Monday, January 30, 2012

The Wire: Top 50 Characters #36-24

We return to my countdown of the Top-50 Wire Characters. This list will takes us through politics, police, drugs and docks. Basically, well, a nice little look at the entirety of The Wire's breadth. Let's get going.

36.) Odell Watkins

Old Wheel-Chair bound Odell Watkins was interesting to me mainly because he was basically a metaphor. He was the symbol of the disproportionate influence lower members of government have over higher members. Because Odell was closer in governmental distance to the people of Baltimore, he held their beliefs, he was their leader, moreso than Mayor Royce or Tommy Carcetti. Plus, it was funny that even The Wire, a show that never followed any usual tv trope, did fill out the "Handicapped character" in it's "How to exhaustively fill out each type of person" checklist.

35.) Clay Davis

If Odell was the symbol he was, Clay Davis was an even more obvious, but nonetheless important, symbol of outsider's influence in politics. Clay Davis was one of the most despicable people to appear in that hellscape of Baltimore. That said, he has to be on this list. Him not on it.... 'Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeit"

Memorable Quote: "Fool, what do you think? That we know anything about who gives money? That we give a damn about who they are or what they want? We have no way of running down them or their stories. We don't care. We just cash the damn cheques, count the votes and move on."

34.) Beadie Russell

Adorable Beadie Russell. Her transition from naive, innocent dock cop to adequate member of the detail in Season 2 was as implausible as it was interesting. However, her great job in dealing with McNulty is a boyfriend was a much more interesting storyline. Also, the scene of McNulty appearing at Beadie's doorstep late in S3 was beautiful (as much as she was in the scene).

Memorable Quote: "The next time, you leave. Because I own this fucking house."

33.) Nick Sobotka

I found his protege-mentor relationship with Vondas to be much more interesting on the Vondas side than the Nick side. I am probably one of the few people who have Nick as the least interesting of the three main Sobotkas. He never really changed, and I thought his straight turn to the drug life seemed a little more stretched than that of his cousin and Uncle. Nick did have a hot girlfriend though. That was a nice touch.

32.) Gus Haynes

Gus Haynes was the main protagonist of the S5 Baltimore Sun story arc. However, unlike almost every other 'protagonist' on the show, there was no bad qualities of Haynes. He was written and played as a straight, good, smart editor with high integrity. That basically makes him a saint on the Wire. Creator David Simon (former writer for the Baltimore Sun) was criticized by a lot in the journalism community for the Sun storyline because they saw it as a malicious portrayal of a newspaper where a smart editor (Haynes/Simon) was undone by bad bosses (Klebanow). To me, that really shone through.

Memorable Quotes: "You know what a healthy newsroom is? It's a magical place where people argue, all the time."

31.) Michael Lee

Talk about a tragic figure. Actually, that can be said about all of the four kids in S4, but Michael Lee might be the most haunting. The fact that he emitted a great sense of character that all the authority figures in his life (teacher, trainer, Marlo) all wanted to mentor him was made more painful due to the fact that he was molested as a child and didn't trust authority. The only one that he could connect with was Marlo, mainly because Marlo wasn't old enough so Michael didn't see him as a possible monster hiding behind a helpful smile. His transition into drug runner was as sad as his ending transition into the new Omar was hysterical.

Memorable Quotes: To Chris and Snoop, "Marlo ain't suck no dick, right? So, if Marlo knows he ain't suck dick, then what the fuck he care what Junebug say? What anybody say? Why this boy gotta get dead just for talkin' shit?"

30.) Kima Greggs

She was probably the only cop who didn't have any real bad blood in her. She was the moral one. I'm not sure if The Wire didn't go a little too far in making her a moralist. Her not pretending to see Wee-Bey shoot her was one thing. That was reasonable. Her turning in McNulty and Freamon by alerting Daniels about the fake serial killer? The worst thing she did was lose her relationship after she felt forced by her partner to agree to adopt a child. That did lead to her absolutely magnificent scene with the boy in S5.

Memorable Quote: To her son to make him sleep, "Let's say goodnight to everybody... Goodbye moon... goodnight stars... goodnight po-pos... goodnight fiends... goodnight hoppers... goodnight hustlers... goodnight scammers... goodnight to everybody... goodnight one and all."

29.) Snoop Pearson

Honestly, it took me about two episodes to realize that Snoop was a girl. And damn if this wasn't one of the most daring characters (and casting decisions) in TV history. Not only were they going to make one of Marlo's two top enforcers, nonetheless one as ruthless and violent as Snoop, a female, but then Simon went out and cast a convicted drug dealer with little previous acting experience to play the role. Snoop was damn hard to understand, but was interesting mainly for just how unique the whole situation was. I was surprised by how much her death hurt me as a viewer.

Memorable Quotes: "Man already shit himself....and we ain't get started yet! He's funky, yo." &  before Michael kills her, "How my hair look, Mike?"

28.) Slim Charles

On the list for two reasons; 1.) He kills Cheese is the baddest way possible - when Cheese was in mid-rant. And he did it for Prop Joe. 2.) He won the game. By not caring about loyalties (switching seamlessly from Barksdale to Prop Joe after S3) and turf and West-vs-East, he was the last man standing. Of course, that fucker Fat Face Rick was also there, but we know Slim was gonna run Bal'mor.

Memorable Quote: "Don't matter who did what to who at this point. Fact is, we went to war and there ain't no turnin' back. I mean, shit, it's what war is, you know? Once you in it, you in it. If it's a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we gotta fight."

27.) Lt. Cedric Daniels

Did anyone chage from good to bad, from supporter of good police work to ardent company man more than Lt. Daniels? His ability to do this, and accomplish both, was incredible. He showed that there is a way to advance in the BPD while doing good work, something that McNulty (good police, shitty company man) and Herc (company man, bad police) could never understand. There was nothing scarier in early episodes of The Wire than that menacing, quiet stare of Daniels. He was also the one man who did hold some integrity the higher in the BPD he went.

Memorable Quotes: "You'd rather live in shit than let the world see you work a shovel" & when told that their detail was going to end prematurely, "This is BULL-SHIT

26.) The Greek

Shady, shady man. The Greek was the baddest gangster on the show. Avon, Marlo, Prop. Those bitches (and they were bitches compared to the Greek) came and went. The Greek is there forever. Created as the embodiment of capitalism, the Greek encaptured what the drug was is about at the highest level (that of the distributor). It is money. Period. It is business. "Business, always business." The only reason he isn't higher is that he wasn't shown all that much.

Memorable Quote: After Vondas tells him that the cops only know him as The Greek, "But of course, I'm not even Greek."

25.) Tommy Carcetti 

He's a character who I wonder if David Simon increased his role after it started.  Tommy Carcetti started out as a gutless, filandering, political climber who cheated on his cute wife at any chance. However, when Tommy found out that he actually had a shot to win the mayoral race, he actually grew. He then became a man who actually seemed to think he could change Baltimore. He was a bad human in his personal life, but someone with the convictions of a great leader. Of course, his final use was to be The Wire's symbol for the inevitable problem of government: there are too many people to appease to and too much red tape to get anything done, regardless of intentions.

Memorable Quotes: "Yummy, my first bowl of shit" & "This is Baltimore. No one lives forever."

24.) Marlo Stanfield

Yup. The Kingpin who got out without jail is put as the first man in the upper half. It wasn't that Marlo wasn't a good character. He was a great illustration of the horrible path the drug war is taking. It is more about violence, about pride, about individualism than it ever was. Marlo didn't care about living. He didn't care about friends, family. All he cared about was being the king, no matter how long that reign lasted. His final outcome where he was basically ex-communicated from the game, was arguably the most interesting end for any character. Marlo kept his money, he kept his freedom. But he might be more shackled than ever. He doesn't have the one thing he always wanted: the crown, and the reputation as a legendary gangster; dead or alive.

Memorable Quotes: To Prop Joe, "I ain't made to play the son." & of course, "What the fuck you know about what I need on my mind, motherfucker? My name is on the street? When we bounce from this shit here y'all gonna go down to them corners, let them people know: word did not get back to me! Let 'em know Marlo step to any motherfucker: Omar, Barksdale, whoever. My name is my name!"

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Wire: Top 50 Characters #50-37

I just finished watching all 5 seasons of The Wire. For the first time. I make that distinction because guess what I did after finishing the 5th season: started it all over again. I honestly think I could do that cycle three or four times. The show is just too amazing. I went in expecting big things, mainly because I had heard from many people, and read many times, that this was the best show of the past decade. That this was possibly the greatest tv drama of all time. Of course, I also thought it was just a show about the drug war inner Baltimore. God, did I underestimate just how encompassing the show would be. The wonderful 2nd season about the decline of blue-collar America through the eyes of the ports in Baltimore (a season that basically kept half of the characters from S1 on the bench for a year) made me realize that this was no ordinary show. The best part of the show was just how incredible all the characters were. It speaks volumes about a show that basically all the non-police characters in the 1st season would either be dead or in jail by Season 4, and I didn't care at all. Each character was opened and analyzed fully. There was no good and there was no bad. The goods had demons. The bads had wonderful characteristics. The only purely evil character I could think of was Marlo, but even he was constructed in a brilliant way, as a evil born from the womb of a city that turned itself away from its problems. The Wire really did change my way of thinking about just how great the television medium could be.

The irony is that all this happened about 4 months after I had decided that a show I had just finished burning through was the best drama I had ever seen. That show was Breaking Bad. There are still things that Breaking Bad does better than The Wire. Breaking Bad has more nerve-racking moments (partly because The Wire episodes rarely end with a cliff-hanger, as their most dramatic, tense moments happen in the second to last act). Breaking Bad is shot more artistically. Anyway, as good as Breaking Bad is, it is not The Wire. It really isn't close. (saying all this, Breaking Bad is closer to The Wire in my book than any sitcom I have ever seen is to Arrested Development).

Just for a quick intro into my mindset of the wire. My favorite season is the first. It is the simplest, in that it really has only one major plot: the detail vs. the Barksdale Organization. Every other season has more. That said, I just loved everything about the first season. Season 4 (most people's favorite) is 2nd. I love every non-drug stroyline about S4 (the politics, the school, the four kids) but I just never loved the Stanfield era of the show. The Barksdale crew always seemed a lot more interesting and, as weird as this sounds about a gang of murderous drug lords, lovable. My overall season ranking is 1-4-3/2 (tied) - 5. That said, even S5 has its brilliant moments (one that particularly stands out is Bubbles' speech late in the season where he admits to poisoning Sherrod to his NA group).

This ranking is purely random. Purely based on just how memorable and thought-inducing the characters were. I am strange in that I often consider certain characters a lot more interesting than the who the general public considers so. Case in point is that good ol' Arrested. In my mind, Lucille is the most consistently brilliant character on the show, but I doubt most people have her in their top 3. That is the way I am looking at this list. If you haven't seen the show... SEE IT NOW. In reality, this will be filled with spoilers. It will probably mention if a certain character dies and such. It will also be released in two parts, because it will take some time. Here we go, my personal favorite characters - numbers 50 through 26.

50.) Rhonda Pearlman

I never really thought of her as a great character. She really had no true emotions. She was a little more demonstrative in early seasons. Also, her romance with Daniels felt a little rushed, and I think that really silenced her character.

Memorable Quote: After Clay Davis compares himself to Martin Luther King while on trail, "They don't teach that in law school."

49.) Thomas Klebanow

The first of just two members of S5's Newspaper Staff, Klebanow was the managing editor of the Sun, and a man totally obsessed with awards. The reason why Klebanow's position (and really the reason that I didn't care for a lot of the newspaper stories) didn't make an impact was that there was no other side. We never really got to see what made him a person who cared solely about awards, especially when Pulitzer Prizes do not sell papers.

48.) Cheese Wagstaff

There are multiple characters listed mainly for one small thing or part (or even line) that they had hand in. Cheese is one of them. Played by Method Man (the only established rapper to play a recurring role in The Wire - mostly because he actually auditioned for the role), Cheese was memorable for his incredible disloyalty, and the way he was ceremoniously killed. That sequence of him railing against nostalgia and remembering and caring for the old, and then being capped mid-diatribe by Slim was excellent. Also, the dogfighting scene (which happened before Vick) was hauntingly real.

Memorable Quote: "Omar had one of them commando squads with him man. I mean, he had this one ho pullin' guns out her pussy, Unc. That shit was unseemly, man" (go to 5:14 for the line)

47.) Sergei Malatov

The badass enforcer of The Greek Organization, Sergei was the man. He had no real memorable scenes, and never had much depth. That said, his reappearance in S5 was great. I don't really know what to say about Sergei, but that I probably am the only one who would even have him on a list. Also, I found the recurring bit of everyone calling him 'Boris' one of the more humorous sources of comedy.

Memorable Quote: "Did [the body] have hands? Did it have a face? Yes?... Then it wasn't us"

46.) Stan Valchek

Arguably the most reprehensible member of the police force on the show, Valchek is mostly remembered for being the man whose ridiculous grudge is responsible for essentially what happened in S2. Because the port workers union beats him in a race to get an imported stain glass painting up in the polish church, Valchek decides that it is time to look into where they are getting that extra cash. That sets everything up. And for being the man responsible for the most underrated season of the shows run, he gets on the list.

45.) Brother Mouzone

I think adding him to a show that already had Omar was a little too much. He was also too stereotypical in the way that his purpose was to be a clean, erudite killer. It seemed a little broad of a character in a show filled with the most realistic characters ever. That said, he did have his moments. I could have done without the bow-tied assassin.

Memorable Quote: [to Cheese] "Let me be emphatic: You need to get your black ass across Charles Street where it belongs"

44.) Clarence Royce

His scene with Carcetti after he lost the election (the one where he tells Carcetti to sit in his chair) is to me a great scene because it shows Royce unfettered. For once, he wasn't politicking. He was a man who had a burden lifted, and it was a beautiful moment. He was finally able to have a real conversation, able to be amiable. That makes up for the fact that as a mayor, he was a total dick.

Memorable Quote: "Come November, I'm still going to be the only game in town. Odell, don't turn your back on me." and after Odell leaves, "Fuck that holier than thou mother fucker."

43.) Maurice Levy

Another thing that Breaking Bad did better was they came up with a more interesting attorney for the drug pushers. Levy was definitely sleazier (and a lot more hilariously Jewish), but wasn't as funny. It was great to see him be delighted when Marlo's crew finally started using cell phones for the sole reason that that would allow the police a better chance of catching him, netting Levy a bigger fee. That's the level of capitalistic sleaze I want from a crooked lawyer.

42.) Ellis Carver

He was a cop who, through his failure to make Lieutenant over his seemingly bumbling buddy, broke good. He really did change more than all but one cop (who comes a lot higher up the list). He really grew as a person. Sadly, this changed seemed a little too forced, as he went from a stereotypical fake tough guy cop who bashed nobodies for fun to a guy willing to rat out a subordinate cop who did the same thing. Not sure if I totally bought that.

Memorable Quote: After Wee-Bey claims that he didn't know the drug money was in the van, " You know, I know how that shit is. The other day, I took up the sofa cushions on my couch, I found a buck forty I didn't know was there"

41.) Ervin Burrell

David Simon created Burrell in a really interesting fashion. In the first few episodes, he was seemingly the good cop (as opposed to William Rawls - who wanted McNulty's ass on a plate). But, from the moment that he told Daniels to give back Day-Day Price's drug money because he was a state senator's driver, we then saw what Burrell really was: a career politician dressed as a cop. He was only interested in self-preservation. What made him interesting is that he was a tragic figure in his inability to adjust. He was developed in a culture where crime rate was everything, and was put in charge of a culture where it wasn't.

Memorable Quote: To his subordinates, "The Gods are fucking you? You find a way to fuck them back. It's Baltimore, gentleman. The God's will not save you."

40.) Anton "Stinkum" Artis 

The first of the Barksdale Big 4 is far below the other three, but considering a lot of people probably would not even remember Stinkum, I wanted him on the list. His death really signaled the beginning of the end of the Glorious Barksdale Organization. I loved Stinkum for his ridiculous line read about Omar on the basketball court. Anton Artis; Gone long before he should have.

Memorable Quotes: About Omar, "You know Bird jail with Omar down the cut right? He said he all faggot" (line at 0:42); "Nigga, you think I gonna run a stop with forty thousand. Fuck, No!"

39.) Marcia Donnelly

She always seemed fun because of the level of respect she commanded in Tilghman Middle School. First of all, she was a white, which at Tilghman meant something. I'm surprised the kids never acted out. Also, she was just the Assistant Principle. This was arguably the most prominent use of the long-standing Wire trope that the #2 in most organizations is the real figure of importance (Vondas, Stringer, Donnelly). For most of the season, you don't even see the actual principle.

38.) Judge Daniel Phelan

He was a huge figure in S1. He was the Valchek of S1, in that it was his actions that led to the Barksdale detail being created, and the detail actually accomplishing something. His odd attraction to Pearlman was strange, as was his mentor-like relationship of McNulty. He's another character here more because of one great line.

Memorable Quote: After telling Burrell to let the Wire continue to be up lest he be brought in on chargers of contempt of court, to McNulty, "Who's your Daddy now?"

37.) Namond Brice

The first of the other Big 4 - The Four Schoolchildren from S4 - Namond was the only one saved. The lesson was supposed to be to show the extreme lengths necessary that someone has to go to to save someone from the drug world, but Namond also served to show that the special class in S4 did work, as before it was disbanded, he was making progress. A lot of people never viewed Namond as a tragic, sympathetic figure, which the other three boys all seemed to be. I always felt differently, as he was the only one who grew up with means, but as a condition almost, he was forced into the game when he never wanted any part of it. He was deathly afriad of the Game, but more afraid of failing to live up to family expectations. He was quietly a deep character.

Memorable Quote: After Colvin tells Carver that it was only a few weeks ago that Namond said 'Mr. Colvin, Fuck You,' - "Yo, at least I said mister"

Friday, January 20, 2012

2011 NFL Playoffs: Championship Round Picks

So, here we are. The last day of true football for 2011. It is arguable that these have been the most depressing 19 weeks of my football watching career. From the moment it was announced that Peyton needed another surgery back in September, until now, I have seen passing offenses bastardize the game to a level where three guys threw for 5,000+ yards, and one more got stuck in the 4,900's (not to mention Rodgers who ended with 4,600+ and didn't play Week 17). I finally got some respite last weekend as the Saints and Packers were both exiled by teams who had great defensive performances. The Giants are not the great defense that the 49ers are, but when that pass rush is coming, they are about as good. Only one great offense is left (although Mr. 4,900 yards is still around as well), but defense can really show who owns the NFL if Baltimore can take out the Patriots.

I will say now that I am praying for the Ravens to beat New England. If they do, I honestly would not care one minute about who wins the Super Bowl between the three remaining teams (Ravens, Giants, 49ers). If the Patriots win, well, I don't care who wins in the NFC, because I think they are really close to even, and either could beat New England in the Super Bowl. That said, I just want the football Gods to grant me this one wish. Sure, I've been given a Super Bowl as a gift, but I also had to deal with heartbreaking loss after heartbreaking loss. Colts fans have already experienced losing like the Steelers did to Denver this year. We were there, in 2008, playing as a 12-4 Wild Card at an 8-8 champ from the AFC West. We too didn't see the ball in OT. We too fell victim to a higher power. No, it wasn't Tebow, but it was Mike Scifres pinning four punts inside the 10 yard line. Colts fans have also experienced what Packers fans feel now. We were there, in 2005, as the clear best team in the NFL, playing with a heavy heart after the tragic death of a coach's sun. We were playing a team we had already beat, but fell victim to a hot QB, and a great pass rush. Colts fans have also experienced losing like the Saints. We were there in 2007, twice blowing the lead in the 4th quarter, and having the ignominy of giving up a 4th quarter comeback to Billy Volek of all people. I've been there. All I ask is this year, let those damn Pats lose. Let Ed Reed get a chance at a ring. Tom Brady doesn't need any more. Gronk will have plenty more opportunities to get one. Ed Reed is deserving. He's a top-5 all-time safety. He should get a ring. Anyone but NE. Anyone but NE.

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots (-7.5)

This is a large line. This is definitely a classic case of overrating the previous weekend. All the time we hear that the NFL, much like March Madness, is about winning and advancing. That there are no style points, that this isn't a BCS system, and all that matters is you get the win and move on. Well, the Ravens got that last week. And for how mediocre they played in the first half, they shut the Texans down in the 2nd. The Texans drives in the 2nd half went: punt, punt, punt, int, punt, int, downs. Foster didn't get much in the 2nd half. On the other side you have the Patriots who obliterated Denver. That said, Denver should never have even been in the playoffs. Denver wasn't worthy of being one of the last eight teams. Denver has lost games just like that before. Hell, they lost a game by a worse score at home. Detroit slammed Denver 45-10. They were up 45-3. They sacked Tebow 7 times, and returned a pick for a TD. What did Detroit then do? Lose three of their next four. Beating Denver one week doesn't automatically make you "unstoppable". We went through this exact same thing last year with Green Bay. They smashed Atlanta 48-21 in the divisional round, and then squeaked by Chicago, nearly blowing a 14-0 lead to a third string QB (they did cover, but their offense was slowed down - a lot). That was actually more impressive, beating the NFC's #1 seed on the road. This was beating the playoff fraud. I have a feeling that if just two of those Brady TD passes, were rushing touchdowns, this line is two points lower. Also, people always overreact to teams coming off of big wins. Teams in the playoffs coming off of wins of 20+ points are 8-12 the next week, and teams that score 40+ points in a playoff win are 4-8 the following week, and just 2-10 against the spread (the two ATS wins were the 2010 Packers and 2003 Colts; the 2009 Saints and 2004 Pats won the following week but lost ATS). Simply put, teams that were great in one game get overrated.
As for the matchups. The key for NE is getting pressure. You aren't going to take away their tight ends. The best way is just to make Brady throw it soon enough to limit them. Baltimore's pass rush was below par against the Texans, but the Texans have a great o-line. The Patriots line isn't nearly as good as the Patriots o-lines of years past. Suggs and Ngata both have favorable matchups. The Ravens don't have the cover guys to really stop Gronk one-on-one (personally, I think you play to stop Gronk. Hernandez is just merely a nice TE, not a monster like Gronk, but he gets pumped up due to playing with Gronk), but they do have the players in the middle to make them struggle to get open and get YAC. I don't think there will be any plays for Gronk like that TD in the Redskins game where he broke tacklers all over the place. No, the Ravens will get him on the ground. The Ravens also won't allow the run game to really get going. 

On the other side, the Pats defense is no more or less awful than it was one week ago. Being able to stop Tim Tebow is nothing like stopping the Ravens, even if the Ravens themselves aren't a great offense. That said, they are better than what they showed against the Texans. Their offense ranked 13th in Football Outsiders' DVOA. While the Patriots defense ranked 30th. That seems to be a bigger mismatch than the Ravens #1 defense against the Patriots #3 offense (it should be noted that the only reason the Pats are #3 is that the Packers and Saints had historically good offenses, and Baltimore is one of the 'worst' #1 defenses that they've ever rated). Anyway, Ray Rice should get his, but the key is Flacco. Flacco has the weapons. He also has two good tight ends (of course, none of them is as good as Gronk, but at least my opinion is Ed Dickson is at least Hernandez), and one receiver who in their meeting last year the Patriots couldn't really stop  (Boldin). Torrey Smith is still there, and there was even a Lee Evans sighting last week. The real issue is pass protection. The Ravens were awful at it on Sunday. The Texans pass rush is better than the Patriots, but they will have to block a lot better to have a chance. Personally, I think they will.

Overall, I'm going with my heart. My head says New England. That Baltimore's defense is merely very good and not great, and that the Patriots offense is great (but not other-worldly). Then, I look to one year ago. The Patriots were the #1 seed. The Jets were a very good but not great defense (by any measure, the 2010 Jets defensively were worse than the 2009 Jets defense). The Patriots offense actually had a better year in 2010 than 2011. That Patriots team was stopped. They scored 14 points (added 7 in garbage time). They slowed them down. It is possible. Anything is possible. This is the NFL for fucks sake. Also, the Ravens are too good to be underdogs by this many points. They've only lost one game this year by more than 7, and although that was a thrashing given out by the Chargers, the Chargers attacked the Ravens deep, which is something New England does not really do. Give me the defense. Give me the team with two lock Hall of Famers, over the team with One. 


Ravens 27 (BAL)  Patriots 24

New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers (-2.5)

I really think this will be a great title game. That is why I hope even more that the Ravens win the AFC game, because then I can properly take in what should be a great football game. The rain could temper it a bit, but it should be what football is. Two teams that have solid defenses, stocked with players that can whip blockers one-on-one (Justin and Aldon Smith, JPP, Osi and Tuck). They feature offenses that have true identities, with the short passing and running game for the 49ers and the deep passing of the Giants. They have two coaches that are fun to watch on game-day (the stares of Coughlin, the focused exuberance of Harbaugh). The game is being played in one of the three cathedrals of the sport, in that Candlestick is one of the few remaining stadiums that have been host to memorable games and plays along with Lambeau Field and that mountain in Oakland (Oakland gets the nod, since original Soldier Field, Giants Stadium, RFK, Texas Stadium and Three Rivers are all gone, as well as the Orange Bowl). It should be a hell of a ride.

There are a lot of odd similarities to this and the 1981 NFC Title Game between the Cowboys and 49ers. Both 49ers teams entered with a 13-3 record. Both teams had the NFL's #2 scoring defense, and similar scoring numbers (357-250 in 1981, 380-259 this year). Obviously, one QB being Montana and the other being Alex Smith seems like a super stretch of a comparison, but they had similar years (Montana: 311/488 (63.7%) for 3,565 yds (11.5/7.3 ypc/ypa) and 19 TDs, 12 INTs and a passer rating of 88.4; Smith: 273/445 (61.3%) for 3,144 yds (11.5/7.1) and 17 TDs, 5 INTs and a passer rating of 90.7). Both were coached by ex-Stanford coaches (Walsh, Harbuagh) and both faced a recent NFC Champion (Cowboys were NFC Champs in 1978, Giants in 2007). Anyway, I have no idea if the 49ers are about to start another dynasty in two weeks, but there are some interesting parallels. Anyway, let's get to the actual games.

The Giants offense has been on a roll with their passing game, featuring long YAC plays that lead to quick TDs that jump-started the team. Their offense was better against GB, but that is no surprise given how bad the GB defense was. The 49ers, in my opinion, are not a great matchup for the Giants on offense. The 49ers are as sure tackling as any team in the NFL and should limit YAC. The 49ers can get pressure with four, and will definitely pressure Manning more than the Packers did. The 49ers are the best 3rd down defense in the NFL. The 49ers also should erase any potential run game, which could be crucial in a wet, sloppy Candlestick Park. I don't see the Giants approaching 37 points this week, unless they get some turnovers from the 49ers.

Therein lies the issue for the Giants. Including last week's game, the 49ers have a turnover ratio of 43/11. That is scary. All week people claimed how many turnovers the 49ers force and how few they give up, and they went out and did just that to the Saints. If the 49ers can force a couple more this week, and win field position (which they almost always do), they should be tough to beat. That is basically the formula they used to beat the Giants earlier in the year. The 49ers offense really runs through Vernon Davis. Crabtree was awful against the Saints, and the other receivers (Kyle Williams, and whoever else) didn't do much. They might need to, or moreso, be able to, this week. The Giants, as per Football Outsiders, are average defending #1, #2 WRs and TEs, but are really bad against other WRs. Another little matchup is that the 49ers o-line has been good against a 4-man rush. Now, I don't know if anyone can be good against the Giants 4-man rush right now, but the 49ers are a lot more susceptible to the blitz, as shown by their performances against blitzes brought by the Saints last week, and the Cardinals and Ravens earlier in the year (their only two losses since September). The Giants might want to think about bringing the blitz a little more. Gore should be nuetralized, because when the Giants front is playing like it is, running is never really a successful option.

I have no idea where to go with this game. A lot of what I wrote would make it seem that I am leaning towards the 49ers, and that is what my head says. My head thinks that this team is special. Their defense, especially at home, is awesome. They have the same special sauce as that 49ers team 30 years earlier. They really do. But then again, the Giants have that look of that special team of four years. The only difference is instead of scraping by, this Giants team has dominated, winning their first two playoff games with a combined score of 54-29, including thoroughly dismantling the NFCs top seed, a lot like last year, when the Packers thoroughly dismantled the NFCs top seed. I'm flipping a coin basically here. I just think that at the end of the day, the 49ers defense is just a little too solid. In the regular season, the Giants showed they could move it at ease against the bad defenses (Packers, Patriots) but struggled in some games against better defenses (Washington, Philly #2, and the 49ers). I also don't like Eli in the elements. He's conquered the cold, but wind is still an enemy. Give me the 49ers. One last parallel between this 49ers team and that one from 1981. The record of the 1980 49ers: 10-6 - the exact same as the 2010 49ers. Candlestick is an eerie place.

Giants 17  49ers 23 (SF)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

NFL Playoff Trends

I've long held the belief that the time you play often impacts the game. I've always felt that night games are generally won by the home team at a higher rate than normal daily games, and even the 4pm games are won more than the 1pm games. I looked back at all the playoff games since realignment to see if these predisposed ideas were in fact true, and what other trends I could pick up. I picked to start in 2002 since that was the first year of the NFL that exists today. 32 teams. 8 divisions. 2 wild cards. It does leave out one year of night games (the NFL started 8:00 Saturday Night playoff games in 2001, with the Raiders beating the Jets, and then losing to the Patriots in the Tuck Rule game), but captures the NFL in a time when upsets were happening at a rate that is significantly higher than what had occured before. Hell, four of the last five #1 seeds in the NFC have lost. It spans the Giants beating the Cowboys in 2007, to the Giants beating the Packers in 2011, with the Giants themselves falling victims to it in-between. Anyway, this also led to an NFL where the #5 seed was often stronger than the #4 seed by record. In the 32 team NFL no wild card team could have a home game (unless there was a #5 vs #6 Title Game), so it also increased the amount of road favorites. Anyway, before we break it down, here is a handy little pictorial that shows the findings:

So, the first three charts are just the playoff results each weekend, by year on one axis and by time on the other. I realize the Super Bowl does have a designated home, but that designation really has no impact, so the numbers on the fourth chart are just for the firs three rounds of the playoffs. The corresponding number is just how many games ended that way out of how many there were with that team favored.

Overall, some immediate takeaways (I'll put the disclaimer right now that everything that I can infer or take out of this analysis is far from completely certain since this is still a small sample size):

  • There have been 14 road favorites, and the occurrence is only increasing. From 2002-2007 there were just four road favorites, and they all won. In the past four years, a road team has been favored 10 times, and is just 4-6. So either home underdogs are now taking this as a sign of respect, or Vegas feels that the public is buying into over-hyping "hot" away teams. It comes as no surprise that only one of these road favorites has come in the divisional round, since the team off of the bye is almost always the better team, but it did happen this year. 
  • Home teams are better on Saturday than on Sunday. Home teams overall are 27-13 on Saturday (including 14-6 for the late Saturday games), while just 21-19 on Sunday. The one affecting variable is that there have been more road favorites on Sunday, but even if we restrict it to home favorites, Saturday teams are 24-11, while Sunday teams are 19-15.
  • It may seem that teams off of byes are more vulnerable than ever, but actually, 2nd round upsets have calmed down in the past three years. There was a ridiculous stretch from 2005-2008 where home teams (all favored) went 7-9 straight up and 4-12 ATS. This was definitely a case of lines just being too high for home teams. 
  • Furthermore, the league went 13 straight divisional games with just one cover. Starting with the Steelers upset of the Colts in 2005, and ending with the Eagles upset of the Giants in 2008, there was just one cover, and 9 home teams lost outright.
  • I used to always think that the 1pm game had the largest chance of an upset, because crowds and teams are usually lethargic at 1pm, and get progressively more amped (as well as progressively drunker, as far as fans are concerned) throughout the day. However, it looks like the real jinx is just playing on Sunday. There have been 10 wins by road teams since 2002 for the Sunday 4pm game (2 by road favorites), and 9 by road teams at 1pm (2 by road favorites). The 4pm is really kryptonite for home teams, as in the past 16 playoff games at 4pm on Sunday, the home team is just 6-10 (4-8 as a home favorite), while this game has given us a road upset in six of the past seven divisional rounds.
  • That 6 of the past 7 divisional round 4pm Sunday game upset stretch might truly be the most unbelievable stat in this process I have come across (other than maybe the fact that only one road favorite has won and not covered). Other time slots had odd stretches, such as 3 straight road wins in the Saturday 4pm Wild Card game from 2003-2005, or the four straight road wins in the Sunday 1pm Wild Card game from 2007-2010, but those were both effected by road favorites. This was six out of seven home favorites off of a bye going down.
  • From 1997-2006 one of the two home teams on Championship Sunday went down ('97 - both, '98 - Vikings, '99 - Jags, '00 - Raiders, '01 - Steelers, '02 - Eagles, '03 - Eagles, '04 - Steelers, '05 - Broncos). Since then, the home teams have swept three of the past five years. Championship Games have the best home winning percentage (12/6 vs. 22/18 and 25/15) and favorite cover percentage (11/7 vs. 19/21 and 16/24).
Anyway, peruse the thing at your will.

Something coming tomorrow!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Divisional Round Review

Well, when the Patriots scored in under 2:00, I was pretty sure that that pick was going to be really, really wrong. I did get all four games right in that I picked the winner, heads up. The Ravens inexplicable ability to do block anyone allowed the Texans to cover by .5 points, which limited me to 2-2 on the weekend.

Overall, the weekend went about as well as any weekend I've had picking games since the 2009 Divisional (Colts win big, best two NFC teams get through, and correctly calling the Jets knocking off the Chargers). The Pats won, but I expected it. The Ravens played great defense. The 49ers played great defense for 56 minutes. The Giants probably had the best performance of any team in a divisional round in years. Not only did they beat the #1 seed (which, especially in the NFC, is becoming no big thing), they drummed them. And this wasn't any #1 seed. It was a 15-1 team, a team with the best offense in the NFL, and a team that had trailed for just over three minutes all year at home with Aaron Rodgers playing. In the end, it was a stunner, but the Giants are really strange. They are 9-7, but healthy, they are what I thought they were. Actually, other than some notable mistakes (the Chargers winning the Super Bowl, for example, and the 49ers being bad) I did a pretty good job with preseason predictions.

Here's the rundown:
1.) Correctly picked 8 of the 12 playoff teams (Saints, Packers, Giants, Lions, Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, Texans); and my four misses weren't all chalk teams (Eagles - yeah, I guess they were chalk; Raiders - could have made it if they didn't gag that Lions game; Cardinals - Skelton mania started too late; Chargers - again, fuck the Broncos).
2.) All 8 playoff teams I picked right I picked in their correct spot (Saints, Packers, Giants, Patriots, Ravens and Texans winning division, Steelers and Lions winning wild cards).
3.) As far as the playoffs - I correctly predicted 6 of the 8 divisional round teams (Packers, Saints, Giants, Patriots, Ravens and Texans).
4.) And what may be my greatest moment ever predicting things months in advance, I correctly predicted a Giants upset of the Packers in Lambeau and a Ravens win over the Texans in the divisional round. I had the seeds wrong, but I called those two games. I even had the Ravens winning by 7 (24-17), but did have the Giants winning close (28-24).

Anyway, enough with fellating myself, let's get to the weekend. Especially since that brilliance is about to go away, since I picked both the Giants and Ravens to lose in the title games (to the Saints and Chargers).

Player of the Week - Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers

With Michael Crabtree doing a great Darrius Heyward-Bey impression by dropping everything in sight (guess who had more yards in 2011 between those two, btw), Vernon Davis stepped up to another level.Sure, two other tight ends had big games, and one receiver caught a 66-yard TD and a Hail Mary, and a QB threw for 6 tds, but Vernon Davis basically won the game. If Rob Gronkowski caught zero TDs, the Pats still win. If Tom Brady throws for half the TDs, the Pats still win. If Vernon Davis doesn't catch one of his two TDs, they lose. Think about this. The 49ers were down by 3 with 45 seconds to go 70 yards from the end zone. They picked up 63 of those successive yards through Davis. Vernon Davis was the highest drafted TE ever, mainly because he had a sub-4.4 40, and the fact that he played fucking TE, but he wasn't anything special for the first three years. Then, he exploded and this was the end result. He basically beat the Saints. He was the best offensive player on the field in a game that featured the offense that put up more yards than any team in history.

Goat of the Week - The Packers Offense

No one player had a truly awful week. Tim Tebow came the closest, but I never expected too much better from him. The Packers offense though was just awful. Yes, the Giants defense was great, and they didn't give up much. But when they did, the Packers couldn't take advantage. So many drops. So many fumbles. So many miscommunications. Some of it is on Rodgers, who played for from great, but the amount of drops by his receivers was just laughable. The ball security by everyone was bad. Five fumbles. One came after the runner was down. One was stupidly not given (had the game been closer, Bill Leavy definitely wins Goat of the Week). But Kuhn, Grant and Rodgers showed real inability to control the ball. It was just a bad performance by one of the best offenses I've ever seen. They didn't go down swinging like the Saints. They went down cold, much like the field they call home.

Surprise of the Week - The Patriots Pass Rush

The Pass Rush was good the first time against Denver, but a lot of that had to do with Tebow keeping the ball. This time it was great. The Denver line did such a good job against the Steelers so this was shocking. If they can repeat that, they will be tough to beat. Personally, I don't think they can. They had a great read on Denver, but haven't shown close to that type of pass rush against non-Denver teams. Credit is due where it is though. They made huge plays. They kept the Broncos offense from making this close to a game. Well done, Pats. Well done.

Disappointment of the Week - Aaron Rodgers

This gets a different category than the Packers offense in general, because that was more about their drops and fumbles issues. Rodgers gets this because it was so unexpected. The Giants rush really only came on in the second half. Until then, Rodgers had time, and he did a great job of running for 1st downs when nothing was there, but Rodgers had no ability to hit his guys. That offense worked like clockwork all year long, and the receivers did their job in getting open. When they weren't dropping the ball, Rodgers was doing it figuratively. Rodgers missed Jennings for a TD on theri first drive. Rodgers missed Finley for a huge first down when trailing 20-13. Rodgers had his second worst day of the year in his biggest game. The last time Rodgers lost a playoff game he did everything but win it. He three for 400 yards and 4 TDs and brought his team back from 31-10 on the road. This time it was 26/46, for barely 10 yards per completion, and two TDs, both on drives that should have ended if not for bad calls. Rodgers just didn't have it. He's human though. After how well he played for much of the year, that is good to know.

Team Unit Performance of the Week - Texans & Giants Defense

Yes, only one of these teams won, but they were both excellent. The Texans played inspired defense. They went to the Cathedral of Defense (Heinz is the Basilica, in my mind), and outplayed the Ravens on that side of the ball. That pass rush is furious. And to think they did that without Mario Williams. That is a scary team going forward. I really think they were Super Bowl bound if Schaub didn't go down. Yates made mistakes. That defense didn't. The Giants actually won, but their performance was no better. They got lucky that the Packers dropped so many balls and missed so many chances. But fuck luck, they dominated everything else. When the pass rush wasn't landing in the 1st half, the coverage downfield was impeccable. When the pass rush landed in the 2nd half, it was over. That is all they needed. The Giants have now taken down the two highest scoring offenses of all time in the playoffs in the last 4 years. They held the highest scoring offense to 14, and with better luck by refs, they could have held this offense to 13 or even 6. Just an incredible performance. The offense is there. The defense is getting there as well.

Team Lay Down of the Week - The Broncos

Holy Shit. Holy Balls. That was completely embarrassing. They couldn't stop the offense. The Bills at least stopped them for a quarter. The Dolphins stopped them for a half. The Broncos couldn't stop them for a second. On offense, it was even worse. Tebow was deplorable. The o-line gave him no time. Demaryius Thomas and McGahee did okay, but that wasn't going to do it. To think, the Steelers , or the Raiders and Chargers would have had to make the Pats do something. It could have been a really nice late night game. Instead, it just gave me the opportunity to cut short an hour and a half early and run off two episodes of the Wire. So, to the Broncos, fuck you for not showing up, but thanks for letting me know it soon enough to get away.

Story That Will Be Beaten Into the Ground This Week - It is 2007 Again!!

The Pats are going to steamroll their way to the Super Bowl!! The Giants are going to beat another 13-3+ team on the road!!! The Giants are road warriors!! The Patriots are the greatest thing ever put on a football field. This is such an overplayed storyline, but there is a good chance it becomes true, The Giants are nothing like their 2007 team other than the pass rush (which was better in 2007, at least in the Dallas game, and that incredible performance in Super Bowl XLII). That Giants team had a great rushing game. That Giants team had veteran receivers and a QB who was praised for making it through three games for making two dozen throws and not throwing a pick. This team has a bad running game, but a great passing game that can slash teams. The biggest difference though is that this Giants team is just dominating teams. That Giants team barely beat the Cowboys and although outplayed the Packers, needed some fortunate bounces to go their way (like recovering their own muffed punt with two minutes to go tied 20-20). This Giants team basically shut-out the Falcons. This Giants team smacked the Packers around. That might have been the most impressive performance I have ever seen in a divisional round. This is not the 2007 Giants. Also, that is not the 2007 Patriots. But more on that later.

More coming up soon.

Friday, January 13, 2012

2011 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Picks

Here we are, at the best weekend of the year. I went 3-1 in the first week, so it looks like it may be possible to top my 8-3 playoff record ATS from 2009. Last year I made only three picks and got them all wrong (in my defense, I got the winner of Jets/Steelers right, but not against the spread). Divisional Weekend is probably the greatest football weekend of the year (at least until they make the AFC and NFC Championships on different days, which they should definitely do, because that makes each one more important). It has four games, with the four best teams all at home. It gets extra special if you have some nice home crowds. Other than New England, all the home crowds should be great. I wish they switched the NE and BAL game times and had the Ravens have the night game. Their crowd would've been insane. The Patriots crowd will probably be as quiet and lifeless as it always is no matter what time the game is played (plus, home teams lose 1pm starts more often than any other start time). But alas, the Gods wanted Tebow and Brady to be played at primetime. Anyway, two of these games should be fun (the NFC ones), and the other two could easily both be really, really one-sided. The last time there was this dichotomy between the attractiveness of the divisional games was probably in 2004, where the AFC had a 15-1 Steelers team hosting an underrated Jets team, and the Pats-Colts rematch, while the NFC gave us two 9-8 teams on the road , against the Falcons and Eagles. Hopefully the games this year are a little more fun than those that weekend. Anyway, on to the games.

New Orleans Saints (-3.5) @ San Francisco 49ers

This is just the second time EVER that a road team is favored in the divisional round. The other time was in 1996, when the 11-6 Cowboys were favored by three in Carolina. It made no sense then (Carolina was a lot better in the regular season), and the only reasons to be made for the Cowboys to be favored was their 40-15 win in the WC round, and their pedigree. It is a little more understandable, because both of these teams were 13-3 in the regular season, and both are legitimately very good teams, with major strengths (NO's offense, SF's defense). Three other times the road team has been favored in a round after the wild card round (WC road favorites are common since they can often have better records than their opponent). They are 2-1 heads up and ATS, with the 2004 Patriots and 2010 Packers winning as road favorites in Pittsburgh and Chicago, and the 2008 Eagles losing in Carolina. Anyway, this line is a major form of disrespect, and I have a feeling the 49ers will play with this knowledge.

The Saints offense is of course great, but on the road, and especially outdoors, they are merely good. The Saints played five outdoor games this season (@ GB, JAX, CAR, TB, TEN). Other than GB, none of these teams are all that great (and GB's defense is bad), and the Saints averaged 25.8 points in those games (going 3-2). The Saints actually put up more yards outdoors than indoors (462.8 ypg outdoors), but turned it over a lot more, and kicked a lot of field goals. The Saints had to kick 13 field goals in those five games, and turned it over 10 times. In the eleven indoor games, they kicked only 15 field goals, and turned it over 9 times. This isn't just a lie that they are better indoors. They are appreciably better. The worst part is, the 49ers defense is better than any of those defenses. I really doubt the Saints crack 30, which seems crazy since their last four games saw them score 42, 45, 45 and 45 points. However, to further my point, the game before those was @TEN, and the Saints won 22-17, kicking three field goals, turning it over twice and giving up two sacks.

That said, the Saints could still win because the 49ers offense isn't great. However, if they turn it over, it will be a major surprise. The 49ers had just 10 turnovers all year long. The Saints had just 16 takeaways all year long (why they fuck couldn't they have had just 16 takeaways in 2009??). Alex Smith may not be great, but he is great at not throwing picks. He had the lowest int% in the NFL. Now, this might have been a fluke since his previous years were nothing close to as good, but he's been doing it consistently all year long. The 49ers offense is predicated on the run, but Vernon Davis is good enough to make plays against a flaccid secondary. There is no Calvin Johnson type, but the 49ers won't need one. The great unequalizer in this game is special teams. The 49ers have incredible coverage teams, and routinely puts the opposition deep in their own territory. This doesn't bode well for any team, because even as good as the Saints are, having to go 90 yards time and time again is hard for any offense.

The final factor for this game (btw, I should note my breakdown for this game is longer than all the others, because it is by far the most interesting matchup for a football geek, with contrasting styles like these) is just the fact that I can't get over a 13-3 team who was 7-1 at home (the loss being in OT) being an underdog against a team with a track record of plodding play at home. I remember back in 2009, how everyone loved the Cowboys #2 ranked offense. However, that #2 ranked offense scored just under 25 points per game. They were bad in yards/point, a ratio I believe in. If you average a lot of yards to score points, it either means that your special teams is awful or you kick a lot of field goals. For the Saints, outdoors, it is both (17.9 yards/point - compared to 12.3 indoors). That isn't good. And this matchup isn't.

The Pick:


Saints 23  49ers 27 (SF)

Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots (-13.5)

This is a high line. That said, this is a game that on paper isn't that close. The Patriots are 13-3, with a great offense. The Broncos are 9-8, with an above average defense and a sporadically mediocre offense. They met just five weeks ago in Denver and New England won handily. However, there are a couple reasons why that game was closer than the score. The Broncos committed back-to-back-to-back turnovers, and that saw the game switch from a 16-7 lead to a 27-16 halftime defecit. the Broncos can take from the game that before the turnover frenzy (some of them flukey like a muffed punt), they were competitive. They also did something good in that they forced NE to kick two field goals from inside the red zone, which they will need to do more of.

That said, New England will probably play Tebow better the second time around. They had a pretty good read on his runs the first time, and that should continue. Tom Brady wasn't rushed too much and had a flawless game. Aaron Hernandez ran wide open time and time again. The Patriots offense did what the Patriots offense does, and there is no reason that shouldn't continue. The Denver pass rush could be better, as Von Miller has adjusted to his cast. But even then, Brady should have time.

There are many reasons why I don't like the Patriots as a team overall. Namely, the fact that they built their 8-game winning streak to end the season on beating the following QBs: Sanchez, Palko, Vince Young, Dan Orlovsky, Grossman, Tebow, Matt Moore and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and only gave up more than 20 points in each of their last six games. They also fell behind 17-0 and 21-0 in their past two games before recoving, but that was against Miami (a game they only won by 3) and Buffalo (which they got the help of Stevie Johnson being benched and a flukey interception as the Bills were driving in a one score game). But none of that matters right now. The Broncos aren't good enough to win, but are they good enough to not allow the Pats to cover? That is another issue.

The Patriots haven't covered a spread in the playoffs since the 2006 Divisional in San Diego. I shit you not. They came close in their loss the next week (Indy, favored by 3.5 won by 4), but they didn't cover any of their playoff games in 2007. Of course, we all know they've lost three straight (Brady is 4-5 since that magical 10-0 start). In fact, the Patriots, ever since they truly became a public team in 2007, have been handed a load of high lines and haven't done really well in covering them. The Patriots under Tom Brady are 6-16 ATS as a home favorite of 9 or more since November 2007 (the end of their eff-you period). That is not good. I don't think the Patriots lose, but I think they got a lot of breaks in that first game, and won by 18. Vegas did a good job with this line. I'll go with my head for the overall pick, and gut for the cover.

The Pick:


Broncos 24 (DEN)  Patriots 34

Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens (-7.5)

I've heard a lot of people trying to talk themselves into Baltimore, and I put that down to the fact that on paper, if Houston is what we think they will be, this game will be boring. That is okay. There is usually one awful, boring divisional game each year, and it is often the 1pm start on Sunday. Think the 35-24 Bears win last year, or the 34-3 Vikings win over Dallas in 2009 (it was fun if you like seeing Romo run for his life, though), or even the desultory 23-11 Eagles win in 2008. The 1pm game is also the game with the most road wins since the playoffs went to their new scheduling in 2001. Since then, 21 1pm games have been played (WC and Divisional in 2001-2010, and last weeks NYG-ATL game). The home team has been favored in all but two of these games (Baltimore was favored @ MIA and @ KC in 2008 and 2010), and had a record heads up of 12-7 in those games (the good). However, the were 9-10 ATS in that timeframe. Anyway, just something to think about.

As for the game, these teams met in Week 6. Baltimore won (one of their six wins against zero losses against 2011 playoff teams - including 6-0 ATS) 29-14. The Texans actually led 14-13, mainly because they got some breaks. I've heard a lot in this game that if Flacco plays badly, the Texans can win, but Flacco didn't even play all that well the first time, going 20-33 for 305 yards and an interception and fumble. The Texans actually won the turnover battle in that game 2-0, and forced the Ravens to kick 5 field goals. Again, they lost that game by four-fucking-teen. Don't tell me these teams are even. Yes, the Ravens have had some bad games against less-than competition on the road, but they have been money at home.

Matt Schaub played in that game, but conversely Andre Johnson did not. Make what you will out of that on your own presumption of who is more important, but either way, it is close to a wash. The Ravens got tons of pressure against a good o-line (four sacks), and really shut down Arian Foster (15 carries for 49 yards). The Texans scored 7 points on offense that day. They couldn't really move the ball at all. Why should this matchup be any different.

It may be blind faith in Baltimore, but I think the Ravens are a lot better than most. They have the most impressive resume apart from Green Bay, going 6-0 against playoff teams, including beating the 49ers and Steelers (combined 25-7 in the regular season) a total of three times, including a combined 51-13 scoreline at home. They beat the Texans with Schaub. They'll beat them with Yates.

The Pick:

Texans 10  Ravens 27 (BAL)

New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers (-7.5)

Ah, the fun one. Hopefully, if some of my picks are right (mostly the Baltimore one), this will be an excellent way to cap off a weekend. The 4pm game is usually the marquee game of the weekend, and has given us classics like the Jets upset last year (or the Jets upset the year before that), and the Patriots stunning win in San Diego, and 4th and 26. Especially when this game is played at a location not on the West Coast, and night sets in, it is a football sight to behold. This brings me back to the 2007 NFC Championship Game. Yes, the Packers in 2011 are better than that team, but so are the Giants. Anyway, those two teams played a beautiful game, in actuality and aesthetically as well, with the green of the Packers perfectly contrasting the white with red and blue trim of the Giants. It was one of the most visually pleasing games I have ever seen (the Giants are one of the few teams who's road uniform I prefer to the home one). The colors will be the same, but the tone of the game will be a lot different.

Passing. Passing. Passing. The first three games feature two great HOF QBs, but they are going up against a great defense, and a great run game. Here we have two butting heads. Eli Manning reminds me a lot of Peyton. He's nowhere near as good as Peyton in his prime, but he has that same unflappable demeanor that Peyton had in 2008 and 2009 (his apex of his clutch play, if there is such a thing). Nothing bothers Eli. Other teams score? Not a problem. Rolling out to the right needing to throw into a tight window? Not a problem. Eli Manning and those receivers are great. The running game is actually doing something now, and if it gets going, the Giants offense could really put up numbers.

Of course, there is that Packers offense. Here is where the game will be won. This matchup. Eli and the offense will probably score around 27. The only question is will they keep the Packers above or below that number. Rodgers was great against the Giants the first time around, but his accuracy was a little off (for him, of course). He also threw one of his only bad interceptions of the year. He was pressured quite a bit, and the Giants pass rush is only better now. They key for the Packers (other than the Clay Matthews pick-6) was the fact that they were 7-12 on third down. On their drive to take a 28-17 lead, the Packers went 3-3 on 3rd down, including the TD. If the Giants can make plays on 3rd down, they have a shot. The Giants defense can rush with four, and that has worked against the Packers. the Chiefs did it well, as did the Rams and the Buccaneers, both losing to the Packers but playing respectably against the Packers offense. The key is 3rd down. I think if the Packers convert less than 50% of 3rd downs, they will lose.

Here is my thinking about this game. I probably have never thought this way ever, but I think the outcome of the Saturday game will impact this game. If the Saints win, I think the Giants will have a let-down. The Giants do not want to go to New Orleans. They've given up 48 and 49 points the last two times, and the Saints are a guaranteed 38 at home. If the 49ers win, the Giants might be jacked up. I think the outcome of the Saturday game has effected Sunday games before, with one of my notable assumptions being that the fact the Patriots lost in 2005 relaxed the Colts, thinking their biggest rival was out of the way. So, here is my pick. Technically, it is two picks, but only one counts. I think the Giants pull it off if the Saints lose, but lose, and lose ATS if the Saints win.

The Pick:

If the Saints win:

Giants 24  Packers 34 (GB)

If the 49ers win:


Giants 27 (NYG)  Packers 24

Enjoy the games!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2011 NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Picks

Yes I forgot to post these, but believe me, they were my picks. Honestly, I wish I could take back everything I said from that Steelers/Broncos pick. I'm sorry Mr. Tebow.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans (-3)

The Texans have a better running game. They have a better defense. They have equal receivers. They have a much better o-line. The Texans are at home, and will have a jacked-up crowd. I don't think it is a blowout, because Yates is probably not good enough for that too happen, but I don't understand the case for the Bengals. They faced a Texans team in a worse situation 6 weeks ago and lost. They do again here.

Bengals 13  Texans 20 (HOU)

Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints (-11.5)

I really want to pick the Lions to cover, because that first game was closer than the score indicated, and they are getting Suh and Delmas in this game. Also, the Lions had decent success against hte Saints offense, at least relative to the other teams who played them in the dome (stat that will shock you: the Buccaneers are the team that gave up the fewest points to the Saints in the Superdome - 27). The Superdome is just too much of a factor. They will not lose there this season. Unluckily for them, unless GB gets knocked off, they won't play there again.

Lions 24  Saints 38 (NO)

Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants (-4)

The Giants are the better team, but they are capable of laying an egg. The Falcons are a team that dominates bad teams (their wins over the Colts, Jags, Bucs) but really struggles to get good offensive production against good teams (their losses to the Packers and Saints, neither of whom have great defenses). I feel bad for Matt Ryan because I think his playoff record will drop to 0-3, but then again, Peyton Manning started his playoff career 0-3, and the great Tom Brady is 0-for-his-last-3 in the playoffs. The Giants will be able to get enough pressure on Ryan to contain the explosivity of the Falcons receivers (I love talking like Brian Billick). The Giants on the other hand will really be able to make hay without Brent Grimes. Running game is an advantage for the Falcons, but in 2011, that really isn't a huge deal, especially since Atlanta really isn't a great running team but merely a decent one.

Falcons 17  Giants 27 (NYG)

Pittsburgh Steelers (-10.5) @ Denver Broncos 

I'm taking Pittsburgh. I don't see how Denver wins unless Ben is just really hobbled, and with Mendenhall out they cannot relieve some of that with running. Honestly, if they get a quick lead, if I'm Tomlin, I'm putting in Charlie Batch, who has proved more than capable in the past. The Tebow miracle ends here. I just have to think that at some point, he will need to complete some big plays, and after seeing the last three weeks, he really cannot right now. I hate taking all favorites, and I promise it will not come close to happening next week, but I'm doing it.

Steeelers 27  Broncos 13 (PIT)

Enjoy the Games!!

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 NFL Playoffs: The NFL at a Crossroads

Before 2011, there were just two men who had ever thrown for 5,000 yards in one season. Dan Marino did it in 1984, in a season that was so legendary for its time it really just looks like numbers that Ruth put up in 1927 or Gretzky in 1981. The other man was Drew Brees in 2008, who fell 15 yards short of breaking the record. Here's the thing about that Brees season, though: It wasn't that great. He had to throw the ball 635 times. He only completed 65.0% of his passes (it is amazing how great Brees has been at accuracy that having that number legitimately deserves an "only" qualifier). He threw 17 interceptions. He ended up with a passer rating of 96.2. His team did lead the league in scoring, but ended 8-8, last in its division, and missed the playoffs for the 2nd straight year. It was obvious that throwing for gobs of yards doesn't automatically ensure success. This was true in 2009 and 2010, as Matt Schaub and Philip Rivers led the NFL in passing yards for teams that finished 8-8 and 9-7, and like Brees, at home in January.

Then 2011 happened. Ten QBs topped 4,000 yards, which had been done before in 2009, but six of them topped 4,600 yards. Four topped 4,900 yards (Aaron Rodgers undoubtedly would have also if he played in Week 17), and three got to 5,000 yards. Two passed a record that had stood for 27 years. We had a sport have a similar sort of season just 13 years ago. In fact that sport had a decade of similar league-wide production relative to the norm, and we ended up calling it "The Steroid Era" and it included tarnishing the name of the Greatest Hitter of the last 40 years, as well as future Hall-of-Famers. Of course, in that sport, steroids were being used, but we still had a sport who's offensive records were being re-written each year. In 2002, 16 MLB players hit 40 home runs. That was unheard of. In 2011, 6 NFL players topped 4,600 yards. That is also unheard of. One sport became embroiled in scandal. The other sport is mostly being lauded for its excitement and exquisite play by its top quarterbacks.

I hate this development. I like defense. I like the challenge of being able to stop offenses. I believe that excelling at this end of the ball is relatively more important than excelling at offense. I believe this is true of every sport (switch it to pitching in baseball instead of 'defense'). This is an odd position to take as a person who's favorite NFL team has been offense-first for 15 years, and who's QB really started this era of incredible QB play, where teams basically devalued defense for offense, but it is what I truly believe. I'm someone who thinks a perfectly executed blitz is just as exhilarating as Aaron Rodgers heaving the ball 40 yards to Jordy Nelson, who then catches it because he can outrun someone who isn't allowed to touch him after 5 yards. I'm someone who loved that football was a sport that allowed great offense teams and great defense teams to be as successful; a sport that allowed for more than one way of building a winning team. I'm afraid that this is no longer the case today.

The reason that I'm not a huge fan of the NBA is that I feel the league is unfair. Not in the way that baseball is unfair (no salary-cap to limit spending), but unfair because one player can make a disproportionate impact. Landing one all-time great player can truly be all a franchise needs. The lucky bounce of a ping-pong ball (or shady pick of an envelope) and a franchise can be set. It doesn't really take that much ability to be the GM of a basketball team, or at least the GM of a championship one. Just get a superstar. Just be lucky to get LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan. And then you are set. The NFL might be becoming the same way. Just get a QB and you are set.

With the relaxed rules, having a great QB is now of disproportionate importance in the NFL. The Patriots, Saints, Packers, Giants and before them, Colts, all won really just because they had a great QB. If you don't have one (you didn't draft one), well then it is becoming a 'no soup for you' situation. The NFL hasn't totally crossed into the NBA area yet. I mean, there is still tremendous parity year-after-year (once again, half the playoff teams for 2011 did not make it in 2010). However, that parity is lessening. From 2002-2007 six teams made the playoffs in back-to-back-to-back seasons (the Pats from 2003-2007, the Seahawks from 2003-2007, the Eagles from 2002-2004, the Packers from 2002-2004, the Broncos from 2003-2005 and the Colts in all of those years). Two of those teams were QB first teams (Colts, Packers). One was a defense first team fattening up in a mostly weak division in the weaker conference (Eagles). Two were offense first teams that relied on their run game and superior o-line play (Denver, Seattle). The other started out as a defense first team, became a team led by its QB, and then switched back to defensive excellence, and finally ended with the most dominant season I have ever seen (Patriots). In the past four years, here are the teams that have made back-to-back-to-back trips: Colts (2008-2010), Patriots (2009-2011), Packers (2009-2011), Saints (2009-2011), Ravens (2008-2011), Eagles (2008-2010). Six teams, in a shorter amount of time. Other than the Ravens and Eagles, all have. Only one really did it with defense (Baltimore). Contrast that with the three that did it with defense in the earlier set (Pats, Broncos, Eagles). None have done it primarily running the ball, except for the third Eagles team and the Ravens. QBs are ruling the day. QBs are all you need to succeed year to year in the NFL.

Will we ever see a team like the mid-90's Chiefs, who made the playoffs 6 out of 7 years starting three different QBs in that time frame, with the only one close to great being Joe Montana playing out the string of his career? How about the Tampa-2 Bucs, who made the playoffs 5 out of 6 years from 1997-2002, and had three different QBs start playoff games (Dilfer, King, Johnson). Offense is ruling the day. It is impossible to see teams like the Packers, Saints, Patriots, and before Manning got injured, Colts ever missing the playoffs, just because they made good with their QB. The worst part of the problem is, is the NFL really worse this way?

The NFL QB conundrum isn't totally analogous with the NBA superstar problem because at least some of these teams actually developed their amazing QB like the Packers, or didn't get one due to the luck of a draft lottery (or tanking games in the NFL, as it were) like the Patriots. That said, this new NFL will probably never look like the old NFL. There will probably be multiple teams challenging the 500 point mark each year, and nearly ten QBs throwing for over 4,000 yards. Having this many 5,000 yard passers will probably not happen, but league-wide passing numbers should rise each year. Again, does this make the game any worse? Probably not, but as a fan of defense, it does for me.

Now we have come to a crossroads. There are 6 frontrunners for the Super Bowl. The 15-1 Packers. The 13-3 Patriots, 49ers and Saints, and the 12-4 Steelers and Ravens. If one of these 6 doesn't win the Super Bowl it will be a huge upset. This is also a perfect set of teams. Three have great HOF QBs and offenses that scoredd 500 points. The other three were the best three defenses in the NFL. Undoubtedly there will be matchups where great offense will face great defense. It really will be interesting to see if defense can at least still rule January. 2004 was actually similar. That was really the first year of the passing expansion, a year where a 39 TD 11 INT, 4700 yard season wasn't the best season put up by a QB (BTW, that would be good for 4th or 5th in 2011). In those playoffs there were three matchups that had a great offense take on a great defense. The defense won each time (Jets over Chargers, Patriots over Colts, Eagles over Vikings). The one difference is that time, other than the Jets, the great defense were at home. We'll have to see if one of these defenses can go on the road and take on great offenses. It definitely will be a good way to test if defense is still a viable way of building a champion in the NFL.

The most exciting prospect is probably the 49ers. The Ravens and Steelers are respected enough that people believe they are both definite title contenders (apart from the reservations on Flacco). They've been great defenses for 12 years now. The 49ers are new. Their defense is possibly the best out of the three. Despite that, and the fact that a potential game against the Saints will come in Candlestick Park, few people think the 49ers really have a shot. I do. In reality, I hope they do. I'm rooting for these teams. Teams that can play defense. Teams that don't give up 400 yards a game. I'll go for them. I'm marking it down right now, that if the 49ers and Saints do play next Saturday, I am picking the 49ers. I have to believe that defense still matters. Hopefully, next year, when 10 more QBs throw for 4,000 yards, I can take solace that at least defense matters in January. If not, well then, we might as well call the NFL what it is: Arena League, but outdoors and with better team names.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.