Saturday, September 15, 2007

Saturday 09/15 (Very) Quickie

Back from the break for the Jewish holidays, but still in Gainesville...

First, a catch-up on the two biggest stories of the late-week:

"Belicheater" Scandal: The punishment struck me as pretty tame, but the far bigger "punishment" is that the Pats' (and Belichick's) accomplishments this decade are tainted.

Oden out for season: I feel bad for him and for Blazers fans. Feels like Portland shoulda/coulda seen this coming. I don't buy the "love he's such a good person" stuff from the GM.

The one bright side: Even if totally healthy, Oden was never going to lead Portland to the playoffs next year; instead, they'll collect another top Lottery pick -- that new frosh-phenom PG from Memphis would look awfully good in a Blazers uniform lined up with Roy in the backcourt.

Oh, and you can engrave that NBA ROY trophy now: Durant.

Now, on to today:

Yankees top Red Sox: Meh. Does anyone really care?

Cubs beat Cards: Any coincidence the Cards' free-fall timed with the Ankiel scandal?

Tiger shoots another 63, with some 20-something front 9.

USA Women's soccer wins: Wambach!

I'm late, but still: Noel Devine. Whoa.

O.J.: Heh.

College Football Today: While I'm in the Swamp for Florida-Tennessee, we're debating whether to tape Ohio State-Washington (my most intriguing game of the day) or Arkansas-Alabama (most intriguing SEC game of the day). Michigan-Notre Dame wasn't even considered; it's a punchline. (BTW: I'll be on the right side of your TV screen, down near the field by the 5-yard line. Apparently, it's a spot to get seen by TV cameras. We'll see.)

Last night: Wow, is there a more disappointing team than Oklahoma State? Routed by Troy last night. (Troy had been battle-tested with losses at Arkansas and at Florida.)

And no, I have not seen Tim Tebow in person (yet) this week, but I may have a sighting of EDSBS' Orson Swindle and/or SportsLine's Clay Travis.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Week 2 NFL Picks

Note: No posts on Thursday and Friday this week. In advance of Sunday, however, here are Week 2 NFL picks. Have a great rest of your work week everyone!

Bengals over at Browns
Colts over at Titans
Rams over 49ers
Packers over at Giants
Steelers over Bills
Saints over at Bucs
Texans over at Panthers
Jags over Falcons
Lions over Vikings
Cowboys over at Dolphins
Seahawks over at Cards
Bears over Chiefs
Broncos over Raiders
Ravens over Jets
over Chargers
Eagles over Redskins
Last week: 12-4

CFB Preview and Picks

Note: There will be no posts on Thursday and Friday this week. Have a great rest of your work week, everyone.

I think there's clearly a Top Game this weekend: No. 10 Ohio State at unranked Washington, which is off to one of "Those Years" type of starts under third-year coach Tyrone Willingham.

It goes without saying that the juxtaposition of Willingham beating a Top 10 team to run UW's record to 3-0 with Charlie Weis losing to Michigan to run Notre Dame's record to 0-3 would be insane.

I'm not saying that will happen, but merely for the POTENTIAL for that to happen makes this OSU-UW game a must-track. (That, and to see first-hand whether this RS freshman QB Jake Locker is the real deal.)

There are a couple other must-track games this weekend: Georgia Tech-BC, Florida-Tennessee, Arkansas-Alabama, Louisville-Kentucky. (Note: I don't include Michigan-Notre Dame.)

More questions:

*Will USC be derailed at Nebraska?

*Is Florida (finally) exposed as overrated vs. the Vols?

*Could Andre Woodson be even better than Brian Brohm?

*Is Georgia Tech-BC the de facto ACC Championship game?

*Is a home game vs. McFadden a must-win for Saban?

*Who drops to 0-3: Michigack or Notre Done?

This Week's Picks:
West Virginia (3) over at Maryland (Thu.)

USC (1) over at Nebraska (14)

LSU (2) over Middle Tennessee

Oklahoma (3) over Utah St.

Florida (5) over Tennessee (22) (DS IN-PERSON)

Texas (6) over at Central Florida

Cal (8) over LA Tech

Louisville (9) over at Kentucky

Washington over Ohio St (10) (UPSET SPECIAL)

UCLA (11) over at Utah

Penn St (12) over Buffalo

Rutgers (13) over Norfolk St

Georgia Tech (15) over BC (21) (GAME OF WEEK 2)

Arkansas (16) over at Alabama (Hmm...)

South Carolina (17) over S. Carolina St

Oregon (19) over Fresno St

Clemson (20) over Furman

Georgia (23) over W. Carolina

Hawaii (24) over at UNLV

Texas A&M (25) over LA-Monroe

BONUS: Michigan (UR) over Notre Dame (UR)

-- D.S.

Call Belichick, Pats What They Are: Cheaters

Wednesday Quickie directly below (or click here).

The Patriots are cheaters: Please stop using the phrase "violated league rules." The less formal, more accurate way of saying that is: "Cheated."

Cheaters. Yikes. Worst word in sports?

I'm surprised. It's a little like learning your favorite home run hitter uses steroids. Mainly: Why would a team as smart and well-run as the Patriots even NEED to cheat like this?

It remains to be seen whether this was some sort of chronic, recurring theme for the Pats – or even something that "every" team does, but simply never gets caught. Or something epidemic within the Pats organization, specifically.

Given the NFL's CIA-like Security department, you'd think they could go to the original NFL Films game tape and easily spot whether the Pats had employed this type of cheating in other games... say, in any of their Super Bowl victories that came down to a single play, in which stealing signs might have been the difference between winning and losing titles.

I'm not saying the Pats cheated to win their titles, but it certainly calls into question whether everything was on the level when they did. It's at least worth looking at the game tape, isn't it? (Or, Pats fans, are you afraid to see what you'll find?)

After all, if they're willing to brazenly cheat in Week 1, what lengths might a cheater go to to win in a championship game?

(Update: As you'd expect, rival coaches and execs from across the league are coming forward to talk about how this has been a Belichick tactic for years. Hmmm...)

The second-biggest question is: What type of punishment should they receive from the league for cheating? Consider that Roger Goodell has made "Get Tough" his mantra on the players who cheat. What kind of signal would it send if he didn't severely punish the teams who cheat?

The phrase being thrown around is "loss of multiple draft picks." I'm OK with that. But what does that mean? Are we talking about next year's first-rounder here? Second-rounder? Spread over multiple years?

If the punishment is too severe, Goodell is effectively punishing one of the men who employ him (Robert Kraft). If the punishment is too lenient, he makes the cost-benefit of cheating more appealing. This is a far tougher tightrope than the simple "player conduct" or "PED-related" suspensions. (As PFT pointed out: If Wade Wilson was suspended multiple games for using PEDS, what should a cheating head coach get?)

Finally, the usual question in any scandal: "What did Bill Belichick know and when did he know it?"

Given the particularly high level of control Belichick asserts over his team's operations, it seems unrealistic that this was the work of some rogue lackey. (It's the "A Few Good Men" scenario: It would be as if Kiefer Sutherland executed the "Code Red" himself, without Jack Nicholson's original command.)

Belichick's role is the most unseemly aspect of this entire cheating episode. In terms of potential punishments – and given his likely level of control over the cheating operation – a suspension shouldn't be out of the question.

The bottom line is that the entire episode calls into question the NFL's great dynasty of the last decade -- and arguably the greatest coach of all time. Again: Yikes.

But let's please call it what it is: Cheating. And it looks like not just cheating in one instance, but cheating as a recurring and preferred game tactic.

For Belichick, for the NFL and for Pats fans, I think this story gets a lot worse before it gets better.

-- D.S.

Wednesday 09/12 A.M. Quickie:
Pats, Russell, Peavy, WVU, More!

Today's Names to Know: Bill Belichick vs. Roger Goodell, Kevin Everett, JaMarcus Russell, Jake Peavy, Pat White and Steve Slaton.

Please note: There will be no updates on the blog on Thursday or Friday and comments will be locked. The weekly CFB picks post and the NFL Week 2 picks post will be posted later today. Posts will return on Saturday.

I had started to write a lead item about the Patriots' cheating, but it got so big that I'm breaking it out into its own post, which is posted above.

Kevin Everett's recovery to the point where he might walk again would be the best news of the young NFL season.

JaMarcus Russell signs richest rookie deal ever: Was it worth the wait? Was he worth the dollars? We'll see... in 2008 and beyond.

NFL Trade: Seahawks get QB Charlie Frye for6th-round draft pick. Meh.

Speaking of QBs, who is bullish on Kellen Clemens?

MLB Stud, Player: Jake Peavy, who won his NL-best 17th. Presumptive NL Cy winner?

MLB Stud, Team: Brewers, who used more power (Prince Fielder: HR No. 44) to take the lead in the NL Central.

Kudos to MLB on a cool playoff twist: The AL team with the best record will have its choice of playoff format in the ALDS.

Up to one hour after the top team's final regular season game, it will have the chance to decide whether it wants to start its playoff series on Oct. 3 or Oct. 4. Starting the series on 10/3 means the chance of only one back-to-back series in 8 days; starting the series on 10/4 would mean 5 games in 7 days. Not unsubstantial as an incentive. "This Time It Counts," for real.

CFB Tonight: West Virginia at Maryland. Should be a primetime showcase for WVU's insanely good offense, led by Heisman co-contenders Pat White and Steve Slaton, who I would rank (as a tandem) just below Brian Brohm and Ray Rice. All four from the Big East, it should be noted. Pick: WVU.

More CFB: Michigan QB Chad Henne won't just miss the Notre Dame game, but could miss a few more weeks after that. Here's a prediction: Ryan Mallett takes over the job and Henne gets Pipped. (Would any other unranked team get this kind of attention? I think not.)

NBA Rumormania: The Suns were apparently prepared to trade Shawn Marion for Andrei Kirilenko, who is expensive but not as pricey as the Matrix. I think playing on the Suns would have revitalized AK-47's career.

College Hoops: Ken Pomeroy is teaming up with Baseball Prospectus to give BP-style treatment to college hoops. Huzzah! "KenPom" will work with the great John "Big Ten Wonk" Gasaway on season preview content, too. (h/t: MDS at Fanhouse)

-- D.S.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tuesday 09/11 A.M. Quickie:
MNFx2, JaMarcus, Eli, Pats Cheating, Links, More!

The first Monday after the first Sunday of NFL season should be recognized as some kind of national holiday. (Forget the official Thursday night opening game.) Because there is SO much to talk about:

Sunday's NFL results are king, of course. That's what changes everything. But then you layer in college football and MLB in mid-September, and it feels like the "new year" has begun. Happy new year.

49ers edge Cards, and it wasn't pretty: For the Niners, it was ugly, but one of those things where you simply say "1-0," and you're one step closer to the playoffs. For the Cards, you simply regret letting this easily winnable game go.

Bengals beat Ravens 27-20: You could say the story was, as usual, Chad Johnson's TD celebrations (see below), but the real story was Cincinnati's defense, which racked up 6 takeaways. A consistently great D combined with that explosive offense makes the Bengals an early Team to Watch.

Chad Johnson Celebration Watch: His Hall of Fame "20??" jacket was pretty inspired, but it took him way too long to get it together. When the first time you watch a TD celebration is on replay 60 seconds after the fact, it just doesn't have the same impact.

Pats spying on Jets, busted as cheaters: OK, this is the weirdest story of the new NFL season – did the Pats cheat by using video equipment to tape Jets coaches on the other sideline? What would be the point: Does the Genius really need that kind of illegal intel? (Not with Moss he doesn't.)

I'm sure the league reprimand won't be much, but it's pretty skeevy to think that the best team in the league thinks it has to cheat to find an advantage.

Actually, what's skeevier is that you know this wasn't some unique case; this was simply the first time the Pats were CAUGHT. It is improbable that this was the first time they had done this. (In fact, they apparently were caught – but not busted by the league – doing the same thing against the Packers last season.)

Eli Manning out: The team is saying he "might" not play against Green Bay this week; other sources put him out for a month. Who's right? I certainly wouldn't trust the team. So, uh, who's picking up Jared Lorenzen for their fantasy roster next week?

Kevin Everett is going to be paralyzed: And what was otherwise a wonderful start to the season is hit with a terrible tragedy labeled as "catastrophic." His chances of a full recovery are listed as "dismal." Thoughts and prayers for Everett and his family.

Is JaMarcus Russell ready to sign? Yes? Great: It'll only take him another half-season to be in a position to contribute. Good thing the Raiders have nothing to do this season except get ready for next year's draft (ironically, stocked with exceptional QBs).

Speaking of rookie QBs: Is Brady Quinn going to start next week? He can't possibly be worse than Charlie Frye was in Week 1.

Fantasy Football: A few thoughts after Week 1. First, being in multiple leagues kind of sucks the fun out of fantasy, because you have so many players and so many add/drop/waivers to manage. You really have to work on compartmentalizing each.

Second, last season (in just one league), I was one of those saps who had the third-highest point total in the league, yet missed the playoffs. Flip-flop this year. Reminder: There's no shame in winning the week with the lowest point total in your league.

(Oh, and Vernon Davis SUCKS. Over all my teams, he's probably the player I repeatedly picked. Cost me at least one win. Probably more. This is my second year of owning him, and I dealt with the injury last year after making him a high TE pick. You'd think I'd learn!)

More: So, who is the hottest pick-up in fantasy football? Brady Quinn at QB? Dedrick Ward at RB? Drew Carter at WR? Bengals D? Man, is there ANYONE left on the waiver wire these days? I guess it all depends on injuries (like Ward, who might get Jacobs' touches).

NFL Must-Read: MJD's Smorgasbord returns to Deadspin.

And here's a second must-read from Deadspin (which had an epic day yesterday, in terms of guest-posting): Friend of Stefan Fatsis on Jason Elam's game-winning kick.

Speaking of Deadspin guest-posts, did you catch my weekly college football post? Here it is.

(And here's Hirshey's on soccer.)

Lloyd Carr Watch: I have a new name to throw at you for a potential Michigan head-coaching candidate: Norm Chow. Sure, he's never been a head coach before, but he's a winner, an offensive genius and he's got NFL cachet, too.

On all things Michigan, I defer to MGoBlog's Brian Cook. He is pimping Jeff Tedford, whose track record at Cal can continue Michigan's storied tradition of developing seemingly good NFL QB prospects that end up being merely mediocre (aside from Tom Brady). Oh, and wouldn't Michigan fans be worried about a coach who annually can't win his "Big Game" (and I'm not talking about THE "Big Game" -- Stanford -- I'm talking about the "Big Game" vs. USC).

Meanwhile, Chad Henne's injured leg will keep him out of next week's game (if not longer). Maybe that's for the best, given the team's start. True frosh replacement Ryan Mallett is the new hotness.

More CFB Injuries: Let's stick with key injuries to RANKED teams. Florida is in trouble: Leading playmaker Andre Caldwell is out for the Tennessee game with a knee injury. This is bad. Sure, the Gators have a ton of depth at the "playmaker" position, but Caldwell was by far the best of the bunch. (Witness his direct-snap 18-yard TD run last Saturday -- run directly in front of my seats. He's spectacular.) Yikes.

Hokies Watch: Even though Virginia Tech is finished as a national title contender (as predicted here... yes, I'll continue to flagellate myself over picking them to win the NC), I will continue to track their progress. Perhaps 11-1 with their only loss being at LSU is reasonable. Anyway, freshman sensation QB Tyrod Taylor is beginning his Era. He is going to get the start this weekend over the disappointing Sean Glennon. Good thing it's "only" against Ohio.

By the way, CFB fans, in addition to Every Day Should Be Saturday and Sunday Morning QB (and this little Deadspin column) every day, I hope you're reading the blog The Quad, by the college football staff of the New York Times, led by the inimitable Pete Thamel. It's the best/only must-read newspaper blog about college football. Thamel has his weekly "State of the Union" and caught my attention with this description of Washington's sensational redshirt freshman QB Jake Locker – "a faster version of Tim Tebow." I think he's right, and that's a scary thought for Ohio State. I'm picking the Huskies to continue their miracle season with a win over the Buckeyes in Seattle (made doubly sweet by a Notre Dame loss at Michigan). Anyway, here's the link.

MLB Stud: Scott Kazmir, who had 10 Ks in a Devil Rays win over the Red Sox. Got a great email from a reader yesterday insisting that the Devil Rays were a "buy-low" value for fans without allegiance (or for fans around the rest of the country who want an AL East team to feel good about). He's right. The new name and uniforms – the total rebranding of the team – will give them one window at making that case.

MLB 2008: The Red Sox and A's will open in Japan next season. So which team's fans will be screwed out of the home games?

Greg Oden to have exploratory knee surgery: Let this be the moment of foreshadowing when we realize his awesome potential was tempered by persistent knee problems for the rest of his career.

NBA Trade: Nuggets trade rebounding machine Reggie Evans to the Sixers for... well, basically cap relief.

Women's World Cup: So much for Team USA's dominance. They tied North Korea (of all teams) 2-2. (And they needed a goal in the 69th minute to do it!)

This is a woefully trite statement, but I can't believe it has been six years since 9/11. I was just starting my second year of business school in Boston, removed from my other life in New York City. Here's something I wrote in the following days for the business school's student newspaper.

-- D.S.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Monday 09/10 A.M. Quickie:
Week 1 NFL, Week 2 CFB, A-Rod, 9.74, More!

I can't possibly do justice to analyzing yesterday's NFL action. I leave that to places like PFT, KSK, Deadspin or Fanhouse. But I CAN offer some shallow observations.

As usual, the first Sunday of the 2007 NFL season left more questions than answers. Ten of them, in fact:

(1) Will most of the games be this ugly or is it a Week 1 thing?

(2) Are the Pats already as unstoppable as they seem to be?

(3) What the hell happened to Steven Jackson and Larry Johnson?

(4) Will it always look that easy the Steelers offense?

(5) Should they just give Adrian Peterson his Rookie of the Year trophy now?

(6) Can the Packers really bootstrap their way to the playoffs?

(7) Will everyone please lay off Matt Schaub now?

(8) Will the rest of the Broncos catch up to Jay Cutler?

(9) Is the Lions offense really that good?

(10) Isn't it typical that the night of Eli Manning's best game in a long time, he also gets hurt?

NFL Week 1 Stud, Player: Randy Moss, whose 9-catch, 183-yard, 1-TD game put him back on the map among the NFL's top superstars. (Runner-up: Chris Brown -- wow, where did THAT come from?)

NFL Week 1 Stud, Team: Minnesota. All of a sudden, my pick of the Vikings as an NFC Wild Card suddenly doesn't look so crack-smoking, does it? (Yes, it was against the Falcons, but still...)

NFL Week 1 Dud: Rex Grossman. I know the Chargers D is really good, but this game's result can't possibly help his cause. (Runner-up: Charlie Frye. Brady Quinn might not be ready, but he can't possibly earn a 10.0 QB game-rating.)

Oh, and one more Stud: The Kickers – Jason Elam, Mason Crosby and Scott Suisham, all of whom nailed game-winning field goals in their games' final seconds. Elam, especially, was clutch: 42 yards, on the road, without a time out to set up the kick.

Here's wishing for a full recovery for Bills reserve tight end Kevin Everett, who suffered a spinal injury on a kickoff yesterday.

Monday Night Football doubleheader:
Ravens-Bengals: Which playoff contender gets the fast start?
49ers-Cards: Who is this year's breakout team?

CFB: LSU is the No. 1 team in the country, and I can't believe any voters would leave USC there after the Trojans spent the weekend battling that incredibly tough opponent, "Idle." (And, yet, 2/3 of them did.)

Here's my BlogPoll ballot for the week, and here's a link to the rest of my shallow commentary from Saturday's action.

Lloyd Carr Firing Watch: Michigan AD Bill Martin supports Carr. It's not that I think Martin should fire Carr; it's that I think Carr should resign on his own. Meanwhile, Martin can go with him; it's like the GM getting fired when the Coach quits. Aren't the two intertwined?

US Open: Federer wins... again. It's his 12th Grand Slam title. I think I said this nearly half-a-dozen Slam titles ago: We're watching the greatest tennis player of all time.

MLB Stud: A-Rod (What? Again?!), who had a HR for the 5th straight game. He has 52 HR, 140 RBI and the Yankees have a 4-game lead for the AL Wild Card, the clinching of which would all but assure A-Rod his AL MVP trophy, if he hasn't secured it already.

MLB PED Scandal: Jay Gibbons is the latest name to come out. If this outing is going to happen in dribs and drabs, it's going to be an ugly offseason for baseball. They really ought to consider leaking the entire list and diffusing the impact with volume.

Golf: Tiger shoots a 63 to win the BMW Championship. (Amazingly, even with that score, he only one by two shots over Aaron Baddeley, who shot a final-round 66.)

Soccer: Women's World Cup starting. I think this is an underrated event that will generate a little bit of buzz once the U.S. team starts playing (and winning). There are some strang game times to watch live, which is always good for attracting a cult following. They will be hard-pressed to top Brandi Chastain's sportsbra moment.

World's Fastest Man: Asafa Powell sets a new world record in the 100m at 9.74.

-- D.S.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sunday 09/09 A.M. (Very) Quickie:
I Was SO Wrong About VA Tech

Gainesville, FL -- First things first: I was SO wrong about Virginia Tech. They will not beat LSU at LSU. They will not win the national title. Not my Worst. Prediction. Ever., but an early-season K.O. on that particular front. Let's just get that out of the way now.

OK: LSU is the unquestioned No. 1 team in the country, until proven otherwise. I cannot understand how any voter will be able to continue to rank USC ahead of LSU this week. The Tigers are REALLY good.

(Don't look for me to deliver some kind of bullish pronouncement about Florida, after seeing them in person. It was a Tale of Two Halves: In the first half, they looked unstoppable. In the second half, they looked downright atrocious, particularly the young defense.)

Other shallow notes from yesterday:

It was reasonable for Michigan fans to think "It can't possibly get worse" than the loss to App State. Amazingly, it did.

I'm not in favor of firing Lloyd Carr. I'm in favor of Carr quitting. (Michigan should be rooting for LSU. If the Tigers win a national title, it would be that much easier for Les Miles to figure he can't possibly do any better and jump to Michigan.)

Notre Dame shouldn't be afraid of the word "rebuilding," because if you you only have 4-5 wins and you're NOT rebuilding, you have a serious marketing problem.

OK, so TCU is not this season's Boise State.

Big day for underrated "South" teams on the road against Top 25 opponents:

South Carolina: You have got to love that Spurrier went into Athens and came away with a win over a trendy-hot Georgia team. Get those Gamecocks in the Top 20, stat.

Same with South Florida, which went into Auburn and beat the Tigers, a jewel of a non-conference win for a Bulls team that has had signature wins over WVU and L'ville in the last two seasons.

Oklahoma is legit.
Nebraska is not.

Oregon is also for real, despite the easy reaction of saying, "Well, they only beat Michigan at Michigan," which suddenly has zero cachet.

Not only should Washington's win over Boise State get the Huskies ranked in the Top 25 (Top 20?), but it might have been the school's biggest "statement" win since the early 90s.

More tomorrow.

-- D.S.