A Fortnight Left

Last week: an awful 5-11. Season: 118-106. Home in CAPS.

Colts (-6) over JAGUARS – Looking good so far (Twittered this in this mornig.)  The Jags done gave up.

Ravens (+4) over COWBOYS – Dallas is more desperate; Baltimore’s defense is falt out better.

Bengals (+2.5) over BROWNS – On the premise that Ryan Fitzpatrick has been under center longer than Ken Dorsey.

Saints (-7) over LIONS – Detroit’s last, best cahnce, although considering how bad the Packers are playing, maybe not. However, too much Drew Brees to handle.

CHIEFS (+4) over Dolphins – Arrowhead game. KC covers in those games, then blows an actual chance to win in spectacular fashion.  Herm Edwards is living on borrowed time with Carl Petersen taking a hike.

PATRIOTS (-7.5) over Cardinals – If Arizona and Denver/San Diego squared in a battle of the Worst Division Champion, who would take it?

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In Which I Put My Disposable Income On Kyle Orton’s Arm

kyleortondrunk

Last week: 10-6. Season: 113-95. Home teams in CAPS.

BEARS (-3) over Saints – New Orleans is a horrific 1-5 on the road and it will not be particularly hospitable in terms of weather in Chicago tomorrow, if the recent storms in the Midwest are any indication. Consider tomorrow’s NFL Network game a heavy dose of Matt Forte and short passes from Kyle Orton.

FALCONS (-2.5) over Bucs – Atlanta needs it to stay in the Wild Card hunt, Tampa needs it to catch up with Carolina.   Giving this one based on homefield advantage after disappointing losses, but not  by much. Hopefully it has another nice catch or two for a score like Antonio Bryant’s below (thanks to Sportaphile):

Redskins (-7) over BENGALS – It’s a disappointment and a question of how dysfunctional the offense actually is if Washington doesn’t cover.

Titans (-3) over TEXANS – I don’t think the Titans are particularly interested in letting up in advance of the playoffs, and the Texans aren’t good enough on defense to stop the roadgrading this O-line will give them.

COLTS (-17.5) over Lions – Move along, please avert your eyes to the carnage in Lucas Oil Stadium.

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One Quarter Left To Go

norvalandphilipLast week: 8-8. Season 103-89. Home team in CAPS. I apologize for the Simmons-like length. I have the writing bug to get out of the way.

Raiders (+9) over CHARGERS – I feel the need to preface that I’m not picking the Raiders to win, per se. I actually suspect the Bolts, liberated from damn near any chance of making the playoffs, can play one of two ways: say “fuck it” and light the rest of their opponents up, or say “fuck it” and completely collapse amid the poor playcalling by Norv Turner, the effect of losing Lorenzo Neal to block for both LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles (don’t you dare tell me that doesn’t matter; Good Lo/Bad Lo is now blocking in B’more and you see what their combo of backs is doing this year.)  I’m betting on the latter, although I’m peeved that I won’t be able to watch the deflating of a team in person.  The Chargers’ soap opera is quite possibly one of the most entertaining in pro sports because no one can understand how a team with that much talent can suck. Most rational people know where to put the blame, though. I can’t write anything new about the Raiders that you don’t know. They’re gonna suck until The Cryptkeeper dies or is exposed to sunlight, but they’re feisty enough to cover if not win outright.

BEARS (-6.5) over Jaguars – Jacksonville just looks like it completely gave up on being anything resembling a competent team, and I think it’s because the players HATE their coach. Jack Del Rio’s motivational tactics of shoving guys out the door as soon as they don’t buy in any more has probably reached its limit (tell me how demoting your defensive captain’s worked for your defense, huh?), and I wonder if we won’t see the Jags struggle just as much next year. This is probably the only reason he isn’t on the hot seat, along with the usual “no one gives a good goddamn about Jacksonville in general” thing.  It is mildly amusing that Del Rio is turning into a younger version of Tom Coughlin, except he is more Coach Buzzcut than Sgt. Hartman.

Vikings over LIONS – This is strictly a pick because the game’s been taken off the board, in another embarrassing moment for a franchise on the way to 0-16, with the train’s brakes completely out. Gus Frerotte would need to throw at least three picks to start for Detroit to have a shot, and even that’s asking a lot.

Texans (+5.5) over PACKERS – Anyone with a bit of suss will realize that the Pack is going finish at no better than .500, and it isn’t Aaron Rodgers’ fault.  The rush defense has been absolutely killing Green Bay, and expect Steve Slaton to do enough of that up north to allow Sage Rosenfels not to have to throw andything big unless Andre Johnson is so open that he could run to a Kum & Go and get a soda while coming back to the end zone.

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Pickin’ For The Road

santoniobengalsLast week: 8-8. Season: 86-74.

By the way, I am counting tonight’s Steeler win because I Twittered a pick at 8:30 AM. Quote:

oh, and since I forgot to write a picks column before leaving: STEELERS (-10.5) over Bengals. Tomlin and Arians are not Reid style wusses.”

There you go. On to the rest of this week’s fun:

BROWNS (-3) over Texans – Brady Quinn is shaky, hyped-up, and probably the best thing for Cleveland right now. He’ll get a confidence booster against a Texans team with good skill players in the Slaton/Green tandem and Andre Johnson — but they don’t have a QB.

CHIEFS (+3) over Bills – Not to harp on it, but Trent Edwards is going through the growing pains and Tyler Thigpen is still acquitting himself well in losses. What better week for it to pay off than against a Buffalo team running off the rails?

Patriots (+1) over DOLPHINS – Miami has been pulling wins out of its ass against mediocre to bad teams. The Patriots are on the good end of mediocre, and I doubt Bill Belichick will be caught lead-footed on the Wildcat twice. Field goal win.

JETS (+5.5) over Titans – If you really want to pick a team to knock Tennessee off its unbeaten perch, try either the Jets or the Colts, because of the Favre factor involved — he could have a monster game that Kerry Collins and the running back tandem can’t come back from.  However, if LenDale White and Chris Johnson are given the ball a ton, they can play ball control. Make mine three or four points.

RAVENS (-1) over Eagles – Philly could ball-hawk Joe Flacco big time, but the Ravens could run all over them and Andy Reid refuses to use his best weapon in Brian Westbrook. This is where the Iggles keep falling.  I keep wondering if Donovan McNabb really said he didn’t know a game could end in a tie because he wanted out of Reid’s lousy system.

COWBOYS (-10.5) over 49ers – You want an easy tune-up for Tony Romo to really get back in the swing? Give him and Marion Barber a steady diet of the 49ers.  Shaun Hill was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week — but it really shouldn’t count if it’s against the Rams.

LIONS (+7.5) over Bucs – Not to win, mind you. This isn’t where Detroit gets off the 0-16 track; I don’t know where that is. They’ve covered the last two weeks and barring a complete defensive shut-down on the part of TB (entirely possible!), they’ll do it again.

JAGUARS (-2.5) over Vikings – I don’t believe Minny’s won this year on natural grass and they’re not a great road team. Jacksonville is 1-4 at home, though, and something has to give. After last week’s slaughter, let’s go with Jacksonville.

Bears (-8) over RAMS – Chicago has to cover, don’t they? Otherwise, it’s a complete joke of a chance they have to get to the playoffs.

BRONCOS (-9.5) over Raiders – I’m going over the possibilities that Oakland even has of covering in Mile High: Jay Cutler has to throw at least two picks on his own side of the field, Darren McFadden has to be available and playing out of his mind…too much “if” here.

FALCONS (-1) over Panthers – Jake Delhomme has hit a serious swoon and has been bailed out by DeAngelo Williams.  Look for a running battle, and Matt Ryan will play well enough to keep Atlanta from taking a second loss at home this week.

GIANTS (-3.5) over Arizona – Yes, Brandon Jacobs is probably out with a knee, but Arizona’s not covering; anything within 10 points should be considered a moral victory and proof that the Cardinals are at least legit. If they get blown out, then we have to merely say that they are the best of a shitty division and will do no damage in the playoffs.

Redskins (-3.5) over SEAHAWKS – Varsity flys cross-country to whoop the JV’s ass. Unfortunately for Seattle, that whole cross-country flight thing doesn’t really work so much for teams coming over from the East Coast.

Colts (+2.5) over CHARGERS – An absolutely awful time for the Bolts to have to host Indy: Peyton is feeling it again and San Diego is coming off a very bad performance in Pittsburgh that continues to indicate further problems with the defense and issues getting in the end zone for the offensive unit. Shootout is a possibility with the game being in SoCal. The Chargers will be three games back in the AFC West and will need a miracle after this Sunday.

Packers (+2.5) over SAINTS – Green Bay has to have Ryan Grant available in order to keep Drew Brees off the field. The Saints beat bad teams, not ones on the good end of mediocre.

If You Need A Fix…

(Highlight found at Sports on My Mind.)

….the NFL might be the one you call on, your candyman, the one who gives you more and more, if you’re Vegas. A 3.5 point spread in the Steelers’ favor, a last second touchdown on desperation laterals. 17-10 or 18-10, until the replay booth upstairs decided that the first lateral by LaDainian Tomlinson was a forward pass — which I have looked about a dozen times now and still don’t know where the hell that call came from.  The official admitted the overturning of the call was botched, but it still doesn’t hold water.

You know this is whipping up a storm at NFL offices, because they’re sending emails about the rules to people like me, who don’t mean squat in the grand scheme. Here is part of the explanation:

There were three passes on the play. The first was a completed forward pass from San Diego’s Philip Rivers to LaDainian Tomlinson. The second, from Tomlinson to Chris Chambers, was initially ruled a legal backward pass but then reversed in replay to an illegal forward pass. The third, from Chambers, was a legal backward pass that hit the ground and was returned for the touchdown by Pittsburgh’s Polamalu.

The incorrect reversal of the on-field ruling of touchdown was acknowledged immediately following the game by referee Scott Green in the pool report interview with a representative of the media.

If any forward pass, legal or illegal, hits the ground, the play is dead immediately. The officiating crew mistakenly determined that the backward pass that Polamalu legally recovered and returned for the touchdown was the pass that was reversed in replay to being forward and illegal. Therefore, the crew ruled that the ball was dead when it hit the ground and the play was over. (The actual illegal forward pass Tomlinson to Chambers did not hit the ground and therefore the play is allowed to continue.)

If the situation had been handled properly, the defense (Pittsburgh) would have declined the penalty for an illegal forward pass from Tomlinson to Chambers and taken the touchdown.

So, a call is handled correctly by Jeff Triplette and his usually unconscionably bad officiating crew (13 penalties on the Steelers to one for the Chargers, including a complete BS pass interference call on Ike Taylor that should have been called on Vincent Jackson), yet it’s overruled by the replay booth incorrectly; as they don’t even have rule books on hand, apparently.

That was a $64 million dollar swing to Vegas right there on a bizarre play. You’ll have to excuse me if I think that there wasn’t some minor consideration of that. With that in mind, when do the big sports orgs loosen up and, y’know, actually acknowledge that people gamble on sports?  It’s kind of childish and pie-in-the-sky not to, plus, in the case of sports leagues, they can sweep accusations under the rug becuase the people that cover them won’t bother with discussing it. It’s the same “speak no evil” policy that gave the NBA Tim Donaghy.

Again, we don’t have conclusive proof of a fix being in, but this is very, very suspect.

Not Even Near The Bottom Of The Barrel

If David Stern had his way, the sentencing of referee Tim Donaghy to 15 months in prison today would be the end of the talk surrounding suspicion of every NBA official for damn near the better part of the regular season and all of the playoffs.

Trouble is, that ain’t happening.

From the calls Donaghy admitted making to another referee to the discussion that everyone assumed was about the fifth game of the Lakers-Kings series from 2002, there has been more grist boiling under the surface than Stern (or anyone at ESPN or any other telecast partner) would particularly care to acknowledge. It doesn’t solve the problem of a lack of faith in fair officiating in the NBA — especially after the Spurs-Lakers series. And while that had nothing to with Donaghy, it has everything to do with the lack of public transparency the NBA has regarding its officiating.

It has to do with officiating form the likes of Joe Crawford — someone who got in a tiff with Spurs forward Tim Duncan for what appeared to be no apparent reason, and tossed him out the game, got suspended, and was then allowed to come back and officiate that Lakers-Spurs game. (I actually defended that crucial no-call on the shot Brent Barry took, or at least said that if a foul was called on Derek Fisher, it should have been a two-shot foul, not a three-shot one.)

Donaghy’s sentencing doesn’t solve those problems. Maybe he is a rogue actor, ast he league claims, but even if he is, it doesn’t mean the Associations officiating image is clean. If people are evaluating how refs call games for home and away teams regularly to see how that tips the scales, it’s a major issue.

Donaghy may be out of jail in a year. The NBA’s zebra issues will last long after he’s out of the clink and faded out of the public eye.

Photo: AP/Louis Lanzano

Tim Donaghy Is Back Again

The former referee that David Stern would prefer be labeled a “rogue official” is back once again, and this time slinging a few accusations that the NBA was playing favorites in playoff series over the years, lending even more credence to every conspiracy theory and belief in home cooking-style officiating.

As deduced by ESPN, the series in question would be the 2002 Kings-Lakers conference finals (the Game 6 that had Kings fans up in arms) and a 2006 playoff series between the Rockets and the Mavs (the one where Jeff Van Gundy got out of sorts over targeting of Yao Ming.) Thankfully, the Four Letter links to the PDF files of the letter written by Donaghy’s lawyer as well as the NBA’s claim for $1 million dollars in restitution, which I presume is what spurred this letter.

Stern ought to, no, HAS to reveal every single bit of the NBA’s investigation into this matter right now. This is paramount to the sanctity of the league. Any and all accusations of coordination between the league and officials would be the equivalent of 10,000 Malices at the Palace if discovered to have a grain of truth to them. This perception becomes ten times as dangerous if it is actually rooted in reality, and that’s not something we ought to have in one of the big professional sports leagues.

As for the implications regarding Donaghy’s credibility: I understand and acknowledge them freely, but what always gets me in these situations of “singing” witnesses is the basic question of why someone would risk further punishment of perjury if what he or she tells federal authorities turns out to be complete bunk. Donaghy may well be slinging mud, but the NBA needs to be able to answer forcefully with proof that it does not manipulate outcomes.

So, regardless of whether Donaghy’s legal team wins its request to open the NBA’s investigation into the rogue official, it ought to release all of it — freely, on its own, to the media, and for all to judge.

There is really no other choice that can save face.