Saturday, January 2, 2010

A New Year at Big Freeze Football!

Hey folks!

I've got a lot in the works for 2010 here at Big Freeze Football. For those of you who have been reading and following along, I thank you, and a lot of my plans for the new year are about making the site better and more accessible for you.

For starters, a new site design is in the works, in a sort of pre-alpha stage. My goal with the new design is to separate features to different pages, so if you don't care about, say, the Draft, you won't be troubled with it. In general, I'll be looking to make the site more intuitive in its layout, easier to navigate, and hopefully more fun.

As the playoffs and off season roll around, I'll be trying to work in some new features, as well as streamlining my process to allow me to update more often.

I want this site to be good, I want you guys to enjoy it, so please bear with me as I try to make some (I think) necessary changes.

Hope everyone had a great and safe New Years, and you'll be hearing from me soon.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Week 16 Picks

Sorry about not getting these up last week. Things get crazy, and I ran out of time. My picks didn't go great last week anyway, so I saved myself some embarrassment by keeping them offline. Hurray? Anyway, here are my picks for Week 16:

Upset Special
San Diego Chargers @ Tennessee Titans
Line: Titans by 3
What to Watch For:
I don't know how the Titans are favored in this game. Sure, they've been much better lately, have a legitimate MVP candidate in Chris Johnson, and are at home, but San Diego has won 9 straight and have played flat-out dominant football lately. The Titans have shown real weakness in the secondary all year, so I expect Philip Rivers and those tall receivers to absolutely pummel the Titans through the air. Tennessee also lost 2 starting linebackers for the rest of the year last week, so look for Antonio Gates to run wild in the middle of the field. Chris Johnson will get a ton of yards, even score a couple of touchdowns, but this will be an aerial assault from the Chargers that the Titans simply can't match. I like Vince Young, but this match up simply doesn't favor his skill set. San Diego won't just win this one, they'll win convincingly.
Chargers 34
Titans 21

Houston Texans @ Miami Dolphins
Line: Dolphins by 3
What to Watch For:
Keep a close eye on this injury report. Brian Cushing, Houston's standout rookie LB, has missed a couple of practices with a few little injuries. If he's out or limited, here comes Ricky Williams and the Wildcat. Miami's rookie cornerbacks have grown up a whole lot this year, so I think Matt Schaub might have some trouble throwing all over in this one. Coupled with their complete lack of run game, Houston could be in for a long day. Miami has run the ball very well all year, even with Ronnie Brown's season-ending injury, and I expect them to destroy Houston on the ground. The Dolphins' defense will be the key in this one, as a few timely defensive stops will let their offense grind a ton of clock, and keep the potentially explosive Texans off the field. Andre Johnson will score, but just not enough to rally against the Dolphins in Miami.
Dolphins 30
Texans 20

Most Interesting Game
Denver Broncos @ Philadelphia Eagles
Line: Eagles by 7
Both teams are jockeying for playoff position in their respective conferences, so expect both to bring their best game on Sunday. Throw in Brian Dawkins' emotional return to Philly, and this should be a heck of a game. I'm curious to see who shows up for the Broncos, as they've been a big-time Jekyll and Hyde team in '09. At times, they've looked unstoppable, at others they've looked like the Redskins (not fact, very stoppable). Denver has generally surprised a lot of people this year, but I just think the Eagles are too much for them. A big play offense coupled with a dangerous, aggressive defense will ruin Christmas for the Broncos and their fans. Philly will lock up the NFC East here, and Denver will go home hoping for some fortuitous losses by other teams to keep themselves in the playoff hunt.
Eagles 27
Broncos 17

Marquee Game
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Line: Steelers by 2 1/2
What to Watch For:
Neither team is what their were last year, but Ravens/Steelers will always be a Marquee Game to me. This game has huge playoff implications, as a Steelers win brings them even with the Ravens for the 6th seed with one game to play. Neither defense is as dominant as in years past, and both offenses have opened up the passing game possibly too much. The real difference here, I think, is Ray Rice. While the Steelers have all but abandoned their once-vaunted run game, the Ravens do continue to pound the rock while having Joe Flacco fling it deep. Rice has been great this year, and could be a star in this league if they keep using him right. Whereas the Steelers will enter the game one-dimensional, allowing the Ravens to tee off on their weak o-line and beat on Roethlesberger, the Ravens will show much more offensive balance. That balance will make an already struggling Steelers defense look even worse. Despite that, I think this game will again be very close, and surprisingly high scoring like last time. The Ravens, smelling playoffs, will put the hammer down and barely outduel the hated Steelers.
Ravens 37
Steelers 35

Last Week: 2-2 straight up, 2-2 against the spread
Overall: 40-19 straight up, 33-26 against the spread

For those who are curious, I do have the Panthers picked to Upset the Giants, but as I try not to pick Giants games, I went with the Chargers (a much easier pick, too).


Thursday, December 17, 2009

What's Wrong With the Giants Part 2

Herein lie my suggestions for how the Giants can cure what ails them by looking at this coming off-season. I won't get into Free Agents that could be signed, as it's almost impossible to know what the market will look like until teams assign Franchise tenders and re-sign their own players. However, I am a huge draft nerd, and I know the Giants, specifically General Manager Jerry Reese, love to assemble a team in the draft.

For the purposes of this example, I'm assuming the Giants go 2-1 over their last 3 games, finishing the season at 9-7 and having a draft pick in the 18-20 range (first round). I'm also assuming that the do not get a compensatory draft pick, which is awarded based on Free Agent departures and signings. If anything, they'll get a 8th or 7th round pick out of that, as they spent like the Yankees this offseason.

Anyway, as a reminder, here are the Giants biggest (perceived) needs going into next year, listed in order of importance:
Middle Linebacker (successor for Pierce of it's not Goff)
Free Safety (in case Phillips doesn't come back, or is slow in his recovery)
Blocking Tight End (because we don't have a guy in that role right now)
Punter (love you, Feagles, but you're best days are over)
Kick Returner (not if they re-sign Hixon, who'll be a Free Agent, but could be a big need)
Wide Receiver depth (3 Free Agents this offseason creates a thin group)
Reserve Offensive Linemen (I can't stand Kareem McKenzie, and we need to develop a future guard

Because of the Giants' projected draft position, they have the luxury of frequently filling a need and picking someone who is likely the best player available. So without further ado, here is how I project the New York Giants' 7-round draft selections:

Round 1
Middle Linebacker - either Rolando McClain (Alabama) or Brandon Spikes (Florida). Both McClain (6'4" 258) and Spikes (6'3" 244) are considered pro-ready, first-round prospects. McClain, in particular, displays the kind of leadership you want out of your defensive playcaller, and both guys play all three phases of defense (run support, pass rush, coverage) admirably. I prefer McClain, because he's a little bigger, just as fast, and more disciplined than Spikes. Brandon Spikes will occasionally let his aggression on the field get the best of him, overpursuing and sometimes taking personal fouls. McClain calls the defense, minds his gaps, does his job, and does it very well. The worst scenario for the Giants is for Rolando McClain to have a BCS Championship game for the ages and shoot his draft stock way up. Middle Linebackers, even top prospects like these guys, have fallen in recent years, and McClain could be there for the Giants in the late teens. If he's not, settling for Brandon Spikes is a great alternative.
If Not - If both these guys are taken by the 20th pick, which is unlikely, I'd like to see the Giants grab Earl Thomas, the Free Safety (5'10" 197) from Texas. Thomas, though small, is very fast, takes good angles to the ball, tackles like a bigger player, and has excellent ball skills (8 interceptions this year, 2 for TDs). In addition, he's young and has a ton of upside. In a year that was supposed to be about QB Colt McCoy, no Texas player caught my eye more than Earl Thomas.

Round 2
Free Safety - This is a pretty good class of Safeties this year, and I'm afraid a couple guys might go in the First Round. Assuming need trumps value, though, I see either Reshad Jones (Georgia) or Darrell Stuckey (Kansas) being available at this point. Jones (6'2" 207) is a great physical prospect, with fantastic size for the position. In addition, he projects at a 4.5 second 40 yard dash, which is good for a guy that big. Watching a number of Georgia games this year, Jones is always around the ball. He's a very solid tackler, who can make plays on the ball pretty well (10 career INTs). However, he's not as dynamic once he has the ball as Earl Thomas is. If Jones goes higher, Stuckey (6'1" 205) is a great consolation prize. Like Jones, Stuckey has great size. He's a better form tackler than a pass-catcher, though, but he will put himself in position to make a play. He projects slightly slower than Jones or Thomas, but should have enough speed to sit on deep routes. Darrell Stuckey, while a good prospect, might need a little work to be a Free Safety in the NFL, and might make a better Strong Safety.
If Not - It's unlikely neither guy will be available in the middle of Round 2, but just in case, I would love to see the Giants pick up Perrish Cox, a (6'1" 197) Cornerback from Oklahoma State. This guy jumped out at me a few times this year. If Kevin Dockery sticks around, corner depth isn't a concern, but Cox has the size to convert to Safety. He's a steady tackler, a tight cover guy, makes decent plays on the ball (4 INTs this year, 10 in career), plays press and zone coverage, and is a dynamic, record-setting returner. He's downright scary with the ball in his hands. A somewhat slow (4.5) 40 time is better for Safety than Cornerback anyway.

Round 3
Tight End - Weslye Saunders (6'5" 280) from South Carolina is my guy. Saunders has the body type of the prototypical blocking tight end. His run blocking improved throughout his career, and TE coach Mike Pope is the best in the business as coaching up blocking at that position. Saunders is also a bit underrated as a receiver, scoring 3 TDs this year in a generally underwhelming offense. He did average 12 yards per catch, though. Round 3 might be a slight reach for him, but good blocking drills at the combine might make him fit this pick a little better.

Round 4
Wide Receiver - A guy I've had my eye on for a big part of this year is Shay Hodge from Ole Miss. Now, Ole Miss isn't exactly regarded as a WR factory, and QB Jevan Snead had an awful year based on his projections, but I always seemed to see Shay Hodge catching touchdown passes. Despite having good size that the Giants could use (6'2" 207), he would likely find his role, at first anyway, as a gunner on special teams. Hodge is not overwhelmingly fast, but has good enough speed to get separation. He runs pro routes, and scored 8 TDs his senior year. His career yards-per-reception at Ole Miss were impressively over 12. The guy's got talent, and with good QB play he could really be somebody. There's a lot of value with this guy in the fourth round.

Round 5
Guard - There were a few ways to go with this pick, but I really think the Giants need to start developing a young Guard to eventually supplant Rich Seubert. A guy I've like is Sergio Render (6'4" 324) from Virginia Tech. VT was a pretty good running team this year, and Render was their best run blocker. He is very strong in the upper body, which will help him in the physical trenches of the NFC East. He's not the best pass protector, but he could sit and learn for a year or two before finding himself in the line up. I have nothing against Seubert, but his play has only been average of late, and his age will catch up with him soon. Best that the Giants are prepared for his eventual decline, and have a young guy developed and coached up, ready to start in about 2 years.

Round 6
Offensive Tackle - My disdain for Kareem McKenzie isn't a very big secret. 2010 is the last year of his contract, and with his declining play, there's no way he sticks around. New York needs to look to the future, and find a prospect that could possibly some day take that spot. I think a very intriguing name is Adam Ulatoski (6'8" 310) from Texas. First, the guy is a mammoth, with plenty of size to play Right Tackle in the NFL. He's a pretty good run blocker, but doesn't really play on a running team, so he needs a little work. He plays a lot of pass protection in that crazy Texas spread option offense, so we know he can get that job done. He's a little raw, in general, at tackle, and might project better as a guard. I say draft him, get him some coaching, and see where he ends up. Depth at RT or OG is not a bad idea going forward.

Round 7
Punter - Who drafts punters? The Giants should, if they want a good one. Feagles will probably retire after this year, making a former strength on this team a huge need. Jeremy Boone from Penn State has consistently averaged around 43 net yards per kick. Any doubts about leg strength evaporate when you see that 70 yard punt of his a few years back. Out in PA, he's used to playing in inclement weather and high, cold winds. He has a track record of consistently putting the ball inside the opponent's 20 yard line, something Giants fans have gotten accustomed to seeing in recent years.

So that's my current Mock Draft. It's entirely possible it could change, as a number of the guys I listed are underclassmen who may choose not to declare this year. I'll do updates if I change my mind on anything.

As for my Sixth Round selection of an Offensive Tackle, you may be inclined to say "Hey, the Giants just drafted a Tackle in the Second Round last year. They don't need another." If you followed pre-draft workouts last year, Will Beatty is a natural left tackle. He has great feet and quick hands. He is not a powerful run blocker that the right side needs. I think the Giants will let go of Kareem McKenzie, slide David Diehl (who can play anywhere on the line) back to Right Tackle, and make Beatty the left tackle of the future. You don't draft a guy that athletic and put him at Right Tackle. That's just bad business.

I know the Draft isn't everyone's favorite topic, but it is mine. Thoughts/disagreements?


Monday, December 14, 2009

A Few Quick Thoughts

I watched the first quarter of last night's Giants game with an Eagles fan, and was appalled to hear "I'd get rid of McNabb first chance I got." Eagles fans are incredible. They have a QB who takes them to 5 NFC Championship Games in the last 10 years, and they hate the guy. He's a great leader with a big arm who finally has the supporting cast he deserves. Philly will always be a defensive team, but how can you hate on Donovan McNabb?

As a Giants fan, of course I hate him. He's killed the Giants for years, and now has 4 in a row against us. But that's exactly why Philly fans should support him. Donovan deserves better, as much as I hate to admit it. And to make matters worse, the same fan was calling for more snaps for Mike Vick. Vick?! Really?! Fine, Eagles fans, Donovan McNabb could play QB for the Giants any day. I can't speak for all of us, but I think we'd love to have a QB like that.

Not that Eli had a bad game last night. He threw for a career high in yards, but his 2 fumbles didn't help us a whole lot. Still, Eli led an offense that put 38 points on the board and still didn't win the game. He accounted for 3 of our touchdowns. I can't pin this one on him, as quick as some will be to do so. This was yet another defensive meltdown.

And my final observations: Kevin Gilbride thinks he's the offensive coordinator of the Eagles. This has been picking at me for a long time, and I finally put my finger on it last night. Gilbride thinks he's running the Philadelphia offense: a pass-first (and second and third), run almost never, rely on the big play offense. See, if he were coaching for the Giants, we would be a run-first, smart pass calls, clock control offense that trusts the defense to do well. Granted, the defense hasn't held up their end of that bargain in '09, but they haven't spent a lot of time on the bench either. Every Giants drive is either a quick punt or a quick touchdown. We're throwing a gassed defense out there every fourth wonder we can't hold a lead.

I'm in no position to say that the Philadelphia offensive system doesn't work; just look at what the Eagles have done the last, oh, 8 years. The difference is that the Giants don't have a rocket-armed QB who gets the ball to blazing fast WRs. Our receivers are small and quick, not straight-away fast. They're better on short routes and making yards after the ball is already in their hands. Plus, we don't have small, fast, pass-catching running backs to run the screen game the way the Eagles do. We have a 6'4" 265-pound back who is being used incorrectly. He runs best up the middle, behind an offensive line blocking forward, not sideways. Gilbride is running the wrong offense with the wrong personnel.

That, plus an overmatched defensive coordinator who makes no second half adjustments and is so afraid of the big play (which they give up anyway) that he almost never calls a blitz, is why we can't beat Philadelphia. We were outcoached last night, straight up.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Week 14 Picks

Ever notice how everything just goes nuts around the holidays. Yeah...sorry about that. Anyway, I'm back now with the picks for Week 14 (already?!).

Upset Special
Washington Redskins @ Oakland Raiders
Line: Washington by 1
What to Watch For:
Now, you may not think a 1 point underdog really counts as an upset, but the Raiders are the home team here, remember. Frankly, I just don't think the Redskins are a mature enough team to come off their best, most emotional game of the year and show up against a lousy Raiders team. The Raiders, on the other hand, are riding high off a big win and look like an actual NFL team with Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback. I think the Raiders will surprise the 'Skins here and take this game outright.
Raiders 23
Redskins 17

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears
Line: Packers by 3
What to Watch For:
Listen Bears, putting up 17 points on the Rams at home last week proves nothing. This team is a mess, and the Packers, coming off a sloppy dismantling of the Ravens last week, are starting to get it together. These are two teams moving in completely opposite directions. And to make it worse for Chicago, Devin Hester is hurt and might miss this game. Give me the Packers laying three, and winning by a lot more.
Packers 31
Bears 20

Most Interesting Game
Cincinnati Bengals @ Minnesota Vikings
Line: Vikings by 6 1/2
What to Watch For:
I want to see Brett Favre play in December. I'm not even worried about him playing in cold, bad weather, as he's in the Dome this week. I just want to see how his 40 year old arm is holding up after 12 games of football. Favre finally looked mortal last week, and it will be interesting to see how this talented Vikings team rebounds off an embarrassing loss. As for the Bengals, I'm curious how their new-look defense will hold up against the Minnesota offensive juggernaut. They can run, pass, or kill you with trick plays, and this is the biggest test Cincy has faced all year. I'm also curious to find out what the Bengals offense can muster against what has to be an angry Vikings defensive front. I think Minnesota will come out pissed off, throw some haymakers, and look to knock the Bengals out early. Cincinnati is a good team, but they're not ready for an angry Jared Allen or Adrian Peterson.
Vikings 27
Bengals 20

Marquee Game
San Diego Chargers @ Dallas Cowboys
Line: Cowboys by 3
What to Watch For:
Coming off a humiliating loss and now playing a San Diego team that is red hot, how are the Cowboys favored in this one, even at home? I was tempted to pick this one as my Blowout, but the implications are too big. The Cowboys' playoff future is on the line here. They need this game to stay ahead of whoever wins Giants/Eagles later that night. For the Chargers, they need to keep their momentum up, as the Broncos are starting to gain ground. Throw in the fact that the Chargers have historically been dominant in December and the Cowboys...well...haven't, and this one could get crazy. The Chargers look to keep rolling, and the Cowboys will be trying to prove to everyone that they don't choke in big games in December. So of course, they will.
Chargers 24
Cowboys 21

Last Week: 3-1 straight up, 2-2 against the spread
Overall: 35-16 straight up, 28-23 against the spread


Monday, November 30, 2009

What's Wrong With the Giants Part 1

Alright, I've been planning this little write-up for about two weeks. And no, an ugly win over the Falcons didn't make me reconsider writing it. The Giants are currently claiming to require some self-scouting after losing 5 of their last 6. Well Coach Coughlin, here you go, problems listed in order of importance with coaching last:

Offensive Line
While providing pretty okay pass protection (19 sacks, 2 on David "Beat Up Old" Carr), this group has been simply horrendous in their run blocking this year. Part of it is the play calling (more on that later), but this group led the way for the NFL's best-ranked rushing attack last year, and is simply under-performing in 09. Brandon Jacobs has proven to be an effective back to the tune of two 1,000 yard seasons in a row. But this year, Jacobs is dodging a defender as soon as he's got the ball. Defenses are getting insane penetration in the running game, giving even the shiftier Ahmad Bradshaw nowhere to go. And while stretch plays aren't what Jacobs does best, the front 5 has blocked them well in the past. The sorry run game this year is a result of 5 individuals not playing well as a group. They need to take more pride in their blocking, man up, and push people off the ball. Simple as that. Regardless of how they end this year, though, I'm calling for a pretty major off-season shake-up (to be outlined in Part 2).

Middle Linebacker
I love Antonio Pierce as much as anybody, but let's be honest for a moment: the guy has been a below average linebacker since last year. Throw in his new season-ending neck injury, his NFL-old 32 years of age, and his steadily declining effectiveness, and his time is running out in NY. Even Pierce's trademark at-the-line brilliance has been missing this year, as his adjustments (if he's even made them) have proven ineffective. If Chase Blackburn was the answer, he'd have earned any starting job a long time ago. Blackburn is a slower, less savvy Pierce. The way the NFL is played today, we need an athlete in there. It's time for the coaches to throw Johnathan Goff in there for a few games and see if he's their guy for the future. If not, I'll kindly refer the coaching staff to Part 2 of this little article.

Defensive Tackle
The Giants spent an estimated $345 hojillian on defensive tackles in Free Agency with 1 total sack to show for it. This group, more than any on the defense, has been simply awful this year. I can't blame Chris Canty just yet, as he's still working back from an injury while learning a new position (and dropping into coverage? WTF?). But Rocky Bernard has been a complete waste of money. He's getting no push up the middle and giving nothing to run support. If he's not being blown off the ball, he's just not in the play. Last year's starters Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins have been lousy as well, with 1 sack between them as well. Cofield I can live with, as he's young with some upside and has only ever been a body against the run, but Robbins has shown signs of being a good pass rushing DT. Not anymore, after major knee surgery at 32. Robbins' contract is up after this year, and I expect he will be gone after this performance. Cofield is in the last year of his deal as well, and the coaches will have to make a tough decision on him. I don't see the Giants cutting Bernard after the first year of his new deal, but he could be in trouble if he doesn't step up.

Free Safety
If C.C. Brown and Aaron Rouse are supposed to be the answer, I don't really want to know the question. Brown has been beyond useless, and Rouse is finally starting to get this "playing football" thing down. Michael Johnson has been decent at Strong Safety, and he's not asked to do a ton of covering since he spends most of his time in the box against the run. The Giants were counting on Kenny Phillips to turn into a star, and he appeared to be on his way before a season ending injury. That injury also (rightly) raised questions about his long term health and future, so the Giants need to start looking ahead now. What if his knee never fully recovers and he can't get back to the level he started this year at? What if his arthritic knee is career ending? They need a plan that doesn't involve Brown or Rouse. I like Rouse as a third safety for dime packages against three+ receiver sets, but that's about it. We need a safety who is anything other than a liability in deep coverage, and who doesn't whiff on easy tackles. I don't need huge numbers in interceptions. I'll settle for a couple of well-defensed balls batted away and some timely tackling.

Tight End
Listen, Kevin Boss is awesome, even if Kevin Gilbride and the other Giants coaches don't realize it. But possibly the biggest mistake the Giants made this off-season was trading away blocking TE Michael Matthews and keeping not-even-good-at-that pass-catching TE Darcy Johnson. With Matthews in on running downs, it was like having an extra offensive lineman who could catch a pass in a pinch. With Johnson in on 2 TE sets, we have no choice but to run behind Boss who, in only his third season, is still learning the intricacies of NFL blocking. If we need a TE to catch a ball, we have Boss or rookie Travis Beckum. I see a huge need for a big bodied tight end to squat on the line and block someone in the run game. That guy is not on this roster, and that needs fixing.

How can you not love Jeff Feagles? The guy is 43 and still playing in the NFL. Unfortunately, he's no longer playing at a high level in the NFL. His directional style of punting has been a great asset to the Giants in recent years, but Feagles seems to have lost his uncanny accuracy this year, shanking tons of kicks out of bounds early for some abysmally short punts, providing our already porous defense a shorter field to defend. He's never had a big leg, and here in the twilight of his career, he has finally become a liability. We're witnessing the end of one of the great, and entirely unnoticed and unheralded, careers, and Feagles and Ray Guy should be the only two punters ever allowed in the Hall of Fame. The Giants will look for a new young punter in the offseason, and if they stay true to form, he'll be in the back end of the draft.

Defensive Coordinator
I think at this point in the season, any blue-blooded Giants fan realizes that Bill Sheridan stinks. He's calling the same passive soft-zones that got Tim Lewis fired 3 or 4 years ago. He is hesitant to call blitzes, is never seen rallying or even coaching up his players on the sideline. Sheridan coaches scared, not blitzing for fear of giving up big plays, and not trusting his corners to cover man on man. That's not Giants football. Maybe he was an awesome LB coach, and he must have made a great overture to Tom Coughlin to get the coordinator job, but he's done. As loyal as Coughlin is to his staff, there will be too much public outcry for Sheridan to keep his job barring a dramatic turnaround. He either needs to dial up the aggression in his play-calling, put his stars in position to excel, and turn this miserable defense around, or he'll be looking for a job in January.

Offensive Coordinator
I've been against Kevin Gilbride since before he even got the coordinator job. I always felt the blame for Eli Manning's apparent lack of progression during his first 3 years fell right on the head of the quarterback coach (Gilbride), and was appalled at his promotion. Some people were fooled by the Super Bowl win and last year's 12-4 record under this clown, but this year we see his true colors. He has never been a big believer in the run game; just ask Tiki Barber - in his last season (Gilbride's first as OC), he repeatedly criticized the coaches for giving up on the run too quickly. This year, we've seen him rear his ugly head again, never even attempting to commit to the run. He doesn't even call for play-action anymore. The guy is obsessed with deep passes and stretched out run plays. When you have quicker-than-fast receivers and a huge RB, that's not the game plan for success. He needs to run downhill up the middle and call passes that allow his receivers to get yards after the catch. He has no idea how to run an offense for this personnel, and he also has to go after this year.

I've been on the coaches for a while, but not Tom Coughlin. And truth be told, I won't get on him. That dude is a winner; he made 2 AFC Championship games in Jacksonville, and won a Super Bowl in New York. He's got some work to do this off season, and needs to rebuild his staff to save his job. The Giants will probably go 8-8 this year; not bad enough to fire Coughlin, but bad enough to can him next year if they don't improve. Suggestions are on their way, Tom.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Feature: Big Freeze Movie Club

We're going to take a short reprieve from the "If They Played..." feature to take an opportunity for some cinema talk.

Last Friday saw the release of a movie called "The Blind Side," based on a book of the same name which was written by Michael Lewis who has written a number of sports-themed books. It stars Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw and tells the story of Michael Oher, currently a starting offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens.

If you haven't seen the movie, or don't already know the story, feel free to skip until after the /SPOILER ALERT tag.

As a synopsis, Michael Oher was born to a drug-addicted mother and grew up in the project of Memphis, TN without any kind of father. He was separated from his mother by order of the state as a child, and bounced from foster home to foster home. He was never forced to go to school, so he seldom did. Given grades just good enough to get rid of him, Oher reached high-school-age barely able to read.

In the film, we meet Michael Oher in the back of "Big Tony's" car on his way to a Christian private school. "Big Mike" stayed on Tony's couch from time to time, so he was brought with Tony's son to seek admission to the school for a proper education. Astounded by his athletic ability, the school's coach pleads Michael's case to the admissions department, and they admit him to the school out of Christian charity.

The movie calls the school Wingate Academy, but the actual name is Briarcrest, which is what I'll call it (because I'll slip up and call it that anyway). At Briarcrest, Michael is thought to have no intelligence at all, but his teachers quickly discover that he knows the material, he simply has no idea how to learn and respond in a real classroom. They give him his tests orally while working on his reading, slowly raising his GPA to something that doesn't begin with a zero.

Though he is now getting an education, Michael is still homeless. While watching a volleyball match in the gym to keep warm, Michael catches the attention of local fast food tycoon Sean Tuohy. Sean's wife, Leigh Anne, convinces "Big Mike" to spend a few nights in their home, and quickly becomes very attached to him. Big Mike isn't so forthcoming, as they know very little about him. Leigh Anne is able to discover the troubled, gang-controlled neighborhood where Michael grew up while trying to clothe him.

Eventually, Michael Oher's grades improve enough so that he can begin participating in sports, most notably football. Initially pegged as a defensive lineman, the coaches realized that Michael Oher was not a mean, angry kid from the projects, but something of a gentle giant with no desire to hit or hurt anyone. Understanding his protective instincts, they find him a natural fit at left tackle where he can protect his quarterback's blind side. An athletic pass protector, Oher is a monstrous run blocker which is highlighted in a scene in which he blocks a mouthy defender off the field and attempts to put him back on the team bus. It was this instinct and talent that caught the eye of recruiting guru Tom Lemming and, by extension, most major SEC college coaches.

A recruiting frenzy ensues over a backdrop of Michael fast becoming a part of the Tuohy family and forming a strong bond with their youngest child, SJ (Sean Jr). The highlight of that relationship comes after Michael has gotten his drivers license and takes SJ for a drive. A utility truck backs into them as Michael is driving, causing a bad accident. SJ is sitting in the front seat, and as the air bag deploys at deadly speed, Michael throws a massive arm in front of it, shielding SJ from the potentially sever injuries that could have resulted.

After hearing increasingly grand overtures from some major college coaches, Oher has narrowed his choices down to Ole Miss, which his adopted family attended, and arch-rival Tennessee. When he chooses Ole Miss, an NCAA investigator rumbles into town to determine whether or not the Tuohy's sought legal guardianship over Michael just to draw him to their alma mater. Distressed at the suggestion, Michael runs back to his old neighborhood. When the slum lord in charge begins making lewd comments about Michael's mother and sister, his protective instincts kick in and he roughs up the whole gang. When Leigh Anne finds him the next morning, they have a big heart-to-heart and Michael goes back to talk to the NCAA investigator. He tells her that he wasn't forced to go to Ole Miss, but that he wants to go because it's the family school.

The movie ends with Michael going to Ole Miss, and the family saying their goodbyes. It then follows with some additional biographical snippets, such as Oher's status as an All-American left tackle at Mississippi. It closes with actual footage from the 2009 NFL draft, where Oher was drafted 23rd overall by the Baltimore Ravens.

Despite the football premise, "The Blind Side" actually draws an audience that is 60% female, and 70% over 25. Guys looking for a big time football movie won't find one, though there is some pretty entertaining game footage. Though somewhat brief, the football action is generally well-done and fun to watch. The film also opens with a sort of lesson on the left tackle position and its rise to prominence resulting from Lawrence Taylor's career-ending hit on Joe Theismann. Rabid football fans need no such primer, but it does help make the film significantly more accessible to the non-fan crowd.

I'll come short of calling "The Blind Side" a chick flick, and say it's probably a very good date movie. The sentimental story line of Leigh Anne's attachment to Michael, and the generally touching family dynamic, makes it very appealing to a female audience. Guys can comfortably settle in to the football action and occasionally very funny Coach Cotton. The recruiting montage is also a treat for sports fans as the college coaches are played by themselves, most notably Nick Saban, Phil Fullmer, and Lou Holtz. This is a rare movie where there actually is a little something for everyone.

If all you're looking for is a lot of football on a big screen, you probably won't be real into "The Blind Side." But if you're into more of a human drama, an engaging story of the power of human potential and compassion, it's a fantastic film that is already generating Oscar buzz for Sandra Bullock. I highly recommend it, as it is an inspiring true story that keeps very close to the book.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Week 12 Picks

Gotta do the picks kinda early this week, as we have 3 games this Thursday. Thanksgiving week is the greatest every year, as it sports the 3 F's of life all on one day: family, food, and football. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday (except the Eagles and Cowboys).

Upset Special
Oakland Raiders @ Dallas Cowboys
Line: Cowboys by 13 1/2
What to Watch For:
I'm going with the Raiders again, hoping another lackluster franchise comes through for me big time. It's not that I think the Raiders will actually win this game, but 13 1/2 points is way too big a spread. Think about it: the Cowboys have only scored 14 points in the last two weeks combined. That Raider defense is actually pretty good, and with Bruce Gradkowski at QB, the offense has played a lot better. Throw in the fact that the Raiders are much healthier than the very banged-up Cowboys, and we got us a game here! I, sadly, think the Cowboys take this one, but the Raiders will definitely keep it closer than 13.
Cowboys 17
Raiders 10

Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings
Line: Vikings by 10 1/2
What to Watch For:
Adrian Peterson averages 138.5 yards a game against the Bears, and this year they're without Brian Urlacher. There, that was an easy preview. He also averages 2.0 touchdowns against them. Jay Cutler has this weird compulsion to throw interceptions, and Jared Allen will scare him into 2 more this game. The Vikings are absolutely rolling, the Bears are disintegrating, and this one will be over by halftime.
Vikings 31
Bears 14

Most Interesting Game
Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals
Line: Bengals by 14
What to Watch For:
Yeah, I'm picking the Browns again, and they really gave us a heck of a game last week! Really, though, I'm interested to see how the Bengals bounce back after a miserable loss to the Raiders last week. If they're going to be an elite team, which at 7-3 they could be, they need to act like one and beat up on bad teams. Dropping back to back layups would be inexcusable. Expect Carson Palmer and company to really put the stink on the Browns. I'm also curious to see if the juggernaut of an offense the Browns fielded against the Lions comes back for an encore. Against a Mike Zimmer defense, I sorta doubt it.
Bengals 30
Browns 13

Marquee Game
New England Patriots @ New Orleans Saints
Line: Saints by 1 1/2
What to Watch For:
Well, a 1 1/2 point spread isn't much of a home field advantage, but I'm honestly surprised the Saints are even favored in this game. A Bucs blowout notwithstanding, they've been playing very sloppily lately and seem to be at their most vulnerable. The Patriots, on the other hand, are fresh off a dominating performance against the overmatched Jets and seem to be playing their best at the moment. This should be a great game to watch, with a ton of points. Pats/Saints looks ready to be a classic shootout between two of the best QBs in the league. Sure, both teams sport improved running games and very competitive defenses, no one can pretend the big story here isn't the quarterback play. Enjoy this one, and enjoy watching two of the greats go at it TD for TD. I think the Patriots, riding a wave of good football, will end the Saints amazing 10 game win streak in a high scoring affair.
Patriots 41
Saints 38

Last Week: 3-1 straight up, 3-1 against the spread
Overall: 30-13 straight up, 25-18 against the spread

Again, I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving, and I'll be back with a new feature and some premature Giants draft talk later this week.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Feature: If They Played in the NFL

While it's true that I'm pretty late (a week and a half) getting this up, it's for good reason. Someone suggested an athlete that I was extremely intrigued by, but didn't know enough about to do a full write up. And considering the hugeness of the sport in the last 2 weeks, it seemed appropriate to go out and research this guy. Without further ado, I give you:

Floyd "Money" Mayweather
Professional Boxer (Welterweight)
5'8" 146 lbs

Position: We'll get to that

Before I go into what position Floyd would play in the NFL, I need to give a bit of a scouting report on him. Boxing isn't what it used to be in America, so a lot of folks might not know much about Mayweather. After watching a couple of fights, here's the skinny on him:

Mayweather is perhaps best known for his hand speed, and rightly so. He delivers a jab with great quickness, and had great accuracy in his punches to go with that speed. He is also a very technically sound defensive boxer, moving his head extremely well, using his hands effectively, and doing this great shoulder roll that causes quick punches to skim harmlessly away from his face. Floyd had pretty good footwork, but he's not Muhammad Ali in that department. If you're into good fundamental boxing with a bit of flash and showmanship, Floyd Mayweather is your guy.

With that out of the way, what to do with a 146 pound guy in the NFL? In a word, nothing. While I'd love to group him with the likes of Darren Sproles and Maurice Jones-Drew as a tough-as-nails little guy running back, there's no evidence of his actual speed. He doesn't train to run, but to close on an opponent quickly. Also, what benefit does world-class hand speed have for a running back? Exactly. So what is his position, hypothetically?

Position: Defensive End (on, like, a Pop Warner/pee wee league)

Take his size out of the equation, and Money's skills translate beautifully to defensive end. He moves his feet well, and explodes out of his stance in the ring, so he could have a very good first step coming off the line. Fast hands? How about working his hands against an elite left tackle, giving him a good release to the quarterback? Mayweather also has insanely good vision when he's up close on an opponent, so you could count on him to always keep his bearings in the chaos at the line of scrimmage, while always having an eye on the quarterback. I would just love to see Floyd Mayweather roll his shoulder and have Ryan Clady's hands slip right off of him, then get that quick strike to knock the ball out of a quarterback's hand. You're with me on this, right? Amazing! I'd play Floyd at right defensive end, as I see him as a better pass rusher than run stopper.

Of course, a 146 pound devensive lineman would get killed in the NFL, but this is purely hypothetical, right? With a unique athlete like Floyd "Money" Mayweather kicking around, it's fun to imagine what could be.

Hate the analysis? More suggestions? Comment! Also, be sure to hit up the new poll, and click some stupid ads while you're here and make me a few bucks!



A new poll has been posted further down on the right side of the page!

Seeing as how we're at Week 11, the won/loss records are coming into focus, and the dominant teams are separating from the pack. As a result, I think it's time we started talking about the post-season.

So cast your vote: which two teams will be rocking this year's Super Bowl (joined at halftime by the Who!!)? If one of your choices isn't listed, hit up "Other" and leave it in the comments.


Week 11 Picks

Lot of updates coming today, including a new poll, so I'll give the picks real quick and get on with the good stuff.

Upset Special
Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Line: Jags by 8 1/2
What to Watch For:
I don't put a lot of stock in the whole "let down after an emotional win" theory that permeates local sports talk radio, but I do think that line of almost 9 points is way too high. I expect the Bills to be energized under new head coach Perry Fewell and his mantra of "play like hell and win." If only for one week, the Bills should show some life, cover this ridiculous spread, and maybe win outright. The Jaguars are decent, but not great, and could get caught in a trap by the visiting Bills.
Bills 20
Jaguars 17

Philadelphia Eagles @ Chicago Bears
Line: Eagles by 3
What to Watch For:
Watch for the continued implosion of the Bears this week, plain and simple. Jay Cutler has been ridiculously up-and-down this year, and the Eagles' opportunistic secondary (matched against the Bears underwhelming receivers) to make him pay. The Eagles offense, on the other hand, has to be stinging after losing to San Diego last week, and McNabb won't let his team lose to this team. Even without Westbrook, the Eagles win this one going away.
Eagles 34
Bears 17

Most Interesting Game
Cleveland Browns @ Detroit Lions
Line: Lions by 3
What to Watch For:
I'm actually serious about this being the game I'm most interested in. I really want to find out which of these teams is worse. I have to say, the Browns might be in even greater disarray than Detroit, and it will show on Sunday. The Lions will win an ugly game against a surprisingly inferior opponent, and their 2 wins on the year will amaze experts everywhere. Interesting bit of minutia: this is the first time the Lions have been favored in a game all year!
Lions 13
Browns 9

Marquee Game
Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens
Line: Colts by 1 1/2
What to Watch For:
Watch the crowd in this one. The Battle for Baltimore brings out more animosity than any other rivalry in the NFL. On the field, Peyton Manning squaring off against the Ravens not-as-good-as-last-year defense should be a fun match up to follow. I'm more curious, though, if the Ravens will get back to playing like, well, the Ravens on offense, and run the ball at Indy's undersized defensive front. And for strictly personal and sentimental purposes, I'll be watching Michael Oher against Dwight Freeney and/or Robert Mathis. Get 'em, big boy! Despite the passion and hard hits, I still think Peyton finds a way to get out of Baltimore with another 'W.'
Colts 24
Ravens 20

Last Week: 3-1 straight up (shocked at how good the Bengals are), 2-2 against the spread (Blowout!!!!)
Overall: 27-12 straight up, 22-17 against the spread
Still looking for that big bounce-back week. Hopefully this is it. Come on Lions, you've been good to me this year!


Friday, November 13, 2009

Week 10 Picks

I had a lousy week of picks in Week 9. This week, you should particularly ignore my pick for Blowout, as my last three not only haven't covered (and therefore qualified as blowouts), but my picks lost outright. I've dropped 4 of them in that way on the year. This week I'm out for a little redemption, so forgive me if a couple of these picks seem fairly safe.

Upset Special
Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers
Line: Cowboys by 3
What to Watch For:
I still have a hard time believing a team with as much talent as the Packers has been playing so badly lately. I have a similarly hard time believing a team as neurotic as the Cowboys has been playing so well. I think it's time both teams return to form, with the Packers defense and running game finally coming to life to defend their home turf. Charles Woodson will give Tony Romo nightmares.
Packers 27
Cowboys 24

New Orleans Saints @ St. Louis Rams
Line: Saints by 13 1/2
What to Watch For:
Since I'm picking the Saints, the Rams will probably win this one outright. But seriously, I tried to pick not the highest spread, while trying to play my pick pretty safe so I finally hit on one of these. The Rams defense has a long way to go to claim legitimacy, especially with their pass rush. Look for Drew Brees to put up college spread-like numbers (think Graham Harrell circa 2008). I love Spags, but the Rams just can't compete with this caliber of team.
Saints 37
Rams 10

Most Interesting Game
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Line: Steelers by 7
What to Watch For:
The Bengals finally beat the Steelers earlier this year. Let's see them do it again, this time in Pittsburgh and against Troy Polamalu. Cincy has been great this year on both sides of the ball, whereas the Steelers have righted the ship and are playing very good football. I think this will be a tough game, with 2 very good defenses making life very hard for 2 elite quarterbacks. However, Pittsburgh is a very tough place to be the visiting team, so I expect the Steelers to win and cover.
Steelers 24
Bengals 17

Marquee Game
New England Patriots @ Indianapolis Colts
Line: Colts by 1 1/2
What to Watch For:
Touted as the Ali/Frazier of its generation (which, since QBs aren't on the field directly playing against each other, it isn't), this game should be an offensive explosion. The Patriots defense has been good but not great this year, and has yet to really hit a good rhythm. The Colts D is basically the ICU, with key players injured all over the place. The two best quarterbacks of their era will have a field day against defensive units that are simply no match for their arms or receivers. Seriously, what Patriots linebacker not named Jerod Mayo is going to cover Dallas Clark? I expect the Colts to win a tough one on their fast home track, with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis using that extra speed to disrupt Brady's shaky O-line.
Colts 34
Patriots 28

Last Week: 1-3 straight up and against the spread
Overall: 24-11 straight up, 20-15 against the spread