Fall is in the air, so Eileen and I are going to attempt to go apple-picking tomorrow. Due to the crazy late-spring freezes this year, the apple crop is supposed to be very limited, which explains why apples at the grocery store have been more expensive than gasoline. Hopefully they haven't jacked up the U-Pick prices also, since we'll be providing the labor and transportation.
HOU at ATL: Houston almost won my upset special last week, but something tells me they're about due for a bad game. King Kaufman on Salon.com has his "what the heck" pick of the week where he arbitrarily picks a team to win that he thinks will lose, and I think I'll take that stance here. ATL in an Upset Special
NYJ at BUF: The Bills were a spoilerish team at the start of the season, but injuries have totally destroyed any chance of them being competitive against most NFL teams. (Note to Ron Jaworski: See how I just referred to it as the "NFL"? It's not that hard, I know you can do it. It doesn't have to be "The National...Football...League" every time.) NYJ
BAL at CLE: The Ravens would win the award for most overrated defense this year if the Bears didn't absolutely blow them out of the water. For the past few years the "defense I'm most scared when the Patriots play" would be one of these two teams, but now that they're playing so craptastically it's time for someone else to step up. It sure won't be the Browns, though. BAL
STL at DAL: I really want to pick agains the Cowboys since everybody is slurping them so badly, but the Rams? The 'Boys have a bad pass defense but the Rams are just too 1-dimensional. DAL
CHI at DET: Griese, Grossman, it doesn't matter. I can't believe I'm picking Detroit to beat a team that just went to the Super Bowl and it's not even an upset. DET
OAK at MIA: Ugh, avert your eyes people, this will be ugly. I guess I'll go with the mini upset special. MIA
GB at MIN: My gut says go against the hyped-up Packers, but my brain says "Tarvaris Jackson! Kelly Holcomb! No pass defense!". Fine, brain, you win this round. GB
SEA at SF: I will show my east-coast bias in saying that I do not care a lick about either of these two teams and have nothing worthwhile to say about them. SEA
TB at CAR: Tampa is 2-1? Really? Who have they beaten? Oh, New Orleans and St. Louis. CAR
DEN at IND: So 'Dre Bly is a shutdown corner now? When did that happen? I keep waiting for the Colts to revert back to their bad-defending ways, but the Broncos are not nearly good enough to be 3-1. IND
PIT at AZ: I love how everyone is ignoring the fact that the Steelers have played possibly the easiest schedule of the season so far. Luckily for them, their schedule continues. PIT
KC at SD: Nothing makes me happier than seeing the loudmouth Chargers continue losing. So at what point to we stop referring to LaDainian Tomlinson as the classiest player in the NFL, after he takes shots at the Patriots organization or after he shouts at his own QB on the sidelines? SD
PHI at NYG: It's the battle of the schizophrenic teams with no consistency or identity. Unfortunately for the Giants, they lose out because part of their identity is Whinin' Eli. PHI
NE at CIN: OK everybody who says this will be a close game, here are the facts. Last year the Pats completely dismantled the Bengals and scored about 44 points against them with Reche Caldwell's hands, Doug Gabriel's inability to run routes, and Troy Brown's aging body. The Pats have upgraded their offense significantly since then, while if anything the Bengals have gotten worse. I know you're desperate for a close, exciting Monday night game, but this won't be it. NE
Cement Corn and Week 3
In my last post, I posited that I didn't know anyone with either a MySpace or Facebook page. It has come to my attention that this is, in fact, untrue. Near our apartment here in Columbus is an attraction right up there with the Collinsville, IL Giant Ketchup Bottle and Effingham, IL Giant Cross: a field of 109 concrete ears of corn, lined up "like the gravestones at Arlington cemetery". The corn is meant both to honor the former landowner, who was apparently a pioneer in the field of hybridizing corn, and lament the fact that space formerly devoted to grow food is being replaced across the Midwest by Applebees'es's and office parks. In fact, this particular "cornfield" is surrounded on all sides by many office parks, all of which provide a greater service to society (local clean-air jobs and manicured grounds) than the concrete corn (eyesore). But the point of the story is, the faux cornfield has its own Myspace page. Take that, yesterday Chris.
ARI at BAL: This one seems right for an upset special, what with Steve McNair returning, but I'd be ignoring two important factors: 1) The AFC always beats the NFC, especially if the AFC team is even half decent. 2) The Cardinals are not capable of an upset on the road. BAL
SD at GB: This one is possible upset number two, what with the Chargers' offense magically disappearing and the Packers playing at home, but again I'd be ignoring two important factors: 1) The Chargers are pissed after last week's embarrassment on national television. 2) Lucas will be picking the Packers. SD
STL at TB: I'm not sure if either team winning this game would constitute an upset. Things aren't looking good for the Rams. TB
SF at PIT: Here's that whole AFC/NFC thing again. Plus the Niners are 2-0 despite their very best efforts. PIT
DET at PHI: If the Lions win this game, I don't think Donovan McNabb will make it out of the stadium alive. I still don't have too much faith in a Lions team that seemingly passes on every down. Oh wait, that's the Eagles also and their running back is actually *good*. PHI
MIA at NYJ: The Jets actually played well last week despite their no-name QB, or possibly *because of* the no-name QB. Chad Pennington may be returning, but the Dolphins are going absolutely nowhere. NYJ
BUF at NE: Buffalo always seems to play the Pats close, but I can't come up with any logical scenario in which the Patriots lose this game short of Brady getting hurt. Even then, the Bills have to hope that they locked up their playbook before the game and didn't allow even their own players to get a copy until gameday like the Chargers did last week. What a joke. NE
MIN at KC: There's a rumor Kelly Holcomb might start for Minnesota, which is a good thing for them, but I just see the Chiefs putting it all together once for old time's sake. Maybe it's the whole AFC/NFC thing again. KC
IND at HOU: Like everyone else, I was all ready to mark this one as my upset special until I read the headline: "Texans' Johnson doubtful for Sunday's game". Then he was quickly ruled out. Still, I have a funny feeling about this. *Everybody* seems to be picking the Colts, and you know what happens when too many people get on the bandwagon. Oh what the heck, here's a freebie for you, Lucas. HOU
CIN at SEA: The Bengals can't really be as bad as they were last week, could they? CIN
CLE at OAK: And the Browns can't be that good, right? OAK
JAX at DEN: Sadly, it looks like the overrated, lucky, cheating (that's right, as a Pats fan I'm calling the Broncos cheaters for calling that timeout at the snap last week) Broncos will be 3-0. DEN
NYG at WAS: I don't like the Redskins very much, but the Giants look atrocious. At least now the New Yorkers can't be smug about their baseball *and* football teams. WAS
CAR at ATL: Joey Harrington just can't win, no matter what team he plays for. He will not, cannot, in a dome. He will not, cannot, while at home. He will not, cannot, outdoors on grass. Let's just face it, he sucks ass. CAR
DAL at CHI: This is an easy "upset". The talking heads are puckering up to make out with Tony Romo again, so he's about due for a horrible game against a real defense. CHI
TEN at NO: This is a legitimately tough game. On one hand, the Titans always just seem to get it done and the Saints look like they've reverted even back below the mean from last year. However, I just can't see them losing their first home game. NO
Dotting the i
Probably the thing most foreign to me since moving to Columbus has been the Ohio State football phenomenon. I've been living in "major league" cities since I was 9 years old (Atlanta, St. Louis, and Kansas City), where professional sports teams, no matter how pathetic (Kansas City Royals, I'm looking squarely in your direction), garner the majority of the attention over college and high school athletics. Columbus, on the other hand, sports only a professional hockey team and a minor league baseball team, and both of them are mere afterthoughts during Buckeye football season. The town typifies all that is wrong and right about college football.
If you've followed this space before, you know that I'm not what you'd call a fan of college football. Slimy boosters, crusty old white-bread coaches, a favoritist ranking system, and a typical schedule that makes this weekend's Patriots/Bills game seem like the Super Bowl all combine to make what I consider a corrupt and boring sports league. And don't get me started on the "college" part of "college football", since the season here started 3 weeks before classes and most football-factory D-I players do the bare minimum academically to retain eligibility anyway, it seems more like a group of unpaid semiprofessionals than what I would call "students".
But being here in Buckeye country, you can see the positive as well. The city, young and old, unites behind a common sense of civic pride, even if the young are often too sloshed on game day to realize it. There is a definite sense of happiness in the air on days that OSU wins, even if they did only beat some patsy school that they paid to come in and get beaten so that the Buckeyes could warm up for conference play and boost their ranking in the process.
It's definitely an adjustment, but one I think I'll be able to make once the season ends and the student-athletes get back to their normal routine: working out and preparing for the NFL draft!
Bonus Random Opinion: I'm tired of hearing about the battle between social networking websites. Do people over the age of 16 really use MySpace or Facebook regularly? Why is it that I've worked in a tech-savvy industry for the past almost 3.5 years and know exactly zero people with their own page on a social networking site? And then there are the microblogs, which deserve their own full-length scathing post...
Sign of the Times
I was planning on writing about something other than football to introduce my picks this week, but then the whole Patriots sign-stealing scandal blew up so I guess I must offer my opinion on that. I'll let Lucas yuk it up over there and pretend to be horribly outraged like the rest of the mainstream media, but I will attempt to be fair and even-handed unlike most everyone else.
First of all, I am embarassed for my team, not because they stole signs, which I'll get to in a moment, but because of how they did it. A guy in a Patriots shirt, who had previously been caught at least once with a video camera on the opposing sidelines violating a rule that had been emphasized 12 months ago. In the immortal words of the Simpsons: "Sometimes I think you *want* to fail!"
But that said, I think that the whole competitive-advantage thing is overblown for 2 reasons:
1) I would cite my source on this, but I read so much about it all this week that I have no recollection which online columnist wrote it. Basically, in response to everyone claiming that that Patriots should have to forfeit games or Super Bowl rings because of the sign-stealing incident, a columnist pointed out that the signs in question are performed by a man standing on the sidelines of a football game witnessed by 60,000+ people. This is not a secret! Even if a team doesn't have a cameraman on the sidelines, they could have a cameraman in the stands zooming in on the coaches across the field just as easily. Even if they have no cameras, a trained observer could most likely pick up the defensive signals just by watching the game in person, assuming a team blitzes enough to be able to see that sign repeated. It's just like in baseball, where the 3rd base coach stands in the field and tells the batter whether to bunt or the runner whether to steal. If a team stole enough bases during the game where you could get a look at the steal signal enough, you could pick it up easily. The reason most teams can't is that stolen bases and bunts are rare enough that the sample size is too small to make correlations (especially in the American League, where you're more likely to see a triple play than a bunt).
2) As Lucas pointed out, we are all of a sudden subjected to the collective whinings of players beaten by the Patriots in the past. I find the Packers reference particularly funny, since the Pats won that game 35-0. Even if you assume that they scored all 35 points because they were able to pick up blitzes (which, as everyone admits, is really the only advantage you get from stealing defensive signals), that still makes the score 0-0. The Packers still don't win the game. But at least in that case it was a defensive player complaining. I've also read a number of stories about offensive players complaining about the sign-stealing. I'm not sure how the Patriots defense would have an advantage by knowing the opposing team's defensive signs, but by all means now you have an excuse for why you got sick in the huddle during the Super Bowl, Donovan McNabb.
The most absurd thing I read this week was that the sign stealing is worse for the sport than HGH/steroid use. One of these 2 things is a federal crime and potentially causes bodily damage to yourself and others (see: Benoit, Chris). The other may or may not even provide a competitive advantage at all, as the stats bear out (in multiple ways). But by all means, lets all knee-jerk overreact so we have something to write about all week.
HOU at CAR: If you thought the Panthers' win last week was a mirage, let me introduce you to the Texans' win over the Chiefs. CAR
CIN at CLE: The Browns are this year's Oakland Raiders. They will look for the first 6 weeks or so like they will never win a game, then they'll somehow eke out 1 or 2 victories. Until then... CIN
IND at TEN: Count me among those who still doesn't believe in the Colts defense. TEN
NO at TB: The Saints sure regressed to the mean very quickly, luckily the Bucs are well, well below the mean. NO
SF at STL: Game I Don't Care About of the week, since both teams are flawed teases. STL
BUF at PIT: The Bills almost upset the overrated Broncos at home last week, but I don't think they'll be so fortunate on the road against a team that is actually good. PIT
GB at NYG: Hmm, I do like picking against Lucas, but the Giants may be starting a guy a QB who weighs more than twice what I do. Still...NYG
ATL at JAX: The Falcons managed to make the Vikings look good last week, which is really tough to do. JAX
SEA at AZ: One team is all wide receivers and nothing else, while the other team has everything *but* good, healthy WRs. I'll take the everything but. SEA
DAL at MIA: The Dolphins offense is atrocious, this is the one team that won't be able to capitalize on Dallas' shaky pass defense. DAL
MIN at DET: The fact that one of these teams will be 2-0 is downright frightening, the fact that it very likely will be the Lions is enough to make me hide under the bed. DET
OAK at DEN: Oh Broncos, you escaped last week and this week you get to play the inept Raiders. How much it will hurt the pundits when you start losing to mediocre teams midway through the year. DEN
KC at CHI: From here on out, if I forget to pick the outcome of a Chiefs game just put me down for the other team. CHI
NYJ at BAL: Sign-stealing or not, the Jets looked bad last weekend. BAL
SD at NE: As good as the Patriots looked last weekend, they never play the Chargers well, even at home. Unfortunately Adalius Thomas can't guard both LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. SD
WAS at PHI: Game I don't care about runner up. But then again, anything involving the Redskins usually is. WAS
Welcome to Columbus (or: Michigan Sucks?)
So as I alluded to in my last post, Eileen and I have fled the prarie town of Kansas City and relocated to Columbus, OH. Eileen will be attending The Ohio State University for grad school this Fall, and I've already begun working at Battelle Memorial Institute.
There is less barbecue here, but there are also fewer rodeos which is a good thing for everyone involved. Most of our time has been spent assembling furniture, but as we start exploring the area hopefully I'll start posting a bit more often.
NE at NYJ: The Patriots have a number of hidden question marks this week that most people probably will miss. For instance, if any of their 3 defensive linemen get hurt, all they have on the bench is a just-activated practice squad player. Still, the team has been preparing for the Jets for the past 3 weeks, and with that much preparation the Pats never lose. NE
DEN at BUF: The coronation of Jay Cutler already happened, so in this game we'll find out who exactly the Broncos plan to play at running back this year. Historically Denver has been a below-average road team, so I'll go with the upset here. Does this qualify as an Upset Special? BUF
TEN at JAX: Tennessee is the chic playoff team, which is usually good for a few easy picks against them, but the Jags are a mess at QB and that overshadows any other problems. TEN
PHI at GB: I read somewhere that the Eagles weren't going to lose a game until week 8 or 9. That seems ludicrous, but I'm not picking the Packers until I can verify that Brett Favre is indeed alive and able to move his arm in a forward, throwing motion. PHI
KC at HOU: Oh man, what to do here. The Chiefs are a trainwreck but the Texans are relying on Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and a bunch of nothing else. I still just can't pull the trigger on a bad Chiefs team on the road. HOU
CAR at STL: I saw the Panthers play the Pats in a preseason game on TV and they looked cover-your-eyes awful when their starters were in the game. That's good enough for me. STL
MIA at WAS: Speaking of awful...Your 2007 Miami Dolphins! Their defense is getting extremely old, and that's the *bright* spot of their team. The scariest part is that Cleo Lemon is lurking on the bench, ready to turn an NFL game into a D-III college contest at a moment's notice. WAS
ATL at MIN: Count me as one of the few who think that the Falcons will be markedly *better* without the coaches having to figure out how to win a game with a QB who can't throw. I know everybody's doing it, but: ATL
PIT at CLE: One of my 2 new "hometown" teams, the Browns have been awful since about 1994 when Vinny Testaverde beat Drew Bledsoe in the playoffs. PIT
DET at OAK: How is it that for one week, one of these teams will be undefeated? It's a crime against the sport. Oakland has a decent defense and a total mockery of an offense, while the Lions are exactly the opposite. Both teams lose...I can't do that? Fine...DET
TB at SEA: The Bucs may have about 5 quarterbacks on their roster, but none of them are any good. Maybe one of them can play receiver? SEA
CHI at SD: Poor Bears fans, it won't be Rex's fault but the Bears will not have a good showing in San Diego and everyone will be calling for his head. SD
NYG at DAL: Two overhyped glory franchises without much going for them. May Eli continue to whine and lose. DAL
BAL at CIN: My other "hometown" team, the Bengals, are still having problems staying out of the squad car despite a season of being the laughingstock of late-night television. I don't like picking an overripe Steve McNair, but here it goes. BAL
AZ at SF: You've got me people, I don't know what to make of either of these teams. SF
I'm still here, I promise, but "here" is now Columbus, Ohio and I have a desk to assemble, so here is tonight's pick, just under the wire. I promise I'll post in more depth in the very near future.
NO at IND: I'll give Lucas a pass here because he hasn't seen a Super Bowl Champion in awhile, but the way it works for 1 and done champions is they start off fast but teams quickly adjust to take advantage of their weaknesses and come week 4 or 5 they suddenly turn into a mediocre team. IND