No, it sure as hell wasn't.
Now don't take this as some sort of repudiation of my fandom or wavering in any sense. Absolutely not. I love being a Cleveland sports fan and will NEVER be anything else. But even by our historically tortured standards, 2010 was a terrible year for our teams (the Buckeyes were a different story, but they're not the same as a Cleveland team). Perhaps surprisingly, as we'll discover below, it was actually a better 365 days than the one preceding it, with one notable exception. For my final post of 2010, let's take a look back at a crummy year in NE Ohio sports, appreciate some of the progress we made, and hope for better things in 2011.
This article is going to be harder to write than I originally anticipated. There isn't too much to say about a 69-93 club without much personality or direction, even if they did top their 2009 counterparts by four wins. We're not good, and we're probably not going to be real good in 2011.
But hey, there were bright spots - the play of Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez, and Carlos Santana in particular made the Wahoos watchable at least. And hey, Tribe Weekend was awesome. Considering that the 2009 and 2010 campaigns were basically the same (edge to 2010), and 2010 featured Chris Perez's hair and a remarkable recovery from the disaster that was Tribe Weekend '09, it has to be viewed as a step forward. Even if the Erie Warriors can't deliver a better campaign in 2011 (and who knows, maybe they will), FCF and its confederates at least have an Opening Day on a Friday (April 1!) and what promises to be an even more mega Tribe Weekend on tap. Never give up.
This article is going to be harder to write than I originally anticipated. Honestly, there was little different about the 2010 Browns than the 2009 Browns; both teams posted five wins and had one good stretch of solid football (2009 at the tail-end and 2010 in the middle). The 2010 club was far more competitive, which gives them an edge; on the other hand, the 2009 team beat Pittsburgh and the 2010 club hasn't (yet). It's simple: if the Browns beat the steelers on Sunday, then the 2010 team represents a real improvement. If they don't...then they don't. These are the stakes.
The biggest positive from 2010 is the results from the 2010 Draft class, which is shaping up to be the Browns' finest since their return. Cleveland now has in the fold a potential Pro Bowl secondary with Joe Haden (1st round) and TJ Ward (2nd round) and, dare we hope, an answer at quarterback with Colt McCoy. If those players continue to develop and Montario Hardesty turns into the impact runner everyone thinks he can, maybe someday we'll look at the 2010 Draft as the start of a new era in Browns Football. Now that I mention it, maybe 2010 was a better calendar year for the Brown and Orange than 2009. Doesn't mean they're off the hook for that Pittsburgh game. As Figgs might say, GET EM.
As usual, OSU's football team provided a bit of a backstop to the losses suffered on pretty much all other fronts by those who share FCF's rooting interests. Yes, there was the embarrassing sell-your-memorabilia-for-tats scandal (why would anyone want to own Terrelle Pryor's gold pants thing?) and the debacle in Madison, but the Buckeye gridironers kicked off the year with a dazzling performance in claiming their first Rose Bowl in 13 years, and ended with yet another victory over michigan (seven straight) and Big Ten title (six straight). Considering that 2009 started with a BCS Bowl loss (to Colt McCoy and his Texas squad) and 2010 with a BCS Bowl win, gotta give the edge to 2010. Three for three so far.
And...three for four.
Both years saw the Cavaliers enter the NBA playoffs as the clear favorite to advance to the Finals, and both saw them flame out before getting there. The 2009 postseason has the advantage, as the Cavs got to the Conference Finals where they ultimately lost to a surprisingly superior Orlando team, while the 2010 edition only reached the Conference semis, where #23 quit on the team (more on that later) in a loss to Boston. Also, 2009 had the opening months of a terrific regular season, while 2010 has had the opening months of...yuck. On both counts, 2009 was a better calendar for Los Caballeros.
Seems to me that something else happened in 2010 that wasn't good for the Cavs, but I forget eactly what. Fuck it, must not have been much.
Happy New Year from everyone at FCF, and good luck in 2011 to our Browns, Cavaliers, Indians, and Buckeyes.
Friday, December 31
No, it sure as hell wasn't.
I'd say this one's pretty much over - after I bombed yet another week and Bucko once again led the way (in both cases thanks almost entirely to the crime scene that is the AFC North), he's pretty much got the title wrapped up headed into the season's final week with a six-game lead over second-place Figgs. Nicely done. sir.
As for me, I'm just glad to see this awful NFL season come to a close. The Browns showed some real promise halfway through the year and then just disappeared from the Jacksonville game on. It apparently wasn't enough for the Sporting Gods to have us just suck - they had to make it look like we had some promise for a couple of weeks to lure us in, then pull it away from us in cruel fashion while the fucking steelers and ravens both cruised to 11-4 records so I once again can't just enjoy a playoff season without my two least favorite teams gumming it up. The whole direction of the AFC North really kinda seems like piling on at this point, especially when I get back after another disappointing NFL Sunday and hear the Cavs lose by one point at home to an awful Minnesota team that they led by 14 in the 4th quarter. I really don't know what I did to deserve such treatment from the Sporting Gods.
Nick's Money Picks ($): 2-2
Nick's Money Picks ($): 33-34-3
Figgs' Money Picks ($): 26-14-4
1 pm kickoff
BROWNS (+5.5) vs steelers
Andy: BROWNS (PBR Pk). A couple of members of FCF denote the games on which they've placed wagers with the ($) notation, including in the parentheses when they have lines differing from the ones we play against in our picks. I've done the same this week with the lone game on which I have a gambling stake. You see, since about 2002, I've had a standing bet with Gopo for each NFL season that we bet a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon on the outcome of the Browns-steelers season series. If either team wins both games, the losing team's fan has to buy the other the 30-pack of delicious PBR - if the two teams split, it's a draw (cases don't roll over to the next year, and I did not buy a second case in 2002 when the Browns dropped three to...I can't even type their name anymore). Needless to say, this is the single worst agreement I've ever entered into. It's terrible, like Time Warner-AOL merger bad, and as lopsided as Gasol to LA, Darth Vader and Lando Calrissian's deal, or the US buying Alaska for two cents an acre. I hate this bet. But one year, damnit, I (along with all decent humanfolk) am going to win, and that's going to be the best PBR I've ever had, or at least as good as the previous PBR was. Sadly, that year will not be 2010, so I'll have to settle for saving $15 when the Browns beat the squealers this Sunday.
Figgs: Browns. Andy, when you finally win that case, I'm picturing you on the roof of your building (shirtless, of course) consecutively shotgunning all 30.
Nick: Browns. Fuck the Steelers.
Bucko: Steelers. I almost went Browns here, but I remembered the Steelers are playing for a bye. Andy's note: Bucko also remembered his deep, abiding love for the Pittsburgh steelers. This is a man who had three brand-new steeler jerseys in his house this past weekend. I saw them.
Gopo: Steelers. Our friend is out of the country, so Andy will be handling his portion of the weekly picks. They're all Gopo's selections, but he wasn't able to add commmentary, so I will. On this game, Gopo thinks, "man, I feel really bad about being a steeler fan. I hope my teeth are OK. Andy deserves to win that PBR some year."
FALCONS (-14.5) vs Panthers
Andy: Atlanta. One team is really good, one really bad, and Atlanta recently kicked Carolina around by 21 on the road - not much to say about this one, so let's take a trip back to last Thursday. I went to BW3 for the evening, where I go most weeks, to lead our trivia team into battle . Early in the game, however, the manager came over and asked if we could relinquish our seats near the trivia DJ...so some drooling idiot steeler fans could watch their stupid black and yellow thugs play their game against Carolina. Our team plays every week and these losers get to come take our seats because they managed to put on their ugly jerseys correctly one night? Unbelievable. So we had to sit way far away from the action, where we could barely hear the questions, and still had to watch the game and have line-of-sight to more cretin Pittsburgh fans. Oh well, just another log on the fire that is my burning anti-steeler passion.
Figgs: ATL. Did Andy even make a pick during that rant? Andy's note: I wrote the rant before making my pick - I hadn't forgotten, but wanted to get that down while it was in my mind.
Nick: Falcons. Clausen doesn't even have a backdoor cover in him.
Bucko: Panthers. I think the Falcons will be playing it easy. They will still win, but it is too many points.
Gopo: Panthers. "I have not watched the NFL at all this year."
LIONS (-3.5) vs Vikings
Andy: Vikings. For many picks this week I'm going to introduce the use of profootball-reference.com's SRS (simplr rating system) to evaluate each pick, along with my predicted lines and other analysis. In this case, the difference in the teams' SRS is -2.9, pretty close to the line, so I don't get any help here (ATL is +19 over Carolina so I took them to cover). So I took the Vikings because I simply can't fathom the notion of Detroit winning four straight football games.
Nick: Lions. Classic Tuesday night hangover. ($)
Gopo: Lions. "Even my e-mailed-in pick is as detailed as Figgs' and Bucko's. Also, I got my picks in way before Nick."
CHIEVES (-3.5) vs Raiders
Andy: Chieves. Does everyone realize that KC is one of only two teams undefeated at home this year (Patriots)? The SRS differential is only 1.8, but doesn't adequately account for KC's wild home/road split.
Figgs: KC. I feel like this line should be KC -3.5 if it were at Oakland. At home, I got them by a touchdown.
Nick: Chiefs. These guys are tough at home. They're going to make round one gambling tricky.
Gopo: Chiefs. "Supporting the Indian brotherhood."
PATRIOTS (-3.5) vs Dolphins
Andy: Patriots. They own a 13-point SRS lead over Miami. I'm not even going to bother to look at who New England's backup QB is.
Figgs: Pats. Really? Have oddsmakers seen Miami in recent weeks? I guess they're assuming Brady and other stars won't see much action, but I still gotta go NE here.
Nick: Pats. They don't quit.
Bucko: Pats. The hoody won't let up.
Gopo: Patriots. "It's going to suck when they knock us out of the playoffs."
SAINTS (-6) vs Bucs
Andy: Bucs. The SRS differential is only 4.5, and what the hell does New Orleans care about this game? Atlanta's not losing to Carolina, and Nawlins is locked into the five-seed and a gift opening-round matchup in St. Louis. Take it easy, boys.
Nick: Bucs. Jaaaash Freeman.
Gopo: Saints. "Gotta take a former Big 10 QB after their dynamite performance in bowls this year."
JETS (-1) vs Buffaloes
Andy: Jets. They own an eight-point SRS edge over Buffalo. Just a superior team. I don't care if Sanchez plays this one or not.
Figgs: Jets. I may not be taking into account teams that don't have anything to play for, but any time is see "JETS (-1) vs Buffaloes", I can't possibly justify taking the Jills. Correct me if I'm wrong, but do the Bills not have anything to play for as well?
Nick: Bills. The Jets are going to coast.
Gopo: Jets. "22-17."
RAVENS (-9.5) vs Bengals
Andy: Bengals. Baltimore is only 8 better by SRS, plus Cincy already beat them, is on a mini-roll, and I hate Baltimore.
Figgs: Ravens. This is a line that finally makes sense to me. But it's still probably not high enough.
Nick: Bengals. Too many points.
Bucko: Bengals. They always play the birds tight.
Gopo: Bengals. "I have sheer contempt for Carson Palmer's QB abilities unless it means a cheap cover."
4 pm kickoff
TEXANS (+1.5) vs Jags
Andy: Texans. Houston has actually been slightly better this year (horrible collapse in Denver that cost me a cover notwithstanding) and they'll win this one over a fading Jax team.
Figgs: Jax. Gary Kubiak, the GM wants to see you in the locker room. Bring your playbook.
Bucko: Houston. Garrard doesn't look like he's going to play.
Gopo: Texans. "Why the hell not?"
REDSKINS (+4) vs Giants
Andy: Giants. They're a TD better in SRS and can still win a playoff spot.
Figgs: Skins. Washington has played some inspired ball the last few weeks, and I feel as if the G-Men are just gonna fold after laying that egg in Green Bay last week.
Nick: Skins. The Giants blow.
Gopo: Giants. "So much for Indian solidarity. The Giants' name implies that they are larger than their opponents."
EAGLES (-3.5) vs Cowboys
Andy: Eagles. They're seven better in SRS and playing at home against a Cowboy club on the wrong side of their late-season push. Nice job last week, btw, Jon Kitna. Did anyone else see where Tucker Carlson said that Michael Vick should be executed for his dogfighting escapades? Executed? Forget the rule of law - let's just assign punishments from now on based on what this douchebag thinks will get him the highest ratings.
Figgs: Philly. It seems I'm taking a lot of favorites here.
Nick: Eagles. Just don't see Dallas getting up for this game in Philly.
Bucko: Eagles. That is if everyone plays.
Gopo: Eagles. "Doing what the steelers couldn't do in the 1995 Super Bowl."
49ERS (-6) vs Cardinals
Andy: 49ers. Hate the line, but they're been five better this season, and this gives me one last chance to take a shot at Mike Singletary.
Figgs: Cards. This line seems pretty high for a 5-10 football team.
Nick: Niners. The Cardinals are awful - this is more a vote of no confidence in them than a vote of confidence in the Niners.
Bucko: Cards. How can the Niners offens do anything if they switch QB's every week.
Gopo: 49ers. "Root, root, root for the home team."
PACKERS (-10) vs Bears
Andy: Bears. Huh? I think I'll pass on this opportunity to give 10 against an 11-4 team.
Figgs: Bears. Again, possibly overestimating the Bears will to win since they already have the #2 seed wrapped up, but this line seems a little crazy.
Bucko: Bears. Wow this is a lot of points. Pack will win!
Gopo: Bears. "If this competition was decided on who gets their picks in latest each week, Nick would run away with it." OK, fine, that was Andy writing first-person.
COLTS (-10) vs Titans
Andy: Titans. They won't win this, but for all of Tennessee's QB issues, they're only 1.5 off of Indy in SRS this year. Shouldn't be that much of a blowout.
Figgs: Titans. This line is about as high as Vince Young will be during this game. OHH!
Gopo: Titans. "Also bigger than their opponent.'
BRONCOS (+3.5) vs Chargers
Andy: Chargers. According to SRS, they're two TD's a game better than Denver - I feel like I'm getting 11 free points.
Nick: Broncos. Raging Teboner.
Gopo: Chargers. "Not backing Tim Tebow."
Sunday Night Football, 8:20 pm
SEAHAWKS (+2.5) vs Rams
Andy: Seahawks. I just want to see St. Louis get in at 7-9. Weren't they supposed to have flex scheduling for these Sunday night games at some point? Can we have Flex Divisioning so the Browns can play in the NFC West next year?
Figgs: Rams. Believe it or not, this was the game they flexed.
Nick: Rams. ($)
Gopo: Rams. "I have to take someone."
Tuesday, December 28
Happy holidays, sports fans! With the football team getting ready for the Sugar Bowl, All-Americans being announced, the basketball season gearing up for conference play, and an unfortunate off the field issue, we have a lot to discuss about Ohio St.
We have all heard by now and probably already discussed ad nauseum the situation regarding five OSU football players trading autographs for tattoos and selling awards and uniform equipment. The players at fault include star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, as well as leading rusher Dan Herron, #2 receiver DeVier Posey, All-Big Ten lineman Mike Adams, and defensive end Solomon Thomas. Now we could all argue until we are blue in the face about whether or not college players should be compensated for the absurd amounts of money that they make their programs, or whether or not what these players did should even be viewed as wrong considering they sold their own personal property, but I'm not going to get into all of that.
The fact of the matter is simple - NCAA athletes are not allowed to profit from what they do as collegiate athletes, period. There are two possible explanations for these players doing what they did. Either they are so unfathomably stupid and they didn't understand the rules, or they simply just don't give a shit. I'm inclined to believe the latter, although the former is probably pretty accurate as well.
Pryor and his teammates were punished by the NCAA, being suspended for five games...starting next season. Now it's time for me to go on a rant here. This is the biggest joke of a punishment ever. All five of these players should have been immediately thrown off of the team, no questions asked. But the N-C-double assholes (I can't believe I've been writing on this blog for years and that was my first Program quote) are so hypocritical and don't want to take the hit on the revenue they would be sure to lose had these players not been able to play in the Sugar Bowl.
The thing that really gets me is that in the cases of Reggie Bush and the fag five, among others, their programs were punished after these guys were gone and innocent players and coaches suffered the consequences (not that I'm shedding a tear for SC or michigan). Well here is a chance to actually punish the people who committed the violations while they are still in college. But no, the NCAA is saying "go ahead and play in the Bowl game, then turn pro and make millions."
Which brings me to my next point. Now, I've supported and cheered for TP for the past three seasons because "that's my quarterback, that's my teammate (sniffle, sniffle)." But let's call a spade a spade, here. Terrelle Pryor is a piece-of-shit, arrogant, punk. We all knew this coming in - most of us just chose to ignore it due to his superior talent. He has been the starting quarterback at a major college program for three years - if he doesn't "get it" by now, it's unlikely that he ever will. He has no concept of what it means to be a member of a team, he has very poor work ethic, he's lazy, and he's about as bright as a Steeler fan is clean.
It's nearly certain now that Pryor will opt to forgo his Senior season and enter the NFL draft, rather then sit out the first half of next season. Frankly, I think you were kidding yourself if you thought he was coming back even before this incident happened. Let's just hope he goes out with a bang and leads the Bucks to a Sugar Bowl victory. After that, sayonara.
Now that we have that rant out of the way, this is what I really wanted to talk about. On January the fourth, Ohio St will take on Arkansas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. At 10-2, the Razorbacks had an excellent season, finishing second in the loaded SEC. I thought the Buckeyes would have quieted many haters after easily handling Oregon in last year's Rose Bowl, but apparently I thought wrong. Still, all you hear about is how Ohio St "can't win the big game."
History is against the Bucks, as they are 0-9 all-time in Bowl games against SEC opponents, including two embarrassing losses to LSU and Florida in recent title games. Luckily for OSU, people don't seem to realize how irrelevant that stat is. What the 1953 Buckeyes did against Kentucky in the Tinker Toys Bowl has to do with the 2010 versions of Ohio St and Arkansas, I'm not sure.
The Hogs are led by one of the nation's top QB's, michigan transfer Ryan Mallett. While watching Arkansas play throughout the year, I was debating whether I should hate Mallett for ever attending that school up north, or applaud him for leaving that shit hole. I never really decided one way or the other. Arkansas doesn't run very often, but when they do, Knile Davis is always a threat to break one, averaging 6.6 yards per carrying and scoring 13 times on the year.
While the Razorbacks are very dangerous offensively, Ohio St should be able to put up points on their mediocre defense. If the Bucks' devastating defense can limit Mallett's big plays and force him into some poor decisions, which he often makes, I think we can finally break that meaningless 0 for 9 streak.
Prediction: Ohio St 34 Arkansas 24
Several Buckeyes were named to the All-Conference team, and I wanted to give them a quick shout-out. RB Dan Herron, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, OT Mike Adams, DL Cameron Heyward, LBs Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, and DBs Chimdi Chekwa and Jermale Hines all made first team, with C Mike Brewster and G Justin Boren receiving second team honors. K Devin Barclay, WR DeVier Posey, QB Terrelle Pryor, and DE John Simon all got honorable mention. Not surprisingly, the defense was well represented, making up half of the first team.
The Big Ten has always been known for its tough defensive players, but this squad looks even more impressive than usual. The front seven, made up of Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, and Michigan St's Greg Jones, along with the three Buckeyes, is insane. Six of these guys could all be top 20 picks in this year's NFL draft (the exception being Brian Rolle, due to his size).
And a hats off to whoever the committee is that makes these selections for not just going by the media hype and actually giving the honor to those deserving. The best example of this is the QB spots going to Northwestern's Dan Persa and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien, instead of the obvious choices of TP and Can't-Tie. It's a good thing Pryor didn't get it, as he just would have just sold it anyway.
Switching gears here, Ohio St has cruised through a relatively weak non-conference schedule to a 13-0 start as they prepare for Big Ten play, beginning with a trip to Indiana on New Year's Eve. OSU's latest victory came last night with a 100-40 beatdown of Tennessee-Martin. Certainly, UTM is far from a powerhouse, but a sixty point win is impressive, nonetheless.
Freshman Jared Sullinger has been an absolute beast, averaging 17.5 points and 10 boards thus far. The rest of the scoring has been very balanced, with David Lighty, William Buford, Jon Diebler, and DeShaun Thomas all averaging double (Deon) figures. And as has been the case for the past three years, Dallas Swat-erdale has been a monster on the defensive end, blocking three shots a game.
Even though Ohio St has only beaten three legitimate teams (Florida, Florida St, South Carolina) you can't help but be impressed with how they have played so far. Things will get much tougher in the loaded Big Ten Conference, but I don't expect a drop-off in production from these guys. Keep it up fellas.
Saturday, December 25
We seem to be back where we started with Eric Mangini. I wasn’t alone in surprise when Mike Holmgren decided to retain him last winter, but after so many close, early losses in 2010 Mangini’s dismissal once again seemed inevitable. While the team always played hard, it wasn’t until the stretch of games against the Saints, Patriots, and Jets that Mangini swung that pendulum in the other direction. But alas, consecutive losses to the Bills and Bengals, with only the Ravens and Steelers remaining mean that the smart money is once again on Mangini getting sacked.
In retrospect, bringing Mangini back (essentially on probation) was a very savvy move by Mike Holmgren. If Mangini had worked out, Holmgren would have found his coach and he would have looked like a genius. As that now seems unlikely, Mangini’s eventual replacement didn’t have to absorb the fans’ frustration during a tough season of roster transition. Now nobody will whine that Mangini wasn’t given a fair shot, and Holmgren also managed to save Randy Lerner some money, although $3 million to Lerner (he of the $1.5 billion net worth) is probably analogous to 20 bucks for most Browns fans. Perhaps most importantly, Holmgren might have a more attractive field of potential coaches out there this off-season, as the cupboard looked pretty bare last January.
When you get right down to it, the 2010 Browns have largely played hard all year, and all of their games have been competitive. These Browns have lost only two games by double-digits; an 18-point loss in Pittsburgh which was skewed by a garbage time Roethlisberger touchdown, and a 10-point loss at home to Atlanta that the Browns were winning before Seneca Wallace got hurt, forcing Jake Delhomme to come in and do his Jake Delhomme things. What is extremely frustrating about all of those close losses is that you get the sense that some of them could have been coached into wins with better adjustments and more aggressive decision-making. We can argue about whether or not Mangini is an average or above-average coach, but the guy has proven that he’s a legitimate professional head coach; Chris Palmer, he is not.
I am not trying to trash Eric Mangini, but it’s time for both he and the Cleveland Browns to move on, and for largely organizational reasons. Eric Mangini football is not Mike Holmgren football. Maybe I’m misreading things, but doesn’t Mangini seem like the NFL torch-bearer for the style of play that has fairly or unfairly been billed “Tressel-ball?” Mangini wants to suffocate the opposition on defense while playing a very conservative, ball-control offense that waits for opponents to beat themselves with a crucial error. When that strategy works it’s fine, but it’s not a recipe for consistent success in a league where the team who’s better at throwing the football usually wins, in spite of what Rex Ryan might tell the media.
If Mangini had proven to be Vince Lombardi, Bill Belichick, or even Jeff Fisher, then it would make sense for Mike Holmgren and the Browns to keep him around. The problem is that Mangini seems to be pretty average – George Costanza would say he falls “right in the meaty part of the curve.”
Mike Holmgren needs to bring in a coach who is singing off the same song sheet, so to speak. Eric Mangini’s successor doesn’t have to be a zealous Holmgren disciple, but he should at least subscribe to the same religion. Holmgren needs someone with whom he can create more synergy than he has with Mangini.
In Cleveland, we know a thing or two about cutting ties with coaches, as it has become a near ritual every 24 to 36 months. The difference this time is that when both parties go their separate ways, both should be better off.
The Browns are certainly in better shape now than when Mangini arrived on the scene nearly two years prior, and at least part of that is Mangini’s doing. By the same token, Mangini came to the Browns unfairly portrayed by the New York media as an arrogant know-nothing who doubled as a dictator.
The beginning of Mangini’s tenure did little but reinforce those ill-founded beliefs. However, since the end of the ’09 season not only have the Browns returned to respectability, but Mangini’s reputation around the league has recovered, too. If Eric Mangini gets a pink slip in the near future he won’t be viewed as some kind of NFL pariah, as he may have one year ago, and with the way the NFL recycles coaches he’s virtually guaranteed another top job in the future.
This is a breakup that can ultimately be a positive for both parties. Ideally, the Browns will get a new head coach whose ideology is closer to Holmgren’s (bearing in mind that Holmgren himself is a viable candidate), and Mangini can eventually migrate to a franchise with a philosophy more in line with his own. Eric, we’ve had a good run, we appreciate what you’ve done for the Cleveland Browns, and yes – we can still be friends.
Thursday, December 23
Bucko's feat of strength came a bit early this year, as a stunning three-week 32-14-2 run has vaulted him to sole posession of first place with a four-game edge on second place, with just two weeks remaining to play. The most annoying part of his performance is how his loss total is 99 - we all have triple digits in that column but he doesn't, and that "1" looks huge on all of our ledgers. On the flipside, the rest of us all figured out how to post our picks prior to the Sunday kickoffs.
Browns fans also found something underneath their aluminium pole last Sunday in the form of the Jets knocking off the Steelers, but with Cleveland adrift in another 5-9 campaign and both Baltimore and Pittsburgh bound for the postseason, there will be plenty of airing of grievances towards the NFL once again this year.
Nick's Money Picks ($): 1-3
Nick's Money Picks ($): 31-32-3
Figgs' Money Picks ($): 26-14-4
Thursday game, 8:20 pm
STEELERS (-14.5) vs Panthers
Andy: Panthers. This game just shouts "stay away" to me, both in terms of whether one would want to wager money on it or consider viewing it. Nevertheless, we pick every game here on FCF, and I can't argue with Figgs' logic.
Figgs: Panthers, just because.
Nick: Panthers. Hey Steelers: Fuck You. Too many points for a team without a big-number offense. Carolina, we'll leave the backdoor open for ya.
Bucko: Steelers. Who needs Troy against the Panthers.
Gopo: Panthers. Next two weeks are going to be quick picks as I'll be in India - my record can't be any worse than it's been the last two weeks. No way Steelers cover this - too many injuries to blow this team away, but they should win.
Saturday game, 7:30 pm
CARDINALS (+6.5) vs Cowboys
Andy: Cowboys. Most weeks, I have some picks I feel good about, and some I feel shaky about - there's a fair amount of buyer's remorse with my picks as soon as I've made them, but I do my best. After the dust settles after each week of NFL action, there's usually one that I look back on and wonder what on Earth I was thinking. Last week, that pick was Cardinals (+2.5) at Panthers. My reasoning was that a 1-12 team shouldn't be giving points, but somehow I remained oblivious to the fact that this was THE 2010 ARIZONA CARDINALS. Not just that, but THE 2010 ARIZONA CARDINALS on the road, on the East Coast to boot, and starting a guy named "Skeleton" at QB. I should have been willing to give points with a good high school team to go against Arizona last week. That having been said, there is absolutely no way I'm taking THE 2010 ARIZONA CARDINALS in this game without getting more than a TD, even though Dallas managed to squander an easy cover at home against Warshington last week.
Figgs: Cowboys. What Andy said exactly.
Nick: Boys. The Arizona Cardinals blow, and I'm sticking with the Cowboys even after they killed me by giving the Redskins a late bullshit cover last week. ($)
Bucko: Cowboys. They're playing well and Arizona sucks.
Gopo: Cowboys. I suck at picking against/with the Cardinals this year.
1 pm kickoff
BROWNS (+3.5) vs Ravens
Andy: Browns. I'll admit it, this line baffles me. I thought we'd be getting 5.5. Look, the Ravens are fighting for playoff positioning, they're healthy, and the Browns have just dropped consecutive decisions to two-win teams. On the other hand, the Browns play really well against good teams - it's the lousy ones that trouble us. Nevertheless, I would rather forfeit the entire season than pick the Ravens against the Browns. Have you seen Ray Lewis' characteristically moronic pre-game talk, claiming that Peyton Hillis' performance against Baltimore in the teams' first 2010 meeting (144 yards on the ground) "won't happen again"? What a fucking idiot. Lewis' chief skill these days appears to be jumping on the pile or a player who's already down after the play. I mean, he's absolutely elevated that to an art form. But hey, let's all keep giving him a free pass because of how good he was 10 years ago. Go jump in a lake, Baltimore Ratbirds.
Figgs: Browns. I don't like this line one bit. I do, however, like the Browns.
Nick: Browns. If not for the policy, I'd probably be hard on the Ravens here. Even I am not above the policy.
Bucko: Ravens. Sorry, not enough points.
Gopo: Ravens. As usual, would love to be wrong when picking the Ravens.
BUFFALOES (+9) vs Patriots
Andy: Buffaloes. Gopo's analysis only goes halfway - it's a different Buffaloes team as well, with the Bills having won four of their past six games. I think they'll keep it close - New England can't keep pummeling everyone for the whole rest of the year, can they?
Bucko: Patriots. They look damn good.
Gopo: Patriots. The Bills played them tough the first time around, but think this is a different Pats team now.
BEARS (-1) vs Jets
Andy: Bears. Sanchez is a question mark and the Bears are brimming with well-earned confidence, playing well of late in all facets of the game. Bucko, they have indeed clinched a playoff spot, but they have not secured a first-round bye, and that's huge. This is not the time for them to take a week off.
Figgs: Jets. I'm still not 100% on this Chicago team.
Bucko: Jets. I look for a down week from the Bears who have clinched already.
Gopo: Bears. Dare I say it: the Bears might be legit.
CHIEVES (-5) vs Titans
Andy: Chieves. Arrowhead in December is no place for a team playing for nothing, that may or may not care about the rest of the season. With Cassel in, I'm rolling KC. While I'm here, is there some reason why Matt Cassel can't do the giant testicles dance after a big play like Sam Cassell used to do?
Figgs: KC. Tough call, but the Chiefs just have more to play for.
Gopo: Titans. No idea about either one of these teams. When in doubt, take the points.
RAMS (-1.5) vs 49ers
Andy: Rams. Believe it or not, I'd probably take San Fran if they were at home with Troy Smith starting, but since only one of those things is true, I'll take St. Louis.
Figgs: Rams. Don't like picking against Troy Smith here, but I just can't understand why Vegas is STILL giving San Fran love even though they continue to lose.
Nick: Rams. ($)
Bucko: Rams. The Niners are a mess.
Gopo: Rams. Again, no idea about either one of these teams. This time I'm going with who I want to win instead of the points.
DOLPHINS (-3.5) vs Lions
Andy: Lions. I mean, they just won a game in Florida last week against a team better than this week's opponent - why wouldn't I take them and get a field goal plus to do so?
Figgs: Fish. I have nothing to back this up with.
Bucko: Lions. Dolphins offense isn't looking good.
Gopo: Lions. I think Detroit is actually a better team right now than the Dolphins.
JAGUARS (-7) vs Redskins
Andy: Jaguars. Mike Shanahan's mismanagement of Washington is threatening to become epic. They're worse in literally every football department since he took over. The Jags, meanwhile, still have a chance at a playoff spot despite a negative point differential. They should win this one easily in front of all 3000 of their fans.
Figgs: Skins. No MJD for Jax, Washington can keep it within a TD.
Bucko: Jaguars. Big game from Garrard.
Gopo: Jaguars. Redskins are done.
4 pm kickoff
RAIDERS (+3) vs Colts
Andy: Raiders. The Colts impressed me with their victory last week, but Oakland is 5-2 at home this year and they match up well (strong pass defense, good rush offense) against Indy.
Figgs: Indy. I'll go with Peyton every time in a must-win situation.
Nick: Raiders. ($)
Bucko: Colts in a shootout.
Gopo: Colts. Not enough points for me to take a mediocre Raiders club - give me the Peytons.
BRONCOS (+2.5) vs Texans
Andy: Texans. Gopo makes some quality points here.
Figgs: Texans. Chad Henne may no longer be my most hated starting QB in the league.
Nick: Texans. My Teboner's flaccid.
Bucko: Broncos. Tebow all day baby.
Gopo: Houston. I will never root for Tim Tebow and 2.5 points isn't enough for me to take that horrible team.
BENGALS (+9) vs Chargers
Andy: Chargers. Oh, Cincinnati Bengals, how you continue to torture me this season. I finally jump off from picking you and you cover against the Saints, then I get back on and you get walloped by the steelers, and then you take out the Browns. Can you stop, please? I'm taking San Diago mostly out of contempt for Cincy's recent antics.
Figgs: Chargers. 9 points is a lot for a road team, but then again, it is the Bungles.
Bucko: Chargers. Rivers having a great year.
Gopo: Chargers. The Bengals will have to throw all game, and without TO, Palmer is going to look even worse than he usually does.
PACKERS (-3) vs Giants
Andy: Giants. Eli's propensity for INT's worries me, but this New York team is too good and will absolutely be out for blood this week.
Figgs: Pack. I'm gonna gain so many games on you guys this week.
Bucko: Giants. To much pressure on Rodgers.
Gopo: Giants. With or without Rodgers, think the Giants take this one after their epic collapse last week.
BUCS (-6) vs Seahawks
Andy: Buccaneers. Seattle is in first place ... with a -84 point differential. Astounding.
Figgs: Bucs. A Seattle loss here will clinch under 7.5 wins and make me some moolah.
Nick: Bucs. ($)
Gopo: Bucs. I have nothing to say about this game.
Sunday Night Football, 8:20 pm
EAGLES (-14) vs Vikings
Andy: Eagles. Took me a while, but I frankly can't see them scoring fewer than 28 points against Minny at home, and I can't see Minnesota under the leadership of Joe Webb with a banged-up Adrian Peterson cranking out more than 14. I'm good at math.
Figgs: Philly. This is a lot of points, but if Peterson doesn't play I don't know if Minny will score a point.
Gopo: Vikings. Way too many points - I think the Vikings will keep it reasonably close.
Monday Night Football, 8:30 pm
FALCONS (-2) vs Saints
Andy: Falcons. Initially I thought to take New Orleans because they're the champs and will rise up for a game against the upstart Falcons, but Atlanta is just crushing people. Interestingly, teams with a better SRS than Atlanta, according to profootball-reference.com: New England, pittsburgh, Green Bay, Philly, San Diego.
Figgs: ATL. I've come to really enjoy watching both of these teams play this year. Really looking forward to this one.
Bucko: Falcons. They could be the best.
Gopo: Falcons. For the division - the dirty birds don't lose at home. I expect them to bring it for this game.
Wednesday, December 22
I was interested to read UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma's comments about his team's 89-game win streak, considering just how far from reality Auriemma appears to operate. As you may have heard, the 89 straight W's is a NCAA Division I women's record, and is in fact a higher number than the 88 posted by UCLA's men's team back in the day.
I've been a bit surprised by the amount of ESPN coverage this has garnered, inasmuch as women's basketball isn't a hugely popular sport. Honestly. It's just not a major factor on the sports landscape. No one really cares about this streak. Hell, most of us don't even care about men's basketball until March rolls around. As Jim Caple put it in a collection of ESPN contributor responses to the non-story, "I'm sorry, Geno. Has your team done something noteworthy? I've been too busy filling out my bowl bracket to notice." Indeed.
But back to Geno. First, this remark from a press conference prior to their 89th straight win:
I just know there wouldn't be this many people in the room if we were chasing a woman's [sic] record. The reason everybody is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men's record, and everybody is all up in arms about it.
Who's having a heart attack? Who's up in arms? Who even knows this is happening? I didn't know they were closing in on the same number of wins as UCLA's men's team from many moons ago, nor do I care now that I do know. Earth to Geno: people aren't real invested in women's college basketball. It's nothing personal.
And no matter what ESPN or anyone may claim, UConn is most certainly not "threatening to break a men's record." UCLA's record will remain intact no matter how many games UConn runs off, because it's not the same level of play. I assure you, not one reasonable observer will consider UCLA's record as having been eclipsed if UConn achieves a greater number of consecutive wins, any more than they would if a Division III men's team rolled off 89 straight or if I beat Contra 89 times without dying. I simply can't understand how anyone thinks this apples-to-oranges situation has anything to do with UCLA's achievement, but some ESPN staffers apparently do. Ramona Shelburne's take on the situation was headlined "After saying goodbye to John Wooden earlier this year, former UCLA players now might have to say goodbye to a win streak they owned alone. But they're certain of one thing: Coach Wooden wouldn't have minded"
UCLA definitely does not have to say goodbye to their win streak. They still have the longest win streak in NCAA Division I Men's Basketball history. This nonsense of calling UConn's the longest in "Division I" history is intellectually dishonest because Division I basketball is not a single entity. It has two sub-classifications, and UConn has established the standard in one of them, which happends to be the one with a lower level of ability. And of course Wooden wouldn't have minded, because, once again, it has nothing to do with UCLA's mark. ESPN's Roy S Johnson builds a bridge way too far with his comment that, "Some of us actually put this feat on par with that of John Wooden's UCLA teams (which defeated some teams during its streak that would have probably lost to the Huskies, as well)." Let's agree to disagree, Roy.
Sorry, I forgot about UConn's attention-grabbing coach! Check this out:
All the women are happy as hell and they can't wait to come in here and ask questions.
This sounds like a lot of fun - I'm glad they're enjoying it. I'd like to achieve that sort of excellence myself - I was giddy after my rec league team moved to 3-1 the other night.
All the guys that loved women's basketball are all excited,
I have never once ever met such a person, but go on.
and all the miserable bastards that follow men's basketball
Hold on a second. I follow men's basketball and don't consider myself a miserable bastard, but thanks for asking, Geno. This is actually really annoying - you don't get to call me names and put me on the defensive like this just because your sport is mostly irrelevant. I reject this idiotic blanket generalization as wrong and unfair.
and don't want us to break the record are all here because they're pissed. That's just the way it is.
No one is pissed. No one really cares. You can never break UCLA's record because it's not the same game.
Because we're breaking a men's record, we've got a lot of people paying attention
You're not breaking a men's record. Please, please, please understand this.
If we were breaking a women's record, everybody would go, 'Aren't those girls nice, let's give them two paragraphs in USA Today, you know, give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and then let's send them back where they belong, in the kitchen.'
Don't play the sexist card on me, you weirdo. Being indifferent to women's athletics and recognizing that they aren't at the same level as a men's team is different from the overtly sexist mentality you describe here. This is completely uncalled for and unfair. I think it's great that women play sports because I know how much enjoyment I personally get out of playing, and I recognize the excellence of UConn's play. But that's totally different from thinking they're somehow better than a UCLA team that competed at a much higher level.
Jemele Hill from ESPN contributes probably the most wrongheaded take out of the bunch ("Unfiltered and Right"):
Geno Auriemma is the Ozzie Guillen of women's college basketball. I don't mean that in a negative way.
Any comparison to Guillen should definitely be meant in a negative way. We're not off to a good start here.
Auriemma, like Guillen, is brutally honest and whenever Auriemma speaks his mind, it's guaranteed to create headlines.
This is not necessarily a good thing.
His assertion that gender is playing a role in the coverage of his record-breaking Connecticut team is, like many of his observations, ringing with truth.
It's also super-obvious.
Had his Huskies not equaled the 88-game winning streak set by John Wooden's UCLA teams from 1971-74,
Which, once again, they have not because they don't compete at the same level.
it would be largely ignored by the mainstream media.
Because women's basketball isn't a major draw. Didn't we already cover this?
When female athletes or women's sports teams achieve something significant, it is routinely - and annoyingly - characterized by how it compares to men. As if any woman's accomplishment can only be validated by male standards.
Oh, please, Jemele, get off your high horse.
The bottom line is this: UConn's achievement is remarkable, and the women deserve credit for such sustained excellence. But Auriemma's attention grab isn't going to make people care about their game. And UConn's success does not in any way impinge upon UCLA's record because that was men's basketball, and men are much better at basketball than women. There are two records: UCLA's, and UConn's. Both are impressive, though UCLA's was achieved at a higher level of competition. Now, let's return to caring about the NFL and NBA.
Monday, December 20
If you'll allow me, I'd like to present to you two pivotal scoring plays from NFL contests this past Sunday.
CLE: 4Q 14:06 Phil Dawson 23 Yd FG
Cleveland 10, Cincinnati 16
NYJ: 4Q 05:14 Mark Sanchez 7 Yd TD Run (Nick Folk Kick)
New York Jets 17, Pittsburgh 17
As far as I'm concerned, these plays are what made the difference in their respective games, resulting ultimately in a defeat for Cleveland and a victory for New York. Both took place on 4th-and-1 situations inside the opponent's 10-yard line, with the offensive team trailing by at least a touchdown near the end of the 3rd quarter. The Jets went for it, scored a touchdown, and went on to beat the Steelers on the road, while the Browns kicked a pathetic field goal and never really had a chance after that. Strategy matters, and this particular strategy chosen by the Browns and coach Eric Mangini was wrong both psychologically and statistically.
I've already pointed FCF's nonexistent readers to the extensive research showing that coaches should try 4th down conversions far more than they do, but rarely have two such game situations provided for such clear analysis of the impact of coaches' collective risk aversion.
Consider first the Jets, a team of considerable talent and also one of perhaps too much ego as well. Regardless, this is a club that expects to win and plays the game that way. I watched this game and was (of course) actively rooting for the Jets to come away with a win. When in Rome. When they were faced with 4th and 1 late in the 3rd deep in Pittsburgh territory, I strongly hoped that they would go for it. It makes sense on so many levels. For one, New York hadn't moved the ball very well all game. Trailing by a touchdown to the Steelers, coach Rex Ryan knew that this could very well be the Jets' best shot to notch seven points. Kick, and you still need a touchdown to avoid a loss, and who knows when you'll find yourself that deep in Steelers' territory again. The Jets' staff called a brilliant bootleg play, executed by quarterback Mark Sanchez with possibly the best play fake I've ever seen, and knotted the game up at 17-17. After a Jet field goal, safety, and some last-minute drama, a 22-17 victory for humanity was secured.
I think it's important to consider both the football percentages and the mental states associated with this call. For one, it simply gives your team the best chance to win. Expected points are much higher, as 4th-and-1 conversions are relatively high percentage and at worst you gain a huge field-position edge. There's no way you can run the numbers that doesn't make this a smart football decision. Pundits will call it a "gamble" or a "risk," but the fact is that attempting the 4th down conversion was the higher-percentage play, assuming your objective is maximizing the points you score and winning the football game.
But beyond that, it sent a message to the Jets players and to their black and yellow opponents: we believe that we can win this game, and we will do whatever it takes to do so. Imagine how fired up the Jets must have been after that play! Think about how you, as a fan, feel about your team when they execute in such a situation and how demoralizing it is to be on the other side, then multiply that by 100 and you get what the players probably feel. Think also from the fan's perspective what you want your team and the other team to do. I wanted the Jets (my team in this case) to go for it. I never want the other team to try 4th and 1 because I know it's a good tactic. I'm pleased as punch when opponents make the wrong move and kick on 4th and inches. The psychology and momentum edge of converting 4th-and-1 is perhaps as important as the expected value and field position advantage it confers.
Now let's get back ot the Browns. Compared to the Jets, Cleveland was behind by more points (9 as opposed to 7), and had six fewer minutes remaining in the contest, making their situation even more urgent than the Jets'. The Cleveland defense had also proven largely unable to stop the Bengals' rushing attack, meaning more Cincy points were likely. Cleveland has Peyton Hillis, a premier short-yardage back even when the coaching staff calls the most obvious, least creative plays possible for him. Cincinnati has lost 10 straight games. They're looking for any reason to fold, any reason to lose confidence, and all you need is a single yard to provide just that.
And the Browns decide to kick a 23-yard field goal on 4th-and-1. You throw away a golden opportunity to close to within two points. You put yourself back into a situation where a Bengal field goal makes it a two-score game once again. And most importantly, you send a message to your team: I didn't think you guys could get one fucking yard against a 2-11 team.
Any wonder that the Browns went on to lose the game by two points? Sure, there was more to it than that, most notably the Browns getting owned on both sides of the ball at the line of scrimmage. But there's no doubt in my mind that this decision dealt a serious blow to Cleveland's chances of leaving Paul Brown Stadium victorious.
Sunday, December 19
I took a walk around my neighborhood in Downtown Cleveland today, which was enjoyable as always. My chief purpose was to put a dent in a well-earned hangover from trivia night at BW3 last night (today is a vacation day for me at work), but I also wanted to walk by the Cavs' and Indians' team shops and take a peek at Snow Days.
While I was there, I saw the tribute the Tribe set up to the recently departed club legend Bob Feller and thought I'd snap a few pictures. It was a nice little setup, with the banner you see at right, some decorations on his statue (below), and a tribute to his career accomplishments and military service. I decided maybe I should write a few words on the topic, in part to make sure our "Indians" tag is still functional.
I'm probably not the ideal guy to write about Bob Feller's career, inasmuch as his playing days ended 23 years before I even existed (and Chris Jaffe of the Hardball Times covers it well in this piece, but I can add a couple of things.
I have a bit of a personal connection with Feller, for largely trivial reasons. For one, his name is Bob (my Dad's name) and one of his middle names is Andrew (my name). That's kinda cool. Feller is also almost certainly the best athlete ever to share November 3 as a birthday with me (and Charles Bronson). Apologies to George "Bird" Yardley (an NBA Hall of Famer), Tyler Hansbrough, Dewey Evans, Bronko Nagurski (an NFL and Great Name Hall of Famer), and Phil Simms. This was very important to him and is of great interest to you, I'm sure. Actually, it's kinda fun to see what famous players share your birthday, and easy enough to do with the various "Sports-Reference" websites. Coincidentally, both Nick and I share birthdays with an iconic Cleveland player who wore #19 (Nick's is, of course, Bernie Kosar). Figgs recently had a birthday, which I just discovered is the same as Tribe Hall of Famer Larry Doby and former Cavs star Phil Hubbard. So...there's that.
Feller's legacy with the generation(s) (I think we're a mix of Millennial and X) who write FCF is colored more than some might realize by his extended crusty-old-man phase. He reminded me of Robert Duvall in the old SNL sketch "Who's More Grizzled?" Having not seen him play, that's really what we know him by. Sure, we can look through his remarkable career numbers and appreciate how good (really good, it turns out) Feller was, but that's different than actually watching a guy play. But cranky as he may have been, Feller seemed like an honest fellow with integrity. I'm not one to be too rah-rah about the military, but his decision to leave baseball in his prime and volunteer for combat duty the day after Pearl Harbor is obviously commendable. There's no doubt he earned the right to be a little crochety. It's also remarkable how well he performed upon returning to baseball in 1946.
Hey, I didn't say this article had a point, just wanted to write a little bit about Cleveland's best pitcher.
Thursday, December 16
Believe me, I hated tallying up a loss for all of us as a result of that preposterous Tennessee cover last Thursday night. What, other than screwing with gamblers and prognosticators nationwide, was Jeff Fisher trying to accomplish with that drive? You're down nine points, dummy. ESPN's Bill Simmons appropriately called it the "dumbest backdoor cover drive in recent football history." and added that, "We'll be telling our grandkids about it."
Simmons also nailed it with his discussion of Doom Boards at NFL stadia, where one has no choice but to "stare at them and wait for awful news." This is exactly how I feel every time I go to Cleveland Browns Stadium, especially last time I went, when the Browns barely eked out an undeserved one-point win and I watched my morning picks go 1-7. I've started using little strips of paper on my TV at home to block the little ticker at the bottom of the screen because monitoring the other games while watching the Browns gets a bit too frustrating at times.
Our performances last week were a microcosm of the season thus far; Figgs and Bucko extended their tie for the lead by a game over third place, while the rest of the field ended up ordering themselves for the week's picks as they entered it overall. We have a little more spread in the standings as a result, but it's still very much up in the air with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
Nick's Money Picks ($): 2-2
Figgs' Money Picks ($): 1-2-1
Nick's Money Picks ($): 30-29-3
Figgs' Money Picks ($): 26-14-4
Thursday game, 8:20 pm
CHARGERS (-9) vs 49ers
Andy: Chargers. AFC West > NFC West, and I think SD's destruction of KC last week shows that they realize a backdoor division title is a very real possibility. Also, let's face it, I have a huge bias against this 49er team.
Figgs: Chargers, for reasons already mentioned.
Nick: Bolts. I think the Chargers still have a push left, and they're a much better team than their California counterparts. Oddly enough, the table's set for SF to win their last two games and still take the division. The NFL is weird.
Bucko: 49ers. I think the only reason I'm picking them is because I need a big game from Davis for fantasy.
Gopo: Chargers. Man, I blow at picking NFL games all of a sudden. I might just have to get my dog to pick for me this week.
1 pm kickoff
BENGALS (-1) vs Browns
Andy: Browns. Cincinnati has constantly screwed me this season - this is getting to be, as Channel 3 Lead Anchor Frank Vitchard would say, ri-god-damn-diculous. I don't pick anyone against my Brownies, but sure as hell not these deadbeats, even though there's the distinct possibility that they give Marvin Lewis one last hurrah as Bengal head coach.
Nick: Cleveland. Fucking. Browns. ($ +1.5)
Gopo: Bengals. They have to win one more game the rest of the way through, right? And just for the hell of it: Carson Palmer is an awful QB - I'd take McCoy over him in a heartbeat.
COWBOYS (-6) vs Redskins
Andy: Cowboys. Wade Phillips' "performance" and subsequent firing has had a most interesting effect on Dallas for gambling purposes - as America's Team, they've consistently been overrated in the lines because so many fans pick them and Vegas needs to entice non-fans to wager against the opposition. But, since the adjustment has been slow to the Pokes' improved play in the Garrett Era, Dallas is currently undervalued if anything, having gone 4-0 ATS post-Wade. As such, I don't even have to give a TD to grab them at home against a reeling Redskin club, where last year this would have been like +7.5.
Figgs: Cowboys. Andy sold me.
Nick: Cowboys. Really like Big D here. They're playing like a playoff team, and Washington blows. ($ -6.5)
Gopo: Cowboys. Not too much to add over what Andy said.
TITANS (-1) vs Texans
Andy: Titans. My least favorite game on the board, mostly because I can't fully explain Houston's shutout of the Titties when they've surrendered an average of 29.6 ppg in their other 12 contests. I mean, Tennessee can't be that bad on offense - they mustered 28 on the Colts last week and they're averaging 24.3 ppg in non-Rusty Smith games. Inasmuch as this is a non-Rusty Smith game, I'm writing off the 20-0 fiasco and taking the Titties.
Figgs: Texans. Andy wasn't as convincing that time.
Nick: Texans. I don't think I can take Tennessee the rest of the way.
Gopo: Texans. I think the last quarter against the Ravens gave them some confidence - if they can just avoid putting themselves in a 14 point hole every game, they'd be in good shape.
COLTS (-4.5) vs Jags
Andy: Colts. Give Jacksonville some credit - they've played consistently, won some games they shouldn't, and currently sit in the driver's seat for the AFC South. At least until Manning and the Colts exact their revenge this Sunday from a tough loss in the swamp (is Jacksonville a swamp?) earlier this year.
Figgs: Indy. I said I was done with them if I lost my bet on them last week, but as Andy stated, it was such an absurd situation. I'll give them another shot.
Nick: Jagoffs. Over and over again. These games are always close, and Jacksonville's the better team right now. ($ +5)
Gopo: Jags. It look almost the entire season, but I think I've finally come around on this Jags team. I just think the injuries have finally caught up with the Peytons.
RAMS (+1) vs Chiefs
Andy: Rams. The feel-good team of the 2010 NFL season! I'd love to see them take the NFC West this year after posting six wins TOTAL in the previous three years. It reminds me of the time the Browns had a few tough years, and then...never mind, they pretty much just stayed bad.
Figgs: Rams. I've been liking them to win this division all year long. They have the best player (Steven Jackson) and best QB (Sam Bradford).
Nick: Rams. Because it looks like we might just have another Brodie Croyle sighting.
Gopo: Rams. I would have taken the Chiefs if Cassell was playing, but I can't back Croyle in good conscience.
DOLPHINS (-5.5) vs Buffaloes
Andy: Buffaloes. Have you ever noticed how badly the transitive property works in NFL prediction? Consider: the Browns lost to the steelers subsequently crushed the Patriots and Saints, then saw both of those teams handle Pittsburgh. It doesn't add up. This is an interesting matchup because the Browns just went to South Beach and edged the Dolphins then lost in Buffalo, thus Buffalo should have the advantage AND they're getting 5.5 points. Bearing in mind that this analysis never works, I'm rolling Buffalo anyway.
Nick: Fins. Buffalo can't win two in a row.
Gopo: Dolphins. I read Nick's analysis and he made me switch my pick.
BUCS (-5.5) vs Lions
Andy: Lions. The cover magic is back! Tampa Bay will win this by three.
Figgs: Bucs. Tampa will win this by 10.
Nick: Bucs. Tampa's tough at home against bad teams, and Detroit can't win on the road.
Gopo: Lions. Bucs have proven to be capable of beating bad teams, but the confidence of the Green Bay win combined with their ability to cover has me leaning towards the Lions.
PANTHERS (-2.5) vs Cardinals
Andy: Cards. For the past couple of seasons I've tried to guess the lines before looking at them, and I've never missed one worse than this one. Why, exactly, am I supposed to give 2.5 points to take a team whose winning percentage is - wait for it - .077. They are 1-12. One win. Twelve losses. Favored. I know Arizona sucks -really, I do - but I can't take Carolina on general principle here. Also, I enjoyed this from Arizona's box score last week: Jay Feely 5 Yd Run (Jay Feely Kick).
Figgs: Cards. No reason for a 1-12 team to ever be favored. Feely also had like 5 FG's in that game.
Nick: Cards. Carolina can't score points.
Gopo: Cardinals. I watched that Cardinals game last week and Jay Feely was an absolute animal. I think he is capable of single handedly beating the Panthers.
RAVENS (-1) vs Saints
Andy: Saints. They're blowing people up and the Ravens aren't closing teams out. If Matt Schaub could rally Houston and drag its porous D to overtime against the Ratbirds, then so can Drew Brees and a red-hot New Orleans club that's won six straight by an average of 13.5 points per contest. Fun fact: the second-place Saints would lead the NFC West by FOUR games.
Figgs: Saints. I need a big week from Brees for my fantasy playoffs. (If I made them)
Nick: Saints. Doesn't it feel like this Ravens team should be about 30% better than they actually are?
Gopo: Saints. I hate the Ravens and will look for any excuse to pick them. If the Texans can go hurry-up and march 90+ yards twice at the end of the game to tie, then I'm pretty sure the Saints with Brees are capable of spreading them out and attacking as well.
GIANTS (-2.5) vs Eagles
Andy: Eagles. I just went to Michael Vick's player card on ESPN in an effort to understand why New York is favored in this one, but didn't get any answers. I thought this'd be a pick'em or Philly by a point, but what do I know? The G-Men are a pretty unheralded top team this year, which is a weird thing to say about a New York team. Eh, playing in Jersey will do that.
Figgs: Philly. Just no reason to go against Vick and this offense right now.
Nick: Giants. It'd be easy to pile on the Eagles here, but this feels like a "go against the grain" pick. Contain DeSean Jackson and you win.
Gopo: Giants. I think the Giants have the 'nobody is picking us / nobody respects us' card to play in this game, especially with all the media attention on the Eagles.
4 pm kickoff
SEAHAWKS (+6) vs Falcons
Andy: Falcons. Are we sure this isn't 16? You do realize that Seattle got absolutely firebombed by San Fiasco last week, right? I know the 'Hawks are better at home, but can't understand why they're only getting six from the NFC's best team. If Alex Smith can carve up Seattle's D, I don't care how loud Qwest Field is for Matt Ryan and the Dirty Birds. I'm so confused.
Figgs: ATL. I'm not buying the "Seattle's good at home" line any more. I'm pretty sure they blow no matter where the game is.
Nick: Falcons. Don't understand this one. ($ -6.5)
Gopo: Falcons. I also can't believe this is so low - Falcons should take care of business easily.
STEELERS (-5.5) vs Jets
Andy: Jets. For one, I think they're better than they've played the past two weeks, and for two, I frankly just love picking against the steelers. Sports Hate is fun!
Figgs: Jets. Hopefully the Sanchize can play a little better than his embarassing performance last week.
Nick: Jets. This is too many points, but Sanchez has to play better.
Gopo: Jets. Too many points - also, banged up Rapist, no Polamalu, banged up line. If the Steelers win, it'll be last minute and within 3.
RAIDERS (-6.5) vs Broncos
Andy: Raiders. I'll take a good home team against a Denver club that got pantsed last week in Arizona, of all places, last week. Glad to see this one under seven. Fun fact: I'm taking Oakland even though I don't technically know who's currently quarterbacking them. What can I say, I have metal playing on my iTunes, and it's hard to pick against the Raiders when metal is involved. Jason Campbell - I thought that was the case, but thought maybe he was hurt or something, but apparently not. I'm a great fan.
Figgs: Raiders. I wonder if Nick will have a hard time picking against Oakland while listening to Justin Bieber.
Nick: Raiders. Baby, baby, baby...OOOOHHHH
Gopo: Raiders. That's a lot of points to give up for a team that isn't all that good. Then again, the Broncos are horrible, so...
Sunday Night Football, 8:20 pm
PATRIOTS (-11) vs Packers
Andy: Patriots. I'm a tad surprised that this one isn't closer to 2 TDs. It just seems easy - Patriots on a roll, at home, at night, against a backup QB...taking the Pack here just seems like a reach. Editor's note: it was -14 by kickoff, so I sort-of know what I'm talking about.
Figgs: Pats. I'm assuming this line means that Rodgers isn't playing. If the Matt Flynn-led offense could only manage three points against the Lions, this one could get real ugly in a hurry.
Nick: Pats. Bring your bib. It's gonna get messy.
Gopo: Patriots. No way Flynn has a chance against Belicheat in a night game.
Monday Night Football, 8:30 pm
VIKINGS (+6) vs Bears
Andy: Bears. Is this the line on the game, or on how many times each time will bitch about the cold field?
Figgs: Vikes. Let the Joe Webb era begin!
Nick: Bears. I'm enjoying watching Favre's final season tarnish his legacy.
Wednesday, December 15
Once again, The Onion, with LeBron James already an NBA Champion of Friendship.
Monday, December 13
My first repsonse when I read some of the changes accepted to next year's reworked Big 10 Conference was: is this The Onion's report on the new Big 10? Nope, it's the actual news. Start with the logos, depicted below:
Frankly, I'm not sold on the logo. First of all, could we possibly have picked a lighter, less bold color of pastel blue to use in the Big 10 logo? Just a bizarre choice - you can't possibly tell me that wouldn't look better as royal or navy blue. "12" isn't imbedded in the logo like 11 used to be, but the "I" in "Big" is a "1", and the "G" looks sort-of-like a "0", so...there's that.
The two six-team divisions are comically named "Legends" and "Leaders" - your Ohio State Buckeyes are in the "Leaders" division. The Big 10's explanation, from Conference Commissioner Jim Delaney:
'Legends' is a nod to our history and to the people associated with our schools who are widely recognized as legends - student-athletes, coaches, alumni and faculty. 'Leaders' looks to the future as we remain committed to fostering leaders, the student-athletes who are encouraged to lead in their own way for the rest of their lives, in their families, in their communities and in their chosen professions. We're proud of our many legends and even prouder of our member institutions that develop future leaders every day.
I would've moved Wisconsin and gone with "North" and "South," but hey, I'm not in charge here.
Even better is the 18 new trophies the league has created, each named after two legends (not one legend and one leader). Let's review:
Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy
Amos Alonzo Stagg, Chicago and Joe Paterno, Penn State
Paterno I get, but Stagg? I know he's a pioneer and all, but Chicago isn't actually in the Big 10 anymore, and Stagg already has the D3 title game named in his honor. Couldn't we have called it "Paterno-Osbourne" just to rile up Penn State fans still (justifiably) bitter from 1994 a little bit, and give Nebraska a bit more recognition?
Grange-Griffin Championship Game MVP
Red Grange, Illinois and Archie Griffin, Ohio State
I couldn't enjoy this more. Not only does it have the coolest name of all the trophies (who wouldn't want the Grange-Griffin on their mantle?), but it's a tribute to both a Buckeye legend and a dude named "Red."
Ford-Kinnick Leadership Award
Gerald R. Ford, Michigan and Nile Kinnick, Iowa
A serious boost to the prestige of the Kinnick family - yep, that's old Nile and a former US President there on the Leadership trophy. For his part, Kinnick appears quite deserving of the honor, based on his Wikipedia entry.
Dungy-Thompson Humanitarian Award
Tony Dungy, Minnesota and Anthony Thompson, Indiana
I think you get this for praying in the end zone the most. I'll stop before this gets out of hand.
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year
Otto Graham, Northwestern and Eddie George, Ohio State
I take back what I said about the Grange-Griffin; THIS is the trophy to have. (Arguably) the best Buckeye RB ever and the best Browns QB ever on one glorious prize, still with the G-G alliteration prized by the Big 10. Outstanding.
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
Bronislau "Bronko" Nagurski, Minnesota and Charles Woodson, Michigan
I hate to see any wolverine commemorated in any sort of positive fashion, and this is no exception, but I saw a Big Ten Icons special about Woodson at the bar the other day (i.e. I didn't actively seek it out, but it was on where I was) and goodness was he ever a player. In other news, I would never mess with a guy named "Bronko Nagurski."
Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year
Woody Hayes, Ohio State and Bo Schembechler, Michigan
Not the "Hayes-Rodriguez" Coach of the Year award? Ha! Suck it, michigan. This trophy's name is one person too long, if you ask me. At least WW gets top billing.
Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year
Darrell Thompson, Minnesota and Antwaan Randle El, Indiana
Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year
Dave Rimington, Nebraska and Orlando Pace, Ohio State
"Rimington-Pace" sounds like a classical music composer or a law firm, but whatever, here's another Buckeye on a trophy, so Andy's happy.
Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year
Bubba Smith, Michigan State and Courtney Brown, Penn State
Just when I'd forgotten all about Courtney Brown...
Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year
Bob Griese and Drew Brees, Purdue
I doubt either of these cats had quite the career Troy Smith did, but you can't have Ohio State repping every award, now, can you? Actually, you could. Still, somewhere JHH is smiling, and somewhere my Dad is calling Bob Griese, "Greasy Bob," so I'm cool with the Boilermaker-heavy QB award.
Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year
Alan Ameche and Ron Dayne, Wisconsin
No problem, Badgers - Eddie and Archie already got theirs.
Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year
Jack Tatum, Ohio State and Rod Woodson, Purdue
Hey look, another Buckeye, and no wolverine! These are pretty solid choices, to be honest with you. At first, I thought Chucky Woodson was double-dipping, but this makes more sense.
Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year
Dick Butkus, Illinois and Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Pat Fitzgerald? Doesn't this conference have Linebacker U in it somewhere? Tallying it up, it's clear that they wanted each school (except Nebraska, who hasn't yet joined) to have two or more entrants. Not that Fitzy wasn't good, mind you.
Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year
Pat Richter, Wisconsin and Desmond Howard, Michigan
I don't know who Pat Richter is, but I feel bad that he has to share this trophy with someone from michigan. And yes, even I'm surprised at how quickly this has devolved into a michigan-bashing exercise, but it's just so fun, and besides, today is Figgs' birthday.
Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year
Ted Kwalick, Penn State and Dallas Clark, Iowa
I still have never seen a football player more consistently wide open than Dallas Clark. I mean, there was never anyone within 10 yards of the guy, and he was Iowa's top receiving threat. Amazing. Other things I have never seen: Ted Kwalick's name.
Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year
Jim Bakken, Wisconsin and Morten Andersen, Michigan State
Go ahead, try and convince me that this Bakken fellow was better than Mike Nugent. At least there's no michigan kicker on the trophy! Ha!
Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year
Dike Eddleman, Illinois and Brandon Fields, Michigan State
Tough luck, Zoltan Mesko. I'm a little disappointed that there isn't a Tupa-Tupa Punter/QB of the Year award, but we all live with disappointment sometimes.
Just for fun, here are the tallies by school. No surprise who's on top.
The Ohio State University Buckeyes: 5 trophies, 3 major
um: 4 (2)
Penn State: 3 (1)
Illinois: 3 (1)
Minnesota: 3 (1)
Michigan State: 3
Friday, December 10
Michael Wilbon, writing in his introductory article on espn.com:
Peyton Manning, God bless him, isn't the best QB in the history of the NFL; John Elway is. (Remind me again how many Pro Bowl teammates Elway had on the first three AFC championship teams he dragged to the Super Bowl by himself?) And if not Elway, then Otto Graham. And if not Graham, then John Unitas. And if not Unitas, then Joe Montana. I'm an enormous fan of Manning's, professionally and personally. He could be, for all the right reasons, the most popular player in the NFL today. But he's not the best QB playing today. Tom Brady is. I don't know how you vote Manning ahead of Brady, the way that NFL Network survey turned out. Doesn't Brady have three Super Bowl championships and doesn't Manning have one? I presume most people can count to three.
Yes, Brady has three Super Bowl Championships and Manning has one, but it's utterly and completely ridiculous to use Super Bowl wins as a single-number metric for determining quarterbacking greatness. Trent Dilfer has one and Dan Marino zero - does that mean Dilfer was a better NFL QB? I presume Wilbon can count to one.
Plus, despite his strikingly arrogant final sentence, Wilbon's own math doesn't add up. He proclaims Brady as superior to Manning on the basis of a 3-1 team Super Bowl win edge (because, and I can't stress this enough, individuals win Super Bowls), right after declaring Elway, who won two Super Bowls (fewer than three, if I'm not mistaken 3), the best quarterback of all time. I presume Wilbon can count to two.
Let's look at some numbers in more depth than Wilbon's cursory, misleading fashion. Elway had a career passer rating of 79.9 (Tim Couch: 75.1), passer rating+ of 105 (allowing us to normalize and compare across eras, with 100 being league-average) and career winning percentage of .643. Manning, while we're here, has a career passer rating of 94.8 (rating+ of 118), and a winning percentage of .682. Manning also has more career passing yards and ninety more TD passes in 40 fewer games, has made the Pro Bowl more (10-9; Wilbon mentioned Pro Bowls first, not me) and has many more 1st team All-Pro selections (5-0). All better than Elway, though Elway did manage to recover more fumbles. On the "Best QB now" tip, Brady's rate stats are on par with Manning's, though his counting stats lag, and he does enjoy the highest win % of the group at a remarkable .763. Also, has anyone heard of a fellow named Drew Brees? Just to tie up our loose ends, Nick suggests Brady and Steve Young in a "QB to win one game" selection, to which I'd add Joe Montana.
The point of my career stats comparison is that you can't just definitively proclaim by fiat that Elway is the best QB ever and support that only with the fact that Tom Brady-led teams have won more Super Bowls than have Peyton Manning's Colts. After all, Terry Bradshaw won four Super Bowls, Montana four, Brady three, Troy Aikman three, and, I'm going to try not to vomit while typing this, Ben Roethlisberger seems poised for a run at a third (and Brady a fourth). So if Wilbon's going to decide Brady/Manning just on Super Bowl victories (and ignore the other 52 men on a football team), then Elway can't be any higher than 5th. I presume Wilbon can count to five.
And for the record, Denver had six Pro Bowlers in 1986 (including Elway), just one in 1987 (not Elway), and three in 1989 (again no Elway). This doesn't strike me as one man single-handedly dragging a team to the Super Bowl get kicked around by various NFC squads.
Thursday, December 9
I had a conversation with someone the other day about the NFL, and the topic of the NFL's scheduling based on results from the previous season came up. After our talk, I decided that maybe a lot of people, even knowledgable fans, don't quite know how this impact's a team's slate, so I thought I'd clear it up.
The number of games out of the NFL's 16-game season affected by a team's finish the prior year is: two. Consider, that out of the 16 games, 14 are assigned as such (using the 2010 Browns as a model):
6 in-division games (home-and-away against Pittsburgh, Cincy, and Baltimore)
4 games against one AFC division (we play all the AFC East teams this year)
4 games against one NFC division (NFC South)
The other two are decided by 2009's order of finish. By virtue of finishing last, the Browns drew the 4th-place teams from each of the two in-Conference divisions not listed yet (AFC West and South). This year that means matchups with Kansas City and Jacksonville. Both teams are in first place in their respective divisions, KC at 8-4 and the Jags at 7-5. By contrast, last year's AFC North victor (Cincy) has the first-place schedule, earning them 2010 dates with Indy and San Diago, both currently sitting in second place at 6-6.
My point is that the value of playing a "last-place schedule" is very low in the NFL. It's only two games out of sixteen, and because of the churn in the standings each year in the NFL, one's supposedly-favorable opponents are often not so, as the Browns have seen in 2010.
If this were a sports betting site, we'd have a picture of now-tied-for-first-place Bucko at the top looking half-serious/half-dorky with a banner saying "Bucko is on an INCREDIBLE 12-3-1 run!!!!" In fact, why don't we have this?
Anyway, I can step back from the ledge a bit, now that we're all over .500 (even Nick's $ picks) and thus have some degree of football acumen above that of random chance. With just four weeks left in the regular season, things are very tight, with only four games separating our five prognosticators. And in the spirit of the holidays (including the upcoming one-year anniversary of the Browns' cold-weather win over the Steelers), this is the week each year where I call every team something that amuses me.
Bucko: 12-3-1 (!!)
Nick's Money Picks ($): 3-2
Figgs' Money Picks ($): 1-1-1
Nick's Money Picks ($): 28-27-3
Figgs' Money Picks ($): 25-12-3
Thursday game, 8:20 pm
TITTIES (+3) vs Peytons
Andy: Colts. Would you believe these teams only differ by a single point in +/- for the year? Indy's lost three straight against good teams - Tennessee's dropped five in a row against...not as good of teams. Also, if Rodgers is Bucko's man-crush, then Peyton is his Cougar.
Figgs: Colts. Manning, this is your last chance with me. ($)
Nick: Colts. Nick literally and figuratively phoned this one in.
Bucko: Colts. I can't really go the other way after what Andy said.
Gopo: Colts. Manning bounces back.
1 pm kickoff
BUFFALO FOOTBALL BUFFALOES (-1) vs The Cleveland Fuckin' Browns
Andy: Browns, Browns, Browns. The Buffaloes are 32nd against the run, Cleveland has Peyton Hillis, and we showed last year that we can win football games without bothering to pass, a valuable skill when Jake Delhomme is one's QB. Plus the Cleveland D looked really solid last week against the Fish. Watch me try to rationalize this pick.
Figgs: BROWNS! ($)
Bucko: Browns. Any team that has "Fuckin'" in their title gets my vote.
Gopo: Browns. Think Cleveland is the better team and I'm not giving points to take a 2 win team, even if they are at home.
SQUEALERS (-9) vs Bungles
Andy: Bengals. I can go several ways on this. One way is picking against Cincy because after me showing support for them all year and them repeatedly screwing me (they fooled me, Jerry!), I finally switch off of them and they cover. The other way is picking against Pittsburgh because I hate when they win yet fail to cover for me, tossing another log on my raging anti-Steeler bonfire. So, I'm left with my own dubious game analysis, which actually falls along the same lines as Gopo's.
Figgs: Shitsburgh. Boooo.
Bucko: Squealers. At home and fighting for home field in playoffs.
Gopo: Bungles. Steelers *should* win this one, but this is Cincy's rivalry game. Not only is Palmer an awesome garbage time QB, but this could be a letdown game for the Steelers after the Ravens last weekend. I think the Steelers win, but it's closer than it should be.
MATT MILLEN'S DUBIOUS LEGACY (+6.5) vs Bucko's Man-Crush
Andy: Packers. I think Detroit's covering magic has evaporated a bit thanks to Vegas adjusting lines - early in the year this line would have been like +9. And Gopo, these names are really easy to figure out for someone as in touch with the NFL as you are, come on. You know which team Matt Millen ran into the ground, and if you've read our group's picks at all, you know who Bucko fawns over each week.
Figgs: Lions. I think they can keep it relatively close.
Bucko: Lions. Packers struggled against them earlier this year. I still love you Rodgers.
Gopo: These names are confusing - I'm not entirely sure who is actually playing in these games. I also refuse to look them up, so I'm just going to take a guess. Packers.
STERGERS (+1) vs New Jersey's NFC Club
Andy: Giants. Same reasoning as last week: LeBron sucks. Also: what Bucko said. I can't believe this isn't like +3.5 or something. Minnesota's coach is named Leslie - does anyone understand how so many Leslies, Ashleys, and Shannons make it into the NFL? You never see them in the NHL. And regarding Minnesota's team name: I saw a headline where Sterger just wants to resolve the case quietly. How about you just go away? That would do the trick.
Bucko: Giants. They're the better team and it's only 1 point.
NATIVE AMERICANS (+1) vs Buccos
Andy: Bucs. They can and have beaten bad teams, and Washington fits that bill. I like to imagine Bucko's comment being made in Dennis Green voice: "THEY'RE BETTER THAN WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!! GO AHEAD, CROWN TAMPA BAY'S ASS!!" Goodness, that Dennis Green press conference never gets old. Derek Anderson still has a lot to learn about melting down in Arizona post-game pressers.
Figgs: Bucs. It turns out they are a pretty good team. Washington on the other hand... ($)
Nick: Bucs. Really want to pull the trigger on the Skins because of Tampa's injuries, but they're a mess.
Bucko: Bucs. They're better than we thought they were.
SEX PANTHERS (+7.5) vs Dirty Birds
Andy: Falcons. I'm aware of the trap game potential, I see that extra half-point on the line, and I know it's not in a dome, but Atlanta just looks like they are on a mission. If they beat us by 10 on the road, they can beat an awful Panther team that just got thrashed in Seattle last week.
Figgs: Falcons. I'd give up to 12 or 13 here.
Bucko: Dirty Birds. Wow they look good. Matt Ryan underrated.
JAGOFFS (-4.5) vs "Weird" Al Davis
Andy: Jaguars. To me, one of the most surprising decent clubs in the league. Oakland's win shocked me last week, but West Coast teams are terrible in 1 pm East Coast games, and I don't like the Raiders on the road.
Figgs: Jax. I thought the Raiders were an alright team, then they lost to some bad teams, then they come back and crush the Chargers. I don't know what to do with them.
Bucko: Jagoffs. Jones-Drew is running well.
4 pm kickoff
1849ERS (-5.5) vs Seacocks
Andy: Seattle. Even had Mr. Smith stayed in the lineup, I would have felt uncomfortable giving points to take the gold-diggers, plus Seattle absolutely destroyed San Fiasco in week one and has a better record. Home-road split be damned, I'm taking the Sea Chickens.
Figgs: Seattle. The Niners get what they deserve for benching Troy Smith.
Nick: Niners. Really? Everyone's taking Seattle? The Niners have been a disappointment, but they're still 6-6 ATS.
'AINTS (-9.5) vs LA Rams
Andy: Rams. Does this line make sense to you guys? Why do I have to give more points to take the Saints in a game against a decent Aries team than I did against a comically inept Bengal team last week? Looking at your picks, I see that you agree with me. My only concern is that the Rams aren't quite ready for prime time, and the Saints are playing like the Super Bowl Champions that they are, rattling off five straight W's. The 12/27 Saints-Falcons MNF should be a hell of a contest.
Figgs: Rams. Too many points for me.
Nick: Rams. They've been one of the best ATS this season. They can keep it within this number
Bucko: Rams. That's a lot of points.
JETROPOLITANS (-5.5) vs Fish
Andy: Jets. One of the easiest picks on the board for me here. Henne and the Miami offense simply can't move the ball, it's going to be cold in New York, and the Jets need to unleash some of the frustration from last week's embarrassing drubbing at the hands of the Patsies.
Figgs: Jets. They are much better than how they played last week.
I PUT MY FREAKIN' HEART AND SOUL INTO THIS TEAM EVERY WEEK (+5.5) vs You Can't Beat Denver! Why Don't You Just Go Home!?
Andy: Cardinals. It was hard to type that, kind of like in Dr. Strangelove where his arm keeps doing things and he can't stop it. But how can I be expected to give 5.5 points to take Denver on the road, even against a DA-led Cardinal team? I can't.
Figgs: Cards. They win despite DA.
Nick: WHY DON'T YOU JUST GO HOME ARIZONA? YOU CAN'T BEAT DENVERRR!
Bucko: Denver. Knowshon all day long.
SUPERCHARGERS (-6.5) vs Chieves
Andy: Chargers. When San Diago wins, they win big, and I think they'll do that against a Chief club that barely beat Denver in Arrowhead last week. But while we're here - what on Earth happened to the Chargers last week?
Figgs: Chargers. I was gonna go with KC, but I have no clue who their backup QB is.
Bucko: Chargers. Doesn't look like Cassel will play.
BEARS (+2) vs Patriots
Andy: Patriots. They're kinda good.
Nick: Pats. All damn day. ($ -3)
Sunday Night Football, 8:20 pm
HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS! (+3.5) vs Sunny in Philly
Andy: Cowboys. Lots of interesting comments from the group here. One has to wonder what, exactly, Wade Phillips was doing to this club when he was the coach.
Nick: Philly. ($ -4)
Monday Night Football, 8:30 pm
OILERS (+3) vs Ratbirds
Andy: Ravens. A lot of the lines this week were puzzling to me, and this tiny field goal separating a 5-7 Texan squad from a tough Baltimore team is one of them.
Figgs: Ravens. Boooo. ($)
Nick: Ravens. ($ -2.5)