Saturday, October 31, 2009

Welcome Back Favre.....

Hey, here's a secret for you. Seems the NFL is keeping it pretty quiet. Shhh... This weekend, Brett Favre makes his return to Green Bay and Lambeau Field. I haven't really heard anything about it, but there seems to be a bit of drama surrounding his return. What? You already knew about this?

How could you not? I think FOX has run the promo for this game in a continuous loop, and ESPN has turned their colors to purple, gold and green for the week.

For die-hard Packer fans, this was a day they never imagined would they would see, but it has arrived. Their beloved #4 will be in Viking purple and gold. Seeing a local sports icon play for another team is hard enough, but for a hated divisional rival, takes it to a whole other level.

So how did we get here?

First things first. Brett Favre took himself out of Green Bay. It was not the Packers' general manager, Ted Thompson, not coach Mike McCarthy, and not future Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It was Favre himself. In the long term, his move will have helped the Packers, but in the short term, it has sure caused a two year soap opera that was completely not necessary.

At the end of the 2007 season, the Packers are one Favre interception away from playing in the Super Bowl. All looks good for Green Bay to keep going forward, but Brett starts his "not sure what I am going to do routine" back home in Mississippi. Meanwhile in Green Bay, the Packers have quarterback who they think can take over the team in Aaron Rodgers. This back and forth game of Favre's does not help the team to point forward and finish the task for which they came up short. Instead, they are having to think about the "will he, or won't he" scenario.

Seeing a good team in front of him, and a quarterback in waiting who was ready to lead the team, Ted Thompson did the only he could do in confronting Favre to make a decision about retiring. Thompson had 50 other players to think about, and could not be left hanging again while Brett pondered the subject.

When Favre finally decided to "retire" in March 2008, the Packers were sad to see him go, but they never lost a stride and moved Rodgers into the starting spot and to help lead the team. When Favre started the "maybe I shouldn't have retired" talk in the summer, the Packers had moved on, and rightfully so. Their option to Favre of coming back, but not as the starter was a fair proposal. If they had bowed to Favre and yanked the job away from Rodgers, that would have ended the Rodgers/Packers relationship, and Green Bay did not want that because they saw their future in Rodgers and his right arm. Plus that meant starting the process over again in finding a Favre replacement when he did eventually retire. That was not a path the Packers were willing to go, because they believed, and rightfully so, they had their future in Rodgers.

I also feel that at that this time, part of Favre had to believe Rodgers was the better quarterback at the time, or on the verge of becoming that better QB. Otherwise, Favre says yes to being the back-up, then when Rodgers falters, Brett could come in to save the day. Favre would have been all over that scenario.

Instead Favre decided to force the issue by saying he was arriving in camp and was going to be a part of the Packers (which the Packers wanted no part of) and thus started the soap opera which eventually lead to the trade to the Jets. While Favre's preference was to be traded to and play for the Vikings in 2008, the Packers were not going to let that happen, and they were correct in that position. Favre should not have been rewarded in getting to pick where he wanted to play in '08, while he was the cause the problem in the first place.

Packer fans were torn between their hero leaving and how it happened. While many blamed it on Favre, still many others are of the "Brett do no wrong" camp and blame this whole mess on Thompson. Many of those fans have changed their mind, and are now against Brett because he dons the Minnesota colors.

Another thing to remember is, if Favre did not play that selfish game of "will I retire, won't I retire", he would have gone into the 2008 season as the Packers' starting quarterback, and then events would have played out naturally. There was nothing in place saying Rodgers was moving up ahead of Favre into the starting spot. I'm not sure if he would have stayed the starter, because at this time Rodgers is the better player, but he would not be on the opposing sideline in Viking purple with many Packers fans disgusted with him.

In 2008, the Packers fell back to 6-10, but it was no fault of Rodgers. His 4038 yards and 28 touchdown passes against only 13 interceptions put him near the top of the class of NFL quarterbacks. So far in 2009, he has over 1700 yards and 11 TD passes against only 2 INTs. It was the defense and lack of running game which caused the turnaround of Packer fortunes.

Meanwhile, Favre had a very good start to 2008 with the Jets, but an arm injury slowed him down in the second half of the season, and the Jets stumbled and missed the playoffs. Because of the arm injury, and because Favre again indicated he would probably retire, the Jets released him from his contract, opening the door for him to join the Vikings. Of course that only came after 3 months of "will he or won't he" discussions about joining the Viking team.

So here we are with the most anticipated pre game field entrance for a regular season game we have possibly ever seen. While it was wild four weeks ago when the Packers were in Minnesota, it will be increased hundred fold in Green Bay. If I'm a Packer fan, I boo Favre with a vengeance. He is on the team that is a hated rival, and they are ahead of the Packers in the standings. Packer fans should boo each time he drops back to pass, and hope he is sacked ten times and the Packers win the game. In two, five or ten years, when the Packers retire Brett's #4, then Packer fans can give him the thanks and standing ovation his 16 years in Packer green meant to them and the town. But for now, it's "Go Pack Go!".

Friday, October 30, 2009

NFL - Week 8 picks.....

If you have picks you want to share, please use the comment section. Thank you.

Week 8 Picks: (home team in CAPS)

RAVENS (-3 1/2) over Broncos
Yes, I wrote about how this is a wonderful turnaround by the Broncos, but I never said they would go undefeated. The Ravens are a desperate team at 3-3, and can't afford another loss, especially a home loss, with both the Steelers and Bengals ahead of them at 5-2. Both teams coming off their bye weeks, and I'm sure the Ravens defensive veterans, lead by Ray Lewis & Ed Reed, worked on tightening up that once feared group, and that proud defense will step up enough to hand the Broncos their first loss of the season.

BEARS (-13 1/2) over Browns
This is more of how bad the Browns are, as compared to how good this Bears team is in 2009. Losing to the Bengals is one thing, but 45-10 and it not looking that close raises questions. Matt Forte's and the running game's poor performance is putting pressure on Jay Cutler, who seems to be struggling, but in reality, shows how poor the Bear WRs are playing. Derek Anderson starts for Cleveland. Enough said.

Texans (-3 1/2) over BILLS
Houston jumped to a 21-0 lead and held on 24-21 over the 49ers to get over .500 for the season. Even with the 2nd half collapse, this could be the start of a roll for the Texans. The Bills are coming off a 20-9 over Carolina, but were out gained 425 - 167 and only were able to get 9 first downs. A win over the Bills will put the Texans at 5-3, and into the middle of the AFC playoff hunt. Steve Slaton still has not broken out this year, and Andre Johnson is day-to-day with a lung contusion, but the Texans will have too much offense for the Bills to handle.

PACKERS (-3) over Vikings
Yes, Brett Favre is returning to Green Bay. After the first 5 minutes of play, this will be forgotten on the fild (except for the fans who will boo his every movement), and the top two teams in the NFC North will be trying to get a hold on the division lead. Four weeks ago, inside the dome in Minnesota, the Viking defense was able to sack Aaron Rodgers eight times. That shouldn't happen again this time because the game is in Green Bay, and the Packer offensive line is more stable then it was last month. The Vikings #1 priority will be to make sure Adrian Peterson rushes the ball more then the 18 times he did last week in the loss to Pittsburgh. Otherwise, that means Favre will again be attempting more then 40 passes, which is not the game plan for a Vikings win.

49ers (+12) over COLTS
While the Colts and Peyton Manning look unbeatable, and should beat the 49ers to stay undefeated for the year. Alex Smith will start for the 49ers, and this will be Michael Crabtree's second game after his holdout. Vernon Davis must love the attention Crabtree received from the Texans as he caught three 2nd half TDs from Smith in their comeback that came up just short last week in Houston. San Francisco should keep it close, especially if Reggie Wayne is out or just bothered by his injured groin, which should slow Manning and the Colts' offense, but Indianapolis will win the game.

Dolphins (+3 1/2) over JETS
Less then three weeks ago, Miami beat the Jets in a terrific Monday Night game, while compiling 413 yards of offense, including 151 on the ground that came mostly from the Wildcat formation. Miami is coming off a tough loss to New Orleans, while the Jets routed the Raiders last week in Oakland. With Leon Washington out for the year, Thomas Jones will carry the load of the rushing for New York. Expect the Dolphins to crowd the line and challenge the struggling Mark Sanchez to play like he did in his first three games of the season in order to beat them.

LIONS (-5 1/2) over Rams
Besides friends and family, who else has any interest in this game? Seems fitting to be on Halloween weekend. The one win Detroit Lions, who have one win in their last 24 games are favorites over the Rams, who have lost their last 17 games in a row. The Lions are bad, but the Rams are worse. In seven games this season, the Rams have 60 points. The Patriots scored 59 against the Titans two Sundays ago.

COWBOYS (-9 1/2) over Seahawks
The Cowboys come into the game only 1/2 game behind the Giants and tied with the Eagles, while those two will tangle in Philadelphia. Two weeks ago, this didn't seem possible. While not perfect, the offense seems to be starting to hit a stride with the emergence of Miles Austin and the solid running game. Last week the defense got pressure against Atlanta's Matt Ryan, and I expect the same this week against this Seahawk team that just lost its best offensive lineman, Walter Jones, to the IR for the remainder of the season. Add in the loss of Lofa Tatupu to the defense, and it suddenly looks like a long year for Seattle.

CHARGERS (-16 1/2) over Raiders
OK, I tried the Raiders last week, and I got burned. How in the world did they beat the Eagles two weeks ago? Meanwhile the Chargers are looking to right the ship and win its second in a row. Last week in Kansas City, Philip Rivers and the Charger offense got on track scoring 38, while the defense held the Chiefs to one touchdown. I expect better performances by each Charger unit this week, as this one should be over by halftime.

TITANS (-3) over Jaguars
Somewhere in Vegas there was a line maker who fell asleep while recording this point spread. The winless Titans, who gave up 59 points to the Patriots in their last game, are favorites over a 3-3 Jaguar team who beat them 37-17 four weeks ago in Jacksonville. OK, I'll bite and say the Titans get on track with Vince Young under center, and record their first victory of the year. For this to happen, look for a big game from Chris Johnson to help Young and open up the passing game. Also look for the maligned Titans' defense to slow down David Garrard and the Jags offense.

CARDINALS (-10) over Panthers
This is usually the week the Cardinals take a step back from the two or three they have gone forward, but not this time. The Arizona defense is solid and leads the league in defending the run, which means Kurt Warner's offense does not have to outscore everyone. Carolina travels west after a dismal performance at home against Buffalo where they out gained the Bills 425 - 167, but Jake Delhomme's three interceptions kept the Panthers from winning the game. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they have no other quarterback options, so Delhomme gets the start against the team that started his personal downfall last year in the divisional playoff round.

Giants (+2) over EAGLES
How would you like to be a Philadelphia sports fan on Sunday? Giants/Eagles at 1pm, then across the parking lot, Yankees/Phillies Game 4 at 8pm. The Giants have lost their last two, including last week's home loss to Arizona, when New York gave up a second half lead and committed four turnovers, three of which were Eli Manning interceptions. The Eagles could be without Brian Westbrook (concussion), which means Andy Reid will have Donovan McNabb putting the ball up plenty against the Giant defense. I think the Giants will toughen up against their division foe, getting back to Giant football, and will leave Philadelphia with a tough NFC East victory.

Falcons (+10) over SAINTS
The Falcons are still having problems running the ball all season, but they seemed to start getting it going a little in last week's loss to Dallas. They will have to control the ball to keep this explosive Saints offense off the field, so I expect a large dose of Michael Turner. If they are able to run Turner successfully, Matt Ryan will have an easier time finding Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White through the air, and those first downs will keep Drew Brees and the offense on the bench. I think Atlanta is desperate enough, and has the weapons, especially if it can get Turner going, to keep it close, and could even pull off the upset on Monday night.

Week 7 Record (7-5-1)
2009 Season (7-5-1)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

This & That (Thursday 10/29/09).....

--- Cliff Lee! Wow! Complete game, 6 hits, 0 earned runs, 0 walks and 10 strikeouts, against this Yankee lineup and in Yankee Stadium. The only run coming on the throwing error by Jimmy Rollins, or he might have had the shutout. In 2007 he was kept off the Indians' playoff roster, in 2008 he wins the AL Cy Young, and now this great performance. This deadline trade may be considered one of the best ever made if Lee can keep this up.

This takes nothing away from CC Sabathia who pitched a good game. Sabathia's performance would have been good enough to win on most nights, but not last night. He struggled early, but got out of the first inning after loading the bases. The Chase Utley homer in the 3rd is a warning track flyout in most other parks, and then he retires the next 8 before Utley gets him again, with a well hit ball off a location mistake.

I really thought that if both guys made it through 6 or 7 innings with three runs against them, we would be talking about how well they pitched. Instead, two runs and 8 hits total for the first 7 innings? Great pitching by the two aces.

Phil Hughes made my preview of this series look good with his terrible performance in the 8th, when he walked the only 2 batters he faced, allowing the Phillies to open up the game. The Phillies bats only got one hit in the inning, and that was the Raul Ibanez single that scored the two runs to make it 4-0. Then Brian Bruney was a disaster in the ninth when the Phillies made it 6-0. Besides not keeping the game close, this happened at home, when they should be relaxed. How will this bullpen react when they get in front of the hostile Philadelphia fans? Joe Girardi is going to have tough decisions to make when he leaves the dugout to pull his starting pitcher the rest of this series. I don't think he has confidence in anybody besides Mariano Rivera and maybe David Robertson.

As for the Yankees' bats, this was a bad performance. Derek Jeter with three of the six hits, while Alex Rodriguez strikes out three times. It will be interesting to see how A-Rod bounces back, if he does bounce back, after looking like the "old post season" Alex Rodriguez.

For tonight, the ball is in AJ Burnett's hand for the Yankees, with the pressure on. The Yankees paid him like a #2 pitcher, and he has shown those flashes this year, but that money was really given for this type of situation. Let's see if Burnett is able to step forward.

For the Phillies, a relaxed Pedro Martinez takes the mound. No pressure on Pedro after last night's win, but the demons of Yankee games past will be in his mind. I think we might hear quite a bit of the "who's your daddy" chant tonight at the stadium.

--- The NCAA has decided the Oklahoma State's wide receiver, Dez Bryant, will remain suspended for the remainder of the year. The decision basically ends his college career, as Bryant will most likely enter next year's NFL draft. His crime? Lying to the NCAA about being with former NFL star, Deion Sanders. Although he didn't think he did anything wrong when he met with Sanders, when questioned by the NCAA, Bryant, in speaking with ESPN, claims the questioning made him feel that he did do something wrong, so he lied about being with Sanders.

In the end, Bryant did nothing against NCAA rules in his meeting with Sanders, and this has been confirmed by the NCAA. What he did was lie about the meeting, and while I don't condone his lying, there are legitimate concerns brought up by Bryant concerning the questioning of him, and how they made him feel during that questioning. In the end, a one or even two game suspension would have served it purpose, but instead the NCAA has decided to be heavy handed and end a kid's college career. In my opinion, this is a real shame, and a terrible ruling by the NCAA.

--- Mark Sanchez didn't feel well on Sunday (not sure why with his opponent being the Raiders) with a slight upset stomach. Late in the game, with the Jets well ahead cameras caught Sanchez on the bench eating a hot dog. He was trying to keep it secret, but it is just something football players do not do. Most of the "controversy" has to do with it being a hot dog as compared to a "sport snack" that is usually on the sidelines, like a Power Bar.

At least he put mustard on it (though with an upset stomach was that the smartest thing). Can you imagine the uproar in New York if he went the ketchup route? Mike Francesa over at WFAN in New York, would have ranted for two days about it.

--- Larry Johnson was suspended one game by the Kansas City Chiefs following two gay slur remarks he made on Twitter. While it is one game for now, I would not be surprised if further action is taken by the Chiefs, or the NFL, after this one game passes and that Johnson does not see the field again this year.

Johnson, who had two monster years in 2005 & 2006, has not been the anywhere close to the same player since. Add in the fact that he had prior off the field problems, and will be 30 this November, and it does not make a great combination for the former Penn State running back.

--- Vince Young will be starting this Sunday for the Tennessee Titans in place of Kerry Collins. While the dreadful start has not been Collins' fault, at 0-6 the Titans season is lost, and they have a large investment in Young. This will be a ten game audition to see if he is the possible quarterback of the future, or if they need to find someone else to put under center in the coming seasons.

--- The NBA season has started, but not particularly well for the Cleveland Cavaliers. So far the LeBron James & Shaquille O'Neal pairing is 0-2, and looks a little out of sorts, though James is putting up monster numbers. This should be interesting to keep an eye on.

--- Over in the NHL, the Rangers, Sabres, Kings and Avalanche have been the surprise success stories in this early part of the season, but it is Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin's Washington Capitals that are leading the show. Add in that some of their teammates are having outstanding starts (Marc-Andre Fluery in goal for Pittsburgh and Nicklas Backstom centering Ovechkin) and this is going to be another good year for the NHL.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Phillies / Yankees preview.....

As a Los Angeles Dodger fan I want neither the Yankees or the Phillies to win the World Series. The Yankees have always been the "anybody but" team for me growing up, and after two straight NLCS losses to the Phillies, they are not at the top of my favorite team list.

So for me, they can cancel the series and hand it to the Angels for the tough season they went through. Or how about giving it to the Indians seeing that less then 15 months ago both Game 1 starters were part of their rotation? Sorry, Indians fans. At least you have Manny Acta managing after his Nationals' stint.

At least I am not a Mets' fan. What do those fans do? They despise both of these teams and it kills them that they are playing each other. I would guess they just want the series to end quickly & quietly, and move on to 2010.

Actually, I don't hate either of these teams. I am not a Yankee fan, but I do like some of their players. How can you not like, or at least respect Derek Jeter for all he has done over his career? Also, I am a fan of CC Sabathia and his willingness to put teams on his back and pitch whenever asked to take the mound. Add in Mariano Rivera, Johnny Damon, and Mark Teixeira, and this is a group of Yankees that doesn't give you that "bad taste" like others have in prior years. Unless of course you are a Red Sox fan, and that bad taste is permanent.

I also like this Phillie team. They have won the NL East the last three years and won last year's World Series, and seemed to have fun as a team the whole time. It sounds cliche, but I really think it is important for a team to like each other. They don't have to be close like high school sweethearts, but I believe a team liking each other can give it an edge over a long season, and especially in the playoffs. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are all good hard working players and the heart of this team. Add in their "like a grandpa" manager in Charlie Manuel, and it's hard to root against them.

The Yankees will have the edge in starting pitching, once we get off the two aces, as I think Sabathia and Cliff Lee are a wash, but AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte have the edge over Pedro Martinez and Cole Hamels. The Phillies are hoping that Pedro keeps his magic ride going since they picked him up and that Hamels turns into the 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP pitcher, but those are two big "ifs". Manuel and the Phillies will be ecstatic if either pitcher can give them 6 innings in Games 2 or 3.

For the bullpen, I think this is an overall even matchup, but if you believe closers or middle relievers are more important then the other you might disagree. Rivera has the edge over Brad Lidge, as I am not one of those who believes that Lidge is back to 2008 form. As for the middle relief and set-up men, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have been disappointments this past month plus, so much so that Joe Girardi used Rivera for a 6 out save to nail down Game 6 against the Angels. Meanwhile the Phillies middle relief and set-up men have been solid, and as long as Manuel doesn't overuse them, could be the difference in this series.

The lineups for both teams are impressive, and probably the best two in baseball. Jeter, Rodriguez, Teixera, Damon, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui on one side with Howard, Rollins, Utley, Shane Victoino, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth on the other. Neither set of pitchers is happy looking at the opposing lineups they will face. Add in that both ballparks play "small", and we could see quite a few 10-8 and 8-6 games this series.

As for a prediction, I like the Phillies in six or seven games. They are a good defensive team, so they shouldn't give the Yankee lineup extra outs, and their lineup is as good as anything these Yankee pitchers have seen all year. For some reason I think we will see a well pitched game from either Pedro or Hamels, that will give the Phillies a boost. Another reason is the bullpen work. Unless the Yankees middle relief gets straightened out, it might not matter that Rivera is waiting in the 9th. I also think because the Phillies won it all last year, and there is a bit of history involved (only three other NL teams have ever won back to back World Series: 1907-08 Cubs, 1921-22 Giants and 1975-76 Reds), they will scratch out the wins to give the city of Philadelphia a reason for a parade.

***If this series goes the full seven games, Game 7 is scheduled for Thursday, November 5th. That is ridiculous to begin with, and does not account for any bad weather. How long before a World Series game is between the Thanksgiving Day NFL games?

November baseball is plain and simple, wrong. Who's looking forward to possible November games in Minnesota's new outdoor stadium? How about starting the regular season one week earlier in warm weather and dome cities, and scheduling seven day/night double headers for each team to reduce another week from the calendar. That way based on this year's schedule, Game 7 would be October 22nd. Not great, but better then any November dates.

Another problem is playoff scheduling. These playoffs started October 7th, and if the series ends in four games, will finish on November 1st. That is 25 days, but the Phillies and Yankees would have only played 13 games in that time. Twelve days off during the post season, while during the regular season most teams don't have more then 20 scheduled off days. Baseball is a rhythm game, and playing what turns out to every other day, ruins rhythm. I know MLB is beholden to FOX and the scheduling, but can we please do something about this?

Monday, October 26, 2009

thoughts from the weekend.....

- Is there a clear cut #1 or even top 2 teams in college football this season? I am underwhelmed at my current choices (Florida squeezing out wins, Alabama not impressive, Texas lackluster so far, etc.), and wonder if in November we will see some clear cut top teams rise above the rest. Maybe if we had an eight team playoff.... Nah!
- Iowa Hawkeyes, the best in the Big Ten?
- Oregon didn't look past Washington, and sets up this Saturday's showdown with USC. What uniforms will they wear for the big game?

- Anybody think Alex Rodriguez would be a Yankee fan favorite in October? They are no longer mumbling curses under their breath when he comes up to bat with men on base.
- Think Joe Girardi is looking for a rainout between each game so he can pitch Mariano Rivera the final 2 innings every game, while Charlie Manuel is hoping for the same thing so he can start Cliff Lee each night?
- Long range forecast not calling for tempatures below 40 on World Series nights. Was really hoping to see more Elmer Fudd hats on the players.

- Jets 38 / Raiders 0. How in the world did the Eagles lose to Oakland the week before?
- 6 of 12 games from Sunday decided by more then 28 points. Bad day to be a "clicker flipper".
- Next time Cedric Benson says he is going to show someone they were wrong, I'm going to believe him.
- Jay Cutler has 11 INTs, and what has happened to Matt Forte? This could get ugly.
- Ted Ginn also dropped his car keys last night in parking lot. Glad nobody asked him to hold a baby. :-)

- Will the Maple Leafs win a game this year? Think the other Canadian teams are enjoying this?
- Even with the loss to New Jersey this weekend, the Penguins are scary good.
- Blackhawks needed good start with the injuries that have been piling up this week.
- Ducks, Red Wings and Hurricanes all under .500, while Kings, Avs and Rangers well above mark.

What impressed you, bothered you, or made you scratch your head?

Friday, October 23, 2009

NFL - Week 7 picks.....

If you have picks you want to share, please use the comment section. Thank you.

Week 7 Picks: (home team in CAPS)

Chargers (-4 1/2) over CHIEFS
Chargers at 2-3 face the Chiefs and Raiders these next two weeks, before visiting the Giants, hosting the Eagles, then the rematch with the Broncos in Denver. They have to win these next two before that tough three game stretch comes along. The Charger defense still not intimidating anyone, but might get healthy against the pedestrian Chiefs' O. Also, look for Philip Rivers to find his two favorite targets, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson multiple times against the Chiefs' DBs.

Colts (-13) over RAMS
The Rams might be the worst team in the NFL, and the Colts are arguably the best in the league. Peyton Manning is possibly playing the best football of his career. This has "over by halftime" written all over it.

Bears (+1 1/2) over BENGALS
Still not sold on the Bengals. Add in the loss of Antwan Odom (torn Achilles) and his 9 sacks, and I don't think the Bengals can get enough pressure of Jay Cutler to upset the Bears' passing attack. Cedric Benson wants to prove to the Bears they made a mistake when they let him go, but I think Matt Forte gets on track to lead the Bears to the win.

Packers (-7) over BROWNS
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense should roll against the Browns. The Packers offensive line hopes to be settled with the addition of one time Packer, Mark Tauscher, and so does Rodgers, as he has picked himself up from the turf plenty so far this season. The Packers' defense should also get well this week, as the Browns offense is a mess. Add in the fact that 12 Browns sat out of practice earlier this week because of the flu, and it looks like another bad week for Cleveland.

STEELERS (-4) over Vikings
The game features the quarterbacks ranked 3rd (Favre) and 4th (Roethlisberger) in terms of quarterback rating, along with the top RB in the league in Adrian Peterson (618 yds). The Steelers running game has been better of late with Rashard Mendenhall leading the way. If the Pittsburgh offensive line can give Big Ben a little time before Jared Allen comes bearing down on him, The Steelers should have enough to give Minnesota its first loss of the season.

Patriots (-14) over Buccaneers (from London)
The Patriots seemed to have their coming out party last week against the Titans (59-0), and this week they get to fly "across the pond" to face winless Buccaneers. Hopefully the English fans will be so happy to see American football that they won't mind seeing a game which could be over right after the coin flip. The only drama? Will the English cheer for New England even though their logo is a picture of someone who beat them in a war 230 years before?

TEXANS (-3) over 49ers
The Houston offense is starting to roll, especially the passing game lead by Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. Steve Slaton and the running game is still MIA after six games, and the tough San Francisco rushing defense may not be the best medicine to get it back on track.

Shaun Hill gets a present this week as Michael Crabtree makes his NFL debut. Vernon Davis should benefit greatly if Crabtree becomes an asset in the passing game, but that may take a few games. In the end the Texans should have enough to get the win and get themselves over the .500 mark.

RAIDERS (+6) over Jets
OK, so Mark Sanchez and the Jets weren't a great as their 3-0 start, and they are not as bad as their 0-3 slide, but they are somewhere in the middle. This is a middle of the pack team who is starting a rookie QB, who only started one year at USC, and really nothing more. Now they are without their most important defensive player as Kris Jenkins is lost for the season due to a ACL tear. The Raiders are coming off their best effort in upsetting the Eagles last week, and with the game in Oakland, the Raiders will keep this close, but the Jets should stop their skid.

PANTHERS (-7) over Bills
The Panthers week included WR Steve Smith having to call his GM to see if the trade rumors concerning him were true or not (ended up being "not"). The Bills are coming off their upset of the Jets, but they are not sure who their starting QB will be, and even when they do choose, this is still a bad offensive team. Carolina is riding a two game winning streak after starting the season 0-3, and the Panthers at home should be able to get to .500 for the season.

DOLPHINS (+6 1/2) over Saints
The Saints are coming off last week's impressive win over the Giants, and have the Falcons visiting the Superdome next Monday night in a battle of the NFC South's best two teams. That makes this week's trip to Miami the perfect "trap" game. Miami is another team that started the year 0-3, and is now trying to get back to even on the year. The Wildcat with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams should be able to keep Drew Brees off the field enough to keep this close, but in the end, Brees' accuracy and the Saints WRs will be too much to handle for the Dolphins' secondary.

COWBOYS (-3 1/2) over Falcons
What a difference a year makes. Last year the Falcons were #2 in rushing offense, while the Cowboys were #21. This year Atlanta is #24, while Dallas is #3. Has Matt Ryan passed Tony Romo as a better QB? The Falcons have a showdown with the Saints next Monday night, so they could be looking ahead, allowing the Cowboys to win the game at Jerry's Palace.

GIANTS (-7) over Cardinals
The Cardinals come in as #1 in the NFL against the run, but are 31st against the pass. Is the defense really that good? The Giants will be testing it Sunday night, with heavy doses of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Meanwhile, Kurt Warner will be facing the Giants pass rush with again no help from a running game and possibly no Anquan Boldin. Could be a long night for the former Giant QB.

Eagles (-7) over REDSKINS
Is there any way this turns out good for Jim Zorn and the Redskins? They take away the playing calling from Zorn and give it to a guy, Sherman Lewis, who a month ago was calling bingo games and working with Meals on Wheels in Michigan. Then Steve Largent announces that Zorn thought about quitting. Plus their division rival is coming in angry after being embarrassed in losing to the Raiders. All signs point to a long bye week in Washington.

Baseball Playoff thoughts.....

We aren't even done with both League Championship Series, and already this has been a baseball playoff "season" full of head scratching / you got to be kidding me moments.

- Jonathan Papelbon who has not given up a run in 27 previous playoff innings, gives up 3 runs in the top of the ninth that allows the Angels to win the game and sweep the series.
- In Game 3 of the ALCS, Joe Girardi takes one right handed reliever (David Robertson) out of the game for another right handed reliever (Alfredo Aceves) with 2 out and nobody on in the bottom of the 11th, because he "throws different stuff". Two batters and two hits later, the Angels win the game, and get life.
- Game 2 of the NLDS, Matt Holiday drops a fly ball with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the Cardinals leading 2-1. Two batters later, the Dodgers finish the comeback and win the game 3-2.
- Last night in Game 5 of the ALCS, up by a run in the top of the 9th with 2 outs and nobody on, Angels manager Mike Scioscia calls for an intentional walk of Alex Rodriguez. Brian Fuentes then walks Hideki Matsui before hitting Robinson Cano to load the bases, before finally ending the game by getting Nick Swisher to pop up a 3-2 pitch.
- After the above-mentioned IW to Rodriguez, Joe Girardi decides to take Rodriguez, the best player in the game and who stole 14 bases during the year, out for a pinch runner. What does Girardi do if the Yankees tied it up and the game went extra innings. Would he have done the same if it was Derek Jeter?

Also last night, Major League Baseball has decided to put the best and most experiences umpires out there for the World Series. Really? What a novel idea. After the embarassment of umpire errors this post season (including the terrible foul ball call against the Twins in Game 2 of the ALDS, by an umpire who was only there to call fair or foul balls), at least MLB is doing something to address the situation. It is not expanded instant replay, but it is a start.

Still at least one more game in the LCS round and a full World Series to go, so I'm looking forward to what else this post season will have for us.

What are your thoughts about what has gone on this post season? What has made you yell at the TV?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dodger Playoff Memories.....

Two years in a row the Philadelphia Phillies have beaten the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games to take National League pennant. I would have liked to see my favorite baseball team win these match-ups, but the better team was the series winner both times. What these two years did do was bring me back to growing up a Dodger fan in the 70's and 80's, and the Dodger playoff memories during those years. Some were good, and some not so much, but these two NLCSs against the Phillies reminded me of my favorite Dodger playoff memory, also against Philadelphia.

Back in 1977 the Dodgers and Phillies faced off for the NL pennant. They were the best teams in the NL and evenly matched. During the 1977 NLCS, the teams split the first two games in Dodger Stadium, and headed to Philadelphia. Game 3 was an afternoon game that I was able to watch after school. I turned on the game just in time to see the Dodgers take a 2-0 lead in the top of the second. With two outs and two on in the bottom of the inning, Dodger starter Burt Hooton was questions the strike zone. Well the Phillie fans, known to be loud, started "hooting" Hooton. I remember them being so loud through my TV that it was amazing. It was even louder there in the stadium, so much so that Hooton got rattled and walked four batters in a row to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead and was pulled by Tommy Lasorda after the 4th walk. The Dodgers eventually tied it up, but the Phillies took a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the 8th. The Phillies looked like they were going to take control of the series, and looked even better after Gene Garber got the first two outs in the top of the 9th. Starting with Vic Davalillo's bunt single, and then a series of Dodger hits and Phillie errors, and all of a sudden the Dodgers were up 6-5. The Phillies went three up and three down to end the game and put the Dodgers up 2 games to 1. In Philadelphia sport lore, this is known as "Black Friday". For me as an 11 year old fan, it was a game that has always stuck with me in detail.

In 1978, the teams faced off again in the NLCS, and again the Dodgers prevailed. This time in Game 4, with the Dodgers up two games to one, the game went to extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th, with Ron Cey on 1st and two outs, All-Star outfielder Garry Maddox misplayed a flyball by Dusty Baker. The next batter, Bill Russell knocked a single to center that Maddox again misplayed as the ball skipped by him allowing Cey to score and the Dodgers to take the series.

These last two years have not been as dramatic, but each had a turning point where the Phillies "hurt" the Dodgers. In 2008 it was Matt Stairs home run off Jonathan Broxton in Game 4, while in 2009 it was also a Game 4 Phillies' win that helped finish the Dodgers. This time a bottom of the ninth comeback off Broxton, highlighted by Jimmy Rollins double.

I wish that some more good memories were made these past two years, but it was not to be. This Phillie team is a tough team with players that just know how to win. They quietly are one of the best teams we have seen in a while.

Oh well. I'll just go back to those Dodger teams from my childhood.

So, what childhood baseball memory, good or bad, is stuck in your mind?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Broncos buzz.....

OK, who predicted the Denver Broncos would start the season 6-0? Umm, anyone? I'm not even sure you could find anyone being paid by the Broncos who would have seen this coming. Let's go back, because if we look again at the Broncos offseason, we should be able see this perfect record after six games staring us in the face.

Last December, the Broncos are 8-5 and only have to win one game to take the AFC West division. Three losses in a row, including a 31 point loss (it wasn't even that close) at the hands of the Chargers to give San Diego the division ended 2008. OK, not good, but Denver has a 2 time Super Bowl coach in Mike Shanahan, a franchise QB in Jay Cutler, and a top 5 WR in Brandon Marshall. A few adjustments to the defense, and all should be good.

Three days after the Charger loss, Broncos' owner, Pat Bowlen, fires Mike Shanahan, and less then 2 weeks later, hires Patriots' assistant coach, Josh McDaniels, who in turn, tries to trade for his old QB in New England, Matt Cassel, which ends up annoying his current QB, Cutler, who demands a trade. Finally, on April 2nd, with the situation deteriorating, the Broncos trade their All-Pro QB, Cutler, to the Chicago Bears. Then to top it all off, their best remaining player, Marshall, has problems with his coach/team, causes a disturbance during a practice, and gets himself suspended for the last 2 preseason games. A three win season looked like a lock. I know I was sure thinking that way.

Instead, six weeks into the season, and the Broncos are perfect, with wins over the Cowboys, Patriots and Chargers the past three weeks. They are shutting people down with great team defense, including allowing only 10 points in these six second halves. Kyle Orton, who replaced Cutler, has been great, with only one interception, and that was on a Hail Mary pass to end the first half of the Patriots' game.

So, does the ride keep going? For the last three weeks I have said no and picked against them, but after last night's win over the Chargers, in San Diego, I am now part of the Bronco Believers. A solid defense, along with a descent running game, and a QB who doesn't turn the ball over sure seems like the formula for good things. Add in a young coach with lots of energy, plus a rabid fan base, and this does seem to have the makings for a special season.

It also shows how close the teams are in the NFL from season to season. A few tweaks, and some good breaks can turn a bad team into a good team, and also that the opposite is true (ie: Tennessee, but that's another column).

So looking at the remaining schedule ahead of them, I can see them going 6-4 or 5-5 the rest of the way, which will give them an 11 or 12 win season. What about the rest of you? Are these Broncos for real? What do think was/is the difference and what do you see happening the rest of the way?