Friday, September 29, 2006

NFL Picks - Week 4

First of all, let’s get the weekly dose of Terrell Owens news out of the way. Suffice it to say there is nothing this guy does which surprises me anymore. An attention starved manchild who constantly tears down others while feeling above criticism? Big deal. Honestly, it would not surprise me one iota to hear that he A.) Donated $2 million to charity, or B.) Stabbed Bill Parcells in the heart with a grapefruit knife. Both would be consistent with his famewhoring personality. The less said about this guy, the better.

On to the picks. Remember last week, when I said I had very little confidence in my selections? Turns out I was right, as I stumbled to a 6-8 week, and I ony achievd that with some last minute wins by Miami and Carolina. This week, I’m feeling much better about the matchups, and should surge back to the top with these gems:

KANSAS CITY over San Francisco
Chiefs use bye week to help get backup QB Damon Huard acclimated to the first team offense, while the surprisingly tough defense gets a big week in front of the Arrowhead crowd. KC can forget any thoughts of the post-season with a loss here.

Miami over HOUSTON
Dolphins have inspired zero confidence to pick them on the road, but Texans are beyond awful. Daunte Culpepper needs a big game, and gets it here, though it would not be at all surprising to see a 16-10 game.

Dallas over TENNESSEE
Despite the saga this week over He Who Shall Not Be Named, the ‘Boys are too good to look beyond this one. Titans will stick with Kerry Collins, but I think you’ll be seeing Vince Young doing mop-up duty late in this one.

Indianapolis over N.Y. JETS
Despite lack of a consistent running game, Colts are too tough to falter here. Mangini has the Jets believing they’re about to turn the corner, and they could very well stay close (or make it respectable).

Minnesota over BUFFALO
Bills made a ton of mistakes last week in the red Zone, and it cost them at home vs. Jets. Vikes come off tough home loss to Bears, but have been in tight games every week so far, and should be able to get it done in Buffalo.

San Diego over BALTIMORE
Ravens perhaps exposed last week in last second win over Browns, and haven’t seen any team this good thus far. Bolts are rested coming off bye and should be able to match the Raven D stop for stop. Long as Philip Rivers stays upright, San Diego should have enough to grab this one.

CAROLINA over New Orleans
Panthers picked up critical W last week, stay at home to battle surprisingly unbeaten Saints. New Orleans has to have a letdown after emotional Monday nighter. Throw in the short week and and extra week of practice for Carolina WR Steve Smith, and you’ve got the ingredients for a Panther win.

ATLANTA over Arizona
Falcs looked shocked from the get-go on Monday, and a Swiss cheese Cardinal defense is just what the Doctor ordered. Look for Matt Leinhart to get some garbage time, just like Vince Young, as Atlanta rebounds with an easy win.

ST. LOUIS over Detroit
Rams haven’t shown much yet, but the Lions have been a huge disappointment. St. Loo at home rolls Matt Millen one step closer to the unemployment line.

Cleveland over OAKLAND
Two rotten teams, but at least the Brownies seem to have a direction. Art Shell is completely overmatched as an NFL head coach, and the once vaunted Raider nation has no teeth left. Romeo’s boys will frustrate whomever takes the snaps for the Silver and Black, and Cleveland wins easily.

Jacksonville over WASHINGTON
Tough call taking Jags on the road, but the ‘Skins are still a mess, despite throttling the Texans last week, Jacksonville defense will frustrate Brunell and Portis, and Jaguars win a low scoring affair.

New England over CINCINNATI
Upset special. Despite how ordinary the Pats looked last week against Denver, I just get the feeling that this is when they are at their most dangerous. Nobody is picking them to beat the Bengals in Cincy, but I still think Bellicheck will devise some way to keep it close and squeak out a late win.

CHICAGO over Seattle
Bears at home, on national TV, show America how good they are. ‘Hawks are without Shaun Alexander, and I don’t think they can win here without some kind of rushing attack. Resurgent Chicago offense won’t have an easy time of it either, but they should score enough to take this one.

This one could get ugly. Eagles offense hasn’t struggled yet, and against porous Pack D, they could approach the high 40’s. Defense will have a field day in front of crazed home crowd. Watch for the commentators to praise Brett Favre all night as he is running for his life and throwing 4 picks. Over/under on Theisman mentioning the courage, heart or passion of Favre is 56. I’m betting the over.

Last week: 6-8
Season: 29-17 (63.04%)

Friday, September 22, 2006

NFL Picks - Week 3

Man, I'm on fire so far! 23 wins in 2 weeks!
Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of confidence in this week's selctions, since some of these games are toss-ups. Proceed with caution.

Jacksonville over INDIANAPOLIS
Jags D looks very tough, and I think this is the week they stick it to the Colts.

MINNESOTA over Chicago
Vikes at home can get by as yet untested Bears.

Washington over HOUSTON
'Sinks offense gets back on track vs. woeful Texans.

N.Y. Jets over BUFFALO
Jets showed a little toughness in near comeback last week; Bills coming off big win, primed for a slight letdown.

MIAMI over Tennessee
Fish finally find the win column. Culpepper can't be this bad, can he?

Carolina over TAMPA BAY
Two unexpectedly winless teams clash, with the loser headed for a long uphill battle. The hunch here is that Carolina is better and will find a way to keep Chris Simms' nightmare alive another week.

PITTSBURGH over Cincinnati
Love Cowher coming off an embarassing shutout loss on Monday. Big Ben will shake off the rust against a somehwat banged-up Bengal D.

DETROIT over Green Bay
Lions showed toughness in home opener against Seahwaks, and should prevail. Pack are a mess.

Baltimore over CLEVELAND
Might be closer that most people think, but the Ravens big play defense should give Brownies fits all day long.

N.Y. Giants over SEATTLE
Revenge time for last season's terrible loss. 'Hawks still haven't hit on all cylinders, and they have yet to play a team as tough as the G-Men.

Philadelphia over SAN FRANCISCO
Eagles a little banged-up, but will find a way to grab this one on the road against a surprisingly tough Niner bunch.

ARIZONA over St. Louis
Rams, still reeling from last weeks road loss at SF, face a big play Cardinal offense.

NEW ENGLAND over Denver
Another Revenge Special. Broncos must really miss Gary Kubiak, as the offense looks lost. Pats, at home, will atone for last year's playoff (referee aided) loss.

Atlanta over NEW ORLEANSDespite all of the goodwill regarding the return of football to the Big Easy, I can't see the Saints stopping the potent Falcon ground game.

Last week: 12-4
Overall: 23-9 (72%)

Friday, September 15, 2006

NFL Picks - Week 2

Let's get right to the picks for week 2. Last week's were never posted, but are preserved in the weekly pick 'em pool. I'm predicting winners without spreads.

(Home team in CAPS)

MINNESOTA over Carolina
Vikes for real? Maybe, but Panthers really miss Steve Smith, and might just be a tad overrated.
CHICAGO over Detroit
Bears D too tough, plus they're at home. Lions could kepe it close, though.
Biggest no-brainer on the board. Colts could lay 25 and still cover.
GREEN BAY over New Orleans
Stink Bowl, Pack reclaim a wee bit of respectability.
G-Men are better, and are coming off tough loss.
BALTIMORE over Oakland
Ravens D will embarass Raiders more than they were last week, which doesn't seem possible.
ATLANTA over Tampa Bay
Falcons defense improved, Bucs O-line banged up.
CINCINNATI over Cleveland
Bengals home opener, should be a cakewalk.
MIAMI over Buffalo
Fins bounce back after one bad quarter in Pittsburgh.
SEATTLE over Arizona
'Hawks looked rusty, but Cards defense can cure lots of offensive woes.
St. Louis over SAN FRANCISCO
Rams should not have as much trouble finding the end zone this week.
SAN DIEGO over Tennessee
Bolts are more talented, and at home. Tomlinson will run wild.
Kansas City over DENVER
Upset special. If Plummer is Plummer, KC can steal one.
New England over N.Y. JETS
Jets beat Titans, right? And they almost blew it, right? Pats, with Branch drama behind them, roll.
DALLAS over Washington
Bledsoe holds off the QB controversey for one more week.
JACKSONVILLE over Pittsburgh
Jags will punish Batch and Co.

Last Week: 11-5
Season: 11-5

Survivor - What Is CBS Thinking?

I’m a big fan or Reality TV in general, and Survivor in particular. I see them as the logical extension of the Springer/Povich/Geraldo daytime yellfests which, ultimately make you feel like 1) your life isn’t too bad compared to the whack job guests they have, and 2) Hey, I’m better than that!

Admittedly, there are lines that even I can’t cross with some of these, most notably the suckfests on MTV, which seem more scripted than ever. Survivor, however, is a different story – the first show that was an actual phenomenon. It was true water cooler TV, something you wouldn’t dare miss lest you be hopelessly out of the loop the next day at school or work. As an example of my addiction to this show: during the first season, we bought a house. As luck would have it, our moving day was the Friday following the finale. Now, we had planned on finalizing (read: doing 90% of) the packing, yet we absolutely could not miss the 2 hour culmination. What did we do? Nothing. We parked our asses on the couch until the show was over, sat in amazement that Richard won, then got to packing into the wee hours.

Subsequent seasons, while highly rated, never really recaptured the buzz that Season One had. I continued to watch anyway, never missing an episode, and watching how producer Mark Burnett continued to come up with new twists each season to mess with the castaways. Good times.

This year, shortly before the season premiere, the “twist” was revealed: 20 castaways would be divided into 4 tribes (the normal is to have 16-18 be divided into 2 tribes). The kicker? The tribes would be segregated based on………ethnicity! Oh my! Typically, some folks were outraged, some advertisers threatened to pull out, and host Jeff Probst had to make the talk show circuit and defend the decision.

Again, a brilliant move by Burnett, in my view. He has, with one decision that will probably be rendered meaningless within a few episodes, recreated a buzz around the show. Typically during each season, the tribes will merge after a certain amount of time. I imagine that when they only consist of 5 people each, the merger will come sooner rather than later, and will involve “shaking up” the tribes to create new alliances and tensions. The ethnicity thing will be long forgotten by mid-season. Unless, of course, there are more twists in store....

So, the first episode aired, and guess what? The world didn’t end. The tribes are still playing Survivor, and the interactions within the tribes are far more crucial than how they relate to the other groups. It’s still, at it’s heart, more a social game than a physical one. Idiots will be idiots, be they Asian, Black, Hispanic or White.

A quick check of the show forums on Television Without Pity show that many people who have been away form the show are coming back, and viewers, for the most part, approve of the twist. I'll keep watching, certainly, but that's because I've become Burnett's beeeyotch.

Classic Album Corner

Joe Jackson Band
Beat Crazy (1980)
5 stars

Joe Jackson, circa 1980, was a known musical quantity. Coming into prominence during the punk/new wave explosion of the late 70’s, Jackson enjoyed moderate success with his debut album, Look Sharp, which spawned the classic single “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”. The follow up record, 1979’s I’m The Man, was a slight departure from the debut, but still kept that sneering edge and received decent FM radio play. Someone coined his sound “Spiv Rock”, and though I personally had no idea what that meant, I knew I liked it.

Timing is everything, however, and by hitting the scene at that time, being an angry young Brit, the comparisons to Elvis Costello were undeniable. There were plenty of similarities. Each started with records that seemed angry on the surface, but also displayed a keen sense of songwriting ability, and the ability to turn a sharp phrase. Comparing the two was unfair to both, but since Jackson came later, he received the short end of the critical stick. Later, valid comparisions could be made, alluding to the fact that each seemed to resist being pigeonholed, and unafraid to expand into other musical genres.

Jackson decided to go to a reggae direction for his next project. This seemed strange, but natural in a way. In Jackson’s band, the bass was always prominent, sometimes moreso than the lead guitar, so it seemed like these guys could pull it off. Several other British acts of the era, most notably The Clash, were big fans of reggae, and wrote and covered songs heavily influenced by the genre (most notably the excellent “Police and Thieves”). A cover version of Jimmy Cliff’s classic “The Harder They Come” was released in the UK in advance of the new album, entitled Beat Crazy. Strangely, it was left off the record.

The album, released in 1980, caught many off guard, not the least of which was the radio programmers in the US, who didn’t seem to know what to do with it. “Pretty Boys” got some early play, but never really caught on, and the record died a quiet death on the charts. Even the liner notes seemed to recognize the futility of the project, stating “ultimately, this was doomed to fail. The question remains: why did we try?”

Why, then, am I featuring this on Classic Album Corner? I’ve always had a soft spot for it, and still play it to this day. It was, in my view, wrongly overlooked, and in hindsight stands as an important step in the career of a diverse, talented musician.

Beat Crazy, the album and the title track, opens with a scream. Jackson himself doesn’t sing lead on the title tune, as bassist Graham Maby handles those chores. He takes on the role of a disgruntled older man, lamenting about “kids today”, while Jackson chimes in after each statement from the young perspective. It’s a strong start to the record, but I suspect it took many fans off guard.

The record just has a general feel to it that was unlike anything else I’d heard up to that point. Keep in mind, I was 16, so it’s not like I had a huge body of musical knowledge to draw upon. For many people, including me, records like this, along with the aforementioned Clash songs, the first two Police records, and the amazing debut of The Specials were the gateway to Reggae and Ska.

Jackson is still angry on Beat Crazy, as evidenced is tracks like “Mad at You”, and “Pretty Boys”. He delves into dub territory with “Battleground”, which sets hard edged lyrics about racial tensions against a simple scratchy guitar. “One to One” boils down to the singer asking his girl why they never seem to communicate, and asking if telling her she’s beautiful when she gets mad is a sexist observation. “The Evil Eye” mentions Zombie rockabilly legends The Cramps, and tries unsuccessfully to emulate them. The song held a special place in my heart since the protagonist worked in a supermarket, just as I did in 1980. Whaddya know, I hated my old man boss too, just like Joe! “Biology” offers a neat twist on those who cheat on their girfirends/wives, and for perhaps the only time in recorded history, a singer talks in the voice of sperm cells. Sounds weird, I know, but the tune is cool. “Someone Up There” is a bit cliché lyrically, but the bass work of Maby is stellar as usual.

The album closes with “Fit”, a ballad about not fitting in. It’s an eloquent, well written tale railing against elitism and cliques, which any High School aged person could relate to. Funy thing, it still resonates now, 26 years later.

If you can find this out there, pick it up. You could probably find a nice used CD on Amazon for less than 10 bucks, and it’s a gamble worth taking. I would not steer you wrong, now would I?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Never Forget

As we note this day, it's important not to lose focus. Remember those who gave their lives, those innocent people who simply went to work and never came home, and those left behind.

It's unfortunate that it often takes events such as these to make one appreciate things more, but that's reality. Spend a few extra moments with those you love today, and spend each day working toward creating a world where no one could think that the taking of another life can be in anyway justifiable. Naive? Sure, but most dreams worth striving for are.

Never forget.