Monthly Archives: November 2011

Are The Lions Relevant?

Not even a year ago, people were discussing whether the Lions and Cowboys deserve to have a home game every Thanksgiving. It was so depressing. The Lions fans deserve one exciting game every year, but should it really be a humiliation on national television? For so long, this team has been so bad, and other clubs were clamoring for a Turkey Day home game.

But the more important question this Thanksgiving is not whether the Lions deserve to keep their special Thursday Night game, but whether, in fact, they are back to relevancy.

It took ten years of drafting at the top of the draft, but the Lions have finally amassed enough talent to launch themselves towards the top of the NFC. Led by former number one pick Matthew Stafford and number two picks Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson, the Lions have one of the highest powered offenses–fourth best to be exact–and one of the most ferocious defenses around. Other former number one picks, Jahvid Best and Brandon Pettigrew, are in the midst of career years as well.

Cool new unis, a Cinderalla-like feeling, what’s not to like about this team? They even got off to the best start since 1956, going 5-0 and winning by an average of 14 points before falling to the 49ers and Falcons by 13 combined points. Sure, they took a momentary Bills-ian dive, but not since the days of Barry Sanders have teams actually thought twice about visiting Ford Field.

Most importantly, in my opinion, this team finally has an identity. They’re a rough-and-tumble, Midwestern team not afraid to rip your head off. Well, at least Ndamukong Suh isn’t afraid to tear your head off.

Whether or not they beat out the Giants, Bears, Falcons, and others for the two Wild Card spots, this season is the best any Lions fan could ever ask for. As long as Stafford and Best are leading the charge offensively, they’ll always have to deal with recurring injuries, but Detroit is well past the days of Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, and Mike Williams. They’ve turned the page to the newest, most successful chapter in recent memory. Hey, take off those brown paper bags, it’s okay to laugh at your Midwestern brethren stuck in reverse, the Indianapolis “Suck for Luck” Colts.

Here are my Week 12 NFL picks; home teams are in CAPS.

LIONS (+6.5) over Packers
I can’t buy the Packers going 19-0 for one reason: the defense. When the Patriots nearly ran the table, they had the the fourth best defense–both by yardage and scoring–but the porous Packers’ D is the third worst in the league. Only the Bucs and Pats are worse. Sooner or later, it’ll catch up to then, and I think the high-powered Lions offense can do the trick. That, or at least keep it close.

COWBOYS (-6.5) over Dolphins
All the Dolphins winning does is ruin their quarterback future and help my lines against them in future weeks.

RAVENS (-3.5) over Niners
What do the Niners need to do to be favored against  a winning team? Oh, get a real quarterback, right.

FALCONS (-9.5) over Vikings
As low as I am on the Falcons right now, I’m not going with a team quarterbacked by Christian Ponder and led in rushing by Toby Gerhart. That’s just not about to happen. I’m setting the over/under at 11.5 for the number of times announcers call this team “old-school” because of Gerhart and Ponder, AKA the grumpy old man’s fantasy.

JETS (-8.5) over Bills
Being a Bills fan must really be torture. After starting with a promising 5-2 record including wins over the Patriots and Eagles, the Bills pull a Bills and lose three straight games. Not only that, but star back Fred Jackson landed on IR, and Harvard Grad Ryan Fitzpatrick is due another $59 million. In other news, they lost to the Jets by 16 just 3 weeks ago.

Buccaneers (+3.5) over TITANS
This is my upset pick of the week. In fact, I’ll even take the Buccos -3.5. I’ll take Freeman over Hasselbeck, Blount over Johnson (at the moment), Mike Williams over Nate Washington, and the Bucs D over the Titans D. Simple pick to me.

Panthers (-3.5) over COLTS
No matter how this season ends for Cam Newton, it’s a brilliant success. He’s successfully turned around the future of this organization, and at the very least, he’s made every game fun. And if he loses this game, he’ll bring the Panthers one game closer to auctioning off Andrew Luck for about two whole drafts and another number one pick.

Cardinals (+3.5) over RAMS
Again, if two non-Niners NFC West teams play, just take the points. They’re just all really, really bad.

BENGALS (-7.5) over Browns
At first I thought, “Wow, this is just too many points to give up for the Bengals.” Then, my next thought was, “Wow, can I really expect the Browns offense to keep up? This is Chris Ogbannaya we’re talking about, after all.” Yeah, I’m taking the Bengals.

Texans (-3.5) over JAGUARS
Man, I’m excited to watch Matt Leinart. Maybe it’s just because I like to see teams implode time to time. Or maybe it’s just because I never really got to see Leinart in Arizona. Well, either way, Blaine Gabbert just is not good. I’m glad we can settle on that.

Redskins (+4.5) over SEAHAWKS
As much as I’ve ripped on the Redskins this year, the Seahawks are an absolute joke. The fact that anyone would pursue Tarvaris Jackson to be a legitimate starting option blows me away. At least Mike Shanahan has three quality linebackers and is somehow getting points.

Bears (+4.5) over RAIDERS
People keep referring to Caleb Hanie as an “unproven” quarterback. Well silly me, but I thought he looked pretty good in the NFC Championship Game. Going to the Black Hole in Oakland isn’t the nicest place to make your first NFL start, but Carson Palmer is on the nicer end of the scale for opposing quarterbacks.

What does Norv Turner need to do get fired? Get in a Jerry Sandu--oh wait that's probably crossing the line.

Broncos (+6.5) over CHARGERS
The Chargers have always been a secret favorite team of mine. They’ve got cool uniforms, cool players, and a great city. But this year, they’re just bad. At first I denied it. There’s no way a team with Phillip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates could be bad! Then I was angry. How can this be happening to me, Ben Weinrib, extraordinaire? Then I bargained with myself. Man, I’d pay serious cash to have Norv Turner fired and fix this whole problem. Then I went through a slight depression. What’s the point of picking games if the Chargers keep blowing games? Then finally I’ve accepted it. Tim Tebow is the best quarterback in the AFC West. Wait, what?

Patriots (-4.5) over EAGLES
I like Vince Young, but you’d have to give me ten points to take him over the Patriots. Their D may be shaky, but they find a way to tighten up in the red zone. And that happens to be a major issue for the Eagles, who rank 26th in red zone offense. Oh, and did I mention that Vince Young is quarterbacking? The Patriots it is!

Steelers (-10.5) over CHIEFS
Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with Tyler Palko, can we agree that this line shouldn’t be less that 2 touchdowns? Because the Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week is against the Chiefs for the second week in a row.

SAINTS (-6.5) over Giants
Eli Manning is so funny down the stretch. He puts up solid numbers the whole game, and then in the last few minutes just craps the bed. But this game shouldn’t even get to a point for the bed to get crapped upon.

Last Week: 7-7

Season: 77-83

Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week: 8-3

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D.O.S. (Death of Statistics), Pt. II

Hold up, only writer to rewrite history without a pen
No I.D. on the track, let the story begin, begin, begin

Of all the aspects of baseball, none is more divisive than pitching. There are dozens upon dozens of metrics that range from projected ERA to drop on a curveball. But the issue is not which statistic is most prevalent, the problem is a systematic fissure between old school and new school ways of thinking.

As I began to explain in the first part of this four-part series, there are a lot of people stuck in the back-of-the-baseball-card state of mind. What that means is that we can look at a handful of simple, long-standing stats (batting average, homers, RBIs, runs) and tell how good that player was. But this just doesn’t work. Not only do those stats not tell the whole story, they don’t even tell the story well. Let me explain.

This is the Death of Statistics, moment of silence.

When it comes to pitching statistics, one usually comes to mind first. Sadly, this is the worst pitching stat out there. I’m, of course, talking about the win.

Let me be clear, there is nothing more important in sports than winning the ball game. But the pitcher’s win-loss statistic has no statistical relevance. Ultimately, the stat comes down to how well your teammates play.

I have no issue with Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young in '10. Maybe Seattle's beyond-anemic offense had something to do with his 13-12 record.

Take, for example, Justin Verlander and Cliff Lee this season. Both had ERAs of 2.40, but Cliff Lee received 4 runs of support per game compared to Verlander’s 4.56 runs of support. All of a sudden, Lee owns a measly 17-8 record compared to Verlander’s “other-wordly” 24-5 record. Did Lee give up any more runs than Verlander? No. His teammates just didn’t play as well.

Wins don’t add anything to the analysis of a pitcher. If you need look at control, look at WHIP or K/BB. If you’re interested in the ability to miss bats, look at Contact Percentage or Line Drive Percentage. But when comparing players, you cannot take the skills of teammates into account, which is the central point of the Pitcher Win-Loss stat.

In the first part of this series, I wrote about the worst stats: the ones that are subjective and the ones you can’t explain. Well, to some extent, the second most recognizable pitching stat, ERA, is subjective. The goal of the statistic is simple: show how many runs the pitcher gives over nine innings. The problem, however, is that errors play a huge role in earned runs, which is the center of the average.

I don’t want to totally dismiss ERA, I think it is still a very useful and mostly representative stat. But since it relies heavily on the error and the play of teammates, it should be taken with a grain of salt. So the best pitching statistic, I’ll say it again, are those that remove the play of teammates.

When pitching, there are only three outcomes that are completely dependent on the pitcher: a strikeout, walk, and home run. The rest are dependent on the skills of the fielders, which cannot be attributed to the pitcher himself. Whether a long fly ball, dribbling ground ball, or liner in the gap, the play is out of the hands of the pitcher once the ball is hit in play. And because of that, a myriad of statistics have been formed to project ERA.

There is FIP, xFIP, SIERA, PECOTA, DIPS, all sorts of advanced defensive metrics. At the core of all of them is taking the skills the pitcher has and turn it into an ERA predictor. My personal favorite is FIP, which is the simplest, and in my opinion, the most effective. By taking the three pitcher controlled stats, these sabermetric stats better illustrate the skill of the pitcher. After all, how can you penalize Mike Pelfrey for playing in front of nine defensive butchers while Big Game James Shields gets to play in front of a cavalcade of elite defenders?

When it comes to the Cy Young Award, I didn’t have much of a problem. Justin Verlander was by far the most dominant pitcher in the AL, although the national attention paid to his 24-5 record blew his dominance slightly out of proportion. Still, CC Sabathia and Jered Weaver put up good fights, but it’s hard to come up with a solid argument over Verlander. He posted an AL-best 2.40 ERA, 4th best 2.99 FIP, and second best 7.1 WAR. Not only that, but he stranded a ridiculous 80.3% of runners, which were few and far between thanks to a 0.92 WHIP and .191 batting average against.

It’s on the NL side, however, that I had a slight problem. Clayton Kershaw, one of the fastest rising pitching stars, won the “pitching triple crown” with the most wins, strikeouts, and lowest ERA. We’ve already be over the (un)validity of the win and the problem with ERA, which rather tempers the excitement over the rare feat. Kershaw may have bested Halladay’s ERA 2.28 to 2.35, but Halladay takes the cake for FIP (2.20 to 2.47) and WAR (8.2 to 6.8).

I’m not terribly upset by the results of the NL Cy Young, but I do hope that voters think again before casting votes, infatuated with out-dated stats like wins and saves (I’ll save this argument for a later date). It’s time to move past the subjective stats and those dependent on teammates. Because the only way you can truly compare players statistically is looking at hard data of those players alone.

This is the Death of Statistics, moment of silence.

La da da da

Hey Hey



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A Larger Dose of Rice

Here are my Week 11 picks with home teams in CAPS.

Jets (-4.5) over BRONCOS
I really want to believe in Tim Tebow for this game, especially as one of his stronger supporters since the draft. But the Jets are too strong defensively to let a banged-up Willis McGahee and Timmy Tebow ruin their season. I’ll swallow the points and take the better team.

Bills (+2.5) over DOLPHINS
It’s going to take more than two weeks to change my mind on the Dolphins. But they had better stop playing well until they place themselves well past Andrew Luck and Matt Barkely towards Robert Griffin III territory.

RAVENS (-7.5) over Bengals
Maybe I’m being stubborn. Maybe I can’t accept the quasi-success of a ginger quarterback from the Mountain West. Or maybe I just want to stick by my Super Bowl Pick. But I’m going Baltimore big in this game–as long as Jim Harbaugh keeps feeding Ray Rice the ball. In the Ravens’ three losses, Rice was given a grand total of 26 carries. That’s 10 less carries per game than he receives when B-more wins. When he gets 19 touches, they average 31.3 points per game versus 12.3 points per game when he receives less. Not to mention that Joe Flacco isn’t that good.

Jaguars (-0.5) over BROWNS
Michael Vick got a broken leg. Shaun Alexander got a broken foot. Drew Brees got Marshawn Lynch-ed. And what did Peyton Hillis get for his Madden Curse? He got to be a big, slow, white full-back.

Cowboys (-7.5) over REDSKINS
What would Rex Grossman have to do for me to pick him without getting double-digit points?
a) Play the Colts
b) Be anyone other than Rex Grossman
c) Meet a frog genie who grants him the power to throw accurate passes to his own players

Panthers (+6.5) over LIONS
I can never pick Panthers games. Ever. But since Jahvid Best is still out, and Cam Newton is the best player in this game (yes, better than you, Ndamukong Suh), I’ll take the Panthers to cover. I’ll probably come to regret this, but I can’t trust a team who just lost to the Bears by 14 and is lead in rushing by Maurice Morris.

Buccaneers (+14.5) over PACKERS
The Packers are great, but their defense is suspect. I don’t think Tampa will win, but Joshy Washy Twinkle Toes will rack up enough damage to keep this one close. Or relatively close. Basically within two touchdowns.

ESPN's Page 2 came up with the perfect rebranded logo for the Seahawks and NFC West in general.

Raiders (+1.5) over VIKINGS
I’m breaking my rule of never picking Carson Palmer, but Christian Ponder just isn’t good. Adrian Peterson will clean be phenomenal, but not ever Thor would help win this week.

Seahawks (+2.5) over RAMS
Is there any discernible difference between the levels of crappiness of the Seahawks, Rams, and Cardinals? No? I’ll take the points, please.

NINERS (-9.5) over Cardinals
The public may not believe in John Harbaugh, but his players do. He’s turned Alex Smith into a competent quarterback, Michael Crabtree into a good starting receiver and the NFC West into a fairly respectable division. Those three accomplishments sound pretty pedestrian, but he’s taken a team threatening to land Andrew Luck to a team within sight of a first-round bye.

Titans (+6.5) over FALCONS
I’ve completely turned around on the Falcons. I thought they had a chance to go deep into the playoffs, but now I’m questioning whether Matt Ryan or Michael Turner will ever be elite players. Chris Johnson looks like he finally turned the corner–although he may have just been playing the Panthers–but I think Matt Hasselbeck will be just good enough to win in the ATL.

Chargers (+3.5) over BEARS
Games like these are why Norv Turner is not fired yet. He is such a bad motivator and leader, but his players will out-talent other teams late in the season when the catch fire. But if the Chargers can’t win the division over teams led by Palmer, Tebow, and Tyler Palko, there’s no way Turner can come back next year. Actually, unless the Chargers go to the AFC Championship Game, there’s no way Turner can come back next year.

Eagles (+3.5) over GIANTS
I’m a big supporter of Vince Young. The man may not be the most conventional quarterback, but he flat out wins games. Jeff Fisher never supported him in Tennessee, but playing as a backup in Philly will allow the team to pound the ball and avoid risky plays, which has been the downfall of the offense. However, there could be a huge controversy in the making of VY puts up Newton-esque numbers in big wins while MV7 is out.

PATRIOTS (-14.5) over Chiefs
I’m going to introduce you to the new starting quarterback of the Chiefs, Tyler Palko. Since I already know you don’t know him, I’ll start at the beginning. He is a lefty and went undrafted out of Pitt in 2007, then bounced around with the Saints, Cards, and Steelers, not to mention the prestigious Montreal Allouettes and California Redwoods. Also, when he was chosen to be Pitt’s starting QB in 2005, Joe Flacco, then Palko’s backup, transferred to Delaware for a chance to start.
Why do I share this with you? Because this is the guy trying to beat TFB  on Monday Night Football in Foxboro. How could this possibly end without the Patriots up by three to four touchdowns?

Last Week: 9-7

Season: 70-76

Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week: 7-3

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D.O.S. (Death of Statistics), Pt. I

Hold up, only writer to rewrite history without a pen
No I.D. on the track, let the story begin, begin, begin

There’s a movement among all sports to find a quantitative way to measure the ins and outs of sports. From DVOA to PER to UZR, there is just a profusion of statistics made to more accurately figure out which players actually are better. But no sport has more of these progressive statistics that baseball, oftentimes called an individual sport disguised as a team sport.

Personally, I’m a big proponent of nearly every aspect of the fast-charging sabermetric movement, and I think it’s about time that these ground-breaking innovations become more mainstream. The back-of-the-baseball-card thinking of batting average, runs, homers, and RBI meaning everything is prehistoric, yet not everyone is willing to let go. But here’s where things change. I’m going to run a four-part series where I debunk out-dated statistics along with their corresponding awards, and finish with introducing a new statistic I’ve recently created.

This is the Death of Statistics, moment of silence.

Defense has always been the toughest aspect of baseball to quantify. Whereas on offense, it’s easy to show runs being scored, driven in, and created offensively, we can’t explicitly see how many runs are being saved defensively. Ultimately, the goal of defense is to make an out, but we’ve still yet to find a numerical way to illustrate split-second instincts or if a player takes the shortest route to the ball. We can barely quantify the strength an accuracy of a throwing arm beyond the scouts 20-80 scale.

I have two main rules of thumb for statistics: if it’s subjective or you can’t explain how you get to the number, it’s not a good statistic. There’s nothing you can learn from analyzing “data” that is all based from opinion. If you’re looking for an opinion on how well Torii Hunter can still cover ground on center field versus right field, I’d suggest talking to a scout.

This brings us to the oldest defensive “metric” in the game: the error. After all, the last thing you want to do is mess up defensively, right? And a team’s attentiveness to details can be easily tracked by their fielding percentage, right? Well, not so much. Simply put, you can listen to any baseball broadcast and hear two to three instances in every game when the announcers squabble over whether a hot shot down the line was an error or a hit. And then if that hitter scores, the scorer’s decision is the difference between an earned and unearned run for the pitcher, one of the reasons people should take ERA with a grain of salt.

I suppose this World Series deciding whiff isn't an error since Nelson Cruz never actually touched the easy pop fly.

But the borderline call on the shot down the line isn’t even the most egregious flaw of the statistic. The worst part of the statistic is the application to fly balls. Take this common situation into consideration: Lance Berkman is manning right field, and an easy fly ball is hit to his right. The only problem is Berkman originally breaks to the left, has to switch directions and relocate the ball. He gets back on track, but realizes he probably won’t get to the ball in time. Lance has two options: a) let the ball bounce and hold the runner to single or b) dive and try to take away the base runner.

If Berkman lets the ball bounce, he doesn’t get an error, despite his poor fielding and lack of  judgement. If he dives and barely gets leather on the ball, he gets an error because he touched the ball and should have made the play. He made the same mistake on the play, but the error doesn’t cover the real problem. How can the difference between a good and bad defensive play be just touching the ball? It doesn’t make sense.

Fine, you say, then we can look at outfield assists to see who’s got a strong arm and doesn’t by looking at how many runners they threw out. Well the assist really isn’t a good measuring stick for how good an arm a player has. Alex Gordon led the league in assists partially because he has a good arm, but players aren’t afraid to take an extra base on him, either. Had the ball been hit to Ichiro, they would have thought two or three more times before taking off for an extra base. Need more proof? Manny Ramirez led the league in assists back in ’05 and the great Pat Burrell was tops in the NL in 2001.

With those prehistoric statistics out of the way, it’s time to focus on what is, in many experts opinions, the best metric for defense: UZR. Ultimate Zone Rating is a very complicated stat, but once you familiarize yourself with it, UZR becomes quite the tool. Basically, the baseball field is split up into 64 zones. For infielders, only ground balls–bunts included–are taken into account (this means no pop ups or line drives). As for outfielders, only fair fly balls and line drives are included. For each zone, the league-wide out-rate for that specific zone at the player’s position is subtracted from the player’s out-rate for a net rate.

Still with me? Next each net out-rate is multiplied by the number of balls hit in that zone, which gives us the total balls saved or lost compared to league average. This value is then multiplied by the run-value for a ball hit in the zone, which finally gives us the runs saved at this zone. Total up all of the zones for the player, and you have UZR, total runs saved.

But not everyone is on board with UZR or newer fielding metrics in general, which is evidenced by the Gold Glove Award winners. Really, these awards are of little consequence, but the way winners have gotten them in the past really bother me.

As you look through past winners, you’ll notice two things: lots of repeat winners and lots of winners on career years. While the best defenders are generally good throughout their career, the method to the madness of voting for Gold Gloves is not great. Analyst Keith Law puts it best when he said, “The two best ways to win a Gold Glove are to hit like crazy or to have won a Gold Glove before. And then once you’re in, you’re like an African dictator for life. It’s yours until you retire or until you’re just so awful that they can’t overlook it anymore.”

It sounds wrong, but it’s all-too-often true: MVP candidates are often handed Gold Gloves because of the attention they receive. Conversely, weak offensive players rarely get consideration because they’re considered less valuable players. It’s wrong, but it happens. Take for example, the NL Gold Glove winners. Matt Kemp pulled home his second trophy in three years, despite a 2011 UZR of -4.6 and a career total of -42.3. But since he was one homer short of become the fifth member of the 40-40 club and nearly posting a .400 OBP, voters look at his athletic frame and highlight catches and hand him the award.

Andre Ethier had to be another questionable winner, despite his error-less season. He, along with Kemp and Clayton Kershaw were the lone bright spots for a terrible Dodger season, and their nice story line commandeering awards from much more deserving teammates Chris Young and Justin Upton of the D-Backs, who combined to save nearly 22 more runs than the Dodger duo. And while on the subject of Dodgers did Clayton Kershaw really have an exceptional fielding year, or did his 22 wins and 2.38 ERA help out a bit?

Former Dodger ace Orel Hershiser can help answer this quandry. In his eighteen year career, he won a Gold Glove once. Coincidentally, it was the same year he won his only Cy Young, went 23-8 and had a 2.26 ERA over 267 innings. On a Sunday Night Baseball broadcast a year ago, he admitted that he didn’t really feel like a better fielding pitcher that year. But he sure did feel like a better pitcher.

The system for picking winners, plainly, is flawed. Even though Brett Gardner was far and away the best fielder in the league with a 25.8 UZR–a slight improvement from last year’s 24.9–he didn’t put up MVP numbers offensively like Jacoby Ellsbury, and runners didn’t try to run on him like they did on Alex Gordon, so he didn’t come home with any hardware. Other players like Ben Revere, Peter Bourjos, and Franklin Gutierrez, who cover the two thirds of the world Fred Smoot doesn’t cover, managed a combined OBP of .305, costing them a shot at awards.

Times are changing, and it’s time to embrace a newer approach to defense. And for the love of Tebow, don’t let offense make or break the candidacy of a potential Gold Glove winner.

This is the Death of Statistics, moment of silence.

La da da da

Hey Hey


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Favored Underdogs

You might be looking at the title of my blog and start scratching your head. I don’t blame you. Some crazy stuff goes on in the NFL, but underdogs being favored doesn’t make sense from any level. But this season, teams who are favored just aren’t coming through.

Take a look at the lines from the first eight weeks of the season. The underdog teams are winning 54.3% of the time, good for a 63-53 record. This isn’t out of the ordinary really, and Vegas is still making plenty of money. But it raises the point of what the lines are really meant to do. Contrary to popular belief, lines aren’t really made to show who should win, as much as they are made to get an even amount of plays on each side so casinos can make as much money as possible.

Take, for example, Super Bowl and World Series odds for popular teams. Dallas started the year as 10-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl. They weren’t actually that highly thought of, but people will still bet on them. The Cubs are often as high as 8-1 as World Series favorites because no matter how high the odds get, Chicago fans who head over for a fun weekend in Vegas will still place 10 bucks on their Cubbies. So Vegas makes money, and we all lose.

This isn’t all to sound cynical, but rather to point out that lines may not always be what they seem. If you’re quick to jump on the bandwagon of an unpopular team, stand your ground. The Bills will never get the respect of most betters because they just think of J.P. Losman and and the old Bills. So stay strong in your convictions and bet away!

Here are my Week 9 odds with home teams in CAPS.

Falcons (-7.5) over COLTS
What makes this game really sad is that this would be a great game one year ago. But this one won’t be close; these are the type of games that make me want to name Peyton Manning the MVP.

BILLS (-1.5) over Jets
New York plus points sounds really enticing. In fact, I nearly took them this week. But the Bills are 5-0 at home, and the Jets are 0-4 on the road. You may be like me and not like either team this year, but you can’t deny the success of Former Harvard Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the rest of the offense.

TEXANS (-10.5) over Browns
The Browns are another enticing underdog team with such a huge line this year. They’ve got two great cover corners in Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown, and Texans’ star receiver Andre Johnson is missing a fifth straight game with a hamstring injury. But Cleveland can’t stop the run. And boy can Houston pound the ball. Arian Foster and Ben Tate are leading the charge, putting up 141.9 yards per game, good for 4th in the league. Match that up with the third best defense in the league, and I’m comfortable giving up so many points.

COWBOYS (-12.5) over Seahawks
Can you really trust Tony Romo this much? In short: when they face the Seahawks, yes.

CHEIFS (-6.5) over Dolphins
Chris Berman today said that all the Dolphins want is a win. No, I think all they want is Andrew Luck. They’ve kept games close the past two weeks, only to blow double-digit leads. But the Chiefs are better than the Broncos, and Arrowhead Stadium can be tough on opponents. This season will be painful, Dolphins fans, but you’ll be happy with Andrew Luck under center next year.

Buccaneers (+7.5) over SAINTS
Just think for a second about how great the quarterbacks in the NFC South are.
…Done? Alright well here are my rankings:
1. Drew Brees
2. Cam Newton
3. Josh Freeman
4. Matt Ryan
5. Jimmy Clausen!
Alright, well maybe that fifth one doesn’t belong, but the interesting rank is Freeman at 3 over Ryan. Some of this has to do with Ryan showing promise, but never totally coming through, but Freeman has really blossomed into a star. He’s been hidden by Cam Newton’s success, but they share the same frame, and Freeman’s been really clutch. This season’s he’s been more turnover prone than last year’s breakout, but he’s playing great now and on his way up.

Niners (-3.5) over REDSKINS
I’m no fan of Alex Smith, but what have the Redskins done to merit being a 3.5 point underdog? The Niners have a killer defensive line, plenty of options offensively, and no John Beck. Here that crunch? That’s the Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week.

Bengals (+2.5) over TITANS
Who would’ve guessed that after a lockout, veteran free agent pickup Matt Hasselbeck would be firing on all cylinders while the most explosive running back in the game would look more like Bob Johnson than Chris Johnson? Not me. But I like the Bengals this week with Cedric Benson coming off a short suspension, and Andy Dalton being just good enough to not blow a win.

Broncos (+7.5) over RAIDERS
News is coming out of Cincinnati that the next best offer for Carson Palmer after Oakland’s of two first-round picks was a third. A third! I don’t care if you bring in Rudi, Chad, and the rest of the crew with T.J. Houshmandzadeh, this team won’t be good.

They called it, "San Diago," which, of course does not mean Saint Diego. In fact, scholars maintain that the true translation has been lost.

CHARGERS (+5.5) over Packers
I have a hunch, and this is just a hunch, but I think the Packers will hit a speed bump this week. Teams coming off byes this year have been playing poorly because of the crazy padded practice and player contact rules. Not only that, but the Packers have not been able to stop the pass or run the ball. Phillip Rivers can light it up through the air, and I’m not sure the Pack is read for what’s coming for them in sunny San Diago.

Rams (+4.5) over CARDINALS
I’m still confused as to how a winless Rams team beat the Saints last week. The Saints put up 62 points the week before and St. Louis had put up 56 points the whole season. It just doesn’t make any sense. I’m picking the Rams not in good faith, but rather mistrust in the Cardinals. I’ll be willing to give points with the Cardinals when Kevin Kolb proves to be average.

PATRIOTS (-8.5) over Giants
Well Eli Manning says he’s in Tom Brady’s league, so this game should be really close, right? Right. Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw are out, and Brady is in. That about sums things up for me.

Ravens (+3.5) over STEELERS
I love the Ravens this year. The put a beating on the Steelers in Week 1, but we all know that won’t happen again. However, we’ve seen Ray Rice figure out the Steel Curtain, having two of the three hundred yard rushing games against the Steelers in the last 65 games. Even if Baltimore doesn’t win, I think it’s only by a field goal.

EAGLES (-6.5) over Bears
The Eagles showed last week just why I like them to make it to the Super Bowl–they’re fast, quick, and explosive. LeSean McCoy may be the second best back in the league, and we haven’t even seen DeSean Jackson in full form yet. This game won’t be close for one reason: the Bears are old and slow on defense. Play all yer Iggles in fantasy!

Last Week: 4-9

Season: 55-61

Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week: 5-3

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The College Essay

Some time during preschool, nearly every boy knows what he wants to be when he grows up. A fireman. A garbage man. A T-Rex. Some kids even want to play shortstop for the Red Sox. And that kid was me. Growing up in a baseball-crazy family, I was eager to begin tee-ball before I could even read the Charlotte Observer’s breakdown of my Red Sox’ extra inning win over the Orioles. Nothing excited me more than sprinting out of my mom’s Honda Odyssey down to the ball field and playing with my best friend Daniel. But then Daniel started to make All-Star teams year after year, while my bland bat relegated me to reading the Observer.

By middle school, I knew playing baseball wasn’t my future. As much as I loved America’s pastime, I wouldn’t be the next Hank Greenberg, let alone the next Mike Lieberthal. Yet despite my lack of power at the plate, I remained passionate about the sport, whether reading the Observer’s sports section or devouring that week’s Sports Illustrated. Then, one day during seventh grade lunch, I decided to take my dedication to sports to a new level by starting to write a preview for the upcoming baseball season. It wasn’t much, just fourteen pages of my own analysis that ended in triumph as I correctly predicted my hometown Red Sox to win it all. That was my first taste of sports writing—and I absolutely loved it.

Without a doubt, Bill Simmons has had one of the largest impacts on my writing aspirations.

When the 2008 season rolled around, I set off to write a bigger, better preview, and it grew to twenty-one pages. My Red Sox didn’t win back-to-back titles as I had clumsily predicted, but I was nonetheless undeterred. My parents knew of my love for baseball and my budding interest in writing, so they bought me Bill Simmons’ book Now I Can Die in Peace. It instantly became my favorite book. And then it hit me. I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a sports journalist.

With my heart set on a future in the media, I worked even harder to perfect my craft. My preview for the 2009 season grew to thirty-nine pages of in-depth analysis and predictions. I started to blog almost every day during the baseball season, sharing my thoughts with anyone who stopped by to read. Yet despite my hard work in preceding previews, I knew I could do more; I needed to set myself ahead of the pack.

Between Algebra II studies and AP World readings, I worked around the clock until my budding fourteen-page project blossomed into a sixty-nine-page baseball dissertation. I searched for innovative applications of statistics in order to break the mold of accepted sports analysis. For the first time in my life, the start of the baseball season became bittersweet because it meant that I finished writing 3500 words on the woeful prospects of the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates escaping the basement of their divisions.

The more writing I do, the more I realize why I want to be a sports journalist. I don’t do it for the recognition—even though I was featured last spring in the Observer. It’s not about the money, not about the glory. I do it because I eat, breath, and sleep sports. More than anything else, I do it because this is my passion. I may not throw a stellar knuckleball like Daniel, but I’ll give the most unique spin on any sports story.


*Editor’s note: Daniel’s real name is Ben, but I changed the name to avoid confusion.*

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