Friday, January 25, 2008

Dynasties and the definition of greatness

I'm going to expand on two questions from the Commenters blog posted earlier today - which dynasty was greater, the Steelers, Niners, Cowboys or Patriots (assuming that, you know, they win next week...), and also who was the best player to never win a Super Bowl. This is way too long for a regular comment, so what the hell - I'm bored.

First, the question of dynasty. Full disclosure - I am a lifetime Patriots' fan (if you've visited this page before, that shouldn't be a surprise). Also, in the earlly 90's when I was really becoming a football fan, I openly supported the Buffalo Bills because I thought Thurman Thomas was the best running back I'd ever seen. Admittedly, I didn't get to watch a lot of Lions games back then and see Barry Sanders...

But when it comes to the question of dynasty, there's no debate - the 49ers of the 80's (and even the early 90's, if you want to go that far) are the best dynasty the NFL has ever had. They're 5-0 all-time in the Super Bowl, and the only team to even give them a game was the Bengals. Twice. They obliterated the Dolphins, Broncos and even the Chargers in their last appearance (1996, when they still had some of the core group from the 1980's run), they ended three seasons one game short of the Super Bowl, and they hold nearly a 100-point advantage in the point differential of their five Super Bowl appearances (188-89). They were dominant in a way that no other team has ever been, on the biggest stage in the sport.

Second on my list is this current incarnation of the New England Patriots. Three wins in four years, followed by two seasons of postseason trips coming up short, and now this season's historical run at the first undefeated season in 35 years. That qualifies them to be high on this list. They haven't won pretty (they're one of only two teams with an above .500 record in Super Bowls to have been outscored overall - the other is the Giants, oddly), but they've won nonetheless. In 1985/86, the Bears were a juggernaut. In 1996/97, the Packers had one of the most talented teams on both sides of the ball that had seen an NFL game in ten years. But for the first decade of this millenium, the Patriots have been synonymous with winning. And if they win next week, capping the single-greatest season in NFL history, they have to at least get some consideration for the top spot on this list. It's harder to remain great for a long period of time in today's NFL, with free agency, salary caps, and the egos of today's modern player. What New England has done cannot be ignored, and cannot be discounted because of the "Instant History" theory of today's sports media.

The Steelers of the 70's would rank third on my list, but included with them would be the Cowboys of the same era. In the 10 Super Bowls following the regular seasons of the 70's, either the Steelers or Cowboys appeared in seven of them, facing each other twice. The Steelers got the best of the decade, winning all four of their appearances while the Cowboys only went 2-3 with two losses to Pittsburgh. The Steel Curtain defense is what everyone remembers from that team (well, that and Terry Bradshaw's goofy hair), but the team had a ridiculous balance on both sides of the ball, as evidenced from the multiple Hall of Famers on both offense and defense.

Finally, the 1990's Cowboys. I've got them fourth for two reasons. First, they beat the team I was rooting for twice, and in pretty dominant fashion both times. But all biases aside, I don't remember anyone outside of Texas ever rooting for the Cowboys in any of their Super Bowl appearances in the 90's. They weren't likeable, they weren't in vogue, and as much as everyone said they were "America's Team", I never met a Cowboys fan growing up that wasn't originally from Texas or the child/spouse of someone from the Lone Star state. How much does that effect their qualification to be on this list? None. I just don't like the Cowboys. They won three Super Bowls (the fewest on this list if the Patriots take care of business next week), and two of them against a Bills team that was, sadly, the "class" of the AFC. The Cowboys could have sent out second stringers and dominated any team from the AFC during that run.

Now, the discussion of the best player to never win "The Big One". You have no idea how much it kills me that I can't put Peyton Manning on this list anymore - although as I wrote in this season's NFL Preview, I still refuse to accept last year's Super Bowl outcome because of Dominic Rhodes' PED suspension immediately following the season. But Peyton's got a ring, and the rest of these guys don't...

1) Dan Marino. Until the past couple of seasons, he owned every QB record there was to own. That may have actually been the biggest reason he's on this list - he was always forced to pass because the Dolphins never had a running game around him, which is probably why he never won a Super Bowl.

2) Barry Sanders. If he hadn't quit the game over his displeasure with the Lions, there's almost no doubt that he would have shattered Walter Payton's all-time rushing record, and probably put it out of reach for Emmitt Smith in the process. Classic "Great Player, horrible team" situation. At least Marino advanced through the playoffs a few times in his career.

3) OJ Simpson. Sadly, he has to be included on this list, no matter how big of a double-murdering armed-robbing jerkoff he has become since he retired. Hell, Ray Lewis and Leonard Little are still in the league, and one of them was actually convicted of killing someone, albeit a joke of a conviction. OJ was a rushing force in the NFL, breaking the 2000-yard mark in 14-games. He was a one-man offensive machine, but never got a ring. Probably a good thing, since he would have tried to steal that back too...

4) Fran Tarkenton. The guy more or less invented the concept of a mobile quarterback, opening the door for players like Steve Young, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vi... uh, scratch the last one. When he retired, he owned, shared, or was in the top-3 of just about every offensive category you could name. Nevermind the fact that he didn't seem to show up for the Super Bowls he appeared in. He is an all-time great player, but never got the ring.

5) Bruce Smith. Probably the best defensive player to never get to the promised land, Bruce played on four Super Bowl teams, made the Pro Bowl in 11 of 12 straight seasons, and retired in 2003 as the NFL's all-time sack leader. Of all the players on the Buffalo Bills AFC-Dynasty in the early 90's, Smith is the one that best represents "best without a ring". Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas get honorable mentions.

So that's it. Boredom is a wonderful motivator. I'll be back on next week with a Super Bowl preview/pick.


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Saturday, January 19, 2008

2007 NFL Picks - Championship Round

So much to cover in such a short period of time. Before breaking into the picks, a couple of random thoughts from the past couple of weeks.

1) The West Coast is far too nice to ever visit without immediately wishing you didn't have to leave. I just came back from a five day trip to San Diego, where the average temperature was about 63 degrees, followed up by a return flight to Pittsburgh where the temperture was 23 with a light snowfall. And the doors & windows in my car were frozen shut. Guh. More on this discussion later...

2) Note to anyone out there who takes taxis regularly. If you happen to be in a situation where you might need to be in the cab for awhile, put in headphones. I found this out the hard way when I took a cab to the SD Airport Wednesday morning and decided to have a conversation with the driver rather than listen to the iPod. As soon as he found out that I worked in a hospital (my actual 9-5 job) he started asking medical questions. Which eventually led to him talking - albeit in fairly broken English - about his medical problems. Which then led to him asking for my opinion on different types of medications. I won't go into detail, but I'll tell you this - I should have stopped the conversation when he tried to ask about "Tapestries that you put in the richter..."

3) The Mitchell Report, the fallout, and the subsequent new round of hearings and FBI investigation into Miguel Tejada's responses to the government (?!?!) are an abolute joke. There is not one thing in the Mitchell Report that was "news". Not one name surprised me - including Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, or Brian Roberts. The fact that the US Government sees a need to intervene and waste time & money with rounds of hearings and investigations makes me unbelieveably angry, and sad. If I wasn't so apathetic about politics, I might consider doing something about it. Maybe a strongly worded letter...

4) I really can't stand watching NBA games anymore. You can watch 15 total minutes - the end of each half - and get the entire point of the game. Of course, as I write this the Bulls & Warriors are spending almost 15 minutes (with two commercial breaks and seven - seven - personal fouls) to play out the final 41.2 seconds of regulation in a game that is going to end as a Warriors win by 8 points. Insane.

5) I gave serious thought to driving home to Massachusetts tomorrow to surprise a couple of people this weekend for birthday parties, and to watch the AFC Title game with people who actually care about it. The average Pittsburgh fan has either switched into full Penguins-support mode (so Sidney Crosby's injury today may have thrown this city into a sports-depression until next year's Steelers mini-camps), or is actively preparing for the 2008 NFL Combine. I'm expecting it to be very difficult to find a decent place to watch the game Sunday, so I'll probably stay home and watching it in my bedroom. Again: Guh...

Speaking of the games, let's get down to the picks. Had an astonishing 3-1 week in the Divisional Round, pushing the playoff record to 5-3, and even correctly picked the Seahawks & Jaguars to each score 20 points. Of course, I also picked the Colts to win by 15 and the Giants to cover but not win outright... Hey, a win is a win.

Onto the games in this weekend's Championship Round. Lines from, and accurate as of 1AM Saturday Morning. I'm bored. Lots on my mind - might as well write. Home teams in CAPS, as always.

PACKERS (-7.5) over Giants: I actually like this line better at (-7) as it was a couple hours ago, and I like it a whole lot better at (-1.5) after it gets teased down. Either way, I think the Packers are the best team in the NFC, and have been saying that for about five weeks now. As much as the Giants are the NFC's hottest team for the past two months (12-4 since losing to the Packers in Week 2), they're not a better team that this incarnation of the Pack. Factor in the predicted weather conditions, the fact that every person outside of the tri-state area is pulling for Brett Favre, and that (even though he's been pretty good as of late) Eli Manning is still involved in the game, I can't pick the Giants to cover that line. Pick: Packers 34, Giants 23

Chargers @ PATRIOTS: You know, even as I was typing the Colts/Chargers pick from last week ("Not like I thought the Chargers had any chance of winning this game anyway, but the fact that Antonio Gates is "iffy" with a dislocated toe... no. Not happening. No cover, no way."), I was thinking to myself - if the Chargers somehow manage to cover or win this thing outright, I'm going to feel like an idiot. I even originally had a line written in about a reverse-jinx, trying like hell to have the Pats avoid the Colts in the AFC Title Game.

Then the improbable happened, and the Chargers shocked the Colts, and suddenly not only did I feel like an idiot, but I realized that the Patriots were hosting the AFC Title game, in 10-20 degree weather, against a San Diego team that could be missing any or all of Philip Rivers, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Antonio Gates. I even sent out a text message to a handful of friends on Sunday night that said “I’ll put the opening line at Pats (-21)”. I was only half-joking.

I was close. As of right now, it’s Pats (-14). And I’m completely torn on which side I’m taking.

First things first – I’m not making any proclamations about the Patriots invincibility and the inevitability of a win. Learned my lesson last week.

But in all honesty, what to make of that line, and this game? The Chargers are the hottest team in football not hailing from Foxboro. They’ve won eight straight, and with the exception of the overtime game in Tennessee in Week 14, none have really been close.

Gates will probably play. Tomlinson will probably play. Rivers isn’t practicing, and is rumored to have one sprained MCL and one torn ACL, but somehow he says he’s going to play. Not like he’s a mobile QB anyway.

On the Patriots’ side of the ball, not only does the implied “pressure” of 19-0 mount with every game, but now they have even more distractions to deal with in the form of assault allegations against Randy Moss.

(Quick aside: I just spent five days in San Diego, including Sunday when the Chargers upset the Colts. I know that most of this country despises Boston sports fans, if not Boston sports teams. But there is no group of fans more smug, more cocky, and more unlikable than Chargers fans. And to me, it stems from one thing – no matter how many times you tell them, they just don’t seem to get it: You ain’t won shit. Ever. Stop talking about your team like they’re the three-time reigning Super Bowl champs – the Chargers have won exactly six playoff games in their history since the 1969 merger. Six. In 38 years. I just don’t get it.)

This was already shaping up to be a pretty damned good game. The Chargers have payback on their minds not only for the thrashing the Patriots gave them in Week 2, but also for last years’ playoff loss. The Patriots have a date with destiny, and if there is one team that can overcome pressure and distractions, it’s this incarnation of the Patriots.

Pick: Patriots 27, Chargers 10

For the record, I’m ecstatic that I have no money on any game this week. Not only do I get the chance to enjoy one of the best weekends in quite awhile, but I don’t have to constantly run through scoring scenarios in my head for a back-door cover.

And finally, a quick life update. By Super Bowl Sunday on February 3rd, I’ll be living somewhere else. Might be back in Massachusetts, might be in Vegas, California, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Canada, New York, or any other possibility. (By the way – I listed those places in order of preference from best to worst… I shudder at having to live in Canada or New York). But wherever it is, it won’t be Pittsburgh. Things didn’t work out here, so I’m leaving by the end of this month.

Hopefully I’ll be settled in wherever I end up in time for the annual MLB Preview post. But whatever happens, I’ll keep up with posting here. I passed the four-year blogging mark back in October, and I like it so much, I’m going to shoot for five.

Back in time for SB XLII...


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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

2007 NFL Picks - Divisional Round

Ah mediocrity. "You don't have to be first, just don't finish last" My cousin gave me that advice back in high school, and I've more or less adopted it as my personal credo in life, work and picking football games against the spread.

I started this playoff season off 2-2 (though to be fair, the Jags' line moved from (-2) to (-3) only about 6 hours before I posted on Saturday... Jags(-2) would have been a push. But I digress), just after lamenting my innate ability to plow through four playoff seasons at exactly .500.

Meh. There's 7 games left in this playoff season. Let's shoot for... oh... five over .500 by the time we're done? Three? Not asking for much.

With four games this week, gamblers have one last shot for decent payoffs with parlays & teasers, not to mention the always popular (and rarely profitable) prop bets. I just hope I don't make the same prop bet mistake I made three years ago and fail to follow my instincts...

Let's just go into the picks for the week. Lines from and accurate as of 5:45pm Wednesday (a little early this week... more details later). Home teams in CAPS.

PACKERS (-8) over Seahawks: Hardest line of the week for me to pick. I loved how the Seahawks looked last week, but let's face it - that was a home game, in the hardest stadium in the NFL for opposing teams, with Todd Collins under center on the other side of the field. This is a road game, in probably the second hardest stadium for opposing teams, with Brett Favre under center on the other side of the field. Not exactly the same thing. The biggest question I have is how a young team like the Pack will respond to having a bye week. Will they be refreshed or rusty? Although, when it comes right down to it... I just can't back a team whose kicker is wearing battery operated pants. Something inherently wrong about that. Pick: Packers 31, Seahawks 20.

Jaguars @ PATRIOTS:
We'll come back to this one...

COLTS (-9) over Chargers: Not like I thought the Chargers had any chance of winning this game anyway, but the fact that Antonio Gates is "iffy" with a dislocated toe... no. Not happening. No cover, no way. Even with most of the Colts not really playing in about 10 quarters, they should be able to handle this week. Pick: Colts 28, Chargers 13

Giants (+7.5) over COWBOYS: No idea how effective Terrell Owens is going to be in this game. More importantly, the Cowboys aren't playing like the #1 seed in the NFC right now. Sure they laid down for the Redskins two weeks ago, and haven't really had a good game since they dispatched the Favre-less Packers in Week 13, or since they dismantled the soon-to-be 4-12 Jets in Week 12. On the flip side, the Giants have played pretty well since their Week 13 win @ Chicago (even though Eli Manning has been as inconsistent as ever). I’m backing the Giants, with a caveat – if T.O. is reported between now and Sunday to be at least 90%, I’ll flip to Dallas. His presence changes everything. Pick(s): Cowboys 23, Giants 17 OR Cowboys 34, Giants 13. I really think he makes that much of a difference.

Jaguars (+13) over PATRIOTS: Couple things to consider here. First – the Patriots haven’t really blown an opponent out since Week 11 against the Bills. They’ve won by 3, 3, 21, 10, 21, 3 against teams with a combined 38-58 record. The 21-point win against the Steelers was only a 1-point game at the half, and the other 21-point win was against the juggernaut 1-15 Miami Dolphins. Now, the Pats are not losing this game. Not at home, and not to this team. But I honestly believe that the Jaguars’ ability to run the ball should be enough to keep the Patriots’ offense off the field and keep this a low scoring game. Even with a week off, the Pats’ have one of the oldest linebacking corps in the league, something that cost them in the AFC Title Game last year and that could come back to bite them in the ass against a hard running team like Jacksonville. Pick: Patriots 27, Jaguars 20.

On a personal note… one thing above all else terrifies me about this Patriots’ game on Saturday. For the second time in three years, I will probably miss most of it. In 2006, I was on a flight from Providence to San Diego via Chicago for a yearly conference while the Patriots were getting hosed in Denver. It was the first time I had missed a Patriots playoff game in seven years, since a 1999 playoff loss to… the Jaguars.

Last year, I was scheduled to be on a flight during the second half of the AFC Championship game, but I missed the plane and was able to watch the game in its entirety. Didn’t work out so well. This year, I’ll be in flight to San Diego again, this time through Dallas, and will probably miss at least the first half of the game. Even though I’m usually not the least bit superstitious, I’m actually a little worried.

So that’s it and that’s all. I’ll be taking my laptop with me for my conference, so I might hop on and blog with thoughts. Let’s hope they’re good thoughts.


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Saturday, January 05, 2008

2007 NFL Picks - Wild Card Round

Ah, the second season. Where the mistakes of the past 4+ months are erased, and everybody's record is reset to 0-0. Where the real games carry a single elimination consequence. And where I usually stink up the joint.

I haven't exactly been outstanding picking playoff games against the spread in the first four playoff seasons since I started this blog. In the '04 playoffs following the '03 season, I finished 7-4. Not bad for a novice. The following playoffs yielded records of 3-8, 7-4 and 5-6, for a grand total of 22-22. Considering I've never had a regular season of .500 or less, I consider 22-22 a failure.

But then there's this year. I had my worst regular season so date, finishing 124-122-13. Although since there are only 256 games in an NFL season, I'm not quite sure how my record ended up with a total of 259 games. Never claimed to be good at math.

Let's get into the picks. With only four games on the schedule for this week and next, these are gamblers last chances to make real parlay and teaser bets. So let's not waste them, ok?

Lines accurate as of 12pm Saturday, and as always are taken from Home teams in CAPS. And away we go...

SEAHAWKS (-3.5) over Redskins: Considering the 3-point home teams' advantage... you really mean to tell me that the oddsmakers only think Seattle is a half-point better than Washington if this were being played on a neutral field? So, a team that was in the Super Bowl just two seasons ago is only a half point better than one being coached by a man whose was next in line for the axe five weeks ago? And a team with one former MVP and another former MVP candidate as their running-back and quarterback is only a half-point better than a team being quarterbacked by a career backup who hadn't started a game in 10 years? OK, you keep on thinking that - I'm taking the Seahawks in a rout: 31-14.

Jaguars (-3) over STEELERS: Ridiculous. This line opened at Steelers (-1) and has shifted four full points in a week. It's kind of funny, I live in Pittsburgh (albeit probably not for too much longer) - everyone I meet is ecstatic that their team is in the playoffs, and is 100% convinced that they're not getting past the Jags. That type of collective karma can't be good for a team; just imagine the first time the Steelers suffer a negative play tonight and Heinz field is completely deflated. It's like the old "just happy to be here" conundrum - the Steelers and their fans appear to be happy to have just held off the Browns for the division (something I didn't expect to be writing for at least three more seasons), and now are ready to pack it in for the winter and prepare for a long year of compalining about the Pirates. Add in the Steelers injury losses, and I'll take the Jags, but probably not by as much as some people would expect: 24-20.

BUCS (-3) over Giants: Hold on, I'm just finishing up my loan application so I can bet against Eli Manning in the playoffs on the road... Even with as well as he played in the game last week against the Patriots (and let's be honest, he was fantastic), I have no faith in Eli to continue that trend. And I have even less faith in him to do so with a backup center snapping him the ball. I expect at least one fumbled snap and probably three sacks that can be directly attributed to a missed call on the line. On Tampa's side of the field... just imagine if Jeff Garcia knocks the Giants out of the playoffs for the third time, with a third different team? How long before he ends up buried in the Meadowlands' endzone next to Hoffa?

CHARGERS (-10) over Titans: This line just keeps going up. I think it started around Chargers (-7) and it hasn't looked back. No matter - I'm pretty certain that San Diego should be able to handle a Titans team with either a gimpy Vince Young or a healthy Kerry Collins under center. I'm actually not sure which of those situations would be better for Tennessee. But if nothing else, take the Chargers' money line in this one which is currently at a ridiculous (-600). Might not pay out a lot, but it's a win.


Boring, I know. All favorites, and only one road team. For the record, taking the money lines on all the favorites in one Mega-Parlay would currently pay out at just over 4/1. All the underdogs? Just over 63/1.

Back with the Divisional Round games, and maybe even a final Rants & Ranks section. No doubt who is going to be #1 or #32, but what's in between might be a little fun.


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