Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The NFL "Big 9", Week 5 Edition.

What a wild week in the NFL. Our previous week number 1 ranked Cowboys fell to Washington and among other undefeated teams, Denver and Baltimore fell. As a result there was lots of movement on the "Big 9".

Last week's rank in ().

1 (2). New York Giants - 3-0 - The defending champs take over the top spot by default. As they rested in their bye week they saw division foes Dallas and Philly fall leaving them as the last team standing in the NFL's toughest division.

2 (3). Buffalo Bills - 4-0 - They just keep chugging along under the radar. Could this really be the AFC's best team? Hard to believe but so far they might be.

3 (NR). Tennessee Titans - 4-0 - I left them off last week because it's hard to imagine a team that has undergone all the Vince Young drama and led by Kerry Collins amounting to much but it's hard to overlook a 4-0 record. They have already logged 3 home victories though and things figure to get harder as they face tougher opponents on the road.

4 (9). Washington Redskins - 3-1 - The forgotten team in the mighty NFC East marched into Texas Stadium and knocked off the Cowboys, showing they belong with the big boys. Still a lot of questions including the always fragile health of Clinton Portis but when you knock off the #1 seed you deserve to move up.

5 (1). Dallas Cowboys - 3-1 - A home loss to the Redskins and now the media reports that T.O. had a heated discussion with Romo about his lack of involvement in the passing game. Somewhere Donovan McNabb is laughing. This is still the most talented team in the league but nobody can wreck locker room chemistry quicker than a disgruntled T.O.

6 (8). Pittsburgh Steelers - 3-1 - It wasn't a pretty W but the Steelers bounced back from an ugly loss to Philly by stopping the previously unbeaten Ravens. The injury to Rashard Mendenhall could be a killer though as Willie Parker's health is also in question. It's hard to be a power running team without a healthy running back.

7 (5). Denver Broncos - 3-1 - Even some of the great Denver teams over the years struggled to win at Arrowhead so the loss alone wasn't a killer but this game highlighted a lot of Denver's weaknesses. When the passing game sputters they are very beatable because there is no running game to speak of and the Denver can't stop anyone. They remind me a lot of the early Elway years. Great passing game, not much else.

8 (NR). Carolina Panthers - 3-1 - They win ugly and by the smallest of margins but thus far they have gotten the job done. I don't think the have the weapons to hang with the Cowboys or Giants offensively but Steve Smith getting into a groove could change that in a hurry.

9 (NR). San Diego Chargers - 2-2 - They are an Ed Hochuli whistle away from being 3-1 and are probably still the most talented team in the AFC. If the L.T. we saw in the 4th quarter Sunday shows up the rest of the year, this team is going to be VERY tough to beat.

Other teams on the rise - Chicago, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville.

So there it is folks. As always comments are appreciated!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust...

Thursday night saw another major college football power fall to an unheralded team as USC fell to Oregon State. What a crazy season we have seen so far. The Big-10 is down, the Pac-10 is down and 6 non BCS teams are currently ranked in the top 25.

USC had been the lone bright spot in what has been a brutal start to the season for the Pac-10. They are the only ranked Pac-10 teams compared to the non-BCS, Mountain West which has 3 ranked team and non-BCS WAC which has 2. In addition the Pac-10 is 0-5 head to head against Mountain West teams.

The Big-10 hasn't fared much better as I wrote about 10 days ago following Ohio State's humiliating loss to the Trojans, which looks even worse now that USC was knocked off.

To put the current rankings into perspective.

The Mountain West has 3 ranked teams(#11 BYU, #17 Utah, #24 TCU), which is more than 3 conferences who qualify automatically for the BCS. The Pac-10 which has one ranked team, the Big East which has one ranked team and the ACC which has 2 ranked teams.

The WAC has 2 ranked teams(#19 Boise State and #25 Fresno State), which is more than 2 conferences who qualify automatically for the BCS. The Pac-10 and the Big East and they have the same number of ranked teams as the ACC.

Conference USA has one ranked team(#23 ECU) which is equal to 2 conferences who qualify automatically for the BCS. The Pac-10 and the Big East.

It's been a magical year for the "little guys" but thanks to the BCS, it's unlikely more than one of these teams, if any, ends up playing in a BCS game at the end of the year. But if nothing else, hopefully a few more seasons like this will lead to the talking heads who run college football to FINALLY come to the realization that a 16 team playoff is the only possible way to solve this madness.

*AP Poll data was used for all rankings information.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The NFL "Big 9".

I've thought about doing an NFL Power Rankings for awhile but hesitated because everyone has one. Then I realized I spend like 2 hours every Tuesday looking at the NFL power rankings on every sports site imaginable. So hey, one more can't hurt... Right?

So here you go.. Gaddeus' "Big 9", the 9 NFL teams I feel are playing the best right now.

1. Dallas Cowboys - 3-0 - Is anyone playing better than America's team? The offense is cranking on all cylinders after besting the Packers on Sunday Night despite T.O. barely even making an appearance. The 1-2 punch of Marion Barber and Felix Jones looks as good as any tandem in the league. And don't forget this team is capable of throwing the ball some too.... Unless it's the playoffs.

2. New York Giants - 3-0 - Going into the season a lot of people (including yours truly) wondered if the Giants could even make the playoffs in the brutal NFC East. Especially with Strahan retired and Osi Umenyiora out for the year with injuries. But lo and behold the defending champs are 3-0 and showing no signs of letting up.

3. Buffalo Bills - 3-0 - Who? No seriously. This team is playing outstanding football right now and with the Patriots shell-shocked after their crushing loss to Miami, Buffalo is clearly the team to beat in the AFC East.

4. Philadelphia Eagles - 2-1 - Yes, there are numerous undefeated teams we could stick here ahead of the Eagles but it's hard to penalize a team when their only loss was to the Cowboys in Texas Stadium. This team just plays with incredible heart. With both McNabb and Westbrook nursing injuries this past Sunday the defense just took over the game, sacking Big Ben so many times he still hasn't gotten up.

5. Denver Broncos - 3-0 - Watching Bronco games this year is like watching two of your friends play Madden. Both teams score on every possession. It's almost like a college game. Eventually the Broncos lack of anything resembling a defense and uncanny good luck will catch up with them. But right now they look as good as anyone, especially on offense.

6. Green Bay Packers - 2-1 - Another NFC team who's only loss came to the Cowboys. The Packers have looked solid all year in spite of the Brett Favre fiasco but suffered 2 big losses on Sunday night. Not only did Dallas come into Lambeau and get the W but Packers CB, Al Harris left the game with a serious injury and may be done for the year.

7. Baltimore Ravens - 2-0 - Though I haven't been overly impressed with the Ravens they are unbeaten. And while it's hard to imagine a Joe Flacco led team as a serious Superbowl contender, 2-0 is still 2-0.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers - 2-1 - A week ago I probably would have put them at #2 but after an embarrassing loss to the Eagles it appears the Steelers have some pretty serious issues on offense. Their O-Line had no answer for Philly's blitz scheme and now comes the news that Wlllie Parker will miss at least one week as well.

9. Washington Redskins - 2-1 - The forgotten team in the brutal NFC East, the Redskins have really flown under the radar. With road games in Dallas and Phily on the horizon it's hard to imagine the 'Skins hanging onto this slot.

So there it is.. Sure you can argue that New England, Indianapolis, San Diego and Jacksonville are gonna finish ahead of many of these teams by season's end but right now they just haven't performed well enough to merit consideration. The Pats might have snuck in had they kept is respectable against Miami but when you can't stay within 3 TD's of the Dolphins on your home field, you aren't making the "Big 9".

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Down the Stetch They Come......

Its autumn time again.... what a great time of the year. The weather is getting cooler, football is now in full swing and the playoff races in baseball are coming down the home stretch. With only 9 days left in the baseball season, we still have some interesting races to watch.

In the American League, one division has been settled for some time now. The Angels clinched the West with little resistance and is now playing only for home field advantage. Whether they succeed or not however, they will match-up with the winner of the AL Wildcard. Due to some unique and pretty stupid baseball rules, two teams from the same division can not play first round.

K-Rod and Vlad look to lead the Angels back to the World Series

As for the AL East it appears they have all but secured two playoff teams, the Red Sox and the surprising Rays. The only question is who will get home field and play the AL Central and who gets the wildcard and has to travel to Anaheim.

The AL Central is the only real race left in the AL where someone is going to be left out. Going in to Saturday's action, the White Sox had a lead of 2.5 games over the Twins. The teams still have 3 games left against one another in Minnesota. The Twins will likely need to win 7 of their last 8 games and/or sweep the White Sox to still come away with the title.

As for the National League, they also have one division where it has pretty much already been decided. The Cubs have a 9 game lead in the NL Central going into Saturday, leaving them only one win, or one Brewers loss away from clinching the division title. The Cubs are also very likely to end with best record in the NL and home field advantage. Who they will be playing however is still a long way from being decided.

The Cubs hope to celebrate in the postseason for the first time in ages

The NL East and wildcard races are definitely the most open as we head down the stretch. The Mets and Phillies are in a seesaw battle at the top. Whoever fails to tie up the division will have to out battle the Brewers for the wildcard. Just a short time ago, the Brewers looked almost certain to make the playoffs, but so far have had a terrible September. They now trail the Phillies by 1.5 games in the Wildcard. With Ben Sheets likely out for the remainder of the season as well, they have an uphill battle.

The NL West is a division that has become much more clear of late. After battling the Diamondbacks at the top of the division for months, the Dodgers, who have been rejuvenated by the deadline acquisition of Manny Ramirez, have now opened up a 3.5 game lead. With only 9 days left and a cupcake schedule remaining the Dodgers should easily hold on to the title.

Manny being Manny has been enough to vault the Dodgers to the top of the NL West

So what will the first round playoff matches look like?

I'll say the Rays and White Sox will both hold on to their division leads, setting up ALDS matchups of Angels vs. Red Sox and Rays vs. White Sox.

In the NL, I think the Phillies will win the NL East and that the Mets will out battle the struggling Brewers for the wildcard leaving matchups of Cubs-Mets and Phillies-Dodgers in the NLDS. Where things go from there is anybody's guess.

For the first time in our lives, both my Cubs and Gaddeus' Dodgers should be in the postseason though, meaning the Sportsfellas will be paying close attention this year..... and with a possible NLDS or NLCS Cubs-Dodgers showdown, things could get pretty interesting this October.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Time To Scrap Instant Replay in the NFL.

So after watching the now infamous San Diego-Denver game this past Sunday I have come to the realization that instant replay has to go. It was an outstanding game for the most part as 2 high powered offenses traded punches the entire game with big plays on both sides. Sadly though, there were 2 plays that left a cloud over the game and made us all wonder how real the outcome was.

The first one happened early in the game when Champ Bailey wrestled the ball away from Chris Chambers as he fell to the ground after a reception. Props to Bailey for an outstanding strip of the ball but replays showed Chambers was clearly down by contact before the ball came loose. But the refs couldn't verify this information because the on field replay equipment malfunctioned and NFL rules state that if a malfunction occurs and it can't be fixed within 2 minutes then the game is to resume and the play on the field stands. So even though millions of people watching saw that it was clearly not a fumble, Denver was awarded the turnover. Really? In a world of instant information and high tech data transfer we can't find a way to re-route the network TV feed to the refs in event of equipment failure? It led to a Denver TD. Amazing part is, this gaffe was mild in comparison to what happened later...

Down 38-31 late in the 4th quarter, Denver QB, Jay Cutler drops back to pass and dropped the ball. No forward arm motion, no tuck rule, nothing. He just dropped the ball. He even admitted as much after the game. San Diego scooped up the ball and it appeared the game was pretty much over. San Diego would take over possession and run out the clock. But no, referee Ed Hochuli signaled incomplete pass. Replays confirmed what we already knew, it was clearly a fumble. Only one problem. Hochuli blew the whistle, ruling the play dead before San Diego recovered. So even though everyone, including Hochuli knew he got the play wrong, the rules prohibit a change of possession after the whistle is blown. So even after reviewing the play and seeing his error, he couldn't award the ball to San Diego. All he could do was move Denver back 9 yards from the previous line of scrimmage because that is where the ball was when he blew the play dead. Denver went on to score and convert a 2 point attempt winning the game by a score of 39-38. It was an incredible ending to an outstanding game. But all anyone is going to remember is the botched replays.

I'm sorry but if this is how instant replay is gonna work then what's the point? Just get rid of it. If you can watch a replay and see you made the wrong call but the rules prevent you from reversing it then why waste everyone's time reviewing it in the first place? It's a flawed system and it needs to go. At least before if the refs made the wrong call you could rationalize that it was harder to see in real time or the ref had a bad angle. But to KNOW you made the wrong call and not have the power to fix it? Utterly insane. Bad calls are part of sports and always will be. It's time to embrace the human element of the game and just go with it. The flawed eyes of the zebras were good enough for generations of football players before instant replay was created and it's good enough for today.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Big-10? Try the Little Eleven...

It's one of the most storied conferences in College Football history. But lately it's been a lightning rod for criticism and failed expectations. It's the Big-10 Conference! Even the name doesn't make sense. There have actually been 11 teams in the Big-10 since Penn State formally joined in 1990. They even sneakily acknowledge this in their logo by designing the letters so you can make out the number 11 inside the Big-10 logo... Those tricksters!

Historically it has been the best of the best. Winning numerous National titles and awards. But lately, it's turned into a nightmare for Big-10 fans and a bit of a joke for the rest of the country. The Big-10 continues to feature highly ranked teams but their lack of bowl success and high profile out of conference victories leaves many wondering if perhaps they aren't receiving votes for their storied history rather than the talent of the teams on the field.

Case in point? Ohio State. The Buckeyes ran roughshod over the Big-10 in both 2006 and 2007 and earned a spot in the BCS National Title Game. Great news, right? Not unless you are a Florida or LSU fan. The Gators crushed Ohio State in the 2007 Championship game by the score of 41-14 and LSU dispatched them almost as easily in the 2008 Championship by the score of 38-24.

The rest of the Big-10 didn't fare so well in their Bowl matchups either as the Conference as a whole went 5-10 in Bowl games over the past 2 seasons. By way of comparison, the SEC, widely considered to be the strongest conference in the country, went 13-5. The Big East was next best amongst the BCS conference at 8-2, followed by the Pac-10 at 7-5, the Big-12 at 8-8, and the ACC at 6-10. That means the worst BCS conference in Bowl performance over the past 2 seasons was? You guessed it... The Big-10.

So if the Conference is down and struggling to win games against their peers then why do the Buckeyes and other Big-10 teams continue to get so much love from the polls? Your guess is as good as mine but it certainly isn't due to high profile out of conference success. In the past 2+ seasons, Ohio State's non conference opponents included Youngstown State(twice), Akron, Ohio University, Northern Illinois and Troy. To their credit they did win a big game at Texas at the start of the 2006 Season but their only other high profile matchup came last Saturday at USC when they were once again, humiliated at the hands of a superior opponent, 35-3.

The evidence is pretty compelling when you look at it. Big-10 teams have made a living out of convincing the pollsters that beating up on each other proves their strength only to go on to defeat and often humiliation at the hands of better teams in their Bowl matchups. Be it the National Title game or even the Rose Bowl, which the Big-10 hasn't won since 2000, they just haven't been worthy of their rankings or their acclaim for quite some time now.

Hopefully the pollsters will finally take notice and penalize them for failing to perform in Bowl Games and big OOC matchups. Because until they show they can beat someone outside of the the "mighty Big-10", they shall remain, at least in the eyes of this blog, The Little 11.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

BIG Z NO HITS THE.... Milwaukee Astros....?

Sunday night was a great night for me. For the past 20 years now, I have been watching as many Chicago Cubs games every summer as I possibly could. I became a die-hard fan at a very young age and have suffered through many losing seasons and disappointments as all Cubs fans have. This year, of course, things have been different. Something feels special and unique about these 2008 Cubs. Sunday night was a first for me, getting to watch a starting pitcher on my beloved Cubs throw a no-hitter. Thanks to MLB.TV I was able to watch the whole thing and experienced one of my best feelings as a Cub fan. What a great night.... right?

Unfortunately I woke up this morning to find nearly every major sports news outlet along with Astros fans, Brewers fans, Cardinal fans and who knows who else, complaining about this game being played in Milwaukee. Of course its no secret, Milwaukee is a 2nd home stadium for the Cubs. It is widely referred to as Wrigley-North. The first few years after it opened it seemed like it was about 80% Cubs fans when we visited to play the Brewers. Even now when the Brewers have a good team with playoff hopes, the Cubs seem to pack in Miller park and be as loud or louder than Brewer fans.

So why did this game, a supposed home game for the Astros have to move to Milwaukee? Of course we all heard about Hurricane Ike, which ravaged the Texas and western Louisiana coasts and caused severe problems. Houston was hit hard and the city took a lot of damage and was without power, obviously this is not a time to be worrying about baseball games in Houston. But we knew this was going to happen didn't we? Weather forecasts had been warning Houston for many days that this hurricane was headed straight for them. The Astros and Major-League baseball had plenty of time to make a decision to move this series before the hurricane hit. The reason they didn't? Astros owner Drayton McLane.

Baseball and the Cubs tried to get this series moved to a neutral location from the very start. St. Louis, Kansas City, Tampa and Atlanta were all mentioned as possible neutral sites. However, McLane adamantly refused that the games be played anywhere other than Houston. Houston chronicle writer Richard Justice went as far as to say "Astros owner Drayton McLane so wanted this series to be played in Houston -- in spite of warnings from the National Weather Service -- that his judgment clouded all common sense." So we waited and waited and waited for a decision. where was this series going to played? Was it going to be played at all? Friday evening as the hurricane approached still no decision had been made, there were rumors that the series now may be moved to Milwaukee as other venues were no longer available. McLane claimed these reported were "very premature" and that the series could still be played in Houston. Of course everyone else knew there was no chance that would happen.

So as expected on Saturday Hurricane Ike struck with full force, leaving many people homeless, injured and without power. It was obvious the games could not be played in Houston. So MLB did the only thing left it could do, move the series to Milwaukee. ""We wanted Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Arlington, Atlanta, you name it. There was nothing else." McLane said Sunday. Of course the bottom line is all of this happened because of a tragedy. The ideal situation would have been to play the games in Houston as scheduled and for Texas to be sparred the wrath of this 'cane but it wasn't so, and everyone knew what was going to happen.

Sunday night, Carlos Zambrano took the ball for the Cubs and put on an amazing show, looking as good as he has all season. He completed the Cubs first no hitter since 1972 and I jumped for joy at the result. With the stuff Z had, I'm not sure the site of the game mattered anyway.

So for Astros fans claiming MLB screwed them over and that choosing Milwaukee as the neutral site was a sham, you only have one person to blame, your own owner.

As for the Cubs, their division lead is now 7.5 games with only a couple weeks of ball left. The Cubs will try to secure their 2nd straight NL central crown and will hope for a better result in the playoffs than last year. Really the only questions this team had, was the the health of aces Zambrano and Harden. With great starts under the belt for both, the Cubs appear to be in great shape for a run at their first World Series title in.... quite a while.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

The Silliest Record in Sports?

You probably know already that Francisco Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the Western Coast of the United States of America, is one of the best closers in baseball. You also probably know that his team is one of the best in baseball, their silly name notwithstanding. What you may not know is he recently tied the all-time single season saves record. He was far from dominant in his performance as he allowed 2 hits, K'ed none and even allowed an RBI single to Jeremy Reed but thanks to a 4 run lead and baseball's silly save rule he was awarded his 57th save of the season. Don't get me wrong. I think K-Rod is a fantastic pitcher and is one of the best closers in the game today. But the save rule has become so pointless that the record happened with little fanfare.

Can you imagine the single season HR record or pitcher wins record being broken with so little national awareness? Part of the problem is also due to the fact that unlike most baseball records, the saves title wasn't held by a household name. It wasn't Lee Smith, Goose Gossage or Dennis Eckersley that he equaled, but rather former Chicago White Sox closer, Bobby Thigpen. Thigpen's career numbers are solid, but his 57 save season in 1990 was far and away the best season of his career. In fact, after that year his numbers got progressively worse and he washed out of baseball less than 4 years later, just 30 years old when he threw his last major league pitch. After closing out 57 games in that single season, he went on to record just 53 more saves in the remainder of his career.

Ultimately though, running up big save numbers is largely a thing of chance. If your team isn't good enough, you simply don't get the save chances. In the cases of the both Thigpen, his White Sox won 94 games in 1990 and K-Rod, who's Angels are on pace to win 99, they both played for teams good enough to give them plenty of chances. By way of comparison, Eric Gagne's Dodgers won just 85 games in 2003 when Gagne set the National League record with 55 saves in a season. Does he top the 57 save mark if he gets those extra chances? It's impossible to know.

Baseball is a strange game where a bad hop or glare from the sun can take you instantly from hero to goat. But in most cases your fate is in your own hands. Every time a hitter steps into the batters box, he has the opportunity to hit the ball out of the park. It's not dependent on anything but his own abilities and performance. As a closer, all you can do is sit back and wait. If you are lucky, your team will score enough runs to put your team in a position to win and the manager will call your name to come in and finish it off. But it's out of your hands. Purely a game of chance and opportunity. Being in the right place at the right time. If you want to point to K-Rod's outstanding ERA or K/BB ratio as examples of his dominance, we've got a great discussion on our hands. But glorifying his big saves number is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Week 1 Surprises

The first week of the NFL season is always filled with unexpected wins, performances and disappointments. The Parity in the league is unlike any other in major sports. That's what makes the start of the NFL season so much fun. Who will be this year's breakout team and who will fall off the map. Here is a quick run down of some of the week one surprises.

Chris Johnson RB, Titans
Thanks to my stupid local CBS channel I got to watch a game between two teams who won a total of 5 games last year instead of the game I really wanted to watch which was Titans/Jaguars. Thanks to NFL Gameday Final however, I got to see quite a few highlights from this rookie. He looked very impressive, rushing for 93 yards on 15 carries and adding 34 yards receiving and a TD as well. If he gets the opportunity he could very well be this year's rookie running back sensation. The Titans have a very strong rushing game, which they are going to need considering how awful Vince Young has looked over the past year.

Atlanta Falcons
Again, thanks to DirecTV monopolizing the NFL sunday ticket market I didnt get to see this game, but the stats pretty much tell it all. The Falcons offense was running on all clynders. Rookie QB Matt Ryan by all account looked very poised and comfortable and RB Michael Turner had a HUGE day, running for over 200 yards. The Falcons defense still needs some work and I think they are a stretch to make the playoffs this year, but they looked far better Sunday than they did at any time in 2007. With their good young core, we may be looking at a team who could make some serious noise in a couple years.

Matt Forte RB, Bears
Thankfully this game was a Sunday night national game so I got to watch every play of Bears/Colts. I think pretty much everyone (well maybe not Brian Urlacher), including myself thought the Bears would open the season with a loss. However their defense showed shades of their 2006 NFC championship season and Peyton Manning looked flat for the Colts. The biggest surprise by far to me however was rookie running back Matt Forte. He looked surprisingly explosive and hard to tackle. The Colts defense was one of the tougher teams in the league to run against last year but Forte racked up 123 yards rushing including a long TD run. I would have never guessed this a few days ago, but the Bears could be real contenders to win the NFC North.

Eddie Royal WR, Broncos
Royal for me was the very biggest surprise of week 1. This guy can do pretty much everything. Catching 9 passes for 146 yards, running the ball out of the back field, returning punts and even attempted a pass. He filled in and then some for suspended WR Brandon Marshall. It will be interesting to see how many touches he gets next week when Marshall is back in the lineup but the Broncos offense looks primed for a huge season. Their run defense still looked shaky to me, but the way the Chargers looked against Carolina they could have a real chance to compete for a division title.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

5 Thoughts from NFL Opening Sunday...

Thanks to the new Thursday game it's not the true start of the season anymore but to me, NFL Opening Sunday is one of the better sports days of the calender year. Lots of games and hopefully some questions answered as we finally get to see the team perform on the field.

Here are some of my thoughts on what turned out to be a pretty wild day.

1. Tom Brady is hurt, maybe out for the season. Nothing official has been announced by the team but there is already talk the Patriots are desperately seeking an alternative at QB. Among the rumors swirling is a report on NBC's Sunday Night Football that they have already contacted Chris Simms about working out for the team. It's an interesting situation to be sure. Backup Matt Cassel wasn't even a starter in college and may not have started a football game that mattered since High School. He looked good after Brady left and he's got an incredibly talented cast around him. But the Patriots without Brady is like M.A.S.H. without Hawkeye Pierce, Cheers without Sam or Seinfeld without Jerry Seinfeld. No matter how great the rest of the cast is, that one big star made it all tick.

2. What happened to the AFC elite? The Patriots hung on without Brady and Pittsburgh looked great but the Chargers, Jags and Colts all lost and in the case of Indianapolis, did so in embarrassing fashion. 4 of the consensus top 5 teams in the AFC are reeling after week 1. Can they pick up the pieces or will a surprise team rise up.

3. Green is green no matter the city. A lot may have changed this offseason for Bret Favre but some things didn't. He still took the field Sunday wearing a green jersey with #4 on the back and he still led his team to victory. His numbers weren't all that impressive and it was pretty clear that he is still learning to adapt to his new teammates and new surroundings but in an AFC East with no Tom Brady, the Jets are as good a pick as any to fill the void.

4. Business as usual in the NFC. The AFC may be a wreck but the favorites cruised for the most part in the NFC. The Cowboys and Eagles were particularly impressive but the Panthers, Bears and Saints looked good as well. Chicago marched into Indianapolis and dismantled the Colts, looking far more like the Superbowl Bears of 2006 than the mess of a team that struggled to win 7 games last season. They also look to have a keeper in rookie RB, Matt Forte, who rushed for 123 yards and a TD in his NFL debut. The AFC may be in a state of flux but things look as rosy as ever in the NFC. Could the balance of power that saw AFC teams win 8 of the past 11 Superbowls finally be shifting?

5. This guy really is pretty good... Michael Turner was long considered the best backup RB in football. But he had never been a starter on an NFL team. That all changed on Sunday as Turner ran around, over and through the Lions defense to the tune of 220 yards and 2 TD's. The bridesmaid no more, Turner looked to have all the skills to be one of the top RB's in the NFL. No one was more excited to see it then the much maligned Falcons. After suffering through the Michael Vick debacle and the failed experiment with former Head Coach Bobby Petrino, who didn't even finish out the season in which he was hired before accepting the job at Arkansas. He left after just 13 games in a dismal season that ended with a record of 4-12. The Falcons rode Turner and rookie QB, Matt Ryan to an impressive 34-21 victory against Detroit. Will it be a sign of things to come in Atlanta?

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Stolichnaya... The new Gatorade?

We've all heard the jokes about Russians and their Vodka, but I guess I assumed it was mostly just an inaccurate stereotype.... I might need to re-assess that after reading the sports newswire this morning. It seems that Russian high jumper, Ivan Ukhov was using an old fashioned performance enhancing drug during a recent track and field event in Lausanne, Switzerland. His drug of choice? Vodka, mixed with Red Bull.

Now I realize that Red Bull Vodkas are quite the rage on the club and bar scene but surely a world class athlete, he was the European Junior Champion in 2005, would have to understand this was a bad idea. As much as I detest the rampant steroid usage that goes on in sports, I can to some extent understand an athlete's motivation when using HgH or some other wonder drug. At least there is some evidence these products give you a boost. But consuming alcohol while trying to compete in a sporting competition that requires you to run at high speeds and then leap over a bar taller than your head? Am I the only one that doesn't see this ending well? It didn't of course. Ukhov missed every height he attempted before finally being pulled out of the competition by organizers who got wind of his boozing and he is now under investigation by the IAAF, the international organization that governs Track and Field competitions.

Proving once again that truth really is stranger than fiction.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Ten Best Sports Movies of All Time

We'd like to introduce a new weekly feature. We'll call it the Sports Movie of the week. Once a week I will order a random Sports film from Netflix and write up a review. I will try to stick to more random films that perhaps you haven't seen. You don't need me telling you that Caddyshack is great, after all.

So to introduce the new feature I give you...

My Favorite 10 Sports Films of All Time.

10. 61*
A fantastic film that a lot of people seem to have overlooked. I rarely see it mentioned on "best of" lists and know a lot of sports fans that never saw it. Definitely worth checking out if you haven't. Maris' improbable chase of Ruth's record remains one of the most compelling sports stories of the 20th century.
Favorite line - Mickey Mantle: Roger, are we feuding?
Roger Maris: They said so on the TV, it must be true.
Mickey Mantle: Well, fuck you then.
Roger Maris: Up yours.

9. The Bad News Bears
There have been many spin-offs and remakes, but nothing holds a candle to the original. It's got everything your little league team needs. Chain smoking star OF, diminutive SS with an attitude problem, girl as the ace pitcher and alcoholic manager. Who didn't want to be one of the Bears?
Favorite line... - Tanner Boyle: Hey Yankees... you can take your apology and your trophy and shove 'em straight up your ass!

8. The Natural
A true classic. It remains just as compelling and watchable today and it was when it first came out. I still remember one of my childhood buddies making a wooden bat after seeing the movie. His own little Thunderbolt.
Favorite line - Pop Fisher: C'mon Hobbs, knock the cover off the ball!

7. Bull Durham
Almost more a romantic comedy than a sports movie, it still has some outstanding sequences. From Tim Robbins in garters to Crash's record breaking HR. It's an insightful look at the minor leagues and the struggles there. It also features one of the best lines in ANY movie let alone one about sports.
Favorite line - Crash Davis: Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.

6. Rudy
The perfect movie for every kid that ever dreamed of being a big time athlete but never had the skills to make it happen. I'm also a sucker for sports films that are based on a true story. If you don't get chills at the end when the entire team offers to give up their spot so Rudy can play and then he sacks the QB to end the game and is carried off the field, then you aren't a true sports fan.
Favorite line - Fortune: You're 5 foot nothin', 100 and nothin', and you have barely a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football players in the land for 2 years. And you're gonna walk outta here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this life, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody but yourself. And after what you've gone through, if you haven't done that by now, it ain't gonna never happen. Now go on back.

5. Caddyshack
As good as it is, I debated whether or not to include it because it's not a sports movie in the sense that the movie isn't about golf but rather the crazy antics of a few people who happen to enjoy the game. But it's just too good to leave off. So many classic lines and sequences from Bill Murray to Chevy Chase to Rodney Dangerfield. If you haven't seen it, you're a moron.
Favorite line - Carl Spackler: So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas. A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking. So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one - big hitter, the Lama - long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga... gunga, gunga-galunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness." So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

4. Major League
Some of the most enjoyable characters in any sports movie. From Wild Thing Vaughn to Willie mays Hayes, you can't help but love these guys. It keeps you laughing almost from start to finish and remains watchable every after numerous viewings. The mark of a great comedy. You know what's coming next but you still bust up. Major League definitely passes the test.
Favorite line - Jake Taylor: Ya know Dorn, I liked you so much better when you were just a ballplayer. If you wanna be an interior decorator now that's none of my business. But some of us still need this team. Now you listen to me! This is my last shot at a winner and for some of the younger guys it could be their only shot. I don't know what happened to you. But if you ever, ever tank another play like you did today, I'm gonna cut your nuts off and stuff em down your fuckin throat!

3. Cinderella Man
When it first came out I didn't even want to see it. Just another boxing movie, I thought. In fact I only saw it because my brother brought the DVD to my house and watched it with me. I didn't know what I had been missing. Another film based on true events, the goosebumps are rampant watching this classic. Classic performances by 2 of my favorite actors in Crowe and Giamatti.
Favorite line - Jim Braddock: You think you're telling me something? Like, what, boxing is dangerous, something like that? You don't think working triple shifts and at night on a scaffold isn't just as likely to get a man killed? What about all those guys who died last week living in cardboard shacks to save on rent money just to feed their family, 'cause guys like you have not quite figured out a way yet to make money off of watching that guy die? But in my profession - and it is my profession - I'm a little more fortunate.

2. Field of Dreams
The best baseball movie ever made. I can't imagine it being topped. The way it ties together history and baseball and it's impact on everything from our identity as a nation to our relationship with our fathers. Truly one of the most amazing films I've ever seen. Of any genre.
Favorite line - Terence Mann: Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

1. Hoosiers
I've seen it so many times I can probably recite the lines in my sleep. I remember listening to my older brother call out the discussion in the huddles during big games. He knew every line then and we were just kids. It is the ultimate example of modern day David vs. Goliath. Once again a true story re-told to inspire us all. Just typing out this paragraph makes me want to throw in the DVD and watch it all over again.
Favorite line - Jimmy Chitwood: I'll make it.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

You take my job? I'll take your man purse...

When you think of the NFL, what comes to mind? World class athletes, bone-crushing hits and highlight reel athleticism... Right? But don't forget the ever important, Gucci man purse. Rudi Johnson has one and it's apparently so amazing that Tatum Bell decided he had to have it for himself. Yes, you read that right. In one of those "real life is stranger than fiction" type stories, it came out today that while Rudi Johnson was meeting with Detroit Lions management about a job, Tatum Bell, the man who would eventually be cut to make room for Johnson on the roster, was busy sneaking off with Johnson's luggage. The luggage apparently consisted of 2 Gucci bags. Now I realize Gucci probably makes an assortment of bags and the account of the incident describes the bags as "duffel bags". But when I think Gucci bag, I think purse or handbag. Not exactly the type of accessory one would typically associate with an individual who is paid to run over linebackers for a living.

To add to the drama, when the bags were eventually returned by a female friend of Bell, they were empty. Johnson described the missing items to include, his wallet, ID's, credit cards along with his underwear and socks.

Bell of course describes it all as a big misunderstanding. Apparently there are so many Gucci handbags lying around a typical NFL locker room that it's not hard to accidentally run off with someone else's purse and not even realize it isn't your own.

And people wonder why the Lions haven't been to the playoffs since 1999.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

The Fellas Predict the NFL

I now unveil, for your viewing and reading pleasure... Our NFL Predictions. We'll check back at the end of the year to see how we did and mock each other for our failures.


Division Winners

Gaddeus - Cowboys, Vikings, Saints, Seahawks.

CubsFella - Cowboys, Vikings, Saints, Cardinals

Wild Card Teams

Gaddeus - Eagles, Packers

CubsFella - Bucs, Redskins

NFC Superbowl Prediction

Gaddeus - Saints

CubsFella - Cowboys


Division Winners

Gaddeus - Patriots, Steelers, Jaguars, Chargers

CubsFella - Patriots, Browns, Jaguars, Chargers

Wild Card Teams

Gaddeus - Colts, Broncos

CubsFella - Steelers, Colts

AFC Superbowl Prediction

Gaddeus - Jaguars

CubsFella - Colts

Superbowl Champions

Gaddeus - Jaguars

CubsFella - Cowboys

Major Awards

Gaddeus -
MVP - Adrian Peterson
Offensive POY - Tom Brady
Defensive POY - Mario Williams
Offensive ROY - Darren McFadden
Defensive POY - Jerod Mayo

CubsFella -
MVP - Tony Romo
Offensive POY - Adrian Peterson
Defensive POY - Patrick Willis
Offensive ROY - Jonathan Stewart
Defensive ROY - Vernon Gholston

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