Saturday, January 21, 2012

NFL Conference Championship Picks

Well, here we are facing the penultimate weekend of the NFL season. Oftentimes, these are the best games of the year (even better than the Super Bowl, though we have been blessed with some great Super Bowls these past couple of years)- although it's going to be tough to match last week's bonkers 49ers-Saints matchup. In case you missed it, Alex Smith out dueled Drew Brees in the final two minutes, including an insane touchdown run on a third and short quarterback sweep. Brees responded, but somehow Smith led another drive and hit Vernon Davis for an improbable touchdown, shattering my prediction that if the game came down to quarterback play, it would be Brees who came out on top. The other pick I got wrong was believing in the Packers against the destiny juggernaut that is the Giants, and picking Tebow to cover. Freakin' Tebow. With all that being said, I finished 2-2 Overall and 2-2 ATS, putting me at 5-3 overall and 4-4 ATS. Overwhelmingly decent!

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-7)

I've thought about taking the Ravens here, and have even thought out the arguments why- the Patriots have a horrible defense, and the Ravens horrible offensive showing last week was forced by Houston's suddenly elite defense. The Ravens should be able to put pressure on Tom Brady and move the ball on the Patriots sieve like defense. Unfortunately, should doesn't quite cut it. Joe Flacco has been increasingly decent as the season goes on, becoming more and more of a "don't make any mistakes and we'll win" kind of quarterback. Add on to that Cam Cameron's horrible playcalling, and you have to doubt whether the Ravens will truly be able to take advantage of the awful pass defense of the Patriots. On the other side of the ball, the Ravens defense truly is elite- but Tom Brady has been outstanding lately. He'll be limited somewhat by this defense, but they won't be able to keep him down for the whole game, and it's unclear whether the Ravens will keep up on the scoreboard. If a team like the Steelers had been fully healthy going into the playoffs (or hadn't defended Tim Tebow idiotically), they could've beat the Patriots, since they have the defense to slow down Tom Brady and the offense to punish their defense. The Ravens are missing one half of that equation.
Pick: Patriots win, cover

New York Giants at San Francisco (-2)

I've gone back and forth on this one too many times. The 49ers have the best defense in the league, while the Giants passing attack and pass rush are among the league's best. The 49ers forced five turnovers last week and still had to score in the final seconds to beat the Saints; the Giants intimidated the Packers physically and forced Aaron Rodgers into a bad game (well, a lot of blame could be put on the Packers receivers, who might find themselves with a Butterfingers sponsorship soon (ba dum pshhh!!! I'm here all night!). But something in me says the Niners are going to win this one. They've got the defense and the run game to be successful in this game, and they've got some motivation now that everyone is jumping on the Giants bandwagon. Plus, they'll be playing in front of a rowdy San Francisco crowd that hasn't been this close to the Super Bowl since the glory days. The Giants are the hot team, the team of destiny, right now- but that wouldn't be a real surprise. The Niners stingy defense and middling offense will take down the Giants. Maybe I'm just saying this because I couldn't stand two weeks of "Giants-Patriots REMATCH!" stories, but it's just a gut feeling. The 49ers, not the Giants, are the 'miracle' team.
Pick: 49ers win, Giants cover (fine, I'm not that confident in this Niners pick).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

NBA Olympic Basketball Team: Who's the Worst of the Best?

The US Men's National Basketball team recently announced their prospective roster for the 2012 Olympics. It's a list of twenty players from the 2008 Olympics "Redeem Team" and 2010's younger World Championship Team who expressed interest in playing in the 2012 Olympics, along with two more players shortlisted in order to bring it all to a nice round number. Before the Olympics, though, the roster has to be pared down to 12 roster players (and six alternates). If you're anything like me, you immediately started thinking about who was going to get cut! So, join me as I go through the roster of twenty and find out which 8 guys aren't quite good enough to make it on perhaps the most talented Olympic team ever (yeah- I said it- watch out Dream Team.)

The No Doubters:

Dwayne Wade: The best player on the Heat (but more on that in a little bit). One of the best defensive players in the league, as well. You're not leaving the best two guard in the world off the roster. As long as he stays healthy, he'll be on the team.

Kobe Bryant: If Kobe were one of the 20 people or so who read my blog, he'd probably be very angry at the part where I said Dwayne Wade was the best two guard in the league, and score fifty points in his game and make a snippy comment about it in the postgame presser. In his continued aping of Michael Jordan, Bryant has taken on Jordan's "intense motivation at tiny slights" act. Right now he's dropping close to 40 a game just to show he still can. Whatever the Germans did to his knees, it's working wonders. No way Bryant misses this one, likely his last chance at playing in the Olympics. (Wait for 2016 when he plays in Rio and, after a game, says, "Evan Dent! You said I wouldn't be here!").

LeBron James: The most physically gifted player in the game. He still has an issue to become too passive at the end of the game--his "Miami mindset"-- and settles for long jump shots instead of driving or posting up. Still, the guy is an athletic freak, the second best player on the Heat, and capable of taking over games when he gets his head right.

Dwight Howard: The best center in the world is going to be on your team, no question. Against a team like Spain, who have the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, Howard's size and interior presence will be key.

Chris Paul/Derrick Rose: You could give either of these guys the title of "best point guard in the NBA" right now. While I personally have Rose as the better player right now- his passing has improved immensely and he outgunned Paul already this season- you can't go wrong with having both on the floor. Paul is playing ridiculously well since his trade to the Clippers. He doesn't have the same quickness as he did before injuring his knee, but he's learned to play exceptionally without that speed. As for Rose, well, he might be the best pure driver in the game, and he's coming off an MVP season. No way he's not on the top six for this team. The battle between Paul and Rose for minutes during the Olympics will be fascinating to watch.

Kevin Durant: The best pure scorer in the game (although Carmelo Anthony is close). Durant can score from nearly anywhere on the floor and also has the freaky athleticism to play the four in case the US decides to play small.

Chris Bosh- There aren't very many natural power forwards on the roster, which makes Bosh a near lock for a spot. On a team like this, he'll be the fourth or fifth option on the floor at any time, which is a perfect role for him. Great pick and pop shooter who can also run the pick and roll.

Carmelo Anthony: A less versatile scorer than Durant, but fills the same role. He'll be playing valuable minutes off the bench, and can fill in the two or the three spot.

By my count, that's nine guys who should unquestionably on the team, which leaves three spots left on the main roster, guys who will fill important bench positions, creating a just as dangerous second unit. These are the guys who give Coach K versatility all over the court.

Rounding Out the Twelve

Tyson Chandler: When you absolutely, positively need a stop inside, you're bringing in Chandler. Imagine a defense with Howard and Chandler down low- it'll be nearly impossible to score inside, which will be valuable against a team like Spain.

LaMarcus Aldridge: He's quietly evolved into a near elite player in the NBA. With a paucity of true power forwards on the list, he should be in as Bosh's backup. His ruthlessly efficient jump shot should come in handy.

The last spot is tricky. I could make a compelling argument for about five players in this spot. I'm going with a gut feeling here on who should be the last guy- Andre Iguodala. Previously known for insane dunks, Iguodala has become one of the best defensive small forwards in the league. Plus, he can fill in for the two and three spot- versatility that offers depth as well. His role on this team should be in the same vein as Chandlers- a pure defensive stopper who can help a little on the other end. Add him to the Chandler-Howard lineup down low, and it's near impenetrable. On the 2008 roster, Tayshaun Prince filled nearly the same role- why not add this same type of player again?

Six Alternates: The Not Quite Ready for Primetime Players

Blake Griffin: As much as adding him to this team would make it the most exciting team ever, he still doesn't have the defensive skills or offensive retinue to warrant inclusion on the 12 man roster. 2016, though, he should be there.

Russell Westbrook: He may well get the last spot over Iguodala just to add more point guard depth. He is one of the top five point guards in the league athletically, but still struggles with knowing when to take over the game and when to defer and pass to his superstar teammate (and on a team like this, he'd have about four on the court at all times). Still, his rebounding prowess could get him on the 12 man roster. I like Iguodala better in that spot, but to each their own.

Kevin Love: The guy is a rebounding machine and has the ability to play the three or the four (and spread the floor with his three point shooting), but he's not that great a defender overall. With a talented crop of big men already on the roster, I wouldn't take him over Aldridge or Chandler. After Westbrook, he's the next most likely to be on the twelve man roster instead of my pick.

Deron Williams: If he wasn't playing so listlessly this season, he'd be in over Westbrook, but he's had major struggles this season and isn't playing up to his potential. Maybe he'll turn it on during the training camp, but right now he's nowhere near above an alternate. Also unfortunate for him is the emergence of Rose and Westbrook since 2008, when Williams was the 2nd/3rd point guard on the Olympic team.

Lamar Odom: He's a great versatility guy, and played exceptionally well at the World Championships. He's having similar problems to Williams though- he's in an extended funk since being traded. Besides, the 3/4 group on this roster is stacked; it'll be tough for him to get into the top twelve without an amazing training camp.

Eric Gordon: The best young two guard in the game, but, unfortunately has to compete against Hall of Famers in Wade and Bryant. Tough to see him on the team unless they really want two guard depth.

Stuck in No Man's Land between Cuts and Alternates

Rudy Gay: He's a great defender and a pretty good scorer, and you could certainly put him on the alternate squad based on that- but he seems to be a victim of the numbers game at this point. I see a cut for either Gordon or Gay, and Gay hasn't been quite himself since last season's injury.

The Easiest Decision to Make: Cut 

Chauncey Billups: It's pretty hard to make a case for why Billups should be on this team. He's old, no longer the great three point shooter he was, and frequently stops the flow of the offense. He was good as a fill in for the World Championships, but this is the end of the line.

My final lineup:
Starters- Rose/Paul, Wade, James, Bosh, Howard.
Bench: Bryant (though he could start over Wade), Durant, Anthony, Aldridge, Chandler, Iguodala.
Alternates: Westbrook, Love, Griffin, Williams, Odom, Gordon
Cuts: Gay, Billups.

Small lineup: Rose/Paul, Wade, James, Durant, Howard (or even Bosh at center)
Defensive lineup: Rose/Paul, Iguodala, James, Chandler, Howard

Hell, the bench unit on this team- Rose/Paul, Bryant, Durant, Aldridge and Chandler- could probably win Gold. So I'd say the Dream Team is going to be given a run for its' money.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The "New Season" for the Buffalo Sabres

Your MVP so far.

Last night, Terry Pegula emerged from what I assume is his rich billionaire cave and discussed the Sabres season. He blamed the injuries on the team's middling record so far and expected a turnaround. There's been talk that Pegula will force wholesale changes if the Sabres don't live up to their expectations for the rest of the season. This is a team with a top five payroll in the league. This is a team expected to make the playoffs, not sit at 11th halfway through the season. This is a team that Pegula wants winning a Stanley Cup. Not next year, not in five years, but now, as soon as possible. Pegula then exhorted the players of his organization: from here on out, this is a new season.

And it better be. The first half of the season, the "old" season, has been infuriating. A plague of injuries hit the team, with almost every player on the roster having missed time at one point, causing a slew of call ups and line changes which have disturbed any chemistry that might've been brewing. So we got a team with no identity, no idea what it wanted to be or how it should play. Even worse, the core players besides Thomas Vanek (who is a total stud and should be at the All Star Game) and Jason Pominville (who is going to the All Star Game, and who I fear might be picked last at the All Star draft.) But Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis, Tyler Myers, Ville Leino and Nathan Gerbe, when not injured, have all disappointed immensely. These guys were supposed to be the depth of the team, with any one of them pitching in a goal or two on any given night. But no. Derek Roy has been bad enough to become the new scapegoat of the team, impressively beating out Ville Leino. The guys over at Dear God Why Us Sports agreed that they'd trade Derek Roy for a McRib. It was hilarious to see a ESPN trade rumors column in which they said that the Sabres are dangling Derek Roy- but nobody, I mean nobody wants him. All the wishful thinking that the Sabres might pull the trigger for Ryan Getzlaf or some other high end center has been tamped down by the fact that the Sabres don't have that many high end players to trade. To add to the troubles, Ryan Miller has become a shell of his former self on most nights. He can occasionally make vintage, amazing saves, but he is also getting beat badly on some shots that used to be routine. And the efforts of the team are mismatched enough such that Miller will play a great game and the team won't score, or Miller will play badly and the team will score, but not enough. All this has led to a team that plays just well enough to lose closely on most nights, grabbing an overtime loss or spare win here or there. It's been awful to watch a team that's basically the same as last year's playoff squad limp so horribly throughout the season. A hot start to the season is what has kept the Sabres at or around .500 this season.

And now, at .500, the new season begins. Last night, the Sabres jumped out to a two goal lead on the Leafs behind scoring from Matt Ellis (!!!) and Paul Gaustad, the kind of production you need from secondary sources. A goofy bounce off the back boards led to a rebound goal for the Leafs, and they tied it up after Mike Weber tripped up in his own zone and gave the Leafs a 3 on 1. (On a side note, our defense has been great at giving other teams chances this season. Besides Regehr and Leopold, they've been horrible. And sometimes, even Regehr or Leopold makes a back breaking mistake.) Two goals that are hard to pin fully on Miller. The Sabres didn't buckle though; they just kept playing their game, as the two teams stalled from that point on. But late in the second, Vanek and Pominville stepped up. If you give them a chance to win the game, they can. Vanek was skating down towards the corner with the puck, saw Pominville open on the other side of the net, and threaded a ridiculous pass through the crease and two defenders to a wide open Pominville. There's your winning goal, brought to you by the transcendence of our two best players. From that point on, the defense clamped down, Miller made some key saves, and the Sabres got an ugly, but much-needed win. The team we've seen all season would give up that lead, and either lose in regulation on a last minute goal or go into overtime, make a dumb mistake, and lose. But they held on. Now they're back at .500, 19-19-5. The new season begins. They're five points out of 8th with 39 games to play. They just need to keep winning, stringing together some back to back wins, and move up. Create pressure. Play like the team that they're capable of being. If they can't, then it might be time to blow up the core and start over. But last night was a start.

I'm not saying that the Sabres are now headed, inextricably, for a playoff spot, but there has to be some momentum, some forward motion. A trip to the Islanders, a bottom feeder of the Eastern Conference, is another test. A loss here is same-old-Sabres of this season, can't win back to back, can't beat a team they should. A win, though, is another step forward, embarking on their new season, to the good, Cup contending team that we think is hidden under this current iteration. A new season, another chance, a last gasp. Here's hoping the Sabres go boldly into the new season.

Friday, January 13, 2012

NFL Divisional Round Picks

We are heading to the twilight of the NFL season, with 32 teams whittled down to four, and a precious three weeks of games remaining. Well, four if you count the Pro Bowl (and if you do, I just feel bad for you.) That's seven games of football left before the offseason, where we'll sigh and wish we could be watching a Browns game. It gets that bad. So let's carpe diem these last three weeks and enjoy the beauty of playoff football. Last week I went 3-1 overall on my playoff picks and 2-2 against the spread. Hopefully it gets better this week!

New Orleans (-4) at San Francisco

The Saints have been arguably the best team in the NFL in the second half of the season. Since a perplexing Week 9 loss to the Rams (which was preceded, anyway, by a 62-7 thumping of the Colts), the Saints have won eight straight games while putting at least 22 points on the board in every game. In five of those games, they scored 40 or more points. Still, all their "weaker" performances on that stretch and during the season have come on the road, where the conditions are not quite as hospitable as in the Superdome. The offense is a juggernaut, with threats at every skill position. On grass, though, their aren't quite as efficient or impeccable. The 49ers offense is almost entirely predicated on kicking field goals; and when on third and long, they choose to play it safe and run instead of putting the game on Alex Smith's shoulders. Against elite defenses, this will lead to a loss, as seen in the 49ers Thanksgiving loss to the Ravens. The Saints, however, have far from an elite defense. Their scheme, predicated on blitzes and turnovers, isn't producing the way it did in their Super Bowl season. The 49ers defense, on other hand, is elite, with a talented crop of linebackers and a great defensive line. They can stop the run (which was instrumental to the Saints success last week) and have a solid secondary.

All that is a long winded way of saying: I have no idea how this game is going to go. The last time I though the 49ers would lose to a superior offense, they went out and beat the Giants 27-20. Still, you have to worry about an offense that so routinely settles for field goals against an offense like the Saints, which can easily put up forty points.  In a match up like this, where I see great offense vs. great defense, the current league is set up to reward the offense. The Saints have the momentum and the better quarterback; and no matter how dominant the 49ers have been on defense for the season, I can't see them shutting out the Saints, and I can't see Alex Smith leading a game winning drive. It'll be closer than the Saints would like, and they won't hit 40, but they have the tools to come through in the clutch, while the 49ers will need to get ahead early and stay ahead- tough to do when you're putting field goals on the board.
Pick: Saints win, 49ers cover

Denver at New England (-13.5)

The Patriots need to win so that it all ends. Incessant Tebow-mania is ruining sports media. I spent the week hoping that the Elias Sports Bureau would alter the stats so that Tebow would have more or less than 316 yards passing so that this asinine "John 3:16 is his favorite bible verse!!! WHAT A SIGN!" nonsense could end.As Will Leitch tweeted:"Ordinarily, watching sports and reading about those sports provide me almost equal measures of pleasure. Tim Tebow is the marked exception.This absurdity needs to end. Tebow is not a referendum on religion in this country. He is not some miracle weaver. He represents something different to everybody, and therefore represents nothing. He is not special in any way besides being an average mechanical quarterback with a knack for beating 4th quarter defenses or the Steelers extremely misguided defensive plans. They let Tebow have the deep ball with one on one coverage. The problem Tebow has isn't with throws like that, where it's a chuck to a general place that lets the receiver get to it; it's in the true NFL style throws where the ball must be put into a tight window, where accuracy is paramount. He can't make those throws. But hucking it deep? Sure. As long as the Patriots don't treat Tebow like the worst player in the kickball game, they should be able to limit him as they did in their last meeting. The Denver defense isn't as elite as it was when Tebow began his run, and the Patriots should be able to pick it apart once again. The Patriots have a terrible, terrible defense, but their offense should be enough to make up for any trouble Tebow might give them. With that, the coverage can be at least lessened. Because it will never die.
Pick: Patriots win, Broncos cover (what, you thought I would bet against Tebow again? Have to hedge, in case this somehow gets worse.)

Houston at Baltimore (-7.5)

This is the least compelling of the divisional games. The Texans beat a limping Bengals team last week in their first ever playoff game. Props to them; Arian Foster played exceptionally well, and TJ Yates didn't do so poorly at quarterback. Unfortunately for the Texans, they now travel to play the Ravens, whose defense is leagues better than the Bengals. The only worry the Ravens might have is their offense, which has been wildly inconsistent and lags when they decided to lean on Joe Flacco. The Texans have an impressive defense, but might wilt under the pressure of winning this game for the Texans. If the Ravens stick to a game plan heavy on Ray Rice and play the solid defense they've played all year, they should win easily. This is the playoffs, and the Ravens will be playing up for this one (since all year they've played up or down to their opponents). The Ravens might be the most complete team in the AFC field, and I like them here.
Pick: Ravens win, cover

NY Giants at Green Bay Packers (-7.5)

There are plenty of people jumping on the Giants bandwagon here, seeing them as a trendy upset pick of the dominant Packers. I can't join on board. The Packers have one of the worst defenses of all time, but still have the potential to create timely turnovers every game. And their offense? Well, if the back up QB can pilot them to 45 points, without their number one receiver (Greg Jennings), you know you have a special unit. The Giants have the ability to put obscene amounts of pressure of Aaron Rodgers due to their ever-formidable offensive line; but their secondary leaves a lot to be desired. Rodgers is particularly adept at avoiding pressure (unlike, say, Tom Brady) and can throw with ridiculous accuracy even on the run. The Packers offense will be able to score, no doubt. The Giants boast a great passing attack as well, but are more prone to turnovers on offense. This game should be a shootout, with two teams trading points. And while the Giants should be able to get some stops with the pass rush, the Packers should be able to get at least a turnover, and maybe some stops, and let Aaron Rodgers do his work. This will be a battle of attrition, and, in the end, Aaron Rodgers will simply have too much firepower for the Giants to keep up with.
Pick: Packers win, Giants cover

Playoffs: 3-1 Overall, 2-2 ATS

Monday, January 9, 2012

BCS National Championship Live Blog

To be honest, I've barely watched any college football this year. While the NFL has a little bit of a foothold in Canada, college football is an afterthought...So why not do a live blog? Here goes, game of the century, take two.

11:31- Another LSU drive fails, Alabama takes over, and Alabama runs out the clock. Let's never hype up a game ever again- both of these "Game of the Century"'s were awful. Yes, both the defenses are immensely talented units, and Alabama was fantastic in executing and shutting down LSU. But there was no excitement- only two turnovers forced, a sack fumble with the game pretty much out of reach and a baffling mistake by Jefferson for a pick. The rest of it was ruthless efficiency by the defense and poor, poor offense by LSU. It's impressive, but not exciting, and not compelling. LSU's offense was bafflingly bad, hardly befitting a number one team. Alabama's offense was methodical and able to get into field goal range. That made the difference in this game. There wasn't one play that decided it- it was a slow drip, a bloodletting, and LSU slowly died. A game without flash or panache. An entirely soulless National Championship. Roll Tide, Roll.

11:20- Holy crap! A touchdown! (of course the kicker misses the extra point). Richardson makes a great play, busting out to the outside and then turning on the jets to take it to the endzone, which was once foreign territory to these teams. That's the undeniable kill shot as Alabama goes up 21-0. LSU is pretty much playing for pride and to not be shut out, at this point.

11:13- LSU is forced to go for it on 4th and long and they are stripped of the ball by the suffocating Tide defense. At this point, Alabama's got this game in the bag. But should LSU be number two? Sure, they had a great season, but they've ruined it with this showing. Oklahoma State is going to get a lot of votes for #2 and for a split national championship. Still, the BCS continues, money making machine that it is. The Plus One is the only system they might bring in, and even that seems far off. Maybe a game as poor as this one will spur some change, but it's doubtful.

11: 08- LSU crossed the 50! LSU crossed the 50! Oh my God! With a touchdown, this is a game....

11:04- LSU defense does what they need to do, forcing a punt. Now let's see if LSU can triumphantly cross over the 50 yardline. Honey Badger's return gets two bad puns from Brent Musberger.

10:59- I didn't even watch that last possession, just listened; and I didn't really need to, because it was almost a foregone conclusion that LSU would have to punt. The defense is so good, too good, so that watching is unnecessary. The BCS needs a plus one so we could see this defense against a capable offense with a real quarterback.

10:50- Another field goal puts Alabama up 15-0 as we approach the 4th quarter. LSU needs to score on this drive, pronto. Alabama's defense has been amazing- less than 100 yards given up, total. Alabama has shown they deserved to be here; it's LSU that's crapped the bed. Oklahoma State-Alabama would be a great game. As much as this defense is amazing, it's not fun to watch. Any contrarian who tries to say otherwise is just trying to seem like a 'better' football fan, sorry to say.

10:47- So close to a touchdown, but there's a dropped pass for Alabama, after getting the ball back from yet another three and out. Getting near the end zone must have been weird for the receiver, so I can see why he dropped it.

10:41- Alabama's kicker misses another kick, giving LSU another shot. But it's never a good sign when your quarterback gets booed coming onto the field, and you haven't gotten past midfield all day. LSU did a worse job recruiting their quarterbacks than Alabama did, and that's saying something.

10:34- What in the hell was that pitch by Jordan Jefferson? Lee needs to be in this game, yesterday. Alabama gets another shot to go up 15 or 19, both seemingly insurmountable at this point.

10:31- Alabama had a chance to put the game out of reach, but they falter, with AJ McCarron missing on another deep throw, although he was on the run and in an awkward throwing position. Still, this punt keeps LSU in it. LSU needs to score; they can't just keep hoping to hang around, waiting for someone like Mathieu to make a play- they need to go out, execute, and score, as soon as possible.

10:23- An initially promising LSU drive gets them as far as the 50 yard line, and a punt. A penalty on the punt return gives Alabama better field position. A touchdown in this case would be a dagger; another field goal puts the Tide right at the threshold at putting this game out of reach. LSU could (and I stress, could) muster two touchdowns (and a two point conversion), if they start executing more consistently; three touchdowns, at this point, would be miraculous.

10: 15- Coming out of the half, Alabama marches down the field to... a stall within the red zone! Another field goal makes it 12-0 Alabama. LSU has to do something on this drive, anything to give them some momentum in this game- it's slipping away, especially as Alabama's offense continues to be able to move down the field.

9:48- Halftime! 9-0! I'm going to keep reading Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck. University life is wonderful. LSU is going to have to make some huge adjustments to win this game. A touchdown by Alabama would put it away. Any touchdown that's scored will change this game. We're just waiting, waiting for one score to alter this game for either team. Still, big half for Alabama.

9:44- The way Brent Musberger says "Honey Badger" is hilarious. He said it half seductively. "The Honey....BADger." Calm down. Alabama maneuvers themselves into field goal range. Alabama scores more in the first half of this game than the last game of the century, and a 9-0 lead is huge- LSU would have to manage to score at least a touchdown and a field goal while keeping the Alabama offense at bay in order to win this game.

9:40- Once again, the LSU offense stalls. Jordan Jefferson is a fantastic athlete, but not a quarterback that can beat Alabama- as are most college quarterbacks. McCarron brings back the Alabama offense to see if they can get some points before halftime; a field goal, perhaps?

9:31- An impressive drive by Alabama, but they once again stall in the red zone- the LSU defense is just too good. As long as we're settling for field goals, this game is going to stay close. They way they've been playing doesn't reflect the score- Alabama has been miles better so far. 6-0 Alabama.

9:21- LSU can't capitalize on the blocked field goal. So far, LSU has no answer to the Alabama defense. They might need the Honey Badger to go off to get in this game.

9:16- The fake field goal was all for naught, as Alabama stalls in three plays, and then their field goal is BLOCKED. A missed kick? In this game? Wow!

9:10- Alabama is taking my "save Trent Richardson" advice a little too much to heart. And then, on the field goal attempt, FAKE!!!! Alabama gets the 1st down by the nose of the football, but it's under review. Still, you gotta love a fake field goal. One of my favorite plays in football.

9:08- McCarron overthrows a wide open receiver deep. Yikes.

9:03- Watching AJ McCarron, I feel like Nick Saban doesn't try so hard when recruiting for quarterback. Sure, he's good, but he doesn't seem "Alabama" good- a prestige program should have a prestige quarterback, but instead they have prestige running backs and defense. Anyway, Norwood makes a big catch on an underthrown McCarron throw to put the Crimson Tide on the 38 yard line to start the second quarterback. Ballsy move by Alabama to commit so heavily to the pass- perhaps saving Richardson for the second half to wear down LSU's defense?

8:57- Alabama's lost their best receiver and punt returner, which is a bad omen. Lucky for them, their defense is still ridiculously good. I wish I could trade the Bills defense for this one.

8:50- Alabama stalls in the red zone. Their kicker actually manages to make it, giving us a 3-0 start to the game. A field goal. Who woulda thunk it? I don't know if the officials are going to do if someone actually crosses the goal line in this game.

8:42- Whenever they say "big boy football," I nearly lose it. Reminds me of this clip:

Which my friend Paul does so wonderfully. Anyway, that was a huge return for Alabama. Field goal time, at least.

8:41- Alabama gains valuable field position, but fear the honey badger too much to punt it to him. Field position is going to be Kirk Herbstreit's buzzword, I can tell.

8:37- Full disclosure, I'm rooting for Alabama because: I made a ten dollar bet on the game last night, I love the phrase "roll tide," and I'd love a three point Alabama win to cause BCS PANDEMONIUM.

8:32- Ha! Just kidding. Three and out. After the first edition of this game, most derided it as an overhyped snoozefest with no offense. There was a group of football purist contrarians who said they loved the game. Are you kidding me? Great defense is only exciting for so long; I need a breakthrough, a sustained moment of offensive brilliance against a great defense to have a compelling game.

8:31- Kickoff goes to LSU. Will we see the first touchdown between these two teams?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

NFL Wildcard Picks

Finally, the playoffs are here, so I don't  have to worry about the Buffalo Bills anymore. Especially after they finished their season with a classic punch in the gut game. Even when they were up 21-0, somehow I knew they would lose. And it still sucked to watch. I finished the season with an 11-5 overall week and a 6-9-1 ATS record, after a Week 16 total of 9-7 Overall/ 8-8 ATS. For the whole season, I was 168-88 overall and 124-126-5 ATS (all figures approximate). Dang. My overall picks were good, but still couldn't go above .500 against the spread. Well, better luck next year, and in the playoffs. Wild Card playoff games are always good- you know something crazy is going to happen (see: Seahawks over Saints last year).

Cincinnati at Houston (-4)
We've got two rookie quarterbacks here, with the threat of Jake Delhomme (or Jeff Garcia!) looming for the Texans. As much as that should be the equivalent of playoff suicide for the Texans, they've lucked out in facing the Bengals, this year's quintessential "luck of the schedule Gods" team. The Bengals haven't beat a playoff team this year- with a loss to the Tebow-less Broncos, two apiece to the Ravens and Steelers, a close loss the 49ers, and a loss to the Texans earlier. If you have to find their "best" win, it's either their win over the Titans or a win over the Bills-when-they-were-good. The Texans, despite being on a little slide into the playoffs, have the rushing attack and a hopefully healthy Andre Johnson, and a defense that is still near elite even without Mario Williams. The Bengals have the better rookie quarterback, Andy Dalton, but the worse overall offense and defense. I expect the Bengals to be able to hang around in this game, thanks to AJ Green, but to actually win this game? They haven't done it yet, so why believe it now?
Pick: Texans win, Bengals cover

Detroit at New Orleans (-10.5)
You're not beating New Orleans at home. Sorry. Drew Brees is too efficient and ridiculously good at home, and he ended the season in MVP form. The Lions have a great offense (even without any semblance of a run game), but their defense doesn't have the chops to stop an elite offense. For instance, we'll take last week, when the Lions gave up 480 yards and 6 touchdowns to Matt Flynn, the Packers backup QB. This is Drew Brees' turn, and he should be able to put up numbers as good. The only reason I can't pick the Saints to win and cover is their porous, turnover dependent defense isn't going to completely hold down Calvin Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Something like 45-35 seems right to me- not close, but close enough for a Lions cover.
Pick: Saints win, Lions cover.

Atlanta at NY Giants (-3)
Have you ever sat back and said "Wow, those Falcons sure are good!" No, you haven't. They're a consistent team that are better than most of the NFL, but against great teams, great defenses or on the road, they never jump out at you. In essence, this is a team that can get you to the playoffs, but I could never see them as Super Bowl Champions. The Giants rollercoaster-ed their way through the season, peaks and valleys. They've finished the season peaking, winning the must-win, high pressure games with panache. They have a QB in Eli Manning who flirts with elite status and has a knack for 4th quarter, game winning or game-icing drives, and a dangerous wide receiver group. The defense rushes the passer so well; Matt Ryan should be getting ready to become quite cozy with the cold New York turf. The Giants defense is nothing special against the pass, and their run game won't blow anyone away, but their best is better than the Falcons best. Add in home field advantage and I see the Giants taking it over the good-but-never-great Falcons.
Pick: Giants win, cover

Pittsburgh (-8.5) at Denver
You can't have honestly watched the last three weeks and confidently pick the Broncos. The Bills- THE BILLS- were able to hold the Broncos to 14 points and pick off Tebow 3 times (plus a interception that was changed into a fumble). Last I checked, my 8th grade flag football team could score 21 against the Bills. He threw for 60 yards against the Chiefs. That's in four quarters. Simply put, teams have figured him out. You don't blitz him too much (or else he'll run), cover everyone, let him stay in the pocket, and keep a spy on him in case he rolls left to throw. In addition, the defense has lost some of their stinginess- they aren't quite as dominant. The Steelers have a crippled Ben Roethlisberger at QB, their main running back tore his ACL, and their leading tackler can't play because of sickle cell anemia. Despite all this, their defense is good enough to stop Tebow and the Broncos- in fact, they're more than good enough. And even if the Broncos put in Brady Quinn (Tebow has a short leash this week), it would be laughably not enough to beat the Steelers. The Steelers offense doesn't have to be great to win this- they just have to be decent, and Peg-Leg Roethlisberger should be able to put together something. Seeing as the Steelers are so hampered, though, I'm hedging and saying the Broncos can stay within a touchdown.
Pick: Steelers win, Broncos cover

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Week 17 New Years Picks

Eagles (-7.5) at Redskins
Building teams through free agency: you're doing it wrong. Either way, the Eagles have more talent all over the field than the Redskins. In a meaningless game, that's what I'm going with.
Pick: Eagles win, cover

Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-9)
Atlanta still has something to play for, while the Buccaneers have redefined the word "fluke" with their performance this year after going 10-6 last year.
Pick: Falcons win, cover

San Francisco (-11.5) at St. Louis
San Francisco is playing for a first round bye. The Rams are close to the Number One pick in the draft. Not hard to figure this one.
Pick: 49ers win, cover

Chicago at Minnesota (-2.5)
Josh McNown was slightly better than Caleb Hanie last week for the Bears. That sentence alone can pretty much sum up the dark turn the Bears season has taken. The Vikings, even without Adrian Peterson, have been playing better under Joe Webb lately.
Pick: Vikings win, cover

Detroit (-6.5) at Green Bay
Tough to figure this one, but with the Packers second stringers in for a good portion of the game, and with seeding possibilities for the Lions (they could avoid the Saints and play the Giants or Cowboys), I've got the Lions winning a close one.
Pick: Lions win, Packers cover

Dallas at NY Giants (-3)
The Giants finally seem to have screwed their heads on right, and in that mode, they're a dangerous team. The Cowboys lost their running game with DeMarco Murray's broken ankle, and you still can never trust Tony Romo, especially with an injury.
Pick: Giants win, cover

Carolina at New Orleans (-7)
Saints could be sitting guys by the second half of this one, but their first half effort should be enough to take the game- and who knows, the starters might be in the whole game. Cam Newton and the Panthers can keep it close, though.
Pick: Saints win, Panthers cover

Tennessee (-1) at Houston
The Texans are challenging last year's Seahawks as "worst division winner in the playoffs" now that all their playmakers are injured. TJ Yates isn't cutting it. Titans have a lot to play for, and seem like they could be the crappy sixth seed of this year's playoffs-meaning they'd play the Texans again.
Pick: Titans win, cover

Baltimore (-2.5) at Cincinnati
The Ravens play down to their opponents on the road, especially against physical teams. The Bengals are at home (offering two for one tickets!) and play especially physically. Andy Dalton is taking them to the playoffs! (Words I never thought I'd say.)
Pick: Bengals win, cover

Pittsburgh (-7) at Cleveland
Steelers still have a shot at a first round bye. The Browns are still terrible.
Pick: Steelers win, cover

Indianapolis at Jacksonville (-3)
The Colts should be able to fulfill their manifest destiny and clinch the number one overall pick. The Jaguars are probably really happy with the Blaine Gabbert pick right now.... (laughter)
Pick: Jaguars win, Colts cover

NY Jets at Miami (-3)
The Dolphins! They're definitely good enough to beat the overrated, overhyped Jets. I swear, if the stars align and the Jets are in the playoffs, I'm going to have a conniption fit.
Pick: Dolphins win, cover

Buffalo at New England (-10.5)
It would be awesome if the Bills found a way to sweep the Patriots this year and somewhat redeem what has been a trainwreck of a season. Unfortunately, they'll probably close out the season with another grim loss.
Pick: Patriots win, cover

San Diego at Oakland (-3)
This must be the most underachieving Chargers team of the past decade, and that's saying something. The Raiders are somehow still alive, and there would be nothing better than seeing Carson Palmer screw up a home playoff game with three interceptions.
Pick: Raiders win, cover

Kansas City at Denver (-2)
The Chiefs were able to shut down Aaron Rodgers; Tim Tebow was shut down by the Bills and Patriots, two of the worst defenses in the league. The Chiefs should be able to take care of Tebow and let Kyle Orton get his revenge.
Pick: Chiefs win, cover

Seattle at Arizona (-2.5)
Seattle figured out that they're a running team and rode Marshawn Lynch to near playoff contention. Arizona rode John Skelton to near playoff contention. I've gotta give it to Beast Mode here.
Pick: Seahawks win, cover