Archive for September, 2010

‘Best Case / Worse Case’ Scenarios For The NFC
September 10, 2010

Having just celebrated yet another birthday, I find myself in a reflective sort of mood.

One thing I think I’ve learned as I get older is how to make better decisions.

In life, I have found that it helps to consider all possibilities before acting. An easy way to do that is to play the “best case/worst case” game.

For example, should I use my soon-to-be-expired “buy one, get one free” coupon for Sonic even if I’m driving in solo?

Best-case scenario: I get two, delicious, juicy burgers all to myself.

Worst-case scenario: Massive heart attack.

Or, in an otherwise innocuous conversation with my wife, should I speak out loud the potentially insulting comment that just came into my head?

Best-case scenario: She sees the humor in my remark and is reminded of one of the reasons she is so happy to be married to me.

Worst-case scenario: An immediate serving of my least-favorite dinner – cold shoulder and hot tongue.

Come to think of it, I guess as I’ve gotten older I haven’t learned how to make better decisions. Pity.

Applied to the rapidly-coming-to-a-close CBS reality juggernaut Big Brother:

Best-case scenario: Hayden wins final head-of-household and takes Enzo, setting up for the jury house an intriguing choice of Best Competitor vs. Best Social Player.

Worst-case scenario: Forced to sit through two interrupted hours of Julie Chen-hosted television, I manically claw my eyes out and set fire to my out-of-print Criterion Collection DVD edition of This Is Spinal Tap.

Fans of the Minnesota Vikings have to be playing the “best case/worst case” game after Thursday night’s competitive but ultimately ugly loss to the New Orleans Saints.

After watching Brett Favre struggle to connect with anybody not named Visanthe Shiancoe (and then only prior to his being sufficiently covered), fans have to assume that the best case scenario for the 2010 Vikings is that the team can piece together a .500 record until they get a healthy Sidney Rice back.

Worst-case scenario is the Vikings offense continues to struggle badly, a fed-up Favre decides to hang it up mid-season and be a full-time stay-at-home dad (Oops, I mean stay-at-home granddad), and, after stupidly trading away the not-terrible Sage Rosenfels, the Vikings are right back to what they were two years ago – a mediocre team crippled by an awful quarterback.

Here’s my “best case/worst case” for the rest of the NFC:

Arizona Cardinals:

Best case: Derek Anderson plays like the Derek Anderson of three years ago, Beanie Wells stays (or gets) healthy, and the Cardinals repeat as NFC West champs. And Matt Leinart gets photographed with more drunk co-eds in Houston.

Worst case: Derek Anderson plays like the more recent Derek Anderson, Larry Fitzgerald can’t get open without former teammate Anquan Boldin, Beanie Wells misses significant time, and the defense plays like it did in last year’s playoffs. And, following an injury to Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart leads the Texans to their first-ever playoff appearance.

San Francisco 49ers:

Best case: Alex Smith become an elite quarterback and leads what becomes – with Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, and Michael Crabtree – an elite offense deep into the playoffs.   

Worst case: The team underachieves yet again, and, tired of once again failing to make the playoffs, head coach Mike Singletary quits to go on tour with the reunited Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew.

Seattle Seahawks:

Best case: In his return to the NFL, head coach Pete Carroll extends the success he enjoyed at USC, and the Seahawks make some noise in a terrible division.

Worst case: Pete Carroll continues to be dogged by accusations of wrongdoing while at USC, Matt Hasselbeck continues to stink, neither Justin Forsett nor Leon Washington fulfill expectations, and Seattle gets next year’s number one draft pick.

St. Louis Rams:

Best case: Sam Bradford shines, giving St. Louis the franchise quarterback they haven’t had since the Greatest Show on Turf, and giving Steven Jackson more room to run.

Worst case: Sam Bradford suffers another injury to his shoulder, the defense shows no improvement, and the Rams finish the year as the worst team in the league. Again.

Dallas Cowboys:

Best case: The Cowboys become the first team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium.

Worst case: Tony Romo starts dating Justin Bieber, the crowded backfield never sorts itself out, Dez Bryant can’t stay healthy, and the team once again folds down the stretch.

Washington Redskins:

Best case: Albert Haynesworth and Mike Shanahan make nice, Donovan McNabb plays like Donovan McNabb (and beats his former team twice), Clinton Portis reestablishes himself as an elite back, and offseason upheaval finally works for the Redskins, sending them into the playoffs.

Worst case: Shanahan’s defense is as bad as it was in Denver, Donovan McNabb becomes as big a sports joke in DC as Gilbert Arenas, and Joey Galloway turns to dust.

Philadelphia Eagles:

Best case: The McNabb to Kolb transition works for Philadelphia as well as the Favre to Rodgers transition worked in Green Bay, LeSean McCoy makes everyone forget about Brian Westbrook, and the Eagles surprise by winning the NFC East.

Worst case: the McNabb to Kolb transition works for Philadelphia as well as the Leno to O’Brien transition worked for NBC, McNabb embarrasses his old team, and the Eagles finish in the NFC East basement.

New York Giants:

Best case: The defense isn’t horrible, and the Giants return to the more run-oriented, time-of-possession style of offense that they excel at.

Worst case: The defense stinks, Brandon Jacobs pouts, and the Giants’ new stadium starts to attract brown bag-wearing fans.

Green Bay Packers:

Best case: Aaron Rodgers wins the league MVP, the Packers lead the league in scoring, and they win the Super Bowl, beating Brett Favre twice (three times?) in the process.

Worst case: Last year’s NFC Championship game repeats itself as the defense – particularly the secondary – can’t get healthy and the offense can’t be counted on to outscore everybody every week.

Chicago Bears:

Best case: Mike Martz and Jay Cutler fall in love and turn the Bears promising offense into the best thing to happen to the city since Oprah came to town.

Worst case: The Bears’ offensive line is as bad as feared and interception-prone Cutler can’t stay upright long enough to throw anything accurate. Oh, and Brian Urlacher gets injured. Again.

Detroit Lions:

Best case: Matthew Stafford continues to improve, rookies Jahvid Best and Ndamukong Suh have immediate impacts, Calvin Johnson plays up to his potential, and the Lions climb out of the NFC North cellar.

Worst case: These are the Lions. The football gods will have to have mercy and let them win at least three games.

Atlanta Falcons:

Best case: A sexy preseason pick proves itself worthy of its preseason hype.

Worst case: Matt Ryan’s play continues to drop off, leading some ill-informed and/or intoxicated fans to chant “Vick! Vick!”

Carolina Panthers:

Best case: A very talented team picks up where it left off at the end of the 2009 season (three straight dominating wins) and steals the division from New Orleans.

Worst case: A team with a lot of question marks picks up where it left off at the end of the preseason (no offensive touchdowns) and finishes third in the division.

New Orleans Saints:

Best case: Last year’s Super Bowl champs become the first team since the 2003-2004 Patriots to repeat as World Champions. Thursday night’s opener was highly inconclusive.

Worst case: The high-risk, high-reward defense becomes high-risk, the pressure of repeating takes its toll, Thursday night’ two missed field goals by Garrett Hartley become a trend, and Drew Brees continues to lose more hair.

You know, like Enzo on Big Brother.

NFC Fearless predictions:

Division winners:

NFC East: Cowboys

NFC North: Packers

NFC South: Saints

NFC West: 49ers

Wild cards: Bears, Panthers

NFC Champion: Packers


2010 Wisconsin Badgers Football Preview
September 4, 2010

Regular readers of my ramblings (say that three times fast) know that in addition to football, one of my passions is CBS’s summer reality program Big Brother.

Once again, I’m enjoying Big Brother in 2010, but the last couple of weeks have really annoyed the slop out of me.

My annoyances boil down to this: The fact that Matt, when he realized he was on the outs with his “Brigade” alliance, did not then align with Brendon, Ragan, and Britney to take down “Brigade” members Enzo, Hayden, and Lane.

Matt’s failure to be proactive led first to his eviction, then Brendon’s, then Ragan’s, and all but ensured that two members of the “Brigade” (an alliance that’s been about as secret about their partnership as John and Yoko) will make it to the final vote on finale night, September 15.

Excuse me the Big Brother rant, but we sports writers are prone to negativity. And to be honest, there isn’t a whole lot to complain about with this year’s Wisconsin Badgers football team.

Not like last year at this time. When I wrote the 2009 season preview, I did all but suggest that head coach Bret Bielema, who seemed to have lost control of his team in the middle of a less-than-spectacular 7-6 (3-5 in conference play) 2008 campaign, was likely on his way out.

What a difference a year makes.

The Badgers were one of college football’s true surprises last year, coming into the season unranked and finishing with a 10-3 record, only the sixth time in school history the Badgers had double-digit wins.

The team led the Big Ten in rushing defense and finished 17th in the country in total defense, but what was really the shocker was the performance of quarterback Scott Tolzien, running back John Clay, and the entire Badgers’ offense.

Led by Tolzien, the Big Ten’s leader in pass efficiency, and Clay, the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, the Badgers led the Big Ten in scoring with 31.8 points per game, led the conference in total offense with 416.9 yards a game, and led the country in time of possession.

A quick glance at the team’s body of work in 2009, and it’s not hard to see why the Badgers open the 2010 season ranked a lofty No. 12 in those (admittedly meaningless) preseason polls.

Now cynics might be saying: Sure, but that was last year.

What about 2010? After all, the 2008 team also opened the season ranked No. 12, and they unraveled faster than Lindsay Lohan’s career.

Well, certainly nothing in sports (except maybe the year-in, year-out ineptitude of the Brewers’ starting pitching) is guaranteed, but with a whopping 18 starters (10 on offense, 6 on defense, as well as kicker Philip Welch and punter Brad Nortman) returning, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the 2010 Wisconsin football Badgers.

For those that absolutely have to nitpick (you know, like people who complain when Andy hysterically tears his scrotum on The Office because the laugh it generates is “too easy”), there are things to be concerned about.

Most with reservations point to the defensive line. DE O’Brien Schofield (12 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss in 2009) is gone, drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. Both redshirt freshman DT Jordan Kohout and junior DE Louis Nzegwu will be making their first career starts September 4 against UNLV.

While coaches hope for big things from Kohout and Nzegwu, they expect that returning DE J.J. Watt can not only provide solid leadership along the line, but, given a more prominent pass-rushing role, can match or come close to Schofield’s 2009 production.

Also troubling is the knee injury that continues to sideline outside linebacker Mike Taylor, the fact that the cornerbacks are largely inconsistent (Niles Brinkley) or untested (Antonio Fenelus), and, oh yeah, tight end Garrett Graham is gone, drafted by the Texans (where, oddly enough, he became the second Wisconsin tight end — alongside Owen Daniels — in Houston).

Yep, nothing’s perfect, but things have rarely looked better for the Wisconsin football Badgers as they look to play in their first BCS bowl since the Clinton administration.

Here’s a quick glance at their 2010 schedule:

September 4. At UNLV. Wisconsin has won 24 straight regular-season games against non-conference opponents. The Rebels’s new coach said of the Badgers this week, “We watched all of their film from a year ago and nobody stops them much. That being said, we’re going to try.” I’ve heard more stirring words of motivation from Grandpa YeYe on Ni Hao, Kai-Lan. Final score: Wisconsin 45, UNLV 13.

September 11. San Jose State. What masochistic freak sets up the San Jose State football schedule? First Alabama, then the Badgers, with both games on the road? And the Spartans are a team that has won just a total of 13 games over the last three years playing in a lousy conference (the WAC). Give the Spartans credit just for getting on the plane to Madison. Final score: Wisconsin 50, San Jose 10.

September 18. Arizona State. This game, against a team that actually led a recognizable conference (Pac-10) in defense last season, should be a bit more of a challenge. Translation: There might still be people in the stands in the fourth quarter. Final score: Wisconsin 27, Arizona State 17.

September 25. Austin Peay. The Governors of Austin Peay crushed Cumberland University 38-6 in the school’s first game of the season (September 2). Hope the good feelings last. Final score: Wisconsin 35, Austin Peay 6.

October 2. At Michigan State. The conference schedule begins with an intriguing matchup in East Lansing. The Spartans had a disappointing 2009 season but the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins (142.6 QB rating, 19 touchdowns) was a huge bright spot. Could be a shootout, but likely the Badgers’ run game will help keep the Spartans’ offense off the field just long enough. Final score: Wisconsin 28, Michigan State 21.

October 9. Minnesota. Despite being broken up into different divisions beginning next year, UW athletic director Barry Alvarez spoke enthusiastically about the fact that the “rivalry game” between Minnesota and Wisconsin would continue to be an annual tradition. Methinks that Minnesota’s athletic director is a touch less enthusiastic about that. Final score: Wisconsin 41, Minnesota 14.

October 16. Ohio State. Excuse the cliché, but Badgers fans have had this game circled on their calendars like I’ve got the Big Brother finale circled on mine. The Badgers want this game. Bret Bielema wants this game. Despite his performance in week one, I still have doubts about Terrelle Pryor’s consistency. I think the Badgers make a statement here. Final score: Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 21.

October 23. At Iowa. The Hawkeyes, especially if QB Ricky Stanzi can cut down on his interceptions, could topple the Buckeyes and win the Big Ten this year. They have eight returning starters on a defense that ranked tenth in the country last year. The Hawkeyes also have the Badgers’ number, having won the Heartland Trophy four out of the six years of its existence. Make it five out of seven. Final score: Iowa 23, Wisconsin 14.

November 6. At Purdue. Last year Wisconsin embarrassed Purdue by the score of 37-0. Since that game, Purdue has a new starting quarterback and a new starting running back, along with a fairly talented group of receivers. None of that will matter, though, if the Boilermakers continue to stink stopping the run – they’ve finished last in the Big Ten three of the last four seasons in run defense. I think the stench will continue. Final score: Wisconsin 35, Purdue 14.

November 13. Indiana. Hoosiers QB Ben Chappell lit up the Badgers secondary last season for 323 yards, completing over 70 percent of his passes in the process. Chappell and much of the talented Indiana offense is back (they scored 51 points in their opener), but their questions will be on defense. This game will be tougher than most figure, but Ball and Clay should make the difference here. Final score: Wisconsin 28, Indiana 24.

November 20. At Michigan. Michigan’s football program has fallen farther and faster over the last two years than Mel Gibson’s popularity. At this point of the season, the Wolverines might be playing for Rich Rodriguez’s job. But there is absolutely no indication that the players would want the embattled coach to stay. Bad news for Wolverines fans. Final score: Wisconsin 40, Michigan 21.

November 27. Northwestern. The Big Ten’s biggest surprise over the last two seasons will no longer sneak up on anyone, least of all Wisconsin, after the Wildcats bested them last year in Evanston 33-31. If new starting QB Dan Persa can replace Dan Kafka and if the Wildcats can improve their running game behind back Arby Fields (I’m suddenly hungry for curly fries), then Northwestern will continue to compete. But those are big ifs. Final score: Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 20.

For those of you scoring at home, that’s a final record of 11-1, with a 7-1 mark in the Big Ten. Should be enough for Wisconsin to play in a BCS game come January and has to be enough to keep any negativity at bay.

Complaining is overrated anyway.