Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Executive of the Year

I have alluded to this in previous posts over the past month or two, but if Philadelphia Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. does not win MLB Executive of the Year this year, then that is a crying shame. Not only did Amaro acquire Roy Halladay in the offseason, but the move to acquire Roy Oswalt from the Houston Astros is the clear move of the year by any executive on any team, as Oswalt has been an absolute gem since arriving in Philadelphia. Not only are Oswalt's numbers with the Phillies since the July 29 trade incredible in their own right (7-1with a 1.66 ERA), but the Phillies have gone 10-2 in his twelve starts since coming to Philly, and Oswalt pitched at least 6 innings in every start for the Phils this season until after the team clinched earlier this week. And moreover, with Cole Hamels having all the pressure taken off of him by dropping to the clear #3 starter on the team behind aces Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, Hamels's performance also improved dramatically, with Cole dropping a full point from his ERA down to 2.49 in the time since Oswalt was acquired by Amaro, with Hamels failing to last at least 6 innings only once in that time period, after lasting less than 6 innings on six different occasions in the first half of the season.

Not only did Ruben Amaro's acquisition of Roy Oswalt greatly improve Oswalt's performance and that of the other pitchers on the Phillies' staff, but it also really changed the complexion of the team's entire starting rotation. It has changed the way you have to approach playing a series against a team like the Phillies. I mean, who is going to win any series against this team when they are trotting Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels -- hands-down three of the best pitchers in the entire National League if not MLB -- out there in the first three games of every series, and then in the playoffs, in games 5-7 as well if necessary? Basically, if you expect to win a 7-game series against the Phillies, you're suddenly going to have to win at least three games against a combination of Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels, and at this point you're going to have to do that while holding a maximum of only three games in your own home stadium as compared to four in beautiful Citizens Bank Park.

The result of all this? The Phillies, who finally started hitting again a month ago or so after mostly taking the year off offensively, are heading into the last week of the season with absolutely nothing to play for. The team has clinched its fourth consecutive NL East crown -- something only done previously by Bobby Cox's Braves teams in the 1990s who amazingly won 11 straight -- and at the same time earlier this week managed to lock down homefield advantage throughout the entire NL playoffs. And, due to the NL finally breaking the slump and winning the all-star game this year, the Phils will have homefield advantage in the World Series as well, should the team make it back there.

Even with all the greatness this team has achieve over the past few years, including the back-to-back NL pennants for the first time in franchise history, this is the first time the Phillies have been so far ahead of everyone else in the National League. In fact, I would go so far to say that I am not sure I can recall there being a team in my lifetime with higher expectations to return to the World Series than this Phillies team. I mean, I recall the Yankees winning 118 games or whatever it was in the late 90s, but back then the Yanks were always concerned about the Angels, or the Twins, or the Red Sox, or the Indians, and winning the pennant was just not a foregone conclusion like it seems it will be this year with the Phillies. That Seattle team with Ken Griffey, Jr. back in the day also won something like 116 games, but they too were roundly expected to run into trouble from the Yankees among other teams (and I believe they did). With the simple addition of Roy Oswalt in mid-season, this year's Phillies team has transformed from another good team with a decent chance of fighting its way to the postseason and maybe to the World Series for a third straight year but only to fall to a superior AL squad, to instead I think the team to beat in the major leagues this postseason.

Just think about it: Halladay vs. Sabathia, Game 1 in Philly. Oswalt vs Burnett, Game 2 in Philly. Hamels vs. Pettitte, Game 3 in New York. Blanton vs. Hughes, Game 4 in New York. Halladay vs Sabathia, Game 5 in New York. Oswalt vs. Burnett, Game 6 in Philly. And Hamels vs. Pettitte, Game 7 in Philly. You tell me where you're finding four wins for the visiting team on that packed pitching schedule and more than half the games in Philadelphia.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Sports Musings

1. Ron Gardenhire is the best manager in baseball. Year after year after year. The Twins have won what, 6 of the last 9 division titles in the AL Central? And with a clearly small-market team with a generally smaller-market payroll, a team that was discussed for contraction within the past half a decade or so. And they lost Mauer for most of last season and much of this season. Justin Morneau has been gone for much of two straight years as well. Joe Nathan blew out his arm and had Tommy John surgery like two days into the season this year. And yet here they are again, playing it out for the best record in all of baseball. What can you say? Tony LaRussa? Bobby Cox? Lou Piniella? Give me a break -- I'll take Ron Gardenhire any day of the week.

2. What can I say about the Phillies? I mean, obviously all those players read my blog, I've suspected that for a long time, but when I called those guys out right here in this post, apparently I really hit a chord with the team, and I downright motivated the shit out of them. Maybe I should be in coaching. I mean, I read these guys the riot act about not really caring about winning this year on the morning of August 27, and all they've done since that very date is go 22-5 and moved from 2 games back in the NL East to 6 games up and about to clinch their fourth straight NL East title, something that has only been done in the NL East by one other team since expansion in 1969, the Atlanta Braves squad that amazingly won 11 straight divisional titles between 1995 and 2005. One thing is for sure this year with the Phillies -- there have never, even in this franchise's history been higher expectations for the team to obviously walk into the World Series. Not only is Philly the two-time defending NL champions, but we have easily the best starting rotation in the NL if not in all of baseball, and seemingly the best offense in the league as well with everyone starting to hit the ball finally in the last third or quarter of the regular season. Nobody is even seriously considering the possibility of anyone other than the Fightin Phils back in the World Series in a month or two out of the National League, and the big story on this half of the bracket will be how the Phillies handle those expectations of returning to the Series that are higher than any team I can remember in my lifetime.

3. Michael Vick clearly gives the Eagles the best possible chance of winning games this year, seemingly far and away better than the team's chances with Kevin Kolb at the helm. In that sense the switch to Vick is the clear "right" decision. But, the whole story is a tremendous embarrassment to the entire Eagles franchise, from the GM and team president all the way down to the coach. To trade away Donovan McNabb in the offseason and publicly proclaim how the Kevin Kolb era is beginning, and then make a switch after seeing less than one half of Kolb's play this year before switching to someone else? That is just plain laughable, even for Philadelphia sports. That's the kind of thing the Philly fans would do but no one in management is supposed to blatantly embarrass the franchise with such silliness.

4. On the topic of Vick, I the feeling I am left with after watching him sling another 3 touchdown passes and run in a fourth this weekend on the road, is one of happiness. I am actually happy for the guy. I mean, what he did was illegal, and more than that, it was disgusting. But let's not forget, he served a year and a half in jail, suffered a more than two-year suspension from the NFL, and at the end of the day Mike Vick got all this after never hurting another human being. Not excusing his actions, but to my sensibility this is building week by week by week into one of the feel-good stories in the NFL in years, and a great story of comeback and of redemption for a guy who clearly deserves a second chance. When you've got Donte Stallworth killing an actual human being driving drunk and then back on the field 30 days later -- and I could go on and on about examples of guys in the league who have drove drunk, hurt or abused their wives or other friends or family, etc. -- the people who are still on their high horse about what Mike Vick did given the debt he paid just boggle the mind.

5. Memo to the Washington Redskins: How you feelin' now about that McNabb trade? Is McNabb still the man, after last week in overtime and now this week's depressing showing? This was without a doubt the first time in at least three or four seasons this weekend where it was actually clear that the Rams were destroying some other team. Yes the Shanahan-led Redskins clearly suck, but this is the very first sign we've seen that Steve Spagnuolo might actually have a future with this team and in head coaching in general in this league. And cue the bright lights, because Week 4 brings McNabb back "home" to Philadelphia for his return to his old team in the first faceoff between the Skins and Eagles of the 2010 regular season, in what should be this year's version of last year's return of Brett Favre to the confines of Lambeau Field.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Week 3 -- NFL Picks

Well, I haven't loaded up the ole' Bodog account yet this year, and based on last week's results it might not be time to start it up yet with real money, but we'll see as last year I did great during the first half in betting all the games I was picking here on a weekly basis. But yeah, last week's picks did not exactly start off with a bang, although strangely I felt like I was for the most part making good picks that just were not coming through for some reason. I mean, I picked Tennessee -6 against the Steelers, and they hold the Steelers to just 7 first downs in one of the worst offensive outputs anywhere of the young NFL season so far, but somehow I managed to pick the game where the Titans turn the ball over seven times and Vince Young the hot young quarterback who almost never loses not only plays like garbage but he gets benched in favor of Kerry Collins. Was I supposed to foresee that happening? I picked the Cheatriots -3 at the Jets, which in retrospect was obviously not a great pick, but shiiiit, it's the people who picked Sanchise and the Jets to beat a great Cheatriots team after the respective Week 1 performances who I really have the questions about. Same exact point about the Saints -6 at the 49ers. You can talk about the trite "road favorites" thing, the "double digit home dog thing" or various other hackneyed trends that of course have proven not to be actual trends in sports betting or everyone would be making money off of them, but at the end of the day it's the people who thought San Fran would come out and take the Superbowl Champions down to the wire who you have to really ask the questions about in my book. And then there was the Redskins, in a game which I got pretty much exactly right before the Skins gave up two late scores and ended up pushing when they gave up a field goal near the end of the overtime period. So while 1-3-1 is obviously not the way I planned or wanted to start the year off, I am not immediately ready to start with the opposite picks (just yet). I've definitely got another couple of tries in me to establish the kind of roll I started off with in 2009, and I think the Week 3 slate is full of juicy games to play. Including the following five picks, in no particular order as always.

1. Kansas City Chiefs +3 vs San Francisco 49ers. This is one of the dumbest lines you ever see out there, so much so that I'm almost concerned it is one of those "too good to be true" lines but just not quite. The 2-0 Chiefs are a 3-point underdog at home in a loud, excited new stadium against the 0-2 49ers. I think the Chiefs should probably be favored to win this game, but with the 3 points on top there is just no way to resist. You can book this one now, it's a win.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers -3 at Tampa Bay Buccanneers. Here's another road favorite that should spook many of the women out there. Yes, Pittsburgh is playing with their 4th-string quarterback in Charlie Batch this week. And yes, they could not move the ball to save their lives in Week 2. But that was against a touch Tennessee defense, and the Bucs should put up much less of a fight defensively on Sunday. Moreover, did I mention the 7 turnovers the incredible Steelers' defense had last week? They must be salivating at the thought of snacking on Josh Freeman and the young Bucs team this weekend. I'll take the Curtain and the lay the points. Book it! 2-0, let's try to keep it going.

3. Philadelphia Eagles -3 at Jacksonville Jaguars. Here's some more easy money out there. Mike Vick is now the starter in Philadelphia, the first time he's had that security in nearly five years heading into a weekend game, and the team is going to visit one of the worst teams in the league so far in this short season. I expect Vick, who is quickly on his way to being truly beloved in Philly (you watch!), should erupt in this game and give Philly at least a field goal victory, and I am confident enough that I am willing to give the points here.

4. Denver Broncos +6 vs Indianapolis Colts. I'm not sure what it is about this game that strikes me as off, but I am definitely not seeing some kind of a Colts blowout here. The Denver defense is fairly stiff, and although the Colts have a way of eliminating that look from their opposing D, I think they can hold Peyton Manning in check just enough such that their amazingly efficient Kyle Orton-led pass offense and fairly balanced running game should keep this one pretty close in the Mile High City.

5. Tennessee Titans +3 at the New York Giants. This is another one of those "too good to be true" lines, but I'm going to take the bait again here and go with Yet Another Road Favorite. The Titans are gonna be pissed and raring to go after last week's shellacking by the Steelers at home, and I'm not quite sure the Giants have it in them to hold off that kind of a stampede between Vince "All He Does Is Win Games" Young and the NFL's best runningback in Chris Johnson. Although 3 points is actually a very sensible line for this game, the chance that the Titans win outright combined with the chance of them losing by 3 points or less definitely seems to create some value on the Tennessee side of the bet at this spread.

So there it is. An easy 5-0 to get right back over .500 here in the early part of the 2010 NFL season. Best of luck to anybody who is playing the games and to whatever team it is that you root for (except if you root for Jacksonville this weekend).

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sad Poker Story

I have literally not even been able to write about this for the past couple of weeks, but a few weeks back I suffered far and away the worst beat of my live poker career, easily outdoing getting suckout-eliminated by then reigning world champion Joe Hachem from my first WSOP tournament back in 2006. I had headed down to the Borgata to play in one of the Borgata Poker Open events, which was a $350 buyin tournament that ended up with around 300 runners and a prize pool of around $90k as I recall. I had the fortune of being seated at Table 1 for the tournament, and I had my favorite seat at the table -- Seat 5, right in front of the dealer, with the shortest distance between my eyes and where the board cards are placed -- so I knew things were starting off good because my table would not be broken for several hours and I loved my seat and my position against the other troubling players at the table.

I really can't say how I managed to stay alive, let alone chip up at all, in this tournament, as this was one of those increasingly frustrating events where I am literally forced to sit and watch every single player around me showing down pocket Aces, pocket Kings, pocket Queens, pocket Aces vs pocket Kings, etc. I saw the same guy win three huge pots with pocket Aces while at this table, and I even saw one player show pocket Aces, pocket Aces, pocket Kings, pocket Kings and pocket Queens all while sitting with me for no more than two hours maximum on the day. And meanwhile, I was dealt JJ on the very first hand of the tournament (I raised, got called preflop and then had to fold to action on an Ace-high flop), I saw AK exactly two times, and otherwise I didn't get dealt shiat for starting cards. For hours and hours. It was so, so sick. I don't think I have folded more patiently in any live tournament I have ever played in -- the BPO event I was playing started with I think 12k stacks and featured 30-minute blind rounds, so there was at least a little more time than in your average 15- or 20-minute live casino blind rounds tournament, and I was determined not to get nailed by a 2-outer or one of these naked-flush-draw-on-the-flop idiots who had ignominiously eliminated me from my last three live events so I wanted to be patient and try to play as deep into hands as possible before committing my chips, and to start with the best possible starting hands wherever possible to help enable me to do that.

Anyways, I sat and watched as literally every single spot around the table showed down pocket Aces at least once, and many of the seats two or three times, while I never even sniffed pocket Aces, pocket Kings or pocket Queens, I received exactly two big slicks, and not even a single AQ to play with, over the time I survived in this tournament, which totalled a little over six hours of play. I can still recall the anguish and annoyance I felt near the later stages as we got near the money payouts as these clowns were just showing Aces over and over and over again, and I simply could not believe the luck was so uneven for me that there had to be literally20 or 30 pocket Aces or Kings hands spread across the 10 seats at this table that day (and that's only counting the ones that were shown!), but that not a single one of them had come my way on the day. I mean, how do you play for six+ hours with only JJ, JJ, AK, AK and AJ to show for your "premium" hands, and never even receive a single truly premium hand on the entire day? How could anyone survive under those circumstances for any meaningful period of time in such a tournament?

And yet somehow, that is just what I did. As I mentioned, I don't even think I can recall at this point how I managed to amass a stack in this thing, but I do remember that every big hand I won, was won with either two totally shit cards on a naked steal or resteal from me, or with a spec hand like T7s that I had opened for a raise preflop and ended up making two pairs with. For example, I won a big pot when I opened for a raise with A4s, the flop came down K94 rainbow, and then the turn came another 4 and gave me unknowable trips, and I played the hand exceedingly well to get paid handsomely by my opponent with KQ (in this case I bet the flop on a c-bet from my preflop raise against my tight heads-up opponent, but then I checked the turn when I hit my miracle 4, such that when I bet strong on the river he felt totally compelled to call). I won another nice pot when I turned a straight with J9s and was able to milk another nice river bet from an opponent who himself had made two pairs on that same turn card. But that's what I was winning with -- the 75s, the 97o, the A4 and A5 sort of hands, while everyone else just kept flipping up pocket Aces in showdowns, or maybe if they were weak, pocket Kings. It was so frustrating, and it made the mental drain on me far, far worse than usual for this kind of a tournament, because no matter what people say about how stressful big mtt's are in general, getting dealt AA or KK every other orbit pretty much plays itself, and there is very little stress involved in relative terms in finding your way through such situations. Not when compared anyways to having to constantly be evaluating whether you are ahead or behind before the flop and on most flops and turns as well, like you obviously have to do every step of the way when you're trying to win pots exclusively playing starting hands like suited semiconnectors, small pairs and the like. Every single pot was a struggle for me without exception, and on two or three different occasions in the first several hours I was allin on what was more or less a total and complete bluff where I surely would have been eliminated from the event if any one time my opponent in the hand had just decided to make a donkey call.

About four hours in, with me sitting at my tournament high of around 50k in chips from the 12k starting stacks, the loudmouth guy across the table -- a euro (judging by the accent) for those of you interested in such things, who not only dressed like Sammy Farha but even kept an unlit cigarette in his mouth for the last hour or two he played in this tournament -- reraised me allin preflop when I held the second of my two AK hands on the day, and I instantly called him allin pre given the complete and utter shit I had seen his euro ass been chasing all through the tournament, and he flipped up pocket Jacks for what was fixing to be probably the largest pot of the tournament at my table. A King came on the flop, and the euro guy proceeded to trash me to no end for several minutes for instacalling with AK preflop and for "playing AK like it's actually a hand preflop" as he gathered up his things and left, bitching the whole time until he was out of earshot, but the upshot of all this was that I was suddenly up over 100k in chips, and a top-10 stack in the event as we wore down towards the 27 people who would receive payouts in the tournament.

From there, I continued to play very patiently, as I wanted to start to muscle people around with my stack, but the cards and the situations I continued to be faced with simply did not support my making almost any moves at all. A couple of times I raised with J4o and 92o when the action folded around to me in mid-late position, and of course I had to fold when one of the few people behind me actually woke up with a playable hand, and that got old fast with blinds and antes of 1000-2000-300 and an average stack of around 50-60k in the event. So for the most part, I continued folding. The people around me (who by this point in time, with over 80% of the starting field eliminated, were every single one of them not the same people with whom I had started at this table some four or five hours earlier) still continued to be dealt premium pocket pairs at an alarmingly annoying rate given the cards I had to deal with, but still my big stack remained intact as we progressed down to the final 75 and then the final 50 players remaining in the tournament.

At one point, with 44 runners remaining and with 27 set to receive payouts, I was still sitting on a top-5 stack in the tournament at around 110k in chips, and I open-raised a little over 3x from middle position with pocket 5s, sadly among the best starting hands I had been dealt on the day. I got only one call, from a tight old man on the button who I figured to have some sort of a hand even to just call from the button when he had not voluntarily put chips into the pot in the hand to begin with. Incidentially, this was also a guy whose picture had been scrolling through the images being shown on the walls of the Borgata's poker tourament room, and he had earlier explained that yes, he had won the $500 buyin event earlier in the BPO already but he wished he didn't have to keep admitting it publicly with his picture being shown all over the place.

So anyways, this guy calls my preflop raise with 55 from the button, and the flop comes down a stone cold miracle, TT5. I have flopped a boat, and done so with a hidden set in my hand, a far, far superior hand to "flopping a boat" with 55 if the flop comes down, say, JJJ or some similar trips. Even though 9 times out of 10 I will check in this spot, not wanting to lose my opponent when I am holding such an unbeatable monster this early in the hand, in this case I had been c-betting almost without abandon at all all through the tournament since I had been playing so few hands in the first place due to the shitcards I was dealt, and when I've been c-betting like it's going out of style, it is crucial to also c-bet with my strong hands to help balance out the average value of the cards I am holding when I do fire out a bet on the flop after already being the aggressor preflop. So I went ahead and fired out for about 2/3 the flop, the same size bet I would make if I was holding pocket Aces here or an unimproved hand like AK or AQs. My opponent -- a tight old man player, again, mind you -- hesitated briefly before moving in his entire stack, which was about twice the size of my bet.

I don't think I hesitated for more than a second or two on this decision, but is anyone realistically folding here? Again, I've got 55 on a TT5 flop, and the tight guy I am playing heads-up just called my preflop raise and is now pushing allin on this flop with a good-sized stack that is itself also a top-ten stack like my own with just 44 runners remaining in the tournament. I mean, the only way I possibly lose this hand are if he just happens to have TT in his hand for the sickly flopped quads, and of course no sane person can put him on exactly that hand given the action here. Given how tight he is, and the fact that he called my preflop raise, I'm figuring he is on one of two different kinds of hands here: ATs, possibly JTs, or a big pocket pair like Queens or Jacks (I am assuming he would have reraised preflop with Aces or Kings). And the simple fact is, I am crushing every single one of those hands. TT is just not an option that is worth considering folding here to. This guy with himself a big stack has just pushed his entire pile of chips into the middle in a spot where I just flopped a boat by making a set with my two hole cards. I am obviously calling here.

I announce I call within one or two seconds of the old man's push, and right away he gets this sick look on his face as he flips up? Pocket 9s. So it was a much looser push than I would ever expect from this old man-looking guy who has not pushed a bad hand yet even one time that I have seen, but I guess I had been forced to fold to enough preflop and flop raises of my bullshit bets with totally worthless hole cards that he figures this is his time to make a stand. I flip up my pocket 5s for the boat, and the color drains right from the guy's face. As I'm giving him the apologetic "I just made a huge flop" explanation, the dealer burns and turns and a mother fucking nine rolls right out to the board, staring me in the face for a good two or three seconds before it finally sunk in what had just happened. The river was a harmless King (how awesome would the resuck have been in that spot??), and then there I am, counting off 87k in chips to match his stack, leaving me suddenly with less than a third of the average stack and under 10 big blinds in a spot where I was so close to garnering such a huge stack that, given my experience and the way I play, it is almost inconceivable that I would not have final tabled.

First prize in this tournament was something like 24 grand btw, did I mention that?

As I said, this was a beat the degree of which I cannot say I have ever experienced before in live play, and let me tell you I hope I never have to again. Making that walk out of the big convention room two hands later when my 8 big blinds with 85s failed to hold up against AQ was an absolutely horrible feeling, and as I drove myself home up the lovely Garden State Parkway, I must have talked to myself out loud with the radio all the way down for at least the next 90 minutes straight. I mean, I just could not get out of my head what had just happened to me.

Tournament poker really is something that only crazy people would ever really focus on. You bust your ass for seven hours -- or for four days, for that matter -- amassing this nice huge stack, folding after folding after folding (I would guess my VPIP at the Borgata could not have been higher than 6 or 7% given how horrible my hands were all day long), playing good, patient poker, and not making a single mistake or getting in behind even a little bit even one time, and then all of a sudden, POOF! it all vanishes like a fart in the wind. Through a total setup suckout hand in a huge spot the likes of which are almost unfathomable by most people out there reading this. I could not and would not have played that hand any differently, and my god if you gave me the choice I would specifically opt to be in that exact same position 10,000 times in a row, but there you go, even a 19-to-1 shot sometimes is not enough of a lead I guess. Hopefully this at least means that I have another 16 or 17 of these similar situations in the future coming to me where I can hold up and go on to make a big splash in some other mtt with some real money at stake. But for now, it's taken me the better part of a few weeks to even be able to write this all down and type it out on my pc. Even reading the story now makes me angry and sad and frustrated all over again, and the thought of plunking down a few hundys anytime soon again to play with these monkeys who just cannot get in ahead of me no matter how hard they try is really unnerving.

Tournament poker is for the birds, I tell you.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Week 2 -- NFL Picks

OK so here we go with my first round of picks for the 2010 NFL regular season. Not sure if I'll stick with the 5 games per week thing that I did last year or if I will change it up, but right now I'm going to post what I see as the best plays against the spread for Week 2, as always in no particular order.

1. Teneessee Titans -6 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers. With Big Ben playing in this game, nearly a touchdown is far too much even in Tennessee given the Steelers' stingy defense. But something tells me that this game with Dennis Dixon in there at qb instead of Ben Roth, this is the Titans' chance to run all over the Steelers while having an easier than normal time keeping Pittsburgh out of the end zone themselves. I don't think this is a blowout, but I think Tennessee wins by more than a touchdown in this one.

2. New England Patriots -3 at the New York Jets. I must be crazy starting off the picking against the Jets this early in the season again, but Mark Sanchez has just looked so awful so far in the preseason and in Week 1 that I just can't find the images in my head for what the Jets keeping this game close would even look like. The Jets' D should keep the Pats relatively in check unlike their game last week against the hapless Bungles (yes, we are back to Bungles again for their name until they give me a reason to call them otherwise), but the Pats' D looked very strong through most of the game in Week 1 and I expect to give Sanchise fits, especially with the reliable Thomas Jones now suited up for KC in the backfield instead of in New Jersey York. I like the Pats by more than a field goal in NY this weekend.

3. Washington Redskins +3 vs. the Houston Texans. I like the Texans team this year, and I would not be totally shocked if they even beat the Redskins this weekend, who I do not think are all that great this year. That said, though, the Texans are coming off of a huge emotional over-the-hump win against the Colts so we could be looking at a bit of a letdown this week. What's more, now at 1-0 already, nobody ever said the Texans were going to waltz into the house of a tough opponent in a strong division and win a big early-season game on the road. At a pickem I would probably avoid this game, but with the road team getting a field goal in this case, I'm taking the underdog and the points to go along with it.

4. New Orleans Saints -6 at San Francisco 49ers. I have been on the Mike Singletary bandwagon for over a year now, but as I mentioned earlier in the week I am just not feeling it for this 49ers team with Alex Smith at the helm. He is horribly inefficient, throws a ton of incompletions and a fair number of interceptions to boot, and the running game is not consistent either when Smith is leading the offense. What's more, this team just allowed a Seahawk offense chock full of no-names to rattle off 31 unanswered on them last week in a big game to start the season. The Saints' power offense should crush, even on the road, in the nice weather of San Francisco, and I expect them to win by a touchdown or more on the day.

5. Green Bay Packers -14 vs. Buffalo Bills. I'm going out on a limb and taking another of these huge early-season favorites in what should be a blowout even worse than the line would indicate. The Packers have a powerful offense which they showed to be in decent form already in Week 1's first-half drubbing of the Eagles, and the loss of Ryan Grant this week for the season should not affect the team nearly as much as fantasy football players from a few seasons ago might think. The Bills, meanwhile, have a horrible passing game, a non-existent running game, and a mediocre defense at best, and Green Bay can really pour it on at home. I'm looking for a win by at least 17 points by Aaron Rodgers and the Pack on Sunday.

S there you have it. Will we be starting off 2010 like I did in 2009 with by rolling off a bunch of easy victories? Or will I resume this year where I left off at the end of last season, needing to go with the opposite of my every instinct in order to get anything right? Ask me again on Monday and I'll let you know which one it is.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

NFL Week 1 In the Books

In keeping with recent tradition, I am once again late to the party with my Week 1 NFL recap post. I'm not sure exactly what I'll do during the season this year, but whether it is weekly "Winners and Losers" reports or something completely different, I will definitely be writing about The League Where They Play For Pay for the next 22 weeks or so right here at the blog.

So, Week 1....I've read some places about how great the week's play and the week's games were, but I have got to disagree with that. In fact, I almost can't believe how predictably horrible most of the play was. Except that I can believe it. Every single year it seems these days, the Under bettors make a killing in these early weeks, as teams are flat out just not ready to play. This is why I kind-of chuckle when people talk about eliminating two more of the preseason games. Every year it takes a good month or so for even the good teams to truly shake off the rust and start playing good football. In fact, this season's Week 1 was the most predictable of all, in that, just like every single year, the good defenses looked pretty good, but it was the offenses that were just completely out of sync. Many of the thought-to-be big offensive teams -- teams like the Saints, the Vikings, the Cowboys and the Chargers -- laid absolute eggs in Week 1, other than maybe a random scoring drive here or there somewhere in the game. And even the matchups themselves were really not all that compelling, outside of the Thursday night, Sunday night and Monday night matchups which were really hand-picked to showcase the league as the NFL season kicked off last weekend.

Biggest Win: What was the biggest win of Week 1? There are a few notable contenders (Seattle crushing the 49ers in Pete Carroll's first game back in the NFL after dumping-and-running on USC, the Steelers winning one in overtime against a strong Atlanta squad during Big Ben's four-game absence), but I think the winner here has got to be the Houston Texans finally getting over the hump and beating the Colts to start the season. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub did not have the biggest game of his life, but he protected the ball well, and in the end did a great job handing the ball off to his backs who absolutely shredded the Colts' run defense which looks to be starting off in 2010 right where it left off late in 2009. And the most important point of all is that Houston just won baby. After taking the Colts to the brink in the regular season in each of the past couple of years only to let Peyton Manning snatch away a victory in sometimes miraculous fashion at the end, this time it was not one, not two, but three touchdown runs from Arian Foster in the second half -- two in the fourth quarter alone -- that neutralized Manning's incredible late push and lifted the Texans to a huge win in what could be a big season this year after a lot of people forget they posted their best season record ever last year at 9-7. Playoffs anyone?

Biggest Loss: What was the biggest loss of Week 1? It's not the Colts, whose defense got pretty much embarrassed by a no-name back but who can and almost surely will still come back and win 11 or 12 games this season. Not the Vikings or Cowboys, for the same reason (although their offenses did look pretty damn anemic). Ultimately, I think this comes down to two contenders. The runner-up to the biggest loss has got to be the hapless Detroit Lions, who had a win pried out of their dead hands by -- you're not going to believe this now -- an overzealous referee who decided with zero time left on the clock to take a game that the Lions had won, and instead decide in his own judgment that the Bears were now the winners. That was one of the sickest instances of referee abuse I've seen in the NFL least since the Superbowl last year.

Anyways, the Lions' loss of that game in that fashion, in addition to losing starting quarterback Matt Stafford, was a crushing blow to a team and a city that really could use some good news for a change. But the worst loss of Week 1 I think has got to go to the San Francisco 49ers, who are were many peoples' pick to win a very weak NFC West, and who came out and scored a quick 6 points to go up 6-0 more than midway through the second quarter, only to then allow the Seahawks of all teams to roll off 31 unanswered points on their way to another early-season letdown for Niner fans. Seriously, how did the 49ers get beaten so badly? Alex Smith sucks. It's just plain over with that clown -- he is not NFL-quality, he never has been, not even for one second since he entered the league, and he is only getting worse. While old man Matt Hasselbeck was compiling an extremely efficient 18-for-23 passing while involving eight different targets in those 18 completions in throwing for a lofty qb rating of 108.3, Alex Smith was busy chucking up 45 attempts and only completing 26 of them, which when combined with his zero touchdowns and two picks makes for a very Alex Smith-like qb rating of 52.5. This guy is a nobody, and I think it is increasingly clear -- if it hasn't been already for the last couple of years -- that no team will get anywhere with Alex Smith at the helm.

"The Call": How sad is it that here we are in Week 1, and we've already got the referees completely and utterly ruining and reversing the overall winner of a game, and doing so like complete and total baboons? You can tell me till you're blue in the face, Fox Sports or ESPN or Rich Eisen, that the touchdown rule is that possession must be retained until after the player hits the ground in the end zone, but you can't ignore this one simple cold, hard fact: Calvin Johnson's catch at the very end of the Lions game has been a touchdown several times a season for the past thirty years. Period. It is a touchdown, it's always been a touchdown, and you can trot out any rulebook you want now but nothing can change the fact that Calvin Johnson caught that ball in the end zone, it was the go-ahead score and time expired on the play. Just like with the idiot ump with the perfect game for the Tigers earlier this summer, there's no room for error here -- this referee single-handled altered the result of this game, and it's just Week 1. And a team that desperately needed to win this game given how close they came and their recent history. Anybody gonna be surprised when it comes out in five years that this referee actually intentionally fixed this game under pressure from organized crime or something? How much you wanna bet?

QB Controversy: Hard to believe it, but there really is already a quarterback controversy brewing strong in Philadelphia. Starting quarterback Kevin Kolb looked like an abject doofus in there for a half until he suffered a concussion that is all but sure to keep him out of the Eagles' Week 2 matchup in Detroit, while backup qb Mike Vick came in and looked really good both passing and running the ball while still not able to climb all the way back from the 20-point hole that the Eagles' non-existent defense let them team into early. Now the fans of Philadelphia are in an uproar, Vick should be the starter, he's better anyways.

He's better anyways? Did you not watch Vick in there last year over several games? The universal conclusion is that he was great as a change of pace guy, but as a regular starting quarterback? That seems very iffy, even after seeing him admittedly play pretty great in one game in Philadelphia. But I mean, didn't this team just anoint Kevin Kolb its quarterback of the future? Hasn't Andy Reid spent the summer extolling the virtues of "his guy" Kevin Kolb and how excited he is to begin the Kolb Era in Philly? And hey, correct me if I'm wrong here, but wasn't this team so sure about Kolb's prowess throwing the ball that it trade away its star quarterback to another team in the division at a time when he is still far and away the most athletic guy on the field most days when he plays? And now you want to replace him based on a little more than one quarter in to the new season? These guys must be from Philadelphia. I've made no secret here that I don't love Kolb at all and that I'm not at all comfortable with him as our Quarterback of the Future. But even I know that once the team has made this kind of commitment to him, it would be pure moron to even consider switching Kolb out now for anything other than medical reasons. This team's priority right now has to be clearly to get Kolb healthy and get him back out there to keep executing on its stated strategy of Kolb Forever. Mike Vick played well the other day and I am really glad he is on this team as our backup. But Eagles management made its bed with Kevin Kolb the day they signed on the dotted line with the McNabb trade, and replacing him after 20 minutes of football would be just about the dumbest ending to that story in NFL history.

JaMarcus Russell Award: Here is one I will probably keep up from last year heading in to the 2010 NFL season, and you know, I thought about renaming it since Russell will pretty much never even sniff another NFL game again in his life, but in the end I just don't want the award to lose its cachet. What JaMarcus Russell did last year in Oakland was pretty much the stuff of legends, and I want to keep that memory alive by retaining JaMarcus's name in this award as well as through my coverage during the 2010 season.

So who are Week 1's contenders for the JaMarcus Russell award to the worst quarterback performance of the week? There are lots of options:

1. Shaun Hill, Lions. After Matt Stafford injured his leg early in this game, Shaun hill came in and posted some remarkable stats: 9 for 19 passing for 88 total yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. QB rating: 38.9.

2. Matt Moore, Panthers. 14 for 33 (42% completions) for 182 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. Plus 4 sacks. QB rating: 32.6.

3. The aforementioned Alex Smith, 49ers. 26 for 45 for 225 yards, 0 touchdowns and 2 picks. QB rating: 52.5.

4. Matt Cassel, Chiefs. 10 for 22 for 68 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 picks. QB rating: 68.0.

5. Mark Sanchez, Jets. 10 for 21 for 74 yards, 0 touchdowns and 0 picks. With his 2 sacks on the day, Sanchise's QB rating is 56.4 so far in this young season.

As bad as Sanchise was on the day -- and he pretty much could not possibly have looked worse -- I think this one has to go to Jake Delhomme's replacement in Carolina, Matt Moore. Although you have to admit, Cassel and Sanchise's lines of 10 completions for around 70 yards on the day are chuckle-inducing, it's just those the three interceptions that really put Moore over the edge, and help keep his qb rating at that impressive 32.6. At 32.6, it's hard to argue that Moore did anything well on the day at the Giants.

All that said, let's not forget the greats, the old-timers, who always did it better than it gets done today. JaMarcus Russell's line from Week 1 last season for the Raiders? 12 of 30 passing (ha ha!) for 208 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions, for a final QB rating of 47.6. Now there's a man who truly knows how to suck in style.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

NFL Preview 2010

OK so I've accepted that I am going to be posting this 2010 "preview" a little bit on the late side. What can I say. The below was written about 95% before this weekend, in some cases over the couple of weeks prior to the NFL season beginning with Week 1 this past weekend, and of course already some of it makes me look foolish. Awesome. Recalling last season, I had one of the most epic first halves in the history of NFL handicapping in 2010, running up a record more than 20 games over .500 by picking just my top five NFL games each week, starting in Week 2. Sadly, that first half was followed predictably by an equally heinous second half last season, one which managed to land me by season's end just a couple of games over 50% and left me literally clueless about the NFL. I'm sure I could not have correctly predicted a fucking tic tac toe game by the end of last season if it involved NFL players. And I felt every bit as donkish as I looked in the second half last year -- it was horrible, looking at the games and not seeing a single one that I felt confident about, where just a couple of months earlier I used to sit and fight with myself for an hour just to narrow down the games I was sure about to only five core picks.

It's amazing how things change, really. But by season's end, having been through the sports betting thing several times over before, I knew enough come the postseason to literally start posting (and betting) opposite picks -- figuring out which team seems likely to win against the spread, and then going with the total opposite of my every instinct. And of course, even though the strategy sounds like it can't be serious, I had an awesome playoffs last year, culiminating in me correctly reverse-picking both conference championship games as well as the Superbowl winner. So there you go. Logic and skill FTW.

Where do I go this year? Who the hell knows. The important thing is that I am determined to learn and improve at picking games, handicapping teams, etc. through what I'm tracking here at the blog. We'll have to wait and see how exactly that pans out, but I am looking forward to getting in to another NFL season, fantasy football-free. Never will I be secretly pissed off when the #2 receiver catches the pass for the team I have money on. Never again will I experience that slimy, ambiguous feeling when my star runningback takes a knee on the 1-yard line to clinch a big win for my beloved Eagles, directly costing my fantasy team a crucial victory in the process. As I've mentioned several times here previously, I used to be Mr. Fantasy Football. Like more than ten years ago now. I remember how fantasy football used to make every single game so much fucking more fun and interesting, back in the day. But at some point -- several years ago actually at this point -- that simply stopped being the case. Quietly, unknowingly, things flip-flopped at some point and all of a sudden one day a few years back I realized that fantasy football was taking games I used to not give two shits about one way or the other, and making them worse. I was suddenly pissed off because of something that happened in that otherwise worthless Tampa Bay - Cleveland game. I was calling DirectTV on opening day in a sweat because my NFL mobile package was not loading properly on my PDA. The bad call at the end of the Lions game was ruining my Sunday night. However it happened, at some point, the advantages I used to get from playing fantasy football turned into disadvantages.

I would bet that pretty much every fantasy football player out there who takes winning gets (or will get) to this point at some point after x number of seasons of fantasy football. Between several different social and professional circles, the internet, and live drafts among longtime friends, I probably played 35-40 separate seasons of fantasy football from maybe 1998-2008, a good 10 or 15 of them as the league commissioner and organizer. I was super into it, as I am with most things I choose to compete at, and I figured out exactly what it took to do well and outperform my peers at the game. But after 30 or 40 seasons of that, I had seen enough and been through through enough, I had outlasted enough Monday night comebacks and was the beneficiary of enough fractional victories on Tuesday morning error corrections to just be tired of it all. I've seen the worst-drafted, worst-run team win, and I've more times than I care to remember scored the most points in a fantasy league but never been near the top spot from opening day to the playoffs. Although I am sure that each person's threshold before reaching this point is different and there is probably some wide variation in there, but for most people I would guess fantasy becomes a big annoyance after a while if you take it seriously.

Anyways, so after resisting a late-game push from a nice group of friends who play a fantasy league every year and who I am sure would not have pissed me off, I am happy to say I will be fantasy-free again in 2010, but that doesn't mean I won't be into the NFL like a hawk as always. Starting right now, with my preview of what I am looking for in the 2010 NFL season, in the form of over-under picks just like I've done the last few years in MLB. And my driving premise this season is to take heart in what I learned last season -- don't just go with what the experts say about these teams. The experts are a bunch of fucking clowns, and they aren't close to knowing as much as I do about the NFL in many cases. So, with it in mind to make sure to follow my own lead with my picks on every one of these teams, here are my 2010 NFL over/unders, using the Vegas team over-under lines:

Arizona Cardinals 7.5 wins. I am going under here, although the number seems just about right. The loss of Kurt Warner will be huge, and with the guy who beat out Matt Leinert at the helm and given the loss of Anquan Boldin, the Cardinals look like a very average team to me in 2010.

Atlanta Falcons 9 wins. Another good line I think. I will go ahead and take the over, expecting probably 9 or 10 wins amid a better year from Matt Ryan and a huge bounceback year for Michael Turner.

Baltimore Ravens 10 wins. I like the over here, as I think the Ravens should be one of the underrated teams heading into 2010. Joe Flacco has steadily improved since bursting onto the NFL scene a few years ago, and there is every reason to expect another big jump up this year with the addition of two mega receivers in Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmanzadeh (plus Donte Stallworth, when he returns from a foot injury sometime in October) and with Ray Rice still pounding out of the backfield supported once again by Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain. Along with what should always be at least a solid defense while #52 is there, the Ravens look real good to me for 2010.

Buffalo Bills 5.5 wins. Ugh, this team stinks out loud, on both sides of the ball. Let's go under just for fun.

Carolina Panthers 7.5 wins. Like most people I do love the Panthers' head coach John Fox. But replacing Jake Delhomme with some guy named Matt Moore does not sound like a good recipe for a winning season in Carolina. I hate to pick against my guy Fox but at some point you know he is going to have to move on from this job after a bad season or two. Maybe this is the year. Ill grit my teeth and take the under.

Chicago Bears 8 wins. Under. I saw enough of Jay Cutler last year to know that he really does have awesome raw skills and yet just about the worst level of heart this side of the New York Mets. Mike Martz as the new O-coordinator makes for an interesting possible resurgence of scoring in Chicago, but that is a tough division with a lot of good or improving teams, and I don't like picking the Bears to go better than .500 here.

Cincinnati Bengals 7.5 wins. This is a surprisingly low line for what I think is one of the most overrated teams heading into the 2010 NFL season, but I am still going to go with the under here because I just don't get it. The team was barely good by the end of the 2009 season, and now because they added TO, they're a superbowl contender? What am I missing? Guess what guys: Marvin Lewis does not know what the shit he is doing. Period. I'll go under and predict 7 wins. Again.

Cleveland Browns 5.5 wins. Another joke of a team that actually got even worse in the offseason. Jake Delhomme does not excite me much as the new qb in town because his upside is severely limited in my view even if he "works out", and that team is going nowhere fast. I'll take the under although you can never be surprised if a team like this wins 6 games and still pretty much stinks to high heaven.

Dallas Cowboys 9.5 wins. This seems like an easy over to me, in that Dallas should clearly be the class of the NFC East. The Eagles are a huge question mark with Kevin Kolb at the helm, the Redskins are starting over under Mike Shanahan and new quarterback Donovan McNabb, and the Giants seem good-but-not-great, leaving the Cowboys I think to an easy win of the division and at least 10 wins in 2010.

Denver Broncos 7.5 wins. I just do not like this team in 2010. I'd like the under a lot better at 8 wins instead of 7.5, but in the end this has to be an under for me as I just don't see where the offense comes from for this team to sustain a .500 season in 2010. I don't love Kyle Orton although his numbers have probably been better than most people believe over his past 10-20 starts, I can't stand the Tim Tebow draft pick and I abhor what it says about Denver head coach Josh McDaniel, and an injury to Knowshon Moreno to start the season does not portend well to me for this Broncos team.

Detroit Lions 5 wins. Everybody says Matthew Stafford is the real deal in Detroit, and I tend to believe it on this one. 5 wins is a tough line for such a perennial loser, but I will go with the heart pick and take the over for the league's worst franchise in 2010.

Green Bay Packers 9.5 wins. I think the Pack is another of the overrated teams by "the experts" in 2010, as they seem to be everyone's pick to win the NFC North and maybe even go to the superbowl despite basically the exact same Vikings team coming back to play it out again this year. But I do like this team for another 10 or 11 wins and a postseason berth this coming season, so I'll take the over here despite most members of the media overrating this team in my view.

Houston Texans 8 wins. I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb and take the over here, although in reality I think 8 wins is probably more likely than 9. Matt Schaub remains one of the better numbers guys in the NFL and should have another great offensive season with Andre Johnson continuing as one of the league's absolute best receivers. It seems like the Texans have been knocking on the door for a while, and something tells me another .500 season and a chance for a late playoff run are in the cards for 2010.

Indianapolis Colts 11 wins. I just have to take the over for 11 wins with the Colts. Not saying they're going to have another 14-win output this year, but for the team that didn't lose a single game it tried to win until the superbowl last season and returns more or less the exact same team this year, so I feel like there's no choice but to take the over here and assume it's another easy win for Peyton Manning et all.

Jacksonville Jaguars 7 wins. I don't like the Jags much in 2010, mostly because I'm not a huge David Garrard fan, and even though it's hard not to love Maurice Jones-Drew, the rest of the AFC has so many other improving or better teams that I just don't think it's their year. 7 wins is another tough line to go under with but I will take the under here and expect the worst for Jack Del Rio's squad in 2010.

Kansas City Chiefs 6.5 wins. Here's another team everybody seems to be picking for a breakout season in 2010, but I just don't see it. Everybody including me likes head coach Todd Haley for how he stood up to Anquan Boldin on the sidelines in the playoffs a couple of years ago, but even he isn't going to be able to take poor staff in the running game, at quarterback and wide receiver, and a questionable defense and turn it into some kind of .500 team. I'll go under here although 5 or 6 wins would not surprise me at all for KC.

Miami Dolphins 8.5 wins. I love what the Dolphins have done over the past couple of seasons, I'm a big Tony Sparano guy at head coach, and the team definitely looks to be heading in the right direction with the addition of star wideout Brandon Marshall in the offseason. This is one of the toughest lines to me in the entire slate of teams because I do think the Fins are looking at 8 or 9 wins in 2010, but I will give the nod against the team with the sudden departure of Bill Parcells from his active role as team president just before the regular season began and take the under here for a team I do think will be pretty solid again in 2010.

Minnesota Vikings 9.5 wins. This one makes no sense at all to me, and I continue to feel the Vikings are being sold far short in 2010. I do think Brett Favre is older, more injured, and generally probably not looking to have his best season ever or even as good a year as last year in 2010. But this team was what, 14-2 last year, and now the line is 9.5 wins? I'll assume 11 wins at least even without Sidney Rice in the lineup for much of the season and with an older Favre, and with the extra win of cushion this seems like an easy over for this year.

New England Cheatriots 9.5 wins. This seems like another easy over to me, as 9.5 wins is just not that many wins even if the Pats do not prove to be as good as I expect them to be. Randy Moss is definitely a major concern in that he is publicly unhappy and has tended to check out quickly in previous instances where he was not all there mentally, but still with the talent on both sides of the ball and the best head coach in the game, this Cheats team just seems like a shoe-in for at least 10 wins in 2010.

New Orleans Saints 10.5 wins. Also an easy over in my book. The Saints look to me to be easily the class of the NFC, and offensively they should be as good as ever if not better in 2010. The Saints showed a disturbing inclination to play down to the level of their opponents and to play soft early in games during the 2009 regular season, so it might be tougher of this line were 11.5 or 12 wins, but at 10.5 I am not batting an eyelash before going with the over here.

New York Giants 8.5 wins. The Giants are a big huge question mark to me heading into 2010. In the end, Eli Manning should be good for another 20-25 touchdowns or so, and the rushing offense ought to be sufficiently good to enable this team to score the ball fairly well on the year, but like last year there are questions about the defense, and I still have to wonder where all the touchdowns are going to come from in terms of receivers on this team. With the Cowboys and Redskins likely improving somewhat in 2010, I guess I will take the under for the Giants and expect 7-8 wins in what could be Tom Coughlin's final season in New York.

New York Jets 9.5 wins. Everybody loves the Jets in 2010, who I believe are really, truly are the undisputed most overhyped team in the NFL. Although they shocked the world by running all the way to the AFC Championship in 2009-2010, this team backed into the playoffs in the most ridiculous way imaginable last year, and they really didn't even belong there at all in the first place and did everything they could to lose crucial games they thought they needed down the stretch to even be able to participate in the 2009-2010 postseason. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez did not look good in the preseason this summer, as those of you who watch "Hard Knocks" already know, and I just don't have nearly the good feeling about this season that all those experts out there do. 9.5 wins is a horrible line if you want to be under for the AFC's #2 team last year, but again with the heart thing I will go ahead and take the under and see what happens.

Oakland Raiders 6 wins. I love how everybody and their mother is picking the Raiders as a sleeper in the AFC West in 2010. Guess what? Jason Campbell is probably better than most people think he has been over the past couple of years, but in the end this is still Al Davis's team, the defense is not as good as some people think it is, and there are no offensive tools to help Campbell not suck in Oakland. I'll go under and expect another easy win for one of the worst franchises in sports.

Philadelphia Eagles 8.5 wins. I've made no secret here on the blog that I am a rabid Eagles fan, but even I just do not see how this team finds it way quite to 9 wins in 2010. Although I was never a major McNabb fan and have no doubt that he was never going to take the Eagles to any kind of a superbowl, I would be lying if I said I expect Kevin Kolb to make me forget about D-Mac anytime soon in Philadelphia. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Andy Reid as a regular season head coach, and I think he might be able to will this team to around a .500 season in a very tough NFC East in 2010, but I have to go under 8.5 wins as I just can't see enough going right for this team over the next few months.

Pittsburgh Steelers 9 wins. I like this team to come back with a strong effort after last season's letdown following a superbowl championship in 2008-2009, and if not for Ben Roethlisberger's season-opening suspension I would easily take the over here with confidence. But with Big Ben's suspension recently reduced from six games to just four, and with Dixon to stand in competently in his absence in addition to a likely big year from runningback Rashard Mendenhall or howeverthefikeyouspellit, I suppose I will grudgingly still take the over and hope the team can hang in there enough in Big Ben's absense until Week 6 of the 2010 NFL season.

San Diego Chargers 11 wins. The Chargers continue to maintain one of the best passing offenses in football along with a competent running game, and they play in one of the worst divisions in the history of the NFL to boot. Between all the games against a down Broncos team, a down Chiefs squad and the perpetually down Raiders, and with their offense what it is, 11 wins is probably a great line and spot-on for the 2010 Chargers, so in an absolute toss-up I will just go with the under because the experts love the over and Norv Turner is an embarrassment to NFL coaches everywhere.

San Francisco 49ers 8.5 wins. God how I want to like Mike Singletary. Just about every time I hear the guy talk, he is saying something I've always wanted to hear a head coach say but which nobody ever seems to be willing to. Well, Singletary is willing to say it. He reminds me a lot of Rex Ryan, two new-age NFL coaches who are young and can really relate with the players on an individual and very personal level, and I continue to have some faith that Singletary will some day mature into a serviceable NFL head coach. But for now, expecially after the way the 2009 season ended, I just don't have that faith in the Niners. Alex Smith is mediocre even on his good days, Frank Gore seems always almost ready to break out but never quite gets there, and in the end I just can't project 9 wins for this team and will have to go with the under even in a very weak NFC West. I have no idea who is going to win the games this season in the NFC West, where I suspect we could be looking at several times right around the .500 mark by January.

Seattle Seahawks 7.5 wins. I do not understand the Seahawks' plan to score the ball and to stop others from scoring in 2010, so I have to go with the under if I expect the team to finish 2010 below .500 like I do.

St. Louis Rams 5 wins. I like all the initial buzz on Sam Bradford and I tend to believe the talk that he is going to be a big-time NFL quarterback some day. But this is not that day, and this Rams team still has too many holes for me to predict even six wins until I see something a lot more than the basically no-improvement they showed in 2009. I go under on the Rams until they give me a reason to pick otherwise.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5.5 wins. Tampa looks to me to be the worst-coached and generally the lowest-skilled team in perhaps all the NFL in 2010. 5.5 wins is nothing but I will still take my chances with the under here.

Tennessee Titans 8.5 wins. I love the Titans and to me this line seems shockingly low. Behind one of the NFL's best coaches in Jeff Fisher, and the quarterback Fisher has finally found in Vince Young. and of course the NFL's greatest runningback in Chris Johnson, I think 9 wins is very likely and an easy over pick for the 2010 season.

Washington Redskins 7.5. The Skins remain one of the most difficult teams to pick for the 2010 NFL season. Mike Shanahan has taken over and is instilling his brand of micromanaging, highly-controlled football that has had proven success in the past, and Donovan McNabb also takes over at quarterback in a city that hasn't had a winner throwing the passes in like 20 years. McNabb will be hungry to perform well after Philly dissed him in the offseason, but ultimately something just tells me McNabb is in store for a generally average year in DC after a long history of regular season success in Philadelphia. The Skins have four runningbacks with a combined age of I think 342, and on the receiving corps there is almost nobody worth a mention for McNabb to throw to. Not to mention the problems for Albert Haynesworth, probably the team's most skilled player and certainly the highest-paid overall on defense. I think the Skins are likely to improve as a team from 2009, but starting from 4-12 and instilling an entirely new system, I think 8 wins is still a bit of a stretch. I like the under here for the Skins in 2010.

So there you have it. In my first ever set of NFL over-under picks, that is 12 overs and 20 unders. Looks like I'm expecting a lot more bad teams in 2010 than the "experts". Oh well. In terms of playoff teams, after going something like 1-for-12 in picking the postseason teams ahead of the 2009 season, this year I think the conferences play out this way: In the NFC, I'm expecting Dallas, New Orleans, Minnesota, Green Bay, the NFC West winner (I cannot even begin to make a prediction there, so I will just go out on a limb and pick the Seahawks under new head coach Pete Carroll) to be in, and that leaves one more spot which will probably be fought over between the Giants, the Cardinals, the 49ers and the Bears. I'll take the Giants out of that mess for the final NFC playoff spot. In the AFC, it's New England, Indy, Tennessee, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and San Diego. I feel much more confident about the postseason picks in the AFC than in the largely toss-up NFC outside of the superbowl champion New Orleans Saints.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Another Live Tournament Recap

I had the opportunity to play in a Labor Day nlh tournament at a local establishment, and it was one of those funny tournaments where some people just seem like they can do no wrong, no matter how hard they try to play bad poker. There were three tables in play, and one of the last guys to show up at my table -- sitting two seats to my right -- had the look of a guy who plays a fair amount of live poker, so I immediately pegged him as someone who was likely above average compared to the rest of the people at my table. As is often the case with non-casino events (or, frankly, even any random casino tournament with a buyin of less than $300 or so), the people around my table were really, really bad, like, painfully bad. They tipped the strength of their hand regularly, they grabbed for chips about 5 people ahead of when the action was coming to them to raise or call, and most of all, they seemed willing to limp with just about any two cards preflop. Those of you who know how I play will note how totally different that is compared to the way I approach the game, as you will not see me limping preflop often at all, and there are really only a few hands in the deck that I would ever limp with before the flop in most cases.

Suffice it to say, I was salivating at the thought of running over this table, save for Mr. Experience I mentioned above who seemed like a guy who has played the game a bit before. He had the earphones, the chip tricks, and just generally gave off the vibe of an experienced player, where most of the other clowns at my table gave off the exact opposite impression. We started with stacks of 10,000 chips and blinds of 25-50. Blind rounds were 20 minutes -- about average for most random live tournaments I find around the area -- and the structure was aggressive with doubles of the blinds every round for an hour and then an ante kicking in as well starting in the second hour, so this was definitely not a tournament created for the tighties to wait around for the pocket Aces they so desperately love.

Given the mix at my starting table in this thing, I immediately went to work trying to create an aggressive image, and I lost a few chips c-betting against two players in pots where they could not have made it more obvious that they were strong after I c-bet, so I managed to get away with the minimum lost after that point in both of those hands. Otherwise I didn't see any good cards for the first hour or so, and as bad as that was to deal with, I had to sit and watch Mr. Experience quickly demonstrate that he did not know nearly as much about tournament poker as I had originally thought, and yet just get paid off again and again and again.

Within the first five minutes of the tournament kicking off, Mr. Experience doubled up against a guy at the other end of the table when Mr. Experience instacalled all in on the Ten-high flop while holding JT, besting the mighty T6 of his opponent who exited early as he turned out to be the ultimate any-top-pair guy at the table. The instacall with just top pair Jack kicker for what amounted to about 180 big blinds was my first clue that Mr. Experience was probably not quite the seasoned poker pro I had read him to be. My second clue was maybe ten minutes later when he insta-pushed allin for well over 150 big blinds with T7 on a QT3 rainbow board. Of course, this time he got called as well by a player holding Q9s (I mean, how could he ever fold that for 100 effective big blinds?), and then, of course, Mr. Experience spiked a 7 on the river to eliminate his second player and swell his stack to over 30k in chips through just one level of blinds in this tournament.

Fast forward another 15 minutes to the end of Round 2, and Mr. Experience again found himself pushing allin -- this time for about 200 big blinds -- with 96 on a Q97 flop, got instacalled and found himself to be up against Q7 for flopped two pairs, and then proceeded to cut out the 10k in chips from his stack to pay off his opponent as he watched the turn and river come 6-6 to give him the miracle runner-runner boat, and to lift him to over 40k in chips when second place in the tournament at the time was sitting at around 15k -- and that 2nd place guy was me. I had been down to around 8000 chips before open-raising preflop with QJs, seeing an all-suited flop (wrong suit) of J93, and then leading out with a standard c-betty looking bet and getting called by one opponent who had been actively calling a lot of streets in a lot of pots without raising much at all, so I figured my top pair was likely to still be ahead here. On the raggy turn card which still left me with top pair, my opponent checked the action to me again but it was clear to me from his mannerisms that this was not some guy sitting on a flopped set and trying to string me along. He clearly did not want me to bet, so I did bet out again, confident that my top pair Queen kicker was ahead, and he called again after a few moments of hesitation. At this point, blinds had just increased to 100-200, and as I mentioned I was down to around 8k before the hand even started, so I had at this point more than a third of my stack in the pot, and when the river brought an ugly-ass Ace, I was about ready to spit. I just knew this guy had been calling me down with AQ or AT or something and had spiked his card on the river to beat my one-pair. But then a strange thing happened -- my opponent, who had check-called all the way through the hand to this point, waited literally no time at all before picking up his entire stack of chips and slamming it down really hard in the middle and announcing all-in in a faux-confident manner. The whole act was so ridiculous and so over the top to me that I instantly defined it as an act. I figured he did not have an Ace after all, and since I never thought he had a Jack either, all I could put him on was a bluff or some kind of middle pair or other. I hated calling off my last 20 big blinds or so with just second pair Queen kicker with an Ace on the board, but my gut kept telling me I was ahead all along and that I didn't trust his lead bet now either, so in the end after a good 20, 30 seconds to consider, I figured what's $100 if I'm wrong, but I thought I was ahead so I called. My opponent immediately slammed his cards down in disgust when I showed my Jack, flipped up a 9 for third pair. This brought me up to around 15k in chips, where again I was in second place in the entire tournament, behind only Mr. Experience two seats to my right who continually got in behind and made indefensibly silly bets in this and yet was sitting on around 42k in chips not even 45 minutes in to the tournament.

While I tried to get more aggressive with the 50% gain I had managed to the starting stacks in the first two blind rounds, Mr. Experience only got more and more brazen as his stack continued to swell. He raised three or four times in succession after a bunch of people had limped in behind him, at least one time showing down a face card and garbage eventually when he folded to a big raise on the turn, and at one point he reraised a preflop raiser for his entire stack with what turned out to be 97s, got called by pocket Jacks, and then proceeded to flop a flush draw and turn his flush to suckout-eliminate yet another player and jump to around 55k in chips, with me still in second place in the tournament with just under 15k. It was unreal what this guy was doing, the whole table was openly cracking up about it, and I could not wait to pick up a hand and take some serious chippage from this guy who clearly had no clue whatsoever how or when to slow down in a poker tournament.

Late in Round 3 as the first hour neared a close, I got my chance as Mr. Experience was utg and open-raised as he did every single time he was under the gun on the entire night to that point, and I peeled up the corners of my hole cards to find pocket Kings. Being that I was in middle position and that Mr. Experience was likely quite weak given his history to date, and given how positive I was that he would bet big (maybe even 300 big blinds!) on the flop regardless of whether it hit him or not, I opted to just call his preflop raise from middle position, hoping someone would try a squeeze where I could then re-reraise allin, but unfortunately nobody else wanted to mess with the two big stacks in the tournament to that time, especially when one of them had a golden horse up his ass. The flop came down Ten-high, and no sooner had I begun to consider how to get as close to a double-up as possible, when Mr. Experience immediately announced "I'm all in" once again. It was ridiculous, really. Here I am, trying to play this game correctly, and no wanting to end up with 80 big blinds in on the flop with just one pair, but the board was just so raggy and matched up so poorly with an utg preflop raiser's hand, and the guy had shown down so much utter stinking garbage so far on the night, that I felt compelled not to fold, and I simply announced "I have to call you with this hand."
I flipped up my pocket Kings for the overpair, and Mr. Experience showed pocket 9s -- easily the best hand he had shown on the day and thus I suppose better than what I expected, but he was no competition for me as my Kings were roughly a 91% favorite to take the hand over his underpair.

Then the 9 on the river continued this clown's ridiculous spate of luck, and ended my night early. All I know is, when I left this thing, there were I think 24 players remaining, with the five eliminations all having come at the hands of Mr. Experience, and he had around 72k in chips while second place was sitting on around 13k. Think about that for a moment -- and I don't think I honestly saw him make a single play on the day that was not a complete embarrassment to him and an abject affront to the game of poker across the board -- but he literally held more than five times the stack of the guy in second place -- not the average stack, but the second place stack -- not even an hour in to a tournament that was probably designed to last about 3-4 hours overall.

Now I can't say I stuck around to see how this tournament ended up, and the one guy I knew there who had mentioned it to me in the first place busted shortly after and he too does not know how it ended, but how much you wanna bet this guy found a way not to win the roughly $750 first prize in the end? All I know is, for me that is two consecutive live tournaments where my night ended an hour or so in on a river two-outer after being way ahead and even having the patience to wait until the flop was out before committing myself or my opponent. Could pokerstars be moving in to the live poker business?

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

More Flags, More Fun

I had the pleasure of taking my kids to the local Six Flags, a ginormous amusement park in the area during vacation this week, and we had an absolute raging blast. Although I keep getting older and my life continues to build up more old-sounding things like two kids in full-day school, well more than a decade practicing in my field and more than my share of gray hair on the sides, I have to admit I still love a good roller coaster. And it's important to me that my girls don't grow up to be pussies when it comes to a good thrill ride. I mean, who wants to hang out with someone who's afraid to ride a roller coaster when they're a teenager? Just like I want my girls to learn how to throw a baseball and a football, I want them to learn not to be afraid to test their limits in relatively safe, controlled environments like an amusement park.

In our case, we had incredible luck that I imagine was not intended when Six Flags decided to add a huge new water park called Hurricane Harbor right on the adjacent property about a decade ago. We had hand-picked the day to head out to the park well in advance, assuming that right up against the end of August was likely to be a bit cooler and thus attract a bit fewer visitors than might otherwise be heading out to 6 Flags right before school starts up again. But then of course, the day arrived at it turned out to be well over 95 degrees and far and away the hottest day of the entire month of August in NYC metro. Not only did that make slogging through the day with a few young kids a lot harder, but we figured we were really going to be in for it when we showed up at the park to lines roughly ten million people deep for all the big rides. Instead, however, what we found upon our early morning arrival was significant traffic buildup even before opening for the water park on this top-ten hottest day of the summer, but next to nobody fool enough to spend the day outside at the main park on roller coasters in what my car said was 101 degrees in the shade during the peak mid-afternoon temperatures.

What ensued was literally the most fun two or three hours in my childrens' entire lives up to this point. I immediately took the group to the log flume, an old standby that I knew would be sure to please this group of girls (my two and an old friend of theirs also from nyc) who had never before really even ridden a real roller coaster or ever felt that feeling of their stomach rising up to their throats as the bottom falls away beneath you. And again, thanks to the attraction of Hurricane Harbor right next door, there was absolutely no line. So much so, that when we were done with our first run, the attendants didn't even make us get out of our faux log before just letting us ride right on again. We did the log flume maybe 5 or 6 times in rapid succession at the childrens' insistence, then the runaway mine train which the girls were all just tall enough to ride on with a parent, which was the first real coaster these kids had ever been on. It was so rough and fast that I was feeling awful all the way through, knowing the kids would be upset by it, and I was particularly concerned about my four-year-old, who is timid and reserved as it is and seems much less of a badass if you know her than her older sister. But I have to tell you, my girl K is absolutely fearless. These girls loved the coaster more than I could have ever imagined, and again with no lines, we were able to take advantage and re-ride as much as the girls wanted before moving on to the regular standards like the carousel, the tea cups, and of course the flying swings that I used to love to ride at Six Flags when I was a kid. By the time we hit the Buccaneer and Skull Mountain (a relatively new indoor-in-the-dark roller coaster), the kids were hot and thirsty and tired and actually didn't even put up a fight leaving, and we closed the books on what was like I said without a doubt one of the most amazing and consciousness-altering days of the girls' young lives thus far. Score one for the amusement park in being able to provide an unmatched day of fun and wonder for young, impressionable minds.

Seriously though, can somebody tell me why they would ever bother continuing to make new roller coasters anymore now that they've got this?

I mean, the coaster actually goes straight up, and then turns straight down for a 90 degree plunge directly to the ground. When I was a kid we always used to debate whether the Loch Ness Monster at Kings Dominion or that ride at Busch Gardens had the steepest drop in the world, but at this point we're kind of at straight-up 90 degrees here so it's hard to beat that. Although actually this new Kingda Ka ride at Six Flags is even more than 90 degrees, as if you're up close you can see that it actually plunges ever so slightly in towards the inside at the very beginning of that sickening drop, such that it's actually something more like 91 or 92 degrees. I mean, you're plunging even steeper than straight down. And did I mention it's also the tallest and the fastest roller coaster in the world today?

One sure sign I am indeed getting old: I am not sure I'll be taking the girls on this one once they achieve the 54 inches required to risk one's life on this thing. Straight down maybe, but I just don't think I see the point of suffering a 470-foot high drop of more than 90 degrees, do you?

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