Well, so much for riding high. USC and the Pats could not have played worse, and here I am thinking of ways to describe it. It's no small feat to try and think through how two of my favorite teams could get dismantled by rivals in back-to-back days. Hmmm...well, let me see if I can get through this while not becoming somewhat unglued...
So the Steelers finally figured how to stop Wes Welker...render him unconscious. Yeah, thanks for that. Wes' streak of six or more receptions in a game ended today thanks to the Steelers...or should I say, Ryan Clark after he knocked him out of the game on a borderline dirty play...it wasn't egregiously dirty...slightly though...at least enough to garner a 15-yard personal foul penalty. Not to say that Wes couldn't have single-handedly turned the game around, but he definitely would have been an upgrade from Sam Aiken (personally, I'm thinking there had to have been another warm body to fill in for Welker than Sam Aiken...all of a sudden I feel like Josh McDaniels panicked (which is understandable when the best slot receiver in the NFL goes down), then looked at the bench, saw the closet number to 83 he could find, and threw him in).
Honestly, if you told me the Steelers would win big today, I would have been a little surprised, but if you look at it from a unbiased perspective (which is nearly impossible for me to do), it does kind of make sense. Quarterback with very little experience faces the best D in the NFL, and a really tough QB, who gets back one of the better RBs in the AFC (Willie Parker), facing a porous secondary and a front seven who have not really been able to put pressure on the quarterback this year...it makes sense...a bit much though right? 33-10? Ehhh...did we have it coming to us? We have dominated the Steelers for like a decade (outside of the Ty Law game that snapped the 21-game win streak), so maybe a pounding into reality is what the Pats needed...maybe what I needed too. It's like you try and overlook the deficiencies of your team when they're winning, and then you play a really good team, get pounded, and then you realize "hey, maybe they should think about addressing some of these needs...ummm...soon." It's tough though...like the Indy game this year...it was absolutely brutal afterwards to sit down and think about what went wrong (which I do pretty much after every loss...hey, I know they don't care about my input, but here's how I feel about this: If I am able to dissect the problems correctly, I can look to see how they improve on that next week...also, I have a wild imagination, and with that imagination, I think I can parlay this knowledge into a job of some sorts...also in that imagination is singing for a Jefferson Airplane cover band.."one pill makes you larger, and one makes you think you can write about sports").
There's really not a whole lot going on in the secondary, and the pass rush is not so hot. Credit the injuries to Adalius Thomas and Rodney Harrison for some of that. Granted, Harrison wouldn't make a huge difference at this point...but he would help right? I mean Meriweather wouldn't have been vaulted into the starting role, which he isn't ready for...yet. He's so close, but is just lacking the intangibles right now to be starting. He hits hard, but continues to be shaky in coverage. Adalius Thomas is the injury that is going to kill this team down the stretch though. He's great at...everything. He's fast as lightning on the pass rush, he's a good cover man, good tackler...he's just a force. Even when he was healthy, he was being completely under-utilized...I guess I may have brought this up at some point (or two years, but who's counting?...actually I definitely am, my mistake). Without the A-Train, this team is going to be running into a similar situation the rest of the year. The fortunate thing is that the Pats have a two-game swing against Seattle and Oakland in the next two weeks...actually, Seattle is almost at the point of scaring me because they will have ten days between games, and Qwest Field isn't exactly hospitable...actually, they should beat the crap out of them anyway...I don't know...I get the swings when I get rattled...I'm a little rattled after that game. Should I go on? I mean you know what happened right?...Ugh, sometimes even I hate how biased I am, I can't even imagine how you guys are feeling.
Random Observation Of The Day:
Ellis Hobbs is the Ricky Davis of the Patriots. A guy who shows a lot of flash and pizazz...and has no game to back it up. He consistently gets torched by big-time receivers and is at his best returning kicks, not at covering people (why was Matt Slater even returning the kick he muffed by the way?). Both are just incredibly frustrating to watch, as they both possessed some ability, but are huge showboats when they do something good...and "good" is a fairly infrequent occurance, so they really go crazy if they do something right. I don't know, anyone else notice that?
Random Observation That Led To The Random Observation Of The Day:
Coors Light makes a cooler bag with the Pats logo on it as well as the logos of the three Super Bowls we won. Best part: it's not a 12-pack, not 24, or even 30...but 36! I'm not even a fan, but 36 beers and a reusable Pats cooler for 25 bucks? That was the shortest trip to the liquor store ever...even when I had my fake ID I would mull for like 30 seconds.
Alright, enough with this nonsense, let's move...well, okay...I will make an attempt to move on...this may not go well:
Don't give them the Cup yet...oh please don't let this be a phase. I have been a Bruins fan my entire life. I have seen ownership sabotage this team for basically my entire life. Please, please telll me this is not going to all of a sudden stop in like a month. I don't think it will, but I've been wrong occasionally (I was better at calling games when I was 12 than I am now...I think I need to to take a more juvenile point of view when making predictions). In any event, the Bruins are on the biggest hot streaks since Milt Schmidt was around. The defending Stanley Cup champs (Detroit) came into the Garden last night...and got torn up. How else can I say it? They got torn up. Two days ago, they put seven up on the Islanders...I'm just jinxing it by writing about it week after week, and I don't mean to do it...how can I not just go on and on though? The thing that gets me is when someone says "when did you become a Bruins fan?" When I was 9, I saw one of the final games the B's played in the Garden (the old, and dare I say, "real" one) against the Penguins. When I was 18, instead of going out...I watched the Bruins (okay, sure I didn't have a license because of a minor miscommunication with speed limits...but I still watched them!), and even when I didn't live in Boston, I followed them every night on NHL.com, and even convinced my old boss to get NHL Center Ice so we could show the Bruins games at the bar (which became interesting when he believed he was a bigger fan than me because he saw more games...dude, you own the place!...if you gave me free booze, I would have watched every night too!). Now I am back home...it's just nice to have the slighest bit of vindication for sticking with this team through the years. Now I know that the bandwagon is about to get loaded up, but I really don't care at this point...I mean what can I do? Happened to the Pats, then the Sox, now the Celtics...I mean one man cannot stop the "pink hat revolution." So, hey, here's a public service announcement for everyone:
"THE BRUINS ARE KICKING ASS...GET ON BOARD RIGHT NOW!!!"
The Week Ahead:
Thursday: @ Tampa Bay, 7:30
Saturday: @ Florida, 7:00
Monday: Tampa Bay, 7:00
Speaking of really good teams that play in the Garden, the Celtics just roll on. Let me see if I have this right: They have no one on their team averaging more than 20 points a game, yet they have the best record in the Eastern Conference?...yeah I can buy that. The Celts continue to get it done with their unselfish style of ball. Why are they unselfish? Well, three out of the five starters have absolutely nothing left to prove, and really just want to win, while the other two are exceptionally good compliments (I want a Tommy point for calling Rondo's breakthrough last year, disregarding everyone being negative about Ray Allen, and accurately predicting that Tony Allen could step up in place of James Posey...and I love Walter!). Plus the bench is again showing a great deal of balance, especially in that period at the end of the first and through the first half of the second when he has four subs in the game (usually joined by Ray Allen). Again, another great team to watch.
Here's something that did catch my attention during the week. As I'm sure you heard, 2010 is going to be wild in terms of free agency (LeBron, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh to name a few), and there's been a lot of talk about the Knicks dumping salary now so that they can get one or two of these super-duper stars when they hit the market, which is completely and utterly true...I mean they're the Knicks...of course they would tank two years to do this. Furthermore, not only do their fans, for the most part, know that they are dumping salary for this reason, they are applauding it (LeBron got a standing ovation from the Knicks crowd at MSG the other night...it definitely takes something when you're the visiting player, and while not having played for the team in the past, or not overcoming some life-threatening ailment, you get a standing ovation on the road...I think they want him). Anyway, here's what's interesting: Ray Allen's contract expires in '10, and it's unknown if he would want to keep playing, or if the C's are ready to keep giving him close to 20 mil a year. Granted they will still need to re-sign Tony Allen, Leon Powe, and Big Baby in that time...but still...I thought it was interesting because of all this 2010 talk (I can't believe if I am somehow able to make it through the rest of this year and then the year after that, I'll be living in the year 2010...crazy).
The Week Ahead:
Monday: Orlando, 7:30 (NBA TV)
Wednesday: Indiana, 7:30
Friday: Portland, 8:00 (ESPN)
Sunday: @ Indiana, 6:00
BC won a game that, historically and on paper, they were supposed to lose. I say on paper because starting QB Chris Crane broke his collarbone last week and is done for the season, and they were left with true freshman Dominique Davis to start. Also, Maryland has been phenomanal against Top 25 opponents this year (4-0 heading into the game), and given BC's history of dropping games late in the season, it had all the makings of a let-down. But, they made it through another game, and now will face VA Tech in the ACC Championship next week. These two met last year in the same game, and BC dropped it...which was not in the least bit surprising unfortunately. I'm still crafting this theory, but it goes like this: Eventually, if a team keeps coming close year after year, eventually, the walls will come down, and they'll get to the promised land (Miami in this case). So, I'm actually really liking BC's chances this time around. I like that defense, and I also like that there isn't nearly as much pressure on this team as there has been in the previous campaigns.
I feel bad for Oregon State. Normally at this point, I would say they "choked," but for some reason, I am feeling a sense that I may have been a little too critical in the past of teams needing a big win and not getting it. You know...it happens. State got rolled at home in the "Civil War" by Oregon, and was knocked out of the BCS. Subsequently, they're about to take right around a $13 million paycut to go to a lesser bowl game. They did have a nice run this season, especially in the win over Southern Cal.
The Big 12 should not have the letters "B," "C," and "S" consecutively anywhere in its rule book...I don't care how far down the tiebreaker list it is...get it out of there. Use in-conference point differential in its place...and hey, Oklahoma wins that too. So please, Texas and all its constituents, enough already. You beat Oklahoma at a neutral site. Great. Guess what? You lost to Tech. OU lost to #3, Texas lost to #7...why is this still a debate? YOU'RE STILL GOING TO A BCS GAME! BE HAPPY!
Some quick notes before I move to the pros. I am looking at the opening lines of this weekend's games to see how everything is looking. Here are the games to keep an eye on this weekend:
- ACC Championship: BC/VA Tech (1:00, ABC): This game is currently a pick 'em, which I think is a fairly good representation of how the ACC has been this year: A lot of teams who are pretty much equals, with no one really running away with it (although my favorite team to watch the last few weeks, GA Tech, has been pulling ahead a little bit). Some books are leaning a little bit to BC, giving one point to the Eagles. The O/U opened at 38 and has since gone up to 40. What this tells me is that 38 was a juicy number, and people have layed a lot on this going over 38. If the betting public (especially those who can move lines by two points) is betting over in this amount, listen to them. BC (-1), Over (40).
- SEC Championship: 'Bama/Florida (4:00, CBS): I actually said two weeks ago that Florida would go into this game as touchdown favorites...but even I underestimated the Gators on this one. This line opened at eight and a half, and quickly moved up to 10 in favor of Florida. This, again, really isn't surprising. If you've noticed, Florida has been beating down everyone they've played since losing to Ole Miss. I know that I said I liked Florida big...I'm not so sure anymore. I am seeing Florida winning, but not in the style they have been doing lately. 'Bama will be leading this game at some point. I see a low-scoring first half, and then a pretty sudden turnaround in the second half, with a shootout in the fourth. Ultimately, Florida's weapons are too much, but 'Bama keeps it close. 'Bama (+10), Over (50.5).
- Big 12 Championship: Mizzou/Oklahoma (8:00, ABC): Apparently, we are going to see some offense here. Not only was the O/U high (77), but it got bumped up even more (79) since the line was announced. Oklahoma's stock is obviously at the highest its been since the Texas loss after their win in Stillwater on Saturday. The Sooners were bumped from 14.5 to 16. Again, it is incredibly tough to go against OU. They looked like they would not be covering for the longest time against Oklahoma State (remember that team when you're making your bowl picks...them and GA Tech...hopefully they don't play each other), but they pulled away in the end. Simply put, they are stocked with genetic freaks on that team. I like Chase Daniel, but it's too much to ask them to beat OU after coming off a loss to Kansas at the exact same field they're playing on this week. Mizzou needed momentum, and they did not get it. Oklahoma (-16), Under (79).
- Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma
- Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
- Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
- Graham Harrell, QB, Texas Tech
- Max Hall, QB, BYU
Detroit...easily the worst team I've seen in my lifetime.
Romeo Crennel is definitely going to get fired. Games like the one he had against the Colts today just reverberate when a guy needs to go. It wasn't so much the game itself, but how he looked on the sidelines...lost. Anytime a coach gets the deer in the headlights look every time the camera pans to him, it's over. I think he's pretty much settled on the fact that he's going to be gone. I might be wrong, but I'm definitely not the first, or last, to suggest this. I feel like Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland, and Philly will have openings...and somehow, Herm Edwards will talk his way into one more year in KC.
Only two home teams won today...two! Tampa, which is completely unsurprising considering the NFC South has dominated home games this year, and Minnesota beating up on the Bears at the HHH Metrodome (how many people know the Metrodome is named after Hubert Humphrey?...well, if you're reading this and didn't know, I'm glad I can keep that "learn something new every day" streak in tact). There is something to be said about home field advantage, and here it is: If you want to win at home, play in the NFC South, or play in a dome. The choice is up to you.
Here's a quick look at next week:
- Oakland (43) vs. San Diego (-10) (Thursday, NFL Network, 8:15). Ummm...awful game. Plain and simple. The fact that the president of the Chargers has come out and said that Norv Turner will be around next year makes me think he has some explicit pictures of someone high up. I want to take Oakland...can't do it.
- Jacksonville (40) vs. Chicago (-6.5) (1:00). There is no line on this game yet, so I'm going to have to guess one here. I'm going to go Chicago with them getting four, and the O/U will be 40. Tell me if you think that's too generous or whatever. Anywho, I do not like either team at all. Lots of travel for the Jags. They are at Houston tomorrow, then go to Chicago in the short week.
- Cincinnati (42) vs. Indianapolis (-14) (1:00). The spread started at 14.5, then lost the .5 today. I think a lot will be put on Indy to drive this spread up, probably in the range of 16. I don't think Cincy's offense will have enough to hit the over.
- Houston (49) vs. Green Bay (-6) (1:00). Green Bay showed vulnerability at home, but Houston has shown that they are wildly inconsistent on the road.
- Cleveland (45) vs. Tennessee (-14) (1:00). Another spread that will be on the move. Two words. Ken Dorsey.
- Minnesota (-10) vs. Detroit (46.5) (1:00). I think everyone circled this as the only conceivable game the Lions could win the rest of the way. I don't see it...not at home.
- Philadelphia (46) vs. NY Giants (-8) (1:00). I would say this is a trap spread, especially since the line already moved down .5. Still, picking against the G-Men is just not a smart move at this juncture.
- Atlanta (53.5) vs. New Orleans (-3) (1:00). NFC South clash. New Orleans battled big today at Tampa. Atlanta looks unstoppable, but have beat up on bad teams, and continue to fly under the radar because of a rookie QB and coach, a career second-string back, and a pretty good defense that not a lot of people really know about.
- NY Jets (-4) vs. San Francisco (47.5) (4:00). The Jets looked awful against Denver, but my feeling on that is the Jets can pretty much just win the games it needs to and still win the division. San Fran is all over the map. Singletary is outstanding for the league...and I'm not just saying that because I am completely terrified of him.
- Miami (42) vs. Buffalo (-1.5) (4:00). Life from north of the border. This is going to be one of the ugliest 4:00 games you may ever see. Miami looked good on the road against a bad team today. Buffalo looked bad against an upstart team at home...I think you can figure out where I'm leaning on this one.
- Kansas City (49) vs. Denver (-8) (4:00). Denver is kind of a quirky team in that they can lose to Oakland by 21 at home, then beat up on the Jets in Jersey. KC is still getting a lot of respect considering they are on the road and have two wins.
- St. Louis (48.5) vs. Arizona (-13.5) (4:15). I like Arizona a lot, but sometimes, I'm troubled when an upstart team has to give a bunch of points, despite how bad the Rams are.
- Dallas (42) vs. Pittsburgh (-3) (4:15). Well, we know about Pittsburgh. The Cowboys have roared back from Brad Johnson hell to serious contenders again. This should be a real fun game.
- New England (-4.5) vs. Seattle (43) (4:00). This is a must-win for the Pats, who took a bunch of steps back today. We'll see how Wes does this week and if he's ready to go. Even with him out, this is a game they should win.
- Washington (36.5) vs. Baltimore (-5) (8:15). Baltimore ran it up against Cincy today, while the 'Skins defense looked worn out against the Giants...then again, what team hasn't looked like that against them this year?
- Tampa Bay (38) vs. Carolina (-3) (Monday, 8:30). In going with what has seemed to be a pattern in my life, the Panthers are good as soon as I leave. Prediction: The Lynchburg Hillcats finish over .500 next year.
- Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona
- Brett Favre, QB, New York Jets
- Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
- Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta
- Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh