11 for the year, including the loss on last night's Bears/Redskins pick. Not my best week, but still above .500 for the season.

Let's keep it going.

As always with the picks, home teams are in ALL CAPS, and the lines are from, accurate as of 5:30 Friday night.

Panthers (+11) over JAGUARS: Boy do I want to take the Jags here. I just don't trust their offense enough yet to give up 11-points. This feels like another one of those "Jags' money line, Panthers on the spread" parlay bets.
Cowboys (-11.5) over LIONS: Let me ask a question - has a fan base ever lost faith in their team as fast as Lions' fans seem to be jumping off of the Detroit bandwagon? There's just a trail of bodies strewn all across downtown Motown of Lions' fans ripping off their throwback Barry Sanders jerseys.
BILLS (-7.5) over Dolphins: Almost too easy... and that actually kind of scares me. At least I can rely on the Dolphins to fold in a cold-weather December game.
Giants (+3) over EAGLES: Anybody else notice that it seems like the oddsmakers are the only people who have yet to realize the Eagles just aren't that good this year? They were 3-point favorites against the Seahawks last week too... I just don't get it.
PACKERS (-11) over Raiders: I've got no faith in the Raiders' defense to shut down the Packers' passing game - regardless of whether it's Favre or Rodgers under center. The Packers have too many weapons for the Raiders' defense to cover, not to mention Oakland's inability to stop the run.
Chargers (-1.5) over TITANS: I wrote on Wednesday that the Chargers seem to be figuring it all out at exactly the right time. Philip Rivers on the road in this game scares the bejesus out of me, but I think the Chargers' defense should be good enough to shut down Vince Young.
BENGALS (-7) over Rams: This line is pulled as of right now, but at last check it was up at -7. I'm interested to see just how effective the Bengals can be on offense against a very bad St. Louis defense - I saw a lot in last week's game to make me think that Cincy's offensive unit is in desperate need of a shakeup. And I don't think it's Chad - T.J. WhateverHisNameIs drops far too many passes and makes far too big a scene when the ball doesn't come his way. Especially for a #2 receiver.
Bucs (-3) over TEXANS: There's a distinct possibility that this game could start as Luke McCown vs. Sage Rosenfels... And people wonder why quarterback is the most important position on a football team?
SEAHAWKS (-7) over Cardinals: Is it just me, or does Seattle seem like the worst 8-4 team we've seen in a few years? And doesn't it seem like we're saying that every year? No matter this week - Kurt Warner likely won't have Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin to throw to.
49ERS (+9) over Vikings: Just seems like there needs to be one "Wow" upset this week, and I'm really hoping it's not...
PATRIOTS (-10) over Steelers: This game actually worried me a lot more before the Patriots' last two games, before they played so terribly against two clearly inferior opponents. Here's the thing - those games should have woken them up. The Eagles & Ravens aren't going anywhere this year, so the chance to knock off the Pats was the biggest thing left on their schedules. The Steelers have all but clinched a playoff appearance, so this game - while still important - might not mean as much to them. Plus, Anthony Smith felt the need to open his mouth. Probably not a good idea.
Browns (-3.5) over JETS: If last week's line made no sense to me, this one has me absolutely perplexed. The Browns still have the inside track to the final Wild Card spot in the AFC, and the Jets have next week's dismantling in Foxboro to look forward to.
Chiefs (+7) over BRONCOS: Denver's still pretty bad, right? We've all figured this out by now, haven't we? I don't know, maybe it's just me. I still can't figure out how they beat the Steelers, although it makes me feel a little better about this week.
Colts (-10) over RAVENS: Talk about a letdown game... Think there's any chance the Ravens - or their fans, for that matter - show up for this one? They can't possibly have anything left in the tank for the Colts.
Saints (-4.5) over FALCONS: Too many injuries for this line to be listed anywhere, but Bodog hat it at -4.5 before they pulled it. Let's put it this way - I don't care how bad the Saints' defense is, the Falcons are starting Chris Redman at QB. The man who lost a starting job to Kyle Boller. Sorry - not buying into that one.

RECAP: Panthers / Cowboys / BILLS / Giants / PACKERS / Chargers / BENGALS / Bucs / SEAHWAKS / 49ERS / PATRIOTS / Browns / Chiefs / Colts / Saints

That's it everyone. Just for the record, since I stopped putting my own money on these games, my record is 50-40-2. Not sure what to make of that, but...


Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

2007 NFL Season - Week 14 Rants & Ranks

Before jumping into this week's Rants & Ranks and the Thursday night pick, a quick sidebar about the MLB Winter Meetings - specifically, the rumored Johan Santana to the Red Sox deal.

Look, I'm a Red Sox fan. A pom-pom waving, Yankee hating, die hahd Sawx fan. So if that colors my opinion of this trade, than so be it. It's not like I've ever tried to promote journalistic integrity on this blog, or ever pretended not to be swayed by my "fanhood", as ESPN360 likes to call it.

To me, Johan Santana has the best track record of any pitcher under 30 that has come on the market in the past five years. Sure, there's the lingering question about how much money he'll demand, about the possibility of some upcoming shoulder troubles (Pedro, anyone?), and the ever present question of just how he'd fare in the Boston sports climate - something this current regime has been very, very hit or miss in judging. But his numbers should speak for themselves - in a rotation with Josh Beckett for the next however many years, the Red Sox would instantly have the best 1-2 combo in the majors in probably the past 10 years. Yes - better than Pedro/Schilling. Better than Randy/Schilling. Better than pretty much anything going back to the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz days of the mid-90's.

The holdup for Boston fans seems to be the inclusion of Jacoby Ellsbury in the trade to the Twins. Three things to consider here, at least for me: 1) Ellsbury has played two months at the Major League level. Sure, he "proved" he can play in Boston. Just like Shane Spencer & Ricky Ledee "proved" they could handle New York with their cup of coffee during the Yankees' dynasty. 2) He had a couple insane months, and was a catalyst in leading the Red Sox to another World Series title. But he also faced just about every team only once, meaning pitchers didn't have much of a book on him yet. Anyone who thinks he's keeping up a .353 AVG, .903 OPS, and the rest of the numbers extracted over 162 games (about 80 runs, 160 hits, 30 doubles, 12 HR, 80 RBI and 40 SB) is fooling themselves. 3) The final argument is always - "But he's got so much potential!" Listen - give me proven talent over potential any day of the week. If I can get a 2-time Cy Young Award winner with the talent to be a 20-game winner as the anchor of a team like the Red Sox, and the biggest piece I'm giving up is a very highly touted prospect with the chance to be a multi-time All-Star over the course of his career, I'm taking the veteran and wishing the prospect all the luck in the world.

Call it the curse of Jeff Bagwell, and to a lesser extent Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, David Eckstein, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek, and every other "prospect" that has ever been dealt away for a proven veteran, then actually panned out into a very good Major League Talent. No matter how the veteran performs over the period of time he's here, the fans will always pine for "what might have been".

Just remember: for every Bagwell, Ramirez & Varitek, there are fifty Tony Armas' and Carl Pavano's - the two "centerpiece" prospects Dan Duquette traded for some guy named Pedro about 10 years ago.

The other thing to consider is that it's not exactly like the Red Sox are turning into spendthrifts anytime soon. If they were cutting ticket prices, taking less money for their TV deal, and trying to pare the payroll by relying more on guy still on their original minor league deals, then it would make sense to hold onto guys like Ellsbury & Ramirez. But as long as the Sox are still big players on every marquis free agent to hit the market, it's a little disingenious to say that they need to hold on to prospects. They've got the money, they've got the farm system talent - why not field the best team possible, instead of the best possible team for the price?

And before you say it - yes, I'm the same person who wasn't a big fan of the Hanley Ramirez / Josh Beckett trade two years ago. I'll admit it - I was wrong. Hanley is a supreme talent, but if you hadn't noticed... Beckett & Lowell aren't too shabby either.

Onto the abridged Rants & Ranks - that little MLB sidebar took longer (and more words) than I thought...

The Fab 5

1. New England (12-0): And... exhale. Even after the poor showings the last two weeks, they're still 11-point favorites against the Steelers as of this post. That's a lot of respect for a team whos offense has been cut in half the last two weeks, and who suddently seems to have forgotten how to stop the run.
2. Dallas (11-1): Pretty convincing win last week, and 10 days to prepare for Detroit this week. No reason to think they'll be any lower than the #2 spot next week either.
3. Indianapolis (10-2): There's the Colts team we've all come to expect every Sunday. Who the hell woke them up, anyway?
4. Steelers (9-3): Willie Parker terrifies me this weekend. What terrifies me more is that if they manage to win, I'm going to be in for some serious taunting for... oh, about ten months or so.
5. San Diego (7-5): Don't look now, but the Chargers have just about clinched the AFC West, and seem to be figuring it all out at exectly the right time. Even if Philip Rivers looks like a petulent three-year old who just got sent to a time-out.

Others receiving votes: Green Bay (Hope ten days is enough for Brett Favre, but if not, they should still handle Oakland with ease), Tampa Bay (talk about having a horseshoe up your ass... how the hell did they win that game?), Jacksonville (sooner or later, they've got to win one of those games with the Colts, and decisively).

The Foul 5

5. NY Jets (3-9): Only because they plastered a team below them by 27 points last week. By the way - I love Simmons' idea of the Patriots deactivating the punter (very last paragraph) before next week's game in Gillette. If only...
4. Atlanta (3-9): What a terrible way to follow up this week's outstanding MNF game - Falcons/Saints next Monday night. Looks like I'll be hitting the bed (or the bottle) a little early that night...
3. St. Louis (3-9): Remember when it looked like a dogfight for the #1 overall pick between the Rams & Dolphins? Now St. Louis might fall out of the top five - they're just that good!
2. San Francisco (3-9): Sorry... I just can't stop giggling thinking about who the Patriots will be drafting #2 overall... or just how many picks they'll be stockpiling in trades. They might get enough to start their film production company up again.
1. Miami (0-12): Pretty self explanatory. Don't remember where I saw it, but last week some TV announcer was looking at the Pats' remaining schedule (Pittsburgh, NY Jets, @Miami, @ NY Giants), and started calling out "That'll be close... that's a 50-point game... that's a hundred pointer... and who knows about that last one." Dunno - just made me smile for a long time.

Others receiving votes: Oakland (see, I complained about it long enough, and finally Jamarcus Russell found the field), Cincinnati (team in turmoil... I say Marvin Lewis gets one more year), Washington (probably unfair, but I don't see them winning one of their final four games - Chicago, @ NYG, @Vikings, Dallas).

And finally, the pick in tomorrow's Thursday Night NFL Network Game of the Week - Line from and accurate as of 7:30pm tonight... And I already kind of gave it away.

Bears (+3) over REDSKINS: They can't rely on the emotion from last week. They can't rely on having time to recover from the physical game against the Bills. They certainly can't rely on their offense (5th fewest points in the NFC) and now, obviously, the defense is worse. Just don't see them pulling it out.

Back Friday with the weekend picks.


Labels: , , , , , , ,