Saturday, November 28, 2009

Babe of the Week and Week 11 Picks

Since Florida still has some big games to be featured (meaning Jenn Brown and Erin Andrews will be coming up), I figured I throw Florida State a bone and have Tiffany Fallon, former Playboy Playmate and cast member of The Apprentice as this weeks Babe of the Week. No time to explain my picks since I have to head to work shortly so here they are. Home teams in CAPS.

HOUSTON (+3.5) over Indianapolis
Cleveland (+13.5) over CINCINNATI
Washington (+9) over PHILADELPHIA
BUFFALO (+3) over Miami
ST. LOUIS (+3.5) over Seattle
ATLANTA (-12) over Tampa Bay
Carolina (+3) over JETS
Jacksonville (+3) over SAN FRANCISCO
SAN DIEGO (+13.5) over Kansas City
MINNESOTA (-11) over Chicago
TENNESSEE (-3) over Arizona
BALTIMORE (+3) over Pittsburgh
New England (+1.5) over NEW ORLEANS

NFL Record: 84-78-1

STANFORD (-10) over Notre Dame
LSU (-3.5) over Arkansas
USC (-13) over UCLA
ARIZONA STATE (+3) over Arizona
Oklahoma State (+7.5) over OKLAHOMA
BYU (-7.5) over Utah
Florida State (+24.5) over FLORIDA

College Record: 49-65-1

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It's Time I Become A Football Coach

(This image comes from the Houston Chronicle and AP)

I'm serious, I should be a football coach and this is coming from a guy who hasn't played Madden since being priced out of PS3 and XBox 360. I'm sure anyone playing Madden four hours a day would be better coaches than me, which really indicates how bad the coaching in the NFL has become and how bad the coaching always is in college football.

College football should just create co-coaches and get it over with. You would have the one who can recruit all the talent and practice with the team, while the other one can handle game management. I mean look at the travesty of a final drive Les Miles handled last week against Ole Miss. After lucking into a onside kick, LSU hit a WR screen to get into field goal range at the 32. Then, Miles being to call some bad plays, a couple of slow developing pass plays, then a foolish RB screen on 3rd and 19. Then, the ultimate sin by a coach was committed when he waited 15 seconds to call timeout with :09 on the clock. He failed to have his team ready should they make the 4th and 26, which they did. With :01 on the clock, either set up the field goal or throw for the end zone; LSU did neither. In college, I blame the coaches more than the players because the coaches need to know better and Les Miles last Saturday didn't.

However, watching coaches like Bob Stoops and Pete Carroll have shown me over the years that college football is easy as long as you can recruit. The NFL is supposed to be tougher to coach, you're supposed to have a clue of what's going on. Yet, there's a reason coaches change at least seven times in the offseason. Look at the following coaches: Wade Phillips, Norv Turner, Andy Reid, Marvin Lewis, Brad Childress. Each of these coaches head teams who would be in the playoffs, despite not being good coaches. Whether it's questionable challenges, playing not to lose, losing control of the team and just anything that makes you shake your head, each of these coaches fall into that category. And I haven't gone into the worst examples.

Let's begin with Eric Mangini, who I have called the Rich Kotite of this era (meaning a bad coach on a respectable team, who then goes to a worse team and makes them awful). He should have never been given another team this soon after the Jets meltdown, but the Browns felt like they needed to continue hiring failed Belichick assistants because of the outstanding performance Bill had when coaching the Browns. Two great moves by Mangini: going for the fake field goal pass at the end of the 1st half against the Lions, despite the Lions being ready, thus they get the first down and have to kick anyway. But that didn't matter, unlike the last play of the game. You know you're not coaching well when your team is the one team who commits a pass interference on a Hail Mary. He makes things worse by calling timeout before the untimed down. Normally, it's not awful, but Matt Stafford got hurt pretty bad on the previous play and Daunte Culpepper was going to take the last snap cold. Mangenius' timeout allowed Stafford to come back in, because obviously, you want the guy who's torched your defense for 400 yards to throw one more time over a backup QB who's erratic and is just as capable of throwing a 100-interception than he is a touchdown. What a moron.

Of course, the reason I'm even writing this was because of the Texans game Monday night. It started with a Tweet about the 3rd down play by Houston with :08 seconds left. This was before Kris Brown missed the game-tying field goal, giving the Titans the win. Now, the Titans clearly played for the field goal, because Jeff Fisher knew Rob Bironas knew he could consistently hit 50 yard kicks. If anyone knows Kris Brown, you know that he hooks every big kick left. The Texans still had a timeout, yet Gary Kubiak decides to fall on the ball. No, no and no. You have to try to get closer, because you can't depend on Brown making a 49 yard kick. As a matter of fact, if you life was on the line based on Brown making a big kick, you can start buying burial plots and coffins. Conversely, if Vegas put a spread on Brown hooking a kick left, it would come off the board because everyone knows he misses there. Thus, the Texans need to make the kick easier for Brown, since I can't say don't kick in any circumstance. Trust your quarterback, which Matt Schaub isn't to be confused with a Trent Edwards or a Jake Delhomme, and try for the first down to Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter or David Anderson, turning a 49 yarder into a 39 yarder and then it's all on Kris Brown. However, Kubiak didn't know his team and the Texans are now 5-5, on their way to another 8-8 season and Kubiak's last. Once again, another guy I can out-coach.

Here's my Thanksgiving Day picks and from me here at The Cycle, I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. Home team in CAPS.

DETROIT (+11.5) over Green Bay- Normally I would believe the Lions would fail to show up and get pasted, but I think they will play close in a rare sellout.
DALLAS (-13.5) over Oakland- Unlike the Lions, the Raiders won't show up in big D. Plus, the Cowboys can expect a huge game from Tony Romo, Mr. Thanksgiving and I consider that akin to Mr. May.
DENVER (+6) over Giants- Having a game in Denver three days after playing in New York will be difficult. Unless the Broncos player-only meeting failed and they continue self-destructing, I think it will be hard for the G-Men tonight.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Babe of the Week and Week 11 Picks

We turn to the Big Game for this week's BOTW and at the same time, turn again to the iconic G4 network for the lovely Morgan Webb, host of X-Play. She was a graduate of Cal-Berkeley, who will look to ruin the Rose Bowl hopes for Stanford Saturday. This is only one piece of Rivalry Saturday and a Sunday in the NFL where you'll have teams make moves to set up for the playoffs, like the Dolphins did Thursday night and by the way, the next time I give points with Jake Delhomme against anyone other than Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis and Tampa Bay, it will be because I'm gagged and tied up like Ving Rhames in Pulp Fiction. As always, home team in CAPS.

DETROIT (-3) over Cleveland- The "If You Gamble On This Game, You Have a Gambling Problem" Game of the year, until Cleveland-Oakland likely. At least the Lions have the one national game, unlike Cleveland's two.
JACKSONVILLE (-8.5) over Buffalo- At least the Dick Jauron Era is over for Bills. Unfortunately, the Mike Shanahan Era will never happen once Daniel Snyder gets a hold of him.
Pittsburgh (-10) over KANSAS CITY- It's going to be tough for the Steelers to play without Troy Polamalu. Not this week against the Chiefs, but in general.
Indianapolis (-1.5) over BALTIMORE- After the way the Colts won last week, I can't pick them to lose at all until they do. They don't cover every week, but taking the Ravens means the Ravens will win, I can't do that.
GIANTS (-7) over Falcons- It's time for the Giants to stop fooling around. They lost Pierce, not going to be devastating as long as the defense makes Matt Ryan uncomfortable. An early lead will get the Falcons out of it.
GREEN BAY (-6.5) over San Francisco- The Packers are rejuvenated after the win over Dallas and see the Niners and Lions in their way of getting to 7-4. Part I will be taken care off.
MINNESOTA (-10.5) over Seattle- Nothing much to say here, so I'll use this game to complain again on how Ireland was robbed against France Wednesday. I knew they wouldn't replay the match.
DALLAS (-11) over Washington- The Cowboys need to bounce back against the Redskins and I don't think the rivalry, at least in Cowboys Stadium, will matter Sunday.
TAMPA BAY (+11) over New Orleans- Okay Saints, I'm tired of you barely winning games. Show me you can cover double digits and I'll take you after the Pats game on Monday.
Arizona (-9.5) over ST. LOUIS- The Cardinals go back to their last home city against the awful Rams, as well as Kurt Warner. Expect a huge game from him and another Cards win.
NEW ENGLAND (-10.5) over Jets- Grab the Kleenex Rex Ryan because you'll be weeping after the upcoming massacre at the Razor Blade. Kudos to Rex for making fun of himself this week.
San Diego (-3) over DENVER- Hard spread to find because of the injury to Kyle Orton. Seems like he won't play so the Chargers will eat Chris Simms alive.
Cincinnati (-9.5) over OAKLAND- The best team to player after beating the Ravens and Steelers back-to-back, where you can half-ass a victory.
CHICAGO (+3) over Philadelphia- I must be a glutton of punishment for picking the Bears, but I don't trust the Eagles. Plus, Jay Cutler is due for a great game, right? Right?
HOUSTON (-4.5) over Tennessee- The dream for the Titans of finishing the season 10-0 will end as the Texans will take care of Vince Young and Chris Johnson. Andre Johnson will cancel out Chris Johnson.

NFL Record: 78-66-1

Ohio State (-11.5) over MICHIGAN- Probably the least important game in this rivalry in my life.
BOSTON COLLEGE (-3) over North Carolina
Oklahoma (-6.5) over TEXAS TECH
UConn (+6.5) over NOTRE DAME- The Irish win barely, and Weis would need to beat Stanford.
BYU (-9.5) over Air Force
Penn State (-3) over MICHIGAN STATE
STANFORD (-7) over California
GEORGIA (-9.5) over Kentucky
ARIZONA (+6) over Oregon

College Record: 44-60-1

Monday, November 16, 2009

Randomness While Channeling My Inner Barry Switzer

And apparently, this guy above also did the same thing. Bill Belichick did everything to lose that game Sunday night in that final Patriots drive. New England enters this drive with two timeouts and blows one before the first play for no reason. After setting up 3rd and 2, Belichick calls a pass play, instead of a run to set up the two minute warning, and that pass is nearly run back for a pick six. As the Pats offense leaves the field, Belichick arrogance comes into play and calls for another pass play on 4th and 2 at their OWN 28. The confusion of that play made the Pats burn their last timeout. That timeout was important as the Pats missed converting on the 4th down play on a close play that either you could use the timeout to challenge or save for the Colts possession and give Tom Brady more than 10 seconds to drive down the field.

Monday, I heard half the sports world rightly kill Belichick for his handling of the 4th down play and the other half defend him because "he's unconventional" and obviously anything he does is always the right call. The fact is, Belichick should have punted, and everyone expected it, which is why the Pats threw on third down (which you can't do) and threw basically the same route on fourth down. You can't take a chance that Peyton Manning gets 30 yards to win a game, but make him go 60-70 yards against you're defense that has made him uncomfortable all night, including a couple of interceptions (one in the fourth quarter).

Random note: I know about the video of Belichick's bodyguard knocking over a cameraman as they left the field. The thing that cracks me up is after Belichick shakes Jim Caldwell's hand, Jim Sorgi randomly approaches Bill just as the cameraman was taken down. Random note two: Since I didn't post this after this article, I must give Ed Werder credit for the "channel his inner Switzer" line. We both thought it, he put it on record first, plus he actually spoke with Barry Switzer about it, so he deservedly gets credit.

Good luck for the NY Jets, who have to face the Patriots who after their last loss beat the Titans 59-0. Add that the Pats lost the way they did, that the Jets beat them in September and how Belichick just plain hate the team, I wouldn't be surprised if 59-0 is the halftime score.

Jets have their own problems after another tough loss to the Jaguars Sunday. The key play was Maurice Jones-Drew stopping at the one yard line, a la Brian Westbrook, in order to run the clock down for a winning field goal. Gregg Easterbrook in his comprehensive TMQ column made an interesting point on the play, not by calling MJD dumb for trying to run the clock, but stating that Jack Del Rio would be to blame if the Jags somehow missed the FG because all they did was take knees to set the kick up (also you see him defend Belichick's fourth down decision, which I'm sure he was fight 100 bolts of lightning in doing so).

This is about the Jets, who have self-destructed before our very eyes, at least to those who live in New York. They lost Kris Jenkins and Leon Washington, Kerry Rhodes is the anti-Ed Reed, Mark Sanchez is playing like a rookie and Rex Ryan is coaching without a clue. This is a team that has talked like they won the last ten Super Bowls, where the coach has no clue about clock management and how to use his timeouts, where a rookie QB reads a prepared statement and thinks he can get away with pissing off the New York media. Now they're 4-5, certain to be 4-6 and headed to a 6-10, 7-9 season. The Rex Ryan Era Everybody!!!

Where last Sunday was an awful day for the Jets, it was golden for the Giants. Why? They didn't play. Also, the Cowboys, Eagles and Falcons lost, with all three and the Broncos each losing key players to injury. In a related story, the Giants play all three teams in the next four weeks. If Chris Simms is the starter on Thanksgiving, no chance do the Giants lose, hell the Lions or the Rams have as good a chance of winning. Thus, the Giants could avoid Brian Westbrook (concussion), Kyle Orton (ankle) and Michael Turner (ankle), plus the Cowboys had multiple injuries.

The Bengals are for real and no one can ignore them anymore. They swept both AFC Championship teams from a year ago, plus they have Oakland, Kansas City, Cleveland and Detroit which will get them into the playoffs. The defense is very good who have absorbed the loss of Antwan Odom without losing the ferocity of their pass rush and they have the best pair of corners for any team (with Green Bay the one possible exception) in Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall.

I remember back in the mid-90s that Bud Adams was one of the worst owners in sports with how he handled coaches and obviously how the Oilers left Houston for Tennessee. Then, he has seemed like a good guy during the Jeff Fisher era, but giving him the Cowher treatment and not firing him. After last Sunday, I'm glad that Adams can be hated once again after his two bird salute to a Bills section, not to mention Commissioner Roger Goodell.

I think everyone's aware that the Yankees have won more games that the Nets, Knicks, Giants AND Jets combined in November. But does anyone know that the Seton Hall Pirates hold that same claim and they started playing games last Friday. Just sayin'. (This is no longer true because the Knicks remarkably won in Indiana, holding Danny Granger to three second half points. So now it's a tie.)

As for the Pirates, I believe they will make the tournament, despite Keon Lawrence getting suspended for DUI. Herb Pope will make the difference and finally give the team the size they've been lacking. I rarely pick college in November because a) too many new players so I have no clue how they mesh and b) I know teams that are thought of as good fall on their faces way too often.

After blowing the draft pick this year and selecting Jordan Hill over Brandon Jennings and a still questionable Danilo Gallinari pick last year, should Knicks fans be concerned that Donnie Walsh is the GM? Also, does this make it a good thing the Knicks don't have a draft pick in 2010, thus Walsh can't screw up another one?

Huge weekend boxing where Manny Pacquiao puts himself in the elite class of fighters after his dominant win over Miguel Cotto. There were some shades of the Ali "Rope-A-Dope" in the early rounds which Cotto was forcing the action, before one switch at the ropes and Pac Man was brutal the rest of the fight, forcing Cotto's wife and son fleeing the arena (just like Mick Foley's wife and kids). Now, the entire world is salivating over a fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, hopefully to be seen on the unofficial fight weekend of the year, Kentucky Derby day (doubling as the weekend of my 24th birthday).

Pacquiao supporters can claim that he dominated Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton better than Floyd and that Miguel Cotto was the best fighter either guy faced. While Mayweather supporters can claim the win of Juan Manuel Marquez is better than Pacquiao's struggles with the guy, the fact is, Marquez was a better fighter at a lower weight. One thing that's true about Pacquiao, he hasn't lost his speed as he moves up weight class and winning titles in seven divisions is as good a feat as ever done in boxing, while Mayweather must continue to stay unbeaten because that's his claim to fame, aside from a lot of bravado and boring defensive fights (he's clearly the San Antonio Spurs of boxing for the simple fact that I think he can throw when he wants to which he did against Hatton, just as the Spurs could score with the Suns when necessary). Pacquiao's place in boxing history will be looked on kind regardless of a win/loss against Floyd, but Mayweather can establish himself in a greater light. That's why Floyd needs this fight, though not more than the sport of boxing itself.

Finally, the World Cup qualifying ended Wednesday as the last six teams made the 32-team field which will be played in South Africa next year. Kudos must go to our upset winners in Greece (who I always root for, except against the U.S., in deference to some of my cousins) and Slovenia, who knocked off Ukraine (leading to this scene being rehashed) and Russia respectively (think of Russia's luck, they probably were among the top 5 teams in qualifying, but they had to be grouped with Germany and couldn't beat them. They win if grouped with France or Italy). Algeria won a special playoff over Egypt, Uruguay won their playoff with Costa Rica while Christiano Ronaldo can breathe easy because his Portugal squad made the field without him.

The final one was between Ireland and France. The French won the first leg 1-0 in Ireland and the Irish scored first in the second game leading to extra time. For anyone who doesn't know, because both teams scored one goal and on the road, they needed the extra time; if France would score, it would force Ireland to score or the French move on. In the 103rd minute, the play that happened will instantly be compared to Diego Maradona, the Montreal Screwjob, the Bennett Salvatore Game, Jeffery Maier, and No Goal among the list of worst officiating moments in sports history. Thierry Henry clearly touches the ball with a handball, which gets uncalled and the France win on the ensuing goal. Personally, I'm done talking about it, the Irish were robbed and France will undeservedly go to South Africa, it's that simple.

Here's my pick for tonight's NFL Network game. Home team in CAPS
CAROLINA (-3) over Miami- Without Ronnie Brown, the Wildcat isn't as effective and the Dolphins will lose tonight. Please don't make me curse picking you Jake Delhomme.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Babe of the Week and Week 10 Picks

For this week's Babe of the Week, we travel to South Carolina for a former Gamecock cheerleader and Playboy Playmate Lauren Michelle Hill. It's more indicative that there isn't really a big game this week in college football; just a bunch of semi-important ones. Last week was the example of my picking season as I bounced back with a strong 9-4 effort in the NFL picks, while plummeting to an awful 1-9 in college picks. It's getting to the point where it's naturally smarter to go against me in college since I can't pick the right weeks when the good teams take off and the ones they show up. At least I'm picking NFL games at close to the best I've done in my life. Anyway, just a short description as I'm ready to make picks. Home team in CAPS
Jacksonville (+7) over JETS- Mark Sanchez isn't Matt Ryan or Dan Marino, so I wouldn't give seven points. Plus, it should be windy in the Meadowlands and Sanchez hasn't proven to throw in it.
Denver (-4) over WASHINGTON- The perfect team to play after dropping two in a row, an inferior offense which the Bronco defense to eat alive.
Cincinnati (+7) over PITTSBURGH- Everyone thinks the Steelers will just blowout the Bengals, but the Cincy defense is very good and Palmer is back to '05 level. This stays close.
TENNESSEE (-7) over Buffalo- The site of the Music City Miracle (aka the day the Bills franchise died) will see again that the V in Vince means victory.
MINNESOTA (-16.5)over Detroit- A week off for the Vikings is followed by another bye week ag ainst the Lions. Expect big numbers for Peterson, Favre, Rice, Harvin and defense.
New Orleans (-14) over ST. LOUIS- After three straight closer than expected games, the Saints get to enjoy a trip against the worst team in football.
Atlanta (-1.5) over CAROLINA- I still don't know if the Falcons are good or not but their losses have come against Dallas, New Orleans and New England. The Panthers aren't in that league.
MIAMI (-10) over Tampa Bay- Congrats to the Bucs for being the last team to win a game. Doesn't mean they can beat a better team in the Dolphins (who would be renamed Wildcats if this was the 1920s).
Kansas City (+2) over OAKLAND- Third week in a row for a game to be the "If You Bet This Game, You Have A Gambling Problem" game and there's plenty more down the stretch.
ARIZONA (-9) over Seattle- Big week from Warner, Seahawks playing away from Qwest Field against a team they lost to, the Cards have to win this game, right? Right?
SAN DIEGO (-1) over Philadelphia- Before the season, I thought the Eagles would miss the playoffs; a game like this goes a long way. Let's appreciate the fact that the majority of fans will know what to do more than either Andy Reid or Norv Turner.
Dallas (-3) over GREEN BAY- Last week turned out to be the week I leaped off the Packers bandwagon, Richard Kimble-style. I must admit, the Cowboys look good and if A-Rod can become clutch, Tony Romo I guess can too.
INDIANAPOLIS (-3) over New England- Game of the month, much less week. Most people think the Pats look better than the Colts, but that's because of the Titans (pre-VY) and the Bucs. They aren't back yet and the Colts will take this one at the Giant Gas Station (my nickname for Lucas Oil Stadium).
Baltimore (-10.5) over CLEVELAND- How do the Browns get a Monday night game, much less home? Ravens need to win to stay alive and that's all I want to say.

NFL Record: 70-55-1

MISSISSIPPI (-6) over Tennessee
Houston (-5.5) over CENTRAL FLORIDA
Miami (-3) over NORTH CAROLINA
SOUTH CAROLINA (+17.5) over Florida
Iowa (+16.5) over OHIO STATE
Stanford (+10.5) over USC
Auburn (+4) over GEORGIA
Utah (+20) over TCU
OKLAHOMA STATE (-4.5) over Texas Tech
PITTSBURGH (-6.5) over Notre Dame

College Record: 39-55-1

Thursday, November 12, 2009

For Shame, MLB

The big news of baseball's GM meetings wasn't any trades of a player signing (baseball saves this for the winter meetings usually). The news was that there will still be limited instant replay in MLB for next season on home run calls. The bigger story was that the GM's didn't even put it up for a vote or even having a discussion about the issue. After a playoff season where almost daily there was a bad call by an umpire which a replay could correct it, the MLB GM's decided that it's not important enough to bother with.

Once again, baseball continues to live in this little world where they think they are better than everyone and whatever they do is okay because it's baseball. The NFL is the most dominant league and they continuously make changes to improve the sport. Why can't baseball? This sport continues to drive fans away and it starting to show in TV ratings. Sports Media Watch compared the ratings of the World Series and the NBA Finals and while the total rating was easily won by baseball, the NBA demographic figures tend to go in their favor, including a win in the 18-34 demo. So make no mistake, baseball is starting to decline in the minds of younger Americans. One way to stop this trend is to have your group of officials be a group that we don't think of as inept (NBA definitely falls in this category after the Donaghy mess). If you can't, then give your officials the eraser known as replay.

Here's my plan: maintain home run calls and fair/foul as reviewable in any situation, then I'd give each manager one opportunity a game, with no penalty, to review any out call they may think is wrong. Balls and strike won't be reviewed. Voila, you have a replay system, plus you can use an umpire to control the replay and have MLB review it at the same time like they do in hockey. Unfortunately, MLB doesn't care about the integrity of the game and is perfectly fine going into another playoff where they will have to answer questions why a call was missed. I hope MLB thinks about this if/when the time comes that the American sports fan decides enough is enough with baseball, especially those fans in small-markets.

Also, since it's Thursday and the NFL Network has begun is Thursday Night Football package, I'm going to give you that pick on a mid-week post separate from my regular BOTW and NFL/College Picks. Plus, I have a pick for tomorrow's huge West Virginia/Cincy game.

SAN FRANCISCO (-3.5) over Chicago- I was torn on this one, since this is like a "Loser Leaves Town" Match, but I think the Niners are still good enough to compete with the Cardinals, while the Bears have no defense and neglect Matt Forte too much for my liking (in a related story, I have Forte in fantasy).

NFL Record: 69-59-1

CINCINNATI (-9.5) over West Virginia- The Bearcats need to keep winning games and probably win them big to impress the polls, while the Mountaineers aren't that good on the road.

College Record: 39-53-1

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hey Tennis Pros, Leave Andre Alone

This has been a story that I've largely ignored, based on the fact my only tweet about it was a reply to Club Trillion that his post on it was the "best tweet ever". However, I continue to read about certain tennis players who not only are upset over Andre Agassi's revelation that he used crystal meth, but want him to forfeit winnings and championships. That was what Marat Safin said the other day. You also had Martina Navratilova say that Agassi is "up there with Roger Clemens" and Rafael Nadal also spoke of his disapproval. Only Andy Roddick didn't do a character assassination of him, but it seems like the tennis world has spoken and they're outraged with Agassi.

Of course the tennis world should be outraged, but direct that outrage at the ATP, not Andre Agassi. Andre Agassi didn't have to write a book for money and didn't have any rumors that he used drugs that he revealed. This was out of nowhere and I'm assuming that this was something he needed to write. Anyone who thinks he was selfish to write about using crystal meth is a fool because any financial gain he makes is offset by the reaction by sports and tennis world. One thing to remember, crystal meth isn't steroids or HGH.

I'm not condoning the fact he was a meth user, but I personally think it's a better story that he was able to overcome the disease to save his career and ultimately become one of the ten greatest tennis players ever. The fact the ATP finds that Agassi failed a drug test and didn't rigorously find out and use appropriate action is unconscionable because they have to be the ones to enforce the rules of the sport and they failed the tennis world, not Andre. It's the same way how I blame MLB and the union as the ultimate failure in the steroids war because they chose to ignore it until it couldn't be anymore. So anyone who thinks Andre should be forced to give up winnings and titles that he doesn't win if the ATP does his job, they are sadly mistaken. Appreciate Agassi's candor, don't condemn it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Babe of the Week and Week 9 Picks

In honor of the N.Y. Yankees World Series victory (and due to the fact that there isn't an alumnus from LSU or Alabama that belongs here), our Babe of the Week is the hottest of the Yanks long list of girlfriends/wives, Minka Kelly, Derek Jeter's main squeeze. Since I don't use this space to showcase a whole bunch of photos (unless I personally take them), here's a link that shows the Kate Hudson's and the Joanna Garcia's that date/married Yankees, plus other teams and sports. It's also the perfect opportunity to write my World Series review.

For the Phillies, this season will be remembered for one of the better title defenses in recent memory. Last year, Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge were the difference between them winning and losing; this year, both players had subpar years, yet still won the National League and took the Yankees six games. They were the first defending champ to return to the World Series since the 2001 Yankees, and despite suffering the same fate as the last dynasty team did, they have changed baseball in Philadelphia for the better. They will be back in contention in 2010 as they keep Cliff Lee and their vaunted 1-6 batting order and if they can get bounce back years from Hamels and/or Lidge, they will be the favorite to return to the World Series a third straight year. Kudos to the Phightins.

As for the Yankees, they won this World Series for five reasons. First, signing CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, two players in their prime and among the best at their positions was a change from recent Yankee spending (bonus points for swinging the AL East when it seemed Tex was headed to Boston). Put it this way, the Yankees passed on Vlad Guerrero for Gary Sheffield in 2003 and Carlos Beltran for Randy Johnson in 2004; this team didn't make Derek Lowe and Manny Ramirez as their top two free agent choices (and if George Steinbrenner was still running things, I have to think the Yanks sign Manny, something that could have imploded the team). Second, none of their veteran players had extensive injury time. When you consider that A-Rod's hip injury in the first month was the longest injury to a major player, it's pretty remarkable; then add the fact that no player played like their age, even Matsui. Third, both the Twins and the Angels came into their series with the Yankees feeling like they needed to be both perfect and aggressive to beat them and turned out to be neither. The Twins had no chance, but blew every opportunity the Yanks gave them with boneheaded baserunning and a Joe Nathan meltdown. Meanwhile, the Angels committed errors (which they never do), couldn't hit consistently (which they usually do against New York) and had no pitching (at least no shutdown starter).

I'll use the last two for the actual series. The fourth reason was that the Phillies unfortunately were not much different than the Angels, except Cliff Lee was a legitimate starter who if he could of pitched Game 4, maybe we have a Game 7 and with Lee starting, who knows. Their bats never hit at the same time and while the Yanks didn't hit well statistically, they seemed to have at least one inning from Game 3 on that they did damage. Which brings us to number five, the turning points of this series. Pedro Martinez twice was left in too long as he should of never started the seventh in Game 2 (allowing the insurance run the Yanks needed to feel safe) and although Shane Victorino should have played Jeter's single into an out, Pedro should have never faced Matsui, the one man who was hitting him hard. Game 3 was Cole Hamels becoming a Section 8, giving up a 3-0 lead in a matter of two innings. If Hamels can get through the fifth still in front, perhaps the Phillies get some runs and change the outcome of the series. The last one was the Johnny Damon at bat against Lidge, who was dealing until Damon worked the count and got a hit. Then, in the overmanaging moment of the series, Charlie Manuel plays the shift against Tex and Damon steals two bases to get to third. We all know that Alex Rodriguez knocked the winning run in and we don't get to know if Phil Coke can keep that game tied in the bottom of the 9th.

The Yankees proved to be the best team in baseball, and earned this 27th World Championship, something I didn't think they were really close to last year (for the record, I believe the Yankees weren't overly concerned with making the playoffs a year ago, just so they could clear house). I should have known better, since the Yanks will spend their way to make a turnaround and because the Rays were destined to fall back after the high of 2008, opening the door for the Yanks and Sox to make the playoffs. Now, next season will be interesting because with the economy continuing to widen gaps between big-market and small-market, the Yankees will not only have it easier in the regular season to win, but I'd say a little more difficult since other big-market teams will gun for them.

Enough baseball, I'll write something about the hot stove soon, now let's do some football picks. Last week was a bloodbath and a reversal of fortune is needed. All of a sudden, a simple football season is turning upside down as teams I thought were among the best (Giants, Bears, Jets) have come down to earth. Fortunately, there still are a whole bunch of bad teams in this league and remember, whatever my Houston pick is, it means the other team will win, almost a lock (aside from the one push this season). As for college, I just haven't had any good weeks yet and I'll be happy when it's over (this has been a weak season anyway). Here are my picks; home team in CAPS.

Kansas City (+7) over JACKSONVILLE- Here's this weeks winner of "You Know You Have a Gambling Problem" Game. I think we have one for the rest of this year and another this week.
CINCINNATI (+3) over Baltimore- I don't think their Week 5 game was a fluke, the Bengals can run, they can pass and play defense despite the loss of Antwan Odom.
Houston (+9) over INDIANAPOLIS- This seems like the perfect week to play the Colts for the Texans, they are starting to gain steam for the playoffs and no Bob Sanders.
ATLANTA (-9) over Washington- After losses to the Cowboys and Saints, the perfect elixir is a visit from the Redskins, let's their defense puff its chest and their offense will too.
Green Bay (-10) over Tampa Bay- The Bucs have decided to wear their "creamsicle" uniforms this week, makes sense since the Bucs have been this bad since they wore them.
Arizona (+3) over CHICAGO- This is a week that I expect the Cardinals to lose, thus it makes sense to pick them here. They are the NFC version of the Texans.
Miami (+10.5) over NEW ENGLAND- The Pats should win, but a bye week and better competition than the Titans and Bucs will keep this closer than expected.
NEW ORLEANS (-13) over Carolina- Bad matchup for Jake, this is a ball-hawking, turnover-hungry defense, plus an offense that the Panthers must throw to keep up with.
SEATTLE (-10) over Detroit- Another game that show exactly how much you gamble, though I'm sure you know the Lions won't win a game in Qwest Field, too tough a home crowd.
SAN FRANCISCO (-4) over Tennessee- You have Vince Young on the road and a Niners team who should be encouraged and pissed off for losing by four up in Indy.
San Diego (+4.5) over GIANTS- Yes, I'm capable of picking against the Giants. This is a tough matchup for the G-Men; I expect Phil Rivers to throw five TD passes.
Dallas (+3) over PHILADELPHIA- Tony Romo gets his revenge at the Linc as he and Miles Austin combine for a couple of scores and the Dallas defense shuts down McNabb.
DENVER (+3) over Pittsburgh- I know the Broncos had trouble with the Ravens, but that was a flat performance against a desperate team after a bye. Plus, the home-field matters against the Steelers

NFL Record: 60-55-1

MICHIGAN (-6) over Purdue
South Carolina (+7) over ARKANSAS
Kansas (-2.5) over KANSAS STATE
STANFORD (+7) over Oregon
Florida State (+9) over CLEMSON
CALIFORNIA (-7) over Oregon State
Oklahoma (-4.5) over NEBRASKA
PENN STATE (-5.5) over Ohio State
LSU (+7.5) over ALABAMA

College Record: 38-44-1

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NBA Preview

Let me start by apologizing to my readers for not finishing this NBA preview last week. The World Series was a clear distraction, but it's not an excuse. You expect me to have timely articles and unfortunately, I've been a little too Twitter happy when sharing my thoughts and not taking the time to have real posts which allow me to express my thoughts in more than 140 characters. Rest assured that from now on, I will have at least three posts a week every week, unless I say so differently.

For some reason, there seems to be less buzz for this season of the NBA than in recent years, then again, living in New York always hurts the buzz of an NBA season. One things for sure, this season isn't wide open, only five teams have a legit chance at an NBA title. Thus the other 25 teams are finished already, some won't be in the playoffs, some will win a playoff series but no more. That's the thing about the NBA, you can't have parody in this league, the absolute best players have so much more control of the game that whomever has them will win, while pretenders who think are as good aren't and never win unless paired with a franchise guy. That being said, here's ten things to look for in this season of the NBA.

1. I was all set to put the L.A. Clippers back into the playoffs. I really was. They have a good young team with Al Thornton and Eric Gordon, plus the number pick in Blake Griffin and an expected better season from veteran Baron Davis who would be motivated by a better ball club. Add that Zack Randolph is gone from this team, a contract year for Marcus Camby and the likely devaluing of Ricky Davis, the stage was set for not only a playoff team, but a team that has the cap space, the talent and the big city atmosphere to attract LeBron James in the Summer of 2010, plus the added bonus of igniting a rivalry with Kobe in L.A. alone. Until this. The Curse of the Clippers strikes again. With Griffin out for the next six weeks, all the jokes about injuring knee/leg/ankle/foot will continue. In other words, the Clippers aren't making the playoffs with this news, plus the fact that Mike Dunleavy is still the coach and should have been fired years ago by Mike Dunleavy the GM. Finally, some advice for LeBron, if the Clippers come calling, run, run for your life.

2. The other two teams that would be possible destinations for LeBron are both going nowhere this season, and I'm sure you know those teams are the Nets and the Knicks. For the Nets, it's simple, play bad, get another high draft pick, and hope players like Devin Harris, Terrance Williams and Brook Lopez will become better players this season. The real battle for the Nets is if they can get the move to Brooklyn before New Year's. It seemed like a forgone conclusion that the Nets would move there a few years ago, then it became absolutely dead until some recent court decisions and the potential new buyer for the team, who is thought of as the Russian Mark Cuban.

The Knicks are in much more worrisome condition because they don't have their first round pick, so losing this season has no benefit and the giant elephant in the room that this team doesn't realize; the Knicks will not have the roster that LeBron James can win an NBA Championship with and he can't have the same place in history if he can't lead a team to a title. I've written it before and I'll write it again, the Knicks have such a financial advantage over the majority of the 30 clubs and they can use that to pick up a good player 50 cents on the dollar. That's how they should turn their team into a better team. Speaking of financial disadvantages...

3. The NBA is riddled with teams who are in financial trouble with Memphis, Charlotte, Indiana, Sacramento and Milwaukee among the first teams you'd think of. Which means we will be seeing more teams trade players away to this season's big five like a Rudy Gay or perhaps a Mike Dunleavy Jr. The only thing that will keep pretenders like Chicago or Miami from making trades is the Summer of 2010 which has free agents galore and that could preclude these teams from making long-term commitments on players via trade. But here's an easy prediction, the Memphis Grizzlies will be involved in a trade making sure salaries between two other clubs match up, while getting some money for their trouble (best example is the Rafer Alston trade). Everything here is laying out for a new collective-bargaining agreement in 2011, which the NBA will have a lockout to get things to change to benefit owners and the players stand no chance because they won't be able to lose a year of salaries like the NHL did. The interesting thing is the NFL seems all but certain to have a lockout as well in 2011 and we as sports fans are looking at 1994 once again for sports fans, and to be honest, it will be worse because of the habit of Sundays in the fall will be broken.

4. Quick preview of the Eastern Conference (aside from more in depth previews for the top three), Milwaukee will be among the worst in the league and hoping to get the top pick next season. You can add the Nets, Knicks for missing the playoffs and Charlotte won't be there too as they are the worst team in an surprisingly tough Southeast division, plus the Bobcats will regret not signing Allen Iverson, the only place in the league he would have fit. Indiana, despite an improving Danny Granger, is still a lottery team, while the Pistons will join them as they completely botched last season's cap space. There was no need for the Pistons to squander that money on Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon when they could wait a year for better free agents. The last team to miss the playoffs will be the Raptors, where I have a feeling they trade Chris Bosh in February in order to avoid losing him for nothing.

Though Gilbert Arenas is vastly overrated, a healthy Agent Zero along with Mike Miller and Randy Foye joining this team would help the Wizards return to the playoffs and a likely rematch with the Cavs. The Sixers will be back in the playoffs, and if they can get anything productive from Elton Brand, even better. However, this team is going to be stuck in that no-man's land of a middling East team which is akin to being a middle team in the Premier League. Atlanta, Miami and Chicago are the best of the second tier in the East, with each team having a size disadvantage. At least the Heat and the Bulls have a franchise player in Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, respectively; but the Hawks best player (Joe Johnson) isn't in that class yet and probably never will.

5. Now the West, where I expect Memphis to once again be one of the cellar-dwellers in the conference, since you have a team with Allen Iverson, Zack Randolph, O.J. Mayo and one basketball. As I mentioned before, someone should try to pry Rudy Gay away who could get lost in the shuffle. Minnesota had a chance to be a sleeper, especially after the Ricky Rubio pick. Unfortunately, they followed that with Jonny Flynn and ruined this season in the process, especially with a weakness in outside shooting following the Miller/Foye-Flynn trade. Sacramento still has no frontcourt, despite the pickup of Tyreke Evans and Golden State has no clue what they're doing (another team that perhaps can trade players fifty cents on the dollar, yes, I mean Stephen Jackson). Houston won't be awful without Yao Ming as I expect Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry to be leaders; however, without even a legit second banana, the Rockets can't make the playoffs. The Clippers I wrote would miss the playoffs because I can't trust the Clippers Curse won't strike again and the last team joining them in the lottery is the Phoenix Suns, who play out Amare Stoudamire's final year there quietly.

Which means the Durants will make the playoffs. I'm expecting a huge season from Oklahoma City as Kevin Durant enters Year Three and like LeBron's Year Three, Durant will taste playoff action with a very impressive cast of characters, including Russell Westbrook and newcomer James Harden. Utah will make the playoffs again despite uncertainty surrounding Carlos Boozer because Deron Williams is too good to keep out of the playoffs as well as Jerry Sloan. New Orleans is in the same group with Chris Paul and David West and they could be among the best if they get anything close to a full year from Emeka Okafor.

Denver I think takes a step back, as Chauncey Billups is a year older; though the only way they don't go back is if Carmelo Anthony can get better (and based on his first few games, he could very well be better, maybe MVP-level). The main thing to consider, which I credit Bill Simmons for pointing out in his NBA preview, is that George Karl coached teams always have a pronounced drop following a season which they go to a conference finals and I would be surprised at all if that's the case. Dallas is always intriguing mainly because I believe Dirk Nowitzki is passed the dip in his career from 2007-08. Remember that Dirk was at his absolute peak during the 2006 Playoffs, then started declining in the Finals and continued it into the 2007 Playoffs (fooling people by becoming MVP though) and into the 2007-08 season. Well, I thought he was pretty good last year and now enters his contract year, thus I expect a good year from him. The team is okay around him, hopefully they can get one more year from Jason Kidd and a stress-less season from Josh Howard. Finally, I'm a big believer in the Blazers to be that third team in the West which is closer to four than two. I know Portland hasn't been able to get the guys they really want in the past few years (Andre Miller was their last choice in free agency) and are pretty weak up front (no way should they have given jump shooter LaMarcus Aldridge $65 million). However, they have the franchise guy in Brandon Roy and very few teams can say that. Roy alone with a talent roster surrounding him should guarantee 50 wins this season, a number that won't be a question mark on the playoffs this year for once out West.

6. The biggest question that in the first two games has started to manifest itself into a panic for everyone who's lives depend on this: Are the Cleveland Cavaliers a legitimate title contender? I still think they are because of LeBron James alone, but the way this team playing against good teams, something must change in order for them to maintain big 5 status. There's no offense in Cleveland as many people, particularly Charles Barkley, point out that LeBron goes 1 on 5 against good teams and the other four just stand around. This isn't 2001 when Iverson and Tracy McGrady could go iso on other teams, the zone defense prevents that, particularly good ones. Another problem with the 1 on 5 offense, the acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal hurts the offense since he can't play in the perimeter, thus clogging the lane for LeBron. Not having "Gunslinger" Delonte West forces LeBron to bring the ball up, rather than playing away and setting up shot opportunities.

The biggest issue is Mike Brown. His offense is failing against good defensive teams because, well, there is no offense. Brown is following the epic playbook that the coach in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air used: Just pass it to LeBron. At least the Cavs don't have a Carlton Banks who will steal the ball from LeBron to take the last shot, but the Cavs aren't facing a bunch of white prep school teams; you need a real offense. Thus, the Mike Brown Watch is underway and if you remember the Braylon Edwards trade, the city of Cleveland will do ANYTHING to keep LeBron.

7. The defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic in my mind have the highest ceiling and the lowest basement of the five contenders. Their big question is: Does Vince Carter over Hedo Turkoglu make them better or worse. On the one hand, Carter is a natural two-guard who you can use to hit any shot you need. On the other, Carter being a natural two-guard turns this team more conventional which may hurt because having Rashard Lewis and Turkoglu would have defenses wondering how to handle two 6'10" guys who can shoot from anywhere and deal with Jameer Nelson at point guard and Dwight Howard. The only way Carter makes them better is if he plays this year like he gives a crap. Ever since he missed the shot in Game 7 of the Raptors/Sixers series, Vince only seems to care when he shows up in Toronto to stick it to the fans and team that he screwed over. In New Jersey, Vince was known to forget when his teammates were playing in games. He's the biggest question because the Orlando Magic have put themselves in a situation where they can't erase it if it doesn't work out because of contracts to Marcin Gortat and Howard's eventual max contract extension the Magic will have to get signed.

8. The Boston Celtics on paper have the best team in basketball...if this season was 2001-02. Of course it doesn't mean that the C's can't win this year, however, depending on four thirty-somethings doesn't guarantee anything. One of them, newly signed Rasheed Wallace, shouldn't have to do too much, which is a good thing for everyone involved and I think Wallace knows that. Ray Allen is in a contract year and a good season would lead to his last big payday, while Rajon Rondo just signed a 5-year, $55 million deal and I expect him to keep getting better, especially when he can develop an outside game. I think we all know that the Celtics will go as far as Kevin Garnett's knee can take them. If he is there all year, with Big Baby Davis coming back from injury later this year and Wallace is in the supporting role that will showcase his strengths, then the Celtics will be back in the NBA Finals in 2010. If not, they could lose in the first round. I think Garnett stays healthy and the Celtics make back to the NBA Finals, if for no other reason, but the fact that the way the team is currently constructed doesn't have that many more opportunities to win.

9. There is one team coming in this year that has the best chance to dethrone the Lakers in the West and that is the San Antonio Spurs. Here's is the Western version of the Celtics in regards to their dependence on older players to play well. Unlike last year, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are both healthy again, at least for the time being. Particularly Manu, who didn't have to play for the Argentinian national team this summer. Along with those two and Tony Parker, the Spurs have added Richard Jefferson (the first athletic swingman they've had in a long time), Antonio McDyess (who can do for the Spurs what Rasheed is doing in Boston, lessen Duncan's workload) and DeJuan Blair (the sleeper of the 2009 Draft who should have never fallen to the second round despite his knee surgeries). Make no mistake, the Spurs are back this year after last year's early exit because the window is closing for Duncan and Ginobili and Parker will be due for a new contract and if Eva Longoria is tired of San Antonio, Parker would leave.

(Sidebar: Here we have the potential of Duncan, Shaq and Kobe deciding once and for all who was the more dominant player of the first post-MJ era. Each guy has four titles with Kobe and Shaq going to six finals. Each guy has at least 11 All-Star Games, with Shaq at 16 and Kobe at 12. Now clearly if Shaq wins another title, he will be as a supporting role behind LeBron, whereas Kobe and Duncan can still be the best player on their respective teams. Honestly, I would give it to Duncan as the better player because he was always the best player on any Spurs championships, while Kobe was secondary to Shaq in his first three. Doesn't discredit Kobe in general, but I can't have him better than Duncan as long as the titles are even; though I do give Kobe an edge over Shaq because he's been traded a few too many times and the greatest players should be traded. But enough of my soapbox...)

10. The defending champs are still the prohibitive favorites to repeat. The Lakers still have Kobe and Gasol once he returns from an injury soon and they resigned Lamar Odom, which keeps this team balanced and deep; plus with his stories about candy, the NBA trophy replica made from candy and his marriage to Khloe Kardashian, the comedy of this team is still strong. Some more comedy, Sasha Vujacic is going out with Maria Sharapova (wait, that's not comedy, that's a tragedy, unless Vujacic acts like this around her). Just when you think this Lakers team is already comedic gold, the Lakers add Ron Artest, who is legitimately crazy, not crazy in a Dennis Rodman, this is all for attention-type crazy. The only thing missing from Artest is a Tyson-like "I guess I'm gonna fade into Bolivian" quote, but I'm sure it's coming.

Enough humor, the key questions for the Lakers this year: 1) Can Artest avoid screwing this up? 2) Is Andrew Bynum at all ready to take the next step? 3) Is Kobe getting too old to dominate games the way he has in the past? Well you never know with the first because you can predict crazy. Bynum improving would be the best thing to happen for this team, not for nothing, so the Lakers don't need to depend on Kobe and Gasol to do the heavy lifting of this team and make the third question moot. I think Kobe is showing some age, but he's smart enough to pick his spots on when to dominate and play above the rim. Remember, Kobe now is very reliant on his jumper now, just like Jordan after his return from baseball. There is one final question, what does Kobe think of legacy? Does he have a sense of accomplishment with finally winning a title as the best player on his team? Does he realistically think he can prove greater than Jordan? The answer to the second one better be no because he's too much in the Jordan mold to be better than him. Only LeBron has that ceiling of being better because of his all-around game and this is slowly closing. What Kobe does have in front of him was explained earlier, a chance to be the best player of the post-MJ era (1999-) with a fifth title. I'm sure he wants it, but will he be as dependent on teammates like he was last year.

I think Kobe will be willing to trust his teammates again, the problem is, in reality, the Lakers aren't as good as last year. I do believe that Artest replacing Trevor Ariza is a mistake because the Lakers didn't need to disrupt chemistry for an unknown. Ariza was tremendous on defense and began to hit the long range jumpers that his opponents gave him. Somehow, Artest's play has declined in recent years, as typified by the way Kobe had abused Artest last year. Now, the Lakers are better than the Cavs because Shaq can't handle Gasol anymore and if Kobe can lockdown on LeBron, with some help from Artest, they have no offense. They are better than the Magic, who with Vince Carter, make it easier to beat because he won't stop Kobe and Kobe will handle him pretty good. I think it's 50-50 that they beat the Spurs, but the Celtics are one team that can handle the Lakers. Garnett can cover Gasol, while Wallace will pull Gasol or Odom away from the rim, Rondo will be a better player this year and will eat Derek Fisher or Shannon Brown alive. Paul Pierce if guarded by Kobe will match him and I think is too quick for Artest, while Ray Allen will get himself open shots. The Celtics have an answer for the Lakers and they have the experience of beating them before and that why I think they win the 2010 NBA Championship over the Lakers in six games again.