"Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel"

My new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" is the follow-up to "Illegal Procedure" and "Roughing the Passer" and is now available in print and in e-formats at amazon.com, smashwords.com and iBooks. Follow me on twitter @kevinkrest.

Friday, January 24, 2014

FRIDAY THOUGHTS ON MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL, THE NFL, TENNIS AND TIGER WOODS

Maddux Goes Logo-less:  Greg Maddux has decided not to have a logo on the cap his Baseball Hall of Fame bust will bear. As a Braves fan, I would have liked him to have chosen an Atlanta logo, but he played eleven or twelve seasons with each team and had similar success from a statistical perspective. The main difference was that the Braves were winning division titles, pennants and a World Series during his tenure in Atlanta. Of course, the Cubs' frustrations are well documented, so it certainly wasn't Greg Maddux' s fault that they failed to win a title during his two stints in Chicago. I totally support the Hall of Famer's decision to go into the shrine without a logo. Unlike longtime Brave teammate Tom Glavine, who will have the Atlanta logo on his bust, Maddux can easily be claimed by fans in both Chicago and Atlanta. Likewise, Tony LaRussa, who managed in Chicago, Oakland and St. Louis, declined to commit to a logo. He led two of those teams to World Series appearances and titles, so I once again understand his choice. I'm sure Cardinals fans will make a case for the St. Louis logo, but I don't generally make it a habit of caring much about what Cards fans think. I know, I know, it's petty and childish, but that's just how it is.

Nadal ousts Federer:   Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in the semifinals of the Australian Open. That's not usually a big story with all of the Super Bowl hype ramping up, as well as college basketball in full conference swing. But what's at stake at this point is Federer's seemingly invincible record of 17 grand slam titles. In an era when there are other very good players, such as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray winning majors, it's hard to believe that Nadal, at age twenty seven, can capture his fifteenth with a win on Saturday. Or is it Sunday, or is it Friday? I really can't keep track when things happen in Australia. Anyway, my point is that Nadal, especially with his dominance at the French Open, certainly has the capability to surpass Federer. And a win this weekend would give him a big boost.

Tiger Back in Action:  Tiger Woods returned to the golf course yesterday, shooting a 72 on the South Course at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California in the Farmers Insurance Open. The South is the tougher of the two courses, so the round the number one player in the world shot appeared to be mediocre, putting him in a tie for 63rd. However, the North course, which Woods will play today, is traditionally far easier than the South.  In round one, it played an average of four shots less than the other track. Tiger has won seven times at this tournament, in addition to a U.S. Open at the same venue. He's probably a little rusty, although Woods didn't use that term in describing his round. Unlike last season, this is Tiger's first tournament of the season with no European Tour warm-up. Now that the fourteen major winner has re-established himself as the top player in the world, there are really only four tournaments that will matter to most golf fans when it comes to Tiger: The Masters, The U.S. Open, The Open Championship and the PGA. He hasn't won one of those since 2008 and time is running out on the thirty-eight year old's assault on Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 career major tournament wins.  So even if Woods comes back and wins for the eighth time at Torrey Pines, it won't matter all that much until he tees it up in April at Augusta National.

Browns Finally Hire a Coach: It was starting to look like the Cleveland Browns might have to hire a high school offensive coordinator to be their third coach in as many seasons. In a league where parity is not only encouraged, but generally realized, the Browns haven't won more than five games since 2007. Really, and they think a new head coach will solve the problem? In that same timeframe, only five teams have failed to make a playoff appearance and the Browns ended up taking a coach from one of the others, the Buffalo Bills. However, Mike Pettine only spent a year in Buffalo and had defensive success with the Ravens and the Jets. So perhaps the Browns can overcome front office issues and finally start winning some football  games, but I wouldn't bet on it.



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

WEDNESDAY MUSINGS

College Bowl Pick Recap: Although it's old news now, I just wanted to report how my bowl picks went, especially since I went to the trouble to make them all. I got off to a horrid start, missing three out of four on the first day. But eventually, I rebounded well enough to post a 19 - 14 record, not bad considering that I vastly underestimated the ability of the bottom of the SEC and ACC  to come through with victories. Overall, however, I'm pleased with my performance, especially down the stretch and in the national championship game. For the season I was 229 - 86 for a 73% winning percentage. Now we only have to wait seven more months before it starts all over again.

NFL Playoff Pick Recap: After going 1 - 3 on wildcard weekend, I came back to even my record at 5 - 5 for the playoffs. Wins by Denver and Seattle capped the comeback. Denver made it through to the Super Bowl a year late, overcoming last year's disappointing loss to Baltimore in the divisional round. The Seattle - San Francisco game was as good as anyone could have hoped for, eventually hinging an outstanding play by Seattle DB Richard Sherman. As a Peyton Manning fan, I was particularly pleased to see the Broncos easily handle the Patriots, setting up a classic struggle between the top offense against the best defense in the Super Bowl. You'll have to wait until next week for my pick in that one.

NBA Update: Now that we've reached the halfway point in the NBA season, I feel it's time to weigh in. The Eastern Conference is pathetic, sporting just three teams over .500. However, the race to secure seeding to avoid first round series against Indiana and Miami will be intense.  With the Heat resting players in back to back game situations, I have a difficult time seeing them catching Indiana for the top seed. But it appears Miami is more focused on entering the playoffs rested than on getting there as the number one team. A wild card for Miami may well be Greg Oden, who is seeing action for the first time in almost five years. If he can continue to contribute quality minutes, Oden may just be a factor against the Pacers in the conference finals. The Pacers should cruise through the regular season, then hope they can do what they've failed to do the past three years: unseat the Heat in the playoffs. The Western Conference is once again led by Oklahoma City and San Antonio, but is very deep and could provide a lot of surprising teams come playoff time. Whether it's just a fluke or because of the competition in the West, there is a huge disparity in the quality of teams in the two conferences. By the time we get to the finals in June, despite the depth of talent in the West, whoever comes out of that conference might just be too worn out to put up a good fight against Indiana or Miami.

NHL Commentary: While I like watching hockey, especially during the playoffs when I have a team to support, the brawl between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks illustrates all that is wrong with the sport. The league's response further illustrates how far out of touch the commissioner is with the attitude of other sports and the direction they are headed, especially when it comes to violence and protecting the players. It was clearly the intention of Flames' coach Bob Hartley to instigate some type of altercation when he started the game with his fourth line comprised of enforcers or "goons". When Canucks' coach John Tortorella countered with a similar line, the inevitable occurred. After the dust, or in this case, ice crystals settled, several players had been penalized or ejected. Tortorella, in defense of his team, tried to enter the Flames' locker room following the first period. So in its infinite wisdom, the league suspended Tortorella fifteen days, during which he'll miss six games. But Hartley, the instigator, was fined $25,000, a sum which will undoubtedly be reimbursed by the team in some fashion. So one guy gets six games and the other coach gets a slap on the wrist and a pat on the back for perpetuating the violence that the NHL mistakenly thinks draws fans. Really? And the guys in the suits wonder why their only national television contract is with the NBS Sports Network and most sports fans don't know  icing from a cupcake.

 A-Rod and PED's: Pete Rose got banned for life from baseball for betting on his own team as a manager, thus eliminating him from Hall of Fame consideration as a player despite being the all time leader in hits. But Alex Rodriguez, despite his repeated attempts to gain a competitive advantage as a player through his use of PED's, is still around and intends to return for the 2015 season after serving a one year suspension. The NHL is pretty bad, but Major League Baseball is right behind them on the train wreck list. The hypocrisy is unbelievable. So let's recap, shall we? MLB is hit by a strike in 1994, eliminating the postseason. Upon getting back on the field and trying to bring fans back into ballparks, home runs and scoring increase dramatically, as well as the size of the players. The sport applauds the power outburst, turning a blind eye to the obvious use of PED's. An entire generation of players had to make a decision to use or lose, at least from a competitive standpoint. Barry Bonds in particular was forced to watch as players with less skill surpassed him statistically. Without any substantive action by the commissioner and with resistance by the players' union to drug testing, what we now routinely look at as banned substances were not in fact against the rules. Faced with a competitive environment where income and longevity was, and still is, based on productivity, most players chose to use PED's and the sport not only ignored the phenomenon, but celebrated the players' historic accomplishments.  Only after public and media speculation did the players and the sport ban PED's. But what do we do about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and the countless others who had the unfortunate luck to be playing and excelling during that era? In retrospect, anyone can self righteously be critical of their decision, but is that really fair? Can you imagine hitting a stretch of highway without a speed limit sign, hitting the gas pedal and redlining your car at 160, knowing you're jeopardizing your life and probably anyone else on the road? But hey, it's not illegal. Then fast forward a couple of years and you get a summons in the mail, telling you they'd changed the speed limit on that highway and you were now being charged with reckless driving.  And to add insult to injury, they were only going after the people with the really fast cars. The people who couldn't go 160, but who topped out at 115, well, they're "under the radar". I'm not here to let Bonds and Clemens totally off the hook, but to throw them under the bus is wrong. And what about A-Rod? Well, the rules have changed, he knew it and continued to use, despite having natural skills that needed little or no enhancement. As far as I'm concerned, I'll give him a pass on the early use, but at this point his suspension should be permanent.



Sunday, January 19, 2014

NFL FINAL FOUR PICKS

We're down to the Final Four in the NFL, none of which is a surprise. A case can be made for any of the four teams to end up in the Super Bowl. Even though the Broncos are the only one of the conference championship participants that haven't been to the Big Game in the last eight years, they have a quarterback that has been there twice. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, despite making five appearances and winners of three out of four from 2002 to 2005, haven't been able to win one since that great run. The San Francisco 49ers are trying to get back to the Super Bowl after losing to the Ravens, something no team has done since the Buffalo Bills of twenty years ago. And Seattle, the team many thought was the best throughout the season, is attempting to ride their home field advantage to an appearance they hope will lead them to their first ever championship. My record for the playoffs is a disappointing 3 - 5, but I was able to go .500 last week. Two of those five losses were for failing to pick San Francisco. Will I make the same mistake again today? Read on to see whether I do or not.

New England Patriots (13 - 4) 30 @ Denver Broncos (14 - 3) 34: The big story today will most likely be the mild weather in Denver. Much has been written about QB Peyton Manning's inability to play well in cold weather.  Unfortunately for Manning, the weather might be good, but so are the New England Patriots. One of my friends, a die hard Boston sports fan, believes this is the best coaching job he's seen from head coach Bill Belichick. I would have to agree, considering all of the receiving weapons that they lost during the off season. Last week, the Pats ran the ball down the throat of the Indianapolis Colts, but there's no guarantee that they'll try that again today. The Broncos secondary is vulnerable, so this could turn into a shootout. While I like what New England has been able to do this season, including a huge comeback win against the Broncos in Foxboro, I think Manning will find a way to make enough plays to stay ahead and keep the pressure on Brady. At the end of the day, this is shaping up to be another classic game between the top two quarterbacks of their generation and two of the best of all time. I'll take the Broncos, with both my head and my heart.

San Francisco Forty-Niners (14 - 4) 20 @ Seattle Seahawks (14 - 3) 23: This may be the most difficult pick I've had to make the entire season. The Niners are coming off a beat down of a strong Carolina team on the road. The Seahawks have the most intimidating home environment in the league. San Francisco can run the ball and plays tenacious defense. Seattle can make life miserable for opposing offenses, especially with all of the crowd noise at home. The 'Niners' last two visits to Seattle have been disastrous. If that's on their mind today, then the Seahawks may have already won. More important is the way these two teams match up, and even in their losses to San Francisco, Seattle has been able to shut down their opponent's offense. The 'Niners have a great receiving corps, but Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree will be facing one of the great secondaries I've ever seen. The ability of Seattle to handle those receivers playing man-to-man allows the Seahawks to minimize the scrambling ability of San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick. I'll have to go against the 'Niners again because I don't see how they are considerably better than the teams that got blown out on their last two visits to Seattle.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

NFL PLAYOFF PICKS

Last Week: 1 - 3

Season: 177 - 100 - 1

New Orleans (12  - 5) 23 @ Seattle (13 - 3) 28: The Saints broke their winless streak in road playoff games against the Packers last week.  Seattle had its vulnerability at home exposed by Arizona, so this may not be the slam dunk for the Seahawks it may have been a couple of weeks ago.  In week 13, New Orleans got creamed in Seattle, their only big loss of the season. This week, Saints head coach Sean Payton had a Seahawks logo painted on the New Orleans practice field. That's a little like Dorothy clicking her heels and saying there's no place like home, there's no...Well, you get the point. Because for the Saints, despite the last second victory against a depleted Green Bay team last week, there really isn't any place like home, and the same goes for Seattle. It's easy to get swayed by victories in the wild card round, because the best teams had byes, but Seattle had the week off because throughout the season they were the top team in the conference, especially at home. These are the same teams that played earlier in the season, and New Orleans is going on the road for the fourth time in five weeks. I'll take the home team to pound the Saints again.

Indianapolis (12 - 5) 31 @ New England (12 - 4) 27: Same teams, different Colts' QB. These two franchises have met twelve times in the last ten years, with the Pats holding a 7 - 5 edge, 2 - 1 in the playoffs. Indy QB Andrew Luck's only appearance against Brady & Co. was a 59 - 24 shellacking last season. The Colts are coming off a miraculous comeback win over the Chiefs, while the Patriots took last week to try to get healthy and have Brady continue to increase his comfort level with a patchwork of skill players. Indianapolis has some impressive wins, including at San Francisco and Kansas City. The Patriots, despite losses and injuries to receivers and running backs, somehow managed a 12 - 4 season and a first round bye, going undefeated at home.  For some reason, I just don't feel good about New England tonight. The Colts, despite a terrible first half defensively against Kansas City, has some momentum and can play with anyone in the league. I'm taking Indy in an upset.

San Francisco (13 - 4)  17 @ Carolina (12 - 4) 20: The 'Niners appear to be back in Super Bowl form, but they are heading into the home stadium of the hottest team in the league. The Panthers have won eleven of twelve and twelve of fourteen after an 0 - 2 start. They've only allowed more than twenty points in three games all season. Earlier this year, Carolina squeaked by San Francisco on the road, 10 - 9. Both these teams play tough defense and have good, young quarterbacks to guide their offenses which rely on the run to control the clock. This game is virtually a toss-up for me. The big question will be how a young Carolina team plays in their first playoff game since winning the NFC South in 2008, a four season absence. The Panthers defense totally dominated 49ers' QB Colin Kaepernick in their first meeting, and this time the crowd will be on their side as well. I like what the Panthers have done and I expect them to be traveling to Seattle next week with a shot at the Super Bowl on the line.

San Diego (10 - 7) 24 @ Denver (13 - 3) 30 : The Chargers are about to play what amounts to their fifth straight playoff game. They went into Denver week 13 and knocked off the Broncos to keep their playoff hopes alive. This is a hot team, not unlike the Ravens last year, the team that knocked off Peyton Manning in the same round.  I'm not necessarily sold on the Broncos, but I'm not ready to give up on Manning's chance at another Super Bowl. These teams split their season meetings, but Denver's had a week to rest and prepare for Philip Rivers and Chargers offense. However, a bigger concern for the Broncos should be the San Diego defense, which did as well a job as anyone all season in slowing down Peyton Manning.  But I think as well as the Chargers are playing, I expect the veteran Denver QB to have a better day to keep his season alive.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A LOOK BACK AT THE BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

I know that the BCS has been criticized for many reasons from its inception. But what is lost in all of the criticism is that the entire purpose of the process was to pit the top two teams against one another in a winner take all game for the national championship. Forget all of the noise about the other four games that were under the same umbrella. At the end of the day, as we say a belated goodbye to the much maligned system, is that more often than not, they got it right. And tonight, it was right in a way that we haven't seen in the entire tenure of the BCS.

We started out the night with an overwhelming favorite from a former dominant program hailing from a conference that has been criticized in recent years for failing to deliver a top team. And we had a Cinderella underdog team from a conference that had won the last seven titles. Would Florida State's weak schedule come back to haunt them? Could Auburn continue their season of destiny to win a national championship in coach Gus Malzahn's first season? Was the freshman Heisman Trophy winner capable of leading his team to victory in spite of his youth and increased expectations?  Would Auburn's defense be able to depend on its bend but not break style to hold off the nation's top scoring offense?

I didn't really have a dog in this fight, except that I was leaning toward FSU to get a win for the ACC, from which my Virginia Tech Hokies hail. But at the end of the day, irony won out, with a kick return for a touchdown becoming a game changing play in Florida State's favor.  Even though the final score was very close, this was a tale of two games.  The first twenty-seven minutes were all Auburn, looking momentarily like it might end up being a Tiger blowout. But a huge special teams play, the fake punt by Florida State, kept a drive alive late in the first half that ended up turning the tide for the 'Noles.  Auburn won the first game 21 - 3, and Florida State came back to outscore the Tigers 31 - 10. Basically, the final thirty-three minutes went the way I thought the game would go from the beginning.


Jameis Winston and several other Seminole players looked nervous, missing some open plays early in the game. Once Florida State adjusted their defense to answer what Auburn was doing offensively and  the 'Noles started running the ball to ease the pressure on their freshman QB, it seemed as if they started to hit their stride. Add to that a little quicker pace to freeze Auburn's defense and it was all they needed to squeak out a tight victory with thirteen seconds left. At the end of the day, or night in this case, I believe the best football team during the course of the season held the crystal trophy as the final BCS national champion. Congratulations to the Florida State Seminoles!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION

(1) Florida State (13 - 0) vs. (2) Auburn (12 - 1):

I follow both of the ACC and SEC very closely as a Virginia Tech alum and a University of Arkansas supporter and season ticket holder. This game gets a lot of coverage, so there is very little information I can provide that will be new to anyone reading this blog. All I can do is give my own personal take on what I think will happen, and why.

Florida State Seminoles: There is no disputing the excellence of the season that Florida State has put together. Their schedule definitely lacked quality opponents, especially with Florida having a down year. But it didn't really matter, as they knocked #25 Maryland back to mediocrity, took care of #3 Clemson, dominated #7 Miami, avoided an upset against rival Florida and then put #20 Duke in their place in the ACC championship game. Florida State gave up more than seven points in only six games. They gave up more than 14 points in two games and more than 17 points just once. They scored less than 41 points in only one game, and that was a 37 point effort against Florida, which sported a top SEC defense. The 'Noles scored more than 50 points in seven games.  Should I go on?  Okay, I will. The offense is balanced, averaging 322 yards through the air and 207 on the ground. They have the top defense, both statistically and in points allowed.  This is the team that head coach Jimbo Fisher came to FSU to build, having served under Nick Saban, Les Miles and Bobby Bowden. The only weakness that the 'Noles have might be against the run, which is the strength of the Auburn offense.

Auburn Tigers: I know there is talk of Auburn and their destiny, how they've found ways to win against Georgia and Alabama, and that SEC teams have won the last seven national titles. But I've been watching college football for the last fifty years, and what most people are calling destiny, I'm calling luck. Auburn gave up 35 points in a loss to LSU, 41 to Texas A&M, 38 to Georgia, 28 to Alabama and 42 to Missouri. I'll admit that as the season wore on, the offense became much more effective under first year head coach and former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. And they did a great job in outscoring those opponents to get this far. A big part of that was due to their rushing game, which led the nation at 335 yards per contest. For Auburn to stay on the field against FSU, they will have to establish the run early and hope to get a turnover to slow down the Seminoles. Team of destiny?

Prediction: I'll leave destiny for the movies and sports fiction novels. In my experience, football games are won on the field, in this case the turf of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. There won't be any weather issues, both teams have to travel west and they're all 18 - 22 year olds.  Both head coaches were offensive coordinators for national championship teams: Jimbo Fisher for LSU and Gus Malzahn for Auburn. On the offensive side of the ball, the 'Noles and the Tigers can effectively gain yardage and score points.  The unit that will have to over perform for their team to have a chance is the Auburn defense. They need to find a way to contain Heisman Trophy winning QB Jameis Winston and a very talented group of wide receivers. The team Auburn has faced that is the closest comparison to Florida State is probably LSU, whose aggressive defense was able to hold the Tigers to 21 points. The Seminoles will probably be able to put up at least 30 on Auburn, even if the Tigers play a good game. I'm sure you can see where this prediction is headed, so I'll cut to the chase. I'm not saying Auburn CAN'T win, but if these teams play ten times, Florida State wins eight or nine. If the Tigers have another miracle in them, then nothing the 'Noles do will make much of difference. But as far as I'm concerned, it's about to strike midnight for Gus Malzahn and his team of very large Cinderellas.


(1) FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES  40 (2) AUBURN TIGERS  23

SUNDAY'S NFL PLAYOFF GAME PREDICTIONS

AFC:

San Diego (9 - 7) 20 @ Cincinnati (11 - 5) 27 : The Bengals were undefeated at home in the regular season, with wins over Pittsburgh, Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers, New England, Indianapolis and Baltimore. They also defeated San Diego on the road, 17 - 10. I can't avoid an entire season of work just because it's the playoffs. The Chargers, who were pretty much forgotten in the playoff conversations leading up to the climax of the season, found a way to get into the postseason. The Bengals, even with their recent success under coach Marvin Lewis, have not won a playoff game with him calling the shots. Today, they face an inconsistent warm weather team in what is expected to be very difficult conditions. Everyone seems to feel that if Bengal QB Andy Dalton takes care of the football, then Cincinnati will probably waltz into the second round. I happen to think that the key to the game will be the Bengals' ability to stop Philip Rivers. If so, and especially if Dalton plays well, this game should go Cincinnati's way.

NFC:


San Francisco (12 - 4) 23 @ Green Bay (8 - 7 - 1) 27: It's hard to judge the Packers' season, given that star QB Aaron Rodgers was out for seven games. But the 'Niners have run off six wins in a row, with four of those against sub-par competition and the other two over division rivals Seattle and San Francisco. In week one, Green Bay traveled to San Francisco and almost knocked off the Forty-Niners. Tonight, it appears this game will be played in the second coldest conditions in NFL history. Will that matter? It's hard to say, but San Francisco is built more for cold weather than many warm or moderate weather teams: Tough defense, good running game and a quarterback who takes care of the football. There isn't too much to say about Rodgers, other than to say that he has generally found a way to win during his career, including in Super Bowl XLV against the Steelers. I believe in a game this cold, it can't help but effect the play. The big question is if it will be tougher for the 'Niners, who haven't played a cold weather game this season, with their only two road games in December coming in Tampa Bay and Arizona. I've lived in both places, and I can tell you that it wasn't anywhere close to freezing in either location. For some reason, I like the Packers and the weather to take the air out of the 'Niners in Green Bay tonight.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

SATURDAY, JANUARY 4 COLLEGE AND NFL FOOTBALL PICKS

College Bowl Game:

BBVA Compass Bowl


Vanderbilt (8 - 4)  27 vs. Houston (8 - 4) 24: The records might be the same, but the schedules were drastically different. Vandy plays in the SEC East, not as tough as the other division in their conference, but it still provides plenty of challenges. Houston is in the American Conference, and while there are a few good teams in that league, the Cougars lost to the top three. I'm certain Houston will be coming into the game trying to make a statement against an SEC team while Vanderbilt will be attempting to win their second bowl game in a row. They've played in only six previous games and this will be their fourth in the last six seasons, so it's still a very big deal for the Commodores and coach James Franklin. The Cougars can put points on the board, averaging 34 points a game. But against Cincinnati, Louisville and UCF, they scored less than 15 points a game. I'll go with Vandy to use their SEC size and speed to come out with a win.

NFL Playoffs:

AFC:

Kansas City (11 - 5) 17 @ Indianapolis (11 - 5) 24: Two weeks ago, the Colts went into Kansas City and defeated the Chiefs 25 - 3. At the time, KC was still in contention for a first round bye in the playoffs and laid an egg at home. Through their first 13 games, Indy had been up and down against a brutal non-division schedule, but have gotten  hot since with three consecutive wins. The Chiefs opened the season 9 - 0, but since have only managed two wins against five losses. With wins against San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and Kansas City, the Colts definitely have what it takes to advance. Kansas City benefitted from a soft early schedule that hid their weaknesses, especially offensively. Alex Smith was very effective as a game manager early in the season, but that's a little easier when your defense is allowing you to play from in front. It's a bit different having to score to erase a deficit or stay in a game when it becomes a shootout. I'll take Indy to prevail at home to face Denver next week.

NFC:

New Orleans (11 - 5) 27 @ Philadelphia (10 - 6) 31: We called the Eagles' division the NFC Least for much of the season, especially when it looked like eight or nine wins would be enough to get to the playoffs. But then the Eagles won eight of their last nine games to finish with double-digit wins and take clear control of the division. On the other hand, they only had one win  and three losses against playoff teams, and the victory was against the Packers who were without QB Aaron Rodgers. The Saints have NEVER won a road playoff game, and their 3 - 5 record away from home this season wouldn't suggest that this will be the season they break that string. Even with a talented offense, New Orleans will have to come through in anything but dome-like conditions. Of course, 27 degrees at night isn't really that bad for Philadelphia, but it also isn't 72 with no wind. Regarding the X's and O's, the most disturbing statistic (aside from the weather) for the Saints is that they are only 19th in the league against the run, and the Eagles are first in  rushing with a little over 160 yards a game. For me, that's the key to the game and the one that will result in a victory for Philadelphia.

Friday, January 3, 2014

JANUARY 3 COLLEGE BOWL GAME PREDICTIONS

AT&T Cotton Bowl:

(12) Oklahoma State (10 - 2) 34 vs. (8) Missouri (11 - 2) 30: This is a matchup of old Big 12 FOES, and Big 8 rivals before that. Oklahoma State's loss to Oklahoma to end the season looks a little better now that the Sooners upended Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Missouri lost to Auburn in the SEC championship, giving up a lot of points in the process.  I think this is a pretty even game, and bowl games are always hard to predict.  Oklahoma State stubbed their toe at West Virginia, then rolled through most of the Big 12 until losing to the Sooners in a rivalry game. Missouri was 7 - 1 in the SEC in the regular season, but didn't have to play LSU or Alabama, then got drilled by Auburn in the championship game. I'll take the Cowboys to overpower the Tigers.

Discover Orange Bowl:

(12) Clemson (10 - 2)  30 vs. (7) Ohio State (12 - 1) 28: Both of these teams had very disappointing ends to the season. Clemson couldn't handle South Carolina, just like they never seemed to have a chance in their game with Florida State. The Buckeyes steamrolled a weak Big 10 and non-conference schedule, then struggled against Michigan before losing to Michigan State in the conference championship. I think this game will depend on which coaching staff can convince their team that there really is something to play for, even though there probably isn't. The most significant thing about this game is that these teams haven't faced each other since the 1978 Gator Bowl, where OSU coaching legend Woody Hayes decked a Clemson player and never coached again. I'll be an ACC homer and take Clemson.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

NEW YEAR'S DAY COLLEGE BOWL GAME PREDICTIONS

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl:

Nebraska (8 - 4) 23 vs. (22) Georgia (8 - 4) 27: Georgia started the season as a contender for the national title, but an opening loss to Clemson dimmed those hopes. Nebraska had a decent year, but their record is deceiving since they didn't have to play Ohio State or Wisconsin.

Heart of Dallas Bowl - Presented by PlainsCapital Bank:

UNLV (7 - 5) 34 vs. North Texas (8 - 4) 27: This one is difficult to predict, especially since neither team is very well known. I'll take UNLV on the basis of their tougher schedule.

Outback Bowl:

Iowa (8 - 4) 20 vs. (16) LSU (9 - 3) 27: LSU is a very good team in the toughest division in college football, and Iowa is a good team in the Big Ten. No real comparison here. The LSU defense is nasty and the offense is very balanced. They'll be starting true freshman Anthony Jennings, but I think the Tigers will still have too much for Iowa.

Capital One Bowl:

(19) Wisconsin (9 -3) 24  vs. (9) South Carolina (10 -2) 30: This is a great matchup, with South Carolina sporting a five game winning streak, capped by a beat down of rival Clemson. Wisconsin had a six game winning streak snapped by Penn State in the final week of the season. The SEC seems to be flexing its muscles again at bowl time, so I'll stick with the Gamecocks.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio:

(5) Stanford (11 - 2) 23 vs. (4) Michigan State (12 - 1) 24: What a great Rose Bowl, between two very good defensive teams. I've liked Michigan State for most of the season, and their defeat of Ohio State was very impressive. Traditionally, the Big Ten teams haven't fared well going west to Pasadena, but defenses travel better than offenses, so I'll remain a Spartan fan.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl:


(15) UCF (11 - 1) 27 vs. (6) Baylor (11 - 1) 30:  UCF is playing in its first BCS bowl game, following a perfect conference season in the American. The record would have been more impressive had they played and beaten Cincinnati, but the schedule worked in the Knight's favor. UCF has an SEC type team with a tough defense and balanced offense, but Baylor probably has a little too much speed for them.