Friday, December 25, 2009

NFL Week 16 Picks

Santa Clause AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Merry Christmas!

Santa has brought us all a great Christmas day game between the Chargers and Titans, two of the hottest teams in football.

Also, a lot of teams in the AFC are squaring off for playoff position. Those games are Dolphins-Texans, Steelers-Ravens, and Patriots-Jaguars, not to mention that the Jets, right in the thick of things, also will try to be the first team to knock off the Colts.

Who will win this weekend? Will the Colts remain undefeated? What teams will get into the playoffs?

Enjoy these picks and your holiday.

San Diego (11-3) at Tennessee (7-7)

Tennessee has won seven of their last eight games while the Chargers have won nine in a row.

San Diego’s run defense is not very good and face a tough task against Chris Johnson, the NFL’s rushing leader. Tennessee does have a horrid pass defense this year though, while Phillip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates are playing great.

Tennessee’s run has been impressive but the wins have come against mainly average teams, with their one loss in the past eight against the Colts.

San Diego wins.

Buffalo (5-9) at Atlanta (7-7)

Matt Ryan is expected to return Sunday and Atlanta really needs him. While Michael Turner missed practice again and is looking less likely by the day. Still Ryan’s return should be enough to get them past Buffalo, who has only won twice in their past seven games.

Atlanta wins.

Kansas City (3-11) at Cincinnati (9-5)

It was a very tough week for the Bengals community last week with the passing of Chris Henry and coming so close to overcoming all those emotions and coming away with a victory, only to lose by three points.

However this week they are at home, and while it will still be very emotional, the whole place will be rocking for Henry.

Facing a weak Chiefs opponent expect Cincy to pay real tribute to Henry with a big win.

Cincinnati wins.

Oakland (5-9) at Cleveland (3-11)

After starting the game as the backup, who would have thought that JaMarcus Russell would lead a last minute, game-winning drive against the Denver Broncos?
Cleveland has been a tough opponent the past few weeks. They have won two in a row and the three losses before hand, while still losses, were only single-digit deficits, and respectable because the team still played hard.

Last week Browns’ running back Jerome Harris exploded for a day he’ll never forget in the team’s victory over Kansas City, rushing for 286 yards and three touchdowns.
Cleveland wide receiver/kick returner Joshua Cribbs was also very impressive, returning two kickoffs for 100 yard touchdowns.

Oakland’s win was impressive, but Cleveland over a stretch of a few weeks now has played tough football.

Cleveland wins.

Seattle (5-9) at Green Bay (9-5)

Green Bay lost a high scoring battle with the Steelers last week, but it should only serve as a minor bump in the road.

Seattle lost last week to the Buccaneers, who only had one win coming into the game. It just has been that bad a season for the franchise.

Green Bay wins.

Baltimore (8-6) at Pittsburgh (7-7)

Pittsburgh got off their five-game slide with a big win over the Packers. Just in time to stay in the hunt for a Wild Card spot.

Baltimore leads the chase and won in overtime the last time these two teams squared off.

What tips the scales in favor of the Steelers this weekend however is that the game will be played at Heinz Field. At home, the Steelers are 5-2, while the Ravens are only 2-4 on the road.

Pittsburgh wins.

Houston (7-7) at Miami (7-7)

Houston picked up a win last week to vault themselves back into the playoff picture, partially at the expense of the Dolphins.

A pass heavy team against a run-oriented squad with the loser missing out on the playoffs.

Miami routinely gets the job done at home with a 4-2 record.

Houston also does not pick off many passes. In Dolphins’ quarterback Chad Henne’s 11 starts this season, the Dolphins are 7-1 when he throws one interception or less (0-3 when he throws more than one). The Texans are also near the bottom of the league in sacks.

Henne won’t feel pressure and will be able to get the ball to possession receivers Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo, who have made big plays the past few weeks.

Miami wins

Jacksonville (7-7) at New England (9-5)

New England: 7-0 at home. Jacksonville: 2-4 on the road.

Two straight losses and three out of the past four have really plagued the Jaguars.

New England wins.

Tampa Bay (2-12) at New Orleans (13-1)

The Saints suffered their first loss last week, but it isn’t the worst thing in the world. They still hold the number one seed in the NFC and the pressure of their first loss meaning the end of their season is now lifted.

Expect them to come out strong against a bad Tampa Bay team.

New Orleans wins.

Carolina (6-8) at NY Giants (8-6)

Matt Moore has been pretty impressive since replacing Jake Delhomme, who finally was placed on the IR. In three games he has 657 yards passing, four touchdowns, only one interception, and two wins—one of which came against Minnesota last week.

Still, the Giants are at home and are still in the playoff hunt. Last week’s demolishing of Washington was a message to the rest of the NFL that they mean business.

Ahmad Bradhsaw ran for two touchdowns last week, and the team compiled 114 yards on the ground. The key for the Giants all year has been getting the running game going, and they should be able to do so against a leaky Carolina rush defense, ranked 26th based on yards allowed.

Giants win.

Detroit (2-12) at San Francisco (6-8)

San Francisco had trouble keeping up with the Eagles last week, as expected. Detroit’s offense will be lead by quarterback Drew Stanton—meaning that the 49’ers tough defense should be able to keep them in check.

Detroit is also winless on the road, while San Francisco is 5-2 at home.

San Francisco wins.

St. Louis (1-13) at Arizona (9-5)

I could mention St. Louis’ poor records against the NFC West, the NFC, and on the road, but it would all be really obvious because they only have one win.

They won’t get their second against the division-leading Cardinals.

Arizona wins.

NY Jets (7-7) at Indianapolis (14-0)

Jets coach Rex Ryan wants the Colts to rest their starters. If the Colts do, the Jets have a chance, especially if Peyton Manning sits.

No word has been made yet, but, while players may rotate more often, why would you rest guys for essentially three weeks going into the playoffs?

On the idea that starters will play, the Colts are obviously a much better team overall.

Indianapolis wins.

Denver (8-6) at Philadelphia (10-4)

Brian Dawkins plays in his first game at Philly not an Eagle. He’ll have his hands full as he and the rest of the defense attempt to slow down one of the NFL’s high powered offenses. Since their bye in week 7 (a span of eight games) the Broncos have only scored over 20 points twice. Is it any coincidence those are they only two wins they have in that timeframe after starting the season 6-0?

Both defenses are good, but Denver has proven time and time again they struggle from time to time putting the ball in the end zone.

At home, the Eagles should be able to pull away, and they still have the chance of getting the second seed in the NFC playoffs.

Philadelphia wins.

Dallas (9-5) at Washington (4-10)

Dallas finally won a game in December and knocking off the previously unbeaten Saints in New Orleans was very impressive. They should have no problems against a Washington team that was embarrassed last week against another NFC East rival.

Dallas wins.

Minnesota (11-3) at Chicago (5-9)

Is the December Brett Favre swoon in effect? This month The Vikings have lost twice and he has thrown four interceptions, compared to three the first eleven games of the season.

Chicago is on an even worse slide. They have only won one game in their last seven. In two straight losses Cutler has five interceptions and only two touchdowns.

Chicago’s quarterback is performing a lot worse and the rest of the Vikings team is performing better than Cutler’s supporting cast.

Minnesota wins.

Last week: 8-8

Season: 127-65

Monday, December 21, 2009

Five Most Important American Soccer Players of the Decade

The past decade was an exciting one for American soccer. Some of the most talented players this country has seen yet exploded onto the scene.

Major League Soccer experienced growth to 15 teams with three more to come in the next couple of years. Teams began profiting, soccer-specific stadiums were built, and the Designated Player rule brought a handful of international superstars stateside.

American players, usually passed over in foreign leagues, got an incredible amount of respect and were bought by some of the biggest clubs in the world, like AC Milan and Manchester United.

As for the national team, it was the biggest decade the team has ever had.

The United States team qualified for three World Cups (2002, 2006, and the upcoming 2010 World Cup). Their magical run to the quarterfinals in the 2002 World Cup was the country's best World Cup finish since 1930.

They won three CONCACAF Gold Cups (2002, 2005, and 2007) to go along with a second-place finish in 2009 and a third place finish in 2003.

The team also was the 2009 Confederations Cup runner-up, losing in the final against Brazil, 3-2. Making the appearance in the tournament more impressive was their 2-0 victory against number one ranked Spain, stopping the country's 35-game unbeaten streak.

The previous ten years were very important to the growth and success of soccer in the United States. Many players stepped up and achieved things previous eras would have thought impossible.

So here are the five most important American soccer players of the past decade.

5. Kasey Keller

Keller was a part of two World Cup teams this decade (2002 and 2006), and along with midfielder Claudio Reyna, became the first American to be named to four World Cup rosters.

He became the most capped goalkeeper in the country's history and the all-time leader in both wins and clean sheets.

Individual accolades included the Honda Player of the Year and the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year in 2005.

For the majority of the decade he played in the world's largest leagues, such as Spain's La Liga (Rayo Vallecano 2000-2001), England's Premier League (Tottenham 2001-2005, Fulham 2007-2008) and the German Bundesliga (Borussia Monchengladbach 2005-2007).

Finally, in the last year of the decade, Keller-- an Olympia, Washington native-- signed with his home team Major League Soccer team, the expansion Seattle Sounders. One of the most successful teams in the league both on the field and off it, Keller was an integral part of the team's good fortunes and helped lead them to become the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open champions. He also set a record for most minutes without allowing a goal to start the season in MLS history (457 minutes).

The man has enjoyed success wherever he has gone and does so with an incredible amount of class.

4. Brian McBride

Regarded as one of the national team's best players, McBride was a member of both the '02 and '06 World Cups and is the only American to date to score in multiple World Cups ('98 and '02). He also was one of three overage players featured for the United States in the '08 Summer Olympics, where he was named team captain.

McBride was the '02 Gold Cup MVP.

He was named to the MLS All-Time Best XI that came out in '05.

McBride had a rather large impact on English Premier League teams signing Americans.

After loan stints with Preston North End ('00) and Everton ('03), he made a full-time transfer to Fulham in '04, bought for $1.5 million. There, he made 153 appearances and scored 40 goals before returning to MLS after the '08 season. He was given the club's captaincy in '07 and was named Fulham Player of the Year in both '07 and '08. He was so popular at Fulham, not only did the club sign two more Americans (Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson), but they also renamed a bar at Craven Cottage "McBride's" in his honor.

The most iconic image of McBride comes from a game against Italy in the '06 World Cup. He was elbowed by Daniele De Rossi and blood flowed from his face. He needed three stitches to close the gash, but returned to the game and displayed his toughness.

McBride was very talented in the air, but his tenacity and work ethic are what made him so important. He was the epitome of what the American player should be.

3. Claudio Reyna

You don't get the nickname "Captain America" for just any reason.

The captain of both the '02 and '06 World Cup teams, Reyna set a benchmark for all Americans to strive for. An integral part of the U.S's quarterfinal finish in '02, Reyna was rewarded by becoming only the second American in history to be named to the World Cup all-tournament team.

Reyna was the '00 Honda Player of the Year.

For club, he was a mainstay in England's Premier League, playing there from '01-'07 for both Sunderland and Manchester City. In '07, the Livingston, New Jersey native came back home to play for MLS' Red Bull New York, where he was named captain.

Reyna was an incredibly successful player who is widely regarded as the finest that America has ever produced.

2. Landon Donovan

There is not a single player with the stats and accolades that Donovan has piled up in his career, one that has really only taken shape this decade.

Arguably the most important player in MLS history, he has been named MLS MVP ('09), MLS Cup MVP ('03), MLS All-Star MVP ('01), MLS Best XI ('03, '08, '09), and MLS All-time Best XI.

He's scored the most goals (42) in U.S. men's national team history, is the all-time assists leader, and is the active leader and fourth all-time in caps (120).

He was named U.S Soccer Athlete of the Year in '03 and '04, Honda Player of the Year in '02, '03, '04, '07, '08, and '09 (the only American to ever win the award six times), and the Honda Player of the Decade.

He played on both the '02 and '06 World Cup teams, as well as the '00 Olympic squad.

He's also been featured on multiple covers of Sorts Illustrated and the '03 and '07 covers of the U.S. version of the FIFA video game.

His barbs that international superstar David Beckham was not being a good teammate and committing to the Los Angeles Galaxy, while controversial, surely gained him even more respect from MLS fans.

Donovan is the national team's go-to-guy, the player the offense really flows through. He is truly the international face of American soccer.

Many would argue he should be number one on this list, but there is one player, that while he may not get the same recognition as Donovan, his presence is even bigger.

1. Tim Howard

No American player this decade, maybe even in history, has taken advantage of opportunities presented to him and come up bigger in monumental situations.

At the club level, Howard spent the beginning of the decade displaying his quick reflexes and incredible shot-stopping ability with MLS' MetroStars (now Red Bull New York). Howard was so impressive that in '03 he was sold to iconic soccer club Manchester United for $4 million. It was MLS' first big transfer.

Howard won the starting position before the season began and did not disappoint. He became the first American to receive a winner's medal in the FA Cup and in his first season in the Premier League was named to the league's Best XI, the only Manchester United player on the squad.

Howard moved on to Everton, where he immediately cemented himself as the number one. In '09, Howard set the club record for clean sheets in a season.

Howard was also the MLS All-Star game MVP in '09 for his performance in the penalty kick shootout that led Everton to victory and to become the first foreign club to beat the team of All-Stars.

His international career has been relatively brief but he has maximized every moment of it.

Howard was a member of the '00 Olympic team and the '06 World Cup squad, but in '07 he was finally given the opportunity to be the country's number one.

At a time when the national team began to challenge itself with friendlies against world-class competition, Howard established himself as an elite goalie.

In the August '08, on the heels of matches against England and Spain-- both in Europe-- the U.S. played number one ranked Argentina at Giants Stadium. Howard, a North Brunswick, New Jersey native, had quite the homecoming. Howard put the team on his shoulders and led them to a 0-0 tie. Left out to dry all alone too often, he made seven saves on the night, a number of which were point-blank one-on-one stops that kept the team in the game. Had it not been for Howard that night, the Americans would have most likely been laughed off the pitch.

Another notable performance was in the '09 Confederations Cup against another number one ranked team, Spain. The U.S. shocked the world by winning 2-0 and Howard was brilliant in goal. The U.S. was outshot 29-9 on the match, but Howard stood strong and turned away scoring chances from Fernando Torres, David Villa, and Sergio Ramos. Howard's game against Spain was named "Most Clutch Performance" in the U.S. Soccer Awards, voted on by fans.

Howard was also awarded the Golden Glove-- the tournament's best goalkeeper-- for the '09 Confederations Cup.

He was named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year in '08. Many also seriously believe that he should have won at least one of the previous three Honda Player of the Year awards.

Some may argue that Donovan's stats and awards should put him atop the list. Some may also argue that the U.S. team would be worse off if Donovan, not Howard, were injured. Some would even point that the above argument for Howard stems from one big transfer and only two games; that there just isn't enough body of work.

Not to downplay Donovan's career, but Howard has become big-time. He has stepped up and put together sensational performances against some of the world's best for both club and country. He was the first big transfer from MLS that paved the way for guys like Clint Dempsey and Jozy Alitdore-- and possibly even Landon Donovan himself sometime soon-- to move to European giants.

Howard is the United States' only true world-class player. Is there any other U.S. men's national team player that you would consider to be in the top-five at his position out of everyone in the world? Howard is, and that's it.

Sensational skill, marvelous performances, big time clubs, and setting precedent for Americans, especially MLS players, to succeed overseas make Howard the most important American player of the decade.

Honorable mentions: Brad Friedel, Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Cobi Jones, Clint Dempsey

The new decade is going to start off with a bang. A friendly against top-five ranked Netherlands will be a big match that will lead the U.S. into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where the team has a favorable draw to get to the knockout round.

The next ten years will continue to shape the legacy that the United States makes on the international soccer scene and the nation will wonder who will be the most important players from 2010 to 2019?

Will Charlie Davies recover from injuries sustained in a deadly car accident?

Will Jozy Altidore become the first elite American striker?

Will Freddy Adu ever live up to all the hype that surrounded him?

Will Brad Guzan be the next American goalkeeper to succeed on both the international club and country levels?
How many more years will Donovan and Howard be prominent forces on the U.S. national team?

What U-17 and U-23 team players will step up and make their way to the senior roster?

How far will the U.S. advance in any three of the decade's World Cups? Is it possible the team could actually win it?

The next decade will provide the answers to these questions and more. U.S. soccer fans will be on the edge of their seats hoping that the sport and its players continue to reach new heights.

Photo Credits.
Kasey Keller: AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
Brian McBride: AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev
Cluadio Reyan: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Landon Donovan: AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Tim Howard: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NFL Week 15 Picks

AP Photo/Rob Carr

Our two undefeated teams have a couple good challenges in front of them as both team take on playoff contenders: Colts-Jaguars and Saints-Cowboys.

One big question, at least for the Colts: When should they start sitting starters?

Some other questions this week: How will the Bengals respond to the Chris Henry death? Will the Steelers stop their five game skid? How will Randy Moss respond to the criticism Carolina sent his way after last Sunday’s game?

Feel free to comment answer to these questions and who you think will win this weekend.

Indianapolis (13-0) at Jacksonville (7-6)

Many have questioned if the starters are going to play, or how long will they play?
It’s only week 15. If Indy starts resting guys now they are going to go four weeks before they throw out their top squad. That would leave guys rusty, not fresh. Not something they should do.

So as long as Peyton Manning is throwing the ball he has plenty of options: his favorite target Dallas Clark, his new toys Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, and always dangerous hookup Reggie Wayne. They also have two good running back that can get the job done between Joseph Addai and Donald Brown.

If Indy does indeed sit people, well, mainly Manning, all bets are off. But I just can’t see them doing so this early.

Indianapolis wins.

Dallas (8-5) at New Orleans (13-0)

Two more December losses (0-2 in ’09) and an away matchup (3-3 on the road in ’09) against one of the two undefeated teams cannot leave the Cowboys feeling very good about things.

New Orleans is still being chased by Minnesota for home field advantage in the playoffs, so they still have something to play for.

Dallas has lost five in a row against New Orleans and they are in the bottom half of the league in pass defense by yards allowed. They’ve also only averaged about 15 points per game in their last eight games. I see it hard for them to keep up with New Orleans’ offense.

New Orleans wins.

New England (8-5) at Buffalo (5-8)

Buffalo’s pass defense, unlike the rest of the team, is actually relatively strong.
But come on? Whenever someone questions the Patriots, 99 times out of 100 they come back and beat the snot out of the next team just to prove a point. Remember the beat-down the Pats put on the Jets the week after Bill Belichek made that questionable fourth-down call against the Colts?

So after the Carolina Panthers criticized Randy Moss all week (I still question why) how many times do you think Brady throws his way? You think they try to break the receptions record Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall set last week? Seriously, Randy Moss is going to do a lot of damage.

New England wins.

Arizona (8-5) at Detroit (2-11)

Arizona suffered a minor setback losing to San Francisco last week, but they are more concerned with the health of receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has indicated he is ok, and he is expected to play, but you have to expect he will be limited if he does play. Detroit isn’t very good, and there’s no reason for the Cardinals to lean more on Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston in order to make sure Fitzgerald is ok for the stretch run, and very possibly, the playoffs.

Arizona wins.

Miami (7-6) at Tennessee (6-7)

Tennessee has lost only one game with Vince Young as the starting quarterback but he may not play this week, which could be a big blow. The Titans have just not been dangerous enough with Kerry Collins at quarterback. Chris Johnson has had a spectacular season, but he cannot do it himself.

Here’s how I can see the battle tilt in Miami’s favor.

The first is that they have not allowed a runner to gain 100 yards rushing since week 11 against Carolina and DeAngelo Williams, and have allowed only two players to reach 100 yards all season (the other being Thomas Jones in week 8). Both those games also ended in Miami victories. So this means that they can either A) contain Johnson’s productivity, or B) let Johnson get his yards and juts stop everyone else.
The second option isn’t far-fetched. Three times this season Johnson has rushed for 100 yards yet the Titans have still lost. Two of those games were against average AFC teams Jacksonville and Houston, the other being Indianapolis, who while undefeated is still vulnerable against the run.

With an in-conference record of 3-7, most of the Titans’ damage has come at the expense of the NFC.

Miami wins.

Cleveland (2-11) at Kansas City (3-10)

Positive for both teams: they both beat defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

One positive for Kansas City’s team: Jamaal Charles. Last week he erupted for 143 yards and a touchdown, as well as 38 yards receiving. This week he goes up against another poor rush defense.

Kansas City wins.

Houston (6-7) at St. Louis (1-12)

It’s really hard to see St. Louis beating anybody, and that was a common belief before all the personnel issues they’ve come up with this week. QB Kyle Boller was sent home from practice while rookie Keith Null (West Texas A & M) got all the first team reps. Guard Richie Incognito was released, guard Jacob Bell was placed on IR, and center Jason Brown was home fighting a cold.

Makes you wonder how much longer Steven Jackson is going to put up with all this.

Houston wins.

Atlanta (6-7) at NY Jets (7-6)

Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are both questionable, which does not bode well for Atlanta.

The Jets are only 3-3 at home, but Atlanta is an abysmal 1-5 on the road.

The Jets have a very good defense and Darrelle Reevis is one of the best corners in the league. If Ryan can’t go I don’t see Chris Redmond being able to break through the Jets defense, especially if Turner isn’t available to take some pressure off him.

New York Jets win.

San Francisco (6-7) at Philadelphia (9-5)

San Francisco is very good defensively, but their offense is average at best.
The Eagles have a hot offense with playmakers at every position. They are flat out just putting points on the board. In their last three games the Eagles have averaged 32 points per game.

The 49’ers are an abysmal 1-5 on the road and are 1-3 against NFC teams not in the NFC West.

Philadelphia wins.

Chicago (5-8) at Baltimore (7-6)

Baltimore has ten straight wins against teams with losing records.

Chicago is another team doing poorly on the road, with a 1-5 record as the visitors.

Baltimore is famous for their defense, and although they are not as strong as in years past, they will pressure turnover machine Jay Cutler to no end.

Baltimore wins.

Cincinnati (9-4) at San Diego (10-3)

First, my condolences to the family, friends, and teammates of Bengals receiver Chris Henry. Any time something like this happens it’s sad.

It’s always tough to gauge how a team will react to the situation at hand at a time like this. The Bengals practice Thursday was supposedly a very somber one.
With a win, Cincinnati could clinch the division. However, after last week’s disappointing loss, what has happened now, and facing a red hot Chargers team, I see them slipping a bit here Sunday. I just don’t see them putting it back together yet.

San Diego wins.

Oakland (4-9) at Denver (8-5)

Bruce Gradkowski tore the MCL in both of his knees, paving the way for Charlie Frye—not former first overall pick JaMarcus Russell—to start this game. Frye hasn’t thrown a pass since October 12, 2008, when he was still with Seattle. Just for extra measure, Oakland also signed former Bills’ first round pick J.P. Lossman to be the third-string quarterback.

Only the Raiders.

Even with top cornerback Nmamdi Asomugha, Oakland is still in the bottom half of the league in passing defense by yards allowed and tied for 27th in interceptions.
Last week Brandon Marshall went off for 21 catches, 200 yards, and two touchdowns. It may not be as big a week, but Marshall should be successful again.

Denver wins.

Green Bay (9-4) at Pittsburgh (6-7)

Teams going in opposite directions. Green Bay has won five games in a row, with wins over Dallas and Baltimore, while Pittsburgh has lost five in a row, with losses to Kansas City, Oakland, and Cleveland.

Pittsburgh has not been able to score with the frequency that Green Bay has, which has me skeptical about how they can keep up. Hine Ward is questionable, which hinders what Pittsburgh does on offense, not only in the passing game, but because Ward is a very good blocker as well.

On defense, Troy Polamalu is out again and the Steelers other players in the secondary have struggled to make plays, which can only mean bad things against Aaron Rodgers, one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL this season.

Green Bay wins.

Tampa Bay (1-12) at Seattle (5-8)

Tampa Bay just isn’t that good, at any position any either side of the ball. On the road against veteran quarterback Matt Hasselback it’s just tough for me to see an upset.

Seattle wins.

Minnesota (11-2) at Carolina (5-8)

Minnesota put away a good Bengals team last week with a very good effort, scoring 30 points against one of the stingiest defenses in the league.

Sidney Rice has had a breakout season and Percy Harvin is a candidate for Rookie of the Year. The success of these two makes Adrian Peterson’s job easier and make Brett Favre look very good. They are huge reasons why Minnesota has such a great record this year.

Carolina actually has a solid pass defense but is terrible against the run. With Harvin struggling with migraines, look for Peterson to take over and have his first game with 100 rushing yards since week 10.

Minnesota wins.

NY Giants (7-6) at Washington (4-9)

The Giants are trying to desperately hold onto their slim playoff chances, which is odd as they started the season 5-0. They also are 5-0 against teams with losing records this year.

What the Giants need to do is establish the run. A lot has been put on the shoulders of Eli Manning this season and, for the most part, he has not delivered. Receiver Steve Smith started off the year hot, but hasn’t been heard from much lately. The Giants need to get Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw going, and they should be able to against Washington’s bottom half ranked rush defense.

In their seven wins, they have averaged around 141 rushing yards per game. In their six losses they averaged only about 106 yards per game. The more they can use the rush to set up the pass and take pressure off Manning, the more successful they will be.

New York Giants win.

Last week: 11-5

Season: 119-57

Monday, December 14, 2009

Welcome to the Tiger Zoo

AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File


Ever since Tiger Woods burst onto the professional golf scene in 1996 the media has tirelessly built him up and put him on a pedestal at a height of unbelievable greatness and professionalism.

In a matter of a few weeks, they media took great pleasure in demolishing his entire image.

Woods got into a car accident November 26 and his private life has since spilled into his public appearance.

Questions were numerous. How did Woods get into the one-car accident? Where was he going at 2:30 in the morning? Why did his wife use a golf club to smash open the back window?

Woods' refusal to talk with police did nothing to help him; rather, it opened him up for speculation.

Conspiracies ran rampant. Rumors swirled. Confessions from outside sources popped up. With each new idea the media pushed further and further.

While the traditional media was the catalyst, social media expedited the entire process. There was the Twitter trending topic. Saturday Night Live did a sketch and the video went viral. Text messages with alleged mistresses were revelaed and passed along throughout the Internet. There's also a "Tiger Hunt" web-based video game.

Now, Tiger Woods is losing endorsements and has announced he is taking a leave of absence from golf.

Tiger Woods' alleged actions are not commendable. They are wrong and are not model behavior. However, it is his private life and should not be news.

It is news however. The situation rings of hypocrisy.

Tiger Woods himself and the media have presented him as the most wholesome athlete on this planet. His endorsements are so strong because of the draw of being like Tiger, living the perfect life. However, he is not the wholesome man every one made him out to be.

Also, when Woods first issued a statement he said that his wife had courageously saved him from the car and that there was no truth to any other rumor out there. That turned out to be a bold-faced lie. The media called him out on it.

However, the media, both traditional and social, are not blameless.

They sensationalized Tiger. His first year on the pro tour he was named Sports Illustrated's “Sportsman of the Year” (he was named a second time in 2000). ESPN talked him up so much that in the summer of 2007 in an audience poll Tiger Woods was named the athlete who is "most now", essentially a popularity contest amongst athletes.

The sporting world had put Tiger on a Godly level. He could do no wrong. He was pristine.

Until he did do wrong. Very wrong.

One unanswered question lead to another, speculation grew in the tabloids, and the media ran with every bit of it, destroying piece by piece the ultimate figure they helped create.

Thou giveth, thou can taketh away.

Now, the media may have pushed too far. Woods has announced his leave of absence from the sport, and the media has now lost their biggest draw to golf.

Through Tiger’s misdeeds and the media’s relentlessness, Tiger loses some endorsements (and a lot of money), his wholesome image, and must go away from the sport he loves for an indefinite period of time. The media possibly loses access to Tiger in the future and for the time being loses the biggest attraction the sport of golf has to offer currently.

These seem like fitting penalties for both parties’ involvement in what should be known as Tiger Zoo.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

NFL Week 14 Picks

AP Photo/Nick Wass

Two undefeated teams left. Will they both come out unscathed again after this weekend?

Some huge matchups with playoff implications this week, including Dolphins-Jaguars, Giants-Eagles, and Chargers-Cowboys. Bengals-Vikings is also bound to be a great game.

Who do you think will win this week? Which on the bubble teams do you think has a good chance at making the playoffs?

Pittsburgh (6-6) at Cleveland (1-11)

Pittsburgh is banged up, both literally and metaphorically. Four straight losses. Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall, and William Gay are all not 100%. Troy Polamalu is out and unsure whether he’ll be back at all this season.

They’ve lost to bad teams such as Kansas City and Oakland.

Cleveland, however, has no weapons at running back or receiver, Brady Quinn is still not settled in as the starting quarterback, and the defense is banged up. There’s really nothing to look at with this Browns team that is encouraging.

Pittsburgh wins.

New Orleans (12-0) at Atlanta (6-6)

Michael Turner didn’t play again last week and is listed as questionable this week. Even worse is that Matt Ryan is unlikely to play again. Chris Redman is not a viable replacement. Atlanta’s defense is not good enough to keep them in the game against Drew Brees and company.

Saints stay undefeated.

Green Bay (8-4) at Chicago (5-7)

Green Bay has come alive, winning four straight games, scoring an average of 27 points and allowing an average of only 14.25 points.

Chicago meanwhile, before beating a horrendous St. Louis team last week (against whom they still only managed to score 17 points) had lost their previous four games, scoring an average of 14.25 points per game and allowing an average of 27.75 points per game.

The key here is quarterback play. Aaron Rodgers ranks in the top ten of all the major passing statistics and has only thrown seven interceptions.

Jay Cutler ranks first in the NFL in interceptions. The Packers do a great job of rushing the passer and stopping the run. They will make Cutler pay.

Packers win.

NY Jets (6-6) at Tampa Bay (1-11)

No Mark Sanchez for the Jets. However, they still have Thomas Jones at running back, who is fifth in the chase for the league rushing title, has rushed for nine touchdowns, and has only fumbled the ball twice. Against the second to worst run defense in the league, the Jets should make it out without too much of an issue.

Jets win.

Miami (6-6) at Jacksonville (7-5)

This game is going to have huge playoff implications. The Dolphins are chasing the Jaguars in the hunt for a wild card spot.

Last week Miami upset the Patriots and have some momentum swinging their win. Had it not been for their misstep against the Bills in week 12, Miami would be sitting pretty.

In Chad Henne’s six wins this season he has thrown only two interceptions. In his four losses, he’s thrown six interceptions.

The Jaguars have a great record at home (5-1) and against conference opponents (6-2). However, the do not put much pressure on the quarterback and cause opposing offenses to make mistakes. They are last in the league in sacks (12), tied for 12th in interceptions caused (12), tied for 21st in fumbles forced (10), and tied for 21st in fumbles recovered (7). Their pass defense is also ranked 23rd in the league.

Also going to factor into the game is not selling the game out. Approximately 9,000 tickets remain, and they are playing an in-state team, whose own fans could make the trip up.

Without a strong fan support behind them and a lack of ability to force the quarterback to make mistakes, Chad Henne could be in for another big game, following up his career-best last week against a stronger Patriots team.

Miami wins.

Detroit (2-10) at Baltimore (6-6)

Detroit is last in the league against the pass and their offense will be without number one overall draft pick Matthew Stafford.

Baltimore needs this game to stay in the playoff hunt. It should not be a difficult victory to achieve.

Ravens win.

Seattle (5-7) at Houston (5-7)

Seattle is in the bottom ten against the pass while Houston’s air attack is the fourth best in the league.

Seattle only has one win on the road and there is no reason to believe they will get their second on Sunday.

Houston wins.

Denver (8-4) at Indianapolis (12-0)

Denver has the second ranked pass defense in the NFL based on yards allowed. They also have good records on the road (4-2) and against conference opponents (6-3). They have only allowed one more point against than the Colts.

The biggest worry is that the Colts offense is more powerful than Denver’s. However their run defense is very modestly ranked 18th in the league based on yards against.

Denver’s rush attack is ranked ninth in the league and rookie Knowshon Moreno is ranked 13th in the league in rushing yards.

It will not be easy, but if Denver can punch the ball into the end zone, and limit Peyton Manning’s touches by controlling the clock with their run game, the Broncos could very well be the first team to beat Indy in 22 tries.

I’ll pick the Broncos to upset the Colts.

Buffalo (4-8) at Kansas City (3-9)

Not a very entertaining game here. Both teams are bad against the run and do not score very often. Both teams are unsettled at every position except for running back.

Jamaal Charles has played well since becoming the number one back for Kansas City, however he did leave last week’s game with a shoulder injury. He returned, but he is still banged up.

Buffalo’s overall defense is better and they are a better road team than the Chiefs are a home team.

Bills win.

Cincinnati (9-3) at Minnesota (10-2)

This looks like the game of the week.

The Vikings have one of the league’s best offenses, but the Bengals have one of the league’s stingiest defenses.

Minnesota is undefeated (6-0) at home, but the Bengals are a very good 4-1 on the road.

Cincinatti’s rush defense is one of the best in the league. They have only allowed on running back to reach 100 yards, and only four have gotten as many as 50 in a game. Their passing defense is also very respectable, ranked 12th in the league based on yards allowed.

And isn’t it time for Brett Favre’s late season decline? What better opponent than a tough Bengals D?

Bengals win.

Carolina (5-7) at New England (7-5)

All of New England is in disarray after such disappointing play the past four weeks.

They are undefeated at home however, and the Panthers are nowhere near the level of the Dolphins, Saints, and Colts—the Patriot’s last three losses.

Patriots win.

Washington (3-9) at Oakland (4-8)

Somehow, Oakland has a better record than Washington, despite being outscored (200-142, second fewest in the NFL) and giving up more points (282-238).

However, Washington is winless on the road, and the Raiders had a huge win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.

I’ll take Oakland for the victory.

St. Louis (1-11) at Tennessee (5-7)

Vince Young suffered his first loss of the season as a starter last week, but there is no shame in losing to the Colts. The Titans did keep it close and exciting for the most part.

Tennessee should bounce back nicely against a very bad Rams team.

Tennessee wins.

San Diego (9-3) at Dallas (8-4)

San Diego is 15-0 in their last 15 games in December. The Cowboys? Well it is well documented that they are abysmal in December. In their last eight games in December they have scored only 14.8 points per game.

San Diego is third in the NFL in points scored and are on a seven game win-streak.

Chargers win.

Philadelphia (8-4) at NY Giants (7-5)

The Eagles are a good road team (4-2) and have allowed fewer points than the Giants (235-285). Brian Westbrook returned to practice, but LeSean McCoy has been a very good replacement. Receiver DeSean Jackson has been upgraded to probable. Jackson’s return will boost an already strong offense.

The Eagles have outscored the Giants (327-303). In ten of their 12 games this season, the Eagles have scored at least 20 points, and have scored at least 30 five times.

The Giants have given up at least 20 points eight times, and in their five losses they have given up an average of 31.8 points per game.

The last time these two teams met, the Eagles trounced the Giants 40-17.

The Eagles will complete the season series sweep on Sunday.

Arizona (8-4) at San Francisco (5-7)

Arizona was very impressive in their road victory over a very tough Vikings team last Sunday night. They are rolling, having won four of their last five games. They have outscored the 49’ers 297-245 and have only given up one more point (234-233). They are 5-1 on the road, 3-1 against the division (that one loss coming in week 1 against San Francisco, so you can be sure they will be looking to avenge that loss), and are 6-2 in the conference.

After starting out so hot, San Francisco has stalled tremendously, losing six of their last eight games, culminating in a very disappointing division loss to Seattle, their first division loss of the season.

The 49’ers have struggled to put up points this year, and that ability to do so is crucial against a loaded offense like Arizona’s.

Cardinals win.

Last week: 9-7

Season: 108-52

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Time for America to Show Soccer Some Love

AP Photo/George Frey

Ever since the United States hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the nation has been hearing the same whispers:

“Soccer is catching on in America.”

However, the idea never really caught on. People constantly pointed out the growth of youth participants, but once those kids got to high school and football was more available to them, the trend tailed off.

The common response became “Americans will never embrace soccer.”

Silently, though, soccer continued to push forward. There was the spectacular quarterfinals finish in the 2002 World Cup, with wins against Portugal and Mexico, Major League Soccer’s signing of global icon David Beckham, and the U.S.’s Confederations Cup win this past summer over Spain.

It hasn’t been just American soccer that has drawn interest in the country either. Argentine and FC Barcelona sensation Lionel Messi graced the cover of ESPN Magazine in May and ESPN now owns the American broadcasting rights for the English Premier League and shares rights for the Spanish Premier League.

Little by little, soccer has started to make its way into mainstream American sports, and it just recently culminated in last Friday’s World Cup draw aired on ESPN2.

Coverage of the draw lasted three hours, 70 more minutes than the coverage provided for the 2006 draw in Germany. And that was only a teaser for what’s to come in June.

ESPN has sole broadcasting rights for this summer’s World Cup. In previous cups ESPN match commentators called the games from studios in Bristol, Connecticut. However this summer ESPN will send its commentators to the actual games in South Africa as part of a 150 person team.

They will air not only the games themselves, but features and player profiles in order for the audience to get familiar with the competing teams and players.

Don’t think these efforts will fall on deaf ears, either.

That World Cup the U.S. hosted in 1994? It’s still the single most profitable World Cup in FIFA history.

According to a report on from December 5, the latest ticket sales results saw 84,103 out of 674,403 tickets (12%) sold to the United States, the most for any country outside of host nation South Africa.

Even MLS is reaping some of the benefits as nine teams in 2010 will play in their own soccer-specific stadiums.

The U.S. is also bidding to host the World Cup again in either 2018 or 2022 (2022 being the more likely option)

All this begs the question, why do people feel that Americans do not, and will not, embrace soccer?

It will most likely never reach the status here that football or baseball has, but why does it have to? Why can’t it join them as part of a big five (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL are currently the big four of professional sports leagues)?

Americans love sports. ESPN will air anything from football and baseball to bowling and professional bull riding.

Americans also like supporting their country. With a national team that is on the cusp of doing unprecedented things in this country, what’s to stop this nation from supporting this team and sport?

Why are the soccer-haters so profoundly against the sport?

I hope they know, for reasons shown above, they are continually fighting a losing battle.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The (Possible) Future of Magazines

AP Photo/John Russell

In anticipation of the potential Apple tablet possibly coming out next year, the magazine industry, specifically Time Inc. and Sports Illustrated, is gearing up for what could be another huge twist in the state of journalism.

Time Inc. has released a demo of a tablet version of Sports Illustrated, the first of their magazines they will release in such a form.

The tablet-magazine will essentially be the print version on steroids. This is evident when what appears initially on the screen is a regular cover of Sports Illustrated, but when you touch it, the cover explodes into actual video.

There are countless numbers of photographs, a Google Flip type viewer of the magazine, and personal page with all your favorite teams' news and scores.

There is also a game feature where you can play along guessing what will happen with live events. Another feature is the ability to highlight certain pictures, videos, or stories, and click to share them through e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.

All this makes the magazine more interactive for the user, but also could be better for the magazine's bottom line.

For starters the advertising would be stronger. The ads would be more vivid, with videos to go along with them, and would be targeted for the specific user. Also, Sports Illustrated does not require users to pay for web content. On the tablet, however, people would subscribe to the magazine or buy it like they would at a newsstand (once downloaded, the magazine portion of it will be available for the user off-line), thus creating more sales for the company and finding a way to boost on-line retail.

This Yahoo! Tech piece does a good job of juxtaposing the excitement of the tablet magazine with some real question that could derail its production and success.

1. The tablet is not even a definite to be released yet.

2. How many people, especially in this economy, are going to be willing to pay for the tablet in addition to any laptop and/or smart phone they have?

Still, the product in the demo looks very enticing. While there are a lot of "ifs" still in play in the production of this product, it will be an interesting step in seeing where the future of the journalism industry is headed.

If it looks this good, then I, for one, am excited.

Video from YouTube.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

NFL Week 13 Picks

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

It’s the beginning of the last month of the season and teams are jockeying for playoff position.

Some games with big playoff implications include Philadelphia-Atlanta, Houston-Jacksonville, Dallas-New York Giants, Minnesota-Arizona, and Baltimore-Green Bay.

Here are my picks for week 13. Comment and tell me who you think will come out victorious and who you think is in good position to be playing in the playoffs.

NY Jets (5-6) at Buffalo (4-7)

They were able to pull out a sizable victory last week against all odds, overcoming an injury decimated front-line against a good pass rush and Ricky William’s 115 yards rushing. Still, there just isn’t much reason to buy much stock.

Buffalo’s porous run defense faces another top rusher this week in the Jet’s Thomas Jones.

Terrell Owens has been more effective the past couple of weeks, but he will face Darrelle Reevis, who has been one of the top shutdown cornerbacks all season.

I’ll take the Jets to win this weekend.

Philadelphia (7-4) at Atlanta (6-5)

Atlanta’s pass defense is not very good, but they will catch a break this week. Not only is running back Brian Westbrook out because of injury, but it looks like Philadelphia’s top receiver, DeSean Jackson, will also miss the game because of the concussion he received last week.

Philadelphia has not looked very sharp the past four weeks, even though they have won two games in a row (against Washington and Chicago).

The Falcons are also 5-0 at home this season.

I’ll take Atlanta to win this game.

St. Louis (1-10) at Chicago (4-7)

The Bears are reeling, having lost four games in a row and six out of their last seven.

Jay Cutler leads the NFL in interceptions (20), but is tied for 12th in touchdowns (16).

St. Louis, however, is tied for 23rd in the league in interceptions (8), and they do not rush the quarterback very well, ranking 29th in the NFL in sacks (18). Also, only ten teams have given up more yards passing then they have (2,482). Add those facts to their ranked fifth worst rushing defense, and this should be a game where Chicago can make up for their mistakes and get back into the win coloumn.

Bears win.

Detroit (2-9) at Cincinnati (8-3)

Detroit is 0-5 on the road and has given up the most points in the league (335), while only scoring more points than seven other teams in the league (193, 38 of which came against the Cleveland Browns).

Bengals will win.

Oakland (3-8) at Pittsburgh (6-5)

The Steelers are a better team when Ben Roethlisberger plays. But Dennis Dixon did a decent job in first first NFL start, minus the interception he threw in overtime. Dixon went 12-25 for 145 yards and a touchdown, and rushed three times for 27 yards and a touchdown before that crucial late-game interception. Still, not a terrible outing; there is some optimism there.

Pittsburgh has the benefit of playing this game at home, where they are 4-1. Also, since 2000, the Steelers are 28-11 in December.

A game against Oakland is the perfect opportunity for them to get back to their winning ways and make a last-second postseason push.

Pittsburgh wins.

Tennessee (5-6) at Indianapolis (11-0)

Vince Young has won five games in a row since being inserted as the starting quarterback, which really must have Tennessee fans puzzled over why Jeff Fisher stuck with Kerry Collins for so long.

Chris Johnson is the league’s top running back right now. If Young can really use this season as a launching pad for the rest of his career, Tennessee has a very good core on offense to build around with Young, Johnson, and rookie receiver Kenny Britt.

If the Titans were home here, I would strongly consider them to be the first team to knock off the Colts. However, the game is in Indy, and the Colts have just been too strong all season.

The Colts have scored 80 more points and given up 105 fewer points than the Titans.
The Titans also only have two road wins in six games.

It should be an entertaining game, but I’m going to go with the team that has been great all year over the team that has been the flavor of the month.

I’ll pick the Colts to win.

Denver (7-4) at Kansas City (3-8)

Big win for the Broncos last week against the Giants.

Denver is also 2-1 in the division and 5-3 in the conference. Kansas City has losing records at home (1-4), in the division (1-3), and against the conference (2-5).

Broncos win.

New England (7-4) at Miami (5-6)

The Patriots are vulnerable and have only one road victory this season (even then, that win came against Tampa Bay in London, so it’s not like the Buccaneers had home-field advantage really).

However, New England has not lost back-to-back games this season.

They also have two of the top five in receiving yards and the second most passing yards in the league, going up against one of the bottom-10 passing defenses.

Patriots win.

New Orleans (11-0) at Washington (3-8)

This could be a trap game. New Orleans’ victory over the Patriots was huge, and they could let their guard down against a weak Redskins team.

What Washington does have is a good pass defense that could potentially keep leading passer Drew Brees in check.

However, their run defense is ranked 25th in the league, while the Saints have a top five rush offense and have scored the most rushing touchdowns (18) out of any team in the league.

Also, while the Saints have scored a league-high 407 points, the Redskins have only managed to score 170 points.

Washington will not be able to keep pace with New Orleans ground attack.

The Saints will win.

Tampa Bay (1-10) at Carolina (4-7)

Believe it or not, Tampa’s pass defense is in the top half of the league, and Jake Delhomme is tied for second in the NFL in interceptions thrown.

Their rush defense is nothing to brag about at all, and DeAngelo Williams is one of the best in the league.

Even so, Tampa’s offense has put up only 18 fewer points over the season and they actually have more passing yards than Carolina.

I will take the Buccaneers in an upset.

Houston (5-6) at Jacksonville (6-5)

Jacksonville was embarrassed last week against San Francisco. Yet Houston has lost three games in a row (although in fairness, two of those losses came to Indianapolis).

The Jaguars do get the job done at home however, with a 4-1 record in Jacksonville, and against the conference, with a 5-2 record against the AFC.

Houston, meanwhile, is a paltry 1-4 against the AFC South. Their rushing defense also ranks in the bottom half of the league and will be put to the test against Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the top rushers in the league this season.

Jacksonville wins.

San Diego (8-3) at Cleveland (1-10)

The Chargers have won six games in a row. The Browns have lost six games in a row.
The Chargers are 4-1 on the road. The Browns are 0-4 at home.

The Chargers are third in points scored in the NFL. The Browns are second worst in points scored in the NFL. Cleveland is also fifth in most point allowed in the league.

These two teams are like night and day.

Chargers win.

Dallas (8-3) at NY Giants (6-5)

Eli Manning is 10th in the NFL in interceptions thrown and there is continuous debate over the health of his foot.

The Cowboys meanwhile have won six of their last seven games, and will come after Manning hard. Dallas is tied for seventh in sacks (28). Hurrying an injured and turnover prone quarterback will really hinder the Giants ability to get anything going.

Tony Romo hasn’t fared much better this season, however his team has pulled away from games victorious, while the Giants have been unable to make up for their quarterback’s mistakes and have lost five of their last six games.

I’ll take Dallas to win.

San Francisco (5-6) at Seattle (4-7)

While San Francisco has struggled at times this season, especially on offense, one arena where they dominate is against the NFC West. In the division the 49’ers are 3-0 and have outscored their opponents 78-26, including a 23-10 victory over Seattle in the two teams’ first meeting.

Seattle’s only two victories in the division have come against the Rams. In three meetings against the 49’ers and Cardinals, the Seahawks have lost by double digits.

San Francisco wins.

Minnesota (10-1) at Arizona (7-4)

Minnesota has been rolling this year. They are 8-0 against the NFC, and have scored more points than and given up fewer points than Arizona.

They are firing on all cylinders as Adrian Peterson is third in the chase for the rushing title, Sidney Rice is third in the league in reception yards, Jared Allen is second in the league in sacks, and Brett Favre has made himself an MVP candidate.

Arizona has gotten inconsistent performances from their running game, receivers Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston have been banged up since week 1, and starting quarterback Kurt Warner is still questionable after suffering a concussion in week 11.

Vikings win.

Baltimore (6-5) at Green Bay (7-4)

Aaron Rodgers has been a star this season. He’s third in quarterback rating, fourth in touchdown passes thrown, eight in completion percentage, and fourth in passing yards. He has also thrown only five interceptions all season.

The Packers are also 4-2 at home, while the Ravens are 2-3 on the road.

What really benefits the Packers here is that their rush defense is extremely stingy. They have allowed only three rushing touchdowns all season and are fourth in rushing yards allowed.

Running back Ray Rice has been what makes the Ravens offense go, but he will have his hands full against such a strong rush defense.

I’ll take Green Bay to win.

Last week: 11-5

Season: 99-45