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Sunday, November 28, 2004 

Games of the Day

Now that we've eaten our turkey, it's time for the leftovers. Today's games should provide more entertainment than the games on Thursday.

Early Games

Eli Manning will not match his brother's performance, but a win against Philadelphia today would be a major accomplishment. New York continued their free fall last week, but Manning was solid, with a few dropped balls helping to limit his effectiveness. Unbelievably, the Giants are still tied with the Rams for the last playoff spot in the NFC. The Eagles can clinch the NFC East with a win today, but they'll have to do it in a rainy Giants Stadium.

Bryon Leftwich returns just in time for Jacksonville. They've fallen a game behind the wild card leaders, but with a win in Minnesota today they can remain just one game behind Indianapolis in the AFC South. The Jags only chance for the division is to hope that they can survive their next two games (Minnesota and Pittsburgh) and have the Colts stumble down the stretch. Indy is in the middle of an extremely soft spot in their schedule (Houston, Chicago, Detroit the last 3 weeks; Tennessee and Houston the next 2) but then have to finish up against Baltimore, San Diego, and at Denver. All 3 of those games should have playoff implications, and will provide a tougher test for Peyton Manning since all of those teams have given up between 140 and 190 points. By comparison, the cupcakes the Colts are playing now had all given up between 200 and 239 points entering this week.

Late Games

It should also be raining in Foxboro for Baltimore and New England today. Both teams have major injuries, with the Ravens missing their top two running backs and the Patriots still depleted in the secondary. Even without the potential for bad weather, an early lead is essential in this type of game. The Ravens need a lead to take the pressure off of Kyle Boller; if he is placed in too many obvious passing situations the Patriots defense can scheme their way past their injuries. The Patriots need a lead because their secondary can be beaten deep for big plays (see last week) and they'd prefer to keep the ball in Corey Dillion's hands, especially if the weather is a factor.

Prime Time

Denver is a strange team, which makes this week's matchup with Oakland worth watching. They are winning primarily with defense, as their offense has been inconsistent. On the other hand, St. Louis at Green Bay Monday night has the potential to be a track meet. Both teams could be playing for first place in their respective divisions.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004 

Turkey Day

As I get older, I have a very hard time motivating myself to watch football on Thanksgiving unless the Patriots are playing. I'm normally with a group of people I never watch football with, and it just seems strange. Besides, since I'll be on the East Coast, we normally eat during the first game and leave for home during the second game.

This year is an easy choice. I might actually try to convince my hosts to watch the James Bond marathon (starts tonight on Spike). Any game with Peyton Manning is entertaining, but Detroit has completely fallen apart after a 3-1 start. Game two is more promising, as Drew Henson makes his first NFL start against the Bears. Maybe Henson is the real deal, but frankly I'm tired of hearing about him. When he was in the Yankees farm system all the New York fans would fantasize about him playing third base in the Bronx. When that didn't work out, the Texans traded him to the Cowboys, where he has been waiting for Vinny Testaverde to get hurt. What's scary is that the NFC playoff race is so wide open that Chicago is still in the race. The Giants and Rams are tied at 5-5 for the last NFC spot. (By comparison, the Jets, Ravens, and Chargers/Broncos are tied for the last 2 AFC spots at 7-3.)

 

A Season for Thanks

Tomorrow is my favorite holiday of the year. No presents, no pressure (that starts on Friday :-) and little overt religion or commercialism. For the most part, all Americans can agree on Thanksgiving. Tomorrow, make sure to pay attention to what's important and focus on your family.

Sunday, November 21, 2004 

Games of the Day

What a week. First the folks on Monday Night Football stir up a (mostly) fake controversy, then the NBA has the worst brawl I can remember on Friday night. Let's hope next week is a little more peaceful as we head toward Thanksgiving. As for this week's slate of NFL games, they're mostly turkeys (sorry...) as only one game matches two teams with above .500 records. You know it could be a long weekend when the opponents of the three 8-1 teams have won a total of 10 games between them. At least all 32 teams are back in action this week (no byes).

Early Games

The Jets-Browns game should be entertaining, but the best game should be the Steelers at the Bengals. Cincinnati has won two in a row against weak NFC East teams (Dallas and Washington) as QB Carson Palmer has been just good enough. Of course, no one is hotter than Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Jerome Bettis has run for 252 yards the last two weeks in place of the injured Duce Staley, who will likely miss another game today. It's hard to see Cincinnati winning this game.

Late Games

Who would have thought that Atlanta at the Giants would be the game of the day? Eli Manning's debut raises my interest level, but I also want to see Michael Vick against another "quality" defense. The Falcons have just two good wins this year, against the Chargers and Broncos. Beating up on the NFC South doesn't impress me, but a win today will.

Prime Time

While New England at Kansas City is the sexy game, Green Bay at Houston should be more competitive. The Packers are fighting for their playoff lives and the Texans are one loss away from losing theirs. Houston got torn apart by Peyton Manning last week (18-27-2-320 with 5 TDs), and Brett Favre will try to do the same tonight.

Saturday, November 20, 2004 

If you can make it there...

Tom Coughlin waited a week too long, but finally pulled the trigger this week and named Eli Manning his starter against Atlanta. The Giants were in charge of their playoff destiny after a 4-1 start, but now they're 5-4, three games behind Philadelphia, and tied with Green Bay/Minnesota and St. Louis/Seattle for the two wild-card spots. Warner should have been benched after the 28-21 loss to Chicago two weeks ago, when he put up a horrible 18-36-2-195 line. The Giants had a 14-0 lead in the first quarter but gave up 28 unanswered points before a meaningless touchdown pass with under two minutes remaining. Replacing Warner then would have given Manning a chance to make his debut against an improving, but still mediocre Arizona team. Instead, Warner played another poor game (19-30-0-193) and now Manning debuts at home against Atlanta.

The good news for the Giants is that the Falcons have trouble against the run (see the Chiefs game for an example) and Michael Vick is still inconsistent. Last week against the Bucs, Vick only threw for 147 yards (8-16-1-147) but ran for 73 and Atlanta piled up 205 yards on the ground. But the Falcons are hot and the Giants are stumbling, which gives the edge to Atlanta this week.

Sunday, November 14, 2004 

Games of the Day

We've reached the second half of the season, and the playoff races continue to take shape.

Early Games

Injuries are the story for the Ravens-Jets game. Curtis Martin is having a spectacular season, but I have a hard time envisioning the Jets scoring much today with Quincy Carter replacing Chad Pennington at QB. Baltimore has allowed the fewest points in the league this year (113) and they should be fired up today, as this is a great chance to gain an edge in the wild-card race. Pittsburgh is likely to win in Cleveland, so the Ravens need a win to keep pace. The Ravens got Jamal Lewis back last week, and Jonathan Ogden is improving (but still officially questionable). The loss of TE Todd Heap hurts, but I love the Ravens defense today.

Detroit at Jacksonville is interesting for no other reason than both of these teams are struggling after better-than-expected starts. The Jaguars are tied with the Colts at 5-3, and while they had an extra week to prepare for life without Byron Leftwich, I'd be concerned. Jacksonville has won so many close games that they've grown accustomed to Leftwich engineering a miracle. Someone else will need to step up today. As for the Lions, the key will be stopping Fred Taylor. I still can't figure out how the Lions are 4-4; they have one of the worst offenses statistically, and their defense is porous. Clinton Portis ripped them for 147 yards last week as the Redskins won 17-10 even though Mark Brunell was pitiful (6-17-0-58). With Minnesota playing Green Bay, Detroit is guaranteed to gain ground with a win.

Late Games

The battle at Lambeau is the highlight of the day for me. Both Minnesota and Green Bay score a lot but can't stop anyone. This is their first meeting of the year (they'll play again on Christmas Eve), and injuries are a big factor in this game too. The Vikings have lost 2 in a row with Randy Moss hurt, and Mewelde Moore is also banged up. The schedule also works against Minnesota, who had to play Monday night while Green Bay had a bye last week (why can't the NFL do a better job with this?). Duante Culpepper may have to win this one on his own.

Prime Time

Both national games are a matchup of 7-1 and 3-5 teams. New England is home against Buffalo while Philadelphia travels to Dallas Monday night. The favorites should win both games. I'm really surprised that Dallas's defense has fallen apart. I know Woodson's out, but couldn't they have developed some depth?

Saturday, November 13, 2004 

The best things in life are free...

... but Scott Boras obviously doesn't see it that way. His comments earlier this week made me wonder why any agent would want to represent football players. Boras started the bidding on Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek at 5 years, $50 million, guaranteed, plus a no-trade clause. (Which as an aside, how many teams could afford to trade for him at $10 million a year anyway?) If Varitek played in the NFL, Boras would be laughed out of the room if he made that kind of request. The salary cap not only caps player salaries, but it keeps the agent commissions down too.

The NFL has great deal - it can basically print money when it comes to TV contracts, garnering $8 billion from Fox and CBS for a 6 year extension of the Sunday afternoon TV packages. For comparision, the last time around, the two networks spent a combined $8.4 billion for 8 years. And of course, the NFL can still play around with the prime time packages, which may be more valuable now that the Fox/CBS deals include some flexible scheduling clauses for the late in the season. Look for the NFL to use the NFL Network as leverage.

 

Miami Sunset

Dave Wannstedt "resigned" (ahem) as the coach of the 1-8 Dolphins this week. After years of disappointments (playoff near misses and short stays), the loss of Ricky Williams finally tipped the scales and the Dolphins slid into the gutter. I have nothing against him personally, but I never liked his game management.

Sunday, November 07, 2004 

Games of the Day

Parity has returned to the NFL after an early absence (as it always does). There's nearly a three-way tie in the AFC South, ties for the AFC West and NFC West lead, and an eye-popping 19 teams within 1 game of a playoff spot (or better).

Early Games

This is one of the those weeks where it's easy to identify the good games - there are only 4 games matching two teams with winning records. And the best of the weekend is Philadelphia (7-0) at Pittsburgh (6-1). The Steelers ended the depleted Patriots winning streak last week, and have a very poised QB in Ben Roethlisberger. Their defense is 5th in the league against the run (89.3 ypg) and 5th overall. (Note that their pass defense is worse, though that is misleading: the top 2 pass defenses in terms of yardage are Miami and Chicago, and that's because their opponents get early leads and run out the clock. But I digress.) Pittsburgh's defense has a real challenge this week, since if they can't stop McNabb and Owens they could be in for a long day. I'm not convinced the Steelers can put up a lot of points without some help (as the Patriots graciously provided). Philadelphia should win this game, even though it is on the road. If Pittsburgh wins this one, then I'll believe in them.

Late Games

I actually wish I could watch Houston at Denver. The Texans must smell blood in the water now that Bryon Leftwich is out for a while and the Colts are struggling (and play Minnesota Monday night). Denver is in a surprising race with San Diego, where Drew Brees is having a remarkable season as the second-rated passer in the AFC (138-206 1597, 14 TD, 3 INT). San Diego is great against the run but awful against the pass, and while Denver can do both, their running game is their bread-and-butter. But Denver's defense will lead the way in this one. When these two teams met in week 3, San Diego held Denver to just 37 yards rushing on 21 carries but the Broncos completely shut down the Charger offense, limiting them to 60 yards rushing and just 129 yards through the air. Jake Plummer threw 2 TDs and didn't turn the ball over en route to a 23-13 win in Denver. I suspect the outcome will be similar today in San Diego.

Not much to say about the New England at St.Louis game except "heads up". Look for the Rams to throw early and often, and score early and often. For Patriots fans this one will not be pretty, especially if Corey Dillon doesn't play. The Patriots must win time of possession to have a shot.

Prime Time

Finally, an entertaining Monday night game! Culpepper vs. Manning would be good enough, but add in the fact that both defenses are awful and this could be 45-42 classic. Both teams are coming off bad losses. The Vikings turned the ball over 3 times (incl. 2 INTs by Culpepper), gave up 168 yards rushing, and got smoked by the Giants 34-13. The Colts meltdown was even worse, although the score was closer (45-35) against a surging Chiefs team. Manning threw for 472 yards and 5 TDs, and his one interception was balanced by 2 lost fumbles by Kansas City. But the Chiefs outgained the Colts 203 to 33 on the ground and held the ball for over 37 minutes. Fortunately, the Vikings may be without Mewelde Moore, and the absence of Randy Moss also hurts. The Colts need this game badly before hosting the Texans next week.

Saturday, November 06, 2004 

Gone to Carolina

The Patriots winning streak is over, and they might have a losing streak after tomorrow's game against the Rams, but things could be (and get) much worse. Just look at the Panthers, now 1-6 after a slew of injuries not unlike what the Patriots are facing now. When you lose key members of your secondary, running game, and receiver corps, you're in trouble. Carolina has scored exactly 100 points in 7 games (only Washington with 98 and Miami with 86 are worse) and have given up an average of 152.6 yards per game on the ground, second-worst in the league (Cincinnati 155.4). I wonder if 60 Minutes will profile John Fox (or Bill Belichick) after this season and try to paint them as geniuses. It still comes down to having good and healthly players, or you can't win.

 

Steamed over Rice

I love Jerry Rice as a football player. But this foolishness over who asked who about wearing No. 80 (retired for Steve Largent) is remarkable. Why can't everyone (Rice and the Seahawks) admit that they made a mistake, since it shouldn't have been offered or accepted. Even Roger Clemens (another favorite of mine) didn't demand No. 21 when he went to New York, and the number wasn't even retired (Paul O'Neill was wearing it). Meanwhile, Rice caught one pass for six yards against the Panthers in a 23-13 win.

 

Apolitical

It appears that the "Curse of the Redskins" is over. Since the Redskins moved from Boston to Washington 70 years ago, the outcome of the Redskins last home game before a presidential election had always correctly predicted the outcome - Washington win = Incumbent party win; Washington loss = Incumbent party loss. The Packers beat the Redskins 28-14 last Sunday, but George Bush is at Camp David this weekend getting ready for four more years.

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