Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Sports Moment of the Year 2011

Last year it was Goal Goal USA with Landon Donovan sending the United States to the top of the group and into the knockout stages of the World Cup.  This year its back to business as usual, Michigan.  However, its not the moment you might suspect. 

Michigan's first night game under the lights in Michigan Stadium produced agruably the most entertaining game of the year in college football.  Michigan came back from a 24-7 deficiet in the 4th quarter only to blow the lead with 30 seconds left, then Jeremy Gallon used his cloaking power up to disappear and set up a 22 yrd touchdown throw to Roy Roundtree to defeat Notre Dame.


It was the best game I had witnessed live in my lifetime, but its still not the moment of the year.

No the sports moment of the year can only be reserved for ending the nearly 3,000 day drought to Ohio State.  When Courtney Avery intercepted Braxton Miller's 4th down pass to seal the game for Michigan I couldn't control my excitement.  I was uncontrolablly shaking my brother up and down and jumping around.  It was the kind of pure ephoria that only 7 straight defeats to your bitter rivals could produce.  Michigan finally became Michigan again. We slowly made our way onto the field to celebrate to commerate the moment and the best trip ever to Ann Arbor.

2011 Sports Moment of the Year: Michigan beats Ohio State - Zero Day in Ann Arbor

Other more national moments of the year:
-Derek Jeter hits 3,000 and goes 5 for 5 in Yankees win- Lou, myself, and half the readership took this in from the rightfield bleachers and it was probably the most excited I have ever been at an event where I had no rooting interest.

-The last day of the baseball regular season saw the Red Sox choke, and the Rays complete a wild comeback to go to the postseason

-Game 6 World Series-the Cardinals were down to their last strike twice and facing elimination but David Freeze was always there to save the day.

-Wisconsin and Michigan State played two classics this fall.  MSU beats Wisconsin on a Hail Mary then blows the Big Ten Championship on a roughing the punter penalty.

-Butler Pitt NCAA Tournament Second Round (Not calling it Third round)- Two inexplicaple fouls in the last 1.4 seconds saw a crazy finish and a worthy winner in Butler.

-Mavericks defeat Heat in NBA Finals- The Heat were expected to get it done, but instead it was the Mavs playing well late in games and capturing their first title.

There are plently more to mention, but I will allow you to mention your favorite in the comments.

Friday, December 23, 2011

5 for Sunday (Christmas Eve Edition)

Winter is officially here, fantasy leagues are in their championship weeks, everyone is hustling to get those last-minute gifts, and our Jewish friends everywhere are planning out their annual Chinese-food-and-movies day. What else? Oh yeah, it's Christmas, and the NFL has a full Sunday's slate of games taking place this Saturday, Christmas Eve. And since this is the season of bonuses (hopefully all of my fellow office-dwellers out there were made happy in that regard), I'll be comparing each game to a certain facet of the Christmas holiday. Home teams in CAPS.

NY JETS (-3) over NY Giants - Opening the Presents
Since this is part of the first set of games for Saturday, and is clearly the most hyped, the quadrennial (yeah I looked that word up) New York meeting has the clearest counterpart of all: the presents. People have been looking forward to this game since the schedule unveiling, and just like with Christmas presents, it will leave people either extremely delighted or terribly disappointed. The winner of this game stays alive in the playoff hunt, and the loser will be all but done. At the end of the day (CAUTION: Antrel Rolle tweak ahead), the Jets play very well at home and should have the favorable balance of the crowd on their side, while the Giants are three Cowboys mistakes away from being on a 6-game losing streak. The real difference is that the Jets are capable of ratcheting up a good defensive performance when they wake up on the right side of the bed, while the Giants don't have the bodies or the cohesiveness on defense to be trusted.

NEW ENGLAND (-9.5) over Miami - Reading Christmas Cards
You say this one's a formality, right? Well, it is. That's why this game is equivalent to reading Christmas cards. To be courteous, you have to read the card before opening the gifts, but 90% of the time you just glance at the thing for 12 seconds until you can attack the wrapping paper. And while in many cases people spend a good deal of time and effort picking out just the right card and writing just the right thing inside, there's no two ways around the fact that it's still a mere card. Similarly, the Dolphins will put up a solid effort in Foxboro, but the outcome will still boil down to the fact that the Patriots are a significantly better team who does not stop scoring. Close early, lopsided late.

Arizona (+4) over CINCINNATI - Spending Time with Family
You know how not every part of the holidays is full of fun? That's this game. It will very likely not be pretty between the Cards and Bengals, much like how you typically just have to grin and bear it through Christmas family gatherings. And how do you get through what can be several agonizing hours, or even several agonizing days? By doing the prudent thing - you say "please" and "thank you," you offer help when needed, and you try your absolute best at the small talk. How do you get through this ugly game between surging Arizona and boring Cincinnati? By taking the points, of course!

San Diego (+2.5) over DETROIT - 24 Hours of A Christmas Story
Some things about the holidays are so nicely tried and true that I honestly hope they never change. One of them is the fact that A Christmas Story gets run on TV for 24 hours in a row. Another December rite is the strong late-season play of the San Diego Chargers, who are so sadly stricken with Norv Turner Syndrome for the first three months of the season. Now that Philip Rivers is no longer an interception machine, it's irresistible to take the Bolts plus points against a team that they are at least even with, if not better than. I still don't buy the Lions and don't see another miraculous comeback materializing on Saturday.

NEW ORLEANS (-6.5) over Atlanta (Monday Night) - The Mall on Dec. 26th
There are some places that are just horrifying to try to invade. The Superdome on the night of a primetime game is one of them. Another one is the mall on the day after Christmas. Yet neither the Falcons (because they're in the same division) nor the average American gentile (because they never learn their lesson) can avoid this fate year after year. Expect the scoreboard to be lit up on Monday night (ever so conveniently for this analogy, the night after Christmas), but in the end the Saints have the quick-strike ability that the Falcons have yet to master. With Drew Brees just 305 yards away from breaking Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record of 5,084 (which he very nearly broke in 2008), a Saints victory by something like 34-24 sounds about right.

Last Week: 3-2-0
Season: 33-36-6

Saturday, December 17, 2011

5 for Sunday (A Photo Essay)

Nobody wants to actually read during this time of year, what with all the shopping, wrapping, party-attending, imbibing and Christmas movie-watching that there is to be done. Plus, after last week, my words are about the equivalent of dog excrement on a computer screen, so this week will be a mere photo essay with one picture describing why I'm taking each game whatever way I'm taking it. Home teams in CAPS.

Dallas (-7) over TAMPA BAY (Saturday Night)

Green Bay (-13.5) over KANSAS CITY

Seattle (+3.5) over CHICAGO

Carolina (+6) over HOUSTON

DENVER (+7.5) over New England

Last Week: 0-4-1
Season: 30-34-6

Sunday, December 11, 2011

5 for Sunday

Well, that was fun while it lasted. Back to .500 on the nose heading into Week 14. Home teams in CAPS.

BALTIMORE (-16.5) over Indianapolis
In what is considered a pretty decent rivalry, would you be surprised if I told you that the Ravens haven't beaten Indy since 2001, a time span consisting of nine meetings between the teams? That streak is highly likely to end right here if the Ravens, who are undefeated at home, play to form. The Colts made things interesting late against the papier maché defense of the Patriots last week, but don't count on that happening in Baltimore this week. Last week was a fluke.

TENNESSEE (+3.5) over New Orleans
The Titans are coming on strong lately, thanks in large part to Chris Johnson's resurgence. The Saints do not play nearly as well on the road as they do at home, and despite their ability to run the ball, their type of game still does not translate to grass the way that it does to turf. I'll take a blind stab with the 3.5 at home for the Titans, because this is a team that is suddenly in the hunt and it could be a field goal game either way.

MIAMI (-3) over Philadelphia
The Dolphins are 4-8 getting better, while the Eagles are 4-8 getting worse. Mike Vick does come back this week, sparing drunk Eagles fans all over the Delaware Valley from passes like this. However, the return of the starting quarterback does not a victory guarantee, especially when the Eagles' defense has been putting on embarrassing displays of tackling for most of the season. The Dolphins are a team that nobody wants to play right now and the only thing they have in common with the team that started 0-7 is their uniforms.

Kansas City (+10.5) over NY JETS
I firmly believe the Jets will win this game, but they have way too many kinks in their offense for me to give up that many points with them. Give Kansas City some credit for the fight that they have shown in the past few weeks when they could have easily folded after losing Matt Cassel. The Chiefs play respectable defense, so I just don't think enough points will be scored in this one to justify anything but taking the underdog. Jets by a 17-10, 14-6 type score.

DENVER (-3) over Chicago
In what could have been the Jay Cutler Bowl, we're left with an early Christmas present instead. Wait a second - Tebowmania and a Broncos team with a ton of momentum is at home against a Bears team that is anemic with Caleb Hanie under center, and all you have to lay is the standard 3 points? Thank you, where do I sign? It's simple: don't kick to Devin Hester, and let God's QB sort things out in the last 5 minutes.

Last Week: 2-3-0
Season: 30-30-5

Saturday, December 3, 2011

5 for Sunday

Finally back over .500 after last week. I wanted to take Seattle plus the 3 at home against the Eagles on Thursday night, but I didn't get it in on time so it won't count. Home teams in CAPS.

Cincinnati (+6.5) over PITTSBURGH
When all is said and done, the Bengals just play close games. Do they have enough to win at the Big Ketchup Bottle in December? Maybe not. But I think they have enough to keep things close. The Steelers will not light up the scoreboard and Ben Roethlisberger is clearly not yet back to 100%, as anyone who saw last Sunday night's squeaker in Kansas City would attest. Now that Andy Dalton has A.J. Green back on the field, the Bengals might be able to take the shots against Pittsburgh's depleted secondary that the Chiefs weren't able to.

NEW ENGLAND (-20.5) over Indianapolis
If you needed any further reason to take the Patriots in this game, be advised that Dan Orlovsky is starting this game for the Colts. Moving on....

Tennessee (+2.5) over BUFFALO
The Bills had plenty of chances against the Jets last week, but Stevie Johnson spent more time orchestrating touchdown celebrations than catching the ball. Chris Johnson is seemingly back to being the Chris Johnson of 2009, which measures up favorably against the Bills' 4.5-ypc run defense. Simply put, Tennessee is a decent team and Buffalo is a fraud. Take the points and enjoy not watching this game.

Denver (+1.5) over MINNESOTA
Does Tebowmania continue? A lot of people are saying it will not, now that God's quarterback will be faced with the Metrodome. However, with Adrian Peterson ruled out again for the Vikings, I have no real reason to back a team that has lost 5 of 6 over a team that has won 5 of 6 and seems to have something supernatural on their side.

Green Bay (-6.5) over NY GIANTS
I guess there are people out there who have some blind faith that the Giants will just pull one out of their ass against the unquestioned best team in football. Those people must not have seen either of the Giants' past two games. It's not that I don't think the Giants have a good team. The Giants do have a good team. It's just that too many of those players who make up that "good team" are either injured or playing hurt (Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Justin Tuck, Michael Boley, and Osi Umenyiora just to name a few). Even if the December wind starts whipping around MetLife Stadium, you can't tell me that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, on 10 days' rest, don't have another field day.

Last Week: 4-1-0
Season: 28-27-5

5 for Championship Weekend

1-4 last weekend after a very puzzling overturned replay decision in the Michigan game.  Good thing Michigan hung on or a some blood would be on my hands.  32-33 on the season in the race for .500.

All games Saturday

Conference USA Championship
Southern Miss @ Houston (-13.5) Noon ABC

The Cougars are one game away from the BCS.  Will they be distracted by impending departure of their head coach or will they keep rolling divisional foes?

Texas @ Baylor (-2.5) 3:30 ABC

Is this Mack Brown's swan song?  Rumors are he could be retiring.  Is RG3 banged up after last week?  Answers are probably and probably not respectively.  I am pulling for a Texas win hard but I think Baylor takes this one at home.

SEC/ National Championship
LSU (-13.5) vs. Georgia in the ATL 4 CBS

Georgia is on a roll as predicted with their soft conference schedule and the best QB in the SEC.  They have a shot against LSU and should be able to score in the high 20s but they will need to break 30 to have a shot in this one.  Georgia's defense is going to have to win this one.  Meanwhile if LSU wins this one they will have earned the National Championship in my view.  They will have one of the most impressive resumes in recent history and most importantly beat Bama in Bama.  Conversation over, fuck you Bama.

Big 12 defacto Championship

Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State (-3.5) 8 ABC

This is a straight toss up but I think OK State will snap their drought in this series and keep their faint title hopes alive.  Chances are this is one of the more entertaining games of the day.

B16 Ten Championship

Michigan State (+10) @ Wisconsin 8 FOX

I'm with Lou on this one.  How do you not like MSU +10 even if you think Wisconsin will win.  Wisconsin should be out for blood because they were o so close to a magical season stop by miracle plays surrendered in East Lansing and Columbus.  This game is sold out depsite what a brilliant Craigslist scheme had us believe.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cinq Pour Samedi - Championship Weekend Edition

Championship Weekend should be the most anticipated slate of the pre-bowl season, but this year it is shaping up to be bit of a dud. Or are they? After all, the games aren't played on paper. (But who are we kidding, some of these matchups might really blow). Home teams in CAPS unless the game is at a neutral site.

OREGON (-31) over UCLA (Friday Night)
UCLA thought so highly of Rick Neuheisel's work in taking them to the Pac-12 Championship Game that they are letting him coach the game despite his dismissal this week. Yes, that was sarcasm. The truth is that the Bruins don't belong in this game, nor do they even belong on the same field as Oregon. But the rules are the rules, and the Ducks will have a nice chance to run some sprints down the Autzen Stadium sideline with the football in hand before giving way to their second-teamers at some point in the 4th quarter. You can't make this spread too big. You really can't.

LSU (-13.5) over Georgia (neutral site - Georgia Dome)
If this game weren't a quasi-home game for the Bulldogs, LSU would probably be a favorite by 16 or 17. That's no insult to Georgia, who has won 10 in a row and made everyone forget about Mark Richt supposedly being on the hot seat going into this season. LSU is just on another level. Their defense does not stop flying at you and the offense and special teams seem to take advantage of any little mistake their opponent makes. The Tigers have been put through the gauntlet this year and are still standing at 12-0. Expect a close game after two or three quarters (take Georgia for the halftime line, any of you gambling degenerates out there), but like they have against Arkansas and West Virginia, LSU will pull away late.

Virginia Tech (-7) over Clemson (neutral site - Bank of America Stadium)
These are not the same two teams that met on October 1st, which was a 23-3 win for Clemson. The Hokies have gotten stronger at the right time while the Tigers are, well, in the words of Dennis Green, "what we thought they were." Frankly, I don't see why this line is single digits. Another year, another ACC title won in Charlotte for Virginia Tech.

OKLAHOMA STATE (-3) over Oklahoma
Bedlam will most likely be the best game of the weekend, despite being merely a regular season game and not a conference title game. OK State has not beaten Oklahoma since 2002, and if they don't do it this year, then they may never do it. The Cowboys' sloppiness on offense against Iowa State will spell doom against Oklahoma if they repeat it. I don't think, however, that people put enough stock in the fact that Oklahoma State has just suffered the tragedy of another plane crash within its athletic department on the very day that they lost to Iowa State. This should sure be fun to watch however it unfolds, as the winner may very well be the last team to have the ball.

Michigan State (+10) over Wisconsin (neutral site - Lucas Oil Stadium)
Can anyone tell me why, at a neutral site, this line is this high? I know Wisconsin has appeared to return to its early-season form in the past few weeks, but 10 points? To a Michigan State team who is 10-2 themselves and happened to beat Wisconsin (albeit on a Hail Mary) earlier this season? I know that Wisconsin's running game resembles a fleet of bulldozers on the right day, but both of these teams play good enough defense to keep this game relatively low-scoring. I'll take the points all day and all night.

Last Week: 2-3-0
Season: 28-35-2

Saturday, November 26, 2011

5 for Sunday

A lot of big spreads out there this week, thanks to injuries accumulating throughout the league and the simple economics of betting against the several flat-out terrible teams in the NFL. From the looks of the remainder of Week 12, the best football of the weekend likely took place on Thursday. Home teams in CAPS.

NY JETS (-9.5) over Buffalo
Wait, both of these teams are 5-5? Could have fooled me. Ordinarily it would be insane to give up this many points with the Jets, but Buffalo is in an all-out free fall and now will be playing without Fred Jackson for the rest of the season. If Darrelle Revis locks up on Stevie Johnson, how will the Bills score at all? This is purely a bet against Buffalo, for whom the clock struck midnight three weeks ago.

ATLANTA (-9.5) over Minnesota
All you need to know about this game is that Adrian Peterson is doubtful with the high ankle sprain suffered in last week's loss to Oakland. I still don't think Atlanta is a very good team, but they are arguably an ill-advised 4th down call in overtime away from being on a 5-game winning streak, and their strong run defense figures to be even stronger without AP on the field for the Vikings. Fun fact? This is the seventh straight game that the Falcons have played in a dome.

Carolina (-3.5) over INDIANAPOLIS
It really says something when a 2-8 team is a 3.5 point favorite on the road, but that is the point that the 2011 Indianapolis Colts have reached. The Panthers jumped out to a big early lead on Detroit last week, only to blow it in giving up a total of 49 points. Should Carolina put up anything resembling the first half they played against the Lions, then you can turn the lights out on Indy once again. The Colts have not scored more than 10 points in a game since October 16.

Denver (+6) over SAN DIEGO

NEW ORLEANS (-7) over NY Giants (Monday Night)
I guess nobody ever woke the Giants up and told them how important their game against the Eagles was last week. Their offense was never in sync, their defense let Vince Young go on an 18-play drive to win the game, and Brandon Jacobs thought the result was a good opportunity to bad-mouth his team's fans. The Saints will have had 15 days of rest coming into this Monday Nighter in the Superdome, where they are 4-0 (straight up as well as ATS) this year. Should Ahmad Bradshaw miss yet another game for the Giants, their running game woes will only get worse.

Last Week: 1-3-1
Season: 24-26-5

Friday, November 25, 2011

Cinq Pour Samedi

Some of the biggest rivalries in the land will be renewed over the next few days, so if you can't get at least some enjoyment from college football this weekend, then you don't have a pulse. Either way, a hell of a weekend of football is ahead of us, and if we get games that are half as good as they were last week with the matchups on tap for this week, then we'll remember this weekend for a long time to come. Not to mention, we could be facing an excruciating BCS debate where the top 3 teams could all be from the SEC West. Home teams in CAPS.

Arkansas (+12.5) over LSU (Friday afternoon)
Tough to see the Tigers losing, but this seems like it's just too many points to give. Arkansas has gone almost unnoticed in its rise to the #3 ranking, and they have a chance to blow the BCS picture up completely with a win in Baton Rouge on Black Friday, just like the Darren McFadden/Felix Jones-led team did in 2007. Despite the overrated Bobby Petrino being the Razorbacks' coach, I like their chances of giving LSU all they can handle.

WEST VIRGINIA (-7) over Pittsburgh (Friday night)
Which Mountaineers team will show up? West Virginia has looked excellent at times this year, and less than pedestrian at other times. You have to think they come out swinging in the Backyard Brawl at home, but the money must have come in hard on Pitt this week since the line opened at 10.5. That opens my eye a bit, but West Virginia can be tough to stop on their fast track at home, so I'll grit my teeth and lay the points against a see-sawing, mediocre Pitt team.

MICHIGAN (-7.5) over Ohio State
Can the tables finally be turned this year? Michigan hasn't beaten Ohio State since 2003, but this year they boast the defense that has been, for the most part, sorely lacking over that 8-year drought. The Buckeyes are especially weak this year on offense, which isn't much of a surprise. Will this be close at halftime? Extremely likely. But eventually Ohio State will run out of solutions for the versatility of Michigan's offense, and once the Wolverines get up by 10 or more, you can say goodnight.

SOUTH CAROLINA (-3.5) over Clemson
Well, it was fun while it lasted for Clemson, who got beaten badly last week by NC State and seem light years away from their 8-0 start. South Carolina has handled things as well as team that kicked its quarterback off the team in Week 6 and lost its star running back in Week 7 could possibly handle things, thanks largely to their strong defense. We'll see if the book is truly out on Tajh Boyd, as the Gamecocks' defense is especially suffocating at home.

STANFORD (-7) over Notre Dame
I've been going back and forth on this game all week. Neither the Irish nor the Cardinal looked impressive last week in close victories over Boston College and Cal, respectively. Since I've done terribly with these late West Coast games this year, I thought of going against my gut and taking Notre Dame. But I can't shake the idea that this game is still the men vs. the boys. Has Notre Dame done anything to make you confident that they can travel out west and beat a team like Stanford, who will likely be in their last pre-Heisman showcase for Andrew Luck? Not helping matters for the Irish is last week's injury to RB Jonas Gray. Overall I don't think the Irish will have enough answers for the Stanford offense, to the tune of something like 35-21.

Last Week: 2-3-0
Season: 26-30-2

Thursday, November 24, 2011

5 for the Weekend

3-2 Last week puts me at 31-29 on the season.


Arkansas (+12.5) @ LSU 2:30 CBS

Well the majority of these games have been close and I'm betting that this one wont be different. Arkansas will battle for 4 quarters as they have so much to play for. LSU by 10.


Alabama (-21) @ Auburn 3:30 CBS

Penn State (+15) @ Wisconsin

*****Lou pinch-hitting for Kevin here for the remainder of the column, as he is on a pilgrimage to Ann Arbor this weekend. I assure you that the remaining two picks are his.*****

Michigan (-8) over Ohio State

Virginia (+5) over Virginia Tech

Come on, you guys really didn't think he was taking OSU, did you?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

5 for Saturday

4-1 Last week and for the third consecutive week has put me above .500 for the first time all year.  28-27 on the season.

Nebraska @ Michigan (-2.5) Noon ESPN

Well these two teams are very evenly matched on paper.  Running QBs with questionable arms.  Some talent on both sides of the ball but little depth.  I feel like this game is a toss up and as a Michigan fan I badly want next weeks game more so I'll make that deal right now.  Take the home team when teams are evenly matched.  While both teams are unlikely to get a crack at the divisional title, they can put themselves on the cusp of a BCS game with two straight wins.

SMU @ Houston (-19.5) 3:30 FSN

College Gameday comes to Houston where they are selling out there third game of the season.

Kansas State (+9.5) @ Texas 8PM FX

Is Texas even better than Kansas State?  I might eat those words but I will take my chances with the spread at 9.5.  Bill Synder is a freaking genius and its remarkable how what he has done in his second stint at K State.  Mack Brown's squad is still struggling after last years debacle and are still a year away from being Texas again.

Oklahoma (-15.5) @ Baylor 8PM ABC/ESPN Gameplan

USC @ Oregon (-15.5) ABC/ESPN Gameplan

Saturday, November 19, 2011

5 for Sunday

After somehow pulling a winning week out of my you-know-where in Week 10, I'm back to .500 on the nose with seven weeks to go in the regular season. Not the prettiest slate of games scheduled for Week 11, but hey, play the hand you're dealt. Home teams in CAPS.

Carolina (+7) over DETROIT
Both of these teams threw up absolute turds last week, but I'm willing to give Carolina a pass for their loss to the Titans because Chris Johnson morphed back into Chris Johnson all of a sudden. After all, the Panthers aren't supposed to be very good. The Lions appear to be in free fall, and cannot keep Matthew Stafford or any of their running backs healthy for any extended period of time. It would make sense for Detroit to try to be very aggressive in getting after Cam Newton, but I think Newton's raw play-making ability may show itself if the Lions get too greedy on defense.

Dallas (-7.5) over WASHINGTON
So many things about this game are screaming at me to stay away, but there just aren't enough decent games this week to avoid my usual homer pick here. I really think this is too many points to give, especially when you see that the Cowboys have beaten the Redskins by 8 or more just once in their past ten meetings. But Dallas has been so tough to stop on offense in the past month (not counting the blowout at the hands of the Eagles in Week 8, where the Cowboys fell behind so quickly that their normal offense was moot) that an objective observer would figure them to have little problem taking care of business at FedEx Field. The Redskins seem to get worse every week and have now switched back to Rex Grossman at quarterback. That fact plus Washington's sore lack of receiving threats outside of TE Fred Davis makes you forget that Dallas is still missing its top cornerback in Mike Jenkins. If things go as they should, it will be another banner day for the rookie DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys improve to 6-4 without giving me a heart attack.

Cincinnati (+7) over BALTIMORE
Yankees radio play-by-play man John Sterling must love the Baltimore Ravens, because ya just can't predict them, Suzyn. How can a team that just got trounced by Seattle be 2-0 against Pittsburgh? When you look at the Ravens' last four games as a whole, huge red flags pop up about their offense. The Bengals are right in the thick of the AFC North race and played the Steelers very tough last week. One interesting note: that 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh was the Bengals' largest margin of defeat all year. Cincy is without AJ Green, but Baltimore will likely be playing sans Ray Lewis for the first time in four years. A full touchdown is just too many to lay with the Ravens right now, and the Bengals do tend to play close games so I'll take my chances plus the points.

GREEN BAY (-14) over Tampa Bay
Not that it really really matters because you can pencil Aaron Rodgers in for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns basically every week, but should Green Bay find any lack of smoothness at all in their passing game, they have the Bucs' miserable, 6.1-yards-per-carry run defense to feast upon. And Josh Freeman, who has hit bit of a wall this year for Tampa, won't be the one to expose the Packers defense enough to beat them. It's becoming a bit of a cop-out to simply take the Packers every week, but at this point how can you not? They're simply that good.

CHICAGO (-3.5) over San Diego
This line seems about 2 points too low - and God bless you if you were able to get it when it opened at 2.5. What could possibly possess someone to put money on the Chargers right now? Philip Rivers has been an interception machine this year, the team has lost 4 in a row, and now they must come east (again) to play in what may be less-than-ideal conditions in a late afternoon game at Soldier Field. The Bears have come on very strong in the past month and are still flying under the radar a bit thanks to the unstoppable Packers. Consider this game another nail in the coffin of Norv Turner's job.

Last Week : 3-2-0
Season: 23-23-4

Cinq Pour Samedi

The Saturday before Thanksgiving used to be arguably the best college football day of the year, but now thanks to the drawn out regular season we are forced to wait until next week for a great college football weekend. Of course, spots are still up for grabs for Championship Saturday, but the only possible really intriguing storyline for this week would be if a top team or two had a slip-up. Home teams in CAPS.

The Wolverines are undefeated at home this year and are playing much better defense than anyone had expected of them since Week 2. I'm not crazy about the extra half point on the line (this game was an even 3-pointer if I've ever seen one), but if you like the favorite to win, covering 3.5 is the same as covering 3 (I moonlight as Captain Obvious, it's fun), so no huge deal in the end. These teams are very evenly matched but I think Denard Robinson is a better overall dual threat than Taylor Martinez, as long as he doesn't add to his alarming stack of 13 INTs on the season. Overall, I don't know if Nebraska will have the speed on defense to keep Michigan under 28 points.

OHIO STATE (-6.5) over Penn State
All of a sudden, some bling, cars, and tattoos don't sound so terrible do they? The Buckeyes are still incredibly hard to root for but I'll grin and bear it for this week and this week only, for reasons that I think I made clear last week.

Oklahoma (-16) over BAYLOR
I really wanted to give Baylor a puncher's chance here, but they've been beaten handily by every competent team they've played since the upset of TCU in Week 1, and are coming off two squeakers over Kansas and Missouri. We all know how the Sooners like to light up the scoreboard (especially when they need a few more style points for the BCS), and I expect them to put up a basketball-type number against a Baylor defense that gives up an alarming 36 points a game (40.5 if you take away the Week 2 shutout against Stephen F. Austin). Robert Griffin III won't be able to do it alone for Baylor against Oklahoma, so I'm comfortable giving this many points on the road.

Kansas State (+8.5) over TEXAS
First off, this line looks 3 points too high right off the bat. Second, it opened at 7.5 and has gotten all the way up to 9 and 9.5 in some books, meaning considerable money has come in on Texas. I must be missing something here. The Longhorns are still rebuilding and don't exactly score the way they used to, so I can't really see them getting up quickly on K-State and forcing them out of their game offensively. Kansas State is too good to be this big an underdog to anyone who is ranked outside the Top 10, let alone a team who isn't ranked in either poll and is hanging on for dear life at #23 in the BCS.

OREGON (-14.5) over Southern California
You could make the argument that right now, Oregon is playing the best football of any team in the country. Now that Oklahoma State has fallen off, the Ducks, whose only loss this year came to #1 LSU in Week 1, are in a dead heat with Alabama for the soon-to-be-vacant #2 ranking. It's just a matter of taking care of their business from here on out for Oregon, who played a very impressive game at Stanford last week and will host the Pac-12 Championship Game if they can get past USC this week and Oregon State next week. USC has a chance in this game, and it wouldn't even surprise me if it is a one-score game in the 3rd quarter. But Oregon just does not stop scoring.

Last Week: 2-2-1
Season: 24-29-2

Saturday, November 12, 2011

5 for Sunday

"The Opposite" last week helped stop the bleeding, but still proved to be less than profitable. Oh well, sometimes the actual instinct is the way to go. Fortunately, still just one game under .500 as we move on to Week 10, when the weather starts to get cold, Thursday games and flex scheduling take effect, and the playoff races take shape. Home teams in CAPS.

Tennessee (+3.5) over CAROLINA
Despite the wondrous efforts of Cam Newton in his rookie year, Carolina is largely feast-or-famine. I really don't think the 2-6 Panthers are good enough to be more than 3-point favorites at home to anyone besides the Colts. If Chris Johnson shows up at all for the Titans (a very big IF), then they should be able to beat Carolina by double digits. In the likelihood that Johnson doesn't show up, the Titans offense is extremely pedestrian...and still has a decent chance to come out on top or at least keep it to a field goal game either way.

DALLAS (-5.5) over Buffalo
A few interesting storylines here. One, Bills WR David Nelson is dating Cowboys cheerleader Kelsi Reich. Two, the land acquired to build Cowboys Stadium was actually the neighborhood in which Bills RB Fred Jackson grew up. Three, Bills head coach Chan Gailey faces his old team for the first time since his two-year tenure as Cowboys head coach, during which he never met a called dump pass on 3rd-and-12 that he didn't like. Four, Miles Austin is out for this game and for the next few weeks. The book might be out on Buffalo if their thrashing at the hands of the Jets is any indication, and as long as you refrain from giving the ball away on offense the Bills are quite beatable. Just for fun, here's what happened the last time these two teams met.

Baltimore (-7) over SEATTLE
It took long enough, but the Ravens woke up against Pittsburgh last week and are now in the driver's seat of the AFC North race at 6-2, with two games in hand over Pittsburgh and both games with Cincinnati still to come. Now they get to take their licks against Tarvaris Jackson and the hapless Seahawks, who ran the ball very well last week against Dallas but did so largely because the Cowboys were missing their top MLB Sean Lee. It's highly unlikely that Marshawn Lynch sees the running lanes against Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, et al that he saw against Dallas. It's a bit dubious to lay this many points with a team going on such a long road trip, but the fact remains that Baltimore is a significantly better team than Seattle is.

Detroit (+3) over CHICAGO
The Lions treated Jay Cutler like a rag doll in the last meeting between these teams, and thanks to their Tebowing in Denver a few weeks ago, they're now the NFL's new bad boys. Chicago is sure to protect Cutler better than they did against the Lions in Week 5, but that doesn't mean he'll have nearly the time and space to throw that he did last Monday against the Eagles. I'm leery of taking Detroit because their running back situation is terrible, but they are coming off of a bye while the Bears are on a short week. This game figures to be very close, the 21-20 or 24-23 variety, so I'll take the points and grit my teeth.

GREEN BAY (-13) over Minnesota (Monday Night)
This line opened at 14 or even 14.5, so enough Vikings money has come in to bring it down to 13. That's not a huge surprise given how the Vikings played the Packers pretty tight at the Metrodome just three weeks ago (Sidebar: how seriously weird is that? Minnesota is in a stretch of schedule where two out of three games are against Green Bay.) Even Charles Woodson came out and said the Packers' defense has to play much better and can't be so reliant on pick-sixes and other big-play turnovers to win games. I still think that one of these weeks someone is going to expose that Packers defense to a point to which not even Aaron Rodgers can trade touchdowns, but the Vikings are not that team, and this will not be that week.

Last Week: 2-3-0
Season: 20-21-4

5 for Saturday

4-1 Last week has me flirting with .500 at 24-26 on the season.

Nebraska @ Penn State (+3.5) Noon ESPN

Well even though the all time ratings record for a noon ESPN game was broken once this year (Michigan Michigan State) expect it to be broken again.  I can see the PSU players rallying around each other and getting to the Big Ten Title game.  I can see them also finally being exposed as an average team in the next three games. Can the general public seperate the scandal from the players and cheer them on or does it become impossible to cheer on Penn State?  I will be rooting against them as usual here. Nebraska shit the bed last week at home against Northwestern and were psychially man handle.  Dan Persa went out in the second half and Nebraska still lost.  So maybe they aren't that good either. I think PSU can cover the spread at home and I do think they will play with a ton of passion.

Michigan State (-3) @ Iowa Noon ESPN 2

Well I hope Iowa wins but they weren't too impressive last week even in victory.  Their defense looked better and more like a typical Iowa defense, but Michigan State should be able to take care of business.  Michigan State has revenge on their mind after being destroyed by Iowa last season.

Auburn @ Georgia (-13) 3:30 CBS

Georgia played well offensively in last years contest and Aaron Murray really showed his toughness.  Georgia will step on Auburn's throat and roll.

TCU (+15) @ Boise State 3:30 Versus

I am leary of picking TCU here but 15 points gives me some leeway.  TCU is clearly a notch or two below Boise this year but 15 points man seems like alot here.

Oregon @ Stanford (-3.5) 8 ABC

Stanford Stanford Stanford.  Revenge factor at play again here.  Stanford fell apart in the second half against Oregon last year like many times do.  Stanford will pound the ball,control the clock, and win the game late.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cinq Pour Samedi

A brief side-tracking from the absolute worst scandal in college football history to examine this week's actual on-field matters. Another pitiful week last week has helped Kevin complete a ferocious comeback from his early-season hole. Home teams in CAPS.

Virginia Tech (-1) over GEORGIA TECH (Thursday Night)
Did the Yellow Jackets blow their wad against previously-undefeated Clemson last week? Do the Hokies still stand as the class of the ACC? This game will shed light on both questions. The most interesting matchup is Virginia Tech's outstanding run defense against Georgia Tech's meal ticket of a running game. My guess is that the Georgia Tech team that shows up on Thursday resembles the group that lost to Virginia more than the group that beat Clemson. Hokies by something like 24-17.

Nebraska (-3) over PENN STATE
Screw Penn State. Screw Joe Paterno, screw their administration, and screw the moron students who showed up at Paterno's house to rally in support of the old man. And send Jerry Sandusky to a place where he is regularly on the receiving end of the unspeakable crimes he committed. Even the death penalty is too kind for that sack of shit. The end.

Texas Christian (+15) over BOISE STATE
If anyone is going to conquer the Smurf Turf, it's going to be TCU. The Horned Frogs have their work cut out for them in this attempt to spoil the Boise dream for another year. It's highly likely that Kellen Moore takes another step toward a trip to New York in the second week of December, but I still think that this is too many points. TCU is going to try to run it all day to keep the tempo under control, but in the end it's still going to take 31+ to win. I think Boise takes it 34-24 but TCU has enough to cover.

Auburn (+13) over GEORGIA
This line was almost double what I thought it was going to be for a game where the underdog is ranked 20th and the favorite ranked 15th. Has Auburn peaked? It's possible. Georgia gets standout RB Isaiah Crowell back from his suspension, but that alone doesn't strike me as enough to think they're going to put up 35+ in this game, despite Auburn's horrific, 185-ypg run defense. The Bulldogs will clearly have 2010 revenge on their mind (as most of Auburn's opponents have this year), but the Tigers are still decent enough to hang around.

STANFORD (-3.5) over Oregon
College Gameday makes its way to Palo Alto this week to to focus on this game and maybe help us get our minds off the elephant in the room. Oregon, who is 8-0 since an opening loss to #1 LSU, presents Stanford its biggest challenge yet. It is going to be a question of whether the Cardinal has enough defensive speed to withstand Oregon's running attack and get Andrew Luck back on the field. Stanford gives up a paltry 78.9 ypg on the ground, but then again, most teams usually have to abandon the run against them pretty quickly. It will be interesting to see how Stanford fares against a team that can score with them, but don't act like their OT victory over USC two weeks ago is some sort of sign that they're headed downward. There's still too much to like about Stanford to not back them in this game.

Last Week : 1-4-0
Season: 22-27-1

Friday, November 4, 2011

5 for Sunday

First, a look at last week, for those who aren't queasy:

New Orleans (-13.5) over ST. LOUIS
Indianapolis (+9) over TENNESSEE
DENVER (+3) over Detroit
New England (-2.5) over PITTSBURGH
Dallas (+3.5) over PHILADELPHIA

Wow, I suck. My first 0-5 week ever in either NCAA or the NFL, and like I did at one point last year to pull myself out of a funk, the George Costanza Opposite Method is once again in full effect. Home teams in CAPS.

WASHINGTON (+3.5) over San Francisco
The 49ers have conquered the East Coast time and again this year and have a stranglehold on the NFC West. Jim Harbaugh has people in Rice-a-Roni land entertaining the prospect of buying playoff tickets for the first time in 9 years. The Redskins flat-out stink, have hardly any worthwhile offensive players healthy, and hit their high point about about 5 weeks ago. Was being blanked by Buffalo last week the low point? Sadly, I don't even think so. My instinct and football reasoning loves the 49ers in this give me Washington at home plus the points.

DALLAS (-11.5) over Seattle
I had a front-row seat for the Cowboys' bludgeoning in Philly last week. The Eagles let Rob Ryan's overly aggressive defensive approach play right into their hand, and had the Cowboys lining up wrong, running themselves out of plays, and looking lost the entire night. And oh yeah, middle linebacker Sean Lee is likely out, leaving 86-year-old Keith Brooking to have to start in his place. Football games are won by blocking and tackling, and Dallas did neither very well last week. I have very little confidence in them laying double I'll take them minus the 11.5.

MIAMI (+4) over Kansas City
The Chiefs have won 4 in a row and look like world-beaters after their Monday Night conquest of the Chargers. The Dolphins are inventing more ways to lose and have yet to put 60 respectable minutes of football together this year. KC has new life, while Miami never had any of it. So yeah, give me the Dolphins +4.

SAN DIEGO (+5.5) over Green Bay
The Packers have been unstoppable and are coming off a bye. The Chargers play arguably the worst fundamental football of anyone in the league, have a banged-up backfield, and have a short week after losing last Monday Night to Kansas City. Green Bay runs it well, throws it well, is coached well, and has won 13 straight dating back to last year. The only thing standing in their way is The Opposite. Chargers +5.5, and hell, I like them to win outright.

Baltimore (+3.5) over PITTSBURGH
The Ravens, who looked like a Super Bowl team early this year, have spiraled out of control in the past few weeks and needed a ferocious second-half comeback to beat lowly Arizona at home last week. Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron are far from seeing eye-to-eye, and even Ray Rice has been held to 3.5 yards per carry in his past four games. The Steelers, on the other hand, are throwing the ball at will, have somehow managed to replace their hoard of injured defensive players, and kept complete control of the Patriots in their win last week. Pittsburgh is quite the tough place to play for a team in naturally, the pick goes to Baltimore.

Last Week : 0-5-0
Season: 18-18-4

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cinq Pour Samedi

Before we get going, here are last week's picks, which I promise were submitted before the deadline. A weekend-long wedding in a bizarre October snowstorm has a tendency to prevent a guy from posting things.

Michigan St (+4) over NEBRASKA
Oklahoma (-13.5) over KANSAS STATE
Georgia (-3) over Florida
Clemson (-3.5) over GEORGIA TECH
Wisconsin (-7) over OHIO STATE

So, now that the insane month of October has ended and another 2-3 week is behind me, it's time to get back over .500. Home teams in CAPS.

WEST VIRGINIA (-13) over Louisville
By the infamous "Comparative Score Theory," taking Louisville and the 13 points is a slam dunk. WVU was embarrassed by Syracuse 49-23 two weeks ago, only for Louisville to go ahead and beat the Orange 27-10 last week. However, games are played on turf, not on algorithms, and even though my teeth are clenched, I think the Mountaineers, who finally woke up in the second half against Rutgers last week, will have enough at home to win this game comfortably. I'll also be interested to see what has been made of all the Big East signage in and around Milan Puskar Stadium this week.

OKLAHOMA (-13.5) over Texas A&M
The Sooners have had their stinker for the year, and it came against Texas Tech. One thing you know about Bob Stoops is that he loves to build the résumé when he has the chance, and Oklahoma needs some very convincing wins down the stretch if they are to get back into the BCS picture. I just have an overwhelming feeling that Oklahoma rolls in this one - there's no way they put up two consecutive subpar efforts at home, is there?

South Carolina (+5) over ARKANSAS
Something has to give here. South Carolina threw their quarterback off the team a few weeks ago, and Arkansas is coming off two straight squeakers against teams (Ole Miss and Vanderbilt) that they should have handled easily. Despite their off-field drama and Ol' Ballcoach who made his name at the helm of offensive juggernauts, the Gamecocks have been carried to a 7-1 record this year by their superb defense, which is averaging 7.4 points surrendered in the past 5 games. I'll gladly take the 5 points in what could easily be a low-scoring game.

OKLAHOMA STATE (-21) over Kansas State
At this rate you just have to keep riding Mike Gundy's Cowboys, who in streaking to 8-0 have covered every game this year, with the exception of their 61-34 opening win over Louisiana-Lafayette in which they were favored by 38 points. Kansas State is a good team that showed last week against Oklahoma that it it not quite ready for the big boys in their conference. The most alarming stat? The Wildcats throw for only 130 yards per game, so say goodnight if Oklahoma State gets out to a two-score lead. And considering the way Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, and the rest of the bright orange blur tend to operate, that lead could easily be there after the first 10 minutes.

ALABAMA (-4.5) over Louisiana State
Ladies and gentlemen, your heavyweight bout for this evening showcases #1 LSU in unfriendly Bryant-Denny Stadium against #2 Alabama. Do I have to say much more? 4.5 is a ton of points to give to the supposed best team in the nation, but having seen both play a good amount this year, I'm convinced that Alabama has a better team top-to-bottom. I expect a final score along the lines of 21-14 and a game that comes down to the end, with 'Bama and Trent Richardson eating up the clock and getting a few late first downs to ice it.

Last Week: 2-3-0
Season: 21-23-1

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

5 for Saturday

4-1 last week after a lucky 3OT cover by Stanford.  20-25 on the season is still lousy but its not easy getting yourself out of a crater.

All games are Saturday

Louisville @ West Virginia (-13.5) Noon ESPN Gameplan/ Big East Syndication

I'm not sure why this game made Rivals list but it is an important game in the Big East.  West Virginia has been playing poor the last couple of weeks and should be more comfortable returning home. 

South Carolina @ Arkansas (-4) 7:15 ESPN

South Carolinia is without its star RB Marcus Lattimore and still trying to solve its QB situation under Connor Shaw.  The Gamecock defense should give them a chance but something tells me Tyler Wilson will be able to do enough to win this game by a touchdown for the Razorbacks.

LSU (+5) @ Alabama 8 CBS

Two of the most corrupt coaches and programs meet in the oversigning bowl.  I am rooting for both teams to lose but we know thats not possible.  The winner has a clear path to the National Championship game.

Kansas State (+21) @ Oklahoma State 8PM ESPN 2/ ABC

I'm taking the points here because I expect Kansas State to work the clock and limit the amount of possesions in this game.  KState is barely a top 25 team but they are well coached and should keep this a game beyond half.

Oregon (-15) @ Washington 10:30 FSN

A shootout beckons in this one.  I'm not too sold on Washington yet but its hard to believe that they won't provide a test for Oregon.  Oregon should be able to light up the scoreboard and should pull away late.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Things We Should Probably Do: Quit Job, Travel World

The Plan:  Build up enough cash to travel the world for 6 months.

One of my biggest pet peeves in life is people that always talk about doing something and never actually do it.  The easiest thing to pick on is people who talk about going on trips somewhere or traveling to Europe.  Some of them may actually get around to following through with their plans but a large majority never fulfill their grand plans.  The last few days I have been thinking about couples who travel the world when they retire.  This is awesome and something I am extremely jealous of, but many people never get to travel properly because they wait until they are too old.  I want to run myself ragged traveling and not be burn out just because I'm old. 

Quitting your job and embarking on this journey is not something to be taken lightly.  It's one heck of a life altering decision to make and its impossibly to say how you will be affected by dropping everything for the sake of adventure.  Will you enjoy every second of your trip?  Probably not.  There are certainly risks in traveling the globe and going to places where you are completely foreign so some bumps in the road are bound to arise.  Will you get burnt out and want to come home?  Possibly.  As someone who has traveled alot for work, it does get tiring traveling all the time.  But, and this is a very big But, if you are with the right people and are exploring new places life is never boring. 

For all that could go wrong on a trip of this magnitude, will it be more interesting than anything else you can do in 6 months time?  Hell Yes.  You could either be sitting at a desk job for 6 months pulling in $30-50 thousand dollars or you could spend 6 months blowing it all and having the time of your life.  I know which one I'm going to choose.  After the trip and for the rest of your life you can make that money back.  Few people would have the courage to provide themselves with the freedom to make this trip and I hope I'm one of them and more importantly, I hope someone else is too.

More details to come in the future.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

5 For Saturday

1-4 last week and I'm back to a lowly 16-24.  I'm going to need a couple of 4-1 5-0 weekends to get back into it.

Michigan State (+4) @ Nebraska Noon ESPN

If I bet Sparty, they have to lose right?  In all seriousness you have to like the Spartans getting 4 here.   Nebraska will have similar issues that Michigan had against the Spartan defense.  Nebraska should mix up their snap count and practice running slants all week.  The Spartans are an overly agressive defense and this should slow them down.  Either way this is virtually a pickem so hopefully Nebraska wins by a field goal.

Florida vs Georgia (-2.5) 3:30 CBS Jacksonville, FL

I have been riding Georgia every chance I get.  They are still my pick to go to the SEC Championship game and they will have to win this one to do so.  John Brantley is expected to be back from injury so that is a small concern but Charlie Weis is still runnning the show on offense.

Oklahoma (-13.5) @ Kansas State 3:30 ESPN

Winning by two touchdowns is alot to ask here but Oklahoma should come out focused because if a one loss team is going to play for the National Championship if may very well be them.

Stanford (-7.5) @ USC 8 ABC regional

Andrew Luck has a chance to light up the Trojans in LA and I think he will be totally stoked to do so. 

Wisconsin @ Ohio State (+7) 8 ESPN

The Buckeyes are going to have to get the run game going to keep this one a game.  Wisconsin will likely stack the box, and force the Buckeyes to throw. The Buckeyes should find a way to run anyways because throwing anything mid to deep hasn't gone so well. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

5 for Sunday

Same deal as the NCAA - no columns the past two weeks but I promise I did get the picks in. And they were:

Week 5 (3-1-1)
NY GIANTS (-10) over Seattle
BUFFALO (+3) over Philadelphia
NY Jets (+9) over NEW ENGLAND
Green Bay (-6) over ATLANTA
DETROIT (-5.5) over Chicago

Week 6 (2-2-1)
Buffalo (+3) over NY Giants
GREEN BAY (-15.5) over St. Louis
WASHINGTON (+1) over Philadelphia
Carolina (+4) over ATLANTA
Dallas (+7) over NEW ENGLAND

So as we move into Week 7, a rather depleted schedule is waiting for us as several of the intriguing teams are on byes and several other matchups are just ugly. Home teams in CAPS.

Denver (pk) over MIAMI
Or, as this game should be called, The Tim Tebow Party. This game has actually been sold out in Miami due to all the Florida fans wanting to see their favorite son starting for the Broncos, and to boot, the 2008 Florida Gators National Championship team is going to be honored at halftime. The Dolphins quit in the second half against the Jets last week and I can't imagine them putting forth a much better effort when they see that 2/3 of their "home crowd" is rooting for Denver. God Bless.

Tampa Bay (+1) over Chicago (neutral site - London)
I must be crazy to be taking a side on this game, but I have little faith in the Bears this year despite them taking their turn at thrashing the Vikings last week. The Bucs' defensive weakness is through the air, but the Bears' biggest offensive weakness is protecting Jay Cutler. I think Tampa puts Cutler on his back enough and runs the ball well enough against a surprisingly soft Bears defense to squeeze this game out across the pond.

ARIZONA (+4) over Pittsburgh
Let me first say that I don't quite buy the Steelers yet this year, as they have let clearly inferior opponents such as Jacksonville and Indy hang around. Also, I think the Cardinals have to be a better team than what they've shown so far, and the bye week can only have helped Kevin Kolb get himself further indoctrinated with the offense. Even so, this is strictly a bet against the Steelers and against the thought of laying 4 points with them on the road in the desert.

Green Bay (-9) over MINNESOTA
Funny what a difference two years makes, right? This time in 2009, this line may very well have been flipped the other way around for a Packers-Vikings game in the Metrodome. Alas, it's 2011, and Christian Ponder is finally getting his first NFL start in place of Donovan McNabb. Ride the Packers until they falter, it's that simple.

NEW ORLEANS (-13.5) over Indianapolis
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Season: 16-10-4

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cinq Pour Samedi (La Retourne!)

I'm back after a few weeks of not getting a column up here, but starting a new job, moving, not having internet, and getting the flu will do that to you. Thankfully I'm now settled in and once again able to maintain a steady body temperature. Even though there were no columns published, I still got 5 picks in each week and got them on the record via email or text to Kevin, and those picks were:

Week 6 (3-2-0)
Miami (+6) over VIRGINIA TECH
Oklahoma (-10.5) over Texas
ARKANSAS (-8) over Auburn
NEBRASKA (-10) over Ohio St
Florida (+12) over LSU

Week 7 (2-3-0)
Baylor (+9.5) over TEXAS A&M
Michigan (+3) over MICH ST
Oklahoma State (-7) over TEXAS
Florida (-2) over AUBURN
Arizona State (+14.5) over OREGON

So, a naturally mediocre 5-5 over the past few weeks brings us to Week 8, which contains considerably fewer juicy matchups when compared to the past month or so. Home teams in CAPS.

West Virginia (-14) over SYRACUSE (Friday Night)
The Orange are a respectable 4-2, but now they run into by far the best team that they are going to see this season. West Virginia should frighten the hell out of me in this spot laying double digits on the road in what could be a fired-up Carrier Dome, but the Mountaineers have been a second-half team all year and should be able to flex their muscle over the course of 60 minutes and show Syracuse why 4-2 in the Big East is, well, 4-2 in the Big East. Dana Holgorsen's offense keeps scoring and scoring, and Syracuse does not figure to be able to do enough through the air to keep up.

Southern California (+8.5) over NOTRE DAME
I'm sorry, but I just don't get it. Neither team in this game is ranked. USC is 5-1, Notre Dame 4-2. The Trojans don't have a signature win and came up short in their only really tough game thus far (Arizona State). Notre Dame does have a signature win (Week 3 vs. Michigan State), but is that plus two straight trouncings of mediocre Air Force and Purdue enough to make the Irish this big of a favorite? While it's fair to say Notre Dame has gotten its head out of its ass after their 0-2 start, I just don't see their defense intimidating three-year starter Matt Barkley one bit. Give me the points and let's hope for a good one.

Wisconsin (-7.5) over MICHIGAN STATE
I really wanted to take Sparty here, but Wisconsin is too good. They beat the hell out of you up front on offense, and while Michigan State defends the run very well, it's very tough to hold up against the Badgers' offensive line for 60 minutes. Do the Spartans have an answer for Russell Wilson? In the end, I don't think they will. This has a chance to be a very good game, but I think the Badgers go on a long 4th-quarter touchdown drive to go up by 11 points and send the fans toward the exits in East Lansing.

LSU (-22.5) over Auburn
Will the real Auburn team please rise and come to the front of the line? The reigning national champions (remember that?) got embarrassed two weeks ago by Arkansas but rebounded to beat Florida last week. The difference? Auburn hasn't put together a truly solid effort on the road yet this season. LSU, meanwhile, is lights-out at home on both sides of the ball (41.2 ppg offensively, 199.5 total ypg allowed defensively). The huge spread here is begging you to take Auburn, so I'll go the other way and say LSU covers it. Who knows, maybe The Mad Hatter will have another fancy special teams play up his sleeve, like the fake punt against Florida that I can't stop watching.

Washington (+21) over STANFORD
The 5-1 Huskies are making a cameo in the Top 25 and present The Andrew Luck Show with their biggest (and maybe their only) test to date before the schedule gets serious down the stretch. Will the Cardinal be looking past Washington and toward the upcoming month, which features dates with USC and Oregon before closing out the regular season against Notre Dame? I'm not a big believer in that cop-out theory (I love it when blowhards act as if they're in a team's locker room and on their practice field every day), but Washington has a lot to prove in Palo Alto and since they played Nebraska pretty well in an equally tough spot in Week 3, I'll cross my fingers and take my chances being spotted 3 touchdowns.

Season: 17-17-1

Thursday, October 20, 2011

5 For Saturday

3-2 last week and 15-20 on the season.

I never made it to Ole Miss either btw, damn airlines.

North Carolina (+10.5) @ Clemson Noon ESPN

I just don't trust Clemson even after their impressive start.  They should win but I can't bet them to cover here.  North Carolina is well on there way to being irrelevant in football agian but theres so talent that is there for now.

Oklahoma State @ Missouri (+7) Noon FX

Missouri is a decent enough football team to trust at home against OK State.

USC @ Notre Dame (-8) 7:30 NBC

I still won't be rooting for the Irish but they are a solid football team flying under the radar since their 0-2 start.  This seems like a good chance to make a statement and stomp USC at home.

Washington @ Stanford (-20) 8 ESPN

The spread is huge in this one and even bigger than I expected but it's hard to really like Washington here because they are a paper tiger.  Against their only real competition this year they got smoked against Nebraska.  Something like 48-24 seems likely.

Wisconsin (-9) @ Michigan State 8 ABC

If Michigan State were a high school team they would be Woodrow Wilson.  They love to play after the whistle.  Wisconsin is tough enough to withstand the extracuricular activites of Michigan State and pound the football against a good defense.  Russel Wilson will most likely have to win this game for the Badgers because State is going to load the box and blitz like hell.  Just watch the tape of last weeks game in East Lansing and you will be fine Wisconsin.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

5 for Saturday

Finally I had a winning week even after starting off 0-2.  3-2 last week puts me at 12-18 on the season.  I still have a long way to go to break even.

Michigan (+3) @ Michigan State Noon ESPN

Well it is always the most important game of the season for State but this year the same is also true for Michigan.  The winner of this game is a strong favorite to win the B16 TEN West division (screw those other names).  Michigan has been playing the role of Sparty in recent years (coming in hot and undefeated, losing the in state rivalry and seeing the season collapse) and are still in a "prove it" mode despite being 6-0. 

I really don't know what's going to happen, Michigan has been extremely lucky in many ways this year both on and off the field and many people are waiting for their luck to run out.  I think the Wolverines will keep it going against Sparty though.   Michigan State has had issues on the OLine all season long and this has prevented them from being as effective as they would like to be on the ground.   Michigan State has a terrific group of tailbacks but they haven't had much room to operate.  Expect Michigan State to bubble the Wolverines until they can prove they can defend it.  On defense Michigan State is supposedly the best in the country if follow silly data from mational mainstream media.  They will be the stiffest test for Michigan becasue they gameplan for Michigan yearround, but it's difficult to shut down Denard and company.  Michigan should be able to get into the high 20s points wise and the suddenly mediocore defense should be able to slow Sparty down just enough for the win.  

Oklahoma State (-7.5) @ Texas 3:30 ESPN 2/ABC

Can Oklahoma State really win by more than a touchdown in Austin?  It's alot to ask but after last weeks beatdown I'm not sure the Longhorns have turned the corner. 

Alabama @ Ole Miss (+24.5) 6PM ESPN 2

So I'm breaking the rules a little here and picking this game because I'm headed to it.  We will be partying in the Grove and I will be dressed like a dad to fit in and steal a southern beauty.  Eventually I will get around to posting about some of the college football tailgate experiences I've had this year.   I'm pick Ole Miss simply because I'm rooting for them on Saturday.  Saban is not generally one to run the score up but he might make an exception for Houstun Nutt.

Florida @ Auburn (-1) ESPN 7PM

Florida has looked dreadful since John Brantley went down, and no matter which backup starts for Florida they are not ready to handle Jordan Hare at night, even after games against LSU and Bama.

Arizona State (+15.5) @ Oregon 10:15 PM ESPN

The hope is the Arizona State can cover this spread in a high scoring affair.  Oregon always seems to strive to cover the spread, but ASU is one of the better football teams in the conference and should challange the Ducks into the 4th quarter.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

5 For Saturday

From the blog that doesn't have real posts anymore (blame the financial crisis and disinterest) comes more bad picks from me.  2-3 last week, 9-16 on the season.

Oklahoma vs. Texas (+11) @ The Cotton Bowl Noon ABC

I really thought I was going to pick Oklahoma to cover here but the 9.5 line is begging you to take them.  My main reason for picking the Longhorns is their off-season hire of DC Manny Diaz.  Diaz is a huge statistical analysis fan and is a DC that is as agressive as they come.  I think the Oklahoma will hold on to win by a touchdown but Texas isn't going to go quietly.

Florida State (-9) @ Wake Forest 12:30 ESPN Gameplan

Somehow this made Rivals list of games for the weekend.  I'm guessing its because after last weeks performance Ohio State is deemed unwatchable even if they are headed to Lincoln.

Missouri @ Kansas State (+3) 3:30 ABC regional

Kansas State has quietly beat Miami and Baylor the last two weeks.  Maybe if they win this one they will start getting some respect.

Auburn @ Arkansas (-10) 7 ESPN

10 points is alot to lay but I'm dying for a team to hang some on Auburn and Arkansas could be the ones to do it.  Arkansas has an explosive offense that needs to play all four quarters for once to cover this spread.  The team is experienced enough and its time they get their shit together and roll a team they should.

Georgia (-2) @ Tennsesse 7 ESPN 2

You wrote Georgia off didn't you.  I don't blame you, but don't be surprised if they are able to win their division and get to the SEC title game.  The schedule sets up nicely without matchups against LSU and Alabama, every game is winnable.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

5 for Sunday

Finally got a nose across the .500 mark last week, hopefully for good (yeah, right). My approach right now is "half the league stinks and a third of the league is inconsistent, so bet on the few good teams there are and take the points everywhere else." Home teams in CAPS.

San Francisco (+9) over PHILADELPHIA
Until the Eagles show they can play a little fundamental football (especially on defense), I'm continuing to go against them. San Francisco is a miserable team and I can't believe I'm taking a West Coast team in a 1pm road game, but Patrick Willis is as good of a spy on Mike Vick that you can have, and the 49ers can bestow a healthy Frank Gore dose upon the most overrated team in the league. A win would be a surprise, but I think Jim Harbaugh will have his team ready to play.

New Orleans (-7) over JACKSONVILLE
Anyone who pays attention to this column knows that I tend to back the Saints pretty often. Even on the road in what may not be an optimal playing conditions, this team is still far and away better than Jacksonville, who is in a state of total rebuilding outside of MJD. This should be a nice "welcome to the NFL" afternoon for Blaine Gabbert in his first home start, and maybe he can learn a thing or two watching Drew Brees from the opposite side of the field. You can't even get worried about the Saints' suspect pass defense here.

GREEN BAY (-12.5) over Denver
Remember that part about me saying there are only a few very good teams? This is one of them. Possibly the best, even. Can the Broncos move the ball? Ordinarily against Green Bay's secondary, that would be a definite "no," but the Packers have shown cracks there this year. Even so, this doesn't figure to be the type of game that will bring the Tim Tebow billboards down in Denver. I want to see someone make a big stand against the Green Bay offense before I pick against them. The Packers should leave the Broncos cross-eyed this Sunday.

NY Jets (+3.5) over BALTIMORE
Why? Because almost everything else is telling you to go the other way. The Ravens, when not being caught napping, have been very convincing in their two wins this year. The Jets played a miserable second half against Oakland last week and now have Mark Sanchez playing with a broken nose and Nick Mangold possibly still out with an ankle injury suffered in Week 2. However, I think Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie can neutralize, if not full-out stop, Joe Flacco in the Ravens' passing attempts. So, in a run-heavy game, give me the points.

Indianapolis (+10) over TAMPA BAY
Tampa Bay doesn't score enough to lay 10 points to anyone, and there is still enough of a veteran presence on this Colts team to think they can hang tough on Monday night. And just so we're sure: I swear I'll never bet on a team quarterbacked by Curtis Painter again if this doesn't work out. I swear I'll never bet on a team quarterbacked by Curtis Painter again if this doesn't work out. I swear I'll never bet on a team quarterbacked by Curtis Painter again if this doesn't work out. I swear I'll never bet on a team quarterbacked by Curtis Painter again if this doesn't work out. I swear I'll never bet on a team quarterbacked by Curtis Painter again if this doesn't work out.

Last Week: 3-2-0
Season: 7-6-2

Friday, September 30, 2011

Cinq Pour Samedi

I must warn anyone who is thinking of using my respectable record thus far as justification for taking my picks to the bookie. October is here, and so is playoff baseball, which means I might watch one college football game a week in earnest. Oh well, bettor beware I suppose. Home teams in CAPS.

Texas A&M (-2.5) over ARKANSAS (neutral site - Cowboys Stadium)
It is technically a home game in Arlington, TX for the Razorbacks, but in actuality this should turn out to be an Aggies party. The Hogs were outclassed by Alabama last week, while A&M had a more respectable showing (albeit, still a losing one) against Oklahoma State. Despite the karma of Arkansas playing at JerryWorld and making the day of one of their proudest alums, the Texas A&M defense should be more than enough to cover this one.

SOUTH CAROLINA (-10) over Auburn
The ol' Ballcoach must be salivating over the chance to let loose on Auburn's miserable pass defense. I picked against the Gamecocks last week because they tend to play down to their opponents, but this is a chance to avenge last year's two losses to Auburn, and despite the Tigers being Cam Newton-less these days, I still think that means something. Even Stephen (see what I did there?) Garcia should make a day of it early, then Marcus Lattimore can put it away late. South Carolina by two touchdowns.

VIRGINIA TECH (-7) over Clemson
Thanks to two straight big wins by Clemson, the line here is quite manageable. I have a feeling that the pendulum will swing back in the other direction for the Tigers in Blacksburg, which is still an extremely tough place to play, especially for ACC opponents. Until the tradition is bucked, ride Beamerball and Virginia Tech's in-conference success. Oh, and the Hokies' stellar defense doesn't hurt either.

Alabama (-3.5) over FLORIDA
It takes a lot for someone to back a road favorite in a night game at The Swamp, but for my money Alabama is still the best team in the country and Florida is still maybe a year away from getting back to the top of the mountain. Either way, this game should be close-fought and relatively low-scoring, but wholly entertaining all the while. Something has to give in this meeting of potent offenses and suffocating defenses. My gut says the Tide pull out a late touchdown drive and take it by a score along the lines of 17-10.

Nebraska (+10) over WISCONSIN
The line here is a bit fishy, almost so high that you have to take Wisconsin just because. The Badgers hold the edge in most statistical categories and have the atmosphere under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium on their side, but are they really 10 points better than Nebraska? I understand that Russell Wilson has the ability to take this game over by himself, but if he doesn't, there's no reason that Bo Pelini's Cornhuskers can't keep this a one-score game in Madison.

Last Week: 3-2-0
Season: 11-8-1

5 for Saturday

I went 1-4 last week and couldn't even remember who I picked.  This comes without even consuming actual moonshine in West Virginia last weekend.  Well at 7-13 on the season you might as well call me McDonald, aka mush.  There is a long way to go but I will take a winning week at this point.


Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (-3) JerryWorld Noon ESPN

Well I lost picking both teams last week but at least A&M choked in the second half so there's that.  Here is an SEC preview matchup for next year and probably something that develops into a decent rivalry between bordering states.

Auburn @ South Carolina (-10.5) 3:30 CBS

Asking for the Gamecock to win by more than 10 may seem like alot of points to give, but Auburn's D has ceded alot of points to everybody this season so the Gamecocks should be able to score 40 points.  Something tells me that after last years beatdowns that Auburn provided, Spurrier won't have any problem stepping on Chizik's throat.

Clemson (+7) @ Va Tech 6PM ESPN

You might as well chalk this up as a lose because if you bet on Clemson your asking for it.  However, it seems that this mistrust of Clemson is built into the line.  Clemson is getting a full touchdown on the road and they are trying to keep their momentum rolling, nobody every knows what Clemson is going to do but I'll take the points.

Alabama @ Florida (+4.5) 8PM CBS

I have gone back and forth on this one but A.J McCarron has to prove he can play on the road in the SEC before I can back him hear.  Florida should at least be able to hang tough and keep this a game deep into the 4th.

Nebraska @ Wisconsin  (-10) 8PM ESPN

If your not going to be watching baseball, you shouldn't miss this one.  It should be a shootout on the ground. 600 rushing yards for the game wouldn't shock me.  I'm banking on their being enough points in this one to create seperation.  Welcome to the Big Ten Nebraska get ready to take a few lumps.

Friday, September 23, 2011

5 for Sunday

Week 3 in the NFL, and as widely expected, nearly every team in the league has shown cracks and had bouts with sloppy play and injuries, thanks in large part to the abbreviated offseason and preseason this past summer. In layman's terms, nothing's really changed - 80% of the teams in the league stink. Home teams in CAPS.

NY Giants (+9) over PHILADELPHIA
Mike Vick will most likely be playing, which partially explains the 9-point line. The Giants have looked no better than average in their first two games and enter this one still a very banged-up team, which does the rest of the explaining of the 9-point line. The Eagles have six straight wins against the Giants and some will say they have their number. In my opinion, the Giants' strength (running the ball) plays well against the Eagles' weakness (tackling, as evidenced by Michael Turner last week). However, say goodnight if the Eagles get up by two scores quickly. To have a chance to win, the Giants need to use the clock as their 12th man and let Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw try to gut the Eagles' defense. A healthy Osi Umenyiora would be a big help for the Giants, but no one's holding their breath. Still, I'll take the 9 points because it's 3.5 too many.

NEW ORLEANS (-4) over Houston
Are the Texans ready for prime time? We'll know a lot more after this game in the Superdome, and to their credit, they have a Wade Phillips defense working for them, the same man that was responsible for derailing the Saints' run at a perfect season two years ago. Wait, I didn't just praise Wade Phillips, did I? My gosh did I seriously just say that? The Saints kept on ticking last week on their home turf, and likely will not have to deal with Arian Foster for the Texans (although to be fair, Ben Tate has been no slouch in his place). It would take a lot for me to bet against the Saints at home, and despite Andre Johnson's likely 150-yard game in this one, the Texans aren't enough to make me do that.

SEATTLE (+3.5) over Arizona
The way the Seahawks have played so far, I can't believe I'm doing this. But they get a soft Cardinals team in their home opener that is giving up a whopping 466 yards of offense per game. The Seahawks do have a good home field advantage and Kevin Kolb may experience some more of the growing pains associated with being a full-time starter. Neither of these teams is really any good, so take the home dog and hope for the best.

Atlanta (+1.5) over TAMPA BAY
I'll go on record and say that I still like this Tampa team, but Atlanta showed a lot last Sunday night in coming back and beating the Eagles. Michael Turner must be licking his chops to go up against the Bucs' rushing defense, which has given up 156 yards per game so far. The Bucs won't be able to sneak up on people the way they did last year, especially not a division rival. These two teams tend to play each other very tough, but in what amounts to a coin flip of a game it just makes more sense to go with the team that you know is slightly better. Josh Freeman has a knack for keeping his team in the game, but I don't know that Tampa has enough answers on defense for what the Falcons offense may present.

SAN DIEGO (-14.5) over Kansas City
Last week the Chargers showed their typical symptoms of the Norv Turner Syndrome that has been plaguing them for four years now. Despite the mistake-and-turnover party the Bolts threw in Foxboro, you still have to like them this week against the Chiefs. Why? Because Jamaal Charles is out for the season, and because KC has been outscored 89-10 in their first two games this year. If the Chiefs had been able to show any sort of fight against Buffalo and/or Detroit, then they'd be a sneaky pick here. But since they haven't been competitive at all thus far, you can't put a dime on Kansas City putting up a good showing in San Diego. The Chargers get healthy here and embark on their latest go-round of beating up on the miserable AFC West.

Last Week: 2-2-1
Season: 4-4-2

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cinq Pour Samedi

A very strong Week 3 has pushed me over .500 for the first time this year. Now that this season has gotten into full swing, Week 4 has some of the more interesting matchups that you'll see in the month of September. Home teams in CAPS.

ALABAMA (-12) over Arkansas
Simply put, the defense of the Tide is just too tough, allowing only 170 total yards per game and 6 points per game. Arkansas pushed 'Bama to the edge at home in this game last year, but that was with Ryan Mallett at the helm. The Hogs haven't played anyone yet, and the sight of a wide-eyed Tyler Wilson at Bryant-Denny Stadium come 3:30 on Saturday would be zero shock. At first glance this seems like too many points to give to an Arkansas team ranked 15th, but less than two TD's at home with Alabama isn't a terrible line.

Oklahoma State (+4.5) over TEXAS A&M
The 12th Man at Kyle Field in College Station must really be that powerful, because it has encouraged the public to bet A&M enough to pull this line up from its open at 3. Were this a night game and not a 3:30 game, I'd be more of a believer in the home team and crowd being able to disrupt the high-flying Oklahoma State offense. The Aggies quite possibly have the better overall team (i.e. they don't take an "NBA All-Star Game" approach to defense), but giving 4.5 points to a team that puts up pinball numbers on offense is too much for me to pass up. The Cowboys and Dez Bryant-clone Justin Blackmon would love for this to become a shootout, because in the end the Aggies figure not to be able to trade touchdowns all day.

Vanderbilt (+16) over SOUTH CAROLINA
The Gamecocks struggled with a Georgia team that they are better than, and are now coming off a 24-21 scare at home against Navy. Vandy is 3-0 and has caught enough eyes to warrant an article in the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated. Is this an instance of Vandy being overvalued and South Carolina being undervalued? Quite possibly. However, I can't go against my gut, which says that Vanderbilt's run defense (85.7 ypg) may force the ol' Ballcoach to rely more on Stephen Garcia to put up the points in this game. Is anyone comfortable laying more than two scores with Stephen Garcia right now? An outright win would be a miracle but the Commodores have done a lot to leave their past ineptitude behind, and a respectable showing would be a good indicator of a new attitude in Nashville.

CLEMSON (-2.5) over Florida State
I feel bad for anyone who hopped on this game at the beginning of the week when the Seminoles were a 3-point road favorite. Thanks to a combination of FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel's injury and reaction to Clemson's win over Auburn and the Noles' loss to Oklahoma, the line has nearly made a complete pendulum swing to Clemson -2.5. Were Manuel not doubtful for this game, I'd be all over FSU to bounce back here, but it's too much to ask right now. I'll roll the dice for less than a field goal in hopes that Clemson handles this case of relative prosperity well.

WEST VIRGINIA (+6) over Louisiana State
I'd have loved for this spread to be in the 7.5 vicinity, especially since LSU will have had 9 days of rest coming into this primetime affair. But the Mountaineers' 3-0 start and the fact that this game has been flexed into the 8pm slot (with College Gameday making the trip, no less) has prevented the line from ballooning. LSU plays superb defense but doesn't dazzle offensively, which could keep the scoring relatively low at Milan Puskar Stadium - in which case, 6 points is pretty inviting. The Mountaineers have had this date circled on the calendar for a long time and it is very likely their biggest game of the regular season. Some will still insist that the Backyard Brawl vs. Pittsburgh is always the biggest, but WVU's Big East schedule looks like more of a formality than anything right now. I expect Dana Holgorsen's 16th-ranked team to come out flying on Saturday night, and maybe a wrinkle or trick at the right time can help pull this game out against the #3 Tigers. Kevin and I, along with blog friends and readers PJ and Tony, will be making the trip for this one, and I can speak for all of us when I say that I hope that no couches will be safe come 11:30pm in Morgantown.

Last Week: 4-1-0
Season: 8-6-1

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Simply That Great

It is a record that, if it were set by someone of lesser stature, would not be taken nearly as seriously. When Trevor Hoffman broke Lee Smith's all-time saves record with his 479th career save in 2006, there wasn't half the acclaim or fanfare as there was this time. Why? Because Mariano was lurking. He was always lurking. He lurked upon the all-time saves mark in the same way that he has lurked upon opponents down by a few runs and running out of outs. When Mo polished off a 1-2-3 ninth inning against the Twins on Sept. 19 for his 602nd career save, there was a sense that the record had finally arrived where it belonged, where the world had expected it to end up for the better part of a decade.

And despite what the talking heads on ESPN will tell you, he hasn't "done it all with one pitch the whole time." In the early days, Mariano didn't even have the famed cut fastball; what he had was a four-seam fastball that he could pump up to 97 MPH and a two-seamer that dove right off of your bat if you were too geared up for the heat. By the end of the '90s, he had perfected the cutter and was breaking bats at such an alarming pace that you'd have thought he owned stock in Louisville Slugger, even forcing Ryan Klesko back to the dugout 3 times in a single at-bat in the 1999 World Series. But do not let the allure of Mo's cut fastball fool you. The guy is a pitcher, not a thrower, and he works both sides of the plate as well as anyone. Case in point? Look at the final out of the 602nd save again. A major portion of his strikeouts in recent years have come exactly like that one, a lefty caught looking over the outside corner just because he's so primed for the cutter on the inner half.

The save statistic often gets dismissed by baseball fans and media-types as a function of luck and the modern game's ever-increasing dependance on the bullpen. Saves meant more when Goose Gossage was getting 8 and 9 outs at a time in the '70s, they say, when a guy like Goose or Rollie Fingers would enter games at any point from the 5th inning or later when the starter began to tire or run into trouble. The modern closer is more of a vulture, they say, a compiler of a stat that is based more upon the 24 outs the rest of his team got than the 3 that he got himself.

And you know what? They're not totally wrong. There have been dozens of flash-in-the-pan closers in the past 30 years who have put up a season or two of big save totals. The 40-save plateau has been reached 132 times since 1983, and a few of the esteemed men to do so include Jeff Brantley, Joe Borowski, Danys Baez, Bryan Harvey (10 bucks if you can tell me when he played and who he played for, I didn't even know), and Jose Jimenez. Hell, Derek Lowe once put up a 42-save campaign for Boston and hardly anyone remembers him as anything besides a starting pitcher. As trivial as closers can seem in the regular season, it's the exact opposite in the postseason. Ask the 1996 Braves, 1998 Padres, 2006 Mets, or 2009 Angels how they may have ended up had it not been for their respective "superb" closers faltering at crucial moments. On the other hand, ask the 2008 Phillies if their run through October would have been possible had it not been for Brad Lidge not blowing a single save the entire season.

But for all the closers who have come and gone and eventually been booed off the field, there is one Mariano Rivera. He's been stockpiling the saves for the New York Yankees since 1997, when he took over the closer's role for good after a dynamite 1996 season (2.09 ERA, 130 strikeouts in 107.2 innings, 3rd in AL Cy Young voting), in which he was the most lethal component of a bullpen that carried the team into and through the World Series. He has been in the top 5 of AL Cy Young voting five times, unheard of for a relief pitcher. And not only has he done it for 15 years, but he's been at his best in October: 42 saves and a ridiculous 0.71 ERA for his career in the postseason. And of those 42 postseason saves, an astounding 31 have been appearances of 4 outs or more.

However, when painting the picture of Mo's legacy, I tend to point to three crippling postseason moments that would permanently scar the careers of mere mortals. The Yankees were 4 outs away from clinching the 1997 ALDS against Cleveland when Sandy Alomar Jr. went yard off of Rivera, tying the game and eventually sending the series to a Game 5, which the Yankees lost. Then there was the matter of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, into which I refuse to further delve. And of course, there was the 2004 ALCS Game 4, in which Mo had the chance to finish off a Yankees sweep of the Red Sox, which of course, didn't exactly pan out. (Ill-informed critics will also point out that Mariano also got a blown save in Game 5 of that ALCS, but it came in cleaning up Tom Gordon's 8th inning mess and anyone who watched that game will tell you Rivera did a heck of a job only letting one run score while he was on the mound.)

Why do I choose to point out Mariano's lowest moments? Because it speaks to the rest of his résumé that he can have experienced such monumental failures yet still be considered hands-down the best closer of all time. It takes a serious body of work in order to overcome such things, and Mo has almost rendered them back-burner fodder. He has 5 rings and has been on the mound for the final out of the World Series four times, all while pitching under the New York fans' lofty expectations and media microscope that has chewed up and spit out countless individuals. He is an ace up the sleeve, a game-changing factor long before he steps onto the field. Opposing managers, especially when there is more on the line, are faced with shortened games when #42 is sitting in the bullpen, often forcing their late-game decision making into the earlier innings.

Mo is larger than life, even if drawing attention to himself or away from the team's successes is the last thing he'd really want. His entrance to "Enter Sandman" has made him as synonymous with the song as Metallica himself, even though Rivera himself is indifferent to the song. His methodical, evenly-paced jog from the bullpen to the mound is as intimidating as the drums that would precede an approaching 17th century British infantry unit. It's like walking the Green Mile in reverse, in fact it's the Green Mile is jogging toward you. His entrance, his delivery, his mannerisms, his performance - they've all been so consistent and brilliant over the years that one really may believe that he's a robot. Come to think of it, the word "inhuman" may actually be the best way to describe Mariano Rivera if you are only given one word. I remember seeing him for the first time on the mound at the Kingdome in the 1995 ALCS against Seattle, getting crucial outs late in Game 5. Back then there was definitely the premonition that the Yankees had something with this guy, but not a soul could have predicted or expected the next 16 years. We have witnessed, and are lucky enough to still be witnessing, the best ever. Mariano is simple, Mariano is great. Mariano Rivera is simply that great.