Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Democratic debate summary

Best summary of the Democratic debate that I've seen comes from Chris Lynch:
Dennis Kucinich sees aliens and Hillary wants to give them drivers licenses.

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New England Patriots - Epitome of evil or misunderstood heroes?

There's been tremendous hue and cry over the Patriots performance, and whether they're exhibiting "poor sportsmanship" by "running up the score." From message boards to talk radio (even in Boston) to the football pundits and sports columnists. It is an article of faith that the Patriots are on a "Vengeance Tour," running up the score whenever they get the chance.

I don't disagree, necessarily, with the "vengeance" thing. While no one knows exactly what goes in someone else's head, these guys are proud and competitive, and it certainly is very easy to imagine that they're responding to press speculation about their past achievements being "tainted" by using videotaping on opposing coaches signals. It doesn't require great imagination to think that, "you think we won because we cheated? OK, let's just show you what we can REALLY do!" has crossed their minds.

And there are a couple of things that I won't defend. I think that it was dumb to have Brady in the fourth quarter of the Redskins game at all, and I certainly think that you can make a case that having him throw a touchdown on that drive, with the score already 38-0, was "piling on." But I don't actually think that the point there was to run up the score. It was "stat padding." (Which doesn't excuse it, or make it more attractive.)

There's no question that Belichick's a historian of the game. He's been in football his entire life, he's been in the NFL for over 30 years now, and he knows and cares about the history of the game, and his place, and his team's place, in it. That has led, at times, to game actions that wouldn't necessarily have been made had circumstances been slightly different. He put his first-string defense back into the final game in 2003 after they'd already wrapped up both the home field throughout the playoffs, and that game, simply to keep the Bills out of the end zone, and finish with a 31-0 win, mirroring the 31-0 loss to Buffalo in week 1. He let Doug Flutie kick a drop-kick field goal against Miami 2 years ago. Last year, with a big lead late against Tennessee, Vinny Testaverde threw a TD pass for the 20th consecutive year. None of those things were required by competitive reasons - they were either messages or stat-padding.

He's stat-padding now. You think he doesn't know what the TD pass record is? You think he doesn't know that Brady's running a record streak for three TD-pass games? He does, and he wants it to continue. I suspect (again, how can you know?) that he feels that Brady's been unfairly considered inferior to Manning because of the stats, and they're demonstrating that Brady can put up the stats, too.

In any event, I'm not going to defend Brady being in the game in the 4th quarter last week. And I think that re-inserting him for that last drive in Miami was also unnecessary, though understandable. The defense wasn't playing well, Miami was moving the ball, they've had problems there before, and 21 points is just not an insurmountable lead. I wouldn't have done it, but it doesn't warrant the vitriol it received. So there are a couple of things that have happened that people can legitimately complain about.

That said, a lot of the complaining has been just whining from people who don't like the Patriots. (Also very understandable - were I not a Patriot fan, I'd hate them, too, though you've got to respect what they are - they're putting on a clinic every week.) There was whining about the "fake spike" play in Miami. Sorry - this is the NFL - even if there is such a thing as "poor sportsmanship" by "running up the score," you can't do it in the first half. The other team is getting paid, too, and if one team can do it in one half, it's mathematically plausible that the other could do it in the second. So any complaints about plays in the first half "running up the score" invalidates the complainer from the discussion.

The other thing that's silly is the idea that they shouldn't go for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter with a big lead. That came up in Dallas, when a timeout by the Cowboys meant that they couldn't kneel out the clock. So they handed it to their 4th running back, who ran into the line four times. Including fourth down. And scored a touchdown. The funny thing is, three weeks earlier, in the same situation, they'd run on fourth down against the Bills, and been praised for it. You see, kicking a field goal there is running up the score. By running the ball on 4th down, you give the defense a chance to stop you. Dallas, of course, failed, so the Patriots are guilty of "running up the score." Nope. Kicking the field goal there is "running up the score." Running is just playing the game. So now they're getting criticized for exactly the same thing in the Redskins game. Again, you can't kick a field goal, you can't punt. What the hell are they supposed to do - take a knee with 4 minutes left? How does that make the losing team feel? Are they supposed to run a play but not try? It sounds like that's what people want, and you can't do that. If players are playing, they've got to play. Likewise with their last score on Sunday, which was a 15-yard scramble by the back-up quarterback.

Former Tennessee Titans GM Floyd Reese had some interesting comments in Mark Maske's Washington Poststory.

Reese said that Belichick's team is so proficient that Belichick is placed in some no-win situations when it comes to coaching decorum.

"I felt for the Redskins," Reese said. "I felt for Joe and especially Gregg [Williams, the Redskins' defensive boss who worked for Reese in Tennessee]. But the Patriots, they're just so good. You get into a situation like that on fourth down, what do you do? Do you kick a field goal? That's automatic points. You don't punt where they were on the field. So you might figure they're going to anticipate a quarterback sneak, and you run a play they have a chance to stop. If you start kneeling down with a lot of time left on the clock, that looks bad, too."

And all of the "shouldn't go for it on 4th down" whiners shouldn't be praising the Colts. They went for it on 4th down in the 4th quarter and a 31-7 lead over the Panthers. But since they failed, no one's accusing them of "running up the score."

But we know that's not the actual reason. People hate the Patriots right now (again, very understandable - I've already said that part of me loathes the fact that I'm apparently rooting for the late 90s Yankees and early 90s Cowboys. Of course, when the Patriots went 14-40 from '89-'92, I was watching all of those games, so I'm not going to feel TOO guilty about it...) So the Patriots are always wrong and, as the only team with a legitimate chance to beat them, the Colts are always right. The fact that none of this is actually close to being that cut and dried isn't relevant. I've seen the term "Patriots Derangement Syndrome," and I think that it is, at least in some cases, apt. That's life. Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe once said (don't remember which book) that "he has the right to offend who is willing to bear the opprobrium." That's the situation the Patriots are in.

They seem to be bearing up under the burden...

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


"Its death is an unfortunate aspect of this work, but we hope to derive lots of information from it...For our work, it's a bonus, but it wasn't good for this particular animal."

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NFL week 8 wrapup

  • The NY Giants have scored 200 points. There are three teams that have scored more. The Colts have scored 224, the Cowboys have scored 227. (They've each played 7 games, while the Patriots have played 8.) The Patriots have outscored their opposition by 204.

    The Patriots have 43 touchdowns and 18 punts.

    The biggest point differential in the NFL over the past 5 years belongs to the 2005 Indianapolis Colts. They outscored their opposition by 192 points. To repeat, through 8 games, the Patriots have outscored their opposition by 204.

    I don't know what the record is, but whatever it is, they've got to be on pace to shatter it.

  • The Patriots have been accused, a couple of times this year, of "running up the score." I defended them running the ball against the Cowboys - diving into the line on four straight downs, when the game would have ended without a score if the Cowboys hadn't called a timeout doesn't constitute "running up the score" in my opinion. The fake spike play against the Dolphins - it was the first half. Brady coming back in the 4th - they've lost a game in Miami late with a big lead before, just three years ago when they finished 14-2 and the Dolphins finished 4-12. So I don't have a problem with that one.

    And I don't have a problem with running the ball on 4th down up 38-0 in the 4th quarter. Better than kicking a field goal. And I don't have a problem with the backup quarterback throwing the ball on 4th down - people whining about a 21-yard pass should take note that they actually threw the ball 7 yards on 4th and 7 - let the Redskins make a tackle, instead of whining about how far they threw it.

    But throwing the ball into the end zone with a 38-0 lead and less than 10 minutes left strikes me as tacky. And to have Brady doing it strikes me as unwise. That game was decided, and, while players play, it would have been better long-term strategy, and better sportsmanship, not to have him playing at that point in the fourth quarter. I don't like that one.

  • That said, I think that this is the appropriate take on it. "Fourth down, when you're in field goal range, that's a tough one. Do you kick another three points there and pile it on, or do you give them a chance to stop you by running the ball on 4th down, and if they stop you they take it back, which is what happened in the Buffalo game."
    - Bill Belichick, 10/29/2007

    It's not New England's job to stop New England from scoring. It Washington's job to stop New England from scoring.

    And it isn't as if Patriots fans have no experience with being on the other side of that situation. The 1990 1-15 team lost by scores of 37-7, 41-7, 42-7 and 48-20. Just three years ago, San Diego beat New England 41-17, the final touchdown scoring with 46 seconds remaining in the game when a safety intercepted the ball and lateraled it rather than going down to seal the victory. Was that "running up the score?" Wouldn't "good sportsmanship" and smart play have dictated taking a knee rather than lateraling the live ball? I don't remember this topic being loudly considered at that time.

  • The big problem, the reason that the topic has been so prevalent, is that the Patriots have just decimated everyone they've played. There are big scores every week in the NFL, there is usually a good team that will be a bad team by 17 or more 3-4 times a year. What's happening here is that the Patriots don't look like they belong is this league right now. They look like bullies, like a division 1 varsity team playing against a division 3 JV squad. Every week. The Redskins came into the weekend as one of the better teams in the NFC, with (supposedly) one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Patriots scored 52 points, and the game never looked, or was, competitive. They've played 8 games, and not one of them has been close late. No one has been within 17 points of them at the finish. They haven't failed to score 34 or more. They have outplayed the competition so significantly and so consistently that they've created the impression of being on a different level. They can't just play football - they're so much better that it isn't fair, and they need to take it easy on the opposition. At least, that's the way it looks. People forget that both teams are professionals, that both teams are spending to the same salary cap and that everyone on the field is one of the best football players in the world. The Patriots are just doing everything so much better than the teams they're playing that it ceases to be sport. Sport implies competition, and they haven't had any.

  • The name that I can't get out of my head right now is Icarus...

  • As impressive as the Patriots have been, you could argue that the Colts have been just as good, beating (some) better teams. But that argument is a little weaker now than it was. The Colts have played 3 teams that are currently over .500, and have beaten them all by an average score of 27-11. Pretty damned impressive. The Patriots, however, have played four teams (Chargers, Browns, Cowboys, Redskins) that are currently over .500, and they have won them by an average score of 43-16.

    We don't really have a context for what we're watching. They're off the charts, playing at entirely different level than everyone else. If a team wins a game by the score of 41-16, that's a blowout, and people talk about what a great week it had. The Patriots average week, through 8 games, is a little bit better than that.

    There have been 108 non-Patriot NFL games so far. 6 teams, 7 games (Cleveland twice) have scored 41 or more points. The Patriots are averaging over 41.

    There have been 7 games with a final score differential of greater than 25. The Patriots average differential is 25.5.

    Again, what they're doing has not been done before, not in my memory.

  • If I remember the hype preceding the Dallas game correctly, there has never been a match-up of NFL teams in which both were 7-0 or better. The New England-Indianapolis game is shaping up as one of the great NFL regular season games ever.

  • Evidence that you should be listening carefully to what I say:

    Cleveland at St. Louis - "So it's come to this. The Rams are underdogs. At home. To the Cleveland Browns. And I think that the spread is low."

    Houston at San Diego - "What the Chargers are going through this week is very hard, and it is understandable if some of them are distracted. But this can also be a team-building experience, where they focus on football and each other as a means of escape, and rise above the external circumstances. If they do, this could be a blowout, as the Chargers are the more talented team. That's the way I'm going."

    Washington at New England - "Sherman's march to the sea continues, as I try to come to grips with the realization that I am now rooting for the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees. Not literally - figuratively, as that's what my teams have turned into."

  • Evidence that you should be listening carefully to what I say (and betting the opposite [and this evidence continues to pile up]):

    Buffalo at NY Jets - "The Bills are actually ahead of the Jets right now, at least developmentally, because Trent Edwards is gaining experience and they're learning what he can do, while Kellen Clemens and the Jets organization are watching Chad Pennington play well enough to lose. But the Jets manage to pull this one out at home, gaining revenge for Buffalo's win in week 4."

    Green Bay at Denver - "The Bronco's defeat of the Steelers last week allows them to extend the illusion that they're relevant in the AFC competition this season. By default, anyone one the fringes of AFC contention is better than an NFC team."

  • For the week:
    Winners: 10-3
    ATS: 8-5-0

  • For the season:
    Winners: 74-42
    ATS: 58-51-7

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Oh, so it couldn't POSSIBLY be a "crapshoot" then...

Internet time frames require writers to come up with a lot of content quickly. So you end up with a lot of dreck, words taking up space while making no sense or adding nothing to the stories. (I'm guilty, too.)

The dumbest piece of commentary I've seen so far comes from SI's Jon Heyman, who obviously does not understand the meaning of the terms "disproved," "crapshoot," or "fluke."
The Red Sox disproved the old "crapshoot" theory espoused by a lot of folks who keep losing in the playoffs. The best team won in 2007, and that is no fluke.

If I flip a coin and it comes up "heads," that doesn't "disprove" the theory that a coin flip produces random results. Likewise, the "crapshoot" theory doesn't say that the best team can't win, only that they won't necessarily win. So the best team winning doesn't "disprove" anything...

(Of course, his SI colleague John Donovan thinks that Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner's name is Tom Lerner. It wasn't a typo - it was in the article twice. The last time I looked, someone had fixed one of them, but the other was still there...)

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World Series sweep

Congratulations Boston Red Sox!

On April 18, the Red Sox beat Toronto 4-1 to run their record to 8-5, and take sole possession of first place. They would never relinquish it. An 11-3 run through the playoffs, with sweeps in two of the three rounds, gave the Boston Red Sox their second World Series title in four years.

  • Congratulations to the Colorado Rockies, who put together one of the most spectacular late-season, post-season runs in baseball history, then were (probably) hurt by the schedule. Whether having only a couple of days off as opposed to eight would have made a difference, is, of course, an open question.

  • I thought, going in, that the Red Sox were the better team, and I still think it. Equally of course, that's absolutely no guarantee that the better team wins, and the idiots on Boston radio this morning talking of how the Red Sox would have swept even if it were a 25 game series are just that - idiots. But all of the evidence suggested, and still suggests, that the Boston Red Sox were the best team in baseball this year. The best team doesn't always win the World Series - in fact, in the era of three-playoff rounds, the best team doesn't even often win the World Series - but the best team won the World Series in 2007.

  • There is still some question about who, exactly, worked out the trade that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston. At the time, Theo Epstein was not the GM of the team - officially, they did not have one. Several weeks later, Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington were named co-GMs, though, by that time, people expected Epstein to return. In any event, there have been mixed reports since then about whether Epstein would have made the trade. There have been reports that he didn't like the trade, there have been reports that John Henry didn't like the trade. And there's no question that they, like everyone else in baseball, would love to have Hanley Ramirez.

    I mention this this morning because it seems relevant. Whoever made the deal, however many MVP awards Hanley Ramirez wins, this was a great trade for Boston. Josh Beckett was the MVP of the ALCS, and probably the MVP of the post-season. Mike Lowell was the MVP of the World Series. When a single trade brings you key pieces, key contributors to a World Series, that's a great trade.

  • Key parts were also played by Dustin Pedroia, John Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, Manny Delcarmen and Jonathan Papelbon, each of whom is a product of the Boston farm system within the past three years. It seems that Clay Buchholz is also ready, and Michael Bowden and Jed Lowrie are getting close. The farm system has had a very productive stretch.

  • The international scouting department needs to take a bow as well. Daisuke Matsuzaka has disappointed some people, but pitched well in game 7 of the ALCS, and pitched well in the World Series. Hidecki Okajima has been a revelation.

  • I thought that Terry Francona made a mistake bringing Javier Lopez into game 3. Other than that, he didn't do anything that I objected to. Every move didn't work, but it all made sense. And again, we see how the post-season is different, and managed differently, than the regular season. Francona did a great job during the regular season, not just leading his team to the best record in baseball, but doing it in a way that left them ready to play post-season baseball. And then he managed the post-season aggressively, not leaving anyone in trouble, and making sure that his best pitchers pitched the highest-leverage situations.

  • As good a year as Mike Lowell had, someone's going to sign him for too much money, and too long a contract. It may end up being the Red Sox, as, just was the case with Varitek four years ago, they don't have a good back-up plan. Well, they probably do, but I can't see it, at the moment. I'd certainly rather overpay Lowell for the next three years than take on the amount/length that Alex Rodriguez will be looking for.

  • There are two significant free agents on this team, Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling. There will be work to do on the bottom half of the bullpen. Varitek's aging, Mirabelli needs to be replaced. So there are things to do. That said, there is every reason to expect this team to enter the 2008 season as one of the pre-season favorites again.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

"Why does fire hate us?"

It's a quagmire, we can't win, it's time to leave...


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"Don't get cocky..."

David Pinto noted this comment from soxaholic:
Speaking of dignity, I'm astonished at just how much my watching-the-game mentality has changed since 2004. My never ending angst and jittahs has been replaced by a cool certitude.

Pinto's reaction - Don't get cocky.

Which is good advice. I agree with it.

But I also agree with a lot of what he's responding to. I wouldn't go so far as to say that my angst has been replaced by cool certitude, but it is largely gone. It isn't cool certitude that's replaced it - I could easily see them losing this series - but a more balanced, well-adjusted perception of the Red Sox, baseball, and their place in the order of the universe. And I've commented on it several times in the last couple of weeks.

Before 2004, the opportunities for winning in the post-season for the Red Sox were rare and, for the most part, painful. When you're wondering if the team is ever going to win a World Series, every loss is devastating.

That is no longer the case.

If the Red Sox had lost in the ALDS, I'd have been disappointed. If they'd lost in the ALCS, I'd have been disappointed. If they end up losing this World Series, I'll be disappointed. But not devastated - I've seen the Red Sox win the World Series. I've seen the apocalyptic, end-of-the-world armageddon, the ultimate battle of good vs. evil, the storyline that you couldn't write because it was so unrealistic, and watched the Red Sox win the World Series. Before 2004, I knew - didn't think, knew - that the Red Sox would lose in the playoffs. I knew that they'd lose, and it would either be quick and ugly, carrying with it the unmistakable stamp of inferiority (think about those four game sweeps vs Oakland in 1988 and 1990) or a tease of an epic sort, raising hopes only to dash them again (1986, 2003). And the Yankees would beat the Red Sox. Period.

2004 changed all of that.

Right now, Red Sox fans are looking at a team that has among the highest financial resources in the game, management and ownership that are committed to using those resources to win baseball games, a good front office, a strengthening farm system, a good field manager, and a league that allows 4 of 14 AL teams into the playoffs. If they don't win the World Series this year, well, they are extremely likely to get another chance next year, or the year after. They may not win one in the next 10 years, but they may win 3, and, like Rick and Ilsa had Paris, we'll always have 2004.

I've written about some of this before, but the difference now, during the post-season, is striking to me. I don't remember feeling this way during 2005, but that ended so quickly, that I may never have really thought about it. In any event, when Manny spoke in Cleveland last week, I agreed with every word.

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Week 8 - NFL picks

Cleveland (-3) at St. Louis - So it's come to this. The Rams are underdogs. At home. To the Cleveland Browns. And I think that the spread is low.

Detroit (+5) at Chicago - I don't know what to make of the Bears. They sandwiched a loss to the Vikings at home between wins at Green Bay and Philadelphia. I think that those teams are all part of the middle of the NFC pack, and the Lions are there, too. But I got each of those games wrong. Do I flip a coin? Roll a die? Eeny-meeny-miny-mo? And which is fiercer, a lion or a bear? Hmm... OK, the Lions are getting points, Chicago's at home. Therefore the Lions win. ("Therefore? THEREFORE? Shouldn't that follow, oh, LOGIC or something?" "Shut up. The pick is made.")

Indianapolis (-6.5) at Carolina - Peyton Manning becomes the first QB ever to have wins over 31 different NFL teams. He's joined 3 hours later by Tom Brady, as each of the two dominant quarterbacks of the day spends Sunday beating the only team that he's never beaten, other than his own. The Colts win this with a final score that covers the spread while appearing that it resulted from a competitive game. That appearance is incorrect.

NYGiants (-9.5) at Miami in London - Miami linebacker Channing Crowder, a former "scholar-athlete" at the University of Florida, discovered this week that his trip to London won't require a translator. This speaks poorly for someone, but whether its the educational system that produced Crowder, or the media that bought this joke is not immediately clear. What is clear is that the best offensive player the Dolphins have isn't playing, and their best hope for keeping this close is the Giants missing their flight, and the NFL putting the Scottish Claymores on the field against them instead.

Oakland at Tennessee (-7) - Even in a week without a great NFL game, this stands out as a potential viewing disaster. If close and competitive is the criteria, I suppose this might be good. If good, interesting, exciting football is what you're looking for, look elsewhere. Oakland's been better than I expected, but they aren't good. I'm going with Tennessee at home, but have absolutely no confidence in them. If you're reading this for informational purposes, well, that sounds like a problem. For you.

Philadelphia (-1) at Minnesota - There are a couple of good teams in the NFC. There are a couple of bad teams in the NFC. And then there is the great seething middle, the "any given Sunday" crowd. These two are in that mix. Competitive for playoff spots, but no threat to do anything if they actually make it there. I'm taking the Eagles (Philadelphia), because the Eagles (Boston College) won on Thursday, and that must be an omen.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Cincinnati - Occasionally spectacular offensively, defensively inept, undisciplined, chaotic. I think that the Bengals may actually have more talent than the Steelers, but they're nowhere near as good a team.

Buffalo at N.Y. Jets (-3) - This is the old Pete Axthelm "broken windshield" special. (If you leave two tickets to this game on the dashboard of your car, when you come back you'll find that someone's broken the windshield and left two more.) The Bills are actually ahead of the Jets right now, at least developmentally, because Trent Edwards is gaining experience and they're learning what he can do, while Kellen Clemens and the Jets organization are watching Chad Pennington play well enough to lose. But the Jets manage to pull this one out at home, gaining revenge for Buffalo's win in week 4.

Houston at San Diego (-11) - It is the coin of the fan/fanatic/fantasy realm to talk about how much money these guys are getting paid, and assume that they're automatons, unaffected by external circumstance. What the Chargers are going through this week is very hard, and it is understandable if some of them are distracted. But this can also be a team-building experience, where they focus on football and each other as a means of escape, and rise above the external circumstances. If they do, this could be a blowout, as the Chargers are the more talented team. That's the way I'm going. Whereever the game ends up being played.

Jacksonville at Tampa Bay (-3.5) - Two teams that I'm always wrong on. Two teams that I consistently believe are far less impressive than the professional punditry does. And then, when I start to think that maybe the pros are right and I'm wrong, they go somewhere and stink, and convince me that I'm right. I've got these two teams in the same cell in my brain. Since I can't find any reason to pick one over the other, I'll go with the home team, and if Garrard's out, I feel good about the pick. (Which means that it will inevitably be wrong.)

New Orleans (-3) at San Francisco - Sunday ticket this weekend, with Satan holding the remote - Bills at Jets, followed by Saints at 49ers. There are "broken windshield" specials on both coasts. While the 49ers have won two games, they may actually be one of the two worst teams in football (with the Rams being the other.) I've got a rooting interest here, of course, but even looking past that, I think that the Saints are a (was going to say "better," but that really doesn't fit) "less bad" team than the 49ers.

Washington at New England (-16.5) - Sherman's march to the sea continues, as I try to come to grips with the realization that I am now rooting for the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees. Not literally - figuratively, as that's what my teams have turned into.

Green Bay at Denver (-3) - The Bronco's defeat of the Steelers last week allows them to extend the illusion that they're relevant in the AFC competition this season. By default, anyone one the fringes of AFC contention is better than an NFC team.

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Quote of the day

I stopped reading Dan Shaughnessy years ago, but this, quoted by Jim Armstrong in the Denver Post, is a great line. Talking about Ryan Speier, who came in from the bullpen on Thursday night to issue 3 consecutive bases loaded walks:
"Eddie Cicotte of the 1919 White Sox didn't do that badly and he was trying to lose."

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2007 World Series - Game 2

The game was very different, but the outcome was the same. After putting up 13 runs in game 1, Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies bullpen held Boston to 2 runs in game 2. Unfortunately for them, they scored only 1 for the second straight night, and the Red Sox took a 2-0 lead in the series. Game 3, with Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Aaron Cook, will take place Saturday night in Colorado.

  • I liked most of what I heard from Terry Francona when they brought him in almost four years ago. And as I've watched him, I've thought, and still think, that he does an excellent job. When they went to the playoffs in 2004, I thought that he did an outstanding job when the job was difficult, in the ALCS. Not only providing whatever leadership that the manager needs to provide to keep the players loose but still focused, so that they would perform, but tactically. He did not overreact to the brief slumps by Damon and Bellhorn that had people calling for their benching, and he didn't manage the pitching staff the way he managed it during the long season. Once again, this year, he took a lot of abuse from certain segments of the fanbase whenever they lost a game, because he pulled pitchers too soon, or left them in too long, or didn't bring in Okajima or Papelbon soon enough. And again, over the past couple of weeks, we see the virtue of his handling of the team. Cleveland's "aces" were worn out - the Red Sox look fresh.

    And in the last 3 games, he's used Okajima to get 4 innings, and 3 2/3 innings. That never happened during the regular season. He has done a great job. The best Red Sox manager in my lifetime.

  • While they didn't score many runs, the Red Sox continued to grind on the Rockies pitching staff. Despite the fact that Jimenez only threw 19 pitches through 2 innings, when they knocked him out of the game in the 5th, hise pitch count was up to 91.

  • Jacoby Ellsbury is now 1-7 in the World Series, 3-16 in the post-season. Given the size of the Colorado outfield, and the offensive bonus that he's not giving them, it would not surprise me to see Coco Crisp back in center for game 3. They decided before the play-offs started, that Crisp in center gave them a better chance of winning than Ellsbury in center. Crisp struggled, but so has Ellsbury. Given the defensive difference that still exists, I think that it makes sense to go back to Coco.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

I KNEW there was a reason!

Red Sox Attempt To Break Fabled 'Curse Of Relief Pitcher Curtis Leskanic'
Pitted against the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 Fall Classic, the team that for two long years seemed like it might be destined to lose forever has a chance to finally put an end to its 36-month-long World Series drought. However, the Red Sox must first overcome the famed Curse of Curtis Leskanic, which caused medium-to-long-suffering fans much anguish and heartache during the period between 2005 and 2006.


"We never should've gotten rid of Leskanic," Everett added. "Just think of how many more rings we'd have now."


"Ending the curse against the Rockies will just make it that much sweeter," said Boston resident Terry McMahon. "Not even Curtis Leskanic can stop this team!"

"I just pray that my son can see the Sox win at least one World Series in his lifetime," said Boston resident Sal Fischer of his son Cody, 2.

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Stress mess

Derb treats a New York Times story with the contempt it deserves...
Drinkers and smokers report downing more booze and lighting up more often when feeling the effects of stress.

If these researchers aren't short-listed for a Nobel Prize, I'll want to know the reason why.

Amusing take-down of a generic, typical, inane "study..."

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2007 World Series - Game 1

Is there a better way for the home team to start a game? 1-2-3 on strikeouts in the top of the 1st, lead-off home run in the bottom of the 1st.

  • After Boston beat Cleveland in game 1 of the ALCS, the talk in Boston was of the inevitability of the Red Sox winning the series. After Cleveland beat Boston in game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead, the same people wanted Terry Francona fired. This morning, it is once again all sunshine and lollipops, the Rockies are psychologically damage, the series will be a sweep featuring four blowouts, the Rockies can't play with the Red Sox, yadda, yadda, yadda. All hogwash, in other words. The Red Sox are up 1-0. Period.

  • Regardless of Chris Berman's repeated comments about "the bye week" hurting the Rockies, it is impossible to know whether last night's performance was a result of rust, nerves, Boston's performance, or just a bad night. Or some combination of those factors. It certainly seems possible that all of those played into it. Some of the Rockies mentioned rust and game speed, though the manager won't let them have it as an excuse.

  • By the numbers:
    • Three Boston pitchers threw 119 pitches. Six Rockies pitchers threw 197.

    • 13-1 - largest margin of victory in game 1 in World Series history. If I'm not mistaken, the teams tied for 2nd now, with an 11-run game 1 margin, both lost the series.

    • 8 doubles - ties World Series Record

    • 9 extra-base hits - ties World Series record

    • 13 runs scored - record for runs in game 1 of the World Series

    • 3rd consecutive post-season game scoring 10 runs or more - post-season record

    • 2-out rally with 9 consecutive batters reaching base - first time in World Series history

    • As part of that 5th inning rally, the Red Sox drew three consecutive bases-loaded walks. No one has said that that's a record, not that I've seen anyway, but I find it hard to believe that it wouldn't be.

  • In the first five innings, Josh Beckett threw 79 pitches. Four Rockies pitchers combined to throw 156.

  • "If Ubaldo goes more than six, it will be an upset of Buster Douglas proportions."
    - Gerry Callahan, as I'm writing

    He's gone more than 6 innings 7 times in 17 starts. He's gone 6 even in 3 more. Even understanding that the Red Sox have both a better and more patient offense than most of the teams he's done it against, it would be an upset on the order of flipping heads twice in a row. Callahan's obviously not a rational unbiased analyst, but that's the level of analysis that is to be expected from WEEI.

  • Tracy Ringolsby, Rocky Mountain News: "It was so frightening," one press box wag announced, "that Stephen King left."
    Woody Paige, Denver Post: "Novelist Stephen King left after the fifth inning, apparently never having seen anything that scary."

  • In my preview, I reference the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds. I was surprised by the fact that the Sox were such a big underdog in that model, and had sent an email to Clay Davenport asking what I was missing. Well, I apparently wasn't the only one who questioned him. He made some changes when the pitching rotations were finally announced, and the odds changed significantly. Boston doesn't hit lefties well, neither does Colorado. Replacing Morales with Cook and Wakefield with Lester both change the odds in Boston's favor. From 56-44 Colorado, it went to 59-41 Boston.

    He then went through further exercise, doing game by game calculations based on adjustments to hitter and pitcher handedness, with the following results:

    Odds of winning series
    TeamSeries ResultOdds





    Boston Wins (total)73.6%





    Colorado Wins (total)26.4%

    So the first pass of the generic playoff odds simulation suggested that the Rockies were big favorites. The adjusted version suggested that the Red Sox were huge favorites. Today's update isn't up yet, but obviously, the odds of Colorado sweeping are gone and the odds of Colorado winning at all are down.

  • All of which is interesting, but, to reiterate an earlier point, the Red Sox are up 1-0. Period.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Is Hillary the strongest possible Democratic candidate?

Jonah Goldberg is changing his mind on Hillary:"I used to think that Hillary would be the best candidate for the Democrats. I don't anymore."

Unlike Jonah, I never did.

I wrote this (don't look for a link - I wrote it in an email, meant to post it, forgot) in July:
As to the election, it’s far too early to tell. Anyone who tells you that the Republicans have no chance to keep the White House is a fatalist Republican, a cock-eyed optimist Democrat, or just clueless. While there are things that look bad right now, things are going to change tremendously over the next 12 months. How they’ll change is anyone’s guess, but my expectation is that a year from now, the media will no longer be able to hide the fact that things are going well in Iraq, and that the world is better off because we went in. The Democrats are almost certain to nominate Hillary, and I remain convinced that she’s not a good bet to win a national election under any likely set of circumstances. She could conceivably win, but she’s got a lot of negative baggage, and there’s a substantial percentage of the population, I’m convinced, that will have no interest in having her in their homes over the next 4 years. Also, the congress has lower approval ratings than the President right now. The Republican nominee will be someone unaffiliated with the current administration, someone who can associate with whatever the perceived successes are without being tainted by the perceived negatives. The Democratic nominee is almost certainly going to be a Senator, which is rarely a good thing to be in a Presidential election.

Anyway, it certainly could go wrong – Hillary’s probably the likeliest next President (a horrifying thought), but it is by no means a
fait accompli...

And that wasn't the first time. Back in May of 2005, in response to a John Podhoretz article, I wrote that:
I have thought, and continue to think, that she's a terrible candidate, at least from a general election point-of-view. Yes, if she's the Democratic candidate, she'll have the complete "care and protection" of the mainstream media. (That differs from any other potential Democratic candidate how, exactly?) But the fact is, she's famous, but not likeable. She's cold, she's screechy - people are not going to want her in their houses every night. The fact is, the Democrats could not possibly find a candidate who starts out with higher negatives than Hillary. There isn't one. She's carrying all of Bill's baggage, and she doesn't have his likeability to take the edges off. Yes, she's been elected statewide in New York. New York is one of the most liberal states in the country, and she underperformed Al Gore by 5 points in 2000. I'm curious to see what happens this fall, but I'll be hesitant to read much into it.

I think she starts out with no chance at Republican men or men who lean Republican. I think that she can't get women who lean Republican. I think she alienates conservative Democrats, particularly men. I just think that she's really not a good candidate in a general election, and, if there is a plausible scenario by which she's denied the nomination, it'll be based on her (perceived or otherwise) lack-of-electability in the general election, much the same way that Howard Dean imploded.

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World Series Preview

  • The Boston Red Sox are going to the World Series for the 11th time overall, 5th time in the last 41 years, and 2nd time in the last 4 years. The Colorado Rockies are making their first appearance in the "Fall Classic."

  • The objective rankings that I've been tracking this post-season...

    Bill James Playoff Predictor:

    1. 1 pt to the lead team for each half-game in the standings (BOS - 14)
    2. 3 pts to the team that scored more runs (BOS - 3)
    3. 14 pts to the team with fewer doubles (COL - 14)
    4. 12 pts to the team with more triples (COL - 12)
    5. 10 pts to the team with more home runs (COL - 10)
    6. 8 pts to the team with the lower team batting average (BOS - 8)
    7. 8 pts to the team that committed fewer errors (COL - 8)
    8. 7 pts to the team that turned more double plays (COL - 7)
    9. 7 pts to the team that walked more batters (COL - 7)
    10. 19 pts to the team that had more shutouts (BOS - 19)
    11. 15 pts to the team whose ERA was lower (BOS - 15)
    12. 12 pts to the team that has been in postseason most recently or
        went further (BOS - 12)
    13. 12 pts to the team that won season series (COL - 12)

    BOS - 71, COL - 70

    Essentially a tie.

    Baseball Prospectus "Secret Sauce" rankings:
    (Overall ranking is the sum of rankings in various pitching/defense categories, so lower is better)
    Boston (7.5) over Colorado (57)

  • The Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds Report has the Red Sox as the 2nd-least likely series winner for the whole post-season. The unlikeliest? Colorado vs. Philadelphia.

  • Nice preview sheet from the Washington Post...

  • David Pinto's preview at The Sporting News. And if you haven't already got his Baseball Musings page linked, well, now's the time to do it.

  • Chris Lynch doesn't think that the Rockies pitching rotation makes sense.

  • Will Carroll's World Series Health Report has everyone , other than Wakefield, ready to go. "If the World Series is supposed to be the two best teams playing their best, we just might get that this year."

  • On September 15, if anyone had asked which of these teams were the better team, the question would have been laughable. The Red Sox record was 13 games better, they had scored 50 more runs, and allowed 100 fewer. Since that day, however, the Rockies have taken the field 22 times, and won 21 games. It's a historic run, made more historic by when it occurred. One more loss in the first 15 games of that stretch, and Colorado would have been golfing for the last three weeks.

    Boston Red Sox vs. Colorado Rockies - 2007
    Through September 15:

    ALWLRSRAPythagorean %Pyth Wins"Luck"

    Boston 9059804602.62994-4


    Since September 15



    Totals (include playoffs)



    Here's what we know about winning streaks, however - they all end. I guess we don't know that about this one, but given that every one we've ever seen has ended, I think that this one is a good bet to end, also. The Colorado Rockies, I feel confident in saying, have not lost for the last time in franchise history.

    And they should have lost a couple more times in that stretch. Trevor Hoffman had a bad inning at a bad time, and Matt Holliday has still not scored the winning run in that game. Everything that could have gone wrong for the Arizona Diamonbacks, things that they could control and things that they could not, went wrong. So it is safe to say that the Colorado Rockies are probably the hottest team ever to start a World Series.

    The question is, does that mean anything? Looking at the course of the season, it seems to me that Boston was a better team than Colorado this year, and not just by a little. I'd rather have Josh Beckett on the mound tonight than anyone else in baseball, and what happens to the Rockies if, following 8 days off, they come out rusty and get shut down? They're 7-0 in the playoffs. What happens to them if they fall behind in a series?

    But it's baseball. The fact that streaks end doesn't mean that it will end tonight. I can (and do) think that the Red Sox are the better team, but that doesn't mean that I think that they'll win. I think that they'll play, and they'll win or they'll lose. It's a fools errand to predict the outcome of a 7-game series.

  • By VORP, Colorado's offense was better than Boston's. Boston's pitching was better than Colorado's.

    Boston Red Sox vs. Colorado Rockies - 2007
    Vorp - offenseVorp - PitchingTotal



    By EQA, the Red Sox offense is better.

    Boston Red Sox vs. Colorado Rockies - 2007



    The offense is actually not as close as it looks, at least by VORP, as Boston's numbers include David Ortiz as a DH, and Colorado's includes their pitchers. Boston's runs scored total was significantly less than the offensive component performance would lead you to expect. All told, it looks like the offenses are pretty even.

  • Boston's starting pitching looks significantly better. Looking at some of the more advanced Sabrmetric stats from Baseball Prospectus:

    Boston Red Sox vs. Colorado Rockies - 2007

    BostonJosh BeckettBOSAL200730200.713.

    BostonDaisuke MatsuzakaBOSAL200732204.713.410.75.10.556

    BostonCurt SchillingBOSAL200724151107.34.30.578

    BostonJon LesterBOSAL200711633.


    ColoradoJeff FrancisCOLNL200734215.314.710.75.40.578

    ColoradoJosh FoggCOLNL200729165.79.910.72.30.48

    ColoradoAaron CookCOLNL2007251669.1102.80.477

    ColoradoUbaldo JimenezCOLNL200715825.

  • The Baseball Crank thinks that "Boston is clearly the stronger team, but the Rockies' hot streak is just impossible to project one way or another..."

  • I repeat - it's a fools errand to predict the outcome of a 7-game series. The better team might win, the better team might lose, and the result of this series won't tell us which is which.

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A little bit of healthy vitriol

Harry Reid: "One reason that we have the fires burning in Southern California is global warming."

Harry Reid (mere seconds later, in the same press session, on being asked about it): "I didn't say the reason the fires were burning in Southern California was global warming..."

How can you disagree with this?
Reid is a witless opportunist. Half a million people are evacuated, at least 1,200 homes have been lost so far, federal, state, county and local resources are performing acts of heroism all over California to save lives and property, and Harry Reid wants to blame it on global warming to score political points for his energy bill? What a creep.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

NFL week 7 wrapup

  • The Patriots numbers thus far are just silly. They have outscored the opposition by a total of 159 points in just 7 games. They've been "held" to 34 just twice. They've scored 36 touchdowns, over 5 per game - only three other teams have more than 20, led by Dallas 27. The average NFL team has 13 more punts than touchdowns so far. Just three have more touchdowns than punts. The Cowboys have 1 more touchdown than punt. The Colts have 6 more touchdowns than punts. The Patriots have 20 more touchdowns than punts through 7 games.

  • What we don't really have any idea about, yet, is the quality of the Patriots defense. They haven't had a big defensive stand late in a game, but they haven't had to. Some of the apparent weakness is a result of the situations they've been in. In the first half on Sunday, the Dolphins had the ball 5 times (plus a 1-play end of the half "drive.") They scored one touchdown, lost one fumble, and punted 3 times. 24 plays, 95 yards, 10:38 time of possession. That's a good defensive half for the Patriots. The 2nd half started with New England up 42-7, and the Patriots put (and left) their nickel defense on the field. The Dolphins, rather than try a hurry-up offense, just ran their normal offense against a prevent defense. And the Patriots let them, their main goal being the preservation of a huge lead while letting time run off the clock.

    We don't know what the defense is, but we know that in points allowed/game, they're in the top 10, and in yards allowed per game, they're in the top 5. And teams aren't running out the clock on them - they're ahead all of the time, and people are trying to score. I suspect that they're better than they've looked. We'll find out.

  • The Patriots scored with 33 seconds left in the second quarter. That made the score 42-7. And somehow, that's now considered "running up the score." Presumably because it was New England doing it.

  • As impressive as the Patriots have been, you could argue that the Colts have been just as good, beating (some) better teams. Certainly, the Patriots victories over the Jets and Dolphins don't look that impressive. But the Chargers and Browns are both .500 and they're over .500 in non-Patriots games. And Dallas is 6-1.

  • If I remember the hype preceding the Dallas game correctly, there has never been a match-up of NFL teams in which both were 7-0 or better. The New England-Indianapolis game in two weeks is shaping up as one of the great NFL regular season games ever.

  • Evidence that you should be listening carefully to what I say:

    NY Jets at Cincinnati - "How can the Bengals be a 6 point favorite over anyone? Oh, it's the Jets. I see. Cincinnati inspires absolutely no confidence right now. But if both teams play badly, as I expect, they've got enough talent to accidentally score enough points to cover. The Jets don't. I wouldn't put a nickel on this game, but I expect Cincinnati covers in a game that's painful to watch."

    Minnesota at Dallas - "The Cowboys cannot stop a big passing game, but the Vikings don't have one. The real question here is whether the Cowboys have Patriots hangover. It wouldn't be shocking, and they wouldn't be the first team to struggle after being taken apart by New England. I think that they get it together, though, and pull away in the second half."

    Atlanta at New Orleans - "Two bad teams. Too bad teams. Too bad, teams. The Falcons won't win, the Saints won't cover."

  • Evidence that you should be listening carefully to what I say (and betting the opposite [and this evidence continues to pile up]):

    Chicago at Philadelphia - "the Bears lost at home to Minnesota last week - I'm supposed to pick them to go to Philadelphia and win? I'd love to, but I won't. "

    Tampa Bay at Detroit - " If they play this game 10 times, the Lions win 3 of them in blowouts, the Buccaneers win 7 close. This is one of the seven."

  • For the week:
    Winners: 8-6
    ATS: 7-7-0

  • For the season:
    Winners: 64-39
    ATS: 50-46-7

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Monday, October 22, 2007

The Red Sox win the pennant

Odds and ends and thoughts on the ALCS...

  • I saw some whining from Cleveland fans about lucky breaks. They were legitimate. The Red Sox, in games 6 and 7, had a bunch of balls that fell in the right place, several infield singles. Of course, they went up 3-1 in the series by virtue of an awful lot of that kind of luck. Look at, to point out one example, the ball that Nixon hit that scored the winning run in game 2. A high pop-up that was just beyond the 2nd baseman, and not hit well enough to reach the center fielder. Look at the double that Sizemore hit to enable the Indians to tie the score in the first inning of game 5. And those weren't the only ones. Everything they hit for three games found a hole. When that dried up, so did the Cleveland offense.

  • Apparently the umpires got the call right on the Manny ball in game 5. Which makes that the stupidest ground rule that I've ever seen. The ball was clearly over the wall - it had to hit an inch further on the top to be a HR?

  • Cleveland has another legitimate gripe, from last night's game - Kenny Lofton was safe at 2nd. If that call goes the right way, Cleveland ties it in the 5th and it's a very different game.

  • One of the things that David Pinto's pre-ALCS analysis (ALCS: Strikeouts are the key to this series) focused on was the strikeout rates of the Indians hitters and Red Sox pitchers, and the number of balls that would not be in play because of that. According to SI, "the Indians struck out more times (63) than a team ever had in an LCS." That makes a difference. Cleveland had a lot of well-placed base hits, but too many times never got the ball in play.

  • I spent a day and a half preceding game 6 thinking that the absolute ideal beginning of that game would be JD Drew hitting a 2-out grand slam in the first to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead. I certainly wasn't expecting it, but that struck me as about the most productive thing that could happen in that first inning. It did. And I may have been right. That game never felt competitive after that swing.

  • There was only one game in the ALCS that was decided by fewer than 4 runs. The margins of victory were 7, 7, 2, 4, 6, 10 and 9. But the 9 run game and one of the sevens were actually very competitive. Game 2 was tied through 10 and then the Indians scored 7 in the 11th. Game 7 was a one-run game through 6 1/2 that wasn't tied in the 5th because of an umpiring mistake, and wasn't tied in the top of the 7th because of a coaching/baserunning mistake. Both got out of hand very late. (Actually, that could be said for game 5 as well, though after Boston scored in the third, it never felt as if the Indians were going to score against Beckett.)

  • Last Wednesday, there was a hue and cry in the Boston media about who's fault it was. There were calls for Francona's head because a) he brought in Gagne on Saturday, b) he didn't drop Pedroia out of the leadoff spot, c) he didn't play Ellsbury instead of Drew, d) he didn't play Ellsbury instead of Crisp, e) he didn't pitch Beckett on three days rest on Tuesday night, f) he didn't pull Wakefield soon enough, g) he let Wakefield stay too long, h) etc., etc., etc. I addressed some of this at the time, but I wanted to touch on it again, to make a couple of points.

    1. Terry Francona (un-affectionately known in some circles as "Francoma", which should give you some idea of the intellectual level of the discussion) managed games 5-7, in which the Red Sox outscored the Indians 30-5, exactly the same way that he managed games 2-4, in which the Red Sox were outscored 24-11. The manager can't "make things happen." The players can. All the manager can do is make sure the right players are on the field at the right times, and Francona's been very good at it, even when it hasn't worked.

    2. If seven games between two teams tells you nothing about the relative quality of the teams, which I believe to be the case, what does three tell you? Nothing. Zip, zero, nada. But the Boston media can't, or won't, understand that, so we end up with Glenn Ordway previewing his "Big Show" on WEEI Wednesday afternoon by saying, "I think we might have to come to the realization - Cleveland's a better team." Maybe they are, but certainly 3 games wouldn't establish that. Based on the entire season, I don't think it's true, but the last week doesn't change my opinion a whit.

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What we know that just ain't so...

Michael Yon, who has been, and is, in Iraq, has another great and important piece about the coverage in the legacy media.

Resistance is futile: You will be (mis)informed.
America seems to be under a glass dome which allows few hard facts from the field to filter in unless they are attached to a string of false assumptions...No thinking person would look at last year’s weather reports to judge whether it will rain today, yet we do something similar with Iraq news...Clearly, a majority of Americans believe the current set of outdated fallacies passed around mainstream media like watered down drinks at happy hour.

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Stat of the day

21 of the NFL's 32 teams (65.6%) are averaging fewer than 22.29 points per game. The New England Patriots are averaging a 22.71 point differential per game.

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Championship series - objective ranking wrap-up

I ran the Bill James Playoff Predictor for the Division Series and the Championship Series games. I also looked at the Baseball Prospectus objective ranking system. Here's the wrap-up for the post-season so far. World Series post later today or tomorrow...

Bill James Playoff Predictor was 1-1 in the Championship Series round.

Boston (100) over Cleveland (39)

Arizona (77) lost to Colorado (30)

Baseball Prospectus' "Secret Sauce", which was 1-3 in the DS round, was 1-1 in the CS round.


Boston (7.5) over Cleveland (48)


Arizona (29) lost to Colorado (57)

For the post-season so far:

  • Bill James Playoff Predictor
    Boston (79) beat Los Angeles of Anaheim (33)
    Arizona (92) beat Chicago (33)
    Boston (100) over Cleveland (39)

    New York (83) lost to Cleveland (60)
    Arizona (77) lost to Colorado (30)

    Tie (essentially):
    Colorado (58) beat Philadelphia (59)

  • Baseball Prospectus' "Secret Sauce"
    Right (lower is better):
    Boston (7.5) beat Los Angeles of Anaheim (27.5)
    Boston (7.5) over Cleveland (48)

    New York (32.5) lost to Cleveland (48)
    Arizona (29) beat Chicago (22)
    Colorado (57) beat Philadelphia (49)
    Colorado (57) over Arizona (29)

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Timing is everything - AL Cy Young edition

I made a comment following game 1 of the ALCS that no potential Cy Young winner ever benefited more from the ballots being cast before the post-season started than C.C. Sabathia did this year. Game 5 just exacerbates that. When the balloting happened, I suspect that Sabathia won, though we won't know for a while. If they were to vote today, I think Beckett wins, and it isn't close. It is almost astounding how much things have changed over just three starts.

Post-season performance

Sabathia315 1/38.82.2835.11


This is where they were before the post-season started.

Through the end of the regular season


Beckett30200 2/33.271.1416.69

Based on ERA+, strikeout rate and some other stuff, I think Beckett pitched better than Sabathia, but not a lot better. And Sabathia had a huge innings advantage. But they've each taken the mound three times since balloting ended.

Through Game 5 of the ALCS

Sabathia37256 1/33.551.246.93

Beckett33223 2/

Look at how much those numbers have changed based on just three more starts. Sabathia went from a very small raw ERA advantage to a pretty big disadvantage. Beckett closed the innings gap without closing the games started gap. Just an enormous difference, and if the Cy Young voting took place today, based on everything that's happened so far, it's a no-brainer that Beckett should win.

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NFL picks, week 7

Arizona at Washington (-8) - Two weeks ago, this looked like a good game. Then Arizona lost QB1, Matt Leinart, to a broken collarbone. Then Arizona lost QB1A, Kurt Warner, to a strained tricep. Then Vinnie Testaverde decided to play for the Panthers instead of the Cardinals. No word on whether they've tried to lure Neil Lomax out of retirement.

Atlanta (+9) at New Orleans - Two bad teams. Too bad teams. Too bad, teams. The Falcons won't win, the Saints won't cover.

Baltimore (-3) at Buffalo - Baltimore can't score. Neither can the Bills. Buffalo will play tough, and it will be close, because Baltimore will kick a few field goals. This is the one game most likely to be a push when the final horn sounds. We'll take the Ravens to cover, but expect them to actually win by three.

New England (-16.5) at Miami - The Patriots always have trouble in Miami. When they went 14-2 in 2004, one of the losses was in Miami. Last year, they lost 21-0 down there. But Miami's got no offense, their defense is gone, and the Patriots have not yet had a game that was closer than 17. This one won't be, either.

San Francisco at N.Y. Giants (-9.5) - San Francisco's 2-3 record may be as big a fluke as there is in the NFL right now. This is a very bad team, and they're flying cross-country to play one that is significantly better. Now, there isn't anyone, other than maybe the Lions, likelier to lose to an inferior team than the Giants, I don't see it happening. Giants cover, Patriots remaining first round pick gets better.

Tampa Bay (+2) at Detroit - If they play this game 10 times, the Lions win 3 of them in blowouts, the Buccaneers win 7 close. This is one of the seven.

Tennessee at Houston (+1) - I don't know what to do with this one. Does Vince Young play? Does it matter? Are these two good teams, or two middle of the pack teams? If either of these were in, for example, the NFC West, it would be a likely division winner. In the AFC South, they're battling for the second wild card spot. I've been rambling, trying to come up with any interest in this game. I've failed. Houston, playing at home, coming off an embarrassing road defeat, steps up and wins against a Tennessee team without its biggest weapon, because even if he plays, he won't be able to play the way he needs to play to be more effective than Kerry Collins.

Kansas City at Oakland (-3) - If I looked at this dispassionately, if I looked at the way both teams have played, I'd be picking Kansas City here. I just cannot do it. I decided before the season started that the Chiefs would be woeful, and I'm apparently sticking to it. When they face the Colts in the playoffs, I'll be mocking their offensive ineptitude. When they meet the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, I'll chortle about the scale of the mismatch. When they take the field in Arizona against the Packers for the Super Bowl, I'll be deriding Brett Favre for his interceptions, and claiming that the Packers will win in spite of him, because Kansas City's just a joke...

N.Y. Jets at Cincinnati (-6) - How can the Bengals be a 6 point favorite over anyone? Oh, it's the Jets. I see. Cincinnati inspires absolutely no confidence right now. But if both teams play badly, as I expect, they've got enough talent to accidentally score enough points to cover. The Jets don't. I wouldn't put a nickel on this game, but I expect Cincinnati covers in a game that's painful to watch.

Minnesota at Dallas (-9.5) - Among the teams I don't have a handle on are the Minnesota Vikings. But I think that I know this - when the Vikings win, they're doing it by running the ball. They are not putting up big numbers in the passing game. The Cowboys cannot stop a big passing game, but the Vikings don't have one. The real question here is whether the Cowboys have Patriots hangover. It wouldn't be shocking, and they wouldn't be the first team to struggle after being taken apart by New England. I think that they get it together, though, and pull away in the second half.

Chicago at Philadelphia (-5) - I know that I swore I wouldn't pick the Eagles again, but the Bears lost at home to Minnesota last week - I'm supposed to pick them to go to Philadelphia and win? I'd love to, but I won't.

St. Louis at Seattle (-9) - The Seattle Seahawks hold the imposing position of biggest midget in the NFC West. The biggest fish in the smallest pond. 9 is a big number, but they've probably only got to score 10 to cover it.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Denver - Unless the Broncos can find another gear, a significantly better one, and quickly, they'll spend the last month of the season trying to prevent other teams from making the playoffs. The Steelers are just a better team.

Indianapolis (-3) at Jacksonville - This actually is a threatening matchup for the Colts - the Jaguars have played them very well for the past couple of years. But we need the Colts to win to keep the lustre on that November 4 matchup with the Patriots.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Calm, reasoned discourse on the floor of the House

Twenty years ago, I used to lunch with a group of co-workers, one of whom was, politically, far to the left of me. But he was a great guy, and we had many interesting and civil conversations on a variety of topics. And every time he would come out with some comment about wanting children cared for and educated, or the homeless cared for and off the streets, or the elderly cared for respectfully, I'd say, "I want all of those things, too. But I disagree with your plans for achieving those goals." The formulation that I finally came to that I liked, based on my observations of the national political culture, went like this: "Conservatives think Liberals are wrong. Liberals think Conservatives are bad."

Certainly, there are exceptions, and certainly there are instances of incivility of both sides of the political aisle. But the leftists in this country are suffering so badly from what Michelle Malkin calls "Bush derangement syndrome" that it has gone beyond amusing and into scary. The latest example comes, not from the fever-swamps of the left-wing blogosphere, but from the floor of the House of Representatives. During the debate over overriding President Bush's veto of the S-CHIP expansion proposed by Democrats, California Representative took the floor and accused the President of sending people to Iraq "to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement."

Republicans are worried that they can't pay for insuring an additional 10 million children. They sure don't care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where are you going to get that money? Are you going to tell us lies like you're telling us today? Is that how you're going to fund the war? You don't have money to fund the war on children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if he can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement.

It's not the first instance of BDS hyperbole and it won't be the last, but it is outrageously offensive. The interesting question right now is whether or not it makes a ripple in the legacy media. If so, there may eventually be some consequences, or an apology. If not, there will not...

(h/t to The Baseball Crank...)

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

ALCS - thoughts on a 3-1 deficit

Cleveland's 7-3 win has the Indians on the verge of going to the World Series and the Red Sox on the verge of golfing.

And it has "idiot nation" up in arms, calling for the firing of the only manager to win a World Series for the Red Sox since Woodrow Wilson was in the White House. It is, of course, preposterous, but that's the way it goes around here.

  • I just heard one of the dumbest comments ever made by a Francona bashing caller to WEEI. "He made a mistake bringing in Papelbon in game 2, because then he had no one left in the 11th."

    Who, exactly, does this nimrod think Francona SHOULD have brought in in the 9th? Gagne? Lopez? Lester? They pitched so well later... I suppose that would have resulted in earlier bedtimes, but it's tough to see how it would have improved Boston's chances of winning that game.

    Once you reach the 9th inning of a tie game, especially at home, you should be using your pitchers in DECREASED order of effectiveness. You don't save your best for later, because then you are far more likely to lose with your best pitcher still sitting in the bullpen. Barring significant match-up issues, every time you make a change, you go with the best pitcher you've got left, because that increases the chances of you scoring before you give up a run.

  • Francona managed game 2 just fine, he managed game 3 just fine, he managed game 4 just fine. The players haven't gotten the job done - that's life - it happens. It's baseball. The idea that this 7 game series tells us anything about these teams that the 162 games of the regular season didn't is laughable. It determines a "champion" but it doesn't pick the best team - just the one who plays the best in 4 of 7. It is frustrating, and we would much rather see them win than lose, but the other team gets paid, too, and sometimes that's just what happens. The Red Sox certainly aren't out of this series, but the odds of them winning are not good. Whether they come back and win, or go down in game 5, this is an excellent team, with a good manager, that had a very good year. Winning the World Series is special and important, but the post-season is a crapshoot - the organization has to think in terms of putting together a team that can get there consistently, because that's how you win World Series - you get to the post-season and have a good run at the right time. Going up against a team that has that good run at the right time while you don't is no reason to fire the manager, if he isn't the proximate cause, and Francona certainly isn't, the vitriol aimed at him notwithstanding...

  • I'd probably give Ellsbury a shot in center, but I don't have a problem with him not doing so. I remember a lot of abuse heaped upon Francona in 2004 for not replacing Damon and Bellhorn in the lineup while they were losing to the Yankees. That worked out. It might work out this time, and it might not, but the idea of making decisions right now based on a 3 game slump and/or losing streak is just not rational. You knew, going into the playoffs, what your best lineup consisted of - that's what you play. Period. To do otherwise is to react irrationally to a pathetically small sample of data.

  • Gagne has taken a lot of grief, too. As has Drew. But neither has been the biggest problem, and no one's blaming him. Many players have failed - certainly Gagne and Drew (and Lugo and Varitek and Pedroia and Lopez and Lester and Schilling and Matsuzaka) have all failed to make significant positive contributions. The one player who has had the single biggest NEGATIVE contribution in the series thus far is Manny Delcarmen. They brought him in with a lead in the 6th inning of game two. He promptly gave up the tying run, and no one scored again until Cleveland beat Gagne, Lopez and Lester in the 11th. He came in with a 3-run deficit in game 4, and promptly gave up a 3-run HR, and another one to boot. The Red Sox scored 3 runs in the 6th. If Delcarmen does his job in game 2, the Red Sox leave Boston with a 2-0 series lead. If he does it in game 4, they're tied after 6.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Analysis" of the Patriots offense

I don't know Rich Cimini. I don't know whether he's bright or dumb, quick or slow. I don't know whether he's serious or sarcastic.

I just know that this is one of the stupidest pieces of "analysis" that I've ever seen.

One of the worst-kept inside jokes around the NFL is Tom Brady’s weekly appearance on the Patriots’ injury report. For what seems like forever, he has appeared on the report with a mysterious shoulder ailment, which has caused many eyes to roll.

The way things are going this season for the Patriots, they might have to tweak the ‘ol injury report. Don’t be surprised if you check your local newspaper’s agate page one day soon and see something like this:

QB Tom Brady, right-arm fatigue, probable.

Brady is throwing like a one-armed bandit, leading one of the most prolific passing attacks in NFL history. The Patriots are 6-0, and Brady already has attempted 204 passes, including an NFL-best 21 touchdown passes. In Sunday’s 48-27 victory over the previously undefeated Cowboys, Tom Terrific became the first quarterback in history to throw at least three scores in each of his first six games.

OK? The Patriots have thrown the ball a lot. That's true. So far, so good.

But let's stop, for just a second, and look at that scary number there. "Brady has already attempted 204 passes." The clear implication is that that is a huge number. And it is currently 3rd in the NFL. However, the Patriots, unlike a dozen other teams, haven't had their bye week yet. If you look at attempts per game, Tom Brady is ... 8th.

Doesn't sound too extreme, does it?
He’s scary good, but it raises a question: Can the Patriots continue to blow away the competition with such a one-dimensional offense?

Gosh, is the offense one-dimensional? He hasn't offered a single piece of evidence that that's the case. But he must be right, of course, because that's the entire point of his article. I'm sure that if I check, the evidence will be overwhelming.



Uh, there's a slight problem here. Through 6 games, the Patriots have thrown the ball 204 times.

They've run it 202 times.

They've thrown the ball on 50.25% of their offensive plays. Number of NFL teams throwing it more often? 23 of 32. Number of teams with a more balanced pass/run attack than the Patriots? One (1).

That's it. Essentially, the offense that Rich Cimini (apparently) assumes is "one-dimensional" is one of the two most balanced offenses in the league.
History says no. Sooner or later, it has to bite them, right? Every football tenet indicates that a team requires some semblance of balance to win a championship. I mean, you can expect to do the same thing over and over, and get away with it.

And I'm sure that he's got the evidence to support that, too, right?

Because a team could never win a Super Bowl if they pass the ball 53% of the time, like the 2003 Patriots.
Or 54.1% of the time, like the 1996 Packers.
Or 55.2% of the time, like the 1999 Rams.
Or 55.9% of the time, like the 2006 Colts.

People who have actually looked at the issue, a group that clearly doesn't include Rich Cimini, have discovered that great passing teams have historically done better than great running teams.
Remember Air Coryell? In 1980 and 1981, Dan Fouts passed for 4,715 and 4,802 yards, respectively, but those high-flying Chargers teams never made the Super Bowl.

Remember Dan Marino’s heyday? He was a passing machine for the Dolphins in the mid-1980s, throwing for 48 touchdowns in 1984, but what did it get him? He got rich, even got a street named after him in Miami, but he has as many Super Bowl rings as me.

Which is three fewer than Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Tell them some more, Rich, what they need to do.
Yes, the old 49ers, from the Bill Walsh and Joe Montana vintage, were a pass-first team. But they had a fellow by the name of Roger Craig in the backfield to keep defenses somewhat honest.

How did they do that, Rich? By running the ball about 50% of the time?
You can’t be a one-trick pony in the NFL.

That sounds good, but I'm not at all convinced that it's true.

Even if it were, however, I wouldn't appear to have any relevance to this very balanced New England attack.
Yes, Brady is having one of those amazing years — he’s on a 4,700-yard, 56-touchdown pace — but it’ll come crashing down eventually. And by that, I don’t mean a prolonged losing streak. But they won’t go undefeated, write that down.

Wow. There's a narrow limb to climb out on...
Obviously, coach Bill Belichick doesn’t want to play this way.

Given that he's the one running the team, and they're playing the way they are, I don't know where, exactly, that "obviously" comes from. Maybe Rich Cimini is as ignorant about Bill Belichick as he is about what the New England Patriots are doing.
If he had his druthers, he’d love to run it 40 times a game and ram it down the opponents’ throat (like early in the season when running backs Sammy Morris and Laurence Maroney were 100% healthy). But what makes him such a good coach is his ability to adapt to his personnel.

With Morris and Maroney banged up, the strength of the Patriots rests on Brady (duh!) and the rebuilt receiving corps. So he’s going to let ‘er rip, especially if the matchups dictate an emphasis on the passing attack. And that certainly was the case against the Cowboys.

So if the running backs were healthy, Belichick would prefer to run an ineffective offence rather than an effective one? I don't think so.
Facing a thin and banged up secondary, the Patriots used spread formations throughout the game, creating favorable matchups all day. The Cowboys simply didn’t have enough defensive backs to cover the Patriots’ posse of receivers.

You want to double Randy Moss (six catches for 59 yards and a TD)?

Fine, no problem. They’ll throw to Dante Stallworth (seven catches for 136 yards and a TD).

You want to double Stallworth? Go right ahead. They’ll throw to the slot receiver, Wes Welker (11 catches for 124 yards and two TDs).

If Brady gets bored with those choices, he can throw to tight end Kyle Brady (one TD catch) just for kicks.

Brady finished with a career-high five touchdown passes, as the Patriots rolled to their highest point total since a 50-point outburst against the Colts in 1984.

“I’m not saying we’re unstoppable,” Moss said. “We just work hard at what we do.”

So now you’re thinking, “Why can’t they just keeping doing it?”

Yup - you got me there. I am. However, since I understand what they're doing, I'm not thinking, as you suppose, "why can't they just keep throwing the ball most of the time regardless of what the defense does?" but, rather, "why can't they continue to be effective by using their great offensive talent against the opposition's defensive weaknesses?" I suspect that they can. I think that the 16-game numbers won't end up being as gaudy as the 6 game numbers, and someone will probably hold them under 34 at some point, but this is a team without a significant offensive weakness.
Maybe they can, but it’s a dangerous way to play. In spread formations, you’re living with only five pass protectors (the offensive line), leaving the quarterback vulnerable to blitzers. On Sunday, it happened once to Brady, resulting in a strip/sack that was returned for a touchdown.

And how often do they actually do that? Far less than Cimini thinks. Most of the times they keep in plenty of blockers, and the receivers are so good that they get open anyway. Brady's been sacked 6 times this year.
A pass-heavy attack also doesn’t use much clock, putting a heavier burden on your defense. That happened to the Bills teams of the early 1990s, when Jim Kelly racked up big numbers with their “K Gun” no-huddle attack. Problem was, they scored so quickly that the defense never had much time to catch its breath on the sideline.

This really is a gem. There are two teams in the NFL who are holding the ball more than 35 minutes per game, which is more than 10 minutes longer than the opposition. One of them is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Any guesses as to the second?

Right. The New England Patriots.
Naturally, Belichick knows this. Heck, he was the guy who came up with the brilliant game plan for the Giants in Super Bowl XXV, essentially daring the Bills to run the ball. Before the game, he told his players that they’d win if Thurman Thomas rushed for more than 100 yards. They thought he was off his rocker, but he was dead on. He knew his plan would take the Bills out of their quick-strike element.

No doubt, Belichick will try to return to a balanced offense in New England.

That'll be quite a trick, returning to a place that you never left...
Much of that will depend on the health of his M&M Boys, Maroney and Morris. They’re going to need a running game in three weeks, when they face the Colts in what could be a battle of undefeated juggernauts. If they get into a shootout with Peyton Manning & Co., especially in the sterile confines of the RCA Dome, the Patriots will lose.

They lost in the AFCCG in a shootout to the Colts last year in the RCA Dome, so I guess that there's some historical precedence for this prediction. But it was a four-point game, and the Patriots have upgraded their defense, and significantly upgraded their receiving corps, so I'm far less certain that this statement is true, either.
Unless there’s another defensive whiz like Belichick out there, plotting ways to stop Brady & Co., the Patriots could win the Super Bowl with a run-and-shoot mentality. If they do, they’d be bucking decades of football doctrine.

Anyone who would confuse this Patriot offense, or offensive mentality, with a "run-and-shoot" mentality really needs to have his pundit card revoked...

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Election day

It isn't election day everywhere, but in Massachusetts, there's a race to replace Marty Meehan (that's the good news - I suspect that the result won't be.) If you're a resident of the 5th Congressional District of Massachusetts, remember to get out and vote for Jim Ogonowski today...

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NFL week 6 wrapup

NFL week 5 wrapup

  • The Patriots jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead in Dallas, and Tom Brady didn't look right. He overthrew receivers, but the primary thing was body language and facial expressions - he just didn't look right to me. He looked out-of-sorts, out of rhythm, like he didn't want to be there.

    Apparently I was mis-reading.

    When the Cowboys took the first 2nd half lead against the Patriots this season, it was almost as if it woke them up. They outscored Dallas 27-3 over the course of the last 20 minutes of the game.

  • New England’s last four plays against the Bills, week 3, too much time to run it all off the clock by taking a knee - Sammy Morris into the line, Sammy Morris into the line, Sammy Morris into the line, Heath Evans into the line. All from inside Buffalo’s 13 yard line. No passes, no field goal, ball goes over on downs. No one whining about running up the score.

    New England’s last four plays against the Cowboys, week 6, too much time to run it all off the clock by taking a knee - Kyle Eckel into the line, Kyle Eckel into the line, Kyle Eckel into the line, Kyle Eckel into the line. All from inside Dallas’ 10 yard line. No passes, no field goal. Dallas doesn’t stop them. Cowboy fans whining about running up the score.

    Wade made it necessary by using that last timeout. Otherwise the Patriots could have just taken a knee. Since they couldn't run out the clock, they had to run plays. They handed the ball off, up the middle, to a 5th string running back out of the Naval Academy. I hardly think that qualifies as "running up the score." Had Brady thrown a 6th on that drive, the whiners would have a point. Under the circumstances, I think New England behaved appropriately.

    I think that you don’t take a knee only to have your defense still have to come out and take the field. If the Cowboys thought it was still a competitive situation that warranted using that last timeout, why should the Patriots stop running plays?

  • The Patriots are 6-0. The rest of the AFC East is 2-15. Both of the wins are inside the division, so they are 0-11 against the rest of the NFL.

  • And it is time for all three of those teams to start looking at/for quarterbacks. Pennington can't throw the ball, and it should be pretty clear by now that if J.P. Losman's the answer, you're asking the wrong question. Even if Trent Green were ever to play again, which I think, based on absolutely no information, is a bad idea, he's certainly not more than a caretaker for a bad team right now. Those franchises should all be playing for 2008, if not 2009, now.
  • +

  • The Patriots schedule won't always look as weak as it did for the past couple of weeks. San Diego and Cleveland are both going to be above .500 in a couple of weeks.

  • Evidence that you should be listening carefully to what I say (and I've got to really reach, this week - I'm finally in mid-season form):

    NY Giants at Atlanta - "If there's a team more likely to play a bad game as a favorite than this version of the Giants, I don't know who it would be. But they won't. Not this week, anyway..."

    New England at Dallas - "Dallas has played no one. New England has played no one. They've got identical 5-0 records and similar point differentials. So why are the Patriots decent favorites on the road? And why do I think that the spread is low? Can't give you a good answer on that, other than to say, I think that the Patriots are the better team, and not just by a little."

  • Evidence that you should be listening carefully to what I say (and betting the opposite [and this evidence continues to pile up]):

    Carolina at Arizona - "The Cardinals are actually developing into a real football team, and this week, they'll go 2 games over .500 for the first time since they won 4 of their first 6 in 2002."

    Cincinnati at Kansas City- "The Bengals can't stop an NFL offense. Fortunately for them, this week they aren't facing one. A team in turmoil, fighting amongst themselves, down on the coach, finds solace in the welcoming arms of the Chiefs."

  • For the week:
    Winners: 7-6
    ATS: 4-7-2

  • For the Season:
    Winners: 56-33
    ATS: 43-39-7

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Today's Global Warming story

"We'll look back on all of this in 10 or 15 years and realise how foolish it was."

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Now THAT'S an op-ed column

I'm not a big fan of Stephen Colbert, but I sure enjoyed this...
Bad things are happening in countries you shouldn’t have to think about. It’s all George Bush’s fault, the vice president is Satan, and God is gay.

There. Now I’ve written Frank Rich’s column too.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

The mother of all corrections

Thank goodness the mainstream press has higher journalistic standards than blogs do...

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Line of the day

from Chris Lynch:
"...I'll now think of Dukakis as a weakish, rakish Pakistani guy..."

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The blogosphere is a strange and mysterious place

I discovered this morning that on September 3, someone translated my Pythagorean report into German.

I don't know why. But it is...interesting...

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NFL picks, week 6

Cincinnati (-3) at Kansas City - The Bengals can't stop an NFL offense. Fortunately for them, this week they aren't facing one. A team in turmoil, fighting amongst themselves, down on the coach, finds solace in the welcoming arms of the Chiefs.

Houston at Jacksonville (-7) - There are two possible scenarios here. One is that the Jaguars think Houston's a good team, in which case they play over their heads, protect their home field, and cover. The other is that they think Houston is a weaker team, they look ahead to next week, and get beaten. Eeny-meeny-miny-mo... We get one of the good Jacksonville performances this week, and they win by 10+.

Miami at Cleveland (-5) - How many games did you think that the Browns would be legitimately favored in this year? Trent Green can try to defend his play last week all that he wants - he hurt himself, he hurt his team, and he was lucky that he didn't hurt Travis Johnson. If Miami thinks that they have their quarterback of the future, it's time to start playing him, because the only possible productive outcomes for the Dolphins in 2007 are grooming young talent and getting a high draft pick. Winning here would hurt the latter cause. They needn't worry, as they won't, and it won't be close.

Minnesota at Chicago (-5.5) - Two fraud teams meet. The Vikings are a bigger fraud than the Bears. The Bears are at home. The Bears win. The Bears cover.

Philadelphia at N.Y. Jets (+3) - I vowed to pick against the Eagles the rest of the year. But I didn't realize, at the time, that they were playing the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets! Ay caramba! Do I have to say something nice about one of these teams? (Checking the fine print in the standard pundit contract...No!) Good. I wish that they could both lose. Odds are, unfortunately, against that. New York's weak pass rush gets to immobile McNabb four times. Chad Pennington throws 3 20-yard outs that only go 18, one of which is picked, and the viewer is "treated" to a "scintillating" 13-6 win for the NYJ.

St. Louis (+10) at Baltimore - The Rams are one of the teams whose offense is bad enough to enable the Ravens to maintain the illusion that they have a dominant defense. But the Ravens offense is bad enough that they shouldn't be favored by 10 over Notre Dame, never mind an NFL team. Can St. Louis go into Baltimore and win? Probably not. Can Baltimore cover? Probably not. Is either of those possible? Well, under the old "anything's possible" rubric, yes, but it's not the way to bet...

Tennessee at Tampa Bay (-3) - I'm wrong, always wrong, about Tampa Bay. So, I've had to choose an objective method for picking this game, taking my subjective evaluation, which is bound to be wrong, out of it. Alphabetically, "Ta" comes before "Te." And "Buccaneers" comes before "Titans." I don't know how you'd pick against advantages like those. And giving only three!

Washington (+3) at Green Bay - This one is interesting. Green Bay's been very good, or at least they were until Brett Favre decided that throwing it to his own teammates was too boring. The Redskins have been up-and-down. I don't trust Jason Campbell, but, of course, I don't trust Brett Favre, either. I'm picking Joe Gibbs and the Washington defense to go up to Lambeau and win by a touchdown.

Carolina at Arizona (-4) - The Panthers were pre-season darlings. The Cardinals are actually developing into a real football team, and this week, they'll go 2 games over .500 for the first time since they won 4 of their first 6 in 2002. Hopefully this time they won't follow that 4-2 start by losing 6 straight and 9 of 10. Win and cover.

New England (-5) at Dallas - Dallas has played no one. New England has played no one. They've got identical 5-0 records and similar point differentials. So why are the Patriots decent favorites on the road? And why do I think that the spread is low? Can't give you a good answer on that, other than to say, I think that the Patriots are the better team, and not just by a little.

Oakland (+10) at San Diego - Which San Diego team shows up? The one that was humiliated by Kansas City at home two weeks ago, or the one which blew out the Broncos in Denver last week? If the latter, they cover easily. I'm guessing that it's somewhere in between. They win, but the Raiders keep it close.

New Orleans at Seattle (-7) - I see two choices here. One is to keep picking the Saints, so as to claim bragging rights when they finally win a game. The other is to pad the stats by picking against them until the give some actual sign that they might win a game again. For this week, at least, we'll follow the latter course...

N.Y. Giants (-3.5) at Atlanta - Could the Giants go down to Atlanta and lose to the Falcons? Absolutely. If there's a team more likely to play a bad game as a favorite than this version of the Giants, I don't know who it would be. But they won't. Not this week, anyway...

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