Saturday, November 29, 2008

Very Quick Pick

I am on vacation this week (and next)- so I have to make this pick quick.

Frankly, there is not much to say. The New York Post puts Memphis -14 over Tulane- and I think the Tigers are a stone lay-up. Tulane has ceased to be a competetive I-A program. Worse, I have zero confidence the coach can get this team in some sort of mental shape to play for him.

Tulane will get blasted in this spot- and a real desultory, soul-searching off-season begins. So I will try to end this season a not so tacky 8-3 ATS (with one push) taking Memphis.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Ask Mr. B!

A re-occurring feature of this blog is an opportunity to ask the wise Mr. B (the sage plush toy pictured just right) any question concerning the future. Today's question: who would you start at quarterback Thursday night?

Kevin Kolb.

Normally in pro football, you don’t play the untested kid(s) until the season is officially over. Your team hangs its seventh loss up there, you can forego your commitment to your veterans to put the immediate best chance to win out there- and start playing with an eye to the future. So, nine times out of ten, this rabbit is playing McNabb.

Ugh. But Donovan just looks so bad. I was wondering how many turnovers, how many awful throws, I’d have to see before pulling the plug? If the goal is to still keep the best team out there, I am not sure playing McNabb achieves that goal.

People forget: McNabb was shoehorned into an offense that really isn’t his style: the high completion, game manager. He’s never been that “complete 65% of your balls, routinely complete 3rd and two through the air” kind of character. You could survive the skill mis-match because he did protect the ball- an ipso de facto accidental game manager- and that missing late 10-15% on his completion percentage was more than made up for by his ability to generate big plays downfield with minimal turnovers.

Well, McNabb turns it over like crazy now and can’t generate anything with his athleticism. So the old fall back, re-casting yourself as the veteran quarterback who makes a lot of safe, routine throws, is not an option for a guy who even on his best days sprayed the ball around.

Worse, he’s running a finesse offense without a single good wide receiver. Add a low percentage passer to a bunch of guys who can’t get open, plus a team who either can’t/won’t run the ball, and you have a bad offense.

Now, Kolb in college was that sort of high percentage passer. That is his pedigree- Tulane fans know this guy absolutely was a rhythm passer of the first order in college. So maybe, just maybe, he can manage the offense better right now.

Next, while the Eagles rave about the guy, Kevin simply hasn’t been all that good in live action. It is his second year- it is high time the Eagles find out what this guy’s ceiling is. If it is gonna take him 32 starts to figure this League out, let’s start moving that clock right now. So far, Kolb frankly just hasn’t shown that much. In fact, he’s been so lackluster the franchise can’t point to him right now with any confidence and say this guy can step in, step up and play.

And that worries me. Kevin has been around for two years now- and has shown zero signs of pushing the incumbent. One reason I want to see him play is there is reason to suspect he can’t- he’s got a little not good enough, a Winston Justice in him- which would change the entire tenor of this rebuilding project going forward.

And that is ultimately why I want to see him. Not to save the season. Frankly, the defense took one look at the quarterback change and promptly commenced their off-season. I doubt that Kolb will cause that unit to rally. But I’m sort of sold on the defense. They are .500 because good defense plus bad offense equals even. But I’m not sold on Kevin Kolb. He is no official bust, but I have zero clue.

But it is time to find out. Another 150 throws will not change anyone’s mind about McNabb (giant question mark trending toward done in Philadelphia). But 150 throws will tell us a lot about Kolb. And since he’s the biggest question mark on the roster going forward, that answer to me is obvious: play him.

Now, let's enjoy this:

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Swept Away By A Golden Hurricane

This morning finds the Tulane Green Wave +28.5 over Tulsa. Ugh. The hook too; couldn't just make it an even four scores? A long way from the heady days when the Wave was three touchdowns over Army.

And that is just it. In just a month, the Wave has moved some three-four touchdowns south in Vegas’ eyes. Sure, there have been some key injuries at the skill positions. But let’s not go to crazy. Despite some obvious upside, Andre Anderson was on pace for a 1300-ish rushing year- pretty okay in our League. Jeremy Williams probably was going to catch around fifty balls- nowhere near good enough for a number one receiver in C-USA.

Something else has clearly soured here. And that 28-point spread moves this game from football contest to psychology experiment.

I mean, Tulane isn’t even in Tulsa’s class right now. But the funny thing is that it is sort of an important game. Scratch that: "important" is wrong- "semi-interesting" is better. It is a referendum on Bob Toledo and the locker room. If the Wave gets beat 70-12 it would lend a lot of credence to "tales" that a goodly number of veteran players have not bought into Toledo.

By spring I suppose most of the miscreants will be gone- so it is a story that is over probably by Christmas. And while I don’t think Toledo is a very good coach- I’m not exactly sure moving veteran players aside for his recruits is exactly uncalled for.

Still, this game is a test of the temperature in the locker room. There is zero to play for except the coach and each other. Toledo has failed every single test so far- I see no reason he passes this one. Tulsa utterly destroys the Wave in this spot. I’ll seek to move my ATS record to 7-3 (with one push) giving Tulane 28.5 and watching Tulsa run to something well north of 40.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

I Guess We Didn't Lose Exactly

Well, I guess the Eagles didn’t lose.

Gosh, that tie with the 1-8 Bengals would be soul-sucking, except that life with Andy has been soul-sucking for four years now. The criticisms are diverse, contradictory: they throw too much, they are too predictable. Lord. How can you be too predictable and refuse to run on third-and-one repeatedly? It is the sort of karma only Andy Reid can generate.

Look, there are two problems.

First, they’re initial six year or so run through the NFC East in the early part of the Reid regime was fueled by three factors. First, they drafted the right quarterback. Two, as the NFL entered an era defined almost solely by how well you passed the football, the Eagles were blessed by a series of borderline Hall of Fame pass defenders: Brian Dawkins, Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, etc. Third, they grasped how to lock guys up on bargain second contracts before a lot of other folks.

Couple that with a weak division, and it was a recipe for years of home play-off games despite the difficulties of multiple year success in a capped environment. But those three advantages are gone. The quarterback is, in the words of Les Bowen, “ineffective and ordinary”. The pass defenders aren’t bad- but rushing the football has made a renaissance in New York, and the Eagles inability to deal with it gives them an 0-2 start on the division title each year. And their cap management expertise has been copied- or at least matched to the extent that their overall roster depth at good contracts isn’t an overwhelming advantage anymore.

Second, a decade of poor drafting position has caught up with them. Right now, today, who are the pro-bowlers on this roster? Sav Rocca (until yesterday anyway)?

I can’t think of another.

Worse, who on the offense is a “better than average” starter? Andrews and Westbrook- and one is out and the other clearly playing hurt. DeSean Jackson is certainly a good-looking prospect… but at 65 or so catches, only one touchdown, he isn’t a plus player outside of special teams yet.

The Eagles don’t stink. They’re average- something one game up or down from .500- depending on how much Westbrook actually plays from here on out. But the coach and administration don’t seem willing to change their perceptions of this collective-particularly the offensive, particularly the offensive linemen who increasingly can’t move people- that they’ve won a lot of games with. Philadelphia survives a potential 6-10 season because the muscle memory is still there, the professionalism. They have a lot of veterans who play the game the right way- or, for better or worse, give Andy requisite effort. There is no great unit, but no bad one either (maybe the wide outs). Consequently, the Eagles are no lock to win any road game, or lose any home game.

There are two roads to 8-8: inconsistency or general okayness. And the Eagles are the latter.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Clash of the C-USA Titans

I spent most of the summer touting the Tulane Green Wave as a stereotypical two-win outfit: zero plus-style playmakers in an offense friendly League, bad defense, worse special teams. I was marginally talked out of that pessimistic pick by an anonymous e-mail that gently pointed the Wave was scheduled to play UL-Monroe, Army and UAB- all at home- chiding me about really thinking the Wave was bad enough to drop two of three there? I decided I agreed with that- and moved my pick up to three.

Well anonymous e-mail buddy, you’re on the hook now. The Wave did manage to lose to Army- and thus needs a win to avoid a losing mark against that aforementioned cast of busted programs. Vegas is optimistic- giving Alabama-Birmingham +5.5- which beggars the question of just how bad are the Blazers?

Answer: pretty bad!

Or are they? Clearly, they did not show up last week versus the Golden Eagles. But their last three efforts versus bottom tier outfits- Alabama State, Memphis, Marshall- would be enough to cover in this spot. People, that is a flat out trend!

I’m not much into historical analysis- but UAB did beat the Wave last year, and the last few years the games have all been one score affairs. I suspect these two teams are in the same class- and that fact bears that out. Also, only six players have started all nine games for the Blazers. Unfortunately for Tulane, QB Joe Webb is one of them- and that sort of mobile touchdown maker always gives Tulane fits.

So we have trends and history- all suggesting UAB ought to be in this thing. Sadly, I’ve been stuck on five wins ATS for awhile- dodging a recent push and an outright loss. I dunno- again, I think these teams on the same level: banged up, bad C-USA outfits. With Anderson, the Wave could rush the football, protect the defense, score some points. Webb means Tulane will probably have to score four times to win. Can Tulane score 28-ish with their zillion questions at the skill positions?

Maybe. UAB stinks. So, it feels like a toss up game to me. I think Tulane can win- but in a pretty even game no matter how you slice it- I’m going to take the five-and-a-half point head start.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dragging My Sorry Self Out Of The Linc

Dragging my sorry self out of the Linc Monday morning, I was sort of struck by how you could just sort of call it a wrap on the Eagles campaign this season. I mean, we sort of know all we need to know about this team for 2008. Some teams are enigmas- but not this one. They are exactly what they are, and have been, for the last three years. And frankly, after the Phillies triumph, it is hard to get excited one way or other about a team headed straight toward mediocrity for the fourth year in a row. Maybe because I have just seen a world champion, but I just can’t get riled up about another Eagles breathless march to nine-ish wins.

Again, they’re not bad. In fact, they are probably pretty good. But realistically, the gap between the NFL’s eighth best team and, say, the twentieth isn’t very much. Philadelphia could win a weak division (see 2006) but is a definite also ran in a good one (like now!). There is probably enough to make the play-offs if McNabb is healthy and the division didn’t feature all winning outfits. Unfortunately, due to the latter factor, it is chancy.

A break-even outfit like Philly can probably play an entertaining game against a Super Bowl type team. And they did Sunday night. But that same okay team probably features more than a handful of below average areas.

There are many candidates. The interior offensive line isn’t very good, the tackles are competent but nothing special now. The wideouts stink outside of the rookie- and even then Jackson isn’t on an 80 catch pace. So while he is contributing for a rookie, he is still no outright asset. The tight end(s) is non- existent, as are the second RBs behind Westbrook. On defense, the linebackers are nothing special- and the safeties are bad.

And that is what 9 wins looks like- five or six plus areas, five or six blah areas. They try every Sunday- so the Giants had better be prepared and not make mistakes. But, by the same token, New York handed the Eagles a free TD to begin the game- and still played a lot of the second half up multiple scores.

So, Philadelphia has got problems, lots of problems. They have four losses- and a fifth staring them dead in the face when they retun the visit to New York. The rest of the games are all winnable- but the margin of error is small- both week-to-week and as a collective. Figuring an away loss to the Giants, to get to ten wins, they have to sweep their remaining home games: Arizona, Dallas, Cleveland- and get either the Redskins or Baltimore game away.

That is asking 4-1 in the competitive games versus a team that hasn’t really shown a sustained stretch of better than .500 football in two years. Not impossible- they’re probably favored in their next three (yes, even at Baltimore)- but unlikely. I started at 9-7, and I’m staying there.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Week 11

This week's BlogPoll is here.

Due to Penn State's loss, everyone moves up one. I'm surprised I had the Lions "down" further than most. Frankly, I'm putting Penn State behind the mid-major unbeatens. Bosie State, etc. wins that Iowa State game frankly. And the Lions body of work just isn't that good.

1Alabama --
2Texas Tech --
3Texas 1
4Florida 1
5Oklahoma 1
6Southern Cal 1
7Boise State 1
8Utah 2
9Georgia 5
10Oklahoma State 1
11TCU --
12Penn State 9
13Ball State --
14Ohio State 2
15North Carolina 2
16Brigham Young 1
17Michigan State 2
18Missouri 4
19LSU 3
20South Carolina 6
21Florida State 5
22Tulsa 1
23Pittsburgh 3
24Georgia Tech 3
25Western Michigan 1

Dropped Out: Maryland (#18), California (#20), Northwestern (#24), West Virginia (#25).


Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Wave Could Hang In

No team has tortured the Tulane Green Wave over the past few campaigns than the Houston Cougars- one utterly hopeless dispiriting blowout after another.

This year, many ingredients are in place for a repeat performance. Houston, like all plus C-USA teams, can bring the offensive thunder. They absolutely can score in bunches: 37 versus Oklahoma State, 41 versus ECU, hung 44 on the Mustangs.

Worse, let’s face it, the Cougars have really hit their stride offensively the past four weeks. Tulane isn’t exactly horrible on defense- and they are pretty healthy over there. But over sixty minutes, Tulane can’t repel that sort of firepower. The Cougars are gonna score.

You are getting 15.5 if you take the Wave. On paper, it just doesn’t feel like enough. The Wave offense is in clear decline. Injuries are definitely a part of it- but this coaching staff just doesn’t seem to be able to improve the play of the two young quarterbacks week to week. You would think that Kemp and Moore would improve seeing more and more of the elephant- but they’re just not. Add in fewer and fewer weapons… the Wave is still trying to find a collection of young plus skill position players who can play, stay on the field, and get better.

I started this week really wanting to take Tulane. Houston’s last two efforts- SMU and Marshall- would have failed to cover that two TD plus number. One of their top wideouts, Patrick Edwards, is out after a horrid freak accident- and there is a new guard too on a team that didn’t pass-protect all that well last week. They’re simply not the Kolb led C-USA monster of a few years back. And Houston has a huge game with Tulsa next week- feels a little like a trap game.

I’m nervous about it; these guys humiliated UAB not a month ago. Tulane had a hard game last week; Houston has had a few days off. But I just get this feeling that the defense can keep these guys to a manageable number- nothing in the 40s- which ought to keep the big number in reach. I guess I am not so much crazy about Tulane playing close, as Houston having to play real well to cover in a spot where they figure to not pitch an A effort. So, I’ll take the Wave to try and improve the 5-2 ATS mark (with one push)

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Monday, November 03, 2008

BlogPoll for November

While most of American wrestles with the McCain-Obama match-up, the less sentient among us are wrestling over the Alabama, Penn State and Texas Tech conundrum. Below is my vote for this week's Poll- which you'll be to visit at CBS Sports shortly after noon.

Man, it is a deep one. In the end, I went with the Crimson Tide and Red Raiders. The Big Ten is an outright weak league this year. I'm not sure Penn State's undefeated season would be replicated in the Big 12 or SEC- whereas Alabama and Texas Tech are, in fact, running the table. If those teams navigate their remaining slate, win their League title game, I think Penn State will be shut out. Unfair- but probably the best we pollsters can do with the materials at hand. Fortunately for the Lions, I doubt both will, in fact, win out.

I did vote for West Virginia- despite just knowing they'll lose twice more before all is said and done- because I'm weak. I desperately want to shut the Big East out entirely- bring the BCS down to C-USA standards, since the League doesn't seem to be able to get up.

And I'm not voting for Notre Dame any more- unless they win every game they play between now and mid-October 2009.

1Alabama 1
2Texas Tech 6
3Penn State --
4Texas 3
5Florida --
6Oklahoma --
7Southern Cal --
8Boise State 1
9Oklahoma State 1
10Utah 2
11TCU 2
12Ohio State 2
13Ball State 3
14Georgia 10
15Brigham Young --
16LSU 3
17North Carolina 3
18Maryland 3
19Michigan State 3
20California 6
21Georgia Tech 5
22Missouri 3
23Tulsa 12
24Northwestern 2
25West Virginia 1

Dropped Out: Florida State (#17), Minnesota (#18), Oregon (#23), Notre Dame (#24).