Sunday, October 16, 2011

NFL Week 6: Locktober Continues

The Fan Child has given you five out of six correct picks against the spread in the last three weeks. I'll not waste time congratulating myself, because I know I've still got a lot to prove. So, without any further ado, here are my week 6 locks.

See my week 5 locks here:

Giants (-3) vs. Bills:

The Giants have an NFL-leading 18 sacks, and if they're on, they might have the defense that can disrupt Ryan Fitzpatrick and company in New York. The Bills will be without OLB Shawne Merriman, and that should make things easier for the Giants as well.

Pick: Take the Giants and give the Bills 3 points.

Eagles (-3) vs. Redskins:

Simply put, the Eagles have to win. And they will win. And they're not nearly as bad as people think they are, and Andy Reid is still one of the best coaches in the game. Now that the Eagle players realize that they are playing for Reid's job as well as wins, they ought to do a better job of hanging on to the ball and win easily over the overrated Redskins.

Pick: Give the 3 points and take the Eagles.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

NFL Week 6: What You May or May Not Need to Know

Week 6 is upon us, and here's your guide to what's in store for Sunday's NFL action.

1. Carolina (1-4) at Atlanta (2-3): How good are the Panthers in the first year of the Cam Newton era? They haven't lost by more than seven points to anybody, but they'e already on the outside looking in nonetheless. Newton has been impressive (1,610 yards in 5 games), and Falcons QB Matt Ryan has been mildly disappointing (7 TD's, 6 ints), so it's not an easy pick here. It's easy to wonder if the real Falcons (the ones who went 13-3 last year) are ever going to show up. Are they? Or has their window come and gone? At 2-3 they are facing a must win home game vs. an upstart team that is playing with little to no pressure.

2. Indianapolis (0-5) vs. Cincinnati (3-2): The Bengals have played solid D all year, and Andy Dalton is not only learning the ropes of the NFL quarterback position, he's grabbing a few wins along the way. The hapless Colts are good at making games interesting, but even better at losing them in the name of drafting the next Peyton Manning aka Andrew Luck, in the first round next year. It seems to be a good formula for them, and I'm sure the Bengals won't mind being 4-2 when it's all said and done.

3. San Francisco (4-1) vs. Detroit (5-0): The Lions are 5-0 for the first time since 1956. They didn't make the playoffs that year but they did beat the 'Niners to go 6-0. The Lions look like the slightly better team on paper, but the 'Niners boast a formidable front 7 and have stopped not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 27 consecutive games. In a quarterback driven league, you have to think that the team with Matthew Stafford has the upper hand, but Alex Smith has thrown 7 TD's and only one interception this year. This one could come down to the turnover battle.

4. Green Bay (5-0) vs. St. Louis (0-4): The Rams couldn't do anything with their starting cornerbacks, so maybe the fact the both of them will be out this week will be a good thing. Everything about this match-up says blowout. The Rams have the league's worst road record over the last 4 seasons and the Packers juggernaut just seems to get more lethal every week. Green Bay will boast some throwback uniforms on Sunday at Lambeau, and they should cruise to their 8th consecutive home win.

5. Buffalo (4-1) vs. New York Giants (3-2): The Bills have already intercepted 12 passes in five games, just one short of their total in 2010. So, are they lucky, or can we expect more of the same against Eli Manning? Manning threw 3 interceptions last week in a discouraging home loss vs. Seattle, but he's been pretty decent this year, ranking 4th in QB rating and only throwing for 5 interceptions total. The other interesting storyline here is that the Giants defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell was with the Bills through 2009. He was passed up for the head coaching position and I'm sure he'd like nothing more to bring the Bills down to earth. (The Bills are a + 11 in the turnover count -- how long can they keep that up?)

6. Jacksonville (1-4) vs. Pittsburgh (3-2): Rookie QB Blaine Gabbert should give the Steelers D something to chew on Sunday. They will likely spit him out too. The Steelers have the league's second toughest defense on paper, Jacksonville has the league's worst, and the more banged up Ben Roethlisberger seems to be, the better he seems to play. This one smells like a rout.

7. Philadelphia (1-4) vs. Washington (3-1): Is it time for order to get partially restored to the once proud NFC East. Common sense says the Eagles have to win. If they are willing to work so hard to protect Andy Reid during the week, they should do the same on the field on Sunday. That said, now that the news has broken about the dysfunctional Red Sox, could the Eagles be the NFL version of that? A plethora of personal problems, higher than high expectations, and -- who knows -- maybe a few too many pills?

8. Houston (3-2) vs. Baltimore (3-1): If it is the year for the Texans in the AFC south, then they'l l have to do a lot of the dirty work without their best offensive player and their best defensive player. That's a lot to ask for any team, let alone one that is badly in need of a franchise-defining season. The Texans are solid on both sides of the ball, but the squad seemed deflated after Mario William's injury at home vs. the Raiders last week. Meanwhile, those who were puzzled by the Ravens one-sided loss to the Titans earlier this season got a fresh reminder of how the Ravens can dominate a football game -- particularly at home -- with their frenetic, smashmouth brand of defense.

9. Cleveland (2-2) at Oakland(3-2): Oakland is coming off a high. They won a close game on the road in Houston, and they've been reminiscing about their brash and beautiful life of their owner Al Davis for a week, but the reality is that they are a team with a lot of room for improvement. So is Cleveland. So, who wins? The better team, of course.

10. Dallas(2-2) at New England(4-1): Tony Romo has basically ran the gamut from high to low, but his results come out a net zero. He's won a few games and lost a few games, and as much as we love to hype this guy as the "possible" second coming of touchdown Jesus, in the end it's about winning more than you lose -- not winning as much as you lose. Romo should have plenty of opportunities to get his Cowboys in the win column against that swiss cheesey thing the Pats are calling a defense. But will he? We know he'll keep us all entertained -- maybe even confused or inspired -- but in the end, will it be just another reminder that great quarterbacks like Tom Brady find a way to win, while goofy quarterbacks like Tony Romo find a way to almost win.

11. New Orleans(4-1) vs. Tampa Bay (3-2): The Saints have a nice well balanced offense that can hurt you deep or nickel and dime you to death with play action passes. And Drew Brees has engineered two fourth quarter comebacks in consecutive weeks. The Bucs, meanwhile, are looking to respond to their worst whooping in franchise history. QB Josh Freeman's .5 TD to INT ratio is the worst in the NFL, and to make matters worse, RB LeGarrette Blount and DT Gerald McCoy will miss the game. The road team has won the last four match-ups, and from the looks of things, this one shouldn't be any different than the last four.

12. Minnesota(1-4) vs. Chicago(2-3): Sunday Night Football, black and blue style: the banged-up Bears vs. the beleaguered Vikes. With Jared Allen on pace to break the all-time NFL sack record after five games, the big question might be: can Jay Cutler survive another physical beating? Don't expect his offensive line to help. We saw what they can do last Monday against Detroit, and boy, it wasn't pretty.

13. Miami(0-4) vs. New York Jets (2-3): Gang Green has been looking pretty innocuous in its first five starts. The Jets should be fine against a Dolphin team who will start Matt Moore on Monday, but the long-term implications are far less clear for the J-E-T-S.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

NFL Week 5 Locks: The Quest for Perfection

After four weeks of NFL football you'd think that picking these games would become a little easier, but week five has proven to be one of the most difficult to handicap for the Fan Child. That said, the pencils are down and the homework has been done. The results? Two more locks for y'all to take to the bank.

Without any further ado, here are my week 5 locks:

See The Fan Child's week 3 Locks here:
See The Fan Child's week 4 locks here:

1. San Diego -4 @ Denver.

The Chargers have played well in Denver in years past, as they've scored more than 30 points in their last 5 trips to Denver. But the real reason that the Chargers will get it done is their defense. The Chargers are 6th in the NFL in yards allowed and 10th in the league in points allowed. Meanwhile, the Broncos are 28th in the league, giving up nearly 28 points per game. Fans should be calling for Tim Tebow to take some snaps by the end of this contest.

Pick: San Diego (-4)

2. New York Jets +8 @ New England

The Patriots defense is bad and getting worse. The Pats allow 50 yards more per game than the NFL's 2nd worst defense, and to make matters worse, Jerod Mayo will miss the next four to six weeks.

New England's "softness" should be a perfect remedy for a New York team that was absolutely blown off the field in Baltimore last Sunday night. Sanchez will have time, and the running game will have enough holes to create first downs and give the offense balance. The return of Jets center Nick Mangold from ankle injury will also make a huge difference for New York.

But can the Jets stop the Brady Express, or even slow it down? What the Jets will experience in New England will be a lot of Tom Brady to Wes Welker attempts, and if they can Shadow Welker with Revis effectively it will force Brady to look for other options. This may not stop the Pats but if it slows them down it should give the Jets room to breathe and chances to grab the lead or at least remain within a score.

Pick: Jets (+8)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pinch Me I'm a Lions Fan

I can remember wearing the grease-smeared plain blue adjustable Lions hat that an old buddy got me as a gift one Xmas, just days after the worst season in the history of NFL Football had finally ended. There was something about wearing that hat at that time, something that felt right. People would send the odd wisecrack in my direction, but I didn't mind.

It may seem paradoxical or oxymoronic, but that pathetic 0-16 season was probably one of the times where I enjoyed being a Lions fan more than any other. Why? Because I knew it couldn't get any worse, and also -- probably more importantly -- because I was immensely proud of loving the silver and Honolulu blue, for better or for worse. A new level of ineptitude had been set by the Lions, but I wasn't about to abandon them.

Hope springs eternal, sure, but then there's also hype. And hype is what they're doing to my beloved Detroit Lions as I write. Everybody and their mother's mother thinks my Lions are going to demolish the Bears at home this Monday, and a lot of people think they are a shoe-in to make the playoffs and that they're even a possible Super Bowl contender.

But is Detroit really that good, or is the suddenly jam-packed bandwagon simply falling in love with a Cinderella story? In other words, is it hope that surrounds this fatalistic football franchise, or is it hype?

I don't care what it is, to be honest with you. I am not writing this piece to tell you how good Detroit is going to be this year or whether or not they are going to destroy the Bears in their first Monday Night Football appearance in ten years. 10 Years! 10 painful bag-over-the-head we'll-be-lucky-to-keep-this-game-close years. 10 woe is us and will somebody please fire that horrendously bad G.M. Matt Millen years. Oh, it is painful just to think about it.

But thinking about it is what I was doing as I strolled around my neighborhood like a giddy 11-year-old today, counting the minutes 'til Monday night. I was eleven years old the last time the Lions jumped out to a 4-0 record in 1980 and I can still remember the piece that the NFL Today by CBS did on them in their pre-game show that week. It featured the Queen song "Another one bites the dust" as a companion to a bunch of confident Lions dancing around in the end zone with the camera panning up at them from the ground.

I was giddy then and I am giddy now under similar circumstances, and regardless of how good or how bad this Detroit Lions season turns out to be I will remember today's feeling of anticipation -- ah, how good it feels to actually be anticipating something good instead of something atrocious for once when it comes to the Lions -- for a long, long time.

Here I am, 42 years old and going on 12. The world, once again, is the Detroit Lions oyster, just like it was back in 1980 when Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims was the catalyst for a revival of a team that was 2-14 the previous season.

I'm not foolish enough to think that it will all turn out famously. It didn't in 1980 as the Lions ended up choking badly by blowing a 14-point lead in the second half of the Thanksgiving day game against the Bears, then lost the coin flip and allowed a return for a touchdown on the first play of overtime. That pretty much did them in that year, and something similarly egregious might do the same to them this year.

But it won't bring me down if the Lions season suddenly becomes marred by some horrendously bad miscue at precisely the wrong time, or an injury to Megatron or Stafford, or a Jason Hanson shank just when we're all convinced that he's the best kicker EVER. And it won't stop me from hoping (dreaming too) that one day my beloved Lions make it all the way. Yes, I'm talking about football's holy grail: the Detroit Lions, Super Bowl champs. Imagine that? All these years of futility, leading to the single most joyous celebration in the history of sports fandom.

Ah, but I'm looking too far forward right now. I am writing this piece to celebrate the here and now. I'm living in the present -- an UNDEFEATED PRESENT might I add.

The Lions are 4-0 and people aren't laughing at my grease-stained Lions hat for the time being. It may not be confetti streaming down-post-Super Bowl-good, but it's pretty damn good considering where I've been.

Flashback Friday: The Immaculate Reception

Baseball has the "Shot heard 'round the world," and whenever you hear that phrase you know exactly what somebody its referring to. There's something really definitive about the fact that there can never be another Shot heard 'round the world, because Bobby Thompson's blast that gave the Giants the pennant in 1951 has dibs on the phrase. (The phrase has meaning outside of sports too, but when it comes to baseball, there's only one Shot heard 'round the world.)

Football has it's own defining shot, and its nickname cleverly sums up the curiously miraculous nature of the play it is named after: The immaculate reception. Now, Franco Harris' TD reception might not be quite as supernatural or ethereal as what happened to the Virgin Mary, but his 60 yard reception on 4th and 10 against the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium will always be remembered as the ultimate walk-off reception in an NFL game.

The immaculate reception is memorable because of what it was -- an improbable combination of luck, timing and divine intervention -- but its legacy has grown because of what it caused. It was the first domino to fall in the series that lead to one of the greatest runs of dominance in NFL history. The play helped the Steelers reverse four decades of NFL futility, and Pittsburgh went on to win four Super Bowls in the next eight years. The franchise has been among the NFL's elite ever since.

Did you Know?

--- A statue of Franco Harris making the reception stands in the Pittsburgh International Airport

--- Myron Cope, a Pittsburgh sportscaster, is given credit for using the phrase first when reporting after the game, but he didn't coin the phrase. A friend named Sharon Levosky called cope to suggest it to him after the game. The phrase was coined by her friend Michael Ord.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

NFL Week 4: Welcome to Locktober

I'm going to go ahead and let the results speak for me: The Fan Child was 2-0 against the spread last week, and while I know that one week doesn't make a career, it certainly doesn't break one either.

So let's pick up where we left off last week: with me providing my readers with some solid picks.

1. Giants vs. Cardinals (1.5)

I think the Giants might be the most overlooked team of the 2011 NFL season. They started on the short end of a road loss against the Redskins, and people just seemed to think that is was going to be a bad year for the G-men after that. But they've since rebounded with two consecutive wins against the Rams at home and (convincingly) a thrashing of the Eagles on the road.

The Cardinals are ranked 25th against the pass, and they were shredded for 400 yards at home against rookie Cam Newton in week 1. With Mario Manningham coming back from concussion-related injuries to lend a hand, the Giants versatile offense should have a good day.

And let's not forget Arizona is the place of Eli Manning's greatest triumph -- the Giants Super Bowl upset over the Patriots in 2008. You cannot discount the importance of this fact, nor can you discount the fact that Manning had his best performance in a long time vs. the Eagles last week, and is clearly relishing the chance to carry the Manning flag all by himself for the 2011 season.

Arizona has lost their last two, in spite of some decent quarterback play from Kevin Kolb. But Kolb's 5 TD passes (2 to Larry Fitzgerald) have not been enough to overcome the Cardina's 27th-ranked defense against the marginal opponents they've faced so far, so don't expect it to be enough tomorrow.

Pick: Giants (-1.5) over the Cardinals

2. Saints vs. Jaguars (7.5)

Well, how do you stop the New Orleans Saints? The Texans, supposedly one of the best defensive teams in the league heading into week three, had no answer to that question, so why should Jacksonville, another solid defensive team in its own right?

It really doesn't matter here, because in the new NFL, a good offense beats a good defense, and secondaries are suffering from the lockout-shortened preseason all over the league. Meanwhile, experienced teams like the Saints have been able to pick up from the lockout basically right where they left off, so they have a distinct advantage in the early weeks. The Saints have proved that in two consecutive weeks at home vs. the Bears and the Texans, and things shouldn't be all that different this week, when they visit Jacksonville.

I'm going out on a limb here, so if you don't have the cojones to join, that's fine. The Saints are 1-9 against the spread in their last 10 games against clubs with a losing record, but with Blaine Gabbert making only his second NFL start for the Jags, I don't see how Jacksonville's offense will be able to take advantage of the Saints 27th-ranked pass defense.

I see a lot of red zone fails on the horizon for the Jags, and a lot of red zone success for the Saints. This one could be close for a while, but the elite Saints offense, led by Drew Brees, will find ways to score on the road just like they did against Green Bay in week one.

Pick: Saints (-7.5) over the Jags.