Saturday, December 30, 2006

NFL Week 17 Preview

Games with playoff implications:

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

HOT:
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

WARM:
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

LUKEWARM:
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

COOL:
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:

AFC
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

NFC
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

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


JayMooseAndrewKevinNingZFavorite
NY Giants at WashingtonWASWASWASNYGWASWASNYG
Carolina at New OrleansNONONONONOCARCAR
Cleveland at HoustonHOUHOUHOUHOUHOUHOUHOU
Detroit at DallasDALDALDALDALDALDALDAL
Jacksonville at Kansas CityJAXJAXKCKCJAXKCKC
New England at TennesseeTENTENNENETENTENTEN
Oakland at NY JetsNYJNYJNYJNYJNYJNYJNYJ
Pittsburgh at CincinnatiCINPITCINCINCINCINCIN
Seattle at Tampa BayTBSEASEASEASEASEATB
St. Louis at Minnesota STLMINSTKSTLSTLMINSTL
Atlanta at PhiladelphiaPHIPHIPHIPHIPHIPHIPHI
Buffalo at BaltimoreBALBUFBALBALBALBALBAL
Miami at IndianapolisINDINDINDINDINDMIAIND
Arizona at San DiegoSDSDSDSDSDSDSD
San Francisco at DenverDENSFDENDENSFDENDEN
Green Bay at ChicagoGBGBCHICHIGBGBCHI

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:


JayMooseAndrewKevinNing
1San DiegoSan DiegoSan DiegoSan Diego
San Diego
2IndianapolisChicagoBaltimoreIndianapolis
Baltimore
3ChicagoNew EnglandIndianapolisChicago
Indianapolis
4DallasDallasChicagoBaltimore
Chicago
5BaltimoreNew OrleansCincinnatiNew England
New England
6CincinnatiIndianapolisNew EnglandDallas
New Orleans
7 New OrleansBaltimoreNew OrleansDenver
Dallas
8 New EnglandSeattleDallasCincinnati
Cincinnati
9 PhiladelphiaCincinnatiSeattleSeattle
NY Jets
10 DenverPhiladelphiaPhiladelphiaNew Orleans
Tennessee

[JAY] - SORTING OUT THE MIDDLE

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:


JayMooseAndrewKevinNingZFavorite
Minnesota at Green BayGBGBGBGBGBGBGB
Kansas City at OaklandKCOAKKCKCKCKCKC
Washington at St. LouisWASWASSTLSTLWASSTLSTL
Tennessee at BuffaloBUFTENTENTENTENBUFBUF
Tampa Bay at ClevelandTBCLECLETBTBTBCLE
New Orleans at NY GiantsNONYGNONONONONYG
New England at JacksonvilleNENENENEJAXJAXJAX
Indianapolis at HoustonINDINDINDINDINDINDIND
Chicago at DetroitCHICHICHICHICHICHICHI
Carolina at Atlanta ATLATLCARCARATLATLATL
Baltimore at PittsburghPITPITBALBALPITPITPIT
Arizona at San FranciscoSFSFSFSFARISFSF
Cincinnati at DenverCINCINCINCINCINCINDEN
San Diego at SeattleSDSDSDSDSDSDSD
Philadelphia at DallasDALDALDALDALDALDALDAL
NY Jets at MiamiNYJMIAMIANYJNYJMIAMIA

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

Season:
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 MASH...er...I 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!


JayMooseAndrewKevinNingZFavorite
San Francisco at SeattleSFSFSEASEASEASEASEA
Dallas at AtlantaDALDALDALDALATLATLDAL
Cleveland at BaltimoreCLEBALBALBALBALBALBAL
Detroit at Green BayGBDETGBGBGBDETGB
Houston at New EnglandNENENENENENENE
Jacksonville at TennesseeTENTENTENJAXTENTENJAX
Miami at BuffaloBUFMIABUFBUFMIAMIABUF
NY Jets at MinnesotaNYJMINNYJMINNYJNYJMIN
Pittsburgh at CarolinaPITPITCARPITPITCARCAR
Tampa Bay at Chicago CHICHICHICHICHICHICHI
Washington at New OrleansNOWASNONONONONO
Denver at ArizonaARIARIDENDENARIARIDEN
Philadelphia at NY GiantsNYGPHINYGNYGNYGNYGNYG
St. Louis at OaklandOAKSTLOAKSTLSTLSTLOAK
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

Season:
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.


JayMooseAndrewKevinNingZFavorite
Pittsburgh at ClevelandPITCLEPITPITPITPITPIT
Atlanta at Tampa BayATLATLATLATLATLTBATL
Baltimore at Kansas CityBALKCBALKCBALBALKC
Indianapolis at JacksonvilleINDINDINDINDINDINDIND
Minnesota at DetroitDETDETMINMINMINDETDET
New England at MiamiNEMIANENENENENE
NY Giants at CarolinaCARNYGNYGCARCARNYGCAR
Oakland at CincinnatiCINCINCINCINCINCINCIN
Philadelphia at WashingtonWASPHIPHIWASWASWASPHI
Tennessee at Houston TENTENTENHOUTENHOUHOU
Green Bay at San FranciscoSFSFSFSFGBSFSF
Seattle at ArizonaSEAARISEASEASEASEASEA
Buffalo at NY JetsBUFBUFNYJNYJNYJNYJNYJ
Denver at San DiegoSDSDSDSDSDSDSD
New Orleans at DallasDALDALDALNODALDALDAL
Chicago at St. LouisSTLSTLCHICHICHICHICHI

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

Season:
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: