Thursday, October 15, 2009

Week 6 Pick: Marquee Game

Well, I hoped it wouldn't come to this, but the only true Marquee Game for Week 6 is one I hate to have to pick, and that is:

New York Giants @ New Orleans Saints

Over/Under: 47
Line: Saints by 3

My Thoughts:
In my mind, 3 points is a perfect line for this game, as it's usually what's given to represent home field advantage. A line of 3 points really gives the impression of an even match up, which is a very fair assessment of this game. The is the only game this week featuring a pair of 5-0 teams, which guarantees it as the Marquee game of Week 6.

I really don't think I can find a more even match up of two teams on the schedule this week, possibly even so far this season. Both teams have offenses that are popping, and both have stout defenses that are making impact plays. I dread the idea of picking Giants games, as I can't be completely confident I can take my own feelings out of the prediction. Nonetheless, this is a great game to have to write about.

From the offensive perspective, the Saints have been extremely impressive through 5 weeks. When Drew Brees isn't throwing a million touchdowns, they have been able to run the ball with surprising effectiveness. Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell have been great, and Reggie Bush has done his little change-of-pace, receiver-out-of-the-backfield thing with a decent degree of success. For the Giants, this has sure looked like a breakout year for Eli Manning. Through 4 1/2 games (less, really, since he came out against the Chiefs with his injury), he's completing 64.4% of his passes for 1212 yards and 10 TDs. His young "question-mark" receivers have certainly answered the call, and performed spectacularly. Steve Smith leads the league in Receptions, Receiving Yards, and is tied for the lead in TDs. Not bad, brother. The running game still hasn't looked quite right, but they've done it plenty well thus far.

Defensively, these certainly don't look like the New Orleans Saints. Gregg Williams has completely transformed this unit, and Darren Sharper is having an incredible year. That will definitely be a problem for the Giants, as Sharper has historically eaten Eli Manning alive. I expect him to have at least one INT, and he may (again) return it for a TD. The Saints have blitzed more this year, and are getting good pressure on the quarterback. As usual, they are a little weak at corner, but they've schemed around it to be effective.

The New York Giants defense, similarly, has been on fire in recent weeks. The pass rush has awoken with tremendous ferocity, racking up 11 sacks in the last 2 weeks. Backup left tackle will have his hands full with Osi Umenyiora, regardless of his recovery from knee surgery. I imagine the Giants won't blitz as much this week, as they will be spread out by the Saints explosive offense. The key, however, will be getting pressure on Drew Brees, and our characteristically tall defensive linemen getting their hands in his face, batting balls or just getting sacks. New York has done a very good job stopping the run, and having Chase Blackburn at WLB will help that quite a bit. The battle between Giants defense against Saints offense should be fun to watch.

I expect this to be a very good fundamental game, reasonably high scoring, and competitive throughout. Fans of high-level football should not miss this one. I'm a lifelong Giants fan, so it breaks my heart, but I think the Saints take this one at home thanks to Darren Sharper's continued heroics against Eli Manning. I even made it through the whole post without mentioning Jeremy Shockey (he'll have a touchdown). Oops...

Saints 31
Giants 28

~Freeze (Dear God, please let me get this one wrong...but I gotta pick a Marquee Game, and I gotta trust my gut!)

Week 6 Pick: Most Interesting Game

Any other year, I would have considered Panthers/Bucs to be a very interesting game. The Panthers have at least won one game so far, and should improve, but the Bucs are pretty much just garbage these days. Falcons/Bears definitely caught my eye, but the game I really consider most interesting is:

Denver Broncos @ San Diego Chargers

Over/Under: 44
Line: Chargers by 3

My Thoughts:
I'm absolutely flabbergasted that San Diego is favored in this game. I know they're home, but just trusting what my eyes have shown me through 5 weeks, Denver has simply been the better team. How a 2-2 team is favored over their 5-0 division leader is beyond me. The Chargers have been maddeningly inconsistent on both sides of the ball, and the defense has been particularly weak. Denver has surprised everyone, and is really playing good football in all phases.

Is Kyle Orton a better quarterback than Philip Rivers? Not a chance, but Denver has shown much better balance on offense than San Diego. Corell Buckhalter and Knowshon Moreno have been very solid, whereas Ladainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles have looked good in spots, but haven't delivered with any consistency or in big spots. Frankly, Denver has the better receivers as well. I'll take Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal over Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers any day. The tight end edge definitely goes to the Chargers, but I don't think that's what makes the difference in this game.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos have been outstanding. Mike Nolan has completely transformed that underachieving unit into a dominating force. Their pass rush is great, and the secondary is top notch with the leadership of Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins. The Chargers, on the other hand, have been very disappointing on defense so far. Shawne Merriman still looks sluggish coming back from his knee surgery, and as a result, the whole team's pass rush has struggled. Antonio Cromartie still has not returned to his 10-interception form of 2 years ago, Clinton Hart has been released, and no one else in the secondary has been markedly intimidating.

I expect this game to be very competitive, and the home field advantage will definitely help keep the Chargers in this one. However, I think Denver's balance and defense help them edge this one out in the end.

Broncos 24
Chargers 20


Week 6 Pick: Blowout

There were a number of candidates for Blowout game in Week 6, including Packers/Lions, Jags/Rams, Steelers/Browns, and Pats/Titans. However, there is only one that I considered an absolute lock to not only win, but also to beat the spread, and that is:

Philadelphia Eagles @ Oakland Raiders

Over/Under: 40 1/2
Line: Eagles by 14

My Thoughts:
As far as the line is concerned, the Eagles could easily win this game 14-0 and get the push. They really only need 2 touchdowns and a field goal to cover the spread against the Raiders. Oakland was simply embarrassed against the New York Giants last week, putting out a stinker of a team effort. No single phase of their team played well against New York, and Philly is a very good team in their own right.

Donovan McNabb is the quarterback the Raiders hoped Jamarcus Russell would be. I made the point in an earlier post that McNabb is one of the greats of this generations when healthy, and this uninspired Raiders team will do nothing but pad his stats. Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin will consistently challenge Oakland's secondary deep, and Brent Celek has turned himself into a pretty good target over the middle. Brian Westbrook and Lesean McCoy are a dynamic running tandem, with the agility and athleticism to give the Raiders linebackers fits.

Philly's defense has not lost its aggression despite losing their long-time defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, to cancer this off season. While the pressure isn't as consistent and the linebacker play hasn't been as good, this is still an extremely effective group. The secondary has been very good, despite letting Brian Dawkins go to the Broncos. Asante Samuel will go down as one of the better free-agent pickups of the decade, and has to be licking his chops at the thought of all the errant Russell passes.

Let's face it, there's really nothing the Raiders do well anymore. Last year they ran well; this year, especially with McFadden injured, they can't do much of anything on the ground. Jamarcus Russell might be the worst NFL quarterback ever, all the more egregious because he was the first overall pick! The defense, which I expected to be a pretty good unit this year, has been horridly disappointing.

Much like last week, I don't think this game will even be competitive. Expect the Eagles to get off to a fast start on offense, taking anywhere up to a 17 point lead in the first quarter alone. The defense will go after Russell hard, taking a page out of New York's playbook. Asante Samuel can expect at least one INT, and Philadelphia will dominate this one from beginning to end.

Eagles 38
Raiders 9


Week 6 Pick: Upset

On the menu for Week 6, there aren't a whole lot of games that seem ripe for an upset. Maybe Ravens/Vikings, but the low line of 3 for Minnesota at home doesn't work for me. Bears/Falcons maybe, but again, that's a low line (3 1/2) to call an upset. So in the name of being bold, after a miserable week of picks for Week 5, I'm throwing caution to the wind with:

Kansas City Chiefs @ Washington Redskins

Over/Under: 37
Line: Redskins by 6 1/2

My Thoughts:
Interesting fact about this game: if you count the 0-0 Giants in Week 1, the Redskins have opened the season against 6 teams who were all winless at the time. That's an NFL first. Against those teams, they are 2-3 thus far, with the sixth game on Sunday. Sorry Daniel Snyder, but your crappy team is destined to be 2-4 against the NFL's winless group.

Before I beat down the Redskins, let me address the Kansas City Chiefs. First, they have a much classier name that is way less insulting to Native Americans, so I'll pick them over the Redskins based solely on that. Second, I know they're 0-5, but this team is better than their record. Matt Cassel can play, Dwayne Bowe is a pretty good receiver, I think Todd Haley is a pretty good coach, and the defense will come around. The real tipping point for this game is the offense. They showed against a very good Giants D that they can move the ball, and even score a couple of points. This Washington defense isn't as talented or well-coached as the Giants, and the Chiefs are getting better.

KC's defense isn't a particularly good unit, but there is some ability there. Tyson Jackson, while not a top-flight pass rusher, is a pretty good run stopper at defensive end. At linebacker, Corey Mays and Tamba Hali are quietly playing pretty well. And despite a few unimpressive performances so far, I like their secondary, with Flowers and Carr. What gives them an edge this week is that they get to sharpen their game against a basically inept Washington offense. Jason Campbell simply isn't that good, the offensive line isn't helping either him or Clinton Portis, and the receivers have disappointed. Chris Cooley is really the only great player on that offense, and he's being wasted in a West Coast attack with the wrong quarterback.

I believe that Brandons Carr and Flowers can hold their own against Santana Moss and Antwan Randle-El, allowing Clancy Pendergast's defense to bring some extra pressure on a banged-up and just-not-that-good Redskins offensive line. Kansas City's offense will be able to score just enough points to win this game, and the defense will do what they have to to keep Washington about where they belong. Jim Zorn's seat gets even hotter as he grants yet another winless team with their first victory on the year.

Chiefs 21
Redskins 17

My Record:
Last Week - 1-3 Straight Up, 0-4 Against the Spread
Overall - 15-4 Straight Up, 11-8 Against the Spread
If not for the incredible amount of spunk from the Bengals and Lions, that record looks a lot better. I'm really going for it on the picks this week, and I'm hoping for a good rebound from last week's embarrassment.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday Feature: If They Played in the NFL

From some of the feedback I've gotten, this seems like a feature people are having some fun with. The suggestion I've gotten most often is:

Lebron James
Small Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers
6'8" 250 lbs.

Position: Tight End

Lebron James has been a hot topic in football conversations for a few years. A world-class athlete with a good basketball IQ, generally good team player, great hands, and superior toughness, James is built to be an outstanding football player. The hard part is picking a position for him.

Following the mold of guys like Antonio Gates, James would likely be the next big basketball-player-turned-tight-end superstar. His height seems to lend itself best to the wide receiver position, but Lebron simply doesn't have the straight ahead speed or lateral quickness to match up with NFL cornerbacks. However, his height/weight combination would allow him to be a very effective tight end.

Imagine, if you will, a 6'2" linebacker having to cover Lebron James in space. Height advantage notwithstanding, there's no way any linebacker has the ups to beat LBJ to a jump ball. Safeties? Forget about tackling that 250 pound guy with the ball. And while James doesn't have the speed to be a real effective wide receiver, he has more than enough for the tight end position. Lebron James would be a great target over the middle and number one in the red zone. Everyone loves a tall receiver in the back of the end zone. The 6'8" James, who can jump better than even many in the NBA, would win almost every match up.

Of course, scoring touchdowns isn't all there is to being a tight end in the NFL. The real question about Lebron James as a tight end is simple: can he block? James has long arms and big hands, so he should be able to really get into the pads of defensive ends and linebackers in run blocking. Being an interior basketball player, he also has quick feet and can slide well, which would be especially helpful when he's asked to pass-block, then slip out for screen passes. Just looking at the guy, you have to think he has the strength to at least hold his own against good defenders. While I believe Lebron James would be a better pass-catcher than blocker, I think he would actually be a good, well-rounded tight end more in the form of Jeremy Shockey at his best, or a better-blocking Owen Daniels of the Texans.

Who would he play for, though? Given his freakish athleticism, I'm tempted to drop him on the Raiders (that's gonna come up a lot), but they already have a pass-catching tight end. Considering the balance of his ability, and his red zone capabilities, I think the Ravens would be a good fit. Imagine a two TE set with Todd Heap and Lebron James! The Browns are an obvious choice, as they're in Cleveland and have no TEs, but for Ohio teams, I'd have to side with the Bengals. Cincinnati doesn't have a standout at the position, so they could use his help. He would help Cedric Benson in the run game, and would be an ideal target for a smart, big-armed quarterback like Carson Palmer.

Any other thoughts on Lebron? Any more suggestions for players? Someone mentioned some MMA guys, and I could use some more names from that sport to look through. Keep the feedback coming, and remember to click the ads every once in a while!


Giants v Raiders Recap

I'm a little late doing this, but that's okay, because I can sum up this game review really quickly.


New York Giants
This was a full-team domination on Sunday. The Giants ran and passed with impunity to the tune of 44 points. The defense was outstanding, racking up 6 sacks, 3 fumbles, and holding Oakland to under 200 total yards of offense and 7 points. Even that touchdown shouldn't be there, as it was a lousy call by the refs. I'll forgive the defense for giving up a touchdown when Oakland gets the ball at our 13. This had trap game written all over it, with a daunting game against the Saints on the horizon, but Coughlin and his coaches has this team well prepared to kill the Raiders. Special shout-outs to David Carr, Justin Tuck, Matthias Kiwanuka, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Eli Manning for particularly impressive showings.


Oakland Raiders
Seriously, as a team, what did the Raiders do well? They ran the ball ineffectively. Jamarcus Russel might be the worst quarterback I've ever seen. The offensive line couldn't protect him (or run block). The defense simply wilted. Even Nnamdi Asomugha didn't have a great game (granted, we threw at him, like, once). When Tom Cable took over as coach last year, he really had this team playing for him, giving great effort. Now it looks like they don't even want to play anymore. That's really a shame, because there are some really good players on this team (McFadden, Louis Murphy, Asomugha, Richard Seymour, Kirk Morrison, Greg Ellis). This whole franchise just needs to start over.

Sinorice Moss
Moss is a guy who just drives me insane. I know he has talent, I can see the game-breaking speed. Somehow, he just can't make it work in games. His punt returns have been sub-par all season, and Sunday's were truly awful. He muffed one on what should have been a routine "let it drop" kick, and almost messed up another one. He's done nothing as a receiver, and he contributes nothing on special teams. Sorry, but there is no place on a championship caliber team for Sinorice Moss.

The Officiating Crew
Anyone watching the game clearly saw Justin Fargas fumble that ball in the second quarter. He was never down by contact. And they can't say they ruled "forward progress" when the whistle didn't blow until after CC Brown had the ball and was off running. That was a horrid bit of officiating that caused a 14-point swing in this game. I'll always consider the final score of this one 51-0.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Week 5 Knee Jerk Reactions

Emphasis on jerk. Here are some of the things that occurred to me while taking in this week of NFL madness.

We Can Stop Asking if the Bengals are for Real
A thrilling last-second win over the Baltimore Ravens, which put Cincinnati atop the AFC North, pretty much settles that debate. The Bengals have beaten the Packers, Steelers, and now the Ravens to plant themselves among the teams not to be taken lightly. I'm still not convinced they'll end this season having won their division and in the playoffs, but Cincy is getting better, and is once again a very good team to contend with.

No One Runs the Wildcat Like the Dolphins
There has been no more widely copied trend in recent years than Miami's fabled "Wildcat" package, which basically just puts Ronnie Brown in at quarterback instead of, well, a quarterback. After they schooled the Patriots with it last year, the Wildcat took the league by storm, and now almost every team has some version of it. Monday night's win over the Jets, though, reminded us all where all this nonsense came from. Teams have varying success running forms of the Wildcat, and no one else has yet to commit to it as a big part of their offense. What Miami has been able to accomplish with the Wildcat is amazing; that Jets defense was ranked best in the league two weeks ago, and Miami made them look ridiculous. I believe that the Wildcat will ultimately just be a flash in the pan, and isn't likely to be nearly as big a year or two from now, but Miami runs is far-and-away better than anyone else at the moment.

I Learned Two Things From Broncos/Patriots
First: The Broncos are better than I thought. I saw this team as a complete mess that was winning games with luck and surprise. Apparently, that defense really is extremely good. Brian Dawkins added that element of intimidation that Champ Bailey has lost a bit over the years. Elvis Dumervil is a hell of a pass rusher. That defense can really play. As for the offense, I still don't think they're better with Kyle Orton than Jay Cutler, but the offensive line and a motivated Brandon Marshall make them a scary group. Knowshon Moreno has had some growing pains, but he will be the next star to roll off the the Broncos assembly line. It's hard to admit, but that 5-0 record the Broncos are sporting is legit.
Second: The Patriots aren't nearly as good as we thought. New England was a hot Super Bowl pick in the preseason; everyone expected a healthy Tom Brady to make that an automatic bid. The Pats' offense may still have some pop, but the defense has been surprisingly un-Belichick. The secondary is a liability, the pass rush is non-existent, and they simply can't hold a lead. It's hard to believe a defensive guy like Bill Belichick will let that continue, but my eyes don't lie: the window appears to have closed for the Patriots.

Donovan McNabb Is One of the Greats
Granted, it was the Bucs, but coming off a two week break from broken ribs and passing for 264 yards and 3 touchdowns is tremendous. All that, and he's distracted and off-rhythm with the whole Michael Vick thing. Philly fans have never appreciated McNabb, but he's been nothing but awesome his whole career. Does he choke in huge games? Yeah, but at least he gets them there. He molded himself into a pocket passer, has one of the best arms in the game, and moves better in the pocket than just about anyone. As a Giants fan, I hate his guts, but I gotta give D-Mac some respect.

Peyton Manning Will Be the NFL's Only 4-Time MVP
Manning opened the season with 5 300-yard games. He's without his long-time target Marvin Harrison. His number 2 receiver, Anthony Gonzalez has missed games due to injury. His head coach retires, and there's a ton of off season turmoil around the offensive coaches. All that, and Manning is still probably the best there is. While this week's win over the Titans (who have given him trouble in the past) was typically impressive, it's even better when taking into account that he beat the Dolphins last week with only 15 minutes time of possession. Five weeks into the season, the Colts look unstoppable, and that's all thanks to Manning. If MVP really means most "valuable," who in the NFL is more valuable to their team than Peyton? Brady went down last year, and New England won 11 games. Anyone think Indy wins 6 with Jim Sorgi behind the wheel? Me neither. They should be starting his bust in Canton now, just to be prepared. It'll take a lot of bronze to sculpt that forehead.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Week 5 Pick: Marquee Game

Looking for a Marquee game for Week 5, a not-so-obvious choice really hit me from way out in left field. If "Marquee" is defined (by me, for football) as two good teams in a game with serious implications, you'll understand why I chose:

Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens

Over/Under: 42
Line: Ravens by 8 1/2

My Thoughts:
Think Ray Lewis and the Baltimore defense are still pissed about getting jobbed by the officials last week? Think ol' Ray Ray is going to use that as big time motivation to get his group amped up for a big time division game? Think Cincinnati wants to prove they're the real deal after a surprising 3-1 start? Could this game be an early indicator of who will win the suddenly competitive and neck-and-neck AFC North? Sign me up!

I began this by talking about Baltimore's D. However, I'm far more interested in their suddenly sizzling, high flying offense. The Ravens have always been a team that runs the ball well, and they are continuing that tradition magnificently this year. The passing game, though, has been nothing short of a revelation. Change one badly dropped fourth down pass last week, and Baltimore is 4-0, and has beaten some really good teams on the strength of their offense. The defense has looked surprisingly out of sync, and has yet to really hit their stride. Joe Flacco, with his impressive play, has been able to hide that surprising weakness really well.

Cincinnati has been pretty much firing on all cylinders this year. The offense has returned to its explosive form, and Mike Zimmer's defense has been playing sound, inspired football. No one could look at the over-the-summer zoo in Cincinnati and say they saw this kind of start coming. This game is a chance for the Bengals to prove to the rest of the league that they're serious about this "playing-good-football" thing. I think they have the talent and inspiration to really take it to the Ravens, even when playing in Baltimore.

Of course, if you've been reading the blog for a few weeks, you know I really believe in the Ravens in 2009. I think the Bengals are way better than people expected, and that it's for real, not just a flash in the football pan. However, the Ravens are just the better team at the moment, and will take this one in solid, if unspectacular, fashion.

Ravens 27
Bengals 17


Week 5 Pick: Most Interesting Game

As far as games with scintillating storylines go, there was really only one that popped out at me on the Week 5 schedule, and that is:

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos

Over/Under: 41
Line: Patriots by 3 1/2

My Thoughts:
How much better does a story get (outside of Favre vs. teh Packers)? Josh McDaniels, New England's wunderkind prodigal son, facing his old hoodie-clad Yoda. A Denver team that was in complete disarray a month ago, sitting at 4-0 atop their division. A Patriots team that features McDaniels' former star quarterback coming back from injury. Drama and intrigue abound in this match up, so watch closely.

The off the field intrigue is really, to me, all this game has going for it. I don't expect a hyper-competitive outing here. The Broncos are good, far better than anyone expected, but they are not Patriots good. Denver's defense is much better that it was last year, but is simply not equipped to stop Brady's offense. Champ Bailey is the second-best cover corner in the league (third if you buy the Darrelle Revis hype), and should effectively take Randy Moss out of the game. Wes Welker is the deciding factor here, and he is primed for a big performance.

The Broncos' linebackers are a reasonably fast, athletic group, and Elvis Dumervil has been reinvented as a pass rush specialist. But Wes Welker tearing across the middle of the field will be a nightmare for the poor Broncos. Denver's offense, aside from Brandon Marshall lacks any real pop. Kyle Orton is serviceable at best, and will not be able to carry his team against a very good New England defense. The Pats will win this one cleanly, but not by a ton.

Patriots 24
Broncos 17