Wednesday, December 30

The NFL standings, slightly re-ordered

That's what ESPN should start calling its weekly "Power Rankings", because that's all they really are. This week's edition simply orders the NFL's 32 clubs by their season marks, except flopping the 13-2 Saints and 12-3 Chargers, and the 7-8 Titans with the 8-7 Giants. Wow, brilliant insight into the league and its trends. What's the point of this? Shouldn't something like this reflect how well the teams are playing, who has key injuries, who's gelling, and such? Anyone can just look at the standings and order teams like that. There's no thought or effort put into this inane document. Take a look at the bottom 10 (click to enlarge):

Now that's what I call a non-effort! In particular, and as a shining example of the laziness of thie ranking, I'm not pleased with where the Browns are sitting. We should be 24th on this list. Yes, the three teams seated directly above us all have one more win than us, because that's how ESPN has elected to generate this ordering, but again, that shouldn't be the objective of such a list. It's not the Super Bowl, I know, but if you're going to do this at all, at least try to do it right!

Look directly above us: Seattle. ESPN's comment says it all: "The Texans, Bucs and Packers have outscored the Seahawks by a 106-24 margin in the past three weeks." They suck! They're playing their worst football of the season, including a bad home loss to the team you ranked #29! Where's the "Power" here? Seattle should be #30, better than only the Rams and Lions. And while we're discussing the league's dregs, don't Tampa's recent two wins count for anything? I mean, Seattle blows, but they're still usually a handful at home, but toppling New Orleans in the Superdome must get you some credit. What's a brother have to do to get out of the cellar?

Right above Seattle, we have the Buffalo Buffaloes. We beat Buffalo, in their stadium. Not to mention that they're coming off an absolute slaughter in Atlanta, while the Browns just pocketed their third straight win. Move the Brownies up another slot. Win streaks should count in Power Rankings - for that matter, you could talk me into moving San Diago to the top spot.

Going one step higher, we see Oakland [does spit take]. Oakland? WTF? The team we beat BY TWO TOUCHDOWNS LAST WEEK? Are you fucking kidding me? Fourteen point victories don't get you as far as they used to, I suppose. This team has the worst point differential in the entire AFC, somehow managed to commit 13 penalties for 126 yards in a single game last week, employs JaMarcus Russell, and you rank them above a team that manhandled them on Sunday? Ridiculous.

My whole point is not lobbying for the Browns to move higher, because it really doesn't matter (though I would like to see their place higher to reflect the progress the club has been making), but rather: if you're going to bother with the exercise of a Power Ranking, put some thought into it rather than just lining everyone up by record.

Tuesday, December 29

What to do this week

Confused by the AFC playoff scenarios? Wondering what to do about Bowl season? Having trouble keeping up with the Cavaliers? don't worry - you've come to the right place. I'll steer you through this week with recommendations on who to pull for and what to look for.

NCAA Football
Obviously you want to pull for the Buckeyes to win the Rose Bowl - that goes without saying. I was interested to read that Terrelle Pryor has been playing with a small ligament tear in his knee - hopefully he'll be OK for the game and his injury can be repaired fully in the off-season. I like Ohio State's chances against Oregon; the Pac-10 isn't particularly impressive, and the Buckeyes are (were, anyway) on a roll. They're a tougher, more defense-oriented club than the Ducks are used to, and I think Oregon will find it tough to score. Plus, bettors, you get 4 points for taking the Bucks over the Ducks. Also, as a side note, I love the ESPN commercial where the Duck mascot is working at his desk and looks out the window sadly at a bunch of actual ducks in a pond. Hilarious.

I like the idea of OSU in the Rose Bowl. Sure, you always want to get to the BCS title game, and the Buckeyes have had a nice run of Fiesta Bowl appearances. But there's some prestige behind the Rose Bowl, and Ohio State hasn't been there since the fantastic comeback win over Arizona State 13 years ago. The Big Ten hasn't fared well in recent appearances in Pasadena, and I think the Buckeyes can take the first big step towards reversing that trend.

Part of the Big Ten's struggles out west can be directly traced to Ohio State having not participated much of late, as one ESPN columnist pointed out. Of course, you could make a good case that the Pac-10 has done just fine despite routinely sending USC to bigger and better bowls. Public perception of the Big Ten's football prowess is not good right now, thanks to both the Rose Bowl follies and Ohio State's two crushing defeats in consecutive BCS title games. It's ironic that so much of the blame for the Big Ten's waning power has been laid at the feet of the Buckeyes, who have dominated the conference for basically the entire decade. Why not blame Minnesota, or Michigan State, or Iowa? Why's it all Ohio State's fault? Yeah, they had some rough games against Florida and LSU, but erstwhile power michigan hasn't even been to a bowl game in the past two seasons! If anything, OSU should be least culpable in the recent power shift away from Big Ten football.

Once again, for the good of the conference (a rising tide lifts all boats), we Buckeye fans should be pulling for the rest of the crew to do well in their postseason endeavors. This is made much easier by the non-qualification of the pathetic school up north - did you know we beat them for a sixth straight time this year? You can look it up. It's a fact. I always hated rooting for them in bowl games, back when they used to attend bowl games - it's like eating vegetables in that you know it's good for you, but you still don't like actually doing it. Plus when they lose bowl games, it's like, wow, I could have been rooting against them and enjoyed that?! The one time of year I try to back the Wolverines, and they screw it up? Thanks a lot. Of course, an optimist would say that there's a benefit to both a michigan bowl win (go conference!) or a loss (michigan sucks!)

But enough anout those losers. Let's get behind our friends from the Midwest: Wisconsin (Champs Sports, 12/29)
Minnesota (Insight, 12/31)
Northwestern (Outback, 1/1)
Penn State (Capital One, 1/1)
Michigan State (Alamo, 1/2)
Iowa (Orange, 1/5).

Go Big Ten! And for Ohio pride, Go Cincinnati! And, of course, Go Bucks.


As Warden Norton said in The Shawshank Redemption: "Nothing changes!" Just keep on keepin' on, Cavs. These guys are looking good. No advice necessary here. Do what you do. Nothing to see here, please disperse.

NFL Football
Wow, is the AFC ever a tangled mess. Let's try to make sense of it.

First of all, since this is a Cleveland sports blog: what should we do about the Browns? Obviously, pulling for the Browns to win is always a fan's top priority, but sometimes circumstances change things. As far as I'm concerned, losing to gain draft position is NOT one of those circumstances. I hate when this strategy is advocated - it's weak, unsporting, and not even correct organizational strategy. We need like 20 more good players - does it really do us any good to have the #5 pick instead of the #7? You can get a premier player anywhere in the Top 10, and picking a few spots down actually saves the club guaranteed money because of the NFL's stupid rookie pay scale. So none of this "losing to improve draft position" business. Stop it.

I don't think the final game will have much bearing on Mike Holmgren's decision regarding coach Eric Mangini's fate either, so whether you want him to stay or go, you shouldn't let that affect your perspective on Sunday's contest.

But what if we can help knock Pittsburgh and/or Baltimore out of the playoffs? Well, now we've got something to consider. If it would eliminate either team from postseason contention, I would gladly accept a Browns loss, assuming the Browns had nothing at stake. That's a sacrifice I can make.

Unfortunately, both evil teams still have a chance to get in - simultaneously, no less. TYep, there are somehow still sequences of events that get both clubs in. Fortunately, none of those involve the Browns' opponent, Jacksonville, so we have no conflicting interest and the hypothetical scenario in the previous paragraph does not come into play. The Jags are in contention, but their result in Cleveland on Sunday has no bearing on the fate of either of the Browns' bitterest rivals. So, Browns fans, I would encourage you to support the Browns wholeheartedly, knowing that you can do so conscience-free.

Now, what about these other games? There are SEVEN teams fighting for the two wild-card spots. Seven! The divisions are all sewn up, but the wild cards are very much up for grabs. This page summarizes all of the scenarios the various teams have to make it.

The Ravens and Jets are the most straightforward of the group: win and they're in, lose and they're out. The Ravens are in Oakland and the Jets host Cincinnati. Pittsburgh has to win at Miami and get some help from some combination of Houston, the Jets, the Ravens, and Broncos. The other four teams: Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, and Miami, have complicated scenarios that are outside the scope of this article.

The logical thing for a Browns fan to do is the most natural: root against both the Ravens and Steelers. Piece of cake. For both teams, they lose, they're out. I don't necessarily think either of them will do so - Baltimore should handle the Raiders and Pittsburgh should take down Miami (both on the road), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be pulling for our warm-weather underdog friends. I'd say Miami has a better chance to pull it off than Oakland. Regardless: Go Fish! Go Raiders!

The other thing we can do is root for the teams from which the Steelers need assistance to qualify for the postseason. Victories by Houston, Baltimore (ugh), New York, and Denver all diminish the Steelers' chances, so Go Texans! Go Jets! Go Broncos! I omitted the Ravens there, intentionally, because I simply couldn't bring myself to type it. If it comes down to it, yes, a Raven win could knock out the Steelers, and I suppose I could would slightly prefer Baltimore to advance, but I want them both out! You hear me? Both! That having been said, we should put our full force behind the Jets (hosting Cincinnati in a game the Bengals don't really need) and Texans (hosting New England in a game the Pats don't need but that the Texans will probably lose so they can be 8-8 again) so the Steelers can be knocked out regardless of what happens to them or Baltimore.

Cleveland, Miami, Oakland, New York Jets, Houston, and Denver are your teams this weekend, Browns fans. In that order.

Sunday, December 27

It's gotten so bad, even Sylvester Stallone has left

Thus said Cavs radio man Joe Tait near the Cavaliers' Xmas day destruction of the LA Lakers in the Staples Center, where the Clevelanders shocked the high-flying home club and their ridiculous fans to conclude a mettle-testing 3-1 road swing that left them 23-8 and holding a 57-game lead in the AFC North.

Things didn't start off well for our boys in Dallas. Coming off of two uninspiring wins (when did Cavs victories become uninspiring to me? Wow, I'm spoiled) against lousy teams (10 points over the woeful Devils, 7 over the hapless Phillies), they were roundly criticized for a lack of effort in a 102-95 road loss to a Maverick team playing without star Dirk Nowitzki. The box score is fairly silent on this one; the Cavs committed a few turnovers and somehow allowed Tim Thomas to score 22 points, but the general perception that the Cavs were sleepwalking through this one seems reasonable to me.

The Cavs found themselves at a bit of a crossroads at this point; I've never seen a 20-8 club take so much flak before. Sure, they're on pace for 59 wins, but what have you done for me lately? Even the Japanese groundskeepers said, "they're shitty." Worse yet, they were headed to the desert the very next day to take on the Suns, a Phoenix-based team whose name at least has some connection to their geography, unlike the Cardinals, who have to be regarded as the Utah Jazz of the NFL, name-wise. Phoenix was 18-9 and hadn't lost a home game this season - their last defeat in the desert was last March, at the hands of Los Caballeros. So, even though the Cavs mauled them in Cleveland earlier this year, expectations ran low for the Cavs' game against the Gorillas.

And for the first of three consecutive nights, the Cavs responded well to an adverse situation by crushing the Suns, Montgomery Burns-like, 109-91. Cleveland led by six at half, seven after three, and EIGHTEEN by game's end. Most impressively, Cleveland held Phoenix to a paltry 91 points. The Suns are the NBA's top-scoring club at better than 108 per; they've now put up 90 and 91 against the Cavaliers' D. Not bad at all. The keys for me, watching Cleveland's defense, were Delonte West and Anderson Varejao. West controlled Suns PG Steve Nash, while Varejao locked down and frustrated Amar'e Stoudemire. While I'm here, Stoudemire is the worst good player in the NBA. He doesn't play smart, he doesn't hustle, and has no sense of what team basketball is about.

And oh my, that fourth quarter. Bill Simmons called the Cavs' play down the stretch "poop in your pants good" and said he hasn't seen a better NBA quarter this year. They were simply awesome. Perfect execution, unselfish offensive basketball, outstanding team defense. You can't play the game better than the Cavs did as they ripped off fifteen straight points to turn a 92-86 advantage into a 107-86 laugher. It was scary good.

The ringleader, other than the defensive stalwarts I noted earlier, was none other than LeBron James, who directed the Cavs' offense exquisitely during this stretch, scoring seven points and notching two assists. LBJ finished the game with 29/6/4 and a game-best +26. The Cavs also got big contributions from Varejao (13 points and a +21) and their starting backcourt of Mo Williams (17 points, 5 assists, +17) and Anthony Parker (7/5/3 and a +19). I'm looking forward to the instructional video the Cavs release, using solely footage from that 4th quarter.

The Cavaliers traveled to the SAC on Wednesday to take on the Kings, who aren't necessarily good (13-15), but certainly suck much less than last year, largely thanks to Rookie of the Year frontrunner Tyreke Evans. The Cavs battled the Kings to a surprising 104-104 tie at the end of regulation, and a Cavalier skeptic would be forgiven for questioning the club's focus in a winnable game. So how did the Cavs deal with this particular element of diversity?

By whitewashing the Kings 13-0 in overtime. Does that even really happen? It doesn't happen. It's preposterous. The star of the overtime was, of course, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who drained three three-pointers to put this one away for the Clevelanders. But hey, we're nothing special - most teams have a 7'3" three-point specialist, right?

The King had another huge game - he scored a bucket and assisted on two of Z's triples in OT, part of a ridiculous 34/16/10 line that netted him a second-straight game-high +26. Too good. I hope I don't start taking him for granted, like I'm starting to with that guy who returns kicks for the Browns, Grubbs or something. He seems good, but anyone can take back eight career kickoffs.

Cavalier scoring was unbalanced tonight, but sometimes you gotta ride your horses to road wins. Bron's 34 was complemented by 27 from Mo and 25 from Z - that's 74% of your club's scoring right there. Hey, a win's a win.

And thus we return to where we started; the Cavaliers celebrating the ahistorical birth of baby Jesus more fervently than Ricky Bobby by just absolutely beating the shit out of the Lakers. They played better offense, they played better defense, they tried harder, and, unlike Laker fans, they stayed to the end and didn't throw foam fingers on the court. Maybe LA can hire Carmen Policy as a PR consultant for a few days. Cleveland got up big in the second, lost some of it, got it back in the third (up as many as 20), and cruised to a solid statement win over the West-leading Lakers. Don't forget about us, NBA.

Explain to me, if you would, how Kobe is better than LBJ. I'm listening.

The numbers from this game are staggering. Cleveland shot 54% from the field, compared to just 37 for LA. Cavs notched 24 assists vs just 16 for LA. The Lakers managed to tie the Cavs in rebounding, but that was mostly because they missed way more shots and collected a few extra offensive rebounds. They may as well sign Ricky Davis to a 10-day and have him shoot at his own basket.

LeBron finished off an outstanding stretch of basketball with a 26/4/9 (+8), while Shaq got in the act against his old mates with 11/7 (+9), Mo Williams was outstanding with 28 points, 7 assists, and a +13, best among Cleveland starters.

Those numbers notwithstanding, Cleveland's bench got this game for the Cavs. They built the huge second-quarter lead that put the Cavs in command for good, and demonstrated how deep the Cavs roll. Ilgauskas only scored two points, but collected 9 boards and posted a +21, mostly because the Lakers had no answer for the twin tower defense of him and Shaq. Varejao had a typical 9 point-9-board line to go along with a team-best +21; no one plays as fluidly with LBJ as Andy does, and I mean that as a compliment. Jamario Moon had a big game off the bench too, netting 13 points on 6-7 shooting. Can we get this guy in the slam dunk contest?

And you know what? I liked watching the Lakers lose their shit at the end. I haven't seen a meltdown like that since Game 6 of the 2007 East Finals, and the Lakers don't even have Rasheed Wallace. OK, they do have Ron Artest, but still. Just an absolute embarrassment. I've heard much of this season that the Cavs wouldn't stand a chance
against LA in a Finals matchup. The hell they wouldn't.

Have you ever seen that video where you count the number of passes a bunch of people make with a basketball, and a gorilla walks through, and no one notices because they were watching all the other people play, and then afterwards they tell you about the gorilla, and you're like "wow, a gorilla was there"? JJ Hickson is that gorilla. I cannot believe he actually was in the game today, despite what the box score tells me.

So, Cleveland heads home at 23-8, sitting 2nd in the never-ending playoff-jockeying race in the East but feeling good about their ability to beat good teams on the road. Yeah, they're going to have concentration lapses at time, but this club can PLAY. Winning enough games to get a top-half seed and staying healthy are the key things now, not whether they beat a crummy team by 10 or by 15. Let's see how they respond to tough tests this week: a visit from Houston, who absolutely owns them, and a home-and-away set with the surprising Hawks. Go Cavs!

Thursday, December 24

NFL Picks: Week 16

Let's face it: the magic is gone for Andy Francis. After a stellar 2008 campaign and strong first half of 2009, the wheels have fallen off, as I've placed last three weeks in a row. With just two weeks left in the regular season, my lead is increasingly in jeopardy, sitting at just three games. All I need is one strong week to put it away, but those have been hard to come by of late. Meanwhile, newcomers Bucko (52%) and Gopo (57%) have made solid early showings. Let's see how our team sees the penultimate week shaking out:

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

Year to date
Andy: 117-104-3
Figgs: 109-112-3
Nick: 114-107-3
Bucko: 24-22-2
Nick's Money Picks ($): 29-26

Friday game
8:20 pm kickoff

TITANS (-3) vs Chargers
Andy: These teams are on a combined 16-1 run; not a bad matchup at all. I think the Titties need this one and will come through on xmas day. Titans.
Figgs: This should be a another good game that no one will see. I'm hoping for the Titans to hurt the Steelers, but I just can't see any reasoning on why they would be favored. If this was Chargrs -3 it would be a really tough call, but +3? SD, "book it."
Nick: Titans. Tennessee has more to play for, and Vince Young wins games. Happy birthday Jesus!
Bucko: I'm not for sure what Chargers team will show up, but I know Johnson and the Tit-ans will. Titans.
Gopo: chargers - the team is just playing well right now. i have a hard time seeing the titties stop that offense. johnson is going to have a huge day, but i think the titties will have to throw to stay in it.

Sunday games
1:00 pm kickoffs

BROWNS (-3) vs Raiders
Andy: Nick and I are going to this game, straight representin'. Time to strech this to three against a cold, disinterested Raider team that would rather play absolutely anyone at QB instead of JaMarcus Russell. BROWNS.
Figgs: Wait, we're predicited to WIN a game?!?! BROWNS.
Nick: Browns. There's a new NFL rule that grants a playoff exemption to one 5-11 team each year. After we finish off the Raiders and Jagoffs, I think we're a strong candidate. Super Bowl.
Bucko: Browns
Gopo: Raiders. Andy's note: I'm hoping that our Steeler-fan cohort Gopo turns into a WWE-style heel and picks against the Browns every week.

FALCONS (-9) vs Buffaloes
Andy: I don't see why Atlanta is getting quite so many points here - I'll take Perry Fewell's Buffalo squad.
Figgs: Buffalo seems like a good pick here, but I like pickng the ATL and I hate picking the Jills. Dirrty Birrds.
Nick: I like the Billskies here too. Atlanta's getting too much credit for past performance.
Bucko: Buffalo.
Gopo: Buffaloes

BENGALS (-13.5) vs Chieves
Andy: Bengals. I've seen Kansas City try to defend the rush, and it isn't pretty. The Bengals are going to be refocused after the tough loss to San Diago and should just pound the Chieves.
Figgs: Bengals have no problem winning this one, but the line's a little high for me. KC.
Nick: Cincy. The Chiefs are really bad against the run, and that's one thing that the Bengals do really well.
Bucko: Chieves
Gopo: Chieves

PACKERS (-14) vs Seahawks
Andy: It's simple: you lose to a 1-12 team by 19 points at home, I don't take you the following week. Look for the Pack to regroup in the cold against a suddenly-awful Seattle team.
Figgs: Suddenly awful? I don't remember a time when they didn't blow. Pack.
Nick: Gotta take the Pack here, right? They need this game and Seattle's really been one of the league's worst. They just got stomped by the Bucs at Qwest, after all.
Bucko: Packers
Gopo: Seahawks

STEELERS (-3) vs Ravens
Andy: I think the Steelers have their mojo back after that win against the Packers. They nearly knocked off Baltimore in the Murder City a few weeks ago with Dennis Dixon quarterbacking - I think maybe a guy who threw for 500 yards last week might be able to get them over the hump. Steelers.
Figgs: I hate when the situation makes me root for one of these teams, as I have to cheer for the ratbirds in this one to knock the Stillers out of the playoffs. That has nothing to do with my pick however, as I'm going with shitsburgh.
Nick: Ugh, Steelers. These goddamn cockroaches won't go away. My feelings towards the Steelers and their fans are just like Indiana Jones' feelings towards Nazis - "I hate these guys." My friend Chris: "People don't understand how much I hate Pittsburgh. I hate the very idea of Pittsburgh. I hate everything it stands for."
Bucko: Ravens
Gopo: Steelers

DOLPHINS (-3) vs Texans
Andy: Hate this game. The Texans are at .500, so I can't use my usual rule with them, the Dolphins are finicky, both teams have the same record, and Miami is getting the customary three-point home-field edge. Dolphins.
Figgs: I'm with Andy, toughest one on the board this week. I don't want to offend Nick this week so I'll just say Texans.
Nick: The Dolphins keep playing these coin flip games. I'll keep riding them.
Bucko: Texans
Gopo: Dolphins

PATRIOTS (-9) vs Jaguars
Andy: If Buffalo could keep it close with New England, one would think a playoff-contending Jacksonville team could too, but they suck on the road. What's the weirdest NFL score of 2009: Seattle waxing the Jags 41-0, or New England pasting Tennessee 59-0? Since that 100-0 combined effort happened with the Jags on the road and Pats at home, let's go Pats.
Figgs: Sound logic by Andy. Pats.
Nick: Pats. The Jags seem to play well at home, and not so much on the road.
Bucko: Jaguars
Gopo: Patriots

SAINTS (-14) vs Bucs
Andy: This week, I'll spare everyone an essay on why the Saints should win big and simply pick them. Saints.
Figgs: The Saints have kept games close lately, but not this one. NO.
Nick: Really like the Saints here.
Bucko: Saints
Gopo: Buccaneers

GIANTS (-7) vs Panthers
Andy: I'm now 3-11 picking the Panthers. They own me. This is ridiculous. And since I don't have a good feel for this, I'm going to pick them just so they lose, out of spite. Fuck you, Carolina. Panthers.
Figgs: The Giants win, but by less than a TD. Cats.
Nick: I'm having trouble feeling out this Giants team, but I'll pick them at home in a game they have to win against a mediocre opponent.
Bucko: Panthers
Gopo: Panthers

4:00 pm kickoffs

49ERS (-13) vs Lions
Andy: Detroit is AVERAGING a 22-point loss every time they set foot on an opponent's field, and they're missing their starting QB. 49ers.
Figgs: Too high of a line for a team that's not very good. Lions.
Nick: 'Nuff said, Andy. Niners.
Bucko: 49ers
Gopo: Lions

CARDS (-14) vs Rams
Andy: Wouldn't you think that Arizona at home, even with 2 TD's, should be taken against a team as bad as the Rams? You would, but Arizona is just 3-3 at home and has yet to cover a spread of this magnitude, even against Seattle. Meanwhile, St Louis loses a lot, but have only been routed once in the past 7 weeks. Weirdly, I say Rams.
Figgs: I like the Cards to put up some big numbers here.
Nick: Cards
Bucko: Cards
Gopo: Rams

COLTS (-5.5) vs Jets
Andy: A half of Manning and company is good enough against the punchless Jets. Colts.
Figgs: If I were to bet on a game this week it would be this one. (Besides San Diego on Friday, who I did bet on. How easy was that? Underdogs?) As The Coach told us last week, Peyton and his boys will play most if not all of this game, and Indy wins by over a touchdown.
Nick: The Jets suck enough for the Colts to win by 6 in a meaningless game. Colts.
Bucko: Jets
Gopo: Colts

EAGLES (-7) vs Broncos
Andy: After a 6-0 start, Denver fell to Earth like they'd been dropped from a mile high. Thanks, I'll be here all weekend. Eagles.
Figgs: I feel like Kenny Bania trying to follow that one. Philly.
Nick: This line should be higher. Eagles.
Bucko: Eagles
Gopo: Eagles

8:20 pm kickoffs

REDSKINS (+6.5) vs Cowboys
Andy: All of my "if this happened, then this should happen" hypotheses fall flat, but seriously, if Dallas could go into the Superdome and stick it to the Saints like they did, can't they roll the hapless 'Skins up by a TD? I say yes. 'Boys.
Figgs: Washington's players quit last week, as did Jim Zorn. Did they really run that awful fake even after NY knew it was coming, when it was a terrible play and terrible time to do it in the first place? Cowboys all day here.
Nick: 'Boys in my favorite game on the board. ($)
Bucko: Cowboys
Gopo: Cowboys

Monday Night Game
8:30 pm kickoff

BEARS (+7) vs Vikings
Andy: I don't pick the Bears, and with good reason: they're the league's worst against the spread, along with another team I picked against this week. Vikings.
Figgs: I don't know why spreads aren't higher against Chicago, they're awful. Vikes.
Nick: Vikings. I turned on the Bears right after they stomped the Browns, which was the perfect time. They suck. Lovie Smith should be fired. He got carried to that Super Bowl by a great defense.
Bucko: Vikings
Gopo: Vikings

Thursday, December 17

NFL Picks: Week 15

More like Sin City Fanatics! Week 14 was an excellent week for all five prognosticators (53-27 combined record), highlighted by Bucko's sparkling 12-4 mark and a solid 10-6 debut from Gopo. We'll see if this gets trickier over the last few weeks, as a lot of lines stay Off until late because of QB injuries and teams clinching playoff position and resting starters.

In other news, this is the one week per year where I enter a fun nickname for every team! I haven't decided whether I'm going to have a Spanish picks week yet.

Things are really close heading down to the last three weeks, with me holding a slim four-game advantage over a hard-charging Nick. Part of this may be due to the fact that I've been holding Houston Texan-like at .500 over the past six weeks. As Snoop would say in his Snoop Dogg's iFizzle App: "Step yo' game up!"

Last week
Andy: 10-6
Figgs: 10-6
Nick: 11-5
Bucko: 12-4
Gopo: 10-6
Nick's Money Picks ($): 1-1

Year to date
Andy: 111-96-1
Figgs: 102-105-1
Nick: 107-100-1
Bucko: 18-14
Gopo: 10-6
Nick's Money Picks ($): 27-25

Thursday game
8:20 pm kickoff

JAGONS (+3) vs Peytons
Andy: I was leaning Jags in a bold pick, but I'm not taking them if I only get 3 points. Besides, why get cute and pick against a team that's won twenty-two straight games against a club I haven't bought into all year? Horsies.
Figgs: I'm sticking with Nick's philosophy of not picking a team that you don't think will win the game if the line is low. I'll taking the Fighting Peyton's.
Nick: It's 5:36, and I'm about to pull a 180 on this one. All things being equal, I'd take the Colts. The Colts are usually good ATS on the road, and the Jags typically struggle ATS at home. But the home teams have fought hard in these "nationally broadcast" Thursday nighters, and I just don't have a feel for how the Colts are going to handle playing their starters. And there's the psychological factor - the Jags are fighting for their playoff lives, but what's Indy's incentive to lay it on the line in the second half? The shine's been taken off a 16-0 regular season since New England did it two years ago. I might be talking myself into this one, but a great coach once said, "In any fight, it's the guy who's willing to die who's gonna win that inch." That's Jacksonville. Book it.
Bucko: It sounds like Manning is playing. I'll take the Colts tonight. Peyton is the shit!
Gopo: colts - as long as manning plays, i'll stick with them. surprised the line is so low though...

Saturday game
8:20 pm kickoff

'AINTS (-7.5) vs America's Team
Andy: For some perspective on this matchup, let's go to Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips for his thoughts on facing the 13-0 Saints:
Usually when people say you can't do something, people bow up and have a lot of pride...I don't think our confidence is we can't do it and we got to do something else to be able to do it...We're not going to cow down to these guys.
Let me get this straight. I'm supposed to take the club that is facing the undefeated New Orleans juggernaut, playing a Saturday night game on the road in the league's toughest venue, riding a 37-game December losing streak, AND whose head coach can't form a coherent sentence and expects his team to "bow up" but not "cow down"? No thanks. Saints.
Figgs: I've been going back and forth on this one. I don't like picking against the Saints, and Phillips' rambling doesn't give me too much confidence, but I'm gonna go with Dallas. The Saints stay undefeated, but closer than the experts think.
Nick: The Saints were lighting up the league early this season and Vegas adjusted with some big lines. As such, the Saints have struggled the last six weeks or so against the spread. Here we have a combination of the pendulum swinging back a bit and the usual Vegas juice for the Cowboys of around three points. The Saints have squeaked by the last two weeks, but it's been in afternoon games on the road against mediocre opponents. This is a slaughter in the Super Dome. Saints. ($ -7)
Bucko: I'd love to see the Saints just destroy the Cowboys here, but I don't believe that's going to happen. We may only have one undefeated team after this one. Saints could pull it out, but the BadBoys will cover. Cowboys
Gopo: cowboys - i've changed this pick while writing this sentence twice already. i think saints will win, but they've been keeping things close against worse teams the last couple weeks. that said, i might log back on in 5 minutes and change this again.

Sunday games
1:00 pm kickoffs

BUFFALOES (+7) vs Patsies
Andy: I just don't know about this New England club anymore. I'm not saying there isn't a good chance they can win this - there is - but they're not the dominant force they once were. Plus, Buffalo has been scrappy for their new coach and I get seven points. PLUS, I just rewatched the 1993 AFC Wild-Card game where they came back from down 35-3 (the Frank Reich Game) and I'm on a bit of a Buffaloes kick. Buffalo.
Figgs: It's been hurting me that I keep sticking with New England, but I've come this far, I might as well keep running with em. Pats.
Nick: New England usually has Buffalo's number. This lineis higher than it should be, but I'm going to bank on New England winning this one comfortably.
Bucko: Pats. I believe they will win this big.
Gopo: pats - i think they're starting to feel the pressure after a couple losses they didn't think they'd have. they pull it together.

MOTOR CITY KITTIES (+12.5) vs Are There Even Actual Cardinals in Arizona? Why Not Change to the "Cacti" When You Moved?
Andy: This Detroit team simply plays no defense. The up-and-down Cards picked a good week to be on the way up, so I'm going Arizona here. They can't turn the ball over 7 times in two consecutive weeks, right? Cardinals.
Figgs: Cards.
Nick: I'm going to go Cards here too. This line is probably about where it should be, but like Andy said, the Lions just can't stop anybody. Most good teams should cover big numbers against them.
Bucko: The birds bounce back this week. Cards
Gopo: cards - would have considered the lions if stafford was playing, but i have no faith in culpepper.

TITTIES (-4) vs Fish
Andy: I have a soft spot for Tennessee, and this one is a bit of a toss-up for me so I think I'll lean their way in my least favorite game on the board. Plus, I always give them a little extra credit during the week where I call them the "titties." Don't know why that might be. Titties.
Figgs: To quote the Dead Schembechlers, "Chad Henne is a bitch, a motherfucking bitch." Titans.
Nick: Maybe a little too far with the "Dead Schembechlers" thing, Figgs. This was the toughest game for me to pick. I might change this later, but right now I think I've got to take the points here because Tennessee simply hasn't been viery good ATS against good teams. I'll stick with the Dolphins for now.
Bucko: I think the Tit-ans can win by a least a TD.
Gopo: dolphins - these are two of the same teams basically. run heavy, ok qbs. i think it'll be close.

CHIEVES (+1) vs Brownies
Andy: Damn, so close to being a favorite! I'm sure Pittsburgh fans will be eager to check out this matchup of two out of the past three teams to have defeated them; if they miss it, they can catch another such matchup next Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium. This will be a really interesting game for our heroes - was the Pittsburgh game an anomaly against a struggling team in weird weather, or have the Browns toughened up? I'm putting my vote behind the latter, plus I get to bet against a KC team that is really pretty awful. BROWNS!
Figgs: I can't pick against us when there's actually a chgance we can win. Brownies.
Nick: I don't expect much throwing in this one, and the Chiefs have been giving up nearly 200 YPG on the ground recently. The Browns really aren't a bad running team, and I think a Cribbs/Jennings combo can do some real damage. For the second week in a row, Browns.
Bucko: For the first time I'm actually picking the Browns to win.
Gopo: chiefs - sorry boys, i think kc is a better club than what you guys have right now. plus browns have a bunch of folks on d hurt.

EWES (+14) vs .500's
Andy: Texans, big. If there's one thing this New Galveston team does, it's beat bad teams by a lot. And finish .500. This game is perfect for both of those. Cows.
Figgs: This is a big line, but Houston can out up some big points. Texans.
Nick: Can't imagine taking the the Rams here. If you're betting, you either stay away or take the chalk.
Bucko: I'm going with the Texans, but I might change before kick-off.
Gopo: texans - ugh. line is so big. last week i went against a giant line with the rams and it bit me. never trust a qb named 'null'

J!E!T!S! (-6) vs The ATL
Andy: New Jersey can run the ball, has a chance at a playoff spot, will have Sanchez at QB, and is facing an ATL team I don't trust in cold weather and possibly snow. I'll lay these six. Jetz.
Figgs: Is Ryan or Turner playing? I'll go with the Dirrty Birrds in case one of them does.
Nick: I'm not sure what the quarterback situation is here, but right now I'm going Birds.
Bucko: Once again we are going to see some heavy JET running. Jets
Gopo: falcons - they surprised me last week by keeping it close. i think they play well. especially since matt ryan is back.

IGGLES (-9) vs Gold-Diggaz
Andy: Philly should win this easily, though San Fran's unusually strong MNF performance spooks me a bit. Still, Philly's riding a four-game win streak and knows this one virtually assures them of the NFC East. Eagles.
Figgs: Little too high of a line for me, I like the Niners to keep it close.
Nick: Niners on the East Coast in the snow? I like the Eagles big here.
Bucko: Very hard one for me, but I'm going Niners
Gopo: niners - philly is a roller coaster team. i think they come back down on this one.

Andy: I hate this, but Ravens. Hate this. Hate the Ravens. I feel like C-3PO describing Jawas - disgusting creatures. Ratbirds.
Figgs: Ugh, ratbirds.
Nick: Ravens, in one of my favorite games of the week. ($ -9.5)
Bucko: Ravens
Gopo: bears - i'm picking the conditions in this one. i don't think either team puts up many points in this one.

4:00 pm kickoffs

SUPER CHARGERS (-6.5) vs Cincitucky Bungles
Andy: This one says "stay away" to me loud and clear, because: how will the Bengals respond after a drubbing in Minnesota and the death of Chris Henry? My read is that they won't be able to rally back this quick, especially against a really good San Diago team gunning for their 9th straight W and a division title. Chargers.
Figgs: I see Andy's point, not really sure on this one. Chargers.
Nick: I agree with Andy's points, and I think Cincy's a paper tiger. Bolts.
Bucko: I'm going with the Bungles in a close game.
Gopo: bengals - andy is totally right. this is a stay away game all the way. however, i can't pick against a team that has the emotional drive that the bengals will have for this game.

SHANNON SHARPES (-14) vs Charlie Frye and his Los Angeles Raiders
Andy: Fuck it, I'm backing Chuck and the Silver and Black. I jumped off the Denver bandwagon a while back and don't feel like getting back on, especially not if I have to give 2 TD's. Raiders.
Figgs: Why not, Raiders. Just as long as Frye doesn't get hurt and they have to put in J.P. Losman.
Nick: Raiders. Char-lie! Char-lie!
Bucko: I think Frye is going to have some trouble here, but can keep it within 14. Raiders
Gopo: raiders - no way i'm giving two touchdowns to denver. they are not that good.

SQUEALERS (-1) vs The Pack
Andy: Call me crazy, but I think the Steelers are going to show up for this one. The Packers are better on paper and SHOULD win this, but I think Pittsburgh is going to salvage some pride. The pride they left at Cleveland Browns Stadium last time they visited. You know the weirdest part of this? I don't even feel yucky taking them like I normally do. Steelers.
Figgs: I likewise think the Steelers come back for this one.
Nick: The Steelers are in disarray. Go! Pack! Go!
Bucko: Rodgers is going to light it up. Cheese Heads
Gopo: packers - the steelers are not good. after having watched every game this year, that much is clear.

SHEHAWKS (-6.5) vs Buccos
Andy: Seattle might be my favorite game on the board here. They're not great, but they're 4-2 at home and always a handful in Qwest and the Bucs are AVERAGING a thirteen-point loss this season. Am I missing something here? Seahawks.
Figgs: I like the Hawks at home.
Nick: What Andy said. Seahawks.
Bucko: Seahawks
Gopo: seahawks - at home, those guys are solid. freeman isn't going to be able to handle qwest.

8:20 pm kickoff

CATS (+9) vs Purple People Eaters
Andy: I like this one even less than the TEN-MIA game, in part because of the wishy-washy (-9) line, but in part because Carolina has destroyed me this year - I'm 3-10 picking their games. Let's say...Minny.
Figgs: Eh, Vikes.
Nick: I'm not really comfortable with this one either. Vikes?
Bucko: I need Sydney Rice to play big for my fantasy team. Vikings
Gopo: vikings - don't think deangelo is playing, which is going to hurt carolina.

Monday Night Game
8:30 pm kickoff

Andy: Giants here almost seems too simple, although I think I trust them more now on reputation than on actual performance. I'm still going NYG, though.
Figgs: Giants.
Nick: Giants. They've just got to beat the Skins by >3, right? ($ -3)
Bucko: Redskins
Gopo: giants - redskins are neither good nor consistent. every one of their games is a tossup for me. since the line is low, i'll go with the better team.

Tuesday, December 15


Right on the money, fellas.

While we're here, it's worth noting that there were several stand-alone underdog picks; Adam Schefter picked the Bears, Ron Jaworski picked the Broncos (huh?), Eric Allen took the Panthers, and Mike Golic picked the Seahawks, who lost by 27. Mind you, these guys are picking straight up.

Saturday, December 12

NFL Picks: Week 14

What a disaster. In the past 2 weeks, I'm 2-15 at 1 pm starts, 10-5-1 on other games. Nick picked through the Week 13 minefield to pick up games on everyone - perhaps that will assuage the financial hit he took by going against Cleveland. Bucko will look to improve on his debut, while Gopo joins the fray. Hopefully the Browns win on Thursday night so I can don't owe him a case of PBR again.

Last week
Andy: 5-11
Figgs: 4-12
Nick: 9-7
Bucko: 6-10
Nick's Money Picks ($): 0-1

Year to date
Andy: 101-90-1
Figgs: 92-99-1
Nick: 96-95-1
Bucko: 6-10
Nick's Money Picks ($): 26-24

Thursday game
8:20 pm kickoff

BROWNS (+10) vs Steelers
Andy: Time to hand these idiots their 5th straight L. I'll be there freezing myself for the club - time for them to come through for me. BROWNS.
Figgs: I picked against the Browns the last two weeks, and got burned. Not a chance in hell I pick against them against these faggots. BEER WE GO BROWNIES!!
Nick: Why not? LET'S GO BROWNS!
Bucko: Browns. I don't think they will win, but I believe they will cover.
Gopo: Browns - I was initially thinking that this would be the bounce-back week where Pit took the losing out on a team that's clearly worse than they are, but then I remembed that I've been thinking that for the last three weeks. Pit wins but doesn't cover.

Sunday games
1:00 pm kickoffs

FALCONS (+10.5) vs Saints
Andy: Saints
Figgs: No Ryan, I gotta go Saints.
Nick: It looks like Ryan's out, so why would you ever pick the Birds? Who 'dat?
Bucko: Saints
Gopo: saints - can't see the falcons covering with redman.

BEARS (+3) vs Packers
Andy: Packers
Figgs: I have a lot of faith in the Pack here, the Bears are no good.
Nick: Packers. I have no faith in this pick. There's no way I will ever win money off of this game. ($ -4)
Bucko: Packers
Gopo: packers - the bears suck, and maybe jay cutler isn't all that good either.

BUCS (+3) vs Jets
Andy: Jets
Figgs: I'm not a big fan of the Jets, but this is way too low.
Nick: How can I help my totals and help mathematically eliminate the Steelers and Ravens? By picking the J-E-T-S - JETS JETS JETS!
Bucko: Jets
Gopo: jets - bucs have some fight in them, but the jets should win this easy.

JAGS (-3) vs Dolphins
Andy: Dolphins
Figgs: Toughest one on the slate, Fish?
Nick: If Marty and Doc Brown came back in the Delorean and told me the score, I'd believe just about anything. Is there a tougher team to gauge week-to-week than the Jags? Dolphins, I guess.
Bucko: Jags
Gopo: yags - i think the jags are getting going at the right time.

RAVENS (-13) vs Lions
Andy: Lions
Figgs: This is kind of a toss up, and I hate Baltimore, so Lions.
Nick: I guess I have to hold my nose and pick the Ratbirds.
Bucko: Ravens
Gopo: lions - they'll keep it close (and hopefully win). i'm glad everyone finally stopped sucking off flacco (though he is a delaware product...)

TEXANS (-6) vs Seahawks
Andy: Texans
Figgs: This is too low, Houston.
Nick: Texans. Shouldn't this line be 9 or 10? The Hawks are awful outside of the friendly confines of Qwest Field.
Bucko: Texans
Gopo: texans - i might have considered picking the seahawks here if they were home.

COLTS (-7) vs Broncos
Andy: Colts
Figgs: I made a rule several weeks back to not go against Peyton. Colts.
Nick: Colts. Like the Saints game, can you envision anyone feeling really good about the Donks here? I'll take my chances that an undefeated team can win by >7 at home.
Bucko: Colts
Gopo: colts - though the broncos play some crappy dink and dunk football that could work against the colts d.

CHIEVES (-1) vs Buffaloes
Andy: Chieves
Figgs: First time I pick the Jills all year.
Nick: The Bills are the more talented team, and they've played decent football the last three weeks, including a win over the Fish. On the other hand, the Chiefs have been butchered by San Diego and Denver. Bills.
Bucko: Buffalo
Gopo: buffaloes - i have no idea.

VIKINGS (-6.5) vs Bengals
Andy: Bengals
Figgs: This is definitely too many points. I can see the Vikes winning by a touchdown, but I gotta go Cincy.
Nick: This is too many points, but it's tough for me to envision a scenario in which Cincy wins this. Vikings.
Bucko: Vikings
Gopo: vikings - i don't think the bengals are as good as their record.

PATRIOTS (-13.5) vs Panthers
Andy: Panthers
Figgs: Probably too many, but I'm still going Pats.
Nick: Another tough one, but should the Pats be giving 13.5 to anyone at this point, let alone a team that can run the ball effectively at times? Cats.
Bucko: Patriots
Gopo: panthers - especially with a shaky brady.

4:00 pm kickoffs

RAIDERS (+1) vs Redskins
Andy: Raiders
Figgs: Not really sure on this one, Skins I guess.
Nick: I really like the Raiders in this one. (Wait, I "really like" the Raiders?)
Bucko: Redskins
Gopo: redskins - another set of teams that are total enigmas.

TITANS (-13) vs Rams
Andy: Titans
Figgs: Titans.
Nick: Titans. Here's a big spread that I'm pretty confident can be covered.
Bucko: Titans
Gopo: rams - i don't see the titties running away with this. especially if vince doesn't play.

COWBOYS (-3) vs Chargers
Andy: Chargers
Figgs: Chargers are playing too well to go against them now.
Nick: This really feels like a Chargers trap pick. Too obvious, right? Sooner or later the Cowboys are going to get something going in December, and they need this game more than the Bolts. Cowboys.
Bucko: Chargers
Gopo: chargers - another team that's playing well at the right time.

8:20 pm kickoff
GIANTS (-1) vs Eagles
Andy: Eagles
Figgs: I like both of these teams, and think they will both make the playoffs. In order for that to happen, the Giants need this one.
Nick: Giants. The Eagles make me nervous against good teams in night games.
Bucko: Eagles
Gopo: giants - mostly because the eagles should win this game and whenever i think they're playing well, they shit the bed.

Monday Night Game
8:30 pm kickoff

49ERS (+3.5) vs Cards
Andy: Cards
Figgs: The Niners blow. Cards.
Nick: Cards. This almost feels like a Chargers trap game, except I don't think the 49ers are very good. On a side note, I had a private bet with myself on how long it would take Kurt Warner to thank God during the post game interview last week. It took about 10 seconds. That was longer than I expected. ($)
Bucko: Cards
Gopo: cards - its in the cards (and not in the cards for the 49ers).

Friday, December 11

Browns 13, steelers 6

I just wanted to see that score in headline form again. Look at how glorious it is! Look at how the Browns' number is bigger than the steelers'! Tremendous.

As you see at the photo at right, I was looking sharp for the game. Those pajama pants were a lot warmer than they looked - it was mostly my hands and face that were cold sitting up in section 346. Wow was it ever chilly, though.

Quick story - I was taking the elevator up to my apartment after work, and some unattractive steeler girls that reeked of cigarette smoke boarded as well. One Browns fan guy got on and was trying to rally support. I was first off and had to excuse myself past another nonpartisan guy on the 'vator. He said, oh sorry, because he was blocking my path, and I said, "that's OK, I just don't want to tough any of them."

The Browns looked really solid last night, I have to say. They did the things that a good cold-weather team can do - they rushed the ball effectively, they played tough defense, put pressure on the quarterback (8 sacks of Worthlessberger), and didn't make any turnovers. Brady Quinn was the classic "game manager," and that was OK last night. I hate to quibble about anything after a win like that, but if Josh Cribbs managed 87 yards on just 8 carries out of the Wildcat, maybe give him, I don't know, more carries? Just a thought.

I love watching the steelers' misery right now. They've capped an impressive five-game losing streak by dropping three to us, KC, and Oakland. Combined record: 9-28. Beautiful.

Cribbs postgame: "There are a lot of Steelers fans around the city so I hope people go to work and kick those Steelers fans." Agreed - I need to find someone to kick!

From ESPN: "The win was just the second for Cleveland's embattled first-year coach Eric Mangini, who certainly helped his job security by beating Pittsburgh, something no Browns coach had done since Chris Palmer nine years ago."
Um, that's true, except for Butch Davis' Browns toppling the steelers 33-13 in 2003 behind Tim Couch's greatest game ever. I briefly appeared on national TV that night.

Cribbs again: "They're going to hear that bus' engine all the way back. That's a lonely ride. I've ridden that ride for five years now. It's time for them to hear that engine all the way home while they look at the stat sheet."
I wish I had a video of that trip.

So that's a big one for us. We've finally got the monkey off our back. I finally don't owe Gopo a case of PBR for losing our Browns-steelers bet every year. After our first win, I said I thought we had two more in us. With games against Oakland and KC still on the slate, I wonder if we might not hit four. A fan can dream, right?

Wednesday, December 9

Braylon Edwards

What a loser:

Tuesday, December 8

Turner Sidelined 8 Weeks

"There is nothing I think Evan Turner can't do, including leading this team to a Final Four."

That is what I wrote last week in my Ohio St b-ball preview. Apparently there is one thing ET can't do, and that's play with three broken vertebrae in his back. After a dunk in last Saturday's 111-60 victory over Eastern Michigan, Turner landed awkwardly on his back and was immediately taken to this hospital, where the fractures were then found.

This is very similar to last season, when the Bucks lost David Lighty for the season after he broke his foot in the seventh game. That opened the door for Turner, who became the main scoring option for OSU and responded by having an incredible season. Hopefully Lighty can return the favor this season, but he will need some help from Jon Diebler (who had 21 points in the game where Turner was lost) and others.

If the timetable is correct, ET will be returning in mid-February, in time for the last 6-8 regular season games. Hopefully that will give him enough time to get back into the swing of things before the Big Ten and NCAA tourneys. This is really a shame to see, because Turner and the Buckeyes had looked very good to start the season, and had fans thinking big things.


Saturday, December 5

NFL Picks: Week 13

Last week wasn't a stellar one for any of our three competitors. Figgs went against the Browns in a rare move and paid for it, Nick talked smack on Thanksgiving and went 1-2, while I managed to go 1-6 in the Sunday early slate. Just when you think you're getting to know the league a bit better...

We also had our first push of the year, thanks to that crazy Tennessee-Arizona ending. As silly as the "Vince Young wins football games" thing has been in the past, it's been nothing but true this year, as the Titans have ascended from 0-6 to 5-6 since inserting him at QB. I wonder why no pushes this year? Too many half-point lines? Big lines from the wide good/bad gap in the league making accurate lines tougher? Maybe it's just a statistical oddity, who knows.

And finally, we have a new member of the team for the rest of the 2009 slate: longtime FCF reader Bucko. We'll see how he fares against our admittedly not-super-strong competition.

Last week
Andy: 7-8-1
Figgs: 7-8-1
Nick: 5-10-1
Nick's Money Picks ($): 2-2

Year to date
Andy: 96-79-1
Figgs: 88-87-1
Nick: 87-88-1
Nick's Money Picks ($): 26-23

Thursday game
8:20 pm kickoff

BUFFALOES (+3) vs Jets (in Toronto)
Andy: Both of these clubs far exceeded my expectations last week; Buffalo by trouncing the Dolphins and New Jersey AFC by handling the Panthers. I'm taking Buffalo here for the first time in a while; I like them in Canada, I think they're playing hard for this interim coach, Ryan Fitzpatrick is coming on strong, and I can't give points to take the J E T S on the road. Buffaloes.
Figgs: Jets, because the Jills burned me last week to the tune of 100 smackers (maybe I should have listened to Andy's "I wouldn't bet this game" comment).
Nick: Jets. Mark Sanchez's QB rating is 62, but oddly ESPN isn't plastering that all over SportCenter. This line should be lower, but Buffalo loses their formidable home field advantage in Toronto. I want to take the Bills strictly on principle, but I look at the Jets' last four games, featuring a win over mediocre Carolina, and respectable losses to three good teams, and I think they'll have enough to beat the Bills by more than three. Jets.
Bucko: I'm going to go with the Jets. I think this will be a battle of the running game. I think Thomas Jones will have a big game against the terrible rushing defense of Buffalo.

Sunday games
1:00 pm kickoffs

FALCONS (+5.5) vs Eagles
Andy: The Battle of the Birds! Philly isn't really all that, and Atlanta is inconsistent, but I'm not willing to give that many for Philly. Falcons.
Figgs: I feel this game will be close either way, so I'll go with the underdogs. ATL.
Nick: Atlanta's QB situation has me a little nervous. Eagles.
Bucko: Atlanta is really beat up right now, and Philly always plays strong near the end of the season. Eagles.

BEARS (-9) vs Rams
Andy: I don't see why the Bears should beat anyone by nine points. Rams.
Figgs: I can't believe I'm picking them, but Bears.
Nick: I'll take the Rams strictly on principle. But if Jacko is out, I might switch.
Bucko: Rams are beat up. I think Bears win by 10 - 13 here. Da Bears

BENGALS (-13) vs Lions
Andy: If the Bengals couldn't beat the Browns by this many points, it isn't logical that they'll beat the Lions by this many. Plus, they really don't score that many points. Yeah, they're 8-3, but it's with solid defense and rushing, not big-play scoreboard-pounding. Detroit.
Figgs: I just can't bring myself to pick the Lions. Cincy.
Nick: I like what Andy said. The Bengals are built to win close games with fundamentals, not to cover big spreads. Lions.
Bucko: Bengals D plays well, and Palmer has a big day. Bengals

REDSKINS (+9.5) vs Saints
Andy: The Saints will win, but they're still floating after demolishing the Patriots and might struggle early, as they've done from time to time. I originally picked Washington, and I kinda wish I was getting 10, but I've really liked this Saint club all year. Why would I not want to take them here? N'awlins.
Figgs: Gotta go Saints here.
Nick: What's the worst case here? Saints by seven? Gimme' New Orleans.
Bucko: Redskins have a solid defensive backfield, but just not enough points here. Saints

PANTHERS (-5.5) vs Bucs
Andy: Fuck the Panthers - they never cover for me. The Bucs, meanwhile, I've been underestimating for awhile. I like this bet.
Figgs: Delhome isn't playing, so that works in their favor. Cats.
Nick: Eh, this feels like a sucker bet, but I'm taking the Cats. As long as Delhomo doesn't throw eleventy billion picks, the Panthers win by at least seven, right?
Bucko: Doesn't look like like Jake is playing. I'll go with the underestimated Bucs.

JAGS (Even) vs Texans
Andy: Texans. Please. Not only do the Jags suck, but Houston has a golden opportunity to return to .500, which they always gravitate to.
Figgs: I don't think either team is very good, but I like Andy's theory of Houston getting back to .500.
Nick: Jags. JAX is tough at home, they're still in the hunt, and I feel like this heartless Houston team is a walking corpse.
Bucko: Jags just don't have anything besides Jones-Drew. Houston in a tight one.

COLTS (-7) vs Titans
Andy: Vince. Young. Wins. Football. Games. These guys might sneak into the playoffs at 9-7. Titans.
Figgs: I gotta stay with VY here. Titans.
Nick: Titans. I'm really rooting for the Titans to pull this run off, and I wouldn't be surprised if they win this game outright.
Bucko: Titans streak ends here. Colts.

CHIEVES (+5) vs Broncos
Andy: Chiefs. The Broncos aren't going to come out as strong as they did last week, and KC is as good a 3-8 team as you'll find.
Figgs: Broncos.
Nick: This line should be seven. Even after last week, Vegas doesn't fully trust the Donks again. I don't trust them either, but I trust them enough to cover against lousy teams. Kansas City qualifies. WHY DON'T YOU JUST GO HOME CHIEFS? YOU CAN'T BEAT DENVER!
Bucko: Broncos

DOLPHINS (+4) vs Pats
Andy: Patriots. I'm kinda over the Fish after they got mauled in Buffalo. Wow, I timed that bandwagon jump badly.
Figgs: I like the Pats by a whole bunch.
Nick: Miami wins this game outright. The Dolphins are a playoff caliber team, but they used
Bucko: Patriots rebound in this one. Hopefully they wear the throwbacks too. Pats

STEELERS (-14.5) vs Raiders
Andy: Pittsburgh at home, in December, fighting for a playoff spot, against a disinterested Raider team, with Big Ugly back in the lineup. I'll roll that.
Figgs: Ugh, Stillers.
Nick: Sadly, I've also gotta go Steelers.
Bucko: Welcome home, Gradkowski. About 0.5 pts too many for me here. Raiders.

4:00 pm kickoffs

BROWNS (+13.5) vs Chargers
Andy: [Tries to envision a scenario under which the Browns allow fewer than 40 points.] I stepped up and bought some Dawg Pound seats for this one. Yeah, we're huge underdogs, and some fans are whiny about the team, and some are even betting against their own team, which is awful, but I'm doubling down and sticking with my team. Browns.
Figgs: Chargers. We really suck.
Nick: Isn't this the lock of the century? Chargers. ($ -13)
Bucko: The Browns sucked before the injuries, so we suck even more. Bolts.

GIANTS (+2.5) vs Cowboys
Andy: Cowboys. It seems clear to me that the Giants suck, though the Cowboys are notoriously bad in December. I don't like this game. At all
Figgs: I'll pick up one on everyone when the Giants take this one.
Nick: I hung on with the Giants for too long, and now there's no way I can trust them against a decent team. 'Boys.
Bucko: Giants running game is hurting, Cowboys

SEAHAWKS (Even) vs 49ers
Andy: 49ers, I guess, who the hell cares?
Figgs: I'm with Andy, who really cares? Niners.
Nick: The classic coin flip game. I feel like the Niners have a little more to fight for. Plus Mike Singletary might pull down his pants.
Bucko: I feel the 49ers have a slight edge here. It's time for Crabtree to have a breakout game.

8:20 pm kickoffs

CARDS (+3) vs Vikings
Andy: Is Warner back for this game? If so, I'm taking him and the points. If not, I'll go with Minny. Bucko, aren't both QB's ageless wonders? Nick, what does "most balanced" mean? The Browns are every bit as balanced - they suck in all facets of the game. Looks like I'm going Cards. The Vikes have had the easiest schedule this side of Penn State so far in 2009, and the Cardinals are making a playoff push.
Figgs: I really like both of these teams, but I'm going with AD and the Vikes.
Nick: The Vikes are rolling. They might be the most balanced team in the league. I'll stick with them on the road and indoors.
Bucko: I'm going with the ageless wonder here. Vikings

Monday Night Game
8:30 pm kickoff

PACKERS (-3) vs Ravens
Andy: Packers. The Ratbirds' playoff push ends right here, right now.
Figgs: I hope I'm wrong, but I'm going ratbirds.
Nick: Lambeau on Monday night in December? What a home field advantage! GO! PACK! GO!
Bucko: I like what Andy and Nick both said. Packers

Thursday, December 3

Buckeye Roundball Preview

Going against my high school Calc teacher's words of wisdom of "better never than late," here's a preview of the already 6-1 Ohio St basketball team. The 2009-10 squad comes into the season with talent, experience, and one of the nation's best players, giving them pretty high expectations. I don't think anyone is really thinking National Title, but a Big Ten Championship and possible Final Four sleeper is not totally out of the question. Let's take a look at the positives and negatives.


1.) Evan Turner. Turner led the team in every major statistical category last year, and after watching the season thus far, absolutely is a candidate for National Player of the Year - averaging 21 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists. He is ridiculously good. He is so good, in fact, that coach Thad Matta has been flirting with the idea of making him a "point-forward," made famous by Scottie Pippen on the great Chicago Bull teams. He has handled the ball a decent amount this year, but is still all over the court. The commentator in last night's game said that he would be an All-Big Ten selection at all five positions. ET is still only a junior, but will most likely opt for the NBA at season's end.

2.) Outside Shooting. This team can absolutely shoot the lights out. Jon Diebler is one of the best 3 point shooters in the nation, hitting 41% from beyond the arc last year, and just a stupid good 49% so far this season. He is already second in school history in 3's made, and surely on his way to pass standout Jamar Butler within the next two years (assuming he doesn't go pro too). Turner, David Lighty, William Buford, and Jeremie Simmons can all shoot the rock as well. Buford takes too many bad shots, but can hit when left open.

3.) Experience. The Buckeyes are returning every player with quality minutes from the '08 team, with the exception of B.J. Mullens, who underperformed and decided to hit the NBA while he still had the chance to be selected. Even better, they get David Lighty back, who has been to a Final Four but was out all of last season with an injury. The incredible thing is, they are all still Juniors! You can't be sure of how things are going to turn out, but right now it looks like no one has the talent to leave early save for Turner.


1.) Size. The team basically starts four guards, with Turner and Lighty being listed as G/F, but are only 6'6 and 6'5, respectively. This could be a problem, especially in the Big Ten, with Purdue, Michigan St, and Northwestern all having quality big men. It isn't all bad though. The one forward that does start, is 6'8 265 pound Dallas Lauderdale. Dallas is an absolute monster down low, blocking more than two shots a game last year. His biggest concern will certainly be staying out of foul trouble, something we saw plague Greg Oden three years back. Sophomore Zisis Sarikopoulos is 7'0, but not very polished. If he can mature quickly, and Kyle Madsen can provide some quality minutes off the bench, Ohio St might not be in too bad of shape, especially when you consider how many rebounds ET gets despite his size.

2.) Depth. This starting five is just as good, if not better, than the 2006 Greg Oden/Mike Conley led team, but lacks the quality bench players. Simmons is a decent sixth man, but certainly no Daequan Cook, and it gets even more shallow after that. PG P.J. Hill is a great defender and F Madsen is solid defensively, but both provide absolutely nothing on the offensive side of the ball. Just as with the size, the key may be Sarikopoulos' development.


Ohio St has looked very good so far, with their only loss coming to North Carolina. Even in that game, they showed a lot of heart and guts to stay in that game. They have basically looked flawless in big wins over Cal and last night against Florida St. With a fantastic coach, star players, and lights out shooting, the Bucks could be destined for big things. However, the Big Ten is the best it has been in years, so conference play will be tough, especially with starting four of the first five games on the road. This should be a really entertaining season, and there is nothing I think Evan Turner can't do, including leading this team to a Final Four.


Atlantic Not So Attractive

Let's see how the East Coast media spins this one.

After the first month of the season, the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets are a combined 4-33.

What did LeBron James say in early November? Something about "[a] max contract doesn't mean more than winning."

That's great because the 30+ wins LeBron immediately brings to a team would propel these two NBA juggernauts to strongly compete with mediocrities such as Golden State or Minnesota.

Of course, LeBron didn't mention how important it was to play in a new arena in front of Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Then again, what good does Beyoncé do LeBron James? That is your boy's wife, fix your eyes on something else.

It's not happening New York, stick to buying baseball championships while you still can -- at least you're good at that.

Nets Futility

Congratulations to the New Jersey Nets for starting the 2009-2010 NBA season at 0-18, giving them the record for most consecutive losses to start a season. Keep your heads up Nets fans, all of the major free agents are knocking down the door.

Congratulations Z

Zydrunas Ilgauskas played in his 724th games for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, making him the all-time team leader in games played.

Often under-rated and battling injury, the two-time all-star exemplifies teamwork and class in a time when most athletes are worrying about their next max contract.


Tuesday, December 1

Ann Arbor is STILL a Whore!

For the eighth time in Jim Tressel's nine seasons as head coach in Columbus, the Ohio St Buckeyes topped michigan, 21-10, two weeks ago in the annual rivalry game. I said it in my preview and I'll say it again, I will never, EVER get tired of beating this team. I will never be one of those people who say "I like the rivalry better when michigan is good," because I love watching them be bad too damn much. Ohio St's sixth straight win ties them for the second-longest streak in the series. With the victory, the Buckeyes win the Big Ten title outright and keep michigan at home for the postseason for a second straight year, handing them their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1962-63.

Game Recap

Jon Thoma had a rare good punt on OSU's first possession, pinning the wolverines inside their ten. Two plays later, Tate Forcier was sacked and fumbled. Cameron Heyward scooped up the ball in the end zone, and just like that, it's 7-0 Bucks. Ohio St couldn't move the ball at all in the first quarter, and michigan managed one good drive that ended in a missed field goal.

Midway through the second, Forcier brought michigan down the field, but a good pass breakup by Kurt Coleman forced Jason Olesnavage to attempt another FG, one that he made this time, cutting the lead to 7-3. This score was way too close, and it was 14-3 in no time after a big run by Terrelle Pryor set up a 30-yard TD scamper by Brandon Saine. Both defenses played well to close out the half, and it was an 11-point Buckeye lead at the break.

Early in the second half, Pryor made his lone mistake of the ballgame, when he had a pass tipped at the line and was intercepted by Jonas Mouton at midfield. A few minutes later, Forcier hit Vincent Smith for a score to make it 14-10. Why are we letting these guys hang around? Pryor didn't let them do so for long, as on the next possession OSU had what was surely their best drive of the game. Dan Herron capped off the 11-play, 89-yard drive by catching a pass from TP to put the Bucks up, 21-10. Other than the touchdown, every other yard on the drive came on the ground, with Pryor, Herron, and Saine all contributing pretty much equally.

In the 4th quarter, Tressel was perfectly content with just running the clock out and letting michgian beat themselves. Kurt Coleman and Devon Torrence each picked off Forcier, and things didn't get any better for the wolverines when backup QB Denard Robinson came in, as he was promptly intercepted by Thaddeus Gibson and sacked on 4th down by John Simon. Ohio St dominated the running game (outgaining michigan 251-80 on the ground), came up with some big defensive plays (winning the turnover battle 5 to 1), and won (again) 21-10.

Game Notes

Game Ball
Just like last year for this game, Jim Tressel gets the GB for his complete and utter dominance over that school up north. He improved his record to 8-1 against his archrival, and shows no signs of letting up any time soon. He came in with the game plan of running right down their throats, limiting Pryor's mistakes, and playing solid defense. Check, check, checkmate. Hey haters, remember five weeks ago when you wanted to run this guy out of town? His michigan record alone should guarantee him a lifetime contract. (Oh yeah, perhaps his five straight conference titles/BCS appearances, too.)
Game Balls to date: Pryor, Defense (2), Saine, Coleman, Posey, Heyward, O-Line, Tressel

michigan Weekend
As always, the three days I spent in Columbus for this weekend were an absolute blast. Thursday's Mirror Lake experience was unbelievable yet again. In no way was it embarrassing that I participated even though I'm no longer a college student, especially since I've never actually attended Ohio St, but still joined in the jumping four of the past five years. The weekend as a whole was just a real good time. I can't wait until we beat these clowns again next year!

It Smells Like Roses
Finally, Ohio St has gone BACK, to Pasadena. It's been 13 long years since the Buckeyes have been in the Rose Bowl. Thirteen! On New Years Day 1997, Eddie George and company defeated Jake Plummer and Arizona St, 20-17, when Joe Germaine hit David Boston with 19 seconds left in one of the greatest games I've ever witnessed. Now the Buckeyes will return to face the Pac-10 champion, which will be decided this Thursday night when Oregon plays Oregon St. Either team would be a tough game for the Bucks, but both winnable. I'll provide a preview once everything is officially announced.

All-Conference Snubs
The All-Big Ten team was announced this past weekend, and the conference's outright winner and #1 defense only managed one first teamer, with SS Kurt Coleman being the lone representative. That's some bullshit. D-Lineman Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson both should have got some consideration, but ended up on the second team. Other second teamers were LB Ross Homan, RB Brandon Saine, and OG Justin Boren. Wisconsin RB John Clay was conference Player of the Year. I could see not having any offensive players, but this defense was far too good to only get one guy on the 1st team. I could also make a case for LB Brian Rolle and CB Chimidi Chekwa for 2nd team.

Up Next: TBA
As usual, the Buckeyes now wait for over a month until they play their Bowl game. Illinois finally woke up and decided this is a terrible idea, and scheduled non-conference games both last week and this coming week. Hopefully more Big Ten teams will start to do this, or the conference can just get a 12th team and have a Championship game, something that is long overdue (Notre Dame, Pitt - I'm talking to you).

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)