Thursday, December 28, 2006

Here's To The Year That Was

“It may be quite simple, but, now that it’s done…”

So ends another year of sports. So, in addition to my little awards column I wrote earlier, I’m going to go back and reflect on all that was 2006.

By far one of the most depressing experiences of my young life occurred on Christmas night, when WBZ decided to air a look back at Boston sports in 2006. You have to know that when the Revolution making the MLS Cup Finals is either the best or second-best story of the year, Boston has fallen from the zenith of the sports landscape of America. It was only two years ago when we held both the Lombardi Trophy and, most importantly, the World Series trophies in our possession, and we won “Best Sports City” in the Sporting News’ annual poll in a laugher. All of our teams were in some kind of contention. The Pats and the Sox each won their respective championships, the Celts were perennial “heavyweights” in the lackluster Atlantic Division, and the B’s were a force to be reckoned with in the East. Oh how two years have changed it all. Now, the Celts are undergoing the biggest rebuilding process since the Russell era. The B’s traded off their two franchise players for scraps, attempting to build around “the next thing,” Patrice Bergeron. The Pats, well, ok, they haven’t changed, but still, there is not the aura of invincibility that surrounded this team just two years ago. It’s not as though they are going to be able to waltz through the AFC and the Super Bowl like they did in 2004. As for the Sox, well, now this is the team that has arguably caused a fan base the most grief in the history of sports in the last two years ago. The only reason that it’s arguable is because of our little 86-year draught, which we thankfully ended, without winning it all. The Sox front office has got to be the biggest anomaly in all of sports right now. Which direction are we heading? See, here’s the problem: we put too much trust in them. Remember “in Theo we trust?” We never questioned any of the moves he made in the offseason after the Sox won it all, and why? Well, because we won it all. I mean when you have a team that people live and die by to win a championship, and they finally do, you tend to give the architect a little leeway after the fact. But we as a nation were na├»ve. We had never experienced “the thrill of victory,” rather, it was always the “agony of defeat.” (On that note, if anyone knows anywhere I can get that “Wide World of Sports” blazer, let me know. That is the single greatest piece of announcing decorum in the history of announcing decorum. What I would do for one of those…ya don’t even wanna know.) So, when we won, we were so soaked up in all that came with winning, we failed to realize that our team was moving in a direction where few of us wanted to be heading: yuppie-land. Here was our blue-collar team, one that prided ourselves on hard work, discipline, and always playing our hearts, whether we were up by 10 or down 20. Ok, sure, a few moves were expected. The Pedro dealings went almost to script. No one really expected that he would stick around. He had demands, and we just weren’t willing to give him four guaranteed years. The Mets came in, did the deal, and benefited for most of the two years they’ve had him, but his ineffectiveness late in the season, coupled with injuries, rendered him useless in the postseason. So, without going out and polling every fan, I have to say that this was a good move. Then, they resigned Jason Varitek, who was undoubtedly the leader in that clubhouse from all accounts. Now this was the move that really could have clued us into if they were “blowing up” this team. If they didn’t sign ‘Tek, then we would have known that something was up, and there would have been an immediate public outcry. So, the deal got done, which turned out to be a lot harder than the Sox had anticipated, given the lack of other suitors for a $10 million a year catcher. Varitek probably gets about $2-3 million for being the player he is on the field, and the rest is for his ability to know and familiarize himself with the pitching staff and be the “glue” that keeps all the “idiots” from straying too far away from the common goal of continuing to win championships. See, the Sox said all along that they were trying to pattern themselves after the Pats, you know, signing character guys and not those who have flaws, and having a winning tradition. Well, the first sign that we should have realized that the front office was straying away from the original plan was the signing of Edgar Renteria and the departure of Orlando Cabrera. When Edgar came to town, we were promised more offense, around the same defense, and a real good clubhouse guy. What did we get? How about eight homers, 70 RBIs, a major league leading 30 errors, and a guy who looked like if you tapped him on the shoulder, he would lose is GD’d mind. (I’m trying to get off of saying g—d----, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult day by day, especially with this team.) So, “Rent-a-wreck,” as he was so aptly named, lasted only one year and peaced, going to ATL for promising young prospect Andy Marte. Ok, before I get into anymore moves, I have to go back and talk about the OC. Does anyone remember who he replaced? Ok, if it were 2002, and I was going to tell you that at the trading deadline, we just traded Nomar for Cabrera and Doug Mienkeitwicz, I would have been hit with shiny objects that would distract me from the hemorrhaging going on in my head. This guy was the icon, the Ted Williams of a generation. Ever since his breakout, rookie of the year campaign in ’97, #5 was a mainstay in Boston. There would be no way they could ever trade him! Then, Nomar started becoming a little too “Hollywood” for his own good, balking at a five year, $75 million contract offer the Sox floated him at the start of the ’04 Spring Training. Then, Nomar gets hurt, forcing him to miss a majority of the first half of the season. Right there and then, the front office basically goes, “ok look, the guy is hurt, and we he may not be as great as he once was, still, he is a legend in these parts, let’s try another offer.” This one was for far less money, but still was a fairly decent offer at the time; four years, $40 million. Nomar felt insulted by this. I don’t really understand why he would feel insulted. Doesn’t the value of a player go down after he gets injured? Anyway, the Sox knew that had to trade him, but still, in the back of their minds, they were fully aware of the repercussions of a potential deal, and that if it went sour, they would get their asses handed to them by the most loyal fan-base on the face of the world (it’s biased, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find any other fans of a team with the knowledge and dedication of Sox fans). So on the night of the deadline, the pull the deal, then take a few steps back from the situation and see how people would react. As a fan, I will tell you the exact repetition of what die-hard fans did in the first hour after they had heard about the deal. First, an initial wave of shock was felt. “They traded Nomar? Are you kidding?” That’s about the same you got from everyone, then, it was “what are they gonna do to replace him? I mean the guy is still a great hitter and fielder, now what?” Then, after you let the news sink in, you immediately tell yourself “you know what? These are the same guys who got Schill from the D-Backs for seemingly nothing and signed Keith Foulke (believe me, back then, we were super-pumped about landing an “excellent closer,” so just keep that in mind while you are convulsively laughing), so these guys are pretty sharp, they know what they’re doing, maybe this was the correct move. I mean Nomar was hurt, and he didn’t seem as though he wanted to be with this team anymore. (see the July 1 game against the Yanks, with him being the only guy sitting on the bench while everyone else was on the top of the dugout) They seem to have plenty of offense on the team already, so I guess we need a fresh direction, and fresh blood to provide a spark.” So now there was the anticipation of how this guy was going to work out playing the 6-spot in replace of Nomar. The results? Well, the guy not only held is own, he almost made everyone forget Nomar was still playing. Minky proved to be a great sub option in the late innings for Millar, and the rest is history. Cabrera was the toast of Boston, getting praise for the care-free way he conducted himself in the dugout, and his extraordinary defense, which he made look so effortless. So now the Sox were the champs, and instead of holding their team in tact, the first move was levied; only offering Cabrera $6 million when he wanted, and got $8.5-9 million. Cabrera was one of the guys who represented all that was great about the championship team, a guy who had fun playing baseball. He did not let the pressures of Boston get to him like Renteria let get into his conscious. The problem was that Renteria was being put on a pedestal that he did not really deserve. He is a good player, but the Sox built him up as “great,” not only through their words, but their wallets, offering a four year, $40 million contract. They saw it as an upgrade, but here’s the thing: Cabrera, if he went on to have a sub-par year with the Sox in ’05, would have been given a pass by the “Nation.” See, he had already exceeded the expectations of fans and then some. Therefore, if he came back down to Earth, it wouldn’t be as scrutinized as someone new coming in and trying to play the role. So, getting rid of Cabrera was the beginning of the end. I always look at that move as the difference maker in where the franchise is going. I believe that move set them back about five years. Do you honestly think Julio Lugo is going to do well in this town? I think my expectations of him are so low that anything that he might do in the future would be a bonus. Honestly, I think he’s another Renteria. They may hold onto him for one or two years, but I cannot see him staying for all four years. There have been other moves (Lowe, Ramirez, Nixon, Damon, Arroyo) that really haven’t panned out, but the Cabrera move is the lightning rod for me. This offseason, in addition to Lugo, they made another mistake by bringing in “Mr. Intensity,” J.D. Drew. I don’t recall, at least in Boston, any move having as much of a negative reaction like the one Drew got. $14 million a year? Please. Speaking of this, how’s that Johnny Damon deal looking right now? What a stupid move that was. They expected to get the same productivity from Coco Crisp? Basically, they traded Renteria and Marte for Crisp…not smart. However, in order to avert from what could have been the worst offseason in the history of the franchise, the Sox saved face, signing Brendan Donnelly and J.C. Romero for the bullpen help they sorely needed. Donnelly is going to assume the “Timlin role” either this year, if they choose to have Timlin close (which would be batty, but hey, I’ve seen crazier). Donnelly has been one of the best middle relievers since Anaheim won their World Series title in 2003. Romero will be used as a lefty specialist, which in today’s game you need, especially when you play the Yankees 19 times. Then, the final blow came when Matsuzaka was officially signed to a six-year deal. Everyone is all up in arms about this around the country. “How could they pay so much for him?” I have to side with the Sox on this deal. See, since the new ownership has taken over, it’s been their goal to globalize the Red Sox brand name. They made their initial impact on the Dominican Republic, and easily did so with the likes of Papi, Pedro, and Manny. Now, they are trying to infiltrate one of the biggest economies in the world by signing Dice-K. If you have money, why not do that? First, you get a quality arm, second, you open up a new revenue stream, and third, and maybe most important, his title will be “Red Sox pitcher.” Red Sox. We don’t wear pinstripes, and neither will this guy.

Ok, I feel like I’ve vented enough about the Sox, and believe me, I could, and may, write a book on the pure frustrations of being a fan of this team. Now, I want to comment on a couple things that happened throughout the year.

Vince Young should be Athlete of the Year, not Tiger Woods. This guy transcends logic. First, at the beginning of the year, he led the most underappreciated team in college football into Pasadena to play the hometown Trojans. Young’s Longhorns literally destroyed everything in their paths, including a 70-3 drubbing of Colorado in the Big 12 Championship. 70-3! I don’t care how bad Colorado may have been, if you’re in the Big 12, playing Division I football, you should never lose by more than 40, let alone 67. Texas went into the Rose Bowl as eight point underdogs, with basically everyone in the country siding with USC and the dynamic combo of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. So what happened? Young went off, and you know what, “going off” doesn’t even begin to describe the utter dominance that Young had on that game. It was like watching Beethoven or Mozart on the football field. He went back, and literally did anything he wanted to. USC did not have a great defense. They were good though, so the fact that Young had their way with them makes this probably the most amazing performance by a single athlete I have seen since Tiger in the ’97 Masters. Then, Young gets drafted third overall by the lowly Titans, who just disbanded their franchise quarterback in Steve McNair. Young is expected to start behind Kerry Collins and learn the offense so he can step in either later on in the year, or they could have even waited until next year for him to go, much like what the Bengals did with Carson Palmer. However, Collins was so terrible that Young was pushed into the spotlight early on in the season. After a humiliating loss at the hands of the Colts, Young has single-handedly resurrected the franchise from the laughing stock it was to the playoff contender it is now. If you’re a Pats fan, did you really think that Titans game at the end of the year would be a big deal? Now, it’s one of the best games of the final week of the season. In just a small example, look at how well Young played last week at Buffalo, one of the most difficult places to play in the league, especially in December, even though it was abnormally mild at the Ralph. Again, Young led his team from behind in the final quarter, giving the Titans their eighth win of the year. Eight wins? I guarantee before the season started, the Titans were busy scouting top-10 draft picks. Now, they are looking in the high to mid twenties. All this guy does is win. That is the best possible attribute you can have as a quarterback, is the ability to win no matter what the circumstances are. Brady has it, Montana had it, now Vince Young has become the newest “it” quarterback. To say Tiger Woods had a better year than Young is laughable. Am I honestly supposed to believe that it’s even newsworthy that Tiger won two majors? I think Tiger is going to have to win the Grand Slam in order to win Athlete of the Year. On that note, shouldn’t Roger Federer have more claim on that award if we are basing it on dominating one’s field? Federer won three of the four majors in his sport and basically never lost all year, why didn’t he win?

Mobile ESPN was a noble idea, but did not have the right timing or the initial value to become huge. This issue is near and dear to me, because I actually owned the phone. I have no regrets either, and why should I? If you went into a Best Buy and looked at the phone, yes, it was kind of bulky, but the whole concept of having ESPN be the platform for a cell phone was ground-breaking. In effect, Mobile ESPN was its own cell phone provider, although it bought time from Sprint towers, and, all the ESPN content was included in the service. You did not have to have any kind of internet service to receive this. I think that, although the service failed in the end, it was a groundbreaking idea that could shape the way you will be able to access sports information in the future. Personally, I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of a cell phone provided by ESPN. Here was their downfall: the two-year contract. Every time someone gets a new cell phone, they are basically forced into a two-year contract. People were impressed by what ESPN provided, but initially, its prices were so far out of whack that no one was even close to buying it, so they bought phones provided by other services. Then, when ESPN started losing big bucks, they came out with a new set of plans at much more affordable rates. The only problem was, the majority of cell phone buyers were already locked into a contract and did not feel like paying a termination fee, which was sometimes in excess of $300, to get out of their contract and switch. Also, ESPN did not make it clear that they were using Sprint to get its airtime. I believe that if more people knew about the network that ESPN provided, maybe they could have received more subscribers. When I signed up in July, I got the ESPN phone, headphones, and a year subscription to both ESPN Insider and ESPN The Magazine, all just for signing up. Well, in a few days, Mobile ESPN will be dead, but again, I believe it laid out a blueprint for others to follow. What will happen in the future is that cell phone providers, like Verizon, Cingular, and Sprint will team up with sports providers, like ESPN and Sports Illustrated, to create a phone that serves as a sports platform, with the ability to access scores and articles without subscribing to any kind of internet service. When this does start, the rates will be comparable to those already out there, making it affordable to those who are skeptical. Also, if you already have Cingular or whatever provider it ends up being, you should be offered a special deal as far as an upgrade is concerned. In my heart of hearts, I really hope this will happen because I absolutely loved the months I had my phone, at least I know all my friends enjoyed the months I had the phone (hey, claustrophobic, back up!)

This was truly the year of the little guy, be it in stature or in reputation. Leading off has to be the George Mason basketball team, who ended up being one of the top stories of the year, running through UNC, Michigan St., and UConn in its improbable run to the Final Four and loss to the eventual champion Florida Gators. Again, this is one of the great examples of what makes March Madness the greatest sports event by far. Every year, it’s someone else. There have been so many stories of underdogs coming out of nowhere to beat some of the best teams in all the land. The whole “one and done” philosophy makes the tournament that much more enthralling. Every game counts. This is the reason the NFL is the most popular sport in America. Every game counts. There are so few examples of this philosophy that the NFL is starting to destroy the competition in terms of popularity. College football is even more popular than any of the other major sports. The first two days of the NCAA tourney are arguably the best two sports days of the entire year. Anxiously, you sit with your brackets, watching an inconsequential game (usually 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15) and glaring at the top left corner of the screen, watching, and watching the scores go by, praying for teams that you a.) do not know any of the players that play for that team or b.) have never even heard of that team all together. In any account, you live for this as a sports fan. Seeing great teams fall at the hands of teams that, especially in George Mason’s case, may not have even “deserved” to have been there in the first place. After all, it is not the top 65 teams in the country that get to go. It’s more like the top 45, with 20 teams that run through seeds 13-16, or amazingly got in over a “snub.” In any case, the tournament selection has and will always be a controversial issue, but at least it is done by humans and not by computers. I hate to tangent off of this, but I feel I need to lay out my opinion about the BCS right here. No offense to George Mason, they were a great story, but I feel as though, because we are in football season now, I’m almost obliged to talk about this issue right now. The system sucks, but then again, you knew that. Anytime Notre Dame is playing in a $15 million bowl game after beating no one (come on, what do ya got?...Navy? Please.), you have to know that the system is completely bush-league. This system has now f’d it up three times (Oklahoma over USC, undefeated Auburn having no national title shot, and Notre Dame losing its two games where they actually played someone, and they got spanked in both). This is just inexcusable with the amount of money that is being thrown out there. So now, Mell-o’s BCS fixer-upper. Ok, it is a tournament. I mean it has to come to that. The NFL even has a tournament, and they play more games than the college kids do. So what exactly is the problem with this? It’s all about the NFL and them basically owning the month of January. Outside of New Year’s Day, the NFL owns the weekends, and because of the mutual understanding that the NCAA and NFL have about playing games on the same day, a tournament would result in games being played during the week. But the thing is, doesn’t the NCAA already do this? Look at the Thursday games from this year. In the span of one week, Rutgers played in arguably the best game of the year, propelling them to BCS bowl contention, and then the next week, they get dismantled on the road against Cincinnati. Those are two games that weren't played on a Saturday, but yet people watched it in drones. I believe that if there is enough buzz, you can still get ratings. Because every game would be so important, people would be watching in record amounts. The tournament would consist of the top six teams, and of course, there’s probably going to have to be a Notre Dame clause thrown in there as well. When I say the top six, this refers to the best six teams. If you win a conference, and you are not in the top six, then you will go to one of the other BCS games. Under this format, the present BCS games (Orange, Sugar, Rose, Fiesta) would still be played, with teams going to those games probably getting slightly less money (maybe $10 compared to the $15 they get now). The top two teams would receive bye-weeks, meaning 3 plays 6 and 4 plays 5. This would take place two weeks after championship week, right around the second or third week of December. Because the NFL would still be in the regular season, and with the new NFL Network contract, which broadcasts games on Thursday and Saturday, the NCAA would be able to negotiate with a network partner (CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX) to broadcast the first round of the tournament on that Saturday. The games will be played in different venues according to the NFL schedule, so there will not be any conflictions. When a team, like the Saints, Cardinals, Texans, or any other warm city/dome team. Then, as each school progresses through the tournament, they would receive an increase of money for every round they get to. Again, just an idea, but the first round participants should get $10 million, semi-finals $15 million, and $20 million for the championship. So, if you start off in the first round, winning the tournament could bring the school around $45 million. That’s a pretty good chunk of change. This means that if a team goes one-and-out, they still get the $10 million that the other BCS-bound teams are making. Once this system is implemented, you will see ratings skyrocket, meaning that, in the future, there will be more money to spread around. If you think this is a lot of money, think about how it is now. Presently, there are five BCS games, with teams in the Orange, Rose, Sugar, and Fiesta earning around $15 million and teams in the BCS Championship receiving around $20-25 million. So, the total prize purse is approximately $180 million. In the new format, counting the tournament and all other BCS games the purse would increase to $220 million. With the revenue of college football skyrocketing, this is not so far fetched. Another thing, if they continue to “tweak” the system, I am going to lose my mind. Fellas, pick a system, then stick to it. It becomes very easy to ridicule something when you constantly try and change it, and it still doesn’t work. The committee needs to just come in and put their foot down one year and say "this is how it is, and we're not going to change it." If this were the case, no one would be able to complain, because the committee can just shrug their shoulders. "Oh well, that's the breaks. Should have just gone undefeated." So, that's my BCS shakedown. It will probably never come to fruition, but it may get you to thinking, which is the ultimate goal anyway.

Ok, so back to the little guy. Nate Robinson won the slam dunk contest. Ok, so this was controversial, given the fact that Robinson attempted the same dunk 80 times and Igoudala pulled off one of the sickest dunks in the history of dunks (jumping from out of bounds and ducking his head under the backboard for a reverse dunk...timeless). Still, the way Robinson won was by using Spud Webb as a "prop" of sorts. Imagine, the two little guys taking out the big guy. Well, it happened. Should it have happened? Probably not, but think about when Spud won his dunk title. He had a lot of good dunks, but to say that his were better than Dominique's or Larry Nance's may be stretching it. The reason he won was because it's just an unreal sight to see such a little guy get up that high. Iguodala should have won, but Nate did because he's the little guy, and little guys get way more respect than the big guys do, because simply, it just doesn't happen very often.

More examples: The league and NBA finals MVPs were guards, the Cardinals winning behind World Series MVP David Eckstein, Texas beating USC, UCLA beating USC, Oregon St. beating USC (yeah I'm not a big USC guy), Maurice Jones-Drew, the resurgence of the Saints, Jason McElwin (autistic high school basketball manager who drained six 3s in a game), Dakoda Dowd (played an LPGA event at age 14), Japan winning the inaugural WBC, Justin Morneau winning MVP, Detroit's turnaround from cellar dwellers to pennant winners, Devin Hester, and Geoff Ogilvy wins the U.S. Open (Mickelson helped just a bit on that one).

So, thus concludes the year in review. Hopefully, next year will be better. You have to be hoping that. I mean when the biggest stories of the year is steroids, you have to hope for a more positive new year. Plus, in terms of Boston sports...it has to get better right? Alright, so let's toast to 2007. Have a safe and happy new year. Peace.

~Mell-o

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bowl Preview Part II

Merry Christmas everyone! Wow, 2006 is almost over. Somewhat hard to believe, but I'm gonna take some time right now to review what was one of the most bizarre weeks of the NFL season, and maybe by some coincidence, the last week of the NFL until we peel another year off the calendar and start the 2007 portion of the season:

If you were betting underdogs, congrats, you killed this week. I, unfortunately, did not, and other than the good ol' Pats, got absolutely reamed this week. Next week, mark my word, I will have at least a 75/25 underdog/favorite ratio in my ATS picks. But let's talk about some happy things, and nothing, to me, was any more pleasant than watching the hometown team take down another AFC East crown. The Pats were dominant for most of the game, even though the scoreboard may not tell it like that. Other than a fluke TD run by Jones-Drew, the Pats held their ground on defense. It was a very clean game overall, with only one turnover commited by either team all game. Fortunately for the Pats, and all of Patriot Nation, it was a crucial fumble by Garrard in the closing minutes of the game. Tom was amazing, and surprisingly, it was not in any means related to any deep throws, rather, he used little six-seven yard patterns to pick apart the Jags. When Mike Peterson went down with a season ending injury a few weeks back, it created a void in the middle of the field that no one really took advantage of, until today that is. As Scott Zolak said in 5th Quarter, Brady "looked like a surgeon out there." By the way, I miss everything Patriot related that they throw on before and after the game. For instance, last night, I watched New England Tailgate with Ordway, Smerlis, and DeOssie. For those who don't know who these guys are, I suggest getting on to WEEI.com and checking out "The Big Show." (Also, check out the Whiner Line in the Audio Vault...some of the stuff may be a little inside, but most of the stuff is just hysterical.) Yeah, now you understand why I'm thinking that stage has to have its base reinforced for every taping. Anyway, it was good to see guys be completely biased towards the Pats on TV. Sure, I stream 'EEI through my computer, but I don't get that hometown feel, so that was nice while it lasted. Also, ya think we missed Maroney and Harrison? Wow, talk about instant impact. Maroney led the team in rushing, with 48 yards on only seven carries for a TD. He also contributed two catches for 10 yards. Harrison had a quiet day in the stat book, but you could just feel his presence out there when he was in coverage and especially when he was blitzing, putting a real good shot on Garrard on one play when he ran through untouched. Also, Rodney was able to recover Garrard's fumble that sealed the game. It was definitely a good thing to have both of those guys back. Let's go a step further in breaking down this game:

I think my parents started to get sick of me saying "hey look, it's the Wendy's guy!," but Dave Thomas was all over the place today in place of the injured Ben Watson, racking up 83 yards on five catches, including a pretty 22-yard TD reception in the 2nd quarter to give the Pats a 17-7 lead at the time. Thomas has shown a lot of potential throughout the year. After being a Pats fan since birth, you tend to realize all the trends that this team has. Bill's trend when he goes into the draft is that he is going to draft the smartest linebacker/TE on the board. Remember he surprisingly took Watson with the 32nd overall pick, then last year, taking Thomas in the 3rd round when there was a lot of value still out there (Thomas went #86, Ko Simpson went #105, Leon Washington #117...you get the idea).

And now, on less of an upbeat note, the rest of the games. Unbeliveable. Seriously, if you bet favorites today, you were screwed. Of all the favorites that have played up until Sunday night, only St. Louis and Kansas City have covered. That's 2-12 ATS for the favorites! Is it too late to change my Monday Night picks? I'm kidding, but on the other hand...yeah, there's a little truth to that. The most bizarre play of the day that screwed you over today was the end of the Denver-Cincy game. Cincy has just tied the game on a Who's-Your-Daddy TD with 40 seconds left. Ok, 24-23 w/ PAT pending, thinking OT right? Wrong. The Bungles muff the extra point, lose by 1, but beat the spread, meaning that if you had the presence of mind to know the Broncos would win, you still got screwed. Even if you had Denver, you would be rooting for Graham to make that extra point, tying the game up, and making it so you could at least get a GW FG in regulation or OT to push, and maybe even a TD to beat the -3 spread, but no, not today.

Indy's defense is that bad. If your offense is even somewhat potent, they are all done. My original prediction of them going down in the first round is all dependent on who they play in the first round. If it's Denver, I think the Colts could actually take them, but if it's the Jags or the Bengals, they're screwed. I have never heard of a team be this bad against the run and put together any kind of playoff run. Peyton did all that he could possibly do today, but when you let Ron Dayne run for 153 yards and two scores, you're F'd, and that's putting it lightly.

San Diego had a real problem with Seattle, which I accurately predicted would happen. Seattle is a Jekyll and Hyde team, but then again, outside of San Diego, what team isn't like that? Tomlinson was kept out of the end zone today to my delight, as, not surprisingly, I am up against him in both leagues! Can you remember anything like this guy in terms of fantasy value? If there was any debate this year as to who's #1, there won't be next year. Yahoo! has a stat called "keys to success," which outlines 50 players and ranks them by how many of the top 500 public league teams have him. LT is on 98.8% of all teams in the Top 500...98.8%! Hopefully I can buck the trend and jump on the back of Larry Johnson (hey anyone remember him? 1651 yards rushing, 16 total TDs, hello?) and take both my leagues down. Oh by the way, both played fairly well, which definitely helped my mood.

Well, as I mentioned, it is Christmas, which means something different for everyone. However, there's one holiday ritual that I'm convinced is one of the greatest ideas in television history: 24 hours of "A Christmas Story" on TBS, the greatest holiday movie ever made. I know, Christmas Vacation is definitely up there. By the way, have you ever noticed that in both movies, Raplhie and Clark say "fore-flushing?" What does that mean? Anybody? Anyway, the reason I bring this up is I thought I would submit my top 20 quotes, not in any order of significance, from the movie:

1.) "That son of a bitch would freeze in the middle of summer on the equator."

2.) Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette, when he skipped over the triple dare, and going right for the throat."

3.) "Some people are baptists, others catholics, my father was an Oldsmobile man."

4.) "Three blocks away Schwartz was getting his. Every kid, at the back of his mind, vaguely but insistently, believes that he will be struck blind before his 21st birthday. And then they'll be sorry."

5.) I mean I have to put this in..."Fra-gee-lee...huh, it must be Italian."

6.) "Scut Farkus! What a rotten name. There he stood, between us and the alley. Scut Farkus staring out at us with his yellow eyes. He had yellow eyes! So, help me God, yellow eyes!"

7.) "He looks like a deranged Easter bunny...he does too, he looks like a pink nightmare."

8.) "They'll send the deed for cripsake. I didn't expect them to send a whole damn bowling alley."

9.) "Randy lay there like a slug...it was his only defense."

10.) "Aunt Clara had for years labored under the delusion that I was not only perpetually 4 years old, but also a girl."

11.) "Only I didn't say fudge, I said the word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the F-dash-dash-dash word."

12.) "Sons of bitches! Bumpuses!"

13.) "It was all over, I was dead. What would it be...the guillotine? Hanging? The chair? The rack? The Chinese water torture? Hmmph. Mere child's play compared to what surely awaited me."

14.) "I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed."

15.) "Now, I had heard that word at least ten times a day from my old man. He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium, a master."

16.) "Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at it's zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters decend upon us."

17.) "Oh you should see what it looks like from out here!"

18.) "In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan."

19.) "Ovaltine? A crummy commercial? Son of a bitch!"

20.) "Holy cow, it was 6:45. Only one thing in the world could've dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window."

Predictions:
Motor City Bowl (12/26, 7:30, ESPN): Central Michigan (-8.5) over Middle Tennessee St. So far, this is one of the biggest disparities as far as spreads go. However, a look inside the stats tells the whole story. Middle Tennessee's offense is deplorable: 207th in total yards, 206th in passing yards, 110th in points scored. If that wasn't bad enough, their pass defense ain't too hot either: 168th against the pass, 119th in total points. It's going to be a real hassle containing the Chippewa passing attack, which ranks 29th in the country, leading to 29.6 points a game, gooe enough for 39th in the country. While their defense certainly isn't anything to write home about, the Blue Raiders simply have no offense, and the one thing they are above average in, defending the run, they won't even be using, due to the fact that the Chippewas hold the 142nd best run offense, meaning they will rely heavily on the passing game. I expect a blowout of about three TD's.

Central Michigan 35, Middle Tennesse St. 10

Emerald Bowl (12/27, 8:00, ESPN) Florida St. (+2) over UCLA. The Seminoles are reeling from one of their worst seasons in recent memory. Meanwhile, the Bruins are coming off of one of their biggest wins in school history, knocking crosstown rival USC out of the BCS title game. Will this be a let down game? That remains to be seen. Here's what we do know. Florida St., despite having stnadout tailback Lorenzo Booker, ranked 210th in the nation in running. To me, this was shocking considering how explosive I thought Booker was the few times I had seen him play, somewhat reminicent of another FSU runner who dawned the #28 (Dunn). UCLA is going to have a hard time stopping the pass. Despite having the 17th best run defense, their pass defense ranks 189th, while the Seminoles have the 60th best passing attack. This is going to cause problems for the Bruins. If Drew Watherford can get going, this guy is dangerous. In terms of the Bruin offense, they are not too hot, ranking in the hundreds in every category. Meanwhile, the 'Noles rank 12th against the pass and are 35th in total offense. Even though the Seminoles have been struggling all year long, I have to think that the Bruins will come back to Earth. As seen on numeorus occasions this year, giant wins usually equate to a letdown the next game.

Florida St. 31, UCLA 21

Independence Bowl (12/28. 4:30, ESPN): Alabama (+2.5) over Oklahoma St. This game comes down to one thing: Can the Tide stop the Cowboy offense? Alabama has been real good defensively, coming in at 52rd against the pass, 63rd against the pass, coupling in the 43rd best defense in the country. Their offense has a real good passing attack and can put points on the board, but will it be enough to counter that high-powered Okla St. offense? I'm taking 'Bama and here's why: When you look at all the intrical offensive and defensive stats, here's what you come up with: When comparing Okla St's offense vs. the Tide's defense, the average ranks are 32.5 and 47.9 respectively. The Tide's offense vs. the Cowboys' defense ranks 70.7 to 102. The Cowboys' defense is terrible. This is another team where all their defensive ranks are in the hundreds. I feel like Alabama will use this to its advantage and mount a steep passing attack on Okla St. which ranks 195th against the pass. The Sooners rank in the top 30 in points, rushing, and total yards, but Alabama has the defense to combat that, so I'm leaning toward the Crimson. Roll tide!

Alabama 17, Oklahoma St. 10

Holiday Bowl (12/28, 8:00, ESPN) Texas A&M (+4) over California. Cal has been a team that has been shaky at best this year. They had an eight-game winning streak in the middle of the season, including wins against bowl teams Oregon, Oregon St., Arizona St., and UCLA. Then, they go on the road, losing to USC (well that was kind of expected) and Arizona (now that was not) before beating the Cardinal in the final game of the year by only nine points when they were 20+ point favorites. Meanwhile, the Aggies went on the road and beat Texas in their final game. If you take a look at their last three games, they are 1-2, with the Longhorns win and losses to Nebraska and Oklahoma at home...by one point! Does anyone realize that if this team gets one or two breaks in those games, they would have been playing for the Big 12 championship, probably landing them in Oklahoma's place in the Fiesta Bowl? This team is real dangerous, and I love the Aggie offense (25th) against Cal's defense (182nd). I love the line as well, getting four points is big. Even though the letdown theory is in full effect right here, I just think that, because they're underdogs, and the matchup is so lobsided, the Aggies will be able to pull out a win here.

Texas A&M 34, California 21

Texas Bowl (12/28, 8:00, NFL Network) Rutgers (-8) over Kansas St. NFL Network? Nice. I can't even begin to describe the idiocy of this. It's NFL Newtwork. What the hell does that have to do with college bowl games? The NFL Network, making new enemies every day. Catchy little slogan I think. Anyway, this game is a laugher on paper. I'm not going to bore you with the details. I'll keep it simple. Rutgers has a good run offense, K-State has a bad run defense. K-State has a horrible offense, Rutgers has a tremendous D. This game should be won by 30. I don't know, that's just me. I just can't see Rutgers, who almost beat West Virginia in Morgantown (in fact they lost in OT), ending this dream season on a loss.

Rutgers 41, Kansas St. 10

Music City Bowl (12/29, 1:00, ESPN) Clemson (-10) over Kentucky. I know, I know. How could I? Well, here's the thing: Clemson dominates Kentucky in literally every single category. The only chance the Wildcats have is having a huge game through the air. Kentucky ranks in the top-10 in passing offense. However, they have no defense, and as shown previously, no defense = no chance. Clemson's dynamic duo of tailbacks will prove to be too much for Big Blue. I had a first-hand account of Kentucky this year, and I can tell you that this defense could not stop anything. Clemson of course is still reeling from their last loss (you're welcome), but I still think they will be able to destroy Kentucky in this one.

Clemson 41, Kentucky 17

Sun Bowl (12/29, 2:00, CBS) Oregon St. (-3.5) over Missouri. From what I can gather, this is the most even matchup that I have previewed so far. If you look at the stats head-to-head (by the way, I get most of my info from foxsports.com; they have a feature where you can put two teams side-by-side and compare stats, very cool), you will notice that these teams are almost identical, except Missouri's pass attack seemingly has a gigantic advantage over the Beaver pass defense. Now, Oregon St. counters with one of the best run defenses in the country. So, you basically have to pick your poison, and I'm going with OSU on this fact alone: Those who can stop the run can also apply pressure on a quarterback. Because Mizzou has a weak running game, the Beavers will not have to rely on stopping the run, rather, they will force the Tigers to start running because of the overwhelming pressure that will be applied. Look for Oregon St. to jump out to a quick lead and be able to hold on for the rest of the game.

Oregon St. 38, Mizzouri 31

Liberty Bowl (12/29, 4:30, ESPN): South Carolina (-6) over Houston. Loyalty.

South Carolina 31, Houston 17

Champs Sports Bowl (12/29, 8:00, ESPN) Purdue (Pk) over Maryland. This will come down to who blinks first between the two defenses, because they are both downright awful. Purdue has an amazing pass offense and scores a ton of points. While the Boilermaker defense may suck at best, I still think their offense will give them just enough support to get by. Close game.

Purdue 27, Maryland 24

Insight Bowl (12/29, 8:00, NFL Network) Texas Tech (-7) over Minnesota. The NFL Network seemingly has no end to its rath. Oh well. The Red Raiders are going to get their points, there's no denying that. The matchup will come down to the Tech defense against the Gopher offense. If Texas Tech is able to maintain a even-kiel defense, they should be able to survive what looks like a potential shootout. Tech has the most explosive offense in the country, and while the Gophers have an adamant D, they simply do not have what it takes to stay in this game with Texas Tech.

Texas Tech 49, Minnesota 35

Well, that should give ya some reading material up until the 30th. Again, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Y'all come back real soon. Peace.

~Mell-o

Saturday, December 23, 2006

There's Something In The Air

“’Bout your love, that Will and Grace…”

Alright, NFL predictions. And not to toot my own horn too much, but last week went fairly well. So my hunch about Atlanta wasn’t too hot. I’m such a moron for not factoring in the fact that Dunn and Norwood were both inactive for that game. However, if you started Justin Griffith in your fantasy lineup, turns out you did ok, as he didn’t really do much on the ground, but made up for it with his two receptions, both of which went for touchdowns. So that was a mistake. Other than that, I was pleased at how things went. Here’s the rundown:

Week 15:
Straight Up: 10-5
ATS: 8-7

So I have to work on how I work with the spreads. You do have to give me credit for Tennessee. Hey, I’ll take wins however I can get ‘em. “And he could, eat, all, the, dots!” Go Pacman go. Alright, so on to this week. I’m expecting a pretty good week, but I won’t lie, there are some tough games out there. First, random observations:

Troy beat Rice…handily. This is a good thing. We’re now 3-0 in the bowl season. So, with 29 to go, I know that we have a ways to go…but I got a feelin’. I got a feelin’ baby! A lot of football tomorrow. I’ve said it once, I’m gonna say it even if they lose: Put the house on South Florida. I’m telling you, the day I trust Skip Holtz is the day Massachusetts gets a black…I mean a female…nevermind. Just trust me on this.

Tank Johnson needs court permission in order to leave the state of Illinois. And you thought homefield advantage was only for the fans. Chicago hasn’t had this big of a scandal since Jake and Elwood played the Country Pit and ticked off the Good Ol’ Boys. Again, my advice to you, is to start drinking…I mean, do not associate yourself with Tank Johnson, or any of his posse, hommies, or however the kids are calling associates of someone.

All quiet on the closer front. Hey, here’s a thought. You think they looked at the stats from last year, and perhaps said to themselves, “boy you know that guy we had last year was decent, why don’t we use him again?” I’m thinking there’s a real good chance. Also, does anyone realize that Papelbon is coming up on his arbitration year next year? In terms of money, guess who’s gonna get more money from an arbitrator if you have a starter and a reliever? I’m thinking probably a starter. Now, hopefully it doesn’t come to that, and they get a long, long-term deal done (I mean I’m thinking like six years, but you need to lock this guy up now and make sure he doesn’t hit free agency until he’s 30). Obviously the trade talks between the Sox and the Pirates for Mike Gonzalez have broken down, so where else can they turn? Expect an announcement in the coming weeks about this. Plus, look at the rotation right now sans Pap. Beck, Schill, Wake, Dice, Lester, and if Lester can’t go, I think you can plug Julian Tavarez in for the time being while Jon recuperates. By the way, Red Sox Nation is still together praying for Jon to make it to full recovery. Knock that cancer on its ass kid! Anyway, here is my ideal lineup for next year:

1. Lugo, SS
2. Youkilis, 1B
3. Ortiz, DH
4. Ramirez, LF
5. Varitek, C
6. Nixon, RF
7. Lowell, 3B
8. Pedroia, 2B
9. Crisp, CF

That’s right, no J.D. Drew…hey, it’s ideal baby! That’s how everyone wants it!

I was watching the Suns/Wizards game, and I gotta tell you, the Wiz have the ugliest uniforms I’ve seen in my lifetime. In fact, here comes a list: The top 10 ugliest pro uniforms in the last 25 years:

10. Nuggets uniform with the rainbow and city-scape. I mean I’m a big Alex English guy, but even I won’t buy that throwback…yikes. I mean I might do it for ‘Melo, but…you know you could have seen that coming.
9. Brewer uniform, the white one, just said “Brewers” on the front.
8. White Sox uni’s, both home and away, that just said “Sox” on the front
7. The Nets uniform that said Nets with the basketball, the white one, I actually kind of liked the blue one.
6. The Islanders orange jersey
5. Current Seahawk uniforms…teal and green? Get real.
4. Wizards alternate jerseys…yeah, that bad.
3. The Mighty Ducks and their purple and teal monstrosity.
2. Padres brown uniform
1. Buffalo Sabres new uniforms…look it up.

Now to be fair, since I have to say I’m kind of an expert in this field, here are my top 10 prettiest uniforms, and yes, you already know what’s #1:

10. Edmonton Oilers blue uniform from the Gretzky/Messier/Grant Fuhr days
9. Royals powder blue uniform
8. Old Sabres uniforms, with the crest of the buffalo and the sabers. Hey, it kind of makes sense when you break it down.
7. Quebec Nordiques blue uniform
6. Chicago Bears orange uniform, especially when it snows
5. 49er white uniforms from the Montana to Rice/Bill Walsh era, by the way, how is Bill Walsh? I know he had cancer, but is he ok? Someone please…inform.
4. Bullets red, white, and blue uniform
3. Oakland A’s yellow jersey
2. Hartford Whalers green jersey with the white W
1. San Diego Super Chargers powder blue uniform

One last thought. If you are playing fantasy basketball, you were most likely affected by events that have taken place in the last week. First, Chris Bosh gets a knee bruise and is out indefinitely, then there was the brawl, and then, Marcus Camby is out for two weeks. Paul Pierce is out for up to a month, and last, but certainly not least, Rashard Lewis, who was either #1 or #2 in most fantasy formats, is going to be sidelined for at least eight weeks. Unreal. Well, if you are keeping up with your team, make sure to always have your eye on the waiver wire. If someone happens to drop Lewis, pick him up like he’s still healthy. The impact he will provide when he returns will outweigh any other kind of stats that your worst player will put up in his absence.

Now, on to the picks:

Saturday: Oakland (+6.5) over Kansas City. So I’m thinking that the only way to survive in picking the NFL is backwards logic. The offense of the Raiders is absolutely pathetic, and the Chiefs feature a stud running back, my fantasy team’s own, Larry Johnson. Plus, they are giving six and a half on the road, meaning they are around a 10 point favorite at a neutral site, which is why I’m picking the Raiders. This is not a neutral site, and believe me, Raider fans have had this one circled on the calendar from the get-go. This is one of the most underrated rivalry, not only in the NFL, but in all of sports. I mean these teams hate each other. In their last contest at Arrowhead, the Raiders made a game of it in Trent Green’s return to the team, losing 17-13. I’m telling you, even though Art Shell coaches this team, they still have been in most of their games. The last three have been rough on them however, including last week, when they were blanked at home against the Rams. Still, this is a different game, and in their last home game, I see the Raiders pulling a shocker.

Raiders 21, Chiefs 17

Sunday:

1:00 Games: New England (+3) over Jacksonville. So I’m really turned off by this game. I have been thinking for two weeks about this one. Yes, I completely overlooked the Texans, and for excellent reason, because I’m not out there wearing pads. The Jags have a great run tandem, but could be a man down if they sideline Fred Taylor, who is listed as questionable with his hamstring injury he suffered last week against Tennessee. The Pats have an outside shot of getting Laurence Maroney back, who they have been missing dearly for the last few weeks (especially against Miami). I suspect that the Jags will come out and bring the house on the first drive, with the Jags crowd going ape for their team. However, this is Tom Brady. You can take away all his receivers, and conceivably Ben Watson for this week, but guess what, #12 is still under center, and until the day comes, God forbid, that he isn’t, I will never, ever pick against the Pats. Never! I don’t care if my head tells me I shouldn’t, my heart will always be true. Go Pats…go Pats go.

Patriots 20, Jags 14

Tennessee (+4.5) over Buffalo. Here’s the first instance where I will be picking different straight up and ATS. I feel Buffalo will pull it off, but watch for this game to be one of the ones that CBS will turn to if your game is over or it really sucks. I think the Bills will either have a four point lead with Vince Young attempting to drive them to a winning TD, or the game will be tied, and the Bills pull out the game on a last-second field goal. In any case, I see Buffalo pulling this one out by the skin of their teeth, making me choose the Titans ATS.

Bills 30, Titans 27

NY Giants (-3) over New Orleans. Can you believe I’m picking the Giants again? Here’s my logic…there’s got to be some kind of law of averages thing involved that will get the G-Men a win right? Anyway, Strahan is reportedly coming back this week, and that is huge for this team. He is their leader, and they’ve needed his pass rushing desperately. The Saints are coming off a tough loss to Washington at the Superdome. The Saints, other than that one little glitch, have been good against the NFC East, beating Philly at home by a field goal when they were huge underdogs, then, they dismantled Dallas on the road. All that being said…the Giants have to win one game. Come on! Win one for the Gipper!

Giants 38, Saints 28

Atlanta (-6.5) over Carolina. Ok, not only do I like it, I like it a lot. You know why? Jake Delhomme: doubtful. Oh baby. There go the flashing lights again. No need for any further breakdown, but in case you need more, Dunn and Norwood are both probable. Falcons already won their first matchup at Carolina. In my mind, it’s all over but the crying. Let the Carolina elimination party commence!

Falcons 27, Panthers 7

St. Louis (-2) over Washington. Ok, so I was wrong about the ‘Skins last week. They put it on the Saints early, and their defense was able to step it up against a prolific Saints offense. Here’s my feeling: There is no way that Washington can pull off beating an amazing offense on turf two weeks in a row on the road. Steven Jackson is like a combination of Deuce and Reggie Bush. This guy is dangerous, and is on pace for over 100 receptions. I previously had him ranked #3 overall as far as fantasy value goes, ahead of Shaun Alexander (by the way, if you have Alexander, and you are still alive in your fantasy playoffs, you get the gold star award for sure). Also, Marcus Washington is listed as questionable with a knee injury, so keep that on your radar, as he as been integral in replacing Lavar Arrington in the linebacking core.

Rams 28, Redskins 21

Indianapolis (-9) over Houston. I know these games are sometimes close, but I just don’t see it this year. Houston is in absolute disarray and they looked miserable against the Pats last week, and our offense isn’t all that great. Now they have to go up against Peyton Manning and the rest of that offense? I’m not seeing it. Houston is 1-4 ATS at home this year. Love the Colts here.

Colts 42, Texans 17

Pittsburgh (-3) over Baltimore. This was one of the toughest games I had to predict all season long. The old boss vs. the new boss. Playing at Heinz Field gives the Steelers a distinct advantage, as, like it or not, they have some rabid fans in the steel city. This game will hinge on the health of Raven LT Jonathan Ogden, who had to leave last week’s game against the Browns with a toe injury. He is listed as questionable, but there have been no reports saying whether or not he will play. This is a huge game-changer, literally and figuratively. Ogden has been consistently one of the best left tackles in the league, ranking right up there with Walter Jones and Orlando Pace. With Ogden out of the lineup, J-Lew will have a real tough time moving the ball on Pittsburgh’s front seven. Also, if Polamalu can return, the Ravens offense will have little hope of getting anything going, considering Derrick Mason is also listed as questionable. Just a lot of questions. But here’s a good stat to know. Steelers are 5-2 at home ATS, while the Ravens are 3-4 ATS on the road.

Steelers 24, Ravens 17

Cleveland (-3) over Tampa Bay. Ok, I’ll believe this when I see it, but if Tampa can go up north in back to back weeks and play as well as they played against the Bears last week, they will be an impressive three-win team. The Browns have literally half their roster listed as questionable. To me, I think Romeo is pulling a Bill move by listing all these guys as questionable in hopes that the Bucs will not gameplan for those players. The one known factor is that Charlie Frye is out, Derek Anderson is in. I was impressed by the way he played against the Ravens on the road last week. He showed tremendous poise in the pocket against the fast and furious Baltimore blitz. I like Anderson so long as he doesn’t pass in Ronde Barber’s direction.

Browns 17, Bucs 7

Chicago (-4.5) over Detroit. So the reason that the Bears are giving such few points in this game is because everything for them is already locked up. Division, home field throughout, it’s all done. The Lions are a terrible team, just awful, but here’s the reason I love the Bears in this game. The Lions own fans are going in Bears colors and paraphernalia, rooting for the Bears as part of their “Millen Man March” in hopes that the Detroit front office comes to gripes with the fact that the guy they hired to be their GM sucks. When I say he sucks, that is giving Matt Millen like a slap on the wrist. There are plenty of other words to throw in there, but to make it a PG article, “sucks” is pretty good to describe Millen. Three receivers in the first round three straight years? Alrighty.

Bears 48, Lions 10

4:00 Games: San Francisco (-4) over Arizona. I’m going to continue to ride this Frank Gore wave as far as it will take me. Also, the return of Vernon Davis spells instant offense for the Niners. Here’s what’s weird about this game. These are the two worst teams, statistically, as far as defense goes, in the NFL, which means that it will either be very low scoring or very high scoring. For some reason, I’m thinking a little on the low side in this game. Even with Arizona having their dynamic WR duo, I still believe there will not be a lot of points put up.

49ers 20, Cardinals 10

Denver (-3) over Cincinnati. Without even getting into the whole Mile High environment, let’s talk turkey. Carson Palmer is going to be at around 75% health I would guess. Then, you factor in Denver’s defense, which again is going unnoticed because of the Jake Plummer/Jay Cutler fiasco, and this team has a real good shot at shutting down this offense. One of the great matchups that will take place this year will be the one pitting Chad Johnson against Champ Bailey. I mean it doesn’t get much better than that. Of course my man-crush with Champ is going to show here, but the guy is the best corner in the NFL, period. It’s not even a discussion anymore. And to discuss amongst yourselves, I will submit the top 10 corners in the league. These are not just shut-down corners, they can be coverage guys as well:

1. Champ Bailey, Broncos
2. Mike McKenzie, Saints
3. Antoine Winfield, Vikings
4. Deangelo Hall, Falcons
5. Chris Gamble, Panthers
6. Rasheen Mathis, Jaguars
7. Charles Woodson, Packers
8. Asante Samuel, Patriots
9. Quentin Jammer, Chargers
10. Chris McAlister, Ravens

Anyway, Denver seemed to have a good offensive rhythm last week against the Cardinals. Cutler seemed to be more composed than he was in his previous two games. I think that the line should hold up enough not only for Cutler, but also for the Bell brothers, who will help get first downs and create a large disparity in time of possession.

Broncos 27, Bengals 20

San Diego (-4) over Seattle. This is another game that I wrestled with, and knowing that there is a distinct chance the Seahawks will come with a vengeance after a 10-day layoff, I still have to go with the Chargers. As long as that #21 they have is in the backfield, I don't see any way you can pick against them. This one will depend on weather big time, so I am submitting two scores here. Hey, I figure this is fair. I have the Chargers winning both by the same margin, so who cares? By the way, just like I said about the Bears game last week, this one has "trap game" written all over it, but the Chargers have just been incredible this year. Again, I will not be shocked if this one goes against me. One last note, Seattle is 5-8 ATS this year.

Nice (sunny/partly cloudy): Chargers 35, Seahawks 28
Not so nice (rain/snow/other not so nice variables): Chargers 17, Seahawks 10

Monday:

Dallas (-7) over Philadelphia. Oh I'm picking against them again. I know, almost suicidal right now, but this is the biggest momentum collision course of the year right here. Romo and Big D going up against Jeff Garcia and the resurgent Eagles. You think when NBC heard that McNabb went down, "oh s***" was audibly noted? Now, NBC again backs their way into another good game. Honestly, can you remember any prime time network, be it ABC, NBC, or ESPN getting so many good games in one year. If you get a chance, review the games that have been played on NBC this year. It's quite a list. Anyway, here's why I'm sticking with the 'Boys in this one: Dallas run game vs. Philly's run D. Philly has been questionable at best when it comes to stopping the run this year, giving up an average of 138.6 yards per game on the ground, good for 28th in the league. Dallas features a pretty good combination at running back with Julius Jones and Marion Barber III. If Philly is somehow able to contain these two, then they have a real shot, but odds are, they won't be able to get it done. Then, you go to the outside with the receivers. As much as I like Lito, he is no match for T.O. Then, Sheldon Brown (you know where he's from) battling Terry Glenn is another mismatch. As much as I love Sheldon, Glenn's speed makes this a big mismatch for the Eagles. Their two safeties, Dawkins and Lewis, which is by far the best safety duo in the league, will be called upon non-stop to try and help the corners. This is why I think Jason Witten is going to have an outstanding game. Witten will be matched up a majority of the time with a linebacker, whether it be Dhani Jones or Omar Gaither, and this will create yet another problem for the defense. I just think that the Eagles, as of right now, do not have the defense capable of slowing down Romo and company. Garcia will also have to face DeMarcus Ware. Bare in mind that, besides Julius Peppers, this guy has not faced a premiere pass-rusher so far this year. Expect Ware to be all over Garcia, as he will clearly be able to get around the most overrated tackle in the game, Jon Runyan.

Cowboys 35, Eagles 17

Miami (-2.5) over NY Jets. Yes, I'm fully aware of the recent history between these two teams. The Jets have dominated this series for what seems like a hundred years. I think the last time I actually remember the Dolphins winning was the "fake spike" game at the Meadowlands many years ago. Here's my thing: the Dolphins love playing at home, and they hate playing on the road. 5-3 at home, 2-5 on the road. Also, this is the reverse deal from what it used to be. Apparently, the scheduling committee thought it would be nice to shake up when these two teams play down in Miami, from September to December. Believe me, that's not always a good thing. The Pats started doing this a couple of years ago. Two years ago, they beat us using the distracting orange uniforms in our second 14-2 Super Bowl season (by the way, all three commemorative Super Bowl DVD's are available at Patriots.com...once again that's all three Super Bowl DVD's, highlighting the greatest dynasty of this century, and I believe you get a discount if you buy in bulk). Then they beat us 21-0 this year. Also, the 'Fins beat the Jets in a December game at home last year 24-20. I just have a feeling the trend will continue. I want to go to Miami in September damn it!

Dolphins 23, Jets 16

Alright people, that's all for this week in the NFL. Next week is the last week of the regular season, then it's playoff (Tom Brady) time. So I'm hoping I could be of some assistance for you. Until the next time, good night and good luck. Peace.

~Mell-o

I'm A Travelin' Man

“Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about…”

So I’m back in good old sunny Massachusetts, and I am offering you up some ramblings. The NFL and college previews will be done on Friday and Saturday respectably. I know you guys are on pins and needles waiting for it. Not to worry, Mell-o hears ya. Anyway, here’s a random thought about air travel: The Sky Magazine. Have you ever seen a more random array of product selection in one catalog? It’s insane. On one page, you can buy a watch, on another, a floor steamer, and the next, a marshmallow shooter. I’m serious, that was pages 24, 25 and 26. So what to make of all of this? I present to you my top 10 of the most clever and most stupid ideas found in the Sky Mall Magazine. Again, all these items are real…at least they are pictured and have names, so I guess they are real. Anyway, here goes, these are in no particular order:

Clever:

1. The Upside-Down Tomato Garden, $70, Hammacher-Schlemmer. The boys at Hammacher have numerous entries in this list, so they will hereby be abbreviated H/S. Here’s the concept: It’s a stand made with a plastic base that is to be filled with something to keep it stable, preferably sand, and held together with PVC pipes. The reason this is useful is that the tomatoes hang in the air and not on the ground, where there is more likely a chance that the roots will rot. Also, the top layer can hold up to 8- lbs. of soil, meaning that, besides tomatoes, you could plant other herbs, which could be used to make a tomato sauce or whatever you want.

2. The LP-to-CD Recorder Stereo System, $400, H/S. Here’s the answer for anyone who has a massive record collection and wants to preserve it onto CDs without having to buy all the albums. The recorder supports every kind of vinyl, and has a CD playback function.

3. The Heated Vest, $130, H/S. This runs on batteries and can produce heat for up to four consecutive hours. The batteries are rechargeable and “unobtrusive,” so it won’t get into the way if you’re a biathlete trying to take out some targets with your sniper rifle. The whole biathlon thing is a whole different issue for a different column. It’s an old Seinfeld bit, but you can’t help but wonder how cross-country skiing and shooting targets ever got mixed into the same category of competition.

4. The Waterproof Picture-Taking Binoculars With LCD Screen, $80, H/S. Does anyone notice every item these guys make starts with “the?” I’m almost expecting to turn the page and see “The Contest” and “The Jimmy” or something. Anyway, this item is great for any underwater enthusiast looking to capture some amazing aquatic moments. The binoculars can store up to 40 pictures in its internal memory, and, it can capture up to 90 seconds of viewing with its camcorder function. The LCD screen allows you to view your pictures. There is also a slideshow feature, which allows you to view pictures that can be taken of something from as far away as 50 feet.

5. Secret Security Camcorder Hidden In A Clock, $180, Sharper Image. This is pretty good, almost in a “Scarface” motif of sorts. The clock features a camera that is no bigger than the butt of a pen. The camera turns on when there is any motion and automatically shuts off when the motion stops. To view the video, there is an included USB cable, so you can stream the video on a compatible PC. I’m not sure what kind of range this covers, but I can almost see someone getting one for each room, then you have to believe the robbers will know something is up when there is the same digital clock hanging on the wall of every room.

6. Phillips 9-Inch Rechargable Digital Photo Frame, $250, Sharper Image. Also included are four colors for the frame: white, red, silver, and black. This comes with an AC adapter and runs for 50 minutes on a lithium-ion battery. This also allows for slideshow viewing and has a zoom function. This is perfect for someone who has no stability in their lives. Just keep changing in and out with no cost to you.

7. Alcohawk ABI Blood Alcohol Content Breath Screener, $120, Sharper Image. Ok, now I’m wondering if there are gift certificates available to Sharper Image, because I’m thinking that if you’re thinking of any kind of graduation present for me, that would be a lock. Anyway, who among us has not thought about having one of these? This isn’t even that cleaver of an idea. I mean it’s been around for a good, long time. But, still, you can never underestimate an alcoholic’s dream of seeing how far they can raise the bar. $120 is still a little pricey for me though. I think I’m waiting on the Wal-Mart/Target version to fit my budget.

8. Stereo/Clock/Speaker Tower With An IPod Dock, $130-$500, Sharper Image. Anytime you combine anything with the word “IPod,” it’s basically dynamite right off the bat. This is no different. The speaker system is my personal favorite. It runs you $200, but the thing looks so good it could conceivably be worth it. Imagine something 42” tall, but is probably, I don’t know, maybe 6” wide. It’s pretty sleek looking.

9. Massaging Bed Lounger, $149, Frontgate. This has the look of one of those cushions that have arms on their sides. The lounger is made from memory foam, which is the new “thing” I guess. Here’s a random thought, speaking of memory foam. Anyone remember when Temperpudic came out with the memory foam mattress. You know, that commercial with the glass of wine, and the girl jumps up and down and it’s like, “hey, look, in case I ever have a full glass of wine on the bed, and I’m attempting a Triple Lindy from off the bed, the wine won’t spill…hooray!” Anyway, at the end of the commercial, they would always say something about how this is from “NASA technologies.” Ok…so apparently that’s where the money is going. Not for determining if there’s life on Mars, or different satellite missions, no, we’re concentrating on mattresses. And there seemingly hasn’t been any outrage, because we’re all drowsy alcoholics.

10. DigiMemo $150, Sky Mall Collection. Now this is just cool. Basically, you are given a 8.5 by 11” clipboard. You affix a regular piece of paper to it. Then, you use the wireless pen that they provide you. When you are ready, you attach a USB cable that connects from the clipboard to your computer, and “bam!,” the notes get sent to your computer. This is a great invention. For some reason, I almost believe that this could be in the whole “flying cars and moving sidewalks” movement. Handwritten notes on a computer, quite the concept. The only downside to this is that you have to use the pen they give you, so if the ink runs out, the pen sucks, or if you’re a pencil kind of guy, like myself, then you’re screwed. Hopefully if this will ever be made affordable, there will be some kind of trial offer.

Honorable Mentions: Portable Ice Rink, Marshmallow Shooter, Customizable Putting Green.

Stupid:

1. Icuiti Video Eyewear, $270, Sky Mall Collection. This is actually deemed as a “featured pick for 2006.” Yikes. I think Sky Mall may be over-hyping this one. Basically, this set of eyeglasses allows you to view a wider scope than what your normal vision allows. Ok, maybe Arnold when he’s in the jungle in “Predator” needs these, or Han Solo shooting TIE fighters, but for recreational use? I don’t think so. It’s enough when you’re watching like an IMAX movie or something to that effect, but when you add on to it, it’s going to be an overload.

2. The Pet Staircase, $80-$150, H/S. This has always been one of my “look what we’ve become” products. This needs no explanation. Everyone knows how it works. The only thing I’m going to point out is now it comes in three, four, five, and six steps. Six steps? Unless you have like an eight foot disparity between the floor and the bed, what’s the point?

3. Closet Organizer Trouser Rack, $40-$60. Ok, now this is a good concept on paper. It’s like, “well, we want to create some kind of organization method for pants, like we have with racks or hooks.” Here’s the thing, this looks ridiculous. I don’t care how functional it is. When you see this thing, you’ll know where I’m coming from. It comes in 10 or 20 slots. Who has 20 pairs of pants? Let me tell you something. If someone has twenty pairs of pants, they have butlers and maids to take care of this. They’re not relying on any sort of closet organizer.

4. The High-Capacity Portable Teeth Cleaner, $50, H/S. I mean I hate to crash this party, but I believe this has already been invented, and is known in the common world by the name “toothbrush.” Seriously, 50 dollars? I’m thinking you can probably get the same sensation by brushing with Crest and swishing with some Scope. Combined price: $3.00. Oh I do my market research.

5. The Fish Finder Watch, $140, H/S. This is the lowest of lows. Nothing screams “I have no clue” like wearing a watch to try and find fish. Anyone who buys this was repeatedly beaten up when they were a kid. Speaking of which, I’m intrigued by that new video game “Bully.” I think that’s a great concept for a game. Anyway, the beatings will continue if the buyer has any friends left.

6. Ok, I’m looking right now, and there are about 5 pet-related things available. I’m just going to generalize them all right now. They’re all stupid, all of them. Maybe it’s because I’m not a pet person and I don’t get it. Maybe, but still, I cannot see any person in their right minds (notice I threw that clause in there) buying any of these. A large capacity feline drinking fountain? For $70? These are the same people being proud that they were named Time’s Person Of The Year…by the way, big up to Time, who realized that 2006 was such a lackluster year for anything positive that they decided to create some delusional tactic of naming everyone person of the year for making the internet huge. Wasn’t the internet already huge to begin with? Just because people are getting ripped off on EBay for a Playstation 3, or because high-speed internet is now available to more porn freaks, this gives some justification for naming us person of the year? You know when the President isn’t even on the ballot, that these are trying times to be an American. Honestly, I think the chick who created Harry Potter should be the default person of the year until someone does something extraordinary to knock her off. Think about it. This book is about kids, and magic, and old people, and other stuff because I’ve never read the books. Anyway, people line up to get these books, and that’s what, like $15 a crack? Then, three box office smashes are released. I mean this lady’s got to be worth more than Oprah now right? And all of that money from such a stupid concept. She’s like the female George Lucas.

7. The Color Pattern Clock, $60, H/S. Seriously, Hammacher Schlemmer covers the entire spectrum in the cleaver-stupid range. This one, however, really pushes the limit of suckiness. This is like Morse code for clocks. Unless you understand what the different nautical flags represent, you will have no idea on what time it is. The clock basically sets up so that each number is represented by a different pattern. I mean you could give me this thing to try and figure out for three months, I would have no clue. This has to be the worst right? I mean, granted, I stopped reading the Sky Mall after 100 pages because there’s only so much I can take, but this, to me, is the come all, be all of the worst catalog-available product ever.

8. SeaScooter XL, $200, Sharper Image. The official height of laziness is when you need a motorized contraption to get around in the water in. I admit, if I tried it once, I’d probably have a good time. However, I can see this catching on, and then it will become something I can’t stand. Therefore, I deem this stupid based on potential fad status, and for establishing a new standard for an already overweight country.

9. Ston-O-Max, $100, Gadget Universe. You’ve seen this, especially if you watch Spanish soap operas. By the way, if you think that’s weird, you’ve obviously never watched them, or you would know exactly what I was talking about. I mean I’m sure all the premises are insane like the ones in the states, but I don’t understand it, and therefore, I only have to look at the girls, so it’s nice…it’s nice.. For a visual interpretation, it’s the thing you strap to your abs, and it vibrates, and then you are suddenly suppose to get a six-pack like the “mimbo” that’s in the ad. So now, fat people will sit around, watch TV all day, and have this thing vibrating against their abs, until the thing starts smoking, explodes, and you’re left with a hernia. Exercise people. That’s how you lose weight. Eat right and exercise. It’s not hard. Are you saying I could make millions of dollars by telling people this? I could have been millionaire. I could have been an exercise millionaire!

10. The Buckner Play…Framed…And Signed!, $99, $199, Steiner Sports. So the great thing about this idiotic memoir is that it’s signed by Buckner and Mookie. And I love the quote above it to entice people: “Back by popular demand!” How 'bout "Go f*** yourselves!", how ya like that little quote? I’m really starting to not like the Mets because of this. Before, I didn’t really have any problem. Ok, so one time, we got screwed at the behest of the Mets, but hey, they play in the NL, and they hate the Yankees, so what’s the problem? Well now the problem is that there’s a demand for this stupid picture. Oh by the way, it’s available in 8x10 and 16x20, so delusional Mets fans can decide how much space of their parent’s basement it takes up. Did I mention that there’s a ball that’s also available with both signatures. How much money are they paying Buckner to, not only have done it once, but to do a second session of signings? I’m really starting to dislike the Mets, and I hate the Drake!

Ok so that was fun…long, but fun. So, there’s even more things to get into. This is gonna cover miscellaneous issues in sports. Get ready…

Ok, I'm going to comment again on what happened at Madison Square Garden and the whole 'Melo incident. Despite the fact that we share the same name, granted there is an extra “l” and a hyphen in mine, I did not approve of the way ‘Melo went about his business. First of all, I applaud his initial efforts to get in the face of Mardy Collins and say that was a bush-league play, because it was. At no point, during any point of any NBA game, should a player try and foul a guy by attempting a chokehold. Then, here’s where I have a difference of opinion. First, the sucker punch. Ok, not the smartest move, but if you’re Collins, you have to expecting some kind of backlash and perhaps a fight to ensue. But the worst thing was when ‘Melo staggered back to the bench. If you punch a guy, you have to stand your ground. Going back to your bench to get behind the rest of the team is not the sign of a leader. A leader punches a guy, then expects the rest of his team to have his back, no matter what the circumstances. I will continue to support my man, I will continue to call myself Mell-o, I will continue to wear the #15, but as far as this incident is concerned, remember that my name’s spelled different, and therefore, I am not that kind of guy.

Speaking of which, the Nuggets threw the switch on the A.I. trade just a few days after the suspensions were handed down. So now the Nuggets will not lose as much as far as points. They gain a guy who is a leader, which they were obviously lacking before. This guy is a former MVP who is a game-changer. Unfortunately, they just lost Camby for two weeks, which is really going to set this team back. Fortunately, they did not have to get rid of any of the size from the team in the trade with the Sixers, so they will still have their reserves, coupled with J.R. Smith, who is currently appealing his ten-game suspension, and Iverson. The Nugs still have Nene to play center, and will somehow have to survive right now in the tough Western Conference until they come back to full strength. I happen to love the trade for the Nuggets. Andre Miller is a hell of a player. The guy is pretty much good for about 8-9 assists a game per year, but he is not the presence that the Nugs were lacking. With Iverson in the fold, they now get a lot of respect as far as being a team with a lot of weapons. J.R. Smith is still developing, but with the core of ‘Melo, Camby, and A.I., there is no reason to think that Denver can at least hang with a San Antonio or a Dallas. As far as Phoenix goes, no one can hang with them.

The J.D. Drew deal is still not done, and if you’re the Red Sox right now, you have got to take advantage and get out of this deal. With the excuse of a failed physical, they have all the leverage right now. If they do sign him, they should be able to knock the amount of guaranteed money down significantly, like $4-5 million a year. Considering the offseason that has been going on in baseball, $9 million for Drew would be considered a bargain. And, if they can somehow get out of a deal with Drew, they should make every effort necessary to get Trot back. Right now, no one, I mean no one, is even touching this guy. Here’s the thing, everyone knows about his history of missing games and all that, but this guy is a born and bred Boston guy. He plays that corner as well as anyone I’ve ever seen, perhaps only Dewey Evans played it better. Still, if you can get Nixon at, say, $7 million for just this year, it would be a fantastic move. All they need is a fix for one year. Ellsbury and Murphy are coming along at a rapid pace, especially Ellsbury. If they can get through this year, and maybe make the playoffs, then that would be a huge success. Then, in next year’s offseason, you’re most likely going to be seeing Torii Hunter, Ichiro, and Andruw Jones available. Jones will be the biggest target by the Red Sox, and they will do anything possible to dump Coco Crisp. Then, you can throw Murphy or Ellsbury over in right field. Also, this year, they should give one of the two some chances out in right this year to make sure they can get comfortable with the corner and the other messed-up dimensions in right.

The Celts are going through a real tough time right now. True, they had a five-game winning streak before it was snapped by Golden State on Wednesday, but in that time, they’ve lost Wally for an undetermined amount of time and Pierce for two to three weeks. So right now, they have three of their starting five from the season opener on the injured list. You know what this means? Hello Gerald Green! This guy is going to see a big bump in the amount of minutes he will play. This could be a litmus scale into determining if this guy is for real or if they should sell high on his tremendous upside. Remember…Joe Johnson or Marcus Banks? You never can tell. I am ecstatic about the play of Tony Allen and Al Jefferson over the past couple of games. Allen has really stepped up and is playing a wonderful two-guard. He is surprisingly physical, which was noticeable at the game I attended in Charlotte last Saturday. And of course, you can never sleep on Big Al, who has been attempting to break through for the last two years, but has been saddled with injuries and other setbacks. Now, it seems that Al is stepping up his game. He looks great, like he lost about 20 pounds. He’s really buff now. He’s been averaging nearly a double-double a night since being re-instated into the starting lineup. I have always been a big Big Al fan, and I’m just praying that he can contain some of this magic for the duration of the season, because with the lackluster play of now-injured Kendrick Perkins, this guy is going to have to become the rock in the middle.

I’m going to try and get my NFL picks in by Saturday’s KC-Oakland throwdown in the Coliseum. Meanwhile, again, my best wishes goes to everyone over the holidays. Take care now.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Bowl Preview Part I

"And I think I think too much..."

Alright, one of the best times of the year is upon us. It's bowl season, and this year, there are thirty two of them, all of which I will eventually be previewing. When the bowls started growing at an exponential rate a few years ago, I initially didn't like that idea. I thought it kind of dilluted the meaningfulness of the college regular season. All a team has to do is finish a game or more above .500 in a major conference, and they almost automatically get a bowl bid. But now that I look at it, there will be football on basically every day from now until January 8th. That's two straight weeks, including multiple games towards the end of this year and beginning of the next year. So if you think about it like this, it's fantastic. Always something to look forward to. For instance, take the first game, the San Diego Union County Credit Union Poinsetta Bowl should be an interesting matchup, featuring TCU and Northern Illinois. Ok, so the names are ridiculous, I totally agree with you. However, I believe I have a solution to all of this. Each bowl can only have a maximum of two words before "bowl," like Las Vegas Bowl and Motor City Bowl are ok, but Pioneer Pure Vision Las Vegas and Bell Helicopter Armed Forces. If a company wishes to sponsor the bowl, they absolutely can, but the bowl will be pronounced as the something-something bowl, presented by someone. I don't know, I think if the names weren't so obnoxious, people wouldn't be all up in arms all the time about so many bowl games.

But before I get into the bowl breakdowns, a few thoughts on some of this past week's events:

'Melo went bezerk on Saturday, started shoving people, then eventually landed a punch on Mardy Collins. Being that he is my namesake, I have to say that I don't approve of what Anthony did. First of all, I understand the initial shoving involved, because Collins' foul was horrendous. There is no need to make that hard of a foul when you're down by 19 with a minute and a half left. However, when he sucker-punched Collins, I found it to be very cowardly of Anthony, which is extremely unusual considering his usual laid back attitude. The way he "hit and ran" on that play was a very immasculine move. It's a very unfortunate situation, and it's been reported that Anthony could receive anywhere from an 8 to 10 game suspension. This is a fantasy basketball disaster for me, and kind of a dark day for the 'Melo fellowship.

***UPDATE: 'Melo has been suspended 15 games...more ouch.

If you or anyone you know has any association with Chicago DE Tank Johnson, may I suggest you take a leave of absence from any occupation you may have and leave wherever you're at right now for a couple of months. Just two days after having his house raided, with the authorities finding six unregistered guns in Johnson's possession, his bodyguard was shot to death outside a Chicago-area night club. Oh by the way, his bodyguard was charged with "cannabis" possession at the same time Johnson's home was searched. Does anyone really still call it cannabis? Seriously, unless you're referring to the rapper, or as a question to ask someone if you're in the mood to bust something, I think weed or marijuana is probably an accepted term. Also, what does Tank Johnson need a bodyguard for? The guy has been clocked at 6'3, 300 pounds. Seriously, unless he's involved with something real illegal, which is a very real possibility, this guy did not need a bodyguard when he went out, so something is definitely up there.

Ok, bowl predictions. As I do for the NFL, I will show the spread and predict the games accordingly, but I will also say who I think will win straight up. I admit, this is gonna be tough, considering I haven't seen many of these teams in action. I'll do the best I can though, and hopefully pull a winning record. Seriously, I don't have very high expectations. So, here we go, Part I, which will cover the games through Christmas Eve...

Poinsetta Bowl (12/18, 8:00, Deuce): TCU (-11.5) over Northern Illinois. One of the few players you're going to recognize in this game will be Garrett Wolfe, the stud running back of Northern Illinois. Wolfe was a preseason Heisman candidate, and finished the year with 1,900 yards rushing. However, Wolfe and the rest of the NIU offense will have their hands full against the Horned Frogs' D, which was ranked 9th in total defense, 8th in rushing defense, and 6th in points allowed. The Huskies will try to get a passing game established to take pressure off of Wolfe, so look for newly-appointed starting QB Dan Nicholson to try and spread out the Frogs so Wolfe can get running lanes establisehed. Unfortunately, I can't see this happening for the Huskies because TCU is on a tear, winning its last 5 and going 6-1 ATS in their last seven. Also, surprisingly, TCU has a more potent rushing offense than Northern Illinois (194.3 to 180.2), and with the Huskies giving up 357 yards, I think TCU will be able to come away with this one. However, I do think it will be low scoring, which means that TCU will have a tough time covering, but I still see them winning by around two to three TDs.

TCU 27, Northern Illinois 10

Las Vegas Bowl (12/21, 8:00, ESPN): BYU (-3) over Oregon. This is going to be high scoring from all indications. BYU has long been known for its pass offense (Young, McMahon, Detmer), and this year is no exception, ranking 4th in the country. The Ducks counter with a above-average pass D (30th in the country). However, when BYU has the ball, they should try and run on the Ducks, even though they were ranked 119th in rush offense. Oregon is woeful against the run, giving up 146.6 yards a game, good for 138th in the country. If BYU can have even a moderate running game, it should loosen up Oregon's secondary. When Oregon has the ball, they are extremely dangerous. The Ducks bring a very balanced attack into this game, with the 29th best run offense and 34th in pass offense, which totals to the 10th best offense in the land, and with BYU's 99th best defense, including a feeble pass defense, ranking 170th, Oregon will get its fair share of points. The reason I like BYU is that they play well in shootouts, being as that is the style of play in the Mountain West Conference. Couple that with the Ducks three-game skid, and I like the Cougars. Again, a lot of points.

BYU 48, Oregon 38

New Orleans Bowl (12/22, 8:00, Deuce): Troy (+4.5) over Rice. Now if anyone knows anything about either of these teams, they have far too much time on their hands. I've done a little research though, so I'm going to try and help you guys out as far as trends and what to watch for. Rice's defense is dreadful. Take a look: Rice has the 230th ranked defense, 222nd against the run, 202nd against the pass. They allow 32.6 points a gamea (224th) and give up 417.7 total yards. They have been able to get by with their offense, whose 27.8 points per game lands them 58th in the nation. They have won their last five heading into this one, all of which they won ATS as well. However, when you look over their last 25, Rice is 8-17 over their last 25 contests, so this seems to be a bit of a resurgence for Rice, who plays in C-USA. They have knocked off Tulsa and East Carolina, both of whom play in the conference and are bowl bound, so they do have some credentials in this matchup. Troy plays out of the Sun Belt Conference. They are 6-1 in their last seven while going 4-1 ATS in their last five. A big win for the Trojans came against Middle Tennessee St. two games ago, knocking the eventual conference winners off on the road 21-20. I believe Troy will provide their fair share of offense, and will be able to slow down the Owls enough to beat them straight up.

Troy 28, Rice 21

PapaJohns.Com Bowl (12/23, 1:00, Deuce): South Florida (-4.5) over East Carolina. I got two words for you. Skip Holtz. With Holtz coaching the Pirates, this was a fairly easy decision for me. For a more statistical approach, consider the following: The Pirates have a good pass offense, with 230.1 yards a game, but, the Bulls counter with a defense surrendering only 176.6 pass yards a game, 73rd in the land. The Bulls, overall, have a very good defense, while the Pirates, not surprisingly, do not. Come on people, just because it's a different team, did you honjestly expect Skip Holtz to change? Not a chance. South Florida...big time.

South Florida 38, East Carolina 14

New Mexico Bowl (12/23, 4:30, ESPN): San Jose St. (+3.5) over New Mexico. Ok, I know what you're thinking. New Mexico, New Mexico bowl, slam dunk right? Not so fast (damn it I did a Corso line, I promised I would only do that when I was drunk). The Spartans played BCS-bound Boise St. and only lost by a field goal. This fact alone is good enough for me to pick San Jose St. New Mexico finished with a 6-6 record, but is 4-2 in their last six and 5-1 ATS. San Jose St. has a good enough defense and good enough offense to bring a good fight to the Lobos. The Spartans have won four of their last five, with their one loss coming on the road at the hands of Hawaii, the proverbial black hole for visiting teams. Also, I recall Boise St. losing on their home blue turf to BC last year, so I really don't see anyway you can justify the Lobos having any kind of advantage.

San Jose St. 23, New Mexico 16

Armed Forces Bowl (12/23, 8:00, ESPN): Utah (-1.5) over Tulsa. All the key stats indicate Tulsa has the upper hand in this one, but you have to recognize how well a team is playing when they make their way into a bowl game. Tulsa had lost three games in a row before knocking off Tulane in their final game. Utah has won three of their last four, with their loss being a two-pointer against BYU. The win streak includes a win at Air Force, which has always been a tough place to play. Expect Utah's balanced attack on offense to be too much for the Golden Hurricanes to handle. This will be a close game, but I like the Utes.

Utah 35, Tulsa 31

Hawaii Bowl (12/24, 8:00, ESPN): Hawaii (-7) over Arizona St. Ok, remember what I said about the whole home field advantage thing in regards to New Mexico. Well, this is completely different. Hawaii is in their own element when they play at home. True, their last game was a loss to Oregon St. at home, who is also a Pac-10 member along with the Sun Devils. Here's the thing about that game against the Beavers: Hawaii had a -2 turnover margin. The Rainbows will be looking to air it out against ASU, and look for them to have a lot of success right off the bat, putting the Devils away quickly.

Hawaii 49, Arizona St. 38

Stay tuned for the next installment. Also, I will try and get the NFL predictions up before the holidays. So, to you and yours, happy holidays. I'm telling everyone one key word...relax. Let the weight off of your shoulders and forget about everything. The Christmas Eve matchup between the Pats and the Jags should be a doosy. Take care now. Peace.

~Mell-o