Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NFL Winners and Losers -- Week 3

Week 3 was yet another exciting mix of games, including some incredible finishes that you only really get to see in the NFL. Here are my thoughts on the biggest winners and losers of Week 3, once again in no particular order:


1. Brett Favre and the Vikings. Wow!! I know I wrote here just a few weeks ago that, despite Favre's obvious self-centeredness, I had given up being annoyed by it and was just looking forward to his play during the season with excitement. And this week was exactly why. That last-second mini-hail mary pass that Favre completed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at the hands of the upstart San Francisco 49ers was the stuff of legends, and lord knows that Vikings fans across the land all had to change their boxer shorts within seconds of the incredible, Favre-led comeback win. Now lord knows it's not all going to be jumping around and carrying Favre off the field on the team's shoulders all through this season -- Favre is 85 years old now, and let us not forget that he threw six touchdowns for the Jets in a game early in the season last year -- but for now that was as big of a play as the Vikes could ever have expected in that spot, and it took excitement to a whole new level. Cue the Packers on Monday Night Football next week for Favre as he finally gets his chance to shine in what really is Favre's Superbowl this year.

2. The 49ers and coach Mike Singletary. Even in the loss to the Vikings this weekend, the 49ers seemed to cement their arrival as the team to beat in the NFC West and a force to be reckoned with for any team in the NFC this year. Second-year head coach Mike Singletary gave perhaps the best post-loss interview I can recall in some time after the game, which saw his team fight through the loss of star runningback Frank Gore on his very first play of the day to take a 4-point lead into the final seconds of the game before Favre's miracle pass to win it, with Singletary encouraging his team to accept the early-season loss, "chew it up and spit it out", and to remember what it feels like and get better from the experience, but just watching him speak one is reminded of the same guy who used to patrol the field for the Bears back on those incredible 80's Bears defenses.

3. The Jets. What can you say that hasn't already been said about Mark Sanchez and the Jets as one of the two undefeated teams in New York right now? After a very hot start, Sanchez got absolutely rolled in the second quarter against the desperate Tennessee Titans. But first-year head coach Rex Ryan -- son of Buddy Ryan who coached Mike Singletary et al on the Bears' defense in the mid-1980's -- must've said something right during halftime, and Sanchez came out and led his team to a come-from-behind 24-17 victory and the team's hottest start in years. This sets the stage for a huge game next Sunday in New Orleans between two of the league's undefeated teams and arguably the best offense in the NFL matching up against the league's stingiest defense. Can't wait for that one.

4. The Giants and Tom Coughlin. Now I know they were playing the Buccaneers, but shit the Giants just rolled that team like they were playing a bunch of girls in pads on Sunday afternoon. It was about as complete of an ass-kicking on both sides of the ball as you'll ever see in one game, including just 81 yards of total offense for the Bucs on the day. The Giants' running game is on fire once again, its young receivers are stepping up and Eli Manning continues to lead his team to the promised land week in and week out. The Giants have clearly established themselves as the favorites in the NFC East with their 3-0 hot start on both offense and defense, and head coach Tom Coughlin is deserving of the highest praise as the team's head coach. Year in and year out, much of the key personnel on both sides of the ball changes (Tiki Barber, Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, Plax Burress on offense, Michael Strahan, Dahani Jones, Osi Yumenora and others as well on defense), but the Giants have consistently been at the top of the NFL's toughest division during the past several years under Coughlin's leadership and tutelage.

5. The Colts. Here is a team that I have picked against in two of the first three games of this season, and I have been wrong every time. Dead wrong. Even with a weakened runningback position and a whole slate of new wide receivers, reigning NFL MVP Peyton Manning has proven this year's version of the Colts to be far and away the league's greatest quick-strike offense, with six touchdown drives already in three games that lasted six plays or fewer. That is a sick stat right there, just as sick as actually watching a Colts game, seeing the team only have the ball for 15 or 20 minutes and yet somehow still amass 28 or more points in the game. The Colts are not looking to be having the down year I had predicted earlier for them, and it's going to be fun seeing how teams combat the incredible pass offense in Indy going forward.

6. The Lions. No list of Week 3's winners could be made without mentioning the Detroit Lions, who grabbed their first win in 20 games by edging out the Washington Redskins 19-14 on Sunday afternoon. Sure it's just one win, and obviously Detroit has a ton of work to do in order to actually stop sucking, but you gotta start somewhere, and that somewhere is with the team's first win in more than a full season. The Buccaneers and their historical 0-26 streak in the 80s will also now remain intact, and the focus among current teams can now shift to the St. Louis Rams, who have now lost 13 straight games after getting punched by 19 points by the Packers this weekend.

7. Kevin Kolb. Eagles' backup quarterback Kevin Kolb had to step in starting in Week 2 when starter Donovan McNabb suffered broken ribs after a cheap-shot hit in the end zone a week ago, and just the name alone made Eagles fans think the team was in big trouble during McNabb's absence. Instead, Kolb has been nothing short of magical -- albeit against not strong defensive squads in both New Orleans and now this weekend with Kansas City -- but he has crushed both defenses just as one might expect a viable NFL quarterback to do. In two games, Kolb has thrown for 724 yards and 5 touchdowns, becoming the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to surpass 300 yards passing in each of his first two starts. With the Eagles on a bye week next week, it seems likely that D-Mac is back at the helm at qb for the Eagles' October 11 matchup with the Buccaneers, but Kolb filled in more than merely sufficiently in McNabb's absence and has really won over a ton of Eagles fans in Philly and elsewhere, this "humble" blogger included.


1. The Redskins. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.!

2. TO. For the second straight week, TO appears on the "losers" list because, well, he is playing like an abject loser. After dropping two key touchdown passes and amassing just five receptions for under a hundred yards over his first two games in Buffalo, Terrell Owens followed that up with a 0-catch performance in Week 3, breaking TO's league-longest streak of consecutive games with at least one reception at 185. Plus, I saw at least one more dropped pass from TO on the day, plus two other longballs thrown his way where he clearly gave up on trying for them. One was a deep crossing route where TO pulled up and pulled in his arms instead of stretching out to catch the ball because the safety was right nearby fixing to land a big hit if he laid out to catch it, and the other was just a long pass where TO had beaten his defender down the sidelines, looked up, and I guess just decided he couldn't reach the ball, at which point he simply looked down at the ground and stopped running his route, allowing the ball to land incomplete about five yards beyond his position. In all, it is as obvious as the day is long that TO's frustrations are starting to boil over in Buffalo, and unfortunately for TO, this time it's not after one or two seasons of stellar performance and good relations with his quarterback at his new location. It's gonna be a long season for TO fans in Buffalo this year me thinks.

3. Eric Mangini. Boy has this guy funked up his life over the past year. First he agreed to take on Brett Favre with the Jets in 2008, which was a public disaster and eventually led to his firing after just three seasons in New York. Then Mangini jumped to take the head coaching job at the hapless Cleveland Browns, where his tenure has started off about as bad as could possibly be, going 0-3 and giving rise to the worst kind of quarterback controversy as well. After refusing for some ridiculous reason to name his starter until just days before the team's Week 1 game, Mangini finally benched Brady Quinn due to his poor performance after the first half on Sunday. Derek Anderson, who had started a number of games to relatively strong results over the past couple of seasons, promptly came in for the second half and threw not one, not two but three picks in yet another ugly loss for the Browns. Combine this performance with Mangini managing to rankle just about everyone in the organization with his inexplicable insistence on managing all information leaving the team and his strict control over all the players' actions during games and in between, and Eric Mangini's days could be real short in Cleveland after this year.

4. The Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins' season went from bad to worse on Sunday, as the 0-2 Dolphins lost their third game in a row to start their defense to winning the 2008 AFC East title, and they also lost quarterback Chad Pennington in the process. Pennington, whose claim to fame includes that he has never failed to lead his team to the playoffs in any season where he starts at least 10 games, will be able to continue to make this claim as he appears to be out for the season with yet another shoulder injury. Having already had two major surgeries on this same shoulder in the latter part of his career, I would guess at this point that returning to the NFL may be a pipe dream for Pennington, who will then retire as one of the under-appreciated, but over-efficient, quarterbacks of the past decade or so in the NFL.

5. Jamarcus Russell. I wrote about this guy in this exact same spot last week, after the Raiders' "quarterback" (and I don't think we should be allowed to refer to him as that without the quotation marks, given his performance so far in the NFL) had won a game while completing under 40% of his passes for 70 total yards through the air, but this week saw the Raiders get thumped 23-3 by a far less than strong offensive Denver Broncos team. On Sunday Russell went 12-for-21 -- a significant improvement in his completion percentage for the season, sadly -- for 61 yards and no touchdowns. In an entire game. 12 completions for just 61 yards means the guy cannot throw the ball downfield -- at all -- and that he is basically just being used as a glorified handoffer as is often the case with a poorly-executed West Coast offense. Jamarcus Russell is not an NFL quarterback, and his numbers week in and week out continue to broadcast this fact to the public for anyone who is willing and able to listen and discern the truth from NFL statistics.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

NFL Pick 5 -- Week 3

So I went 2-3 against the spread with my Pick Five picks in Week 2. I nailed two big upsets by underdogs right, essentially predicting exactly how the Jets would beat the Cheatriots and the Saints would crush the Eagles, but then I was on the losing end of the last-second comebacks by both the Giants over the Cowboys and the Colts over the Dolphins near the end of the week's action. Of course I also took the loss betting on the Detroit Lions, who played the overhyped Packers tough but who could not keep it to single digits as the game wore on. So far, Brett Favre has been pretty damn near unimpressive in doing very little for the offense in Minnesota, but the team is 2-0 and is facing one of the very worst teams the NFL has to offer in the Rams this weekend.

So here's my NFL Pick 5 for Week 3, as usual in no particular order:

1. I'm going to start this week with what is probably the most obvious game on the slate for the weekend, and that is to take the Tennessee Titans + 3 points at the New York Jets. Yes, the Jets have looked awesome. Yes they just beat the Cheatriots last weekend for the first time at home in nine years. Yes they have the best defense in the NFL through two games. And yes, Tennessee is 0-2 while the Jets are 2-0. But let's be honest here -- the Titans are probably the best 0-2 team in history, and the Jets, with their rookie quarterback who still only has about 15 total starts under his belt including college, and their rookie head coach are probably not the strongest 2-0 team we've ever seen either. And the Titans are nothing is not utterly desperate right now. This is a team that started off 2008 10-0 before this same Jets squad broke their streak, and with Chris Johnson stepping up so far there's no reason to think they are any worse than last year's Titans, so I think there's a good chance that Jeff Fisher finds a way to pull this one out. Plus field goal of a buffer with the points, and this one has to be Tennessee in my book.

2. Green Bay - 6.5 points at St. Louis. I just can't pass this matchup up, even with the fluffy line for a road team that itself has played mediocrely so far this year. But the Rams have perhaps the worst defense in the entire NFL, and that should bode well for Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver et al. Combined with this being an indoor game with less opportunity to disrupt the Packers' offense, and I think Green Bay bounces back from a bad loss to win by more than a touchdown on the road this weekend.

3. New Orleans - 6 at Buffalo. Here's another road favorite I like this week, as a less than a touchdown line for far and away the league's best offensive team against an undermatched Buffalo defense could spell big trouble for the Bills. Yes they have TO this year, but so far he has dropped more passes than the five he's caught all year, and I can't see TO being a huge factor against the Saints' juggernaut offense. If this game happens in late December in Buffalo then things might change, but right now I'm expecting another many points put up by the Saints and a win of more than 6 on the weekend.

4. San Francisco + 7 at the Vikings. The 49ers were one of my sleeper picks to win the NFC West just before the season started, and so far they have made me look good as the team is really coming together for second-year head coach Mike Singletary. At 2-0 the team could easily be ready for a loss, especially on the road at everyone's favorite pick in the NFC North, the Brett Favre-led Vikings. The Vikes have looked anything but sharp so far in two victories, and we all know the quarterback is just an interception avalanche waiting to happen, so with the full 7 point spread I think this becomes good value for the 9ers and the points.

5. Arizona - 2.5 at home vs. the Colts. I don't love having to give the 2 1/2 points vs a team like the Colts, who showed us their quick-strike ability over and over again last Monday night against the defenseless Dolphins. But something tells me that Kurt Warner can bust out another win here at home to follow up on last week's 24-for-26 performance. That guy really is amazing, and I haven't been impressed yet with the Colts in their two wins. Indy loses its first game of the year, and I'll assume it is by at least a field goal and take the Cardinals.

Best of luck if you're playing the games this weekend.

Your World Champion Philadelphia Phillies' magic number to clinch the NL East: 4.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dow 9917

You heard it here first -- Wednesday afternoon could have been it.

About a month ago, I posted here in response to the number of comments I was hearing about how ridiculous the huge recovery in U.S. stock prices had gotten, as at the time the Dow Industrials had jumped from a low of 6600 and change back in March of this year to around 9100. At the time I posted a largely contrarian view, that the Dow was likely in for another 10-15% rise to right up near 10,000, before I figured it would be destined take a seat after a very likely bounce off of the key 10k level.

Well like I said, Wednesday afternoon, just before 3pm, might just have been the top:

Although the market was weakish in the morning, come afternoon time and word at 2:15pm that the Fed plans to keep interest rates effectively down at zero for the foreseeable future, and the buyers started emerging from the woodwork in typical quick-reaction to a seemingly favorable Fed decision. Within half an hour or so after word from the Fed, stocks were at the highs of the day, and the Dow Industrials crossed the 9900 mark for the first time since the financial meltdown more than a year ago now, briefly touching the 9917 mark for less than a single percent below Dow 10k.

But then everything just fell apart. Suddenly it wasn't interest rates remaining near zero that the traders were whispering about. After a short while to reflect on the Fed's decision, one tidbit started to stand out more and more -- the Fed's concurrent announcement that it would ramp up the slowdown of some of its trillion-dollars-plus of purchases of mortgage-backed securities. All of a sudden, low interest rates were a nice thing, but the reality of withdrawal of the historically extraordinary support the Fed has given the U.S. economy over the past year set in, and the last hour or so of trading was all sell sell sell. By the time the smoke had cleared at 4pm on Wall Street, the DJIA had plunged 169 points in an hour from its high of 9917, closing the day at 9748 for the first abrupt late-day sell reversal we've seen in the market in quite some time.

I said it before and I'll say it again -- I think this market's been itching to go to Dow 10,000 for many months, but I don't feel right now like investors' still-scarred psyches can handle a sustained push into five digits on the world's most-watched blue-chip index. I would not be remotely surprised if this is as high as the market gets for some time now, and that over the next little while we could very well be heading lower and not higher for the first time in six months. Although I still think it's quite clear that the economy is nowhere near as bad as the worst pessimists out there had been fearing now a year after the global financial implosion, it's also equally clear that things are nowhere remotely close to getting back where they were a year or two ago either. 3.5 million incremental jobs have been lost in the last year just in the U.S. alone, and entire pockets of businesses, mostly related to securitization, mortgages, and loan repurchasing, have entirely disappeared, perhaps forever. To suggest that the market can or should keep running up from here back to the old highs is, at least to this market-weary investor, not in keeping with reality. And always staying in touch with reality is one of my basic precepts to smart investing.

So I'm out there looking for put options today on some bad companies whose stocks have rallied hugely with the general flow over the past six months. I really love the stocks I've picked up at ridiculous firesale prices over the past year, even at today's fluffed-up prices after a 60% rally in half a year, but there's no reason for me to sit just idly by and watch my portfolio slough off 20% of its value during a correction that I have felt very confident was coming at more or less exactly the point that the market reversed at yesterday afternoon.

To me, today is another one of those days like when I was out here talking about UYG at $1.50 back in March ($6.33 yesterday afternoon):

It's time to put my money where my mouth is.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Death of the Private Blogger Tournament

I've read more than a few posts out there lately in the poker blogosphere -- such as it exists today, anyways -- lamenting the apparent death of the private blogger tournament.

There's something to be said for it. I've written this many times before, but I still remember vividly the days of Wil Wheaton's weekly WWdN tournament on pokerstars, which really, truly was the only time that more or less all of us involved in poker blogging at the time would get together and chat it up. Every single week, Tuesday nights at 8:30pm ET it was as I recall, Wil provided the opportunity for everyone to sit and laugh with our friends and sling some cards. Sure near the end people wanted to win if they were close, but for the most part these things were for fucking fun. I looked forward to them all week, literally. It would be Saturday afternoon and I would already catch myself thinking about the next Tuesday night and my next chance to make some jokes, drop some hammers, and play a little poker with my new friends. And of course, to eliminate Wil from the tournament and get it named after me the next week, but that's neither here nor there.

The thing is, the WWdN was a looooooooong time ago at this point, and it took place at a time when the composition of the group who identified themselves as "poker bloggers" was significantly different from what it has become over the past couple of years. Back when the WWdN was rampant -- regularly attracting 120, 130 runners in its heyday -- I would describe poker blogging as still a relatively new thing. There were way fewer poker blogs out there, and more than the smaller number, the poker blogging that went on back in the day was more "pure" in a sense. It was purer in that the people involved were, for the most part, blogging about poker because they were interested in poker and wanted to write down their thoughts and get some analysis and thoughts going in the comments. Some people wrote stories about poker on their blogs, some people wrote about the 2+2 threads while they were still readable, and some wrote about their adventures in and around poker tournaments, Las Vegas, whatever. But for the most part -- and I acknowledge that I am surely over-generalizing here to an extent -- the "poker bloggers" of four or five years ago were really into it for the poker, and for the enjoyment of all that blogging about the game can bring.

It was this "pure" spirit that led to the creation of the first poker bloggers' gathering back in Ought-4 or whenever it was, and it was that same spirit among the then-existing bloggers that used to contribute to the 120 WWdN participants every week, and the jovial atmosphere that surrounded that game week-in and week-out. There really were very few (there's always some, but very few) bad eggs. And it was that same spirit that was still very much in force throughout our community that led to 125 donkeys showing up for the blogger gathering as late as the summer of 2006, my first time actually meeting "the bloggers" face to face.

And what a time it was. People who won't even fucking talk to me today came up to me and introduced themselves, and I made a lot of good friends. By that time I was already going strong here on my blog, building my readership quickly, and I had introduced the notion of using screenshots to graphically illustrate and discuss poker hands into my blog. It was really catching on, and people actually wanted to meet that crazy pompous ass Hoyazo who took all the screenshots for their amusement. Tons of people. The old school. The new school, which by now is basically almost old school themselves. I'm not sure when was the last time I had such an unexpected great time hanging out with a huge group of people who had been absolute strangers to me just a few days earlier. That open, warm spirit was still very much alive in bloggerland back in 2006, and even though the WWdN might have been gone or at least on its last legs back then, the Mookie was waiting right in the wings to pick up the slack and maintain that place where everyone in our group could get together with some regularity and shoot the shit.

I would say it was somewhere in early 2007 where things started to change. And when I say "things", I don't mean the popularity of the private blogger tournaments per se -- these were actually just about to take off with the advent of the BBT -- but I mean more the composition and nature of the participants in our group. At first it happened so slow that nobody even noticed it, just a few new additions to the group who weren't really making themselves or their true nature known yet in a public way. But it didn't take long for many of us who had been involved with the group for a few years already to notice that things were simply different than they had been. I've spent countless hours over the past few years trying to put my finger on what exactly it was that changed, and I think the best that I can come up with goes back to the level of "purity" in the nature of our group. Back four or five years ago, for the most part the only people who bothered poker blogging did so because of either a love of poker and/or a love of blogging about things related to poker. Again, there have always been exceptions to this, but generally speaking that's the purity I keep referring to.

However, by the time 2007 was well underway, the number of new people entering the fray of "poker blogging" was exploding. The BBT had begun that summer, bringing a whole slew of new people, with new motivations, into the fold. Others got involved for other reasons, not necessarily bad ones at all, but not those same reasons of love of poker or love of blogging that had been predominant over the early days of our group. More and more people were starting to blog about poker not for the sake of poker blogging itself, but rather for some other ulterior motive, for which the poker blogging was just a means to an end. Some people created poker blogs just to play in the WPBT or the BBT. Others started poker blogs to make money from other bloggers, and for some, to outright commercialize our group for some purpose or other. Some even created poker blogs just to scam other bloggers out of their money. A number of members of our group over the past couple of years only joined to meet someone and not out of any real sustained interest in blogging at all. Many people created or maintained their blogs as a crutch for their own insecurity, to create a false internet identity and then live that persona and interact among our community like they wish they lived and interacted in real life.

Throwing all these new people with all these new motivations into the mix ended up being the beginning of the end of the private blogger tournaments as we know them today. Sure, the participation in blogger events soared as the BBT and then the BBT2 went off in 2007, and by the time BBT3 rolled around in the summer of 2008, we actually saw one or two blogger events that rivalled the size that the WWdN had been almost every week some three years before. But it was still never quite as big as the WWdN had been regularly, and the purity was almost all gone from it. Take away those big BBT prizes, and the attendance would always cut more than in half almost immediately. The mix of people in our group were, as a whole, no longer blogging for the sake of blogging, and they weren't playing the private tournaments for the sake of camaraderie and fun. They were playing for something else -- whatever their own agenda was -- and it showed.

It was around this time that you really started to see the very first of the consistent negative comments in the chatbox in the private events. It's been all too common among the bloggers to explain this away simply because "tempers rise high with so much more on the line", and to an extent that is surely true. But most people don't realize that it was always more than that. By and large, the people who were playing in the private blogger events by 2007 just weren't in it for the fun and the camaraderie anymore. So where we had 98% fun, funny people playing in the WWdN back in 2005, and therefore we almost never saw the dickheadedness in the chatbox of our own private events among friends, by 2007 and 2008, that percentage was way, way down. And with a bunch more people who weren't interested in being friends, having fun or in being civil to anybody were playing in the events, of course the atmosphere suffered. It wasn't just about how much more was on the line, because even with nothing on the line people were jerks aplenty. And the jerkness spread to all corners of the poker blogging community, not just the private tournament chatbox. The number of negative blog posts and negative commentary about others was significantly higher than it would ever have been back in the day, by several multiples. The number of people maintaining poker blogs who were actually just angry, jealous people with not much else going on in their lives had jumped over the past few years, and these are the people who tended to cause most of the trouble, and especially to pile on when they sensed another member of the community was vulnerable. The whole notion of doing anything but helping another poker blogger who was vulnerable for some reason would have been abhorrent to all of us back in 2005 -- back when 120 people played the WWdN every week with nary a cross word uttered in the chatbox, back when 130 people descended on Las Vegas from all around the country and around the world in the summer of 2006 -- but by 2007 and 2008, if certain people saw another blogger getting slammed on, it was over. It was negative comments about the person in every blog they could find. Shit, you can actually look at these people's blogs right now and they still have the negative crap up -- prominently featured in some cases -- because amazingly they aren't even embarrassed about the piling on they've done. They're proud of it. Because they just don't care. Again, back in 2005, there just weren't many people interested in doing that to other bloggers, because the nature of the group and its members' interests in participating in it was so much purer in the sense I have described above.

Now here we are getting on late 2009, and this trend within the composition of the poker blogging community has continued still over the past year or two. To a guy like me it seems like the majority of the people who have joined the group over the past long while are doing so not for the sake of the poker, but for some other purpose. With such a different customer base nowadays if you will, it only stands to reason that the private blogger tournaments have very little interest in them anymore. To the people who helped make these things the fun and jovial times-to-look-forward-to that they used to be, today they are an absolute shadow of their former selves.

Ever wonder why the only people who clamor anymore these days for the private blogger games to continue to grow are people who weren't playing them even just two or three years ago? Now you know.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Winners and Losers

The NFL packed another powerful punch in Week 2, with several big winners and several big losers emerging from what we saw all Sunday long across the world's best professional sports league bar none.

The Big Winners:

Rex Ryan. The automated phone call to 55,000 Jets season ticket holders during the week, encouraging them to come out and support the team as hard as they can and hinting at expected victory for the first time against the Cheatriots in New York since 2000. Keeping his rookie quarterback totally in the game and not requiring him to do too much. Holding the Cheats to just 9 points in his first time coaching against Bill Belichik. In fact, giving up just 9 and 7 points in his first two games as head coach. Watch out for the Jets in the biggest sports media market in the world.

Jay Cutler. Cutler didn't exactly play great against the Steelers' vaunted defense, but he sure saved himself a whole world of heartache by throwing the fourth-quarter td pass to Johnny Knox to secure a win this week and stop himself from starting off 0-2 in Chicago. Although Cutler only threw for 236 yards on the day, it was enough to win against a very stingy defense, and more importantly, his line included two tds and no picks, a huge improvement from the 77 interceptions he threw against the Packers at Lambeau last week. Cutler has been redeemed for now, and his Bears are right back in the hunt for the hotly-contested NFC North.

Eli Manning. Say what you want about the guy, but Eli is getting better every single week, and he is downright proficient at leading a 4th-quarter offense. And how 'bout that 360-turnaround play and then accurate throw in the fourth quarter of Sunday night's game against the Cowboys? That was Favre-esque, and by that I mean the athletic, youthful version of Favre we used to see with the Packers several decades ago. Eli's Giants are off to a 2-0 start in the NFC East, and put a serious damper on the opening of the Cowboys' opulent new stadium in Dallas. And special kudos also go out to new Giants starting wideout Mario Manningham, who now has 13 receptions for 208 yards and two touchdowns through his first two games as a starter in New York, helping to fill the void left by the self-shooting Plaxico Burress.

Drew Brees. Wow. Nine touchdowns in two games this year, after easily outperforming all other NFL quarterbacks in 2008 as well in completing 65% of his passes for 34 touchdowns and 5069 yards last season. The Saints are averaging 46.5 points per game to start the season, and with the Panthers playing like dog poop, it looks like the Saints will be talking playoffs (cue the Jim Mora "Playoffs?!" soundbite here) soon enough coming out of the NFC South.

The Losers:

TO. Even with the Bills winning their game this weekend to move to 1-1, TO is quickly picking up right where he left off last year as far as his season being defined more by two blatant drops so far in his first two games than by any actual highlights he's been coming up with. Yeah he scored his first touchdown this weekend, but have you seen his stats so far on the season? We're 1/8 of the way through NFL 2009 already, and TO is at 5 catches for 98 yards and 1 score. Not good. Nor is it good that TO was seen angrily yelling at the fans on the sidelines after his touchdown this weekend, nor suggesting after last week's loss that his quarterback "needs to throw the ball downfield" more. Uh huh, Terrell. Just catch the damn ball.

Tony Romo. 13 of 29 for 127 yards on national tv on Sunday night to open the Cowboys' new gem of a stadium? One touchdown but three picks, all of which led to touchdowns for the Giants on the night? Granted one of the interceptions was a flukey off-the-shoe tip catch by Giants rookie Bruce Johnson, but still, Romo looked like crap on Sunday night, there's just no other way to say it. And how tired are we all getting of having to look at Wade Phillips' obviously confused, beaten-down mug on the sidelines 85 times a game for the Cowboys? Thank god that guy'll be long gone a year from now. Hope everyone likes the idea of Mike Shanahan or Bill Cowher's scowl on those sidelines, because that's what we other NFC East fans will be seeing a lot of starting in 2010.

The Tennessee Titans. The last team to lose a game in 2008 has now started off 2009 at 0-2, thanks to not enough offense and a very poor defensive showing giving up 420 yards against the Houston Texans this weekend. This week's beneficiary was Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, who followed up his awful performance against the Jets in week 1 with a 359-yard, four-touchdown outburst against the defending AFC South champions this Sunday. Also spoiled in the loss was the Titan's Chris Johnson's sick-ass effort, scoring on touchdown runs of 91 and 57 yards on the day in addition to catching a td pass of 69 yards. Now that right there is a fantasy football players' dream, especially the super dumb leagues that award extra points for touchdowns of more than 50 yards.

Special Category: The Loser Winners:

The Washington Redskins. A 9-7 "win", if you can even call it that, over the hapless St. Louis Rams this weekend doesn't even begin to describe the ineptitude shown by both teams at Fedex Field on Sunday afternoon. Skins qb Jason Campbell did throw for 245 yards in the win, but obviously no td passes as four 60-yard drives for the Skins stalled out at or before the red zone without the team notching a single touchdown against a Rams squad who has won only twice in their last 18 games. Daniel Snyder continues his reign of terror in Washington, DC, bringing in an endless parade of overpriced superstars and ineffective coaches to the nation's capital and absolutely wasting his time yet again this year in the NFC East.

And then there are the Raiders, and more specifically, quarterback Jamarcus Russel against the Chiefs in Kansas City. Russell went 7 for 24 for 109 yards on a thoroughly miserable day in the pocket, and yet somehow that was enough to win the game! In fact, this entire game was a total and utter mismatch, with the Chiefs amassing 409 total yards to the Raiders' paltry 166, earning 25 first downs to the Raiders' 11, and holding the ball for nearly 39 minutes to the Raiders' 21, but yet none of this could stop Jamarcus Russel from becoming the second quarterback in more than twelve years to complete less than 30 percent of his passes with a minimum of 20 attempts but still win an NFL game. It's hard to imagine an uglier win than this one, or an uglier franchise than the Oakland Raiders.

And the Biggest Loser of All award goes to:

NBC. What on earth are these guys doing with their Sunday Night Football coverage? This is Dick Ebersol's big plan to keep NBC relevant to the football scene in the U.S.? Faith Hill copying Hank Williams with a ghey pre-recorded song just prior to the coverage of the kickoff? Repeatedly showing the letters "SNF" to promote their own Sunday Night Football brand, also clearly copied directly from the long-standing MNF Monday Night Football moniker? And then, somehow, forbidding the studio commentators from referring to "NBC" at all during the opening segment and at halftime, instead insisting on repeated references to "Football Night in America". Football Night in America? On a day that is chock full from dawn to dusk with NFL football games, Sunday night is now going to be known across the nation and the globe as "Football Night in America"? Keep dreaming, NBC. And keep dreaming that your tagline "I've been waiting all day for Sunday night" will speak to a single viewer of your games, who once again have just spent an entire fucking day watching nothing but NFL football games! Why on earth would any of us be waiting all day for Sunday night? It's one thing to just blindly copy Monday Night Football like a bunch of plagiaristic lemmings, but for crying out loud, use your brains at least a teensy little bit and change the things that don't make any sense whatsoever when applied to Sunday Night Football instead of Monday night. On Mondays, depending on the matchup, I and I'm sure many of you out there do in fact look forward all day to the Monday night game. But on Sunday? I'm surprised they didn't just call their Sunday night broadcast "Monday Night Football" and not change that either when they stole it from ABC. What an absolute joke, top to bottom on NBC's coverage of the Sunday night games.

And NBC, I have a newsflash for you: Keith Olberman and Dan Patrick were really, really cool co-anchors on SportsCenter back in the day. But that was literally 18 years ago now. Today, Keith Olberman is widely regarded as one of the biggest assholes on network tv, so partisan and biased in his unprofessional "reporting" that he had to be kicked off of covering all political events on MSNBC, and NBC viewers don't want to see him anywhere on the network, including on Sunday night football games instead of the refuse pile where his stale ass belongs. And Dan Patrick is, well, old. In 1992 when Patrick used to bust out with "the Whiff" on a strikeout in baseball and "en fuego" to describe Michael Jordan's latest run, it was really new, cool and refreshing. Now Patrick's shtick is just old, and boring. Seriously -- really, really boring. And then to go along with the tired Keith Olberman and Dan Patrick routine, you bring in Tony Dungy and some other guy I've never heard of or seen before to liven things up? I've got some more news for you, NBC. Tony Dungy may be a very nice man, he may have endured a very sad situation with his son. He may have somehow underperformed and got overrated for that underperformance for years as a coach in Tampa Bay and then in Indianapolis. And, he may even have somehow hitched his wagon to Mike Vick this year and yet still, somehow, come away from it all squeaky-clean as ever. And of course Dungy may be a deeply religious man. But, unfortunately for NBC, none of this does anything to make Dungy even remotely interesting as a football commentator. He is just terrible, and the team put together by NBC for the Sunday night coverage is without a doubt the worst of any network, any game, covering football games on television in my entire lifetime. There, I said it.

Your World Champion Philadelphia Phillies' magic number is 6 baybeeee. Bring it on.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

NFL Pick Five

In the future I will plan to get this post out sometime during the week, but I thought starting with Week 2 of the NFL season, I would post five picks against the spread each week, and then keep track and see how I do throughout the season. As I've mentioned previously, historically early in the season I have fared somewhat poorly, but by the middle and late stages of the year and heading into the postseason, my accuracy with NFL picks has steadily improved. Hopefully this year I can follow on to my huge run in last year's NFL post-season and keep the ball rolling starting here in Week 2.

So here is my first Pick Five of the NFL season, in no particular order:

1. Jets +3.5 at home vs. the Cheatriots. Jets could win this game outright. The Cheats looked bad until the final few minutes last week, while the Jets defense came out like gangbusters against the Texans to start the season. I think the Pats have a good shot to beat Mark Sanchez and the Jets on Sunday, but I don't expect a ton of scoring in this one and I am going with the points.

2. Saints +1 at the Eagles. Again, I think there is a good shot that the Saints win this game outright, and getting the extra point is just gravy. We're talking about Drew Brees, easily the best quarterback in the NFL over the past 17 weeks, against a depleted Philly defense with a new defensive coordinator, plus some guy named Kolb starting for the Eagles. This one could get ugly folks, and we push even if the Eagles pull out a one-point victory.

3. Dallas -3 vs the Giants. In December of course this would be a different story, but this is September and that means the Cowboys and Tony Romo will come to play this week. It's the home opener in that brand new $1.3 billion stadium in Dallas, and I do not think the home team will disappoint. Plus, the Giants continue to have a major weakness in the passing game which will also inhibit their ability to score, especially in a hostile environment like this one.

4. Miami +3 vs the Colts. I can't explain how or why Miami is going to cover on this one. But I couldn't explain it last year either while the Dolphins streaked to an 11-3 finish and won the AFC East outright. I have the Colts on a down year this year, and the Dolphins following up nicely to last season's coming-out party, and as a result I think the Dolphins have a good chance of winning this one outright. With the 3 points it's definite value in my eyes.

5. Detroit +10 vs the Vikings. Detroit sucks, obviously. Their defense is hideous, as Drew Brees and his 6 touchdowns showed last week. But they have played the Vikes tough in Detroit in their last few meetings, and with Favre you just never know when four picks and two pick 6's are on their way. I like the Vikes to win, but not by double digits.

Best of luck to everyone playing these games this week!

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Thursday, September 17, 2009


For anyone living in a cave or something, up there is Serena Williams officially losing me this weekend, after I have been a big fan of hers for a long time. I mean, I've always loved the Williams sisters, mostly because they can really play the game and they make for great, interesting television, and secretly I've always rooted harder for Serena than for Venus because I too am a younger sibling with an overachieving older brother very close in age to me, so I understand the competitiveness and the spirit burning inside Serena better than most. But somehow, since Serena completely lost it at the US Open this past weekend, all I seem to be hearing is how she got screwed, she was the victim of an unfair foot fault call, and that what she did is wrong but no big deal.

Well it is a big deal, it's a very big deal, and in my view, so far Serena Williams has gotten off very easy compared to what should be happening to her as a result of her little outburst.

Let's start by talking about what got Serena all worked up in the first place. Serena complains that she never gets called for foot faults, but suddenly here in this U.S. Open, she got called for them all the time. Specifically, two points away from losing the U.S. Open semifinals to Kim Clijsters, Serena was called for a foot fault that ended up making her face two match points in a row. And ESPN and the networks have plenty of up close and personal footage where you can easily see that part of Serena's foot does in fact touch the line on the serve when she was called for the fault, so there's no actual doubt about whether or not the call was accurate. Serena's explanation above seems to suggest instead that she thinks she is entitled to foot fault whenever she wants because it is not something that she feels has been consistently called against her this year. To this day Serena only refers to the call as "the unfair foot fault call", even while eventually apologizing to her opponent, her fans and even to the line judge after about two days and making two other press releases first.

Unfair? And how exactly is this call unfair? So let me get this straight: Serena makes a habit of foot-faulting, and some times this year the line judges have not always called it on her. There is a clear rule, the thick white line is there where the players serve for a reason, but Serena I guess just likes to disregard that clear rule of tennis when it suits her. And some people have let her get away with it previously. So now she's automatically entitled to continue getting away with clearly violating one of tennis's main procedural rules? I mean, this isn't necessarily like when people say the refs should swallow the whistle in overtime of a hockey game, or in the final minute of a close NBA game (which I absolutely disagree with as well btw). Many of those calls or debatable whether or not they are violations, and much subjective judgment is involved by definition in making a call like holding or pass interference in the NFL, roughing or intereference in hockey, or a blocking foul in the NBA. In this case, there is a clear white line, there is a lineswoman staring right down the line for the exact purpose of watching the foot faults, and Serena clearly stepped on the line. It's a foot fault -- factually speaking -- and there is no debate about it. So just because Serena has gotten away with doing this before, does that mean she is now entitled to keep breaking that clear rule in the future, even in the biggest spots near the end of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world?

Let me ask it a different way: just because OJ clearly murdered two people and got away with it once, does that now mean that the murder statutes no longer apply to him, and he's allowed to kill whoever he wants for the rest of time? Is that how it works? Obviously not. Some people let Serena break a rule. But the rule still 100% applies to her just like it does to everyone else. Others were called for foot faults during this year's U.S. Open just like Serena was, and it's not like she is even trying to argue that it is only being applied to her and not to others. No, Serena is just objecting to the lineswoman calling a foot fault -- one which Serena was clearly guilty of -- at that key point in a match.

So I guess then that Serena is allowed to break other rules too if the match is on the line? What's next? If Serena is down a break already in the first set, and she hits a ball out of bounds, the referees should allow her to hit the ball into the doubles court of her opponent? Or can she smack a ball two feet long and still expect it to get called In near the end of a match since all those fancy white lines on the court apparently don't apply to her when the match is on the line? Or better yet, why can't Serena just walk right up to the net and serve from there as hard as she can and smash each serve by her opponent? I mean, the foot fault rule isn't supposed to be called in that spot according to Serena, so how do you draw the line at being just one inch over the line, or one foot, or ten feet for that matter, right? Face it -- the foot fault line was enacted to ensure that people do not get the unfair advantage that clearly goes to someone who serves from closer to the net than everybody else. It cuts down the angles, increases the speed of the ball when it gets to the opponent, and makes it that much harder to return a serve as it is served closer and closer to the net. The powers that be in tennis decided that serves must be launched from fully behind the back line, and that any touching of that line by the player's foot before the serve is made is a violation. For good reason. And that's the rule in tennis, period. So to be clear, there is nothing "unfair" about this or any other call made against Serena at the U.S. Open. If anything, her being allowed to foot fault at other matches during this year is what's unfair -- both to Serena, in making her think the rules did not apply to her, and especially to her previous opponents who apparently repeatedly had to deal with someone getting a little bit of an edge on every serve by breaking a clearly established, clearly defined rule of the game.

And now let's clarify exactly what this outburst was. This was not someone slamming her racket on the ground (that was earlier in the match) and yelling out "Shit!" in a loud voice. And this wasn't even someone doing what I call "pulling a McEnroe" and asking how the line judge could be so blind, how could she miss that call, etc. This went far beyond complaining about a bad call. For those who don't read lips and have not heard the story, what Serena turned to the line judge who called that foot fault on her and said was "If I could, I would take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat! Motherfucker!"

Somehow, nobody is talking about this angle, but what Serena did here goes right to the integrity of the game, and that's why it is no small thing even by John McEnroe's standards. Serena repeatedly menacingly shook her racket towards the line judge, and screamed at her about shoving the fucking ball down her fucking throat. This is far beyond complaining about a bad call. This is threatening an official at the game with imminent and detailed physical violence, and that is a huge no-no. In all professional sports.

Let me ask you this: what would you think if Alex Rodriguez came out onto the field in between innings at Yankee Stadium, put his arm around the home plate umpire, and said "Listen, Bruce. If you'll make sure I get something to hit by calling the first two pitches thrown to me next inning balls instead of strikes, I'll give you $10,000 cash money after the game"? Does that sound acceptable to you? Of course it's not acceptable, and it is expressly against the rules to offer anything of value to an umpire that is likely to or designed to -- or which gives the impression that it could -- influence the way he calls the game.

Well it's the same thing in the other direction. What if A-Rod lifted up his shirt showed the umpire a long, sharp bowie knife stuck in his pants pocket, and told the ump that if he didn't call the first two pitches to A-Rod balls instead of strikes, that A-Rod was doing to plunge that blade deep into the umpire's throat? What are your feelings on that? Of course it is not acceptable, and in fact just like the previous example, it's grounds for an immediate suspension to make statements that influence or attempt to influence the officials in this way. I mean, it's one thing to whine about a bad call. You can yell, you can swear, you can complain all you want (within reason). But when it moves to the point of threatening imminent physical violence towards someone for making a call against you, what's the likely result of that going to be? We didn't get to see it here because Serena's blowup immediately cost her match point and the players left the court, but what do you think would have been going through that lineswoman's mind if, say, 10 minutes later, she saw Serena foot fault again in a later play in the match? Would she have made that call just as readily as she made the first one, having just been threatened with imminent bodily harm like that by a clearly very angry and out-of-control Serena Williams? Maybe yes, maybe no. I don't know. But the very fact that we have to wonder about it is exactly what makes Serena's outburst so totally unacceptable, on a very basic and significant level.

The best analog I can recall to what Serena did by threatening serious physical violence against a lineswoman in the US Open is when Rasheed Wallace flipped out at NBA referee Tim Donaghy back in 2003 (in what actually turned out to be one of the many games Donaghy fixed) and actually waited outside by the loading dock for Donaghy to leave the stadium later that night in an attempt to kick Donaghy's ass. Wallace was suspended by the NBA for seven games for this little stunt, the longest suspension in NBA history for something that did not involve actual violence or substance abuse. And why did 'Sheed receive such a long suspension? For fucking with the game itself. For attempting to use physical threats to intimidate a game official into calling the game the way Wallace wanted him to, instead of the way the ref saw fit.

What Serena did was exactly the same thing as Rasheed, only in a bit of a different medium. That the U.S. Open let the dollar signs do the talking and allowed Serena to play in the women's doubles finals with her sister Venus two days later is sad enough as it is. But Serena should clearly be suspended for what she did the other day in New York, for at least a couple of tournaments as far as I'm concerned. I am sure if it was anyone other than Serena (or Venus) that a multi-tournament suspension would have already been announced. WTA, get off your asses and do the right thing to show Serena and the rest of the players on the men's and women's tours that threatening physical violence against the game's officials will not be tolerated in any way, shape or form. So far Serena has suffered absolutely nothing from her outburst, other than the ridicule of millions of Americans who watched a desperate, angry little baby sulking and moping and lashing out in a pathetic attempt to blame a totally innocent lineswoman for her own crappy play and semifinals loss.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Taking Stock of Week 1

Wow, I am really suffering some serious blog content overload here just now. When you post as often as I do, I guess in comes in waves; sometimes it can be a bit of a chore to think of something to write for a period of time for whatever reason, but then at other times, like now, I find that I am just bursting with thoughts and ideas that I know would make great posts, but the problem is finding the time to write them all down. Between poker, the stock market, the Lehman anniversary, Serena, the NFL and various other topics, there is just too much flying around my head and not enough time or space to put in all on the virtual paper.

With the Monday night football doubleheader finally behind us, I thought today I would take stock of Week 1 of the NFL season. Rather than just go and review all the games, this early in the season I am focusing instead on how well each team played, relative to my expectations for that team to start the season. Last week I gave my general overview predictions for the NFL season, including division winners of the Eagles, Bears, Atlanta and the 49ers in the NFC, with the two wildcards coming out of a batch of Carolina, the Giants, the Vikings and the Packers. In the AFC I predicted division wins for the Patriots, Ravens, Titans and Chargers, with possible wildcard contenders in Miami, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. So who played in Week 1 like I thought they would, and who stepped up in the clutch while others choked away their dreams of an undefeated season?

Teams that played more or less as I expected them to play this week: The Titans and Steelers in their Thursday night matchup to officially kick off the 2009 NFL regular season, with each playing powerful defense against solid offensive squads, and with Ben Roethlisberger once again coming through in the clutch and raining down pass play after pass play on the Titans in the 3rd and especially 4th quarters of their game. Also living up to expectations in Week 1 for me were the Falcons, who beat a solid Miami team at home to start the season, the Broncos and Bungles who fought out a defensive battle until, of course, the Bungles had a punt blocked and eventually gave up the unthinkable play to lose at the last second of play, and the Vikings who beat up on a very poor Cleveland team but with little help from Brett Favre. The Indy - Jacksonville game also went according to recent history at 14-12 Colts, with neither team really able to establish its offense and the two teams playing their typical tough head-to-head battle, with the Redskins, Texans and Rams also all putting up their expected poor performances on the day. The Giants won a close one against the Skins as expected in Week 1 without themselves playing particularly great football, with the Seahawks, Cowboys, 49ers and Packers all winning their games as I expected as well to start off the 2009 season on a positive note.

Teams that played better than I expected in Week 1: I think this one has to start with the Eagles, who utterly crushed the upstart Carolina Panthers in Carolina to begin the 2009 season. I had picked the Panthers to win outright, and if you had told me that was going to be a 28-point game, I would have bet serious money that Carolina would be the winner. And you really can't have a real discussion on Week 1's big performers without mentioning the Saints, who ran up 45 points on the back of 6 touchdowns from Drew Brees, two of them to tight end Jeremy Shockey who had exactly zero touchdowns in all of 2008. Even the Lions I thought played a little better than I expected in hanging with the high-scoring Saints for about three quarters before defaulting to their normal losing selves. The Ravens, my pick to win the AFC North this year, put in a better than expected performance from their offense, with 2nd-year quarterback Joe Flacco busting out with 3 td's and the first 300-yard performance of his career, while another young quarterback, Mark Sanchez with the Jets, won his first start but did so while looking even more experienced, professional and poised than I would have expected for the first real NFL action of his hopefully long career. The Seahawks started off the season with a very impressive 28-0, with Matt Hassselbeck silencing the critics with 3 touchdowns of his own, but then again they were playing against the Rams' god awful defense so it's hard to know just how much that really means. The Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Ravens, but they did manage to score 24 points against that vaunted Ravens D, even with a backup quarterback in there, so I should also give them a good mention before ending the discussion of the upside surprises from Week 1.

Teams that played worse than I expected in Week 1: This list is shorter, but it includes some really surprising teams, starting with the Panthers. Everybody's pick to win the NFC South completely shat the bed at home on Sunday, scoring just 10 points and picking up only about 50 yards rushing, with quarterback Jake Delhomme losing two fumbles and throwing four interceptions to boot. Meanwhile, the widely-respected Panthers defense allowed the Eagles to score 38 points for their second consecutive season-opener, and the Panthers just all-around looked like a beaten team in their first effort of 2009. I feel similarly about the Chicago Bears, who entered their Sunday night game at Green Bay with optimism on the back of new stud quarterback Jay Cutler, but Cutler was anything but studly in this weekend's game. By the time the Bears gave up a late lead by letting the Pack march down the field and score a touchdown over the span of about a minute, you could just tell from the look in Cutler's eyes that he was not into going back out there and giving it one more go, and the immediate interception one pass later could not have surprised anybody given how poorly he played on the day. The Ravens' defense allowed the Chiefs and backup quarterback with a last name of Croyle who is 0-9 in his lifetime as a starter to score 24 points against them, which definitely surprised me given the team's recent success on the defensive side of the ball. The Rams were atrocious on both sides of the ball, although I suppose one can hardly call that a surprise, and the NFC champion Cardinals really stepped down in losing in Week 1 to division rival San Francisco with Kurt Warner only connecting on one touchdown pass on the day. And lastly, I should mention the Dolphins, who can't feel too bad about losing on opening day in Atlanta, but who probably feel a lot worse about having given the ball away four times on the day after flirting with the all-time record for fewest giveaways in a season last year in southern Florida.

Finally, no recap of Week 1 would be complete without mentioning the ridiculous late comebacks for both the Patriots and the Chargers on Monday night. Both teams were up against far inferior opponents, among the worst in the NFL in true patsy matchups to start the 2009 season, but both teams far underperformed and it nearly cost each their first loss of the season. Tom Brady looked a little tentative in the pocket coming back from major knee surgery that caused him to miss all of the 2008 season, but with 39 completions for 378 yards and two scores -- spaced about a minute apart in the final four minutes of play on the day -- it's hard to feel too bad about that. And the Chargers resumed their habit from 2008 of playing down to the level of their competition, narrowly escaping defeat at the hands of the hapless Raiders thanks to a last-minute touchdown against one of the worst defenses in the game.

In all, it was a killer great week with several late-game comebacks and clutch heroics from key players, headlined of course again by the Broncos' ridiculous win in the last second against the Bungles. As I look to Week 2, the big games are setting up to include divisional matchups with Carolina at Atlanta, the Cheatriots at the Jets, Seattle at the 49ers, and the Giants at the Cowboys. Outside of the key divisional rivalries, Drew Brees takes to the air against the Eagles in Philadelphia, the Ravens visit the Chargers in each team's first real competition of the season, and the defending superbowl champion Steelers head to Chicago to try to keep that nasty look on Jay Cutler's face for one more week in the Windy City.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

It's Baaaaaaaaaaack

By random chance, I got the opportunity to be a part of a Real NFL Moment this weekend, something that reminds me just how great the NFL really is these days. It was my younger daughter's birthday party this weekend, and my girls' two best friends from New York City came out to "the country" for the party with their families and a bunch of the birthday girl's other friends. We had a nice party at a place my daughter loves around town, and then afterwards her two city friends came to our house to hang out for the afternoon. One of the families left a couple hours later, but our other friends ended up staying well into the afternoon, which gave me the perfect excuse to spend the afternoon watching opening day of the football season with the other dad -- we can call him D -- which for us in the metro area meant watching Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets' impressive debut against the Houston Suxans.

I should back up and say that my friend D, who is originally from Denver, is a big, big football fan. A serious fan. Like, he paid the $60 immediately to DirecTV for their online NFL football season pass this year just to be able to watch his beloved Denver Broncos game the day after they play. Like, he gets five or six update calls on his cell every Sunday during gametime from friends and family who are actually at the game with 50,000 other lifelong season ticket holders. And like, the every-10-second updates scrolling by on the screen of the other televised games weren't nearly enough for him to keep track of his Broncos, so I gave him my laptop and he spent the entire three hours of the Jets' romp reporting on every single play in the Denver / Cincinnati game. Which, if you didn't follow, was about as boring as a game could be, with just two field goals from the Broncs and no score from the Bungles for the first 59 minutes of the game. Needless to say, D was not particularly pleased though he was happy with the defensive effort at least.

Then with 41 seconds left in the game, D reported from his perch at the laptop that the Bungles had just taken their first lead of the day when they ran a ball in on 1st and goal from the 1 yard line. The extra point was in, and just like that a grand defensive effort out of Denver in support of new coach Josh McDaniel was wasted as it was 7-6 Bengals with just more than half a minute to go. Something about the play was reviewed and eventually upheld, but during the time of the review, the Jets game mercifully ended with a 24-7 score that wasn't even that close, and wouldn't you know it, CBS HD in New York switches over to the final 41 seconds of the Denver - Cincinnati game. D was pissed to have missed his team's defensive beatdown all through the game but then to be forced to sit and watch the hapless Kyle Orton try to lead a 41-second scoring drive with no timeouts left. Our wives were in the other corner of the room talking, and between us our four children were on the floor playing with dolls and other toys while D and I finished out watching the carnage with Denver.

And then the unthinkable happened, my Real NFL Moment of the weekend. D and I are lamenting how often this happens with bad teams, leading all the way, making one bad play at the end and you end up losing, and suddenly Orton throws another of his typical bad passes off his back foot, far short of his receiver and it actually looks like it's going to be an interception to end the game with 30 seconds to go. D and I literally groan out loud as the ball leaves Orton's hands, clearly destined not to reach its intended target. The Bungles' cornerback easily cuts in front of the receiver, tips the ball in the air and well away from the intended target of the pass -- D and I are cursing Orton out loud already -- but then out of nowhere there is Brandon Stokley of the Broncos to pick the tipped ball out of the air, with both defenders having left him to go cover the intended receiver of the original pass. D realized what was happening a split second before I did, and he immediately jumped out of his seat on my plush leather couch and started screaming, nearly hitting his head on the spinning ceiling fan in the process. A half a second later, I am up there with him, as it's like it's in slow motion, with Stokley breaking away from the rest of the guys in the home jerseys and running it towards the end zone. And D and I are jumping up and down and yelling increasingly loudly for Stokley to keep it going the whole way, kinda like when it's down the stretch at the racetrack for those of you have frequented that sort of thing in your days. When Stokley finally crosses the goal line and essentially seals the unlikeliest of Denver victories after what seemed to be a sure last-minute loss, D and I are hugging each other, slapping fives like it's going out of style, and screaming so hard that our faces are red and we are seriously out of breath.

Then we suddenly remember ourselves look over to the other side of the room. And there are four female faces, staring at the two of us blankly, with mouths agape, as if we are little boys having just hit the game-winning home run in the sand lot at stickball. "What the heck is wrong with you, Daddy? Did you hurt yourself?" asks my oldest daughter.

The NFL, baby. It's baaaaaaaaack.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

NFL Predictions

With the Titans set to play at Pittsburgh on Thursday night at 8:30pm ET on NBC to start off the 2009 NFL season, I thought I would do what I've done a couple of other times now prior to new sports seasons beginning and make some predictions for the upcoming year in the NFL. Now, I should start off by pointing out that, even though my preseason baseball picks this year were utterly crushing as of the last time we looked about 60% of the way through the season, in general my strength in picking teams and games has always lay in the second half of the NFL season. Generally speaking, with as much parity as there is in the NFL, and with the worst teams continually getting the best picks in the draft year in and year out, I find the first several weeks of picking NFL games usually to be more or less a joke. So much changes year to year in this game, moreso than in any of the other professional sports, that making picks like this before the season even starts can only go so far. That said, it seems like a fun thing to do, and if you're as excited for football as I bet most of you are out there, this ought to be a nice introduction as the season kicks off just a few hours from now.

Rather than pick each individual team, as at the moment I am far too lazy to go and look up every team's 2009 schedule right now, I am going to do instead a quick writeup of each division with reference to individual teams as necessary.

Starting with always the best division in football, for the past 177 years running:

NFC East

This one does seem to be the Eagles' division to lose, and with Andy Reid's track record of solid NFC East performance, the addition of the unknowable Mike Vick, and the Giants' loss of their only real attack wideout, I have to agree with most of the pundits out there that the Eagles will pull this one out. 11-5 or so will probably get it done for Philly, while the Giants should still be a good team thanks to their excellent defense and solid running game, leading me to expect around 9 wins for the G-Men in 2009. Contrary to what some so-called experts are estimating, I believe this will be a down year for the hateful Dallas Cowboys, as the ineptitude and lackadaisical attitude towards practice and discipline exhibited by head coach Wade Phillips combined with the loss of the team's primary deep threat in the volatile Terrell Owens will finally combine to cap this team's wins at a maximum of 8 and a missed playoff berth. Bringing up the rear will be a horrible Redskins squad that once again Daniel Snyder has managed to keep firmly planted in the cellar while still finding people to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at. 4-6 wins for the Skins is probably the best that this severely hampered offense can hope for for 2009.

NFC North

The NFC North is definitely one of the most interesting conferences to watch this season, as Brett Favre makes the triumphant return to throw for Minnesota that he very overtly wanted all along since leaving the Packers a couple of years back. Everybody seems to love the Vikings this year, except for me. I mean, they do have a proven solid defense, especially against the run, and of course Purple Jesus coming out of the backfield, but for some reason I'm just not feeling it much for them in 2009. The Vikes finished 2008 with a 10-6 record and a miracle playoff berth, and I am expecting something similar at 10 wins or so from them this year. But with Brad Childress at the helm and Brett Favre slinging the ball around like he doesn't care which team catches it, and with the Packers and Bears both likely improved since last season (the Lions as well, for that matter, though that ain't saying much), the upside is definitely limited for this team in my view. Another interesting spot is the Packers, under second-year quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Packers only had 6 wins last year, though they seemed to play better than that, and this year I think they will nab closer to 8 wins than 6, although I still think the playoffs may be elusive for Brett Favre's old teammates. A better chance of making the playoffs I think will be in Chicago, where the Bears will look to improve on last year's 9-6 record with new stud quarterback Jay Cutler at the helm. Although the Bears' defense looked highly suspect throughout much of the 2008 season, I believe the Bears will find a way to win 10 games this year and give the Vikes a run for their money in the division in 2009. And then there are the Lions. I'll just go out on a crazy limb and predict not one but two wins for the worst franchise in sports right now, and let's hope they can at least win something after the debacle that was the 2008 Detroit Lions' season.

NFC South

Everybody loves the Panthers in the NFC South, just like they do every year, and with good reason. Carolina is always strong on defense, they have a great running game, Delhomme generally manages the offensive side of the ball well, and John Fox continues to be one of the best head coaches in the game. The Panthers nabbed 12 wins in 2008 and I look for them to come up with another 11 or 12 victories in 2009 and be in position to win their second straight division crown. The only thing likely standing in their way will be the Falcons, who I expect to improve as quarterback Matt Ryan and runningback Michael Turner add another season of experience under their belts, sending the Falcons also towards 11 wins and a showdown with Carolina to take the division. Tampa Bay, who finished with 9 wins in 2008, is likely to be a couple of games worse than that this year, while I am thinking that Drew Brees will once again be able to manufacture enough offense in New Orleans to win 8 or 9 games for the Saints, but probably not enough to make the playoffs for the second straight year.

NFC West

The NFC West is another interesting conference, mostly because you've got the reigning NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals leading the way again in the upcoming year on most pundits' predictions. Well, I'm going to be going in a different direction with my own guesses for the West, going instead with the very reliable recent indicator that the team losing the superbowl in one year has only made the playoffs at all I think twice in the last 10 years or more. So I'm going to predict a down year for the Cards in 2009, probably at least somewhat due to injury to their studly but aging quarterback Kurt Warner and the ever-present unhappiness of Anquan Boldin at wideout, and call for 8 or 9 wins for last year's superbowl runner-ups. Giving the Cardinals the best push for the division title I think will be Mike Singletary and his upstart San Francisco 49ers, who I could see winning this division with 9 wins for the first time in years after I noticed real improvement in this team during 2008 under Singletary's smashmouth approach to playing the game and no-nonsense coaching style. Unfortunately, I'm not expecting much from the other two teams in this division, starting with the Rams and their 2-14 record in 2008. Although Steven Jackson will probably continue to be a decent option coming out of the backfield and catching some passes, this team is old with a capital "O" at quarterback, and they lost aging wide receiver Torry Holt to boot in the offseason. I will predict an improvement over 2008's win production for the Rams, but maybe only with 4 wins or so, while the Seahawks I think can improve somewhat from last year's dismal 4 wins as long as qb Matt Hasselbeck can stay healthy, so let's go with 6 wins for the Seahawks in another playoff-missing season out of the Pacific northwest.

AFC East

The last time we saw the New England Cheatriots with a full-strength Tom Brady at quarterback, they were hands down the best team in the NFL and on their way to embarrassing their cheating-ass selves by going undefeated all through the regular season for the first time in nearly 30 years but then getting crunched by the Giants in the superbowl. As much as all of us want to see a bunch of lying, cheating weasels like these shitheads pull a Lions and go 0-16 in 2009, I can't escape the fact that the Cheats are looking more like a 14-win team this season. They've got a couple of tough game on their schedule, but the Cheatriots should easily take the division down despite some interesting storylines with their other competitors. One team I am expecting another solid season from is the Dolphins, who actually shocked the world by going worst-to-first and winning the division in 2008, and although I don't think Bill Parcells' team in South Florida will quite equal that win total again, I do expect 10 wins and another playoff appearance from the Dolphins even though almost nobody else out there is willing to make such a prediction heading into the 2009 NFL season. And being a New Yorker, there is tons of hype in this area about the Jets this year and about first-round draft pick and new starting quarterback out of USC, Mark Sanchez. I have to admit that Sanchez has looked decent so far in a few preseason games, but in the end I have to go against the local media and expect a tough season for a rookie quarterback and rookie head coach Rex Ryan, probably 6 or 7 wins is my guess. And last but probably least as well are the Buffalo Bills, who went out on a limb and signed Terrell Owens in the offseason which just goes to show how desperate they are to get some kind of a spark on offense. Unfortunately I just don't see the Bills as having the quarterback strength in Trent Edwards, the running game or the defense to win more than 5 games in 2009.

AFC North

Once again this is going to be two great teams and two shit teams battling it out in the AFC North. Last year's superbowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers ended the 2008 regular season with 12 wins, and I expect another similar 11-win season in the 2009 campaign from the champs. The Ravens surprised everybody in 2008 with a high-powered offensive attack led by Joe Flacco, who with another year under his belt is I think likely to lead his team and that still-powerful defense to perhaps 12 wins and a division title this year in Baltimore. The Bengals are always talking big about coming back and making a strong push for the playoffs, and Carson Palmer has shown himself to have the arm to lead a good air attack, but with Ocho Cinco still being an ass and declining in skills, and with TJ Houshmanzadeh now gone from the team, Chris Henry and a defense that's been horrible for years under head coach Marvin Lewis is not enough for me to rely on more than 4 or 5 wins. And the Browns I think are likely on a similar track for 5 or maybe 6 wins in 2009, as I have more respect than many for coach Eric Mangini but I just don't think Brady Quinn will have enough to get it done, especially without prolific tight end Kellen Winslow on the team any longer.

AFC South

The Titans ran away with this division in 2008, led by one of the league's best head coaches in Jeff Fisher, and I see nothing standing in the way of them once again capturing 11 or 12 wins and the division title. It's always tempting to pick Indianapolis and Peyton Manning, but last year Indy struggled their way to 12 wins, and they lost their head coach in addition to leading receiver Marvin Harrison who at this point remains unsigned by any NFL team, while Joseph Addai also seems far shakier heading into this season than he did prior to the 2008 campaign began. I'm thinking 10 wins for the Colts and a struggle to make the playoffs for the first time in a while from this team which I think is finally ready for a truly down year. A lot of the experts out there are enjoying picking the Houston Texans to make a playoff run in 2009, and I do think this team is slowly improving both on offense and on the defensive side of the ball, but I still think the Texans will be hard pressed to improve upon last year's 8-8 record and I am not seeing them finding their way into the playoffs out of this division. Jacksonville is another team who some people are picking for an unlikely playoff run, and with Maurice Jones-Drew still in town there's no reason they should be as bad as last year's 5-11 record would indicate. Still, I think 8 wins for Houston and Jacksonville are probably the top either team can hope for in a crowded division and an always-stacked AFC come playoff time in 2009.

AFC West

And lastly, we have the AFC West, where everybody and their mother is picking the San Diego Chargers to run away with the division. While it's certainly not that I think the Chargers are the end-all be-all of football teams heading into 2009 -- they were pretty horrible all through the first half of 2008 if you recall, with LaDainian Tomlinson suddenly looking old coming out of the backfield and with a defense that didn't do much to stop anyone in at least half of their games last season -- but the rest of the competition in this division is so awful that it is hard to imagine the Chargers not winning a good 11 games and easily claiming the division title early on. First-year coach and Bill Belichik disciple Josh McDaniel came into Denver this offseason after longtime coach Mike Shanahan was fired, and he promptly managed to alienate -- eventually forcing the trade of -- star quarterback Jay Cutler, getting back nothing in return. Now he has also alienated star wideout Brandon Marshall, and even though the two sides seem to be talking again now, I think we are seeing a sign of what is to come for what I expect to be a very long, 5-win season in Denver. And I still think with those 5 wins will probably be enough to keep the Broncos ahead of both the Chiefs and the Raiders, with the Chiefs probably nabbing 3 or 4 wins under new quarterback Matt Cassell, and the Raiders taking their horrifying quarterback situation and ridiculous draft picks yet again this year to a likely 2 or 3 wins like usual for the team out of Oakland, California and run by the craziest old man in sports.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Turning Point for the Champs?

At a time when tennis is enjoying its greatest fortnight of the year here in New York, with the NFL right around the corner and set to kick things off this coming Thursday night on the 2009-2010 season, I'm sitting here today and all I can think about is that Tuesday night might just have been the turning point of the entire 2009 season for Your World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. I've written about this several times over the season, and with increasing frustration and increasing frequency over the past few weeks, but Brad Lidge is absolutely killing the Phillies' chances to repeat as champs this year. Brad Lidge, Mr. Perfect from 2007, simply cannot get anybody out anymore this year. He's clearly lost his confidence, and the team has clearly lost their confidence in him, and yet manager Charlie Manuel has steadfastly insisted all through the mess that is Brad Lidge's 2009 season that Lidge is our guy, he's who we're going to give the ball to to close out games, and that's that.

Until Tuesday night, that is.

It started off like many other games for the Phils, the first game of a 3-game series against the last-place Washington Nationals. P-Mart was pitching, and once again pitching well in the earlygoing, giving the team six strong with only 2 runs allowed before allowing a quick home run in the 7th and yielding to starter-turned-reliever Brett Myers fresh off the disabled list. The Phils' bats started off slow, as has been very much the case for this team over the past couple of weeks since Lidge blew his last two saves and the offense was forced to watch their hard work slip away without their control in the bottom of the ninth for the league-leading ninth and tenth times this season, but eventually the best lineup in the National League came through. Jayson Werth smacked a home run, Chase Utley did as well, and Carlos Ruiz even chipped in with a big solo shot as well. Raul Ibanez even joined the party, hitting two dingers of his own, totalling five solo home runs for the Phils and a 5-3 lead heading into the 9th inning in Washington. Being who Charlie Manuel has been this whole season, of course this meant Brad Lidge time.

Lidge quickly reminded everybody why in my view the entire Phillies team has stopped hitting so well for the past couple of weeks, as he threw two sliders by the first batter he faced before giving up a liner single to left on a 1-2 count to lead off the Nationals' last licks. The camera flipped to Charlie Manuel in the dugout, motionless and, somehow, emotionless as well. Then the next batter, a pinch hitter for the pitcher, Lidge quickly smacked right in the middle of the back, making it first and second with nobody out in a 5-3 game. Vintage Lidge 2009, that's for sure. Amazingly, Charlie Manuel was starting to stir in the dugout, pacing the steps a little bit and muttering to himself, something we just haven't seen much of this year in Philadelphia when it comes to the team's closer. Then, after Lidge accidentally got somebody out, he immediately uncorked a very wild pitch that sent the tying runners to 2nd and 3rd, still with just one out and thus undoing the double play chance to end the game. Through all of this Manuel had shown some of his first clearly visible signs of agitation about Lidge that I've seen all season long, and after the wild pitch Manuel was really going in the dugout. But still he sat there, determined to see if his guy could get the current batter out who still sat at 2-2. After ball 3, Manuel was staring intently to see what would happen, and then Lidge fired in the sixth pitch of the at-bat, and it wasn't even close. Way down and in, nearly hitting the batter on his inside foot, and just like that Lidge had hit, plunked and walked the bases loaded. In the bottom of the 9th. In a close game. Again.

And then the most amazing thing I think I've seen this year for the Phillies happened. Charlie Manuel shot up out of the dugout faster than I've seen him move in his years as the Phillie manager, stomped his way towards Lidge on the mound and motioned for fireballing reliever Ryan Madson to get in the game, all the while glaring at Lidge a glare that I am quite sure Lidge has never seen Charlie Manuel give to him before. And just like that, Lidge was gone, pulled from a save opportunity in favor of a blatantly superior option just before officially blowing it for what I'm sure is the first time in 2009. Who knew, but I guess Charlie Manuel finally reached his breaking point last night. Of course, it helps that Madson walked right in and quickly dispatched the final two batters of the night with the bases loaded to save the game and the 5-3 win for the Phils, who remained 6 games up on the Marlins in the east as the team attempts to show the clowns at Citi Field how to hold on to a 7-game lead in September in the NL East.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: for the Phillies to have any realistic shot of even returning to the World Series this year, Brad Lidge simply cannot be in the games. Lidge is literally among the two or three worst players in all of baseball this year, and that's not really even debatable at this point. And it's far worse than a guy who's gone 0-10 as a starter. That guy, although he sucks balls at pitching most likely, has taken 10 opportunities to win, and turned them into 10 losses. But what Brad Lidge has done is far worse than that -- he has taken ten games that have more or less already been won by his team, and turning those into 10 losses over the span of five or 10 minutes, right at the end after his team has already reached 95% of the way to recording a win. If Lidge were perfect so far this year like he was in the magical 2008 championship season, the Phillies would have 88 wins and be ahead of the Yankees right now for the best record in the majors. But with Lidge, we are fighting to stay in the top few records in just the National League, and I solemnly guarantee you that for every playoff series where Brad Lidge is our go-to closer, he will blow at least one game in each series. And I also solemnly guarantee you with just as much confidence as my last statement that the Phillies, although clearly a great team, aren't even close to good enough to win many 5- or 7-game series when we're spotting our opponents one win in a game where we are leading through nine innings. No way.

As it is, the Yankees are night in and night out showing the world why they are once again the undisputed best team in baseball, and there is little doubt that they are the prohibitive favorite to take back the World Series this year. But the Phillies have the experience to give them a good run for their money, and with the additions of Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez, the Phils' starting staff of some combination of Cliff Lee, J. Happ, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and P-Mart, with Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers and Ryan Madson in the bullpen, is a formidable one for any opponent to overcome in any short series. The Yanks may be the clear favorite, but a team like the Phillies definitely have a chance to give them a run. Just not with Brad Lidge on the team.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Jeet vs. The Greats

With Derek Jeter poised this week to pass Lou Gehrig on top of the list of the most all-time hits as a New York Yankee, a lot of people are saying in New York that Jeter will officially gain his spot in a few days on the "Mount Rushmore" of the top all-time Yankee greats. One thing that I do think is huge about Jeter's upcoming accomplishment is that it is one of the first real hard numbers you can point to that Jeter has amassed that begin to capture his true greatness. For the most part, Jeter has been a guy that those outside of New York are all too quick to call "overrated" and these people always love to point to Jeter's lifetime stats. Or more specifically, the fact that there is nothing truly amazing about his lifetime stats when looked at in a vacuum. Well after this week, there will be. Having more hits than any other New York Yankee is to me a really big deal. And this coming from someone who is not only not a Yankee fan, but I am quite a Yankee laugher-at for the most part for how much money they spend and the (relative) ineffectiveness that they seem to spend it on in most years. But with all the greats who have worn the Yankee uniform over the years -- from Ruth and Gehrig, to DiMaggio and Mantle, Maris, Berra, Mattingly and many, many more -- for Derek Jeter to be able to have more hits as a Yankee than all of them? Amazing. And put that all together with what any true baseball fan knows about Derek Jeter -- the incredible coolness under the pressure, the clutch hitting, the integral leadership of four World Championship teams, and of course pretty much the two best defensive plays in huge spots of the entire Joe Torre - Joe Girardi era (the real fans know exactly which two plays I'm talking about), and you're looking at one serious hell of a ballplayer.

But all that being said, does this Yankee hits accomplishment really vault Jeter to the "Mount Rushmore" of all-time Yankees? On this one I think I'm gonna have to call bullshit. Just take the four best all-time Yankee players on that list above -- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle -- and let's take a quick look to see how Jeter compares over his career.

For starters, in my view all arguments about the best ball player who ever lived start and end with Babe Ruth. Putting aside the fact that the Babe pitched 107 complete games in 163 career starts while compiling a studly 1.16 WHIP and 2.28 career ERA as a pitcher, Ruth's offensive stats will always be the most clownish stuff of all time. Over 2503 games, Babe Ruth finished his career with a lofty .342 batting average, 714 home runs, 2211 RBIs and a lifetime slugging percentage of .690. And just look at some of these individual seasons, all of these with the Yankees.

1920: .376, 54 homers, 137 RBIs
1921: .378, 59 homers, 171 RBIs
1923: .393, 41 homers, 131 RBIs
1924: .378, 46 homers, 121 RBIs
1926: .372, 47 homers, 145 RBIs
1927: .356, 60 homers, 164 RBIs
1928: .323, 54 homers, 142 RBIs
1929: .345, 46 homers, 154 RBIs
1930: .359, 49 homers, 153 RBIs
1931: .373, 46 homers, 163 RBIs
1932: .341, 41 homers, 137 RBIs

And keep in mind, Ruth was hitting 59 home runs in years when the 2nd-most homers hit by anyone was in the single digits. And he was a very accomplished pitcher in his own right. And Ruth's Yankees won seven AL pennants and four World Series, so he's a champion many times over to boot. For my money, Babe Ruth will always be the greatest player who ever put on a baseball uniform, and he obviously blows away Jeter in basically any area you want to compare the two players.

Next, we move on to Lou Gehrig, one of the most under-appreciated of all the Yankees' all-time greats. In addition to setting the iron-man standard by playing in nearly 2200 consecutive games, Gehrig also piled up the offensive numbers while he did it, including finishing with a .340 lifetime batting average and a .632 slugging percentage, with 495 home runs and 1995 career RBIs over 17 seasons, all with the Yankees. As with his teammate Babe Ruth, Gehrig put up some absolutely sick single-season numbers, including Gehrig's real bread and butter which was RBIs. Take a look at this 11-year stretch of season RBIs for Gehrig from 1927-1937: 175, 142, 126, 174, 184, 151, 139, 165, 119, 152, 159. 150+ RBIs in 6 out of 8 years in a row? Sickness. Gehrig also won a triple crown in 1934 (.363, 49 homers, 165 RBIs) and narrowly missed another in 1931 (.341, 46 homers, 184 RBIs), and the Iron Horse won 6 titles with the Yankees over his 17-year career. As good as Jeter has been, to even compare him to numbers like these is to me downright silly, as Gehrig is simply one of the small handful of all-time greatest hitters this game has ever seen.

Now if you jump ahead less than a generation or so, there is Joe D., he of the marrying Marilyn Monroe fame. In just 13 seasons, Joe DiMaggio won two batting titles (1939 -- .381 and 1940 -- .352), and even more impressively, three MVPs (1939, 1941, 1947). He led the league twice in RBIs (1941 -- 125 and 1948 -- 155), twice in home runs (1937 with 46 and 1948 with 39) and twice in slugging percentage and three times in total bases. When you realize then that World War II stole three years smack in the prime of Joe D.'s life, to think that he still managed to put up these numbers is truly sick. DiMaggio retired with a .325 lifetime batting average and 118 average RBIs per season, numbers which, along with his three MVPs and his never-to-be-broken 56-game hitting streak in 1941, almost any major leaguer today would salivate over. Add in that Joltin' Joe only struck out 369 times in his career -- that's well less than Ryan Howard's total strikeouts just over the last two seasons -- and you can really see just how great DiMaggio was both in terms of power as well as control at the plate in a way that really nobody else ever has been. And most important of all I think in the analysis is that Joe DiMaggio is like the Bill Russell of the American League -- in his 13 seasons in the bigs, the Yankees won 10 AL pennants and an astonishing 9 World Series titles. When you compare the incredible offensive statistics, both in power and control at the plate, his great defense in the outfield and the amazing championships he won, again I am left with the thought that Derek Jeter simply cannot be compared to Joe DiMaggio in terms of his career statistics as a Yankee.

Lastly, there is Mickey Mantle, who basically started his career with the Yankees right as Joe D. was ending his in the Bronx. Mantle posted a lifetime .298 batting average with 536 home runs and 1509 RBIs over 18 seasons, all in New York, which included leading the league in runs scored six times over the eight years from 1954-1961. He also won the league title in triples once (11, in 1955), home runs four times in six years from 1955-1960, RBIs once with 130 in 1956, batting average once (.353 in 1956), on-base percentage three times, slugging percentage four times, OPS six times and total bases three times. In 1956 the Mick won the triple crown in the American League with a .353 batting average, 52 home runs and 130 RBIs, winning his first of three MVP awards which came in 1956, 1957 and 1962 and putting the capper on a truly great offensive career. And in addition to this obvious offensive prowess with a bat, the Mick also had a splendid eye at the plate, leading the league in walks five times between 1955 and 1962. And once again, Mickey won where it really counted, with his teams nabbing 12 AL pennants and 7 World Series titles during his 18 years with the Yankees. When you throw in those three MVP awards, the triple crown in 1956, and all the offensive numbers along with the 7 world championships, there is just no way Jeter's lifetime numbers compare to the Mick's in my view.

No matter what happens from here on out with Derek Jeter, his full impact during his all-Yankees career will never come close to being captured by his lifetime stats. The man has never hit more than 24 home runs in a season, only knocked in 100+ runs once, and despite a very solid .317 career batting average he just doesn't come close to comparing to the all-time Yankee greats even in his ability to get on base and score runs. Jeter has doubtless been perhaps the most clutch player in the major leagues since the mid-90s, and "The Flip" against the Oakland As in the 2001 ALDS will always live in infamy in the minds of all the Jeter haters out there as one of the single greatest mental plays I have seen on the field. And as I said above, becoming the New York Yankees all-time hits leader is to me a huge accomplishment for Jeter's career as a whole. But to elevate him to "Mount Rushmore" status for the Yankees is I think taking things much too far, moreso because of the incredible list of all-time baseball heroes who have spent most or all of their careers with the best franchise in professional sports history. A franchise, by the way, which is on the path towards its first World Series title in ten years here in 2009 unless something unexpected happens to derail that train.

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