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26 December, 2013

Video game of the year

My contribution to Press Row Podcasts assemblage of the top 3 sports video games of the year.
http://www.operationsports.com/news/695702/press-row-podcast-2013-christmas-spectacular/

24 September, 2013

BREAKING BAD - 1 EPISODE LEFT

   The penultimate episode of Breaking Bad was a trap game. It came off an extremely emotional episode and of course came before the series finale. That's like Michigan playing Alcorn State in between Michigan State and Ohio State.
   It was a perfectly fine episode that had no chance to be on-par with what we saw in Ozymandias.
   Here are some of my thoughts:

  The juxtaposition of Walt with his barrel of money living in complete desolation was jarring and depressing. He had spent years building his "empire" which now was nothing more than a cabin with a wood-burning stove and some Ensure. Oh, and to make matters worse, when he went for a walk he did it in a Low Winter Sun.

   I was a little surprised by Vacuum Repair Guy's ("That Guy" Hall of Famer Robert Forster) response to Walt when Walt asked him if he would get the money to his family once he died. V.R.G. is being paid handsomely by Walt ($10k for an hour of cards!), doesn't seem to be a thief and clearly relies on his reputation but basically told Walt without saying it, "I'm taking all your money and screw your family." Thought he would be more honorable than that.
 
   I had little to no reaction when Todd killed Andrea. They haven't (thankfully) spent a lot of time on her importance to Jesse and while we certainly felt his pain, it just felt like one more pin in a bed of nails for Jesse.

   Still don't have much of a clue who the ricin is for, but I'm sticking with my thought that Walt will take it so he can go out the way he wants. He knows he's dying, so somehow, someway, he'll do it HIS way. In the very first episode of the series Walt is talking to Skyler about his cancer and says to her "sometimes I feel like I never actually make any of my own... choices. I mean, my entire life it just seems I never... had a real say about any of it." From that point forward every choice Walt makes affects his life and the lives of countless others. It only seems appropriate that the final decision Walt makes about his life is how it ends.

   I loved bringing back Walt's Gray Matter co-founders as the motivation for him to go back to New Mexico. So much of what has burned the fire in the Heizenberg part of Walt was his ego and pride. He always says what he did was for his family, but so many of his actions were triggered by ego. His bitterness toward Gray Matter had a lot to do with his desire to build his meth business into an empire. The bar scene in this episode was a great reminder for us, and Walt, and gave the dying Heizenberg fire one last wisp of wind to keep it burning a little longer.

   I have always felt this show would come down to Walt and Jesse. I think we're going to get there, I'm just not sure how.

   Lastly, here's an office pool opportunity: What will be the last shot of next week's show?

  I think it starts with Walt having his birthday breakfast, heading to New Mexico, saying "Hi Carol" outside his house and then getting down to business. How it all ends? We'll have to wait and see but one thing is for sure, when it comes to Walter White, we're all going to do the one thing he asked of us...

16 September, 2013

Breaking Bad - 2 Shows left

If you aren't caught up on the show, then don't read this.

 It took me the better part of 30 minutes to find the right word to describe how I felt after watching this episode. I settled on despair. It was just a total sense of despair that washed over me. It was the most compelling hour of scripted TV I may have ever seen, and when it was over, I felt awful.

  The opening scene was a great reminder of just how far Walt and Jesse have come, or fallen. Walt was still in true science teacher mode, boring Jesse with the details of the cook. Jesse was in full "can we get this over with, I need to get baked?" mode. Unlike Rick telling Captain Renault in Casablanca, this was not the beginning of a beautiful friendship, it was the beginning of the end.

  I'm a cryer. It doesn't take much to make me tear up when watching TV or movies. When Charlie was hung from a tree on LOST and they made it seem like he died, I totally lost it as Jack was pounding on his chest and Kate stood by crying her eyes out. In the episode of the West Wing when they had the military funeral for the homeless man intertwined with the children singing The Little Drummer Boy, I cried like I was 6 and someone stole my Christmas presents. And yes, I cried when Mickey died in Rocky 3.
   So I went into this episode fully prepared to shed some tears, is was just a question of when. The first opportunity presented itself right away, with Gomie already dead and Hank in it neck deep with Uncle Jack and his crew standing over him. But Hank, a lovable, goofy guy when the show started, lay defiantly in the desert dirt, looking up at Jack with a F-you expression on his face, being more heroic than anyone has been to this point in the show. And then Hank delivered his last and best line of the series, saying to Walt "You're the smartest guy I've ever met and you're too stupid to see he made up his mind 10 minutes ago." The next 30 seconds were amazing. The look on Walt's face, Jack shooting Hank, the cut-away of the cliff with the gunshot echoing off of it and then Walt's slow collapse to the ground, dropping through the sunlit camera angle. Brilliantly done. (As a Rocky fan, I couldn't help but think of the end of the No Easy Way Out montage in Rocky 4 when they show Rocky falling to the mat through the arena spotlight. Throw the damn towel, Walt!)
   Still though, no tears. We knew this was coming. We've had a week to prepare for it. Hank's defiance in the moment bolstered me, and I was just pissed that Walt had let it come to this. Even though he tried to prevent it, this was still on him. As Walt fell to the ground, the full weight of that burden fell on top of him.

   Unlike The Sopranos, The Wire and Boardwalk Empire where we saw the characters we cared about get riddled with bullets, or strangled or stabbed, on Breaking Bad the characters we really care about who got it (Mike, Hank, Gomie, Gus, Gale. ) all got it off-camera, or in Mike's case, in a clumsy way with his actual death coming moments later. Is that an AMC vs HBO thing? Maybe it's just a director's choice and an effective one at that.

   Just when Walt gave us a chance to feel for him again, to look at his good side as he pleaded for Hank's life, moments later he reminds us what an asshole he can be. Walt stands in front of Jesse and tells him "I watched Jane die." That may have been the worst thing we've seen one person do to another on the show.

   Did anyone else notice Walt's original pair of pants on the ground in the desert as he rolled his barrel of bills?

   Not everyone likes Skyler and Marie, but give them this, they delivered two of the better scenes of the season. The first when Marie confronts Skyler about Walt and then tries to take Holly, the second coming last night when they talk at the car wash. Throw in the hotel room "I'm all in" scene from Skyler and she's had an incredible comeback season. Do they have PED testing for TV shows?
   The look on Skyler's face when Marie says "either you tell Flynn or I will" was even more pain-ridden than Walt's when Hank was shot.

   Jesse's condition in his holding cell was representative of how every important character (and the viewers) felt. Just battered and beaten. As awful as Jesse looked, he was in the best shape of anyone.

   Props to Walt Jr. for finally having his big moment. The scene with Skyler and Marie at the car wash was solid, but he upped his game in the knife scene. Speaking of which...

   The family scene at the house was extraordinary. Walt's running on nothing but emotion at this point. He's at the tipping point of the moment he had been working for, taking his money, and his family and starting a new life. And then his family tells him to leave, but not before Skyler goes all Jack Nicholson in The Shining on Walt, and then Jr. is the third man in the ring, throwing himself in front of his mom as Walt screams "We're a family!" Not anymore, Walt. Goosebumps exploded on my body. And just when you wanted to breath, Walt picks up the baby and makes a break for it. As Skyler ran down the street yelling after Walt, I reached down to pick up the pieces of my insides that had been ripped out of me. No tears though. It was more like I was Mike sitting by the river after Walt shot him. Just sitting there... staring... waiting to die.

   But I wouldn't have to wait long to well up. After the break Walt is with Holly, changing her diaper. When he picks her up she looks at Walt with her sad, blue eyes and chubby baby cheeks and says "Momma." Walt knows at that moment he has to give her back. It wasn't full blown tears for me, just some misting up. The pain in his eyes, the eyes of a father who knows what's best for his child is to give it up, got to me.

   The next scene may have been Cranston's greatest moment to date. He calls Skyler knowing full well the cops are listening and belittles her. Walt takes one for the team, making it sound like Skyler knew nothing about anything, but to be convincing he had to rip her apart and he did.
 Tears poured out of him as he summoned Heisenberg one more time. That will be the scene they show when Cranston wins an Emmy this year.

   Tony Soprano launched the "lovable but despicable" leading man genre. Walter White may have taken it to another level. We knew Tony was a member of the mob. We knew that came with a level of sub-human actions. Much of what he did, even things like killing friends and their loved ones, was done in the name of business. When we met Tony he was bad and stayed bad. Walter White broke bad. While most of the last few seasons Walt has been Heisenberg, he has spent the last six episodes in a Dr. Jeckly/Mr. Hyde like mode, bouncing back and forth between the two. To me, he is a more despicable character than Tony Soprano. The guy in the RV at the beginning of the episode (and series) wanted to provide for and protect his family, the guy on the phone at the end of the show was the same man. It's the guy that we saw in between all that, the guy who ruined lives, killed people, watched people die, poisoned a child and let greed blind him from his actual purpose... that's the guy who is going to hell. Much of what Tony Soprano did "had" to be done because that's how his business works. None of what Walt Heisenberg did had to be done until he allowed things to get out of control. His business, his empire business, was his creation.

   The episode was 60 minutes of pain. The number of looks of anguish on people's faces were in the dozens, each one like a dagger to the heart. It's funny that the White Family isn't one most people would rank among their TV favorites. Most people don't care for Skyler, are ambivalent about Jr and his breakfast habits and barely remember that Holly is a part of the show. But as we watch the White family disintegrate before our eyes, it tears our guts out. That's a testament to the actors, Vince Gilligan and his staff. Now just two hours remain. If I think about that for too long, I'll cry for sure.

11 September, 2013

Breaking Bad - 3 shows left

With one of the great shows in TV history winding down, a few thoughts on what went down in last Sunday's episode.

   How would we have viewed the scene in the desert if we hadn't already seen the flash-forwards?
Would you have viewed Walter's surrender differently? For me it reinforced that the gang was coming because once he was in custody I can't see how he escapes from the cops.

   I liked how Walt climbed the same rock that Jesse stood on when they did there first cook. Always enjoy when things come full circle.

   Kudos to Vince Gilligan and his crew for milking the desert scene. I think most people assumed Uncle Jack and his crew were still coming, even though Walter told them not to, but the scene dragged on, in a good way. There were multiple moments when I expected Hank or Gomie to take a bullet in the brain. As he was reading Walter his rights. Right after the tight shot of Hank slapping the cuffs on Walt. Right after Hank got off the phone with Marie and said he'd be home in a little while. The scene was long enough that I kept bracing for that moment, and it never came. It played out beautifully.

   I no longer think those flash-forwards are Walt hunting Jesse, now I think he's hunting Jack and his gang, pissed that they killed Hank and maybe Jesse. Still have no clue who the ricin is for, but maybe he's going to use it himself so he can go out on his own terms.

   Odds on people dying in the next episode:
   Gomez 100%
   Hank     95%
   Jesse      50%

My only nit-pick with the episode was the Storm Trooper-like shooting by Jack and his crew. Hank and Gomie are out in the open, roughly 20 yards away and (at least in the first part of the shootout) they can't hit either guy? Even J.R. Smith on a bad night has a better shooting percentage. It's not like the guys were ducking for cover. Gomez is standing there pumping his shotgun and 5 guys miss him?

  I'm thrilled about the Better Call Saul spinoff. Can they start it in 4 weeks?
http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/tv/2013/09/11/breaking-bad-spinoff-saul-goodman/2801281/

04 September, 2013

2013 Denver Broncos predictions

   The Denver Broncos enter the season as the favorite to win the Super Bowl. That seems a little foolish to me. The Broncos are a good team for sure, but are they better than last year's team? Are they better than Seattle, San Fran, Atlanta, New England or even the Ravens? Maybe they are favored because the NFC is a tougher playoff road to travel through. Time will tell, but here's a spoiler alert, the Broncos aren't winning the Super Bowl this year.
   The 2012 team ranked 2nd in total defense. They lost Elvis Dumerville, Von Miller will miss the first 6 games, and in general their linebacking crew has had a large makeover since last season. And where exactly a pass rush is going to come from while waiting for Miller remains to be seen. The Broncos lead the league with 52 sacks last year, 29 1/2 coming from Von-Doom. I always say the greatest invention in history is the electric screwdriver. Why? Because it alleviates time and effort. I could have spent 2 hours trying to put in the screws to the steps for my pool into my pool deck this summer, arms and hands in agony, sweating like Tony Siragusa on the sidelines of a Dolphins game, but with the electric screwdriver I was done in 20 minutes. That's what a good pass rush is. It gets the defense off the field alleviating time and effort. Let's just say without Dumerville and Miller (for 6 games) Denver's defense could be screwed.
   The secondary should be good, but the last time we saw Champ Bailey he was looking like a guy who now needed safety help on his side of the field. Dominique Rodgers Cromartie is a talent, but one who hasn't always lived up to the expectations.
   On offense, Denver lost Willis McGahee, who was a solid runner, averaging 4.4 a carry, but also a veteran back who understood blocking schemes. They now have a Moreno-Ball-Hillman three-headed monster with Moreno being the most adept at protecting Peyton.
   The biggest concern is the offensive line where everyone is either recovering from injury or a career backup.
   The Welker pick up was huge and I loved the signing of Vaszquez. There is no reason to think this won't be a top 5 scoring offense (they were #2 in 2012).  Oh, and there is Trindon Holliday who will probably return 4 or 5 kicks for scores this year.
   If the line holds up there will be just one thing that will stop the offense this year... fumbles. In the preseason the Broncos offense lay the ball on the ground six times in their last three games. They lost 14 fumbles last year, the most of any team to make the playoffs. And we saw last year Holliday has a bad habit of doing it too. You can't ran a fast break offense standing on the sidelines.
   So where does that leave the Broncos this year? As you may recall, last year I was all over the Broncos first 9 games, and then they won a few more than I thought and exceeded my expectations, going 13-3.
The 2013 season is upon us, so let's break it down.

WEEK 1 - BALTIMORE 
   The Flacco Flack over the banners around Denver and on the stadium has gotten a lot of buzz this week. But hey, NFL, why stop with just a few banners. Why not give the Ravens their rings too?? If we're going to do this, let's go all the way. Have Ray Lewis out there so he can dance up the field before getting his ring. Hell, raise the Super Bowl banner and then ship it back to Baltimore.
Why would Broncos fans mind? You've already decorated our town with Joe Flacco's mug, so let's have a party!
   The Broncos ran 30 plays in the first quarter of their preseason game against the Rams. 30! If my math is correct.... (carry the 1...) that's 120 over 4 quarters. With a lot of new starters on defense,  I'm not sure this is the offense the Ravens want to face (no, not the famed "Peyton Manning face") in week 1.
    If the Ravens win the toss and receive, on the first play Rahim Moore should go stand on the Broncos goal line just to let Baltimore know he won't be beaten deep in this one.
   While all eyes will be on Welker, and Eric Decker being the guy who torched Baltimore in the two games last year (14 - 217, 2 TDs) it's going to be Demaryius Thomas with the big game, grabbing 8 passes for 168 yards and 2 scores.

BRONCOS  27  RAVENS  21 (1-0)

WEEK 2 - AT GIANTS 
   Manning Bowl 3! On the "Bowl" spectrum it ranks a little higher than the Bud Bowl but not as good as the Puppy Bowl. The Mannings are rappers, SNL hosts, humble family men and prolific passers. This will be their third meeting with Peyton having won the first two. If you count their SNL appearances, Peyton is 3-0.

Week 2, 2006: Colts 26 Giants 21. Peyton 25-41, 276, TD, Int. Eli 20-34, 247, 2 TD, Int.
Week 2, 2010: Colts 38 Giants 14. Peyton 20-26, 255, 3 TD. Eli 13-24, 161, 2 TD, Int.

   I'm a little brother. I grew up losing to my older brother all the time. You really can only take it so long. I think Eli has had enough. Eli is either going to win this game or he is going to throw Peyton's baseball glove in the pond near their house. (Something I may or may not have done to my brother).
Both brothers will play well, but Broncos turnovers will prove costly.

GIANTS 24  BRONCOS 17  (1-1)

WEEK 3 - RAIDERS 
   So week 1 is a big revenge game on national TV. Week 2 is the Manning Bowl on national TV (it'll be the big game on CBS around the country). Week 3 is Raider Week on Monday Night Football. Will the Broncos have any emotion left in the tank after these 3 games? The saving grace is after facing Flacco and Eli, Terrelle Pryor comes to town. Dennis Allen is going to stand on the Raiders sideline, look at Pryor and then look at Peyton and think, "I left Kate Upton for Amanda Bynes..."
   This feels like a Trindon Game. He'll return a kick for a score and the Broncos high octane offense will have the Raiders reeling. Oakland's highlight will be when Sea-Bas kicks a record 65-yard field goal.

BRONCOS 42 RAIDERS 13 (2-1)

WEEK 4  EAGLES
   Is the promotional give away for this game oxygen tanks?
   After facing a Mike Vick wannabe, the Broncos face the real thing. This ought to be fun. This game is going to have so many plays Shakespeare would be jealous.  They better have a lot of oxygen tanks on the sidelines. Hell, give them to the announcers too because they will be breathless trying to keep up. Halftime for this game may need to be 10 minutes longer than normal to allow the teams to catch their breath. The Detroit Pistons and Denver Nuggets played a game in Denver nearly 30 years ago where the final score was 186-184. This will be close.

BRONCOS 45  EAGLES 31  (3-1)

WEEK 5 AT COWBOYS 
  The last time the Broncos played the Cowboys, Kyle Orton threw touchdown passes for Denver and the Broncos won 17-10. Champ Bailey broke up four passes including one in the end zone late in the game to preserve the victory. If Kyle Orton throws two TDs for Denver in this game, it means Tony Romo is hurt and Champ Bailey did more than break up a pass, he took one or two to the house. It's more likely Orton will be holding his clipboard on the sidelines watching Romo have a big day.
   Manning is a pedestrian 2-2 vs the Cowboys with 7 TDs and 7 picks.
   The Cowboys make things difficult on Manning with a strong pass rush and the Romocoaster has an up week.

BRONCOS 14  COWBOYS 20  (3-2)

WEEK 6  JACKSONVILLE 
   In the wake of the Broncos playoff loss to the Ravens, fans and media alike debated if it was worse than the '96-'97 loss to the Jaguars. I'm not sure if 16 years from now when the Broncos and Ravens play I'll hope the Broncos annihilate them beyond recognition, but I still feel that way when Denver plays Jacksonville.
   Did you know the Jags have beaten Denver three straight? Me neither until I looked it up.
   Peyton brings back memories of the '97-'98 playoff game and Welker is huge with 10+ receptions.

BRONCOS  42  JAGUARS 17 (4-2) 

WEEK 7 AT COLTS 
    Holy Schnikes, talk about your story lines. Von Miller returning to the Broncos will hardly be a rumor compared to the Peyton Manning Returns to Indy drama. Poor Andrew Luck is going to be answering questions about it all week. Peyton will be answering questions about it all week. Jim Irsay will be drunk tweeting about it all week. This game is going to be H-U-G-E. Last years Cowboys-Redskins game in week 17 did a 17.0 rating, the highest ever on NBC for a regular season game.  This one will be close to that, probably around a 16.5.
   We've seen this type of moment play out before. It's the Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned Unless it's the Face of a Franchise Playing Against the Team That Let Him Go game. (It's a long title, I know.)
Brett Favre played the Packers twice in 2009, winning both games, including a 12-point win in Green Bay when he chucked 4 TD passes.
   In 1994 Joe Montana faced the 49ers (in KC) and beat them 24-17 with two TDs.
   It works in other sports too. Tom Seaver's first start at Shea Stadium against the Mets, he struck out 11 in a 5-1 win and also hit a double.
   Roger Clemens gave the Fenway faithful (and the Red Sox brass) a big F you when he struck out 16 in 8 innings in his return to Boston. He only allowed 4 hits and a run in the victory for Toronto.
   Even an aging Michael Jordan beat the Bulls the first two times he faced them (home and away) as a 38-year old who had been out of the league for 3 years. In his return to Chicago he only had 16 points but also had 12 rebounds and a +/- of +17.
   So what does all this mean? It means Manning is going to be beyond fired up to stick it to the team that didn't believe he could still be a healthy, productive player. It means 4 TD passes and 321 yards. It means a Broncos victory.

BRONCOS 28 COLTS 21  (5-2)

WEEK 8 REDSKINS 
   Wait, there's ANOTHER emotional match up? OK, Mike Shanahan was never exactly Mr. Cuddles, but he is the coach that lead Denver to their only two titles. His return to Denver should elicit warm memories and plenty of praise for Shanny for the Super Bowls and getting rid of Greg Robinson. When all the hugging is done the business at hand will not be hugging, but wrapping up RG3 and not letting him run wild. Von Miller should have his feet under him for this one and will be fired up to play his first home game.

BRONCOS 30  REDSKINS 19 (6-2) 

WEEK 9  BYE 

WEEK 10 AT CHARGERS 
   Hey, another reunion! The Broncos face former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy who created an offense that was ranked 4th in total offense. Of course he did have help from Peyton. It's kind of like Anson Williams having "Star of Happy Days" on his resume.
  For McCoy, it's the same resume that says "I won games, and a PLAYOFF GAME, with Tim Tebow as my quarterback."It also says "Kyle Orton had a career year playing under me." That's quite a resume.
   So what can he do with Philip Rivers, a QB who needs more saving than Nelson Van Alden on Boardwalk Empire? Rivers had been 9-4 in his career against Denver before last year, which included the collapse game on MNF when they blew a 24-0 lead. The Chargers offense ranked 31st last year. Only Arizona was worse. I think McCoy will help Rivers be a better QB, just not good enough in this game.

BRONCOS 26  CHARGERS 16 (7-2) 

WEEK 11 CHIEFS 
   Kansas City has become a popular sleeper pick this season. With an upgrade at QB and coach, the potent offensive combo of Jamal Charles and Dwayne Bowe and the likelihood that things just can't be that awful two years in a row, maybe those people are right. This game will go a long way toward telling us if the Chiefs are for real. It's also the first piece of bread in the Patriots sandwich as the Broncos play KC, NE and KC the next three weeks. Is this the dreaded look ahead loss?
Nope.

BRONCOS 23 CHIEFS 13  (8-2)

WEEK 12 AT NEW ENGLAND 
   Hey! Yet another reunion!!! Even M*A*S*H didn't do this many reunion shows. So Wes Welker comes back to New England where he claims his coach was was tougher on him than HHH is on the Big Show. With some QBs you would expect Welker to be targeted many times, trying to help their man exact some revenge. Manning won't play it like that unless the game plan calls for it. Obviously every Broncos game plan will have a lot of Wes in it, but don't expect Manning to force stuff.
   In last year's game the Patriots fast-paced offense had the Broncos defense on the ropes for three quarters. Ridley riddled them for 151 yards. New England ran 89 plays and jumped to a 31-7 lead. Denver had a chance, down 31-21 and driving when McGahee fumbled (Denver's third lost fumble of the game) and New England ran it out.
   This will be an interesting chess match as both teams have last year to work from, plus their defenses practice against the uptempo offense every day. In the end, the difference will probably be the same as last year, turnovers.

PATRIOTS  34  BRONCOS 24 (8-3) 

WEEK 13 AT KANSAS CITY 
   It's been three seasons since the Broncos have scored more than 17 points in K.C. That was when they put up 44 in 2009 behind 245 yards on the ground, lead by Correl Buckhalter's (!) 113.
   I never feel good about games in K.C. It reminds of buying clothes for my wife for Christmas. It's going to be an uncomfortable, arduous, feature an embarrassing moment or two with the likelihood that it was just an exasperating waste of time.

CHIEFS  17  BRONCOS 16  (8-4)

WEEK 14 TITANS 
   Wait. I thought the Broncos bye was in week 9.

BRONCOS 38 TITANS 10 (9-4)

WEEK 15 CHARGERS 
   By this point in the season Philip Rivers will either be back to his old form or the Chargers will have signed Philip Seymour Hoffman because he can act like a QB better than Rivers can actually play like one. Don't laugh, the man gave life to Art Howe in Moneyball, so he can pretty much do anything.
   With Antonio Gates on the down side of a great career, Denver's former hoopster turned football player, Julius Thomas, goes off with 3 TD receptions.

BRONCOS 27 CHARGERS 12 (10-4)

WEEK 16 AT HOUSTON 
   Hey, it's Gary Kubiak! OK, we did this reunion last year. Kubiak is now like the uncle who always stays at the family reunion longer than everyone else. This will be a good "getting ready for the playoffs" test. It may even be an important game for seeding in the playoffs. And as we learned last year, home field advantage is so.... AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Just knock the damn ball down Rahim!!!!!! Knock the freakin' ball down!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HOUSTON 28 DENVER 20 (10-5)

WEEK 17 AT OAKLAND 
   What are the odds that neither Terrelle Pryor nor Matt Flynn starts this game for Oakland? That would be a great office pool to do. Get 10 friends, do a random draw for draft order and let everyone make a pick, including Pryor and Flynn. Who would you pick? Mark Sanchez? Tim Tebow? Ken Stabler? Imagine the season long intrigue with that one!

BRONCOS 29 RAIDERS 3 (11-5) 

   The Vegas over/under on the Broncos is 11. Can I bet the push? It will be another fun, entertaining season in Denver, but it will end before the Super Bowl. The Broncos season will end in New England in the AFC title game. Wes Welker will share pleasantries with Bill Belichick after the game and then in his best Dino Ciccarelli voice say "I can't believe I shook this guy's friggen' hand. That pisses me right off."






09 August, 2013

18 June, 2013

Harvey and Wheeler

   I spent my off day settling in and watching Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler start the day/night doubleheader for the Mets in Atlanta. Harvey was making his 25th career start, Wheeler his first.
   It remains to be seen if the duo will be this generation's Seaver and Koosman, or Gooden and Darling, or God forbid Pulsipher and Wilson, but clearly these two men hold the Mets future in their hands, which just happen to be attached to a pair of electric right arms.
   So I decided to track the two guys pitches that were 95 MPH and faster, as well as swings and misses.
   Early in the first game Mets color commentator Ron Darling says "it's a fast gun here in Atlanta, so you're going to see a lot of 97s and 98s." Combine that with the Braves N.L. leading 621 whiffs, and this could be pretty fun.
   Here are my logs for the two pitchers. A "M with a number" before a MPH means a swing and miss at a pitch 95+.  Just a M means a swing and a miss at a pitch below 95 mph.
 


Harvey 
1st inning: 
M 96, M 95, 97, 97, 98, 97, 97, 96, 96, M 100, 

2nd inning: 
97, 98, 96, 98, 98, 96, 98, 97, 97,

3rd inning: 
97, 97, 97, 97, M 95, 95, 97, 97, M 97, 97, 97, 95, 96, 97, 97, 98, 96, M

4th inning: 
97, M, 95, M 98, M, 99, 99, M, 

5th inning: 
96, M, 99, 98, M, 98, M, M, 99, 

6th inning:
95, M, 95, M, 

7th inning: 
95, 95, 97, M 96, 96, 99,

8th inning:
95, M, 95, 

Total:  56 95+, 18 swings and misses, 7 IP, 116 pitches, 74 strikes, 13 Ks

Wheeler
1st Inning:
96, 97, 97, 95, 97, 97, 95, 97, 96, 97, 98, M 97, 97, 97, 96, 96, 95, 96, 97, 96, 96

2nd inning:
95, M 96, 98, 97, M 97, 95, M 96, M 95, 96, 

3rd inning:
97, 95, 96, 96, 95, 96, 96, M 96, M, 96, 97, 96, 97

4th inning:
95, M, 95, M 95, 

5th inning:
95, 96, M 95, 

6th inning:
95, 95, 95, 95, 95, M,  

Totals: 53 95+, 11 swings and misses, 6 IP, 102 pitches, 55 strikes, 7 Ks 

Harvey and Wheeler combined: 109 95+ and 29 swings and misses





20 April, 2013

Piazza and Nava

   As David Ortiz stood in the batters box today with his team trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the 8th, in the first game back in Fenway following the Boston marathon bombing and ensuing developments, it hit me. Here it is! Here is the Mike Piazza moment for Red Sox fans. Mike Piazza, the Mets most iconic player on their roster, came to the plate in the first game back in NYC following 9/11 with his Mets trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the 8th. The at bat came after Liza Minnelli came on the field and performed the New York anthem "New York, New York" for the 7th inning stretch.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvMmAJfO-pk
Piazza launched a massive 2-run homer that would give the Mets the lead and eventually the win.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBMC1tA4CdM
  Back to Fenway.  Neil Diamond had just come on the field (he volunteered to fly in from LA do it) and performed the Red Sox anthem "Sweet Caroline."
http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?topic_id=44973348&content_id=26430517
   As Papi dug in I braced for drama. Here was the Red Sox icon ready to do something great for "our f'ing city" as he proclaimed it before the game. Instead Ortiz grounded into a double play. So much for that. But two batters later Daniel Nava drove one deep to right for a 3-run shot, giving the Sox the lead and eventually the win.
    http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=26431145&topic_id=44973348&c_id=mlb&tcid=vpp_copy_26431145&v=3
 
  I still get goose bumps every time I watch the Piazza homer. I'm sure Red Sox fans will have the same reaction to Nava's moment.
  Those moments are the reason I believe in the baseball gods. Stuff that always seems to "just happen" always seems to just happen when needed the most. That's why sports is better than anything else.

31 March, 2013

Your 2013 New York Mets

   Like most fathers, my dad doled out plenty of pearls of wisdom for my benefit over the years. Some of it sticks. Some of it goes in one ear and out the other. Some of it matters tremendously when you hear it but then melts away over time, lost in parts of your brain where important stuff like the names of your first crush, the gym teacher on Saved By the Bell and the lyrics to No Easy Way Out get priority.
One thing my dad taught me at an early age was this: The six most common spoken words in the English language are "Mets threaten but do not score." The older I got and the more I paid attention to Mets games, the more I saw how right my father was. When the Mets have the bases loaded and no one out, they score 1-run or less in that inning 76.3% of the time. That's not a stat I can prove or anything, but I damn well know it to be true. Historically designated drivers drive more people home than the Mets do. Only 14 different Met players have had 100 rbi seasons. Even in years when they are good, it seems like the Mets are always struggling for the clutch hit.

   That brings us to this year. Coming off a 74-win season (which I accurately predicted here last year. Pat-pat-pat on the back!) in which they scored 650 runs, I suspect this year will be worse. The Mets actually threatening to score may be a big deal.
   Let's begin with the outfield. Colin Cowgill looks like a downgrade from Andres Torres.
Last year I thought Lucas Duda would hit around 30 homers and be a poor man's Adam Dunn. Turns out he may be more unstable than a Jenga tower already missing some pieces. He lost confidence, was sent to AAA, struggled down there and did little upon his return to convince folks he was a legit major league player. And then there is newcomer Marlon Byrd. He had a lovely spring... lead the Grapefruit League in doubles... hit .350... and all I can think of is Jermaine Allensworth. Remember him Mets fans? He had a monster spring for New York in '98. He smacked about 8 homers down there in Port St. Lucie and Mets fans got excited. Then he hit .204 with 2 homers when it actually counted. So much for that. These three guys will likely make the trio of Agbayani, Payton and Bell look like Willie, Mickey and The Duke.
   The infield offense is where the actual threatening part of the Mets attack is most likely to occur.
Murphy, Wright and Davis are legit major league hitters. They were the only three players on the team last year to score 60 runs and drive in 60 runs. It's likely that they'll each eclipse 80 in the runs/rbi department and combine to provide 35%-40% of the offense. Last year I wrote I thought Ruben Tejada was, at best, destined to be a journeyman player. Then he went out and turned in a nice season, hitting .289, scoring 53 runs and exceeding expectations. This spring he has just a few more hits than Frank Taveras (who retired 30 years ago) and the Mets apparently discussed having him start the season in AAA Las Vegas. To be fair, a few good games of blackjack would produce more "hits" for Tejada than he had in March, but I'm not doubling down on a season like last year from old Ruben.
   As for catcher offense, the New Orleans Superdome doesn't have the power issues the Mets did last year. 5 homers and 44 rbi is what they got from Thole, Nickeas and Johnson. All year. From their catchers. Over 162 games.
   If he plays all season, John Buck will likely hit 15 homers and drive in 50, but he'll probably bat .210 along the way. The X-factor here is Travis d'Arnuad who will get the call at some point and could give the Mets more consistent offense from the catching position.

   In a couple of years this generation of Mets fans may have their Seaver, Koosman and Matlack in Wheeler, Harvey and Niese. It likely won't be that good, but it will be much better than Generation K.
Right now, it's Harvey and Niese and fall on your knees. I think those two will combine for 30 wins. The trio of Gee, Marcum and numerous #5 guys might combine to win 20.
   The Mets bullpen is what most bullpens on bad teams are, a collection of guys you hope perform well. When looking at the Mets pen lets just say optimism does not abound. Greg Burke is a converted sidearmer who hasn't pitched in the bigs since '09. Scott Rice is as wonderful story. He has faced 3,600 batters in the minor leagues and at age 31 he finally made a big league club. The problem? He has faced 3,600 minor league batters and at age 31 finally made a big league club. Atchinson, Lyons and Hawkins have all been a mixed bag of results in their careers. Bobby Parnell is the one guy I am confident can consistently get big league hitters out but so far he has yet to prove that he can do it in the 9th inning, which is where he'll be doing his work this year.

   Gone from last year's team are a 20-game winner in Dickey and a 20 home run hitter in Hairston.
As noted before, that team won 74 games. The 2013 Mets get a full season of Matt Harvey, hopefully a full season of the Ike Davis Mets fans hope he can be and David Wright continuing to be an upper level, but not quite elite, player. Oh, and the promise of Wheeler and d'Arnaud eventually taking their first steps down career paths we hope help lead this franchise out of the doldrums and back to an exciting, competitive team capable of great things.
   Until that time, get used to hearing Gary Cohen, Josh Lewin or Howie Rose going to commercial break by saying "....Mets threaten, but do not score."

   PREDICTION: 72-90
 

25 March, 2013

The Wrestlemania Card

   With Wrestlemania fast approaching, it's fun to try and figure out how the card will lay out.
Rock/Cena will most likely be the final match, but the tend to like to end the PPV's with popular results. Would Cena winning back the title be a popular result? To half the crowd, I suppose.
And how popular would a Punk win over Undertaker be? So do those matches get separated?
Lots of options for those making out the card.
   So what do you think? Go into the comments section and predict the WM29 card.

25 February, 2013

The Road to Wrestlemania

   I hope tonight's RAW is the first step toward what could be a great Wrestlemania (weather permitting!).
   With Mr. McMahon and Paul Heyman in a match tonight, there is potential for Brock Lesnar to launch another attack on the Chairman. If that happens, I hope the Dead Man rises again and the Undertaker comes to Vince's aid, setting up a 'Taker  v Brock match at 'Mania.
   While Cena and Punk are set to go at it tonight for the right to face the Rock, my hope is that it goes unresolved, setting us up with a Triple Threat match for the title. I think it's safe to assume Rock will not retain the belt at Wrestlemania, so the Triple Threat match would at least provide us with a measure of suspense as to who was going to win it, Cena or Punk.
   We may also get an idea of how deep in the doghouse Jack Swagger is after his arrest last week. If he  is out of the picture, I would like to see a Del Rio v Barrett match at 'Mania. Barrett deserves the spotlight since he had to miss out last year due to injury. It would be for the Intercontinental title as I suspect Ziggler will be the World Heavyweight champ before April.
   The Shield needs to be involved, so they need a 3-man team to go against. I'm not sure 6-weeks of them feuding with Ryback, Sheamus and Jericho will sustain itself, nor am I sure you want those three guys being used up in one match at Wrestlemania. I still prefer a Jericho v Ziggler match, so someone would have to join Ryback and Sheamus. Maybe the Miz fills that spot.
   Lastly, I want a tag-team match of Big Show and Mark Henry against Brodus Clay and Tensai. Just give me big slabs of beef smacking each other around. You could also have Team Hell No take on Show and Henry.
   Certainly there are other matches to be made. These are just a few that I would like to see.
   There are still many stops along the way on the Road to Wrestlemania. Hopefully tonight's RAW will provide us a bit of a travel plan.

25 January, 2013

2013 Royal Rumble Pool Contestants

Here are the lucky 30 people who will partake in this years pool. Good luck to all!


@Racker22  #1
@jazzjune   #2
@i_am_jefferson  #3
@theravishingone #4
@gustyj13 #5
@hamm3rofgod  #6
@tapout1981  #7
@stroede #8
@sbush80012  #9
@superjew1 #10 
@dwalker87  #11
@kevinrudge  #12 
@klasik007 #13 
@RobertAitkenBR #14 
@Zakariah  #15 
@ngray_63  #16 
@jdjigga4885 #17 
@Swaggergills. #18 
@deanleyland #19 
@mello1818 #20 
@kreslovric  #21 
@jonblyan #22 
@psyscho27 #23 
@bigskyman01 #24 
@kingajeezy #25 
@joelnick11 #26 
@adampearson89 #27 
@A_Rawden22 #28 
@benhas19voices #29 
@nicki5686  #30 

21 January, 2013

1990 Royal Rumble

I was lucky enough to attend this Rumble in Orlando 23 years ago today.
I miss the promos the guys did before the Rumble. The Warrior's one in this link is awesome.
Also when you click on the ensuing youtube clips (They appear in 10:00 intervals) notice how no music plays upon entrances. Also notice the number of Hall of Famers who were in it. Quite the event.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdzJqWn7XUU

20 January, 2013

Royal Rumble Contest 2013


 Here's how it works. I will randomly select 30 Twitter followers on 1/25 who let me know they want in on the contest (details below) . YOU ARE NOT GUARANTEED AN ENTRY. THIS IS A LOTTERY. I will use a random number generator to match up entrance spots with the 30 contestants to determine who gets each entrance number.
  Last year I used this hypothetical example and accidentally predicted exactly how the Rumble would be won. http://gusramsey.blogspot.com/2012/01/royal-rumble-contest-2012.html
   I'll take another stab at it this year. 
   So if you have #18 and Cena comes in at #18 and wins, you win. (by the way, that scenario coupled with The Rock beating Punk sets up a Rock vs Cena Twice in a Lifetime rematch at Wrestlemania.) 

   I will post the names of the entrants and the number they've been assigned here on the blog on 1/25.
   Prizes will include a Jim Ross barbecue sauce prize pack and a signed item from him as well as a choice of WWE DVD or WWE Encyclopedia.  

  If you want to enter the contest, leave your name and twitter handle in the comments section of this post. DO NOT JUST SEND ME A TWEET.
****Your name will not appear in the comments box until I APPROVE THE COMMENT, so don't panic.****
  Please only submit your name once. Good luck to all.
  By the way, if you don't get in this one, do your own. It's a lot of fun. 

13 January, 2013

The Agony of Defeat, Broncos Style


The Shock   
The ball hung in the air, twisting toward it's stationary target, and the realization that a magical season was coming to a cruel and premature conclusion sunk over me, slowly, agonizingly and helplessly.
   Carlos Beltran didn't swing the bat and the Mets 2006 season was over. They had the best record in their league, they played a team in the playoffs that had spent much of their season playing below expectations (in part due to injured key players but were finally healthy), and they were dramatically upset in the post-season. Sound familiar?
   As Justin Tucker's 47-yard field goal spun it's way through the uprights, ending the Broncos season, I sat motionless on my couch wondering if what I had just sat through for four hours actually happened.
    In the grand scheme of things, the Broncos loss to the Ravens wasn't shocking. Leading up to the game I presented reasons to be concerned. This is a playoff tested team that was healthier than when Denver beat them in week 15. But how the Broncos lost wasn't just shocking, it was stupefyingly stunning. Regardless of what took place prior to getting to the position they were in, the Broncos were in the position of having a 7-point lead with their opponent on their own 30 yard line, no time outs and forty-one seconds to play. According to ESPN's Stats and Information Win Probability model, Denver had a 97.2% chance of winning the game at that moment. Shocking doesn't begin to describe it. 


Worse than '96?

   Is this loss worse than the playoff loss to Jacksonville that ended the '96 season? That's a question many Broncos fans are asking themselves. For me the answer is yes and no. That Jaguars team was 9-7, had barely qualified for the playoffs and were in just their second season in the NFL. But they had talented players in Mark Brunell, Natrone Means, Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. On that they day, they outplayed the Broncos. Big picture - shocking. Day of - a frustrating and depressing day when they got beat.    

   This Ravens loss? The game was in the bag. Denver had the ball and a 7-point lead as the two-minute warning approached. Two first downs were going to win the game. And again, even are punting the ball away, a small miracle was required for the Ravens to win. In that regard, this loss was more shocking and more painful. Broncos fans had one and a half feet in the AFC title game. I never felt that  confident during the Jacksonville game. (Denver did lead 12-0 but a questionable decision to go for two instead of going up 13-0 raised my eyebrows and allowed doubt to creep in.) Trying to compare the two losses is like being asked "would you rather be kicked in the crotch or poked in the eye?" 


3rd and 7   

   That brings me to the 3rd and 7 call. I didn't first guess it so I'm not going to second guess it, I'll just tell you what I was thinking in the moment. Because the 2:00 warning provided ample time to think it over, I said to my son, "I don't think they'll pass it here, but it would be great if they did." It's hard to argue with logic that put your team in a position where they had a 97.2% chance of winning. But what about this? If I told you before the season started Denver needed Peyton Manning to complete a pass on 3rd and 7 for a first down in order for the Broncos to go to the AFC title game, Broncos fans would feel pretty good about that.
   After the fact all I could think of was the 1997 AFC title game. Denver lead the Steelers 24-21 at the 2:00 warning. They were facing a 3rd and 5 from their own 15. They had Terrell Davis and his 130+ yard rushing day in their backfield. They could have given T.D. the ball, run some clock, punted and trusted their defense. Instead, they asked their Hall of Fame quarterback to make a play. Elway fired a laser to Shannon Sharpe for 18 yards and the game was over. So here were the Broncos, a 7-yard completion away from the AFC title game, and they opted to run. Again, John Fox put his team in incredibly good position to win, I just think most Broncos fans would have liked to see their team go for the kill right then and there. By the way, the Broncos lost to the Steelers in week 15 of the regular season in '97 and got their revenge in the playoffs. Sound familiar? 
    I went through the play-by-play of all the Broncos games this year to see what they had done on 3rd and 7s. Granted, the context is different, but the Broncos passed 15 out of 18 times they had a 3rd down and 7. The three runs consisted of Brock Osweiler taking a knee against New Orleans when the game was over and two Ronnie Hillman runs in the waning moments of the Cleveland and Ravens games to set up field goals when they were already up by 20 or more points. So basically anytime Denver needed to convert a 3rd and 7 this season, they passed the ball. It's fair to say Denver needed to convert that 3rd and 7 against Baltimore and instead of asking their Hall of Fame quarterback to make a play, they ran it. I have to wonder what John Elway was thinking as he watched from his sky box.
   Just for yucks, lets also mention a 3rd and 5 call. Denver was up 28-21 early in the third quarter, had just recovered a fumble and had the ball on their 47. Uncle Mo was dying to throw on his Broncos jersey. Manning audibled to a run to Hester up the middle. The play gained 2 yards and Denver punted. It was one of the possessions where Denver had a lead and was looking to go up that allusive two scores. It just seemed like an odd call at the time. I don't have any official stats on it, but the number of times Manning audibled to a run this season and it gained big yardage were pretty minimal. If Denver was going for the kill, they were doing the Roberta Flack and trying to kill them softly.  

The Pass 
   Joe Flacco's improbable heave was thrown at 8pm eastern time. How do I know that? Because I have parental locking on my TV. Whatever TV show was scheduled for 8pm Sunday night on CBS must have a rating of TV-14 or higher because at 8pm, just as Joe Flacco was stepping up in the pocket on that fateful 3rd and 3, my TV screen went from showing me the game to the blue screen that says "This program has been locked." As I frantically grabbed the remote and unlocked the channel my son says "I think we sacked him...." I entered the code and the game returned on my TV in time to see the Ravens jumping up and down with the word "TOUCHDOWN" emblazoned across the screen.  What the #@$%????? 
   Maybe my TV knew that if I saw the play live I would have yelled something my son shouldn't hear and it was providing some kind of metaphysical parental locking. 

Conservative like a Fox
   When Manning took a knee at the Broncos 20 with :31 left in regulation, the crowd booed their disgust at Denver for not trying to win the game. Just like the run on 3rd and 7, it was a concession.
   If John Fox was watching the Falcons game today, he saw just what could be done with limited time and a few timeouts. Or he could look no further than his own teams game against the Texans this year when the Broncos had the ball on their 37 with :22 left in the half. Manning completed two passes to Decker and Prater hit a 53-yard field goal.     
   Last season when the Broncos were pulling out miracle win after miracle win, coach Fox's strategy was to play it as close to the vest as possible. When Tebow tied the Miami game and got it to overtime, Denver had two possessions in the extra period. The first went run-run-sack-punt. The second followed a Miami turnover at their own 36. Denver went run-run-run and settled for a 52-yard field goal. In their OT win against the Chargers their OT plays were 8 runs and 3 passes. In their OT win against Chicago they had the ball 1st and 10 on Chicago's 40. They went McGahee run, Tebow scramble, Tebow run and settled for a 51-yard field goal. 
   John Fox is a defensive-minded coach. He wasn't a gun-slinging QB who converted crucial 4th downs and pulled victory from the jaws of defeat. So maybe, even with Peyton Manning as his QB, Fox just feels better playing it safe. Against the Ravens, safe made everyone in Denver sorry. 



The Cold

   A lot was made of Manning being 0-3 in playoff games played at 30 degrees or colder. I didn't think too much of it. Two of those losses were on the road against really good Patriots teams. But as the game went on, it was evident to me that the cold had some kind of an effect. Many of Manning's throws lacked the zip that had grown with the season. Sure, he put some mustard on some and threw beauties to Stokley and Moreno for TDs, but consider this, Manning only threw one pass more than 20 yards the entire game. The man threw 43 passes in this game, and only one went more than 20 yards? With wideouts like Decker and Thomas, in a game where the refs were throwing flags like Pacman Jones throws $100s, you would expect them to take a few shots down the field. It didn't happen and I think the cold was the primary reason why. Glove and all, I'm just not sure Peyton felt like he had a lot of pop on his passes and didn't want to risk it. Maybe that's why coach Fox played it safe at the end of regulation. Obviously this doesn't bode well over the next few years if Denver has more cold-weather playoff games. By the way, because I like to torture myself, I looked to see that next Sunday's forecast for Denver is sunny and a high near 50. 


The Pain 

   The only part of this game I found enjoyable was the Holliday punt return. Everything else was just agonizing, excruciating pain. There were three or four possessions where Denver had the lead and the ball, but couldn't manage to take a two-score lead. None worse than the possession at the end of the first half when they could have gone up ten or fourteen and were getting the ball to start the second half. A Prater shank, a Champ misplay and suddenly it was tied at the half. Ulcers were growing to softball size in my gut. 

   The game was also played at an incredibly slow pace. It was only mid-second quarter and the game was an hour and a half old. The refs were taking forever to sort out penalties and reviews. Players were getting hurt. It was just dragging on and on. I was squirming in my seat like I was getting wisdom teeth yanked without the benefit of Novocaine. (memo to self: next year get some Novocaine before any Broncos playoff games). 

   The Broncos had two almost-picks (a deflected pass that landed in front of a charging Moore and a Mike Adams diving attempt he got both hands on) that could have sealed things. The pass interference on the Ravens second possession that allowed them to avoid punting from their own end zone and lead to a TD two plays later. The long completion to Pitta from their own end zone that changed field position in overtime and set up the Ravens field position on the ensuing Manning pick. All agonizing. Ronnie Hillman looked dangerously close to breaking a few long runs that could have been game-changing, but his protect-the-ball-at-all-costs style (which was the proper thing) seemed to prevent him from turning on the jets full blast and tearing away. Agonizing. I have often said I enjoy the angst of important games and I'd rather watch a good, close game and lose then to have it be over in the first quarter, but not like that. Not when the game is 97.2% won. This game just sucked the life out of me, play-by-play, minute-by-minute. 
  
The Aftermath
   This one is going to take a while to get over. Maybe the 11-game win streak was fool's gold. The teams Denver beat during that streak proved not to be as formidable as their preseason expectations suggested. The running game can be improved. While I still believe Champ Bailey is among the best DBs in the league, he gave plenty of reason for doubt on Saturday. If Joe Mays is not the answer at middle linebacker, a 38-year old Keith Brooking wont be either. They'll need to find someone to man the middle. (Maybe they put DJ Williams back there). And Manning will be another year older. 
   In 2006, while discouraged by their loss to the Cardinals, I still thought the Mets time was just beginning. Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Delgado, Santana. There was plenty of reason for optimism. I was wrong. That was the Mets shot and they blew it.
   After losing to the Jaguars in '96, the Broncos rebounded to win back-to-back Super Bowls. This Denver team is a talented bunch and should still be a contender next year. It's just that when this year hands you home field advantage and you blow it, it's a real kick to the crotch. Or poke to the eye. Whichever.    













09 January, 2013

Playoff Football Fear


  It's Jacksonville's fault and I hate them for it.
  Not the city, just their football team.
  There was a time as a Denver Broncos fan during the John Elway Era where I expected Denver to win the big games (with the exception of the Super Bowl vs the 49ers). They obviously lost some of them, but I always expected them to win.
   None more than the '96 playoff game against Jacksonville.
   Denver was 13-3. Jacksonville was 9-7.
   Denver had Elway, Sharpe, Davis, the league's top ranked offense and the home field advantage plus altitude. I was not worried. In fact, I was already thinking about a showdown with my buddy Bill's beloved New England Patriots.
   But Jacksonville came in full of Jaguar piss and vinegar and shocked the Broncos, 30-27.


   It's because of that game that I go into every Broncos playoff game expecting something bad to happen. Sure, the Broncos have won two Super Bowls since then. They beat the mighty Playoff Patriots in '06. They pulled off the Tebow Miracle last year. All those games were great and I thought before each of them that Denver would lose. Thanks, Jacksonville.
   So that brings us to this week. Denver has a top five offense and a top five defense. They have won 11 in a row. The home field advantage of Mile High seems to be coming back. Denver beat the Ravens in week 15 and they will have a short week while Denver had a week to heal. All signs point to a Denver win... if those are the signs you choose to look at  it. But what about the OTHER signs? You know, the ones that point in the other direction.
   9-10. Peyton Manning is just 9-10 in his playoff career. Tom Brady is 16-6. Joe Montana 16-7. John Elway 14-7. Hell, even Donovan McNabb is 9-7. Despite all his greatness, is there something about Peyton that makes him more human in the playoffs? Certainly not when he plays the Broncos. Two wins, 800+ yards and 9 TDs on 49-59 passing says absolutely not. But 9-10 is 9-10.
  9 straight wins against Baltimore. Peyton has their number, right? I suppose so. But is that 34-17 week 15 win a little deceiving? Manning's 204 passing yards was his lowest output of the season. Baltimore forced Denver into seven 3 and Outs in that game. They average 1.9 3 and Outs on the season. Their third down conversion rate was 31%. They converted 45% of the time for the season. In other words, it's quite possible Baltimore stymies the Denver attack and this game is much closer.
   It's going to be COLD on Saturday. The forecast calls for a high of around 20 degrees. As the Denver Post points out, Manning has not done well in cold weather playoff games, going 1-3 in the cold weather venues of New England, Baltimore and New Jersey. Will the mercury serve as Manning's kryptonite?
   Or will it be the silent bug-a-boo of the Broncos season. The fumble. Denver has given away the football this year like Hare Krishnas used to give away flowers at airports. Their 14 fumbles lost are by far the most of any AFC playoff team. I dread that one lost ball at the exact wrong time will doom Denver's season.
   Vegas says the Broncos are 9 point favorites. Most everyone thinks it's a done deal that the AFC title game will be another Manning v Brady showdown. I obviously hope that it is, but there is the matter of the uneasy 3-hour Angst Fest against the Ray-vens this Saturday. If Denver manages to win that one, wait 'til you see my list of things to be worried about against New England.
   Thanks, Jacksonville.