Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NFL Week 10 Hangover

With Week 10 behind us, all 32 teams have had a bye week and are even in games played.  As the weather turns cold (in other places, not so much here in Southern California), the playoff races will start to heat up.  Here's a look at where they stand today and, in brackets, a prediction of where they'll be next week:

AFC 1: Indianapolis Colts (9-0) [1]
AFC 2: Cincinnati Bengals (7-2) [2]
AFC 3: Denver Broncos (6-3) [6]
AFC 4: New England Patriots (6-3) [3]
AFC 5: San Diego Chargers (6-3) [4]
AFC 6: Jacksonville Jaguars (5-4) [5]

The Colts have home field advantage throughout the playoffs and a first round bye because they hold the best record.  The Bengals have home field advantage throughout the playoffs aginst everyone but the Colts, and a first round bye because they hold the second best record.  Denver wins the tie-breaker over San Diego because of their head-to-head win, so they get the division champ-spot, and they beat New England head-to-head, so they win that tie breaker and get the 3 seed.  They host Jacksonville and the winner plays at Cincinnati.  New England hosts San Diego with the winner playing at Indianapolis. Jacksonville wins the tie-breaker with Houston because of a head-to-head win.  They win the tie-breaker with Baltimore because their winning percentage against AFC opponents is better.

NFC 1: New Oleans Saints (9-0) [1]
NFC 2: Minnesota Vikings (8-1) [2]
NFC 3: Dallas Cowboys (6-3) [3]
NFC 4: Arizona Cardinals (6-3) [4]
NFC 5: Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) [-]
NFC 6: Green Bay Packers (5-4) [5]

The Saints have home field advantage throughout the playoffs and a first round bye because they hold the best record. The Vikings have home field advantage throughout the playoffs aginst everyone but the Saints, and a first round bye because they hold the second best record. Dallas wins the tie-breaker over Arizona because they have a better record against NFC opponents and gets the 3 seed. They host Green Bay and the winner plays at Minnesota. Arizona hosts Philadelphia with the winner playing at New Orleans. Philadelphia wins the tie-breaker the Giants because of a head-to-head win, and they also win the tie-breaker with the Packers and Falcons because of a better record against NFC opponents.  The Packers win the tie-breaker with the Giants because of a better record against NFC opponents, and they also win the tie-breaker with Atlanta because of a better record against common opponents.

Big Winners In Week 10
Cincinnati Bengals - For those who still said that the Bengals weren't for real even after sweeping the Ravens and beating the Steelers once en route to an AFC North lead (and there were many), they did a lot to silence them with yet another win over the Steelers, this time in Pittsburgh.
New York Giants - The Giants had played themselves out of a first round bye and into missing the playoffs with four straight losses.  Then in Week 10 they pulled into a tie with Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Green Bay for a Wild Card spot, and are just one game behind Dallas (who they beat in Dallas already) for the NFC East lead.  And they did it all while resting their injured players and getting a starting cornerback and a starting linebacker back during a bye week.
Anti-Patriots Fans - Whether it is because they cheated, or because they've dominated, or because coach Belichick is not exactly lovable, a lot of people do not like the Patriots, and those people got an early Christmas present when the Greatest Mind in Football made a boneheaded play call that would have been dumb on Madden to cost the Pats the game and hand the Colts their 9th win against 0 losses this season.
Indianapolis Colts - See above
LaDainian Tomlinson - Two touchdowns, nearly 100 yards rushing, and one pregnant wife say that LDT is not done delivering the goods quite yet.
Tennessee Titans - Just pretend that the first six weeks didn't count and Vince Young was the starter all along...then you're undefeated!

Big Losers in Week 10
Maurice Jones-Drew Fantasy Owners - MJD actually apologized after the game for taking a knee on the 2-yard line rather than scoring late in the game against the Jets.  Crazy as the play was considering he was losing at the time, it set up the game-winning field goal and bled off too much time for the Jets to come back.
Bills Fans - A loss, Terrell Owens blew up and blamed everyone for it (except himself despite that it was a pass that went through his hands that got picked off and returned for a touchdown, startign the late romp), an 86-year-old man made headlines for taunting you over the loss, and Dick Jauron got fired.
Belichick Apologizers - Folks, I don't care if it is JaMarcus Russell on the other sideline.  You don't risk giving anyone over 2 minutes to go only 28 yards for a win.  Bad decision to go for it, bad play selection, bad, bad, bad.
New York Jets - Stopping Maurice Jones-Drew is not easy, but the Jets got torched on a last minute drive to lose a game that they had just won with a late drive of their own.  They've lost 5 of 6 and still could have been just a game out of the playoffs if they could have held the very average Jags down late.
NFL Network - Nice season opener on Thursday between the 49ers and the Bears.  Despite the marquee time slot, it might have been the worst game of the year...until Monday night's snoozer.  Maybe Time Warner customers are the lucky ones since they didn't have to watch that 49ers-Bears game.
Denver Broncos - 6-0 start...poof! Huge division lead...poof!  First round bye...poof!  Self-respect...poof!  Losing three in-a-row is bad, but losing to the Redskins?  It's gotta be hard to look in the mirror right now.
JaMarcus Russell - 8 for 23, 64 yards.  Those are bad numbers.  Getting benched because you're losing to the Chiefs?  Wow.  Russell, the worst draft pick in the history of the NFL, has two touchdowns on the season, despite having started nine games.
Cleveland Browns - The Browns ran on the Ravens' half of the field all night.  And it was an interception returned for a touchdown.  Who's the third string quarterback?

Front Seven
1 Indianapolis Colts (9-0)
2 New Orleans Saints (9-0)
3 Minnesota Vikings (8-1)
4 Cincinnati Bengals (7-2)
5 Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)
6 New England Patriots (6-3)
7 Arizona Cardinals (6-3)

Friday, November 13, 2009

NFL Week 10 Preview

Week 10 started off early as the Bears traveled to Candlestick to the take on the 49ers on Thursday night, and that game wound up being a microcosm of what the rest of the week looks like it may shape up to be: almost completely unwatchable football.  Besides the two games of the week, both of which could be fantastic, there is really nothing else worth watching.  So without further ado, here is your Week 10 lineup, featuring anything I could think of that might make that game worth watching.

Game of the Week I: Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) 10 AM - CBS
We, in the L.A. area, were thisclose to getting stuck watching the Raiders-Chiefs game, but someone mercifully scheduled this game to air instead.  Divisional rivals.  The home team hasn't lost at home.  The road team hasn't lost on the road.  #5 vs. #6 in scoring defense.  First place on the line.  A first round by on the line (maybe).  The two biggest "no one gives us any respect" teams in the league this year.  Cincy scored 14 unanswered in the 4th quarter to win by 3 in Week 3.  Superstars all over the place.  Don't miss this game.  Prediction: Steelers win and cover (-6.5)

Game of the Week II: New England Patriots (6-2) at Indianapolis Colts (8-0) 5:20 - NBC
The Colts were unable to spoil New England's run at a perfect season two years ago and now they get a chance at a little revenge by extending their own such run at the Patriots' expense.  There isn't a whole lot of hype needed for this one.  Brady vs. Peyton.  Indy is thin in the secondary, but this game is on turf so Indy wins.  Prediction: Colts win and cover (-2.5)

Lock of the Week: Detroit Lions (1-7) at Minnesota Vikings (7-1) 10 AM - Fox
It is always a mystery how they decide which games air in which cities.  This game will be on pretty much everywhere besides in other teams' home markets. But then the Central Coast of California and most of New England will get Atlanta at Carolina.  San Diego County will get New Orleans at Seattle.  West Virginia will get Tampa Bay at Miami.  Then everyone else is basically regional.  I find this all odd.  Why write about it here?  Because this game has the largest point spread of the season, larger than many BCS schools' preseason points spreads, and it just isn't worth researching.  Prediction: Vikings win and cover (-16.5)

Buffalo Bills (3-5) at Tennessee Titans (2-6) 10 AM
Vince Young is 2-0 as a starter for Tennessee this season. Terrell Owens drops the ball a lot. That's pretty much it.  Prediction: Titans win, Bills cover (+6.5)

New Orleans Saints (8-0) at St. Louis Rams (1-7) 10 AM
The question here is if the Saints will score more points than Steven Jackson has rushing yards.  And both numbers might be in triple digits. Prediction: Saints win and cover (-13.5)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7) at Miami Dolphins (3-5) 10 AM
Tampa showed some signs of life last week with new rookie quarterback Josh Freeman behind center when they shocked Green Bay.  But the battle of Florida has about the same luster that the college version of it between Miami and Florida State has had for the past few years.  Prediction: Dolphins win, Buccaneers cover (+9.5)

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4) at New York Jets (4-4) 10 AM
Not only is both teams' main color green, which is unusual, but they are the only two major American sports franchises that start with a "J".  So that's interesting.  There's also the USC (Mark Sanchez) vs. UCLA (Maurice Jones-Drew) angle.  Prediction: Jets win and cover (-6.5)

Denver Broncos (6-2) at Washington Redskins (2-6) 10 AM
After starting out 6-0 thanks to a few miracles, the Broncos have been hammered the last two games to bring their new coach and new quarterback back to earth.  Luckily they play the Redskins this week, who are only barely an actual NFL team, and that should get them back on track.  And even with those two losses in-a-row, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who regrets dumping Jay Cutler on the Bears.  Prediction: Broncos win and cover (-4.5)

Atlanta Falcons (5-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-5) 10 AM
This is actually a sneaky-good game.  Carolina's running game is helping to keep the ball out of Jake Delhomme's hands (and therefore out of the hands of their opponents' defensive backs, as well).  They just beat up Arizona and then gave New Orleans a scare.  And Atlanta has only lost to the Saints, Patriots, and Cowboys, all on the road.  Prediction: Falcons win and cover (-1.5)

Kansas City Chiefs (1-7) at Oakland Raiders (2-6) 1:05 PM
Not even the fact that this is a divisional rivalry game can save it from being one of the worst games ever.  But it is always interesting to see what will be higher: the other team's point total or JaMarcus Russell's quarterback rating.  Prediction: Chiefs win and cover (+1.5)

Dallas Cowboys (6-2) at Green Bay Packers (4-4) 4:15 PM - Fox
It is November and Dallas doesn't lose in November.  Also it is the NFL, and the Packers don't really beat anyone in the NFL (four wins this year: Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis...combined 7-26 this season).  Prediction: Cowboys win and cover (-2.5)

Seattle Seahawks (3-5) at Arizona Cardinals (5-3) 4:15 PM
Two weeks ago Kurt Warner threw 5 picks and lost a fumble.  Last week he threw 5 touchdowns.  Guess which one they won and which they lost.  Did you know?  Seattle is still in league.  Prediction: Cardinals win and cover (-8.5)

Philadelphia Eagles (5-3) at San Diego Chargers (5-3) 4:15 PM
While it is easier coming west than it is going east, it is tough traveling 3 time zones to play a game so San Diego has a huge advantage in this one.  If you like passing and bad clock management, this is the game for you.  The Eagles wouldn't run if they were an extra in a Godzilla movie, and LaDainian Tomlinson has aged faster than a bowl of guacamole left in the sun. And I don't have any snappy turns of phrase for how badly Andy Reid is at clock management, but let's just say if it's within a touchdown either way in the last 3 minutes, San Diego will win.  Prediction: Chargers win and cover (-2.5)

Baltimore Ravens (4-4) at Cleveland Browns (1-7) Monday 5:30 PM - ESPN
People in Cleveland would probably still be bitter that the Ravens left (and the way they left) even if the new Browns hadn't been such a disaster since coming into the league, but it can't have helped.  It is nice to see Eric Mangini sticking to his guns to help turn the franchise around though.  First he said there would be a preseason quarterback competition.  Then Brady Quinn won the job and was his man.  Until Quinn got benched, reportedly dangled in trade taks, and Derek Anderson was installed as the starting quarterback.  Until he was benched this week and Quinn was put back in at starter.  But at least their best receiver was traded away, their second best receiver and big free agent signee was thrown in jail for killing a pedestrian, their star runningback is publicly criticizing their new coach, their star tight end was traded away, and their #5 draft pick was traded away and is now a starting quarterback for the Jets.  Oh wait, all those things are bad.  Prediction: Ravens win and cover (-10.5)

All times are Pacific and TV airing info is for the Los Angeles area only (subject to change).  Check this site for more.

Irony, Thy Name Is Diet Pepsi

In Week 9, Eagles' tight end Brent Celek scored a touchdown and promptly went into what looks a lot like the "Captain Morgan"-pose.  Celek denies that it was intentional, but unless this photo was taken as he was mid-way into a sumo-stomp, I can't really imagine what else he was doing. 

So the NFL of course is going to fine Celek for the stunt, if you'd call that mild display a stunt.  I say "of course" because they haven't announced the fine yet, but this is the same league that fined Chad Ochocinco $5,000 for wearing the wrong colored chinstrap.  So yeah, Celek is getting a fine.

In the NFL's defense though, they do have an official policy that such a display as Celek's is illegal.  NFL spokesman Greg Aiello was quoted as saying, "The issue is that players are specifically prohibited under our policies from wearing, displaying, promoting or otherwise conveying their support of a commercially identified product during a game while they’re on the field."

And you can see how such a policy would be a good idea.  While I think fining Ochocinco that much for being "out of uniform" is a little exorbitant, they have to draw lines somewhere.  And players wearing "PokerStars.com" stickers on their helmets might cross a few lines.  Overly invasive product advertising is annoying, so good for the NFL for curbing it.  Nevermind the brand logos on league-mandated uniform pieces like cleats, gloves, jerseys, helmets, pads, and pants.

The irony of the story comes in when you read the next part of Aiello's quote and look more closely at the above, offending photograph.  “Whether it’s rum or soft drinks or any other commercial product, that type of promotion is prohibited.”  And what's that in 3-storey letters hanging behind Celek inside the stadium?  A soft drink ad.  Aiello did not go on to say, "We will take money from anyone and everyone, and place ads anywhere and everywhere, just like any other league and team would do, but by God if our players do it, we will make the amount Mark Cuban gets fined each year look as insignificant as it is to Mark Cuban," but he may as well have.

And on purpose or not, fine or not, it looks like a nice chunk of change will be changing hands regardless.  It seems that Captain Morgan is reportedly donating $10,000 to the Gridiron Greats Assitance Fund (helping retired NFL players) for each instance in the regular season that a player is caught in the company's signature pose.  Then $25,000 for the playoffs, and $100,000 in the Super Bowl. 

So the NFL is just mad that they and whoever is airing the games will be missing out on ad revenue because Captain Morgan will be getting advertising without paying for commercials or stadium banners (which they do anyway).  The funny thing is that if the NFL hadn't made a stink about Celek doing this, no one would have noticed it, no one would have heard about the donation campaign, and Captain Morgan wouldn't have really gotten any free adverstising from it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

NFL Week 9 Preview

Game of the Week I: Dallas Cowboys (5-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-2) 5:20 PM - NBC
You never know what you're going to get with either of these two teams, but if both play as they did last week, this could be a classic.  They're similar is many other ways as well, both with red-hot quarterbacks, play-making young wide receivers, and defenses that could just as easily give up 30 points as pitch a shutout with 5 or 6 sacks and 3 take-aways.  The main difference is in the running game.  Both teams are relatively average in run defense, but Dallas is averaging 30 more yards per game and almost a whole yard per carry than Philly.  If the Cowboys can contain Philly's big plays (a tall task for the league's 8th worst pass defense), they will run the Eagles into the ground.  Prediction: Eagles win and cover (-3.5)

Game of the Week II: Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) at Denver Broncos (6-1) Monday 5:30 PM - ESPN
If the Broncos felt they weren't getting enough respect as they jumped out to that 6-0 start, they quickly got a chance to prove their mettle in Baltimore.  And they got hammered.  Now they play host the Pittsburgh who had won 4-in-a-row (including over the then-undefeated Vikings) before their bye last week.  Rashard Mendenhall will test the Broncos excellent run defense, but more importanly, the Steelers defense will likely harrass Kyle Orton and the Broncos' offense just like the Ravens did last week.  Prediction: Steelers win and cover (-3.5)

Washington Redskins (2-5) at Atlanta Falcons (4-3) 10 AM
Generally speaking the way to pull off an upset is by controlling the clock with a solid running game and winning the turnover battle.  Of course, if the underdog could do those things consistantly, they probably wouldn't be underdogs.  The 'Skins are 26th in the league in rushing yards per game and 30th in turnover margin.  And the Falcons are just too balanced on offense for Washington to stop them.  Prediction: Falcons win and cover (-10.5)

Arizona Cardinals (4-3) at Chicago Bears (4-3) 10 AM - Fox
Arizona's once-league-leading run defense dropped to 9th after last week when they got shredded by Carolina.  So if the grossly-underperforming Matt Forte did his homework and watched that tape, he may be able to dominate this one for the Bears.  Forte won't likely be able to have a breakout game though, so Jay Cutler just needs to avoid interceptions and the Bears will wear down the Cards.  Prediction: Bears win and cover (-3.5)

Baltimore Ravens (4-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) 10 AM
The Bengals probably feel like they haven't gotten enough respect after beating the Ravens and Packers on the road, as well as the Steelers in Cincy, and only losing to the Broncos on a miracle-tipped pass for a touchdown to end the game.  But outside of Week 7's blowout of Chicago, they barely won the other 4 this season.  So are they good enough to get it done, or very, very lucky?  They ran all over the Ravens in Baltimore last month and that won't happen again.  Prediction: Ravens win and cover (-2.5)

Houston Texans (5-3) at Indianapolis Colts (7-0) 10 AM
Steve Slaton lost his job due to a fumbling problem and while Ryan Moats had a huge game last week, the Colts will have had time to watch tape of him and diagnose how to slow him down.  Matt Schaub and the Texans' passing game is good enough to hang with Peyton Manning and the Colts' if they stay away from turnovers, but Indy is +6 in turnover margin.  Prediction: Colts win and cover (-9.5)

Miami Dolphins (3-4) at New England Patriots (5-2) 10 AM - CBS
The last time the Dolphins were in Foxboro, they unveiled the Wildcat offense and in the weeks since then we have seen it catch like wildfire throughout the NFL.  But we have also seen this season that though the Dolphins can run the ball very well and dominate the clock, they just aren't a very good team.  They held the ball for twice as long as Indy did earlier this year and still lost because they gave up big play after big play.  Last I checked, New England had some "big-play-ability." Prediction: Patriots win and cover (-10.5)

Green Bay Packers (4-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7) 10 AM
The Bucs will have a new quarterback this week and may have a slightly different feel to them, having had a bye week to remake their struggling offense.  But let's face it, rookie Josh Freeman (the new starting quarterback) was third on the depth chart to start the season behind two guys that stunk it up.  However the Bucs are at home and there is the possibility that the Packers will be looking past the dismal Buccaneers at the Cowboys next week.  There is also the possibility that Aaron Rodgers (the league's passer rating leader) throws for 400 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Prediction: Packers win and cover (-10.5)

Kansas City Chiefs (1-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) 10 AM
Detroit Lions (1-6) at Seattle Seahawks (2-5) 1:05 PM
Tennessee Titans (1-6) at San Francisco 49ers (3-4) 1:15 PM
I got a cortisone shot in my wrist yesterday and don't feel like these games are worth the effort or pain of typing about them.  Prediction: Jaguars, Seahawks, and 49ers win and cover (-6.5, -10.5, and -4.5, respectively)

Lock of the Week: Carolina Panthers (3-4) at New Orleans Saints (7-0) 1:05 PM
Jake Delhomme didn't throw a pick last week, but he only threw the ball 15 times, while Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams piled up 270 rushing yards.  They won't run like that against New Orleans and Delhomme will have to make plays with his arm...that's not a recipe for success lately.  Carolina has to be perfect just to stay with New Orleans, and they won't be.  The Saints weren't able to put Atlanta away last week, but they'll get another double digit win this week, making it 4 out of 5 at home this season.  Prediction: Saints win and cover (-14.5)

San Diego Chargers (4-3) at New York Giants (5-3) 1:15 PM - CBS
Enough time has passed that this is no longer a grudge match for the Chargers who may have felt slighted when Eli Manning said he'd rather play in New York.  More importantly for both teams, it is a must-win game to stay in the playoff race.  The Chargers stumbled out of the gate as the Broncos bolted to a huge lead, and the Giants have stumbled lately, letting the Cowboys and Eagles pass them by.  Neither star runningback is performing this season, so the game will rest on the shoulders of their backups (Darren Sproles and Ahmad Bradshaw) the defenses.  Once again, if the Giants' pass rush can get to Phillip Rivers, the Giants will roll at home.  If he stays upright in the pocket, he will torch them like the last three pass-first offenses the Giants have faced.  Prediction: Giants win, Chargers cover (+4.5)

All times are Pacific and TV airing info is for the Los Angeles area only (subject to change). Check this site for more.