27 January 2008

Nate Kaeding is Macho Man

Even if he is a kicker.

According to NFL.com, Kaeding played almost five full games with a broken left leg. On the opening kickoff return of the Chargers' game against Denver, on Dec. 24, he tried to make a tackle and hurt his leg.

That's impressive. Combine this with Phillip Rivers playing through a torn ACL, and I'd say that the Chargers are starting to emerge as the "tough guy" team of the NFL, except... how's that sore knee feel now, LaDainian Tomlinson?

Not What I Signed Up For

The Australian Open final was a terrific, exciting match. And it wasn't the match I wanted to see.

Why? I know that, nine times out of ten, neither Novak Djokovic nor Jo-Wilfried Tsonga would make this final.

Grand Slam finals are supposed to be showcases for the best players in tennis. To use a basketball analogy: it's okay to have a few Cinderellas in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament, but nobody really wants them in the championship game.

Do you remember the 2006 NCAA tournament, when the final four featured two great teams - Florida and UCLA - and two utter surprises, LSU and George Mason?

It was terrific theatre watching the Tigers and the Patriots make it to as far as they did - but ultimately, it would have made for a disappointing game if they had met in the final.

People (or, if not people, myself) want to see quality triumph over quantity. They (or, if not they, I) want to see the two best players in the world - unquestionably Federer and Nadal - beat the field and battle it out for supremacy.

Unfortunately, that's not what happened in the Australian Open. And while the final was a great match, I can't help but be a little disappointed.

24 January 2008

You're doing what, exactly?

Rudy Klancnik's ESPN.com story on Mark Rypien's charitable work is heartwarming and inspirational, though lacking in information. The story gives readers a brief look at Rypian's life, and tells them that he founded and runs the Rypien foundation in memory of his son's death due to brain cancer. The article doesn't say what it is that the foundation does, and it focuses too much on Rypien's career, rather than his charity efforts. But Klancnik made a good try.

And it's lovely that he tried. But the article's headline is absolutely terrible: "After son's death, Rypien devoting life to foundation." Whose life, exactly, is being devoted? What foundation? For that matter, whose son? Very nearly unforgivable.

20 January 2008

AFC Championship Game: Ridiculously Specific Preview

3 PM: Chargers/Patriots

The Pats are prohibitive favorites in this game. USA Today lists them as 14-point favorites. ESPN's Accuscore software projects them winning 32-15.

And there's really no concrete reason to pick against them, while there are a plethora of reasons to pick for them - LaDainian Tomlinson's injury, Antonio Gates' injury, Phillip Rivers' injury, Norv Turner's lack of injury.

Here's what I predict. The weather (24 degrees and mostly cloudy at the moment, with a chance of snow) and the Chargers' defense (Antonio Cromartie and Shawne Merriman, especially) will slow down the Patriots' passing game, limiting Brady to 20-29 passing for 265 yards, 2 touchdowns (one to Wes Welker on a 6-yard slant, one to Jabar Gaffney on a 17-yard fade) and an interception.

Unfortunately for the Chargers, they won't be able to slow down the Patriots' running game. Laurence Moroney will run for 132 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown, while the rarely-mentioned Kevin Faulk will deliver a fatal blow with a 53-yard touchdown scamper off left tackle.

The Chargers' offense will be hampered by injuries, but not stopped. LaDainian Tomlinson will play, and play reasonably well - running for 68 yards on 11 carries, though fumbling once when Rodney Harrison - but will not be the main ball-carrier for the Chargers. In an attempt to slow the game down and prevent the Patriots from scoring, the Chargers will hand the ball to Michael Turner 21 times for 112 yards, and Turner will score 3 touchdowns in a performance that will earn him a significant free-agent contract this offseason.

Phillip Rivers will play, but will not pass the ball very much - he'll finish 7-16 for 93 yards, and will be sacked three times and throw an interception. Vincent Jackson, with 3 catches for 81 yards, will be the leading receiver for the Chargers, but will display the same frustrating inconsistency that has dogged him all year when he drops a crucial fourth-down pass with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter and the Chargers down 24-21.

With Maroney tired and on the bench, and the Chargers having two of their timeouts remaining, the Patriots will run Faulk off left tackle, and he will score the clinching touchdown. The Chargers will drive downfield (using their timeouts) and kick a 41-yard field goal with 35 seconds left, but the Patriots will recover the ensuing onside kick and Tom Brady will kneel to end the game. Final score: 31-24, Patriots.

16 January 2008

Your mission, should you choose to accept it...

Go to this article, by ESPN.com's Jemele Hill. Scroll down to the section titled "All-Time Hook Up team", and read the section on Wayne Gretzky.

Do you see what I see? "The NHL didn't even lift an eyebrow when the Great One's name was brought up in a gambling ring in which his wife, Janet Jones, and former Coyotes general manager Michael Barnett." Is it just me, or does that sentence end without the expression of any sort of coherent thought?

Obviously, it's just me, because no professional writer could ever do something of.

12 January 2008

What the Who to the When, and Why?

In this article, the always-eloquent "ESPN.com news services" comments on a recent report that, sometime in the last few days, Brian McNamee told the government that Roger Clemens had an abscess on his buttocks (although the question of which cheek is not answered) in 1998.

The article's headline, however, is stunningly ambiguous, leaving the reader to wonder whether McNamee reported the alleged abscess in 1998 or whether the abscess appeared in 1998 and was left unreported until now.

To quote countless sarcastic teenagers throughout history... nice.

10 January 2008

Remember Miss Teen South Carolina?

It seems that her spirit lives on in Mike Sando's ESPN.com article, which informs readers that Ryan Grant spent "the 2006" on the Giants' practice squad. Screenshot here.

As if that wasn't bad enough, there's a chart at the end of the article that breaks down all the money that the remaining playoff teams spent in the first month of 2006's "free ageny" period. Actually, there are two charts... or, to be more accurate, there's the same chart (complete with typo in the title) twice. Screenshot here. Really impressive stuff.

06 January 2008

Buccaneers Postmortem

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to the New York Giants this afternoon, 24-14. Ahmad Bradshaw and Eli Manning were the stars for the New Yorkers, while Jeff Garcia struggled and the Buccaneers never really got going offensively.

Troy Aikman and Joe Buck, the always-ruminant Fox commentators, suggested that the game's outcome was due to two factors: first, that the Buccaneers' offense was "rusty" after it rested many of its starters for the final two games of the season; second, that Eli Manning was having a terrific game and finally "maturing as a quarterback".

Both of these factors were non-factors. The Buccaneers lost (and I approach the game from the perspective of a Central Florida resident) because they got away from their offensive and defensive gameplans.

When the Bucs have won this year, their offense has been simple: run Earnest Graham up the middle, and pass just enough to keep the defense from completely keying on him. They began the game sticking to this plan: in the Buccaneers' first two offensive series, Graham had 8 rushes for 33 yards and a touchdown - but he had only 10 carries for 30 yards the rest of the game. Not coincidentally, the Bucs didn't score again until the fourth quarter.

Why the change? Jon Gruden panicked after the Giants scored their first touchdown. After the screen pass touchdown to Brandon Jacobs tied the game, 11 of the Bucs' next 12 plays were called passes. This meant that the Bucs offense wasn't on the field for as long - so the Bucs defense, come the fourth quarter, was exhausted.

Defensively, the Buccaneers came into the game vowing to stop the run. In the first quarter, they did so in dominant fashion: New York had -2 total yards and 0 points, as Tampa Bay blitzed relentlessly, never giving Brandon Jacobs a chance to get started. There was also a side effect to the blitzing: whenever Eli Manning dropped back to pass, there were Buc defenders in his face.

After the first quarter, though, Tampa seemed to think that it had already won the game - the Bucs defense began routinely dropping seven men into coverage. While this was hardly an unusual tactic for a Monte Kiffin defense to take, it marked a departure from the defensive tactics that had worked so well in the first quarter. Eli suddenly found himself with time to read the defense, and given that the Giants have skilled, veteran receivers - especially Amani Toomer, who had 7 catches for 74 yards and a touchdown - he was able to complete passes and move the Giants downfield.

So: Brilliant running by Ahmad Bradshaw? Unexpected maturation of Eli Manning? Sure, maybe, to some extent. But the bigger story was the Buccaneers getting away from the gameplans that had them ahead by a touchdown at the end of the first quarter.

02 January 2008

NCAAF Bowl Picks: The End of the Beginning

We're to the last few bowl games now, and the intensity of the competition continues to ramp up. With luck, the last few games will see the same kind of exciting finishes as the ones that have come before them.

Odds from USA Today.

Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 2)
Oklahoma -8.5 against West Virginia
The Mountaineers are a very dangerous offensive team. But they're a very dangerous offensive team whose head coach deserted them in order to begin recruiting for Michigan. Sooners by 20.

Orange Bowl (Jan. 3)
Virginia Tech -3 against Kansas
Again: the Jayhawks are a very dangerous offensive team. But the Hokies are a defensive powerhouse who will hold the Mangino offense in check, and KU's porous defense won't be able to do enough to respond.

International Bowl (Jan. 5)
Rutgers -10 against Ball State
I know that the Scarlet Knights have gotten a lot of press; I also know that they played a pretty tough schedule, and had a reasonably good season. Ball State sounds like a team that UF would schedule for a season opener.

GMAC Bowl (Jan. 6)
Bowling Green +4.5 against Tulsa
Omar Jacobs is going to lead the fierce BGSU attack to victory. Wait - Omar Jacobs went to the NFL in 2006? And here I thought that I knew football...

National Championship Game (Jan. 7)
LSU -4 against Ohio State
For the sake of the Big 3, I really hope that OSU represents well in this game. Two consecutive championship-game flops might be too much to overcome. Unfortunately, LSU has too much talent for the Buckeyes to pull the upset unless the Tigers come in flat - and Les Miles isn't going to let his team come into the game flat. LSU 27, Ohio State 17

01 January 2008

NCAAF Bowl Picks: New Year's Edition

A happy new year to everyone reading this! I hope that you had a terrific (and a safe) holiday season. Special wishes go out to all my friends spending this morning flying halfway across the world... have a safe trip, y'all.

My bowl picks, thus far, have been much less than stellar. Much, much less than stellar. And yes, I'm aware that the Outback bowl has already started - but last night was New Year's Eve, and... I haven't seen the score yet. I promise. Odds from USA Today.

Outback Bowl (Jan. 1)
Tennessee -2 against Wisconsin
The Vols play a solid game of football, rush reasonably well, and have a talented (if inconsistent) quarterback. I don't know very much about Wisconsin. And Tampa is much closer to Tennessee than it is to the land of... whatever it is that Wisconsin is known for.

Cotton Bowl (Jan. 1)
Missouri -3 against Arkansas
Chase Daniel plays for Missouri. So do a bunch of other people I don't know. Houston Nutt used to coach Arkansas. So did a bunch of other people I don't know, and who also won't have a big impact on the game. Bottom line, Missouri's the more impressive team.

Gator Bowl (Jan. 1)
Texas Tech -6 against Virginia
The Red Raiders are going to put up points; I don't know if the same can be said for the Cavaliers.

Capital One Bowl (Jan. 1)
Florida -10.5 against Michigan
Four favorites in a row? Yep. I'll be wholeheartedly cheering for the Gators in this one... they'll simply need to keep from falling into the trap of their fanbase's expectations.

Rose Bowl (Jan. 1)
Illinois +13.5 against USC
Conventional wisdom says that this game should be a blowout. USC has more talent. They're bigger, they're stronger, and they're faster. Except - I've never exactly been one to follow conventional wisdom.

Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1)
Hawaii +8 against Georgia
Again, the conventional wisdom is that Hawaii should be blown out in this game. But the Rainbow Warriors can score with any team in the country. Don't overlook them.