December 10, 2009

NFL Picks Week 14

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So by Week 14 we at ECB have proven that you should probably always bet against our picks. The magic Eight Ball may well claim victory this year with a sub-.500 season. Ouch.

Brien (28-36-1)
At least we didn't let our wives participate and kick our asses at picks like Bill Simmons did.

Cincinnati (+6.5) over MINNESOTA - The Bengals are having a quietly awesome season.

Green Bay (-3) over CHICAGO - I had my doubts about the Packers in the middle of the season, but they seem to be returning to form at the right time.

Washington (-1) over OAKLAND - Don't look now, but the Skins have covered 4 weeks in a row.

Arizona (-3.5) over SAN FRANCISCO - The Cardinals had a rough start to the year, but they're going to be the only Super Bowl team from last year to make the playoffs.

San Diego (+3) over DALLAS - The Cowboys have had a tough time beating good teams all year.

Jason (29-36-0)
Hard to believe I was at .500 two weeks ago.

Pittsburgh (-10) over CLEVELAND - I think the Steelers will be focused with their backs against the wall.

Cincinnati (+6.5) over MINNESOTA - The combination of Minny's loss to Arizona and NO's theft in D.C. make these games much less important for the Vikings.

BALTIMORE (-13) over Detroit - The Ravens alternate weeks.

St. Louis (+13) over TENNESSEE - I think the magic carpet ride hits another bump against a bad Rams team.

ATLANTA (+8) over New Orleans - New Orleans looks like they almost want to lose to take a break right now.

Jeremy (27-38-0)

Pittsburgh (-10) over CLEVELAND - Somehow I trust Mike Tomlin to shake shit up when he says changes are coming. And Cleveland is a good team to get healthy against.

Miami (+3) over JACKSONVILLE - Yeah, this is my WTF?!?! line of the week.

OAKLAND (+1) over Washington - I've been burned with my 'Skins picks lately, but a respectable Raiders defense, a long road trip for the 'Skins, and a string of demoralizing losses... I'll take Oakland in what is essentially a pick 'em.

St. Louis (+13) over TENNESSEE - 13 points is a lot to lay down for a team that started off so weak and may finally be coming back down to Earth.

San Diego (+3) over DALLAS - While the Cowboys looked good last week, at this point, you really can't trust the outcome of any NFC East division matchup to guide your picks.

Magic 8 Ball (31-34-0)
Pittsburgh (-10) over Cleveland - "My answer is no." (Browns won't beat the spread
JACKSONVILLE (-3) over Miami - "My sources say yes." (Jaguars will beat the spread
Washington (-1) over OAKLAND - "Don't count on it." (Raiders won't beat the spread)
St. Louis (+13) over TENNESSEE - "Don't count on it." (Titans won't beat the spread)
DALLAS (-3) over San Diego - "My sources say yes." (Cowboys will beat the spread)

Russell (27-37-1)
OAKLAND (+1) over Washington - The Redskins are excellent at playing down to the opposition, and the Raiders are decent under Gradkowski.

Arizona (-3) over SAN FRANCISCO - The 49ers seem to have packed it in for the year. They might be winning if Shaun Hill were still starting...

San Diego (+3) over DALLAS - The "can't win in December" Boys are favored? Over a hot Chargers team? I'll take the points.

CLEVELAND (+10) over Pittsburgh - The Steelers have just lost to the Chiefs and the Raiders. I'm not giving them 10 points over anyone.

Denver (+7) over INDIANAPOLIS - The Broncos have their swagger back, and I continue to believe that the loss of Sanders will mean bad things for the Colts.

Brien: CIN, GB, WAS, ARI, SD
Jeremy: MIA, OAK, PIT, STL, SD
Russell: ARI, CLE, DEN, OAK, SD

December 7, 2009

Mtn West, WAC Screwed by Fiesta Bowl

This weekend, the Fiesta Bowl selected TCU and Boise St to play each other in this year's edition of the BCS bowl. This is a significant first that two non-automatic qualifier (AQ) schools made the BCS, but it really would have been inexcusable to skip over Boise in favor of a two-loss Penn State. The real story is how this matchup screws the non-AQ conferences.

This year, Boise beat Oregon, TCU beat Clemson, and each pounded all of the significant opposition in their own conferences. The BCS was supposed to give these teams a chance to show that they're just as good as the major conferences, but the Fiesta Bowl fails to provide that opportunity. These two teams played last year in a great game in the Poinsettia Bowl but that's not the point.

Everyone already knows these teams are the best of the rest, and TCU has a good argument that they're better than Texas. So instead of seeing what will likely be a very good game between these two, let's see if they can solidify the foothold that's been made by Utah and Boise in the past couple years. Doubts remain among many about whether these schools can really compete with the best of the BCS conferences. Boise's win in the Fiesta Bowl came over a relatively weak Oklahoma team, and required an incredible hook-and-ladder to even go to OT. Utah beat Alabama, but fans wonder how much hangover there was for Alabama after failing to reach the national championship game. Why not give these teams the shot they deserve and let them play major conference schools?

Who can forget these images? (AP Photo)

What does it prove if TCU beats Boise? Or vice versa? That team is the best non-major conference team? Anything more? I have enough respect for BYU and Utah to already believe that TCU is a pretty good team, more than capable of beating any team outside the top 5. Beating Boise does nothing to add to that, and a Boise victory would only show that their weak schedule wasn't the only reason for their record. But no possible outcome would show that either team should have been in the title game over Texas, or Cincinnati if Texas had lost.

Many would argue that beating Cincinnati or Florida wouldn't prove anything either, but I disagree. Beating Cincinnati would be evidence for future years that TCU should not be bypassed in the final standings by a Big East team, as they were this year. The Bearcats would be in the national championship and not the Horned Frogs, unless the voters intentionally moved TCU up after a Texas loss. Beating Florida would show that for two straight years, one of the best non-AQ schools was better than the SEC runner-up. After two middle of the pack SEC schools beat both of the ACC Championship game teams, you think it doesn't mean something for Boise to beat Florida? Each BCS victory by Boise or TCU over a major conference team legitimizes their place in that bowl, and makes it easier for them to return. And if they travel well, why wouldn't a BCS bowl want to take a Boise or TCU next year instead of Iowa or Penn State, even if the case isn't as clear as this year? They would have showed that Hawaii's loss to Georgia was more a fluke than the norm, even though many continue to expect that every year.

To truly prevent the continuing bias against the WAC and Mountain West, I think a merger of the best football schools would be required to form a seventh AQ conference, easily comparable to the ACC and Big East, likely better. My top six teams would be Boise St, Fresno St, Nevada, TCU, BYU, and Utah. If you think exciting football isn't happening at these schools, just remember that Nevada was the recent birthplace of the Pistol formation, which is being run by almost every SEC school more than the Wildcat.

Heisman Picks

2009 will be a fascinating year for the Heisman voters to attempt to dissect. Many of the early favorites were injured or played below expectations (Tebow, McCoy, Bradford), leaving the door open for a variety of other candidates. Mark Ingram represents the "best player on the best team," but I think that's a load of trash. The award is for the best player, period, and an argument should be made that having the best team around you makes you look that much better. For a quarterback, the winning percentage is more important because your leadership and ability is tied more directly to that win total. But not the running back. So my top three are:

#3: C. J. Spiller - Gutting it out all year through injuries, Spiller put up excellent numbers and carried his freshman QB and rookie head coach to the ACC title game. Certainly the best triple threat player in college football this year (rushing, receiving, returning).

#2: Ndamukong Suh - Anyone who watched Nebraska this year knows that their offense was truly offensive to watch, peaking in an 8 turnover game against the mighty Iowa St defense. Yet somehow the Huskers won 9 games this year, and were a fraction of a second away from beating Texas. Suh gets most of the credit for the defense giving up 3, 9, 16, 0, 12, 31, 9, 10, 3, 17, 3, 20, and 13 points this year. (The 31 was against Texas Tech, whose offense avoids the defensive tackles altogether.) 12 sacks and an INT from a defensive tackle, leading a defense of that quality, is definitely worthy.

#1: Toby Gerhart - Leads the nation in rushing yards, rushing TDs, and carries. In the best conference in the nation top to bottom this year (except Wash St of course), Gerhart led a young, undertalented team to a victory over Oregon and a pounding of USC. His stats are not the function of bad competition, a specific offensive system (Texas Tech, e.g.), or incredible talent around him. With a combination of power, agility, and stamina, Toby Gerhart was the best player in the nation this year.

Compiled picks from bloggers around the country will be available at once all the votes are in.

EJ Henderson Breaks Leg

EJ was the best player on the best Maryland teams of the last 25 years, and those teams happened while all of us at ECB were attending Maryland, cheering him on. And so, it touched us a little more than most to see his leg mangled by his own teammate in the Vikings-Cardinals game last night. A broken femur is a very unpleasant injury under any circumstances. At least his brother Erin (also a star linebacker at Maryland and currently in the Vikings organization) was there to ride off the field with him. 2010 may be overly optimistic for him to be back to full speed. We hope to see EJ back on the field as soon as possible! (Video is available on YouTube, but there's no need to post it here.)

December 6, 2009

Mike & Ikes, Steelers Edition

Hmmm, the Mikes taste okay, but the Ikes taste slightly burned.