Saturday, December 31

Buckeye Roundup

2011 was far from a banner year from our Buckeyes, but I'm not here to look back. The basketball squad is impressing and the gridiron gang will be looking to kick off 2012 the right way, with a win over Florida in the Gator Bowl.

More like Gay-tor
Even with a lackluster season and 6-6 record, Ohio St will still be bowling on New Year's Day (technically January 2nd, due to the 1st falling on NFL's Sunday). The Buckeyes will be headed to Jacksonville, Florida to take on Florida in the Gator Bowl. No, it's not a coincidence that Florida shares it's nickname with the name of the Bowl - they play their home games a mere 60 miles from where this one will be played. Despite the home-field advantage, I like this matchup for the Buckeyes, because frankly I think Florida blows.

The Gators finished the regular season on a 2-6 stretch, their two wins coming at home against Furman and SEC doormat Vanderbilt. In the finale against arch-rival Florida St, the Gators looked pathetic on offense in the 21-7 loss, with QB John Brantley tossing three INTs before leaving the game with a concussion. Braxton Miller's passing woes have been well documented this season, but he enters the game with more touchdowns and fewer interceptions than his senior counterpart.

With Brantley's struggles, the Florida offense revolves around super-speedsters in the Percy Harvin RB/WR mold - Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Rainey comes in touting over 1100 yards of total offense, while Demps has a team-high six TDs. Ohio St has struggled this season containing guys with track star speed (fuck you, can't-tie), so certainly these two will be the focal point of the Buckeye defense.

On the Buckeye side of the ball, you have to think that the five weeks of practice since their last game has helped get DeVier Posey back into the game after missing the first 10 weeks of the season due to multiple suspensions. Ohio St is a different offense with this monster on the field, and I expect Miller to be looking his way early and often. Boom Herron, who missed the team's first six games, was back in full swing by season's end and should get a heavy workload in this one. These two have had fantastic careers in the scarlet and gray, and I expect them to finish strong after tumultuous senior campaigns.

If Ohio St can limit the big plays from Rainey and Demps, Brax and the OSU offense shouldn't have to produce a lot of points to come home with a third straight Bowl win. John Simon will be looking to pressure Brantley into making mistakes, and the suspect but opportune Buckeye secondary could have a field day.
Prediction: Ohio St 25 Florida 13

For the second straight season, the Buckeyes were not well-represented on the All-Big Ten teams. DL John Simon was the lone man on the first-team, with C Mike Brewster, T Mike Adams, LB Andrew Sweat, and DB C.J. Barnett representing on the second-team. RB Boom Herron, G Jack Mewhort, TE Jake Stoneburner, and DT Big Jon Hankins were all thrown a bone for honorable mention.

While it's disappointing to see so few Ohio St players on these lists, you can't really argue the selections. The only one with a real gripe would be Sweat being left off the first team. Without the suspensions, Adams, Herron and DeVier Posey would surely have been first-teamers.

Bowl Ban
Monday's Gator Bowl will be the last Bowl game for the Buckeyes for quite some time, as the NCAA finally levied their sanctions on the OSU football program from the ink-for-merch scandal that broke last December. Ohio St will face a one-year Bowl ban for next year's 2012 season, as well as an additional year of probation and a loss of three more scholarships on top of the two years probation and loss of five scholarships that Ohio St self-sanctioned.

If OSU would have self-sanctioned a Bowl ban this season, which was basically a waste anyway, they may have been let off the hook for next season. But really, it could have been worse. Braxton is still a year away anyway and this will give Meyer two years of recruiting to get his players in. Ohio St may have had a chance at the Big Ten next year, but a National Title was quite a long shot. If Miller can improve next season as he has throughout this season, and Meyer is the recruiting genius we expect him to be, Ohio St could head into the 2013 season as one of the favorites to win it all.

With all the attention surrounding the Gator Bowl, Urban Meyer, and the NCAA sanctions, Ohio St's basketball program isn't getting talked about much, but they have quietly put on quite an impressive performance this season. They currently stand at 13-1 (1-0 in Big Ten) and are ranked #2 in the nation. Their only loss came on the road against a very good Kansas team without Jared Sullinger.

In my Basketball Preview, I mentioned how Will Buford and Deshaun Thomas are not shy about shooting, and their shot selection could be a big factor in OSU's success this season. Well, nearly halfway through the season - so far, so good. Buf is using his reputation as quick shooter to his advantage, as he has incorporated an expert pump fake to bait defenders into leaving their feet, and then take a few more steps in for a better shot.

Tank Thomas looks far more experienced, and while he still shoots a lot, his shot selection is much better. When Sullinger injured his foot and had to leave the South Carolina game, Tank took the team on his back, scoring a career-high 30 points on incredible 13-16 shooting. The thing that's really been impressing me about Thomas is his hustle, constantly diving for loose balls and getting sneaky offensive rebounds.

Again going back my preview, I talked about the role players stepping up outside the big four guys. I was dead on with my prediction of the rotation, with Lenzelle Smith continuing to get the starts and Evan Ravenel and Jordan Sibert being the top options off the bench. I really like Ravenel. The Boston College transfer reminds me a lot of Dallas Lauderdale, and we know how much I loved me some Dallas. He's not quite the monster defender (no one was), but he is still very good defensively and provides solid rebounding when Sully needs a break.

Freshman center Amir Williams saw a lot of action when Jared missed those few games, and I liked what I saw. He is definitely really raw, but looks to have a lot of talent as well. Assuming Sullinger can stay healthy (fingers crossed), the Bucks won't need to count on Williams much this year, but could be expected to play a huge role in the years to come once Sullinger opts for the pros. Hopefully he can develop into a great post player.

The only real problem I've noticed this year is the lack of a backup point guard. Thankfully, Aaron Craft doesn't get much time on the bench, but when he is there the Buckeye offense basically comes to a halt. They have tried Buford as an Evan Turner-point forward type role, but a shoot-first PG is not what you want when you have a guy like Sullinger on your team. Freshman Shannon Scott has also seen some action, but doesn't look like anything special.

I love how they are calling Value City Arena the Nuthouse, and I want a t-shirt. In fact, I think I'm going to order one right now...Done.

Anyway, I really think this team has got a good chance to run the table in March.


NFL Picks: Week 17

All Joe has to do is pick four games right, and/or make sure he makes four of the same picks as Nick, and it's wrapped up. Well done, sir.

It's probably worth pointing out here that, had Figgs not gone Costanza on his picks in Week 13 and taken a 5-11, he would currently be leading Nick by three games. Ouch. The runner-up slot is still up for grabs, though, as 2nd and 3rd are separated by just four games headed into the final week.

Last Week
Figgs: 9-6-1
Joe: 8-7-1
Nick: 8-7-1

Figgs' $ Picks: 2-3
Nick's $ Picks: 1-2

Current Standings
Joe: 127-102-10
Nick: 114-115-10
Figgs: 110-119-10

Figgs' $ Picks: 21-25-1
Nick's $ Picks: 36-29-5

Sunday, 1 pm kickoff

DOLPHINS (-3) vs Jets
Figgs: NYJ. This is probably the toughest week to pick, because in addition to possible guys sitting (See: Aaron Rodges,)teams whose game is worth something may play harder than teams without anything on the line. That being said, the Jets need this one.
Joe:Dolphins; I like the way they have played in the 2nd half of the season, and sometimes a team like this is far scarier an opponent than a better team with everything clinched and nothing to play for. The fish have nothing to lose and would love to spoil their rivals' shot at the playoffs.
Nick: Fish.

PATRIOTS (-10.5) vs Buffaloes
Figgs: Pats. They're looking to lock up the #1 seed, and they're going to take it out on the poor Jills. ($)
Joe: Patriots; I remember the last time Buffalo had a big early season win vs. the Pats in the "Lawyer Milloy Game," the Pats came back at the end of the season to shut them out. I look for more of the same this year.
Nick: Pats.

RAMS (+10.5) vs 49ers
Figgs: Niners. Very similar situation to New England. SF needs this one to clinch a first-round bye, so I think they leave no doubt against a far inferior club.
Joe: 49ers; Huge mismatch, and as long as SF has something to play for, the fighting Harbaughs should keep their foot on the gas pedal here.
Nick: Niners.

PACKERS (+3) vs Lions
Figgs: Lions. Hate picking against the Pack, but Joe's right.
Joe: Lions; They have something to play for, because there is no way any sane team would want to go to New Orleans in the Wildcard round of the playoffs. Green Bay, on the other hand, has everything wrapped up and may not be playing anyone of significance.
Nick: Packers.

EAGLES (-9) vs Redskins
Figgs: Philly. We're finally seeing the Dream Team we expected. Unfortunately for Eagle fans, it's been about 8 weeks too late.
Joe: Redskins; Philly has the diva type mentality that I could see pouting about not making the playoffs and playing uninspired on Sunday. I think they probably win, but I take the points with the Skins.
Nick: Skins.

JAGUARS (-3.5) vs Colts
Figgs: Indy. Nothing like winning your last three games to lose out on Luck.
Joe: Colts; Blaine Gabbert is not good.
Nick: Colts.

TEXANS (+3) vs Titans
Figgs: Titans. I expected this to be Houston by a couple and had intentions of betting on Tennessee, but Vegas saw me coming. Another situation where they just have so much more to play for.
Joe: Titans; Still in the wildcard race, and Houston, with nothing to play for and a 3rd string QB is a great opponent for them to get here.
Nick: Titans.

SAINTS (-7.5) vs Panthers
Figgs: Saints. They have just been slaughtering teams lately, and won't know the outcome of the Niner game so they'll be playing hard in case they have a shot at the #2.
Joe: Panthers; I am going on record in saying this is a preview of a January 2013 playoff game. I love the Saints to make a Super Bowl run, but Cam and the Cats will keep this one close, like they have most of the year.
Nick: Panthers.

VIKINGS (-1.5) vs Bears
Figgs: Vikes. The Bears are one of the worst teams in the league without Cutler and Forte.
Joe: Vikings; Agreed. Ponder is gonna be pretty good in my opinion, and the Bears season ended when Cutler went down. I don't see them pulling off a road win in their season finale.
Nick: Vikings.

Sunday, 4:15 pm kickoff

BROWNS (+6.5) vs steelers
Figgs: BROWNS. Fuck you, pittsburgh.
Joe: BROWNS; Your Bobdamn right the BROWNS!!!!

CARDINALS (-3) vs Seahawks
Figgs: 'Hawks. Two teams that have surprisingly come on late. I'm more of a believer that Seattle is for real. Definitely a possible playoff team next year. ($)
Joe: Seahawks; Beast mode is a stud and I would definately take Jackson over Kolb or Johnny Bones. I get the better team, and I get points? Thank you.
Nick: Hawks.

BRONCOS (-3) vs Chieves
Figgs: Denver. Tebow gets back on track this week to clinch the West.
Joe: Chiefs; The magic has ended. I think Kyle Orton might have something to prove in this one.
Nick: Donks.

FALCONS (-11.5) vs Buccaneers
Figgs: Bucs. As bad as the Bucs are, this is too many points for a team that already has their seed set.
Joe: Falcons; They can even play Redman at QB if they want and I'll still lay these points. Tampa, you sirs are a disgrace!
Nick: Falcons.

BENGALS (+2) vs Ravens
Figgs: ratbirds. It won't matter once we beat shitsburgh anyway, but Baltimore will clinch the two seed with this W.
Joe: Bengals; I really hope I'm wrong, but Baltimore is terrible on the road and Cincy needs this game to get in, so I like them to send the Ravens to the wildcard round here. They are better than I've given them credit for all year, and they will show it on Sunday. (Or they will tank it once I finally give them some Dap and prove me right. Either way.)
Nick: Ravens.

RAIDERS (-3) vs Chargers
Figgs: Oakland. Now that they're out of it, San Diego seems to me like a team that would give up easy. My least favorite pick of the week, however, because SD is simply a much better team.
Joe:Raiders; Once the Broncose lose, Oakland will be in the playoffs with this victory. Bolts lost their chance to get in last week, and the term "Pride" doesnt come to mind when thinking about a Norv Turner team.
Nick: Chargers.

Sunday Night Football, 8:20 pm

GIANTS (-3) vs Cowboys
Figgs: NYG. Dallas will be sitting at home in January again.
Joe: Giants; My vote for defensive player of the year, Jason Pierre-Paul, singlehandedly saved the GMen in their first matchup, and combine him with a now healthy Osi Umeniora, and I like Romo to be running for his life.
Nick: Cowboys.

Thursday, December 22

NFL Picks: Week 16

Time to start engraving Joe's name on the 2011 FCF NFL Picks trophy. (Figgs' note: I think we could have done that after Week 3. Also want to point out that this is two weeks in a row that I've come out on top, would have been three if I made my actual picks instead of Costanza-ing it in Week 13.)

Last Week
Figgs: 9-6-1
Joe: 8-7-1
Nick: 6-9-1

Figgs' $ Picks: 3-3
Nick's $ Picks: 2-4

Current Standings
Joe: 119-95-9
Nick: 106-108-9
Figgs: 101-113-9

Figgs' $ Picks: 19-22-1
Nick's $ Picks: 35-27-5

Thursday Night Football

COLTS (+6) vs Texans
Figgs: Texans. No way Indy does it two weeks in a row.
Joe: Colts; I smell a winning streak coming. They might just win their way out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. If healthy, I could have seen Houston make a Super Bowl run. Now, however, they should be the easiest 1st round home playoff out since the 2010 Seahawks. (Of course said Seahawks actually won that playoff game last year, once again proving how little all of us actually know about sports, despite what we may think).
Nick: Texans. Just can't see Indy winning two in a row.

Saturday, 1 pm kickoff

RAVENS (-13) vs Browns
Figgs: BROWNS. You would think Andy would know by now that I like my Browns pick to be in all caps, yet each week I have to change it. To Joe's point, I will never be unhappy with a Browns W, especially over these bitches.
Joe: Ravens; I'm glad I work Saturday and have to miss my 1st Browns game in years, because if we actually pull off this upset, I would never be madder in a Browns win. It would simultaneously screw up our draft pick, AND hand the Steelers the division title.
Nick: Ravens. This is the rare case when it's definitely better for the Browns to lose, for the reasons Joe outlined. Rooting for a win this week is short-sighted, and I just don't see the Browns scoring enough to hang in this one.

CHIEVES (-1) vs Raiders
Figgs: Raiders. Oakland still fighting for something, and as Joe said I think KC is spent after last week.
Joe:Raiders; Classic letdown game for the fighting Romeos after blowing their load against the Pack.
Nick: Chiefs. Can't wait to laugh at you guys over this one. The Raiders are lousy and KC played a great game last week. Arrowhead remains one of the toughest places to play in the league, and the Chiefs can still win the West with some help. These guys clearly like playing for Romeo Crennel and Tamba Hali has established himself as a top-5 pass rusher. ($ -2.5)

TITANS (-7.5) vs Jags
Figgs: Jax. I watched the Jags on Thursday night last week, and boy did they look awful. Then again, Tennessee didn't look so good getting Cam'ed all over last week either, so I'll take the touchdown +.
Joe: Titans; If Locker starts, I'll feel comfortable with this pick. Even if he doesn't, Jacksonville might have the worst group of skilled position players outside of MJD in NFL history, so I will still like this pick.
Nick: Jags. I'm a sucker for that extra half point.

PATRIOTS (-9.5) vs Dolphins
Figgs: Pats. Remember when chad henne started for these guys? I think it's safe to say his career is over. (I realize this has nothing to do with this game, but I haven't gotten much michigan bashing in lately.)
Joe: Patriots; Brady and co. have home field in their sights, so I don't see them letting off the gas against a division rival.
Nick: Dophins. Just on principle. This should be a 6 or 7 point line, but it's bumped by Patriots' inflation.

BENGALS (-4) vs Cardinals
Figgs: Cards. Not a big fan of this pick, but Joe makes a solid arguement.
Joe: Cardinals; Not likely they sneak into the playoffs, but they are red hot right now and I just simply don't buy this Bengals team getting in.
Nick: Bengals. Joe, not sure why you have been so against the Bengals this year. They aren't flashy, but they have one of the league's best defense, the Red Rifle is competent, they have a decent running game, and AJ Green. ($)

BUFFALOES (+3) vs Broncos
Figgs: Broncos. By far my favorite game on the board. The Jackson-less Jills might be the worst team in the NFL. ($)
Joe: Broncos; Tebow lose two in a row? Blasphemy!
Nick: Donks. Can you teach me how to Tebow? ($ -2.5)

STEELERS (-12.5) vs Rams
Figgs: shitsburgh.
Joe: Steelers; To hell with waiting for the spread, the Rams pork. Even if Batch QB's and the offense is flat, they should still win something like 17-0, which would cover any spread they might throw out there.
Nick: Rams. Fuck these guys. Fuck em.

JETS (-3) vs Giants
Figgs: NYG. Right on with Joe. Basically a coin flip, I'll take Eli over the Sanchize.
Joe: Giants; Getting the standard "road" 3 points. But since they play 8 "home" games in this stadium, I might as well take the underdog since I can't seem to get a feel on either of these 2 underachievers.
Nick: Giants. The three is significant here, especially with the Sanchize under center.

REDSKINS (-6.5) vs Vikings
Figgs: Vikes. Peterson seems to be 100%, and it's still Rex Grossman. ($)
Joe: Redskins; Quietly, they have played really well lately, and while the Vikings probably wouldn't pick Luck, the kings ransom they could receive by trading that pick should be enough incentive to lose this one.
Nick: Vikes. The Skins aren't good enough to 6.5 to many teams, even at home.

PANTHERS (-7.5) vs Buccaneers
Figgs: Cats. I never expected to lay this many points for a 5-9 team, but the Bucs are just poop.
Joe: Panthers; Bucs are the most disappointing team this year in my opinion, and Cam has the Cats playing well and ready for a playoff run in the 2012 season. Mark it down!
Nick: Panthers. Boy, there hasn't been a more disappointing team than the Buccos this season.

Saturday, 4 pm kickoff

LIONS (-2.5) vs Chargers
Figgs: SD. The Chargers need this one more, as Detroit is going to get in the playoffs anyway, and Rivers does seem to save his best for this month.($)
Joe: Bolts; No one beats Phillip Rivers in December. NO ONE! Although Charger fans are surely in a Catch 22 because another win or two might actually save Norv Turners job...again.
Nick: Chargers. This is a tough one to pick. I guess I'll grab a couple of points.

COWBOYS (-1.5) vs Eagles
Figgs: Philly. It won't take as much of a miracle as you might think, Joe. Winning in Dallas won't be easy, but they obviously need this one and a W against the Skins next week, and it would just take a Jets win over the Giants this week then the G-men turning around and beating Dallas (at home) next week. Two very distinct possibilities.
Joe: Eagles; Now that they are healthy, they are living up to their hype. It's gonna be too late to make the playoffs (barring a miracle) but no too late to ruin Dallas' season.
Nick: Eagles. Because I'm rooting for the inevitable Dallas collapse.

SEAHAWKS (+2) vs 49ers
Figgs: Niners. I've been (successfully) rolling with the Hawks the past few weeks, but I'm back on the Niner bandwagon after last week.
Joe: Seahawks; They're really rolling lately and I could see a Monday night letdown coming from San Fran.
Nick: Niners. Under 3 points I still think the Niners present some value. They still need to take care of business to earn a bye.

Sunday Night Football

PACKERS (-13) vs Bears
Figgs: Pack. Love this being under two TD's. The Bears have been God awful and now Josh McCown is starting? Rodgers and the crew get back on track in a big way this week. ($)
Joe: Packers; They haven't clinched home field yet, so Rodgers and the boys should play. I figure even if SF loses on Saturday and GB does clinch, I would definately take Matt Flynn as my QB over Hanie/McCown, and GB has so many crazy good WR's that they can't possibly rest all of them.
Nick: Bears. The Packers have some serious issues with their offensive line and defense, and Chicago still has a solid D.

Monday Night Football

SAINTS (-7) vs Falcons
Figgs: ATL. I bet against my boys last week and it bit me on the ass. Hopefully they'll forgive me.
Joe: Saints; I love watching Drew Brees play football. If the ATL wants to clinch a playoff spot, they will have to do it next week.
Nick: Saints. I'm still convinced the Falcons secretly suck, and New Orleans has quietly won six straight.

Figgs' Teaser: Houston (+0.5)/Green Bay (-6.5)/Oakland (+9)

Tuesday, December 20

Browns QBs

It's not a gigantic secret that the Browns have been, well, unstable at the QB position since their return to the NFL in 1999, one of the many reasons why they've so seldom found themselves in the win column over those 13 years. But I wondered: among the motley lot to stand under center for the Brown and Orange since the reincarnation, who's been Browns Good, Browns Mediocre, and Browns Bad? With that, I give you the below chart of Passer Rating, by season, for any Browns QB to start four or more games in a season from 1999-2011, of which there have been 13 lucky fellows (sorry, Spergon Wynn and Bruce Gradkowsi). Click on the photo to enlarge. As a reminder, Passer Rating (not QB rating) measures QB's in the areas of completion percentage, yards per attempt, TD's thrown, and INTs not thrown. The maximum is 158.3 (of course it is) and the league average in 2011 is currently 82.3. For something to aspire to, Drew Brees is currently sitting on a 109.1 while Aaron Rodgers has an absurd 120.1, only the second-best EVER.

That we've lacked an elite QB is clear, but there's a lot more to unpack on this chart than just the obvious.

- Four times, we've had a QB start more than four games and post a passer rating below 60. All incompletions, by the way, is a 39.6. Not good.

- Ken Dorsey, my goodness.

- One of those four clunkers was submitted by none other than the mighty Derek Anderson, whose gray circles show a remarkable decline from 2007 through 2009. DA's 2007 was the best season by a Browns QB since the return, as he started 15 games and posted a 82.5 passer rating, largely abetted by Braylon Edwards catching a lot of badly thrown balls. Say what you want about Braylon, and I have, but he made some extremely difficult catches and often did so in the other team's end zone. Anyway, let me recontextualize what I just said about the Browns' recent quarterback situation: the single best season they had from a quarterback in 13 years yielded a passer rating not quite three percent better than league average. Unbelievable.

- Man did DA ever fall off, though. From that 82.5 he quickly declined to 66.5 in 2008 before being injured and plummeted to a comical 42.1 (recall once again: all incompletions is 39.6) before Brady Quinn replaced him in 2009. Bye, DA.

- Seneca Wallace, you know what? Kinda good. He only started four games last year, but his 86.8 is tops for anyone starting at least a quarter-season for the Brownies since '99. His 102.1 in limited duty this year hasn't hurt that at all. His career mark of 84.0 is, not to put to fine a point on it, still better than the best single-season (or partial season) submitted by any Browns quarterback in the past 13 years.

- I almost ran out of colors.

- All those outliers and part-timers aside, it's kind of amazing how consistently mediocre the Browns' main signal callers have been over all these losing years. Look at Tim Couch's red circles - all five of his seasons fell between 73 and 78, which is almost hard to believe. Holcomb, Garcia, Dilfer, Frye, McCoy, all squarely within that 70-80 zone during their tenures with Cleveland. McCoy's rating this year differs from last year's by all of 0.1. Twelve of the twenty-one circles on this chart lie within 70 and 80, a testament to the steady mild effectiveness of the Browns' passing game over the years. That number would be even higher if you averaged DA's 2007 and 2008 and tossed out the third-stringers (McCown and Dorsey) pressed into regular duty; that leaves you with 14 of 19 right there in the meaty part of the curve.

Someday, hopefully, we'll get our own Brees, Rodgers, or Brady and I'll find another color for his points to lie well above the vaunted 90 mark. It's just interesting to see how over the years how tightly and mediocrely distributed our QBs' passer ratings have been and how the Cleveland Browns' offense seems stuck in neutral year after year.

Thursday, December 15

NFL Picks: Week 15

I see that the bigger number is in front of the smaller number next to my name, and I'm not sure I remember what that means, but I think it's a positive.

Last Week
Figgs: 11-5 (!)
Joe: 9-7
Nick: 7-9 (including his post-game Browns "pick")

Figgs' $ Picks: 4-1
Nick's $ Picks: 1-3

Current Standings
Joe: 111-88-8
Nick: 100-99-8
Figgs: 92-107-8

Figgs' $ Picks: 16-19-1
Nick's $ Picks: 33-23-5

Thursday Night Football

FALCONS (-11) vs Jaguars
Figgs: Jax. Hate to go against my boys, but 11 is just too high for me. When I just checked it again, it's up to 13.5. ($ - +13.5)
Joe: Jaguars; I still haven't been able to figure Atlanta out yet, even 13 games into the season. I was prepared to pick them, since they are the one of these two teams with something to actually play for, but I thought the spread would be 6 or 7. 11 seems too high for me to trust such an unpredictable team.
Nick: Jags. Too many points for an Atlanta team that struggles to score.
Andy: Nick, I couldn't care less about Atlanta struggling to score. Also your statement isn't particularly accurate - they averaged 24 a game before this one.

Saturday Night Football

BUCCANEERS (+7) vs Cowboys
Figgs: Dallas. If Tampa is playing for pride, they must not have much, because they have been pitiful.
Joe: Cowboys; I don't totally trust Dallas, but I don't see a 4th qtr collapse coming this week. Tampa, already one of this seasons biggest disappointments, has totally mailed it in. 41 unanswered points allowed to the Jaguars? Really? Really? Really?
Andy: Was this on NFL Network or something?

Sunday, 1 pm kickoff

TEXANS (-6.5) vs Panthers
Figgs: Panthers. Carolina can play some better teams close, and Houston has been inching out victories without Schaub. I expect that to continue here.
Joe:Panthers; Agreed ^^
Nick: Texans. Because Houston quietly remains one of the most complete teams in football, and I think they can ram the ball down Carolina's throat all day. Roethlisberger style.
Andy: I'm kinda bummed that Houston can't go 8-8 this season.

GIANTS (-7) vs Redskins
Figgs: NYG. Washington's terrible, and Eli is quietly having an MVP-caliber year.
Joe: Giants; I love the way Eli is playing, and Jason Pierre-Paul is the latest of the never ending Giant D Line studs. He had one of the single best performances I've ever seen on Sunday night. His safety, blocked FG and sack/fumble all resulted directly in Giant points.
Andy: There is only one professional football team in New York State, and that team sometimes plays in New Jersey.

BUFFALOES (PK) vs Dolphins
Figgs: Fins. The Jills just can't seem to get out of this slide.
Joe: Bills; Another gut feeling. They've shown no reason to pick them since the Fitzpatrick signing. But, I'm picking them anyway. (Note: Erie people without the ticket are being forced to watch Bengals/Rams on Sunday because the Bills couldn't sell this game out. Their fans seemed to have a different take on things when they had their hot start. Can you say Fairweather?)
Andy: As in "Fairweather Johnson", Hootie and the Blowfish's second album?

BEARS (-3.5) vs Seahawks
Figgs: 'Hawks. Seattle isn't the same team away from Quest, but I think they have enough to take down a beat up Chicago team. ($)
Joe: Seahawks; Beast mode is playing inspired and believe it or not, Seattle actually has the better QB in this game.
Nick: Birds. Because the Seahawks can sing about how they soar through the air and protect their eggs from predators. ($)
Andy: Stupid fast.

VIKINGS (+7) vs Saints
Figgs: Vikes. The Saints have also had their struggles on the road. 7 is just a bit too high.
Joe: Saints; It is on the road, but in a dome, they should still feel like they are at home. I love watching Drew Brees play football.
Nick: Saints. Because the streets of New Orleans are filled with more vomit-per-capita than the streets of Minneapolis.
Andy: I'm surprised that there are this many teams who wear purple in their uniforms, but only one in all the Big 4 sports has brown at all.

RAMS (+6) vs Bengals
Figgs: Cincy. I don't like the Bungles at all, but the Rams have given me absolutely zero reason to ever pick them against any team with any spread.
Joe: Rams; I don't know why. Just a gut feeling I guess. I think the Bengals are still a year away and, being a young team, I could see them blowing a game on the road that they should win.
Nick: Bengals. The Bengals, because they are way higher on the food chain. ($ -3)
Andy: The Bengals' logo takes up a shocking amount of surface area on their field.

COLTS (+7) vs Titans
Figgs: Indy. If this is just a half point lower I'm probably taking the Titans, but they are just not good enough for me to feel comfortable giving a full touchdown on the road.
Joe: Titans; I suppose this could be where the Colts get their one win, but then I remember that Dan Orlovsky is their QB. So I don't see that win coming at all this year.
Nick: Titans. Because when they moved, they didn't do it in the middle of the night.
Andy: Eddie George was a Titan.

CHIEVES (+14) vs Packers
Figgs: Pack. That's four straight games where the road team is favored by 6+ - that is nuts. I could use a big game from Rodgers in the semifinals of my fantasy playoffs.
Joe: Packers; They are so good, and Rodgers is so fun too watch, it's hard to even break down their games. Every week it's humongous spread, all three of us picking them to cover, and then Green Bay blowing even the huge spread out of the water.
Nick: Pack. Because they have the fattest female fans I've ever seen.
Andy: To Joe's point, the Pack are averaging a 14.5-point victory this season and are 9-4 ATS. The only time they don't cover is when Nick gets cocky with his selection. That and on the road, where they are just 4-3 ATS.

Sunday, 4 pm kickoff

CARDINALS (-7) vs Browns
Figgs: BROWNS. I know we suck, but SEVEN points to the Cardinals? Johnny Bones has been racking up the W's recently, but I like our chances here. BEER WE GO BROWNIES!! ($)
Joe: Browns; The Cards have been playing very well lately, beating good teams. There's no reason they shouldn't blow us out. That being said, I'm picking the Goddamn Browns.
Nick: Browns. Because they're running the Cyclone Package.
Andy: I love making all of you opt out if you want to go against the Browns. I'm also delighted that Johnny Bones has caught on.

RAIDERS (+1) vs Lions
Figgs: Lions. No McFadden again, I'll take Detroit to stay in the playoff picture while Oakland's hopes fade even more.
Joe: Raiders; Two fading teams, but I'll take the home team. Bush has been great in Run DMC's absense and Detroit doesn't strike me as a team capable of winning in a tough road atmosphere. Maybe they'll prove me wrong, but I have to see it before I'll pick it.
Nick: Lions. Because Tim Taylor roots for them.
Andy: Home Improvement holds up worse than any sitcom I know of. It's remarkable how unfunny it is - it's almost to the point where it would seem more difficult to write something this tragically not funny than to at least stumble upon a few amusing jokes, almost like it's a Neil Hamburger-style deconstruction of sitcom conventions, except it isn't.

BRONCOS (+6.5) vs Patriots
Figgs: Pats. Another home 6+ dog. Tebow magic ends this week.
Joe:Broncos; It is the most inexplicable thing sports has ever seen, but it just keeps happening. They have secondary issues, so Brady should pick them apart. But New England's secondary is brutal, so Tebow should be able to do better in the early qtrs this week. I look more for the Denver/Minnesota 35-32 type game than their 13-10 type games against everyone else.
Nick: Tebow. Because of this ($ +7.5)
Andy: The NFL's broadcasting rules are so insanely fucking stupid that it makes one wonder how the league rose to such prominence. How does it make sense not to have a doubleheader at 1 pm and then one at 4 pm? More games, more viewers. Very wise of the NFL to shut the Cleveland market out of this game after we've flipped off the Browns game by halftime.

I wrote extensively about Tim Tebow on my other blog this week, but let me briefly answer the question Rick Reilly asks in his article about "Tom and Tim," which concludes by asking the reader "Who do you like?" Um...I'll take the two-time MVP who's passed for 4300 yards this season over the guy with the 48.5% completion percentage. Do I have to give odds or something?

EAGLES (-3) vs Jets
Figgs: NYJ. The Eagles are actually somehow still in the NFC East race. If they finish 8-8 along with the Giants and Cowboys, Philly wins all tie-breakers. Their slim hopes end this week.
Joe:Eagles; Vick is back and looked good last week. This would be my 1 point game in confidence points this week, but I'll reluctantly roll with Philly.
Nick: Eagles. Because their fans throw snowballs at Santa.
Andy: Nick, you should have saved the Eagle joke for this game! The Jets play in New Jersey.

Sunday Night Football

CHARGERS (+2.5) vs Ravens
Figgs: SD. It's December, when Rivers apparently doesn't lose, and Baltimore is prone to laying eggs on the road. ($)
Joe: Chargers; I hope I'm wrong, but Baltimore is so much worse on the road than at home, and Rivers loves this time of year. The Bolts have been great the last two weeks. I think they keep it up here.
Nick: Ravens. Because they aren't the fucking steelers. ($)
Andy: Whenever I see the last name Rivers, I think of Val Kilmer as Nick Rivers in Top Secret!, the most underrated of all the ZAZ slapstick comedies. Hilarious movie.

Monday Night Football

49ERS (-2.5) vs steelers
Figgs: Steelers. Ewww. ($)
Joe: 49ers; Suck It Pittsburgh!
Andy: I like to imagine James Harrison sitting at home with this game on TV, while assaulting someone for no good reason.

Figgs Teaser: Dallas (PK)/Tennessee (PK)/New Orleans (PK)/Green Bay (-7)
Nick's Teasers
---Seahawks (-1 on Monday night), ATL (-1), Pack (-3.5)
---Bengals (-.5), Titans (-1), Saints (-.5)

Kick me

I have two central theses to advance:

1) Phil Dawson is very good at kicking field goals
2) The all-time list of kickers by accuracy is a strange place.

First, Mr. Dawson, the only Brown remaining from the return to the league in '99. People joke about how Dawson is our MVP because of how bad Cleveland has been, but the sarcastic praise obscures what a tremendous run he's had in Cleveland. Look at the list and notice that Dawson is 12th all-time in field goal accuracy. All-time. That's impressive enough, but then consider how many of those kicks he's had to execute on the less-than-forgiving fields of the AFC North, not least his home turf by the swirling winds of Lake Erie. Remember, those FG's he made in the snow against Buffalo in '07 (at :35 and 1:50 of the video) count exactly the same as a Mike Vanderjagt 25-yarder in the RCA Dome did.

Look at the 11 guys ahead of Dawson on the accuracy list. We've got domers (Kaeding, Vanderjagt, Hartley), novices (Hartley, Barth), and warm-weather guys (Barth, Bryant, Bironas). The only two tough-weather guys ahead of #4 are Shayne Graham and Robbie Gould, and even Graham had a year in Carolina and Miami to boost the stats. Looking at these numbers, it's hard not to be impressed with Dawson's career (and, for that matter, Gould's).

The other thing this list demonstrates is: kickers have gotten way, way, way better. 23 of the top 27 all-time in accuracy are active kickers. Think about that. The worst active NFL kicker is Washington second-year man Graham Gano, and he's 79th. You know, better than all nine kickers in the Hall of Fame.

Let's run that back: the worst kicker in the NFL today, percentage-wise, is more accurate than any NFL kicker currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Amazing. Granted, the others mostly all played legitimate positions in addition to kicking, but my goodness. Legendary Browns kicker Lou "The Toe" Groza was just under 55% - he would get cut from any NFL team in a week kicking like that, forget the nickname.

The only pure kicker in the HoF is Jan Stenerud, who introduced soccer-style kicking to American Football (every kicker now in college and the NFL now kicks that way) and even endorsed a line of kicking tees, one of which I owned as a youngster. In his 19-year career, Stenerud kicked at just under 67%, or two out of every three, again pretty lame by modern standards.

I wonder if another kicker will ever be inducted. I mean, just how good do you have to be? If Dawson puts in another seven years of highly productive, accurate kicking in tough conditions, do you think about him then? What about Matt Stover, 8th all-time in accuracy and 4th in points, and with stints in Cleveland and Baltimore? Adam Vinatieri, 10th all-time in points and 14th in accuracy and with some huge postseason kicks? What about Shane Lechler, easily the best punter of my lifetime? Ray Guy has been a finalist and Lechler's career has been more impressive, after all.

I'm frankly not sure how the HoF should handle this - maybe a separate wing to honor the best specialty players? Either way, I think we can all agree that modern kickers have come a long way, and Phil Dawson stands out among them.

Wednesday, December 14


As most Browns fans likely know by now, steeler linebacker James Harrison has been suspended one game by the NFL for his helmet-to-helmet cheap shot in the fourth quarter of last Thursday's game between the Browns-steelers game.

This shouldn't come as a surprise - Harrison is constantly being flagged and fined for his illegal hits, and the league office, having set a precedent with the Ndamukong Suh suspension, decided it had had enough of Harrison's antics. This particular hit was totally unnecessary - McCoy had long since tossed the ball and any semblance of proper tackling form on Harrison's part would have avoided the penalty, but he went clearly helmet-to-helmet and ended up concussing McCoy.

The most amazing thing seems to be Harrison's continued inability, or unwillingness, to understand that what he does is wrong and to take responsibility for it. Harrison afterwards said, "I don't think a suspension is worthy. I don't think it's worthy of anything, but that's just my own personal thoughts" and added, "Well, he took off running with it, and at the last second he, like, chucked and ducked. So, people can see it."

Amazing. Amazing that he could possibly watch that play and think that. There was no ducking - there was a big guy headbutting a smaller guy who had just thrown a pass. It defies all logic. I'm sure some steeler fans are defending him as well, which is of course inappropriate. Yes, I'm a Browns fan and biased in this particular situation, but I condemn foul play no matter who does it, even when my team's players do. Consider Robert Reynolds of OSU choking Wisconsin's Jim Sorgi, or Gerard Warren's stupid cheap shots when he was a Brown - I recognized both of those as wrong and opposed them, just as I do here. I like fair, safe, hard play regardless of rooting interest.

Characteristically, Harrison has remained defiant, telling Jerome Bettis that he won't change the way he plays. Maybe you should change, you stubborn cheap-shotting idiot. Maybe play hard but stop doing things that are illegal and dangerous? Just maybe? His coach, Mike Tomlin, had this to say:

We're disappointed for James because we know how hard he's worked to play within the rules. We accept the judgment rendered by the league office and we'll move forward.

The second part, yes, I give Tomlin credit for being an upright citizen. The first part? Absolutely not. Not only has Harrison not worked to play within the rules, he (a) clearly does not understand the rules and (b) is out granting interviews where he openly says he has no intention of making the necessary changes.

Just another reason to hate the steelers...

I can see where that might confuse you

I thought in honor of Figgs' birthday I'd toss a little michigan-bashing on the fire here at FCF to keep everyone warm.

First up, we've got michigan Athletic Director and super-genius Dave Brandon, who doesn't like the Buckeyes' NCAA exemption to have Luke Fickell and his staff manage the bowl game while Urban Meyer and his crew work the recruiting circuit. In an email to the AP, Brandon says,

It allows more coaching resources to work on the two primary responsibilities of any staff—coaching and recruiting. I am struggling to understand how this relates to the "level playing field" the NCAA claims it is always working to create.

Keep struggling, Dave. It's not hard to believe that someone from michigan wouldn't be able to grasp advanced concepts. But you've done this twice in four years - shouldn't you have the hang of it now?

Still on the topic of OSU coaches but moving south of that particular border, comes news that Meyer has hired Tom Herman as OSU's QB coach and offensive coordinator.

Paging Mr. Herman...

Thursday, December 8

How Jim Paxson Lost LeBron

On October 29, 2003 at the Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento, California, the Cleveland Cavaliers took the floor with the starting lineup of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Carlos Boozer, Ricky Davis, Darius Miles, and a rookie out of Akron, Ohio named LeBron James. The Cavs would go on to lose the first game of the 2003-2004 campaign 92-106 to the Kings, but the hype surrounding LeBron James and the Cavs was chiseled in stone until LeBron departed for brighter lights.

Fresh off of a 17-win season and tying the Nuggets for the worst record in the NBA, the Cavs were revered by local and national pundits alike as a team in full rebuild mode with little to no help for LeBron.

Store that away for a few minutes...

The reality with the NBA, moreso than any other sport, is that one superstar can completely turn a franchise around from pathetic to perennial playoff contender. This doesn't necessarily translate to championships - particularly in the era of superteams - but it does end the cycle of lottery picks.

A sudden injection of superstar talent to a lottery team presents a problem. Usually the team drafting a superstar rookie has a top-three pick. Often it is because that team was really bad the previous year. And almost always the lucky team will progressively earn a lower draft pick with each passing year as its record improves.

What all this means is that unless there was an injured or underperforming star already on the team the previous year (see San Antonio, Tim Duncan), an endless cycle of "pretty good" emerges that the team cannot escape until its superstar leaves to join his buddy elsewhere.

The 2002-2003 Cavs were built to lose, and lose they did. On July 30, 2002, the Cavs traded their best player in point guard Andre Miller to the Clippers for Darius Miles and Harold Jamison (footnote - Bryant Stith was also included in that trade from the Cavs).

It wasn't that every player on the 2002-03 Cavs team was horrendous. In fact, the Cavs had just drafted an exciting rookie guard who had once scored 100 points in a high school game. They had also drafted a forward out of Duke in the second round that they hoped could fill some minutes. But this team wasn't being built for the present, it was being built for the future. Sure they only won 17 games in the 2002-2003 season, but Jim Paxson and the Cavs were finally doing something right…sort of.

Jump back to LeBron's opening night in Sacramento.

Much of the Cavs roster was the same from the team that won 17 games the previous year. However, a close examination of that roster is somewhat surprising.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas - Two-time NBA All-Star who went on to become the Cavs all-time leader in games played and blocks. His re-emergence was a welcome surprise for the Cavs as Ilgauskas had been injured for much of his career until this point.

Carlos Boozer - Two-time NBA All-Star and 2008 All-NBA Third Team. Though he has had trouble with injuries, Carlos is considered a top-flight power forward when healthy.

Ricky Davis - Nobody ever accused Davis of making smart decisions, but the truth is that he averaged 20.6 points, 5.5 assists, and 1.6 steals per game the year before LeBron joined the team. Those are near All-Star numbers.

Darius Miles - At the time, Miles was a big deal. He was the third overall pick in the 2000 draft and was the first player coming straight out of high school to be named as First Team All-Rookie. His story has an unhappy ending, but in 2003 Darius Miles was still a top prospect.

Dajuan Wagner - Don't laugh. Dajuan Wagner was so good that he once scored 100 points in a high school basketball game and his college coach, John Calipari, actually revoked his scholarship to force him into the NBA draft. The Cavs drafted him 6th overall in the 2002 NBA Draft and expected Wagner to be a stud for years. Unfortunately for he and the Cavs, Wagner had debilitating health problems that hindered his career from the start and he never met the expectations surrounding him. Still, it's difficult to consider Wagner a bust in the traditional sense in that he didn't suck on his own accord.

Jason Kapono - While not an All-Star, the guy is a crazy-good shooter. He was a contributor on Miami's championship season in 2006 and actually shot over 50% (51.4% to be exact) from three-point range during the 2006-2007 season.

LeBron James - Is this even necessary?

That list contains a legitimate starting center, power forward, and small forward (Davis), most at the onset of their careers, starting alongside one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived. That's a young team with a solid core of pieces to grow together. Without overturning the roster, the Cavs had the opportunity to add a point guard and depth over the next two years and be a powerhouse for the following ten.

Then this happened...

On December 15, 2003, just fifty-four days into LeBron James's career, the Cavs traded Ricky Davis and his potential 15-5-5 stat line to the Boston Celtics along with Chris Mihm, Michael Stewart, and a second-round draft pick for Eric Williams, Tony Battie, and Kedrick Brown. The Celtics had a record of 12-12 at the time and the Cavs were 6-17 and riding a 33-game road losing streak. By the time the Cavs finally made the playoffs in the spring of 2006, none of the players acquired from the Celtics were with the team.

At the conclusion of the 2003-2004 season, Carlos Boozer was released by the Cavs as a restricted free agent with the understanding that he would re-sign a six-year, $39 million deal. Instead, the Utah Jazz offered Boozer a six-year, $70 million deal and Boozer raced to Salt Lake City to sign the contract.

The Carlos Boozer incident was perhaps the worst move by a general manager not named Isiah Thomas or Ted Stepien in the history of the NBA. If Boozer had stayed in Cleveland, the Cavs certainly would have faced harsh penalties from the league for striking their "handshake deal". This was a consideration that Paxson should have anticipated. They were screwed no matter what the outcome. If Boozer re-signs with the Cavs for $39 million, then they would have been answering to David Stern - possibly even giving up their rights to Boozer. If he goes elsewhere, then the Cavs just let a 2nd-round gem walk (or sprint) out of Cleveland for nothing - which is exactly what happened.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the Cavs chose to leave Jason Kapono unprotected for the expansion draft and he was snatched up by the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.

One year after LeBron's first game in Sacramento, the Cavs opened the season at home against the Indiana Pacers with a starting lineup of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, LeBron James, Lucious Harris, and Jeff McInnis. Stacking the two lineups side-by-side clearly shows that the Cavs didn't just regress, but lost two potential cornerstones of their roster during, or shortly after, LeBron's rookie year.

With Cleveland not being one of the coveted "large markets" with Madison Avenue, movie stars, or year-round bikini-clad groupies, the only way the team was going to pair stars with LeBron was through the draft. While the 17-win 2002-2003 Cavaliers campaign was an abomination of the sport, it did present the team with three critical pieces of information: Ricky Davis could play ball as long as his head doesn't get in the way, Carlos Boozer was the steal of the 2002 draft, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas can make it through a full season and still produce at a high level.

Drafting LeBron was the 4th piece to a young, up-and-coming team that everybody knew was going to take time to figure out how to play with one another. Instead, Jim Paxson allowed two of those pieces to walk out the door with very little in return.

The Cavs were too good from there on out with LeBron to get a high draft pick. All of the building now needed to be done through trades and free agency. The pieces that should have already been on the team from when they were bad had skipped town, and all that remained was a team that could never compete for a championship, despite the best efforts of Danny Ferry and Dan Gilbert.

Thanks to their previous regime, the current Cavs ownership was dealt a losing hand, and no amount of money could fix it.

NFL Picks: Week 14

Last Week
Nick: 8-8
Joe: 7-9
Figgs: 5-11

Nick's $ Picks: 3-2

Current Standings
Joe: 102-81-8
Nick: 93-90-8
Figgs: 81-102-8

Figgs' $ Picks: 12-18-1
Nick's $ Picks: 32-20-5

Thursday Night Football

STEELERS (-14) vs Browns
Figgs: BROWNS. Tough to lose after hearing Joe's speech. I'm in.
Joe: Browns; No reason to analyze this pick, so I decided to give our Browns a little pep talk. "Come on boys! This hasn't been our season, hell this hasn't been our decade, but all of that goes out the window with a victory against these guys. The steelers and, more importantly their fans, are laughing at us. They think we're a joke. I had a Steeler fan tell me recently that he roots for us when we're not playing each other. Nice Steeler fans infuriate me more than douchebag fans. What I want is for them to hate us as much as we hate them. The only way to do it is to be a competent and competetive football team. So we must go out there and not hold anything back. Play this game as if it is the Super Bowl. A win for us probably keeps them from winning the division, so this game is huge for them. I say, Fuck that! It's huge for us! Next year, we can worry about getting back to competing for division titles and playoff spots, but right now this is the only game that matters. Primetime. National TV audience. If you can't get up for that, then get the hell out. There's only one thing for us to do tonight, and it can be summed up in three simple letters: WIN!!!"
Nick: Browns, clearly.

Sunday, 1 pm kickoff

JAGUARS (+2) vs Bucs
Figgs: Jax. Two bad teams, might as well take the home team getting points.
Joe: Jaguars; Eh, home team I guess.
Nick: Bucs, just because they've played a tough schedule and might start to bounce back.

REDSKINS (+9) vs Patriots
Figgs: Pats. It's a sad time when I'm really rooting for NE and Baltimore to make the Super Bowl.
Joe: Patriots; Brady's rolling. No reason to go against him at this point.
Nick: Pats. It's a lot of points on the road, but the Pats are peaking and the Skins are plummeting. ($ -8)

BENGALS (-3) vs Texans
Figgs: Texans. As I've been saying all year, Cinncy just isn't very good. T.J Yates just needs to hand the ball to #23 and Houston should be fine. ($)
Joe: Texans; No QB, but they beat ATL anyway. And I think the Bengals are starting to be exposed for what they truly are, and that is an 8-8 football team.
Nick: Bengals. Rookie fifth round QB in his first road start.

JETS (-10.5) vs Chieves
Figgs: KC. Right on with what Joe said again. The Jets don't seem to blow teams out.
Joe: Chiefs; Too many points to feel confident riding the Sanchize.
Nick: Jets. Tyler. Palko.

LIONS (-10) vs Vikings
Figgs: Vikes. Just like the NYJ game, this line is just a couple points too high for me. Not confident enough in Detroit to lay double-digits.
Joe: Vikings; I like Ponder to keep this close enough to take the points here. The Lions could be a lot better if their coach taught them some discipline instead of purposely letting his doucheyness rub off on them.
Nick: Vikes. Too many points with Adrian Peterson playing.

TITANS (+3.5) vs Saints
Figgs: Saints. Tennessee is the epitome of average. NO > average. ($)
Joe: Saints; See my Patriots comment and insert Brees for Brady.
Nick: Titans. This is the type of game New Orleans blows on the road, right?

DOLPHINS (-3) vs Eagles
Figgs: Philly. I was all about taking the Fins here, but I just can't give points when the talent level is so much in favor of the underdogs. Maybe Vick coming back will give them a little spark.
Joe: Dolphins; Identical records. The difference is one team has been playing like they give a shit instead of throwing in the towel. I'll take that team.
Nick: Dolphins. I'll keep taking them until I have a reason not to.

RAVENS (-16.5) vs Colts
Figgs: ratbirds. I find myself agreeing with what Joe said often this week. Considering our records, I'll take that as a good thing.
Joe: Ravens; I correctly took the Colts with the biggest spread on the board last week, but this week I won't bite. Even if they don't get absolutely slaughtered, Baltimore could still cover, something like 31-14.
Nick: Colts. Orlovsky moved the ball last week, and the Ravens are always prone to letdown games.

PANTHERS (+3) vs Falcons
Figgs: ATL. The Falcons know how much they need this one, and they come out ready.
Joe: Panthers; Home game for Cam playing the spoiler role. Falcons might make the playoffs anyway out of default (Cutler's injury and Lions self-destructing).
Nick: Panthers. One of the toughest games on the board, but I'll take the home dog. Falcons are beat up on offense and have been very unimpressive all year long.

Sunday, 4 pm kickoff

BRONCOS (-3.5) vs Bears
Figgs: Denver. I hate to do it, but continually picking against them even when I think they will win just out of spite for Tebow is starting to hurt me in the standings (he says as if that's all that's holding him back). No Cutler OR Forte? Stick a fork in these guys.
Joe: Broncos; I see both a playoff appearance AND a Pro Bowl appearance in the future of young Timmy T! The Bears would be 9-3 and coasting into the playoffs right now if it wasn't for Cutler going down. Tough break for them.
Nick: Broncos. TEEBALL! ($)

CARDINALS (+3.5) vs 49ers
Figgs: SanFran. The Niners got back on track against a shitty Rams team last week, they keep it rolling against a shitty Cardinals team here. ($ -4)
Joe: 49ers, although the Cards have played quietly really well lately. Still, the Niners are the class of that division and I think they show it on Sunday.
Nick: Niners. ($)

CHARGERS (-7.5) vs Buffaloes
Figgs: SD. Wasn't too sure about this one, but Buffalo's offense is putrid without Fred Jackson and they're traveling to the West Coast.
Joe: Chargers; Bolts finally came to play on MNF, but this year I think it will be too late to slide into the playoffs. Even still, as long as they are breathing mathematically, they should play inspired and blow out a Bills team that was brought back to earth about 5 weeks ago.
Nick: Bills. Too many points, and the Bills have to wake up sometime.

PACKERS (-11) vs Raiders
Figgs: GB. Since I have a bye this week in the Fantasy playoffs, I'll try to get in touch with Mike Mccarthy and see if we can get Rodgers a day off. Since I will most likely be unsuccessful and he'll play, I'll take the Pack.
Joe: Packers; Aa-ron Rog-ers! clap clap clap-clap-clap
Nick: Pack. The Raiders appear ripe for collapse.

Sunday Night Football

COWBOYS (-3.5) vs Giants
Figgs: NYG. I'm not counting the G-Men out yet either, Joe. Frankly I just think they are a better team than Dallas. ($)
Joe: Giants; Every expert seems to be going the other way, but I'm not counting the Giants out yet. The last time they took an undefeated team down to the wire late in the season, it worked out pretty well for them in the end. Just sayin.
Nick: Giants. Not sure why Dallas is getting more than the standard three.

Monday Night Football

SEAHAWKS (-9.5) vs Rams
Figgs: 'Hawks. This is awful, just awful.
Joe: Seahawks; Is this seriously the Monday night game? Well, I'm not taking the team starting Tom Brandstater at QB, that's for sure.
Nick: Hawks. Defense + Beast Mode.

Figgs $ teaser: New England (-2)/Atlanta (+3.5)/Green Bay (-5.5)
Nick's teaser: Pats (+2) / Jets (-0.5) / Pack (-1.5)

Wednesday, December 7

Tuesday, December 6

The Razor's Edge

The Cleveland Browns' 24-10 loss at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens this past Sunday was bad. It was really bad. It was "I'm glad I have a basketball game tonight so I have an excuse to stop watching early" bad. As they always have done thus far in the Paddy O'Shurmur era, they came out flat, didn't move the ball consistently, and couldn't stop the other team from rushing, in this case to the tune of 204 yards for Ray Rice. Baltimore held the ball for nearly 38 minutes. The score easily could have been more lopsided. But weirdly, I'm not convinced that the offense is that far from being able to move the ball consistently and score points. I'm serious. The mistakes keeping us form success are so minor that I can truly envision the Browns getting on the right side of that razor's edge that separates winning from losing in the NFL, even in games like yesterday's where there's a very obvious talent gap.

Let's consider the plays and moments that stopped and slowed the Browns' offense yesterday and how they very easily could have been productive.

How about the opening kickoff? That stupid thing was headed right for the out of bounds line and managed to sneak itself just inside the pylon. That foot or so of ball motion on a 75-yard kick cost the Browns a free 20 yards. Frustrating.

First drive
The Browns were moving the ball quite nicely (despite another Greg little drop) and had 2nd and 2 at the Baltimore 39. Announcers love to point out the exceedingly obvious fact that teams have more success when they put themselves in "manageable" 2nd- and 3rd-and-short situations yet here and other times they fail to capitalize. In this case, a run for no gain, an incomplete pass, and a 25-yard punt.

There's no reason this drive had to end like that! Punting from the 39 on 4th and 2 is simply a terrible decision. I eschew the "nothing to lose" line of thinking for a bad team like Cleveland; you do what gives your team the best chance to win regardless of record. In this case, punting was not that. Run it twice from 3rd and 2! Play action on 4th down! Not this pathetic punt which, by the way, the Ravens erased in exactly one play. Just indefensible coaching

Second Drive
The Browns had gotten a first down to their 38 on a nice catch and run by Jordan Norwood. After a head tackle from Ed Reed, Norwood tossed the ball up towards a ref, not noticing that a raven had moved into that area. Hits the raven in the face mask, 15 on the Browns. Come on. It was totally innocuous, totally unintentional, and totally a letter of the law call. Even though the Browns kept 1st and 10, that call basically throttled the drive.

I hate the Baltimore Ravens
I really do. Horrible colors, dastardly players (Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs are among the league's biggest and loudest idiots), stole our team, everything. They suck. I saw this bus crap out a whole load of them on Saturday and was just appalled. Among the group was one attention-seeking steeler fan, who, not content to antagonize the Baltimore fan base, had to come to Cleveland to antagonize ours. No one likes you.

Third Drive
Pick up a couple of first downs out to the Baltimore 44, then Norwood fumbles a ball that came inches from the sideline before Reed (of course) scooped it up. Just like that, another promising drive cut short by the fickle roll of the ball.

Fourth Drive
One fucking yard from our 33 was all we needed. Got zero.

The fifth and sixth drives were a hurried INT and a kneel down, so let's skip those and go to the second half.

Seventh drive
Not good.

Eighth drive
After a takeaway by the defense, the Browns get the ball at midfield and immediately lose eight yards. Colt McCoy's job, by the way, is impossible. Yet on second down, thanks to unusually good pass protection, McCoy has time to hit Hillis streaking down the left sideline for a 52-yard gain down to the Raven 4.

Then from the 3 McCoy tosses one right off of Evan Moore's hands in the end zone. Again, this margin between successful and unsuccessful offense is paper-thin, and Moore's drop found Cleveland four points shy of where they should have been.

The rest of the game featured a lot of passing, much of it errant, all of it desperation and somewhat hapless as Baltimore kept applying pressure in the Cleveland backfield. Moore did grab a 22-yard strike from McCoy to make the final margin better, but the game was long since lost.

But the fate of the drives up until the 4th quarter or so show that it's always some little thing keeping the Browns from sustaining drives and scoring points. A missed block here, an inability to gain two yards in three plays there, a dropped pass., etc. The Browns just need to cut out the unforced errors on offense and I think they can actually start to be successful. Let's try it out on Thursday, eh?

Thursday, December 1

NFL Picks: Week 13

Holy shit, Joe. I'm going to take my annual "I really suck (this season even worse than ever I think)so I'm gonna go George Costanza and pick the opposite" approach. We'll see how it treats me.

Last Week
Joe: 12-4
Nick: 9-7
Figgs: 7-9

Figgs' $ Picks: 2-2
Nick's $ Picks: 3-1-1

Current Standings
Joe: 95-72-8
Nick: 85-82-8
Figgs: 76-91-8

Figgs' $ Picks: 12-18-1
Nick's $ Picks: 29-18-5

Thursday Night Football

SHEHAWKS (+3) vs Iggles
Figgs: Seattle's not as bad as we think, and I think the Eagles have given up on the season. But since I clearly know nothing and am going with the Costanza-method...Philly.
Joe: Eagles; Tempted to go the other way here, but the Eagles should have enough talent to win this game easily, even with the injuries. The question is, will they? No confidence at all, but I'll say yes, they will.
Nick: Seahawks. Beat up Eagles team travelling across the country. Nothing to play for. Embattled coach. The biggest disappointment in the NFL. Playing in the league's loudest stadium. On a short week. At night. Seattle's Super Bowl. Sentence fragments. Classic game to grab the Hawks as the home dog. Let's do it. ($)
Andy: I had so much fun reading Joe and Jason's work that I decided to chime in this week as well. I love how everyone is going to use this Philly team's disastrous year as "proof" of the notion that it's not talent that wins, but you have to play as a team, which is basically nonsense. They just sucked. I guarantee Skip Bayless is loving this Eagle collapse.

Sunday, 1 pm kickoff

BUCS (-3) vs Fighting Cams
Figgs: Bucs. Not sure why Vegas is still respecting TB.
Joe: Panthers; Underachieving Bucs team vs. Superman. I'll gladly take Cam getting points in this one. I look for continued improvement from Cam, and next year, who knows? Super Bowl for Superman?
Nick: Bucs. Blount is running the ball pretty well and the Bucs have played a really tough slate so far. Things start evening out this week.
Andy: I feel like, in years past, I would know why there's no line yet. I assume Cam Newton or Josh Freeman is questionable, but who knows. Turns out it's Freeman and the line is Panthers by 3.

SQUEALERS (-6.5) vs Bungles
Figgs: Bengals. Let's go Cinncy!
Joe: Bengals; Why? Because Fuck Pittsburgh, that's why!
Nick: Bengals. Because the Steelers can still easily miss the playoffs, that's why.
Andy: Not much I can add here to what J&J have said, though I'm not above piling on: the steelers suck and I hope they lose. At the very least I hope the Bungles take out half their team so we can clean up the mess on Thursday.

The PERENIALLY 8-8 HOUSTON TEXANS (+3) vs Dirty Birds
Figgs: ATL. Haha, on one of the super rare weeks I'd pick against the Birds, I'm forced into picking them. Funny how the universe works.
Joe: Falcons; I was looking forward to Houston making a Super Bowl run this year. But without Schaub, that just wasn't gonna happen. Without Leinart, a playoff win is probably also out of the question. With Jake Delhomme, may God have mercy on your souls!
Nick: Texans. Houston still has one of the league's best running games and an underrated defense. Gimme the home dog.
Andy: With such a strong start, I wondered how the Texans were going to reach their organizationally-mandated goal of an 8-8 season. With the Jake Delhomme signing, my questions have been answered.

SKINS (+3) vs J!E!T!S!
Figgs: Skins. Lotta home dogs.
Joe: Jets; Sanchez sucks. Grossman sucks worse.
Nick: Jets. My sucker bet of the week. ($)
Andy: michigan sucks!

PATSIES (-20) vs The Artist Formerly Known as the Fighting Peytons
Figgs: Indy. My favorite name from Andy this week.
Joe: Colts; The Pats should easily role here, but I heard a stat that teams that are 20+ point favorites in NFL history are only 2-7. So, I'll go with the %'s and take the Colts getting this many points.
Nick: Pats. Easiest 20-point cover ever. ($)
Andy: I remember in 2007 when the Patriots were just fire-bombing the entire league, they had a line of -22 against the Dolphins and won by 21. This blogger called that one right. Booyakasha.

PHISH (-3) vs Black Hole
Figgs: Fins. Ha, don't worry, Joe, I always have trouble deciphering some of Andy's nicknames.
Joe: Raiders; I am not even sure who is playing in some of these games with these ridiculous names, but I'm guessing this is the Raiders. Anyway, I like the way the Phish have been playing, but I have loved the Raiders all year, and getting points here? Sign me up!
Nick: Raiders. Okay, sucker bet number two. ($)
Andy: Who else would "Black Hole" be?

VIKES (-1.5) vs Donks
Figgs: Vikes. This line baffles me. Denver is beating weak teams (as Andy said, with defense) and Minny is a weak team.
Joe: Vikings; The Tebow magic finally gets cooled off. During his winning streak, he hasn't faced a pashrusher the likes of Jared Allen yet. He's gonna find out what that's like on Sunday.
Nick: Donks. No Peterson = no offense for Minny. TIMMY TEE! ($)
Andy: Just so we're all clear on this: the Broncos' defense and a string of weak opponents are the main reasons for their recent success. I hope we all understand this.

BUFFALOES (-2.5) vs Titties
Figgs: Jills. Has a team fallen more than Buffalo?
Joe: Titans; Still fighting for a playoff spot. Buffalo...not so much.
Nick: Titans. Just can't endorse the Billskis against a moderately competent team.
Andy: Somewhere, Frank Wycheck will be sitting and enjoying this game.

DA BEARS (-7) vs Chieves
Figgs: Push. That's right - I'm picking a push. Suck on that one!
Joe: Bears; Caleb Hanie sucks. Tyler Palko sucks worse.
Nick: Bears. Defense and Matt Forte should be enough in this one.
Andy: If nothing else in the early games this Sunday, I'll be rooting for a seven-point Bears win.

Sunday, 4 pm kickoff

Figgs: BROWNS. Even on opposite week, I can't pick against us.
Joe: Goddamn Browns; Baltimore has tanked a couple of road games already this year coming off of big wins, and here's to hoping they do it again. The only thing that worries me is that they have had a long layoff before facing us.
Nick: Ravens. I need at least seven here to consider us. If Baltimore had a big divisional game like Pittsburgh coming up next week, I might look at this as a letdown game. Unfortunately they have Indy next week.
Andy: I am a fan of the Cleveland Browns. Nick said last week that he was "not picking us until we show something on offense" in defending his incorrect pick against the Browns. Does 17 points count as "something"? Will he do the right thing and pick Cleveland this week? Stay tuned.

PHOENIXES (+4.5) vs Pokes
Figgs: Cards. I have nothing to say about this game.
Joe: Cowboys; Johnny Bones standing in the way of a potential division title for Dallas. I wouldn't worry too much about that one.
Nick: Cowboys, although weird things happen in Arizona.
Andy: I'm glad someone picked up on Johnny Bones! Watching Dallas on Thanksgiving, I noticed Jerry Jones (probably because they cut to him almost constantly) and thought about how odd it would be to wear a suit to every NFL game you attend. I mean, you already own the team, you don't need to impress anyone - why not sport something more comfortable?

G-MEN (+7) vs Pack
Joe: Packers; I think the only way they don't go undefeated is if they bench some players late in the season.
Nick: Packers. Why go against GB at this point?
Andy: Green Bay is good at playing football.

GOLD-DIGGERS (-13) vs Ewes
Figgs: Niners. Yes, I had to look up what an Ewe was. Apparently a female ram. I get it now. I assume that's it, and there isn't a football team named after "an ethnic group in Eastern part of Ghana, Benin and Togo."
Joe: 49ers; Clear mismatch. And with Harbaugh not ever shy about running up a score, I'm not too worried about the backdoor cover here.
Nick: Niners. The Rams are not good, on the road, long week for SF, and no Bradford.
Andy: Ghana, Benin, and Togo are on byes this week.

Sunday Night Football

AIN'TS (-9) vs Megatrons
Figgs: Lions. I tried for about a minute and a half to come up with a good "Suh stomping on someone" joke and came up empty. It's been a long day.
Joe: Saints; Brees and company are rolling right now and I look for them to Ndomastomp all over a Lions team that has come back to earth the 2nd half of the season. (See what I did there?)
Nick: Saints. The backdoor cover scares me, but the Saints are rolling and the Lions are much better up front than in the secondary.
Andy: The Suh thing is totally ridiculous - two games is light. First, he's already firmly established himself as the league's dirtiest player, then he bangs a guy's head into the ground a bunch of times and stomps on his arm. Bad enough. THEN he issues a post-game statement where he claims he didn't mean to step on the guy's arm, which is an absolute flat-out lie. THEN he issues some lame apology, but not to, you know, the guy whose arm he stomped.

AND THEN...he appeals his two-game suspension. That's some nerve right there. What, did you think the NFL was going to re-review the video and say, you know what, we shouldn't suspend him? Do you REALLY think that suspension wasn't merited? Unreal.

Monday Night Football

JAGONS (+3) vs Bolts
Figgs: Jax. Are we really gonna see Luke McCown in primetime? God help us.
Joe: Chargers; They have absolutely lived up to everything I've said about them all year. But if Jason's right about Luke McCown starting, I simply must pick the Bolts here.
Nick: Jags. Just so we're clear - the Chargers have lost six consecutive games and they're road favorites? Yeah, I don't get it either.
Andy: Anyone else remember Luke McCown's last primetime game? It was December 26, 2004, and McCown QB's the Browns to a 10-7 loss in Miami. He made one awesome deep throw for the TD across his body, then...not much else.