Thursday, September 30, 2010

NFL Visions, Part 2


Houston Texans, 2-1
Don't get me wrong--they deserve credit for finally beating the Colts and looking like they have the talent to be a serious contender in the AFC. But that pass defense ... They've already allowed over 1,100 yards passing, second-most of any team through three games since 1950. If they let guys make any more successful passes, they'd be Kim Kardashian (Oooh, burned! Actually, I barely even know who she is. Would we say this joke is accurate? Is Kim Kardashian a slut?). Yes, it was impressive that they came from 17 points down to beat the Redskins in Week 2, but it's kind of a problem that they were down by 17 in the first place. This is a good team, but it was a bit premature to anoint them the best team in the AFC (as ESPN's power rankings did after Week 2).

Dallas Cowboys, 1-2
This feels like the definition of blurry to me. We all know they have tons of talent (Romo,
Marion Barber, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Dez Bryant, et al) and they're one holding penalty away from being 2-1. But they are in fact 1-2 and lost to the Bears at home as well as to a Redskins team who turned around and lost to the Rams (a game that turned my fantasy week into a nightmare). Just as it's hard to really pin down how good Romo is, it's tough to know for sure whether the Cowboys are a contender or a pretender.

Seattle Seahawks, 2-1
Murdered the 49ers, got owned by the Broncos and then beat the Chargers. 2-0 at home but 0-1 on the road. They did have two kick returns for touchdowns against the Chargers, a feat they're unlikely to repeat, so that takes a little something away from Sunday's win in my opinion. I still lean toward them being an average team, but suddenly Pete Carroll and his crazy, unimpeded optimism are tied at the top of the NFC West, three full games ahead of the Niners.


San Francisco 49ers, 0-3
Hey, we were just talking about them, what great timing! Did you just hear that series of thuds? Don't worry, that was just the sound of thousands of people jumping out of the 49ers bandwagon as if it was on fire. Speaking of fire, they fired offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye after scoring just 38 points in their first three games. They're the only team in the pathetic, pathetic NFC West without a win, meaning they're looking up at the Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams. Looking up at a seahawk or cardinal isn't so bad, but have you ever looked up at a ram? I've learned a few important lessons in my life, and one of them is that you don't want to be looking up at a ram.

Buffalo Bills, 0-3
They've already changed quarterbacks, every fantasy football player who was drooling over C.J. Spiller is livid, and they've kindly allowed the most points in the NFL (tied with the Niners).

Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers, both 0-3
There are too many terrible teams and I lack the mental energy to make fun of them all separately, so I'm combining these two. I'll just say that the Browns are awaiting the return of a starting quarterback who is clearly colorblind while the Panthers suddenly have a nonexistent running game and Jimmy Claussen at QB. These teams are bad at football.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The good over the bad

That's what happened on Monday night--good triumphed over bad. As in, the Bears represent all that is good and right in the world, and they conquered the cheesehead-wearing symbol of evil known as the Green Bay Packers.

But also, the Bears were able to get a win on the strength of some good play despite a number of bad plays and some issues they'll need to resolve if they'd like to keep the good times rolling.

Good: The Bears continue to have the best run defense in the league. By far. They've allowed 39.7 yards/game on the ground, followed not-closely by the Texans who have allowed 54.3. Brandon Jackson, my fantasy football not-savior, had a pathetic 12 yards on 7 carries.

Bad: The Bears can't run either. They had just 14 true rushes (not counting those by Cutler and Knox) for 38 yards, and rank 28th in total rushing yards this season. I know I complained about this last year as well, and maybe I'm just stubborn. I realize teams like the Patriots and Colts aren't too concerned with their run games and they're, you know, consistently awesome teams. But I'm not ready to call Jay Cutler Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, and it seems a little early to give up on the running game entirely.

Good: Jay Cutler continues to do things that Bears quarterbacks haven't done in a long time. He scrambled three times for 37 yards and zoomed some nice passes into tight spots including a touchdown to Greg Olsen.

Bad: Prime-time jitters, perhaps? Cutler threw one interception and tried to throw three more. One was negated by a roughing the passer, one was dropped, and one was wiped out on a pass interference penalty. May I ask what the f**k Cutler was thinking when he launched the ball high into the air off his back foot to a double-covered Earl Bennett with about two minutes remaining? The Bears were already in long field goal range (at the 33), and Cutler threw what was practically a Hail Mary when all they needed was five or ten yards?

Good: Julius Peppers. He didn't even record a sack and yet the announcers suggested that he was having "the game of his life." While that's just Jon Gruden's inner crazy coming out (Peppers once had three sacks and an interception in a game, only the third player ever to do that), Peppers did indeed have a huge impact on the game. I don't know the exact stats, but he must have caused at least two false starts, drawn at least two holding penalties, and pressured Rodgers multiple times. He also blocked a field goal.

Bad: Peppers' success is all the more impressive given that the rest of the line seems to be standing still. The Bears have just two sacks on the season, both against Detroit, and no one but Peppers seems to be getting any pressure.

Good: Devin Hester! The most exciting play in football is the punt return for a touchdown, and finally, for the first time since 2007, we got to jump out of our seats as Hester found a seam and busted through it.

Good: Mike Martz and Rod Marinelli. The offense continues to do things we're not used to seeing here in Chicago, and the defense looks solid.

Bad: Lovie Smith. He's now wasted six points on the season, and explained that he'll continue to go for it at the goal line in the future. Yeah, cuz who would want to tie the game? You show 'em, Lovie!

Good: Urlacher, Briggs and Tim Jennings. Urlacher and Briggs had a team-leading nine tackles each and combined to force the key fumble late in the game. Reserve cornerback Tim Jennings replace a not-injured Zack Bowman and finished with seven tackles and recovered the aforementioned fumble. He also laid a huge hit on one of the Packers receivers.

Bad: Starters getting benched. Tommie Harris was benched before the game, and I just mentioned that Bowman was benched in the first quarter. It's not wrong of Lovie to play whomever he feels will do the best job, but it's not good if a couple of the Bears' key players suddenly can't crack the starting lineup.

Good (Packers): Aaron Rodgers. Man, that guy can sling it. Even when a Bears defender had good coverage, it was like the ball was by him before he could even think to reach for it.

Bad (Packers): Discipline, or lack thereof. Eighteen penalties, the most in franchise history. There were so many flags around Monday night it looked like a U.N. meeting (ba-dum-tssh).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NFL Visions, Part 1


The Chicago Motherf**king Bears, 3-0
After vanquishing the Packers on Monday Night Football, the Monsters of the Midway are the lone undefeated team in the NFC. They also have the second-longest winning streak in football at five games (the Steelers have won six straight). We've got a season on our hands, Bears fans. (More tomorrow.)

Pittsburgh Steelers, 3-0
Um, wasn't there some type of "Our quarterback might have raped a girl/The face of our franchise is a monster/Ohmygod we're starting Charlie Batch???!!" situation going on here? No? Nothing like that? I could have sworn there was something like that.

Somehow Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch have the Steelers at 3-0 with Ben Roethlisberger coming back after one more game (a tough one against Baltimore). At worst, they'll be 3-1 and tied atop the division when he returns. Their defense is for reals, yo.

Kansas City Chiefs, 3-0
It's one thing to be 3-0 when you haven't won more than four games total since 2006. And it's one thing to trounce the Niners 31-10 in what was supposed to be a close game. And it's one more thing to have two running backs with over 200 yards rushing when, say, the Panthers don't have any.

But what's really interesting is that the Chiefs are in first place in the piece of s**t AFC West BY TWO GAMES. They're pretty fun to watch with rookies Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster returning punts and kicks, and with youngster Jamaal Charles averaging seven yards per carry.

Back-up quarterbacks
Not that they're necessarily playing well, but they are playing:

-Seneca Wallace filled in for Jake Delhomme in Cleveland's last two games
-Jimmy Claussen is in for Matt Moore
-Michael Vick has usurped Kevin Kolb
-In Buffalo, Ryan Fitzpatrick is in and Trent Edwards is out
-Matthew Stafford is still hurt for Detroit, opening the door for Shaun Hill
-Tom Cable already pulled the plug on Jason Campbell, inserting Bruce Gradkowski
-Derek Anderson took over for Matt Leinart before the season even started

Atlanta Falcons, 2-1
They couldn't move the ball at all against the Steelers in Week 1, but they didn't give up a touchdown until overtime. They then went on to crush the Cardinals and beat the Saints in a thriller on Sunday in New Orleans. Plus, the NFC South has never had a repeat division winner, so they've got history on their side as they attempt to dethrone the Saints.


Minnesota Vikings, 1-2
They beat the Lions to keep their season alive, but c'mon, the Lions have lost 400 straight road games (actually 22, and they're chasing their own franchise record of 24. I believe in you, Lions. You can do this.). Brett Favre went undrafted in my fantasy football league because he's inherently evil, but no one's really missing out: Favre's QB rating is 30th in the NFL, and he's already thrown six picks and fumbled once; he had seven interceptions and two fumbles all of last season. Maybe this is where his downfall began (or not, but it's really fun to watch):

New York Giants, 1-2
Their win over Carolina looks less and less meaningful with each steaming pile of poop the Panthers leave on the field, and they were outscored 67-24 by the Colts and Titans. Maybe the Bears can help clear up their outlook by pasting them this Sunday night.

Being able to watch games on TV
We've already had four blackouts. And by "we," I mean the three remaining Raiders fans, stupid Chargers fans who apparently refuse to go to their games, and people in Tampa Bay who are probably not aware that they have a local NFL team. The Bucs have been blacked out for two home games while San Diego and Oakland have each been blacked out once. Twenty-two games were blacked out last season.

Short field goal attempts to win games
Man, I would hate to be a kicker. I mean, it's the only position I could possibly even attempt in the NFL because it wouldn't require me to die at the hands of a large, angry man, and I'd make lots of money just for kicking a football. But I'm saying if I were actually talented and could have an NFL career, it would kind of suck to be a kicker. You made it? Good job, pat on the back. You missed it? You f**king MISSED it? Are you KIDDING me? All that work we did and we lose the game because you're a pansy-ass kicker and you're unable to kick a football through the damn uprights? I hate you, kicker! We all hate you! You're not even a real part of this team!

So anways, Garrett Hartley missed a 29-yarder in overtime against the Falcons and Sebastian Janikowski missed a 32-yarder as time expired. Both of them would have won their respective games. Do you think they had to lay down in their respective locker rooms after the games and let their teammates kick them as a way of meting out justice for their unforgivable mistakes? I like to think so.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Week 25 awards: Things we learned

  • Mike Quade did not make a deal with the devil. For the first time in his five weeks as manager, the Cubs were under .500 for the week. At least when the Cardinals finally managed to take a series from the Cubs, they were too far out for it to matter.
  • Randy Wells has something to build on for next year: he's 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA in his last five starts. Walks have been a major issue for him this season, but he's had just one in his last two games.
  • The Zambrano Situation will be a very interesting one this offseason. He still hasn't lost since rejoining the rotation, making it either very tempting for Hendry to keep him around, or increasingly tempting for another GM to try to trade for him.
  • "Carlos Marmol, you are ridiculous!" With three strikeouts against the Cardinals on Saturday, he set a Cubs record for strikeouts by a reliever, breaking Bruce Sutter's 1977 record of 129. But that's not the interesting part: Sutter threw 107 innings that year; Marmol's thrown just 73. In a related story, Marmol is going to get PAID this offseason.
  • Bob Brenly will not be the next Cubs manager. I don't think he would have been a terrible option, but on the bright side, I do hope to at least get another year of he and Len in the booth (he said he would be open to other team's managerial positions).
Ryno of the Week: This might be our first back-to-back winner of the year: Randy Wells. He shut out the Giants over 7.2 innings for his eighth win of the year and has looked like last year's Randy Wells for the past month or so.

Honorable mentions: Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Marmol, Casey Coleman

Goat of the Week: "Anything you can do, I can do worse." Gorzelanny allowed seven runs in just 3.1 innings? Pffft, I can do way worse than that, says Ryan Dempster. Nine earned runs in just 1.2, raising his ERA 0.37 this late in the season. He's 14-11 and will likely have one more shot to get his 15th win.

Dishonorable mentions: Marlon Byrd, Xavier Nady, Koyie Hill

Friday, September 24, 2010

A battle for first in the last game of the week

The Packers were 11-5 last season and have won nine of their last 10 regular season games. That includes a 21-14 win at Soldier Field in December, one of two wins over the Bears in 2009.

Green Bay's offense has been as advertised through two games--they've scored 61 points with four pass TDs and three rushing scores. The loss of Ryan Grant for the season could be significant given that replacement Brandon Jackson ran for just 29 yards on 11 carries against a bad Buffalo team (thanks, last-second fantasy pick-up who did nothing to help my team). With the Bears struggling to get their ground game going, this game could be quite the shootout--Cutler and Rodgers have already combined for over 1,100 yards through the air.

The NFC North is splitting up faster than a Britney Spears marriage: the Bears and Packers are tied at 2-0 while the Vikings and Lions (who play each other on Sunday) are winless. It's the only division in football that's separated in such a way.

The Bears have a chance to make Chicago football fans lose their minds (in a good way)--a victory Monday night means 3-0 and first place all by themselves. Are you ready for some football?

Keys to the Game

Which offensive line can survive? Rodgers was sacked 800 million times last year, and while the Bills never got to him, the Eagles did so three times in Week 1. The Bears had two sacks in Week 1 but none against the Cowboys.

If Chris Williams' hamstring keeps him out on Monday, Cutler could be running for his life--Green Bay leads the league with 10 sacks. Linebacker Clay Matthews already has six from the linebacker position, taking advantages of blitzes in the Packers' 3-4 system.

Bears LBs vs. TE Jermichael Finley. In his third year in the league, Finley has piled up 150 yards receiving and has the highest average yards/catch on the team (18.8). He creates mismatches all over the place, but hopefully the Bears' linebacking corps can slow him down.

Get the ground game going just a little bit? The Bears are averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. I think they'll need to show at least a smidge of ability in the running game in order to keep Green Bay's defense honest.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Humor Vault Headlines

Pittsburgh Pirates player knows deep down that he's not a loser, doesn't care what that fan in the second row keeps saying

Pete Carroll really proud of himself for not yet incurring any recruiting violations with Seahawks

Raiders players shocked to discover last week's game was not part of the preseason

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bears find several stars in Lone Star State

The Bears needed to win at least once during Weeks 2-4--at Dallas, vs. Packers and at Giants--in order to arrive at the season's quarter-mark alive and kicking. They did not take their time searching for that victory.

How 'bout them Bears, huh?! Turns out they're not allergic to fundamental football: zero turnovers and just two penalties in the biggest NFL stadium in the world. It was a clean, competitive game that saw the Bears come out on top, making them one of eight undefeated teams through Week 2. It's the first time they've started a season 2-0 since 2006. There was something else interesting about the Bears' 2006 season, I just can't remember what it was ...

(I interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post to report that Brett Favre and the Vikings are 0-2. I repeat: The Vikings have not won at football this year and have scored 19 points in two games.)

The Bears were actually outgained by over 100 yards and rushed for just 38 yards, but Cutler lit it up again, going 21-for-29 for 277 yards and three TDs. Apparently Cutler eats awesome for breakfast, defenses for lunch and crazy awesome for dinner, because he has the highest QB rating in the league. Four different receivers had at least four receptions and what ... what the hell is going on with Matt Forte? Five more catches for 37 yards and a TD catch on which he was lined up out wide. Apparently Matt Forte is some sort of futuristic half running back/half receiver machine. I am okay with this.

(Brett Favre had a fumble and three interceptions on Sunday. Ha. Hahaha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. He is evil and he deserves any terrible fate that befalls him.)

I'll be honest: I did not know D.J. Moore's name until after the first game. But I know it now. Twice he played receiver for Tony Romo, giving the Bears the turnover edge they needed. Urlacher added a fumble recovery as well.

Lastly, let's talk about the best. Run. Defense. In the league. Fifty-six total yards allowed on the ground in two games, average of 1.4 yards per carry. "Hello, other team. What's that? You want some rushing yards? Oh, no problem, how about 1.4 of them? Would you like 1.4 rushing yards per carry? Would you like that? Because THAT'S ALL YOU GET!"

(Brett Favre is a grandpa. Do you think his memory is good enough to remember the last time he won a football game?)

Let's enjoy this one more time, shall we? 'Til next week.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Week 24 awards: Suddenly, Cubs are road warriors

The Cubs are now 17-7 under Mike Quade, but here's the number I'm more impressed with: 12-3. That's the Cubs' record on the road under their new manager; they were 27-38 on the road under Piniella. They struggled away from home last season as well, and it's nice to finally see some consistency when it comes to the home/road split.

It was the Cubs' first perfect week of the season, one that included their longest winning streak of the year (six) and their first three-game sweep in St. Louis since 1988. They beat Garcia, Wainwright and Carpenter to accomplish the latter feat, which is amazing given that those three had never lost back-to-back-to-back starts this season, and the only other time two of them lost in back-to-back games was against Milwaukee last month.

The Cubs are guaranteed to have a winning record against the Cardinals for the year, which is actually nothing new: they've taken the season series with their rivals five of the last six years (55-39 overall).

I don't think Quade deserves all the credit for the September turnaround, but he certainly does deserve praise for a job well done. It's nice to see the youngsters--and the few veterans on the team--putting forth effort and showing that they'll have at least a modicum of talent to work with when the calendar turns to 2011.

Ryno of the Week: Choices, choices. Over the course of the week, the Cubs outscored their opponents 39-12 and every starter got at least one win. We even had a Shark sighting as Jeff Samardzija made his first two starts of the year and is suddenly 2-1 on the season. But Randy Wells posted one of the team's best starts of the year in his return home (he's from Belleville, near St. Louis): 8 IP, just five hits and one earned run, and no walks, the first time he's avoided any free passes since August 2.

Honorable mentions: Casey Coleman, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Xavier Nady, Geovany Soto

Goat of the Week: I hate to be mad at anyone during a six-game winning streak, but Blake DeWitt was 3-for-17 this week and is now batting .234 as a Cub.

Dishonorable mention: Marlon Byrd

Friday, September 17, 2010

Everything's bigger in Texas--especially Cowboys Stadium

The Bears and Cowboys faced off just twice in the aughts (is that what we say? The aughts?), with the Cowboys winning by 14 in 2004 and by 24 in 2007. In fact, the Bears haven't toppled Jerry Jones's boys since 1998 when Erik Kramer and Edgar Bennett led them to a 13-12 victory.

The pundits have the Cowboys anywhere from a Super Bowl contender to an overrated sub-.500 team this year. Their fans are no doubt a little concerned after an ugly 13-7 loss to the Redskins Sunday night in which they committed 12 penalties including one on the final play that cost them the win. Their defense looked strong, however, as seven of Washington's 13 points came as the result of a boneheaded play at the end of the first half in which a Tony Romo screen pass led to a fumble return for a touchdown.

This will be the first game of 2010 at the new Cowboys Stadium where Dallas was 6-2 last year. The 80,000+ fans will no doubt be pumped, the Cowboys will be desperate to avoid starting the season 0-2, and the Bears will get a big road test after failing six of eight times away
from home last season.

Keys to the Game

How good will Marc Colombo be in his first game back? It's likely that the right tackle (and former Bear) will in fact be back after missing the opener due to a knee injury. His absence cost the Cowboys dearly as his replacement Alex Barron committed multiple penalties including the one at the end of the game. But will Colombo be ready for a full 60 minutes of action?

Contain Miles Austin. Dallas is clearly out to prove that Austin's surprise success last year was no fluke--he caught 10 passes for 146 yards last week along with a TD, amassing more than half of his team's receiving yards. It's unlikely the Bears will be able to shut him down completely, and containing him may require some double teams even with Dez Bryant and Roy Williams on the field with him.

Win the turnover battle. Rather obvious, of course, but a glaring issue after the Bears fumbled away three balls and threw an interception against Detroit. The Cowboys essentially lost their opener on the end-of-first-half fumble as well. This could be a tight game and turnovers, as always, could be crucial.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Baseball player none too happy with God after tough ninth-inning loss

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

HOUSTON--God was clearly on the side of Albert Pujols and the Cardinals on Thursday, and the Astros were none too happy about it. Pujols gestured toward the sky after his go-ahead home run in the ninth inning, understandably eager to thank the Lord for allowing his team to win the game.

"This is bulls**t," said Astros outfielder Hunter Pence. "I really don't understand why God hates us so much. I pray most nights. I thank Him when he lets me get a big hit. And yet we're 13 games out of first place while He keeps giving Pujols home runs? Sorry I'm so upset, but goddamn, God is really pissing me off."

Pujols praised God in his post-game interview, thanking him for the talent he has given him and saying that through Him all things are possible. He added that while the Cardinals have struggled of late, maybe God will see fit to help them make it to the postseason.

"Everyone is all, 'God is great! God is great!' God is average at best," said Pence after taking off his necklace with a cross on it. "I don't know what else he wants from us. I'm sick of this Godforsaken sport."

God did not respond to a request for comment.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fredi Gonzalez out of the running?

John Hickey over at AOL Fanhouse says Fredi Gonzalez has turned down an interview for the Cubs' managerial opening, fueling speculation that Gonzalez is essentially set to take over for Bobby Cox in 2011. It was reported earlier that Gonzalez was Hendry's top choice.

Bottom line: Ryno's movin' on up the list.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wha' happened?

Calvin Johnson screwed up by not possessing the ball all the way through the process of the catch. Or something.

Seriously, I have no idea what just happened. Have you ever seen a football game more confusing than the Bears' 19-14 win over the Lions? I feel like I just saw Mulholland Drive for the first time. Was it good? Was it terrible? Can you promise me I never have to watch that again?

The happy fan's take: If the Bears are to be a playoff team, they had a few goals to accomplish on Sunday:

1) Dominate both sides of the ball.

Check. They outgained the Lions 463-168. Their average play went for 6.6 yards, while the Lions' went for a pathetic 2.9. The Bears held the Lions to 20 rushing yards on 21 carries.

2) Cutler should have been able to carve up Detroit's secondary.

Check. He threw for 372 yards, more than he amassed in any game last season. He did throw one ill-advised pick, but also had two TDs.

3) Forte needed to show the explosiveness that eluded him last year.

Check. Forte had over 200 total yards, including an 89-yard reception on which he outran several Detroit defenders as he took it the house. Did he leave them in the dust? No, but he found open space, saw the end zone, and got to the end zone. I'm not sure his injured leg would have allowed him to do that last season.

4) Urlacher needed to be the dominant force he once was.

Check. He was flying all over the field, finishing the game with eight tackles and a sack.

The skeptical fan's take: The Bears should be 0-1. Calvin Johnson should file a report with the Chicago Police Department, because he was robbed. The Bears essentially lost a home game to the Detroit Freakin' Lions.

Things that make me angry at life:

1) Shaun Hill essentially led a game-winning drive in the last 1:32. Shaun Hill. Fun facts you may not have known about Shaun Hill:

-He is currently homeless.

-He was signed by the Lions as the result of a clerical error last Friday.

-His father always told him he'd never amount to anything. At the end of each NFL season, he calls him to say "I told you so."

2) Four turnovers. Why do the Bears hate the ball so much? What's so bad about holding the ball? Is it sharp? Is it malodorous? Perhaps it has a tendency to say disrespectful things to those who hold it? Forte let go twice, Olsen once (in the red zone), Cutler once. Oh, and Cutler had a nice little 2009 moment in which he threw down the middle of the field into triple coverage.

3) Nine penalties for 100 yards, including three personal fouls. They were about as disciplined as Mel Gibson drunk at a bar mitzvah.

4) Lovie's decision to go for it on fourth-and-one. Unacceptable. Inexcusable. The Lions had 101 yards of offense to that point and the Bears could have taken a two-point lead and rode their defense to victory. Instead, they tried to "send a message" and ran up the middle for no gain. Apparently the message was: We don't care what the score is because points are just the establishment's way of keeping the proletariat in their place. We scoff at the belief that a team's performance can be judged by the number of points they score in relation to their opponent. Workers of the world, unite!

4) How do you get 463 yards of offense but just 19 points? By going 0-for-4 in the red zone. It was a veritable litany of missed opportunities. A veritable litany.

So, take your pick: The Bears either impressed on both sides of the ball and finished the week tied with the Packers for first, or they got lucky in what should have been an ugly, mistake-ridden loss to Shaun Hill and the Lions. Me? I'll get back to you after Week 2.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Week 23 awards: It's all about divisional play (and guys named Carlos)

The Cubs are 5-10 against Houston this season with three games remaining against them. As you might painfully recall, they are also 5-10 against the lowly Pirates. Divisional play has killed the Cubs all year--they're 28-42 against the Central, just two games better than those Pirates. The first-place Reds have dominated divisional foes, going 42-25 including a 12-4 mark against the Cubs.

Granted, the Cubs' real problem is that they suck against, you know, everyone, but you absolutely have to take care of business in your own division if you want to have a successful season. On the bright side, the Cubs are 9-6 against the Brewers.

Ryno of the Week: Carlos Zambrano, you are one confusing son of a bitch. Not only did he post another good start this week, he went 8.2 innings. My eternal quibble with Zambrano is his high pitch counts and short outings, so I was amazed to see him come one out from a complete game. But since he couldn't get that final out, Carlos Marmol mopped up for one of his three saves this week. He's saved nine straight without a blown save, is 30/35 overall on the season, and still has a ridiculous K/9 inning rate of 15.83. You think he might get a raise on his $2.125 million salary in arbitration this winter? The Cubs may want to consider inking him to a long-term deal, says the Bleacher Report.

Honorable mentions: Ryan Dempster, Jeff Baker, Darwin Barney

Goat of the Week: He hadn't pitched in over a month, so this probably isn't real fair. But taking out the shortened start in which he had to leave due to injury, Carlos Silva has had four straight starts of five innings or less, and has allowed five runs or more in three of them. Five starts ago, his ERA was 2.96; now it's 4.22. In fairness, 10-6 with a 4.22 ERA is better than most of us would have predicted before the season.

Dishonorable mentions: Blake DeWitt, Alfonso Soriano

Friday, September 10, 2010

Let's get this party started

The Bears and Lions engaged in two shootouts last year with the blue and orange coming out victorious over the blue and silver each time. In the first match-up, at Soldier Field, the game was tied at 21 at halftime, but the Bears overwhelmed them in the second half and won going away 48-24. In a meaningless Week 17 game, the Bears ended their season with a 37-23 win, the Lions' 14th loss of the season.

But will the Lions continue to be the whipping boy of the NFC? (They've won more than six games just once since 2001.) Do the Bears' preseason struggles presage a season with fewer wins than the seven they claimed last year? I don't know for sure, but I'll tell you how I'm going to find out: by watching some f**king football this Sunday. Bring it.

Keys to the game

Protect Cutler. Duh. If you had a lobotomy and somehow forgot that this was a huge issue last season, this is your reminder. And if you completely ignored the preseason during which Jay Cutler spent lots of quality time with the ground, I'm here to tell you about that too. Protection is hugely important in any offense, but especially in a Mike Martz offense. And Detroit added second-overall pick Ndamukong Suh to their defensive line.

Don't let Detroit put their "Best" foot forward. There it is, folks, the first bad pun of the 2010 NFL season! (polite applause)
The 30th pick in this year's draft, former Cal star Jahvid Best gives the Lions a potentially legitimate weapon in the backfield, something they lacked last season. Though Detroit's passing weapons are not to be ignored, the Bears should still key on Best and force Stafford to beat them through the air.

The return of Urlacher. I really hope I'm not jinxing anything here. Urlacher missed 15.5 games last year and was hurt during the preseason. Hopefully he's 100 percent for this Sunday, and if he is, it will be fun to see what remains in his tank. Can he be the ubiquitous presence he once was and help restore the Bears' D?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

ESPN apologizes for not broadcasting a Yankees-Red Sox game

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

BRISTOL, Conn.--With tears in his eyes and a somber look on his face, SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt looked directly into the camera Wednesday night and apologized to baseball fans around the world for his network's inexplicable decision not to air a game featuring the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox. Given that ESPN had broadcast the last 212 games between the two rivals, it was quite the unexpected blow to fans who tuned in excitedly at 7:00 EST only to see the Minnesota Twins playing the Detroit Tigers.

"Sports fans, we at ESPN ask for your forgiveness on this day," began Van Pelt. "There is no dancing around this--a tragedy has occurred. The Boston Red Sox played a baseball game against the New York Yankees tonight, and you ... [Van Pelt paused here and lowered his head, his jaw quivering. After a few moments, he continued] ... you weren't able to see it. The greatest rivalry in the history of sports, nay, in the history of games and competition of any kind, in the history of human civilization, was broadcast only in the teams' local areas. Today, I am ashamed to be an employee of ESPN."

Gary Miller, a fan who went to Buffalo Wild Wings to catch Wednesday Night Baseball, had this to say at 7:25, when it became clear to everyone at the bar that ESPN was actually going to show the entire Twins/Tigers game: "I felt sick to my stomach. I mean yes, I shouldn't have chugged that 23 ounce Leinie's Summer Shandy, and I'm pretty sure they don't clean their beer tap lines here, but it wasn't the beer. Twins/Tigers? I mean, who are these people? Joe Mauer? Justin Ver ... Verla ... Verlanker? Are these teams even in the major leagues?"

The bar was booming just before seven o'clock, but was nearly empty by eight. It was the same story at bars across the country as fans fled home and flooded ESPN with emails and calls.

"We can't change what happened tonight," said Van Pelt, "but we can promise never to let it happen again. People jokingly refer to us as 'Eastern Seaboard Programming Network' for a reason. They expect certain biases and a consistent if sometimes irrational commitment to East Coast teams, especially the Sox and Yankees. On top of our ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNClassic channels, we are looking into the possibility of adding ESPNRed Sox and ESPNYankees. We apologize again, and we assure you that this boneheaded decision will be #1 in this week's 'Not Top Ten.'"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Derrek Lee update

That looks weird.

It's not a good one, unless you were hoping he would fail in Atlanta. After hitting four home runs in his last three games played as a Cub, Lee has yet to go deep in 17 games as a Brave. While in his first 10 games he had nine hits, seven RBI and three runs scored (and the Braves went 5-5), he is just 4-for-20 with one run scored and nary an RBI in his last seven (and the Braves are 2-5).

While they lead the Wild Card race, the Braves fell out of first for the the first time since May after a second straight loss to the Pirates yesterday.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

NFC North preview

In 2009, two NFC North teams--the Vikings and Packers--finished above .500, with the Vikings taking the division title and the Packers a Wild Card spot. The Bears, who went 3-3 in the division, finished third and 7-9 overall. The Lions won just two games. Will there be a new North champ this season? Will the Lions make noise? Will the Bears contend?

ESPN had 16 "experts" make their playoff predictions, and the Bears are on there as often as the Rams (uh, never). Fifteen of the sixteen picked the Packers to win the division. But who needs ESPN when you have me?


Led by a vaunted passing attack featuring Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, along with a 1,200-yard season from Ryan Grant, the Packers put up the third-most points in the NFL last season. All of those players, along with talented tight end Jermichael Finley, return in 2010. The unit's 2009 production is amazing given the struggles of the offensive line, which allowed the most sacks in the NFL. The offensive line is still a question mark, but this could be the best offensive team in the league.

The Pack's defense allowed the second-fewest yards per game and the seventh-fewest points in the league in 2009. They've got the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Charles Woodson (who will turn 34 in October), though fellow cornerback Al Harris is coming off knee surgery. It's scary to think that their success last year came in the first season after a switch to a 3-4 system.

Prediction: 13-3


One of the two teams who scored more points than Green Bay last year, the Vikings return every offensive starter. Brett Favre seemed on a mission to match his age in touchdowns in 2009, ending up with 33 of them and just seven picks. He's on a potentially bum ankle this year and won't have Sidney Rice to throw to until for at least six weeks. The Vikes also lost Chester Taylor, though I think they have a decent #1 back.

Minnesota finished 10th in points allowed and had a stifling rush defense that allowed just 87 yards per game (second in the NFL). Amazingly, they return all 11 defensive starters as well. This certainly looks like a strong team, though it's impossible not to wonder what kind of drop-off we'll see from the 40-year-old vermin.

Prediction: 10-6


Mike Martz has been brought in to try to improve upon an offense that finished 19th in points per game last season. The young receiving corps returns and can hopefully build on some success last year, while Jay Cutler will look to beat last year's career high in TDs but avoid another career high in picks. Chester Taylor provides a nice pass-catching ability and is a good blocker. But holy Jesus the offensive line has looked terrible this offseason.

The D was even worse last year, allowing over 23 points per game. While the safety positions are in a bit of flux, Urlacher returns (fingers crossed for a healthy season) and Julius Freak of Nature Peppers (editor's note: not his real middle name) brings a legit pass rush to the defensive line. This unit should be better than '09, but it's hard to envision them having a top-flight defense.

Prediction: 8-8


When your leading rusher has under 800 yards and your QB throws seven more INTs than TDs, you're probably going to have the 27th ranked offense in the league. Probably. No, definitely, cuz that's what the Lions did last year. But now Matthew Stafford has a year under his belt and they have 1st-round draft pick Jahvid Best in their backfield. Translation: this offense should take a step forward in 2010.

What's worse than having the 27th ranked offense? Having the league's worst defense. Detroit added second-overall draft pick Ndomukong Suh to the defensive line along with free agent Kyle Vanden Bosch. On the flip side, they lost two of their linebackers. The secondary appears to be a weakness as well. In short, the Lions might improve upon their run defense but may struggle against the pass.

Prediction: 5-11

Monday, September 6, 2010

Week 22 awards: Sure these teams are bad, but better to beat them than lose to them!

Well this is sort of fun, no? I mean sure, the emphasis is on "sort of" since there's a pretty low ceiling on the enjoyment one can glean from a fifth-place team with an interim manager and some guy named Scott Maine in the bullpen. But fun nonetheless.

A second straight 4-2 week resulted in some rather pleasant press conferences for Mike Quade who suddenly has the Cubs looking like they care. The team is scoring runs, two different pitchers (Diamond and Russell) earned their first major league victories, and Carlos Marmol climbed into sixth place on the NL saves leaderboard.

By the way, for those who said the Cubs shouldn't bring in Sandberg mid-season because it's a toxic environment, because it would be unfair to him, etc., etc., do you still think that now? Do you think Quade is sick and tired of managing this unmanageable group of players? For those who want Sandberg at the helm next season, it would be pretty cool if he were 8-4 as manager right now, wouldn't it? He'd have a few press conferences under his belt, he'd be gaining a sense of the team's strengths and weaknesses, and he would have had a month or two to hone his major league management style. Do you think Buck Showalter wishes the Orioles would have waited until the offseason to hire him, given that the Orioles are 19-13 under him after beating the Rays yesterday? But I digress.

On a separate note, the Cardinals are tanking and that brings me joy.

Ryno of the Week: This is probably the toughest one I've had all year. In the one corner we have Starlin Castro who went 11-for-25 with eight runs scored and two RBI, and sits in third in the NL batting race. He also became the first Cubs rookie in 66 years with six straight multi-hit games. In the other corner we have Carlos Zambrano, our resident riddle wrapped in an enigma. He went 2-0 this week with a 1.46 ERA, six walks and 15 strikeouts. He made history of his own, passing Kerry Wood for third on the Cubs' all-time strikeout list. He's 4-0 since returning from the restricted list and has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his six starts. Since Big Z was still plagued by control issues and only pitched 12.1 innings over his two starts, whereas Castro did just about everything right (except for moving forward to accept a throw on a steal attempt, allowing Carlos Beltran to get in safely behind him), I'm going to go with the rook. Man, can this kid hit.

Judd Sirott made an interesting point during Saturday's post-game show, suggesting that Zambrano's numbers as a starter this season are not too shabby. Unless, that is, you look at them as if Big Z were an ace (and of course he's being paid like one, which is the problem). It reminded me of a post I wrote last year in which I explained that Big Z simply isn't an ace and never has been. What Judd said is true: Zambano isn't a bad pitcher, but he's definitely not an ace.

Honorable mentions: Koyie Hill, Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano

Goat of the Week: From the Department of Baseball Makes No Sense, Ryan Dempster got absolutely pasted twice this week after going 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA in his previous five starts. He failed to go five innings in either start this week. He still has a small chance of reaching the 15-win mark for the third time in his career.

Dishonorable mention: Blake DeWitt

Friday, September 3, 2010

Humor Vault Headlines

Ray Lewis says he's ready to kill the competition in 2010. Er, he means, beat them. You know, at football.

Tulane #1 in preseason poll of Tulane students

With boldest prediction yet, Michael Irvin predicts that every NFL team will go 8-8.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cubs managerial candidates

In terms of the Cubs' search for a new manager, it's very early. There are still lots of questions without answers, such as: Will Joe Torre and/or Tony LaRussa retire? Are the Yankees going to extend Joe Girardi? Does Mike Quade actually have a shot at the job?

Then yesterday, the rumor swirled that Hendry has Fredi Gonzalez at the top of his wish list, and that he prefers someone with major league managing experience. As you'll read below, I hope this isn't true.

Nevertheless, let's handicap this thang:

Ryne Sandberg 37%

I've already shared my pro-Ryno feelings, but I'll reiterate succinctly: He's a Hall of Famer who played the game hard and understands what it takes to get the most out of your talent. When he expressed a desire to manage back in 2006, the Cubs asked him to start by riding a bus around the Midwest as a Single A manager. He did it. He paid his dues. He's worked his way up through the minors and by all accounts has grown a great deal as a leader and a communicator. In addition, it's virtually a guarantee that he would be managing a different major league team by the time the Cubs get around to hiring again. Plus, Dutchie Caray is all for it!

For another pro-Ryno view, here's Gene Wojciechowski.

**UPDATE** Sandberg will be named the Pacific Coast League manager of the year on Friday.

Fredi Gonzalez 23%

I had to bump his percentage up at the last minute because of the rumor mill. He led the Marlins to winning seasons in '08 and '09 despite MLB's lowest payroll. He knows what he's doing and I like the way he handled the Hanley Ramirez "jogging after the ball and then throwing his teammates under the bus" situation. For a few years, he was third base coach of the Braves under Bobby Cox. This is where the problem comes in, in my mind: the Braves will have a vacancy next season too, and would Fredi rather take over the Cubs than the Braves?

Joe Girardi 12%

I still think he's at the top of Hendry's list. The only problem? He's probably at the top of the Steinbrenners' list too. Though he hasn't been extended past this season yet, the Yankees are coming off a World Series title and have the best record in the majors. Yes, Girardi grew up in Peoria, played for the Cubs, and his wife is from Chicago. Yes, leading the Cubs to a title would essentially put him on MLB's Mount Rushmore, or at least Chicago's. But would he really leave the $230 million-payroll, best-team-in-the-majors Yankees for the no-bullpen, Soriano-in-left, lead-the-majors in errors Cubs? I don't see it.

By the way, Girardi is the only hire I would accept outside of Sandberg.

Bob Brenly 10%

He's got a World Series ring. More importantly, he knows the Cubs as well as anyone after watching and analyzing them for the last six years. Managerial success + well-liked by Cubs fans = not a bad choice. Okay, I might accept Brenly too. But I'd rather have Sandberg in the dugout and Brenly in the booth.

Mike Quade 7%

He's off to a nice start, I'll give him that. And he has managed literally thousands of games at the minor league level. But still--Mike Quade as your next Cubs manager?

Joe Torre 4%

He's 70 years old--is he really looking to take on a rebuilding Cubs team?

Tony LaRussa 1%

I would murder everyone in the world.

Eric Wedge 1%

He already interviewed for the job, so he has to be on the list. He managed the Indians from 2003-2009.

Pat Listach 1%

He managed players such as Soto, Colvin and Marmol as manager of the Iowa Cubs, and currently serves as the Nationals' third base coach. Meh.

Bobby Valentine 1%

He threw his hat in the ring, but my guess is that Hendry and Ricketts wouldn't want his type of personality.

Ozzie Guillen 1%

Steve Stone said he doesn't think both Guillen and Kenny Williams will survive into next year, so it must be true. Still, I don't see him heading north. Though at least then when he comes to Wrigley he wouldn't have to use the visitors' clubhouse.

Ted Simmons 1%

The Padres bench coach has indicated that he would have interest in the job. Obviously this would be an out-of-left-field pick.

Chris Speier 1%

Another bench coach--he sits next to Dusty in the Reds' dugout. Speier spent two years as the Cubs' third base coach when Dusty was here, and Hendry has said that he's "a good man, and one of my favorite players as a kid."

Whew. I'd be shocked if I haven't listed the next Cubs manager here. What do you think? Who do you want to see and who do you think it'll be?