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September 30, 2011

Week 4 NFL Picks

In the first three weeks of this NFL season, some crazy things have happened. The Bills and Lions are 3-0, the Titans blew out the Ravens, and teams like the Raiders and Redskins look shockingly decent at 2-1. Week 4 is when we really start to figure out what is real and what is a mirage. This week, there are four litmus test games that will help us figure out where some teams truly stand:Cowboys – Lions
Steelers – Texans
Patriots – Raiders (more of a litmus test game for the Raiders than the Patriots, but should still help us further evaluate where the Patriots belong in the power rankings)
Jets – Ravens

There is still a lot of football left to be played and the NFL season still has a lot of unexpected twists and turns. Winners of these games could go on to miss the playoffs and losers could make it to the Super Bowl. That being said, after this Sunday, we should be much further along in developing a tiered hierarchy of pretenders and contenders.

On to the picks; as always, I am picking games with my friend Asif who writes Uninformed Commentary.

Previous Records:

Last Week: 8-8
Season: 21-24-3Asif:
Last Week: 9-7
Season: 25-20-3

Detroit @ Dallas (-1)

Ryan: The Lions’ defensive line, led by Donkey Kong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch, will be bringing a lot of pressure and the Cowboys’ offensive line will need to hold up for long enough for Tony Romo to exploit the weak Lions secondary.

With all the gushing that Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden did over Tony Romo last week, you might have thought that the Cowboys scored a touchdown at some point. Nope. With Miles Austin likely out and Dez Bryant and Felix Jones banged up, I see this as a statement game for the Lions. Lions cover.

Asif: The knob-slobbing that Tony Romo got from the MNF crew against the Redskins made me want to throw up. You know who’s better in every way than Tony Romo? Matthew Stafford, who has made the leap into elite status in my mind. Of all the starting quarterbacks under the age of 26 (arbitrary cutoff, I know, but it lets me exclude Aaron Rodgers while I make my point), the only one I would take over Stafford is Matt Ryan. Right now, he’s 5th in passing yards with 977 with an elite 67% completion rate and a 110 passer rating on the season.

The Lions defensive line is beastly and the Cowboys O-line is terrible. I’d give serious thought to sitting Romo if I were the Cowboys, because House of Spears (best name meaning EVER) might tear off one of his appendages. Lions Cover.

New Orleans (-7) @ Jacksonville

Ryan: Last week, as the Jaguars were playing the Panthers in the 1995 expansion team bowl, the tweets about the game (as opposed to the monsoon it was played in) were consistently along the lines of “It doesn’t look like Blaine Gabbert has ever played football.” New Orleans has a poor pass defense but it isn’t bad enough for this game to even be close. This line seems at least three points too low. Saints cover.

Asif: How are the Saints favored by only 7 points? I know that their pass defense is suspect, but it’s not like the Jaguars have anything resembling a coherent offense. Saints cover.

San Fransisco @ Philadelphia (-8.5)

Ryan: Must. Resist. Urge. To. Take. Alex. Smith. On. The. Road. This line seems a little bit too high, though, given that we don’t know how effective Vick can be with his bruised non-throwing hand. It also stands to reason that the coaching staff has instructed him to get rid of the ball quicker and avoid the types of hits that have knocked him out of the game the last two weeks. As I wrote on Tuesday, it is not necessarily going to be beneficial for the Eagles if they are expecting Michael Vick to think AND play quarterback. It is unclear if he can do both at the same time and, if so, what the effects will be.

The 49ers are 2-1 but their wins are against the Seahawks and Bengals so it’s not like those wins are legitimate by any means. Since I wrote the first sentence, though, I have convinced myself of the distinct possibility of the backdoor cover. Considering how the Eagles have played so far, this line seems just a bit too high. I think the 49ers cover but there is a distinct chance that I am banging my head against the wall for thinking this at the end of the first quarter.

Asif: F*ck it, I’m taking Alex Smith. Last week exposed the Eagles’ most glaring weaknesses: their defense is vulnerable to end runs, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg are terrible play callers, and their offensive line is going to get Vick murdered. I’d feel better about the 49ers chances to win if Frank Gore was likely to play, but I think their defense is strong enough to keep this close.

Anyone who thinks that the value of coaching is overrated should take a good look at San Fransisco. Last year, they were an embarrassment of a team and now they look like NFC West front-runners with pretty much the exact same personnel. I know that being NFC West favorites isn’t a great accomplishment, but the Niners look disciplined, confident, and dare I say competent for the first time in a decade. San Fransisco and the points please.

Washington (-1) @ St. Louis

Ryan: Picked by many to be one of those teams that makes a leap, the Rams have had the most disappointing start in the NFL this season. There is not necessarily shame in going 0-3 against the Eagles, Giants, and Ravens but the Rams have been hapless in doing so, having been outscored 96-36. Sam Bradford has regressed this season and the defense, now in its third season under head coach Steve Spagnuolo, should be performing significantly better than it has thus far.

“Mike Shanahan doesn’t want the best 53 guys, he wants the right 53 guys,” Jon Gruden said last week, meaning it as a compliment. While I agree that in building a football team, or any team for that matter, you have to account for fit, effective leaders are also able to obtain buy-in from talented but mercurial performers and don’t resort to authoritarian measures. It is therefore stunning that Washington has been somewhat decent despite my expectations that they would have already quit on Kim Jong Shanahan at this point. Redskins cover but I still think there will be a reckoning later on down the road.

Asif: I’m torn here. On one hand, the Redskins suck. On the other hand, the Rams suck. I’ll go with the home team and say the Rams cover, then forget that this game exists entirely.

Tennessee @ Cleveland (-1)

Ryan: I will not take wins over the Dolphins and Manning-less Colts (Manning-less Colts should just be their team name for the rest of this season) as a sign that the Browns should be favored over anybody.

Not that passing yardage statistics should be given TOO much credence in the 2011 NFL, but Matt Hasselbeck has shocked and awed by throwing for 932 yards in three games as the Titans have gone 2-1. Kenny Britt’s being out for the season notwithdstanding, the Titans are in decent shape as long as the rejuvenated Hasselbeck can stay healthy. This can and will expire at any time and pave the way for the Jake Locker era but for now, Titans cover.

Asif: The Cleveland Browns have been favored in every game they’ve played so far this season. Go ahead and look back at the lines from the first three weeks, I’ll wait… okay. HOW RIDICULOUS IS THAT? I realize that the Browns haven’t played any good teams, but I’m 3-0 when applying my rule that when the Browns are favored, take the points (unless Indy is the opponent). I’m going to let it ride and take the Titans to cover.

Buffalo (-3) @ Cincinnati

Ryan: Bills good. Bengals frisky but ultimately bad. Letdown game potential acknowledged, this line still seems 1.5 points too low as I don’t think the Bills of all teams would let a 3-0 start go to their heads. Buffalo covers.

Asif: Definitely trap game potential here, but the Bengals are terrible and the Bills have a legitimately good offense. I give this matchup 4 out of 5 dismissive wanks and I’ll go with the Bills to cover.

Minnesota (-1.5) @ Kansas City

Ryan: This game is going to be heavily featured on the Black Zone Channel, the NFL’s brand new antithesis to the Red Zone Channel that will be narrated by Ben Stein and heavily feature punts and passes thrown at receivers’ feet.

Very few things give me as much pleasure as a Packers fan as seeing headlines like Vikings are Breaking Down Donovan McNabb’s Mechanics. McNabb has been in the league since 1999. He is what he is which is to say that he is what people who have eyes thought he would be this season. He cannot and will not be fixed. Still, the Chiefs are dreadful and the Vikings cover.

Asif: Just looking at this matchup causes me to make a reflex wanking motion Vikings cover.

Carolina @ Chicago (-6.5)

Ryan: Somehow, I was negligent in my responsibility to listen to Chicago sports talk radio on Monday after the Bears lost convincingly to the Packers. Glaring oversight and shouldn’t happen again. I can imagine what was said though and creating fake dialogue in my head is at least 75% as entertaining as the real thing. I still think the Bears are pretty good but this line is a little bit too high. Bears win but Panthers cover.

Asif: I overlooked this game when doing my first draft of this column. It’s probably because I don’t care much about mediocre football (unless it involves the Giants). Panthers cover.

Pittsburgh @ Houston (-4)

Ryan: It is starting to look like this could be one of those seasons for the Steelers where everything goes wrong. There are only so many of these massive hits that Ben Roethlisberger (is it resume-worthy that I can spell Roethlisberger correctly without looking it up?) can take before his body just can’t take it anymore. Something about the Steelers has looked off this season.

This is a game that the Texans need to win in their quest for legitimacy. Sure, they will probably win their putrid division without winning this game but I think that they need to take this one for overall confidence and sense of self-worth. Texans cover and I roll in the money from my $10 bet with Asif.

Asif: The Texans aren’t really that good, but they’ll win the AFC South by default. The Steelers didn’t look terribly impressive against Indy last Sunday, but I think that they’re a legitimately good team. Pittsburgh covers.

Atlanta (-4.5) @ Seattle

Ryan: Seattle has a pretty sizable home field advantage and the Falcons are a much worse team on the road than at home. It KILLS me to do this but I am taking Tarvaris Jackson and the points. Seahawks cover but I would never put real money on this game and wouldn’t watch any of it unless it was close in the fourth quarter.

Asif: Atlanta has been one of the harder teams to figure out this season. All signs say that the Falcons should be one of the most explosive offenses in the NFC, but they only put up 13 points in Tampa last Sunday. A lot of people are blaming Julio Jones for the discombobulated offense, but Jones had 115 receiving yards against the Bucs. Roddy White had 140 yards as well. Last week, Michael Turner had 20 rushing yards on 11 carries. Turner was pretty good in the first two weeks (100 and 114 yards), but he’s had a ton of carries the last three years and may be showing some signs of wear. It shouldn’t matter this week because Seattle is worse than ball cancer. Falcons cover.

NY Giants (-1.5) @ Arizona

Ryan: The Giants looked pretty impressive last week in beating the Eagles 29-16 but I have no idea what to expect from them the rest of the season. Their injuries have been well-documented and may ultimately be too much to recover from. I don’t think the Cardinals are good but this line seems weird enough that I think Vegas knows something. Cardinals cover.

Asif: This line is practically begging people to pick the Giants. I know the Giants have injuries, but Eli Manning looks like one of the best quarterbacks in the league right now and may have found a new target in Victor Cruz. Even without Osi Umenyiora, the Giants defensive line is a pass rushing beast. They abused the Philly O-line last week and should do the same in Arizona. I’m a little scared that I might be getting too optimistic on the Giants, but I’ll go with NY to cover. I’ve picked the Giants in each of the first four weeks. I swear this has nothing to do with my homerism.

Miami @ San Diego (-7)

Ryan: The Chargers are 2-1 despite the fact that they would love nothing more than to be 0-3. Unfortunately, they have played the Vikings and Chiefs this season and so far it has been impossible for opposing teams to lose when doing so. They run into another cupcake this week in the Dolphins but I just don’t trust the Chargers to cover a line this high. As is their wont, San Diego will find some way to make this game closer than it has any business being. Dolphins cover.

Asif: Do you think that Bill Cowher just shows up at the Dolphins facilities uninvited and starts measuring Tony Sparano’s office for new drapes? Do you think Sparano would even notice if he did? My guesses are yes and no…

Norv Turner has now been the Chargers coach for four years. I just thought I’d point that out, because no one in San Diego seems to have noticed. Anywho… Chargers pretty good + Dolphins clueless = San Diego covers.

Denver @ Green Bay (-12.5)

Ryan: Despite being 3-0, the Packers have not yet put together a complete game where they play up to their potential. They let the Saints and Bears stick around instead of putting them away and came out flat in the first half against the Panthers. It is hard to imagine the Packers losing this week but they might be unfocused enough to allow the Broncos to cover.

Asif: Bra-dy Quinn, Bra-dy Quinn, Bra-dy Quinn. The Broncos aren’t winning anything, but John Fox has the opportunity to commit the ultimate act of trolling ever by starting Quinn and I really don’t understand why hasn’t done anything about it yet. The again, I’m a bitter little man with nothing to look forward to. Packers cover.

New England (-4.5) @ Oakland

Ryan: Did anyone happen to catch the biggest story in Boston sports this week? I am talking, of course, about Tom Brady cutting his hair. Were his beautiful golden locks the cause of his four interceptions last week? TIME SHALL TELL.

Oakland is a strong performance in this game away from needing to be taken seriously. Could it be that Al Davis made sound decisions in assembling this roster? I don’t know if I am ready to live in a post-2003 world where that is the case because I have rather enjoyed making jokes at his expense the better part of the last decade.

The Patriots had some bad luck last week in their loss to the Bills. I think they come hard, real hard, this week. Patriots cover.

Asif: Do you really believe that Tom Brady is going to throw four picks two weeks in a row? Me neither… that and the Pats going into full revenge mode tells me that Oakland is going to get annihilated. Darren McFadden is beastly, but stopping the run isn’t the Patriots’ problem. Pats cover.

NY Jets (-3.5) @ Baltimore

Ryan: Because DirecTV was negligent in Week 1, they were playing in a game Week 2 versus the Titans that everyone–including the Schoolyard Tavern bar manager/remote control God–thought would be a blowout, and I was at Bears-Packers while they played last week, I haven’t actually seen the Ravens play yet this season. Having also missed Jets-Raiders last week, I have no basis for forming an admittedly subjective opinion about what will happen in this game. The winner of this match-up is in great shape at 3-1. With no conviction, Jets cover.

Asif: As much as I love Rex Ryan, at some point the sh*t talking is going to get old. The Jets haven’t done a ton to back up their talk so far this season on defense and with the sudden ineffectiveness of their running game has forced them to lean more on Mark Sanchez, who isn’t that good.

The Ravens answered any doubts I had from Week 2 by trouncing the Rams last Sunday. Baltimore covers easily.

Monday Night:

Indianapolis @ Tampa Bay (-10)

Ryan: Indy played hard, real hard, last week in a valiant loss to the Steelers. Jim Caldwell says that no decision has been made about whether Kerry Collins or Curtis Painter will start but this feels like the South Park debate between the giant douche and the turd sandwich or Bush vs. Gore.

I still maintain that the Bucs are good but they haven’t shown me that they are capable of covering a 10-point spread. Whether it be by backdoor cover or another surprisingly close, hard fought loss, Colts cover.

Asif: Congrats Tampa, you’ve replaced Philadelphia and Dallas as my new favorite place to hate. You might have a baseball playoff spot, but you still live in Florida which means no matter what, my life is better than yours.

Colts fans, how does it feel to know that your Jesus is a baby murderer? Personally, I don’t care, but it’s fun watching you over earnest fatsos wring your hands over it. Oh and your team still sucks, how the sh*t do you end up on prime time two weeks in a row? I wish I could flex you out of existence. Tampa covers.

September 29, 2011

The View From a Collapse: A Red Sox Fan's Perspective


It had to be this way. There was no other way it could end.

Since 2004, Red Sox fans have been spoiled. We’ve forgotten what losing felt like. Not just regular losing, but Red Sox losing. The kind that comes with the perfect timing, just when you believe that things will go your way. The kind of losing that physically hurts, that cruses your soul and leaves you shaken for days, wandering around in a daze, wondering exactly where it all went wrong. The kind of losing that makes you want to stay in bed, to avoid any and all contact with the outside world, because it only serves as a reminder of your pain.

If you think this is all hyperbole, ask any Cubs fan how losing feels. Better yet, find a Braves fan right now and ask them.

As Red Sox fans, we never thought that we’d have to feel this way again. 2004 exorcised nearly a century’s worth of demons from Boston and made us believe that we could be winners. 2007 cemented our newly found confidence and self-esteem, made us believe that we actually were the big boys now and that the 21st century belonged to us.

But a funny thing happened along the way to our much dreamed about century of dominance. In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays, who had been a punching bag for the Red Sox throughout their brief existence, emerged as a contender, led by electric leftfielder Carl Crawford and rookie third baseman Evan Longoria, who would quickly establish himself as one of the best players in baseball. We dismissed the upstart team from Tampa at first, but they forced us to take notice by taking the division title and then beating Boston in seven games in the ALCS.

2009 was even worse, as the Red Sox saw a division lead evaporate in the second half of the season as a juggernaut Yankees team steamrolled the American League, like a world champion locomotive. Still, we shrugged it off. The 2009 Sox had been hurt by injuries and we reasoned that with some health and reinforcements from free agency the Sox would be back on track soon enough.

2010 was rock bottom, or so we thought. Sox GM Theo Epstein made a rare strategic blunder over the winter, referring to the season as a “bridge year” before it even started, a gaffe that the Boston media pounced on. The Sox got off to a horrible start in April, yet had somehow managed to claw their way back into contention by the mid-June before it all unraveled. On Friday, June 25th, star second baseman Dustin Pedroia fouled a ball off of his foot, breaking his navicular bone. It was a day after his best game of the season in which he had hit three home runs in a win against the Colorado Rockies. In the next few days, the Red Sox lost pitcher Clay Buchholz and catcher Victor Martinez to injuries as well, and by the time they returned, the Rays and Yankees had created enough space in the standings that Boston could forget about any October celebrations.

Coming in to the 2011 season it was apparent that the team needed a face lift. The days of Big Papi and Manny Ramirez making pitchers piss their pants from the 3 and 4 holes were over. The Sox needed to find players to anchor their lineup for the next decade. And Theo Epstein did just that, emptying the farm system in  a trade to get first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres and dishing out big bucks to steal Crawford away from the Rays. The Red Sox were now an offensive juggernaut, built to grind opposing pitching staffs into tiny piles of dust. And for the most part, they did just that.

After a slow April, the Sox went on an all-out blitzing of the American League. Gonzalez led the way, with his graceful opposite field swing and easy power. David Ortiz seemed rejuvenated. Admittedly a far cry from the 50-plus homer Papi of 2006, he hit over .300 and exuded that magnanimous Papi smile that we had all grown to love. Leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury developed a legitimate power stroke, turning himself into a modern-day Fred Lynn, except with Tim Raines speed. The only everyday player who didn’t meet expectations was Crawford, who got off to a terrible start, started to heat up, pulled a hamstring and came back as a model of mediocrity. Still, between May and September the Red Sox were the best team in the American League and looked like a comfortable lock for the playoffs.

The last weekend of August, the Yankees came to Fenway for a three game series. Up until that point, the Sox had handled New York, even knocking around Yankees ace and Cy Young candidate CC Sabathia, who looked invincible against every other team in the league. That weekend, the Bombers took two out of three at the Fens, and although we didn’t realize it at the time, the character of Boston’s season changed irreparably. The Sox followed that series by losing two out of three to the Texas Rangers and then two out of three to the Toronto Blue Jays.

When the Rays swept Boston in a weekend series starting September 9th, cutting a wild card lead that was once nine games to a mere three and a half, it was officially panic time. The Red Sox fell into a September tailspin the likes of which the franchise has never seen, even in the 86 years of futility between 1918 and 2004, winning only seven games during the month and failing to do so much as win two games in a row. Suddenly, every flaw seemed exaggerated and every turn of luck seemed to go against the team. A thin starting pitching staff, made weaker by a mid-season back injury to number three starter Clay Buchholz, cratered completely with aces Jon Lester and Josh Beckett unable to stem the bleeding. Relief ace Daniel Bard went from lights out to imminently hittable. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis went down with a sports hernia. Every line drive seemed to be right at a defender.

And so there we found ourselves on September 28, with the Sox tied for the Wild Card, desperately needing a win over the lowly Orioles to preserve a season that began with the highest of expectations. And for eight and a half innings, it really looked like things were going to go our way. The Sox scored a run on a balk. Dustin Pedroia homered on a pitch up near his head. Jon Lester, working on three days rest, was nails, going six strong innings. Daniel Bard looked like Daniel Bard in the eighth. And there in the ninth was Jonathan Papelbon, breathing fire and getting two quick, easy outs. There was no way that Boston was going home tonight. And then Chris Davis doubled down the first base line and like so much this September everything unraveled. Papelbon quickly got ahead of the next batter, Nolan Reimold, only to leave a pitch over the middle of the plate which turned into a ground rule double. The next batter, Sox killer Robert Andino, lined a pitch to left, which popped out of the glove a of a sliding Crawford, allowing the winning run to score and putting the final nail into Boston’s coffin. It was an appropriate ending for Carl, who after signing one of the richest contracts in club history, turned in a season so putrid that he actually wrote a public apology to Boston fans.

Meanwhile, in Tampa, the Rays clawed their way back from a 7-0 deficit, exploding for six runs in the eighth inning and getting a last-strike homer from little-used Dan Johnson to tie the game in the ninth. Mere minutes after the Sox had blown up, Evan Longoria laced a pitch over the left field wall in Tampa and the Rays had captured the wild card. It all felt so right. So familiar.

Sox fans won’t get any pity, and we don’t deserve any. The truth is, we’re the worst kind of sports fan. We’re petulant, entitled children, convinced of our own superiority and general awesomeness. Years of losing caused us to become bitter, spiteful little people, with shriveled up souls. Winning allowed us to unleash our most disgusting, boastful character traits, which we had kept bottled up for so many years out of extreme shame. Scratch even the most seemingly level-headed Red Sox fan deep enough and you’ll find Tommy from Quinzee, tucked away in the deepest crevice of his reptile brain, in the past we just rarely let him out. Yet suddenly, after 2004 and 2007, being a Red Sox fan was no longer something you hid from new acquaintances, girls you were trying to sleep with, and prospective employers. We reveled in our team’s success  and made sure that we shoved it in everyone else’s faces.

Well now that’s over, at least until next October. For a lifelong Red Sox fan, those words have a bitter, but familiar taste. On September 29th, Boston will wake up, and life will continue, but in a way we’ll have turned back the clock. The talk-radio mouthbreathers will be on in full force, calling for anyone and everyone’s heads, and they may have a smidgen of a point for once. Local media trolls, like the ever-repulsive Dan Shaughnessy, will be piling on, and trying to score new book deals about some invented “curse.” It will all be unbearably typical and sad for a city that cares way too much about sports.

That is, after all, all this is. It’s just sports, and it doesn’t really matter. It still sucks.

September 28, 2011

Cowboys Should Consider Benching Romo This Week

On Monday Night, Tony Romo had a harrowing performance in an 18-16 defeat of the Redskins that, depending on who you ask at ESPN, fell somewhere on the grand leadership scale between Moses (before he went rogue) and Jesus. He gutted and gritted through inexperienced receivers, a dreadful offensive line performance that saw several botched snaps, and a broken rib that he had suffered the prior week versus the 49ers.

With every hit that Romo took, he grimaced in a way that would ever so briefly transmit the sharp pain from the television into viewers’ midsections. It hurt to watch and gave some–but certainly not full–credence to the commentators’ hyperbole. In just three weeks, Romo has managed to come full circle after his deficiencies were grossly exaggerated by the media in the wake of his Week 1 collapse versus the Jets.

At 2-1, Romo’s Cowboys sit in a three-way tie with the Redskins and Giants atop the NFC East. They have a legitimate shot at winning the division if they can stay healthy and figure out their issues on the offensive line. This week, the Cowboys host the 3-0 Lions in a match-up that will be a fascinating litmus test as to where these two teams stand right now in the NFC hierarchy. If the Cowboys win, they will continue to hold at least a tie in the NFC East; if the Lions win, they will at least remain in a tie with the Packers atop the NFC North and will add a notch in their legitimacy with their second quality road win, the first having come Week 1 in Tampa.

The Lions have perhaps the most punishing defensive line in the NFL. Their defense, with holes in the secondary, is buoyed by pressuring the opposing quarterback. Led by the hard hitting Donkey Kong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch, Detroit has eight sacks in three games. Suh and Vanden Bosch have combined for five of those sacks while the underrated Cliff Avril has one sack this season after recording 8.5 in 2010.

For the Cowboys, Dez Bryant and Felix Jones are banged up and Miles Austin is likely out for the second straight week with a hamstring injury. Any way you slice it, they are going to have issues this Sunday and a victory could very well come at the expense of further punishment to Romo’s body that would have disastrous effects later on in Dallas’s season. The Cowboys should therefore consider the option of sitting Romo this week and focus on getting rested and, most importantly, healthy coming out of their Week 5 bye.

I am well aware that this suggestion has about a 0% chance of being implemented. If the Cowboys held out Romo, Bryant, and/or Jones this week, they would be excoriated by local and national fans and media and be perceived as cowardly and weak. That being said, the NFL season, despite being just 16 games, needs to be treated as a marathon and not a sprint. There are times when teams need to strategically pick their battles for the sake of winning the war (on the flip side of this, with such a small sample one game often determines whether a team makes the playoffs or does not so teams really have to consider short-term and long-term risk and reward very carefully). If Romo does play, which all signs point to, the Cowboys need to do everything they can to protect his body from collateral damage in the wake of the Lions’ outstanding defensive line.

September 27, 2011

Value For Vick? Ctd.

About a month ago, I wrote a column about the Eagles giving Michael Vick an extension and wondered about whether the timing was wise:

My buddy Dean, a die hard Eagles fan, doesn’t necessarily disagree with the decision to pay Vick, but he questions the timing. “I don’t understand why they had to do this now instead of waiting until, say, Week 6. At that point they could have better seen if his greatness is sustainable, if he got better at avoiding hits, and if defenses had figured him out.” At this point, the Eagles probably would not have had to pay Vick that much more than they just did but would have been more educated in what they were investing in.

In Sunday’s 29-16 loss to the Giants, Vick left the game with a contusion (which was originally thought to be a fracture) on his non-throwing hand. This was the second straight game that Vick was forced out due to injury as he suffered a concussion in last week’s loss to the Falcons.

Eagles Falcons Vick Retruns To Atlanta Football

After Sunday’s game, Vick griped about the perception that he gets treated differently than other quarterbacks. ”Looking at the replays, I’m on the ground every time, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated,” Vick said. “The refs have got to do their jobs. And I mentioned it to the refs in training camp when I talked to them. I’m on the ground constantly, all the time. Every time I throw the ball, I’m on the ground. And I don’t know why I don’t get the 15-yard flags like everybody else does.” While Vick had a point (that he has since recanted) that he is treated a little bit differently on roughing the passer calls when he remains in the pocket than, say, Tom Brady or Drew Brees, most of the hits that Vick takes are when he is scrambling and doesn’t take the necessary precaution to shield himself from harm.

In his weekly Ten Pack, ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio wrote:

After a 29-16 loss to the Giants that dropped the Eagles to 1-2, Philly quarterback Mike Vick complained about the fact that he hasn’t drawn more flags for roughing the passer.  But Vick should worry less about getting hit and receiving 15 yards and more about not getting hit as much as he gets hit.

He’s still reckless with his body, and in a season featuring plenty of quarterbacks who are racking up hundreds of yards of passing by making fast decisions, Vick needs to process information more quickly and get rid of the ball.

Even though Vick exposes himself to injury on these plays, it is not entirely clear that the proper solution would be for him to temper himself. He is at his best when he is improvising and darting around, making plays with his arm and his legs. Where the quarterback position is traditionally a synthesis of mind and body, Vick plays much more instinctively. His body is constantly churning at 100% without regard for consequences. He plays without a singular shroud of self-doubt and this is precisely what makes him so electrifying and difficult to contain.

Unfortunately, the characteristics that enable Vick to be so elusive in the face of opposing defenses, the threat of which opens up the passing game and other creative elements in his team’s offensive game plan, expose him to punishment. If defenses had to worry less about his running, they would focus more on exploiting his comparatively inaccurate passing. IF Vick slid, IF Vick threw the ball away, IF Vick stopped running with reckless abandon, he would be less susceptible to injury but also, in all likelihood, a less effective quarterback.

What this all means is that there is a high risk for the Eagles that Vick will be unable to sustain his performance as a healthy, elite quarterback for the duration of his contract extension. It calls into question why they traded back-up Kevin Kolb to the Cardinals for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie–who has yet to see very much playing time–instead of keeping him as an insurance policy and why they did not wait until the middle of this season to evaluate whether it would be prudent to give Vick his extension.

September 26, 2011

Football and Me Part IV

This is the fourth post in a series in which I will document this football season. It will broadly be about the Badgers and Packers but will more specifically be about myself in it. Football season does not just happen on the field. It is about great friends, foods, drinks, and merriment. My hope is that it will be interesting for readers but at the very least it will serve as a journal to look back on. I wish I had done this last year.

Once again, I had an outstanding football weekend as the Badgers and Packers continued to go 1-0. On Friday, I celebrated my 25th birthday with a relatively small crew of very close friends. We started off the celebration at DMK Burger Bar, a craft burger restaurant in Lakeview, splitting orders of baked mac and cheese, Wisconsin cheddar fries and sweet potato fries with lemon aioli. For the main course, I ordered a burger with a fried egg, bacon and green chiles. Everything was delicious.

As always, I enjoyed my experience at DMK but was a little dismayed when they wouldn’t make my burger with the griddled rye bread that was offered as the bun for another burger, even after I tried to utilize the method that my roommate’s dog uses when it wants food or attention. That is to say that I tilted my head 45 degrees, widened my eyes and said, “Pleaseee? It’s my birthdayyy” (the dog doesn’t actually talk–to the best of my knowledge–but it implies these begs quite well with its facial expressions) but it was all to no avail. I learned the hard way that they are quite strict about their “no substitutions” policy. They slightly made up for it by giving me a free ice cream chipwich at the end of the meal but I will always wonder what could have been if my burger had rested between two slices of griddled rye.

After DMK, we headed to Will’s Northwoods Inn where we were met by a few more of my friends. A great surprise birthday present came later in the night when one of my good friends, who runs the social media and promotion for Will’s as more or less of a hobby, asked Habib and me where we would be watching Packers-Bears on Sunday. I immediately realized that this sounded like a trick question but answered, “Here, obviously,” to which I was greeted with the response, “Well, how about Soldier Field?” The manager of Will’s had given him two passes to the Miller Lite Party Deck that he would be unable to use so he wanted to know if we would want to go in his place. It took us less than two seconds to oblige.

On Saturday, I actually skipped football for most of the day. In silent protest, I forwent watching the Wisconsin Badgers play South Dakota. I can understand why college football teams would schedule cupcakes in the first couple weeks of the season in order to prepare their players for legitimate competition but I really think that these schools should be playing real teams by the fourth week of the season. There comes a point where it is dissatisfying to carve out a sizable chunk of one’s Saturday to watch a game that ends 59-10 and I reached that level of saturation last Saturday in the second half against NIU. I am well aware how lucky I am to be able to gripe about 49 point victories by my favorite team but, despite the wonderful healing quarterback prowess of #BlackJesus Russell Wilson, I found the advance prospects Saturday’s contest to be wholly uninteresting. I may be in the minority here but I would much rather watch Wisconsin play a game before Big Ten play that they might actually *gasp* lose than watch the Badgers win by a number approaching infinity for a fourth straight week. I will now slowly descend from my high horse as Wisconsin faces its first real opponent next week when it hosts Nebraska at Camp Randall.

On Sunday, Habib and I got to Will’s around 11 AM to pick up our tickets and, of course, put down an order of delicious cheese curds. Superfan St. Vince was already in the house to watch his beloved Packers amongst green and gold brethren and graciously posed for a picture with us before we headed toward Soldier Field.

We stopped for the first half of the early games at Joe’s on Weed Street, had a pitcher of Coors Light and watched all eight games of the early slate at a stunningly break-neck pace. The front room at Joe’s has the best television set up I have ever seen at a bar and is rivaled only by Las Vegas sportsbooks for the best place I know of to view all of the Sunday action. There is a large screen projector in the center with rectangles of four big screen HDTVs on both sides of it. The back room has too many big screen projectors to count and is a great place to watch football if you only want to watch three or four games but there is not a singular vantage point where you can keep track of all the action as you can in the front. Joe’s has $5.00 pitchers of Coors Light on Sundays and its only drawback is that the food is subpar (although not un-eatable*) and there are no real suitable alternatives to eat at in the surrounding area. It therefore astounded Habib and me that there was a group of Packers fans at the table next to us who had gone to Joe’s JUST TO EAT as this is the only reason why we don’t just go there every Sunday for the noon games.

*Eatable – adj. Iteration of edible that takes taste and quality into account

At halftime, we hopped in a cab to Soldier Field and made our way to the Miller Lite Party Deck. The MLPD is a standing room only area above the upper deck of the north end zone and is an interesting and different way to view the game. There is an MC/DJ presiding over a party atmosphere and all of the fans on the deck received their tickets for free directly or indirectly through Miller sales reps. In order to see what is happening on the field, you have to be standing right on the railing and we luckily got there just in time to be able to do so. If you have a spot on the railing, you get a solid view of all the action. On the other sides of the MLPD are unbelievable views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. There aren’t many, if any, 360-degree views I have enjoyed more in my life.

Although most of the other fans on the deck were Bears fans and drinking heavily (I chose not to even have one beer because the day that I will pay $8.50 a beer will be a day that I have SIGNIFICANTLY more disposable income than I do right now), they were drinking heavily responsibly (People who can hold their liquor are able to accomplish this feat) and were generally affable despite the fact that I was wearing a Clay Matthews jersey and Habib was wearing his patented felt Packers pancho that he bought a few years ago on Spring Break in Mexico. Completely counter to my experience watching Bears-Packers at Soldier Field in 2007*, we did not feel unwelcome in any way.

*Top-five worst day of my life, extremely cold, wind swirling, awful game by Brett Favre, intolerable Bears fans in every direction, eight hour drive halfway home to Connecticut immediately following the game. A shiver is sent down my spine every time I think about it.

Obviously, it was the ideal circumstance for us that the Packers won handily as I imagine that the experience leaving the stadium would have been quite unpleasant in the event that that was not the case. It was telling that the Packers were able to win by 10 points even though they did not particularly fire on all cylinders on offense or defense. Aaron Rodgers was very good, going 28-38 for 297 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. All three touchdowns were to Jermichael Finley, who as you might know, I am and have been a HUGE fan of. With Finley, I feel ownership of his success in a way that mirrors those who were fans of a band “before they got big.” He is a match-up nightmare as he is too big to be singularly covered by defensive backs and too fast for linebackers. Also, I won 50-yard line seats to Packers-Giants from his wife on Twitter last season in the coolest way ever*. The Bears fans around me thought that I was prophetic after I called for the Packers to throw the ball his way before each of his touchdowns but I explained to them that this isn’t an indicator of predictive talent because I do this before every snap.

*If by some miracle you read this far, we are running at 1,800 words so I am going to save the story for another diary where there is less material.

The Packers came out hot and built a 14-0 lead before the offense became somewhat stagnant. When the Packers get leads, for some reason they stop going with what was working (yesterday, passing on first and second down and targeting Jennings and Finley) and start to run the ball more. Even though Ryan Grant had a solid day, rushing for 92 yards on 17 carries, James Starks had an off day, rushing for just five yards on 11 carries. When the Packers start running the ball more, it takes Rodgers out of rhythm and he becomes a little bit less precise. Habib and I continually just wish the Packers would be like the Patriots which is to say that they recognize what they do best (PASS!) and stick with it regardless of where the score and clock are at. I am well aware that the Patriots lost to the Bills with this strategy yesterday so it might actually be a good thing for Packers fans that I am not employed to call plays.

Next week, I am going to Madison for the Nebraska game and to Green Bay to see the Packers play the Broncos. This of course means that any number of obstacles are going to block my way between happiness and Friday; it never fails that weeks where you are immensely looking forward to hand you the biggest annoyances. Right on schedule, it began with my not being able to fall asleep last night and needing two coffees this morning (a very rare occurrence) to become something even close to a functional human being. Thank Gd the Packers beat the Bears yesterday or I would really be battling from the depths of despair today. Until next week, Let’s Go Red and Go Pack Go.

September 23, 2011

Week 3 NFL Picks

No introduction this week because it’s my birthday today and I want to be done with my responsibility sooner than later. Once again, I am picking games with/against my friend Asif who writes at Uninformed Commentary. Let’s go straight to the picks!

Previous Records:

Ryan: Week 2: 4-10-2 (OUCH!); Season: 13-16-3
Asif: Week 2: 8-6-2 ; Season: 16-13-3

San Fransisco @ Cincinnati (-2.5)

Ryan: This game is gross and would somehow be even more gross if Alex Smith is out due to the concussion he suffered against the Cowboys and rookie Colin Kaepernik has to start. Vernon Davis is upset with his targets and overall production so far this season, so, despite what you may have previously thought, he and I do share *something* in common. Yes, I used my one nobody-cares-about-your-fantasy-team(s) gripe on the first pick but you do have to admit that this game is wholly uninteresting.

The Bengals had one of those games last week where they outgained the Broncos by 64 yards and forced two turnovers while not turning the ball over but still lost. Bad teams tend to do that but it is especially special to do so against another bad team. Because both of these teams are bad but are generally indistinguishable from each other in the degree of such so far, I am picking the Bengals to cover.

Asif: This is the football equivalent of a goiter. I don’t want to think about it, know it exists, or see any pictures of it. As Ryan mentioned, this might be the first time in NFL history that a game would actually be better if Alex Smith played.

This Bengals fan thinks that Andy Dalton deserves rookie of the year consideration over Cam Newton. This may be the most conclusive evidence yet that rooting for the Bengals actually causes brain damage. San Fransisco actually has a decent defense, so I’ll take the Niners and the points.

New England (-8.5) @ Buffalo

Ryan: I think that the 2-0 Bills are going to be one of this year’s “good bad teams” which means that they will beat inferior opponents and cover, but lose to, elite teams like the Patriots. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who as you may have heard once attended a quaint institution in Cambridge, MA, has been outstanding so far this year, throwing seven touchdowns and just one interception.

As Asif details below, the Patriots struggle defending the pass. They are going to need pressure from Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis on Sunday if they don’t want to hear Chris Berman jubilantly exclaim, “No one circles the wagons like the Bills!” on the endless Sportscenter loop Sunday night through Monday afternoon.

For the second straight week, I think that the Patriots line has backdoor cover written all over it. Hopefully, I am not wrong for the second straight week. Bills cover.

Asif: New England’s offense this season has largely been built around the two tight end set which is why the loss of Aaron Hernandez is such a big deal. That said, Buffalo doesn’t exactly have a great defense; they allowed the Raiders 35 points last week. I don’t think scoring will be the Pats main issue in this game.

New England’s real, glaring weakness is an inability to defend against the pass. Vincent Jackson ate their secondary alive last week. Buffalo doesn’t have a receiver of Jackson’s caliber, but Stevie Johnson is pretty good. Still, I think the lack of a real, consistent second option in the passing game is what does the Bills in here. New England covers.

Houston @ New Orleans (-4)

Ryan: Because holding the Colts and Dolphins to 20 points combined in two weeks isn’t wholly impressive, this game will be the first real litmus test as to whether Wade Philips has presided over a renaissance for the perennially awful Texans D.

The Saints looked quite impressive in dismantling the Bears last week and for that I salute them. I think that they are just a little bit better than the Texans. That, combined with home field advantage, means that Saints cover. This game is an extremely compelling match-up and should feature quite a few points.

Asif: Do you like scoring and hate defense? Then this is clearly the game for you. I’m with Ryan, the Texans haven’t done anything to convince me that they’re actually very good. I’ve got them rated as solidly mediocre, but they’ll win the AFC South by default because the rest of that conference is a Cormac McCarthy novel-esque badland hellscape of crappy football and broken dreams.

The Saints are on the short list of Super Bowl contenders. I think the Bears’ defense is slightly overrated, but New Orleans torched them without Marques Colston and with limited play from Lance Moore. The Texans’ pass defense is pretty suspect, so I’m comfortable with the Saints to cover.

NY Giants @ Philadelphia (-7)

Ryan: The battered Giants secondary gave up 258 passing yards to Rex Grossman and 308 to Sam Bradford. Michael Vick practiced Thursday and will presumably be ready to torch the Giants’ UFL-caliber cornerbacks.

If the Giants find themselves tied at the end of the game and punting, they should probably do their best not to punt to DeSean Jackson. I’ve heard that bad things happen (for Giants fans and players…Eagles supporters rather enjoy it when that happens) when they do that. Eagles cover.

Asif: The Giants were thoroughly unimpressive on Monday night against St.Louis. Eli Manning and the offense looked decidedly mediocre and although the defense came up with some big plays, but it’s hard to tell whether it was their own doing or just boneheadedness by the Rams. Losing Terrell Thomas in the preseason was the biggest blow among all the Giants’ injuries. Corey Webster is a good corner, but he’s much better suited to covering 2nd option receivers. Aaron Ross is terrible and I hate him.

There is no doubt in my mind that Michael Vick, who is never ever talked about on ESPN, will play in this game. There is doubt in my mind as to whether he’ll play the entire game. One thing that the Giants do have is a solid pass rush and with Vick’s style of play there is always a risk of injury. I still think that the Eagles are good, but they’re not nearly as impressive as I would have expected. You can argue that the Falcons wouldn’t have beaten Philly if Vick had stayed in the game, but Matt Ryan was spot on in the fourth quarter. That’s a bit concerning for an Eagles team that is supposed to completely shut down the passing game. Just going on a hunch here, but the Giants cover.

Miami @ Cleveland (-2.5)

Ryan: For what it’s worth, CBS’s Gameday ticker is dramatically superior to that of Fox. CBS’s ticker has relevant fantasy stats and highlights interesting tweets from its studio crew. It is always fun when TV people over the age of 50 promote Twitter features while simultaneously condescending its users because they haven’t bothered to learn how to use it right. I’ve seen Chris Berman do this multiple times. Fox’s ticker, meanwhile has NO stats and had the nerve last week to show BASEBALL scores. This is wholly unacceptable needs to be stop. Incidentally, both channels are way too slow at showing Gamebreak highlights. Several times last week, highlights of one touchdown were shown after another one had happened in the same game. Fox and CBS need to steal away some Red Zone Channel technicians and figure out a way to implement important highlights from other games on a more timely basis.

With Asif as my witness, I SWEAR that the preceding paragraph was written in our shared Google Doc before Deadspin published Drew Magary’s regularly excellent Jamboroo where the introduction had the same thesis written in MUCH funnier fashion. Cereally, I promise.

I feel sick to my stomach taking Chad Henne on the road but think the Dolphins cover.

Asif: When Cleveland is favored, take the points. Dolphins cover. I don’t want to think about this game so I’ll just post this picture of a Dolphins cheerleader, ok? The Browns don’t have cheerleaders, but would you want to see that anyways?

Denver @ Tennessee (-6.5)

Ryan: Like 49ers-Bengals and Dolphins-Browns, this is one of those games that is so nauseating that if for whatever reason it came on the Red Zone Channel, it would prompt me to change the channel.

Titans-Ravens was one of the only games I didn’t see last week so I have no idea how to (im)properly evaluate to what extent the Titans were great and the Ravens were awful. I DO know, however, that the Broncos are very bad and caused me great pain and discomfort when I bet on them against the Raiders in Week 1. Therefore, I am picking the Titans to cover on the basis that their talent must have had at least something to do with handily beating the Ravens last week.

Asif: I would rather be repeatedly poked in the eye with a sharp stick than watch a minute of this game. I really want John Fox to start Brady Quinn just to troll the idiotic Broncos fans calling for Tim Tebow. Last week’s Titans win over the Ravens was a classic trap game that I somehow missed when making my picks. I don’t want to think about this game anymore so I’ll take the Broncos to cover because I don’t think Tennessee is actually a touchdown better than Denver.

Detroit (-3.5) @ Minnesota

Ryan: Last week, with the Vikings up 20-17 on the Buccaneers and facing 2nd and 10 on their own 22-yard line with 5:08, I bet my buddy Dean a dollar that the Vikings would not score any points and that the Bucs would get the ball back with more than two minutes remaining. This was the easiest dollar I’ve ever made in my life although I lost it back a couple minutes later on a bet that I no longer remember. I know, cool story.

Lions pretty good, Vikings very bad, blah blah blah – Lions cover.

Asif: The Vikings suck and I can’t think of anything to say about them. They aren’t even remotely interesting. When does Christian Ponder take the starting quarterback job from the bloated corpse of Donovan McNabb? I say Week 8.

I don’t have much hope left for the Giants so I’m considering adopting the Lions as my temporary favorite team for the rest of the 2011 season. I expect to be completely disappointed as usual. Lions Cover.

Jacksonville @ Carolina (-3.5)

Ryan: I would be fascinated to know how many times rookie quarterbacks have faced each other as early as Week 3 as Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton will do this week. I didn’t see any of the Luke McCown debacle last week versus the Jets that paved the way for this match-up but it was apparently historically dreadful. Despite the fact that I feel that Cam Newton’s two-week performance has been a little bit overrated, I think the Panthers cover easily.

Asif: Blaine Gabbert and his awesome hair are starting this week, presumably because Jack Del Rio realized that Luke McCown has no business being a starting NFL quarterback. Anyone who has ever watched football could have told him that before the season even started, but then again no one cares about the Jaguars enough to go through the trouble of actually looking at their roster.

Cam Newton is good, but like Ryan says, he’s probably a little overrated right now. The Panthers are just better than the Jaguars, so I’ll go with Carolina to cover.

Kansas City @ San Diego (-14.5)

Ryan: The Chiefs are so bad that this line could not possibly be high enough for me to even consider picking them. They lost by 45 (45!!!) last week AND lost their best player, Jamaal Charles, for the season with a torn ACL. On the bright side for noted egomaniac Todd Haley, there is at least now a legitimate reason to give the guy who used to be Thomas Jones carries. San Diego covers and I continue to revel Haley’s misfortunes.

Asif: Holy crap, the Chiefs blow. I’m with Ryan, this line could be 30 points and I’d still go with the Chargers. Normally, I’d be apprehensive about a possible Norv Turnering that allows KC to cover, but I’ve actually watched the Chiefs play football this season. My prediction of Todd Haley’s being the first coach axed is looking better by the hour. San Diego covers.

NY Jets (-3.5) @ Oakland

Ryan: Last week, Jason Campbell came in second in ESPN’s total QBR rankings (Tony Romo was first). When the methodology for these rankings was unveiled, I would have bet a lot of money that this would never happen. I would have thought that Sunday would go by without reference to the Heidi game before Jason Campbell had a week that was quantitatively valued that highly.

On the basis that I think the Raiders are a little better and the Jets a little worse than the public believes, Oakland covers.

Asif: The Raiders have a sneaky explosive offense. That’s what happens when you draft entirely based on 40 times. I don’t think that it will help them this week because the Jets are an excellent defensive team, more than capable of shutting down good passing attacks. At what point do we acknowledge that Al Davis may well be a zombie? He’s decaying in front of us and all his decisions seem to be based on some type of reptile-brain instinct.

Is there a luckier quarterback than Mark Sanchez? He’s not demonstrably better than Chad Henne by any objective measure yet we constantly hear about his upside and his big game ability. I’m pretty convinced that this is a result of selective memory, the flukiness of small sample sizes and the fact that the Jets have a good running game and defense. NY covers.

Baltimore (-3.5) @ St. Louis

Ryan: I am not going to let what I didn’t see of the Ravens’ stunning collapse last week affect my view of this game. The Ravens got themselves hugely hyped up to beat the Steelers in Week 1 and let their guard down against the Titans in Week 2. I would imagine that they were sufficiently humbled by the experience and think that loss could end up having a very positive impact on the rest of their season as the coaches and team leaders preach focus and energy.

The Rams are still figuring out their identity and will struggle to win games like this one for the next year or so. Baltimore covers.

Asif: Coming into this season I thought that the Rams were capable of making good teams sweat. After watching them in the first two weeks of the season, I’m revising that prediction. The Rams have shown some ability to move the ball and a middle of the road defense enhanced by Steve Spagnuolo’s ability to scheme blitzes, but right now they make too many mistakes to be considered good. They had a legitimate chance to take control against the Giants in the first half of last Monday’s game, but boneheaded turnovers cost them the opportunity.

Baltimore got caught in a classic trap game last weekend, so I won’t hold it against them too much. Still, Joe Flacco hasn’t really improved much since his rookie season. He picks a receiver pre-snap and stares him down. That inability to adjust is the Ravens’ biggest weakness. I think they’re capable of making a Super Bowl run even with such a glaring flaw because their defense is really good, but it would help them out a lot if Flacco learned to go through his progressions. Ravens cover.

Atlanta @ Tampa Bay (-1.5)

Ryan: The funniest running subplot in my life for the past year has been the Cousin Sal fake voicemails about Jaaaaaaaaaaash Freeman on the BS Report. I actively look forward to hearing these “voicemails.” I don’t know if this means that my life is inextricably devoid of humor but it’s an absolute fact. Also, you either 100% agree with that statement or have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about and I’m cool with that.

I feel like Atlanta is going to be one of those teams this season that takes care of business at home and versus bad teams on the road but struggles on the road against good teams. On one hand, the Buccaneers got beaten 27-20 by the Lions in Week 1 in a game where the score was much closer than the teams looked matched and found themselves down 17-0 last week in Minnesota. On the other hand, they erased the deficit against the Vikings to win the game and ultimately only lost to the Lions by one score. That was a long way of saying that, like with many (most?) teams, the jury is still out on the 2011 Buccaneers. That being said, I will go with my gut feeling coming into the season that they are pretty good. Buccaneers cover.

Asif: Tampa is going to have to do more than beat Minnesota to convince me that they’re legit. Many have argued that the Falcons wouldn’t have won last week if Michael Vick had remained in the game. I guess that’s fair, but I do think it cheapens the fact that Matt Ryan made some nice adjustments in the fourth quarter to avoid pressure.

I think the Falcons are a more balanced team on both offense and defense than the Bucs. Atlanta covers.

Arizona (-3.5) @ Seattle

Ryan: The NFC West is complete dog crap and it is an affront to our supposedly civilized society that a team from that division has to make the playoffs even if it goes 8-8. If you cannot go over .500 when you are at the very least GUARANTEED to be playing six of your 16 games against teams that are .500 or less, maybe you don’t deserve to make it to the next level. You certainly don’t deserve a home game. Deserve’s got nothing to do with it though (+5 if you get that Wire reference).

Seattle historically plays very well at home but Tarvaris Jackson has not historically been their quarterback. There is not a real basis to evaluate Arizona on yet. They took care of business against the Panthers in Week 1 and, um, didn’t against the Redskins in Week 2. Because the NFC West is so awful, I am not going to overthink any of their intra-divisional match-ups. For the rest of the year, I am picking the home team in these games to cover. Seahawks cover.

Asif: I’m not picking Seattle again this season. Tarvaris Jackson is awful. Arizona will win the NFC West by default and then promptly be blown out in the first round of the playoffs. Patrick Peterson is awesome and the rest of the Cardinals’ secondary is awful. Fortunately for them, you don’t actually have to defend against the pass when your opponent is quarterbacked by Tarvaris Jackson. Arizona covers.

Green Bay (-3.5) @ Chicago

Ryan: Last week against the Panthers, the Packers played with fire but didn’t get burned. Out of the gate, they fell behind 13-0. Prior to the second half of last season, the Packers would have gone on to lose that game and in the process of doing so create untold amounts anxiety for yours truly. It is OK to come out flat when you are playing against a rookie quarterback and a team that went 2-14 last season but not OK when you are playing your blood rival that won your division last season. Here’s HOPING that the Packers were sufficiently humbled by their early struggles last week and are prepared for this game to the extent that MY personal bragging rights and vanity remain firmly intact as a citizen of Chicago next week.

The Bears’ offensively dismal offensive line took a hit last week when they lost rookie Wisconsin alum/native/BearJew Gabe Carimi to injury last week. If they don’t figure out a way to better protect Jay Cutler, and fast, he is going to end up flatly impaled like Wile E Coyote after the perfectly planned trap involving a pulley and a boulder somehow goes horribly wrong. I may or may not enjoy it if/when that happens. The lesson, as always, is that I’m a horrible person that takes immense pleasure in the smiting of my real and/or perceived enemies. Bears cover because this game means so much more to them than it does to the Packers. To the best of your knowledge, this is not a reverse jinx.

Asif: Last week, I predicted that the Bears’ terrible offensive line would be their downfall and since I love saying I told you so…I TOLD YOU SO! I think the Saints might have beaten the eff-you mode out of Jay Cutler. I don’t understand why Lovie Smith hasn’t been reamed in the media for letting Cutler stay in the fourth quarter of last week’s game against the Saints. Cutler was clearly out on his feet, like a worn down fighter totally unable to protect himself.

Things aren’t going to get easier against the Packers with Gabe Carimi out, especially since Clay Matthews typically lines up on Carimi’s side of the field. Expect a ton of blitzes from Green Bay, sulking from Cutler and blank stares from Lovie as the Packers cover easily.

Pittsburgh (-10.5) @ Indianapolis

Ryan: If you haven’t already, read my Peyton Manning column from yesterday. I HAVE GREAT INSIGHT. Last week, Cris Collinsworth marveled that both Sunday Night games had come down to the final play. I would venture to guess that that will NOT be the case this week. Steelers cover. Free money.*

*This column is for entertainment purposes only. If you take MY (or Asif’s for that matter) gambling advice, please seek immediate medical attention**

**Re-read that last sentence in tone of the disclaimer announcer in erection pill commercials.

Asif: I see fat people on my teevee! I think Peyton Manning’s neck injury has given stem cell research proponents the ammo we need to get red states on board. You think if Landry Jones had the same injury, the state of Oklahoma wouldn’t legalize stem cell research the next day? I’m not advocating hurting anyone on purpose, just suppose a few choice spots on fields in certain cities were extra slippery… We might have a cure for Alzheimers in the next year.

On a more serious note, without Peyton Manning, the Colts are rivaled in suck by only the Chiefs and Seahawks. The Steelers are aging, but the Colts probably couldn’t beat an SEC team right now. Pittsburgh covers.

Monday Night

Washington @ Dallas (-5.5)

Ryan: Are there intra-game or full season over/unders for number of times the camera mistakenly shows Jerry Jones going bottoms up on his drink during particularly nervous moments? He does this more than anyone in professional sports. In fact, he might be the only person I’ve ever seen this happen with during football telecasts and I’ve witnessed it several times. Couldn’t possibly happen to a more humble guy.

I can’t imagine that we are possibly about to be living in a world where the Redskins are good. It’s been far too long since that has happened and I can only imagine that Daniel Snyder and Mike Shanahan are getting built up to be knocked down. The world is supposed to be just, right? God (or the Eternal One as I have seen Him/Her/It referred to in contemporary prayer books) wouldn’t let children starve in Africa while this unholy combination basks in glory, right? My only conclusion is that the Redskins have not yet ascended to the heights they need to such that their inevitable downfall will be appropriately precipitous. THEREFORE, Redskins cover.

Asif: It’s looking less and less likely that Tony Romo will play this Sunday with news that he had a CT scan on Thursday. Jon Kitna says he expects Romo to play, but I’m a bit skeptical. The Redskins look like this year’s bad playoff team. I’ve got a feeling that things are going to fall their way and that they’ll win either the NFC East or a Wild Card spot. They will subsequently be blown out in the first round.

I’m unsure how to read the Cowboys. They’re certainly talented, but I have no confidence in their winning close games when push comes to shove. I’ll go with Washington to cover and reevaluate how I feel about both these teams after this game. I realize that this is extremely wishy washy and I apologize.

September 22, 2011

Peyton Manning Sparks Debate

The first two weeks of the NFL season have been outstanding. The Lockout, which terrorized our lives for months, is a distant memory that has been almost entirely forgotten and has, if television ratings are to serve as a benchmark, only served to make the NFL even more popular.

The only major drawback of the season thus far has been the gaping hole left in Peyton Manning’s absence. Never in my lifetime has one player meant so much to his football team as Manning. Like clockwork, Manning had starred in dual roles as the Colts’ star quarterback and de facto offensive coordinator. Whether one rooted for or against him, his dogmatic and methodical control of the quarterback position made for compelling drama late into every season–week after week, year after year. With Manning, the Colts have been perennial Super Bowl contenders; without him, they are hapless.

Last week during the NFL pregame, Fox’s Jay Glazer dropped an absolute bomb shell about just how far Peyton Manning went to try to make it back this season. Glazer said:

I’ve learned that before his last surgery, Peyton Manning actually took a private jet out to Europe to get stem cell therapy, a therapy that is not yet approved in America. There’s different types of stem cell therapy; the one used in America is embryotic–that’s not what he had. Instead what they did was take fat cells, probably out of his belly, and put it in a culture. They try to almost turn back the hands of time with these cells, hoping that these cells are going to regenerate the area and the nerve in the neck. Peyton Manning is just trying to do whatever he can to get back this year.

Noting Glazer’s report, FoxSports’s Jason Whitlock posed the question as to whether it would have been morally wrong for Manning to use HGH to help heal his neck, opening up a debate about the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy as a whole. In his NFL Truths column, Whitlock wrote:

I’m just talking hypothetically. I don’t have any reason to believe HGH or any other steroid would help Manning’s recovery. But who knows, maybe they would? If so, would you be outraged if he used them to save his career, save his season?

 Let me tell you who wouldn’t be outraged: 1. Colts fans; 2. Peyton Manning; 3. Jim Irsay; Jim Caldwell; 4. FOX, CBS, ESPN and NBC executives; 5. Manning’s teammates.

As part of Deadspin’s NFL Rountable discussion with Slate, the excellent Tommy Craggs expanded on Whitlock’s hypothetical question and juxtaposed it with reaction to Manning’s stem cell story:

All the tired old PED arguments are applicable here—it’s not “natural”; it’s an unfair advantage; it screws with the sanctity of the record books—but no one, that I’ve seen, has trotted them out. That’s a good thing, but it also tells me that sports types care about those arguments only to the extent that they can be fit into the prevailing hysterias of the day.

Craggs’s implication here that the stem cell therapy was not vilified by “sports types” as performance enhancing because it lies outside an already-crafted-narrative is an outstanding point. Taking it further, it is curious that there would not be even MORE outrage to Manning’s stem cell surgery than if it was found out that he used HGH. Where this form of stem cell therapy is illegal in America, HGH use is banned by the NFL but there are at least some instances where its therapy is permitted by law. According to ProFootballTalk, Peyton Manning’s procedure did not violate NFL policy.

Going forward, it will be very interesting to see what the broader implications of this story are. The bodies of elite NFL players are incalculably valuable on many different levels and the league’s reaction to this situation could set a precedent for players’ going overseas to pursue healing methods that are not permitted in the United States. As medical technology becomes more and more advanced, it will be fascinating to see how this all plays out with regards to whether the NFL re-evaluates its policies on steroids and HGH as well as whether it continues to allow its players to seek innovative treatment in other countries.

September 21, 2011

Not So Fast: Cam Newton Edition

In the first two weeks of this season, Cam Newton has put up incredible, record-setting statistics for a rookie quarterback. Against the Cardinals and Packers, he has completed 62.7% of his passes, throwing for 854 yards and three touchdowns. In doing so, he has appeared poised, demonstrating immense arm strength. From the outset, it has been clear that he is a vocal leader who instills a vast degree of confidence amongst his teammates.

In his Tuesday column, SI’s Peter King detailed some of the reasons why Newton has been so strong both physically and mentally. Former Jets and Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington spoke to King about the mental side:

“Look at the funky defense Arizona had in there on his touchdown to Steve Smith,” said Pennington. “They’re just walking around before the snap, clearly trying to confuse him about who’d be rushing and who’d drop in coverage. At the snap of the ball, there’s not anybody in a three-point stance. Then at the snap, the backside safety comes toward the line, [cornerback] Patrick Peterson blitzes, and through the confusion, Smith runs by the safety and Cam ignores everything and throws him a perfect ball for a touchdown. For a rookie to know that, to process that, is pretty special.”

Yahoo’s Doug Farrar, who also writes for Football Outsiders and is an outstanding source of football information and analysis, briefly acknowledged that Newton “helped his team lose to the Packers” in throwing two interceptions to Charles Woodson and one to Morgan Burnett before glowingly writing:

However, Newton kept his team in both of those games, and when you watch the tape against the Packers, it was the little things he did that impressed. The way he rolled out right against slide protection left on the first play and hit the open man on a play his rollout made possible. The way he set one of the NFL’s best front sevens on edge with his option fakes. The way he put up 40 more rushing yards than anyone else on his team, and scored Carolina’s only rushing touchdown for the second straight week. The way he forced deep coverage with his exceptional arm … and all this with a Panthers team that featured the league’s most incompetent offense in 2010.

While Newton has put up better statistics in his first two games than a rookie quarterback has ever done before, the praise has not been qualified enough with detail of some of his substantial errors. Of all the coverage I have read, only FoxSports’s Jason Whitlock really called out Newton. In his NFL Truths column, Whitlock wrote:

Cam Newton lost the Packers game on second-and-goal from the 3 early in the fourth quarter with the Panthers trailing by 10 points.

 The Panthers went play-action pass, Legedu Naanee was wide open on a simple out route. Newton didn’t set his feet properly and threw wildly incomplete. It was a really simple, easy pass. It was a throw a quarterback must make.

 The Panthers had to settle for a field goal. If they’d scored a touchdown there, they could’ve kicked a game-tying field goal on their next possession rather than going for it on fourth-and-6 at the 6.

 In his first two games, Newton has dazzled with gaudy stats. You can’t look at passing stats anymore. The numbers have been perverted by the rules. The truth about quarterbacks is in the details. Accuracy under pressure, accuracy in pressure situations, ability to remain confident and fearless after taking hits.

 Accuracy is a problem for Cam Newton. Maybe it will get fixed. Maybe it won’t.

To be fair to Newton, his footwork and accuracy have improved substantially in a relatively short period of time. I cannot ever recall witnessing this fast a learning curve by a quarterback between seasons, whether it be a college quarterback transitioning to the NFL or one with prior professional experience. However, Newton has been almost universally lauded for performances in two games that his team lost. When the Packers adjusted to him in the middle of the second quarter of Sunday’s game, Newton failed to counter.

Given what we have seen, it is reasonable to expect that Cam Newton will one day be an elite NFL quarterback. Given what has been written, it would be reasonable to assume that this is already the case. It is not. As defenses have more tape on Newton, he is going to have to continue his steep learning curve of the Panthers playbook and is going to have to get better at making in-game adjustments. The Panthers will likely continue to struggle to win games this season; in some of those games Newton will put up exceptional stats and in some he will probably look terrible.

While Cam Newton has certainly exceeded any and all performance expectations that were bestowed upon him in the preseason, he still has a long way to go before he and the Panthers win more often than they lose. It is a good bet that this journey will be supremely fun and interesting to watch.

September 20, 2011

On Using Timeouts Effectively

For some reason, very little has been made nationally of Leslie Frazier’s egregious (non) use of timeouts at the end of Sunday’s Vikings-Buccaneers game (a quick Google search reveals that this did not slip by local fans and media, though). Up 20-17 with the Buccaneers driving, Frazier neglected to use timeouts to stop the clock and give his team a chance to respond if/when the Bucs scored. Via’s Gamebook, here is the play-by-play of the relevant part of the Buccaneers drive, during which the Vikings still had all three of their timeouts left:

1-10-MIN 43 (3:05) (Shotgun) J.Freeman pass short left to K.Winslow to MIN 29 for 14 yards.

1-10-MIN 29 (2:33) (Shotgun) E.Graham right guard to MIN 24 for 5 yards.

2-5-MIN 24 (2:02) (Shotgun) J.Freeman pass short middle to E.Graham to MIN 16 for 8 yards.

Two-Minute Warning

1-10-MIN 16 (1:56) (Shotgun) J.Freeman pass incomplete short middle to K.Winslow.

2-10-MIN 16 (1:52) (Shotgun) E.Graham right guard to MIN 10 for 6 yards.

3-4-MIN 10 (1:17) (Shotgun) J.Freeman pass short middle to P.Parker to MIN 4 for 6 yards.

1-4-MIN 4 (:35) L.Blount up the middle for 4 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

When asked about this after the game, Leslie Frazier’s explanation did not adequately convey an understanding of the circumstances in the game: ”I really thought that we were going to stop them on defense,” Frazier said, “I really did, and make them kick a field goal or come up with a turnover. We had a chance for a turnover there in that drive at their goal line. I really had confidence that we would get a turnover or force a field goal.”

When the Bucs reached the Vikings 29 with about three minutes left, it was clear that, in absence of a turnover, they would be attempting a make-able field goal of 46 yards or less. Even if the Vikings had held the Bucs to a field goal, the score would now have been 20-20. By letting the clock bleed down and hoarding timeouts like they are rollover minutes, Frazier neglected to give his team a chance to respond in regulation. Perhaps the most honest answer as to why he did not use his timeouts would have been that he did not want to set up Donovan McNabb to fail conspicuously in the two-minute drill as this would have been demoralizing for team morale. This would have been the best explanation for overtly poor strategy in the history of ever.

At the end of the first half of Falcons-Eagles, Andy Reid similarly failed to use timeouts to stop the clock. Following a Mike Vick fumble, here is the series of plays that ensued as the Eagles held onto their two timeouts:

1-10-PHI 24 (1:57) M.Ryan pass short left to T.Gonzalez to PHI 11 for 13 yards

1-10-PHI 11 (1:50) J.Rodgers right end to PHI 6 for 5 yards.

2-5-PHI 6 (1:07) M.Turner left guard to PHI 4 for 2 yards.

Timeout #1 by ATL at 00:50.

3-3-PHI 4 (:50) M.Ryan pass short middle to T.Gonzalez for 4 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Reid should have used the Eagles’ first timeout immediately after Rodgers rushed to the 5. The Eagles ended up getting the ball back with 44 seconds left, still holding their two timeouts, but they would have had about 25 seconds less on the clock if Atlanta had not called its timeout on this drive. Although it was poor clock management strategy by the Falcons to use a timeout here, they did score a touchdown on the next play so it is hard to argue with the results.

I understand that there are about a billion things going on in an NFL game, most of which I have absolutely no comprehension of like blocking schemes or defensive formations. That being said, it continues to be mind boggling that with the amount of time and preparation that these coaches put into gameplanning that many continue to fail to correctly manage the clock, one of the only things I do understand.


This point is unrelated to clock management but is relevant to overall game management and timeouts. It has always been curious to me that as the play clock is expiring, many quarterbacks will take a timeout instead of a 5-yard delay of game penalty. Obviously, there are some circumstances like short yardage situations where losing the yards is sub-optimal. However, timeouts grant teams the ability to correct formation mismatches on both sides of the ball and stop the clock for drives at the end of halves. Although there is no real way to quantify it, I would have to think that saving them is more valuable a vast majority of the time than five yards. Does anybody have thoughts on this?




September 19, 2011

Football and Me Part III

This is the third post in a series in which I will document this football season. It will broadly be about the Badgers and Packers but will more specifically be about myself in it. Football season does not just happen on the field. It is about great friends, foods, drinks, and merriment. My hope is that it will be interesting for readers but at the very least it will serve as a journal to look back on. I wish I had done this last year.

This weekend presented an interesting dynamic for a Badgers road weekend as they played Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago. Instead of having to travel, I got to stay home which proved to be quite convenient and comfortable. On Friday night, a large crew of us assembled for dinner at Pequods, which is located in Lincoln Park and has, in my opinion, the best deep dish pizza in Chicago* I was joined by previously introduced Habib and John (pseudonyms…). My friends Mario and Sleepy made the trip from Madison and Detroit, respectively. Rounding up the crew were one of Sleepy’s friends and two of my good friends from Simsbury–one lives in Chicago while the other was visiting from Denver for the weekend. We ordered cheesy garlic bread, hot wings, and deep fried zucchini appetizers and two large pan pizzas. It was a great meal with great people.

*My power rankings (without explanation, for now…I imagine I will cover this quite extensively at some point):
1. Pequods
2. Art of Pizza
3. Lou Malnati’s
4. Giordano’s
5. Gino’s East

After Pequods, we headed to Will’s Northwoods Inn where there was a modest gathering centered around an appearance by Badger legend Ron Dayne. Although the purpose of the appearance was ostensibly for Dayne to go there and be bothered by fawning fans, we opted to give him distance. At the end of the evening, though, Habib, Mario, Sleepy and I did get him to pose for a quick photograph before we all called it a night and headed our separate ways.

Gameday Saturday began at Redmond’s in Wrigleyville at about 9:30 am for Habib, Mario, Sleepy, Sleepy’s friend and our buddy Crest. Redmond’s is inferior to Will’s in both ambiance and clientele but its all-you-can-eat-all-you-can-drink special extended an hour past that of Will’s so the executive decision was made to try it out. The food selection was slightly better than we expected with a passable buffet of cheese quesadillas, waffle fries and buffalo wings. We had a very attentive server and were able to drink at a pretty constant pace until the special ended at 1:00 pm. From there, we headed to Ian’s Pizza for a slice (pro tip: ask them to put pepperoni on your slice of mac and cheese–they’ll do it) before taking cabs to the game. True to his nickname, Sleepy seized the opportunity in the 25-minute cab ride to pass out. He is consistently able to go from awake to SOUND asleep in an abrupt manner that I have never seen anyone else come even close to. This would not be his last nap of the day.

After strategically cutting the will call line, we got into the game just in time for kick-off and made our way to seats that were certainly not ours. Our collective impression of Soldier Field is that it looks like it was built to appeal to design aficionados as opposed to football fans. The lower level does not have enough seats, the jumbotrons are placed at awkward vantage points for a majority of the spectators and it seems like a third of the space in the stadium is devoted to luxury suites. It was almost as if its builders were striving for it to be the complete opposite of Lambeau Field.

For the third straight week, Wisconsin’s game was not particularly interesting. Russell Wilson (who the writer of a hilarious weekly Badger email preview has taken to calling Black Jesus) completed 23 of 32 of his passes for 347 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. At the end of the third quarter, with the Badgers up 42-7, Mario and I badly wanted to leave while Habib steadfastly REFUSED to do so and Sleepy resiliently continued his second nap which I think had started sometime around halftime. Waiting for the game to end was a bit of a chore and I think I might be done going to games where Wisconsin plays cupcakes (for most major teams–ESPECIALLY Wisconsin–the first four weeks of the season comprise a great counter to the “every week matters” BCS superiority argument).

After the Wisconsin band played a three-song fifth quarter (on one hand it was disappointing that it was so short but on the other we finally got to leave) and we made our way to the CTA to catch the el back north, satisfying our ADD by throwing around a foam football. Not on the basis of retrieving a pass but perhaps in anticipation that one might be thrown that way, Sleepy inexplicably dove into the bushes like Ace Ventura during the mental hospital scene. He emerged with scrapes on his arms a facial expression that simultaneously denoted bewilderment and glory as confused onlookers silently tried to guess how much he had had to drink. Unsurprisingly, the foam football later met its fate inside the CTA station after an errant pass.

I headed home for a few hours while the rest of the crew headed to El Burrito Mexicano in Wrigleyville and later a street festival in Evanston. I wasn’t there to personally witness it but I am told that I missed a stunning rendition of “My Girl” that occurred when the band that was playing took a liking to Mario’s vertically striped cardinal and white Game Bib overalls and called him up onto the stage.

After recharging my batteries for a few hours, I met back up with the group at Slugger’s in Wrigleyville. At this point in the night, the floors were sticky at every step and the crowd wasn’t particularly enjoyable. Sleepy, his friend and Habib were completely drained of energy and headed back to Evanston after one drink while Mario and I stayed out (Crest had gone back to Madison). Mario and I headed to Houndstooth Saloon because we wanted to belt along to some country music but got there and realized that they were just playing top-40 hits like the rest of the Wrigleyville bars and were dismayed to find out that would not even mix in any country. From here, the night became a little bit more eventful.

At about 1:30 am, we headed to Trace, a 4 am bar, and were able to nab a table before it filled up from the post-bartime crowd. About 20 minutes after we sat down, an interesting duo asked if they could join us. After we politely said, “Ummm….sure,” but had done our best to imply that we weren’t too excited about it, they took a seat at our table. They turned out to be brutally honest and actually quite interesting. “I’m here to get laid,” the taller one with tattoos up and down his arms said confidently and matter of factly, going into further detail than is appropriate to discuss here. After getting fired recently from a decently well-paying position at O’Hare “for absolutely no f—— reason”, he was a little bit bitter at the world and the state of the country. I did a pretty good job reciting Louis CK’s “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” routine but wasn’t able to make headway into his foul mood. Continuing our discussion about the state of our careers, his friend, who talks with similar intonation and expression to Aziz Ansari, boldly informed us that, “I’m a drug dealer. I sell weed. It’s pretty legit,” further noting that he had recently been kicked out of med school. He didn’t go into detail as to why but Mario and I had our guesses.

We left Trace at about 3:00 am, ready to call it a night but were stopped by a bachelorette party because of Mario’s overalls and because one of the girls had “found Waldo” (my Gameday uniform for the day had consisted of a collared red and white shirt that strongly resembles that of Waldo’s and this was about the hundredth time I had heard a variation of this joke that day and night. That shirt might end up getting retired). The bachelorette party was not ready to call it a night and we ended up tagging along with them to McDonald’s and later Nick’s Uptown. Although the night had begun inauspiciously, when it was all said and done we ended up getting back to my place around 5:00, my latest night (earliest morning?) in two years of living in Chicago.

Six hours later, we awakened groggily and headed to Schoolyard Tavern. Mario had originally been planning on going to the Cubs game but he quickly succumbed to the glory that is an NFL Sunday and decided that he would rather watch football inside than a terrible Cubs team on what was an ugly weather day. Schoolyard has an outstanding set-up for watching football; at the optimal table, facing forward there is a wall with four screens conjoined together in a rectangle. From this position, there are also five other screens in your 180-degree vantage point. We were later joined by Sleepy, Habib and my buddy Dingo. After an order of Buffalo Rolls (wanton shells with buffalo chicken and ranch dipping sauce) and more Diet Cokes than I care to count, I finally woke up around halftime of the noon games.

Although there weren’t very many marquee match-ups, it was a great NFL Sunday. As the fourth quarter rolled around, Raiders-Bills, Vikings-Buccaneers and Redskins-Cardinals were see-saw battles while the Packers were only up one score on the Panthers. The Packers ended up winning ugly but it was still satisfying to see them get a road NFC win in a game where they had to play from behind and overcome adversity. I was ecstatic with the Packers’ in-game adjustments and enamored with the stellar play of Charles Woodson, who had two unbelievably athletic interceptions and a fumble recovery. I think this game was ultimately a very good wake-up call for the Packers that they are mortal and cannot expect to coast to victories this season on talent and reputation.

Overall, this was a great Gameday weekend and still a little bit of an appetizer for things to come. It was great to have so many friends visiting Chicago and I am confident that they all left with solid impressions of this great city. I am already pretty excited for my 25th birthday next weekend and trips to Camp Randall to see Wisconsin play Nebraska and Lambeau Field for Packers-Broncos the weekend after. I will now spend the rest of the week trying to shed the weight I gained and attempt to make sense of what has transpired and what will happen next in the NFL.

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