Sunday, December 30, 2007

Phil's NFL Picks
Patriots (15-0) @ Giants (10-5)
Nice to see the NFL come to their senses and allow NBC and CBS to show the feed for this game.
Zach's thought: I hate the Patriots. Patriots.

Seahawks (10-5) @ Falcons (3-12)
Fine tuning game for Seattle before the playoffs.
Zach's thought: Who knows which Seattle team will show up? Seahawks

Saints (7-8) @ Bears (6-9)
Must win game for New Orleans to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
Zach's thought: Who'd have thought this would be borderline meaningless? Saints.

49ers (5-10) @ Browns (9-6)
Cleveland won't know their future until the Sunday night game is over.
Zach'sthought: I have been down on the Browns since last week. I hope they surprise me. 49ers.

Lions (7-8) @ Packers (12-3)
Give Green Bay a mulligan for last week's stinker.
Zach's thought: The Lions will see a season that began with promise end with a blowout. Packers.

Bengals (6-9) @ Dolphins (1-14)
With the first pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Miami selects...
Zach's thought: The Bengals will have win this game quickly so they don't miss their annual postseason crime spree.Bengals

Bills (7-8) @ Eagles (7-8)
Dick Jauron should get some consideration for the coach of the year award.
Zach's thought: Finally, Philadelphia is putting it together. But it's too late. Eagles.

Carolina (6-9) @ Buccaneers (9-6)
Carolina played Dallas tough last week. Where was that team all season?
Zach's thought: The Buccaneers are a mystery team going into the playoffs. Buccaneers.

Jaguars (11-4) @ Texans (7-8)
Easy game for Jacksonville until they start resting their starters.
Zach's thought: Don't be shocked if it's Jacksonville that knocks New England flat in the playoffs. Jaguars.

Vikings (8-7) @ Broncos (6-9)
Denver's disappointing season finally comes to a close.
Zach's thought: The Vikings really hurt themselves last week. Vikings.

Chargers (10-5) @ Raiders (4-11)
San Diego will play their backups for most of the game and still win confortably.
Zach's thought: Comfortably maybe, but certainly not quietly. Chargers.

Chiefs (4-11) @ Jets (3-12)
Two teams playing eash other in the final week of the NFL's regular season with a combined 7 seven wins. Can't wait.
Zach's thought: Jets.

Rams (3-12) @ Cardinals (7-8)
A .500 win season would be a huge accomplishment for Arizona.
Zach's thought: Arizona will be somebody's surprise team next year, too. Cardinals.

Cowboys (13-2) @ Redskins (8-7)
Dallas will relish the chance to keep their divisional foe out of the playoffs
Zach's thought: The Redskins have been through more this season than any team in years. Cowboys.

Steelers (10-5) @ Ravens (4-11)
Time to give Troy Smith a start?
Zach's thought:Well, they did last week. Troy doesn't stand a chance with that offense. Steelers.

Titans (9-6) @ Colts (13-2)
Tony Dungy has already stated that he intends to rest his starters for this game.
Zach's thought: That was a fun season the Browns had once. Titans.

LAST WEEK: 10-6 Z: 10-6
OVERALL: 159-81 Z:155-85



1. Patriots - Clinched the AFC East and homefield advantage in the AFC Bracket

2. Colts - Clinched the AFC South and first round bye

3. Steelers - Clinched the AFC North

4. Chargers - Clinched the AFC West

5. Jaguars - Clinched an AFC Wildcard slot


1. Cowboys - Clinched the NFC East and first round bye

2. Packers - Clinched the NFC North and first round bye

3. Buccaneers - Clinched the NFC South

4. Seahawks - Clinched the NFC West

5. Giants - Clinched an NFC Wildcard slot


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Andy Barch Interview
As usual at this time of the week, I sit down with friend and NFL expert Andy Barch. This week, we talk about the Giants and the Patriots, as well as the playoff picture.

Z: Giants-Patriots on Saturday. Can the Giants do it?

AB: Absolutely, if they play their starters, they have the athleticism and speed off the edge to put pressure on Tom Brady and get him to throw the ball quickly.

On offense, they have done a nice job with their running back by committee system which will assure them a fresh back will be in the game at all times.

It sure looks like both teams will be playing their starters, so it will be interesting. I'd still pick the Patriots, but I believe the Giants can do it.

Z: The Giants are awful at home, though. Why is that?

AB: That's a great question, I think their fans are worse on them than a lot of the road crowds can be. There is always that pressure to win in New York. Going into this season, everyone thought Coughlin's job was on the line, they didn't, an still don't have much faith in Eli Manning, I think the fans there were surprised during the season when this team went on a nice little run, then they started to fall apart down the stretch a little, and people went back to the "Same old Giants" mentality. The people there don't like Coughlin, they expect the world from Eli, and when you play at home, you don't expect the crowd to hate you, but when you play on the road, you come to expect that, maybe that's why. Other than that, I have no idea.

Z: Who gets the last spot in the NFC?

AB: It's hard to imagine Washington losing to Dallas, when Dallas has nothing to play for. I picked Minnesota to win that division, and I was way off on that, but I still think this is a playoff team. Denver is absolutely awful, so I can see Minnesota going in there and beating them, but I don't really see any of the Cowboys' starters playing more than a half since everything is all wrapped up. I'll go Washington.

However...........I think the Vikings are MUCH MUCH more dangerous if they make it.

zachb80: Do you see the same scenerio between the Colts and Titans?

AB: Unfortunately, yes. On one hand, you can't turn it on, and turn it off in this game as Ditka always says. Not to mention, if these guys only play a quarter or a half, they won't play another meaningful game until........well, the weekend of January 13th. I think they should play their guys for at least a half. Tony Dungy in the past has rested his starters in games like this. As banged up as they've been this year, I'd be shocked if he handles it any different.

Z: Still, thet Titans didn't exactly set the world on fire against the Jets last week.

AB: They didn't, and much has been made of Indy's depth on defense. If they're going to win, they'll have to find a way to stop LenWHALE white, if you stop Tennessee's running game, you stop their offense. Vince Young has looked less than average this year. I think the Colts can win with their backup defense, I don't know about their second team offense.


Magnificent 7: Best Browns in 2007
1. Josh Cribbs- Leads the league in kickoff returns, but has become a complete game-changer since he worked on his punt returns. For all the credit the Browns' offense gets, we can't forget that they have good field position much of the time.

2. Joe Thomas - This will end up being one of the best drafts in Browns history. It has netted Thomas, who along with No. 3 (on this list), is the biggest reason the Browns offense has improved so much. As for the draft itself, it brought the Browns Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald. If you watched the Bengals game, you saw Wright close to receivers, with his back to them, playing the ball. McDonald will be one of the steals of the draft. But Thomas could realistically get the rookie of the year. He is that good.

3. Eric Steinbach- Perhaps the best free agent signing by any team this season. Steinbach has teamed with Thomas (and Ryan Tucker and Hank Fraley)to create one of the best lines in the game. Without that, all the other things would not have happened.

4. Braylon Edwards- This is easy, and I'm sure some will think I'm putting him too far down. But I'm a line guy, so sue me. Edwards has been what the Browns hoped they were getting when they drafted him No. 3 in 2005. More than that, he has become a model citizen off the field, doing and saying all the right things. He has 15 touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards receiving. It's one of the best receiving seasons in Browns history, and think of the ground that covers.

5. Kellen Winslow- Game's on the line and each time, Derek Anderson looks to Winslow, because he's a big-game man. I saw four years of Ozzie Newsome, and Winslow is better than him in everything but blocking, which is a big thing. But it's excusable because of how great Winslow is at everything else.

6. Jamal Lewis- He's not done. If the Browns do make the playoffs, his second-half surge will be the biggest reason why. He has more than 1,100 yards rushing this season, and is wearing down defenses. I don't want to see the Browns backfield in 2008 without No. 31 plowing through holes.

7. Derek Anderson- I'm not sold on him as a long-term solution. I would be if the team didn't have Brady Quinn in the wings. But Anderson has had a really good year, better than anyone had any right to expect. He will have kept Quinn on the sidelines all year, and could net the team a first and third round draft pick. He's thrown so many TD passes and has thrown for so many yards, it'd be easy to forgive his performance against Cincinnati as just a bad game. But fans won't forgive it, at least if the Browns miss the playoffs. If we keep perspective, we should be grateful for such a fun season. But football fans just don't have perspective, me included.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

As one of the few in my generation who does not hold Jon Stewart high on a pedestal, or wish to see him run for political office, it was strange to read on a blog a few years ago how the comedian had handled my literary hero, Christopher Hitchens on The Daily Show some time ago.

It's interesting, if only because I found myself wondering why Stewart was interviewing Hitchens in the first place.

I'm skeptical of Stewart these days. He was all over Tom Brokaw's 1968 on the History Channel, in which Stewart and his show were presented as some kind of cultural icon.

I'll admit that I haven't watched The Daily Show for years. So I can't really criticize its current product. But I felt like I watched it when I was in college when it was a comedy show, went to bed and woke up as a journalist six years later, finding my peers getting news from it.

I knew I'd really missed something when on the 1968 documentary, Bruce Springsteen was praising Jon Stewart, making him sound like he was this generation's Walter Cronkite.

The news is always getting criticized for becoming a cross between a serious program and Access Hollywood. Perhaps Brokaw himself -- like many of his colleagues -- shares that concern.

But why give so much time to The Daily Show, which is still a parody of a newscast (as far as I can figure) and present it as some information-gathering piece of Americana?

The fear, as expressed in Don Henley's song Dirty Laundry, was that entertainment and news would become so mixed that they became unrecognizable from each other.

But here we have one of Henley's peers -- Springsteen -- praising Stewart. Maybe Henley and Springsteen aren't close politically, but I doubt it.

Stewart, who I saw not too long ago on Costas Now's panel criticizing the president (he can talk sports, too), used to brush off claims that he gave softball interviews to certain candidates by saying he worked for Comedy Central. Why take someone who works there seriously?

But if he continues making appearances like the one he did on 1968, he runs the risk of becoming what he used to parody. And then when criticism flies his way, he can no longer retreat to the comedy umbrella.

And what happens when two forms of culture combine? I don't know. I just write about sports, politics and music on this blog.

But no one reads this. Lots of people watch The Daily Show. I just hope they don't vote by it.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

The grass in Ohio is green on this Christmas day. Some small flurries failed to make the ground white.

Most of the Christmas days' I remember from my youth were green. It wasn't until I turned 9 that I started keeping track. If I remember correctly, this area hasn't had a white Christmas since 2004.

As memories go, Christmas is that interesting time of year when all the holidays in your life seem to fade into one grand season. We had parties in elementary school and occasionally learned about other cultures. We sang Christmas carols and ate ginger bread.

I used to get anxious on Christmas eve, waiting to unwrap a game system, a talking football device or a Browns' jersey.

Now that I'm older, I still get excited for Christmas. It means three days off and a chance to enjoy family, food and the occasional bowl game.

I realize none of this strikes a religious or spiritual chord, but trust me, that's by design. Sometimes I wonder what God thinks of our holiday. Maybe he's happy it brings us together. Maybe he's distressed by the commercialism which has taken the day over.

Or maybe, he wishes we spent a little more time helping those less fortunate.

It's true, I don't do enough. I have never done enough. I'll be out buying gifts for my family, and I'll drop a dollar in the Salvation Army box. I doubt it makes too much of a difference, and I know I should do more. But one season passes into another, and guilt finds its way into my mind. We can make New Year's resolutions and pledge to be better than we are.

But I'm left wondering, as the morning approaches, if I can ever really be the best person I can. If soldiers are risking their lives for me, the least I can do is give a little more back to others.

And I wonder if I'll be writing the same post a year from now, wondering the same thing.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bengals 19, Browns 14
As I write this, in the early-morning hours of Christmas Eve, I can't help but think that one holiday gift I was hoping for will be delayed, if not delivered at all.

It made too much sense for the Browns to beat the wounded, aimless Bengals Sunday. That would be too easy.

Winning would have given the Browns a playoff spot and an outside chance at winning their first division since 1989. The Browns controlled their own destiny, at least for a playoff berth.

For all the good things quarterback Derek Anderson has done this year, this may be what everyone remembers.

How, given the chance to push his team into the playoffs, he threw four needless interceptions and mis-managed the clock int the final two minutes.

It was remarkable the Browns had a chance to win at all, given how Anderson had all but handed Cincinnati 13 points at the end of the first half, then gave away two of his team's scoring opportunities in the second.

Yet, there Anderson was, leading the Browns for a potential game-winning drive. He had two timeouts, but seemed to not realize it. He threw over the middle, then didn't spike the ball, costing the team valuable seconds.

One last desperation heave almost didn't happen when Anderson scrambled for five yards and got out of bounds with a second left.

The memory I'll have of this game is Anderson grabbing his head after another ridiculous interception. He was "bad Derek," today, no doubt.

So now, we get to wait until about 11:30 p.m. next Sunday to see if the Browns advance to the playoffs. The Cleveland-San Francisco game is meaningless. The Browns could make the playoffs at 9-7 or miss them at 10-6.

Tennessee goes to Indianapolis, a game that has been moved to 8:30 p.m. The Colts are better than the Titans, but have nothing to play for. Peyton Manning likely will have taken his last snap before halftime.

The Browns have to hope that the Colts care enough to keep Tennessee out of the playoffs. It's not a great position to be in.

But all of this could have been for naught had the Browns -- specifically Anderson -- not choked during the biggest game of the year. A great performance next week would be nice to see, but it will do little to quiet the doubters going into next season.

For the first time all year, I found myself wondering if Brady Quinn would have done better.

We may find out next September, which probably will be the next time the Browns have a road game.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

King on Carthon
HBO's Peter King says Bill Parcells would consider Maurice Carthon as his first head coach with the Dolphins.

You know, just when you thought things couldn't get worse for the Dolphins ...


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Song quote of the day
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?-- Tina Turner


Justice shows sympathy for Selig
I suppose there is a case that Bud Selig isn't as awful for baseball as I believe he is, and has been.

And I suppose that -- despite the fact that I'm less than half as old as Selig -- that I have an antiquated view of baseball.

So when Richard Justice talks about all the good that Selig has brought to the game, it is difficult for me to see things that way.
I don't like interleague play, since I thought two leagues that didn' play was the one thing that set the sport apart from all the others. Part of the reason the All-Star Game and World Series were so special is because we had little frame of reference. How would two teams match up in October? We didn't know. They hadn't played.

I take a dim view of the Wild Card. Baseball teams play 162 times. It seemed to me that the reason the season was so long was so that we could determine the two best teams in the league. Now, I team can hang out around .500, make a trade because it has deep pockets, and contend come September.

Don't get me started on the designated hitter.

Of course, all of this is small compared to the issue of drug use in baseball. In the mid-1990s, I was sitting in my dentist's chair, talking about the sport.

I told the doctor that Brady Anderson's power surge had surprised me, and I couldn't figure out how it was happening.

The dentist didn't even hesitate.

"Baseball has a steroid problem," he said. "And they have no idea how to deal with it."

I was about 16 during this conversation. It was two years before Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris out of the record book.

But the conversation stuck with me, and was in the back of my mind in 1998. The idea that baseball owners, general managers and most importantly, the commissioner himself had no suspicion this was going on is ridiculous.

Selig either had to know, or he made it so he couldn't know. Justice wants to give credit to Selig, but the truth his, the issue had become so clear that the commissioner had to act by 2002.

And that first steroid policy was paper thin. If Selig really cared about the issue, he could have gone to the press, or gone to congress, and asked for help.

But he didn't. And now baseball is 19 years in (at least) to the steroid era.

Of course, I'm on the outside. I don't know what baseball knew and when it knew it.

But I think the record of Selig is much worse. Baseball may be rich right now, but it has sold its soul to get there.


Phil's Week 16 Picks
Steelers (9-5) @ Rams (3-11)
Home teams are typically favored in Thursday night contests, but Pittsburgh has the better team here.
Zach's thought: The Steelers are not playing well, but then, they've had a tough schedule. Steelers

Cowboys (12-2) @ Panthers (6-8)
Dallas fans hold their collective breath that Tony Romo's thumb injury is not going to affect his play the rest of the season.
Zach's thought: Jessica Simpson probably won't be there. So, Jessica, if you're free, my cell is ... Cowboys

Giants (9-5) @ Bills (7-7)
This game looked like a gimmie for New York about a month ago.
Zach's thought: Luckily for New York, the game is in Buffalo. Giants.

Packers (12-2) @ Bears (5-9)
Brett Favre vs Kyle Orton might be the biggest quarterback mismatch of the year.
Zach's thought: The Bears are the biggest disappointment this season. Packers.

Browns (9-5) @ Bengals (5-9)
A win puts Cleveland back into the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Zach's thought: By 1 or 30, I don't care. Just get it done Browns. Browns.

Chiefs (4-10) @ Lions (6-8)
At least Kansas City won't quit on the season. Detroit was just pitiful last week.
Zach's thought: Well, Detroit is at home. Lions.

Texans (7-7) @ Colts (12-2)
Locked into the second playoff seed in the AFC, the Colts will not play a meaningful game for the next three weeks.
Zach's thought: And they'll still be better that most opponents. Colts.

Eagles (6-8) @ Saints (7-7)
New Orleans can still make the playoffs, which is remarkable after their 0-4 start.
Zach's thought: Philadelphia can't string anything together. Saints.

Raiders (4-10) @ Jaguars (10-4)
Can someone explain how Jacksonville had nobody elected as a Pro Bowl starter?
Zach's thought: No. Jags.

Falcons (3-11) @ Cardinals (6-8)
Season just can't end fast enough for Atlanta this year.
Zach's thought: Or for Arizona, for that matter. Cardinals.

Buccaneers (9-5) @ 49ers (4-10)
Let's see how Shaun Hill fares against a quality defense.
Zach's thought: I'll take the Buccaneers, because I think they are not playing Saturday night. Buccaneers.

Jets (3-11) @ Titans (8-6)
Does it even matter who plays quarterback for the Jets at this point?
Zach's thought: A Jets win here could send the Browns to the playoffs. As if it's ever that easy. Titans.

Dolphins (1-13) @ Patriots (14-0)
Don't bet on Miami making it two wins in a row.
Zach's thought: Wouldn't it be nice if the Pats were older, and we didn't have to wait so long, to see if a team could just beat them, and send them back where they belong? Patriots.

Ravens (4-10) @ Seahawks (9-5)
Wonder if Ravens owner Stephen Biscotti wants to rescind his statement that Brian Billick will be back as Baltimore's head coach for next year?
Zach's thought: Maybe the Ravens will just skip this one. Seahawks.

Redskins (7-7) @ Vikings (8-6)
Critical game for the NFC wildcard race.
Zach's thought: Thanks to whomever thought it was a good idea to put the Redskins on TV so much. Vikings.

Broncos (6-8) @ Chargers (9-5)
San Diego is peaking just at the right time.
T'was the night before Christmas, and all through the deal, LT was running through the Denver backfield. Chargers.

LAST WEEK: 11-5 Z: 10-6
OVERALL: 149-75 Z: 145-79



1. Patriots - Clinched the AFC East and homefield advantage in the AFC Bracket

2. Colts - Clinched the AFC South and first round bye

3. Chargers - Clinched the AFC West


1. Cowboys - Clinched the NFC East and first round bye

2. Packers - Clinched the NFC North and first round bye

3. Buccaneers - Clinched the NFC South

4. Seahawks - Clinched the NFC West


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Browns 8, Bills 0
Welcome to a new era of Browns football.

The early 1980s had the Cardiac Kids. The late 80s had Bernie Kosar and the Dawg Pound.

Now, we have Believeland.

And why not believe? If the Browns can win in a December blizzard, if that defense --that defense -- can shut out Buffalo without forcing a turnover, why can't this team do something great.

In the stands on Sunday, I froze with three close friends. It was brutal, but it came with a reward. I'd like to say the Browns win made me feel like I was in Florida.

But that would be a lie. Actually, I didn't feel anything. The cold made me numb, and I was actually thinking I may have to lose a few toes.

Still, it was a great Christmas gift to be at the Stadium Sunday, giving me a memory I will never forget.

Browns fans are the best in the world. But I have to say, Bills fans are pretty damn good. Not only did many make the trip, but they stayed, didn't cause any trouble, cheered when it was appropriate, and didn't taunt.

There is a great respect, I think, between Browns and Bills fans. We haven't forgotten how Ralph Wilson supported our city when Art Modell moved the team. I also think we can empathize with Buffalo, since it has had similar disappointment to go along with its success.

One fan sat in front of me, in a Bills jersey. Just before kickoff, he turned to me.

"Just so you know," he said, "I don't hate the Browns 364 days of the year."

I told him it was cool. I felt the same way about his team.

- So, if the Browns beat the Bengals Sunday, they clinch a postseason berth. If Tennessee loses to the Jets, the Browns clinch.

If Tennessee wins and Cleveland loses, things get a little complicated. In regards to a wild card spot, the Browns will have to see what the Titans do against the Colts in week 17. If Indianapolis wins, the Browns advance, no matter what they do against San Francisco.

If a Colts win over the Titans seems certain, in reality it is something less than that. With two weeks to go, the Colts are locked in to the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoffs. The final to games for them mean nothing.

- I don't want the Browns to play 2008 without Jamal Lewis in the backfield.

- Congratulations to Josh Cribbs and Braylon Edwards on making the Pro Bowl. But how did the linemen get left off?

- So, anyone want to guess which Bengals team shows up Sunday? I'm guessing the motivated, focused Bengals hoping for revenge. I listened to Saturday night's game, and the Bengals announcers sounded horrified at the team's performance against the 49ers.

If that team shows up, the Browns win easy. But don't count on it.


Monday, December 17, 2007

The leader of the band
Several years ago, I was a high school student at a guitar lesson, playing a new composition for my teacher.

As I was playing another four-chord song -- my specialty -- the teacher stopped me.

"You know what this sounds like?" he asked me.

I didn't answer.

"Dan Fogelberg. He sang Leader of the Band."

I didn't know the name, but I knew the song. A few years later, when I had a few extra dollars in my pocket, I picked up a Dan Fogelberg album.

What struck me, as I listened to the album, was how many songs I recognized. The man had a knack for melody and words. Sometimes the songs were very soft-rock, and reminded me of growing up, when my mother had o soft rock stations on the radio and knew of little else.

Longer is a song that I can only assume was played in weddings all over the world in the 80s, and Old Lang Syne is a brilliant piece of work, combining honest lyric with the horns that often populated his music.

When I read in Monday's paper that Fogelberg had died, I was taken aback. At 56, he was too young to die. Many of his contemporaries are running comeback tours and producing comeback albums. They're not dying.

But Fogelberg is gone, leaving a musical legacy which is quite rich. The Leader of the Band and Longer will continue to inspire today's musicians, even if they fail to realize it.

Rest in peace.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bud Selig must go
Why are so few people saying what is so obvious?

Bud Selig was an owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. Somehow, in 1992, he became acting commissioner. Then, somehow, he became just commissioner.

And, just for the heck of it, let's run down his accomplishments since taking over.

- In 1994, he presided over a strike which wiped out a World Series, for the first time since 1904

- In fairness, let's discuss all the positives that the strike accomplished ...


-In 1998, baseball brought back the fans with a steroid-induced home run chase of Roger Maris. Of course, Selig could have pressed the issue when Mark McGwire was found to be using andro, but he looked the other way.

- Remember that All Star game in 2002? That was fun, right?

- Barry Bonds, BALCO, a weak testing policy, on and on.

- That congressional hearing was sure humiliating for the sport.

- Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's all-time home run record by cheating. Bud Selig is there and does nothing. Kind of symbolic.

- Now, the Mitchell Report. Hate to break it to Bud, but the time to act was 15 years ago. Yes, that's no reason to not be aggressive now. But here's the problem:

If Selig was aware baseball had a steroid problem and didn't act because he saw how much "chicks dig the long ball," then he's practically an accessory to a crime.

If he wasn't aware, then he was an out of touch fool who played the part of Nero -- playing his fiddle while the sport burned.

Is this the man to lead baseball?

Baseball needs a Landis. A John Wayne. A Sheriff Bart.

Baseball needs law and order. Selig hasn't brought that to the sport in the 15 years he's been on the job. What would make anyone think he can bring it now?


Friday, December 14, 2007

A letter to Roger Clemens
Sorry, Roger, but Rusty Hardin telling me how upset you are isn't going to make me believe you didn't do it.

Where are you, anyway? Your reputation, all 20-plus years of it is on the line. And the best you can do is send your lawyer out in front of the cameras?

I'm sorry for not buying it. I really am. I didn't want to believe Barry Bonds cheated either. But the evidence is just too strong.

And what makes you think we weren't suspicious? Some of your greatest seasons came when you were pushing and past 40.

You think we shouldn't take Brian McNamee's word? Well, sorry, but who else would have information on you? He was your strength coach after all. And I think we're all past the point where we can expect the giants of our society to finger cheaters. By your lawyer's logic, every criminal ever convicted on testimony from an associate should be set free based on unreliability.

The point is, today, your lawyer made you sound like everyone else who gets caught. Everyone has a story, everyone has a reason for doubt.

Do you really believe Sen. George Mitchell was out to get you? That he'd include your name if he was the slightest bit concerned he was wrong?

Roger, you signed a pro-rated contract that made you one of the highest paid pitchers in the game when you were 45.

There was strong evidence then, though very few people came out and said it.

If this isn't true, scream from the mountains. Send your lawyer to sue someone. Your career and legacy are on the line.

Right now though, I think you're just as questionable as everyone else.


Phil's NFL Picks: Week 15
Broncos (6-7) @ Texans (6-7)
Loser is probably out of the playoff hunt.
Zach's thought: One of the three steps for a Browns playoff spot has been secured. Texans.

Bengals (5-8) @ 49ers (3-10)
It's the Super Bowl XXIII rematch that nobody wanted.
Zach's thought: This game looked so much better in June. Bengals.

Bills (7-6) @ Browns (8-5)
Cleveland has won their last five games at home.
Zach's thought: I'll be there. Go Browns! Browns.

Titans (7-6) @ Chiefs (4-9)
Tennessee needs this game to keep themselves in the race for a wildcard spot.
Zach's thought: The pressure is on the Titans here. Titans.

Packers (11-2) @ Rams (3-10)
Ryan Grant has transformed Green Bay from a good team to a Super Bowl capable team.
Zach's thought: It is remarkable what has happened to these frachises.

Ravens (4-9) @ Dolphins (0-13)
Both teams have quit for the season.
Zach's thought: This game will be like football in reverse. Ravens.

Jets (3-10) @ Patriots (13-0)
The point spread cannot be high enough for this game.
Zach's thought: Maybe horrid weather will give the Jets a chance? Oh, I talk crazy sometimes. Patriots.

Cardinals (6-7) @ Saints (6-7)
Ugly stat of week 14 was Kurt Warner throwing five interceptions.
Zach's Thought: Ugly stat of this week: Neither team has been eliminated from the playoff picture.

Jaguars (9-4) @ Steelers (9-4)
Bet Pittsburgh's players refrain for guaranteeing a win this week.
Zach's thought: A win and a Browns loss gives Pittsburgh the North. Steelers.

Falcons (3-10) @ Buccaneers (8-5)
Bobby Petrino's NFL coaching career lasted all of 13 games.
Zach's thought: Falcons may not care anymore, but can you blame them? Bucs.

Seahawks (9-4) @ Panthers (5-8)
Last time anyone saw Julius Peppers was on the back of a milk carton.
Zach's thought: You have to wonder what games like this do to TV ratings. Seahawks.

Colts (11-2) @ Raiders (4-9)
After this game, the NFL looks into creating a mercy rule.
Zach's thought: Pretty much a one-sided affair. Colts.

Eagles (5-8) @ Cowboys (12-1)
Last week's scare to Detroit should have Dallas ready to play a divisional rival.
Zach's thought: I bet the Eagles give the Cowboys a run for it. Cowboys.

Lions (6-7) @ Chargers (8-5)
Memo to John Kitna: About that 10-win season guarantee...
Zach's thought: A few weeks ago, this would have been a key flex opportunity. Now it's an opportunity for a nap. Chargers.

Redskins (6-7) @ Giants (9-4)
One has to feel for Jason Campbell, who got hurt after finally starting to really find his place as Washington's QB.
Zach's thought: New York is much more dangerous on the road. But it will still win. Giants.

Bears (5-8) @ Vikings (7-6)
Does it even matter who plays QB for Chicago at this point?
Zach's thought: Big game for the Vikings. Vikings.

LAST WEEK: 14-2 Z: 15-1
OVERALL: 138-70 Z: 135-73



1. Cowboys - Clinched the NFC East

2. Packers - Clinched the NFC North

3. Seahawks - Clinched the NFC West


1. Patriots - Clinched the AFC East

2. Colts - Clinched a playoff birth


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hal Morris?
Here's the list.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Steroid Christmas
For years, I have heard commentators and baseball people tell me that fans "don't care" about steroid use.

Apparently, they think that we are all OK with continual violation of laws and the destruction of cherished records.

As many of you know, I am a member of the media. So maybe I have have lost the right to refer to myself as a fan of the sport I love.

But the fans care more than people think. Real fans, the ones that know the records and the stats, care. The fans that have cherished memories of their first baseball game, the ones that know that hot dogs taste their best when mixed in with watered down beer and an occasional soft pretzel, care.

My first baseball game was in 1986. Pete Rose and the Reds beat the Giants at Riverfront Stadium. My father taught me how to read a box score before I could read.

The point is, I cringe at the notion that fans don't care about steroid use. I know a number of people who do care, and they aren't just my co-workers and fellow writers.

Casual fans may not care. The ones who don't know Hank Aaron from Aaron Spelling -- but go to see the long ball -- they may not care.

For those of us that do value the sport's history, the ones that do value integrity, we care. For us, tomorrow is a big day.

I have no idea what will be in Sen. George Mitchell's report. But I do think it will be important to set the record as straight as possible about the steroid era.

For the game. For the fans. For the players.

Don't tell me we don't care.

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I wouldn't trust Bobby Petrino to mow my lawn. We always criticize players for having no loyalty, for not being honorable all the time.

Say what you will about guys like Jim Thome and Albert Belle -- at least they played out their contracts before they bolted. Petrino couldn't even last past 13 games of his first season as Falcons head coach.

Apparently Petrino thinks his word means so little that no one will mind when he breaks it.

He's got a point.


Andy Barch Interview
My friend and NFL expert Andy Barch joins me for a few minutes.

Z: So Andy... Browns or Bills?

AB: Browns, I agree with your comments on your blog, I dont think the Bills have the talent the Browns have, and the Browns have developed that winning mentality.

Z: I have to tell you, I'm disappointed in Bobby Petrino

AB: Aren't we all?

Z: Won't this hurt him from a character standpoint?

AB: Absolutely. Pat Forde's article today talked about Petrino's incredibly dishonest and unloyal background. I dont see how you could trust a guy like that, I really dont. If he came into your home to recruit your kid, could you honestly trust him? Not to mention, he quit. He absolutely quit on that team, who's to say he won't do that again?

Z: Who wants that Atlanta job anyway

AB: Right now? Nobody, why would you? The only benefit matter who comes in, they cant do much worse, the expectations are so incredibly low right now

Z: It reminds me of Butch Davis.

AB: Great analogy. When he inherited the Browns, he made them better, only because they couldn't have gotten any worse.

Z: One guy who I think is a great coach, but I wonder about his security, John Fox.
Bill Cowher could be looming there.

AB: Yes......I dont know if Carolina is willing to shell out the money other teams are to get Cowher out of retirement, but Carolina is obviously a place Cowher wouldn't mind going.......back to Fox though. I've always thought Fox was a great coach. Every year, he's had a ton of injuries defensively, and this year, he's had to rely on the worst No. 1 overall pick in years, and a 45-year old QB who has shown his age. Now is not the year to turn your back on Mr. Fox, I think he'll get this team going in the right direction eventually.

Z: I agree. Let me ask you about Philadelphia. McNabb might be out there. Do you think that's a good move?

AB: for McNabb, yes, for the Eagles....I dont know. It was a happy marriage for a while, but it just seems like he's been underappreciated by the media and the fans. I think he's a great fit in Chicago, where he's from, and the second year after tearing an ACL is usually way more productive than the first. He's a lot better than what the Bears currently have.

Z: Is it just me, or are the Patriots the most unlikable football team since the 1990s Cowboys?

AB: Absolutely. These guys are looked at like Saints, when they are much dirtier than you think. Rodney harrison barking at Brian Billick was every bit as classless as his head coach who shows absolutely no class when he confronts a coach from an opposing team. Not to mention, we praise Tom Brady like he's the greatest thing since sliced is a guy who's violated at least one of the 10 commandments, yet we act as if he's a golden boy. Its crap. They are very unlikeable outside the Northeast.

Z: Can they be stopped?

AB: Absolutely they can. I'm not one of those guys who looks at this team and says "nobody can beat them, they're far and away superior to the competition" they caught every break in the book on their final drive to avoid beating a then 4-7 ravens team, they beat an extremely beat up Colts team that was missing a very good linebacker, a starting left tackle and a hall of fame wide receiver, and they came awfully close to choking against the Eagles.....I think a team that can run the ball effectively like the Jaguars can beat them in January. I say that because when the weather becomes unbearable, and you cannot go to the air 900 times a game, you have to run it, and I dont think the Pats can run the ball to win games, especially in the playoffs. If they get a team like Jacksonville who can run it all day on them, and stop the run, they can be stopped.
Z: What the heck happened to the Jets this year?

AB: I think they overachieved last year and the bar was so incredibly high. They have some problems on their offensive line, they dont know if they want to hang on to Pennington or if Clemens is really their guy for the future and on defense, they've endured a lot of injuries that have kind of gone unnoticed.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Song quote of the day
And if this world starts getting you down
There's room enough for two
Up on the roof-- The Drifters


Kiss of death
The Browns can clinch a playoff spot by about 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Think about that. The Browns can play the final two weeks of the season knowing they are in the playoffs if:

- The Browns beat Buffalo at home.

- Houston beats Denver in Houston Thursday.

- Kansas City beats Tennessee.

None of those things seem impossible. But I do tend to believe the Browns will make the playoffs if they defeat Buffalo Sunday. A win there puts the Bills two games behind the Browns. The way the Broncos are playing, it's difficult to see them being much of a threat in the coming weeks.

Tennessee is an interesting case. A talented and well-coached team, it has been woefully inconsistent in recent weeks. Vince Young has been more bad than good this season. But mostly, the Titans are in a bad spot because they have lost games they should have won.

- Cincinnati and Denver blasted them in road games.

- San Diego stole a game from them in OT.

- But again, the Browns can't worry about any of that. A win Sunday puts the Browns in the driver's seat. Nine wins with two games to play against sub-.500 teams.

-Why is this worrysome? Nobody expected the Browns to make the playoffs this year, especially without Brady Quinn leading them. Cleveland has played this season without expectations. Very few people have bought in, even with the success. The Browns were just 3 1/2 point favorites over a 3-9 Jets team Sunday.

- You could argue the only times the Browns have had expectations were week 1 and week 13. In each of those games, (against the Steelers and the Cardinals) the Browns seemed to play below their ability level.

-The question is whether the Browns can play loose against a Bills team that (in my opinion, anyway) is not as talented as them.

-What the fans are looking for, I think, is the team that beat the Texans three weeks ago -- loose, confident, and ready.

- December. Cleveland. Playoffs. It just doesn't get any better than that.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Browns 24, Jets 18
It doesn't matter how you get it done. You just have to get it done.

Sunday's game was not pretty, but there's not a Browns fan alive who wouldn't take it. Forgiving the one Derek Anderson interception and the inability to put the Jets away earlier, the Browns did what they needed to.

Before the game, most of the Browns fans I talked to were paranoid. Was last week's loss a blip on the radar or a downward trend?

Jamal Lewis has earned all his money this year. Barring a disaster (always possible with this franchise) he will rush for 1,000 yards. But the most important plays are not the ones that always show up. People will talk about his remarkable 31-yard TD run in the final minute.

What I will remember is the first two runs of that series. Lewis gained six yards on two carries, setting up a manageable third down.

The Jets knew Lewis was getting the ball on the last series, and still couldn't stop him.

Lewis is a winner. He senses the finish line and wants to blow through it and keep going. On a day when the Browns couldn't pass to a win, Lewis made sure his team got it anyway.

- The Browns defense is improving every game. One touchdown today, with Sean Jones and Brandon McDonald getting interceptions. Few have noticed, but the defense has kept teams out of the end zone lately. It even picked up Anderson -- something it didn't do in Arizona. First and goal from the 1, and the Jets get nothing.

- Three games left. Next week's home game against Buffalo will be the biggest home game in five years.


I was always under the impression that hugs meant nothing in politics. If they did, John Kerry would be president (remember how many times he hugged John Edwards in front of the camera?).

But Candy Crowley writes that Oprah Winfrey's hug of Barack Obama could bring him votes, and lots of them.

Once again, we are selling photos instead of policy, celebrity instead of competence and we are merging entertainment with real life.

I find Obama to be farther away from me politically than Hillary Clinton, but as I have written here many times, I don't dislike him.

But we are 11 months from the election, and Obama's still giving us sizzle and no steak.

Well, we'll see where this goes.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Phil's NFL Picks
When did this turn into a strictly NFL blog? I am gonna have to read some Maureen Dowd to get fired up.

Bears (5-7) @ Redskins (5-7)
Memo to Joe Gibbs: It's always been illegal to call back to back timeouts before a field goal attempt or any other play for that matter.
Zach's thought: Thursday night games typically favor the home team.

Dolphins (0-12) @ Bills (6-6)
Miami is four games away from making the wrong kind of history.
Zach's thought: This is actually a huge game for Buffalo. Don't forget, it beat Miami by 3. Bills.

Rams (3-9) @ Bengals (4-8)
Another non-winning season for Cincinnati.
Zach's thought: Word is Bengals players are already planning their offseason crime sprees. Bengals.

Cowboys (11-1) @ Lions (6-6)
So much for that 6-2 start for the Lions.
Zach's thought: You have to wonder if Detroit will win again this year. Cowboys.

Raiders (4-8) @ Packers (10-2)
If Brett Favre has to miss any time, Aaron Rogers played well enough last Thursday to avoid any major crisis.
Zach's thought: Lane Kiffin is getting interest from colleges. Why would he want to leave such a prime job? Packers.

Chargers (7-5) @ Titans (7-5)
If Tomlinson gets running room, it could be a long day for Tennessee, even with Haynesworth back.
Zach's thought: Chargers look to be rolling. Chargers.

Giants (8-4) @ Eagles (5-7)
Looks like AJ Feeley is not the answer to Philadelphia's QB position after all.
Zach's thought: Giants have some tough games to close the season. This may not be one of them. Giants.

Panthers (5-7) @ Jaguars (8-4)
Carolina just doesn't have the manpower to handle Jacksonville's defense.
Zach's thought: Jags get to beat up on another mediocre team. Jaguars.

Buccaneers (8-4) @ Texans (5-7)
Is it safe to say that Tampa Bay is for real this year?
Zach's thought: Still not sold. Texans.

Vikings (6-6) @ 49ers (3-9)
Smart money says San Francisco wishes they had their 2008 first round pick back from the Patriots.
Zach's thought:Smart money says spend your money elsewhere. Vikings.

Cardinals (6-6) @ Seahawks (8-4)
Too many injuries on Arizona's defense to win a tough divisional game on the road.
Zach's thoughtz;Cardinals will need another generous performance from their opponent to win again. Seahawks.

Chiefs (4-8) @ Broncos (5-7)
I'm begging Cox Cable to please not put this game on local TV.
Zach's thought: Who is worse? Broncos win.

Steelers (9-3) @ Patriots (12-0)
Upset Special: The streak ends here.
Zach's thought: Time for our long national nightmare to be over. Steelers.

Browns (7-5) @ Jets (3-9)
Fast Fact: Cleveland has not lost back to back games yet this year.
Zach's thought: Most important Browns game since 1994. Browns.

Colts (10-2) @ Ravens (4-8)
Wasn't the point of flex scheduling to bring good games to Sunday night?
Zach's thought: I think I've seen just about enough of the Ravens in primetime. Colts.

Saints (5-7) @ Falcons (3-9)
In the spotlight are two of the lower teams in the arguably worst division in the NFL. Can't wait.
Zach's thought: For those of you who don't want to miss Heroes ... Saints.

LAST WEEK: 10-6 Z: 11-5
OVERALL: 124-68 Z: 120-72


1. Cowboys - clinched a playoff birth

1. Patriots - clinched the AFC East


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Nihar Vasavada's acceptance speech
So, I promised the winner of The Panel the chance to write something on my blog.

Now, for those of you who wonder how I could be friends with someone who writes something like the following, I have only one response:

You just have to know him.

So, here's our gracious winner:

Galileo, Thomas Edison, Orville Redenbacher, Abraham Lincoln; these are all great men who shaped the future of mankind. Now, I am not saying I’m at the same level as these men…I saying I’m a step above, because while these men helped shape the future, I predicted the future, week after week, like a modern day Nostradamus. November 26 2007 is a day that shall go down in whatever the opposite of infamy is. I know many of you are wondering how I became such a master prognosticator; I was guided by a force, like a young jedi knight in training, with Tony Grossi serving as my Yoda. “Predict correctly you will,” I heard a voice say in my head as I chose winner after winner, trampling over the competition. I should take a few moments to thank the people who helped make this happen, but I won’t, because it would take away from my accomplishments. To my noble competitors I offer a sincere apology for humiliating you on such a large stage. I have heard Zach’s blog gets dozens of hits a month, so I can only imagine how downtrodden you must all feel. I hope to accept your congratulations in person some day, perhaps at an awards banquet in my honor. Nothing fancy of course, maybe a 2 or 3 course dinner, followed by a coronation ceremony and presentation of a plaque or giant novelty check. Well, I will conclude this humble acceptance of your praise so you can all spend the proper time to grasp the magnitude of my accomplishments.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cardinals 27, Browns 21
Derek Anderson was intercepted twice and fumbled a snap. Joshua Cribbs fumbled a punt. Leigh Bodden kicked a ball after a Browns defensive stop, resulting in a Cardinals first down. Simon Frasier was flagged for a personal foul just before the Browns started what we hoped would be a game-winning drive.

When it started, you hoped the game would be the like the one against the Rams. Down 14-0, the Browns would rally and win. Instead, the game was like week 3 against the Raiders, where the Browns did everything to give the game away, but still had a chance to win on the final play.

The true lesson of this game is that the Browns are still capable of playing bad, still capable of losing to teams that are not as good as they are.

It happens in the NFL. Ask the Steelers about the Jets, the Colts about the Chargers and even the Cardinals about the 49ers.

The truth is, no matter how dire the circumstances are in a game, you can't turn off the television. The Cardinals are up by three and have a second and goal at the Browns 2 with two minutes left. Somehow, the Browns force a field goal and give themselves a chance.

Anderson may have played his worst game this season (though he had 304 passing yards and two TDs), but he led the Browns down the field with time running out, and threw a brilliant pass to Kellen Winslow in the left corner of the end zone as time expired.

Winslow caught the ball -- he catches everything. But he was pushed out of bounds by Cardinal defenders. The tight end was pushed out of bounds. But the question was, could he have come down in bounds if he wasn't pushed? I don't know. I'm thinking Cleveland fans are sure he could have.

But it's a judgement call, and in the official's mind, Winslow would not have come down with two feet in.

But you can't pin the loss on the referees. The Browns had chances, but didn't do enough.

Hopefully this was a one-week deal and it's out of the team's system next week. Again, the Browns will play a late game against an opponent that -- on paper -- looks inferior.

But nothing ever comes easy for the Browns, and I doubt it will be easy against the 3-9 Jets.

The upside is that after week one, nothing has come easy for the Browns' opponents.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Phil's Picks, Week 16
Packers (10-1) @ Cowboys (10-1)
Could determine the top two seeds in the NFC playoff bracket. Too bad the majority of the country won't get the chance to see the game.
Zach's thought: I hate those special Cowboys jerseys. But the team is really good. Cowboys.

Texans (5-6) @ Titans (6-5)
Tennessee has gone 0-3 without Albert Haynesworth in the lineup.
Zach's thought: Pretty much a must win for both. I still think Tennessee is better. Titans

Jaguars (8-3) @ Colts (9-2)
Indianapolis can put themselves in great position to win the AFC South with a win here.
Zach's thought: Jacksonville usually gives Indy a run for it in the dome. But I'm still taking the Colts.

Chargers (6-5) @ Chiefs (4-7)
San Diego needs to forget that they are 1-4 on the road this season.
Zach's thought: Last week's home loss to Oakland killed any faith I had in Kansas City. Chargers.

Falcons (3-8) @ Rams (2-9)
Hope you're not trying to sell tickets for this one.
Zach's thought: Two boring teams in a meaningless game played in one of the worst football facilities in the league. Rams.

Jets (2-9) @ Dolphins (0-11)
If Miami loses here, the 0-16 season suddenly becomes a very real possibility.
Zach's thought: I'm taking New York, but I'm pulling for Miami. Having been through 1999 and 2000 with the Browns, I have a lot of sympathy for Miami right now.

Lions (6-5) @ Vikings (5-6)
All of a sudden, the Lions are in danger of wasting their 6-2 start.
Zach's thought: They've already wasted it. Vikings.

Seahawks (7-4) @ Eagles (5-6)
After playing the game of their life against New England last week, the Eagles need to guard against a letdown.
Zach's thought: Eagles need it more. Eagles.

Bills (5-6) @ Redskins (5-6)
How will Washington play just days after the tragic death of Sean Taylor?
Zach's thought: At this point, who cares about football in Washington? Redskins.

49ers (3-8) @ Panthers (4-7)
Carolina is bad. San Francisco is worse.
Zach's thought: Perhaps, but the 49ers are healthier. Barely. 49ers.

Broncos (5-6) @ Raiders (3-8)
Choking away a 14 point lead in the fourth quarter last week may be what keeps Denver out of this year's postseason.
Zach's thought: Denver is never that good anyway. But I think they'll win this one.

Browns (7-4) @ Cardinals (5-6)
Look for Cleveland to take advantage of Arizona's hurting secondary.
Zach's thought: You have to like the way the Browns are playing. They can't feel like they're ever out of a game. Browns.

Giants (7-4) @ Bears (5-6)
Bad: Eli Manning threw four interceptions last week. Worse: Three picks were returned for touchdowns.
Zach's thought: Pretty much a must-win for each. The biggest question may be whether Tom Coughlin will kick to Devin Hester. Giants.

Buccaneers (7-4) @ Saints (5-6)
Which New Orleans team will show up? Going with the home field here.
Zach's thought: People keep thinking the Saints will turn it around. It's week 13, and they haven't yet. Buccaneers.

Bengals (4-7) @ Steelers (8-3)
Will the field be any better after the Monday night debacle?
Zach's thought: The Bengals are just inconsistent. A loss here means another non-winning season. Cincinnati has had one since 1990. Steelers.

Patriots (11-0) @ Ravens (4-7)
The 1972 Dolphins may as well keep the bubbly on ice for at least one more week.
Zach's thought: I want New England to lose, but I don't want a jerk like Brian Billick to beat a jerk like Bill Belichick. Patriots.

LAST WEEK: 8-5 Z: 8-5
OVERALL: 114-62 Z: 109-67