Friday, September 25, 2009

Catchin' Up

Well, I'm back from my Italy trip. I will always remember this trip as the 10 days that confirmed in my mind that the greatest country on Earth is the United States of America. At least if your sample size that you are comparing is limited to the US, Italy, and Jamaica.

In Italy, everything is done half-assed. Except for the graffitti, which is everywhere and the only thing their populace seems to put any real effort into. For example, my wife and I rode the Eurostar train from La Spezia to Rome earlier this week. We were tired and just wanted a comfortable 4 hr train ride, so we bought a "first class" ticket. We found out "first class" means that there is a guy that comes up and down the aisle once selling bottles of water, that cost 5 euros, which is almost 10 dollars. That, and the air conditioning in "first class" was not working. So, it was hot in there, but in addition to that, no air conditioning and no open windows in a sealed train compartment means no air. It was about an hour into the trip when my wife and I began to realize we were breathing like Dick Van Patten in Spaceballs when Dark Helmut is stealing Druidia's air. We decided to save ourselves and move to second class. I don't know if the other passengers in "first class" survived or not. I do know that the people running the train probably don't know either, they easily would have just let everyone die back there. I'm assuming everyone eventually moved or suffocated. I've got about a hundred stories from this trip that are similar, but you get the point.

So, given that I've been out of the country, I have seen a grand total of 1 NFL game this year, the season opener between Pittsburgh and Tennessee. I've got my NFL Game Rewind cued up though and am soooo looking forward to watching Bears/Packers and Bears/Steelers today, and any other games I can squeeze in. Because I am so jet lagged I was up at 5 am this morning, which is noon according to my body time, so I should have a lot of time to get caught up today.

Speaking of getting caught up, let me bring myself and you up to speed on what's happened while I've been gone.

First, college football. I see USC suffered it's annual inexplicable loss that ends up costing them a national title. This year, the loss came against a team that didn't win a single game last year, the Washington Huskies. A week after winning a tough 18-15 decision at Ohio State, the Trojans had a predictable letdown, falling 16-13.

Oklahoma State perpetuated the legend of the SI Cover jinx. After winning their season opener against Georgia and getting a cover piece which fawned over their improved defense, they went out the next week and got 45 points hung on them at home by Conf USA's Houston in a 45-35 loss, ending any aspirations they may have had about playing in the BCS Championship Game. An aside, this game and the USC loss to UDub illustrate why I think the BCS is so great. You never know when a game will be a playoff game, an elimination game. It can be a hugely hyped game in November against an archrival, or a game nobody sees in September against a nobody school. You never know and anything can truly happen. It beats the shit out of college basketball, where nothing matters unless its March.

BYU was the co-star of that Okla State article, as their season opening win over Oklahoma was celebrated. They were taken down a notch too, getting pounded at home by Florida St. 58-24.

Charlie Weis, who I have heard from a few personal anecdotes is a colossal asshole, blew the ND/Michigan game with some horrible clock management and boneheaded play calls, namely calling a couple of pass plays late in the game with a 34-31 lead. Incompletions don't run any time off the clock, and they left Michigan with enough time to get a game winning touchdown for a 38-34 win in Ann Arbor.

Speaking of assholes, Lane Kiffin, Tennessee's pompous new coach, lost at home to shitty UCLA, which brought a smile to my face.

And just last night, we had a top 5 time go down, as Ole Miss lost at South Carolina 16-10.

So we've had a lot go on in college football. But let's get to the pros. I'm gonna run it down by division K?

It sounds like I'm being Smarty McKnowitall to say that nobody should have expected the Patriots to be the 16-0 juggernaut they were in 2007 just because Tom Brady is back now, but really, nobody should have expected that. Even if Brady were healthy last year the Patriots wouldn't have come close to that last year nor this year. The NFL is a dragon-chasing league and you can be sure that 99 times out of 100 that dragon of a past performance is never caught. The Patriots have struggled this year. They've played 2 division games and have given up more points than they've scored, and needed a furious comeback in the opener against the Bills to keep them from being off to an 0-2 start. They're still the best team in the division, but it will be a season-long grind for them.

Meanwhile, the team that beat the Patriots, the New York Jets, have had a defense that surprisingly has lived up the preseason hype. Rex Ryan and his big teeth and all of his chins have turned them into a unit that has dominated in their first two games, giving up only 16 points against a couple of teams, Houston and the Patriots, that are not used to having their offenses rendered ineffective. Mark Sanchez has been solid in his first 2 NFL starts at QB, posting a 91.3 rating.

Buffalo has played pretty well for being one of the teams that launched its Offensive Coordinator in the preseason. They have the aforementioned come from ahead loss to New England, and a 33-20 pasting of the Bucs that wasn't as close as the score would indicate. Fred Jackson ran for 163 yards in that win and TO caught his first TD pass as a Bill. Trent Edwards has been superb so far, with a passer rating over 100.

The Miami Dolphins have had a predictable storyline so far this year, teams that overachieve one year typically get handed a tougher schedule the next, and all of a sudden things don't break the way they did in the magical days of yore. The Dolphins have played well this year, but they're still 0-2. Chad Pennington has been underwhelming so far (75.9 passer rating), and if the Dolphins continue to lose he'll be benched in favor of a combination of Pat White and Chad Henne.

The 2-0 Ravens have followed up on last year's surprise season by continuing to evolve. While the defense has given up 25 points a game (still a great defense though, giving up only 41.0 rushing yards per), the offense has stepped it up, scoring over 30 points in both of their wins, over KC and San Diego. Joe Flacco has thrown 5 TDs already, and Ray Rice and a resurgent Willis McGahee are both averaging near 5 yards a carry.

The defending champion Steelers have yet to score more than 14 points in a game this year. Thanks to their continued excellence on defense they are 1-1, but Willie Parker has been terrible as the feature back, and it's time to see if Rashard Mendenhall's 6.4 yards per carry so far this year are a small sample mirage or not.

Everybody welcome the Bengals back from the dead. They are finally healthy on offense, and it's translated to a nice start that includes a win at Green Bay and a fluky loss to Denver. They could easily be 2-0 right now. Ochocinco has played well, Cedric Benson has been a workhorse and leads the NFL in rushing yards, and this looks like a team that will hang around the playoff race if they can stay healthy.

The Cleveland Browns have been outscored 61-26 so far and look like the worst team in the league except for the Rams. But the Rams have Steve Spagnuolo as their coach, who I think will get it turned around, and the Browns have Mangenius, who is probably going to fail miserably in the last head coaching job he'll ever have, so I think the Browns are in the worst situation of any team in the league right now.

The Colts are 2-0 with a couple of shaky wins over a couple of shaky teams in the Jaguars and Dolphins. They're giving up 176.5 rushing yards a game so unless they get that fixed it's impossible to take them seriously as a Super Bowl contender. Dallas Clark is the NFL's leading receiver after going yay-yo against the Dolphins.

Houston's run defense has been even worse than the Colts. Their offense stunk against the Jets in the opener but was clicking on all-cylinders in a HUGE week 2 34-31 win over Tennessee. Again, let me emphasize, that win was huge for this team. A loss and they are 0-2 in a division where that's a death sentence. Instead, they get a road win over the defending division champs. Maybe the biggest win in the history of a franchise that's still trying to reach the postseason for the first time here in Year 8.

Jacksonville is 0-2, they stink and it looks like this season is going to be a wrap as far as Jack Del Rio's reign as their head coach. The defense can't stop the pass to save their lives and when you can't do that, you are going to have a really, really ugly season in what's become a 7 on 7 passing league.

Speaking of not being able to stop the pass, the Titans rank 30th in the league in yards/passing attempt against. That's the reason why they are 0-2 and staring down the barrel 3 road games in the next 4 weeks. Their secondary, with the exception of Cortland Finnegan, looks old and terrible.

Oh was there ever weeping and gnashing of the teeth in Denver this offseason. Oh woe to us, Jay Cutler doesn't want to play here, oh boo hoo Brandon Marshall is not happy. Well, the Broncos are 2-0, and the defense, which was absolutely horrible last year, ranks 2nd in the league in yards allowed and 1st in the league in points allowed. Yes, one of their 2 games has been against the Browns, so OK, take it with a grain of salt, but the Broncos are winning, Elvis Dumervil has 4 sacks, and Kyle Orton has been doing what Kyle Orton does, which is move the ball forward and not turn it over (0 INTs in 65 attempts).

The Raiders are 1-1 by virtue of having had the good fortune to have played the Chiefs already. They rank in the bottom 3rd of the league in both offense and defense, and JaMarcus Russell has completed an atrocious 35.2% of his pass attempts, so don't get too excited.

You can count on the Chargers getting off to a shitty start every year, and this year is no exception. They're 1-1, thanks to having the Raiders scheduled as their week 1 opponent, but they've looked terrible. Philip Rivers has been good, but the Chargers can't run the ball (ranked 30th in the league), and the defense is in the bottom 3rd of the league in yards/attempt against but the run and the pass. They'll probably get it straightened out, they usually do, but once again they look like nothing more than the default AFC West Champs.

The best thing you can say about the Chiefs is their defense appears to have upgraded to mediocre rather than terrible. On offense though, they have no running game and Matt Cassel is looking very Scott Mitchell-esque. They're 0-2 and are in for another long year.

OK I'm spent for today...NFC catch-up tomorrow..

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