Friday, September 30, 2011

NFL 2011 - Week 3 -- The Season's Real Story Begins to Emerge

The third week of the NFL season is when some of the real stories for the season start to emerge, the 4th week confirms it. Believe it or not, the first quarter of the season will be finished at the conclusion of Monday night’s game just as the MLB playoffs hit high gear.

Perhaps the biggest story for the year so far is the Indianapolis Colts losing Peyton Manning due to neck surgery for the season and the team’s total collapse without him. The Colts are projected to lose by 10 points visiting Tampa Bay Monday night.

The incredible success of a team that’s been a bottom dweller since the Jim Kelly days, the Buffalo Bills riding high at 3-0 and their savaging of New England is another “who’d have thought it?” tale. While we’re raving about 3-0 teams, how about the Detroit Lions who until showing much improvement last year had been the laughing stock of the NFL since Barry Sanders days running the ball. The other 3-0 team is the Green Bay Packers, no surprise there for the defending Super Bowl Champs.

The remaining 0-3 teams: Miami, Kansas City, Minnesota, and Seattle weren’t expected to be gangbusters but remember KC and Seattle were weak playoff teams last year.

Perhaps the remaining surprise is how ineffective the Philadelphia Eagles have been thus far. Remember when signing on as a mere backup QB, Vince Young made bold pronouncements about the Eagles as a “dream team?” They’re 1-2 while the rest of the division is 2-1.

Aside from what’s noted above, NFL parity prevails as teams work to break out atop the heap. Eyes will be on Baltimore Sunday night to see if the Ravens or the New York Jets might be one of those teams to do so. One will emerge well positioned to rule the season; the other falls back into the pack and has much work to do especially given the strength of division rivals.

Here’s our picks for week four.

Washington (-1 ½) @ St. Louis
The Redskins defense should be strong enough to keep St. Louis locked down.

Detroit @ Dallas (-1 ½)
Here’s where Detroit can prove they’re for real and keep Dallas as all talk and no walk.

Pittsburgh @ Houston (-4)
Houston can prove they have finally become a true contender beating the perennial powerhouse from Pittsburgh, a team not as strong as expected so far this year.

Tennessee @ Cleveland (-1 ½)
These are the tough picks. Teams not thought to be too strong who have shown flashes of good play so far this year. We’ll give the edge to the Titans.

Buffalo (-3) @ Cincinnati
This is the kind of game Buffalo has to win to prove they are for real. Cincinnati hasn’t shown much in 2011.

New Orleans (=7) @ Jacksonville
Jacksonville has shown nothing so far this year and the Saints are strong. No contest here.

Minnesota (-1 ½) @ Kansas City
If the Vikings have any fight left in them, this would be the gae to show it, but Donovan McNabb looks so old while the rest of the team looks clueless, KC needs its first win and are playing at home.

San Francisco @ Philadelphia (-8 ½)
Jim Harbaugh has much to do to make the 49’ers true competitors. They just don’t have it glued together well enough to beat Philadelphia despite Michael Vick’s injury.

Atlanta (-4.5) at Seattle
It’s time for Atlanta to perk up after a weak start. A trip to the grungy Northwest should do it.

New York Giants (-2 ½) @ Arizona
If the Giants play with a little consistency, this game should be theres.

Denver @ Green Bay (-12 ½)
Playing in Green Bay should show up all the weaknesses Denver has in 2011. Fans back home will be shouting Tebow at their televisions despite the popular QB from Florida is not ready for prime time.

Miami @ San Diego (-7)
Miami’s headed for a terrible 0-4. San Diego at home should win with ease.

New England (-4 ½) @ Oakland
Oakland looks tough in 2011, but the Patriots are the Patriots. Easy call.

New York Jets @ Baltimore (-3 ½)
Call this the trash talk bowl. It will be a brawl in Crab Town as the two powerful defenses attempt to rule the day but the Ravens will prevail.

Indianapolis @ Tampa Bay (-10)
Who’d believe the mighty Colts would be a ten point underdog visiting Central Florida? It’s for real and it won’t be pretty.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

2011 Orioles: Grand Finale Masks a Season of Cruel Reality's Truimph Over Glimmers of Preseason Hope

The arch-rival Red Sox only need three outs in the ninth. Their accomplished closer, Jonathan Papelbon who’d proven to be almost a sure thing to secure the close, took the mound. The Orioles had the bottom of their order coming to the plate, with two out, all that remained was fill-in second baseman, Robert Andino, and the Sox would secure their expected playoff berth. Andino’s hit secured by a smoking hot double to the wall by left-fielder, Nolan Reimold, deep down the depth chart and playing in Norfolk on Opening Day paced the Orioles to a dramatic walk off win, and the Red Sox complete another historic choke – put Nolan Reimold in the book of Boston curses along with Bucky Dent.

This kind of bold ending would have been the perfect end to the Orioles’ 2011 season especially given the expectations behind this team in April, but in truth as the team celebrated as if they were a team play-off bound being the one team with the greatest claims to destroying the 2011 Red Sox, it was but a rare up moment in a season that had to provide a brutal reality check for a team that has not had a winning season since 1997, and saw one of their most beloved long-time members of the organization, MASN broadcaster, former Cy Young and World Champion Orioles pitcher, and head of baseball operations when the Rafael Palmeiro rocked perhaps the most competitive season the Orioles was found dead on his Sparks, Maryland farm from a self-inflicted shotgun blast. There was no escaping the realization that for a man who had been a loyal part of the Orioles organization as a player and after retirement his personal unraveling was strongly influenced by the team’s futility and his inability to help right the team he dearly loved though emerging star catcher, Matt Wieters, was his draft pick. This was the year his front office successor, Andy McPhail, a man with exemplary baseball pedigree and a history of building winners, was supposed to have had the results of his leadership show tangible results, but the 2011 season will be far more remembered for what happened in July than a triumphant finale at the end of September.

Baltimore baseball fans couldn’t help but feeling good to see the Orioles sweep the Red Sox four games in Boston last week and then beat them 2 out of three at home to close the season eliminating the Red Sox bid for the last American League playoff slot. For Orioles’ fans it’s always sweet to beat the Red Sox or Yankees who seem to take deed of the stadium every tie they come to Camden Yard overwhelming the locals with New York tough or Massachusetts arrogance as if Oriole Park were an annex to Yankee Stadium or Fenway park.  The Orioles played well in September winning 15 games and losing 13 games. That’s where the cheering ends. They finished the season at 69-93 making it six consecutive years with finishes of 92 or more losses and their fourteenth consecutive losing season.

When the joys of ousting Boston subside and the 2011 is seen in its totality, for those expecting a move toward respectability after their superb performance after Buck Showalter’s hiring as manager winning the most games in the American league during the last two weeks of the season, it looked like after heading for historic calamity early in the season under Dave Trembley’s ineffective stewardship, the rebuilding of the Orioles started in earnest midway through the 2007 season was paying off. With Matt Wieters developing into a top catcher, Adam Jones becoming a team leader in center field, and ever dependable, Nick Markakis in right field supplemented with perennial top performer, Brian Roberts returning from injury, the Orioles were starting to have what would look like a dependable nucleus on offense from players who excelled in the field. The young pitchers: Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, and Chris Tillman showed improvement down the stretch suggesting that they were nearing at least quality starter material for the following year.

The vision of a winning team in Baltimore, once such a proud and lively baseball team, was starting to come into focus. Andy McPhail’s strategy was to grow pitching and buy bats. To that end, McPhail signed for free agents and made trades giving up no prominent players to obtain Mark Reynolds, a free swinging power hitting 3rd baseman; Derrek Lee, a well-rounded superb fielding veteran 1st baseman who had a substandard 2009 season with a hand injury; J.J. Hardy, a fine fielding shortstop with a strong bat and some power, and Vladmir Guerrero, a veteran superb hitter whose power numbers were showing some decline down the stretch in Texas. Luke Scott then would patrol left field giving what could be a strong lineup top to bottom ready to take on the AL East bullies.  Kevin Gregg signed as closer.

With all this promise it didn’t take long; however, for the Orioles to show too many familiar old problems. Unlike the disastrous beginning in 2010, the Orioles weren’t blown out early. In fact, they were only down one game for April at 12-13, but in May, a seven game stretch losing six out of seven games widened the win/loss differential but still they weren’t out of the picture at the end of May. Their May 16th loss to Boston might very well be the epitaph on the 2011 season. What appeared to be of no major consequence, Brian Roberts shaken up by a head first slide into first base where he finished the game resulted his loss for the season with a concussion and related head wound trauma. Closer Kevin Gregg blew the save and lost the game. A four game losing streak in June pushed the differential wider apart with the month finishing with a three game losing streak to the St. Louis Cardinals at Camden Yards made the visions of hope at the start of the season start to look like another ill-fated scheme, but the losing at the end of June continued into an all out collapse before the All-Star break winning only one game in July before the break, taking a nine game losing streak into midseason. Only a mad idealist would see the 2011 team as not being the 14th consecutive loser.

The pitching fell apart with starters giving up big leads early and the bullpen being over taxed. After the break they’d go six and eleven and find themselves 21 games under .500. Grumbling of a possible 100 loss season started to become all too real. The Orioles were heading for a worse season than 2010. The promise of the future, the young starters were in Norfolk, Bowie, or on the disabled list more than they were in Baltimore. August started out just as horribly, 5-14 up to August 22 when they began a six game winning streak starting with six game winning streak, four against the Twins and two against the Yankees. No one would see a good September in the works losing five out of six before winning three games September 7-9th which only gave way to three more losses. Some September, eh?

By now, the team on the field aside from the most obvious names, looked more like the Norfolk Tides than the Baltimore Orioles, but the only team in the remaining season would all be contenders except Toronto. Not only did they help knock the Angels out of contention for the AL West, but the Orioles finished with seven out of eleven games against the Boston Red Sox. They won six and lost one pushing the Sox out of what looked like a sure Wild Card berth.

By now Baltimore’s moved on. The Grand Prix racing in Baltimore over Labor Day weekend gave Baltimore fans an entirely new kind of live sports to fall in love with while the Ravens played brilliantly in two out of their first three games. “The Orioles, oh yeah, them, they suck. What else is new?”

So what to do for next year?  There simply cannot be the optimism for the 2012 team there was for 2011, and where does the team go?  Would it even be feasible to enter into the Prince Fielder sweepstakes to add a power hitter who’d be spraying homeruns out of cozy Camden Yards? Would a player of his value sign for a team that hasn’t had anything important to show since 1997?

The team can pencil in J.J. Hardy at shortstop, Brad Wieters behind the plate, Adam Jones in center field, and Nick Markakis in right field. Is Brian Roberts still a possibility? If he could return to his level of play through the 2009 season or how he played once healthy last year, that would be a huge relief?  Mark Reynolds might be a keeper for his nasty homerun bat, but he’s a terrible third baseman and they’d be likely to add a first baseman. Left field, Luke Scott would likely be the starter but his fielding is horrible, and for a streaky hitter coming off of surgery, what’s his value to the team. The corner infield, left field, and possibly 2nd base are all questions.

The starting pitching is so full of questions with Jake Arietta if heeled looking like a young starter on the move. Zach Britton is getting better, but Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, and Chris Tillman are hugely unpredictable. What to do with the bullpen? Jim Johnson looks strong in any position. Do they really want Kevin Gregg’s self-destruction grabbing losses out of should be wins?

Andy McPhail came to Baltimore with credentials of being a solid GM building two World champs in Minnesota, and helping the Chicago Cubs become contenders amidst shaky ownership. However, his tenure in Baltimore starting in mid 2007 inheriting a team with dreadful expectations winning 40 and losing 53 under his time on the job does not spell success.  Since then the records are as follows:

2008: W-68, L-93
2009: W-64, L-98
2010: W-66, L-96
2011: W 69, L-93

So where’s the improvement?  The Orioles have finally found a state of the art, modern spring training facility in Sarasota, and minor league operations have been streamlined and more tightly supervised with almost all minor league teams in close orbit to Baltimore:  Tides, AAA, Norfolk, VA; Bay Sox, AA, Bowie, MD; Keys, Advanced A, Frederick, MD; Shorebirds, A, Salisbury, MD; and Ironbirds, short season A, Aberdeen, MD. With a stronger infrastructure though, the Orioles are not loaded with can’t miss talent in the minors spare shortstop Manny Machado who is moving right up the levels perhaps ready for Baltimore in 2013.

Some wonder if McPhail, whose contract expires this winter, will remain with the organization. On the criteria fans recognize, his tenure is not successful, while close observers most concede the overall health of the organization was far worse than realized when he joined the club.

What makes the 2011 season hurt so badly for serious fans. This was the year where winning was to be in reach and the move toward being a contender would take off from there. Can anyone look at how the 2011 season played out and see a winning team in the near future much less articulate a clear formula that could see the once proud franchise become a winner again in the toughest division in baseball. To even suggest there might be good signs for 2014 would have to be based on something that’s in the early stages of development now. Who can point out those potential players or resources that will make that so?

Here comes the hot stove season. Fans will be absorbed in the Ravens and if the Ravens play according to plan should be around in post season play until just before pitchers and catchers report.

We await to hear the team’s assessment, but the Baltimore Orioles are firmly established as one of pro sports’ most perennial losers with their great legacy becoming more and more a treasure of generations gone by.

The post season begins with a hollow, empty feeling. Where are the seeds of hope?

A generation of young Baltimore sports fans have never known what used to be such a joyful certainty, winning baseball in Baltimore.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

NFL 2011 - Week 3 -- Some teams getting close to wait until next year while Detroit should be 3-0.

Jacksonville @ Carolina (-3 ½)
Wow, the lowly Carolina Panthers are favored? Cam Newton has looked strong in his first two starts against stronger teams, now is the chance for him to achieve his first NFL win. He has the right heart and spirit to do it. Pick the Panthers.

Houston @ New Orleans (-4)
Houston’s an improving team but not strong enough to beat the well-established Saints.

New England (-7) @ Buffalo
Though this is a battle of two 2-0 teams, not all is created equal and the Bills great start will end with their first loss.

Miami @ Cleveland (-2)
Two pretty lousy teams, Vegas says the Browns. We say the fish.

San Francisco @ Cincinnati (-2 ½)
Here are two hard to predict teams, but the “Niners” should come east and the go home with a win.

New York Giants @ Philadelphia (-8 ½)
This won’t be as easy as it looks for Philadelphia with Michael Vick on the mends, but still, the Giants have more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese.

Detroit (-3) @ Minnesota
Consider this, the once hapless Lions will be 3-0 afer this game.

Denver @ Tennessee (-7)
The Baltimore Ravens learned the hard way Tennessee is no team to look beyond. They should dominate Denver and win convincingly.

Baltimore (-4 ½) @ St. Louis
The Tennessee Titans gave the Ravens a rude wakeup call. They also dealt out numerous injuries. The Ravens cannot take St. Louis lightly or they’ll repeat last week’s fiasco. A properly motivated Ravens team will win.

New York Jets (-3) @ Oakland
The battle of the NFL bad boys, but Rex and the Jets will take care of the Raiders.

Kansas City @ San Diego (-14 ½)
Kansas City was a team getting better last year. They seem to be full speed in reverse a year later, a big win for the Bolts.

Green Bay (-4) @ Chicago
It’s Green Bay all the way.

Pittsburgh (-10) @ Indianapolis
The national TV audience will see a team getting kicked when its down when the Steelers play the Colts in Indianapolis. The horrible feeling of 0-3 will be a tough burden for a team that has enjoyed so much success in the Peyton Manning era.

Washington @ Dallas (-5 ½)
Tony Romo is not healthy. The Skins ave played strong defense this year. Should the Redskins continue how they’ve played this year and not fall back into previous years’ woe’s, they’lll handle the Cowboys.

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 28 -- New Hampshire - Is already a last chance for some chasers?

With one race down and nine to go, championship hopes have already been dealt a serious blow to some drivers while some dogged by a mediocre season suddenly look hot, but this is only after one race. The setbacks can be irreversible, but success is only as strong as the next race.  Adding to the intrigue, Chicago came down to being a fuel mileage race where a number of Chase participants ran short of fuel, and ironically, Tony Stewart, who was in the lead until the last lap in last year’s opener all but ruining his shot for a third championship, turned out to be the victor just seven points behind Kevin Harvick’s lead in the points.

A hot driver going into the Chase, Jeff Gordon set back significantly Gordon with his 24th place finish dropped to 11th in the standings. Meanwhile, Matt Kenseth also ran out of gas and getting a push from J.J. Yeley disqualified his finish dropping him to the front on of the 1st lap down, 21st place. The result, Kenseth stands in 10th in the standings.

Of course nobody’s in worse shape than Denny Hamlin who squeaked into the chase gaining the 2nd wild card, but with his 31st place finish, it’s wait until next year already.

As those drivers were frustrated and Kevin Harvick held his lead with a second place drivers, the two drivers who had to qualify for the Chase in Richmond, are positioned to run for the championship, Tony Stewart couldn’t’ have found a better race for his first win, finally. Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 3rd place finish put him in …..
The top of the finishing order was full of Chasers, Carl Edwards, 4th; Brad Keselowski, 5th; Kurt Busch, 6th; Ryan Newman, 8th; Jimmie Johnson, 10th. For the rest of the “chasers” it would b more difficult from Johnson’s 10th, the next chase driver is Matt Kenseth in 21st, followed by Kyle Busch, 22nd; Jeff Gordon, 24th;  and Hamlin buried in the desperation spot, 31st.

The new points system where only one point separates each position in the standings and there is no fonr loading with more points for higher finishes, a couple good runs don’t make the difference they would in years past when the driver who wins the race gets 3 points for being in first place, 1 point for leading a lap, and 43 points for being in 1st place with each position after that only being reduced by one point, 42 points for 2nd, 41 for 3rd, etc. Additionally, the driver with the most points gains a bonus point.

Going into tomorrow’s race, the starting position is shown for each driver in the chase.

1-      Kevin Harvick (#29), 2054 pts, starts 6th.
2-      Tony Stewart (#14), 2047 pts, starts 20th
3-      Carl Edwards (#99), 2044 pts, starts 23rd
4-      Kurt Busch (#22), 2043 pts, starts 2nd
5-      Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#88), 2041pts, starts 12th
6-      Brad Keselowski, (#2), 2040 pts, starts 16th
7-      Ryan Newman, (#39), 2040 pts, starts 1st
8-      Jimmie Johnson, (#48), 2038 pts, starts 10th
9-      Kyle Busch (#18), 2035 pts, starts 8th
10-  Matt Kenseth (#17), 2030 pts, starts 27th
11-  Jeff Gordon (#24), 2029 pts, starts 7th
12-  Denny Hamlin (#11), 2013 pts, starts 28th

How hard is it at this point, consider Denny Hamlin must gain 41 points to tie for first, Jeff Gordon needs 35 points, Mat Kenseth – 34 points, and Kyle Busch is behind 19 points out. The commentators have pointed out, there’s no such thing as a Mulligan in the 2012 chase. With each week, the task becomes tougher. Right now, drivers need to shoot for top 10 or better to continue effectively leading the fight to the following week.

The 2012 Chase will have a different character for sure until or unless Jimmie Johnson moves out in front. From that moment forward, it would seem like business as usual.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 27 -- The Chase is on in Chicago

The 2011 Chase for the Championship begins tomorrow afternoon as twelve drivers contend to be the 2011 Champ, 11 of them attempting to prevent Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team from gaining their 6th consecutive champsionship, and who'd really want to pick against them?

Who can beat them? Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have four wins each, but both have also had some terrible finishes. Terrible finishes kill Chase drives. Jeff Gordon, Johnson's team mate has three wins and the championship "know how" having four championships of his own. The #24 team seems to be getting in a good grove when things matter most. Carl Edwards has been one hot performer for most of the season, but is disaster prone. He's perhaps the best Ford hope for a championship. Then how about Brad Keselowski who's been the hottest driver down the stretch with three wins that propelled him into the first wild card slot. The remaining drivers just don't look that strong. The good news for Stewart-Haas is that both Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman made the chase but Ryan Newman has their only win. Quiet Kenseth, Matt Kenseth has two wins, but has had a rather bland season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is winless and hasn't been too strong through the summer. Kurt Busch has likewise faded deeper into the season. Denny Hamlin has one win and just enough points to be the second wild card contender.

Here is how the chase contenders line up and where they stand in the field.

1- Matt Kenseth, #17, Ford (1st)
2- Kurt Busch, #22, Dodge (3rd)
3- Ryan Newman, #39, Chevrolet (4th)
4- Carl Edwards, #99, Ford (5th)
5- Brad Keselowski, #2, Dodge (6th)
6- Kyle Busch, #18, Toyota (8th)
7- Jimmie Johnson, #48, Chevrolet (12th)
8- Dale Earnhardt, Jr., #88, Chevrolet (19th)
9- Jeff Gordon, #24, Chevrolet (23rd)
10- Tony Stewart, #14, Chevrolet (26th)
11- Denny Hamlin, #11, Toyota, (27th)
12- Kevin Harvick, #29, Chevrolet (30th)

Drivers are awarded three points in the Chase standings for each win. Thus with the top contenders having four wins, they enjoy a 12 point spread over the winless drivers in the chase. The Chase awards are as follows.

Points Standings
1- Kyle Busch, 4 wins, 2012 points
2- Kevin Harvick, 4 wins, 2012 points
3- Jeff Gordon, 3 wins, 2009 points
4- Matt Kenseth, 2 wins, 2006 points
5- Carl Edwards, 1 win, 2003 points
6- Jimmie Johnson, 1 win, 2003 points
7- Kurt Busch, 1 win, 2003 points
8- Ryan Newman, 1 win, 2003 points
9- Tony Stewart, 2000 points
10- Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2000 points

Wild Cards
1- Brad Keselowski, 2 wins, 2000 points
2- Denny Hamlin, 1 win, 2000 points

It will be interesting to see what drivers appear to have something to prove from outside the Chase field. It looks like Clint Bowyer is a lame duck headed to Michael Waltrip with Five Hour Energy sponsorship. Kasey Kahne, of course, will take Kenny Francis to the #5 car with Hendrick Motorsports.  Will Mark Martin be able to fill out the rest of the year's schedule with Stewart-Haas racing when Danica Patrick is not racing? No number has been selected for that ride, and Robby Gordon insists he'll be back in some capacity retaining the #7 further insulting the memory of Alan Kulwicki.

It probably won't happen, but it sure would make racing more interesting and competative if NASCAR would seriously reduce the starting field. 43 cars is far too many. Somewhere between 33 to 37 makes more sense.

NFL 2011: Week Two -- NFL Analysts Have Too Much to Say

Good grief, between the clowns at ESPN, round the clock football on NFL Network, and every lesser or regional sports network trying to get its say in, every week of the NFL season has to be defined in epic proportions, every game must be significant and long range predictions based on one game flow like flood water.

Consider the Baltimore Ravens thumping the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. While the national media hasn't proclaimed the Ravens a Superbowl contender yet, the Steelers have been subjected to all kinds of analysis from the Super Bowl Loser's curse to notions that their defense is suddenly dying of old age. Can't we just state the obvious -- the Ravens handed their arch rival Steelers a good old fashioned ass whoopin'. The Steelers will almost certainly look more like themselves, more than a two touchdown favorite hosting the Seattle Seahawks who miraculously made the playoffs from a dreadful division last year.

Are the Indianapolis Colts absolutely finished until Peyton Manning returns? Okay, Houston clubbed them last week. Houston beat them in last year's season's opener too. They host the Cleveland Browns this week who Vegas has given a 2.5 point edge. The Browns can rescue defeat from the jaws of victory no matter who they play. The Lucas Oil Dome crowd will be all over them.

The Dallas Cowboys apologists are running wild. Hey they got beatten by New York Jets who beat them by a field goal. Tony Romo is so misunderstood. Well can anyone understand why he almost always sucks in the 4th quarter. Dallas could, would, should.... this logic grows old. There's been nothing much to really respect about this team since Aikman-Smith-Irvin wore the star helmets.

Cam Newton is the next Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, or Tom Brady after an impressive but losing performance where the Carolina Panthers lost to Arizona.

After getting thumped by division rival Washington, New York Giants head coach, Tom Coughlin is as good as fired and it looks like Eli Manning will never materialize into a winning NFL quarterback as if he never won a Super Bowl.

Make it official, the New York Jets are going to the Super Bowl, but then Rex Ryan says that every week doesn't he?

So let's look at week two and see what's going to be the big talk tomorrow:

Baltimore Ravens (-6) @ Tennessee Titans
Ray Lewis, Haloti Nagda, Terrell Suggs, and Ed Reed will do some fancy country line dancing all over the Tennessee offense while the fast paced Ravens offense will have Ray Rice running like a moonshiner. A strong effort by the Ravens should equal a big win.

Arizona Cardinals @ Washington Redskins (-4)
The Redskins should win convincingly, but it's way too soon to say Shenanigans and son have he Skins straightened out.

Seattle Seahawks @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-14.5)
Around 4:00 pm tomorrow, the Steelers loss last week to Baltimore will be a distant memory after they win by more than two touchdowns over Coach Geez-Whiz's misfits.

Cleveland Browns (-2.5) @ Indianapolis Colts
Kerry Collins will look like a Quarterback with Super Bowl experience providing enough for the Colts to beat the "Mistake by the Lake."

Kansas City Chiefs @ Detroit Lions (-8)
EGADS, the Lions are favored by 8 points!!! The Lions will start the season 2-0. Look out world and hear the Lions roar!!!

Oakland Raiders @ Buffalo Bills (-3)
Okay a lot of folks jumped on the Buffalo Bills' bandwagon after their total ass kicking dealt the Kansas City Chiefs, a playoff team last year, 41- 7, but then there were those who were convinced Oakland who did beat Denver by a field goal last week as the toast of the NFC West. This game is a close call, but the Bills should defeat Oakland who along with everything else had a short week playing a late Monday night game in Denver before having to regroup and head to western New York.

Tampa Bay @ Minnesota Vikings (-3)
The Vikings are pursuing the same strategy they did a year ago which brought down the roof in Minnesota, hire an over-the-hill quarterback. If there's any shot Donovan McNabb has anything left, he can prove it by beating Tampa, but we're going to pick youth and enthusiasm over a real nice guy with not much left.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New York Jets (-8.5)
The Jets will look as brilliant as head coach, Rex Ryan, says they are as they beat the NFL's most unknown team.

Chicago Bears @ New Orleans Saints (-7)
It's hard to feel strong about New Orleans given their loss to Green Bay and how impressively the Bears beat Atlanta, a likely contender, so convincingly last week. This game is really a coin flip regardless of what Vegas says, but we'll stick with the Saints. They're just too well balanced to be defeated by "Dah Bears."

Green Bay Packers (-10) @ Carolina Panthers
Welcome to the NFL Mr. Cam Newton. Be careful or else you'll be on your back admiring how Carolina blue the sky is as the Packers defense has a little welcoming reception for you. The Packers will give the young, gifted QB some serious growing pains for sure.

Dallas Cowboys (-3) @ San Francisco 49'ers
This will be a test of how well first year coach, Jim Harbaugh, has brought discipline and drive into a team known for being slackers and underachievers in the past. If they play a solid controlled game and hurt Tony Romo's feelings, they'll win.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Denver Broncos (-4)
It's tough to pick winners when both teams aren't very good. This game could be more a matter of which team doesn't give away the game than does something distinguished to win. Marvin Lewis is among the longest tenured coaches in the game now. Why should such a good man have to suffer so long with such a confused and crappy organizations?

San Diego Chargers @ New England Patriots (-7)
A team that's always supposed to be so good but typically comes up short against one of the most dependable teams in the game, New England should win convincingly.

Houston Texans(-3) @ Miami Dolphins
The Texans need to win and look good doing so to show that they are finally more than an up and coming expansion team. They should have the chance to do so.

Philadelphia (-2.5) @ Atlanta Falcons
What a great game for the Sunday night national TV audience, Michael Vick's first game as a starter in Atlanta. In Vick's absense despite all the fireworks he's brought to Philadelphia replacing a worn out Donovan McNabb, Matt Ryan has earned a spot as a most capable QB in Atlanta. Atlanta looked horrible in game one versus Chicago. The Eagles appear to have everything going for them. The Eagles should win convincingly.

St. Louis Rams @ New York Giants (-6)
Yes, this is probably already a must win game for the New York Giants given how sloppy they looked in week one. The picture of the Giants as a team in disarray will get out of hand without dominating the Rams Monday night.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 26 -- Select Few Drivers Go Nuts Over Chase Possibilities

It all comes down to Richmond…..

The starting line up is set as the final positions for the Sprint Cup Chase will be determined when the checkered flag drops at the end of tomorrow night’s Wonderful Pistachios at Richmond International Speedway.

The Chase competition works out as follows. Currently, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in 9th with 753 points and Tony Stewart in 10th with 751 points. They are in the top 10 based on points but have no wins for the season. Denny Hamlin is the second wild card entry and would fall out if another driver in the top 20 with one win could win tomorrow night and gain two victories. Hamlin is only 11 points ahead of A.J. Allmendinger and 12 ahead of Clint Bowyer If either of those drivers would win and amass enough points to go ahead of Hamlin, Hamlin is out.

Dale Earnhardt would have to lose 25 points to Brad Keselowski or Tony Stewart would have to lose 23 points for Brad Keselowski to gain a top 10 berth and then be eligible for Chase bonus points for his 3 wins. Should Keselowski accomplish this, Paul Menard inor Marcos Ambrose could take the second Wild Card berth assuming they maintain enough points to stay in the top 20. Ambrose is currently in 21st place and would not qualify seven points behind Menard. Following this scenario, David Ragan is in 23rd twenty points behind Menard but if he won and made up the 20 points gap separating him from Menard, he still has a chance.

If the Chase lineup changes tomorrow, the most likely scenario would be Brad Keselowski moving into the top 10 in points opening up the second wild card slot. Beyond nailing down the open Chase berths, teams that have already wrapped up their spot, will seek to maximize their seeding since the initial standings are based on total wins

Here’s the current Chase lineup.
  1. Kyle Busch – 4 wins
  2. Jeff Gordon – 3 wins
  3. Kevin Harvick – 3 wins
  4. Matt Kenseth – 2 wins
  5. Jimmie Johnson – 1 win
  6. Carl Edwards – 1 win
  7. Kurt Busch – 1 win
  8. Ryan Newman – 1 win
  9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 0 wins
  10. Tony Stewart – 0 wins

Wild Cards:
  1. Brad Keselowski – 3 wins
  2. Denny Hamlin – 1 win

The starting lineup features some interesting qualifiers, all of whom have won before and are neither in the Chase nor have any wins to show for 2011. While the Chase possibilities are articulated above, the joy to play spoiler and qualify for next May’s All Star race is a worthy consolation.

  1. David Reutimann, #00, Toyota (0 wins)
  2. Jamie McMurray, #1, Chevrolet (0 wins)
  3. Jimmie Johnson, #48, Chevrolet (1 win, Chase contender)
  4. Mark Martin, #5, Chevrolet (0 wins)
  5. Clint Bowyer, #33, Chevrolet (0 wins, slight chance for Chase)
  6. Jeff Burton, #31, Chevrolet (0 wins)
  7. Kevin Harvick, #29, Chevrolet (3 wins, Chase contender)
  8. Carl Edwards, #99, Ford, (1 win, Chase contender)
  9. A.J. Allmendinger, #43, Ford (0 wins, slight chance for Chase)
  10. Juan Pablo Montoya, #42, Chevrolet (0 wins)
  11. Kurt Busch, #22, Dodge (1 win, Chase contender)
  12. Kasey Kahne, #4, Toyota (0 wins)
  13. Kyle Busch, #18, Toyota (4 wins, top seed in Chase)
  14. Greg Biffle, #16, Ford (0 wins)
  15. Paul Menard, #27, Chevrolet (1 win, slight chance for Wild Card)

To make his advance on the top 10, Brad Keselowski starts 19th in the #2 Dodge while the two drivers he needs to catch up on to gain a top 10 sport are Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 8th starting 27th in the #88 Chevrolet while Tony Stewart in 10th starts 22nd in the #14 Chevrolet.

Racing conditions should be good falling into the mid 60’s during the evening with a 20% chance of rain. The Richmond race is one of the few over the air NASCAR races broadcast by ESPN on the ABC network.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

NFL 2011: Week One -- Starting Off with a Big Bang and Some Classic Match-Ups!

The 2011 NFL Season starts tonight as the last two Super Bowl champs, The Green Bay Packers host the New Orleans Saints, two teams to watch for the NFC Championship. While tonight’s match up is significant, much hype is directed at the Philadelphia Eagles as the NFL’s “dream team,” so says back up QB Vince Young.

With a firm salary cap in place and the fallout from the lock out, many teams will look very different from last year moving expensive veterans prioritizing which players are essential for the team’s success. A quick look at the divisions gives the first indication of who the winners and losers will be.

The AFC doesn’t appear to have any up and coming teams, not yet any way, so the biggest surprise will be the fate of Indianapolis where Peyton Manning’s recovery from neck surgery leaves question marks about his return. Can old-timer Kerry Collins keep things in order in the meantime?  Houston might be the team o watch for the North champ. The south will be between the Steelers and the Ravens. The AFC champ Steelers return all their starters. The Ravens have changes on both sides of the ball but are they an improvement, a draw or a step back is too early to tell, but the two face each other in Baltimore to start the season. The East will be New England with the Jets nipping at their heels while the west, who knows?  Denver is rebuilding. KC could be a team on the rise. San Diego underachieves.

The NFC starts with the south and how much Atlanta will have to contend with New Orleans as Tampa works its way up. The north belongs to Green Bay. Might Detroit finally break .500. Donovan McNabb with the Vikings – they like their quarterbacks old in the Twin Cities don’t they?  The Eagles command the east while Dallas will make its usual noise that will jump way up with Rob Ryan their new master of defense. He’ll shake things up and make their defense unpredictable, still does Tony Romo look like fellow who can lead a championship drive? The west was so pathetically weak last year last a losing team could make the playoffs. Which teams can finish around .500? Perhaps Jim Harbaugh will give an edge to the 49’ers. Seattle could at least do as well as last year which says little. Arizona is ready to rebuild as St. Louis is early in the rebuild phase and results till have a ways to go.

The games:
New Orleans at Green Bay (-4)
The pack is back and its cheese over jambalaya on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Pittsburgh at Baltimore (-2.5)
Paybacks are hell and the Ravens with the home faithful fired up will be ready to steal one from the Steelers.

Cincinnati at Ohio (-3)
Cincinnati is weaker. Cleveland is slightly improved, enough so that they will win the first battle for the Buckeye State.

Indianapolis at Houston (-8.5)
Indy without Manning won’t have enough to overcome the surging Texans.

Tennessee at Jacksonville (-2)
What’s going on in Jacksonville?  These are two flimsy teams but the pressure’s on Jacksonville.

Buffalo at Kansas City (-6)
The new improved KC will attempt to improve on their playoff berth from last year. Buffalo will be the first step to proving that.

Atlanta (-3) at Chicago
Chicago is a hap-hazard team while Atlanta is a team on the move that will return south with an important win.

Detroit at Tampa Bay (-2)
Playing at home gives Tampa the edge over a team desperate to show it’s finally a serious team once again.

Philadelphia (-5) at St. Louis
This one is one big Philadelphia Cheesesteak that will cause St. Louis blues.

New York Giants (-3) at Washington
Does anyone expect a less chaotic team in DC this year. Mike Shanahan lost his detractors but Grossman or Beck expected to work wonders?  The Giants have lots of holes but they’ll conquer the Landover Lackeys.

Carolina at Arizona (-7)
Neither of these teams are very good but the Panthers are all but starting at scratch and will not be a factor in the desert.

Seattle at San Francisco (-5.5)
This is a must win early on for Jim Harbaugh to show he can command the NFC west.

Dallas at New York Jets (-4.5)
It didn’t take long for the schedule makers to bring the brash and boastful Ryan brothers together. It will be Rex over Rod in the Meadowlands.

New England (-7) at Miami
Can Haynesworth and Ochocinco detract from the precision discipline of New England?? Who knows, but New England will still beat Miami. It takes head cases a couple weeks or so before they start showing their hands. Their BS won’t be tolerated in Belichick/Brady land.

Oakland at Denver (-3)
A chronically unpredictable team against a team trying to move forward – but we’ll go with Denver.

Thankfully the NFL Network, for those lucky enough to have it, fans can now get in depth coverage without having to put up with media’s biggest blowhard, Chris Berman on ESPN. We hereby authorize all Americans who work with sports fans who do their Berman impressions, to slap them or douse them with water when those obnoxious clich├ęs start to fly.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 25 -- Drivers Looking for One More Last Chance for Chase Glory

Rain could be a factor tonight as the Sprint Cup race in Atlanta’s start has been moved up 20 minutes to 7:30 pm which means little more than the fans will have consumed fewer hot dogs, funnel cakes, and beers and viewers at home will have to endure less ESPN hype and hoopla – here’s hoping weather doesn’t mess up a pivotal race – the next to last before the Chase begins.

Kasey Kahne in the #4 Red Bull Toyota sits on the poll in what is probably too little too late for his chase chances but Kahne whose talent won him a spot in 2012 next year is obvious enough for Rick Hendrick to recruit him to join two multiple champs and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the sport’s most successful and elite team. More significant is Clint Bowyer in the #33 Richard Childress Chevrolet. He’s outside looking in for the last spot on points in the Chase field. With Tony Stewart starting 20th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. starting 29th, Bowyer is in excellent position to improve his chase chances.

The top starters line up as follows:
  1. Kasey Kahne, #4, Toyota
  2. Clint Bowyer, #33, Chevrolet
  3. Kyle Busch, #18, Toyota
  4. Brian Vickers, #83, Toyota
  5. Jeff Gordon, #24, Chevrolet
  6. Matt Kenseth, #17, Ford
  7. Carl Edwards, #99, Ford
  8. Martin Truex, Jr., #56, Toyota
  9. Ryan Newman, #39, Chevrolet
  10. Kurt Busch, #22, Dodge
  11. A.J. Allmendinger, #43, Ford
  12. Juan Montoya, #42, Chevrolet
  13. Denny Hamlin, #11, Toyota
  14. Brad Keselowski, #2, Dodge
  15. Greg Biffle, #16, Ford

Atlanta is the fastest non-restrictor plate race but often comes down to pit strategy and fuel mileage where smarts not speed is often the determining factor in winning. It’s desperation time for drivers attempting to make the chase and panic city for those just barely hanging on. Brad Keselowski is the hottest driver in the series and is surely locked in for the first wild card seed, but could create a panic for Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Tony Stewart if he also moves into the top 10 in points well with in his reach. Keselowski trails Stewart by 21 points and Earnhardt Jr. by 39 – a little wider margin. Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer, with no wins, is one point behind Keselowski. Denny Hamlin, 13th in points overall, most likely has too much ground to make up to enter the field on points but holds the 2nd wild card berth. His position would be threatened if Paul Menard gets a second win or David Ragan, 21st in points, enters the top 20 and gets a second win. Regan is three points behind Menard and five behind Mark Martin if the #6 team is to get in position to be seeded.

There are also way too many junk entries in the field, drivers who will be gone by the first pit stop who should be at home watching the race on television and have no business polluting NASCAR’s top series. Stay tuned for the full damage report when the Chase begins so fans can see just how much drivers like Mike Skinner and Joe Nemechek are robbing the sport in the Brian France era.