Monday, January 29, 2007

Good-bye NFL, Hello Champions' League!

Yep, the NFL season is as good as over to me, after the Colts took a heartbreaker of a game from the Patriots. True, the Pats' dominance over the horseshoes can't possibly last forever, but I still have too many memories of Manning throwing his coverage under the proverbial bus after a tough loss and complaining to the refs after each play that didn't go the way he wanted it to.

Regardless, for me, it's on to bigger and better things, namely the return of the UEFA Champions' League elimination round on ESPN2 and ESPN classic. There are a lot of English clubs poised to make big strides in the tournament this year: Arsenal is playing great football right now, Chelsea is full of weapons, and those weapons (read: Schevchenko and Ballack) are starting to click and contribute, and ManU is a threat.

You can't count out Barcelona, last year's champion. Once Samuel Eto'o is back and in game shape, if Barca is still in the mix, they could be seeing a repeat of last year. The Italian clubs are strong: Internazionale has bought new players, and could be a threat to win, AC Milan has a good core group (not to mention my fav Brazilian international, Kaka), but I think the team to watch out for right now is Roma. Roma plays a tough game, evidence of which is when they battled back vs. AC Milan in the Italian Cup this past week. Also, Roma have purchased the services of Anderlecht's Christian Wilhelmsson, who could be a good fit and give them more depth to compete with the Inter's and the Chelseas of Europe. I'm again pleased by the appearance of a Scottish club in the elimination round. Like their rivals Rangers last year, Celtic were solid in the group stage. Unlike Rangers, Celtic could easily have the chance to advance deep into this thing. All they have to do is be up for the very tall task of defeating AC Milan in the first round. Unlikely, true, but I'm still glad to see representation from other leagues besides the Premeirship, Serie A, and La Liga Premiera. The best series of the first round? To be non-committal about it, I'd pick any one of these series: Roma vs. Lyon, Inter vs. Valencia, or Barcelona vs. Liverpool. If I had to pick one, I'd say Roma vs. Lyon.

Reader Mail

I gave my views on the Beckham scenario last week, as well as views on the state of USA goalkeeping. I was pleased to read this response by fellow Blackburn supporter Anthony regarding Brad Friedel, former USA international from the 2002 World Cup:
"Brad Friedel is a legend, i would argue that he is one of the best in the Prem maybe Cech is better. Liverpool made a mistake in letting him go for nothing."

Liverpool sure did make a mistake. But their loss is the Rovers' gain.

Also, I'm glad to see Blackburn picked up another Liverpool man in the defender Stephen Warnock. That could be a huge deal which will pay divedends down the stretch, especially as the Rovers fight for a spot in UEFA competition (which they are still very capable of getting).

On the Beckham deal:

"I really do think he should have come back to england for a couple of seasons, though i do think he has alot to offer the MLS in its future, but the amount of money he will be getting is outlandish."

I couldn't agree more with the last statement there. He is getting insanely overpaid. But that's what we in America seem to do with our sport personalities. Look at your Kevin Garnetts, your Manny Ramirezes, and your Peyton Mannings. Sure these are all good atheletes, but multi-million dollars worth of good? Anyway, time will tell whether the amount of money Becks is getting ends up softening him until he's appearing in films with Rene Zellweger as opposed to competing on the MLS pitch. Hopefully, such a scenario doesn't happen.

One last point, Anthony mentions that MLS should adapt both a European style of play, and a European transfer system. The European style of play would make MLS matches much more exciting. As it is, I tend not to watch them unless I have tickets to go to Foxboro to see the Revolution. There should be more tenacious and physical defending, and less "let me show the audience what ball-movement and footwork skills I have." As for the transfer system idea, I think it would be great, but my fear is that there is little chance the MLS would implement something like that. It makes sense, and would allow MLS clubs to compete at a similar level with European clubs. On second though, if MLS is serious about increasing exposure of the league and putting a better quality product on the field, then perhaps it is an undertaking that might be within the realm of possibility.

A plea for more footy across the pond...

I'll close this week with a plea that will largely go unheard. I'm talking about more football on basic cable. I am lucky, in that I can TiVo (as you know, TiVo is a verb now) the weekly Fox Sports Premiership game and the Champions' League games. Also, I could get some Liga Mexicana games if I wanted to listen to them en Espanol (which might not be a bad idea, given the quality of American commentary of World Cup). I would love to see more European league matches, maybe one a week, from La Liga, Bundesliga, and Serie A. Also, I think this might be appealing to many in the Boston area, who, like me, absorb the football coverage given to them and are left thirsting for more.

-Christopher J. Brigham

Friday, January 26, 2007

6-Pack of Sam Adams Boston Ale

1. PATRIOTS REDUX:

The sun came up again. The Patriots franchise did not crash and burn. Life went on. Yes, it too k me a while to digest the loss to the Colts Sunday night and then once more put fingers to the keyboard (that sounds awful! Putting pen to paper is such a better term.) in an attempt to understand what happened. In a nutshell, the Patriots lost. The Colts made more plays in the second half. The Patriots had three chances to cement the game: two chances at the end of the game to put up another score and put the game away, and a final chance to get downfield and try for a last-seconds win. They did not win.

Now, not to be such a spoilsport to the hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth, and rending of garments that has gone on since Sunday night, but last time I checked, even the dynasties that we think of never won every single year. The Steelers had two Super Bowl wins, fell short a few years, then won two more. The 49ers, who I automatically think of as a dynasty, had competition in the 80s from the Giants (two titles), the Redskins (two titles and a SB loss), and da Bears in 85/86. That Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick beat the 49ers 15-13 in that great NFC Championship game so many years ago does nothing to take the shine off of Joe Montana. It is simply impossible to win every year.

That the Patriots made it to the AFC Championship as a #4 seed and had a chance to win the game made 2006 a successful season. Are the current Patriots as good as their 2004 Championship team? Of course not. But they are as good as the 2003 Championship squad (as was last years team), and they are leaps and bounds above the 2001 Championship team. Sometimes it comes down to the people, the players, the breaks, the injuries, the bounces, the missed plays, the missed opportunities. The Patriots as currently constructed are good enough to compete for the Championship EVERY YEAR. That is a dynasty. Heck, that is remarkable. Only the Colts have been consistently at the level to compete like the Patriots and they are looking for their first Super Bowl win in less than two weeks.

So everyone should take a deep breath, relax, and remember the halcyon days of Rod Rust, Dick McPherson, Victor Kiam, the Sullivan Boys, Irving Fryar, Kenneth Sims, Hart Lee Dykes, Tony Eason, Tony Collins, Scott Secules, and all those Patriots teams who stunk so bad that we fans would have gladly given anything for a sniff of a playoff game, heck for a winning season or two! This current team is a joy to watch play, and like the Bird-McHale-Parish Celtics of the 1980s, we should enjoy the Belichick-Brady-Syemour Patriots of today before they are gone.

2. DYNASTIC MONARCHY:

OK, the season is over for the Patriots and we have made peace with 2006. Here are a few things the Patriots need to do this off-season:

a. Tighten-up the Tight-Ends: First and foremost re-sign Dan Graham. He is such a valuable tight-end with his blocking ability along with his pass-catching skills. He may be undervalued in the marketplace, so the Patriots cannot afford to let him get away.
b. Clean-up the Secondary: If Asante Samuel (note to the announcing crew Sunday Night: SAMUEL with no S. His last name is not Samuels!) gets lured away by the big bucks, the position needs to be addressed in the draft and free-agency. There has to be an impact cornerback ripe for the plucking via trade or free-agency out there. The secondary needs another impact safety to go along with a couple new cornerbacks. This is going to be an interesting situation to watch.
c. In with the Old, Out with the Old: The line-backing corps needs an upgrade. Personally, I say to throw the cash at Bears OLB Lance Briggs. Team him with Colvin and have Banta-Cain as the primary back-up, move Vrabel permanently inside and have a top-three round ILB to groom with Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau (provided they come back) there for back-up/on-field coaching.
d. Action Jackson: Chad Jackson had better plant himself on the hip of Tom Brady this off-season. No one needs to step-up more than Jackson, who was the invisible man around Foxboro this season. If Jackson steps up as the big-play, field-stretching receiver everyone hoped he would be after the draft, then the Patriots offense is going to take a big step forward.
e. Continuity: Basically, if Belichick, Scott Pioli, Brady, the D-Line, and the O-Line are back, then this team is penciled in for anywhere from 10 to 13 victories. The rest of it will sort itself out over the off-season.

3. STILL OUT THERE:

Two arms the Red Sox should be bringing in for the back of the rotation or middle innings:
a. Dan Kolb: last seen as a closer-imploder in Milwaukee, Kolb is a smart reliever who could give a huge lift to the seventh inning if he gets back on track. Heck, he would cost next to nothing.
b. Tony Armas Jr.: Bring back the original Pedro bait! Son of Mr. 43 Home Runs for the Sox back in 1983 (or as my Dad referred to him after yet another strikeout: Tony Harmless), Armas Jr. was sent to the Expos along with some guy named Carl Pavano for Pedro. Armas has a good arm still, and I like the idea of him pitching instead of Jason Johnson when the Sox need a spot start or someone to come in the third inning when Wakefield does not have it going.

4. TUNA ON THE GRILL:

Bill Parcells in New York coaching the Giants in 2008? Sure, why not. He is unpredictable, the Mara family would love to rub the Jones family (Dallas) noses in the hiring, and Tom Coughlin is not going to last very long. Also, Parcells is still beloved in the greater New Jersey area and should be safe from having to deal with an idiot like T.O.

5. EVERTON FC UPDATE:

Sorely lacking the needed consistency to continue from their hot start out the gate at the beginning of the Premiership season, my Toffees are hanging around in the middle of the pack. Alas, with injuries mounting, things do look grim. Leading scorer Andy Johnson is out for a stretch after spraining his ankle. Worse news is that striker James McFadden broke his foot and is undergoing surgery. With less scoring punch, more pressure is going to fall on the back of star defender Joleon Lescott and American goaltender Tim Howard. After watching the Patriots fall, injuries mount for the Toffees, and the Bruins and Celtics float along in a sad season-long swoon, I think that the pitchers and catchers cannot report to spring training for the Sox soon enough.

6. MY PATRIOTS OFFSEASON MANTRA:

2 First Round Draft Picks, A Boatload of Salary Cap Cash, and the Smartest Execs in Football.
2 First Round Draft Picks, A Boatload of Salary Cap Cash, and the Smartest Execs in Football.
2 First Round Draft Picks, A Boatload of Salary Cap Cash, and the Smartest Execs in Football.
2 First Round Draft Picks, A Boatload of Salary Cap Cash, and the Smartest Execs in Football.
2 First Round Draft Picks, A Boatload of Salary Cap Cash, and the Smartest Execs in Football.

(repeat until you feel better)

* * *

Sunday, January 21, 2007

6-Pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon

1. DIRTY, FILTY HORSES:
Oh God, how I detest pre-game trash talk. In this case, I am referring to players, as my feeling on trash-talking fans is sickening. Hey, I want the home team to win, but since I have no control over ANY aspect of the game (other than possibly being in the stands and making enough noise along with 50,000+ fans to distract the opposing quarterback), I am not one to get into too much boasting and bragging BEFORE the games are played. Afterwards, well that is a different story.

Anyway, I know NFL coaches usually try to reign in any braggadocio from their players, but I do not really see how reporters writing about these slights really do anything but fill space on a slow news day. I am sure, that in private, Bill Belichick is telling his defense that Peyton Manning is a #$&%#* who cannot #$&%#* #$&%#* without help from his #$&%#* mommy. Also, I am sure he tells Tom Brady in the meetings that the Colts defense is #$&%#* #$&%#* #$&%#* and they could not even #$&%#* without help from each other. Of course, there is no reason to say anything but the usual fawning about how wonderful they are to the press, because who needs an already over-jacked linebacker getting any more worked up after his fifth Red Bull and handful of No-Doze before kick-off? But, we will continue to see that Dwight Freeney hates the Patriots (what, he is supposed to love them because he came from Connecticut? Forty percent of the state is Eastern New York anyway) and that Nick Harper, after Brady threw a couple of picks and had some tipped passes bounce off the San Diego defenders breadbaskets, is disrespecting the New England Golden Boy because he said he makes a few throws that could be picks? Yeesh, everyone dial down the chest-pounding (especially the idiot, drunken, frat-boy wannabe bandwagon Pats fans on YouTube with your hideous home-made rants that make us respectable New England fans look like toolbags), and just get ready for a great game.

2. TROT, TROT TO CLEVELAND
The nightmare of the first round pick of 1993 finally comes to an end. Some other first-rounders that year chosen after Trotman at number seven to put Lou Gorman back on the hate mail speed-dial: CLOSER DELUXE Billy Wagner, PERENNIAL MVP CANDIDATE Derrek Lee, LOCAL YOKEL AND LIFELONG SOX FAN Chris Carpenter, ALL-STAR Torii Hunter, and DRAFTED BUT UNSIGNED Jason Varitek. Now, before we light the torches and search out Sweet-Lou, remember these three names picked right before Trot at 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6: Darren Dreifort, Brian Anderson, Wayne Gomes, Jeff Granger, and Steve Soderstrom (A-Rod went number one). So in retrospect, the Sox got a decent right-fielder for a few years which turned out a bit better than some picks. Also, the Mets drafted the immortal Kirk Presley at #8, the Tigers took Matt Brunson at #9, the Cubs took Brooks Kieschnick at #10, and the Indians took Daron Kirkreit at #11, so Trot was not really that bad a pick. I guess this exercise shows what a crap-shoot the draft is and shows why Billy Beane was so smart to go against conventional wisdom and bring statistical analysis to the draft process.

If you are wondering just who some of these guys are: Dreifort went 48-60 with a 4.36 ERA, got big bucks from the Dodgers and blew his arm out; Anderson was supposed to be great, but finished up 82-83 with a 4.74 career ERA for the Indians and Diamondbacks primarily; Wayne Gomes finished his major league career in a forgettable fashion with the Red Sox in 2002, but was a set-up/middle reliever for the most part with the Phillies and once saved 19 games in a season; Jeff Granger pitched in 27 games over 4 years; Steve Soderstrom made it up for a cup of coffee with the Giants in 1996; Brooks Kieschnick made it up to the Cubs as a big-swinging outfielder, got switched to a pitcher when that did not work and bounced around a bit, getting to the majors briefly with the Brewers; the others never made the majors.

So, good luck to Trot backing-up Grady Sizemore in Cleveland. He was never what he was sold to us as, never that 30-30 athletic outfielder, and he was far from my favorite player, but he was serviceable, a decent fielder, hit once in a while, and apparently was well-liked. Best of luck, Trot.

3. ITS CALLED BRUINS
I am surprised by how much more interesting the Bruins can actually be this season. The game Thursday night against Pittsburgh was surprisingly riveting. Can this be a hockey revival in New England?

(wait for it)

(wait for it)

NAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4. MISC:
The Steelers have to be better-off without the Chin at the helm, right?

Is there anyone worse for basketball than Kobe Bryant?

Bridgette Wilson, the grade school teacher from the movie Billy Madison, married Pete Sampras, the hirsute tennis player? How do I not know these things?

Chase Utley gets 7 years and $85 million from the Phillies? Chase Utley?

Watched Nova beat Texas yesterday. Stop smirking, Brigs!!!

5. NFC CHAMPIONSHIP PICK
Bears 24 Saints 23

The Bears do one thing good on offense: throw the deep pass. The Saints have one glaring weakness on defense: yes, you guessed it, defending the deep pass. If Brian Urlacher and future New England Patriot Lance Briggs can stick Duece McAllister a few times and put Drew Brees on his heels just a bit, it will make for one heck of a game.

6. AFC CHAMPIONSHIP PICK
Patriots 27 Colts 17

Let me see, I have ridden the Pats this far, so I guess it is time to saddle up and play rodeo and rope those Colts. I still doubt the Colts defense and I still think Peyton Manning will fall into the same trap in the playoffs where he tries to do too much and forces some horrible interceptions.

Bears and Patriots rematch in the Super Bowl? Sweet, now to find my BURY THE BEARS t-shirt with #7 Eason on the back of it and see if it still fits.

* * *

TAKING STOCK OF THE SOX

A quick winter review and look ahead to spring training which is less than 30 days away.

New Faces:

The Sox brought in a bit of new blood led by a top-of-the-rotation starter in Daisuke Matsuzaka, a new shortstop with a lethal bat and ok glove, Julio Lugo, and they will eventually sign J.D. Drew to play right field. In addition, they brought in four new arms for the bullpen: the OTHER Japanese import Hideki Okajima (likely to pitch in Pawtucket), set-up men extraordinaire J.C. Romero and Brendan Donnelly, and the most controversial closer candidate of the off-season (well, other than Soloman Torres in Pittsburgh), Joel Pineiro.

Out with the Old:

The Sox happily said goodbye to shortstop Alex Gonzalez and right-fielder Trot Nixon. In addition, they let former closer Keith Foulke and all-star second baseman Mark Loretta walk away. With Drew, Lugo, and Dustin Pedroia expected to step right into RF, SS, and 2B respectively, the Sox really have one question mark: the bullpen.

Penned:

Basically, the Sox did the smartest thing and took a mish-mash of relief pitchers, will mix them up in March and April, and see who sticks at closer. The closer (or co-closers) will be from the pile of pitchers including Mike Timlin, Joel Pineiro, Craig Hansen, Brendan Donnelly, Edgar Martinez, J.C. Romero, and Manny Delcarmen. Heck, those seven make a nice mix of old and young in a pen. I would say it, but I think it is a dirty word in these parts still, but closer-by-committee anyone?

Line-up:

Here is how I see the Sox shaking things out:

1B: Kevin Youkilis: Speed? Like the Sox steal bases anyway!
SS: Julio Lugo: Perfect in the #2 hole. He should feast on fastballs with the big boys behind him.
DH: David Ortiz: Answer: Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard. Question: Who are the only threats in baseball the crown as greatest clutch hitter in the game? (Sit down, A-Rod!)
LF: Manny Ramirez: Teddy Ballgame, Yaz, Rice, Greenie, and Manny. Guess which one will not get in the Hall of Fame?
RF: J.D. Drew: Finally, the perfect complement to Manny and Papi.
3B: Mike Lowell: 50 doubles is the goal for Lowell
C: Jason Varitek: At this point, any offense is a plus.
CF: Coco Crisp: Without Big Papi and Manny behind him, he should steal 40 bases.
2B Dustin Pedroia: no pressure and a chance to run if on base

Super-powered Staff:

Right now, I doubt there is another set of arms that can match-up with the Red Sox rotation:

SP: Curt Schilling: No way he retires at the end of the year. Look for the Roger Deal to kick-in for Curt in 2008. The Hall of Fame is so close, and with his post-season success, it will only take 250 wins.
SP: Josh Beckett: Will the nasty stuff come back now that he is blister-free?
SP: Daisuke Matsuzaka: Think dominant.
SP: Jonathan Papelbon: His shoulder is the only question mark.
SP: Tim Wakefield: #2 or 3 guy on most staffs.
SP: Jon Lester: If he bounces back from the cancer, it would be such a great feel-good story. He has the stuff to succeed and the Sox could use a southpaw in the rotation.


Benched:

The depth is there.

OF/1B: Wily Mo Pena: He is a younger Big Papi in training. He is not even 26 so give Wily Coyote some time.
1B/3B/OF: Eric Hinske: What happened to Hinske? Is there any chance he bounces back?
C: Doug Mirabelli: Well, at least my wife will be happy he is back for prime ogling every fifth game (only in my household is Shakey-Wakey starts Must-See TV). Of course, her sisters are still in mourning over the departures of Trot Nixon and Gabe Kapler.
SS/2B: Alex Not Joey Cora: Best utility infielder in baseball.
OF/1B: David Murphy: should win the job, but a year in Pawtucket would probably be better development-wise. Do not be surprised to see Terry Francona fall in love with some player in camp on a minor-league deal like Joe McEwing and have him take over the last roster spot.

Final Analysis:

With a few spots still up in the air, here are how the stats breakdown on the roster (thanks to BaseballProspectus.com for doing the dirty work):

RH Batters: 7
LH Batters: 5
Switch-hitters: 2
RH Pitchers: 15
LH Pitchers: 7
Average age: 29.4

* * *

The State of US Soccer

Well, the World Cup is long over. They're prouder than proud over in the North End in Boston, and likely in Little Italy sections of cities all over the country. The English side is getting a much-needed retool. Coaches have been fired or quit. The stage is now being set for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

What of the US side? Plenty of talent, with Eddie Pope, DeMarcus Beasley, and Clint Dempsey, to name a few. If you ask me, there's goalkeeping questions, with World Cup disappointment Kasey Keller in his "advanced years" likely to not return for 2010. Brad Freidel, Blackburn Rovers man and hero of the upstart 2002 squad that helped put US soccer on the map in the new milennium, also in advanced years, and apparently deemed expendable by Arena this last time out in Germany. Tim Howard, the Man U backup and current Everton #1? He would be a good choice, but he is still somewhat inconsistent. Case in point, Howard's 4 goal giveaway allowed the Blackburn Rovers to advance in the FA cup vs. a limp Everton squad. How about Reading's Marcus Hahnemann? Perhaps, bet he's likely not going to make the cut. Another option worth considering is the Revs' Matt Reis, who has proved to be a solid player in recent years. We just have to hope there's a good netminder in MLS who will be seasoned enough by 2010. I must say, though, after the US's dreadful 2006 performance, our participation in 2010 World Cup is not a definite.

One other question is coaching. With the departure of Bruce Arena, we're left with a void. Arena coached the US team for 12 years, and his are big shoes to fill. My favorite, and apparently everyone else's favorite for the job was former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsman, nicknamed "California Klinsman" due to his full-time residence in the Golden State. An ideal match, right? Apparently not. Klinsman took himself out of the running as the big sport websites accidentally leaked that Klinsman had taken the job. Who we have is former Chivas USA boss Bob Bradley. Is he the right man for the job? Time will tell. Meanwhile, he has to pick up the pieces and get the national squad ready for the uphill battle to World respectability.

Becks is coming! Becks is coming!

Why would I get excited about the prospect of David Beckham, a player who I clearly feel is soft, coming to MLS? Simple, Beckham has a unique opportunity to put US club soccer on the World map. As you can imagine, there are those in Europe who claim this move is a selfish one, made for money and not for the good of the game. Most notably, Real Madrid's manager Fabio Capello, has benched David for the season, which is unfortunate for Becks, and also for LA, who stand to get a player who hasn't played a game in 8 months. The sentiment among English fans isn't much different. We soccer fans in the US should see it differently. Beckham can bring the European style of play to the MLS, but more importantly, he'll give us, and
certainly the LA Galaxy benefits most from this, name recognition. He'll
sell shirts, he'll sell out games, he'll be a literal cash injection for a struggling league. More older Euro stars need to consider doing this. I'd call out Zinedine Zidane to do the same, but if he does play again, it would likely be for a cushy Middle Eastern club, such as those in Qatar. Before the Becks move, MLS did have its influx of Europeans, but they were names like Youri Djorkaeff and Paolo Cannavaro. Not well known. I'd like to call upon more World Class player to finish their career in the MLS. Then, perhaps, in ten years or so, World Class players will consider the MLS clubs for start, middle, and end to their career.

On the flip side, the MLS is losing one of their World Class stars to the Premeirship. Clint Dempsey is leaving MLS, and more importantly for me, the New England Revolution, to play in Craven Cottage at Fulham. The transfer was the largest for an MLS player, at $3+ million. Unfortunately, this loss will hurt the Revs, at least in the short term. In the long term, perhaps another World Class striker will find his way to Foxboro. As for his choice of English club, I shake my head in disbelief on that one, too. Dempsey could have done better to go to a Newcastle or a Tottenham, or a Blackburn (I'll always mention my Rovers). This move does reunite him with his US tammates Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra. Will he propel Fulham to a decent Premeirship table position. Again, time will tell, but for Dempsey's, Fulham's, and MLS's sake, let's hope so.

Premeirship so far...

Well, the Premership 2006-2007 season is half over, and it is an exciting season indeed. Pre-season favorites, Chelsea put a bunch of money towards buying all of Roman Abramovich's favorite World Cup players, and yet they are still playing second fiddle to Sir Alex Ferguson and Man U. This by definition makes each Chelsea and ManU match exciting, regardless of opponent. Liverpool is quite anemic, in spite of adding some good players in the offseason, such as former Newcastle/Blackburn forward Craig Bellamy.

This has even led some to speculate on the future of Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez. Arsenal are still strong contenders, and I must admit that, in spite of myself, I enjoy watching an Arsenal match, because their intricate passing and footwork is the prime example of why soccer is "the beautiful game." Other top table clubs include the surprise Bolton and Portsmouth sides. Both sides did a great job retooling in the offseason, even though some pundits speculate that Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth side did some shady dealing to acquire his new crop of players. Blackburn may yet reach the top side, but a slow start, along with the fact that they can't seem to beat the big boys (Arsenal, Chelsea, and ManU), will likely keep Mark Hughes's club towards the center of the table. Cellar dwellers include the hapless Charlton side, with Hal's two long-lost brothers Marcus and Darren Bent.

West Ham United has been poor this year. Why is this, when the coup of the season was to bring the two Argentinian nationals Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, on loan to the club? Like the Yankees are finding out, you can't buy team chemistry. Also, expectations were too high following the Hammers' success of last season. The team is unfortunately not as talented as once thought. A crappy start led to the ouster of boss Alan Pardew, and now it remains for new manager Alan Curbishley to pick up the pieces and salvage the season and avoid relegation th the Championship. Lastly, Newcastle United are a surprise bottom-half dweller right now. Their play on the pitch has been indicative of that, in the games I have watched. A 3-0 pounding vs. Everton 3 weeks ago is evidence that the Magpies don't have it together. Currently, I'm watching Newcastle face Tottenham, and it looks like another loss for Newcastle United. All in all, with the season champ still very much to be decided, and matches in full swing, the second half of the season will be as entertaining as the first.

-Christopher J. Brigham

Thursday, January 18, 2007

COUNTDOWN TO IMMORTALITY

The clock continues to slowly tick towards Sunday night and the Patriots-Colts tilt. With every prognosticator under the sun giving their opinions this week, the key points being espoused are 1) the Colts defense in suddenly the 1985 Bears and Dwight Freeney is going to get to Tom Brady like Richard Dent mauled Tony Eason and Steve Grogan in Super Bowl XXl and 2) THIS is the year of destiny for the Colts.

Hmm, a guy with 5.5 sacks this year is going to single-handedly defeat the Patriots offense and writers are sick of writing about boring Belichick and Brady. Two great reasons to pick against the Pats. Looking for better reasons, I decided to check out what two of my favorite writers, Len Pasquarelli at ESPN.com and Dr. Z over at SI.com have to say about the big AFC Championship game.

Leading off, Len gives five reasons why Indianapolis will win the AFC Championship Game on Sunday and advance to Super Bowl XLI:

Reason 1: The Safeties:

Pasquarelli writes:

With Wilson on injured reserve and Harrison trying to battle back from a
sprained medial collateral ligament, New England could be forced to start
Artrell Hawkins and James Sanders at safety. With versatile tight end Dallas
Clark an increasing focus of the Indianapolis passing game in the playoffs, and
quarterback Peyton Manning willing to be patient and connect with tailback
Joseph Addai on check-down passes, the Patriots' safeties will be tested.
Sure thing. Peyton Manning, in the biggest game of his life, is not going to heave-ho the ball downfield repeatedly in an attempt to win the game all by his lonesome? Somehow I doubt that Manning will stay away from whoever Ellis Hobbs is covering. If Indy wins, it will be because Hobbs, Chad Scott, and Asante Samuel get torched by Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, not check-down passes to Joseph Addai.

The return of Pro Bowl free safety Bob Sanders for the playoffs, after a knee
injury limited him to only four appearances in the regular season, has been a
key to the Colts' dramatic defensive turnaround in two postseason wins.
No, the Colts defense looked good because they knew that neither Trent Green nor Steve McNair could launch the ball more than 12 yards and stacked the line with 8 and 9 men in the box. Try that on Tom Brady, Sunday. Please, I beg the Colts to do that!

Reason 2: the Kickers:

Pasquarelli writes:

C'mon, you just know kickers Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski -- the icon
the Patriots allowed to escape in free agency and the rookie they drafted to
replace him -- are going to play major roles in what figures to be a very close
game. Admit it, you can feel this rife-with-irony moment coming, right?
Ahh yes, the old Gostkowski has to choke defense. Right, just like the Yankees landing A-Rod would put them over the top in the 2004 ALCS against the Sox and show all us losers in Boston why they are the greatest. Yeah, Gostkowski has been horrible. He can barely kick the ball 20 yards, and even then he looks like Mark Mosely knuckling low, line drives. Come on, this is not even a relevant factor in 90% of the games! That is like saying the Patriots have an advantage because their special-teams gunners are so much better at recovering fumbled punts or something inane. It is a freaking dome. No kicker has any advantage over the other on Sunday.

Reason 3: Peyton and his Legacy

Pasquarelli writes:


No one will have to remind Manning of the historical and legacy-related
ramifications of this game. He'll be ready to play. Manning has done a nice
job of managing Indianapolis' first two playoff victories, throwing just one
touchdown pass.
Len forgets to add that in addition to managing the victories (i.e. the running game bailed him out), Peyton tossed five interceptions. Nice job indeed, Peyton. Keep that steady play going.

Reason 4:

Pasquarelli writes:


The pundits don't always recognize it, but few offenses throw the ball
vertically like the Colts do. Even in a playoff stretch when Manning hasn't
forced the issue deep, the Indianapolis design is still to strike up the field
with wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne on the boundaries or Clark
up the seam.
Wait, I thought Reason 1 was that the Colts were going to test the safeties short with check-down passes. Now the plan is to lob it deep? But I thought Peyton was going to manage the game. I AM SO CONFUSED!

Reason 5:

Pasquarelli writes:

Yep, we know, it has nothing to do with X's and O's. There is no long scouting
session or science involved. But there are teams, and the Colts might have been
among them the past few years, that haven't won because it simply wasn't their
time to win. In 1972, in the wake of Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception,"
everyone figured the Pittsburgh Steelers were a team of destiny. What few
remember is that the Steelers lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in the AFC
Championship Game the week after the "Immaculate Reception." They didn't claim
their first Super Bowl victory until two years later. Maybe this is the year the
planets are aligned for Indianapolis, a team that probably isn't as talented as
it has been the last couple seasons but that definitely has momentum.
Yes, I like to use astrology, hunches, karma, destiny, aura, and other ridiculous terms to make a point why a team will win. It was never that it was or was not the Colts time to win, or any team for that matter. The team that won in the playoffs was the team that peaked at the right time, that played their best ball on offense, defense, and special teams in January. THAT IS ALL. The Colts lost because they were out-coached and out-played by the Patriots and Steelers. No other silly reason. Of course, the Patriots have no momentum in comparison to the Colts. Knocking off the well-rested number one seed on the road is such a buzz-kill for a team. Come on, Len, I am sure you were assigned to write why the Colts would win by the ESPN honchos, but at least come up with a few real reasons.

Moving on, the esteemed Dr. Z at SI.com broke down the four playoff games last week and gave his views on what he thought would transpire on Sunday night. The Z-Man at least tried to give an idea of how the teams would go at it.

Z wrote:


When in doubt, fall back on the running. These days Indy seems to use it as a
base for the rest of the offense. I think they'll open with it against the
Patriots and stay with it as far as it takes them. Manning has seen everything
imaginable in the way of defenses from this team, but based on his erratic
afternoon against the Ravens, I think he'll see a lot of blitzes.
OK, this I can sink my teeth into. Indy has tried to run on KC and Baltimore and likely will try to attack New England much like San Diego should have continued to do in the second half last Sunday. Also, he thinks that since Baltimore disrupted Manning with blitzes that, despite the Patriots not having the great cornerbacks that Baltimore has, New England will throw some blitzes at Manning.


You've got to at least test Indy with a bit of a run game, but I don't think New
England will do it the way K.C. and Baltimore did, with big guys. I think
they'll do it from multiple wideouts, with traps and counters inside, setting up
play-action passing.
FINALLY! I have been listening to the WEEIdiots blabbing all week about the Patriots needing to make sure their offense is all about running at the Colts. Z is the man who understands! The only reason to run at the Colts is to get the safeties up at the line of scrimmage. Remember, the Colts are in the Cover-2. Safeties at the line on passing plays equals wide receivers running free in the secondary for 30+ yard plays. Getting Bob Sanders jumping towards the line of scrimmage in a three or four wide set would spell disaster to the Colts.

Despite the orgies of strategy we'll see on both sides, I think it will wind up a high
turnover game. Fewest wins. That'll be New England. Patriots 27, Colts 24
The team that hangs onto the ball will win? Hmm. That makes too much sense. Someone revoke the press pass of Dr. Z before he makes all the other talking heads look bad by using common sense instead of hyperbole. Jeez, what a disgrace!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

My Picks Recap

MY PICK: #1 Indianapolis 17 at Baltimore 27:
Ahh, pity poor little Peyton Manning: Yet another early exit from the playoffs. At least now he has time to film endless commercials instead of offering to rework his contract to defer some money so the team can get a linebacker with pulse. Nope, Peyton before team as always. Baltimore has the defense to match-up with Peyton. Fortunately for the San Diego-New England winner, Baltimore will bring Air McNair and for some deliciously maddening reason, Jamal Lewis instead of Mike Anderson, to the Championship Game, greatly enhancing the prospect of a loss against a team that can actually play defense.

RESULT: I was right about Baltimore and their hideous offense! Just thought they could score a couple of TDs against the mighty Colts Juggernaut Defense. Look at what I wrote above. Obviously, I was thinking about what was the best match-up for the Pats instead of who should win (why people who bet their rent money should not be betting within the division of their home team during the playoffs). I knew McNair would blow. I told anyone who would listen all year long. So what happens? McNair goes out there in the playoffs and simply blows.

STATS: 0-1 for the week - 3-2 for the playoffs

MY PICK: #2 Philadelphia 16 at New Orleans 37:
Bum Phillips would be proud. The Saints are Marching In. Too much Deuce, Drew, and Reggie for the Philly D to handle. Watch for when Will Smith gets jiggy with it after he makes Jeff Garcia into a pancake.

RESULT: Closer than I had thought, but the Saints keep marching! Really, it would have been nice to see Jeff Garcia put up monster numbers and watch the bidding war for a 37 year-old retread QB.

STATS: 1-1 for the week - 4-2 for the playoffs

MY PICK: #3 Seattle 10 at Chicago 13:
I thought the Supersonics would hold off the Bulls, but on the road? No chance. Wait, this is a football game? Seahawks versus the Bears? Sure, everyone picked this as the NFC Championship Game after week 8, but no one expected Seattle to roll over and play dead like they did all season. Hmmm, two inconsistent QBs. One is bald and his sister-in-law is on the View. The other has a kingly first name and a last name fitting for his play of late. Ahh, the defense takes it. My bold prediction: Deion Break the Bank Branch has all of 2 receptions for less than 25 yards for the day: EARNING THAT BIG PAYDAY! (He is a money player, right?)

RESULT: Dead-on (though a bit more scoring). Break the Bank Branch, by the way, had another quiet game: 4 receptions for 48 yards, or, as I like to point out: LESS receptions, LESS yards, and LESS TDs in his two playoff games than either Jabar Gaffney or Reche Caldwell. Yeah, that first round pick keeps looking better and better right now.

STATS: 2-1 for the week - 5-2 for the playoffs

MY PICK: #4New England 34 at San Diego 24:
Do you believe in MartyBall? I most certainly do not. Do I believe in Belichick and Brady and Seymour and Vrabel? Yes, yes I do. Pride takes a fall in San Diego Sunday afternoon as guts beats glory for the umpteenth time.

RESULT: Martyball strikes again.

STATS: 3-1 for the week - 6-2 for the playoffs

All in all, I am rolling along with the picks for the playoffs, cruising in at 6-2 with a 75% hit ratio. Bring on the Colts!

* * *

Monday, January 15, 2007

PRIDE (IN THE NAME OF LOVE)

Yes, I feel like I am the only one working on MLK day (one of the very few and far between on the train in this morning), and, as such, have only a brief outline of observations from the Pats game yesterday. I will follow-up later, but here is what I can scratch out on the ride into the city and post at lunch time.

The defense stepped-up BIG TIME: Forget the numbers. Forget how LaDaniain Tomlinson ran for almost 125 yards. Forget everything except for the fact that San Diego had a short field for a majority of their possessions. San Diego had a HUGE advantage as far as field position throughout the game. Beyond that, after the Patriots tied the game at 21, what was glossed over in the news and media was the stop by the defense. The Patriots defense had to be exhausted, both mentally and physically. After Tomlinson ripped off five yards on first down, it looked to me like another long, clock-consuming drive was about to take place. Then, for whatever reason, the Chargers had Philip Rivers dropping back and throwing to his horrible receivers. The much-maligned Patriots secondary stepped-up and as the D-Line got some push up front, the D-backs kept the passes on the ground and gave Brady his chance to drive to victory.

Who has receiver issues?: Jabar Gaffney: 10 receptions for 103 yards and a TD. Previous week: 8 receptions for 104 yards. Reche Caldwell: 7 receptions for 80 yards and a TD (including the play of the game). Funny, it looks like the Patriots have two legitimate receivers plus Troy Brown as the third-down specialist here in the playoffs. Factor in the ever-dangerous Ben Watson at tight-end and the resurgent Dan Graham (two great 19 yard receptions down the seam against San Diego) and the Patriots look almost dangerous. As far as the Chargers, who would believe they would miss Reche Caldwell so much? Their receivers seemed afraid of a hit every time they went for a pass and really only had one significant completion. There were numerous drops, as if they were looking to get jacked-up by a defensive back or inside linebacker dropping into coverage. Nothing was said about the Chargers sad-sack receivers, although in retrospect, I guess the less said about them the better for Chargers fans. The Chargers should be putting their package together to trade-up and draft Ted Ginn Jr.

LaDanian Tomlinson showed his true class: What was he doing out there whining and crying about being disrespected? The Patriots did the Merriman Dance on the logo? Boo-freaking-hoo. If you do not like teams celebrating on your home turf, win the damned game! The Patriots have had teams celebrate at Mach3 Park more times than I want to think of, and on no occasion do I recall them ever getting into a little hissy fit. Tomlinson should be taking his anger out at his offensive coordinator who, with a tie game and plenty of time on the clock, handed it to him once before putting the ball in the hands of Philip Rivers.

Bring me the head of Peyton Manning: Patriots vs Colts. This is getting to be like the Red Sox and Yankees here, meeting-up with the championship on the line every year. Trading blows and momentum every other year, one team getting the upper-hand, the other adapting, then re-adjusting, re-adapting. It is going to be a hell of a game Sunday night!

* * *

Picks Recap (Wild Card Round) & Picks (Divisional Round)

OH LET THE SUN BEAT DOWN UPON MY FACE/ WITH STARS THAT FILL MY DREAMS / I AM A TRAVELER OF BOTH TIME AND SPACE / TO BE WHERE I HAVE BEEN / SECRET ELDERS OF A GENTLE RACE / A WORLD THAT IS SELDOM SEEN/ THEY TALK OF DAYS FOR WHICH THEY SIT AND WAIT / WHERE ALL WILL BE REVEALED (Kashmir)

#1
MY PICK: Colts 51 Chiefs 49: Adam Vinatieri hits a 49 yard field goal with one tick left on the clock to propel the Colts into a match-up with San Diego. Tony Gonzalez has four touchdown receptions in the loss.

RESULT: Dead-on. Other than the fact that Herm Edwards, quite possibly the worst NFL coach EVER, kept running into a front with nine men in the box. Huh??? Pass the damned ball!

1-0 in the second season already!

#2
MY PICK: Cowboys 26 Seahawks 20 (2 OT): Drew Bledsoe comes off the bench in the second overtime to toss a touchdown to Terry Glenn.

RESULT: http://www.tonyhomo.com Suffice to say, Drew still has the Romo Blackberry.

1-1, through absolutely no fault of my own!.

#3:
MY PICK: Patriots 24 Jets 17

RESULT: Just call me dead-eye dick. This was what the final score should have been until things got out of control.

2-1.

#4:
MY PICK: Eagles 38 Giants 17: Jeremy Shockey knocks Eli Manning out of the game on the sideline in the third quarter with a haymaker after Manning overthrows Shockey for his third interception of the game.

RESULT: Dead-eye Dick Indeed. Much closer than it should have been, which is more a tribute to Tiki Barber than anyone else on the Giants.

3-1 (should have been 4-0 if not for Sticky Fingers Homo. Leave it to the Cowboys to screw my perfect playoff record).

* * *

My Picks:

#1
Indianapolis 17 at Baltimore 27:

Ahh, pity poor little Peyton Manning: Yet another early exit from the playoffs. At least now he has time to film endless commercials instead of offering to rework his contract to defer some money so the team can get a linebacker with pulse. Nope, Peyton before team as always. Baltimore has the defense to match-up with Peyton. Fortunately for the San Diego-New England winner, Baltimore will bring Air McNair and for some deliciously maddening reason, Jamal Lewis instead of Mike Anderson, to the Championship Game, greatly enhancing the prospect of a loss against a team that can actually play defense.

#2
Philadelphia 16 at New Orleans 37:

Bum Phillips would be proud. The Saints are Marching In. Too much Deuce, Drew, and Reggie for the Philly D to handle. Watch for when Will Smith gets jiggy with it after he makes Jeff Garcia into a pancake.

#3
Seattle 10 at Chicago 13:

I thought the Supersonics would hold off the Bulls, but on the road? No chance. Wait, this is a football game? Seahawks versus the Bears? Sure, everyone picked this as the NFC Championship Game after week 8, but no one expected Seattle to roll over and play dead like they did all season. Hmmm, two inconsistent QBs. One is bald and his sister-in-law is on the View. The other has a kingly first name and a last name fitting for his play of late. Ahh, the defense takes it. My bold prediction: Deion Break the Bank Branch has all of 2 receptions for less than 25 yards for the day: EARNING THAT BIG PAYDAY! (He is a money player, right?)

#4
New England 34 at San Diego 24:

Do you believe in MartyBall? I most certainly do not. Do I believe in Belichick and Brady and Seymour and Vrabel? Yes, yes I do. Pride takes a fall in San Diego Sunday afternoon as guts beats glory for the umpteenth time.

* * *

Thursday, January 11, 2007

CRAZY EIGHTS

I have no desire to break-out sixteen distinct, intelligent and cogent thoughts, so today we play crazy eights:

1. CLOSER
That is closer, as in the bullpen; not closer, as in the Nine Inch Nails tune Closer (to God). Got it? Anyway, the debate that Joel Pineiro can close will not be solved until April at the earliest continues to rage unabated. I found some interesting analysis by ESPN.com Fantasy Guru Eric Karabell:

Pineiro does throw hard, he's still relatively young (only 28), and even if there was room for him in the rotation, does he deserve the chance? He's failed as a starter the last two seasons, and in a sweet pitcher's park and sans pressure. You know who else couldn't hack it every fifth day in nice ballparks? Eric Gagne couldn't stick in the Dodgers' top five, and was moved to the bullpen by necessity, because of health and the fact he was out of chances to start. Joe Nathan was hardly a giant when the Giants asked him to start. He stunk. Then he had one terrific middle relief season there and got thrown into the Francisco Liriano-Boof Bonser-A.J. Pierzynski deal and has been arguably baseball's best closer since then. Nobody thought moving these guys to the ninth inning would make them Cy Young caliber.

Not that anyone believes the Father of Superman (he pronounces his first name as Joe-ell and Supes Dad was Jor-El (remember, Big Old Marlon Brando all tricked-out as the Kryptonian Wonder Dad at the Fortress of Solitude?) is going to walk in and be Gagne or Nathan, but the point is that closer is a difficult position to predict. Keith Foulke was Plan A and no one thought that in 2005-6 he would lose his mojo after his dominating 2004 post-season. Craig Hansen was Plan B, but who would believe his super slider would all-of-a-sudden turn to slop? Plan C was probably Mike Timlin, but he looks like he is slowly winding-down in his forties. Since Plan D, Edgar Martinez, will be in Pawtucket next season, why not take a chance? Grab J.C. Romero, get Brendan Donnelly on the cheap, throw Julian Tavarez back there, and take a flyer on Pineiro. Did anyone truly believe Todd Jones would save 40 games after his disastrous run in 2003 and 2004? Imagine having Derek Turnbow go from All-Star to minor-league chum in front of your eyes (or worse, imagine him on your fantasy baseball team last year!). As Shakespeare would say if he were a fan of Rounders instead of a drama queen: The closer is but a maddening demon wrought upon the psyche of the general manager.

2. CHARR-JAHHS
Suddenly, this is Mike Martz and the Greatest Show on Turf against the sad-sack 2001 Patriots again. The Chargers have great individual performers on offense and defense, and they skated through the regular season at 14-2. There are two things I can identify as significant working against them:
a. Philip Rivers is making his first post-season start; and
b. Marty Schottenheimer may not have the sense to wing the ball around if the Pats can stop LDT early and often in the game, instead going back to the running game again and again in an attempt to try to get the offense in gear.

Both of these points feed off of each other. Really, the Rivers situation is no big deal if he comes out and makes a few plays early on. If I were a Chargers fan I would worry that if Rivers has some jitters and rust early on (which is nothing indicative of anything, Brady usually sails a few throws early on when the adrenaline is up or if they are coming off a bye) Marty will take the ball out of his hands and force-feed Tomlinson into the line, whether the running game is effective or not.

When the Pats got blown out of the water last year by San Diego the game was close early on. Then, without Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi (Remember, the Pats took on San Diego with Chad Brown and Monty Beisel in the middle), and Duane Big Play (for the opposition) Starks out on one of the corners the Pats defense fell apart. Something tells me this unit may be better prepared for the Chargers offensive onslaught. Also, say what you will about the San Diego defense, but it is hardly the Baltimore Ravens D. The Pats should put up 24 to 31 points. The defense shutting down LDT and making Marty sweat bullets will be the determining factor of the game.

3. I LOVE THOSE ANGRY TROLLS

There are very few GREAT football sites. Let me pass on a few that most people already know, and then I will get into the crème-de-la-crème:
a. Football Outsiders: Just a couple of guys at the cutting edge of football statistics. Think of them as the Bill James of Football
b. ProFootballTalk: Breaking news, witty analysis, humorous use of photoshop, and a swagger that allows them to say what they want, when they want, about who they want without fear. The best site for NFL rumors and side-splitting humor.
c. ProFootballWeekly: As they proudly proclaim on their website: the Best Coverage in the NFL. Like the publication, the website delivers.
However, my personal favorite is without doubt Cold Hard Football Facts:
The self-proclaimed Angry Trolls love football, beer, and rubbing the cold hard football facts in the faces of anyone who makes ridiculous comments without the proper back-up. Case in point, check out this recent Patriots-related snippet titled: You read it here first: the Deion Branch debate is officially over (disclaimer: these guys are locals, so when their facts back the dominance of the Patriots it is a double-whammy):

Deion Branch had a perfectly nondescript Deion Branch season with Seattle this
year. He caught 53 passes for 725 yards and 4 TDs. Had he played the first
two games, he might have equaled his career high with 5 TD receptions, which he
set last year with New England. Branch did, however, set one personal record in
Seattle: He caught 2 TDs in a game for the first and only time in his
career. Up in Boston, a city which includes some of the least
knowledgeable sportswriters and personalities in the history of
post-Neanderthalic man, Branch has been made out to be some sort of gridiron
centaur – half Don Hutson, half Jerry Rice – a receiving god who instantly makes
a team better the moment he steps on the field. They insist that the Patriots
should have broken the bank for a guy who held out and refused to honor the last
year of his contract. These people are morons. In Seattle, meanwhile, fans
have a different view of things. They’re wondering how their team got hosed so
bad for a decent mid-tier receiver. The Seahawks handed Branch a $13 million
signing bonus and six-year, $40 million deal – and traded away their No. 1 draft
pick in April – for a guy who’s now caught 18 TDs in five NFL seasons.
When you look at the numbers and the dollars, it's clear that Seattle
wildly overpaid for Branch. He’s certainly been a bit better in the playoffs:
Branch has surpassed the 100-yard mark four times in nine postseason games. This
includes an 11-catch, 133-yard MVP effort in Super Bowl XXXIX with New
England. But even in the playoffs, he’s reached the end zone
just twice through the air: once in Super Bowl XXXVIII against Carolina and once
in the 2004 AFC title game against Pittsburgh (he scored a second TD that day on
a reverse). Otherwise, he’s been shut out. He was shut out again
yesterday, in Seattle’s improbable 21-20 win over Dallas. Branch caught four
passes for a pedestrian 48 yards and 0 TDs. He may yet light it up
in the postseason, carry Seattle to the Super Bowl and otherwise justify the
resources the Seahawks expended to get him. But we’re not counting on
it.
For the record:
The Patriots went 10-6 last year with Branch and scored 23.7 PPG.
The Patriots went 12-4 this year without Branch and scored 24.1 PPG.
The Seahawks went 13-3 last year without Branch and scored 28.2
PPG.
The Seahawks went 9-7 this year with Branch and scored 20.9 PPG.
Branch seems like a good guy who did what any of us would do: He
parlayed a Super Bowl MVP award into big-time money. More power to him. We're
effin' jealous. But the only other party to make out on the deal was the
one who refused to pay him – let alone trade away their first pick in the draft
to get him. The Seattle organization will wish it had that pick once April
rolls around. Most fans already do.
Let me just say that I am jealous of the Angry Trolls for writing this while I have been thinking about it and too stupid to research and write it.

4. BOLD PATRIOTS PREDICTION FOR 2007

Patriots inside linebacker depth chart looks something like this:
Tedy Bruschi
Junior Seau
London Fletcher
Eric Alexander
Undrafted Rookie/Special Team Player to Be Named Later

5. As Nancy Kerrigan Once Said: WHY?!?!?!?!?!?

I think one reason I am so anxious about the Patriots this post-season is the prospect of nothing in the local sports world filling space between the end of football and March Madness & baseball in April but the hapless Bruins and sickly Celtics.
a. The Bruins are tough to figure out. They have likable players: Muzz. Patrice Bergeron, Phil Kessel, Timmy Thomas, Brad Stuart, et al, but they cannot seem to get any consistent scoring or defense to save their lives. Which is to say nothing of their ability to fall apart at the drop of a hat in the third period. Twice in the past week I have turned the game off assured of a victory only to find out they suffered humiliating collapses in the third period.
b. The Celtics have been ravaged by injuries, and since this was to be a building year while integrating Gerald Green into the offense, I think it is best to get all tradeable parts healthy and get the kids some experience for next year. Big Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Ryan Gomes, and Gerald Green have all looked good. Delonte West has been horrible. Rajon Rondo and Bassy Telfair were brought in to run a running offense, but Doc Rivers has the team setting up the offense in the half-court even though there is no evidence of any plays ever run out of the half-court set. The Celtics were hopefully going to package Wally, Tony Allen, and Delonte into a package for anyone who can score on the frontline, but with Allen injuring his ankle right when his trade value was peaking and Wally looking like Raef LaFrenz Jr. gimping around the court, the Celts seem stuck. One big guy who can either play D or score would do wonders for this team.

6. NFL MVP

Seriously, are the Colts that different a team with Bob Sanders at safety? Quick stat: with Sanders in the line-up, opposing offenses average 141 yards rushing per game against the Colts defense.
Well, that is pretty ordinary.
Without Sanders in the line-up, opposing offenses average 175.6 rushing yards per game against the Colts defense.
Well, that is pretty hideous.

That may not seem like much, but if it gets the defense off the field and gives the Colts offense an extra couple possessions per game, it is HUGE. The Patriots were able to run on the Colts. Sanders made his mark making a couple of big stops that set-up third and long situations. That is his secret value to the Colts.

7. ALL IN THE HALL

Nothing gets me as conflicted or raises my ire quite as much as the voting for the Baseball Hall-of-Fame. At times I feel like the Hall needs three tiers: Hall of Legends; Hall of Great; Hall of Very Good. Certain players like Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Christy Mathewson need to be separated from the Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripkin types. Then, there needs to be a place for the mistakes and whiners: Nellie Fox, Tony Perez, Don Drysdale, et al. Three tiers, separate voting for each, and three separate selectors. First tier of Very Good is for the writers. Second tier eligibility is available for consideration 10 years after election (to let emotion run its course). A special committee of veterans, writers, etc would handle this tier. Finally, the final tier of Greatness. This would have a special committee made up of myself, Bill James, and Bob Costas. We would select up to 20 players for this tier, choosing players only eligible after being in the second-tier for 10 years. This way, we keep everyone happy.

Sidenote: I came up with this idea as a teenager in the late 80s and actually divided all the players into the three categories. Yes, I was that popular with the ladies. Nothing wows them like talking Baseball History let me tell you!

8. GREENIE BONDS

Has there ever been more joyous news on a winter morning than that news had leaked that Barry Bonds had failed an amphetamines test last season and had the team-first spirit to blame it on another teammate. According to the story:

Sweeney learned of the Bonds' positive test from Gene Orza, chief operating
officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Orza told Sweeney, the
paper said, that he should remove any troublesome substances from his locker and
should not share said substances. Sweeney said there was nothing of concern in
his locker, according to the Daily News' sources.
Even better news was the fact that Bonds has not finalized his contract and could still be without a team next year:


The Giants are still working to finalize complicated language in the slugger's
$16 million, one-year contract for next season -- a process that has lasted
almost a month since he agreed to the deal Dec. 7 on the last day of baseball's
winter meetings. The language still being negotiated concerns the left fielder's
compliance with team rules, as well as what would happen if he were to be
indicted or have other legal troubles. Borris has declined to comment on the
negotiations. He didn't immediately return a message from the AP on Wednesday
night.

I am simply giddy with joy! Bring down the cheater.

* * *

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Pats v. Jets Live Blogging - FOURTH QUARTER Continued

Miller takes the kick-off out of the end zone and gets jacked-up by Larry Izzo at the 23 yard line. Now, the Patriots are feeling some good vibrations. Five minutes left, and an almost turnover as Mickens knocks it away. ASANTE!!!

Samuel picks Pennington and brings it to the house. Thirty-six yards and now it is 37-16.

Tully Banta-Cain sacks Pennington for a big loss to start the next possession. Now second and twenty-three, and Pennington gets away from pressure to get a dozen yards back to McCareins. Third and eleven at the thirty-one, and Mickens almost grabbed the ball. Jets have to go for it on fourth down now. Pennington sidesteps pressure and completes it over the middle just past the marker to the 43.

Now, the Jets are running out of time. The game is about over and the Jets are trying to at least get one TD back. Bruschi got his ands on the ball as Colvin just nailed Pennington coming in untouched. Another incompletion and it is fourth and ten with 2:32 left in the game. Big Sey brings down Pennington, and the kneel-down crew should be in now. Well, the Pats need to run a little.

Fresh legs with Maroney are in the game and he pounds it into the pile. The Jets are burning time-outs and CBS is trying to cram in as many crappy Coors Light commercials as humanly possible. Maroney pounds it up the middle again and gets the first down. Kneel down time is here and Brady heads to the sidelines. Big Vinnie T. is in to kneel down and end the play-off game against the Jets.

Finally, the Handshake: and Mangini gets a hug from Belichick (after he tosses aside a cameraman). Belichick searches out Pennington, who we know he respects immensely. A big win for the Pats. 37-16 is the final. A I had said, the defense needed to step up with some big plays, and they did in the fourth quarter. BRING ON THE CHARGERS!

Pats v. Jets Live Blogging - FOURTH QUARTER

Gostkowski boots it out of the end-zone. On the final play of the quarter, the Pats get yet another penalty, this time holding on Hobbs. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Pennington hits Chris Baker for 26 over the middle to mid-field. Baker again gets ten more yards. Where are the inside linebackers? Call in an APB for Vrabel and Bruschi!

Pennington gets four to Coles as Samuels keeps him from making a move and getting more on that play. Baker then splits the invisible inside linebackers to grab it at the twenty. No pass rush anymore. No coverage. The Pats defense is sucking wind and sucking eggs. A run by Washington nets four, but holding on the Jets backs it up (fortunately for the Patriots oxygen-depleted defense). Washington gets ten back on the first play, and now it is second and eight. Bruschi again cannot cover the shifty running back. Seriously, right now I am ready for ANYONE else in there right now at defense.

FINALLY some pressure, as Pennington has to throw it away as Big Vince gets at it right up the middle. Third and eight at the 19. James Sanders steps-up to knock the pass down as Pennington goes to the Chris Baker well one too many times. Nugent banks through the field goal (40 yards).

After the kick-off, Brady goes deep to Jackson but just cannot make the hook-up. On second down, Maroney gets only two. Big third down with 11 minutes left in the fourth at the forty. Good protection and Brady goes to Troy Brown slanting over the middle for the first down at the 49. Maroney then bounces outside the right side for eight yards following Dan Graham. Second and two and the Pats go big and Maroney goes for four yards inside the forty following Evans, Light and Mankins (with a nice seal-off block by Graham). Under pressure, Brady is forced to throw it away on first down. In the gun five wide, the Pats get a bunch on a receiver screen to Caldwell. After Faulk gets stood-up at the line of scrimmage, Gaffney gets almost nine yards for a third and inches. Nice job by Maroney picking up the blitz on that play.

Gaffney now has eight receptions for 104 yards. Pats go big and Dillon bounces it out to the right and stumbles down to the ten and a first down and goal. Ben Watson drops a pass inside the five, as Brady almost had a quick TD. Less than six minutes left in the game and Watson gets two down to the eight on a little toss. Third and goal now at the eight yard line, the Pats go four wide and Faulk in the backfield. Faulk waltzes out in the right flat uncovered and Kevin Faulk is left alone to trot into the end zone. After listening to Simms wonder why the Pats did not run into the line three times and kick a field goal lead, I remember why announcers usually do not make good coaches. The Patriots needed to go for the jugular, which is exactly what they did on that drive. Patriots 30 Jets 16.

Pats v. Jets Live Blogging - THIRD QUARTER continued

Maroney brings the kick-off out to the 25 yard line. For today, that is good field position for the Patriots. On first and fifteen after a false start penalty, Brady gets 12 back to Gaffney over the middle. Dillon gets the first down and then busts up the gut for 13. Gaffney goes over the middle again and Gaffney gets 31 yards down to the 18. The Pats give Dillon a breather and bring on Maroney, who goes for three. Brady gets sacked after not finding anyone open and trying to dance away. That is a coverage sack as the line held up the blitz for a good five or seven seconds. Third and 19 now and Brady completes a short pass to Caldwell to set-up a 40 yard field goal attempt by Gostkowski which he bangs through to make it 20-13 Patriots.

Both teams are moving the ball well right now. For the rest of the game it is going to come down to who can create a turnover or make a couple of big stops. Personally, I expected more from the Patriots defense, as they still look out of sorts.

A great job by the special teams holding Miller to a seven yard return. A three and out right here would give the Pats offense some field position for the first time today. The Jets start at the 13 yard line. Of course, a draw to Washington goes for ten yards. The battle for field position ends quickly. Another penalty on the Pats give the Jets a first and five as Seymour jumped off-sides. The Pats really need to make a play here on defense. They have to swing the momentum and field position to their offense. A four yard out sets up second and one. Three missed tackles later and Washington takes the ball 19 yards and the Jets into New England territory.

BIG VINCE!!!

Catching the network off-guards, Big Vince grabs the backwards pass that Colvin knocked down and Big Vince Wilfork had the sense to grab off the ground and run. Great shot during the Jets challenge of Belichick waving his arms and urging Wilfork to run downfield. The Jets lose the timeout as the Pats take over at the 15 yard line. Like I said, the defense needed to step-up.

On the first play, Maroney goes up the middle: once for six yards and again for nothing. Now it is a big third down at the ten yard line. Look for a Brady Play-Action again. Nope, he is in the gun and going to Gaffney in the corner of the end zone. Barrett makes a nice play to break it up. Gostkowski booms through a 28 yarder. Three for three for the kid who could never replace or even hold the jock-strap of the sacred Adam Vinatieri.

23-13 Patriots as the third quarter comes to a close (almost as there are :04 ticks left until the fourth quarter)

Pats v. Jets Live Blogging - THIRD QUARTER

After a snack of leftover Chinese food and girl scout cookies washed down by the nectar of the Gods (Sam Adams Octoberfest), I almost choked to death when the CBS halftime bozos (Boomer excluded) interviewed Shawne Merriman, who boldly predicted the Jets would win. I guess he meant that he hoped they would not have to play New England. The Pats opened by stopping Miller on the kickoff at the 24. The Jets open four-wide, and the Pats front line gets pressure again. The Jets gain two. Cotchery takes a reverse for 14 yards to the forty as Banta-Cain could not contain the play. First down run by Cedric Houston nets nothing. Tedy Bruschi (raise a glass) makes the stop; but then another completion to Coles. Bad news for the Jets though, as a good tackle by James Sanders leaves Coles on the ground as the medical crew is out to look at him.

No word yet, but a nice pass is brought back due to holding during the play. Jets face first and fifteen now near mid-field. With plenty of time, Pennington dumps off to Houston for eight yards. An end-around to Washington nets a few. But another flag flies in for a late-hit by the Patriots (Bruschi this time). Stupid, stupid, and dumb. The Pats just keep giving the Jets life. First down at the 25, a draw to Washington barely gets back to the line of scrimmage. On second down, another Jet first down to tight end Baker at the 12. Nice dive by Washington to get five. Pats need a red zone stop here. Asante Samuel makes a nice play to break-up a pass. Pats need a time out. Bruschi is covering a receiver wide left. No call. A tipped pass ends up in the arms of Baker somehow but a yard short of a first down. Nugent has to come on to kick a field goal to end the seven minute drive and make it 17-13 Patriots.

Pats v. Jets Live Blogging - Last Two Minutes Second Quarter

Last two minutes - second quarter:

First and ten at the eleven: Maroney over the left side for five following Matt Light and Logan Mankins. Huddling-up and going with a fullback (Heath Evans), the Pats run the exact same play again and Maroney takes it to the goal-line. Matt Light totally blew-up Vilma on that second run. First and goal at the one and Brady rushes to the line and forces the Jets to burn a time-out with fifty-five seconds left in the first half. First and goal now on the one. Heath Evans runs a quick-hit from fullback and gets nothing. Clock running inside thirty seconds as the hand off is to Maroney who is stopped on the left-side. Vilma, making up for the pancake-job done on him by Light, makes a nice stop on Maroney right at the one-yard line.

After a time-out by the Pats and then one by the Jets, it is third and goal at the one with fourteen seconds left. Play-action fake by Brady and a completion to Dan Graham in the back of the end-zone. Eleven ticks left and the Pats have a 17-10 lead. A nice return gave the Jets some hope at taking a shot, but with no timeouts and Pennington tossing it across the middle, the play was merely a stat-booster as Askew was dropped in the middle of the field. Halftime score: Pats 17, Jets 10.

Some quick analysis: The Pats blew some shots to move the ball early and get some points. The Jets only scores came off a turnover and a big (broken) play. If the Pats can keep the Jets from big plays in the second half, they should be able to stop them and keep the ball moving through the air and on the ground on offense. The Pats hopefully can create a turnover on defense and get a big lead to get the Jets on their heels in the second half.

Pats v. Jets Live Blogging - SECOND QUARTER

All of a sudden, Jerricho Cotchery catches a slant over the middle of the seam and is gone. Seventy-seven yards later the Jets are up 10-7. Artrell Hawkins misses a tackle and poor Mike Vrabel is left to huff and puff after him while Sanders gets over too late inside the five yard line tackling Cotchery into the end zone. Somewhere there was a breakdown on defense, as Hawkins just did not keep him in front of him. It was just a bad defensive play. There was hope, as a flag was down, but it was off-sides on the defense so the touchdown counted.

A nice return by Maroney brought the Pats up to the forty and in a short third and one Corey Dillon made a nice eight yard run bouncing it outside. Brady went long to Gaffney, who despite being shoved in the back, could not hold onto it. A quick pass to Ben Watson covered by Matt Chatham led to third and six. In the shotgun, Brady somehow got away from a blitzing Vilma who went for the ball instead of trying to sack him, and Brady was able to get out with a blocker in front of him and get 12 yards.

The Jets are moving a lot before the snap, sort of like playing offense against Peyton Manning. Pump-faking and going long yet again, the Pats get a pass interference call and a first and goal at the three when Hank Poteat just manhandled Benjamin Watson. On first, a short swing pass to Dillon missed as he stepped out of bounds after breaking a tackle. On a second and goal, a rush left goes nowhere. I expected a play-action fake and pass here on third down and goal. Exactly the call, as Ben Watson was open over the middle but the low throw was dropped and Gostkowski had to come in to crank it through for the tie at 10-10.

After the kickoff into the end-zone was retuned by Justin Miller out to the 27, after a seven yard completion to Coles, Tully Banta-Cain, who had sacked Pennington on the first Jets offensive play of the game, did a nice job of knocking the pass down at the line. Nice to see Banta-Cain having a good game as he has been a valuable role player this season. After a time-out as the Pats got caught with too many on the field, it is yet another third and short, where the Jets killed the Pats in November, Cotchery makes the catch in front of Ray Mickens at the marker yet again, gaining six yards on third and four.

The Pats could really use a turnover here or at least a quick stop and punt and stop some momentum. Another draw only nets two, and in trying to get it to Coles, the pass pulls him out of bounds. Another third down conversion by Coles as the rush does not get to Pennington and Coles comes down with the throw. The defense is getting desperate here as the Jets are running the hurry-up and the defense looks slow and tired. Pennington overthrows Coles yet again, and then the defenseive line blows up a screen for minus five. Third and fifteen now, a third and long is what was needed: The Pats need to get off the field. Good pass coverage and a bit of a rush gets a short throw underneath for six. Seven minutes plus left as the Jets punt again and it bounces into the end-zone.

Maroney up the middle for six followed by Graham giving five of it back with a false start. Stupid penalties still!!! Brady goes shotgun and five wide and gets it to Watson for ten yards and a first down. For some reason, the Pats again hand it to Faulk who has been totally ineffective running the ball so far. He is at two rushes for minus two yards. A nice slant to Reche Caldwell gives the Pats the ball at mid-field. Going back to Caldwell on the sideline wide open this time, the pass leads him too far outside to fall incomplete. Faulk busts up the gut for seven this time, finally showing some hops. Third and three and the Pats go back to the well again, running the same play as Faulk burst up the middle again and again: seven, seven and then eight. Second and short and Maroney leans forward for the first down. Pats at the 25 yard line now and closing in on another score. Brady in the gun, a blitz by the Jets, and he throws a short-out to Gaffney. Erik Coleman misses the tackle for the Jets, and a four yard pass turns into a 13 yard game. Now onto the two-minute warning still tied at ten.

Pats v. Jets Live Blogging - FIRST QUARTER

Getting the ball first, the Patriots came out in a hurry-up, no-huddle offense and marched right down the field with Brady connecting a couple of times to Jabbar Gaffney picking on the injured Andre Dyson. After a big first down catch by Troy Brown down to the ten, Dillon romped in to the end-zone and the Patriots were up 7-0 quick. The defense came out and stopped Pennington in a hurry with a sack, scramble, and an incompletion. The Pats got the ball back, lost field position on a stupid penalty on the punt and then started down the field behind the running of Lawrence Maroney. Then, on third down and six, Brady completed a six-yard pass to Jabbar Gaffney yet again, but Gaffney, rather than fall down for the first down, back-tracked in an attempt to get more yards, slipped, and ended-up a yard short and forced a punt.

The Jets were able to move the ball a bit (aided by an idiotic 15 yard unnecessary roughness call against Big Vince Wilfork. Vince was stuffing the Jets running game with a vengeance throughout the first quarter, showing the aggressiveness one would expect from a pounder forced to the sideline for the past four weeks. A screen to Leon Washington netted eleven yards. Other than that, the Jets got a third and long short completion to Lavernaues Coles which came up a few yards short and forced, after showing a bunch of different looks, a punt.

Suddenly the shit hit the fan as the Patriots running back Corey Dillon fumbled on the first carry following the Jets punt giving them the ball inside the twenty. Dwayne Robertson knocked it out of his hands and old friend Hank Poteat picked it up. The Pats defense held strong on the first two runs, setting the Jets up in a third and five at the ten. Pennington missed Coles again on third and the Jets were forced to bring Mike Nugent in to hit a 28 yard field goal.

After the kickoff, Brady hit Reche Caldwell on yet another quick-out on the sideline for six yards. Brady seems very comfortable tossing the ball to the sideline. After a two yard run by Lawrence Maroney (in for fumbling Corey Dillon), Brady quick-snapped and snuck ahead for the first. Brady went long on first down and under-threw Chad Jackson. A quick out to Watson netted about seven on second down, but then going to the well once too many times almost ended up in a pick as Brady tried to go to Watson again on the opposite side of the field. Fortunately, the Jets cornerback could not come up with it and the Pats were forced to punt.

Another short run by Leon Washington closed out the first quarter.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

SIXTEEN CANDLES

1. Yo Dawg, Hit These Tots Right Here!

No, I am not advocating violence towards children, but as part of the tater-tot generation, and still stocking up on five pound bags of deliciousness at BJs Wholesale, I just have to pass this on: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=fleming/061207 Suffice to say, I have been dropping the phrase in all its myriad forms all over town.

2. I’m still Coo-coo for Coco


Check out the player profile of Coco Crisp by Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus. Here is what I like most about it:


Crisp's 2007 season is more likely to reflect his 2004-2005 (and 2006
hypothetical numbers) than it is likely to reflect his actual 2006 line.
Combined with his defensive abilities - The Fielding Bible ranked him as the
second best left fielder in the league from 2003-2005, and David Pinto's
Probabilistic Model of Range showed Crisp to be a few outs above average
defensively in center in 2006, - we can expect Crisp to be productive for
the Sox. If his stolen base success rate is a more accurate reflection of
his abilities going forward than his past numbers are, even better for the
Red Sox
With a healthy and more experienced Crisp and potentially J.D. Drew in the
outfield for what the Sox hope is a full season's worth of games, the Red Sox
outfield should be somewhat improved defensively as well as offensively, and
this will go a long way towards the organization rebounding from what turned out
to be an incredibly disappointing 2006 season. The batted-ball data shows us
that the chances of a rebound are in Covelli's favor. Great news for a Sox
organization without a real backup solution.
Great news is what I like to hear.

3. Drew Who?

What is the over-under for days until J.D. Drew actually signs his contract? I am guessing it is likely to leak out when there is a major Patriots event going on so as to lessen the negative media impact.

4. The Big Eunich

Speaking of deals that have not gone through yet, is it a given that the pride of NYC, the big lefty, the Sox killer, Randy Johnson is gone? First off, why would any GM give-up a very good set-up man or legitimate prospects for a 43 year-old with a bad back and a 5.00 era? For some reason, San Diego supposively jumped into the fray along with the Diamondbacks, but wisely backed-away. Imagine the Big Eunich trying to co-exist with David Wells in the locker room? Yikes. Anyway, it is nice looking at the Yankees heading into 2007 with one legitimate-in-his-prime starting pitcher. With the Eunich gone, it leaves the Chien-Ming Wang (the only legit starer), the rapidly deteriorating Moose and Andy Pettite (they would be a great 1-2 punch: SIX YEARS AGO!), Japanese wanna-be Kei Igawa (who had to go tell Steinbrenner that the Yankees bid $25 million for the rights to negotiate with a pitcher who grades out as at best a #5 starter, but more likely a middle-reliever?), and the perpetually misfortunate Carl Pavano. They had better hope that Phil Hughes is all he is cracked-up to be and that he will be ready to dominate sooner rather than later.

5. Ask Dr Z.

I love the fact that Penthouse has a regular column called: Ask Dr. Z. Cracks me up every time I read the Z-Man on SI.com. In his All-Pro article, he somehow manages to not pick Ty Warren (his grading system is big on sacks, I guess). Surprisingly, Logan Mankins made the grade for his All-Pro at guard. Nice to see the O-Line get some kind of credit. Z, of course, is the one who called out Richard Seymour after the Jets game because he totally sucked. Of course, in defense of Big Sey, he should not have even been playing with his dinged-up elbow and when he did play, he was out of position filling in for the injured Ty Warren.

6. Closer

So the Sox got their closer: Joel Piniero. Hey, I am a huge Piniero fan: He is representing Puerto Rico every season on my fantasy baseball team. He was cheap, has some upside, and lest anyone forget, the Cardinals won the World Series with Adam Wainwright as their closer. What have the Yankees won with Mariano Rivera as closer these past six years? Right, absolutely nothing. A great signing by the Sox, adding to the live arms in the bullpen. Heck, I feel better about the pen now than I did last year at this time.

7. Rudy Seanez Redux

Speaking of relief pitchers, the Yankees are apparently trying to corner the market on Rudy Seanez clones, as they got about three of them from Arizona for the Big Eunich. Great deal. Add them to the middling relief prospects from Detroit and Baltimore and the Pinstripers got just about nothing for their most dangerous and clutch hitter (Gary Sheffield), a number five starter (Jared Wright), and a 200+ innings veteran #3 pitcher. Great wheeling and dealing indeed. Guess they need to save some cash to keep paying for psychologists for A-Rod since they cannot give him away.

8. One Student Down, Two to Go

So Nick Saban bailed on the Dolphins? Good! Of course, it was a moot point for weeks, but what motivation did he have to go back to the Dolphins instead of taking the easy money and less stress of Tuscaloosa (not that coaching Alabama is a stress-free job, but it is still college and not the NFL)

9. Salary Cap

Wait, are we supposed to bash the Patriots for not spending to the cap this year, or congratulate Scott Pioli for keeping money in reserve to sign cheap veterans as the injury report goes into double-digits once again. Very shrewd, dude. Speaking of caps, with Floyd Reese gone from Tennessee, is this the off-season Pioli bolts for big bucks? Reese is very close to Bill Belichick and could slide into the GM role quite easily in New England.

10. Are you mocking me?

Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus checks in with the first mock fantasy draft of 2007. Mock drafts already??? Wait, less than 90 days until opening day? Oh joy! That means we are six weeks from spring training, which gives me only about 70 days to get ready for the fantasy draft. Oh joy! If I can survive a February and March full of the Celtics and Bruins playing out the string, I should be all set and juiced for the Sox in 07. The best part of fantasy sports is without doubt the team name. After years of going with the Troy Trojans or Troy Haymakers (homage to 19th century pro ball) I started going to witty names, Simpsons-related names, Futurama-related names, to simply advertising the blog. I think I will stick with the advertising, but I like the idea of having a team named: Mimit is Pissed-off! (Of course, Brigs would probably name his team: His name is Slim, dammit! in retaliation.)

11. Smut-tastic

Up until recently, I completely forgot all about the local lads mag that somehow keeps plugging along. Fortunately, they have their website in some kind of order, as they so desperately needed to do. Yes, the great juvenile anti-cubicle Boston sports and pub crawling humor of Barstool Sports is still kicking along. Congrats to El Presidente. I remember the paper coming out and laughing my arse off and thinking: this guy has serious canastas. I still think they are crazy to keep printing, but at least the website is looking more like Deadspin.com instead of Dead Space. Now where the hell is that offer to get the doughy, mid-thirties, yuppy, preppy white-boy perspective of BostonSportPage.com as a regular feature?

12. Bruins Fever: Catch it

I think the 10-2 pasting by Toronto just killed every last drop of Bruins mania that some poor saps may have been clinging to. I watched a bit where it was 2-1 Bruins until 3-2 Toronto in the second. Imagine my surprise getting the text message that the final was 10-2. I was wondering why I heard my father-in-law cursing from 10 miles away.

13. The slow meandering drive for 17 continues

Celtics - Grizzlies live on FSN Friday night. NBA Fever, catch it. YAAAAWNNNNNNN!

14.
Ron Borges needs to stick to boxing

He is the best boxing writer this side of Burt Sugar, but Borges manages to piss me off 90% of the time when he is talking or writing about the Pats. His Gostkowski bashing in the Globe on Friday 1/5 was inexcusable. He writes that


he's the reason New England leads the league in fourth-down tries
Uhh, yeah, OK. Just like he must have been the reason in 2005 and 2004 as well while he was kicking in college and Adam Vinatieri was on the roster. Glad to see you took advantage of the opportunity to turn the knife in the back of Bill Belichick yet once again. (Note: I was ecstatic to see that Bruce Allen at Boston Sports Media Watch caught Borges in the act as well and called him out on it, as well as ridiculing him for falling for the Pepto planted in the locker.)

15. Picks are back!

Just in time for the playoffs, as life calms down just a pinch, I bring back the picks. Here they are for the Wild Card round:

Colts 51 Chiefs 49: Adam Vinatieri hits a 49 yard field goal with one tick left on the clock to propel the Colts into a match-up with San Diego. Tony Gonzalez has four touchdown receptions in the loss.

Cowboys 26 Seahawks 20 (2 OT): Drew Bledsoe comes off the bench in the second overtime to toss a touchdown to Terry Glenn ala his career-highlight toss to Michael Timpson on January 2, 1994 knocking the Dolphins out of the playoffs at the conclusion of his rookie season (Gallagher & I watched that one from the nosebleed section the afternoon after catching Aerosmith at the Garden where some kid who claimed to be the son of Joe Perry invited my future wife back-stage. Fortunately for me, I am jealous and possessive). Unfortunately, after the Minnesota 63 pass super-comeback win the following season, it was all downhill for Drew after that.

Patriots 24 Jets 17: see below

Eagles 38 Giants 17: Jeremy Shockey knocks Eli Manning out of the game on the sideline in the third quarter with a haymaker after Manning overthrows Shockey for his third interception of the game.

16. Pats vs Jets

Some of the most cogent pre-game analysis comes from Mike Gee (former Boston Herald sportswriter) on his blog:


It's very difficult for ANY pro football team to win twice in an opponent's home
stadium. First, the only way it can happen is in the playoffs, meaning both
clubs were reasonably successful in the regular season. Secondly, since you're
on the road, it means your opponent had more success than you did. Finally, and
worst of all for New York, your chances actually go down the better your season
was. It's exponentially less likely the 10-6 Jets will beat the 12-4 Pats in
Foxboro than it is the 8-8 Giants will topple the 10-6 Eagles in Philly (not
that anyone should bet the Giants, mind you).

Of course, it is the playoffs and anything can happen. But he brings out a good argument:
The Jets can win if they outplay the Pats by a significant margin. If both teams
are at the same level, New England will likely prevail. If the Jets don't play
as well as the Pats, they'll lose by an area code. On the blackboard, this
equals New England to win and cover.
Will the Jets outplay the Patriots by a significant margin on Sunday? I see it as very doubtful. The Jets had three big things in their advantage in November.

1. They had two weeks to gameplan for their personal Super Bowl, while the Patriots had a short week;
2. The Patriots stupid turnovers killed them. To say that the Patriots offense is playing worse than they were in November is idiotic. The team is starting to peak offensively again with Corey Dillon and Lawrence Maroney healthy and Reche Caldwell playing like a number one receiver;
3. The Patriots injuries forced them to shuffle their strength of the defense: the defensive line. The defense is finally getting over the loss of Junior Seau and Eugene Wilson, and if Bob Sanders can keep from giving up some big plays, they should be alright to handle the loss of Rodney Harrison.

Like I said above, Patriots 24 Jets 17.

* * *

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