Monday, November 10, 2008

Everything In Its Right Place

"The way I do it is to think of something pleasant. A fun party, a moment of triumph...a sexual encounter. I actually project myself to that place...a little transcendental meditation, if you will. The trick is to imagine every little detail."

This is going to be one of those times where I'm going to gush about all the teams I like. There's your fair warning.

If anyone ever asks you to go to Foxboro to check out a game, my suggestion would be to go. It's a nice feeling to go from a place that had three Pats fans to one that had 55,000, put it that way. In an absolute demolition, the Pats picked up their sixth win yesterday, beating the stumbling Bills 20-10 in a game that was never in question. The atmosphere was crazy, especially considering it was a 1:00 game, meaning tailgating time was cut fairly short, but despite that, Gillette was packed, and the crowd stood on every Buffalo third down...every one. Just think that like seven years ago, that piece of land had a harness track and a run-down (but still amazing) Foxboro Stadium, now it has arguably the nicest stadium in the league (the only reason I say arguably is because, well, I've only been to two NFL stadiums...I gotta work on that, I know). Anyway, here's what I took from the game:

Wes Welker is some kind of wonderful. He got his hands on quite a record yesterday, becoming the first receiver in NFL history to have at least six catches in his team's first nine games. You think that trade is working out? Ten catches, 109 yards, and add in a couple of end-arounds and a punt return, and it's just another day for the best slot receiver in the game (in a landslide). The greatest thing ever is seeing him in the huddle. Seriously, he could have been the kid handing out Gatorade. Also, this furthers my point that undersized athletes are easily the funnest to root for. Here's a nice list for you:

My Fav Five Undersized Athletes:
  1. Wes Welker (Guns Up!)
  2. Dustin Pedroia
  3. Darren Sproles
  4. Spud Webb
  5. Jeff Lerg
That Welker video gives me chills. Anyway, it's going to be tough to keep the man who is one reception back from the NFL lead (Andre Johnson, 67) from Hawaii this year, as he is on pace to break his own franchise record and may even end with an unprecedented back-to-back receptions title (last time it was accomplished was in '92 and '93 by Sterling Sharpe...from the University of South Carolina...sorry that was too easy).

BenJarvus-Green Ellis...officially for real. The "Law Firm" showcased his ability to not only run north-south, something he has been noted for from the preseason, but also to get around the tackles and show the speed to get to the outside. His first 100-yard game also featured him getting into the end zone fo his fifth straight game with a touchdown. This team is 6-3 with a backup QB and a fourth-string RB...and the dynasty continues...

Speaking of which, that backup QB had another solid outing. The new "Matty Ice" of the Boston sports scene (taking over for the departed Matt Ryan), Matt Cassel had a very efficient game yesterday, and while he was unable to pass for a touchdown for the second straight game, which obviously could have frustrated fantasy owners (this guy), he did have a 13-yard sneak, and when watching it real-time, was the longest I've ever seen a non-running QB sneak straight up the middle for a TD. Seriously, he ran twenty yards straight up the think the Bills were feeling the loss of Donte Whitner on that play? 23 of 34 for 234 yards, the rushing TD, and most importantly, no INTs (although he did have a fumble where he just got crushed). This "maturation" that you hear NFL pundits speak of is about to translate into a sweet payday for Cassel (hello Detroit!).

The defense was dominating, stuffing one of the better RBs in the game, Marshawn Lynch, allowing only 48 yards to the super soph (by the way, at this point, I want to call a "my bad" on my prognostication last year that Lynch would not be a good RB at the next bad). Also, here's a fact I read in the Globe before the game yesterday: Lynch and Fred Jackson had combined to have the second-most receptions for a backfield tandem in the league (Bush/McAllister). Yesterday? Two receptions and eleven yards for Jackson, and nothing for Lynch. They made Trent Edwards beat them down the field, and that obviously didn't work, with Edwards firing two critical interceptions to Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neal.

Speaking of "maturation," you have to be loving Jerod Mayo right now. Honestly, I thought that Mayo was not even on the Pats' radar last year, and that when they made the draft-day trade with New Orleans, it was them attempting to trade down and still get their guy, Keith Rivers. While I still think this is the case, they have to be loving how well Mayo has stepped up his game, especially in the Pats' complex 3-4 arrangement. His 65 tackles place him first on the team, and just outside the top 10 in tackles in the AFC. He is leading all rookies by 12 tackles at this point (Rivers has 37 by the way). In any event, this is a promising talent, and is infusing some energy into the linebacking core, which they desperately needed (hey, look at that, I described the Patriots' linebacker unit and didn't use the word "aging"...another first!).

Okay, I know the Bills didn't have Whitner and Aaron Schobel, who has just killed us in the past, but still, a huge win in the start of the three-game division gauntlet ahead for the Pats. Next comes Brett Favre and the Jets (to answer your, I'm still not used to Favre being a Jet) on Thursday night...a short week...but it's a short week for both teams, so no excuses there. Plus, it is being played at said Gillette Stadium, so a huge advantage for the home team. If history has told us anything, the Pats are really good under the lights at home (here's a reminder), so hopefully, we will be the lone team atop the East at the end.

A couple of quick NFL notes:

Detroit...that bad...

Just when it looked like the Rams had turned the corner with a new coach (Jim Haslett) and a dynamic receiver to compliment Torry Holt (Donnie Avery), they have officially come back to Earth, starting with a loss from a certain team from a certain Northeast region of the country, and then yesterday's debaucle of a game at the Meadowlands. Favre threw for one touchdown...and they lost 47-3. How is that even possible?

My initial reaction to Herm Edwards going for two at the end of the Chargers game: stupid. However, after thinking about it, and hearing Herm's postgame conference, it makes a lot of sense. The Chiefs have one win, and going against the Chargers straight up, they probably wouldn't have been able to get it done in the OT, so it makes sense. In watching the highlights, I continue to be impressed by Tyler Thigpen. Here's another good one for you:

Fav Five Fantasy Players On Really Bad Teams:
  1. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit (0-9)
  2. Tyler Thigpen, QB, Kansas City (1-8)
  3. Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco (2-6)
  4. Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati (1-8)
  5. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston (3-6)
Tennessee just continues to win, this despite running for 14 yards all game against the Bears. That one I really didn't get. I'm going to chalk that up to the Rex Grossman factor. If the Titans do lose, and by the way, after the last two weeks, it's looking emminent, it's likely going to be on the road. Circle the game at Reliant Stadium against the Texans. Also, if the stars align right, you are going to be seeing an unbeaten team and a winless team on Thanksgiving...and if that's the game they go down in, it would likely be the biggest upset in the history of the NFL (I'm already taking the points).

The Colts winning at Pittsburgh did not surprise me in the least bit. In fact, I thought it was one of the more easy upsets to predict. Roethlisberger is great, but without a steady run game, he is in big trouble (to his credit, Mewelde Moore has held his own, but he is no Willie Parker). The Colts are just helping the Patriots now. Barring a collapse of epic proportions, Tennessee will win the AFC South, meaning the Colts are out for a wild-card bid, meaning they are out of the hunt for home-field in the playoffs. With a Steelers loss yesterday, the Pats are now tied with Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and the Jets for the #2 spot in the AFC. Again, playing with a backup QB and a fourth-string RB...we're second in the AFC.

Here come the Falcons. Matt Ryan lead them to another win, this time over division heavyweight New Orleans (granted they were without Reggie Bush). Next week, they draw Denver. This could be a very interesting game between two teams with completely different offenses. The Falcons have preferred to let Michael Turner carry the bulk of the load on offense, while Ryan is in the role of the "no mistake" guy. Meanwhile, Denver has seen about nine of its running backs get hurt this year, which has resulted in Jay Cutler stepping up and bombing the ball this season, putting him second in the league in yards (2,616). Very interesting indeed.

Why were the Giants 'dogged in last night's game against the Eagles? Anyone? Oh well, thanks for the two and a half points Vegas. The G-Men have easily become the best team in the NFC, and with big road wins like that last night, don't expect them to be slowing down anytime soon. Eli has been good (some have suggested he is better than Peyton, which is lunacy), but the keys have been the pass rush and the continually steady play of Brandon Jacobs. I think the teams that could potentially give the Giants troouble down the road are the Panthers (I can't believe I'm saying that) and the Cardinals. The Panthers feature a running attack and a pass rush that are every bit as good as the Giants, with a giant X-factor on defense in Jon Beason (one of my can't-miss draftees from two years ago). The Cardinals could expose the one weakness this team does have, their secondary. Kurt Warner is throwing for 400 yards at will it seems, so that will be an extremely tough challenge for Aaron Ross and Co.

Another rookie who has done an absolutely tremendous job is Joe Flacco. He guided the Ravens to yet another road win yesterday, this time at Houston. That would be the Ravens' fourth in a row, a streak that has seen them score at least 27 points in each game. You could tell Flacco was going to be alright in this league pretty much from the get-go. He had a really positive vibe coming from Delaware, and not to mention a cannon for an arm. I'm thinking this one of the bigger make-up calls being made by Baltimore in terms of trading up for a QB (kind of sweeping Kyle Boller under the table).

Here's my first installment of how I think the MVP race is shaking up:

Fav Five MVP Candidates:
  1. Brett Favre, QB, New York Jets
  2. Clinton Portis, RB, Washington
  3. Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona
  4. Jay Cutler, QB, Denver
  5. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota

Speaking of South Carolina football, the Gamecocks have officially clinched a birth into some kind of decent bowl with their win over Arkansas on Saturday. It wasn't the prettiest of wins...but then again, it rarely is (Tennessee this year being an obvious the way, nice loss to Wyoming at home...I don't care how much of a down year it's Wyoming Rocky Top?...I'll coach them...hey, they can't find anyone else). The defense once again had a solid effort (what a difference not having two first-round running backs makes). Michael Smith, who was one of the SEC's better runners, was held to 27 yards on seven carries. Casey Dick was effective for his part, but it's tough to get anything going when you get sacked six times. So, USC was able to go from dominating in the secondary to dominating in the trenches. I know it hasn't exactly been a tough road for SC this year, but no one has really figured out how to get anything off of this defense, who has held all opponents to 24 or less points (15.6 per game, 10th in the country). You are looking at an incredibly balanced unit. 11th in rushing yards allowed (101.4...TCU is leading with 39.5 a they not run in the Mountain West anymore), 4th in passing (155.1), and 3rd in total defense (256.5). Everything is peachy right now, but here's a few problems I'm hoping we avoid this week. Of course, the Cocks are playing at the Swamp, a place that, well, we haven't exactly played well at (I only looked back to like '70, but I can't see a year we ever won there...if someone knows any differently, please let me know). Plus, it seems that a combination of two things (jumping into the top 25 and having a nationally televised game...3:30 on CBS) really seem to doom us...especially the national TV thing. We are just horrendous on national TV. Hopefully USC can right that ship. Going into this game, there really is no pressure on them. They're heading into a game they are supposed to lose...big (currently 'dogged by 21) and playing a team that needs to win all of their games to get a shot at the national title. I hope that the team is pumped for this game. National setting, back in the top 25, playing a top-5 team, and potentially getting the biggest win in school history. But again, they're supposed to lose by three touchdowns. Granted, Tim Tebow is an amazing football player, but, and get ready for this...he has not played a defense as good as South Carolina's. Believe it.

Penn St., who I thought would have the easiest road to the BCS title game of any of the remaining unbeatens, choked pretty bad against Iowa, and now, they are in a fight for their Rose Bowl-lives against Ohio St. and an upstart Michigan St. team they will face in the season finale. Good luck with all that. It's going to be even tougher considering Ohio St. can basically punch its ticket on a one-loss season, and the Spartans potentially spoiling the party if they win out, which would have to include a win at Happy Valley.

Texas Tech continues to roll along. Here's a tip for the young gamblers out there: Anytime a team announces they are doing a blackout (or any kind of color, but especially black), take them. Never fails. 56-20? This team is no joke. However, they have another "game of the century" in two weeks against Oklahoma at Norman. I really hope the Raiders prove me wrong, but it's been shown time and time again that if a team continues to play mammouth game after mammouth game, eventually, the straw breaks. I think it is a tremendous story, but I also think that for the Raiders to win out would take an absolute miracle.

Fav Five Heisman Candidates:
  1. Graham Harrell, QB, Texas Tech
  2. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
  3. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
  4. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia
  5. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma

The Bruins are on fire, winning their third in a row on Saturday against the Sabres, pushing them atop the Northeast Division. Manny Fernandez was in goal on Saturday, and if they can get the kind of production out of him that they saw against Buffalo on a regular basis (one goal allowed, 32 saves), the B's are in for a big season. Coupled with the great goaltending has been a collective stepping-up by a team of no-namers. Marc Savard (who has been nothing short of outstanding this year), Zdeno Chara, and Patrice Bergeron are the obvious exceptions to the no-name label, but the team's success has riden on guys like Milan Lucic, Dennis Wideman, Andrew Ference, and David Krejci to name a few. They play with a lot of power, but in doing so, they have also shown a lot of finesse (evident in the Maple Leafs game). Man is this a fun team to watch.

(in case you've been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you've probably seen this, but it's totally worth about ten views...consecutively)

(Editor's note: I'm about to talk about European if you will, something I have not done...ever. While I have always followed it, for some reason, I just never really detailed it. So this might get strange for some of you...think of it as mind-expansion though)

So I've finally decided on a team to back in the UEFA. After much deliberation, I settled upon Chelsea as my team. Now the point can be argued that I'm front-running with Chelsea because they were in the finals last year and they are tied in first this year, but seriously, I took a long time looking through each team and researching them. Here's why I landed on Chelsea: The team is over a hundred years old. They have played every home match in the same location (Stamford Bridge) since that time. They went through a long spell where they had little success. They pack in a relatively small stadium (42,055 capacity) every game, which is a blend of blue and white-collar workers (oddly enough, the team's colors are blue and white...which could be ironic or totally planned...I'll have to look into that). The team has become one of the best not only in England, but the world after a new owner took over in this reminding you of anyone? Outside of a large green wall, you're looking at Europe's version of the Sox, which is outstanding. I do have to stress that I have been watching Euro futbol for a while, and finally, much like what happened with me and NASCAR, I was tired of not having a team to call my own. Also, I totally didn't "pink hat" it because I took a lot of things into consideration and actually looked up the history of the Blues (that's their nickname by the way). While it's great that the team is having the success it's having right now, that was not the reason I chose them. Here was the thought process: Okay, who's my favorite team here: The Sox. And who resembles them the most in Europe? Chelsea. Well, let's go with that then. Sorry, I take the whole bandwagon thing fairly serious, especially because of the corruption it has caused to the Sox' fan base and which is now spilling into the Celtics' one as well. In any event, I'm a Chelsea fan, they won 2-0 against Blackburn yesterday...I'm happy.

Writing about your teams when they are winning is really easy by the way. I didn't even mention the Celtics and their early dominance of the league. Good times. They won't last forever, but it's rolling pretty good right now. Take care everyone. Peace.


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