Friday, January 30, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII

That’s a lot of Roman numerals…

Picks for Championship Sunday: 1-1
Playoffs: 4-6
Overall: 169-96-1

Raymond James Stadium in Tampa hosts Sunday’s Super Bowl between the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers are contenders every year to appear in this game. The Cardinals had their second winning season since moving to Phoenix 20 years ago.

The Steelers have an efficient offense and a suffocating defense. The Cardinals have possible Hall of Famers on the offensive side of the ball in Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald. This is going to be a fun game when the Cardinals have the ball.

I thought the Cardinals would lose their first playoff game, and have picked against them in every playoff game to date. Nothing changes here, though I would love to see the Cardinals close the deal and win a championship. The Steelers have a better defense and are more consistent. Defense wins championships. The Steelers earn a record 6th Super Bowl title. Pick: Pittsburgh

Saturday, January 17, 2009

NFL Picks: Championship Sunday

Last Week: 2-2
Playoffs: 3-5
Overall: 168-95-1

And then there were four. These are especially heady times in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as the area’s three teams all have a chance to go to the Super Bowl, with the Steelers and Ravens playing each other and the Eagles traveling out to Arizona. Did you know that Harrisburg is closer to Baltimore than it is to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia? On to the picks…

Philadelphia at Arizona: Hell has definitely frozen over. The formerly sad-sack Cardinals find themselves hosting their second playoff game in three weeks, after not hosting one since the Truman administration when they played in Chicago. They find themselves hosting the Eagles, who were a mediocre team before coach Andy Reid briefly benched QB Donovan McNabb before putting him back in the starting lineup. The Cardinals have discovered defense in the playoffs, or at least enough to allow Kurt Warner and company to outscore opponents. I love Kurt Warner, and I’d love to see the Cardinals win, but I don’t see it happening. The Eagles are the hot team here. Pick: Philly

Baltimore at Pittsburgh: These two teams despise each other. The Steelers have won two close games over the Ravens this season. Normally, it’s really hard for a team to beat another good team three times in one season. But, the Ravens have been playing for 15 consecutive weeks, since their bye week was moved to Week 2 due to the rescheduling of their game in Houston due to Hurricane Ike. The Ravens should have enough in the tank to make this a good game. However, the Steelers will make one fewer mistake and win a trip to their seventh Super Bowl. Pick: Pittsburgh

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Need For Slight Change

This year’s NFL playoffs have been interesting, to say the least. The visiting team won three of four games this weekend, and has won five of the eight games played to date. Parity in the league has contributed to the lack of home field advantage. However, don’t be surprised to see the league tweak the seeding system for the playoffs in future years.

Cases in point: the Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers. The Cardinals finished 9-7 and the Chargers finished 8-8. Both teams made the playoffs by winning weak divisions. The NFL rewards division winners with a home game in the first round of the playoffs. So, both teams hosted teams with better records in the first round of the playoffs: the Cardinals hosted 11-5 Atlanta, while the Chargers hosted 12-4 Indianapolis. Both teams won their first round games over teams that had much better regular seasons. It can be argued that the Falcons and Colts were penalized for not winning divisions that happened to have a stronger team in it.

The NFL could very well seed playoff teams based solely on record. If they were to do so, the AFC could have been seeded thusly:
1) Tennessee
2) Indianapolis (tiebreaker, due to their win over Pittsburgh)
3) Pittsburgh
4) Baltimore (tiebreaker, due to their win over Miami)
5) Miami
6) San Diego

In this scenario, the Chargers would have traveled to Pittsburgh for a first round game, while the Dolphins would have traveled to Baltimore. The Colts would not have been penalized for being in the same division with the Titans, but would have been rewarded for winning 12 games.

In the NFC, a similar scenario exists. By applying this proposal, the NFC would have been seeded thusly:
1) New York Giants
2) Carolina
3) Atlanta
4) Minnesota
5) Philadelphia
6) Arizona

The Cardinals would have still played the Falcons, only in Atlanta. The Eagles would still have traveled to Minnesota. In addition, a situation like what happened with the Cardinals could have been avoided. Arizona clinched the awful NFC West with three games to play, and had very little chance to move up in the seedings, but were guaranteed a home game. Thus, they played lethargically in their last three games, including an annihilation in the snow at New England. The Cardinals would have been forced to continue to try to earn a home game in addition to the division title they had already won. This would have improved competition in the final weeks of the season. Plus, under this seeding plan, the Eagles would host the upcoming NFC championship game since they have a better record than the Cardinals.

Another argument is made by fans of the New England Patriots, who sat at home with an 11-5 record: why not let the teams with the best records in the playoffs, period? That is a valid point. However, with the divisional schedule, it is best to reward the winner of a division with at least a trip to the playoffs. A home game is icing on the cake, but the division winner must be rewarded in order to bring some integrity to divisional play, especially with unbalanced schedules. Otherwise, divisions are only means for scheduling and nothing else.

At least the NFC East can’t cut a deal for its third place team to meet the fourth place team from the AFC West in a meaningless bowl game in Birmingham or Shreveport..

Friday, January 09, 2009

Some Sanity, Please

In the aftermath of a loss in any big game in any sport, fans of that team come unglued. In this country, nowhere is that more apparent than in college football. Millions of fans buy tickets, travel long distances, and donate large sums of money to support the school of their choice. Coaches reap a lot of the benefit of that interest, with six and seven figure contracts to coach young men on their way to the NFL and/or college degrees. With the steep increase in pay comes a steep increase in expectations. While some of those expectations are warranted, some fans have outrageous demands that they place on coaches, much more than they experience in their everyday lives at their own jobs or with their own families.

I was reminded of this Thursday night, as my Oklahoma Sooners lost yet another national championship game, 24-14 to the Florida Gators. The sentiment I am about to explain is not limited to OU fans, but also applies to fans of Ohio State, Texas, Florida, or any other big-time college program you can name. Combined with the anonymity of the Internet, anyone with a computer and a Web connection can get behind a keyboard and post some hot but absolutely stupid opinions about any subject, including a great football coach.

OU has now lost five BCS bowl games in a row. It would be just as easy to insert Ohio State and Jim Tressel in this conversation, as they have lost three BCS bowl games in a row.

After Thursday night’s game, I visited a leading OU fan message board. There were some OU fans calling for the resignation of Bob Stoops. How asinine! Somebody was drinking too much. In the last ten years, Stoops has only won six conference championships, won one national championship, and played for three others. In addition, his teams’ success has resulted in unprecedented financial success for the OU athletic department. Yet for some, that’s not enough. Especially when said team has lost five BCS bowls in a row. Some fans expect a national championship every year, or their self-importance is wounded. Many of these are the same type of fans that jump on the bandwagon of whatever team happens to be good at the time. There is a good chance these people were nowhere to be seen when John Blake was leading the Sooners to records of 3-8 and 5-6, and Oklahoma had little hope of a return to national relevance. Many are derisively referred to by Oklahoma State fans as “Wal-Mart” Sooner fans, or fans that have never set foot on the campus but bought a shirt at Wal-Mart and adopted the team because they live there and the team is successful. Some of these types of fans, on the other hand, are actually graduates of the school. I cannot properly explain how silly this is. A newspaper writer in Oklahoma in the 1950’s explained it to his editor much better, though in a very politically incorrect way: “How much rice can a Chinaman eat?

There should be reasonable expectations for a highly paid coach. Coaches like Bob Stoops, Texas’ Mack Brown, Ohio State’s Jim Tressel, and others like them are expected to contend for conference and national championships every year. That is reasonable when a coach is making upwards of 2 and 3 million dollars per year. At that level, consistent and consecutive seasons of 8-4, 7-5 or even worse are unacceptable. Just ask former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, among others. However, it is totally unreasonable and outrageous to expect a coach to win a national championship every year. It takes some good fortune on top of talent and strategy to actually win a national championship.

I’m not happy that OU is not currently successful in big-time bowls. However, I’m not willing to throw this group of coaches off the bridge because they had the audacity to lose big games.

Bob Stoops isn’t going anywhere. If he does, it’ll be on his own terms. To expect OU to force him out is a totally ridiculous idea, and isn’t going to happen.

Note: I didn’t go to OU. However, I have a college education, and have been on the OU campus more times than I can count, sometimes for academic reasons. I even went to games when John Blake was the head coach and the team often couldn’t line up properly. I’m not a Wal-Mart Sooner fan.

NFL Picks, Divisional Round

NFL Picks, Divisional Playoff Round

Last Week: 1-3
Playoffs: 1-3
Overall: 166-93-1

Just like that, we’re down to eight teams in the NFL playoffs. That number will be cut in half after this weekend’s games. Here are yet more picks, for entertainment purposes only:

Baltimore at Tennessee: The Titans are the top seed in the playoffs, but have the unenviable task of playing the stout Ravens. It is usually safe to pick one visiting team in this round of the playoffs, and the Ravens are the best road team this week. Pick: Baltimore

San Diego at Pittsburgh: Five weeks ago, the Chargers were 4-8. Now, they find themselves still alive in the playoffs after a stunning overtime victory over the Indianapolis Colts. When these teams met last, the Steelers won a tight 11-10 contest over the Chargers. Between nagging injuries, cold weather, and the Steelers’ bye last week, the Chargers don’t stand a chance. They’ve made a great run, though. Pick: Pittsburgh

Arizona at Carolina: How did this become the Saturday night game? The Cardinals have had their best season in eons, but, like the Cardinals, their good fortune runs out this weekend. The trip is too far east, and the Panthers are too good. Pick: Carolina

Philadelphia at New York Giants: Once again, the service areas on the New Jersey Turnpike aren’t safe with these teams running loose. Philly has made a great run in the last month. The Giants appear to have peaked, but have a week’s rest and home field. Giants gain some energy back this week. Pick: New York

Friday, January 02, 2009

NFL Picks, Wild Card Weekend

Last Week: 13-3
Regular Season Total: 165-90-1

32 NFL teams have narrowed themselves down to 12. Eight teams play this weekend in the first round of the NFL playoffs. This means there are only four games to pick. Two of the last three Super Bowl winners came out of this round, so it is not a given that this week’s survivors will be plastered next week. This is the NFL, so anything can happen. The better games are definitely in the AFC. The NFC games will be good for naps or chores.

Indianapolis at San Diego: The two hottest teams in the league meet in a rematch of last year’s divisional round game won by the Chargers. The Colts have won eight in a row to finish 12-4. The Chargers were once 4-8, but got hot in December to finish 8-8 and win the AFC West. The way both teams have been playing, it’s too bad someone has to lose this game. The Colts are way too good. Pick: Colts

Baltimore at Miami: Last year, both teams stunk. Miami really stunk, going 1-15, with their only win coming over the Ravens in overtime. Turn the clock to this year, where both teams have impressed many by making the playoffs. The Dolphins were especially impressive, going from 1-15 to 11-5. The Ravens have already won once in Miami this season. The Dolphins have had a great run, but it ends Sunday in Miami. Pick: Baltimore

Atlanta at Arizona: The Falcons went from zeroes to heroes this season by going 11-5 behind rookie QB Matt Ryan. The Cardinals are hosting their first playoff game since they were known as the Chicago Cardinals. They won the awful NFC West almost by default. The Falcons are a better team than the Cardinals, especially after the Cardinals cruised after clinching the division early. Pick: Atlanta

Philadelphia at Minnesota: The Eagles embarrassed the Dallas Cowboys last week, bringing great joy to Cowboy haters everywhere by knocking them out of the playoffs in grand style. The Vikings are a dangerous team at home. Can they make the home dome advantage work for them? Sure. Pick: Minnesota