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Sunday, October 31, 2004 

Games of the Day

After the thrilling baseball playoffs, the NFL is back in the spotlight with a terrific slate of games this weekend.

Early Games

I guess Deion Sanders can still play. His interception return for a TD last week sparked Baltimore to a win over Buffalo. The Bills are awful, but the Ravens were playing without Jamal Lewis, who'll also sit out this week against the Eagles. Philadelphia survived a scare last week against Cleveland to remain undefeated, but lost RB Brian Westbrook to an injury that might keep him out of this week's game. If Westbrook is healthy, this game is a mismatch, and I still think Philadelphia will win unless McNabb tries to force things in the passing game and turns the ball over.

The Giants and Vikings have a combined record of 9-3; but they're 0-3 against teams with winning records. That said, if Randy Moss can't play, the Giants can load up against the run, slow down Mewelde Moore, and try to win a close game. This strategy might have worked for Tennessee last week, but backup QB Billy Volek threw 3 interceptions.

Jacksonville just keeps winning games in the closing seconds, so I'm in their corner until they blow a few. This week's prospective victim is Houston, who could make the AFC South race very interesting with a win. A Texans win, combined with a Colts loss to the Chiefs, would put Houston at 4-3, tied with Indy just a 1/2 game behind the Jaguars.

Late Games

Pittsburgh is coming off a bye, and playing at home with a hot rookie QB. New England has won 21 games in a row and has a defense that normally eats rookie QBs for lunch. Ben Roethlisberger has to play well for the Steelers to win this game, but he doesn't have to do it all. The Patriots receiving corps is still decimated, so their offense will struggle to put up points as they did against the Jets. If Pittsburgh can control the ball and force New England to throw (and take Corey Dillion out of the game at the same time) they have a shot.

Atlanta at Denver intrigues me. Both teams are 5-2 but coming off surprising losses. Atlanta literally got run over by Kansas City (271 yards, 8 TDs) 56-10, while Denver lost to Cincinnati on Monday night. Denver has a big edge in my mind because their running game is so strong, as Reuben Droughns gained over 100 yards again. The loss of Quentin Griffin won't even be felt.

Prime Time

The Sunday night game is awful - San Francisco (1-5) at Chicago (1-5), but the Monday night game matches up Miami and the Jets. Yes, Miami is awful, but they played the Jets close in Week 4 (17-9) and lost the game because of turnovers. Plus, the Jets should be fired up after losing to the Patriots. Miami has a good pass defense statistically, but that's because most opponents get out to early leads then just line up and run the ball down their throat. Gone are the days where these teams play 42-35 games, but this should be a slugfest that is closer than their records indicate. Look for a close Jets win.

 

Trick or Treat

Why is the NFL so fixated on placing a team in Los Angeles? The subject again received top billing at an NFL owners meeting last week. Possibilities include renovating the Rose Bowl or the Coliseum, or a new stadium in Carson or Anaheim. Since it's hard to imagine Governor Terminator supporting any tax subsides, the NFL would need to find someone with deep pockets to finance whatever plan is choosen. I know LA is the number two television market in the country, and a major population center, but California does have 3 teams already. I do not remember a lot of loud protests when the Rams moved to St. Louis or when the Raiders moved back to Oakland.

Some of Paul Tagliabue's comments indicated that the league may be softening its insistance on a team in LA by 2008, which would be great news. Expanding again would be a mistake, especially if they go back to an odd number of teams. A better option is to wait and add two teams later on in the next decade. Part of me still thinks that the Colts eventually want to move out of Indianapolis, though I hate to see teams move (having nearly experienced it with the Patriots).

Saturday, October 30, 2004 

Red Sox Win!

As a lifetime Boston Red Sox fan, I must admit that I couldn't care less about the Patriots game tommorrow. The Red Sox first World Series championship in 86 years has proven once again that in sports (as in life) anything is possible. In the big picture, this is a fairly ephemeral event; it won't have the same tangible long-term consequences as the Presidential election next Tuesday, for instance. But it's the most thrilling accomplishment in New England sports history, and that's saying a lot. They're having a parade in Boston today, though I'm having trouble with the "rolling rally" concept. In deference to security concerns, there will not be a rally downtown like the Patriots had. But what's going to happen when the parade stops? Is everyone (including the players) just going to turn around and go home?

A lot of the local media are trying to compare the Red Sox to the Patriots, but that's a stretch. Depth means a lot more in football, where you can freely substitute players. Plus, the Red Sox "team" spirit is overrated - they were the same cohesive group ten days ago, yet were almost swept by the Yankees. Lastly, an NFL-style salary cap would have prevented the Red Sox from spending as much as they did.

But the bottom line is: "Boston Red Sox 2004 World Series Champions" - I never thought I'd see it.

Sunday, October 24, 2004 

Games of the Day

What happened to parity? There are 9 teams with 1 loss or less, and 9 teams with 1 win or less. Not only is this surprising, but it makes for a lot of uneven matchups at least on paper.

Early Games

When Indy visited Jacksonville three weeks ago, no one really knew what to make of the Jaguars 3-0 start. Indy won 24-17 on a late Edgerrin James TD run, but they blew leads of 10-0 and 17-6 along the way. Partly due to those deficits, Byron Leftwich actually put up better numbers than Peyton Manning:


Cmp-Att Yds TD Int
Leftwich 29-41 318 1 0
Manning 20-29 220 2 0


Indy outran Jacksonville 117 to 97 (on 4 fewer carries), but the Jaguars controlled the ball for over 35 minutes, keeping Manning and the Colts offense off the field. Today the game is in Indy, and the turf clearly favors their high-powered passing attack. Jacksonville never blows teams out, but they always keep themselves in the game, as evidenced by another heart attack game last week against a bad Kansas City team. Jacksonville blew a 14-3 lead by allowing two Trent Green TD passes in the second half, but Leftwich threw a TD pass with 45 seconds left to win another one at the wire. The Colts are coming off a bye, so look for the Colts to come out smoking, then hang on to win.

Late Games

"The Patriots have a game today?"

This is the best game with the least attention I can remember for a while. Red Sox Nation is dominating the New England airwaves, so the Patriots are left to take on the Jets in (relative) obscurity. The Patriots offense really bogged down in the second half against the Seahawks, as the decimated New England receiving corps started to have an effect. Troy Brown practiced late this week, but it is not known if he'll play or how effective he can be. The Jets struggled against the 49ers last week but rallied from a 14-0 deficit to win 22-14. Curtis Martin is having another great year, with 111 yards and 2 TDs last week and a league-leading 613 yards for the season (plus a great 4.6 avg). Chad Pennington and Tom Brady are similar in that their focus is to not lose the game. If Pennington can figure out the Patriots defense today, the Jets have a good shot. But if the Patriots continue to confuse him, look for a close New England win, and the official NFL record for consecutive wins.

Prime Time

What prime time? No Sunday night game because of the World Series, and Denver at Cincinnati doesn't exactly get me excited. Denver got 176 yards on the ground last week from Reuben Droughns, who has replaced Quentin Griffin. Griffin ran for 156 yards in week 1, then became gradually less effective. Of course, Denver still has Tatum Bell on the bench, so it's possible they could have 3 different backs break the 150 yard mark - I wonder if that would be a record?

Saturday, October 23, 2004 

Soaring to Seattle

The Jerry Rice trade makes me uncomfortable. It's sad to see a great career end like this, bouncing around from team to team. I felt the same way about Joe Montana and Emmitt Smith. At least when Rice signed with Oakland, he could make the case that San Francisco couldn't afford him and he was able to stay home in the Bay area. But what is his story now? A reunion with Mike Holmgren? After last week's game between New England and Seattle, I know the Seahawks need a receiver who can hold onto the ball, but I'd hate Rice to turn into Willie Mays at the end of his career. Hopefully, Rice will help Seattle get back on top in the NFC West and go deep in the playoffs. He deserves it.

Sunday, October 17, 2004 

Twenty Answers

The Patriots made it 20 in a row today with an impressive win against the Seahawks. I was working around the house today, so I had the game on the radio. On the one hand, New England was fortunate to capitalize on 2 early turnovers, but they made the plays down the stretch when they needed them. I haven't seen the Bethel Johnson catch yet, but that play defines clutch. Corey Dillon came up big after being on the injury list all week (my pessimistic prediction was based on my assumption that he would be limited). Seattle burned themselves with a lot of drops and some dumb penalties, especially that taunting call (why taunt when you're behind in the game???) that partially wiped out a big gain. They have to be disappointed in their last 2 games - Seattle could easily be 5-1 at least.

The folks at CBS must have been doing cartwheels when the Jets came back to beat the 49ers. Now their "battle of the unbeatens" is set for next week. It will be interesting to see how Belichick/Crennel try to stop Curtis Martin, who seems to be running like he did a few years ago.

 

Games of the Day

The division races are starting to take shape, and it's time to find out whether teams like Detroit and San Diego are for real (I think they'll both lose this week) and if others like Green Bay and Tennessee can turn things around.

Early Games

This is easy. Seattle (3-1) at New England (4-0) is a possible Super Bowl preview. The Seahawks have to be steamed after last week's meltdown against the Rams, and while Tom Brady could pick them apart like Bulger did, the Patriots receiving core is decimated. They got away with it against Miami, but Patriots fans should be concerned about this one. Seattle needs a win to ensure that they stay ahead of St. Louis (who play Tampa on Monday night), while New England wants to remain (at worst) tied with the Jets heading into that game next weekend.

Late Games

Remember how everyone was shocked when Denver lost to Jacksonville? That loss doesn't look nearly as bad now, even though the Broncos (4-1) gave it away at the end. Now they travel to Oakland to play the Raiders (2-3) who have not been impressive. This is always a good rivalry game, and the teams match up fairly well. Neither team airs it out on offense, and Oakland actually has more throwing yards than Denver so far (1163-1124). I expect Denver to try to keep it on the ground, which will result in a close game.

Prime Time

Neither game is great, and both will be up against the baseball playoffs in the ratings game. Minnesota (3-1) at New Orleans (2-3) is the pick here, mainly because Duante Culpepper should have a field day. New Orleans hasn't had much luck stopping anyone, but neither has Minnesota - these are two of three worst defenses in the NFC (Green Bay is the worst). Unless the Vikings turn the ball over, they should win.

Saturday, October 16, 2004 

Coming Attractions

If you like a lot of offense, circle Monday, November 8 on your calendar. Duante Culpepper and the Vikings will visit Peyton Manning and the Colts in a battle of the (current) top two offenses in the NFL. Conversely, these are two worst pass defenses in the league, so this game could easily feature 80+ points. Both QBs are putting up amazing numbers:


Cmp-Att YDS TD INT
Culpepper 109-150 (72.7%) 1341 13 1
Manning 104-157 (66.2%) 1321 14 3


Culpepper's are especially eye-popping, though the injury to RB Michael Bennett may be a factor. While both teams' one loss was against an undefeated team (Minnesota lost to Philadelphia and Indy lost to New England), they've played a fairly soft schedule otherwise. The only quality wins at this point would be Indy's win over Jacksonville and Minnesota's win over Dallas. Until their defenses improve, it's hard to envision Culpepper or Manning in the Super Bowl, but it will be fun to watch them try.

Thursday, October 14, 2004 

I'm Back

Finally, after a few false starts, I've finished moving. More later, but here's a few random thoughts on what's happened the past two weeks:

1. Disapointments: Green Bay looks terrible, and Carolina's injuries are really catching up to them. Wonder if the fans in the D.C. are still excited about Joe Gibbs?

2. Surprises: Seattle blew one against St. Louis last week, but they still look like the team with the best chance to beat Philadelphia in the NFC. Also, the combination of a few wins (plus the Yankees in the playoffs) have quieted the stories about Tom Caughlin being too tough on the Giants. Funny how that always turns out that way.

3. Jinx: I do not believe in curses, but the Sports Illustrated jinx may be alive and well. This week's cover boys (at least around here) are Johnny Damon and Tom Brady. Damon is 0-for-the-ALCS, and Brady looked shaky against Miami.

Speaking of the Patriots, this week's game is going to be much harder than most folks think. With two of their top WRs probably out (Branch doubtful, Brown questionable), we'll see if Corey Dillion is up to the challenge again.

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