Saturday, January 19

NFL Picks: Championship Round

The Divisional Round brought us much more excitement than the opening weekend from a game enjoyment perspective, but us here at FCF continued to struggle. I could not have been more wrong about Green Bay, as C-Kap went H.A.M. on the Pack giving us all a loss, as did Baltimore's shocking comeback on the Broncos. I picked up one game on the rest of the crew with Seattle after Atlanta's epic last-second win left them a half point shy of the spread. On to the Conference Championships!

Divisional Round
Figgs: 2-2
Nick: 1-3
Joe: 1-3
Andy: 1-3

Figgs' $ picks: 1-2

Playoffs to Date
Nick: 4-4
Figgs: 4-4
Joe: 3-5
Andy: 3-5

Figgs' $ picks: 3-3

NFC Championship, 3:00
FALCONS (+4) vs 49ers
Figgs: Niners. I will be rooting for the Dirty Birds wholeheartedly here, hoping that maybe my picking against my boys will once again motivate them to victory. But from a logical standpoint, SanFran just seems like the better choice here after watching what Kaepernick did last week. I wasn't totally sold on him before the GB game, but what he did was unprecedented. I'm still not 100% confident that he can do it again, but I think the odds are in his favor. Obviously for the ATL to pull the upset at home they will have to at least somewhat contain him. And Matt Ryan will have to take much better care of the ball then he did against Seattle. ($)
Joe: ATL; I am making this pick because I am trying my best not to let the previous game influence my decision too much. In said previous game, Colin Kapernick looked like the greatest athlete in the history of sports. But, it was just one game. He looked nearly as good in his first start this year vs. the Bears, and followed it up with a loss to the Rams where he was awful, a week or two later. Atlanta is still getting absolutely no respect for a team that is 14-3, since they are more than a FG dog at home here. They do a lot of things very good, and as good a Kapernick has been, there is only one QB in this game that is nicknamed "ICE".
Nick: Niners
AFFWait, have we figured out why Figgs likes the Falcons? It's possible we've discussed that during a game of cards at the Figgs household and my trips to B0 erased that memory, but I can't recall. I feel like it has something to do with Warrick Dunn, but I could be wrong on that. Maybe Deion Sanders? Chris Chandler?

I agree with a lot of what Joe says here, which is not unusual. Yeah, Kaepernick was like Bo Jax in Tecmo Bowl last week, but he's a rookie giving four points, playing in a road dome against a team that had the NFC's best record this season. ATL has been dismissed long enough that I think they'll continue to be motivated to prove the doubters wrong. After the Seattle scare, they'll be more dilligent about closing games, and after Kaepernick (a Nov 3 birthday!) crushed Green Bay's defense, Mike Smith and the Falcons will have a week to prepare a defense better than GB's "watch Kaepernick run wherever he wants to" scheme. Birds.

AFC Championship, 6:30
PATRIOTS (-9) vs Ravens
Figgs: Pats. Another big number for NE and against Baltimore. I really have no confidence in either outcome, so when in doubt you might as well go against the ratbirds. Even though Denver made an incomprehensible gaffe at the end of that game last week to let Baltimore tie it, they still would not have covered the spread had it not happened. I could see a similar situation this week, with the Ravens keeping it relatively close but never really being too concerned about New England losing. The difference is that I don't expect a Belichick team in the playoffs to make the mistakes that Denver did. They also won't sit on the ball with a chance to put the Ravens away either. When brady's foot is on your throat - you're getting choked out, period. ($)
Joe: Ravens; I just see two close games this weekend, so I'm taking the points again. Baltimore always plays the Pats tough. We all knoi how close they were last year in the championship game, and they beat the Pats this year in the regular season. I could see this going either way, so I am definately going to take the 9 points, which means it might not be as close as I think it will be, but I could still get my pick right. All that said, the Pats could do exactly what they did to the Texans, and I will not be the least bit shocked because they always have that capability.
Nick: Ravens
AFF Goddamn fucking ravens, killing my postseason picks so far. I am so over the endless slobbering over the ratbirds' murdering douche linebacker, their fucking purple uniforms, and, it cannot be said enough, those horrible "Art" patches. I cannot, will not pick them.

Plus, have you seen the Patriots' offense?

Monday, January 14

Buckeyes at the midpoint

The Ohio St hoopsters are approximately halfway through their regular season schedule, so I thought this would be a good time to share my thoughts on their performance thus far. The Buckeyes currently stand at 13-3 with a 3-1 mark early in conference play and are ranked #11 in the nation.

I'll go into more detail in a bit, but basically to sum up the Scarlet and Gray's season to date I'd say they've played about as closely to what you would have expected coming into the season as possible. OSU has looked good, but not great. They have beaten the teams that they should beat, and pretty handily (12-0 against unranked opponents, winning by an average margin of 25 points), but faltered in their toughest tests (a 73-68 loss at #3 Duke, a 74-66 loss against #4 Kansas, and a 74-55 loss at #23 Illinois). That was, of course, until yesterday when the Buckeyes got their signature win of the year, handing their rivals from the north their first loss of the season with a three-point win in Value City. Now let us take a closer look at our Buckeyes by breaking these games down a bit.

The Buckeyes began the season in an odd way, when their game against Marquette was scheduled to be played on an air(on) craft carrier but was cancelled due to condensation on the court. Because, you know, who would have guessed that when the sun goes down on the east coast in November it might get a little cold outside? I think the idea of these games is cool, but let's stick to ships in the Pacific Ocean during the day, no? Anyway, Ohio St opened with a 22-point thrashing of Albany instead, before picking up W's over Rhode Island and Washington to win the Hall of Fame Tournament. Until the michigan victory yesterday, the win over the 11-5 Huskies was probably OSU's best of the season, which doesn't say too much. Following that was a bunch of blow-outs over nobodies sandwiched between the Duke and Kansas losses, before entering Big Ten play where the Bucks started off by throttling Nebraska in Columbus. After the embarrassment in Champaign, OSU bounced back with a quality win at Purdue and the aforementioned ousting of that school up north.

The 12-0 mark against unranked opponents might not tell you much, other than Ohio St just took care of business where they were supposed to. But if you actually watched these games, you had to be impressed with the level of ease at which the Bucks won these contests. I mean, a 25-point average margin of victory? I know these were mostly mid-majors, but that it a big number.

Taking a look at the losses might give us a better feel for this Buckeye team and what we can expect moving forward. I felt that the Duke game was actually a big positive for Ohio St, even if it did end with an L. They went toe-to-toe with the best team in the nation in Cameron Indoor. OSU actually held an eight-point lead at halftime, and was within two with 29 seconds left. Keep in mind that this was only the fifth game of the year for a relatively young and inexperienced team, so although the outcome wasn't ideal I was pleased with their overall performance.

The next loss came a month later, and this one was a little bit tougher to take. It was very similar to the loss to the Blue Devils in that the game was close throughout and Ohio St played right with a very talented Kansas team, but I wasn't as positive after this one for multiple reasons. This one was in Columbus, Kansas is good but not 'Duke-good', and 11 games into the season we're no longer "young and inexperienced" and beyond moral victories. It also magnified the Buckeyes' inability to score during long periods of time, something that could be a crippling weakness come March. When Deshaun Thomas and company are on, this team can put up some points, but they can also go significant stretches where they look completely inept offensively. Case in point, shooting an abysmal 25% from the field in the second half of this game, including a stretch of over 10 minutes without a field goal.

The trend of the losing efforts getting progressively worse culminated last week at Assembly Hall, when the Buckeyes were spanked by Illinois, 74-55. Thankfully, I was watching Jamie Foxx get his slave-revenge on and didn't get to witness this abortion. The Illini led by 12 at halftime, then kicked off the second half on a 13-2 run to take a 50-27 lead and all but run Ohio St out of the building. The offensive woes were there again, as the Bucks shot 30% from the field and no one could help out Thomas' 24-point effort (11 from Aaron Craft, 8 from Lenzelle Smith). The lack of offensive support for Tank has been a worry for Ohio St supporters ever since Jared Sullinger and Willy Buckets walked off the NCAA court for the final time last March against the Jayhawks in the Final Four.

But on to the positives, boy was yesterday's game fun! The wolverines came into Value City sporting the nation's last unblemished record and a shot at claiming the #1 spot in the polls. But that was not to be, as the Buckeyes jumped on michigan early, then fought off their second half rally to a 56-53 victory. trey burke hit a three to open the game, then Ohio St went off for the game's next 16 points. scum went on a little run to close the half, but OSU still held a 12-point advantage at the break. Both teams played pretty even for the next 10 minutes, with the Buckeye edge staying between 8-12, until a couple of OSU turnovers led to michigan baskets and a glen robinson three-pointer tied the game at 46 with just under six minutes to play. But Ohio St would never relinquish the lead, as Shannon Scott fed Evan Ravenel for a thunderous dunk on the following possession. The Bucks got the lead back up to six, but a robinson steal and dunk cut it back to two with 1:16 left. When micigan got the ball back, burke launched a step-back three with Craft right in his face that just rimmed out, and Ohio St held on. Now for your enjoyment, some Ohio St-michigan fun facts!

- Thad Matta is 17-3 against these assholes

- This was Ohio St's 9th straight victory over scum in Columbus

- OSU has won 8 of the last 9 in this series overall

- Speaking of winning 8 of 9, that is also the mark on the gridiron

- ann arbor is STILL a whore

See, wasn't that fun?!

Moving on from the team aspect, let's look at some individual numbers. I nailed the rotation Matta has used in my preview, with Craft, Lenzelle, Sam Thompson, and Tank getting all the starts along with Ravenel and Amir Williams splitting time at center and Scott and LaQuinton Ross first off the bench. It's usually just those eight, with a few appearances by Trey McDonald and Amedo Della Valle sprinkled in.

Tank continues to be an absolute scoring machine, leading the Big Ten with 20.3 points per game and should be on his way to Conference POY (eat my dick, trey burke). He still loves to shoot (why wouldn't you when you have the knack for scoring that he does?), but his shot-selection has improved infinitely from his younger days, something I outlined as being key for his and the Buckeyes' success this season. Other than big men Rav and Amir who basically strictly dunk, Thomas' 47% from the field leads the team. While his 79% from the foul line is good-but-not-great, he's shooting at a very impressive 40% clip from beyond the arc.

We all know Tank can put the ball in the basket, but as I stated earlier, the biggest question for Ohio St down the stretch will be if anyone else can help him. Zelle (10.3 ppg), Craft (8.9) and Ross (8.2) are the next best options, but they need to be more consistent. This can be difficult, as Zelle and AC are often putting most of their concentration on the defensive side of the ball (where they make up the best perimeter defensive duo in America) and Q can sometimes have trouble getting into a rhythm due to his often erratic playing time (just three minutes vs. michigan).

With Scott playing more of a facilitator role and Rav being utilized as a defender/rebounder/grade-A bad ass, that leaves two guys that I believe will have to develop into consistent scorers over the next couple of months in order for Ohio St to make some noise in the big dance - Sam Thompson and Amir Williams.

Moon Shoes (oh yea, I'm calling Thompson 'Moon Shoes' now) is the most exciting player in the nation. He is good for at least 2-3 "Holy Shit!" moments each game. His latest came in the michigan game off a Scott alley-oop (top video). But he needs to get to the rim on a more regular basis instead of just finishing fast breaks with a rim-rocker. Amir has shown flashes of offensive capability this season, but needs to put it all together in a more complete game.

Defensively, Ohio St is one of the toughest teams in the country. They haven't played up to their abilities every game this season, but their performance against the wolverines yesterday shows what they can do. michigan came into the contest averaging over 80 points a game and shooting over 50%, but was held to a mere 53 in this one while shooting 38% from the field.

So back to my original point, the Buckeyes haven't done much to surprise me this season. I expected some bumps early on and certainly didn't anticipate an undefeated season or anything close, but they've played pretty solidly for the most part and of course beat michigan, which is less surprising than the sun going down each night.

Looking ahead, Ohio St will have to keep up the tenacious defense and get some more consistent scoring as things don't get any easier - traveling to East Lansing to face Tom Izzo and the Spartans this weekend before another date with michigan and Illinois as well as one with #9 Minnesota and two more vs. #2 Indiana.


Friday, January 11

NFL Picks: Divisional Round

The playoffs are off and running, with Nick winning the opening round by posting a 3-1 mark. He had to root for the Ravens on Sunday to do so, but such is the price of success. All of the favorites covered, a rarity for the tournament's opening weekend.

On to the Divisional Round, which should be splendid as always.

Wild-Card Round
Nick: 3-1
Figgs: 2-2
Joe: 2-2
Andy: 2-2

Figgs' $ picks: 2-1

AFC Divisional, 4:30
BRONCOS (-10) vs Ravens
Figgs: Denver. This is a huge spread and I could definitely see Baltimore keeping it in single-digits, but the fact of the matter is I think Denver is a far superior team and I hate the ratbirds. Peyton looks invincible right now, and I'm not going to go against him for those ass clowns.
Joe: Broncos; I agree, it's a big number, but I have to give it. The "Play for Ray" mentality should be different now that they are not at home. And Baltimore's most valuable Ray (Rice) seems to turn into a fumbler once the playoffs start. Those two balls he put on the ground vs. the Colts last week will certainly lead to a blowout loss if he does that against this Bronco team. And Denver hasn't lost in over 3 months, has the superior edge at QB with Peyton, has WR's good enough to match the Ravens there, and Knowshon has found some of his Georgia explosiveness lately. Defensively, with Miller and Dumervil, I would definitely take the Denver pass rush over Baltimore's, which is something that used to be unheard of. All in all, this points to Denver, by at least 2 TDs.
Nick: Broncos
AFF Um, yes, I'll be taking the Broncos, in another fuck-the-Ravens pick.

NFC Divisional, 8:00
49ERS (-3) vs Packers
Figgs: Pack. Possibly my favorite spread of the entire year. I see no way Green Bay loses this game. They are finally healthy on defense, Kaepernick is shaky, and Rodgers is in "don't-fuck-with-me" mode right now. ($)
Joe: Packers; "This is the one Marvin, this is the Silver Tuna!" This is the game I am most looking forward too of the weekend, with the most potential to give us a great game. The Niners gave us two epic playoff games last year vs. the Saints and Giants. San Fran beat up the Pack in GB this year, but it was way back in Week 1, and Alex Smith had probably his best game as a pro. Now, Alex has stepped aside, and the more talented, but unproven, Colin Kaepernick gets the start. With him, we could get the guy that put up 41 on New England, or the guy who went winless in two games against the Rams. As for the Packers, they are finally healthy, they are playing much better down the stretch, and have the obvious edge at QB, with the former MVP and SB winner in Rodgers. The game is at San Fran, so that could be the equalizer, but I am going to go with the Pack in this one, since I believe they are a better team, and getting points.
Nick: Packers
AFF Hey, look at me following the group and taking the Packers. I've harped numerous times here in this space on how crucial the turnover battle is - everyone knows turnovers are key, of course, but not always the degree to which they matter, which is potentiall greater than you realize. Anyway, Bill Barnwell pointed out how the Packers basically do not lose when they acquire a turnover, and though Kaepernick has been splendid, that's still what rookies do. Also, Joe made a Home Alone reference, wow.

NFC Divisional, 1:00
FALCONS (-2.5) vs Seahawks
Figgs: Seattle. I hate to go against my boys, but I went back and forth on this for awhile and ultimately decided to go with what I deem as the better team getting points. This is the only game in either week so far that I don't want to touch money-wise, not even in a teaser. I'll be rooting for Atlanta and think they have every shot to win it, but my gut tells me Hawks.
Joe: ATL;I was thinking Seattle all week, but when I got to this game, something told me to change my mind and go with the dirtier of the two birds. The Falcons problem has been that they haven't looked impressive enough for people. But they still won 13 games, so color me impressed. Matty Ice is in the 2nd tier of QBs and needs his signature playoff moment to put himself in the discussion with the top guys. They have to be more motivated than ever, given their early exits from the last 3 postseasons. I think that losing Chris Clemons will be a big loss for Seattle and will certainly hurt their ability to get pressure on Ryan. The most intriguing matchup to me will be Roddy White and Julio Jones trying to get open against Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. If the Falcons can beat them on a couple of deep balls, than I think they can get the win. Lynch will get his yards, but I think Russell Wilson's spectacular rookie season will finally come to an end in what should be a very close game.
Nick: Falcons
AFF I agree with a lot of what Joe said, though Seattle definitely has a chance to go into the dome and win this. I just think Atlanta has been dismissed and marginalized too long for their recent early playoff exits and will have an extra edge on Sunday.

AFC Divisional, Sunday 4:30
PATRIOTS (-9.5) vs Texans
Figgs: Pats. Both AFC games with big spreads, and I'm taking both favorites. I've talked all year about how I'm more confident taking NE with high spreads than any other team, and we are all well aware of the success brady and Belichick have in the playoffs. Just like in the Denver game, I'm not super confident laying all these points, but I see more scenarios playing out where the Pats win by double-digits than where they don't.
Joe: Patriots; I am not nearly as confident taking the Pats with all these points as I am with Denver, but I will do so reluctantly. The key is, Houston must jump out to an early lead and then keep it close the whole way, so they can use Foster throughout and also hit some deep balls on playfakes because defending the deep ball is New England's biggest weakness. In their 1st meeting, the Pats jumped out to a quick two-score lead, and then Foster became irrelevant and once you become one dimensional against Belichick, forget it , your done. With Brady, they always have the potential of doing that to teams, so that's why I'm picking them.
Nick: Patriots
AFF I love that Figgs won't even capitalize New England's QB's name. I even took the liberty of lower-casing it on Joe's picks. We all watched the Houston-Cincy game last week and saw that the Texans can't score TD's in the red zone. Those field goals won't cover this spread and the Patriots will cover.

Figgs other $ bets: New England (-2.5)/Denver (-2)
Atlanta (SU)/ATL-Sea OVER (46)

Friday, January 4

NFL Picks: Wild Card Weekend

Rough year in the NFL for all of us here at FCF, both with the performance of the Browns and the difficulties we all had with prognosticating. Joe wins the season series despite finishing nine games below .500, know what? Let's just move on from that.

It's playoffs time!

Last Week
Figgs: 8-8
Joe: 6-10
Nick: 5-11

Final Regular Season
Joe: 119-128-7
Figgs: 114-133-7
Nick: 110-137-7
Figgs' $ Picks: 20-19-1
Nick's $ Picks: 10-9-1, +3

AFC Wild Card, 4:30
TEXANS (-4.5) vs Bengals
Figgs: Texans. I do believe that there is something to be said about finishing the season strong and heading into the playoffs with momentum, but I also believe that the better team wins in the playoffs more often that not. In this case, I don't think anyone could really argue against Houston being the better team. ($)
Joe: Texans; I have no confidence in a team on such a downward spiral. But the Bengals still don't do anything impressive other than AJ Green. Yet they keep winning. I don't know, I picked the Bengals in this matchup last year, and I was way off. I just am gonna ignore how the teams have played lately, and pick the team that should be significantly better, given the talent differential between the two.
Nick: Bengals
AFF: Hey hey, it's Andy back for more. I'm visiting the PA-based FCF road crew this weekend, thought I should show up and make some selections. As for this contest - I'm not seeing the same talent differential that the Figgs brothers are. Cincy has a +71 point differential, Houston a +85, and the Bungles play in a much tougher division. Don't let Indy fool you - they're statistically the worst playoff team in years. The balance of Houston's division had a staggering -360 point differential; the non-Bengal AFC North posted a +10. Plus, Cincy is on a roll, looking to avenge a defeat last year (motivation matters), sport the NFL's top-rated pass defense of late, and if you're interested in Football Outsiders, are 7th in weighted DVOA while the Texans are 19th. The two clubs are right adjacent at #11 and #12 in total DVOA. The Texans also sport the league's worts-rated special teams unit, and I think that will make the difference today. The only problem I see for Cincy is turnovers - they're only a +4 on the season (thanks to Andy Dalton's 16 picks) while Houston is +12.

I should also say that, frankly, I want the Bengals to win. Yes, I'm openly rooting for a non-Browns team for non-monetary, non-pick reasons, just because I want them to win. Why? I'm glad you asked. First off, geography. The Bengals are from Ohio, the Texans are from...well..Texas. I love Ohio and I mock Texas every chance I get. Second, my pops is a Bengals fan, and I know he'll be pulling for them. Third, I feel some solidarity with the Bengals because of how dastardly the other two teams in the AFC North are. Better Cincy than those other punks (have I mentioned how great it is that Pittsburgh isn't playing in this year's postseason, delightful as their humbling at the hands of Tebow was?) And finally, I feel for Bengals fans. You know how long it's been since they won a playoff game? It was the 1990 season. Yes, 1990. For some perspective, the Browns have won a playoff game more recently than the Bungles. Their fans have suffered through awful ownership and football for too long, and I like to see good people (good Ohioans!) rewarded for their patience, so I'm all in for the Bengals today.

NFC Wild Card, 8:00
PACKERS (-9.5) vs Vikings
Figgs: Vikes. I'll take these points, and I think I might need every one of them, as I got the Pack winning by about a touchdown. I unfortunately missed last week's thriler between these two, and this is the game I'm most looking forward to this weekend.
Joe: Vikings; Aaron Rodgers over Christian Ponder should be enough reason to get a playoff victory for the Pack. But the Vikings looked very impressive in their two regualar season meetings this year. Green Bay hasn't been remotely able to even slow Peterson down and I don't see them doing it here. The Pack should win, but an upset won't surprise me. At any rate, I'm definitely grabbing the points.,
Nick: Packers
AFF This one seems easy to me on the surface, and by surface I mean grass, cold, hard Lambeau grass, where the Packers play and where I see Minny struggling. The Packers to me seem a far better club - they're 4th in Football Outsiders' rankings while the Vikes are just 17th. Aaron Rodgers was, by the way, the top-rated QB in the league and somehow managed to fly under the radar. The Pack were a +7 in turnovers, Minnesota a +1. The Vikings played four games outdoors and lost by 12, 10, 18, and 9 points (the last to these Packers). I know Adrian Peterson is terrific, but this one feels like a Green Bay Packers rout.

AFC Wild Card, Saturday 4:30
RAVENS (-7) vs Colts
Figgs: Indy. I thought about betting this one, then thought back to my "better team" arguement and decided against it. Baltimore should win so I'm not confident enough to lay money, but I'll still take the Colts here to keep it close.
Joe: Colts; I've said for weeks that Baltimore isn't very good, and certainly not a SB contender. That said, they are playing a very weak playoff opponent, so they could get a one and done win here. The Colts have been a great story this year and improved on last years win total by 9 games, which is unheard of. That story might come to an end early, but it will be good experience for Andrew Luck for his future that will be filled with multiple playoff appearances. When I am this torn over an outright winner, I simply have to take 6.5 points, so Colts.
Nick: Ravens
AFF Editor's note: I bumped this line up to 7, which is where it was Friday. Joe and Figgs had already taken the Colts at + 6.5 so we'll give them that half point as well). This is one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend, and by intriguing, I mean: "I hate the Baltimore Ravens." There is simply no way I'm laying 7 to take a team I utterly despise, a team that has lost 4 of 5 games, in the final game of their murdering linebacker's career, wearing those awful, disgusting "Art" patches. No fucking way. And forget all those metrics I used in my other picks, because Baltimore (11th in DVOA, 8th in turnover differential, 11th in point differential) is better than Indy in all of them (25th, 26th, 21st). But Indy is a way, way better story, with Andrew Luck's crazy heroics and ChuckStrong. In fact, in honor of ChuckStrong, I'm posting my favorite image: Chuck from the Megabus logo. Go Colts.

AFC Wild Card, Saturday 4:30
REDSKINS (+3) vs Seahawks
Figgs: Hawks. Love getting this line under a field goal. It used to be that Seattle was great at home but smart money was to go against them on the road, but now they are just simply unbeatable at home but still a very good team away from Qwest. Favorite line of the weekend (which I've often been known to lose). ($)
Joe: Seahawks; I love what the Skins have done this year with RG3 and Alfred Morris. They ran the ball for more yards than anyone in the league this year. But I have been on the Seattle bandwagon for several weeks now, and I'm not about to jump off. Oh yeah, as good as RG3 is, Seattle might just have the better rookie QB in this game.
Nick: Seahawks
AFF: Editor's note: Figgs and Joe got this at +2.5. Nick and AFF have a +3 spread.
This is the sort of game that makes people interested in playoff football, no? I'm going to have to think about my pick here for a while.

OK, thought about it. I don't really have a horse in this race...Seattle just looks too strong to pick against at present, so I'm taking the Seahawks.

Figgs $ teaser: Indy (+12)/Green Bay (-1.5)

Tuesday, January 1

The Downtown Report: 2012 in Cleveland and Ohio Sports

First up, a little housekeeping. For years I've called this semi-regular feature "The Downtown Report" so I could talk about our favorite teams and give some perspective from my perch downtown, in the epicenter of the action. However, I've now moved, and unless you're one of those suburbanites who thinks everything with a Cleveland address is "downtown," the term is no longer accurate. I'm in Ohio City, or Detroit Shoreway if you prefer - still only three miles away from Cleveland sports glory. I think I'll keep the name for this feature, though.

On to sports. I began my Downtown Report 2011 review of Cleveland sports with the simple phrase, "That was tough," referring to the difficulty of enduring collective fandom of the Cleveland professional teams and The Ohio State University.

2012 was also fairly tough, in case you didn't notice. In fact, the whole situation is and has been kind of dire. For perspective, consider a piece I wrote last year documenting how 2011 and 1991 were the two worst seasons in aggregate since I started watching in the mid-80's. This past campaign wasn't quite as awful as those for OSU-friendly Clevelanders, but it wasn't far off:

- The Cavs remained buried at the bottom of the Central Division, though they moved up from 15th in the East to 13th (yay) and improved their win percentage from .232 to .318 (fyi: it was .805 and .744 the two years prior). That's pretty much holding steady since the club's nightmarish first season post-LeBron. They're at .226 in the 2012-13 campaign so far, in case you were wondering.

- The Indians totally collapsed after a solid start, posting a dismal 68-94 record and barely edging Minnesota to avoid the worst record in the AL. That's a significant drop from their 2nd-place 2011 campaign.

- The Browns are 5-10 and at the bottom of the AFC North following up a season where they went 4-12 and ended up at the bottom of the North. Business as usual.

In total, for a fan of only the Cleveland clubs, 2012 was even a rawer deal in total than was 2011, and frankly, things aren't exactly looking up. The Cavs' roster is painfully thin, the Browns' rookie QB is almost as old as me, and the Indians are mired in small-market purgatory.

But how about those Buckeyes! Ohio State had a banner year in athletics, as the basketball team led by Jared Sullinger made a Final Four appearance and the Renegade Buckeyes football squad posted a sparkling 12-0 perfect season despite a postseason ban. I'm glad the scarlet and gray were around to alleviate some of the misery caused by the blue, red, white, brown, orange, wine, and gold.

But hey, sports are supposed to be fun, so let's try to have ourselves a nice little retrospective and hit some of the high points, such as they were. We'll also see how my quick predictions for the teams worked out.

It's hard to tell what to expect from the 2012 bunch, but as presently constructed I don't see them besting [80-82] by much....some of the questions will probably resolve themselves positively and others negatively, so I see the Indians probably treading water in 2012.

Well...this now looks a bit like wishful thinking, given the actual end result. It wasn't all bad - the Wahoos were sitting at 44-41 at the All Star Break, and were very much in competition for the AL Central and the expanded Wild Cards. Then, the wheels just completely came the hell off, with the hapless Indians unraveling to the tune of 24-53 after the break. At one point, from July 27 through August 31, the Tribe was a preposterous 5-28. Yes, you read that right: 5-28. They went 13-17 the rest of the way out for a final record of 68-94, placing 4th in the division and greasing the skids for manager Manny Acta's exit.

I'm sorry to see Acta go, because I think he generaly did a good job and was a likeable personality, and I think stability can be a good thing for a team. On the plus side, being able to replace him with a top-flight manager like Terry Francona softens the blow a bit. Of course, and I can't stress this enough: the manager doesn't matter much in Major League Baseball.

Unlike the comically dramatic 2011 campaign, 2012 was pretty light on signature moments, at least the good ones. The opening series didn't portend well, as Chris Perez coughed up a three-run lead in the opener in a game the Indians eventually dropped in 16 innings. The next day, with my crew and I making our first appearance at Progressive Field on the year, the Indians lost another game in extras. At least I got to play like three hours of pop-a-shot against Canadians after that one.

The bulk of my excursions to Tribe games were less than thrilling this season - I missed a lot of time because I couldn't fit in a stadium seat for a while after each of my two knee surgeries, and was something like 2-8 at the park this season when I did make it. That mark included thrilling 8-1 and 9-0 losses at the hands of the hated White Socks. Blah. I actually can't remember seeing a win in person, now that you mention it. Hell, the Indians couldn't even be bothered to even reply to FCF's application for the Social Suite. That's lame.

But back to baseball. From a numbers standpoint, Shin-Soo Choo (OPS+ 131), Carlos Santana (121), Asdrubal Cabrera (115), and Michael Brantley (113) were the Indians' best offensive players, though Jason Kipnis (107) had a solid season and Travis Hafner (121) and Lonnie Chisenhall (108) contributed in limited appearances.

Finding positives among the pitching staff is more challenging - our six main starters posted ERA+ numbers of 79, 72, 92, 71, 61, and 65. Our best starter was Zach McAllister, and his ERA was 4.24. That's no kind of way to win ballgames. In case you were wondering, all five of the Nationals' chuckers had ERA's below four. I know it's the NL, but still. Closer Chris Perez was more erratic than in past seasons, though he did post a 3.59 ERA and saved 39/43 games. The Indians' two best relivers were Joe Smith (132) and Vinnie Pestano (152) - Pestano, in particular, was fantastic this season.

Despite a distinct lack of flash (and pitching), the Indians ended May at 24-17 just a game and a half back of the AL Central lead. That was fun. The rest of the season was: not fun. Part of this is because I was basically on hiatus this summer and didn't really document the Wahoos so much, but I honestly can't remember anything fun or good or exciting that happened during the second half of the year. You know what? Let's just pretend this year didn't happen and start looking forward. Agreed?

I like the off-season moves the Tribe has made so far - they got a solid return for Choo in Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer, and the Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds signings really fill some needs for the club. Still, they seriously lack depth and quality in the rotation (unless Ubaldo Jimenez returns to form), and aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut just yet. Don't underestimate how bad the Indians were in 2011: this was a season where they scored fewer runs than every team except Seattle and gave up more runs than every team in the league.

The Indians look like they're a long way from being competitive, but hopefully they can at least start moving in the right direction. Go Tribe!

you'll be able to knock me over with a feather if they improve the talent (and coaching) enough to get above .500 next year.

Admittedly, I wasn't out on too far of a limb here predicting a sub-.500 season for the Cleveland Browns. I should say that my actual pick was 6-10, and if the Thaddeus Lewis Era kicks off the way I expect it to, we will see that lofty ambition realized this Sunday.

The narrative for the Browns' 2012 has been one of progress - sure, they haven't won a lot of games, but they've been in almost all of the ones they've played, they're young, the new guys like Weeden and Richardson are coming along, and the defense has stepped it up. It has certainly seemed like the team has been more watchable, less dire and hapless than the 2011 edition.

Unfortunately, they aren't really a whole lot better, other than collecting one or two more wins. Let's look at some summary statistics for the 2011 and 2012 Browns using pro-football-reference's Simple Rating System. The easiest way to think of SRS is as a point spread vs a league-average opponent on a neutral field; a perfectly average NFL team will score 0.0.

Overall SRS
2011: -5.4
2012: -4.9

Offensive SRS
2011: -7.2
2012: -4.4

Defensive SRS
2011: +1.8
2012: -0.6

According to SRS, the Browns have improved slightly - instead of getting 5.5 points from an average opponent, they now only get 5. Good times! On an SRS basis, the offense has improved about a field goal a game and, perhaps surprisingly, the defense has given that field goal back. Now, maybe this is because they actually are more competitive, and their opponents need to score more points to defeat them instead of rushing the ball for entire second halves and leaving with wins against the Browns without having to worry about scoring additional points. I'm not entirely sure how that can be untangled.

Last year, the Browns scored just 13.6 points per contest, 30th in the NFL, which was frankly awful and hard-to-watch. The defense was 5th in points allowed at 19.2 per, but as I suggested earlier, that might be tied in part to the offensive ineptitude. This year, they're scoring 19.5 per game (23rd) and allowing 22.9 (19th). Their point differential has improved from -5.6 a game (27th) to -3.5 per contest (23rd), which is a good trend, but along with SRS, suggests that the whole thing about them being more competitive has been overstated a bit.

The thing that concerns me most about the franchise going forward is, not surprisingly, the quarterback situation. Brandon Weeden has shown some promise in spots, but overall hasn't been a strong performer. Yes, he's a rookie, but so are Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Bobby Griff, and those guys have been pretty good this year, no? But perhaps the better comparison is to Colt McCoy's performance in 2011. Yes, McCoy was a second-year player in 2011, but it was his first full season behind center for the Browns, his 2010 and 2011 numbers are virtually identical, and he's still four years Weeden's junior, so the comparison is apt.

What we see is that, even with what seems to be a clearly superior set of complemetary pieces, from pleasant surprise Mitchell Schwartz bolstering the line, to speedsters Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin, to wrecking ball Trent Richardson behind him, 2012 Weeden hasn't outperformed 2011 McCoy. Take a look:

McCoy 2011 (13 games): 210 ypg, 57.2 comp %, 14 TD, 11 INT, 74,6 passer rating, 40.1 QBR
Weeden 2012 (15 games): 226 ypg, 54.7 comp %, 14 TD, 17 INT, 72.6 passer rating, 26.6 QBR

If anything, I'd take 2011 McCoy, which isn't a very strong endorsement of Weeden's performance so far. I'm also slightly concerned about Richardson going forward - he's shown that he can ram ahead for three yards pretty much any time he wants, and has a real nose for the end zone, but he's broken very few runs past 10 yards this season, with a long of just 32. I don't want to take away from what he's done - 950 yards and 11 TD on the ground is nothing to sneeze at. Maybe it's injuries - we'll just have to see.

Phil Dawson is awesome.

What should we expect from the 2013 Browns? Well, we're going to suck again, I would imagine. For all the depth we've assembled, especially on the defensive line, we still don't have playmakers, and the organization will once again be in a state of flux as Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner relieve Pat Shurmur (and probably Tom Heckert) of his duties and start rebuilding the organization their way.

Optimism is high headed into the New Year for both the hoops and gridiron squads. The basketballers are loaded and should make some noise in the NCAA tournament, while the football team will benefit from Braxton Miller's development and the addition of a top-flight coach in Urban Meyer.


The Buckeye basketballers posted a 31-8 record on the campaign, including a 13-5 mark good for a three-way tie with michigan and Michigan State atop the Big Ten standings, marking Ohio State's third straight season with at least a share of the Big 10 regular season hoops crown. It was a true tie, as OSU split their series with both rival schools from the state up north, and MSU and um did likewise, the home team winning all six contests. OSU was paced all season by two-time All-American Jared Sullinger, senior leader Willian Buford, and newcomers Deshaun Thomas and defensive ace Aaron Craft.

The Buckeyes entered the Big Ten tournament as the #3 seed thanks to a tiebreaker of them having the worst record of the three co-champions against 4th-place Wisconsin. Whatever. The two-time defending champion Buckeyess smashed their way into the finals, pulling away late for a convincing 88-71 win over Purdue and an absolute pummeling of the school up north, 77-55. Wow did I ever enjoy that game. OSU wasn't able to three-peat, unfortunately, as the Spartans toppled them 68-64 in a quality game.

The Buckeyes secured a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, their fourth straight bid, and dispatched Loyola (MD) and perennial bracket buster Gonzaga to reach their third straight Sweet Sixteen. Unlike the previous two seasons, the Buckeyes were not to be denied in the third round, ousting in-state rival Cincinnati and regional top seed Syracuse to reach the Final Four. The Buckeyes' title dreams ended with a hard-fought 64-62 loss to a tough Kansas team, a loss soothed someewhat by the knowledge that OSU probably would have gotten hammered by that ridiculous Kentucky team in the championship game.

So, although another strong Buckeye season ended in an NCAA Tourney defeat, it was a hell of a run. It was also much better than the run michigan had, where they were bounced (and confused by the Ohio Bobcats. Wow did I ever enjoy that game.

Facing a one-season bowl ban in the inaugural season of head coach Urban Meyer, the football Buckeyes knew they wouldn't suffer the same end as their basketball counterparts. So, they did what any self-respecting Renegade Buckeye squad would do - went out and won all 12 of their games. Done and done. Incidentally, the "Buckeyes" label will take you to all of Figgs' excellent game recaps here on the site.

After sleepwalking through a 4-0 non-conference start, the Bucks passed their first real test with a 17-16 win over Michigan State in East Lansing. They returned home and just firebombed Nebraska 63-38 before winning a surprisingly close 52-49 shootout over Indiana to move to 7-0.

Then came the craziest game of the year, an improbable 29-22 overtime win over unranked Purdue that needed the services of an insane last-minute rally drive engineer by backup QB Kenny Guiton. Not only did this contest keep OSU in the ranks of the unbeaten, it also broke a rather unfortunate string of losses Figgs and I had suffered watching Buckeye games together.

Wins over Penn state and Illinois moved Ohio State to 10-0, and a thrilling OT win over Wisconsin (in Madison) left them with just one game in their way to claim the undefeated mantle: michigan. There was no fucking way we were losing this game, and we didn't, winning 26-21 as can't-tie left The Game hungry for the 3rd time in 4 years. Good riddance, pal.

Oh, and OSU has Braxton Miller for the next two years. Can someone say "11 of 13"?

Expectations are low, and I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the club. This season is really about Irving and Thompson, and seeing if one or two other guys emerge as potential contributors. They'll very likely be a lottery team again, and that's alright, but in the meantime I'll enjoy the action and bask in the wins when they do happen.

I haven't done a whole lot of the "bask"ing I talked about, as the Cavs have continued to limp along winning one out of four games or so while providing very little of the entertainment value that the 2010-11 club was so rich in, despite its poor record.

I was right about the season being about Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, just as this season is again about that duo along with 2012 draft picks Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller.

The good news is: Irving is a star, already among the top point guards in the NBA. Irving put up 18.5 points, 5.4 assists, and 3.7 rebounds a game in his rookie campaign, bumping those to 23.5/5.5/3.9 this season. His shooting percentages have stayed basically the same (47%/40%/87% a year ago, 47%/41%/80% this season). This is all on a team where he's not getting much support and has really no one else who can create shots. The only flaw in Irving's game is that he spends too many of them in streetclothes, missing 14 games a year ago and 10 so far this season.

Thompson, well, the jury is still out on this kid. He clearly has some athletic gifts, and is averaging just under 9 points and 9 rebounds a game this year...but that's not quite the value a club wants to see form the 4th overall pick. My concerns with him are that he doesn't seem to have the strongest grasp of how to play the game, and that at 59% from the line he's a liability late in games.

The other new fellows, #4 overall selection Dion Waiters and #17 pick Tyler Zeller, haven't quite set the world on fire yet. Zeller puts up 8 points and 5 boards a game but seems a bit overmatched at this early stage in his career. Waiters is scoring 14.6 a contest and makes some dazzling plays that bode well for his future, but doesn't have a complete, efficient game yet, connecting on just 37% of his attempts from the field and 33% of his threes.

As for the rest of the roster...there's Anderson Varejao, who is having by far his finest season at the age of 30 and is deserving of an all-star spot. Varejao is scoring 14.1 a game and pulling down an NBA-best 14.4 rebounds a contest. The guy is simply amazing. As with Irving, the only problem with Varejao's game at present is when he's not on the court to ply it.

After those five players, the Cavs roster is really, really shaky, with no one else who could even be a role player on a decent NBA team. Between the early development stage of the young players, injuries, and the total lack of bench depth, it's not hard to see why they're 7-24. It is hard to see, unfortunately. how to turn that mark around.

FCF Racing
Pro and college sports aside, there's the matter of FCF's participation in distance racing events, which has been off-and-on over the past few years. This season was again a mix of off and on, with the gang unable to get together for too much action.

On the good side was what Nick has modestly described as "The Rise of Allburn," as he got his career back on track by completing his first half-marathon and placing 4th overall in the Cleveland Triathlon. Nice work! I believe Figgs posted some career bests as well.

For me? Not so much. I did knock down the greatest game-winning shot I've ever seen, but injury problems kept me out of the game for most of the year. I'm unlikely to ever play basketball, softball, volleyball, or anything like that ever again.

I can run again, at least, and my athletics career might be back on track, but who knows. I managed to work in two so-so 5k's and a 10k before the year closed, so hopefully I can rejoin Team FCF for a successful 2013. Hopefully our teams do the same.

Thanks for reading anything any of us at FCF wrote in 2012, and here's to a prosperous new year in Ohio sports.