After a couple of absolutely blown games last weekend in my picks column, I decided I was looking at the NFL through the sports fan's equivalent of beer goggles.
How can I otherwise explain the Raiders beating the Jets, or not see that the Cardinals would beat the Giants? Because I saw the Raiders hang on to beat Philadelphia and figured they were turning a corner (WRONG) and overvalued the Giants. It's easy to think of the first four weeks when you're watching games in the middle of the season, so it's time to re-rank the teams.
To help shed myself of the beer goggles, it's time for some Week 8 power rankings and picks. I'm breaking the teams up into Patriots-inspired divisions. First, a word of explanation on the divisions.
Bill Belichick Division: The best teams in the league, they have few weaknesses, bring their A game every week and don't beat themselves. You have to do things right to win games against these four teams.
Raymond Berry Division: Berry took the Patriots to the 1986 Super Bowl with a flawed team that caught fire at the right time. Teams in the Berry division are good enough to make the playoffs and can even be Super Bowl teams if they catch a few breaks. They also have significant questions to be answered.
Pete Carroll Division: Like Carroll, who went 27-21 over his three years as the Patriots head coach, these teams will win between seven and nine games, beat a couple of teams better than them and generally leave their fans with a bitter taste in their mouths.
Lou Saban Division: Everybody knows their name, but they leave you like Chinese food - feeling empty in about an hour.
Dick MacPherson Division: Coach Mac received Coach of the Year votes for taking the Patriots to 6-10 in 1991 after a 1-15 season in 1990. But, the team fell to 2-14 in 1992 largely because MacPherson was saddled with the really old Steve Grogan, the truly terrible Tom Hodson and the pretty putrid Hugh Millen. Teams in the Coach Mac Division have a hole at quarterback you could drive Oprah Winfrey through.
Rod Rust Division: Rust won one game as the Patriots head coach, so it's only fitting he is the namesake of the division for teams that are winless or have only one win this season.
Bill Belichick Division
New Orleans: Show me someone who counted New Orleans out against Miami last weekend, even facing a 24-7 deficit, and I'll show you a liar. I still don't believe in the Saints' defense, but their offense glosses over a whole lot of sins.
Indianapolis: I'm chewing on nails as I type this, but Peyton Manning makes the Colts dangerous even if he's throwing to a homeless guy in a wheelchair. The Colts' running game is serviceable and they'll always have holes defensively, but Manning scares me in any close game. It's neck and neck between Manning and Drew Brees for NFL MVP this year in my book.
Minnesota: The Vikes will win ugly sometimes, but have the most complete team in the league. Try to stuff Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre can beat you with his arm. Get lucky enough to catch the entire offense on a bad day, and Percy Harvin is likely to break a big return on you. Keep them in check and you still have to figure out a way to score on them.
Denver: At some point, you are what your record says you are. I don’t believe in Kyle Orton at all and I'm not a big fan of the Broncos defense, but the Broncos are this year's Tennessee. For now, they belong high on the NFL totem pole.
Raymond Berry Division
Pittsburgh: I'm slotting the Steelers here until they beat Cincinnati and show me they have a killer instinct. Bad teams are hanging in against them right now (remember Detroit's 28-20 loss?) but Pittsburgh's talented enough that, when focused, they're really tough to beat. I'm bleeding from my eyes like I have ebola.
New England: I know Tom Brady is looking like the old Tom Brady, but who wouldn't put up big numbers against Tampa Bay and Tennessee? The key for me comes when the Patriots play Colts, Jets, Saints and Steelers. The Patriots have to split those games to be a playoff contender.
New York Jets: The Jets have the pieces, but it's hard to win consistently with a rookie quarterback, and there are times Mark Sanchez has played like a stinky Dirty Sanchez than the Franchez. Until he's more consistent, this is about where the Jets belong.
Houston: The Texans are too inconsistent to count on but too talented to disregard. Of all the teams that could possibly give Indianapolis trouble, this is it if Matt Schaub gets hot and Mario Williams gets to the quarterback.
Cincinnati: The Bengals are a surprise this year, and beating the Steelers gives them some serious street cred. The question, as always, is whether the locker room sticks together and whether or not Marvin Lewis can keep the team headed in the right direction.
Atlanta: Matt Ryan continues to get better, but the Falcons too easily get lost in the shuffle. They either need to be a great defensive team with a solid offense, or they need to open up the offense and beat teams by putting offensive pressure on them. They're a good team, but you can gameplan for them, too.
New York Giants: For all their struggles, the Giants are still leading the NFC East by a half-game. The difference between the Giants and Colts is the Manning they have under center.
Philadelphia and Dallas: I can't separate these teams. They have serious flaws (they can't run the ball for diddly poo) but they're tied for second in the NFC East, which is no small accomplishment.
Green Bay: No defense. Little running game. Bad Brett Favre karma. Somehow, they're 4-2. Who knew?
Arizona: No running game, but their passing game makes up for it. If the Cardinals play defense, they'll be fine. It's hard to believe Kurt Warner is the glue holding this team together.
Pete Carroll Division
Jacksonville: A team built to stop the Colts has given up 27 more points then they've scored, which is a bad statistic in a division that features Indy and Houston. Plus, does anyone trust David Garrard in a matchup with the top quarterbacks. Maurice Jones-Drew is looking at a Ladanian Tomlinson-type career - the best player on a team that is never quite good enough.
Baltimore: The Ravens strike me as a team in transition. Bad teams still can't score on Ray Lewis and the defense, but good teams can exploit some of their older guys. Offensively, Joe Flacco can play, but the offense doesn't make enough plays against really good teams to be better than .500. A playmaking wide receiver would make the difference, but it ain't happening this year.
San Diego: Tons of talent on this team, but it hasn't jelled. LaDanian Tomlinson has a salad fork sticking out of his back, Shawn Merriman is playing hopscotch with Tila Tequila and the Chargers are 3-3. I get some definite Mariah Carey vibes from the Chargers (talented, but crazier than hell).
Chicago: Devin Hester is the best wide receiver on a team that mortgaged its present and future to get Jay Cutler. Unless they open the vault for a wideout next year, get used to a mediocre Bears team that wins games because Cutler is better than the opposing defense and loses because they don't have nearly enough talent.
San Francisco: This is a step up from where the 49ers have been, but you have to wonder if Mike Singletary is the guy to take them to the next level. They still can't decide on a quarterback, you have to wonder if the offensive scheme will work against good teams and the 49ers suffer some embarrassing defensive lapses. This smells like a .500 team.
Lou Saban Division
Buffalo: How in the world is Buffalo 3-4? Somehow, they're a better team with their backup quarterback in the game, they have two running backs and still have a hard time generating a good ground game and their defense is middle of the road at best. The Bills' play the league's weirdest games, too, scoring on fluke plays because nothing they actually practice works.
Miami: Chad Henne has been pretty good for the Dolphins, but at some point, I think the Wildcat holds them back. And, there will come a time when teams figure out the keys to stopping the Wildcat, at which point the Fins will rely on a defense that is starting to show some age. I think in the right situation, Tony Sparano could be a good coach. I think in this situation, he's a .500 coach who's getting fired in two years.
Seattle: Jim More Jr. took over the Seahawks two years too late. With a healthy Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle has a chance to win games. With Seneca Wallace, they're playing from seven points down at the opening kickoff. Plus, the defensive pieces don't fit together nearly well enough in a division with Kurt Warner and a frisky-looking San Francisco team.
Dick MacPherson Division
Oakland: The Raiders have two wins because of their defense. JaMarcus Russell is the most inconsistent, scatter-armed quarterback in the league. True story - sometimes, when I have a few minutes to kill, I'll play the mini-games on Madden 2008. Try completing the passing tree game with Russell. It's impossible - and I've tried probably 100 times. He's terrible. I don't care what other pieces you have in place, when you're quarterback is this bad, fans might as well just watch "When Harry Met Sally." Trust me, it's more entertaining than the Raiders.
Washington: When you get pulled in favor of the 353-year-old Todd Collins, you're a bad quarterback. Jason Campbell, welcome to Backup Land, where you get paid to hold a clipboard, make funny motions with your arms and look good walking through an airport. Other than a new quarterback, Daniel Snyder needs to be suspended, kind of like George Steinbrenner back in the early 1990s.
Carolina: If Tomlinson has a salad fork in his back, Jake Delhomme has a pitchfork in his back. He is done like burned hot dogs. The window on Carolina as a contender is painted shut until a new quarterback comes walking through the locker room door.
Rod Rust Division
Detroit: Matthew Stafford comes back this weekend, and Jim Schwartz has done enough to get rid of some of the malignant sucktitude that permeated the Lions locker room the past few seasons. They could use another offensive playmaker and a few more defenders, but this team is at least pointed in the right direction.
Kansas City: Home of some of the weirdest stat lines in the league. Matt Cassell completes a decent percentage of his passes, but averages about 90 yards passing a week. Larry Johnson is incredibly overrated and the defense still can't get consistent stops. Plus, Todd Haley has openly quit on his team at least twice this season, which sets a great example for his team. I wish Scott Pioli well, but you have to wonder if he's in over his head with the Chiefs.
Cleveland: Eric Mangini is the perfect coach for the Browns. They're overmatched at nearly every position on and off the field, can't decide what type of team they want to be and make personnel decision for no apparent reason. Only the true ineptitude of the teams behind them keeps the Browns from being the worst team in the league.
Tennessee: Kerry Collins is out and Vince Young is in. It won't make a difference, because the Titans secondary is toast. They can't cover anyone, and in a league where passing games are taking on increasing importance, that's a bad problem to have.
St. Louis: The Lambs can't throw, can't block and don't tackle very well either. They're about three years away from even being respectable, and that's only if everything breaks their way.
Tampa Bay: Sorry Teddy, but once again you root for the worst team in football. It's amazing how quickly the Bucs fell apart. I'm not sure if Raheem Morris is the right man for this big a rebuilding job. They're on their third quarterback of the season, can't get stops defensively and are making fans long for the Vinny Testaverde days.
On to the picks:
St. Louis at Detroit: I'm taking Detroit, though St. Louis is due for one of those "bad team gets lucky bounce to win first game of the season'" games. I like the Lions mojo right now, and I think Stafford has a big day after seeing enough Daunte Culpepper mistakes to know what not to do in a game. By the way, with one win between these teams, this is the NEWS CAT'S CAT POOP SALAD GAME OF THE WEEK. You will eat the cat poop, Rams fans.
Miami at NY Jets: Miami has already beaten the Jets once this season, and you have to wonder if Rex Ryan has something special ready for the Wildcat. I need the Jets to lose, but I just can't pull the trigger on a 2-4 team that relies on a gimmick offense, so I'm taking the Jets and the Dirty Sanchez.
Seattle at Dallas: I like Dallas at home, especially if Miles Austin keeps getting open. Detroit made a great trade getting a bag of footballs for Roy Williams, who looks used up. He runs routes like a guy whose burst is gone. Dallas isn't good enough to blow the Seahawks out, but they should win by 10 points.
Cleveland at Chicago: The Browns will make Cutler look like an All-Pro, and Derek Anderson could make Bears fans think Brian Urlacher really isn't out for the season. It'a amazing what playing the Browns can do for a team.
Denver at Baltimore: I'm taking Denver until somebody beats them, though it could happen this weekend if the Ravens offense can generate a sustained running game. If Joe Flacco throws for 280 yards and two touchdowns, the Ravens win. I just don't see Champ Bailey letting that happen.
Houston at Buffalo: This is the sort of game power rankings help with. Buffalo will seduce some people, but not this guy. Matt Schaub might have a really good day on Sunday and the Bills might get blown out. What does it tell us about Trent Edwards, by the way, that the Bills are a better team when he's sitting on the sidelines. It might be time to draft yet another Quarterback of the Future, which is what, the 20th since Jim Kelly retired?
San Francisco at Indianapolis: I don't like the 49ers chances against Peyton Manning this weekend.
NY Giants at Philadelphia: I'm taking the Giants. I don't know why, but I am.
Oakland at San Diego: So, Oakland cut Jeff Garcia before the season for what reason, exactly? Wouldn't Garcia have won at least two more games for the Raiders just be not being JaMarcus Russell? I think so too. Meanwhile, San Diego has to win this game to have any chance of making the playoffs, and, you know Norv Turner will make sure it's a come-from-behind win because he can't get a team ready to play. Enjoy the win, San Diego, you probably won't earn it.
Jacksonville at Tennessee: How bad is Vince Young that, with the team 0-6, Jeff Fisher had to be told by his owner to put Young in. It's obvious Kerry Collins is struggling and that the Titans need to put up more points than he's capable of to win games, but Young has sat on the sidelines for six weeks. What does he look like in practice? Is he showing up to the practice field naked? Is he firing balls in the turf like Joe Kane after he got out of rehab? I demand to see the film. The public has a right to know. In case you were wondering, I'm taking Jacksonville.
Minnesota at Green Bay: Brett Favre goes back to the land of cheese and wins in a walk. I'm not a big fan of the Packers cumulative team body language, and think the Football Gods will bitch-smack the Packers for the way they ran Favre out of town. Adrian Peterson might have a really, really big day.
Carolina at Arizona: These teams played in the playoffs last year. Now, Arizona's shaky and Carolina's winless without a decent backup quarterback to shake things up. Adrian Wilson and the rest of the Cardinal defense must be licking their chops at the wounded ducks they're sure to see from Jake Delhomme on Sunday.
Atlanta at New Orleans: Is this the week the Saints stumble? The smart money says no. At least, it says no until someone goes back to the Bill Belichick gameplan in Super Bowl 25 -- run the ball, run the ball, run the ball and keep the Saints offense off the field. For some reason, the Falcons want to throw the ball more, not less, which tells me they're not the team to beat the Saints.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
After a couple of absolutely blown games last weekend in my picks column, I decided I was looking at the NFL through the sports fan's equivalent of beer goggles.
Friday, October 16, 2009
In fact, it'd be too easy.
Instead, the Whitless Wonder has, straight from the home offices on Newland Avenue, Jamestown, the Top 10 Reasons The Yankees Win The ALCS.
The Baseball Gods won't allow a team to advance to the World Series after they desecrated the game with the Rally Monkey and Thundersticks. Real fans don't need the monkey from outbreak to know when to cheer for their team. Real fans clap their hands instead of plastic tubes. After years of Baseball God penance, it's the Angels turn to rot in baseball purgatory for all they've done.
9. The Hefty Lefty.
This series is all about pitching, and the smart money says C.C. Sabathia picks the Yankees up and puts them on his 747-sized shoulders. I love everything about Sabathia -- the way he starts slow and picks up steam as the game goes on, how he saves something to be able to reach back and throw his best pitches in the biggest spots in games, how he screams and pumps his fist after a big strikeout. I feel warm and snuggly inside knowing he's starting three games in this series. And, if the rain keeps up in New York City, C.C. might start all seven games.
8. The Little Things
The Angels have beaten up on the Yankees in the past because of superior pitching and a willingness to do the little things necessary to score runs. This year, the Yankees are showing much better pitching and an ability to steal a base, sacrifice bunt and otherwise do the little things to score runs. I love having Brett Gardner as a late-inning pinch-runner if the Yankees need to steal a run late in a game, I love having two lefties in the bullpen to allow for late-inning matchups and I absolutely love the thought of Jose Molina coming in as a late-inning defensive replacement and throwing out basestealers.
7. A Better Training Montage.
Remember Rocky III, where Clubber Lang's working out in his inner city gym before the fight with Rocky while Rocky's in a hotel in Philadelphia with a jazz band playing and girls asking him for kisses all the time? Well, it's snowing in New York City right now, and it's sunny and 80 in Los Angeles. Who's got the better training montage this year -- the Angels working out in sunny, balmy Los Angeles with a ton of girls in bikinis roller blading outside the stadium, or the Yankees working out in snow hats and gloves in the middle of an October snowstorm? I'll bet $4 the Yankee Stadium sound systems were blaring Eye of the Tiger all week.
6. Turning The Tables.
For years, the Angels could shorten games with the best of them. If a starter pitched six decent innings, guys like Scot Shields, Scott Schoenweiss, Francisco Rodriguez and Brandon Donnelly slammed the door shut. I'm not quite as scared of Brian Fuentes and the rest of the Angels bullpen this year. The Yanks, on the other hand, can throw Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings with a little Phil Coke on the side. I'm feeling good about that.
5. It's The Whipped Cream That Binds.
This team has more goofballs on it than any Yankees team I can remember, and somehow, it works. Swisher has a different high-five for every player, and Burnett has bought stock in Cool Whip. When Juan Miranda hit his first major league home run, it was great to see the rest of the team ignore him when he got back to the dugout. I half expect to see Youtube footage of a Varsity Blues-type party with Swisher feeding his pet pig beer and losing a drinking contest to Jeter's girlfriend or even the entire team getting thrown in jail after a bar fight and Melky Cabrera leading the team in Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive in their jail cell. Seriously, nothing would surprise me.
4. Win One For George.
Unlike Rachel Phelps in Major League II, winning one more championship for George Steinbrenner makes sense. Big Stein isn't out in public as much now as he had been, but I'll bet we get one more visit to the home ballpark if the Yankees win the World Series. It's a much calmer clubhouse without Steinbrenner calling players out in the middle of a big series, but the softer, older Steinbrenner might be a benefit this postseason.
3. Addition By Subtraction.
The Yankees brought Bobby Abreu over a few years ago because he seemed to fit well in the lineup - high on-base percentage, could hit home runs but didn't rely on them, patient, decent speed. After four years, Abreu is now an Angel and the Yankees seem better than ever -- making this a textbook case of addition by subtraction. Abreu is the type of player who puts up great numbers and leaves you disappointed at the same time. I'm glad he's gone, even if Nick Swisher plays like Ron Bergundy on a bender sometimes in right field. I don't miss Abreu, even if every stathead on earth says he's a better player than anyone in the Yankees outfield. I look forward to winning without him.
2. Kate Hudson, Good Luck Charm?
I'm not the biggest Kate Hudson fan (she's only had one really good role -- Penny Lane in Almost Famous) and she definitely wouldn't be my cup of tea if I was one of the richest athletes on the face of the earth, but her, um, pre-game rituals (yeah, that's what we'll call them) seem to have Alex Rodriguez more relaxed than he's been in years. Unlike Jessica Simpson and Tony Romo, whatever Kate's doing to A-Rod is working.
1. Joe Girardi's Prozac.
In his first managerial stop in Florida, Girardi was wound tighter than a 40-year-old virgin working in the Playboy mansion. There were times last season where it looked like Joe needed a hot dog and a hummer, maybe even a smoke and a pancake. Much like the rest of the team, he seems a lot more relaxed this year -- maybe he's been sniffing the compressed air from A.J. Burnett's whipped cream containers. Maybe he switched to decaffinated coffee in the morning. Maybe his doctor upped his Prozac dosage. I don’t know. I don’t care. What I do know is this year's Girardi is a better manager than last year's Girardi - and that might make the difference.