September 19, 2008

Braves Season an Epic Disaster

Lost in the excitement of the playoff race and the start of football season, some baseball teams entered the season with high hopes, yet find themselves far from influencing the "Hunt for October." While the Mariners have the worst record, the Braves are certainly the team which has fallen the farthest. Anyone remember the start of the season when ESPN was talking about the Braves winning the World Series? Jayson Stark and Peter Gammons both had them in the Fall Classic.

Chipper did his part this year.

Some might argue that the Braves aren't that bad. Their run differential is better than the Astros, who are 14 games ahead of them in the loss column. Chipper Jones has had the best batting average in the NL pretty much all year, and Jair Jurrjens is probably the best rookie pitcher in the NL. They have a young All-Star catcher, and a bunch of young prospects in the outfield.

However, the Braves currently have the 4th worst record in the NL, and that doesn't even tell the full story. Jeff Francoeur led off a recent list of most disappointing seasons in the entire league, and could easily play himself out of a starting job next year with his .235 average and .352 slugging pct. Good thing he can take some walks, wait...

The answer to that question is "Definitely not."

The Braves have lost the last 11 games started by Jo-Jo Reyes, and Charlie Morton's ERA has ballooned to 6.32 in 15 starts. Chuck James is clearly done as a starter in Atlanta, and Glavine and Hampton have both posted ERA's over 5.00 when they've been healthy. In other words, both the young and old members of the Braves rotation have really struggled this year. Tim Hudson won't pitch til the middle of next year at the earliest, and Smoltz's career may be over. Only Jurrjens and Campillo appear to be serviceable members of next year's rotation.

Bobby Cox appears convinced that overworking his better relievers is the path to success, such that Boyer, Bennett, and Ohman will all have more than 70 appearances, and Ohman and Boyer could finish 1-2 in appearances in all of MLB.

It might be time for the all-time ejections leader to retire.

To make matters worse, the Braves do not appear to have acquired any players who can contribute soon in the trades for Teixeira and Kotsay. Casey Kotchman, acquired from the Angels to replace Tex, has hit a whopping .227 since his acquisition. The young outfielders have all looked promising at times, but none still has an average over .270. They could all develop, but Chipper will have retired by then. The Braves must decide whether to keep Prado and Kelly so that one of them can replace Chipper, or to trade one in an attempt to win sooner.

Regrettably, all that optimism at the start of this year was quite misplaced, and it may be a couple more years before the Braves are again competitive for the NL East title.

Week 3 NFL Picks

Brien (6-3-0):

Jason and I are picking 6 games this week to make up for the Ravens-Texans game we picked that was postponed.

Arizona (+3) over WASHINGTON - Great win for the Skins last week, but let's not get carried away.

Tampa Bay (+3) over CHICAGO - I think the Bucs might be pretty good this year.

INDIANAPOLIS (-6) over Jacksonville - It's time to start asking if the Jags are really any good at all.

Carolina (+6) over Minnesota - I'm not a Frerotte believer.

BALTIMORE (-2) over Cleveland - You can't bet on Romeo after the debacle at halftime last week.

NY Jets (+8.5) over SAN DIEGO - You can't give Brett Favre more than a touchdown on Monday Night 

Jason (4-5-0):

Home favorites haven't been doing well this year, so Vegas decided to give us 15 of them this week.

Arizona (+3) over WASHINGTON - I just see the Skins being one step forward, two steps back all season long.

Cincinnati (+13) over NY GIANTS - I think the Giants have been feeding off the "no respect" angle, and I think they relax their way into a close one.

DENVER (-5) over New Orleans - I still REALLY like Denver this year.

INDIANAPOLIS (-6) over Jacksonville - I know Jax is in must-win mode, but that doesn't make O-linemen healthy.

Miami (+13) over NEW ENGLAND - Yeah, I'm picking the loser Dolphins to cover. Not win, but cover.

BUFFALO (-9) over Oakland - Trent Edwards has a lot of confidence right now, and momentum might be building.

Jeremy (6-4-0):
Two consecutive weeks batting over .500.  I'm no Russell though.  At least I'm doing better than Bill Simmons.  Seriously, if you want to lose all your money, bet with his picks.

Cleveland (+2) over BALTIMORE - Cleveland's two games so far against the class of the NFC and the class of the AFC and they were competitive in horrible conditions last week.  Baltimore will have some rust - unlike a traditional bye week where you have two weeks to prepare for your next opponent, they've only had the typical week.

DENVER (-5) over New Orleans - Did everyone see what Jason Campbell did to the Saints beat-up secondary last week?  Did everyone see what Jay Cutler did with Brandon Marshall last week? 

Jets (+8.5) over SAN DIEGO - San Diego is the most tough luck 0-2 team in the league.  And I laugh at PhiLLLLip and Norville.  Nonetheless, you don't give Brett Favre this many points on Monday Night Football.  San Diego may get a W, but it won't be a blowout.

ATLANTA (-5.5) over Kansas City - Tough year for Missouri NFL teams who could legitimately go a combined 0-32.  Good day to own Michael Turner in your fantasy league.  And a great confidence rebuilder for Matt Ryan.

Carolina (+3) over MINNESOTA - A very curious line.  Gus Frerotte is going to have a rude welcome back to the NFL facing the Vikings' defensive line.

Magic 8 Ball (5-5-0):
Cleveland (+2) over BALTIMORE - "My answer is no." (Ravens won't beat spread)
DENVER (-5) over New Orleans - "Yes." (Broncos will beat spread)
Jets (+8.5) over SAN DIEGO - "Don't count on it." (Chargers beating spread)
ATLANTA (-5.5) over Kansas City - "Signs point to yes." (Falcons beating spread)
MINNESOTA (-3) over Carolina - "My sources say yes." (Vikings will beat spread)

Russell (8-2-0):
Last week's perfection was fun, but it leaves me no room for improvement.  I guess I'll just have to duplicate my performance.

BUFFALO (-9) over Oakland - McFadden might be good, but he's not going to run wild against a Bills D that controlled MJD and the Jags running game.  Bills could be a playoff team this year, while Jamarcus and Lane aren't going anywhere.

Cleveland (+2) over BALTIMORE - Flacco made it past the lowly Bungles, but the Browns will be a much stiffer test.

ATLANTA (-5.5) over Kansas City - What can say that's positive about the Chiefs right now?  Torched on the ground by the Raiders, and starting Tyler Thigpen?

St Louis (+9) over SEATTLE - Nine point favorites typically have more to show for their season than a blowout by the Bills and an OT loss to the 49ers.  At least the Rams lost to likely playoff teams, plus the "win or else" ultimatum is usually motivating for at least one week against a bad team.

Detroit (+4.5) over SAN FRANCISCO - There's a slight difference between Logan Payne, Courtney Taylor, and the Seahawks, and Calvin Johnson, Roy Williams, and the Lions.  Don't overreact to last week's win.

Jeremy - CLE, DEN, NYJ, ATL, CAR
Russell - BUF, CLE, ATL, STL, DET
Magic 8 Ball - CLE, DEN, NYJ, ATL, MIN

September 18, 2008

Clock Management Costs Mountaineers in Boulder

How much does West Virginia miss RichRod now? After years of having an explosive offense and consistently finishing the season in the top 10, the Mountaineers find themselves 1-2 in the Bill Stewart era, with a win over Villanova and losses to East Carolina and Colorado.

The smile is fading as we speak.

Tonight, the Mountaineers had the momentum most of the second half, but couldn't capitalize. Late in the game, the WVU sideline looked confused and didn't call timeouts to allow themselves to get into field goal range. However, the problems run much deeper. The loss of Schmitt has resulted in a total inability to run up the middle, especially in short yardage situations. WVU might not have converted a single 3rd and 1 up the middle, against an undistinguished Colorado defensive line. On 4th and an inch (literally one inch), one Buffalo DT stuffed the WVU guard and center, and Pat White lost half a yard.

Colorado played well early with the wind, going up 14-0 quickly, but the offense faded and never impressed thereafter. In spite of their defense looking slow at times compared to Devine and White, the Buffaloes did quite a good job of containing the explosive offense and really only allowed one big play all game.

Schmitt added a physical dimension to the WVU offense that's not there in 2008.

The biggest question for the Mountaineers may be the passing game, which was supposed to be featured this year and take advantage of Pat White's "skill" throwing the ball. WVU had -5 yards passing at halftime, and the Mountaineers looked completely incompetent passing. White was lucky a Buffalo dropped an easy pick-6 in the 2nd quarter. Again, the Colorado defense is not an SEC defense or a top Big12 defense. The Mountaineers clearly miss RichRod and will be in bad shape against the better teams of the Big East (USF and... USF?). Can the Mountaineer AD already be regretting his long-term commitment to Stewart? I would be.

September 17, 2008

College Football Picks - Week 4

Week 4 marks the start of conference play in many of the BCS conferences, and this week I will be focusing on the SEC.

The Vols are rebuilding this year after last year's trip to the SEC Championship thanks to a tiebreaker.

Florida (-7) over TENNESSEE - If these teams played 10 times, the Gators would win 9 of them by double digits. The Vols managed to make UCLA look good, and last week we found out just how good the Bruins are.

MISSISSIPPI (-7.5) over Vandy - Sleeper team in the West.

Lsu (-2) over AUBURN - Auburn scored 3 points with their handy-dandy new spread offense last week. They'll need a lot more than that this week.

Alabama (-9) over ARKANSAS - Petrino's squad has struggled against minnows, while Alabama looked pretty sharp against Clemson.

Quick quiz: Which was true more recently? Peter Warrick played in the NFL or Bobby Bowden was a good coach.

Wake Forest (+4) over FLORIDA STATE - Wake's played good opposition and has done well. FSU has played no one, and I have no reason to believe this will be any different than the 30-0 shelling of a couple years ago. Bowden should retire already.

Last Week: 3-2-1
Season: 9-5-1

Vikings Headed to Playoffs with Frerotte?

In one of the more surprising decisions over the last few NFL seasons, the Vikings and coach Brad Childress decided to bench Tarvaris Jackson in exchange for the journeyman Gus Frerotte. While many Skins fans remember Gus for the good old days of "In Gus We Trust" and the ill-fated headbutt of a wall, he has since toured the league as a very serviceable backup. The question now is whether he can improve the Vikings.

The Vikings offense clearly has a solid running game with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, and this would typically open up the passing game. Frerotte's experience could open the playbook, but does he have anyone to throw to? I need to see it before I believe it. Bernard Berrian had one good season in Chicago, but has never really been a #1 WR for a good NFL team. Sidney Rice shows promise, and Wade and others could be serviceable, but these guys are by no means established stars. Furthermore, Gus is not particularly mobile, and any pressure will be magnified. Offensive lines which are good at run-blocking are not necessarily great pass blockers, though the blocking does not appear to have been the problem so far. Gus has played well as a backup, but I think it will be really tough for him to take over the first team all of a sudden.

The Vikings finally figured out what everyone's known for years. Tarvaris looks confused and overwhelmed.

Further, the Vikings are already two games back on a Packers team that was pretty good last year. Upcoming games against Carolina (2-0), Tennessee (2-0), and New Orleans (1-1) will not be a cakewalk, likely leaving the Vikings 2-3 or 1-4 even if Gus plays well. Plus, Gus is 37 and could be injury-prone. If he gets hurt, Jackson is thrown back in there with damaged confidence and added pressure. The Vikings' schedule is no joke, playing the AFC South this year. Their extra two games are at Arizona and NYG, both potential losses. I predict an 8-8 record and missing the playoffs narrowly again this year, leading to the end of the Brad Childress era and the departure of Tarvaris as well.

September 16, 2008

Paralympics Photos

The Paralympics conclude tomorrow in Beijing and has an amazing photo essay with pictures from many of the events. I didn't really know much about the Paralympics, other than Murderball, wheelchair basketball, and amputees running, but the photos show some of the other crazy events at the games. It's truly incredible what these athletes can do with some severe physical disabilities.

September 15, 2008

The Wonder of Fantasy Football

So DeSean Jackson busts free for a 65-yard TD. Jackson fantasy owners rejoice. In my league, you've just gained 12 points - 6 for the yardage and 6 for the TD. But wait a minute...

My boy likes his celebrations. Cal could've used him to beat the Terps Saturday.

The problem is that Jackson decided to start his celebration just a little bit early. In what we may all be talking about tomorrow morning, Jackson threw the ball out of his hands as he thought he was crossing the plane of the goal. Except he wasn't at the goalline yet.

Fumble by Jackson. He gets credit for the yards. The big winners are the Brian Westbrook fantasy owners who get the extra TD out of Westbrook on the very next play. Perhaps Mike Tirico said it best when he said it was karma for those who have Westbrook in their keeper leagues for having to deal with Westbrook sacrificing a TD last year to make sure the Eagles could run out the clock.

Still, isn't fantasy great? Not only do we get to watch a hugely boneheaded play, but we also now have to consider how it may impact THOUSANDS of fantasy owners across the world.

September 14, 2008

Mike Shanahan Hates You

A quick follow-up to the Chargers-Broncos game. We already know that Mike Shanahan hates fantasy football players, inexplicably turning crappy RBs into studs when it suits him, or crappy TEs into studs (Scheffler), or unheralded rookie WRs into studs (Royal) or whatever suits him, or just totally dog-housing a talented player to prove a point (See Bell, Tatum or Mike) That's fine. We get it. Draft a Bronco and you get whatever you get.

This is the first time he's flipped Vegas off though. When you are down 38-31 with 24 seconds left, and you score a touchdown, you kick the extra point. The score is 38-37 and XPs are 99% propositions. It's obvious.

blahblah Undoctored photo proving Mike Shanahan is morphing into Al Davis

But that's not psycho degenerate gambler thinking. The spread was Denver +1.5, so psycho degenerate gambler thinking is go for two, then we cover either way. OT is a 50-50 proposition, no better than before kickoff. Mike Shanahan exhibited psycho degenerate gambler thinking.

So what am I saying? Am I saying Mike Shanahan had an entire judgment against Al Davis riding on the Broncos? No. Am I saying Mike Shanahan wanted to reward bettors who believed in his team? No. I'm only accusing Mike Shanahan of taking the next step towards what we already knew he enjoyed: screwing with us. Or maybe he was bored. I don't know.

NFL Week 2 - Skins, Broncos Show Serious Balls

We got two games in the D.C. area today, Saints at Redskins and Chargers at Broncos. Both were greatly entertaining. For the record, I hate the Redskins.

Saints at Skins - This game should have been over at halftime. Shockey lost a fumble and tipped a ball up for an interception, giving the Redskins five scoring opportunities in the first half. Due to some conservative playcalling and a bad snap, they only converted three field goals from those opportunities. New Orleans got a field goal of their own and converted a Randle El punt return fumble into a touchdown. Despite being utterly dominated, the Saints went into halftime leading 10-9.

Since the Saints deferred, they got the 2nd half kickoff. They methodically and efficiently went down the field and scored a touchdown, seemingly changing the momentum and breaking the backs of the frustrated Redskins. Luckily for Skins fans, Zorn took the reins off a bit. Or, at least, somebody realized the Saints were playing their 3rd and 4th string CBs due to injury, and even they were on and off the field in the humid 100+ degree on-field heat. The Skins answered the Saints half-opening TD, and responded again when Reggie Bush took a horribly short punt 55 yards for another TD.

When the Skins were down 9 following Reggie's return with about 10 minutes left, the Skins looked done. The defense had played well, but the 24-15 lead looked like too much for the Skins relatively vanilla offense, still apparently playing without a hurry-up system, to overcome. Then Campbell side-stepped a rush to give him just enough time to let Moss simply run by a horribly overmatched 4th string CB, and Campbell connected. After another solid drive with good creative playcalling, the Skins had taken a five-point lead with 3:30 to go.
The game ball has to go to rookie safety Chris Horton (UCLA). Reed Doughty was a late scratch with a "stomach virus", and Horton took his spot, recovering Shockey's fumble (that was sitting motionless with no Saints in sight) and managing not to drop two gift-wrapped pop-up tip interceptions. Horton doesn't get the game ball for being johnny-on-the-spot today, as that was just a matter of luck and seeing the ball. He gets the game ball for knowing that Visine is flavorless and causes instant severe gastrointestinal distress. I hope Doughty's breakfast plate was washed quickly so it can't be tested.

Many readers might be confused as to why I'm so positive about the Skins' win. I think I should explain that my Skins hatred is quite deep. It's so deep, that a 3-13 season just isn't painful enough. I want their failures to be the most gutwrenching, sickening displays in all of sports. If they just suck, it doesn't work. On that note, I was very pleased to see rookie punter Durant Brooks (controversially kept over veteran Derrick Frost) literally account for a ten-point swing. He mishandled the snap on a field goal attempt, sacrificing three points, and dinked Reggie Bush's punt return TD so badly that Bush caught the ball on a dead run near midfield.

I also enjoyed seeing Jason Campbell hit 8 different receivers and call the audible that led to the bomb to Santana Moss. I need for their to be two factions of Skins fans: Campbell supporters and Todd Collins supporters (aka racists). This game should further that.
So, at 1-1, I feel the Skins fans will overreact to the win just like they did to the loss, making their loss to the Cardinals all the more painful.

Chargers at Broncos - This was not a good day for Ed Hochuli and his crew. After a blown call against the Chargers couldn't be reviewed due to technical difficulties early in the game, Hochuli single-handedly took a win from the Chargers with under a minute to play. On third and goal, Broncos down 7, Cutler rolled right and tried to throw the ball to his receiver (Selvin Young in the end zone flat I think). Cutler lost his grip, the ball squirted out, and the Chargers recovered. Game over.

Unfortunately, Ed Hochuli's eyes deceived him. Even though the ball came out of Cutler's hand on the way up, his empty hand propelled the ball slightly forward, apparently deceiving Hochuli into thinking Cutler's arm was moving forward. He blew the whistle as soon as the ball hit the ground. Unfortunately, the ball was clearly fumbled and San Diego clearly recovered. The inadvertent whistle killed the play with the ball at the 10-yard-line, a loss of eight, but the Chargers were robbed of the coffin nail. On 4th and goal the Broncos connected on an in pattern to Eddie Royal.

So the Broncos tied it up, right? Surely they'd kick the extra point and go to overtime, since they're at home. Apparently Shanahan weighed his options. Option 1 - win the coin toss and score or lose the coin toss and lose, as the score would be 38-38 and neither team had stopped anything all game. Option 2 - go for two and the win, and at least feel like you lost over something you could control. Shanahan obviously felt he had a better than 50-50 chance getting the two, and that's what he opted to do. For the first time I can recall, an NFL team went for two instead of taking the chippy XP to overtime.

Shanahan must have a great play in mind. What balls, what confidence, what arrogance! Nope. He ran the exact same play, or at least the same route for Eddie Royal, that they had just scored on. The two is good, the Broncos lead by one with 24 seconds left, and they held on to win.

Between the Skins and Broncos, we saw some serious manhood on display this afternoon. Moss and Clinton Portis and Jason Campbell refused to back down when the Saints woke up. Mike Shanahan and Jay Cutler refused to let a coin toss decide their fate (and perhaps playoff seeding). This was a very good day to be a football fan.