Sunday, December 30, 2012

Week 17 Picks

The final day of the NFL season is here. This tends to be a sad time whenever this day arrives, though the playoffs bring more joy (and heartbreak when you're a fan of the 11 teams who end up losing). We go into the final Sunday of the season with the AFC playoff field all set in terms of who's playing, with some haggling over seeding, while the NFC still has a mess to clean up. Here's a quick look at the scenarios going into today.

The Texans clinch home field advantage with a win. That's all they need to do. If they lose, the door opens for both the Patriots and the Broncos to take home-field away. The Broncos will get a bye with a win, while the Pats need a Broncos loss (along with a win). The Ravens can pass the Patriots if they win and the Pats lose, which the only result is that the Ravens will face the Bengals again and a second Pats-Colts showdown will occur. Colts and Bengals are locked in.

All we are guaranteed right now if the Falcons have home-field throughout. The biggest game in terms of the entire NFC playoff picture will be the Packers-Vikings. Green Bay clinches a first round bye with a win and opens the playoff door for the Giants and Bears (while giving the Redskins a backdoor possibility). A Vikings win puts them in the playoffs and allows the 49ers and Seahawks an opportunity to get a bye. 49ers win clinches the NFC West, Seattle wins it if they win and the Niners lose. If the Bears or Vikings win, the Giants are eliminated, while it makes the Cowboys-Redskins game a de facto playoff game. If neither win, the Redskins make it regardless of their result against Dallas, while the Giants would need a Washington win to make it (along with their own win today that they need).

Are we all caught up? Great, here's my final list of weekly picks (yes, picks will continue into the playoffs).

ATLANTA (-3) over Tampa Bay

I'm not picking the Falcons based on them playing their best lineup, that's for sure. I'm just sure that the Bucs have quit this season and don't see them coming through with a win today.

Jets (+3.5) over BUFFALO

We know all about the year the Jets have had. Lord knows we are fully aware of the Jets season. I must thank them for deflecting all the attention away as the Giants have squandered away an easy playoff berth. However, the Bills have been more of a failure since they had actual playoff aspirations and now the Chan Gailey Era will come to an end.

Baltimore (+3) over CINCINNATI

I'm only taking the Ravens because they might play like they have something to play for (I'd rather face the Bengals again than the Colts), while Cincy may as well rest their starters and possibly play just a bland offense.

INDIANAPOLIS (+6.5) over Houston

With head coach Chuck Pagano returning today after his battle with leukemia, I expect the best effort out of the Colts, who have ridden the wave of ChuckStrong to the playoffs. If this was a team like New England, I wouldn't expect a storybook ending. With the Texans, they are the perfect team.

NEW ORLEANS (-4) over Carolina

This was a good try, Joe Vitt. I'm impressed the Saints are at 7-8 after starting the year 0-4. However, they already won when Sean Payton signed a contract extension to be the Saints head coach.

PITTSBURGH (-10) over Cleveland

Expect the Steelers to take out their frustrations for not making the playoffs out on the Browns. Looks like Pat Shurmur will be cast aside as well, but it does seem like the Browns are trending upward.

Jacksonville (+5) over TENNESSEE

Battle of two teams who appear to have whiffed on their QB choice back in the 2010 draft. We know this is true with Jacksonville and they are playing Chad Henne now because of this. The Titans are still seeing if Jake Locker is capable, but it's more likely to be false.

Oakland (+8.5) over SAN DIEGO

The last game of the Norv Turner Era (as well as the Norv Turner Death March) will end with a whimper. Rough year for the Raiders, but this was predetermined when they made the trade for Carson Palmer last year. Biggest question for the Chargers: Can Philip Rivers be saved?

GIANTS (-6.5) over Philadelphia

We've seen the Eagles go down this path of awfulness to finish out Andy Reid's tenure, but do they have enough to win against the Giants. Personally, I really hope the Giants get eliminated from the playoffs because they lost this game. Really hope to see the best of the Giants today.

DETROIT (+3) over Chicago

The Bears have the same opportunity as the Giants, with the same "win and a" quality to the day. I know the Lions tend to blow leads, but I don't see Chicago slowing them down like they did back in October. 9-7 year after a 7-1 start and Lovie Smith can start sweating.

NEW ENGLAND (-10.5) over Miami

I know the Dolphins can get to .500 with a win, but the Pats will blow out Miami because anytime New England plays a close one as the first game vs an AFC East opponent, they dominate in the second meeting. They won by 7 in Miami, they'll win by a lot more than that now.

Kansas City (+16.5) over DENVER

This isn't a pick against the Broncos, but I think this points spread is way too high and the Chiefs defense is good enough to keep the margin closer (close means a couple TD's). Still, the Broncos will win and get the bye for Peyton Manning and co.

SEATTLE (-12) over St Louis

Good year for the Rams, but the Seahawks are the hottest team in football. Even if the 49ers win, I don't expect the Seahawks to give away this game at home.

SAN FRANCISCO (-16.5) over Arizona

Unlike Denver, I do think the 49ers are blowing out the Cardinals to clinch this division. The Cardinals don't just lose games to good teams, they get annihilated. Prediction: Aldon Smith breaks Michael Strahan's sacks record against the team who's given up the most sacks in the NFL.

MINNESOTA (+3) over Green Bay

I'd like to say that Adrian Peterson will break the all-time rushing record, but he will fall just short. I guess he'll have to take the consolation prize of making the playoffs and winning NFL MVP instead. I also happen to think the Packers playing in Round 1 will help them in the playoffs (which by the way, will be against these same Vikings, but in Lambeau).

WASHINGTON (-3) over Dallas

Sorry, Cowboys. I just don't believe you can win big games. Yes, it's not hard to pick the Redskins offense with RGIII under center. Yet, it's their improved defense that has me leaning toward the Skins. This leads to Seattle-Washington in the wild card round. The two hottest teams in the NFC will be gone in a week. Which proves how much you have to be hot to make a playoff run.

Last week: 10-5-1
Season: 122-110-6

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Week 16 Picks

With Week 16 beginning on a Saturday, I'm writing this weeks picks a day early. Two games left in the season and many playoff scenarios that are creeping closer to being decided. Here's my picks for the weekend.

Atlanta (-3.5) over DETROIT- Can't see the Falcons wasting away this game and put their likely home-field chance on the line in Week 17.

Oakland (+8.5) over CAROLINA- Battle of my fantasy QB's. In a related story, I missed the playoffs this year in that league.

New Orleans (+3) over DALLAS- Yeah, I have the Cowboys sticking it to their fans at home and a week earlier than they did last year.

GREEN BAY (-12.5) over Tennessee- Plenty for the Packers to play for, don't see the Titans coming close to win, especially if they play like they did in their win last Monday.

Minnesota (+8) over HOUSTON- Yes, Adrian Peterson is the sole reason I'm picking the Vikings.

New England (-14.5) over JACKSONVILLE- This is going to be a bloodbath.

Indianapolis (-7) over KANSAS CITY- Win here, and the Colts clinch and likely avoid a second trip to New England in the wild card round. I think that's important.

MIAMI (-4.5) over Buffalo- The Dolphins begin play with faint playoff hopes. Expect them to not be the ones who dash them, at least not against the Bills.

Washington (-6.5) over PHILADELPHIA- Honestly, I'd have more faith in the Eagles pulling an upset if they were on the road. As a Giants fan, I hope the last win in the Andy Reid Era comes tomorrow. If not, then I hope it happened already.

PITTSBURGH (-3) over Cincinnati- No, I don't think the Bengals man up and win their way to the playoffs. Steelers continue their smoke and mirrors act for another week.

St. Louis (+3) over TAMPA BAY- This is the "What Could've Been" Bowl since this could have been a huge game for NFC purposes. At least the Rams aren't self-destructing, so I'll take the points.

San Diego (+2.5) over JETS- I really don't want to discuss about either team. Let's move on.

Cleveland (+13) over DENVER- I'm probably being a little cute picking the Browns, but perhaps the Broncos win a closer game than expected as they prepare for the playoffs. Plus, the Browns aren't all bad.

Chicago (-5.5) over ARIZONA- The cushiest schedule left for any playoff contender (who needs to win both games) begins for the Bears. No excuse if they lose tomorrow.

BALTIMORE (+2.5) over Giants- Figure the Ravens to get over their losing ways tomorrow. Just don't see the Giants winning down there. Always feel a little worried playing them.

San Francisco (Pick) over SEATTLE- If anyone's capable of winning in Seattle, it's the 49ers. Can't see the same success for Russell Wilson against Aldon Smith and Co, forcing the Seahawks to win the following week to clinch.

Last week: 7-8
Season: 112-105-5

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

AFC Playoff Picture

We begin the AFC Playoff Picture with a post-mortem on the N.Y. Jets, who lost in such spectacular fashion to the Titans. Five turnovers for the Jets, including four Mark Sanchez turnovers. Where the Jets go from here after two straight missed playoffs, who knows. Decisions will be made about Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan and Sanchez (owed $8.5 million next season). The fact is, their final two games are utterly meaningless to the remainder of the AFC season. Here's how things stack up after Week 15.

Division Leaders

Houston (12-2)- Clinched AFC South. Last two games (Min, @Ind)

After getting obliterated by the Pats, the Texans bounced back with a win over the Colts to lock up the AFC South title. They are now a win away from home-field advantage (a Bronco or Patriot loss clinches a bye). I don't know who's going to have confidence in them in the postseason, but having home games is a good start. Still, it's not an easy schedule, so it's not time to

Denver (11-3)- Clinched AFC West. Last two games (Clev, KC)

The biggest winner from Sunday's games as they no longer have to worry about the Ravens and with their schedule, they should end up with a bye because of the Pats loss. What's also good is because they play sub .500 teams and the Texans play playoff contenders, they still have an outside shot at home-field throughout the playoffs.

New England (10-4)- Clinched AFC East. Last two games (@Jac, Mia)

The Patriots became the unquestioned AFC frontrunner after their dominant game over the Texans. If they are still considered to be a frontrunner, they likely will make the Super Bowl from the Wild Card round in that event. What's also potentially shaping up is a Divisional Round matchup of Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning in Denver (their first playoff game against one another since the 2006 AFC Championship game should it occur). A game like that would make the AFC Championship game anti-climatic.

Baltimore (9-5)- Clinched playoff berth. Last two games (NYG, @Cin)

Congrats to the Ravens for having the greatest backdoor clinching of a playoff spot since the 1986 Jets lost their last 5 games after starting 10-1. They have now lost 3 straight (would be 4 if the Chargers would have tackled Ray Rice) and continue to play quality teams to finish the year out. Would be fitting if the Ravens lose this week, only to see the Bengals lose to the Steelers and Baltimore gets to backdoor into a division title.

Wild Card Teams

Indianapolis (9-5)- Last two games (@KC, Hou)

Tough loss for the Colts, but having the Jets lose puts them all but in the playoffs. Only thing keeping the Colts from clinching is the potential of three teams tied at 9-7 and the tiebreaker coming down to strength of victory (which would have to be used because all the common opponents records would be 3-2). Of course, all the Colts need to do is beat the Chiefs and they avoid any of that.

Cincinnati (8-6)- Last two games (@Pit, Bal)

Momentarily, the Bengals are in the sixth spot. Unlike the Vikings in the NFC, the Bengals control their destiny. Win on Sunday over Pittsburgh and they are playoff-bound again. Lose, and they become Browns fans. Cincinnati still has AFC North hopes, but the Ravens must lose to the Giants in order for their game with Baltimore in Week 17 be for a division and a home game.


Pittsburgh (7-7)- Last two games (Cin, Clev)

They lost to Dallas, but their game with the Bengals made this one expendable. It only means they have to finish the sweep of Cincinnati in order to make the playoffs. If they lose, it's over. It also means they will need to beat the Browns in Week 17 instead of clinching next week.

Miami (6-8)- Last two games (Buf, @NE)

I didn't want to bring back Miami, but they win a tiebreaker if there's a three way tie at 8-8, which happens if the Steelers win Sunday and both teams lose in Week 17. More than likely, the Dolphins won't beat the Patriots and miss the playoffs again. Still, it's not impossible for them to make it at this point and I guess that's good enough for this list of teams.

Monday, December 17, 2012

NFC Playoff Picture

A topsy-turvy week in the NFL only made the NFC playoff picture even more murky. While those at the top strengthened their positions, there were some shifts for the first time since I started blogging about playoff scenarios. This week we drop the Bucs and the Rams from the list of teams alive as both lost games last week that neither could afford to do. Sorry, St. Louis; 8-7-1 isn't making the playoffs. Let's see how things stand after the NFC completes Week 15.

Division Leaders

Atlanta (12-2)- Clinched NFC South. Last two games (@Det, TB)

Losing to the Giants yesterday would not have really impacted their chances at home-field in the playoffs, as the Lions and Bucs are a mess right now. What it did was give confidence to anyone who's doubted the Falcons as a contender for a championship (as well as some revenge for last year's playoff loss). The Falcons showed up in a big way and now we know they are capable of that against a good team.

San Francisco (10-3-1)- Clinched playoff berth. Last two games (@Sea, Ari)

The 49ers almost blew it against the Pats, but didn't lose a game leading by 28. By winning, they still have margin of error in case they lose in Seattle this week, finishing the year with the sorry Cardinals. They also still control their destiny in terms of getting a first round bye (though they don't have margin of error in that regard).

Green Bay (10-4)- Clinched NFC North. Last two games (Ten, @Min)

I don't think anyone early in the season thought that not only would the Packers pass the Bears, but end the division race with two games left in doing so. Now, the Packers can only be concerned with getting a week off. Facing the Titans at home will be helpful; facing a Vikings team who might need the win to clinch a playoff berth will be a little more difficult.

Washington (8-6)- Last two games (@Phi, Dal)

No Robert Griffin III? No problem. Kirk Cousins was plenty for the Redskins in their win over the Browns and because of the Giants loss, they take over the NFC East lead. They control their own destiny (in fact all the NFC East teams do); two wins and they are NFC East champs for the first time since 1999. It's still too soon to contemplate what will happen if the Redskins finish 9-7, though I would doubt they make the playoffs in that event.

Wild Card Teams

Seattle (9-5)- Last two games (SF, Stl)

Another dominant win for the Seahawks over the Bills makes them the hottest team in the league. I'd be surprised if they lose both of these games they have left, though if they did, the playoff picture would explode open. Plenty of interested teams will be huddled to the television next Sunday night. One thing is for sure; if the Seahawks win, they clinch a playoff berth because of their wins over Minnesota and Chicago, plus the Redskins-Cowboys showdown.

Minnesota (8-6)- Last two games (@Hou, GB)

For the moment, the Vikings are in, though that has to do with the fact they played one more conference game than the Cowboys. The problem for the Vikings is that they don't control their own destiny. They need another Giants loss to have any chance at a wild card berth; not to mention beating both the Texans and the Packers. Win or lose, it's still be a tremendous year for Adrian Peterson and they wouldn't be here if not for him.


Dallas (8-6)- Last two games (NO, @Wash)

The next team that controls its own destiny as two wins for the Cowboys wins the NFC East for them. Everything is shaping up that the last game of 2012 is Dallas @ Washington (unless the Vikings get a win and in situation, plus Adrian Peterson gets a chance to break Eric Dickerson's record). This is a tricky game for Dallas, however. They lose here, and they open the door for the Giants to get the division (assuming the Cowboys beat the Redskins a week later.) Redskins would still own a tiebreak in that scenario, so the Cowboys better win this week.

N.Y. Giants (8-6)- Last two games (@Balt, Phil)

I know they are ranked 9th today, but they control their playoff destiny, while the Bears don't. The Giants win their last two games, they are in the playoffs. They get the division if both Dallas and Washington get to 7 losses (one loses this week, then that loser beats the team that won in their matchup). Still, you continue to be baffled by this team who continuously had the playoffs handed to them (especially back in Week 8), and has squandered their chances to need to win these two to be able to get a wild card berth.

Chicago (8-6)- Last two games (@Ari, @Det)

Like the Giants, the Bears also squandered early season control (7-1) into a fight for their life. Unlike the Giants, the Bears need help to make it. Fortunately for the Bears, their schedule is easy and their rivals schedules are harder. If the Bears don't finish 10-6, they have only themselves to blame for missing the playoffs. Missing at 10-6, while bad after the 7-1, isn't a failure by the team because the Cards and Lions are awful and you just can't lose to either when you need to win both, especially for a team like Chicago, who beat up on bad teams.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the AFC Playoff Picture, which will be finalized after the Jets game tonight.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Week 15 Picks

First things first, I want to commend the NFL for allowing the Jets, Giants and Pats to pay tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre by allowing all types of decals on their helmets. The league has many times been all too willingly to be super strict on what goes on an NFL uniform and for once, the league isn't on the wrong side of an issue. We also see once again how great a person Victor Cruz is after reading this story about Jack Pinto.

We finally reached Week 15, a week filled with compelling matchups that will determine playoff seeding (Broncos-Ravens, Pats-49ers), division titles (Texans-Colts, Packers-Bears), and season survival (Steelers-Cowboys, Rams-Vikings). Some of the playoff picture will clear up, at least involving those well on the outside. Some losses today will be felt by teams in a couple weeks, even if today doesn't knock them out. Here's my picks.

Cincinnati (-4.5) over PHILADELPHIA- I didn't make any kind of pick on this one, so I'm not taking any credit or blame for the Bengals loss. So glad to be finished with Thursday Night games.

Giants (+1) over ATLANTA- Road game for the Giants with equals a statement game which equals a must-win for the team. I'm more worried about Philly in Week 17 than the Falcons today. Question is if  Atlanta can avoid what happened to the Texans (though not necessarily 42-14 type happening).

BALTIMORE (-3) over Denver- Terrell Suggs is back for the Ravens this week. I think this is enough to get over with a win today. Besides, the Broncos would be staring down 11 wins in a row to finish the regular season (and maybe still not getting a bye) if they win.

Green Bay (-3) over CHICAGO- The Packers can clinch the division today with a win at Soldier Field. It's been a rough go for the Bears lately and this week isn't easier. The Bears should lose and suddenly open up the NFC Wild Card for all the 7-6 teams.

CLEVELAND (-3) over Washington- If RGIII was playing, I'd pick the Redskins. It's not that I don't think Kirk Cousins can help Washington win, it's that the Browns are playing some good football now and it would be difficult to beat them without your best player.

Indianapolis (+10) over HOUSTON- No way should the Texans be favored by double digits over anyone (well, the Cardinals), but especially not a 9-4 Colts team. If there's a better CHUCKSTRONG game, this is it as the AFC South is there for the taking.

Jacksonville (+7.5) over MIAMI- This is Chad Henne's revenge game! Alright, that's enough laughing. Henne at least puts the Jags in a position to win games, unlike Blaine Gabbert. The half point here is too enticing.

NEW ORLEANS (-3.5) over Tampa Bay- The Saints officially eliminate the Bucs today as Drew Brees will tear apart that defense. Expect plenty of scoring as Doug Martin gets to run against the Saints.

Minnesota (+2.5) over ST LOUIS- The Rams have been a nice story this year and Jeff Fisher has to be commended for turning the team around despite a weak offense. Adrian Peterson has been one of the top 3 stories of this season. He has a great chance for 2,000 yards and can carry the Vikings to the playoffs without a real QB. It won't be the Rams standing in the way of that.

Detroit (-6.5) over ARIZONA- It's nice to know that you are playing a team who isn't capable of rallying from a 14 point deficit. Which means all the Lions have to do is score like they have all year and not give points away and victory is a synch.

Seattle (-4.5) over Buffalo (in Toronto)- I know the Bills count these as home games, but this isn't a real home game. Fact is the Seahawks are better and should easily win. Bills get to start looking out for 2013.

SAN DIEGO (-3) over Carolina- Figure the Chargers continue their typical good play in December and hope the Steelers lose again, then beat the Bengals...oh who am I kidding. It's over for Norv. The death march continues, win or lose.

Kansas City (+4) over OAKLAND- Both teams have given up, but something tells me the Chiefs would be more motivated than the Raiders. Just stay away, but if you must, take the points and don't even watch this.

DALLAS (-1) over Pittsburgh- I might be making my most foolish pick ever, but somehow, I think the Cowboys get the win today. There's just something I don't like about the Steelers. Also, when in doubt, go with NFC > AFC.

San Francisco (+4.5) over NEW ENGLAND- Potential Super Bowl preview in Foxboro. Except at home against the Giants, the 49ers have come to play in their statement games. No better statement than to win in New England after the Pats put up 42 on a respected Texans defense (at least was respected).

TENNESSEE (-1.5) over Jets- The dream for the Jets dies in Nashville and that would be the best thing to happen for the team. They can begin a process to change the culture there or at least get rid of Mike Tannenbaum and get a better GM.

Last week: 5-11
Season: 105-97-5

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

86 - Messi's Magic Number

Messi has long been a world-class football star and the talisman of FC Barcelona but he surpassed even that to attain a record that stood since 1972. Gerd Muller is a German and Bayern Munich legend but he graciously bowed out to the Argentine.

I have my own views on Messi, FC Barcelona, and La Liga but you have to give credit where credit is due.  I think 86 goals in a calendar year (with a few games left to play) falls under that category. Lionel Messi plays a false 9 role at Barca and has established himself as the legend and definition of that role. Messi's goal record is the gigantic wealth of evidence that that particular tactical system can work and thrive.

Regardless of the Zambia FA's objection to the record (where was it all this time that Muller's record was used?), everyone should take note of a historical year for Mr. Messi. Take a bow, Lionel, and try not to score in the process.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Messi scored twice more today to make it 88 goals. Looks like he plans to make his record almost untouchable.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

AFC Playoff Picture

Yesterday, the NFC playoff picture was laid out here; today it's the AFC's turn. Before we get into all the big games, let's first say goodbye to the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. At this point, 8-8 likely doesn't make the playoffs (especially when the Bengals and Steelers face one another) and it's just not worth it to include either team anymore. Besides, I'd have to include the Chargers and Browns in that case and neither team is reaching the playoffs either. Here are the teams they do have a chance.

Division Leaders

Houston (11-2)- Clinched a playoff berth. Last 3 games (Ind, Min, @Ind)

The chance to put the AFC in their rearview mirror was what awaited the Houston Texans last night and they fell on their faces in New England. Instead of a two game lead over Denver and clinching a bye, they now can be overtaken by the Colts. Even if the Texans hold on to home-field advantage, no one will think they are capable of going to the Super Bowl, since a team with a good QB should be able to carve them up.

New England (10-3)- Clinched AFC East. Last 3 games (SF, @Jac, Mia)

It's never a surprise when the Pats score 42 points on someone (though, it would be if they do so against the 49ers). With their win, the Pats immediately become the AFC favorites and in terms of playoff outlook, they have an easy road for a bye and good chance at getting the top seed. This week against San Francisco is the only worry for New England left on its schedule.

Denver (10-3)- Clinched AFC South. Last 3 games (@Balt, Clev, KC)

The Broncos are in the same boat as the Pats, only they lost to both New England and Houston. Nevertheless, they have a couple easy games to finish the year, with a date with the Ravens the one that will determine if they are playing in the first round, or if they will get a bye. Right now, Brady vs Manning is a Round 2 matchup, but let's see if this can play itself out enough so that it becomes the AFC Championship game instead.

Baltimore (9-4)- Last 3 games (Den, NYG, @Cin)

The Ravens lost a disheartening game to the Redskins, but in the grand scheme of things, they had a good day as both the Bengals and Steelers lost. Looking at the standings, the only way the Ravens miss the playoffs is if the Steelers and Bengals tie and win their other games, while the Ravens lose out. Baltimore should beat any team if tied at 9-7. Still, the division isn't decided yet and a win assures them of a home playoff game. Also, they still maintain a tiebreaker over the Pats and if they win out and 49ers win Sunday, a bye is in play for the Ravens.

Wild Card Teams

Indianapolis (9-4)- Last 3 games (@Hou, @KC, Hou)

Well, the Colts barely beat the Titans, and got the loss by the Texans to give the Colts control of their own destiny. Win three games and Indianapolis miraculously goes from first to worst to first in the AFC South. Even if they don't get the South, they just need one more win to clinch a playoff spot which no one saw coming in Andrew Luck's rookie season.

Pittsburgh (7-6)- Last 3 games (@Dal, Cin, Clev)

Of course, the Steelers drop the easy one to San Diego (and give the Chargers a tiebreaker if the incredible happens). Week 16 is still looking like a play-in game between them and the Bengals, even though the Jets have started to make things close in the AFC. Remember, the Steelers beat the Jets in Week 2, giving them the tiebreaker over them.


Cincinnati (7-6)- Last 3 games (@Phil, @Pit, Bal)

The Bengals also lost this week, but once again, their playoff position more than likely will be decided by their game with the Steelers, though they will need another win before the season ends. Chances are, the Bengals and Steelers won't get the AFC North, but if either wins out, the Ravens is tough enough to allow for one of them to come back.

N.Y. Jets (6-7)- Last 3 games (@Ten, SD, @Buf)

The Jets remain on this list by their win over the awful Jaguars and the two losses by the Steelers and Bengals. One is essentially guaranteed of eight wins, so the Jets need to win out to have a chance at the playoffs. Of course, why would anyone want the Jets to make the playoffs? Every week, win or lose, the Jets have negative attention. But with an easy schedule, playoffs aren't impossible.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Manchester Derby Never Disappoints

What a cracking match at the Etihad on Sunday! If the BPL wanted to market its brand around the world with evidence, this was a perfect game for just that. It had pace, skill, power, world-class players, and goals. Sadly, a few idiots tried to ruin a thrilling game; marring one of the games of the season with their stupidity.

Ignoring those incidents, the game was thrilling and quite a joy to watch as a neutral. Manchester United had an astonishing start to the game with a Rooney brace. The Red Devils are really showing how dangerous they are on the break and have an embarrassment of riches of offensive weapons that fit this style perfectly. They still have a shaky defense and Michael Carrick is just terrible. City did well to slowly recover and not let United run up their lead.

Mancini's insistence on playing Mario Balotelli still astounds me. If he is still there after January, I will be shocked. City showed a ton of desire and eventually got back in the game. Yaya Toure continues to show why he should be used as an attacking midfielder but Mancini keeps deploying him too deep. Kolarov scored a captain's goal and City were level and pressing.

Samir Nasri. The perfect example of the overpaid footballer that has no heart. Firstly, why was one of their shortest players in the wall? Secondly, why would you limply stick your leg out like he did? I do feel Joe Hart has the ability to get to that ball but a completely avoidable and unnecessary deflection. Mancini needs to get ahold of his squad and move some pieces around. Manchester United are playing like a team possessed recently and are distancing themselves atop the Premier League table. In all, a great match marred by the events that followed Van Persie's game-winner.

NFC Playoff Picture

Last week, when I debuted the new playoff picture series, I started with the AFC because they were finished with their week before the NFC. This week, the tables turn as the NFC has completed 13 games. For this week's edition, we have to eliminate the Saints from our list. Their 52-27 loss to the Giants puts them at 5-8 and looks like needs to win out, needs Seattle/Chicago to lose out and hope tiebreakers go their way. So, it's over for the Saints. Here's how the NFC looks after Week 14.

Divison Leaders

Atlanta (11-2)- Clinched NFC South. Last 3 games (NYG, @Det, TB)

The Falcons suffered their second loss of the season yesterday against the Panthers and saw their lead shrink as all of other NFC division leaders won. It's not panic time in Atlanta as the Falcons are still in great shape to clinch home-field throughout the playoffs.

San Francisco (9-3-1)- Last 3 games (@NE, @Sea, Ari)

Bounce back win for the Niners at home to maintain the spot for a first-round bye. Looking at the schedule, playing the Cardinals at home should get them their 10th win, which clinches a playoff spot. That's a good thing, because their next two games could determine if the 49ers are winning the division with a bye or perhaps being forced to start the playoffs on the road.

Green Bay (9-4)- Last 3 games (@Chi, Ten, @Min)

It's always nice to play the Lions since they know how to gift teams wins, no matter how much they lead in the game. Because of the Bears loss, the Packers can clinch the NFC North next week if they beat the Bears. Getting the win means the Packers can focus on trying to get the bye as the Titans at home should be easy. A loss to Chicago, however, opens the door for someone to pass them (and remember the Seahawks own the tiebreaker over them).

N.Y. Giants (8-5)- Last 3 games (@Atl, @Balt, Phil)

The Giants offense looked dominant (except when they were careless) against the Saints and maintained their NFC East lead. Oh, but what could have been as both the Redskins and Cowboys won games they were on the brink of losing. The Giants lead stays at one game, and the schedule continues to get tougher. No rest yet for the defending champs.

Wild Card Teams

Seattle (8-5)- Last 3 games (@Buf in Toronto, SF, Stl)

There aren't enough superlatives to describe the Seahawks 58-0 win over the Cardinals, so all I can think is how the Seahawks can still very easily win out and get a first-round bye. To do that, they need the Pats to beat the Niners next Sunday (something that's very possible). They could also use a Packers loss to someone before the season ends. At the very least, a playoff berth looks very good for the Seahawks.

Chicago (8-5)- Last 3 games (GB, @Ari, @Det)

The Bears look like a sinking ship right now (lost 4 of 5) and getting the Packers this week is the last thing they need. One more loss opens the door for all three 7-6 teams to get in the playoffs as a wild card. Having the Cards left on the schedule is very helpful, but let's be honest, it will all come down to that game in Detroit. They also are the leading candidate in the NFC to lose a game they should win down the stretch.

The Contenders

Washington (7-6)- Last 3 games (@Clev, @Phil, Dal)

What happens when you're driving for the winning score and Robert Griffin III gets hurt? Well, the Redskins showed that they'll win the game anyway. Losing yesterday would have put Washington down two games with three left; now they are still a game behind the Giants/Seahawks/Bears are still the most dangerous of the non-playoff teams. They still have to win out to have a chance at the playoffs, because you can't count on 9 wins to be enough for the playoffs. Not in this conference.

Dallas (7-6)- Last 3 games (Pit, NO, @Wash)

The Cowboys were able to win yesterday despite the tragedy surrounding their team and a nine point 4th quarter deficit. Because of the win, Dallas is still in the thick of the NFC race, though the schedule doesn't get easier. It looks like that final game between the Cowboys and the Redskins could be the decider of the last playoff spot, assuming the Bears swoon continues or the Giants schedule gets the best of them.

Minnesota (7-6)- Last 3 games (@Stl, @Hou, GB)

Yes, the Vikings are still in the hunt for a playoff berth. Another great game for Adrian Peterson gave the Vikings a win over the Bears which helps them in case of a tiebreaker. They have an interesting schedule left as they could be playing both the Texans and Packers after they clinched their seeds in the playoffs. I'm still surprised that the Vikings have survived this second half schedule thus far to remain in the race. The biggest negative for the Vikings is they lose tiebreakers to both Dallas and Washington and need both to lose down the stretch to move ahead in toward a playoff spot.

St. Louis (6-6-1)- Last 3 games (Min, @TB, @Sea)

The only reason I still have the Rams in this part of the playoff list is because if a playoff spot can be had with 9 wins, the Rams clinch if they are 9-6-1. That's the only way the Rams make the playoffs, so I leave them here. The schedule is reasonably tough, but could be interesting when they have to play the Seahawks if they lose to the Niners. Potential play-in game once again between these two teams.

Not mathematically out, but need a whole lot of help

Tampa Bay (6-7)-Last 3 games (@NO, Stl, @Atl)

Killer loss yesterday against the sorry Eagles. Completely brutal. Being at 7-6 at least keeps the Bucs with a reasonable chance to make it. Now, they need too much to happen and depending on next week's results, they could be out of the picture win or lose.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Week 14 Picks

This week's slate of games is more appetizer than the entree which is next week. Next week has Giants-Falcons, Packers-Bears, Steelers-Cowboys, Broncos-Ravens and 49ers-Patriots, among others. That doesn't mean this week doesn't have big games, but none as huge as next week. Even still, there are plenty of intriguing matchups that should clear up a little more of the playoff picture.

Denver (-10) over OAKLAND- Happened Thursday night, but because I was at work and getting teased by the NHL, I didn't write a picks post. Tweeted this about the game. Nice to finally get a Thursday game spot on.

BUFFALO (-3) over St. Louis- After the great win against the 49ers, I see a letdown for the Rams, just as they did against the Jets after the tie with San Francisco. Bills fans only have to look back on the losses to Tennessee and the 2nd Pats game as to why they are barely still alive instead of in the heart of the playoff race.

Atlanta (-3) over CAROLINA- Why would the Falcons stop winning close games now? I also happen to think that Atlanta will win by a couple of scores just to screw with everyone who's been annoyed by their ability to barely be 11-1.

CINCINNATI (-3) over Dallas- Another awful tragedy in the NFL, this time with the stupidity of drinking and driving. No excuse for that to happen.

Kansas City (+7) over CLEVELAND- I know the Browns are playing better football and the Chiefs are the worst team in the league, but Cleveland should never be favored by seven over anyone.

INDIANAPOLIS (-5) over Tennessee- Case and point, the Colts are giving less than the Browns at home, even though they look playoff bound. Huge day for Andrew Luck against the porous Titans defense.

Jets (-3) over JACKSONVILLE- This is the perfect spot to save Mark Sanchez's Jets career. The Jags are still with Maurice Jones-Drew and have Cecil Shorts and Rashad Jennings out. Meanwhile, they are 28th and 31st in pass defense and run defense, respectively. And the Sanchize is on the road! If he can't play well here, he never will. Note: Tim Tebow is active and Greg McElroy isn't. Complete zoo with the Jets.

MINNESOTA (+3) over Chicago- Everyone's looking ahead to Packers-Bears for the NFC North title next week, but a trip to the dome puts the Vikings back in the race. Big day for Adrian Peterson and rough day for Jay Cutler is ahead.

PITTSBURGH (-8) over San Diego- 10am PST start for the Chargers, plus it's the Norv Turner Death March, plus Ben Roethlisberger is back. And the Steelers defense is getting healthier, as while LaMarr Woodley and Ike Taylor are out, Troy Polamalu has returned and James Harrison is starting to play like his normal self.

TAMPA BAY (-7) over Philadelphia- Unless the Eagles return another punt for a TD to get a late cover, I'm pretty sure the Bucs will have their way with them. Doug Martin must be licking his chops to take on this defense.

WASHINGTON (-2) over Baltimore- No Terrell Suggs for the Ravens and it's too difficult to stop the Redskins and Robert Griffin III without your full defensive team at the ready. Doesn't help that Washington is slowly improving on the defensive end themselves.

SAN FRANCISCO (-10.5) over Miami- After the letdown of last week and the potential of the Seahawks stealing the division right out from under them, expect Ryan Tannehill to feel the pain of the 49ers defense. If they score 10 points, I'd be surprised.

New Orleans (+4.5) over GIANTS- Last chance for the Saints, while the Giants will probably delude themselves into thinking that they can still salvage things if they lose today. Unless Drew Brees continues his run of INT's from the last two weeks, they should torch a weak Giants secondary.

SEATTLE (-9.5) over Arizona- This spread can't be high enough. John Skelton is back in as starter for the Cards. The good news; it avoids the laughter of Ryan Lindley starting in Seattle. The bad news; the comedy of Skelton is just as funny.

Detroit (+6.5) over GREEN BAY- No, I don't think the Lions are winning. I just think the Packers will hand them another cruel loss instead of blowing them out. A few plays here and there are the difference between a really good year for the Lions and this awful 4-8 season. As a matter of fact, they're the anti-Falcons.

Houston (+3.5) over NEW ENGLAND- Biggest game of the weekend and of the AFC season. Houston basically clinches home-field with the win (Denver's win prevents an official clinching). Something is different about this Texans team. They come to play in tough situations that previously they'd fold. Going to Foxboro is as tough as it comes in this league and rare I go against Belichick and Brady at home. But they've been a little too good lately and the Texans are capable of going up there and winning, if not for nothing, to avoid going back there in January.

Last week: 9-6-1
This week: 1-0
Season: 101-86-5

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Manny Gets KO'd

GIF: Juan Manuel Marquez knocks out Manny Pacquaio at end of ... on Twitpic

Tonight was the fourth matchup of Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao and Marquez drew the first matchup, then Manny won the last two the with their third matchup being a highly disputed decision in Manny's favor. Marquez got his revenge in a highly entertaining fight. Both men traded knockdowns in the earlier rounds and the fifth round in particular had some very entertaining boxing. Pacquiao was winning the sixth round (coincidentally, I was scoring the bout 47-46 in Manny's favor, along with all the judges) when right before the bell was rung, Marquez threw perfect shot in Pacquiao's face to knock him out cold. Great win and well deserved for Marquez.

This is the second straight loss for Pacquiao and while the loss to Timothy Bradley was considered a travesty, tonight's loss is much more resounding. For the last three years, Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather kept avoiding each other which would have been the biggest match in boxing since perhaps Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson in 2002. Now that Manny has lost a couple, and in such a loss in this night, there is no point to them fighting and boxing is the biggest loser of all.

Tonight's winners, along with Marquez of course, is anyone who saw this person at the fight:

Mitt Romney at ringside of #PacMarquez fight. on Twitpic

Mitt Romney's got another politician who he can talk about losing big matchups.

(h/t to Bryan Armen Graham for the GIF and photo)

UPDATE: I now have a video from the 6th round until the end. The announcers are Spanish, and simply delightful.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Knicks Keep Making Believers

Tonight, the Knicks improved to 13-4 with a thrilling win in Charlotte over the Bobcats, 100-98 because of J.R. Smith winner at the buzzer. 13-4 is the best record in the East (only Memphis is better at 13-3); a half-game better than the Heat, who the Knicks play tomorrow in Miami. The interesting thing about this win is that Carmelo Anthony missed the last 2:10 after diving for a ball going out of bounds, something he shouldn't have done because the shot-clock ran out. They somehow survived a game which they went 13-for-41 from three by avoiding any turnovers in the fourth and some great play by Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler and the returning Jason Kidd.

Thus far, the Knicks are doing so many good things to begin this season; they haven't lost at home yet, and they play very well (most nights) in the fourth quarter. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain this level of play, especially when Amare Stoudemire returns. My biggest concern with the eventual Stoudemire return is the frontcourt gets clogged like a toilet once again and the offense suffers. Until that time, I will enjoy the great play, since the Knicks haven't started a season like this since Patrick Ewing was still here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

NFC Playoff Picture

We took a peek at the AFC playoff picture yesterday and now that the week is finished, the NFC playoff picture is clear. Unlike the AFC, where their only down to 7 teams with realistic playoff chances, the NFC has 12 teams who can probably say they their season isn't over (Sorry, Panthers, Eagles, Lions and Cardinals). Let's get a look:

Division Leaders

Atlanta (11-1)- Clinched the NFC South. Last 4 games: @Car, NYG, @Det, TB.

I don't know how the Falcons are 11-1, but here they are and about to clinch home-field advantage for the 2nd time in 3 years. The games with the Panthers and Lions will likely put the Falcons over the top in terms of having the road to the Super Bowl go through the Georgia Dome, but if they fail to beat the Giants, teams will still be skeptical of this team.

San Francisco (8-3-1)- Last 4 games: Mia, @NE, @Sea, Ari

If the Niners don't finish the year with a first round bye, they can thank the Rams. The tie and the near second tie and loss puts them in a tough spot in terms of the division. Having games at the Pats and Seahawks don't make the schedule easy. Can't allow stumbles against the Dolphins and Cards.

Green Bay (8-4)- Last 4 games: Det, @Chi, Ten, @Min

Their win over the Vikings, plus the Bears OT loss put the Packers atop the NFC North for the first time this year. Not bad for a team who a week ago was in huge trouble. Their remaining schedule isnt difficult, but that game at Soldier Field looms large. The winner of the division will be decided in that one. I think the other bye comes from the North winner.

N.Y. Giants (7-5)- Last 4 games: NO, @Atl, @Balt, Phil

Boy, the Giants had a great chance to open up a two game lead in the NFC East and effectively eliminate the Redskins. Instead, they lose a frustrating game and now once again are going to try to do things the hard way. I can't tell you what they'll do in the next 3 games because I don't know which team will show up. I really hope they don't need to beat the Eagles to make the playoffs. This loss ends any chance at a bye, I believe.

Wild Cards

Chicago (8-4)- Last 4 games: @Min, GB, @Ari, @Det

The worst part of the loss to the Seahawks is they'll also lose in any tiebreaker to them, which should never happen when you play Seattle away from Seattle. As mentioned earlier, Green Bay-Chicago should decide the division. What wasn't mentioned is what happens to the loser. Barring an injury to Jay Cutler, the Bears do have an easy enough schedule that should allow them to still make the playoffs, though I wouldn't overlook the Vikings on the road.

Seattle (7-5)- Last 4 games: Ari, @Buf, SF, Stl

Huge Sunday for the Seahawks, as they get a great win on the road and see the 49ers lose. They get 3 of their last 4 games, where they play great and the 4th game is a "road" game in Toronto against the Bills. San Francisco better not count on the winning the West without getting a big win.


Washington (6-6)- Last 4 games: Balt, @Clev, @Phil, Dal

Can the Washington Redskins win their last 7 games? They won their last three and Cleveland and Philly are easily winnable. Baltimore's the tough test (on a short week, no less). I don't see a wild card being the destiny for the Redskins, but if the Giants keep fooling around, they can fool their way out of the playoffs and in could come the Redskins.

Dallas (6-6)- Last 4 games: @Cin, Pit, NO, @Wash

The Cowboys stay in the conversation with their win over the Eagles. They have quite a tough schedule (which would be tougher if Ben Roethlisberger is back) so the chances they make the playoffs are slim. I think if they can be 8-7 before the Redskins game, they'll still have a shot.

Minnesota (6-6)- Last 4 games: Chi, @Stl, @Hou, GB

What the Vikings have going for them is both the Bears and Packers go to the Metrodome. Also, they get the Rams left as well, another winnable game. The biggest question for them is can their game with Houston take place when the Texans have clinched everything. If so, there's a small chance the Vikings could run the table, though I don't think it's enough to make the playoffs.

Tampa Bay (6-6)- Last 4 games: Phil, @NO, Stl, @Atl

Unfortunately for the Bucs, their skill of losing close games has returned and their two game losing streak has put them in trouble for the playoffs. The schedule isn't that hard, but we have another case of hoping for teams above to lose games. Fact is, if you aren't in the NFC East, the teams ahead have easy schedules to close out.

Mathematically alive, but basically out

St. Louis (5-6-1)- Last 4 games: @Buf, Min, @TB, @Sea

That tie hurts because 10 wins will get you in the playoffs this year (though the NFC East winner could end with 9). They need to win all four left and must hope that after 49ers-Seahawks, both teams have 9 wins.

New Orleans (5-7)- Last 4 games: @NYG, TB, @Dal, Car

They rallied into the playoff race, but two losses in a row put them on the outside looking in. They also need to win out, and hope that 9 wins gets a playoff spot. They can only look back to their losses to the Packers and Chiefs if they end up falling short, which is likely.

AFC Playoff Picture

A running series that should have started a couple weeks ago, it's time to look at the playoff picture as the NFL begins to close it's season. Since we still have the Giants and Redskins playing tonight, the AFC is the perfect place to start. Going into yesterday, all four AFC Division leaders had a chance to clinch playoff berths. Here's a look at the AFC playoff picture after yesterday's games (Chiefs, Jags and Raiders are eliminated; Browns, Titans and Chargers may as well be).

Division Leaders

Houston (11-1)- Clinched a playoff berth. Last 4 games: @NE, Indy, Minn, @Indy.

Stand as the top team in the AFC right now and will play New England next Monday with a chance to lock up home-field throughout the playoffs. They would need losses by Denver and Baltimore to officially clinch, but they would own head-to-head tiebreakers over all three teams in case the Ravens or Broncos win. Not an easy schedule to close it out, so a loss would open the door for a second trip to New England potentially in January.

New England (9-3)- Clinched AFC East. Last 4 games: Hou, SF, @Jac, Mia.

Their win over the Dolphins locked up the division, the Pats 10th AFC East title in the last 12 seasons. They currently win a tiebreaker over both Denver and Baltimore by having a better conference record than both (since Denver and Baltimore didn't play yet, head-to-head don't count). If they can beat the Texans at home, then they are very alive for the top seed. If they lose, they would still be in the hunt for the other 1st round bye, especially with the Ravens and Broncos playing each other in Week 15.

Baltimore (9-3)- Last 4 games: @Wash, Den, NYG, @Cin

The Ravens could have clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Steelers. By failing to do so, their playoff position became a little more precarious. That schedule they have left is pretty brutal and I wouldn't be surprised if they finished 9-7. They hold the 3 spot right now due to playing two more conference games than Denver.

Denver (9-3)- Clinched AFC West. Last 4 games: @Oak, @Balt, Clev, KC

It's clear that the Broncos have the easiest schedule to close the 2012 season. As long as they beat the Ravens, the Broncos are probably the favorite to land the two seed in the AFC (perhaps the top seed if the Texans struggle). Would lose head-to-head tiebreakers with Houston and New England, but a win over Baltimore would counter that.

Wild Cards

Indianapolis (8-4)- Last 4 games: Ten, @Hou, @KC, Hou

The Colts tremendous comeback against the Lions maintain their place in the AFC playoff picture as the 1st Wild Card and 5th seed. While the Houston games aren't easy, they have winnable games with Tennessee and Kansas City. And who knows; if the Texans lose to the Pats next Monday and the Colts win, they are two games behind for the division with 3 to play, controlling their destiny for the AFC South.

Pittsburgh (7-5)- Last 4 games: SD, @Dal, Cin, Clev

They are in the 6th spot because of their Sunday night win against the Bengals back in October. Somehow, the Steelers have survived this stretch without Ben Roethlisberger by getting that comeback win over the Ravens. Keeps them both in the playoffs if the season ended today and still gives the Steelers an outside shot at the division.


Cincinnati (7-5)- Last 4 games: Dal, @Phil, @Pitt, Balt

Cincinnati had their own comeback win by beating the sorry Chargers while being down 13-10 in the 4th quarter. This four-game winning streak came out of nowhere, but it's brought the Bengals in the heart of the AFC playoff race. Looking back at the Bengals, they've only once made the playoffs in back-to-back years (1981 and 1982, a strike year). These two games with the Cowboys and Eagles are must-wins, since it would be harder to sweep the Steelers and Ravens.

Mathematically alive, but pretty much done

NY Jets (5-7)- Last 4 games: @Jac, @Ten, SD, @Buf

Thanks to Greg McElroy, the Jets remains with faint playoff hopes. They needed two of Indy, Pitt and Cincy to lose yesterday, though. All won and despite an easy finishing schedule, the Jets have little chance of cracking through. 9-7 is a must for them.

Buffalo (5-7)- Last 4 games: Stl, Sea, @Mia, NYJ

The Bills also kept slight playoff hopes alive by knocking off the Jaguars at home. They also have a schedule that can get them to 9-7 since they have the Seahawks at home. Knowing the Bills, they probably will lose to the Rams to eliminate themselves.

Miami (5-7)- Last 4 games: @SF, Jac, Buf, @NE

What could have been for the Dolphins. After their dominant win over the Jets, Miami was 4-3 and schedule was seemingly easy. Then they lost 3 straight, two to the Titans and Bills and now they're also in need of winning out. Good luck with beating the Niners and Pats on the road to do that.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Week 13 Picks

It's been awhile since I worked on a Sunday, so I'm going to have to make my NFL picks quickly. Here they are:

Jacksonville (+6) over BUFFALO
CHICAGO (-3) over Seattle
Indianapolis (+6.5) over DETROIT
GREEN BAY (-7.5) over Minnesota
KANSAS CITY (+4.5) over Carolina- Because of yesterday's tragedy involving the team, I'm not picking this game like normal. I'm rooting for the Chiefs to win today.
MIAMI (+7) over New England
JETS (-5.5) over Arizona
ST. LOUIS (+7.5) over San Francisco
Houston (-6.5) over TENNESSEE
Tampa Bay (+7.5) over DENVER
Pittsburgh (+7.5) over BALTIMORE
OAKLAND (+2) over Cleveland
Cincinnati (-1) over SAN DIEGO
Philadelphia (+10.5) over DALLAS
WASHINGTON (+3) over Giants

Last week: 10-6
This week: 0-1
Season: 91-81-4

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thursday Night Pick

You should take my Thursday pick with a grain of salt. I just looked back and noticed I have not hit on any of my Thursday picks in November, including an 0-for-3 on Thanksgiving. The Falcons defense isn't as gruesome as the Niners defense and even though the Saints are on the road, this is probably the last chance for the Saints to make the playoffs (thanks to the losses by the Vikings and Seahawks). I have the Saints with the upset 37-27.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Congrats Toronto!

Last night, the Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup 35-22 over the Calgary Stampeders at the Rogers Centre. All told, this was a great Grey Cup that the city of Toronto gave everyone involved (despite the presence of Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen, though Mariana's Trench ended up being the worst of the performances). Since I'm not the most well versed person with regards to Canadian football, I will refer you to my good friend Andrew Bucholtz for his post on the Argos win.

The Argos have been the only Toronto-based profession team to win a title since 1993, with this title their first since the 2004 Grey Cup. I joked that this game was the most important game for Torontonians since Game 6 of the Leafs-Flyers series in 2004, though they did win the Grey Cup six months later (during another NHL lockout no less). It's been a roller coaster ride of emotion for Toronto since then as the Leafs have been awful throughout, the Raptors lost both Vince Carter and Chris Bosh in that time and are abysmal as a result, the Blue Jays have had Roy Halladay and Jose Baustita (and little else) and they are subjected to Buffalo Bills football once a year. The Argos were also poorly-run and an afterthought in the city. Now, the Jays are making huge moves and the Argos are the darlings of Ontario's capital.

In more great news, Rob Ford has been ousted as Toronto's mayor. Of course, we will never forget moments like this. Congrats Toronto.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Week 12 Picks

This year's Thanksgiving games basically had the good (RGIII's great day in Dallas), the bad (how the Lions gave up their game with the Texans) and the ugly (anything the Jets did that night). Now that we've finished our turkey and what not, there's some more NFL to digest today, including some monster matchups.

Minnesota (+6) over CHICAGO

I know Jay Cutler is playing today, but who knows how he'll play coming off that concussion. Let's just hope that we don't see much Christian Ponder in this one.

CINCINNATI (-8) over Oakland

Raiders playing at 10 AM PST start is never a good thing, plus they still are without Darren McFadden (probably won't play again this year, based on his history). Only worry is that this would precisely be the game that the Bengals would lose.

CLEVELAND (+2) over Pittsburgh

If there's ever a chance for the Browns to beat the Steelers, it's today. Charlie Batch is starting. No Antonio Brown again for Pittsburgh as well.

INDIANAPOLIS (-3) over Buffalo

It's tough to go into New England for the first time ever and win as a rookie. It's also tough for the Bills to win back-to-back games in the second half to inspire hope for your fanbase.

JACKSONVILLE (+3.5) over Tennessee

Might the Jaguars not be as bad as their record indicates? Yes, they were blown out by the Colts a couple weeks ago, but with Chad Henne at QB, the Jags are somewhat competent. And shouldn't a somewhat competent team be able to win against the Titans? I say yes.

KANSAS CITY (+10) over Denver

I was probably going to pick the Broncos, but then I read this article this morning. Manning has trouble with Crennel, plus no Willis McGahee equals take the points.

MIAMI (+3) over Seattle

I know the Dolphins have floundered a bit lately and the Seahawks are coming off a bye, yet I don't like them in the longest road trip of the season. Add the 10AM PST start time and the Dolphins win a close one.

TAMPA BAY (+1.5) over Atlanta

Last year, I had a bet on the Bucs winning the NFC. I probably should have done the same this year. At least it's a better chance this time around (on second thought, Greg Schiano-coached teams find ways to lose at the worst moments, so no). Still will win today.

Baltimore (Pick'em) over SAN DIEGO

I'm convinced this is the Norv Turner death march. Too many teams have coaches in death march mode right now, and this will hit San Diego like the Arab Spring.

St. Louis (+1.5) over ARIZONA

If only the Cardinals had a QB (even Kevin Kolb would suffice), they would be a playoff team. Good defense, good special teams, two great players (Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson). Have to take the Rams here.

NEW ORLEANS (+1.5) over San Francisco

Probably the game that will dictate whether or not the Saints can complete this comeback of a season to make the playoffs. Helps that they have the Niners at home in the dome.

Green Bay (+3) over GIANTS

I'm not sure why the Giants seem to have a lot of people on them today. Aaron Rodgers will feast off their defense and the Giants normally play weaker at home. Very pessimistic about this one.

Carolina (+3) over PHILADELPHIA

This is the Death March Bowl. We know both Andy Reid and Ron Rivera are through after this year. Looks like a good night to return to watching wrestling.

This week: 0-3
Season: 81-77-4

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day Picks

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!! Here's my picks for today's games.

Houston (-3.5) over DETROIT- Texans overlooked the Jags last Sunday. I'm thinking it's because of the Bears win and this game in Detroit. JJ Watt has an LT-like game today.

DALLAS (-3) over Washington- This is the only spotlight game that Tony Romo never loses. Don't see it happening today against RGIII and company.

JETS (+7) over New England- Losing Gronk, plus a short week will keep the Jets in this one. Must say, this is the Jets last chance to make the playoffs; don't want to be 4-7 needing to win out.

Last week: 7-6-1
Season: 81-74-4

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Week 11 Picks

We've reached the final week where fantasy owners have to worry about bye weeks (also couldn't come at a better time for the Giants). For those who are playing, the playoff picture will continue to clear up and become more convoluted at the same time.

Miami (+2.5) over BUFFALO

I got this game wrong but never posted a piece previewing the game Thursday. Let's just say that the Bills get to stay in the fringe of the AFC playoff race, and dragged the Dolphins with them.

Arizona (+9.5) over ATLANTA

Something about playing at home makes for close games for the Falcons. Plus, this game has great late-cover potential by the Cards. Have to grab the points.

Tampa Bay (-1) over CAROLINA

Yes, the Panthers aren't awful and have played a lot of close games, but the Bucs have done the same and have figured out how to win games in the last few weeks. Their offense is outstanding with Doug Martin (who in my eyes is the Offensive Rookie of the Year at this point) and Vincent Jackson has helped make the passing game more dangerous.

DALLAS (-8) over Cleveland

November is generally the Cowboys time of year where they play their best. I can't see a team coached by Pat Shurmur challenge them.

Green Bay (-3) over DETROIT

This is probably the season for the Lions. It's too bad that they must face Aaron Rodgers and Co today. Rodgers has had the Packers on a mission since the loss in Indianapolis. Lions only chance to win is to hope the bye week cooled off the team.

Jacksonville (+14.5) over HOUSTON

The Texans will win, but they could be looking ahead to the Lions on Thanksgiving. Plus, the Jaguars play better on the road than at home.

Cincinnati (+3) over KANSAS CITY

Oh Chiefs, that was as good a chance as they were going to have for a win last week (plus it would have made the AFC playoff race completely wide open). Bengals just gave the Giants a whooping last week, if they want back in the playoffs, they can't take a step back here today.

ST LOUIS (-3.5) over Jets

Steven Jackson came off his best game of the season in that awful tie. Meanwhile, what hasn't been said about the Jets this week. If the Jets had a better team, I could buy into them coming together and winning this one. Too bad they aren't.

WASHINGTON (-3.5) over Philadelphia

Too many people started getting down on RGIII for their losing streak (unfair, I might add). A bye week probably does them good, and getting the Eagles, who seem to be playing out the string and with a QB who's more likely to get teed off because of that offensive line, also helps.

OAKLAND (+5.5) over New Orleans

This one will be close; the Saints aren't in the dome and the Raiders are a better home team. Carson Palmer should play well (likely will commit some turnover to lose it in the end though).

Indianapolis (+9.5) over NEW ENGLAND

I have no idea how to pick Pats games. Their defense is so easy to throw against and Andrew Luck has been hot. One thing you can be sure of: bet the over. This will be a shootout.

San Diego (+7.5) over DENVER

Are the Broncos really going to finish this year 13-3, winning their last 11 in a row? My instinct says no. This is more about the Chargers looking to show if they have anything left for Norv Turner.

Baltimore (-3) over PITTSBURGH

The Ravens have reasserted themselves as they adjusted to life without Ray Lewis and LaDarius Webb. The Steelers probably could do the same without Ben Roethlisberger, but it won't happen the first week he's out.

Chicago (+4.5) over SAN FRANCISCO

Now this is a classic MNF matchup! Defense and lots of it is the order. With Jay Cutler out and Alex Smith likely shelved as well, you will see some ugly QB play by Jason Campbell and Colin Kaepernick. Taking the points here mainly because I expect a touchdown by the Bears defense more so than the Niners.

Last week: 7-7
This week: 0-1
Season: 74-69-3

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Week 10 Picks

We're going right to picks, here they are for Week 10:

BALTIMORE (-7.5) over Oakland
CAROLINA (+3.5) over Denver
Giants (-4.5) over CINCINNATI
MIAMI (-7) over Tennessee
MINNESOTA (+3) over Detroit
Buffalo (+13.5) over NEW ENGLAND
Atlanta (-1.5) over NEW ORLEANS
TAMPA BAY (-3) over San Diego
SEATTLE (-5.5) over Jets
Dallas (+1.5) over PHILADELPHIA
SAN FRANCISCO (-13) over St. Louis
Houston (+1.5) over CHICAGO
PITTSBURGH (-12.5) over Kansas City

Last week: 8-6
This week: 0-1
Season: 67-62-3

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thursday Night Pick

Tonight's Thursday night game is a battle of two teams going different directions. The Jacksonville Jaguars are in the midst of another poor season, lost Maurice Jones-Drew and might be looking at QB in the draft even though this is Blaine Gabbert's second year and he was a first round pick. Meanwhile, the Colts are looking like their awful year last year is a one year dip, as Andrew Luck is proving to everyone why Indianapolis picked him at number one. The Colts offense is surprisingly good, and their defense hasn't been as hurtful as fear.

Does this mean that the Colts continue their playoff push tonight? Well, we have a team who isn't good at home in Jacksonville facing a team who isn't good on the road in the Colts. I also think that every time there's a Thursday game with a team that comes into it with momentum a plenty, they usually lose in the short week (see: Arizona @STL, Pittsburgh @Tenn, Minnesota vs. TB). The Colts are giving three. I might hate backing Gabbert, but he is 3-0 against the Colts in his young career. Finally, it won't be that easy for Indy to make the playoffs the following year. Thus, the Jaguars will win 23-20.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Week 9 Picks

There's been a lack of writing on this site, aside from Travis' soccer posts this week. The reason for this is that my apartment was flooded because of Hurricane Sandy and I've had to focus on fixing things here. It cost me writing a Thursday Night pick, but I'd rather not talk about my picking the Chiefs to cover.

Anyway, we've reached Week 9 in the NFL season, the true midpoint as we begin to start the stretch run for the playoffs. Here are some facts about this season before I begin to make my picks for the week:

1. NFC is start markedly better than the AFC. Right now, the AFC has Houston, New England, Denver and a whole lot of nothing. Baltimore's too hurt to be a real threat, Pittsburgh's only just getting out of being hurt (the AFC's lone sleeper I'd say) and then you have a bunch of mediocre teams as best punctuated by the Miami-Indianapolis game being a playoff battle.

2. If a defensive player is ever going to win MVP, this is the best chance. I'm referring to J.J. Watt, the best player on the Texans, who will likely end up with the best record in the AFC. Watt leads the league in sacks thus far with 9.5 and Houston has the second best defense in the league. Also, no QB is really grabbing the award unless the Falcons remain unbeaten (meaning Matt Ryan would win by default) or the Redskins make the playoffs (ROTY and MVP for RGIII!).

3. Fortunately, the decision by the replacement refs in the Seattle-Green Bay game won't end up costing the Packers the playoffs. It might be a question of seeding for Green Bay, but just remember, they won the Super Bowl as a sixth seed in 2010, then lost in the first round as a 1. I, for one, am glad the Packers turned their year around to avoid the replacement refs making an impact against a team. Now, the Seahawks might still make the playoffs, but I'm not quite sure that'll be because of the replacements. Only time will tell.

Without further adieu, here are the picks.

Denver (-3.5) over CINCINNATI

Everything is breaking right for the Broncos, being blessed by the schedule gods. The first blessing is a trip to Cincinnati, where the Bengals are falling apart. I know the AFC is weak, but if the Bengals have any chance to make the playoffs, these two home games against the Mannings will need at least a split.

Baltimore (-3.5) over CLEVELAND

This will be the game that determined how much the injuries the Ravens have dealt with will impact their season. It's one thing to lose to the Texans a week after losing Ray Lewis and LaDarius Webb; it's another to lose to the Browns coming off a bye and more time to adjust. Let's not act like the Browns played well last week, the Ravens better come to play.

GREEN BAY (-10) over Arizona

They can't make this line high enough. The Cardinals are in free fall, looked awful against Alex Smith and the Niners at home on Monday night, and now have to go to Green Bay on a short week and have Aaron Rodgers pick them apart. Who knew that Kevin Kolb was that important to this team.

HOUSTON (-10) over Buffalo

I'm a little more worried about a late cover by the Bills, since they aren't completely inept offensively. Yet, the Texans home wins were by 20, 24 and 30 points. Two of those win are against possible playoff teams (Miami and Baltimore). Yes, the Packers beat them at home, but the Bills aren't the Packers and Ryan Fitzpatrick is no Aaron Rodgers.

INDIANAPOLIS (+2) over Miami

This is truly a pick'em. I love how Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have had all the attention, yet the third rookie QB in the top 10 Ryan Tannehill might go the furthest this year. Even a better chance of that happening if the Dolphins win. Unfortunately, the Colts are better at home and while I know the Dolphins will run well today, they don't score enough and I'd rather not play close games with the Colts.

JACKSONVILLE (+5.5) over Detroit

Calvin Johnson is hurt, and might only play on third downs today. I know that the Lions are in a must-win mode, but I'm not confident they can do so. Meanwhile, the Jags have been spirited in the last couple weeks on the road, losing in OT to the Raiders and even having the Packers worry for a second. I think they surprise today.

TENNESSEE (+3.5) over Chicago

Even since Matt Hasselbeck became the starter again for the Titans, they are finally a functioning football team. Chris Johnson has also began to run better. Yes, the Bears defense will give them trouble, but the Bears offense is struggling right now and I figure they loss they avoided last week only delayed the inevitable. Better for a bad loss to come here against an AFC team.

WASHINGTON (-3) over Carolina

Yes, RGIII over Cam. More importantly a Redskins win makes for very good news for President Obama.  If you don't know why, read this story. This is among my favorite random stats in all of sports (side note: any politics talk on the comments will be deleted; oh wait, I forgot, no one comments on my blog).

OAKLAND (-1.5) over Tampa Bay

I don't think the Bucs win over the Vikings made them a good team. Meanwhile, the Raiders lately have been a good football team. It doesn't hurt that this is the best Carson Palmer has looked in about six years.

SEATTLE (-4) over Minnesota

Reality can be brutal, especially if you're a Vikings fan. After the great start, a terrible home loss to the Bucs now has the team staring at a difficult second half schedule, starting today in Seattle, where the Seahawks never lose. Seahawks don't really have wiggle room from their road games, so they must win out at home to make the playoffs.

Pittsburgh (+3) over GIANTS

If this game was in Pittsburgh, I'd take the Giants. While the Giants were able to build a nice NFC East lead, the Steelers have been battling all year to get to 4-3. November isn't the kindest of months for the Giants, and I think Big Ben gets revenge on Eli from 2008.

Dallas (+3.5) over ATLANTA

I'd like to think that last week's loss to the Giants was the last we'll hear from Dallas this year, but I think there's too much talent on both sides of the ball for this to be true. Also, the Falcons are going to drop a game; they aren't this good to be able to stay unbeaten.

NEW ORLEANS (-3) over Philadelphia

Unlike Dallas, Philly seems like they are playing out the string and ready for a new era. This might be a shootout, but in New Orleans on primetime, I'll always take Drew Brees over anyone.

Last week: 7-7
This week: 0-1
Season: 59-56-3

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Mark Clattenburg Situation

Racism and football (soccer for those that prefer that term) have not been able to separate themselves from each other in recent times. The most noted cases of late were those involving Evra-Suarez and Ferdinand-Terry. I find it shocking that Rio Ferdinand got away with calling Ashley Cole a racially pejorative term between black Englishmen. I have followed English football since early in 2006 and this flurry of racism cases has been as shocking as it is unsettling. Yet, the most unsettling has been the reaction to Chelsea's formal complaint against Mark Clattenburg. Chelsea have pursued one of two initial complaints, they dropped the case involving, presumably, Juan Mata and have pushed forward with the case involving John Obi Mikel. What has followed has exposed the English game's complete lack of conviction for eliminating racism from the game.

Mark Clattenburg, as of right now, is an innocent man. All of the information that any media outlets have access to consists of speculation. Chelsea have chosen to pursue a formal complaint that one of their players was racially abused by him. Their is a long, drawn out process involving these cases. Have we already forgotten how long the Ferdinand-Terry case took to resolve? Before this game and incident, I had always thought Mr. Clattenburg to be one of the bright, new referees in English football and thought he was always fair in the majority of his officiating decisions. Have English referees made bad calls against Chelsea? Quite a few. A blown game by a referee does not end in racist accusations; referees are human and make bad calls sometimes. However, the accusation of a referee racially abusing a player is a very serious claim.

The issue that worries me is that the media, as a whole, has almost exclusively branded Chelsea as going on a witch hunt for losing the game and as retribution for the ban and fine imposed on club captain, John Terry. Where does this cynicism originate? For years, many have looked at Chelsea as having bought their success by foreign money. Many cited that Roman Abramovich did not care about club image and was out for blood in this case. A man so hell-bent on playing beautiful football and having a worldwide brand does not care about club image? There are no voices defending Mikel; who has been nothing but a quiet, consummate professional throughout his career.

The FA and many organizations in England and involved with UEFA are for eradicating racism from the game but where are these voices defending Mikel during this time? Why are people calling for Chelsea's head if the complaint cannot be proven to be true? The media coverage of this case is filled with vitriol towards Chelsea's audacity at lodging such a complaint against a referee.

All sides are currently innocent. Let this case flow through the proper channels and reserve our judgement until the story develops further. These are very serious accusations and they needed to be treated with objectivity.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Premier League Points : Week 9

Week 9 saw Chelsea stay top but their lead cut to just one point above both Manchester clubs. Many of this past weekend's games were rather boring but the officiating in two key games has to be the biggest story for this week.

Chelsea faced Manchester United at home and would be a pivotal game in the title race. If Chelsea were to win, they would put themselves seven points clear of Manchester United in October. It would not have been an insurmountable gap but rather a substantial boost to Chelsea's title-contender credentials. Manchester United easily exposed Chelsea's flaws in it's new system with counterattacks down the flanks at pace. One such attack led to Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic being shown a straight red card. It can easily be argued that Ashley Young went to ground without being fouled, as some angles show, but it could have just as easily gone the other way and it did. What followed was tragic; Mark Clattenburg single-handedly killed a cracking match. Fernando Torres was sent off for being fouled by Johnny Evans. I understand that referees are trying to crack down on diving but this was an egregious error. Yet, at nine men, Chelsea still bossed the game and looked to win if it were not for the dreaded offside goal that was allowed. Javier Hernandez was not called offside, nine times out of nine he would have been, and scored the match winner. Dreadful officiating in one of the biggest games of the season. Fergie will be happy that Clattenburg insured that United got all three points. The allegations and formal complaint filed after the match against Clattenburg will be addressed separately.

The Liverpool derby. This game is only rivaled, in my opinion, by the Liverpool-Manchester United derby game in terms of intensity and hatred between the two teams. What was shocking, besides the bad officiating, was the complete lack of any defensive cohesion by either team. I guess both coaches told their defenses to take the first half off. Liverpool looked the better team over the course of the second half and are still having problems in front of goal. The glaring error came at the death and Luis Suarez's game winner was shockingly called offside. It, in essence, was the opposite of the Chicharito goal against Chelsea. How it was disallowed must be infuriating to the red side of the Mersey.

And now for something completely different...Southampton did not look completely terrible against Tottenham.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Week 8 Picks

There's a chance this could be the last post on The Cycle for a few days, depending on how Hurricane Sandy progresses here in NY or Virginia for Travis. In the mean time, here are my picks for Week 8.

CHICAGO (-7.5) over Carolina
CLEVELAND (+3) over San Diego
Seattle (+2.5) over DETROIT
GREEN BAY (-14.5) over Jacksonville
Miami (+2) over JETS
Atlanta (+3) over PHILADELPHIA
Washington (+4) over PITTSBURGH
New England (-7) over St. Louis- Game in London
TENNESSEE (-3.5) over Indianapolis
Oakland (+1) over KANSAS CITY
Giants (-2) over DALLAS
New Orleans (+6.5) over DENVER
ARIZONA (+7) over San Francisco

Last week: 5-7-1
This week: 1-0
Season: 53-48-3

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday Night Pick

One of the season's biggest surprises will host Thursday Night Football as the Minnesota Vikings will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Vikings seem to win every which way possible; they're in the middle of all the major offensive and defensive stats except rushing, and they basically have an even turnover ratio (it's actually -1). They seem to be doing it with a lot of Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Jared Allen and everyone else just doesn't screw up. Christian Ponder has played well at QB, but last week only threw for 58 yards and they still won.

Tampa after Week 1 was looking like they were going to surprise as well, and for one half in the Meadowlands, it was showing as true. Then they collapsed against the Giants and it began this run for the Bucs which they lost all their games within a touchdown. The Giants rammed it down their throat and scored a TD late. Robert Griffin III ran his way into field goal range and the Redskins beat them at home. They didn't play well against Dallas, despite the score, while they lost last week to the Saints because Mike Williams stepped out of bounds and then caught the game-tying score with no time left. At some point, the Bucs are either going to learn how to win, or have their will broken because they can't.

What does this mean for tonight? Thursday games remain surprising in result, so I'll take the Vikings to win, but only by 4, thus the Bucs will cover +5.

World Series Redemption For Zito, Sandoval

When the San Francisco Giants last won the World Series, they did it with a lot of players who weren't stars playing over their heads, such as Cody Ross, Andres Torres and a past his prime Edgar Renteria. In the mean time, Bruce Bochy had Pablo Sandoval coming off the bench and Barry Zito off the postseason roster despite Zito making $18.5 million that season. Fast forward two years later and not only are both men starting, they led the Giants to a Game 1 victory last night.

We have to start with the Panda, since he tied a World Series record hitting 3 HR's last night. He forever will have his name right along side Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols. That's some company I'd like to keep. The best part for Sandoval is that he hit two of them against Justin Verlander, who might be the best pitcher in baseball, but he has his issues with the San Francisco Giants. When Sandoval had a chance to hit a 4th HR and only came through with a single, it was a letdown, sarcastically speaking of course, but it demonstrated how big a night he had that a single is just ho-hum. Consider this, Sandoval had three ABs in the entire 2010 World Series; his first three this year were HR's.

Barry Zito didn't even have AB's or IP back in 2010. However, pitching struggles forced Zito to pitch in Game 5 of the NLCS and pitched a gem and was called on to try to match Verlander. Fortunately for the Giants, he didn't; he went 5.2 IP giving up only a run and striking out three. He also knocked in a run off Verlander with an opposite field hit to make it 5-0. Staying in the game was the goal with Barry Zito; him flourishing against guys like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder makes it even better.

Zito and Sandoval weren't the only stories of Game 1. Tim Lincecum relieved Zito and utterly dominated over 2.1 IP. Marco Scutaro continued his surprising play with a couple more hits and Angel Pagan did the same with a couple doubles. And you can't mention Game 1 without mentioning Gregor Blanco's spectacular diving catches. I know though that the history books will remember Kung Fu Panda and Barry Zito and for two guys who were in San Francisco in 2010, but not really, that's who deserves to have the glory after this result.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Barcelona And A Team From Madrid Lead La Liga...

After eight games in La Liga, Barcelona are only equaled on points by a team from Madrid...and it is Atletico and not Real. Atletico have pulled off an amazing start to the season. The Spanish First Division is always a two horse race. I, for one, will not argue against the intensity of El Clasico; however, no one can argue against the significance of a story behind a third team having a real chance to win the league.

The reason the Barclay's Premier League has been able to sustain such an high amount of talent is due to the distribution of TV revenue. Yes, cash rules everything around us. This directly affects the success of very many teams; however, in Spain, the structure for revenue distribution is heavily slanted towards just Barcelona and Real Madrid. If the historical top two teams receive the majority of TV revenue then how can new contenders raise substantial amounts of revenue besides heavy private loans?

Atletico Madrid are performing on par with Barcelona with only a fraction of their revenue stream. Falcao is proving to be one of the greatest strikers in the world and still isn't on par with the likes of Rooney, Van Persie, Messi, or Ronaldo when it is brought up.

La Liga needs a third and fourth team to challenge for the title to make their league that much more competitive and interesting to watch rather than just when Barca and Real are playing. I will be following Atletico's form and I hope they are able to keep up their scintillating run of results.

Barcelona and Real Madrid have heavy injuries in their defense and Atletico Madrid have every opportunity to get points off them. La Liga, fingers crossed, may actually be more compelling than Barca v. Real Madrid.

World Series Preview: Alburquerque-Zito

Tonight, the World Series begins in San Francisco as the Giants will face the American League Pennant winners Detroit Tigers. And I thought the best way to prepare for the start of this series to provide an A-Z guide to everything that we will expect to see.

Al Alburquerque: Mike Francesa's favorite Tiger has to begin this list. Alex Avila might have more impact, but I'm pretty sure that Alburquerque will pitch in a big spot at some point.

Brandon Belt: Hit a HR in Game 7 and will probably be counted on a lot more than most people realize since the Tigers are full of RHP's in both the rotation and the bullpen. Will need the lefty Belt to hit well.

Miguel Cabrera: The likely MVP (I say that Mike Trout should win, but I digress) will be appearing in his second Fall Classic. It's easy to say that the Tigers will go as he goes, at least at the plate.

Doug Fister: One of the major reasons the Tigers are in the World Series is because of their dominant starting pitching as a whole. Now, Fister battled in his last start against the Yankees and probably shouldn't give the Giants opportunities to score early on him again.

Errors: Back in 2006, the Tigers were undone by some horrific defensive play when they lost to the Cardinals. This can't happen again this time around; unfortunately with Delmon Young playing the outfield in San Francisco, an already weak defensive team becomes weaker.

Prince Fielder: Fielder hasn't been dominant thus far in the postseason and if the Giants pitch around Cabrera, Fielder is going to have to make them pay for such a strategy.

Avisail Garcia: When given a chance, the youngster has been impactful. Likely will play when Barry Zito pitches. Of course, I have him on this list to point out that his name is pronounced with four syllables. Four syllables for a seven letter name. Seems like too much.

Hunter Pence: He will likely remain as Buster Posey's protection and he needs to do a better job of that. Had a rough series against St. Louis and it doesn't get easier against the big 4 righties on Detroit. Hopefully, Game 7 is also a sign of better play from him like it might be for Belt.

Omar Infante: Important in his role as a table setter for Detroit since he came over from the Marlins back in July. Main reason is that him reaching base almost guarantees a pitcher will face both Cabrera and Fielder in a given inning. This will need to continue.

Austin Jackson: Also important as a table setter, but unlike Infante, Jackson is more of a given in terms of effective hitting, even though he can be a strikeout machine. We can see some long games should the Giants fail to get the first two hitters of the Tigers lineup out.

Kung Fu Panda: In 2010, Pablo Sandoval only had three AB's in their World Series win. This time around, he's much more important, as demonstrated in the NLCS. He has driven in 6 runs in the last 5 games of that series and it's safe to say that the Giants are where they are because of Sandoval's hitting.

Jim Leyland: This season saw Leyland make his seventh appearance in the playoffs, but only his third World Series appearance. Except for leaving in Jose Valverde in Game 1, allowing Raul Ibanez to homer off him, every move made by the skipper is paying off. That includes his recent addition to Coke; Phil Coke that is in closing situations. Now the Tigers were in the same situation back in 2006; sweep the ALCS and wait a week while the NLCS goes seven. Then, they lost in five games. Let's see if Leyland does anything different to avoid the same fate.

Madison Bumgarner: What, expecting Matt Cain here? Now that Bumgarner is starting Game 2, he needs to be mentioned first. Also, because the Giants might be in a must-win situation should Game 1 unfold like most people expect it to.

New Matchup: Can you believe that this is the first time that the Tigers and the Giants are World Series foes? Considering the fact that both these teams have played in a number of World Series, the fact their paths haven't crossed is pretty surprising. Closest we came to a Tigers-Giants World Series was in 1908, when Fred Merkle's boner kept the Giants out of the World Series. In their place, the Cubs. Need I go on?

Octavio Dotel: He's looking to win the World Series for his second straight year. This is now his 13th team that he's played for and probably will look to do the MLB tour before its all said and done. Though if he wins again, then you might have to start picking the next team he plays with as World Series favorites.

Buster Posey: The likely NL MVP hasn't hit well this postseason; yet that hasn't stopped the Giants for reaching the World Series. At some point, he will need to start hitting if they are to beat the Tigers (though with this team, who know if that will be true). Fun fact: this matchup might be the first to feature both league MVP's since 1988.

Quinton Berry: He's only here because his name begins with the letter Q. Still, he plays an important role in left field and on the base paths since the Tigers lack overall team speed.

Sergio Romo: After years of seeing Tony fail in the playoffs, it's nice to finally see a Romo who can handle clutch situations. I kid of course, but not about Romo's play as the Giants closer. He represents the Giants biggest advantage over the Tigers: bullpen. Detroit hopes to avoid the bullpen as much as possible, while the Giants will go to it quickly if need be (Guillermo Mota doesn't qualify for this topic, nor should he ever qualify for any topic).

Sanchez and Scherzer: The pitchers the Tigers will have when the arrive back in Detroit could be huge if their strong play of late carries over. This is where the Tigers might be in a disadvantage on the mound (facing Vogelsong and Cain, the Giants two best), and more than likely, a split will be needed. It's also imperative that both men go deep in their games, avoid extra outs by the bullpen.

Tim Lincecum: While the Tigers starters worry no one in Detroit, the Giants have some issues beyond Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong. The fact that Lincecum continues to pitch poorly in starts, while pitching well from the bullpen appears to be the most annoying. It appears though that Bruce Bochy will leave The Freak in the bullpen, unless another awful Bumgarner performance occurs.

Umpiring: Here are your umpires for the World Series. Yes, you see that right, Country Joe West will be prominently involved. Don't say I didn't warn you. Knowing baseball, Fieldin Culbreth or Dan Issaogna will make an awful call at some point.

Justin Verlander: The best pitcher in baseball is tasked with continuing his terrific postseason and takes away the home-field advantage from the Giants in Game 1. I say this because it becomes a must-win for Detroit to steal the first game in order to have any chance to win the series.

Xavier Nady: Just kidding, but I'll use my X for the X Factor of the series: Marco Scutaro. He was the story in the NLCS from get the hard slide by Matt Holliday, to his MVP performance after hitting .500. The Giants won back in 2010 because of the exploits of Cody Ross and Edgar Renteria out of nowhere and they are back in the Fall Classic because of Scutaro. It's hard to suggest they'd lose if he continues his hot play.

Delmon Young: From LCS MVP to another. Young was rightfully the winner after driving in runs during each game against the Yankees. Unlike Scutaro, Young had this long layoff which could be harmful to his hot streak. If Prince Fielder starts hitting more, Young can be an afterthought, but Young comes up with runners on and needing to save rallies from dying, he'll have to be up to the task.

Barry Zito: He likely will start against Verlander in both Games 1 and 5. He pitches anything like Game 5 against St. Louis, and it would be such a boon for the Giants. It would also make his 7 year, $126 million contract from 2007 worth every penny (okay, not really).

Prediction: Giants in 7, continuing the zombie act for one last series.