for the first time since we launched this blog over three years ago, I don't really have anything interesting to say about Cleveland or Ohio sports. No news, no angles, just...blah. Thus, one sentence about each of the going concerns in our sports world.
Yes, the Buckeye hoopsters are 21-0, and that's fun, but let's face it, no one cares about NCAA basketball until the Tournament starts.
It's brutal watching the Cavs give up easy baskets on pretty much every possession, but tickets are cheap and Christian Eyenga is entertaining.
Nothing about the Browns' Pat Shurmur hire makes me especially optimistic, Joe Thomas didn't deserve to be named an All-Pro this season, and I am sick and tired beyond belief of seeing our rivals appear in the Super Bowl.
Book another few years of wins for the Buckeye gridiron squad over a re-rebuilding "program" from a school up north.
Sunday, January 30
for the first time since we launched this blog over three years ago, I don't really have anything interesting to say about Cleveland or Ohio sports. No news, no angles, just...blah. Thus, one sentence about each of the going concerns in our sports world.
Friday, January 21
Well, wouldn't you know it, there's my favorite team in the AFC Championship game. Again. I'm not going to try to quantify the toll the steelers take on my enjoyment of professional football, but it's excessively large. As for their opponent, I think most people were surprised that that Jets managed to topple the top-seeded Patriots, and now they're humanity's last line of defense before the Super Bowl. Let's hope it turns out the way their previous meeting this season did.
The NFC Championship is an interesting meeting of some storied Midwestern franchises in the Bears and suddenly-hot Packers. Would it be too much to ask of the Sporting Gods to drop some snow on Soldier Field for this one?
I said I'd go back and see how our crew performed on 4-against-1 situations throughout the year - I swear Bucko was like 85% when he was a one-man wolfpack against the rest of us. I tallied it up quickly - when one of us went against the other four, the lonely guy hit on 48.8% of his picks. In other words, one different outcome would have evened up the rebel pick with the 80% consensus pick. The message: be bold! Your rogue pick is just as likely to pan out as the popular pick. Unless you're Bucko, of course.
Last week was a mixed bag for our crew as overall we made 50% of our picks. Every game was a 3-2 split decision for us in the Divisional Round - let's see if we craft any more of a consensus for the Championship games.
Figgs: 0-4 (ouch)
Nick's Money Picks ($): 0-2
Figgs' Money Picks ($): 0-2 (double ouch)
Playoffs so far
Nick's Money Picks ($): 1-4
Figgs' Money Picks ($): 1-4
STEELERS (-3.5) vs Jets
Andy: Jets. DId you see how I entered "steelers" in white text color above? Ha! I mean, I understand all the arguments Gopo is making, and on the surface, Pittsburgh seems destined to roll. But weren't all of those same things true a few weeks ago when the Jets rolled into Ketchup Field and beat the steelers? WEREN'T THEY? Pittsburgh owns a 3.7-point edge in SRS headed into this one, plus the two they get for homefield makes them a minor value pick. Nevertheless, I'm taking the Jets just because I don't want to pick the steelers here, though I do have a bit of a hedge. I'm currently leading a different NFL pool, with a 6-2 record headed into this weekend. That pool has us picking the games straight up; so far I've only missed Jets-Pats and Seahawks-Saints. My plan is to take Pittsburgh in that pool, where I don't get 3.5 points for taking New York. This way I'm guaranteed at least one win, and I can hit on both if Pittsburgh wins by 3, which is good because I think they'll probably eek one out. I'm impervious to the steelers' screwing me over on picks, so I can focus my energies on hoping they lose. Follow up to Gopo: yeah, I saw that game, and Pitt is for sure a better club, hence me taking them straight up. I was actually trying to give you credit for making a good analysis, just saying that it doesn't always mean a W. And no, Sanchez is not a good QB.
Figgs: Steelers. My reasoning for this pick is twofold. Fold #1 - I think shitsburgh wins by 4 or more. Secondly, whatever I pick is wrong, and I've never wanted to be more wrong.
Nick: Steelers. Never has a team stood less of a chance in a football game than the New York Jets. They blow. At least when the world ends in 2012 the Steelers won't win any more Super Bowls.
Bucko: Steelers. I hate both teams. I agree with everything Gopo said. Sanchez will choke big in this one.
Gopo: Steelers. Even though the Jets as a team looked really good on Sunday, I couldn't help but get excited about facing Dirty Sanchez next weekend in Pittsburgh. Sanchez misses a ton of open receivers - he's almost McNabb-like in his accuracy. Pittsburgh has the better D, the better O, and is at home. Follow up to Andy: the final score last time they played was 22-17. 9 of the Jets' 22 points came from a special teams TD and a safety. The Jets O scored 13 points against the Steelers D while the Steelers O scored 17. In terms of total yardage, the Jets were outgained 378 to 226 and had a 28.42 time of possession vs. 31.18 for the Steelers. Also, Polamalu didn't play in that game. My point is simply this: if the Steelers can stop the run (no problem) and not let the Jets special teams score (a problem), then they win. I see no way that Sanchez is capable of winning this game. He is not a good quarterback.
Sunday 3 pm
BEARS (+3.5) vs Packers
Andy: Packers. They were right around 7 points better than the Bears this regular season in SRS, have plenty of experience dealing with the cold, and have the league's hottest QB in Aaron Rodgers right now. Just can't justify going the other way with this one - I'm taking them here and obviously straight up in my other pool. I know it's a trendy pick, and I know I've underestimated Chicago at times this year, but the same things were true last week when Green Bay obliterated Atlanta in the Georgia Dome. If the Packer D made Matt Ryan look like a chump then, I think Bears fans could be headed for a long afternoon of Jay Cutler throwing off his back foot. Trust me - the guy was on my fantasy team and never seemed to have two straight good weeks.
Figgs: Pack. I, like Andy, have definitely underestimated the Bears all season long. I continually pick against them, and they burn my time and time again. So what have I learned? Clearly, nothing.
Nick: Pack. Almost seems too easy, but they've just got such an advantage on offense and they sacked Cutler nine times (in Principal Ed Rooney voice: "nine times...") this year. If they don't get womped on special teams, Green Bay wins, and they probably do so by a comfortable margin. Already prepared to buy a Packers jersey to fight the Steelers for the next two weeks.
Bucko: PACKERS. The team is hitting on all cylinders. Have I ever mentioned how much I like Rodgers? Why is every starting to make a big deal about his play in the playoffs. He's been this good since he started.
Gopo: Packers. I think the Packers are a better team and will end up finding their stride in the second half for another easy win. I'm looking forward to a patented 4 pick game by Cutler.
Figgs $ Bets
I give up.
Nick $ Bet
Wednesday, January 19
Reviewing the NFL pick archives from last year, I came across this preseason trash-talk gem below from Nick, commenting on our Week 1 picks:
I'd also like to take this opportunity to guarantee victory over Francis in '10-'11.
Unfortunately, Nick did not back his guarantee with a victory over me nor, in fact, over anyone in '10-'11. Just wanted everyone to be aware of that. Nick will be refunding all of you shortly. Thanks.
Saturday, January 15
Editor's note: the steelers and ravens are playing right now and I'm not watching. I'm a big NFL fan, but my contempt for these two organizations completely eliminates any desire I might have had to tune in.
I was watching the local news this morning as I waited for my car to be evaluated and saw a teaser for an upcoming story on a kid "kicked out of school for wearing a steelers jersey." I had two immediate thoughts:
1) Where is this place, and can I move there?
2) There has to be more to this than what they're telling us.
Turns out it was in Washington state, near Seattle, and there was indeed much more to the story.
First, they interviewed the fat kid (of course he's a fat kid - I already told you he was a steeler fan) to find out what happened, while showing footage of their horrible house festooned in various black and yellow knickknacks. I hope someone called Child Services. The kid wore his hideous black and yellow to school on that fateful day because his Dad (who sounds like a real genius) said he could, and according to the youngster, school officials threatened him in-school suspension and then sent him home. If you have any familiarity with kids or Pittsburgh steelers fans, you're naturally skeptical of this tale.
It turns out the school had a Support the Seahawks day prior to the Sea Chickens' meeting with the Saints last week. Students could wear Seahawks colors, or the colors of the school, or, I'm assuming, normal clothes if they so chose. You'll note that "wear steelers jersey" wasn't one of the options the school offered. The exercise wasn't "wear anything football-related," it was wear Seahawks stuff, school colors, or normal clothes. In fact, almost anything except a steeler jersey would have been OK.
School administrators say there was never any talk of ISS, and offered Chubby a new change of clothes before sending him home. Of course, the story still gets spun as "sent home for wearing a steelers jersey" rather than the truth, which was "sent home for not following the rules," and the kid and his family get to posture like innocent victims. Whatever. Of course, how could you expect someone whose role models include the steelers who wear numbers 7 and 92 to have any concept of adhering to rules?
Friday, January 14
FCF groupthink ruled the day on the first Sunday of the NFL playoffs, as we all nailed the Packers and Ravens picks, following a shaky Saturday where only one of us had the surprising Seahawks and two took the Jets. I knew the crafty Bucko would get that Seattle pick right the second I published my second long-winded essay on how bad they were and how faulty his logic is. My Seahawk bashing may have persuaded a couple of the other FCF'ers to go with the Saints: sorry, guys.
For the year, the FCF consensus was solid; on games where we all picked the same team, we were 43-45 (55.1%), better than any of our individual years. I noticed some trends - the most common picks for us to agree upon were the Falcons, Patriots, Eagles, and Rams - teams that all performed well overall and ATS this season. I'd be interested to see what the results of the four-against-one picks were on the year; perhaps we'll look at that next week.
But hey, enough about that - let's celebrate! I hit on three games, giving me as many wins as all last postseason (3-8), where I opened with an 0-4 on Wild Card Weekend and absorbed a 1-3 on Divisional Round (where I'd laid money on each game in Las Vegas). I also went 1-3 on WCW in our first year picking, in 2008. The opening round has not been my friend. But on to the Divisional round, where we have some very familiar traditional rivals facing each other in the AFC and some intriguing rematches taking place in the NFC.
Nick's Money Picks ($): 1-2
Figgs' Money Picks ($): 1-2
AFC Divisional Playoffs
STEELERS (-3.5) vs Ravens
Andy: Ravens. I already spent way too much time talking about this garbagefest. The steelers actually sport a 3.8-point SRS edge and are at home, but I think the Ravens are playing really well. Plus, Nick pointed out last week that 5 of the past 6 matchups between these idiots has been decided by three points (the other by four), so it seems prudent to take the points.
Figgs: Ravens. Andy already posted about how awful it is that we have to watch these two teams in the postseason. However, I will have my F*CK Pittsburgh shirt on, and be rooting for the rat birds big time.
Nick: Steelers. I remain very unimpressed by the Ravens. Ray Rice is the best thing about the Baltimore offense, and the Steelers only give up 3.0 YPC, so they can neutralize him. That means that if you're picking Baltimore, you're picking Cool Joe over Rapistberger. I can't do it. The Steelers get by the Ratbirds this week, then the Patriots will end them.
Bucko: Ravens. Like everyone has said it will probably be one team by 3 points.
Gopo: Steelers. If I was really going with my head (or betting money), I'd likely pick the Ravens in this one since I think some team is going to win by 3 and the line makes it dumb to take the Steelers. However, it's the playoffs, and there is no way I'm going to take any chances with mojo and pick the Ravens in this matchup. I say its either Steelers by 5+ or Ravens by 3.
PATRIOTS (-9) vs Jets
Andy: Jets. Like Figgs, I thought this would be a bit lower. The SRS differential is 8.9, so no hope there, but I just can't see the Jets getting blown out again like they did in these teams' previous meeting. I think New England will win, but by less than this.
Figgs: Pats. I guessed this line at 5.5, and was planning to bet on the Pats. I was surprised by how high this was, but I guess Vegas expected a lot of people to think like me and wanted to make it high enough where some people would take the Jets. I will not be one of those people.
Nick: Pats. Under no circumstances do I see the Jets winning this game, so I can't pick them. This is a little high, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is covered sometime in the second quarter. If you talked yourself into the Jets, you're going to regret it.
Bucko: Jets. The Pats will probably win this one, but I think the Jets will keep it close.
Gopo: Patriots. Anything under double digits and I was going to take the Pats. They'll keep it closer than last time, but I think the Patriots still come out with a 12+ point win.
NFC Wild-Card Playoffs
FALCONS (-2.5) vs Packers
Andy: Packers. Like Gopo, I think they're better; SRS says they were in fact 4.8 points per game better on the year despite this line, plus they're playing very well. I wouldn't be shocked it Atlanta won, but Green Bay could well represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Figgs: ATL. No clue here, I could definitely see it going either way. Really looking forward to Saturday's games.
Nick: Falcons. It's the "No Fucking Way I'd Bet It" game of the week. I like Rodgers and the GB defense, but the Pack is banged up, and they were 4-5 on the road this season. Green Bay is the better team at full strength on a neutral field, but gimme Georgia Dome. The Birds are more balanced and if I don't have to give a full field goal, I'll take my chances. This feels like a go against the public pick, and that's usually for the best.
Bucko: Packers. They may have found a surprise running back, and Rodgers can throw on anyone. Very solid defense as well. Packer fans book your trip to Dallas.
Gopo: Packers. I think the Packers are a better team - it's ok if you take away their run game, Rodgers is fine throwing all day. If the defense can do a decent job, then they should win this one easy.
BEARS (-10) vs Seahawks
Andy: Bears. I'm not going to let myself be swayed too much by that craziness from Seattle last week. These teams were separated by 13.5 points during the season and the Seahawks spent what they had last week.
Figgs: Hawks. I typed their name last week, then changed it. I don't expect them to win this game, but I'd really be kicking myself if they covered again and I didn't pick them.
Nick: Bears. I just can't see the Seahawks: a) playing another game like that, or b) winning the game outright. No more Qwest Field, no more teams on their eighth running back and also starting Roman Harper. Ten is a little high, but I've gotta do it.
Bucko: Seahawks. The spread is a little high for me. Plus the Hawks beat them earlier in the year.
Gopo: Bears. I'm torn here. I have a feeling I'm going to get this game wrong, but I have zero confidence in the Seahawks following up that performance with another one even remotely close to it. The fairy tale ends here.
Figgs $ Bets
Three-team, ten-point teaser - Baltimore (+13)/Atlanta (+7.5)/New England (+1)
Two-team, 6.5 point teaser - Pittsburgh (+3.5)/New England (-2.5)
Thursday, January 13
I realize it's been over a week since Ohio St's exciting 31-26 victory over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, but I kind of quickly transitioned into NFL Playoff mode and forgot about my obligation to my loyal FCF readers (meaning Andy). Editor's note: I look forward to it each week. Go Bucks! With the hated Ravens and Steelers playing each other in the playoffs this weekend, I hate to pour more salt in the wounds of Browns fans, but last week's Sugar Bowl seemed eerily similar to the Browns/Squeelers 2002 playoff game. Ohio St totally dominated in the first half, then tanked in the second. Luckily for Ohio St, they did not meet the same fate Cleveland did back in '02, as Arkansas didn't take what the Bucks tried to hand them. Let's make like D-Generation X and break it down.
Ohio St did what they always seem to do in big games: jump out to a quick lead. After forcing three Ryan Mallett incompletions (thanks to a DJ Williams drop that could have been six) and a punt, Terrelle Pryor took the Bucks right down the field, coming up with a big 34-yard run on third and long. However, Pryor didn't secure the ball, and fumbled inside the 10-yard line. OSU got the first break of the game when two Arkansas defenders knocked the ball out of each other's hands and the opportunistic Dane Sanzenbacher recovered for a TD to put Ohio St up early.
It's not quite clear if the Buckeyes tried an onside kick, or if Drew Basil just accidentally got the top of the ball, but the kickoff only went about 15 yards and the Hogs had the ball at midfield. Mallett wasted no time, tying the game with a 17-yard strike to Joe Adams. On OSU's next possession, TE Jake Stoneburner had a big third-down catch and Sanzenbacher was on the receiving end of a 31-yard toss, which set up a Dan Herron TD to put the Bucks back on top, 14-7. The teams traded punts to close out quarter number one.
The Razorbacks tried some trickery to begin the next frame, throwing on 4th and 1 from the OSU 30. The Buckeyes were all over it, and forced the turnover on downs. TP continued to carve up the Arkansas defense, finishing the drive with a 15-yard touchdown to Sanzenbacher. The Buckeye defense did a great job controlling this high-powered Hog offense, but Devin Barclay missed a 50-yard field goal between Razorback punts.
Pryor didn't want to leave it up to his kicker on their next drive, so he just completed a 43-yard bomb to DeVier Posey to make it a 28-7 game. Mallett led a good two-minute drill at the end of the half to set up a FG. The teams headed into the tunnel with Ohio St feeling good about a 28-10 lead.
Ohio St just went into a complete shell in the second half, gaining only 17 yards through the air. Their defense began to get tired, and eventually Mallett and the Arkansas offense started to have some success. After each team connected on a 46-yard field goal, Mallett hit Jarius Wright for a score then Williams for the two-point conversion, cutting into the Buckeye lead.
The Razorbacks began the final quarter with a punt that pinned the Buckeyes back at their own four-yard line. This set up one of the worst calls in I have seen in a big game in a very long time, possibly ever. Boom Herron took the handoff, was hit back at the two, was driven back into the end zone, broke free for a split second, then was tackled shy of getting back to the goal line. The referees huddled, then decided it was a safety and awarded Arkansas two points. You see a play like this happen almost weekly in football, and never have I seen it called a safety in my life time. If the ball carrier ever breaks the goal line, they call his forward progress down. Safeties are not called unless it is completely obvious, which this was most certainly not.
Arkansas took the ball after their gift two points, and capitalized in the form of another Zach Hocker field goal, suddenly trimming the once-large OSU lead down to 31-26. What followed was a series of wild plays that ultimately led to Ohio St's thrilling win.
Boom fumbled on 4-and-1, giving Mallett the ball back with a chance to go 40 yards and put Arkansas on top for the first time. Instead, his offense went three-and-out and punted the ball right back to Ohio St. The Bucks picked up a few first downs and were able to run three-and-a-half minutes off the clock, but eventually had to punt from their 38 with just over a minute to play. Colton Miles-Nash blocked The Cannon's punt, and it appeared Julian Horton had the opportunity to scoop it up and bury Ohio St. He instead elected to dive on the ball, and Arkansas took over at the OSU 18. After an incomplete pass, Mallett was pressured and tried to get rid of the ball quickly, never seeing Solomon Thomas. Thomas intercepted the pass and became the unlikely hero, sealing Ohio St's five-point victory.
Unlike the dumb BCS MVPs, who just go to the quarterback of the winning team, the Figgs GB goes to the most deserving player, which was defensive end Cameron Heyward. After last year's phenomenal junior season, Baby Ironhead's production slipped quite a bit this season. This was not the case in the Sugar Bowl, as Heyward was dominant. He had six tackles, 3.5 of them for a loss, including one sack. Those numbers don't even come close to showing how much he affected this game. He was constantly in Mallett's face, never letting the pocket passer get settled. Heyward wasn't the only standout on defense, as Ross Homan, John Simon, Nathan Williams and Devon Torrence all played great games.
Season's game balls: Pryor (4), Herron (3), Heyward, Tressel, Torrence, Defense, Moeller
The Big Ten desperately needed this win from Ohio St, as the rest of the conference did not fare so well. Things started out well, as the two pre-New Year's Big Ten teams notched surprising W's. A depleted Iowa team, missing star RB Adam Robinson and top wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, beat Missouri in the Insight Bowl, and Illinois crushed Baylor on the legs of Mikel Leshoure in the Texas Bowl.
Then we entered 2011, and things went downhill, hard and fast. Northwestern lost a shootout to Texas Tech in the Ticketcity Bowl, Penn St was outscored by 17 in the 4th quarter to lose to Florida in the Outback, Michigan St never stood a chance in the Capital One against Alabama, and Wisconsin failed to prove Gordon Gee right by losing to TCU in the Rose Bowl. The only good thing to come out of this was michigan's embarrassing performance (and I mean really embarrassing) against Mississippi St in the Gator Bowl, which ultimately led to Dick-Rod's firing. Even with Ohio St's win, the Big Ten finished at 3-5, and will continue to be the media's whipping boy.
I already discussed the off-field issues involving five Ohio St players, and we certainly don't need to get into it any further. While I don't think those players should have been eligible to play in this game, I'm sure glad that they did. Pryor was MVP, Herron and Posey both scored touchdowns, and the meaningless player in the "scandal," Solomon Thomas, had the game-winning interception. Thanks, NCAA hypocrites.
Looking ahead to next season, all five players pledged to return next season and serve their five-game suspensions. While I don't think that pledge really meant anything to these guys, I do think Boom, Posey, Adams and Thomas will stay, simply because their draft status is not high enough. Now the big question - what about Terrelle Pryor? I have changed my mind, and now think TP will return next season. Not because of some "pledge," or because he wants to work hard next year and improve his abilities, but because he just had foot surgery last week after injuring himself at the end of the Bowl game. This means he will be very limited in workouts and the combine, if he can participate at all. I don't think that even Terrelle Pryor is arrogant enough to enter the draft after a situation like this, but you never know.
25 Buckeye football players will graduate this May (I use the term "graduate" loosely). 12 of these players played significant roles for this season's squad, including the top six players from the nation's second best defense. RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, OL Justin Boren and Bryant Browning, DE Cameron Heyward, DT Dexter Larimore, LBs Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, DBs Chimdi Chekwa, Devon Torrence and Jermale Hines, and K Devin Barclay have all played their last game for the Scarlet and Gray.
It will be far from easy to replace those leaders on defense, but Tressel always seems to reload on that side of the ball year after year, even when it seems there has to be a drop in production. But Heyward, Rolle, Homan, Chekwa, Hines, and Torrence? This year there has to be a slip, right? Let's hope not, and let's hope for the best for these guys in the NFL.
So another season is in the books, and while it's always a little disappointing when you fall short of your goal of a National Title, you have to be impressed with the 2010 version of the Ohio St Buckeyes. They finish the year at 12-1, claiming a share of the Big Ten title for the sixth straight season, making their sixth consecutive and NCAA record ninth BCS game, and capping off the season with a dramatic Sugar Bowl for their NCAA record sixth BCS win. Oh yeah, and they beat michigan...again. It would be great to be celebrating a National Title right now, but there is plenty to be happy about if you're a Buckeye fan. 232 more days till kickoff!
This player for the Miami Heat who wears #6 - he has gone totally nuts.
First, he releases this rambling eight-minute web video where he says that journalists have put a "blood libel" out for him and...oh, right. Mixed up my current events involving crazy people again, sorry.
Actually, what #6 of the Heat twittered in the wake of his old team, our Cavaliers, losing by 55 (!) to the Lakers, was:
Crazy. Karma is a b****. Gets you every time. It's not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!
My goodness, there's a lot of idiocy in <140 characters there.
First of all, we've got "Crazy," which #6 seems to have become since departing Ohio. Probably not what he meant by that, but I'm taking some liberties here. Maybe he was listening to Gnarls Barkley.
Second, "Karma is a bitch. Gets you every time." Obviously, here in the real world there's no such thing as karma, and it certainly doesn't get one every time. Bad things happen to good people all the time, and vice versa. If karma DID exist, and it DID get you every time, #6 would have suffered a career-ending injury by now. QED.
Third, look who's all of a sudden Mr. Manners, lecturing people on how to be a better sports fan: "It's not good to wish bad on anybody." No? Not ANYBODY? Too bad that's exactly what you're doing with this missive. At least I can relax knowing the karma will get him, given the 100% track record cited above.
Finally, "God sees everything!" Please, #6. Don't try to couch your own animosity in terms of god administering his wrath to Cleveland athletes and fans over us thinking "the decision" was the douchiest thing we've ever seen. Cowardly. The Sporting Gods must have seen every single person who ever rooted for a Cleveland team commit a first-degree felony to warrant the sporting luck we've enojyed over the years.
But more than anything, #6's quote after his ridiculous preening, showboating performance in Portland sums up how willfully oblivious he remains to the whole situation: "I've kind of accepted this villain role everyone has placed on me. I'm OK with it."
Key phrase: "everyone has placed on me." As Obi-Wan said to Anakin on the fire planet: "you have done that yourself!" Any perception of #6 as a villain by Cleveland fans or any other observer of the NBA is completely a result of #6's actions, and no one else's. #6 is simply not someone who will accept any responsibility for what he does or says, from these remarks, to "the decision," to quitting on the Cavs in the playoffs last season.
Wednesday, January 12
The title of this article, which will eventually be about the NFL playoffs, is a reference to my Pee-Wee Football days in New Philadelphia, when I played in a four-team league when I was 9-10 years old. I was on the Eagles (the other teams were the Browns, Bengals, and Oilers, who were all in the AFC North at the time) as a teammate of, for one year, FCF resident Tribe expert JHH. After the six-game regular season, the two best teams played in the Super Bowl (in the NPHS stadium, no less) and the two worst teams played in the Toilet Bowl. I think they actually called it that, in the official program. I miss the non-PC era. Hence, I've decided to apply that derisive title to this week's AFC Divisional Playoff matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, who are more than just the two worst teams in a four-team kids' league: they are the two worst teams in the Universe.
For the record, I participated in two Toilet Bowls in my two years as a New Philadelphia Eagle. Our club came into the 1989 contest sporting an ugly 0-6 mark, yet somehow managed to tie the Browns, improving our season mark to 0-6-1. We celebrated our tie like we'd won the lottery, in stark contrast to the devastated Browns. The second year, we headed in into the TB at 3-3, having handed the Oilers what would be their only loss in two years and toppling the Bengals twice, while the Browns (featuring erstwhile FCFer Doug Wright) exacted some revenge for the '89 TB by downing us twice. Behind future Ohio State star and NFL'er Cie Grant, my Eagles improved to 4-3 with our Toilet Bowl win, our third W of the season against the hapless Bengals. I remember being much less excited by this than with our tie a year before.
Also, how great was it that they put the Eagles in the league instead of the steelers, even though Pittsburgh was the other AFC Central team at the time? Sadly, the Eagles changed to the steelers the year after I left (and, of course, won the Super Bowl), but at least I've never had to wear a steeler uniform. I still have some dignity.
But back to the NFL's Toilet Bowl: Seriously? Again? What did I do to deserve this? What could I possibly have done to anger the Sporting Gods so egregiously that I have to watch another fucking ravens-steelers playoff game? Would it be so hard to have a Browns-Bengals postseason tilt one year? Or maybe a Browns-Anybodies playoff game, preferably one that we don't lose in heartbreaking fashion to our archnemeses? Just once? This is at least the third time I've had to watch my most despised enemies play in the NFL tournament, and I don't like it. At least this matchup frees up my Saturday afternoon, because I'm sure as hell not watching this garbage, considering that the NFL has yet to devise a way that both of these teams can lose this game simultaneously.
The previous two times these clubs met, I reluctantly pulled for the steelers to win. The first time was back in 2002, when I was living in Pittsburgh, and I figured a win would be good for the city's economy and general disposition. This, for me, outweighed the inevitable increase in obnoxiousness. Plus, the illegitimate origins of the ravens were fresher in my mind then, so I went out to Buffalo Blues clad in my Tim Couch #2 Browns jersey (lots of weird looks from the crowd) and backed Pittsburgh, who won handily.
The second time was two years ago, at which point I was a Cleveland resident and again halfheartedly supported the black and yellow against the purple and black and yellow and that weird Maryland logo they inexplicably sport on their uniforms. I dunno, I have a lot of steeler fan friends, I was watching the game with a guy from Pittsburgh, and my hate for Ray Lewis and his gang of thugs was enough for me to back Pittsburgh, who won again. I even gave Hanford Dixon a hard time for wearing a t-shirt supporting the ravens, but he explained to me that he was supporting former teammate (and ravens GM) Ozzie Newsome and would get to go to the Super Bowl if Baltimore won. Fair enough, considering Ozzie and Hanford are two of the three Browns I had posters of when I was little. Sorry, Hanford, you were right.
This weekend, however, I will not be supporting the steelers. Sorry, Gopo, I'm sure you know it's nothing personal. Just not anymore. They're moved far, far ahead of Baltimore in my hate rankings, and just keep finding new ways to fuel the fire: Worthlessberger's offseason shenaningans, James Harrison's moronic headhunting, their unnecessary late TD against us in the first meeting, and the continued presence of Northeast Ohio frontrunner steeler "fans," including those who had BW3's management relocate us from the seats we occupy every Thursday for trivia so they could watch their stupid game against Carolina. It's almost more annoying than when I lived there, especially without any close steeler friends here in C-Town as a buffer to remind me that some of them are indeed at times human beings. I almost wrote at the beginning of this paragraph that I wanted the ravens to win - this is technically true, but it's more like I want them to lose less than Pittsburgh. A final score of Baltimore (negative 30), Pittsburgh (negative 31) would delight me. Either way, I'm going to be a big aficionado of the AFC East the following weekend.
As for the game itself - I'll post my pick with the rest of the crew on Friday (well, except Nick, who will probably post his an hour before kickoff Saturday). But you can probably see where I'm leaning, especially with Pittsburgh giving 3.5. Go Browns.
Friday, January 7
Congratulations to Bucko, the winner of the Forest City Fanatics 2010 NFL Picks competition! Bucko followed up on his 53.8% short-season debut a year ago by making a late push to hit 54% and claim the 2010 title by five games. It's amazing how tight NFL picking can be - first and last in our five-man group were separated by just 13 games in a 256-game season.
But even though the Browns season has mercifully ended, there's more work to do, in the form of the NFL Playoffs, always a delightful time of year. The quality of play, additional chances to pick games incorrectly, and opportunity to just absolutely hate on Baltimore and Pittsburgh should make this year's postseason exciting once again. Please, please, someone beat those horrible teams.
Nick's Money Picks ($): 1-1
Andy's PBR picks (PBR): 0-1
Bucko: 134-114-8 (54.0%)
Andy: 129-119-8 (52.0%)
Figgs: 126-122-8 (50.8%)
Gopo: 122-126-8 (49.3%)
Nick: 121-127-8 (48.8%)
Nick's Money Picks ($): 34-35-3
Figgs' Money Picks ($): 26-14-4
AFC Wild-Card Playoffs
COLTS (-2.5) vs Jets
Andy: Jets. I'm recalling a lesson from last year where I underestimated the Jets against Cincy in a first-round road playoff game. Like that Cincy bunch, I don't think this Colt club is as tough as New York, and I think they benefitted from playing in a weak AFC South in 2010. Plus, I had some success utilizing SRS last week (that and navigating various teams' interest in playing to win), and that measure has the Jets ahead by 3.5 points. Peyton Manning has done a remarkable job holding this Indy team together by duct tape, but I think this is the end of the line for them.
Figgs: Indy. The Jets defense seems to be getting let off the hook a lot this year. They aren't that good, especially if Revis isn't 100%. I know the Colts are really banged up, but I'm nowhere near confident enough in this Jets team to go against Manning in the dome in the post-season.
Nick: Colts. They're stopping the run, Addai's back, and they're in the dome. They've got one more playoff win in them. ($ straight up)
Bucko: Colts. They look like they might be getting a little healthy again. They should have Addai this week, which should make a big difference.
Gopo: Jets. I just don't think the Colts are very good this year, and Manning isn't enough to get this team through a tough Jets D.
CHIEVES (+3) vs Ravens
Andy: Ravens. This line opened at +1 for some reason - I wasn't at all surprised to see it jump up to where it is now. I wouldn't be surprised if it hit 3.5 by kickoff. As much as I despise them, the Ravens appear to be just too good for this KC team; strong rush D, can get to the passer, playoff-experienced QB, dynamic offensive weapons. Sigh. They've won road playoff games handily in each of the past two seasons and look poised to do so once again, just to piss me off. I give some credit to the Chieves for winning close ones - with an SRS of -0.7 (Baltimore is at 6.4, making them nearly a TD better) they probably should have ended up 8-8 but managed to sneak in at 10-6 anyway. But that doesn't seem sustainable, and their Arrowhead mystique was blown apart by Oakland last week.
Figgs: Ravens. I hope they lose, but I just don't see it. I don't think KC will be able to run the ball consistently, and really that's all they do well. ($)
Nick: Ravens. Lock of the weekend. ($)
Bucko: Ravens. KC just is strong enough, but it's good to see them competitive once again in the AFC West.
Gopo: Ravens. I don't think the Chiefs have a chance in this one - I would love to see the Ravens lose this game, but the Chiefs don't have enough on D or O to handle this Ravens team.
NFC Wild-Card Playoffs
SEAHAWKS (+10.5) vs Saints
Andy: Saints. Just your basic 7-9 home playoff team getting ten and a half, nothing to see here. This is one of the more ridiculous opening-round matchups I've seen, mostly due to the presence of the historically inept (by playoff standards) Seahawks. Depending on what happens here and in the other contest, New Orleans could have only this softy plus a very winnable game in Chicago (or a tougher one in Atlanta, where they've already won) on their way to another NFC title game. The SRS differential here favors the Saints by 12, and profootball-reference says take away two for home-field, so not much to make there, but perhaps I can interest you in the margins of defeat in the Seahawks' nine (!) losses this year: 17, 17, 30, 34, 15, 18, 19, 16, 23. This is not a team that keeps it close or notches back-door covers; when they lose, they lose hard, by an average of 21 (minimum of 15, median of 19). Think about that again: they lost nine games in 2010, and ALL of them were by more than two TD's. No way do I trust them here. May as well keep piling on Seattle while I'm at it - did you know their season point differential is -97? The hapless Browns, for the sake of comparison, were just -61. The Chieves, at +40, are the next-lowest team by this simple metric, meaning that Seattle was almost a TD a game worse than the next-worst team in the entire NFL tournament, and that's even with the Seahawks having the benefit of six games against their putrid division (which, as a group, averaged a five-point loss every time they laced it up). I drink Seattle's milkshake. I drink it up! Like Daniel Plainview after beating that guy with the bowling pin, I'm done now.
Figgs: Saints. I originally had Seattle, and rarely ever go against my first instinct. I read what Andy wrote and considered it, but stuck with my original thought. But the closer this game gets the more I'm seeing NO win 40-3.
Nick: Saints. Taking the Hawks is over-thinking the match up and getting too cute. The Seahawks don't have the emotion nor the skill to play another game like they did last week, and even if they did, they'd still lose. ($ -10)
Bucko: Seahawks. They play good at home for some reason. Also, the Super Bowl champ always struggles the following year in the playoffs. The Saints may win, but the Hawks could cover.
Gopo: Saints. I was going to pick the Seahawks to lose and cover, but was convinced by Andy's thorough analysis up top. Saints in a blowout.
EAGLES (-2.5) vs Packers
Andy: Packers. Toughest game on the board for me, but they're hot right now and they sport a 6.7 SRS advantage over Philly. I wish I was getting three points for this, but sometimes you just have to go for the team that you think is better, and despite the success Andy Reid's teams have had in the early rounds of the playoffs, I'm taking Green Bay here. And just to be a bit of a contrarian to Gopo even though we made the same selection, I'll point out that the Saints lost three straight before their Super Bowl run last year.
Figgs: Pack. Absolutely no idea here, definitely the toughest one for me to call. I think both teams are basically even, so you'd think I would go with the home team, but I like to think of myself as an upredictable kinda guy.
Nick: Packers, but who the hell knows? It's the stay away game of round one!
Bucko: Packers. Their "D" is playing really well as of late. Plus the Pack has to many offensive weapons.
Gopo: Packers. I think the Packers are coming together at the right time, while the Eagles are going the other way. Momentum matters a lot going into the playoffs.
Figgs $ Bets
Ravens/Saints parlay - straight up
Saints (-4.5)/Colts (+3)/Ravens (+3) - three-team six-point teaser