Tuesday, February 6

A long time away

It's been a little while since I've had a chance to blog -- producing the new Bram Weinstein Show (www.BramShow.com) has taken up most of my blogging time.

Since my last post, this little football game was played. You might have heard of it -- the Super Bowl!

Anyway, now that Peyton Manning got his title (and Phil Mickelson won a major a couple years ago), it's time to focus more attention on A-Rod as the whipping boy poster child in pro sports.

More on that and the road to March Madness is coming.

In the meantime, listen to Bram Weinstein, Dave Preston, Anthony Moniello and myself on the Bram Weinstein Show weekedays from noon-1 p.m. on Triple X ESPN Radio in Washington, ESPN 950am in Richmond and 102.1fm THE GAME in Virginia Beach.

Sunday, January 21

My pathetic record

One piece of advice, when picking football games, going against my choices would be beneficial to your record!

Friday, January 19

Title game favorites: Brady and Brees

So I went 3-1 last weekend picking the conference semifinal games. No one's
perfect!

The one misstep I made was picking Baltimore at home to beat the visiting
Colts. If the Ravens offense didn't throw and fumble the game away, Charm City
would be hosting Sunday's AFC Championship Game. Instead the game is in
Indianapolis, where Peyton Manning and the Colts will face Tom Brady and the
three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, again.

This is the third playoff meeting between the two, with New England winning each of the previous contests. The playoff-tested Patriots are ready to go on the road for this one.

Nobody game plans for Manning better than Bill Belichick. No team gets more into Manning's head before and during a game than New England. At least that was the case in the first two playoff meetings between the two. The last two games between the Patriots and Colts (regular season games in 2005 and in week nine of this season), Manning has been a Patriots killer, racking up countless yards of offense, leading the Colts to 67 combined points. Remember, though, that was the regular season.

Brady and Belichick are 12-1 together in the postseason. Manning and Tony Dungy have been far less successful. but Indianapolis does have an ace in the hole.

If the game comes down to just a couple of points, Indianapolis finally has a
leg up in that department after the acquisition of New England's clutch kicker
Adam Vinatieri. But rookie Stephen Gostkowski, Vinatieri's replacement, is
6-for-6 in the playoffs and finished the regular season 12-of-14 on turf (the
RCA Dome's field surface).

Until proven otherwise in the postseason, I'll take Brady's Patriots over
Manning's Colts.

Pick: New England 27, Indianapolis 21



The NFC Championship Game is nearly as intriguing, though most consider the winner to be a long shot at best to win the Super Bowl.

This is the classic offense versus defense battle. Can New Orleans' high-octane offense score against the stingy Bears defense? If the Saints can move the ball and score points, can Rex Grossman exploit the Saints perceived weaker defense and lead Chicago to victory?

The Bears defense is highly rated but has been banged up. This is the wrong matchup for a bang-up defense. They have to find a way to limit the big-play ability the Saints have spread across the field. Deuce McAllister can pound it inside and is deceptively quick enough to bounce outside when needed. Reggie Bush is elusive, gets the ball in many ways and is a mismatch for every defense, including the Bears.

Once the ground game is established, Drew Brees has young, fast and explosive weapons at his disposal. The Bears, even if they are as healthy as they've been in a while (and if the weather plays a role in the game), have their hands full.

On the other side of the ball, the Saints defense is a perceived weakness, but when you are the counterpart to Brees, McAllister, Bush, Colston and the rest of the New Orleans offensive juggernaut, it is easy to be overlooked. In fact, New Orleans finished tops in the league in pass defense, which puts that much more pressure on Grossman to avoid mental mistakes -- the Saints force enough of those without a quarterback's help.

The Saints defensive deficiency is against the run, but the Colts were supposed to be weak against the run and they shut down Larry Johnson and limited the Ravens running game.

First and foremost, Chicago must get consistency from Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. If the tandem can churn out tough yards, the Saints will have to commit defensive backs to help. Once that happens, if that happens, Grossman will be able to use his rifle of an arm to throw over the New Orleans defense.

The whole country (outside of the Windy City) is pulling for the Saints dream season to continue. I think it will.

Pick: New Orleans 21, Chicago 17

Friday, January 12

Playoffs, we're talking about playoffs!

Just like everyone else, I think I am a football expert.

I watch an insane amount of football (college and pro) and follow high school (games and recruiting). I work in the business, have spent time at Redskins Park, have been to games in Baltimore and Pittsburgh this season and have an @redskins.com e-mail address. In realty, those credential don’t translate into picking winners (just ask Kevin Sheehan who had a miserable, sub-.500 record picking games this season on The John Riggins Show).

In the end, it still comes down to what happens on the field –who had the better game plans, who executed better, where’s the better talent, etc. That’s why picking games is so hard.

That said, the NFL is down to the final two weekends of games before the Super Bowl.

Who will win this weekend? Who knows?

Who do I think will win? Keep reading (I’m listing the spreads for information purposes, but I don’t pick with or against them).

NFC

Philadelphia (-5) at New Orleans (SATURDAY)

Does Jeff Garcia have enough magic to continue the Eagles drive to another NFC championship game or will the nation’s darlings, the New Orleans Saints, continue the dream, turnaround season with another win?

I’m sure the Saints have enough offense to win the game – Drew Brees and the rest of the offensive unit have been nothing short of spectacular this season (take away the dud they played against the Redskins. But I’m not sure if the New Orleans defense is good enough to win the NFC.

I do think, however, it is good enough to beat Philadelphia in the Superdome, which is going to be one awesome building Saturday night.

Pick: New Orleans 27, Philadelphia 14

Seattle (-8) at Chicago (SUNDAY)

The Bears have had the best record in the NFC all season yet have rarely been considered the best team in the conference.

First it was the Giants who started 6-2 before their free-fall to 8-8. Then it was the Tony Romo led Cowboys who fumbled a snap en route to a playoff exit. Then the Saints became the conference’s top team before losing to the Redskins.

Finally, the Bears would get their chance at the top but the defense has stumbled, and nobody (outside of maybe Lovie Smith) has confidence that Rex Grossman can lead Da Bears to the Super Bowl.

The defending NFC champs, if they play like they are capable, can go into Soldier Field and steal one if the Bears slumping defense doesn’t respond.

But it will. As will Devin Hester, who will probably change the game with his play on special teams.

Pick: Chicago 17, Seattle 14

AFC

Indianapolis (-4) at Baltimore (SATURDAY)

Playoff football is a simple game. One team throws a punch. Then the other team responds, if it can.

Not only do the Ravens let you know they’ll punch you in the mouth over and over again, they back it up on the field. The Colts might throw a counterpunch or two, but that’s it. That’s why they lose in the playoffs year after year to the Patriots and Steelers.

And this time it will be in Baltimore, the city the Colts abandoned in the middle of the night in March 1984.

That will only add fuel to the Ravens fans’ fire.

Jamal Lewis and the Ravens ground game will try to do what just about everyone did this season – run wild on the Colts.

Ray Lewis will lead the league’s top defense against Peyton “I’m great in the regular season but not in January” Manning. And the crowd will be instrumental in leading Baltimore over the Colts (how weird is that?).

Maybe they should put a stipulation on the game: the winner gets the name and history of the Colts!

Pick: Baltimore 24, Indianapolis 13

New England (-4) at San Diego (SUNDAY)

Tom Brady is 11-1 in the playoffs. Bill Belichick is nearly as impressive. Marty Schottenheimer is not. Enough said!

But there are reasons to think San Diego will win – LaDainian Tomlinson is one; Shawn “Lights Out” Merriman is the other. But there;’s something about New England in the postseason that makes it hard to go with the Chargers, even if the game is in Southern California.

Pick: New England 21, San Diego 17

Tuesday, January 9

College football is over for a few months

College football season is officially over. Not that we should have had any games past the first couple days of January, but that’s been dictated by money.

Speaking of money, that is exactly what’s changed the face of college football.

There was a time when the regular season determined the national champion – sometimes national champions – of college football. The bowl games were, and should still be, a reward for a great season. Now they’re either a reward for a mediocre season (that’s what happens when there are 32 bowl games) or an afterthought (as great as the Fiesta Bowl turned out to be, it was just a small appetizer to the title game).

Things need to change. No team should have a 51 day layoff (Ohio State) – that’s half a football season.

One of two things has to happen (I know, I know … nothing will change until at least 2010):
Go back to the old system and use bowls as rewards and determine the national champion when the teams are still fresh in our minds. Does Ohio State’s undefeated season go for naught? It shouldn’t.
Have a playoff (four, eight, 12 or 16 teams) start (and nearly end) in the same calendar year as the regular season.

Whatever happens, I thoroughly enjoyed the 2006 season and am already counting down until spring and summer practices before the fall rolls around once again.

Until then there’s the NFL postseason, college basketball and more.

Thursday, January 4

Some bowl thoughts before we get to the title game

Lloyd Carr no longer knows how to get his team ready for the biggest games of the season, the last two (Carr has lost three straight – five of six – to OSU and four consecutive bowls)…

If the Trojans played all season lon gthe way they did against Michigan in the Rose Bowl, they’d be 12-0 and preparing for the Buckeyes in national championship game.
On the flip side, if Michigan played during the regular season like the wounded Wolverines that showed up in Pasadena, Lloyd Carr’s crew would have probably finished 9-3 with a game in Florida (Outback Bowl or Capital One Bowl), not 11-1 with a trip to sunny Southern California for the Rose Bowl…

The Big Ten’s next two – Wisconsin and Penn State – worked hard to improve during the program’s six-week layoffs. The conference’s No. 2 team (Michigan) did not appear to make the same strides, no matter how hard the Wolverines might have worked in Ann Arbor and Southern California…

Boise State can play with the big boys. The Broncos’ exciting offense translated quite well from the blue turf of Idaho to the green field turf in Glendale, Ariz…

The “fast” SEC can’t handle the “big and strong” Big 10. That was the case for Tennessee (vs. Penn State) and league runner-up Arkansas (vs. Wisconsin). We have to wait and see what happens when the champs from these conferences face off in the BCS Championship game…

College football is more complicated than drop-back passing and power runs into the line of scrimmage. USC and Boise State both proved that on New Years Day…

Jamarcus Russell has an amazing arm…

I can’t decide who I think is more overrated: Brady Quinn, his coach or his team…

A team with a pulse and a passing game should beat Notre Dame…

Favorite water cooler stat from the BCS games: 87 schools have won bowl games since Notre Dame’s 24-21 win over Texas A&M in the 1994 Cotton Bowl, the Irish’s last bowl win (nine straight losses)…


The Big East wasn’t presented with true challenges to prove their worth: Louisville took care of Wake Forest, the top team in the subpar ACC and the lowest ranked team in a BCS bowl game, West Virginia outslugged Georgia Tech, No. 2 in the weak ACC and Rutgers, which was relegated to the lowly Texas Bowl, slammed Kansas State, from a down Big 12 Conference.

Friday, December 29

Bowl preview

The appetizer of games leading up to New Years Day and beyond are just about done.

The Pac-10 is 1-3 so far. The SEC lost its first game. And Rutgers was dominant in a game it shouldn't have been in -- it's a shame the Scarlet Knights great season was rewarded with a Dec. 28 trip to Houston for the Texas Bowl.

Finally, however, the games we've been waiting for are just about ready for kickoff.

For college football junkies like me, what is now B(C)S week, Jan. 1 through Jan. 8, is the perfect way to jump start the new year.

Outback Bowl (11 a.m.)
Penn State vs. Tennessee

This is a matchup of two teams who played extremely challenging schedules and won the games they were supposed to win and lost to teams ahead of them.

Penn State's only losses came against teams ranked ahead of the Nittany Lions -- Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State. Two of Tennessee's three losses were to Florida and LSU by a combined five points. The Volunteers also lost to SEC runner-up Arkansas.

Penn State is led by its defense. Linebackers Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor are two of the best at what they do. But they will be without the services of suspended defensive tackle Ed Johnson. With or without Johnson, the Nittany Lions were going to have their hands full with Tennessee's offense, which is led by quarterback Erik Ainge and wide receiver Robert Meachem (67 catches, 1,265 yards, 11 touchdowns).

Penn State must get Tony Hunt and the ground game going early in order to take the pressure off of quarterback Anthony Morelli.

Line: Tennessee -4 1/2
Prediction: Tennessee 21, Penn State 13

Cotton Bowl (11:30 a.m.)
Nebraska vs. Auburn

What a matchup this would have been in the 1980s. Nebraska is in the middle of a rebuilding process, Auburn is just reloading.

Line: Auburn -3
Prediction: Auburn 17, Nebraska 7

Gator Bowl (1 p.m.)
Georgia Tech vs. West Virginia

Is losing quarterback Reggie Ball a good thing for Georgia Tech? His inconsistent play has been the Yellow Jackets downfall all season. It's easy to tell Georgia Tech what to do -- get the ball to stud receiver Calvin Johnson as much as possible -- but it is another thing to execute.

West Virginia, on the other hand, is fast. Pat White and Steve Slaton may be the best quarterback-running back running duo in the nation. Did I mention the Mountaineers are fast?

Line: West Virginia -7
Prediction: West Virginia 28, Georgia Tech 14

Citrus Bowl (1 p.m.)
Wisconsin vs. Arkansas

This is the Badgers first chance since their Big 10 opening loss at Michigan to prove they are for real.

This game features two great young running backs -- Wisconsin's P.J. Hill and Arkansas' Darren McFadden.

The bigger, better defense wins this grinder of a game.

Line: Arkansas -2
Prediction: Wisconsin 21, Arkansas 17

Rose Bowl (5 p.m.)
Michigan vs. USC

This is the snubbed vs. the disappointed.

Michigan is the second-best team in the nation and should be playing in Glendale on Jan. 8 for the national championship. The Trojans would be in the title game if not for their season-ending loss at arch rival UCLA.

Don't let the 42 points surrendered to the Buckeyes fool you. The Michigan defense is for real, especially against prototypical pocket passers, which is exactly what USC's John David Booty is.

Yes, Booty has great talent around him, especially at the wide receiver position, but Michigan's veteran, balanced attack, led by workhorse running back Mike Hart, will be too much for USC's talented defense to handle.

Line: USC -1
Prediction: Michigan 27, USC 13

Fiesta Bowl (8 p.m.)
Boise State vs. Oklahoma

Too bad for the Broncos that Adrian Peterson is back and ready to run one final time as a Sooner. He is the best running back in the country, and if he had remained healthy, might have been the only true challenger to Troy Smith for the Heisman Trophy.

As for Boise State, they are the ultimate mystery.

Both teams have a lot of pressure to win. An Oklahoma win, especially a blowout, would help the BCS schools tell the "little guys" that they don't belong on the big stage. A Boise State win does the opposite. Don't underestimate the little guy with the flashy offense.

Line: Oklahoma - 7 1/2
Prediction: Oklahoma 21, Boise State 20

Orange Bowl (8 p.m., Jan. 2)
Louisville vs. Wake Forest

Does the dream season end with a win for Jim Grobe and the Demon Deacons? Probably not. Wake Forest hasn't face a team with as much offense as Louisville. A win for the Cardinals can legitimize their claim as a college football power.

Line: Louisville -10
Prediction: Louisville 24, Wake Forest 13

Sugar Bowl (8 p.m., Jan. 3)
LSU vs. Notre Dame

Did the Irish find a defense during their month of bowl preparation? Probably not. But has LSU found enough consistency on offense to outscore Brady Quinn and Notre Dame? Maybe.

Line: LSU -9 1/2
Prediction: LSU 35, Notre Dame 31

BCS Championship Game (8 p.m., Jan. 8)
Ohio State (-8) vs. Florida

I'll preview this next week. In the meantime, HAPPY NEW YEAR! Enjoy the bowls.