Monday, January 30, 2012

2012 PGA Tour Preview

"This is big.  You can spend the rest of
your life smokin' menthol cigarettes
and eating Kobe beef or writing a
blog from your parents' basement."
No more false promises, hollow threats or drawing lines in the sand. I've been putting this off like painting the porch or unjamming all of the goddamn storm windows when this is supposed to be the Catalina fuckin' Wine Mixer of the Fantasy Golf Report.  So I've finally hunkered down with the wife out for the night, a $7 bottle of wine and the first "A" list field of the season playing at Torrey Pines. (Note: I wrote this passionate introduction on Thursday night.  It is now 4:30 on Monday.  Suffice it to say that the storm windows are still jammed).  (Catalina Wine Mixer - Deleted Scene).           

One of the great things about golf is that the season runs for nine months from January through the end of September (there are four tournaments after that called the "Fall Series" but those don't count because well, they literally don't count) and there is a four day event played every week.  The problem from a preview perspective, however, is that the players trickle in from January through April like college kids showing-up at the dining hall for Sunday morning breakfast.  (Reason No. 271 why college life is taken for granted: You could just roll out of bed and go to a place on campus that had unlimited food, coffee and soda but most of the time you couldn't make it there on Sunday morning when you needed it most.  If I had known there would come a day when three miniature people would walk into my room on a rough Sunday morning and demand pancakes, and that I would actually get up and accommodate their request, I might have made that trip to the dining hall a little more often . . . oh who am I kidding?  No I wouldn't).

"I don't know if it'll make any
change, but I figure it's time for
me to start writing about golf."
Writing a golf preview in December (when I started this freakin' thing) is like writing an NFL preview in August if the Packers, Eagles, Steelers and Chargers had bye weeks through November. It's like trying to write about Tuesday. It has no feel. Google "PGA Tour Preview" and check out the limited selections, all of which are odes to the obvious. For example, had ten writers predict which players will finish 1st through 5th in the 2012 FedEx Cup race. The choices for first place were Luke Donald (4), Rory McIlroy (2), Tiger Woods (2), Phil Mickelson (1) and Jason Day (1). For the record, that's (a) last year's leading money winner, (b) the defending U.S. Open champ, (c) the greatest golfer of all-time, (d) the second best active golfer of all-time and (e) Jason Day. Zzzzzzz.

But what are they supposed to write about? I mean here is how I ranked my preseason Top 5:

1. Jason Day
2. Tiger Woods
3. Matt Kuchar
4. Nick Watney
5. Rory McIlroy

"Hey, my name's Donald too."
I had Luke Donald 6th because these rankings were for a league where you draft six players (we'll call it the "Pick 6 League") and end-up hanging-on to your top picks for the whole year (unless something goes horribly). I did not want to spend 2012 rooting for Luke Donald because (a) his game has about as much flair as a Bill Belichick press conference and (b) I don't think he has the stones to win a major. He won two tournaments last year. One was the match play where you only have to beat one player at a time and, at the other, the trophy was presented to him by a guy wearing a Donald Duck suit.

I don't need the aggravation of watching Donald play his way into contention at all four majors only to fade to a tie for 6th as I'm sitting there wondering why they're not showing him anymore until they inevitably cut to the highlight with, "if you were wondering what happened to Luke Donald . . ."  I've got my own golf game to supply that disappointment.

"Kent, Lonny, I'd like you to meet . . .
Mohammet, Jugdish, Sidney and Clayton."
OK, now that I've somehow made you less interested in a 2012 PGA Tour preview than you were when you started reading, let's get down to the really nerdy stuff.  I did have one semi-legitimate excuse for sitting on this thing until we were four tournaments into the season which was that I didn't want to give any intel to my fantasy golf competition prior to draft night where I have been known to get a little surly in response to even the most benign requests for information ("Do your own fucking research!").

In addition to the Pick 6 Leagues, I'm taking my first run at a high stakes pick one player per tournament format so we should have lots to talk about this season.  (Good Lord this thing has as longer intro than Fly Like an Eagle).  So without further ado, the official FGR 2012 PGA Tour Preview:

The Top Ten

The draft results from my two leagues would indicate a consensus Top 3 of (1) Tiger Woods, (2) Luke Donald and (3) Rory McIlroy.  From there it gets pretty subjective.  Players are drafted primarily based on who will earn the most prize money and secondarily, who will perform best at the majors and the other prestigious events.  This is the first year Tiger Woods has been eligible since he went medieval on the Tour in 2000 (his accomplishments that year are to voluminous to squeeze into this paragraph so I've listed them below to remind everyone what a total badass he was at his peak).  The mere specter of that 2000 season has kept him out of the league for over ten years because he is the one guy who has the potential to destroy the competitive balance.  This year you have to pick him #1 because if you don't, he will somehow know that you disrespected him and will make you pay even though he has cuff links that he cares more about than your existence on this Earth.  Here are the average draft positions for the Top 10:

1. Tiger Woods (1st, 1st)
I couldn't find a picture of Jason Day
but did find this one of his wife, Ellie,
who appears to be a little confused
about where her target is located.
2.  Luke Donald (2nd, 3rd)
3.  Rory McIlroy (4th, 2nd)
4.  Webb Simpson (5th, 6th)
5.  Matt Kuchar (6th, 8th)
5.  Nick Watney (7th, 7th)
7.  Phil Mickelson (9th, 5th)
8.  Jason Day (3rd, 14th)
8.  Lee Westwood (13th, 4th)
10.  Dustin Johnson (8th, 9th)

And here was my Top 10:

1.  Jason Day
2.  Tiger Woods
3.  Matt Kuchar
4.  Nick Watney
5.  Rory McIlroy
6.  Luke Donald
7.  Webb Simpson
8.  Adam Scott
9.  Hunter Mahan
10. Dustin Johnson

In the interest of full disclosure, if I had gotten the first pick in either draft, I don't think I could have prevented the words "Tiger Woods" from coming out of my mouth.  One of the main reasons you do these leagues is to have something to watch and root for during the dog days of sports from February through August so you might as well pick the guy who gets more air time than Jim Carrey in The Truman Show.  (They actually did a poll a few years ago where the majority of respondents said they would rather see coverage of Tiger leaning on his putter than another player hitting a shot.  In a related story, Jersey Shore was the highest rated cable show last week narrowly edging two episodes of Pawn Stars).

In the end, I got Jason Day with the 3rd pick in Draft 1 and could've had him with the 7th pick in Draft 2 but hedged my bet and took Matt Kuchar instead.  As I've said before, I like to have players who look like they want to win as much as I want them to win and Jason Day definitely fits that profile.  This also explains why I took Spencer Levin at least one round too early.  Spencer has the kind of passion I want to see in my squad.  (Case in Point).  The same philosophy prevented me from drafting Ryan "Whatever" Moore in addition to the fear that one more direct hit with the remote is going to finally crack my flat screen.  Here are what two rosters in a 15 team league might look like if you see the 2012 golfing landscape through my eyes (two leagues = twice the fun):

"Don't sweat it Jerkstore.  I got this"
The Jerkstore

Jason Day
Zach Johnson
Spencer Levin
Sean O'Hair
Cameron Tringale
Scott Piercy (who has since been replaced by free agent Ernie Els in the hopes that he makes some headway in the 8th year of his 3 year plan to claim the No. 1 Ranking).

Kaos Theory 

Matt Kuchar
Zach Johnson
Bo Van Pelt
Kevin Na
Vijay Singh
Scott Piercy

Team 2 is named after my new favorite post-golf draft hang out, "Kaos Grill and Gentlemen's Club" which it turns out is conveniently located ten minutes from my house.  Kaos has been described by the Baltimore City Paper as "the place to be in Towson" (they left off ". . . for bounty hunters and meth lab equipment reps.")  I'm not sure about "the place to be" but I will tell you that if you walk in without a limp and flash a full set of teeth, you will get VIP treatment.

At least it wasn't "Cherish."
Horrible song, great video. 
The two guys I would've liked to have found spots for but couldn't were Gary Woodland and Brandt Snedeker. I wouldn't be surprised if both of them play their way onto the Ryder Cup team. I probably had Snedeker slotted a little low based on his tearful post-Masters press conference in 2008. When I say I want passion on my team, I mean rage, not tears which should be reserved for those nights when you plow through a bottle of red wine and inadvertently find yourself watching the end of Steal Magnolias (I saw Tom Skerritt and thought it was Top Gun and, before I could change it, they were pulling the plug on Julia Roberts. It wasn't quite as bad as the time when I was driving back from Florida by myself, got a case of white line fever and caught myself belting out Borderline like I was auditioning for The Voice).

Who Will Win What

"That's pretty arrogant considering the
company you're in. I like that in a nerd."
Despite playing fantasy golf since 1997, I've never played in a league where you pick one player per week and can't use the same guy twice.  It always seemed like there was too much luck involved and I subscribe to the the Phil Helmuth poker theory that, "if there weren't luck involved, I'd win every time."  I also prefer the idea of having a group of players to root for throughout the season as opposed to a flavor of the week.  But if you're going to write something called the Fantasy Golf Report, sometimes you have to make sacrifices so here are my preseason tournament picks for the majors and World Golf Championships (along with the picks for the ones that have already been played):

Hyundai: Decided to use a good player early and went with Bill Haas who finished 20th behind such PGA Tour icons as Chris Kirk, Scott Piercy and D.A. Points.  Bill Haas is dead to me.

Hopefully, Johnson earned
enough to pay-off his bookie
so he can ditch the disguise.
Sony: Bounced back when rolling the dice on Charles Howell, III paid off with a tie for 2nd.  Fortunately, due to the fake moustache, no one saw Johnson Wagner coming so he went unpicked.

Humana: Made the rookie mistake of deviating from the game plan which is never, ever leave your wing . . . no that's not it.  It's stick with the big names and don't get cute by picking a guy like Brian Gay.  Paid for it with a tie for 42nd.

Farmers:  Back to the game plan last week with Brandt Snedeker.  I feel REALLY bad about Kyle Stanley's struggles on 18 yesterday but if you're 77 yards from the hole and you know you have five shots to work with and still can't get it done, you don't deserve to win.  That was worse than Jean Van de Velde because there were no adverse conditions to deal with other than the ones in his head telling him to finish by sticking it close.  As Stanley's overly aggressive wedge shot was spinning back into the water, I imagine his caddie was muttering the same words the Russian sonar operator said to his captain in The Hunt for Red October right before his sub was destroyed by its own torpedo, "You arrogant ass.  You've killed us!"

As for the rest of the season, I don't think you can map out the whole thing but I do think you can outline the majors (where we get to pick two players) and some of the other events.  For instance, you almost have to pick Steve Stricker for the John Deere Classic which he's won three years in a row unless you figure that a run like that is due to end and you should use him in a major (crap, now I've got to rearrange the whole spreadsheet).  Here are two picks each for the majors, the Players and the Match Play:
Adam Scott makes good choices.

Accenture: Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer

Players: Nick Watney and Hunter Mahan

Masters: Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott

U.S. Open: Jason Day and Lee Westwood

British Open: Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson

PGA: Matt Kuchar and Sergio Garcia

Notice I don't have Mickelson on that list.  The only one of those events he contended in last year was the British and there's no way you're picking him for that.  Not to mention, his putting is currently so bad that Vijay can't even bear to watch it.  (He should never have switched to the long putter which is the golfing equivalent of asking the Godfather for a favor on his daughter's wedding day.  You'll get what you asked for, but at a steep price).  If you're a Mickelson guy and you want to get him in the major line-up, put him in for the Masters, move Adam Scott over to the Players and save Hunter Mahan for the Bridgestone Invitational (I think I may have just revised my own strategy.  I love talking it out).  The other two glaring omissions are Webb Simpson (Wells Fargo) and K.J. Choi (kind of unpredictable but pretty solid at the Northern Trust and maybe the AT&T National).  That still leaves a lot of talent including Zach Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Gary Woodland, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson, etc. and I've got most of them tentatively slotted but that information has to remain confidential in case anyone in my league has actually made it this far without losing consciousness.              

Bold predictions for 2012

Let's wrap this thing up (so soon?) with a few random predictions for the season: 

1.  Tiger will win three tournaments including a major.  I like the British because if he doesn't win the Masters or the U.S. Open, he is going to will himself to a victory at Royal Lytham where only the best have won (Duval, Lehman, Ballesteros, Player, Jacklin, etc.).  Tiger will also have an epic outburst at some point.  I'm really looking forward to a Tiger who has high expectations and a tarnished image that is not as worth protecting as it used to be.  I can only hope that he's seeking Michael Jordan's counsel.   

2.  Sergio Garcia will win his first major and set the record for the lowest attendance ever at a championship trophy presentation.   

3.  Trevor Immelman is healthier than he's been in years and ready to disappoint.

"I want me mum."
4.  Jason Day will win a major (he better).   

5.  I've picked three of the four major winners so why not the last one . . . Rory McIlroy will exercise his demons at Augusta though it won't be easy with this image dominating the week.

At this point, I'm as weary as Marge Simpson at the end of her lengthy recitation of Homer's faults during marriage counseling:  "He drinks out of the carton.  He never changes the baby.  When he goes to sleep, he makes chewing noises.  When he wakes up, he makes honking noises.  Oh, oh, and he scratches himself with his keys.  I guess that's it . . . oh, no, wait.  He kicks me in his sleep and his toenails are too long . . . and yellow."  If there are any questions I've left unanswered, feel free to email me and we'll get a Bill Simmons mailbag rip-off going.  In the meantime, I'll leave you with a breakdown of Tiger's epic 2000 season:
  • Three major wins (U.S. Open, British Open and PGA) and a 5th at the Masters (tell me that one doesn't haunt him);
  • Six other wins including three of the six most prestigious non-majors (WGC-NEC Invitational, Mercedes Championship and the Memorial);
  • In the other three most prestigious non-majors, he finished second (WGC-Accenture Match Play, the Players Championship and the Tour Championship);
  • He had 17 Top10's in 20 tournaments (his three non Top 10's were an 11th, an 18th and a 23rd);
  • $9,188,321 in prize money (Mickelson was 2nd on the money list with $4,746,457.  Mickelson also had four wins including the Tour Championship and finished no worse than 16th in a major and he doesn't even register as a footnote that season).
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sitting by the Sprinkler

The Firm may be the most over the top movie of Tom Cruise's career and that's saying something in light of Top Gun, Eyes Wide Shut, Vanilla Sky, the entire Mission Impossible series plus all of the ones that I haven't even seen (and never will) like Knight and Day, Minority Report and War of the Worlds.  Consider that in one of the opening scenes, Cruise's character, Mitch McDeere, does a series of back hand springs down a busy Memphis sidewalk alongside a young street performer to the oohs and ahs of his new mob lawyer friends.  Later in the movie, he beats Wilford Brimley to death with nothing but a soft leather briefcase (so much for "we won't get any older and we'll never die."  Apparently Tom Cruise and a Coach bag trumps eternal life granted by aliens and a steady diet of Quaker Oats).

"What?  A guy named Sonny can't
be a stock broker or somethin'"
But the most over the top scene in The Firm doesn't even center on Cruise.  It features Terry Kinney (Oz) who plays McDeere's young naive fellow associate, Lamar Quinn.  Lamar has just learned that two of the firm's other associates have died in a "mysterious" scuba diving accident in the Cayman Islands because, even though all of their clients have names like "Sonny Capps" and they're getting paid New York money to practice law in Memphis, none of these Ivy League grads have figured out that they work for the mob.  (Seriously, the client's name is "Sonny Capps" as in, "let's pay tribute to Sonny Corleone and Al Capone."   Did I miss the part in the opening credits where the audience is told to accept the premise that none of the characters have seen The Godfather?). 

We know immediately that this news has devastated Quinn.  How do we know?  Because he's sitting in a chair in his backyard holding a beer, staring straight ahead with a look of total shock and disbelief as a lawn sprinkler soaks what appear to be his very expensive Italian leather shoes.  I think part of the disbelief was because he was thinking, "I've been sitting here for an hour, why won't my wife turn off the sprinkler?"  (I imagine the crafting of this scene went something like this.  "OK, we need to show that Quinn is in a total state of shock to the point that he's oblivious to everything that is happening around him.  Ideas?" . . . "We could have a woodpecker trying to peck a hole in his skull." . . . "You're on the right track but I hate working with animals.  What else you got?" . . . "What if we turn on the sprinkler? . . . "I like it but we have to aim low so we don't mess up his hair and make-up but we want it to have serious shock value so put him in really expensive looking shoes").
"I'm so sad.  It feels like my feet are crying."

And sadly, that scene perfectly illustrates how I've felt since Monday morning.  At least Quinn was sitting outside on a warm day in Memphis.  We had the kind of gray, cold and wet weather in Baltimore on Monday that has suicide hotlines putting people on hold.  The Governor stationed two National Guardsmen outside of every door to a rooftop more than two stories high.  And it doesn't help that they're running ads for Man on a Ledge and The Grey every five minutes and it's got us thinking, "maybe I'll just climb out the window and see where it goes from there" or "maybe I'll wander into the forest and a wolf will eat me."

I'm trying to stay positive, however, and I think I have made it to a state of depression which has me 80% of the way through the five stages of loss and grief.  Let's review:

1.  Denial and Isolation:  For about an hour after Cundiff missed the kick, I just aimlessly roamed around my house kind of cleaning-up, not talking to any of the 20+ people who had come over to watch the game.  I think my wife had the good sense to round-up all of the kids and tell them not to speak to me.  Or maybe they did try to talk to me and I just ignored them.  That's one of the great things about kids, you can ignore them when they talk and they don't care because they're not really interested in your feedback anyway.  (Wait a minute.  I think I just described myself).
2.  Anger:  This kicked-in around the 4th quarter of the second game as I watched Alex Smith throw his 11th slider in the dirt and thought about how bad the Ravens would have crushed the Niners (maybe not the Giants, but definitely the Niners).  From there I just kept shifting the target of my ire.  From Cundiff, to Cam Cameron for calling the ill-fated draw play that took the Ravens out of field goal range and finally to Lee Evans who momentarily held the ticket to the Super Bowl before having it swatted away.  I've gone back and forth on whether he absolutely should've made that catch and was finally convinced today when someone emailed me that "he should have handled that ball like it was the last loaf of non-radiated bread on a just nuked planet Earth."  Anquan Boldin would've squeezed that loaf of bread so hard it would have turned back into dough.         

"We've got to get you to your ship
and then it's business time."
3.  Bargaining:  At one point I actually tried to convince myself that at least I wouldn't have to deal with the hassle and expense of getting to a Super Bowl in Indianapolis in February.  I didn't go in 2001 and I always regretted it but my circumstances at the time made dropping several grand to go to Tampa seem like a bad idea.  (I was working as a temp lawyer making no money with no benefits and I had a mortgage.  And there was the small matter of my wife being six months pregnant with our first child so not going to the game was actually the first shrewd financial decision I had made since . . . um . . . oh who am I kidding?  It was the first shrewd financial decision I ever made).

This bargaining argument kind of comes unglued, however, when you realize that it would be like you were a sophomore in high school and the hottest senior calls you out of the blue to tell you that her parents are gone for the weekend and she invites you to come over and "hang-out."  (If only I had a dollar for every time that happened to me).  One problem.  You don't have a driver's license because you haven't gotten around to taking the test (things kept coming up alright) and she lives ten miles away.  The thought of not going due to the hassle might (and I emphasize "might") cross your mind for a split second but three minutes later you'd be on your Schwinn peddling like you're trying to save your creepy little alien friend from the Feds.    

4.  Depression:  And here we are in the lawn chair next to the sprinkler (couldn't someone at least move the sprinkler to the other side of the yard?).  Only instead of a lawn chair in Memphis, it's a desk chair in Baltimore and instead of a beer, it's a bottle of water (actually it's many bottles of water and some aspirin) and instead of a sprinkler, it's just gray ice everywhere you look.  (Isn't this uplifting?).  At least I know from the experience of the last four years that this too shall pass but it's going to take a little longer because of how close the Ravens came and the fact that we as fans took a Mike Tyson body blow followed by a devastating uppercut in the space of about 30 seconds.  Which leads me to . . .       

"That's a lovely accent
you have . . . Arbutus?"
5.  Acceptance:  As I've noted before, we don't have a lot of other options in this town (We've Got Nowhere Else to Go! - November 3, 2011). Ironically, the putridness of the Orioles actually works in our favor because by late June they make us look forward to the Ravens again, regardless of how the previous season ended.  (I'm working really hard to find a silver lining here).  The Super Bowl will hurt, especially if the Patriots win but by March Madness the pain will begin to subside and the next thing you know it's golf season and the Mount Gay Southsides will be flowing like wine and the women will flock to the pools like the salmon of Capistrano.  I'm starting to feel better already.  (That's great but it's 2:00 a.m. and you're rambling into dangerous territory.  You might want to wrap this thing up).

In the end I will cling to one positive from Sunday's game and that is that Joe Flacco has shut my proverbial pie hole.  I had never bought that he was a Super Bowl caliber quarterback despite his impressive record because in the three playoff losses before this year, he stunk.  On Sunday, however, he was one of the best players on the field and, as far as I'm concerned, he threw the game winning touchdown pass.  He may not be Rodgers, Brady or Brees but he proved that has the stuff to get it done so you're telling us there's a chance and, at this point, that's all we can ask.  Now if someone would please turn off that goddamn SPRINKLER!!!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

This is the End

Until next year my friend.
Moments in life always put songs in my head.   Right now it's the Doors.

Cam Cameron, Billy Cundiff and Lee Evans, you are by all accounts good people but I never want to see you wearing purple again.  Good night and good luck.  

The Jerkstore

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Blind Date with Destiny

"Hey Gronkowski, let me show
you what we like to call the
 "Charm City Bump and Run.'"
The two things I wish I could take credit for writing the most are the lyrics to Cake's Short Skirt/Long Jacket and this William H. Macy line from Mystery Men,  "We've got a blind date with destiny . . . and it looks like she's ordered the lobster" which is probably pretty close to what John Harbaugh is telling the Ravens at practice this week considering the Herculean task they face in New England on Sunday.  (Do you realize that the Patriots have not one, but two tight ends who can catch a football?  Is that even legal?)  But you know what . . . since the playoffs started, we never talk anymore.  You want me to got first?  Ok.   

Mystery Men holds a special place in my heart because I saw it at the Harbor East theatre in downtown Baltimore on a Thursday afternoon in 1999 at around 2:00 p.m. (Avon Barksdale wouldn't even go to the Harbor East after dark).  At the time, I was in the process of riding out the last few weeks of the worst job I ever had and was locked in a game of chicken with my employer who was hoping that I would quit out of sheer boredom because I had essentially stopped working and they had essentially stopped giving me work.  (They eventually won.  You know it's time to move on when you're playing on-line Euchre and you yell, "Here comes the left bower mutherfucker!" loud enough for the whole office to hear).  It's one of the very few benefits of working for a law firm.  The partners are extremely reluctant to fire you because (a) they're afraid you'll sue them (ironically, lawyers hate to be sued), and (b) it makes them feel like they made a mistake by hiring you in the first place (lawyers have ginormous egos.  You learn from the start that law school does not turn people into assholes.  A lot of people are like that when they get there.  Law school just teaches them to be better at it).  Anyway, going to a movie seemed like a good way to kill the afternoon and it was only made better by the fact that one of my disinterested fellow associates agreed to go with me in an an act of passive unified defiance.  I think we even told our secretaries, "we're going to the movies, be back around 4:30.  If anyone asks where we are, tell them we went to the movies."

"I don't think I want to take your
abuse and I know I don't want to
take your blood sample to Labcorp."
I would have a similar experience several months later when I was working for a courier service (they were hiring) and one day after making a delivery, I pulled into a movie theatre and watched Fight Club on a Tuesday afternoon with two of my closest hobo friends.  (Watching Fight Club under my then current circumstances would have been like going to see The Fugitive if you were on the run from the U.S. Marshals after being falsely accused of killing your wife).  This act turned out to be my version of throwing my keys off of the Triboro Bridge as I never went back to my delivery job.  It is not a time I look back on with great fondness but I can tell you that if you ever find yourself alone in a movie theatre in Severna Park, Maryland on a freezing Tuesday afternoon in January, there's a good chance that your life is about to take a dramatic turn for the better because let's face it, where else can it go from there?     

But I digress (that wasn't a digression, that was changing the course of a cruise ship to waive to your high school gym teacher).  On to the picks and I'm going to indiscriminately work in the Cake lyrics because I couldn't figure a way to make them relevant.

I want a girl with a mind like a diamond
I want a girl who knows what's best
I want a girl with shoes that cut
And eyes that burn like . . . cigarettes

New England by 7.5 over Baltimore:  The Pick - Ravens

Don't bother trying to analyze this game based on what happened in the regular season because for every trend, there are twice as many variables that negate it's probative value.  But let's run through a few of them just for fun anyway:

1.  The Patriots have not beaten a team that ended the season with a winning record:  That's an eye opener until you realize that they only played two and one was the Steelers in Pittsburgh which was a respectable loss so are we really going to let the fact that they lost to the Giants in Week 9 influence our thoughts on a game eleven weeks later?  From a gambling standpoint, I'm more interested in the fact that in Weeks 13-16, the Patriots only beat the Colts by 7 (at home), the Redskins by 7 (on the road) and the Dolphins by 3 (at home).  The opposing quarterbacks in those games were Dan Orlovsky, Rex Grossman and Matt Moore who combined for almost 900 yards and threw for 7 touchdowns.  Suddenly Joe Flacco doesn't look like such an anchor anymore.

2.  The Ravens are 7-0 against playoff teams:Flacco has what it takes to pull this off.  The bottom line - your record is what it is and beating the good teams doesn't earn you the AFC Championship game at home when you lose to Jacksonville and Seattle.

"We're gonna call this "Play #1.'"
3.  Joe Flacco stinks:  Joe Flacco is probably somewhere between the 10th and 15th best quarterback in the league but the one thing that came out of those seven wins over playoff teams that is worth noting is that Flacco threw 10 touchdown passes and only 2 interceptions including 4 touchdowns and no picks in the two games against the Steelers.  Joe might not always know what to do with the ball but he seems to have learned what not to do with the ball.

4.  The Patriots defense stinks:  They only gave up 5 more points per game than the Ravens' defense which you can get away with when Tom Brady is your quarterback.   What I don't want to hear about is how good the Patriots' defense is at creating turnovers considering they only played two teams with winning records and they faced Tony Romo, Tyler Palko, Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez twice.  Everyone of those guys is good for at least 2 picks, a fumble and 9 dumbfounded expressions per game.

"We're trying to run out the clock,
5.  Cam Cameron is a very suspect play caller:  This is true and could be a problem.  Against the Seahawks, the Ravens were down 13-7 in the second quarter and Cameron decided to abandon the running game to make-up the 6 point deficit.  The result was 5 carries for Ray Rice and 52 passes for Joe Flacco (I know I am prone to exaggeration but I did not make-up those numbers).  I noted at the time that either (a) he panicked or (b) that was the game plan and I'm not sure which I would have preferred.  If that ratio starts to develop on Sunday, look for Ravens' owner Steve Bisciotti to fire Cameron in the middle of the third quarter.  The guy owns one of the biggest staffing companies in the world.  He's got to have  at least a couple of offensive coordinators on standby.

Alright, enough of the sports talk fodder.  This game comes down to three things in this order:  (1) Turnovers - if the Ravens get more than the Patriots, they've got a decent shot, (2) Pressure on Tom Brady - if the Ravens can't get it, they won't get turnovers and they're going to lose by double digits (and stop telling me about how they didn't get pressure on T.J. Yates when they never rushed more than four, controlled Andre Johnson and picked Yates off three times which was clearly the plan), and (3) Ray Rice - he needs to carry the ball at least 20 times and average 4.5 yards per carry minimum.  I see the Ravens getting two turnovers to the Patriots one, three sacks and Ray Rice rushing for about 95 yards which will keep it close but not get it done.  Patriots - 27 . . . Ravens - 24.

Screw my original pick.  This love fest is out of control even by Tom Brady standards.  The bottom line is that the Patriots played one of the softest schedules in the league and only won one more game than the the Ravens.  In the past three meeting between these teams (all in New England), the Patriots have won by 3 points, 6 points and were blown-out in the playoff game.  This is the healthiest team the Ravens have sent to the playoffs since Harbaugh took over and anyone who thinks that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are the keys to stopping Brady has no clue what he's talking about.  The Ravens played four games without Ray Lewis this year and went 4-0.  Ray and Ed are probably about the 6th and 7th most important players on the  defense for this match-up behind Terrell Suggs, Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, Haloti Ngata and Jarrett Johnson.  Not to mention, Brady will be looking across the line of scrimmage at the guy who ended his 2008 season after one quarter in Bernard Pollard.  I'm pushing all of my chips to the middle of the table.  Ravens - 27 . . . Patriots - 24.  Bring it!!!!          
I want a girl who gets up early
I want a girl who stays up late
I want a girl with uninterrupted prosperity
Who uses a machete to cut through red tape
With fingernails that shine like justice
And a voice that is dark like tinted glass

San Francisco by 2.5 over the N.Y. Giants:  The Pick - Giants

"Your offense is a dog with fleas kid."
Someone needs to write a three act play where the characters say nothing but lines from Top Gun and Wall Street because I'm convinced that's all you'd need.  When I try to find a reason to pick the Niners in this one, all I can think of is Gordon Gekko telling Bud Fox, "I'm afraid sport, that unless you got a father on the board of directors of another company, you and I are gonna have a hard time doing business together" . . . as in, "I'm afraid sport, that unless you plan to get five turnovers again, you're going to have a hard time beating another Super Bowl caliber team."

I'm not trying to diminish the win over the Saints which was awesome (unless you're a Saints' fan in which case it had to feel like root canal performed by Dr. Gregg Williams, D.D.S.) but the 49ers are the classic overachieving opportunistic football team that needs the good teams to beat themselves when they play them (or have Gregg Williams playing a key role).  The Giants are just not that team right now.  They don't turn the ball over, they don't need to blitz and they have a quarterback and a coach who have been here before.  Then again, I just had a vision of Eli Manning pulling a drunk Dennis Hopper wandering out onto the court and letting down all of us doubters who had started to believe in him but I'm countering that with what I saw on Thanksgiving night when the Ravens put pressure on Alex Smith and the Niners produced a measly 6 points.  (Under the definition of the word "logy" they should have "the way one feels while attending a 16-6 football game after Thanksgiving dinner").  The 49ers will have their day, just not this year.  Giants - 24 . . . 49ers - 17.  

She wants a car with a cupholder arm rest
She wants a car that will get her there
She's changing her name from Kitty to Karen
She's trading her MG for white Chrysler Le Baron

I want a girl with a short skirt and a lonnnnggggggg jacket!

Last week:  1-3 . . . . Playoffs:  4-4

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Post Mortem

"I don't like losses sport.  Nothing ruins my day more than losses." - Gordon Gekko.  I feel you Gordon.  After a dismal 1-3 showing last weekend, it would be easy to pull a "Jets' Locker Room" and start pointing the finger and spreading the blame around (if not for the fact that I write this thing without any input from anyone on the picks).  Let's try to figure out where things went wrong.

Ravens-Texans:  If I could reasonably blame anyone, it would be my home team which failed on 4th and goal from the one yard line at the end of the third quarter by trying to slam a 5' 6", 210 lb. running back into a 6' 1", 250 lb. linebacker despite the fact that they hadn't been able to run for a yard when they needed it all day.  (That play happened right in front of me and Ray Rice bounced back so fast that it looked like the Texans had pulled the cartoon trick of putting a brick wall on the line of scrimmage and then drawing a picture of the end zone on it).  I lost the Ravens game by half a point which is the difference between being a respectable 5-3 and a middling 4-4 because I underrated (a) the Texans defense (which is scary good), (b) Arian Foster (who is also scary good), and (c) Joe Flacco's inability to sense when a group of 300 pound men are closing in on him from all sides (which is just scary).

I knew it!
Patriots-Broncos:  Fortunately, I came around on the Patriots after hearing for the 500th time how bad their defense was and how the Broncos almost beat them in Week 15 (despite the fact that the Pats won by 18).  It was actually starting to annoy me so I could only imagine how it was eating-up Brady and Belichick.  Add to the equation that they hadn't had a chance to run-up the score on a devout Christian since they took it to Joe Gibbs and the Redskins 52-7 back in 2007 and the stage was set for a blowout.

On a somewhat related note, I feel compelled to point out the following facts about the Belichick era in New England:  (1) It was clear from the start that Drew Bledsoe was not Super Bowl material so, on September 23, 2001, he was not just injured to open the door for Tom Brady, he was almost killed (Mo Lewis Does the Devil's Dirty Work); (2)  That same season, the Patriots would win their first Super Bowl (by cheating) with a win over Jesus' original favorite quarterback, Kurt Warner; (3) Belichick never won in Cleveland which has no red on their uniforms.  Draw your own conclusions.

49ers-Saints:  I was on the right track with this game when I noted that the Saints had only played one game outside of a dome since Week 6 when they barely beat the Titans but I didn't go far enough.  It turns out the Saints have never won a road playoff game.  (Now you tell me).  Despite all of that bad karma and five turnovers, they still found themselves ahead late in the 4th quarter twice but no lead is safe when Gregg "you should hire me because the extra "g" stands for 'groovy'" Williams is coordinating your defense.  Let's ignore the fact that the Saints allowed a quarterback not named Vick or Tebow to score untouched on a 28 yard bootleg.  (Apparently the Rams are willing to ignore it because they're about to hire Williams as their defensive coordinator which makes sense considering he's coached the defense that has caused the highest scoring team in the NFL to be knocked out of the playoff the last two years by scores of 41-36 and 36-32.  Huh?).  

"Thanks coach.  Thanks a lot."
My favorite Williams call was having safety Roman Harper 40 yards behind the line with 40 seconds left in the game which allowed Vernon Davis to gather a full head of steam by the time he met Harper on the Saints' 40 yard line.  First of all, Alex Smith can't even throw the ball 40 yards in the air so why do you have your safety playing on the warning track?  Second, Vernon Davis was the only guy catching passes for the Niners and he runs a 4.38 40 with a stiff arm that could fend-off a rhinoceros and the last time we saw Roman Harper, he was getting chased down by a quarterback (not named Vick or Tebow) while trying to score on a 99 yard fumble return.  The result of their encounter was therefore somewhat predictable.  By the way, the quarterback who chased down Harper?  The Rams' Sam Bradford.  I do love symmetry.

I blew this game because I did not know that Gregg Williams uses the same crappy game plan every time he plays a team from the NFC West.  That's got to get the Rams' faithful fired-up for 2012.        

"What do you mean I'm not
Phi Delta Theta material?"
Giants-Packers:  You can kind of make sense of the other three games after the fact but what in the name of Donald Francis Vincent Majkowski happened in this one?   (Two little known facts about the Majik Man: (a) he is the only Italian Polack ever admitted to the University of Virginia, and (b) he is the last quarterback with a mullet to make the Pro Bowl).  I'm a little bit in the dark because I missed the whole first half while drinking tea in a Harbor Court condominium.  (It's a long story that can be summed up by saying that there is no such thing as a "free" parking spot).  By the time I got to a bar, it looked like they were televising the game through the same lenses that Spielberg used to give Saving Private Ryan that perpetually unsettling feeling and Aaron Rodgers was playing like he had just seen Brett Favre warming-up on the Packers' sideline.  I'm kind of at a loss to explain this one so I'm taking the easy way out.  No one could have predicted that a 15-1 defending championship team would turn into a bunch of choking dogs and get hammered at home like that.  And another thing.  If this means no more "Discount Double Check" commercials this year, then I'm glad they lost.                                

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Divisional Round Picks

Vegas is flat out daring you to take the home teams this weekend.  You think the 49ers' defense can slow down Drew Brees?  Fine, I dare you to bet that Alex Smith can stay within 3.5 points of him.  You think the Broncos were a fluke last weekend?  Fine, I dare you to lay 13.5 and take a team that's lost it's last two playoff games at home and is playing a team of destiny with nothing to lose.  You think the Ravens defense is going to make life tough on T.J. Yates?  Fine, I dare you to give 7.5 with a quarterback who has blown the last two covers at home by throwing careless picks in the 4th quarter.  (I swear I heard Flacco yell "UP FOR GRABS" before that pass he threw against the Colts).  You think the Packers can keep the Giants pass rush off of Aaron Rodgers?  Fine, but I dare you to give Eli Manning 7.5 in a game that could come down to who has the ball last.

You know what?  I'll take a few of those dares.

New Orleans by 3.5 over San Francisco:  The Pick - Saints

Don't mess with the Breesonator 2000.  It
will kick your ass in Chutes and Ladders.
This game seemed like a no-brainer until I took a look at the Saints schedule and found that they've only played one game outside of a dome since Week 6 and that was a 22-17 win at Tennessee that they pulled-out in the 4th quarter at a time when they were rolling everyone else.  Since that game they've scored 42, 45, 45 and 45 points against crappy defenses.  What does it all mean?  (No seriously, what does it all mean because I'm trying to find a reason to justify the tight spread but I keep coming back to the fact that it's Drew Brees versus Alex Smith).

I'm not buying that the 49ers' defense is elite.  They played three good quarterbacks this year (Romo, Stafford and Manning) who averaged over 300 yards and two touchdown passes against them.  When you adjust those stats up by running them through the Breesonator 2000, you get 425 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Tack on a couple of field goals and . . . Saints - 27, 49ers - 17.                      

New England by 13.5 over Denver:  The Pick - Broncos

So Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas were hanging-out at the Beacon Hill Pub last night (they convinced him that it had the best Bible study group in Boston) and up sauntered Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski wearing sunglasses and Uggs.

"That's right Golden Boy.  I am religious!"
Brady:  "You figured it out yet?"

Tebow:  "What's that?"

Brady:  "Who's the best quarterback."

Tebow:  "Jesus will figure that out."

Brady:  "I heard that about you . . . you like Jesus."

Gronkowski:  "You're lucky.  First the division and then you slide into the Steelers' spot."

Thomas:  "We didn't slide into the Steelers' spot.  The spot was ours alright."

Gronkowski:  "Some quarterbacks wait their whole career to make the second round of the playoffs.  Lucky and famous?"

Brady:  "You mean notorious.  See you later."

Tebow:  "Count on it."

Alas, Brady takes the Top Gun trophy this week but then shits the bed like Iceman against the Russians (Ravens) . . . Patriots - 34, Broncos - 20.

Baltimore by 7.5 over Houston:  The Pick - Ravens

The NFL did the Ravens a big favor with the 1:00 start time because the crowd should be able to fight-off its alcohol induced coma until at least 4:30 and stay in the game if it's tight in the 4th quarter.  (I don't have a wide perspective on this but it seems like Ravens' fans and Eagles' fans lead the league in synchronizing their blackouts with the final whistle and this gets completely thrown off at night games).  I have a feeling, however, that this one is going to be over by the end of the 3rd.

"Arian, I have a feeling we're
not in Texas any more."
The Texans have not beaten a good team since Pittsburgh in Week 4 and that was before their quarterbacks started spontaneously combusting like Spinal Tap drummers.  Since Week 4, they've won eight games and all of them have been against bad or very suspect teams,  (Jags (2), Bengals (2), Browns, Falcons, Bucs and Titans).  Admittedly, the Falcons and the Bengals went to the playoffs but then they promptly lost by a combined score of 55-12.  Meanwhile, the Ravens have lost one home game in the last two seasons and that was a 13-10 mess against a Steeler team with Troy Polamalu and James Harrison playing at the height of their powers.  The Texans defense is good, but it ain't that good.

Finally, you have the team that is happy to be here versus the team with much to prove.  The pressure is on the Ravens but they've had seven playoff games in the last three years.  Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have had two weeks to get healthy and there is simply nothing T.J. Yates can do to prepare for a game in Baltimore where you can feel the venom flowing from the stands toward the opposing players as the crowd treats them like they've come to take their football team away from them again.  (Not to mention the creepiness factor of seeing members of the marching band in the end zone stands trying to set worms on fire with magnifying glasses).  Ravens - 27, Texans - 13.     

Green Bay by 7.5 over the N.Y. Giants:  The Pick - Packers

This Giants team reminds me of a kid learning to ride a bike.  Peddle, peddle, peddle, crash, peddle, peddle, peddle, crash.  Twice this season they looked like they had it figured out with three game winning streaks before losing to a team they should have beaten.  The second time was a full blown flight over the handle bars that resulted in a three game losing streak including a 17-10 stinker against Vince Young's Eagles.  Then they regrouped against the Cowboys and followed that momentum starter with a 23-10 knee scraper against the Redskins.  This is a long convoluted way of saying, I don't trust them. 
Just a man with a mind for victory
and an arm like a fucking cannon.

Meanwhile (I need a new segue word), despite having a statistically superior season, leading his team to more wins and beating him straight-up, Aaron Rodgers has had to listen to this Drew Brees MVP crap for three weeks.  (Are the people who vote for the MVP really so easily distracted by shiny objects?)  Let's not discount the guy who just had the greatest season in the history of the position.  Add in the fact that no one throws the ball better with a chip on his shoulder than Rodgers (except maybe Kenny Powers) and you get . . . Packers - 31, Giants - 17.

Playoff Record:  3-1

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Shallow Thoughts

Time for another addition of Shallow Thoughts also known as There is Too Much Going on in the World of Sports for me to Synthesize it all into one Well Constructed Piece of Writing.  We've got a movie review, some more kicking Matt Ryan when he's down and even a little golf but there's really only one place to start right?

"We thought he was a quarterback
but to our surprise,
we climbed aboard his starship
and headed for the skiiiieeees..."
Broncos-Steelers:  A different angle on this game that you would only get from a degenerate gambler.  The line at the time I picked it (wrong) was 8.5.  In the old days, if you went into overtime on the wrong side of that line, you were screwed.  But ponder this potential scenario assuming a different outcome of last Sunday's coin toss.  The Steelers win the toss, drive down the field and kick a field goal.  Under the new rules, they kick off to the Broncos who then have a chance to win the game with a touchdown or extend it with a field goal of their own.

But what happens if the Broncos botch the return forcing them to start on their own five yard line.  On the first play from scrimmage, Tebow drops back into the endzone to pass and Troy Polamalu comes flying off the end and strip sacks him and then recovers the ball for a touchdown?  Does the touchdown count?  I know the game ends as soon as the Steelers gain possession but at that same moment they also score a touchdown which would give them a nine point win and produce the most unbelievable and reviled cover of all time followed by the world being plunged into total darkness.  And then, just when we think all hope is lost, there would be a great burst of light and suddenly everyone on Earth (except for Hines Ward) is on a 7 billion seat passenger jet to an eternal paradise piloted by you know who.

Saints - Lions:  Let's just say that at no point on Saturday night did I become concerned that I was down 17.5 against the spread with this guy on my side:  Drew Brees v. The Archer.

"When he throws 4 touchdown passes
against the Bucs, the Matrix is telling my
brain that he can win the Super Bowl."
Giants-Falcons:  I have to admit I took great satisfaction in listening to the talking heads ramble on about how Matt Ryan closed the season with 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last four games completely ignoring the fact that those games were against the Bucs, Saints, Jags and Panthers.  Then Ryan went out on Sunday and validated my assessment that he "just seems to lack the ability to produce points when playing good teams which, you know, makes it kind of tough to beat them."  I love being right.  (Good Lord I'm starting to sound like Rex Ryan).  The Falcons and their fans are going to spend the next nine years eating steak in the ignorant bliss of the Matrix and then they're going to wake-up one day and wonder why they don't even have a trip to the NFC Championship Game to show for it.  

Texans-Bengals:  It's comforting to know that, at least for now, the Bengals are still who we thought they were.  Andy Dalton appears to have the makings of a young Matt Ryan.  At least let's hope so.

The Jets:  It's comical that the Jets are turning on Mark Sanchez two years AFTER he revealed himself to be a petulant punk on Hard Knocks.  My favorite scene as described by ESPN's Rich Cimini:  "Mark Sanchez is being lectured in a meeting room by QB coach Matt Cavanaugh but the young quarterback seemingly ignores him, fiddling with his backpack and refusing to make eye contact."  I guess I should give Sanchez some slack because I do remember acting that way at least once in my life.  I think it was when my 7th grade science teacher confronted me about my blacking-out part of the letters on the cover of my text book so instead of saying Investigating the Earth, it said Invest in the Fart.  If anyone wants to trade a 4th round (and falling) draft pick for a quarterback with the leadership skills and work ethic of a wise-ass 13 year old, give the Jets a call.  I'm sure if you throw-in one of those sideline heaters and a half a dozen chinstraps, they'll include Santonio Holmes in the deal.        

Super 8:  Steven Spielberg got back to his roots by producing a movie about a monster we can't see terrorizing a small town and hired J.J. Abrams to tell the story by alternating one explosion with every seven words of dialogue.  Let me save you the two hours.  You could get the same effect by giving your kids a couple of boxes of Snap-n-pops, tell them to sneak around behind you and throw them when you're not paying attention and then go re-watch Jaws.   The coach who won two Texas state high school championships and rebuilt East Dillon football couldn't even save this one.

Mark May:  For those who don't know who he is, Mark May was a standout offensive lineman for the University of Pittsburgh and then the Washington Redskins who now works for ESPN as a college football analyst with Lou Holtz on what I assume is one of the network's lower tier shows (because Kirk Herbstreit is not on it).  The few times I've watched May, I've found him to be one of those guys who states the obvious with the conviction of a motivational speaker but I couldn't have given you an example of this because I never paid that much attention to him . . . until now.  A couple of weeks ago, he dropped this unforgettable nugget as one of his predictions for 2012.  "You know what I don't want to see in 2012 . . . another Penn St."  (I'm assuming he wasn't talking about their terrible passing game).  And with that, he just swooped in at the last minute and stole the Most Egregious Statement of the Obvious title from the Japanese weatherman who said back in September, "you know what I really don't want to see in 2012 . . . another tsunami."  (OK, I made that last part up).         

"Missed it by that much."
Hyundai Tournament of Champions:  (Hey look, some golf on the Fantasy Golf Report).  When I finally get around to posting my Fantasy Golf Not Quite Preseason Preview, it will include my five bold predictions for the 2012 season.   At No. 3, I planned to write something along the lines of, "Steve Stricker's collapse in the 4th round of the PGA Championship and his poor performance in the FedEx Cup are indications that he is going to have a down year."  (For those who don't follow the game closely, Stricker just won the first tournament of 2012 which puts that prediction on somewhat shaky ground).  It could still happen.  It's not like the guy's won at least two tournaments a year since 2008.  (Wait, he has?  Was that information available on the internet?).  OK so would you believe FOUR bold predictions for 2012? 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Wild Card Picks

I was so ahead of the game having written 90% of this on Monday which gave me three days to touch it up before posting it Thursday morning.  When I blew that self-imposed deadline I knew I was in trouble because Thursday night was fantasy golf draft night and the excitement of golf draft night always seems to get the best of me.  I know that's probably hard to imagine until you consider that I write something called the Fantasy Golf Report and even then, it's probably hard to imagine.  This one was no exception.  Without going into great detail, let's just say that I decided to leave my car in the driveway and walk the 3/4 mile to the bar . . . and it would be the last good decision I made all night unless you count having the cab driver wait outside at 1:00 a.m. because "we're just going in for one more drink."  (Kind of a weird place.  They just kept playing the same Def Leopard and Motley Crue songs over and over again).  Time to change the subject before I write any more of the closing argument for my wife's future divorce lawyer.

Ben's been looking up at his feet
a lot against the Ravens lately.
I realized I left one minor detail out of the playoffs preview - a Super Bowl pick.  I've got the Saints beating the Lions, 49ers and Packers and playing the Ravens who will beat the Texans and the Patriots.  Unfortunately, I don't like the Ravens' chances of keeping-up with Drew Brees and company in a dome so my gut is telling me Saints - 27 . . . Ravens - 17.  The Ravens only played one team this year with a top flight quarterback and multiple tall receiving threats and that was the Chargers who blew them out.  I'm not counting the Steelers because Roethlisberger isn't a pure passer like Rivers and Brees and the familiarity of those two teams (who I bet have played each other more than any other two teams over the last four years) makes their games impossible to factor into the analysis.

On to the picks.  My procrastination cost me a point in the Texans game which almost changed my mind and a half point in the Steelers game but that line would need to go to about 20 before I picked the Broncos.  I expect there to be a lot of empty seats in Denver by the middle of the 4th quarter.

Houston by 4 over Cincinnati:  The Pick - Texans

"How's the ankle Ben?"
The most intriguing thing about this match-up is that it might determine who represents the AFC in the Super Bowl.  As noted in Wednesday's NFL Playoffs Preview, a Texans' win creates a nice little channel for the Ravens to paddle through.  On the other hand, if the Bengals win, the Patriots' path becomes a lot smoother with the Bengals at home followed by the remains of the team that wins the Ravens-Steelers game.  (Picture the Patriots as Joaquin Phoenix fighting Russell Crowe after he's already taken a dagger to the gut).

I've been back and forth on this game a few times but the one thing I keep coming back to is Ray Rice ripping off two long runs to closeout the Bengals last weekend.  The Texans were the second most productive running team in the league and, unlike the Denver Broncos who were first, they actually have a modicum of a passing game.  I see them just pounding the Bengals into submission and throwing a few deep balls Andre Johnson's way to keep them honest.  The Texans also have a psycho high motor white defensive lineman in the mold of Jared Allen named Connor Barwin who is going hit Andy Dalton before, during and after he throws the ball.  This one is going to be really close to the line but I'm going with 20-13 Texans.  

New Orleans by 10.5 over Detroit:  The Pick - Saints

Do you remember back in the days before Netflix, Apple TV and even video rental stores when you and your friends would end-up with a VHS tape of some random comedy (you thought I was going to say "porn" didn't you) and you'd watch it five times a week and lay so much of your own commentary over it that every scene ended-up being hilarity of the highest order and then someone from outside your crew would watch it with you, not get any of the inside jokes and rightfully say "you guys are idiots."  (If that never happened to you, you're just going to have to trust me like with the golf draft thing).    

"I know.  Let's cast Belushi
as an unfunny rube."
For us that movie was Neighbors, a critically un-acclaimed box office failure by John Belushi and Dan Akroyd made to capitalize on their Blues Brothers success.  (Think Night at the Roxbury).  It was dark, awkward and downright weird in places but we loved it so much that we spent an entire summer talking about finding a video camera and trying to remake scenes of it (a plan that died when we are all too lazy to even look for a video camera).  There were four or five scenes that we would watch and rewind ten times and we'd laugh just as hard the tenth time as we did the first (and we weren't even stoners . . . again, you'll just have to trust me).

Anyway, that's how I picture Drew Brees and Sean Payton when they watch tape from the Lions-Packers game last Sunday when Packers back-up QB Matt Flynn threw six touchdown passes against a woeful Lions' secondary.  "Watch this one Drew.  The cornerback doesn't even turn around.  Wwwaaaahhhhhh . . . play it again, play it again!"  The over/under on this game is a December college bowl game like 59.5 points which means we're looking at something along the lines of a 38-24 final score.          

N.Y. Giants by 3 over Atlanta:  The Pick - Giants

The one thing this game guarantees is that at least one overrated quarterback is going to win a playoff game this year.  I've been banging on Eli Manning pretty hard lately but that's because he's overhyped which isn't his fault.  He has proven that he can step-up in big games while Matt Ryan shines when the Falcons are blowing out the Bucs or the Jaguars.  He doesn't have the glaring flaws of other 3rd tier guys like Tony Romo (turnovers), Mark Sanchez (more turnovers), and Matt Cassel (sucks against teams that play defense).  Ryan just seems to lack the ability to produce points when playing good teams which, you know, makes it kind of tough to beat them.  The G-men advance 24-17.      

Pittsburgh by 8.5 over Denver:  The Pick - Steelers

"Look for Tebow and the Broncos to get
Polamalu involved early and often."
There must be a lot of Tebow believers out there to keep this line under double digits.The fact that the Broncos ranked 24th in scoring defense has been somewhat obscured by all of the Tebow chatter.  The Steelers' defense on the other hand is ranked 1st and will be facing a quarterback who has seven turnovers and one touchdown pass in his last three games.  A more intriguing wager might be a prop bet of Tebow passing yards versus interception return yards for the Steelers.  It was fun while it lasted.  Steelers - 24 . . . Broncos - 3.                

Last week:  4-8 . . . . Season:  88-81-3

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The NFL Playoffs Preview

"Make the TV cameras come
back NOW MOMMY!!!"
The experts keep telling us how bad the defenses of the Packers, Patriots and Saints are because they finished 32nd, 31st and 24th respectively in "total defense." The problem is that total defense is based on yards allowed and is a lousy measuring device because giving-up yards is not the same as giving-up points. Just ask the Jets who finished 5th in yards allowed but 20th in points allowed. (I think I just made Rex Ryan cry again which is fairly typical of people who don't get enough attention . . . five year old people).  

Let's instead measure those three defenses based on points allowed and see if we can figure out how these sieves somehow managed to finish a combined 41-7 in the regular season.  The Packers finished 19th, the Patriots 15th and the Saints 13th in scoring defense.  Not exactly the '85 Bears but certainly good enough to support three quarterbacks who combined to throw for over 15,000 yards and a 130 touchdowns.  (As a Ravens fan, this whole line of reasoning is starting to make me a little queasy.  Not quite sure how I got on this ride but I want to get off).  

"I finished that first coat of paint
boss. See you next summer."
So let's not get carried away with the notion that every playoff team is flawed because flaws don't matter if you can cover them up (or at least that's what my boss told me when I accidentally sandblasted a rather large hole in the bottom of some guy's yacht during my summer job in high school . . . and then he suggested that I get my job at Footlocker back). The question then becomes "is there a team that has enough defense to keep Rodgers, Brees and Brady in the high 20's and enough offense to get to 30?"  I'm pretty sure the answer is "no" but let's run through the other contenders to find out.

I'm not considering the Bengals, Lions, Texans or Broncos as legitimate contenders.  The Bengals would have to do it the whole way on the road with a rookie quarterback and that's simply not happening.  The Lions just blew a chance to avoid the Saints in Round 1 by allowing a back-up quarterback to throw six touchdowns against them and this is not the season you want to be going into the playoffs with a suspect secondary.  The Texans will be feisty but you're not winning four regular season games in a row with T.J. Yates much less three playoff games and the Super Bowl.  The Broncos are not one of the 20 best teams in the league right now as evidenced by the fact that they just lost to the teams with the 21st and 23rd best records.  The fact that their odds to win the Super Bowl are only 60 to 1 is a clear indication that even the most devout are willing to gamble on divine intervention because those odds should be 5,000 to 1.         

The Ravens (6 to 1):  The Ravens have a very realistic path to the Super Bowl.  A Texans win over the Bengals in the first round would send the Steelers to New England for the second round so the Ravens would play Houston and T. J. Yates at home and would then either go to New England a week after the Steelers pounded on Tom Brady for four quarters or they would get to host a road weary Pittsburgh team in Baltimore.  The big hurdle for the Ravens isn't getting to the Super Bowl, it's winning the Super Bowl if they come up against one of the offensive juggernauts from the NFC.  Ray Lewis and Ed Reed seem to be aging at an accelerated rate (did you see Reed's attempted "tackle" on Bernard Scott last Sunday?).  Let me allow Sean Payton channeling Moe Greene to elaborate:

"Ed Reed's missin' tackles two at a time.
Receivers are running right by him.
What's the matter with you?"
"Yeah, let's talk business, Pagano. First of all, you're all done. The Ravens defense don't even have that kind of muscle anymore. Ray Lewis is hurt, right? You got chased out of San Diego by Rivers. What do you think is going on here? You think you can come to a dome and beat the Saints?  I talked to Norv Turner. I can double team Suggs and still give Brees four guys to throw to!"

The bottom line - John Harbaugh needs his brother to pull off a miracle for the Ravens to hoist the Lombardi Trophy because Alex Smith might be the only quarterback in the NFC playoffs who the Ravens can handle.

The 49ers (12 to 1):  The 49ers path to Indy needs to circumvent Lambeau Field which could happen if they can get past the Saints at home (a long shot but not impossible) and either the Falcons or the Giants can pull off the upset against the Packers (also a long shot but not impossible).  If those two things happen, suddenly you're looking at the 49ers hosting the Falcons or the Giants as a favorite to win the NFC Championship and the almost unbelievable possibility of a Harbaugh Bowl re-match for the title which would absolutely shatter the record for most clichéuttered by two head coaches leading-up to the Super Bowl (previously set by Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan in 2003).

"Lieutenant Douchebag
reporting for duty sir!"
The Steelers (12-1):  It's going to be interesting to see how the Steelers fare as the wild card team being rolled into the playoffs on a hospital gurney (and by "interesting" I mean "enjoyable"). If they make it to the Super Bowl by winning at Denver, New England and Baltimore, I will first remove all of the tile from my bathroom using nothing but my forehead and then will give Tomlin and Roethlisberger their due as one of the top 10 coach/quarterback duos of all-time. 

I just don't see them surviving the injuries they already have plus the ones they're going to get along the way. (That statement should in no way be interpreted to mean that I'm not rooting for any Steelers to avoid getting injured . . . especially Roethlisberger). 

Sidenote:  Pretty fitting that Hines Ward's 1,000th reception was on a shovel pass that lost three yards. Even his milestones are cheap.

The Giants (20 to 1):  The boys in Vegas are clearly not buying the Eli Manning hype otherwise the Giants would have the same 5 to 1 odds as the Saints. Maybe it's because the Giants went 1-3 against playoff teams this year and sprinkled in a couple of losses to the Redskins including one at home three weeks ago in which Eli threw for no touchdowns and three picks. (The crusade against Eli will continue like the reporter going after Kelsey Grammer in Boss until the Giants lose. If you haven't seen Boss, check it out. It's on Starz and I'm not going to say it's as good as The Wire or The Sopranos but just the fact that the comparison comes to mind should be recommendation enough.  If that doesn't draw you in, there is an average of one sex scene and one murder per episode).

The Giants could get blown-out by the Falcons or make it all the way to the NFC title game and get blown out by the Saints but they're not going all the way this year.  This is not 2007 when they ran the pedestrian gauntlet of Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo and Brett Favre to get to the Super Bowl.  Ryan, Rodgers and Brees are going to put up more than 17 points per game and Eli is going to come up short against one of them.

The Falcons (40 to 1):  The Falcons intrigue me as a long shot pick because their sum should be better considering the quality of their parts.  They have arguably the best receiving tandem in the league, the leading rusher in the NFC and a defense that was decent against everybody but the Saints.  The good news for the Falcons is that they wouldn't have to play the Saints until the NFC championship game.  The bad news is that they will almost definitely be playing the Packers in the next round and Aaron Rodgers hung 48 points on them in the playoffs last year on the day when the words "Matt Ryan is as good as any young quarterback in the league" were last uttered.

"I have to do it in my underwear?
Jeez. That seems a little excessive."
So basically the Falcons face the same Sisyphean Task as the rest of the NFC. Even if they get the boulder up the hill by beating Eli Manning, they have to watch it roll back down and push it up again to beat Aaron Rodgers . . . and then Drew Brees . . . and then Tom Brady. At some point they're eventually going to do what I think Sisyphus did. Sit down against the rock, grab a cocktail, light a cigarette and say, "hey Zeus, go fuck yourself!"  He probably didn't even feel the lightning bolt.