Saturday, January 31

NFL Picks: Super Bowl

Awesome, my favorite sporting day of the year once again marred by the appearance of my least (or at best second-least) favorite team. Ugh. The Cardinals aren't a real appealing alternative, though I suppose it will have to do. I hope they have beer wherever I'm watching this game.

The FCF team had a little better success prognosticating during the Conference Championship round: only Figgs' selection of the Eagles kept us from posting a perfect record. As it stands, we're 14-16 overall, with Nick holding a one-game advantage going into the Super Bowl, a game that many have described as being the "Daytona 500 of American Professional Football."

Last Week
Andy: 2-0
Figgs: 1-1
Nick: 2-0
Nick's Money Picks: 1-0

Playoffs so far
Andy: 5-5
Figgs: 3-7
Nick: 6-4
Nick's Money Picks: 4-4

Super Bowl XLIII

Cardinals (+7) vs Steelers
Andy: If you had told me back in October that these two teams would be playing for the Super Bowl, I would have freaked out because: how did you get back here to October 2008 from the future? But seriously, Arizona's run to the title game is as improbable as Pittsburgh's 53rd Super Bowl appearance is boring and run-of-the-mill. Look at some of the beatdowns these guys took in New York and Boston! Look at some of the derogatory comments I wrote in past weeks about not trusting them. These guys are the NFC Champions?

I'm rooting for the Cardinals to win this game not just because I dislike the Steelers (though it helps), but because Vegas stands to lose considerably if the redbirds win because of people who put down $10 on Arizona on a drunken lark at like 300-1 or whatever back in August. Vegas really wants a Pittsburgh victory, and I like rooting against the house. And against the Steelers. And with seven points, I don't feel so bad about that. I'll take the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, and get me a Pabst while you're up.
Figgs: I'm not too optimistic about the Cards shocking the world, but my hatred for shitsburgh will not allow me to pick them.
Nick: Steelers. Everyone's talking themselves into the Cardinals, and I think this one might not be that close. At least I'll make some money off of it. Shoot me now.

CaVs take down Clippers at home

There was good news and bad news for the Cavs on Friday. The bad news was that they lost on Thursday night in Orlando, and they looked pretty lousy in the second half of that game. The good (and much more significant) news was that center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was coming off the shelf for the first time in 13 games. Even after Anderson Varejao filled in admirably, the Cavs were more ready to have their sharp-shooting center stretching out defenses with his silky smooth jumper. More good news: Ilgauskas looked great in his first game back.

If this had been a table tennis game, the Cavs would have skunked the Clippers, as they took an early 11-0 lead. Buoyed by a healthy Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the Cavs continued to pour it on to stretch their lead to 16 points (20-4). Early on, this game looked like a laugher.

Surprisingly, the Clippers didn't cave. Fueled by some strong outside shooting -- not to mention the Cavs cooling off -- the Clippers miraculously managed to tie the game by the end of the first quarter.

Apparently Mike Dunleavy told the Clippers to "fire at will" in between the first and second quarters, because his troops were launching three-pointers with no fear of reprisal. Unfortunately for the home team, too many of those shots were falling. LA's Steve Novak won the "Walter Herrmann Obscure Scrub Who Burns the Cavs Award." Steve Novak. Remember that name, because you may never see it in print again.

Both teams scored 28 points in the second quarter, leaving us with a 54-all tie at the half. Who knows what Mike Brown said to his club in the locker room, but they deserved a tongue lashing. Aside from being tied with the Clippers (THE CLIPPERS!), the Cavaliers allowed 54 points to a team that was averaging less than 93 points per game. The Clippers hit 8-of-15 treys in the first half, which is absurd considering that they were 28th in the league in shooting coming into the game. While there were a dozen guys on the court wearing Cleveland's colors, the Cavaliers' trademarked defense had yet to show up.

After mystery man Steve Novak opened the third quarter with a 3-ball, the Cavs answered with a 7-0 run to take a 4-point lead. Cleveland's defensive intensity was dialed up a notch or two, and the offense followed suit. Midway through the quarter the Cavs had opened up a 10-point lead. In the third quarter, it seemed like the Clippers remembered that they were the Clippers, and they started to fade. The Cavs closed out the quarter with an 83-73 advantage.

The Cavs could basically put things on cruise control in the fourth quarter, as it was clear they weren't going to let the game get away. The defense stayed solid, and the Cavaliers finished by allowing just 41 points in the second half after a lackluster showing in the first half.

Final: Cleveland 112, Los Angeles 95

Quick Hits

The Z factor
I was in the camp that wanted to give Z all the time he needed to get back to 100-percent. Sure, losing him for an extended period of time might cost the Cavs a game or two, but they had to make sure the big man was healthy for the playoffs. It looks like Z's rehab wasn't rushed, as he played a surprising 28 minutes in his first game back.

Ilgauskas provided a big boost for the home team, dropping 20 and 11 on 10-of-16 shooting. The flat-footed jumper was feathery, the tip-in was working, and it was great to see Ilgauskas back in action. With the exception of a shot of Z huffing for air on the bench in the first quarter, you wouldn't have known that he had just missed 13 games. Keep your fingers crossed that Ilgauskas can stay healthy through the playoff run, because as the losses to the Lakers and Magic showed us, his presence in the middle is crucial to slowing down quality bigs.

22 and counting...
The Cavs improved on their league leading home record, stretching it out to 22-0. This team has always played well at home, but this is getting ridiculous. That record should be all the motivation they need to reclaim the number one seed from the Celtics. Well, that and dodging either Boston or Orlando in round two.

Question: Is it too early to talk about a 41-0 home record?
Answer: Yes.

Wally World
What do you make of Wally Szczerbiak? Every fiber of my being is telling me that this guy is going to break down and be the Wally we saw last spring. Szczerbiak is slow, flat-footed to the max, a lousy defender, and arguably the least athletic Cleveland player I've seen in years (bigs excluded). His play screams "unsustainable." But then he plods down the floor and drains another bomb. Whatever Wally's been eating for breakfast, sign me up for a box. Wally Szczerbiak: enigma.

At any rate, Wally had another nice night shooting the ball, going 6-of-10 for 15 points. If he keeps knocking down the deep ball, there's a spot for Szczerbiak on this team, although I'd still prefer to deal him for a big if the right trade presents itself.

Will the real Sasha Pavlovic please stand up?
Sasha Pavlovic gets an opportunity to sneak into the starting lineup and he excels. He finally seems to be putting everything together and living up to his vast physical potential. He looks like a guy the Cavs simply must find serious minutes for every night. Does this remind anyone else of winter/spring 2007? Seriously, it's deja vu all over again.

I won't get fooled againt. No, this time I'm treating Sasha like that ex that keeps running back to you as a safety when s/he blows it with someone else; this time I'm not falling for the act. Pavs has teased me and hurt me too many times, and he's a guy that I've basically written off to the "underachiever" scrap heap. He could put it together some day, but I doubt that he does. More importantly, if he ever does put it together, I'm almost certain it won't be in Cleveland.

What's the plan?
The Clippers don't get a ton of national publicity, but if you read as much Bill Simmons as I do, you know that Mike Dunleavy is a disaster as the coach/GM. This guy thought it was a good idea to form a front line of Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, and Zach Randolph; how can his players look at him without giggling?

There are a bunch of teams like the Clippers in the NBA that seem pretty rudderless. Sometimes they achieve mediocrity, but they're never going to break through with their current make up. Teams like Sacramento, Chicago, and Milwaukee come to mind. Sometimes you need to roll the dice with a big trade. If it works out, then that that's great. If it doesn't work out, at least you took a chance and now you really know it's time to blow everything up. You're either going for it or rebuilding in the NBA. There's no point in being the perennial seven seed.

At least they have Al Thornton...
Al Thornton is a guy that we rarely hear anything about in the East because the Clippers are so lousy. But Thornton is one of the few reasons for Clippers fans to watch this train wreck of a basketball team. Thornton is going to turn out to be one of the great steals of the 2007 draft. The guy can score, shoot with decent efficiency for a young player, and he has a surprisingly quick first step. If Thornton can improve his outside shot, you're looking at a potential star in the NBA for a long time.

(T)he(y) Hate Me
It's good to know that Ricky Davis still receives a smattering of boos when he comes back to town. We Cleveland fans have long memories. But Davis' return led me to ask the question: who is the most hated ex-Cavalier?

For me, it has to be Larry Hughes. I know the majority might pick Carlos Boozer, but I've softened on him after I heard about his child's battle with sickle cell anemia. But back to Hughes; that guy battered rims with his jumper like Rocky Balboa wails on a speed bag. Hughes' play was so bad, and his contract was such an albatross, that I would have gladly given him away for nothing. Serendipitously, the Cavs were able to add some key pieces in the Hughes deal, including Delonte West, Ben Wallace, and Mo Williams in a roundabout way (Joe Smith's expiring contract was the centerpiece of the Williams deal).

Austin Carr DiGiorno Pizza Quote of the Game
" The Q!" Okay, it's not really a unique quote, but this is Austin's favorite way to end a sentence. And AC uses the phrase when it isn't even remotely necessary. "Hello Fred -- it's good to see you The Q!" I might say it was getting out of hand if I didn't love it so much. If I were setting up prop bets for Cavs games, the over/under on "in The Q" would probably be set at 7.5.

Up Next: 2/1, at Detroit, The Palace, 2:30
Sunday has turned into a nice little sports day with the Cavs/Pistons game serving as a warm up for the Super Bowl. I'd make a comment about the evil team that's playing in the Super Bowl, but then the reality of it all might sink in, and I might get depressed, stop shaving, and stay inside my house until Tribe opening day. The point is that the Cavs are heading to Detroit to get some payback on a Detroit team that beat them back in November, and this is a losable game. The Pistons challenged the Celtics last night, so there's certainly reason to think that they can't at least hang with the Cavs. It should be a good game. (Rasheed Wallace is still a jerk.)

Friday, January 30

Propping up the Super Bowl

Hey fans, do you feel like need something other than excessive quantities of beer and nachos to make this stupid steeler-infested game more interesting? How about some ridiculous prop bets?! These are courtesy of Jimmy Shapiro from Apparently, Richard Garnder, the sportsbook manager there, has constructed roughly 1000 of these. Remember, for those of you unfamiliar with how betting works, a negative number means a favorite and a positive means the underdog. So if you take something at -200, it means you have to put up 200 to win 100. If you take it at +150, you only need to post 100 to win 150. Got it?

Sorry about the formatting - Blogger stupidly disallows multiple spacebars.

Will Barack Obama bring back US tradition and call winning team before broadcast goes off the air?
Yes +150
No -225

I can't say I'm familiar with the tradition, but I can tell you that one year my friend Gopo called the number advertising the winning team's championship gear to ask if they would sell him the losing team's championship gear and they seemed willing to. I'd love to have a Steelers 2008 Super Bowl Champions shirt if they lost.

How Many Times will NBC show Brenda Warner on TV during the Game?
Over/Under 3 ½

Take the over - you can't tell her apart from Kurt!

How many times will Al Michaels and John Madden reference Ben Roethlisberger as “Big Ben” during the Game?
Over/Under 7 ½

Under, because they have started calling him simply "Ben," like they're boys.

How many food references will John Madden make during the game?
Over/Under 1 ½

Does a turducken count as three? Over.

What Betting Line will Al Michaels allude to or mention first during the Game?
Pointspread -200
Total +150

Great prop bet here. Even at -200, I'm taking the spread.

Will Matt Millen pick the correct team to win the SB on the NBC Pregame?
Yes -270
No +210

There's no better commentary on the respect Millen commands from fans and gamblers alike than the existence of this bet. However, it really has nothing to do with Millen - he's going to pick the Steelers, so they're basically putting a money line on the game's outcome.

Which Team's Cheerleaders will be shown more often on camera?
Pittsburgh -175
Arizona +135

Pittsburgh has cheerleaders? Put the cash on Arizona - they're bound to be hotter.

What will the TV Rating be, O/U (Nielsen)
Over/Under 42.5

I've said this in the past, but I can't understand how a Super Bowl can be less than 100.

What Super Bowl will average more viewers?
Super Bowl XL +110
Super Bowl XLIII -150

A bet on this should automatically put your name on a Potential Problem Gambler list, like how when you get cold medicine at the pharmacy you have to sign up for the May Be Addicted to Narcotics list.

Who will have the largest market share in TV Ratings?
Arizona +300
Pennsylvania -500

As if Arizona's elderly population has a chance to make it through the second half.

Which Super Bowl commercial will have a higher rating on USA Today's annual Ad Meter?
Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser 1/1
Doritos 3/1
Pepsi 3/1
Coca-Cola 4/1
McDonald’s 7/1
Go 8/1
Other 2/1

godaddy should be like 35/1 after their past performance. I still don't know what they sell. I'd put money on the ShamWow! if I could.

What brand of Anheuser-Busch will have more commercials on Super Bowl Sunday?
Bud Light +200
Budweiser -300

This question makes me pine for the days when the Bud Bowl was on and featured animation of bottles playing football.

How long will it take Jennifer Hudson to sing the National anthem?
Over/Under 1:54

Admit it: you have no idea how long this song is.

What Song will Bruce Springsteen sing to begin his Halftime Show at the Super Bowl?
Born in the USA 2/1
Glory Days 2/1
The Rising 4/1
Born to Run 5/1
The Wrestler 5/1
Radio Nowhere 8/1
I’m on Fire 12/1

If you're Bruce, why not put $1 million on "I'm on Fire" and play a few bars to collect $12 million?

What Song will Bruce Springsteen sing to End his Halftime Show at the Super Bowl?
Born in the USA 2/1
Born to Run 3/2
Glory Days 4/1
The Rising 4/1
The Wrestler 5/1
Radio Nowhere 8/1
I’m on Fire 12/1

I'm serious - close with it, too!

Which NBC Show will get the most Promos during the game?
The Office 5/4
Heroes 7/4
30 Rock 5/2
Chuck 11/2
Friday Night Lights 8/1
Jay Leno 15/1
Conan O’Brien 15/1

Stay away, bettors!

Will Jay Leno make an appearance during the Super Bowl Pre Game Show?
Yes -140
No Even

Weird bet, because someone must already know the answer to this.

Random Props

Will Kurt Warner break Joe Montana’s Super Bowl Record of 1142 career Passing Yards?
Yes +500
No -800
(Kurt Warner needs 364 Passing Yards to break the record)

Somehow, I don't see the old boy hanging 365 on the Steeler defense.

Who will the MVP of the Game thank first?
God 1/1
Teammates 2/1
Family 4/1
Coach 7/1
Doesn't thank anyone 3/1

Back when Warner was QB of the Rams, I bet you had to lay pretty good odds to get "God."

What Color will the Gatorade be that is dumped on the Head Coach of the Winning Super Bowl Team?
Clear/Water 4/5
Red 5/2
Yellow 3/1
Blue 7/1
Orange 7/1
Lime Green 10/1

Lime Green at 10/1? That's the best kind!

What side of the ball with the Players that perform the Gatorade Shower be from?
Offensive Even
Defensive -130

No special teams?

How many current NFL Players will be arrested during Super Bowl Week?
Over 1 Even
Under 1 -140

This is going to be a push. There's always one.

What Color will Bill Bidwill’s bow tie be?
Red -500
Any Other Color +300

This frustrates me on several levels, let's just move on.

How many planes will be included in the Pregame Fly Over?
2 or less 6/1
3 4/1
4 3/1
5 5/4
6 or More 2/1

Can we get an over/under on taxpayer dollars wasted by said flyover?

Who will win the Madden Super Bowl?
Pittsburgh -300
Arizona +200

I feel like I should know what this means.

What will happen with the Stock Market the day after Super Bowl XLIV?
Pittsburgh Wins Market Up 3/2
Pittsburgh Losses Market Down 5/2
Arizona Wins Market Up 2/1
Arizona Losses Market Down 7/4

I assume if you take one of these and the SB outcome isn't correct, it's a push?

Historical Props

Historical matchup - Total Passing Yards Ben Roethlisberger Super Bowl XL vs. Ben Roethlisberger Super Bowl XLIII
Ben Roethlisberger Super Bowl XL +96.5 Yards
Ben Roethlisberger Super Bowl XLIII -96.5 Yards
(Ben Roethlisberger had 123 Passing Yards in Super Bowl XL)

Worst SB performance by a winning QB ever. I think he'll top 219 easily this time.

Historical matchup - Total Passing Yards Kurt Warner Super Bowl XXXIV vs. Kurt Warner Super Bowl XLIII
Kurt Warner Super Bowl XXXIV -148.5 Yards
Kurt Warner Super Bowl XLIII +148.5 Yards
(Kurt Warner had 415 Passing Yards in Super Bowl XXXIV)

Wow, 415, that's a ton.

Historical matchup - Total Passing Yards Kurt Warner Super Bowl XXXVI vs. Kurt Warner Super Bowl XLIII
Kurt Warner Super Bowl XXXVI -99.5 Yards
Kurt Warner Super Bowl XLIII +99.5 Yards
(Kurt Warner had 365 Passing Yards in Super Bowl XXXVI)

Interesting that this o/u line is set one yard lower than the previous otherwise identical bet.

Historical matchup - Total Rushing Yards Willie Parker Super Bowl XL vs. Willie Parker Super Bowl XLIII
Willie Parker Super Bowl XL -13.5 Yards
Willie Parker Super Bowl XLIII +13.5 Yards
(Willie Parker had 93 Rushing Yards in Super Bowl XL)

Really, you don't think Parker will get 80? This seems like easy money to me.

Francis props

How many dumb articles will be written before and after the Super Bowl calling it "overhyped" even though it makes perfect sense to hype arguably America's biggest cultural and sporting event?
Over/under 430 million

Which came first?
Chicken -150
Egg +130

Which team is still better than the Steelers?
Cavs -1000
Indians -1000

How many beers per Browns fan will it take to stomach this game?
Over/under 8.5

Historical matchup - Refs openly trying to help the Steelers win Super Bowl XL vs. Refs openly trying to help the Steelers win Super Bowl XLIII
Refs SB XL -2 refs
Refs SB XLIII +2 refs

Thursday, January 29

That ain't new, baby!

Best Super Bowl commercial ever. I refuse to even hear arguments. Pretty much everything Tate says is hilarious - I especially like how after he chastises someone he yells their name at them. "That's a long-distance call, DOUG!"

"I don't got time for pain. The only pain I got time for is the pain I put on fools who don't know what time it is."

Hey, how about the extended version, why the hell not? Notice how when he tackles the guy from behind who took the pens that weren't his, Tate even uses good tackling form and strips the pen container.

"You kill the Joe, you make some mo'!"

Tuesday, January 27

Returning from the roadie

The Cavs play their first home game in 11 days tonight, hosting the Sacramento Kings at the Q in a game that should easily run the CaVs' perfect home mark to 21-0 before they hop on another plane for their Thursday night showdown with Orlando. Before we move on however, I'd like to offer a few thoughts on the Caballeros' recently-concluded West Coast swing, during which they posted a 3-1 mark.

First off: I'm delighted with taking three of four on the road against such competition. The 2002-03 Cavaliers won three road games all year.

[It's true. If you have a sec, look at the Cavs' 2003 Schedule and Results. We've come a long way from the days of breaking 15-game losing streaks behind 29 points from Dajuan Wagner. Someday, when the Browns are 14-2, we'll look back laughingly on the 2008 Browns in a similar fashion.]

Anyway, this was a really strong trip for the Cavs. Yes, the Lakers stuck it to them pretty good in the opener, but to come out and take the last three shows the sort of resilliency that has thus far been a hallmark of the 2008-09 Cavs and should serve them well come postseason time. Cleveland still has not lost back-to-back contests this season, I believe making them the only team in the league that can claim as much.

Following the Laker debacle, the Cavs still had three tough games. Golden State isn't great, but I can always fall back on the old NBA crutch that every road game is tough. GS sports a 10-11 home mark anyway, and ended up giving the Cavs their toughest test. The other games were against high-quality opponents: Portland (27-17, 16-5 at home) and Utah (25-20, 17-5 at home), and the Cavs went right into their buildings and took them down.

Portland was a key game because the Cavs came in having lost 4 of 5 on the road and looked particularly inept against the Lakers two nights before. Perhaps sensing this, the team's two stars (especially with Z out) took command and spearheaded a 104-98 Cavalier win. LeBron went off for 34 points, 7 boards, and 14 assists, while Mo Williams came through with 33 big points. The two stars shot a combined 53.1% from the floor, leading a teamwide 52.6% effort. It's not a secret that the Cavs aren't quite as deep as they were a month ago, with two starters missing extended time, and occasionally a team like that needs to rely on its stars to get the job done, and the Cavs did just that.

Interestingly, only three Cavs ended up on the negative side of the +/- ledger; JJ Hickson (-14), Daniel Gibson (-9), and Darnell Jackson (-7). Take that stat for what you will, but it'd be interesting to track Hickson's development with respect to the Cavs' performance while he's on the floor, especially as long as he's getting extended minutes.

Golden State two nights later looked like the surer bet of the two remaining games on the trip, as the Cavs would face a Utah team the very next night that was both rested and, well, better than the Warriors. Doug recapped the thrilling finish of the 106-105 game in an article a couple of days ago, as LBJ buried a buzzer-beater dagger to secure a Cavalier victory. LeBron also led or tied for the team lead in scoring (32), +/- (12), rebounds (9), assists (8), steals (3), and blocks (2) on the night. I'm not making that up. This guy, lest we forget, is good.

The big shot turned out to be worth possibly more than we even imagined initially, as the following night the Cavs dispatched the Jazz in Salt Lake City, 102-97. I think a lot of people just expected the Cavs to bank a 2-2 road trip and get ready to head home, but the Cavs (and their leader) once again came out with fire and beat a quality team in their own building. I'm of the opinion that, if LeBron's buzzer-beater doesn't drop the night before, the Cavs don't come out like this and take this game. Perhaps emboldened by their triumph in Oakland, Cavs, and especially LBJ, overcame strong performances from the Jazz bench unit, Paul Milsap (Carlos who?), and a 17-point, 16-assist effort from Deron Williams to close out the trip in style. LeBron was superlative again, posting a 33/14/9 line. The Cavs also got 25 from sidekick extraordinare Mo Williams and a mind-boggling +22 rating from the suddenly-productive Sasha Pavlovic.

Looking to this week, obviously the showdown with Orlando is on everyone's mind. That game is sandwiched between two exceedingly winnable home games against SAC and the LA Clippers. The most immediate challenge to the Cavs' perfect home mark seems to be, yep, the LA Lakers, who come to visit for a Sunday afternoon ABC game on Feb. 8. I know, I know, I'm not taking it one game at a time, but I think rooting for a 34-8 team gives me some license to think to June.

Monday, January 26

Surprise! Kokinis hired to replace Savage

Earlier today the Cleveland Browns announced that owner Randy Lerner has selected Baltimore's director of pro personnel, George Kokinis, to replace Phil Savage as general manager. Kokinis has been the prohibitive favorite to succeed Savage for over two weeks, ever since it became clear that Lerner had zeroed in on Mangini as the team's new head coach. Thus, the move comes as little surprise to anyone, but the Browns were forced to delay Kokinis’ hiring until the Ravens were eliminated from the playoffs.

George Kokinis is a relative unknown compared to some of the high profile candidates that Lerner was considering, such as Scott Pioli and Rich McKay. Kokinis' profile can be found here. Kokinis started his NFL career as an intern in the Browns' operations department in the early '90s, and moved on to scouting. He stayed with the franchise after their exodus to Baltimore, where he worked his way up to director of pro personnel in 2003.

There have been concerns about the fact that Kokinis hasn't overseen an NFL draft and that he was hired after head coach Eric Mangini, creating a somewhat ambiguous chain of command. We can't squash any of these concerns at this point, and we'll just have to wait and see how Kokinis performs. Although Kokinis will have "full roster control" as part of his contract, it's more likely that Kokinis and Mangini will collaborate on most personnel decisions.

One thing is certain: Randy Lerner wanted to hire a team with a better working relationship than that of Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel. Savage and Crennel clearly were not on the same page this season, as Savage threw Crennel under the bus whenever it was convenient. Crennel, to his credit, took the high road. Regardless, the capacity for the coach and GM to work in concord seemed to be of the utmost importance to Lerner this time around.

Sunday, January 25

LeBron James: A New Era

Corey Magette relaxed quietly on one knee waiting for the inevitable decision from the officials.

The rest of the Warriors team, scattered amongst the court, watched the replay board for any hope that their efforts and hard work had not been crushed with one fading LeBron James jumper.

Moments earlier, Mo Williams met James with a chest bump before the rest of the Cavaliers mobbed him not far from the place he released his shot over Ronny Turiaf.
Lost amid the confusion was the impending rite of passage for LeBron James. Officialy, LeBron's buzzer beater against the Golden State Warriors Friday night was the first of his career.

Unofficialy, LeBron James has had many game winning shots. From all of the driving layups, every single game against the Wizards, and who could ever forget about the shot where Michael Reghi yelled "Boom! Boom! Boom!"?

This time was different.

With the Cavs trailing by one point, Lebron calmly dribbled out the clock before releasing the final shot of the game with 0.1 seconds remaining. There were no second chances. No overtime if the shot rattled out. This time it was for keeps.

Throughout his career, LeBron James has been criticized for his last second heroics. Pundits have claimed that he did not possess the killer instict or rapist's wit of Kobe. He did not have the cool collectedness of Jordan. Despite his ridiculous 4th quarter numbers, LeBron James was simply not a finisher.

The most significant moment of the night was not Mo Williams's three-pointers, or Ben Wallace's late-game shot clock beating jumper. The most significant moment wasn't even LeBron hitting the game-winner over Turiaf.

The brief amount of time after the shot sank, and before Mo Williams met James with the patented chest bump saw five years of criticism erased.

If this had been a Hollywood movie, we may have seen flashbacks to all of the significant misses and sound bytes as the ball floated toward the basket in slow motion. With cameras flickering, Lebron, still holding his arm up, took a brief second to exercise the ghosts of past games.

With his first career buzzer-beater and one more notch in the 'W' column in the books, LeBron then did something very different from Kobe and Jordan. He ran straight to his teammates.

Thursday, January 22

West is decidedly NOT best

Can someone help out the NBA's Pacific Division?

I was just browsing the standings to see where Golden State sat, in anticipation of the Cavs' Friday night visit to Oracle Arena, and noticed that they were in 3rd 13-30. Huh? It's true: the Lakers sit at the top at 33-8 (.805) followed by Phoenix at a respectable 23-17 (.575), and then it just falls off the face of the planet. Golden State claims third with their blazing .302 winning percentage, just edging out Sacramento (10-33, .233) and a typical campaign from the LA Clippers (9-32, .220). What a wasteland of a division! The Lakers should continue to be able to fatten up their record playing those bottom three turkeys all season; they currently sit at 9-1 against other Pacific foes.

The Central, where the Cavs lurk, isn't super-strong this year, but it is tops in the Eastern Conference with a .521 winning percentage, and our last-place team (Indiana) would be third in the Pacific. As for the Pacific, well, they sport an aggregate win percentage of .423, even with the Lakers' NBA-best mark of 33-8 buoying them. Without LA (the good one), the Pacific sits at .318 (the Central is .456 minus Cleveland). Wow. Let's check out the rest of the NBA:

Central .521
Atlantic .505
Southeast .514
Northwest .474
Pacific .423 (!)
Southwest .563

Actually, the Cavs' division is fairly solid, posting the second-best overall mark out of the NBA's six. The East is actually the tougher conference this season, as each of its conferences is above break-even point. The Southwest (aka the NBA's Texas and a Coupla Other Teams Division) is where the competition is at on that side of the Mississippi.

What this look at the NBA standings got me to wondering is: how does the Pacific compare to the worst divisions in other sports? Let's find out. First, MLB:

AL East: .538 (87 wins on average)
AL Central: .501
AL West: .486

NL East: .490
NL Central: .515
NL West: .462

Not a lot of surprises there. Even in an off-year for the Yankees, the AL East was still baseball's most powerful division, racking up a .538 mark. Keep in mind that, compared to basketball, winning percentages tend more towards .500 in baseball, even with four to six teams being aggregated. The AL Central is remarkably competitive/mediocre, however you want to put it: the division was exactly one game over .500 for the season and no one finished more than seven games above or below .500. The Tribe was a paragon for the AL Central this season with its 81-81 mark.

Elsewhere, the major surprise is how stunningly bad baseball is being played out west, even with the LA Angels outperforming their Pythagorean by about 30 games. To put it in easier to understand terms: the NL West is exaactly as bad as the AL East is good. Maybe the LA Clippers should join the NL West.

What about football? With more divisions and fewer games per team, the NFL is likely to have the biggest winners and losers among its groupings, even with teams playing 38% of their contests intradivision:

AFC North: .492
AFC South: .594
AFC East: .594
AFC West: .360 (!)

NFC North: .391
NFC South: .625
NFC East: .602
NFC West: .344 (!)

What the hell is going on in the Western United States? I mean, you've got everyone in the NBA's Pacific tanking except for the Lakers, the two worst divisions in baseball, and this absolutely putrid performance from the NFL's westernmost franchises. Can you believe that a .344 division produced a Super Bowl team? It's nuts!

The AFC North is a clear haves-and-have-nots division. I won't go into who's who, only that it takes a lot of success elsewhere to make Ohio's NFL performance this season look repsectable. The NFC East was widely regarded early in the year as the NFL's best, and indeed it posted a .602 mark with no one under .500, but the NFC South actually bested it. The AFC South and East tied with 38-26 marks; the South was a little more top-heavy and the East more balanced. The NFC North's mark is largely a reflection of the historically bad Detroit Lions, about which nothing more needs to be said.

But oh, those west-coasters. It bears repeating that San Diago won this division at 8-8. Read that again if necessary. That would have gotten them fourth place in four (half!) of the NFL's divisions, and third in two others. Simply amazing. The NFC West (the only other place where the Chargers would finish higher than third) was slightly worse, with only the NFC Champion Cardinals at or above the .500 mark and the division's dregs dragging them down a bit more.

As for Cleveland, it seems we're positioned in some middle-of-the-pack divisions. The NBA's Central is respectable top-to-bottom but not dominant, and the Cavs are clearly the class of the group. The Al Central is a complete toss-up at this point, and is certainly the Tribe's for the taking if they can muster 90 wins or so in 2009. The AFC North is deceptive with its near-.500 aggregate number; the Browns have lots and lots of work to do before they find themselves challenging for an AFC North title or even bringing the group's win percentage up rather than down.

Monday, January 19

Any port in a storm

I really think making the bird look meaner back in 2005 is what got things rolling for the Arizona franchise.

Saturday, January 17

NFL Picks: Conference Championships

Another great weekend for the FCF crew! Only Nick's last-minute conversion to the Steelers saved us from posting a pair of 0-4's on the weekend, but we're 9-15 as a unit overall thus far. Not good. Let's see if we can do better this weekend picking the NFC Championship and the Satan Bowl.

Last Week
Andy: 2-2
Figgs: 0-4
Nick: 1-3
Nick's Money Picks: 1-3

Playoffs so far
Andy: 3-5
Figgs: 2-6
Nick: 4-4
Nick's Money Picks: 3-4

AFC Championship

STEELERS (-4) vs. Ravens
Andy: This is absolutely disgusting. I almost want to forfeit my pick out of protest, but I'll soldier on and pick the Steelers.
Figgs: I'm gonna have to be real drunk for this game in order to root for the ratbirds. Uh, just typing that made me cringe. As far as my pick goes, Pittsburgh.
Nick: Steelers (-6). Both of these defenses are really good, but the Ravens looked sluggish against the Titans' Chris Johnson last week, and Kerry Collins shredded them up. I think that Baltimore really struggles to move that ball at all in this one, while Pittsburgh is able to move the ball sporadically. Steelers by two touchdowns. I've decided I'm going to root for the Steelers too, and not just for purely financial reasons. I can't stand the idea of the Ravens' franchise winning another Super Bowl before the Browns. (Or ever for that matter.) I'm assuming that the winner of this game wins the whole thing, and one more Pittsburgh Super Bowl won't make Steelers fans much more obnoxious than they are at present. For one week: go Steelers.

NFC Championship

CARDINALS (+3) vs. Eagles
Andy: I posted this late, but Nick can attest that I picked the Cards prior to the game. As I write, it's 24-6. Good work, Andy.
Figgs: No one has been giving the Cards credit all playoffs. I'll continue that trend and go with Philly.
Nick: I've been torched twice by betting against the Cardinals, but I like their chances in this game better than the previous two. Remember: it's not about how well they played during the regular season, it's about how well they're playing right now. Nothing would surprise me in this game, and with that in mind I'm going to take the home dog. 'Zona.

John Tesh's "Roundball Rock"

Can we bring back the NBA on NBC?

Friday, January 16

Didn't we fire this guy?

Somehow, some way, Branson Wright is back, and with some awesome stuff, too. With Rickey Henderson's induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame, many writers have described him as the greatest leadoff hitter of all time. Wright disagrees, claiming that Pete Rose is in fact the greatest leadoff hitter of all time. Despite his name, Wright is totally wrong here. I have nothing against Rose and think he should be in the Hall of Fame, but he was not as good as Rickey Henderson at being a leadoff hitter or any sort of hitter other than a "singles hitter," which is in no way a compliment.

For whatever reason, Wright tries to make his point by including the transcript of a debate that he loses badly to Indians minor league hitting coordinator Bruce Fields. It's a spectacular failure, made all the more so by the fact that Wright voluntarily published it to support his own case for Rose. In bold are Wright's and Fields' dialogue; my comments are in plain text.

Fields: Branson, give me the evidence that Pete was the best leadoff hitter.
The burden of evidence for proving a claim rests on the person making the claim, who in this case is Branson Wright. A fair opening statement from Fields.

Wright: Look at the numbers. He's one of, if not the greatest, hitter of all time. He had over 200 hits in a season 10 times in his career; and just barely missed out on getting 200 hits in three other seasons.
My head already hurts.
This lays out pretty clearly that Wright knows very little about baseball. Rose has the most career hits, but he also has the most career at-bats. He's not even close to being the greatest hitter of all time. Not even close. Let us not forget gentlemen named Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds. Just as an example, he and Henderson are #9 and #10, respectively all time in Runs Created, though Rose has 2500 more plate appearances.
Finally, "Number of 200-hit seasons and almost-200-hit-seasons" are terrible, terrible criteria for evaluating a player's hitting skill.

Fields: But didn't Rickey finish his career with the most runs scored (2,229)? Isn't that the leadoff hitter's job, to score runs? That right there puts him No. 1 for me.
It is remarkable that Rickey did this, and run-scoring was his job, though it should be pointed out that one's run total depends largely on your teammates.

Wright: Yes, scoring runs is what you want out of your leadoff hitter, but Rose (2,165) was no slouch in that category.
I'll give this to Wright, though again noting Rose's far higher volume of plate appearances. The run-scoring is a non-point for both sides.

But the leadoff hitter is also about being a table-setter, setting the stage for his team in each and every game. There was no better table-setter than Pete.
Pete Rose career OBP: .375
Rickey Henderson career OBP: .401
There was at least one better table-setter than Pete Rose, QED.

He had the intangibles.
This is not an argument of any kind.

He was a switch-hitter...
Totally irrelevant.

...he was a leader. Rose had a presence.
Nonsense, gobbledygook. Can we get back to the discussion, Branson?

Fields: I want my leadoff hitter to get on base by any means necessary. By a hit, walk, hit by pitch. Rickey's on-base percentage (.401) is better than Pete's (.375).
Thanks, Bruce, I should have read your comment before jumping in earlier. Absolutely it's about getting on base. This essentially ends the argument.

Wright: Yes, but isn't it also about hitting? About putting the ball into play? Rickey struck out (1,694) more than Rose (1,143). You want your leadoff man to at least hit the ball.
I now officially feel embarrassed for Bran. That last statement is completely false. Fields just told you a minute ago that the leadoff hitter's job is to get on base and now you're on this "at least hit the ball" thing. The strikeout numbers are irrelevant, given the OBP numbers - a groundout is an out just the same as a K is.

Fields: And what about the stolen bases? Rickey's the all-time leader in stolen bases (1,406).
With an 81% success rate, to boot.

Wright: The Rickey fans always bring that up.
Yeah, and Babe Ruth fans are always bringing up all those home runs he hit.

Rose hit enough doubles in his career to take the place of a stolen base. Rose had 40 or more doubles seven times in his career."
First off, what's with the arbitrary 40 doubles plateau? Who cares how many times Rose reached that arbitrary figure? Oh, right, the same guy who cares how many times he topped 200 hits.
For what it's worth, Rickey had 510 career doubles, Rose 746. That erases 236 stolen bases (in Branson's view). Rickey stole 1208 more than Pete. No, Branson, Pete Rose did not hit enough doubles in his career to take the place of Rickey's thefts.
Even more important: Rickey had 297 career home runs, Rose 160. Make up that deficit.
Watch me cherry-pick some stats Wright-style: Rose had nine seasons with nine or more (yes, nine) home runs; Rickey had sixteen. Sixteen times he crossed the mythical nine home run mark!
Home runs are getting on base too, my friend, and are considerably more valuable than doubles. Surely Fields will hammer him on this, right?

Fields: Who had the most career RBIs?
Bruce, my man, what are we doing here? You had such a golden opportunity with the home run thing! Everyone (except, possibly, Branson Wright) knows that RBIs are an essentially useless stat, especially for a leadoff man. Hell, Ryan Garko had 90 RBI last year. I do not admit this question as evidence.

Wright: Rose had 1,314. Henderson had 1,115.
Don't care. I had 1,459.

Fields: Dang, you got me there ... OK, how about this. Who would lead off if they were both in their prime on the same team?
Henderson, unless the manager was totally insane.

Wright: Well I could bat Rose second because he's more of a disciplined hitter than Henderson, but I would have Rose lead off because he's the better leadoff hitter.
On the first topic, Rickey's superior OBP punches right through his "discipline" argument, not to mention that having more groundouts and flyouts hardly constitutes plate discipline. On the second topic, you're stating something as fact that Bruce and I have just debunked like 20 times. The only acceptable argument for hitting Rose 1st on such a club is to bat Rickey 3rd because he has a higher OPS+.

Fields: It's hard to say definitely which guy is better than the other.
As I have shown, it's super-duper-easy.

For every two things that Pete brings, Rickey brings two other things.
Then why is it hard to say who's better?

When you put it all together, Rickey brings speed and power. Pete brings hits.
Rickey gets on base better, do not forget this.

He'll put the ball in play, plus he's a pest."
Don't feed Branson's crazy hit-centric views on baseball success.

Wright: So I'm right?
You, sir, are delusional if you still think this.

Fields: You're only going with Pete because you're from Cincinnati.
This may well be the case. There certainly isn't any other good reason.

Thursday, January 15

Reality-checking with AC

As much as I enjoy Austin Carr's broadcasting, his personality, his malapropisms, his catchphrases that will never catch on ("Delonte! From deep! In the FedEx Forum!"), his joie de vivre, and his love for DiGiorno's pizza, I've gotta call him out on something he said during last night's telecast.

Regarding tonight's upcoming game with the Bulls, he said (slight paraphrase): "That's gonna be a tough one because that's a division game and that team [the Bulls] always play the Cavaliers tough."

Two just glaring errors right there. First off, why would a division game make it any tougher? This is a common, lazy misconception, that intradivision games are somehow more difficult than other ones. This is certainly not true prima facie, as announcers tend to think it is, although I admit that in the case of a particularly tough division (say, the AL East) this might have some merit. However, aside from the Cavs, the Central division is 70-82; take away the Cavalier portion of those games and they're 69-75. The non-Cavalier Central is not a fearsome force, and it being a division game does not make it substantially more or less difficult for the Cavaliers. Furthermore, the Bulls themselves are only 16-22, sporting a home record (12-7) very close to the Cavs' road mark (11-6).

Even more erroneous is AC's odd claim that the Bulls always play the Cavaliers tough. Yeah, we dropped three of four to them last year (this blogger attended the lone W), but this isn't last year. Consider this season's three matchups between the clubs:
11/5 in Cleveland: Cavs 107, Bulls 93
11/8 in Chicago: Cavs 106, Bulls 97
11/5 in Cleveland: Cavs 117, Bulls 92

That's three wins by an average margin of victory of 16 points. No, the Bulls do not always give this version of the Cavs a tough time. Remember the last game between these teams, where Varejao hung 26 on the Bulls, LeBron had a triple-double, and Cleveland totally blew Chicago off the floor?

Now, I'm not saying the Cavs should take Friday's game lightly (I bet if you ask them, they'll say they're taking it one game at a time); pretty much every road game in the NBA is a challenge, and this one is by no means in the bank. However, the ideas that this being a division game makes it tougher, or that the Bulls offer some special matchup challenge for Cleveland are not valid. Sorry, AC, you're still my man.

The $9 million question

During Tuesday's Cavs game against Memphis, I first became aware of the situation with former Cavalier Darius Miles, a strange salary cap issue. Miles played in 6 preseason games with Boston and two regular-season tilts with Memphis before they released him. Portland is very interested in the situation because if Miles reaches the 10-game mark (preseason counts), then $9 million of his salary gets tacked onto Portland's salary cap, forcing them to pay luxury tax and damaging their salary cap flexibility.

Knowing this, according to the ESPN article:
Blazers president Larry Miller sent an e-mail Thursday night to the other 29 teams threatening litigation against anyone that signed Miles solely for the purpose of damaging Portland's future cap flexibility...

Apparently the letter was pretty strongly worded, though the NBA will not discipline Miller or the team. I wonder if Miller and the Blazers actually would have a case here? If not, wouldn't you take a flyer on Miles just to stick it to the Blazers? That seriously weakens their ability to compete, not having $9M lying around, and this is a competitive business. One team, preferably a bad one like Memphis, has to take one for the team and drop Portland down a notch, no? It's not good sportsmanship, but it's hard competition. We'll see what happens - Miles scored 13 against the Cavs and seems likely to notch two more games before long.

My favorite quote: "Our purpose here was not in any way to keep Darius from being able to play." Well, of course it was! If he plays, you're out $9 million! I know what he's saying - his goal was simply to prevent teams from signing Miles just to screw the Blazers rather than for legitimate basketball reasons. But it's still ironic for a guy to demand that no one sign a former player and claim that he in no way wanted to stop that player from playing.

Wednesday, January 14

The January Sports Scene

Hey everyone, checking in with a few thoughts on the Cleveland and Ohio sports scene, as I like to do from time to time. Let's do this.

You want to know why I posted that picture of the Browns helmet? Because I'm so fucking tired of seeing the logos of the NFL's most despicable teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, who are set to face off this weekend for the AFC Championship, that's why. This is sickening. I hate seeing their logos side-by-side, I hate seeing the montage where they both win their Divisional Round games, and I hate Ray Lewis' dancing. I mean, what are the odds of this stupid matchup happening? (I'll answer my own frustrated rhetorical question: 1 in 120. The Sporting Gods hate me.)

This matchup reminds me of the South Park episode where the school chooses a new mascot and the frontrunners become a giant douche and a turd sandwich. That episode was meant as satire for the 2004 presidential election, but is perfectly encapsulates this infuriating game. You can't win: one of these franchises is going to the Super Bowl, and that sucks. The Steelers have already won five including one three years ago; the Ravens already have one title in their short existence. Neither team and its fan base deserves one nor needs another. THIS SUCKS.

Faced with this unwinnable situation, I'm going with the Steelers this weekend. I simply hate the Ravens more. Nick is going the exact opposite way, and despite his pathetic effort to somehow trying to tear down my having-to-have-dealt-with-Steeler-fan credentials, I'm sticking with Pittsburgh. I lived there for almost 9 years, and backed them (wearing my #2 Tim Couch jersey) last time these two teams met in the playoffs (Pittsburgh won, as I recall, 5679-2). I took a lot of flak from Steeler fans over the year, and I haven't forgotten that one bit, but I still find them the lesser of two evils. I'm not happy about it, but the way the Ravens stole our team, those hideous logos and uniforms, and the presence of Ray Lewis and his stupid dancing is too much. So, in lower-case letters, go steelers.

Regardless of the outcome: GO NFC REPRESENTATIVE!

There's not a boatload I really need to say about the Tribe, other than to express general approval at the way Mark Shapiro has prosecuted his off-season. He's identified needs and filled them, quite simply: Mark de Rosa (Mark of Pink) gives us .850 OPS and versatile defense at third base, Luis Valbuena to perhaps secure the future at second base, and a premier closer in Kerry Wood to lock down the back end of the bullpen. Solid moves, and less scrap-heapy than usual. The only area Shapiro didn't really address as well as you'd like is the starting rotation, where Carl Pavano is a low-risk reclamation project but not someone people are expecting a whole lot out of. For now, the biggest questions facing the 2009 Tribe are whether Hafner will return to any sort of form and how effective our starting staff will be.

The Hall of Fame inductees were named this week, and man do I miss having Fire Joe Morgan around to dissect baseball writers with horrible excuses for their votes. Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were elected, while Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven again fell short. Those who study the numbers can make powerful arguments for why Rice is a so-so pick but Blyleven definitely deserves to make it. Bert himself admitted to being frustrated and upset with the process, and he has every right to be. This is a pitcher who does not get the respect he deserves.

On the other hand: Rickey!

Henderson was an absolute lock, garnering nearly 95% of the vote in his first year of eligibility. But still, only 95% (no one has ever been unanimous)? Yeah, that's right, 28 dudes didn't vote for him. Take away their vote forever, it's that simple. One writer didn't cast a ballot for Henderson because he's "not a Rickey guy." You're not a smart guy either, you're an idiot, and you should stop writing about baseball and go find something else to do.

Rickey was awesome: when asked if Henderson was a Hall of Famer, sabermetrics founder Bill James is said to have replied something to the effect of that you could cut Rickey in half and have two Hall of Famers. Henderson's ridiculous personality (we'll get to that) often overshadowed his accomplishments, but he was an amazing player. A few quick numbers from
- 2295 runs (1st all-time)
- 1406 steals (1st all-time, 81% success rate, including an preposterous 130 in one year. One year! Second place is Lou Brock at 938. That's 50% more than second place all time. Stupendous.)
- 2190 walks (2nd all-time behind only Sir Barrold Bonds)
- Career OPS+ of 127
- Career .401 OBP. Wow, that dude could get on base. Look at how consistent.

Rickey was simply the best leadoff man ever, but he was also a character. ESPN even ran a feature where writers shared their favorite Rickey stories, most of which weren't that great compared to the ones I already knew. One was funny; a reporter asked him about an opponent and Rickey said "who's that?" (he was legendarily bad with names) and the reporter explained that he was the other team's leadoff hitter and Rickey tells him "Rickey's the leadoff hitter - there ain't no other."

Three other Rickey classics:

-According to Jim Caple, this never happened, but it's still funny. Having recently joined a new team, Rickey went out to the field and started chatting with John Olerud, who wears a helmet even in the field. Rickey remarked that he used to have a teammate on another team who did the same thing, to which Olerud responded, "yeah, that was me."

- Harold Reynolds won a stolen base title one year with 60 stolen bases. Among the congratulatory calls he received was a brief one from Rickey where he simply said "Rickey had 60 at the [all-star] break!"

- Rickey strides to the plate and is chattering to himself nonstop, according to the catcher: "Rickey, you got this guy, you're the man, etc..."
Strike one called
"That's alright Rickey, that's not you, you got two more, you're on this..."
Strike two called
"Ain't no thing Rickey, this guy's a chump, he's got nothin', you got it..."
Strike three called
"You're still the man, Rickey."

Indeed. Congratulations to Mr. Rice and Mr. Henderson.

So close. So, so close.
Football fans and pundits alike always balk at pointing to one key play as the reason for a victory or defeat in a football game, helpfully noticing that there were many other plays where the losing team could have turned the tide.

That having said, that CB needs to go for the tackle instead of the ball on that last Texas touchdown. That was a tough one to watch.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the resillient Buckeye comeback. I wish they had used Boeckman a little more wisely (as opposed to having him throw long essentially every time he got a snap) but it was smart to stretch the defense out with him. It will be interesting to see what sort of developed skill set Pryor brings to the table next year, especially without Beanie Wells to carry the load.

Lastly, my friend Mr. X made the excellent point that, now that Wells has declared himself professional, the CaVs should spend a second-round draft pick on him for the chance to sport a Beanie-Boobie backcourt. I support this roster move.

It bears mention, because I have not seen much made of it, that the CaVs have continued to dominate even without center Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the lineup. Consider: that smackdown they handed Boston on Friday was without one of the most productive big men in the league. I'm not suggesting that they don't miss him, just that the CaVs are fairly deep and well-balanced and can hopefully keep on posting regular-season W's even without the big Lithuanian. This upcoming West Coast swing will test the Cavs' mettle, as they don't get to see the weak sisters of the West, visiting Portland, LA Lakers, Utah, and Golden State. Show 'em whatcha got.

Two random notes on this game against the Memphis "Grizzlies" that the CaVs find themselves in as I type:
1) Why didn't anyone tell me that Memphis now has Pau Gasol's little brother who looks exactly like him? This seems vaguely insulting to the team's fans, provided they exist. Like, remember the worst trade in franchise history? No? This refresh your memory?
2) They just played Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks" during the home club's last possession. Nice choice, but why not try Blow's song "Basketball"? Too easy?

Saturday, January 10

NFL Picks: Divisional Round

After an entertaining first weekend of games, we're on to the Divisional Playoff round, where the real heavyweights await their challengers.

Last Week
Andy: 1-3
Figgs: 2-2
Nick: 3-1
Nick's Money Picks: 2-1

Saturday Games

RAVENS (+3) vs. Titans
Andy: This reminds me of last week's ATL-AZ game, with a hot team that everyone likes coming in on the road, in this case Baltimore, and a team that people cooled on after a hot start, here Tennessee. The Ravens have played very well, but Tennessee is no slouch either. I like the Titans in this.
Figgs: I think this is kind of a toss up. If that's ever the case in a Ravens game, then the deciding factor is my hatred for them. Plus, Eddie was a Titan.
Nick: These two teams are basically clones, but the Titans are at home, rested, and undervalued. This team won 13 games during the regular season! (And that includes laying down against the Colts in week 16.) You know how many rookie QBs have won consecutive road playoff games? Zero. And the overwhelming majority of gamblers are taking Baltimore? Sign me up. Titans.

CARDINALS (+10) vs. Panthers
Andy: I like Carolina to win, but not by that many. If Arizona was playing in New York, well, that'd be a different story.
Figgs: Panthers definitely win, but 10 is a big number in a playoff game. Tough call, Carolina.
Nick: Panthers (-9.5). The Cardinals were the worst team outside of the Dolphins to get into the playoffs, and Carolina's going to torch them. Plus, it's going to rain in Charlotte. Panthers comfortably.

Sunday Games

GIANTS (-4) vs. Eagles
Andy: The Philly bandwagon ends here, and very abruptly.
Figgs: Giants in the lock of the playoffs.
Nick: Giants. Philadelphia could have easily lost last week in Minnesota if Tarvaris Jackson had been merely mediocre. The Giants are my pick to repeat, and with a healthy Brandon Jacobs, they start this week.

STEELERS (-6) vs. Chargers
Andy: The hardest one on the board for me to pick. I'm just still not sold enough on SD to take them here, even though I would love to see them pull it off. This is one of those stupid games where Pittsburgh wins by three to double-screw me. I hate giving points with the Steelers, but I'm doing it anyway.
Figgs: The best game of the weekend in my mind. I see this being a weird game with a close, weird final score, just like when these two teams meet in the regular season. Pittsburgh probably wins, but by less than six.
Nick: Steelers (-6.5). I changed this pick at the last minute; taking the Chargers here is classic case of over-thinking, rationalizing, and a little group think. Plus, one favorite has to cover, right? The Chargers were an 8-8 team that shouldn't have made the playoffs. San Diego won three games on the road all year; no wins against quality opponents, and no wins in cold weather. I don't think the Chargers have played a cold weather game all year. This feels like the patented Steelers' "controlled blowout." It's close for awhile, Roethlisberger pulls a few big plays out of his rear end, Pittsburgh turns their defense loose, and Pittsburgh probably gets a defensive touchdown at some point to seal the deal. I hate myself for doing this...

Wednesday, January 7

"They are who we thought they were, and we let 'em off the hook!"

This famous Dennis Green rant applies to this week's Fiesta Bowl, where Ohio St had Texas, but gave up the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left to play. Ohio St's defense played a fabulous first half, holding one of the most high-powered offenses in the nation to a mere three points. The second half was a different story, as Danny "please, call me 'Colt' because it sounds more like I'm from Texas" McCoy and Texas' no-huddle offense gave OSU fits.

Ohio St threw a wrinkle in their offense right from the get-go, when Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor both started the game. Boeckman completed a 14 yard strike to Brian Robiskie. I liked the idea at the beginning, but I think they could have done a lot more with it. Have Pryor as the running back, put him in motion, something new. Eventually Texas caught on that every time Boeckman came in the game it was to throw a deep ball to Robo. Boeckman finished 5/11 for 110 yards and a touchdown.

The Buckeyes struck first when Aaron Pettrey hit a 41-yard field goal. Ohio St's defense continued to put pressure on McCoy and completely shut down the UT running game. Texas' D wasn't too bad themselves, and the first quarter ended 3-0, Bucks. Danny led a good Longhorn drive at the start of the second quarter, ending with a Hunter Lawrence field goal to tie the game. Wells carried the load on the Buckeye ensuing drive, but again they stalled in Texas territory, giving Ryan Pretorius his first shot at a field goal, 6-3 OSU. A Thaddeus Gibson sack on McCoy on 4th and 7 ended any scoring opportunities for the rest of the half. Ohio St headed to the locker room with a shocking 6-3 lead.

Texas got the ball to start the second half, and this was the first we saw of the no-huddle that would eventually lead to the Buckeyes' demise. Off sides, pass interference, and personal foul penalties made it easy for McCoy to drive down the field, and he capped it off by rushing it himself from 14 yards out, giving UT their first lead of the game. Ohio St went three-and-out on their next two drives, and McCoy took advantage by driving 85 yards in only 2:47. He hit Quan Cosby ("Show me the quan Jerry") for a seven yard score, a connection that would later give Buckeye fans nightmares for quite awhile.

Ohio St would go into the fourth quarter down 17-6, and apparently without star running back Chris Wells, an injury which FOX decided wasn't important enough to give us updates on. Boeckman was back in the game and hit Robiskie for a 48-yard strike to set up another Aaron Pettrey field goal. Malcolm Jenkins made a great play to break up a McCoy pass, forcing a UT punt. With Beanie out, Pryor did it all on next possession: throwing, runnning, and even catching the TD pass himself from Todd Boeckman. The two-point conversion attempt was failed, and OSU still trailed, 17-15.

After a Texas three-and-out, Ohio St got the ball back at their own 27 with 6:34 to go. Boeckman completed two 20 plus yard passes, setting up a Dan Herron 15-yard touchdown run. Here lies the "scored too quickly" argument. If you think that, you're an idiot. Would I rather that they got a first down, ran the clock down, and kicked a winning field goal as time expired? Of course. But I also would rather score with 2:05 left than turn the ball over or get a field goal blocked.

Texas went back to the no-huddle offense, and the Ohio St D simply looked lost. Danny McCoy looked invincible, going 7/10 on the 11 play, 78 yard drive in a only 1:49. With 16 seconds to play, McCoy hit Crosby again, this time from 26 yards out. I was baffled by the fact that it seemed OSU had no safety in sight. Final score: 24-21, Texas.

Game Notes:

- Moral victory? Is there such a thing in sports? Ohio St played better than everyone outside of Columbus expected. They were in the game throughout its duration, and certainly had a chance to win it in the end. Obviously, I would have liked to see Ohio St come home with a win, but at least we didn't get embarrassed and were able to watch an exciting game for a change.

- FOX's coverage was awful. I know they don't usually have college football, but it seemed as if they never covered a football game before. You may or may not be aware of this, but FOX actually covers several NFL football games each week. They consistently missed plays due to showing replays, they rarely put the down and distance in the box that's only purpose is to SHOW THE DOWN AND DISTANCE, and the announcers were completely oblivious to important things going on on the field (Todd Boeckman starting, Beanie being injured). Good work, FOX.

- Big Ten embarrassment. The Big Ten had an awful showing in this year's bowl season, going 1-6. After Ohio St's last two NC performances, the Big Ten has been the laughing stock of the postseason, and this 1-6 makes thing much worse.

- Malcolm Jenkins is a lockdown corner in the NFL. If you watched this game, or certainly if you only looked at the box score, you may be thinking, "Where is this awesome DB I've been hearing about? He must not be any good." If you thought that, you couldn't be more wrong. Texas was terrified to throw anywhere near number 2. By my count I believe it was only three times, resulting in one bad pass, one Malc break up, and one completion. He should be selected in the top 12 in this year's draft, and I wouldn't mind seeing him go #5.

- Farewell, Congratulations Senior Class. Tied for the winningest class in Buckeye history, these guys were something special. They won at least a share of the Big Ten title all four seasons, and hold a perfect 4-0 record over that school up north (6-0 in the case of Todd Boeckman. 6-0!) The class was loaded with All Big Ten appearances with 12. (1 for QB Boeckman, P A.J. Trapasso, WR Robiskie; 2 for CB Jenkins, OT Alex Boone, LB Marcus Freeman; 3 for LB James Laurinaitis) Jenkins and Laurinaitis should be taken high in the first round in the draft. Boone looks to be a second or third rounder, Freeman third or fourth, and Robo in day 2. It was such a pleasure to watch these guys perform over the past few years. Ohio St has a big task on their hands in replacing these guys.

So another season ends with another loss. Ohio St has been so successful over the past decade, but are now known for "not winning the big games." Losing this Senior class will be tough, but with Terrelle Pryor at the helm for the next couple of years, good things should still be on the horizon.


Tuesday, January 6

What the heck do I know? Tribe sign Pavano.

Let's examine something I wrote on this blog a few days ago.

The one spot left untouched is starting pitching. Shapiro has a tendency to not want to rely on unknown or untested rookies. He likes having them as an insurance policy, but scrap heap players have always been his bread and butter. However, the numbers show that the Tribe doesn't have more than $8M to deal with and that's before Shoppach gets his well-deserved raise. I'm not panicking without a starter being added and suspect something will be done, but it could take a while for some guys to get a little desperate closer to spring training to take the Indians' one-year offer.

Obviously by "closer to spring training" I didn't mean two days. But I was correct about something getting done and that pitcher being a total reclamation project. With that, ladies and gentlemen, I give you a part of the Cleveland Indians starting rotation, if he remains healthy: Carl Pavano. Yes, he of the 17 games in 2005, 0 in 2006, 2 in 2007, and 7 in 2008. You could argue that maybe the Yankees didn't get their money's worth for the 4-year, $40 million contract Carl signed with them, but hey maybe they deserved it. Word on the street has Carl's deal this time as guaranteed $1.5 million for 2009 and the chance to add another $5.3 million in performance-based incentives. Lucky for us, those incentives supposedly don't kick in until start number 18. So he will have to start more games in 2009 than he has in four years to sniff anything above a mil and a half. For those of you who can't get enough of this contract talk Castovince has this for you:

If you're incredibly curious about this contract, it breaks down as follows, according to a Major League source. Pavano gets $100,000 each for reaching 18, 20 and 22 starts, $200,000 each for reaching 24, 26 and 28 starts, $250,000 for 30 starts, $300,000 for 32 starts, $350,000 each for 33 and 34 starts and $400,000 for 35 starts.

He gets $100,000 each for reaching 130, 140 and 150 innings pitched, $150,000 each for 160 and 170 innings, $200,000 for 180, $250,000 for 190, $250,000 for 200, $300,000 for 215, $400,000 for 225 and $500,000 for 235.

All and all a very reasonable contract for a guy who in 2004 went 18-8 and had an ERA+ of 137. Shapiro says the righthander is guaranteed a spot in the rotation if he's healthy. I'm always tempted by the promise of younger pitchers, but seeing Laffey flounder after a terrific start was hard to take. Is Carl Pavano head and shoulders better than any of the other pitchers the Tribe might trot out to the mound in April? No, but he has experience and if he's ever to regain any part of his previous form this is the year to do it. Don't be confused - this isn't Kevin Millwood 2.0, and it's probably not as bad as Juan Gonzalez (that second time) either, but Pavano brings something to this team our AAAA arms couldn't, the experience of knowing what it is like to pitch like a winner for an entire season.

Monday, January 5

Fiesta Bowl on the play

Every play, I look up at the toolbar atop my screen and see the big yellow bar and think that there's a penalty flag...except it's just the Fiesta Bowl logo.

Are we to believe that they couldn't invert the Fiesta logo (make it yellow on red) to avoid this confusion, or otherwise make it color-neutral? EVERY PLAY I think this.

Go Bucks.

Sunday, January 4

Mark DeRosa is Casey Blake

As psuedo-resident Indians guy here at the FCF I felt I needed to at least say something in regards to the Indians New Year's Eve gift of a trade for Mark DeRosa.

While I thought of it a good four hours before the DiaTribe posted the comparison, here is the run down of DeRosa and Mr. Blake.

DeRosa 2007
.293 BA / .371 OBP / .420 SLG / .791 OPS with 28 2B, 10 HR, and 72 RBI in 502 AB

DeRosa 2008
.285 BA / .376 OBP / .481 SLG / .857 OPS with 30 2B, 21 HR, and 87 RBI in 505 AB

Blake 2007
.270 BA / .339 OBP / .437 SLG / .776 OPS with 36 2B, 18 HR, and 78 RBI in 588 AB

Blake 2008
.274 BA / .345 OBP / .463 SLG / .808 OPS with 36 2B, 21 HR, and 81 RBI in 536 AB

Not too bad. What DeRosa brings is a Casey Blake-like guy with a commitment of only one year. I've mentioned before how the Indians' bullpen depth was looking a little ridiculous and Shapiro goes and trades some away. I haven't heard anyone anywhere not like this move, well except for those Cubs-related people, but they don't count. It looks right now that DeRosa is slotted for third base. While this makes for a more comfortable 2009 you have to ask about 2010. For sure, 2009 is a must-win year for the Tribe, with a number of Indians contracts coming up in aught ten. But that's a different blog post. The DeRosa trade came out of nowhere and I couldn't be happier with it. Everything I've heard about this guy makes him sound like one heck of a clubhouse guy plus he's in a contract year which usually means good things.

Already the Indians have secured bullpen (closer and setup) help and now with the trade for DeRosa it looks like the Indians are one of the most improved teams this offseason. The big question marks are still Carmona and Hafner - sure, you could toss Martinez in there too, but I have faith Victor will be OK, well at least for a catcher anyway.

The one spot left untouched is starting pitching. Shapiro has a tendency to not want to rely on unknown or untested rookies. He likes having them as an insurance policy, but scrap heap players have always been his bread and butter. However, doing the numbers shows that the Tribe doesn't have more than $8M to deal with and that's before Shoppach gets his well deserved raise. I'm not panicking without a starter being added and suspect something will be done, but it could take a while for some guys to get a little desperate closer to spring training to take the Indians' one-year offer.

I don't know about you, but I'm excited for 2009. Go Tribe!

Saturday, January 3

NFL Picks: Wild-Card Round

The 2008 NFL regular season has ended, and Andy has emerged as the champion prognosticator, finishing with a strong week to hold off Nick heading into the playoffs. We also learned that when Figgs goes against his instincts Costanza-style, he can be a force, and that Nick is equally hit-or-miss whether he feels strongly about a game or not. To recap:

Last Week
Andy: 10-5-1
Figgs: 10-5-1
Nick: 6-9-1
Nick's Money Picks: 1-0

Final Regular-Season
Andy: 136-111-8 (Not bad, eh?)
Figgs: 109-125-8
Nick: 125-122-8
Nick's Money Picks: 23-24

Fear not, football fans, because now it's time for the wild, wonderful NFL Playoffs, always a superb time in the sports calendar. I can't wait for some doofus to proclaim this year's postseason the NFL's best ever, conveniently forgetting that they're great every year because it's a great sport being played by its best teams. Are our memories really so short? On to the wild-card round matchups, where the unprecedented has happened: all four road teams are favored, though all by ≤3 points.

Saturday Games

CARDINALS (+1) vs. Falcons
Andy: This is a classic trap game for bettors to fall in love with the ATL because they're so fun and the Cardinals have been slop for the past month. Guess what? I'm sticking with Atlanta for all they've done for me this season.
Figgs: I really like this Falcons team. ATL.
Nick: Falcons (-1.5). I could totally see Arizona winning this, but 4 times out of 5 I think Atlanta beats them. The Falcons can run the ball, Arizona can't run the ball or stop the run, and Matt Ryan might already be a better quarterback than Kurt Warner. University of Online Degrees Stadium doesn't set off any warning bells for me, so I still like Atlanta here.

CHARGERS (+1) vs. Colts
Andy: Colts. Make it 10 straight.
Figgs: Don't forget how the Colts should have lost to the Texans as well, if not for Schaub turning the ball over 7 times in the last 5 minutes. But I'm still sticking with Indy.
Nick: Chargers. Eh, I've gone back and forth about a dozen times on this one. I'm going to go with San Diego because they usually play the Colts tough, and because I think the Colts are a mirage. Indy keeps winning games in ridiculous ways against lousy teams; they should have lost to the Browns, and they should have lost to the Jags two weeks ago.

Sunday Games

DOLPHINS (+3) vs. Ravens
Andy: Any outcome of the four games seems reasonable to me except one: Miami beating the Ravens. Baltimore is going to win these game, damn them.
Figgs: Man I hate the Ravens, and I'm gonna hate watching them win tomorrow.
Nick: Ravens, possibly in a blowout. Miami won't move the ball, and Baltimore will string a few conservative drives together. With Chad Pennington tossing wounded ducks, Baltimore's defense may outscore their offense, and I only mean that as like a 50% jab at Baltimore's offense.

VIKINGS (+3) vs. Eagles
Andy: I thought Minnesota would be favored here, and they are not, so I'm taking them.
Figgs: I feel pretty confident in the first three games, not so much on this one. I could see it going either way, but I'll stick with all favorites, ironically all road teams. Philly.
Nick: Eagles big. I liked Minny initially, but when I went inside the numbers I changed my mind. Philly can stuff the run, and Jim Johnson is going to get his guys inside Tarvaris' grille all day long. Look for some INTs from Tarv, and possibly a pick-six. Philly's short passing game will give them enough to cover comfortably, and Minnesota has by far the worst special teams in the playoffs.

Friday, January 2

Newer thoughts on the New Year

One of the perks of being an author of this blog is that, instead of relegating my thoughts on someone else's writing to the comments page, I can publish them as a brand new article. Even better: that article pushes the previous, original work off the top slot and replaces it with mine. So it goes today with a few thoughts I have to add to Nick's Cleveland sports New Year's article. I do suggest you read his first, however. Done? Great.

1) Cavs-Celtics does look very probable, and very enticing from the standpoint of a basketball fan. Too bad we didn't have this club last year when the C's weren't as tough as they are now. It's worth noting that Orlando is 25-7, just 1.5 games behind the Cavs, though their game seems less playoff-rugged than those of the two front-runners. The Cavs were the only one of the three major Cleveland teams not to disappoint in '08; expect them to keep it rolling in '09.

2) The DeRosa and Wood deals, as well as the Indians' bizarre odd-year astrology, make them very likely to contend in the AL Central this season, as Nick says. I'm not willing to add the "under any circumstances" to Shoppach, but it's worth noting again just how well he performed last year, especially at the plate. The two big ??'s this year are: Hafner and the starting rotation.

3) I'm trying to share Nick's optimism about the '09 Browns, but can't make it genuine. I do agree with his list of candidates; it's nice that the NFL's absurd coaching carousel made available a couple of experienced, competent fellows (Mangini, Shanahan). Hopefully the Browns can actually start building a foundation for success. I just don't know how much of that success they'll experience in 2009.

4) Michigan doesn't beat Ohio State as long as Terrelle Pryor wears #2 for the scarlet and gray. Even if the program wasn't in the prolonged stretch of success we're currently enjoying, that thought alone would make me happy about OSU football.

5) Nick Allburn in the 2009 Cleveland Marathon? Excuse me? Whatever happened to respecting your elders? The old boy Andy Francis is gearing up for the race as well and can't get so much as a shout-out from FCF's resident whippersnapper. I'm going to the gym this morning - maybe I'll wear my 2005 Cleveland Marathon shirt.

Nick and Andy will also be doing some triathloning this summer, including the Cleveland Triathlon. Both of us scored second-place age group finishes in 2008 and will be gunning for the top slots this year.

6) Bonus! The Cleveland State Vikings basketball team is poised to claim the Horizon League title this season and secure their first NCAA tournament berth since 1986. Go Vikings!

Thursday, January 1

Happy Cleveland Sports New Year!

My colleagues here at FCF and I would like to wish all Cleveland sports fans a very Happy New Year! Here are a few things related to Cleveland sports that I'm looking forward too in the coming year.

1. The imminent collision of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Does anyone really think these two teams aren't meeting up in the last round of the Eastern bracket? Last year's series came down to a hard-fought seventh game, and there's no reason to think this year's series won't be as good, if not better. As a result of better overall team health, gelling after the Big Trade, and the addition of Mo Williams, the Cavs are a much better club than they were last year. As Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins have come into their own, it appears that the Celtics will also be even better than last season. Is it May yet?

2. The Cleveland Indians competing for a playoff spot again.
I'm not saying that they'll get in, but it's an odd year, and that as much as anything ensures that the Tribe will be competitive again this year. Yesterday we got a late Christmas present with the De Rosa trade, and it was a complete freaking gift. We basically traded a reliever with decent potential for a third baseman with a .376 OBP with a one-year, fairly inexpensive contract ($5 million). The infield's set, the bullpen's loaded, and we've got three solid young outfielders. The rotation isn't as strong as it's been in past years, but if Fausto can come back and at least be solid, the starters will be fine.

Note to Mark Shapiro: Don't trade Kelly Shoppach under any circumstances.

3. The Browns will rise from the ashes.
I expect Lerner to hire a GM by early next week at the very latest, and we should have a new head coach within a couple weeks. I'm comfortable with either Rich McKay or Scott Pioli as the GM, and I'd be happy with Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Jim Schwartz, and maybe even Mike Shanahan as the head coach. This team has more talent on it than most people realize right now, and I could easily see them winning 8-10 games next year with a solid off-season and a few breaks. On Sunday, I couldn't wait for the curtain to fall on the '08 Browns. On Monday, I couldn't wait for the 2009 season to start.

4. A full year of Terrelle Pryor at QB.
Not much to add here, except that this dude's going to be really good.

5. Nick Allburn running the '09 Cleveland Marathon.
I'm all in, bitches. Can I have a press conference to declare for this, like high school ballers used to have to announce candidacy for the NBA Draft? All I can say right now is that I'm running the 2009 Cleveland Marathon, and I'm going to finish. I've got a couple of top secret goals that I may reveal at some point, but right now I'm just focusing on buidling up my training base to ensure completion.