Sunday, January 18, 2009

NFL Conference Finals '09

My enjoyment of the games today will be greatly dampened by the fact that the weather here in Chicago has been so bad that I haven't received a satellite signal in a week. Yes, it's back to the old school today--I will be watching the games through the snowy over-the-air reception that will no longer even be available next month. The thing is, yes, it was snowy and 20 degrees below zero last week, but last winter was pretty damn brutal as well, and I didn't lose my signal for a significant amount of time. I'm looking at my dish, and while it's got some snow inside and some icicles hanging off, it's not covered in snow and ice. But it's on the roof, so I can't go clean it off, and DirecTV will not send anyone out here to service it because my problem is weather-related. I don't understand why I'm getting screwed like this. But so long as DirecTV doesn't charge me for the days I'm missing, I guess I'll deal with it. And if it's still like this for the Super Bowl, I can go to a relative's house and tape the game. Anyway, on to the picks:

Philadelphia (-3.5) @ Arizona

Let me take this opportunity to claim that I, and only I, can have any opinion on the worthiness of the Arizona Cardinals to advance to the Super Bowl because I was the only person to pick them to go through the first two playoff games. Not many people had them beating the Falcons, and absolutely no one had them beating the Panthers, and not only did they beat Carolina, they did it the way I said they would, scoring at will on an overrated defense and using their athletes on defense to shut down the Panthers offense. There was no luck involved in that win. That's the way the Cards could play all the time if they were focused and playing as a team, which they have the last two games. And right off the bat, I'll say that I'll stick with them to cover the spread. A home underdog by more than a field goal after the way they've been playing? That's ludicrous, and it's nothing more than the same losers who had Arizona dead way before the NFC Finals today saying, "Oh, well, now they're gonna get it." Yeah, like they were gonna get it against Atlanta and Carolina. STFU. All that said, I always declared that I would take the Cards' opponent the first time they played a real defense. Atlanta, not a real defense. Carolina, not a real defense. Philly, yep, that's a real defense. 4th against the run, 3rd against the pass, allowing a measly 6.14 yards per pass attempt. And maybe most important, 48 team sacks, 3rd best in the league, and 22 forced fumbles, tied for 4th. QB Kurt Warner is due to get dumped on his head a few times and cough up the football, which he got ran out of New York for doing that an average of about 54 times per game. And regardless of how many times he says it didn't matter, Eagles QB Donovan McNabb has been playing his ass off ever since he got benched against Baltimore. It did matter. He obviously asked himself if he still had any good football left, and could he summon it to prove that he's still the man in Philly. And summon it, he has. The spotlight may be a bit bright for the Cardinals, who are not used to being the focus of the football world. The Eagles, after dealing with Terrell Owens and benchings and four conference finals in the past decade, this is nothing new for them. The question will be, is McNabb going to prepare for an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl, or to get revenge on the Ravens for getting him benched?

My Pick: Philadelphia 26-23

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-6)

I've heard this game referred to on multiple platforms as a "manhood game," the penultimate clash of two defensive titans who just plain don't like each other, the test of wills, the impenetrable force vs. the immovable object. So, um, just how is this game a six-point spread?? I've been back and forth all week on my pick, but not on the spread. I don't see how the Steelers can possibly beat the Ravens by almost a touchdown. After the way the Ravens have played? Not likely. I may get the prediction wrong, because I truly think this game can go either way, but I will enjoy watching it greatly. (BTW, I think this is the Super Bowl. As if the hype isn't big enough, I think that the winner of the AFC title game will defeat the NFC winner in the Super Bowl, whomever the two teams may be, making this game the de facto Super Bowl. No pressure, boys.) It's the rookie QB for the Ravens, Joe Flacco, against the veteran QB for the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger. It's a couple of top-notch running games taking pressure off the QBs. And, of course, it's the top two defenses in football, with the Ravens coming in 2nd overall for the regular season. The X-factor is Steelers RB Willie Parker. If he's healthy, and he looked healthy last week against the Chargers, then his speed and cutback ability will make him very effective against a large but somewhat immobile Ravens defensive line. The Steelers won a couple of close ones against the Ravens in the regular season, which may give the Ravens a shot of extra adrenaline, not wanting to lose to their hated rivals three times. But the Steelers are experienced and intelligent enough to figure out a way to win a 3rd time. Give me the Steel Curtain on their home field, but certainly not by a touchdown.

My Pick: Pittsburgh 19-16

(UPDATE @ 1:21P--I got my DirecTV back! Wahoo!! And just in time for football.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

NFL Conference Semis '09

Looking back at last year's 2nd round of playoffs, my eyes popped out at those huge lines. It's hard to believe that the favorites were that heavily favored. There's only one game with a spread as big as the smallest from last year, and I love the underdog in that game. On to my picks in much less detail:

Baltimore @ Tennessee (-3)

This was the hardest game for me to pick because these two teams are so similar. They have to feel like they're playing against each other. Both rely on the short passing game, hope their QBs don't throw the ball to the other team, run the ball hard with an attitude, and man up on defense. The Ravens were #4 rushing the ball this season. The Titans, #3. The Ravens, #3 stopping the run, the Titans #6. They were #28 and 27 respectively throwing the rock. This will be hard to watch if you're looking for pretty plays and lots of points. Tennessee beat the Ravens by a field goal earlier this season, and it smells like another 3-point game. I'll take the Ravens to cover because they are as hot as any team right now, but the Titans can pull out the win, perhaps by forcing Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco into the one critical mistake that costs them the game.

My Pick: Tennessee 15-13

Arizona @ Carolina (-10)

Now this game I'm looking forward to. Arizona really impressed me last week, even they though they beat a clearly not-ready-for-prime-time Atlanta squad. The Cardinals featured an attempt at running the football with Edgerrin James, which they had not done all year. They hit the home runs through the air when they needed to. And the athletes on defense finally played up to their abilities. When DLs Darnell Dockett and Bertrand Berry, LBs Gerald Hayes and Karlos Dansby and DBs Adrian Wilson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie show up and play as a unit, the Cards are quite formidable. The Panthers know all about them. Make fun of the Cards getting roasted when they traveled to the East Coast to play this season, but they led in Carolina in Week 8 before falling 27-23, a far cry from the poundings they took in New York and New England. Edge is running pissed, like he wants to show the world he's not done yet. And Carolina has a thoroughly pedestrian defense, just like the Falcons last week. Cards WR Anquan Boldin will take the field but may not play very long with an injured hamstring. No problem. The 3rd WR is a man named Steve Breaston, and he's the only 3rd WR this season to go over 1,000 yards. I think the Cards have too much firepower for the Panthers to overcome.

My Pick: Arizona 34-21

Philadelphia @ New York Giants (-4)

And now on to my blind spot, the Eagles. Not that I'm a great handicapper, but I never seem to get it right on Donovan McNabb and the Eagles. When I believe in them, they choke, and when I doubt them, they pull through. I'm going to doubt them this week even though they seem to be getting a lot of love in the national media. The Giants defense is almost as mean and nasty as the Ravens, and they had a week of rest. Yes, the Eagles went to Giants Stadium and won this season. But I can't go against that athletic defensive line of Justin Tuck and his group of maulers. They haven't been able to touch McNabb in the most recent battles against Philly, but I think they know that if they want to win this game, they're going to have to get to him. Giants QB Eli Manning will have to prove his worth, going through the playoffs this year without WR Plaxico "I Think I Just Shot Myself" Burress jumping up and catching big passes. But Eli's got a bruising running game to rely on, with Brandon Jacobs, perhaps the hardest man in football to tackle, leading the way. I'll hate on the Eagles one more time, but I certainly don't feel great about the pick.

My Pick: Giants 23-17

San Diego @ Pittsburgh (-6)

Ah, the gamblers' special. In Week 11, the Steelers picked up a loose ball on a lateral pass and ran it in for a TD on the last play of the game, which would have given them an 18-10 victory, covering the 4.5-point spread that week. For some unknown reason, the replay officials decided not only to challenge the ball being an illegal forward pass, which didn't make sense because the game was over either way so it's not like if the call is overturned the Chargers can win, but they did in fact overturn the call even though clearly the ball was not a forward pass. The call meant that the ball was dead at the spot of the "illegal" pass, keeping the final score at 11-10. All I can say is, I'm glad I no longer gamble because that might have sent me into oncoming traffic. It's only fitting that the Steelers cover this time to make up for the previous game. No analysis, no reasoning, just the universe setting itself right. Oh, and because the Steelers are destined to go to Tennessee for the AFC title game and avenge the Titans disrespecting the Terrible Towel after beating Pitt in Week 16.

My Pick: Pittsburgh 18-10

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Wild Card Weekend '09

Very quickly because I'm on my way to work, my picks for this weekend:

Atlanta (-1) @ Arizona

"Jacob" and I correctly predicted that all four road Wild Card teams would be favored four weeks ago. That's how weak these division champions are, and no one played weaker after clinching their division than Arizona. But they have the right opponent in Atlanta. The Falcons will attempt to send their rookie QB, first-year head coach, and subpar defense out to the desert and away from their dome home stadium to get a playoff win in a season in which they weren't expected to be any good. I can't buy it. Give me the high-flying Cardinals passing game in a shootout.

My Pick: Arizona 38-30

Indianapolis (-1) @ San Diego

We saw this movie before. The Colts, 6-4 and on the verge of missing the playoffs, went into San Diego in Week 12 and won, part of an 8-game winning streak that hasn't been broken yet. I can't take the 8-8 division champ Chargers to snap that streak.

My Pick: Indianapolis 27-23

Baltimore (-3) @ Miami

The Dolphins shocked everyone by turning a 1-15 season last year into an 11-5 division title this year, using some razzle dazzle offense to confuse opponents. The Ravens are the wrong defense to try to get cute with. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and co. should have died out already from the fact that they had to spend their bye week on Week 2 due to the hurricane in Houston postponing the Ravens-Texans game. But they're still going, and playing strong football. I have to give the edge to the Birds.

My Pick: Baltimore 24-12

Philadelphia (-3) @ Minnesota

The Eagles seem to be playing great heading into this matchup with the Vikings, but the funny thing about Philly is, you never know when they're going to choke. This is the same team that could only manage a tie with the woeful Cincinnati Bengals. Everyone knows that Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will dial up extravagant blitzes and confusing defensive schemes against Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson. I say that the Vikings do the smart thing and take the ball out of Jackson's hands, relying on the ground attack of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Eagles QB Donovan McNabb has a knack of making mistakes at the worst times, so I'll take the Vikings to capitalize on that and win the game despite throwing the ball less than 15 times.

My Pick: Minnesota 20-7

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Tying The Knot, Part 3: The Proposal

MEMPHIS--In my last installment, I talked about losing the card upon which my girlfriend wrote the serial number and description of the ring that she liked when we went window-shopping for rings in November. That was true, but I had to fudge when and where I lost it so as to keep it a secret that I was actually buying the ring much sooner than anticipated. I went back three days after we went to J.B. Robinson Jewelers to get the ring that she liked, with the intention of proposing to her when I visited on New Year's. I actually lost the card on my way to the jewelry store. But since it had been only three days, I figured that I could go on memory and get it right.

I was wrong.

The same salesman that we saw the previous Saturday was there on this Tuesday, and when I asked him about the rings we looked at before, he went under the counter to the same section of rings we were looking at. I won't get too technical about the specifics of what goes into rating a diamond, but I definitely remember that the ring my girlfriend liked had a clarity rating of VVS, which is like one or two steps below the clearest a diamond can be graded. And when I asked the salesman if that ring was the same VVS that we looked at before, he said yes, and with that, I signed the papers and took my purchase home. Only after I got home did I decide to look over the paperwork and look at the actual ring, and I don't remember what clarity the paperwork said my new ring was, but it was far below VVS. But I already took it home, and it was expensive, and it was a solitaire diamond like she wanted, and hell, she's not gonna care if it's the exact same clarity, and how could she tell anyway? But before I could lock it up in my mind that I was keeping this ring, I showed it to two people, my aunt's husband and my play cousin, and both separately reacted very, very unimpressed, like "Oh, that's nice." I decided to return the ring. If they didn't think much of the ring that I was going to propose marriage with, then the girlfriend was liable to spit in my face.

So there I was a week later sheepishly telling the salesman, "I think you sold me the wrong ring." He reacted as if he suddenly couldn't tell the difference between the rings he enthusiastically showed us before. But after I met his confusion with a look of Don't Fuck With Me, he initiated the paperwork for me to exchange rings. After searching that section of solitaire diamonds again, he informed me that the VVS was no longer there, but he could have one ordered for me and delivered within a couple of weeks. That was fine by me because I wasn't going to need it until the end of December. Fast forward another week to Tuesday, December 9, when I rushed out of my mass media class after giving my final speech and went to the jewelers. They called me a few days before and left a message saying my special order had arrived. I get to the jewelers, and there it is: a solitaire ring with VS clarity, which is a notch below VVS. I asked what happened to my request for a VVS ring, and the woman at the counter explained that they were only obligated to provide a VS quality ring at minimum for my exchange. I didn't even want to know how they came to that conclusion. She explained that they could call other stores and continue to search for a VVS, but it would take time, like a couple of weeks or so. I said fine. I made another trip a week later without a call from J.B. Robinson to check on the status of my order. Mr. Confused Jeweler from my first couple of visits was there this time, and he explained like the lady did that they are searching stores nationwide for a VVS solitaire, and it may not come in until after Christmas. And I explained again that since I wouldn't need it until New Year's, that was fine. But something got lost in the translation, and a few days later, a different man, a "diamondologist" that tried to hard-sell my girlfriend and me into making the purchase on our first visit, left me a somewhat patronizing phone message essentially saying that he didn't know if I understood clearly, but they were not obligated to provide me with a VVS ring for exchange. I returned the call and let him know that, yeah pal, I fucking understand clearly. Well, I didn't use salty language, but he got the message.

I then waited until after Christmas to get a call letting me know one way or the other that my VVS ring was or wasn't going to be delivered. No dice. So I waited until this past Monday to go to the store myself, and only because I was flying to Memphis Tuesday morning. After a half-hour wait because the lady at the counter was cleaning all 857 pieces of jewelry that some old bat brought in to be cleaned (or at least it seemed like that many), she finally got to me and recognized me by face. She said that the diamondologist guy called and left a message saying that they weren't obligated, blahblahblah, and I said I understood that. I asked were they able to find a VVS yet. She said no. I told her to give me the VS they had at the store already, and after tacking on the extra price for that ring, she wrote up the new papers, and I was finally ready to take the rock down south.

The actual proposal went off pretty much the way I planned it. Last night after spending time at a church function playing bingo and eating dry BBQ, my girlfriend and I came home to spend a quiet New Year's Eve counting down and toasting with some Sprite Zero. My plan all along was to propose right after the ball dropped, after telling her that I could only think of one better way to "ring" in 2009. The only couple of hitches were that it was a chore keeping her awake for midnight because she was so tired, and then when I was going under her couch to retrieve the ring, I had slid the box too deep underneath while hiding it, so it took literally a minute for me to dig it out, and I almost knocked over her lamp in doing so. "What in the world are you doing?" she muttered at one point. But I finally got it, she cooed and said "Awww," and I dropped to one knee and said, "I've said this before and I meant it--every day without you is a day lost, and I don't want to lose any more days. Will you marry me?" She immediately said yes.