Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tony, Tony, Tony
I love the guys at PTI, but Tony Kornheiser asking Ben Roethlisberger about Tom Brady's greatness was a tad irritating. Can we go five seconds without talking about the Patriots?


Andy Barch Interview
As usual, I'm joined by NFL expert Andy Barch, and he gives me his thoughts on the league, on and off the field.

Z: I guess I'll start with the serious stuff. Andy, I know you followed Sean Taylor in college. What thoughts do you have on what has happened

AB: its very confusing. I'm interested to hear more details, but even those details, good or bad will not take away from the kind of player that Taylor was. He was a freak, a hard hitting, athletic safety who was leading the league in picks.

I remember before the 2004 draft, I hosted a show in Lansing Michigan, and on that show I mentioned that Taylor could be to the safety position what Ray Lewis (back then) was to the middle linebacker position. I've always thought he was terrific, and this obviously leaves a HUGE gap at safety for the Redskins. What an awful, awful story. This guy could have been in the same class as a Ronnie Lott.

Z: It seems this kind of thing has been happening too much lately. Darrent Williams dying last year, being an example. Does the NFL have a problem it needs to deal with?

AB: No, it's not the NFL's problem. These guys are grown men, and off the field, there is only so much the NFL can do to help these guys. I feel awful for what has happened to both Taylor and Williams, but what could the NFL have done to prevent either one of these deaths? Darrent Williams was out celebrating after the final game of the '06 season, with some of his teammates. Is the NFL supposed to babysit these guys and tell them they can't go out? Absolutely not. There is only so much the institution can do.

In the case of Taylor, was the NFL going to send extra security to his place to make sure he wasn't robbed or shot?? Probably not. Again, these guys are grown men, and what they do off the field is on them, not the NFL.

Z: OK, back to the field ... Big game this Thursday. How do you see it shaking out?

AB: Green Bay hasn't won there since the late 80's/early 90's. I don't see that changing. I like Favre, and what he's done with that team is nothing short of remarkable. I don't think their defense, because of all the injuries, will be able to stop that Dallas offense.

Green Bay does a good job of staying disciplined in their passing lanes which will force Romo to be honest in the pocket, but I think he should have enough time to find TO, Witten and his running backs. I expect a shootout.

Z: What has been up with the Titans lately? People talk about Albert Haynesworth, but six points against the Bengals?

AB: Zach, this team has overachieved all year long. Lendale White has been much better than I thougt he'd be this deep into the season, but I think teams are beginning to find out how awful this receiving corps is.

Keep Vince Young in the pocket and make his receivers try to make the plays; that's the best way to defend this offense. Defensively, they've been a monster surprise, Bullock and Haynesworth have been huge.

Z: Are they a serious playoff threat?

AB: I dont think so. Jeff Fisher is an outstanding coach. Over the last 15 years, I don't know if there is a coach out there who's done more with less. Floyd Reese is good on TV, but I think he was a sub-par GM. Fischer has his guys playing extremely hard every single week. He never has the most talented team, but they always seem to find their way into the playoff picture. This year, there are so many teams on their level in the middle of the race that have so much more talent, and I think that will show in the end.

Z: If you had to pick playoff teams now, who would they be?

AB: AFC: Patriots, Colts, Steelers, Chargers, Jacksonville, Cleveland. The top three are gimmies, the Chargers are just better than any of the AFC West teams. Jacksonville is a serious threat the way I see it. Their defense is playing well and they are running the ball with authority on EVERYONE. Cleveland has an easy schedule the rest of the way and thats why I choose them over Denver and Tennessee.

NFC: Dallas, GB, Tampa, Seattle, Arizona, and Minnesota. The top two are gimmies, the NFC South is garbage and Tampa Bay, while they don't impress you with their numbers, they just find ways to win games and there isn't anyone in that division strong enough to stop them. Tampa is like the Diamondbacks of the NFL. I picked Arizona because I like their balance on both sides of the ball. I think they are going to surprise people down the stretch. I didn't choose the Giants because they are a TERRIBLE second half team. The Redskins are certainly going to miss Shawn Taylor and they are inconsistent on offense. Detroit has shown its true colors during this recent three game skid and Minnesota is beginning to show some promise. They are inconsistent, but they've shown that they can compete with some decent teams this year, and if they get Adrian Peterson back, they've got the most explosive player in the game and that will make up for their lack of a passing game.

Z: Browns .... any hope?

AB: Yes, I have changed the way I look at this team. While their defense is still difficult to watch at times, they can score with ANYBODY IN THE LEAGUE. It's amazing what a good offensive line can do for you. Fans, columnists and experts alike have been calling for realignment on the offensive line since the team came back into the league and this year, that unit has been FANTASTIC. That's a huge reason for the offense's success. As we talked about earlier, winning the war in the trenches gives you a tremendous chance to win games, and at least offensively, they are winning the war in the trenches. More importantly, they have guys on this team who actually believe that they can win. That negative attitude is slowly going away.

Defensively, they have shown some signs of improvement, and I think Derek Anderson is the answer. Take that for what its worth, letting that guy hit the free agent market would be a HUUUUGE mistake.

Z: It only took 12 weeks to change you on the Browns. I'm so proud of you.

Thanks, AB

AB: As Bob Dylan once said....times, they are a changin', and eventually, I had to keep up with the change in time. Thank you Zach, I always enjoy being a part of your blog.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Panel comes to a close
So with the Steelers' thrilling 3-0 victory over the Dolphins, Nihar Vasavada wins The Panel: Survivor.

Phil Prusa made a smart pick in the final week, taking the Cardinals over the 49ers. But for some reason, the 49ers chose this week to show up. I sure hope they don't do the same in week 17.

So Nihar wins, and I'll likely be hearing about it until next September.


Sean Taylor dies
The Redskins' choice was a very good football player, and was likely Butch Davis' first choice for the Browns in the 2004 draft. As it was, the Browns took Kellen Winslow, a player who nearly died himself in a motorcycle crash a few years ago.

The truth is that Taylor's death makes no sense. There's very little I can add to that, except to say that thoughts and prayers go out to Taylor's family and friends.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Browns 27, Texans 17
As promised, here comes my glowing review of the Browns game.

There are few things more enjoyable than a win. But this game was less like the Cardiac Kids and more like the Bernie Kosar era, when the Browns knew how to put a game away.

A few weeks ago, some wondered if Jamal Lewis was done. Well, he's not. In the second half, he wore down a tired Texans defense and scored a clinching touchdown. He saw the finish line after Brandon McDonald's fourth quarter interception, and decided it was up to him to send the Browns fans home happy.

Lewis has been running with a purpose the last two weeks, and I don't blame him. The Browns are 7-4, and he is one of the few players on the roster with playoff experience. He may not be the running back who can carry a team, but don't tell the Texans.

Brandon McDonald played the best individual game by a Cleveland defender this season. He kept Andre Johnson in check. He picked off a Matt Shaub pass late, and made som good tackles on special teams. I can't help but say that, even though Brady Quinn has not stepped on the field, that the 2007 draft will go down as the most successful since the rebirth. Though, in fairness, it isn't like it has much competition.

Derek Anderson is playing like a pro bowler. He is limiting his mistakes and letting his playmakers do the work. But it sure helps when you have a quarterback with a rocket arm.

It also helps when he has all day to throw. The offensive line should share the team MVP award this year.

One more note: The Browns are 7-4. It's the most wins in a regular season in five years, and there are five games left. I'd like to know what certain radio and newspaper guys have to say about Romeo Crennel now.

The sad thing is, if Crennel had been replaced, and the Browns gone 6-5 in their first 11 games, the guys who gave Romeo heat would feel vindicated.

If nothing else, the Browns improvement is a reminder of the importance of stability. Had Phil Savage or Crennel been fired, who knows where the team would be?

If the season ended today, Crennel would get votes for coach of the year. He wouldn't win (you can make a strong case for the Packers' Mike McCarthy or the Cowboys' Wade Phillips). But it appears as if people are catching on that the Browns success is no fluke.

Sunday's game proved that.


The Panel: Week 12
Nihar Vasavada: Steelers over Dolphins
Phil Prusa: Cardinals over 49ers


Justice for Browns
Before I set aside an hour to write a glowing review of the Browns 27-17 win over the Texans this afternoon, I figured you may be interested in getting Richard Justice's perspective.

Isn't it interesting how perspectives vary? Browns fans are probably thinking the defense played its best game of the season and the offensive line has made it almost impossible for anyone to lay a hand on quarterback Derek Anderson.

Justice, who can be seen frequently on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, gives the Browns some credit, but his tone is different. To him, it's what the Texans didn't do in Sunday's game.

I'm not saying Browns fans are right or Justice is wrong. But it does display the oddity of sports journalism.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

The mystery of a Cleveland Browns season
When the Browns are winning, all of Cleveland is hopeful.

The Browns are not so much a football team, as they are a reference for events in life. In my profession, it's an interesting balance to strike: Drawing a paycheck because of events on the field while knowing sports are overemphasized.

But with the Browns, I'll make an exception. When Browns win all of Northern Ohio (and people scattered all over the world) are happy for six days.

Back in 1995, my father and I were talking on a road trip. It was December, just a week before Christmas. The Indians had just come off a remarkable World Series run, an unforgettable summer that will likely inspire books and poems for years to come.

But two days after our conversation, the Browns were to play their last home game of the 1995 season. We may have suspected, but we didn't know that the Browns were about to play their last home game for three years.

When my dad talked about the Cardiac Kids of 1980, he talked about the way the city responded. There was no question, he said. Everyone knew the Browns were winning the Super Bowl. It was meant to be.

Of course, it didn't happen then, and it hasn't happened since. The Super Bowl remains a dream, the one final a Cleveland team hasn't played in (unless you count the NHL, which I don't).

But the point is, there is something about the Browns when they win. It's why the city goes bonkers at the slightest chance of hope.

The Browns this year have supplied the city, and the fans, with that hope. We know the Browns aren't anywhere close to the best team in the AFC, or anywhere close to being a Super Bowl contender.

But for the first time, we feel like the team is on the right track. For the first time since 2002 (and probably before then) Sundays are fun. The Browns may win, they may lose, but they won't be boring.

I tend to think the Browns don't have much of a playoff shot, because of their shoddy defense. I know I picked them to win today against Houston, but this game frightens me, because Houston is improved, and this is a game Cleveland has a history of not showing up for.

Regardless, the Browns are 6-4. It's been a season of hope.

That's what we want.


Phil's Picks, Week 12
Titans (6-4) @ Bengals (3-7)
Chad Johnson has not scored a touchdown since Week 2.
Zach's thought: Titans need a win. Titans.

Texans (5-5) @ Browns (6-4)
Both defenses are prone to give up big passing plays, but Cleveland has more offensive weapons to work with.
Zach's thought: This game frightens me as a Browns fan. But still, Browns.

Raiders (2-8) @ Chiefs (4-6)
Remember when this rivalry actually meant something?
Zach's thought: I'm not convinced either team is out of it in the AFC West. Chiefs.

Seahawks (6-4) @ Rams (2-8)
Seattle should be able to break the Rams two game winning streak.
Zach's thought: I'm taking Seattle, but an upset wouldn't shock me.

Vikings (4-6) @ Giants (7-3)
New York is ripe for an upset, but Minnesota lacks the talent to pull the victory off.
Zach's thought: I just don't see the Vikes pulling it off. Giants.

Redskins (5-5) @ Buccaneers (6-4)
Home field sways my vote in what should be a defensive game.
Zach's thought: I haven't figured out the Redskinsyet, and I'm not about to start now. Buccaneers.

Saints (4-6) @ Panthers (4-6)
Carolina's defense has been a huge disappointment this year.
Zach's thought: Who is worse? We'll find out. Saints.

Bills (5-5) @ Jaguars (7-3)
Buffalo is just trying to pick up the pieces after last week's nationally televised blowout loss.
Zach's thought: This might be the game of the week. It's a must-win for Buffalo. Jacksonville.

49ers (2-8) @ Cardinals (5-5)
Arizona's defense has been on fire the past two weeks. That shouldn't change here.
Zach's thought: The 49ers are worse than the Dolphins. Cardinals.

Broncos (5-5) @ Bears (4-6)
Will the real Denver Broncos please stand up?
Zach's thought: Two mediocre teams, should be a mediocre game. Broncos.

Ravens (4-6) @ Chargers (5-5)
Baltimore has been committing turnovers at an alarming rate lately.
Zach's thought: Stick a fork in Baltimore. San Diego.

Eagles (5-5) @ Patriots (10-0)
Fast Fact: As of this writing, New England is favored by 24 points on
Zach's thought: Patriots are just not going to lose. Patriots.

Dolphins (0-10) @ Steelers (7-3)
Pittsburgh figures to be in a rotten mood after dropping a game to the hapless Jets last week.
Zach's thought: So will the rest of the country after watching this mess. Steelers.

OVERALL RECORD: 106-57 Z: 101-62


Song Quote of the day
'69 I was 21
and I called the road my own
I don't know when that road turned into the one I'm on-- Jackson Browne


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

10 things I'm Thankful for
1. The serious stuff: Family, friends, health.

2. Country: America has a lot of brave men and women risking their lives so that we can celebrate days like today. I'm thankful for that.

3. I'm thankful people read this blog. Thank you for taking time out of your day to read this. I'm sure many of you disagree with me on politics, sports, music and everything else. But I appreciate everyone who reads. It gives me more reason to write.

4. I'm thankful for writers like Christopher Hitchens, musicians like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison and for artists of all kinds, who make life interesting. They also inspire me to keep creating, in the hopes I can one day be a tenth of what they are.

5. It's trivial in the grand scheme, but I'm thankful for three winning Cleveland sports teams. I don't think there has been a year in my lifetime with this much success and promise.

6. I'm thankful for my job. It allows me to do what I love, and get paid for it.

7. I'm thankful for turkey, pumpkin pie, stuffing and more pumpkin pie.

8. I'm thankful that the next day, I have a gym membership.

9. I'm thankful for Mystery Science Theater, Christopher Guest movies, The Naked Gun Trilogy, Simpsons DVDs and other things that make me laugh out loud no matter how many times I see them. Oh, and The Office. Can't forget that.

10. And I'm thankful to God. I don't write about him too much. All my favorite writers are athiests and religion has yet to really find me. But I know God is up there, and it's a good day to say thanks for the blessings he has brought to my life.

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Long ago I stopped trying to understand this holiday in an historical context. We spent a great deal of time learning about things in school, about how the pilgrims and Indians had a feast and ate and drank and played football outside and then watched The Christmas Story 12 times on TBS.

When you grow up, you discover most of what you're taught about the holiday is fantasy. It is Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny in a big black hat.

When I was in second grade, I played Gov. William Bradford in the school play (I stole the show, despite looking little like the man). Those memories are good ones, and I prefer to keep them that way, despit coming to the realization that the play much like Remember the Titans, has very little truth to it.

But that doesn't mean one can reject the holiday all together. It's one of the few holidays not bathed in commercialism. There is a shopping day afterwards, of course, and you may see more pictures of turkeys, but that's about it.

What Thanksgiving really is about is family. Football is also on pretty much all day, but the holiday usually involves seeing people you don't always see, remember things you haven't thought of, and reminding yourself what you have.

In that sense, Thanksgiving is one of our country's most rewarding and honest holidays, even if the feel good story they taught us isn't exactly true.

Thanksgiving is a time to say thanks. In a society where it is often easier to complain than rejoice, it comes not a moment too soon.


Phil's NFL picks, Thanksgiving
Packers (9-1) @ Lions (6-4)
Once at 6-2, Detroit is in danger of losing their third straight game. Green Bay is too much for the Lions here.
Zach's thought: This is the Packers' year. Packers.

Jets (2-8) @ Cowboys (9-1)
Lightning will not struck twice for the Jets, especially in Dallas.
Zach's thought: Look out for the Jets in the second half of the season. They could play spoiler. Not here though. Cowboys.

Colts (8-2) @ Falcons (3-7)
It's the Manning vs Vick showdown we've all been waiting for......oh wait.
Zach's thought: For once, I'm actually glad I don't get the NFL Network. Colts.

LAST WEEK: 12-4 Z: 12-4
OVERALL: 103-57 Z: 98-62


The Panel: Week 11
Nihar Vasavada: Eagles over Dolphins
Phil Prusa: Packers over Panthers


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Browns 33, Ravens 30
So you want to kick to Josh Cribbs, huh?

Some of my BG News friends may remember the way I raved about Josh after watching him play twice against the Falcons. I was convinced the then-quarterback was going to be a star. Of course, I figured he'd make it as a quarterback. Josh Harris, Ben Rothlisberger and Cribbs all played quarterback at BGSU in 2003, so I saw all of them. The player that impressed me the most was Cribbs.

Now, he's the best returner in the NFL. And he was the biggest reason the Browns beat the Ravens in overtime, 33-30.

Matt Stover kicked what appeared to be a game-winning field goal with 23 seconds to go in the game.

But Baltimore kicked to Josh, and he carried about four guys with him as he took the ball to the 41 yard line.

Three-hundred and six return yards. And they kick to Josh.

- I called my parents after the Phil Dawson kick at the end of regulation. By the time I was done complaining, the referees had reversed themselves. Interesting.


Phil's Picks: Week 11
Buccaneers (5-4) @ Falcons (3-6)
At 3-6, Atlanta is still only two games out of first place in the NFC South.
Zach's thought: The Buccaneers are just kind of there. Buccaneers.

Cardinals (4-5) @ Bengals (3-6)
Too much offense for Arizona to contain here. Being on the road won't help either.
Zach's thought: I'll take the Bengals, even though I think they're toast for the season.

Giants (6-3) @ Lions (6-3)
Ugly stat of Week 10: Detroit rushing for -18 yards total.
Zach's thought: The Lions were just so bad last week, I have to take the Giants.

Panthers (4-5) @ Packers (8-1)
Fast Fact: Brett Favre has never started a season at 9-1. That changes after this game.
Zach's thought: Carolina is this close to calling Ryan Leaf. Packers.

Chiefs (4-5) @ Colts (7-2)
Without Larry Johnson, Kansas City has nothing on offense.
Zach's thought: I am guessing Peyton won't throw 6 INTs this week. Colts

Raiders (2-7) @ Vikings (3-6)
Even without Adrian Peterson, Minnesota should prevail at home.
Zach's thought:Boy, the Raiders have to be thrilled they played the Browns in week 3. Vikings.

Dolphins (0-9) @ Eagles (4-5)
By allowing Ricky Williams to rejoin the team, Miami is now an embarrassment both on and off the field.
Zach's thought: Bah. Eagles.

Chargers (5-4) @ Jaguars (6-3)
Where the heck is San Diego's offense this year?
Zach's thought: There will probably be good defense in this game. That's about it. Jaguars.

Browns (5-4) @ Ravens (4-5)
Since their return to the NFL in 1999, Cleveland has swept Baltimore only once.
Zach's thought: Usually, I don't take the Browns. But after the loss last week, I proclaimed "There is no way the Browns lose next week. So there you go."

Saints (4-5) @ Texans (4-5)
Give New Orleans a mulligan for last week's stinker.
Zach's thought: I'll take NO, because it has more upside.

Steelers (7-2) @ Jets (1-8)
Easily the lock of the week.
Zach's thought: Where's you're Mangenius now? Steelers.

Redskins (5-4) @ Cowboys (8-1)
Washington is too inconsistent to beat Dallas at home.

Rams (1-8) @ 49ers (2-7)
How bad is San Francisco? St Louis is 1-8, are the road team, and are still 2.5 point favorites in this game.
Zach's thought: I heard the government has already requested a tape of this game as a new way of getting info from detainees. Rams

Bears (4-5) @ Seahawks (5-4)
For better or worse, Rex Grossman is back as Chicago's starting QB.
Zach's thought: The Seahawks are a great team unless they're playing road games against AFC teams. Seahawks.

Patriots (9-0) @ Bills (5-4)
All things considered, New England basically wins the AFC East with a victory tonight.
Zach's thought: Now we get to see just how good Buffalo is. Patriots.

Titans (6-3) @ Broncos (4-5)
Getting Albert Haynesworth should be huge for Tennessee.
Zach's thought: When the new congress came in last year, one of their first orders of business was to push through a bill that put the Broncos on in primetime just about every other week. It's been just about its only effective legislation. Titans.

LAST WEEK 6-8 Z: 6-8
OVERALL: 91-53 Z: 86-58


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Nuxhall's death signals the end of an era
Joe Nuxhall may be remembered by as the 15-year old kid that pitched a Major League game during the War. He may be remembered by others as the Reds' announcer, the voice of baseball in Southern Ohio.

I have yet to think of how I'll remember Nuxhall. I only know Reds games on the radio can never be the same without him.

One thing I haven't heard to many people say is the rather remarkable character Nuxhall showed early in his life. At 15, he was on the mound facing Stan Musial. That went about as well as one might expect. Many -- I would say most -- would be so horrified by the experience that they would never so much as look at a glove again.

The remarkable thing is Nuxhall went to the minor leagues, and eight years later, he returned to the Reds. Not only that, but Nuxhall went on to record 135 wins over a 14-year career.

All of that happened before I was born. My memories of Nuxhall come from the mid-to-late 1980s, when I was first falling in love with baseball.

My father was born in southern Ohio. He grew up a Reds fan. He was about as old as I am now when the Reds one back-to-back championships in the 1970s.

Those years were gone by the time he had two sons, but despite living in Cleveland, he still followed the Reds. My memories of long car rides often revolve around my dad tuning in to 700 WLW to hear Joe and partner Marty Brennaman tell the stories from Riverfront Stadium.

Through the pops and buzzes that came with the static, I remember Nuxhall not so much for his own calls, but for his reactions when he wasn't calling the game. If Eric Davis, Dave Parker or Barry Larkin hit a long drive, you would hear Brennaman calling the play, and Nuxhall next to him.

"Get Out. Get OUT!!!"

When you heard that, you knew something important was happening in the game.

In later years, I listened more and more on my own. Now, I probably no more about the Reds than my dad, who switched over to the Indians in the mid-1990s.

I soon realized you could usually tell how the Reds were playing by the way Nuxhall was calling the game. If he was upbeat and excited, the Reds were winning. If he sounded like someone had just run over his hat, the Reds were getting pounded.

What I remember most, though, was the warmth in his voice when he called the game. Nuxhall loved baseball and loved the Reds. He loved Cincinnati, and Cincinnati loved him.

Nuxhall was not unlike former Indians' announcer Herb Score in that way. When you listened to the game, it's like you were hearing the action from an uncle or an old friend.

Nuxhall's death closes the door not only on a remarkable man and a remarkable career. It ends an era. Sure, Nuxhall had done fewer and fewer games in past years, but you could always hope, even assume, he'd be back where he belonged soon enough.

Nuxhall used to close the postgame show with a signiture line:

"This is the old left hander, rounding third and heading for home."

It may be a while before Reds' fans really feel at home, again.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wedge: Manager of the year
It would be fair to say that I was surprised by Wedge's selection, if only because these votes usually have an east coast bias and Joe Torre did have his share of issues to fight through.

Few have been as hard as Eric Wedge as I. But he certainly earned this award, considering:

* Trot Nixon was a bust.
* Josh Barfield didn't hit.
* Jeremy Sowers was ineffective.
* Keith Foulke retired.
* Andy Marte wasn't ready (and may never be).
* Cliff Lee had attitude problems and a miserable year.
* Roberto Hernandez was done.
* Wedge had to coach playoff-caliber performances out of Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis.
* David Dellucci didn't hit, and then got hurt.
* Travis Hafner had the worst year of his career.
* Grady Sizemore didn't live up to expectations.
* Joe Borowski always seemed one pitch from disaster.
* A double A shortstop was called up to play second base full-time in the bigs, and didn't fall apart.

Yeah, actually, it's hard to imagine anyone else deserving the award more. ALCS decisions aside, Wedge was the right choice.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cy.Cy. Sabathia
Congratulations to the first Indian to win the award since Gaylord Perry. Despite Sabathia's postseason struggles, he was the best pitcher in the American League this regular season. Well deserved.


The Panel: Week 10
Nihar Vasavada: Bills over Dolphins
Phil Prusa: Seahawks over 49ers


Steelers 31, Browns 28
There were six or seven plays in the game that, had they gone differently, the Browns would have beaten the Steelers.

If that had happened, you can be sure this post would have been up long ago.

Some might point to week 1, where the Browns lost 34-7, and were humiliated. Two months later, the Browns were a hungry team, a better team.

But I have trouble being too optimistic. The truth is that the three-point loss counts as much as the 27-point loss. The Browns gave up a 30-yards touchdown run to Ben Roethlisberger, and gave up a third down and 18.

That's inexcusable.

Not quite as inexcusable as Romeo Crennel burning a timeout, then throwing the red flag.

It was stupid because it cost the Browns two timeouts. It was stupid because the late touchdown pass he was challenging was on second down from the 3. So what if the pass is incomplete? Two plays from the 3 against this defense?

Derek Anderson needed a timeout on that last drive. He didn't have one. So the Browns had to send Phil Dawson out to attempt one of the longest kicks in Heinz Field history.

Is there progress? Yes. But the close loss only means something if the Browns beat Baltimore next week. If the Browns play the way they did after the last time they lost a close game to Pittsburgh (remember Braylon Edwards grabbing Charlie Frye?), this promising season could be nothing more than a tease.

The Browns play Baltimore at the worst, and the best, possible time. The Ravens offense has been poor, and the team appears to be in turmoil.

But as the Browns showed last season against Kansas City, that can make a squad dangerous.

Hopefully the Browns (who are better than the Ravens) can put last week behind them and do what they are capable of.

Six-and-four is a lot better than 5-5.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Phil's picks
Vikings (3-5) @ Packers (7-1)
Just imagine how good Minnesota would be with just an average passing offense.
Zach's thought: The Packers are the worst 8-1 team in NFL history, which is to say they are pretty good. Packers.

Jaguars (5-3) @ Titans (6-2)
Critical game for these two teams vying for an AFC Wildcard spot.
Zach's thought: Vince Young would be looking like a bust right now in some circles. Titans.

Broncos (3-5) @ Chiefs (4-4)
Both teams may be missing a major part of their offense (Larry Johnson is out and Jay Cutler is doubtful).
Zach's thought: What the heck happened here? Chiefs.

Bills (4-4) @ Miami (0-8)
All of a sudden, Buffalo is right back in the AFC playoff race.
Zach's thought: The Bills have been aided by a ridiculously easy schedule. Bills.

Rams (0-8) @ Saints (4-4)
Apparently, New Orleans didn't get the memo that teams starting the season at 0-4 aren't supposed to make a legitimate playoff push.
Zach's thought: What the heck happened in this game, part II. Saints

Browns (5-3) @ Steelers (6-2)
This is a bad week for Cleveland's offensive line to be banged up.
Zach's thought: I'm still not ready to talk about this one. Steelers.

Eagles (3-5) @ Redskins (5-3)
Last week showed how badly Philadelphia lacks offensive playmakers.
Zach's thought: Use this game as a textbook example as why you don't go for 2 early. Redskins.

Falcons (2-6) @ Panthers (4-4)
Vinny Testaverde may start for Carolina. Atlanta wishes they were that lucky.
Zach's thought: What a disaster this season is for Carolina. Panthers

Bengals (2-6) @ Ravens (4-4)
Be interesting to see how much, if any, a difference there will be with Chris Henry back in Cincinnati's lineup.
Zach's thought: The Ravens have the Browns next week. It will be their Super Bowl. Ravens.

Bears (3-5) @ Raiders (2-6)
Where's a Law and Order marathon when you need one?
Zach's thought: There were worse games Sunday. Bears.

Cowboys (7-1) @ Giants (6-2)
This is not the same Giants team that lost to Dallas in Week 2.
Zach's thought: Cowboys are the best team in the NFC. Cowboys.

Lions (6-2) @ Cardinals (3-5)
Detroit is having the kind of season everyone thought Arizona was capable of having when the season began.
Zach's thought: Phil was at this game. Suddenly I don't feel great about playing the Cardinals. Lions

Colts (7-1) @ Chargers (4-4)
Huge game for both teams looking to get divisional leads.
Zach's thought: That was, uh ... weird. Colts.

49ers (2-6) @ Seahawks (4-4)
The worst division in the NFL gets to be highlighted on prime time. Swell.
Zach's thought: Seahawks win 6-2. Steelers

Buccaneers (5-4)
Considering the running back injuries they have sustained, Tampa Bay has to be happy going into their bye.

Jets (1-8)
Can we please drop the Man-genius nickname now?

Patriots (9-0)
Can they go undefeated? Let the endless hype begin.

Texans (4-5)
Being in the AFC South all but wipes out their playoff hopes.

LAST WEEK: 9-5 Z: 8-6
OVERALL: 85-45 Z: 80-50


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Shuffling the Ipod
Five songs, at random

1. Caravan -- Van Morrison
This is, and has been for some time, my favorite song. I have four versions of it on my Ipod -- three live versions and the original studio cut. This is the album version, from the remarkable Moondance. When I die, I hope this song is played at my funeral. It reminds me at once of why I love music. It's playful, serious and yet easy in its lyric. It's simple, and yet is filled with phrases that seem to populate Van's work. The "barefoot gypsy boy" makes an appearance. But my favorite line in the song rests to the left of this post: Turn up the radio/let me hear the song. One thing to note: The studio version is the only one I know of in which Van finishes with the La la la la ending. In live versions, he sings over the close with other lyrics.

2. Do For The Others -- Stephen Stills
When I bought Stills' self-titled debut solo album, I did so figuring Love the One You're With would be the song I played the most. Instead, the album features several treasures, most of which never get played on radio. This song is a beautiful acoustic track, which is similar to a CSNY track, and yet seems to lead the listener down a mysterious path which we are only to happy to follow.

3. Streets of Arklow -- Van Morrison
This track comes from the mysterious Vleedon Fleece album. I call it mysterious only because most of the tracks are difficult to describe. I received this album as a gift a few weeks before I began my professional career in Kenton, OH. The result is that when I hear a song from it, I am reminded of the one chilly winter I spent there. The album seems to have a somewhat melancholy feel to it, which is about how I was feeling that winter. I had just left an ideal situation in college for an unfamilia, uncertain one. The song itself is almost dark in its chord changes, with an orchestra chiming in, providing a layer of emotion.

4. If I Lose (Outtake)-- The Band
A track left of the original Music From the Big Pink, this track has Levon Healm singing what appears to be a country song that was performed late one night in a honky tonk. None of this is bad of course, but considering what tracks were left on the album, I have to say I'm happy it didn't make the final cut.

5.Biko --Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel rarely shies away from messages in his musi. This song is written about Steve Biko, the anti-apartheid activist who died while in police custody in 1977. I was unaware of him until I heard this song for the first time some six years ago. But after hearing the song, I did a little research on the man, and the incident. I suppose that's the point of songs like this. Unless you're Bob Dylan, it's very difficult to tell a complicated story in its entirety (as Dylan attempted in Hurricane). But I assume Gabriel wanted people to hear the song and learn about what happened. In that sense, the song has to have achieved its goal -- at least with me, and I assume many, many others. The song itself starts with a beautiful choir singing, then moves to a darker pace. It ends where it started, with a choir of sorts, bringing the song to conclusion.


The Panel: Week 9
Phil Prusa: Steelers over Ravens
Nihar Vasavada: Saints over Jaguars
Curtis A.: Chargers over Vikings
Zach: 49ers over Falcons

So, we're down to two.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The (sort of) importance of Browns-Steelers
For the first time since 2002, a midseason game between the Browns and Steelers has meaning.

The Steelers are 6-2, and the Browns are 5-3.
Should the Browns beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh (for the first time since 2003), they will stand tied for first place in the AFC North.

Some people have suggested the Browns are a playoff contender. It's really nice to hear that, although I have trouble believing the Browns will win more than nine games with its swiss cheese defense.

Still, if the Browns want to have a shot at the postseason, a win over the Steelers is a must. Pittsburgh dismantled the Browns in week 1, so another win would mean that they would own the tiebreaker over the Browns, not to mention a two-game advantage in the standings.

But can the Browns really beat the Steelers this week? I'm not sure it matters what the defense does. We have seen it give up points, points and more points, and the Browns are still 5-3.

The question is whether Derek Anderson can do to the Steelers what he has done to just about every other defense he has played against. For that to happen, the offensive line needs to be the force it has been for the last seven games. If Anderson gets protection and avoids the interceptions, he should be able to keep the Browns on the board.

Do I think the Browns can beat the Steelers? No. But they keep surprising me. Last week's game against Seattle was vital because it gave the Browns a 5-3 record with divisional road games looming. It wasn't easy, but the Browns prevailed.

A win over the Steelers would legitimize the Browns as a contender in the North. But it would also put them in a good position to make a run at the playoffs. Only two wild card teams make it, so it's difficult to see the Browns edging teams like the Jaguars or Titans with a 9-7 record. By the same token, a loss to the Steelers all but kills any hope of winning the division.

It's pretty important game. It's nice to be talking like this again. But talk is meaningless. A win could change the whole attitude and perception of this Browns team.

A loss isn't a killer, but it would make it harder to be taken seriously.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Chavez and (some)in Hollywood
One of the great mysteries of my lifetime has been why so-called "liberals" develop an appreciation for anti-American thugs like Hugo Chavez.

Maybe we finally have an answer to that.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Browns 33, Seahawks 30
This is getting to be fun.

Braylon Edwards was not the star of the game. But he had what I felt was the most telling comment after it. When describing his feelings after the Browns defense stopped theSeahawks on a fourth down in overtime, the receiver was clear.

"We knew we were going to win," he said.

That's an attitude the Browns haven't had any of since 1999. And it's the attitude that is perhaps the biggest reason to believe in this crew. It's not a young squad learning how to win. It's not a 2001 Bears-clone that has fluked its way to a 5-3 record.

It's a bunch of confident -- sometimes cocky -- players. They want to win now. They're hungry, ready and poised. Fifteen-point deficits would have scared away teams of the past.

This one just keeps going, knowing they can score at a moments notice.

Phil Dawson misses an extra point? Who cares? Nate Burleson makes the special teams look ridiculous? No big deal.

No one knows where this will lead. But when Dawson's chip shot went through the uprights, I had a strange feeling. It was a feeling I'd had before, but not for a long time.

I felt like the Browns were a real football team. Not a bunch of imposters in orange helmets who were thrown together after Art Modell skipped town.

These were real Browns. They are 4-1 at home. They are never out of a game. They find ways to win.

In short, these are the real Browns. Kellen Winslow. Derek Anderson. Edwards. Jamal Lewis. Joe Thomas.

My Browns.


There is nowhere she won’t go, so long as it gets her where she wants to be. -- Maureen Dowd, on Hillary Clinton.

Agreeing with Dowd is not really something I do much. But in this case, she has a valid point and has written a pretty much on-the-mark column on the New York senator.

It's worth reading.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Phil's NFL Picks
49ers (2-5) @ Falcons (1-6)
Zach's Thought: I think the Falcons might be the worst team in the NFL, despite the win. San Francisco

Bengals (2-5) @ Bills (3-4)
Bet Marvin Lewis goes for the touchdown if the chance arises again.
Zach's thought: It just doesn't look good for the Bengals right now. Bills

Broncos (3-4) @ Lions (5-2)
A Matt Millen run team that wins? What is the NFL coming to?
Zach's thought: The Broncos need Jason Elam to play about 20 more positions. Lions

Panthers (4-3) @ Titans (5-2)
Likely Carolina starter David Carr is 2-8 for his career against Tennessee.
Zach's thought: Both AFC wildcards may come out of the South. Titans.

Packers (6-1) @ Chiefs (4-3)
Fast Fact: Along with Green Bay, the only team Brett Favre has never defeated is Kansas City.
Zach's thought: Brett Favre sure got the oversell last week on MNF. On the other hand, his wife was the best announcer last week.

Chargers (4-3) @ Vikings (2-5)
San Diego is finding their stride. Minnesota is finding out they really need to address the QB situation this offseason.
Zach's thought: SD is a reminder that a poor start can be overcome. SD.

Jaguars (5-2) @ Saints (3-4)
After a horrific 0-4 start, New Orleans is right back in the NFC playoff picture.
Zach's thought: Maybe the toughest call this week. Jags.

Redskins (4-3) @ Jets (1-7)
Think Washington is a tad peeved after last week's embarrassing 52-7 loss?

Cardinals (3-4) @ Buccaneers (4-4)
Arizona is the only NFL team without a first quarter touchdown this season.
Zach's thought: Luckily, AZ faces the Browns this year. Bucs.

Seahawks (4-3) @ Browns (4-3)
Shaun Alexander has not had a rushing touchdown in the last five games.
Zach's thought: He's facing the right team. Seahawks.

Patriots (8-0) @ Colts (7-0)
Easily the game of year.
Zach's thought: Colts are Super Bowl champs, and undefeated. Am I missing something? Colts.

Texans (3-5) @ Raiders (2-5)
Houston has lost five of their last six games.
Zach's thought: Houston is learning how tough it is to convince people you're building a good organization. Raiders.

Cowboys (6-1) @ Eagles (3-4)
Bizarre stat: Eagles swept the series in 2004. Cowboys swept in 2005. Eagles swept in 2006. So if I do the math right...
Zach's thought: Does NBC have a Notre Dame-like deal with the Cowboys? Cowboys.

Ravens (4-3) @ Steelers (5-2)
Pittsburgh has not lost a home Monday night game since 1991.
Zach's thought: ESPN will show Ray Lewis firing up his team then talk about what a great leader he is. Then he will do nothing as Pittsburgh piles up the points.


Bears (3-5)
Can we label Cedric Benson a bust?

Dolphins (0-8)
Chris Chambers was traded. Ronnie Brown is injured. The season is lost

Giants (6-2)
So much for Tom Coughlin being on the hot seat this year.

Rams (0-8)
The Greatest Show on Turf is officially closed.

LAST WEEK: 9-4 Z: 10-3
OVERALL: 76-40 Z: 72-44


Song quote of the day
If that's the way that you want it;
well that's the way I want it more
So they'll be one less set of footsteps
on your floor in the morning -- Jim Croce