Thursday, September 26, 2013

NFL Picks Week Four: I might as well talk about Aussie Rules now

Because with the way the Giants are(n't) playing that will bring me at least a little bit more happiness. The New York Giants' season to this point has been an exhibition on just how football games can turn on a dime at various points before spiraling out of control. Am I silly enough to think New York could actually be 3-0 instead of 0-3 this season? Well, not really. While the Giants did have a lead at one point in their game against Denver two weeks ago it was clear they were outmatched by a superior unit -- or at least what was playing like a superior unit. But New York's season-opening loss in Dallas was an exercise in open-palmed forehead slapping as the Giants had a chance to win in the final minutes despite ending the game with an astonishing six turnovers. In this past weekend's "football game", and I use that term extremely loosely, the Giants were nearly tied with the Carolina Panthers after David Wilson trotted into the end zone following a Cam Newton interception deep in Carolina territory. That, however, was nullified in the following sequence of plays:

1) Cam Newton pass intercepted by Aaron Ross returned to Carolina 17
2) 1st and 10: David Wilson 17-yard touchdown run nullified by holding penalty on Will Beatty
3) 1st and 20: Eli Manning sacked at Carolina 34 for loss of seven yards
4) 2nd and 27: Manning completes 7-yard pass to Victor Cruz to Carolina 27
5) 3rd and 20: Manning completes 7-yard pass to Cruz to Carolina 20
6) 4th and 13: Josh Brown misses 38-yard field goal

This might have been the most inept offensive series I have ever seen the Giants play, which given what some of the lean Jim Fassel and Dan Reeves years were like, is making quite a statement. That it wasn't the most inept series I've ever seen from them on either side of the ball is only because in a 2008 game against the Cleveland Browns, the Giants defense somehow found a way to give up 117 yards  to the Browns on a single drive.

From the point the Giants had a game-tying touchdown run against the Panthers nullified things proceeded to unravel not because the Panthers were significantly better, but because the Giants seemed resigned to defeat for no particular reason. One could say it was because the Giants' discombobulated offensive line was so out of sync that it gave up five sacks of Eli Manning in a single half for the first time since Sept. 17, 2006, but even that comparison isn't particularly apt since New York actually won that game. Amazingly, that was a game I actually didn't see because I was in the stands at Green Bay that day, though I was enthusiastically following it on the out of town scoreboard.

So yeah, I won't be talking about the NFL anymore today.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

NFL Picks Week Three: So Last Weekend's Bronco Hunt Didn't Exactly Work Out

Last weekend after I posted here I noticed a bizarre scheduling quirk that, at least to my knowledge, has never actually happened before. There are two football teams (or rather, two American football teams) that I follow, and unless you have never ever ever read this blog before (and I can't imagine why you're just starting now if you haven't), you know they are the New York Giants and the Northwestern Wildcats. They are not similar teams in statue or achievement, though ironically the less accomplished one is generally the more consistent, but they both have my unconditional love nonetheless.

Fall weekends for me generally revolve around Saturdays watching Northwestern at the New York alumni bar, and then watching the Giants on Sunday in a panic room with padded walls. If you're a Giants fan, you know it's the only way.

This weekend the Giants had a much publicized matchup against the Denver Broncos in which the Giants were definite underdogs and the two teams playing were almost an after thought because it was Manning Bowl III. I have been to one of these before when the Giants visited Peyton's then Indianapolis Colts in 2010. That game was just about as satisfying to watch as this one which is to say, "not very." Curiously, each of those games was played the day after Yom Kippur, but despite past influences I'm fairly certain the NFL didn't consult the lunar calendar when planning either of these.

The Giants game was highly unpleasant to watch -- or at least the second half of it -- which really spoiled what I had told my friends was a "weekend Bronco hunt" because at some point Friday afternoon, I realized Northwestern's foe for the weekend, Western Michigan University, also goes by the nickname "Broncos".

How had this not occured to me? How often can this even happen? After all, there are no Buckeyes, Wolverines or Badgers in the NFL. No Gophers or Spartans either. The NCAA FBS is bereft of Steelers and Jets. Cowboys and Redskins are in short supply.This weekend NU does face the Maine Black Bears, which I suppose would lineup nicely if the Giants were playing Chicago this weekend instead of three weeks from now, but even then the match is a stretch at best.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Week Two NFL Picks: Turning Over a New Leaf. (Get it?)

You'll have to excuse me if I make any mistakes in this entry here. I'm a little turned over-- err, hungover. Right, hungover. See, I got turned over six times this weekend. I mean, hung over. Hung over. Whoops. Man, I'm still dizzy. That'll happen when you've had too much to drink, which I assume is what the entirety of the Giants' offense did before their season opener at Dallas this past Sunday.

And why do I think that?

Because how else can you explain their stupendous six turnovers Sunday night, tied for their most in a game in the last 26 years, and three turnovers on their first three possessions of the game. Two of those turnovers were returned for touchdowns, including Brandon Carr's back-breaking 49-yard pick six to close out the game. Six turnovers is a lot for several games, let alone one, and it becomes particularly glaring when the final margin of victory for Dallas, which thieved the ball away a half dozen times and thus presumably would dominate the course of the game, was ..... five points. Five.

That's just a crackerjack performance right there, ain't it? It isn't often that I think to myself, "They probably would have won if they only committed five turnovers," but life is all about new experiences, isn't it? And on Sunday night, the Giants gave me one of the more bizarre new ones I had ever had: watching a team almost win when every player that touched the ball had his hands coated in crisco during pregame warmups. That became apparent after a starting first five minutes in which Eli Manning threw an interception on his first play of the season, the Giants then fumbled the ball away after driving from their own 20 to the Dallas 7 yard line, and then the Cowboys intercepted another pass at midfield on the very next possession.

Perhaps more irksome, what was lost in all of this is that the Giants' much-beleagured 31st-ranked in 2012 defense actually played pretty well. After all, when Dallas managed to get three turnovers off New York in the first three drives it managed to turn that bounty of opportunity into... three points. And even that could be chocked up to the fact that Dallas' first possession started at the Giants' 15 yard line, already well within field goal range. In the course of the game, Tony Romo threw for 36 completions, but managed only 263 yards, relatively paltry for that kind of passing success rate. The Cowboys as a whole managed just 331 yards, a mediocre output considering the absurd amount of extra opportunities afforded them by six New York turnovers. Of Dallas' 36 points, 13 of them were scored by the defense. Of the remaining 23 points the Cowboys scored, 10 of them came off drives that began inside New York's 20 yard line. That leaves a grand total of 13 points Dallas scored on real, sustained offensive drives.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

NFL Picks Week One: Take a deep breath. It's finally here.

Ok, everyone. Relax. Take a few seconds to lower your heart rate if you need to. I know. It's been a long seven months -- a trying seven months. But we did it. We survived. We've gotten to the light at the end of the tunnel. And now it's time to celebrate.

Tonight, in Denver, Colorado, football will return.

Yeah, I know college football started last week, and that is no less significant. Hell, I told you all about it right here and then flew across the country to watch my Wildcats eke out a 44-30 win against Cal. And yes, "eke." If there's a way to eke out a 14-point win, this was it. Northwestern makes a habit of trying to make winning more difficult than is really necessary, and damn are the Cats good at it. This past Saturday was a textbook example, but I mean, NU can always count on getting two pick-sixes from the same linebacker in one half, right? Sure. Either way, it was good enough to move Northwestern up to No. 19 in the AP Poll, so that's certainly progress.

In any event, it was a great weekend in San Francisco and Berkeley (I mean, isn't a weekend there great?), and I had a tremendous time introducing Bert to D-1 college football even if the outcome wasn't quite what he was looking for, and I tailgated with friends I don't see often for six hours. In addition to beer, this included jian bing, which I had never really heard of but is some awfully good eatin'. I have to assume it's solely responsible for China's economic boom over the past decade or so.

But while I do love college football and the numerous amazing burritos it provided me access with this past weekend, we all know the NFL is the cream of the crop, and in less than nine hours, that will be getting fully underway for the 2013 NFL season. Unfortunately, I will have to wait a while for the Giants to get in the swing of things -- New York doesn't play until Sunday night this weekend -- but I still plan on spending an irrational amount of time watching football this weekend (in multiple countries). After all, that's the excitement the NFL inspires when it finally comes to be that time of year. How else could you explain me doing something as silly as joining the season ticket waiting list for a team I have no particular feelings for one way or the other?