Friday, October 31, 2014

The FGR's Ode to the Pumpkin Farm

Being a parent presents a never-ending dilemma where you spend half your time wishing that your kids would never grow-up and the other half counting the days until they outgrow certain aspects of childhood. First it's diapers which is followed by teething, the terrible twos, car seats, homework, puberty, boyfriends/girlfriends, college applications and finally that awkward conversation that begins with "we're selling the house so you're going to have to find somewhere else to live."* Along the way, you have more direct kicks to the parental nether regions like trips to the emergency room, car accidents, arrests, etc. (For the record, I was never technically arrested though I often seemed to find myself around people who were . . . note to self: stop hanging-out with criminals).

And then you have the subtle self-inflicted annoyances that we foist upon ourselves in an effort to create Facebook moments. The most obvious example would probably be the attempt to take your too young kids to a sporting event and then spending three hours plying them with food and soda to keep them interested. One of the greatest testaments to my own obliviousness and stupidity was thinking that my kids could sit through an entire football game when I can't even sit through an entire football game. Inevitably in that situation, you start rooting for a moving clock more than you root for the home team and every timeout feels like an eternity. At least when you take your kids to a baseball game, you can just wait for the end of an inning when the players run off the field and tell them the game's over. (I would never do that as far as you know). 

I'm not talking about a place like this, I'm 
talking about this actual place as I have 
bathed in those sweaty Hungarian waters. 
But that's not the experience I want to discuss today for there is a much more worthy target this time of year and it is the blunt force trauma to the head that is the Halloween trip to the pumpkin farm. If you have yet to experience this, allow me to explain and, if you've been through it already, prepare to commiserate. Allow me to paint the scene and I will preface this by saying that, of all the settings this world has to offer, the farm ranks near the bottom for me along with some more random scenes in which I have found myself like a public bathhouse in Budapest and a sightseeing boat in Mexico.**

So first you find yourself a farm. If you're lucky, you find one owned by a rich stock broker who always wanted to be a farmer but then realized how much work it really is so he compensates by bringing in some borderline carnies once a year to run a little Halloween gig. If that's the case, your kids might get to pet farm animals that don't look like they've been mauled by coyotes and the corn maze might actually be made of real live growing corn. In this scenario, your greatest fears are mad cow disease, your kid getting impaled on some kind of Chuck Norris style protruding corn stalk death trap or your wife deciding she wants to decorate the entire goddamn porch with gourds at ten bucks a pop. If we call this Scenario One, let's just say that the worst case version of Scenario One is still better than the best case version of Scenario Two.

In Scenario Two you find yourself at more of an urban farm in the middle of a neighborhood. (I don't know that these exist outside of the Baltimore area but I'm going to assume they do anywhere urban sprawl has encroached on what used to be farmland). Here you'll find a maze made of two foot high hay bales and you'll pay three bucks for your kid to make one left turn and then climb over the bales because, you know, your kid's not an idiot. With the exception of your departure, that will be the highlight of your visit because it's a steady decline from there.

Next you'll wander over to the petting zoo to spend ten minutes waiting for the goat who looks like he's been living off of crabgrass and Marlboro Lights for the last six months to snap your kids left index finger off. After briefly interacting with something that is either a really grungy sheep or a really ugly poodle, you take the whole family for a lengthy Purell decontamination shower (if you've seen Silkwood,*** this will seem familiar). And finally, just when you're high as a kite on Halloween spirit, it's time to stand in line for half an hour waiting your turn to get towed around by a John Deere tractor because nothing says the sweet aroma of fall like the smell of diesel fumes being pumped into your lungs from three feet away. Forty-five minutes later and you're a broken man pulling a wagon full of pumpkins through a checkout line. You get suckered into a nine dollar jug of apple cider at the register and then you get the fuck out of there before someone sees the sign for the gift shop and decides that they want to try some pumpkin jerky and buy a t-shirt to commemorate the occasion.  

Depending on how many kids you have, this experience can repeat itself anywhere from about five to ten times. Then one day you wake-up wait for the announcement that it's time to go the pumpkin farm but that announcement never comes and it is at that moment that you know your debt to the pagan gods has been paid in full . . . and you are thankful.


* My personal version of this is slightly different in that it involved my dad waking me up at 11:00 a.m. on a Tuesday to tell me he was selling "my" car. In a rare moment of 22 year old restraint, I did not say what immediately came to mind which was "then how in the hell am I supposed to get to the golf course?" I called his bluff by stretching my unemployment deep into the fall and then it turned-out he wasn't bluffing, just slow-playing it because one morning I looked out the window and someone else was driving away in "my" car.

** We actually narrowly escaped this one as, just when the boat was about to cast-off, I told the guy at the gangplank that the FGW was about to toss her tacos (literally) and he was more than happy to excuse us from the tour and give us our money back. So now when she tells the FGK's that they should never lie, I always chime-in with, "unless you're fleeing a Mexican tour boat!" 

Ah the 80's. Twas a much simpler time.
*** Silkwood is a movie about people who are contaminated with nuclear stuff. It's actually less uplifting than it sounds. Here is one of the shower scenes but I will warn you that it makes the shower scene from Psycho look like the shower scene from Flashdance.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The FGR Week 9 NFL Picks

We're going to go ahead and clear-out the Week 9 picks to make room for some funny ass shit in the Friday morning edition. Yeah that's right, I'm calling my shot. Go hard or go home . . . or you can hang-out here on the couch until your ride gets here. I don't want to be rude.

Just keeping it clean and simple this week.
Miami by 2 over San Diego: The Pick - Dolphins
Cinci by 11 over Jacksonville: The Pick - Jags
Cleveland by 6.5 over Tampa: The Pick - Browns
Minnesota by 2 over Washington: The Pick - Skins
Philadelphia by 2 at Houston: The Pick - Eagles
Kansas City by 9.5 over N.Y. Jets: The Pick - Jets
Dallas by 3.5 over Arizona: The Pick - Cardinals
San Francisco by 10 over St. Louis: The Pick - 49ers
Denver by 3 at New England: The Pick - Broncos
Seattle by 15 over Oakland: The Pick - Raiders
Pittsburgh by 1 over Baltimore: The Pick - Ravens
Indianapolis by 3 at N.Y. Giants: The Pick - Colts

Last Week's Record: 5-10 . . . Season Record: 55-64-1

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The FGR Week 9 Thursday Night Pick

So last week's formula of focusing on the writing and making the picks an afterthought worked-out pretty much as expected and all of that hard work to recover from my disastrous start went right out the window with a 5-10 week. That's the bad news. The good news is that my almost perfect Thursday night record improved to 7-1 so I've got that going for me . . . which is something . . . I guess.

New Orleans by 2.5 at Carolina: The Pick - Panthers

Not to mention, we haven't
really given the TopCats
their due this season. 
This is quite the enigma game. Both teams are headed for a finish somewhere between 7-9 or 9-7 which, for the Panthers, probably means 7-8-1 thanks to their gift of a tie with the Bengals. So in a game rife with uncertainty, here is what we do know: (a) both of these teams can completely show-up or not show-up at all in any given week so picking games that involve them is like trying to staff a taco stand with guys on work release . . . unpredictable; and (b) NFC South intra-divisional games tend to be pretty close. Based on that shaky intel, I'm taking Riverboat Ron, Cam Newton, home field and the points against Rob Ryan's defense.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

The FGR's 2014 Quarterback Rankings

As complicated as the NFL has become of late with its read-option offenses, its elaborate defensive schemes, it's make it up as we go personal conduct policy and its campaign to raise breast cancer awareness by selling pink stuff and then pocketing most of the profits,* it's ultimately a very straight-forward league with one simple question at the heart of it. "Do you have a quarterback who can win the Super Bowl?" Well, do you? Let's run through all thirty-two teams and see who's set at the most important athletic position on Earth and who's stuck on the Jay Cutler Roller Coaster from Hell. From the top Maestro!


Eli gets a spot at the adult table
until he retires. Deal with it.
Right out of the gate we're going to grandfather in everyone who has been to the Super Bowl over the last three years because (a) if you've made it there, you're probably capable of winning it (and in fact, everyone in this group has except Colin Kaepernick), (b) you've been so recently that you probably have enough in the tank to go again and (c) that's as far back as we could go before running into Ben Roethlisberger (we'll get to him later). This group includes Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, Kaepernick, Eli Manning and Tom Brady. If you have one of these guys, you may not be going on your dream date but you know you've got a shot. You also know that no one in the next group will be available so you've really got nowhere else to go (and no, I will never pass-up an opportunity to insert that clip).


Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and (without a ton of conviction) Drew Brees . . . This category was going to be reserved for the players who would be included in the discussion of "if you could have any quarterback to start your team with today, who would it be?" and then I realized I hadn't found a spot for Brees so I snuck him in through the kitchen. Rodgers is obvious because he just won a Super Bowl four years ago with a seriously clutch performance, he's at the top of his game right now and he's only thirty years old which means that you probably have at least a five year window. Luck is equally as obvious because, unless you put him on a team that is clueless in the fine art of drafting and signing men who are good at football (currently the Jets, Raiders, Jaguars and Buccaneers . . . and by "currently," I mean since 2011), then he is going to take you to the playoffs at least four out of every five years and the more you go, the better shot you have to pull-off a winning run (no, I am not a scientist . . . I just know things like that). As for Brees, let's say that if the window is still open, it's just enough so the dog can get some air while you run into 7-11 for smokes and a Slurpee.** Out of respect for the ring he's already won and the fact that he's one of the few quarterbacks in the league who can outscore having Rob Ryan coach his team's defense, we'll continue to rank him among the elite.


Alex Smith and Nick Foles . . . Johnson and Dilfer proved that, if you support your quarterback with a lights-out defense and a decent running game, all you really need from him to win the Super Bowl is the threat of being successful without the reality of turnovers. In their two wins, Johnson and Dilfer combined for 3 touchdown passes, 1 interception and 368 yards while their defenses created a combined 10 turnovers and held their opponents to 3 points that mattered. (The Raiders scored first against the Bucs to take a 3-0 lead and then proceeded to fall behind 34-3 before they scored again. The Ravens defense actually shut-out the Giants who only scored on a relatively meaningless kickoff return touchdown). Smith and Foles are better quarterbacks than Johnson and Dilfer ever were but they would have to be because they don't have those dominating defenses and they each have a historical burden to overcome. For Smith, it's Andy Reid and for Foles it's being the quarterback of a team that everyone fully expects to blow it in the end . . . especially its own fans.

MAYBE . . . OK . . . YES . . . WAIT . . . I MEAN NO . . . SHIT, I DON'T KNOW

Tony Romo and Phillip Rivers . . . Rivers and Romo are currently ranked 2nd and 3rd in QBR (the ESPN concocted quarterback rating system that has become all the rage among ESPN NFL analysts but, for some reason, doesn't seem to be catching-on elsewhere). Rivers has actually been on some Super Bowl caliber teams and come-up short for a variety of reasons, most notably Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner who could have coached the '85 Bears to a first round upset. 
"Told you we shouldn't draft
Johnny Football heh heh heh."

Romo may actually belong in the next category but for some reason I see him as this generation's Steve Young (note that I wrote that before looking-up the fact that Young's career passer rating was 96.8 and Romo's is currently 96.3 . . . maybe I am a scientist). Let's put it this way, you don't give-up on a quarterback who has been as consistently solid as Romo with the suspect offensive lines they've given him before this year. Even Jerry Jones recognizes that which means it's fairly obvious.   

And that covers the quarterbacks who currently give their team a shot. Sorry if your guy's name hasn't come up yet.


Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton . . . We could also have called this group all kinds of things inspired by their collective abilities to not win playoff games but I never pass-up the opportunity for a Top Gun reference especially when I just introduced the next generation to it a couple weeks ago (mixed reviews with a big thumbs-up from FGK2 and early departures by FGK1 and FGK3. We'll excuse the latter because she is a seven year girl and probably not the intended target audience for a 1986 movie about Navy fighter pilots). If for some inexplicable reason you haven't seen Top Gun or worse, you've forgotten the exchange, here's how it went down:

Jester: Fitness report says it all. He's a wild card. Completely unpredictable.
(Some non-relevant dialogue that doesn't help prove my point).
Viper: Tell me, if you had to go into battle, would you want him with you?
Jester: I just don't know.   

Pretty much sums-up the five quarterbacks in this group right? I see Jay Cutler as the poster boy, especially after last week's debacle against the Dolphins. His enduring legacy will be the guy who was thrown into the most fantasy football trade offers to make them look better than they really were. "OK, but what about T.Y. Hilton AND Jay Cutler for Marshawn Lynch?" To paraphrase Gordon Gecko (staying with the 80's movie theme) Ryan, Dalton, Stafford and Newton might be a shade better than Cutler but really they're just dogs with different fleas. 


Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer . . . This category is for the guys who have either won a Super Bowl or at one time had dreams of Lombardi Trophies dancing in fans' heads but have since lost their fastball. (The reference in the title is to my favorite This is Sportcenter ad of all-time which you can check-out here). Roethlisberger looks like a heavyweight boxer hanging-on for one too many paychecks and watching Palmer play is like watching your kid ride a bike down a steep hill for the first time. "JESUS WATCH THE POTHOLE!!!"   


Might want to return that call from
Maxim while you're still relevant.
Ryan Tannehill . . . This is only Tannehill's third season and he hasn't quite shown the bust potential of the crew we're about to get to in our next category but he ain't Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson either. Then again, he is married to Mrs. Ryan Tannehill so we're going to give him the benefit of the doubt.


Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Orton, Mike Glennon and Brian Hoyer . . . These guys are like seat fillers at the Oscars and, in most cases, the team and the fans know it. They're either waiting for a recent draft pick to get his shot or for next year's draft to yield new hope. The exception of course is Hoyer because anytime the Browns stumble onto a quarterback who can throw a five yard pass on 3rd and 9 AND chew gum at the same time, they convince themselves they've found their savior. (See also: Derek Anderson, Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy, Charlie Frye and Kelly Holcomb).


RG, III, Sam Bradford, Jake Locker, E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith . . . Every time a head coach is fired for putting his life savings on the rookie quarterback roulette wheel spot and coming-up empty, a new head coaching job is created. Thanks to these five young quarterbacks, Mike Shanahan, Steve Spagnuolo and Mike Munchak are already gone while Doug Marrone and Rex Ryan will not be far behind. Coaches who don't fall ass backwards into a Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers like John Fox and Mike McCarthy did often find themselves in a Catch-22 where the general manager who drafts a crappy quarterback then has to cover his ass and, because he can't fire the quarterback he just drafted (because that would be an admission of failure), he fires the coach. That was one of the reasons the end of the Shanahan era in Washington was so entertaining. He picked and coached the quarterback and, when things went south, he basicallly did everything but start calling Dan Snyder "shorty pants" to get himself fired so he could keep the $5M or so left on his deal and watch the current Redskins train wreck from a beach somewhere. There's a lesson in there somewhere about hiring 60+ year old coaches who already have two Super Bowl rings and a year round tan.


Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater . . . So far, none of these three newbies have shown the instant gravitas that we felt with Wilson, Luck and Kaepernick but that doesn't mean they won't one day rise into the Alex Smith/Nick Foles category. If there is one lesson that we should be learning, however (other than the 60 year old tan coach lesson), it is that you don't want to draft a quarterback with a spindly/fragile base a la RG, III, Sam Bradford and Jake Locker which does not portend well for Bridgewater who looks like he could get broken in half on every play. Remember kids, 80% of life is just showing-up and every team in the league is one hit away from being 4-12 so durability counts (cut to every Redskins fan nodding). Come to think of it, after accuracy and arm strength, there may not be a more critical scouting component for quarterbacks than "looks fat in those jeans."


So that's thirteen out of thirty-two teams that have the goods under center to win the title. Even if you moved a few more borderline guys like Roethlisberger, Newton and Stafford into that category, that would still only be half the league. For the rest it's back to the scouting trail to try to find the next Wilson, Rodgers or Brady. Well except for the Browns who will continue to prove Segal's law that the team with one starting quarterback has a starting quarterback while the team with two starting quarterbacks has none.***


Come on NFL . . . your
moral compass is now
actually spinning.
* According to this Business Insider article, only about 8% of the money collected through the sale of NFL pink merchandise actually goes to cancer research while about 87.5% of the money goes to the retailer and the manufacturer of the merchandise. That doesn't seem too egregious until you consider the amount of NFL merchandise that is sold by the NFL making them the "retailer" in that scenario. Oh NFL, you've done it again.

** Is there a more underrated "refreshment" than the Slurpee? Ten times better than a crappy Sno-Ball, lighter than a milkshake and more satisfying than a soda. Maybe it would have enjoyed greater success if its name didn't sound like a porn search term.

*** Segal's law is actually that a man with one watch always knows what time its is while a man with two watches is never sure but you get the picture.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The FGR Week 8 NFL Picks

Last week's 10-5 shindig partially dislodged the writer's block and inspired some real content which will appear in Friday's edition of the FGR. Today, however, we'll take care of the administrative side and see if we can continue climbing-out of our early season crater.

Who's excited for a Sunday
night shootout? I am.
Denver by 7.5 over San Diego: The Pick - Broncos 
Detroit by 4 over Atlanta: The Pick - Lions
Tampa Bay by 2.5 over Minnesota: The Pick - Bucs
New England by 6.5 over Chicago: The Pick - Bears
Kansas City by 6.5 over St. Louis: The Pick - Chiefs
Seattle by 4.5 at Carolina: The Pick - Seahawks
N.Y. Jets by 3 over Buffalo: The Pick - Bills
Miami by 5.5 at Jacksonville: The Pick - Jags
Houston by 1 at Tennessee: The Pick - Titans
Cincinnati by 1.5 over Baltimore: The Pick - Ravens
Arizona by 2.5 over Philadelphia: The Pick - Eagles
Indianapolis by 3 at Pittsburgh: The Pick - Colts
Cleveland by 7 over Oakland: The Pick - Browns
New Orleans by 1.5 over Green Bay: The Pick - Pack 
Dallas by 9.5 over Washington: The Pick - Redskins

Last Week's Record: 10-5 . . . 
Season Record: 50-54-1.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

The FGR Week 7 NFL Picks

This week's version of the FGR's latest feature, "The Excuse of the Week" is a two day golf junket to New Jersey which wiped-out about 65 hours of potential writing time between the event, the prep and the recovery. The result is another week of low-rent NFL picks, a Philadelphia area Carrabba's* busboy rocking a pretty sweet RLX golf jacket and the staff of the host club shipping a pair of shoes to me that have now spent more time traveling from country clubs to my house via FedEx than they have on my feet. Many of you will recognize this as the classic George Costanza move of leaving something behind to ensure that you will be invited back. (The similarities between George Costanza and myself are really starting to pile-on. Come to think of it, I may have eaten part of a chocolate eclair off the top of a trash can when I was away . . .or maybe it was a fried shrimp).

So here comes another round of dry picks. The only analysis I could manufacture for any of these games was that (a) the Bengals v. Colts match-up kind of feels like a playoff game which is bad news for Andy Dalton and the Bengals and (b) we need to take a breath before we get too carried away about the Browns' resurgence (I'm looking at you Peter King). They've got close wins over the Saints who might actually be terrible and the Titans who actually are terrible. Last week they crushed the Steelers who show all of the signs of a team with a crumbling foundation. The truth is we may not know how good or bad the Browns really are until they go to Cincinnati on November 6th because they have the NFL's version of a three week kiddie coaster ride upcoming against the Jags, Raiders and Bucs. If there is any rhyme, reason, order or logic left in this league, they'll drop one of those games so we can get back to the business of ignoring them.

Nothing says, "we've got things
heading in the right direction" like
being 5.5 underdogs to the Redskins.
Indianapolis by 3 over Cincinnati: The Pick - Colts
Washington by 5.5 over Tennessee: The Pick - Redskins
Chicago by 3 over Miami: The Pick - Bears
Cleveland by 5.5 at Jacksonville: The Pick - Jags
Seattle by 7 at St. Louis: The Pick - Seahawks
Green Bay by 7 over Carolina: The Pick - Packers
Baltimore by 7 over Atlanta: The Pick - Ravens
Buffalo by 5.5 over Minnesota: The Pick - Vikings
Detroit by 3 over New Orleans: The Pick - Saints
San Diego by 4 over Kansas City: The Pick - Chiefs
Dallas by 6.5 over N.Y. Giants: The Pick - Cowboys
Arizona by 3.5 at Oakland: The Pick - Cardinals
Denver by 6.5 over San Francisco: The Pick - Denver
Pittsburgh by 3.5 over Houston: The Pick - Texans


* We stopped at a Carrabba's on the drive home to catch the last few innings of the inevitable buzz kill that was the O's-Royals game 4. After dropping an entire pizza and a couple glasses of the finest house Cabernet on top of what had already been a fairly debaucherous couple of days, I left without my jacket while feeling bloated and depressed. At least in that moment, I had to acknowledge the wisdom that Dean Wormer bestowed upon Kent Dorfman . . . "hellooooo."

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

The FGR Week 7 Thursday Night Pick

New England by 9.5 over N.Y. Jets: The Pick - Patriots

It's all smiles in New England until
their inevitable January demise.
It's time to stop this ridiculous death/rebirth cycle that we've been projecting onto the Patriots for about the past five years. As long as they have Tom Brady and the rest of the AFC East continues to flounder with the likes of Geno Smith, Kyle Orton and Ryan Tannehill, the Pats will keep winning it before eventually running into a playoff opponent who beats them up (Ravens) or outguns them (Broncos). They continue to be who we thought they were. An 11-5 team in a bad division or the NFL's version of the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. Rex Ryan will have the Jets up but they're only averaging 16 points per game and they've only cracked 20 once. That's not going to cut it. This looks like another Thursday night massacre in the making.  

Last Week's Record: 6-8 . . . Season Record: 40-49-1