Friday, September 09, 2005

Wr-wr-wrong

Wow, how wrong was I? Oakland 27, New England 21? Sorry, someone must have roofied my drink before I typed that.

The score wasn’t as close as the 30-20 final would have you believe. The Patriots dominated out there. And on top of that, Corey Dillon had two TDs, which is a thorn in my fantasy football side.

I got home from work at about 9:40, and the first play I saw was a five wide receiver spread that resulted in a touchdown to Deion Branch. My first thoughts, of course, were: shit, what are the Yankees doing?

And after flipping to YES, I was right back to the football game. Two games, two infuriating sets of circumstances. It was damn close to a New York sports fan’s hell. The Pats are quickly reaching Red Sox status as far as my hatred goes, so it’s never a good time for them to be winning. The D-Rays are one of the worst teams in baseball, and here are the Yanks, in the midst of a playoff chase, throwing away yet another game against them.

At least I have the Jets. Then again, they’re infamous for coming up short of expectations, which means we should be expecting a 9-7 season. And if we’re expecting 9-7, and the Jets come up short…I’m not even going to ponder that thought.

Back to Oakland. I originally had them penciled in for 12-4, and that went hand-in-hand with my prediction of them over New England. I’m going to go further than to say Oakland will be 11-5. No, now that I’ve seen them play, I’m bouncing that to 9-7. And that’s being generous. There is a great probability that the Raiders will finish somewhere along the lines of 6-10.

Their defense is horrendous. The line put no pressure on Tom Brady, and while that may be attributed to the superior offensive line of New England, there’s no excuse for consistently failing to fluster Brady. The secondary also looked lost in zone coverage. Though Madden commented that Branch’s TD was a lapse in man coverage, it was obviously (at least to my father and I) a zone where Brady just found the seam, which happened to be the size of the Strait of Gibraltar.

If we’re breaking down this win, it has to look something like 60-65 percent was because of New England’s superb play, and 35-40 percent was Oakland’s lack of execution. Seriously, how many times did Kerry Collins have a guy right on him? Oakland’s line was terrible, resembling that of the Giants last year. And when they finally did their damn job and gave him ample time, he couldn’t find the open receiver. This proves, once again, that a cannon for an arm doesn’t make you a good quarterback.

Unfortunately for California football fans, they’re going to have to deal with this depleted team. On the bright side, they’ll get to witness spectacular connections from Collins to Moss on occasion, such as the 73-yard job last night.

Biggest disappointment of the game: LaMont Jordan. Not that 18 carries for 70 yards is bad. It’s not terrible, by most standards. I had just hoped that he would get more touches. But that’s what happens when you find yourself in a hole: abandon the run, take it to the air. And when you have targets like Moss and Jerry Porter, it’s a much easier decision to abandon the run.

At this point, I’m going to introduce my new Friday concept. Not that it’s original by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m going to pick between three and five games. Hopefully last night wasn’t indicative of my ability here. I

Dallas over San Diego (-4.5): Not a knock on San Diego. They outplayed themselves last year and conjured up one of the most surprising seasons in recent memory. I just have a feeling about Dallas this season. If I was a gambling man (which I am), I’d throw the spread away and take Dallas straight up.

Chicago over Washington (-6): Another straight up bet with the underdog. I’m unsure about Chicago this season. Bill Simmons thinks that they’re going to be a surprise playoff team, and while I’m not going to say I 100 percent agree with him, I’m not going to rule it out. If this is to happen, however, they’re going to have to stick it to the ‘Skins.

Jets over Kansas City (-3): When I bet on football, I have a strict rule to not wager on the Jets. I don’t have any money on this game, nor would I, even though I think that it’s ridiculous that the Jets are underdogs here. I really do think they’ll win Week One, and prove that these odds makers apparently forgot that it’s the Kansas City Chiefs. You know, the 7-9 Cheifs who allowed touchdowns like – sigh – it was their job. The main additions to the defense: a chronically injured MLB (Kendrell Bell), and a DB that we’ve always found a way to beat (Patrick Surtain).

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I Will Not Steal From Hank Williams, Jr.

Tonight. 9 p.m. ABC. Yes, folks, we’re talkin’ football today. I’m so excited, I don’t even know how to kick off this column. So excited, in fact, that I just made coffee…and forgot to add the grinds. At least I have a cup of filtered hot water.

Actually, I wish I could kick off the column like the NFL is kicking off its season, a potential playoff preview with the Oakland Raiders and the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. And that’s only the beginning to an opening week that is seemingly creative genius.

Each Week One match-up seems to have a story behind it. Take the opening game for instance. The Raiders are being touted as the most improved team over this offseason, having added phenom Randy Moss and versatile tailback LaMont Jordan (grumble, grumble), re-signed speedy WR Jerry Porter, and drafted Fabian Washington, the corner from Nebraska who ran a combine-best 4.28 40.

And then you have the Pats, who are obviously the champions of the world. But they face numerous question marks entering the season, spurred by the loss of various starters. Teddy Bruschi won’t play a down this year; Roman Phiefer retired; David Patten is in Washington; last year’s hero, Troy Brown, looks to be at the bottom of the depth chart; Ty Law is in New York; Tyrone Poole is 33 and coming off an injury. Then again, the latter two sat out the bulk of last season.

That’s not to mention Romeo Crennel’s departure to Cleveland and Charlie Weiss coaching the Irish – and very well, at least by one week’s judgement. But remember the genius behind this all is Bill Belichick. And, as Bill Simmons aptly pointed out a month ago, he’s newly single, meaning that he has no ball and chain keeping him from the practice facility at ungodly hours picking apart game film.

I wish I could predict a Patriots crumble. Hey, I’m a Jets fan, and we’re on the brink of greatness. It’s just those damn Patriots standing in our way. And no matter how mediocre the Jets looked last year, just remember that they played New England well. A good sign, or at least I hope.

But I digress. The J-E-T-S are also entwined in an interesting story Week One, matching up against the Kansas City Chiefs. The premise here? The Jets D allowed the fourth least points in the NFL last season, but only scored the 17th most on the other side of the ball. Kansas City scored the second most points in the NFL and ranked 29th in points given up. Ouch.

This is also reflected in the Colts-Ravens match-up. The Colts scored by far the most points in the NFL last season, and are pitted Week One against one of the league’s most solid defenses for the past few years. And to bolster that, the Ravens upgraded at corner from Gary Baxter to Samari Rolle. Their secondary is rounded out with Ed Reed, arguably the best at his position, and Will Demps at safety, not to mention Neon Deion at nickel.

And the Raven’s D doesn’t end there. Not only do they still have Ray Lewis, possibly the most feared linebacker in the game (and you’d be that feared, too, if you allegedly killed a guy), but they re-signed Peter Boulware for a fraction of what they were paying him a year ago in addition to Tom Polley at linebacker. Up front, they’ve once again transplanted Terrell Suggs. Back at his college position of DE, he lines up opposite of Anthony Weaver, with Kelly Gregg and Maake Kemoeatu wedged between them at DT. Not too shabby at all, though they would have benefited 10 fold by winning the Corey Simon sweepstakes (which was ironically won by their Week One opponents).

I hate to place any doubt in Peyton Manning and his crew, but if there was a week they were possibly outmatched, it’s this one. Sure, he still has his triumvirate of targets in Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokley (though there’s a chance he’ll miss Week One). And in case he’s in trouble, he always has Edge James out of the backfield and a meaty target in TE Dallas Clark.

A few other notable Week One match-ups: Chicago at Washington (perennially underachieving teams ridden with injuries), Cincinnati at Cleveland (one of these teams won’t be stuck in a rut this season), Arizona at NY Giants (two teams that are significantly improved from last season…and I’ll be there to watch), and of course the Monday Night NFC Championship rematch, but this time with Atlanta hosting Philly.

I guess we’ll see how it goes. In all likelihood, I’ll be talking about football tomorrow again, seeing as how I’m more excited than ever about the season starting. And something tells me tonight’s game will be something to chatter about. But, before I depart, I must get my pre-season predictions down. Because when the season is over, I want to be able to point back to this and say, “I told you so.” That, or “damn, I’m a moron.” Whichever is applicable.

AFC East
1. Patriots, 12-4
2. Jets, 11-5
3. Bills, 9-7
4. Miami, 6-10

AFC North
1. Baltimore, 11-5
2. Pittsburgh, 10-6
3. Cincinnati, 8-8
4. Cleveland, 2-14

AFC South
1. Indianapolis, 13-3
2. Jacksonville, 9-7
3. Houston, 8-8
4. Tennessee, 3-13

AFC West
1. Oakland, 12-4
2. San Diego, 10-6
3. Denver, 9-7
4. Kansas City, 5-11

NFC East
1. Eagles, 13-3
2. Giants, 10-6
3. Cowboys, 10-6
4. Redskins, 5-11

NFC North
1. Minnesota, 12-4
2. Green Bay, 9-7
3. Detroit, 7-9
4. Chicago, 6-10

NFC South
1. Atlanta, 11-5
2. Carolina, 9-7
3. Tampa Bay, 7-9
4. New Orleans, 5-11

NFC West
1. Seattle, 10-6
2. Arizona, 8-8
3. St. Louis, 7-9
4. San Francisco, 3-13

True, there’s a little discrepancy between the wins and losses, but hey, these are just blind predictions. I’m still going to make predictions, on every game, week by week. You can pretty much figure out the playoff scheme from here, but my late-round predictions are:

Oakland over New England in the AFC Championship.
Minnesota over Philly in the NFC Championship.
Minnesota over Oakland in the Super Bowl.

A bold prediction, maybe. But the Vikes have been on the brink for quite some time, and with their beefed up D and Daunte Culpepper lobbing touchdowns like was playing Madden on rookie, I think it’s a legitimate consideration.

As for tonight, I’m thinking Oakland 27, New England 21.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hurts So Bad

Pain. Pain and frustration. Pain and frustration and this is why we’re in second place and the bats need to speak up and no one’s playing any October baseball until we can beat the #%&!’n Devil Rays. Whew. Felt good to get that off my chest.

The Yanks lost and ESPN ruined my fantasy football league. Quite a day, I have to say. Makes me kind not want to write about sports today…or for the next millennia.

As much as I hate to admit it, Dan Graziano at the Newark Star Ledger is right: this is the reason we’re Malcolm Young to Boston’s Angus. The D-Rays entered Fenway last week and flew out losers of four straight. They fly into the Bronx and they’re thinking, “two of three, easy.”

Malarkey, I say! So not only did the Yanks lose a game that they should have won, but now they have the pressure on to take the next two, and THEN take all three from Boston. Great job, guys. Way to put yourselves into a hole right when it matters.

You know what’s getting real old? Bitching about the Yankees. And yes, I realize that’s what I’ve done for the last 18,000 paragraphs, but it’s starting to get old. Maybe if we didn’t have such high expectations, we could be taking these losses in stride. To have a team that can hit better than Bobby Brown, with their 16 Million Dollar Man on the mound no less, lose to a last place team at this juncture in the season is inexcusable. And especially on a day when Boston won!

Do you think it would be worth it to spend an additional $16 mil (adjusted for inflation) to rework Randy Johnson? He’d be unstoppable with cybernetic limbs and, of course, a bionic back. Then again, there’d probably be a flaw in the operation and he’d go nuts, demanding a trade to Boston.

Now all of our eggs have been transplanted into the baskets of a guy who had an ERA above nine before heading to the DL for four months and a 25-year-old rookie who is coming off rotator cuff rehab. And you know what? There are worse things than relying on Jaret Wright and Chien-Ming Wang – like relying on Al Leiter.

Seems like I’m taking this column in a pitching direction, which is not exactly what I intended to do. The pitching, save for Leiter’s blasphemous appearance Friday, hasn’t been terrible lately. Well, the starters at least. My problem with the team at this point is the hitting.

Any team that sports a batting order of Jeter, Matsui, Sheffield, A-Rod, Giambi, Bernie, Sierra, Posada and Cano shouldn’t find themselves in any kind of offensive drought. Unless, of course, the nine starters fall victim to nine separate misfortunes and are unable to play. But that will never happen. Three misfortunes, that's possible. Seven misfortunes, there's an outside chance. But nine misfortunes? I'd like to see that!

Alas, misfortunes did occur in the form of seven men left on base, which translated into a mere three runs on a bloated 11 hits. Yippee. It really makes me look forward to tonight’s game.

Tampa Bay is 21-49 on the road, and is sending out a pitcher with a 5.04 ERA. The Yankees are 44-25 at home and are sending out a guy who has a 3.04 ERA since returning from the DL. And yet, I’m not at all confident in a win tonight. Case and point, the same Doug Waechter hurled nine strong against us last time.

I have a feeling tomorrow won’t be about the Yankees. The NFL season starts tomorrow, however, so maybe a little J-E-T-S or some Giants. Because it’s not like the Mets are doing anything exciting at this point.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Woes on the Mound

Did anyone else feel the need to skip Saturday’s game? I know I did. After Friday, how could I stand to sit there and watch another game of baseball? True, I was baseball deprived at that point because I caught all of 10 minutes of Friday’s game. But I still couldn’t bring myself to watch the Yankees suffer like they had the previous night.

Thankfully, there was no guarantee to that. There’s no guarantee to anything in sports – that’s why we love them. And just as the Yankees made me cringe and cry, “do they WANT to miss the playoffs?!?” on Friday, they had me singing a much more harmonious tune Saturday when they reversed their fate from the previous evening.

See, Friday night’s game (I’m trying to get off this subject, I really am) was just one of “those” affairs. Leiter had diddly squat out there, which led to a swift channel change once the score got to 4-0 in the first. Thankfully, my buddy Jon has digital cable with all the fixings, so the first flip was to HBO Comedy (I needed the laugh), where we caught Bobcat Goldwaith at the beginning of his half-hour stand up.

Greatly needed. I see how some people can think he’s inordinately obnoxious, but not only did he make me laugh, he made me laugh after having seen Leiter throw the game away before getting out of the first (which he never actually did).

After Bobcat had finished up, and the healing process began, Jon and I made a fatal mistake. We pushed our luck. Hell, Bobcat had been making incoherent sounds into the mic for a half hour; surely the Yanks could have covered a bit of ground in that time.

Twelve-zilch. And Jorge DePaula was out there tossing meatballs heavier than Uncle Luigi could ever make. In fact, I was 100 percent sure at that exact moment that DePaula’s Tommy John surgery last year prevented the Yanks from making a grave mistake (remember, he was the fifth starter heading into last year).

This, in all likelihood, means Leiter’s start against either the D-Rays or the Red Sox is going to be his fate. Throw six innings of solid baseball, and the spot in the rotation remains yours. Bomb again, and be prepared to be chatting with Wayne Franklin and Ramiro Mendoza.

Of course, all of this is contengent on Chien-Ming Wang returning to the rotation. I don’t see a reason why he wouldn’t; it’s rare to see a guy rehabbing in Triple A and have the team say, “no, I don’t think he’s going to be ready this year.” Sure, it could happen, but they say he has his velocity. Unless the rotator cuff is morphing the superb movement he gets on pitches into subpar movement, he should be back and ready to take a spot in the rotation.

And then there’s Mike Mussina, who has tendonitis, the most feared injury at the conclusion of a season. Just how long he’ll be sitting is a mere guess at this point, considering he hasn’t even thrown yet and won’t until Friday at the earliest.

I just can’t shake the notion that, like Carl Pavano, Mussina worsened his condition by tossing games with it. Tendonitis isn’t a terribly serious affliction, but is amplified when not rested. Accordingly, I’m not counting on Moose to make another appearance this year, which makes Wang’s comeback all the more crucial.

Speaking of crucial, how about Randy’s start tonight? Painful as it may be, here are Randy’s numbers against the Devil Rays this season:

17.1 IP 14 ER 19 H 3 BB 18 K 6 HR

That compiles to an ERA of 7.26 and a WHIP of 1.21, which is utterly confusing until you take a look at the six homers in 17.1 innings. I wish I could find out how many of those 14 runs came from those six homers – though we can assume it’s more than half. Keep the ball in the park, and it should be smooth sailing.

But that’s obviously easier said than done. Sure, he’s pitched exceptionally in his last two outings, but if we’ve learned anything this season, it’s 1) Randy can’t be counted on against the D-Rays and 2) Randy really can’t be counted on at all.

However, if he musters up some Unit of years past, I’d be willing to forgive and forget. Ostensibly, we got a gift by having six games with the Rays in September. But we all know the trend this season between the two teams. Just remember, they’re still the D-Rays, and they are weak. The Yanks just have to, you know, CAPITALIZE ON THAT FACT!

This could be a long three days…