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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Why you should leave Tiger Woods alone

I was checking out at my local supermarket when I was swarmed by a massive wave of juicy tabloids covering Tigergate. From "EXCLUSIVE! SHOCKING NEW TIGER SEX TEXTS!" to a detailed breakdown of which bathroom drapes Elin would receive based on their pre-nup, I couldn't help but wonder what if this was my dirty laundry being aired for all of America to judge?

I get that Octomom, Bennifer, Brangelina, and the Gosselins sell. I understand that celebrity infidelity is a vicarious escape for us. I get it. But sometimes, just sometimes, we need to draw a line and ask ourselves "maybe this is none of my damn business?"

The world of American pop culture paparrazi and professional golf are an odd and grotesque couple. Even the diehard sports fan's escape, ESPN, has lowered itself to TMZ worthy coverage of Tigergate. I counted four times within one hour in which they played a 911 recording of a frantic Elin Woods pleading with dispatchers to help her mother who was suffering from severe stomach pains. Not only was this tape completely irrelevant, it captured the voice of a Elin Woods in a vulnerable and painstakingly personal moment. Where's the entertainment value in that?

No one wants the nation to hear a 911 tape of our spouse calling dispatchers describing how grandpa took one too many viagras. These embarrassing incidents are going to happen in life to everyone and when they do, we expect the peanut gallery to have the decency to let us deal with it privately. Why should Tiger Woods be an exception here?

Sometimes in marriages, spouses cheat on each other. It's despicable behavior, but it happens. I've read that some fans believe they have the right to hear about Woods' affair because their kids look up to him as a role model. This argument is rubbish because if the infidelity was happening in your own family, wouldn't you do everything to protect your children from hearing about it on the playground? You would want them to hear a filtered version that protected both their purity (earmuffs!) and your personal right to tell them what happened on your own terms. Anybody, let alone a stranger, who tried to cross that line would just begging for a five-iron in the groin, right?

Our nation's obsession with voyeurism and celebrity has created a false sense of entitlement that nothing in the life of the rich and famous is off-limits.
I've been guilty of this myself, poking fun at Woods' choice in alleged mistresses with my buddies and indulging myself in ridiculous conspiracy videos. But as I watch my sacred world of sports disintegrate into a rerun of "Gossip Girl" I've come to realize this exact behavior is only adding fuel to the raging tabloid fire. The media ultimately only reports news that we show interest in and our fascination with Tigergate is the real reason it's everywhere.

So do yourself a favor and leave Tiger alone. Don't make us bust out the video of the time you overdosed on eggnog at holiday work party and regurgitated all over the receptionist. I know 300 million Americans that would love to see it.

The Wild, Wildcard Contenders

By week fifteen, we've separated early season pretenders (Giants, Broncos) from the contenders (Vikings, Colts, Saints). With the exception of the AFC and NFC East, six of the league's eight divisions are virtually locked up. There's still plenty left to play for in the final three weeks of the NFL regular season with multiple second tier teams scrambling to snag one of the coveted wildcard spots.

Recent history suggests wildcard teams are legit Superbowl contenders, we've had four (97 Broncos, 00 Ravens, 05 Steelers, 07 Giants) hoist the trophy in the last twelve years. Let's take a look at this year's likely wildcard teams and weigh their chances to be the latest unlikely wildcard champion.

Baltimore Ravens (7-6, 2-4 road)
Red flag: The road record is an obvious deterrent because the path to Superbowl 44 is obviously not going to go through Baltimore. After an impressive early road victory at San Diego, the Ravens lone road win came in week ten at the lowly Browns. Quarterback Joe Flacco has regressed after a promising start and the defense is no longer the disruptive force it once was.

There's hope because: Still, the Ravens had the misfortune of playing at Indy, Green Bay, Minnesota, New England, AND San Diego all in the same season and lost every game by less than a touchdown, often in heartbreaking fashion. A two-point loss at Indy and a miracle fourth quarter comeback by Minnesota proved the Ravens are capable of winning on the road against the top contenders in both conferences. Don't forget the league's leader in yards from scrimmage, Ray Rice. Rice is a force the Ravens can ride throughout the playoffs it Flacco can return to his mistake-free self from the beginning of the season.

Bottom line: The defense may not be what it once was but it's still among the top five in the NFL. If Ray Lewis and company can force turnovers and win the field position battle this is still a dangerous team.

Denver Broncos (8-5, 4-3 road)
Red Flag: OK, so I already tabbed them as "pretenders" earlier. Here's why: in the second half of the season, Josh McDaniels' squad has been crushed at Indy, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. Don't forget the 34-3 home shellacking by the San Diego Chargers either. With the exception of Pittsburgh, these are the exact same teams the Broncos will have to face to make it to the Superbowl. While they've shown signs of snapping out of their second half funk, it's quite the stretch to believe they can put together a miraculous string of road victories over the powerhouses of the AFC.

There's hope because: The 00 Ravens, 05 Steelers, 07 Giants were all built around their suffocating defenses, right? While the Broncos D has fallen off it's league leading first half pace they can still overwhelm teams with both young (DE Elvis Dumerveil) and veteran (DBs Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins) defensive talent. They'll need too ride their talented tandem backfield (RBs Knowshown Moreno and Correll Buckhalter) and hope that Orton can move the chains on 3rd down to Brandon Marshall.

Bottom line: This was supposed to be, hands down, the worst team in the NFL this season. They've overachieved magnificently but beyond one wildcard weekend win, their end will run.

Green Bay Packers: 9-4 (4-2 Road)
Red Flag: Every NFL historian knows that Lambeau offers the most unique home field advantage in the league. While the Packers will likely host wild card weekend, the road from there is treacherous. Cheeseheads will likely have to follow their team through (in no particular order) the Metrodome in Minneapolis and the Superdome in New Orleans, not exactly the ideal climate for the Packers to demoralize their opponents with their cold weather immunity. Division rival Minnesota's young wideouts exposed the Pack's defensive backs in both lopsided meetings this season,

There's hope because: The Packers are peaking at the perfect time, winners of five straight including victories over the Bengals, Cowboys, and Ravens. After a porous start, the offensive line has finally begun to gel and protect their unquestioned offensive MVP, QB Aaron Rodgers. CB Charles Woodson is a frontrunner for defensive player of the year and they're going to need him to back it up against the likes of Favre and Brees in the postseason.

Bottom line: This is a team that has matured and come together nicely. The problem remains that everything they do, the Saints and Vikings do better. They've looked vastly inferior in both meetings versus the Vikes this year so they better hope they can avoid a third meeting.

Dallas Cowboys: 8-5 (3-3 Road)
Red Flag: I don't buy the December Dallas curse theory and I don't think the Cowboys do either. This is a difficult team to figure out because they are stacked with talent on both sides of the ball. The problem is they never seem to show up on the same day. The pass defense (21st in the league) needs to improve and the neck injury of DE Demarcus Ware could prove to be catastrophic. This team needs to work on its consistency and that falls squarely on the shoulders of head coach Wade Phillips. If the boys in blue go one and out in the postseason, expect Jerry Jones to send Phillips fishing this offseason.

There's hope because: As I write this, the Cowboys are dismantling the undefeated Saints in the Superdome. No one should be surprised. The Cowboys have championship talent at every skill position and this is the kind of win that can work as the perfect springboard to boost their confidence going into the playoffs. The postseason is all about momentum, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Eagles falter and the Cowboys take the NFC East, furthering their chances as a potential darkhorse.

Bottom line: Tony Romo will have yet another opportunity to silence his critics. It'll take a balanced team effort to trade punches with the heavyweights in the NFC and they'll have to do it on the road. Not a likely scenario, but I wouldn't be shocked if they manage to take out New Orleans again.

In Pursuit of Perfection

In the game of handicapping, perfection is dangerous because it simply doesn't exist.

Perfection only exists in the mind of a casual bettor who hits a miracle parlay during his buddy's bachelor party romp in Vegas. A fleeting moment of perfection creates a lifetime of unrealistic expectations. Before he knows it, Joe Bachelor is slumped over at an off-strip casino buffet filling out his final desperate "get even" parlay card.

As we approach the final three weeks of the NFL regular season, two teams, the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints, still remain in pursuit of perfection. If you don't want to join Joe Bachelor in the cheap seafood line, Be careful not to ride them to the bitter end without doing your homework first.

Let's take a look at their body of work so far:

Indianapolis Colts (14-0, 9-4-1 ATS)
Games Remaining: home vs NY Jets (7-6 ATS, 4-3 ROAD ATS), away vs Buffalo Bills (7-6 ATS, 2-5 HOME ATS)

Both are favorable matchups. I expect the Jets to open up as 5-5.5 pt dogs and wouldn't be surprised if the public jumps on the Jets and moves the line solely because of the "they need the win more" theory. This is a commonly subscribed theory among sports bettors, that belief that the team desperate to save their season will circle the wagons and show up with the motivation to slay a significantly better team. If you see this mid-week movement, don't be afraid to jump on the Colts at the 3.5-4 pt range.

Here's a potential negative: Manning's Colts have flirted with perfection before and disappointed Indy Backers by sitting their starters in seemingly meaningless losses. This shouldn't be too alarming because this is an Indy team that still has a lot to prove. Despite the fact that he's an heir to Tony Dungy's conservative philosophies, rookie coach Jim Caldwell showed no sign of taking his pedal off the gas in a teeter toter 35-31 victory Week 15 win in Jacksonville. Caldwell has the opportunity to go undefeated in his first season, and if the Colts go to Buffalo in week 17 still unblemished, expect Caldwell to play to the whistle in order to achieve perfection.

New Orleans Saints (13-0, 8-5 ATS)
Games remaining: home vs Dallas (6-7 ATS, 2-4 ROAD ATS), home vs Tampa Bay (4-9 ATS, 3-3 ROAD ATS), away vs Carolina (6-7 ATS, 2-4 HOME ATS)

Unlike the Colts, the Saints still have something to play for: home field advantage throughout the playoffs. While it's unlikely they'll relinquish the top seed in the NFC to the Vikings, it's one of many incentives New Orleans has to keep winning.

The problem is the Saints haven't been covering lately (0-2 ATS last two weeks, 2-5 in the last seven). They face inflated spreads every week because of their prolific scoring offense (an NFL best 35.8ppg), but the fact of the matter is that they've been playing down to the level of their competition in recent weeks (close comeback win at Atlanta, miracle comeback at Washington).

This isn't an indictment on the Saints chances to win the Superbowl, their gritty resolve in the face of adversity is exactly what head coach Sean Payton wants to see out of his team heading into the playoffs. But too blindly tail the Saints against the spread is a risky play, especially considering their remaining schedule against a wounded (but dangerous) Cowboys squad and the road finale against a Carolina team that gave New Orleans their first true test during their week nine matchup.

The surviving members of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins reconvene to pop a bottle of champagne after the last remaining undefeated NFL teams falls every season. This year the bubbly might have to wait: it's certainly plausible that both New Orleans and Indianapolis may pull it off. Just remember, for us bettors there are never any bottles of Dom Peringon waiting for us. Tread carefully when following these hot teams and do your homework on each matchup. Our battle is against the spread and our war is versus the oddsmakers, leave the assault on history to the warriors on the gridiron.

Monday, December 7, 2009

2009 Sports Highlights

2009 Sports Highlights

Years ago, when I worked in sales, I had a comic taped to my refrigerator. It stayed there for years. I can't recall the drawing, but the quote was the memorable part. It read, "I've known anger, rejection, and pain. I've been in retail." At the time, it rang true. Working on strictly commission, one day I was flying high and the next was a complete train-wreck. I must have hit the corner bar after work more often during those years than any other.

Now that I'm a couple of decades older, I realize that being in sales really isn't any different than being a sports fanatic. Anger, rejection, and pain aren't the half of it. Try anger, rejection, pain, bewilderment, betrayal, and outright depression. On the other end of the pendulum, I've been elated, enthused, hopeful, and at times--complete euphoria. No wonder we always want our spouses to be even tempered and mentally stable...because we certainly are not.

This year I can honestly say that although the championships went according to historic protocol with expected and unsurprising wins from the Lakers, Steelers and Yankees, other issues did not fail to provide excitement and astonishment.

Let's have a look at 2009's interesting highlights.

Sex, Drugs, and ...well, maybe not rock and roll....but there certainly was an ample amount of sex and drugs.

  • Michael Phelps memorable marijuana pipe scandal. Amazingly, he lost major endorsements over taking a few hits, although Michael Vick, an ex-convict who was proven responsible for extreme animal abuse seems to be just the guy to represent Nike. Oh wait, that's right, Nike did supply a written statement promising us that Vick doesn't have an actual "endorsement," they just supply him with product. I get it now. That's very different.

Endorsement (en dorse ment) 1. The public act of supporting or representing a product.

  • On February 9, 2009 the A-Rod, Alex Rodriguez admitted to using steroids and other enhancement drugs during the 2001-2003 MLB seasons. Lucky for him the no-steroid policy didn't come into play until the 2004 season, so Rodriguez is exempt from any type of punishment from the league.
  • And last, but certainly not least, we have the memorable autobiography in which Andre Agassi admitted to crystal meth use during his tennis career.
  • On the sex scandal scene, we've got Tiger Woods allegations over not one, but several "transgressions" against his blonde bombshell of a wife. Now of course, I personally am not accusing anyone of anything. I couldn't afford the lawsuit. But true or unfounded, soccer superstar David Beckham and ESPN analyst Steve Phillips also found themselves in hot water over the subject of infidelity this year.

Who Got the Axe in 2009?

  • Well, some things we just saw coming from a mile away and the axe that landed on Notre Dame coach, Charlie Weis' career was one of them. Weis finished up his career at his alma mater with a 35-27 record at a university that had much higher expectations out of their program. Sorry Charlie.
  • Bobby Bowden, a different story altogether. Some are saying he retired, although the press release that announced Bowden's fate clearly included news of the "firing," by FSU president, TK Wetherell. Directly after he got the axe, two 21 year old spokesmen (quarterback, Chris Ponder and linebacker Dekoda Watson) were thrown to the media wolves to explain. How's that for courage? Nice job, Wetherell.
  • On a much more somber note, legendary Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster, Harry Kalas certainly didn't get the axe, but he did receive the sacred call from on high in 2009. On a cool April morning, Kalas, 73, took the elevator to the Phillie's broadcast booth, just as he had done for decades. The Phillies played and beat the Nationals that day, but it hardly mattered...the voice of Philadelphia baseball had moved on to a better place. He will be missed.

YouTube Videos

Yep, we are in the age of technology and as a result, the best sports moments of 2009 were captured on video. Here they are:

Actual Sports

You may be wondering if I'm going to include any actual sports news or sports predictions in this rundown of memorable moments. The answer is yes. The few, the proud...the memorable sports moments of 2009.

  • I'm a die-hard Colts fan. I realize full well that everyone is not. But one cannot deny that although it was not a championship game, nor was it a game that really mattered one way or another, the Colts vs. Patriots game of November 16, 2009 was one of the most surprising victories of the year. The most satisfying part, as far as I am concerned, is the fact that against my better judgment, I continued to watch it to the end. Okay, okay...I may be bragging here, but for an actual Colts fan, the temptation to turn off the television and hit the pillow with a wave of disappointment was huge. But there is something about Peyton that can cause you to believe in the unexpected. When he came through, it was epic....it was exhilarating and extremely satisfying. I hit the pillow that night with the mantra, "yes!" repeating from my lips
  • If you're a NASCAR and a Jimmie Johnson fan then this was another prideful year for you. History was made when the most dominant driver of the decade won a record 4th consecutive championship at the Homestead speedway this year. The kicker...he's young enough and good enough to pass up his predecessors (Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, and Jeff Gordon). It's a nail-biter, isn't it?

So this is the recap of 2009. You may have something to add, and if you do...please comment my blog and we will even give you sports picks style credit for the addition. For me though... this is enough anger, rejection, pain and excitement...until next year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Michael Vick Returns to Atlanta

Todays match-up between the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles pits the former face of the Falcons Michael Vick off as he faces them as a different bird; an eagle.

Vick came out with mixed reactions as parts of the crowd booed and others cheered as was much expected since he has received similar fan-fare in Philadelphia this year. His first play he ran for 4 yards and than left the field....Than in the third quarter Vick rushes for his first touchdown in years.
What are your thoughts on Vicks return to the dirty south?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

How to Lose Your Bankroll in Seven Days

The following is some sports betting advice on do's and don'ts:

Parlaying is a lot like communism. It’s a great concept that works in a perfect world. There’s only one problem: the world ain’t perfect. Sports bettors who swim in the parlay tank are flawed creatures. Their demise is inevitable because they swing for the fences instead of working small edges and carefully managing their bankrolls. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way. Just ask my bank account.

The fun is definitely over.

Rewind to week three of the NFL season. After a profitable college football Saturday, I made the ingenious decision to let it ride on a juicy three-team NFL parlay. With two already in the bag, I needed the Steelers to cover a measly three points versus the Bengals (I will henceforward refer to them as the Bungles). Ben Roethlisberger was dissecting the Bungles secondary at will; capping off a seven minute drive with a one-yard superman touchdown dive. Pittsburgh cruised into the fourth quarter holding an eleven point advantage. All was well in parlayland.

Then it happened. Roethilsberger threw a pick-six. Cedric “I’m on a boat” Benson rumbled 23 yards to cut the lead to five. After another Pitt three and out, Carson Palmer woke up from his Steeler induced coma and marched the Bungles down to the Pittsburgh twenty-yard line. After a fourth and two completion to Laveranues Coles to the fifteen I got a sinking feeling of defeat in my stomach. I knew it was over.

There’s a funny thing about parlays. No matter how bleak the outlook, they always throw you a bone on your last leg. Palmer spiked the ball on first down instead of calling a timeout. A rabid James Harrison forced Palmer to throw two quick incompletions to Ocho Cinco and Chris Henry. Fourth and ten with thirty-six ticks remaining. The Bungles called their last timeout and I was pacing hopelessly around my living room. The momentum for Cinci was a runaway freight train and I was powerless to stop it. My heart sank after third-string back Brian Leonard caught a short pass and rumbled through three Pittsburgh defenders for a first down. The next play Palmer fired a game winning four-yard touchdown strike to Andre Caldwell. The Bungles were back.

Yep, I was Bungalised

What followed violated every handicapping rule in the book. I took the only game left on the board, the Sunday night Colts-Cardinals game and parlayed it big. Whiff. Monday night I parlayed the Cowboys-Panthers game for half my bankroll. Whiff. I took the rest and placed three monster parlays for week four. At this point there was no research, no leans, there was only action. It was pure tilt, chasing losses with no regard for my remaining bankroll.

The King of Tilt. I feel you, Mikey. I really do.

After another 0-3 plate appearance I was done. Seven days of tilt erased six months of responsible systemized wagering. Just like that it was over.

“Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely.” Lord Acton didn’t have English Premier League parlays in mind when he coined his quote, but his words cannot ring truer. Parlays corrupt, absolute parlays corrupt, absolutely. They corrupted my discipline, my objective mind, and ultimately my bankroll.

Before you dive headfirst into the parlay tank with the oddsmaker and bookie sharks remember you have a much larger edge betting straight over the long run. I’ve heard the argument parlays eliminate the ten percent juice the house takes on straight wagers. But if you can’t beat the juice straight up you’ll never turn a profit parlaying. If you don’t believe me, they are always hiring at Wendy’s. I’m hoping to get promoted to shift manager by the end of the month.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Burying Peyton's Hatchet

I did what many redblooded Americans did during the fourth quarter of the Colts-Patriots game. It was 31-17 Pats with twelve minutes left. Brady had the ball back and the offense marching again.

I turned the TV off.

I pride myself in being a knowledgable sports fan. I know when a game is over.
I woke up the next morning and skimmed a headline proclaiming last night's game as "one for the ages." I didn't need to click the link. I already knew what happened.

Peyton Manning happened.

I felt instant shame, a shame only diehard sports junkies can feel when they know they have stooped to the level of the casual watercooler fan. It's inexcusable to ignore one simple rule during any game involving number 18: never quit.

The craziest thing about Manning's latest masterpiece was that I was happy for him. Every fan has a nemesis player they maliciously root against their entire careers. For 12 years, Manning was mine.

Rewind to 1997. My girlfriend made the mistake of saying "Peyton Manning is kinda cute." I'll never forget those words. Our relationship was already on the fritz, but after hearing the words "Manning" and "cute" in the same sentence from her mouth I knew it could never work out. I had no choice but to end it at halftime.

My long standing feud with the Manning clan dates back to '97. Peyton, the heavy preseason Heisman favorite, smugly shook his head in disappointment after all-universe Michigan DB Charles Woodson took home the trophy. He waited five minutes before he could even offer a congratulatory handshake. Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer exacted his revenge by notorious placing the undefeated Wolverines 22nd in the final coaches poll.

Fulmer's bitter slight cost my Wolverines first outright national championship in fifty years. Five months later, Manning was selected first overall, three spots before Woodson in the 1998 NFL draft. It was offical. I was the anti-Manning.

I cheered as Manning set the NFL rookie interception record (nevermind he set the TD record too). I reveled as ex-Wolverine Ty Law picked off Manning three times to send the Superbowl favorites packing in 2003. I felt an amazing schadenfreude when the Colts stumbled at the hands of the Patriots again in 2004.

Then something funny happened. Something that rarely happens in the undefined relationship between the obsessive fans and their wealthy nemesises who have no idea their tormenters even exist.

I started to like Peyton.

He refused to point fingers in the face of harsh criticism that he couldn't win big games. He was a perennial pro-bowler and consumate professional on and off the field. While ex-Wolverine Tom Brady was gracing the cover of GQ and knocking up Hollywood actresses, Manning stuck to Sports Illustrated and self-deprecating Sportscenter commercials.

I began to realize that Manning loved football. He was a fan, a historian, and a PHD student of the game. He also inarguably happened to be one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.

There was the 21-point fourth quarter comeback over the Bucs with four minutes remaining. Four minutes! There was the 21-3 first half deficit he erased to finally topple Belicheck's Patriots in 2006 AFC championship game. Don't forget his 2009 monday night magic when Manning surgically dissected the Dolphins seconday despite the biggest time of possession disparity for a winning team in the history of the NFL. The Colts offense held the ball for less than fifteen minutes. Manning brought his team back from behind four times, including a late fourth quarter drive to seal the 27-23 victory.

Which brings us back to last Monday. I was disappointed I missed a page in the first ballot hall of famers career. I realized I had become a Peyton Manning fan.

This doesn't mean I'm going to go buy a warehouse of #18 jerseys. I still refuse to redact my futile ban of SEC football. But there's a unique form of respect I have for an athlete who turned one of his most venomous haters into a humbled supporter. It's a respect Manning earned without ever uttering a single word.

Please, just don't call him cute.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In case you don't Have the NFL network: 49ers vs Bears

Desperate 49ers, Bears, tangle in Bay Area to kick off Week 10

From Cooper's Sports Picks you can watch the action live on our sports network gamecast under the scoreboard section.

(Sports Network) - The team that wins Thursday's primetime battle between the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears at Candlestick Park will have the opportunity to kick off its weekend in a positive fashion. The loser, on the other hand, will have an extra few days to wallow in its misery before taking the field again in Week 11.

Both the 49ers and Bears are badly in need of a victory on Thursday in order to wash away the residue of poor stretches of football.

San Francisco has dropped four straight games since getting off to a promising 3-1 start, and last Sunday suffered the indignity of a 34-27 home setback to the one-win Tennessee Titans.

Four turnovers helped sink the 49ers, including an Alex Smith interception that was returned for a game-sealing touchdown by Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan late in the fourth quarter. Three of Tennessee's five scoring drives went for fewer than 40 yards.

With the loss, Smith dropped to 0-2 since taking over the starting reins from the demoted Shaun Hill. Smith, the former No. 1 overall pick out of Utah, is completing a solid 63.6 percent of his passes and has six touchdowns versus five interceptions for a credible 83.3 passer rating, but has not translated his modest personal success into a team win.

Smith last won a game in which he was the starter on Sept. 16, 2007, a 17-16 victory at the St. Louis Rams.

If he ends that streak on Thursday, Smith will also have provided a special victory for his head coach, Mike Singletary, who was a Hall of Fame linebacker with the Bears from 1981 to 1992 and will be facing his former employer for the first time as a head man.

The Tennessee loss dropped San Francisco (3-5) dropped two full games back of the Cardinals (5-3) in the NFC West as Week 10 begins.

Things are nearly as dire in Chicago, where the Bears' listless 41-21 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday was the team's third in its last four games following a 3-1 start, and dropped the team to 4-4.

Arizona scored on its first six possessions of the game, including touchdowns on its first four, and had already amassed 21 first-downs and 320 total yards by the time the first 30 minutes had ended with the Cardinals ahead, 31-7.

The Chicago defense had major trouble against Kurt Warner, who was a sizzling 17-of-22 for 189 yards and four touchdowns in the first half, as well as wideout Larry Fitzgerald, who burned them for seven catches, 88 yards, and two touchdowns over the first two quarters.

Meanwhile, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler couldn't keep up, with his erratic play serving as a continuation of the way he'd looked leading the offense in previous games against the Bengals (a 45-10 loss) and Browns (a 30-6 win). After leading a touchdown drive on the Bears' first possession, Chicago came up empty on its next six marches of the day.

By the time Cutler gave Chicago fans something to cheer about when he threw back-to-back fourth-quarter touchdowns to tight end Greg Olsen, the Bears were in too big a hole to recover.

The Bears enter Week 10 tied for second-place in the NFC North along with similarly-struggling Green Bay, and are three full games behind second-place Minnesota (7-1).


Chicago leads the all-time regular season series with the 49ers, 29-27-1, and has won three straight over San Francisco including a 41-10 rout when the teams last met, at Soldier Field in 2006. The Niners' last victory in the series also marks the last game played between the two in the Bay Area, a 49-7 result in 2003.

The 49ers have won all three postseason matchups between the clubs, defeating the Bears for the NFC Championship in both 1984 and 1988, and prevailing in a 1994 NFC Divisional Playoff. Of those contests, the 1988 matchup was the only one played in Chicago.

Including playoffs, the Bears are 0-6 in San Francisco since last winning there in the 1985 regular season. The home team has won 10 consecutive regular season installments of the series since Chicago's '85 win, though as mentioned, the Niners won a playoff game at Soldier Field in 1988.

Bears head coach Lovie Smith is 3-0 all-time against San Francisco. The 49ers' Mike Singletary, who as mentioned was a Hall of Fame linebacker for Chicago from 1981 to 1992, will be meeting his former employer for the first time as a head coach.


Though his numbers in his first year in Chicago have been passable, Cutler (2046 passing yards, 14 TD, 12 INT) has had an up-and-down 2009 season to date. The signal-caller leads an attack that is a disappointing 18th in NFL total offense (332.4), and has gone through occasional bouts of inaccuracy and poor decision-making. That said, Cutler's chemistry with a once-suspect receiving corps, including wideouts Devin Hester (41 receptions, 3 TD), Earl Bennett (32 receptions), and Johnny Knox (28 receptions, 3 TD) along with tight end Greg Olsen (27 receptions, 6 TD), seems to be developing. Hester has recorded 80-plus receiving yards in each of his last four games, Bennett posted a season-high 93 receiving yards last week, and Olsen caught all three Cutler touchdown passes in last week's loss to the Cardinals. The Chicago running game, meanwhile, has been miserable, with Matt Forte' (441 rushing yards, 3 TD, 30 receptions) getting little going behind a shaky offensive line. Forte' had a career-low five carries last week totaling 33 yards, as Chicago played from behind for most of the day. The Bears are just 28th in NFL rushing offense (90.5 yards per game), and have allowed 19 sacks on the year to date.

One week after playing bend-but-don't-break defense in a narrow loss at the Indianapolis Colts, the 49ers broke once too often in their loss to Tennessee. The root of the team's problem was an inability to stop running back Chris Johnson, who rambled for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in the contest. A run-stopping group that dropped to fourth in the NFL (93.2 yards per game) but is No. 1 in yards allowed per carry (3.4), will count heavily on sure-tackling inside linebacker Patrick Willis (77 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 INT) and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (21 tackles, 2 sacks), to help stop Forte'. Willis led the Niners with 10 tackles against Tennessee, while Franklin posted five stops to pace the team's linemen. San Francisco ranks just 24th in the league against the pass (241 yards per game) as Week 10 begins, and is still without top cornerback Nate Clements, who will likely miss another month with a broken arm. Corners Shawntae Spencer (27 tackles, 1 INT) and Tarell Brown (9 tackles) will likely have primarily responsibility against Hester and Bennett. An inconsistent 49ers pass rush has just 17 sacks on the year, including but one of Tennessee's Vince Young last Sunday. That sack went to outside linebacker Manny Lawson (38 tackles, 2.5 sacks), who will have to be active in pursuing Cutler this week.


The 49ers come off a week in which they amassed a season-high 250 passing yards, also putting up their most total yards (358) since Week 2, but the club's season-high four turnovers helped cancel out that progress. Smith (690 passing yards), who will get his third straight crack at a win, showed his best chemistry with tight end Vernon Davis (42 receptions, 7 TD) and wide receiver Jason Hill (4 receptions, 2 TD). Davis, who continued an eye-opening third season as a pro, hauled in 10 balls for 102 yards in a losing effort, while Hill caught both touchdown passes from Smith. Rookie first-rounder Michael Crabtree (14 receptions) had his quietest day in three outings as a pro, managing just three catches for 30 yards in his home debut. Running back Frank Gore (447 rushing yards, 22 receptions, 6 TD) added value with 158 yards on 22 total touches, but failed to post his first 100-yard rushing effort since Week 2. Entering Thursday's game, the Niners are 22nd in the league in passing offense (184.2 yards per game), 21st in rushing (101.4 yards per game), and have allowed 26 sacks, tied for the fourth-most in the NFL.

Following their horrendous performance in last week's loss, the Bears are seeking a number of answers on the defensive side of the ball. One figures to be answered in the person of defensive tackle Tommie Harris (9 tackles, 1 INT), who was ejected a little more than a minute into last week's game for throwing a punch at Cardinals offensive lineman Deuce Lutui. Harris is the lynch pin of a stop unit that ranks just 21st in the league against the run (119.5 yards per game), and without him in the lineup the Bears surrendered a bloated 182 ground yards to Arizona last week. Linebackers Hunter Hillenmeyer (30 tackles) and Lance Briggs (59 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) combined for 19 tackles in the game, but have generally struggled to replace the presence of injured Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher. Chicago is 12th in the league against the pass (206.5), but had notable trouble against Warner and the Arizona passing game last week. Cornerbacks Charles Tillman (37 tackles, 2 INT) and Zackary Bowman (33 tackles, 2 INT) will have to bounce back against San Francisco's fleet of wideouts, with safeties Danieal Manning (61 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack) and Kevin Payne (26 tackles) offering more support. Chicago has been an inconsistent pass rushing team, with Alex Brown (28 tackles, 4.5 sacks) notching the only sack of Warner last week. Brown and fellow DE Adewale Ogunleye (20 tackles, 4.5 sacks) are tied for the league lead in sacks, but Ogunleye has failed to record a sack in six of his last seven games.


Cutler has thrown for 225 or more yards in seven of his eight appearances this season, including a season-best 369 last Sunday, but he's a risky fantasy play because he throws as many interceptions as touchdown passes about half the time. If you're on the fence, start him in the knowledge that the 49ers are relatively weak against the pass. Hester and Olsen have also been strong plays of late, but Forte' has not, and you'd be well-advised to bench the running back against a good San Francisco run defense. The Bears defense belongs on waiver wires at this stage.

The Niners don't have many slam-dunk fantasy options apart from the tight end Davis, who is having a monster year, and Gore, who hasn't been putting up a ton of yards but has scored in each of his last two. Smith is not a fantasy starter, and though Crabtree and Jason Hill have had their moments of late, both carry too mush risk at this stage.


Neither of these teams is so far out of the playoff race that they should abandon their ambitions, but one seems better-equipped than the other to make a run. No, it's not the Bears, who are one very high-profile quarterback and not much else at this stage. It's the 49ers, who despite their four-game losing streak have been showing signs of progress in recent weeks and will be desperate to post a primetime win in front of the home fans. Look for San Francisco to move the football on a Bears group that has been very spotty defensively, and for Cutler to make a couple of his customary mistakes on the other side of the ball to help sink the visitors.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ricky's Revenge

Lost in the smoke of the Miami Dolphins last second 31-27 Monday victory over the New York Jets was the game’s statistical hero, some guy people may remember as Ricky Williams. Williams accumulated a game-high 144 yards from scrimmage, averaging six yards per touch. Yet postgame praise focused on platoon mate Ronnie Brown (who was equally impressive) and his mastery of the NFL’s most overused two words: the wildcat. Sideline reporter Andrea Kremer sprinted past Williams to shove a mic in the face of Miami quarterback Chad Henne. There was zero mention of Ricky. I can’t help but get the feeling Ricky is just fine with that.

A self proclaimed vegan and active member of PETA, Williams has quietly become the NFL’s anti-Vick. After a multiyear absence, Ricky has made himself relevant in the one place where Vick has not: the football field. There’s no question he’s back as a football player, but the real dilemma for fans is whether he cares. Has Ricky really changed as a person since his suspension?
“I get defensive,” says Ricky when asked this question by the New York Times in a preseason interview. “I like to think I’m the same person. I just have more clarity.”
The problem for Dolphins fans is that the “same person” abandoned their franchise two days before their 2007 training camp for a dime bag of alfalfa and a bottomless box of cheezits. The fallout was not pretty for the Fins: a franchise worst 1-15 mark. Fans were unwilling to forgive, forever labeling him as the NFL’s posterboy pothead.

“Since I’ve become famous for it, I’m amazed at how many people ask me to smoke,” Williams says. “For me to move on with my career, this has to be behind me. I don’t want to keep being reminded of it on a daily basis.”

We can’t blame Williams for avoiding incessant questions about his past. Still, fans itch to know if he’s only in it for the paycheck because the cardinal sin in sports for fans is an athlete who doesn’t love the game. In the back of our minds we still dream of hoisting the Heisman trophy or shaking the commish’s hand on draft day. Ricky was blessed with the talent to enjoy these moments; so it’s infuriating for a lot of us diehards to accept the fact he chose hot room yoga over the professional gridiron.
“At the core, we’re all spiritual beings,” Williams tells the New York Times. “It’s something that I had been pushing down my whole life. The search for meaning, I guess, the whispering of the soul.”

Not exactly words that strike fear into opposing defenses, right? What fans really want from Williams is to see his passion for winning. They want him to tweet “just finished third cycle of roids. give thirty-four the damn ball!” How about a choreographed fine-inducing endzone dance, Ricky? Please, please at least remove your helmet during locker room interviews?

The reality is Ricky will never be the fire breathing athlete we adore. He is a unique flower, one who is fully aware of his own confusing legacy: “It’s like the open-minded, spiritual person and the football player, they get into a tug of war,” Williams says. “It’s not pretty. It’s ongoing. I have to find a way to reconcile both those parts of myself so that I can have some kind of peace.”

Ricky’s bruising running style shows little evidence he is searching for this inner-peace on the field. In a season which headlines have been dominated by Vick, the never ending Favre hype machine, and endless dissection of 32 variations of the wildcat formation, it’s a godsend to follow a player who still knows how to lower his shoulder and drive his feet into the chinstrap of the defense.

I doubt we’ll ever know if Ricky actually cares about the outcome of the game. All we can do is enjoy him on the field and try our hardest to appreciate this rare breed of athlete off it. One day Williams will likely disappear from the league with little fanfare. No matter how funky the smell, fans will miss the cloud of smoke he leaves behind.
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Monday, September 14, 2009


The pageantry of college football versus the blinding speed and precision of the pros: everyone has their preference; but for sports bettors it''s near impossible to choose one exclusively over the other.

At the end of the day it''s all about building units and bringing home the bread so here''s a quick breakdown why bettors should wager their money on pimple-faced college players over the seasoned ironmen of the NFL.

1. In the NFL, parity is king.

Against the spread, parity conquers all. The prime example of this rule is my woeful Detroit Lions (disclaimer: this blog will be discussing the Detroit Lions far more than they deserve or you wish to hear.) The 2008 Lions set an infamous record for futility by putting up a huge donut for the year yet managed to put up a respectable 7-9 record against the spread. Even the most casual NFL handicappers exercised severe caution when facing inflated double-digit Lion spreads: the kitties lost just under half of their games by one touchdown or less. The 2008 Lions point differential and offensive statistics suggest that despite their pathetic record they are miles away from being the worst team in league history. It''s tough to argue they are even among the bottom ten since the merger.

Et tu, Barry?

Of the 32 teams in the No Fun League, 23 were within two or less games from .500 against the spread for the season. If that''s not a huge red flag for you, all I can do is wish you good luck on your eleven-team parlays this season. You''re going to need it.

For those of you still brave enough to test the waters, the top NFL teams ATS in 2008 were the Titans (12-3-1) and Ravens (12-4). The Saints (10-5-1) and Eagles (10-6) fared well but there''s a significant drop off to mediocrity after these four teams. The worst teams ATS were the Jaguars (4-12) and Broncos (4-11-1). Don''t forget to factor in the high turnover on NFL squads during the current salary cap era has made worst to first division turnarounds possible (unless you''re the Lions).

2. Freedom of information.

The days of smoke and mirror shows locking bettors out from the inside scoop on their favorite teams are over. There is no lack of information nowadays; college powerhouse programs have paparazzi rivaled coverage; NFL teams welcome documentary film crews into their once sacred training camps. There''s one problem with the wealth of access we have to injury reports, depth charts, practice updates: the oddsmakers have more of it. The house has forged relationships with scouts, boosters, even disgruntled league employees (Tim Donaghy, anyone?)
If only this man had swallowed his whistle before the over hit...

Unless you''re Ace Rothstein, your sources end here. The slight edge for us is that it''s difficult for the house to have insider information on all 120 FBS Division I-A teams (not to mention the 200 programs who often stroll into town for off-season slaughter). It''s easier to cap your alma mater versus directional university state when you are familiar with obscure local conferences. Compare this to an interdivisional battle in the NFL: there''s no angle the house won''t have covered.

3. Scheduling

A 42-yard field goal in the NFL? Chalk up three points. But can anyone rely on Florida International''s freshmen kicker four months removed from prom to boot it through the uprights with the game on the line?

What about the fan-friendly overtime rules in college? A hard earned under can transform into an undeserving over in two quick possessions.

This is another example of the increased volatility in college football. There is an gargantuan talent disparity between high profile programs such as Oklahoma and USC compared to a Temple or Montana St. When you have 5-star studs going up against junior college walkons; you''re gonna find 50-point spreads.
Lock of the day: manboobs on the moneyline.

Volatility for us wannabe handicappers is good; across the board parity is not. We know we can''t rely on the unknown teenage kicker so we either fade or avoid him. 50-point spreads can be intimidating but if you know the Western Lutheran Community College is only coming into town for a quick paycheck and their starting QB didn''t even make his varsity high school team you can lay the points with real confidence.

I don''t know if there''s anything better in this world than 12 hours of exercise-free HD, pizza, and Keystone light on a Sunday afternoon. I just don''t think it''s worth losing your couch over. Build your units on Saturday and coast for stress free Sundays. Unless you''re rooting for the Lions.
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