Thursday, November 27, 2014

All of Week 13

I know what you're thinking.  Yes, I normally skip the Thursday night game and do my picks on Saturday.  But on Thanksgiving, there's three games instead of one.  That makes things a little different.  With almost a quarter of the league in action, I bump the picks up to Thursday on Thanksgiving week.

And I'm coming off a great, if slightly weird one.  I went 12-0 on Sunday and 0-3 on all other days.  Still, 12-3's a pretty good week no matter how you slice it.  We're also finally done with byes, and that stupid Cincinnati-Carolina tie will complicate the standings slightly less now that everybody has played the same number of games.  Anyway, on to the picks for all 16 games...

Bears (5-6) at Lions (7-4): Detroit-It's Detroit's year to be on CBS, which is supposed to mean they're playing an AFC team.  And judging by the Lions' schedule this year, that team would've been the Dolphins.  Except the NFL decided to slight the AFC entirely and have six NFC teams play on Thanksgiving, which I think is incredibly unfair.  Of the three NFC teams that will lose on Thanksgiving, the Bears will be one.  The Lions will be thankful for not having to play a first-place team on the road this week.

Eagles (8-3) at Cowboys (8-3): Dallas-FOX and the NFL sure lucked out here.  Giving the Cowboys a division game on Thanksgiving is never a bad call, but this year they hit the jackpot.  A matchup against Philly where the two of them enter tied for first place.  Even better, it's their first meeting of the year.  They'll meet again in just two weeks.  I have a feeling they're going to split.  I also have a feeling the home team is going to win each time.  That means Dallas takes this one.

Seahawks (7-4) at 49ers (7-4): Seattle-The Thanksgiving nightcap is one of the league's hottest rivalries--Seattle and San Francisco.  The Seahawks beating the Cardinals last week put the NFC West back up for grabs, but you've got to think the loser here hurts their playoff chances.  Seattle might need this game a little more.  They've got a brutal December schedule.  Beating Arizona so convincingly leading into the San Francisco game was good for the Seahawks.  I think they go into Northern California and come away with a win.

Browns (7-4) at Bills (6-5): Cleveland-After the winter storm in Buffalo made hosting the Jets impossible, the Bills will be able to play this week's game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.  It'll be against the team that goes from first place to last place with the snap of a finger--the Cleveland Browns.  This is actually a very important battle for playoff positioning, which no one would've expected between these two at this point in the season.  The Bills sure showed up to play against the Jets, but the Browns are significantly better than the Jets.  I think Cleveland wins.

Redskins (3-8) at Colts (7-4): Indianapolis-So, Washington has officially given up on RG3.  It took them long enough.  I don't think he's the Redskins' problem, though.  They simply aren't a good football team.  Although that close call in San Francisco last week was telling.  This week they head to Indy, where Andrew Luck and Co. should take care of business.  They usually do against teams they're better than.

Raiders (1-10) at Rams (4-7): St. Louis-Does LA have to take the loser back?  Or is the winner the one who gets to go back to LA?  Either way, St. Louis is in the rare position of actually being a favorite this week.  The Raiders ARE coming off a win, but they're still the Raiders.  The Rams win it.

Panthers (3-7-1) at Vikings (4-7): Carolina-An NFC South team has to win a game eventually, right?  It's ridiculous how none of those four teams is capable of beating a team from outside the division.  This might be the best chance of that happening.  And, amazingly, it could move the Panthers into first place.  At 4-7-1.

Saints (4-7) at Steelers (7-4): Pittsburgh-The Saints were 4-4 going into a three-game homestand.  I don't know what's more amazing about that homestand.  That they went 0-3 or that they went 0-3 and somehow stayed in "first place" (that goes in parentheses because they haven't earned the right to be in the same category as New England, Denver and Arizona).  I actually think the Saints are the least-bad team in the NFC South, but they're not going to win in Pittsburgh.

Bengals (7-3-1) at Buccaneers (2-9): Cincinnati-Thanks to that ridiculous tie, the Bengals have a half-game lead on all three of their AFC North rivals.  One of the reasons they have that lead is because they've taken care of business against the incredibly awful NFC South.  That shouldn't change against Tampa Bay.

Giants (3-8) at Jaguars (1-10): Giants-That brutal stretch is finally over for the Giants.  Yes, they've lost six in a row.  But those six games were against Dallas (twice), Philadelphia, Indianapolis, San Francisco and Seattle.  The standings say the Giants are 3-8, but they're much better than that record indicates.  Those six teams are all better than them, but they held their own in each of those games.  Now they get a break and play Jacksonville, which is where Tom Coughlin began his career as an NFL head coach.  He gets one more win in Jacksonville and the losing streak comes to an end.

Chargers (7-4) at Ravens (7-4): Baltimore-This is one of the tougher ones to pick in the entire week.  This is normally when San Diego gets rolling, but the Ravens looked mighty good on Monday night.  They're both in the heart of the playoff race, with both the division and a wild card in play, so this game is very important for them both.  I like Baltimore, though.  The Chargers and 1:00 starts don't get along.

Titans (2-9) at Texans (5-6): Houston-If the Colts ever gave them any sort of an opening, the Texans would be legitimate playoff contenders.  But as it is, it's kind of ridiculous to see Houston's name on the AFC playoff list right now.  The best they can do is 10-6, and that might not even be enough.  Anyway, point is, the Texans have to win out if they want to have any shot.  That starts with beating the Titans at home.

Cardinals (9-2) at Falcons (4-7): Arizona-A battle of "first place" teams in Atlanta.  The Cardinals were brought down to Earth a little bit with that thumping they took in Seattle, but their defense actually played pretty well against the Seahawks, which is an encouraging sign moving forward.  With a win here, they equal last season's win total that wasn't enough to get them a wild card.  One tidbit about Atlanta being in "first place" that makes it even more of a joke...the Falcons are 4-0 in the division and 0-7 against the rest of the NFL.  They'd better not make the playoffs as a 6-10 "division winner."

Patriots (9-2) at Packers (8-3): Green Bay-The two hottest teams in football.  Something's gotta give.  Tom Brady is being smart with the way he's handling things, telling Patriots fans that they're still a long way from the Super Bowl.  A loss might be exactly what New England needs.  And if the Packers don't get them, there's a definite possibility that the Patriots run the table.  It'll be high-scoring, so it'll depend on which defense shows up.  I just have a feeling it's going to be Green Bay's.  If the game wasn't in Lambeau, I'd probably be leaning the other way.

Broncos (8-3) at Chiefs (7-4): Denver-Believe it or not, the Raiders did Denver a huge favor last week by beating the Chiefs.  That kept the Broncos in first place heading into their Sunday night showdown in Kansas City.  Last year, this one got flexed into a Sunday night and the Broncos knocked off the undefeated Chiefs.  Of course, a Kansas City victory creates a first-place tie, but I just don't see Denver letting that happen.

Dolphins (6-5) at Jets (2-9): Miami-If they hadn't hit it yet, the Bills game in Detroit might've been rock bottom for the J-E-T-S.  Everything was set up in their favor on Monday night, and they looked like they thought the game was still in Buffalo.  This Monday night shouldn't be much different.  The Dolphins can't afford a loss here if they want to be a factor in the playoff race come December.

Last Week: 12-3
Season: 111-64-1

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Big Get for Doha, Optimism for Eugene

Last week, the IAAF, the world track & field governing body, gathered to select the host city of the 2019 World Championships.  The United States has long been the dominant power in the sport of track & field, yet has never hosted the World Championships.  In fact, the World Championships have only been held in the Americas once ever, 2001 in Edmonton.  But, after hosting a great World Junior Championships earlier this year, the University of Oregon's Hayward Field was selected as a finalist alongside Barcelona (which hosted the 2012 World Juniors) and Doha, Qatar (which finished second to London for the 2017 edition).

Heading into the vote, I, like a lot of other people, assumed it was going to be Barcelona.  Europe is where track & field is most popular and most of the IAAF's decision-makers are European, so I figured they'd want to keep their biggest event close to home.  (Sidebar: there will be daytime track & field finals during the Rio Olympics.  Why?  So that they can be live in primetime on European TV.  I think it's a great idea.  If they can have morning swimming finals in China for U.S. TV, it's only fair to have afternoon track & field finals in Brazil for European TV.  That's why the World Cup Final was at 4:00 in the afternoon, after all.)

Anyway, it came as a bit of a surprise when Barcelona finished last in the voting.  But really all that showed was the strength of the bids from Eugene and Doha.  The long-awaited World Championships in the U.S. will have to wait a little longer, though.  Eugene came oh-so-close to pulling out the victory, but Doha added another major event to its resume in that never-ending pursuit to get the Olympics.  And suddenly the World Cup is no longer the biggest event coming to Qatar.  Because they're getting the World Championships three years earlier.

This is a huge get for Doha.  Outside of the Olympics, the track & field World Championships are the largest international sporting event on Earth.  And they're THE largest in odd-numbered years.

It's also a chance for the IAAF to take a risk that isn't much of a risk at all.  The 2010 World Indoor Championships were in Doha, and they annually host a Diamond League meet in May.  As for the schedule, which is always the No. 1 concern when it comes to Doha, they're going to hold the World Championships in October and have the marathon and other long-distance events held late at night.  The heat in Doha in October is evidently a lot less oppressive than it is in May for the Diamond League meet, when it isn't that bad, either.  It'll cause some headaches for European TV, which will be into the heart of the domestic and Champions League soccer seasons, but the World Championships only last nine days (and the Middle East is several hours ahead of Western Europe), so I think they'll be able to figure it out.

One of the interesting points that I saw made about the Doha World Championships is that by having them in October, they will be the climactic event on the world track & field calendar.  This could be both good and bad.  It's tough to ask these athletes to peak so late in the year, especially with the Tokyo Olympics taking place only about 10 months later.  And for those who compete at U.S. colleges, extending the season an extra two months would be incredibly difficult.  They're already exhausted at the end of a long year.  Extending the season does have its benefits, too, though.  Instead of going NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals three weeks later, then the World Championships six weeks after that, it conceivably creates a break between NCAAs and Nationals.

The other major benefit of having the World Championships at the end of the season is that they would serve as the true Super Bowl of the sport.  In most years, the Diamond League finals in Zurich and Brussels in early September generally represent the end of the worldwide track & field season.  The World Championships and Olympics are usually held in August, which means you have a few events after the major international event that's the focus of everyone's season.  While that's going to remain standard operating procedure, the idea of having the World Championships end the season the same way the Super Bowl or Final Four or Champions League Final does is a pretty cool idea, even if it does end up being a one-time thing.

While the World Championships are a major coup for Doha and another Olympic bid from the city seems inevitable, I don't think it has done anything to improve Doha's chances of getting that Olympics it so covets.  All of the problems that have plagued Doha Olympic bids in the past are still very real problems, and it's not like Doha can just buy the Olympics like they can other events, which is still the perception worldwide (if they could buy an Olympics, they would've by now).

But with one sport, it's easier to work around those logistical problems.  The track & field community is willing to make the adjustments necessary to go to Doha, which is a city that has already proven itself when it comes to track & field.  It's a lot more to ask when you're trying to coordinate the international federations of every Olympic sport, and the IOC, and all the TV networks, all at the same time.  They're having enough problems trying to figure out the schedule for the World Cup.  Imagine if Doha ever did get the Olympics all the headaches it would cause!

Rather than looking at this as a boost for Doha's Olympic chances, I'm encouraged by Eugene's second-place finish.  It's a small, college town, yet it came remarkably close to landing the biggest prize in the sport.  Pulling off World Juniors so well certainly helped.  Oregon's passion for track was on full display, and any doubts the IAAF might've had were put to rest.  It's clear that, despite its size, Eugene is capable of hosting the World Championships.

If history is any indication, Eugene's chances of hosting the World Championships in the future are very good.  Perhaps as early as 2021.  London finished second to Beijing for next year's Championships, then won the right to host in 2017.  Ditto for Doha.  Second for 2017, hosting in 2019.  The first IAAF World Championships were held in 1983.  Over those 30 years, the United States has been the most successful team, yet has never hosted the event.  The IAAF is aware of this and wants it to change.

That's what makes me so optimistic about Doha's narrow victory over Eugene.  The World Championships are coming to the U.S.  Soon.  Get ready Oregon.  It's almost your time.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Rest of Week 12

5-9.  That's what happens when you make your picks at 2:00 in the morning (I actually have to lock them in to Yahoo! before the Thursday night game, but it sounds better if I blame it on that).  Everybody has a bad week during the season, and last week was certainly mine.  Although, it wasn't completely my fault.  Who could've seen Rams-Broncos coming?!

Anyway, we move forward.  On to this week, where I'm already 0-1.  But again, the Raiders actually winning is not something everyone's necessarily going to bank on.

Thursday Night: Kansas City (Loss)

Browns (6-4) at Falcons (4-6): Cleveland-Herein lies the incredible difference between the AFC North and the NFC South.  The Browns, who are two games over .500, went from first place to last place when they lost to Houston last week.  The Falcons, meanwhile, beat Carolina to move into first place...despite being two games under .500.  One of the reasons is because the NFC South's only win over the AFC North this season was Tampa Bay's upset of Pittsburgh (there was also that wonderful Bengals-Panthers tie).  I can't say I see that changing.

Buccaneers (2-8) at Bears (4-6): Chicago-The Bears finally won a home game!  It took them until Week 11, but they finally got one against the Vikings last week.  Now Lovie comes back to Chicago.  Can they beat their former coach and make it two in a row?

Jaguars (1-9) at Colts (6-4): Indianapolis-I'll say this about Indianapolis.  They might play in the worst division in football (well, second worst), but they also rarely lose to teams they should beat.  Their four losses this season are to Denver, New England, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  Needless to say, Jacksonville isn't in that category.

Packers (7-3) at Vikings (4-6): Green Bay-How hilarious is that Sunday NFL Countdown commercial where Ray Lewis makes his picks for the NFC and flashes his Super Bowl ring in Cris Carter's face?  The only reason I'm bringing this up is because one of the teams he says has a very good chance is Green Bay.  And they do.  The Packers are 6-1 since starting 1-2 and have scored 108 points in the last two weeks.  They're on a roll alright.

Lions (7-3) at Patriots (8-2): New England-Speaking of teams on a roll, how about the Patriots?  They've already beaten each of the other three division leaders in the AFC, which means they've got the 1-seed all but locked up right now.  But they'll be tested in the next three weeks: Detroit, at Green Bay, at San Diego.  I doubt the Patriots come out of that unscathed, but they'll add another first place team to the hit list this week and knock off the Lions.

Titans (2-8) at Eagles (7-3): Philadelphia-On Thanksgiving, we finally get the first Eagles-Cowboys matchup of the season.  That'll go a long way towards deciding who wins the NFC East.  But first Philadelphia has to play the Titans.  Despite that thrashing they took in Green Bay last week, that shouldn't be a problem for the Eagles.

Bengals (6-3-1) at Texans (5-5): Cincinnati-Don't look now, but Houston is making a push towards challenging Indianapolis in the AFC South.  This is, of course, a rematch of the playoff matchups in 2011-12, both of which were won by the Texans.  Fortunately for the Bengals, this isn't a primetime or national game.  Just your run-of-the-mill CBS early game.  As a result, I think the AFC's third-best team picks up another road win.  (Also, sidebar, J.J. Watt's NOT the MVP, and it's idiotic to say he is.  Right now, the MVP is Tom Brady.)

Rams (4-6) at Chargers (6-4): San Diego-The St. Louis Rams have now beaten both of last year's Super Bowl teams and San Francisco over the last five weeks.  Imagine how good they'd be if they had Sam Bradford.  Anyway, the Chargers are quietly doing what they always do and making a playoff push.  If the Broncos lose and the Chargers win, it'll be a three-way tie atop the AFC West heading into December.

Cardinals (9-1) at Seahawks (6-4): Seattle-The game of the week!  We finally get a matchup between Arizona and Seattle.  The Cardinals might have the best record in football, but the Seahawks are still the defending champs, and it's still tough to beat them in Seattle (although Arizona was the only team to figure out that trick last season).  Should Arizona win in Seattle again, the remaining doubters will be silenced.  However, I think their second loss of the season comes this week.  And they'll do the opposite of the Rams.  They'll have their only two losses be road games to the Super Bowl teams.

Dolphins (6-4) at Broncos (7-3): Denver-Fun fact: these two teams played only like three times during the entire 15-year span of Marino and Elway's careers, which is one of the things that prompted the new scheduling format.  Last week's Denver loss was shocking, but the Raiders certainly helped them out by beating the Chiefs on Thursday.  Now the Broncos can move back into sole possession of first place with a victory.  Oh, and the Broncos are playing the Chiefs on Sunday night next week.

Redskins (3-7) at 49ers (6-4): San Francisco-For some reason, this game isn't just on CBS, but it's also the CBS national game.  I have no idea why, but I'd much rather see Miami-Denver (or, if I'm being completely honest, Arizona-Seattle).  Anyway, back in the 80s when CBS actually covered the NFC, this would've been a great national game.  Not so much these days.  Santa Clara should take this one heading into that Thanksgiving night matchup with the rival Seahawks.

Cowboys (7-3) at Giants (3-7): Dallas-If there's any team in the NFL that needs a win more than the New York Football Giants, I don't know who it is.  Five straight losses as they run this ridiculously tough gauntlet the NFL handed them.  At least some relief comes next week with the Jaguars.  But first, they play their annual Sunday night game against Dallas, which is usually a good thing.  Sunday night games against the Cowboys usually go pretty well, but, oddly, they haven't played that well at home against Dallas since Met Life Stadium opened.  While the Cowboys might get caught looking ahead to their Thanksgiving showdown with the Eagles, I don't think they will.

Jets (2-8) vs. Bills (5-5): Jets-Moving the game out of Buffalo was the right decision.  There's no way they would've been able to play with the current condition of the city and the stadium.  Moving the game to Monday was also the only logical solution.  That would've been incredibly unfair to the Bills.  While I preferred Toronto as the alternative site (the Bills didn't have a Toronto game scheduled this year), the CFL playoffs (Hamilton is hosting Montreal) made that impractical.  So instead it's Detroit, which was the hometown of late Bills owner Ralph Wilson.  Apparently, when NFL games involving New York teams get postponed/moved because of weather, they take place in Detroit on a Monday night.  Anyway, a Bills win would be an incredible lift for their city, and Buffalo's certainly the better team.  But with everything they've had to go through this week and the lack of practice time, I'm actually going to take the Jets, who'll be the more prepared team.

Ravens (6-4) at Saints (4-6): New Orleans-The official Monday night game is the Ravens' first trip to New Orleans since BeyoncĂ© made the lights go out in their Super Bowl victory.  The Superdome mystique is starting to wear off for the Saints, who've dropped the first two games of their three-game homestand.  Yet somehow, at 4-6, they've remained tied for first in the incredibly awful NFC South.  They always get up for Monday night games, though.  And you can bet the Superdome will be rocking as they wear those all-black uniforms.  I see New Orleans winning this one.

BYE: Carolina (3-7-1), Pittsburgh (7-4)

This Week: 0-1
Last Week: 5-9
Season: 99-62-1

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

He Still Doesn't Get It

After bungling their handling of the Ray Rice situation so badly, the NFL did the right thing and suspended Adrian Peterson without pay for the rest of the season.  He can't even apply for reinstatement until April 15.  Yet according to Peterson and his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, this punishment was too harsh.  Too harsh!?  They're kidding, right?

Throughout this entire ordeal, Adrian Peterson has proven that he simply doesn't get it.  He beat his four-year-old child with a switch.  Peterson claims he was merely "disciplining" his son.  Well, that would be fine if the police hadn't gotten involved.  When they deem it was serious enough to press child abuse charges, it's a pretty clear indication that Peterson went too far.  Regardless of whatever explanation Peterson tries to offer, he was indicted for child abuse.  The fact that he copped a plea deal is completely irrelevant.

Despite the pending charges in Texas, the Vikings actually allowed Peterson to play against the Patriots in Week 2.  And if that wasn't bad enough, Vikings fans showed absolutely no class and incredibly poor taste by coming to the game wearing their Peterson jerseys and bringing their homemade "switches" with them.  It was only after the incredible backlash that Peterson and the Vikings agreed he'd be placed on the commissioner's exempt list until the legal situation was resolved.  In other words, he was suspended with pay.  That alone is a joke.

Then Peterson agreed to his plead guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge.  As a result, his time on the Commissioner's Exempt List came to an end.  And in Peterson's mind, that meant he'd be free to rejoin the Vikings.  Further proof that Adrian Peterson's world is completely different than the world that the rest of us live in.  I really do think he truly believes he hasn't done anything wrong.

The problem is, there was no way Roger Goodell was going to let him play again this season.  Everyone knew that.  Except apparently for Adrian Peterson.  In Peterson's mind, being off the exempt list equaled reinstatement.  That's not even close to what the NFL said.  The NFL said that they weren't going to take any action until the case was resolved.  Once it was, Peterson was suspended, without pay, for the rest of the season under the personal conduct policy.

But Peterson couldn't accept that.  He's crying foul.  Through the NFLPA (which I don't blame for acting on the behalf of one of its union members), he filed a grievance, claiming, among other things, that he was promised by an NFL executive the time on the exempt list would count as time served when considering any league discipline.  They also claimed that the NFL was inconsistent in its ruling, citing the incredibly light two-game ban Rice initially received.  Never mind the fact that the personal conduct policy was rewritten in wake of the Rice saga and the minimum suspension is now six games.  All of this, they argued, was a violation of the CBA and he should be reinstated immediately.

Peterson had a hearing scheduled with the NFL.  He didn't bother to attend.  Another sign that he doesn't get how serious this situation actually is.  Goddell said exactly that in his letter to Peterson, expressing concern that he doesn't fully appreciate the "seriousness of his conduct."  Goddell added: "You have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct.  When indicted, you acknowledged what you did but said that you would not eliminate 'whooping my kids' and defended your conduct in numerous published text messages to the child's mother.  You also said that you felt 'very confident with my actions because I know my intent.'  These comments raise the serious concern that you do not fully appreciate the seriousness of your conduct, or even worse, that you may feel free to engage in similar conduct in the future."

He immediately appealed the suspension.  The arbitrator, Shyam Das (the same guy who was famously fired my MLB for overturning Ryan Braun's suspension) ruled in favor of the NFL.  He explained that, in his opinion, the league didn't violate either the letter agreement or the CBA.  As a result, he remains on the exempt list until his appeal can be heard.  More importantly, he stays off the football field, which is the last place he belongs.

Adrian Peterson may be right about one thing.  The NFL might be looking to make an example of him after how badly they screwed up with Ray Rice.  So what?  That doesn't make Peterson a victim, which is what he would have you believe.  The victim here is the defenseless four-year-old boy.  Not the 30-year-old professional football player.

What Ray Rice did was bad.  He deserved to be suspended.  So did Adrian Peterson.  Especially because what Peterson did was worse.  The sooner he gets that, the better.  Then maybe he'll get some sympathy from me.

We're a society built on second chances.  I don't think Adrian Peterson should be denied the opportunity to play in the NFL again.  But he doesn't deserve that opportunity yet.  Especially since he doesn't even comprehend what's going on.  A second chance?  How about getting a clue first?  Once you do that, then we'll talk.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Rest of Week 11

Things are starting to get interesting in the NFL.  During the Bills-Dolphins game on Thursday night, they flashed up a graphic with the AFC playoff picture and 12 teams were on it.  That's right.  Midway through the season, only the Raiders, Jets, Jaguars and Titans have no chance at making the playoffs in the AFC.  And the Steelers and Ravens are tied for last place in the AFC North at 6-4, while New Orleans, the first-place team in the NFC South is 4-5!  Crazy stuff.

At least some of this madness will start to get settled out soon.  This week we've got some good ones that might prove to be very important down the road.

Thursday Night: Miami (Win)

Vikings (4-5) at Bears (3-6): Minnesota-So...I've officially given up on Chicago.  The Bears are winless at home, but were at least respectable in road games.  Then they went to Lambeau and got shellacked by the Packers.  This team's not as good as I originally thought.  I won't have any confidence in the Bears' ability to win a home game until they actually show me they can.

Texans (4-5) at Browns (6-3): Cleveland-It's mid-November and the Cleveland Browns are in first place.  And their schedule continues to be favorable.  I was skeptical when they hired him, but right now I'd have to say Mike Pettine is one of the leading candidates for Coach of the Year.  This week's opponent is J.J. Watt and Houston, and the Texans need to find a way to steal this one if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.  Will they be able to do that?  I'm not so sure.

Seahawks (6-3) at Chiefs (6-3): Seattle-This is one of those big matchups this week I was talking about.  The Chiefs are a-comin'.  They've won four in a row.  The defending champs have won three straight.  But they're both in second place behind very good teams in Denver and Arizona.  The loser here might be looking at a wild card at best.  With Carson Palmer's injury, the Seahawks smell blood in the water.  They'll go into Kansas City and get the victory.

Broncos (7-2) at Rams (3-6): Denver-Speaking of the Broncos, they head to St. Louis.  Ever since Peyton came to town, Denver has been remarkably consistent.  The Broncos simply don't lose to teams they should beat.  Yes, they're 7-2.  But their losses are to Seattle and New England.  Not exactly bad losses.  The Rams beat the Seahawks, but they play them all the time.  The Broncos they don't.  Denver should win pretty handily.

Bengals (5-3-1) at Saints (4-5): New Orleans-Good news, Bengals fans!  The game's not in primetime, so there's a chance!  Except going to New Orleans ain't exactly easy, the Saints' loss to the 49ers last week notwithstanding.  The Saints being in first place isn't weird.  Them being in first place with a losing record is.  Hopefully New Orleans pulls it out and we don't have another week with a sub-.500 first place team.

49ers (5-4) at Giants (3-6): San Francisco-The 49ers might've saved their season with last week's victory in New Orleans.  The Giants need to win this one in order to save theirs.  They've lost four straight and the schedule's not getting any easier.  This is the game during this run of playoff teams that I think they've got a chance at stealing.  I'm picking San Francisco, but I'm not counting the Giants out.

Buccaneers (1-8) at Redskins (3-6): Washington-Just like the Giants, Lovie Smith's Tampa Bay Bucs badly need a win.  Last week's game against Atlanta looked to be their chance, but they ended up dropping that one pretty handily.  Now they get the Redskins.  Problem is it's in Washington.  When two not-good teams face each other crazy things can happen, but I've gotta think Washington's got the upper hand.

Falcons (3-6) at Panthers (3-6-1): Carolina-It's been a strange journey for the 2014 Carolina Panthers.  They were 3-2.  They're 0-4-1 since, and they have four straight losses since the tie.  They're clearly headed in the wrong direction.  With that being said, four of Carolina's last six games are in the division, which is great for them, and it gives them plenty of opportunity to get back to the top of the NFC South.  I'll take the Panthers at home.

Raiders (0-9) at Chargers (5-4): San Diego-The Raiders are still talking to San Antonio about moving.  Because Mark Davis is evidently as senile as his dad and can't use simple logic to realize that LA just makes way too much sense.  That's why they're 0-9.  Make that 0-10.  The franchise is simply clueless.

Eagles (7-2) at Packers (6-3): Philadelphia-One of the marquee games of the week will probably go a long way in determining playoff positioning in the NFC.  They're both on a roll.  They've each won four of their last five.  This is one of the first big tests for Philadelphia, too.  Keep in mind they haven't played the Cowboys yet.  The Packers are favored (as they should be), but I can see the Eagles going into Lambeau and pulling out the victory.

Lions (7-2) at Cardinals (8-1): Arizona-Little did FOX know when they moved Eagles-Packers to 4:00 that Lions-Cardinals was going to be just as marquee a matchup.  This is Arizona's first game since Carson Palmer was lost for the season, so let's see how much of an impact that has on the team with the best record in football.  Taking on the Lions defense isn't exactly the most fun thing to do when you have your starting quarterback, let alone your backup.  Huge game.  Winner has the inside track towards at the very least a first round bye, if not home field advantage in the NFC (or, in the Cardinals' case, the entire postseason).  In Arizona, I give the slight edge to the home team.

Patriots (7-2) at Colts (6-3): Indianapolis-This matchup has lost some of its cache ever since Peyton went to Denver.  Brady vs. Luck isn't quite at that level yet.  This is a huge one, though.  The Patriots are on a roll.  They've scored a lot of points during their five-game winning streak.  Except the only good team they've beaten during this run was Denver, who they had the chance to play at home.  That will probably matter down the road, just like the Colts' loss to the Broncos could have a bearing on postseason seeding.  But if the Colts beat the Patriots, they'll all have three losses and be 1-1 against each other.  That could make things very interesting in the AFC the rest of the way.  Andrew Luck likes the spotlight.  The Patriots need a reality check.  That adds up to a Colts victory on Sunday night.

Steelers (6-4) at Titans (2-7): Pittsburgh-Losing to the Jets was a very Steelers thing to do.  Every time you start thinking Pittsburgh is on the rise, they go and lose a game they really have no business losing.  Roethlisberger was unstoppable for two straight weeks.  Then they go and lose to the Jets?  You can't do that and expect to win a division as competitive as the AFC North.  They really can't afford to slip up again in Nashville on Monday night.

BYE: Baltimore (6-4), Dallas (7-3), Jacksonville (1-9), Jets (2-8)

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 8-5
Season: 95-52-1

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 MVPs

It's been a long time since a pitcher was named National League MVP.  It was so long ago that there were only 20 teams in the Majors, the postseason consisted of just the World Series, and man had yet to walk on the Moon.  Bob Gibson took home the honors in 1968, when he had an otherworldly 1.12 ERA in the "Year of the Pitcher." 

After 46 years, that's going to change.  Because anyone who doesn't think Clayton Kershaw was the most dominant, most important, most valuable player in all of baseball in the year 2014 either doesn't know what they're talking about or only saw him giving up Cardinals home runs in the Division Series.  And don't give me any of that "pitchers shouldn't be MVP" crap.  The rules say they're allowed to, and Justin Verlander won in the AL three years ago, so there goes that argument.

Any knowledgeable baseball fan knows that this year's NL MVP race shouldn't even be close.  In fact, it should be almost as unanimous as his Cy Young.  Because even if you don't think pitchers should be MVP, you can't argue with Kershaw's impact on the Dodgers' season. 

His pitching stats stand by themselves.  That's why he won his second straight Cy Young unanimously.  But his pitching stats aren't even the reason why Kershaw should be the runaway choice as National League Most Valuable Player.  The Dodgers went 20-1 over his final 21 starts, and ended up 20 games over .500 over the whole season in games Kershaw started.  They finished 94-68, which means they were only six games over in the games he didn't start.  So, Clayton Kershaw simply being on the field gave the Dodgers a better chance of winning than when he wasn't.  Without him, they don't win the division and they probably don't even make the playoffs.  They're just another slightly above-average team.

That's not to take anything away from the other two finalists.  Giancarlo Stanton perhaps could've given Kershaw a run for his money had he not missed the final three weeks of the season after that horrific hit by pitch on September 11.  The most feared offensive player in the NL still ended up leading the league with 37 home runs, and he finished second in RBIs.  And he's the only guy in the Marlins lineup, which means Stanton gets the Barry Bonds treatment a lot of the time.

Andrew McCutchen was a deserving winner last season, and he's a finalist again this year.  He's the main reason for this Pirates renaissance that has resulted in back-to-back playoff appearances after 21 straight losing seasons.  Like Stanton, McCutchen was great this season.  In any other year, their performance might've been MVP-worthy.  But everything they did pales in comparison to Clayton Kershaw.  He had a regular season for the ages.

Clayton Kershaw had a special season, and he's going to make history.  He'll not only become the first National League pitcher to win MVP in 46 years, he'll become the first left-handed pitcher to win since the Tigers' Guillermo Hernandez in 1984 and the first lefty starter to be named MVP since Vida Blue in 1971 (and the first NL lefty since a certain former Dodger in 1963).  It'll also be the first time since the Rookie of the Year was first awarded in 1947 that a National League position player didn't win a single postseason award (although that has happened four times in the American League, including 2011).

Speaking of the American League, it looks like the Tigers' MVP streak is going to end at three.  That's because Miguel Cabrera decided to roam amongst us mere mortals in 2014.  And as a result, Mike Trout won't finish second to him this year.  After finishing second behind Cabrera in each of his first two Major League seasons, it looks like the third time's the charm for Trout to finally win his first MVP award.  The funny part is that this might've been the third-best season of his career.  But this was also the year that Mike Trout made his postseason debut, as the Angels put together the best record in baseball.

Trout should be almost as much of a runaway as Kershaw, maybe more.  It's been fairly obvious that he's going to win for a while now that the only real question regarding the AL MVP race was who's going to finish second to Trout.  And I've gotta admit, I was surprised by the other two finalists.  Victor Martinez of the Tigers and Michael Brantley of the Indians.  Where's Nelson Cruz?  Where's Robinson Cano?  Where's Jose Altuve?  Where's Jose Abreu?

Don't get me wrong, Martinez and Brantley certainly did their part in justifying their roles as finalists.  V-Mart proved his value every day.  And perhaps the most important thing he did was force Tigers opponents to pitch to Miggy by offering the type of protection that Prince Fielder didn't.  Martinez also crushed 32 homers for good measure.  Brantley, meanwhile, had his breakout season for the Indians.  He had 200 hits, 40 doubles, 20 homers and 20 steals, becoming the first hitter in Cleveland history to do that.

I'm not saying these guys don't deserve to be finalists.  I'd just have them a little lower on my 10-man ballot.  In fact, here's what it would look like in the AL: 1. Trout, 2. Cruz, 3. Martinez, 4. Abreu, 5. Brantley, 6. Cano, 7. Altuve, 8. Cabrera, 9. Josh Donaldson, 10. Jose Bautista.  And in the NL: 1. Kershaw, 2. Stanton, 3. McCutchen, 4. Adrian Gonzalez, 5. Madison Bumgarner, 6. Matt Carpenter, 7. Adam LaRoche, 8. Buster Posey, 9. Justin Morneau, 10. Freddie Freeman.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

2014 Cy Youngs

I don't know who the other two finalists for NL Cy Young are.  Nor do I care.  If the postseason counted, Madison Bumgarner would perhaps give Clayton Kershaw a run for his money.  But it doesn't.  So he won't.  Kershaw is going to win so unanimously, it's not even worth pretending somebody else has a chance.

He was the most dominant player in baseball this year.  That's why he's most likely going to take home major hardware two days in a row.  And he deserves to.  Because as great as Justin Verlander's 2011 Cy Young/MVP season was, Kershaw's 2014 was that much better.  If they were allowed to, I bet some of the voters would put Kershaw both first and second on their ballot.  His second straight Cy Young (and third in four years) will be unanimous, and his MVP might be close.

For what it's worth, the battle for second place is between Adam Wainwright and Johnny Cueto.  Wainwright may get the better of Kershaw in the playoffs, but when it comes to the Cy Young race, he plays second fiddle to the Dodgers lefty.  This is the fourth time in six years that he'll finish in the top three, and probably the third time in four years that he'll finish second to Kershaw.  Cueto will likely be third.  He went 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA and led the National League in strikeouts, but his body of work for a Reds team that failed to make the playoffs simply doesn't stack up.

The only real suspense on Cy Young day comes over in the American League, where it's King Felix against Corey Kluber and Chris Sale.  In this one, who's going to win is actually a mystery.  It's really anybody's guess.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about this trio is that none of their teams made the playoffs, making this much more of a wild card.

Felix Hernandez looks like the favorite, and he'd get my vote.  A couple years ago, he won the Cy Young on a last-place Mariners team, which I strongly disagreed with.  But this year, I'll have no problem with it.  The Mariners were actually relevant this year.  He wasn't pitching in meaningless games from July on.  Quite the contrary actually.  He started Game 162, which Seattle needed to win if they were to have any chance of forcing a one-game playoff to get into the Wild Card Game.

Even though Seattle came up just short, he pitched like the ace he is.  It would've been nice to see Felix Hernandez finally pitching in the playoffs (although, the Mariners likely would've lost the Wild Card Game without him pitching), but he might get that chance next year.  As for 2014, he was his usual dominant stuff.  King Felix's record was just 15-6, but that can be overlooked because of his league-leading 2.14 ERA, under-1.00 WHIP and career-high strikeout total.  Even more impressive, he pitched his best within the division, which featured a pair of playoff teams.

Kluber, meanwhile, came out of nowhere to notch a league-leading 18 wins for Cleveland.  He was also second in the AL in strikeouts.  I saw him pitch on Paul O'Neill Day at Yankee Stadium, and he was completely dominant in a 10-strikeout performance.  From off the radar entirely to a Cy Young finalist.  Not a bad year for Corey Kluber.  But it doesn't compare to Felix Hernandez's.

Our third finalist is Chris Sale, who we might be talking about as the likely winner if he hadn't missed six weeks early in the season.  Because of that, he made only 26 starts.  But he was sooooooo good in those 26 starts, going 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA.  Give Chris Sale a full season and he will win a Cy Young Award.  It's not going to happen this year, though.  It wouldn't be fair to the other two to give it to a guy that missed that much time.

So, it turns out there might not actually be that much suspense in the AL after all.  It won't be as much of a runaway as Kershaw's victory, but I fully expect Felix Hernandez to win his second Cy Young Award.