Saturday Juice

Bill Simmons' NFL Playoff Manifesto 3.0 and his Wild Card Weekend Pics. Two links that are pretty much on any personal log or group sports page you go to right now.

  • New Jersey Jets +7 at San Diego - Okay, this game is officially starting to scare me. Everyone but the Jets fans are going in the direction of the Chargers. The line has gone from 5 to 7 points and I even my own early attempts to rationalize reasons why the Jets may win came up short of that goal.

    But now since there seems to be a consensus zero percent chance for a Jets win, I'm scared (also, Rule #2 from Simmons). Even many among the Jets' own fan base doubt them, and that's usually exactly the point when a team like this does something to breathe new life into its followers' faith. These Jets are, after all, a decent road team with a good enough defense and offensive philospohy to keep things close. And they are facing a team who is led by a head coach who's been at the helm of some of the most famous NFL Playoff disasters ever.

    So as the 8:00pm kickoff approaches, the tension will grow. Just about everyone has now read that San Diego finished the year 13-1 ATS. But there's more to that amazing run. They were getting points in 10 of their 16 games this season, so they haven't really been respected by the oddsmakers until now.

    As a favorite this year- vs Oakland, New Orleans, at Oakland, vs Denver, Tampa, and at Cleveland- they were 5-0-1 ATS. In the three ATS losses or pushes they had this season, the Chargers missed covering the spread by a combined 3 points. In those thirteen games they covered, the Chargers' average margin of points over the line was 11.5 per game!

    That would mean that these numbers are indicating that San Diego is going to win this game by 18.5 points. Probably not going to happen. This line is too big and the Jets are being taken too lightly by both the betting public and the betting professionals. Still, it's so very hard to go against the Chargers just to win. A good idea would be to take the Jets +14 and the under (which has fallen down to 42 now because of rain concerns) 49. But I'm not interested in losing this one just because the Chargers, after all this, take it easily. Therefore, give me San Diego -6.5 after I shave that half point off. Hope, hope.

  • St. Louis +4 at Seattle - I haven't spent too much time this week looking at this game. I did see a stat on Friday's Cold Pizza that noted in playoff games where a team that won both regular season matches versus their opponent, they ended up winning that third game 10 out of 15 times. But given the unique nature of the Rams' two wins against Seattle, this matchup is it's own beast.

    The Rams are 2-6 on the road ATS and the Seahawks are 1-7 at home ATS. Oh, help me.

    With the rain coming in to town, I'll just go with Mike Martz's team on the assumption that he's not going to try to throw the ball 65 times in a 36 degree mist. St. Louis' defense has actually been somewhat improved down the stretch too. Personally, the +160 looks much better to me than the +4, but since tracking money lines is too time consuming, give me the Rams +4.

  • Denver +10 at Indianapolis - There's really nothing else to do here except take the 10 points and hope Indy can get somes late scores. I've pretty much made my case for the Colts here, and for this game, the only thing I'm really worried about are those delayed hand offs to Tatum Bell. Colts -10.

  • Minnesota +6.5 at Green Bay - Another game I've already touched on this week. My pick for this one will heavily depend on how things go in the other three games though. If things follow through as everyone planned, I'm taking the Vikings to win. But if either the Chargers or the Colts fall, Green Bay is the pick.
UPDATE: Sunday morning, and I'm going to try to learn a little lesson here. Whenever you think something is a good idea, go with it. For the Colts game, I'm taking myself off the -10 line and going with Indy -3, over 49 in a seven point tease. As for the other game, with the Chargers losing, I think the Packers will win. Give me Green Bay -0.5, over 46 in a six point tease.

Why the Colts will win the Super Bowl

No one knows, of course, who will be playing in Jacksonville on February 6th. But almost everyone has an opinion.

There are a number of teams this year that could win it all and there are just as many different reasons why each could win. The Indianapolis Colts are just one of those teams that has a legitimate chance to become the World's Champion and they are my pick to win it this season. But they are such not necessarily because they are the best team or because they deserve it the most. Those two things rarely factor in to deciding a champion in any sport.

The number one reason I favor the Colts this year is because I see this NFL as a league in transition. There are a lot of teams out there trying relatively new things on offense and on defense in order to find something that works best with their personel and against what opposing teams are trying to do against them. But when you look at the Colts, they've had the same offensive coordinator for the last 7 years and the same head coach and defensive philosophy for the last 3. You cannot find another team in the NFL that has maintained that kind player or coaching cohesiveness. You also cannot find another team in the NFL that has the ability or experience on offense to do the things the Colts do.

This idea is one based on trends and nothing has been more trendy in the NFL for the last decade than the west coast offense and the cover 2 defense..

Look back to January of 2003, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished off an amazing season with an even more amazing performance against the Raiders in San Diego. Yet ever since Super Bowl XXXVII, the Bucs' have gone 12-20 and there are a ton of reasons why they've fallen so far. Bruce Allen, Keyshawn Johnson, John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Jon Gruden, blah blah blah. I'd like to offer up another. The Bucs '02 season may have been the epoch of an era in the NFL that has been in decline ever since.

Yes, the west coast offense and it's 2K antithesis, the cover 2 zone defense, are on their way out in the NFL. I guess the Bucs and everyone else can blame the competition committee for it. In a copycat league, where most are looking to do what works, what works is usually looking to do something else.

This year's Colts do use a similar cover 2 stlye defense that the Bucs have been using for the last 10 years. Tony Dungy was the one who started it in Tampa and now in Indianapolis he's been able to bring in the same type of quick, speedy defenders to play this style. But the Colts are one of the few defenses left that still employ this style as their base defense.

At the end of the 2003 season, the Jets' Herman Edwards (the former defensive backs' coach in the early days of the Dungy era in Tampa) fired his defensive coordinator in order to bring in Donnie Henderson to install a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense that uses the edge pass rushing talents of Shawn Ellis and John Abraham. In Tampa, the Bucs haven't fired anyone, but Monty Kiffin has been using a scheme much different than the old base 'Tampa 2' for at least the last season and a half. The Bucs are blitzing and playing more man coverage now than they have for the last decade.

In fact, more and more teams have been blizting more and more often and with the 'chuck' rule change this season, offenses have really benefited as a result. Matching up tight ends and big, physical wideouts against smaller DBs on curl and corner routes is no longer a high priority when the league has rules that let guys like Marvin Harrison and Deion Branch just run right by defenders. A big reason why the west coast offense became popular in the first place was it's ability to control the clock against tough, physical, championship-caliber defenses that were strong up the middle. With its short and mid range passes, trap draw runs, and QB bootlegs, the west coast offense countered opposing defenses' strengths with a mix of precision and accuracy.

Once those ideas started to become a part of almost every offense in the NFL, defensive coaches starting looking for the best way to stop it. The question was 'how do you stop an offense designed to slowly drive itself down the field?' And the answer seemed to be, 'let it.' Fast, agile linebackers dropping back into zone coverage with the safeties keeping everything in front of them was found to be the best answer to the west coast offense because it forced QBs to be precise on every down. The goal of the cover 2 isn't necessarily to force the offense to punt, but it is designed to keep teams out of the end zone by creating turnovers and field goals. Tampa's victory over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII was so resounding because of the way Jon Gruden was able to prepare his Buccaneer defense for the Raider offense. It was the perfect scenario for him and for the Bucs.
Two years later, back into the present day, the cycle of favor has started to shift away from the west coast style. The top scoring offenses this year were all downfield, attacking teams. And even such traditional west coast havens like Philadelphia and Green Bay have altered their philosophy to take advantage of their downfield threats (Owens and Walker). In response to that, one could argue that no single defense stood out this season as a dominant force. New England has had problems protecting their secondary and has been vulnerable against the run as a result. Baltimore's group showed some real cracks in their pass coverage too and even the Bucs gave up a surprising 28+ five different times this season. The best defenses in 2004 were Washington and Pittsburgh. Both used aggressive styles, holding the run to 81 yards per game while also stayingeffective against the passbecause they were able to put pressure on the quarterback.

So why will the Colts win the Super Bowl? Well, as a a cohesive, experienced, and talented offense, they have a unique opportunity to strike against a league in transition. This may be just one of those years ('99 Rams) that defense doesn't necessarily win championships. Like the Rams, these Colts are just good enough on D to win it too. They give up yards but not so much points. And probably most importantly, they create turnovers and were the best in the league in terms of turnover margin.

What is standing in their way, assuming they beat the Broncos at home this Sunday, is a trip to Pittsburgh and a trip to New England. Any Colt detracter will argue that this team can't go on the road in the playoffs and win a game outdoors. They may say that they haven't proven they can do it and yes, that may be true. But they haven't really proven they can't, either.

These Colts are not the Minnesota Vikings. Just because Indy has a high scoring offense does not mean they aren't fundamentally sound. They are not soft, they are not quiters, and I think that while they benefit from playing in a dome, they don't struggle as much as many think when playing outdoors.

In last year's playoffs, the Patriots were simply better than the Colts. Yet despite 4 Manning INTs and some unfavorable officiating, Indy was only a touchdown down with three minutes remaining. Indianapolis went 1-1 on the road and outdoors in last year's playoffs and so far this year they've beaten the Texans in Houston, the Titans in Tennessee, the Jags in Jacksonville, and the Bears in Chicago. All of those games were also played outside, on the road and although they weren't against the league's elite, the cumulative score in those 4 games was 119-58, Colts. That's a 2 to 1 margin.

Indianapolis may lose on Sunday, they may lose next Sunday, or the Sunday after that. But don't count them out just because they 'can't win in the playoffs on the road in the cold.' They did defeat the Chiefs and they never quit against the Patriots. If the Colts have to go into Pittsburgh or New England or both, it won't be a first for them. They may even just win a game or two and if they do get to Jacksonville, look out. I'll drive up there and make sure I get a good picture of Tony with that big, shiny glass football he's overdue to receive.

But why do I really think the Colts will win the Super Bowl?

They finally changed back to the black shoes.

Jim Harbaugh, are you watching?

Friday Football

For some reason, I can't shake this Minnesota thing I have. They've finally made the playoffs now, so why do I think anything about them has changed? Why do I think they are able to walk into Lambeau as a relaxed group of men ready to execute a well prepared game plan?

One of the most frustrating things about this season's Vikings offense is that they've really gotten away from what established them as one of the NFL's best. This used to be a team with a dominant run blocking offensive line and a steady, reliable pass blocking scheme to protect their quarterback. But lately, Minnesota has been ineffective at running the ball and they're sending their WRs too deep too often and defenses have realized this and have adjusted accordingly. The VIkings gave up a NFL 8th worst, 46 sacks this season and they've averaging a 5th worst, 24.2 rushes per game.

At some point, the Vikings are going to have to get their identity back if they are going to ever succeed again. The blueprint is there, but the question is will they follow it? In the playoffs and on the road, if Minnesota gets into a 34-31 type shootout with the Packers again, they're going lose and by more than just three points this time. Look at how Atlanta beat Green Bay two years ago. Ball control, and turnovers. Do your thing, run the ball, control the line of scrimmage and make the home team become impatient. Put the pressure on them to make the 60 yard plays and then watch for them to start making mistakes.

Chances are that Minnesota won't do any of this. And there's one play in particular that really describes to me what the Mike Tice era in Minnesota is all about. Last season, in Week 17, the Vikings needed a road win against Arizona to make the playoffs. To start the game, Minnesota forced a 3 and out and took over the ball on offense from their own 27. They drove 72 yards down the field to the 1 yard line and went for it on fourth and goal. They called a pass play, missed it, and eventually ended up losing that game by a point on the now famous Josh McCown, 27 yard TD pass on 4th and 25 with no time left on the clock. Mike, why not just kick it there? Sure you'd want the 6 points but why do that to your team? Why risk such a disappointment so early in the game? Get the points and keep playing downhill.

The Vikings have become an arrogant football team and one that thinks they can beat people on skill alone. But there is a chance that backing into the playoffs may have taken some pressure off of them. There's a chance they may go into Green Bay with an understanding of what it takes to win on the road in the playoffs. They may run the ball 35-40 times, they may start catching passes and protecting the quarterback, and they may just realize that sending Moss and Robinson deep, with Burleson posting over the middle isn't enough to get it done.

They may do all of that. But chances are they won't and Mike Tice will and should be fired as a result.

Thursday College Basketball (?)

I'm calling this the official launch of the 2005 Beach Pick'em season and we're starting it in style. The first ever mention of the sport of college basketball gets more than just a mention. Today, it gets a pick.

The Swamp is recommending Washington -6 as they visit USC tonight. Apparently, not many folks care about Trojan basketball and really, why should they. But what if they're all fired up with school spirit about the big Tuesday night BCS Championship game and come out to support their mighty men from Troy? I don't know.

I do know that USC drew only 2,169 for their last home game and 2,163 when school was still in for BYU on Dec 4.
They're 5-4 against nobody under their interim coach and they're facing a Huskies team that's on an 8 game winning streak. This is exciting!

UW basketball, -6.

Yahoo Preview

UPDATE: Also from the Sports Frog, Memphis Bengal sees another opportunity tonight on the hard wood. Gonzaga -7 at Santa Clara. Yahoo Preview.

UPDATE UPDATE: ESPN2 HD? I just finally got my cable to pick up regular ESPN HD!

FINAL UPDATE: 1-1 on the day after Santa Clara hit a 3 with 2 seconds left to break the push. Gotta love this game.

Thursday Football
  • Here's just another reason why I think I'm going to be staying away from predicting the Seattle - St Louis game. It may snow. The official underground forecast for Seattle this weekend can be found here. It may be a classic. The snow and the game.
    "We haven't ever had precipitation in this stadium," offensive lineman Robbie Tobeck said. "We thought that was going to be our big home-field advantage. We've played three seasons there now, and not one game have we had rain or snow - or anything."
  • To me, the number one reason Terry Donahue was bought out of his contract in San Francisco was the way his most recent comment to Peter King has shed light on the terrible drafts the 49ers have had for the past few years.
    I think, if he can be assured of being a top-five pick, USC quarterback Matt Leinart will probably bypass his remaining college eligibility and take his gaudy numbers (66 touchdowns, 15 interceptions) to the NFL. Just a gut feeling. But Leinart's dad has been given the names and phone numbers of six leading NFL GMs or scouting directors to investigate where Matt might be picked if he comes out. And so I asked San Francisco GM Terry Donahue: It's ridiculously premature, but what are you going to do with the first pick in the draft? "We've got so many needs,'' Donahue said, "that we're going to assess who is the best player in the draft and take him -- whether it's a quarterback, left tackle, running back, whatever. The unfortunate thing for us -- and what else is new this year, with everything that's gone wrong for us -- is that there really isn't that franchise player in the draft. So I doubt any team would give us a slew of picks for our top pick. I just don't see it happening.'' But what if Leinart takes his Heisman and enters the draft early? "Having not really done all our homework yet, obviously it would be a hard question to answer. But I don't think so. In terms of athleticism, he doesn't appear to be Carson Palmer. When Leinart gets flushed to the right, it's hard for him to make a play. I'm not sure he'd be a good fit for us.'' I'm fairly astonished by this. The kid's 24-1 as a starter. I think the Niners have to strongly consider Leinart if he comes out. I would ask this question: If Antrel Rolle, the Miami cornerback, is graded the best player in the draft (I know the 49ers like him), would you take a corner with the way the rules have been made offense-friendly instead of a quarterback who has dominated the top level of college football?
    Since Leinhart hasn't declared yet, I hope the 49ers didn't make this move just because they want the Heisman Trophy winner. Either way, check out how bad their 2002 draft was. They should have just traded all their picks that year for Ricky Williams or Hershall Walker.
UPDATE: Matt was on Kimmel Live last night and Mr. Jimmy tried to talk him into declaring early. Can't find a clip of it online yet, but I'm sure someone will have it up soon.

And also, a personal thought on Leinart. I'm not too sure using a high 1st round pick on him is such a good idea because he's the type of quarterback you can find in the later rounds. He's a winner and a good leader, but I think Donahue was right in suggesting he's not blessed with the physical tools of Payton Manning or Carson Palmer. The things Leinart does well can be found in the later rounds, it's just that he's a first rounder because everyone already knows he can do them.
  • Add this note onto yesterday's Jets story. John Abraham is considering not playing this week because if he reinjures his knee and needs surgery in the offseason, it will limit how much money the free agent can get in his contract negotiations.
  • More to come later on Minnesota's Sunday Night chances for success.

Wednesday Football

Since I can't really think of any possible way the Jets or the Vikings could win their playoff games this weekend, over the next few days, I'm going to try to make an argument for them winning and see what I can uncover.

First, let's start with what Newsday is writing about the the Pennington situation:

Pennington said it's been harder to come back from this injury than it was last season after he missed his first seven starts with a fractured left wrist.

"Yeah, because we've played five playoff teams, they're all big games, and the consistency has not been there," Pennington said. "That's the frustrating part." But he's seen progress.

"This last game, we didn't turn the ball over, we didn't make any bonehead throws across the middle, like the Pittsburgh and New England games, and we had a chance to win in the end," he said.

But Pennington has not been able to get the ball downfield in recent weeks. Sunday against the Rams, his longest completion was for 17 yards. Teams are either defending the Jets' receivers differently since Pennington's injury or they're blitzing him more. It appears to be the latter.

The Rams got to Pennington for 6 sacks last Sunday.

Part of the Jets' problem may also be how methodical the Jets offense is designed to work. They are a team built for the 12 play, 80 yard drive . Check out the Jets' stat book for 2004. Their longest offensive play from scrimmage this year was a 69 yard pass from Quincy Carter to Santana Moss. The longest play involving Chad was a 48 yarder to Moss and by just glancing as Santana's game log, those two hooked up for about three 40-50 yard plays. Neither Curtis Martin nor Lamont Jordan are breakaway runners and the longest run the Jets have had this year was a 33 yarder Jordan broke open against Seattle.

So let's look at the Week 2 matchup between New Jersey and San Diego. The drive log shows that the Jets were able to put together three long scoring drives and that they also benefited from excellent field position in the third quarter to put the game far enough out of reach that the Chargers weren't able to catch up.

Now here's the Jets' drive log for the Pats game and the Steelers game. (I swear I'm trying to talk myself into an argument FOR New Jersey here, but I'm not doing very well.) In both of those games, the Jets were forced to start every drive in their own territory and they showed very little offensive spark as a result. Both New England and Pittsburgh employ a base 3-4 defense and they're going to face a lot of the same kind of looks this week when they visit San Diego.

So how did the Bucs, a similar style offense as the Jets, score 24 points against the Chargers? Let's look at this. Tampa Bay had, essentially, two scoring drives in this game. The third touchdown they got came off of an interception at the Chargers' 37 yard line. Therefore, just by looking at the stats, one can assume that the Jets are going to put together two opportunities on their own to score touchdowns against San Diego. They're going to have to force a turnover in the Chargers' own end in order to get anything more. Again, this is just by going by recent stat comparison of the Jets versus a 3-4 defense and the Chargers versus a west coast style offense.

Will New Jersey be able to start two or three drives in San Diego territory? Drew Brees has been turning the ball over a little more recently than he had for most of the season. Denver picked him off once in Week 13 and Tampa got him twice a week later. The game against the Browns doesn't count for me because he only threw 6 passes all day. In his last game, against the Colts, Brees was also picked once, giving him 7 INTs on the season and four in, essentially, his last three games. He also fumbled three times in his last four games but was fortunate to not lose any of them. This is Brees' first NFL playoff game so I'm going to assume that he's good for at least one bad turnover.

Based on all this, I'm giving the Jets around 17 points on offense. I think the best we can expect is for them to put together two or three decent drives on their own and score two touchdowns as a result. Aside from Pennington's obvious throwing problems, they are a relatively healthy football team. This Star-Ledger article provides a very good description of what's going on inside the Jets offense this week. Herman Edwards admits that Pennington has lost some velocity on his passes and I think they will have a game plan in place on Saturday that understands this problem better than the ones they've used in weeks past. Still, the one area that most troubles a quarterback that has a weakened throwing arm is in the red zone. The Jets are going to maybe attempt a trick play or two to get the ball in the end zone against this San Diego defense that averaged just 19.6 points allowed per game in 2004.

The two quarterbacks who faced the Chargers this season that are most similar to Pennington are Jake Delhomme and Brian Griese. Neither has an exceptionally strong arm, but both are accurate and have been team leaders this season on offenses that have struggled to find consistency. Delhomme finished his late October game in Carolina with a 47.2% efficiency (17/36) and just 155 yards. Griese saw a more productive day on the road in mid-December when he threw for 392. But the Bucs' running game never posed a threat to SD and Griese's four turnovers (3 INTs, 1 Fumble Lost) sealed the fate for Tampa Bay.

So how will the Jets ever be able to beat the Chargers if they will struggle to score 20 points? Well they held Antonio Gates to 4 catches and just 39 yards earlier this year. Eric Johnson caught 4 passes for 24 yards in Week 6. Those were the only two big-time TE's the Jets faced this season but with Jonathan Vilma and Eric Barton at linebacker, they are well equiped to deal with Gates' rare athleticism. John Abraham is expected to play in this game, but he'll be limited to mostly pass rushing duties, according to Edwards. The Jets defense has been just as solid as San Diego's this year, and when it comes down to turnovers, no one but Indianapolis has a better ratio this season than these two.

It doesn't look like there will be much scoring in San Diego on Saturday night and I still feel the Chargers can't lose. When I looked this morning at where the bets were being placed (link), I think it was at about 90% pro Chargers and the -6.5. But with the NFL playoffs, who really can be sure?

2004 Bowl Season Wrap Up

Since I'm removing the links from the right nav bar, this is for archive purposes.

So. Miss - North Texas
Syracuse - Georgia Tech
Bowling Green - Memphis
Marshall - Cincinnati
Wyoming - UCLA
Hawaii - UAB
Virginia - Fresno St.
Toledo - UConn
Miami - Iowa State
Notre Dame - Oregon State
Colorado - UTEP
Oklahoma St. - Ohio St.
New Mexico - Navy
Texas Tech - Cal
Troy - N. Illinois
Minnesota - Alabama
ASU - Purdue
Boise St. - Louisville
Miami - Florida
Georgia - Wisconsin
Tennessee - Texas A&M
West Virginia - FSU
LSU - Iowa
Michigan - Texas
Pitt - Utah
Virginia Tech - Auburn
USC - Oklahoma

Orange Bowl Preview

Tuesday, 4 January 2005 - 8:00pm
Miami, Florida

USC (12-0) versus Oklahoma (12-0)

Before even thinking about the matchups for Tuesday Night's game, I have to take a look at the Heisman Curse.

Since the BCS was implemented in 1998, Heisman Trophy winners have played in 3 of the 6 games, all of them being quarterbacks (Jason White, Eric Crouch, and Chris Weinke), and all 3 of their teams lost in the championship by more than a touchdown. In fact, they all tend to play very poorly. The best example of this is in 2000, when Chris Weinke and the high-powered Florida State Seminole offense could not even move the ball, much less put a single offensive point on the board in the Orange Bowl, which was won 13-2 by the Oklahoma Sooners and their Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback Josh Heuple.

This curse goes beyond recent BCS history as well. In fact, if you win the Heisman Trophy and play for the Miami Hurricanes, you are destined to lose the championship game. Miami’s 2 Heisman Trophy winners, Vinny Testaverde (1986) and Gino Torretta (1992) both lost the national championships. In the last 20 years, only Danny Wuerffel (1996) has won the national championship game after winning the Heisman Trophy. That year, Wuerffel’s Florida Gators beat their in-state rival Florida State Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl. This curse is not confined to championship games only. In the past 30 years, Heisman Trophy winners have lost more than half of the bowl games they played in, not just the national championship game. So, is this a real curse, simply just a good old case of bad luck? Judging from all of the facts, there may just be more to this part of the curse than the first part.

I'm not sure exactly when this article was written, but it definitely came out some time this year and it's contents loom ominously over the head of Matt Leinhart. Still, the junior Trojan quarterback strikes me as the kind of person who may be able to escape this trap. I'm not too certain he's a great quarterback, but he does have an unusual, quiet confidence. His personality sort of reminds me of how Tom Brady was during his rookie Super Bowl season. Nonetheless, anyone who wins the Heisman Trophy in this era sees an unbelievable demand on their time. The question is, how much of that demand has been taken from the time Leinhart would normally use to prepare himself to play football?

On the field, perhaps the most important bit of news about this game that came out this week was USC's decision to start Reggie Bush over LenDale White. Even though White has been practicing with the team and is expected to suit up, Trojan fans should be concerned if Bush is asked to get all the carries. Oklahoma's defense has eaten opposing teams run game this season. When the Sooners visited the Texas Longhorns on October 9th, OU held Cedric Benson to a very average 95 yards on 23 carries. If LenDale White is unable to make an impact on the field, USC's options will be limited when they line Bush up wide as a wide receiver sicne Oklahoma won't have to worry about the 235 pound sophomore pounding the line of scrimmage. It will be definitely something to watch for.

The big injury concern on the Oklahoma side is CB Antonio Perkins. The Sooner secondary isn't the deepest or the best in the nation and they'll need their leader on the field to help cover the speedy Trojan receivers (including Bush). ESPN has a full length story on Perkins here.

In the end, you have to believe that both Adrian Peterson and Reggie Bush are going to make their plays. Even though each team ranks among the nation's best in terms of run defense, USC hasn't faced anyone as strong and as fast as Peterson and OU hasn't faced anyone as versatile and as quick as Bush. The key for OU will be if they can protect Jason White from the USC pass rush. Trojan DT's Shaun Pody and Mike Patterson are big time players and should get a good push up the middle. White isn't much of a threat to run, although his mobility this year is much better than it was last season. Will OU's giant offensive line be able to keep up with the quickness of Cody and Patterson? If White is able to keep his timing with Mark Clayton and the other Sooner receivers, Oklahoma should be able to make enough plays to outscore the Trojans.

For anyone not in the locker room following Oklahoma's loss to LSU in last years BCS Championship Game, one can only imagine how disappointed a team as good as that felt after playing so poorly. Not many get a second chance like this and I think they will come ready. Still, this game looks like it will feature a lot of scoring. Both team's strengths on offense are weaknesses on the other's defense. And if it comes down to a kick, the Sooners may be throwing a freshman out there to boot field goals.

This is a heavyweight fight, no doubt. These two teams are going to trade punches all night. There will also be a ton of NFL scouts looking at this one and with the pressure on, I like Oklahoma to benefit and take this one.

College Football News Preview
ESPN Preview
ESPN Scouts
Yahoo Preview
Fox Stats

Oklahoma even
Over 53
Oklahoma +7 and over 46
in a 7 point tease

UPDATE: 55-19 USC.

Sugar Bowl Preview

Monday, 3 January 2005 - 8:00pm
New Orleans, Louisiana

Virginia Tech (10-2) versus Auburn (12-0)

Check this out, from CollegeFootballNews.com:

Throughout this season, the Auburn defense has been the unit that has dictated to the offense what they want to do. Bring the heat. Play seven in coverage. You name it, they’ve been able to do it, but Tennessee may have hit on some answers against this defense that Virginia Tech might be able to leverage off of to its advantage. Take for instance, the SEC championship game in the third quarter with Tennessee trailing by a touchdown. First down from the Vol twenty. The Vols come out in a basic I, offset fullback formation – tight end, fullback and flanker lined up to the right. The Tigers counter by moving their Sam backer up on the line of scrimmage, just outside the tight end, shifting the linebackers to the strength of the formation and rolling free safety Will Herring into what amounts to a Will linebacker position. The defensive line bumps down into what seems to be a reduced 50 look, but most importantly, the Tigers are in man coverage. On the snap, Rick Clausen opens to Gerald Riggs as if they are running a basic outside zone with the fullback leading through the hole. The Vols zone block up front, but they also take the flanker and run him behind Riggs on the fake reverse. You’ve seen that all year, and it never works. But, when a team is as aggressive as Auburn is, it’s worth it even it amounts to one false step. The playside linebacker Travis Williams follows the fullback’s path outside as that’s his man, while the other inside linebacker Derrick Graves has Riggs in man coverage and prepares for Riggs arrival in the hole. However, the flanker action has frozen Herring, whose eyes are on said flanker carrying out his fake. Riggs gets a great down block on Graves from his OL, Herring is a step slow because of his focus on the flanker and the rest is history. Riggs outruns the Auburn secondary for an 80 yard touchdown to tie the game. This is but one example of how Tennessee used that man concept on a simple run play, one that they have been running for years, to take advantage of the Auburn defense. Why is this one play so important to the Hokies? This is a staple play for Mike Imoh and/or Cedric Humes, complete with Eddie Royal swinging behind on the flanker reverse fake. Everyone has thought this Auburn defense was simply invincible, but Tennessee found the chink in the armor. Can Virginia Tech? If they do, watch how Auburn responds, that’ll be the true test.

There you go. That's how close this game is. These two teams matchup so evenly on paper that they are basically carbon copies of each other. And you just have to assume that both coaches will have their teams well prepared and motivated.

Auburn thinks they should be in Miami on Tuesday night, while Virginia Tech must feel they're pretty worthy too, after almost beating USC in their season opener. I've liked Virginia Tech down the stretch against Virginia and against Miami, but this is a tough game for them. Because of the similarities between these two teams, this game should provide for some interesting football. I think it'll probably be better than the OU/USC game too.

As much as I like Va Tech on the money line, I think if you take the run away from both of these teams (which may happen tonight), Auburn's Jason Campbell has more experience winning big games with his arm. He doesn't really have a go to target, but I think that's a good thing here because being able to spread the ball to all eligible backs and receivers is a big advantage against an aggressive defense like VTU that thrives on putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

If the Hoakies were their usual self on special teams this year, they'd be a more attractive pick. Auburn may be setting its sights a little too high and they may not really understand how good this Virginia Tech team is. But I think cause I've been 0 for my last six hundred picks, I'm going against my initial thought on this game (VTU). Or maybe it's just because I love the way Auburn's CB Carlos Rogers closes on the football that I'm taking the Tigers.

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Auburn -5.5

UPDATE: 16-13 Auburn. Another great game. It wasn't the Rose Bowl, but still pretty entertaining. I feel bad, though. Right before game time it hit me. The line had gone from 5.5 to 7 in just a few hours. The pros were betting Auburn, and I was picking them to win but didn't really like giving up a touchdown. I can't believe I didn't think of it earlier. Auburn to win and the under. Where was this earlier?

Monday Football

The lines are finally out for Wild Card Weekend, but after an 0-6 Sunday, I don't even believe anything I think about the NFL.


  • NJ Jets +6 at San Diego, O/U 44.5 - These two meet in Week 2 and the Jets came away with a 34-28 victory. But seeing as how the Jets could barely stay even with the Rams in a must win game for both, this looks like a big time mismatch.
  • St Louis +4 at Seattle, O/U 52 - Can one team beat another three times in one season?
  • Minnesota +6 at Green Bay, O/U 48 - Same story here, as the Packers have taken both games(1, 2) 34-31. I saw today that Corey Chavous is out for the Vikings and if Antoine Winfield is as limited as he was yesterday, Minnesota is in big trouble. Some other stories to track this week are Javon Walker's health after he got knocked out against the Bears, and the whole Randy Moss leaving early ala Sammy Sosa.
  • Denver +10 at Indianapolis, O/U 56 - Deja Vu, all over again. Last year, Denver routed Indy in Week 16 and then decided to not even tackle the Colts in the playoffs. But if Jim Sorgi can throw TDs against the Broncos....

Sunday Juice

Back to the warm blanket of NFL games. I feel like a lost dog finding its way home. Like a New Yorker basking in the South Florida sun. Like a boy in college returning for one last semester in high school.

The usual 'pick around' becomes less important today. It's Week 17 and everything strange that can happen probably will.

The NFL's 2004 standings here. The 2003 NFL standings here. The 2002 NFL standings here. Week 17 from 2003 here. Some related things of note:

  • The 2003 Giants finished the season with 8 straight losses. Tonight, they face finishing 2004 with 9 straight losses, but that may not end up being the NFL worst as the Browns go into Houston having already lost 9 straight. The 2002 Lions lost their last 8.
  • Both the Eagles and the Pats have a chance to go 8-0 at home today. Three teams (KC, Seattle, St Louis) did that last season, only one (Green Bay) the season before.
  • Four teams finished 2003 with a winless road record: Arizona, Detroit, Oakland, Jacksonville. Only one team (Detroit) did that in 2002, but there were four 1-7 road teams (Cincinnati, Dallas, St Louis, Chicago). Cleveland is 0-7 this year, while Tampa, Miami, and San Fran are 1-6. The Cardinals have already locked in a 1-7 road record for 2004.
  • Houston, Carolina, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Kansas City, and St Louis are all playing for the opportunity to finish 8-8. Four teams from 2003 entered Week 17 at 7-8 and three of those teams (Tampa, Chicago, San Fran) lost. Only New Orleans was able to pull even to 8-8. In 2002, Buffalo and Baltimore were the only teams to enter the last week of the season with a 7-8 record. Buffalo won, Baltimore did not.
  • The teams at 8-7 who are looking to finish above .500 for 2004: Baltimore, Jacksonville, Minnesota, and Seattle. Last year, Cincinnati was the only team in that position and they lost. In 2002, The Jets, the Pats, Cleveland, Denver, San Diego, and KC all entered Week 17 with a 8-7 record. Only San Diego and KC lost.
  • As mentioned above, the Bengals have a chance today to finish 8-8 for the second straight year. Last season, they finished with a tough home loss to Cleveland 22-14 to end the season with an even record. While 8-8 would be a disappointing 2004, Cincinnati should still be excited today to try to at least finish with a .500 record. Jon Kitna will start, and Palmer will be the backup. Most of the Eagles' secondary will probably be sitting this one out.
  • Houston, also in that situation, will host the Browns today. A win would put them at .500 at home as well.

Okay, enough of that. If there's one thing about Week 17 we learned from 2003 (Minnesota) and 2002 (Miami's OT loss to NE), strange things will happen today to the teams who control their own destiny.

On to the picks:

  • Minnesota -3.5 at Washington - The Vikes, on the road, in grass, in a must win game? Oh, Lord. Michael Irvin just said it best: "Come on, Minnesota?" But with no Portis for the Redskins today, this could be possible. It's hard to believe that Minnesota would lose out on the playoffs two years in a row just because they couldn't beat a non-playoff team on the road in their last game. It's gonna cost me, but I'm buying this line down to 3. That still may not be enough, as this could end up being a 19-18 game with all the weird things going on. Culpepper is said to have had the flu, but will obviously start. Come on, Minnesota -3!

  • Houston -9 versus Cleveland - Not too much insight here. Kelly Holcomb will start today and he's going to face a fierce Houston pass rush. It's not out of the question to assume that the Texans could pitch their second straight shutout today. The Browns have scored a total of 14 points in their last three games. Houston has only scored 30 points twice this season, but they haven't gone over 31 yet. Taking Houston -3 and under 46.

  • Buffalo -9.5 versus Pittsburgh - How can a game feature a 10 point spread and a over/under of 33? Do they not think we'll notice this? 9.5 points is a bit of a trap. The Steelers probably have the deepest team in the league with experienced backups at all key positions. They also have zero quit in them. I mean, come on, they haven't lost since Week 2. But this is a huge game for Buffalo, and their defense has been the hottest fantasy pick up down the stretch. That's because they got to face St Louis, Seattle, Miami, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and San Francisco in their last 6 games. Today, they will be tested. I think the Bills can still win, and with this being a 1:00 pm game, I don't have to worry the balloon being popped (ie stay away from Denver until you know the scores of the 1pm games). Bills -2.5 and over 26 in a seven point tease. Over 26!!

  • 10 point tease of the week - Baltimore -1, Carolina +3, and Houston even. Ray Lewis is out, and Miami has been better lately but taking the Ravens to win in a home finale seems safe.

UPDATE: In honor of the Vikings, I'm adding Kansas City -6 as the line has moved 2 points today. Brees, Gates, LT, McCardell, and Dwight are all inactive. And in honor of the Bills, give me a 7 point tease of KC +1 and Denver -3.

UPDATE UPDATE: Shoot the Moon!!!! Give me my money.

UPDATE THE UPDATE UPDATE: After falling to 11-21 in Bowl Picks, and just 2-3 in best bets, the Beach is officially under a Rip Tide Advisory. We went for it all trying to get above .500 and ended up losing an arm to a hungry shark. Meanwhile, pro picks from week 17 went 0-6. I'm still just two weeks of hockey games away from pulling it all even, but until those two weeks come, no swimming allowed.

Final Beach 2004 record: 11-21 in college Bowls (2-3 best bets), regular season college football 23-15, regular season pro football 44-37. 78-73 overall, but 67-52 minus the bowl game experiment.


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