I will be in beautiful(?) downtown(?) Sandusky, OH for the CodeMash conference for the next few days, so I'll respond to Lucas' post and do my NFL picks before I leave.
First off, Lucas asked for an unbiased opinion on Eric Gagne unfortunate tenure with the Sox last season. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see much of Gagne on TV, because they acquired him right at the trade deadline, and I began packing and moving to Columbus soon afterwards. Earlier in the season there were many Sox games on TV, but once the AL East got out of hand they were not on national television very often, especially in the Indians/Reds market. By the time they got to the playoffs and were on TV every game, Terry Francona had lost any confidence he had in Gagne and as a result he rarely pitched. One thing I noticed from his box scores was that his strikeout rate stayed consistent with how he did with Texas earlier in the season, but his walk rate went up and he gave up way more hits.
It's not a scientific opinion, but I'd guess that a significant part of the problem was that he was used in different situations than he was used to. Rather than pitching in high-pressure save situations, he was often used as a setup man or in a mop-up role, where the adrenaline isn't as prevalent. If the Brewers put him in pressure situations and he feels critical to the team's success, I could definitely see him bouncing back to at least as good as he was with Texas (especially since the NL is the weaker offensive league and he has familiarity in the NL). He also had a number of games where he would strike out the first two hitters and then things would get unraveled. Was this because of poor conditioning? Loss of focus? Injury? Either way I think he is still capable of being a quality major league pitcher barring injury (which given his history is a definite possibility).
Now for the picks:
SEA at GB: I'll make this my lock of the week. The Seahawks don't get to play against a journeyman quarterback at home this week, instead a poor road team will now be on the road against the rested Packers. No chance. GB
JAX at NE: I've seen a lot of talking heads going with the Jags and their running game, even though the Pats will be selling out to stop the run. The Jaguars will be forced to pass, and the best I see happening from that is that David Garrard plays like Kyle Boller did against the Pats and is forced to win the game himself. The Jags are not built to play from behind, nor are they built to defend a pass-first team. For all the talk of how they match up perfectly against the Pats in winter, the weather is supposed to be mild and the crowd will be hostile. NE
SD at IND: Another poor road team goes on the road. San Diego has had success against Indianapolis in the past by running the ball at them, but Indy's run defense is improved and the Chargers' success was always with Marty Schottenheimer in the regular season, not with Norv Turner in the playoffs. IND
NYG at DAL: I hate to go with all favorites, but the Giants are getting a little too much love considering that up until 2 weeks ago Eli Manning was considered one of the worst quarterbacks in the league and they are banged up. If Terrell Owens doesn't play the Giants have a chance since Tony Romo will be keying on Jason Witten too much and Wade Phillips will insist on running Julius Jones instead of Marion Barber. But they'll still have to play almost a perfect game, and Eli has been way over his head lately. DAL