Sunday, November 12, 2006

COLD NOVEMBER

On an unseasonably balmy fall Friday in Boston, I was greeted with such pleasant news on my way out the door to start the weekend. In fact, a double-whammy of good news (and some more good news for the unfaithful faithful):

1. The Yankees most dangerous hitter is gone. Yes, the Yankees unloaded mercurial slugger Gary Sheffield on the AL Champion Tigers for a trifecta of young arms (a mid-level starting prospect with elbow problems and two single-A closers). I am ecstatic. The killer of all things baseball is out of the division. Do not get me wrong: I do not like Gary Sheffield. Never. Unlike Rickles, I do not have the Sheffield-1990s Florida Marlins shrine going on, but I do respect him as a hitter. There was no one (let me repeat that: NO ONE) more dangerous in that Bronx line-up. And the fact that the Yankees mis-handled his option and did not get a major league level prospect (which he should have brought, at the minimum) is music to a Sox fans ears.

2. Buster Olney at ESPN.com is the Red Sox may have the top bid for Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka. I have repeatedly pleaded ignorance about his skills having only seen him pitch during the World Baseball Classic (and even then, I was barely conscious), but top-end starters are few and far between. Bully for Theo Epstein for making an aggressive move and bully to ownership for floating the moolah. Schilling, Papelbon, Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Wakefield looks like a championship rotation at this point.

3. The only bad news is that, to the surprise of no one, Keith Foulke is on his way out of Boston having declined his player option after the Sox did not pick up the team option. Foulke is desperately in need of a fresh start. Foulkie should be revered for his work in 2004: he was the true MVP that season.

Nice to see there is plenty of Red Sox news for Hazel Mae on NESN to chat about after she crams herself into another one of those skin-tight shirts for the Red Sox week in review.

MONDAY NIGHT MELTDOWN

It was a punch in the gut Monday night. The Colts came into Foxboro for the second straight year and, not so much Peyton Manning, but the Colts much-maligned defense, smacked around Tom Brady. Maybe that is why it has been so difficult to write about this game: the Patriots, and especially Tom Brady, have come up short in the big games.

The evidence is there: Denver only scored 17pts. The Pats defense, after a horrid first quarter and the loss or Rodney Harrison, held Indy down most of the game (or at least slowed them down a little. But last year, the Patriots should have beat Denver in the playoffs, and then would have trampled the Steelers at Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro/CMGI/Gillette Stadium. Also, the Manning Exorcism last year was a big game. When the going has gotten tough, the Pats have folded.

That said, I still do not see anyone to keep the Patriots from winning the Super Bowl. The Colts defense beat Tom Brady on Monday night. The Patriots did not beat themselves. Peyton Manning did not will the Colts to victory. This was a Colts defense that finally got around to stuffing the box to stop the run in the second half and then played very well against the passing game and was very opportunistic.

The important thing is that the Pats are 6-2 and if they beat the Jets they pretty much wrap up the AFC East and start thinking about playing for a bye in January. The Bengals, Broncos, Vikings and Colts were the four of the five tough match-ups on the schedule (the Bears still await), but this team should do no worse than 12-4 barring a catastrophic rash of injuries (knock on wood).

What the Belichick/Pioli regime has done is churn out a team that is going to be amazingly consistent. They are good to win 10+ games every year for the foreseeable future. They may not have all the pieces fall into place to win the Super Bowl every single season, but they should in contention every year.

It is tough adapting after getting used to a team being consistently great. The decline of the Celtics of the late 1980s was so painful and unbelievable to the Boston Sports Psyche that some of are still recovering. The Patriots have unbelievably reached that level reserved for the Celtics of that era. The change is so bizarre: I remember as a kid that I would be so excited when the Patriots actually won a game (if it was on TV and not blacked-out. When was the last black-out of a Patriots game?) I was jumping around with Scott Zolak and Dick McPherson (only I was in the living room, they were on the carpet). The joy a simple victory brought!

Sure, it kinda sucks the Pats lost, but the team is still gelling. Belichick may yet have another trick up his sleeve, and the cause is not yet lost. Look on the bright side: you could have bought into the hype and picked the Miami Dolphins to win the AFC East, or worse, make it to the Super Bowl.

WEEK 10 PICKS

Baltimore at Tennessee
WINNER: BALTIMORE

Buffalo at Indianapolis
WINNER: INDIANAPOLIS

Chicago at NY Giants
WINNER: NY GIANTS

Cleveland at Atlanta
WINNER: ATLANTA

Green Bay at Minnesota
WINNER: MINNESOTA

Houston at Jacksonville
WINNER: JACKSONVILLE

Kansas City at Miami
WINNER: KANSAS CITY

New Orleans at Pittsburgh
WINNER: NEW ORLEANS

NY Jets at New England
WINNER: NEW ENGLAND

San Diego at Cincinnati
WINNER: SAN DIEGO

San Francisco at Detroit
WINNER: DETROIT

Washington at Philadelphia
WINNER: PHILADELPHIA

Denver at Oakland
WINNER: DENVER

Dallas at Arizona
WINNER: ARIZONA

St Louis at Seattle
WINNER: ST LOUIS

Tampa Bay at Carolina
WINNER: CAROLINA

WEEK NINE PICKS RECAP

Atlanta at Detroit
WINNER: ATLANTA

What the heck is wrong with Atlanta? How do you get blown out by the Lions?

Cincinnati at Baltimore
WINNER: BALTIMORE

Someone tell again why character does not matter? The Cincinnati Criminals seem not to have the strength to finish a game anymore.

Dallas at Washington
WINNER: WASHINGTON

I cannot say I saw it end the way it did, with the football follies of three game-winning field goal attempts in the final minute.

Green Bay at Buffalo
WINNER: GREEN BAY

I will never pick a Favre led team ever again. EVER!

Houston at NY Giants
WINNER: NY GIANTS

Gee, that was a tough pick, but why was the game so close?

Kansas City at St Louis
WINNER: ST LOUIS

St Louis is a good team, but they are getting close to getting back to a playoff squad.

Miami at Chicago
WINNER: CHICAGO

Yeah, tell me you know ANYONE that picked Miami!

New Orleans at Tampa Bay
WINNER: NEW ORLEANS

I saw New Orleans play the Patriots last year, and let me tell you, I knew then that they were a better team than anyone thought. Then add Reggie Bush.

Tennessee at Jacksonville
WINNER: JACKSONVILLE

As I said before, I will pick Jacksonville anytime when Leftwich is on the bench.

Minnesota at San Francisco
WINNER: MINNESOTA

This was pitiful. I thought Minnesota was supposed to be a good team.

Cleveland at San Diego
WINNER: SAN DIEGO

Somehow, I think Romeo Crennel is jealous beyond belief of Charlie Weis right now.

Denver at Pittsburgh
WINNER: DENVER

Roethlisberger has shown his true colors. Cue the Cyndi Lauper.

Indianapolis at New England
WINNER: NEW ENGLAND

I do not want to talk about it!

Oakland at Seattle
WINNER: SEATTLE

Zzzzz. Oh, did anyone watch the joke that the Raiders have become?

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