Friday, September 19, 2008

Week 3 Predictions

"It was just another night
With a sunset
And a moonrise not so far behind
To give us just enough light."

So it's been awhile on this, and while I'm not expecting anyone to give me a grace period or anything, but hold a little back if you could when Monday QB'ing me. In any event, I think I'll be following my format from last year, picking 10 in college and all the pro games. I did fairly well last year, so I'm hoping to that was a lame thing to say. So, enough with the cliches already...


Florida vs. Tennessee:
Might as well start off big. Two big-time SEC East schools meet in Knoxville on Saturday. While I think that the Vols have definite potential to make an upset happen at home, I really don't think they can stop the Gators' offense, which put up 554 yards of total offense in their 59-20 drubbing of UF last year in Gainesville. Included in those yards was 255 yards of rushing, something that Tennessee can still do nothing to stop. It will be closer than last year, but I'll still go with the Gators here. And did I mention UT has a freshman starting at QB? Florida (W, -7.5)

LSU vs. Auburn: And continue even bigger! These two Tiger ballclubs both landed in the top 10 and don't look as though either will look back anytime soon. Auburn has won both matchups ATS in the last two years, including a win at home, 7-3, two years ago (by the way, take the under (36.5)...I'm begging you). Originally, I was thinking LSU here, but its real, real tough to win on the road in the SEC, and LSU basically had all the components of their national championship team two years ago, and lost at Auburn. So, upon further review...Auburn (W, +2.5)

Wake Forest vs. Florida St.:
I really feel like this is the game when the 'Noles take back control of the ACC. It was two years ago when the Deacons shocked FSU at Doak Campbell, shutting them out 30-0. Wake was one of the preseason picks to win the ACC, but this is a topsy-turby conference...Duke is 2-1 for crying out loud. Florida St. (W, -4.5)

Utah vs. Air Force: This one caught my eye because I'm feeling like this could be one of those inevitable mid-major meltdowns. Face it, only two small schools in the BCS era have ran the tables, so it's incredibly difficult for these small schools to survive these "landmine" games...actually, it's hard for the big schools to do it too (it took a Mike Davis fumble on the goal line for Georgia to sneak out of Columbia last week...sorry to bring that up). Air Force (W, +8.5)

Miami vs. Texas A&M: I know Miami is continuing to improve, and they're actually favored on the road this week. Still, I don't really think they are ready for a Big 12 team on the road just yet. Last year, they went to Nebraska and got demolished by the Huskers. I'm not feeling blowout, but still, College Station will be rocking as it always is. Texas A&M (W, +3)

East Carolina vs. North Carolina St.: In going back to the Utah game for a quick second, this one has "landmine" potential, but here's the thing: ECU had a huge scare against Tulane last week, which makes me believe that this will be a bounce back game for them. NC State has a -14 scoring differential...they barely got by William & Mary...just leave it at that. East Carolina (W, -7)

...sorry guys, that was all I had time for...


Miami vs. New England:
Why is Joey Porter running his mouth? Miami has won one game in nearly two years now. All aboard the Randy Moss freight train. New England (W, -14)

Kansas City vs. Atlanta: KC has just a dreadful team this year. Is their QB of any relation to Bobby Thigpen? Someone should probably look into that. In the meantime
, Matty Light gets his third NFL start, and should have a pretty good outing against a weak Chiefs' defense. Look for the Burner to break off a 100-yard game at least. Atlanta (W, -7)

Oakland vs. Buffalo: I'm loving what the Bills have done so far. Finally, they are utilizing their offense to its potential, and their defense is healthy, something that has not happened in quite some time. The Raiders are a huge wild card for many reasons:

A. McFadden and Fargas may not play this week, leaving the door open for Michael Bush, who had a nice game last week against said KC defense.

B. Their coach is literally seconds away from getting fired...when you hire a guy who not only did not coach in the NFL, but did not even serve as a head coach in college. I liken Kiffin to Pete Carroll...the guy should stay in college and continue to do what he was good at (he was also the recruiting coordinator at Southern Cal, a skill set that has absolutely no meaning in the NFL)

C. The defense should be outstanding, but a certain Deangelo Hall has been horrendous thus far, and at times appears like he is taking plays off. If they get everyone on the same page, this good be a really good unit, and finally...

D. JaMarcus Russell needs to target Zach Miller a lot more over the middle, much like he did during the preseason. They seemed to develop a nice rapport with each other during the preseason, and now, it seems they are in a bit of a disconnect. If I said it once, I'll say it again: The tight end is a young QB's best friend.

So, with all that said: Buffalo (W, -9.5)

Houston vs. Tennessee: The Texans simply have had no answer for the Titans throughout the years. If you recall last year, Rod Bironas hit a record eight FGs in their win at Reliant Stadium (speaking of which, I hope they are able to get that stadium up and running soon...really beautiful venue). I expect the Titans to use their thunder and lightning RB combo of LenDale White and Chris Johnson to run a muck on the Texans' D. An interesting sub-plot will be how well the Titans O-line will protect Kerry Collins from the likes of Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye. Tennessee (W, -4.5)

Cincinnati vs. New York Giants: In a fierce battle for the worst team in the league, the Bengals took great strides in attempting to get to the #1 spot in the first two games, including abandoning their passsing game, which oh by the way has kind of carried that team since Corey Dillon was running for them. The Giants have looked good so far, but you can't really tell how good this team is yet considering they took on a very wobbly Redskins team in Week 1, and a Rams team that is equally dreadful to Cincy. Is there a possibility that the Bengals could awaken in this game?, anytime you have a 2 TD spread, there is a definite chance that the 'dog could cover...but I'll stay safe here. NY Giants (W, -14).

Arizona vs. Washington: Hey, a good game! How about that? The 'Skins had a huge win last week against preseason NFC South favorite New Orleans last week, and 'Zona was lead by Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin in their beatdown of the Dolphins. The 'Skins did a much better job in stopping the run last week than they did against NY, and in addition, the pass D has been great considering they've gone up against two of the best QBs in the NFC (Manning, Brees). 'Zona's D has looked great as well, but they have played inferior opponents (SF & MIA), so they haven't quite been tested like they will this week. There are a couple key things to look for here:

A. What will the 'Skins do to try and contain Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald? They have three talented corners in Shawn Springs, Carlos Rodgers, and Fred Smoot, so they at least have the depth on paper to slow the tandem down. Still, look for a fair amount of blitzing on Warner, forcing him to throw to his first or second target. If he is allowed to stand back in the pocket, he will pick apart the Washington secondary.

B. Will the 'Skins continue to be a run-heavy team, or will Jim Zorn allow Jason Campbell to have a few five-step drops to look for Santana Moss? As shown last week, Campbell can air it out, and if he can stretch the D, it will take Adrian Wilson, one of the best safeties in the NFL (I'm continuing my push from last year of trying to give him some pub in being the best safety in the league), away from the line of scrimmage, it opens the door for Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley on screens and inside passes.

Ultimately, it is going to be tough for Arizona to defensively counter Washington, and I see the 'Skins being able to do a much better job on Warner than Zona's previous opponents have. Washington (+3)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Return Of The Hack

"I'm back to save the universe..."

It's been awhile...I know, right?

Happy to be writing once again. Just picked up a spankin' new laptop, and hopefully I can regain whatever it was I had going before. In case you were just tuning in, I'm in a different locale...Lynchburg,VA. Why Lynchburg you ask? Or some of you may get this one confused with the one that makes Jack Daniels (that's Tennessee by the way). Well, I took a job as an intern with the minor league team here...the Hillcats...the mighty Hillcats who finished last in the league at the end of the season. In any event, I learned a bunch, but now it's over, and basically I'm reduced to sitting at home and sending out resumes in large quantities. Think of it as throwing a thousand darts at once at a's got to hit bulls...or at least close right? Anyway, so for the time being, I'm working two part-time jobs to keep me afloat, and it's given me some time to get back to the column. Now I'm not exactly sure how often I will be able to update this, but hopefully it's a little more than once every nine months.

The top story right now has to be the Sox losing two of three to the D-Rays (I know they're the "Rays" now, and I think that's all well and good...but come need an adjective before ray; there's sting rays, riibontail rays, fantail rays, etc.). Everything was looking good on Monday after almost everyone in the lineup hit a homer (by the way, if you were wondering how I felt about the Manny trade, here's a thought: 28-15 since July silence...nice). After blowing up Kazmir, it seemed the Sox were potentially going to take the division lead once the series was over. Of course it seems my instinct of premature thinking once again has gotten the best of me, and we are now two back with ten to go. While part of me still believes that there is a shot for the Sox to take first by the end of the season, realistically, a wild-card birth almost seems inevitable at this point. All things considered, it's not the worst thing to be the wild card. Look at '04...that worked out ok. However, that being said, the Sox would be on a collision course with the Halos and their west-coast home advantage. Again, the same thing happened in '04, but this time around, I'm expecting Anaheim to be just a smidgin better. With the addition of Mark Teixeira to what was already an extremely potent lineup, the Angels are easily the best team in baseball. The key to the Angels has been their starting pitching and K-Rod closing games out. Not only is Rodriguez breaking the all-time single-season saves record, it appears like he'll be finishing in the neighborhood of 65 saves this year, potentially becoming the first reliever since Eric Gagne in '04 to win the Cy Young and the first occasion in the AL since Eck won the award and the MVP in 1991.

To be brutally honest with you, I was more concerned about the upcoming series with the Jays than the one against the Rays. For whatever reason, historically, once the Sox get past that border, they just cannot seem to put it together in the Skydome...or Rogers Centre...I really should grab a newspaper and get with it or something. With a 2-4 mark already on the road against Toronto, the Sox are in desperate need to win this series, not just because it would help them in the division race, but I also think that for the psyche of this team, they need to be reminded of the fact that they have an excellent team, and its one that should be winning these crucial games on the road. If they can't beat Toronto on the road, then what chance are we giving ourselves if and when we play the Angels on the road (as painful as it may sound, a trip to the world series goes through the O.C. this year pretty much no matter what)?

On Friday, after a much-deserved day off, it will be Byrd vs. Burnett...I have to say that this is the one game I really can't say I have a whole ton of confidence in. Burnett has been tremendous this year. It's bad enough that he's 10-3 at home this year, but he's also 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA in three starts against the Sox this season. While Paul Byrd has been a very nice post-deadline pickup, it seems like he's overmatched here. I'm not throwing this game out, but I'm doing pretty much everything short of throwing this game out. Saturday's matchup is definitely one of the better matchups you could ask for in the entire American League, let alone between these two teams. Jon Lester, who continues to break expectations even though they have been set on a ridiculous level, against Roy Halladay, the quality start machine. Halladay has seen the Sox four times this year, and while he is 2-2, he has gone at least seven innings in all four starts. Halladay is another pitcher that does extremely well at home, so getting to him early, which is the key to the game, is going to be no small feat. From pitches 1-25, Halladay's OAVG (opponents' average) is .258. That number shrinks to .212 from 26-50 and .206 from 51-75. Basically, Lester is going to have to find a way to keep the Sox in the game without giving up the big hit that would put them behind. I like our chances, but if we fall behind early, you can pretty much forget about it. In the series finale, it's the Dice man against Shawn Marcum. This is actually going to be a big test for the Sox. This is one of those potential let-down games, especially if they happen to win Saturday against Halladay. Do not take Marcum for granted. He has performed extremely well this season, and yes, that also reflects on his home performances as well. Dice has been remarkable this season considering it is only his second year in the "bigs," but he has also been extremely fortunate, and at times, lucky to get out of some of the jams he has put himself into. The Jays are not nearly as strong of an offensive club as they have been in the past, but this is still a team that can make you pay if you start screwing around and putting runners on base. Remember also that this team is leading the AL in ERA and has been back and forth with the Julio Lugo-less Sox for the top spot in fielding, so even the smallest mistake could be the difference in each of the three games.

In switching gears now, I have to comment on my beloved Patriots and their quest to run the regular season tables again...that's right, I said it. Look, I know that it's not the easiest thing to win without the best player on the planet (ok, laugh if you want...but take a second and think about it...who is better than Tom Brady right now?...I refer all Tomlinson fans to the '07 AFC Championship game...he's just not the man anymore), but the Pats still have a strong D, a good O-line (at least one that won't get Cassel killed), and the best duo of receivers in the AFC (as much as my man-crush on Wes Welker wants me to say the NFL, I still have to defer to Boldin and Fitzgerald in 'Zona). In addition, Cassel has been in meetings and running the same offense for the last four years when he has been given a chance. Sure, his preseason numbers weren't outstanding, but as Randy Moss showed last year, the preseason is not the come all, be all of comparitive translations to the regular season (Moss did not play one snap last preseason, then the regular season came...catch my drift?). I kind of just brainstormed this one up...see if this makes any sense. It is almost safe to assume that Cassel is the AFC's Aaron Rodgers? They both backed up two of the best QBs of all-time, then through a set of circumstances, they suddenly landed the starting job, and both were criticized for their lack of experience right out of the gate before they had ever even thrown a pass. While Rodgers knew, well, kind of knew, that he would be the starter this year all along, still, there was much skepticism about how he would do in Lambeau, much like how Cassel attempted to, and for the most part did, silence his critics as the Pats...the underdogged Pats, went into the Meadowlands and pulled out a very efficient 19-10 victory. I don't know, but both of these guys have major intrigue factors right now and will most likely continue the rest of the season...and possibly beyond. If you've noticed around the league, getting a capable signal-caller behind center is not the easiest thing to do. Imagine if Cassel is able to put up not superstar numbers, but respectable numbers the rest of the year. There is no telling what kind of pay day he could be playing himself into if he continues to show the poise he did on Sunday. Look at a guy like Matt Schaub. Here's a guy who came in for a few appearances while Michael Vick was out, and netted a $49 million contract with Houston after Atlanta wanted to get two first-rounders for him during the season. It will be interesting to see how Cassel does though. Obviously, he is not completely comfortable with the offense yet. Anytime Randy Moss only gets two catches, it's a sign that the play-calling was fairly conservative, which is absolutely the right move in terms of bringing a new QB into the starting role. First, you have to pump your confidence up with drop passes and slant patterns in the 5-10 yard range, then eventually, you can spread the ball around more once that confidence in yourself is raised, as well as the confidence your teammates have in you getting them the ball. If this happened to Randy Moss two years ago, he probably would have demanded a trade, but now, being on a winning team, I feel like he has somewhat checked his ego at the door. Not saying that the "playmaker" mentality is gone, but I feel like he is seeing the bigger picture now, and that Cassel is a young guy who is trying to get his bearings. Moss' time will come, and I think he has the patience to wait and let Cassel develop his game into being able to throw the deep ball. Against Miami on Sunday, I would not be at all surprised if Moss gets close to 100 yards receiving purely on the notion that no one on the Dolphins can hold a candle to him, which was evident last year when Brady was literally just throwing the ball in the air, and Moss was able to come down with two long touchdowns. I really think this is the game where Moss gets involved again in the passing game, after starting of the '08 season on a quiet note.

Also, Wes Welker, because he's Wes Welker, will likely torch his old team. Have you ever seen anyone run the middle and basically know that it's an automatic first down if you get him the ball? There's nothing like watching Welker play.

Tomorrow, I hope that during my check-cashing, resume-chucking day, I can get to some predictions that you will lose a bunch of money on if you take. Other than that, hey, it's been good to get back on this. I really missed being able to rant and rave about God knows what all the time. Again, hopefully I can keep this going for the forseeable future. Until next time, take care everyone. Peace.