Friday, September 30

NFL Picks: Week 4

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

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

Current Standings
Nick: 26-18-3
Joe: 23-21-3
Figgs: 22-22-3

Figgs' $ Picks: 1-4-1
Nick's $ Picks: 8-3-3

Sunday, 1 pm kickoff

BROWNS (Pk) vs Titans
Figgs: BROWNS! No Kenny Britt, just load the box and slow down Johnson.
Joe: Browns; 3-1 going into the bye week sounds phenominal. Let's go Let's go!
Nick: Browns, although this would be different if Kenny Britt were in there.

COWBOYS (-1.5) vs Lions
Figgs: Cowboys. The Lions are deffinitely better and may have a shot at the postseason, but they're still not as good as Dallas at home.
Joe: Lions; Just call me Davy Jones, cause "I'm a Believer!"
Nick: Lions. Dallas is decent, but the Lions should be favored here. I'll keep riding them until they burn me.

BEARS (-6.5) vs Panthers
Figgs: Bears. Cam Newton can blow me.
Joe: Panthers; On the 7th day, God created mankind. That's because He spent the 1st six days trying to perfect CAM!
Nick: Panthers. Too many points, and the Bears have yet to convince me that they don't suck. ($)

JAGUARS (+7) vs Saints
Figgs: NO. Seeing the Jags the past few weeks makes me even more made I lost $$ that first week when they beat the Titans. How did they do that?
Joe: Saints; Since their near miss in the opener against Green Bay, the Saints seem to be rolling on all cylinders. The defense might be a concern, but a good remedy for that is the anemic Jags offense.
Nick: Saints. It's a lot of points on the road, but the Jags are pretty bad.

BENGALS (+3) vs Bills
Figgs: Bills. I could see them taking a step back this week, but Cinncy is really bad.
Joe: Bills; This could be a textbook trap game for Buffalo, but I'll continue to pick them anyway because I just think Cincy is awful.
Nick: Bills. Buffalo just had an emotional victory over New England, and they're playing the Eagles next week? TRAP. GAME. I still like them though. ($ +2.5)

CHIEVES (+2) vs Vikings
Figgs: Vikes. This is the week they finally keep a lead and get a W.
Joe: Vikings; Best 1st half team in football, worst 2nd half team in football. I don't see the hapless Chiefs mounting a comeback against them though if they get out to another big lead.
Nick: Vikes. Happy to go against KC with a line <3 points. ($ -1.5)

EAGLES (-9) vs 49ers
Figgs: Niners. I feel the same as Joe. Philly should win this game, but this spread is too high for a team underachieving as much as the Eagles are.
Joe: 49ers; I've been overestimating Philly so far (as has Vegas). I wanted to take them here, but until they prove they be worthy of such a high spread, I can't give that many points.
Nick: Niners. Too many points.

RAMS (+2) vs Redskins
Figgs: Rams. The Skins do look much better than I originally gave them credit for, but I think the Rams finally start living up to expectations and get a win here.
Joe: Skins; They seem to be a pretty decent team and St. Louis looks absolutely dreadful.
Nick: Skins. Washington has 8-8 written all over them...St. Louis looks like 3-13. ($)

TEXANS (-3.5) vs Steelers
Figgs: shitsburgh. Still not 100% sold on Houston. If they cover this one I'll buy them.
Joe: Texans; I'd like the Texans even if this spread was between 7 and 10. Pittsburgh might have the worst O-line in football. This week they won't have the inept Kerry Collins to bail them out. Matt Shaub should put up more than enough pts to win comfortably here.
Nick: Steelers. I hope I'm wrong, but I've seen this too many times to declare these assholes dead yet.

Sunday, 4 pm kickoff

SEAHAWKS (+4.5) vs Falcons
Figgs: ATL. C'mom guys, you're starting to make me look bad.
Joe: Seahawks; Just a gut feeling. ATL looks very shaky so far and I see Seattle at least keeping it close against the stuggling Falcons traveling cross country.
Nick: Falcons. Really wanted to pull the trigger on Seattle here, but this is a must-win for a Falcons team that can still turn things around.

CARDINALS (+1) vs Giants
Figgs: Giants. Shouldn't this up 5 or 6? ($ -1.5)
Joe: G-MEN; I think I really underestimated New York this year. The Cards are pretty bad and I like the Giants to win sort of handily on the road this week.
Nick: Giants. I'll happy to take an NFC East team over an NFC West team, thank you. ($ -1.5)

PACKERS (-12.5) vs Broncos
Figgs: Pack. Looking forward to riding Aaron Rodgers to a Fantasy Football title. (Did he just say "riding Aaron Rodgers?")
Joe: PACK; To quote Ric Flair, "To Be the man, you gotta beat the man!" The Packers are the defending champs and still look to me to be the best team in football. Denver is bad, regardless of who their QB is.
Nick: Packers. Big number, but no faith in Denver.

RAIDERS (+4) vs Patriots
Figgs: Pats. I'd be very surprised if Oakland can put it together two weeks in a row to beat teams that are better than them.
Joe: Raiders; I thought they would beat the Jets last week and they proved me right. I look for more of the same this week against a suspect Pats D. Even if Brady and Co. are hitting their stride, I still like the Raiders to outscore them.
Nick: Pats. I don't see NE losing twice in a row, and I don't think that the Raiders offense can hang with the Brady Bunch.

CHARGERS (-7) vs Dolphins
Figgs: Fins. Exactly what Joe said. SD wins but by less than a TD.
Joe: Fish; Miami keeps losing, but playing everyone close. And the Bolts continue to play down to their competition year after year. With all their talent, just think what they could be capable of if they had a real head coach.
Nick: Fish. Chad Henne has actually impressed me so far (?!), and the Chargers have struggled mightily on defense.

Sunday Night Football

RAVENS (-3.5) vs Jets
Figgs: Ravens. Tough one to call here, should be a real good game. I'll go with Baltimore at home, but wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Jets win.
Joe: Jets; I'm not sure if they pull off the win, but I look for a really tight game, so I won't give more than a field goal either way here.
Nick: Jets. I'm still not convinced that Joe Flacco is ready for prime time, and that extra half point is enormous.

Monday Night Football

BUCS (-10) vs Colts
Figgs: Colts. They'll get a win sooner or later. Probably not here, but they might keep it close.
Joe: Bucs; I think the Colts defensive performance last week was one of the best I've ever seen, yet the lack of QB play still cost them a victory. I think the hangover from that loss will leave them flat this week and Tampa should roll.
Nick: Colts. Ten is a key number and all of Tampa's games have fallen within a 10-point margin.

Figgs Teaser: Packers (-5)/Patriots/Saints
Nick's Teaser: Saints -0.5, Packers -6.5

Thursday, September 29

Tribe Season Wrap Part 1: Inside the numbers

The first of my two-part series wrapping up the Cleveland Indians' 2011, campaign, during which they went 81-81 and finished in second place in the AL Central, this article will look into the season statistics of the Wahoos. We'll take a look at who starred for the Indians, who surprised and who disappointed, and what the team might look like in 2012.

Before we get to individual numbers, let's have a few team stats to get the ball rolling. The Indians finished 80-82, good enough for second place in the AL Central behind Detroit (by 15 games, yikes). They posted an OPS+ of 99 for the season and an ERA+ of 94; for all the credit the pitching (and especially the bullpen) got, they were actually outperformed by the Wahoo batters. They plated 4.35 a game (8th in AL, league average 4.47) and gave up 4.69 a contest (10th AL, league average 4.43). In short, they pretty much deserved to end up where they did, far cry as it was from their dynamite 30-15 start.

It's just a shame we had to play Texas and Detroit. After starting the year 6-2 against the Tigers, Cleveland lost 10 straight down the stretch to them, accounting for most of Detroit's margin of victory in the divisional race. A stretch like that is just another year at the office against the Rangers, against whom Cleveland posted a sparkling 1-9 mark (an average Texas-Cleveland game this year was a 7-3 Ranger win). Last year: 2-4. 2009: 1-8. This is starting to get ridiculous, so let's move on to individual players.

The three best players on the team were clearly catcher/first baseman Carlos Santana (OPS+ 124), shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (OPS+ 120), and starting pitcher Justin Masterson (ERA+ 124). If you like WAR (and I do, and actually hadn't checked it before starting this sentence), we see the top three Tribesmen as:

Santana 3.8
A. Cabrera 3.8
Masterson 4.0

Well there you have it. No one else finished above 2.3; by any legitimate measure these three were clearly the top contributors to the club, and I would be fine with any of the three as team MVP. I'm not in that camp that automatically DQ's pitchers for MVP awards (two idiots left Pedro Martinez out of their entire Top 10 in the AL MVP balloting in 1999 even though he led the AL in WAR) if they're the club's top performer. In this case, though, I'm picking Asdrubal, who put up the best raw numbers on the club (including breaking the team record for home runs by an SS) while playing over 150 games at one of the two toughest positions in baseball (Santana manned the other, but spent over 60 games at more relaxed first base and lacks Cabrera's prowess in the field) and serving as the team's de facto on-field leader. What a terrific season.

In the pleasant surprises department we have Michael Brantley (2.2, probably would have been much higher had he not played through a bad wrist for so long), Jack Hannahan (2.1 including some of the best glovework we've ever seen at 3B), Vinnie Pestano (2.3), Joe Smith (2.2), Jason Kipnis (1.1 in limited time with the Tribe), and Josh Tomlin (1.8).

In the disappointment column we have Hafner (a decent 1.3, but at $13 million a season this guy just has to stay healthy), Grady Sizemore (0.5, same comment as Hafner for a bit less cash), Fausto Carmona (-1.5, without a doubt the team's LVP), Shin-Soo Choo (1.3, down from stellar 6.2 and 6.5 in the previous two seasons).

I wanted to say that in the category of completely validating the concept and execution of WAR, we had Ezequiel Carrera at 0.0. But some shoddy defense dropped him to -0.5; his batting is still replacement level. His photo should still appear by "replacement player" in the dictionary.

As for mid-season additions, we've got Kosuke Fukudome (0.4) in the plus category, stabilizing RF even with late plunge leaving his OPS+ at just 88, and Ubaldo Jimenez (-0.4) in the negative category. It's at this point where I remind Nick that we still have two fairly inexpensive years of Ubaldo left.

In the category of having been on the team and participated in many of the games, we have Matt LaPorta, whose page still hasn't been snapped up for $90 a season. Shocker.

So what do the 2012 Wahoos look like, with these numbers in mind? Something like this:

LF Brantley
SS Cabrera
RF Choo
C/1B Santana
DH Hafner
CF Sizemore (assuming they rework his deal)
2B Kipnis
3B Chisenhall
1B/C Some guy

Bench: Duncan (why not?), Donald, Marson, Hannahan

SP Masterson
SP Jimenez
SP Carmona (again, assuming the option)
SP Tomlin
SP Gomez

CL C. Perez
RP Smith, R. Perez, Pestano, Sipp, two other cats

Looking at that lineup makes you realize that we can score some runs if our whole team isn't on the DL, and looking at the rotation makes you realize that...hey look, football's on TV!

Wednesday, September 28

Buckeyes Regroup, Rout Colorado

Last Saturday, things looked to be back to normal in Columbus, for one week at least, as the Buckeyes easily disposed of an inferior Colorado team, 37-17. Luke Fickell must be an avid FCF reader, because he took my advice and played Braxton Miller at QB for essentially the game’s entirety. Braxton’s passing stat line of 5/13 for 83 yards certainly will not wow anyone, but I liked what I saw overall from the true freshman, in particular his decision making. His 2 TDs to 0 INTs reflects this to some degree, but to be impressed you had to watch him play. He stayed in the pocket when he needed to, threw the ball away when nothing was there, and showed his ability to tuck the ball and run whenever he got the chance, rushing 17 times for 83 yards. After one of the worst performances in recent memory down in Miami, it was good to see Ohio St back to its winning ways.

Game Recap
Jordan Hall returned the opening kickoff 45 yards to get near midfield, giving the Buckeyes an instant field position advantage. Each team started with a three-and-out, but thanks to the initial Hall return the Buckeyes began their second drive in Buffalo territory. Hall and Miller took turns rushing the ball effectively and eventually it was Hall who broke the plane to put the Bucks up 7-0. DT Adam Bellamy forced and recovered a Colorado fumble on the next possession, setting up a Drew Basil field goal and quickly putting Ohio St on top by ten.

The Buffs just couldn’t move the ball a lick as they were forced into two more three-and-outs, again setting up the Buckeyes across the 50. On a third and long from the Colorado 32-yard line, Brax looked downfield for the first time all game and found Devin Smith, who had about three steps on his defender, for a score. Colorado QB Tyler Hansen completed seven passes on the ensuing drive, including a TD pass on 4th and 1 to put the Buffs back in it at 17-7. We appeared to be headed into the half at that score until Ben Buchanan punted from midfield with under a minute to go. CU returner Rodney Stewart was bumped into by his own man and muffed the kick, giving it back to OSU at the 11 with time for one shot at the end zone and a FG attempt. With no one open, Braxton took off looking for pay dirt, but was tackled at the one. Basil tacked on another three and the Buckeyes went to the break up 20-7.

A penalty on the second half kickoff pinned the Buffaloes deep in their own territory, and yet another three-and-out gave Ohio St great starting field position again. Miller made quick work of it, connecting with Smith for another score, basically putting the game out of reach at 27-7. WR Verlon Reed was nowhere to be found for the second straight game after a hot start, and if this game was any indication it looks like Smith, also a true freshman, is Braxton’s go-to guy. After a Colorado field goal, Jordan Hall had another fantastic return and was brought down from behind at the five. Carlos Hyde took a sweep on the next play into the end zone and the rout was on. OSU just grinded the rest of this one out on the ground, with Basil hitting a third FG and Colorado scoring a late, insignificant TD to close the contest at 37-17.

Game Ball
Welcome to Columbus, OH, Mr. Braxton Miller. As I stated at the opening of this piece, he didn’t have the greatest stats, but the 18-year old looked like a seasoned vet out there. He showed poise and confidence, and his team looked to him as their leader. I don’t want to make the same mistake I did with Joe Bauserman after the Akron game, because Colorado is far from a good football team, but I was pleased with what I saw from Braxton last week. He’ll be facing a much tougher Michigan St defense next week, let’s hope he can keep the momentum going.
Game balls to date: Miller, Simon

Big Ten
It was my town’s Wine Festival this past weekend (for those not from North East, PA, trust me - it’s a huge deal) so other than going to a bar for the OSU game, I didn’t catch much college football. Every Big Ten team played weak opponents, and most won in convincing fashion. The exceptions were Illinois, who narrowly escaped Western Michigan, and Indiana and Minnesota, who were beat by North Texas and North Dakota St, respectively. Wow, there are some bad teams in this conference.

I didn’t even see a single "highlight" of michigan’s 28-7 win over San Diego St, but I did check out cant-tie's stat line - 8/17, 93 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs. On the other hand, he ran for 200 yards and 3 scores. I’m certainly not denying his tremendous running ability, but doesn’t anyone else see how bad of a passer he is? It’s like if the Titans just put Chris Johnson in the wildcat every single play. Yeah, he’ll break some big runs, but the team is not going to be successful. I feel like their best option is to use him permanently at tailback and find anyone else who can sort of maybe throw the ball a little. Fortunately, everyone at michigan is stupid.

Ground Attack
As much praise as I’m giving Braxton for this W, the hogmollies up front deserve just as much. Mike Brewster and his fellow O-linemen, as well as FB Zach Boren, opened up holes for the Buckeye running game all day long. In addition to his two stellar kick returns, Jordan Hall led the way with 18 carries for 84 yards and a score. Three others (Miller, Hyde, and Rod Smith) all averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry as well, with Hyde’s 6.7 tops among the group. Jaamal Berry was scarcely seen again, and before this turns into a Brandon Saine issue where I complain all year long, I’ll just let go of it here. For some reason or another (possibly an undisclosed injury or off-field problem?), the Ohio St coaching staff does not want him on the field, and I guess I’ll just trust their judgment and move on (although the man did average over eight yards a carry last season!).

Kicking It Up a Notch
Ohio St’s kicking game against Colorado was…dare I say, flawless? I am officially onboard the Ben Buchanan bandwagon. He has been great all year, continuing in this game by landing three of his four punts inside the 20, including one at the 5. Drew Basil has not been great all year. In this game, however, he was a perfect 4/4 on PATs and 3/3 on FGs, including a 47-yard bomb. This game was a very good sign - let’s see if these guys can keep it up when we need them in close games.

Up Next: vs Michigan St (3-1), 3:30, ABC
Ohio St will open conference play this weekend as the Spartans travel to Columbus. They won’t be the only ones, as I will be in The Shoe as well. Michigan St looks like the Buckeyes’ toughest opponent in their 2011 campaign thus far, on paper. Kirk Cousins may be the best QB in the conference, RBs Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker are one of the best duos in the country, and WR B.J. Cunningham is All-Big Ten caliber. However, MSU has only played one halfway-decent team this year, when they got smoked by Notre Dame. Braxton Miller will have to be on his game again, and the defense will have to step up against this high-powered offense. I could see this game going either way, and feel that my presence will push the Bucks over the edge.
Prediction: Ohio St 33 Michigan St 27


Tuesday, September 27

Out of order

Here are the current 2011 AFC North Standings, as presented by Notice anything strange about them?

If you guessed, "Pittsburgh is listed ahead of the Browns but shouldn't be," then you're the big winner for today. Let's look at the NFL tiebreaking procedures for two teams, used when two teams in the same division are vying for either the division title or, as would be the case here, for a wild-card spot:

1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
They haven't played yet, tie.

2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
Both 0-1, tie.

3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
Both beat the Colts, tie.

4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
Browns 2-1, Steelers 1-1. Browns win. Let's run this back:

Much better.

Monday, September 26

Damnit, Rick Reilly

I'm actually kind of a busy guy, and I really don't have time to execute a thorough trashing of Rick Reilly's article about jersey fashion.

But I read it. And I have to do this. Sigh.

The three fastest-growing diseases in America today are diabetes, Lyme disease, and sports jerseys.
I think the manatees from that one South Park lampooning Family Guy write a lot of Reilly's material.

Wearing a jersey used to be for kids. You be Tom Brady and I'll be Darrelle Revis. Now people with actual jobs are wearing them. At 6, it's adorable. At 36, deplorable.
How would the Brady/Revis game work? Does the Brady kid throw to the opposite side of the field as the Revis kid all day?

You can't swing your arms at an NFL game without hitting somebody in one. (A very good idea, by the way.)

You say it's your way of expressing devotion to your team? I say try a hat. It doesn't make you look like an adult Trick-or-Treater.
Hats and jerseys: not mutually exclusive. Why so curmudgeonly?

What's your jersey dream? Someone shrieking, "Oh, my God! There's Brian Urlacher! Oh, wait. No, no. It's just Justin from purchasing."?
I don't have a "jersey dream." I just want to sport the team's colors on Sunday and the jersey looks cool

Women in jerseys? Fine. But dude, you're really going out with another man's name on your back? Do you have no male pride?
Easy, guy.

But like gluten-free beer, the jersey flood seems un-damn-able. But can we at least have some rules?
Gluten-free beer looks "un-damn-able"? I had literally never heard of it until just now. And this "dam" pun doesn't work. At all. Let's get to his ridiculous rules.

Jersey Rule No. 1: You may not wear a jersey past age 29.
a) You are immediately related to the person whose name is on the back.
b) You are the person whose name is on the back. (Team photo required.)

One question: why? Why these arbitrary, hyper-specific rules? Why should a reasonably fit, youthful-looking 31-year-old not sport a jersey? What is the downside here? What's your deal? I'll grant you that as one ages, one should transition out of the jersey, but 29 is a capriciously nonsensical hard cap. He obviously wanted a round number and 40 was too high a threshold, so here we are.

Jersey Rule No. 2: You may not wear a jersey without a shirt underneath it, especially NBA jerseys. We do not want to see your rash. Or your spare tire. Or your nipples. My God, people.
This honestly doesn't happen that often. Plus, it only applies to replicas - authentics are solid enough that it's not a concern. Doubt Reilly knows this distinction.

Jersey Rule No. 3: You may not wear a jersey if somebody else in your group is already wearing one.
There is absolutely zero logic in this. You're saying that, when 100+ Pittsburgh Browns Backers gathered each week to support the club, that only one of us could have on a jersey? Reilly makes these rules with absolutely no reasoning or thought put into them. They seem mostly a framework to set up his embarrassing laugh lines.

This is also known as The Fedora Rule. No two guys in any group can be wearing a fedora. The second man's fedora must be trashed, crushed or sold. You never saw Sinatra and Dean Martin wearing one, right?
Um...I guess no, I didn't. I don't see why anyone in my group would wear a fedora.

Jersey Rule No. 4:
You may not, under any circumstances, wear a jersey AND a hat. Who are you, Tony Romo?

Under any circumstances? Not even, I don't know, sun? There's something amazingly daft about making such absolute, hard-line rules about something based on such flimsy opinions. Plus, I wear a jersey and hat and it looks just fine - so do a lot of people. And the Romo reference is pointless because pretty much every NFL QB wears a baseball hat on the sideline; Romo is famous only for wearing his backwards. Can't you put any effort into this?

Jersey Rule No. 5: You may not wear a jersey with your own name on it if you didn't wear it on a real team once. Please. Are you expecting Bill Belichick to look up in the stands and go, "Flanagan! Get in there at tailback!"?
Again, hilarious joke.

But consider my Ron Francis #10 jersey shirt. Is that permissible under Reilly's set of half-baked guidelines? Unclear on two fronts, as he's left jerts totally unaddressed, and not even considered the possibility of duplicate last names. Are kids named "McCoy" barred from sporting the #12 on gameday? Can the Rubin brothers of Mistake by the Lake Sporting Times not wear #71? Man, think these things through, because your laugh lines aren't funny.

Jersey Rule No. 6: You may not wear a jersey of a player who has been gone from your team for more than a year, unless that player is in the Hall of Fame or will be soon. I saw a guy Monday night at the New York Giants game wearing an Amani Toomer jersey. I believe Toomer is managing a Round Table pizza in Parsippany now. Buy another damn jersey, cheapskate.
Another total lack of thought. Hall of Fame is way too strict of a criterion. Does this mean Browns fans can't put on a Turner, Sipe, Kosar, or Metcalf? It does, and that makes no sense. I will say that Browns fans have a tendency to hang on too long, and often the statement you make is simply reminding fellow fans of a situation that didn't work out (Couch, Edwards, etc.) See, I actually have a logical point here - I oppose jerseys of washouts (unless they're intentionally comical, like a friend's #17 Gardocki I saw the other day) because they serve as reminders of the club's struggles.

Hilarious "Parsippany" joke, though.

Jersey Rule No. 7: If you have a nose tackle body, you must wear a nose tackle's jersey. We do not need to see your 385 pounds busting out of a DeSean Jackson jersey. It's unseamly.
Please, please stop with the puns. Eh, buy whatever jersey you want. None of us has an NFL body - if we applied this across the board we'd all be wearing kicker and punter jerseys.

Jersey Rule No. 8: Absolutely no cutesy wrong-color jerseys. No pink Yankees jerseys. No camouflage Cowboys jerseys. And no new University of Maryland jerseys. They look like an explosion at a Benjamin Moore store.
Only a Sith speaks in absolutes. I personally don't like the pink fashion because I think women look quite good flashing the team's actual colors and the pink is distracting. (Again, I've provided an actual reason). And camo is inherently ugly - I mean, it's a color scheme specifically designed not to be seen.

Jersey Rule No. 9: No wearing NBA shorts with your NBA jersey at any time. Horrible. It makes you look like Red Klotz. (Corollary: Do not wear all-white to watch a tennis match, either. Pathetic.)
Six people got that Red Klotz reference. And I can't remember seeing anyone over 14 do this. We're inventing problems here.

Jersey Rule No. 10: No wearing your jersey anywhere but a) to the stadium or b) home. Nobody at the urologist's office wants to talk about your Ray Lewis jersey.
How about (c) the bar? Seriously, re-read your column one time before publishing it.

I agree that jersey-wearing should be reserved for Gameday, but that's more personal preference than strict edict.

If you still qualify under all these edicts, then you must sign these waivers before donning a jersey:
Oh boy.

Jersey Waiver A: By wearing a jersey, you are waiving your rights to any sexual activity for the evening. No woman in history has ever said, "Oooh, that guy wearing the jersey of another man! That's hot!"
Speaking from experience, but without getting into great detail: this is not the case.

Jersey Waiver B: By wearing a jersey, you are waiving any semblance of coolness.
We're just declaring things by fiat now.

"It's like going to a concert in the T-shirt of the band that's playing that night," says Ari Pillar, 29, who was wearing a simple, cool retro Giants T-shirt Monday night. "It's cooler to wear another band's T-shirt. But wearing a jersey of somebody you're watching? That's way high up the Dork Scale."
This is a side note, but I've never agreed with Pillar's point here. Now, I oppose the wearing of a concert t-shirt that you just bought at the concert that night, because it smacks of poserdom and often creates an unfortunate t-shirt-over-collared-shirt fashion faux pas. But wearing the band's t-shirt? Why is that bad?

Consider this situation. It's the year 2000. I'm 20 years old. I've had a boss-looking NIN t-shirt for a few years, and I wear it to every show I go to. I'm going to see Nine Inch Nails. Why would I not wear this shirt? I think it's cool to show that you've been a fan for a few years. Cannot understand the downside here.

(A note on T-shirts: Enough cussing, especially those West F***in Virginia T-shirts that West Virginia fans are wearing. Your athletic director, Oliver Luck, was right. Show a little class. And Ohio State fans: No "Ann Arbor is a whore" T-shirts either. And, Wisconsin students, we've all seen 1,000 variations on "Huck the Fuskers" already. Try something original.)
Frankly, I agree. It's not necessary to be vulgar or overly negative, and doing so reflects negatively upon your fanbase. I rip on michigan as much as the next guy, but I wouldn't ever want a "fuck michigan" shirt. I prefer a more supportive, positive fandom. (Note that the guy in the photo is at a Penn State tailgate).

My corollary to this is: you shouldn't need an entire sentence to say something funny on a sports t-shirt. If it takes that much time, it has no chance of being funny. Brevity is the heart of wit. And "Got ______?" is never, ever, ever funny.

Jersey Waiver C: By wearing a jersey, you are waiving any contact with the very person you're worshipping.
Easy with the vocab choice, Rick. We're not "worshipping" them. And frankly, I'm just fine if I don't meet Josh Cribbs. I'm not one to get star-struck.

Jersey Waiver D: By wearing a jersey to a road game, you waive your right to a busted-free nose. Wearing a Lakers jersey to a Celtics game is like wearing an Obama T-shirt to a Dick Cheney book signing. Bring gauze.
Such a contrived simile, my goodness. And "a busted-free nose"? Did you even try to rephrase that so it made sense? "Busted" isn't a noun.

I'm begging you and all jerseyites out there: Rent, lease or purchase a life.
My hobby is your profession, friend. I've got a lot more going on than sports, but thanks for the condescending bullshit ending to this mess.

Star Wars Night at Progressive Field

When Nick struggled to grab a photo of me and the Stormtrooper captain with my DROID phone, the stormtrooper cleverly asked "How long have you had this DROID?" Nice. I told him it wasn't the DROID he was looking for.

Saturday, September 24


The Bucks' game today against Colorado seems as good a time as any to pull out the MIracle at Michigan, the Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook Hail Mary that shocked the wolverines back in '94. It's a thing of beauty.

NFL Picks: Week 3

Last Week
Joe: 7-7-2
Nick: 7-7-2
Figgs: 4-10-2

Figgs' $ Picks: 0-1-1
Nick's $ Picks: 4-0-2

Current Standings
Nick: 16-12-3
Joe: 15-13-3
Figgs: 12-16-3

Figgs' $ Picks: 0-3-1
Nick's $ Picks: 5-1-3

Sunday games

BROWNS (+1.5) vs Dolphins
Figgs: Browns. I'm clearly going to pick them every week regardless of oponent or line, but I think they can cover this. Mainly because chad henne is a bitch.
Joe: Browns; I'll probably get Browns games wrong all year. I have a terrible feeling about this one. Miami is much better on the road then at home. But I'm going with my heart here....I guess.
Nick: Browns. That half point is significant.
Note: The Hillis injury swung this to +1.5 at game time.

BENGALS (-2.5) vs 49ers
Figgs: Niners. I'll think about laying some dough on this one if my college games go well.
Joe: 49ers; They are a better team.
Nick: Bengals. SF isn't good, and the Bengals are surprisingly decent.

BILLS (+9) vs Patriots
Figgs: Bills. They're at home and have impressed me thus far. Pats shouldn't have a problem winning this, but it could be close.
Joe: Bills; Nine seems way too high for the Bills at home. Their offense is putting up huge numbers and the Patrionts D is giving up huge numbers (422 yards passing to Chad Henne! Really? Really?) If they don't get the outright win, I at least look for Buffalo to keep it close.
Nick: Bills. Serious backdoor cover potential.

SAINTS (-4) vs Texans
Figgs: Saints. In the Dome and Foster is banged up? I'd be willing to lay 8 or 9 here. ($)
Joe: Saints; Just as I predicted, the Saints rebounded nicely last week against a good team at home. I look for them to keep it rolling this week in what should be a shootout.
Nick: Saints. Houston has to prove they can beat a good team on the road.

EAGLES (-9) vs Giants
Figgs: Giants. Vick will play but I'm not sure how healthy he really is. If he gets knocked out of the game again the Giants could steal one.
Joe: Eagles; Even with a banged up Vick, I like their chances. I could see a 27-17 type game here, so I'll reluctantly give the big spread.
Nick: Giants. This is two points too high.

TITANS (-6.5) over Broncos
Figgs: Broncos. I have no clue on Tennessee. I just feel this is slightly high.
Joe: Titans; I have been dead wrong on the Titans in both weeks so far and I don't know which team is going to show up. But if they play half as good as they did against Baltimore, then they should beat a weaksauce Denver team by a touchdown at home.
Nick: Titans. Denver is a mess.

VIKINGS (+3.5) vs Lions
Figgs: Vikings. I went against the Lions last week and they made me look like a fool. If it happens twice in a row I'll start picking them.
Joe: Lions; It must be bizarro world to have a Detroit team as road favorites, but alas they are. And I'm rolling with them again. Suh and company should be able to contain Peterson enough, and the Stafford to Megatron combo looks like a modern day Young to Rice.
Nick: Lions. This line should be 6. ($ Lions straight up)

PANTHERS (-3.5) vs Jaguars
Figgs: Panthers. No confidence in this pick at all.
Joe: Panthers; I love Cam Newton and I don't care if the whole world knows it! I just want to shout it from the rooftops!
Nick: Panthers. The half point spooks me, but Carolina can score. ($ -3)

CHARGERS (-15) vs Chiefs
Figgs: Chargers. KC looks awfully bad.
Joe: Bolts; Should be a no brainer, but San Diego has a tendency to completely whiff in mismatches like this. However, KC looks like they're already tanking games in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. If they've actually been trying, then they should be embarrassed.
Nick: KC is the worst team in football.

RAIDERS (+3.5) vs Jets
Figgs: Jets. This is probably the most I could like a pick without actually betting it.
Joe: Raiders; Jets are banged up on the O-line. Offensively, Oakland's strength is running the ball, so they won't be testing the Jets' secondary as much as Ryan would like.
Nick: Raiders. Jets feel like sucker pick of the week.

RAMS (+4) vs Ravens
Figgs: Ravens. Baltimore screwed my teaser last week. I think they really come after Bradford and bounce back here.
Joe: Ravens; See my Titans comment.
Nick: Ravens I guess, but more of a vote of no confidence in the Rams.

BUCS (-1.5) vs Falcons
Figgs: ATL. I actually picked against them last week, and they win. Sorry guys, I won't let it happen again.
Joe: Bucs; Not sure why, just a gut feeling. Atlanta is a Michael Vick non injury away from being 0-2. I don't think they are as good as last year and I think Tampa needs this game at home to make a statement that they be taken seriously.
Nick: Bucs. ATL has to convince me they don't suck. Philly outplayed them last week.

SEAHAWKS (+3.5) vs Cardinals
Figgs: Cards. I went back and forth here several times. I guess it comes down to me having zero faith in Tavaris Jackson.
Joe: Cardinals; See my Chiefs comment, and that sums up Seattle's performance through 2 weeks.
Nick: Cards, in the game I'd never bet.

BEARS (+3.5) vs Packers
Figgs: Packers. Aaron Rodgers is the best player in football.
Joe: Bears; I just have a feeling they might pull the upset. If not, I think they keep it close enough to take those points. I see like a 20-17, or 24-21 type game.
Nick: Pack. GB is loaded, and the Bears are mediocre. ($)

COLTS (+10.5) vs shitsburgh
Figgs: Steelers. I hate picking them, but I just don't see Indy keeping this close.
Joe: Steelers; I doubt the Colts will score in this one. Maybe a field goal or two, but I will pretty much guarantee they don't get in the endzone. If I'm right, then Pittsburgh will only need 17 points or so to cover this spread. (If I bet $$ on games, this would be my lock of the week).
Nick: Steelers. Colts can't score. ($ -9)

Monday Night Football

COWBOYS (-4) vs Redskins
Figgs: Dallas. Not sure about Washington right now. Not real confident in this pick but with Homo starting I'll go with the Boys.
Joe: Cowpokes; I would be extemely confident without the injuries, but I still like them here. Each week Grossman is silencing his critics, but I'm waiting for the 4 INT type implosion I know he has in him. I think it might happen with the whole nation watching him this week.
Nick: Skins. Just too many injuries for the Boys.

Figgs teaser: Atlanta (+8.5)/Green Bay (+3.5)/NY Jets (+3.5)
Nick's parlay: Tennessee, San Diego, & Pittsburgh to win

Friday, September 23

The Downtown Report as Summer Ends

During the NFL lockout this summer, I went on record as saying that I'd be OK with a lost NFL season, and that I'd be perfectly fine with finding other recreational options during the time I'd ordinarily spend watching the Browns on Sundays. This turns out to be only partially true.

With the rather sudden collapse of the overachieving band of 2011 Indians, it turns out that a lack of pro football would have left a serious hole in my sports fandom. I have indeed divested myself somewhat from the NFL, having not seen much other than the first two Browns games and sitting out the picks competition this season, but having the Pumpkinheads and the Buckeyes around really helps fall feel like fall. Or possibly like autumn. But first things first...

On August 18, the 2011 Cleveland Indians were 1.5 games out of first place in the AL Central. No, they didn't make the playoffs, and yes, the end was highly disappointing (within a month, the gap between them and the suddenly-unbeatable Tigers ballooned to 12.5 games), but didn't they keep your summer interesting? Wasn't it fun, for a lot longer than anyone thought? Remember, almost literally no one picked the Wahoos for any better than a fourth-place finish in the AL Central, and instead they spent 96 days in the top spot and have a fair chance to land in second place. I'm going to dive into the numbers and recap some of the best memories of the 2011 campaign here in a few weeks once the season wraps up, and I think you'll be surprised at just how many great moments there were.

Eventually the talent gap caught up to the young Indians, and an absurd number of injuries made it simply too much for our plucky heroes to overcome the far more loaded Tigers. It's beyond cliche to mindlessly intone that "every team has injuries," but there are degrees to how much a team suffers from them and what sort of financial and organizational resources a club has to overcome them. Consider the 2005 Tribe - did anyone, ever, get hurt on that club? Seriously, look at their numbers. They had all of six starting pitchers all season, one of whom made just four starts while the other five had 30 or more. This club has had 10 starters, two of whom will top 30 starts, one of whom is Fausto Carmona. Only 12 Erie Warriors from the '05 squad had more than 100 plate appearances; 18 of this year's bunch have.

Normal is probably somewhere in the middle of the two, and the 2011 Indians lost significant time from Hafner, Kipnis, Choo, Sizemore, Brantley, Carrasco, LaPorta, and Talbot, and sadly missed no time from Orlando Cabrera. With the exception of Carlos Santana and Justin Masterson, every key contributor to the club went down at some point in the year, and for a small-market club like Cleveland, there were just too many leaks for skipper Manny Acta to plug.

I've lucked into a couple of chances to catch the Tribe for free at Progressive Field before 2011 goes into the history books. Tuesday I headed to the ballyard on a lovely evening with a couple of seats Kim landed for free, and Saturday Nick and I are representing FCF ( @forestcityfans ) in the Tribe Social Suite, hoping to match JHH and my effort from a year ago, back when it was just a deck. I was also overjoyed to discover that the Saturday game is Star Wars Night, which has to be some sort of cosmic make-up call from all the Faith Nights I've been subjected to in recent seasons. Nothing...can stop that now.

As I Twittered a week ago, I still want the Tribe to finish strong, and I still want Chicago's blood. I'll write a couple of season-ending pieces on the Wahoos taking a look inside their season statistics and reliving some of their finest moments of the 2011 campaign. Until then, Go Tribe!

I did not have fun at that season opener. Nope, I sure didn't, for reasons both related to the Browns' sloppy on-field performance and some shenanigans going on in the stands. They could have beaten the Bengals for sure, were it not for that preposterous quick-snap TD pass. The Browns looked every bit as inept and more as one would expect from a young team with an entirely new coaching staff given very little time to prepare because of a lockout.

Sunday's game against the Colts was more encouraging. They didn't play that much better, but they played so much smarter. Mistakes were eliminated, tackling was more solid, and penalties were way down. Only Montario Hardesty's fumble marred an otherwise complete game. Yes, the Colts are a weak club, but every NFL team is capable of defeating the Browns if Cleveland shoots themselves in the foot, and they avoided that in Week 2.

Admittedly, I'm not high on the 2011 Browns, for a number of reasons. I want them to do well, I just worry about our depth and lack of impact players, especially on defense. I will say that the play of Jabaal Sheard and Joe Haden on defense, and the coolheaded, intelligent play of Colt McCoy on offense, has calmed that a little bit. I still worry about our depth, but I think we can touch 7 wins if the club actually sticks to Coach Shurmur's cliched notion to get better every week. Go Browns!

Ohio State has not looked good either of the past two weeks, narrowly escaping a potentially-devastating home loss to Toledo and getting beaten soundly in the Orange Bowl 24-6 last Saturday. Clearly, the situation at QB is not resolved, and will be a major issue psychologically and in terms of performance for the 2011 Buckeyes until it is resolved. At present, that issue overshadows the rest of the concerns with the team, as the offense has been the weak link thus far.

Frankly, I don't know what the answer is. I think I've seen Joe Bauserman play enough that he can be dismissed as an ideal solution. Braxton Miller certainly has the pedigree and talent, but freshman QB's are bound to struggle in major college games. I know basically nothing about Kenny Guiton. In this case, I'm just going to have to hope that the OSU coaching staff knows their personnel well enough to make the right decisions going forward. I do know, however, that interchanging them as frequently as they did during the Miami game, even within a set of downs, is not the right approach. Hopefully they hit on what is.

Either way, the games of Kan Jam that some of the members of FCF participated in after Saturday's game were fantastic. I couldn't have enjoyed that game any more than I did. I can't believe it hasn't completely replaced cornhole as the beer-drinking recreational game of choice everywhere where players have enough room to tolerate the occasional errant flying disc.

Remember what I wrote in the open about having gone on record as not caring whether there would be an NFL season? I'm saying the same thing about the NBA lockout, but this time it's absolutely true. I will be just fine and dandy without the 2011-12 Cavaliers and the rest of the Association.

Have you discussed the upcoming NBA season with anyone recently? In those discussions, have you met one person who seems concerned at all about the very likely possibility of a lockout? No, you haven't. The NBA doesn't have the sway over the sporting public that the NFL does, and them squabbling themselves out of a season will be just fine with almost all of the world of sports fandom.

I was in the Cavs' executive offices last week to discuss a group night with one of their sales representatives, and it seems like a cool place. As you can see, I ran into a few friends while I was there. Olivier Sedra was there too, but he was in fact not a Fathead and looked sort of busy. My favorite part of the offices was the conference room, which had a big plastic basketball crashing through the faux ceiling. I want a giant block of fake graphite poking through the ceiling of my conference rooms at work, and I want it now.

From the top down, no one there seems to want to think the lockout is happening. After the conversation, Coach Byron Scott and GM Chris Grant addressed the various groups touring the Q and answered some questions from the field, being ultra-cautious not to say even the slightest thing about any NBA player or the lockout situation whatsoever. It was kind of awkward. The best moment was when this old guy asked Scott some rambling, incoherent question about LeBron and who knows what else, and Scott slayed the crowd with "I don't care what they're doing in Miami - this is Cleveland and I care about what the Cavaliers are doing." Huge applause. I joked that he should have gone with, "Fuck Miami."

I wondered if at any time Grant (and especially Scott) resented having to work events for small-timers like me and the rest of the crowd. Somehow I have a feeling Mike Brown and Mitch Kupchak aren't doing Q&A's with local members of the middle class to drum up excitement and ticket sales. Who knows, maybe they're genuine and enjoy the work and the opportunity, but it's gotta be at least a little irksome.

Thursday, September 22

Reason #3457 not to read Power Rankings

ESPN kicks off their Week 3 NFL Power Rankings with this gem:

So, what do we know after Week 2 in the NFL?

Well, it's clear the Packers and Patriots are entrenched atop's Power Rankings, while the Browns, Colts and Seahawks have the look of season-long bottom dwellers.

This after a game the Browns won. We at least look better than the hapless Chiefs, right?

Tuesday, September 20

Just Give Me Some'n To Break

The amount of times I listened to Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff" this weekend may have set a record. This past weekend was not a fun time to be an Ohio St fan. In fact, it was downright embarrassing. The Buckeyes were steamrolled in Miami, 24-6. It’s not even just the fact that Ohio St lost; it was how pathetic they looked while losing. I was confident going into this game, because I didn’t think Miami was any good. I wasn’t entirely wrong. Their defense is better than I gave them credit for, but Jacory Harris is not a quality starting quarterback, not by a long shot. Where I was misguided, was thinking that the Buckeyes were a good football team. It became clear during those 60 minutes last Saturday that they are not.

Four completions for 34 yards - that’s all Ohio St could manage through the air in this one. Ouch. With eight defensive starters from the 2010 squad moving on and some big-time offensive players being suspended for the first part of this season, I think we all expected OSU to take a few steps back this season. On Saturday night in South Florida, they didn't take a few steps, they took a whole bunch of giant leaps back. I won’t spend too much time reflecting on this awful game, but more so take a look at what’s next for The Fighting Brutus’, especially regarding the QB situation.

Game Recap
Ohio St began the game with two three-and-outs, and Miami capitalized both times for touchdowns. Lamar Miller’s 54-yard run on the Canes’ first play from scrimmage set up the first Harris to Allen Hurns TD pass, while a methodical 11-play drive put them in position for the second. Ten minutes into the game, it’s quickly 14-0.

Jordan Hall rushed for a couple of Buckeye first downs on their next series before Braxton Miller was intercepted. Not to be outdone in the quest to show who was a worse passer, Harris threw an INT right back. OSU finally had a good drive to start the second quarter, going 64 yards in 16 plays spanning almost seven minutes. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find the end zone as the drive stalled at the five and Drew Basil was forced to settle for a short field goal. After another Jacory pick, the same thing happened as the Bucks couldn’t get past the seven-yard line, but at least they were back in it at 14-6. Miami moved the ball well on the ensuing drive and added a FG as the first half expired.

If you tuned in to this game expecting to see good football, this second half wasn’t for you. Having to come from behind, OSU mostly abandoned the run game as Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller switched in and out and threw incomplete pass after incomplete pass. Harris wasn’t much better, as neither team put a point on the board for the first 29 and a half minutes of the 30 minute half. The final nail in Ohio St’s coffin came when Braxton led the Bucks into Miami territory with a few good runs, but fumbled the ball away to the Canes. Miami wouldn’t give Ohio St another shot, as they controlled the ball for nearly all of game’s final 10 minutes, scoring another touchdown with 33 seconds to play. The game mercilessly ends, 24-6.

Game Ball
As usual, no one gets the game ball for a loss, but Joe Bauserman was so inept during this one that I’m taking away his GB from the Akron game.
Game balls to date: Simon

Big Ten
While the conference’s overall record was better this week, the Big Ten still didn’t look great, as they were dominated in their two biggest games - Ohio St’s loss to the Hurricanes and Notre Dame beating up on Michigan St. The other big one also should have been an L for the conference, but James Vanderberg, after looking like Joe Bauserman for three quarters, looked like Joe Montana in the fourth to lead Iowa in a comeback win over Pitt. In another big victory, Illinois upset #22 Arizona St.

Elsewhere, Purdue and Indiana beat FCS schools, Minnesota got by Miami (OH), Wisconsin rolled Northern Iowa, and Nebraska beat Washington, although the Black Shirts did give up 38 points. Northwestern was the only other loss, getting beat by Army. Not a whole lot to rip michigan about this week, as they were 31-3 winners over Eastern Michigan, but I’ll give it a shot. The wolverines were trailing 3-0 midway through the second quarter - to the EMU’s. The offense looked awful for most of the first half as cant-tie missed a lot of wide open targets again.

The QB Situation
This is the main thing I wanted to get into this week, as it’s certainly the biggest issue in Columbus right now. Braxton Miller needs to start this week against Colorado, and play every snap for the rest of the year (barring injury) unless things get really, really bad. I’m not basing this solely on the Miami game, because both quarterbacks were bad (although Bowser’s 2/14 for 13 yards does stand out). My point here is simple - we know what we’re going to get from Joe Bauserman. Not many people were optimistic about him going into the season, and now after his less than stellar performance in a narrow victory over Toledo and his gang raping on the 7th floor in Miami, it’s time for him to take a seat.

Will Braxton Miller be the next big thing? I cannot answer that, no one can right now. And that’s exactly my point. We don’t know what this guy can bring to the table yet. While he was ineffective against Miami, let’s not forget the enormous expectations he came here with just a few months ago. I think it’s a little drastic to consider him a failure after the 12ish snaps that he took against a good Hurricane defense. Maybe he’s not quite ready yet, but I’d rather he take his lumps now in a down season for the Buckeyes and (hopefully) show some progress as the year goes on.

And no more of this flip-flopping shit, either. I hate that. Go with Braxton, and stick it out. I was ok with the back-and-forth for the first three games, because they had to try and get a feel for the two new quarterbacks. Well, we’ve felt Joe Bauserman. We felt him up like we were at an after party of an 8th grade dance - and he’s flat as hell. (I am aware how little sense that analogy made, but you see where I was going there). Let’s just hope that Brax is more like the chick that developed earlier than her friends. Let’s also hope that he can eventually be good enough and badass enough to be called “Brax.”

Up Next: vs. Colorado (1-2), 3:30, ABC
Regardless of who starts this game under center, the game plan will be simple - run, run, then run it again. Or at least that should be it; Luke Fickell hasn’t proved competent enough yet to show me he can do this. Jordan Hall came back from suspension and averaged 6.2 ypc against Miami, and Carlos Hyde has looked unspectacular but very solid thus far. Jaamal Berry still isn’t seeing any carries, and I’m not sure why. I’d like to see him get more involved this week as well. Just let these guys run. Colorado has played three average teams so far (Hawaii, Cal, Colorado St.) and stands at 1-2, so they seem, well, average. I know things look awfully bleak after last weekend, but we’re still above average, right?
Prediction: Ohio St 30 Colorado 17


Friday, September 16

NFL Picks: Week 2

Last Week

Nick: 9-5-1
Figgs: 8-6-1
Joe: 8-6-1

Figgs' $ Picks: 0-2
Nick's $ Picks: 1-1-1

Sunday games

Browns (-1.5) vs COLTS
Figgs: Browns. I can't believe we're getting points in Indy. Let's get to .500 boys!
Joe: Colts; It's been one week and after last week's loss, I've lost the faith. Hopefully you prove me wrong boys.
Nick: Browns. No doubt in my mind.

SAINTS (-6.5) vs Bears
Figgs: Bears. By far the game I was most surprised about last week was Chi-town stomping Atlanta. I doubt they do it again in New Orleans, but I think they can keep this game close.
Joe: Saints; I was also surprised by the Bears last week. The Saints lost to the best team in football last week and I think they rebound nicely this week.
Nick: Bears. I'm not sold on the Saints' ability to slow down opposing offenses.

LIONS (-9) vs Chiefs
Figgs: KC. I cannot give 9 points to take Detroit. Against anyone. Ever.
Joe: Lions; I was gonna agree with Jason, but I think KC is pretty bad and there is no reason Stafford and MegaTron cant do what Ryan Fitzpatrick did last week.
Nick: Lions. I'm seeing a big regression from KC this year.

JETS (-9) vs Jaguars
Figgs: Jets. I could see Jax sliding in with a late score to cover, but I could also see NYJ winning 30-7.
Joe: Jets; My eliminator pool pick this week. Luke McCown vs. that defense? Jets...BIG!
Nick: Jets. Nine is a little high, but the Jets are good at stuffing the run, not rushing the passer. The Jags are a one-trick pony that only can run the ball.

BILLS (-3) vs Raiders
Figgs: Jills. Buffalo also surprised me with an impressive performance last week. Unfortunately for the Raiders, Janikowski is only on the field for about 3-5 plays a game.
Joe: Bills; Oakland crushed their entire division last year also, but couldn't beat anyone else. This continues this week.
Nick: Billskis. Three is an attractive number against a very mediocre Raiders team that's travelling to the East Coast. ($)

REDSKINS (-3.5) vs Cardinals
Figgs: Skins. You guys nailed the Washington game last week, I don't know why I didn't see through the G-Men as well. Sexy Rexy looks tough.
Joe: Redskins; I was ready to take the Cards until I remembered how awful they are when traveling east to play 1:00 games. Give me Washington and you can take those points.
Nick: Skins. Arizona has one of the worst defenses in the game, and Washington might not be that bad.

TITANS (+6) vs Ravens
Figgs: Ravens. Ray Rice will be over the century mark by halftime.
Joe: Ravens; They beat Pittsburgh by 4 TD's. I like their chances of beating an awful Titans team by only 1 TD.
Nick: Titans. Baltimore is prime for a letdown after last week, and I think the Titans are scrappy enough to keep it within six.

shitsburgh (-14) vs Seahawks
Figgs: Seattle. The Steelers probably cover this, but it should be close (the 14 points, not the actual game). If it could go either way, might as well go against those assholes.
Joe: Steelers; Could be like a 38-6 type game. Big Ben still rapes chicks though. People don't forget, dude.
Nick: Steelers. Pittsburgh's going to cruise in this one. ($ -12)

PANTHERS (+10) vs Packers
Figgs: Pack. I'm taking two road teams to cover big spreads, and I couldn't be more confident. Ravens/Packers has a nice teaser ring to it this week.
Joe: Packers; I totally drank the entire punch bowl of Cam Newtons' KoolAid after last week (see my fantasy team), but I had to talk myself out of taking them here. Green Bay is the class of the NFL.
Nick: Go Pack go!

VIKINGS (-3) VS Bucs
Figgs: Bucs. Toughest game on the board for me this week. I assume McNabb will crack 40 yards passing this week, but maybe not by much.
Joe: Bucs; They disappointed me last week, but I do think Detroit is improved. If they can kick touchbacks and not let Harvin beat them, they should cover this spread.
Nick: Bucs. I want to pull the trigger on a bet here because Donovan sucks, but I'm a little worried about Peterson going crazy on a bad Tampa run defense.

49ERS (+3) vs Cowboys
Figgs: Cowboys. They won't choke this one away. ($)
Joe: Cowboys; Should have had the outright win last week. They should have no problem getting it this week.
Nick: Cowboys. The loss last week has left the Boys undervalued. ($)

DOLPHINS (+3) vs Texans
Figgs: Texans. Another tough call. Since they're favored on the road, is it safe to assume Foster will be playing?
Joe: Texans; With how bad Indy looked last week, it would be atrocious if the Texans don't finally get over the hump this year in arguably the worst division in football. It's time to back it up boys.
Nick: Texans. Houston can prove a lot by going out and grabbing a road win here. ($ +2.5)

PATRIOTS (-6.5) vs Chargers
Figgs: Chargers. SD is good enough to keep this within a touchdown.
Joe: Chargers; I don't feel good about this pick at all, but since I wouldn't be surprised if either team wins this game, I might as well take the team getting the points.
Nick: Chargers. Six and a half is too much.

BRONCOS (-3.5) vs Bengals
Figgs: Denver. Ick, what a gross game.
Joe: Broncos; Terrible game, but it is inconceivable to me that Cincy could start 2-0, so I'll go against that happening and take the Broncos.
Nick: Donks, but I don't love it. ($ -1)

FALCONS (+2) vs Eagles
Figgs: Philly. This may be the first time I picked against Atlanta in four years. They really disappointed me last week.
Joe: Eagles; With Vick, McCoy, Jackson and Maclin, tell me this team isn't built more for a dome than for playing in bad weather eastern PA. They rolled in a dome last week, I think this one is close, but their only giving 2, so I'll gladly give the 2.
Nick: Iggles. The Falcons should probably be favored at home, but I just don't see Vick losing a prime time return to Atlanta.

Monday Night Football

GIANTS (-6) vs Rams
Figgs: Rams. Pretty weak Monday Nighter. NYG made me look like a fool last week. Not again.
Joe: Giants; I still think they are gonna be a potential double digit loss team this year, but the Rams are already really banged up, so I'll take the G-men at home by a TD.
Nick: Rams. The G-men don't look so good this year.

Additional Figgs $ teaser - Baltimore (+0.5)/Green Bay (-4)/NY Jets (-2.5)

Nick's $ teaser --- Packers (pick), Jets (+1), Lions (+2.5)

Thursday, September 15

Taking a Mulligan

Most of us are still smarting from the Browns’ brutal loss to the Bengals. Whether you were damaged emotionally (watching the Browns snatch defeat from the jaws of victory never gets any easier), financially (I doubt I was the only one who picked the Browns in an eliminator pool), or physically (I doubt I was the only one who may have over-imbibed), this Browns loss lingered longer than most.

I can admit it – I was chalking up 1-0. The Browns were facing a rookie quarterback and a mediocre Bengals club at home, and then travelling to Indianapolis to euthanize a Peyton-less Colts team. That’s 2-0 if you’re keeping score at home. Between the Dolphins and Titans – again, both at home – the Browns should have been able to at least manage a split and roll into the bye at 3-1.

After all these years, I should know better. The old adage “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” really should be modernized to directly reference Cleveland sports.

However, as bad as things look, the Browns have a chance to make it right. Sure, they can’t go back and replay the game Sunday against the Bengals, but staring our Cleveland Browns straight in the face this Sunday are the Indianapolis Colts, Manning-free and buttered up on a silver platter.

Last Sunday’s implosion transformed this week’s contest into a must-win affair. This summer, Pat Shurmur’s new up-tempo offense and Colt McCoy’s development bought the team significant goodwill with a fan base that has become understandably cynical. Combine those reasons for hope with the Indians’ epic collapse, and you were left with a fan base craving Browns football like a junkie joneses for Walter White’s blue meth.

Fortunately, it was just one game and the Browns have time to right the ship. The Browns might not play a .500 team until they travel south to Houston in week nine. With three of the last four games on the road – not to mention four of the last five against division powers Baltimore and Pittsburgh – the Browns can ill afford to give away games against the soft part of their schedule.

Only about 12% of 0-2 teams have made the playoffs in the last 20 years. While the Browns would still be a serious long shot for the playoffs even if they get off the schnide in the Hoosier State, the fan base and perhaps the team’s collective morale simply will not be able to endure what would be the sixth 0-2 start in the last seven seasons.

If you’re a Cleveland fan, you know how quickly this thing can spiral into another 4-12 season; good enough for a top five draft pick, but not good enough to bag Andrew Luck. A win can help recapture some preseason excitement and give fans a reason to watch other than force of habit.

The Browns shanked it into the reeds last week. Fortunately, they can take a mulligan and put it in the fairway this week. So go ahead coach Shurmer, dig a fresh Titleist out of your bag. Just remember – you only get one.

Wednesday, September 14


I think hustling is overrated.

I know this isn't bound to be a popular view, because everyone loves a guy who hustles, or has at least convinced him or herself that he or she loves hustle, or at the very least decided to project him or herself as the sort of individual who loves players who hustle. It's universally accepted as a Thing You Must Praise.

But it's way overvalued.

I'm saying this as someone with limited talent who hustles as much as anyone on the teams for which he plays. I'm always flying around the bases or the court, even if I'm not a great three-point shooter or power hitter. I know what value I provide with this approach - I also know that if I could rain threes or hit home runs, I'd be way more useful to the club than is scrappy Francis.

In part, I play hard because I like to. I sprint to my position on the softball field every inning, not for any reason other than because I'm a runner and I enjoy it. I'm sure if I was an MLB player there would be some Fan Favorite component to my outfield jaunts, even though they have nothing at all to do with my squad winning.

And there are other instances where working hard and hustling are neutral or in some cases even negative. Pete Rose is for me the quintessential overrated hustle, the way he sprinted down to first after a walk. I mean, did he ever parlay that into another base? The other is girls' softball players who sprint back to the dugout after striking out, as if that makes any sense at all.

Fans LOVE to pile a guy who looks like he's dogging it, not giving 100% on every play, not getting down the line or chasing loose balls or blocking cornerbacks. It's probably the easiest and most reflexive thing in fandom.

But consider the risks inherent in doing so. Players get worn down over the course of a full season - the more you can conserve your strength, the better you'll be able to maximize effort when it really counts. I just walked over to the computer on a tender knee I got from a diving catch I made last night. Had I not made the dive, we still would have won easily, and I'd be at 100% today. Yet if I were a big-leaguer, I'd face the fans' ire for not laying out. Consider how universally blasted a player is for not running out a routine ground ball. Yeah, it looks bad from a fan pespective, but if you're an aging player who has a far better chance of pulling a hamstring than you do beating out the throw on a routine play, what's best for the club? Which is more important to you as a fan?

Probably some of it has to do with resentment on the fan's part watching a guy not hustle. I mean, these guys get paid millions of dollars to do this, and the idea of watching someone with elite talent apparently not making the most of that talent is off-putting. Just ask Derrick Coleman. I'm certainly not arguing that players shouldn't hustle and try to squeeze the most of their time on the field. I'm just saying that the actual benefits of doing so, in terms of winning games, is often overstated, and the risks of balls-out play often understated.

Tuesday, September 13


Ohio St certainly did not play their best this past Saturday against Toledo. The Rockets hung right with the Buckeyes for 60 minutes, and if not for some avoidable mistakes at crucial times, could have pulled one of the biggest upsets in either team’s history. Instead, OSU was able to stop Toledo on 4th down while deep in Buckeye territory at the end of the game to prevail, 27-22.

Joe Bauserman was very mediocre at best (16/30, 189 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT), but Luke Fickell stuck by his senior as Braxton Miller didn’t leave the sideline. The running game was also fairly ineffective, as the team combined for a mere 3.3 yards per carry. The defense was torched by Toledo RB Adonis Thomas and WR Eric Page, mostly on screen plays, but was able to come up with some big plays when they needed to. The kicking game was once again really bad. So what do you get you when you combine below average performances from your offense, defense, and special teams? Apparently a five-point win. It was anything but pretty, but at least they came away with a W. Before we look ahead to this week’s big prime-time game against Miami, let’s take a little closer look at this narrow victory.

Game Recap
Ohio St received the ball first and wasted no time, marching right down the field and going up 7-0 on a great one-handed touchdown catch by Jake Stoneburner. Three minutes into the game, it appeared we were headed for another blowout. QB Austin Dantin threw screen pass after screen pass to his playmakers, Thomas and Page, and led Toledo down the field to set up his kicker for a 45-yard field goal. The kick was missed, and at this point I’m thinking, “That was their chance to score, we should be on our way to a shutout now.” I could not have been more wrong. Ohio St went three-and-out, and Ben Buchannan had his punt blocked, setting the Rockets up at the one-yard line. After a false start penalty, Dantin hit Page for a score to put Toledo on the board. They kept the offense on the field and hurried to the line, with Page taking the snap from the wildcat. He completed a pass for the two and the Buckeyes suddenly found themselves trailing 8-7.

A couple of Verlon Reed catches and 15-yard Toledo penalties put OSU in scoring position on their next series, but Drew Basil returned the favor by missing a FG of his own. We need to find a new kicker, immediately. Two plays later, backup QB Terrance Owens was in for Toledo and threw a little swing pass to Eric Page, who took it 66 yards to paydirt. This play haunted the Buckeyes all day long, and I don’t know why. You could see Toledo didn’t have any faith in their downfield passing attack - couldn’t they start to jump these screens and starting getting picks? It was awfully frustrating to watch.

Each team traded a few punts, with Buchannan getting the better of his counterpart and swinging the field position in OSU’s favor. Other than having the one kick blocked, this was the second good game in a row for the Cannon, as he landed three of his six punts inside the 20, including two inside the 10. With a short field to work with, Carlos Hyde rumbled 36 yards for his first career TD, putting the Bucks back within one. Both offenses continued to stall as each team punted twice more, until the biggest play of the game came with under a minute to play in the first half. Toledo had a solid punt that they downed in Ohio St territory, but as was the story of the game with the Rockets, were called for a penalty and were forced to punt again. This time the ball was received by Chris Fields who returned it 69 (hehe) yards for the score. The Buckeyes went to the tunnel leading 21-15, and again, I thought the game was in hand. This play would be the turning point, OSU will roll in the second half. Once again, I was horribly wrong.

Toledo got the ball to start the half and on the first play picked up 44 yards on a screen play to Thomas. An OSU personal foul penalty tacked on another 15 and before you knew it Thomas was in the end zone and Toledo was back on top. I blame this TD on the decision to squib kick to begin the half. Well, that and the fact that no one could tackle anyone who caught a screen pass all game. This made absolutely no sense to me. Yes, Eric Page is clearly very dangerous, so keeping the ball out of his hands is reasonable. You know the best way to keep the ball out of his hands? KICK IT OUT OF THE FUCKING END ZONE! I have made my opinion on Basil clear, but there is one thing the man can do well, kick the ball deep. Why would you not have him kick it as hard as he can and force Page to take a knee, if he’s even able to field it in play at all? Instead, they kicked it to the 35, where Page received it and brought near midfield. Yes, that Eric Page. Apparently Ohio St didn’t think that he was allowed to run up and get the ball that far up.

Anywho, this was the time where I think most people thought Fickell would pull the trigger and give Braxton a shot. At least that’s what I was thinking. Bauserman was not playing great, Toledo had just got the momentum back, it seemed like the right move. Fickell stuck with Bowser, and while I didn’t agree, I wouldn’t crucify him for it either. He went with what he thought was his best option to win that game, and I can’t fault him for that. He didn’t have him throw a pass on the possession anyway, as Hyde ran the ball three times and Ohio St punted. When the Buckeyes got the ball back, Bauserman did put the ball in the air and completed a 36-yard pass to Devin Smith, setting the Buckeyes up near the goal line. They missed on third-and-goal, but were thankfully bailed out by another Toledo penalty. Hyde ran for his second TD of the day on the following play. Leading by five, OSU went for the two point conversion but failed.

Ohio St’s defense tightened up, forcing three straight Toledo punts. The Buckeyes were moving the ball with only a few minutes left, when freshman running back Rod Smith fumbled at the Toledo 33. I didn’t understand this at all. Carlos Hyde is getting nearly every carry all game, and they give it to the freshman with the game on the line? The Rockets took over with just over three minutes left to play, and Terrance Owens led them into the red zone. The Buckeyes held on 4th and 6 from the 17 when John Simon, who left the game earlier with leg cramps, hit Owens’ blindside to force an incompletion. Two kneeldowns preserved the Buckeyes win, 27-22.

Game Ball
Normally, the GB recipient will have been in the game for more than the 8-12 or so plays that John Simon was in for, but this wasn’t a normal game. As I have mentioned, the Ohio St offensive players’ stats can be described as average at best. In my opinion, no Buckeye had a bigger impact on this victory then Simon. With the defense already missing Simon’s fellow senior captain Nathan Williams, Ohio St was very thin up front when Simon left in the first quarter with an injury. As a result, OSU couldn’t get any pressure on the Toledo quarterbacks. This all changed when Simon returned from the locker room half way into the 4th quarter. With 5:30 to play in the game, Simon sacked Dantin on third down to give Ohio St the ball back with a chance to run out the clock. After Rod Smith tried to give the game back to Toledo, Simon came up with the big play on 4th down.
Game balls to date: Simon, Bauserman

Big Ten
This was not a good week for the conference that Ohio St calls home. Wisconsin (35-0 winners over Oregon St) looks like a title contender, Nebraska (42-29 winners over Fresno St) is a top tier team, and the jury is still out on Ohio St and Michigan St (44-0 winners over Florida Atlantic). After that, the Big Ten looks awful. Northwestern and Illinois both beat up on FCS opponents and could be decent this year, but don’t expect them to be playing on New Year's Day. Penn St was embarrassed by Alabama for the second straight year. I know it’s ’Bama, but the Lions didn’t even put up a fight, again. Iowa lost in triple overtime to Iowa St and Indiana was edged by Virginia, two teams that I can’t imagine are very good. It still gets worse. Purdue was beat by Rice and Minnesota lost to New Mexico St. That’s right, the powerful Aggies of UNMS. Not good.

Which brings us to the “We Used to be Relevant So We Demand That People Still Pay Attention to Us Even Though We’re No Longer Any Good” Bowl, where michigan’s furious comeback late was enough to topple Notre Dame, 35-31. Everyone in the media talked about how great of a game this was, calling it the “game of the year” already. Let’s not confuse “great” with “entertaining.” Absolutely, this game was entertaining. There were five fourth quarter touchdowns, including three in the final 70 seconds. It was no doubt fun to watch (except the part where michigan won). That doesn’t mean that the football being played was good. In fact, it was downright atrocious. If you watched this game, you know why those touchdowns were scored in that final minute. Not because of great passes or catches or runs, but because nobody from either team covered anybody on the opposing team. While I was mad that michigan won, this just reaffirms my position that they are not a good football team. People will look at cant-tie’s 450 total yards and 5 TDs and start screaming Heisman again, but those people are idiots. On his four touchdown passes, three of them were jump balls that would not have been complete if the Irish secondary wasn’t so pathetic, and the fourth was a screen pass where he threw it two yards and his running back ran 50 more. The rushing TD was even worse, where a michigan player fumbled at the goal line and the ball bounced right to cant-tie with no one around him and he walked into the end zone. Man, I hate that guy. On a related note, it took doctors several hours after the game to surgically remove Brent Musburger’s lips from cant-tie’s penis.

Not a whole lot more to discuss about this game, just a few brief notes that crossed my mind during the game.

Quick Hits
- Verlon Reed had two catches and a nice reverse in the first quarter, but couldn’t do much the rest of the game, although he was still targeted a few times. With Philly Brown’s status up in the air, we’re going to need him to step up big time.

- DE Garrett Goebel, LB Andrew Sweat and S C.J. Barnett all looked really good, for the most part. Goebel and Sweat were always around the ball and Barnett made some big time plays in the secondary. He was burned on a deep touchdown, however.

- Why didn’t Jaamal Berry play at running back? He was healthy enough to return kicks, but only got one carry. With Herron and Hall still suspended and a day where the ground attack wasn’t turning any heads, it seems like it would have been a good idea to give this guy some chances.

- Speaking of Hall still being suspended, boy was that kick in the crotch. It was announced last Monday that Hall, Travis Howard and Corey Brown were all reinstated, only to be un-reinstated the day before the game. How does that happen? Still no word yet on if they’ll be on the field in Miami, or at any point this season.

- Mike Doss and Orlando Pace went into the Buckeyes' Ring of Honor during halftime. Two of my all-time favorites.

Up Next: @Miami (0-1), 7:30, ESPN
Ohio St heads to the Sunshine State as underdogs. It was extremely strange to see a “+” next to the Buckeyes’ name in the point spread. I don’t know the facts on this, but I would guess that this is the first regular season game that the Bucks are dogs since USC at the beginning of the ‘09 campaign. Personally, I would start Braxton Miller and only make the switch to Bauserman if he struggles. This being only Fickell’s third game, it’s tough to tell what he will do, although he looked awfully comfortable with Bowser against Toledo. Jacory Harris will return from his one game suspension to start for The U, which is fine by me. Frankly I think Toledo is just as good of a team, if not better, than Miami is. Bookies be damned, I do not see Ohio St losing this game.
Prediction: Ohio St 29 Miami 14


Monday, September 12


Hey Buckeye fans. It's 3:46 pm on Saturday and I've just watched OSU post a harrowing 27-22 win over a feisty Toledo squad to run their record to 2-0. Figgs will undoubtedly recap the game in greater detail later in the week, but I wanted to share a few impressions about the game and provide a sterling example of how not to be a good fan of a team.

- I haven't seen anything indicating that Drew Basil is capable of making a field goal. I'm not sure if it's because we're consistently having him kick long-yardage tries, or a lack of game experience, or what, but his inaccuracy is at least mildly concerning as we move into games where we can't afford to leave three points on the field. Hopefully a few shorter kicks splitting the uprights will boost his confidence and accuracy and expand his range from there.

- None of our backs are exactly Beanie Wells, though Carlos Hyde appears to be the toughest runner. Rod Smith wasn't particularly impressive even before that inexcusable late-game fumble. Hopefully Hyde will be able to handle the load going forward in the season. The Buckeye offense generally moved the ball well, totaling 301 yards on the day, but struggled on 3rd down.

- Ben Buchanan has looked good, save for the blocked punt early in today's game.

- The defense was mostly sound, except for a few lapses here and there against an explosive Rocket offense. They also seem a bit susceptible to misdirection plays, but these things are characteristic of young defenses.

- michigan sucks

- The QB situation will continue to get loads of attention until either Braxton Miller takes over, or Joe Bauserman throws touchdown passes on 56 straight attempts. That's just the way it's going to be, I'm afraid, and as Figgs suggested previously, Miller will likely eventually win the position sometime this season. After a flawless opener against a weak Akron club, Bauserman was decent but not great against Toledo. He only completed 53% of his throws, tossing a few out of bounds that maybe he should have waited on and flat-out missing some deep throws, but ultimately got the job done and didn't turn the ball over once.

- The coaching sitution will continue to get loads of attention until either an established coach takes over, or Luke Fickell wins 8 straight National Championships. That's just the way it's going to be, I'm afraid. Personally, I think it's a bit too early to draw conclusions on Fickell's work as coach with only two games under his belt, both of the home-win-against-MAC-school variety.

Clearly, not everyone agrees with me on this point. In particular, whoever wields the in-game Twitter feed for FCF's kindred spirits over at Cleveland Strikes Back does not agree with me. Instead of enjoying the game and providing some sort of useful analysis, this fellow has decided to spend the past two weeks sending an endless stream of vitriol all game long directed at Fickell ("brain dead", "fucking idiot") and Bauserman ("steaming pile of crap," "Lousyman"). In the span of three hours, this chipper, supportive, fun-loving individual lobbed an incredible 49 grenades at Fickell and Bauserman. What a fun way to spend an late summer afternoon! I feel like, I don't know, let's say five or so such messages would have gotten across the same message. This guy's literary oeuvre exhibits roughly the same amount of variety as does Jack Torrance's, and the same measured perspective on player performance as does Ray Finkel.

I mean, seriously, if you put Figgs in a room for a week straight and made him watch nothing but michigan wins from years past (admittedly, you'd have to go back a ways to find many) and played "The Victors" over and over again, I doubt he could sustain the level of venom this guy pumped out, the difference being that the CSB guy is presumably aiming his poison darts at a team he supports. I think he should relax a bit.

The sad part is, I actually like the CSB Twitter feed, except when this guy is dousing Haterade all over it. Ex-Buckeye Jon Thoma actually called this Debbie Downer out on Twitter for "overwhelming negativity", prompting a typically defensive "calling them like I see them" response. Yeah, that's what you're doing - in that case, what you're seeing is indeed overwhelming negativity. Relentlessly firing off angry twitters at college football players and coaches (during a win!) doesn't seem to me like a particularly worthwhile way to spend an afternoon. It's actually a bit unsettling to watch - I think in the future I'll unfollow the account during OSU games and refollow at other times. Braxton Miller may indeed be the answer for OSU at QB, but having never actually seen the dude play, I'll leave that up to the coaching staff and support the guys on the field.

So, sports fans, I'd offer that it's more than OK to offer reasonable constructive criticism at players and teams that you want to see win, but haranguing them over and over again on social media sites is no kind of way to be a fan.

Saturday, September 10

NFL Picks: Week 1

Gentlemen, the NFL is back. Let me repeat that, this time in all CAPS with a few exclamation points to reiterate how exciting this is - THE NFL IS BACK!!!! Figgs here, I'll be taking over this season. I don't know where Andy took his lines from, but these will come from This season, we welcome a new member to the fore(st)cast, my brother Joe. (You guys see what I did there with the word forecast?) Let's get pickin!

Sunday games

BROWNS (-6.5) VS Bengals
Figgs: I will be atending my third straight home opener in this one, and expect to see Danny and company roll. BEER WE GO BROWNIES!!
Joe: Browns; Going with my heart here. Andy Dalton in his 1st NFL start against an improved Browns team on the road, I like our chances.
Nick: Browns. This feels like a lot of point for a Browns team that hasn't really proven anything, but I also think that the Bengals suck. Let's go! Let's go, let's go!

RAVENS (-1.5) vs shitsburgh
Figgs: Eh, ratbirds I guess. What a stupid game this is each year. At least one of them has to lose.
Joe: Steelers; Usually I go the other way when these two play, and usually I'm wrong. Ben is 7-3 lifetime vs. Flacco and this game should be no different.
Nick: Steelers. I actually feel pretty strongly about this one. The Ravens' defense feels vulnerable to me, and I don't think Joe Flacco's good enough to take them to the next level, Lee Evans or no.

BUCCANEERS (-1.5) vs Lions
Figgs: Lions. I don't know if I'm on the Detroit bandwagon as much as everyone else, but I don't think Tampa will be as good this year.
Joe: Bucs; Detroit will be improved, but I figure to an 8-8 level. I look for Tampa to challenge Dallas for the final playoff spot in the NFC, so no reason to pick against them at home in this one.
Nick: Bucs. Tampa and KC seem like the winning teams poised to take a step back this year. Still, Tampa should at least be giving three at home here, right?

BEARS (+2.5) vs Falcons
Figgs: ATL. I really like the Falcons this year. I have no idea on the Bears, but I doubt they're very good.
Joe: Falcons; I think the Bears will take a big step back this year, and Ryan and company give less than a field goal...I'll give those points.
Nick: Falcons. I just don't believe in the Bears.

CHIEFS (-6) vs Bills
Figgs: Buffalo. The Jills are really bad, but KC isn't great either, and I could see them keeping it close.
Joe: Bills; I look for a 13-10 game either way and wouldn't be at all surprised if Buffalo gets the outright win.
Nick: Bills. Buffalo is one of those teams that was really scrappy on the road last year, and I think they can hang with the Chiefs.

TEXANS (-9) vs Colts
Figgs: Indy. I know Peyton IS the Colts, but 9? Seems a bit high.
Joe: Colts; Someone wake me up when the Texans actually live up to their preseason hype that they get every single year.
Nick: Texans. This line should be double-digits.

RAMS (+4) vs Eagles
Figgs: Philly. I feel like these teams are the two of the surest bets to make the playoffs in the NFC (along with GB). The Eagles because they're really good and the Rams because they play in the West.
Joe: Eagles; I don't know if they're actually the Dream Team, but they are good enough to beat a mediocre Rams team by more than 4.
Nick: Eagles. Damn, I really want to take the Rams here. But 4 feels a little low, especially because I think the Rams will take some time to gel on offense.

JAGS (-2.5) vs Titans
Figgs: Titans. Luke McCown? Really? ($)
Joe: Titans; Matt Hasselbeck > Luke McCown.
Nick: Titans. My favorite game on the board. The Titans will be .500-ish, and the Jagoffs will be among the league's dregs. ($ +2)

REDSKINS (+3) vs Giants
Figgs: G-Men. Rex Grossman? Really? If they were playing anyone else, I might give Washington some extra points for emotional lift on Sept. 11, buuut they're playing a team from New York. ($)
Joe: Redskins; I'll probably regret picking such a bad team, but I think the Giants are really gonna struggle this year and are not good enough to give points to anyone on the road.
Nick: Skins. I don't think the Giants are going to be very good this year. I'm not sure that the Skins are going to be any better, but I'll take the 3 at home here just on general principle. Figgs, this feels like a sucker bet to me.

CARDINALS (-7) vs Panthers
Figgs: Ugh. What an ugly game. I would never touch this game with real money. Cards, I guess.
Joe: Cardinals; I don't like giving a full TD, but I am buying Kevin Kolb, thus I'll give those points against a rookie making his first start on the road.
Nick: Cards. I think the Cards offense could put up some decent numbers this year, and as long as the Cards can slow down Williams and Stewars they will cruise.

49ERS (-5.5) vs Seahawks
Figgs: Niners. Week 1 games are really tough to pick. Who even plays for these teams?
Joe: 49ers; Two bad QBs but I like San Frans weapons better than Seattles. I guess.
Nick: Niners. I need more than a TD to endorse Tarvaris.

CHARGERS (-9) Vikings
Figgs: Vikes. I'll buy another SD slow start.
Joe: Vikings; (See my Texans comment and insert Chargers).
Nick: Vikes. Too. Many. Points. Strong candidate for the Backdoor Cover of the Week.

JETS (-5) vs Cowboys
Figgs: Jets. This isn't quite the emotional lift that New Orleans got for the MNF game after Katrina, but it's close.
Joe: Cowboys; I think the Jets win, but I don't like giving more than a field goal in this one so I'll take those points.
Nick: Cowboys. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Jets take a step back this year, and if the Cowboys can just be average on defense they're a Super Bowl contender.

Monday Night Footballs

DOLPHINS (+7) vs Patriots
Figgs: Pats. They both offer QBs from that school up north. The difference - one of them is good.
Joe: Patriots; They still have Brady and Bellichek. Miami still doesnt.
Nick: Pats. Miami's over/under for total wins was 7.5 (!) and I expect they will only get 4-5. ($ -7)

BRONCOS (-3) vs Raiders
Figgs: Denver. I repeat, Week 1 games are really tough to pick.
Joe: Broncos; I really have no feel for this one. I guess I'll take whoever the home team is.

Additional $ game for Nick: Tease Pats (-1) and Steelers (+8.5)