Monthly Archives: December 2010

Week 17 Predictions – The Debate Over Resting Starters

If the Bears don't want a repeat of this, they need to sit Jay Cutler on Sunday.

Note: I’m writing all of this under the assumption that either the New Orleans Saints or Atlanta Falcons win in the early games on Sunday, which would lock the Chicago Bears into the No. 2 seed and render their game against Green Bay (3:15 p.m. start) irrelevant to them.

The Bears should rest their starters as much as humanly possible on Sunday.

They shouldn’t play Jay Cutler for more than one quarter. Same with Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Matt Forte and Devin Hester. These guys should see as little of the field as possible.

I don’t just say that as a Packers fan hoping upon hope that their road to the playoffs is as easy as possible. It’s the logical reason in every single fathomable way.

In most arguments, I can see a contrarian point. Not this one. Let’s dis-spell a couple of myths on the way to coming to my conclusion.

No. 1 – The Bears will lose momentum going into the playoffs if they rest their starters.

In 2005, the Bears had their playoff position locked in going into week 17 and played Jeff Blake for the majority of a season finale loss to an 8-7 Minnesota Vikings team. The Bears received a first round bye and lost their first playoff game to the Carolina Panthers.

In 2006, the the Bears had their playoff position locked in going into week 17 and played Brian Griese for the majority of a season finale loss to a 7-8 Green Bay Packers team. The Bears won their first two playoff games that year and went to the Super Bowl before losing to the Indianapolis Colts.

What does this mean? It means anything can happen when you rest starters. In 2005, fans and pundits cried out that the Bears were ill-prepared against the Panthers, and some suggested resting the starters in week 17 was the culprit. That logic, of course, is proven to be flawed by the fact that after doing the EXACT SAME THING in week 17 a year later, the Bears were just fine going into the playoffs.

No. 2 – The Bears owe it to the fans who shelled out big money for tickets to play their starters for 60 minutes.

The No. 1 priority for any sports organization is to everything in its power to win a championship. If that means pissing off a few fans along the way, so be it.

First, any ticket buyer assumes the risk of these things happening when purchasing the ticket. They know there’s a possibility for poor weather, a cancellation, a delay, a star being injured, or even a team resting its starters because it believes that’s the best possible route to a championship.

If a fan is going to gripe over missing out at the chance to see Hester return a punt or Peppers sack Aaron Rodgers, it’s silly. You’re a Bears fan. You want your team to win the Super Bowl. Keeping his players healthy is the ONLY priority the Bears have Sunday. Nothing they do on the field will make them any more or less likely to win the Super Bowl. It’s a meaningless game for them. Health is all that matters. If you’re a knowledgeable fan, you understand this.

No. 3 – The Bears need to keep the Packers out of the playoffs because they want to keep their arch rivals out of the playoffs.

So you’re telling me the Bears should go all out because they want to knock the Packers out of the playoffs? But if the scenario meant the Bears were attempting to knock out, say, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Arizona Cardinals out of the playoffs, they shouldn’t go all out?

Fans love the fact that Lovie Smith said at his introductory press conference that his No. 1 priority was to beat the Green Bay Packers. That’s all fine and dandy, but if that logic makes him stubborn enough to risk having Jay Cutler injured and miss the playoffs then he’s just plain stupid.

Remember, Bears fans, Todd Collins is your backup quarterback. As valuable as Julius Peppers or Devin Hester is to your team, Cutler is that tenfold because of the lack of a true backup. The Bears are doomed without him.

No. 4 – The Bears need to keep the Packers out of the playoffs because they don’t want to have to play them again down the road.

While Tampa Bay still has an outside shot at the playoffs, the Bears beating Green Bay would really mean that the New York Giants get the last playoff spot. (Again, I’m assuming New Orleans beats Tampa Bay and the Giants beat Washington on Sunday. None of this is a given, but it’s the most likely scenario).

The Bears would rather have the Giants in the playoffs than the Packers? They would rather have the defense that almost decapitated Jay Cutler and handed them one of the few embarrassing losses of the season as a potential playoff opponent than a team they beat?

That just doesn’t make much sense to me at all.

I understand why you’d think I’m biased. I’m a Packers fan and would LOVE for the Bears to rest Cutler, Peppers, Hester, Urlacher and Briggs. But as a Bears fan, you should want that, too.

The Bears have been unfathomably healthy all season. It’s incredibly rare for a team to go into week 17 without a major injury to an important player. Why risk it now? You’re the No. 2 seed and will be win or lose. Nothing, I repeat NOTHING they can do on the field Sunday will have ANY impact on how they perform in the playoffs other than injuries.

For the sake of the Bears, fans should hope Lovie is smart enough to realize this. As a Packers fan, I hope he is, too.

Week 17 predictions:

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (-1.5)
Jets should be resting up with nothing to play for. Bills to win outright.

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (-14.5)
Maybe the Panthers can put a little scare in the Falcons’ quest for the No. 1 seed. Falcons to win, Panthers to beat spread.

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-10)
The Steelers’ result won’t yet be known when this game is played, so expect the Ravens to go all out. Ravens to win and cover.

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles (-6.5)
The Eagles will be starting backup Kevin Kolb. The Cowboys will be starting third stringer Stephen McGee. Eagles to win and cover.

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-5)
The Patriots have nothing to play for and will be resting starters (I think). Dolphins to win outright.

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-3)
I think I wrote this last week, but I’m going to again. The Lions are officially the team the ends this season strong, leading to everyone jumping on their bandwagon next season and them crumbling under the expectations. Also, Brett Favre. (I think didn’t think it would right for me to write an entire paragraph about a Vikings game without typing his name). Lions to win and cover.

Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5)
I could be wrong about this, but I believe the Chiefs are locked into the No. 3 seed regardless of what they do or what the Colts do. So I think they’ll rest players. Raiders to win outright.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-6) at Cleveland Browns
I think the Steelers will have the AFC North to win when this game begins. Steelers to win and cover.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-8)
The Saints were my NFC Super Bowl participant at the beginning of the season. I’m really liking this pick right now. Saints to win and cover.

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (-6)
Screw this game. 49ers to win, Cardinals to beat spread.

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-10)
I guess Vegas expects the Bears to rest starters, too. Packers to win and cover.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (-3)
The Jags will be going all out in this game because the Colts result won’t be known yet. But Trent Edwards is starting. Texans to win and cover.

New York Giants (-4) at Washington Redskins
The Giants’ collapse continues. Redskins to win outright.

San Diego Chargers (-3.5) at Denver Broncos
All hail the mighty Tebow! Broncos to win outright.

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (-9.5)
Peyton Manning doesn’t mess around with a playoff spot on the line. Colts to win and cover.

St. Louis Rams (-3) at Seattle Seahawks
A rookie quarterback in a hostile road environment in what is essentially a playoff game? I still like St. Louis. The NFC West, everyone! Rams to win and cover.

Records

Week 16 – 9-7 (8-8 against spread)
Overall:
143-95 (125-110-3 against spread)

 

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UFC 125 – Preview and Predictions

With football season wrapping up and my notable MMA blogging buddy set to enlist in the Navy after the new year, I figured it was time to start MMA blogging on a regular basis again. Sure, it doesn’t get me the type of traffic my football predictions or even my movie blogging does, but it’s fun, and those who care will read. So here goes nothing:

I don’t think a lightweight title fight between two highly unmarketable mixed martial artists was the headliner the UFC had in mind when it planned its UFC 125 event for New Year’s Day, but that’s what we get as current titleholder Frankie Edgar takes on Gray Maynard in the main event Saturday in Las Vegas.

The card was initially going to be the rolling out party of top ranked 145-lb. king Jose Aldo, but an injury forced the organization to back track. What we’re left with is still a highly intriguing grudge match between Edgar, the man who solved B.J. Penn, and Maynard, the only man with a victory over the current titleholder three years ago.

Here’s a complete rundown of each fight on the main card and predictions from all 11 fights on the card.

Main Event: Frankie Edgar (13-1) vs. Gray Maynard (10-0, 1 NC)

Rundown
On the surface, it’s hard to believe Edgar will go being into his third straight fight as an underdog. After upsetting Penn as a heavy underdog last April, Edgar went into the rematch in August, again, as the underdog and put an end to the questions that his victory over Penn were a fluke. Now, the undisputed titleholder enters his second title defense as an underdog against an undefeated fighter who served him his only career loss nearly three years ago.

Maynard suffers from what I call Jon Fitch syndrome. Fitch, as you know, as the undisputed No. 2 welterweight in the world to Georges St-Pierre. The problem with Fitch is that he’s uncooperative with management, unmarketable and, quite frankly, a pretty boring fighter. Maynard fits two of those three bills (to my knowledge, he’s never been uncooperative with UFC brass).

If it were up to Dana White, I’m sure Maynard would not see a sniff of UFC title contention because White wants fighters who will sell pay-per-views. Like Fitch, Maynard isn’t that type of fighter. But it’s hard to ignore the resume. Maynard is a bigger fighter who dominates from the top position. Every one of his UFC victories (seven, to be exact), have gone to decision. The only time a UFC fight didn’t go to a decision was when he had a no contest against Rob Emerson on a crazy double KO nearly four years ago.

Maynard lept into title contention in August with a dominating performance over perennial contender Kenny Florian in August. He did to Florian what he’s done to every fighter he’s seen: He does just enough on his feet and dominates from top position on the ground with superior wrestling.

That will be Maynard’s game plan against Edgar. There’s no question that Edgar’s takedown defense has improved drastically since the first fight, and he’ll need to use his speed and his jab to keep Maynard at bay. As the smaller of the two (Edgar walks around right at about 155 lbs.), that will be no easy task. I expect Maynard to score a couple of takedown in the fight, and it will be Edgar’s job to pop back up as he clearly has an advantage standing up with his speed and the accuracy of his punches.

Prediction
It seems foolish to pick against Edgar after what he did to Penn twice. I think Edgar could decisively defend his title against any other lightweight in the world, but not Maynard, who holds too much of a strength advantage. Maynard by decision.

Chris Leben (25-6) vs. Brian Stann (9-3)

Rundown
If it weren’t for Edgar’s two victories over the greatest lightweight in UFC history, Chris Leben would be a shoo-in for 2010 fighter of the year with victories over Aaron Simpson and Yoshihiro Akiyama coming in the span of about two weeks.

What makes Leben difficult to predict is that you never know which one is going to show up. He constantly fights well as an underdog (as he was against both Simpson and Akiyama), but has given several lackluster performances when taking on fighters he believes aren’t at his level (losses to Kalib Starnes and Jake Rosholt come to mind).

That may be his problem against Stann. After defeating Akiyama in July, Leben wanted a top contender and called out Wanderlei Silva. Instead, the UFC gave him Stann, who is far from a slouch but largely unproven inside the octagon.

Stann is a former WEC light heavyweight champion and this will be only his second fight in the middleweight division. It’s a huge opportunity for Stann as a victory over Leben will immediately skyrocket him into bigger and better things. The question for Stann is whether or not he can slow down Leben’s relentless pace and, if the bright lights of a co-main event flusters him (like we saw from Shawn McCorkle at UFC 124).

Prediction
Leben is one of the most entertaining fighters inside the octagon, but Stann is stoic and has seen far heavier pressure during his time in the U.S. Navy. I think Leben’s disinterest in this fight and outside problems get the best of him Saturday night. Stann by decision.

Brandon Vera (11-5) vs. Thiago Silva (14-2)

Rundown
We haven’t seen Brandon Vera — once considered the next big thing after a KO of Frank Mir four years ago — since he had his face shattered by Jon Jones’ elbow 10 months ago. A lanky, precise striker, Vera is just 3-3 in his six fights since moving to the light heavyweight division, and lost his last two fights after being thrust into the spotlight against Randy Couture and the aforementioned Jones.

Thiago Silva is coming off of an even longer layoff, last fighting in January of 2010 against Rashad Evans. Like Vera, Silva is in desperate need of a victory, having lost two of his last three fights (coming to Evans and Lyoto Machida, it’s hardly anything to hang his head over).

Still, this feels like a do-or-die moment for both fighters. A win keeps their careers moving forward. A loss may banish them to undercards and obscurity for the immediate future. The wildcard is that we don’t know what to expect out of Vera. At times, he looks like the most talented fighter in the cage. Other times, he’s inconsistent and lacks any legitimate game plan.

Prediction
Silva is the smarter fighter and more accurate striker. If Vera gets him on his back, he may be on trouble, but I think he’ll do a good job of fending takedowns and eventually put away Vera. Silva by knockout.

Nate Diaz (13-5) vs. Dong Hyun Kim (13-0-1, 1 NC)

Rundown
A definite fight of the night candidate, Dong Hyun Kim and Nate Diaz are an excellent matchup because of their styles.

Both fighters have extremely long reaches for the welterweight division, and both are incredibly skilled on the ground. Diaz’s Brazilian jiu jitsu skills are second to none in the sport, while Kim excels at the incredible less popular judo (at least inside the octagon.

The last time we saw Kim, he was dominating the smaller Amir Sadollah by getting on top and controlling from that position. Don’t expect him to be so lucky against Diaz, who is excellent off his back and his great takedown defense.

Kim’s inability (or possibly reluctance) to take this fight to the ground will force him into a standup battle, something Diaz loves. His length and accuracy make him a very dangerous boxer, and Kim is largely untested on his feet. The key will be how Diaz deals with taking on a fighter with a similar reach, something he has not had to deal with very often.

Prediction
It’s hard to imagine many fighters in the welterweight division having an advantage over Diaz in the standup game, and if Kim is foolish enough to try to take this fight to the ground, Diaz will likely dominate with his BJJ skills, as well. I think Diaz wears Kim down in the standup, eventually gets him on the ground, and it will be goodnight for the Korean. Diaz by submission.

Clay Guida (27-11) vs. Takanori Gomi (32-6, 1 NC)

Rundown
A great contrast in styles, Clay Guida brings a relentless pace and great wrestling base for a full 15 minutes, while Takanori Gomi is a knockout artist with great takedown defense.

Many believe Gomi revitalized his career with a thrilling KO of Tyson Griffin in August, and he will get a true test against Guida, who has largely become a gatekeeper in the lightweight division. While Guida may be similar to Griffin in his wrestling base, the difference is that Guida won’t be foolish enough to stand with Gomi, as Griffin was.

And even if Guida gets stuck in a standup battle, he’ll be far tougher to KO than Griffin as he has never been finished by punches in his career. However, Gomi’s standup is far superior to Guida’s, and if he can wear him out with jabs and stay away from the takedown, he’ll be incredibly successful.

Prediction
We haven’t seen a lot of Gomi in the UFC (only two fights inside the octagon), but I find it hard to believe he’s seen a fighter with as relentless of a pace and who is as good of a wrestler as Guida is. Guida will be successful in takedowns early and wear out Gomi from the top. Guida by decision.

Undercard Predictions:

Jeremy Stephens (18-6) over Marcus Davis (17-7)
Josh Grispi (14-1) over Dustin Poirier (8-1)
Brad Tavares (6-0) over Phil Baroni (13-12)
Mike Brown (24-6) over Diego Nunes (15-1)
Daniel Roberts (11-1) over Greg Soto (8-1)
Antonio McKee (25-3-2) over Jacob Volkmann (11-2)

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Top 10 Female Acting Performances since 2000

I watched “Black Swan” recently and thought Natalie Portman’s performance was the best I had seen in quite some time. It made me look back and re-evaluate other performances from the past decade.

(I know, it’s technically been 11 years, but using 2000 as a stopping point for this project was much easier than 2001, so bear with me).

So here are what I believe are the top 10 female performances since 2000. I’d love to hear what other people have to say, whether you agree or disagree.

10. Viola Davis – Doubt (2008)

I remember when “Doubt” was about to be released, the film’s advertising campaign centered around it’s star-studded cast. Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman were sure to make this film a huge success, right?

Well, technically yes. But who knew it would be the little-known Viola Davis who stole the show? She probably saw less screen time than any other actress on this list, but absolutely stole every scene she was in.

9. Penelope Cruz – Broken Embraces (2009)

Like Winslet, it was tough to chose just one film my Cruz. She gave at least four great performances over the past decade (“Volver,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” are the other three that immediately come to mind), but I ultimately went with “Broken Embraces” because of the level of difficulty that came with this performance.

Like several actresses on this list, Cruz transforms in this film from a nobody to a star and you can see her character change drastically as time goes on.

Cruz’s character is dramatic by nature, but the scenes she employs never are. You believe every bit of what she is doing.

8. Catalina Sandino Moreno – Maria Full of Grace (2004)

Perhaps the least known of anyone on this list, Moreno’s performance works because of the fear of the unknown.

Moreno’s character epitomizes the struggle for survival and the need to do whatever it takes to get by. You see her struggle with certain decisions in her life, but you see through her actions that survival is the No. 1 goal.

There isn’t a time during this film where Moreno takes over with an impassioned speech or defining stand against authority, but there doesn’t need to be. Her character is just simply trying to survive and make money, and that’s all she does.

7. Gabourey Sidibe – Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)

I feel as if I was in the minority about Sidibe’s performance last year, but in my eyes, she was the easy choice for Best Actress over Sandra Bullock or any other contender.

Sometimes it’s better to do nothing that to do too much, and that’s what Sidibe does in this role. You can see her struggle with her adolescence, her abusive mother and father, her ability to fit in at school. You can never quite tell what she’s feeling, but that’s the point of the performance. Precious’ character is obviously tragic, but you never get a feel for what she’s thinking (aside from the inner monologue), and Sidibe’s performance is beautifully subtle in pulling that off.

6. Meryl Streep – Adaptation (2002)

It’s no surprise that Streep was fantastic in “Adaptation”. She’s arguably the greatest actress of all time.

But Streep’s performance is unique to anything else she’s done in her latter years. Her performance is all about finding something to be passionate about and she sells the performance despite seeming like a strange choice for this role.

Streep’s body of work is what makes her great, but it’s performances like this that show her true talent and how broad her horizons can be as an actress.

5. Kate Winslet – The Reader (2008)

It took me a while to decide which Winslet performance to go with on this list. Between “The Reader” and “Little Children,” I ultimately decided on “The Reader” because of the rarity of such a role.

At the beginning of the film, Winslet is a strange woman you know little about. You hardly catch any glimpses of her as the relentless Nazi guard, but by the end of the film you almost sympathize with her fate.

She hardly cries out for innocence, but you can see the remorse in her eyes. You never know if the remorse is because of what she did, or because of the fate that awaits her. It’s an incredibly complicated role that only Winslet could pull off.

4. Julie Christie – Away from Her (2007)

As has been the theme throughout this blog, it’s the subtleties of Christie’s performance that make it work so well.

It may be tough in a film to make the audience believe there is real love transpiring. Perhaps tougher is the task of making an audience believe you have no feelings for someone you are supposed to love. That’s what Christie does.

As Alzheimers takes over her body, Christie drifts from her husband and becomes affectionate toward one of her fellow nursing home mates. The performance isn’t about her, but about the disease, and that becomes painfully obvious as the film moves along. It’s a beautifully sad effort.

3. Ellen Burstyn – Requiem for a Dream (2000)

One of the most overlooked performances in recent memory is likely because she wasn’t one of the two or three principle characters in the movie. But the fact that Burstyn got a Best Actress nomination in 2000 is a credit to how powerful her performance was.

The majority of Burstyn’s scenes in “Requiem” were by herself, slowly going insane over an obsession over weight loss and a TV contest. As a viewer, you see the cycle her character has caught herself in, but it’s a highly complicated role because of the agonizing cycle of emotions she goes through.

She’s a normal single mother who is worried about her son’s drug habits, but soon becomes enthralled in her own drug habits, just of a completely different nature. It’s an insane cycle that makes for a rare performance that won’t soon be duplicated.

2. Natalie Portman – Black Swan (2010)

When compiling rankings based on the emotion of a recent performance, it’s difficult not to get swept up in the power of “now.” After all, Portman’s performance is the most fresh in my memory of any of these 10 performances. But just because it’s recent doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive.

Without giving too much away, there is a point toward the end of “Black Swan” where you look at Portman and have to think back to what her character was like an hour and a half ago. You realize that the character you see on stage is completely different than the one you saw at the beginning of the film.

Couple that with the difficulties of dancing (according to IMDb trivia, Portman performed most of the moves herself, and suffered several injuries throughout filming), as well as the way she pulled off playing a character nearly 10 years younger than her, and it’s tough to rank many performances higher than this. Which is why I ranked only one.

1. Marion Cotillard – La Vie en Rose (2007)

2007 was the year of “Juno” and everyone was going crazy about Ellen Page in her performance. Few people had seen “La Vie en Rose,” a French biopic centered around singer Edith Piaf.

Most pundits went the way of the trendy pick that year, expecting Page to run away with the award. As one of my movie-loving friends put it prior to the awards “Marion Cotillard does more acting in one scene of ‘La Vie en Rose’ than Ellen Page does in all of ‘Juno’ put together.”

He was absolutely correct. Cotillard captured every bit of Piaf’s emotion in an incredibly complicated role. Some may say it’s tough to fake an accent or learn how to sing or dance for a role. All of that is true, but to fake emotion, love, hatred, fear, joy, takes a subtle skill that isn’t always appreciated. Likewise, Cotillard played Piaf from her youth to her death, and was believable throughout. A rare accomplishment.

Honorable mention

Carey Mulligan (An Education, 2009); Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds, 2009); Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married, 2008); Rosemary Dewitt (Rachel Getting Married, 2008); Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, 2007); Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal, 2006); Maria Bello (History of Violence, 2005); Felicity Huffman (Transamarica, 2005); Amy Adams (Junebug, 2005); Julie Delphy (Before Sunset, 2004); Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, 2004); Uma Thurman (Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2, 2003-04); Naomi Watts (21 Grams, 2003 and Mulholland Drive, 2001); Emily Watson (Punch Drunk Love, 2002); Salma Hayek (Frida, 2002); Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball, 2001); Juliette Binoche (Chocolat, 2000); Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich, 2000); Bjork (Dancer in the Dark, 2000).

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Week 16 Predictions – Lacking Time

Because of the holiday season, I have no time for a full blown blog this week.

I know you are all devastated, but I at least wanted to throw this up to get my picks on record this week. So here they are:

Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers (-15)
People should not discredit how much the loss of Troy Polamalu hurts the Steelers. Steelers to win, Panthers to beat spread.

Dallas Cowboys (-7) at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals have completely mailed it in for the season. I don’t care if they’re playing at home. Cowboys to win and cover.

Baltimore Ravens (-4) at Cleveland Browns
Joe Flacco is my starting quarterback this week as I play for my fantasy football league championship. Ravens to win and cover.

Detroit Lions at Miami Dolphins (-3.5)
The Lions have replaced the Browns as this season’s team to make a late push, followed by all kinds of “Watch out for the Lions!” headlines at the start of next season. Lions to win outright.

New England Patriots (-9) at Buffalo Bills
I just have a feeling Buffalo will make a game of this. Not sure why. Just a hint. Patriots to win, Bills to beat spread.

New York Jets at Chicago Bears (no line)
Not sure why there isn’t a line on this game. Jets to win outright.

San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams (-2.5)
The winner of the NFC West is going to finish 7-9. And it’s going to be… The 49ers. 49ers to win outright.

Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs (-5)
The Titans have replaced the Seahawks as the team I that I have no idea what they’re going to do every week. Chiefs to win and cover.

Washington Redskins at Jacksonville Jaguars (-7)
The Redskins have a lot of guys playing for jobs next season, so they’re still trying. Jaguars to win, Redskins to beat spread.

Houston Texans (-2.5) at Denver Broncos
It’s too bad the Texans can’t finish 8-8 for the 75th consecutive season. But they can still get to 7-9. Texans to win and cover.

Indianapolis Colts (-3) at Oakland Raiders
This is probably the most intriguing game of the week, for some reason. Colts to win and cover.

San Diego Chargers (-8) at Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are another team that is going to play inspired down the stretch as guys look to save their jobs. Chargers to win, Bengals to beat spread.

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers (-3)
I’m a little fearful of Aaron Rodgers, coming off of his second concussion of the season, playing against a team that has already injured something like six quarterbacks this season. That said, Packers to win and cover.

Seattle Seahawks at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-6.5)
Bucs are collapsing late, but not enough to lose to the lowly Seahawks. Bucs to win, Seahawks to beat spread.

Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles (-14.5)
Aside from the Packers-Giants game, I’m not sure which other games CBS and Fox protected from being flexed to Sunday Night, but there still HAD to be a better option than this one, right? Eagles to win and cover.

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (-2.5)
Regardless of what happens here, I think the Falcons still win in week 17 to clinch the NFC South. But there will be a major seeding shakeup somehow. Saints to win outright.

Record

Week 15 – 9-7 (13-3 against spread)
Overall:
134-88 (117-102-3 against spread)

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Week 15 Predictions – Indecision Will Cost Me

The guy who did this is going to make or break my fantasy season.

I don’t have anything too in-depth to write about this week, so I decided to rant about my fantasy football matchup and the fact that my scenario is playing out exactly like you wouldn’t want it to play out.

I’m sitting here about four hours before kickoff of Thursday night’s San Francisco-San Diego game deciding what to do with the flex position in my lineup.

First, a little background that you undoubtedly couldn’t care less about.

My league is a keeper league where you are allowed to keep up to three players from one year to the next. You lose a draft pick for two of those guys, though, making the keeper decisions a little difficult. Here’s how it works.

The guy who keep in the highest round you keep for free (so if you keep your first round pick from the year ago, you get that for free), but then if you keep the second round guy, you lose that draft pick.

I ended up keeping Randy Moss for free (round 2), then Tony Romo (round 4) and Austin Collie (round 17).

Pretty miserable, eh?

I started out poorly, jumping out to a 1-3-1 start and then a 2-4-1 start. Season looked pretty bleak from that point.

Well, I traded Moss (along with Shonn Greene) the week before New England did and got Reggie Wayne and Dez Bryant out of him. That worked out in my favor.

Then, after Romo went down, I traded Steve Smith (Carolina) and Felix Jones for Joe Flacco, and picked up Matt Cassel, so my quarterback situation wasn’t looked too poorly either.

I also drafted wisely. Since I didn’t keep any running backs and the best ones were off the board before the draft even began (Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Steven Jackson, Ray Rice, etc), I decided to stock up on running backs in hopes that at least one or two would pan out.

I drafted Arian Foster, Jamaal Charles, Justin Forsett and Shonn Greene.

Worked out pretty well.

So after my miserable start, my crafty trading and making up for injuries saw me rattle off a six week winning streak and grab the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, which included a first round bye.

That brings me to the present and why I’m writing all of this (besides to brag about my fantasy team).

I’m matched up against the only person in the league who can match me punch for punch in trash talking, my friend Andrew.

Andrew also happens to be the last person to beat me this season, as he won 97-80 in week 7 (the same week Romo got hurt).

Andrew had his No. 1 quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, go down last week and still managed to win thanks to an awesome performance by Andre Johnson. Now, he’s starting Jon Kitna, who is STILL projected to outscore whoever I start between Cassel and Flacco.

Our teams are pretty even, which is why I’ve been beating myself up all week over who to put in my starting lineup.

My two running backs are set (Foster and Charles). I have Wayne at WR1 and my WR2 will either be Danny Amendola or Collie (not ideal, I know, but I have to salvage something since Bryant got hurt).

Flex is where I’m hurting. I have Mike Tolbert going tonight against San Francisco and LeGarrette Blount going Sunday against Detroit. Usually, I don’t do much research into who to start, instead going with my gut. But I can’t, for the life of me, figure out who to start this week.

I’ve gone back and forth countless times and it’s driving me insane. What makes it worse is that I have to decide today because Tolbert plays tonight (I hate the Thursday night games).

Indecision always makes you end up making the wrong decision. I have no theory or scientific data to prove that. I just believe it. I’m going to end up losing to a guy starting Jon Kitna because I made the wrong decision between Tolbert and Blount.

Right now, I have Blount in my lineup. I have about four hours to decide to change it or not.

I hate fantasy football.

Week 15 predictions:

San Francisco 49ers at San Diego Chargers (-10)
Regardless of the decision I make with my lineup, I don’t care how this game ends up as long as it works out in my favor. Chargers to win, 49ers to beat points.

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (-2.5)
Has a 1-12 team ever been favored before in the history of the NFL? THAT’S how bad the Cardinals are. Panthers to win and cover.

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (-5.5)
I have no idea how to pick this game. Chad Henne can suck it. Did I mention he was my backup to Romo at the start of the season? Dolphins to win, Bills to beat points.

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (-1.5)
Not only are the 1-12 Panthers favored this week, but so are the 2-11 Bengals! And they’re going to win, too. Bengals to win and cover.

Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-6)
Some of the games this week are real stinkers. Thank goodness there are a couple of late games that are intriguing. Bucs to win, Lions to beat spread.

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans (-1.5)
At this point, the Titans should not be favored against anyone. Texans to win outright.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts (-4.5)
This is the week where the Colts take control of this division. They’re still your AFC South champs. Colts to win and cover.

Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5) at St. Louis Rams
Teams from the West divisions shouldn’t be allowed to play each other. Chiefs to win and cover.

New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens (-1)
Everybody’s sleeping on the Saints… Saints to win outright.

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (-3)
Home field or not, I can’t really figure out why the Giants are favored in this game. The Packers need New York to lose this game. Eagles to win outright.

Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys (-6.5)
Vegas must really, really dislike Washington. Redskins to win outright.

Atlanta Falcons (-7) at Seattle Seahawks
Seattle might be so bad at this point that the mystic of Qwest Field doesn’t matter in the slightest bit. Falcons to win and cover.

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (-7)
Seriously, these AFC and NFC West teams are SO boring. I could care less about this game. It doesn’t even give me any playoff implications. Raiders to win, Broncos to beat spread.

New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers (-6)
The Jets could be in danger of collapsing down the stretch and missing the playoffs. Wouldn’t that be something? Steelers to win, Jets to beat spread.

Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots (no line)
This game doesn’t have a line because of Aaron Rodgers’ status. I don’t think he plays. If he does, I’ll be a homer and pick the Packers, but since he likely won’t, I guess I have to pick the Patriots to win outright.

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (no line)
I GUESS this game has no line because of the status of Minnesota’s quarterbacks, as well as the status of where the hell this game is going to be played. Either way, first the Bears get Tyler Thigpen, now they get some Webb fellow or Patrick freakin’ Ramsey. Kill me. Bears to win outright.

Record

Week 14 – 12-4 (9-7 against spread)
Overall:
125-81 (104-99-3 against spread)

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Week 14 Predictions – Examining Belichick’s Legacy

Best coach of all time? Close.

Between all of my friends who I talk football with regularly, there is a ton of diversity when it comes to football.

Growing up in northern Illinois, it’s no surprise that the large majority of them are Chicago Bears fans. But we also have a Minnesota Vikings fan, a Dallas Cowboys fan, an Atlanta Falcons fan, and, of course, I’m a Green Bay Packers fan.

I also speak regularly with a Kansas City Chiefs fan and an Oakland Raiders fan.

I know fans of other teams, but that about covers it.

During the 2007 season, despite all our rooting differences, we all came together for a good cause. We all built up all of our sports hatred and placed it on the New England Patriots.

It started with ESPN and their New York Yankees-esque treatment of them. I remember them having a bottom line topic called “Persuit of Perfection” that kept track of the team. They were constantly being compared to the Miami Dolphins, and you couldn’t stop hearing about how great Tom Brady was and how great Bill Belichick was.

They reached Yankees/Red Sox territory and that automatically made us hate them.

For Super Bowl XLII a group of us got together all with the understanding that we were rooting for the New York Giants. It was myself (Packers), and five of my friends (three Bears fans, one Vikings fan and one Falcons fan).

It wasn’t discussed that we were rooting for the Giants. We all just knew that’s how it was going to be. We also knew the Patriots were going to win and were prepared to bitch and moan about them after the game.

To this day, all of us are convinced we helped sway the outcome of that game. (OK, not raelly, but bear with me). We didn’t say “Hey guys, let’s root for the Giants as hard as we possibly can, OK?” We just did it, and it was incredibly fun.

When Plaxico Burress caught the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, all six of us got up and started running around the house screaming as if our favorite team had just won the Super Bowl. It was the first and only time we all had the same rooting interest in a football game, and it was really, really fun to watch. We weren’t Giants fans that night, we were Patriots haters.

Four years later, the hate still lingers, but it isn’t as prominent because the Patriots haven’t won, or been in, a Super Bowl in some time. It’s kind of like how Yankees haters weren’t as hardcore toward hating them in the 10 years between World Series titles.

I bring up this hatred for one reason, and that’s because I’m going to type something that makes me want to throw up. It’s way harder for me to say this than it was for me to say the Bears were the NFC favorites. My fingers might fall off before I’m able to actually hit these letters on the keyboard, but here goes nothing…

Bill Belichick MIGHT be the best head coach in NFL history.

(waiting to be struck by lightning)

OK, so here me out as to why.

Who would the other “best in history” candidates be? The obvious candidates would be: Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, Don Shula, Vince Lombardi, George Halas, Tom Landry and Belichick.

Of those seven, I’m going to take Lombardi and Halas out of the argument because comparing guys whose hay days were before 1970 is very difficult to those who coached most of their careers after 1970. That’s not taking anything away from those two, but it’s like comparing an offensive lineman from that era to one from this era. Impossible because of the evolution of the game.

You could put the remaining five coaches in any order and likely make a solid argument for them, but here’s one for Belichick. (Excuse me, I’m dry-heaving).

Taking Belichick out of the equation, Walsh, Noll, Shula and Landry all have a lot in common. All of them innovated the game in some way, all of them won consistently and all of them had great players at one point or another.

That’s why these guys are so highly regarded. Landry invented the 4-3 defense, Walsh invented the West Coast offense, Shula won over and over again and Noll built the scariest defense in NFL history.

So why should Belichick be ranked ahead of any of them? Because his level of difficulty is tougher.

Innovation has always been an argument for the likes of Walsh and Landry, but I think it’s a negative argument when comparing them to Belichick.

Sure, they won with it, and inventing something nobody else has seen before AND works is incredibly difficult, but if you come up with an incredible idea, that makes the game that much easier. Walsh won because nobody had ever seen the West Coast offense before. Landry won because nobody had seen the 4-3 defense before.

In today’s game, everyone knows what’s coming. The newest phenomenon is the spread offense, but everyone knows it. Belichick has to win without inventing anything new. That’s tough.

Another argument people make for guys like Walsh or even Bill Parcells is that other coaches branched off from him and became successful. With Belichick, his assistant coaches who have become head coaches (Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels, Eric Mangini, Charlie Weis in college), have all failed thus far. That should be a knock on Belichick, right?

Wrong. Coaches failing after they leave New England makes Belichick’s genius even more impressive. It leaves the impression with me that he controls more with his team than any other head coach. He makes assistants irrelevant. Of course, this is all hypothetical, but it at least makes you wonder.

I still don’t think the Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl this year. I hope they don’t. But if Belichick gets his fourth title this year, he’ll have to be in the discussion as one of the top three head coaches in NFL history. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s probably true.

Week 14 predictions:

Indianapolis Colts (-4.5) at Tennessee Titans
I’m going to keep picking the Colts to cover and live in denial that they are who they appear to be. Colts to win and cover.

Atlanta Falcons (-8) at Carolina Panthers
I was going to pick this game as the road game where the Falcons survive a scare, but last week covered that for me. Falcons to win and cover.

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (-8.5)
The line in a divisional game like this should never be this high. Steelers to win, Bengals to beat spread.

Cleveland Browns at Buffalo Bills (-1)
When two sucky teams play each other, go with the home team. Bills to win and cover.

Green Bay Packers (-7) at Detroit Lions
The Lions always play the Packers tougher than they should. Not this time. Packers to win and cover.

New York Giants (-2.5) at Minnesota Vikings
The two-game cushion for Leslie Frazier is officially over. Giants to win and cover.

Oakland Raiders at Jacksonville Jaguars (-4)
Games like this always seem to be a really close and exciting. I just have a hunch. Jaguars to win, Raiders to beat spread.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.5) at Washington Redskins
Don’t discount the fact that the cutting of Albert Haynesworth will give the Redskins a boost. Redskins to win outright.

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (-5.5)
The Seahawks have quietly been one of the worst teams in the NFL over the past month. 49ers to win and cover.

St. Louis Rams at New Orleans Saints (-9.5)
The Rams are getting no respect. I like them in this game, but not quite enough to win. Saints to win, Rams to beat spread.

Denver Broncos (-5.5) at Arizona Cardinals
The Broncos begin their post-coach-firing two game winning streak. Broncos to win and cover.

Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers (no line)
I have no idea what to think of the Chargers anymore. Screw them. Chargers to win.

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (-5.5)
Big rebound week for the Jets against a really bad team. Jets to win and cover.

New England Patriots (-3) at Chicago Bears
I really can’t pick against the Patriots until they give me a reason to. Patriots to win and cover.

Philadelphia Eagles (-4) at Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys will make a game of this somehow. Also, Dez Bryant may have derailed me as I go into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed on a six game winning streak. Eagles to win, Cowboys to beat spread.

Baltimore Ravens (-3) at Houston Texans
I think Vegas is giving the Texans way too much credit with this line. Ravens to win and cover.

I’d also to make note of the fact that I won my straight-up picks pool for the first time last week. I went 13-3 and was tied with three other people going into Monday Night Football, and all four of us picked the Patriots so it was likely going to come down to point totals for the tiebreaker.

Why do I bring this up? Not to gloat, but to mention what an idiot I am. CBSsports.com runs our pool and, seeing these picks, I went in and tried to change my pick to the Jets to make it easier to win if they won. It wouldn’t let me because picks were locked. So then, I went and tried to change my points “Price is Right” style so if everyone went over, I’d win. It wouldn’t let me do that, either.

And it’s a good thing, because my point total was 48, and the Patriots won 45-3.

Record

Week 13 – 13-3 (10-6 against spread)
Overall:
113-77 (95-92-3 against spread)

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Week 13 Predictions – The Bears Are Favorites In NFC

They love each other so much.

A few weeks back, ESPN.com ran a fan poll asking people to pick who they thought was the best team in the NFC.

I wasn’t able to find the exact numbers, but I remember the choices fans were given. They were: Falcons, Eagles, Packers, Giants, Saints, Other.

Missing from that list? The Bears.

The day after the Bears-Dolphins game, ESPN.com ran a poll that asked the following: “What was more true about Thursday night’s shutout of the Dolphins by the Bears?”

Results: 70 percent said the most true part of the game was that the Dolphins offense was really bad. 30 percent said it was that the Bears defense was really good. The only state that the Bears carried was, obviously, Illinois.

Now, I understand these are just fan polls and are in no way scientific. I also understand that most fans are idiots. (Good way to grow a readership – calling your readers idiots).

But I think these polls are a microcosm of how the Bears have been treated throughout the season by both non-Bears fans and the media as a whole. Until last week’s dismantling of the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bears were treated as a team that has found incredible luck and were ultimately doomed to fail.

I was one of those proponents. Not anymore.

The Bears have something the 2001 version of the team didn’t have. They have something the 2005, or even the 2006 version didn’t have.

This team has an offense.

I’m not saying they have an explosive offense. I’m not saying it’s going to set records or that Mike Martz is a genius and Jay Cutler is the second coming. Matt Forte is serviceable, the receiving corp is lacking and the offensive line is suspect.

But the thing is, even with all of those factors, this year’s offense is STILL better than any Bears offense in recent memory. They’re not amazing, but they do enough to get the job done.

And with that defense, it’s more than enough.

If the Bears hang on to win the NFC North, name one team that would have an advantage over them at Soldier Field. Obviously not the Eagles. Not the Packers. If they get a home game in the first round, it’s a win. Simple as that. That sets up the Bears to potentially go into Atlanta or wherever and spring an upset. You don’t think Martz would love the chance to unleash Devin Hester, Johnny Knox & Co. on turf like the 1999 Rams? Think again.

That’s why you have to make the Bears the favorites to win the NFC. I think at this point, there are five teams in the NFC with a definitive chance of going to the Super Bowl. The Bears, Falcons, Saints, Packers and Eagles. The Bears have already beaten two of those teams.

Additionally, they’re the most healthy team in the NFL right now. Going into their week 12 against the Eagles, they had NOBODY appear on the injury report. That’s unheard of in most weeks, let alone 3/4 of the way through the season. It’s pretty clear that the combination of good fortunes, a good-enough offense and a dominant defense have done wonders for the Bears, and there’s no reason it can’t continue into January.

Of course, now that the Bears have beaten the Eagles, pundits are jumping on the bandwagon. Fans had better hope it doesn’t get too crowded.

Week 13 picks:

Houston Texans at Philadelphia Eagles (-8.5)
Now departing: The NFL MVP Bandwagon. All Michael Vick supporters please exit to the left. Thank you. Eagles to win, Texans to beat spread.

Buffalo Bills at Minnesota Vikings (-5.5)
The interim coach rush lasts for exactly two weeks. Vikings to win and cover.

Chicago Bears (-5) at Detroit Lions
This smells like a trap game sandwiched between the Eagles and Patriots. Bears to win, Lions to beat spread.

Cleveland Browns at Miami Dolphins (-4.5)
When I jump off of a team’s bandwagon, I jump really, really far. Brown to win outright.

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5)
This has to be the first time in NFL history that a team beats another by 20 points, then they play three weeks later and the winning team is still a nearly 10 point underdog. Chiefs to win and cover.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans (no line)
I think this game has no line because we don’t know if Kerry Collins or Rusty Smith will be starting for the Titans. It doesn’t matter. Jaguars to win outright.

New Orleans Saints (-7) at Cincinnati Bengals
The Saints are getting less publicity for any Super Bowl Champion that is playing well ever. That’s a very good thing for them. Saints to win and cover.

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (-10)
My pick in this game is totally contingent on the fact that the Packers don’t win close games, so it has to be a blowout. Packers to win and cover.

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (-7)
Eli Manning’s receivers make him. Without them, he’s an average NFL quarterback. Giants to win, Redskins to beat spread.

Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers (-13)
Anybody surprised at what the Chargers are doing? Chargers to win, Raiders to beat spread.

Atlanta Falcons (-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Divisional road games late in the season are games No. 1 seeds have to win. Falcons to win and cover.

Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (-6)
The Seahawks are easily the most frustrating team to pick all season. In fact, let me just revise that and say the entire NFC West is. Seahawks to win and cover.

Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts (-5.5)
This is the week Peyton Manning & Co. get back on track. Right? Colts to win and cover.

St. Louis Rams (-3.5) at Arizona Cardinals
I think I’m going to pick the Rams this week. What do you think about that, Derek Anderson? “That’s fine. That’s fine. That’s fine. That’s fine. That’s fine.” Rams to win and cover.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-3)
Ben Roethlisberger is immobile and the Steelers offensive line is suspect. ‘Nuff said. Ravens to win and cover.

New York Jets at New England Patriots (-3.5)
Complete toss-up game that I have no idea how to pick. Patriots to win and cover.

Record

Week 12 – 10-6 (6-10 against spread)
Overall:
100-74 (85-86-3 against spread)

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