Wednesday, September 27, 2006

STATE OF THE NATION - NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Around the NFL the stories focus on the bizarre breakdown of Terrell Owens, the showing of some serious spleen by Chris Simms, and the rejuvenation of the New Orleans Saints, but here in New England all thoughts focus on one simple fact: the Bengals cometh.

Cincinnati is the type of team that is fun for a football fan to cheer for: a dynamic young QB (Carson Palmer), a strong downhill RB (Rudi Johnson), the most exciting and dynamic receiver in the NFL (Sorry T.O., Randy Moss, et al: it is Chad Johnson), a young defense that creates turnovers and flies around all over the field, and a solid special teams unit. Other than the hideous orange-and-black uniforms, there is not much to dislike about the Bengals (OK, there are off-field problems, but anything short of the Zeke Mowatt-Lisa Olsen-Victor Kiam triangle of embarrassment is small potatoes. You want off-field issues, see the Patriots teams of the 80s and early 90s.).

While the Bengals offense should cause all kinds of problems for the Patriots, their defense has one HUGE weakness: stopping the run. With Corey Dillon dinged-up, Laurence Maroney could be hosting his big busting out party this weekend. I would expect offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to give him the ball again and again to grind down the field and keep the Cincy offense on the sidelines. While the Bengals defense is young and athletic, they are vulnerable to cut-backs by the running backs, screen passes, and reverses and end-arounds. In other words, the Patriots offense should match-up well with the Bengals defense.

As far as facing the high-flying Cincinnati offense, the Patriots need to tackle better. They must keep the receivers in front of them (no big plays) and wrap them up, keep Rudi Johnson from breaking tackles and getting to the secondary (Vince Wilfork needs to get his butt into the inside running lanes and tie-up multiple blockers, and try to get pressure from a four man rush to get some turnovers.

The Patriots need the momentum of a quality win, and beating Cincinnati would be a huge confidence boost for Tom Brady. Doug Gabriel, Reche Caldwell, and Chad Jackson are all quality wide receivers. When they get healthy and time on the field, they will produce. Ben Watson and Dan Graham are also huge assets for passing game that have not been as effective as expected.

* * *

STATE OF THE NATION - BOSTON RED SOX

I have already gone into detail about what I thought the Red Sox will look like in 2007 and what I think they should look like; however, like a Imelda Marcos in a shoe store, I keep bouncing ideas and changing my mind and coming up with a hodge-podge of ideas. So with that image straight out of 1986, here are a few more random thoughts:

Regarding the infield: OK, we all know that Theo Epstein is obsessed, and I mean obsessed like Nancy Reagan staring at the birth-mark on the bald forehead of Mikhail Gorbachev, with acquiring Julio Lugo (all 1986 references are due to reading Labyrinth by Jon Land. Land, a native of Rhode Island and simply one of the best writers of political/action/Mid-East thrillers, is a favorite author of mine and I just recently stumbled across one of his earliest out-of-print books and just finished it. In a word: fantastic. Land writes interesting, fast-moving, and thought provoking action. I always say he writes like Tom Clancy should write. Anyway, the book was written in 1987, so between reading it and watching too much VH1classic, I am hopelessly stuck in the eighties.). Lugo is a terrible defensive infielder, so I imagine he HAS to be coming over to play second base (I am loosely using the phrase, as in how the immortal Jose Offerman would play second base, which is to say by generally doing his best to avoid any contact with the batted ball.).

With Lugo at second base and free swinging in the six hole, Theo can turn his attention to keeping Alex Gonzalez in Boston for the foreseeable future. How the Sox can even consider getting rid of A-Gonzo is beyond my comprehension. If he hits .150 he is still too valuable to dump. The need for an elite defensive shortstop that can turn beautiful double plays in his sleep is priceless. I mean, if you had Ozzie Smith in the 1980s, would you trade him? OK, San Diego traded him for Gary Templeton in 1980, and look how that turned out for them. They played in taco-colored uniforms, they made a star of Carmelo Martinez and Kevin McReynolds, and they ended up with Steve Garvey at the end of his career. Not too stellar a record there.

I will argue until I am blue in the face with anyone who wants to argue with me, that David Ortiz should play first base. Manny Ramirez belongs at DH. Kevin Youkilis does not provide the power numbers necessary for a first baseman in the American League. Do not get me wrong, I am a long-time member of the Youk fan club, but his future lies at third base. Which, of course, begs the question of whither Mike Lowell? Well, I imagine that with Youk available at third base and the need to make room for the salary of Julio Lugo, Lowell will be packaged with a mid-level prospect and shipped out of town for a set-up man or middle reliever.

With Dustin Pedroia, Alejandro Machado, and Alex Cora still around, the utility infield position is set for the near future.

With Manny at DH, Big Papi at first base, and Youk at third, the Sox could conceivably re-sign Trot Nixon, keep him in leftfield, put Wily Mo Pena in leftfield, and have Coco Crisp in centerfield with David Murphy stealing some playing time at all three positions and Gabe Kapler reprising his back-up role.

There are possibilities abound as the off-season beckons. One thing is for sure: with the Red Sox, things are sure to be interesting!

* * *

Week Three Picks RECAP

Carolina vs. Tampa Bay
WINNER: CAROLINA

First off, what a gutsy performance out there by Chris Simms. Of course, Tampa lost and Carolina won, but what is up with Carolina? So much for that Super Bowl offense and defense. That said, the best teams peak after the mid-point of the season, not in week three. There is plenty of time left for Carolina to get back on track.

Chicago vs. Minnesota
WINNER: CHICAGO

Not for nothing, but as ugly as that interception from his own end zone that Rex Grossman threw, his game winning drive was the complete opposite: under control and efficient. The Bears are winning the close games and winning the blow outs. Are the Bears really for real? Next week against Seattle should be very interesting.

Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
WINNER: CINCINNATI

Maybe Bill Cowher should have left Charlie Batch at QB for a couple of weeks, no? Roethlisberger should be back to his usual self, but if Pittsburgh cannot run the ball, what does it matter?

Green Bay vs. Detroit
WINNER: DETROIT

The headlines all screamed that Favre is back! Umm, sure. He beat the worst team in the league. Look out, here comes the Lombardi Trophy. Now would be the time for Favre to walk away, after his last good game. I shudder to watch Monday night when Philadelphia feasts on the Pack.

Jacksonville vs. Indianapolis
WINNER: JACKSONVILLE

Damn. Jacksonville SHOULD have been more competitive and should have won the game. Is it just me, or does anyone else think Jacksonville is better on offense without Byron Leftwich in at QB?

NY Jets vs. Buffalo
WINNER: NYJets

J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets! The good thing about the Jets is that they play against Indy this week which will at least give the Patriots some fresh video to watch when they match-up later this season.

Tennessee vs. Miami
WINNER: MIAMI

Wow, David Givens FINALLY made a few receptions. Way to earn that big contract. Feel free to talk with Damien Woody anytime to discuss how money does not buy the happiness that a winning team earns.

Washington vs. Houston
WINNER: WASHINGTON

Mark Brunell should have come off the field after being 22 for 22 and called it a career right there. Nothing but the downward spiral left after that.

Baltimore vs. Cleveland
WINNER: BALTIMORE

Romeo has his team improving (though at 0-3 one would never know it), but this loss was just painful. Nice to see Willie McGinest get his first sack in a Browns uniform. Think he misses the winning yet?

NY Giants vs. Seattle
WINNER: NY GIANTS

I was wrong. Evil Eli showed up. This game was over in the first five minutes.

Philadelphia vs. San Francisco
WINNER: PHIADELPHIA

San Francisco put up a valiant effort again and just came up short. Alex Smith looked alright. Of course, as a GAME TIME DECISION, Brian Westbrook stayed stapled to my bench, and after scoring 30 fantasy points, I had to be restrained from throwing my shoe through the TV watching highlights as I lost this week by three points. Game time decision my @$$.

St. Louis vs. Arizona
WINNER: ARIZONA

ZZZZZZ. Look, I did not even watch the highlights of this game. St. Louis won, but no one cared.

Denver vs. New England
WINNER: NEW ENGLAND

Brady laid an egg. End of discussion. He needs to stop pointing fingers and sulking like a spoiled brat and start throwing the ball where it belongs. He overshot open receivers countless times, and I lay that blame on him. The offensive line did well pass-blocking. The running game was gone, but Brady missed deep, missed intermediate, and was out-of-synch. He could have had Jerry Rice and Lance Alworth out there and still lost. The new receivers excuse already old. Chad Jackson, Doug Gabriel, and Reche Caldwell are all legitimate NFL receivers. Brady needs to stop whining and start executing.

Atlanta vs. New Orleans
WINNER: NEW ORLEANS

Wow. What a horrible performance. Not just Atlanta, but Green Day. Now Bono knows how Frank Sinatra felt doing those duets with the chumps they pulled off the street to record with him (Bono excluded, of course). I was hoping the Edge would start kicking the Green Day bozos off the stage while performing and then break into Bullet the Blue Sky, but no such luck.

Oh yeah, Michael Vick got back to normal in a hurry, eh? Warrick Dunn is on my list since his crappy performance (in place of Brian Westbrook) is the reason I lost to Brigs in fantasy football this week. That said, no team would have stood a chance with the emotion of the night inside the Super Dome. Viva New Orleans.

For some reason, I think Miami is a little disappointed they ended up with Daunte Culpepper and Joey the duck Harrington instead of Drew Brees. Just like all of Houston rues the day Mario Williams was the first pick over Reggie Bush. The Saints were 2 for 2 this offseason.


TOTAL FOR WEEK: 9 - 5. Not great, but then again, a couple of these were painful losses!

* * *

Week Three Picks

Carolina vs. Tampa Bay
WINNER: CAROLINA

They have to win eventually, right?

Chicago vs. Minnesota
WINNER: CHICAGO

I believe in the Bears!

Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
WINNER: CINCINNATI

Oooh, I love to watch Roethlisberger fail in a big game!

Green Bay vs. Detroit
WINNER: DETROIT

Flip a coin, because they are both making top ten picks in the draft.

Jacksonville vs. Indianapolis
WINNER: JACKSONVILLE

Probably wrong, but I want to believe!

NY Jets vs. Buffalo
WINNER: NYJets

See Green Bay vs. Detroit comment.

Tennessee vs. Miami
WINNER: MIAMI

How long until David Givens gives up on Kerry Collins?

Washington vs. Houston
WINNER: WASHINGTON

David Carr is such a good quarterback on such a horrible team.

Baltimore vs. Cleveland
WINNER:BALTIMORE

I am rooting to be wrong here.

NY Giants vs. Seattle
WINNER: NY GIANTS

I am betting Good Eli, not Evil Eli shows up.

Philadelphia vs. San Francisco
WINNER: PHIADELPHIA

McNabb looks so much more relaxed with no T.O. distractions.

St. Louis vs. Arizona
WINNER: ARIZONA

Arizona is just too good to be so bad this year.

Denver vs. New England
WINNER: NEW ENGLAND

Bill Belichick needs to get over this praising of Mike Shanahan. It sends the wrong message to the team. That said, they are the better team and should win anyway.

Atlanta vs. New Orleans
WINNER: NEW ORLEANS

God knows the emotion will get to me. I mean, U2 performing live with Green Day? Too huge!

* * *

WEEK TWO PICKS: RECAP

Buffalo at Miami
WINNER: Miami
Every instinct in me always says to pick against Miami. Did I listen this time? No.

Daunte Culpepper is proving as horrible as I predicted when Miami signed him way back in March. He looks so out of sync it is not funny. You know it is a bad QB situation when the fans are screaming for Joey the Duck Harrington.

Buffalo, meanwhile, still stinks on offense. At least their defense showed up and their special teams were outstanding. Bill Belichick warned everyone in the media about their special teams before week one. It certainly looks like that as usual he knew precisely what he was talking about.

Carolina at Minnesota
WINNER: Carolina
Carolina was, like Miami, the consensus Super Bowl pick. Wow, I am glad I stayed away from both of those teams. Who figured on Carolina at 0-2? (Other than Falcons fans, of course).

Minnesota has a decent, not great defense. Their offense is under control at all times with Brad Johnson at the helm. They are far from dominant on either side of the ball, but they appear to be well-coached by Brad Childress and could very well sneak into the playoffs at 10-6.

Carolina, well, Steve Smith or no Steve Smith, their offense struggled. DeShawn Foster was terrible. Thank goodness I did not waste a fantasy draft pick on that tub of lard.

Cleveland at Cincinnati
WINNER: Cincinnati
Another easy pick, though I root for Romeo.

Detroit at Chicago
WINNER: Chicago
Wow. Is Chicago for real? And how is Damien Woody enjoying Detroit?

Houston at Indianapolis
WINNER: Indianapolis
Yeah, that was a tough pick.

New Orleans at Green Bay
WINNER: New Orleans
Bring on the Aaron Rodgers era.

NY Giants at Philadelphia
WINNER: NY Giants
Way to go, Eli.

Oakland at Baltimore
WINNER: Baltimore
Minnesota never looked so good to Randy Moss.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta
WINNER: Tampa Bay
Gosh, Tampa may really be really really bad after all.

Arizona at Seattle
WINNER: Seattle
Closer than it should have been, that is for sure.

St Louis at San Francisco
WINNER: St Louis
Really, who cares? I caught the end of the game, and though entertaining, both teams are a long way from contending again.

Kansas City at Denver
WINNER: Denver
Yeah, no one believed Denver would start-off 0-2, no matter how bad Jake the Snake played.

New England at NY Jets
WINNER: New England
Closer than it should have been in the second half.

Tennessee at San Diego
WINNER: San Diego
Well, duh.

Washington at Dallas
WINNER: Dallas
It hurt me to pick it right, but Washington, for all the money they throw around, are far worse than they should be with no end of the misery in sight.

Pittsburgh at Jacksonville
WINNER: Jacksonville
Yes, there is nothing I like better than a Roethlisberger meltdown.

TOTAL FOR WEEK: 12-4. (Call me butter, because I am on a roll.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

BELICHICK LOVE AND HATE

Apparently, I have been spending too much time thinking about Bill Belichick. Maybe it is because the Red Sox have faltered down the stretch, maybe it is because there are only one or two Revolution matches on per week, or maybe it because Comcast does not include the Fox Soccer Channel in any regular packages and is depriving me of the joy of watching Everton stand-up to Chelsea and smack around Arsenal.

Back to the point, I recently read the fabulous EDUCATION OF A COACH by the much respected David Halberstam (who wrote a number of great books about the baseball in the past. Just look him up on Amazon.com) followed immediately by PATRIOT REIGN by Michael Holley (wasting his prodigious writing talent taking calls from idiots like Frank from Gloucester on WEEI). I feel like I have a much clearer view of what is going in Foxborough and how the Deion Branch, Adam Vinatierri, Willie McGinest, and David Givens moves actually fit in the master plan of Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli. Of course, it further reinforces the fact that many local media members are woefully under-informed and do not avail themselves to a wonderful look into the inner-workings of a brilliant management team. Much like I felt after reading MONEYBALL, certain front-office maneuverings begin to make sense and moves that were made fall into a logical place as patterns emerge.

As evidence of the disparate views of the New England Patriots coach, I give the perspective of two football writers who I regularly read and enjoy, Jason Whitlock of ESPN.com and the esteemed Dr. Z of SI.com:

First up, Jason Whitlock:
Besides the New Orleans Saints, which 2-0 squad is the league's biggest fraud?
The New England Patriots, of course.
One-possession victories over the Bills
and the Jets do little to instill confidence. The Pats are headed to 2-2.
They'll lose to a mediocre Denver squad this weekend and then they'll get
spanked by Cincinnati and Bill Belichick will begin to miss all of the veterans
he has let go.
Yeah, good analysis, Jason. Apparently you could not tear yourself away from the thrilling Chiefs-Broncos game to watch any of the Patriots game. Funny, I remember the Patriots winning a lot of games like these first two games when they won back-to-back Super Bowls.

Now, the one and only, all original, all chutzpah, Dr. Z:

I think it's fascinating the way the Patriots have changed their style, from
Charlie Weis' short pass attack to a running game, to adjust to a shift in
personnel. Can it be that this was something they planned before the draft,
because they knew Deion Branch would be a contract problem and maybe they'd lose him and Tom Brady would need time to adjust to his new receivers?
It's scary to believe that they saw everything coming so far ahead of time, but I'll never know because they don't talk about such things. I mean you can ask them if they breathe air when they step outside and they'll respond, "If it helps our
team."
But I saw what they did to the Jets last Sunday, and even with
Brady having an off day, they controlled things with their ground game. Corey
Dillon is running mad now. He's become a mean runner, probably because they
drafted another back, Laurence Maroney, in the first round. At Minnesota Maroney
was a guy who read the defense and reacted, as if he were on cruise control, a
guy with good outside speed, but hardly much toughness. Now he's a slasher,
inside or out, a quick thrust guy who can break tackles.
"Surprised me, too, that they took him," said a scout who's friendly with the Patriots' personnel people. "He really didn't seem like their type. But they told me after the
draft, 'Just watch. He'll fit in. He just ran in college the way they wanted him
to. He can do it our way.'"
I saw two things with that Patriot ground game, which looks like the best since Martin was on their team. Their left tackle Matt Light, smaller and less gifted athletically than some of the ballet masters who play the position, is one of the best drive blockers in the game at that position. Pass blocking? Well, I've seen him give up sacks, and they'll occasionally protect him with a tight end chipping on the rusher. But he gets a lot more thrust on that side than almost everyone else in the league at the position. And he's a guy who probably will never make a Pro Bowl squad.
The second thing I noticed was the quickness of New England's center, Dan
Koppen.
"You can't have a decent running game in the NFL with a slow center,"
says a Patriots scout who actually did talk to me. "There are too many
adjustments, too many quick things he has to do. Actually, most of the good
running teams in the league have light lines. We're not that big up front.
Neither are the Falcons or Broncos, two of the best running clubs.
"How do you tire out a defensive line? By getting 'em moving and chasing, and that's
what these light lines are geared for. You can hog 'em with those big guys, and
all the defensive lineman will do will be to drop to a knee and take the
double-team. But make him run and he'll get tired."
You don't find the precision running games anymore, probably because in the free-agency era, offensive lines aren't together year after year like they used to be.

The fact is, the Z-man gets it. There is a reason the Patriots won 3 Super Bowls in the past five years, should have had a chance to go back there in 2002, and if Tom Brady were not playing through the same injury that sidelined Donovan McNabb for half the season.

* * *

PAYBACK

Bring on Jake the Snake! Champ Bailey? He is going to be the CHUMP this week! Heck, bring me the heads of both Bells! Rod Smith is going to have a huge target on him this game with Rodney and Eugene looking for him coming over the middle of the field. Is anyone else ready for this game? Denver handed the Patriots their first post-season loss since the days of Pistol Pete Carroll. Tom Brady, after two pedestrian weeks, after an off-season of thinking about Champ Bailey racing down the sidelines every time the alarm clock rang in the morning (what is the deal with him and Bridget Moynihan? Do they live together? Do they just go out to dinner and celebrity functions? Is she a prop for Tom? What he heck is People magazine good for if they cannot give me updates on this?).

Since I am still thinking of Pistol Pete, are we all PUMPED and JACKED for this game? I am all worked-up just THINKING about it. I know I am. I have no idea how I am going to last until 8:30PM on Sunday (plus the inevitable conflict of missing out on the Simpsons-American Dad-Family Guy trifecta that has lamentably become the only must-see non-sports TV. The other crappy non-cartoon show sucks eggs and should be replaced by new Futurama episodes immediately if not sooner).

And after the Pats beat the Broncos we jump in the van and track down Shannon Horse-face Sharpe and beat him with baseball bats while shouting: WHO IS CALLING THE *expletive deleted* NATIONAL GUARD NOW, *expletive deleted*?

* * *

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

PAY TO PLAY

As September chugs into the first irrelevant October for the Red Sox in recent memory (my son was celebrating his first birthday in October 2002, so irrelevant Octobers seem like they are a bazillion years ago), thoughts invariably turn to next year. Despite the obvious need to keep the team somewhat healthy, there are a number of issues that likely will not be resolved until after the autumn of hope for the Bruins and Celtics meanders its way into the winter of our discontent (or at least mediocrity). Here are some ideas I am just throwing out there. Theo, stop checking for naked pictures of my wife, for the last time I am not posting any! But feel free to listen to any of my suggestions:

STARTING PITCHING:
1. Curt Schilling (The last hurrah should yield another 15 wins, and then he gets a Roger Clemens/Tom Seaver deal to pitch here until 2012 and get his 300 wins)
2. Josh Beckett (20 wins in 2007.Guaranteed.)
3. Jonathan Papelbon (the bullpen experiment is over. 150+ innings in the rotation is far more valuable to the team.)
4. FREE AGENT/TRADE TBD (My top choice would be to swing a deal with Seattle and try to pry away another lefty for the rotation: Jarrod Washburn. Seattle continues to overpay free agents only to be looking to dump them off almost immediately. $12 million per season seems a lot to pay, but it is the price of quality pitching. Otherwise, I say to go after Randy Wolf and/or Ted Lilly.)
5. Tim Wakefield/Jon Lester/Lenny DiNardo/Kason Gabbard (Wakey would be my top choice to be swingman/long reliever from the bullpen if Lester recovers.)

BULLPEN:
7. Felipe Lopez or LHP TBD (I say scoop up three or four lefty relievers, throw them against a wall, and see who sticks. The Sox need at least two lefties in the bullpen, and Hal the fourth is a good 16-17 years away from helping out in the pen.)
6. Abe Alvarez or yet another LHP TBD (I like Abe Alvarez. He cannot be as bad as he seemed earlier this season in Pawtucket.)
5. Edgar Martinez (closer in training for 2008)
4. Mike Timlin (one more year, but not closing or in the eighth inning.)
3. Matt Clement (Clement should be a set-up man. He could be nasty if he embraces the role.) OK, I am joking: Manny Delcarmen
2. Craig Hansen
1. Keith Foulke (or sign Kerry Wood to close. No, I am dead serious. I would be fine with that decision. Or trade for Eric Gagne. That would work.)

LINEUP:

C: Jason Varitek
1B: Big Papi (No excuses for not winning the MVP now. Papi is actually a pretty good first baseman. Remember, it was Papi who threw out Jeff Suppan at third in the 2004 World Series.)
2B: Dustin Pedroia/Alex Cora/Alejandro Machado (Second base will be a major league minimum salary position. We all love Loretta, but concessions need to be made regarding salary.)
SS: Julio Lugo (Look, we all know Theo is going to go get him and nothing will stop him. I do not like it. I want A-Gon back or at least Pokey Reese at shortstop, but I know it will never happen.)
3B: Kevin Youkilis (I like Mike Lowell as well, but his future is as a one year rental in Texas or Los Angeles.)
LF: Coco Crisp
CF: David Murphy (the future is now)
RF: Wily Mo Pena (the beast is back. 30 HRs. 100RBIs.)
DH: Manny Ramirez (need to rest those hammies all year!)

BENCH:
Fourth Outfielder: Gabe Kapler
IF/OF Utility: Machado/Pedroia/Cora
Utility Infielder: see above
Back-up C: Doug Mirabelli (Since he apparently is no longer welcome in San Diego!)

Of course, this will be null and void in a couple weeks, but that is how it looks to me right now.

* * *

Saturday, September 16, 2006

WEEK TWO PICKS

Buffalo at Miami
WINNER: Miami

Carolina at Minnesota
WINNER: Carolina

Cleveland at Cincinnati
WINNER: Cincinnati

Detroit at Chicago
WINNER: Chicago

Houston at Indianapolis
WINNER: Indianapolis

New Orleans at Green Bay
WINNER: New Orleans

NY Giants at Philadelphia
WINNER: NY Giants

Oakland at Baltimore
WINNER: Baltimore

Tampa Bay at Atlanta
WINNER: Tampa Bay

Arizona at Seattle
WINNER: Seattle

St Louis at San Francisco
WINNER: St Louis

Kansas City at Denver
WINNER: Denver

New England at NY Jets
WINNER: New England

Tennessee at San Diego
WINNER: San Diego

Washington at Dallas
WINNER: Dallas

Pittsburgh at Jacksonville
WINNER: Jacksonville

* * *

FOOTY CALL

FYI, anyone looking for footy news, well Big Brigs is busy writing, but about microbes, protozoa and mitochondria instead of non-American football so he can get his PhD and get his arse out of grad school so he can get back to the workforce. Have no fear, he will be back backing up his call of the Toffees of Everton as his surprise top division Premiership team (3-0-1). It probably has to do with the karma associated with unloading my brother-from-another-mother Marcus Bent (presently riding the pine for 1-3-0 Charlton with my other brother-from-another-mother, Darren Bent starring as top scoring striker). Although my Everton jersey still says BENT on the back, I will not jump from supporting my Toffees (or the Blues if you prefer).

Of course, the highlight of supporting a European footy team is wearing your colors out and about in Boston and having some deranged looney fresh off the boat screaming out the window as you walk by about how Aston Villa is going to kick our *expletive deleted*-ing *expletive deleted* next week. That, is the passion that every American male looks for with their teams. It is how I feel about the Yankees, Jets/Bills/Dolphins (but especially those *expletive deleted* Jets), 76ers (I do not care how long ago 1981 was, I was seven and I still hate Philly)/Lakers/Pistons, Canadians, and, of course, those *expletive deleted* MetroStars.

* * *

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Week One Picks: Recap

Miami at Pittsburgh
WINNER: Pittsburgh

Ok, I think everyone north of Florida picked this one.

Even without the one of the worst decision-making QBs in the league (if you are subscribed to the ESPN Insider, see his article here), the Steelers were coming off a high: No more Fat Boy Jerome Bettis hogging the spotlight, Coach Cowher the Chin one year closer to retirement, and the second-most overrated free agent loss (next to Adam Vinatieri leaving New England) Anwan Randall-El gone as well. The Steelers were the model that the Patriots follow as well: set a value on every position; do not overpay that value; let players go who do not fall into their value unless they are a top 5 talent at that position; and draft the best available player every time. Hey, someone tell the other 30 teams that the model works!

Simply put, as much as I admire coach Nick Saban, Miami will not win without an NFL caliber QB. Daunte Culpepper was horrible BEFORE he tore up his knee. Minnesota got a second round pick for him and should consider the trade a steal. I would say to expect to see a QB change in Miami, but the back-up is Joey Harrington. Joey the Duck plays a mean Chopin on the piano, but there is a reason the Dolphins got him for nothing: he stinks.


Baltimore at Tampa Bay
WINNER: Tampa Bay

I, along with two-thirds of the football population, was wrong on this game.

No, I do not buy into the BALTIMORE IS BACK! hype. Here are three reasons: Steve McNair will be very lucky to stay healthy the entire season, Jamal Lewis is not a premier back by any stretch of the imagination these days. Finally, the defense peaked during the first game of the season. They are not as good as they think that they are, and that can create problems down the road.

Of course, I cannot believe how bad Tampa Bay was in all facets of the game. Jon Gruden is a good coach with a team that is still young. They played well down the stretch last season and had one of those games where they just tossed their helmets on the field and expected to win. Tampa will still win 8 or 9 games this year, but they will look back on this one as a gimme that got away.


Atlanta at Carolina
WINNER: Carolina

I was dead wrong on this game.

Michael Vick looked better than I expected. Warrick Dunn, who for some strange reason I did not draft for my fantasy team, played huge yet again. I am sure that my pal (Erik Love over at Falcons Daily Double Blog) who finally back from his summer break and posting pictures of hot booty and blogging about the Falcons again, is all a-twitter with super bowl aspirations (I hate to tell him what will happen when Lawyer Milloy has to drag his creaky bones back into pass coverage against a spread offense this season), but I think the Falcolns have as much chance as anyone in the NFC to be playing in January. Of course, I still believe Vick is more problem than asset. Last year, the only reason the Falcons stayed close to the Pats during the regular season was that Vick was out and they had Matt Schaub at QB (I was going to say a real QB, but then I remembered it was Matt Schaub).

Carolina was the media darling all preseason. Sadly, I bought into the hype with this pick. Keyshawn Johnson will have as much impact on the Carolina offense as Warren Sapp has had on the defense in Oakland (translated as: umm, no impact whatsoever). The defense underachieves and cannot stay consistent and the offense scores in bits and bursts. Now I know: never pick Carolina without Steve Smith playing.


Denver at St. Louis:
WINNER: Denver

Wrong again, but I am not complaining.

I must admit, I was impressed by the St. Louis defense. Sure, they picked off Jake Plummer three times. Sure, they gave up a bunch of yards on the ground. But, they kept an explosive offense off the board. Hard to believe that after watching their six field goal, no touchdown performance, that this was once the greatest show on turf.

Denver has no excuses. This game hurt. Of course, they dropped the opener to Miami in similar fashion last year, and look where that got them: one game away from the Super Bowl.


Buffalo at New England
WINNER: New England

Since I have never picked against New England, even in the Rod Rust/Victor Kiam days this was a no-brainer. More analysis is sitting in a word file and I promise I will post it soon.


Philadelphia at Houston
WINNER: Philadelphia

Yeah, I picked the easy winner.

Houston, I feel for you fans. Having to live with not drafting Reggie Bush and instead taking the second best defensive end in the ACC (Matthias Kiwanuka, formerly of Boston College, now with the New York Football Giants was the best DE in the ACC last year) has to be painful. No running game AGAIN. No offense to speak of AGAIN. Sad, sad times for the Texans fans.

Donovan McNabb, freed of those hideous Chunky Soup ads, looked like the All-Pro he was back when Philly was a force. Brian Westbrook (on my fantasy team, yah!) was fantastic, as he always is early in the season before his body breaks down. Of course, I temper these comments by noting they took play against the Texans.


New Orleans at Cleveland
WINNER: Cleveland

In my defense, Cleveland SHOULD have won this game.

I feel for Romeo Crennel, trying to build a winner with Charlie Frye at QB. Of course, I felt the pain last week since I had Braylon Edwards (my sleeper fantasy pick) doing a whole lot of nothing but making the big drop last week.

New Orleans was not that bad a team last year. They could possibly sneak in as a wild card this year. Drew Brees is such an amazing improvement over Aaron Brooks at QB that it is not even funny. Brees could be the difference between 6-10 and 10-6.


Seattle at Detroit:
WINNER: Seattle

Another win, barely.

I did not see this game (thank God!), but I will say these four things:
1. I thought the 6-6 score in the fourth was an error;
2. Nice to see the Lions drive up the price for Deion Branch and get the Patriots the first round pick they wanted;
3. Maybe Seattle should have ponied up the cash for LG Steve Hutchinson; and
4. Seattle was doomed once Brigs stole Shawn Alexander and Matt Hasselbeck from me this fantasy season. IT IS OVER BRIGS. THOSE TWO ARE CURSED!


NY Jets at Tennessee
WINNER: Tennessee

OK, I was wrong. But cut me some slack, the two of them will be lucky to combine for double-digit wins this season.

Jets coach Eric Mangini (who I am just waiting for some announcer to have a Freudian slip and call him Eric Mangina) should be a very good coach. Unfortunately, this being the Jets, they will never let him get to a point where he can turn the team around. The interesting news is the gossip about his not-so-nice break-up with the Patriots. While Belichick and Mangina (whoops) have been civil this week, I would love to see Bill give him the silent treatment, or better yet, clothesline Mangina (dang, I mean Mangini) on the field during warm-ups

Tennessee sucks. I know the pressure is there to let Vince Young out there and freelance without knowing the playbook, but Kerry Collins is not the answer. Give Billy Volek a shot. The danger of playing Young too much too soon is having an Antoine Walker as a rookie redux where he gets in bad habits he can never get out of and instead of being a star, he becomes a decent complementary player. (Oh yeah, the anonymous commenter about Antoine laughing it up in Miami: I doubt he laughs much when he thinks of all the money he is not making because he could not keep his fat rear to the basket and rebound in his second tour of duty in Boston. $5 per season lost is no laughing matter.)


Cincinnati at Kansas City
WINNER: Cincinnati

This seemed so logical, but I kept doubting not because of the KC talent, but because of the Arrowhead effect. But logic prevailed. A victory for Mr. Spock.

Carson Palmer, while not overly impressive, did very well to keep Cincy at a high level this game.

Yup, that was my fantasy QB, Trent Green, lying practically unconscious on the turf last Sunday. Let me see, my back-up QB is: David Carr? MY SEASON IS OVER! I SURRENDER!


Chicago at Green Bay
WINNER: Chicago

No brainer. Best team in the division against the worst team in the division.


Dallas at Jacksonville
WINNER: Jacksonville

Do I dare pick against Parcells. With TO and Bledshmoe there, you bet!

Typical Bledsoe meltdown. Need I say more? Where are all those bozos who wanted to trade Tom Brady and keep Drew Bledsoe? All media members who wrote about the inequities of Bledsoe losing his job due to injury in 2001 need to have their press passes revoked.

Jacksonville is spear-headed by Fred Taylor. I have Fred Taylor on my team. Expect the season ending injury anytime soon. Oog. Oh yeah, someone needs to get through to Jack DelRio that David Garrard should be starting at QB. Like, right now.


San Francisco at Arizona
WINNER: Arizona

This was another doozy. The game was closer than I expected, but despite the fantastic finish, it should have been a blow-out for Zona.


Indianapolis at NY Giants
WINNER: Indianapolis

An easy one to pick.

The Manning Bowl was never as exciting as the hype. Peyton, as expected without Edgerrin James in the backfield, just cannot consistently put up gaudy numbers. Dominick Rhodes and Joseph Addai are far from the Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney two-headed monster in New England.

Eli, as usual, had the yips in a big game. It is hard to not get down on him, but he is still young and learning. I think he will never put up numbers like his brother, but he can win a super bowl before his brother.


Minnesota at Washington
WINNER: Washington

How did I ever pick a team QBed by Mark Brunell to win?

Washington is so bad for a team with so much money thrown into it, it is scary. The offense was off. The defense was off. Big plays were few and far between. Maybe when Clinton Portis is fully healthy the offense will move a bit more and the defense really should be playing better, but what an egg they laid on opening night on national TV.

Minnesota won, and I hope they enjoyed it. Wins will be hard to come by for the purple this season. Oh yeah, Jermaine Wiggins looked soooooooooooo slow! How do we get Jiggy with Wiggy if he cannot run after he catches the ball?


San Diego at Oakland
WINNER: San Diego

No-brainer.

As a note, I have LaDainian Tomlinson on my fantasy team. SOMEHOW, he was available with the third pick. I know, it seems insane, but Alexander and Larry Johnson went before him. I know. It seems crazy, but I refuse to complain.

Oakland sucks. How often does Rob Ryan think that if he had only stayed with Bill Belichick in New England he would be the defensive coordinator of the best defense in the league as compared to heading up the worst. Heck, he would be coaching the Jets instead of Mangina (I mean Mangini). Only one phrase can bring the denizens of the black hole to tears: Now playing quarterback for your Oakland Raiders: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaron Brooooooooooooooks!


So my first week: 10-6

I think I need to sum it up in a very Bill Belichick way: Not good, not a disaster, but definitely room for improvement.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

BRANCHING OUT

Good-bye and good riddance. I will come right out and say, as I have said repeatedly since the summer, that Deion Branch bungled badly and that the New England Patriots front office were right to hold to their valuation of what he was worth. Deion Branch outplayed his contract, just as Richard Seymour had done. Seymour, however, had the dignity and class to work with the front office and get a fair and equitable contract done. Branch went hardline, which is certainly within his rights, and got his cash.

Rather than let him leave for nothing, as they had with Drew Bledsoe in 2002, the Patriots held on to him until another team was desperate enough to make a move and give in to their demands. Branch is an undeniable talent, but the Patriots have brought in the younger and cheaper replacements for Branch and David Givens while the talking heads babbled on endlessly about how they had no chance to win with all the free agent departures. Stealthily, the Patriots have drafted Chad Jackson to fill in for Branch (doing a great Deion Branch imitation by being injured already) and traded a ridiculously low draft pick (fifth round) for Doug Gabriel to take the role vacated by free agent bust David Givens (do you think the Titans would like his money back to have paid to a quarterback who could play this season? Billy Volek and Kerry Collins: sucking it up in 2006 as the Tennessee fans pray for Vince Young to learn the playbook sometime this decade).

It is easy to criticize the Patriots management and say that the team should have just paid Branch, Willie McGinest, Adam Vinatieri, and Givens the outrageous amounts of money they got, but I think it shows why this team can buck the odds and be consistently dominant for the foreseeable future: they do not have a problem making the difficult decision that is best for the team. Cleveland signed McGinest and still cannot win. David Givens (on my fantasy team, no less) was a non-factor as the lowly Jets took out Tennessee. (Vinatieri simply made a career decision to kick in a dome on turf: four years at North Dakota State and ten in New England, I think he has earned that right over the final 4 or 5 years of his career.)

Spending money on aging veterans or over-priced players who can be replaced without too much pain (as compared to Tom Brady and Richard Seymour, two of the irreplaceable parts in place) with cheaper and younger players is simply good business. Good business equals wins and championships. Underestimate Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli at your own peril.

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