Monthly Archives: October 2011

An All Birds Super Bowl

Last week, I announced my Super Bowl XLV. Some of you were surprised, some of you were shocked. However, I’ll be sticking by my All Birds Super Bowl pick of the Ravens over the Eagles. Despite last Monday Night, despite Philly’s 2-4 start, I remain strong in my conviction.

Most people don’t exactly find the Ravens a surprising pick to go to the Super Bowl, but few, if any, still think the Eagles will do much of anything in the playoffs–if they even make it. But this team, as Vince Young told us, is incredibly talented. They don’t just have good players on offense, they have explosive home run threats capable of scoring on every play–whether on the opponents 20 or the Eagles 20.

But we’ve always known the Eagles were talented, that’s never been an issue. The issue has been run defense and turnovers. The team is dead last with 17 giveaways, but that can be easily corrected. MV7 fumbled seven times this year, but they were all in the first three games. Offensive linemen and offenses in general are taking longer to get back into top form because of the lockout and lack of OTAs. Now, Michael Vick is making safer decisions, and better protecting the ball when pressure comes. Furthermore, two of his four interceptions in the Buffalo game alone were fluke picks, they were tipped and not entirely Vick’s fault.

The key to the offense is Michael Vick, for sure. They’re first-ranked in rushing behind the explosive LeSean McCoy, so don’t need to win the game through the air. When Vick gets pressure and has to make a play, he should not be trying to force the ball down the field to DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin. There’s nothing wrong with a check-down play to McCoy or Brent Celek. There’s even nothing wrong with running the ball for a handful of yards–as long as he doesn’t keep taking unnecessary hits.

Defensively, the Eagles do have some holes. Behind Nnamdi, Asante, and DRC, they secondary is absolutely fine with then 10th best pass defense. But behind a smaller defensive line, they’ve been punctured for a gaudy 123.8 yards on the ground per game. However, none of the NFC power have a great running back. Ryan Grant and James Starks aren’t world-beaters for the Packers, Jahvid Best is fine, and the Saints’ running back committee won’t exactly make Cullen Jenkings and Mike Patterson shake at night. Frank Gore and Michael Turner are good backs, but not great. I don’t really expect to see the 49ers or Falcons deep in the playoffs anyways.

The Eagles are fantastic on offense and just good enough to get through the NFC defensively. Most people just look at the record and the media debacle and call this a lost season for the Eagles. But if you look deeper at the numbers, you’ll see a possible sleeping giant.

The other team in my Super Bowl pick, the one I actually picked to win it all is the Ravens. Unlike the Iggles, this team is built around stout defense, and an offense good enough to take them far. Don’t get fooled by last week’s loss, this team is poised for greatness.

The problem last week was the distribution of touches. Ray Rice, the only great player on the team, only got 8 carries and 5 passes. Compare that to Joe Flacco dropping back 42 times, and you’ve really got to question their play calling. In the lone other loss this year, Rice was only given 13 carries and 5 passes. Flacco is a slightly upgraded version of Mark Sanchez. I’m not sure I’d trust him with the offense in his hands, but he can manage a game well enough. Plus he doesn’t turn it over at nearly Marky Mark’s rate.

Baltimore’s key is ball control. If they can keep feeding opposing defenses a steady diet of Rice, they’ll most likely be coming out on top. Don’t get fooled by his (maybe) 5’8″ frame, he packs a mean punch. Averaging 6.2 yards per touch, there’s no reason to try to force passes down field to Lee Evans, Ed Dickson, and Torrey Smith.

This team is tough, it’s gritty, and has a chip on its shoulder. They wanted to start the season with a bang against their rival Steelers and won 35-7. After they lost in Week 2, they crushed the Rams 37-7. After the bye, they beat down the Texans 29-14. When they really get motivated, and have extra time to prepare, this team is really good.

As we reach the midpoint of the regular season, I’d like to hear some of your Super Bowl picks, too. Here are my Week 8 picks with home teams in CAPS.

Colts (+9.5) over TITANS
The Colts are an interesting team in the Suck for Luck sweepstakes: when Peyton Manning comes back next year, he’ll be a better QB than Andrew Luck. But two years down the line? Who knows. A team like the Dolphins clearly needs Luck more, but Peyton won’t be good for much longer. In the mean time, I don’t think the Titans can put up more than twenty points, which is what they’d need to score to cover this game.

Saints (-10.5) over RAMS
With all due respect to A.J. Feeley, he’s no Chase Daniel. Gregg Williams will bring five, six, and seven men rushing every down to take Steven Jackson out of the game and force Feeley to make a mistake. If the Saints put up 62 against the Colts, how could this game possibly end with a difference of less than 2 scores? Easily the Lock o’ the Week, Lance.

GIANTS (-9.5) over Dolphins
I can’t trust Eli Manning, especially when he needs to win by ten, but Matt Moore is like watching M. Night Shyamalan’s Last Airbender. You go in knowing you just wasted $10 on a terrible movie. Then you watch the movie and realize it was much worse than you could have ever imagined.

More likely: Kevin Kolb gashes Baltimore's defense, or Ray Lewis rips off Kolb's head?

PANTHERS (-3.5) over Vikings
Not only do I not think Christian Ponder should have been drafted 12th overall, I wouldn’t have taken him in the first three or four rounds. He’s just not good. But Cam Newton is. He’s very good.

RAVENS (-12.5) over Cardinals
The Ravens lost last week and will be even more jacked up. What do you think is going to happen?

TEXANS (-9.5) over Jaguars
I’m just going to throw last week’s Monday Night game out of the window. Why? Because I can. The Texans are a legitimately solid team, and the Jaguars are still legitimately terrible.

BILLS (-5.5) over Redskins
Boy, I spent a ton of time thinking about this game. I don’t think the Bills are a team worthy of a winning record, and I originally wanted to take the Redskins and the points. But then I remembered the ‘Skins are starting Ryan Torain, Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Armstrong, and John Beck The Great. Those four key skill position players wouldn’t be active on at least sixty percent of teams.

Lions (-3.5) over BRONCOS
The Broncos have become so underrated, they’re overrated. What do I mean? People are over-valuing the Broncos because of all the hate directed at Tim Tebow. Don’t forget, Matthew Stafford is light years ahead of Tebow right now as a passer and facilitator.

SEAHAWKS (+2.5) over Bengals
Why would you ever take the Seahawks? Well, the Bengals are coming to Qwest–I mean CenturyLink Field. That, and Bernard Scott is starting alongside Andy Dalton. That combo is less likely to end in success than Shawn Kemp and birth control.

Browns (+9.5) over NINERS
Colt McCoy is just competent, and Alex Smith is more likely to make the big pass–but also more likely to make the big mistake. Ultimately, I do think the Niners will win, but they run the ball too much to really pull away, so I’ll take the points.

Patriots (-2.5) over STEELERS
Pittsburgh may be 5-2, but do you know who they beat? Seattle, Indy, Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Arizona. The Pats don’t lose after a bye, but when they do lose, it’s because of turnovers. And the Steelers are last in the league in that category with three turnovers.

EAGLES (-3.5) over Cowboys
The Cowboys have continually called out the Eagles, but this is not the offense to taunt. If the Eagles want to stake a claim for a good playoff seeding–if they can get a playoff spot at all–they need to beat quality teams. Watch out for Jeremy Maclin to have a field day against Mike Jenkins and a fairly porous secondary.

Chargers (-3.5) over CHIEFS
The Chiefs have no pass rush, and inconsistent run game, and Matt Cassel. So what exactly qualifies them to stay in the game with Phillip Rivers and the Chargers? The only thing that I can think of is that Arrowhead is going to be insanely loud on Monday Night. And we all know how excited Jackie Battle gets when the crowd is behind him.There’s probably no one I’d rather have than the great Jackie Battle.

Last Week: 8-5

Season: 51-52

Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week: 5-2

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A Shocking Super Bowl Pick

We’re almost at the midpoint of the season, and things are really starting to shake out. Now the Bills, Niners, and Bengals aren’t really this good, and the Eagles and Cowboys aren’t really this bad. Somewhere hidden in this article is my Super Bowl pick, and next week I’ll dive into why I made these picks. So without further ado, here are my Week 7 NFL picks with home teams in CAPS.

Falcons (+3.5) over LIONS
I’ve been on the Lions’ bandgwagon for most of the season, but I’m ready to hop off for a moment. The Falcons are 22-3 when Michael Turner rushes for 100 or more yards, and the Lions are 31st-ranked with 5.2 rushing yards per carry. That’s good for 129.5 yards per game. Roddy White is doubtful, so you know Atlanta will pound Turner until the cows come home.

BUCCANEERS (+0.5) over Bears
Last week, the Bucs did what I thought they could never do: beat the Saints without LeGarrette Blount and Gerald McCoy. Well this week, Blount is out again and McCoy is questionable, but the Bears are no Saints. I’ve always been a big Josh Freeman fan, and I bet he really breaks out against the Bears 8th-worst ranked pass defense.

BROWNS (-3.5) over Seahawks
I always hate to give points when Colt McCoy is my quarterback. That’s okay, though, when Charlie Whitehurst is the other quarterback. If Tarvaris Jackson is your starting quarterback, you should do anything in your power to get another quarterback. Maybe the quarterback they’re trying to replace him with is Andrew Luck.

The Dolphins sold an extra 10,000 tickets when Timmy Tebow was named the starter. It's gonna be like a little league game for Timmy, just with tens of thousands of his parents in the crowd.

Broncos (+3.5) over DOLPHINS
How can the Dolphins be possibly favored? They’re winless and they’re starting Matt Moore. Shouldn’t that be enough for you to take TImmy Tebow? Sure, many people don’t like him, and he just lost his #1 receiver, but this is the Dolphins we’re talking about!

Texans (+3.5) over TITANS
I refuse to buy into the Titans until Chris Johnson stops looking like Rudi Johnson. And Andre Johnson or not, I still love the Texans offense. Jacoby Jones is a sleeper this week because he’ll get many of the looks Andre Johnson would have gotten, plus he’s got all the characteristics of a modern, successful receiver: tall, fast, and big. He’s 6’2″ 212 with a 4.4 40.

Chargers (-1.5) over JETS
The Jets have always talked the talk, but this year, they just aren’t walking the walk. 28th in rush defense. 23rd in passing. 31st in rushing. Rex Ryan keeps making the mistake of calling out the opposition, and Philip Rivers is not guy to mess with. Also, look for a healthy Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews to go HAM.

PANTHERS (-2.5) over Redskins
Joke time! What’s worse than starting Rex Grossman at quarterback? John Beck! Aaaaahahahaha… Well sadly, this is no joke for the ‘Skins. Yes, Beck has only played five seasons in the NFL after putting up massive numbers at BYU. Well that’s because he was 25 as a senior. He’s 30 years old! There’s no upside in John Buck! He’s just bad.

Chiefs (+3.5) over RAIDERS
Which is crazier: Trading two first-rounders for Carson Palmer or benching any quarterback for Kyle Boller? I’m gonna be honest, I though Boller was out of the league three or four years ago. The Chiefs are bad, but Kyle Boller is just terrible.

Steelers (-3.5) over CARDINALS
I just don’t get this line. The Steelers are, in my opinion, one of the four best teams in the AFC, while the Cards are probably one of the four worst teams int he league. The Kevin Kolb experiment has failed, Larry Fitzgerald isn’t escaping double- and triple-coverage, and Tim Hightower is taking off after excaping the Arizona heat. Oh, yeah, and the Steelers are the Steelers. Lock this one up, I’ve got Lance in my Pants for this game.

COWBOYS (-12.5) over Rams
No Sam Bradford, no game. DeMarco Murray fits in perfectly with the Cowboys’ aggressive screen game, and he’s just as talented as Felix Jones. And Romo really could use an ego boost.

Packers (-8.5) over VIKINGS
It’s been time to bench Donovan McNabb for a while, but I’d probably give Christian Ponder another week on the oak before tossing him to the wolves because B.J. Raji may very well eat him alive. Literally.

SAINTS (-13.5) over Colts
This game has the second highest over-under of the week at 49. How many of those are supposed to be scored by the Saints? 35? 42?

Ravens (-7.5) over JAGUARS
The Jags better get really pumped up if they want to stay even remotely close in this game. The Ravens are really good, as you’ll read in the next line, and the Jags are worse than Tony La Russa’s managing strategy.

Oh, yeah, and my Super Bowl pick is Ravens over Eagles. More details to come next week, when we reach the midpoint of the season.

Last Week: 7-6

Season: 43-47

Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week: 4-2

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Catching Fire

Without a doubt, October is the best sports month of the year. The baseball playoffs are in fully swing, the NFL is well underway, and the NBA is getting ready to start–er… college basketball is right around the corner. The temperature is turning noticeably crisper, and outside every grocery store is an immense herd of wild pumpkins, waiting to be captured and transfigured into jack-o-lanterns. Really, just an unruly amount of pumpkins.

Nearly every October, though, intriguing, innovative thoughts creep into the minds of baseball fans. Should there be an extra wild card team? Maybe league-wide interleague record should determine  home field advantage instead of an exhibition. It’s good thing the Cubs aren’t in the playoffs, because a pack of pumpkins has be spotted near the ivy walls.

But in the end, all is well for the baseball playoffs. If a 2nd wild card team was added, the last-second drama of Day 162 would have been all for naught. The way the playoffs are currently assembled is the best for the league, and if Major League Baseball has been this slow to add the blatantly necessary instant replay to umpiring crew’s repetoire, it’s highly unlikely they’ll make massive changes to the playoffs without serious deliberation.

But like all playoff systems, there’s an incurable flaw: oftentimes, the champion is not the best team, but rather the hottest team. This doesn’t just apply to baseball, it fits in with nearly every sport. March Madness is the pinnacle of this problem–the entire tournaments is based on who can catch fire and win 6 games in a row. In 2011, was Duke the best team in the nation? No! Was Butler even the second best team? Of course not. Both teams just got hot at the right time and rode their way to the National Champnionship Game.

Even last year in the NFL, the same issue showed again. On the last day of the regular season, Green Bay squeaked their way into the playoffs on the back of the best player in the game. With momentum on their side, despite being banged up on both sides of the ball, they won three big games and made their way to the Super Bowl. Sound familiar, St. Louis fans?

Ask anyone who watched football last year, and they could tell you the Patriots were simply the most dominant team in the regular season. They put up 77 more points than any other team, turned the ball over a league-low 10 times, and had the first-ever unanimous league MVP. But after going 14-2 in remarkable fashion, they were out-played one day in January by a shockingly competent Mark Sanchez and hyped up Jets defense.

For the Packers, despite losing Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, Nick Barnett, and several other key lynchpins, they starting clicking on all cylinders. Aaron Rodgers couldn’t–and still, for the most part, can’t–be stopped, and he was able to pair his championship belt with a shiny football-shaped trophy: The Lombardi Trophy. Now were the Packers the best team last season? It’s possible. Then again, they were one loss away from heading home after Week 17, contemplating if Mike McCarthey even deserved his job back. But were they the hottest team? Without a doubt.

Before Spring Training, I was having a tough time deciding who my favorite for the NL Central would be. I loved the Reds’ young talent, and they were, after all, the 2010 champs. The Brewers, who I eventually went with, had a ton of new acquisitions with some serious pop in the middle of their order. And then there was the Cardinals. The boring old Cardinals. They had two ace pitchers, two absolute mashers, and a bunch of replacement-level players as far as I was concerned. But when Adam Wainwright was deemed out for the season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, I completely ruled them out of the playoffs.

Are the Cardinals really this good, or just very hot?

But thanks to a short-sighted deal, a largely unnoticed Braves’ collapse, and a bit of restraint on Tony La Russa’s part to not over-manage too many games, the Cardinals found themselves in post-season play. Although over-matched on paper by the Phillies, the hitters heated up just at the right time. Even more amazingly, what had been the team’s soft-spot all year (the bullpen) suddenly became the strongest part of the team. The rag-tag group of pitchers that finished 14th in the NL with a 3.73 ERA suddenly became a group of super-subs with a playoff ERA of  2.49, including a miniscule 1.88 ERA in the NLCS.

In the end, the hottest team doesn’t necessarily always win. The ’07 Rockies won 21 of 22 games before being swept out of the World Series. But in that case, they were clearly out-classed by the Red Sox, and their 8 days between games couldn’t have helped. But the point is that “hot streaks” only help so far–until the talent really becomes unbalanced.

To be honest, the talent is not very balanced in this series. The Rangers have the best offense in the playoffs, an ace pitcher, and a very deep bullpen. Hell, their seventh hitter set a record with six home runs and 13 RBI in one series. After Pujols, the Rangers have six of the next seven best hitters in the series (Hamilton, Cruz, Beltre, Napoli, Young and Kinsler are all better than Lance Berkman, the Cards’ 3rd best hitter). St. Louis has had a nice breakout series for Allen Craig and David Freese, but they’re just around the level of Mitch Moreland, who can only crack Texas’ starting lineup half the games.

The key to the series, like most postseason series will be the starting pitching. The Cardinals are going with Chris Carpenter followed by Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Edwin Jackson, while the Rangers have penciled in C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison. When it comes to pitching, the Rangers are no Brewers, who I liked just a bit more than the Cards’ pitching, but they’ll hold their own in this series.

We all know how well Chris Carpenter has cleaned up in the regular season, but in the post-season he’s been much more human. He owns a solid-but-not-great ERA of 3.76, but averages just 5 2/3 innings per start. Historically, he only averages going  just over six innings per playoff start. C.J. Wilson, on the other hand, is getting hot at the right time. Since August, his ERA is down to 2.00 and his WHIP down to 1.08. Not only that, but he’s tougher on righties than he is on lefties, and the majority of the Cardinals’ big bats–Pujols, Holliday, Freese, and Molina–all swing from the right side.

Like the Tigers in the ALCS, the Cardinals will run into a lot of trouble if they can’t win with their ace. Excluding starts made by Justin Verlander, the Tigers were just treading above .500. Consequently, when they lost his first start of the series, they ended up losing the series in six games. For the Cardinals, they don’t have a Doug Fister, they don’t have a Max Scherzer. Garcia and Jackson have been wildly inconsistent all year, while Lohse has just been consistently bad. Holland, Lewis, and Harrison are no Big Three, but at least they can go six somewhat-strong innings.

Both the Rangers and Cardinals have had record setting playoffs. This time, though, this isn’t a good thing. Neither teams’ starters averaged even five innings per outing. Not only is that inauspicious because teams would like to see their best pitchers go deep into games, it also means that their bullpens will be extremely taxed if they have to go at least four innings every game for a month. And in the end, the Rangers have a deeper, stronger ‘pen, so they get one last advantage here.

Before I give out my predictions, I think both teams deserve huge props. Back in January, I thought aloud that neither the Rangers nor the Giants may end up going to the 2011 playoffs. Well, I was half-right at the time. But the incorrect half was the Rangers going to back-to-back World Series, and possibly winning for the first time ever. But I saw the error in my thoughts, and changed back to the Rangers taking the AL West crown. I just didn’t see them being so dominant offensively. And I couldn’t see them heading back to the Fall Classic. But like the Cardinals, they proved me wrong.

Ultimately it comes down to this: the pitching is very close, but the hitting is not. I think Chris Carpenter notches a Game 1 win at home, but the Rangers take the rest in a five-game romp.

Rangers over Cardinals in 5.

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When Bizzare Works

It gets a little disappointing when you lose more games than you win. For a moment you even consider saying, “Well, what if I pick all the games this week, but then take the other team. Maybe I could go 8-5 instead of 5-8 like I did last week.” A lesser man would have taken the easy way out and taken the Bizzaro Ben picks. But no, I’ll step up and keep on plugging away, and my picks will improve. At least, they will after this week’s slate of tough games. I promise. As always, home teams are in CAPS.

Panthers (+4.5) over Falcons
I’m tired of picking against the Panthers. They’re 4-1 against the spread this year, and Cam Newton looks better and better every week. I’m down on the Falcons since they cannot stop the pass (294.2 yards through the air, good for 28th in the league).

GIANTS (-3.5) over Bills
It’s pretty shocking the way the Bills have been playing, and it’s also pretty shocking that the Bills aren’t giving more respect. Well, actually the latter isn’t so shocking. They’re giving up 421.8 yards per game, including 102.2 yards to #1 receivers, not even including secondary options like the Giants’ Mario Manningham and the fast-rising Victor Cruz. Also, the Giants pass rush is finally back, which should finally put some pressure on a Buffalo offense I still can’t fully get behind.

BENGALS (-6.5) over Colts
Unlike most first-round receivers, A.J. Green has been everything the Bengals have ever dreamed of. He’s putting up 80 yards per game with 3 touchdowns already. The Colts, on the other hand, have nothing much to be excited about. Maybe fans can get pumped up for a potential Peyton Manning-Andrew Luck controversy.

LIONS (-4.5) over Niners
Who would’ve been guessed these two team would own a combined 9-1 record after 5 weeks? Well, I can get behind only one of these teams, and by my pick, I’m sure you can guess which one it is. One of them has 5 first-round picks starting on offense and a stout defensive line while another has Alex Smith.

PACKERS (-14.5) over Rams
Never take an NFC West team on the road. Ever!

Eagles (+0.5) over REDSKINS
Not only do I refuse to buy into the Redskins, but I’m buying into the Eagles. They are first in rushing, 8th in passing, and 7th against the pass. By seeing those numbers, you’d think they were one of the top-10 team at worse. However, they’re also 30th against the run and are last in the league with 15 turnovers. Tim Hightower won’t gash the Eagles like Fred Jackson, Frank Gore, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Michael Turner did. Plus, Michael Vick kind of has the Redskins’ number.

The Steelers already downed one long-haired-quarterback-lead team in Curtis Painters' Colts, the Jags are next. Luckily for the Pats, Tom Brady already cut his hair.

STEELERS (-12.5) over Jaguars
I hesitate to take the Jaguars on the road, especially when they play the Steelers. People were really down on Pittsburgh last week, but they were proved wrong when they put a 38-17 beatdown on the Titans, a team that is far superior to the Jaguars.

RAIDERS (-5.5) over Browns
I’ve been vocally against Jason Campbell, but by hook or by crook, they’re 4-1 against the spread this year. The Browns’ D will be eaten alive by Darren McFadden, and I just can’t take Colt McCoy going into the black hole.

RAVENS (-7.5) over Texans
Normally, this would be a really tough game to pick, and I may have leaned towards the Texans with such a big line. However, Mario Williams is out for the year and Andre Johnson is going to miss at least two more games. Baltimore’s offense is clicking on all cylinders, and their defense is still the fiercest unit in the league.

PATRIOTS (-7.5) over Cowboys
The Patriots have won 19 straight regular season games in Foxboro. They’ve scored an average of 33.4 points during the streak, winning by an average margin of 17.1 points. Their defense may be shoddy at best, but Tom Brady more than makes up for it.

Saints (-4.5) over BUCCANEERS
Gerald McCoy and LeGarrette Blount are out, and Drew Brees is in. NFC South games are usually bloodbaths, but I see no reason to take the Bucs here. Drew Brees is gunning for his record-breaking 4th straight game of 350 passing yards or more, and he never seems to be short of options on offense. This is your official Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week.

BEARS (-3.5) over Vikings
The Vikings are a lot better than their 1-4 record might indicate, they’ve actually out-scored their opponents by 5 points. Then again, Adrian Peterson has never rushed for 100 yards against the Bears, and I don’t generally like my chances when I put all my chips in the hands of 34-year-old Donovan McNabb.

JETS (-7.5) over Dolphins
I really don’t like the Jets. They can’t run, they can’t stop the run, and they depend on Mark Sanchez when they fall behind. But when they’re up against Matt Moore and Lex Hilliard on the road, I’m more than willing to give up 7.5 points.

Last Week: 5-8

Season: 36-41

Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week: 4-1

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Playoffs vs. NFL, Pt. II

So Monday Night Football crushed the ALDS. The Buccaneers and the Colts drew 10.84 million viewers while the Yankees and Tigers drew 6.05 million viewers. That looks pretty awful at first, considering there were two boring, small-market teams going up against the most popular team in all of baseball. But since this is the biggest game of the football week on the World’s Leader in Sports going up against Game 3 on TBS, this isn’t such bad news for Major League Baseball.

Even though New York, Philly, and Boston are gone from the playoffs, it’s hard to say that these playoffs haven’t been a success. There were 3 game 5s decided by one run after the crazy Game 162, plus a 4 game series with the final game decided by 1 run. These games are close and they’re exciting, which is all you can really ask for. Milwaukee, St. Louis, Detroit, and Arlington may not be the biggest markets and brightest cities, but they’ll give us 12 to 21 more great games.

As with last week, I’m going to break down the baseball series followed by the NFL picks. Baseball comes first–but feel free to read both sections. They don’t bite. And yes, I did make my baseball picks before Game 1, don’t worry.

Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers

These teams are more evenly matched on offense than you’d think at first. At the surface, the Tigers appear to only have two good hitters–Miggy Cabrera and Victor Martinez–but Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta have been great. Both teams ended the year with a .340 OBP, good for fourth in the league. Yes, Delmon Young will be out for the season, but Detroit’s 3-hitter has been pretty bad this year. Don’t let Jim Leyland’s strange batting order ideas (Austin Jackson and his .317 OBP is leading off) confuse you, Delmon barely reached base 3 out of 10 times with below average power and defense. The Rangers may have the big names and a bit more power, but these offenses aren’t so far apart.

The key to this series, though, has to be Games 1 and 5. Outside of Justin Verlander, the Tigers’ rotation has been solid at best. Doug Fister has been historically crushed against the Rangers (4.50 ERA and 1.31 WHIP) while Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer have a combined ERA of 4.58. Their combined FIP of 4.10 doesn’t look much better. So if they can’t win one, if not both starts by Verlander over the good-but-not-great C.J. Wilson, they’re looking at having to win 4 games in five to six games with sub-par pitchers.

Despite being in a notoriously pitcher-friendly ballpark and losing their ace Cliff Lee, the Rangers had strikingly good pitching this season. C.J. Wilson has completely been transformed from a solid closer to a number 1-number 2 type starter. Even young Derek Holland and Matt Harrison have really stepped up this year. But what really separates Texas pitching-wise is their bullpen. Jose Valverde, although perfect in save chances, has been wildly inconsistent. Furthermore, their big acquisition last off-season, Joaquin Benoit, gave up more than twice as many runs as he did before he got himself a $15 million contract. Texas took an already solid bullpen featuring fireballing closer Neftali Feliz and added three quality arms at the deadline: Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, and Mike Gonzalez.

Texas is just a little bit deeper, a little bit stronger overall than Detroit. You can never overestimate the value of Justin Verlander when he play’s, but he’s only going to be in 18 innings of this series at most. The middle of the Rangers’ order will crush the back end of Detroit’s rotation. This series will still go the distance since they are close offensively, but my pick is…

Rangers in 7

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers

To be frank, I didn’t see the Cardinals even making the playoffs. They lost their best pitcher for the year, they’ve got little depth offensively, and they’ve got one of the thinnest bullpens in the league. But they beat out the Phillies, and that’s no small order.

Brian Wilson is crazy smart. Nyjer Morgan is just crazy crazy.

With these two NL Central teams, you’re looking at two different strengths. The Cardinals finished the season third in the league with a .341 OBP, 25 points ahead of Milwaukee, but the Brewers finished fourth in the league with a .164 ISO, thirteen points ahead of St. Louis. While I normally favor getting on base ahead of power, I like Milwaukee’s offense better. Pitchers can work around the heart of the Cardinals’ order because David Freese, Rafa Furcal, and Jon Jay are such easy outs compared to Pujols, Holliday, and Berkman. The Brewers have so many more ways to hurt you offensively, especially when they go into Beast Mode.

Both the Cards and Brew Crew have a great pitcher at the top of their staff, but Milwaukee actually has 3 of them. As a staff, Milwaukee’s 3.78 ERA is minutely better than St. Louis’ 3.81 ERA, but the 3.25 to 3.44 xFIP advantage held by Milwaukee’s 1-3 starters is really what pushes them over the top. It doesn’t really matter which order Zack Grenke, Yovani Gallardo, and Shaun Marcum pitches in because each can be so dominant.

Though the numbers don’t exactly show it, the Brewers are clearly better both at hitting and pitching. They’ve even got a better bullpen (4 former closers) and a less volatile coach. And if you like to believe in team unity helping out, there’s nothing cooler right now than the Brewers’ Beast Mode. I’m going….

Brewers in 6

Without further ado, here are my Week 5 NFL picks. As always, home teams are in CAPS.

Eagles (-2.5) over BILLS
Rumor has it that the Bills are looking to add Mike Williams and Steve Smith to their already exciting offense of Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, and David Nelson. But honestly, I don’t think the Bills are anywhere as good as they’ve been playing. And I think this is the game the Iggles turn their season around.

Bengals (+2.5) over JAGUARS
For the next decade, I’d rather have Blaine Gabbert than Andy Dalton as my backup quarterback. But for this game, I don’t hate Dalton’s teammates as much.

STEELERS (-7.5) over Titans
Yes, James Harrison is out, but the Steelers are more than equipped to come over this injury. Lawrence Timmons will slide to weak side linebacker an Larry Foote will be re-inserted into the starting lineup. Plus, Ben Roethlisberger isn’t Matt Hasselbeck.

Does this guy look more like a quarterback or a heavy metal rocker?

COLTS (-2.5) over Chiefs
I think I’m still emotionally scarred from watching Curtis Painter last week. Seriously, I think he completely messed with my image of what a quarterback is. But he did play competently, which is more than I can say about Matt Cassel recently.

TEXANS (-6.5) over Raiders
The Raiders will be absolutely inspired by the death of Al Davis, but there’s only so much better you can make Jason Campbell and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Cardinals (+2.5) over VIKINGS
What a bad game. The only thing holding the Vikings back from benching Donovan McNabb is their lack of a promising young player. Yeah, I’m calling you out, Christian “12th overall” Ponder.

Saints (-5.5) over PANTHERS
The Panthers are always the hardest game to pick. They’re clearly worse than the other team, especially with Jon Beason and Thomas Davis done for the year. But Cam Newton is so good at picking up garbage time points, just ask betters who took the Packers and Bears against the Panthers. But the Saints can win by 6. I think.

GIANTS (-9.5) over Seahawks
This is a big line, but it’s also an NFC West team on the road. I’m almost certain now that Seattle acquired Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson just to get Andrew Luck. Why else would they bring in these guys?

Buccaneers (+1.5) over NINERS
How are the Buccaneers underdogs to an NFC West team? They’re 3-1! I can understand some people questioning the Buccos if they were going up against the Saints or Falcons, but the Niners? C’mon son.

Chargers (-4.5) over BRONCOS
Philip Rivers is really good. Kyle Orton, not so much. I’ll take this game as an easy win. I’m whipping the Lance out of my Pants here for my Lock o’ the Week.

PATRIOTS (-9.5) over Jets
The Jets can’t run, they can’t stop the run, and they can’t pass. Not only that, but Bill Belichick won’t take it easy at one moment in this game. This is a near layup game.

Packers (-5.5) over FALCONS
I maintain that the Packers are slightly overrated and the Falcons slightly underrated, but being overrated isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As the great Bomani Jones said, “being overrated is underrated. I’d like people to think I’m better than I actually am.” That is absolutely true; who wouldn’t want to be paid more than they’re worth, thought of higher than they should be. But back to football, both teams cannot stop the pass, and I like Aaron Rodgers much more than I do Matt Ryan.

LIONS (-5.5) over Bears
Jay Cutler is 20-10 when he throws 30 or less passes. Consequently, he’s 16-26 when he throws more than 30 passes. Will Matt Forte be able to get going against Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and maybe Nick Fairly? Probably not in Detroit.

Last Week: 7-9

Season: 31-33

Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week: 3-1

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A High Holy Day of Baseball

Nine days ago was a huge night of baseball. To say the least, it was the craziest, most intense, and, in the end, most heartbreaking night of baseball I’ve ever survived. It was Game 162 for Major League Baseball and, for one quarter of a percent of the world, the eve of Rosh Hashanah. The Sox were ahead, Papelbon blew it, Dan Johnson hit a home run, and blah blah blah. You know the story. But on Kol Nidre, the eve of Yom Kippur, it is only fitting to re-visit that fateful day and the season that wasn’t for the Red Sox.

Back in April, I went out on a limb at picked the Red Sox to win the World Series. Their injury-riddled team just added one of the best first-basemen in the game along with a dynamic multi-time All-Star outfielder. They had Lester, Beckett, Papelbon, and a handful of young rising stars. What wasn’t to love? I even went as far as to say “This Red Sox team may not just be another great team; it could be an all-time great one. Their lineup is studded with All-Stars and their rotation is stocked full of quality arms.”

Now, I don’t regret taking the Sox this season. Looking back, I still would have taken them because of their overwhelming talent, along with the fact that no other team especially stood out to me. But what happened in September could never have been predicted.

All of this brings us to September 28th. Interestingly enough, as this day is starting, news is coming out about MLB potentially adding another wild card, which would have rendered this day useless. But in any case, the Red Sox were tossing Lester versus Baltimore, against whom he owned a 14-0 record with a 2.33 ERA in 17 starts. All they needed to do was win this one game, or hope the Yankees pull out a win against Tampa, and they’d live to survive another day.

Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t going to be able to watch the games. Thanks to 8:30 services at temple, I was nearly baseball blocked on only the biggest night of the year. But thanks to modern technology–specifically ESPN Mobile alerts–I was partially connected to the games.

Buzz Buzz Teixeira hit a homer? Yeah! Buzz Buzz Pedroia RBI single? C’mon! Buzz Buzz Texeira hit a GRAND SLAM? Leggo!

Never before have I been so angered by a Yankee double play, so pleased by Phil Hughes strikeout. And never before had I so feverishly checked my phone on the chance that the Yankees were working the count against David Price to force an early exit. But then it came time for services, and my phone the steady flow of baseball updates were silenced.

Fast forward two hours and as the final chorus of All the World sounded–click–my phone was turned on. After a mass of texts, I see that the Yankees are up an insurmountable 7 runs in the seventh inning while the Red Sox are up one in a rain delay. Great. The Rays are just 9 outs from their demise while Boston has the greatest closer in the game in to pitch–Mother Nature.

This face just says it all.

But we all know what happens next: New York’s C-Team bullpen gives up a pair homers, including a pinch-hit, 2-out, 2-strike blast to a man hitting .100 on the year, hitless since April. Papelbon has a signature wild outing and ends up giving up a bloop hit that pops out of Carl Crawford’s–of all people–glove. One Evan Longoria home run later, it was all over.

Suddenly, shockingly, unexpectedly, the Red Sox had just blown a 9-game wild card lead in 25 days. There was plenty of blame to go around: John Lackey and Carl Crawford for being far from competent at an exorbitant price, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester for being unable to come up with any sort of quality start over the last two weeks, and the team in general for being 2-18 to close the season when scoring less than 9 runs. But the blame game doesn’t help much, despite what the media might have you think.

Clearly, change is on the way in Boston. Tito Francona has already been shown the door, and Theo Epstein may be on his way out, too. David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Marco Scutaro, and J.D. Drew are all free agents, and staying still is clearly not an option. Lackey, Crawford, Dice-K, and Bobby Jenks are owed another combined $184 million, which will be harder to move than the last Big Mac at a vegan’s covention.

So with changes abound, let’s take a look at the four offensive free agents with their odds of returning to Fenway.

David Ortiz
Big Papi can take a bad rap because he was (potentially unjustly) tagged as a juicer while having 3 straight horribly slow starts. But if you really look at his numbers, he’s still getting on base at a high clip and mashing the ball. He has a huge presence in the locker room that just cannot be quantified. Unfortunately, he’s only getting older, and Kevin Youkilis won’t be able to stay third for much longer–and Adrian Gonzalez isn’t moving anywhere. Not only that, but Papi wants a two-year contract with a player option. To be blunt: that’s not happening. I firmly believe that Papi has at least one more good season left in him, so I’d offer him a one-year deal with an option or let him walk.
Chance of return: 75%

Jason Varitek
Towards the end of the season, it got pretty sad to watch the Captain. He can’t get around on fastballs anymore and only threw out 2 baserunners all year. What he has been able to do for young pitchers is phenominal, but in the end, he can’t produce on the field anymore. There’s no reason to bring him back as a player, especially with sweet-swinging Ryan Lavarnway on the up and up. Maybe he’ll become a coach.
Chance of return: 5%

Marco Scutaro:
Scutaro hasn’t been great, but he’s been far from terrible. He plays above-average defense and makes contact at a remarkable 94.7%–second in the league only to Juan Pierre by two percentage points. The original plan was to have Scutaro around for two years until Jose Iglesias was ready to take over for good, but the two years are up and Igleasias is not ready to start every day yet. Jed Lowrie has been good, but he always seems to be hurt, and Mike Aviles is no longer cut out to play every day, either. For a modest $6 million, bringing back Scutaro is probably the right move.
Chance of return: 60%

J.D. Drew:
I don’t think anyone will miss J.D. Drew. For $70 million, he hit a key grand slam in the 2007 ALCS and quietly plugged away without smiling once. Not only would I be utterly shocked if he returned to the Red Sox, but I’d be stunned if he got another job offer. J.D.’s likely headed for retirement.
Chance of return: Less than 0%

Unfortunately, with a solid class of players leaving, there’s a thin crop of free agents on the market. The big fish, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, will not be headed to Boston, so the Red Sox will have to weed through a litany of 2nd- and 3rd-tier options. They’ll be on the search for a corner outfielder–Josh Willingham or Carlos Beltran perhaps–but the biggest addition to their offense should be Carl Crawford.

I’m not sure exactly who I saw manning left field this season, but it’s certainly not the spark plug of a player I’ve come to love over the past decade. Crawford was quite literally a replacement-level player last year with a 0.2 WAR, a far cry from his mean 5 WAR from 2004 to 2010. At just 30 years old, Crawford is fully redeemable once he is acclimated to the pressure cooker that is Boston sports.

The pitching, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal. The top three starters (Beckett, Lester, and Buchholz) look great, but then things take a huge nosedive. With at least one rotation spot and a couple bullpen roles to fill, Boston has three main pitching free agents: Papelbon, Tim Wakefield, and Erik Bedard.

Jonathan Papelbon
Pap hasn’t been the most consistent closer. But he’s certainly one of the most dominant. He’s not most accurate. But he’s certainly the most intense. After the late collapse in Baltimore, Papelbon has become a popular fall-guy with Francona, Crawford, and new pitching coach Curt Young, but it’s unfair to pin the season on him. In the end, he’s a high-end reliever who will come at a high price–$15 million in all likelihood. But whether you’re talking about Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Goose Gossage, or whichever closer comes to mind (I see you, Joe Borowski), there’s no way they’re work $15 million. With 15 big stacks, you can pay an entire bullpen of cheap, young arms plus a utility infielder or two. It’s been an… err… interesting seven years, but I think it’s in Boston’s best interest to not pursue a closer for this much and just collect their draft picks and move on.
Chance of return: 30%

Tim Wakefield
You can never have enough starting pitching, but at some point, enough is enough once you turn forty-five. I think that the nine-game quest to win game #200 was the final chapter of Wake’s Boston career. Maybe he’ll catch on somewhere else, but the gauge is near empty on this warrior.
Chance of return: 10%

Erik Bedard
I still don’t have a problem with the last-second deal this trade deadline, especially considering the upcoming 40-man roster crunch approaching. But I’m not so certain Bedard is a good fit in Boston. When healthy, he can be a very nice pitcher, but he can’t stay on the mound, and he lacks any form of confidence. If he runs out of options elsewhere (doubtful), we might see Bedard return to Boston, but it’s looking doubtful at the moment.
Chance of return: 25%

There are plenty of solid options for 4th/5th starters (Jon Garland, Rich Harden, and Edwin Jackson just to name a few), but I think overpaying for C.J. Wilson would be a bad idea. Boston doesn’t need a rotation overhaul, just tweaks and a better doctor. That and a taker for Lackey.

He may be a contract albatross and a 6.41 ERA pitcher, but there may be one taker, which is all you need. The Chicago Cubs are in such dire straights, that they may consider swapping Lackey for Carlos Zambrano. Clearly, both teams have had enough of their dynamic starters. Big Z’s time has ran out in Chi-Town, but they can’t move his contract. Lackey can’t return to Boston, but nobody wants him for $45 million. This trade would really help out both teams, assuming Theo and/or Tito doesn’t make the move to Wrigley.

The Red Sox fell apart, yes, but there are some positives to take away from the year. For one, they’ve found a solid right fielder for next year: Josh Reddick. Josh Beckett is also back to being Josh Beckett. But that’s really about it. This team lost it in the end because they had no better options than Kyle Weiland, Andrew Miller, Lackey, and Wakefield with the division on the line.

Next season, there will be new faces across the board, but we’re months away to seeing what that team will look like. For now, it’s time for Theo, Ben Cherington, and the rest of the Red Sox’s brass to take a long hard look at what went wrong and what needs to change.

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Playoffs or Week 4?

If I told you that an exhibition baseball game crushed the ratings of a late-season football game you would have said I was crazy, right? Then you’d say “Wait, that’s not possible, Spring Training starts after the Super Bowl.” Then I’d say “Hush, this is my hypothetical.” Of course, this would never happen. Not even in LA if the Dodgers were playing the Angels and Giants morphed into one team.

But this did happen–only the other way around. The Redskins matched up with the Ravens–certainly not the best matchup of the preseason–and it drew a 18.7 rating. On August 25th! That same day, the Yankees hit three grand slams and beat the A’s 22-9, but didn’t even put up a wimper in this unfair matchup.

So this week is the real challenge; we have the Division Series in baseball and Week 4 in the NFL–with no marquee matchups. Ravens-Jets is nice, but this early season game won’t hold a ton of weight at the end of the season. For baseball, this is what it all comes down to: 8 of the best teams in the game gunning for glory. And what’s sad is that Week 4 is probably going to win in ratings.

Maybe you can blame the fact that teams in Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Detroit, and St. Louis are in over metropolitan cities like LA, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, but the point is that football really is the king of sports. Or at the very least, the lockout revamped interest like never before.

But because this is my blog, I’m going to break down baseball first. If you want to skip down to my NFL picks, that’s fine–just know that there may or may not be a chance to win money by reading the baseball picks. I’ve already shared my MLB picks, but here is a more in-depth breakdown.

Yankees (3) over Tigers (1)

There are reasons to not like the Yankees, but they’re the exact same reason I picked against New York two years ago when they won it all. They don’t have a #2 starter. They’re old on defense. They don’t have Cliff Lee. But you can pick as many holes as you want in this team–they are really good. Even if you don’t think A-Rod is clutch in the playoffs, they’ve still got Granderson, Cano, Teixeira, and Jeter.

Detroit, on the other hand, doesn’t have quantity or quality of players New York does. Miggy Cabrera might just be the best player in the series, but after that you’re looking at the likes of Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, and Jhonny Peralta. Where Detroit does turn out to be better, though, is in the pitching department. Verlander is much more dependable than CC, and Fister, Scherzer, and Porcello are far less erratic than A.J. Burnett, Nova, and Freddy Garcia. But this isn’t Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddux we’re talking about–they’re just pitchers who lack the propensity to give up 8 runs in 1 2/3 innings (cue to A.J. Burnett).

At first glance, Detroit looks like a great team. 95 wins was good for the 5th best record in the league. But if you look closer, Detroit has really taken advantage of a weak division. No other team in the division had a winning record–an average of 89 losses per team. In divisional play, the Tigers cleaned up with a 50-22 record. But outside of the division? Try 45-45. And you can bet they won’t be seeing the Twins and Royals in the playoffs.

Brewers (3) over Diamondbacks (1)

I’m just going to be straight-forward: these are two seriously flawed teams. The Brewers have a horrific defense–especially in the infield, specifically on the left side featuring the great Yuniesky Betancourt. The Diamondbacks have an anemic offense and 25 players you’ve never heard of. But one team does have to (SPOILER ALERT!) get the honor of being crushed by the Phillies in the NLCS.

Name this Diamondback!

Name this Diamondback!

In this age of hoarding prospects and building for the future potentially in spite of today’s success (see Tampa waiting until the last possible moment to call up Desmond Jennings and Matt Moore), I’ve got to give props to Milwaukee’s GM Doug Melvin for pushing in all of his chips. This past calendar year he’s added 4 high-impact players Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Francisco Rodriguez, and Nyjer Morgan. He’s now built a division winning team with three #1-type starters, a deep ‘pen, and a powerful offense.

The D-Backs, too, have re-built around pitching–only they don’t have the flashy names like Greinke, Fielder, and Braun. Ryan Roberts, Willie Bloomquist, and Lyle Overbay may not be household names, but somehow someway, they’re making things work. This no-name group of hitters aren’t the forte of this team, of course, that would be the starting pitching. You can point to Ian Kennedy or Daniel Hudson–two young pitchers who have really broken out this year–but they have, in my opinion, been putting up much higher numbers than their actual skills would indicate. They, like the Tigers, have taken advantage of weak opposition with some of the worst offenses in the league like San Francisco, San Diego, and LA. The pair are huge fly ball pitchers, which will not bode well against the big mashers in Milwaukee.

The biggest issue for Arizona will come if and when they fall behind. If they lose the first game or two, they’ll have to turn to Joe Sauders and Josh Collmenter to out0duel Marcum and Gallardo. I don’t think Arizona is one of the 8 best teams in baseball–I’d almost rather face Atlanta, Boston, or the Angels. This should be quite a clean sweep because of Milwaukee’s holes on defense and Randy Wolf, but I’d be shocked if the D-Backs reached the NLCS.

Phillies (3) over Cardinals (0)

I’m not quite sure how the Cards made the playoffs. At the trade deadline, they dealt their best young player to come through their season in nearly a decade for Edwin Jackson while being undermined down the stretch by Tony La Russa’s over-managing (Post Game 1 note: there’s no reason to pinch run Gerald Laird for Albert Pujols. Ever.). But Atlanta went unnoticed in their massive collapse, and St. Louis has found its way too October.

Anyone can tell you why Philadelphia is great, so I won’t waste my time. Instead, I’ll just poke any holes I can find in their team. Well for starters, Domonic Brown is nowhere to be found while Raul “Coffee and Creme” Ibañez continues to labor out if left field. And Oswalt’s ERA is a ridiculous 3.69. Not to mention the fact that Charlie Manuel has gone through a league low 54 boxes of sunflower seeds this season–23 less than his previous career low in 2008. It’s just disappointment after disappointment.

As for the Cards, there’s just not much to put them over the top in the playoffs. It’s not that Skip Schumaker, David Freese, Jon Jay, and Rafael Furcal aren’t starting quality players, they’re just not starting quality players. Few teams have a threesome of sluggers as prolific as Pujols, Holliday, and Berkman, but when the last two-thirds of the team is below average, you can work around the tough spots. The rotation is similarly top-heavy with Carpeter on top, but Jaime Garcia, Edwin Jackson, and Kyle Lohse trudging along in the back.

I’m sorry if you’re a Cardinals fan, but congratulations on making the playoffs. Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt will try to make this as painless as possible. And by the way, there isn’t a chance of winning money by reading my baseball picks. But congratulations on reading this far! Almost to the football.

Red Sox (3) over Rangers (2)

Yes, they stumbled their way through September, but the important thing is that they made–what? They didn’t make the playoffs? Dan Johnson hit a 2-out, 2-strike, pinch-hit homer before Jonathan Papelbon blew a 2-out lead, and Evan Longoria poked a ball 316 feet for a homer to claim the Wild Card? Crap.

Rangers (3) over Rays (2)

Andrew Friedman and crew look real smart right about now after they waited until literally the last possible moment to call up superstar youngsters Jennings and Moore to squeak in to the playoffs. In the end, they did make it to October, and they’ve got plenty of reasons to to be excited. They’ve got four young guns and hot bats–all you can really ask for in October.

Name this Ray!

You can call them the Lions of Major League Baseball because they’re a young, up-and-coming team with a ton of home grown talent–nearly impossible to root against. Unfortunately, with such a low budget, they’ve got some big holes on offense. Instead of mashers like Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamliton they can bring in, they have more economical options like Matt Joyce, Casey Kotchman, and Johnny Damon. But when it comes to October baseball, you don’t need good bats, you need hot bats. That and great pitching, which they have.

When it comes to big bats, look no further than Texas. They were 5th in the league with a .340 team OBP and 2nd with 210 home runs. With such a cadre of options offensively, You can’t pick and choose around big hitters like the Rangers will be able to with Longoria. If one of Tampa’s pitchers’ slightly off their game, you can kiss that game goodbye because Texas will make them pay. The key for Texas, though, still has to be if their young pitchers can rise to the occasion.

Without a doubt, this is the hardest series to call. Great pitching and great hitting collide with youth against experience. This series is, without a doubt, going 5 games, which gives Texas a slight advantage as they will host the rubber match. At the end of the day, though, I trust C.J. Wilson more than Matt Moore in a decisive game, especially with the difference if offensive firepower.

And without further ado, my Week 4 NFL picks; home teams in CAPS.

Bills (-3.5) over BENGALS:
Do you take the redhead day-walker quarterback or the Harvard quarterback. I’ll take the guy with 270 more passing yards. But doesn’t it scare the city of Buffalo that Ryan Fitzpatrick–Ryan Fitzpatrick–is about to get a $40 or $50 million contract this off-season?

BEARS (-6.5) over Panthers
Would you rather have Cam Newton play like he did in the first two weeks or in the last week? Well, if he plays like he did against Jacksonville, the only team he’s going to beat is, well, Jacksonville.

Titans (+1.5) over BROWNS
Is Chris Johnson this bad? Is Colt McCoy this competent? No and probably not. Gimme the points!

COWBOYS (-3.5) over Lions
This is the team everyone loves to have vs. the team everyone loves to love. These are the situations where the line is skewed against the unsuspecting public. Plus I like Romo a lot better than Stafford.

Vikings (+1.5) over CHIEFS
Yes, McNabb is bad, but the Chiefs are really bad. At least they’re making baby steps–they only gave up 20 instead of 40+ last week.

RAMS (-0.5) over Redskins
There’s a good chance I lose this one. But there’s also a good chance Rex Grossman throws 3 picks and fumbles twice.

Saints (-7.5) over JAGUARS
I’m utterly confused. Marques Colston is back, and so is Blaine Gabbert.

EAGLES (-6.5) over Niners
Is Michael Vick Iron Man or just crazy? Because I swear he’s broken his hand, been concussed, and had his hand concussed over the last two weeks. For now, I’m going with Iron Man. But if he was actually crazy, that wouldn’t stop him from downing the Niners.

Steelers (+3.5) over TEXANS
The Texans, like the Lions, are really hard not to like. They put up points, have cool unis, and are the darlings of the AFC South for the last decade. But this is the Steelers we’re talking about. They can take Arian Foster and Ben Tate out of the game without stuffing the box, and Big Ben will do just enough to beat this overrated defense.

Falcons (-4.5) over SEAHAWKS
I hope Seattle didn’t justify giving Sidney Rice $41 million by bringing in his teammate Tarvaris Jackson.

Giants (-1.5) over CARDINALS
The Cardinals aren’t stopping the run, and that’s New York’s forte. Furthermore Kevin Kolb hasn’t proved to me he’s that good. I think that people unfamiliar with the NFC West look at the Cardinals and see a handful of skilled players (Fitzgerald, Wells, Dockett, Peterson, Wilson…) and declare them playoff contenders without actually watching them. Arizona is not good. Not one bit.

Name this Patriot!

PACKERS (-13.5) over Broncos
Two touchdowns is tough to swallow, but not with the Packers. Kyle Orton could make up a bunch of ground at the end with garbage time points, but Aaron Rodgers–who needs a nickname other than A-Rod–has too many weapons to lose this one.

Patriots (-4.5) over RAIDERS
Bill Belichick is 16-2 in his last 18 games after a loss. Tom Brady doesn’t lose this game. This game is going to be like taking candy from a baby–or rather Lance out of Jason Campbell’s Pants. Lock that up.

CHARGERS (-8.5) over Dolphins
I can’t think of eight and a half reasons to consider the Dolphins here.

RAVENS (-3.5) over Jets
The Jets are 25th in rushing and 31st against the rush. You know which team that works well against? The Ravens. Oh, wait. No it doesn’t. Especially not for a team with a QB completing 55% of his passes.

BUCCANEERS (-9.5) over Colts
Did the NFL look at its Monday Night Football schedule? It’s awful! Not even counting Broncos-Raiders we’ve also got Chicago twice, Jacksonville twice, Miami twice, St. Louis twice, Minnesota, Seattle, and Kansas City. Do no red flags go up when Florida teams show up 5 times while Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Philly show up once each?

Last Week: 6-10

Season: 24-24

Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week: 2-1


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