Sunday, December 15, 2013

An Open Letter to Dallas Cowboys Ownership, Management, and Coaching Staff



Dear Jerry Jones, et al.,

Good evening.  I sit here on a brisk Sunday night, sipping an entirely-too-strong-for-a-Sunday Crown Royal and ginger ale, and I have you to thank.  Your team, which happens to be the one that I root for and have spent countless dollars and hours on, has just blown a 23-point halftime lead to the Green Bay Packers (sans Aaron Rodgers, mind you) and suffered its third one-point loss of this 2013 NFL season, and I have you to thank. Your team, your pride and joy, your medium for exhibiting every last ounce of your despicable and laughable hubris, now sits 7-7 and clutching frantically to its hopes of winning the dreadful division in which it has the good fortune of playing, and I have you to thank. Your exorbitantly talented team, with its salary cap strife and aging core, remains the picture of mediocrity that it has been over the past 6 seasons.  And I have you to thank.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?  I became a Cowboys fan at the beginning of the 1992 season.  My Dad has been a Cowboys fan for nearly 40 years and while the easy narrative would be to say I was brought up that way from the womb, it's not exactly true.  My earliest football memories are "we root against the Eagles."  That's basically all I knew until about age 6.  To provide a frame of reference, I spent the first 25 years of my life living in Southern New Jersey, never more than 25-30 minutes outside of Philadelphia.  Odd, you may say, that I grew up virtually in the shadow of Philly and was taught nothing but disdain for its football team from as early as I can remember.  But, as I always say in my own defense, spend enough time around Philadelphia Eagles fans, and you'll understand the incentive to root for someone, ANYONE else.  But being a Cowboys fan was not necessarily forced on me.

Dallas opened the 1992 season on Monday Night Football against the defending-champion Washington Redskins.  On the opening drive, the eventual #1 defense in the league promptly forced a 3-and-out and then blocked Washington's punt through the back of the end zone for a safety.  I remember getting out of the shower at one point later in the game (hey, I was 6...I showered when I was told to), and quickly getting dressed and running to the living room to see Kelvin Martin return a punt 79 yards for a touchdown to put the game on ice.  From that point, on the evening of September 7, 1992,  I was hooked.

From the kid a few months shy of his 7th birthday and about to start second grade that I was then, to the 28-year-old financial professional working in New York City that I am now, I've never wavered.  Granted, it sure helped that this franchise captured three Super Bowls in four seasons right as I started to become old enough to understand football and actually play the game myself.  But from 1992 on, during the months of August through January, I've devoted the vast majority of my emotional capital to this team.  I vividly remember the 1992 NFC Championship Game in San Francisco.  In 1993, my Dad took me down to Dallas for my 8th birthday, and I actually got to meet you. I sat in the 700 Level at dirty old Veterans Stadium on a freezing cold day on my 9th birthday in 1994 to watch Darren Woodson return an interception 94 yards for a touchdown to beat the Eagles. In those days, I thought the loss in the 1994 NFC Championship Game six weeks later to those same 49ers, in which Dallas fell down 21-0 in the first 8 minutes thanks to three turnovers, was as bad as it got.

The truth is, 1994 was merely a harbinger of what awaited.  1994, as you sure remember, was the first year that your Cowboys played under a head coach not named Jimmy Johnson.  No, not the race car driver - the other one. You know, the guy more responsible than anyone for taking the old and decrepit 3-13 team you bought from Bum Bright in early 1989 and turning into a young, fast, swarming 13-3 juggernaut of a World Champion within 47 months? And who, for good measure, went back and won a second Super Bowl immediately after that, despite you having your hand in his pocket and your mouth in his ear the whole season? Remember that guy?

I'm sure you do.  You couldn't stand the fact that Jimmy Johnson was hailed as the mastermind and you were considered the check-signer, despite the truth in it all.  After the two of you parted ways, you sought to it that if and when your team ever won again, it would have your fingerprints all over it.  Yes, you did win a third championship in 1995 with coach Barry Switzer, the first of several go-with-the-flow head coaches you have brought in since Johnson, but everyone with half a brain knows that that team won with your former Arkansas teammate's players.  But make no mistake, this team was now completely yours, and it showed. The number of off-field incidents, drug busts, and underachieving locker room malcontents, things you can look past when you win, all went up. The inmates were running the asylum, and this time most of the inmates weren't the best football players either.  Two years later your team was 6-10 and replaced Switzer with Chan Gailey, whose two early and unceremonious playoff exits brought about the Dave Campo Era, a three season, 15-33 stretch that saw the swan songs of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and anyone else not named Larry Allen or Darren Woodson who had previously had a hand in winning you a Lombardi Trophy.

Oddly, I'm proud of the Dave Campo Era -. The Dave Campo Era is what I point to if ever called a frontrunner.  Dumb as I was, I justified it all to myself, "you have to stink for a while to pay for past success.  The stars got old and the team is in salary cap hell. I can handle this!" The day I broke my collarbone playing high school football, I refused to take any of the pain medication until late that night because the Cowboys were playing on Monday Night Football in Washington, and no way was going to risk falling asleep. Six days later, I sat in a dumpy South Jersey bar with sawdust on the floor, arm in a sling and barely able to dress myself from that freshly broken collarbone, to watch a game that featured the unquestioned highlight of the Dave Campo Era - George Teague knocking T.O. down on the star. Fittingly, it was a blowout loss.

Now, let me be fair.  You, Mr. Jones, are anything but a man who will stand around and abide losing.  So you had just the right phone number on speed dial to get a franchise turned around.  Bill Parcells put an immediate end to the Dave Campo Era in 2003 and promptly went 10-6 with an abysmal roster.  The Tuna drafted two future Hall of Famers in Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware, cleaned out the dead wood, took on a project of a quarterback from Eastern Illinois, and had the team trending upward for the first time in a decade.  By 2006, the Cowboys were ready to make waves in a relatively weak NFC.

You know what's funny about the crushing Wild Card loss in Seattle that ended that 2006 season? It's only about the fourth or fifth worst loss in the past seven years.  Parcells' tenure ended after that game, because he'd had enough of working for you.  So there went the only other real head coach you've ever had. There went, for the second time, the man who'd taken your team from laughingstock to contender. But according to you, he was only brought in so you could ensure yourself your new stadium. More on that a little later.

Naturally, you brought in Wade Phillips, just the "by-golly, sure thing Boss" coach you wanted on your sideline. God bless him, but we all knew at the outset that Wade was the last person who should be brought in to pilot a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Stop me if you've seen this movie before, but Phillips took Parcells' roster in 2007, stocked with 13 Pro Bowlers, and went 13-3, only to get massively outcoached by Tom Coughlin and the Giants at home in the Divisional Playoffs.  You know what didn't help either, Mr. Jones?  The fact that you handed out NFC Championship Game tickets before that ill-fated divisional game.  2008 brought a team heavily favored to go the Super Bowl, only to go 9-7 and miss the playoffs thanks to a 44-6 obliteration by the Eagles in Week 17.

But you had bigger things on your mind, for 2009 would see the christening of Cowboys Stadium, a venue so magnificent, such a standing definition of the word "ostentatious," that it was almost immediately nicknamed JerryWorld. Having been one of your patrons to make a pilgrimage there, I must say the place is knocked out.  It's spectacular. Congratulations, Mr. Jones, because your stadium truly is a palace.  You know what else it is?  It is the #1 vacation destination for opposing fans in the NFL.  I'm sure you see it at every home game - an easy 25%, and sometimes an easy 40%, of the 90,000+ fans in the place are rooting AGAINST the Cowboys. Most weeks, the pageantry of the stadium renders your team's home-field advantage virtually nil, to the point where your home fans have to be reminded on your giant video board to be quiet when the Cowboys are on offense and to be loud when the opponent has the ball.  Your treasured stadium is sterile and embarrassing, all the way down to the air conditioning inside the place that must be stuck on the "MORGUE" setting.  How about this for a fun fact?  Twice in the past 3 seasons, a visiting team has come into Dallas and either tied or set the record for their franchise's biggest comeback win - Detroit in 2011 and Green Bay just this week.

The stadium befits the franchise - a high-profile, star-studded team that does incredibly many little things wrong.  Outside of a four-week stretch at the end of the 2009 season, which featured a win in New Orleans against the then-undefeated Saints and back-to-back revenge-drubbings of the Eagles in Week 17 and in the Wild Card round, your Cowboys have routinely failed to get out of their own way.  After Wade Phillips was mercifully dismissed in 2010, you made your hot shot alleged-genius and former Dallas backup quarterback Jason Garrett the head man.  It was a job he'd basically been assured of in early 2008, when you gave him $3 million a year to stay put as your offensive coordinator when Baltimore came calling trying to hire him as their head coach (that sound you hear is an enormous "THANK GOD" coming from central Maryland).

How many brutal losses has your Princeton clipboard caddy presided over as head coach?  2011, a year in which your team lost out on the NFC East in a win-or-go-home Week 17 game, brought a blown 14-point 4th quarter lead against the Jets, a blown 24-point lead at home against Detroit, a game in Arizona in which Garrett ICED HIS OWN KICKER, and a blown 12 point lead at home against the Giants the very next week.  Let me remind you that your team missed the playoffs by one game that year.  One game.

Nothing has changed since Garrett took over for Wade Phillips.  Your team is consistently near the top of the league in penalties, has a crippling lack of depth on both lines and in the linebacking corps, and has exhibited no killer instinct. Inability to overcome defensive injuries left the Cowboys out of the playoffs by one game again in 2012, and thanks to this latest abomination against Green Bay, they will be lucky to even make it into a third straight Week 17 de facto NFC East championship game.  Under Garrett, the coaching staff has time and again gotten away from what works in such a hurry that you'd think there was a rule limiting the amount of times you are able to run the ball in a game.  It is rare that coaches with seemingly such little grip on the flow of a game and such little ability to identify and attack an opponent's weakness get to keep their jobs for this long.

Here's the thing, Mr. Jones, and this is what it all boils down to.  I can handle the losing.  It's a part of life and a part of being a sports fan.  You can't enjoy the wins if you don't also get beaten down by the losses.  But it's the way it's all gone down that is irritating.  I've often said that if the Cowboys were simply a flat-out bad team, life would be easier.  Before you decided that you were going to run the show, the Cowboys were arguably the most consistently successful team in the post-merger era.  Since then, they have been a punchline, a joke, a 20-car pileup on the interstate.  Under your management, and under your hand-picked yes-man coaches, your team has invented ways to lose. It's one thing to feel like a loser, but it's another thing to feel like a sucker.  And that's what you've made your entire fan base out to be.  Suckers.  We're all suckers.  Your team is that hot girl in the bar who lets you buy her drinks all night only to tell you at 2 AM that she has a boyfriend.  Every Sunday I plant myself in front of my TV or on a bar stool, decked out in Cowboys gear and amped up for the game as if I were playing in it myself.  And more often than not, I saunter off afterwards wondering what it was all for.

And I have you to thank.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

60 Minutes 'til "See You in April"

In an odd twist, the Super Bowl hype hasn't been nearly as tiring as expected this year, despite the standard Eli/Peyton/Brady/Coughlin/Belichick/rematch/revenge/Gronkowski's ankle/Bibi Jones storylines still being beaten to a pulp. Somehow another football season has come and gone, and the only thing left to determine is who gets to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis. At the very least, we should be in for a close game, if not a very good game. After fighting with myself for two weeks over this, the pick is in....

NY Giants (+3) over New England
From a personal standpoint, I have a tough time rooting for the team who single-handedly eliminated mine. However, I would have an even tougher time rooting for a team based in the greater Boston area. Geographical and baseball-related loyalties aside, I truly think that from a football perspective this game is there for the Giants' taking. Overall they do more things well than the Patriots do, and their trio of Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and Victor Cruz can only be covered for so long by the patchwork New England defensive backfield. The Pats can try to blitz Eli Manning, but he is at his best when under pressure, something that the 49ers found out two weeks ago and the Patriots certainly know by now. Both of these teams make their living on the quick passing game and yards after the catch, which, in light of the way the rules are enforced in the league today, makes it no coincidence that they have each come this far. That being said, you wonder how much the Patriots truly lose due to Rob Gronkowski's high ankle sprain, considering that Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker can easily catch 10 passes each without a healthy Gronkowski on the field. Both of these teams present matchup problems for the defense, but the difference lies in the Giants' ability to rush the passer without blitzing. If the Giants can rush four men and keep seven linebackers and defensive backs to cover Brady's receiving options, then this will be their day, yet again. Giants, 24-20.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Conference Championships

The beginning of the end of the football season has two fairly intriguing matchups, fortunately only accompanied by one week of speculation and hype. Savor it everyone, because after this weekend the football season is essentially over, since the Super Bowl and all it entails often leaves the game lost in the mix. On another note, after last week's 0-fer, I really suck. Home teams in CAPS.

NEW ENGLAND (-7) over Baltimore
I violated one of my biggest rules on Divisional weekend, and that is I bet with my heart and not with my head. While I really want the Ravens to pull this sucker out and leave all the Chowderheads out there counting down until April. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that the AFC Championship will play out this way. Had the Ravens not been facing TJ Yates last week, they could have easily lost their game to the Texans. While the New England defense won't present the challenge that Houston's did, I don't know that Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense has enough (outside of Ray Rice) to expose the Pats' D to the extent that it is going to need to. On the other side of the ball, what more really needs to be said about Tom Brady and his treasure chest of targets? While the Ravens' aging defense still has plenty of punch to it, and I'd be shocked if New England throws up another 40-spot, I just think Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch, etc. are too good. Patriots (with a grimace), 27-17.

NY Giants (+2.5) over SAN FRANCISCO
Another instance of having to overcome my biases and rooting interests. Last week I couldn't see past the fact that the Giants eliminated my own team, and picked against them even though my writeup on the game ended up outlining just how good a chance they had against Green Bay. The most interesting part of this game is that neither the Giants nor the 49ers will make the mistakes that played a large part in allowing both of them to advance last week. San Francisco tackles extremely well and plays a much more disciplined brand of defense than the Packers did. Can you imagine the 49ers having the type of breakdowns that led to both of the touchdowns scored by Hakeem Nicks at Lambeau? Neither can I. On the other end, Alex Smith brought the 49ers down the field twice in the last four minutes to overcome the Saints, thanks largely to New Orleans selling out on blitzes when it really wasn't necessary. The Giants have proved that they can get to your QB with their front four and don't need to get blitz-happy. So something has to give. And what will that be? Well, long story short, Eli Manning is too tough to bet against right now, especially if you figure the game to be close late. Top to bottom, the Giants are probably a little bit better of a team, so I'll take the better team and a few points any day. Giants, 24-20.

Last Week (avert your eyes): 0-4-0
Postseason: 2-6-0

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Divisional Weekend

The last great football weekend of the season brings a sad reality that the Winter Doldrums are lurking just a few weeks away. Until then, home teams in CAPS.

New Orleans (-3.5) over SAN FRANCISCO
I don't care that this game is outdoors. I don't care that this game is on grass. I don't care that the playing surface at Candlestick Park is often less than optimal. I don't care that the 49ers had a bye week. I don't care how good San Fran's defense is. I don't care how susceptible to the run the Saints' defense can be. The Saints are the better team in this game. If they were the typical dome team who can't run the ball or play in elements (although, for the record, 62 degrees and sunny in the Bay Area for game time), that would be one thing. But New Orleans can run the ball almost as well as they throw it, and you can't tell me the Saints are being held under 24 points in this game. You could line the '76 Steelers up against this Saints offense and they'd still manage to get into the mid-twenties. They'd probably even get 21 off of the '85 Bears. The 49ers have had a great year, but if they ask Alex Smith to match touchdowns with Drew Brees, that's just asking too much. Saints, 24-16.

Denver (+13.5) over NEW ENGLAND
It's Christ against the anti-Christ in Tim Tebow vs. Bill Belichick and the evil-machine Patriots. These teams met in Week 15 in Denver, a game that the Broncos controlled before turning the ball over to the Patriots and their automatic-30-point offense like it was a bodily function. The weather will be cold but clear in Foxborough, which should allow the Pats' passing game to operate cleanly, albeit against a sturdy Broncos defense that may keep New England from reaching their usual totals of points and yardage. No one in the world will expect the Denver offense to watch wits with that of New England, but the Patriots defense is beyond soft and will allow Tebow to do enough of the Lord's Work up and down the field the keep this game competitive. Patriots, 28-17.

BALTIMORE (-7.5) over Houston
The Texans have made their mark and won their opening playoff game, which is all anyone could have asked of them. Meanwhile, the Ravens, who are 8-0 at home this year, have been sitting back and licking their chops in preparation for this game. More than a touchdown is a lot of points to give up with a Baltimore team that doesn't score like the Saints, Patriots, or Packers do. However, Ray Rice should be able to find enough holes in the Houston defense, and as long as the Ravens merely play their game they should minimize any threat presented by the Texans. If the Ravens are meant to go anywhere at all this year, they win this game handily. Ravens, 20-10.

GREEN BAY (-7.5) over NY Giants
This was the toughest game of the week to make a selection on. The Giants have all the momentum you could possibly want, while the Packers have been the league's world-beaters all season. Much has been made of the Green Bay defense and its susceptibility to a pounding running game and big plays over the top. However, that only occurs when the Packers have a big lead or if the opponent has a lead that they are trying to grind out. I don't put too much stock into the layoff that Aaron Rodgers and his offense have had since clinching the NFC's top seed. What I do put stock into is the return of Greg Jennings to the Pack's already-lethal passing game. Eli Manning will get the ball down the field plenty to his deep WR corps, leaving it up to the Green Bay defense to force a mistake or two (paging Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson) in order to make the difference. Can the Giants come up with enough big plays on defense to keep themselves in the game? If their front four can get to Rodgers enough, then they certainly can. However, I think that the Packers will be ready for the challenge presented by the Giants' pass rush and will adjust their attack accordingly. Packers, 38-28.

Last Week: 2-2-0

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wild Card Weekend

Arguably the year's best weekend of football, Wild Card Weekend never seems to fail. This year it gives us two very intriguing games and two other games that would be complete shockers if the underdog were to win outright. After 17 Weeks of regular season football that saw passing yards pile up more quickly than Greece's budget deficit, get used to see more of the same in the playoffs. Home teams in CAPS.

HOUSTON (-3.5) over Cincinnati
I can't believe I'm saying this, but the return of Wade Phillips to the Texans' sideline this week should be the difference maker. Ol' Wade takes back the reigns of the formidable Houston defense that he transformed this year, which should only make matters more difficult for Cincy rookie QB Andy Dalton facing a fired-up Reliant Stadium crowd in the franchise's first ever postseason game. Does that mean I'm picking T.J. Yates to win a playoff game? Well, all I'm doing is picking him to not lose it. Arian Foster and Andre Johnson should provide enough offense to keep this one out of the reach of the Bengals, who did not beat a winning team all season.

Detroit (+10.5) over NEW ORLEANS
The more I think about this pick, the less I like it. But I'm going with my gut here because the points, especially with the hook, are too many to pass up. Detroit's defense is something out of the original Tecmo Bowl video game - if you don't sack the quarterback, you're giving up a big play. Despite an embarrassing barrage of dirty plays and personal fouls, the Lions hung around with the Saints in the teams' Week 12 meeting, a game for which Ndamukong Suh had been suspended. It's no question whether or not the Saints will put up a ton of points, it's just a matter of how long the Lions will be able to get the ball downfield and keep up. My prediction is that the Saints settle for a few more field goals than normal, they score "only" 38 points, and the Lions add a late TD to make the final score 38-30.

Atlanta (+3) over NY GIANTS
Neither of these teams are great, but the Falcons are more consistent overall. Giants backers and media members keep conjuring up thoughts of 2007 - but what does that team have to do with this one? Well, the Giants do have a lethal pass rush, but their secondary is still very vulnerable down the field, which is where Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones, and Roddy White will have to play key roles for Atlanta. The Falcons need to find a way to contain Victor Cruz in the open field and keep Hakeem Nicks from getting deep. It would go a long way for Atlanta if they can do so, because otherwise the Giants have, statistically, the worst rushing offense in the league. And before anyone gets all crazy about a dome team playing in winter weather, the forecast for this game is sunny and a relatively mild 45 degrees. Another note? Yes, day games, and especially daytime playoff games, are typically when the older, calmer set of Giants fans use their tickets, so don't be shocked if the Metlife Stadium crowd is less raucous then expected.

DENVER (+9) over Pittsburgh
Thanks to the overall ineptitude of the AFC West, CBS gets to broadcast another Tim Tebow game to all of America, and we get to wonder "is anyone going to score in this game?" The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger banged up and now have Rashard Mendenhall on IR, plus they lose safety Ryan Clark for this game due to his sickle cell condition preventing him from playing at Denver's altitude. When Denver has the ball....well, we all know plenty about the trials and tribulations of that offense in the past two months. I highly doubt that the Broncos will pull this game out, but think their crowd can help keep them in it for a good while. 17 points will be plenty to win this one, but I just can't see the Steelers' defense allowing more than one touchdown drive to Tebow. Let's say a final of 17-10, with Pittsburgh winning a real black-and-blue matchup.

Last Week: 2-2-1
Regular Season: 36-42-7

Monday, January 2, 2012

Cinq Pour Samedi (Bowl Game Edition)

In what brings a merciful end to my 2011 NCAA season, the BCS Bowls and National Championship Game provide five intriguing matchups spread out over a week's time. As always, the games are played at neutral sites so there are no official "home" teams.

Wisconsin (+4.5) over Oregon (Rose Bowl)
In a classic Big Ten-Pac 10 (oh wait, it's now "B1G-Pac 12") matchup, it's all about the ground game. Also as you'd expect, it's Wisconsin who wants to run through you and Oregon who wants to run around you. Despite the big-play ability of Oregon, I think the Badgers can control the game with the fresh legs of their massive offensive linemen. On the other side of the ball, Oregon's defense is not the better of the two and they tend to have trouble stopping opponents when the game stays close late.

Oklahoma State (-4) over Stanford (Fiesta Bowl)
In what may be the most entertaining, if not the best, of all the big bowl games this season, the Cowboys look to make 2011 the year of "what might have been." while Andrew Luck makes his final dress rehearsal before he becomes the most mentioned name in all of sports this April. Picking a side in this game was simple - Oklahoma State just never stops scoring (in games played outside of Iowa, that is) and taking anything less than a full touchdown against them is not a bet I'd like to be a part of.

Michigan (-3) over Virginia Tech (Sugar Bowl)
In the game of borderline at-large BCS bids, the Wolverines present an interesting threat to the Hokies. Virginia Tech's only two losses this year have come to Clemson and dual-threat QB Tajh Boyd. Now let's ask ourselves, who is Michigan's top offensive player, what does he bring to the table, and isn't he even better overall than Boyd? That's right, Denard Robinson figures to give Frank Beamer's defense fits. There is a lot to like about Michigan's new-look defense and in an odd twist, Virginia Tech is now down to a third kicker for this game.

West Virginia (+3) over Clemson (Orange Bowl)
The Mountaineers, who bear the honor of "Tallest Midget" coming out of the Big East, meet a Clemson team that is as Jekyll-and-Hyde as they are. The Tigers backed into the ACC title by virtue of having Virginia Tech's number. Truth be told, this game is going to be very ugly and will most likely be the least watchable of the bunch. In that case, give me the points because I still think Clemson peaked about 8 weeks ago.

LSU (+1) over Alabama (BCS National Championship Game)
In the rematch that no one wanted but everyone is secretly looking forward to, SEC haters cringe as a sixth straight national champion will emerge from the conference. To be objective, this truly is a matchup of the two best teams, although the argument can be made that since LSU already beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa this year, why should they have to beat them again for the championship? Whether this game plays out like the 9-6 field goal fest from November or a more conventional, higher-scoring game, I think LSU is better equipped to handle either situation. Their defense is too strong and their offense just a bit more multi-faceted than that of Alabama. Let's hope for a dandy in the Superdome to close out the season.

Last Week: 3-2-0
Season: 31-37-2

Sunday, January 1, 2012

5 for Sunday

Week 17 has arrived, and with it my last half-ass column of the regular season. Due to no one wanting to stare at a computer screen and worsen their New Year's hangover (or a smart phone screen for that matter, but if you're reading this blog on your phone then may God seriously bless you), this week's picks will be explained in one sentence each. I promise that actual game handicaps will return for the playoffs starting next week. Home teams in CAPS.

Tennessee (-1) over HOUSTON
Because the Titans have something to play for and the Texans are merely trying not to further injure themselves.

San Francisco (-12.5) over ST. LOUIS
Because the Rams have tee times on their mind and the 49ers need to win to secure the #2 seed and a bye.

Detroit (+6.5) over GREEN BAY
Because Matt Flynn will start in place of Aaron Rodgers, and the Lions need to win to avoid a trip to New Orleans for Wild Card Weekend.

Kansas City (+2) over DENVER
Because if 2011 may have been the Year of Tebow, according to the Chinese, 2012 is the Year of the Neckbeard.

Dallas (+3) over NY GIANTS
Because despite the extreme lack of confidence that I have in the Cowboys, Felix Jones will benefit from what was essentially a week off in Week 16 and after watching the Giants bumble around with the Jets last week for 3 and a half quarters, I just cannot imagine Dallas losing to those two teams a combined three times in one season.

Last Week: 1-4-0
Season: 34-40-6

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Sports Moment of the Year 2011

Last year it was Goal Goal USA with Landon Donovan sending the United States to the top of the group and into the knockout stages of the World Cup.  This year its back to business as usual, Michigan.  However, its not the moment you might suspect. 

Michigan's first night game under the lights in Michigan Stadium produced agruably the most entertaining game of the year in college football.  Michigan came back from a 24-7 deficiet in the 4th quarter only to blow the lead with 30 seconds left, then Jeremy Gallon used his cloaking power up to disappear and set up a 22 yrd touchdown throw to Roy Roundtree to defeat Notre Dame.

Highlights

It was the best game I had witnessed live in my lifetime, but its still not the moment of the year.

No the sports moment of the year can only be reserved for ending the nearly 3,000 day drought to Ohio State.  When Courtney Avery intercepted Braxton Miller's 4th down pass to seal the game for Michigan I couldn't control my excitement.  I was uncontrolablly shaking my brother up and down and jumping around.  It was the kind of pure ephoria that only 7 straight defeats to your bitter rivals could produce.  Michigan finally became Michigan again. We slowly made our way onto the field to celebrate to commerate the moment and the best trip ever to Ann Arbor.

2011 Sports Moment of the Year: Michigan beats Ohio State - Zero Day in Ann Arbor

Other more national moments of the year:
-Derek Jeter hits 3,000 and goes 5 for 5 in Yankees win- Lou, myself, and half the readership took this in from the rightfield bleachers and it was probably the most excited I have ever been at an event where I had no rooting interest.

-The last day of the baseball regular season saw the Red Sox choke, and the Rays complete a wild comeback to go to the postseason

-Game 6 World Series-the Cardinals were down to their last strike twice and facing elimination but David Freeze was always there to save the day.

-Wisconsin and Michigan State played two classics this fall.  MSU beats Wisconsin on a Hail Mary then blows the Big Ten Championship on a roughing the punter penalty.

-Butler Pitt NCAA Tournament Second Round (Not calling it Third round)- Two inexplicaple fouls in the last 1.4 seconds saw a crazy finish and a worthy winner in Butler.

-Mavericks defeat Heat in NBA Finals- The Heat were expected to get it done, but instead it was the Mavs playing well late in games and capturing their first title.

There are plently more to mention, but I will allow you to mention your favorite in the comments.

Friday, December 23, 2011

5 for Sunday (Christmas Eve Edition)

Winter is officially here, fantasy leagues are in their championship weeks, everyone is hustling to get those last-minute gifts, and our Jewish friends everywhere are planning out their annual Chinese-food-and-movies day. What else? Oh yeah, it's Christmas, and the NFL has a full Sunday's slate of games taking place this Saturday, Christmas Eve. And since this is the season of bonuses (hopefully all of my fellow office-dwellers out there were made happy in that regard), I'll be comparing each game to a certain facet of the Christmas holiday. Home teams in CAPS.

NY JETS (-3) over NY Giants - Opening the Presents
Since this is part of the first set of games for Saturday, and is clearly the most hyped, the quadrennial (yeah I looked that word up) New York meeting has the clearest counterpart of all: the presents. People have been looking forward to this game since the schedule unveiling, and just like with Christmas presents, it will leave people either extremely delighted or terribly disappointed. The winner of this game stays alive in the playoff hunt, and the loser will be all but done. At the end of the day (CAUTION: Antrel Rolle tweak ahead), the Jets play very well at home and should have the favorable balance of the crowd on their side, while the Giants are three Cowboys mistakes away from being on a 6-game losing streak. The real difference is that the Jets are capable of ratcheting up a good defensive performance when they wake up on the right side of the bed, while the Giants don't have the bodies or the cohesiveness on defense to be trusted.

NEW ENGLAND (-9.5) over Miami - Reading Christmas Cards
You say this one's a formality, right? Well, it is. That's why this game is equivalent to reading Christmas cards. To be courteous, you have to read the card before opening the gifts, but 90% of the time you just glance at the thing for 12 seconds until you can attack the wrapping paper. And while in many cases people spend a good deal of time and effort picking out just the right card and writing just the right thing inside, there's no two ways around the fact that it's still a mere card. Similarly, the Dolphins will put up a solid effort in Foxboro, but the outcome will still boil down to the fact that the Patriots are a significantly better team who does not stop scoring. Close early, lopsided late.

Arizona (+4) over CINCINNATI - Spending Time with Family
You know how not every part of the holidays is full of fun? That's this game. It will very likely not be pretty between the Cards and Bengals, much like how you typically just have to grin and bear it through Christmas family gatherings. And how do you get through what can be several agonizing hours, or even several agonizing days? By doing the prudent thing - you say "please" and "thank you," you offer help when needed, and you try your absolute best at the small talk. How do you get through this ugly game between surging Arizona and boring Cincinnati? By taking the points, of course!

San Diego (+2.5) over DETROIT - 24 Hours of A Christmas Story
Some things about the holidays are so nicely tried and true that I honestly hope they never change. One of them is the fact that A Christmas Story gets run on TV for 24 hours in a row. Another December rite is the strong late-season play of the San Diego Chargers, who are so sadly stricken with Norv Turner Syndrome for the first three months of the season. Now that Philip Rivers is no longer an interception machine, it's irresistible to take the Bolts plus points against a team that they are at least even with, if not better than. I still don't buy the Lions and don't see another miraculous comeback materializing on Saturday.

NEW ORLEANS (-6.5) over Atlanta (Monday Night) - The Mall on Dec. 26th
There are some places that are just horrifying to try to invade. The Superdome on the night of a primetime game is one of them. Another one is the mall on the day after Christmas. Yet neither the Falcons (because they're in the same division) nor the average American gentile (because they never learn their lesson) can avoid this fate year after year. Expect the scoreboard to be lit up on Monday night (ever so conveniently for this analogy, the night after Christmas), but in the end the Saints have the quick-strike ability that the Falcons have yet to master. With Drew Brees just 305 yards away from breaking Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record of 5,084 (which he very nearly broke in 2008), a Saints victory by something like 34-24 sounds about right.

Last Week: 3-2-0
Season: 33-36-6

Saturday, December 17, 2011

5 for Sunday (A Photo Essay)

Nobody wants to actually read during this time of year, what with all the shopping, wrapping, party-attending, imbibing and Christmas movie-watching that there is to be done. Plus, after last week, my words are about the equivalent of dog excrement on a computer screen, so this week will be a mere photo essay with one picture describing why I'm taking each game whatever way I'm taking it. Home teams in CAPS.

Dallas (-7) over TAMPA BAY (Saturday Night)









Green Bay (-13.5) over KANSAS CITY













Seattle (+3.5) over CHICAGO









Carolina (+6) over HOUSTON













DENVER (+7.5) over New England













Last Week: 0-4-1
Season: 30-34-6