This was a pretty crazy week for sports. Brandon Jennings Mania has just about taken hold of Milwaukee, Thierry Henry took France to the Handball World Cup and some of us, specifically myself, are still basking in the glory that happened in Indianapolis on Sunday Night. However, with that being said, it is time to turn our eyes to the weekend. There are a couple crucial clashes in the Pac-10 that will go a long way toward deciding a champion and some can’t miss NFL action. Granted, there is nothing that quite matches the intrigue of Pats-Colts or Bengals-Steelers, but there is some fun to be had on the gridiron. Oh, and I will give you my super-early World Cup Preview.
Cal @ Stanford
When you have a rivalry game like this one, the point spread just does not matter. Stanford giving 8 points, but who cares? When two rivals meet up on their annual collision, talent takes a back seat to passion. It still matters, but willpower and passion become the driving force of the game. I do think Stanford is going to win this game, but I would not be surprised to see it go down to the wire. In case you needed a reminder of how down to the wire these can go, I suggest watching the clip above again. Yeah, it probably wont be THAT close, but expect it to be within 10, even without Jahvid Best. Stanford could blow them out, but I would never bet on a blowout in a rivalry game. Stanford 34, Cal 24.
Oregon @ Arizona
This is not at all the rivalry that the other is, but the stakes are pretty high. If Arizona wins, they keep their hopes alive of a Pac-10 Championship and a Rose Bowl berth, and if Oregon wins, then all that stands between them and Pasadena is the Civil War with Oregon State. This game features the two faces of the spread offense, though not in such polarizing fashion as other potential matchups. Oregon runs a very ground-based spread attack, but Jeremiah Masoli can still hurt you through the air (ask USC). Arizona is more balanced, but like most spread attacks, trends toward the pass and putting receivers all over the field. Both teams are good, but I will just about always take the ground game over the air spread attack. Imagine that, a Colts fan infatuated with the running game. Oregon 38, Arizona 24.
Quite frankly, there are a lot of bad games in the NFL this week, so instead of picking them, I am going to just give you things to watch for. Look for Baltimore to give the Colts a run for their money. I would not be at all surprised to see an upset here and Baltimore still loathes the Colts for packing the team up in the middle of the night and leaving. As pointed out by a friend, if the Ravens were 7-2 or even 6-3, Ray Rice would be an MVP candidate, and the Colts injured secondary looked like the Warriors trying to stop Brandon Jennings last week. I would be surprised to see anything but a close game, but it just seems like Baltimore has a knack for losing the close game, so I would still go with the Colts despite my concerns.
Try to watch the Falcons-Giants game this week. Before last week, the Falcons had three losses, but they were to the Saints, New England and Dallas with the latter two being on the road. Those are very respectable losses, but losing to Carolina is not and that is exactly what they did last week. The Giants have been streaking more than Will Ferrell in Old School winning 5 straight before dropping 4 in a row. The underappreciated factor in this game is that both teams are ridiculously talented. Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, Brandon Jacobs, Michael Turner, Osi Umenyiora, Steve Smith (in my opinion, very talented), Curtis Lofton, and the list goes on. Whether each team comes out and plays good football remains to be seen, but if both do, we will have on hell of a game on our hands. I like the Giants off their bye week but nothing would surprise me in this game as both teams have proven unpredictable.
San Diego–Denver is very simple. If the Broncos do not win this game and stop the bleeding, they can put a bow on the division and give it to the Chargers. The aptly named Chargers are in their annual mid-season charge toward the playoffs and Denver is in its seemingly perennial second half skid. Take the Chargers until the Broncos prove you differently.
Titans at Texans on Monday Night Football might end up being the game of the week, though I certainly hope not. Vince Young is 3-0 as a starter and Chris Johnson is putting up MVP numbers on a team that had bene awful up until Young took over. The Texans are in a good position to beat the Titans into a coma through the air, but Houston has a weird way of now showing up for random games. Between Chris Johnson tearing it up on the ground and Vince Young making some plays with both legs and arm, the Titans very well could steal one here. If you for some reason need an upset pick, this would not be a bad one to choose.
World Cup Preview
As if they needed a reason, Thierry Henry has driven Ireland into a Guinness-driven stupor and rage. Henry’s fairly blatant handball sent France through to the World Cup and left Irish eyes crying. France were honestly the better team on the day, but it is a shame that they should advance on that play. But with the field now set, lets look’at the contenders, sleepers, and the rest. Obviously, knowing the draw would help, but that does not happen until winter.
As usual, the list of contenders is headed by Spain and Brazil. You can choose whomever you want among them, but they are clearly among the most talented and deepest squads I have seen. The next class is really not much below Spain and BRazil, but would not be considered favorites really. This group includes Germany, England, and Italy. In other words, just the usual suspects. Portugal, France, and Argentina would usually make this jump as well, but qualifying woes have left many uncertain about their future. They are undoubtedly talented, but all barely made it to South Africa. The winner will probably come from this group of teams, but it could possibly come from elsewhere as anything is possible in football.
The Ivory Coast heads the list of sleepers in large part thanks to its terrific trio of stars. Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, and Didier Drogba are all legitimate stars and all are stars for their outstanding clubs teams (Barcelona, Manchester City, and Chelsea respectively). Not to mention, Kolo plays back, Yaya plays midfield and Drogba plays striker so there is a balance to their strength. And yes, Yaya and Kolo are brothers. The only problem they could face is if they get overhyped too much and suffer from Post-Hype Sucking Syndrome. Such examples of this syndrome are evident with teams like Ole Miss this year, and the Texans most years. If they are ëveryone’s”sleeper then they are destined for failure. If they can avoid this label, they are in business.
I am tempted to call the US a sleeper team, but it almost completely depends on the group draw they get. If they get a group like they did in the Confederations Cup (Brazil, Italy, Egypt), the you can expect a fail. However, if they manage to draw a weaker group, the should have no problem making it to the round of 16 and potentially pulling an upset to make it to the quarterfinals. It all depends on the draw.
The Dutch should probably be lumped in with the upper tier, but it seems like they never get enough credit. If Ruud is fit, they have an outstanding lineup and will probably blaze through the group stages. It is hard to call them a sleeper with how much talent they have, but it seems to me that they fly under the radar more than they should. I would not be surprised to see a semi-final appearance from the Dutch in South Africa. The only way they miss out on the quarterfinals is if they get a bad draw in the Round of 16 or decide to wear traditional wooden shoes.
My last though has to do with Florida playing FIU and Alabama playing Chattanooga this week. Cool guys, let’s schedule an exhibition in the middle of the season. Florida hasn’t played a road game outside the south in forever, and this is the kind of example of why they don’t. They are well within their right to play whomever they choose, but how about at least making it 1-A?
Ok time for a parting shot. Anchorman was clearly not filmed with the awareness that Philip Rivers has the QB of the Chargers, or they never would have said “Stay Classy, San Diego.” Philip Rivers might be a less likeable QB than Jay Cutler. Not entirely sure why, but I think Cutler is seen as a smug jerk on the field whereas Rivers is the aggressive jerk. And you can substitute jerk with a more fitting term if you please.