October 2, 2009

College Football Picks - Week 5

After another brutal week last week, it appears my success will be cyclical, meaning this will be another good week. Also, Wake's loss in OT last week (as crushing as it was to those who had them ATS) was another reminder of why I think OT should be counted as a tie for gambling purposes (especially against the spread). Claiming that a team won by 7 and therefore covered a 6 pt spread is rather ridiculous if it takes them 3 OT's to do so. Anyway, enough soapbox and on to the picks:

Clemson (-13) over MARYLAND - The positive side for the Terps is that the defense showed up last week, at least for 3+ quarters. Too bad the offense gave up more points than it scored... That loss was to a team with zero passing game, and the Terps knew that going in. Clemson has no such limitations, and the Tigers' two losses are to good teams. While the Terps usually play up to their opposition, this year looks like it will get ugly for Maryland in a hurry.

Georgia Tech (-5.5) over MISS ST - A blowout last year in Atlanta, the game will be closer but still a Wreck victory by enough to cover.

MIAMI (+7.5) over Oklahoma - The Canes were embarrassed last week, and get a rookie QB in his first road test. Should be a close game, but could get ugly if the Sooners can't pressure Harris.

STANFORD (-5.5) over Ucla - Harbaugh has a solid team, and Neuheisel still needs to find a good, healthy QB, among other things.

CAL (+4.5) over Usc - The Bears are not as bad as they looked last week, and I think the Trojans are still overrated. Without an experienced QB with the full confidence of the team (or full health), the Trojans are at risk, and the Bears might just win this at home.

GEORGIA (-3.5) over Lsu - The Tigers have not impressed all year, and Mark Richt has been the better coach in this series. I really liked this spread when it was -2.5 earlier in the week...

Arkansas (-1) over TEXAS A&M - The Razorbacks will impress against a team closer to their level.

Last week: 1-4
Season: 13-14

NFL Week 4 Picks Against the Spread

Welcome to Week 4. From a Baltimore-Washington football perspective, in Landover, 10,000 fans are showing up to the 'Skins-Bucs game with brown paper bags. Meanwhile, 30 miles up the road in Baltimore, a city is trying to not get too giddy over the fact that they appear to have the best team in the NFL (at least through 3 weeks). From a fantasy perspective, check your lineups - byes begin this week. On to the picks:

Brien (7-8-0)
I had a great week last week, but it still didn't get me to .500

NEW ENGLAND (-2) over Baltimore - I think the Ravens are very good this year, but after seeing how a good passing game can pick apart the Baltimore secondary (in the Chargers game), I'll go with Tom Brady.

MIAMI (+2) over Buffalo - The Bills haven't done anything to make me think they deserve to be giving points on the road.

SAN FRANCISCO (-9.5) over St. Louis - The Rams appear to be very, very bad.

MINNESOTA (-3.5) over Green Bay - This is the biggest Vikings game in years.

San Diego (+6.5) over PITTSBURGH
- I don't have nearly that kind of confidence in the Steelers this year.

Jason (9-6-0)

Still clinging to a decent record (but nowhere near as nice as mine in the work pool)

INDIANAPOLIS (-10.5) over Seattle - I got to watch the NFL Network replay of Seattle-Chicago last night. Seneca's only success came rolling to his right. If I noticed....

Tampa Bay (+7) over WASHINGTON - Picking games between bad teams is tough, but I'm not giving Washington credit for even scoring 7 points.

NEW ORLEANS (-7) over New York Jets - I think the Jets' streak comes to an end in New Orleans because the Saints have some of the best pass-catching backs in the league. Add Jeremy Shockey, and pressure on Brees might backfire.

San Diego (+6.5) over PITTSBURGH - The fans turn on the home team early in the game. They might fight back, but not to win by 7.

Cincinnati (-5.5) over CLEVELAND - In the past, the Bengals would drop this game. This team seems more focused and centered on a healthy Carson Palmer.

Jeremy (5-10-0)

Hey, a week when I went above .500 is damn near a cause for celebration.

WASHINGTON (-7) over Tampa Bay - Tampa put up under 90 yards of total offense last week. This week they give the ball to a second-year QB making his first-ever start on the road. Of course, this pick assumes the 'Skins can actually put up points.

Baltimore (+2) over NEW ENGLAND - This is essentially a pick 'em, just giving the Pats points for being at home. Brady's timing still looks pretty off with Moss. And he won't have much time this weekend in the pocket.

Dallas (-3) over DENVER - The Broncos... the biggest 3-0 fraud possibly in the history of the NFL. 16 points allowed in three games good. Playing the Bengals, the Browns, and the Raiders brings that into perspective.

Buffalo (-2) over MIAMI - The heat could play a factor in this game, but doubtful. I'm thinking the general suckiness of Chad Henne will play more a factor.

MINNESOTA (-3) over Green Bay - The Favre Bowl. Favre + Adrian Peterson only giving up three points at home? In a grudge match for Favre? Yes please.

Magic 8 Ball (5-10-0)
Note from Jeremy - I swear that I shook it.

WASHINGTON (-7) over Tampa Bay - "Yes." (Redskins will beat the spread)
Baltimore (+2) over NEW ENGLAND - "My answer is no." (Patriots won't beat the spread)
Dallas (-3) over DENVER - "My answer is no." (Broncos won't beat the spread)
Buffalo (-2) over MIAMI - "My answer is no." (Dolphins won't beat the spread)
Green Bay (+3) over MINNESOTA - "Don't count on it." (Vikings won't beat the spread)

Russell (7-8-0)
Clinging to a tie for second...

Dallas (-3) over DENVER - Even though the Broncos are 3-0, let's remember who they've played and how Week 1 should have ended for them.

SAN FRAN (-9.5) over St Louis - I think the 49ers are for real, esp at home over the Rams.

INDIANAPOLIS (-10) over Seattle - Even without Freeney, the Colts will dominate.

Tampa Bay (+7.5) over WASHINGTON - What have the Skins done to be favored over anyone?

NY Giants (-8.5) over KANSAS CITY - The Chiefs look bad.

Brien: NE, MIA, SD, SF, MIN
Jason: IND, TB, NO, SD, CIN
Russell: DAL, SF, IND, TB, NYG

Friedgen is Actually This Desperate...

Courtesy of today's Baltimore Sun:

Running back Da'Rel Scott, who has fumbled three times in the past two games, has been seen walking around campus carrying a football. Friedgen - who got the idea from a movie - said he suggested Scott keep the ball with him to focus on guarding against turnovers. The movie was "The Program," starring Omar Epps as a fumble-prone running back.

Hmm... so things have become so desperate for Fridge that he's now taking ideas from football movies? Maybe soon we'll see him sign a 34-year-old QB who has one year of eligibility remaining a la Scott Bakula in Necessary Roughness (or a la Greg Paulus in Syracuse Orange). Maybe he'll have Chris Turner fire the ball at Testudo to kill the clock on a late drive to try to bring the Terps within 5 TDs of Clemson (a la James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues) More likely than not, since Fridge is so taken with The Program, those driving along Route 1 tonight, in addition to dodging drunks leaving Bentley's and Cornerstone, will see a few of our linemen lying down along the center line seeing if they can avoid becoming roadkill.

It would still be pretty cool though if one of our linemen came out with his face painted like Steve Lattimer:

October 1, 2009

Welcome Back NHL!

Tonight the Washington Capitals, who according to the 7-2 Vegas odds, are second-most likely only to the Pittsburgh Penguins (5-2 odds) to make it to the Stanley Cup finals, take back to the ice after their crushing loss in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last spring.

More importantly, the Caps have all of Washington “rocking the red.” The ‘Skins disaster of a season and the Nats’ invisibility is the best thing that could happen to hockey in the Nation’s Capitol. And “Your Nation’s Capitals” are primed to have another terrific season - the question isn’t so much whether they’ll win the woeful Southeast Division as much as how far they’ll go in the playoffs. Hell, this time of year we even welcome our neighbors from The City That Reads up I-295, as Baltimoreans, for as much as they profess hatred for the ‘Skins and ‘Nats and all other things Washingtonian, have taken a pretty strong liking to the Caps these past few years.

Jeremy was fortunate enough to see this one in person.

The Caps don’t take to the home Verizon Center ice until Saturday night. But nonetheless, in honor of hockey season starting, here are five of ECB’s reasons for why it’s awesome to attend a hockey game:

1) The cheap seats don’t suck
There’s a reason why when you play EA’s NHL video games the default “camera angle” is shot down from the top of the arena. If you’ve ever sat in the front row behind the glass (as I have), you have a truly fun experience, but you don’t really see the game. If you want to watch plays develop, if you want to see defensive strategy, if you want to see a team work its power play, if you want to see a player bolt out of the penalty box and into the offensive zone for an odd man rush, you want to be up high. Sure, you may be out of the reach of the T-shirt cannon, but you can do without elbowing nine-year-olds out of the way for a 90-cent t-shirt. There’s also a reason why some of the most knowledgeable hockey fans in Verizon Center are in the 400-level. And it’s not because they can’t afford to sit down low. The cheap seats ain’t necessarily “cheap” compared to baseball - but they’re still affordable for a few games a year.

2) Predictability
I can’t think of any other sporting event that I attend where I know with near certainty that if the game starts at 7:10 p.m., it will be over at 9:30 p.m. Unless it goes to overtime, in which case it will be over at 9:45 p.m. Or unless it goes to a shootout, in which case it will be over at 9:50 p.m. There’s just something very nice about this. Especially when I’m heading to games on weeknights. Speaking of games that don’t end during regulation…

3) OT/shootout
The hockey purists cringe at this one, but the casual fans love it. The overtime rules of hockey (4-on-4 instead of 5-on-5 as in regulation play) lead to wide open play and scoring opportunities galore. It is extraordinarily rare for a game to have gone into a shootout where at least one of the goalies hasn’t made an incredible save in overtime. And the shootout is pure entertainment. It’s a pretty crummy way to decide the winner of a sporting contest. But so is giving each team the ball at the 25 yard line.

4) Intermission
Two great things about hockey intermissions. First, the 20-minute length is a perfect amount of time to wait out the line for the men’s room, wait out the concessions line and grab a beer (to refill the bladder), and be back in your seat without missing a minute of action. Second is the intermission entertainment. No, not the zamboni, although that’s kind of cool too. I’m talking about what the Caps have at Verizon Center - Mites on Ice - local peewee hockey clubs getting to play a five-minute game on NHL ice during an intermission. Now, you may say that you could walk into any neighborhood rink on a weekend and see 8-year-olds in oversized equipment that weighs as much as them toddling around trying to play hockey. You’d be right. But there’s something really funny about seeing them play in a 20,000 seat arena with the goal horn going off when one of them manages to push the puck past the goalie with a wicked 10mph slapshot.

5) Appropriateness of sweater
Some people have an outright prohibition and even take offense to grown men wearing jerseys. My authentic Ovechkin sweater and I say “screw you.” But here’s where we’re coming from with this one - unless you’re in one of those screwed up southern markets like Ft. Lauderdale or Phoenix or Tampa and you don’t deserve a hockey team to begin with (don’t worry, you might not have one for much longer), the hockey season matches up best with the climate when it’s comfortable to wear that sport’s jersey to the game. Here’s what we’re trying to say - in DC, a Redskins jersey is only really comfortable to wear for the first 3-4 home games before you have to bulk up underneath… a Nats jersey isn’t exactly comfortable in April and September when night games are cold and isn’t exactly comfortable either in July and August games when it is 90 degrees and 95% humidity… and let’s just agree that no grown man should ever wear an NBA jersey of any team so we’ll just take the Wizards out of this equation. Hockey games, the sweater is perfectly comfortable to wear to the arena (and outside of the arena) for 6 out of 7 months of the regular season, often times 6.5 out of 7 months. Plus hockey sweaters leaguewide have the coolest design of any jerseys in the four major sports.

September 30, 2009

A New Benchmark for Baseball Futility

We can go round-and-round about how Baltimore and Washington are two entirely different cities comprised of entirely different types of residents and who support entirely different sports teams. That's worthy of probably an entire blog of its own (not to mention that we've covered it extensively in this space before).

However, DC folks... Baltimore folks... like it or not, the Census, and more importantly Major League Baseball, considers us one large market that contains two teams. There are only four other such markets in major league baseball: Chicago (Cubs/White Sox), New York (Yankees/Mets), Los Angeles Basin (Dodgers/Angels), and Bay Area (Giants/A's).

To my fellow Washingtonians and my friends up I-95 in the City that Reads, I have a message for you: We suck at baseball. I hear you telling me, "Shut up with your old news. It's football season." But no, you don't understand. We're literally the worst ever at baseball. Never before since the major league season has expanded to 162 games in 1961 have two teams in the same "market" experienced the same level of futility as the Orioles and Nats have experienced this season.

More like "cripple fight"

I've done a little bit of research into this, care of the most amazing baseball stats site that you could hope to access for free. Since the 1961 season (when as stated, the MLB season expanded to 162 games), on only seven other occasions besides this season have the two teams in the same market both lost 90 games or more.

1967 - Mets (101 games), Yankees (90 games)

1979 - A's (108 games), Giants (91 games)

1980 - Cubs (98 games), White Sox (90 games)

1986 - Cubs (90 games), White Sox (90 games)

1992 - Dodgers (99 games), Angels (90 games)

2006 - Washington (96 games), Orioles (92 games)

2008 - Washington (102 games), Orioles (93 games)

2009 - Washington (103 games
and counting), Orioles (97 games and counting)

What is striking about this is that in the first five entries above, the "better" team just barely lost 90 games. In 2008 and 2009, the Orioles and Nationals aren't really within speaking distance of a 90-loss season (93 losses is arguable). What is most striking is that as of the date of this blog entry, the Nats and Orioles have combined for more 2009 losses (200) than any other entry on this list. The next closest are the 1979 Giants and As, who combined for 199 losses. I note that the Orioles and Nats still have ten more games total which they can lose.

If the Orioles should lose three of their last five games and finish with 100 losses (or more), the Nats and O's would bring the ignomy to the DC-Baltimore Metropolitan Area of having the first dual-100-loss season ever experienced by a market with two major league baseball teams.

It's already bad. The only thing left for us all to observe through this Sunday is just how low we're going to set the bar.

September 29, 2009

Steelers Team-Building Trip

Apparently the Steelers went on a team-building hunting trip this season. They wounded some Bears and Bengal Tigers, but couldn't finish them off.

September 28, 2009

Popularity Contest: Vote for Us!

Click here to vote for my blog ... early and oftenHere at ECB, we’re not cool enough to be candidates for the web-wide blog awards, but someone at the Baltimore Sun seems to think we’re one of the best general sports blogs in the great state of Maryland. Since you’re reading this, you either agree, or you’re one of those anonymous people who post nasty comments. Either way, we hope you’ll vote for us (you can vote once per day).

Nationals Win Race to 100 Losses, Orioles Can't Win Anything

On the evening the Orioles dropped their 11th straight game, the Nationals managed to cross the 100-loss mark first. As much as I hate to lose to a Washington team in anything, I have to congratulate the Nats for winning the anti-pennant race two years in a row.

A Guide to Firing Jim Zorn

For Redskins fans, it is obvious that head coach, play caller and offensive coordinator Jim Zorn will never recapture last year's 6-2 start. The 0-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming to FedEx Field next, bringing with them 23-year-old second-year quarterback Josh Johnson (Univ. of San Diego, 2008 5th round, 4/10 for 36 yards for his career) as their starting signal caller and 33-year-old head coach Raheem Morris at the helm. Needless to say, the Skins could quite easily enter Week 5 2-2.

Interim Head Coach Greg Blache?

But if they lose at home to Tampa Bay, and the Skins really must make a change to avoid a miserable season, both on the field and in the Washington Post, there is only one way to do it.

1) Fire Jim Zorn
2) Elevate Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache to Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator
3) Hire one of the following men to be OC:
  • Jim Fassel
  • Dennis Green
  • Brian Billick
  • Al Saunders
  • Ralph Friedgen
That's pretty much the only way to do it. Friedgen is available now that the Terps have named James Franklin as his heir apparent.

Will Yom Kippur Save Jim Zorn's Job (for 24 hours)?

I sit here typing this blog post violating the laws of my religion on this most holiest day of our calendar year, Yom Kippur. Have no fear, I sit here typing this blog post thirsty as hell, in the midst of my yearly fast, and hungry for some bagels and whitefish in about six hours.

As I was getting ready to head to synogogue this morning, I couldn't help but revisit the Redskins disaster yesterday and the Jim Zorn postgame comments in its wake. For example -

"We went for it on fourth and one because there was no way they (the Lions) could go 99 yards and score." (they did).

"We needed to accept the penalty because we had to push Jason Hanson out of field goal range" (so instead you give the Lions another chance to extend a drive, they do, and score another touchdown instead of a field goal).

I also couldn't help but feel like Jim Zorn is so mellow and so out of his element, there is no question that he is not the person to be coaching the Washington Redskins any longer. There's no anger by him or by the players about how horrifying the play thus far has been and how much wasted talent is on the field. Forget about the fact that firing a head coach after Week 3 will in effect give up on the season - trust me, this season is already lost. We scored two touchdowns combined against the Redskins and Lions (one of which was against the Lions' prevent defense). This team needs a Singletary or Cowher-type personality to grab players by the throats and make some changes.

And it seems that I'm not the only person who feels this way. Hell, it seems like every influential Redskins alum (aside from Sammy Baugh and others who are precluded from speaking because they are... well... dead), thinks that Zorn needs to be gone. Now.

Well, is that going to happen? Likely not today.

For those of you who know much of anything about Judaism, or for those of you who remember a great episode of Entourage, you likely know that Jews are prohibited from transacting business on Yom Kippur. In other words, we negotiate and purchase our break fast platters a few days before Yom Kippur.

Daniel Snyder, owner of the Redskins, is the man who can pull the trigger. Daniel Snyder, owner of the Redskins, is also Jewish. Hell, he's such a big-time Jew, he was inducted into the Greater Washington DC Jewish Sports Hall of Fame some time ago. My invitation to the ceremonies must have been lost in the mail. I'm sure the gefilte fish they had at the awards banquet was sumptuous.

So, if Snyder is going to make a move to fire his coach, it's likely not going to be today. Or at least before sunset today. Jim Zorn can stay medium for about another five hours. Then he ought to break into a Pavlovian sweat every time his cell phone rings. Because I guarantee you this - Redskin One is gassed up, on the tarmac, and ready to pick up Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Bill Cowher, or Brian Billick.

Guest Post - On the Scene at Ford Field

From ECB - One of our loyal seven readers, Ben, or maybe we'll call him B-Sin, is a native Washingtonian transplanted on the outskirts of metropolitan East Lansing, Michigan. Ben reported for us last year from Ford Field 'Skins-Lions I. This year, he went back to Ford Field for 'Skins-Lions II and was on the scene for arguably the greatest debacle in Redskins history. Without further adieu, here is Ben's report....


Well, there's a new sheriff in town.

I went back to Ford Field for what seems to be the Redskins' annual trip to Detroit. Last year, I guest posted on this here blog and went over things like the field and such, so I will spare a lot of those details. However, I think it's worth noting:

1) I still found some prepubescent girls working at Ford Field, this time complete with braces with magenta colored bands.

2) We had great parking and followed the directions from the Lion's website to get there. For some reason, their directions took us, literally, into oncoming traffic. Our lane was blocked off, yet the Lions people kept telling us to go in the direction we were going (on the left side of the road) despite the steady stream of cars coming from the other direction. And it's not like anyone else was behind us coming in our direction. Still didn't figure that one out.

3) All of the Lions employees have been very well trained to be very nice, polite, and helpful to anyone willing to buy a ticket to come see their product, even if those people are decked out in Redskins gear.

As for the game itself, well, I'll spare a lot of those painful details, too. I know the whole world (even here in Michigan, which I found odd) was predicting a Detroit victory because, well, it has to happen sometime! And yes, the Redskins seemed terrible enough that this was their best chance. In spite of being the smallest crowd ever to show up at Ford Field, it had somewhat of a playoff buzz before the game. There was real anticipation among the fans. Some of them were actually jacked up.

My parents warned me that I should really be prepared for a Skins loss. And while I was certainly prepared for it, I explained that I had so much more faith in the Lions ineptitude than the Redskins. And when the high snap was nearly lost by Campbell on the Skins first play from scrimmage and the unblocked Lion came and immediately grabbed the vulnerable Campbell by his facemask, thus making an easy big sack a 15-yard penalty, I felt pretty good about my assertion.

Somewhere between the terrible execution on 4th goal from the one, the encroachment to give Detroit 5 yards and breathing room, Zorn's decision to give the Lions an extra down rather than make them kick the FG, Stafford running for 15 yards to get that 3rd down conversion thanks to the extra down, and the ensuing TD, I changed my mind. That's when I got really nervous.
Naturally, hope was renewed after the opening drive of the 2nd half. And on that offensive pass interference call on Calvin Johnson (which kind of felt like it would have sealed the Redskins fate at that point had it been a no-call), the crowd did what it does best. It booed. It booed like the next four plays all the way through the punt, which I found amusing. Is that normal? To boo a ref's call for four consecutive plays?

I think everyone in the stadium (except maybe the most pessimistic Skin fans) believed that this was over, and the Redskins would pull it out. They sure kept getting their chances. But in this battle of who could care less, the Redskins proved more incompetent. As the Redskins made their last gasp efforts in the final drive, despite the fact that about 40% of the seats were empty or occupied by Redskins fans, the place was impressively deafening, (piped in crowd noise? Probably).

When Washington tried its the-band-is-on-the-field play (Campbell can't throw 36 yards in the air?) and the game officially ended, the place exploded. You would think Detroit won the Super Bowl. And you know, I'm sure it felt like it for them. I was a little disappointed they didn't rush the field. I half expected it.

Although my parents and I were disappointed in the Redskins loss, we really did take a lot of joy in seeing the happiness from the Lions fans. I mean, it's not like this game really meant anything to the Skins. So now they're going to finish 3-13 instead of 4-12? Big deal.
I was especially appreciative as the Lions are solidly my 2nd team. I felt a little cheated by not being able to celebrate the Lions win fully, but at least I got to experience it live, whereas most of the area didn't get to see it at all (blacked out, obviously).

Leaving the stadium, there were a few fans who tried taunting the Redskins fans as we left (it was kind of cute, actually) but mostly people were just giddy and jubilant and inviting all Redskin fans to come back to town anytime and to come over to their house for free food and beer. People were hugging and laughing and jumping up and down in the concourse, especially as they greeted people they knew who were sitting in other sections, and for all I know they were greeting complete strangers. At one point, the steady buzz of excitement randomly exploded again into wild cheering and shouts of exclamation. I'm not sure what set that off. The only thing I didn't see that I was kind of expecting were tears of joy streaming down people's faces. It's kind of like how I picture Times Square V-J Day 1945.

Postscript: So, as far as the Redskins go, what can I say? You know the score (literally and figuratively). I don't normally support overreactions and hasty firings, but I'm pretty much done with Zorn. I mean this seriously, I'd rather he be fired today, if it didn't happen already (haven't been to ESPN.com this morning). I'm sure he's a nice guy and all, but it's time to blow it up and start over, and unfortunately we can't fire The Danny. So, what free agents can we start tampering with now to get better?

September 27, 2009

Steelers' Poor Run Offense Extending Games

Two straight weeks the Steelers have gotten a decent lead and then lost it late. Most people will point to the absence of Troy Polamalu, which I agree is definitely a factor, but I think another age-old rule of winning football is in play.

If you cannot run the ball, the game is never over.

The Bengals enjoyed three full possession in the last 18 minutes of the game, ending in a missed field goal and two touchdowns. Down 11 with 14:51 to go, the Steelers could end the game with a sustainable running game and any defense. Instead they managed to burn off only 6:20 of the final 18:00, and Cincinnati stole the win.

The Steelers' rushing offense nearly doubled its yards-per-carry average coming into this game, with a mediocre 3.6 against the Bengals. Still, in those late drives where we're accustomed to seeing six, seven, even eight minutes consumed by the Steelers' rushing attack, ballcarriers were being hit in the backfield.

Staying Medium

No matter where the bar is set, you can always fall short.