Monday, September 29, 2008

Week 4 (Gambling) Roundup

Update: I have been meaning to point this out for weeks, and this Thomas Friedman article reminded me of it. John Buccigross' season ending column from June looks pretty damn prescient given the country's economic problems. Kind of like Friedman's article, only months earlier and from a non-expert. Bucci in '12 anyone?

- My strategy on the picks table this weekend was borne from laziness: simply take the opposite of what someone else takes. Now, given Sam's horrible track record, it would have been a no brainer to take the opposite of his picks. I even told him this. But since Sam takes the effort to actually put the whole thing together, I didn't want to rub it in his face so I told him "just give me the opposite of what the stache takes". And of course the 'Stache practically runs the table one me...

- Except for one game, one rather important game to the 'Stache and IWTFTB. For those of you who gambled on the Eagles-Bears game last night, you were treated to one of those most unpredictable, awful, turnover-prone games in recent memory. TWICE there were back-to-back turnovers, as in, the Eagles threw an interception one play then the Bears threw an interception on the very next play. There was a fourth quarter, four down goaline stand by the Bears. There was Devin Hester doing Devin Hester things, and Desean Jackson taking one step closer to becoming the most Hit or Miss Player in the NFL. Oh, and the game clock wasn't working for patches of the fourth quarter, which was positively maddening. Needless to say, I am glad I parted ways with the Stache and IWTFTB before things in the fourth quarter got particularly hideous for them.

- When the lines came out last week, the 'Stache and I both commented that everyone and their brother would be taking a Broncos-Bills teaser. This practically guaranteed that either the Chiefs or Rams would win (the Chiefs did). In a strange way, the NFL has almost become predictable in its unpredictability. Well, except for the Rams, who are striving to break their "failed to cover" streak from last year.

- The following video has nothing to do with gambling, unless you are betting on Lane Kiffin getting fired. What is the work place equivalent of Lane Kiffin sending out Janikowski for a 76 yarder - showing up to a staff meeting naked? Proposing at the company budget meeting that an extra 76k go towards buying an African Elephant for the office? The possibilities are endless. For the NFL though, nothing quite says "Terminate me" quite like this:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Think Zierlein is Watching Porn Again...

...Cause he sure as hell wasn't watching tape of last Sunday's Eagles game.

According to Steelers tackle Willie Colon, the offensive line received decent grades despite allowing a season-high nine sacks in Sunday's 15-6 loss at Philadelphia. "We graded well, surprisingly," Colon said Wednesday. "Ask the coaches, the O-line did a pretty decent job. There were a lot of communication issues. As a line, we had some big errors. I had a big one. Two other guys had big ones. Those kind of stood out the most."
I'm sorry, what? Are you fucking kidding me? Here's a refresher.

(Video courtesy of Kissing Suzy Kolber)




You know what, I change my mind. A+ effort boys.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Stache Report: Week 3

I’ll make this short and sweet since both you and I want to forget about this game as soon as fucking possible.

- The offensive line gets a big, fat, F. I don’t need to explain why, anyone who watched that game saw it.

- Play-calling was atrocious. Where was the run in the first half? What happened to the quick passing game? The very first play from scrimmage for the Steelers was a quick out to Heath, and we never really saw any of that the rest of the day. Rather, we saw slow-developing, five and seven-step dropbacks that had no chance in the face of a blitz like that. Why play right into the Eagles hands?

- Worst playcall of the day: a toss sweep to Carey fucking Davis from the shadow of our own end-zone. Seriously… a toss-sweep backed up AT YOUR OWN GOALLINE… TO YOUR FULLBACK! Think about how asinine that is.

- That Troy Polamalu guy is pretty good, huh? What a sweet, one-handed interception.

- This was one of Ben’s worst games. To be sure, this is largely due to the lack of protection he received. But when the opposing defense is sending seven or eight guys, there should be someone open. Ben has a tendency to hold onto the ball way too long, and yesterday it hurt us.

- Casey Hampton injured his groin yesterday and could miss some time. With Keisel already out, it only makes things worse. We can ill afford to lose anymore bodies along the defensive line.

- That’s two great games in a row for McFadden. Please pay the man, Dan Rooney! (which I know isn’t imminent since the Steelers refuse to negotiate in-season.)

- Sorry Mike Tomlin, but I can’t agree with you. When you’re down 15-6, with 40 seconds left and it’s 4th and 10 from the Eagles 22-yard line, you kick the field goal and try an onside kick. That was the obvious decision to me.

- Finally, as bad as this loss was, let’s keep it in perspective. Losing to one of the best teams in the NFC on the road by single-digits is nothing to be ashamed about. Obviously, the way we lost the game makes it worse, but in the end it’s a loss against an NFC team that will have absolutely no bearing on any tie-breaker scenarios when playoff time comes around. Let’s hope the Steelers can get their shit together and re-take the AFC North throne next week against Baltimore on Monday Night Football.

AROUND THE NFL:

Chiefs-Falcons: Did I give the Chiefs too much credit when I said they’d finish 2-14 in my season preview? Oh, and Tyler Thigpen’s first half stat-line: 2/13, 13 yards, 0 TD’s, 2 INT’s. Maybe we should call him Tyler Leaf?

Raiders-Bills: Gotta give Oakland credit. Traveling all the way from the west-coast for their second road game in a row, I thought they would have no chance against a Buffalo team that plays tough at home. They must be playing hard for Lane Kiffin (who may or may not have been fired by the time you read this.)

Buccaneers-Bears: 67 pass attempts for Brian Griese. Unbelievable. If you told me that before the game I would have said there’s no way the Buccaneers would win.

Panthers-Vikings: The Tarvaris Jackson-free era is off to a 1-0 start.

Dolphins-Patriots: How many fantasy football owners want to stab themselves for having Ronnie Brown on the bench this week? And how fun was it to see the Patriots lose at home to a team that went 1-15 last year?

Bengals-Giants:
Getting the sense that this might be a long year for the Bengals? Yeah, me too.

Texans-Titans: It’s amazing how much more I like this Tennessee team with Kerry Collins at the helm rather than Vince Young. That Titans defense is scary good.

Cardinals-Redskins: How good is the NFC East? The Redskins are supposedly the weakest of the quartet, and they look pretty good and are sitting at 2-1. Overall, the NFC East is sporting a 10-2 record.

Saints-Broncos: Denver’s offense is on fire, and that’s all well and good. But they cannot and will not keep winning if their defense keeps playing like they have.

Lions-49ers: Matt Millen should be fired. It’s time. What a sad product the Lions are trotting out.

Rams-Seahawks: And yet, the Rams are trotting out an even worse product. They’ve been outscored 116-29 in their first three games. Are you kidding me?

Browns-Ravens: Wait, the Browns are still supposed to win the AFC North, right?

Jaguars-Colts: What a huge, come from behind win for a desperate Jacksonville team over their bitter rivals.

Cowboys-Packers: Dallas is the best team in football right now.

Jets-Chargers: Tony Kornheiser- “Brett Favre. Brett Favre. Brett Favre. Brett Favre."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Picks Table: Week 3




Could be an ugly week. We picked the same on 6 games this week, look for a 1-5 or 2-4 record in those games.

Friday, September 19, 2008

La-la-la-la-la ----Shut The Hell UP!!!

I don't know what's worse... Me finding this clip while I was surfing Pittsburghpirates.com or the clip itself.

It's respectable that Greg Brown can remain excited about Pirate's baseball at this point in the season, but I would probably respect him more if he just became an alcoholic, much like Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker) in 'Major League' the movie.

"Back goes Vaughn, he'll need a rocket up his ass to catch this one"

Anyway, here it is, one of the gayest moments in play-by-play history.

I fixed the link by the way...sorry to those of you who watched a meaningless Pirate clip.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pirates, Penguins, and Peezy

I cannot remember he last time I covered football, baseball, and hockey in one post. So here is a quick post to try and make up for that...
- As the 'stache alluded to earlier, three members of DAI went to Monday night's Dodgers-Pirates showdown. And by "showdown", I of course mean that the Pirates "showed" the Dodgers why they belong so far "down" in the standings. We had four freebies, didn't get to PNC until the second inning, and in trying to give the last ticket away to the first person we saw, we had what could be considered the defining conversation of the 2008 Pirates campaign...
SCENE - Three DAI writers approach homeplate entrance, seek out passerby
Me: Hey man, here's a ticket. Seriously, take it. We have an extra, I'd like you to have it.
Man: Oh, thanks, it's ok though, we just left.
Farewell, 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates.
- All sorts of Penguins training camp posts across the internet today. I've been to Penguins training camp, and regardless of what anyone says, you cannot predict anything based on training camp efforts. I though Michael Sivek looked unstoppable one year. That's right: UNSTOPPABLE. Michael Sivek. I rest my case. So I really can't get too excited about what even the msot credible of people (Jesse, Seth, Therrien, anyone) see at training camp. I did, however, get excited when I saw this post about Satan's production from Empty Netters a few days ago.
- Lastly, guess who is running his mouth again. Seriously, take five seconds and make an educated guess. You will be right. I guarantee it. Just like Joey Porter all but guaranteed the Dolphin's first victory against the Patriots this weekend by saying that "it will be good to get our first victory".

Oh Peezy. When will you learn. But how can I ever be mad at you after this?


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Finding Forrester, if Forrester's Name was Earl Mann


What appears below was originally published on Faceoff Factor as part of their Penguins season preview series. We were grateful for the opportunity to participate in the series once again and because we are lazy, we are going to recreate that post here. If you want to get amped up about the Pens, go to FF every day. You will need a sedative to calm yourself afterwards.

Everything that follows is a true story....
Faceoff-Factor’s coverage is so comprehensive that there really is no point in us stopping by their season preview simply to throw in our generic two cents. Last year, we previewed the season by channeling the voice and absurdity of Earl Mann. This year, we went for broke. We sought out Earl Mann for an interview. The results were shocking.

Earl Mann is an elusive legend, my friends. He scoffs at the internet. Wikipedia cannot possibly hold his resonant voice. Like the “Against the Odds” and “One From the Heart” videos themselves, Mann is a hard-to-find commodity, and I like this. It makes it that much cooler when you encounter someone who is familiar with his Penguins-related work. For the purpose of getting an interview with him, well, it makes things difficult.

Calls to the Penguins and NFL Films were not returned, although they are hardly to blame. We came up with the idea to interview Earl Mann on a Friday with a Sunday deadline, so it really isn’t their fault for not getting back to us (and we’ll keep you posted if they do). Calls were placed to our Penguins “sources in the know”, but let’s just say that the realm of “the know” doesn’t preoccupy itself with movie narrators.

With the prospect of interviewing Mann waning, we turned our efforts elsewhere. Earl Mann is obviously the baritone heartbeat of the movies he narrates, but it’s not like he actually wrote what he said, which begs the question: who wrote that stuff anyways? Brass of a river boat gambler, war horse with hands of silk – who gets the credit? We cued up the end of “Against the Odds” and waited for the credits. After “Narrator: Earl Mann”, a familiar name scrolled by, a name that seemed to sit on the back flap of a book you used to have read to you at age five. A name familiar for reasons that seemed lost in your childhood.

Stuart R. Ross.

Why did this name ring a bell and why did I never notice it before?

The first Google hit on his name revealed the mind-boggling truth: Stuart R. Ross was the man responsible for bringing the smurfs to America. Just let that sink in for a moment. The man who penned the greatest videos in the history of championship DVDs was also responsible for turning the word “Smurf” into a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc. And apparently, according to the link above, he is an extortionist who wrangles money from his son-in-law with voicemails like these: “You have been a discourteous prick to Stuart Jackson (Ross’ lawyer). I am going to continue to harass you. I am going to call you every day – four or five times a day – I am going to keep calling – I will continue to harass you.”

Before I could decide if this made the Penguins DVDs more magical, more hilarious, or just plain creepier, I had to make sure that I had the right Stuart R. Ross. I traced his career across the internet as best I could, discovering along the way that he produced movies on Wayne Gretzky and the 1990 New York Rangers. I needed proof though, and I was running out of sources.
Trapped, with no one to turn to, I faked a look at Wikipedia and banked in my definitive proof off of MSN movies: Stuart Ross had worked with Earl Mann. Elvis just left the building, folks. The Penguins movies were written by the same man who made the Smurfs an American phenomenon. No wonder we went back to the Powder Blue jerseys.

Now…what does any of this have to do with the 2008-09 Penguins campaign? Only Stuart R. Ross and his lawyers know for sure. While I think virtually everyone is excited to see if Malkin and Crosby (gasp…double gasp) get better and if Cooke is as entertaining a presence as Laraque, I keep coming back to three questions that I’ll be looking for solutions to. As BlueBuddies.com says, “everyone in Smurf Village turns to Papa Smurf when things go awry. Papa is always busy making magical spells and potions in his laboratory.”

So, here are my Three Wishes for Papa Smurf, issues I would like the Stuart R. Ross-funded leader of the Smurfs to address via magical spells, potions, and… ok let’s just stop right here. This is getting a little weird.

1. Please figure out all this Jordan Staal business. No one knows exactly where he is going to fit in, how he’ll perform, if he’ll re-sign, etc. Make him comfortable on the first or second line, have him produce, and have him re-sign. Thanks.

2. Make Pesonen a stud. This is highly unrealistic given that he played on rinks the size of Ilya Kovalchuk’s ego, but if he is even just a solid third liner, I’d be pretty pleased. Of course, you could make him a fifty goal scorer on Crosby’s wing and I’d also be pleased. Whatever you can Smurf up.

3. Just make the defense into a solid, cohesive unit. I don’t necessarily care if Goligoski is surprisingly amazing, or if Letang makes a huge leap, or if Whitney recovers in record time, or if Orpik keeps up his 15sec/4check ratio all season. I just want, like, two of those things to happen. I’m not greedy – not all 63 defenseman we have need to have career years. Just make a good unit out of em, Papa.

Alright. Let’s drop the puck already. Let’s Go Pens.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Stache Report: Week 2

- Watching the game with Pat, he implored Ben to do “4th quarter Ben stuff.” In a nutshell, what it means is that we’ve become so accustomed to Ben doing spectacular things in the 4th quarter when the game is on the line. Well, Ben only passed the ball three times in the 4th quarter on Sunday, so we’ll extend it to the last quarter and a half. His stats during that time: 4/6, 95 yards, 109.7 QB rating. Highly efficient, and he made three huge throws: a 48-yard bomb to Holmes, a 31-yard strike to Ward that got us out of the shadow of our end zone, and then a 19-yard rope to Miller against his body that helped seal the game. That, my friends, is “4th quarter Ben stuff.”

- A little curious we did not see Rashard Mendenhall get any carries. Could it have been due to the wet weather and concerns about him handling the ball? On another note, Willie Parker had a grind it out type of game and a stat-line that would have made Jerome Bettis proud: 28 carries, 105 yards, 3.8 ypc. He showed he is fully capable of getting the tough yards between the tackles. He’s come a long way since he arrived in camp as an undrafted free agent in 2004.

- Let’s be clear, no one will confuse this offensive line with the Cowboys of the mid 90’s. That said, we don’t need them to be all-world. All we need is for them to be decent, and through two games, they have been. They’ve opened up some decent holes in the run game, and they’ve only allowed four sacks… more than a full sack per game less than last season. Let’s hope it continues.

- The big news from yesterday was that Brett Keisel will miss up to two months with a calf injury. It won’t be as bad as losing Aaron Smith at the end of last season, but it will still be a significant blow. I’ve liked what I’ve seen thus far from Nick Eason, but I question how he and Kirschke will hold up if they have to spot start. We’re also going to find out just how much Orpheus Roye really has left in the tank.

- Surprise, surprise. Larry Foote missed a few more open field tackles Sunday night. Timmons can’t start soon enough. As for the other linebackers, they had pretty nondescript games. Harrison generated some decent pressure but couldn’t close the deal, and Woodley was quiet all night. Farrior committed an uncharacteristic unsportsmanlike penalty, although I don’t know if it was bullshit or not because NBC never showed a replay.

- How nice was it to see Troy revert back to “old Troy.” He made his presence felt right away, blowing up the run in the backfield on the Browns first play from scrimmage. Troy is one of the few guys in this league that has the size, speed, and athletic ability to hang with the Antonio Gates’s and Kellen Winslow’s of the world, and he provided superb coverage against Winslow all night. And he absolutely baited Anderson into a terrible throw at the end of the first half, resulting in a momentum-changing pick. And he almost made a highlight reel stop in the backfield, timing his jump with the two-minute warning and leaping over the Browns offensive line. Player of the game, in my opinion.

- The other guy who had a big game in the secondary? Bryant McFadden. It’s going to be a shame if they don’t re-sign him. He’s a legit starting cornerback, and he’s the perfect replacement for Deshea. They invested a 2nd round pick in him, and I question why they would take all this time to develop him and then let him go right when he’s hitting his prime. He filled in admirably for Deshea, hauling in an INT and breaking up a huge pass to Braylon Edwards in the 4th quarter.

- Jeff Reed nailed a 48-yard field goal in the middle of a pseudo-Hurricane. At this point, I don’t think I’d trade him for any other kicker. He’s money in the bank.

- Summary of last night’s NBC telecast:

Madden: Shaun Rogers

Michaels: Unbalanced line

Madden: Shaun Rogers

Michaels: Unbalanced line

Madden: Unbalanced line

Michaels: Shaun Rogers

Madden: Shaun Rogers

Michaels: Unbalanced line

- Someone want to tell me how the hell Rogers wasn’t penalized for that late hit where he planted his helmet right into Ben’s shoulder?

- It seems this coaching staff learned their mistake. After playing not to lose at the end of the Jacksonville playoff game, they played to win and trusted Ben to put the ball in the air on the final drive. The result: that aforementioned 19-yard rope to Miller that pretty much put the game away.

- In response to Pat’s inquiry (Re: Favorite Romeo Crennel mishap from Sunday night), my vote goes to the horrible, horrible use of his final timeout at the end of the game. Let’s start from the top: The play prior to Crennel’s usage of his final timeout started at 2:57, according to NFL.com play-by-play. So let’s say the play ended at 2:51. At this point, you can call a timeout right away, try and stop the Steelers on 2nd down, and then make them have to snap the ball on 3rd down before the two-minute warning. Or, you can let the game-clock keep rolling, make a stop on 2nd down, then call a timeout at around 2:05 and again make them snap the ball on 3rd down before the two-minute warning. The WORST thing you can do is exactly what Crennel did: let the game-clock run a bit, then call a timeout at 2:42. Now, the 2nd down play will undoubtedly take the game-clock to the two minute warning, and the other team doesn’t have to take the 3rd down snap until after the two-minute warning. In essence, Crennel cost his team a valuable 40 seconds. These are simple time-management skills every NFL head coach should have, and you can rest-assured that if Mike Tomlin ever makes the same asinine decision Crennel made, you will hear me bitching.

AROUND THE NFL:

Bears-Panthers: Things were looking bleak, and then Jonathan Stewart saved my teaser bet in the 2nd half.

Titans-Bengals: 0-7 for the Bengals? Their next five games: at New York Giants, vs. Cleveland, at Dallas, at New York Jets, vs. Pittsburgh

Packers-Lions: 6 catches, 129 yards, 2 TD’s for Calvin Johnson. He’s blowing up, people. Oh, and that Aaron Rodgers guy is pretty good, too.

Bills-Jaguars: The Jags are facing the very real prospect of going 0-3 with next week’s trip to Indy looming.

Raiders-Chiefs: This game may have set football back 100 years.

Colts-Vikings: It’s gonna take time for Tarvaris Jackson to find his way, time that the Vikings may not be able to afford.

Giants-Rams: 79 points allowed by the Rams defense in the first two games. Scott Linehan isn’t making it through this season if this keeps up.

Saints-Redskins: Saints have to play better than that. They have a legitimate contender in the NFC South in the form of the Carolina Panthers.

49ers-Seahawks: I think they were picking people out of the stands to play receiver for the Seahawks.

Falcons-Buccaneers: See what happens when you face a real defense, Matt Ryan? And Jeff Garcia is getting a raw deal down in Tampa.

Dolphins-Cardinals: Maybe, just maybe, this is the year for the Cardinals.

Chargers-Broncos: The Chargers got screwed. Absolutely, screwed. That said, what a gutsy, gutsy decision by Mike Shanahan to go for the win with a two-point conversion. I loved the call, and wish more coaches would consider it rather than placing their fates on a coin toss.

Patriots-Jets: I think the Patriots still win that division, even with Matt Cassel at the helm.

Eagles-Cowboys: Apparently, the Doubt About It crew missed quite a first half while attending the Pirates-Dodgers game.

Monday, September 15, 2008

So Many Choices


The 'Stache Report is coming at some point, but in the mean time, let's talk about the man to the left. What was your favorite Romeo Crennel mishap last night? Think long and hard, cause chances are you are forgetting some. Comment away until the 'stache weighs in.

(Yes, this post is in many ways designed purely to bump the OSU post off the main screen as a way to help I Want to Fight Tom Brady stop thinking about the game)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ohio State vs USC- What to Look For From OSU

Beanie Wells is officially out. This news coming straight from Jim Tressel, who apparently made a “coaches” decision on the matter of sitting the star RB.

Point blank, Ohio State will now have to find other ways to win this game. I was firm with my decision earlier this season, being that Ohio State would win this game, but that plan also included running Beanie Wells 40 times.

Wells is a horse for Ohio State’s offense, literally. One day the NFL will find out exactly what I mean. If there was finally a player that was going to become the second coming of Jerome Bettis, Wells is it, believe me. Hes a half-step slower than Adrian Peterson, but his still deceiving speed is complemented by his raw power, making him a running back that I truly believe, bias aside, will be first running back off the board if he were to leave college this season.

Now, Ohio State is left with bunch of smaller, speed backs, putting tons of pressure on Ohio State’s offensive line. They must open up gaping holes for the running game to have any chance to succeed; holes that were non-existent in last week's game against Ohio.

Ohio State, which boasts a very large and highly recruited offensive line, can play to this level, but they'll have to keep pushing when the less experienced backs struggle to find their way around the pile. When holes weren’t available for Beanie, his size would carry him for another 3-4 yards, but that just won’t be the case this Saturday. This will be a totally new concept for an offensive line that has blocked for Beanie on a very consistent basis these past three seasons, but I expect them to step up.

Ohio State’s running game will come around for a few big plays here and there, but I expect them to struggle early. Look for Brandon Saine to make big plays out of the backfield. Saine, 4th on the depth chart at RB, specializes in the passing game, including big plays downfield. Saine often motions out as a WR, while also running the occasional deep pattern straight out of the backfield. This could be a weapon that catches USC by surprise. Beside Saine, I hope and pray that Maurice Wells finally has a good game for Ohio State. Since being a highly recruited speed back out of Florida, Well has done little to nothing, leaning towards the nothing. Wells is good for the big hit …so expect some of that on Saturday night…you know, the kind of hit that makes even the home crowd scream “ewww”. If you asked me who Ohio State’s worst player is, I’ll say Maurice Wells everytime. Prove me wrong Mo.

Ohio State should be fine in the passing department, but Boeckman will have to be quick with his decisions. This is exactly what cost Boeckman and Ohio State a shot against LSU last year, although a good deal of that had to do with amazing LSU coverage. Ohio State is 2 years matured in the passing game, so expect some big plays downfield from experienced players like Brian Robiskie. Look for DeVier Posey, 6'3'', to make a big play in the 4th WR position. Posey has been impressive in his 2 games as a true freshmen, and I see N-F-L written all over his future. Posey's stride and ability to make plays after-the-catch could be crucial as he finds himself in a mismatch in a 4 or 5 WR set.

On defense, expect big things from Malcolm Jenkins (pictured right), providing blanket coverage on whoever he is covering. Also look for Ohio State to drop Jenkins off from corner into a safety or rover position so that he can let loose and make some plays. Ohio State will get Donald Washington back from suspension this game, so that gives them extra depth at the corner, allowing them to pull Jenkins back for a series here and there. I expect Jermale Hines to be a difference maker on defense. Hines, slotted at LB for the Ohio State, has filled in at safety in recent weeks, even knocking out Ohio U’s starting QB last week. Hines is a big hitter and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make an impact hit near the sideline or over the middle. All in all, if Ohio State's offense can manage not to go three and out every series, expect Ohio State's defense to be huge all game long. They are loaded all over the place, with experience from players like James Laurinitis and Marcus Freeman.

On special teams, keep an eye out for Ray Smalls and expect little from Maurice Wells. If Wells returns kicks, expect him to get drilled around the 20. I still don’t know why Ohio State allows him to play on special teams, let alone at running back, but you know what, his hair looks pretty cool.

For USC, I don’t know enough details, and I’ll just leave that up to the Southern California bloggers, they know their team the best. Other than the USC-Virginia game this year, I have seen little of this USC team. I know they are deep at RB and strong at LB. Ohio State should be in for a match-up of a lifetime. If Ohio State’s returning senior core really wants to finally win the big one, they better be talking about tonight.

Friday, September 12, 2008

NFL Picks: Week 2

Here is the picks table for this week. New improvements to this week's table is the use of resumè-approved Garamond font in the results row. You never know who could be watching.



The'Stache Sam Says:

BROWNS (+6) over Steelers
Everyone is picking the Steelers, which is never a good thing. Plus, this line places too much emphasis on the first week. Giving six points to the team that is supposed to challenge for your division title in their house? Too high for my taste. Steelers win, but it won't be as easy as most think.

Raiders (+3.5) over CHIEFS
Both of these teams were supreme disappointments in Week 1. I'll take the dog early in the season.

BENGALS (-1) over Titans
Going with the theme of overvaluing of Week 1 results, I think too many people will be low on the Bengals. Look for their offense to spark back to life.

VIKINGS (+2) over Colts
The Colts lost to a team last week that pounded the ball and played good defense. Sound familiar? Peyton needs another week to fully get into the swing of things.

Saints (PK) over REDSKINS
Going against my own warnings about premature predictions from one week of football, I feel comfortable making this statement: Jim Zorn is the worst coach in the NFL.

LIONS (+3) over Packers
I like the Packers this year and really like Rodgers. Which is why the Lions pull this one out.

PANTHERS (-3) over Bears
Two teams who had equally impressive wins last week, but are probably playing over their heads. The deciding factor in this game? Dan Connor.

RAMS (+8.5) over Giants
The Giants aren't that good and the Rams aren't that bad.

Bills (+5.5) over JAGUARS
Paul Posluszny is going to the Probowl this year, just watch.

Falcons (+7) over BUCCANEERS
This one is screaming for an easy Bucs victory after Atlanta played well above their potential last week. But the +7 was just too palatable to pass up.

49ers (+7) over SEAHAWKS
Favoring anyone in this division by more than 3 points is insane.

Dolphins (+6.5) over CARDINALS
See above.

JETS (-1.5) over Patriots
This pick is based more out of desire to enjoy a Patriots loss than anything else. I'm looking forward to the elation that was felt during the Patriots loss in the Super Bowl to be spread out over 15 games this season. A nice slow burn.

TEXANS (-4.5) over Ravens
How the Texans could give 1.5 points after last week's loss combined with the Ravens win is beyond me. Still, Flacco is a one week wonder. Lets just hope the stadium is still there Monday.

BRONCOS (+1.5) over Chargers
I don't like Jay Cutler, but I can't stand Phil Rivers.

COWBOYS (-7) over Eagles
The only thing I truly hated about State College was the obnoxious "E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES" chants while standing in line for Canyon Pizza. You'd be feeling great after a fun night, ans then have to deal with that being screamed in your ear for 10 minutes. This pick is for those assholes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Jumpin' The Gun

Take it easy Champ, why don't you sit this one out,
not say anything for a while

If you somehow haven't noticed, the Steelers are now ranked in the top 3 of almost everyone's Power Rankings. What does this mean at this point in the season? About as much as a Cam Bonifay promise of a Pirates winning season.

Yet what seems to have happened, yet again, is what I like to call "Media Fast Forward". Remember when the Steelers beat the Broncos in 2005 to go to the Super Bowl, and IMMEDIATELY, the media went straight to talking about how tired they were of the Jerome Bettis-goes-home-to-Detroit storyline, before anyone even had a chance to really write about it? Perfect scenario of Media Fast Forward. The media told us to be sick of the Jerome Is From Detroit (almost the name of this blog, FYI) storyline before we even had time to get sick of it.

Well, a similar thing has happened in the past few days, I think. Between a few dozen phone calls from friends, several comments-section wars on other sites, and a de facto AFC crowning by Bill Simmons, popular opinion seems to be: wow, stupid Steelers fans, they are 1-0 and got a bunch of lucky breaks from other teams sucking and now they are saying they are the class of the AFC...what jerks.

Huh?

Once again, there has been some serious "Fast Forwarding" here. While it certainly makes sense that Brady hurt + Colts looking sloppy + Chargers loss + Jags loss + Steelers looking sharp = Steelers the AFC's best team early on, there is a key ingredient whose absence has been conveniently ignored: declarative "This Is The Year!" statements from Steelers Nation. When you've been burned in AFC Championships like we have, you don't make these statements. Period. Yet in trying to construe us as some sort of arrogant Goliath, all I am hearing from divisional fans is that we are pricks. Did I miss something? Did the PG or Trib front page say something like "A Super Bowl Start for Steelers"?

Find me a credible news source or blog that said in earnest that the Steelers are by far the league's best team. Because from my perspective, the response has been a tempered "that was a nice start, let's see what happens from here". Maybe opposing fan bases should worry about selling tickets for their own team instead of criticizing another for being "arrogant.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Stache Report: Week 1

- The way we won this game reminded me of the way we would win games during Ben’s rookie season when we went 15-1. High efficiency from the passing game and Ben (13/14, 137 yards, 2 TD’s), a strong ground game (183 yards rushing), and suffocating defense. The only difference is, that used to be the game plan out of necessity. The current version of Ben Roethlisberger is fully capable of winning a shootout against the likes of Peyton Manning and Tony Romo, and at some point this season we’re going to need him to do exactly that. But for one day at least, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers circa 2004.

- Any lingering doubts about Willie Parker’s mended leg were squelched after this game. He showed his trademark speed (witness how he beat everyone to the corner on his first touchdown) and looked like the Willie of old. Parker and Mendenhall provide one of the best one-two punches in the NFL.

- Don’t be disappointed Santonio Holmes finished with meager stats. He’ll get his, sooner or later. The day belonged to Hines Ward. He caught everything thrown his way, found the end zone a couple of times, and just for good measure, threw a great block to seal off the right side and allow enough room for Parker to register the first points of the game. Hines does this all the time… whenever you think that maybe he’s slowing down and the end of his career is near and there’s no way his body can hold up, he comes up with a gem of a game like this.

- Good job by the offensive line. Hartwig is a big improvement over Mahan simply because of the fact that he doesn’t get pushed back into the pocket. Marvel did a pretty good job against Mario Williams, all things considered. Facing a pretty good Texans front seven, they put up close to 200 yards on the ground and only allowed two sacks. That means the O-line was doing something right.

- Two guys stood out on the defensive line. First, Casey Hampton. Was Mahan playing center for the Texans? Casey had his way all day, continually pushing the pocket and stuffing the run. If he can get motivated to play like this every week, this defense is going to be scary good. The other bright spot was Nick Eason. He looked surprisingly quick as he closed in on a sack with James Farrior, and then again on a pass to a Houston running back in the flat.

- What a game by the linebacking crew. James Harrison abused rookie tackle Duane Brown, chipping in with 2.5 sacks. LaMarr Woodley made the play of the day with a one-handed INT, and I was almost convinced he killed Matt Schaub when he came untouched for a sack. He provided very good pressure the rest of the game as well. I’m continually impressed by Lawrence Timmons’s speed each and every week. Harrison-Farrior-Timmons-Woodley. That’s the linebacking corps for at least the next couple of years, and it’s a damn good one.

- Sunday was the first time since October 2006 that Troy had an INT or a sack. Good to see him come up with a “splash play”, as Mike Tomlin likes to say.

- Speaking of Tomlin, that’s now two years in a row that he’s had the team extremely well-prepared on opening day. It’s a nice change of pace from the days of Bill Cowher, where it seemed like the team played like absolute shit at the beginning of each and every year.

- Special Teams, kick and punt coverage in particular, looked great. They gave a talented return man in Andre Davis limited room to make something happen. Let’s hope this trend continues.

- In the offseason, people were quick to mention how difficult the Steelers schedule was. On this very blog I had said that it’s impossible to gauge how difficult a schedule is before the season because so many things change, citing last year’s studs turned duds—the Ravens and Saints. I know it’s only one week, but all of the sudden that schedule doesn’t look as daunting, does it? The Patriots lost Tom Brady, the Browns secondary is a mess, the Jaguars have lost their three interior offensive lineman for an extended period of time and looked terrible against Tennessee, the Colts lost to a team led by Kyle Orton (at home, no less), and the Chargers are banged up and lost to a Carolina Panthers team missing their best player (like the Colts, at home).


AROUND THE NFL:

Redskins-Giants: Jim Zorn must have slept through the hurry-up offense portion of his “Football Coaching 101” class.

Lions-Falcons: The Lions allowed the Falcons to churn out over 300 yards rushing. No NFL defense should be that inept. That’s embarrassing, folks.

Bengals-Ravens: Can anyone argue that Carson Palmer is a better quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger, and actually keep a straight face?

Seahawks-Bills: Roscoe Parrish is a bad motherfucker. That punt return TD was a thing of beauty.

Jets-Dolphins: Former Aliquippa and Pitt star Darrelle Revis with a great one-handed pick to end the game.

Chiefs-Patriots: No injury could have altered the landscape of the NFL more than Tom Brady’s. The AFC (hell, the AFC East) is now wide open.

Buccaneers-Saints: Big win for the Saints, toppling last year’s division winner and re-establishing their presence in the NFC South.

Rams-Eagles: Scott Linehan might not last through the season. Oh, and Donovan McNabb looked great. That matchup with the Eagles in week 3 is not going to be easy, not by any stretch.

Jaguars-Titans: Swapping Kerry Collins for Vince Young makes the Titans a better team.

Cowboys-Browns: Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, and Santonio Holmes must be licking their chops at the prospect of facing the Browns secondary next week.

Panthers-Chargers: Carolina is on their way to making my wild-card prediction for them look good.

Cardinals-49ers: I have nothing to say about this snoozefest.

Bears-Colts: Was it me, or did Peyton Manning look “off” on Sunday night?

Vikings-Packers: They won the game, but in my mind it doesn’t matter what Aaron Rodgers does. For Packers fans, nothing will be good enough because he’s not Brett Favre.

Broncos-Raiders: Pat’s sleeper team isn’t looking too good right now.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Week 1 In the NFL - Down Goes Brady

Just like a tree in the rain forest, Tom Brady has fallen. Overheard by fellow blogger, Pat, Michael Silver of SI.com has reported just this on the radio:

Tom Brady is OUT FOR THE YEAR.

As many of you know, I've been out to fight Tom Brady in a Vegas-style bout for almost a year. Numerous attempts to contact his agent have failed, and now today's event will surely delay our match-up until at least 2009.

Karma Tom, Karma...this injury was coming to you, now I hope you enjoy your year on Injured Reserve. To one of the cockiests athlete of the modern era: I hope Matt Cassel takes your job. Honestly, if I was on Kansas City and I ran into Tom's knee, I would have punched him in the groin too. The knee just wasn't enough for this P.O.S.

In other NFL news, fantasy football owners enjoyed a fairly mild weekend from LaDainian Tomlinson. While it's a long season, Chargers fans have to begin to wonder if maybe LaDainian's training habits with Kimbo Slice are beginning to take a toll...you know, like leg pressing small cars.



While it's only Week 1, my sleeper pick, the Atlanta Falcons, enjoyed quite the Week 1. Following my game plan of run, run, run, the Falcons ran for some 300 yards rushing against the Detroit Lions. Either it means the Falcons can ball, or, the Lions suck. For now I'll support the latter, but watch out.

Picks Table




If all four of us picked a team, they are almost guaranteed not to cover. The NFL is back in full swing. Finally.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sam's Sleeper Pick: New York Jets


This hate this photoshop, for so many reasons (google images)


There are three things that are guaranteed for Doubt About It football coverage:

1.) Wannstache delivers this time of year. The man beats out every prognosticator in the country in predicting the draft, likely knows the shoe size of Sean McHugh, and does so without getting the credit he deserves. He knows football and doesn't get the hype; truly the anti-Wannstedt.

2.) Looking to make a little bit of cash? If all four of us pick the same team on a given week in the picks table, its just about guaranteed to be wrong. Which brings me to...

3.) I fucking suck at football predictions. (Well, maybe baseball too...but my judgement there is drowned out by homerism. I actually try to be unbiased in football.)

With that third rule in mind, I knew I had two options: either pick the team I thought would be the worst, thereby ensuring their success, or pick the team I thought had the best shot and enjoy their season crumble around them.

I went with option 2, and hereby give the fatal kiss of death to the New York Jets.

Removing any and all emotion, the Jets, on paper, look to challenge for a wildcard spot. They have a great offensive line, solid WRs, and an improved defense with new NT Kris Jenkins and emerging star Derrelle Revis. They also have a solid veteran QB, who, according to Merrill Hoge on DVE Wednesday morning, can throw 22 yard comeback routes. Apparently, this was the only thing missing from the Jets aerial attack.

Whatever.

I hope the Jets suck, mostly because of Favre. There's enough whining about him on the blogosphere, though, so I'll save it. He's a big reason why I drafted Aaron Rodgers in fantasy football. The younger QB showed a lot of grace the entire summer, and I have a feeling karma is going to pay him back.

Faneca and the complaining he did last year about making only a few million dollars doesn't help either. There's also the proxy hatred for anyone or anything that had to do with the Patriots success, including Eric Mangini. The AFC East is quickly becoming my most hated division, with the Bills the only team I feel apathetic about.

So the Jets are my sleeper pick, and if they do well you'll see a post at the end of the year gloating to my fellow writers about how silly they were to doubt Brett Favre. If they suck, I'll also take credit for jinxing them. Ballsy.


Here are the picks for tonight:

Redskins (+4) at Giants

Pat: Redskins
IWTFTB: Giants
Wannstache: Redskins
Sam: Redskins

The full table will be up tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I Hope They Lose Tonight...Tomorrow...and Every Day After That


Pittsburgh Pirates 08'


I love the Pirates plan for the future so much, I hope they go out and lose 19 of 24 games to finish this season.

Why? Because Pedro Alvarez - Version 2.0 sounds like a good idea. Just call up Scott Boras tonight and pony up about $5.5 million dollars, by next August 15th there should be enough in interest to cover a first round pick. With all this garbage that has been the Pedro Alvarez saga, I would almost pay $100 dollars to one of our fellow bloggers if I could guarantee a rematch. What has happened these past few weeks is almost comical to me. That's just where I'm at with these Buccos. If I can get some laughs, I'll take it. Boras vs Pirates management Round 2...I'll pay to see that before I pay to see another Pirates game.

That being said, if the Pirates want me back as a customer, their approach right now is exactly what I want to see. Load the system with up and comers, a group that is up and coming within the same decade, then hope for the best. Have the Pirates had prospects in the past? I don't even think so. The last two star outfielders for the Pirates have been Brian Giles and Jason Bay, both from outside the system. It's like the Pirates have been renting a Ferrari all this time. They are posers, when the car reels in the girl, and she falls in love, we trade it in. It's a relationship, that we the fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates are way too use to.

Simply put, the Pirates haven't won in my lifetime. The relationship feels fake, I don't really like this team, I just live in some fantasy world that maybe one day we will win, and the honeymoon is long gone. For me, things must change fast. As a young adult, ready to make financial decisions that will affect the Pirates attendance, Pirates management should care about me, and this is why they should care about what I say right now.


Let Benschoten Hit...

If I have to say it one more time on this blog, I'm going to move to Cleveland.

The dude is bored, and sick of pitching. Now the Pirates think they can put the guy who walks people like it's his job in a bullpen role.

Get a clue.

The man led the NCAA in Homeruns!!!!!!!!

Catch some Ankiel fever.

You just don't lose that kind of ability. Yes, it will take some time, but I got money on it taking less time then him becoming a Major League pitcher in the Pirate's bullpen.

It's time to reap some return on the investment of old Pirate management.

Send him up to bat...






Hire "The Rock" as Manager...

John Wehner, not the wrestler. Yes, I think John Russell deserves more time, but something about him is not right. Has anyone seen Russell try to argue a call with an umpire? It's awkward. He actually got thrown out trying to protect Adam Laroche of all people, that's a mistake in itself. I just love hearing John Wehner practically bitch about how this Pirate player doesn't do this, doesn't do that, doesn't throw inside (Snell), doesn't run hard to 1st, etc... If the Pirates want accountability, hire Wehner. He spent a season or two coaching at Double-A Altoona, so it wouldn't be an Eddie O transition from the booth to bench. Mark down Wehner as our next manager. I hope I'm not the only one that shares this opinion.

Hire Dejan Kovacevic as General Manager...

This comes straight from the mouth of fellow blogger Pat, and I couldn't agree more. Remember Nutting, Pat and and I are the future of any Pirate's financial success, we call for Dejan as GM, we better get it. Neal Huntington has looked good thus far, but that doesn't mean much to me. It's a cycle I'm use to, we should be replacing Neal in about 5 years. This goes out to Dejan in 2013.

Resign Matt Morris...


Kidding...



Make These Young Pitchers Earn a Job....

The Pirates biggest mistake this season was setting the top 4 of the rotation from the start of Spring Training. Complacency has been one of the Pirate's biggest obstacles, See Derek Bell, and it was once again this season.

This isn't to say that Snell or Gorzo shouldn't of been handed a job this past Spring Training, but next season should come with no guarantee for Snell, Gorzo, or Duke.

I believe in competition to the fullest extent. If it also means telling Paul Maholm he doesn't have a job until he proves it in Spring Training, so be it. That must be the new attitude









"No scholarships" as Neil Huntington put it...

market it...

put it on some T-shirts...

just let current and future Pirate's players and fans know the free riding is over.










Your 2008 NFL Preview

Let me start by saying I hope I don’t duplicate last year’s stellar predictions. Where I only hit on 50% of the playoff teams. Where I predicted the Rams to go 10-6. Where I predicted that the Ravens and Saints would square off in Super Bowl XLII... Turd Bowl XLII would have been more appropriate. And where I had this to say about the Giants:

The Giants could implode at any moment. Coughlin, Manning, Strahan, Shockey, and Burress? Lot of egos, there.

Well, I can tell you I feel no more confident about this batch of predictions. So take them with a grain of salt. Numbers in parenthesis indicate playoff seeding.

AFC EAST

Patriots 13-3 (1)
Bills 9-7
Jets 8-8
Dolphins 4-12

Even though I think they’ll take a step back, New England shouldn't have much trouble winning the division. I expect the Bills to contend for a playoff spot. They’ve added significant pieces to their defense. Many are pegging the Jets for the postseason… but there’s something “off” with them. I can’t really explain it. I think it stems from the fact that I don’t find teams that spend lavishly in the offseason appealing. To often these teams fail and look back on these signings as a desperation attempt to win at all costs with no regard for the future. The Dolphins can’t really be any worse this season (okay, they could go 0-16). With Parcells’ fingerprints all over the team, that should be worth a few wins alone.


AFC NORTH

Steelers 10-6 (4)
Bengals 8-8
Browns 7-9
Ravens 6-10

Even with a tough schedule we have enough talent to get to 10 wins. I like the Bengals more than the Browns, which runs contrary to most mainstream thinking. Cleveland’s secondary is one of the worst in the league, and I think they’ll fall under the weight of high expectations. Make fun of the Bengals all you want for re-signing Chris Henry, but I cringed when it happened. He’s a Steeler-killer and he makes that offense extremely potent. They’ll make some strides on defense and finish second. The Ravens have an aging defense and no real quarterback to speak of, so I expect close to the same win total as last season for them.


AFC SOUTH

Jaguars 11-5 (3)
Colts 11-5 (5)
Texans 9-7 (6)
Titans 6-10

This is going to be neck and neck between the Jaguars and Colts. It’s been close the past few years, but this season I expect Jacksonville to finally make the leap. They’ll edge the Colts out via tiebreakers. The Texans are my surprise team this season. They have a fierce pass rush, a solid O-line, and a huge gamebreaker in Andre Johnson. I think they’ll steal the final playoff spot. Unless Vince Young makes some strides throwing the ball, the Titans will struggle.


AFC WEST

Chargers 12-4 (2)
Broncos 7-9
Raiders 5-11
Chiefs 2-14

This race could be over by midseason. Neither the Raiders nor Chiefs will be real threats and will finish in the basement of the league. The Broncos’ window for contending closed after the 2005 AFC Championship game. It’s time to blow that thing up and re-build. San Diego dominates this division, whether or not Shawne Merriman's knee turns into Cream of Ligament.


NFC EAST

Eagles 11-5 (2)
Cowboys 11-5 (5)
Redskins 8-8
Giants 7-9

I really like the Eagles this year. They know how to build a team, which is from the inside out. It seems like they draft lineman with their first pick every year. Their secondary is extremely solid as well, and all reports are that Donovan McNabb is back to being the McNabb of old. Throw in Brian Westbrook and you have a division winner. The Cowboys, who may have the most talent in the league, will hang with them all season long. I expect a mediocre season from the Redskins as they adjust to a new head coach, and for the Giants to have a Super Bowl hangover now that they lost both of their starting bookends on the defensive line.


NFC NORTH

Vikings 10-6 (4)
Packers 9-7
Lions 7-9
Bears 4-12

Count me among those who think Tarvaris Jackson may surprise some this season. He’ll do enough to let Adrian Peterson and a fantastic defense win them the division. It will be interesting to see how Aaron Rodgers responds. He might be the player under the single-most pressure in the NFL. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Packers finished 11-5 or 7-9. I’m not on the Detroit bandwagon anymore (so they’ll probably make the playoffs). However, I’ve been telling anyone and everyone that Calvin Johnson is going to have a monster season this year. And the Bears continually befuddle me (and everyone else) by their inability to recognize that neither Kyle Orton nor Rex Grossman is an NFL caliber starting quarterback. They may have the worst offense in the league.


NFC SOUTH

Saints 12-4 (1)
Panthers 9-7 (6)
Buccaneers 7-9
Falcons 3-13

New Orleans is going to come out hungry this season. Adding Jonathan Vilma and Sedrick Ellis to their defense will prove huge, and they still have a top-notch offense. Throw in a relatively weak division and I think they get the number one seed in the NFC. The Panthers should be better with a renewed ground attack. John Fox needs to win now, and in the NFC they should contend for a playoff spot. I originally had Tampa Bay going 16-0, but their acquisition of Sean Mahan automatically causes their win total to drop by nine games. Actually, my original prediction for them was the 7-9 record you see above, which means their real record will be –2-18. Atlanta is in the tough position of having to start a rookie QB, and I have a feeling it won’t work out as well as it did for our local team here in Pittsburgh. But I do like Matt Ryan and feel like he will eventually become a pretty good quarterback.


NFC WEST

Seahawks 10-6 (3)
Cardinals 8-8
49ers 6-10
Rams 6-10

The Seahawks have won this division the last three years. This year seems like it won’t be any different. They have no real competition. Once again, pundits are saying the Cardinals are their sleeper team. I swear, this is like the 20th straight season the Cardinals have been everyone’s “sleeper” team. So I hope you understand if I wait until they actually deliver before I take them seriously. I know the 49ers were my sleeper team and their predicted 6-10 record runs contrary to that. I’m sorry, I can’t get behind them. The Rams are blessed with one of the worst coaches in the NFL, Scott Linehan. If Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson go down with injuries again, things could get ugly in St. Louis.

PLAYOFFS:

Wild Card Round:

AFC: Chargers over Texans, Steelers over Colts
NFC: Seahawks over Panthers, Cowboys over Vikings

Divisional Round:

AFC: Steelers over Patriots, Chargers over Jaguars
NFC: Saints over Cowboys, Eagles over Seahawks

Championship Games:

AFC: Steelers over Chargers
NFC: Saints over Eagles

Super Bowl XLIII:

Steelers over Saints (Yeah, yeah, call me a homer. Or a yinzer. I don’t care.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Wannstache's Sleeper Pick: The San Francisco 49ers

I swear that I don’t have an unhealthy obsession with offenses coordinated by Mike Martz. I promise you it’s just a coincidence that I picked the Lions as my sleeper last year, and am picking the 49ers as my sleeper this year.

The truth is, when I saw the options Pat had listed, I didn’t like any of them. I had wanted to write about the Texans (who will make the playoffs, by the way. That’s for the NFL Preview post later this week, though). Alas, they were not on the list, and I didn’t want to take the easy way out by picking the Jets (which I’m sure Sam will do). So, I opted for the team that plays in a crappy division in the NFC with a head coach that will be fighting for his job.

The San Francisco 49ers.

And let’s start there, with the head coach. It’s do or die time for Mike Nolan. Another horrendous season will almost assuredly get him canned, so you can bet he’ll pull out all the stops to make this season a successful one. Those moves started in the offseason with the hiring of Martz as the offensive coordinator. It’s a move that reeks of desperation, but hey, this offense needs to put more points on the board, and Martz will help do that. Might new quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan be sacked approximately 127 times in the process? Yeah, probably. But they will put more points up on the board.

Let’s talk about O’Sullivan. He unseated incumbent Alex Smith with a nice preseason showing. O’Sullivan comes with the added advantage of familiarity with Martz’s system, having served as the Lions’ backup last season. The hope is that O’Sullivan will provide the 49ers with steady, mistake-free play at the quarterback position, which is more than can be said of Smith. The former #1 overall pick has failed to live up to his lofty draft status, throwing 31 interceptions and fumbling an astounding 27 times in his 30 starts with the 49ers.

The running game should take some pressure off O’Sullivan, provided Martz actually utilizes it. While the 49ers ground game only rushed for 1,477 yards last season, they actually finished with a respectable 4.1 ypc, good for 11th in the league. Frank Gore is a top-10 back, and has the pass-catching ability to be used a la Marshall Faulk during “The Greatest Show on Turf” heydays. Deshaun Foster was added from the Panthers to provide quality depth.

When it comes to the offensive skill positions, no one will confuse San Francisco with New England. But O’Sullivan should have some nice weapons at his disposal. Largely overshadowed by Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in Arizona, Bryant Johnson will finally get the opportunity to become the main man. Isaac Bruce adds a savvy veteran presence to the receiving corps, and 2nd year man Jason Hill should have a better understanding of the offense. The 49ers also look like they have a keeper in rookie Josh Morgan, an offseason phenom who finished 5th in the preseason with 182 receiving yards. Tight end Vernon Davis is poised for a breakout year in his 3rd season and is ready to join the league’s elite. He doubled his receiving yards and nearly tripled his receptions in his sophomore campaign, so look for him to further evolve this season.

On defense, they’ll be led by budding superstar Patrick Willis. The team just recently also added Takeo Spikes, who’ll provide a steady veteran influence. They’ll also be counting on the healthy return of outside linebacker Manny Lawson. Lawson showed flashes of becoming a big-time pass rusher as a rookie, but his 2007 season was largely derailed by a torn ACL. Significant additions and improvements also occurred along the defensive line. The team signed ex-Bengal Justin Smith to a six-year, $45 million deal, and while he probably isn’t worth that type of cash, there’s no doubt he should help anchor against the run. Kentwan Balmer was added via the first round of this year’s draft, and the club is excited over the strides made by last year’s 3rd round pick, Ray McDonald.

Much was made over the 49ers decision to spend a combined $110 million on Nate Clements and Michael Lewis. The secondary failed to respond accordingly, finishing 22nd in the league in pass defense. In the case of Clements and Lewis, another year becoming more familiar with the defensive scheme will translate to better play. Add in veteran cornerback Walt Harris, and you realize that this unit isn’t short on talent. The return of Lawson should also significantly bolster a pass rush that only generated 31 sacks last season, which should take pressure off the secondary.

One of the biggest reasons the 49ers could have a chance this year? The division they play in. The NFC West is one of the weaker divisions in the NFL. The Seahawks are a good, solid all-around team, but they’re not in that elite class. The other two teams, St. Louis and Arizona, are eminently beatable.

So how do I think the San Francisco 49ers will ultimately do? If this whole post feels like me trying to convince myself they could surprise this year, well, you’d probably be right. At best, I could see the 49ers challenging the Seahawks for the division. If that happens, I think that would qualify as a successful sleeper. After the season they had last year, I’m thinking most 49er fans would take it.