I hate to brag, and for that reason, I tend not to. Well, that reason and also because I hardly ever have anything to brag about. But I had a monster Week 1 picking NFL games, and I can't help myself.
I went 13-3, missing only on my hunchy pick of the Colts over the Patriots, plus the Texans over the Chargers and the Panthers over the Packers. I realize I am the 2003 Buffalo Bills, opening up like gangbusters only to slide back into mediocrity as the season wears on. I don't care. I don't get many chances to crow about my prognosticating prowess, so I'm going to do it now.
My 2004 NFL Pool of Experts is larger than last year's model. I've gone beyond the ESPN.com panel to include Vinnie Iyer of the Sporting News, plus Cris Carter and Larry Beil of Yahoo Sports and Yahoo's users, whose picks are tracked on a handy Web page.
I've also included my son, Buster, the coin-flippinest 1-year-old in America. In Week 1, picking by coin flip, Buster did exactly as well as former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski, the 2003 Panel of Experts champion. Good thing Jaworski, the best football analyst on TV, did his homework! The standings:
1.King Kaufman, Salon -- 13-3, .813
2.Cris Carter, Yahoo -- 11-5, .688
2.Yahoo Users -- 11-5, .688
4.Joe Theismann, ESPN -- 10-5, .667
5.Eric Allen, ESPN -- 10-6, .625
5.Merril Hoge, ESPN -- 10-6, .625
5.Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News -- 10-6, .625
5.Sean Salisbury, ESPN -- 10-6, .625
5.Mark Schlereth, ESPN -- 10-6, .625
10.Larry Beil, Yahoo -- 9-7, .563
11.Mike Golic, ESPN -- 8-8, .500
12.Buster, Coin Flip Weekly -- 7-9, .438
12.Ron Jaworski, ESPN -- 7-9, .438
Note that Joe Theismann, in a rare bout of ethical stridency on ESPN's part, does not pick the Sunday night game, which he broadcasts.
Fearing no conflict of interest, let us dive together into Week 2, that week that gives the lie to the NFL's claims of parity, because going into Sunday's games half of the league is undefeated and, shockingly, half is winless. Talk about a haves and have-nots system. The winners are in all caps.
St. Louis (1-0) at ATLANTA (1-0): Both teams looked pretty shaky while beating weak opponents last week, so we'll get some answers here about what that all meant. The Rams have beaten on the Falcons like an old rug in recent years, scoring 30 or more seven straight times, all wins, but the Falcons defense appears to have improved and these aren't the same high-flying Rams of their Super Bowl days.
WASHINGTON (1-0) at N.Y. Giants (0-1): New Redskins running back Clinton Portis is fading badly. At one point Sunday he was averaging 64 yards per rush and, based on last year's carries, was on pace for 18,560 yards and 290 touchdowns for the season. Since then, he's averaged 3.0 yards a carry and he's only on pace for 2,368 yards and 16 TDs. Even with this albatross in the lineup, the Redskins should find a way to beat the NYFG.
San Francisco (0-1) at NEW ORLEANS (0-1): The Saints spent the week barnstorming around the country looking for a place to A) practice and B) not get wiped out by Hurricane Ivan, not necessarily in that order. The 49ers spent the week sending flowers and pathetic, pleading, baby-come-back letters to Jeff Garcia, to no avail.
Carolina (0-1) at KANSAS CITY (0-1): The Panthers lost their best receiver, Steve Smith, to injury last week, so they'll be relying even more heavily than usual on their running game. The good news? They're playing the Chiefs, who employ the matador run defense. The bad? The Chiefs can run a little too, which is how the Packers beat Carolina Monday.
DENVER (1-0) at Jacksonville (1-0): Let's see how Quentin Griffin, Portis' replacement, fares against teams that tackle a little bit before we anoint him Denver's next superstar back, shall we? Griffin ran for 158 yards against the Chiefs, which according to ABC's "Max Stats" is equivalent to tossing 30 of 52 playing cards into a cowboy hat from across the bedroom. Nice, but it doesn't really mean much. The Jags defense will present a stiffer challenge, though probably not stiff enough to result in a win.
CHICAGO (0-1) at Green Bay (1-0): What the Heck Pick of the week. The Packers looked terrific beating the Panthers last week, and the Bears, What the Heck darlings last year, gave up the Lions' first road win since Sisqo was hot. Plus, the Packers got holdout cornerback Mike McKenzie back this week. I tell you what: This baby is made to order.
Houston (0-1) at DETROIT (1-0): The Lions beat the Raiders and Bears in Weeks 9-10 last year. Before that their last two-game winning streak was in Weeks 12-13 of 2000. So it is with trembling hands that I type these words: The Lions will win their second straight game.
INDIANAPOLIS (0-1) at Tennessee (1-0): The Colts are starting to look dangerously like the early 1950s Cleveland Indians, who were, year in and year out, the best team in the American League. Except the Yankees. That loss to the Pats was ridiculous. Edgerrin James losing a fumble on the 1? Peyton Manning getting sacked for 13 yards by an untouched Willie McGinest to turn the game-tying field-goal attempt from a sure thing to a long one? Damn Yankees! I mean Patriots! But the Colts sure get a lot better when the other team doesn't have the Post Office logo on its helmets, or whatever that thing on New England's hats is.
Pittsburgh (1-0) at BALTIMORE (0-1): I don't know how long I'm going to stick with my Super Bowl pick, the Ravens, but I'll give them another week. The Steelers looked a little better than I thought they would last week against the Raiders, but then the Raiders looked a little better than I thought they would too. Maybe they're still both just not very good.
SEATTLE (1-0) at Tampa Bay (0-1): The Seahawks may be without running back Shaun Alexander, but the Bucs appear to be such a mess, especially on offense, that it shouldn't matter, even on the road, where Seattle was horrible last year. Maurice Morris is a pretty good backup anyway. There's always the danger that back-to-back diagonal cross-country trips will take their toll on the Seahawks -- a fact of life for Seattle teams in any sport -- but other than that, this is the Seahawks' game to lose.
NEW ENGLAND (1-0) at Arizona (0-1): I suppose this would be a good What the Heck Pick candidate, but even that little trademark bug has its limits. The team that has come to symbolize NFL success vs. the team that, now that the Bengals have improved, exemplifies NFL failure. Now that I think of it, the Cardinals will probably win in a rout, but I'll take the Pats.
Cleveland (1-0) at DALLAS (0-1): The Browns certainly played well last week in picking up a gritty win over future Super Bowl champion Baltimore, har. I don't know what to make of them because I don't think they're that good, and I don't know what to make of the Cowboys because I don't think they're as bad as they looked defensively against the Vikings last week. So I'll take the home team, a prognosticating punt.
N.Y. JETS (1-0) at San Diego (1-0): Curtis Martin had a monster game rushing for the Jets in the opening win over the Bengals -- los matadores del norte -- and LaDainian Thomlinson, probably the best back in the league, wasn't too shabby himself in a win over the Texans. Martin typically takes the preseason mostly off, then starts slowly. This year he practiced and played more in August, and was in midseason form in Week 1. So far so good. But if the Jets, who are a playoff longshot, are going to be legit, they have to win games like this one, and they have to hope the 31-year-old Martin hasn't hastened his expiration date with all the early work.
Buffalo (0-1) at OAKLAND (0-1): The Raiders' late rally against the Steelers last week, which fell short, was a sign of life that was mostly missing from the Silver and Black last year. The Bills have got to find someone who can block. Drew Bledsoe has got to learn to get rid of the ball before he's on his back, but do 32-year-old quarterbacks learn things?
Miami (0-1) at CINCINNATI (0-1): Looks like the Sunday night games were picked before Ricky Williams retired and David Boston was lost for the season. The Dolphins will win some games this season because everybody wins some games. And who knows, this might be one of them. But you're not going to catch me picking them for a while.
Minnesota (1-0) at PHILADELPHIA (1-0): Donovan McNabb of the Eagles, newly teamed with Terrel Owens, had the game of his life last week, completing 26 of 36 passes for 330 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Gee, amazing what a decent receiver will do for a guy, eh Rush Limbaugh? Meanwhile, Daunte Culpepper of the Vikings threw for five touchdowns, two of them to his main man Randy Moss, while going 17-of-23 for 242 yards and no interceptions. Now these two, who can run around some too, meet in a fantastic early matchup that might be an NFC Championship Game preview and shapes up as a shootout for the ages. Predicted final score, as always for games that shape up as shootouts for the ages: 9-6.
Season record: 13-3
Last week: 13-3
What the Heck Picks: 1-0
Percentage of the time when I've bragged in print about my predicting prowess that I have been immediately put in my place by subsequent events: 100
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Barry Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day [PERMALINK]
We interrupt the Barry Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day to give the abacus a rest and to talk about poor Jim Edmonds, the Rodney Dangerfield of the National League.
While people can make various tortured arguments to deny Bonds the MVP (defense, his team's no good, he's a jerk, etc.), there can be little argument over the Hank Aaron Award, which baseball awards in each league to "the best overall hitter." That's it. No semantics or twisted logic involved, just: Who's the best with the ol' hittin' stick. Bonds has to win this one going away.
For the first time since the award was introduced in 1999, baseball is allowing fans to vote for the Aaron Award winner, because baseball loves its fans and because there's some kind of marketing tie-in.
Here are the candidates in the National League: Barry Bonds, Giants; Aramis Ramirez, Cubs; Scott Rolen, Cardinals; Jim Thome, Phillies; J.D. Drew, Braves; Adrian Beltre, Dodgers.
Poor Jim Edmonds! By almost any measure, Edmonds has been the second best hitter in the league this year, after Bonds. By most measures that don't have him second, he's third, behind Bonds and Albert Pujols, his teammate on the Cardinals. But he's not one of the six candidates for the award that rewards offense.
All this guy does is hit like crazy and play a great center field year in and year out, and people ignore him. Even baseball itself, which presumably ought to know a thing or two about baseball, disses him. What did he ever do to anybody? Is it the blond highlights?
And look who is a candidate: Aramis Ramirez. Aramis Ramirez! Holy cow! Fine player, but one of the top six hitters in the league? OK, three of the top six hitters in the league are Cardinals, and there are obvious political and commercial reasons why there aren't going to be two candidates from the same team. If Bonds, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays were all having their best season for the same club, only one of them would get on this ballot.
How baseball chose the Cardinals' third best hitter, Rolen, is beyond me, but whatever. RBIs, I guess. It's at least arguable, too, that Bobby Abreu, not Thome, has been the hittin'est Phillie.
But how'd they come up with Ramirez? I didn't spend all morning on it, but I did put in a little time trying to find a statistic, traditional or sabermetric, in which Ramirez is higher than 10th in the league. Zip. He's 12th in OPS. He's 25th in runs created. Like the traditional stats? He's 14th in batting average, tied for 10th in home runs, 16th in RBIs.
Obviously what's going on here is that baseball wanted a Cub on the list, because Cubs fans mean hits on a Web site, I can tell you from experience. If Neifi Perez were the Cubs' best hitter, he'd be on this ballot. And if baseball decides the winner entirely on the Web voting, he'd win.
The same is true with the Red Sox in the American League. The Sox have a legitimate candidate in Manny Ramirez, but if they didn't, there'd be a Boston on the list anyway, and if they had the six best hitters in the league, only one of them would be on it. Here are the candidates: Ramirez; Gary Sheffield, Yankees; Miguel Tejada, Orioles, Vladimir Guerrero, Angels; Ivan Rodriguez, Tigers; Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners.
The funny thing about the A.L. candidates is that, sure enough, two of them -- Tejada and Rodriguez -- are not the best hitters on their own team. Melvin Mora and Carlos Guillen have a right to feel insulted, but not as much right as Jim Edmonds has.
Previous column: The chair incident
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