Week 8 NFL picks

Last week’s Bills game hurt. Going up big, only to end up losing brought back memories of other heartbreakers like the Monday night games against Dallas and New Engl

(Excuse me for a moment while I wipe those tears away)

Okay all better. Anyway, the difference between those games and the Baltimore game was, well, this game doesn’t exactly matter. We aren’t in the race for a division title, and even if we won out we probably still wouldn’t make the playoffs.

I’ve said it one hundred times and I’ll say it again: I don’t care about the results. I just want to see improvement. The Ryan Fitzpatrick-run offense (or rather, the Chan Gailey operated offense) is working. I know it’s a small sample size, but moving the ball that well against Baltimore’s defense didn’t go unnoticed around the league. Thirty four points allowed was the most for the Ravens all season.

Stats I like:

–Ryan Fitzpatrick was the game’s leading passer (382 yards), Stevie Johnson was the game’s leading receiver (158) and Fred Jackson was the game’s leading rusher (73). The last time the Bills had the game’s top passer, rusher and receiver was last year’s 31-7 win over Indianapolis. The last time we had all three and lost? Week 17 of 2008, a 13-0 loss to New England.

–The win marked the first time in the last 60 games that a Bills’ QB had thrown for 300 yards.

–Ryan Fitzpatrick is second in the NFL in passer rating. Check it out below.
Passer rating leaders:
Peyton Manning 103.4
Ryan Fitzpatrick 102.0
Vince Young 98.8
Philip Rivers 97.8
Tom Brady 96.0 

–Bills went 11-for-17 on third down, while holding Baltimore to 2-of-11.

Stats I don’t like:

–Bills gave up 4.6 yards per carry.

–Buffalo was outscored 14-0 in the third quarter, bringing the season total in the third quarter to 77-14.

–Ravens tight end Todd Heap had 59 yards and two touchdowns. Statistically, the Bills are the worst team in the NFL at defending tight ends. Fantasy points for tight ends playing the Bills this year are as follows: 4, 10, 17, 14, 18, [bye week], 17. 

Stat I am indifferent to:

The last overtime game for the Bills Oct. 18, 2009 (Week 6) at the Jets, where the Bills pulled out a 16-13 win. That was the game Buffalo came up with six interceptions.

Hopefully the Bills can get their first win of the season this week at Kansas City. The Chiefs are playing well this year (4-2, first in AFC West), and ran up the score last week at home versus Jacksonville. If the Bills can slay KC’s two-headed running monster, they have shot.

Week 8 picks:

Bills (+7 1/2) at Kansas City–Heck, give me the Bills.  

Denver (+1) vs. San Francisco–Both teams could use a change of scenery, but England is pushing it. I’ll take Mike Singletary to get his guys’ heads where they need to be. 49ers.

Jacksonville (+6 1/2) at Dallas–Jacksonville

Washington (+2 1/2) at Detroit–Washington

Green Bay (+6) at Jets–Jets

Carolina (+3) at St. Louis–Panthers

Miami (+2) at Cincinnati–Miami

Tennessee (+3 1/2) at San Diego–Titans

Tampa Bay (+3) at Arizona–Bucs

Seattle (+2 1/2) at Oakland–Oakland scored the most points in franchise history last week and still can’t get any love. I’ll give them some. Raiders.

Minnesota (+5) at New England–Pats

Pittsburgh (+1) at New Orleans–Pittsburgh

Houston (+5 1/2) at Indianapolis–Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning at night. Peyton Manning at night against a division rival. Peyton Manning at night against a division rival who already beat him this year. You know what? Give me Houston.

Season Standings (best bets)
Sullivan: 54-45-4 (4-3)
Northrop: 52-47-4 (5-2)
DiCesare: 49-50-4 (3-4)
McKissic: 48-51-4 (3-4)
Wilson: 45-54-4 (4-3)
Gaughan: 44-55-4 (5-2)
Game Seven 34-65-4 (4-2-1)

It’s going to be a dramatic comeback.

——

Week 7 picks
Bills (+13) at Baltimore–Ravens.
Baltimore 37-34. Loss
Pittsburgh at Miami (+3)–Steelers
Pittsburgh 23-22. Loss
Cincinnati (+3 1/2) at Atlanta–Bengals
Falcons 39-23. Loss
Jacksonville (+4 1/2) at Kansas City–Chiefs (best bet)
KC 42-20. Win
Philadelphia (+3) at Tennessee–Eagles
Tennessee 37-19. Loss
Washington (+3) at Chicago–Redskins
Washington 17-14. Win
Cleveland (+13) at New Orleans–Saints
Browns 30-17. Loss
San Francisco at Carolina (+3)–49ers
Panthers 23-20. Loss
St. Louis (+2 1/2) at Tampa Bay–Rams
Tampa 18-17. Win
Arizona (+5 1/2) at Seattle–Seahawks
Seattle 22-10. Win
New England (+3) at San Diego–Patriots
Pats 23-20. Win
Oakland (+7) at Denver–Broncos
Raiders 59-14. Loss
Minnesota (+3) at Green Bay–Vikings
Packers 28-24. Loss
Giants (+3) at Dallas–Giants
Giants 41-35. Win

6-8.

While Miami celebrates, small-markets weap

It was an ending fit for a king. Finding out which team LeBron James chose to play for via text message wouldn’t do the situation justice; nor would seeing it scroll across the bottom of your screen during a baseball game. “The Decision” was all anyone in the sports world was talking about, and having an hour special on ESPN was a fitting way to make the announcement. How they went about conducting the interview I didn’t care for so much, but that’s another story (and besides, who tucks a shirt into jeans?).    

I got the feeling James was going to the Heat in the days leading up to the event. The Knicks needed too much work. The Nets are even worse than the Knicks, and you don’t want your friend as a boss. He couldn’t wear 23 in Chicago (but judging from the picture it wouldn’t have mattered anyway), and Los Angeles seemed like a long shot. All that left was Cleveland and Miami. Once Wade and Bosh announced they were both going to play with the Heat, it really hurt the Cavs’ chances. No Tom Izzo, and now no free agent signings. All they had left to offer LeBron was sentimental value, but millionaires don’t tend to listen to people yelling “you owe us.” If things are bigger in Texas, then they’re certainly hotter in Florida–Miami especially. For the spectacle of LeBron James, his brand, and his legacy, the aura of Miami seemed too much to ignore.    

Thursday morning, things got crazy. Every radio show and sports site was talking about LeBron. Nick Mendola may or may not have broken news that LeBron was scheduled to fly to Miami and meet with Pat Riley. Whichever guest host was murdering the Jim Rome show that day (I know, I know. Cut me some slack… that’s what WGR has on when I get my lunch break) had all kinds of people on from Ohio saying how LeBron better come back and how much they will hate him if he doesn’t. Facebook and Twitter were loaded with predictions and suggestions… some less serious than others.    

About five minutes before the start of the show, I posted one last thing about LeBron: “Hoping he stays in Cleveland.” I had given a lot of thought to where I actually wanted him to go. (I am becoming more and more aware of this sick/awesome obsession avid sports fans have with having an opinion on everything in sports; i.e. if you flip on a random college football game let’s say, and about three minutes into it you find yourself beginning to root for one of them to win. That’s something I could talk about for hours, but I bring it up only to discuss how I decided what I wanted LeBron to do.) Comparisons are often made between Cleveland and Buffalo as sports cities (mostly for losing), and I couldn’t help but feel bad for them. They’re a bigger city than we are, both we’re both considered to be small-markets. 
 
When James finally said he was going down to South Beach, I was really kind of sad. I don’t know how he came to that decision, but I can offer a comparison: If I was ever lucky enough to be drafted to the NHL, it would be a dream come true. But if I was drafted by the Sabres and was the best player in team history? There’s no way I could leave ever that behind.  I don’t know how he made up his mind–and even if I knew his logic, I probably wouldn’t understand it–but he sure broke a lot of hearts when he left.   

  

I asked a college friend of mine who lives in Cleveland what the scene was like and how they were taking it. He said, “Everyone hates LeBron. It’s pretty crazy. I don’t know if there is even anymore LeBron apparel, everyone is burning everything.”         
      
I knew the fallout would be bad in Ohio, and burning expensive things  is my case in point. Another part of the fallout that was publicized was Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert’s furious open letter to LeBron. Anger often provides the best fuel for writing, and although you may regret it later, it frequently proves to yield some really good writing. I thought the letter was a stroke of genius on Gilbert’s part, and I love that he used Comic Sans MS and blue font for it to take down the tone. He also took the focus off the fact that Cleveland just lost their best player, and put it on how much better they will be without him, when they clearly won’t be (and made a few thousand hometown fans in the process). I have the letter saved on my computer should something happen and it be mysteriously deleted from the Internet like some other things during the LeBron saga. My friend said, “The good news is that there is a new king, Dan Gilbert… got to love an owner like that.”       

When you think about it, you do love an owner like that. I wish our owners were more like that. He personally guarantees the Cavs will win a championship before LeBron will. While our absentee and aged owners don’t seem to know games exist after the regular season, their owner personally guarantees them a championship. In all honesty, that’s probably a bet he’s going to lose, but either way, you have to admire the passion he has for his city, something James seemed to be lacking.      

I actually got a letter from James in the mail a week or two ago. In it, he said, “No matter which team I end up playing with next season, I promise to continue to work hard and remain dedicated to the game of basketball… without the support of the fans, basketball would not mean nearly as much.” Guess basketball doesn’t mean as much to him. And if not basketball, then the city of Cleveland.      

Eventually though, The Forest City will do what us small-markets do best, pull together and be resilient. It’s not going to be easy and it will certainly take time, but Cleveland will start to get over it and LeBron will stop being headline news, maybe when the Browns start-up. Art Modell will still be public enemy number one, and eventually, Clevelanders will make their way to the acceptance stage of grief. One of the last things I asked my friend was if they had a feeling LeBron was going to leave. He answered, “I knew he was going to leave. I think everyone knew but didn’t want to admit it.”      

Through writing this I’ve realized that Cleveland is going to be okay. It may take some time to become title contenders again, but when the wounds heal, they heal stronger than before. And Cleveland–if you need a hug along the way, Buffalo is just a short trip away.       

——-
Not really relevent to the piece, but you knew this was a big deal when dictionary.com even got involved. Take a look (note the extension is 666): http://hotword.dictionary.com/?p=666. They know grammar and things of that nature, but I would have liked to see them make note of Gilbert’s use of a double negative “nor NEVER.”
   

So near, but yet so far

For a second, everything was perfect. It seemed like Ghana, who made it through by way of two penalty kicks, were going to get a taste of their own medicine. We were about to avenge a defeat at the hands of Ghana during the last World Cup. Landon Donovan had netted a PK to tie it for the USA, and we were pressing for more. But shortly during the first period of extra time, disaster struck. And then before we knew it, it was over.

First, there was disbelief. The entire room was stunned. It was a hands-on-your-head, blank stare, “that didn’t just happen” kind of moment as everyone looked up at the TV in silence. For some, glazed eyes turned to tears. Others too proud to cry found a chair and sulked for what seemed like an eternity. Head shaking replaced verbal communication, as if the dejection itself was enough to overburden a voice box. It is by no stretch of the imagination to say heartbreak had set it.

Anger soon followed, and for myself it was a widespread anger at that. I was mad at Ghana for winning. I was mad at Africa for owning Ghana. I was mad at Ghana’s players for wasting so much time and pretending to be injured, and I was mad at the referee for not doing anything about it. It’s depressing that we can’t even hope for next year, and who knows what I’ll be doing four years down the road. Olympic soccer is two years away, but it isn’t the same.

I was irate with Jozy Altidore for playing such a miserable game. I was mad at our defense for letting 80 minutes of decent soccer go to waste because of the first 10, for the third time in four games. I was livid that no one showed any killer instinct in the final third, and I will never understand the reasoning behind the short corner kick.

Another reason I’m furious with Ghana is that they are a great example of why people hate soccer. They showed that diving, wasting time and pretending you’re hurt are all successful tactics that can be used to help you win soccer games. The one guy on Ghana was down late holding his ankle in his own box, doing his best to look like he was on his deathbed. They brought the stretcher out for him, and the second they put it down on the sideline he hopped back up and started walking. It’s a miracle! It’s… exactly why soccer players catch a bad rap.

I guess the most upsetting thing of all was understanding where the anger was really coming from. Despite the waiting and suffering endured as a U.S. soccer fan, we still aren’t there yet. Ghana was the better team on the pitch. In what was arguably the most important game of their lives thus far for the majority of our roster, how many players can you name who really played well? For all 120 minutes? Tim Howard’s wife can count them on her Y chromosomes.

If being outplayed isn’t enough, it’s insult to injury to remember Ghana did so without their best player, Michael Essien. How many teams are the USA beating without Donovan? Realizing just how much work is still left to be done is another deep gash into the sides of American supporters.

Back at the bar, I started to find the strength to make my way back to the car. I unlocked the door, and then just sat in my seat and thought. I didn’t feel like driving just yet. As the time passed, a new thought came to mind. As depressed as I was about the elimination, something else was nagging me. It wasn’t just that we lost, but how we lost it. Not that it was in extra time, but the vague familiarity of it all. Watching Team USA today felt an awful lot like watching the Sabres in the playoffs.

You wanted so badly for your team to pull through, but somewhere in the back of your head there was that doubt that wouldn’t go away. Being dumbfounded as to why your team can’t get their butts in gear until the very last second definitely felt like being a Sabres fan, as did wondering where that extra effort was. How many times have we complained of a lack of desperation? The Sabres and Team USA look similar during the first 40 minutes. Pouring it on late and hoping it’s enough? That’s definitely a Buffalo thing.

How about a Tim Howard-Ryan Miller comparison? I’m sick of the goalie being the only one who wants to win during the first 90% of the game. If you wanted to be corny you could say Ghana was a “head” better, because we couldn’t win a head ball to save our lives, but this picture may be the most telling of all. There’s five Americans in the shot, and who wants it most? The only guy who doesn’t belong in the box for a corner kick. I’m sure Miller would park himself in front of the net on the power play if they’d let him.

So yes, I’m mad that we lost, I’m mad we’re not good enough, and I’m crushed that the dream is over. I’m extremely bothered by the fact that I have to be surrounded by teams like this, and I refuse to accept my team turning in half a performance and thinking it’s good enough.

So maybe my girl friend will never understand why I buried my head in my food at Tully’s to avoid seeing replays from the game, or why I can’t sleep at 6 a.m. after the night following the loss. But through all the tears and heartbreak, the stunned silences and minutes spent with your hands over your face, somewhere in there will all become true Buffalo sports fans. You can tell me I’m in the bargaining stage of grief right now if you want, but I wouldn’t trade that for anything. There are times like these where we stare at our computer screens at a complete loss for words, wishing we could just go to sleep and wake up from this nightmare; but at the same time, we know the suffering will make winning the big one that much sweeter when it finally happens.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but that’s the great part about sports, there’s always next time. Go States.


Couldn’t fit this in, but more thoughts on something I mentioned earlier, Ghana showing that diving equals wins. Perhaps America will always be behind the eight ball in soccer for one reason–pride. Think about it, if somebody hits you in the face, as an American, whats your reaction? You find the mother f—er who hit you and get him back twice as hard. But for the rest of the world, apparently the proper reaction to getting hit–or cleated, or pushed–is to lay on the ground like you just got shot. No shame. Can it be that Americans are too proud for that?