Friday, January 30, 2009

Why They Play The Games

"Sometimes its like someone took a knife baby
Edgy and dull and cut a six-inch valley
Through the middle of my soul."

Well, here we are. The Super Bowl is just days away. I know this game has probably been rammed down everyone's throats this week, but honestly, I've been too busy to notice it. So sorry if all of this sounds redundant, but I figured I would give you my take on the things I like and dislike about each team, then give my prediction.

What I Like About...

  • The Pass Rush: Obviously, the Steelers boast one of the better defenses not only in the league currently, but probably one of the best in the last decade. What keys the defense, besides their ability to stop the run, is there insatiable ability to get to the quarterback and cause problems. Pittsburgh basically runs a zone blitz scheme on every down. However, the Steelers rarely drop their linemen into coverage. Rather, they disguise what linebackers and safeties they are sending. Dick Labeau has conditioned his players well enough so that they rarely tip off where they are coming from early on before the snap. They wait until the absolute last second to show their hand. This makes it extremely difficult for the offensive line to read not only where the blitz will be, but who will be coming.
  • Roethlisberger's Patience: A good quarterback? Yes. Maybe a bit overrated? Probably, but Roethlisberger's best trait, and the thing that has made him one of the winningest QBs of all time in his first six or seven years has been his patience and not forcing the issue when he is standing in the pocket. Sure, he has had his moments of inadequacy in the big games (see: 2004 AFC Championship and Super Bowl XL), but it seems like he has gotten away from those ill-advised plays for the most part. Also, he is so tough to bring down. I mean he's just a large individual, and sometimes, it seems like one guy is just not enough to make the tackle on him. He has a pretty good scrambling ability as well, and defenses are forced to respect that when he rolls out of the pocket.
  • The Safeties: Two years ago, when the Steelers allowed Chris Hope to go to the Titans, I thought it was a huge mistake, and while I still contest that this team would have been better off with Hope, you have to like what Ryan Clark has done since Hope's departure. Clark is good in coverage, but is best known for his huge hits on Welker and Willis McGahee two weeks ago in the AFC Championship game. Of course, Polamalu joins him at the strong safety position. The guy just makes plays. I know that sounds cliche, but that's what he does...he makes plays. He will be called upon to help over the top on Fitzgerald, and Warner needs to be aware of his presence at all times.
  • The Ability To Finish Games: This has been especially true this season. I mean think about it: The Dallas game they were losing, then got two scores in less than a minute, and boom, they get a W. Then the crazy ending to the San Diego game with the Polamalu TD that wasn't. Finally, the three wins against Baltimore, two of which were won by defensive TDs. It just seemed like if the Steelers were in it, they would find a way to win. This factor is an extremely difficult one to bet against. Some teams simply have the ability to will themselves to wins, and Pittsburgh, at least in the last two or three months, has looked to be like one of those teams.
  • Larry Fitzgerald And Co.: Obviously, the MVP of the Cards' postseason run has to be Fitzgerald, who quite literally has shredded opposing defenses in their three playoff games. He is an absolute nightmare to prepare for. The Steelers are going to need to have a safety constantly over the top to help Ike Taylor in coverage, or else Fitzgerald is going to have a monster game. That's not even a shot at Taylor because there has not been a corner that has been able to even contain Fitzgerald one-on-one. With all that being said, if Pittsburgh does decide to double Fitzgerald, it will open the door for Boldin and Breaston, who simply must step up their games. I think that the Steelers will come out for at least the first half and make Warner use someone other than Fitzgerald to beat them, so it is vital for the Cards to at least show that they can move the ball with their other two receivers. In the second half, I can really sense that Pittsburgh will all of a sudden back off of their pressure on Fitzgerald, and he will have a monster second half. Still, the Cards will need to get Boldin and Breaston involved early to do so.
  • The Secondary: As I have stated numerous times, I really like this secondary. Of course, there is my devotion to Adrian Wilson, my personal favorite safety in the league. Then, you have Rolle in the other safety position, who has done an amazing job shifting over from corner to safety. Rodgers-Cromartie has been an instant energy boost since being placed in the starting lineup midseason. Then, a huge darkhorse in this game will be Roderick Hood. His assignment will depend on the health of Hines Ward, but even if he goes up against Holmes or Washington, Hood is a gambler, and he is going to try and make the big play to change the momentum of the game. If he is successful, it could be curtains for Pittsburgh, but if he misses and allows a big one to go the other way, he may become a household name for all the wrong reasons.
  • The Ken Whisenhunt/Russ Grimm Pittsburgh Connection: This is something that has probably been talked at nausea this week, but again, I missed it. So, I have to say that Whisenhunt and Grimm being familiar with what the Steelers do is a huge advantage for the Cards. Sure, every team has access to every game another team has ever played, but rarely do you have the kind of inside knowledge that these two possess about the opposing team. It will be very interesting to see what kind of things Arizona comes out with in an attempt to styme the Steeler defense. I immediately think about Jon Gruden after he was exiled from Oakland after the "Tuck Rule" game, then proceeded to beat the crap out of the Raiders in his first year with Tampa in Super Bowl XXXVII (you know, the one the Pats weren't in). You have to wonder what Whisenhunt is thinking going against his former employer, and what kind of feelings and emotions he may have after not getting the head coaching job once Cowher retired, and instead losing out to Mike Tomlin, an "outsider" from Minnesota. This could be one of the most underrated facets of this game.
  • Warner's Experience: You simply cannot discount the fact that Kurt Warner has been in this game not once, but twice, and both times, the game literally went down to the last second. He beat the Titans by a yard, and lost to the Pats on a last-second field goal. He has been up big, and he's been down big. This will be the first time that he will enter the Super Bowl as not only not a heavy favorite, but a fairly heavy underdog. Still, he has been here before, and you have to like the fact that, outside of the Ty Law pick-six in the Rams/Pats game, he has played very well in the spotlight (vs. Titans: 24/45, 414 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, Super Bowl MVP; vs. Pats: 28/44, 365 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs)
Random Thought: In the three Super Bowls the Pats played in, they allowed the opposing QB to go over 300 yards in all three of those games (Warner: 365, Delhomme: 323, McNabb: 357). Perhaps a bit of foreshadowing there?...

What I Don't Like About...

  • The Health Of Hines Ward: This has probably been the biggest story of the week, and part of the reason that the point spread dipped under seven after holding steady at a touchdown for over a week. Tomlin came out today and said Ward is "great," but that they would have to "see where he is after Friday's practice." Talk about mixed messages. That sure doesn't sound like a guy who is "great." I mean he might be a great guy or whatever, but from what I gather, it doesn't sound like he's in great health. My feeling is this: Ward will start the game. He will get a couple of catches, and everything will look okay. Then, somewhere towards the end of the first/early in the second, he will inexplicably be out of the game, and he won't return the rest of the way. Again, this is just my attempt to peer into the future, but if that happens, it will be a huge blow to Pittsburgh's offense. Everyone will be moved up a spot on the depth chart, and it will be tough to beat that secondary with a Holmes/Washington/Sweed combination.
  • The Red Zone Offense: Pittsburgh was able to score on almost 90% of its possessions inside the red zone, but had a 55.1% TD conversion rate, which was 15th in the league. I've even heard Steeler fans go on about how bad they are when they get inside the five. In a game where it will likely turn into a shootout in the latter stages, the Steelers are going to need to convert those red zone trips into TDs and not just FGs. Touchdowns could brake the Cardinals' spirit, but if they hold the Steelers to three, Arizona could build on that in terms of their defensive confidence later on in the game.
  • Special Teams: While the Steelers have done some real nice things in their speciality department (Holmes' TD vs. San Diego, Jeff Reed being steady for the most part), they were still dreadful for basically the entire season. This also goes back to Hines Ward's availability. Will Pittsburgh have Santonio Holmes returning punts if Ward is out of the game? Pittsburgh was 31st in punt return average, 29th in kickoff return average, and 30th in gross punting average. As we've seen time and time again, in a close game (which I figure it will be, but I could be way off), the effectiveness of the special teams unit is critical. They were able to come through against San Diego, but this has been a nagging issue all season...I mean they have Gary Russell returning kicks, how good could they be?
  • Offensive Line: The line looked good through the first two and a half games in this postseason. Then, in the third quarter of the Philly game, all hell broke loose. The Eagles were able to bring pressure around the edges and really got in the face of Warner, who in turn looked flustered and could not escape the pressure the Eagles were bringing. Warner and his line should expect the same type of challenge from Pittsburgh, only in this instance, they are likely going to start their outside rushes to force the issue early on. The hope is that in the two weeks since their third quarter debaucle, the Cards will make the necessary adjustments up front to give Warner just a little more time to read the field.
  • The Run Game: I do like what Arizona has been doing with Edge and Hightower in the postseason. Even still, it's so tough to run on the Steelers' D. It seems to me like it will be a matter of time before 'Zona becomes completely one-dimensional, and while that one dimension (the passing game) is quite a good one, when you are taking on a defense like Pittsburgh's, you are basically playing into their hands by abandoning one part of the offense. This would allow the Steelers to gear up on Fitzgerald and continue to pass blitz Warner.
  • Red Zone Defense: This is one of the biggest disparities of the statistical breakdown of this game. Pittsburgh gave up TDs on 33.3% of opponents' trips into the red zone, the best mark in the league. Arizona gave up TDs on 63.6% of opponents' trips, which was 28th in the league. It's so strange because Pittsburgh is bad on offense inside the 20, and Arizona is bad on defense...something has to give here.
Okay, and now...the prediction. Well, this is a complicated one. Everyone seems to believe that Raymond James Stadium will be Heinz Field with better grass. However, as I've written before, no one really knows about Arizona's fan base because the Cards have been completely irrelevant for basically their entire time while being in Arizona. Truth be told, there are a lot of them, and you will see some red and white in those stands. Furthermore, the Super Bowl is almost like a corporate outing instead of a football game. You are going to see a lot of neutral colors there from people who really don't care about the game, but rather, just want to say that they were there (if this is sounding like a Sox game at Fenway, it should). So, I really don't think the crowd is going to factor into this game that much. If anything, people are going to be more willing to root for the underdog, much like what happens in March Madness.

Pittsburgh has a tremendous defense, and I feel like Fitzgerald will be contained early on, but then he will explode because of one of two things:
  1. Warner will start making plays to Boldin, Breaston, and Urban, which will force Pittsburgh to abandon its initial plan of doubling Fitzgerald all game, or...
  2. Pittsburgh may become complacent and talk themselves into believing that Ike Taylor can stop Fitzgerald one-on-one, while they send Polamalu or Clark on safety blitzes in an attempt to further rattle Warner.
In any event, I just think Fitzgerald will go off down the stretch. Also, if the Steelers are going to have over-the-top help on Fitzgerald, wouldn't that open up the middle of the field? The only problem is that 'Zona does not have a reliable tight end, so they are going to have to make some adjustments on the fly in order to expose this.

Roethlisberger is a winner. There's no disputing that. He has spearheaded the "don't f___ up" style of QB since coming into the league. That's not a knock on him, but Roethlisberger has been asked not to make big plays, but not to make big mistakes, and it's definitely worked. Chad Pennington, Joe Flacco, and Trent Edwards are just a few examples of guys whose game leans heavily on their consistency and not turning the ball over. Pittsburgh will have an "easier" time this week in protecting him, but still, Arizona has a nice pass rush, especially in Bertrand Berry and Darnell Dockett. A key to the game will be how much time Roethlisberger gets before he's forced to throw. If he gets outside the pocket, it almost seems like he's better off. Because of his running abilities, defenses have to respect that, and once he starts rolling out, that has to be on a defender's mind. So instead of focusing solely on their man, they now have to worry about the QB scrambling. Look at what happened in the Baltimore game on the long touchdown hookup with Santonio Holmes. As Roethlisberger rolled out, Fabian Washington was forced to move up to defend against him running. Ben threw a pass over Washington as he was falling down trying to get back to defend the pass, and just like that, the Steelers make a huge play that propels them to victory.

'Zona also has a nice compliment of linebackers that no one seems to give any credit to, and they could definitely factor into this game. Willie Parker seems to be returning to form, and if he is allowed to get five yards a carry and get close to 80-90 yards for the game, the Cards will be in trouble. I really think that this unit will step up though. Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, and Karlos Dansby (you really need to know his name) will be called upon to stop the run and to stop the intermediate passing game that Roethlisberger will inevitably have to rely on. I say that because I don't believe Ward will be effective for the entirety of the game, and the Cards' secondary should be able to contain the other Steeler receivers, leaving Ben no choice but to go to Heath Miller and Parker/Mewelde Moore out of the backfield. This unit is capable of making the stops, but they need to be able to execute on a consistent basis, because as I mentioned before, Ben can make plays happen on the fly, and the linebackers need to be savvy enough to force a bad pass, or at the very least, force Ben to make plays happen with his feet, which he can definitely do, but it's not something he really wants to be doing with regularity.

Okay, so where am I going with all this? Look, Pittsburgh is probably the better team, and their defense is fantastic. Me, personally, I just like the edge that Arizona has. They have a lot of different things they can do on both offense and defense. I think that Pittsburgh's offense will kind of look stagnant as the game progresses, especially without Ward in there. The Cards will have trouble running the ball, but at least they have Edge back there. He is going to try and put together a game that will see his value increase for his potential suitors after this season. On defense, I just love that secondary. I'm sorry, but I mean...Adrian Wilson is just so, so underrated, and it seems like even though he's a shoe-in for the Pro Bowl every year, he never gets discussed in the "best safety in the league" discussion. Instead, it's all about Polamalu, Ed Reed, or Brian Dawkins. I'm telling you, Adrian Wilson is just as good as those aforementioned players. To me, Adrian Wilson encompasses this Arizona team on a whole. This team is extremely talented, and yet they continue to get no respect because of the division they play in and their semi-collapse after they clinched a playoff spot. The season finale against Seattle was indicative of what they are capable of doing. What concerns me is how they react to what Pittsburgh does in the early going. They have to at least be somewhat aware of the fact that the Steelers will be hell-bent on both pressuring Warner and doubling Fitzgerald from the onset, which could open up some things underneath and down the field. Also, the Super Bowl is "the game," and without even looking this up, I have to say that the Steelers have way more guys that have played in this game than Arizona. However, that sometimes can be a two-way street. I mean look at last year. Because New England had been there, and had all the experience in the world, they were expected to wipe out the Giants, and we all know how that went. Granted, this is a different scenario as the Steelers are not undefeated coming into this game, but still, there has to be some pressure on them to win this game. If you look at it from that standpoint, all the pressure goes on Pittsburgh's collective shoulders, while Arizona has the luxury of being able to play this game knowing that all of America (including myself) had written them off after their win over Atlanta in Wild Card Weekend. Hell, they played the NFC Championship at home against the #6 seed and were underdogged by five points! The NFL has been so screwy this would be fitting to see a team that went 9-7 in the regular season win the whole thing...

Arizona (+7)

Thanks to everyone who continued to read this even after my prolonged leave of absence from writing. You probably will never know how much I appreciate it. As always, please let me know if there is something you like, dislike, or something that you want my take on. Everything is welcomed. Thanks again. Peace.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

1st Annual Super Bowl Prop Bets Extravaganza!

"It might be cool, I dunno...and if it's not, I don't care."

So for some reason, the prop bets column has eluded me for the entirety of my blog...I guess I kind of forgot about it. However, I was looking into it yesterday, and after listening to the "BS Report" with Bill and Cousin Sal today, I decided to do my first ever prop bets page. All these "proppers" can be found on and There is a ton here, so to help you out a little, my favorite bets are in bold. And away we go!:

National Anthem:
  • Jennifer Hudson Goes Under 2 minutes, 3 seconds (-120)
  • She Will Not Lip-Synch Any Of The Song (-140)
Coin Toss:
  • Heads (-105)
  • Pittsburgh (-105)

Arizona Team Props:

  • Total Rushing Yards Will Be Under 72.5 Yards (-115)
  • Warner Will Not Throw A Pick In The First Half (-150)
  • First TD Will Not Be Passing TD (+140)
  • Arizona Will Have A Rushing TD (+120)
  • Arizona's Last Score Will Be A TD (-200)
  • Arizona Will Score A TD In The First Quarter (+140)
  • Arizona's Highest Scoring Quarter Will Be The 3rd (+300)
  • Arizona's First Half Points: 10-12 Points (+400)
Pittsburgh Team Props:
  • Pittsburgh Will Not Score In Every Quarter (-200)
  • Pittsburgh Will Score In Both The First And Second Quarters (-160)
  • Pittsburgh Will Convert A 4th Down (+160)
  • Pittsburgh's First TD Will Be A Pass TD (-115)
  • Pittsburgh Will Have Less Than Six Different Receivers (-160)
  • Total Rushing Yards Will Be Under 115.5 Yards (-105)
  • Pittsburgh Will Record More Than 2.5 Sacks (-105)
  • Pittsburgh's Total First Half Points: 13-15 Points (+285)
First Scoring Play:
  • Touchdown (-150)
  • Pittsburgh Passing TD (+385)
Matchup Props:
  • Kurt Warner -6 Completions vs. Ben Roethlisberger (-115)
  • Kurt Warner -8 Attempts vs. Ben Roethlisberger (-115)
  • Kurt Warner Will Have More TD Passes vs. Ben Roethlisberger (-105)
  • Kurt Warner -17 Passing Yards vs. Ben Roethlisberger (-115)
  • Ben Roethlisberger Will Throw An INT First (+160)
  • Edgerrin James +38.5 Rushing Yards vs. Willie Parker (-115)
  • Larry Fitzgerald -27 Receiving Yards vs. Hines Ward (-115)
  • Santonio Holmes +6 Receiving Yards vs. Anquan Boldin (-115)
  • Steve Breaston -5 Receiving Yards vs. Nate Washington (-115)
  • Leonard Pope +34.5 Receiving Yards vs. Heath Miller (-115)
  • Neil Rackers +1.5 Points vs. Jeff Reed (-125)
  • The Longest TD Of The Game Will Be Over 44.5 Yards (-115)
  • The Shortest TD Of The Game Will Be Over 1.5 Yards (+105)
  • Total TDs Of The Game Will Be Over 5.5 (+115)
  • First TD Of The Game Will Be 16-25 Yards (+300)
  • There Will Not Be A Defensive/Special Teams TD (-175)
  • Santonio Holmes Will Score The First TD (+800)
  • Larry Fitzgerald Will Score The Last TD (+600)
  • Santonio Holmes TD (-105)
  • Gary Russell TD (+400)
  • Edgerrin James TD (+140)
  • Larry Fitzgerald TD (-175)
  • Jerheme Urban TD (+500)
Various Props:
  • Total Kickoff Returns Will Be Over 9.5 (-130)
  • Total Number Of INTs Will Be Over 3.5 (+140)
  • A Team Will Score Within The First Six Minutes (-120)
  • A Team Will Not Score Three Unanswered Times (+160)
  • There Will Be A Score In The Last 2 Minutes Of The First Half (-240)
  • There Will Be A Score In The Last 3.5 Minutes Of The Game (-160)
  • The Jersey # Of The First TD Scorer Will Be Under 38.5 (-115)
  • The Largest Lead By Either Team Will Be Under 14.5 (-105)
  • There Will Be A Two Point Conversion Attempt (+250)
  • The First Turnover Of The Game Will Be An INT (-160)
  • The Total Net Yards (Passing/Rushing/Returning) Will Be Over 670.5 Yards (-110)
Super Bowl MVP:
  • Larry Fitzgerald (+500)
Cross Sports Props:
  • TDs Scored +0 vs. Tapouts At UFC 94 (-120)
  • FGs Scored +0 vs. Fights That Go The Distance At UFC 94 (-120)
  • Ernie Els Birdies At Dubai +.5 vs. Pittsburgh/Arizona Sacks (-130)
  • Missouri St./Creighton Score +49.5 vs. Pittsburgh/Arizona Rushing Yards (-115)
  • Sergio Garcia's Final Round Score At Dubai -9.5 vs. Hines Ward's Receiving Yards (-115)
  • Heath Miller Receptions -1.5 vs. Newcastle/Sunderland Goals (+125)
  • Phil Mickelson's Final Round Score at FBR Open +43.5 vs. Pittsburgh's Rushing Yards (-115)
  • Pittsburgh/Arizona Longest TD +26.5 vs. Camilo Villegas' Final Round Score at FBR Open (-115)
  • Arizona's TDs -.5 vs. Liverpool/Chelsea Goals (+135)
  • Santonio Holmes Receptions -.5 vs. Tayshaun Prince's Made FTs (-140)
  • Kevin Garnett's Points +6.5 vs. Pittsburgh/Arizona First Half Points (-115)
  • Ray Allen's Made Threes +0 vs. Kurt Warner's TDs + INTs (+125)
  • Jeff Reed Points +.5 vs. Kendrick Perkins' Points (-115)
  • Arizona's Points +.5 vs. Largest Lead In Minnesota/Boston Game (-110)
  • Pittsburgh/Arizona Highest Scoring Quarter +1.5 vs. Paul Pierce's Points (-110)
  • Heath Miller's Receiving Yards -6.5 vs. Dwight Howard's Rebounds (-115)
  • Larry Fitzgerald's Receiving Yards -28.5 vs. St. Joseph's Points (-115)
  • Willie Parker Rushing + Receiving Yards +54.5 vs. Cincinnati/Villanova Points (-115)
  • Raymar Morgan's (Michigan State) Points + Rebounds -1.5 vs. Pittsburgh's First Downs (-115)
  • Anquan Boldin's Receiving Yards +14.5 vs. Michigan State's Points (-115)
  • Canada Team Goals (Senators/Canadiens/Oilers) +1.5 vs. Pittsbugh/Arizona Punts (-145)
  • Pittsbugh/Arizona TDs +0 vs. Ottawa/Washington Goals (+115)
  • Larry Fitzgerald's TDs +0 vs. Alex Ovechkin's Goals (Even)
  • Alex Ovechkin's Shots On Goal -1.5 vs. Pittsbugh/Arizona Sacks (-135)
  • Alex Ovechkin's Points +0 vs. Ben Roethlisberger's TD Passes (-115)
  • Boston's Shots On Goal +13.5 vs. Heath Miller's Receiving Yards (-115)
  • Pittsbugh/Arizona First Quarter Points -2.5 vs. Boston/Montreal Goals (-140)
  • LeBron James' Points -1.5 vs. Pittsburgh's Points (-115)
  • LeBron James' Points + Assists +12.5 vs. Pittsbugh/Arizona Points (-115)
  • LeBron James' First Half Points +3.5 vs. Ben Roethlisberger's Completions (-140)
  • Kurt Warner's Completions -2.5 vs. LeBron James' FG Attempts (-120)
  • Kurt Warner's TD Passes +0 vs. LeBron James' Threes (-130)
  • LeBron James' Missed Free Throws -.5 vs. Jeff Reed's Field Goals (-140)
  • Anderson Varejao's Points +1.5 vs. Margin Of Super Bowl Win (-115)
  • Allen Iverson's Points +3.5 vs. Willie Parker's Rushing Attempts (-115)
  • Detroit's First Quarter Points +4.5 vs. Pittsburgh's Points (-115)
  • Rasheed Wallace's Points + Rebounds -2.5 vs. Arizona's First Downs (-115)
  • Pittsburgh's TDs -.5 vs. Lazio/AC Milan Goals (+125)
  • Orlando's Made Threes +1.5 vs. Pittsbugh/Arizona Second Quarter Points (-115)
  • Kevin Durant Points + Rebounds + Assists +3.5 vs. Gross Distance Of Mitch Berger's First Punt (-115)
  • Larry Fitzgerald's Longest Reception -11.5 vs. Kevin Martin's (Sacramento) Points (-115)
Completely Random:
  • Color Of The Gatorade Dump: Red (+500)
  • The Gatorade Dump Will Occur With Under 45 Seconds Left In The Game (+110)
  • The Gatorade Dump Will Be Done By Someone On The Defense (-130)
  • Highest Rated Commercial By USA Today: The Field (not GoDaddy, Bud, Pepsi, Coke, McDonald's, or Doritos) (+200)
  • Neilsen Rating: Over 42.5 (+115)
  • Next NFLPA Executive Director: Troy Vincent (+150)
  • John Madden Will Say "Kurt Warner" before "Ben Roethlisberger" after opening kickoff (-190)
  • Matt Millen Will Not Predict The Correct Winner (+190)
  • The Super Bowl MVP Will Thank His Teammates First (+200)
  • Troy Polamalu Will Get Tackled By His Hair Before Larry Fitzgerald (+450)
  • No current NFL players will get arrested during Super Bowl week (-140)
  • There will be five planes featured in the opening flyover (+125)
  • Arizona's representative will win the "Madden Super Bowl" (+200)
  • Jay Leno will not make an appearance on the pregame show (+100)
  • "Heroes" Will Get The Most Promos During The Game (+175)
  • Bruce Springsteen Will Open With "The Rising" (+400)
  • Bruce Springsteen Will Close With "Born To Run" (+150)
  • Bud Light Will Have More Promos Than Budweiser (+200)
  • Pennsylvania Will Have A Higher TV Market Share Than Arizona (-500)
  • Arizona's Cheereleaders Will Be Shown More Often Than Pittsburgh's (+135)
  • Al Michaels Will Mention The Point Spread Before The Total (-200)
  • This Super Bowl Will Have Lower Ratings Than Super Bowl XL (Pittsburgh/Seattle) (+110)
  • John Madden Will Make More Than One Food Reference (-105)
  • NBC Will Show Brenda Warner Less Than 4 Times (-105)
  • Barack Obama Will Call The Winning Team's Locker Room At The End Of The Game (+150)
  • Obama Will Mention Arizona First On The Pregame Show (-110)
  • If Obama Picks The Game, He Will Pick Pittsburgh (-120)
  • Bill Bidwell's (Arizona's Owner) Tie Will Be Red (-500)
Okay, I have to be honest. I really just wanted to do this to get to the cross sports props. Seriously, there is a guy in Vegas contriving all of these...that's just amazing to me. And now it's reaching into the UEFA and the UFC? Wow. In any event, I'll be previewing the Super Bowl in the days to come, but I couldn't resist doing a prop bets-themed column. That was lots of fun. Well, enjoy, and I will be back towards the end of the week. Peace.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Courting The Forgotten Major

"Please...we're a long, long way from home."

Alright, so in celebration of the 200th post on this site, I figured I would do something different to kind of shake things up. Face it, you have a week until the Super Bowl, the Bruins are off for the weekend for the All Star Game (I'm taking the East -130 in that...I know what you're thinking, and yes, it is ridiculous to bet on all star games...but what would be the point of watching it if there wasn't money're welcome Gary Bettman), so there has to be something to fill the void of my undying allegiance to "wasting" my life away watching sports...enter the Australian Open, the red-headed stepchild of the majors. Actually, this is probably my favorite major because A.) No one talks about it, which makes me think I'm part of a secret society, B.) Call me crazy, but Australia doesn't get the kind of pub that it used to get...I'm going to go ahead and attribute that to the decline of Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, and Nicole Kidman from the limelight, and C.) Unless you're really sick, you can't really pregame for the opening matches of any other major. Actually, most are happening while you're sleeping, while the Aussie Open is just kicking off at 9 or 10 at night...that's so prime!

Okay, outside of it being a really nice little excuse to stay up for all hours (in case you ever needed one), it also provides us with kind of a glimpse as to what we could expect for the rest of the 2009 tennis season. Of course, this season starts with a major twist. Roger Federer, who was the world's #1 for something like five years straight (maybe shorter, maybe was an extended period of time, how about that?), is now playing second fiddle to Rafael Nadal. Of course it would have been naive to imagine that Federer would continue to win everything for the rest of his career. However, even after Nadal's dominance last year, it's still tough for be to imagine anyone but Federer being the #1 man.

In any event, at the time of this writing, we are in the fourth round of the Open. The story so far, for me at least, was the fracas that happened between fans at the end of third-ranked Novak Djokavic's victory over Amer Delic. Of course, if you know about the Australian Open, you know that it is probably the most "rowdy" of all the majors. The fans are probably more boisterous at this tournament than any other one on the tour. This was a particularly interesting match due to the fact that Djokavic, who is from Serbia, was up against Delic, an American, but a descendant of Bosnia. If you were not aware of this, there is a history between the two countries (notably the Bosnian War), and once one of the sides started to infringe on the other's good time, an incident, not surprisingly, occurred. Eyewitnesses call the dispute "a chair-throwing contest." These types of incidents have happened before at the event, and in fact, most people suspected that something would happen when Djokavic and Delic squared off. In Delic's prior match, there was shouting going back and forth between Serbian supporters and Croatian supporters, which then made its way to a local pub where a skirmish broke out, resulting in two arrests. So, that was somewhat of a way to foreshadow what was likely to unfold in Delic's next match. While sports are a great way to show your support for your town/city/state/country, so many times, it becomes about much more than what is going on in the game. Old wounds are dug into, and in turn, people think that, rather than look inferior, they should take up arms against the opponents' fans instead of enjoying the game. I know that I am guilty of this, and I think to varying degrees, we all are. While I think it may not be the healthiest way to show support for your team to chant and deride the opposing team, it crosses the line when physicality gets involved. Again, I'm not saying that getting into it as a fan is wrong, but there are definitely lines that people can cross, and they cross them too often, and it leads to people getting hurt, or sometimes worse.

Okay, getting back to the tennis aspect (sorry for the non-violence tangent), Djokavic will be going up against Marcos Baghdatis, who placed second at the '06 Aussie Open. Federer was able to navigate by Marat Safin, the former #1 player in the world and '05 champion, who said he will be retiring from tennis at the end of the '09 season. Andy Roddick (remember him?) was able to get by Fabrice Santoro in straight sets and is slated to go up against #21 Tommy Robredo. Robredo has yet to make it past the quarterfinals in any major, and is said to prefer playing on clay, so Roddick has a real chance to get by Robredo. If he does, he will likely face Djokovic in the next round. A guy to keep an eye on is #8 Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina. The reason I say this is that he has already won a warmup tourney that was held in New Zealand before the Aussie Open got underway, and reading this, I immediately thought about how it seems that the performance of players in tournaments before a major event can carry over to the major itself, kind of like how golfers do on the Florida swing before getting to the Masters. Del Potro will draw #19 Miran Cilic, which could lead to an encounter with Federer.

On the woman's side, you're looking at a #1 in Jelena Jankovic and a #2 in Serena Williams who seem almost destined to be playing in the finals from the dominance they have shown so far. You can almost say at this point that Jankovic, who has now been #1 for nineteen weeks in a row, is due for this win. Without a major to her credit (yet), she gets the unfortunate label of "the only #1 women's player in history without a major" for the time being. So, she will obviously be looking to rid that from her profile. Serena Williams has undergone a renaissance in her career, and is playing the way she did when she and her sister (who got bounced last round) were dominating the sport. A surprise so far was Ana Ivanovic's early exit from the proceedings. Ivanovic was the runner-up last year, but lost in three sets to Alisa Kleybanova. The timing of this couldn't be worse (as if losing ever has good timing), as defending champ Maria Sharapova is sitting out the Open. Someone to watch as a potential spoiler for a #1 vs. #2 could be the #3. Dinara Safina, who won the silver in Beijing, has had past success in this tournament, and breezed by her last opponent, Kaia Kanepi, in barely an hour (that's really quick in case you were wondering).

If you were curious, the matches will continue all the way until February 1, so if you've missed a chance to get a buzz on and then enjoy some tennis, have no fear, you still have a week to make that happen.

Big news coming out of KC as Herm Edwards, not surprisingly, was fired today. While I thought Edwards had a chance to come back next year, I was assuming this based on if Carl Peterson, the former GM and vice president of the team, stayed. Well, as soon as he resigned and Pioli was hired on, it was just a matter of time. In my opinion, Pioli was going to take the Cleveland job, but because they already picked Mangini as their coach, he decided to go to a team that would allow him, and not ownership, to pick the coach and the personnel. After all, he had a good thing in New England, and if he was going to go somewhere else, he had to have complete control over everything that was happening on the field. So, Pioli now gets to choose Herm's successor. The early news is that Mike Shanahan could be in line to take over. I found this to be initially fascinating because of this: If Shanahan gets hired on in KC, it will mark the third team in the AFC West he's coached. That's got to have some kind of historical precedence right? He's basically been entrenched in that division for 25 years (outside of his brief role as the Niners' offensive coordinator in the early 90s...I know, I didn't know that either), so this would be almost a perfect fit for him. I think like Pioli though, Shanahan can basically pick and choose where he wants to go, and it remains to be seen if KC is where he would be comfortable going to. If the Larry Johnson issue wasn't an issue at all, then this would be a no-brainer. However, Johnson and his unrest remain on the team for now. My thinking is that Shanahan has to be familiar with Pioli's work in New England, and therefore, can probably trust that this guy is capable of building up a winner in a short period of time. If Shanahan gets hired on, and LJ gets his walking papers, remember the name Jamaal Charles for next year. Given Shanahan's history of getting every running back with two legs 1,000 yards, I would expect a breakout season from Charles, who showed major flashes of his potential this year.

As I eluded to earlier, the NHL is having their All Star Game in Montreal (just hearing the word "Montreal" makes me want to boo), and of course, no one cares about the game itself. Everyone, instead, is focused on the skills competition, and for good reason. Just like the NBA's version, All Star Saturday is, at a minimum, a thousand times better than the game itself. Say what you will about the NHL, but they have done everything in their power to at least make the game more fan-friendly after their recent labor dispute which led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, and it continues into the skills contest. Here is a list of the events, including the participants, and my pick for the winner (the event starts at 7:00 on VS. on Saturday):

Fastest Skater:
  • Jeff Carter, Philadelphia
  • Zach Parise, New Jersey
  • Brian Campbell, Chicago
  • Jay Bouwmeester, Florida
Parise apparently will not be doing this live, as they have already posted his time of 15.829 seconds on the NHL website. Again, if this is official, which I'm not even sure it is, that time is slow as hell for this contest. Consider the last time the event was held in the format that it will be held this year, Andy McDonald won with a 14.030 time. So, again, if Parise already did this and tahat's his time, there's no way he has a chance. My pick in this one is Brian Campbell because he signed a big-ass contract in the offseason, which means he has less to lose than a guy like Bouwmeester, who will be a free agent after this year. Also, Campbell is the oldest of the three, and surprisingly, age is a positive factor in this contest. And, because it's true, Phil Kessel would have schooled all of them if he didn't have mono...I wonder how many times something has been followed by "if he/she/they didn't have mono?"

Breakaway Challenge:
  • Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim
  • Patrick Kane, Chicago
  • Alex Kovalev, Montreal
  • Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay
  • Alex Ovechkin, Washington
See, now initially, you look at this, and immediately, you have to be thinking Ovechkin. However, here's my theory on this: Ovechkin is going to put on a show, but will his ability to put on a show overtake him winning this event? I say it will. I think Kovalev will not get it done in front of the hometown crowd. I think the last guy to win a skills contest event in his hometown was when Ray Bourque won the accuracy contest like ten years ago in Boston (I'm almost certain that's wrong, but how many times do I get to mention Ray Bourque here? the way, he won this event eight times!). I'm going to go with Martin St. Louis. Not because he's good, but because he's like 5'6 and short people are riding a huge wave of momentum right now (which I'm still waiting to pass to me, but I digress).

Youngstars Game (Rookies vs. Sophomores):

Lucic was going to play for the sophomores! Damn it! My interest in this game as become as lukewarm as lukewarm can be. Blake Wheeler will be playing for the rookies, but considering the kind of depth the "vets" have (consider that Carey Price is the backup goalie for the sophomores...he's the starting goalie...of the actual All Star Game!), I'm going to go with a Lucic-less sophomore team

Pick: Sophomores

Accuracy Shooting:

  • Tomas Kaberle, Toronto
  • Jonathan Toews, Chicago
  • Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta
  • Jarome Iginla, Calgary
  • Dany Heatley, Ottawa
  • Marc Savard, Boston
  • Mike Modano, Dallas
  • Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh
This is probably the most impressive group of talent you are going to see in any skills contest in any all star game. Wow. You're looking at five guys who right now could make legitimate claims to at least being in a Hart Trophy conversation. Kaberle is your defending champion, but there is a lot of talent he is going to have to overcome to repeat. If I've learned anything, it's this: Do not bet against Dany Heatley...ever. That's why when it was my turn in the fantasy hockey draft, without hesitation, I picked Heatley (that, and the fact that Ovechkin, Crosby, Iginla, and Malkin were off the board).

Hardest Shot:
  • Zdeno Chara, Boston
  • Sheldon Souray, Edmonton
  • Vincent Lecavlier, Tampa Bay
  • Shea Weber, Nashville
  • Mark Streit, New York Islanders
  • Mike Komisarek, Montreal
I like how Chara came up with the idea of everyone throwing down a thousand bucks each for this event, with the winner giving the money to his charity of choice. I'm sure that side bets are made like this all the time, but they are done in the locker room and not revealed to anyone in the outside world. Not only is this public, but it's for's win-freggin'-win. I know of Lecavlier, and the others are kind of fuzzy to me, but what I do know his that Chara is like eight feet tall on skates, he plays for the B's, and he won last year...can't go against that.

Elimination Shootout

Okay, remember that thing I said earlier about not finding a better talent pool than the accuracy contest anywhere? Well, scratch that, because the NHL just stepped it up a notch with the shootout competition. Eighteen, I repeat, eighteen shooters from each side will square off against two goalies from the opposing side (not at the same time of goalie at a time). From what I can gather, basically, they're going to keep going until someone misses, and whoever scores last wins. This sounds like an absolutely grueling competition right? 36 of the beest shooters in the NHL going one after the other against those helpless goalies? This could get ugly. did a really nice breakdown of the goalies' stats in shootouts, the shooters' stats, and a breakdown of shooter vs. goalie stats.

Combined penalty shot and shootout attempts (career, regular season):

Goaltenders Goals/Attempts Save%

Henrik Lundqvist 37/160 .769
Tim Thomas 35/124 .718
J.S. Giguere 40/111 .640
Niklas Backstrom 28/64 .563

East Shooters Goals/Attempts Goal%

West Shooters
Goals/Attempts Goal%
Jay Bouwmeester 0/2 0.0

Dan Boyle
2/6 33.3
Jeff Carter 3/15 20.0

Dustin Brown
9/20 45.0
Zdeno Chara 2/5 40.0

Brian Campbell
0/0 ----
Dany Heatley 3/20 15.0

Shane Doan
4/14 28.6
Tomas Kaberle 5/10 50.0

Ryan Getzlaf
9/30 30.0
Mike Komisarek 0/0 ----

Milan Hejduk
13/31 41.9
Alex Kovalev 9/28 32.1

Jarome Iginla
8/26 30.8
Ilya Kovalchuk 8/27 29.6

Patrick Kane
8/15 53.3
Vincent Lecavalier 13/40 32.5

Patrick Marleau
7/19 36.8
Evgeni Malkin 4/20 20.0

Mike Modano
7/24 29.2
Andrei Markov 3/7 42.9

Rick Nash
11/34 32.4
Alex Ovechkin 9/39 23.1

Scott Niedermayer
1/5 20.0
Zach Parise 14/34 41.2

Stephane Robidas
0/0 ----
Martin St. Louis 5/22 22.7

Sheldon Souray
1/2 50.0
Marc Savard 3/14 21.4

Joe Thornton
2/7 28.6
Eric Staal 4/14 28.6

Keith Tkachuk
4/16 25.0
Mark Streit 0/4 0.0

Jonathan Toews
4/8 50.0
Thomas Vanek 7/30 23.3

Shea Weber
0/0 ----

All-Star Shooters vs. Henrik Lundqvist

All-Star Shooters vs. Tim Thomas
Shooters Goals/Attempts

Jeff Carter 0/11

Dany Heatley
Zdeno Chara 1/11

Patrick Kane
Ilya Kovalchuk 0/11

Ilya Kovalchuk
Vincent Lecavalier 1/2

Alex Kovalev
Evgeni Malkin 0/2

Vincent Lecavalier
Andrei Markov 0/1

Evgeni Malkin
Alex Ovechkin 0/1

Andrei Markov
Zach Parise 3/5

Mike Modano
Marc Savard 1/1

Alex Ovechkin
Eric Staal 0/1

Zach Parise

Martin St. Louis

Marc Savard
All-Star Shooters vs. J-S Giguere

Mark Streit
Shooters Goals/Attempts

Keith Tkachuk
Dustin Brown 0/3

Jonathan Toews
Dany Heatley 0/1

Thomas Vanek
Milan Hejduk 0/1

Jarome Iginla 0/1

All-Star Shooters vs. Niklas Backstrom
Tomas Kaberle 0/1

Patrick Marleau 1/2

Dustin Brown
Mike Modano 0/2

Jarome Iginla
Rick Nash 1/2

Ilya Kovalchuk
Joe Thornton 1/1

Vincent Lecavalier
Keith Tkachuk 0/1

Patrick Marleau
Thomas Vanek 1/1

Zach Parise

Now, here's a list of who is facing who on Saturday:

Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota
Jonathan Toews, Chicago (0-0)
Zach Parise, New Jersey (0-1)
Shea Weber, Nashville (0-0)
Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim (0-0)
Sheldon Souray, Edmonton (0-0)
Marc Savard, Boston (0-0)
Patrick Marleau, San Jose (1-2)
Dany Heatley, Ottawa (0-0)
Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta (0-1)

Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
Shane Doan, Phoenix (0-0)
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles (0-0)
Stephane Robidas, Dallas (0-0)
Andrei Markov, Montreal (0-1)
Zdeno Chara, Boston (1-1)
Keith Tkachuk, St. Louis (0-0)
Jeff Carter, Philadelphia (0-1)
Rick Nash, Columbus (0-0)
Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay (1-2)

J-S Giguere, Anaheim
Thomas Vanek, Buffalo (1-1)
Milan Hejduk, Colorado (0-1)
Tomas Kaberle, Toronto (0-1)
Dan Boyle, San Jose (0-0)
Mike Komisarek, Montreal (0-0)
Joe Thornton, San Jose (1-1)
Jarome Iginla, Calgary (0-1)
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay (0-0)
Patrick Kane, Chicago (0-0)

Tim Thomas, Boston
Eric Staal, Carolina (0-0)
Mark Streit, Islanders (0-1)
Brian Campbell, Chicago (0-0)
Jay Bouwmeester, Florida (0-0)
Mike Modano, Dallas (0-1)
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim (0-0)
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh (1-2)
Alex Ovechkin, Washington (1-3)
Alex Kovalev, Montreal (0-2)

In the end, Ovechkin will leave his mark on this contest, because he's just that talented. So, the pick here is Alexander the Great

Pick: Alex Ovechkin

Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully the next 200 are as fun as the first 200. Take care. Peace.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How To Pay For Going Out On A Limb

"Old man look at my life
24 and there's so much more."

Well, I think I may have picked the wrong time to take a chance on a road team in the AFC Championship on Sunday. Okay, I will say that to my credit, Baltimore did have the Steelers in a very precarious spot. Down 16-14, the Ravens had a shot to take the lead, but had to start on their own 17 instead of the 43 due to an unnecessary roughness call on a certain Raven that will remain nameless (ummm...actually, screw that: HIS NAME IS DAREN STONE! You lost the season! How you living??!! Not too good!). While Stone basically deep-sixed any chance the Ravens had, Joe Flacco certainly didn't do his team any favors. That guy came unglued I say. Wow. Here's the thing: I saw Pittsburgh dominating, but I figured something totally screwy would happen that would propel the Ravens to the win. They didn't play all that well against Tennessee, but Chris Johnson got hurt, and the infamous no-call on the delay of game penalty (which people have freaked out about, but it wasn't incredulous to the point where it could be counted as more than a second) helped Baltimore out. Then, as soon as Hines Ward went down, I'm basically sitting there going "and so it begins," basically waiting for the next crazy thing to happen that would go in the Ravens' favor. However, Flacco was terrible, which is understandable because of the Steelers' defense...but he was making "rookie" mistakes. I realize that he is a rookie, but he hasn't necessarily played like a rookie, especially in the postseason. So, while I was aware of the pitfalls of picking a rookie QB to win three straight games on the road, I simply thought it was fate, especially after everything that happened against the Titans. However, they got that stupid, stupid...STUPID penalty on Stone, and once that momentum was killed, all that was left was for Flacco to let Polamalu make yet another huge play to win the game. That was destiny in itself there. Polamalu was questionable all week to play, and had one of his better games of his career. Same with Terrell Suggs, who was talking to reporters while wearing a sling the Friday before the game. He plays, and he gets two sacks playing with a shoulder injury that did not allow him to raise his arm over his ear. This is why they call it the playoffs though right?

Random Side Note: Pittsburgh was on the cover of SI, marking the second straight week that a team reversed the SI cover jinx and won a game. Why am I thinking that Larry Fitzgerald will be on the next cover, and why am I thinking that I might lean towards 'Zona because of it?

The aforementioned Cardinals were winning big, then they were losing, then they executed a drive that surprisingly did not end with Fitzgerald in the end zone, and just like that, they're in their first ever Super Bowl. Fitzgerald is just some kind of wonderful though. I mean you just can't cover the guy with one can't even cover him with two! He is just a physical specimen. That one route where he ran over the middle was tearing the Eagles' D up. Something that may be underrated was the fact that Eagles' D-coordinator Jim Johnson was relegated to the press box and could not be on the field. I'm not going to say that was the reason the Cards jumped out to such a quick start, but think about it for a second. Their defense was terrible in the first half, then Johnson was able to talk face-to-face with his defense at halftime...suddenly when the third quarter starts, the Eagles are all over Warner, and 'Zona can't get anything going. Not trying to conjure up any conspiracy theories (wait, actually I am), but there is something to be said about a guy who is used to being on the sidelines and getting to interact with his players personally rather than having to sit upstairs and have everything relayed to his players through some middle man.

So, after road teams went an astonishing 5-3 to start up the playoffs, they were 0-2 on Championship Weekend. Again, once you think you know the NFL, you know less than what you started with. Here's something that I have a problem with: There has been a lot of talk about how the Super Bowl will basically be a home game in Tampa for Pittsburgh and that no one will show from Arizona. Okay...why? Arizona has never been to a Super Bowl! Plus, after many suggested that due to the rapid sellout of the Cards/Eagles game, people would be selling their tickets to Philly fans, and there would be a 50/50 breakdown in the stands. Well, unless the Eagles have some alternate red jersey that I am unaware of, that couldn't have been further from the reality of what happened Sunday. Sure, when the Cowboys and the Giants play in Glendale, they get a huge following, but since when have the Cardinals been even close to not only making the Super Bowl, but winning the Super Bowl? Before this year, the Cards hadn't hosted a playoff game since they played in Chicago, so of course there was a lack of interest from the fans there. Still, to suggest, like some have, that there will be an 80/20 split in the stands in Tampa for the game is ridiculous. If there is anything close to the amount of exuberance the 'Zona fans showed on Sunday, I wouldn't make a generalization that Tampa will be "Heinz Field South" for a day. Pittsburgh will get a great draw, but there will be a large contingent of fans in red and white as well.

Coming back to the Patriots and their upcoming offseason, there are simply loads of questions that the new regime has to answer. With Scott Pioli gone to Kansas City, Nick Caserio will take over Pioli's role as vice president of player personnel. He's just 33 years old, but as were finding out more and more, there is a steady youth movement amongst the NFL in terms of front office personnel. There were a lot of question surrounding a certain 28 year old Yale graduate when he took over as the Red Sox' GM, and look how that turned out. Also, anyone who has funneled through the Pats in the last decade or so has turned out quite well when they were asked to step up to the plate for the Pats or another team (especially Thomas Dimitroff this year), so if you are in the system, and know the system, there is a very good chance that you can succeed with that system. Of course that's just the tip of the iceberg. Also departed are Josh McDaniels, who will be taking over in Denver this year (Jay Cutler will throw for like 5,000 yards next year...keep that in mind for those fantasy drafts), Dom Capers going to Green Bay as their defensive coordinator, and Brad Seely moving on to Cleveland, there are three big holes that the Pats are going to need to fill quickly. While the names that the Pats have interest in have not really surfaced yet, this is definitely a top priority right now. What can be said is that when the Pats promote in-house with their staff, it seems to work out, so don't expect too many big names to be mentioned for these openings.

Next is what the Pats will do on the field. While the Pats hold three of the first 55 picks in next year's draft, they have not done a very efficient job in drafting the last few years. Let's look at the '06 and '07 drafts. In '06, the Pats drafted Laurence Maroney, who had a high upside, but can't stay healthy, traded up and got Chad Jackson, who also has had major problems staying healthy, and seven other guys who are either barely on the team or have been released. Only Stephen Gostkowski has made a major impact on the team. Then, in '07, the Pats made three picks in the first five rounds, with Brandon Meriweather being the "highlight," and he has not shown any sign that he will be ready to be a full-time starter in the wake of the inevitable retirement of Rodney Harrison. While it is too soon to judge '08's version, the results are not looking good so far outside of Jerod Mayo. So, they have the picks, but recently, they have been unable to find pro-ready players who are ready to step into the numerous holes surrounding this team.

There are two big (literal and figurative) questions staring the Pats in the face on the defensive line. Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour will both be free agents next year, and if you are expecting any kind of hometown discount from either, you are sorely mistaken. Wilfork has been one of the most dominant nose tackles since his rookie year. In arguably the most important position of a 3-4 defense, Wilfork has been an effective run-stopper, and is surprisingly quick for his size. Needless to say, a guy with his abilities will be in high demand. Seymour has been to five Pro Bowls, and is one of the most highly-regarded ends in football. However, this will be his second contract, and going into the 2010 season, he will have had nine years of service under his belt. If you are going to sign one of these guys long-term (assuming you can't sign both), Wilfork has to be the clear favorite because he is younger, and nose tackles like him simply do not come along very often. Seymour may receive the franchise tag, but I will be shocked if the Pats will offer him a long-term deal.

Next is what the Pats could do in the free agent market. The Pats will be right around $20 million under the cap, and there will be an increase to the cap ceiling this year, but despite that, Matt Cassel's franchise tag will run them roughly $14 million this year, so if Tom Brady can't come back to full strength, there won't be a whole lot going on in terms of big names making their way to Foxboro. When you look back recently at what the Pats spend their money on, they have not focused on the defensive secondary, which was, surprise, awful this year. The blue-chipper in the DB ranks for free agents this year is Nnamdi Asomugha from Oakland. This guy fits the mold of one of the favorite phrases thrown around in present-day football: "shut-down corner." He is the real deal, and literally shut down every single big-time receiver that he has faced. However, I don't think there is a chance the Pats will get him purely based on their track record and their endless pursuit of trying to find the next bargain-basement discount guy like they got with Rodney Harrison. Some other names that could potentially be on the radar include Dunta Robinson (I have been looking into this, and I still cannot find a guy who went to USC that played on the Pats in the last 15 years, so this would kill two birds with one stone), Justin Miller (great on returns, but an okay corner, and also went to that other SC school with the purple and orange), and Jabari Greer from the Bills. They will also be needing a safety. Jermanine Phillips from the Bucs (which would mean two starting safeties from the U), Oshiomogho Atogwe from St. Louis, and my personal favorite, Darren Sharper from Minnesota. Still, there is very little the Pats can do until they figure out the Brady/Cassel situation, which probably won't take shape until after the draft.

Is there a possibility that Jonathan Papelbon may not be the closer for the Sox for the rest of his career? It certainly appears that way. While Papelbon signed a one-year, $6.25 million deal yesterday (most ever for a first-time arbitration-eligible pitcher), and while I know I'm not the first to be reporting on this, it seems like Papelbon will be looking for a massive payday when he hits the free agent market in three years. Here's what it comes down to: If the Sox cannot sign Papelbon to a long-term deal like the ones they struck with Pedroia and Youk, and if Pap stays healthy (a big "if," but it definitely could happen) once that time hits, he could command anywhere between $15-16 million a year for five to six years. If the Sox plan on keeping Papelbon as their main man, they need to strike a deal sometime in the not-so-distant future. They have already discussed figures, and Papelbon is on record saying that the two sides were "way off" and that he wants to set the "standard" in terms of compensation for closers. Well, K-Rod signed a three-year, $37 million contract earlier this year, so it stands to reason that he is looking for something in that least. The Sox got a total steal with the Pedroia signing, and made out okay with Youkilis...this is obviously not going to be a case of them being able to get Papelbon to sign for anything lower than what he, or perhaps his agent, has in mind right now.

Of course, there will be more about the Super Bowl and whatever else happens to pop up in the world of sports. Hope you are doing well out there. Peace.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Championship Weekend Preview

"She don't think straight."

Well, I think I've tried just about everything this year to figure out the NFL, and nothing seems to be working. Game film, betting trends, "expert" opinions...none of it seems to be adding up. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that this week, I'm kind of just winging it. Sure, I'll have something to back up the picks, but instead of looking at what a team does well, I think I'm going to focus more on what teams do not do well, and how they are making attempts to fix it, because seemingly, as I mentioned in the last column, whatever the weakness of a team was in the regular season has almost become a strength. It's a backwards year, a backwards might as well look at things the opposite way (and yes, I did watch "The Opposite" episode of Seinfeld, which is incredibly relatable to real least my life). Both games are on Sunday by the way, in case you did not know. To some, that may be obvious, but when you've had playoff football on Saturday for the last two weeks, you get into a comfort zone right?

NFC Championship: Philadelphia vs. Arizona (3:00, FOX):

Okay, the glaring weakness for the Eagles is there caliber of receivers. Kevin Curtis is their #1...he would be a #3 on most teams. DeSean Jackson has certainly been a factor on offense and special teams. A lot of GMs would certainly love to have a 6'4, 6'5 receiver, but having a guy like Jackson who is shifty and can make moves in the open field is something that's invaluable. On Arizona's side, they have had two weaknesses: stopping the run, and running the ball. However, the Cards have been locking down both of those areas in their first two playoff games. It's somewhat of an anomaly of how the Cards struggled against the run, and yet stopped two of the most dynamic running attacks in two consecutive weeks. The playoffs have also seen the re-emergence of Edgerrin James, something I saw coming in the final game of the season against Seattle. James, who went public with his distaste for the Arizona organization, has been exceptional in the playoffs. So, again, you're looking at two teams who had glaring weaknesses during the regular season, yet are finding ways to not only live with them, but using them to their advantage.

Here's where I think the game changes: Both teams have superior D-backfields that include three outstanding corners (PHI: Brown/Samuel/Sheppard; ARI: Rolle/Cromartie/Hood) and two of the best safeties in the league (Brian Dawkins and Adrian Wilson, two guys I would kill to have on the Pats). Philly has been able to neutralize the first two passing attacks they went up against, but let's break those down for a quick second. Minnesota had three receivers who were banged up and a QB who could not deal with the pressure Philly brought on. The Giants were without their best receiver, and Eli Manning looked like absolute garbage. Can Philly do the same to Kurt Warner? See, I'm not so sure about that. For one, the Arizona O-Line has allowed one sack so far in the postseason. Secondly, Warner not only has postseason experience, but postseason success. I respect the fact that Philly has been to five of the last eight NFC Championship games, but they are 1-3 in their first four. I know that I've bet against the Eagles the first two times, and that didn't go over so well...but I did bet against Arizona twice, and that also did not go over so well.

Arizona (+4)

AFC Championship Game: Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh (6:30, CBS)

I remember saying something to the effect of "I can totally see a Tennessee vs. San Diego championship game," well, I think that's more ammunition for the "stick to the opposite" feeling I have going on right now. Well, let's look at what these two were not supposed to do well. Baltimore was supposed to crumble due to their rookie quarterback. Well, surprise, they're one game away from the Super Bowl. Let's review what happened the first two games Baltimore played against Pittsburgh. In Week 4, Flacco did not throw a pick, but Pittsburgh did force him to cough up the ball once, which ended up being a defensive TD for Pittsburgh. The game went to OT, with the Steelers winning on a Jeff Reed field goal. In the second game, Week 15 in Baltimore, Flacco had perhaps his worst day as a starter, going 11/28 for 115 yards and two picks. The second pick came at the very end of the game when Flacco threw an INT in Pittsburgh territory down four. Okay, so what does that show? Again, I'm nervous about Flacco if they are down late in the game. Don't get me wrong, I love the guy, but still, I think I have a right to be worried.

Everyone was worried about Pittsburgh's ground game...I really didn't get that. It's kind of like the Edge in Arizona. Parker was hurt, and Pittsburgh, to their credit, allowed him to come back at his own pace and was able to get by with Mewelde Moore as the time passed. Parker had 47 yards in the second meeting. Obviously it's going to be tough for both teams to run in this game.

Both of these QBs have been sacked the most times in their careers by these two defenses. The way these two operate, that will definitely have a major significance on the flow of this game. Roethlisberger has been great in the cold (below 40: 22 TDs, 9 INTs in 12 games and nearly a 100 QB rating). Despite those numbers, I'm leaning towards Baltimore. Sure, Flacco is a rookie, but Balitmore uses the same mentality that Pittsburgh employed when Ben was a rookie...don't lose the game. By all means, play well, and do your best, but do not make the mistake that will cost the team the game. Flacco made the mistake the first game with the fumble, then he threw two picks the last game...if we've learned anything, it's that this is the league of adjustments, and that it is hard, hard work to beat a team three times in one year. I believe in John Harbaugh and Rex Ryan...and it's not like I don't believe in Mike Tomlin and Dick LaBeau, but this Super Bowl might be ready for some new blood. Oh, right, numbers...Baltimore is really good when the spread is 6 or less and 'dogged (7-3 SU, 8-2 ATS), and Pittsburgh isn't (5-5 SU, 3-7 ATS).

Baltimore (+6)

Random Observation: You can argue with me about this, but the four best safeties in the NFL are playing this weekend (Wilson, Dawkins, Reed, Polamalu). Coincidence? Hardly.

In the big picture, I also went against the obvious storylines that would exist if a certain combination of these teams win. It's difficult to try and explain that in one sentence, so let me expand. You know how UNC and Duke are usually #1 seeds in the tourney? And that the selection committee puts them on the same side of the bracket so they could eventually meet in the Final Four? Okay, how many times does that ever work out? I'm going to go ahead and say never. So, betting against the storylines is an interesting way to go about things, and again, I'm all for anything different after the last couple of weeks. Something like if
Pittsburgh plays Philadelphia, it would be deemed the "Battle of the Keystone State." If Pittsburgh played Arizona, it would be Ken Whisenhunt (Arizona's head coach) going up against his former team. The one thing that concerns me is that the NFL has had absolutely no luck this year in terms of PR. Brady went down in Week 1, Tomlinson was way off this year, Drew Brees threw for 5,000 yards...and nobody cares, the 0-16 Lions, Green Bay and Dallas were me, it almost seems like the NFL would do everything in its power to get Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl just to make it much easier to market this game. I mean Arizona/Baltimore? There's nothing really there (no offense to those teams, but the appeal of the Cards and the Ravens isn't nearly as widespread as that of the Steelers...not even close). So that kind of has me concerned. The good thing is that no one likes the Cards and the Ravens, so the clear "no one believed in us" stigmata is in effect. I mean...I don't know? Sometimes you look genius, and other times you crap out...and everyone has crapped out more often that not this year.

Rock and roll. See everyone on the other side. Take care. Peace.