Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Great Escape

We've all heard the saying, "do one thing and do it well". This film does exactly that. It's an escape movie. Period. No contrite romances. No musical interludes, but it does include singing of Christmas carols which also qualifies this film as a holiday movie (a recent poll put This movie as the number 3 favourite Christmas movie in Britain). What's more, this was an all-star cast in 1963. Richard Attenborough as Big X, we know him as the old guy from Jurassic Park. Steve McQueen, who sadly passed well before his time. James Coburn, Charles Bronson, James Garner, David McCallum, and the list goes on. Personally, when I see The Great Escape on TV, I can't turn it off. It can't be ruined by what I call "cableization". To cableize a movie is to edit out all obscenities, violence, and nipples to make a feature more family friendly. The Great Escape is safe from that as it came out in the early 60's and was not directed by Stanley Kubrick.

No computer graphics. None. In fact, Steve McQueen performs most of his motorcycle stunts with the exception of the final jump which is done by a stuntman. For our younger readers, stuntmen were people who performed the more dangerous stunts called for in the production of a piece of cinema. Before computer graphics, filmmakers had to be innovative and skilled. Weird, right? Anyway, I think the point of this post was supposed to be why The Great Escape is awesome. It's awesome because it's understated, sharply written, simple in nature, and well executed. Have a look sometime.

Then There Were Four

This year's Conference Championships goes to show that lately in the NFL, all you need to do is just get in. Not only are both #6 seeds still alive, but both have a viable chance of winning this Sunday - and one of them (Green Bay) is even favored on the road. Home teams, as always, in CAPS.

Green Bay (-3.5) over CHICAGO
I'd at least like to think that I was on the Packers bandwagon for this entire playoff run, but I definitely didn't expect them to put together two defensive performances like they did against the Eagles and Falcons. The under seems like a decent bet considering these two defenses and the likely weather conditions in the Windy City. The networks have been fawning over Aaron Rodgers with good reason, but what I think wins this game will be Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, and Clay Matthews. Should the Packers get ahead by more than 7 in the second half and trigger Mike Martz's worst pass-happy tendencies, the Bears could be in trouble. Green Bay has made its living off of turnovers and Jay Cutler may very well feed that appetite. I can't shake the image of a convoy of Green Bay defenders streaking down the sideline with an errant Cutler pass to ice the game. Packers, 24-13.

NY Jets (+3.5) over PITTSBURGH
I'll admit it - I drank the green kool-aid this week. The Jets punched with New England last week long enough to get Bill Belichick out of his element and now look to slay another recent champion on the road. I give Rex Ryan a ton of credit for changing his defense's approach against the Patriots by blitzing less and relying on his linebackers and secondary to cover for an extended period of time. He'd be well-served to do the same in Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger is at his best when the play breaks down and someone is in his face, so blitzing would invite trouble. If Antonio Cromartie, Darrelle Revis, et al. can cover the way they've been over the past two weeks, they can definitely frustrate Big Ben into a mistake or two. I'll be particularly interested in the kickers in this game. We all know how I feel about Nick Folk, but the Steelers' Shaun Suisham somehow manages to render Folk only the second-worst ex-Dallas kicker in this game. Two more reasons to root for the Jets: no one wants to see Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl, and two weeks of Rex Ryan quotes and headlines could actually make the pre-Super Bowl bearable this year. J-E-T-S, 20-14.

Last Week: 2-2-0
Postseason: 4-4-0

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Beginning of the End

The Divisional Round provides the last true football weekend of the season. From next week until at least September, we will no longer be able to watch football over the course of both a Saturday and a Sunday. And if the NFL labor situation doesn't get ironed out, it could be much, much longer. Now that I've managed to brighten everyone's mood....home teams in CAPS.

Baltimore (+3) over PITTSBURGH
If you like physical football and happen to appreciate enough of the finer points of the game to not be turned off by low scoring, then Saturday's early game should have you on the edge of your seat. The Ravens pounded the Chiefs into submission on both sides of the ball during the second half of their 30-7 Wild Card win and looked every bit the complete team that the Anquan Boldin acquisition was supposed to make them. The Steelers are coming off a much-needed first round bye during which Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu supposedly regained full health. I'm taking the points in what must have been the easiest point spread to set in the history of playoff football - all four Ravens/Steelers meetings between 2009 and 2010 were decided by exactly 3 points. The deciding factor for me is the fact that Pittsburgh will always be a sack here or an awkward cut there from Big Ben or Polamalu getting hurt again. The Steelers remind me of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! when you'd get a star punch in on Tyson right before the 2nd round bell and he comes out for the 3rd round really low on his life bar. Even better, these two teams are much more evenly matched than Little Mac and Mike Tyson. Ravens, 20-17.

Green Bay (+2.5) over ATLANTA
There seem to be a ton of people riding the Packers' bandwagon this week but a little research has shown that it is merely a product of the excessive hype that surrounds Aaron Rodgers and the Cheeseheads (by the way, not a bad name for a band). This line opened with Atlanta a 1-point favorite but it has since been bet up to 2.5. The Falcons took the Week 12 meeting of these teams, a 20-17 heart-thumper in Atlanta which featured a crucial fumble by Rodgers right near the goal line. Despite the money they cost me in Week 16 when they lost to New Orleans, I still don't like the idea of going against Atlanta at home. All things considered, though, the Packers are playing crisply in all phases in this most recent stretch, which has seen them go 3-1 against teams with a combined 45-19 record, the only loss being the memorable 4-point decision in Foxboro where Matt Flynn was forced to play in place of Rodgers. Expect a good deal of offense in the Georgia Dome, especially if Green Bay runs it remotely as well as they did against the Eagles. Packers, 28-24.

CHICAGO (-10) over Seattle
At first glance, this line looks 2.5-3 points too high. However, I'm going to stick with my anti-Seattle stance and go with Chicago for a few reasons. One- this is one of those two-week stretches that built Vegas. The betting consensus as of Thursday is showing 63% of ATS money coming in on the Seahawks. All the people who lost money on the Saints last week have been eagerly running back to the counter to take Seattle and the 10 points, and all the people who cashed in on the Seahawks last week have guessed it, running back to the counter to take Seattle and the 10 points. You have to believe that the Bears' defense will give just a slightly more inspired effort than what the Saints showed in letting the Seahawks literally roll over them for 41 points. This is a make-or-break game for Jay Cutler as well; the Bears' temperamental quarterback can put a lot of his critics at bay if he gets them to the NFC Championship Game. If Mike Martz is smart (big if), he eases Cutler into the game with early screens to Matt Forte and short outs and drags to Greg Olsen. I have a feeling that a defensive or special teams play (Devin Hester, anyone?) will be the late dagger that puts Seattle away. Bears, 27-10.

NEW ENGLAND (-8.5) over NY Jets
I'd really like to see the Jets pull this one out, but I can't think of any logical way for them to do it besides a ton of ill-timed Patriots mistakes. How do you beat New England? Well, you can pass on them, we know that. However, Mark Sanchez is clearly having arm trouble and won't have the climate-controlled benefits that he had in Indianapolis. How do the Jets win a lot of their tough games? Well, usually it's thanks to the jack-of-all-trades Brad Smith, but even he is a likely gametime decision with a groin injury. The Jets' other meal ticket involves Darrelle Revis locking on the other team's #1 receiver and reducing the rest of the field to a 10-on-9 or even a 10-on-8. The Patriots and their interchangeable receiving corps can make the efforts of Revis a bit of waste, because you can't say they have a true #1 receiver. You want to blanket Deion Branch? Fine, they'll throw hitches to Wes Welker and Julian Edelman until all of a sudden it's 2nd-and-4 on the opponent's 30. You want to blitz? Tom Brady will find one of the twin tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski over the middle. Oh yeah, and they can run the ball now too. It's no fluke that the Pats have averaged over 37 points per game during their current 8-game winning streak. How can you bet against something like that? Patriots, 31-17.

Last Week: 2-2-0
Postseason: 2-2-0

Monday, January 10, 2011

Eagles Sign New Player

In the aftermath of David Akers missing two critical field goals yesterday the Eagles have decided to sign a new kicker, Tony Danza.

I brought this up yesterday during the game and one person actually knew what I was talking about.  We wikipedia'd the movie and I have to share the description with you.  The ridiculous title matches the ridiculous plot.

"Barney Gorman (Tony Danza) works hard as a garbageman, but his career indirectly embarrasses his family. All the Philadelphia Eagles' coach wants to do is impress the football fans in Philadelphia, but having a team that lacks success makes that hard for them. But one day, when Barney and his friend are picking up garbage, Barney takes out his frustration and kicks a water jug at the city dump, which also happens to be a scouting location for the Eagles to buy land in order to build a new stadium, and the owner is present. The jug goes so far, that the Eagles' coach sees and asks Barney to be their new kicker, which the owner feels is an excellent publicity stunt in "giving an average Joe a shot at the NFL".

Barney joins the Eagles, but at first isn't really accepted by his teammates, especially his roommate, Bubba. But once Barney starts playing and makes a lot of game winning field goals, his teammates and football fans all over town begin to love him. They even dub him a nickname, "G-Man".

Unfortunately, the fame and popularity goes to his head, and he becomes spoiled and selfish. He begins to think that his teammates are his lackeys, and that they should all worship the ground he walks on. After all this, Barney misses a game-winning field goal attempt and a chance to make it to the playoffs.
Barney goes to a bar, depressed and lonely, when an attractive blonde woman approaches him. She asks him if he is Barney Gorman and if she could take a picture with him. She takes him to the photographer, but is caught off guard when the woman kisses him. She says thanks while giving him an alluring smile as she walks away.

About two days later, Barney is still depressed over the loss and gets kicked off the team. He then misses a date with his wife (Jessica Tuck), and she sees the picture of him kissing the blonde woman in the newspaper. When Barney tries to go home later, he sees that his suitcase is packed with the newspaper photo of him kissing the blonde woman outside the front door.

After a while, Barney comes to his senses and goes home to apologize to his wife, son, father, and his teammates. The Eagles let him back on the team, just in time for the final game of the season. At the end of the game, the ball placeholder fumbles the ball, and Barney grabs it and scores the game winning touchdown. Barney then remembers his roots as a garbageman, and at a press conference points out that garbagemen are deserving of respect as they work hard to keep the city clean."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Wild Card Weekend

First, an update for anyone who was actually concerned about the friendly NCAA competition between me and Kevin. We both went 2-3 in last weekend's bowl games and thus were unable to break our virtual tie. As a result of Kevin being out of town all week and me being handcuffed to a cubicle for more hours than God (or Bog) ever intended, we've mutually decided to call it a tie for the NCAA season. Kevin ended up 41-32-2 and I ended up 40-31-4. So, without further ado, on to my favorite football weekend of the year - Wild Card Weekend. Home teams in CAPS.

New Orleans (-10) over SEATTLE
I cringe at the notion of laying this many points with the Saints going across two time zones to a loud Qwest Field in potentially adverse weather. However, what made me cringe even more was Pete Carroll and his smug postgame press conference (skip to the 4:00 mark) after the Seahawks beat the Rams to win the NFC West at 7-9. Pete, shut the hell up. Your team was one game better than the sad-sack Cowboys whose season ended on Oct. 25. Your team was 3 games worse than both the Giants and the Bucs, both of whom just so happened to plaster your team during the season. Your team does not deserve to be here, and if you had the chance you'd try to skip over to the Saints' sideline (just like you skipped out of USC) the second that Marques Colston or Robert Meachem catch their first 60-yard bomb of the day. I'm a bit concerned about the Saints' offense now that their two best power runners, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, will miss the whole playoffs, but Reggie Bush and (can't believe I'm saying this) Julius Jones should be adequate for this week at least. A decent rule of thumb with playoff games is not to take the underdog if you don't think they have a chance to win outright. With that being said, give me the defending champs, 28-10.

INDIANAPOLIS (-2.5) over NY Jets
The rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game has a good chance to be the best game of the weekend. This would probably be a slam-dunk for Indy if their offense were fully equipped, but the absence of Dallas Clark and Austin Collie take away what would have been the bread-and-butter against the Jets defense, which is often overly aggressive in blitzing the passer but excels in covering the outer thirds of the field. The Jets should score 20-24 points here, and I have a gut feeling that Santonio Holmes will have about 125 yards and a touchdown or two, because once he's 20 yards downfield he shifts into a gear that few players have. I'm taking the Colts because of two men - one is obvious (Peyton Manning) and the other is almost obvious - Adam Vinatieri. In a game that figures to be close, give me the money kicker of the past decade over the human anxiety attack that wears #2 for the Jets. Nick Folk is at his worst when conditions are ideal - I can see him missing a field goal at some point in the dome in Indy and it having a huge impact on the late stages of the game. Colts, 27-21.

Baltimore (-3) over KANSAS CITY
It's been a great run for the Chiefs, but I think it ends here. The Ravens are too battle-tested not to win this game, and Kansas City's meal ticket of Cassel-to-Bowe doesn't look to operate quite as cleanly against the Baltimore secondary. Ed Reed, (WARNING: OBLIGATORY BALTIMORE/THE WIRE REFERENCE AHEAD) who for a while looked as gimpy as Omar Little toward the end of the show, has come back with 4 interceptions in the past two games and figures to wreak his havoc on this very young Chiefs offense. I know the Chiefs were great at home this year, but this Baltimore team is playing its 6th road playoff game in the past 24 months (versus zero home games) and should show everyone why they were 12-4. Ravens, 23-14.

Green Bay (+3) over PHILADELPHIA
The featured game on Sunday can be dubbed the We Don't Run the Ball Bowl in light of the play-selecting tendencies of these teams. We all know about Michael Vick's health status and the fact that of the past 180 minutes of football the Eagles have played, 8 were legendary and 172 were, well, not legendary. The Packers' ability to rush Vick is obviously a key factor, but equally as important will be how Charles Woodson fares with DeSean Jackson. If you take the big play away from the Eagles, the Delaware Valley ends up seeing a lot more of Sav Rocca on the field than they'd like to. On the other side of the ball, Greg Jennings presents huge matchup problems once he can get the ball in his hands, because we all know Asanté Samuel isn't tackling him in the open field. And if the Eagles roll a safety over to Jennings' side as much as they may need to, well, Donald Driver and James Jones aren't exactly slouches either. Packers, 31-24.

Last Week: 2-3-0
Regular Season: 42-41-2 (sigh of relief)