Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NFL 2011, Week 13: The 3rd Quarter Ends as the Playoff Contenders Step Forward

The 2012 season ends its third quarter with this weekend’s game with the playoff possibilities clearly in sight. Perhaps the biggest story of the season has nothing to do with victories, but instead, failure. Would anyone have foreseen the Indianapolis Colts being winless with five games to go even without Peyton Manning?

Clearly, there are issues at play on that team that are deeper than the leadership afforded by one key player out of action. The Detroit Lions started off as one of the real happy stories of the year winning their first five games but going 2-4 since with the insane conduct of Ndamukong Suh’s out of control nonsense getting most of the attention including stomping on an opponent’s head and then trying to justify his action on a nationally televised Thanksgiving game. That earned him a two game suspension, a fate that could eliminate Detroit not only from its first shot at the playoffs in ages but they’ll have to step it up to avoid yet another losing season.

Could Rex Ryan and his nonstop bloviating be wearing out his welcome in New York? The Jets are not going to make the playoffs without one of the leaders in the AFC North, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, or Cincinnati self-destructing. Does anyone believe Norv Turner will return to coach San Diego next year?  San Diego would be the choke tale of the year were it not for the Colts.

Dallas could win the NFC East, but no one should buy into the hype that they are a great team. They have a light schedule for the rest of the year and have looked terrible at times. Why they continue to maintain the America’s team hype defies imagination.

The NFC battle for the Championship looks clear. It will be San Francisco versus New Orleans to attempt to knock off the Green Bay Packers. The AFC seems pointed to Baltimore, but the Ravens have a funny habit of losing to miserable teams after clobbering the big boys. They must show championship caliber play Sunday versus Cleveland while Pittsburgh plays Cincinnati; otherwise, it will probably be a pick between Pittsburgh and New England for AFC supremacy.

The following teams can only at best tie for their division lead. Jacksonville (AFC South), Miami (AFC East), Carolina (NFC South), Arizona (NFC West). These teams are toast: Indianapolis (AFC South), Minnesota (NFC North), St. Louis (NFC West).

Here are the battles for week 13.

Thursday Night:
Philadelphia (-3) @ Seattle
The Eagles are a mess and face playing cross country on a short schedule. Seattle should prevail.

Sunday Afternoon:
 New York Jets (-3) @ Washington
This is a must win for the Jets if they want to stay in the playoff hunt. They should have the edge over the chaotic Redskins.

Oakland @ Miami (-3)
This is the kind of game Oakland needs to win to show themselves a real post season threat not just the lucky team in a bad division.

Denver @ Minnesota (-1 ½)
More Tebow magic? Don’t count the little guy out. They’ll play with enthusiasm something the Vikings sorely lack.

Indianapolis @ New England (-20)
Remember when this matchup of Olympian proportions?  Manning versus Brady, but somehow New England at least held their own when they lost Brady for a season. What’s up with the Colts who will be brutalized on Sunday?

Atlanta (-3) @ Houston
This was supposed to be Houston’s break out year and on paper, a 7-3 record looks great, but that doesn’t reveal they’re now down to a 3rd string quarterback. They won’t beat Atlanta, but should make the first round of the playoffs then be sent home.

Tennessee @ Buffalo (-1 ½)
Buffalo’s lost four straight and are 2-6 since their fast three wins to start the season while Tennessee seeks to stay in the playoff hunt with Houston ahead by two games but damaged. Tennessee should be able to beat Buffalo.

Kansas City @ Chicago (-7)
Chicago should prevail with ease.

Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh (-7)
If Pittsburgh loses, their dreaded rival, the Ravens should be in the driver’s seat to win the division and both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati would be in line as wild cards. If Pittsburgh wins, then Cincinnati is thrown to the pack of other wild card contenders with Baltimore and Houston ahead on their schedule. This game should belong to the Steelers.

Carolina @ Tampa Bay (-3)
There are no guarantees in this match up. If Cam Newton is on top of his game, Carolina can win, but Tampa Bay, a most inconsistent team, should win if they play their “A” game.

Dallas (-4 ½) @ Arizona
Okay, the Cowboys will win this. Don’t draw any grand conclusions about this being any kind of triumph.

Baltimore (-7) @ Cleveland
Baltimore has to win this game and not resort to the pattern of losing to losing teams after big wins against tough opponents. Cleveland is a tough spot. The Cleveland fans HATE the Ravens more than any other team believing in their hearts the team dressed in purple and gold should be their gladiators. Get over it and prepare for the wrath of the Ravens.

Green Bay (-7) @ New York Giants
The Giants looked terrible against New Orleans and now they face another even tougher foe. Although Eli Manning is giving the game a fine effort, the Giants’ defense and special teams are so awful, they’d have to pull the upset versus the Packers to have any hope short of a total Dallas collapse for post season play. The Packers should win with ease. The Giants one saving grace is facing Dallas twice before season’s end.

St. Louis @ San Francisco (-13)
Here’s a game for the Giants to feel good after losing the Brother Bowl Thanksgiving night – a nice win against a division opponent.

Sunday Night:
Detroit @ New Orleans (-9)
This will be a painful realization for Detroit, a team that looked so promising starting 5-0, has gone 2-4 since with Ndamukong Suh’s bully antics getting much of the press. New Orleans looks like a team on the ascent with Drew Brees running the Saints’ offense brilliantly. Detroit faces a tough loss on the Sunday night stage.

Monday Night:
San Diego (-2 ½) @ Jacksonville
Jack Del Rio got the ax fulfilling a rumor that has been festering for over two seasons. Meanwhile, San Diego’s horrible play has Norv Turner a dead man walking who perhaps might not make it to the season’s end given their dreadful 4-7 record with star QB Phillip Rivers looking horrible consistently this year. Who will win this game is truly a toss up. They’ve lost six consecutive games but unless the team has mailed it in entirely, they should prevail on their home field.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

NFL 2011, Week 12 - Turkeys Attempt to Avoid Slaughter as Playoff Chase Begins

Green Bay (-6.5) @ Detroit   
Finally Detroit plays in a Thanksgiving game, but like back in the 1960’s when they likewise faced the Packers and lost. It’s hard to see them getting beyond Aaron Rodgers.               

Miami  @ Dallas (-7)
Dallas wins a couple against interior teams requiring overtime to do so last weekend against the folded up Redskins. So beating Miami will get the America’s team hype machine screaming. They are at best a very average team.

San Francisco  @ Baltimore ( 3.5)
The big media game of the week, “The Battle of the Brothers,” Jim for the Ravens and John, 15 months younger and a former Raven for San Francisco, this will be one intense game.  Big brother wins.

Minnesota @ Atlanta  (-9.5)
Atlanta must win games like this to continue to have any post season hopes.

Houston (-3.5) @ Jacksonville
Quarterback Matt Schaub is out for the season but Houston should beat Jacksonville in a weak division. Currently tied with Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New England at 7-3, it will be hard to maintain first round bye status.                     
Tampa Bay @ Tennessee (-3)
Either team could win this one. The Titans get the home field plus.

Arizona @  St. Louis (-3)
Not much at stake here other than avoiding the cellar in the NFC’s dog division.

Cleveland @ Cincinnati (-7.5 )
After losing to the Steelers and Ravens, the Bengals will gladly maul the Steelers.

Buffalo @ New York Jets (-8.5)
Remember when Buffalo led the AFC East?  Nobody’s figuring much of anything from them now. Rex Ryan’s show is wearing thin. More results and less jabber will keep the Jets in the playoff picture, a must unless Ryan wants the whole Big Apple to turn against him.

Carolina (-3) @ Indianapolis 
If rookie QB Cam Newton falters, if Indy’s putting forth any effort any longer, they could gain their first win, but Carolina still earns the nod.               

Washington @ Seattle            (-4)
The Ravens took the same trip two weeks ago and lost. What would give the Redskins even the slightest chance?

Chicago @ Oakland (-4.5)
Oakland will enjoy widening its lead in the North with a win over the injured Bears.

New England  (-3) @ Philadelphia                
The Eagles don’t have much working right now and the Patriots swarm like sharks when there’s blood in the water.
Denver @ San Diego  (-6.5)
San Diego should finally get a win, one in their division no less. If Tebow wins again, we might conclude his personal relationship with Jesus includes fixing football games.

Pittsburgh (-10.5) @ Kansas City
If the Steelers are a lesser team in 2011, no one will know it this weekend.

Monday Night:                                   
New York Giants @ New Orleans (-7)
The Giants need to pull an upset if they are to remain relevant this year but they won’t and the Saints will keep marching.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 36: The Grande Finale - Edwards versus Stewart

In almost showman like precision, the field for the grand finale the race that will determine the 2011 championship is between two racers, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. It would be Edwards' first title, but should Stewart win, he'd join the most elite fraternity of drivers with three or more titles -- Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson,  Jeff Gordon, Lee Petty, David Pearson, Lee Petty, Cale Yarborough, and Darrell Waltrip. On the other hand, would Edwards win, it would make Jack Roush a three time champ as owner, a rare feet in its own right. This is a race for the fans, a battle between two of NASCAR's boldest personalities both of whom have huge followings.

All the signs going into the race favor Edwards. He has won this race in the past two seasons, sits on the pole, and dominated second round practice, while Stewart's wins at Homestead were before the track was redesigned and was racing the older generation car. Stewart only managed 28th fastest in 2nd round practice which might suggest to some he could be sandbagging, but if that were the case, his qualifying efforts are rather lackluster, with a starting spot of 15th. Few drivers are able to communicate and make adjustments as effectively as Tony Stewart with Crew Chief, Darien Grubb's assistance. While the numbers are all in Edward's favor at the start of the race, nothing's chiseled in stone.

Some drivers are hoping that the Ford 400 is not their last horrah. Presently, the #6 team does not have sponsorship to continue, as such David Ragan could be without a ride. David Reutimann was fired from Michael Waltrip racing. While Brian Vickers, who ccertainly has not been making friends given his on track behavior recently, is with the Red Bull Team that is closing up shop unless a buyer an be found, but even if one were,there's no guarantee Vickers would be invited back. The NASCAR field continues to contract. The Roush operation could well be three cars as will Richard Childress racing. However, the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series might have provided a look at who could be joining those teams in the near future. Austin Dillion, Richard Childress's grandson, won the truck championship. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the Nationwide title for Roush.

For the first time since 2005, Jimmy Johnson will not be champion. The last champ before him...Tony Stewart. Johnson's five consecutive titles is an unequalled feat in NASCAR blowing away Cale Yarborough's three straight titles. With Johnson's long shadow, it is not obvious that Tony Stewart not only already has hall-of-fame credentials, but a championship tomorrow puts him in the true elite. Edwards, most might think it's about time. He's been one of the sport's most dynamic drivers in the past decade and is one of five who finished second to the Johnson legacy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NFL 2011: Week 11 -- The Last of the Byes

For those who want to run Cam Cameron out of town for Baltimore's embarassing loss to Seattle, how does a team commit three turnovers, two on kickoffs giving the opposition the ball in ideal field position and not lose.That te Ravens' defense only held the Seahawks to field goals minimizes the damage, but from this point forward, EVERY game the Ravens play is a vry important game. If they want some playoff action in Baltimore, no more cheap losses to crappy opponents.

Meanwhile, in the topsy turvy world of Mike Shannahan and "Sonny Boy" it's back to Rex Grossman proving once and for all the team hasn't a real QB nor do they have a real offensive coordinator, sorrry Dad.

How fortunate are the banged up Steelers to have the an unusually late bye? Al teams played last week, and now there's one more week of four teams with byes, Pittsburgh, Houston, New Orleans, and Indianapolis who really haven't shown up to play all year.

The Broncos are about to host the Jets with their "unique" QB, Tim Tebow aainst the Jets with their underachieving QB Mark Snachez. This is a great media game. So let's look at all the games and who's going to win in Week 11.

New York Jets (-6 1/2) at Denver
There isn't enough Tebow magic to stand up against the nasty Jets defense...end of story.

Cincinnati at Baltimore (-7)
No excuses, no mistakes, the Ravens must prevail. Cincinnati's glory run starting the season is now over facing the big boys in the division.

Dallas (-7) at Washington
That the Cowboys will clobber the Skins will get the talk going that they are America's team and really good. Baloney, they're playing a team that sucks.

Carolina at Detroit (-7)
The Lions need to show command that they truly have mastered winning against the talented Cam Newton leading the Panthers' attack.

Tampa Bay at Green Bay (-14)
Green Bay wins the battle of the Bays with ease.

Buffalo at Miami (-2)
Buffalo's hot start is over. Miami's out to prove their horrible start is too. Miami has the slight edge.

Jacksonville at Cleveland (-1)
The home crowd and its collective stench should give Cleveland the edge over Jacksonville.

Tennessee at Atlanta (-6)
Atlanta needs wins like this one to get its season back in ontention for the NFC South's crown or perhaps a wild card.

Oakland (-1 1/2) at Minnesota
Oakland has some real punch in their game despite their many shortcomings while the Vikings are more likely to just roll over.

Seattle at St. Louis (-2 1/2)
These games against two weak teams are tough calls. Figure the Seahawks left their fortune at home having upset the Ravens -- they come east and play indoors.

Arizona at San Francisco (-9 1/2)
The Niners with John Harbaugh's leadership is the 2011 up and coming team that should smash the Cardinals.

San Diego at Chicago (-3.5)
Will the Chargers ever show winning form again in 2011?  The Bears are coming on srong in mid-season, and with their relentles defense should exploit the struggling San Diego offense.

Philadelphia @ New York Giants (-4)
The Eagles horrible season falling way below expectations combined with QB MIchael Vick nrusing cracked ribs makes this game look like the Giants all the way. This game should have been a hot contest, but the Eagles don't have enough fighters to do the job.

Kansas City at New England (-15)
Wharever problems have dogged New England this year will be well disguised plaing an opponent who should make them look like the might Patriots.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 35 - Brand New Phoenix Rising

Four drivers compete for the Sprint Cup with two races remaining in the 2011 Chase. Points leader, Carl Edwards starts 9th with second place driver, Tony Stewart, three points behind starts in 8th. Kevin Harvick in 3rd 33 points back did not help his prospects to leap into the thick of competition with a distant 27th starting position. Matt Kenseth, in 4th in the standings, 33 points back, the only other driver within reach of the title improved his prospects winning the pole for tomorrow’s Kobalt Tools 500.

Other drivers of note include both Richard Petty entries with A.J. Allmendinger in the #43 Ford starting 2nd and Marcos Ambrose starting 3rd in the #9 Ford. Michael Waltrip racing, an enterprise that has struggled in 2011finds Martin Truex starting his #56 Toyota in 5th while discarded driver, David Reutimann starts the 00 Toyota in 7th hoping to catch the attention of an owner with an open seat for a driver for 2012. Disgraced driver, Kyle Busch returns to the track stripped of his M&M sponsorship for the last two races lining u a distant 34th place after his shameful conduct destroying Ron Hornaday’s KHI Chevrolet during caution last week in Texas.

Looking at past success might not be a good indicator for who will drive well tomorrow since the Phoenix track is not only repaved but also redesigned with new banking and reengineered curves. Some Nationwide series drivers suggested similarities to Iowa, a track where Sprint Cup does not run. The Nationwide race proved the track to be most race worthy providing competitive conditions for great competition.

While a strong case could be made for either Edwards or Stewart to win the championship most fans and pundits agree that their positions should remain very close at the end of competition tomorrow leading for a tight margin going into the series grand finale.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NFL 2011, Week 10 - Add Thursday Nights!!!

Week 10

Here it is! The start of Thursday Night Football the cash cow for the NFL Network which assures a groggy workforce three mornings a week, Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. Note to employers – make sure most important tasks are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.  Regarding the Ravens dramatic final seconds win Sunday night, fans can continue to celebrate right up through kickoff on Sunday, but the team had better be working as if Sunday in Seattle were the Super Bowl. The Ravens cannot afford to lay another egg after a major victory if they want some playoff action in crab town. The Pittsburgh/Cincinnati game will be hugely interesting and prove if the Bengals are for real this year. Pittsburgh pretty much looks like the Steelers of old except for their two losses to Baltimore, so what do the fellows downstream have for them?

The games:
Oakland @ San Diego (-7)
San Diego cannot continue to putz about and beat division foes. They still should be the top team in the AFC West but must prove it against the Raiders who stand to get stronger as Carson Palmer gets integrated into their game plan.

Washington @ Miami (-4)
This is a game to prove just how bad the Redskins or Dolphins truly are. A smart, conservative game plan and some heads up defense should send the quarterbackless Skins back to DC in tatters.

Jacksonville (-3) @ Indianapolis
Will the Colts play another game that they don’t mail it in this year? They are playing some of the most pathetic football seen by what should be a hurting quality team in ages. It’s impossible to pick the Colts in any game until they show some fight. Suppose they are playing for Luck and little more.

Denver @ Kansas City (-3)
Let’s bet on this game starting up the Tim Tebow jokes again. KC is recovering nicely from a tough start.

Pittsburgh (-3) @ Cincinnati
This is reality check for both teams. If the Bengals are good, this is a game to prove it. They face Pittsburgh and Baltimore in four of their last eight games and have to win two games of the four to be a true contender.

Buffalo @ Dallas (-5 ½)
Picking Dallas to win this game assumes Buffalo’s fast start was a fluke and that playing in the great palace of decadence will be too much for them. Dallas is not a good team that got off to a bad start. They are the most over-hyped team in the game. The real key to the game is Dallas’s defense playing up to par. If they do, the Cowboys win.

New Orleans @ Atlanta
The odds makers want no part of this game and that’s understandable. The Saints have floundered recently. Atlanta has been underachieving this year but is starting to pull things together. The Saints have the extra win since they have not had their bye. We’ll give Atlanta a very slight edge.

St. Louis @ Cleveland (-2 ½)
Here’s what you get when two weak teams collide. Cleveland’s a little more aggressive and has their horde of drunks cheering them on – slight edge.

Houston (-3) @ Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay shows flashes of brilliance but Houston is the stronger team. Houston has no margin for underachievement which has dogged them too often this year to pull this game out.

Tennessee @ Carolina (-3)
Carolina is making strides to once again be a successful team with young QB Cam Newton. Tennessee has lost its early season pop – slight edge to the Panthers.

Arizona @ Philadelphia
Philadelphia is one of the most frustrating teams in the game. They can and should win this game.

Detroit @ Chicago (-2 ½)
This is a great game for either team to prove they are for real. Chicago took care of Philadelphia Monday night, but if Detroit is truly a real winner, this is an important game to win on the road if they are playoff bound.

Baltimore (-6 ½) @ Seattle
It’s noisy, it’s the west coast, the Ravens must be on top of their game against this must lesser team.

New York Giants @ San Francisco (-3 ½)
Here’s another chance for Jim Harbaugh to prove his “Niners” are for real against a team they could well face in the post season.

New England @ New York Jets (-1 ½)
New England handled the Jets in their first meeting in week 5 when the Jets were in their third of a difficult road stretch. Since then, the Jets have pulled things together as the New England Patriots are looking mighty weak on defense. The Jets would appear to have the slight edge here.

Minnesota @ Green Bay (-13 ½)
Send in the clowns, this is Green Bay’s all the way. Minnesota is simply too weak to call this a great rivalry game this year.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 34 -- Three to Go

And now there are three, and Texas Motor Speedway is one tough destination for Sunday’s AAA 500. Carl Edwards and especially Tony Stewart (-8) are talking championship trash after Martinsville’s demolition derby. However, they are not the only contenders with three races remaining. Kevin Harvick is only -21 out of first while Brad Keselowski sits back -27. We’re keeping Matt Kenseth in the picture, who’d need to make up 12 points a race to be in the championship picture at the end. Jimmie Johnson has a full field’s worth of points to overcome, -43; however, can we really rule out the defending five consecutive champ.

Here are where our contenders line up.

1-      Carl Edwards, #99, Ford, starts 7th
2-      Tony Stewart, #14, Chevrolet, starts 5th
3-      Kevin Harvick, #29, Chevrolet, starts 21st
4-      Brad Keselowski, #2, Dodge, starts 8th
5-      Matt Kenseth, #17, Ford, starts 3rd
6-      Jimmie Johnson, #48, Chevrolet, starts 11th

Given the top two contenders such elite starting positions adds to the intrigue as they will be fighting hard to maintain track position and execute flawless pit stops as an eight point lead can vanish quickly.

Weather should be ideal with temperatures in the low 70’s under partly cloudy skies.

NFL 2011: Week 9 - Halfway There

All teams will have reached the halfway point in the 2011 season and aside from the Green Bay Packers, every top team has shown weaknesses having at least one embarassing loss to their credit. Aside from the undefeated Packers, only the surprising San Francisco 49er's under first year coach, John Harbaugh's leadership, has one loss albeit in perhaps the weakest division in the NFL.

Take note of the NFC East where the New York Giants lead with a 5-2 record, the other three teams have a 3-4 record. The Redskins are dropping like a stone. Dallas has proven again they aren't a top tier team and who can still believe Tony Tomo is a capable quarterback. Meanwhile, Philadelphia appears to be the team on the rise after their dreadful start.

Three teams stand at 4-3 in the AFC West, San Diego, Kansas City, and Oakland. San Diego would be the pick but they looked pitiful in Monday's slaughter at the hand of Kansas City as Oakland tries to put things together behind QB Carson Palmer who had been "retired" before last week.

Indianapolis and Miami remain winless. The loss of Peyton Manning must be seen as only one factor in the Colts demise at this point. While Manning is a sure hall-of-fame QB, for a team that has been a consistent winner to flop so badly without him signals bigger problems. It's hard to imagine what that clubhouse will be in December.

The following teams have byes this week: Detroit, Carolina, Jacksonville, Minnesota

The Games:

San Francisco (-4) @ Washington
Landover, MD should be prepared for a slaughter. Since the QB controversy surfaced, it's clear that the Redskins have neither a quarterback or an offensive coordinator who has a clue what's going on. Too bad he's the head coach's little boy.

Miami @ Kansas City (-4)
Kansas City is no place for Miami to gain its first win. A four point spread favoring the Chiefs seems harsh to KC.

Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-8)
The Saints will be looking to show they are indeed a top NFC team with this home game against an increasingly stronger division rival. The Saints should win, but don't be surprisedif the Bucs beat the spread.

Seattle @ Dallas (-11.5)
Don't let this game fool anybody. The Cowboys will look like a great team this Sunday, but look who they're playing.

New York Jets @ Buffalo (-2.5)
Here's Buffalo's chance to prove they are truly a playoff contender. It would be best for Rex Ryan to concentrate on action not words as they will likely lose in the home of the one NFL team that plays in the State of New York.

Cleveland @ Houston (-10.5)
Houston can make this a blowout if they play on top of their game but they've had lapses they can't afford against the Browns.

Atlanta (-7) @ Indianapolis
Poor Colts ... another loss.

Cincinnati @ Tennessee (-3)
Here are two teams playing better than expected so far this season. We'll give the Titans the choice with a slight home field advantage.

Denver @ Oakland (-7)
Poor Tim Tebow, a nice kid playing a big man's game will be a sad sight as he gets pancaked, pounded, and pasted as the Tebow jokes will keep getting louder. The NFL is not the SEC.

New York Giants @ New England (-9)
Playing at home, the Patriots will surely be ready to lay a whipping on the Giants.

Green Bay (-5.5) @ San Diego
San Diego and QB Phil Rivers just don't seem to be programmed to win. Green Bay is. Norv Turner will be even more reviled after this loss.

St. Louis @ Arizona (-2.5)
This game's a tough call. Both are teams on the rebuild. We give the Cardinals the home team edge.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-3)
The war moves from the shores of the Patapsco to the Three Rivers confluence. Can the Ravens rise up and whack the Stealers again who surely resent what happened in week one. The Ravens just might come home with the win this time in the city that eats french fries on their sandwiches.

Chicago @ Philadelphia (-7.5)
Philadelphia will look like the team they were supposed to be with all the presason bragging. They'll be at the break even point with this win.