Monday, November 30

Hey, one of our teams is good

Among all the difficulties that the 1-10 Browns have faced so far this season and the still-lingering disappointment of the Indians' 2009 campaign, it seems the Cavaliers haven't gotten a lot of press. They certainly haven't here at FCF. I think this is at least kind-of ironic, considering that the Cavaliers have a fairly reasonable shot at the NBA title, whereas neither the Browns nor Tribe appear headed anywhere.

As I suggested earlier, I think this Cavalier apathy is at least partially a byproduct of the sky-high expectations placed on the club for the 2009-10 campaign. Anything less than an NBA Championship is a disappointment for this team and its fans, and everyone knows this and is comfortable. Last season, the whole dominant-regular-season thing was new, and it was exciting to watch LeBron and company roll to 66 regular-season victories. This year, it's a lot more like: wake me up when the Playoffs start.

To some extent, the Cavaliers' play so far has reflected this shift in mentality. Part of it is that it's taking a while for the new players like Shaq, Anthony Parker, and Jamario Moon to get fully integrated, but I think their regular-season objective is just to get a Top-4 seed and be as ready as possible for the postseason. It's no secret that the Cavs' organizational philosophy is: be as much like the San Antonio Spurs as possible, and the Spurs are the absolute masters of playing it cool during the regular season and being perfectly fine-tuned for April, May, and June. One hopes that the Cavs will be able to pull the same trick this season.

Of course, it's not like they're not doing well - far from it. They're 12-5, just one game off the pace set by conference-leading Orlando and three up on the Bucks in what promises to be a completely noncompetitive Central Division race. May as well order that banner now. Yes, they've had a couple of lapses, most notably bad road losses to Washington and Charlotte, but they're still looking fairly good, enjoying a point differential of +4.5 through 17 contests. They're on a 58-win pace - I figured 57 when the season started and see no reason to deviate at the moment. What's more, I'll take it. That many W's will certainly land them in the top half of the East - home-court would be fun, but it's not essential. It's pretty obvious that Orlando, Boston, Cleveland, and Atlanta are the best four clubs in the East, while the rest is nothing to write home about. It really looks like the East's final four will be identical to last year's. The West is similar, with five squads (Phoenix, LA, Denver, Dallas, Portland) that look like contenders and the rest just so-so.

I've been pleased with the new guys, at least the less-heralded additions of Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker. I've been a Moon fan since seeing him play for the CBA's Albany Patroons a few years back, and I think he's a good fit with the club. He plays tough defense, rebounds well, plays smart, and is shooting 51% from the floor and 39% from beyond the arc. Really a solid acquisition. Parker has also played well, particularly his 52% accuracy from long-distance. Throw in Mo Williams' 49% and Daniel Gibson's 47%, and you see why the Cavs lead the NBA in three-point accuracy. Good ball movement, good shooting, good offense, and a unit that has shown significant improvement since the season opened.

What about the other fellows? LeBron is LeBron. Let's not spend a lot of time here: 29.2/6.7/8.0 on 52.3% shooting. OK, that was fun. JJ Hickson has been a nice surprise, chipping in 8 points and 3 boards per game on 57% shooting from the floor. Yes, please. Add 7 apiece from your two second-unit big guys (Z and Varejao), 18 from Mo Williams, and you've got nicely balanced scoring from the Cavs.

As I see it, the two question marks for the Cavaliers going forward are Delonte West and Shaquille O'Neal. There isn't much to say about Delonte - his basketball abilities are really beyond question, so it will be his legal and emotional issues that determine how successful he'll be this year. We just need to sit and wait.

Shaq, on the other hand: who knows? I've watched a few games with him in the lineup, and I can't figure out if he helps us or hurts us at times. It wasn't a good sign that his return from a shoulder injury coincided with the Cavs playing probably their lousiest game of the season in Charlotte on Friday night, nor is it favorable that he missed the time in the first place. I want to believe that he'll be ready to roll come playoff time and can really be a valuable member of the team. I mentioned earlier the San Antonio Spurs pre-playoff-sandbagging approach; Shaq's ability to execute such a plan may be the key to Cleveland's title hopes this season.

Saturday, November 28

NFL Picks: Week 12

Last week
Andy: 9-7
Figgs: 9-7
Nick: 7-9
Nick's Money Picks ($): 1-4

Year to date
Andy: 89-71
Figgs: 81-79
Nick: 82-78
Nick's Money Picks ($): 24-21

Thursday games
12:30 pm kickoff

LIONS (+10.5) vs Packers
Andy: Way too many points. The Lions are coming off an energizing win, the Pack didn't cover at home against a suspect 49er team, and Thanksgiving brings out the best in Detroit.
Figgs: Stafford and maybe CJ are out. I like the Pack big here.
Nick: Packers huge. The Pack are getting their act together, and Detroit is even worse than normal without the Staff Infection. Plus, Detroit will be more complacent coming off a win. ($)

4:15 pm kickoff
COWBOYS (-13.5) vs Raiders
Andy: I picked the Cowboys to win giving a lot of points last week and picked the Raiders to lose getting a lot, and got both wrong. I refuse to learn my lesson. Dallas.
Figgs: I think these first two lines should have been switched. This is a tough one for me, but I'll go 'Boys.
Nick: I'll go Raiders here. The Cowboys haven't looked good the last two weeks, and the Raiders seem to be playing harder for B-Grad.

8:20 pm kickoff
BRONCOS (+6.5) vs Giants
Andy: In all my time operating this blog and predicting NFL games and lines, I've never missed a guess worse than I did this one. Broncos.
Figgs: I'm with Nick here, it's time for the G-Men to start getting things together.
Nick: Giants. The book is out on the Broncos, and they're banged up at quarterback. The Broncos have lost by 23, 18, 10, and 29 points respectively in the last 4 weeks. Thanks for letting me back in the game, Francis. ($ -6)

Sunday games
1:00 pm kickoffs

BENGALS (-14) vs Browns
Andy: It's too bad we can't just go play the Lions again - that was fun, for the first 60 minutes anyway. The last zero minutes were not. Browns.
Figgs: Cincy wins this by 20+.
Nick: Browns. If the Browns can score some points again, I think that Cincy wins but doesn't cover.

FALCONS (-11.5) vs Bucs
Andy: I wanted to reflexively take Atlanta here, because after a few inspired weeks, I think Tuberculosis has fallen back to earth. Yet the Falcons haven't done much to inspire confidence in me, losing to Carolina and the Giants. I the end, I'm putting my pick on the Georgia Dome and going ATL.
Figgs: The ATL has not done as well for me this year, but I'll stick with them against a sorry TB team.
Nick: I'm going Atlanta here, too.

BILLS (+3.5) vs Dolphins
Andy: Dolphins, I suppose. I would never bet this game.
Figgs: I would surely bet this game. The Jills blow. Miami.
Nick: I'd bet it too. The Dolphins are a playoff caliber club. ($ -3)

RAMS (+3) vs Seahawks
Andy: The Rams are improving, having covered three consecutive spreads despite their 1-9 mark. The 'Hawks, meanwhile, are 3-7 ATS this year, have only a win over the Lions to their credit in their past five outings, and are quietly becoming one of the league's crummiest teams. I'll take the Rams and the points.
Figgs: I'm not really comfortable taking either of these teams. 'Hawks.
Nick: I might have to check Jackson's status again before kickoff, but I'm going to go Rams here.

JETS (-3) vs Panthers
Andy: Take what I wrote above and make the following substitutions: "Panthers" for "Rams", "three of four" for "three consecutive", "4-6" for "1-9", "Jets" for "'Hawks", "4-6" for "3-7", "Raiders" for "Lions," "seven" for "five", and "Panthers" for "Rams."
Figgs: Didn't that take more effort to do all that than it would have to just write it over? Jets.
Nick: Panthers. The Jets shouldn't be favored in this game.

EAGLES (-9) vs Redskins
Andy: The Redskins have righted their ship somewhat, with a win over Denver and a near-upset of Dallas. However, Philly needs this one, and already toppled the Redskins by 10 in Washington a month ago. I'll take the Eagles.
Figgs: Washington's D looks inspired, but I'm still going Philly here.
Nick: Redskins. The Eagles just haven't put it together like I thought they would.

TEXANS (+3.5) vs Colts
Andy: This was a late line, but it looks like Manning is playing. Nevertheless, I'm going for Houston here.
Figgs: I like this Houston team this year, but why would anyone pick against Peyton? Indy.
Nick: Houston always plays Indy close, and the Colts' secondary is banged up. I'll take the points.

4:00 pm kickoffs
CHARGERS (-13.5) vs Chieves
Andy: As much as I like taking the Chieves this year, and as much as I owe them a debt for knocking off Pittsburgh, I can't take them here. The Chargers are on a serious roll with five straight wins (including a mauling of Denver), and KC won their Super Bowl last week. Bolts.
Figgs: I've been picking with these high lines this year, and it's been working out pretty well for me. But I'm gonna flip the switch here and go KC.
Nick: I've gotta go Chargers here too.

49ERS (-3) vs Jags
Andy: The 49ers have covered twice for me in the past two weeks by a combined 1.5 points. Combine that with my reluctance to ever, ever take Jax on the road, and I'm rolling San Fiasco.
Figgs: Two overrated teams. Garrard is more consistent than whoever SanFran's QB is, and MJD is way more talented than anyone else on the field. Jax.
Nick: The Jaguars are rounding into form, and they'll keep their playoff hopes alive here.

VIKINGS (-10.5) vs Bears
Andy: Come on. Vikings. Why would you want the Bears in this. Seriously, shoot me an e-mail.
Figgs: I'm still mad at Cutler for that Niners game, and I've been mad at Forte all year for sucking in fantasy. Vikes.
Nick: Vikings, although Peterson's status seems to be up in the air. ($ -7)

TITANS (-3) vs Cardinals
Andy: Vince Young wins football games. Titans. While we're here, MNF was a lesson in how close these picks are; Houston's kicker misses a 50-yarder and Tennessee's nails his, and I lose. Flip those late kicks around, I win. That's just how NFL picking goes. Still, the Titties are a fun story - what if they win five or six straight after that awful 0-6 start? I want to see it.
Figgs: Five or six? What if VY pulls off 10 straight and makes the playoffs? I'd love to see it, but wouldn't count on it. Cards.
Nick: Remember earlier this year when I was picking against the Titans until I had a reason not to? Now the opposite applies. Tennessee.

8:20 pm kickoffs
RAVENS (-8) vs Steelers
Andy: Ratbirds.
Figgs: Steelers.
Nick: I couldn't take the Steelers getting fewer than 10. Worthlessberger's out, and almost as important, Polamalu's still out. Tough call, but I'll go Ratbirds.

Monday Night Game
8:30 pm kickoff

SAINTS (-2) vs Patriots
Andy: I don't feel strongly here, but I like the Saints way more than the Patriots and don't mind giving two to a 10-0 team at home on Monday night.
Figgs: Pats, for the sole reason of needing Brady to outplay Brees in fantasy.
Nick: Patriots. The Pats are my pick to win the title right now.

Friday, November 27

"Expletive aired"

That was the actual title of an article on Who gives a fuck?

DENVER -- The NFL Network accidentally aired a vulgarity yelled by Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels as he chastised his players on the sideline of their Thanksgiving night game against the New York Giants.
Oh no! Cursing in football!

Coming out of a commercial break following a series of false starts near the goal line that resulted in Denver settling for a field goal, the NFL Network showed a clip of McDaniels, who yelled at his players: "All we're trying to do is win a (expletive) game!"
It was "fucking."

The vulgarity was clearly audible to viewers, and announcer Bob Papa immediately apologized to viewers.
The name "Bob Papa" is the gift that keeps on giving.

"We want to apologize for that audio as we went to the last break that got out over the air. We do send our sincerest apologizes for the Josh McDaniels audio that got out there," Papa told viewers.
Those apologies aren't sincere, nor should they be. They're perfunctory.

In an interview with The Associated Press and the Denver Post, Eric Weinberger, executive producer of the NFL Network, apologized to viewers and to McDaniels for the "terrible mistake."
Has the word "terrible" been this devalued? Wars are terrible. This is trivial.

He said no one in the production trucks heard the profanity.

"No one heard it as it was said. It would never have been aired," Weinberger said. "It was at the end of a clip, so we missed it."

He said he heard the profanity at the same time everyone else did.

His reaction?

"I probably said the same thing" as McDaniels did, Weinberger acknowledged.

Fuckin right!

"We're not in this business to do that," Weinberger said. "We're in this business to show sports and to show the most emotion that we can show. And the guy is an incredibly emotional, passionate guy."
If you can't deal with the occasional F-bomb during a sports telecast, don't watch sports. It's that simple.

Thursday, November 19

NFL picks: Week 11

Nick picked up a game on me last week by virtue of the Baltimore Ravens.

Nick's Edit: I picked up a game by virtue of any of the number of games on which I beat you.

Last week
Andy: 7-8
Figgs: 4-10
Nick: 8-7
Nick's Money Picks ($): 3-3

Year to date
Andy: 80-64
Figgs: 72-72
Nick: 75-69
Nick's Money Picks ($): 23-17

Thursday game
8:00 pm kickoff

PANTHERS (-3) vs Dolphins
Andy: The Panthers have put themselves back together after a disastrous start and are playing solid football. Couple that with Ronnie Brown's season ending for the Dolphins, and I like Carolina here.
Figgs: Miami contiues to screw me each week. Without Brown, I'll go Cats.
Nick: Nick told me over the phone Monday night that he was taking Carolina. Correct.

Sunday games
1:00 pm kickoffs

LIONS (-3.5) vs Browns
Andy: I said today that I thought the Browns could win this, but I don't know if I really think that. Browns.
Figgs: The Lions probably win this fairly easily, but if there's even a chance we can win a game, I have to pick us, right? Browns.
Nick: Lions. Thanks guys. ($ -4)

COWBOYS (-11) vs Redskins
Andy: I certainly didn't see the Cowboys getting dominated like they did against the Pack last Sunday, and I think Washington surprised a lot of people with their performance last week. I see a lot of mean-regressing here, and a Dallas cover.
Figgs: I see the Skins coming back down to reality here and Dallas covering.
Nick: This feels like a layup Dallas cover. ($ -10)

PACKERS (-6.5) vs 49ers
Andy: This line baffles me. I guessed the Packers (-1)! Thus, I feel compelled to take the 49ers, even though it's unlikely Aaron Rodgers will throw 5 INT's their way like Jay Cutler did last Thursday.
Figgs: This is a little higher than I thought as well, but I'm still going with the Pack.
Nick: I have no faith in the San Francisco offense - they couldn't score more than 10 against the unbelievably bad Bears defense.

CHIEVES (+10) vs Steelers
Andy: KC has been fun for me this year, and I hate the Steelers, so let's roll the Chieves.
Figgs: Steelers.
Nick: Steelers. They're going to be pissed after last week. ($)

GIANTS (-6.5) vs Falcons
Andy: It's the Battle of Teams Who Started Well But Faded Into Mediocrity! I would stick with my guns and take ATL, not necessarily out of loyalty, but more out of I thought I'd only get three with them, but I'm taking a post-bye-week Giant team due for a rebound.
Figgs: Big game for both teams. The Giants probably win, but the line is too high for me. ATL.
Nick: Tough game to pick. I'll take the Falcons because New York's secondary is awful.

BUCS (+11.5) vs Saints
Andy: Saints. The Bucs had their fun the past couple of weeks, and New Orleans has struggled early in a couple of games, but that ends here.
Figgs: I'm with Andy. Saints.
Nick: The Bucs are due for a blowout. Saints.

JAGS (-9) vs Buffaloes
Andy: Who do you think is happier this week: the people at, or the people at Or perhaps the folks at I counted roughly 70 Facebook pages recommending Jauron's ouster (including the classy "Dick Jauron Has a Vagina"), which was still fewer than Eric Mangini's (Mangina) total, mostly because Mangini has alienated two fan bases and Jets fans didn't bother to remove their pages. Jacksonville, in front of 9,000 lucky spectators.
Figgs: The Jags are quietly right in the thick of the playoff race, and the Jills are flat out terrible. Jax.
Nick: I don't see myself picking Buffalo much down the stretch. Jags.

RAVENS (+1) vs Colts
Andy: Can I really take a team that played the Browns to a scoreless draw for a half against a 9-0 club? Nope, especially when I absolutely fucking hate said team. Indy.
Figgs: I'd probably take Indy -6.5.
Nick: This line is off by a full touchdown. Go Colts!

VIKINGS (-10.5) vs Seahawks
Andy: I simply do not take Seattle on the road. Minnesota.
Figgs: Vikings.
Nick: Damn, I'm giving alot of points this week. Vikes, also.

4:00 pm kickoffs
RAMS (+9.5) vs Cardinals
Andy: Only 9.5? Arizona.
Figgs: This is too low. The Cards have been a surprisingly great road team this year.
Nick: I mirror those sentiments. Cards. ($)

PATRIOTS (-9.5) vs Jets
Andy: This is one of those games where I feel like maybe I should take the road underdog, but can't necessarily find any legitimate reason to, so I'm not going to. New England.
Figgs: I'll take the Pats by double-digits.
Nick: I love how Rex Ryan gets no shit from the media because he gives them sound bytes. Eric Mangini was a decent coach in NY and they couldn't wait to axe him. Funny stuff. Pats.

RAIDERS (+9.5) vs Bengals
Andy: Only 9.5? Cincy.
Figgs: I don't really see Bruce Gradkowski turning this team around. Bengals.
Nick: The Bengals usually aren't good at covering big numbers, but can you really pick the Raiders if you're getting less than double digits? 'Nati.

BRONCOS (+4.5) vs Chargers
Andy: Subbing in Chris Simms for an injured Kyle Orton actually works against me, because I really wanted to pick against the suddenly-bad Broncos in favor of the suddenly-good Bolts. I'm still taking San Diago, but the points are less favorable than they would be and Simms probably isn't a huge downgrade.
Figgs: Chargers.
Nick: I'm pretty much going Chargers unless it's over 10. Chargers it is - Andy

8:20 pm kickoffs
BEARS (+3) vs Eagles
Andy: Can't back Jay Cutler after last week. Can't. Philly.
Figgs: Jay Cutler cost me a win last week, and I said I wouldn't make that mistake again. Philly.
Nick: The Bears have been a secretly lousy team for most of the season. People are finally acknowledging that, although Vegas apparently doesn't know that yet. Eagles. ($)

Monday Night Game
8:30 pm kickoff

TEXANS (-3) vs Titans
Andy: A slightly better matchup than last week's MNF, no? There are two compelling arguments here in favor of Tennessee: for one, Vince Young wins football games. For two, this game gives the Texans an opportunity to get back to .500 for losing. However, I developed (too late) an appreciation for teams coming off a bye week, which Houston is. Let's hope I'm jumping back off the Titan bandwagon at the right moment. Texans.
Figgs: A couple of weeks ago this looked like it'd be a real dud, but both teams have been playing real well as of late. I like VY to keep winning. Titans.
Nick: I'm going Texans here too. The Bills were tied with the Titans until they imploded in the fourth quarter.

Wednesday, November 18

Downtown report

Downtown Columbus, that is! Nick and I headed down to Ohio's capital this past weekend to see the Buckeyes clinch a share of the Big Ten title for the 6th straight season with a 27-24 overtime victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes. I'll grant you that perhaps Ohio Stadium isn't exactly "downtown," but I didn't feel like changing the title of this feature to "A Few Miles North of Downtown." Heck, I don't even know if that's accurate.

As I'm sure Figgs will note later this week, this one should have been easier than it was, but a few tough breaks in the 4th quarter, some overly-conservative strategy, and a surprisingly solid performance from Iowa quarterback James "Van Der Beek" Vandenberg in his first game sent this one to an extra session where the D locked down, the O did nothing, and the ST's finished it. Below are some photos I snapped:

Here's me early in the game. It was really quite sunny in the first half. Nick informed me that I had made "a mistake" by not bringing sunglasses, but I don't like wearing sunglasses and my hat was very effective at blocking the sun, which I pointed out. Seems like a weird thing to call me out on, since I wasn't complaining about visibility or anything. Of course, Nick was also yelling "Steelers suck" at Iowa fans because of the jersey resemblance, so there you go.

Here's me later in the game after the sun retreated behind the west side of the stadium. Check out that hat hair! I mentioned to Nick that sporting events are a tremendous place for people-watching, and Ohio Stadium didn't disappoint. You had the shrill, fat Iowa fan woman sitting next to me. The guy in yellow and black singing "Carmen Ohio" after the game. The guy who stepped over/on Nick and I in the aisle when we sat down during a play so as not to obstruct other fans' views. The guy with the Dallas Cowboys t-shirt. You could go on and on.

Here's a photo of students rushing the field after the game. Have you ever done this? I have, and it's really not particularly exciting. I mean, you run down there, which is kinda fun, but once you arrive, there isn't really much to do except mill about. I've noticed that the police have adopted a different approach to crowd control in recent years. They used to try to keep everyone off the field in an effort that was as stupid and pointless as it was ineffective. Now the lawmen simply defend the goalposts, a much more logical and achievable task. Some security people tell students not to go on the field, but they are unwilling and/or unable to actually stop them. What's the point, anyway?

There's not much good to say about the Browns, other than to highlight the story about Josh Cribbs walking on senior night with the son of a late mentor of his. Classy guy, and all the more so because he never even said anything about it.

I'm not going to discuss the Browns 16-0 loss to the Ravens at length, other than to make a few quick points.
- Brady Quinn looked terrible. A lot, lot, lot of that has to do with the offensive line, but he made poor throws even when he had time. But, again, Baltimore is good on defense. Give the kid some time.
- The defense really played well - you could say they only gave up one TD and the other TD and FG were the offense's fault.
- I hated Baltimore even before they tried a halfback pass up big late. Fuck those guys.
- The key play in the game was the long pass play that set up Baltimore's first touchdown, in which Brandon McDonald made the weakest attempt at a tackle I've ever seen in a professional football game. It was embarrassing. A minute later, the Browns were down 13 and their fate was sealed.

But hey, the Cavs are rolling! You should be pleased with their performances last week, as they went 3-0 by crushing Orlando and Miami in a two-game swing through the Sunshine State and came home to edge Utah in a Shaqless outing. I watched the Miami contest at Scorchers, where I was served the 22-ounce beer shown in the photo at right. Yep, they ran out of 22-ounce glasses and plastic cups, so I got a pint glass and, presumably, six additional ounces. This photograph will serve in place of any trenchant analysis of the Cavs' performance - you'll get more of that when football season ends.

Tuesday, November 17

Buckeyes Top Iowa in Thriller

The Ohio St Buckeyes are headed to Pasadena for their first Rose Bowl in 13 years. Well, the specific Bowl is only speculation, but it is a certainty that the Bucks are headed to a fifth straight BCS Bowl game after their 27-24 overtime win over Iowa last Saturday. It looked like the Buckeyes had it wrapped up at the beginning of the 4th quarter, but a late Hawkeye rally forced the game into OT, where OSU needed their 26-year-old backup kicker to clinch the Big Ten. Let's talk details.

Game Recap

It was a pretty boring first quarter, with the only score coming off a Daniel Murray 32-yard field goal for Iowa. Freshman QB James Vanbenberg, filling in for injured Ricky Stanzi (or Lance Harbor) looked very sharp to start the game, but Joey, Pacey, and his other targets dropped some easy balls and the Hawkeyes only led 3-0 after one.

To begin the second, OSU ran the ball over and over on a 17-play, 73-yard drive that took up almost nine minutes of game play. You would think a drive of that caliber would end in a touchdown, but unfortunately the Buckeyes stalled at the 10 and had to settle for three to tie the game. After an Iowa three-and-out, Ohio St continued to keep the ball on the ground, and this time Brandon Saine broke one for a 22-yard score. Zach Boren, who I praised last week, led the way for Saine with a crushing block on an Iowa defender. Jonathon Moxon responded by bringing Iowa into OSU territory, but was picked off by Anderson Russell to more or less end the half, 10-3 Bucks.

In the locker room, Vandenberg told his team that they had "To play the next 30 minutes for the next 30 minutes" and to "Leave it all out there on the field." The Fighting Ferentzes got the ball to start the second half, and Mox hit Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for a 55-yard bomb to put them deep in Ohio St territory. Continuing to squander opportunities, Trey Stross dropped a potential TD catch on third down and, to make things worse for Iowa, Murray missed the chip-shot FG.

The teams traded a few punts, then Vandenberg connected with Marvin McNutt, who I will now refer to as "Tweeder," for a touchdown to tie the game at 10. On the ensuing drive, Duran Carter made a nice catch on third down to keep the drive alive, and Boom Herron notched a TD run to put the Bucks back on top. Ross Homan then picked off Mox to set up OSU at midfield, and it only took Saine one play to go 49 yards to the house, seemingly making the Buckeyes Rose Bowl-bound.

This was not the case, as Wendell Brown (the Varsity Blues references might be getting a little much here) took the kickoff back 99 yards to counter the OSU TD. With the Buckeyes up by seven with seven minutes to go, Devin Barclay had a chance to put Iowa away with a 47-yard FG, but missed. This next Hawkeye possession was very frustrating to watch, as Ohio St should have ended the game numerous times. Thaddeus Gibson had a pick-six that was negated by an offsides penalty, and Mox threw a ball directly to two defenders, but they hit each other, the ball went up in the air, and eventually was caught by Iowa. The drive was completed when Tweeder went over top of Chimdi Chekwa to catch his second touchdown of the game, and we headed to overtime, tied at 24.

Iowa got the ball first. After a short gain on 1st down, Iowa was stuffed on second down by Austin Spitler for a six-yard loss. Now facing an already long FG attempt, Vandenberg was too busy thinking about whipped cream bikinis and not enough about Doug Worthington, and was sacked for a loss of 10, pushing Iowa out of FG range. Mox just launched up a prayer towards the end zone on 4th and a mile, and Russell got his second INT of the ballgame. Even with a backup kicker, Tressel-ball was in full effect, as Herron went up the middle three times for two yards. Ohio St's hopes were on all the foot of former MLS player Devin Barclay, and Barclay responded by nailing the 39-yarder and sending the Buckeyes back to Pasadena.

Game Notes

Game Ball
The GB goes to the offensive line. This unit has suffered many injuries and has been shuffling guys around all year, and because of it has been very shaky, and even flat-out bad at times. They have turned things around the past few games, however, as Terrelle Pryor has had much more time in the pocket, and the running game has been simply unstoppable. Saine led the way for OSU in this game, with 103 yards and 2 touchdowns on 11 carries. The team as a whole rushed for 229 yards, marking the 4th consecutive game they topped the two-century mark.
Game Balls to date: Pryor, Defense (2), Saine, Coleman, Posey, Heyward, O-Line

It's michigan Week
My favorite week of the year! As always, I'm currently rocking my "Ann Arbor's a Whore" shirt, and will be all week long. I will also be taking my annual trip to Columbus on Thursday, to be a part of the Mirror Lake experience. Although the game is in michigan, it's still a great weekend, especially after we embarrass them...again.

5 Time, 5 Time, 5 Time, 5 Time, 5 Time Champs!
With this victory, Ohio St has now owned at least a piece of the last five Big Ten titles. That is just unheard-of. They also clinched their fifth straight BCS game, an NCAA record. Regardless of the outcome against michigan (like there's more than one possibility), Ohio St is seemingly a lock for the Rose Bowl (the first time since '97!), where they will play the Pac 10 champ. Right now the conference is completely up for grabs, with Oregon and Stanford being the front-runners. One team who is definitely out of the picture is USC, which is hilarious to me. Both the Ducks and the Cardinal have high-powered offenses, and either looks like a good matchup against the Buckeyes.

Up Next: @ michigan, 12:00, ABC
micigan (5-6, 1-6 in Big Ten) needs this win just to become Bowl-eligible. It will be a great feeling to keep these jackasses out of a bowl game for the second straight year. Ohio St has beaten their rival 4 straight times, and 7 times in the last 8 contests, if you can even call it a contest anymore. No matter how many times we do it, beating that school up north never gets old.
Prediction: Ohio St 77 michigan 0


(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Good calls

I'm fascinated by the endgame from this past Sunday night's game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts, a contest won 35-34 by the home Colts on a late touchdown drive. You've probably already read about New England coach Bill Belichick's decision leading up to that drive, and seen dozens of pundits lining up to take shots at him for his choice, but let me set the scene.

The Patriots lead 34-28 with 2:08 remaining. They have the ball, 4th and 2, on their own 28 yard line. The Colts have one time out remaining. Conventional NFL strategy in this instance would be to punt the ball away, but as considerable football research shows, coaches punt the ball far too often. Belichick decided to go for it, knowing that a successful conversion for all intents and purposes ends the game in favor of his club. The Patriots came up inches short, and the Colts took the ball 30 yards into the end zone to win the game.

Naturally, reaction to BB's call was heavily critical, especially in the Boston area. This guy and this guy in the Boston Herald just absolutely teed off on Belichick. They talk of his "bizarre gamble," his "insanity," called him "foolish," and made a host of other attacks far more personal than analytical. Tony Dungy said that punting "really was no decision at all. It was a no-brainer." Trent Dilfer called it "ludicrous." A friend of mine called the move "indefensible."

Guess what: you're all wrong. Belichick made the choice that gave his team the best chance of winning the game. Thus, Gerry Callahan, when you wrote, "Belichick did not play to win the game. He did not coach to win the game," what you wrote was the exact opposite of correct. Nice work!

Why do I say this? Because I looked into the numbers instead of just blasting a move because it's not what coaches do or because I don't like Belichick personally. (Full disclosure: I do not especially like Belichick.) I estimated some rough percentages, surmised that going for it might have been the high-percentage move, then found where Advanced NFL Stats had done a much more thorough job. The NY Times' Freakonomics blog weighs in in favor of the Pats' coach as well. Let me quote ANFLS' excellent, concise piece at length, because I think it's instructive:

With 2:00 left and the Colts with only one timeout, a successful conversion wins the game for all practical purposes. A 4th and 2 conversion would be successful 60% of the time. Historically, in a situation with 2:00 left and needing a TD to either win or tie, teams get the TD 53% of the time from that field position. The total WP [expected winning percentage] for the 4th down conversion attempt would therefore be:

(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP

A punt from the 28 typically nets 38 yards, starting the Colts at their own 34. Teams historically get the TD 30% of the time in that situation. So the punt gives the Pats about a 0.70 WP.

To summarize: using statistical analysis from years of NFL data, Belichick's call gave the Patriots a 79% chance to win. Punting would have given them a 70% chance to win. What were you saying, Gerry Callahan? Oh right, I forgot, you're a sportswriter, and you hate numbers, especially ones that don't jive with your cherished beliefs and interfere with their opportunities to rip on a coach. My bad.

That analysis is telling on its own, but there are also some circumstances here that tip the scales even more in favor of Belichick's call. For one, the Patriots have one of the league's best offenses and had already put 34 points on the board in this game. So while a typical 4th and 2 is successful 60% of the time, it's reasonable to suggest that the Patriots' chances were greater than that owing to their high-caliber offensive abilities. You can also bump up their conversion odds when you allow for the fact that it was, in the words of ESPN, actually just over one yard, and that it wasn't a goal-line situation. If you say, for instance, that the Pats had a 70% chance to convert, that puts their overall WP at 84%.

The other key circumstance is: Peyton Manning. Do you really want to give this guy the ball with a chance to beat you in the last two minutes? One has to believe that the Colts' scoring percentages are considerably higher than either of the league averages from either 66 or 28 yards away; as our friend at ANFLS points out, the Colts' offensive prowess also widens the gap between the two options in favor of going for it.

Statistically speaking, the choice is clear: going for it on 4th and 2 was the correct decision, and by a considerable margin. Despite this, I wouldn't have ripped Belichick for punting. I wouldn't have been in favor of it, of course, but I would not consider it to be a bad call. It's just not the best one. It's interesting how unbalanced the two sides on this argument have been: while Belichick's critics have been extremely vocal and absolute in their declarations (conveniently ignoring the fact that the 4th-down play came damn close), people like ANFLS, Freakonomics, and myself, who are armed with superior evidence in favor of our position, are simply suggesting that Belichick took the optimal approach, not that punting would have been some horrible awful event.

There's also a difference in the reaction to evidence between the two sides. After making my initial postulation, I sought out ANFLS because I figured he'd done a better analysis. It turned out to support my initial guess, but if the numbers had been reversed, I would be writing about how a punt was the better choice, not stubbornly defending my initial guess. I've shown these numbers to several gentlemen who opposed the decision to go for it, and neither has chosen to change his vantage point, which I find curious. I can assure you that Gerry Callahan wouldn't be swayed by the numbers, and I give you a guarantee that Trent Dilfer wouldn't budge either, even if they worked out to 100% WP by going for it and 0% WP by kicking. And that's too bad.

There are two things I'd like to say in conclusion. One is that I respect Belichick for his call. Even knowing fully that he'd be called out by scores of uninformed scribes who don't understand what it means to be loss averse if the move (I will not call the higher-percentage option a "gamble") failed, he selected the option that he (correctly) believed gave his club the best chance for victory. That they lost is not the key point here - 79% is not 100% - the key is that he played the probabilities well, and that's what good game managers do. Ask yourself how many people would have criticized him for punting had the Colts marched 70 yards for the score even though it was, as we've seen a suboptimal choice.

Finally, just for fun, read about Maurice Jones-Drew's endgame kneel-down, which was also a smart decision that significantly increased his team's chances for victory yet will no doubt be criticized heavily simply because it was non-traditional.

Thursday, November 12

NFL Picks: Week 10

Last week
Andy: 8-5
Figgs: 6-7
Nick: 8-5
Nick's Money Picks ($): 2-1

Year to date
Andy: 73-56
Figgs: 68-61
Nick: 67-62
Nick's Money Picks ($): 20-14

Thursday night
8:20 pm kickoff

49ERS (-3) vs Bears
Andy: Only three points? Did I miss something here? I thought I'd have to give a TD to take the 49ers. The Bears in their last three weeks have taken beatings from Cincy and Arizona sandwiched around a whatever-win over the Browns; I don't see them winning a prime-timer by the bay. San Fiasco.
Figgs: I did this last night and picked the Niners, but I recently had an epiphany, and something is telling me that the Bears are gonna win. (It could be the fact that I need Forte to outplay Gore for Fantasy)
Nick: Love the Niners here. The Bears are beat up, and they can't stop anybody. ($ - 3.5)

Sunday games
1:00 pm kickoffs

RAMS (+13.5) vs Saints
Andy: Here's how good the Saints are: they've won their past two games by an average of nine and haven't covered either one. St Louis isn't as good as Atlanta or Carolina - home or not, I see the Saints winning this huge. Plus I like them. New Orleans.
Figgs: I'd take the Saints -20 here.
Nick: There have been so many games year where the lines are huge, but you just can't imagine saying the words "I'm going to throw a few bucks on the [whoevers]." This is another one of those games. Saints.

DOLPHINS (-10) vs Bucs
Andy: What to make of a Tampa Bay club that looked unspeakably bad for seven games then trashed Green Bay? Who knows. But I've settled on a pro-Dolphin picking strategy after the past few weeks, and the Bucs are traveling and aren't coming off of a bye week this time.
Figgs: Each week I think the Dolphins will win but I pick against them for some Chad Henne-related reason, and it's burned me. Fish.
Nick: I really like the Dolphins here. The Fish are a good "no cheap covers" team against lousy teams because they use their running game to extend the lead and shorten the game. ($ -11)

VIKINGS (-16.5) vs Lions
Andy: Ya know, I'm going Lions here. They've been competitive with the Vikes the past two seasons, and I don't like giving this many points in any NFL games not involving the Cleveland Browns.
Figgs: This is really tough because I see the Vikings winning by right about 17. It's like the spread makers do that on purpose or something. I'll go Lions.
Nick: Total coin flip game for me. This is a good line. I'll go Vikes to try and steal one from you guys, and also because Vikings are just going to keep coming after Stafford. Five picks in Seattle last week? I think the Vikes running game helps extend this lead, while the defense just doesn't let up.

JETS (-7) vs Jaguars
Andy: Nice, thought I'd have to give a couple more than this. I think the Jags might lose to the Browns later this year in the December cold, which speaks volumes for my opinion of the club. I refuse to take them on the road. New Jersey green.
Figgs: I'm surprised this line is this low as well, the Jags aren't any good. NYJ.
Nick: Bill Simmons says "The Jets passed the Injury Point of No Return two weeks ago," but I don't see that many significant injuries other than Kris Jenkins. I'm writing this at 1:08, and I just saw a Jacksonville TD pop up on the scoreboard. I was leaning NYJ before that, and I'm a man of honor. Jetropolitans.

TITANS (-6.5) vs Bills
Andy: This is my favorite game on the board this week. I got off the Titan bandwagon a bit late, but I hopped back on at exactly the right moment, and have no intention of relinquishing my seat. Titans.
Figgs: I like what Andy said word-for-word. I also came back to the Titans at the right time, hitting on the last two weeks. They win by multiple TDs here.
Nick: Tennessee's starting to roll. They thump the Bills here and Chris Johnson continues to make fantasy owners very happy. ($ -7)

STEELERS (-7) vs Bengals
Andy: Allow me to quote myself from way back in Week 3: "Fuck it, Bengals." Cincy.
Figgs: The Steelers probably win at home, but this line is way to high. Why is Cincy still not getting any love? Bungals.
Nick: I stared at this one for about five minutes, but you know what? Fuck the Steelers. I would destroy Heinz Field with Andy Dufresne's rock hammer if I had the chance, regardless of how long it took. It might take longer than it took Andy to dig his tunnel. In the words of the Japanese from the whaling episode of South Park, "FUCK YOU PITTSBURGH! AND FUCK YOU STEELERS!"

REDSKINS (+3.5) vs Broncos
Andy: Not as easy a pick as it seems initially, though the spread is a bit low. But, Denver has taken a couple of tough losses after their fast start and has to head east. Washington's a mess, but I think I'm taking them here.
Figgs: Really, Andy? I predicted this line at 11. Denver all day.
Nick: Denver in my favorite game of the week. Hey Andy, thanks for gifting Figgs and me a game in the standings. ($)

PANTHERS (+1) vs Falcons
Andy: If it's good enough for Figgs, and the ATL always is, it's good enough for me. Football-wise, that is, not when it comes to that rum he and Nick drink here.
Figgs: I don't feel like the cheap shot at Calico/Admiral was needed. ATL.
Nick: Look at Snobby McSnobberson and his high class liquors. You drink Pabst! Hotlanta.

4:00 pm kickoffs
RAIDERS (-1) vs Chieves
Andy: I'm having fun with Kansas City this year - they've been good for a few covers here and there. They did lose to the Raiders at home, but I like them to avenge it here.
Figgs: What an awful game. KC.
Nick: I like Kansas City here - they should be a three-point favorite. Almost bet this one, but I came to my senses.

CARDINALS (-9) vs Seahawks
Andy: Arizona absolutely hammered Seattle by 24 points in Seattle earlier this year, so I think they can cover this one. That having been said, Arizona seems to screw me over every week no matter how I pick them. Oh well, Cardinals.
Figgs: I'm not really comfortable with this pick, but Cards.
Nick: The Cards have been really hot and cold this year, and they've struggled at home. They stay hot and fix some of their home woes this week. Cardinals.

PACKERS (+3) vs Cowboys
Andy: I've spent so much time picking on Dallas' weird lines that I forgot to notice that they're riding a four-game win streak on their way to 6-2 and have claimed wins over quality teams like the Falcons and Eagles. I don't feel like taking the underachieving Pack here, so I'll roll the 'Boys.
Figgs: I could see this going either way, but I'll go with the 'Boys.
Nick: I still don't totally trust Dallas, but I was prepared to give more than three here. Pokes. I added this game and the Pats game to my betting slate at the last minute. ($)

CHARGERS (-1) vs Eagles
Andy: Good matchup here, and a really tough one to pick. I think the Chargers are rounding into form, so let's go San Diago.
Figgs: I feel like this is a really tough week to pick. Philly, but with not much confidence.
Nick: I'm going Eagles here, too. The Giants are much better in theory than in reality.

8:20 pm kickoff
COLTS (-3) vs Patriots
Andy: Don't you want to watch this game? Probably the NFL's most consistently entertaining rivalry game snags the Sunday evening slot and should draw good ratings. Alright, enough stalling. I'll take Indy, in part because I see them winning and in part so I can fully support them when I watch.
Figgs: This is always the non-Browns related game I look forward to each year. I like Andy's idea of picking Indy so I can root for them.
Nick: I'll take the Patriots and happily pick up a game on both of you turkeys. ($)

Monday Night Game
8:30 pm kickoff

BROWNS (+11) vs Ravens
Andy: Browns are going to surprise a lot of people here by keeping this one a lot closer than the teams' first meeting. Monday Night Football often brings out the best in bad teams - remember the Giants game last year? I'm taking the Cleveland Browns.
Figgs: Why not. Browns.
Nick: This line is wrong. It's 11, and it's always been 11. I'll go Ravens at 11, and you guys can have the Browns at 14.

Editor's note: Nick is right; 14 was my provisional guess and I forgot to plug in the right line. I'm still going to pick the Browns.

Wednesday, November 11

More like "Cold Gloves"

Just end it now. Stop having the Gold Glove awards. If you're not going to award them to the best fielders at each position, then end the charade. This year's selections are a joke, especially awarding a fourth trophy to Derek Jeter.

ESPN's outstanding writer Rob Neyer made some excellent, incisive comments on the awards. In fact, they're better than anything I can offer, so I'm going to quote Mr. Neyer:

Regarding the outfield selections: "In the outfield, the voters had to choose both Torii Hunter and Ichiro Suzuki, because both had won eight straight Gold Gloves and everybody knows that if you've won eight you automatically deserve to win nine."

Regarding the voters' offensive-minded selections for a strictly defensive award: "And with Jeter and Hunter and Polanco and especially Jones, they just flat blew it, overlooking true excellence in favor of gaudy hitting stats or superficially impressive defensive performances. Well played, sirs. Again."

Neyer was particularly annoyed by the omission of former Tribseman Franklin Gutierrez, who was by most accounts the AL's most accomplished outfielder in 2009. Nope, Torii Hunter gets another one. I'm particularly annoyed by the inclusion of Jeter, who everyone knows by now is one of the league's least effective shortstops. Frustrating.

Big Plays, Lockdown D Lifts Bucks Past PSU

Ohio St went into Happy Valley this past Saturday and avenged last season's loss and silenced many critics by beating (dare I say, dominating?) the Lions, 24-7. Daryll Clark and the Penn St offense could not move that ball a lick. Sprinkle in a few big plays by the OSU offense and special teams and this wasn't even much of a contest. With the win, the Buckeyes are now the front-runners for the Big Ten title yet again. A win at home this week against Iowa would clinch an astounding fifth straight conference title, and wins against the Hawkeyes and that school up north would give it to the Bucks outright. But we'll get to all of that later - for now, let us enjoy this one.

Game Recap

Ohio St jumped out of the gates when Ray Small returned a short punt 41 yards to place the Buckeyes inside the PSU 10-yard line just a few minutes into the game. Terrelle Pryor quickly put OSU on top with a seven-yard TD run. Ohio St's early lead was not only set up by Small's good return, but the fact that Penn St was punting from their own goal line. This would become a theme for the entire game, as the Nittany Lions could never establish any kind of field position.

After a PSU three-and-out (something we would see a lot of today), the Buckeyes moved the ball down to the Lion 26 yard line. Boom Herron lost three yards on third down, then OSU took a delay of game penalty and punted from the 34, a punt that Jon Thoma landed squarely in the end zone for a touchback. Big-legged kicker Aaron Pettrey was lost for the season in the previous game, and apparently Tressel didn't have enough confidence in Devin Barclay to attempt the 46 yarder. This is not a good sign. If we're going to punt from this part of the field, Thoma has to at least pin the opposing team inside their own ten. Giving a team the ball at the 20 when you have it at the 26 is the equivalent of a turnover. Let's hope this doesn't get to be a problem.

After the Fighting JoePa's began the game with three three-and-outs, Clark marched PSU down the field to begin the second quarter. On third and goal from the one, the 240-pound quarterback attempted to sneak it in himself, but was denied. Penn St ran another sneak on 4th down, and this time Clark was ruled in. This play was reviewed and confirmed, but I wasn't so sure. Immediately after taking the snap, Clark extended his arm to try and "break the plane" with the ball, but from my view I didn't think it crossed. It would have been a tough call to overturn, though, because it was so close. So Penn St ties the game at seven apiece, and that was about all we'd see from the Nittany Lion offense from there on out.

Ohio St responded by driving 61 yards, 39 of it on the ground, and setting up a 37-yard FG attempt. Barclay connected, putting the Buckeyes up 10-7, a lead they would never relinquish. There wasn't much else noteworthy in the first half, and OSU went into the locker room with a three-point lead.

Ohio St's defense just smothered PSU in the third quarter, but their offense couldn't move the ball much either. That was until two minutes left in the period, when OSU had a one-play, 62-yard drive. DeVier Posey beat the Lion secondary deep and Pryor threw an absolutely perfect ball, hitting Posey right in stride for the big score. This put the Bucks up 10, and with the way their defense was playing, basically sealing the deal.

At the end of the 3rd, Ray Small received a punt near his own goal line and had another great return, taking it into PSU territory. This would lead to another Buckeye touchdown, thanks to a good run by Small on an end-around. There was also a screen to Zach Boren that only went for 5 yards, but offered a fantastic highlight. When Boren turned around after the catch, he was staring down one of the nation's fiercest linebackers, Sean Lee. Boren went right after him, lowered his shoulder, and just leveled the All-Conference LB. Lee hit the deck, and Boren keep moving to the sideline. Great stuff. Going into the season the publicity was on Zach's brother, OL Justin Boren, who transferred from michigan. Zach came in as a freshman back up fullback/tight end, but has since taken over full-time FB duty and has quietly done a very good job. He is a terrific blocker, has solid hands, and obviously isn't afraid of anyone. The drive was capped off when Pryor hit Saine for a TD toss to make it 24-7. Of course, this game wouldn't be the same unless Ohio St got at least one turnover, so Ross Homan got his third INT of the year by picking off Clark late in the game to finish things.

Game Notes

Game Ball
Terrelle Pryor played mistake-free football and came up with some big plays, really all you could ask from him against the conference's top defense, but the GB has to go to someone on the defensive side of the ball. Cameron Hey(Ma)ward was all over the field this game, recording 11 tackles, 3 for a loss, and 2 sacks, and basically made Daryll Clark's life hell for 60 minutes. Cam'ron wasn't the only defender to dominate in this one. Ross Homan and Brian Rolle also had double-digit tackles, as OSU held the Big Ten's top offense to a mere 201 total yards, less than half of their season average, and forced 8 three-and-outs. I also like to keep updating this stat, because it gets more impressive by the week. In the 40 quarters that Ohio St has played in this season, they have not allowed a single point in 26 of them. Wow.
(Yes, I did make two separate Cam'ron references in this post)
Game Balls to date: Pryor, Defense (2), Saine, Coleman, Posey, Heyward

This Just In
For those that are unaware, Terrelle Pryor went to Jeannette High School, which is located in Pennsylvania. He was highly recruited by Paterno and Penn St, but turned them down to go OSU, and Lion fans are pretty bitter. Ironically enough, Daryll Clark is an Ohio native, so these two signal callers were playing against their home states. In case you didn't know any of this, ABC was kind enough to point it out a couple of different times during this telecast, and even had some helpful graphics to show where these QB's came from. In other breaking news, A.J. Hawk was dating Brady Quinn's sister at the time the two played each other in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, and Jerome Bettis is from Detroit, so he kind of had a homecoming when he played his final game there in Super Bowl XL.

Big Ten Dominance
In case the four (about to be five) straight conference titles didn't tell you enough, this game's trivia question told you how much Jim Tressel has owned the Big Ten. The question was "Which is the only Big Ten team that has defeated Tressel in back-to-back years?" The answer (which I got, go me) was Wisconsin in '03 and '04. 2003 was after OSU had just won the national title and returned the bulk of their starters, seemingly poised for a repeat. The Badgers ended those hopes when Lee Evans caught an 80 yard touchdown in the closing minutes of the game (I drunkenly left my high school's Homecoming dance early for that?) Either way, Penn St unsuccessfully tried to be the second one to do that last week. Tressel has only lost 12 conference games in his tenure in Columbus, and improved to 11-1 against those teams the following year.

Up Next: vs. Iowa, 3:30, ABC
Iowa (9-1, 5-1 in Big Ten) has been a fraud all year long, and should have at least three losses by now. Finally, Northwestern exposed the Hawkeyes last week, after QB Ricky Stanzi went down with an injury in the first half. Stanzi, who frankly isn't very good to begin with, will be out for this game, and Iowa will be starting redshirt freshman James Vanderberg (expect several Dawson's Creek jokes in next week's article). Iowa's loss last week sets up this winner-take-all matchup for the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth. Because of the championship appearances and BCS tweaks over the past decade, Ohio St has not played in a Rose Bowl since the epic win over Jake Plummer and Arizona St in the 1996 season. Iowa is simply an average football team, and I expect the Buckeyes to prove that to everyone this Saturday.
Prediction: Ohio St 32 Iowa 19


(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Author's Note: I had to go with this picture, if you remember the photo of a devastated Pryor with his head down on the sideline after last year's loss.

Tuesday, November 10

Downtown Report

Let's start with the good news for Ohio/Cleveland sports fans first, shall we? That OSU win over Penn State was tremendous. Nick summed it up best for me when he txted, "I almost forgot what it was like to win a big game." That was a big one, no doubt, and Near-headless Nick and I will be in Ohio Stadium this Saturday to watch OSU clinch the Big Ten Championship and a trip to their first Rose Bowl since 1997. Playing their best football of the season, the Bucks look poised to trounce an Iowa Hawkeye club coming off a bad home loss to Northwestern and injury to quarterback Ricky Stanzi.

Lest you think I'm looking past michigan when I suggest this is for the Big 10 title, let me point out that even if OSU beats Iowa then somehow loses to Michigan, they'll still win out by virtue of holding tiebreakers over the conference's other two-loss schools (Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin). Let me also point out that I'm totally looking past michigan because the Buckeyes are absolutely going to crush them. Just like last year, none of this "throw out the records" or "rivalry game" nonsense, just another beatdown courtesy of the Scarlet and Gray. But first: Iowa.

I loved the Buckeye fans in Beaver Stadium co-opting Penn State's "Seven Nation Army" chant at the end of their 24-7 victory in Happy Valley. Serves them right after all those moronic "We Are Penn State" cheers. I'm generally down with Penn State, and wish them success when they don't oppose Ohio State, but that cheer is so incredibly stupid.

Jim Tressel simply needs to stop punting from the other team's 35. I like Tressel a lot - great coach, great recruiter - but his in-game decisions are not the kind that win football games. Consider when OSU led 10-7 and faced a 3rd and 2 at the Penn State 38. Sneak Pryor, twice if necessary, and get a first down. How hard is this? I'm as anti-punt as Tressel is pro-punt; I really think if he used better 4th-down strategy, OSU would be even stronger and would very possibly have beaten UCS. But other than that, I think JT is doing an excellent job with the program.

That game was...well, it was not well-officiated. I'm a notorious referee apologist, but not on Saturday. Homan's late hit, in particular, was an absolutely embarrassing call. Clark slid so late that there was no way to hold up, though Homan tried. You can't make defenders afraid to tackle people. Ugh.

I commented to Figgs and Nick that the best part of the Buckeye win was that the Browns wouldn't be able to erase my good feelings from the game by losing 35-3 on Sunday. I just got to ride the Buckeye high for the rest of the weekend. Now that I think about it, I'll get to do so post-Iowa as well, since the Browns have a Monday nighter against Baltimore.

A Monday nighter that may well be blacked out locally, as roughly 3000 tickets remain. That's pathetic. Nothing could say more about how lousy this franchise has become than a blackout, considering how rabid our fan base is. I think the Browns will buy them up to avoid a blackout, but will they be able to do this all season? Awful. Incidentally, the NFL's blackout rule is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in my life. So, your logic is that the way to boost fan interest is to restrict fans from watching the team? It's especially ridiculous considering how much of the league's revenue comes from TV. I mean, has anyone in the history of sports bought a ticket after seeing that a game would be blacked out? No. They just get pissed off at the stupid rule and stop caring about the NFL and their team. I really can't express in words how dumb this is.

Speaking of dumb, "Coach" Mangini has elected to once again keep secret the identity of the Browns' starting quarterback until Wednesday. What a loser. What is the point of this? For those who suspect that Quinn was being held out to avoid paying contract escalators that kick in if he takes 70% of the team's snaps, it's worth pointing out that if he takes every snap through the end of the year starting Monday, and the Browns run the same number of plays per quarter as they have so far (and that Quinn and Anderson took snaps at the same per-quarter rate so far), Quinn will take 65% of the team's snaps. So it can't be that anymore.

The Cavs are a pedestrian 4-3 so far, but that's not a concern for me. They're playing good defense, and I expect that the offense will play at a higher level once the new fellows (Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker, and Shaquille O'Neal) get integrated better. I see the Cavs winning 57 ths year, claiming about a three-seed, and making a run to the East Finals. Beyond that, I'm not so sure.

I've been out of town quite a bit and haven't seen much Cavs action, except for the Washington game. They really flipped a switch in the second half there and gave a taste of the sort of powerhouse they can be when motivated and clicking. I hope to see more of that club going forward. I'll try to provide more Cavs analysis as the season goes on.

Also: we have a baseball team in town called the Cleveland Indians.

Saturday, November 7

NFL Picks: Week 9

The less said about last week, the better. I don't even have the heart to make a Browns vs the Bye Week joke.

Last week
Andy: 5-8
Figgs: 6-7
Nick: 6-7
Nick's Money Picks ($): 3-1

Year to date
Andy: 65-51
Figgs: 62-54
Nick: 59-57
Nick's Money Picks ($): 18-13
Nick's teaser: 2-3

Sunday games
1:00 pm kickoffs

FALCONS (-10) vs Redskins
Andy: As lousy as the 'Skins are and as solid as the ATL is at home, I'm surprised this isn't two touchdowns. If you get a chance, read Matt Taibbi's scathing piece on Washington owner Dan Snyder in Rolling Stone. Wow, that's aggressive. But seriously, after stripping head coach Jim Zorn of his playcalling duties, it's hard to take the Redskins seriously. Give me the Falcons.
Figgs: I see no reason not to stick with the ATL here.
Nick: Falcons. Love this one. The Skins don't have an offense capable of a late cover. ($)

BEARS (-3) vs Cardinals
Andy: I'm not sold on the Bears, as sloppy as they looked last week against the Browns and as furiously as they got pummeled by the Bengals. Nevertheless, I simply can't take the Cardinals on the road at 1 pm EST after they got smacked around at home by the Panthers. Chicago.
Figgs: Cards win by two touchdowns.
Nick: Cards. Thought about betting this one, but the Cards can be pretty two-faced.

BENGALS (+3) vs Ravens
Andy: The Bengals already got the Ravens in Baltimore in a game that I kept inadvertently watching during Browns/Bills because it looked like actual professional football teams playing. I hope Cincitucky does it again Sunday, and I'm backing them here with my selection. Nice little bonus that I get 3 points.
Figgs: I'm hoping for the Bungals, but I'm going with the ratbirds.
Nick: Ravens. Still don't have a 100% feel for either of these teams. The Ravens can run it up on bad teams, but what will they do against a good team like Cincy?

COLTS (-9) vs Texans
Andy: Yeah, the Colts have been terrific this year, despite a bit of a stumble against San Fiasco, racking up a 7-0 mark and an AFC-leading +106 differential. The Texans, though, have been playing pretty well and scoring serious points during their three-game win streak. Since they're currently 5-3, they'll lose to get back closer to .500, but they'll stay close. Houston.
Figgs: There's no way I can go against Peyton Manning right now.
Nick: I'm going Houston here because they usually play the Colts tough, plus they have an offense that's capable of providing a late cover.

PATRIOTS (-10.5) vs Dolphins
Andy: The Dolphins are frisky - give me all those points. They're one of those teams I feel like I haven't hit on all year, kinda like Arizona. I'm still taking Miami.
Figgs: Too many points, Fins.
Nick: I really like the Fish.

BUCS (+9.5) vs Packers
Andy: Green Bay, all day here. I'm excited about not having to give 10. The Packers are intriguing this year for basically the same reason they were last year: why don't these guys win more games? They're at +53 yet are only 4-3. I feel like this could be an elite team, but they just aren't winning enough games to qualify as such. Beating Tuberculosis by 17 points should make both stats look better.
Figgs: GB.
Nick: Packers. Can you imagine anyone deciding they were going to bet the 0-7 Bucs here? They're also the worst team in the league ATS, at 1-6. I had to give 10.5. ($)

JAGS (-6.5) vs Chieves
Andy: I feel like, by making a selection here, I'm somehow legitimizing this game. If I was a Congressman and this was a vote, I would abstain. Every second I keep writing this is time I could spend writing about better NFL games. I wish this spread was 7, but I'm still taking KC. If I find 7 on another site, I'm grabbing it.
Figgs: This is awful. I don't know, Jax.
Nick: Don't know what to expect from the Jags week to week, but I'll take them at home against a lousy KC team.

4:00 pm kickoffs

SAINTS (-13.5) vs Panthers
Andy: That cheap ATL cover from Monday night is really sticking with me, and I think it's sticking with Brees and the Saints as well. Sure, you're 7-0 with a NFL-leading +119 differential, but only 6-1 ATS? Come on. I hope Carolina enjoyed their day in the desert last weekend, because they're not going to have as much fun in the Superdome. Jake Delhomme against this opportunistic D? Nah. New Orleans.
Figgs: A lot of points, but I'm with Andy on this one. NO rolls.
Nick: I had a Saints explanation written up, but I'm going to do the unthinkable and change it to the Panthers. Carolina's won three of four, they ran the ball really well last week, and I think they can keep it within two touchdowns. Most of our picks are the same this week, which is boring. I'm going to roll the dice with the Panthers here. God help me.

SEAHAWKS (-10) vs Lions
Andy: You lose at home to the Rams, I pick against you the next week. Those are the rules, Detroit. The Seahawks aren't good, but at home they're this much better than the Lions.
Figgs: I was gonna go with Detroit, until I saw Andy's pick. I agree with those rules, Hawks.
Nick: I like what you guys said. Seahawks.

49ERS (-4) vs Titans
Andy: Tough pick for me here. I know it's not 2008, but I feel like throwing caution to the wind and getting back on the Titan Express. In fact, that's what I'm doing, in large part because VINCE YOUNG WINS FOOTBALL GAMES. Tennessee.
Figgs: I'm going with the Titans as well. They're much better than their 1-6 mark, and they prove that today.
Nick: Can't believe I'm doing this - Titans.

GIANTS (-4.5) vs Chargers
Andy: New Jersey NFC got kinda mediocre kinda fast, didn't they? I mean, that really got out of hand! I'm still annoyed by San Diago's pathetic non-cover against Oakland last week; then again, I picked the Giants and they got slammed by Philly, so no one's on my good side here. I'll be consistent and stick with the Giants.
Figgs: The Giants bounce back at home.
Nick: I feel like I should have jumped ship on the Giants last week, but I'll stick with them against the perennially overrated Chargers.

8:20 pm kickoff

EAGLES (-3) vs Cowboys
Andy: This looks like a heck of a matchup, maybe the best on the week's slate now that the Browns aren't playing. That was a joke. Philly.
Figgs: I don't know about Westbrook's status, but I don't think he's playing. I'm not too worried about it though, Shady can handle the load and Philly covers.
Nick: Eagles.

Monday Night Game
8:30 pm kickoff

BRONCOS (+3) vs Steelers
Andy: Ugh, Pittsburgh. The Bronco thing was fun, but the Steelers are too tough for them, I'm afraid. Hopefully I'm wrong.
Figgs: I HATE picking Pittsburgh, but I'm still down three games and have to be smart about this, but it really does suck.
Nick: Steelers. No comment. I got them at zero. ($)

Friday, November 6

The All-Francis team

With the Browns on hiatus this weekend, I thought I'd talk a little bit about some of my favorite players from across the NFL. I'm a Browns fan first and foremost, but I'm also an NFL fan, and there are individual players whom I admire who do not sport the Brown and Orange, some of whom play for teams I outright despise. Thus, I'm constructing my All-Francis team of guys I like based on performance and personality. Browns are eligible, but do not get preference. Later, I'm looking into a Non-Francis Team (my least favorites) and an All-Time All-Francis (self-explanatory). Let's do the 2009 All-Francises first:

Quarterback: Drew Brees
In case our NFL Picks haven't made this clear, I've got quite the man-crush on Brees. He's got the same name as me, awesome hair, the best pre-game team ritual ever, went to Purdue when it was John Hawkins U, does great off-field work, and is just a tremendous quarterback, the heart and soul of that franchise. If I were to ever buy a non-Browns jersey, this would be the one.

Running back: Clinton Portis
Awesome, awesome name, and that goes a long way with me. It just rolls off the tongue. More than that, though, he's on the All-Francis Team because of the hilarious outfits he wears to his weekly press conferences, particularly the eyewear. Cracks me up every time.

Wide Receivers: Chad Ochocinco and Larry Fitzgerald
85 rubs some people the wrong way, but I love his flamboyant personality and skill package. So many receivers in the NFL are head cases and total jerks; Ochocinco is eccentric for sure, but he has a sense of humor about things. He's as likable as TO is hateable. I love his TD celebrations - going into the Dawg Pound for beer showers, going behind a snow pile to get a sign that said "Merry Christmas: Please don't fine me, NFL" for which he was fined. His interviews are great - I liked him describing his plans to wear so much pink that he'd get fined because he'd donate the money to breast cancer research anyway. Plus, dude can play a bit.

Fitzgerald is the opposite; the nicest, quietest, most professional dude in the league, and maybe its best wideout. He's unreal. I remember watching him dominate at Pitt - you just knew the guy had serious pro talent. Easy guy to root for.

Tight End: Dallas Clark
Another outstanding name, and a truly unique player. I remember when he was in college - Gopo and I used to joke that Clark was always open, and he really was. I've never seen a player exploit zone defenses like this guy. Linebackers have no chance to cover him, he's got great hands, and there's never anyone within 10 yards of him. Maybe he has an invisibility cloak or something. Maybe I'm a super dork.

Offensive lineman: Nobody
Who cares about offensive linemen? Have you ever seen in the NFL Draft when an O-lineman goes and they show a "highlights" package of them pushing an opponent? I'd hate to be tasked with assembling such a clip. I know they're very important to a team's success, but there's not enough individuality for me to pick one. Though, as an honorable mention, D'Brickashaw Ferguson's name alone gets him close. Maybe if he wore funny sunglasses.

Kick returner/special teams: Josh Cribbs
I said I wouldn't give Browns special treatment, and I haven't. Cribbs is just flat-out awesome. He's the most dangerous return man in the game on punts and kickoffs, a tremendous gunner and tackler on special teams, and contributes to the offense with speed and power the two times a game the Browns ever give him the ball. Plus, he's a Kent Stater - I didn't say I wouldn't take college into account.

Defensive Lineman: I should have limited this to skill positions
If Jared Allen hadn't made that retarded comment about his paycheck being halved if Obama becoming President (it likely has not changed at all), he'd be up here. But I can't let such inanity go unpunished.
I also wanted to pick Frostee Rucker, but the assault charges bug me.
I literally looked through the entire list of NFL D-liners, which includes two fellows named Tank, and still couldn't find a winner.

Linebacker: Mike Vrabel
The guy is from Akron, played at Ohio State, and has nine career TD receptions (and defensive return TD to boot). Book it.

Safeties: Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu
Damn, I wish the Browns had someone of the caliber of these fellows patrolling the backfield behind our lousy linebackers. The word that comes to mind for both players is "disruptive." They're both absolute menaces; Polamalu covering huge amounts of ground (and getting beat by Lawrence Vickers for a Browns TD as I type this, but he's clearly hurt) and punishing opponents, and Reed with his incredible knack for the ball and, once said ball is acquired, the end zone. These guys are just badasses.

Coach: Mike Tomlin
I know, we're regrettably getting Steeler-heavy here; this is mostly because of his gameday wear. When it's sunny he sports ridiculous aviator shades. When it gets cold, he dons a Costanza-esque Puffy Coat and what appear to be his pajamas. Mike Tomlin, Dave Barry, and Hugh Hefner are the only three men I can think of at the top of their professions who go to work in their sleepwear.

Wednesday, November 4

Buckeyes Tune Up for Brutal November Schedule

New Mexico St was clearly overmatched last Saturday against a far superior Ohio St team. The Buckeyes outgained the Aggies, gaining 559 yards to just 62 for NMSU, en route to a 45-0 beatdown. This was very close to my prediction (41-0), but they just barely covered the 44-point spread, where I had them just missing it. NMSU could only manage two first downs, as the Bucks became the first FCS team to record three shutouts this season. OSU got off to a sluggish start, not scoring in the first quarter, but turned things on in quarter number two and never looked back. This was basically a full-pads practice for Ohio St, as they get ready for their three toughest conference foes (at Penn St, Iowa, at michigan) to end the season.

Game Recap

We'll pick things up from the 2nd quarter, because that's really where this game started. Terrelle Pryor had a nice eight-yard scamper to begin the quarter, finally getting OSU on the board. Shaking things up a bit, Aaron Pettrey executed a perfect onside kick, recovering it himself. Three plays and a pass interference call later, Pryor connected with Dane Sanzenbacher for a 20 yard score. The next six sloppy plays saw three turnovers. Ross Homan picked off NMSU QB Jeff Fleming, but Brandon Saine gave it right back by fumbling on the next play. A few plays later, Thaddeus Gibson recovered a fumble to complete the "who wants it less" battle. This set up another 52 yard FG try by Pettrey, which he missed for the second time this game. We know he can't hit from close range, so if he can't hit the deep ones, what good is he?

On Ohio St's next possession, they busted out trick play #2 as Boom Herron took a pitch, reversed it to DeVier Posey, who then tossed a perfect strike to an open Sanzenbacher in the end zone. Just like the onside kick, this was a brilliantly executed play, but is this the time to be doing it? Wouldn't these plays be better suited next week against JoePa? The most likely scenario is that ultra-conservative Jim Tressel would never think about doing these things in a high profile game, so he purposely tipped his hand to Penn St to make them prepare for plays that he has no intention of using. Either way, they were fun to watch.

Brandon Saine capped off a four-touchdown quarter by running it in on an option pitch from Pryor in the closing minutes of the half. I think we saw in this game that as much as I love Saine, he's not a "between the tackles" type runner. Every time they gave it to him up the middle he went nowhere. He is, however, very effective in open space, and when he and Pryor are out there running the option together, it's damn near impossible to stop. Which begs the question, why don't they run that play more?! To my recollection, OSU ran the option one time this game, and it was on the easy TD to end the half. We better see a lot of this next week.

As I said would happen in last week's article, Terrelle was on the bench to begin the second half, already in his street clothes. Joining him on the bench was Pettrey, who was injured on a cheap block on his last kickoff. The injury was to his kicking leg, so although his status for the rest of the season is uncertain, things don't look too good from here. Joe Bauserman came in at QB and Jordan Hall took over the rushing duties, and they quickly gave backup kicker Devin Barclay a chance to show what he's got. Barclay responded by missing a 47 yard FG. He got another chance on the next series, and this time he was good from 29.

The rout wouldn't be complete without a defensive touchdown, so Brian Rolle took care of that by picking up backup QB Trevor Walls' fumbled snap in the end zone. Rolle scored for the third time this season, making it 38-0. On a third and short late in the third quarter, Dan Herron went off-tackle looking for a first down to keep the clock moving, and found nothing but open field instead. Boom took it 53 yards to the house, a very good sign to see him running normally on that ankle.

All you need to know about the 4th quarter is that guys named K.C. Christian, Joe Gantz, and Bo DeLande were running the ball for OSU. The Bucks do all their scoring in the middle quarters, and get ready for Penn St with a 45-0 victory.

Game Notes

Game Ball
Ohio St's offensive statistics were very mundane, and no one defensive player stood out, so we'll just give it to the whole unit again. This was their third shutout of the season, and easily could have been their fourth if not for that late TD by Minnesota two weeks ago. They now have forced 24 turnovers this season, and have held their opponents scoreless in 23 of the 36 quarters they have played in. These guys are gonna have to keep up this dominant D next week when they face a much tougher PSU offense.
Game Balls to date: Pryor, Defense (2), Saine, Coleman, Posey

Random Thoughts
There isn't much else to say about this game.
- I noted last week that it would be nice to see Posey running routes other than just the deep fly, and he did that in this game. He had five catches for 79 yards (in addition to that TD pass) and he was running buttonhook and slant patterns consistently.
- The RB situation looks to be back at full force. Ten different guys carried the ball for OSU, with Hall leading the way with 10 rushes for 90 yards. When Herron didn't play in the first quarter of this game, I assumed he was still injured. However, he came in midway through the second quarter, and finished with six carries for 66 yards and that long touchdown. Saine started the game but had a weak performance, rushing the ball seven times for only 13 yards and a score. Both backs looked healthy though, which is the main priority.
- The kicking situation scares me. The Pettrey-Barclay combo went 1-5 last week. Even if Pettrey can play, he's been struggling lately. This makes Ohio St's difficulty getting touchdowns in the red zone even more important. It's bad enough going from seven points to three, but you're not going to survive a game against the Nittany Lions going from seven to zero.

Up Next: @ Penn St, 3:30, ABC
Both teams come into this showdown with hopes of a Big Ten title and a shot at the Rose Bowl. Ohio St controls their own destiny and just needs to win these last three games, where Penn St needs to win out and have someone (most likely OSU) beat Iowa. Happy Valley is not the easiest place to play in, especially for young quarterbacks who are prone to making mistakes. Ohio St needs to run the ball often and effectively to keep Daryll Clark and PSU's quick strike offense off the field.

Prediction: Ohio St 29 Penn St 24


(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)