Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Month in Review: October '06

Here's a summary of what Da Sports Authority covered this month:

JAY (17 posts):
Sunday observations (10/1); MLB playoffs preview; NFL Week 4 wrap up; NFL Week 5 preview; Sunday observations (10/8); NFL Week 5 wrap up; NLCS breakdown; NFL Week 6 preview; fixing the Redskins; NFL Week 6 wrap up; NLCS Game 7; NFL Week 7 preview; clutch Kenny Rogers; NFL Week 8 preview; Sunday observations (10/29); Terps football; Gilbert Arenas bio

NING (10 posts):
NFL's greatest #13; NFL's greatest #14; NFL's greatest #15; NFL's greatest #16; NFL's greatest #17; NFL's greatest #18; NFL's greatest #19; NFL's greatest #20; NFL's greatest #21; Baby Hawks

Gilbert Arenas: From Zero to Hero

Although the rags-to-riches story is commonplace in the sports world, I don't think anyone could not be moved by reading the Washington Post's Sunday page one cover story profile on the Wizards' Gilbert Arenas. Sports columnist Mike Wise has done a terrific job retracing Arenas' hard-knocks life back through childhood, and his article goes a long way in explaining the hidden side of the eccentric, mercurial star.

#0 has long had the toughness, leadership, and desire to prove himself that Wizards fans have always seen on the court. Wise's article goes into detail about how Arenas was abandoned at a young age by his drug addict teen mother--who he used to bring foood for at the age of 2--and later, around age 7 or 8, how he would comfort his father when the two of them were homeless and sleeping in a car. This same extroverted performer who gives away his jersey at the end of every Wizards home game was a precocious, friendly boy who charmed strangers; yet despite his demeanor, Arenas remains a deeply introverted person.

Wise's article is by no means a campaign to make Arenas look like a saint, and that is in fact what makes it even more readable. Arenas still struggles with a lot of problems: despite being rediscovered by his mother over four years ago, he has not contacted her; he is raising a child with a woman he is financially supporting, and is expecting another with her. Though the situation is more amicable now, the article reveals that Arenas and the Wizards had to go to extraordinary lengths last season in order for him to dodge a paternity suit.

Anyway, the article is a must-read. (See also: Wise's follow-up on Monday detailing Arenas' chaotic summer, which included the infamous Miami arrest and departure from Team U.S.A.) Now that we know a bit more about Arenas the person, I hope that this season, more (national) attention will be focused on the under-appreciated Arenas the player.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Terps Football: Don't Celebrate Yet

The Maryland Terrapins landed a crucial victory this weekend in a heart-stopping 27-24 victory over Florida State. I was at the FSU game, clad alongside with the rest of the student section in black, and I was one of the first to storm the field after Navarre saved the game by blocking FSU's FG try.

Saturday's win, which places the Terps at 6-2 on the season and marks them as eligibile for postseason play in a bowl game, has set off an unexpected round of euphoria. Everyone is gushing about the Terps football program all of a sudden (the Post's Wise captures this), and this is understandable, especially after consecutive 5-win seasons. Yet I would urge caution, because the remainder of the season is going to be a very difficult obstacle.

Keep in mind that "bowl-eligible" does not mean a spot in a bowl; of last year's 64 bowl teams, I believe only 4 got in with 6 wins; the rest all had 7 or more. This means that the Terps need to win at least one more game, something that could be easier said than done. The remaining four games on the schedule include three versus Top 25 ranked teams (the Terps have lost both of their only games versus ranked opponents this season), including on the road at #19 Clemson (7-2, boasting a stellar running game) and #16 Boston College (7-1, leading the ACC).

The non-ranked opponent we face is Miami, who even though is having an off-season at 5-3, is still "The U" nonetheless, and will be a formidable challenge. Then we close the regular season at home versus #22 Wake Forest, also at 7-1, who is one of the year's surprises.

I'm not saying that we can't do it, but in our remaining games, the Terps are going to have to put up a better performances than they did against FSU, where we were outgained by about a 2:1 yards margin and shut down in the second half. So hold off on those premature celebrations, because a lot more hard work is in order if we're going to make people Fear the Turtle!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sunday Observations

After a couple weeks off, the series is back, with notes from the action today:

- Indianapolis 34, Denver 31. Now there was a game to watch--the best two teams in the AFC squaring off against each other. The rejuvenated Colts offense matching wits against the stingy Denver defense and brilliant coach Mike Shanahan. The action was worth all the hype: 3TDs and 345 yards from Manning, 227 rushing yards from the Broncos (136 yards and 2TDs from Mike Bell) to go with a solid performance from Plummer, and of course, the game-winning FG from the Colts' Adam Vinatieri with 2 seconds left.

- Just a thought here, but if the NFL really is trying to draw big audiences for its Sunday and Monday night primetime games, they need to use that "flex" scheduling to move games like Colts-Broncos to one of those spots. After all, primetime football is back in vogue--last week's MNF matchup between the Giants and Cowboys shattered the 1993 Gore-Perot NAFTA debate for biggest cable audience ever.

- Sunday Stud: Michael Vick, with honorable mentions to LaDainian Tomlinson (240 yards, 3 TDs), Larry Johnson (181 yards, 4 TDs), Reggie Wayne (138 yards, 3 TDs), Marques Colston (163 yards, 2 TDs), and Adam Vinatieri (4 FGs, including the game-winner). Vick, though, has to get the nod from me because not only am I always doubting him, he delivered an even better follow-up to his performance against Pittsburgh last week. Today against Cincinnati he threw 20-for-28 for 291 yards and 3 TDs, while ably using (not overusing) his running game to the tune of 55 yards on the ground. With Atlanta looking so good recently, I think the NFC South may be an even better division than the NFC East.

- Elsewhere in the NFC East, the preseason pundits had it right: the New Orleans Saints will have the Rookie of the Year this year. It's just that the award will go to WR Marques Colston, a 7th round pick, instead of RB Reggie Bush, who was the #2 overall selection. While Bush continues to struggle against bigger, faster NFL defenses, Colston has put up 33 catches for 577 yards and 4 TDs. (And thanks to the popularity of fantasy football, people know who this guy is.) From what little I saw of today's Saints-Ravens game, in which Colston had 163 yards and 2 TDs, this guy ran great routes, showed great hands, and made some great plays over opposing defensive backs.

- Immediate noticeable impact of Dallas going with Tony Romo at QB? I'm watching Cowboys-Panthers on the tube, and with Dallas driving down the field into Carolina territory, I see Romo get hurried, scramble out of the pocket, and take off down the field for a first down. Whereas, I think the only ability to run on the football field Drew Bledsoe ever showed was when hustling out of the tunnel during player introductions.

NFL Week 8 Preview

Games to Watch: Five to keep an eye on, as voted on by the DSA crew.

INDIANAPOLIS at DENVER - 6-0 Indy, 5-1 Denver, at Mile High. Any questions? Ok, two. Was last week's second-half drubbing of the Redskins enough for the Colts to get their swagger back, having staggered through close finishes for the previous few weeks? And can Denver, on a five game winning streak and boasting a defense that has allowed only two TDs all season, find a way to contain Peyton's offense like they did with Brady's earlier this year?

DALLAS at CAROLINA - Two NFC upper middleweights headed in opposite directions. Dallas (3-3) has shelved QB Drew Bledsoe and will turn to Tony Romo to make his first ever NFL start, on the road against a tough defense, no less. Carolina started slow, but reeled off 4 straight victories once playmaker Steve Smith returned. A loss to Cincinnati slowed the momentum they badly want.

BALTIMORE at NEW ORLEANS - The Ravens 4-0 start made them the darling of sportswriters, who conveniently overlooked the fact that Steve McNair and Co. had been playing pretty poorly. This was exposed by the ensuing consecutive losses to Denver and Carolina, two better teams. The bye has given Baltimore, which canned offensive coordinator Jim Fassel in the interim, time to think about 5-1 New Orleans, who had an impressive win over Philly last week.

ATLANTA at CINCINNATI - 4-2 Cincy, 4-2 Atlanta. The Falcons offense is last in the league in passing and first in rushing, but good things lie in store if Michael Vick's 4 TD performance against Pittsburgh last week was no fluke. Cincinnati, aside from crime reports, has been pretty quiet and hype-free--blame injuries for the most part. That said, a quality win here should get people talking about these Tigers again.

ST. LOUIS at SAN DIEGO - Another matchup of 4-2 teams. St. Louis, under new coach Scott Linehan, has been flying under the radar, and coming off a bye, should be in full fighting form. San Diego has had to deal with some public distractions, most recently a report this past week that LB and reigning Rookie of the Year Shawne Merriman failed a steroid test and faces a 4-game suspension. Not only that, but the Chargers surprisingly dropped a game to Kansas City last weekend. The Bolts need to right the ship, quickly.


Pick 'Em:

Week 7 proved ridiculously tough, as the favorites went 5-8, and only one of the DSA crew beat had a winning record. Kevin takes the gold with a 7-6 week, while my embarassing 3-10 mark is probably the worst I've had in years.

Baltimore at New OrleansNONONONONONONO
Jacksonville at PhiladelphiaPHIJAXPHIJAXPHIJAXPHI
New England at MinnesotaNEMINNENENENENE

Favorites are the betting pick to win.

Last Week:
Kevin 7-6, Andrew 6-7, Moose 6-7, Favorite 5-8, Ning 5-8, Z 5-8, Jay 3-10

Andrew 71-29, Kevin 69-31, Favorite 64-36, Moose 64-36, Z 61-39, Ning 58-42, Jay 56-44

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Baby Hawks: The Next Baby Bulls?

In case you haven't been watching the Atlanta Hawks closely (something which is entirely possible, as they have been a horrible team for much of the last decade), they have the potential to become an effective team, possibly a playoff team. More, their team is so young that as soon as they get over the hump they will be able to sustain their momentum for quite a while.

Where have we heard this story before?

From 1998 to 2004, the Chicago Bulls tried to build their team around aging talent, little to no point guard play, and the hoped-for twin tower duo of Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry. They failed repeatedly in their attempt to climb out of the cellar before finally breaking through with the current incarnation of their team sans Ben Wallace. The Bulls of old also had their high fliers, with Jamal Crawford, Jalen Rose and Jay Williams who all, for one reason or another, were never able to mesh with each other.

The reason for this failure? Bad point guard play. The likes of Crawford, Bryce Drew and the immortal Khaild-El Amin were not able to lift the old Bulls to respectability. The Bulls post-1998 no longer had Pippen and Jordan's veteran leadership and star power to cover up their lack of a reliable point guard. The young big men never learned to play the right way and never learned team post-up skills from their floor leader, and the high fliers were given free rein to play one on five basketball, a sure recipe for disaster no matter the talent. The Bulls of those six years were essentially sunk before they began each season until they got Kirk Hinrich as their first stable floor leader.

Flash Forward to today's Hawks. They have the SportsCenter wings. (Smith, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Childress) They have the young post players. (Puchilla and Shelden Williams, this year's #5 overall pick) But do they have the point guard? Is Speedy Claxton finally able to take up the mantle of a starting caliber NBA point guard, and does he have the vision and leadership necessary to help the rest of his team grow up on the court? He certainly has been around the league long enough to get the respect of the younger players. Now the fate of the Hawks will depend on what he does with that respect. Here you go, Mr. Claxton. Ball is in your court.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Your Postseason MVP: Kenny Rogers

After watching Detroit beat St. Louis tonight to tie the World Series at 1-1, I've decided to offer up my mea culpa for publicily doubting Tigers SP Kenny Rogers' ability to carry his team in the playoffs. Three weeks ago, in betting against Detroit, I wrote that "no one should be surprised if veteran Kenny Rogers fails to come through in the clutch," and at the time I considered that an understatement.

What's he done in his three playoff starts since then?

Oct. 6: Win. 7+ shutout innings against the Yankees in New York
Oct. 13: Win. 7+ shutout innings against the Athletics
Oct. 22: Win. 8 shutout innings against the Cardinals.

Detroit needed a win at home tonight, badly. After being deflated in Game 1, the Tigers had to take Game 2 at home before heading to St. Louis to play the next three. I didn't think Kenny Rogers would be able to step up yet again, and again he did. If this Series goes to 6 games, Rogers will get a chance to blank his opponent again, and could eclipse Christy Mathewson's 100-year old record for longest scoreless streak in a single postseason (27; Rogers is at 23).

Not bad for a guy I wrote off even before the playoffs started. And not bad at all for his team, which is now back on track in this series.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

NFL Week 7 Preview

New England at BuffaloNENENENENENENE
San Diego at Kansas CitySDSDSDSDSDSDSD
Washington at IndianapolisWASINDINDINDINDINDIND

Favorites are the betting pick to win.

Last Week:
Z 10-3, Moose 9-4, Andrew 8-5, Kevin 9-4, Ning 9-4, Favorites 7-6, Jay 6-7

Andrew 65-22, Kevin 62-25, Favorite 59-28, Moose 58-29, Z 56-31, Jay 53-34, Ning 53-34

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Terrific NLCS Game 7

It was a cold and rainy night at Shea Stadium in Flushing, NY. Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, when they separate the proverbial men from the proverbial boys. If Game 6 provided the unexpected plot twist--Mets rookie John Maine outduels Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter--then Game 7 was the down-to-the-wire climax.

It didn't seem to matter that the matchup for this game was supposed to be uninspiring: the Mets, all but out of arms, turning to long-time losing lefty Oliver Perez; the Cards to humdrum Jeff Suppan. No one told them that they were supposed to duel each other like experts, each giving up only one run: Perez in 6 IP, Suppan in 7 IP, which included coming back from a 6th inning that had one of the most memorable plays I've ever seen.

Top of the 6th. Jim Edmonds on 1st. Scott Rolen hits a bomb to left field. What happened next you have to see on YouTube or something: Mets OF Endy Chavez gets about 2 feet above the top of the wall to bring the ball back into the confines. Not missing a beat, he throws a bullet toward first base that catches Edmonds before he can get back. Double play, inning over.

The drama continued in the bottom of the 6th. An uncharacteristic flubbed throw by Scott Rolen, followed by an intentional walk, has the Mets with bases loaded and one out, and their best chance to take the lead. Would Suppan be fazed? Not on your life. He mows down Jose Valentin, then takes the fizz out of Endy Chavez's hero status by getting him to pop out to end the inning.

Who got to be hero in this game? Nobody on the Mets, and the Redbird that won the game was not Pujols, or Edmonds, or Rolen. It was little-known catcher Yadier Molina, a .216 hitter during the regular season, who has had an absolutely terrific postseason (.336). In the top of the 9th, Molina put an Aaron Heilman pitch in left field where Chavez wasn't going to be able to get it. Not that it was over then--no way. The Mets put two men on to start off, and had the bases loaded with 2 outs and the most qualified man at the plate: Carlos Beltran. Adam Wainwright struck him out on three pitches.

Your NL pennant winner: the St. Louis Cardinals.

The World Series starts Saturday night!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

NFL Week 6 Wrap Up

A wild week of football with some heart-stopping finishes: 8 games were decided by a field goal or less. St. Louis and Arizona blew big leads, New Orleans and N.Y.J. almost did, and San Diego and Pittsburgh poured on points all over their opponents.

Da Bears got their 6th win (despite Rex Grossman's 6 turnovers) while Bruce Gradkowski and Vince Young got their first win. T.O. and Torry Holt caught 3 TDs, and Chicago's defense/special teams had 3 scores too, but L.T.'s 4 TDs were the most points anyone put on the board.

You gotta love Sundays (and Monday nights).

* * *

Pick 'Em results...were ignominious for yours truly, who vows to improve. Congratulations to Z for his first solo weekly win (second overall) this season.

Week 6:
Z 10-3, Moose 9-4, Andrew 8-5, Kevin 9-4, Ning 9-4, Favorites 7-6, Jay 6-7

Andrew 65-22, Kevin 62-25, Favorite 59-28, Moose 58-29, Z 56-31, Jay 53-34, Ning 53-34

* * *

Week 7 picks and preview coming soon, but first, your Game of the Week to look forward to: Giants-Cowboys on Monday night. Two very good 3-2 teams in the powerhouse NFC East slug it out on prime time.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

How to Fix the Redskins

What's wrong with the Redskins? A bitter loss to the previously winless-Titans has the 2-4 team being left behind by the rest of a very good division and conference. The 'Skins have lost both of the division games they've played and all three games in the conference. Things also get worse before they get better, as they have to face unbeaten Indianapolis this weekend before the relief of a bye week.

Many people are speculating as to what has led this team to play so poorly. After all, last year's team made the playoffs, and the only changes since then have been--at least on paper--upgrades at key positions. In the D.C. area, everyone's favorite game is to shoot the quarterback. But I've seen Mark Brunell play this year, and while he hasn't been great, I think he's actually playing better than last year when this team made its playoff push. Don't forget, in the latter half of the season Brunell had no arm, no vision, and no mobility, and the 'Skins won nonetheless. This year it seems to me that Brunell, even though not the most accurate QB, at least has the zip back on his throw.

The same people jumping on Brunell are also pointing out how our supposedly vaunted WR corps (outside of the stellar Santana Moss) have done bupkus. A lack of production is not just from Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd; let's not forget that last year's prized pickup David Patten has been invisible too.

Then there's the running game, which has actually been working pretty well. There's only one problem: the Redskins coaches don't seem inclined to use it enough! If the 'Skins do one thing well, it's pound the ball, pound the ball, and pound the ball some more. Last year, the running game opened up things for Chris Cooley (almost invisible this year) and Moss. This year, the Redskins never can seem to decided whether to churn out the rushing yards or turn into the high octane Rams-like Greatest Show on (Grass).

The problem is, you have to choose one or the other to be successful; the hodgepodge style they are choosing doesn't work because they won't give it the chance to work. The Redskins' offensive approach is like buying a bunch of stocks and selling them in a week--some profit might be made, but the real money comes only from sticking with a strategy.

So what should the 'Skins do? Well, they could go with the second strategy and become a thrill-a-minute passing attack team with a thick Al Saunders playbook. But given that they've got an aged QB and other factors, I think it's obvious that the power running game style is what best suits this team. Get Clinton Portis 25 carries a game, please. Get Ladell Betts 5-10 carries a game, and get T.J. Duckett the ball a few times on each series. We gave up a costly 3rd round pick for him (and Lord knows we have hardly any picks left), so might as well get the bruiser in the game to grind out some crucial yards. It makes zero sense that this guy has seen only spare minutes in 1 game this season.

It's not too late for the 'Skins to save this season. Really. Don't forget, they won 6 games in a row at the end of last year in an improbable playoff run. They were able to do so then because they had an identity. This year, they need to find out who they are again.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

NFL Greatest Numbers (#21)

This is the latest installment of my series in which I pick the greatest NFL player to wear each jersey number. To see selections at other numbers, type "The Greatest Numbers" into the Blogger search bar at the top of the page.



Before I pick #21, let me recap the top 20 as we have them so far.

1. Jim Thorpe
2. John "Paddy" Driscoll
3. Bronko Nagurski
4. Brett Favre
5. Paul Hornung
6. Benny Friedman
7. John Elway
8. Steve Young
9. Sonny Jurgensen
10. Fran Tarkenton
11. Norm Van Brocklin
12. Roger Staubach/Terry Bradshaw
13. Dan Marino
14. Don Hutson
15. Bart Starr
16. Joe Montana
17. Morris Badgro
18. Charlie Joiner
19. Johnny Unitas
20. Barry Sanders

Now, as for #21, I will select Dan Fortmann, the best guard of his generation. The centerpiece of the Monster of the Midway in the late Depression/WWII era along with fellow lineman Joe Stydahar, he was a first or second team all NFL selection in each of the 8 seasons that he played. Not only that, he was also Phi Beta Kappa at Colgate University, and got his medical degree while playing in the NFL, intellectual abilities which he used to quarterback his defense from the linebacker/defensive line position. As a multitalented player who used his mind as well as his body, Dan Fortmann gets the nod at #21.

PS: I cannot yet select LaDainian Tomlinson to this list because his career in the postseason has been limited at best, but if he keeps playing like he is playing now for two or three more seasons He will own this spot over Fortmann.

* * *

JAY protests (10/17): Dan who? You dropped the ball here, amigo. I got two words for you: Prime Time! As in, #21, an 8-time Pro Bowler, and one of the league's most recognizable faces in the 1990s: Deion Sanders. I don't want to bore you with his versatility, but in case you forgot, the man sometimes played both offense and defense, once hit a HR and scored a TD in the same week, played in an NFL and MLB game on the same day, and played in both the Super Bowl and the World Series. He also had 53 career interceptions, a record 19 defense/return TDs, and he may be the greatest cover CB of all time. Love him or hate him, Deion high steps his way into the real nod at #21.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

NFL Week 6 Preview

Buffalo at Detroit (Sun., 1:00PM) - With Detroit having a baseball team headed to the World Series, I don't see why anyone in the city would waste time on their sad-sack 0-5 team. In Buffalo, they don't have a choice, but at least the Lions shouldn't be anything they can't handle.

Carolina at Baltimore
(Sun., 1:00PM) - Trouble in Charm City? The Ravens may be 4-1, but no serious contender should be ranked 29th in the league in total offense. Carolina just lost LB Dan Morgan (concussions) for the season, but there's still plenty of 'D' to cause McNair and Lewis fits. As for Steve Smith, I find it hard to believe so much ass-kickin' can be crammed into 5'9".

Cincinnati at Tampa Bay
(Sun., 1:00PM) - Is this the same Bucs team that started 4-0 last year en route to taking the division? Tampa can't afford to struggle much longer, because their once-vaunted defense will no longer win games for them. This game will be important to see whether rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski can build on his solid debut last week, and to see whether the Bengals off-week gave them time to fix things.

Houston at Dallas
(Sun., 1:00PM) - Hey, I'm happy to see David Carr leading the NFL in QB rating and completion percentage. Now if only the Texans had a running game and a defense, they might be half decent. The Cowboys can expect a break from all the drama by beating Houston this weekend.

NY Giants at Atlanta
(Sun., 1:00PM) - In a few games this year, I've seen the once-great CB Sam Madison get toasted. Luckily, Madison and the rest of the Giants secondary should be able to take it easy on Sunday, because Atlanta does one thing and one thing alone: run the ball. Stopping Vick, Dunn, and rookie Norwood is the order of the day for the Blue Men Group.

Philadelphia at New Orleans
(Sun., 1:00PM) - Donovan McNabb is my league MVP so far this season. The only thing that has prevented the Eagles from really dominating this year is that Brian Westbrook is clearly hurting. Meanwhile, the Saints have been playing damn well this season--something no one but yours truly (who picked 'em for the division in the preseason) expected. This is the real test.

Seattle at St. Louis
(Sun., 1:00PM) - It's a good time to be a St. Lunatic, no? The Cards are in the NLCS and the Rams are still flying under-the-radar as the NFL's surprise so far. 4-1, with a defense that has forced the most turnovers in the league, and QB Marc Bulger (97.2 rating) has thrown 7 TDs and no picks. If the Rams take this one, you can bet more people will pay attention to them.

Tennessee at Washington
(Sun., 1:00PM) - Yeah, I'm impressed that winless Tennessee held Peyton & the Horses to 14 points last week, but maybe that speaks more to problems in Indy. The Titans aren't yet inVINCEable, and the Redskins, who badly need to recover after last week's flop loss to the Giants, will look reMARKable at home.

Kansas City at Pittsburgh
(Sun., 4:15PM) - Pittsburgh has signed aged LB Chad Brown, who was their 2nd-round pick back in 1993. The former Pro Bowler (1996) played defense under Dick LeBeau and Bill Cowher back then, so he should feel comfortable in the current system. No word yet if the Steelers (1-3) plan to revive their season by bringing back Rod Woodson and Kevin Greene too.

Miami at NY Jets
(Sun., 4:15PM) - Culpepper out, Harrington in. Hey, anything's better than a guy whose knee injury makes him look even more of a statue than The Colossus at Rhodes or Drew Bledsoe. I will join all of South Florida in having my jaw dropped as Joey H. gets the 'Fins a division victory on the road.

San Diego at San Francisco
(Sun., 4:15PM) - Said Chargers rookie QB Philip Rivers after dusting off the defending-champion Steelers last week, "All I know is, right now, I feel there's not much a defense can throw at me that I can't figure out." The only thing that could perplex him this weekend is why the Niners seem to be moving in slow motion. Yeah kid, they're that bad.

Oakland at Denver (Sun., 8:15PM) - I keep trying to come up with even one nice thing to say about the Raiders. Then I recall last week's game when they pulled Andrew Walter for throwing two picks, then saw Marques Tuiasosopo throw two more. In Oaktown, they're hoping there's baseball to watch on Sunday night.

Chicago at Arizona
(Mon. 8:30PM) - Hey, Matt Leinart looked all right in his first start last week, against Kansas City. This week, figure on Matt Leinart looking a) scared; b) discombobulated; c) into the turf, where he will be planted face first; d) all of the above. Da Bears coast to 6-0, and they get to do it without even having to deal with Larry Fitzgerald.

Byes: Cleveland, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Minnesota, New England

* * *

Philadelphia at New OrleansPHINONONONOPHIPHI
Kansas City at PittsburghKCPITPITPIT PITPITPIT
San Diego at San FranciscoSDSDSDSDSDSDSD

Favorites are the betting pick to win.

Last week:
Favorite 14-0, Kevin 12-2, Z 12-2, Andrew 11-3, Moose 11-3, Jay 9-5, Ning 8-6.

Andrew 57-17, Kevin 53-21, Favorite 52-22, Moose 49-25, Jay 47-27, Z 46-28, Ning 44-30

"To the TV!" -- NLCS Breakdown

Thanks to multiple exams and other assignments due this week, I haven't been commenting on the ongoing baseball playoffs (or managerial hiring rumors, or the tragic Lidle incident). Don't let that fool you though, because I've certainly been trying to watch as much of the games as possible. After all, as those Tommy Lasorda commercials have been reminding us, even if your favorite team is no longer playing, "It's October! I live for this...You live for this... The world lives for this...To the TV!"

While Tigers-A's appears to be all but over (Detroit is up 3-0 going into a home game on Saturday), Cardinals-Mets is still up for grabs. Tom Glavine--future Hall of Famer in my book--looked damn good in Game 1 on Thursday, despite what Al Pujols may think, haha. Glavine has not given up a run in the playoffs this year. Problem is, after him, who else can go out and shut down that offense? Mets skipper Willie Randolph would love to figure that out, but at least he hasn't had to worry about overpowering pitching from STL starters, though to be fair, Jeff Weaver turned in his second solid playoff start in Game 1.

I watched the entire game tonight. Chris Carpenter, the Redbirds' putative ace, got hit hard from the get-go. It reminded me of his last start against the Padres, when he got in trouble early, but this time he didn't recover. The Mets' young righty John Maine lasted only 4 innings--luckily NY's bullpen is well-rested from a quick division series. This game went down to the 9th, when Mets closer Billy Wagner came into a 6-6 game and got rocked for 3 runs.

So the Cardinals salvaged the split, 9-6, overcoming 2 Carlos Delgado HRs (random aside: remember "Del-got-it!" from vintage SportsCenter, circa '00?). Now a look ahead: the next three games are in St. Louis, Saturday through Monday. Saturday, the Mets send Trachsel against the Cardinals' Suppan--both are mediocre pitchers and neither has done much in this postseason. If the Mets are going to send Oliver Perez out on Sunday, I'd point out the pitcher's inexperience, but his likely opponent is Cardinals second-year pitcher Anthony Reyes.

Assuming the teams split those two games (both are tossups, the way I see it), we see an even series going to a Game 5 rematch of Glavine and Weaver. In October, Weaver may have shaken off his season-long blues, but I don't see how I can pick against Tommy G. The crafty veteran's the perfect guy to get the big win in front of a hostile crowd. Back to New York, and then the Mets have to win just one more game. Even if this series does go to 7, I think the boys from Queens are headed to the World Series.

Friday, October 13, 2006

NFL Greatest Numbers (#20)

This is the latest installment of my series in which I pick the greatest NFL player to wear each jersey number. To see selections at other numbers, type "The Greatest Numbers" into the Blogger search bar at the top of the page.



Define grace. Define speed. Define elegance. If you do all of these things, the player that you are most likely to think of is Barry Sanders.

First or Second Team All-NFL each of his ten seasons, much less the Pro Bowl. Once rushed for 2053 yards from scrimmage while also receiving for 305 yards on 33 catches. First player ever to rush for 1500 yards in five seasons over the course of his career, and also the first player to rush for over 1000 yards in each of his first ten seasons. (incidentally, he is also the only player to rush for over 1000 yards in each of his last ten seasons) Almost never stopped for negative yardage. Led the league in rushing 4 times, winning NFL MVP once. 2nd most rushing yard all-time. Redefined the running back position the way that Jordan redefined the shooting guard.

The list just goes on and on. For all these accomplishments, Barry Sanders is my #20, and is also my greatest running back of all time.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

NFL Greatest Numbers (#19)

This is the latest installment of my series in which I pick the greatest NFL player to wear each jersey number. To see selections at other numbers, type "The Greatest Numbers" into the Blogger search bar at the top of the page.



At #19 I have to go with my favorite quarterback of all time, Johnny Unitas. Perhaps the greatest clutch performer at any position ever, Johnny U led his less talented Colts squad in epic battles with Joe Namath's Jets and Bart Starr's Packers, winning three championships along the way, including Super Bowl V. Universally acknowledged as the heart and soul of his team, he was recognized as a ten-time Pro Bowler, six-time All-NFL and 3-time player of the year, a feat that is even more amazing considering the depth of his contemporaries.

Despite being remembered as being Mr. Clutch, (being on the winning side of the greatest game every played) Johnny U was also Mr. Consistent, setting a record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass that just may stand forever. As such, putting him at #19 was a no-brainer.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

NFL Week 5 Wrap Up

We introduce a new feature to lead off the weekly NFL wrap up, Jay's Power Rankings!

Top 10
1. Chicago (5-0). Fewest points per game allowed (7.2) in the entire league, most points scored per game (31.2) in the entire league. This team almost got to the NFC championship game last year with some schmoe named Orton; this year, Rex Grossman's getting the job done. Until somebody stops Da Bears, they stay here.

2. Philadelphia (4-1). Considering how much I dislike Philly, it's remarkable how much I like Donovan McNabb, who I feel is the best QB in the league. (Do I have to say Peyton?) This year, D-Mc's got 14 TDs (11 passing, 3 running) to only 1 pick and leads the league in passing yards. The Iggles are a 4th quarter collapse against the Giants away from being unbeaten.

3. Indianapolis (5-0). Has there been a top team that has looked less dominant? The Colts hsve squaked out 4th quarter comeback wins in 3 consecutive weeks, including Sunday's 1-point win over lowly Tennessee. Also, the 'D' isn't looking good--the Colts are giving up the 2nd most rushing yards per game of any team in the league. But wins are wins, and now the Colts get a bye to retune.

4. San Diego (3-1). Martyball was the only reason this team lost to the Ravens. Hopefully Sunday night's victory over Pittsburgh was an indication they've abandoned their uber-conservative ways. The game at least proved that Philip Rivers can make plays to win games. Da Bolts have outscored their opponents 103-36 and are entering a soft stretch in their schedule.

5. Denver (3-1). Jake the Snake sucks. But that trademark Denverrunning game has picked up the slack--they're fourth in yardage. More importantly, the defense is good. Very good. Only the Bears allow fewer points per game, but the Broncos shut down N.E. in Foxboro and frazzled Baltimore in rough conditions last night.

6. Jacksonville (3-2). I know this is higher than probably anyone would have them, but I like this team's stingy defense (though the loss of Peterson this week will hurt) and their great RB duo of Taylor and Maurice-Drew. Leftwich needs to be more consistent, but the return of fav target Matt Jones after this week's bye should help.

7. New England (4-1). The dynasty everyone loves to hate has looked less than stellar this season, but they still are the Patriots. Since Belichick got slapped by Shanahan at home, the Pats have come back looking a lot more like their old selves. They've got this weekend off and a couple of softer games before facing Indy on 11/5.

8. New Orleans (4-1). I love this team's success because I pegged them to win the division during the preseason. But despite the record, there's a lot of room for this team to improve, especially in such a good division. The Saints need to tighten up their defense and get more carries to Deuce McAllister (4.8 yards per carry), who can wear down defenses. Bush has been good at catching passes; not so good at rushing (3.1 yards per carry).

9. Carolina (3-2). There's really only two things that need to be said about Carolina. One, their defense is damn good, and Julius Peppers especially is great. Two, the Panthers pre-Steve Smith record this season is 0-2. Since they got their stud WR back, they are 3-0. I complain a lot about Jake Delhomme, but these guys are nonetheless looking like the team that was the NFC runner-up last year.

10. Baltimore (4-1). In my Week 5 preview, I told you all--with no great pleasure--how Steve McNair was not actually the greatest thing since sliced bread for Bal'more through the first four weeks of the season. His deficiencies showed up last night in a big way--3 INTs against the Broncos, 2 of them egregious floaters. The defense will keep the Ravens in most games, but my man Steve's gotta play sharper.

Best of the Rest
11. Atlanta (3-1). Tough division; no way I put overly run-dependent ATL higher.
12. Seattle (3-1). Hope the bye cured what ailed them.
13. NY Giants (2-2). When this team is on, they're so on.
14. Dallas (2-2). There's trouble brewing in Texas...
15. Cincinnati (3-1). Hope the bye didn't lead to more arrests.
16. St. Louis (4-1). Four wins, really? Keep it up, and I'll give a lot of respect.
17. Washington (2-3). Playing HOU cured us last time, maybe TEN will this Sunday?
18. Pittsburgh (1-3). Big Ben's playing like a rookie, not like Big Ben.
19. Minnesota (3-2). Everything about this team is mediocre.
20. NY Jets (2-3). Thought they'd surprise me, then they lose 41-0. Surprise!
21. Kansas City (2-2). Happy to see them take two straight.
22. Buffalo (2-3). A trip to DET never hurt anybody.

Bottom 10 (suckers don't get commented on)
23. Green Bay (1-4)
24. Houston (1-3)
25. Tampa Bay (0-4)
26. Tennessee (0-5)
27. Detroit (0-5)
28. Miami (1-4)
29. San Francisco (2-3)
30. Arizona (1-4)
31. Cleveland (1-4)
32. Oakland (0-4)

* * *

Pick 'Em results from Week 5

How sad is it that the Favorite won all 14 matchups this weekend? I can't remember the last time that happened. Amongst the mere mortals of the DSA crew, Kevin and Z take top bid at 12-2 for the week, meaning four-time winner Andrew finally took a breather. The breakdown:

Week 5:
Favorite 14-0, Kevin 12-2, Z 12-2, Andrew 11-3, Moose 11-3, Jay 9-5, Ning 8-6.

Andrew 57-17, Kevin 53-21, Favorite 52-22, Moose 49-25, Jay 47-27, Z 46-28, Ning 44-30

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And a rundown of some final items from the week in football.

- Out of principle, I didn't talk at all last week about T.O. drama and his return to Philly. But I think it could be worth nothing that an AP report says that after the Cowboys' loss, Owens sounded off in the locker room "yelling and asking why the Cowboys bothered signing him in the offseason.'' Uh oh?

- Speaking of disgruntled players, here's a name you wouldn't normally think of: The Edge. The Arizona RB sounded pissed after the Cards' loss to K.C on Sunday. Said James: "We've gotten away from the run. That's the stupidest [expletive] thing. I thought we play to win the game. You sit back and you wait and you say, 'This is where my opportunity comes. This is where we're going to wear them down.' It's like we do the opposite, trying to give the game away.'' Hopefully that's just a player upset about a loss, and not the sound of a player who realized too late he made a terrible career move (as in, to the AZ desert).

- More trouble for the Cardinals: new QB Leinart will have to go without stud WR Larry Fitzgerald, who will be out a month or more with a hamstring injury. Fitz's absence will hurt the Cards more than it will hurt my 5-0, league-leading fantasy football team.

- Thanks to Denver's win last night over Baltimore, QB Jake Plummer moved over .500 for the first time in his 10-year career. He is now 65-64 in regular season action. I'd mock him, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around the words "Jake Plummer" and "winning QB" in the same sentence.

- Week 6 preview and Pick'Em coming in a few days, but first, the games to look forward to this week. Four 1 o'clock matchups between teams that should be contending for playoff spots later in the season: Eagles-Saints, Panthers-Ravens, Giants-Falcons, and Rams-Seahawks.

Monday, October 09, 2006

NFL Greatest Numbers (#18)

This is the latest installment of my series in which I pick the greatest NFL player to wear each jersey number. To see selections at other numbers, type "The Greatest Numbers" into the Blogger search bar at the top of the page.

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For some players, greatest is evaluated by the numbers. For others, by championships, and for still others, by the respect and admiration of their peers. Yet, there is a certain element of greatness which involves simply showing up to work, day in and day out to do your job, never worrying about recognition, merely maintaining your body at peak condition so as to be able to continued playing the game that you love. That is what Charlie Joiner did for 18 years.

Not often recognized throughout his career (he only made the Pro Bowl 3 times, and All-NFL only once) and not particularly physically imposing, (he stood 5-11, 188 pounds) Joiner made his mark on the league through his durability, intelligence, and determination. He overcame his lack of a physical presence through speed and an amazing repertoire of moves, both of which he maintained throughout his career (his All-NFL selection occurred in his 11th year, when he was 33 years old) through excellent conditioning practices and a phenomenal work ethic.

Over the last 13 years of his career, he missed only one game. At the time of his retirement in 1986 at the age of 40, he was by far the longest-tenured receiver in the NFL.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sunday Observations

Updated throughout the day...scroll down for the latest.

- Yeah, so those back-to-back 30+ point performances the Redskins put up the past couple weeks must have been a dream. I'm too disgusted to dissect their 19-3 loss to the Giants this afternoon, but suffice to say they were back to the same ol' Skins. The G-Men dominated the game from start to finish, and it's a wonder the score wasn't a lot worse. N.Y. ran 69 plays to Washington's 42, Brunell managed a paltry 109 yards (and was sacked 3 times, all on crucial plays), and Portis--who was running well but for some reason only got 19 carries--was held to 76 yards.

- Chicago is the best team in the league right now. After a 40-7 win today over Buffalo, it's cemented that their offense is good and their defense is terrific. Every one of their games has been a solid win, whereas all the other so-called top teams in the league have had their shaky moments. (See Indianapolis squeak out a 14-13 win over winless Tennessee today?)

- Detroit's Jon Kitna managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory today, neutralizing the 17-3 lead the Lions held over the Vikings through three quarters. First, a Kitna fumble recovered by Ben Leber for a TD should have tied the game, were it not for a missed XP by Ryan Longwell. Then, with under two minutes and his team down 17-19, Kitna had a pass picked off by E.J. Henderson and returned 45 yards for another score. Just for good measure, Kitna sealed any chance of his team's comeback by throwing another pick (his 3rd of the game) in the final minute.

- I do think the spleen-less wonder, a.ka. the injured Chris Simms, is out of a job in Tampa Bay. Rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski, making his first NFL start, put up a damn good fight against New Orleans. 217 yards and 2 TDs, no picks, is the best numbers the Bucs have got from behind center all season long. Meanwhile in Miami, Joey Harrington got the start in place of an injured Daunte Culpepper. I guess you could consider him an improvement in that he was sacked only once instead of the usual 5 or so Daunte would get. Miami still has a lot more games left to lose this year.

- Reggie Bush scored his first TD of the season today, in the Saints fifth game. Never mind the 9 carries for just 23 yards, #25's 65-yard punt return for a score in the 4th quarter won a tight division game for his team. Another Trojan rookie stud had a very good day: QB Matt Leinart didn't waste any time in his debut start for the Cardinals--he threw TD passes to Boldin and Fitzgerald in the first quarter.

- In baseball news, rumor has it that the Yankees are planning on firing Joe Torre and bringing in Lou Piniella. This is likely Steinbrenner's voice overruling GM Brian Cashman, but hey, it's not unexpected when this $200 million team can't get out of the first round of the playoffs. After all, it's been what, 7 years since the Bombers' last World Series. Forget sentimentality, something's got to shake the pot. Torre's a Hall of Famer for sure anyway, so he doesn't have to sweat this anymore--and if by some miraculous chance he wants to come to D.C. to coach the Nats, we'd love to have ya Joe!

- Thrilling finish to the Eagles-Cowboys game. Down by 1 TD in the final seconds, Drew "The Statue" Bledsoe takes two consecutive sacks to set up a 4th and 18. On that play he bombs one the length of the field to Terry Glenn, who pulls in--then drops--the ball. But the Eagles defender is called for pass interference on the 5. First and goal, Dallas. Bledsoe misses an open T.O. in the center of the endzone. Next play. What you'd expect from Drew B. Intercepted by Lito Sheppard, who takes it 102 yards the other way for a pick-six. Game over!

- In the final minute of the first half of Chargers-Steelers, S.D.'s 6'5" WR Malcolm Floyd just leaped and caught a jump ball in the endzone, over a Steelers CB, that was like 10 feet high. Terrific catch. As a routine matter, the catch went to the replay booth for review. The ref took his sweet time looking at the play, and came back with one of the more amusing explanations I've heard (quote not exact): "The replay machine is malfunctioning, but by rule I have to look at it for two minutes. So...we go with the ruling on the field. Touchdown!"

- I'm flipping channels between 4 (NBC), showing my old hometown football team (Chargers) and 5 (FOX), showing my old hometown baseball team (Padres). The Friars got off to a good start by loading the bases on Carpenter in the first inning and making him throw 30+ pitches en route to scoring 2 runs in the frame. But as they always do, they gave it back real quick, and now in the 6th, Pujols just scored the go-ahead run. 3-2, Cardinals, in the top of the 6th, and Woody Williams is done.

- When it comes to Pick 'Em, there are some weeks to be bold, and there are other weeks when it's best to stay conventional. This week was decidedly the latter--with all games except the Sun. night and Mon. night finished, the Favorite won in all 12 contests. Among the DSA crew, the competition is still alive, with Andrew, Kevin, Moose, and Z at 10-2. Ning and I are hanging back at 8-4...wait till next week.

- Back when I made my playoff predictions, my analysis told me that St. Louis would take the series, despite their struggles at the end of the regular season. My love for my old hometown Padres clouded my vision, but I should have known they'd choke. They dropped Game 4 to the Cardinals 6-2, and are gone from the playoffs. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the first playoff game I ever went to was Padres-Cardinals in 1996. They were bounced in 3, so I guess this is progress?

- I've probably said this before, but Chargers RB Michael Turner is one helluva good back. On a night when L.T. managed only 36 yards on the ground, Turner picked up the slack with a 5.1 yard average on 11 carries. There's no doubt in my mind that "The Burner", the Chargers' 5th-round pick out of Northern Illinois in '04, would be the top back for at least 20 teams in the NFL. Lucky for S.D. they have such a competent guy they can throw in the mix and cause defenses some serious trouble.

- In the battle of '04 draft class QBs, Philip Rivers definitely got the best of Ben Roethlisberger. Rivers had to wait a couple extra years to get the starting job, but boy is he making the best of it. The Chargers move to 3-1 with tonight's 23-13 victory over the Steelers. Rivers shined in a big game against a tough 'D' when stud RB Tomlinson had an off-day. He looked comfortable in the pocket, managed the offense well, and made several big plays. Madden mentioned several times that this was Rivers' "coming out" game.

Meanwhile Big Ben on the other hand extended his miserable season with a terrible performance in which he was hassled and hurried (sacked 5 times), didn't read the field well, threw 2 picks, and made several more bad throws. The Steelers are 1-3 and are running out of time in a division where Baltimore is 4-0 (playing Denver tomorrow) and Cincinnati is 3-1. Super Bowl repeat? Unlikely.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

NFL Week 5 Preview

Buffalo at Chicago (Sun., 1:00 PM) - Da Bears holding their opponents to just 29 points in 4 games this season is not surprising. But how about scoring 116 in that same span? Meanwhile, J.P. Losman has a 90.6 passer rating this season, which is higher than Jim Kelly's 84.4 career rating. That said, I promise to never again use Losman's name in the same sentence as the great K-Gun, one of my favorite players when I was growing up.

Cleveland at Carolina
(Sun., 1:00 PM) - The Browns' record since coming into the league in 1999: 37-78. Roger Goodell might want to look into contracting this team, or at least move them to Hollywood, where their troubles won't upset so many blue-collar workers. America needs happy blue-collar workers if we're gonna compete with China and all, ya know.

Detroit at Minnesota
(Sun., 1:00 PM) - Had the Twins' managed to survive longer in their playoff series, this game would have been bumped to Monday. Since that didn't happen, Lions WR Roy Williams was heard commenting "it's stupid how close we came to playing on a weekday." To be fair to Detroit, Minnesota has trouble scoring. To be realistic, Detroit has given up 115 points in 4 games.

Miami at New England
(Sun., 1:00 PM) - The Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs today, meaning A-Rod's '06 postseason stats look like this: 1-for-14 with 4 Ks, no HRs, no RBI, no runs scored, hell, not even any walks. Obvious prediction: A-Rod's time in N.Y. is done. Another obvious prediction: 3-1 New England dispatches 1-3 Miami tomorrow.

St. Louis at Green Bay
(Sun., 1:00 PM) - We all know how Brett Favre and the O are struggling, but did ya know that the Pack give up 391 ypg (2nd worst in the NFL)? Or that only the 49ers and Titans have allowed more points scored against? Or that Favre is of French and Choctaw ancestry? If the Gee Bees don't win this game at home, I don't know who they can beat.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans
(Sun., 1:00 PM) - Yeah, Tampa's winless and has a rookie QB, Bruce Gradowski, who'll be starting his first game this week. And yeah, it's too bad Tampa fans can't distract themselves from their terrible football club by following their team in postseason baseball (see Oakland below). But, lucky for them, they may get to see something special if Reggie Bush decides to erase memories of his 11 carry, 22 yard performance last week.

Tennessee at Indianapolis
(Sun., 1:00 PM) - Indianapolis is an 18-point favorite in the spread against Tennessee. 18. I can't remember ever seeing a line that lopsided. Andrew points out to me that last week it was the Titans' Al Haynesworth doing some stomping; on Sunday it will be "Peyton Manning [who] stomps, figuratively and probably literally, all over the Titans."

Washington at NY Giants
(Sun., 1:00 PM) - Pinch me, I must have dreamt that the Redskins looked terrific in beating Jacksonville last week. We did, right? Right? Meanwhile the Giants, who are coming off a bye, have been--with the exception of one great quarter against Philly earlier this year--terrible. Moss family lovers: you won't get to see if the Blue Men Group's Sinorice (strained quad) is anything like his older brother, the Redskins' "Silent Assasin" Santana.

Kansas City at Arizona
(Sun., 4:05 PM) - If anyone out there thinks Matt Leinart is ready to start in the NFL, I have a bridge out in Brooklyn I'd love to sell you. Seriously though, the only action Leinart should be getting right now is from P-a-r-i-s. Meanwhile, The Edge (career low 3.1 yards-per-carry this season) must be wondering why he didn't muff his physical before signing with the Cards.

NY Jets at Jacksonville
(Sun., 4:05 PM) - After the Jets used a spate of trick plays and unorthodox tactics last week against Indy, coach Eric Mangini was asked if he considered himself a gambler. "Um, no, not really. I've got pretty much index stocks and blue chips," the coach responded. I ain't buying it--this guy's Kenny Rogers, and it's why the Jets will be a stiff test for Jax down in Florida.

Oakland at San Francisco
(Sun., 4:05 PM) - Bay Area battle of two crappy teams. At least in Oaktown, they got the A's to root for, fo' shizzle. In S.F. they've got...well, hopefully they have ESPN Classic so they can watch games from when the 49ers were actually good.

Dallas at Philadelphia
(Sun., 4:15 PM) - You know what I don't care about? How T.O. is feeling about returning to play against Philly, and what emotions are running through his head, and what his expectations are. I just want--and expect--to see a damn good game here, and a Philly win will likely confirm my suspicion that the Iggles and Bears are the teams to beat in the NFC.

Piitsburgh at San Diego
(Sun., 8:15 PM) - Why would I never go bass fishing with Marty Schottenheimer? Because for him, they'd all be "the one that got away." I know many S.D. fans must be wondering if it's possible to have Marty coach the first half of Chargers games, then call a substitution and let someone with cajones close the damn game out.

Baltimore at Denver
(Mon., 4:30 PM) - Among qualified leaders, 23 QBs have a higher passer rating this season than Steve McNair, including such competent signal-callers as J.P. Losman, Alex Smith, Jake Delhomme, and Damon Huard. So yeah, while Baltimore is 4-0 and McNair's had a couple of great game-winning drives, it's important to note the Ravens might not have been in that situation had Stevie Wonder--who I love--played better through the first 3 quarters of a game.

Byes: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Houston, Seattle

* * *

Miami at New EnglandNENENENENENENE
Tampa Bay at New OrleansNONONONONONONO
Tennessee at IndianapolisINDINDINDINDINDINDIND
Kansas City at ArizonaKCKCKCARI ARIKCKC
Oakland at San FranciscoSFSFSFSFSFSFSF
Pittsburgh at San DiegoSDPITSDSDPITSD SD
Baltimore at DenverBALDENBALDEN BAL

Favorites are the betting pick to win.

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

Andrew 46-14, Kevin 41-19, Jay 38-22, Moose 38-22, Favorite 38-22, Ning 36-24, Z 34-26

NFL Greatest Numbers (#17)

This is the latest installment of my series in which I pick the greatest NFL player to wear each jersey number. To see selections at other numbers, type "The Greatest Numbers" into the Blogger search bar at the top of the page.

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#17 is kind of a weak number in the history of the NFL, but I will select Morris Badgro as the greatest #17 of all time because he scored the first touchdown in an NFL Championship ever. In addition to playing receiver, he also played special teams and defensive back, often making the big play there as well as on offense. Known as a big play receiver in an era before big play receivers, Morris Badgro gets the nod at #17.

Friday, October 06, 2006

NFL Greatest Numbers (#16)

This is the latest installment of my series in which I pick the greatest NFL player to wear each jersey number. To see selections at other numbers, type "The Greatest Numbers" into the Blogger search bar at the top of the page.

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There is no question as to who goes at #16: It is the immortal Joe Montana. 4 time Super Bowl champion. 3 time Super Bowl MVP. 8 time Pro Bowl player. The passer involved in The Catch. The first truly successful implementor of the West Coast offense, a variant of which is run by more than half the teams in the league today. The face that comes to mind when old timers talk about "The '9ers." Not only the greatest at #16, Joe Montana may be the best ever to play the game, at any position, period. Any questions?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

NFL Greatest Numbers (#15)

This is the latest installment of my series in which I pick the greatest NFL player to wear each jersey number. To see selections at other numbers, type "The Greatest Numbers" into the Blogger search bar at the top of the page.

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#15 goes to the underrated Bart Starr. Winner of 5 NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowls, Starr nevertheless never got the respect that he was due from history. Despite only ever losing one postseason game, Starr never got the same recognition from the fans as contemporaries Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas got. The 2-time Super Bowl MVP will not get the same treatment from this website: Bart Starr is #15.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

NFL Greatest Numbers (#14)

This is the latest installment of my series in which I pick the greatest NFL player to wear each jersey number. To see selections at other numbers, type "The Greatest Numbers" into the Blogger search bar at the top of the page.

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At #14 I have to go with the game's first premier receiver in Don Hutson. Over his 11 year career, he led the league in receiving 8 times. He also led the league in scoring 5 times, a feat heretofore unduplicated from the wide receiver spot. He was All-NFL 9 times, and NFL MVP twice. His record of 99 career touchdown receptions stood for more than four decades.

Even though his receiving stats alone are enough to put him on this list, Hutson was by no means a one-dimensional player, also playing safety and kicker, in fact intercepting 30 passes over his last six years in the league. That is a pace that the top corners of today would have trouble replicating, even without the added wear and tear of also playing receiver.

So, for durability, versatility, and creating the prototype of the modern NFL wide receiver, I give you Don Hutson.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

NFL Week 4 Wrap Up

Yawn. Andrew has the best record in the weekly pick 'em at 10-4, for the fourth out of four weeks this season. At least this time he had company: Ning went 10-4, and incidentally, that was also the record of the Vegas Favorite.

Week 4:
Andrew 10-4, Ning 10-4, Favorite 10-4, Jay 9-5, Kevin 9-5, Moose 8-6, Z 8-6

Andrew 46-14, Kevin 41-19, Jay 38-22, Moose 38-22, Favorite 38-22, Ning 36-24, Z 34-26

And some final thoughts on this past week's NFL games, as well as a look ahead:

- Texans notes: David Carr has the highest QB rating in the NFL. Don't rub your eyes, that's not a typo. In 4 games so far he has thrown 7 TDs to 2 INTs while averaging 216 yards, good for a 108.9 QB rating. On the other side of the ball, Mario Williams got his first sack this week against the Dolphins. I'm not trying to start something, but this is at least mildly amusing: # of sacks by Mario Williams (1), # of touchdowns scored by Reggie Bush (0).

- Albert Haynesworth, the Titan defensive lineman who stomped on the face of Cowboys center Andre Gurode this weekend, was suspended for 5 games. It's the longest ever punishment handed out by the league for an on-field action. I think most people had been expecting a suspension of a couple games; the hard-liners were pushing for a season; this seems right. Goodell doesn't want his league to turn into Marty McSorley World.

- Back on Sept. 24, I declared this year's NFC Championship match to be Seahawks-Eagles. Er, unless Shaun Alexander alone is worth the 31-point difference in Seattle's 37-6 loss to Chicago, I think what I mean is that the NFC Championship will be Eagles-Bears.

- Week 5 preview coming in a few days, but first, games to look forward to this weekend: Redskins-Giants (are the 'Skins as good as they looked this week?), Jets-Jaguars (these two teams almost beat the Colts the past two weeks), Cowboys-Eagles (pivotal matchup of 1-loss teams in the NFC East).

Baseball Playoffs Preview

Unless you live in New England, right about now should be the best part of any baseball fan's year. This is the first day of the 2006 MLB playoffs, with three of the four series having Game 1 today. Below, I offer my preview and predictions:


Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets

The fashionable thing to do right now is to count the Mets out. The NL's dominant team all year, they suddenly looked very mortal in September. They'll also have to do without the services of ace Pedro Martinez, who the team this learned this week has injuries that will keep him out into next season. The Mets starting playoff trio of El Duque, Tom Glavine (health a concern?), and Steve Trachsel does not inspire confidence.

All that isn't going to matter, at least not in this series. The Mets rotation may be weak right now, but the Dodgers staff isn't very good, period. The Dodgers lineup also can't compare to the Mets, which is highlighted by David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran, not to mention slugger Carlos Delgado and steady Paul LoDuca. Furthermore, the Dodgers have been the streakiest team in baseball, alternating between long cold spells and hot streaks--will they show up in this series?

Combine that with the Mets' home-field advantage, and I think you see the N.Y. squadron taking this one in 4 games.

Winner: Mets

St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Diego Padres

The only playoff game I've ever been to was back in 1996, when I lived in San Diego. My boys were swept out of the divisional series in 3 games by a much better St. Louis team. This time, the Friars have the upper hand, holding home-field advantage against a Cardinals team lucky to make the playoffs after a near-disastrous final week collapse.

The Padres have no real hitting to speak of, though first-year starter 1B Adrian Gonzalez has been a pleasant surprise (.304 AVG, 24 HR, 82 RBI). The Cardinals situation isn't much better, but they do have God (also known as "Jehovah", "Allah", or "Albert Pujols") playing 1B for them, and that's enough to tip any game. Scott Rolen (.296 AVG, 22 HR, 95 RBI) also had a quiet but productive year.

Where this series will be won though is pitching. One team's got it, the other doesn't. St. Louis has naught but Chris Carpenter to speak of, whereas San Diego has been anchored by the solid performances of Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Woody Williams, and young Clay Hensley all season. The Padres bullpen is terrific, featuring several stud young relievers, and Mr. Hell's Bells, Trevor Hoffman, as closer. Meanwhile, I can only name one guy out of the Cards 'pen, Izzy, and that guy knows how to choke. Padres in 4.

Winner: Padres


Oakland Athletics vs. Minnesota Twins

Man, you have to hand it to these Twins. Even after losing the boy wonder, SP Francisco Liriano, they managed to not just finish ahead of the 90-win defending world champion White Sox, but ahead also of the 95-win Tigers, who led the Central for most of the year. The Twins' improbable run to take the division on the last day of the regular season was well worth rooting for, especially considering they did it with basically 3 guys: acknowledged sensation SP Johan Santana, C Joe Mauer, and 1B Justin Morneau.

Though this may be the lowest profile matchup of the playoffs, considering the two small market teams, it could also be the most exciting to watch. Both teams have a few studs on their side holding up an otherwise sub-par lineup: the aforementioned Mauer and Morneau, in addition to under-the-radar RF Michael Cuddyer (24 HR, 109 RBI, 102 runs) for the Twins; Nick Swisher and a resurgent Frank Thomas for the A's. Both teams have solid bullpens. The Twins have Santana leading a mixed staff that includes savvy veteran Brad Radke; the A's have Barry Zito heading a deep, quality starting 5.

Really, this series could go either way. The favorite in this matchup is the Twins, but I'm going to go on a limb and say Oakland uses its top-notch starters to stretch it out to 5 games and pull off an upset.

Winner: A's

Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees

The Tigers had twelve consecutive losing seasons before this year, including that 119-loss stinker of 2003. So they have been another team worth rooting for, since the beginning of the season when they won 19 of their first 28 games. At August 7, they were 40 games over .500 (76-36) and had a 12.5 game lead in the Central. The Tigers' young pitching--presumed ROY Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson, Joel Zumaya, Justin Bonderman--has been a joy to watch. Of course, as everyone knows, the Tigers have been in a nearly 2-month slump, and wound up with the wild card after being passed by the Twins on the last day of the season.

The Yankees, like always, have been in the news all season long. With the Red Sox having faded relatively early in the fall (can you believe it's the Blue Jays that finished 2nd in the East?), there wasn't much drama for them in contending for the division title. But the drama has surrounded 3B A-Rod for months, first for his slump and then over rumors about his poor relationships with his teammates. More importantly on the ballfield, the Yankees pitching was a legitimate question. The Big Unit won 17 games this year, but had a 5.00 ERA and looked awful for most of the season.

What should you expect in this series? Well, the Tigers pitching is very good, but the young guys are inexperienced, and no one should be surprised if veteran Kenny Rogers fails to come through in the clutch. The Tigers' arms have an insurmountable task ahead of them--I don't think anyone can hope to contain the Yankees lineup. Damon, Jeter, Abreu, Rodriguez, Giambi, Sheffield, Matsui, Posada, and Cano sounds like a video-game all-star team. Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina should be enough to carry the Bombers' staff, and Mariano Rivera is Mariano Rivera. N.Y. sweeps in 3.

Winner: Yankees

Monday, October 02, 2006

NFL Greatest Numbers (#13)

This is the latest installment of my series in which I pick the greatest NFL player to wear each jersey number. To see selections at other numbers, type "The Greatest Numbers" into the Blogger search bar at the top of the page.

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It's been two days and I'm still not sure who is better between Staubach and Bradshaw. Luckily, at #13 we have no such dispute. Standing heads and shoulders above the other players at this number is the human record machine, Dan Marino.

4,967 completions. 8,358 attempts for 61,361 yards. 420 touchdowns. These are iconic numbers, and are the current records to this day. Marino owns all of them. He led the league in completions 6 times. His single-season 48 touchdown mark was only recently eclipsed by Peyton Manning, and the Dolphin's success was centered on Marino alone from his rookie year to his last year in 1999. Even though he never won a championship, as one who has served as the example of par excellence for 17 years, Marino gets #13 on our list.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sunday Observations

- The Ravens' unbeaten streak lives after another 4th quarter comeback. Down only 13-9 in the final minute, Steve McNair finally put together a good drive and hit Todd Heap for the game-winning TD. The Chargers, who had out outplayed the Ravens the entire game, managed to lose yet again thanks to Marty Schottenheimer's inability to put a game away. (Though two muffed FG attempts hurt too.)

- The momentum here turned on a strange series late in the 4th quarter, with San Diego leading 13-7, when Chargers punter Marcus Scifres (who earlier had a beautiful 71-yard punt) was hit by two Ravens on a punt attempt. A penalty on the play meant the kick had to be done over, and the injured Scifres had to run out the back of his own endzone and take a safety. Baltimore closed to 13-9 and got the ball back, setting up McNair's game-winning drive.

- How about that Colts-Jets game? Gang Green showed it's solid play this season so far isn't a fluke. The matchup featured 7 lead changes (including 3 in the final 3 minutes), and the difference may have come down to a failed 4th-and-goal conversion in the 3rd quarter. But best of all was that crazy last ditch play the Jets tried at the end of the game, which featured a half-dozen laterals or selective fumbles--and it almost worked!

- After facing Jacksonville next week, the Jets then have a soft stretch of Miami (who lost to Houston today), Detroit, and Cleveland before going into a bye--they have to be feeling confident about their play now. I can see this team finishing with 9 wins, which would be a solid achievement for Chad Pennington and first-year coach Eric Mangini.

- I did not see this one coming: Kansas City blew out San Francisco today, 41-0. Backup QB Damon Huard completed 18-of-23 passes and threw 2 TDs, and L.J. topped 100 yards on the ground with 2 more TDs. Huard's QB rating on the game was a boffo 133.3. Meanwhile, the 49ers, who were averaging 23.6 ppg this season, were shutout for only the second time since 1977.

- October 1 means that it's also the last day of the baseball regular season. Today saw the Twins cap a truly remarkable comeback to take the AL Central title from Detroit, who now gets the wild card. Meanwhile a Houston loss allows St. Louis to avoid what could have been the biggest late-season collapse of all time--the NL Central is theirs. L.A. and entered the day tied for the NL West lead, and with both ahead in their games just now, it looks like the Padres get take the crown while the Dodgers get the wild-card. In a game of less consequence but emotion, the Nationals lost manager Frank Robinson's final game--it was announced earlier this week that he will not return next season.

- Your AL batting title goes to: Joe Mauer, .347 to Derek Jeter's .343 and Robinson Cano's .342. Mauer is the first catcher ever to win an AL batting crown. This guy was the 1st overall pick in 2001 and has had the hype surround him for so many years, it's hard to remember this is only his 2nd full year in the majors.

- A new development in the Jason Grimsley saga occured today when it was revealed in the L.A. Times that the pitcher accused prominant stars Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts, and Jay Gibbons of using performance enhancing drugs. I for one don't really believe the report, and don't expect anything to come out of this revelation, but regardless, even I've come to the point where I've become weary of steroid stories. I used to be shocked and saddened by this kind of thing, now I'm just bored of it. I think most baseball fans are too.

- The Redskins-Jaguars game this evening was terrific. A well-played, highly enjoyable match with two good teams and several highlight-reel plays. Washington prevailed in OT, 36-30, on Mark Brunell's 3rd hookup to Santana Moss. Yeah, this was supposed to be a defensive struggle, but instead, it was the offenses that looked high octane, especially the terrific performances by Moss and his Jacksonville counterpart Reggie Williams.

For the Redskins, every facet of their game looked the best it had been this season. Mark Brunell's throws had zip to them, and all of his offensive weapons were getting involved. Clinton Portis (112 yards) was huge. The Redskins defense finally made plays, getting 4 sacks and two turnovers, and sticking with the blitz even when Leftwich would make a big play off it--it ultimately paid off. Most gratifying to me was the sharper focus: only 4 penalties commited this game, and none particularly crucial, as opposed to the 23 committed in the previous two games. Defeating Jacksonville was a huge victory, and suddenly the Redskins look a lot better than they did even just a week ago.

- Going into the Sunday night game, your Pick 'Em results for this week are Andrew 8-4, Favorite 8-4, Jay 8-4, Ning 8-4, Kevin 7-5, Z 7-5, Moose 6-6. We all picked Philly so the MNF game is irrelevant. Chicago currently has a huge lead over Seattle; Andrew, Ning, and the Favorite all picked Da Bears to win, so we're probably looking at a three-way tie for first. And Andrew's 4th week atop the rankings. Stay tuned...