Saturday, December 30, 2006

NFL Week 17 Preview

Games with playoff implications:

[Ranked by how likely the game will affect playoff standings.]

1) NY Giants at Washington (Sat., 8pm) - a win probably has the Giants in, as long as strength-of-schedule over Packers remains
2) Oakland at NY Jets (Sun., 1pm) - a win has the Jets in
3) San Francisco at Denver (Sun., 415pm) - a win has the Broncos in

1) Jacksonville at Kansas City (Sun., 1pm) - Both teams have an outside shot at a wild-card berth
2) New England at Tennessee (Sun., 1pm) - Titans have a distant shot, but Pats gets #3 seed with win and Colts loss
3) Atlanta at Philadelphia (Sun., 415pm) - Falcons have a distant shot, but Eagles can clinch division
4) Green Bay at Chicago (Sun., 815pm) - If the Giants lose tonight, Packers have a decent chance at a wild-card berth thanks to conference record

1) Carolina at New Orleans (Sun., 1 pm) - Panthers still have outside shot, but need a lot of help
2) Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (Sun., 1pm) - Ditto for the Bengals
3) St. Louis at Minnesota (Sun., 1pm) - Ditto for the Rams

1) Detroit at Dallas (Sun., 1pm) - Cowboys are already in, only question is what seed?
2) Buffalo at Baltimore (Sun., 415pm) - Ravens have a shot at the #1 seed with a win and SD loss
3) Miami at Indianapolis (Sun., 415pm) - Colts win and Ravens loss gives Indy #2 seed
4) Arizona at San Diego (Sun., 415pm) - Chargers clinch #1 seed with a win

* * *

Likely Playoff Picture:

1. San Diego (have first-round bye, could get HFA)
2. Baltimore (could get HFA or first-round bye)
3. Indianapolis (has a shot at 2 seed)
4. New England
5. Denver? (gets a wild-card berth with win, or a loss by KC or NYJ)
6. NY Jets? (gets a wild-card berth with win, or various losses)

Other teams in (far-fetched) playoff hunt: Jacksonville, Kansas City, Tennessee, Cincinnati

1. Chicago (have HFA)
2. New Orleans (have first-round bye)
3. Philadelphia (currently leads NFC East over Dallas)
4. Seattle (guaranteed 4 seed)
5. Dallas (has a shot at NFC East title)
6. Giants? (win tonight probably clinches playoff spot)

Other teams in the playoff hunt: Packers have a decent shot if Giants lose; Panthers, Rams, and Falcons are also mathematically alive but unlikely.

* * *

Final PICK 'EMS of the year! Kevin holds a 3-game lead on the season over Andrew, while the rest of us jockey to secure lower rungs on the ladder.

Last week:
Kevin 12-4, Andrew 10-6, Ning 9-7, Jay 8-8, Z 7-9, Favorite 6-10, Moose 5-11

Kevin 153-87, Andrew 150-90, Ning 140-100, Favorite 139-101, Jay 132-108, Z 132-108, Moose 128-112

Carolina at New OrleansNONONONONOCARCAR
Jacksonville at Kansas CityJAXJAXKCKCJAXKCKC
Arizona at San DiegoSDSDSDSDSDSDSD

NFL 2006 Superlatives (Award Show)

My picks for the best from each conference in a variety of categories:

* * * AFC * * *

MVP and Offensive Player of the Year: LADAINIAN TOMLINSON, SD. One of the greatest seasons by a running back in NFL history; there is no doubt here. If you need this one explained, you've been living in a cave for the past several months--and somehow, I bet even Osama wanted a #21 jersey for Christmas. In the conversation: STEVE MCNAIR, BAL for MVP. His statistics aren't top-flight gaudy, but this isn't a fantasy football award, it's one for who has made the most important contribution. This year, the Ravens are a 12-3 team and 2nd best in the AFC. The difference between this season and their recent history is that Baltimore finally found a steady hand (read: not Kyle Boller) to guide their offense while their famous 'D' does the heavy lifting.

Defensive Player of the Year: CHAMP BAILEY, DEN. The best CB in the league leads the NFL with 9 INTs, the highest single season total he's ever put up. To really gauge his worth though, I'll defer to Chad Johnson: "There are corners that play not to get beat. That's your regular corners. Then you have Champ Bailey, who plays to make a play. Period. He's in a class of his own." In the conversation: SHAWNE MERRIMAN, SD. Merriman is my close runner up for the award. Him, Miami's Jason Taylor, and Buffalo's Aaron Schobel have been sack monsters this year, but Merriman has been flat-out unbelievable--15.5 sacks in only 11 games.

Coach of the Year: JEFF FISHER, TEN. Jeff Fisher has long been one of my favorite coaches in the NFL, but earlier this year I was beginning to wonder whether he had lost motivation. The Titans' last-minute QB switch to Kerry Collins at the onset of the season had everyone scratching their heads, and sure enough, the Titans lurched to a 2-7 start. Fisher righted his ship though, and then some, with Vince Young's help--6 straight victories and a potential playoff spot are more than anyone could have expected out of the Titans. In the conversation: Eric Mangini, NYJ, has led what should by all rights be a bad Jets team to a 9-6 record and the cusp of a playoff spot. I'd also like to give a nod to MARTY SCHOTTENHEIMER, SD, who appears to have finally shrugged off "Martyball" earlier this season and found a new winning ethos. He'd be my coach of the year if he gets over his career-long playoff struggles this January.

Rookie of the Year: VINCE YOUNG. Duh. Even with the hype surrounding his Rose Bowl performance and #3 selection in the draft, he has lived up to expectations. The numbers aren't gaudy yet (12 TDs, 11 INTs), but that's to be expected of a rookie QB. More importantly, he's winning games--6 straight, to turn the Titans from a 2-7 team to 8-7 currently. Make no mistake, the Titans aren't winning despite him, they're winning because of him. In the conversation: MAURICE JONES-DREW, JAX. The 2nd round pick has formed a dynamite duo with veteran fixture Fred Taylor in Jacksonville's backfield. He has 14 TDs on the year, and has shown superstar capability in big games like his 15 carry, 166 yard game against Indy in Week 14 and his 19 carry, 131 yard game against N.E. last week. Jacksonville's rushing future is in good hands.

Breakout Player of the Year: NNAMDI ASOMUGHA, OAK. In an absolutely rock-bottom abysmal season for the Raiders, there is only one bright spot, and that's the emergence of this 2003 1st round pick. Nnamdi has 8 INTs this year and is the only thing teams going into Oakland have to worry about on Sundays. In the conversation: MARK CLAYTON, BAL. In only his second season in the league, Clayton outperformed both veteran WR Derrick Mason and star TE Todd Heap to become Steve McNair's go-to guy, racking up over 900 receiving yards.

Comeback Player of the Year: CHAD PENNINGTON, NYJ. I don't know anyone who roots against Chad Pennington; I'm glad to see Mr. Brittle about to reach his first 16-game season in his career. Even if he hasn't been stellar (16 TDs, 16 INTs), he's been good enough to steer the Curtis Martin-less Jets to a 9-6 record and a likely playoff spot. In the conversation: CARSON PALMER, CIN. It's disappointing that Cincinnati bungled their playoff chances with a blown XP last week, but their fans should take heart that Palmer--though it took until mid-season--looks recovered from the shredded knee he suffered a year ago. Is this an appropriate space to mention that Houston WR Aaron Johnson has surpassed 100 receptions this season?

* * * NFC * * *

MVP and Offensive Player of the Year: DREW BREES, NO. The man who has almost single-handedly turned New Orleans from a basement dweller to one of the best in the NFC. He's shown no lingering effects from his shoulder injury, and all he's done is, oh, throw for about 300 yards a game. He's thrown 26 TDs this season and created an aggressive, up-tempo offense that's fun to watch. Just imagine how S.D., 13-2 with an uneven rookie QB, could be doing if they still had Brees. In the conversation: JEFF GARCIA, PHI. Am I really going to put a guy who's had 5 starts this year in the discussion of Most Valuable Player? Yes, because that guy has put up 4 straight wins over NFC opponents as the rest of the conference crumbles. Yes, because he has now earned his team a playoff spot when their season was declared dead following McNabb's Week 11 injury. I'd also love to give Marc Bulger some dap (4000+ yards, 23 TDs to 8 INTs), but his chances suffer from the Rams' disappointing second-half collapse.

Defensive Player of the Year: BRIAN URLACHER, CHI. It's not just other teams that Urlacher terrifies--I'm afraid if I don't give this disruptive force of nature the nod, he'll come after me! Even if he might have the first sackless season of his career, he still leads the NFC in tackles, and he's one of the few active players you know will be listed among the all-time greats and is still in his prime (unlike, say, Brett Favre). In the conversation: Since I gave Urlacher the award basically by default, it should be obvious that I was at a bit of a loss. I can't think of anyone who stood out particularly, so I'm not going to make something up.

Coach of the Year: SEAN PAYTON, NO. This team was 3-13 last year. A win tomorrow would give the Saints, now 10-5, their best mark since 1992. Player acquisitions like Brees, Bush, and Colston have played a big part no doubt, but any Saints player will attest to how Payton instilled a winning attitude in this team from Day One. The Cowboys' former offensive coordinator has created the most prolific offense in the league (#1 in total yards at almost 400 per game), and he got to show his old mates a thing or two when New Orleans spanked Dallas 42-17 earlier this month. Hats off to Sean Payton.

Rookie of the Year: MARQUES COLSTON, NO. Another slam-dunk, another feel-good story from this year's Saints. Yeah, the RoY wasn't Reggie Bush, but his Saints teammate has put up 70 catches and over 1,000 yards, even while missing time with injury. Did I mention that this eye-popping production came from a 7th round pick?

Breakout Player of the Year: TONY ROMO, DAL. To borrow from Bill Parcells, the "anointing oil" has been put away with the Cowboys' recent setbacks, but there's no denying the emergence of Tony Romo. After replacing Drew Bledsoe early in the year, he saved Dallas's season by winning 5 of his first 6 stars and caused a severe bout of "Romo-mania" to afflict the Cowboys faithful. He also altered the fortunes of several fantasy football leagues. I've seen him play in person as well as several times on TV, and I remain impressed by many things, foremost among them his pocket presence. As long as he continues to mature and adjust to defenses, he should be the Man in Big D for a long time. In the conversation: LADELL BETTS, WAS. If the Redskins don't have an open competition between Clinton Portis and the straight-ahead, hole-hitting Betts for the position of starting RB, they are nuts. The guy has 6 consecutive games of rushing for over 100 yards and is the brightest spot the 5-10 Redskins have going for them. Not to mention he's a long-tenured Redskin and just had his contract extended for cheap.

Comeback Player of the Year: JEFF GARCIA, PHI. See what I said about him as a runner-up candidate for the NFC's Most Valuable Player award. He has 10 TDs to 2 INTs this year for a 96.2 QB rating. Compare that to last year's 65.1 rating in Detroit, or the 76.7 rating in Cleveland in 2004. Garcia is once again the high-flying stud he was during those early '00s in San Francisco. In the conversation: FRANK GORE, SF. A guy who was once above both Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee on the depth chart in college had descended into obscurity after injury and a pedestrian rookie year. Well...He's Back. Through 15 games he's averaged over a 100 yards on the ground and 131 total yards, and racked up 9 TDs. In short, he's been a fantasy stud. Now if he learns to hold onto the rock better (5 lost fumbles), he could be a spectacular player for an improving 49ers team in the next few years.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Wizards Beat Suns, Continue to Thrill

Iverson's Denver debut be damned, I had better things to do! Friday's late night game featured an absolutely terrific match between the Wizards and Suns, a contest that was the most fun game I've watched all season. "Defense? What's defense?" might as well be the motto of these two teams. The Suns are the NBA's most notorious run-and-gun team, but what many people might not know is that the Wizards--with no dominant big man and a soft defensive attitude--can run with them.

This game was an offensive clinic--quick breaks and catch-and-shoot, not the typical molasses-like pace of the "chuck it to the big man" that make so many NBA games so hard to watch. How could you not enjoy Gil burying a 3-pointer from a mile away, or Steve Nash throwing a sick alley-oop pass finished by a monster Shawn Marion slam?

When the dust cleared tonight, it was the Wizards prevailing in OT just a couple minutes ago, 144-139. The box score lines are boffo. Caron 34pts/10reb, Antawn 15/12, Haywood 14/12, and Stevenson with 18 pts. But really, this was about Arenas v. Nash, just burying clutch shot after clutch shot. Phoenix's Golden Child dazzled me with his no-look passes, his instinctual knowledge of where his teammates were at all times, etc. His 42 points and 12 assists were impressive, but not as impressive as yet another eye-popping performance by Arenas: 21-37 FG shooting for 54 points!

* * *

Wizards fans have to be thrilled by our surging team, 9-3 now in the month of December (including 3-1 on this tough road stretch). What's not to like? Arenas dropped 60 on the Lakers last Sunday, then the exhausted Wizards almost erased a 30-point deficit in losing to Denver the next day; Thursday saw Antawn Jamison step up huge in a victory in Sacramento.

Today, obviously Gil's 54 rightfully dominates the headlines, but it's impossible to not notice that the road trip has seen DeShawn Stevenson (newly shorn of his long locks) play what I think has to be his most consistent stretch of the season. There's also Brendan Haywood, who's making the most of Etan Thomas' missed time to show he deserves his starting spot back--his possessed 1st quarter tonight keyed his second consecutive double-double.

And of course, I have to preach the Gospel of Caron Butler, who I think has to be the most underrated player in the NBA. Everyone talks about Gil and Antawn, but it's Butler who's the Wizards most consistent player and their toughest presence on 'D'. Simply put, I love this guy. Please vote him to the All-Star Team.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

NFL Week 16 Preview

Five Games to Watch:

1) PHILADELPHIA (8-6) at DALLAS (9-5). Monday night Christmas special at 5PM Eastern, with the NFC East on the line. Ho, ho ho, what could be better?

2) TENNESSEE (7-7) at BUFFALO (7-7). Two surprise teams that have righted their season after starting disastrously (see below in this post). Can V.Y. keep the Titans' improbable run alive? (Hint: it will probably take more than last week's 98 offensive yards.) Can the Losman-Evans connection, plus a solid 'D', keep the Bills' playoff dreaming? (Hint: McGahee needs to start playing like a premiere back.)

3) MINNESOTA (6-8) at GREEN BAY (6-8). Two not-very-good teams, though this rivalry always produces good games--I still remember "The Catch 2" by Freeman from Favre on MNF some years back. But I didn't list this because of that, or because it's Tarvaris Jackson's first start, but because this is (or should be) Brett Favre's last ever game at Lambeau. Watch history.

4) SAN DIEGO (12-2) at SEATTLE (8-6). You've got this year's MVP (L.T., duh) versus last year's (Shaun Alexander). But really, any excuse to watch the greatest RB we've ever seen (L.T., duh) should be seized upon.

5) CINCINNATI (8-6) at DENVER (8-6). Who wants a wild-card spot? Cincy needs to recover from the drubbing they received at Peyton's hands last week, while Denver needs Jay Cutler to start creating his legend. Also, watch out for Chad Johnson making out with Champ Bailey.

* * *
DSA's Power Rankings:

I surveyed the whole crew to find out who they think are the ten best teams in the league. Andrew presents his with commentary:

1) SAN DIEGO. Everyone's #1. To quote the Dick Vermeil commercial "I wouldn't disagree with that. I wouldn't disagree with that at all."

2) BALTIMORE. I'm not being a homer, but our defense is sick nasty (better than the vaunted Bears) and we won a game with Boller under center (albeit against the Browns). Things are clicking

3) INDIANAPOLIS. Their defense sucks, but they held Cincy to 16, which is pretty damn good. Also, I hear this Manning fellow is good at hurling the football.

4) CHICAGO - As long as Rex Grossman doesn't do anything to lose the game, they win. That was a Madden-esque statement. Notice that there are three AFC teams listed about the Bears.

5) CINCINNATI - Amazing offense, and until the Colts game, a surging defense.

6) NEW ENGLAND. Never bet against Brady and Bellichick (no, I can't spell that--and I won't bother to learn until he bothers to actually get dressed) in the playoffs. Except they are hurt, and depleted, and have no WRs, and are winning by the grace of Tom's dreamy chin dimple and Tedy "Lunch Pail" Bruschi

7) NEW ORLEANS - Their offense is sick and versatile. They can run it, throw it (Brees for 4000+ yds?!?!) and Reginald Bush is showing his (soon to be) greatness

8) DALLAS - I'm not quite a Romo-sexual, but I'm enjoying the era.

9) SEATTLE - Without Hasselbeck and Alexander, they've managed this season. With them back, they can do some good things--just not beat anyone listed above them.

10) PHILADELPHIA - A "wtf?" season with Garcia leading them down the stretch. Although they don't belong up here, I can't bring myself to put Denver (Cutler is too young), KC (sucks on the road), Jets (a year away), Giants (the opposite of an explosion is an implosion), or Jacksonville (streaky/sketchy/Jack del Rio looks good in a suit) here.

Honorable Mention: V.Y. and TENNESSEE. It's exciting, it's fun, and they just win games. In a couple of years, expect big things.

In sum, the NFC sucks.

What the crew thinks:

1San DiegoSan DiegoSan DiegoSan Diego
San Diego
3ChicagoNew EnglandIndianapolisChicago
5BaltimoreNew OrleansCincinnatiNew England
New England
6CincinnatiIndianapolisNew EnglandDallas
New Orleans
7 New OrleansBaltimoreNew OrleansDenver
8 New EnglandSeattleDallasCincinnati
9 PhiladelphiaCincinnatiSeattleSeattle
NY Jets
10 DenverPhiladelphiaPhiladelphiaNew Orleans


Everyone's favorite honorable mention this year is Tennessee, because Vince Young play has been exciting and the Titans have parlayed 2-7 into 7-7. But I think equally deserving of attention is Buffalo, which went into its bye week 2-5. Since then, they're 5-2, with their two losses coming narrowly against arguably the bets in the league: a 1-pt. loss to Indy and a 3-pt. loss to San Diego.

Among the other mediocre teams in the league, it's quite a mixed bag. The Panthers and Dolphins need a real QB, the Falcons need an O-line and some WRs, the Giants need Eli to stop making mistakes, the Steelers need to prove themselves by beating some good teams, and the Chiefs need to get used to finishing 3rd in their division.

San Francisco (6-8) and Washington (5-9) have been recently playing much better than their records indicate. I expect big things from both of these teams next year.

* * *
This week's Pick 'Ems:

Minnesota at Green BayGBGBGBGBGBGBGB
Kansas City at OaklandKCOAKKCKCKCKCKC
New England at JacksonvilleNENENENEJAXJAXJAX
Arizona at San FranciscoSFSFSFSFARISFSF
San Diego at SeattleSDSDSDSDSDSDSD

Last week:
Andrew 11-5, Jay 11-5, Kevin 11-5, Moose 11-5, Ning 9-7, Favorite 9-7, Z 8-8

Kevin 141-83, Andrew 140-84, Favorite 133-91, Ning 131-93, Z 125-99, Jay 124-100, Moose 123-101

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Iverson to the Nuggets

Unfortunately, the Answer has gone to the team that he is least likely to do well with: the Denver Nuggets. AP reports that new basketball factories are springing up all over Colorado to get enough balls for both Iverson and 'Melo to play with together.

JAY adds: The league's #1 and #2 scorers on the same team? It could work, if Iverson dishes like he is capable of, and Anthony doesn't take too many shots to score. If Camby keeps playing like a capable big man, I guess Denver's playoff aspirations are still viable.

I still wish A.I.'d hooked up with K.G. up in Minnesota though.

5 Second Rule (Starbury, The Hunt, George Karl)

Here are my 5 thoughts today about the NBA:

5. Marbury's Game Winning Layup
I might have been dreaming, but Steph put up vintage Steph numbers last night, scoring 29 points, dishing out 8 dimes, and even pulling down 5 boards to boot. For the sake of the Knicks and their now even more sullied reputation, let's hope that Steph keeps up this hot streak and takes the Knicks back into relevance.

4. Denver Wins, Too
The Knicks weren't the only ones to win after their ugly incident. Starting such luminaries as Linas Kleiza and Y. Diawara, the Nuggets beat a Wizards squad tired after defeating the Lakers in overtime. Maybe the incident will serve to refocus the Nuggets, and will actually help to drive them towards, and ultimately deep into, the postseason.

3. Heat Out of the Iverson Chase
The Heat have announced their withdrawal from the Iverson sweepstakes. As I wrote last week, Iverson would be a poor fit for the Heat because it will take time to integrate both his personality and playing style with Miami's veteran roster. I applaud Pat Riley for possessing the vision to see and understand this.

2. So Who's Left?
So, who's left in the running for the NBA's leading non-suspended scorer? Dallas' Mark Cuban also seemingly tossed in the towel last week, saying that he just didn't have the pieces to make a deal for Iverson. Adding the Mavs and the Heat to the three teams eliminated last week, that leaves 25 teams still searching for the Answer.

1. Karl Disavows Attempted Show-Up of the Knicks
Swearing "on the life of his children" that he was not attempting to show up the Knicks Sunday at MSG, Karl then proceeded to address a profanity-laden attack directly at Knicks coach and GM Isaiah Thomas. This could be the start of ugliness for year to come between the Knicks and the Nuggets. If I were in charge of scheduling games for next year, I would attempt to minimize the number of times that these two teams play each other in the hopes of keeping something like this from happening again.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunday Observations

'SKINS WIN! and other ongoings around the league:

Just when you'd become comfortably numb to the idea of another Redskins loss, they go out and do the unthinkable: take down the #2 team in the NFC, the New Orleans Saints. For the fourth consecutive week, the Redskins (now 5-9) played a pretty decent ballgame. Unlike the games against Philly or Atlanta, however, they minimized the mistakes they made, allowing themselves to ride yet another strong Ladell Betts game (152 total yards), a few clutch Jason Campbell plays, and most importantly, a stingy defense.

Why do I have high hopes for the Redskins next season? It's not just because the offense has returned to playing Redskins-style football, but also because the defense has been experiencing a renaissaince ever since that scathing ESPN article a month ago. Watching the deservedly much-maligned Carlos Rogers get his first INT of the season yesterday, then deflect the Saints' last pass into the endzone, I could have wept with joy--after all the times he has made us pull out our hair earlier this season, he has played with a V for Vendetta in the past few weeks.

On October 14, the Tennessee Titans were 0-5 and I'm sure that Jeff Fisher (one of my favorite coaches in the entire league) was beginning to think that retirement sounded pretty good. Since then, though, the Titans are 7-2, including today's victory over the Jaguars in which the offense had only 98 net yards--they key being the 3 defensive TDs scored. I still don't believe the Titans are ready to compete with the big boys in the playoffs this year, but you have to admire their resilient season. Next year, with Vince Young having a season under his belt, Tennessee should be a formidable foe.

Brett Favre became the NFL's all-time completions leader, passing Dan Marino, in the Packers' 17-3 victory over the sorry Detroit Lions. He also seemed to be trying to outduel the Lions' Kitna as to who could have the worse game. Favre finished with 174 yards and 3 INTs, saying after the game, "I have to remind myself that this is a win." Methinks that the end-of-the-line for Favre, one of the greatest players ever (and one of my favorites), is a somber occasion.

This happened in the Saturday game, but it merits mention: T.O. ruined a solid 2 TD performance against the Falcons by admitting he spat in the face of Atlanta CB DeAngelo Hall. Yeah, Hall was running his motor mouth like an idiot, but c'mon T.O.! I've been pleasantly surprised by how little of an actual distraction you've caused this season (media be damned), and then you go and do this...

Which is why it's refreshing to see a real Good Guy make news. If any of you previously doubted that LaDainian Tomlinson, my perennial Sunday Stud, is the second coming of our Lord and Savior, you surely have to be convinced by tonight's performance against Kansas City. A) the guy set the single-season scoring record, B) he ran for an 85-yard TD, the longest of his career, and C) his 199-yard performance gave him the season rushing lead over the Chiefs' Larry Johnson.

Thoughts looking ahead: for the first time in my life, I feel like I can legitimately say the San Diego Chargers are the best team in the NFL. Back in 1994, when I lived in San Diego during their Super Bowl run, I don't think anyone thought we were better than Steve Young's 49ers, and the 49-26 spanking we got proved it. Now, however...we look damn good! And this should be the year that Marty Schottenheimer banishes his rep for losing in the playoffs. Why? Because Martyball is dead! It's been dead since the Chargers gave up a game they should have won to the Ravens back in Week 3. After that, Marty saw the errors of his ways, and you've seen a great coach make a major adjustment in stride. Go Bolts!

(This is an addendum.) I was reading Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback and came across this: the Cowboys' new stadium (opening in 2009) will feature the biggest television in the world, and it's HD. How big? "The scoreboard will be 60 yards long, from one 20-yard-line to the other, hung 100 feet above the turf, AND WEIGH 600 TONS." Holy cow.

Indy-Cincy tonight. Should be a helluva game--and yet another example of how much better the AFC is than the NFC right now.

Nuggets-Knicks Brawl

On Saturday night, the Nuggets-Knicks game at Madison Square Garden erupted into a brawl with just over a minute left in the game and the Nuggets holding a huge lead. The Knicks apparently didn't like the score being run up by Denver's starters, and so Mardy Collins laid a vicious foul on J.R. Smith, which caused the following:

Witness Carmelo Anthony--the leading scorer in the league--throw a sucker punch and then run away. He's gonna be tossed for a while. 10 players were ejected from the game.

On Monday, when David Stern announces punishments, I hope he doesn't forget to dock Isiah Thomas, who undoubtedly encouraged his players to take revenge...And the NBA thought it was finally over that Pistons-Pacers fight from two years ago, ha!

Friday, December 15, 2006

5 Second Rule (N.O., College Ball, Knicks to Playoffs?)

Here are my 5 thoughts today about the NBA:

5. The New Orleans mean Hornets
The Hornets are starting to resemble Alan Alda's old show, with their leading rebounder and four of their top six scorers injured. Chris Paul is a transcendant talent, (he somehow still managed to get 12 assists against the Spurs with the likes of Jannergo Pargo and Desmond Mason as his only scoring options) but not even Steve Nash or Jason Kidd would be able to get production out of the B-team lineup that the Hornets are putting in every night. Until David West, Bobby Jackson, Peja Stojakovic, and Tyson Chandler get back, nothing's going to come easy in the Big Easy.

4. Sean May to Adam Morrison to Emeka Okafor: College ball is back.
No disrespect to Dwight Howard, but he was soundly outplayed yesterday by all three college kids on the Charlotte Bobcats, led my May's 32 points in 31 minutes off the bench. All three of these kids stayed at least three years in college, and it shows through in their more polished, mature playing style. By the end of his career, Howard may eclipse all three of them as players, but as of now these three college kids, along with their point guard Raymond Felton, are showing that it still can be kind of cool to stay in school.

3. Rockets lose another close one
Houston loses to Golden State on a last-second shot by Baron Davis after a critical late 3-point play given up by Yao Ming- less than a week after losing another close game to the Lakers, albeit coming from behind in that game. You have to wonder at how much this team misses Tracy McGrady's killer instinct at the end of games. Without T-Mac's swagger, the Rockets are eminently beatable at the end of games.

2. Orlando can't score
Because of Howard's aforementioned lack of a polished offensive game and the injuries to Hill, Turkoglu and Nelson, the Orlando Magic are having trouble scoring points in any phase of their game. Darko Milicic appears hesitant to shoot whenever he's on the floor, Trevor Ariza and Carlos Arroyo seem disinterested in facilitating the game from the 1, and J.J. Redick still has not recovered his shooting form from his storied college days. This team needs to figure out a go-to option, and fast, before they lose their stranglehold on the top seed in the East.

1. NY possibly getting better?
The Knicks are playing competent basketball for the first time in...well...let's just call it a long time. Eddy Curry is finally putting up numbers commensurate with his potential, (18 and 8, withan 8 game streak of scoring 20 or more points) Starbury is becoming a relevant basketball player again on the floor, and Jared Jeffries is starting to provide the energy and defense that he was overpaid to provide, leading to a 12 point win over the Hawks yesterday. Don't look now, but the Knicks are third in the sorry Atlantic, 2nd in wins, and are a mere game and a half out of the top 8 in the pathetic Eastern Conference. If Quentin Richardson and Jamal Crawford can step up on a more regular basis and the Knicks can find some way to sever all ties with Steve Francis, this just might be a playoff team-a bad one, but a playoff team nonetheless.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

NFL Week 15 Preview

This week, Tony Romo looks to get his shine back, Mike Shanahan wonders why he ever turned to Jay Cutler, the legend of Vince Young grows, Drew Brees apologizes postgame for ruining Carlos Rogers' life, and Indy gets back on track against a team that'll beat 'em in the playoffs. Stay tuned!

Houston at New EnglandNENENENENENENE
Jacksonville at TennesseeTENTENTENJAXTENTENJAX
Washington at New OrleansNOWASNONONONONO
Kansas City at San DiegoSDSDSDSDSDSDSD
Cincinnati at IndianapolisINDCININDINDCININDIND

Last week:
Andrew 10-6, Moose 9-7, Ning 9-7, Jay 7-9, Kevin 7-9, Favorite 6-10, Z 6-10

Kevin 130-78, Andrew 129-79, Favorite 124-84, Ning 122-86, Z 117-91, Jay 113-95, Moose 112-96

5 Second Rule (Miami, Kidd, and Iverson)

Here are today's 5 thoughts about the NBA:

5. The Heat's Reserves
It might be just me, but Dorell Wright, Robert Hite and Chris Quinn really impressed me in their near-comeback against the Suns without the services of both Wade and Shaq. It might be a tad early to proclaim this, but i think that Gary Payton and Jason Williams will be out of a job soon if the kids keep playing like they do, injecting energy into the nursing home environment of the Miami Heat.

4. Jason Kidd: Same Old, Same Old
The guy is incredible. 3 triple-doubles in 4 games is an almost unimaginably difficult feat. In keeping with that, Kidd's performance last night was decidedly minimalist at 10 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds. Kidd and Nash provide the best examples in the game that point guards in general become more productive later in their careers and can play for longer, making the current status of the game of young floor generals Deron Williams and Chris Paul that much more impressive.

3. 'Melo vs. the Wiz
Carmelo Anthony seemingly scored at will against the Wizards last night. Unfortunately for him, the entire Wizards team seemingly scored at will against the Nuggets as they pasted them 120 to 91 as six players scored in double digits paced by Arenas' 34 points. Anthony needs more consistent scoring help from his big men, or this type of head-turning loss will happen too frequently for the Nuggets to overtake the fundamentally sound Jazz.

2. Dwight Howard Down Low
For all the talk about this player being the future of post play in the NBA, Dwight Howard certainly seems to get beaten by strange teams, falling to the Raptors yesterday. Howard shot a paltry 6-17. As the Raptors aggressively double teamed Howard while leaving offensively challenged Tony Battie open for much of the game, this appears to be a potentially potent strategy to employ against the Magic. Another possible reason for the loss? The Magic were led in assists by Dwight Howard- with 3.

1. Why Iverson Doesn't Fit in Miami
Allen Iverson, Dwayne Wade, and Shaquille O'Neal sounds like a terrifying, potentially legendary trio of names, but if Iverson does go to South Beach he will not find success there as easily as he thinks, nor will it be as satisfying once he gets there.

The reasoning is this: Iverson has been, and always will be, a volume scorer. A career 42% shooter from the field and 30% shooter from 3 point range, Iverson is not the type of veteran who is good for points whenever you pass him the ball when he is open like an aging Reggie Miller or Ray Allen would have been or would be. Iverson is a unique slasher with all-world speed and 30 point-per-game potential, and that would be a phenomenal addition to most teams, but that role on the Heat is already being filled, and rather capably at that, by Dwyane Wade. Wade, too, has a far more developed slashing game than a shooting one, as so if Iverson were to go to Miami the two of them would compete for touches.

As neither of them are particularly adroit passers and both lack the size to play the small forward position, having both of them in the lineup at the same time could develop into a headache for Pat Riley unless he also manages to acquire a solid spot-up 3 point shooter from Philadelphia at the 3 spot-someone like Kyle Korver, who the Sixers are unlikely to want to give up. Because of this, Miami is an interesting trade destination for AI, but I fear that if he were to go there the union would be unfruitful.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

5 Second Rule (Rockets, 'Melo, Josh's "Dream")

Here are my five thoughts today about the NBA:

5. The Rockets' Near Comeback
Remember when Tracy McGrady scored 13 points in 35 seconds a few years back? The Rockets must have been inspired by their injured teammate, going on a 26-1 run in the 4th quarter to pull within one point of the LA Lakers-notably with Yao Ming doing very little of the heavy lifting. (only 5 points the entire second half) Alas, they still lost the game, however, as Scot Padgett missed the potential game-tied free throws and Kwame Brown's put back of a Kobe miss sealed it on the other end. Both teams should hold their heads high, however. For two teams notably missing key players (T-Mac and Lamar Odom, respectively) they put on one heck of a show.

4. Kevin Martin breaks out of his mini-slump--but it's not enough
Kevin Martin returned to form with a 10-18 shooting performance last night that netted him 32 points, but he alone was not enough to stop the freight train that is the Golden State Warriors, as the Kings still lost by 13.

3. Melo for MVP?
I know that few will agree with me here (except perhaps the guys on ESPN NBA Fast Break), but 'Melo is showing the swagger, confidence, skill, and desire of an MVP type player in this early going of the season. Andre Miller, JR Smith and Earl Boykins of the Nugget's midget backcourt are playing well, also.

2. Josh Smith's Olajuwon-like night
I didn't believe it either, but ESPN is right: the last player to total 20/10/5/5/4 or more in a single game in terms of points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals before Josh last night was Hakeem "the Dream" Olajuwon. In 1993. Moreover, the last 5 players to total that before Josh Smith are all named Hakeem "the Dream" Olajuwon. Wow. Nice job, kid. Now just four more times and maybe we'll give you a cool nickname, too.

1. The A.I. Cup
It seems that the Kings are no longer in the picture for A.I. Add in the fact that he has nixed a trade to the Bobcats and that he is not going back to Philly, that leaves oh, I don't know, about 27 teams still left in this chase, more than half of which would become an instant contender if they were able to come up with The Answer.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

5 Second Rule (Jackson, Vinsanity, The Answer?)

Here are my five thoughts today about the NBA:

5. Stephen Jackson emulating his role model, Ron Artest.
Jackson has had a turbulent six months. From his arrest at the nightclub and the subsequent legal proceedings to his feuds with both Rick Carlisle and Jermaine O'Neal, this Pacer is making a strong case to become an ex-Pacer. If he releases a rap album any time in the near future, we might as well just name him Ron Artest, Jr.

4. Vince Carter rediscovering Vinsanity--from downtown.
Carter's 9 three pointers in a single game last night were spectacular, overshadowing Jason Kidd's 79th triple double. If he were making a case for a max contract next year with the Orlando Magic, yesterday's game was the one to base it on. Did anyone else notice the seeming lack of camraderie between Carter and Kidd, however?

3. What's wrong with LBJ?
He's still getting his numbers, but his teams should not be losing to teams like the Hornets without both Peja and David West- not if the Cavs want to be considered as one of the legitimate title contenders this year. LeBron is talented enough that he might be able to make it work with the system that he has, but it seems clear to me that he will not reach his full potential in terms of winning consistently until they replace Zydrunas Ilgauskas at center and make this team the potentially scary offensive team that it could be on the break.

2. Pau is close to coming back
The Memphis Grizzlies superstar is coming back soon, which is cause for both celebration and a bit of reshuffling in Memphis. During his absence, the Grizzlies' best player has arguably been Hakim Warrick, who plays the power forward position-same as Pau, and their most steady contributor, Mike Miller, plays the 3, the other position that Warrick is capable of playing. With Gasol returning, look for Memphis to shift to more of a small-ball system that gets all three of these effective scorers on the floor at the same time while relegating perpetually ineffective Stromile Swift to the bench.

1. Where is Iverson going to end up?
I don't have the answer as to the destination of The Answer (sorry, couldn't help myself), but I know where I would like to see him end up: Minnesota. The Big Ticket and The Answer can do some great things together, as the only Superstar who does not need the ball to dominate a game will get paired with one of the most electrifying scorers ever to play the game.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Caps-Pens: Is Hockey Back?

This evening I went to only my 2nd post-lockout hockey game--the first being the Caps' home opener when hockey returned. Having attended many a game at the ol' MCI Center, I was curious to see whether the excitement was still there.

No better place to start than seeing the Penguins come into town to play the Capitals. After all, this game was a showcase of the two top young talents that the NHL hopes will be its marquee stars for a generation: the Pens' 19-year old Sidney Crosby and the Caps' 21-year old reigning Rookie of the Year, Alexander Ovechkin.

The game lived up to its billing, with a hard-fought game featuring goals, penalties, fights, star performances, and a thrilling finish. Washington jumped out to a 4-0 lead, then Pittsburgh came storming back as the Caps' defense gave it up like a fat girl on prom night. Both stars notched 2 points: Crosby a goal and an assist, Ovechkin two assists.

The 4-4 game headed to OT but remained deadlocked, meaning I got to see my first regular season NHL shootout ever. The NHL was looking to add excitement for the casual fan when they instituted this rule upon returning from the lockout, and it was quite a savvy move. Ovie scored, Crosby didn't, but ultimately it didn't matter when the 'Pens Evgeni Malkin, another rising star, put one past the ageless Olie Kolzig. Game: 'Pens.

As for the actual hockey experience, I'd give it a mixed verdict. There were a lot of things to like: Verizon Center was fuller than I expected, even considering the rivalry (though the number of Pens fans was unsettling), the on-ice action was good (even if there was hardly any checking--a reflection more on the teams' styles I suppose), and no stadium can match the in-game videos the 'Caps play on the Jumbotron to entertain and motivate the fans.

I'd like to start going to more Washington Capitals games like I used to, but I have a feeling that there would be far fewer seats in the building if they weren't playing a major rivalry game like Pittsburgh. Ovie can't pack a full house every night--can he?

5 Second Rule (K-Mart, T-Mac, Gil)

Here are, in reverse order, the 5 most important things going on in the NBA in my mind)specifically.

5. The emergence of Kevin Martin as a stud scorer for the Sacramento Kings.
Many people had written the Kings off when it was learned that Brad Miller was initially out for a month with a foot injury, and then Mr. Martin decided it was time for him to start lighting up the NBA. Putting up All Star-like numbers until last week, (he's in a bit of a shooting slump) Martin, with his backcourt-mates Mike Bibby and the mercurial Ron Artest, have guided the Kings thus far to within a game of the 8th spot in the West without their best inside player.

4. T-Mac ascendant--as a passer?
Tracy McGrady's scoring average is down below 20 ppg for the first time in 6 years, but his assists number of 6.3 speaks of T-Mac's increasing dedication to be a facilitator of the offense built around Yao Ming. T-Mac's outside shooting threat forces opponents to play him tighter on the outside while keeping the attention of potential shot-blockers on him and away from the other Rockets, something which T-Mac is taking advantage of this year by hitting the open player more often than he has ever done so in his career. The result? The Rockets are one game out of first place in the West and Yao Ming is having an MVP-type season, solidifying his claim to be the best center in the NBA in the wake of the Shaq era.

3. Gilbert's inconsistency
Though he has regained his scoring form of late, Gilbert early in the season had alternating gems and duds not fitting with the centerpiece of a contending team: a 27.8 ppg scorer should never be held to 3 or 7 points, and should never follow up a 16.7% shooting night with a 56% one, followed by a 30% one. It seems that Gilbert has found his form of late; now if only Etan Thomas were not the Wiz' leading scoring inside force at 7.1 ppg...

2. The success of the Golden State Warriors--without Jason Richardson
In a year hailed by many as a resurgent year for the newly-competitive Golden State Warriors, Jason Richardson finds himself in one of the worst offensive stretches of his career. With young guns Monta Ellis and Mickael Pietrus running the engine sparked by Baron Davis on offense, Richardson's role on the team is in question when he finally returns to the lineup healthy; a potential controversy that could lead the former slam dunk winner out of Golden State.

1. LaDainian Tomlinson's record breaking day
This is an NBA column, but special occasions call for an exception to the rule. In the words of Marty Schottenheimer, "He is, in my opinion, the best running back to put on an NFL uniform...ever." Nothing else needs to be said.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

L.T.: Best Running Back Ever?

LaDainian (L.T.) Tomlinson is the greatest RB of all time, ever.

Today against the Broncos with 3:57 left in the game, LaDainian Tomlinson ran for a 6-yard TD. 47 seconds later, he ran for another, his third score of the game and 29th overall run/rec TD this season. And just like that, he became the new record-holder for most TDs scored in a single season. I should point out that the 29 scores indicated in his record don't even count the 2 passing TDs he's scored this year, but I guess those are just superfluous...

"He is the finest running back to ever wear an NFL uniform," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said afterward. Let's focus on that. Call me biased because I root for San Diego, but I think that LaDainian Tomlinson can legitimately be called the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time). That we're even having this discussion may sound silly--or premature, considering the guy's only in his 6th season--but his body of work stands for itself. It's pointless going over all the various stats and records this guy has put up, but let's quickly note that he's the fastest ever to reach 100 TDs, and that even in just 6 seasons, his assault on the list of greats above him is formidable.

In the case of L.T., I think it's hard to recognize how great a player is simply because he is among us, doing his thing right now. It flies against the easier notion that the greats are the players who are no longer playing, players who we can only watch on old highlight reels. But you look at L.T.--and you see his speed, his power running, his agility, his ramrod straight-arm, his sure hands, his run after the catch, his endurance, his versatility, his making plays on every down, his blocking, and off-the-field, his great humility and all-around good-guy nature--and you see the best of anyone before him.

He can do the things that Payton, or Allen, or Dickerson, or Sanders did, and not just one of them, but all of them. Combine that with the fact that he is the all-too-rare role model encompassing exactly what a professional athlete should be, and I don't think we should be afraid to acknowledge the truth: LaDainian Tomlinson is the greatest RB of all time.

NFL Week 14 Preview

Because we're in that time of the year us college students know and loathe as the season of Final Exams, there hasn't been any activity here over the past week, and don't expect much for the next week or so.

We'll be back on schedule soon enough.
* * *
Five Games to Watch:

1) NEW ORLEANS (8-4) at DALLAS (8-4) - Until Rex Grossman can get his swagger back, these two teams are the best in the NFC. Not only that, but damn, these teams are fun to watch--this should be one helluva game.
2) NY GIANTS (6-6) at CAROLINA (6-6) - A 6-6 record in the NFC means you're in the thick of the playoff hunt. Two teams that are slumping badly of late (Giants have lost 4 straight, Panthers 4 of their last 6) need a win here to prove they belong.
3) SAN DIEGO (10-2) at DENVER (7-5) - The Jay Cutler Experiment didn't fare well last week for the Broncos, as the rookie QB struggled mightily in his debut. Another bad game will have Mile High fans wondering why the switch came at 7-4. S.D.'s looking to zero in on some HFA.
4) BALTIMORE (9-3) at KANSAS CITY (7-5) - Last week my widely-publicized poo-poohing of the Ravens, and trumpeting of the Bengals, played out to perfection. But the Chiefs may not have enough on either side of the ball to get past the very mortal Ravens.
5) BUFFALO (5-7) at NY JETS (7-5) - Don't let the Bills' 5-7 record fool you, they've been playing great ball as of late. Their only 3-2 in their last 5, but that includes a 1-point loss to Indy and a 3-point loss to S.D. last week. The Jets are one of five 7-5 AFC teams in the hunt for a playoff spot but they've benefited from a soft schedule all year.

* * *
Last week, Kevin looked to put the game out of reach with yet another weekly win. His season margin over Andrew is now at 4 games, but this week's picks look like a diverse lot.

Baltimore at Kansas CityBALKCBALKCBALBALKC
Indianapolis at JacksonvilleINDINDINDINDINDINDIND
Philadelphia at WashingtonWASPHIPHIWASWASWASPHI
Green Bay at San FranciscoSFSFSFSFGBSFSF

Favorites are the betting pick to win.

Last week:
Kevin 10-6, Ning 9-7, Favorite 8-8, Jay 8-8, Andrew 7-9, Moose 6-10, Z 5-11

Kevin 123-69, Andrew 119-73, Favorite 118-74, Ning 113-79, Z 111-81, Jay 106-86, Moose 103-89

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Nissan "Chase for the Heisman" Commercials

Check out the new Nissan Titan two-part commercial featuring the contenders from various schools for the Heisman Trophy:

These reminded me of the great Fox Sports "Ladders" commercial about the BCS contenders that aired earlier this fall:

Thursday, November 30, 2006

NFL Week 13 Preview

What to Look for in Week 13:

Starting off locally, the WASHINGTON REDSKINS look to build off of a morale-boosting victory over the Panthers last week. Hopefully, we'll see the return of "Joe Gibbs style" football being played--a pounding running game and a tough defense. The 'Skins host Mike "The Finger" Vick, who, after two stellar performances in late October, has made headlines most recently for flipping off his own home crowd. The Falcons have lost 4 straight, including games against the Lions and Browns. . .

The Redskins could also see a fresh leg on the field this weekend--struggling Nick Novak (5 of 10 FGs) has been put on notice by the addition of former Cowboys kicker Shaun Suisham to the practice squad. . .

And speaking of former Cowboys kickers, MIKE VANDERJAGT was cut this week by Dallas. The most accurate kicker in NFL history apparently didn't give good vibes to Bill Parcells, who axed the guy and his $5 million+ salary even though his 13-for-18 performance on the year wasn't that bad. It's a questionable move by Parcells, one I would think has to be motivated partially by personal reasons. That said, I would certainly encourage the Redskins to jump at the opportunity--if you look to the right, you'll see it's not too hard to imagine Vanderjagt in 'Skins colors. . .

The NY GIANTS have lost three in a row, and the Blue Men Group appear to be producing as many turnovers as discontented players. The losing season has seen prickly Jeremy Shockey and normally solid citizen Tiki Barber complaining about coach Tom Coughlin. Last week, big play receiver Plaxico Burress quit on a deep pass from Eli Manning. While it wasn't the first time Plax emulated Randy "40%" Moss, this instance resulted in an interception by the Titans' Pacman Jones, which keyed Tennessee's 24-point fourth quarter comeback win. . .

This week, things don't get easier. Marching into the Meadowlands is Tony Romo and the DALLAS COWBOYS. I think a loss here spells the end of Coughlin's stormy tenure in the Big Apple. A win here could definitely salvage the season though--let's not forget that, recent rough seas aside, the Giants are only a game back in the NFC East. . .

The definite highlight of this week's games is the Thursday night matchup between BALTIMORE and CINCINNATI. On the one hand, you have Baltimore at 9-2, winners of 5 straight, cruising through the season. On the other hand, you have Cincinnati barely at 6-5, struggling for its playoff life. But see the "5 Games to Watch" section below to find out why I think the Orange and Black are the better team. . .

Random thought: is the AFC East the best division in football now? Or at least the one with the most competitive teams? It's the only division in the league that has no team with a record worse than 5-6. [New England (8-3), NY Jets (6-5), Buffalo and Miami (5-6)]. Additionally, all four teams in the division have been playing well as of late--they've won a combined nine game straight. . .

Lastly, the Sunday night matchup between Seattle and Denver should be intriguing. Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck returned from a long injury layoff last week, and promptly turned over the ball four times in the first half before settling down and leading his team to a win in the snow. He should be more prepared for this weekend in Mile High. On another note, earlier this week, I had the brilliant idea of exercising by running up and down a flight of stairs over and over. The next day I felt like I could barely walk--so imagine how Shaun Alexander feels after carrying the rock 40 times last week. . .

Mike Vick dealing with finger extension issues.Jay Cutler's in the lab trying to find a winning formula for Denver.

Jay's Top 10 Rankings:

The ten best teams in the league as of right now.

1) NEW ENGLAND (8-3) - This was a surprise to me--the Patriots as a top 5 team sure, but #1? Then I realized that N.E. has given up fewer points (144) than anyone in the NFC except the Bears (137), whom they beat last week. A solid defense combined with the steady hand of Tom Brady down the stretch is what the rest of the league will have to try and overcome.

2) DALLAS (7-4) - Romomentum, Romomania, or Tony Romo's Ribs. Call it whatever you want, it's magic. The Cowboys have won 4 of their last 5, the only loss being the fluke ending at RFK back on November 5. Right now The Kid QB is making aerial poetry with Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens, at least one of the RB duo of Julius Jones and Marion Barber has a big game each week, DeMarcus Ware and the pass rush are getting to enemy quarterbacks, and Terence Newman and Roy Williams have made the deep pass against Dallas a no-fly zone. Until some defensive coordinator figures out how to rattle Romo, the Cowboys are going to be unstoppable.

3) SAN DIEGO (9-2) - I get nervous about putting my Chargers up this high, because my every memory of my old hometown team since Super Bowl XXIX involves disappointment. But here's another team where it's hard to find something to dislike. The defense has played hard-nosed, aggressive ball this year--a rarity for a Chargers team--and now Shawne Merriman returns from a 4-game steroids suspension. As far as the offense goes, L.T. is L.T., 'nuff said. Even when first-year starter Rivers hits a speedbump, L.T. throws the TDs to Antonio Gates.

4) INDIANAPOLIS (10-1) - Should a 10-1 team deserve the disrespect of being ranked 4th? I don't know, because it's so hard to get a read on these Colts. Peyton and the aerial game are never anything to complain about, but while Joseph Addai stomped his cleats all over the Eagles last week (170 rushing yards, 4 TDs), I'm more concerned about the running game's lackluster output in the previous week's loss to the Cowboys. When the Colts run up into a tough, physical defense, will they fold? The Colts play solid but unspectacular defense--unlike the Patriots or Bears, it won't win games outright for the team.

5) CINCINNATI (6-5) - Really, a team that might not make the playoffs up here at #5? Yes, because they're finally playing like the breakout team they were supposed to be. The shutout the Bengals defense pitched last week was only against the Browns, but forcing five turnovers was impressive. Much more importantly, the offense is finally clicking. Carson Palmer has thrown for 9 TDs in his past three games (with a whopping avg. QB rating of 126.5), and Ocho Cinco has finally started making big plays. Rudi Johnson's looking better too.

6) CHICAGO (9-2) - Analyzing Da Bears isn't very difficult. The defense is terrific. The offense--ehh. And I don't mean the RB duo of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, who do all they are supposed to. In last week's loss to New England, they combined for 33 carries for 145 yards and a TD. It's safe to say that in any game Rex Grossman doesn't throw three picks, a victory is pretty much guaranteed.

7) BALTIMORE (9-2) - I underestimate the Ravens at my own peril. They're 9-2, having won 5 straight, and they're coming off a convincing shutout of the Steelers. But is the Ravens' lofty record built on a precarious foundation of amazing luck? Nothing I've seen from their offense impresses me--it could be that Steve McNair's passing numbers are so modest, but even his lowly 188 passing yards-per-game is about normal for him. No, it must be Jamal Lewis's pathetic 66 rushing yards-per-game that troubles me.

8) NEW ORLEANS (7-4) - Maybe I still have a soft spot for Drew Brees, late of S.D., but how can you not like the prolific numbers he's putting up? He is on pace to throw for just over 5,000 yards this season, and they're not in vain. Brees (the shoulder's perfectly healthy, thanks for asking) has created a high-octane Saints offense in a position held not so long ago by guys like Heath Shuler, Billy Joe Tolliver, and Chrissy Everett. Also, Deuce McAllister's has quietly put up 8 rushing TDs in a reduced role.

9) SEATTLE (7-4) - The defending NFC champs have had to deal without the services of reigning MVP Shaun Alexander and Pro Bowl QB Matt Hasselbeck for most of the season. But all that's over with now. No reason Seattle's Best shouldn't round back into form now.

10) KANSAS CITY (7-4) - This is one team that I think could as easily be ranked #15 as #10, because it's so hard for me to believe the Chiefs are actually 7-4. Despite the early-season injury to Trent Green. Despite riding Damon Huard for so many weeks. Despite Trent Green coming back and looking like--well, looking like he was in yet another situation where the backup would steal his thunder. Larry Johnson (140+ total yards/game), on pace to set a record for most carries in a season, is the Plymouth Rock of this franchise.

5 Games of the Week:

The DSA crew picks the best matchups of Week 13.

1) BALTIMORE at CINCINNATI - Bengals WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh again said of the Ravens this week "I think we're better than them. We'll find out." Though he'd be better off keeping his mouth shut, I'm inclined to believe Who's Your Momma.

2) DALLAS at NY GIANTS - The Cowboys are riding a full head of steam and have The Anointed One at QB; the Giants are in a tailspin and their Shaky QB hates his star WR, amongst various in-house problems. But there's no way the Giants come out looking flat in this game--is there?

3) SEATTLE at DENVER - Jay Cutler's the new sheriff in the Mile High City, and if the well-regarded rookie can come close to meeting the high expectations, 7-4 Denver might still be in a playoff chase. How hard can it be to make people forget about Jake Plummer?

4) ATLANTA at WASHINGTON - Jason Campbell and the 'Skins are set to stun the Falcons, like the UCLA cops stunned that kid in the library. Which is to say, Mike Vick will be immobilized.

5) HOUSTON at OAKLAND - Sure, only relatives of the players on these two teams would willingly watch this game, but don't tell me you're not curious to see what dysfunction looks like.

Week 13 Pick 'Ems:

Last week, ANDREW (along with NING and the FAVORITE) took first place, and now trails KEVIN for the season lead by just one game. Meanwhile, yours truly leapfrogged Moose to surge into second-to-last place. Stay tuned for more action...

Baltimore at CincinnatiCINBALBALCINBAL
Atlanta at WashingtonWASWASWASATLWAS
Detroit at New EnglandNENENENENE
Indianapolis at TennesseeINDINDINDINDIND
Kansas City at ClevelandKCKCKCKCKC
Minnesota at ChicagoCHICHICHIMINCHI
San Diego at BuffaloSDSDSDSDSD
San Francisco at New Orleans NONONOSFNO
Jacksonville at MiamiMIAMIAJAXMIAJAX
Tampa Bay at PittsburghTBTBPITPITTB
Carolina at PhiladelphiaCARCARCARCARCAR

Favorites are the betting pick to win.

Last week:
Andrew 12-4, Ning 12-4, Favorite 12-4, Kevin 11-5, Z 11-5, Jay 10-6, Moose 7-9

Kevin 113-63, Andrew 112-64, Favorite 110-66, Z 106-70, Ning 104-72, Jay 98-78, Moose 97-79

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Marcus Harris Flip: The Video

Yesterday I offered a "shiny new donkey" to whoever found me a video clip of Chargers LB Marcus Harris celebrating his sack against the Raiders on Sunday with a cartwheel and backflip. Our good friend Danny G steps up to the task, with the animated .GIF you see below. (Non-broadbandites, it may take a while to load.)

Chargers LB Marcus Harris flip

Ah, but Danny's not completely on the up-and-up here. Notice that in the clip above the Chargers are wearing their throwback powder-blue uniforms. On this past Sunday, when the incident I was referring to took place, the Chargers were wearing their traditional navy uniforms--you can see from the photo of Antonio Gates I posted yesterday.

That said, I did say that Harris had done it before a few times, and it was so cool, I'll give Danny his donkey anyway. As per his request, his reward will be paid over 20 years in a series of installments, beginning with the hooves.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sunday Observations

A day late, but still plenty to get through. . .

I have to start close to home. Last week, Tom Friend on rocked the DC Metropolitan Area with his expose into dissent and delusion at Redskin Park. It may have been an overhyped story based on one anonymous disgruntled player, but it certainly cast a poor light on the organization. Surprisingly, it wasn't the lackluster offense that took the heat.

Defensive head coach Gregg Williams was savaged for being arrogant and alienating his players, secondary coach Steve Jackson was cast as immature and petulant, and Joe Gibbs was criticized for taking too much of a hands-off, "CEO" approach. Egos and bruised relationships aside, the critical part of the story was the revelation that Williams' defensive schemes have been figured out--they are "high school" to the rest of the league, and that his schemes have sabotaged his own players. Additionally, Jackson's power plays led to the cornerbacks and safeties meeting separately--no wonder the Skins've always been getting beat deep.

Friend, the former Washington Post writer, urged Gibbs to get more hands-on with this team, something I've been crying about for weeks. At least I only though that Gibbs needed to run his power running style of offense again, and get away from the gimmicks. But it looks like the team needs him most to smooth over tensions on the defensive unit, and while Gibbs doesn't need to get involved in the nuts and bolts, surely his goodwill can go a long way. After all, everyone still loves Joe.

Anyway, the article seems to have stirred the Redskins. In Sunday's game against Tampa, the defensive unit played an inspired game. Carlos Rogers, who has been especially awful, really stepped up, as did Sean Taylor. Both were notably featured in the Friend article as being mishandled by Williams. Hopefully this little bit of public drama is the push the 'Skins needed to right their own ship. Again, one anonymous player's grievances don't mean all that much, and Williams seems to have a lot of public support from his team, so I'm sure this latest dissension can be managed in house. Still, it was certainly warranted.

Onto some thoughts on the rest of the league.

DALLAS...Tony Romo threw 5 TDs on Thanksgiving, and has already been annointed as The One. But really, this kid looks terrific. One thing I'll point out that's different between him and other young quarterbacks that have had early success--his team's not winning just because they're getting by with their new QB, they're only winning because of him. Consider the example of Ben Roethlisberger, where the Steelers racked up the W's, but Big Ben really just managed the offense capably, usually throwing for under 200 yards and trying to minimize mistakes. Romo, on the other hand, is putting up gaudy statistics like he's been Peyton Manning for years.

CINCINNATI...Yeah, this team had a horrendous mid-season stretch, but although they're 6-5 right now, they're playing some of the best football in the AFC. I mean really clicking. If they beat Baltimore this coming Thursday, I don't think anyone should find it hard to believe the Bengals will be in the playoffs.

SAN DIEGO...Don't find it odd that they played a close one with the Raiders. I grew up in San Diego, so I know that no matter what kind of year either team is having, these games are always dogfights. Tomlinson throwing another TD was sweet--for his career he's now 7-for-9 with 6 TD passes. That's disgusting. Also, I'll give a shiny new donkey to whoever can find me a video clip of Chargers' LB Marcus Harris celebrating his sack with not just a cartwheel (impressive for such a big man) but then a standing backflip. And it ain't the first time--holy cow. Better than Shawn Jefferson.

NY GIANTS...Are they done? I had this team pegged from the preseason on as the team to beat in the NFC, and for most of the year they haven't done anything to change my mind. Then this three game collapse to increasingly worse teams...what gives? While it doesn't seem rational to think that this slide could continue, the Giants' schedule for the rest of the year is tough. Dallas is my new team to beat in the NFC.

NEW ENGLAND...knocked off the NFC's conventionally wise top dog, Chicago, this weekend. Credit the Pats' Asante Samuel for his 3 INTs in what was a total slugfest. On paper, the Patriots aren't all that, and each week injuries seem to deplete them further (this time, it's Seau to the IR). But the mark of a great team is that they keep finding ways to win, and that's what New England's been doing. Meanwhile, Da Bears seriously have to stop turning the ball over--early-season golden boy Grossman suddenly looks more like Orton. Is he looking over his shoulder at Griese?

Week 12 Pick 'Em results, still in progress, have Andrew and Ning (as well as the Favorites) at 11-4. Kevin, Z, and myself are at 10-5, with Moose rounding out the pack at 7-8. Tonight's MNF matchup between the Packers and Seahawks will prove a determining factor, as a Packers win would put me at tied for first, and the only one to pick the MNF winner. A Seahawks win will leave the status quo intact.

Go Favre!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Jermaine's World

The Indiana Pacers have two great big men in Jermaine O'Neal and Al Harrington. They have a reasonable, if somewhat unstable wing player in Stephen Jackson and a defensive dynamo in Danny Granger.

Why is this team only one game above .500?

The answer, as usual for elite teams, lies with the point guard.

Jamaal Tinsley may be many things, but a consistent outside shooter is not one of those. The lack of a perimeter threat, a role filled by Peja Stojakovic last year, limits the Pacers as an offensive team, as their opponents can limit their effectiveness by simply packing the paint and making Tinsley beat them with his jumper. The alternative, Sarunas Jasikevicius, is a fantastic shooter-but is inexperienced at the NBA game, having come over only last year from Euroleague's Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The Pacers need to address this issue, or else their record will remain inconsistent with their talent.

Friday, November 24, 2006

I'm waiting for the playoffs but...

I think i'm turning a bit Romosexual here...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

NFL Week 12 Preview

In the spirit of the holiday, the DSA presents its Five Games to Watch this week with commentary on what the teams involved should be thankful for.

CHICAGO at NEW ENGLAND - Da Bears are thankful for their defense, which, when combined with any game that Rex Grossman doesn't make a half-dozen bonehead turnovers, pretty much guarantees a victory. The Pats' are thankful that Tom Brady's found a way to throw 19 TDs to a cast of no-name receivers, and that the RB duo of Maroney and Dillon averages 109 yards on the ground each game. (Football fans this weekend are thankful that the schedule produced this quasi-Super Bowl matchup!)

NEW ORLEANS at ATLANTA - New Orleans is thankful that Drew Brees's shoulder is healthy--he's on pace to top 4,000 yards this season. The Saints are also thankful for their electric rookie, Reggie Bush Marques Colston. The Falcons should be thankful they're still in their divisional race despite beating only one team all year that currently has a winning record.

PITTSBURGH at BALTIMORE - The Ravens are thanking their incredible luck, which has them at 8-2, and atop the AFC North. This despite a sub-par year from Steve McNair (yes, really: 11 TDs to 9 INTs) and Jamal Lewis averaging a negligible 67 yards a game. The defending champion Steelers are thankful they might salvage a winning record this year (Cowher's last?) after a 2-6 start. (Fact: Big Ben has thrown 17 picks already.)

DENVER at KANSAS CITY - Jake Plummer should be thankful for Matt Leinart, the only thing that prevents him from having the lowest QB rating of any starter in the NFL right now. Then again, there's still several weeks left to play. For the Chiefs, two letters: L.J.

SAN FRANCISCO at ST. LOUIS - The Niners are thankful that if they win this game, amazingly enough, they will be in first place in the cesspool that is the NFC West. The Rams, losers of 5 straight after a 4-1 start, should at least hope their fans have diminished expectations for the season.

* * *
Week 12 Pick 'Ems:

Denver at Kansas CityDENDENDENKCKC
Pittsburgh at BaltimorePITPITBALBALBAL
New Orleans at AtlantaNONONOATLNO
Jacksonville at BuffaloBUFJAXJAXJAXJAX
Cincinnati at ClevelandCINCINCINCINCIN
Carolina at WashingtonCARCARCARCARCAR
Arizona at Minnesota ARIARIMINMINMIN
San Francisco at St. LouisSFSFSTLSTLSTL
Oakland at San DiegoSDSDSDSDSD
Chicago at New EnglandNECHINENECHI
Philadelphia at IndianapolisINDINDINDINDIND
Green Bay at SeattleGBGBSEASEASEA

Favorites are the betting pick to win.

Last week:
Jay 11-5, Andrew 10-6, Favorite 10-6, Kevin 9-7, Ning 9-7, Z 8-8, Moose 7-9

Kevin 102-58, Andrew 100-60, Favorite 98-62, Z 95-65, Ning 92-68, Moose 90-70, Jay 88-72