Thursday, December 20, 2007

NFL Picks, Week 16

Last week: 9-7
Season: 148-68

Dallas at Carolina: The Cowboys’ second appearance on NFL Network comes against what is becoming an annual rival in the Panthers. Last year’s trip to Charlotte resulted in Tony Romo’s coming out party, as he led the Cowboys on a huge second-half comeback. The Cowboys are coming off an unexpected loss at home to the Eagles. The Panthers have started four quarterbacks this year, but got a win over NFC West leader Seattle last week. It won’t be a blowout, but go with Dallas. Pick: Dallas

Pittsburgh at St. Louis: The Steelers are stumbling toward the finish line, but head into St. Louis to take on a beaten-down and beaten-out Rams team. The Steelers find a cure for their problems, at least for one week. Pick: Pittsburgh

New York Giants at Buffalo: Who does the governor cheer for? Buffalo. The Giants don’t actually play in New York. The Giants lost an unexpected game last week at home to the Redskins. The Bills are out of the playoff hunt, but have been competitive every week they haven’t played the Patriots. Pick: Buffalo

Green Bay at Chicago: The Bears are another team stumbling toward the end of the season. I’d love to see the Bears beat the Pack for the second time this season, but I don’t see that happening. Pick: Green Bay

Cleveland at Cincinnati: Battle of Ohio, Part 2. The last time these teams met, Derek Anderson introduced himself to the NFL world with five touchdown passes, kick-starting an unexpected good season in Cleveland. The Bengals have been a disappointment. This will be a grudge match, but Cleveland is a better team this year. Pick: Cleveland

Kansas City at Detroit: The ultimate irrelevant game. The Chiefs are 4-10 and headed nowhere. The Lions have lost six in a row, and are 6-8, headed nowhere. Look for the Lions to get off the schneid at home. Pick: Detroit

Houston at Indianapolis: The Colts have absolutely nothing to play for. They have clinched the division, cannot lose a first-round bye in the playoffs, but cannot get home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Texans still have a slight chance at a winning season, entering this game at 7-7. Peyton Manning only plays a half, but it’s all the Colts need. Pick: Indy

Oakland at Jacksonville: The Jaguars proved themselves in a big way last week with a win in the snow against Pittsburgh. They now return home to face the Silver and Black. Pick: Jacksonville

Philadelphia at New Orleans: The Eagles came out of nowhere to upset the Cowboys last week. The Saints are still in contention for the last playoff spot in the NFC. Philly won’t be able to put two road wins together in a row. Pick: New Orleans

Atlanta at Arizona: Yuck. The Falcons continue to play out the string. Pick: Arizona

Tampa Bay at San Francisco: The 49ers got a win last week against the mediocre Bengals, and now catch a Buc team preparing for the playoffs. Pick: Tampa Bay

Miami at New England: The ultimate mismatch. The Dolphins nearly came into this one winless, but got their first win of the season last week over the Ravens. The Patriots are still undefeated, and are shooting for the standard set by the 1972 version of the Dolphins: a perfect season. There is a big difference between 1972 and 2007. Pick: New England

Baltimore at Seattle: The Ravens are bad, bad, bad. They have lost eight in a row, including becoming the first victim of the Dolphins. They now take the long flight to Seattle to visit the Seahawks. Pick: Seattle

New York Jets at Tennessee: The Jets are in the midst of a forgettable season. They’ll want to forget this one, as well. Pick: Tennessee

Washington at Minnesota: Huge game with NFC playoff implications. The Vikings’ running game will be too much for the Redskins. Pick: Minnesota

Denver at San Diego: The Chargers are now on a roll, having pulled up their bootstraps for a 9-5 record after a horrific start. LaDainian Tomlinson runs all over the Broncos. Pick: San Diego

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

College Picks: Bowls, Part 1

The bowl season begins Thursday night. We will be treated to an endless supply of season-ending exhibitions for deserving (and not-so-deserving) college football teams. Some of these games will be good, others will be only good for filling TV time and hotel rooms. Some of these games will be real duds. Some would be regular-season blockbusters, but post-season duds. The only one that really, really matters is the BCS national championship game on January 7 between Ohio State and LSU.

With bowls spread out over a two-week period, the games will be picked in multiple installments. These are picks for this weekend’s games:

Last week (playoff championship games): 2-2
Season: 182-96

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl at San Diego: Utah vs. Navy
Both teams are 8-4. The Utes have won their last six bowl games. Is Navy becoming Hawaii of the East? They have the Polynesian-American connection working with quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and new coach Ken Niumatololo, the first Polynesian-American head coach in college football. The Midshipmen are proficient at running the option. This will be a good game. It’s hard to go against recent bowl history. Pick: Utah.

R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at New Orleans: Florida Atlantic vs. Memphis
Zzzz. Florida Atlantic is coached by former Miami, Louisville, and Oklahoma (cough, cough) coach Howard Schnellenberger. The Owls upset Troy in the last week of the season to win the Sun Belt championship and earn the bowl bid. Memphis finished in the top half of Conference USA and had 7 wins, putting themselves into their fourth bowl in the last five years. Pick: Memphis. Bowl at Birmingham: Cincinnati vs. Southern Miss
Cincinnati has had their best season in recent memory, and are currently ranked #20. They face a team in turmoil in Southern Miss, who fired coach Jeff Bower for only going 7-5 consistently. Not too long ago, these two teams were in the same conference. Now, it is a mismatch in favor of the Bearcats. Pick: Cincy

Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl at Las Vegas: BYU vs. UCLA
This is a rematch of a game played the second week of the season, won 27-17 by UCLA. The teams have gone in separate directions since, with BYU holding a nine-game winning streak, and UCLA struggling to a 6-6 record. UCLA has since fired coach Karl Dorrell, and is searching for a permanent coach. What was a good matchup in September has become a mismatch in December. What a difference three months makes. Pick: BYU

New Mexico Bowl at Albuquerque: Nevada vs. New Mexico
This game proves that anyone that puts up the money can host a bowl game. This is the second year of this bowl, and the Lobos have been in both games. The state tourism department is the sponsor. The game serves two purposes: to be a three-hour commercial for the state of New Mexico, and to give the Lobos an extra game. Pick: New Mexico

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl at Honolulu: Boise State vs. East Carolina
Boise State won’t be in the BCS this year, but they get their second trip to Hawaii in two months. This trip will be more of a vacation than the last one was. East Carolina has had a nice season. They’re no Boise State. Pick: Boise State

What Took Him So Long?

It’s been a long season. The Cowboys won 12 of their first 13 games. The team’s resident head case, Terrell Owens, was happy. He has been a “good boy” and a team player thus far this season. This contributed greatly to the Cowboys’ success thus far this season.

But, just like death and taxes, it is a sure thing that T.O. will say something he shouldn’t. He did just that today, by commenting on his quarterback’s love life. Regarding Tony Romo’s new/old squeeze Jessica Simpson, he said: "Right now, Jessica Simpson is not a fan favorite in this locker room or in Texas Stadium. I think with everything that has happened, and obviously the way Tony played and the comparisons between her and Carrie Underwood, I think a lot of people feel like she's probably taking his focus away. Other than that, she was at the top of my list until last week."

I’ll be the first to say that Romo’s pursuit of women in the music industry has been a distraction. However, T.O. is not the one to be calling him out, and definitely not through the media. I’ve seen T.O. drop more than a few balls thrown his way. Sunday’s performance was a two-way street. Romo hurt his thumb and kept playing. However, T.O. had plenty of chances to make plays.

T.O.: Shut your mouth already. You have a chance to win a ring this year. Don’t blow it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Coaching Carousel, Part 2

Some more on the Rich Rodriguez to Michigan situation: RichRod showed us two ways not to leave a job. First, he told star recruit Terrelle Pryor of Jeannette, Pa. that he was headed to Michigan, before he informed the athletic director and president of West Virginia. Pryor was considering West Virginia, but he is now considering Michigan. Second, Rodriguez handed his resignation letter to a graduate assistant for delivery to the athletic director. That’s just a really good way to leave a gig. Nice job there, Rich.

Now, to some more coaching changes:

Houston: U of H could have done a lot worse. The Cougars lost Art Briles to Baylor after Briles rebuilt the Cougars’ program into a factor in Conference USA. U of H went out and hired Kevin Sumlin, the passing game coordinator at Oklahoma. Sumlin played at Purdue and has coached all over the country, including at Texas A&M. In 2002, Sumlin became A&M’s offensive coordinator and almost singlehandedly saved R.C. Slocum’s job, and engineered an upset of OU. Bob Stoops was so impressed he hired him for his staff. Sumlin should be able to keep the momentum going on Cullen Boulevard. Oh, yeah, he’s also African-American. That doesn’t hurt at all.

UCLA: The Bruins fired Karl Dorrell after a 6-6 season. The Bruins are looking at NFL coaches, including Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow. UCLA needs to step up the fund-raising, as the Bruins are not known for paying their coaches market value.

Nebraska: Interim AD/King of Nebraska Tom Osborne made the hire that should have been made four years ago, by hiring Bo Pelini as head coach. Pelini was defensive coordinator and interim head coach at Nebraska during the 2003 season. He then spent a year at Oklahoma and the last three years at LSU. Husker Nation is happy with this move. Pelini is a defensive guy, and defense was in short supply this year in Lincoln. He also understands Nebraska football and the Nebraska Way. He has a good pedigree as well: he played at Ohio State and is a graduate of Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School, alma mater of the Stoops brothers.

SMU: The laughing stock of college football. SMU was the first school to fire their coach, and are in the process of becoming the last school to hire their new coach. Big-dollar alum Gerald J. Ford wasted millions of dollars by giving the school money to build a new stadium. That was the ultimate example of putting lipstick on a pig. Post-death penalty, SMU is a football graveyard. Coaches are doing well by staying away from there. Paul Johnson, in leaving Navy, negotiated with SMU, and was able to use the Mustangs to get a better deal from Georgia Tech. A coach will get this job and be able to live in Highland Park. Problem is, he will have to coach at SMU. By the way, Phil Bennett will land on his feet as a defensive coordinator somewhere.

More coaching changes later…

Monday, December 17, 2007

Coaching Carousel, Part 1 1/2

This isn't a review of a coaching opening or hire. However, there is buzz on the Internet that Nick Saban is not happy at Alabama, and that his agent has made contact with West Virginia.

Saban is a native of the Mountain State, and would be interested in returning home for less than he is making at Alabama, but more than the $1.9 million per year that Rich Rodriguez made before going to Meatchicken.

Such is life when you go 6-6 and lose to Louisiana-Monroe.

Stay tuned. This will get fun and interesting.

NFL Highway, Week 15

There was rain, snow, and sunshine on the NFL highway this weekend. Some more teams were eliminated from playoff contention, a major upset occurred, and a big storm in the northeast affected some games. It’s time to put on the snow tires and head down the NFL highway.

Something not-so-funny happened on the way to home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys lost. The Philadelphia Eagles sucked it up and beat the Cowboys, 10-6. Tony Romo injured his thumb in the third quarter, but played in pain for the rest of the game. The Cowboys could only manage two Nick Folk field goals. The margin would have been wider, but the Eagles’ Brian Westbrook shunned a sure touchdown to down the ball on the one yard line, allowing the Eagles to run out the clock and not give Dallas the ball. Fantasy owners everywhere were cursing or cheering that move. The Cowboys must win the next two games at Carolina and at Washington to avoid a possible playoff trip to Green Bay.

In the Thursday night NFL Network game, sugar and spice were nice for the Houston Texans. Well, not sugar, but Sage was. Sage Rosenfels ran for one touchdown and threw for two more in a 31-13 win over the Denver Broncos. The Texans are now 7-7, and are two wins away from their first winning season. Of course, they go to Indianapolis next week, so forget about the winning season. Nonetheless, the Texans no longer stink.

In the City by the Bay, the San Francisco 49ers rode the arm and legs of third-team quarterback Shaun Hill to a 20-13 win over the clueless Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals were supposed to be pretty good. Instead, they’ve imploded.

There will be no winless team in the NFL this year. The Miami Dolphins finally broke into the win column with a 22-16 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Cleo Lemon threw for 315 yards and a 64-yard touchdown pass to Greg Camarillo to win the game in overtime. The Dolphins showed a lot of pride in coming back from a 13-3 deficit. The Ravens have now lost eight in a row. Both teams look to be on the clock early in the upcoming draft.

Carolina started Matt Moore at QB, the fourth person to fill that role this year. It worked for them, as the Panthers shocked the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks, 13-10. As bad as the Panthers have looked at times, they have six wins this season. The Seahawks are simply trying to keep from getting injured before their first playoff game.

It was a winter wonderland in Cleveland on Sunday. A blizzard moved in from Lake Erie, covering the field and bringing 30 mph winds with it. The field was covered to the point where the officials needed help in finding the 50-yard line. In this game, the first team to score would win. That was the Browns, who used two field goals and a safety to win 8-0. I love watching games played in the snow. That is, on TV in the comfort of my home.

The same storm later hit Pittsburgh, where the Jacksonville Jaguars looked like the cold-weather team in defeating the Steelers, 29-22. The game was played in blowing snow, but they were not blizzard-like conditions like in Cleveland. Instead, it was played on a mixture of snow, mud, and grass. The Steelers find themselves tied for first place in the AFC North with Cleveland at 9-5. The Steelers, however, have the tiebreaker with two wins over the Browns.

The Kansas City Chiefs are officially bad. They slipped to 4-10 with their seventh loss in a row, losing 26-17 to the Tennessee Titans. The Chiefs will have a pretty good pick in the first round of next year’s draft. The Titans kept their slim playoff hopes alive at 8-6.

The anticipated blizzard in New England turned into rain. The Patriots played as ugly as the weather, but had enough to beat the New York Jets, 20-10. After the game, Pats coach Bill Belichick shook hands with former protégé and Jets coach Eric Mangini, he of Spygate fame. The Pats now need only two wins for an undefeated season.

Don’t look now, but those are the New Orleans Saints over your shoulder. The Saints got back to 7-7 with a 31-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Drew Brees continues to be the real deal in the Big Easy, throwing for 315 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Saints. Kurt Warner threw three touchdown passes for the Cardinals, who await the return of Matt Leinart next season.

The Brett Favre legend continues. The gunslinger threw two touchdown passes for Green Bay on Sunday, and the Packers handled the St. Louis Rams, 33-14. The Packers clinched a first round bye in the NFC playoffs. The Rams helped their draft position in a forgettable season.

Believe it or not, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in their 32-year history. That changed on Sunday, as Micheal Spurlock returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. The Bucs went on to roll over the hapless Atlanta Falcons, 37-3. The Falcons need help everywhere. The Bucs move toward the playoffs as NFC South champions.

The Indianapolis Colts earned a working vacation on Sunday, defeating the scrappy Oakland Raiders 21-14. The Colts earned the AFC South title and the second seed in the AFC playoffs. Indianapolis has now also won 12 games in a season for an unprecedented five years in a row. The Colts have two meaningless games remaining, followed by a bye week.

If they weren’t already, the Detroit Lions are officially done. The Lions lost their seventh consecutive game in grand style. The San Diego Chargers hung half a hundred on Detroit, winning 51-14. LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles each rushed for two touchdowns for the Chargers. San Diego has clinched the AFC West championship at 9-5. They simply need to win their remaining two games to sew up the #3 playoff spot in the AFC.

The Washington Redskins are like disco in the 70’s: just stayin’ alive. The Redskins went to New York for the Sunday Night extravaganza and handled the New York Football Giants, 22-10. The Redskins also find themselves at 7-7 with slight playoff hopes. The Giants still appear locked into the first NFC wild-card spot at 9-5.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What's In The Water In West Virginia?

Today, West Virginia football coach Rich Rodriguez told his team he is accepting the head coaching job at Michigan. This is a strange development.

The Mountaineers finished 10-2 this season, and lost a sure-fire chance at the BCS national championship game with a season-ending loss to heavy underdog Pittsburgh. Rodriguez is a West Virginia native and played for the Mountaineers. West Virginia has the strongest, most consistent program in the Big East Conference, placing themselves in contention for BCS bowls every year. The Mountaineers have played for a national championship in the past, and have the potential to play for and win another one. In fact, a case can be made that it is easier to win one at West Virginia coming out of the Big East than to win one at Michigan coming out of the Big Ten.

Michigan has won more games than any school in college football. The Wolverines have one of the blue-blood programs in college football. I am surprised that they went outside of the Michigan circle to find a coach. I am doubly surprised that they got away from the power football philosophy that has defined Michigan. Rodriguez made his mark using the spread offense. It will be interesting to see how the Michigan football culture adapts to the new way of doing things.

If you’re West Virginia, you have to feel betrayed. Rodriguez accepted the Alabama job last year before accepting an enhanced package from West Virginia to stay home. It is hard to figure out what would cause him to listen to other offers just a year later. He may feel that he has done as much with WVU as he can. However, Rodriguez doesn’t seem to be the type that always dreamed of taking Michigan to the Rose Bowl.

Another footnote: This is the second time in less than a year that Michigan has poached West Virginia for a coach. Last spring, the Wolverines hired John Beilein away from Morgantown as men’s basketball coach.

More coaching changes and comments later…