Sunday, October 30

Taking 'em four games at a time

What a Halloween Saturday night that was! As you can see, I went out in costume (the blood is fake) and even had the chance to meet a former world champion! I'm actually still wearing that shirt as I type this.

Partying with celebrities aside, this night belonged to the Ohio State Buckeyes, by virtue of their dramatic 33-29 toppling of the Wisconsin Badgers. I was at a house party for the 4th quarter, and this girl (possibly a Wisconsin grad) who knew almost nothing about football (forward progress, for instance) was loudly and obnoxiously rooting on the Badger rally that put them ahead by a field goal with 78 ticks of the clock left. You just don't do that, especially in a pro-Buckeye room. I don't often feel the need to tell people out loud to shut up, but those were the circumstances. I didn't need to say anything after Braxton Miller's 40-yard chuck to Devin Smith put the good guys up on top to stay; I only wish I had the phone number of the guy who took a photo of her looking distraught after the Buckeye TD, so I could share it with you.

I'll let Figgs recap the game in greater, less party-centric detail later, but I have two things to discuss related to this huge win.

Item #1: Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema. It's been hard for me over the past few years to adjust to Wisconsin no longer having a coach who, like Barry Alvarez, himself looked like a badger, but I admire Bielema's program, and at least he doesn't coach michigan. I did not approve of his comment following his club's second-straight last-minute defeat, however:

"The replay booth has definitely not been our friend the last two weeks."

Don't play the victim here, Bret. If there was no replay in college football, both of your games would have turned out exactly the same, because replay (correctly) upheld both of the crucial calls that were made on the field, not to mention Philly Brown's first-half sideline catch. The MSU Hail Mary last week was ruled a touchdown on the field and rightfully upheld by the replay official, and the Buckeye game-winner was correctly ruled a touchdown before the video booth confirmed that Miller was comfortably behind the line on his final toss. Let's not pretend that the refs were in any way at fault in Wisconsin's recent troubles, because both times they got calls right initially, and then through the review process. This is a weak, weak comment from Bielema.

Item #2: There is absolutely no reason Ohio State cannot win the Big 10 this season. Yeah, I know the Miami, Nebraska, and MSU losses all blew, but that's behind us. A look at the current situation and the remaining schedules shows that the Bucks are very much in contention for their seventh straight Big 10 crown.

At this point, I'd like to talk a bit about the overused cliche about taking things "one game at a time." Can we stop saying this? Can we just assume that's what every athlete and coach is doing, and have them advise us only when they're taking a different approach? Also, I'm not sure where the evidence is that this venerated perspective is so great for winning games. Might it be possible that teams would have more success if they took a higher view of the season? Possibly not, but it's natural for football players to look ahead to the rest of their schedule, even though I have no doubt their focus will be squarely on their next opponent.

Fortunately, I'm in no way encumbered by a need to conform to this cliche, so I can lay out for you why I think Ohio State can and will grab the Big 10 again. Let's first look at the conference standings in the dumbly-named "Leaders" half of the Big 10 (hey Big 10, have you noticed that no one else does this?):

Big 10 Leaders
Penn State (5-0)
Ohio State (2-2)
Wisconsin (2-2)
Illinois (2-3)
Indiana (0-5)

Obviously the Nittany Lions are the biggest hurdle for Ohio State right now, sitting two games above the Buckeyes in the standings as I write. OSU holds tiebreakers over Wisky and Illinois, so Ohio controls their own destiny with respect to those two foes. The Buckeye remaining schedule shakes out like this:

@ Purdue
Penn State
@ michigan

Again, unencumbered by the directive to go one game at a time, I can freely look ahead to games over the horizon. Indiana is horrible and (sorry, JHH) Purdue just got hammered by michigan of all people, so unless Joe Bauserman gets on the field we'll be 4-2 in a couple of weeks heading into a showdown in Columbus with Penn State. I think Ohio State will win this marquee matchup for a few reasons:

- Penn State is 5-0, yes, but they've grabbed those wins against Indiana, Purdue, Iowa, Northwestern, and Illinois. Somehow they've managed to avoid the three top teams in the Legends division and their top two opponents in Leaders this far, but those bills are about to come due as they finish against the Cornhuskers, Buckeyes, and Badgers.
- The game is in Columbus. It is not easy to win football games in Columbus.
- Ohio State is peaking and confident. Our QB position is stabilized, the defense has really started to step up, and after a rocky start the team is hitting its stride at the right time

And there's no way we lose to michigan.

So yes, I'm saying there's a very good chance OSU runs the table here and finishes 6-2 in conference play. One of those games will have handed Penn State a conference L, but the current two-game deficit means that the Buckeyes will need help to catch PSU. I'll take my chances on the Badgers handling the Lions in Madison on the final day of the regular season (assuming Nebraska hasn't already done it in Happy Valley, a distinct possibility), elevating the Buckeyes to first in the Leaders division with all the head-to-head tiebreakers in hand. Granted, this is what I want to happen, but I also think there's a more-than-fair shot of it coming true. There is an elaborate scenario in which OSU can actually suffer a 3rd loss and still come out on top: Penn State drops their remaining three, Wisconsin loses to the Illini, and the OSU loss is to either Indiana or michigan. But that's very unlikely, not least because it involves michigan beating the Buckeyes, so let's stick with the win-out scenario.

Half-conference title secured, our thoughts can then turn to a prospective Big 10 Championship between OSU and the winner on the Legends side. At present we have:

Michigan state (3-1)
Nebraska (3-1)
michigan (3-1)
Iowa (2-2)
Minnesota (1-3)
Northwestern (1-4)

The funniest thing that could happen for Buckeye fans would be this: michigan topples Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska, then loses to Ohio State as usual. This puts Nebraska out of the running (um would own a tiebreaker) and MSU somehow loses two games to the motley lot of Minny, Iowa, Indiana, and Northwestern. This would give michigan the Legends title with the tiebreaker over Nebraska, setting up an Ohio State - michigan rematch in the inaugural championship game.

That's not going to happen, though. michigan sucks and they're simply not going to win their half of the conference. Michigan State has no excuse not to finish 7-1 with the creampuffs they have remaining, and Nebraska is going to pummel michigan whenever they play. As I see it, Penn State - Nebraska will decide that side of the ledger; if the Lions hold serve at home, then MSU probably gets a berth in the title game; if not, Nebraska runs the table and edges Michigan State via the tiebreaker they earned by hammering the Spartans last night. My guess is the Huskers will be taking a trip to Indianapolis later this fall, hopefully to play Ohio State.

Take-home messages:

- Ohio State can very well win out, and I see PSU as their only real obstacle to doing so.
- If they do, and either Nebraska or Wisconsin beat Penn State, OSU wins the Leaders division.
- The Leaders winner will probably face Nebraska for the Big 10 championship

Go Bucks!

Saturday, October 29

NFL Picks: Week 8

Looks like there's a new sheriff in town.

Last Week
Joe: 6-6-1
Figgs: 6-6-1
Nick: 4-8-1

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

Current Standings
Joe: 52-44-6
Nick: 50-46-6
Figgs: 45-51-6

Figgs' $ Picks: 5-9-1
Nick's $ Picks: 17-10-4

Sunday, 1 pm kickoff

RAVENS (-13) vs Cardinals
Figgs: ARZ. The Ravens probably win this one big, but I'm not sure I can pick Joe Flacco at any point the rest of the season after what I witnessed last Monday night.
Joe: Ravens; Should be angry after Monday night's embarrassment, and the Cardinals really pork.
Nick: Cards. Too many points.

PANTHERS (-3.5) vs Vikings
Figgs: Cats. Not real confident about this one, guess I'll go with the home team.
Joe: Panthers; Surprisingly, probably the most entertaining 1:00 game with the 2 rookie QB's. Was there really any doubt on which one I would take here?
Nick: Panthers.

TEXANS (-9) vs Jaguars
Figgs: Houston. Not sure where that performance came from last Monday from Jax, but I don't see them doing it again.
Joe: Texans; I think the Jags blew their load on Monday night. Houston should roll here.
Nick: Jags.

GIANTS (-9.5) vs Dolphins
Figgs: NYG. Miami lost to Tim Tebow - 'nuff said.
Joe: Giants; It looks like I'm rolling with the favorites this week. Miami has to do their best to fight off the Colts in the Luck sweepstakes. A trip up north should continue them on their way to do so.
Nick: Dolphins.

RAMS (+13.5) vs Saints
Figgs: NO. Bradford is out, I doubt STL scores more than 10 in this game. The Saints should have no problem putting up more than 24.
Joe: Saints; I'm going with another huge favorite, but this one is the mismatch of the week, regardless if Bradford plays or not. Maybe not quite 62-7, but it could be close to that.
Nick: Saints.

TITANS (-9) vs Colts
Figgs: Titans. I've been picking the Colts often because I figured they'd get a win soon, but after that game against the Saints I'm starting to think that's less likely.
Joe: Titans; I absolutely can't figure Tennessee out still, but I'll take whoever is playing Indy right now. Is it possible that Peyton wins MVP without taking a snap this year, because it's looking obvious how truly valuable he really was.
Nick: Colts.

Sunday, 4 pm kickoff

49ERS (-9) vs BROWNS
Figgs: BROWNS. Is San Fran for real? I'm not buying it. No reason we can't win this game. Although The Niners do rock my second favorite uniforms (behind Oakland, if you were wondering).
Joe: Browns; Finally picking an underdog, albeit not out of confidence, simply out of pride.
Nick: Browns.

BRONCOS (+2.5) vs Lions
Figgs: Lions. I'm 100% with Joe on this one. Is this line serious? Of course, whenever a game seems this obvious, Vegas always ends up being right and I always lose, but c'mon, Denver? On a related note, I think I found something I hate more than The Dougie. ($)
Joe: Lions; I think Vegas must be drinking the Tebow KoolAid, because this spread should be no lower than 7. Miami's defense shut Timmy down for 57 minutes last week. Meet Ndomakong Suh. Blowout, and my lock of the week.
Nick: Lions.

Bills (-6) vs Redskins (in Toronto)
Figgs: Jills, I guess. Toughest one on the board for me this week. Both teams seem equally mediocre.
Joe: Bills; Washington is starting to look like the last place team everyone thought they would be. Buffalo coming off a bye should have no problem here.
Nick: Bills. ($)

SEAHAWKS (+1.5) vs Bengals
Figgs: 'Hawks. I've mentioned before how there's always a game each week that is just pathetic, and they seem to typically involve the Bungles. Are they gonna play anyone good this year?
Joe: Bengals; If Whitehurst plays, this is a lock. If Jackson plays, I'll still take my chances. Seattle lost to us 6-3. Period.
Nick: Bengals.

STEELERS (+3) vs Patriots
Figgs: Pats. Watching Pittsburgh lose is one of my favorite things to do. ($)
Joe: Patriots; Not confident at all here, but I'm sticking to my pick against Pittsburgh no matter what mentality simply out of principle.
Nick: Pats. Alright Tom, let's do this. ($)

Sunday Night Football

EAGLES (-3) vs Cowboys
Figgs: Philly. After last week's debacle, thankfully we're back to a primetime game that I'm really interested. Could see it going either way, but I'll go with the Eagles at home.
Joe: Cowboys; Finally, an underdog that I feel comfortable taking. I'll go even bolder and say Dallas wins outright and on top of that, they will win the NFC East.
Nick: Cowboys.

Monday Night Football

CHIEVES (+3.5) vs Chargers
Figgs: SD. Looks like I spoke too soon about those primetime games. While you're right, Joe, KC is not one of those good teams. ($)
Joe: Chiefs; San Diego has proven nothing this year. 4 wins vs. bad teams and 2 losses vs. good teams. KC has quietly won 3 straight. They still suck, but this has a typical Charger underachiever game written all over it.
Nick: Chiefs. ($)

My thoughts on today's OSU game vs Wisconsin

Friday, October 21

NFL Picks: Week7

Another rough week for our prognosticators, as no one went about the .500 mark. Joe gained another game on Nick, setting up a tie for first place, while I continue to occupy a stranglehold on the basement.

Last Week
Joe: 6-6-1
Nick: 5-7-1
Figgs: 5-7-1

Figgs' $ Picks: 1-2
Nick's $ Picks: 0-3

Current Standings
Joe: 46-38-5
Nick: 46-38-5
Figgs: 39-45-5

Figgs' $ Picks: 5-8-1
Nick's $ Picks: 13-9-3

Sunday, 1 pm kickoff

BROWNS (-3) vs Seahawks
Figgs: BROWNS. If we lose to Seattle at home, it's time to pack it up for the year.
Joe: Browns; We better win this one for Christ's sake.
Nick: Browns. ($)

Bears (-1) vs Bucs (in London)
Figgs: In honor of playing this game across the pond, I'll type in English. Bucs. Two teams that have had some pretty drastic highs and lows this year, so it's tough to get a feel for either one. TB I suppose.
Joe: Bucs; That 48-3 loss to San Fran still seems inexplicable. Beating the Saints last week was more of what I expected out of this team this year.
Nick: Bucs. ($)

PANTHERS (-2.5) vs Redskins
Figgs: Cats. Going against Jon Beck, now's the time for Cam to finally win one of these close ones, right?
Joe: Panthers; Tough losses all year for Carolina. But when times are tough, just keep your heads up boys. I THINK I CAM! I THINK I CAM! I THINK I CAM!
Nick: Panthers. ($)

JETS (+2.5) vs Chargers
Figgs: SD. Should be one of the most interesting matchups of the week. Great offense vs great defense, bad offense vs bad defense. The Jet offense just isn't good enough to keep up with the Bolts.
Joe: Jets; They need this one and I think they will get it at home. San Diego is so unpredictable, I don't feel comfortable picking them here.
Nick: Jets. ($)

TITANS (-3.5) vs Texans
Figgs: Texans. Even without Johnson, Houston's too good of a team to keep sliding like this.
Joe: Titans; Coming off a bye, I like them this week. I guess last week I underestimated just how banged up Houston is.
Nick: Titans.

DOLPHINS (-1) vs Broncos
Figgs: Fish. It seems like each week there's a game that is just pathetic. If henne was still in, it'd be a matchup of two of my all-time least favorite players, and I would refuse to pick either QB and just take the loss. But since he's on the sideline, I'll go against Tebow.
Joe: Broncos; If I could just spend 5 minutes with Tebow, my life would be so much better.
Nick: Dolphins.

LIONS (-3.5) vs Falcons
Figgs: ATL. I haven't hit on a Falcons game yet this year. Twice I said I was giving up on them and picked against them, and they won easily both times.
Joe: Falcons; I fully expected to take the Lions, as I have all year, but I just have a gut feeling about the Dirty Birds pulling the upset here. Even if I'm wrong, they can still lose by a field goal and give me the win, so I'll go with my gut.
Nick: Lions.

Sunday, 4 pm kickoff

RAIDERS (-5) vs Chiefs
Figgs: Oakland. KC is bad enough where I'd take either Boeller or a rusty Palmer to cover this. (a "rusty Palmer" sounds awfully sexual)
Joe: Raiders; Yeah, as rusty as Palmer may be, either of the three of us would be able to hand the ball off to Darren McFadden enough times to beat KC.
Nick: Raiders.

CARDINALS (+4) vs Steelers
Figgs: shitsburgh. Next.
Joe: Cardinals; Despite sweating out a late charge from the talented Jaguars last week (obvious sarcasm), I still have seen nothing from Pittsburgh to prove to me they don't suck.
Nick: Steelers. ($)

COWBOYS (-13) vs Rams
Figgs: 'Boys. A.J. Feeley? No thank you.
Joe: Cowboys; Alot of points here. I don't feel comfortable, but they are much better than the Rams, so I'll give the large spread.
Nick: Cowboys.

VIKINGS (+9) vs Packers
Figgs: Pack. They could seriously make a run at 16-0.
Joe: Packers; Aaron Rogers>Chritian Ponder. Done.
Nick: Packers.

Sunday Night Football

SAINTS (-14) vs Colts
Figgs: NO. If Indy can't stay with Cinncy, a pissed off Saints team should blow them out of the water. Peyton Manning cost NBC and ESPN so many ratings.
Joe: Saints; Don't know what to add to what Jason just said. I agree 100%.
Nick: Colts.

Monday Night Football

RAVENS (-7.5) vs Jaguars
Figgs: ratbirds. Just awful primetime games again this week. This one's over by halftime.
Joe: Ravens; Despite Jacksonville's near miss against the great Pittsburgh Steelers (there's more sarcasm here if you weren't aware), I like the Ravens to cruise here. Blaine Gabbert, I'd like to introduce you to Ray Lewis and his good buddy Ed Reed.
Nick: Ravens.

Figgs teaser: Steelers (+3)/Packers (-2)/Ravens (PK)
Nick's Teaser: Steelers +2.5 / Packers -1.5

Thursday, October 20


Come on, you all know me. It's Andy, your friendly local Cleveland sports fan and advocate of all things Cleveland. I've lived Downtown for four years now - I've got the cred. I'm laying this out at the beginning here because I have to, once again, defend LeBron James. I know. Trust me, I'm as disdainful of #6 as anyone - my lone appearance on consisted of two anti-#6 statements, one serving as a Trojan Horse within which I hid a dig at the Steelers. Score.

But Magic Johnson's recent comments while speaking at the University of Albany have me rallying to the former Cavalier's defense, because, well, I can't stand bad logic.

There's going to always be great players in basketball.
No wonder ABC pays this guy so much.

There's going to always be guys who win championships in the NBA, except LeBron ..."
Does this make any sense? The first part is obvious - there will always be guys winning championship, with the possible notable exception of this season. Yes, a championship team emerges every year and guys are usually on that team winning. But the second, part, "except LeBron" - does that mean every guy in the NBA but LeBron wins? This is horribly phrased.

Everybody's always asking, "Who is better between Kobe and LeBron?' I'm like, Are you kidding me? I'm like you're kidding me ... Kobe, five championships; LeBron, zero.
This tiresome thing again, where ability and success are measured only in championships, as if basketball were not a team game. Put Shaq in his prime on the last few Cavs teams #6 played on and see if there aren't a few more banners in the Q.

Plus, he's not being very specific here. If the person asks Magic who's had the better career, then clearly it's Kobe Bryant, and the five championships do indeed have much (not all) to do with that. I can't see anyone arguing otherwise. But if the person says, "who's better?" meaning who's better now, it's obviously #6, championships be damned. Magic himself has five - does that mean he's better than LeBron today? Of course not, though he indisputably had a better career. I guarantee you even an ego fiend like #6 would acknowledge that he hasn't matched the careers of either Laker great.

And trust me, if anyone's asking Magic the question he references, they mean at the present time, and his answer and reasoning are way, way off base.

I love the young man though. I know he's going to get better in the fourth quarter this year.
The fourth quarter of what, pickup games?

I'm not hating on LeBron
A statement like this is usually a sign that you are indeed hating on someone.

Come on, man, six championships for Jordan. You know that Michael averaged over 30points every playoff series? Don't try to touch that."
'96 Finals vs Seattle: 27.3 ppg. I only looked up one to prove Magic wrong. Gotcha journalism! Also, if Kobe wins one more, is he exactly as good as MJ by your simple-minded metric?

But that's not the point. Johnson's arguing a straw man here - not one person thinks #6 is better than was #23. Seriously, find me one. But I don't like the close here, "don't try to touch that." What if #6 steps it up, wins seven titles, and matches Jordan's performance? He's not even supposed to try? I hope the guy wins zero, of course, but Magic's totally lost me here.

Tuesday, October 18

Reason to cheer again

At the beginning of the 2011 calendar year, Ohio St was celebrating a thrilling Sugar Bowl victory. In the 10 months following, fans of the scarlet and gray have not had a whole lot to cheer about. We’ve witnessed scandals, departures, suspensions, embarrassing losses, historic collapses, and Joe Bauserman. But for three hours in Champaign, Illinois last Saturday, we were able to forget all of that and root our Buckeyes on to victory on the strength of one of the most impressive defensive performances in recent memory.

A less-than-100% Braxton Miller did not do a whole lot, but he didn’t have to, as Ohio St became only the second team in the past decade to win a game while completing just one pass. Braxton made that one completion count, however, hitting Jake Stoneburner for a TD. Boom Herron returned from his five-game and one-game suspensions in tremendous fashion, gashing the Illini D for 114 yards and a touchdown. But the real story was the defense, which forced three turnovers (leading to 14 Buckeye points) and did a fantastic job bottling up one of the most explosive offenses in the nation.

Game Recap
Luke Fickell told the press last week that he didn’t want to rush Dan Herron back, that Herron wouldn’t start, and he wasn’t sure how much he was going to play. He must have changed his mind, as #1 was in the backfield on the game’s first play, and was a major factor in taking the Bucks into field goal range on their first possession. Jordan Hall and Miller ran it a few times as well, and Drew Basil knocked in a 43-yarder through the powerful wind to give OSU a quick lead. I’m still far from 100% sold on Basil, but he’s come a long way (seven consecutive makes, I believe) from his poor start.

I said last week that in order to win this game Ohio St would have to keep Nathan Scheelhaase in the pocket and limit the big plays from WR A.J. Jenkins. That’s precisely what they did, particularly in the first quarter, holding Scheelhaase to only 6 yards rushing and blanketing Jenkins to 1 catch for 2 yards. Illinois moved the ball a little better in the second frame, reaching OSU territory twice, but the Buckeye D held tough and forced punts on each of the Illini’s five first-half possessions.

Meanwhile, the Ohio St offense also sputtered, as Braxton didn’t throw a pass until midway through the 2nd quarter and finished the half 0/2. Boom and Hall basically split the carries and ran fairly well, but couldn’t consistently keep a drive going after that first series and the Bucks went to the break nursing a 3-0 lead.

The game took its first big turn as soon as the teams came out of the tunnel. On the second play of the half, Scheelhaase was picked off by Bradley Roby, who had a great return and set the Bucks up at the 12-yard line. On the next play, Boom bounced off the left side and found pay dirt, giving OSU a 10-point advantage. Jenkins caught a couple balls on the ensuing possession, again setting up Illinois across the 50, but couldn’t break one loose. A John Simon sack pushed them out of FG range and the Illini were again forced to punt. With the ball back, Braxton broke a 35-yard run, the longest by either team in the game, but when the OSU drive stalled at the Illinois 30 Fickell decided to punt rather than give Basil a shot at a 48-yarder into the gusty wind.

Just as the INT on the second play of the third quarter put the Buckeyes in control, the second play of the fourth just about sealed it for them. After another Jenkins grab, Tyler Moeller caught him from behind and jarred the ball loose. Storm Klein recovered and Ohio St again found themselves deep in Illinois territory after a turnover. The similarities to the start of the third quarter continued as the Bucks wasted no time capitalizing when Stoneburner caught his sixth touchdown of the year on the team’s only completion of the day to put OSU up 17-0.

The Buckeye D let up a little with a comfortable lead, and Scheelhaase took advantage, driving 80 yards and making it a 10-point contest with a TD pass to Evan Wilson. OSU quickly went three-and-out and gave the ball right back to Illinois with about four minutes left to play. The defense was not about to be on the losing end of another epic comeback, and Travis Howard picked off Scheelhaase’s next pass to clinch the Ohio St victory.

Game Ball
Because of some poor performances this year, I have an excess of game balls to go around, so I’ll give out a couple here as there were several players deserving of the honor. First, let’s talk Bradley Roby. The freshman was originally slated as the nickel back coming out of camp, but the early suspension to Travis Howard thrust him into the starting role. He went through some growing pains in the first few games, but has really come on as of late. Facing A.J. Jenkins was the biggest test the youngster has faced, and he passed with flying colors. Sure, Jenkins had eight grabs, but you can’t expect to completely shut out a talent like Jenkins. The key is to keep him from making the big, game-changing plays, and that’s just what Roby did, holding him to only 80 yards on those eight catches. Roby also added a few tackles, pass break ups, and that huge interception and return that set up Ohio St’s first touchdown. I also like how Roby didn’t shy away from the spotlight of going up against Jenkins, as he was talking shit during the week, saying A.J. was “nothing special” and “just a product of the system.” I like when guys talk a little smack, as long as they back it up as Roby did.

While there wasn’t very much offense in this contest, one player on that side of the ball certainly stood out - Dan Herron. Boom was forced to watch the season’s first six games at home, and you know the All-Conference performer was dying to be out there. He announced his presence loud and clear on Saturday, rushing the ball 23 times for 114 yards and a touchdown while picking up 5.0 yards per carry, all game highs. Even with DeVier Posey being out and the mess that has been the QB situation this year, you gotta think that we don’t blow that Nebraska game and probably beat Michigan St with this guy in the lineup. It’s going to be fun to watch him and this team down the stretch.
Game balls to date: Miller (2), Roby (2), Herron, Simon

Big Ten
They say it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong, but I’m more of a fan of gloating when I’m right. And boy, was I right about michigan. That school up north finally faced a good defense when they played Michigan St last week, and they were completely shut down, losing 28-14. can’t-tie looked worse than ever throwing the ball, completing 9/24 passes for 123 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. If you watched this game, you saw can’t-tie miss open receiver after open receiver, and miss them badly. The Spartans also did an excellent job keeping him from beating them with his legs, holding can’t-tie to a mere 42 yards on 18 carries, only good for 2.3 ypc. brady hoake’s allegedly “bad ass” defense was dominated on the ground, letting Edwin Baker and company run for over 200 yards. Finally, we see bitchigan for who they really are.

The rest of the conference saw Northwestern blow their third 4th quarter lead in as many weeks as they fell to Iowa 41-31; Penn St win another nail-bitter against an awful team, beating Purdue 23-18; and Wisconsin continue to roll as they pounded Indiana, 59-7. The Badgers still have some tough foes on their schedule (starting this week in East Lansing, and don’t forget the Buckeyes!) but still appear to me destined for an unbeaten regular season. Regardless of Michigan St’s outcome with Wisconsin this week, their trip to Lincoln, Nebraska in two weeks will most likely decide the Legends Division, and who earns the right to get beat by Wisconsin again in the inaugural Big Ten Championship.

Not Hyde-ing your emotions
Carlos Hyde was not happy about only getting three carries in this game, and he wasn’t afraid to let people know. He was visibly frustrated on the sidelines, then tweeted after the game something along the lines of “if I’m not gonna play, why am I even on the team.” I don’t have the direct quote because he promptly took the tweet down after posting it, but it’s message was pretty clear. He later tweeted that he was joking, but that was obviously not the case. I totally see where he was coming from, as he has been very productive this season, but with Boom returning and playing with a run-first quarterback, there are not a lot of carries to go around. I would like to see more of a share between him and Hall to spell Herron, however, as opposed to the 12-3 carry edge that Hall had over Hyde in this contest. It will be interesting to see how the coaches find ways to get everyone involved as we move forward.

I can’t think of a clever pun/alliteration for the title of this section
I just feel the need to talk more about this defensive performance, because it was something special. There were times where I swore I saw A.J. Hawk and Mike Doss roaming around out there. This high-powered Illini offense came into the game averaging nearly 450 yards and 38 points, and this Buckeye unit shut them down to the tune of 285 yards and 7 points, while forcing three turnovers. I already gushed over Bradley Roby, but there were three others on the defensive side of the ball that got strong consideration for the game ball - DE John Simon, DT Jonathan Hankins, and DB Tyler Moeller.

Simon has been disrupting quarterbacks all season long. The numbers don’t show it, but it’s crazy how many times he is in the backfield chasing the QB out of the pocket and either setting up a sack for a teammate or forcing the QB to throw it away. This game was no different, as he had Scheelhaase running for his life on several plays, including one time where he got to him and recorded a sack. Big Jon Hankins lived across the line of scrimmage in this one, blowing up plays left and right. Moeller had his best game since his injury at the beginning of the 2010 season, constantly being around the ball and forcing a fumble. It didn’t seem like there was a play in this game where one of these four guys (including Roby) wasn’t involved.

Up Next: 10/29 vs. Wisconsin (6-0, 2-0), 8:00, ABC
The Buckeyes head into the bye week on a high note, but it likely won’t last long, as their next opponent is the powerhouse Badgers. Wisconsin has looked pretty much invincible this year, but will face their toughest test this week while Ohio St sits at home and rests while Wisconsin travels to East Lansing to face Michigan St. Hopefully the Spartan defense will bang these guys around a bit, but I’m not holding my breath. Wisconsin is lead by their two-headed monster at running back, Montee Ball and James White, plus Heisman hopeful QB Russell Wilson. As good as OSU’s defense has looked this season, I just don’t see them stopping this Badger attack as many times as will be necessary to win this game.
Prediction: Ohio St 17 Wisconsin 33


Monday, October 17

Downtown Report with nothin' to report

My Dad has a theory that he advances periodically, despite my strenuous objections, that the major American sports seasons shouldn't overlap, that once, say, baseball ends, football begins, then once that's over, basketball ends, and then baseball starts again and so on. His "reasoning" is an unsupported assertion that "the seasons are too long," whatever that means. I really can't seem to convince him of the vacuity of this notion.

Anyway, I think we're seeing right now that only having one sport active isn't the best thing. Yeah, it's still fun to watch the Bucks and Browns every Saturday and Sunday, but it's so much more fun to have more than one season going on. Football season, in particular, really benefits from having some midweek baseball or basketball games going on, which we lack at present.

One other consequence of single-seasoning it: not a whole lot for me to write about here. I did want to check in with a couple of thoughts on our teams, however, so let's get to it.

Did you catch Part I (the players and numbers) and Part II (the highlights) of my Indians season in review articles? I hope that you did.

As of now, I have only two Tribe-related tidbits:

1) Our comrade Paul Cousineau at The Diatribe is taking a well-deserved hiatus. If anyone's earned it, it's Cousineau. At least he'll stop making us look like such hacks for a while.

2) I went to Harpo's in Parma last night and totally was sitting right near John Adams of Tribe drumming fame. He did indeed have on an Indians sweatshirt.

Can't say that I'm particularly eager to write about the past few weeks of Browns football. They just seem to make an inordinate amount of avoidable errors, and teams like that can't afford to allow two special-teams TD's and think they're going to win. It's still hard to get a read on Colt McCoy as a prospective long-term solution, especially when he's constantly under siege from defenders and doesn't have much of a WR corps to work with. This could be a long year.

Consider that, despite how difficult this season has seemed for the Buckeyes, that they were a twisted ankle away from beating two ranked conference opponents on the road in consecutive weeks, after toppling Illinois 17-7 last week in Champaign. Rumors of OSU's death have been greatly exaggerated.

The headline from Saturday's win was, of course, that they won a game in which they registered exactly one pass completion, a rather unorthodox route to victory in major college football. Of course this brought out a cavalcade of cliche about "old-school" and "smashmouth" football and evocations of Woody Hayes' pass-eschewing philosophy, and how great rushing the ball is and blah blah blah.

The fact is, Ohio State did what they had to do on a day where they had an inexperienced QB playing in strong wind. Their gameplan was enabled by two things: 1) a tough defense that yielded just seven points and forced three turnovers, two of which led directly to OSU's two touchdowns and 2) a much-improved rushing game highlighted by the return of Dan Herron. Wax philosophical about three yards and a cloud of dust all you like - without Herron and that monster defensive performance, this win doesn't happen. This win isn't some sort of validation of an all-rushing offense, because you need balance to be successful against good teams. To continue to compete this year, they will need to develop some success in the passing game. Hopefully that happens sooner rather than later, with powerful Wisconsin coming to Columbus after the Buckeye bye week.

As you've likely heard, however, NBA games aren't going to be forthcoming right away, possibly for a long time. As a sports fan, I'm going to miss basketball a bit because it's a good game and I enjoy watching the competition and heading down to the Q for a game here and there. But it's not really going to bother me and, based on the deafening quiet that greeted the NBA's announcement of games being canceled, the rest of the nation is going to shake it off pretty easily too. I'll catch a few more hockey games, find other stuff to do - like a high percentage of Ameican sports fans, this is a whole different thing than if the NFL had lost time. So go ahead, NBA, cancel all you want and watch your fan base's indifference grow.

Seriously, guys, keep overestimating the extent to which America's sports fans care. It won't even be a challenge for me to get behind the Monsters and Penguins.

There's one angle I haven't seen mentioned yet about the NBA greedfest lockout. Maybe they're tacitly acknowledging the superiority of football in the hearts of the nation's fans. Even if they miss the first few months of the season, those are months where football is going on, reducing the urgency to get a deal done. May as well bide their time, let football do its thing, and get things rolling in January or so.

Thursday, October 13

NFL Picks: Week 6

After making a push for the top spot in our 2010 picks, I'm back to where I was the first two years we did this - sucking hard. It's not only hurting my pride, it's also hurting my wallet, as my $ picks have been off this year as well (although I've had two different games where a player was tackled at the one-yard line in the closing seconds where a TD would have given me a cover). Anyway, Joe's big week pulls him within one game of Allburn - those two appear to be headed for a close race all year. The Browns are back on the schedule this week, where I'm sure they'll find some excruciating way to lose, but I did miss watching them last week.

Last Week
Joe: 8-4-1
Nick: 6-6-1
Figgs: 5-7-1

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

Current Standings
Nick: 41-31-4
Joe: 40-32-4
Figgs: 34-38-4

Figgs' $ Picks: 4-6-1
Nick's $ Picks: 14-6-3

Sunday, 1 pm kickoff

PACKERS (-15) vs Rams
Figgs: Pack. That's a lot of points, but GB is a lot of good, and STL is a lot of suck.
Joe: Packers; What he said^
Nick: Pack. Lots of points, but hard to see the Rams hanging in.

STEELERS (-12.5) vs Jaguars
Figgs: Jax. I've been gaining game's on these two by picking shitsburgh this year, but I like the Cats to keep this closer.
Joe: Jags; I guess. They're still banged up and still overrated, so I can't give this many points, even against a bad team.
Nick: Steelers. Feels like their typical 35-7 game against a lousy team.

REDSKINS (+1.5) vs Eagles
Figgs: Philly. It doesn't seem to make sense to me why Vegas still loves the Eagles, yet I stupidly keep picking them. The bookies know what they're doing.
Joe: Eagles; reluctantly. They may completely tank the season, but if they have any heart or fight in them at all, this is the week they have to show it, or else it will be too late.
Nick: Skins. Going to fade the Eagles till I have a reason not to.

LIONS (-4) vs 49ers
Figgs: Lions. They burned me the last two weeks. I'm officially on board. (note to Joe/Nick - pick SanFran. If I'm on board, that means it's time to get off.) (haha "get off")
Joe: Lions; Tough one. Going against the 49ers has burned me this year, but going with the Lions has helped me, so something's got to give for me in this one. I'll stick with the team that Megatron plays for(9 TD catches in 5 games! Look out Randy Moss' record of 23 in a season).
Nick: Niners. Monday night hangover + overrated.

FALCONS (-4) vs Panthers
Figgs: Carolina. I'm so over the ATL.
Joe: Panthers; Unbeaten vs. the spread. I look for this to finally be the week they take that step to not only cover, but actually win one of these close games.
Nick: Panthers. See: Eagles. ($ +9.5)

BENGALS (-7) vs Colts
Figgs: Indy. It looked like I was going to be right about the Colts finally getting that W last week, then they collapsed in the 4th quarter. Maybe they get it this week. ($ - straight up)
Joe: Colts; I got over thinking the Bengals suck and I wanted to take them here, but not giving a full TD. Less than 7, sure. But giving 7, I'll take my chances with the Colts getting those points.
Nick: Colts. Too many points.

GIANTS (-3) vs Bills
Figgs: Jills. NYG showed last week that they really are who we thought they were.
Joe: Giants; Just because they are so unpredictable, as I said last week. They lose when you expect them to win, so now that everyone is jumping off their bandwagon, I look for an inspired perfomance against a quality Bills team this week.
Nick: Bills. Remind me why the Giants are favored here.

Sunday, 4 pm kickoff

RAIDERS (-6.5) vs Browns
Figgs: Browns. Why not? We were banged up and really needed that bye week. Can't let McFadden bust the big one. BEER WE GO BROWNIES!!
Joe: Raiders
Nick: Raiders. No comment.

RAVENS (-7.5) vs Texans
Figgs: ratbirds. That half point really scares me, but Houston just looks lost without Johnson.
Joe: Texans; This spread seems really high. Houston is still a playoff team(right?), so I'll gladly take those points.
Nick: Ravens. Houston is too banged up.

PATRIOTS (-6.5) vs Cowboys
Figgs: Pats. That half point is really helpful. Don't see NE losing this game.
Joe: Cowboys; I switched this from originally taking the Pats. I just think their defense is very vulnerable and has to catch up with them at some point. Romo and the other banged up Pokes had a bye week to recover and should be able to exploit some of these weaknesses.
Nick: Pats. I need a td to think about Dallas.

BUCS (+4.5) vs Saints
Figgs: NO. I've been really hesitant will all of these 4:00 games. Really don't feel great about any of them. TB just looked awful last week though, and while the Saints didn't look great, they're simply a better team.
Joe: Saints; Jason, they didn't look great only because they ran into a freight train named Cam. The Saints could win this one huge, but even if TB keeps it close, I still think they don't keep it closer than a TD.
Nick: Saints. The Bucs are not good.

Sunday Night Football

BEARS (-3) vs Vikings
Figgs: Vikes. The Bears really pissed me off last week. Their O-line looked like one of the worst in football, and no one on their defense seemed to be able to tackle. I like Minny to keep their momentum from last week going.
Joe: Bears; Megatron will tend to make defenses look bad. I don't like either one of these teams, but if I have to pick one, I'll go with the home team. Urlacher still has some pride and wants to bounce back from last week.
Nick: Vikes. ($ straight up)

Monday Night Football

JETS (-7) vs Dolphins
Figgs: Jets. If anyone could possibly be worse than chad henne, it's whoever is chad henne's backup. ($)
Joe: Dolphins; Horrendous MNF games the next several weeks. I'll take the Fish here only because they play everyone close and I think the Jets are simply mediocre this year. (I hear their QB can surf with the best of them though, so he's go that going for him).
Nick: Jets. Matt. Fucking. Moore.

Figgs teaser: Patriots (Pk)/Saints (+1.5)/Jets (Pk)
Nick's teaser: Steelers -6, Ravens -1, Saints -0.5, Jets -0.5.

Tuesday, October 11

Braxton leaves with ankle injury as Buckeyes complete epic collapse

Just when you think Ohio St can’t disappoint you any more this season, they go and blow a 21-point second half lead to 14th-ranked Nebraska. Going into this game in Lincoln, I had no expectations - I was perfectly content with a loss. If they would have lost this game 38-10 like I had predicted, I would have been upset, but okay with it. Instead, they get our hopes up by straight dominating the Huskers for two-and-a-half quarters en route to a 27-6 lead. Then Braxton Miller, having an outstanding game, gets injured, Joe Bauserman enters, and everything goes to hell. Riding the legs of Rex Burkhead, Nebraska scored the game’s final 28 points to cap the biggest comeback ever for the historic program. It just seems to be one heartbreak after another for the 2011 version of our Buckeyes.

Game Recap
Ohio St got the ball first, and Braxton led a methodical 13-play drive to set up a Drew Basil FG. Brax had a couple of good runs on the drive, as well as completing a deep pass to Philly Brown, just returned from injury. A good return from Ameer Abdullah followed by a 15-yard face mask penalty set up Nebraska inside the Buckeye 40, but OSU’s defense held and forced the Huskers to a 50-yard field goal attempt. Brett Maher’s kick was true and the game was tied at three.

Miller brought the Bucks right back, hitting TE Jake Stoneburner for a 32-yard touchdown. It was good to see Stoneburner back in the action after struggling the past two games. Not unlike a fellow Big Ten foe we are quite familiar with, NU QB Taylor Martinez is a terrific runner, but isn’t the world’s most accurate passer (although still much better than that other guy), so the Buckeye game plan was simple - do not let Martinez and Burkhead beat us on the ground and force Martinez to put the ball in the air. They executed this very well in the first half. After stuffing Burkhead on 4 and 1, OSU got the ball back and took all of one play for Carlos Hyde to scamper 63 yards to open up a two-touchdown advantage.

Both teams traded punts, with Nebraska (shockingly) gaining the advantage on field position between the two, setting up a second Maher FG to cut the deficit to 17-6. With under a minute to go and the Cornmen having the ball at their own 20, I would have thought they’d consider themselves lucky to go to the half trailing only 11. Instead, Martinez was throwing and was subsequently intercepted by Orhian Johnson, giving the Bucks one last shot from midfield. Braxton broke a terrific 29-yard run, going down in time to call time out and giving Basil a shot at another field goal, which he nailed. The Buckeyes took a 20-6 two-touchdown lead into the locker room to the dismay of the shocked crowd at Memorial Stadium.

The Buckeye defense picked up right where they left off, forcing a three-and-out to start the second half. A short field to work with and another long completion to Brown set up Hyde’s second TD of the game. The whole game I was waiting for the Buckeyes to implode, but at this point, I was thinking we were actually going to win this game. Turns out I just needed to wait a bit longer for that implosion.

All-American linebacker Lavonte David stripped Braxton on the next Buckeye offensive series and Martinez made quick work of the short field, running it in himself from 18 yards out. Then with about 5 minutes to go in the third quarter came the play that changed everything. Miller rolled out, faced a couple Nebraska defenders, reversed his field, was hit and went down, twisting his leg in the process. The official report was an ankle sprain, but at the time it didn’t matter, we all knew it just didn’t look good. Then things looked worse, when we watched Joe Bauserman step onto the field.

Needless to say, Bauserman was completely inaccurate and just downright awful for the duration of this game, but I was thinking if the defense could keep up their great play and the running game could pick up just a few first downs, we should still be alright. Well, when it rains, it pours, as the defense decided this would be a good time to stop tackling people. Martinez threw a perfect pass to Quincy Enunwa for a score to end the third quarter 27-20, then the last fifteen minutes of this contest belonged to Rex Burkhead.

Burkhead caught a screen from Martinez and once he made Christian Bryant miss right at the line of scrimmage, he was off to the races to tie the game. He then ran in the game-winner on the next series from 17 yards out. When Nebraska got the ball back with four minutes to go and a chance to run out the clock, Rex carried it six out of the seven plays to seal the deal. It appeared Ohio St had the Huskers stopped on third down with a few minutes left, but a personal foul penalty moved the chains and basically ended all hope. The Buckeyes find another devastating way to lose, 34-27.

Game Ball
If Braxton Miller plays 60 minutes in this game, Ohio St isn’t winless in the Big Ten. Miller absolutely played well enough to beat a very talented Nebraska team, but the Buckeyes just fell apart when he went out. He wasn’t asked to do much through the air again, especially once they got out to a big lead, but was effective in the limited time he was passing, going 5/8 for 95 yards and a touchdown. Where he was most dangerous, though, was once again on the ground, rushing 10 times for 91 yards. And just as in the Colorado game, his decision-making was every bit as impressive as his athleticism. If Ohio St has any chance to even be halfway decent the rest of this season, they are going to need #5 on the field.
Game balls to date: Miller (2), Roby, Simon

Big Ten
With Wisconsin on a bye week, all eyes in the conference were on this Ohio St/Nebraska game. In other news, Northwestern blew a 24-14 halftime lead to that school up north, where again I didn’t see any of it so don’t have much to rip michigan for in an 18-point victory. can’t-tie actually threw for 337 yards, but also threw three picks. Too bad the Big Ten didn’t decide to stop playing at halftime this week.

Penn St’s defense completely shut down Iowa in a 13-3 win, and is quietly 5-1 (looking at 6-1 facing Purdue next week) despite looking pretty horrendous throughout most of this season. JoePa clearly doesn’t agree with the Coach Reilly philosophy. Illinois stayed among the ranks of the unbeaten with a 41-20 pounding of Indiana, and in a battle of the dregs of the Big Ten, Purdue beat Minnesota.

I’ve expressed my displeasure with how Luke Fickell and the rest of the coaching staff has been running the offense this year, but this game took it to a whole new level. Let me set the scene - there is three minutes left in the third quarter, you are winning by two touchdowns, your running back is having a career game and your defense is playing great, and your star quarterback injures his leg and is done for the game, leaving you with a QB that has shown his incredible inefficiency time and time again. I could give this scenario to any football coach at any level, and 99% of coaches would come up with the same game plan - run, run, and then run some more. I don’t care if the other team is putting nine guys in the box and daring you to throw, you still run. The staff at Ohio St apparently falls in that other 1%, as they called 11 pass plays compared to seven rushing to close out this game. Bauserman wouldn’t have dropped back one time if I was coaching this game - he might not have even entered the game. How soon can we get Urban Meyer down here?

Looking Ahead
The Buckeyes are now midway through the season, and find themselves with a .500 record and winless in the conference. It hasn’t been a very fun first half. Looking at the rest of the schedule, the next two games (@Illinois, Wisconsin) provide two tough opponents, but the last four (Indiana, @Purdue, Penn St, @michigan) present four very winnable games. The key to the rest of this season will just be getting their star players on the field. Presently, I don’t know Braxton’s future status; stay current with FCF’s twitter feed for updates. DE Nathan Williams has been out since the first game of the season, and I haven’t heard any new news on him either. Philly Brown came back against Nebraska, providing the receiving corps with a much needed boost.

Then of course there is the situation with all the suspensions. RB Dan Herron, WR DeVier Posey, LT Mike Adams, and DE Solomon Thomas each missed the first five games, but were reinstated before last week’s contest. Adams and Thomas came back, but Herron and Posey, along with starting RG Marcus Hall, were suspended indefinitely for a separate incident. It came out this week that Posey’s suspension will last five games, but Boom's and Hall’s were only for the Nebraska game, provided they repay whatever they were “allegedly” overpaid. If that holds true (we’ve seen the NCAA un-reinstate OSU players already this season), then the team will get a huge boost this week by having the full offensive line intact for the first time all year. An already impressive run game will also benefit greatly from having 2010's top rusher, Herron, back. It’s really tough to see Posey out for basically the whole year. I was expecting an All-American type season from him. I’m not sure if he can be redshirted or not. I would doubt it because the suspensions would probably just be enforced next season, but it’s something to look into.

Up Next: @Illinois (6-0, 2-0), 3:30, ABC
The Illini come into this battle unbeaten, but relatively untested. They survived an early scare in September when they narrowly beat Arizona St at home, and needed a Dan Persa injury and a 21-point 4th quarter to edge Northwestern two weeks ago. The rest of their opponents have been as good as Sarah Jessica Parker is attractive. That being said, they certainly have some playmakers. QB Nathan Scheelhaase is putting together an All-Conference worthy season and WR A.J. Jenkins’ numbers (46 catches, 815 yards, 7 touchdowns) are unworldly. Scheelhaase, like most of the signal-callers in the Big Ten, does the majority of his damage with his legs. The key to this one will be containing him in the pocket and making him throw downfield, preferably to someone other than Jenkins. I’ll make two predictions for this one, one if Braxton is healthy and one if he’s not, as they will be drastically different. I think the defense makes enough plays and Boom’s return will be enough to help Brax leave Champaign with a W, but not enough to overcome Bauserman’s sucktitude.
Prediction (w/ Miller): Ohio St 25 Illinois 20
(w/ Bauserman): Ohio St 10 Illinois 27


Friday, October 7

NFL Picks: Week 5

Another average week from us here at FCF, as we collectively barely reached .500. Nick and I did however cash in with a combined 6-2 on our $ picks. The Browns are off this week, so at least we don't have to suffer through another loss there. Let's make with the picks.

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

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

Current Standings
Nick: 35-25-3
Joe: 32-28-3
Figgs: 29-31-3

Figgs' $ Picks: 3-4-1
Nick's $ Picks: 12-5-3

Sunday, 1 pm kickoff

COLTS (-2.5) vs Chiefs
Figgs: Indy. The way their D has been playing, they have to get a win here sooner or later. KC at home presents a perfect opportunity.
Joe: Colts; Their D has been great and Painter is at least servicable, unlike the horrendous Kerry Collins. Plus, the Chiefs pork.
Nick: Colts. What those guys said.

VIKINGS (-3) vs Cardinals
Figgs: Vikes. The way they have been playing in the first half of games, they have to get a win here sooner or later. Arz at home presents a perfect opportunity.
Joe: Cardinals; What an ugly game. I guess I'll go with the team not trying to win the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.
Nick: Cards. No feel for this one, so I'll take the three.

BILLS (+3) vs Eagles
Figgs: Philly. One of the most interesting games of the week. Looking at this matchup at the beginning of the year, you expected a 1-3 team vs a 3-1 team, did not expect the Bills to be the 3-1. I think the Eagles start to turn it around here.
Joe: Bills; The Eagles' run D has been horrendous, and Fred Jackson is running the ball great. I'll go with my gut feeling and take the Bills to bounce back from a tough loss.
Nick: Bills. Why do we think Philly is good again?

TEXANS (-6) vs Raiders
Figgs: Texans. I'm officially a believer. This is a good team.
Joe:Raiders; I bought into them too much last week and perhaps I am doing it again. But I love the way McFadden's running the ball and even if they don't win, I'll take those 6 points.
Nick: Raiders. This is a lot of points to give when you're a team that's struggled to put teams away, is missing Andre Johnson, AND is playing against Darren McFadden.

PANTHERS (+6.5) vs Saints
Figgs: Saints. NO is quietly 3-1 after a last second loss to the best team in football. They may in fact be the league's second-best team.
Joe: Panthers; I wanted to take the Saints here since I see them being on a clear collision course with GB for the NFC championship game. However, Cam and Co. is undefeated so far vs. the spread and until Vegas realizes this and starts giving them more credit, I'll continue to roll with them.
Nick: Saints. As much as I like the Panthers as a back-door cover team this year, I think the Saints will win by double-digits.

JAGUARS (-2) vs Bungals
Figgs: Cinncy? What a gross game this is.
Joe: Bengals; After 4 weeks, I guess I'll finally admit they aren't as bad as I thought they would be.
Nick: Bengals. I feel like the Bengals should be playing 25% better than they are.

STEELERS (-3) vs Titans
Figgs: shitsburgh. I highly enjoy picking these guys and being wrong. Let's make it happen again Tenn.
Joe: Titans; Tough, physical team. That is usually Pittsburgh's fatal flaw (see Baltimore in Week 1). Steelers have the worst offensive line in football and Ben and Rashard Fumblehall are both banged up. Titans win outright, perhaps easily.
Nick: Titans. Fuck you, Steelers.

GIANTS (-9.5) vs Seahawks
Figgs: Seattle. Giants should win (hopefully, as they're my Knockout pick) but 9.5 is a lot of points.
Joe: Seahawks; I don't want to take them here since the G-Men could win a 38-10 type game, but just when you think you've figured the Giants out, they throw another curveball at you. 9.5 is too many points for me to give with such an unpredictable team.
Nick: Giants. The Seahawks are terrible, on the road, and playing an early game.

Sunday, 4 pm kickoff

49ERS (-3) vs Bucs
Figgs: Bucs. I would have guessed this at SanFran +3. I know they're 3-1, but I think Tampa is the better team. ($)
Joe: Bucs; I had to skip this game and come back to it. I have no feel for it. They are both decent, but not great teams. 9ers should win their division by default, but they aren't a bad team. I hate to go against Harbaugh, but the Bucs keep pulling out hard fought victories.
Nick: Bucs, although SF scares me as the team that could screw up a lot of bets this year.

PATRIOTS (-9) vs Jets
Figgs: NYJ. Too many points, this should be a close game.
Joe: Patriots; The Jets D is no longer dominant and Sanchez does not appear anywhere close to being capable of winning games on his own. Alot of points, but with Tom Brady on my side, I'll take my chances.
Nick: Pats. You basically have to concede that the Pats can drop 35 on anyone, and I don't think the Jets can get in to the high 20s.

BRONCOS (+4) vs Chargers
Figgs: SD. Betting on the Chargers scares me, because they tend to play down to their competition, but if Denver is a mess. ($)
Joe: Bolts; FYI, don't ever bet on this team. Just my opinion. They are probably about 20 points better than Denver, but that's when they usually either lose or squeak out a last minute win. Reluctantly, I'll pick them anyway.

Sunday Night Football

FALCONS (+6) vs Packers
Figgs: ATL. They've burned me each of the first four weeks, and GB looks untouchable so far. But I'll go with the Falcons one more time to keep it close at home.
Joe: Packers; I keep saying their the best team in football, and they've done nothing to prove me wrong. The Dirty Birds are the league's most disappointing team so far. 2-2, but they could easily be 0-4.
Nick: Packers. See Patriots, New England. Also: Eagles, Philadelphia.

Monday Night Football

LIONS (-5) vs Bears
Figgs: Bears. Detroit can't keep making these insane comebacks, and Chicago isn't a bad team. ($ +6)
Joe: Lions; If there's ever a time for a primetime game to get the home team jacked up, it's this game in the D. 1st Monday nighter there since Barry Sanders should feel like a college type atmosphere. No way I'm picking this week to finally go against them.
Nick: Lions, reluctantly. I still think Chicago sucks, and hope we'll see it right here.

Figgs teaser: Giants (Pk)/Saints (+3.5)/Packers (+4.5)
Nick's teaser: Giants (Pick) / Saints (+3.5) / Packers (+4)

Thursday, October 6

Tribe season wrap Part 2: The Highlights

Well, as we know, the Indians' season didn't end in the postseason glory that their 30-15 start made seem possible, as they ended at 80-82. But for a team that ended just shy of .500, the 2011 Tribe generated a lot of memorable moments. Here are some of them:

Beating up on Boston
I'm sure all five of you readers enjoyed the demise of the Red Socks this year, and it wouldn't have happened without the Indians posting a 6-4 mark against the big-money Bostoners. Cleveland beat up on Boston early and often, winning their first four against their AL East rivals, including two memorable games. First was the 1-0 win on April 7, where Fausto Carmona dominated and Asdrubal Cabrera's sacrifice squeeze gave the Indians an early sweep of Boston. Later, on May 23, the Tribe rallied from a 2-1 deficit with two in the 8th and hung on with a game-ending double play in a game I was forutnate enough to attend. This win took the Tribe to 30-15, which sadly would be the high point of the season.

Home cooking
The Indians were stupid-good at home in the early stages of the season, posting 14 straight home wins from April 3 through May 11.

Within that highlight was a shorter, brighter highlight, that being the series from April 29-May 1 where the Indians notched all three wins in come-from-behind efforts. The Saturday game saw Cleveland win a 3-2, 13-inning decision on an Orlando Cabrera RBI single - if that seems odd, keep in mind it would ordinarily have been a routine flyout. The Indians closed out the sweep of Detroit with a 5-4 Sunday decision that saw them tally three runs in the 8th inning to erase a 3-2 deficit and then hold on for the victory.

And even THAT highlight had a more specific, awesomer component, that of course being Carlos Santana's titanic grand slam into the right-field seats to send the Indians home 9-5 winners. Definitely the iconic moment of the season - watch the Indians in the dugout and on the field react to it. Fantastic.

Fast-forward that video to :41 to get Hamilton's call, btw

This random awesome double-hot dog I was served
See photo at right.

Hafner's Seattle walk-off
In a game that a few FCF'ers attended (along with a guy wearing a Mariners Jay Buhner jersey), Hafner turned a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 victory with a clutch two-out, two-run bomb to centerfield that sent the crowd home happy and gave the Indians a one-game sweep of their series with Seattle.

Sweeping Pittsburgh
Hell, we never do it in football, may as well enjoy it in baseball.

Rookie walk-offs
Injuries and other performance issues meant that a lot of first-year players saw time with the Indians this year, and two of them delivered key walk-off hits. First up was Cord Phelps, who on June 19 delivered a three-run game-winning home run, the first homer of his career, in a rain-delayed 11-inning affair that gave the Wahoos a sweep of the Pirates.

Not to be outdone, rookie phenom Jason Kipnis made his first major league hit really count, sending the Indians to a 3-2 win over the Angels on July 25

Hafner's walk-off grand slam
Didn't we already see this guy?

Midway through the season, the Indians started to struggle a bit, justifiably worrying Friends of the Feather. They seemed to only win games they had to win to stay afloat - of these, Travis Hafner's walk-off grand slam on July 7th against Toronto was one of the most memorable. Trailing 4-0 heading into the 9th, the Indians managed to load the bases and plate one run on Asdrubal Cabrera's RBI single. Hafner came to the plate and just belted one, immediately making one of the coolest gestures I've seen on a diamond, before trotting around to score. How often do you see a team walk off on a play where they had trailed by three before the game-winner was struck?

LaPorta walk-off on Tribe weekend
This year's Tribe Weekend started off really, really badly, with a 12-0 pasting at the hands of the lowly Royals. Things didn't look too good for our heroes the next night either, as they trailed 1-0 headed into the 8th and 2-1 going into the 9th. Kosuke Fukudome's sac fly tied things, setting the stage for Matt LaPorta, whom we'd derided pretty much all game, to deliver a line-drive three-run game-winner. Pretty sweet fireworks, too.

2 out of 3 from the Yankees
To be the best, you gotta beat the best. Actually, that's not true - you can totally win a championship without beating the top player or team, if injury or another team knocks them out first.

Nevertheless, from July 4-6, the Indians did beat the best, taking two out of three at Progressive from the stupid yankees. I was lucky enough to attend the July 4 game, where Austin Kearns' three-run blast in the 7th game the Indians new life and a lead at 4-2, and Santana's home run to the porch in left put it away. Solid.

Catching up to Detroit
Though we didn't quite make it, there were some fun moments in Cleveland's chase of eventual division-winner Detroit, most notably a 10-3 pasting of the Tigers on a beautiful night in Cleveland at a game attended by much of the FCF team. The Indians pulled to within two games of the Tigers after that win - they drew to within 1.5 a week later and that was the story of them. But on that August evening, there was pennant fever in the air.

Any time we didn't play against Texas

Santana walks off AGAIN
Just for good measure, the Indians made their 80th and final victory on the season a memorable one. Having already claimed a win over hapless Minnesota earlier in the day, and with Nick and I manning the Tribe Social Suite, Cleveland rallied form down five and put the Twins away on Santana's second walk-off homer of the season. Oh yeah, also we had free tickets in a suite and it was Star Wars Night. Check out the photos below if you're interested in seeing me rocking on the field and/or Michael Cuddyer (#5) inexplicably and kind of awesomely being the only Twin to stick around for the fireworks.

Definitely no shortage of fireworks from the always-exciting 2011 Tribe. Hopefully we can populate the 2012 record book with as much fun, and hopefully I don't write this particular post until mid-November.

Tuesday, October 4

Anemic offense, poor play-calling dooms Buckeyes in Big Ten opener

I took this past Saturday’s 10-7 loss to Michigan St better than any I’ve taken in a long time, probably dating back to 2001. While this was a good thing for the family and friends that had to deal with me the rest of the weekend and any breakables within my immediate grasp, this reaction does not sit well with me. The fact that I was not irate about an Ohio St loss can only mean one thing - I expected it. It felt just like a Browns game for me. Sure, I was really into the game while it was going on and cheering my ass off, and was not at all pleased with the outcome, but when it was all said and done it kind of had that Browns “eh, what did you expect?” feel to it. That feeling has not happened in Columbus in over a decade, and it’s sad to think that way now.

When I think about it, my hopes shouldn’t have been as high to begin with. While I wasn’t thinking National Championship, I thought a 9- or 10-win season and possible Big Ten title was not out of the question. Clearly it was, and an unbiased, outside observer probably would have noticed that. Take the top RB, top WR, and second-best OL out of any team’s lineup due to suspensions, and you’re going to have some hiccups. Add this on top of a defensive that graduated eight starters and your QB and head coach leaving the team, and things could get ugly, which they have in Columbus.

It’s not just that Ohio St has lost two of its first five games; it’s the way they lost them. I didn’t think it could get any worse than the Miami loss, but this was close. The defense played great - they shoulder none of this blame. Michigan St’s offense has been underperforming this year, but they are still loaded with talent, and the Bucks held them to only ten points. The offense on the other hand, I don’t know if I can even think of a word bad enough to describe it. Braxton Miller was 5/10 for 56 yards and an INT, and the team collectively ran 39 times for 35 yards. That includes five sacks in there, but regardless, less than one yard per carry is not going to cut it. I don’t necessarily blame the running backs for this ineptitude, I put the majority of it on the offensive line and the play-calling. For all the credit I gave the O-line last week, they deserve just as many demerits for this game. There was nowhere for the backs to run all game. It also didn’t help that Michigan St was putting nine guys in the box every single play, because they knew OSU was not going to put the ball in the air. I supported playing Braxton for this game (and I still do going forward), but if the coaching staff believes that he is that bad/not ready that they won’t even pretend to let him look like he’s going to throw, then he shouldn’t be in the game. This game is just as frustrating to write about as it was to watch, so let’s blow through this recap real quick.

Game Recap
Ohio St’s offensive woes began immediately, going three-and-out on their first two possessions. MSU capitalized quickly when Kirk Cousins threw a TD strike to his favorite target, B.J. Cunningham. I knew that Cunningham was pretty good, but does it shock anyone else that this guy is the Spartans’ all-time leading receiver? A school that boasts such greats like Andre Rison, Charles Rogers, and Plaxico Burress? It surprised me to hear this. I was also surprised to know that when Cunningham caught that touchdown seven minutes into this game, that it was over. On the last play of the first quarter, Chris Fields caught a 12-yard pass for OSU’s first first down of the game, so there’s that.

The second quarter was more of the same, with both teams doing a lot of punting. The big play came about midway through the frame after a Fields 33-yard completion. Miller tossed what was probably his best ball of the game between two MSU defenders to Devin Smith inside the 10-yard line. It appeared Smith came down with it, until Spartan DB Darqueze Dennard stood up with the ball. (Seriously though, Darqueze?) After seeing the replay, Smith jumped up and had the ball in his hands, but on his way down Dennard snuck a hand in there and pulled the ball out, keeping control of it as the two players hit the turf. At the time, I thought that Ohio St maybe had just lost their only scoring opportunity. Other than a meaningless last-second score, I was right. Big Jonathan Hankins forced and recovered a fumble late in the half, but of course the Buckeye offense did nothing with the opportunity.

The third quarter was about as exciting as a vacation to Delaware, the most interesting play coming when Michigan St missed a 51-yard FG.

After MSU connected on a 50-yarder in the 4th to go up 10-0, Joe Bauserman entered the game. I’ve said that I just wanted to see Ohio St go with Braxton and stick with him, but I understand this move. It was most likely their best chance to get a quick score to get back in the game. The only problem I’ll have is if the coaches want to stick with Bauserman because his stats (7/14, 87 yards, 1 TD) were better than Miller’s. This only happened because the Buckeyes finally opened the playbook up a little bit at this point and Michigan St was playing a softer defense. On the last of five Bauserman-led drives, Joe hit Evan Spencer for a 33-yard score, at least keeping the Bucks from being shut out for the first time since 1993. Michigan St recovered the onside kick, ending the game at 10-7.

Game Ball
I typically don’t give game balls for losing efforts, but the way this season is looking if I don’t start then we’re going to end the year with only a few given out. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the defense really didn’t play bad. In fact, they were pretty good for the most part. One bright spot in particular was DB Bradley Roby. Roby has had his struggles early in this season, but he showed some great progress against Michigan St. He made several plays defensively, making a few tackles, breaking up some passes, and intercepting a pass. It wasn’t the best GB performance we’ll see, but hey, I didn’t have much to work with here.
Game balls to date: Roby, Miller, Simon

Big Ten
Last week was the first of intra-conference matchups, and it didn’t quite live up to the hype. The big game was in Madison where Wisconsin welcomed Nebraska to the Big Ten. And by welcomed, I mean slaughtered. Wisconsin rolled the Huskers 48-17, and looked damn good doing it. Taking a peek at the Badgers’ remaining schedule, I don’t see any way they lose. Their toughest game looks to be what would most likely be a rematch with Nebraska in the inaugural Big Ten Championship, and unless something drastically changes, we just saw what the outcome of that should be.

In addition to the Ohio St game, Penn St’s 16-10 win over Indiana set offensive football back about 20 years. Purdue was embarrassed at home by Notre Dame, and michigan stomped Minnesota, 58-0. Can’t say much negative about a 58-point win, other than it was Minnesota. I’m still a believer that this team won’t win more than seven or eight games. The most exciting clash this weekend came in Champaign, IL, where the Illini won a thrilling 38-35 victory over Northwestern. Wildcat QB Dan Persa returned for the first time since tearing his ACL late last season, but was forced to leave a big lead in the second half with another injury. Illinois used that momentum to rattle off 21 unanswered points, only to see Northwestern score to regain the lead with under two minutes to go. Nathan Scheelhaase responded by marching Illinois right down the field and running in the game-winner himself.

Yet Another Blow
After being reinstated for less than 48 hours, RB Boom Herron and WR DeVier Posey were again suspended indefinitely for a separate incident. After sitting out the first five games along with OT Mike Adams and DL Solomon Thomas for the tattoo scandal, Herron and Posey, as well as starting RG Marcus Hall, are being suspended for receiving too much money for too little work in their summer jobs. Seriously, guys? Just when it looks like this lifeless team might get a little spark by their two best players rejoining the team, they go right back out. What a fucking mess. To add even more insult to injury, an incredibly thin receiving corps, already missing Posey and Corey Brown, lost Verlon Reed for the season with a torn knee ligament. It doesn’t matter who’s under center - who the hell are they going to throw to?

UR-BAN MEY-ER! (clap, clap, clap clap clap!)
Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means blaming Ohio St’s poor start solely on interim head coach Luke Fickell. He inherited a mess of a program; I wouldn’t expect anyone to succeed in this situation. That being said, Fickell hasn’t exactly showed me that he’s head coach-quality (at least certainly not Ohio St head coach-quality). Let’s be honest, he was a lame-duck coach to begin with as soon as he took this job last summer. Ohio St is going to try to entice a big-name guy to come in next year, and at the top of everyone’s list is former Utah and Florida head man Urban Meyer. Meyer is currently doing play-by-play for ESPN, and he’d be back to coaching next week if broadcast partner Chris Spielman has anything to say about it (doesn’t it seem like there’s a ton of tension between those two?). If not Meyer, OSU alum and current Big Ten coaches Bo Pelini and Mark Dantonio (the man who just beat us and former OSU coach) look to be the top choices. I would love to see Fickell return to his old gig as defensive coordinator, where he was fantastic, but that rarely seems to happen after a guy has been interim head coach.

Up Next: @ #14 Nebraska (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten), 8:00, ABC
The offense has one of the worst performances in recent memory, WR Verlon Reed goes out for the year, and Boom and Posey get suspended again. There is no conceivable way things could get worse, right? Wrong, as the Buckeyes head to Memorial Stadium, where 14th-ranked Nebraska will host their first-ever Big Ten game, under the lights, after being pissed off because of the Wisconsin loss. This is my fourth season writing Ohio St game recaps for this blog and my third predicting the following week’s score, and for only the second time (USC in 2009 being the other) I will have to pick against the Buckeyes. Thankfully, this is a night game and it’s my alma mater's Homecoming weekend, so hopefully I won’t remember this game anyway.
Prediction: Ohio St 10 Nebraska 38