Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wait 'til this Year is movin' on up

Dear readers,

I'm excited to inform you that Wait 'til this Year has been granted a space on the ChicagoNow website. ChicagoNow, in the site's own words, is "an online community created by Chicagoans ... where we connect to each other online and share our interests." It launched in August 2009 and is owned by the Chicago Tribune Media Group. This is an exciting opportunity for me and I hope you'll follow me to my new location.

While this page will no longer be updated, my blog remains, just at a new URL: http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/wait-til-this-year/. So please follow me over to ChicagoNow and enjoy my new blogging community! I appreciate all the support I've had from my readers over the last two years--it's you that helped me gain this great new opportunity.

I truly hope that you'll continue reading my blog at ChicagoNow and I look forward to you sharing your comments and thoughts over there. So head over to ChicagoNow ... now!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Who will be the Cubs' fifth outfielder in 2011?

Starting outfield: Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Tyler Colvin/Kosuke Fukudome

Bench: Tyler Colvin/Kosuke Fukudome

Spots available: 1

Possible fifth outfielder: Reed Johnson, Brett Jackson, James Adduci, Lou Montanez, Fernando Perez, Brad Snyder, Bryan LaHair

Early prediction: All of them! No, never mind, I don't think Quade would do that. He's so lame. I'm actually going to go with former-Cub-and-now-Cub-again Reed Johnson.

Johnson had a bad year with the Dodgers, putting up .262/.291/.366. BUT, he hit .301 against lefties and has a .312 career average against southpaws, which could be key since neither Colvin nor Fukudome could hit a lefty if he walked up to the mound and swung at the ball while it was still in the pitcher's hand. And as we saw when he was with the Cubs, he's a strong defender. (I couldn't find video of the ridiculous catch he made in Washington, which is pictured above, but here's his grand slam-saving catch against Prince Fielder.)

Jackson, of course, was the team's #1 draft pick in '09, but probably isn't quite ready yet. And Brad Snyder was called up last September but hit just .185. He has played approximately 700,000 minor league games. (Actually 845.)

A quick comment on the right field situation as well: there's definitely a spring training battle at hand given that Colvin and Fukudome are both lefties, meaning a strict platoon won't work. Fukudome is in the final year of his four-year deal and has yet to do anything of note after about May 15 of any season. Colvin posted a low .316 OBP last year but showed significant pop with 20 HR in just 358 at-bats (which translates to about 27 in a full season of work). Colvin could also spell both Byrd and Soriano, as he did last year. Complicating matters is the painful and pathetic fact that Quade might view Fukudome as the team's best leadoff option.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bulls in conversation for best team in East

In Michael Jordan's final year in Chicago, the Bulls went 62-20 and won their sixth NBA title in eight years. The following season under Tim Floyd, they won just 13 games in a shortened season and commenced a run of nearly unwatchable basketball that blew the Bulls right off the front pages of the Windy City's sports sections.

The Bulls have finished over .500 just twice since then, providing one jolt of excitement when they took the more-talented Celtics to seven games in the first round of the playoffs two years ago. They posted a perfectly mediocre 41-41 record each of the last two seasons, and Vegas set the over/under at 46.5 wins for this year.

But with their next win, the Bulls will have already exceeded last year's win total. At 41-18, they're just three games behind the Celtics and two behind the Heat for the best record in the Eastern Conference. Their seed will be vitally important given that they've lost just four home games all year--only the Spurs have lost fewer--but are a pedestrian 15-14 away from the United Center.

Though the Bulls are still looking up at the Heat and Celtics in the standings, they've separated themselves a bit from the rest of the pack and made a case for their Eastern Conference supremacy last week with a riveting win over the Heat, the second time they've beaten them at home this year (though they were LeBron-less the first time). The Bulls will face Miami again Sunday, though this time they'll be taking their talents to South Beach.

The Bulls came up empty in their two trips to the Garden this year, but defeated the Celtics at home and will try to do the same on April 7. A win in that game could go a long way toward improving the Bulls' playoff seed.

With Derrick Rose playing at an MVP level, Carlos Boozer providing a consistent threat down low, Joakim Noah crashing the boards after returning from injury, and a coach who's actually competent calling the plays, the Bulls look ready to make their playoff push. When fully healthy, the Bulls just might be the best team in the East, and it's been way too long since we could contemplate such a possibility.

The Bulls spoiled their fans in the 90s but took none of the spoils over the last decade--after all, they were rarely the victors--but there's finally a reason to be excited in the post-Jordan era. March Madness is just around the corner, but in Chicago, more madness will finally follow in April and maybe even beyond.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cubs make errors in field, judgement

From the You've Got to be Kidding Me Department, Carlos Silva got into a dugout altercation with Aramis Ramirez during the Cubs' spring training loss to the Brewers on Wednesday, proving that no game is meaningless enough to prevent a Cub from being a hotheaded douchebag. Silva refused to talk to the media after the incident, making it impossible to know whether he was angry with his teammates for making three errors in one inning, or at himself for giving up two home runs in his first spring training start as he attempts to grab a spot in the starting rotation.

The Cubs made five errors Wednesday, bringing their four-game spring training total to 14. This might be the first time Mike Quade is happy he suffers from alopecia, because he's probably realizing that one season as Cubs manager would have made his hair fall out anyways.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Women get in (duh), so do men (whaaa???)

It was widely assumed that IWU's men's basketball team needed to win the CCIW conference tournament in order to reach the postseason tourney. But despite getting hammered 76-52 by Augustana in the conference tournament title game, they somehow slipped into the bracket and will face UW-River Falls (seriously, how many UW schools are there?) this Friday at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minn. As essentially a 16 seed, the men have their work cut out for them if they want to match or surpass last year's Elite Eight appearance.

We've known for a while that the women would make the tournament; the only question was whether they would host the first two rounds. The answer, we found out Monday, is yes. The Titans will host Webster and then would play the winner of the match-up between UW-La Crosse and Wisconsin Lutheran. Last year, the women's team won the first two games at home before falling to UW-Stevens Point in the Sweet Sixteen. Looking at the bracket, Stevens Point would be a potential Elite Eight foe this year.

Once again, best of luck to both teams in the postseason!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Who will be the Cubs' backup infielder and catcher in 2011?

Darwin Barney's name alone makes him a great candidate for the Cubs' bench.

With a spring training game officially in the books, it's high time we take a look at some of the position battles that will ensue over the next month. Today we'll take a look at the infield and catcher positions. Who will spell Geovany Soto? Will Darwin Barney make the team? Will Augie Ojeda be mistaken for a bat boy at spring training? So many questions.

Starting infield: Carlos Pena, Blake DeWitt/Jeff Baker, Starlin Castro, Aramis Ramirez

Bench: Blake DeWitt/Jeff Baker

Spots available: 1

Possible IF bench players: Darwin Barney, Bobby Scales, Augie Ojeda, Scott Moore, Marquez Smith

Early prediction: Darwin Barney. A 25-year-old 2007 draft pick, he played 30 games with the big club at the end of last year, batting .241 with a .294 OBP. He had a respectable .976 combined fielding percentage at second, third and short. He was solid at AAA last year, batting .299 with a .333 OBP, and he had 14 errors, mostly at short. If he can put the bat on the ball and play solid defense, his versatility in the field could make him a nice addition off the bench.

I was tempted to go with Marquez Smith, a 26-year-old who was also drafted in 2007. He batted .314 with a .384 OBP in 91 games at Iowa last year, but he's mostly limited to third base where he struggled to the tune of a .938 fielding percentage last year.

As far as the second base platoon, Blake DeWitt got the lion's share of the playing time after coming to the Cubs in the Ted Lilly trade. He struggled, but probably has a higher ceiling than Baker. Expect Baker to play against lefties, though, given his .350 average last season against southpaws. My guess is that Quade will be open to one of the two "winning" the job in spring training, but my money would be on a pretty strict platoon come the regular season.

Starting catcher: Geovany Soto

Possible back-up catchers: Koyie Hill, Wellington Castillo

Early prediction: Koyie Fucking Hill. Who has a .211 career average as a Cub. I hate him like Alfonso Soriano hates outfield walls. I say start Soto 150 games and throw Zambrano behind the plate for the other 12 just to keep him on his toes.

Castillo, who's just 23, had six hits in 21 at-bats (.300) after being called up last September.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Cardinal goes down, a former Cub bows out

First they fail to extend Albert Pujols, now their #2 starter is out for the year. It has not been a good month for the Cardinals.

Adam Wainwright, who finished second in Cy Young voting this past season, is slated for Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season. This doesn't devastate the Cardinals--they still have Carpenter, Garcia, Lohse, and Jake Westbrook--but it's a significant blow. Instead of one of the most potent 1-2 punches in baseball, they now have one ace and several average-to-above average pitchers.

I must admit, I'm intrigued to see what kind of magical spell Dave Duncan will be able to cast on whatever castoff or minor leaguer replaces Wainwright. Some free agent options include Kevin Millwood (4-16 last year with Baltimore) and Jeremy Bonderman (5.53 ERA last year with Detroit), though they may simply hope for one of their prospects to step up this spring. Surely whomever they choose will set a major league record for wins because Dave Duncan is a witch.

In other baseball news, former Cubs second baseman Mark Grudzielanek has decided to retire. Grudzielanek, who is now 40, batted .314 for the 2003 Cubs team that fell one win shy of the World Series. In fact, it was Grudzielanek who would have taken the flip from Alex Gonzalez, thrown it to first for a double play and ended the infamous 8th inning that cost the Cubs Game 6 of the NLCS. Instead, terrible, unspeakable things happened and part of me died inside forever.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's conference tournament weekend! (In Division III)

The women's team registered one of their most dominant wins of the season on Senior Night this past Saturday.

The IWU women's basketball team will once again host the conference tournament this Friday and Saturday after becoming the first CCIW team ever to win four straight regular season titles. The Titans, who are ranked 7th in the latest D3hoops.com poll, slipped up just once in the conference season with a home loss to Carthage, posting an impressive 13-1 record.

But as fate would have it, Carthage finished the season as the four seed meaning the Titans will have a chance to avenge that loss tomorrow. If they win, they'll face the winner of the Wheaton-Millikin match-up on Saturday. While the Titans handled Millikin easily in their two match-ups, they escaped with a narrow two-point victory in their home contest against Wheaton.

The path to the conference tournament was slightly more stressful for the men's team. Injuries and inconsistent play had them at 8-5 in the CCIW and set up a win-or-go-home game against 3rd-ranked Augustana on Tuesday. With the score tied, Doug Sexauer hit a short jumper with one second left to give the Titans a two-point lead. Augustana managed a decent shot at the buzzer, but it banged off the rim, sending IWU to North Central on Friday to begin a conference tournament they likely need to win if they want to advance to the national tourney.

IWU needed overtime in both of their games against North Central this season, winning at home and losing in Naperville. If they win Friday, they'll face the winner of the Augustana-Wheaton game.

Best of luck to both teams this weekend!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

From D to Z: Dempster gets Opening Day nod, followed by Zambrano

*I actually wrote this before Quade named Dempster the Opening Day starter, I swear. But I've edited it to reflect Quade's rather early decision.

The question scarcely had to be asked the last few years since Carlos Zambrano has been on the mound the last six Opening Days. But after a season in which Zambrano went all Zambrano and was banished to the bullpen for over a month, and with a new manager at the helm, we knew that streak was in jeopardy in 2011. Given that Z has just one win in those six tries and that the memory of the Braves bashing him around last year has not quite faded (it was kind of him to throw Jason Heyward that coming out party, though), I think it's time to give someone else a chance. On Monday, we found out that Quade agrees.

The obvious choice was indeed Ryan Dempster. In the three seasons since he became a starter again, he has won more games than Z each year and had a lower ERA in two of the three years. He's eclipsed the 200-inning mark all three seasons (Z hasn't done so since 2007) and has been consistently solid in his seven years as a Cub.

In terms of ERA and WHIP, a case could have been made for the newly acquired Matt Garza. But in my opinion, while getting the nod for Opening Day is mostly about recognition of talent, I think it's also an honor. And given that the next time Garza plays in a Cubs uniform will also be the first, I think Dempster is much more deserving of the distinction.

Of course we might also ask: Does it really matter who starts? Not really. It's just one game, just one start; each pitcher will get about 30 more over the course of the season. But Zambrano's lack of success on the season's first day is noteworthy and makes Mike Quade's decision perhaps more meaningful than the corresponding decision that, say, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle will have to make. Zambrano tends to operate at about 100 mph, sort of like someone who's high on coke. Yeah, someone who's high on coke and has Tourette's. But it seems like on Opening Days he's more jacked up than Lindsay Lohan on a Friday night. The role simply doesn't fit him. It's like asking Gary Busey to be your Jenga partner--you're going to lose and it's probably not going to end well.

So way to change it up, Quade. Let's see what a little calmness on the mound looks like on the season's first day. It's an honor Dempster deserves, and it gives the Cubs the Opening Day opportunity they deserve.

But what do you think? Is Dempster the right guy? Who should be on the mound April 1?

Monday, February 21, 2011

As predicted, we predicted terribly

You might recall that Trevor Sierra, Andrew Kapral and I made our annual Cubs predictions last March. We predicted seven categories total; in five of them, all three predictions turned out to be higher than the actual result. So either the Cubs had a pathetic season in which they underperformed to an extreme degree, or all three of us are blindly optimistic fools with zero talent for predicting what will occur in a Cubs season. Or both. You know what, I think it's both.

Last year, Trevor and Andrew tied with three apiece while I had two.

*Actual result in parentheses

Cubs wins (75)
Trevor 88
Andrew 87
Brandon 86

Um ... yay? I don't feel good about benefiting from the Cubs' debacle of a season.

Had the Cubs won 86 games, the lowest of our three predictions, they would have lost the division by just three games and finished ahead of the Cardinals by two. Instead, they finished with the eighth-worst record in the majors. They were worse than teams such as the Astros, Brewers, Marlins and A's. They were even worse than the Mets. Not a great year.

Randy Wells wins (8)
Trevor 13
Brandon 11
Andrew 10

After winning 12 in his rookie season, Wells started five more games in 2010 but won only eight. His ERA went up by more than a point even though he actually gave up fewer hits/9 in 2010 compared to 2009. He was much less consistent this season--he had three starts of four innings or fewer.

Soto slugging percentage (.497)
Brandon .475
Andrew .445
Trevor .430

Here's the only category where we were all too pessimistic. Soto had a great bounce back season. While playing in only 105 games hurt his power numbers, his slash line was back to the level of his Rookie of the Year campaign. (Slash line is average/on-base/slugging.)

2008: .285/.364/.504
2010: .280/.393/.497

He also had a higher HR/AB ratio this season than in 2008. My win here puts me up 2-1 on Andrew.

Zambrano wins (11)
Trevor 20
Brandon 14
Andrew 14

Good guess, Trevor. No, really, I mean he averaged 11.5 wins over the previous two seasons and he's never won 20 in his life. As it turned out, Zambrano only started 20 games due to his time spent in the bullpen. 3-2 me over Andrew. (Trevor? You there?)

Derrek Lee HR (19)
Brandon 33
Trevor 33
Andrew 27

Ouch. If you don't count 2006 when he missed most of the season or 1999 when he only played 70 games, this was his lowest home run total since 1998. He also had his lowest average (.260) since 1998. His punishment? Being banished to the Orioles, where Cubs go to die.

By going low, Andrew's tied it at 3. This is dramatic ...

Carlos Marmol walks per 9 innings (6.0)
Brandon 6.4
Andrew 5.8
Trevor 5.1

This category was meant to be indicative of Marmol's season overall. As in: lots of walks per nine innings? He must be blowing lots of saves. Not many walks per nine innings? Wow, he must be doing well as the closer. Since I thought he was going to be a disaster as closer, I went high on this one. Turns out I lost to Andrew by just 0.2, yet Marmol had a great season. He was 38-for-43 in saves, had a 2.55 ERA and led the majors with a ridiculous 16 strikeouts per nine innings. He was in fact one of the few pieces of glitter on the turd that was the Cubs' season. And yet ... lots of walks. Oh well. You win this round, Andrew.

Theriot OBP (.321)
Andrew .380
Brandon .370
Trevor .365

And Trevor takes his first category despite being pretty far off on this one. A few players who had a higher OBP than Theriot in 2010:

Alfonso Soriano
Drew Stubbs
Ryan Ludwick
Yovani Gallardo
Dan Haren
Angel Pagan

Albert Pujols was walked intentionally 38 times in 2010. Theriot walked 41 times total. So anyways, Theriot is not good at getting on base. None of us realized that, but Trevor's guess sucked the least.

Final tally:

Andrew 4
Brandon 3
Trevor 1

Congratulations, Andrew! A tie for first last year and an outright victory this year. You are forcing me to slightly doubt my hypothesis that living in Texas for an extended period of time inevitably turns you into a babbling buffoon who wears spurs and eats your own poop. But only slightly.

Actual NL Central Standings




Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cubs name Keith Moreland as Pat Hughes's new radio partner

Moreland, 57, played six solid if unspectacular years with the Cubs from 1982-1987. Perhaps his broadcasting will be described similarly.

Moreland has filled in for Bob Brenly in the past, but I'll be honest and say that I don't remember much about my reaction to his broadcasts. I don't think it's worth opining too much about this decision--no one will ever truly replace Ron Santo, so that's irrelevant, and I believe Moreland deserves some time at the mic before we judge his abilities in the booth.

Says Moreland (via Carrie Muskat): "I hate to be sitting in this seat because nobody can replace Ron Santo ... I can't do anything but try to be myself."

(Click the post title for Paul Sullivan's story from the Tribune.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Humor Vault Headlines

Turns out Bruce Pearl has just the one orange sportcoat, smells terrible

Favre announces retirement, winks, has 2011 training camp dates in iPhone calendar

Joakim Noah confident wrist is finally healthy enough for him to jump around, make ass of himself

Monday, February 14, 2011

Arbitration be damned: Cubs expected to sign Marmol to three-year deal

About a year ago, I may or may not have used the word "disaster" (I did) when predicting Carlos Marmol's level of success as closer in 2010. And now he has enough money to buy, like, his own island. Or five million Big Macs. Or something.

But that's what happens when you set a franchise record for strikeouts by a reliever and lead all major league relievers in K/9 innings and Wins Above Replacement (3.1).

Gordon Wittenmyer expects the Cubs and Marmol to agree today to a three-year deal worth around $23 million. The contract would buy out his final two years of arbitration and what would have been his first year of free agency.

Now if the Cubs can just give Marmol a few more save opportunities than they did last season ...

**UPDATE**Ken Rosenthal says the deal is done, and that it's in the $20 million range.

**UPDATE ON THE UPDATE**Marmol will earn$3.2 in 2011, $7 in 2012 and $9.8 in 2013.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Notable Cubs' spring training dates

Sunday, February 13: Pitchers and catchers report. That's right: just two days from now, a number of Cubs players will be in Arizona getting ready for the season before the season. It's almost here ...

Tuesday, February 15: The Cubs and Carlos Marmol will head to arbitration on this day if the two sides haven't agreed on a deal. The two were rumored to be close to a long-term deal--likely three years-- but so far nothing has materialized.

Friday, February 18: Position players report.

Sunday, February 27: Baseball. Mmmmm, delicious baseball. A spring training game against Oakland, sure, but baseball nonetheless.

Sunday, March 6: The first televised game, against the Dodgers.

Wednesday, March 16: First off day.

Thursday, March 24: First game carried by an ESPN network. (Honestly, I'm just making shit up at this point to make this post longer.)

Friday, April 1: OPENING DAY. It's April Fools' Day, but this is no joke: the Cubs will begin the regular season on a Friday.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The name game, vol 11.2

Momo Jones, Arizona
His name's actually Lamont, but he goes by Momo cuz, you know, mo' baskets mo' problems.

Dundrecous Nelson, Mississippi

Deremy Geiger, Idaho
How often does he have phone conversations in which his half goes like this?


"No, Deremy."


Hugh Mingo, Louisiana-Monroe
Sounds like a creepy color commentator. Plus, it sounds like "humongo."

Hector Harold, Pepperdine
Middle name Henry.

The same name game

Josh Johnson, East Tennessee State (also a Florida Marlins pitcher)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Aaron Rodgers is good at football, and other fun facts

As much as it pains me to say it, Rodgers was very good all year. On Sunday, he proved he's Super good.

In five playoff games, Aaron Rodgers has seventeen touchdowns and just four interceptions, a QB rating well over 100, and four rushing touchdowns to boot. And of course, a Super Bowl ring. Yup, Aaron Rodgers has made Green Bay forget all about the 40 Year Old Vermin. And this, I must say, is bullshit. How can the Packers have Brett Favre, Hall of Fame quarterback and Hall of Fame turdball, for 17 years, and then magically have another stud QB waiting in the wings when Favre finally douched his way out of town? This offends me. Seriously. I'm not just angry or jealous about the Packers' amazing luck, I'm literally offended. Fuck you, Packers. You don't deserve that kind of luck. Why, you ask? Because you're from Wisconsin and you're bastards, that's why.


  • While the Steelers nearly overcame an 18-point deficit on Sunday, their loss means that the largest deficit overcome in a Super Bowl victory remains 10 points. I find this incredibly disappointing. We've had some pretty good Super Bowls for sure, but we need a big-time comeback one of these years. It just seems wrong that it's never happened.
  • While I am in no way happy that the Packers won, it's at least nice to see the NFC gaining some steam again. The NFC dominated in the 80s and 90s, winning 13 straight Super Bowls from 1985-1997. But then, with the help of the Patriots, the tide turned and the AFC won eight of the next ten. Now, though, the NFC has won three of the last four.
  • Here's a weird stat: this was the first-ever Super Bowl decided by six points. Not that interesting, really, but there it is.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Augie Ojeda is back, bitches

So tiny!

In a move that shook the very foundation of the baseball world, the Cubs signed infielder Augie Ojeda to a minor league deal. Ojeda, who stands 3 feet 7 inches tall*, was also with the Cubs from 2000 to 2003. He batted over .200 in two of those four seasons.

*After further research, it has been determined that Ojeda is actually 5 foot 9. Strange, I was so sure he was under four feet tall.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Super Bowl Preview

Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

-The Steelers have won two of the last five Super Bowls, while the Packers last won it in 1997. Green Bay also lost the 1998 Super Bowl against the Broncos.

-The Packers, who have been around for, like, a long time, won the first two Super Bowls, giving them three total. Their supposedly "proud" history contains some bullshit about how they play on "frozen tundra" and are owned by random fat Wisconsinites.

-The Steelers won four titles in the 70s, giving them six total. They've been owned by the same family ever since Art Rooney founded the franchise in 1933. You just don't see that any more. How refreshing. We should all laud the Steelers for being a model of consistency, and should show our support by rooting for them on Sunday.

-While the Steelers, Patriots and Colts have combined for eight Super Bowl appearances in the last ten years, the NFC has incredibly had 10 teams make it over the last decade. The six who haven't played in February:

Lions: Bad.
Vikings: Even Favre couldn't save them.
Redskins: Because owner Daniel Snyder is a douche.
Cowboys: Haha.
Falcons: There's nothing worse than being the only team in the NFC South not to have made the Super Bowl in the last 10 years.
49ers: Check that. Being the only team in the NFC West not to have made it is WAY worse.

What to watch for: Blitzkrieg. And by that I mean, "a krieg's worth of blitzes." These two teams ranked 1 and 2 in total points allowed this season (with Pittsburgh being #1), and also in sacks (with Pittsburgh #1 there, too). Both defensive coordinators will surely cook up some exotic blitzes, and this game could come down to which "D" is able to pressure the opposing QB and get him out of his rhythm.

X factor: Rashard Mendenhall. I don't think Packers' rookie James Starks will be able to do much against a stout Steeler defense. But if Mendenhall can give the Steelers a running game and put Big Ben in short third down situations, it would give Pittsburgh a huge edge in what will likely be a close-fought game.

Prediction: Steelers 21, Packers 17. This is in no way an objective prediction. I would like nothing more than to see the Packers metaphorically sodomized with a traffic cone covered in pine needles. Again, metaphorically. I hate their organization, I hate their asshole fans, and I hate their stupid quarterback. He is awesome, though, which makes me hate him even more. So get out your Terrible Towel, put on your Troy Polamalu wig, and destroy all the cheese in your house. Or, put another way: Go Steelers!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

ESPN's new futuristic BottomLine tells viewers what's going to happen

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

BRISTOL, Conn.--This week, ESPN launched its revolutionary new BottomLine that, rather than simply providing live scores or upcoming game information, informs viewers about what is going to happen. Sports and media analysts are touting the network's newest innovation as one of the most groundbreaking in recent memory.

"Here at ESPN, we are always looking for new ways to improve the viewer's experience," said Chief Technology Officer Charles Pagano. "This is the 21st century. Sports fans don't just want to know who's playing tonight, they want to know who's going to win. Now all they'll have to do is tune into one of ESPN's 47 networks and glance at the BottomLine to know."

Spokesmen for several Las Vegas sportsbooks said they expect a huge increase in betting and are nervous about setting lines with future results available to bettors. "This is bullshit," commented one oddsmaker. Added a random bettor, "Fuck. Yeah."

Pagano said that there is one kink they have yet to iron out: ESPN is currently unable to show future results for any game being aired on an ESPN affiliate. "The big college basketball game on ESPN this Saturday? You'll have to watch to find out what happens there," Pagano said. "But there's not much point in watching the Super Bowl on Fox this Sunday (27-24 Steelers, according to the BottomLine), which means you can watch the big bowling tournament on ESPN! Everyone wins."

Monday, January 31, 2011

Random thoughts after a nearly sportsless weekend

  • If the regular season is any indication, March Madness should be quite mad indeed. Eleven ranked teams lost on Saturday, and the #1 and #2 teams narrowly escaped unranked foes by one and three points, respectively. Then on Sunday, #3 Duke--a team that might have been unstoppable this year if freshman phenom Kyrie Irving hadn't gotten injured--suffered a sadistic beating at the hands of St. John's. At last report the Blue Devils were listed in critical condition. Only one Division I team--Ohio State--has beaten all comers to this point.
  • According to the Tribune, there are two finalists to take over the seat formerly filled by Ron Santo: Dave Otto and Keith Moreland. No Doug Glanville? Really?
  • Here's how you know the NHL All-Star Game and NFL Pro Bowl both suck: they don't even bother to hold them on separate days. While MLB's All-Star Game has lost a little something over the years, can you imagine another All-Star Game taking place on the same day?
  • Every year, this past weekend is one of the worst weekends on the sports calendar. The only football is a fake game played in Hawaii by the back-ups replacing the actual Pro Bowlers who, it turns out, want no part of the charade. And it's not quite February yet, so we can't even think about talking baseball. Same goes for March Madness--you can't pretend it's right around the corner given that when you flip your monthly calendar in a few days, it still won't say "March" at the top. I just feel so lost, and ... empty inside. Fortunately, my parents, sister and niece Brooklyn were here to save the weekend. Let's look at a picture of Brooklyn to cheer ourselves up:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Eight things I'll be doing now that the Bears' season is over (in no particular order)

8. Rooting for a potential rapist/definite scumbag to beat the daylight out of the stupid Packers next Sunday. Need more reasons to root against the Pack, other than the fact that they're the Packers? (Of course you don't.) Here are two: Troy Polamalu is awesome and Rashard Mendenhall went to U of I. But those are reasons 99 and 100. Reasons 1-98: F--k the Packers.

7. Rooting on the Titan basketball teams. Though the women aren't immune to losing like they were the last couple seasons, they're 15-3 overall and have yet to lose in their six conference games. The men have been up and down and continue to deal with injuries, but they remain a top 25 team.

6. Watching the Bulls. At 31-14, the Bulls have practically locked up the division (seriously, they have a 13 game lead) and are a legitimate contender in the East. They're 21-4 at home and would be the 3 seed if the season ended today.

5. Watching Derrick Rose specifically. While he's not quite on the level of that other famous Chicago Bull who is now retired and gives mean speeches, he has reached the level of "Worth watching a game just to see the two or three ludicrous plays he's going to make." He'll cut through three defenders, switch hands and lay it in, or make a dizzying spin move and get an "and one." He's filthy.

4. Following Illinois' Big Ten season. A home loss to Ohio State virtually eliminated them from contention for the regular season title, but they're still ranked in the top 20 and have the potential for a deep tournament run.

3. Following the NFL's labor negotiations. If I find out there's no NFL next year, I expect to react something like this (just replace Clark's boss with the NFL owners and players):

2. Following all the top college bball teams in preparation for March Madness. Did you know the Big East has four teams in the top 10, the Big Ten has six ranked teams and there are two Mountain West teams in the top 10 (San Diego State and BYU)?

1. Counting down the days until baseball season. Pitchers and catchers report February 14, which is less than three weeks away.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cubs sign, um, Todd Wellemeyer?

Seriously, the Cubs signed Todd Wellemeyer. The Cubs drafted him in 2000 and even though he didn't make it to the majors until 2003, he has already managed to pitch poorly for five different MLB teams. Even Dave Duncan could only get him to be good for one out of three seasons in St. Louis.

No worries, though: it's actually just a minor league deal. Besides, he won the World Series with the Giants last year! (I mean he didn't literally win it. He didn't actually pitch in the playoffs, but he was totally in the dugout!)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bears down ... and out

NFC Championship: Packers 21, Bears 14

I'm not gonna lie t'ya: This one hurt, and it's gonna hurt for a while. The entire game was like being stabbed in various body parts with a fork. A fork covered in cheese. And what body part was that being stabbed when Sam Shields's interception ended the game? THAT WAS YOUR SOUL. Your soul was being stabbed. And what's that feeling you had the rest of Sunday afternoon and night? That was a feeling they call "being dead inside."

It was awful. Just awful. You got that bad feeling in your stomach right off the bat when the Packers drove for a touchdown in about eight seconds. And while the defense ultimately did all they could to make a game of it and Caleb Hanie fell just short in his search for a miracle, it was mostly just one big kick to the kidney. So close, yet so incredibly, hellishly painful.

Shouldn't he have at least had a headset on rather than headphones?

Oh, Jay. I'm not mad at you for coming out of the game--especially after it was revealed you have a Grade II MCL tear--I'm just mad at you for sucking. You completed six passes. Six. For 80 yards. No touchdowns, one pick. Not good. Not good at all. Bad Cutler!

Do you know how many touchdowns Cutler threw this year? Twenty-three. Do you know how many Rex Grossman threw in the '06-'07 season? Twenty-three. I'll spare you the misery and stop the comparison there, except to say that both Rex Grossman and Jay Cutler suffer from a disease in which an evil alter ego periodically takes over and destroys everything, making all that is good in the world ugly and bad. Cutler's QB rating of 31.8 was lower than the rating he posted in that massacre against the Giants when he played the entire first half from his back. Cutler SUCKED. Hell, it was for the best that he came out. He missed a wide open Devin Hester at least twice and missed several other open receivers, plus he fumbled. Once the Bears got around to remembering that Todd Collins is bad at football, Chad Hanie at least turned it into a photo finish, gave the Bears a chance--Cutler didn't give them any chance at all.

Can Cutler ever take the Bears to the promised land, or will he always have several games each season in which he decides to hibernate? Only time will tell. But it's not a good sign that Rodgers--who's in just his third full year--is lighting up the NFL and headed to Dallas, while Cutler--who's four years into his career--bombed his "Is He an Elite QB?" audition on Sunday. Rodgers was waiting in the wings when Favre left, whereas the Bears had to trade a pile of picks just to get Cutler, the man with the 16th-best QB rating in the NFL this season. The Bears made the trade with the hopes of obtaining an elite QB. Here's why:

Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks since 2004

Drew Brees
Ben Roethlisberger
Eli Manning
Peyton Manning
Tom Brady

Other than perhaps Eli, will Cutler ever come close to being the QB those other guys are? Will he ever be Aaron Rodgers? How about Philip Rivers? Or even Matt Schaub? Matt Ryan?

While it may be too early to say for sure that he won't, I know the answer I'd put my money on. He's got a hell of a lot to prove. Footwork to work on. Traffic to stop throwing into. He's got a great arm and ... that's about it. In yards/game this season, he ranked 20th in the NFL. Behind rookie Sam Bradford. Behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. Behind Shaun Hill. Granted, the Bears tended to play things closer to the vest because of their great defense and because their running game came on strong in the second half of the season, but still ... 20th. And granted, they need an offensive line and a #1 receiver, but so do the Bills and Rams. For all those questioning Cutler's toughness--why bother when there are so many legitimate questions about his talent? It's not a good sign that the Bears seemed to have a better chance with Hanie on the field than Cutler.

From the Others Deserve Blame category, the special teams provided nothing, the timeout the Bears called late in the game was terrible in that it gave a winded Packers defense time to breathe, and the play call out of the timeout--a reverse you could see coming from a mile away--was atrocious.

But on the other side of the ball, the defense played a phenomenal game, breathing life into the team several times when the Packers were on the verge of putting the game away. Despite having their backs against the goal line the entire game, they held the Packers to two touchdowns (obviously the Packers' pick six can't be counted against the D). But no surprise there--this unit was fantastic all season long and deserves all the praise they get.

It pains me to say it, but the Packers earned their trip to the Super Bowl--they overcame season-ending injuries to their starting running back, tight end and a linebacker, along with two other starters. They won three road games in the playoffs against the top three seeds in the conference. I hate the Packers so much that I'm considering never eating cheese again, but you have to admit they're good.

There's no doubt about this: It was still a heck of a season. Unless you're the Patriots or Steelers, it's quite an accomplishment to be on the field two weeks before the Super Bowl. Congrats to Lovie and all the Bears on a very memorable ride through the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011.

In addition to being memorable, losing in the NFC Championship is admirable. Unfortunately, when that loss is at the hands of the Packers, it's also brutal. What I wouldn't have given to see a different outcome. What I wouldn't have sacrificed. Sadly, it didn't work out.

'Til next year.

P.S. I gotta give credit to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, who predicted a Packers-Steelers Super Bowl before the season started.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bill Belichick's headset actually just headphones for his iPod

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

Belichick, shown here during a moment of frustration because Elton John's "Rocketman" keeps skipping.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass.--While fans have naturally assumed that Patriots coach Bill Belichick's headset is a device that enables him to communicate with quarterback Tom Brady during games, sources indicated today that it's actually just a way for him to "listen to some tunes" on game days.

"A little Bon Jovi, a little Kenny Chesney," said Belichick when asked what he listens to during games. "Sometimes I go classical when we're losing late in the game and I want to make sure I remain chill."

But why the mic?

"Sometimes I like to talk back to the musicians," Belichick said. "Like if Kenny [Chesney] is feeling bad about something, I'll tell him to keep his head up, just focus on the next lyric. Or when Bryan [Adams] really nails a verse, I'll tell him, 'Way to go! All that practice really paid off.' You know, stuff like that."

When asked for his thoughts on the Patriots' playoff loss to the Jets, Belichick asked if anyone owns the iPhone 4 or has heard anything about its iPod function.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Reinforce the bunker. Stock up on non-perishables. The time draws near. It was prophesied:
There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.
Luke 21: 25-26

The Bears' last (and only) playoff game against the Packers was in 1941. So that means it's been, um, A LONG F--KING TIME since this happened, which is because THIS ONLY HAPPENS IN A CRAZY WORLD WITH NO RULES. Never before have two division rivals met in the NFC Championship, and when it happens on Sunday it will be a battle of the two oldest rivals in football. The Bears and the Packers. Good versus evil. One will go home, one will go to the Super Bowl. It's the end of the f--king world.

It's so right. Or maybe it's wrong, I don't know; the whole thing's just so nonsensical. How can the Bears be one win away from their second Super Bowl in five years, and how can it be the Green Bay Packers who stand in their way? It's awesome. It's scary. It's beautiful and daunting. Try to enjoy it. No matter what happens on Sunday, this has turned into one of the most exciting Bears seasons in history.

In my book, this will be the third-most important game the Bears have played in my lifetime, behind only their two Super Bowl appearances. And it might go down in history as the biggest game the Bears and Packers will ever play against one another. It's kind of a big deal.

They've played twice this year already, though both teams were rather different versions of themselves in the first meeting--back in September--when the Bears won 20-17 at home. The Bears' leading rusher was ... Jay Cutler, who, you might recall, is a quarterback. The Packers' leading receiver was ... Jermichael Finley, who is out for the year. And the Packers racked up 18 penalties in the loss.

Their second match-up, of course, was in Week 17. The Bears had nothing to play for but tried real hard, whereas the Packers had everything to play for. The Bears' D held the Pack in check but a strangely pass-heavy Bears offense mustered just three points. A 10-3 Packers victory launched them into the playoffs as the six seed and ultimately led to this Sunday's apocalyptic contest.

Green Bay has put up 69 points in two playoff victories, and have suddenly found a respectable rushing attack with James Starks. Aaron Rodgers absolutely shredded the Falcons defense, but I think the going will get a lot tougher at Soldier Field against the Bears' quality defense. This is not a great match-up for the Bears, though. While they can take away any team's running game, the Packers don't really care--they're a pass-first team anyways. The members of the Bears' secondary better eat their Wheaties.

On the offensive side of the ball (stop me if I've said this before), the Bears will need to be balanced. Their successful running game has enabled them to go 8-2 overall since their bye, and they racked up 176 rushing yards against Seattle. Cutler will need to watch out for fourth-year cornerback Tramon Williams: he had six picks this year and has three more in the playoffs.

The game could hinge on the third phase--special teams. In kickoff return average the Bears are second compared to the Packers' 26th. And whereas Devin Hester set an NFL record for average punt return, the Packers rank just 22nd in the NFL in that category. Hester's first of three punt return TDs this season came against Green Bay.

I haven't really celebrated Christmas the last few years, nor have I made any New Year's resolutions. Can I cash all those in for one wish? Can I just wish for the Bears to rape and pillage the Green Bay Packers and earn a trip to Dallas on February 6th? Just for the Packers to die a football death worthy of a Quentin Tarantino movie? Y'know, just to hear the words "slaughter," "destruction" and "massacre" applied to the Bears' beat down of the Packers. I just want to cheer on Lovie and the Bears and then laugh as they manhandle Mike McCarthy and his merry band of asshats. HAHAHAHAHA, I will say. Ha.

Prediction: Locusts and hail ravage the Chicago area, the Earth bursts into flames, and the galaxy implodes. Also: Bears 23, Packers 21

The 1941 Bears, who defeated the Packers 33-14 in the playoffs in route to an NFL Championship.

As my mom said, I guess there's no spell check in Cheeseland. Also, people who live in Green Bay are stupid.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

AFC Championship Preview

Prediction remix:
"Patriots in a game that's close but not really all that close."

Um, no. In fact, it was just the opposite--while the Jets won by just a touchdown, it never felt that close.

"This one comes down to the last play. ... Steelers by three."

Actually, seven. But I'll take it.

#6 Jets @ #2 Steelers
Sunday, 5:30 CST

-Amazingly, Mark Sanchez has led the Jets to the AFC Championship in each of his first two seasons; the franchise had only been to two prior to last year. The Jets haven't reached the Super Bowl since 1969.

-Sanchez has also already tied the record for road playoff wins by a QB with four.

-The Steelers won the AFC Championship in '06 and '09, winning the Super Bowl in those years as well.

-These two teams faced off in Pittsburgh in Week 15, with the Jets managing a 22-17 win.

-The Steelers traded receiver Santonio Holmes to the Jets this previous offseason after one too many off-the-field incidents. He had over 700 yards and six TDs this season, and had a beautiful touchdown grab against the Patriots last week.

What to watch for: The Steelers allowed an absurd 62 rushing yards/game this season; next-best in the NFL were the Bears at 90. In third? The Jets, at 91. I expect both teams to utilize short passes and screen passes so as to avoid third-and-long situations.

X factor: I have two:

1) Holmes. He's a big-play receiver (see: game-winning catch in Super Bowl XLIII) and would undoubtedly love nothing more than to burn his former team.

2) Brad Smith of the Jets. The receivers/running back/return man averaged eight yards per carry this year and had two kickoff return TDs, one against the Steelers.

(and Troy Polamalu too)

Prediction: The Jets have proved vulnerable to good defenses this season: they lost to the Ravens and Packers, and while they scored 22 against Pittsburgh earlier this year, nine of those points came on the aforementioned kickoff return TD and a safety. I've already picked against the Jets wrongly twice--why stop now? Steelers 21, Jets 13.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cubs trade Gorzelanny to Nats for three prospects

Using their newfound pitching surplus to help replenish their farm system, the Cubs traded Tom Gorzelanny to Washington on Monday for three minor leaguers: lefty Graham Hicks, righty A.J. Morris, and outfielder Michael Burgess. None of the three are among the Nationals' top ten prospects. Gorzelanny gave the Cubs great bang for their buck last year, going 7-9 with a 4.09 ERA while making just $800,000. He was acquired along with John Grabow at the 2009 trade deadline.

The trade leaves the Cubs with a right-handed rotation of Dempster, Zambrano, Garza, Wells and Silva, along with potential starters Marshall, Samardzija, James Russell and Andrew Cashner.

While Gorzelanny will not be sorely missed, the fact that he was a lefty and provided solid innings at a cheap price could cost the Cubs from a depth standpoint. On the other hand, the trade adds a bit of depth back into the farm system after the Garza trade.

By the way, the Cubs avoided arbitration with all of their arb-eligible players except Carlos Marmol, though they were said to be working on a long-term deal. Last year Ryan Theriot became the first Cub to go to arbitration since Mark Grace in 1993.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

There's no place like home

NFC Divisional Playoff: Bears 35, Seahawks 24

Though Forte fell just short of the goal line here, he led a potent Bears rushing attack that racked up 176 yards.

I tapped my heels three times, but it turns out this is no dream--the Bears really are going to be in the NFC Championship this Sunday, and they really will be playing the game at Soldier Field. It's sort of hard to wrap your mind around. But suddenly it all feels so ... real. One win from reaching the Super Bowl. Two wins away from being Super Bowl champions. So it's official, then: this is an Awesome Fucking Season.

The Bears got to this point by introducing Seattle to the back of their hand on Sunday. I started letting my brain think of little other than the game at about, say, 10 o'clock Saturday night. I was awoken by an uncontrollable sense of anticipation around 8 a.m. Sunday morning. I was boiling over with excitement at noon. ... And the game was basically over at about 1:30. A laugher. The Bears put it in drive and pressed the cruise control button, covering the big 10-point spread despite not really so much caring about the fourth quarter.

In his first playoff game since, like, elementary school, Jay Cutler avoided mistakes and helped the Bears with both his arm and his feet. He wasn't superbly accurate (15-for-28), but he amassed 274 yards, found two different tight ends for passing touchdowns and ran two in himself. It was nice to see that the Bears still had some tricks up their sleeve even in their 17th game of the season: since when do they call a QB draw from six yards out? Since when do they stretch the field using Greg Olsen, who had a beautiful 58-yard touchdown grab on the Bears' third offensive play en route to a career-high 113-yard day? The whole Forte Throwing the Ball to the Other Team Experiment was not good, though. Not good at all. No more of that, please.

The real story was the defense, though. Sure, they gave up some junk points late in the game, but they maintained a shutout till late in the third quarter and looked very much like a championship defense. Not until the game was out of hand did the Seahawks do anything noteworthy on offense. I said the game was basically over at 1:30--in reality, it was over when it started because Peppers, Urlacher and Co. had no intention of doing anything other than metaphorically throwing the Seahawks to the ground and stomping on their chests repeatedly. Quite effective, that metaphorical chest-stomping.

So while the Bears sent the Seahawks packing, the Bears themselves will go Packing. An epic match-up with their biggest rival will determine the NFC's Super Bowl nominee, and the Bears get the advantage of playing on home soil. When I bet on the Bears to exceed Vegas's posted total of eight regular season wins earlier this year, I must admit that I didn't exactly think they'd be playing in their third NFC Championship of my lifetime come late January*. But here we are. Bears vs. Packers. It doesn't get any better than this. Unless ...

Enjoy the week, and see you on Sunday.

*My sister Mandy did, though. She had me put money on the Bears to win it all, and I talked her down from a $20 wager to $10. Sorry about that, Mandy. I hope to feel really guilty in three weeks.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The name game, vol 11.1

Shabazz Napier, UCONN
I assume Shabazz is so-named because his parents are fans of the Nation of Islam? But even so ... Shabazz. Even Malcolm X eventually realized it was best to go a different direction, and Shabazz wasn't even his first name.

D.J. Gay, San Diego State
"Join us at Manville's as D.J. Gay mixes it up on the ones and twos
from midnight to three a.m.! Lots of Elton John and Ricky Martin! Come for the tunes, stay for the Cosmos!"

D.J. Boney, Delaware
He must have the 3 - 5 a.m. time slot. He doesn't even need to use his hands to operate the turntables.

Wquinton Smith, Wisconsin
No. Just no.

The same name game--players who share a name with a famous person

Reggie Jackson, Boston College
Mike Singletary, Texas Tech
Billy Kidd, Delaware (middle name "The")

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bears' 2010 luck stretches into 2011

Tyler Thigpen. Drew Stanton. Joe Webb. A schedule that looked difficult prior to the season but turned out to be softer than Puffs Plus when patsies like Carolina and Buffalo helped the Bears crank up the Win Machine 11 times in the regular season.

And now this. An 8-9 team coming to Soldier Field with a trip to the NFC Championship on the line. Really? Is this really happening? Why do I feel like any moment now I'm going to be telling my friends about this dream I had in which the Bears were playing the Seahawks in the second round of the playoffs? ("The Seahawks? And you believed that? Even for a dream, that's weird, dude ...")

Who is the Greek god of football anyway, whom we must thank? Wait, there IS no Greek god of football? That's ridiculous. There's a goddess of water-meadows. There's a god of forethought, for god's sake. There MUST be a god of football. After all, how could it be possible for the Bears to face a team that still hasn't won as many games as it's lost this season without the benevolent assistance of a merciful god of football?

But just to be clear, this isn't to say the Bears aren't a good team. Luck and talent aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, when it comes to sports, talent is best served with a nice hearty side of luck. The Bears have had their share this year, but they've also taken advantage of it.

In honor of the aforementioned god of forethought, let's think a bit more about this upcoming game. We'd be wise to remember that nothing is guaranteed in the NFL playoffs, as the Saints could attest. In fact, the Bears already lost to the Seahawks earlier this season, 23-20, in what turned out to be one of just two road wins for Seattle all year. Plus, if you weren't aware, this will also be Cutler's playoff debut. But there's good news. Here are a few of the very fixable things that went wrong on October 17:
  • Cutler got sacked six times. While the offensive line still has its share of problems (the Packers got him six times in Week 17 as well), it has definitely improved since then. Cutler was sacked five times combined against New England, Minnesota and the Jets.
  • As was common early in the season, the play calling was extremely unbalanced: 45 passes and 14 runs. Seattle's run defense is below average and the Bears committed to the run game in the second half of the season. Expect a very different offensive approach Sunday compared to what we saw in Week 6.
  • The Bears were a horrific, pathetic 0-for-12 on third down and still lost by just three. Such an extreme lack of success on third down would be hard to replicate even if the Bears tried.
  • Lance Briggs missed the game, but he'll be on the field Sunday.
While we certainly can't take anything for granted, the Bears will have the clear talent advantage this weekend and face a team that was 2-6 on the road this season. In their last three road games, the Seahawks lost by 15, 19 and 23. So while the Falcons worked hard to secure the #1 seed, they now face the red-hot Packers while the Bears get quite possibly the worst team ever to have made the playoffs.

Lastly, I am required by law to provide a prediction remix, wherein we find that I may or may not have analogized the Seahawks to an unhygienic, rather freakish girl who embarrasses herself in a beauty pageant by injuring herself after falling off the stage. I was just kidding, Seahawks! You took that seriously? Noooo, I was totally kidding. Toooootally kidding.

Prediction: The Seahawks are forced to rely on the pass while the Bears' balanced attack enables them to pull away. Bears by 13.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Divisional Round Preview: NFC (the not-Bears game)

Prediction remix:
"I'll go with the Packers. If it comes down to the end of the game and one defense has to step up and make a play, I like the Packers' D to make that play."

Nailed it!

#6 Packers (11-6) @ #1 Falcons (13-3)
Saturday, 7:00 CST
-These two met in Atlanta in Week 12. Green Bay tied it with under a minute to go but Atlanta returned the kick to the 49 and ultimately kicked a field goal to win it.

-Matt Ryan is 20-2 at the Georgia Dome in his career.

-The Falcons last reached the NFC Championship in the '04-'05 season, the Packers in the '07-'08 season.

What to watch for: Can the Packers remain balanced on offense? James Starks had 101 yards rushing all season but had 123 against the Eagles last week. While the Falcons have been balanced all year, it will be interesting to see if the Packers can have success on the ground once again.

X factor: Falcons defensive end John Abraham. He was fifth in the NFL this season with 13 sacks and got Rodgers once back in Week 12. You have to get pressure on Rodgers if you wanna beat the Packers, and Abraham is the key to the Falcons' pass rush.

Prediction: This should be a great game. But while the Packers did win on the road last week, they were just 3-5 away from Lambeau in the regular season. Combine that with Ryan's amazing home record ... I'm going with the trends in this one. Falcons in a nail-biter.