NFL Weekly Predictions

Sports Central | Jeffrey Boswell ( Sports Central | Thursday, November 8th, 2007 )

Atlanta @ Carolina (-4 1/2)

The Panthers are a team at a crossroads. They can either go forward or backwards, but with quarterback David Carr at the helm, they’re stalled on the tracks. It’s the railroad tracks, and Carr can’t get the engine to turn over. Heck, he can’t even find the keys. And there’s no one around to push him off the track. No, wait, there’s lots of people around. None of them want to help, though. In fact, Steve Smith is welding the doors shut as we speak, and placing triangular wooden blocks on either side of all four tires to keep the car from rolling. It’s time for John Fox to make a tough decision.

“I think there’s only one thing to do in this situation,” says Fox. “Bring out the gimp. Get Vinny Testaverde in there. And tell him to take off that silly black leather hood. Where’s he been? In a bathroom stall with two cheerleaders? Hey, whatever it takes to rehab an Achilles’ heel. Sound like a cure-all to me. I hear it even cures pocket jitters, which is the affliction that ails Carr. I think Carr’s spent less time in the pocket than the cue ball during a nine-ball tournament between Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats at the Stardust in Las Vegas. If Carr nor Testaverde can go, we’ll turn to rookie Matt Moore. I’ve got my fingers crossed, although I’m not exactly sure what I’m hoping for. Whatever the outcome, it will be a case of ‘Moore or less.'”

Whenever the Panthers and Falcons meet, the most entertaining matchup is between Steve Smith and DeAngelo Hall. These guys hate each other. When the Panthers and Falcons met in Week 3, Hall was penalized 67 yards on a single Carolina drive for a variety of infractions, including defensive pass interference, unsportsmanlike conduct, conduct detrimental to Christians, and hate crimes. This time it’s no different. Hall and Smith engage in a game-long “your momma” insult contest, with Smith taking the victory with “Your momma is so ugly, she flosses her teeth with the first down chains.” Hall accepts defeat gracefully, and he and Smith skip off together into the sunset, hand in hand, and later hold a joint press conference in which they promise they won’t be with their respective teams next year.

Panthers win, 19-16.

Buffalo @ Miami (+2 1/2)

The Dolphins spent their bye week evaluating their 0-8 start and looking for ways to improve in the second half of the season. So, in other words, they had a lot of time off. But the team was buoyed by rumors of Rickey William’s possible return to the team from a drug suspension. Insiders within the organization says Williams is working hard to get in shape, and is only about 7/10’s of a second from his target 40-yard dash time of 4.20. Sources also say that Williams has been training with a grueling regimen of 7,000 squat thrusts a a day in his small workout area inside his van with the bubble window and curtains, along with some blindfolded Tibetan meditation under the tutelage of a Mr. Miagi.

“Hey, today’s Dolphins need Ricky Williams like I needed Mercury Morris,” says former Miami coach and current Slimfast carnival barker Don Shula. “Wait, did I just advocate Williams’ return or decry it? I’m not sure. All I know is that Commissioner Roger Goodell would have to pretty stoned himself to allow Ricky back. But Roger’s been meeting with so many drug fiends lately that the second-hand effects have to be getting to him. But he’s a man of reason and intelligence. As am I. Say what you will, but should the Patriots go 19-0, I firmly believe that their season would have to be classified as ‘tainted’ in the wake of the ‘Spygate’ tape scandal. Now, I know I just guaranteed that the Dolphins will get beat 64-6 in Foxboro in Week 16 by saying that, but I have to speak my mind. Mind you, it wouldn’t be the first thing to be ‘tainted’ in New England this year. I hear that the ‘tainted’ is the house specialty at the waxing spa Tom Brady’s flame Giselle Bundchen frequents in Foxboro.”

The Bills have won three in a row and are 4-4 in the AFC East, second to the 9-0 Patriots. Two of those losses were by one point to the Broncos and Cowboys; their two other losses were to the Patriots and Steelers.

“I think that makes us the fourth best team in the AFC and second best in the NFC,” says Dick Jauron. “I’ve got no problem conceding the division crown to the Patriots right now. I’ll even send them some complimentary footage of our coaches performing rhythmic gymnastics to the sweet sounds of the Goo Goo Dolls, along with a signed copy of our playbook, plus some stolen paraphernalia from O.J. Simpson if they promise to destroy us respectfully and with dignity in Week 11. I’ll even write the headline: ‘Patriots Put Down Bills.’ And Shula needs to shut his blowhole. Over the years, I think the players on the 1972 Dolphins have been able to whine for themselves whenever a team approached their record. Dan Marino won’t be around to save then this time.”

No Marino. No dice. Bills win, 23-16.

Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-10)

Like Ben Roethlisberger, Cleveland’s Derek Anderson is a statuesque quarterback, standing 6’6,” which is a good head and two shoulders above Brady Quinn. Unlike Roethlisberger, if you ran into Anderson on the street, you probably wouldn’t recognize him. Shoot, you probably wouldn’t even recognize him if he ran his motorcycle slap dab into your car windshield. But he is getting noticed for his play, which is part of the reason the Browns are 5-3 and will challenge the Steelers for a piece of the AFC North lead.

“Hey, you’ll never catch me on the seat of a crotch rocket,” says Anderson. “I make it a point not to sit on anything Japanese unless it’s a booth at P.F. Chang’s in downtown Cleveland, or a dentist’s chair at the Bangkok Spa, even further downtown. I like my dental work with a happy ending. The root canal’s I get aren’t painful at all.”

Roethlisberger torched the Ravens for five touchdown in the first half on the way to a 38-7 Steelers’ win. He knows the Steelers will be hard-pressed to duplicate their week one 34-7 win over the Browns.

“They’re not the same team they were in Week 1,” says Roethlisberger. “Obviously, because Charlie Frye was their quarterback. Now, Anderson has made the Browns his team and Frye, like Brady Quinn, has dropped off the face of the planet. The Browns’ infatuation with Quinn seems to have faded, and even former Notre Dame star Mike Golic has filed for separation, citing alienation of affection. I’ll say this: Quinn looks great in uniform, and when he accessorizes with a baseball cap, headset, and a clipboard, he looks even better. And he’s got to be the highest paid baseball cap and headset-wearing clipboard holder in the NFL.”

Pittsburgh man-crushes the Browns, 31-10.

Denver @ Kansas City (-4)

Last week, Denver entered Detroit’s Ford Field as the Broncos, but left as the “geldings” after a neutering and numbing 44-7 walloping by the Lions, one that even Jason Elam couldn’t kick them out of. The beating left Denver’s Mike Shanahan embarrassed and irate, and an unhealthy amount of blood rushed to his already rosy countenance.

“That may very well be true,” says Shanahan, “but it did get me an audition for the upcoming movie Things to Do in Denver When You’re Red. I would have got the part, too, but they didn’t like the way I held a laminated play sheet in front of my face while speaking my lines. Anyway, I did get an inconsequential part in the movie, which reminded me of my coaching days when I was somehow winning Super Bowls. But it was an embarrassing defeat, made worse by the fact that Jay Cutler was hurt. Now I’ve got two options. I can either coach my tail off, or start kissing frogs in the hopes that one of them will turn into John Elway.”

The Chiefs held a 22-16 lead before the Packers scored 17 unanswered points to complete a 33-22 win, Green Bay’s third win over an AFC West opponent this year. The Chiefs still hold the division lead in the West by virtue of every other team in the West losing.

“See, we didn’t even have to play to win the game,” says Herman Edwards. “Rats! That means I wasted some of my prime pre-game speech material, all for nothing. But I’ll have to come up with my best motivational speech ever this week, because Larry Johnson is out for this game, and possibly the season, with a foot injury. Believe me, when I heard that news, it was the biggest freak-out by a Kansas City inhabitant since George Brett got caught pine-tarring his bat shaft a little too high. I just hope that Priest Holmes can suddenly regain his pre-getting-knocked-silly-by-Shawne-Merriman form.”

Denver without Cutler against the Chiefs without Johnson? A game without viewers? Men Without Hats? Huh? Chiefs win, 22-14.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee (-4 1/2)

The Jaguars surrendered 445 passing yards to Drew Brees in their 41-24 loss to the Saints. But passing yardage is something the Jags won’t have to worry about against the run-oriented Titans, who basically use the pass to dry the ball for more secure handoffs. Tennessee beat the Panthers last week 20-7 in textbook fashion: jump out to a lead, then run the ball 40-45 times for a 3.1 average, and limit Vince Young’s pass attempts to screens, dump downs, and the occasional spike to kill the clock.

“Hey, I love spiking the ball,” says Young. “That’s one pass I know I can throw on target. I know my passer rating isn’t great, but I bet it beats the ERA’s of 90% of Major League baseball pitchers. If you took my passer rating, subtracted my passer rating, and added one, you’d get my Wonderlic score.”

Jacksonville is 1-1 with quarterback Quinn Gray under center. Gray has an arm. In fact, he’s got two. His right one has the power of a cannon, and also the accuracy of one.

“We won’t win this game on the merits of Quinn’s right arm,” says Jack Del Rio, who has been in a six-year race with Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher to see who could maintain a team incapable of challenging the Colts for the division the longest. “The only ‘merits’ on Quinn’s right arm are the pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his white t-shirt. Grease is the word, chief. Yackety yack, when’s Garrard back? When Quinn throws, it’s like he’s tossing a boomerang. You’re not quite sure where it’s going, but you know it’s coming back to you. In Quinn’s case, it comes back in the arms of the defender who just intercepted it. Quinn was the best tackler on the team in the Saints’ game. Anyway, we know this game will be won in the trenches. Defensively, we’ve got to fill the gaps. Offensively, we’ve got to stay on our blocks and avoid the Albert Haynesworth step show.”

Televisions in trailer parks across the states of Florida and Tennessee will be tuned to the game, with local yokels glued to their sets. So, if you’re out there watching, you with the son named “Billie Don” and a daughter named after a car or state, enjoy the game.

Tennessee wins, 17-9.

Minnesota @ Green Bay (-6)

Ask former Viking quarterback Fran Tankenton about Adrian Peterson’s record-setting rushing performance last Sunday, and he’s apt to reply, “That’s Incredible!” Then, he’d probably kick it back over to Skip Stevenson, John Davidson, or Sarah Purcell to see some idiot savant play Beethoven on the piano, or maybe see a yoga master squeeze himself into a 3’x3′ glass box. But those performances pale in comparison to Peterson’s NFL rushing record of 296 yards against the Chargers in the Vikings’ 35-17 win.

“The kid’s a phenom,” says Brad Childress. “He’s singlehandedly won us three games. And the other five I’ve singlehandedly lost by not giving him the ball enough. Speaking of Fran Tarkenton, I’d like to know if he’s available for a tryout. We’re always on the lookout for good quarterbacks here. Correction. We’re always on the lookout for quarterbacks here.”

Peterson, who knocked Jamal Lewis from the record books, was humbled by having his name mentioned along with previous single-game record holders O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton, Corey Dillon, and Lewis.

“If I could be half the man Payton was,” says Peterson, “I’d be happy. If I had half the rap sheet of O.J., and done half the whining that Dillon did, and suffered half the injuries that Lewis has, I’d be playing golf on a bum ankle bitching about my slice.”

In Green Bay’s 33-22 win over the Chiefs, Brett Favre joined Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to have beaten every other team in the league.

“Yeah, but I’m the only quarterback to have tried every painkiller known to man,” says Favre, “as well as dipped every brand of smokeless tobacco ever placed on the market. Talk about records I’m proud of. I’ve disgusted more people with my spit cups than any player in history, except Walt Garrison.”

Favre will have to air it out against the Vikes, who held Tomlinson to 40 yards rushing last week. Favre will have to keep the defense honest with quick slants and draws, and an occasional quarterback sneak to let the Vikes know that “Yeah, we can run it. Just not very well.” It will take a team effort to stop Peterson, but Charles Woodson and Al Harris at the corners will allow the Pack to stack the box. And we all know that Viking players are easily distracted by “stacked boxes.” Green Bay wins the turnover battle and prevails, 20-16.

Philadelphia @ Washington (-2 ½)

The Eagles were blown out 38-17 by the Cowboys and fell further into last place in the NFC East, where they are the only team with a losing record. The Eagles have fallen hard after advancing to the divisional round in last year’s playoffs. Coach Andy Reid, whose job may or may not be on the line, depending on the level of drunkenness of the maniacal Philly fan you ask, knows that a quick turnaround is necessary for the Eagles to have any chance at making the playoffs.

“Look, offensive and defensively we’re underperforming,” says Reid. “To put it bluntly, we stink. But I’ve smelled worse. My sons are usually cooking up some awfully rank smelling stuff in their basement lab. And I make a pretty gnarly ‘Dutch Oven.’ Just ask my wife. Anyway, we’re getting our sons the help they need. Their drug use was tearing this house apart, and I was getting pretty sick and tired of eating cereal with a fork. And, I was wondering why Martina Hingis suddenly became their favorite tennis player.”

The Redskins responded to their humiliating 52-7 loss to the Patriots with a come-from-behind 23-20 win over the Jets.

“Bring on the Patriots,” says Randall Godfrey, who complained that the Patriots ran up the score on the ‘Skins. “They are blatant ‘Indian givers’ of beatdowns. I think Justin Timberlake said it best when he crooned, ‘What Goes Around, Comes Around.’ But how can you trust a white boy who’s had cornrows? You can’t. And you can’t trust Bill Belichick, with or without cornrows. We’ll see the Patriots again. I just hope I have tickets to the Super Bowl, so I won’t have to see them on television.”

The Eagles aren’t ready to throw in the towel, and neither are Philadelphia hoodlums Vinnie and Joey, who eschew physical violence for a much more effective form of intimidation — shaving Chris Cooley’s afro. Cooley is unaffected, although his helmet falls aff several times, and catches a late touchdown pass. Redskins win, 23-20.

St. Louis @ New Orleans (-12)

The 0-8 Rams, fresh off a bye week, head to the Superdome in New Orleans confident that this is the week they break out and get a win. The Saints have been semi-hospitable this year at home, posting a 2-2 record, but their latest victory at home was an impressive win over Jacksonville.

“We’re not doing the Rams any favors,” says Reggie Bush, “unless they can provide documented proof that they are related to me. And we definitely won’t do them any favors this Sunday, although we’ll gladly supply the paper bags to any of their fans with the nerves to show up. We’ll even throw in a FEMA guaranteed loan, which can be used to upgrade an entertainment room, build an Olympic-sized swimming pool, or towards a severance package for Scott Linehan. By law, you just can’t use the loan to rebuild anything destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.”

Linehan was just happy to survive the off-week with his job intact.

“I was under the assumption that a ‘bye’ week was when Rams’ management handed me a pink slip and said ‘goodbye,’ says Linehan. “Speaking of ‘pink slip,’ did I see Steven Jackson wearing one in the locker room. You’d think a 240-pound back could suck it up and play with a little pain in his abdominals. Heck, a six-pack never kept anyone from playing, did it? Okay, besides members of the Cincinnati Bengals. I though so. Steven needs to get off his Ab-Lounger and get on the field.”

The Rams are the only team in the NFL yet to score more than 100 points, with 99. This is their week to break 100. When you’re 0-8, you’ve got to set reachable goals. But one point won’t be enough to overcome the Saints, who are hitting their stride. Drew Brees throws for 278 yards and two touchdowns, and Bush breaks off a long, nine-yard touchdown run. Saints win, 30-22.

Cincinnati @ Baltimore (-6 ½)

You could take all of the knowledge that Marvin Lewis and Brian Billick supposedly possess about defense and offense, respectively, and fill a 26-volume encyclopedia set. You could take all the knowledge that they actually possess and fit it on the head of a pin, and a talented engraver with a keen eye could still fit all the names of the members of the Stanley Cup champions on that pin.

“I would say ‘Look on the bright side,'” says Chad Johnson, “but I can’t turn my head. Isn’t it ironic that I’m the one with the pain in the neck? But, honestly, it’s not that painful. I’ve had worse neck injuries. There was that time in 2003 in San Diego when I strained my neck doing the ‘funky chicken’ dance after a score. But the real issue here is our defense, or lack thereof. And what’s the best cure for a shabby defense? A run-stuffing tub of lard in the middle, preferably Samoan? No way. In Cincy, the cure for bad defense is more offense. We’ve got Chris Henry coming back from idiot suspension to give us the best three-wideout set in the league. That is, if he can make it through the parking lot. By the way, what’s up with these Henry kids? That stoned pony Travis in Denver is fighting a suspension, and the other Chris, in Tennessee, will soon be serving his four games. What’s in a name? Apparently, drugs, alcohol, and stupidity.”

The Ravens are underperforming on both sides of the ball. Their rush defense is still potent, but opponents quickly realize that passing is the way to go, if you’re headed downfield. On offense, Steve McNair rarely completes a pass, and when he does, it’s to the grass.

“We need to find some offense Billick-ity split,” says Ray Lewis. “Steve’s doing the best he can, as is Coach Billick. But the years of taking hits have taken their toll on Steve’s body, and years of running an extremely conservative offense backed up by an awesome defense have sapped the knowledge from Billick’s head. I think you can expect wholesale changes to the Ravens once this disaster of a year is over.”

Can the Ravens mount enough offense to beat the Bengals? Can the Bengals stop the anemic Baltimore offense? Can Lewis and Billick win a chess match with checkerboard schemes? Defense wins championships, but offense wins meaningless midseason games. Bengals win, 23-21.

Chicago @ Oakland (+3)

Does wearing the black uniform really strike fear into anyone anymore, now that Johnny Cash is dead? The Raiders surely don’t scare anyone, not with a 2-6 record and an offense that can’t move the ball consistently, except when punting. Even the fans in the Black Hole, the nickname of Oakland’s McAfee Coliseum, are wearing their face paint, shoulder pads, leather chaps, and designer handbags with a little less pride and attitude.

“Hey, I still wear black,” says AL Davis, “and I’m scary. Look at me. Are you familiar with the word ‘repulsion?’ Excellent. Take a look at this picture of me from 1979. Are you going to tell me that seeing me in a short-sleeve, black jumpsuit, with my Elvis Pressley pompadour hairdo, and my Kangol shades is not intimidating? No? How about this shot. It’s me playing the character of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Scary, huh? Most people thought Gollum was a computer-animated figure. Nope, that’s me.”

Damn, Al! You’re naked! Consider me terrified, then. But seriously, like the ability to make sound business decisions, the intimidation factor fades over time. Look at Mike Tyson. In his black trunks and black boots, he was the baddest man on the planet. Now, he’s just a washed up buffoon with a cave painting on his face. Not intimidating.

Now, the Bears don’t scare anyone either, although Devin Hester has caused many a special teams coach to blow coverage and soil his britches. Otherwise, the Bears are nothing like the team that made what becomes an even more surprising Super Bowl run every day. Now, the Bears face at least their sixth must-win game of the year.

“Hey, if I threaten to eat Lane Kiffin’s children,” says Lovie Smith, “would that be considered intimidating? No? How about if I nibble his ear? No? Okay, how about a straight-up trade? Rex Grossman for JaMarcus Russell?”

While Russell readies for his debut, the Raiders will go with the evil of two lessers between Daunte Culpepper or one of those McCown boys. That’s not intimidating. Bears win, 27-21.

Dallas @ NY Giants (+1)

Tony Romo’s wallet may be fatter than ever, and he may have Britney Spears number on his cell phone, but he still puts his pants on one leg at a time, and he always remembers his underwear when there’s the chance of a flock of paparazzi snapping his crotch after a night of partying and inter-gender entwinement.

“What can I say?” says Romo. “I’m bachelor No. 1. And judging by the poster I just saw in the health department, Britney’s pubic enemy No. 1. Britney’s not even in my league, though. I’ve got something she doesn’t — visitation rights with her kids. But enough about trashy celebu-skanks. Let’s talk about those New York Giants. Last week was disappointing for Peyton Manning. This week, Eli comes up short. We’re unleashing our newest weapon, Tank Johnson, on the Giants offense. He’s been frisked, and he’s loaded for Bear. And he’s going to make the most of his second chance at a Manning brother.”

The Giants have the league’s second-longest winning streak, six games, and are undefeated in Europe. While in London, the Giants participated in an exhibition soccer scrimmage with Manchester United. That is, until the Giants picked up a quick 13 red cards and were disqualified. They were kind enough to exchange jerseys, though.

“We learned a lot in London,” says Michael Strahan. “Soccer is not a contact sport. American football players are way tougher than European football players. We don’t even wear shin guards.”

The Giants are intent on avenging their week one 45-35 loss in Dallas. The G-Men will have to get quick pressure on Romo and keep him from getting outside the pocket, where he’s dangerous on the run. Eli Manning, on the other hand, couldn’t leave the pocket if you showed him a doorway. Quarterback mistakes will decide this one, as will a frozen orange tossed from the upper level that beans Romo. Giants win, 30-28.

Detroit @ Arizona (-1 1/2)

The Lions are the hottest NFC North team to visit Arizona since the undefeated Bears came to Glendale last year. That was the Dennis Green ‘meltdown’ game, which has earned Green way more fame than any of his coaching. In fact, Green has applied with the U.S. Patent office to copyright his now-famous line “If you want to crown them, then crown them.” And, he’s been interrupting checkers games in city parks all over the country.

“Hey, I’ve got a line I want to copyright, too,” says Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt. “‘Nobody beats the Whis’, nobody beats the Whis’.”

Sorry, Ken. Somebody beats the Whis’. The Cards have five losses. And Biz Markie might have something to say about that, as will electronics chain The Wiz.

The Lions blasted the Broncos 44-7 last week, but, in another display of the lack of respect they’re receiving, the win was overshadowed by Jon Kitna’s Halloween costume. Kitna wore an oversized shirt depicting a naked man, in reference to Detroit coach Joe Cullen, who was arrested last year when he drove to a local restaurant’s drive-through naked.

“If this whole team walked on the field naked,” says Kitna, “no one would notice. And I darn sure wouldn’t envy my position as quarterback. No one’s noticed us, and we’re 6-2. What does it take, short of nudity, to get some press around here?”

Here’s how, Jon. Take care of business in Arizona. Then beat the Giants and Packers at home. You might then get on “SportsCenter.”

Lions win, 27-24.

Indianapolis @ San Diego (+3)

So, were the Colts really piping in crowd noise during last Sunday’s game against the Patriots?

“Crowd noise?” says Peyton Manning. “That was Christmas music, you heathens. ‘Tis the season. You know there’s only about 45 shopping days until Christmas. If the Patriots have a problem with that, then we’ll just have to play the AFC Championship Game somewhere else, like, say, in New England. Should we even fear that? There’s this thing called global warming. It will be a balmy 55 degrees there in January. And I’m pretty sure I’m undefeated in games in which the temperature is below 60 degrees, excluding those in New England during the playoffs. Besides, should a miracle happen and it snows, we can play cold weather football now with our big back, Joseph Addai (Hard With a Vengeance). Can Randy Moss play in the snow? I doubt it. The last time Moss saw snow was when he made Art Shell that yellow snow cone.”

“Yellow snow cone?” inquires Norv Turner. “Sounds delicious. Can I get one of those around here?”

You sure can, Norv. It’s called an ‘L. Tea.’ If you’re really thirsty, you can try the ‘Master P.’

The Chargers defense suffered the ignominy of surrendering the gold(en shower) standard of NFL rushing records when Adrian Peterson blistered them for 296 yards. What does it say about a team when the reigning NFL MVP is out-rushed by 256 yards by a rookie?

“I don’t know,” says LaDainian Tomlinson. “But I’ll jump on the bandwagon and blame it on Norv Turner.”

Tomlinson versus Addai? Edge, San Diego. Manning versus Philip Rivers? Game, Indy. Colts win, 27-21.

San Francisco @ Seattle (-10)

The schedule makers obviously thought highly of the NFC West when they made the 2007 schedule. Otherwise, would we be watching the 2-6 49ers face the 4-4 Seahawks on Monday Night Football? MNF!? WTF?! San Francisco was supposed to challenge for the division crown after a promising 2006 campaign that included two wins over the Seahawks.

“Frankly, I’m ashamed to be a part of this organization,” says Joe Montana. “I’d go so far as to say if the 49ers had a reunion of the greatest players in their history, I wouldn’t even show up. Now, for a huge appearance fee, I’d come, but only long enough to pop in and wave to the crowd. Toss in a free meal, and I’ll stay and sign a few autographs, for a nominal fee. Then I’m outta there.”

“I have to agree with my brother, man,” says Tony Montana. “The 49ers stink. You know why? ‘Cause they got their heads up their culos, that’s why.”

The 4-4 Seahawks have the division lead in the competitive NFC West. And by “competitive,” I mean a quick playoff exit for the division winner. Running back Shaun Alexander, long a staple of the offense, is so banged up that the only “staple” used in connection with him will be the ones holding his skin together after several offseason surgeries.

“It looks like I’ll be spending time at Seattle Grace Hospital,” says Alexander. “What’s that? It’s a fictional hospital? What do you know? Just like our Super Bowl hopes. This team is a lot like Grey’s Anatomy. Either you’re a fan, and you watch, or you just don’t give a flip. If that’s the kind of crap that goes on behind the scenes at that hospital, then I wouldn’t want to have surgery there anyway. Where’s Trapper John, M.D. when you need him?”

Seahawks win, 23-14.

Sports Central

In Praise of the Quarterback

Sports Central | Kevin Beane ( Sports Central | Thursday, November 8th, 2007 )

Longtime readers of this column know that I am a fan of the Montreal Alouettes. They have an interesting play in their arsenal.

Every time they have less than a yard to go for a first down, they bring in backup quarterback Marcus Brady. He plunges forward for the first down, and returns to his seat on the bench.

I’ve seen them do this dozens of times the last couple of years. The play never fails, and they never, ever get cute with it. Brady always stays between the tackles — between the guards, as a matter of fact.

Since they are using a particular player for this gambit, and they never get fancy with it, it pretty much means even the defense knows what’s coming. And yet, they can’t stop Brady from gaining two feet.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always mind when teams do get cute with 4th-and-short from time to time. Ohio State preserved their 2002 national championship season by completing a touchdown bomb on 4th-and-short. I seem to recall Texas beating Nebraska during Nebraska’s dominant era that way, as well.

What I don’t understand, though, is when teams will hand off to a running back and let him run up the gut and try to get the first down.

I think the reason Montreal’s Brady play always works (and I mean always) is not because Montreal has some sort of invincible o-line. It’s because they get the first push. It’s often said that playing defense if tougher than playing offense, because the defense is forced to react to the offense. The offense knows what it’s gonna try to do.

Even if going up against a bigger, stronger, defensive line, being in sync on the snap count gives Montreal a split second advantage with their surge — all they need to pick up fourth and inches.

You hand it off, though, and that advantage goes away. The offensive line has to beat the d-line straight up, and now blitzing corners and linebackers come into play, as do the disastrous prospects of missed assignments. All of these possibilities are inapplicable to a QB sneak.

And if (like Montreal) your quarterback is too much of a stiff or too precious to the coaching staff to send up the middle, let the running back, or whomever, take the snap directly.

I feel strongly about this. I get the luxury of knowing one of my favorite football teams will always convert on 4th-and-inches, and frustrated seeing the rest of my favorite teams (and the rest of the football world) not getting the memo.

Speaking of memos, my memo on Charlie Weis is that he’s not the coach Tyrone Willingham was, and I say that knowing Willingham just picked up his first Pac-10 win last week. When people pointed out the similarities in the record and accomplishments of Willingham’s first two seasons with Weis’s, Notre Dame fans responded by digging up stats and figures demonstrating the superiority of Weis.

I agree that now, there’s no comparing Weis and Willingham. Willingham didn’t lose to Navy and went 6-5 in his third (and final) season.

There was quite an uproar at Notre Dame’s quick trigger finger with Willingham. This is Weis’s third season, so he’s surely gone after this season, right? Right?! If not, then Notre Dame deserves even more of the stratospheric levels hatred and vitriol then they receive now.

I bring this up now because Notre Dame’s loss to Navy was due to frankly poor coaching decisions. NBC showed some interesting side-by-side shots of the Notre Dame players against their Navy counterparts, and it was clear the Irish had a huge size advantage, particularly in their receiving corps against Navy’s secondary. It goes without saying that Navy has no blue chip recruits. These are the reasons Notre Dame had beaten Navy 43 straight times.

Yet not only did Weis send in an ill-advised first quarter fake field goal on 4th-and-15, but with 45 seconds left, he chose to go for it on 4th-and-8 from the Navy 28 with the score tied. It worked out as well as the fake field goal did.

Notre Dame kicker Brandon Walker hasn’t been stellar, but his long this year is 48 and this was well within his range. Weis said he had been missing those into-the-wind field goals during pre-game, but the odds still had to have been better than 4th-and-8 against a zooted Navy defense. The way to beat a less-talented team is straight-up, conventionally. It’s the underdog that has to get clever.

But Weis can’t do that, has to show off his fertile imagination and demonstrate his beautiful mind and leave his genius imprint on every game he coaches. We see how far it has taken the Irish.

Sports Central

World Cup England Expects

Sports Central | Will Tidey ( Sports Central | Wednesday, November 7th, 2007 )

Hooray. The English Football Association is to bid for the 2018 World Cup and it’s almost certain England will not only win that, but the whole tournament, too. After all, that’s what happened in 1966. Omens don’t come any bigger. Cue spontaneous street parties in the shires, the uncorking of vintage port in social clubs, and revelry so infectious it marries the warring classes and unites a nation. Call David Beckham. Call Des Lynam. Call Baddiel and Skinner. It’s coming home.

What sublime genius from Gordon Brown to back the bid. That’s what we want from our Prime Minister , a thinker, a doer, a man of the people. And people love their soccer. What was Maggie thinking? She might have lined the wallets of thousands, told those pesky unions where to go, and done it all to a soundtrack of Duran Duran, but she had no handle on the national game whatsoever. How can you expect to be remembered when you failed to win the rights to a single major soccer tournament during your tenure? Even George Bush Senior managed it.

As for the FA, all is forgiven. Granted, Steve McClaren as coach was a mistake, but there’s nothing like World Cup fever to soften the blow. You can take your bungs, scandals, and inadequacies and drown them in hooligan juice with all those ID cards, never to be seen or heard of again. “I think not qualifying for Euro 2008 is a good thing,” will say the proverbial man in the pub, “we need to focus on 2018 now. That’s gonna be our best chance of winning anything. I can’t wait.”

Sadly, unless the price of cryogenic freezing falls dramatically, we still have over 4,000 dreary, rain-soaked English days to negotiate before the celebration begins. In that time, we can look forward to reading approximately 2,178,000 newspaper articles on the subject of England’s bid, which, if successful, will naturally spiral rampantly over budget, allowing politicians to focus on a football tournament , and forget about the darn NHS once and for all. From an advertising and marketing perspective, World Cup England spells what CNBC’s Jim Kramer calls “Mad Money.” Take Geoff Hurst, for example , everybody’s favorite one-match hero (scorer of a hat trick in the ’66 final) would likely earn, 7 trillion from appearances on breakfast television alone.

Cynicism aside, the bid is undeniably a good thing for England and English soccer. It’s just a shame to announce it so early and thus sentence an entire nation to relentless preview mode. Sport is all about anticipation, but 11 years is a long old hall to wait for England to splutter to the latter stages, lose on penalties, and send a nation to mourning. Still, at least we can stop talking about the 2012 Olympics for a while.

Sports Central

D-III’s a Charm

Sports Central | Eric Poole ( Sports Central | Wednesday, November 7th, 2007 )

Two Saturdays ago, Trinity University and Millsaps College figured out exactly how a pair of Division III football teams could get on “SportsCenter.”

Simple. Just have a 15-lateral, 45-second, rugby-style kickoff return for the game-winning play as time expires like the one Trinity used to secure its victory.

But the bar ought to be a lot lower for fans because there is a lot to like about small-college football. One week after Trinity and Millsaps held their during-the-game fireworks, Waynesburg College squared off against Geneva College in a Division III tilt Geneva’s home stadium at Beaver Falls, PA.

That game was just like hundreds of other small-college contests played last weekend throughout the country, which is to say that were a lot of things special about it.

Geneva is pretty much the Notre Dame of the Reformed Presbyterian Church and it takes its faith almost as seriously as the folks at South Bend. Actually, Geneva is probably a little more devout.

Every employee, from the janitors who spent last weekend raking leaves to football coach Geno DeMarco — whose father is a church pastor — has to make an expression of Christianity.

The athletic department’s mission statement starts with the goal of “honoring Christ in and out of the athletic arena.” You think the athletic department at Notre Dame told Charlie Weis he had to attend daily Mass or the deal was off?

Presumably, that principle also applied to Mark Mangino when he was offensive coordinator for the Golden Tornadoes back in the ’80s before moving to Oklahoma. From there, Mangino was hired as head coach at Kansas, where he infected a basketball school with football fever.

On the outside wall of Geneva’s fieldhouse, there is a listing of the three Geneva players whose numbers have been retired.

That includes one Cal Hubbard, who played for the team in the mid-1920s, when it was nicknamed the “Covies,” short for Covenanters — the forerunner of the Reformed Presbyterians.

If you want to see Hubbard’s Hall of Fame inscription, go to Canton. Or Cooperstown, take your pick.

Since Geneva shares the field with Beaver Falls High School, the wall also includes some guy called Namath.

And that doesn’t take into account the game, which Geneva won, 24-17, in overtime. The Golden Tornadoes took a 17-0 lead into halftime, but Waynesburg scored 17 third-quarter points to tie the game and set up the extra session, when converted defensive back Matt Dean scored the game-winner.

While the Division III players are usually smaller and slower — which is the most noticeable difference between them and their D-I brethren, the game is pretty much the same, and sometimes more electric.

And, with D-I schools tightening the belts on scholarships, players who might have gone to football factories a generation ago are now falling to former also-rans, mid-major schools, and D-II programs, which at least partially explains surging programs like Rutgers and South Florida.

It also explains why players like Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, from the University of Miami, are now making their mark in the NFL.

While it’s not likely that too many D-III players will follow that path, there are still good reasons to check out small-college players. For one thing, most small colleges recruit their backyard, so there’s certain to be familiar names in the program.

Geneva’s roster includes more than 20 players who graduated from high schools located within 10 miles of campus.

Small colleges are where you’ll find many of the names etched in the NCAA record books. Going into this season, college football’s all-time leading rusher was R.J. Bowers of Grove City, which was on the schedule for both Waynesburg and Geneva this season.

That mark has since been broken by Danny Woodhead of Division II Chadron State. Woodhead, a senior has nudged the mark up over 7,500 yards.

One of the leading candidates to threaten that mark played in Beaver Falls last weekend. Nine games into his college career, Waynesburg freshman Robert Heller has more than 1,700 yards rushing and is averaging almost 200 yards a game.

Of course, to catch Woodhead, he’ll need to turn that up a notch.

But that ought to be fun to watch, but it begs the question.

If a runner breaks the NCAA career rushing record and only 2,000 people are there to see it, does it get on “SportsCenter?”

Sports Central

The Top Five Overrated

Sports Central | Piet Van Leer ( Sports Central | Wednesday, November 7th, 2007 )

The Patriots and Colts, along with Adrian Peterson, dominated the Sunday NFL coverage, and I really don’t know what I could add that hasn’t already been written. But now that every team has played at least eight games, I thought it would be a good time for a mid-year review.

I want to focus on bad teams, but not the obvious ones. The Jets, Dolphins, Raiders, Falcons, Rams, and 49ers, we all know they stink — heaping further scorn on these squads would only waste valuable Internet space.

There are, though, squads that attempt to fool us with a .500 or better record that have absolutely no business passing themselves off as legitimate playoff-contending teams. Here are my top five…

5) Seattle Seahawks (4-4)

They can’t run. They can’t stop anyone from running. Or passing. Or keep anyone out of the end zone. But they will be in the playoffs because as bad as they are, their division is so much worse. And by rule, at least one team from the NFC West must in fact make the playoffs, which is lucky for one eventual wild card winner.

4) Carolina Panthers (4-4)

Always the trendy preseason pick because of their weapons at the skill positions or their individually talented defenders, the Panthers continue to frustrate their fans, and Steve Smith fantasy owners. I would say losing Jake Delhomme is entirely the reason for their sputtering start, but when they got hammered at home (where they are winless) by the Houston Texans, Delhomme was in the starting lineup.

3) Baltimore Ravens (4-4)

Every year, the Sports Illustrated preseason scouting report (which I love) says something along the lines of how unbelievable this Ravens defense is, 11 all-pros on side of the ball, etc. That may have been the case three years ago, but nowadays? I don’t think their defense scares anyone anymore. Combine that with their offense, who hasn’t scared anyone since … well, never, and you have a team that has wins this season over the Jets, 49ers, Rams, and Cardinals, with losses to the Bengals, Browns, Bills, and Steelers. Oh, and their last playoff win? Elvis Grbac was the quarterback, in 2002 over the Dolphins.

2) Kansas City (4-4)

Herm Edwards has always gotten the most out of his teams — the problem is he usually undermines everything accomplished between the lines with a mortifying decision outside of them. Their defense is decent, but susceptible to giving up the big play. And with the injury to Larry Johnson, their offense just went from awful to … what’s worse than awful? Anyone remember them losing 200-3 to the Colts last year? Are the Chiefs really going to make the playoffs again?

1) Washington Redskins (5-3)

The Redskins are the prime example of how bad the NFC is. This is a team that has virtually no offense, a defense that gave up 52 points, and needed overtime to beat the Jets. In summary, they can’t stop you or score, and are currently one game out of the playoffs.

Sports Central

Odds on Patriots Undefeated

Doc`s Sports | Jason Shimberg ( Doc’s Sports | Thursday, November 1st, 2007 )

BetUS has released some props for winless and undefeated teams this season and many of them will hinge on this week’s mega-matchup between New England and Indianapolis. The most intriguing of these bets has to do with the odds on the Patriots going undefeated.

They Pats are currently listed at +185 to go undefeated for the regular season. If you think they will win this week you should grab that bet now because the odds will be worse for the bettor next week if they get a road win at Indy on Sunday.

The Patriots are five-point favorites this weekend and the 1972 Dolphins will be cracking one bottle of champagne because one of these teams will come out of this battle with one blemish on their record. These are obviously the two best teams in the league and as much as I would like to ride the fence and predict a tie, I don’t think either team is going to shut down the other team’s Hall of Fame quarterback in fifteen minutes of overtime. Recent history suggests the game will be close. In last year’s AFC Championship Game, the final score was 38-34. The Colts routinely have started fast out of the gate (winning their first seven games each of the last three years) and stumbled in weeks leading up to the playoffs. If you are looking to bet on the overall record for either team, now is the time to do it, as this week’s outcome will affect the odds in a myriad of ways. It could build momentum for one team, and hinder the other.

Here are some of the other props BetUS has released for undefeated and winless seasons:

New England to go 16-0, +185: The odds will be worse if they win this weekend. If you like them to beat Indy and want to bet this, take it now while you have a number that will let you almost triple your initial investment. These odds have already dropped from +200 early in the week.

Miami to go 0-16, +350: Stranger things have happened, and they would hold both ends of single-season records, as they also hold the record for the only team to go an entire season undefeated at 14-0. In all seriousness, don’t consider this play, out of their eight games, half of them were decided by 3 points. I think it is harder for a team to go winless than it is for a team to go undefeated. These are professional athletes and pride alone will get them at least one win.

NE win Super Bowl, Even: About 50/50. What haven’t you been impressed with? They are winning, and winning at a rate more impressive than any other team in history. This one is worth considering although the odds are low. However, it will be much better than the money line odds that will be offered if the Pats do make the big game. I equate this bet to Tiger Woods vs. the field.

NE to miss the playoffs, +250000: The Patriots have murdered the lesser competition winning by an average of 25.5 points. There have been other collapses of epic proportions (reference the 2007 New York Mets) but this one has “sucker bet” written all over it. However, if there were a few key injuries any team could struggle so at these odds it might warrant a 10-spot, especially if you love to hate the Patriots.

Miami makes the playoffs, +250000: I look for them to go 2-14. The Miami basketball team should make the playoffs, but the football sharks better wait for the return of Ricky Williams. This one would take a miracle.

Doc`s Sports

Boston Celtics Betting

Doc`s Sports | T.O. Whenham ( Doc’s Sports | Thursday, November 1st, 2007 )

What in the world should we do with the Boston Celtics? The offseason moves have given the franchise and their fans renewed hope, but all it has done for me and most sports bettors is give us a headache. The public is going to be all over the team in the early going, and they will probably stay with them for a while regardless of what happens. Everything you read tells you that the Celtics are the most improved team in the league, they have the best trio of players that there is in the league, and that they are going to be a major force in their division and conference. All that makes me skeptical of what is going to happen, and makes me feel like the smart move is going to be to fade the Celtics and the public early on. They are going to be a much better team than they have been, but they probably can’t be as good as the expectations that have been set for them. Besides, sometimes it’s more fun to be critical than optimistic. Here are nine reasons I’m not as bullish about the Celtics as the media is telling me I should be:

History of mediocrity – Sure, Pierce, Garnett and Allen are all great players, but none of them exactly have a tradition of leading their teams to the highest heights. Not only do none of them have a ring, but none of them even have a good story about how close they have come. All three players are obviously enormously talented, but they have to prove that they can do more than just put up big numbers for decent teams before I get too excited.

Point guard problems – Somebody will have a huge job making sure that all three stars get the ball and stay happy, and you’ll forgive me if I’m not convinced that Rajon Rondo is the answer. Not yet, anyway. He has one year of experience, and he averaged just 6.4 points and 3.8 assists last year. Don’t get me wrong – I think the guy has all sorts of upside. He’ll just have to make a quantum leap this year to meet the expectations placed on his shoulders, and he’ll have to do it in a very high-pressure situation. That’s not an ideal way to bring along a young player. He could really be in trouble if he gets off to a slow start.

Center? – Somebody needs to patrol the middle for this three-headed monster, and Boston doesn’t have very good options. Kendrick Perkins would need to be much better than he has been in his first four years in Boston, and Scot Pollard is, well, Scot Pollard. Neither guy has done anything statistically significant in recent years, and neither guy has been putting in starting minutes lately. This is definitely an area of concern.

Bench – Do you notice a trend here? The team may have the best trio in the league, but they gave up all of their depth to assemble them. There are some acceptable pros on the bench, but nothing inspiring. Eddie House, James Posey, Brian Scalabrine, Tony Allen – all are decent players and can fill roles, but they’re not exactly threatening for the sixth man award. The teams that have done well in the playoffs have rosters that are eight or nine players deep (at least). The Celtics are barely four deep.

Injuries – Pierce and Allen combined to play 102 of a possible 164 games last year. Neither one has been made of steel throughout their career, so it would be more of a surprise if they didn’t miss significant time this year than if they did. Garnett has been more durable, but he’s not getting any younger, either. If any of these guys misses significant time then it could get ugly. If two of them are out at the same time then it could be a nightmare.

Playing tight – Allen and Garnett took a leap of faith to end up in Boston. All three of the stars know that their windows for a championship are closing. This may be the only shot that they get. If it doesn’t go well early then this thing could get off the tracks quickly. The players could tighten up, and could play below their abilities. All three guys are seen as reasonably nice guys compared to many of their colleagues in the league, but things could get tense if the dream team in green doesn’t mesh and get the results that are expected.

No Plan B – If this experiment works then Danny Ainge will look like a genius. If it doesn’t, though, or even if it needs another piece to work fully, then Ainge could be in big trouble. He’s painted himself into a corner. He has salary problems and he has very little that is attractive to other teams beyond those top three, so the lineup he has is essentially the lineup he will have to be stuck with through the year. That could be a good thing or a really bad thing. I know which way I lean.

It’s Boston – This team is going to require some patience. Boston fans aren’t particularly well known for their patience. Enough said.

The East is tough – It’s not nearly as good as the West is even still, but most of the teams have done something to improve in the offseason. If everyone else had stood still then Boston would be virtually guaranteed of being dramatically better. Many other teams improved, too, and with more depth, so there’s no guarantee in my mind that this is even a playoff team.

Those, to me, are nine good reasons to make me think that the Celtics have to prove that they are worthy of my money before I direct it their way.

Doc`s Sports