Wednesday, September 26, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 4 Predictions

Week 3 Record: 5-11
Season Record: 28-20

Browns at Ravens - I took a beating last week by picking the wrong upsets.
Panthers at Falcons - Matt Ryan might be MVP so far.  Cam Newton lives up to immature rep.
Patriots at Bills - Only Torrey Smith's NE destruction saved last weekend from total disaster.
Vikings at Lions - Stafford got lucky with one healthy season.  Not to be this year?
Chargers at Chiefs - AFC West is always hard to call.  I say SD pulls out 3 point road win.
Seahawks at Rams - Same classless guy. Of course cheatey petey celebrates like that.
49ers at Jets - Loss in Minny ruined my day.  9ers need a big road win to stay close to AZ.
Titans at Texans - NFL: these helmets are designed to prevent concussions, not detached lobes.
Raiders at Broncos - Manning gets back on track in division play.
Dolphins at Cardinals - I'm ticked off that both Seattle and AZ have real Ds.  Not a cakewalk.
Bengals at Jaguars - Andy Dalton shows Gabbert why he's the best sophomore QB.
Saints at Packers - These two teams are a combined 1-5!  GB wuz robbed, now NO will pay.
Redskins at Buccaneers - Schiano's end game theatrics seen again after RG3 wins close one.
Giants at Eagles - NY gets weapons back and seems to be clicking.  Vick & Co are not.
Bears at Cowboys - Dallas quietly gets to 3-1 and crawls back into early contender picture.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 3 Predictions

Week 2 Record: 10-6
Season Record: 23-9

Giants at Panthers - Giants D can't contain Newton and gets upset.
Rams at Bears - Cutler goes off and everybody loves him again.
Bills at Browns - Spiller does it again, Fred Jackson owners wince everywhere.
Buccaneers at Cowboys - Dallas recovers from beatdown in another up and down season.
Lions at Titans - The first game I feel good about so far.  Stafford finally gets on track.
Jaguars at Colts - Luck manages to find win #2.  Jags pine for Tebow.
Jets at Dolphins - Jets shut down Bushleague but Sanchez struggles again.
49ers at Vikings - My wish is that 9ers are SB favorites after Week 16, not now.
Chiefs at Saints - Brees can't stink it up 3 straight games, can he?
Bengals at Redskins - RG3's 65 yard pass, all in the air, was super impressive.
Eagles at Cardinals - Philly turns in another ugly performance, but comes out with another W.
Falcons at Chargers -  Chargers surprise everyone with this upset.
Texans at Broncos - Broncos surprise everyone with this upset.
Steelers at Raiders - Raiders surprise no one with this non-upset.
Patriots at Ravens - I would normally pick NE after a loss, but Ravens lost too.
Packers at Seahawks - I'm hoping for a morale-squashing blowout.  I'm realizing that I could have more wrong than right this week.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 2 Predictions

Week 1 record: 13-3

Bears at Packers - Cutler's talking junk, but the Packers win by double digits.
Chiefs at Bills - Buffalo licks its wounds and recovers its season here.
Browns at Bengals - Are the Ravens that good, or is Cincy that bad?  I say Ravens.
Vikings at Colts - Luck eeks out his first W.
Raiders at Dolphins - Unfortunately, even Oakland can't lose to Miami.
Cardinals at Patriots - Welker called Brady a metrosexual.  hahaha.
Buccaneers at Giants - NY gets the Dallas loss out of their system.
Ravens at Eagles - They say Balt = contenders, Philly = pretenders.  Taking Eagles anyway.
Saints at Panthers - Cam Newton better put up some numbers for my fantasy team.
Texans at Jaguars - Is there an easier division than the AFC South for Houston?
Redskins at Rams - RGIII made me a believer.  I'm more impressed with him than Cam.
Cowboys at Seahawks - My NFL sense says to pick Seattle, but I really hate cheatey petey.
Jets at Steelers - I still don't understand how Sanchez erupted like that.  Must be a dream.
Titans at Chargers - SD has a chance to fly in under the radar.  Nobody likes them this year.
Lions at 49ers - Overconfidence is the enemy.  But I want to see a beatdown in primetime.
Broncos at Falcons - What a game for MNF.  I'm gonna take Peyton in the upset.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

US v Jamaica WC Qualifying - Good, Bad & Ugly

After last Friday's upsetting 2-1 loss to Jamaica, many questions were asked about Klinsmann's starting lineup and tactics.  Though we have had a pretty good record this year through that match (6-2-2) including historic road wins at Italy and Mexico, the fact remains that we are winless in our two WC qualifying away matches.

On Friday, Dempsey scored just 35 seconds into the game on a sequence began by a beautiful through ball from Edu to Gomez.  Remarkably, it was his 3rd straight goal in WC qualifying matches.  However, clearly our ball possession overall was seriously lacking, especially in our midfield.  This is where I think I would question Klinsmann's decision to deploy 3 defensive midfielders - Jones, Edu and Beckerman.  Besides Edu's first minute, none of those players did a good job of providing service to our two forwards or linking effectively with Dempsey.  They offered nothing threatening on either flank especially while both our right and left backs were essentially pinned back to keep from getting beat by the speedy Jamaicans.  So with our defense back and our 2 forwards up high, you can see how easily 3 defensive minded midfielders can lose the battle of the mids.

Why Klinsmann wouldn't use a Brek Shea, or anybody that can also provide width to start this game was definitely a head-scratcher.  To make things worse, Jones and Edu both committed poor fouls which led to Jamaica's scoring set pieces.  True, we were unlucky to allow two goals in that manner - the first of which was a deflection of Beckerman's foot while the 2nd was just a brilliant free kick off the post - but the fact that we capitulated an early lead on the road was extremely disappointing.

So to see Klinsmann bring in an Zusi and Torres, both of whom are more offensive-possession oriented players into the midfield for Tuesday's home match was a relief.  Ultimately, I'd rather see Shea and Donovan starting there, but at least it was a start.  It certainly helped that Cherundolo was finally healthy, but we dominated the flanks, putting Jamaica on their heels nearly all night.  Torres wasn't brilliant, but he was good enough to allow Jones and the newest member of our defensive mid squad, Danny Williams, to play their natural roles of breaking up attacks.  Danny had previously always been asked to play right-mid, an extremely strange decision considering he is a def-mid at his club.  His long-range strike off the inside of the post was indicative of how great of a game he had.  I already favor him over the overly-aggressive Jones to pair with Bradley centrally.

Danny's post-strike was actually the 3rd time in the 1st half that we rattled the goal without scoring, even though our possession was nearly at 80%.  Zusi, another goal-rattler, seemed to do a fine job on the right, giving us a much needed option as Donovan's backup.  However, the goal didn't come until Gomez' 55th minute curling free kick goal, which the Jamaican keeper had a good chance of saving.  I would have loved to see another goal or two, but it wasn't to be.  I think this is the sort of Concacaf game that Donovan would have dominated.  Having the space and the numbers in attack, he could have peeled their defense open for another few goals easily.

We are now tied with Jamaica and Guatemala atop the 4 team group with 7 points (2 teams advance), however we have the easiest schedule left - Guatemala at home and Antigua & Barbuda away.

After this 2 game set, we've learned or confirmed that:

1) Geoff Cameron is our solid starter at CB going forward.

2) Herculez Gomez seems to be more effective up top than Jozy.

3) Graham Zusi is a useful bench player at right mid.

4) Danny Williams is a now a viable option at defensive mid.

5) Fabian Johnson is locked into our LB position and should be there until he retires.

6) Timmy Chandler better sign up for our Oct qualifiers or he is dead to me.  Cherundolo is in great form, but we've got no options otherwise.  By the way, whatever happened to Eric Lichaj?

Best lineup as of now:


Monday, September 10, 2012

49ers upset Packers to start 2012 season

Last year going into our first game, I was literally just hoping that Harbaugh, in his first season, without an offseason to instill his plan, would find a way to win 7 or so games.  I thought that would be a solid starting point.  The fact that he won twice that number, including the legendary playoff win over the Saints, shocked the sporting world.  This year, with just about every expert except Bill Simmons (Seattle in the SB, really?) predicting an easy divisional title, we were no longer the underdog.  We would be favored to win pretty much every game, except for maybe a couple.

One was the opening match vs the Packers at Lambeau.  The Packers were 15-1 last season, and simply got run over by the Giants' destiny train.  I'd like the think that had GB won, this season's Week 1 30-22 win would simply have occurred 7 and a half months earlier in that NFC Championship.

Anyway, few would have predicted that we'd go into Lambeau and find a way to win against a Rodgers-led Packer team who has been stewing about their 1 and done playoff exit for the past 8 months.  Few would also have predicted that Alex Smith would outplay reigning MVP Rodgers.  Smith threw for 2 TDs on 20-26 passing, spreading the ball out to 6 different receivers.

Gore, whom many experts believe would have a down year with the emergence of 2nd year Hunter and the addition of Brandon Jacobs, destroyed the Pack for 112 yards and the game-winning TD.  In fact, the 49ers finished with 186 rushing yards while GB only had 45, of which, pathetically, Rodgers was responsible for 27.

But the most impressive stat was David Akers' 63 yard field goal, which tied for the longest kick in NFL history.  It actually bounced off the crossbar and fell over for the score as the 1st half expired.

I wouldn't say that the Packers are overrated.  I think the 49ers of last season were no fluke.  We're a contender and it feels so good to say that, though we've played just 1 game.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

UCLA takes down #16 Nebraska. We're back, I think.

Brett Hundley, our first African American QB starter since a guy named Jackie Robinson, threw for 4 TDs, 305 yards and no interceptions against #16 ranked Nebraska in a 36-30 victory.  It should have really been 5 TDs, but for a endzone drop by Fauria, but Hundley finished throwing an impressive 21 for 33.

The other standout of the game was Johnathan Franklin, who ran for 217 yards on 26 carries as well as caught 3 balls for 59 yards including the game-winning TD with 2:13 left.  Last week he actually ran for 214 yards on just 15 carries for 3 touchdowns vs Rice, but the performance against the Cornhuskers is enough to get him some mention on the early Heisman lists.

The past few years, its been like pulling tooth to move the ball on offense.  We had to work so hard for such little payoff.  Even with all the different playmakers that Neuheisal did such a great job recruiting to UCLA, we didn't have a system to use them.  We couldn't get them into space.  Instead, we ran the dreadful pistol offense, ultimately resulting in zero points scored against $C.  Its a credit to Neuheisal that he didn't burn Hundley's redshirt last year, instead allowing the freshman the opportunity to start 4 years should he win the job.

It was obvious at our spring game that Hundley was the most potent option we had at QB - he had the arm, and he was mobile.  Mora showed us all that he understood football when he demoted Kevin Prince to 3rd string.  What Neuheisal and Chow was thinking by starting that guy, I'll never understand.  Hundley's only in his 2nd game so we can expect mistakes down the line, but his showing vs Nebraska makes him the most promising starter we've had since McNown (Olsen 2005 aside).

Now, a victory over a traditional national powerhouse early in the season isn't something foreign to UCLA in recent years.  Back in 2010, we beat #7 Texas in their house 34-12.  In 2009, we won at a Lane Kiffin's Tennessee team 19-15.  In both cases, we found out later that they were on down seasons - Texas finished 5-7, Tennessee finished 7-6.  So, we pessimistic Bruin fans know that there's a chance that Nebraska might just be on a down year.

But to the naked eye, it seems that Mora has indeed shifted our football culture.  Our offense looks extremely threatening and our defense is hitting harder.  Could this be the start of something special?  Since 2002, we've had just 3 winning seasons, having exceeded the 7 win mark just once (10-2 in 2005).  Ironically, now we just gotta find a real kicker.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 1 Predictions

Last season I was 179-79.

Week 1
Cowboys at Giants - I'm taking the upset in a key divisional match.
Colts at Bears - Luck's first game is respectable in a losing effort.
Eagles at Browns - Philly is flying under the radar.  Vick comes up big.
Rams at Lions - Stafford & Calvin J ruin the Rams' season.  Easy pick in survival leagues.
Patriots at Titans - Here's hoping Belicheat unveils a non TE-centric offense.
Falcons at Chiefs - At first glance, I would have thought ATL is a much bigger favorite.
Jaguars at Vikings - No game-shape Mojo, no W.
Redskins at Saints - RGIII, meet Brees.  That's NFL passing.
Bills at Jets - Resounding victory for my wildcard darkhorse.
Dolphins at Texans - Doesn't it seem like Miami is always in rebuilding mode?
49ers at Packers - I picked the Pack yesterday to win the SB so I'm going with SF.
Seahawks at Cardinals - Arizona in a slight upset.  Skelton knows to find Larry.
Panthers at Buccaneers - Cam Newton is still fresh this early.
Steelers at Broncos - I honestly don't know.  So I'll go with Peyton this time.
Bengals at Ravens - Baltimore wins in a close one.
Chargers at Raiders - Rivers finds a still-healthy Gates in an aerial performance.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

NFL 2012-13 Season Predictions

At last, it is time again for the sport that is closest to perfection: NFL football.  Its policies are determined and enforced by a strong leadership organization (not player unions), it does not overpay its players (like MLB/NBA), it offers equality among all teams with its hard cap (unlike MLB/NBA), every single team in its league is given a fair chance to succeed if you draft and coach well (unlike MLB/NBA), no city has an inbuilt vast recruiting advantage (Lakers/MLB teams with $) and its playoff structure does not allow too many teams (NBA) or too little (MLB).  And at its very core, it demands teamwork, absolute effort, pure determination, practiced skill, painstaking strategy and grueling physicality.  NFL football is the greatest sport in the world.

My 2012 predictions:

NFC West champ: 49ers
Shamefully, last season I predicted the Rams would take the West and the 49ers would finish 3rd.  Rams finished tied for dead last -2 wins-  in the NFL while my team won THIRTEEN GAMES.  I think SF wins the West, but I find it very hard to believe that they'll get close to 13 games again.  I don't know how they'll handle that kind of success as well as incorporating the new downfield weapons.  I'll predict 11 wins and a division crown.  The Seahawks unfortunately look primed to finish 2nd while Arizona edges out the Rams at the bottom.

NFC South champ: Falcons
The Saints might take a step back without Payton this season while Matt Ryan takes a step forward.  Brees still wills NO into the playoffs though.  Newton will continue to make the Panthers exciting, but not winners.  TB brings up the rear.

NFC North champ: Packers
Green Bay won 15 games but wiped out first playoff game at home to the Giants.  I can't imagine any other team being more motivated (other than the Patsies, I suppose).  I'm going to say that Detroit regresses by a game or two while Chicago improves as a result of the Cutler-Marshall reunion.  Minnesota will probably get their coach fired.

NFC East champ: Eagles
All logic says to pick the defending champs to win the division.  But because the NFC East is always so unpredictable, I'm going to take Philly as the champ, for no real reason.  Cowboys sneak into the playoffs past the disappointing Giants and RG3, for all the hype, is merely mediocre in Washington.

NFC Wildcards: Saints, Cowboys

AFC West champ: Broncos
Norv Turner should get fired for being mediocre in San Diego again this year.  The Raiders and Chiefs give us little reason to believe in them.  So, the team to climb out of this muck is Peyton's Broncos.  He alone will get them there.  Chiefs, Chargers, then Raiders.

AFC South champ: Texans
By process of elimination, Houston wins over the Locker-led Titans, Gabbert-led Jaguars, and Luck-led Colts.  Schaub is the only QB with more than a year experience.  I say Tennessee finishes 2nd, Indy finishes 3rd and Jags finish last, wondering why Tebow didn't pick them.

AFC North champ: Ravens
This division yielded 3 playoff teams last season and both Steelers and Ravens finished 12-4.  This year, I say the Ravens' consistent running attack propels them to 1st.  Big Ben makes the playoffs again, while Dalton gets back to 9 wins.  Cleveland stinks.

AFC East champ: Patriots
Last year's SB failure by Belicheat-Brady was epic.  I couldn't be happier.  But they'll be back since the Bills, Jets and Dolphins (in that order) are punchless against them.  Bills surprisingly make the playoffs with a healthy and consistent Fitzpatrick.  Tebow gets the starting job after Sanchez fails to throw for a TD after 8 weeks but can't overcome the bad seeds in the organization.  Dolphins will get bush-whacked.

AFC wildcards: Steelers, Bills

NFC Championship Game: Packers over 49ers

AFC Championship Game: Ravens over Patriots

Superbowl: Packers over Ravens

Sadly, I picked against the 49ers because I'm still a believer in elite QB play.  Rodgers is two years removed from his SB win and the Packers will be motivated to get that bitter playoff taste out of their mouth.  Let's go 9ers!