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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Premier League Points : Week 8

Travis Lankford here again. It's that time.

This past weekend saw the three title contenders win but not in similar fashion. There were a few interesting results but there are quite a few stories developing over these past eight weeks.

First and foremost, Chelsea has 22 points out of a possible 24. Why is this a significant number?  Manchester City did the same thing last year...the year they won the Premier League. Also, Juan Mata. I am a Chelsea fan but it would be hard to argue against him being the best player in the Premier League right now and to think he can't get a sniff at the Spanish first team.

Sir Alex Ferguson seems to be ushering in a tactical revolution at Old Trafford. Manchester United has long been known to play a 4-4-2 with wingers. Ryan Giggs was, after all, a left midfielder. He is sticking with a 4-4-2 formation but with a diamond midfield. This may or may not prove to be a fruitful endeavor as Patrice Evra has been on a significant decline in the past few years and he will be relied upon to provide the attacking width on United's left flank. Van Persie, Rooney, and Welbeck are already showing that they are relishing the chance to play together and the former two are really showing their class.

Manchester City pulled off a champions style result against West Brom. They were a man down for the majority of the match due to James Milner's first ever red card for City. Dzeko proved that he still has goals in him and grabbed a brace and the vital three points for Manchester City. Those will prove to be a very important three points in May.

Liverpool won at home. Yes, you read that correctly. They now have one more point than games played. Okay, that's enough picking on the Scousers but what is still alarming, a plague carried over from last season, is their complete lack of killer edge in front of goal. Liverpool had 23 shots on goal against Reading and only managed to score on the break through new-boy and wonder-kid Raheem Sterling.

Mark Hughes's knickers must be on fire because he has to be in the hottest managerial seat in the league (Nigel Adkins has done too much for Southampton to be in too much trouble right now). QPR seem completely disjointed and out of sorts but that is the very real consequence when you buy a lot of new players and throw them into the starting eleven. I don't think Hughes will get the chance to see the team start to click and he will be looking for yet another position as manager in the not so distant future.

There are European games in the middle of this week so it will be exciting to see how the group stages develop in the Champions League today and tomorrow. The UCL fixtures are followed by Week 9 in the Premier League and the next round of the Capitol One Cup (formerly known as the Carling Cup).

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ranking The LCS Game 7s

Last night, the San Francisco Giants jumped quickly on the St. Louis Cardinals to force Game 7 in the NLCS. Since both of these teams are just incapable of losing series, I expect tonight's game to last until February. Instead of piling on with everyone writing about this Game 7 and the nature of both teams that precludes them from losing do-or-die games, I figured to take a look back at all the Game 7s in LCS history since the format expanded to a best-of-seven in 1985.

Looking back, it turns out that the LCS Game 7 is as likely to be a dud than to be an epic contest. In the previous 14 seventh games, eight of them were won by 4+ runs. This tends to be when a pitching matchup seems completely skewed to one team over another (great examples: Oliver Perez and Jake Westbrook can call themselves Game 7 starters). This also tends to happen when the momentum of a series greatly swings in one direction, as six times a team rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win an LCS. Here's the list from worst to first.

14. 1996 NLCS: Braves 15, Cardinals 0 

This is perhaps the greatest example of both momentum swinging greatly and a complete mismatch on the mound. No chance was Donovan Osbourne was beating Tom Glavine, especially when Glavine is hitting triples. This game was over after a 6-run first and capped a series which the Braves rallied back from a 3-1 deficit by outscoring the Cards 32-1 in three games.

13. 1986 ALCS: Red Sox 8, Angels 1

This is the AL version of the '96 Braves. The reason the Red Sox are ahead is a) 8-1 is closer than 15-0 and b) because of the epic Game 5 win to allow this to happen, which the Braves didn't do. Still, the Red Sox had all the momentum after that win in Anaheim and Roger Clemens during his Cy Young/MVP year against John Candelaria (who I didn't know was on the Angels, much less their Game 7 starter until I started researching this). Too easy for Boston.

12. 1987 NLCS: Cardinals 6, Giants 0

This doesn't apply to either of my earlier rules since this series was never 2-2 and Danny Cox vs Atlee Hammaker isn't that lopsided (I don't care if Cox was good for 1987, he's no Glavine/Clemens). Still, this was a one-sided shutout that was decided early when Jose Oquendo hit a 3-run HR in the 2nd inning to give the Redbirds a 4-0 lead. The fun fact of this series is that this was the last time that a player from the losing team won series MVP, as Jeffrey Leonard was the winner. While he did go 2 for 4 in Game 7, it wasn't enough for the Giants.

11. 1985 ALCS: Royals 6, Blue Jays 2

It was a promising matchup because of the starters; Bret Saberhagen vs Dave Stieb is among the best you could have had in the 1980s. Then Saberhagen was taken out after the 3rd inning and Stieb gave up a 3-run triple to Jim Sundberg in the 6th when it was 2-1 Royals. A base hit by Hal McRae after made it 6-1 Kansas City and they finished their first of two 3-1 series deficit rallies (both coming after losing Games 1 and 2).

10. 1988 NLCS: Dodgers 6, Mets 0

This game is only up to number 10 because of Orel Hershiser. This capped a dominant series for him, who pitched well enough to win Game 1 (Jay Howell lost that game for the Dodgers), well enough in Game 3 (again, bullpen), gets the save in Game 4 and goes the distance in Game 7, not allowing the Mets to have any chance at a rally. Dodgers scored all six runs in the first two innings as the Mets went with Ron Darling on normal rest, instead of Dwight Gooden on short rest and it cost them.

9. 1991 NLCS: Braves 4, Pirates 0

John Smoltz gained his reputation as a big game pitcher starting with this game. He pitches a complete game shutout, while Atlanta scored 3 in the first, most notably by Brian Hunter's 2-run HR. Hunter also added an RBI double. This probably should be lower in the list, but I give this points for Smoltz and for the Braves run of success beginning with this season and playoffs.

8. 2007 ALCS: Red Sox 11, Indians 2

Why would I put a nine run Boston win this high on the list? Because the game was 3-2 in the 7th inning. This was a series which the Red Sox rallied from 3-1 down to force Game 7 because of Josh Becket and J. D. Drew. The Red Sox scored a run in the first three innings, then the Indians countered with a run in both the 4th and 5th. In the 7th, Kenny Lofton reached second after a Julio Lugo error and Franklin Gutierrez a base hit to LF; only Lofton wasn't sent home and was stranded by Casey Blake's double play. After a Dustin Pedroia HR made it 5-2, Cleveland put the first two on in the 8th. That was when Jonathan Papelbon came in and retired the next three hitters. Boston piled on six runs in the bottom of the 8th, clinching the game in the process.

7. 2004 NLCS: Cardinals 5, Astros 2

Because the epic Yankees-Red Sox wars, this series will always be overlooked from 2003-04 (Cubs would never be overlooked). However, this series had walk-off HR wins by Jeff Kent and Jim Edmonds, while Carlos Beltran and Albert Pujols both had epic hitting performances. It came down to Roger Clemens vs Jeff Suppan and Suppan held his own, giving up 2 runs (1 earned) over 6 IP. With the Cards down 2-1, the bottom of the 6th swung the game as Pujols tied the game with a double off Clemens and Scott Rolen hit a 2-run HR right after. The Astros never threatened again, but would get their revenge the following year.

6. 2008 ALCS: Rays 3, Red Sox 1

The first ever postseason for the Tampa Bay Rays included a Game 7 which didn't have to happen if they would have held a 7-0 lead in Game 5. Boston came back to win that one in Fenway, then won a tough Game 6 to force a Game 7. The Red Sox were poised to win their 10th straight ALCS elimination game, especially after a 1st inning HR by Pedroia. That's when Matt Garza started to dominate, allowing only one more hit in 7+ IP. Tampa would begin to hit like they did all series, and took a 3-1 lead in the 8th. Boston had one last rally on the Rays bullpen when David Price came in to strikeout Drew with the bases load. Price finished it off and the Rays were World Series-bound.

5. 2003 NLCS: Marlins 9, Cubs 6

Nothing will be more memorable than the Bartman game and it seemed like the Cubs were finished after losing Game 6. Sure enough, Miguel Cabrera hit a 3-run HR in the 1st inning to put Florida up early. Chicago rallied though, the key plays being a Kerry Wood 2-run shot in the 3rd and Moises Alou 2-run homer, giving the Cubs a 5-3 lead. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, the Marlins scored in the 5th, 6th  and 7th innings to make it 9-5 and held on to win. The Marlins went on to their second World Series win in six years while it's 104 years and counting for Chicago.

4. 2004 ALCS: Red Sox 10, Yankees 3

In terms of just as a competitive game, this game belongs much lower. However, I can't ignore the history that was made when the Red Sox won Game 7 in 2004 over the Yankees, becoming the first team to win a series down 0-3. Unlike Games 4-6, which were some of the tightest played baseball games any series ever saw, this was over early as David Ortiz hit a two-run HR in the first, then a Johnny Damon grand slam put this out of reach. Derek Lowe pitch six innings of one run baseball despite pitching on two days rest. Boston would win the World Series in a sweep and forever alter the course of baseball history.

3. 2006 NLCS: Cardinals 3, Mets 1

We finally reach the best of the best in terms of legendary LCS Game 7's. The fact that Mets-Cards from 2006 would be among this group is pretty shocking. This was a well-pitched game between Oliver Perez and Jeff Suppan (the odds of which being one billion to one). This had a catch by Endy Chavez which if it's not the best catch in MLB history, it's not laughable to suggest it (kudos for doubling up Jim Edmonds). Finally, you reach the ninth and Yadier Molina hits a 2-run HR to give the Cards a 3-1 lead, something no one envisioned would happen back then. The Mets loaded the bases in the bottom half, only to see Adam Wainwright to throw a great pitch to freeze Carlos Beltran to win the series. This really was a remarkable game and no one gives it credit for being pretty incredible.

2. 1992 NLCS: Braves 3, Pirates 2

Everyone knows this game. Everyone knows the last play. Some backstory: the Braves were ahead 3-1 over the Pirates, then Pittsburgh won a couple to force Game 7 which was played in Atlanta. John Smoltz started for the Braves like he did the year before, but this time the Pirates got to him and scored a couple. Doug Drabek dominated over eight innings and came out to start the ninth. After a Terry Pendleton double, Jose Lind botched a David Justice ground ball, making it 1st and 3rd. Sid Bream walked and Drabek was done with the bases loaded. The Braves scored on a sac fly and after two batters, Francisco Cabrera came up with two outs and the bases loaded. What happened next was one of the iconic plays in baseball history: Cabrera base hit which you see Sid Bream chug home and slide safely just short of the tag at the plate. The Braves were back in the World Series, while the Pirates (still) haven't finished a season over .500 (though they are coming close to ending that).

1. 2003 ALCS: Yankees 6, Red Sox 5

Normally I'd put the play that ends with a play at the plate ahead of one with a walk-off HR because the play at the plate is the best play in baseball. However, this game has to trump Braves-Pirates because of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, the matchup between Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez and  the ebb and flow of this game. Boston was winning all game long as Trot Nixon and Kevin Millar both homered and sent Clemens out early. Jason Giambi kept the Yanks close with a couple solo HR's as Pedro pitched very well in the first seven innings. A David Ortiz solo HR made it 5-2 and the Red Sox were set for the World Series. Then the Yankees rallied, and manager Grady Little made the fateful decision to leave Pedro as the Yankees poured on three runs to tie the game at 5. After Mariano Rivera pitched three scoreless innings, Aaron Boone won it on the first pitch in the bottom on the 11th with a HR.

It would be pretty difficult for tonight's Cardinals-Giants Game 7 to reach Aaron Boone status, but with the way both teams play in do-or-die games, making it into the top-5 won't be that difficult. Let's hope we're watching a memorable one, or it will be easy to switch to football or the debate.

CORRECTION: The early version of this post said that Brian Harper homered and drove in 3 runs in Game 7 of the 1991 NLCS. It was actually Brian Hunter.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Barcelona Knows How To Score Against Anyone

Jordi Alba is new to Barca and their specific philosophy. I feel that he was putting on his best effort to prevent Barcelona from winning their past league game after what must be the most sublime own-goal of all time. Don't believe me?

Week 7 Picks

Here are my Week 7 picks:

BUFFALO (-3) over Tennessee
CAROLINA (+2.5) over Dallas
Baltimore (+7) over HOUSTON
INDIANAPOLIS (-2) over Cleveland
Arizona (+7) over MINNESOTA
Washington (+6) over GIANTS
ST. LOUIS (+5) over Green Bay
New Orleans (-1.5) over TAMPA BAY
NEW ENGLAND (-10.5) over Jets
OAKLAND (-6.5) over Jacksonville
Pittsburgh (-1) over CINCINNATI
CHICAGO (-6.5) over Detroit

Last week: 7-7
This week: 1-0
Season: 48-41-2

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cards/Giants Rain Delay Angers X Factor Fans

Game 3 of the NLCS between the Cardinals and the Giants was stopped in the bottom of the 7th because of a giant rain storm. This meant that Fox's coverage of the series would conflict directly with their primetime programming, which in tonight's case was The X Factor. Fox ended up showing an hour and 15 minutes of The X Factor, with a full episode of Ben and Kate before and The Mindy Project after until they were ready to go back to St. Louis. Obviously, this upset some passionate fans of Simon Cowell's show, so I took some of the best tweets involving those who were among the most upset and my thoughts on their tweets.

Fox has obligations to its contract to show MLB playoff games.

There are some people in St. Louis and San Francisco who beg to differ, as well as those who like baseball.

I know you do, but again, plenty of people do care about baseball (granted X Factor probably has more).

I never watched The X Factor before, so I have no idea.

Canadians are just as confused as Americans to their TV schedule.

Baseball's a live sport, X Factor is taped. Fox pays MLB billions to show it. Baseball wins.

I'm sure Fox will get over it.

I'm sorry you feel that way.

That's a little extreme. There are better situations that call for Mayan references than this.

This is something that most baseball fans will agree with; I'll grant you that.

I think the baseball players will be fine. Sorry to break it to you.

Being you work in the business, you should know that big sporting events will preempt regular coverage on your network. Besides, ABC would rather you watch Modern Family than X Factor.

As hard as your non-existant dick?

And on that note, enjoy the rest of the game.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Germany v Sweden : Do Call It A Comeback

Travis Lankford here again. Enjoy.

First and foremost, Germany should not panic; however, they should be worried. When any follower of international soccer thinks about the German national team (or West Germany), they think of similar attributes to the German people. Industrious, efficient, and resolute are usual attributes for the German team and in particular their defense. Germany had an impeccable first half but the way they folded needs to be addressed.

The eventual failing of the German defense boils down to form. Holger Badstuber and Per Mertesacker have either been playing in a different position or haven't had regular minutes for their club side. Both were at fault for crucial goals and the former looked completely out of place in the center of defense. It is still unsettling at how easily they capitulated and let in four goals in one half. An honorable mention goes out to Jerome Boateng for thinking that he had no defensive responsibilities during the game. Franz Beckenbauer must have been face-palming at your lack of any initiative to defend.

Germany should be fine but the defensive collapse against Sweden was a thing of legend. Sweden finally played up to their potential that I predicted would show up to the Euros this year. Germany should not be in panic mode and they should rebound easily with such a great attacking threat. However, that was one of the worst displays by a German national team defense ever. It will be interesting to see how this German defense plays with Hummels or Badstuber and Mertesacker in form against a top international side. Until then, Stockholm must be rocking.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Week 6 Picks

I have work today, so here are some quick picks for Week 6 in the NFL.

ATLANTA (-10) over Oakland
BALTIMORE (-3) over Dallas
CLEVELAND (+3) over Cincinnati
St. Louis (+4.5) over MIAMI
Indianapolis (+3) over JETS
PHILADELPHIA (-3.5) over Detroit
Kansas City (+4) over TAMPA BAY
ARIZONA (-4) over Buffalo
New England (-3.5) over SEATTLE
Giants (+6.5) over SAN FRANCISCO
WASHINGTON (-1.5) over Minnesota
Green Bay (+3.5) over HOUSTON
Denver (Pick'em) over SAN DIEGO

Last week: 5-8 (Didn't get the Rams-Cards pick in on time)
This week: 1-0
Season: 41-34-2

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thursday Night Pick

A much needed win for the Steelers last weekend rewards them with a short week, but against the Tennessee Titans, who have done nothing to prove that they aren't the worst team in football. They've been outscored by 93 points, twenty points clear of the Jaguars for the worst scoring differential in the league. Their only win occurred despite their defense giving up 41 points in the process. So do they have any chance tonight? Since the Thursday games tend to be different than the normal Sunday games (and they're home), I have to say yes.

Pittsburgh will be without Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley, so their defense won't be as stout and Tennessee has proven they can score. Also, the Steelers haven't fared well on the road; both losses coming in Denver and Oakland. Of course, we get to put the spotlight on Chris Johnson tonight and the national audience gets to see how poor he's become. Perhaps some spotlight will lead to some sort of rejuvenation, even if that means three yards per carry. Instinct will tell you that the Pittsburgh offense will score plenty against the Titans; fully healthy in terms of skill players now that Rashard Mendenhall is playing and he made an impact on last Sunday's win over the Eagles with a touchdown reception (fantasy players, that was a scoring change from a TD run, so if you have Ben Roethlisberger, check your matchup last week) and 5.2 yards per carry. Tennessee will keep up with Pittsburgh though.

Steelers are favored by 6.5. Take the points tonight, though the Steelers will prevail 34-30.

RIP Beano Cook

As some are particularly aware, I don't really post much on college football. Much of that I wrote about back last year, which you can read here (a little dated with regards to BCS though). However, Beano Cook was a must-watch for anyone who followed the sport.

He died today at the age of 81. He will be remembered for his passion and knowledge of college football and being a colorful character on television. Whether it was him predicting that Ron Pawlus would win two Heisman Trophies and lead Notre Dame to two national championships, to his legendary blooper reel, he always made TV interesting. It's too bad you were taken from us during the season, as you wished in this video. RIP Beano.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Messi, Ronaldo Dazzle El Clasico

This is written by Travis Lankford:

The biggest rivalry in club football was renewed again this past weekend while America was too busy with some sport they incorrectly call football. El Clasico - Real Madrid would face Barcelona at Camp Nou. Their two play-styles are well known and the game was not very surprising but who can turn down watching the two best players in the world play against each other? The argument over which player is the definitive best in the world will never die and surely not after this past game where they both put in amazing performances.
Messi, the mercurial, wizard-like little man from Argentina, versus Cristiano Ronaldo, the pretty boy from Portugal that has the attributes of an overpowered created player in a video game, is always a spectacle that dazzles and always lives up to the hype. In terms of the teams, Real Madrid will be sorry for not picking up the full three points against a defense made of two midfielders and a left back. Ronaldo showed how dangerous he is on the counterattack and his world-class finishing. Messi benefited from a fluff by Pepe but that’s Messi, always in the right place at the right time. His free kick was a thing of beauty and it almost seems like he’s guaranteed to score from that range.
Barcelona were very fortunate to not lose this game but their possession and Messi is what tipped the balance…and maybe a little from Real Madrid’s poor finishing. It was still a beauty to see those two players face off against each other in one of the most thrilling games of the season. Which player is the best in the world? Cristiano Ronaldo. That should stir up the hornet’s nest. I can’t wait for the game in Madrid!

Where We Are In England

This is written by Travis Lankford:

The state of the Premier League is returning to normal, at least if you aren’t a Liverpool fan, despite a few shock results in the first few weeks. The Premier League is taking another international break so what better time to roundup the results so far than now. Personally, I couldn’t be happier with table but I am a Chelsea fan. There are some interesting places for certain teams and even more interesting is how they got there.
As mentioned earlier, Chelsea sit in first place with nineteen points and are four points ahead of the Manchester clubs. While their defending (and lack of width) has caused some uneasiness during games, Chelsea have managed to only drop points away to West London rivals, QPR. 
Both clubs from Manchester have shaken off their early jitters and have churned out results and have started to look like the clubs that dueled for the Premier League crown last year. They sit at fifteen points. City still looks somewhat shaky at the back and United is having a bit of an injury crisis among their center-backs. United’s recent defeat to Tottenham brings this to mind. Everton, Tottenham, and West Brom (yes, you read that correctly) follow with fourteen points. All three have been churning out results but West Brom will be the happiest with their early run of form.
Arsenal have floundered and have claimed twelve points. Arsene Wenger still has yet to address the defensive frailties that have plagued his side for many seasons now. Cazorla looks to be an amazing signing but they are committing too many errors at the back to challenge for anything other than a Champions League spot.
The next six sides, West Ham, Fulham, Newcastle, Swansea, Stoke, and Sunderland sit at 11, 10, 9, 8, 8, and 7 points, respectively. West Ham have righted the ship after some early defeats. Fulham has settled back into their place as a mid-table club after some early scorelines that were quite flattering. Newcastle seems to not be riding so high like they did towards the end of last season. Swansea started out hot but have cooled down dramatically. Stoke have been unsurprising and still sit in the middle of the table. Sunderland shouldn’t cause too many problems but Steven Fletcher seems like a signing that will make a big difference for them (along with Adam Johnson).
Liverpool. Oh Liverpool. My favorite line about Liverpool so far (a repeat from last season) comes from a person I follow on Twitter. He said, “Anfield has become a real fortress as of late, even Liverpool can’t win there.” What is disturbing, from an objective point of view, is that Brendan Rogers has pushed Martin Skrtel up top the past two games. Isn’t this the man that exiled Andy Carroll because he didn’t fit their play style? As a Chelsea fan, I remember a certain manager trying to fit square pegs in round holes and Rogers is teetering on the precipice of repeating this at Liverpool. Brendan, in case you don’t know, it didn’t work out and he was fired in March. Also, Liverpool sit on six points…from seven games…I’ll leave you with that.
The next six sides will be fighting to stay up and out of the relegation zone. Wigan and Aston Villa sit at five points but both sides seem completely different. Wigan has put in some very good performances yet Aston Villa have done the exact opposite and been dreadful. Southampton are at four points, just above the relegation zone, and that is disheartening. They put in a ton of effort against Manchester United and looked to really challenge the Premier League regulars until a bit of reality struck.
Reading and Norwich sit at three points. The latter put in a string of great performances last season but seem to be struck with the Second Season Syndrome. QPR rounds out the relegation zone with just two points. Mark Hughes must be feeling the heat after the amount of money they spent in the transfer window this past season. In short, they have been horrible.
Now, if only this international break would be over so we can get back to some more Premier League action!

Baseball's Is Boring

It's safe to say that if baseball doesn't get its act together, you'll see more happenings like this.

(h/t to UniqueDaily)

Drunken Jets Ramblings

We all know about Joe Namath's interview with Suzy Kolber back in 2003. This website will forever be grateful to Joe for that. Now, we have another former Jet who decided to ramble on during a Jets night game. Mark Gastineau was inducted into the Jets Ring of Honor last night with Wesley Walker. When he went to speak, um, let's just say he seemed, as Joe Theismann said back for Joe Namath, "happy". You can listen to Gastineau here.

Gastineau starts off by imploring fans to not boo the Jets (I didn't watch the game with sound, but I'm pretty sure that didn't work), then more or less thanks God and Woody Johnson and says that MetLife Stadium is beautiful (not really) and ends the speech with a Hallelujah (which is something that we all know Gastineau was to say regularly).

With this speech, Gastineau matches Namath in his quest to be the all-time Jets attention whore. Unfortunately, that honor already belongs to Tim Tebow. Which only leads to one thought: when does Tebow have his awkward, drunken rambling during a Jets game?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Week 5 Picks

The past two weeks, my regular job has got in the way of my normal routine of putting NFL picks in this space. Not this week, I'm back and ready to write. Here we go with Week 5 picks:

CINCINNATI (-3.5) over Miami

Has it ever occurred to anyone that the Bengals just might be good for two straight years? If you look at the Bengals history, only once did they make the playoffs in back-to-back years (and that was helped by the 1982 players strike) and haven't put together two full seasons in a row with winning records since 1975-76. I know Miami isn't awful (and had a lot a bad luck in Arizona when all six fumbles get recovered by the other team), but I'm liking what I've seen from the Bengals this year

Green Bay (-6.5) over INDIANAPOLIS

Because of the debacle in Seattle, the Packers really can't afford to waste away games. Yet, they haven't played their best; either their offense or defense fails them, win or lose. A bye week helps the Colts, but there's any pass rush by Green Bay, I don't envision any chance for Andrew Luck to keep pace with the Packers offense.

Baltimore (-6) over KANSAS CITY

Why are the Ravens only giving six against the Chiefs? I know it's at Arrowhead, but we just saw the Chargers ravage this team in KC. The Chiefs turn the ball more than anyone in the league, which must have Ed Reed, LaDarius Webb and Haloti Ngata salivating.

Cleveland (+8) over GIANTS

So when I pick against the Giants, they win; when I pick them, they lose. Clearly I have that much of an impact on them. Having said that, I'd have more confidence in the Browns if Lawrence Tynes' FG had the distance last Sunday, since I know the Giants would have no showed this game. Instead, I expect a close one which they pull it out late, because that's what the Giants do at home.

PITTSBURGH (-3) over Philadelphia

The bye week came at a perfect time for the Steelers. Now they get Rashad Mendenhall, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu back. Expect more pounding for Michael Vick (though that's something you can mention prior to any Eagles game). Remember, the offense hasn't been a problem for the Steelers and they'll be better with Mendenhall's return. A more stout Steelers defense makes this too much for the Eagles on the road.

Atlanta (-3) over WASHINGTON

So are the Falcons very good, or are they very lucky. Weeks 1 and 3 showed how good they can play. Weeks 2 and 4 showed them play well, but not well enough for a team that should contend for a Super Bowl. Atlanta can basically wrap up the NFC South today with a win over the Redskins. I know Mike Shanahan can probably see what Carolina did last week and try to have RGIII play more like that, but the Falcons have been particularly impressive on the road. I don't see Atlanta fooling around today.

CAROLINA (-2) over Seattle

I never really like Seattle on the road and even though picking a team coached by Ron Rivera is an exercise in torture, I just don't have the confidence that the Seahawks will play well enough on offense to take advantage of the Panthers porous defense. Cam Newton and the Carolina offense will need to play better than their last home game, something I think will happen.

Chicago (-6) over JACKSONVILLE

Normally, I'd be worried about a team who played very well on Monday night, then plays a lower-profile game on Sunday. However, the Jaguars still have Blaine Gabbert, so I'm less worried and expect more Bears defensive success. Plus, the narrative of Jay Cutler not being consistent, or something, wouldn't tend to show up in a game like this, since it's not on the front-burner.

MINNESOTA (-5.5) over Tennessee

Vegas isn't convinced on the Vikings yet, but I am. At least I'm convince that the Titans are the worst team in football and shouldn't get less than seven on the road against a good team. Next week at Washington would be a bigger test for Minnesota, but I do see 4-1 for Christian Ponder, the anti- Blaine Gabbert.

NEW ENGLAND (-6.5) over Denver

Brady vs. Manning!!!! I love how no matter how an NFL schedule is drawn up, a matchup between these two QB's must always happen. The thing with the Patriots is that they only lost twice by 3 points combined. Peyton isn't good enough yet to go toe-to-toe with Brady, especially when he still can't make  accurate deep throws.

SAN FRANCISCO (-9.5) over Buffalo

Midway through last week's game, the Bills were on their way to a 3-1 mark and first place. Then they were outscored 45-7 and now have to play a Niners team who can probably put up the 45 and give up 0. In fact, they would have done it last week if not for missed FG's and showing mercy to run out the clock inside the red zone.

San Diego (+3.5) over NEW ORLEANS

Drew Brees will break Johnny Unitas' record for more consecutive games with a TD pass, but that's not going to keep the Saints from falling to 0-5. Once again, the Chargers are reeling you in that they are going to be dominant and actually make them smart for keeping Norv Turner all these years. We know that they're not and he will screw up something at some point, but not against this Saints team.

Houston (-8.5) over JETS

The start of the deluge for the Jets was last week against the 49ers. Now another Super Bowl contender who does everything well will continue this. I guess the good news for the Jets is that everyone in New York will care about Yankees-Orioles, so they got that going for them. Which is nice.

I just realized that I have the favorite in all but two games. This means I'm in for a bloodbath today. Either way, enjoy the games everyone.

Last week: 9-6
Season: 35-26-2

Friday, October 5, 2012

Wild Card Thoughts

Since the nature of the MLB wild card is one and done, a normal preview picking who wins doesn't do the same justice as picking teams to win a series. In lieu of stacking teams together, I figured that I would give some thoughts about the four teams in question today and of this new format itself.

-I think that the second wild card works in a sense that it allows for playoff expansion without a massive drop in quality. It also puts a division title as something that's to be desired, instead of something one shrugs their shoulder whether they win or not. Sooner or later, there will have to be an extension to the Wild Card Game into a series (I'd go with a best of 3) in order to avoid basically one pitcher being hot or cold as the difference between winning and losing. It also gives division winners a week off, though there are pros and cons in this event (Pro: Rotations would be set no matter who pitches game 162; Con: hot teams wait around for a week and begin cooling off). Let's see the games first before making any tweaks, though.

-If there's any team who would deserve a better fate if they lose today, it's clearly the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta, for the most part, remained the top NL Wild Card team and easily earned their playoff spot. Even though the Cardinals weren't that much worse than Atlanta, it's enough so that the Braves would be a major loser, since last year a finish like this for the Braves put them against the Brewers.

-That's the second major thing with the Braves tonight; last year, they collapsed and lost out to the Cardinals on the season's last day. This year, they avoided collapse, but a loss to the Redbirds again here would be just as bad. Actually, it would be worse. Why?

-This would be the final game for Chipper Jones if the Braves lose. Even if you don't care to see the Braves win, I'd hope you like me hope that it's a series that defeats them and retires Chipper and not just one game. 

-There's a flip side to that argument: The Cardinals, because of the second wild card, are in a position to defend their title. So why it's not fair for the Braves to easily make the playoffs and have that position threatened because of one game, the same goes for St. Louis, who should get to be beaten over the course of a series to lose in their defense.

-We must look at the starting pitcher matchup and the Braves obviously put Kris Medlen on the mound. He's been probably the best pitcher in baseball since August. As a starter this year (which again, is basically August), Medlen went 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA, and a 0.80 WHIP. He had a 9.0 K/9 rate and a 2.22 FIP. However, his opponent, Kyle Lohse, just finished the best season in his career. His 143 K's, 3.51 FIP and 3.6 WAR aren't the most impressive number, but they are career highs for him, along with a 2.86 ERA. It would be tough for the Cardinals to score a lot considering Medlen and the Braves bullpen which features Craig Kimbrel to close. They'll need Lohse to pitch well and hold off a Braves lineup that won't have Brian McCann (yes, I know far too well that McCann didn't have the best of years in 2012, but having your starting catcher play is more than just important for hitting). I'm thinking the Braves win today and get the Nationals who are waiting.

-Finally, we get to the AL Wild Card, which incidentally would be a one game playoff in any prior year, between the Rangers and the Orioles. Unlike the arguments for the Braves and the Cards, I think it's absolutely fair for these two teams to play one game for the wild card. Both teams are tied (as I mentioned at the top) and the arc of the seasons for both make the wild card a natural destination. The Orioles matter for the first time since 1997 and even if they had fallen short; this season is still a success. Meanwhile, the Rangers flat out played mediocre throughout the second half, allowing the A's to catch them for the division and so this is their fate; a one and done game at home.

-While the Braves and Cards have their aces pitching today, the Rangers and Orioles don't really have an ace. Yu Darvish and Joe Saunders square off, but neither guy would be the Game 1 starter for any other playoff team. Bullpen play will more than likely play a significant role in who wins, along with which lineup can outslug the other.

-All things being equal, you'd want the Rangers lineup among almost every team's in the playoffs (I'll put the Yankees lineup ahead, but it's not a major difference). From Baltimore, I'd want Adam Jones, Chris Davis and hot Mark Reynolds. Probably want Matt Wieters since I'll take his hitting from the catcher spot. Otherwise, this team has a lot of young players and journeymen who somehow put it together this year. 

-I don't think it matters to Washington who they play among Atlanta and St. Louis (they should be thrilled to have postseason baseball for the first time since Prohibition was still law of the land). If I'm the Yankees, I'd probably take my chances with Baltimore than Texas, in case the Rangers finally realize that they have Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, etc., and begin mashing the ball again. 

-I do think the lineup of Texas and a day off to accept this fate of a Wild Card game (not to mention playing at home) will ultimately give the Rangers the edge and a cracker of a ALDS with the Yankees would follow (sorry for using a word in cracker that's used to describe an outstanding English football match, but it sounds right to me). 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

NFC Quarter Pole

We did the AFC quarter pole review and now it's time for a status on how things are in the NFC, who for the most part, are looking like the conference that's clearly the better one. So far, they're 10-4 against the AFC and the main reason you'd say they are better is that the NFC has a better group of QB's, yet they aren't necessarily weak on defense. Let's see how this conference stacks up.

NFC East

I'd like to call this division the NFC Enigmas. Each of these teams have such Jerkyll and Hyde personalities, it's not even funny. The Philadelphia Eagles are 3-1, yet have a -17 point differential. Their wins were by a combined 4 points and lead the NFC with 12 giveaways (second in the league to only Kansas City). Dallas is third on this list, with 11 giveaways, though Monday night against the Bears has a lot to do with that. The shine from the opening night win over the Giants is fading as they were throughly outplayed by the Seahawks and played way too sloppy against an opportunistic Bears defense. And yet their 2-2, like their other NFC East brethren. The defending champion Giants had the best performance among any of the East teams in their win against the Panthers and showed what happens when a complete game was played. Yet, they played lethargic against the Cowboys, needed to win a shootout with Tampa and struggled against the Eagles again. Meanwhile, the Redskins are also 2-2, but the case can be made that 4-0 could have happened. Even still, with rookie QB Robert Griffin III, I'd be happy if I'm a Washington fan, since they will be competitive this year. All this tells me that no one knows how this division will play out as the year progresses.

NFC North

We figured that the NFC North would have three strong teams this year. I don't think anyone thought the Minnesota Vikings would be one of them. Now, they've won a couple of close ones, but they when they beat the 49ers, it makes you take notice that perhaps Christian Ponder could be a solution at QB. It always helps when Adrian Peterson is running the ball again and the Vikings defense has become stout again. The Bears were a team to watch as Jay Cutler came back from injury and the acquisition of Brandon Marshall gave them a threat at WR that they haven't had since....ever? Add that the Bears are ball-hawking as much as ever and an offensive line that for the most part isn't getting Cutler killed and 3-1 is a fine start. The one time the O-Line didn't protect Cutler was when he went to Green Bay. The Packers should be 3-1 as well, but the awful call at the end of the game in Seattle might still haunt this team. They're 2-2, looked bad against the 49ers, lucky to beat the Saints, but dominated the Bears. I don't know what to think of them, only the late they get their act together, the more likely that Seahawks game will play a role in their destiny. Another team needed to get its act together is the Lions. Detroit hasn't looked good in any of its four games, including their win over the Rams which Matthew Stafford threw four INT's. The defense seems worse and the lack of a running game is too much of a crutch for this team (as well as a consistent number two WR opposite of Calvin Johnson).

NFC South

Just like the AFC version, the NFC South has one really good team and three mediocre at best ones. The Falcons are 4-0 and have two thumping wins over the Chiefs and Chargers as reasons why, along with two tight home wins against Denver and Carolina. I'm not sure if I'm ready to buy this team to win in January, but they have 13 weeks to prepare for that. Some people thought the Panthers were ready to contend for the playoffs, however their offense has stagnated and their defense (clearly if you watched the end of last week's game) hasn't shown signs of improvement. Meanwhile, Cam Newton has "sophomore slump" written all over him. The Bucs after Week 1 looked like a sleeper team in the league and through almost three quarters in Week 2, maintained that look. Since then, they've lost to three NFC East teams, had the controversy (not really a controversy, but I digress) of hitting Eli Manning and are now 1-3, looking at another lackluster year. It was going to be tough for the Saints to win a lot of football games without Sean Payton. I didn't care that Drew Brees is back and playing great. The defense looked awful to start (I'm sure Steve Spagnuolo will find improvement), but close games need good coaching to win (please don't bring up Andy Reid) and they won't have it again until next year.

NFC West

Last, but the best is the NFC West. Where it's the Cardinals, not the 49ers in first with a 4-0 mark. Mostly defense by Arizona is why they're unbeaten, with careful offensive play by Kevin Kolb and the always outstanding Larry Fitzgerald as a safety blanket. This was the formula that the Niners had last year; this year, the defense is the same but they are arguably more dynamic on the ground and Alex Smith is playing the best football in his career. The 34-0 pasting of the Jets showcase all that is good about Jim Harbaugh's team, including their special teams. Seattle and St. Louis are behind at 2-2 after the Rams win over the Seahawks. Last year, the Rams were killed with a tough schedule at the start and never recovered; this year, they're more competitive against a slightly weaker one but there are improvements until Jeff Fisher (especially on defense). Pete Carroll has his team at 2-2, which is a little lucky after the Monday night game debacle. It's too early to tell if they are good, but they have shown signs of this and they are still extremely tough to beat at home. Win a couple on the road and the playoffs are likely.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

AFC Quarter Pole

All but two teams have finished four games in the NFL season. I'm not sure if it's totally fair to measure teams like we normally would because of the replacement officials in the first three weeks, however, I don't think having the regular refs for Week 4 have drastically shaped teams during last week. Thus, a status report seems like something that's worth doing. Let's begin with the AFC.

AFC East:

Has shown to be the weakest division, although that's because the Patriots lost a couple games by a combined 3 points. Last week against the Bills is more of what I expect out of the Patriots than the team who struggled against the Cardinals (there's no shame in losing in Baltimore, even if the result was questionable). The good news for Buffalo is that they are 2-2; the bad news, they have to play @SF, @Arizona, @Houston and @NE in four of their next five games. If the Bills can somehow be 5-4, I like their playoff chances, but don't count on it. The way you would hear things around here, the Jets are the worst 2-2 team in NFL history. Losing Santonio Holmes along with Darrelle Revis is a killer and right now, their offense doesn't have enough playmakers to give Mark Sanchez a chance to succeed. Doesn't help that the schedule has suddenly become tougher as the NFC West has improved. Meanwhile, the Dolphins have become competitive, which when you have a first-year coach and first-year QB, that's not the worst thing in the world.

AFC North:

The Ravens are the class of the division and for the first time in recent memory, this team is capable of winning games with their offense and their defense. The thing to remember, this Ravens team (and Joe Flacco in particular) will be judged on postseason success. So far in the early going, the Bengals haven't fallen back to earth, something they generally do the year after playoff appearances. Games with Miami and Cleveland give the Bengals a chance at a 5-1 start, and they'd still have 6 of their last 10 games at home. Pittsburgh is an enigma, they could easily be 3-0, but something is missing with this team, which they hope can be fixed in this bye week. Huge game with the Eagles to try to right their ship this week. Meanwhile, the Browns are good defensively and Trent Richardson is starting to play better. Brandon Weeden had his best week against the Ravens, but I'm still not sold on him. A long season is taking place now.

AFC South:

Both South divisions are awful, aside from their unbeaten first place teams. The AFC-version has the Houston Texans, who are probably the most complete team in the AFC, if not the entire league. Only the Pats have scored more than Houston and their defense is the stingiest. Right now, Matt Schaub is outstanding, Arian Foster is still as productive as ever (though his yards-per-carry is down, I expect it will go up as the season progresses) and J.J. Watt's league leading 7.5 sacks is just a microcosm of their defense's impact. Meanwhile, the Colts, Titans and Jaguars are all in rebuild mode, since their starting QB's and head coaches are all in their first or second year. I'd say the Colts are the best of these teams, even though the Jags beat them at home.

AFC West:

For once, the San Diego Chargers haven't started slow. The romp over the Chiefs this week was a strong message to the league that this team isn't going to sleepwalk through the regular season like they have for the past two years. The Broncos are probably the most confounding team in the AFC, with their 2-2 start. Peyton Manning in particular either looks great (like against Pittsburgh and Oakland) or at best rusty (Atlanta and Houston). However, considering the caliber of opponent could explain Peyton's early struggles; this week against the Pats could be the perfect indicator. The Raiders and Chiefs keep digging holes for themselves. Oakland seems like they should be an also-ran, considering their lack of major skill players on offense. The Chiefs should be better, but if Matt Cassel isn't playing well, then the Chiefs are going to have issues. He needs to improve for Kansas City to have any chance  this year, which is a shame since Jamaal Charles has been very good off last year's season-ending injury.

Later on, I will have the NFC Quarter Pole Review.