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Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I know I said that I would be talking about how much I hate NOW, and I will get around to it eventually, but the thing is, I have a routine when I get to work in the morning. First, I slam two sugar-free RedBulls, since otherwise, I immediately fall asleep. Then, I check ESPN, DeadSpin, YaySports!, and So by the time it gets to be, oh, 5:45 AM, all I'm really concerned with is how much I hate Skip Bayless.

This Column is emblematic of why, specifically the following comments on the upcoming Denver vs. New England game:
Yes, New England will win next Saturday in Denver. I know that because of the heavily promoted ABC sitcom, "Jake in Progress." Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer can still be a painfully funny work in progress.

Of course, you can counter with another hot new ABC show, "Emily's Reasons Why Not." You can argue that the Patriots lost in Week 6 at Denver, 28-20, and that they weren't all that convincing at home Saturday night in finally putting away Jacksonville. But you'll be wrong.


But I thought Jacksonville was the most underrated and under-the-radar 12-4 team I can ever remember. Del Rio's defense roughed up Tom Brady's offense in ways no team has in January. Brady was sacked four times. The Patriots fumbled four times -- but were fortunate enough to recover them all.

The Jaguars are the most "underrated" 12-4 team ever? They beat a total of three playoff teams: Seattle, Cincy and Pittsburgh (in weeks 1, 5 and 6, respectively). They lost three times to playoff teams (Twice to Indy, once to Denver). They struggled to beat anyone else. Seriously. The only really convincing win they had the entire season was 30-3 against Baltimore, and that was when beating the Ravens was the cool thing to do (2-6 coming into the game). They haven't been particularly dominating at any point this year, and have eked out wins against such savants as Houston, San Fransisco, Arizona and the Jets. Not exactly the four horsemen, unless those horsemen happen to be riding My Little Ponies.

Add to that, during their Wild Card Weekend appearence, in what amounts to surrender, the Jaguars decided to play a rusty, gimpy quarterback, who is rushing back from an injury after not playing in the previous six games. On the road. During the playoffs. Good call, Jaguars! Way to keep up that fighting spirit! At least they have a solid runnin...what? No running game, either? Gee. I wonder how the Pats managed to pull that one out.

I'm honestly not sure why people are picking the Patriots over Denver like it's going out of style. I want to look at each of the major reasons being put forth:

The Patriots have begun holding opponants' rushing games down. This is largely credited to Belichek switching linebackers around, and Vince Wilfork's improved play. Some of the powerhouses who New England has managed to hold to under 100 yards include Cedrick Houston, Shaud Williams, and Curtis Martin. If this was Tecmo Bowl from 1995, that last one would be notable. As it stands, it is not, since Curtis Martin is literally six billion years old. The last team they faced with a good back was Kansas City, who promptly ran over them for 119 yards (if you count screens as "runs" instead of "passes," then it was actually about 180 yards.) The Chiefs also put up over 300 yards passing against a New England secondary that, at some point this season, included a cardboard cutout of Champ Bailey. Most of the passing game was set up by New England having to move up its safeties for run support, which they will definitely have to do against the Broncos. Oh, and KC was blowing them out, 26-3 before a late rally by New England.

Last time the Broncos and Patriots played, the Pats tried to make Denver "one-dimensional" by taking away their running game and keying in on the backs. The result was Plummer going 17-24, with a passer rating above 130. The big killer during that game was deep balls to Smith and Lelie. If the Patriots decide to focus on the run, I'm not sure how they plan on preventing that from happening again. And it's not actually clear that they can stop the run, anyway - the zone blocking the Broncos do tends to basically guarantee a bunch of 4 and 5 yard gains. The Pats can stop BIG runs, but it's silly to think they can completely shut it down. If nothing else, Denver can bounce it outside and do screens to Bell, who's simply too fast to be shut down completely by the OLBs.

Jake Plummer sucks. Skip Bayless contends that Jake Plummer can be "a painfully funny work in progress." What the hell does this even mean? Taking away tipped passes, he has like 5 interceptions on the season. Even with his 7, guess how many other quarterbacks who played the entire season have 7 or fewer interceptions? If you guessed "Zero", you are correct. That said, even if interceptions are, for the sake of argument, Plummer's big weakness - the Patriots' entire secondary only has ten. On the year. This puts them in the illustrious company of Green Bay and New Orelans. The Pats have one corner (Samuels) who has any business starting an NFL game - and while he's done a remarkable job shutting down the second-tier recievers of this world, Rod Smith is not another Kennison.

There's also the obvious fact that, after smiting Brees and Palmer, God wants Plummer in the Pro Bowl. So don't mess with the beard this year.

Tom Brady is 10-0 in postseason play. This is nuts. Coaches and Quarterbacks get way, way more credit than they deserve (and infinitely more blame. People who fire coaches after losing seasons are wrong about 80% of the time. If you're playing chess without a rook and a queen, it matters very little how good you are.) In their championship runs, New England had a very solid, veteran offensive line - this year, Brady's blindside is a couple of rookies who gave up four sacks against an above-average (but not great) pass rush in the Jacksonville game. Before, New England came in with a turnover differential in their favor - this year, -6, and their interception leader is, I believe, a linebacker. They've won their last four games (Miami doesn't count - when you let someone go in and try a drop kick PAT, you're basically telling people that you want to choose your seeding), but two were the Jets, one was the Bills, and the last one was Tampa, who, again, had no running game at the time. They haven't had to face a balanced attack since KC, which they lost by quite a bit. Plummer may not be Peyton Manning, but he's a far sight better than Chris Simms.

New England is less injured. Bruschi will probably play injured, even though he sat out last week. Corey Dillon will play injured, even though he's been a shadow of his former self while doing so. Otherwise, I am not clear on what major differences people expect in this game compared to the last one. Playoff home field advantage, coming off a bye week, teams are 49-11 since 1990. And hey, guess what? Denver was also injured during the New England game. Champ Bailey played the first half with a sore hamstring that forced him to sit out the second half. He is healthy now. The rookie Denver corners have significantly more experience in the pro game. I do not think this will be a close game.

DENVER (-3) over New England

The other games:

Washington (+9) over SEATTLE
Other predictions for this game: Shaun Alexander fails to rush for 100 yards, and people act shocked. Alexander, like Tiki Barber, is a back whose bread and butter is running up 200+ yards against terrible teams and then getting positively owned by good teams. (Aside to Barber, who complained on monday about the coaching during their loss to the Panthers: Tiki, maybe your coaches would have an easier time scheming if you could get more than 1.8 yards per carry?) This is also a good time to note the big problem with the way people measure "total" defense and "rushing/passing" defense. When people say "Seattle has a good defense," what they mean is, they allowed fewer total yards. A team with a good passing game will often have a disproportionately high-ranking run defense, simply because when people are playing from behind, they don't run a lot. Hence, Cato June is in the Pro Bowl. This is relevant because Seattle's defense is very, very overrated because they've played a lot of bad teams (not their fault they're in the NFC West and get six games against craptacular teams) who, on top of having no backs, are throw-first offenses. According to, Seattle is giving up 3.6 yards per attempt against the run - somewhere in the top seven in the league. But if you watched the Giants game, they couldn't stop Tiki Barber with eleven guys. He was averaging nearly SIX yards per carry. Marion Barber was getting over 4. And while Portis didn't do quite as well in the first meeting, it should be noted that Portis was not running well earlier this year against anyone.

I do not know if Washington can win a sixth game in a row, and a third on the road, but I have to think it will not be as lopsided as the line would suggest.

INDIANAPOLIS (-10) over Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh has no pass rush, except with their linebackers. Unless Von Oelhoffen can fall on Peyton's knee on the first play, this will not work. The other problem with Pittsburgh is that they telegraph the blitz - there was one play against Cincy where they brought seven up to the line, and Kitna clearly read the blitz and audibled out of the previous play. I called that he would get 18 yards. I was wrong. He got 24.

Pittsburgh has some nice assets - they are big and physical and should be able to more or less contain Freeney. They have a power running game, which Indy couldn't stop if they got to put 14 men on the field, which might let them control the clock. But last time the two teams met, the Colts had a field day scoring on nine second drives (literally - the first scoring drive was like, 80 yards in under a minute, as it took one play.) I just don't believe that Roethlisberger is going to be able to win it, and I think the Steeler's coaching is pretty bad.

Unless Pittsburgh's D-line plays equisitely, this game will be over by the half. I plan on watching this game with no sound, as hearing every five seconds about Dungy's son is going to make me want to eat someone's head.

Carolina (+3) over CHICAGO
This is actually the hardest one for me to try to call, since I have intentionally avoided watching any Bears games. Also, there are just a lot of random factors here - I'm not sure if Rex Grossman is actually good, and he was just held out in week 17. Add to that Carolina's complete and total lack of consistency, and the weather, and it's just not easy to predict. I do know a few things, though:

Chicago has literally played two teams in the top 16 for offense all season (I'm ignoring the Falcons, since when they played, the Falcons' 'offense' was injured.) They lost both games, and gave up 24 and 21 points. This doesn't strike me as a particularly great defense, it just strikes me as a defense who hasn't had to play anyone. Carolina, meanwhile, isn't really an offensive team. DeShaun Foster will not be running for 150 yards. Honestly, I think this could go either way, so it's a safer bet to go with the underdog, and the team with the quarterback who has postseason experience and has been to the superbowl rather than the guy with, like, four career starts.

Other Randomness:

- It never occurred to me untill recently: nobody pulled the race card on Kobe's sexual escapades. Here's a black man who is accused of sexual assault, and people all assume it's basically true. Can you imagine if it had been Luke Walton instead of Kobe? People would have been much more reluctant to believe it - as it stands, the majority of opinion is "He must have done it. He's a rapist." Even though the evidence in the case was far from conclusive (my favorite: the girl, at some point between being 'raped' and her screening the next day, had sex with someone else. There was another guy's semen present. I am not a psychologist, but if you're sexually assaulted, isn't going and hooking up with someone else usually about the last thing on your mind?), it was just accepted. Same with Maurice Clarett. There are reports that he robs two people at gunpoint outside of a night club, and people just accept that it must be true. If it were Ryan Leaf, it would be considered bizarre and probably made up. And as it turns out, it probably wasn't Clarett - the man who accused him retracted the next day. Yet Clarett will now be considered a criminal. I'm not saying the response was necessarily racist, but the ease with which we accept stories of black athletes raping white girls and robbing people is probably not race blind, either.

- The KG commercial is embarassing. That's all I'm saying. I feel ashamed to have watched it.

- Professor Maloney has a quick rundown of seven problems with libertarianism. I'm not sure why I don't have him permanently linked.

- Lindsay Lohan tells Vanity Fair she has bulemia and used drugs, then, upon realizing it might hurt her image, retracts the stories. If Lohan doesn't sue Vanity Fair over this, then you pretty much know for a fact that she's a complete and total liar. VF will certainly have kept the interview tapes, and isn't the sort of magazine to risk a $40 million libel suit just to tell people, shock of shocks, that Lohan is a bulemic cokehead.

cranked out at 9:13 AM | |

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