Tuesday, December 29

What to do this week

Confused by the AFC playoff scenarios? Wondering what to do about Bowl season? Having trouble keeping up with the Cavaliers? don't worry - you've come to the right place. I'll steer you through this week with recommendations on who to pull for and what to look for.

NCAA Football
Obviously you want to pull for the Buckeyes to win the Rose Bowl - that goes without saying. I was interested to read that Terrelle Pryor has been playing with a small ligament tear in his knee - hopefully he'll be OK for the game and his injury can be repaired fully in the off-season. I like Ohio State's chances against Oregon; the Pac-10 isn't particularly impressive, and the Buckeyes are (were, anyway) on a roll. They're a tougher, more defense-oriented club than the Ducks are used to, and I think Oregon will find it tough to score. Plus, bettors, you get 4 points for taking the Bucks over the Ducks. Also, as a side note, I love the ESPN commercial where the Duck mascot is working at his desk and looks out the window sadly at a bunch of actual ducks in a pond. Hilarious.

I like the idea of OSU in the Rose Bowl. Sure, you always want to get to the BCS title game, and the Buckeyes have had a nice run of Fiesta Bowl appearances. But there's some prestige behind the Rose Bowl, and Ohio State hasn't been there since the fantastic comeback win over Arizona State 13 years ago. The Big Ten hasn't fared well in recent appearances in Pasadena, and I think the Buckeyes can take the first big step towards reversing that trend.

Part of the Big Ten's struggles out west can be directly traced to Ohio State having not participated much of late, as one ESPN columnist pointed out. Of course, you could make a good case that the Pac-10 has done just fine despite routinely sending USC to bigger and better bowls. Public perception of the Big Ten's football prowess is not good right now, thanks to both the Rose Bowl follies and Ohio State's two crushing defeats in consecutive BCS title games. It's ironic that so much of the blame for the Big Ten's waning power has been laid at the feet of the Buckeyes, who have dominated the conference for basically the entire decade. Why not blame Minnesota, or Michigan State, or Iowa? Why's it all Ohio State's fault? Yeah, they had some rough games against Florida and LSU, but erstwhile power michigan hasn't even been to a bowl game in the past two seasons! If anything, OSU should be least culpable in the recent power shift away from Big Ten football.

Once again, for the good of the conference (a rising tide lifts all boats), we Buckeye fans should be pulling for the rest of the crew to do well in their postseason endeavors. This is made much easier by the non-qualification of the pathetic school up north - did you know we beat them for a sixth straight time this year? You can look it up. It's a fact. I always hated rooting for them in bowl games, back when they used to attend bowl games - it's like eating vegetables in that you know it's good for you, but you still don't like actually doing it. Plus when they lose bowl games, it's like, wow, I could have been rooting against them and enjoyed that?! The one time of year I try to back the Wolverines, and they screw it up? Thanks a lot. Of course, an optimist would say that there's a benefit to both a michigan bowl win (go conference!) or a loss (michigan sucks!)

But enough anout those losers. Let's get behind our friends from the Midwest: Wisconsin (Champs Sports, 12/29)
Minnesota (Insight, 12/31)
Northwestern (Outback, 1/1)
Penn State (Capital One, 1/1)
Michigan State (Alamo, 1/2)
Iowa (Orange, 1/5).

Go Big Ten! And for Ohio pride, Go Cincinnati! And, of course, Go Bucks.


As Warden Norton said in The Shawshank Redemption: "Nothing changes!" Just keep on keepin' on, Cavs. These guys are looking good. No advice necessary here. Do what you do. Nothing to see here, please disperse.

NFL Football
Wow, is the AFC ever a tangled mess. Let's try to make sense of it.

First of all, since this is a Cleveland sports blog: what should we do about the Browns? Obviously, pulling for the Browns to win is always a fan's top priority, but sometimes circumstances change things. As far as I'm concerned, losing to gain draft position is NOT one of those circumstances. I hate when this strategy is advocated - it's weak, unsporting, and not even correct organizational strategy. We need like 20 more good players - does it really do us any good to have the #5 pick instead of the #7? You can get a premier player anywhere in the Top 10, and picking a few spots down actually saves the club guaranteed money because of the NFL's stupid rookie pay scale. So none of this "losing to improve draft position" business. Stop it.

I don't think the final game will have much bearing on Mike Holmgren's decision regarding coach Eric Mangini's fate either, so whether you want him to stay or go, you shouldn't let that affect your perspective on Sunday's contest.

But what if we can help knock Pittsburgh and/or Baltimore out of the playoffs? Well, now we've got something to consider. If it would eliminate either team from postseason contention, I would gladly accept a Browns loss, assuming the Browns had nothing at stake. That's a sacrifice I can make.

Unfortunately, both evil teams still have a chance to get in - simultaneously, no less. TYep, there are somehow still sequences of events that get both clubs in. Fortunately, none of those involve the Browns' opponent, Jacksonville, so we have no conflicting interest and the hypothetical scenario in the previous paragraph does not come into play. The Jags are in contention, but their result in Cleveland on Sunday has no bearing on the fate of either of the Browns' bitterest rivals. So, Browns fans, I would encourage you to support the Browns wholeheartedly, knowing that you can do so conscience-free.

Now, what about these other games? There are SEVEN teams fighting for the two wild-card spots. Seven! The divisions are all sewn up, but the wild cards are very much up for grabs. This page summarizes all of the scenarios the various teams have to make it.

The Ravens and Jets are the most straightforward of the group: win and they're in, lose and they're out. The Ravens are in Oakland and the Jets host Cincinnati. Pittsburgh has to win at Miami and get some help from some combination of Houston, the Jets, the Ravens, and Broncos. The other four teams: Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, and Miami, have complicated scenarios that are outside the scope of this article.

The logical thing for a Browns fan to do is the most natural: root against both the Ravens and Steelers. Piece of cake. For both teams, they lose, they're out. I don't necessarily think either of them will do so - Baltimore should handle the Raiders and Pittsburgh should take down Miami (both on the road), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be pulling for our warm-weather underdog friends. I'd say Miami has a better chance to pull it off than Oakland. Regardless: Go Fish! Go Raiders!

The other thing we can do is root for the teams from which the Steelers need assistance to qualify for the postseason. Victories by Houston, Baltimore (ugh), New York, and Denver all diminish the Steelers' chances, so Go Texans! Go Jets! Go Broncos! I omitted the Ravens there, intentionally, because I simply couldn't bring myself to type it. If it comes down to it, yes, a Raven win could knock out the Steelers, and I suppose I could would slightly prefer Baltimore to advance, but I want them both out! You hear me? Both! That having been said, we should put our full force behind the Jets (hosting Cincinnati in a game the Bengals don't really need) and Texans (hosting New England in a game the Pats don't need but that the Texans will probably lose so they can be 8-8 again) so the Steelers can be knocked out regardless of what happens to them or Baltimore.

Cleveland, Miami, Oakland, New York Jets, Houston, and Denver are your teams this weekend, Browns fans. In that order.


Andy said...

I omitted one factor that mitigates our support for Houston: they play New England. If they lose, the Bengals will rest their starters and a Jet win is more likely.

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