Sunday, November 29, 2009

Week 12 NFL picks

Here are my picks for Week 12:

Packers (-11.5) over LIONS
COWBOYS (-14) over Raiders
BRONCOS (+7) over Giants

Already picked these games here.

Colts (-3.5) over TEXANS

BENGALS (-14) over Browns

EAGLES (-10) over Redskins

Dolphins (-3.5) over BILLS

Seahawks (-4) over RAMS

Buccaneers (+13) over FALCONS

Panthers (+3) over JETS

Jaguars (+3.5) over 49ERS

CHARGERS (-14) over Chiefs

VIKINGS (-11) over Bears

TITANS (-3) over Cardinals

Note: I changed this pick around 2:30 (it's a late game) once I found out Kurt Warner wasn't playing.

RAVENS (+3) over Steelers

SAINTS (-3) over Patriots

Last week: 11-4-1
This week (so far): 3-0
Season: 90-70-3

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving day NFL picks

Just going to post my picks for the three Thanksgiving Day games. Here they are:

Packers (-11.5) over LIONS

COWBOYS (-14) over Raiders

BRONCOS (+7) over Giants

I'll post the rest of my picks for Week 12 on Saturday or Sunday. Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy the games!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday morning links

A lot has been going on lately, especially with some apparent chemistry issues with the Wizards. Let's get to it:
  • According to Michael Lee, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler talked on the phone and have "resolved their differences." Butler also had this to say:

    "It's crazy, losing and everything. Man, it's tough," he said, "but in the midst of all of this, we've got to remain positive. That's all you can do. That's what I'm going to do. You got to find the silver lining in every situation. Collectively, we got to find a way to win games and work hard in practice. We'll see what happens."

    I really hope there aren't any serious problems between Arenas and Butler, but it's certainly possible. Teammates don't always get along with each other, but they do need to be able to play together and share the ball. And if it isn't obvious by now, the Wizards really, really need a win against the Sixers tonight. [Wizards Insider]

  • Not surprisingly, the Wizards are again battling some injuries. Mike Miller is out three to six weeks with a strained calf, and Butler will be a game-time decision tonight with a sore right ankle. [Bullets Forever]

  • Losing Miller really hurt the Wizards' offense. [Bullets Forever]

  • What exactly is going on with Nick Young? With Miller out, this may be Young's time to shine (or at least get on the court some more). [Truth About It]

  • These next two links are about a week old, but they're still worth linking to. Erik Manning of FanGraphs, using statistics from Baseball Prospectus, notes the best and worst baserunning teams. The Orioles finished last with a mark of -15 runs (which cost them maybe a win). [FanGraphs]

  • In terms of individual baserunning, Melvin Mora finished tied with Jorge Posada for last place (-8 runs). It's not surprising at all to see Mora listed last; he really is a bad baserunner. Again, it's not really a huge deal, but it's certainly worth mentioning. [FanGraphs]

  • Brad Bergesen is feeling much better and is able to run now. [School of Roch]

  • Curious about the O's top prospects? Here's a top 13 list. [Camden Crazies]

  • After tearing his ACL and MCL in the early stages of Sunday's loss to the Cowboys, Ladell Betts will miss the rest of this season and has some difficult rehab work awaiting him. But Betts is ready for the challenge: "My mindset is that I'm on the road to recovery. It's part of the game and it's part of the business. It's why we get paid the money we do, because we put our bodies in harm's way and at risk, so it comes with the territory. It's just one of the unfortunate parts of being a football player." [Redskins Insider]

  • With Betts out and Clinton Portis still dealing with post-concussion issues, Rock Cartwright took advantage of the opportunity and had a great game in Dallas. He'll get the chance to be the main ball-carrier this week as well. [Mike Wise]

  • With Betts, Chad Rinehart, and Eddie Williams all being placed on injured reserve, the Redskins have signed two players: running back (and familiar face) Marcus Mason and offensive guard Paul Fanaika. The third spot should be filled at some point later in the week. [Redskins Blog]

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Week 11 NFL picks

Just posting my picks for this week. Here they are:

(Home team is in caps.)

PANTHERS (-3) over Dolphins

Already picked this game and lost. Way to go, Jake Delhomme.

Redskins (+11) over COWBOYS

Browns (+3.5) over LIONS

49ers (+7) over PACKERS

Steelers (-10.5) over CHIEFS

VIKINGS (-11) over Seahawks

Falcons (+7) over GIANTS

Saints (-11) over BUCCANEERS

Bills (+9) over JAGUARS

Colts (-2) over RAVENS

Cardinals (-9) over RAMS

Chargers (-3) over BRONCOS

Bengals (-10) over RAIDERS

PATRIOTS (-11) over Jets

Eagles (-3) over BEARS

Titans (+4.5) over TEXANS

Last week: 8-6-1
Season: 76-66-2

Enjoy the games.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wizards fall to Thunder, 127-108

First off, one quick thought: "Thunder" is a horrible team name. That's not anything particularly enlightening, but it just doesn't sound right. Then again, maybe Wizards doesn't either.

Now, here are some game thoughts:
  • Even though the Wizards were outscored in every quarter and never held the lead, this really was a game of runs. Almost every time the Wizards tied the score or cut into the lead, the Thunder answered on the offensive end. A lot of that is bad defense by the Wizards, but Oklahoma City deserves some credit for staying poised.

  • For the most part, the "Big Four" got theirs: Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood scored a combined 83 points. Arenas had 23 points and eight assists, Jamison had 22 points and 12 rebounds, Butler scored 24 points (with four rebounds and four assists), and Haywood scored 14 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.

  • Mike Miller, the fifth starter, somehow played 35 minutes despite being in obvious pain with a shoulder injury. He had a decent all-around game, but he still scored just five points and accumulated just two rebounds and two assists -- plus he took only four shots. I respect Miller's toughness, no question, but if he's not healthy, he shouldn't be on the floor.

  • Unfortunately, the bench didn't play particularly well in this game. The starters played big minutes -- all were on the floor for at least 35 minutes -- so there weren't a whole lot of minutes to go around. Still, Earl Boykins got a bench-high 17 minutes (more on Boykins below), Andray Blatche played 15, and DeShawn Stevenson and Randy Foye each had 12. Blatche was relatively ineffective, scoring only six points and taking a few ill-advised jump shots instead of knocking down open ones like in previous games. Blatche shot fine (3-7 from the field), but he only grabbed one rebound and had a lazy turnover in the second half that looked like the old Blatche (dribbling behind his back in traffic for no apparent reason). Foye only took two shots and scored one point; is his ankle still bothering him?

  • What exactly is Boykins's role? Is he the backup point guard? I guess he is, and for the most part, I don't have a problem with that. Boykins played the entire fourth quarter and took all seven of his shots then (making five), scoring 11 points. But when Boykins is in the game, he has the ball a ton and dribbles a lot, which means Arenas doesn't have the ball. At least for right now, I'm not a huge fan of the Boykins-Arenas backcourt.

  • To be blunt, the defense was terrible. Before this game, the Wizards allowed their opponents to shoot 44 percent from the field -- ninth-best in the league. Last night, Oklahoma City shot 53 percent from the field and 52.4 percent (11-21) from the three-point line. Kevin Durant was unstoppable, scoring 35 points by repeatedly slashing into the lane. Rookie James Harden was almost just as good, scoring 25 points (with four three-pointers) in 26 minutes.

  • Turnovers were a problem again last night. In the win over the Cavs, the Wiz turned the ball over only 12 times, yet last night they returned to form, giving the ball away 20 times. Through 11 games, the Wizards are tied for ninth in turnovers per game (15.2). Also, Arenas is averaging a league-high 4.1 turnovers per game.
Obviously this wasn't a particularly well-played game for the Wizards, but they were still in the game until Oklahoma City's big run in the fourth quarter. There's still a lot to work on, but hopefully the awful defense in this game doesn't become routine.

Next up for the Wiz: At San Antonio

Friday, November 20, 2009

NBA game description fail

Here's the actual Comcast game preview/description of the Magic-Celtics game tonight on ESPN:

Orlando at Boston. J.J. Redick and the Magic visit ex Duke teammate Shelden Williams and the Celtics in a 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals rematch, which was won 4-3 by Orlando.

Redick vs. Williams -- that's what this matchup is all about! Um, no.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday night pick

The Dolphins and Panthers play in this week's Thursday night game, so here's the pick:

PANTHERS (-3) over Dolphins

After starting the season off with three straight losses, the Panthers (4-5) have won four of the last six games and are one game away from getting back to .500. Two of the wins were against bad teams (Redskins and Bucs), but the other two were rather impressive (Cardinals and Falcons). And, believe it or not, Jake Delhomme is starting to play better. He hasn't thrown an interception in three games, and he's only turned the ball over once in that span -- a fumble against the Saints. Last week against the Falcons, Delhomme posted a season-high quarterback rating of 115.8 after he completed 15 of 24 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns.

It's also not surprising to see the Panthers running the ball more effectively during this solid stretch of games. In the last five games, Carolina has rushed for at least 182 yards in four of them. In the one game they didn't get that much (against Buffalo oddly enough), DeAngelo Williams still rushed for 89 yards on only 16 carries. Speaking of Williams, he has been on a roll lately, rushing for 640 yards in the last five games -- an average of 128 per game.

Just like Carolina, the Dolphins are also 4-5 and desperately need to get back to .500. And just like the Panthers, the Dolphins started the season off with three straight losses and have won four of their last six games -- interesting stuff. Unfortunately, they just lost Ronnie Brown, their leading rusher and a vital part of the team's wildcat attack, for the season after he suffered a Lisfranc fracture in the middle of his foot. Without Brown, Ricky Williams will probably receive the bulk of the carries in the run game. Quarterback Chad Henne will also need to play a bigger role on offense, especially if Brown's absence forces the Dolphins to run the wildcat fewer times.

Since the Panthers finish the season with four tough games in a row -- Patriots, Vikings, Giants, and Saints -- the team's next three games against the Dolphins, Jets, and Buccaneers are critical. If they can win those three games, they'll be sitting at a 7-5 record and will at least have a chance to get to the playoffs.

On the other hand, the Dolphins finish the season against five tough opponents after tonight's game. They travel to Buffalo in Week 12 for what should be a very winnable game, but then they finish the season against the Patriots, Jaguars, Titans, Texans, and Steelers. Ouch. With Brown, the Dolphins may have had a chance, but without him, it doesn't seem very realistic.

As for this game, I expect the Panthers to continue to run the ball efficiently, and Delhomme should be able to find some receivers down the field against a thin secondary.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Greinke wins Cy Young, admits appreciation of stats

I like Zack Greinke. Not only is he an outstanding pitcher -- he was overwhelmingly voted the American League Cy Young yesterday over Felix Hernandez -- but he's also a much different character than many other major leaguers. Part of that is because he has battled back from being diagnosed with depression and a social anxiety disorder, but another part is that he gives unconventional (and honest) answers.

In this article by Tyler Kepner of The New York Times, Greinke explains that he follows some advanced baseball statistics, possibly becoming the best player to admit to doing so. Here are some of the quotes:

“I thought that could push [Hernandez] over the top, because his won-loss record was way better than mine,” Greinke said. “But I’m also a follower, since Brian Bannister’s on our team, of sabermetric stuff and going into details of stats about what you can control.”

Bannister, a right-handed starter, is known for his appreciation of modern pitching metrics, which emphasize the factors for which pitchers are essentially responsible: walks, strikeouts, home runs and hit batters. In Greinke, he found a like mind.

“He’s extremely bright, and he’s really picked up on using all the information out there to make his game better,” Bannister said by telephone. “He’s always had the talent. His confidence level, which is extremely high, combined with his knowledge of the numbers behind the game now, definitely makes him one of the best pitchers in the world.”

Bannister said Greinke has learned to adjust his pitching based on the advanced defensive statistics. Because of the size of the outfield at Kauffman Stadium and the strength of the Royals’ outfielders, relative to their infielders, it sometimes made more sense to induce fly balls.

“David DeJesus had our best zone rating,” Bannister said, referring to the Royals’ left fielder. “So a lot of times, Zack would pitch for a fly ball at our park instead of a ground ball, just because the zone rating was better in our outfield and it was a big park.”

To that end, Bannister introduced Greinke to FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, the statistic Greinke named Tuesday as his favorite. It is a formula that measures how well a pitcher performed, regardless of his fielders. According to, Greinke had the best FIP in the majors.

“That’s pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible,” Greinke said.

So not only is Greinke aware of stats like UZR and FIP, but he's actually using them to his advantage while he's on the mound. With the pitching talent that Greinke, who's only 26 years old, already possesses, opposing batters should be afraid of Greinke even more so going forward in his career.

(HT: Dave Cameron of FanGraphs)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Week 10 NFL picks

(Home team is in caps.)

49ERS (-3) over Bears

I picked this game on Thursday morning. Nice work, Jay Cutler.

Jaguars (+7) over JETS

I don’t trust either one of these teams. The Jaguars are 4-4, but they’ve lost to the Seahawks (41-0) and Titans and have only beaten the Rams and Chiefs by a combined six points. Quarterback David Garrard has been average at best with an 81.8 quarterback rating, and, believe it or not, has only thrown six touchdown passes (and five interceptions). Maurice Jones-Drew does lead all running backs with 11 touchdown runs, however. On defense, Jacksonville allows 24.8 points per game (24th-most) and isn’t particularly good at stopping neither the run nor the pass.

The Jets, meanwhile, are also 4-4 and have an impressive early-season win against the Patriots. But they also have losses to the Dolphins (twice) and the Bills. Quarterback Mark Sanchez has played worse than Garrard, but that’s to be expected since he’s a rookie. Sanchez has a 67.6 quarterback rating and has thrown eight touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. The Jets’ running game has been effective, with Thomas Jones averaging about 88 yards per game; right now, he’s eighth among running backs in rushing yards (704) and tied for fourth in touchdowns (7). As for defense, the Jets are much better than the Jaguars. The Jets allow 16.8 points per game, fourth-fewest in the NFL, and they are the second-toughest defense to pass against, particularly aided by a strong pass rush and also by standout cornerback Darrelle Revis, a shoe-in for the Pro Bowl.

If not for injuries, the Jets would probably cover. But so far, they’ve lost key players like Kris Jenkins and Leon Washington for the season, and linebacker Vernon Gholston is doubtful with an injured hamstring. The Jets’ main focus will be to keep Jones-Drew from having a huge game, though that will be difficult to accomplish. But on the other side of the ball, Sanchez may make a few more rookie mistakes -- and that could be just enough to keep the Jaguars in the game. With two average teams, I’ll take the points.

Broncos (-4) over REDSKINS

If the Redskins had an offensive line to protect Jason Campbell, this would be a pretty even game. But they don’t, and Campbell will be pressured throughout the game -- and he’ll be lucky to escape without an injury. If you don’t believe me, go back and watch the tape of last week’s loss to the Falcons. Campbell was sacked five times in the first half, and even when he wasn’t sacked, he was hit time after time. Most quarterbacks would have mailed it in with a performance from an offensive line like that, so I’ll give Campbell credit: He finished the game and played very well. The entire offense will have their hands full, to say the least.

Bengals (+7) over STEELERS

Is it possible that the Bengals could beat the Steelers and Ravens a combined four times? Sure, but I don't think it'll happen. I think the Bengals keep the game close but that the Steelers pull out the win at home.

TITANS (-7) over Bills

The Titans have looked a lot better since making the move to start Vince Young. They haven’t beaten anyone very good (Jaguars and 49ers), but that’s still two wins in a row after starting the season off with six straight losses. Oh, by the way, the Titans also have the most explosive running back in the league: Chris Johnson. Johnson leads all running backs with 959 yards on the ground, and he averages nearly 120 yards a game. If that isn’t enough, the Bills’ defense allows the most rushing yards per game (173.6) in the league. I’m pretty sure that’s a significant advantage.

VIKINGS (-17) over Lions
Saints (-14) over RAMS

That’s a lot of points, but the Lions and Rams are terrible.

Falcons (-2) over PANTHERS

In the last four games, DeAngelo Williams has rushed for 548 yards. Williams is fifth in rushing yards (768), tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns (7), and tied for seventh in yards per carry (5.2). Unfortunately, Jake Delhomme is still the Panthers’ quarterback. In the team’s last four games, here are Delhomme’s performances:

vs. Tampa Bay: 9-17, 65 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 42.2 QB rating (28-21 win)
vs. Buffalo: 27-44, 325 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT, 55.6 QB rating (20-9 loss)
vs. Arizona: 7-14, 90 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 94.3 QB rating (34-21 win)
vs. New Orleans: 17-30, 201 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 77.2 QB rating (30-20 loss)

Besides the game against the Cardinals, Delhomme has been pretty awful. He turns the ball over way too much -- 13 interceptions, second-most in the league -- and the only quarterbacks with worse quarterback ratings in the league are Matthew Stafford, Josh Johnson, JaMarcus Russell, and Derek Anderson.

The Falcons’ defense is decent at stopping the run -- 11tth-best at 119.9 yards per game -- so at some point, Delhomme is going to have to make some plays. If he can limit the turnovers, the Panthers have a chance. I just don’t think that happens.

DOLPHINS (-10) over Buccaneers

The Bucs got their first win of the season last week against the Packers, who just can’t protect Aaron Rodgers. Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman started for the first time of his career in the win, throwing for 221 yards and three touchdowns. But he won’t look as good this week, and Tampa Bay will struggle to stop the Dolphins’ wildcat attack.

Chiefs (+2) over RAIDERS

You can side with JaMarcus Russell if you want. I’ll take the points.

CARDINALS (-9) over Seahawks

The Cardinals actually play better on the road, but the Seahawks have way too many injuries, especially on the offensive line, to be trusted against a better team.

Eagles (+1) over CHARGERS
Cowboys (-3) over PACKERS
Patriots (+3) over COLTS

I don’t really have a great read on these three games, so I’m going to lump them together. Eagles-Chargers is basically a coin flip, though the Chargers have looked much better lately. But Brian Westbrook is listed as probable, and his presence should help Donovan McNabb a bit.

I still think the Cowboys are a little overrated, but it’s hard to hate on them after winning in Philadelphia last week. If the Packers could block for Aaron Rodgers, they’d have a chance, especially since they’re playing at home. But they just can’t do that, and their loss to the Bucs is evidence enough that there’s something wrong with this team.

As for Patriots-Colts, who knows. It should be an extremely competitive game, though.

Ravens (-11) over BROWNS

The Ravens need this game, and the Browns are starting Brady Quinn. Enough said.

Last week: 7-6
Season: 68-60-1

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday night pick and some links

The Thursday night games on NFL Network begin this week (Week 10), so here's my pick for that game followed with some various links that have caught my attention so far this week.

49ERS (-3) over Bears

After starting the season with an impressive 3-1 mark, the 49ers (3-5) haven't been able to win a game since, dropping four games in a row against the Falcons, Texans, Colts, and Titans. The loss to the Falcons was a blowout, by 35 points, but the other three games have been decided by 14 combined points. The Bears (4-4), meanwhile, have been almost as bad after beginning the season 3-1. They've lost three of four, with the win coming against the Browns.

The 49ers are a little bit better on defense, allowing 21.8 points per game while the Bears give up 23.9. It's also easier to run on the Bears -- 119.5 yards per game vs. 93.3 yards per game for the 49ers.

If the Bears are going to win this game, then Matt Forte is going to need one of his better performances this season. After rushing for 1,238 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and scoring eight touchdowns on the ground last year, Forte has only 441 yards on the ground and has scored just three touchdowns. His yards-per-carry average is down to 3.6, and he's just not getting the ball as much as he did last year. Part of that can certainly be attributed to poor run blocking, but Jay Cutler's presence may also be taking the ball out of Forte's hands. To be blunt, Cutler has been pretty average so far this season. He's averaging 256 passing yards per game, but his touchdown-to-interception ratio is only 14-12, which isn't that good. Plus, his 12 interceptions are tied for the 2nd-most among all quarterbacks. Cutler's quarterback rating of 83.8 is also comparable to 49ers quarterback Alex Smith's (83.3), though Smith did just start take over for Shaun Hill a couple weeks ago.

I'll give San Francisco the edge. They're at home, and they should be able to run the ball more effectively. Besides, the Crabtree curse has to end at some point, right?

  • According to Carson Cistulli, the Orioles are in a pretty good position right now -- lots of talent for not a lot of money. [FanGraphs]

  • Ben Reiter ranks the top 50 free agents and list the Orioles as the "Best Fit" for Adrian Beltre (No. 9) and Billy Wagner (No. 16). [Sports Illustrated]

  • Brian Orakpo hates losing, and he wants to catch Andre Carter for the team sack lead. He also may be my new favorite defensive player. [Redskins Blog]

  • According to Jason Reid, Jim Zorn actually got on his players at halftime during the Falcons game:

    "He hasn't done that before, not like that, anyway," said one veteran player who requested anonymity because what occurs in the locker room is supposed to stay in the locker room.

    "It was just different. Maybe that's what we needed all along."

    That, or, you know, to play better. [Redskins Insider]

  • Chris Horton's season is over after being placed on injured reserve with an injured toe. Running back Quinton Ganther fills his roster spot. [Pro Football Talk]

  • Aaron Harang could be an interesting buy-low candidate for the Orioles, who need another veteran starter or two. [Camden Crazies]

  • With injuries to guards Randy Foye, Mike James, and Javaris Crittenton, the Wizards have signed veteran guard Earl Boykins. Let the height jokes begin. [Bullets Forever]

  • Gilbert Arenas turned the ball over 12 times against the Heat, and a whopping seven of them came in the third quarter. Here's what they looked like. [Truth About It]
Also, congratulations to Adam Jones for winning his first Gold Glove, whether it was truly deserved or not. It's still a great honor for a rising young star.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Week 9 NFL picks

Something completely random before making my picks: The hit of the week (and possibly the season) last week belonged to Lions rookie linebacker Zack Follett on kickoff coverage against the Rams. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video:

Crazy hit, right? Well, that’s just part of the interesting case of Follett. According to Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders and Shutdown Corner, Follett had an odd (but hilarious) hero while he was playing high school football:

"[G]rowing up, Terry Tate, No. 56, the Office Linebacker, he was my hero watching those commercials. I tried to emulate him when I was out there. . . . Junior year of high school, I went to Champs Sports and they sold a Reebok Terry Tate number 56 jersey, and I bought one immediately. We watched all his YouTube clips and he’s bringing the 'Pain Train' and doing the 'whoop-whoop' sound and I used to do it in high school, and I used to blow the horn. It kind of stuck with me a little bit."

I doubt there's another player in the NFL whose hero is Terry Tate. And that's just unfortunate. On to the picks:

(Home team is in caps.)

Chiefs (+7) over JAGUARS

Are the Jaguars better than the Chiefs? Probably. Then again, it’s impossible to trust Jacksonville. In their last three games, the Jaguars lost to the Seahawks 41-0, beat the awful Rams by a field goal in overtime, and fell to the Titans by 17 to give Tennessee its first win. Maurice Jones-Drew poses a serious threat to the Chiefs on the ground, but MJD has only received the 15th-most carries in the NFL even though he averages 5.5 yards per carry. Try to figure that one out.

Ravens (-3) over BENGALS

Cedric Benson won’t rush for 120 yards this week, and the Bengals won’t accumulate 403 total yards again.

Texans (+8.5) over COLTS

Quick, who leads the NFL in passing yards? That would be Texans quarterback Matt Schaub (2,342 yards), who also is tied for the most TD passes (16). Surprisingly, the Colts also lead the league in fewest points allowed per game (13.0). Unfortunately for the Colts, their defense just lost safety Bob Sanders, cornerback Marlin Jackson, and linebacker Tyjuan Hagler for the season. If the Colts were at full strength, I think a blowout would be in order. But that’s not the case this week.

FALCONS (-10) over Redskins

Nothing much to say about the game, but why do the only people who defend Dan Snyder happen to be on his payroll?

Packers (-10) over BUCCANEERS

Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman gets his first NFL start today for the Bucs against a team looking to destroy anyone after the whole Brett-Favre-comeback debacle in Green Bay last week. Good luck with that.

Cardinals (+3) over BEARS

Neither team can really be trusted, but the Cardinals are 3-0 on the road and 1-3 at home -- and they’re in Chicago this week.

Dolphins (+10.5) over PATRIOTS

Interesting matchup, especially with the Patriots just coming off a bye. This could be a high-scoring game, but I think the Dolphins keep it close.

SAINTS (-13) over Panthers

If the Panthers can design a game plan similar to last week’s with Jake Delhomme only having to throw 14 times (for 90 yards), they could be fine this week. Then again, that would require rushing for over six yards per carry against the Saints, which won’t happen.

SEAHAWKS (-10) over Lions

The Seahawks offensive line is really hurting right now, but that shouldn’t matter as much against the Lions, who have a hard time stopping anyone. Seattle should roll at home.

49ERS (-4.5) over Titans

The 49ers have lost three in a row and return home desperate for a win. The Titans, meanwhile, got their first win last week over the Jaguars and are feeling at least a little bit better with Vince Young behind center. But look for Young to struggle this week as the 49ers make him stay in the pocket and complete passes down the field, which he has had difficulty doing in previous years.

GIANTS (-4.5) over Chargers

The Chargers defense is terrible against the run, giving up 132.1 yards on the ground per game. The Giants offensive line should have no problem opening up plenty of holes for Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to run through.

EAGLES (-3) over Cowboys

Tony Romo has put together three solid games in a row, but none of them were necessarily in big or pressure-packed games. That changes this week, though, when the Cowboys travel to Philadelphia looking to take down the Eagles and take control of the NFC East on Sunday Night Football. Romo hasn’t exactly thrived under the weight of big games, and I expect him to again crack under the pressure, especially with the common occurrence of some turmoil in Dallas, this time by underachieving wide receiver Roy Williams, who is making his displeasure known for not getting the ball more.

Steelers (-3) over BRONCOS

The Broncos couldn’t move the ball very efficiently against the Ravens last week, and they won't have an easier time against a strong Steelers defense either.

Last week: 6-7
Season: 61-54-1

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pecherov taking advantage of playing time

When Kevin Love fractured his left hand in the preseason, it gave Oleksiy Pecherov the chance for something that he hasn't had since he's been in the NBA: consistent playing time. Love will probably return in another month or so -- the injury was to his non-shooting hand -- but Pecherov is fighting hard to show the Timberwolves that he can play.

Through five games, Pecherov's minutes have increased each game, from five minutes on the court in the season opener against the Nets to a whopping 34 minutes against the Celtics on Wednesday. Oddly enough, against the Celtics, one of the best defensive teams in basketball, Pecherov scored a career-high 24 points on 9-14 shooting. He knocked down a three-pointer, made all five of his free throws, snatched eight rebounds, and even had an assist, which is noteworthy because coming into this season, Pecherov had nine career assists -- and 27 turnovers.

Not surprisingly, he's happy to finally have the opportunity to show what he can do:

"Before this (season), I didn't have a chance to play a lot. . . . When you get in the game and play a lot, your confidence comes back. You're not rushing your shots. The game just comes to you. It's easy to play like this. When you play just five minutes or three minutes, you rush. You need time to take in the game."

While in Washington, Pecherov was never able to receive consistent playing time under head coach Eddie Jordan or interim coach Ed Tapscott. Even during a disappointing 2008-2009 season when the Wizards played horribly (finishing 19-63) and battled injury issues throughout the season, Pecherov still averaged under nine minutes per game. Even if the coaches didn't feel Pecherov deserved more minutes, it was odd to see Pecherov routinely sitting on the bench during such a down year. Then again, maybe Ernie Grunfeld had seen all he wanted to and knew Pecherov wouldn't be returning. Again, who knows for sure.

I'm not going to not make too big of a deal out of this. The season is young, and Pecherov is fortunate enough to be in a situation where he can play -- at least for now. But if he keeps shooting the ball well -- he's currently hitting 58.5 percent of his shots -- he should see many more minutes than he did with the Wizards.

A change of scenary can be beneficial, and so far that seems to be the case for Pecherov.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wizards lose to Heat; Miller injured

After starting out Wednesday night's game against the Miami Heat the exact opposite way they began the previous night against the Cavs -- getting behind early and playing horribly instead of jumping out to a huge lead -- the Wizards looked like they'd pull out a win this time even though they had trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half. But with the game tied at 89 and less than one minute to go, DeShawn Stevenson stepped to the free throw line with the chance to put the Wizards ahead -- and bricked two free throws. Stevenson was then punished for his misses when Dwyane Wade hit a 21-foot jumper right in his face that put the Heat up for good. Gilbert Arenas had a couple of chances to tie or get another bucket (described in more detail here by Michael Lee) but couldn't, and the Wizards fell 93-89.

For the second straight night, Arenas shot poorly from the field (7-18 on Tuesday, 9-27 last night) but did lead the Wizards with 32 points. In 37 minutes, he got to the free-throw line often -- a game-high 15 times -- and made 12 of them, but he hit only two of eight three-pointers, grabbed only one rebound, and had as many assists as turnovers (three). The next highest scorer for Washington was Brendan Haywood with 16 points, followed by Caron Butler with 13, Andray Blatche with 10, and Mike Miller with eight. Randy Foye chipped in six points.

Things haven't gone the Wizards' way the last two nights, and now they will lose Mike Miller for at least a week after he sprained his left shoulder in the third quarter. Even though Miller hasn't looked for his offense much, he's been a welcome addition and a good all-around player, grabbing rebounds and moving the ball well on offense.

But Miller should eventually return and be just fine. However, there does appear to be another issue: the chemistry (or lack thereof) between Arenas and Butler. Michael Lee explains:

Until Miller and Jamison return, the Wizards face a more daunting task because Arenas and Butler don't appear to be on the same page offensively. Butler had 13 points and 10 rebounds but it was really a subpar performance that frustrated him and Arenas.

After the game, Butler said, "I know my role, it's just obviously you just adapting to the new situation and having guys back and just got to stay aggressive and always be aware, stay aggressive, don't get caught watching the show."

Arenas . . . said, "I mean, he has to shoot the open shot. You know, Caron's a rhythm player, so in the old system he had enough time to get into his 'mojo' and shoot those shots. In this system, you have to get a lot of catch and shoots, so the first initial shot he has he doesn't usually take it and then everything just closes up from there. He's just got to get used to catching and shooting."

Butler should adapt and, hopefully, start playing like the old Caron. But, whether it's the fact that he's only played in four games and appears uncomfortable in a new offense, is adjusting to the styles of some new teammates, or is still dealing with knee issues (or a combination of all three), Butler is averaging the fewest points per game (14.0) that he's scored while he's been with the Wizards. He's also taking fewer shots per game (13.3) and is shooting a lower percentage (39.6). It's also not helping that he has more turnovers (10) than assists (three).

The Wizards need Butler to step up his game, even more so now that Miller is out. It's worth noting that, right now, Blatche is second on the team in scoring with 16 points per game, followed by Butler, Haywood (12.0), Foye (11.6), and Miller (8.4).

The Wizards' next game is on Friday in Indiana against the Pacers (1-3).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bill Walton retires from broadcasting

According to Sports Business Daily, Bill Walton, who has been constantly battling back issues for years, is retiring from broadcasting:

Citing persistent back problems, Bill Walton has decided not to appear on ESPN’s NBA telecasts this year, ending a relationship that started in '02. The Basketball HOFer missed most of last season because of back pain. His deal with ESPN expires after this season. “As I return after a grueling multi-year, life-threatening, life-changing ordeal with back problems, it is time to dedicate the rest of my life to service,” Walton said in a statement released by ESPN. “It is great to be back in the game. Thanks everybody -- for everything.” ESPN Exec VP/Studio & Remote Production Norby Williamson: “Bill is a Hall of Fame talent, both as a player and broadcaster. NBA fans will miss his distinct personality. We appreciate all of his contributions to ESPN and share best wishes toward continued health and happiness.”

It truly is a sad day for the basketball broadcasting world -- but probably more so for the high levels of unintentional comedy that will be missed. However, let's end this on a happy note from Bill (talking about Kevin Love):

(HT: Awful Announcing)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Week 8 NFL picks

No game write-ups this week, but here are my Week 8 picks:

(Home team is in caps.)

Broncos (+3.5) over RAVENS

BEARS (-14) over Browns

Texans (-3.5) over BILLS

COLTS (-13.5) over 49ers

Dolphins (+3.5) over JETS

Rams (+4) over LIONS

COWBOYS (-10) over Seahawks

Giants (-1.5) over EAGLES

CHARGERS (-17) over Raiders

Jaguars (+3) over TITANS

Vikings (+3) over PACKERS

CARDINALS (-10) over Panthers

SAINTS (-11) over Falcons

Last week: 8-4-1
Season: 55-47-1

Enjoy the games.

Arenas and Blatche dominate as Wizards scorch Nets

After a rather mediocre performance (and a loss) on the road to the Hawks, the Wizards returned to Washington for their home opener against the New Jersey Nets. What followed was nothing less than an inspiring offensive assault: The Wizards scored 123 points and shot 61.5 percent from the field, including a staggering 64.3 percent (9-14) mark from three-point range.

Gilbert Arenas led the Wizards with 32 points, but Andray Blatche was right behind him, posting a career-high 30 points. On a night when just about everyone was shooting the ball efficiently, Arenas and Blatche were no different: Arenas put up those points on just 13 field goal attempts (9-13), including shooting 11-12 from the free-throw line, and Blatche knocked down an astounding 15 of 18 shots.

Randy Foye followed Blatche with 17 points, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson each had 10, and Mike Miller had nine.

So Arenas has looked more than solid so far, and Foye and Miller appear to be great pieces fitting in with their new teammates, but, to me, the story of the first three games has been the improved play of Andray Blatche. Yes, it's only been three games, but let's look at what Blatche has done: In each game, he's scored in double figures, shot at least 57 percent, and grabbed at least six rebounds. Of course he won't do that in every game, but Blatche looks like a completely different player. He looks comfortable on the floor, finally appears to be in shape, and is both knocking down open mid-range jumpers and scoring around the paint with an array of pivots and shot fakes. Blatche even has more assists than turnovers (still, just 4-3), which is at least worth noting considering he has more turnovers in his career (293) than assists (263).

Again, it's obviously too early to know if Blatche can keep this level of play going, but it is acceptable to look at his performance last night and wonder exactly how good he can be. According to, since 1986-1987 only 11 players have had games where they shot better than 83.0 percent on at least 18 field goal attempts while also recording six rebounds and two assists. Some of those players include Dominique Wilkins, Clyde Drexler, Carlos Boozer, Shaquille O'Neal, Rashard Lewis, Shawn Marion, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and Kevin McHale. That's certainly not a bad group of players to be associated with, although Willie Anderson and Loy Vaught also accomplished that feat within the same timeframe, so take that for what it's worth.

It'll be interesting to see how well Blatche plays when both Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison return to the Wizards' lineup. With the weapons the Wizards already seem to have, Blatche may just be the most intriguing piece.