Tuesday, September 18, 2007

NFL Week 2: The Results

Patriots leave Videogate behind with pasting of Chargers while the Bucs lay a beatdown on sorry Saints

New England silences critics with dominating 38-14 win over San Diego

What better way to answer a week loaded with scrutiny, criticism, and enormous expectations than by waylaying your most vocal and bitter opponent on national TV?

The Patriots took care of business and took out their frustrations over answering thousands of questions about the video taping scandal the way they always have throughout the Belichick regime, by treating an opponent like O.J.'s memorabilia dealer, and the end result left no doubt as to whether or not New England needed the aid of stolen game tapes to win their three titles.

Consider the answer a resounding "no".

With the hanging commissioner breathing down their necks, the eyes of the pigskin-loving planet trained on their Sunday Night Football contest, and a snarling bunch of crybaby Chargers ready to rip the Pats a new one, New England came out of the locker room and shoved the football down the throat of the vaunted San Diego defense, then let their own defensive unit lay the hammer on league MVP Ladainian Tomlinson (42 yds), over matched QB Phillip Rivers, the artist formerly known as Antonio Gates and Co.

The revamped defense, playing without suspended safety Rodney Harrison and lineman Richard Seymour, was led by blanketing corners Assante Samuel and Ellis 108 yards Hobbs and versatile linebackers Rosie Colvin (2 sacks, 5 tackled, INT) and Adalius Thomas (3 tackles, INT, TD); those four anchored a furious attack that limited the high-powered Bolts to a mere 201 total yards, a paltry 52 coming on the ground.

Meanwhile the much-hyped retooled offense ran like a well-oiled machine for the second week in a row, racking up an excellently distributed 400 total yards as Tom Brady was a Manning-like 25-31 for 279 yards with three TDs and one pick and New England cranked out 144 yards on the ground.

The Randy Moss experiment continues to get rave reviews as well with the reformed wideout grabbing 8 passes from Brady for 105 yards and two more slick touchdowns, bringing his two game total to 17 receptions for 288 yards (17 Y/C) and three scores, once again proving to be a fantasy geek's wet dream.

Not bad for a guy who missed the entire preseason.

That offense would thrive with Tom Terrific incorporating weapons like Moss, the invaluable Wes Welker and Dante Stallworth into the mix this year was a given; it's the defense that has been the surprise thus far with all the turmoil and uncertainty surrounding the unit coming into the season.

Samuel's holdout, Seymour's continuing health problems forcing him to the sidelines for the first six games of the season, and Harrison's embarrassing suspension for receiving HGH were all factors in pundits questioning whether this year's defense would be able to hold up to the challenge of taking a team to the Super Bowl.

After two weeks, 28 points and 428 yards allowed, I'd say those questions have been answered.

Thomas, the free-agent acquisition from the Ravens, proved that his speed, size, and versatility should be a perfect fit in Belichik's ball-hawing defense, and his interception that he returned 65 yards for a touchdown was a effective reminder that the addition of this physical freak may count just as much as that of Mr. Moss when all is said and done.

And if Rosie Colvin can come back from years of injury and ineffectiveness to play like he did Sunday--punishing the passer, roaming the field from sideline to sideline and crushing people whenever possible--this unit could really turn out to be something special.

Bottom line is that as the furor of Videogate dies down, the focus will return to what this season has been about since the beginning of training camp: how easily the Pats cruise through the regular season, and who's going to stop them on their way to their fourth title in six years?

Bucs send Saints marching back to New Orleans with a demoralizing 31-14 lossThis is why it's so hard to predict what team is going to the Super Bowl year after year--you just cannot base the estimation on what a team did the previous season.

Falling one game short of the ultimate game last year, the high-octane Saints were the chic choice to make it to the Bowl this season, what with Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Marques Colston and Deuce McAlister all having had a year to refine their already potent offensive attack.

So far, not so good.

For the second week in a row the Saints got blindsided by an opportunistic offense while its own offense struggled to move the ball down the field, only this time it wasn't the defending Super Bowl champs doing the damage, it was the backsliding Bucs, who despite the addition of Jeff Garcia looked lackluster in losing to the Seahawks last week.

Don't let the final stats fool ya; New Orleans may have finished with more total yards (343-330), passing yards (244-243) and rushing yards (99-87) than the Bucs, but much of that came in garbage time as Tampa Bay had already jumped out to a 21-0 lead by halftime, and after adding another TD to make the score 28-0 with minutes to go in their third, Chucky called off the dogs on a stifling late September day in the Bay.

Everyone here expected the veteran Garcia to provide an immediate upgrade to what was a young and anemic offense, and the fact that he's been willing to butt heads with Gruden in order to run the plays he wants to run and not just the ones Chucky thinks will work has been icing on the cake.

The fact that 57-year-old receiver Joey Galloway is still able to toast DBs and corral 4 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns as he did in this game is a miracle(of modern science?) in of itself.

But the way the aging defense has regained its Super Bowl swagger while upgrading at most of the key positions has been nothing short of amazing. Against the Saints Monte Kiffin's squad, led by a rejuvenated Derrick Brooks (perhaps still pissed that peter King left him off his Topp 500 players list), patrolled the field like Leonidis and his Spartan army.

Up front Brooks (9 tkls) and emerging stud linebacker Barrett Ruud (11 tkls, 1 fumble recovery), along with newcomers Greg White & Jovon Haye (1 sack each), walloped Bush, Brees and McAlister while Ronde Barber, Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson combined for 18 tackles and kept Brees from connecting with targets Colston, David patten and deep threat Devery Henderson until the game was well in hand.

And so two weeks into this season these two teams sit at 1-1, yet one team is looking like an up-and-comer, while the other is looking like a one-and-doner.

Other games of note:

-Cleveland 51, Cincy 45
In the "WTF?!" game of the week, the offensively-challenged Browns, who jettisoned their starting quarterback following last week's season-opening loss, rolled up 554 yards of offense and hung half a hundy on the reeling Bengals.

Cincy has now allowed 883 yards and 71 points in two games, including a Coltish 337 on the ground, and lost for the first time in five trips to C-Town despite 6 touchdown passes from Carson Palmer and 209 yards and 2 TDs from Chad Johnson, who got doused with beer after jumping into the Dawg Pound following his second TD.

He's lucky they didn't pee on him.

- Green Bay 35, NY Giants 13
The surprising Packers ran their record to 2-0 for the fist time in six years as Brett Favre became the winningest quarterback in NFL history, recording his 149th win to pass John Elway in an absolute pasting of the disgraceful G-Men.

While the star-free Pack continue to win behind the gritty play of their grizzled leader, New york continues to spiral down into an ugly abyss. Although injured QB Eli Manning did play and played pretty well, the Giants defense has allowed 846 yards and 80 points in two games, and the more they lose the more likely Commander Coughlin will be made the scapegoat for this mess sooner rather than later.

-San Fran 17, St. Louis 16 the Rams continue to disappoint fans and pundits who had them pegged as a potential sleeper team
-Indy 22, Tennessee 20 another close, exciting game between these emerging division rivals, this time won by the Mannings
-Pitt 26, Buffalo 3 so much for that turnaround season by the Bills
-Houston 34, Carolina 21 the Carr-less Texans are 2-0 for the first time ever
-Jax'ville 13, ATL 9 the Vick-less Falcons are 0-2 and the question is will they ever win one?
-Detroit 20, Minny 17 Kitna helps 10-0 boast by returning from concussion to lead game-winning drive
-Dallas 37, Miami 20 think Tony Romo, T.O and Co. are glad to be out from under the thumb of the grand Tuna? 41PPG says yes
-Arizona 23, Seattle 20 the Cards use a late FG to get over unimpressive Seahawks
-Chicago 20, KC 10 Devin Hester did it again, returning a punt 73 yards for a score as the Bears toppled the weak Chiefs
-Denver 23, Oakland 20 a late Raider FG was nullified by a Denver timeout, and after Oakland missed the new kick, the Broncos marched down the field and hit the game-winner
-Baltimore 20 NY Jets 13 with two backups QBs battling it out on the field, the Ravens defeated the Jets in an ugly, uninspiring game


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!