Happy Day After Thanksgiving, everybody! Hope that food hangover isn’t too bad. Or the regular hangover. Neither were as bad for me as the atrocious slate of games the NFL provided for us yesterday. And I'm not even going to mention the Jonas brothers. Let's just say, I expect a formal letter of apology from the league office.
But there are a lot of things in the NFL I am thankful for this year, and right at the top of that list is the best highlight show on TV, ‘Inside the NFL'. That's why I want to thank Showtime for saving it from cancellation, giving it a second life, and even managing to improve it.
I don't know how many of you watch, but I've been a loyal viewer of “The show the pros watch” since the early days with Nick Buonoconti and Len Dawson. After 31 years at HBO, it was cancelled early in the year, before being rescued by Showtime. They replaced host Bob Costas with James Brown and analyst Dan Marino with Phil Simms, which has given the show a little more more fun and casual feel. The spirited arguments between Collinsworth and Simms are good TV, but better is watching JB go out of his way to laugh off the tension between them and repeat “These guys really like each other, I swear.”
But the big change has come from Warren Sapp, the breakout TV star of this year’s NFL season. In fact, he might be the breakout star of the season, period, considering he also does pre and post-game work on the NFL Network, and was a hit on ‘Dancing with then Stars’. Or so I heard. I don’t watch the show. Honest. And while I don’t know much about dancing, considering Sapp was up against a chick and a gay guy and finished second, I’d say he did damn well for himself.
When it comes to NFL analysis, he's more than just some fat guy cracking jokes for comic relief. Warren has always been glib, and spent much of his career making surprising and shocking statements. But he’s quickly made a name for himself this year, by using insider knowledge to add substance to those statements.
First, a few weeks back, Sapp gave the audience a rare look behind the dysfunction of the Al Vader Davis Raiders, telling of times the Emperor of the Dark Side Raider owner meddled in team affairs, including changing game plans just hours before the game. Then, Sapp made things a little more personal, calling out old teammate Keyshawn Johnson as a “bitch”. Everybody tried to play it off the best they could, but it was pretty awkward, and I don't think that clip would've made it on the air last season. Sapp took a moment last week and apologized to Keyshawn, saying his mother told him he had to.
Last week, he spilled another insider treat -- that Kevin Mawae used to poke him in the eye just to try and get an edge. It’s this kind of inside dirt, along with his humor and insight, that makes watching Sapp fun -- unlike whatever vanilla ex-player spewing the same old cliches ESPN is shoving down our throat this week.
They’ve also sexed up the show a bit, bringing on infrequent correspondant -- too infrequent if you ask me -- Jenn Brown (pictured at right), who immediately enters the Hottest Female Sportscaster on the Planet conversation (I have her somewhere in between Erin Andrews and Charissa Thompson). Check out her web site, you’ll thank me later.
Who knew the show had to move away from the network which airs 'Cathouse' and 'G-String Divas' before it could get a hot chick on the show?
Okay, enough foreplay, let’s get to the previews...
Indianapolis (7-4) at Cleveland (4-7)
In just the past week or so, GM Phil Savage sent a profane e-mail to a fan only minutes after a game, new starter Brady Quinn was benched for old starter Derek Anderson, then diagnosed with a season-ending injury, and owner Randy Lerner spoke publicly for the first time in over a year to say he’ll re-evaluate Savage and coach Romeo Crennel’s job status in the off-season. So Crennel decides to take this moment to name Quinn the starter for next year. Okay. Only, as you can see in this embarrassing clip, he’s already waffling on the choice as soon as he’s questioned about it for the first time. Man, what leadership!
These recent episodes followed Anderson’s initial benching (after signing a large contact in the off-season), Kellen Winslow’s comments trashing the organization for how they handled a chronic staph infection problem and his hospitalization, and star WR Braylon Edwards leading the NFL in drops.
But other than that, everything’s great in Cleveland.
The pick: COLTS
Carolina (8-3) at Green Bay (5-6)
If you were watching the Packers play the Saints on Monday night, you might’ve caught wo interesting tidbits on Mike McCarthy: 1) He’s challenged less plays by instant replay in his time in Green Bay than any other coach in the league, 2) He went for a 2-point conversion for this very first time as a head coach. That’s more than two and a half years! I think more than showing he’s conservative, it strikes me that he’s a guy who doesn’t like to try new things? For instance, I’m willing to bet he's never tried sushi or autoerotic asphyxiation.
For that reason alone, I'm tempted to go with the Panthers (that John Fox is a freak!), but after seeing what the Eagles did in a must-win game at home, I'm reminded of an old NFL axiom that's done me well: "The team who needs it most usually gets it".
The pick: PACKERS
Miami (6-5) at St. Louis (2-9)
I can’t tell you how many times this season I’ve said, “The Niners suck! I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t win another game all year... Oh wait, we still play the Rams.” Talk about having something to be thankful for.
The pick: DOLPHINS
Baltimore (7-4) at Cincinnati (1-9-1)
Growing up, my favorite player was Ronnie Lott. Most people talk about Lott’s hard hitting -- and with good reason -- but what drew me to him was his ability to make big plays. He read QB’s and broke on the football as well as anybody, and he had a great set of hands. That’s why he had 63 INT’s in his 14 year career -- the sixth most the history of the game. I still remember the first year I followed the Niners (1981) when he returned three INT’s for TD’s -- the NFL record is four.
I think it’s safe to say Ed Reed also has The Big Play Gene. He already has 37 INT’s in his seven year career, and until last week, he held the record for the longest interception return in NFL history for his 106 yard pick-six against Cleveland in 2004. Then on Sunday he broke his own mark, picking off Kevin Kolb and taking it 108 yards. Or so they said at the time. A couple of days later, they changed it to 107 officially. It looked 108 to me. Personally, I think they knocked it down a yard, so he could still break his own reord, but to allow for the possiblity of him (or someone else) breaking this one. I mean, the longest possible return is only 109, so there’s not much wiggle room.
As an aside: What do you think the odds are on that anyway? That the record for longest INT TD return could stand at 102 yards for 38 years, then get topped by a 103-yarder which stands for another 17, only to have it broken twice in four years -- both by the same guy?
The pick: RAVENS
New Orleans (6-5) at Tampa Bay (8-3)
Last week, Tampa fell behind 17-0 at Detroit before coming back to win. In Week 9, they fell behind 21-3 at Kansas City before coming back to win. That’s two weeks where they fell behind by at least 17 points to two teams who have one win between them. So how are you supposed to look at that -- as a weakness, because they fell behind to such poor teams, or as a strength, because they came back to win? This week I'm going with "weakness", but I reserve the right to flip-flop at will.
The pick: SAINTS
NY Giants (10 -1) at Washington (7-4)
'Skins: I know I write about Clinton Portis in this space last week, but have to again. Last week, Portis had 143 yards desite being knocked out of the game early with a pulled rib injury. He’s also nursing a sore knee. Not that it’s slowing him down much -- he’s now leading the league in rushing yards with 1206. So my question is this: Why is nobody touting Portis for MVP? Question #2: Can he keep it up against a Giants defense which hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season?
Giants: New York is definitely a juggernaut right now, but one possible flaw may have shown itself last week. Tom Coughlin used a stupid time out which allows Arizona to try that free kick at the end of the 1st half, and then unbelievably didn’t have the hands team on the field when Arizona attempted an onside kick, down eight with four minutes to go. Arizona had a player in perfect position, but he dropped it, and the Cards failed to capitalize -- just as with the free kick -- but Coughlin needs to step up his game to match his players.
The pick: GIANTS
San Francisco (3-8) at Buffalo (6-5)
I was all set to pick the Niners here. They were playing better football under Singletary, especially on offense, and the Bills had been struggling mightily. Then last week happened. The Bills scoring 54 points happened. Nate Clements becoming a six foot tall slice of crispy toast happened.
There are still scenarios where I could see the Niners pulling off the road victoy, but the thought of Shaun Hill’s wobbly spirals in the gusty winds and bitter chill of Orchard Park is to gruesome for me to comfortable going with the Niners here.
The pick: BILLS
Denver (6-5) at NY Jets (7-4)
The Monday before last, in my first After Further Review post, I listed Leon Washington in a segment I call “X-Factors” for scoring a 2 TD’s against the Pats. Then on Sunday, Bill Cowher hosted a segment on ‘The NFL Today’ called “X-Factors” where he listed Leon Washington, and showed higlights of him scoring two TD’s against the Pats. The way I see it, there’s only two possible explanations for this: 1) I have ESP, 2) Cowher is stealing my material.
Washington scored another two TD’s against the Titans on Sunday, so in my post the next day I listed him in my “X-Factors” segment. Your move, Cowher.
The pick: JETS
Atlanta (7-4) at San Diego (4-7)
I don’t know why I’m so into the Falcons this year. I can’t get enough of them. I saw it right away, the first couple games of the year -- that spark they had which had been missing in previous years. I really like Matt Ryan (after only being lukewarm about him in college), and I love Michael Turner -- always have. But here’s the thing: I’vealways hated the Falcons. Growing up, they were a division foe. The Falcons authored the two most crushing and emotionally-scaring regular season losses of my childhood -- both on last-play Hail Mary’s (in ‘83 and ‘91). They broke my heart (and Garrison Hearst’s ankle) in ‘98. I should hate them on paper.
Maybe it’s sympathy over the Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino debacles. Maybe it a “If they can do it, so can we”-kind of thing, giving me hope for the Niners (if they can ever wrangle themselves a young franchise QB). It could have something to do with Turner, who I was a fan of since he first got significant playing time as LT’s backup. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I definitely have found myself rooting for them this year. And that’s why, even though Ryan’s stats aren’t nearly as good on the road, I’m going with Atlanta here. That, and the Bolts seem snake-bit, losing four games this year in the final 24 seconds of play (they just missed another when K.C. failed on a 2-point conversion).
The pick: FALCONS
Pittsburgh (8-3) at New England (7-4)
There was a time this year, with Matt Cassel starting for the Pats and Byron Leftwich and Mewelde Moore playing for the Steelers, when it seemed this might be the rare year that neither Pittsburgh nor New England would be a threat in the AFC playoffs. But now, with Big Ben relatively healthy (at least enough to play) and Cassel finding a serious groove, this again reeks of the always popular “playoff implications”. So where do these re-constited powers currently rank among the AFC powers. Glad you asked, here’s the list (your results may vary):
1. Titans -- Yep, still on top, despite the loss to...
2. Jets -- They’re hot, I know, but I still remember that Raider loss. And Chiefs near-loss.
3(tie). Pats/Colts -- They’re baa-ack. Well, not really, but they’re both headed in the right direction.
5. Steelers -- They’re capable of beating the other teams on this list, but th
6. Ravens -- The darkhorse.
Keep in mind: At least one of the above teams won’t make the postseason since the AFC West winner makes the playoffs whether they deserve it or not.
The pick: PATRIOTS
Kansas City (1-10) at Oakland (3-8)
If Chiefs QB Tyler Thigpen was a stock, I’d be buying low right now. He may not have had a great day Sunday (17/31, 240 yards, 3 TD/2 INT, 29 rushing yards), but in the previous four games he was on fire (8 TD/ 1 INT, 96 RATING). He’s a great athlete, has a good arm, and an extra helping of scrapitude, keeping K.C. alive in games where they had no business competing. He’s also from Coastal Carolina, which makes him a good story, and a guy all the announcers can call “gritty” and “a gamer”, and other terms used to describe white guys from small schools. I like his name, too. Tyler Thigpen. It sounds like a gunslinger. He may not be a great player, but it look like he’s developing a rapport with Dwayne Bowe and he might be someone to keep your eye on.
The pick: RAIDERS
Chicago (6-5) at Minnesota (6-5)
With Green Bay losing on Monday night, this game now becomes a battle for undisputed possesion of first place in the NFC North. Which is kind of like being the tallest midget, or the best QB on the 49ers.
These teams are so inconsistent I have no idea who to pick. So, going along with the theme of the week, I’m going to go with what my man, Warren Sapp, said in predicting this game on ‘Inside the NFL’. He picked the Vikings because according to him, the Bears have “no resemblance” to a defense. I don’t know if he meant they have no semblance of a defense, or that they bear no resemblance to a defense, but whatever, it’s all good.
The pick: VIKINGS
Jacksonville (4-7) at Houston (4-7)
How psyched is ESPN for this game? It’s like a three and a half hour ad for flex scheduling. I know the Sunday night game is now the marquee NFL event of the week, but how hard would it be to give ESPN at least some flexibility? At the beginning of the year, this game wasn’t a bad choice, as it conceivably could’ve had playoff implications -- The Jags were good last year, and Houston appeared to be on the rise. Instead, we get this dog of a game, and there’s nothing ESPN can do about it. In a situation like this, I think they should just be honest about the quality (or lack) of the game. In their ads, they should come clean with something like “This game could have serious playoff implications... In someone’s fantasy league.”
The pick: TEXANS
LAST WEEK: 11-5
THIS WEEK: 2-1