Wednesday, October 1, 2008

NFL Week 4 -- and Baseball Playoffs? Already?

Pipe Down: Terrell Owens was mad after Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Washington Redskins, Dallas' first loss of the season. Apparently, T.O. didn't get the ball enough, thus explaining why the Cowboys' offense looked so stagnant.

Stagnant being his word, not mine.

But examine the facts: Tony Romo threw T.O.'s way 17 times on Sunday, 15 in the second half. Owens ended the game with seven catches for 71 yards and a touchdown -- and could've had more if not for Washington's secondary hounding him like a lost puppy. That's not even taking into account the two times Dallas gave the ball to T.O. on a sweep.

Marion Barber had eight carries against the Redskins. Owens had a quarter of that, and he's not even a running back.

T.O. had his touches, which was actually part of the problem. Romo and head coach Wade Phillips appeared so set on getting the ball to T.O., they virtually ignored their other playmakers -- specifically Barber, Felix Jones, Jason Witten and Austin Miles. If Dallas had actually bothered to balance its offense and try to keep a depleted Washington defense off-guard, Sunday's game might've been a completely different story.

That said, though, the continued progression of Jason Campbell and head coach Jim Zorn's offense is nothing short of impressive, particularly considering the season-opening egg the Redskins laid against the Giants. If Washington can beat the Eagles this week -- a potentially tall order, given Philadelphia's pass rush -- then notice will be served that the NFC East is a four-team race.

In the meantime, let's just bask in the glory that is the Redskins beating its most hated and historic rival.

Cause: Just when you think Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders couldn't get more ridiculous, Tuesday's firing of Lane Kiffin happened. Kiffin's dismissal wasn't surprising -- Davis had hinted at wanting the young coach gone as early as January -- but the press conference that ensued was nothing short of astounding.

Davis said he fired Kiffin "for cause," and refused to pay Kiffin the remainder of his deal (listen closely enough, and you can hear Kiffin's lawyers already working on fighting that). According to Davis, Kiffin spent his tenure undermining Davis' authority and lying to the media in an effort to curry favor and make the Raiders' management look bad.

Which, trust me, they don't need Kiffin's help for.

Davis even showed the assembled media a letter he said he gave to Kiffin before the start of the season, outlining Kiffin's missteps and threatening termination if it happened again. That letter, with all its misspellings and grammatical inaccuracies, was released to the media and can be found here.

Kiffin, to his credit, was even-keel when asked about things late Tuesday evening, lamenting how disappointed and embarrassed he was. One got the sense he wasn't really bummed about being fired, only that he didn't appreciate the way Davis handled things.

I won't go into how the Raiders won't amount to much of anything so long as Davis is still pulling the strings -- everyone with an internet connection and ESPN can do that -- but Kiffin was actually starting to show signs of improvement. The Raiders are averaging a full touchdown more per game on offense than they did a year ago, and a run-oriented offense designed to take the pressure off JaMarcus Russell has shown signs of working.

Not to mention, with fourth-quarter leads each of the last three weeks, Oakland could easily be 3-1 instead of 1-3.

Here's hoping Kiffin finds another NFL job soon, even if it's as a coordinator. He's a young, bright football mind, and he deserves to be with an organization -- and an owner -- that knows what it's doing.

Playoff Picks: Major League Baseball playoffs start today, and for the first time since I was in middle school, the New York Yankees are nowhere to be found. But look on the bright side, Alex Rodriguez: at least this year no one can criticize you for an October choke job -- unless you have to have the Heimlich performed on you at some point in the next 31 days.

But eight teams are in -- the Rays, Red Sox, Angels and White Sox in the American League; the Phillies, Brewers, Cubs and Dodgers in the National League. While I struggle to find a clear favorite, I'll try my best -- mostly cause I'm bored here at work with nothing to do.

In the AL, it's tempting to pick the Rays. Like, real tempting. Tampa Bay has this knack for winning when it absolutely has to, something the Rays showed repeatedly throughout September, as they battled injuries and the defending World Series champion Red Sox nipped at their heels. There is something to be said for a lack of October playing experience, but this Rays team strikes me as the sort that won't let that bother them.

The Red Sox will obviously be a factor, but the Angels have Boston's number this year -- and Josh Beckett's injury woes will cast a shadow on the Red Sox. The White Sox are a nice story, and I'm sure plenty of you out there are having dreams of an All-Chicago World Series, but given the amount of energy Chicago had to produce just to get to the playoffs might come back to bite them.

My pick? Tampa Bay and Los Angeles in the ALCS. A seven-game free-for-all between the league's two best teams. Going completely with my gut here, I'll pick Tampa Bay to keep the dream alive and go to the Fall Classic.

In the NL, the Cubs were by far the best team in the league this season, which for any other team would be an automatic ticket to the World Series. But these are the Cubs, a team that falls victim to fluke circumstances and its own ineptitude so often it's almost expected. They should make easy work, though, of the Dodgers, who despite having Manny Ramirez and Joe Torre, needed a late-season boost to win the woeful NL West.

Phillies-Brewers could be an interesting series, though Milwaukee will be in trouble. Ben Sheets is out for the playoffs with a torn muscle in his pitching elbow, which will make the Brewers' rotation C.C. Sabathia ... and a couple other guys. And since Sabathia can't pitch every day, I look for the Phils to take this one in four.

Phillies-Cubs in the NLCS. Who goes to the World Series? If for no other reason than starting pitching -- and the fact that Pat Burrell is a big question mark now because of his back -- I'll go with the Cubs.

So. Cubs-Rays in the World Series. Sign of the Apocalypse? Only if the Cubs win. I'll spare the world Armageddon for now and choose the Rays in seven.

Because I can.

Heartwarming: Tired of stories about athletes who are constantly getting in trouble with the law and thinking about "me me me" all the time? Then I direct you Dana O'Neill's piece on about Wisconsin basketball player Marcus Landry and how he balances fatherhood with academics and hoops.

It's the kind of story I'd love to see more of. You can read it here.

No comments: