Sunday, September 16, 2007

NFL Week 2: Sacks, spies and videotapes

With the specter of Videogate hanging over their heads, Bill Belichick and the Pats must focus on knocking off the bloodthirsty Chargers

We enter the second week of the 2007 season with the New England Patriots occupying a familiar place on the NLF landscape: the most despised team in the league.

But this season, something's different, and I'm not just talking about the revamped receiving corps and the addition of all-everything defender Adalius Thomas.

No, this year in addition to putting together one of the best teams on paper since the Dunder Mifflin crew, the Pats, and coach Hoodie Belichick specifically, have been saddled with the worst label in all of professional sports--cheaters.

When a Patriots assistant coach was busted in the opener for videotaping defensive signals being used on the New York Jets sideline last week at the Meadowlands, the repercussions sent shockwaves rippling throughout the league and further polarized its fanbase.

Jets coach and Sopranos co-star Eric Mangini, a former Belichick assistant who dared leave the Pats fold for the dark side of the Jets before last season, apparently had inside knowledge of the Patriot's cheating ways, but he waited until the fourth meeting with his former team to expose his longtime mentor and his habit of trying to gain a competitive advantage over his opponent at all costs.

The fallout has been a shitstorm of biblical proportions heaped upon the franchise that had become the model for contemporary NFL supremacy, and especially the coach who had always rubbed people the wrong way with his surly demeanor, cryptic quotes, and hideously ugly choice of sideline garb.

After a meeting with Commissioner Roger The Hammer Goodell Belichick was slapped with a fine of $500, 000 bucks, the organization was hit with a $250K tariff and also must suffer the painful loss of a first-round draft pick next April if New England should happen to make the playoffs this year.

Which is like saying Lindsay Lohan must go back to rehab if she ever drinks again.

But the monetary admonishment and loss of a valuable draft pick pales in comparison to the public relations hit the team has taken since the news broke that New England has resorted to such bush-league tactics for much of the dynasty years. Universal respect for what the team has accomplished has turned into an "I knew they were up to something" avalanche, with players, coaches and analysts coming up with instances of examples where the Pats players on the field seemed to know too much about what the plays their opponent was trying to run.

So where do we go from here? The Patriots were already despised by many for beating up on the league for the past six seasons, for stockpiling talent the way Angelina Jolie stockpiles adopted children, and for becoming the standard bearer for the perfect franchise from the ownership to the front office to the coaching staff to the players.

Now they've got a quarterback who had a baby out of wedlock and is getting ready to tie the knot with Leo DiCaprio's leftovers; a wide receiver who was one of the most talented-yet-despised players in the league just a year ago until he found football God and decided to clean up his act for the good of the jewelry; and a coach who has proven that just having the best team and smartest coaches doesn't mean you can't resort to the ancient art of gaining a competitive advantage over your opponent by any means necessary.

My analysis? Patriots overcome the newfound adversity and ride the fuel of widespread hatred all the way to title #4.


1.) San Diego (1-0) at New England (1-0) SNF 8P NBC
Oh you think this one won't be a doozy? The two teams that slugged it out in last year's AFC Wild Card game, resulting in a late Patriots win and subsequent crying by many of the Chargers players including league MVP LaDanian Tomlinson, will meet again under the lights at Gillette for a must-see showdown tinged with revenge and redemption.

Tomlinson and other Chargers have been very vocal about the role of Videogate in that playoff victory last January, and you know he, Steroid Merriman and Phillip Rivers, who was horrible towards the end of that contest, want to exact a small measure of revenge by taking New England down in their own crib on national TV.

Too bad it ain't gonna happen. Brady and Randy Moss proved they are already on their game despite no preseason time together, and the defense, though smarting from the HGH-induced suspension of Rodney Harrison, will be up to the challenge of stopping Tomlinson and forcing Rivers into more foolhardy mistakes that will cost his team the game.
MY PICK: Videogate be damned, Pats 27, San Diego 21

2.) New Orleans (0-1) at Tampa Bay (0-1)
The saints are one of the trendy favorites to reach the Super Bowl from the weak NFC this year, but after getting torched for 41 points in the season opener against the Colts a week ago Thursday, people might want to readjust their opinions.

The Bucs, meanwhile, looked like the same old middling Bucs of four of the past five years, failing to score a touchdown in a 20-6 loss at Seattle despite upgrading the offense with QB Jeff Garcia and with the fire under Chucky Gruden's ass hotter than it has ever been. But something tells me the Bucs are going to make a game of it against their NFC South rivals in what could be the final home opener of Chucky's regime, and although they may not win, look for Tampa Bay to at least keep it close, and possible even get in the end zone.
MY PICK: New Orleans 34, Tampa Bay 24

3.) Cincinnati (1-0) at Cleveland (0-1)
The Bengals may have defeated the hated Ravens last week, but a lackluster performance where Carson Palmer only threw for 192 yards and the defense forced 6 turnovers yet the team barely squeaked out a 27-20 win wasn't exactly the impressive opening effort Super Bowl-starved fans in the Queen City were hoping for.

The Battle of Ohio has been a lopsided affair of late, and when Cleveland traded starting quarterback Charlie Frye to Seattle following their 34-7 loss to Pittsburgh in the opener, they sent the message that the time is near to hand the reigns of the franchise over to hometown hero Brady Quinn. It could be another lopsided outcome, but one thing's for sure, with the Dog Pound clamoring for Brady to guide the team and Chad Johnson ready to bust out a new TD celebration, things won't be dull in C-Town this afternoon.
MY PICK: Cincy 37, Cleveland 19

4.) Indy (1-0) at Tennessee (1-0)
These two AFC Central rivals have seen their fare share of tough battles over the last few seasons, especially last year when the Champs barely knocked off the upstart Titans at home, 14-13, in Week 5 last season, then dropped a stunning 20-17 decision to Tennessee in Week 13 when the Titans kicked a 60-yard FG with time expiring to hand the Colts their second loss of the season.

With Vince Young more comfortable in the offense and Tennesseans once again supporting a football team other than the Vols, this game will be no cakewalk for television personality Peyton Manning and his shuffled band of title seekers. In fact if I were a gambling man I'd look for Tennessee to pull off another upset today. Of course I'm a lousy gambler, but it's always fun to pretend.
MY PICK: Tennessee 24, Colts 23

5.) Minnesota (1-0) at Detroit (1-0)
Two teams vying for this season's most surprising team go head-to-head at Ford Field today and both are coming off impressive wins highlighted by outstanding performances from their number one draft picks.

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries in his first game since being selected with the seventh pick back in April, and for Detroit heralded rookie receiver Calvin Johnson validated his #2 selection when he lit up an awesome Oakland defense for 4 catches for 70 yards and a touchdown in Detroit's see-saw 36-21 victory over the Raiders. Both talents will be on full display today in a game that could be one of the most exciting in the league this week.
MY PICK: Detroit 27, Minnesota 24

Other Game Predictions:

-Pittsburgh 31, Buffalo 17
-Carolina 24, Houston 13
-Jacksonville 19, Atlanta 6
-Green Bay 23, NY Giants 20
-St. Louis 28, San Fran 21
-Dallas 31, Miami 14
-Arizona 27, Seattle 24
-Baltimore 16, NY Jets 3
-Denver 34, Oakland 17
-Chicago 13, Kansas City 10
-Philly 28, Washington 17 (MNF)

Enjoy Week 2, and remember, don't take any of these picks seriously-after all, I am the World's Worst Gambler!

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