Monthly Archives: October 2010

AFC Dominance

When is the last time a league was this lopsided? The top seven teams could be in the AFC, and it’s not even close. The Steelers, Ravens, Patriots, Jets, Colts, Titans, and Texans have all been great this year, and no NFC team wants to stand out at all. The Cowboys and Vikings have won three games combined, the Giants, Saints, and Falcons are too inconsistent, and no one is worth talking about in the West.

At this point, when an AFC team goes up against an NFC team, its a good bet to go with the AFC. An average team playing in the tougher conference could very well be one of the top teams in the weak NFC. Do you want free money? Take the AFC over the NFC in the Super Bowl; the spread is under three points still!

Here are my Week 8 NFC picks; home teams in CAPS.

Dolphins (+2.5) over BENGALS
Since when have the Bengals been good? The Dolphins have been road warriors, and they’re sneaking under the nation’s radar because they’re not fancy. They pound the ball, play tough defense, and have a conservative pass game. I like the Dolphins straight up, so the points are just gravy at this point. Mmmmmm….gravy….like a Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week!

COWBOYS (-6.5) over Jaguars
How popular are the Cowboys? More people are going to watch the 1-5 Cowboys with a second string, 38-year old quarterback who hasn’t started since he went 0-16 with the Lions two years ago go up against the most deadbeat team in the NFL over the Rangers, who are in their first World Series.

Redskins (+2.5) over LIONS
You do realize the Lions are 1-5, right? They can keep it close with great teams and beat up on the Rams of the world, but they’re not going to beat the ‘Skins.

Bills (+7.5) over CHIEFS
I’m ready to jump off the Chiefs’ bandwagon. There’s nothing wrong with Matt Cassel, but there’s nothing right with him either. Dwayne Bowe is too inconsistent for my taste, and there aren’t many blue chippers on defense. With Buffalo’s suddenly more-than-competent pass game, I’ll take Buffalo to cover, not necessarily to win.

Panthers (+3.5) over RAMS
Every rookie hits a wall some time, and this is it for Sam Bradford. Sure, the Panthers don’t look like a tough matchup, but they’ve actually been great on defense this season. Seventh overall in defense and fourth in pass defense, the Panthers have greatly benefited from top-notch years from Jon Beason, Charles Godfrey, and James Anderson. Carolina has momentum on their side; so I see them getting a not-so-tough road win to help keep their season barely alive.

JETS (-6.5) over Packers
The Packers could not have imagined a worse start in their worst dreams. First, All Pro Ryan Grant went down with an ankle injury, then Jermichael Finley. Aaron Rodgers leads the NFL in interceptions, and they have a measly 4-3 record. Going to Jersey won’t help restart the year. Is this a reverse jinx? Maybe. Or maybe the Jets are this good. Or not.

Broncos (+0.5) over NINERS
Thank God we won’t have to see this terrible game. Have fun, London!

Titans (-3.5) over CHARGERS
Vince Young is back, and Kenny Britt has exploded into a very good receiver in the last few weeks. The Chargers are still missing Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, and the Titans play a lot better defense, so I’ll take the team with that Chris Johnson guy.

Bucs (+3.5) over CARDINALS
The Bucs may not be a great team, but they sure can beat up on bad teams!

PATRIOTS (-5.5) over Vikings
Randy Moss gets an early return to New England, but Brett Favre won’t be at full strength. If anyone won’t be affected by potential legal trouble, however, it would have to be Favre. But in the end, the team in silver and blue has the Man named Brady and the Hoodie in this matchup.

RAIDERS (-2.5) over Seahawks
The Seahawks absolutely cannot win on the road. The Raiders aren’t great, but they’re coming off their best win since 1999. Darren McFadden runs exponentially better when he’s not frustrated, and the Seahawks will have trouble winning in the Black Hole.

Steelers (+0.5) over SAINTS

Peyton Manning is all-time great in the regular season, but he's  surprisingly un-clutch in the playoffs.

Peyton Manning is all-time great in the regular season, but he's surprisingly un-clutch in the playoffs.

At this point, the Steelers are the best team in the NFL. The Saints, on the other hand, have been very disappointing this year, especially after losing to the Browns at home. Not only did they lose to the lowly Cleveland Browns, they also gave up a 68-yard run … to a punter! The Steelers are more physical, and they’re just a better team right now.

COLTS (-5.5) over Texans
Until we reach January, I am never going to bet against Peyton Manning in primetime.

Last Week: 6-8

Season: 46-58

Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week: 4-2

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Raise Your Lowered Expectations

How many people can honestly say they thought the Rangers would meet the Giants in the World Series? How many people can actually say they thought either would even make the postseason? Certainly not me.

Going into the season, it was clear to me that the two best teams in the league were the Red Sox and Phillies while the Giants and Rangers were the third best teams in their division. I still think that the Phillies are better than Giants and the Red Sox would have beaten Texas had they not lost Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury, and V-Mart for most of the season. Unfortunately, the season did not pan out as I thought it would, but here we are at the peak of baseball competition.

To be honest, this is the last matchup Major League Baseball wanted at the start of the League Championship Series. Another Yankees/Phillies World Series was within its grasp; two major markets with great followings would draw huge ratings and bring in massive revenue. But then Cliff Lee and Cody Ross happened. And now we have the Rangers meeting the Giants in the World Series.

People have and will complain about this “bad” World Series matchup. I’ll be honest, Tommy Hunter and Madison Bumgarner don’t exactly excite me either, but if you are a baseball fan, you will watch the World Series no matter who plays. There will definitely be exciting games (pencil in games 1 and 5).

No matter who is playing in the World Series, Major League Baseball has reason for concern. Case and point: Monday, October 18th. That night, it was Game 3 of the ALCS up against Monday Night Football. Normally, one would guess that the NFL would get higher ratings then a middle-of-the-series playoff game, but these were different circumstances. Cliff Lee was pitching lights-out against the Yankees while the Titans were tearing apart the Jaguars. The best pitcher in baseball going up against the most popular team while the two must un-watchable teams not named the Bills played. Guess which game had higher ratings?

Cliff Lee vs. Yankees 6.5
MNF Titans/Jags: 7.2

There are many reasons why this happened. For starters, NFL is far more popular, especially with the emergence of gambling and fantasy football. But there really is no reason for baseball to sink that low. Not in my mind, at least.

Like it or not, either the Rangers and Giants will be hoisting the 106th World Series trophy within the next two weeks. It’s going to be a classic matchup of great pitching and great hitting, so lets get right down to the game-by game breakdowns.

Game 1: Cliff Lee vs. Tim Lincecum
It’s hard to pick a better matchup to start the World Series than Lee, who is lights out in the postseason, against Lincecum, who has won the last two NL Cy Young Awards. When it comes down to it, Lincecum is more prone to giving up big innings than Lee is, and the Rangers have a better lineup anyways. This game will be low scoring, but Texas will ultimately come out on top.

Don't get too excited about Cody Ross, the Marlins gave him up for nothing. The Marlins. For Nothing.

Don't get too excited about Cody Ross, the Marlins gave him up for nothing. The Marlins. For Nothing.

Game 2: C.J. Wilson vs. Matt Cain
After falling down 0-1, the Giants will need to pull out a win in Game 2. What better pitcher to have up than Matt Cain? Cain is steady, he gets the job done, and he doesn’t waste much time doing so. C.J. Wilson has really come into his own this month, but I expect the Giants’ bit righty bats like Posey, Ross, and Sandoval to mash in this game. As a side note, I don’t know if we should be ecstatic or terrified to see Vladi Guerrero back in right field for the games in San Fran.

Game 3: Colby Lewis vs. Jonathan Sanchez
Poor Jonathan Sanchez, yet another player infected with A.J. Burnett syndrome. Oh, what is A.J. Burnett syndrome, you ask. Its a strange condition when you can either throw a 2-hit shutout or get lit up for six runs in two innings. Other effects of AJBS include inability to consistently hit the strike zone, wild temper, and moody brooding in the dugout. Baseball fly far in Arlington, this one will be a win for Texas.

Game 4: Tommy Hunter vs. Madison Bumgarner
Game 4 is the marquee game for sure. Who wouldn’t get excited for two soft-tossing, consistently average, extreme pitch-to-contact pitchers? While this won’t be the favorite game for everyone, it will most likely be the highest scoring. Neither starter will go more than six innings, and hopefully we’ll get to see an inning plus of Brian Wilson’s beard close the game. In the end, however, I would rather have Bumgarner than Hunter, and I think the Giants win a close high-scoring affair to even the series at two apiece.

Game 5: Cliff Lee vs. Tim Lincecum
I don’t think people realize how great of a playoff pitcher Cliff Lee is. He’s started eight playoff games over the last two seasons and won 7 of them, three against the Yankees. His ERA is a minuscule 1.26 and he owns an equally impressive 0.73 WHIP. He is lights out, untouchable, lock down, game over good. The only reasons doubters are saying he is beatable in the playoffs is that he’s bound to crack some time. Yeah, right. Its safe to pencil in Lee for his second win of the series as the Giants’ bats can’t solve this conundrum.

Game 6: C.J. Wilson vs. Matt Cain
Here is where home field advantage finally comes into play: would you rather try to win one game on the road or two at home? The Rangers know the answer to this question, and the answer is C.J. Wilson. The Rangers could face losing Cliff Lee this off-season, and Wilson would be the man to step into their ace role. This game, he proves that he can be the man in Texas. Josh Hamilton will come through against Cain early, and Texas will win their first World Series on their first try.

Ultimately, this series comes down to the fact that the Rangers have the better offense and the best pitcher. Cliff Lee is money in the bank, and C.J. Wilson and crew aren’t so bad either. The Giants offense is the American League equivalent of their neighbors the Athletics; there’s only so much great pitching can help with.

Whether it was the acquisition of Lee, the purchase of the team by Nolan Ryan, or the unity manager Ron Washington brings, this team was meant to win. Texas has the young slugger who’s been in the deepest, darkest place imaginable and back, the unbeatable pitcher, and a lineup filled with veteran players who are flat-out-winners.

I have to say, the Giants are very lucky to be in this position. While I will say that the Rangers are clearly worse than the Phillies and the Giants were able to beat Philly in six games, San Francisco can’t keep riding their hot pitching forever. They are going to fall a bat or two short this series; a series that will come down to the fact that they can’t out-do Cliff Lee.

As a closing note, the Rangers, Red Sox, and every other team needs to send a fruit basket to Yankee Nation as a whole, who offended Cliff Lee’s wife so bad that it could sway the ace away from signing with the Bombers. Thank you, rude Yankee fans, for potentially saving Major League Baseball from Death-by-Yankees.

Categories: MLB | 2 Comments

The Original Chargers

As the 40th anniversary of Providence Day School passes, it’s important to look back on years that were, specifically the first year of Charger Football. There hasn’t always been a football team since the school’s inception, however. But in 1978, thanks to the help of Coach Gil Murdock and Dr. Howard DeHaven, a new program was born.

As one of the newer private schools, PD’s lack of a football team was no big deal. Charlotte Christian and Country Day were the only private schools to have a football team, and there were just over 200 students in all of Upper School. But even with such small numbers, Coach Murdock and was able to field a group of 16 young men, largely thanks to Dr. DeHaven, who helped to fund the team and buy equipment out of his own pocket.

PROVIDENCE_DAY_CHARGERSGetting enough players to field a team was a challenge of its own. The team was missing a quarterback, so Dr. DeHaven and linebacker Buddy Jordan set out to convince quarterback Bill Estridge, a childhood friend of Jordan’s, no join Providence Day School. It didn’t take long before Providence Day had found their first quarterback.

DeHaven, Jordan, Estridge, and Murdock advertised the new football team, but at the first practice, they only drew 13 players. Coach Murdock ran three practices, and then he asked the team a huge question.

“Guys, we only have 13 players,” said Murdock. “I don’t think that’s enough to field a team. Do you think we can get more players? Can we get 16 or 19 players? What do you want to do?”

Bill Estridge stood up and said, “We can find some more players, but we’ll play with 13 if we have to.”

Providence Day’s addition of a football team was key to the school, to say the least. Many of the players would have left if the program hadn’t been established. Students also had a news sense of pride with another Varsity sport to cheer. For many, Providence Day finally felt like a complete school. Other schools already had an established football program, so it was good to have a reason to cheer for football.

The start of the first season was a tough to say the least. The team almost wasn’t able to compete because of a lack of players, but the team was determined to play no matter how small they were. With such small numbers, every single player had to give it their all; almost everyone had to stay on the field the entire game. As Buddy Jordan put it, “At the end of the game, there was nothing left. That build a lot of character for those guys who played on the team; they understood what it felt to go farther then they thought they could. The only way you could get off the field was if you were really hurt, not just banged up. You had to represent your school; you were almost always underdogs.”

Without a home field to play at, the team had to take a rickety, un-air-conditioned bus to practice at the Church of God. Home games had to be played at Charlotte Catholic (which now is Holy Trinity). The field conditions were poor, their numbers were low, and the odds were against them. The year ended with an unsatisfactory 1-8 record.

Year two of Charger football was far more successful. With an extra year of experience under the players’ belt and the arrival of Coach Jay Kopel and several new players, Providence Day was in line for a huge improvement. Kopel was an offensive lineman at Davidson and brought high energy and several key assistants to Providence Day.

Before the regular season started, Coach Kopel sent several players (including then seniors Bill Estridge and Buddy Jordan) to a summer football camp at Appalachian State. The team grew closer together and the hard work paid off; the Chargers tripled their previous win total to finish the season 6-3, including all six wins coming on shutouts.

Adding a football program meant more then to Providence Day then just another game to attend. It built character in each of the players, all of whom spent most, if not all of the game, on the field, along with friendships that last still to this day. Jordan and Estridge went on to play college football together and remain friends to this day.  The Chargers of today wouldn’t be here without the original Chargers, and for all of their hard work and persistence, we salute them.

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Big Hit Buzz

How much do fines really mean in the NFL? Normally, they’re no more than a slap on the wrist, but things may be getting a bit out of hand. Five-figure fines for tweeting or improper chinstraps is outrageous, but that is another discussion for another time. The question is why fine $75k for normal football plays?

James Harrison has never been known as a dirty player. He is a hard working player who had to give it all just to make the Steelers before becoming one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. Last Sunday, when facing the Cleveland Browns, Harrison laid a huge (but legal) hit on Mohamed Massaquoi, and now he’s $75,000 poorer. This even led him to considering retirement.

Football has always been a violent sport, now more than ever because players are bigger, faster, and stronger. That being said, the NFL should not change the rules or strategies to the game. The rules are tough enough on defenders, limiting hits allowed of quarterbacks, so if they were to disallow any hit with a helmet would be a kiss of death for defenses.

Ultimately, though, we’ll see the same style of football. This won’t be the Canadian Footaball League, and it certainly won’t be soccer. Leagues make threats like these all of the time, just look at the NBA with the new ball and tougher technical fouls rule. I think Roger Goodell wants to send a message that the league is getting tougher, but players can’t go crazy on the field.

There won’t be a big impact ultimately, and people will continue to watch. People don’t love defense, they lose big offense. If you don’t believe me, then did the Ravens/Giants Super Bowl receive so much lower ratings then the Saints/Colts game did? Fans will overreact, but all will end okay. Without further ado, my Week 7 NFL Picks. Home teams in CAPS.

FALCONS (-3.5) over Bengals
In case you didn’t know, the Bengals are bad. Really bad. Carson Palmer is no longer a competent quarterback, and he has to force passes to T.O. to keep him happy. The Falcons could be the best team in a very week NFC; they have a clutch quarterback, a very good running game, two great pass catchers, and a fast, young defense.

Redskins (+2.5) over BEARS
I’m starting to believe in the Redskins more and more throughout the season. They’ve got a great coach, quarterback, and plenty of veteran experience. On the other hand, I’m just not guying the Bears. They have a terrible offensive line and a highly turnover quarterback. This one will be close, so I’ll take the Redskins and the points.

Eagles (+3.5) over TITANS
Could the Eagles really be the best team in the NFC? They’re the fastest team in the NFC, and they’ve won four of their last five games. The Titans could very well be missing Vince Young, and as long as Kerry Collins is in, I’ll take the Eagles.

Picking against the Jags is free money.

Picking against the Jags is free money.

CHIEFS (-5.5) over Jaguars
You do realize how horrible the Jags are. MJD is the only semi-quality player on their roster. David Garrard is out. Do you know who is starting now? Todd Bouman. TODD BOUMAN! Do you know what this smells like? It smells like the aroma from…. a Bojangles’ Cajun Filet Lock o’ the Week!

Steelers (-3.5) over DOLPHINS
The Steelers are the best team in the NFL. Plain and simple. Big Ben is back and ready to prove to the world he can come through in more places than the bathroom. What? That’s a little inappropriate? Whatever….. By the way, what do you bet when Ben introduced himself to the college girl he said, “Hey, they call me Big Ben. Wanna meet Lil Ben?”?

SAINTS (-13.5) over Browns
This line can never be high enough.

BUCCANEERS (-2.5) over Rams
As good as we though Sam Bradford would be coming out of Oklahoma, he is even better. He is showing poise, pocket presence, and a great arm. Unfortunately, he has no receiving weapons. On top of that, he’s going on the road to face another great young quarterback, Josh Freeman. They are both going to be Pro Bowlers in a few years, but Bradford is going to be an owner of a 3-4 record fairly soon.

PANTHERS (+3.5) over Niners
As much as the Panthers have sucked this year, they do have a few things going for them this game. For starters, the Panthers are coming off a bye, where the Panthers are 5-1 in the last six seasons. Also, the Niners are taking a cross-country flight before playing at essentially 10 AM. Also, the 49ers have Alex Smith at quarterback. Then again, Carolina has Matt Moore starting. Either way, John Fox has never lost double digit games in his career, so a win at home is in order.

RAVENS (-13.5) over Bills
Just like the Saints/Browns game, this line can never be high enough.

SEAHAWKS (-5.5) over Cardinals
The Seahawks are a strange team, but they are no mystery. They rock at home behind the best home field advantage in the NFL, but are absolutely terrible on the road. They’re at home this week, so this one shouldn’t be close.

Patriots (-2.5) over CHARGERS
Deion Branch is no Randy Moss, but Patrick Crayton and Buster Davis are no Vincent Jackson. They Pats will win this game because of a superior offense, but also because the Chargers cannot stop anyone on special teams. Watch out for a Brandon Tate kick return and a big Pats victory.

BRONCOS (-6.5) over Raiders
I don’t know why, but I continue to believe in the Broncos. They have next to no offensive talent, yet Josh McDaniels makes it work with Kyle Orton, Brandon Lloyd, and Eddie Royal. The Raiders, on the other hand, are starting Kyle Boller. Enough said.

VIKINGS (+2.5) over Packers
How often do you get to take a great team and points? The Packers are not a good team; they are just pissing too many key pieces. Favre won’t lose this big game against his former team, and then maybe we’ll realize that Aaron is a great fantasy quarterback, but an average real-life QB.

COWBOYS (-3.5) over Giants
The Cowboys need to win this game, and they’re not gonna blow this one at home. The Giants aren’t his good, and the ‘Boys aren’t this bad. Tony Romo will step up here while Eli will crumble in the spotlight.

Last Week: 8-8

Season: 40-52

Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week: 3-2

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NFL Redemtion: Week 6

Everyone needs redemption one day or another. Brett Favre probably would like to play well to save the Vikings’ 1-3 season and move attention away from his Jets fiasco. Randy Moss and Deion Branch want a new and better beginning in their second stint with their old team.

Let’s be honest here, I’m having a rough year picking against the spread. Through the first five weeks, I’m already eight games under .500, but I am 3-1 in my Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Weeks. This is where I turn my season around. This is my Brett Favre picture perfect moment — er — redemption.

Seahawks (+6.5) over BEARS
Am I the only one who doesn’t believe in the Bears? They have no dependable receivers and a quickly aging defense. Except last week, Matt Forte has averaged only two yards per carry. Four wins don’t really matter anyways when you play the Lions and Panthers in two of them.

Ravens (+2.5) over PATRIOTS
Who made this line? The Ravens are in the top-3 Super Bowl favorites now, while the Patriots just lost Randy Moss. What happened the last time the Ravens came to Foxborough? The Ravens won by 19 in the playoffs. I still believe in the Patriots this year, but I’m taking the Ravens all the way, especially if you give me nearly a field goal.

Lions (+10.5) over GIANTS
I just don’t believe in the Giants. They are hot and cold. They lose to the Titans by 19 then beat the Texans by 24. Is Hakeem Nicks really this good? I’ll tell you this: the Lions will definitely keep this game within 11, just wait for Shaun Hill to chuck up balls to Megatron in junk time.

Falcons (+1.5) over EAGLES
How bad is it that Michael Vick can’t play against his former team? It’s bad enough that it will cost Philly the game. Atlanta is one of the best teams in the NFC without question, and a win here could put them atop the entire conference. Matt Ryan is going to take a big step up in this game; he’ll soon be a top-8 NFL quarterback.

STEELERS (-13.5) over Browns
It doesn’t matter how high this line is, I will always take Pittsburgh. Rookie Colt McCoy will be starting his first career game against the NFL’s top defense. Rumor has it that McCoy was so bad in training camp, the only reason he still had a job was the fact that he was their 3rd round pick. You’d think they’d just pound the ball down Pittsburgh’s throats, but do you actually think a banged up Peyton Hillis will be able to do much against the Steelers? Also, Big Ben is in great shape — ya think he’ll be excited to pick apart the Browns’ secondary at will?

PACKERS (-1.5) over Dolphins
Yes, the Packers have lost Jermichael Finley for the year. Yes, the Packers have lost Ryan Grant for the year. Yes, Aaron Rodgers is a bit banged up. However, they are still a step above the Dolphins. Chad Henne has looked somewhat shaky and Ricky Williams has been non-existent all year. At home, I’ll take the Packers and their aerial attack.

Chargers (-8.5) over RAMS
The Chargers pulled a Chargers last week. Every year, they start extremely slow and lose to a Raiders-level team. The fans are crushed. Media goes back on their AFC West picks. And then San Diego turns their season around. 2 weeks ago, San Diego laid a beatdown on the Cards 41-10, only to lose to Oakland the very next week. There isn’t a more confusing team in the NFL, but since this is the Rams that we’re talking about, I’ll take the Chargers.

Saints (-5.5) over BUCS
You do realize these are the Bucs, right? I consider myself one of Josh Freeman’s biggest proponents (I said I’d rather have him the Sanchize of draft day), but he is nowhere close to being able to lead Tampa passed New Orleans right now. In a few years, I could see Freeman as a Big Ben-style QB, but in a few hours, I see him as a losing quarterback.

TEXANS (-4.5) over Chiefs
Like the Bears, records do lie. 3-1 doesn’t mean much when you play the Browns, Niners, and Chargers (in Week 1). Their defense isn’t great, and it will need to really step up to stop Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Arian Foster. That just isn’t going to happen on the road.

The Raiders are so bad that an 0-5 team is favored over them by a touchdown.

The Raiders are so bad that an 0-5 team is favored over them by a touchdown.

NINERS (-6.5) over Raiders
Wait, is Vegas really favoring the 0-5 Niners by a touchdown? Oh, yeah, they’re playing the Raiders.

Jets (-3.5) over BRONCOS
How bad is the Broncos’ running game? Their three leading rushers (Knowshon Moreno, Correll Buckhalter, and Laurency Maroney) are averaging 2.8, 1.9, and 1.9 yards per carry. The immortal Kenneth Darby is averaging 3 yards per carry. Now put them against the Jets’ hungry D. That’s not a good set up.

VIKINGS (-1.5) over Cowboys
Is this the best matchup of 1-3 teams ever? These two teams could be the most talented clubs in the NFC, but they both have terrible coaches. Wade Phillips has no control over his team while Brad Childress looks clueless on the sideline 60% of the time every time. The head coaches, however, will not play as big of a roles as Mr. Randy Moss. Moss still hasn’t forgiven the Cowboys for passing on him in the draft. Moss has won all seven of his matchups against Dallas (even while he was in Oakland) and has eleven TDs total. I’m guessing Moss will have a huge game and lead Minny to a huge home victory.

Colts (-3.5) over REDSKINS
Are you really going to go against Peyton in primetime? I didn’t think so. This is the Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week.

Titans (-3.5) over JAGS
Usually, teams play their best in primetime at home. This doesn’t really matter, however, when you are the Jags. Its hard to get hyped up for playing in front of 12,000 fans on a Monday night.

Last Week: 5-9

Season: 32-44

Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week: 3-1

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Streaks and Slides: Baseball Edition

We’ve all had to make that choice of riding a streak out or jumping off the bandwagon. It’s the age-old question: if you flip ten straight heads, is the next one more likely to be a heads or tails? One person is going to say that tail is due, but the next person will almost certainly stick with the “hot coin.” But both people are wrong. Unless this coin is double-sided, each flip is completely independent and has a 50-50 chance of landing on heads or tails.

While sports aren’t as simple as a flip of a coin, you can apply the same principles to streaks and slides. But do streaks and slides even exist?

Let’s take for example perennial slow starter Mark Teixeira. At the start of this season, most people saw him as a .300 hitter. After the first month of the season, he was hitting .136. Going forward, there were three realistic trains of thought as to how he would finish the year:

1) He was projected to hit .300, so he will hit .330 the rest of the way and finish the year right on schedule.

2) He will hit .300 the rest of the way and finish around .280.

3) This just isn’t his year; he’ll hit .260 the rest of the year and finish around .230.

Which is the right answer? Clearly, he wasn’t going to continue hitting just .136 on the year, but there is no definitive answer (although the second choice seems most realistic). Tex actually ended the year hitting just .256; he hit his career average of .285 the rest of the way. So what does this mean? Streaks are a bit overrated, and eventually everything evens out.

Take a look at the two players most often labeled as “playoff clutch”: Derek Jeter and David Ortiz.

Derek Jeter career regular season (.314 AVG, .385 OBP, .452 SLG)
Derek Jeter career post season (.312, .381, .475)

David Ortiz career regular season (.281, .376, .543)
David Ortiz career post season (.283, .388, .520)

Notice anything different? Probably not. Both players’ numbers are shockingly similar from April until November. Again, streaks and slides do exist, but they are largely overblown, as each at-bat is a separate match up.

So the next time you hear an announcer say that Player X is on a fill-in-the-blank hit streak, take it with a grain of salt. Player X isn’t seeing the ball any better, he’s not wearing special goggles or using a corked bat. He’s just the same hitter who may be facing easier pitching, or feeling more confident.

In the end, everything will even out. When the Padres won 10 of 11 in August, it took them a matter of days before tailing off into a ten game losing streak. Nobody in baseball wins over 90 percent of the time; everything will eventually even out

New York Yankees (4) at Texas Rangers (3)

Are these the most polar opposite teams in postseason play? The Rangers just won their first playoff series while they Yankees have won a mere 27 championships and countless series victories. It’s the grumpy old grandpa and the over-excited youngster. This one should be interesting.

Of course, the Yankees would luck out again. First, they won the Wild Card, but then were matched up against the always-over-matched Twins. Then, the Rays and Rangers took their series to five games, having to pitch their aces in the last game. The Yankees now get to sit at home and wait, not having to face Cliff Lee until Game 3.

How important is Cliff Lee to this series? New York was willing to give up prized prospect and hitting machine Jesus Montero to prevent this situation from happening. They were willing to give up a future cheap middle-of-the-order bat to have Cliff Lee one year earlier. This man is a special pitcher.

With Cliff Lee slated to pitch Game 3 and either Game 6 or 7 (depending on if the Rangers trail 3-2 when they return to Arlington), the Rangers will start in a huge hole. As good as C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis have been this year, they aren’t trustworthy in big games. Only being able to pitch Cliff Lee twice in the latter half of the series could very likely cost them the series.

The Yankees will be listed as the underdogs (Texas has home field advantage), but they are clear favorites to punch their ticket to the Fall Classic. They have a stacked lineup filled with All-Stars, rising stars, and former stars. They’ve been there. They’ve done that. They are the model of a consistent offense.

In the playoffs, the best pitching will win. The Yankees have the big name guys whose talents may be a bit overstated while the Rangers have Cliff Lee plus no-name pitchers. So it will all come down to consistency in the end.

Which pitcher would you rather have in a Game 7 than Cliff Lee?

Which pitcher would you rather have in a Game 7 than Cliff Lee?

The importance of Cliff Lee cannot be overstated. Every time he toes the rubber, you know he’ll go 9 innings strong. This man may be the best playoff pitcher in decades. It’s just too bad for the Rangers that he can’t win games 1, 4, and 7 for them.

The Yankees’ pitching is in just as interesting of a situation as the Rangers’. CC Sabathia is great in the regular season; he is durable, he strikes out batters, and he is a driving force for his club. But for some reason, you can’t count on him in October. His ERA is 4.41 in the postseason with a 1.49 WHIP. Phil Hughes started off the year great with a 2.70 ERA until the summer began, only to end the year with a 4.88 ERA with a 4.66 home ERA. Andy Pettitte is all-time great in the playoffs, but he’s been banged up the entire back end of the season.

If the Rangers are going to win this series, they’ll need to split at home, as weird as that sounds. Unfortunately, with C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis going, that will be a challenge. Cliff Lee’s Game 3 start will almost certainly be a win, but Tommy Hunter’s Game 4 start will be anything but inspiring.

In the end, the Yankees have too much hitting and experience not to win this series. I don’t really love their pitching, but after Cliff Lee, the Rangers have next to nothing. I see the Yankees taking both in Texas before taking down the Rangers in 5.

San Francisco Giants (2) at Philadelphia Phillies (1)

Where the ALCS is a matchup of great hitting teams, the NLCS is a matchup of supreme pitching teams. Halladay. Lincecum. Oswalt. Cain. Hamels. Especially when the teams travel west, this series will be lower scoring than a World Cup match.

Philadelphia is without a doubt the best team left in the postseason. If you can beat them when Doc Halladay is pitching, you have to go up against Roy Oswalt the next day. If you can manage to beat Oswalt, you have to take down Cole Hamels the next day. And if you can win those three games, you must be the National League All-Star team.

San Francisco doesn’t have too bad of a rotation, either. Tim Lincecum has been up-and-down this season, but after a horrific August, he picked up his game for a fantastic September. Jonathan Sanchez, like Lincecum, has been very boom or bust. In 17 of his 34 starts, he allowed one or no runs, but in twelve other starts, he allowed three or more runs. Matt Cain represents the most consistent of their top three starters; he’ll give up a few runs, but he will go seven or eight innings strong.

As much as I believe in Pat the Bat and Jose Guillen, I just can't go with the Giants powerhouse offense over the Phillies.

As much as I believe in Pat the Bat and Jose Guillen, I just can't go with the Giants powerhouse offense over the Phillies.

Philadelphia has a distinct edge in pitching, but an even bigger one on the hitting side. With three 30-homer hitters along with two speedy veterans, the Phillies have a complete lineup. As for the Giants, they have Buster Posey, Kung Fu Panda, and a bunch of 30-year olds. Doc, Oswalt, and Hamels aren’t going to be easily shaken up by the Vottos, Howards, and Fielders of baseball world, so don’t expect Pat the Bat, Jose Guillen, and Juan Uribe to put the Fear of God into Philly.

Like I said for the Reds, if a team is going to beat the Phillies, they need to score early to get to the Phillies’ bullpen as soon as possible. Once the Phillies’ starters get into a groove, you are not going to score. If you can see four innings of Chad Durbin, Danys Baez, and Jose Contreras, you have a much better chance of winning. Unfortunately, as long as Burrell and Guillen are getting serious playing time, I don’t see that happening.

The Phillies, plain and simple, just out-class the Giants. They are better in every phase of the game and they have home field advantage. They have quality. They have quantity. They have what it takes to win.

A sweep would be very hard for Philly, and I don’t see that happening. Philadelphia will take this one in 5, and they are my pick to bring home the hardware later this month.

Categories: MLB | 2 Comments

The Power is in the East

I’ve always thought this, but I’ve never quite found the right way to put it. It happens across all sports, of course, not just in baseball. Teams on the East Coast are just better than the rest of the league.

12 of the last 16 World Series Champs. The three best teams in the majors. 4 of the top 5 payrolls in the league.

East Coast teams aren’t just better than the rest of the league, they are willing to go farther and spend more to win. So are these teams better because all of the money is on the East Coast? I wouldn’t say so, but it is a big factor.

The success of East Coast teams goes beyond baseball. In New England and along the Atlantic, everything is a business. People have worked hard going back centuries to the Puritans, and baseball is a way of life. As for the other side of the US, sports are more of a social event. Games are hardly ever sold out, and people go for the food and friends rather than the excitement of the game. The vibe of the city doesn’t ride on their team’s success as it does in the Northeast, and sports don’t seem to matter as much there.

Free Agents in all sports are showing. In the NBA, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, LeBron James, and Shaquille O’Neal all came east while no major free agent went to the West. The top three MLB free agents of 2009 (Matt Holliday, John Lackey, and Jason Bay) all stayed away from the west coast while two of them joined East Coast clubs. Even in football, Vince Wilfork and Jared Gaither stayed on the East Coast for a discount while Brandon Marshall and Karlos Dansby left the West Coast for their new homes.

The imbalance is clearly largest in Major League Baseball. Throughout the season, the top four teams have been the Rays, Yankees, Phillies, and Red Sox while the Pirates, Diamondbacks, and Mariners floundered at the bottom of the league. The AL East was by far the best division in the league, but the NL and AL West produced six poor teams.

The signs are everywhere, and they aren’t going away for a while: the best teams are in the east. My playoff picks reflect this new shift of power, and the World Series will reflect it too.

Cincinnati Reds (3) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (1)

On paper, it’s nearly impossible to make a case that the Phillies shouldn’t be the prohibitive favorites to win the World Series. They have three aces, a deep and talented lineup, and a been-there-done-that mentality. With a perfect balance of youth and experience, power, speed, and pitching, this team is ready to go.

The last time Cincy was in the playoffs, this guy stole 51 bases.

The last time Cincy was in the playoffs, this guy stole 51 bases.

The Reds, on the other hand, are a completely different story. Often picked to finished third or worst in the Central, Cincy used its home ballpark to its advantage and slugged there way to their first playoff appearance in fifteen years. The Reds are new to the playoff atmosphere; only Bronson Arroyo, Ramon Hernandez, Orlando Cabrera, and Scott Rolen have played in the playoffs.

At first glance, the Phillies are going to be huge favorites in this series. They have better starters. They have better hitters. They have more experience. So in order for the Reds to overcome this Philly Phanatic-sized challenge, they need to make the Phillies play to their strengths.

What the Phillies have pitching-wise, the Reds don’t have. Philadelphia will outclass Cincy every game in terms of starting pitching; Edinson Volquez-Arroyo-Cueto won’t cut it against Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels. But if the Reds can jump on one of the starters early, they’ll quickly expose the Phillies’ weak underbelly: the ‘pen.

Brad Lidge is by far the worst closer in the playoffs, even when he’s on his A-game. As Philly fans can attest, no lead under five is safe with him, but they really don’t have any better options. Ryan Madsen thrives in his eighth inning role, but can’t hit the strike zone when he goes in for the ninth. Journeymen J.C. Romero and Danys Baez are replacement-level reliever who found a roster spot on the NL East champion’s roster.

Scoring early hasn’t been a problem for Cincinnati this year. The Reds led the National League in scoring by a nice margin, largely thanks to MVP candidate Joey Votto’s emergence as one of the top young first basemen in the game and Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce’s reemergence. Putting runs on the board early will put pressure on the Phillies and manager Charlie Manuel, known oftentimes to make quick, poor decisions. Also, any way to get Jose Contreras into the game earlier can only help.

Things won’t be that easy for the Reds, though. You can make a great case that although the Phillies scored less runs, their offense (when healthy) is much stronger. With three starters able to go eight or nine innings strong, you can’t expect the Reds to continue to score five and six points per game. In October, pitching wins, and Philadelphia has a distinct edge there.

I see Philly taking Games 1 and 2 at home behind the strong pitching of Halladay and Oswalt, but losing Game 3 after the Reds tear apart Cole Hamels (Philly had better hope it doesn’t mess with his psyche). With Halladay going on regular rest, I see the Phillies closing out the Reds on the road as they move on to NLCS.

I really wanted to pick the Reds in the first round, and I would have taken them over the Braves had they finished with a better record than San Francisco. But that’s not how things shook out, and Cincinnati will have to wait ’til next year and pray for better pitching.

Atlanta Braves (4) at San Francisco Giants (2)

If you’re not from the Bay Area or the ATL, this series will be a snoozer. The Giants play in a top-five pitcher friendly ballpark with little in the way of offense. Atlanta is solid all around, but will be missing All-Stars Chipper Jones and Martin Prado. So get ready everybody! Get psyched for Tommy Hanson! Aubrey Huff! And everybody’s favorite All-Star…..Omar Infante!

The name of the game for the Braves and Giants this year has been run prevention. Finishing fourth and second in the league respectively in runs, both teams have put an emphasis on pitching and defense this season. While they were able to pitch there way to many wins, neither offense has much to brag about. Rookie of the Year candidates Jason Heyward (my NL ROY pick) and Buster Posey were the two bright spots this year, but the rest of the teams are filled with aging vets, has-beens, and uninspiring stopgaps.

After Posey, the rest of the Giants lineup looks pretty dreadful. Freddy Sanchez, Jose Guillen, and Pat “The Bat” Burrell look awfully old and shouldn’t be major contributors on a playoff team. Kung Fu Panda is a fraction of his rookie self — but not in weight. If you want to gauge how poor their offense has been, just look to the fact that their top three hitters were Burrell, Huff, and a rookie.

Atlanta has been solid all year. Not fantastic. Not average. Just Solid. While they will miss Chipper and Martin Prado a lot, most of their offense came from other places. Super prospect Jason Heyward has become the Braves’ best hitter, and Brian McCann continues to quietly work hard to put up big numbers. Mid-season acquisitions Derrek Lee and Alex Gonzalez have been fairly good since they landed in Atlanta, but they aren’t game changers anymore.

Interesting Note: Eric Hinske's team has reached the World Series each of the last three seasons (Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees)

Interesting Note: Eric Hinske's team has reached the World Series each of the last three seasons (Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees)

The problem with Atlanta is that they have too many “eh” players. What do I mean? If you saw the graphic in the bottom corner of the screen that said “Coming up next: Eric Hinske, Rick Ankiel, Omar Infante” the only thing you could say is “eh.” They are uninspiring with little upside, but solid productivity. They won’t sell out games. They won’t draw viewers. But they do work and quietly do most of what they’re asked.

This series will be very low scoring, so ultimately it will come down to which pitchers can stay mistake free for the longest. Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, and Tim Hudson fit the safe-and-steady pitcher role who will only give up one to three runs over seven innings before handing the ball off to the bullpen. Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, and Jonathan Sanchez are just too inconsistent for my taste. Lincecum and Sanchez can both be lights out as they have demonstrated many times, but they are just as likely to blow up for five runs over three innings.

Consistency will end up winning this series, and consistency is on the Braves’ side. You just can’t depend on Zito, Burrell, Guillen, and the Giants bullpen and hope to go far in the playoffs. I don’t love the team the Braves are fielding, but they can play well night after night and shut you down once you get into the bullpen. At the end of the day, Atlanta has more talent and more motivation (Bobby Cox’s last season), and will ultimately take this series in 5.

Categories: MLB | 1 Comment

The Byes Have Arrived

Week 4 marks the first week of byes. The first week of fans screaming for their coach’s head. The first week of fantasy owners scrambling to pick up the likes of Tony Scheffler and Deion Branch. The first week of less football. With Tampa, KC, Dallas, and Minny taking the week off, its time to dive into my Week 4 NFL Picks, which I guarantee to do better then last week. Home teams in CAPS.

FALCONS (-6.5) over Niners
Could this Falcons team really be a Super Bowl contender? They have a great young quarterback, a workhorse runningback, and two exceptional receivers. Add in an underrated manager and over-performing defense, and this team looks great. Curtis Lofton has stepped up into a Pro-Bowl quality linebacker and the key piece to Atlanta’s defense. I think they’re definitely in the conversation with New Orleans and Green Bay for tops in the NFC.

Jets (-5.5) over BILLS
As terrible as Shonn Greene has looked this year, doesn’t this just smell like a 120 yard game for the second year back? The Bills are garbage in Buffalo, Toronto, or anywhere else they play and with any runningback they start. I don’t love the Jets this year, but this line is just to sweet to pass up. Sweet, that is, like a Bojangles’ Sweet Tea Lock 0f the Week!

Bengals (-3.5) over BROWNS
Carson Palmer is not a good quarterback. He is really just bad. His stats may not say so, especially in his game versus New England, but he is BAD. He has all the weapons anyone could ever ask for, but that can’t hide the fact that he is not a good quarterback. That being said, Cincy is playing Cleveland. I’ll take the Bengals and dumb Carson Palmer.

Lions (+14.5) over PACKERS
When is the last time a division game was decided by 15 points? Week 1….oh. Well, I can’t give the Lions more than 2 touchdowns when they’ve clearly demonstrated that they can and will pile up the junk time points.

TITANS (-6.5) over Broncos
The Broncos are impossible to guess. Do they have a good offense? Their top three receivers include a 22-year old and two journeyman veterans. Is the defense even okay? The answers to both questions are irrelevant because they don’t have Chris Johnson and they don’t even have Vince Young.

Seahawks (-0.5) over RAMS
Seattle has one of the few true home field advantages left in the league. At the same time, they are one of the worst road teams of the past decade. But there road troubles weren’t against a team featuring the immortal Kenneth Darby, Billy Bajema, and Danny Amendola.

Panthers (+13.5) over SAINTS
Carolina has won seven of their last games in New Orleans. Carolina needs this game. Carolina needs its rookie quarterback to step up. Carolina needs Double Trouble to show up. Carolina will lose. Carolina, however, will cover in a surprisingly close divisional fight.

Ravens (+1.5) over STEELERS
This is the hardest game of the week to pick by far, and its gonna be intense. They both have ferocious players who will fight until the end to scrap out a victory. But in the end, two factors make me lean to Baltimore: Charlie Batch and the spread. Batch is essentially a coach with a helmet. The 35-year old hasn’t started more then a handful meaningful game since he got to Pittsburgh. Also, I see this game being won by three or less, so I’ll take the Ravens and the points.

Colts (-8.5) over JAGUARS
The Jaguars are the very definition of an average team. David Garrard is is the epitome of an average quarterback, Mike Sims-Walker is incredibly inconsistent, and the defense is filled with no-names, has-beens, and never-wills. Unfortunately for them, you can’t win in this league being average, especially against the Colts.

Texans (-3.5) over RAIDERS
So what, the Texans lost a game to the Cowboys when Dallas and Wade Phillips desperately needed a win. That doesn’t lower them them to the same level as the Raiders. I can’t put any faith in Tom the Cable guy or Bruce the Plumber even if Andre Johnson does’t play. This one is too easy.

Cardinals (+8.5) over CHARGERS
Haven’t we already figured out that the Chargers don’t show up until around Week 4 or 5 every year? Norv Turner’s teams are historically slow starters, but somehow flip the switch around December. I think they take this game, but it’ll be close. Larry Fitzgerald and Beanie Wells will have field days against San Diego’s unspectacular D, but Arizona can’t overcome the fact that they have Derek Anderson at the helm.

Nothing quite gets me excited like Jay Cutler in primetime.

Nothing quite gets me excited like Jay Cutler in primetime.

EAGLES (-6.5) over Redskins
Donovan McNabb’s return to Philly won’t be a smooth one. He thinks he’ll receive a standing ovation, but Eagles fans aren’t really known for their generous hospitality (see Claus, Santa). Philadelphia’s secondary knows every one of McNabb’s tricks, and Michael Vick has all the weapons at his disposal he could ever ask for. Eagles by a touchdown sounds just about right to me.

Bears (+3.5) over GIANTS
Who chose this game to be in prime time? I’d love to see Ravens/Steelers on Sunday night.

Patriots (-0.5) over DOLPHINS
What is scarier then a motivated Randy Moss? Normally the answer to this question is nobody, but here it is Tom Brady in prime time. Tom Brady doesn’t lose in prime time. He just doesn’t do that.

Last Week: 5-11

Season: 20-28

Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week: 2-1

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