Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Has the Whole World Lost Its Head?

Wow. I go underground for a few days and all of a sudden the outside world loses its collective mind. Britney shaves her head. Scottie Pippen contemplates a return to the NBA. And the Chargers drop a deuce on the Lombardi Trophy. Needless to say, there's a lot to address. So let's get right to it.

First of all, I couldn't be more distraught about San Diego's decision to name Norv Turner as its new head coach. No, I'm not a Chargers' fan. In fact, I don't really have any strong feelings about them one way or the other. But they do have an immense amount of talent and, in the NFL's salary cap era, that's a rarity. And since a team like this doesn't come around too often, you just can't afford to waste an opportunity like the one San Diego is staring at.

Now, say what you will about Marty Schottenheimer (and I have), but at least he can say he led his teams to the playoffs. Turner has done that exactly ONCE in his nine seasons as a head coach. Why on earth would you entrust the most talented squad in professional football to this guy? On what grounds do you base this decision? And can someone please explain the NFL's fascination with coaching retreads to me?

Nothing Like a 58-82-1 Lifetime Record to Get the Locals Excited

In the last two weeks, we've witnessed two of the NFL's more talent-laden teams (San Diego and Dallas) dip into the recycle bin to fill their most important vacancies. And we're not talking about Chuck Noll and Tom Landry here. We're talking about Norv freaking Turner and Wade freaking Phillips. Between the two of them (14 full seasons), here are their head coaching credentials:

106-121-1 Regular Season Record

1-4 Postseason Record

And that's it. But, apparently, that was enough for both guys to get their third ride on the NFL head coaching carousel. What, were Rick Kotite and Joe Bugel not available? Nonetheless, I fully expect plenty of pro football "experts" to predict at least one of these guys will make a Super Bowl appearance in 2008. Just don't say I didn't warn you when both fall short thanks, in large part, to the fact they're both much better suited to coordinator positions.

On a related note, there's a famous scene in "When Harry Met Sally" where Harry explains that it's simply impossible to have great sex with certain people because they're cursed with dumb names. Harry uses the name "Shelden" as an example, but he might as well have used "Wade" or "Norv", because neither guy is going to take you where you want to go. Memo to NFL owners: If you're looking for a guy to take you to the top of the NFL mountain, you might want to roll the dice with a guy named Bill. Because when it comes to Super Bowls, Walsh, Parcells, Belichick and Cowher certainly knew how to lead their clubs to a satisfied and euphoric climax.

Sally Learns the Hard Truth About Wade and Norv

As for Scottie Pippen... yawn. This is even more of a non-event than Deion Sanders' ill-fated comeback with the Ravens a year ago. However, I do hope some desperate club gives him a shot. Because as a lifelong non-fan of Pippen, I'll be ecstatic to see the horrified look on his face when mediocre guys like Ricky Davis and Chucky Atkins are lighting him up. More than likely, though, this will end with a ten day contract and a hamstring pull. If you're really that starved for attention, Scottie, go perform your number one smash-hit, "Humpty Dance" on Dancing with the Stars.

"Dancing With the Stars" is Waiting for You, Scottie

Finally, I've just one thing to say about Ms. Spears: Which shaved body part was more disturbing?

Welcome back, world. I'll try not to you unattended for an extended period of time ever again.

Monday, February 19, 2007

New Columns Resume Wednesday

First of all, an apology for the extended break. Unforeseen circumstances dictated a longer-than-expected hiatus. My bad. On the plus side, I have not shaved my head, nor have I acquired any neck tattoos (that I know of), so I've got that going for me, which is nice.

Anyway, regular updates on the C.C.C. will resume Wednesday. Thanks for your patience and thanks for reading.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Coming Out of the Bigotry Closet

You have to hand it to Tim Hardaway. Honestly, I think it's great that he said what he said. Of course, the content of his diatribe is ridiculous. But it's potentially positive because it exposes the ridiculous line of thinking that, unfortunately, has been adopted by a huge portion of the population. Even better, it forces people to discuss a topic that's usually considered taboo. And, as far as I'm concerned, that's ALWAYS a good thing.

On the court, huge re-match between the Rockets and Mavs tonight. This time, Houston gets Dallas at the Toyota Center, so it should be a much more competitive game than last week's laugher. That said, the Mavs are just too good right now and much too athletic for a still short-handed Rockets' squad. Dallas wins a squeaker, 101-99.

One other rant before I go: I'd like to hear from the people who don't think Steve Nash isn't the MVP because he plays with an All-Star team. Oh really??? How good do they look without him now?

I know this argument is played out, but I get so tired of people knocking Nash because of his *Great* supporting cast. Look, I love Shawn Marion, but don't people notice how he transforms from great to merely good (or average) when Nash isn't around? Yet, I'm sure when Phoenix gets healthy and goes on another big roll I'll have to listen to haters saying Nash is just benefiting from his cast of All-Star teammates. Just please do me a favor and keep reminding those knuckleheads that it's the other way around.

Have to get that off my chest once a year.

New NBA column coming tomorrow.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Mock Draft Version 2.0 (AKA The Brady Bust)

Brady, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Amaechi

Now that professional football's most irrelevant event (also known as the Pro Bowl, although I'm willing to listen to arguments claiming the Super Bowl tops the list) has come and gone, we can finally focus all of our attention on the NFL draft. We're already seeing some wild fluctuation in player value (hello, Brady Quinn) and with the combine just around the corner, expect much more to change in the days and weeks to come. So with the usual caveats, let's delve into the mock draft mire once again as we release Version 2.0.

x -- still to be determined by coin flip
+ -- underclassman

1. Oakland Raiders (2-14)

+ JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU

Russell remains the pick at number one. There have been whispers that Oakland could play the best available card and choose Calvin Johnson instead. But at the end of the day, I'm convinced the Raiders will make Russell a very rich man. He possesses the highest upside of any quarterback in this draft and we all know how much the Raiders love big-armed QBs. The question remains; will Oakland ruin Russell's career before it even begins?

2. Detroit Lions (3-13)
Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin

My, how things have changed for Brady Quinn. Rewind to the final week of the NFL's regular season. Pundits were wondering whether the Lions should tank their final game to ensure the number one spot and a chance to select Notre Dame's signal-caller. Then Quinn and the Irish get pounded by Russell's Tigers and now scouts are calling Brady one of the draft's most overrated prospects (and since I can't pass on a chance to pat myself on the back, let me add that I've been saying the same thing for months now). Anyway, now it looks like Quinn could be poised for a free fall ala Aaron Rodgers circa 2005. Don't believe me? Check out the teams following Detroit? Who's going to take a sliding QB prospect if the Lions don't? This could be the story of the draft. At any rate, the Lions go the safe (and smart) route, selecting Joe Thomas to anchor their O-Line for the next decade.

3. x-Cleveland Browns (4-12)
+ Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma

I fully expect Peterson to leave scouts salivating at the combine. I don't care if he performs or waits until OU's pro day, one look at his chiseled physique will elicit enough man crushes to fill a Harlequin romance novel penned by John Amaechi. Okay, that was a cheap shot (and about a week late). My bad.

4. x-Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)
+ Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech

If Johnson fall to the Bucs at four, Jon Gruden (and Chris Simms) should throw an epic pirate party. Grog and galleons for everyone!

Chucky's Ready for a Pirate Party!

5. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
Alan Branch, DT, Michigan

The Cards are desperate for a pass rush so this pick comes down to whether they want to generate pressure from the inside or outside. Branch, Gaines Adams and Jamaal Anderson are all in play here.

6. Washington Redskins (5-11)
+ Gaines Adams, DE, Georgia

'Skins need help getting to the quarterback, too, so Adams should fit the bill quite nicely.

7. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)
LaRon Landry, S, LSU

High for a safety, but Landry is as good as it gets and he fills a major need for the Vikes.

8. Houston Texans (6-10)
Amobi Okoye, DT, Louisville

You know what? I can live with this pick. Look, I hate picking a D-linemen four year in a row, too. But getting a 19 year old Tommie Harris sounds pretty good to me. And considering the Texans' infatuation with high character guys, you have to figure they'll fall in love with Okoye. Yes, they're desperate for playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, but unless they trade back (a definite possibility), it's just not going to happen in the first round.

The Man to Lead Us to 8-8

9. Miami Dolphins (6-10)
+ Jamaal Anderson, DE, Arkansas

With Jason Taylor flirting with retirement (he won't) and the rest of the Dolphins' D filing for AARP, it's time for an injection of youth.

10. Atlanta (7-9)
+ Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Ohio State

Considering Bobby Petrino's offensive background, you'd have to think he'd sell his soul to field an offense featuring the speed of Ginn, Vick and Norwood. Wow. I'm not a Falcon (or Vick) fan, but even I'd LOVE to see that.

11. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)
+ Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC

Yes, the 'Niners need big-time help on defense. And Adam Carricker would be awfully tough to pass up here. But I say San Fran learns from the Texans' mistake. They saw Houston neglect David Carr's supporting cast and they know what happened. So here you go, Alex Smith. You've got Jarret, you've got Frank Gore and you've got Vernon Davis. Go to work.

12. Buffalo Bills (7-9)
Adam Carriker, DE, Nebraska

If the Bills want to reach to fill a need, they can take Levi Brown. Remember, they did plenty of reaching last year. But I think Carricker is just too good to pass up.

13. St. Louis Rams (8-8)
+ Charles Johnson, DE, Georgia

Johnson and Leonard Little would be a wrecking crew on the Rams' artificial turf.

14. Carolina Panthers (8-8)

Levi Brown, OT, Penn State

A boring (but solid) pick that fills a need. Carolina's offensive line was a joke last year.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
+ Jarvis Moss, DE/OLB, Florida

To anyone who questions whether this is the right pick, I ask only that you go back and watch the tape of the national championship game. That's all.

16. Green Bay Packers (8-8)
+ Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal

This pick is the equivalent of every ESPN expert predicting New Orleans to beat Chicago in the Super Bowl. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has had Lynch to the Packers from day one. It's just too obvious, isn't it?

17. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)
Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame

No, I didn't forget about him. This is where the free-fall stops. I know it seems unlikely now, but this guy is getting ripped to shreds. Of course, the tide could turn again if he falls into the "so blasted for being overrated that he's underrated" category. To be sure, there are teams with QB needs after Detroit. Heck, he could go to the Browns at number three. But he could just as easily slide to the Chiefs at twenty three. As for the Jags, Jack Del Rio has pissed off both Byron Leftwich and David Garrard, so he needs someone to quarterback his team.

18. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)
Leon Hall, CB, Michigan

Deltha O'neal and Tory James were exposed as frauds this year, so it's time to bring in some help (preferably, of the non-criminal variety).

19. Tennessee Titans (8-8)
+ Sidney Rice, WR, South Carolina

Seems pretty apparent that this pick is a wide receiver. Rice, Jarrett (if he slips) and Robert Meachem would all be perfectly happy to hitch a ride on VY's coattails.

20. New York Giants (8-8)

+ Darrell Revis, CB, Pittsburgh

The Giants' secondary is a mess and it's time to retool. Revis would be a solid start and don't be surprised if he surpasses Hall as the number one CB on the board come draft day.

21. Denver Broncos (9-7)
+ Reggie Nelson, S, Florida

Still think the Cowboys are dying to get their hands on Nelson, so I still think a trade is exceedingly possible here.

22. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State

If they can't nab Nelson, however, Posluszny would look good with a star on his helmet (if such a thing is actually possible). His draft stock will likely be determined by the status of his surgically repaired knee.

23. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)
Deymeion Hughes, CB, Cal

K.C. is primed for a major fall. Look at their roster. They are old and slow. Pretty much every position but RB and TE is in play here.

24. New England Patriots (from Seattle)
Patrick Willis, ILB, Ole Miss

Best LB in the draft. A pure, instinctive football player who would be a great addition to the Pats, especially with Bruschi and Vrabel aging.

25. New York Jets (10-6)
Aaron Ross, CB, Texas

Gotta figure Mangini is perfectly happy to continue re-tooling his defense.

26. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
+ Lawrence Timmons, OLB, Florida State

Timmons is almost the anti-Willis. He's an athletic freak, but is he a football player? Wouldn't be surprised to see him move up 5 or 6 spots after he lights up the combine.

27. New Orleans Saints (10-6)
+ Robert Meachem, WR, Tennessee

I know the Saints' offense is loaded, but do you really think Mini-Martz will resist the urge to add yet another game-breaking weapon to his offense? Remember, Joe Horn is pretty much done.

28. New England Patriots (12-4)
LaMarr Woodley, DE/OLB, Michigan

I know it seems like WR is the way to go here, but after taking Chad Jackson last year and seeing Tom Brady turn Jabar Gaffney into Marvin Harrison, I seriously doubt the Patriots feel a burning need to spend another first round pick on a wideout.

29. Baltimore Ravens (13-3)
Dwayne Bowe, WR, LSU

With Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, the Ravens can use some size at the WR position. Bowe certainly brings that.

30. San Diego Chargers (14-2)
+ Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Ohio State

Man, the Chargers would be bummed to see both Bowe and Meachem gone. But Gonzalez isn't a bad consolation prize. His key (like pretty much every other WR) will be what he runs in the 40. And by the way, for those wondering about my thoughts on the Schottenheimer firing: Yes, I think the Chargers will be just fine and probably better off come postseason play. It's a shame they didn't make this move sooner, but bring in a Ron Rivera or, my personal favorite, Mike Singletary and I think San Diego will be right back in the Super Bowl mix. Disregard everything, however, if Norv Turner is the pick.

31. Chicago Bears (13-3)
Arron Sears, OG, Tennessee

Hard to see something appetizing for Chicago here (besides a new quarterback, of course). So I think they'll keep building where it counts: in the trenches.

32. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
Anthony Spencer, DE/OLB, Purdue

Another Indianapolis 'tweener. Hey, it worked for them this year, didn't it?

Friday, February 9, 2007

My Favorite Reader

What Was I Thinking Hiring Wade Phillips? Quick, Jason, Tell Me What to do Next!
  • I'm thrilled (and somewhat shocked) to already have some loyal readers of the Clutch City Chronicles. And while I cherish each and every one, I have to send a special shout-out to the guy who seems to hang on my every word. Jerry Jones, you are the Man! First, you take my advice and shock everyone by interviewing future coaching phenom, Mike Singletary. Then, you respond to my request in this open letter by giving me (and every other smart Texans' fan) exactly what I wanted. Cat Face, you rock my world. I know you've grown accustomed to 9-7 seasons and first round exits, but I promise you, this is going to be the best of the bunch. All I ask for in return is a Christmas card featuring Wade's dumbstruck face after one of your (many) upcoming kick-in-the-groin style losses. I'm already saving a special place on my mantle for when it arrives.
  • One other football note: Check out these stats courtesy of ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli. It pretty much sums up the topsy-turvy post-season we just witnessed:
In 16 regular-season games, Indianapolis, which featured the NFL's worst defense versus the run, was outrushed by an average of 62.9 yards per game. The Colts then outrushed opponents by 68.3 yards per outing in their four postseason wins, a turnaround of 131.2 yards. By the way, the Colts' average of 238.5 yards of total offense surrendered per game in the playoffs would have ranked No. 1 in the NFL in the regular season.

  • Finally, HUGE game in the NBA tonight, featuring two of the top four teams in my title contender power rankings. I'm talking Rockets-Mavs. True, Houston is a big underdog considering they're on the road and still Yao-less. But the Rockets' chemistry right now is as good as its been in more than a decade. As an added bonus, we get to see the top two (in my opinion) coach of the year candidates match wits as well. This is going to be fun. My fearless prediction: Dallas 102 - Houston 95
Have a great weekend, everyone. I'll be back next week with more a new and improved NFL mock draft as well as a column discussing whether or not some NBA players just don't have what it takes to win the big one.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Breaking News: The NBA Still Exists!

I have a confession to make: I'm not a fan of the Houston Rockets. Yes, I was born and raised in H-Town and, yes, after a thirteen year exile, Houston is my home once again. But the truth is, I haven't been a Rockets' fanatic for about a decade. After growing up living and dying with the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe, Mario Elie, Kenny Smith, Lewis Lloyd, Mitchell Wiggins and all the rest, I'm now an NBA orphan. Hey, it happens. I'm not saying I'm happy about it, because I'm not. Some of my favorite moments as a sports fan occurred while watching the Rockets' storybook run to consecutive titles in '94 and (especially) '95.

Ah, The Good Old Days.

So why am I telling you this? Because it's important for me to set the record straight in this, my first NBA column. If I write something positive about the Rockets, I don't want it to come off as the ramblings of some hometown hack. Just know that when it comes to basketball (and baseball, for that matter), I'm about as unbiased an observer as you're likely to find.

So now that that's out of the way, let's emerge from our NFL-induced coma and quickly catch-up on the NBA season. If you haven't been paying attention, there are really only two things you need to know:

1. Dallas and Phoenix are far and away the class of the league. The distance between them and the rest of the pack is about the same as Rex Grossman's proximity to being a competent quarterback (sorry, I'm having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that the NFL season is actually over).

2. Allen Iverson finally forced his way out of Philly and now stars in the NBA's most potentially explosive experiment since David Stern banished black players from the league. Oh wait, that hasn't happened yet. But mark my words, it's coming. The Commish is on a mission.

Kanye Knows. David Stern Hates Black People.

That's it. That's really all you've missed. So since we just passed the halfway point of the season, this seems like the perfect time to rank the TRUE contenders to the crown. I'm not talking about teams that have a shot at making the Finals. I'm only discussing the teams that have a legitimate chance to win it all. Let's begin with the no-brainers.

1. Dallas Mavericks (39-9)

Why do the Mavs get the top spot over Phoenix? First of all, I'm still having a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that they're NOT the defending champions. And while some see their choke job against Miami as a negative, I think it might actually play in their favor come June. The fact is, they're hungry and there's just no way Avery Johnson is going to allow that stumble to permanently impede his club from achieving its goal.

Also, I love the Mavs' depth and versatility (in stark contrast to the Suns). This is a team that can run, but it's just as comfortable in the half-court. And Dallas plays defense. I'm sorry, I know Phoenix is an improved defensive team, but you still can't convince me they're dramatically improved from their matador days of recent years gone by.

2. Phoenix Suns (39-10)

Now that I've sent a few salvos in the direction of Phoenix, it's time for confession number two: I really want the Suns to win it all. I mean, how can you not love this team? They're just so much fun to watch. It's like seeing the '99 Rams for the first time. They just play a style of ball that's so unique, so refreshing and so pleasing to eyes. Can they win it all? Absolutely. Amare Stoudemire seems to get more explosive by the day and Leandro Barbosa would probably be an All-Star is he were on another team. However, for the reasons stated above, I give the slightest of edges to Dallas. But don't you think it'd be great for the league to have a run-and-gun team like Phoenix take home the title?

3. San Antonio Spurs (32-16)

I know I'm going by the book so far, but just bear with me. Fact is, I picked the Spurs to take home the O'Brien trophy before the year began. Obviously, I'm not feeling too great about that prediction right now. But... this team is still capable of getting it together in time to make a serious run at another championship. I mean, look at what the Colts just accomplished. Sometimes dull superstar player, great coach and solid supporting cast combine to produce a disappointing regular season that seemed to indicate their window might be closing and then, voila! They found the magic formula just in time. Do I think it's going to happen in San Antonio? No. In a league that continues to shift toward emphasizing speed, quickness and creativity, the Spurs appear to be a dinosaur whose time has passed. But by no means should they be counted out.

4. Houston Rockets (31-17)

See? This is why I had to preface this post. Because I know some of you would immediately label me about as credible as our favorite astronaut. But here's the thing: This team is for real. Before the season began, I went on the record and said the Rockets would finish the season as a top 6 team (in the NBA, not just the Western Conference). Funny thing is, I figured that would be because Yao and T-Mac would finally play a whole season together. Well, it obviously hasn't worked out that way. Yao has already missed 21 games and doesn't figure to return until late March. McGrady has been on the shelf 8 times and role players like Kirk Snynder, Bonzi Wells and Chuck Hayes have battled injuries, too.

Yet the Rockets are not merely treading water, they are surging. They lead the league in defensive efficiency. They're getting implausible contributions from AARP members, Juwan Howard and Dikembe Mutombo. T-Mac has been playing like it's 2004 ever since his visit to the Waco witch doctor, and Shane Battier is, quite simply, the ultimate glue guy. Throw in coach of the year candidate, Smeagol Van Gundy, and you've got a team on the cusp of greatness.

JVG, You Should Really Get Out More

Of course, all of this will be rendered null and void if Tracy and Yao can't stay upright. And, yes, there's that small matter of McGrady having never advanced past the first round of the playoffs. But the Rockets have Space City ready for lift-off. Let's just hope they don't end up in diapers, armed with nothing but a BB gun and pepper spray.

Allegedly Went Off Deep End After Hearing Yao Was Out Until April

5. Miami Heat (23-25)

I know, I know. How on earth can I put them in the five slot, much less label them a TRUE title contender? For the love of God, they're barely clinging to the 8th and final playoff spot in the Bog of Eternal Stench better known as the Eastern Conference! What can I say, I just have this much respect for Dwyane Wade. Heck, I'd consider voting him MVP of the league if the season ended today. I know that's heresy considering the body of work produced by Nash, Kobe and Dirk, but Wade has singlehandedly prevented the Heat from entering Oden-Durant territory. I think when everything is said and done, Miami is going to get a chance to defend its title. And after seeing what Wade accomplished in the Finals last year, would you really want to bet against him in a seven game series this June? Didn't think so.

And that, my friends, is it. Those are the only five teams I can see winning it all. I was tempted to throw Detroit in the mix at number six, but I just can't take the Pistons seriously. Yes, their starting five is as good as anyone's, but that was the case last year, too. I just don't think this year's club is better, I don't think they trust (or respect) Flip Saunders and I don't think Chris Webber will be a true difference-maker when the Pistons finally face elite postseason competition (be it in the Eastern Conference or NBA Finals). Yes, he's a great passer who can still contribute offensively, but he can't do anything on defense (what with his one leg and all) and he's not exactly known for stepping up in crunch time.

Look at it this way: A few weeks ago, I said I expected the Bears to go to the Super Bowl (this was at the NFL's final four stage), but that they had no chance to actually win it all (on account of Rex being prominently involved). Well, it's the same deal here with Detroit. They're the favorites to represent the Least, so any team that appears in the Finals has to have a shot, right? Not in my world, they don't. Sorry, Detroit. It's just not going to happen. By the way, my goal is to have every sports fan in the Great Lakes area hating me by the year's end. Trust me, I'm off to a great start.

Sorry, Detroit. You're in the Same Boat as This Guy

Other teams to which I have to apologize: the Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets and Bulls. Los Angeles is the most intriguing of the group because of the Kobe factor, but I think they're still a year away. Are they capable of pulling off an upset or two come playoff time? Absolutely. But Kobe is still learning how to rely on his teammates and Andrew Bynum is not quite ready for primetime. I have to admit, though, Phil Jackson and Co. have put this thing together much quicker than anyone expected.

As for Utah, the record is nice and I like what they're building. Jerry Sloan definitely deserves COY consideration. But do you really think they could take out any of the top 4 in a playoff series? Me neither.

Chicago: Too young, even if they trade for Pau Gasol. And make no mistake about it, as talented as this team is, they desperately need an inside presence on the offensive end before they can become serious title contenders.

And finally, Denver. Can't wait to see this team scare the bejeezus out of somebody in the first round. But chemistry counts in this league and there's just no way the Nuggets will have enough of it by the time the playoffs roll around. Really too bad they don't play in the East. Of course, pretty much every Western Conference team outside of Phoenix and Dallas is muttering that same sentiment to themselves right now.

As for the rest of the league, sit back and enjoy watching what should be the greatest Western Conference playoffs of all time. And if your team won't be making a postseason appearance, do yourself a favor and catch every game featuring Kevin Durant. Yes, he's that special.

Monday, February 5, 2007

The True MVP and Other Super Bowl Thoughts

Goodbye, Mr. Peepee. We'll Miss You

I feel stupid. No, not because I actually allowed the words "spectacular" and "Grossman" to find themselves in the same sentence last week. And not because I predicted a close and competitive game. Actually, I'm upset because of something I neglected to point out. In last week's Super Bowl preview, I listed three irrefutable truths and three X-factors. All of them were valid and right on the mark, but not one mentioned the single most important aspect of the game. However, I take solace in the fact I'm not the only misguided soul. Because it was (and continues to be) ignored by just about every national analyst due to the fact they're too busy breathlessly revising Peyton's place in the NFL history.

Look, I'm not here to rain on Manning's parade. Yes, his playoff numbers look eerily reminiscent of postseasons past (3 TDs, 7 picks... yikes!), but the only thing that matters is he finally delivered Ws in January and February. I'm even fine with him winning the MVP trophy. But you know what? The voters got it wrong.

Check out these numbers:

21 carries, 113 yds, 1 TD

19 carries, 77 yds, 10 receptions, 66 yds

If either RB X or RB Y were named Reggie Bush or LaDainian Tomlinson, don't you think they would have been handed the keys to the Cadillac instead of Manning? Of course, you know the mystery runners are Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai and that both walked away empty-handed. But that's okay, too. Because, as good as they were, they weren't the game's MVP either.

No, the Super Bowl MVP, or, more appropriately, MVPs, were the members of the Indianapolis offensive line. They were the ones opening massive holes for Rhodes and Addai to run through. They were the ones responsible for keeping Peyton upright in the pocket (just one sack allowed and that was arguably Peyton's fault for holding on to the ball too long), allowing Manning plenty of time to pick apart the Bears' defense. And this wasn't just a one-game fluke either. Three weeks ago, against a much more aggressive unit, Indy's undersized offensive line surrendered just one measly sack to Baltimore's top-ranked defense.

Where the Game Was Won

Hey, I'm not demanding a recount here. I recognize Peyton's part in reading defenses and quickly getting rid of the ball. But this Super Bowl (like pretty much every football game ever played in the history of man) was won in the trenches. And, for that, a ton of credit should be bestowed upon a Colts' O-Line that physically manhandled the Chicago front four. Sure, the game's grunt-men are always overlooked, especially when a player like Peyton is involved. But I should have seen this coming. And because of that glaring oversight, I'm feeling pretty sheepish today.

Now after heaping praise upon Indy's blockers, it should be noted that the Bears did not exactly go out of their way to apply a copious amount of pressure on Peyton. And while we'll never know what a blitz-happy scheme would have reaped, Chicago's strategy did seem to ignore the lessons of history. When New England and Pittsburgh unceremoniously dispatched the Colts in years past, the recipe called for a heavy dose of pressure in order to knock Manning out of his comfort zone, so it's hard to fathom why the Bears chose to go an alternative route. Yes, I understand Chicago usually relies on getting pressure from its front four and, yes, I realize the loss of Tommie Harris severely hindered their ability to do so. Still, I think it's a death wish to let Peyton comfortably pick your team apart. But hey, considering Chicago's leaky secondary, perhaps the game would have been even more lopsided had the Bears decided to bring the house with regularity.

Finally, I'd like to extend a personal invitation to all of my Chicago brothers and sisters out there. You see, botched snaps, erratic play, horrible decisions and atrocious mechanics from a starting quarterback is nothing new to H-town residents. So hop on the earliest flight to Houston and join us this Friday for our weekly "Why in God's name did he do that?!?" intervention.

Are You Bringing Sexy Back, Chicago?

During this two hour meeting, we'll discuss the merits of practicing patience versus cutting the cord, as well as offer insight into the age-old question, "He's got all the physical tools and seems like a nice enough guy, so why on earth do I end up feeling like Hannibal Lecter every time I watch him play???". Admission is free as are packets of valium and pepto bismol. And if you decide that you just can't bear the thought of bringing Sexy back, we'll be more than happy to send you home with a brand spanking new QB (just brimming with untapped potential!), all for the low, low price of a 2007 4th round draft choice. I dare you to find a better deal anywhere.

Or Do You Want a Piece of This Action?

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Requiem for a Football Season

Allow me to let you in on a little secret. The "real" NFL season came to a close about two weeks ago. No, I'm not directing a cheap shot at the inferior NFC's presence in this year's Super Bowl. Here's what I mean: Professional football (as we know it for twenty consecutive weeks) ends every year the second the clock shows 00:00 at the conclusion of conference championship weekend. Everything after that is only about the hype, the show and second-guessing.

Think about it. ESPN becomes borderline unwatchable (if you even half-way agree with that statement, please do yourself a favor and check out this link. Sheer genius and right on the money). The bye week is about as interminable as a Bill Walton rant (See? I told you we'd start talking NBA! By the way, basketball stories next week, I promise). And don't even get me started on the lunacy of having an extra-long halftime during the MOST IMPORTANT GAME OF THE SEASON just so we can watch Prince strut around on his artificial hip for 10 minutes. Add it all up and it's no wonder we're often treated to a contest that delivers as much drama as a preseason game in mid-August. It's like watching a movie that features Scarlett Johansson in every scene until the thrilling climax, when she's inexplicably replaced by Paris Hilton.

Come On, NFL. Why Replace this...

With This???

Look, I know I'm coming across like Statler and Waldorf (the two crotchety old men who sat in the balcony during the Muppet Show) right now. I promise I'm not trying to rain on your parade if you're a Bears or Colts fan. Heck, I'm sure when the Texans make the Super Bowl in 2050 I'll be peeing in my Depends with delight, especially when the 90 year old members of U2 get on stage and rock the halftime show from their wheelchairs. I'd just like the NFL's biggest game to, you know, be about football. And Scarlett Johansson. She can stay too.

So... speaking of football, we've got a game to dissect. If you were paying attention, you'll notice I mentioned something about second-guessing in the first paragraph. I have to admit, that extra week gets me every time. No, I'm not backing off the Colts. But as time goes by, I'm finding myself about as nervous as a Nebraska wrestler.

Here's why: When you break this game down to its core, you discover three irrefutable truths and two x-factors. They are as follows:

Irrefutable Truths

The Bears have the best defense. This one goes in the "no, duh" category, despite the fact Chicago's D is nowhere near as dominant as it was in the first half of the season.

2. The Colts possess the best offense. Also a no-brainer. Although, let's dispel the myth of Chicago's inept offense right now. The Bears and Colts BOTH averaged 26.7 point per game during the regular season, good enough for 2nd in the NFL. Still, Indy gets the nod here because of their obvious advantage at QB and the fact that the Bears offense was often the beneficiary of great field position thanks to their defense and superior...

3. ... Special Teams. Sure, there's no one else you'd want more than Adam Vinatieri when the game's on the line and you need a field goal to win it. But Devin Hester scores touchdowns and flips field position, even when he doesn't touch the ball. Making matters worse for Indianapolis is the Colts' leaky kick-off coverage unit. I'm guessing Russ Purnell (Indy's special teams coach) needs an entire bottle of Ambien to get to sleep these days.


Rex Grossman. There's nothing new to be said here. I mean, has there ever been a bigger X-Factor in sports history than this guy? They should just make it his nickname, introduce him to Charles Xavier and get it over with.

I'd Like to Have a Word with You, Rex

2. Colts' Defense. Who are these guys? The group that gave up 375 yards on the ground to Jacksonville and then followed that up by getting gashed by Ron freaking Dayne and the Texans two weeks later? Or the unit that performed admirably once the postseason got underway? There's just no way of knowing. I'm guessing we'll see something in between the two this Sunday.

Bonus X-Factor

That's right, in honor of the NFL's tribute to "X"-cess, I give you one final X-Factor: None other than the star of this blog so far (besides Gollum, that is), Mr. Peepee (Playoff Peyton)! Let's not forget, Manning hasn't exactly set the world on fire this January. Yes, he's done enough to win, but he's also averaged two picks per contest. And when you read articles like this, you're reminded why you never feel safe backing the Colts in big games.

Which Peepee Will We See?

So what does my crystal ball reveal? A low-scoring, tight first half. Devin Hester busting loose for a punt return touchdown. The Colts' receivers finding more openings as the third quarter bleeds into the fourth. A late thundershower allowing Phil Simm and the CBS crew to re-open Tony Romo's wounds by discussing his fateful gaffe. And both shaky and spectacular play from Manning and Grossman. You know where I'm headed. We've seen this story before. The clock winds down, Adam Vinatieri steps up and the Colts escape with a 22-20 victory. That's right. Five more field goals and a Super Bowl MVP trophy for Mr. Clutch.

What, you thought I'd give it to Peepee?