Monday, January 31, 2011

General Haberdashery II

My former weekend neighbor on the music news beat has two new posts over at his Lousy Reviews blog. Jeff Fernandez takes on Taco Bell's Beefy Crunch Burrito -- an experience that was apparently less positive than mine -- and Jack in the Box's new Chorizo Chili Cheesy Fries.

(I noticed the "Cheesy Fries" advertisement poster hanging in the window of my local Jack in the Box, but didn't realize there was a "...with chorizo chili..." option. See you soon, Jack.)

Jeff also spits in the eye of beer elitists everywhere with his review of
Walgreens' Big Flats 1901 Lager. Walgreens!

My friends over at Fish and Spaghetti introduce the universe to
high-end tortilla chips and a Ben & Jerry's flavor that might be delicious, but can't hold a candle to their Oatmeal Cookie Chunk.

Michael Melchor and I go way back to the days, so I couldn't be more pleased to see him still writing about music. This piece on the intersection of
nerd culture and music is gloriously geek-tastic.

Daniels and the
One New York Life blog have " unnatural hatred for Gwyneth Paltrow". I assume he also hates America.

85% Sports
explores the idea of St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols pulling down $150 million...per season! It might've been a typo, but I'm pleased to report I caught before he did.

Finally, m'man Movie Joe Reid has the second part of his
Spring Movie Preview up on the Low Resolution blog. Bashing Nic Cage? Yup. Kitschy love for an '80s soundtrack? Yup. Un-ironic use of "ridonk"? Oh, f*ck yup!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

When Ugly is TOO Ugly...Even for Me

It's Saturday evening as I type this...what do you think I wore today?

Most of you probably know there's not a whole lot of variety in my weekend wardrobe. I pull on a pair of baggy shorts, lace up my worn-out two-year-old Jordans -- or "kicks", as they're colloquially known -- and toss a t-shirt over my emaciated torso.

There are some days when I embrace irony. I am, of course, as much Mexican as the 200-some Taco Bell reviews I've written.

But, I own a couple of "Mexico" t-shirts (one from the World Baseball Classic, one from soccer's World Cup) and wear them just as much for the ethnic paradox as I do for the shout out to my Hispanic friends and their glorious culture. Full disclosure: I wore
this shirt a few times before realizing I couldn't pull it off.

I own more San Diego State University apparel now than when I actually attended SDSU in the mid-1990s.

This is due to the simple fact that SDSU merchandise is
grotesquely overpriced for most starving college students. The best selection is only available on campus, online or at ONE retail outlet here in America's eighth largest city. And, yes, that IS a t-shirt celebrating my alma mater's appearance in a third-tier bowl game! It's still better than your rock concert t-shirt with the tour dates on the back or your pro sports team's "division championship" (or worse) t-shirt.

And, then there's this t-shirt -- the oldest and most loathed by my wife in my entire collection.

Ironically, Mrs. Bootleg bought it for me before we got married. Today, however, after more than eight years as my comfortable, 100% cotton conversation starter, she's ready for me to retire it. Yes, the color is faded and the collar's a tad frayed. But, I wore this t-shirt on my honeymoon to Cabo San Lucas where more than one local mistook it for a tribute to
Cameroon. I've lost count of all the small children who've pointed to this t-shirt and excitedly exclaimed "That's my name!". When I wear it, fans want to talk Duke hoops with me or assume I'm an alumnus. And, it has my last name on it!

In hindsight, I should've worn the "Cameron Crazies" t-shirt on that 66-degree Saturday in early February 2004.

Instead, I wore this shirt on the day my son Jalen was unexpectedly delivered nine weeks early. Mrs. Bootleg hated this shirt when I first bought it. The color was once akin to pumpkin pie. Whenever I wore it, my wife would roll her eyes and sanctimoniously sniff, "I can't believe you're wearing that again." (Harsh judgment from someone who was regularly photographed in
bike shorts, pirate blouses and shoulder pads from 1988-1992.)

Once the Jalen connection was established, she never said another word about this shirt.

The entire point of this post has to do with the recent announcement that my beloved Oakland Athletics will be debuting new "alternate" jerseys for the 2011 season. As an A's fan, the overwhelming majority of my t-shirts are green and/or gold -- the team's subtle colors -- and advertise the team.

For whatever reason, I get more compliments on this t-shirt than any other one I wear.

When I visited Cooperstown in 2009, I wore it on the day before the induction ceremony and someone offered me $50 for it. That's only my second favorite moment while wearing this t-shirt. Years earlier, someone walked up to me, looked at the design and asked, "Is that
Dennis Eckersley?"

These new alternate jerseys? Awful. The thick green piping...the bland "A's" logo...even our ubiquitous elephant on the left sleeve seems out of place. In baseball, "old" is the new "new". The A's should've brought back the "Oakland" vests from their inaugural 1968 season if they were looking to move a few more $169 jerseys during home games this season.

And, before I hear it from a few of my friends...yes, I own the below item.

It's brightly colored with thick green stripes and the familiar A's logo. But, it's a long-sleeve shirt and NOT a jersey.

Big difference.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Is My Son Already One of the 10 Greatest African-American Red Sox of All Time?

Our district's Little League "Rookies" division draft was held this past weekend.

I always assumed that teams just somehow came together, starting at the top with the manager and his child. Add a sibling, some classmates, a few kids from the cul-de-sac and there's your team.

Instead, as it was explained to me, the managers in our district meet one week after tryouts. With hastily-scrawled, concealed scouting reports in hand; these grown men enter a shared war room and devote an entire afternoon to plotting, politics, bluffing and drafting.

Through the grapevine, I learned that my six-year-old son Jalen was selected in the second round by the Red Sox. Unfortunately, he didn't land with his 2010 fall season manager -- whom he practiced with all winter. I received a call from Jalen's erstwhile skipper on Sunday afternoon assuring me that he did everything he could to get my son on his team -- including an attempt to engineer a trade. In Little League!

Yeah, I've got to get in on one of these drafts someday -- if only for the "live blogging" possibilities.

Late last night, I posted the following quip to my Twitter feed:

My son will play for the Red Sox in Little League this year. Including MLB, he's already one of the top 10 African-American Red Sox ever.

Let's put my tweet to the test.

#10 -- Pumpsie Green: The first African-American player in Red Sox history. Made his debut in July 1959 and hit .244 with 12 home runs as a part-time infielder over four seasons in Boston.

#9 -- Jalen Cameron: Hit .407 during 2010 fall season, besting Red Sox legend and Hall of Famer Ted Williams' iconic .406 mark in 1941 by one point.

#8 -- Dave Henderson: His game-tying, ninth-inning home run in game five of the 1986 ALCS is more memorable, but his tenth-inning shot in game six of the 1986 World Series gave Boston the lead before Bill Buckner hobbled along in the bottom of the tenth.

#7 -- Troy O'Leary: Spent seven years with the Red Sox (1995-2001) including 28 home run season in 1999. Hit the first grand slam in the team's postseason history -- part of a seven RBI night.

#6 -- Oil Can Boyd: Won 60 games over eight seasons in Boston. Weighed 60 pounds.

#5 -- Lee Smith: Finished in the top ten in saves during two full seasons with the Red Sox. Boldly carried the jheri curl into the 1990 season, but was traded to St. Louis in May.

#4 -- Ellis Burks: One of the first hyped prospects of the burgeoning baseball card craze of the late 1980s. Hit .281/.342/.457 from 1987-1992. Surprisingly, his rookie card ain't worth sh*t.

#3 -- Reggie Smith: Considered the first black superstar in team history, he hit 149 home runs over eight seasons (1966-1973). So, do Red Sox fans acknowledge that "Superstar" Smith was better once he left Boston? No? OK, then.

#2 -- Mo Vaughn: Single-handedly kept the New England strip club scene afloat in the mid-1990s. Also, posted an ungodly .936 OPS during eight-year Red Sox career.

#1 -- Jim Rice: Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, Jim. Jalen's coming for you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Pun Conundrum

Over the weekend, while walking the aisles of my local BevMo, I stumbled upon the following beer.

I stared sideways at the label for a few seconds, took a quick picture with my cell phone and posed the following question on my Twitter feed:

I think I need a ruling from my Jewish friends. Offensive or all in good fun?

M'man Sam thought it was harmless, as he responded, "Good fun. Good beer."

Beer Snob Mike commissioned an in-house research committee. His findings: "According to my wife, mostly good fun. Mascot dude's a wee bit offensive."

Movie Joe got gloriously faux theological: "[I'm] not Jewish, but the dominion that beer-loving Hasidim is holding over the globe seems more than a little Zionist."

Let's all be glad no one asked
this guy.

Ummm...the second guy.

2011 Playoff Pickery -- AFC/NFC Championship Games

The Spread Sez: Green Bay (-3.5) at Chicago

Joe: So, here's the thing: the two teams that are looking the strongest right now are the Packers and the Jets, and my first inclination was to go with them. But between the letdown factor (more for the Jets than the Pack but still) and the fact that beating the three best teams in your conference on the road in consecutive weeks is hard enough for one team to pull off, much less two, and suddenly picking counter to the trends feels like the smart call. I'm tempted to REALLY go counter and pick the Bears here, but they just seem outgunned in almost every respect, and the Packers look like a team coming together at the right time. Plus, the theme of this NFL season really does seem to be "Tearing Down the Brett Favre Myth", and nothing would put a capper on that better than Aaron Rodgers in the Super Bowl. Pick: Packers 27, Bears 17

Aaron: Last week, early in the first quarter of their Divisional Round game, the Seahawks opted to punt on 4th and short with the ball just past midfield. Seattle was on the road in a scoreless tie and chose a passive game of field position over any attempt at offensive aggression. Now, I'll concede that "offensive aggression" is a corny choice of words -- better suited for any Billy Blanks straight-to-VHS release in the 1990s -- if you'll admit the 2010 Packers wouldn't have punted in the same situation. Rodgers really can do no wrong at the moment. And, while I think there IS some superstitious ju-ju to be concerned about when everyone is picking the same team to's possible that everyone is right. Pick: Packers 24, Bears 7

The Spread Sez: New York Jets at Pittsburgh (-3.5)

Joe: So...the Jets. My adopted playoff team this season, primarily as mercenaries against the Patriots, partly out of a protection instinct for Mark Sanchez (who, I should point out, once again exhibited the schizophrenic but increasingly more assured accuracy of a very young QB who's getting more experienced), and partly out of hometown loyalty even though I don't really know too many Jets fans and if forced to choose I'd be a Giants fan besides. Anyway! They beat the Patriots. Mission accomplished! The Steelers aren't an exciting team or an interesting team or a team that's all that fun to watch. They're tough to root for with Roethlisberger front and center like he is, but they're tough to get all that riled up to root against otherwise. The drop-off in intrigue from a Jets Super Bowl to a Steelers Super Bowl is precipitous. More bad news for Roger Goodell, then. Pick: Steelers 20, Jets 17

Aaron: Here's another reason to admire the hyper-reactionary sports media -- when the Jets were laid to waste by the Patriots late in the regular season; this was all the reason needed to think New York had no chance against New England in the playoffs. Yet, when the Jets went into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers late in the regular season; the same mouth-breathing talking heads have been insisting this is a different Pittsburgh team now. The Steelers aren't likely to benefit from the same combination of shady officiating and 53 Baltimore Ravens simultaneously disappearing in the second half as they did last week. Ben Roethlisberger has survived in front of the unlocked bathroom stall that serves as his offensive line; but at some point there's going to be a defense that breaks through and forcibly bends Ben over. Pick: Jets 17, Steelers 14

Friday, January 21, 2011

TBG Eats: The NEW Beefy Crunch Burrito from Taco Bell

Current Weight: 170.8 lbs.

I've been forced to make several dietary concessions in recent years.

Most of the food-related memories from my morbidly obese grade-school years remain indelibly burned into my brain. But, few were more comforting than the big-ass bowl of cereal that accompanied my Saturday morning cartoons.* Up until about five years ago, I took portable bowls filled with Grape-Nuts into work every morning. With a 50-cent carton of milk from the cafeteria; my little bit of breakfast seemed to dull the AM edge from my office drudgery.

Today, dairy is my undoing. Not ALL dairy -- I'm fine with cheese, for instance -- but, straight-up milk or ice cream? Let's just move on.

* -- In the 1980s, Saturday morning cartoons fell into one of three categories: (1) iconic comic book superheroes; (2) arcade game adaptations and (3) animated caricatures of real-life prime time television programming. This was a big deal. I vividly remember each of the three major networks airing 30-minute "preview" shows -- in early September -- on the Friday night before their new Saturday morning cartoons debuted the next day. Afterwards, my brother and I would review our notes and then meticulously plan our viewing schedule. This was a BIG DEAL.

Three years ago, I was fitted with
my first crown. I've never been able to completely confirm this; but I'm reasonably certain I cracked my tooth on a rock-hard, rogue Corn-Nut that had successfully dodged quality control. Now, I can only eat especially crunchy or chewy food in moderation. Toffee, peanut brittle or bagels will irritate my crowned bicuspid after more than a handful of chews. If I continue, the right side of my jaw will actually stiffen.**

** -- I remember being diagnosed with a mild-case of TMJ right after my permanent crown was inserted. My doctor referred me to a specialist who would've put me through some light oral therapy. For the life of me, I cannot remember why I blew this off. Sounds like it would've made for some quality blog fodder -- puerile "oral" jokes, incessant references to one of Skeletor's minions...yeah, I need to revisit this.

My gastronomic surrender to spicy foods is the greatest loss of all.

I took then-Girlfriend Bootleg to a popular and inexpensive
chicken wing spot on our very first date. I asked for my order to be coated in the hottest sauce in the house and then immediately thought: "Wait...what if we kiss, afterwards? Will the residual sauce burn this little black woman's mouth?" This was what passed for "problems" in the 1990s, y'all.

A few years ago, I went back to Wings-N-Things and ordered ten wings with their "surface-of-the-sun" sauce. I've condensed the 12 hours that followed into a succinct
56-second clip.

Even though I've had to take the temperature down and keep the Tums close by at all times, there are still some spicy eats that I regularly enjoy. Your taste tolerance may vary, but the "Flamin' Hot"
line of junk food from Frito-Lay really isn't that volcanic. While the chips DO have a kick, they don't require a bottle of water to get to the bottom of the bag.

Taco Bell has recently introduced the Beefy Crunch Burrito. The hook is the inclusion of "Flamin' Hot" Fritos to go along with TB's ubiquitous ground beef, rice, nacho cheese sauce and reduced-fat sour cream. Last year, Taco Bell began offering two-dollar meals with Doritos as the featured side item. Though commercially successful, the move was viewed -- by me -- as a gimmicky departure from the chain's otherwise impeccable menu of Mexican authenticity.

There have been
worse crossovers in my lifetime, so I should be willing to keep an open mind.

The Beefy Crunch Burrito really does work. The Fritos are surprisingly effective, lending a different taste to the usual Taco Bell flavors. The spice gives a lift to both the ground beef and cheese sauce, while the crunch is much stronger in texture than TB's lighter in-house tortilla chips. As usual, though, I'm going to b*tch about the rice. It's nothing but transparent value-menu filler and lends nothing to the end product. A double-the-beef, no rice "Frito-rrito" would be...wait a tick.


How do I reach TB's department of gimmicky departures?

Grade: 4 (out of 5) Calories: 510 Fat: 22g

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The LL Chronicles #4: Jalen Tries Out...Again

Since the end of Little League Baseball's fall season, my six-year-old son Jalen has remained in close contact with the game. During both Thanksgiving and Christmas week, he attended baseball camp at a nearby batting cage not-at-all pretentious training center.*

* -- In truth, the Frozen Ropes facility is a pretty cool place. Jalen seemed to respect the staff -- comprised of mostly former college players and minor league washouts. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bootleg seemed to appreciate the trainers' still-chiseled builds -- their upper bodies accentuated with ill-fitting Under Armour apparel -- and how, in my wife's words: "[Some of the trainers] just come up and give me a hug when I drop off or pick up Jalen!"

In addition, for the past month and a half, we've been regularly meeting up with some of Jalen's former teammates to practice hitting and fielding drills. Now, don't tell anyone, but I probably enjoy these outings more than my son. Y'see, when the kids are hitting, the fathers are in the field. And, I'll be the first one to admit that SOME of us take too much pleasure in turning 6-4-3 double plays against children.**

** -- It happened during our first practice. I was playing second base and Jalen was the runner on first. The batter hit a slow roller to the shortstop who flipped the ball to me for the first out. Knowing that my overly-intense son would be (poorly) attempting some sort of takeout slide or -- more likely -- sliding into the bag spikes cleats high; I cleared the base and fired to first for the double play in almost one single motion. There were witnesses to this.

Tryouts for the spring season were held this past Saturday. After last year's
tryout adventure, I assumed my son would be more comfortable with the chaotic Little League meat market scene. Jalen's greatest baseball trait is his enthusiasm and I was counting on that to get us out the door and over to the field where we'd wait...and wait...and wait for his turn to take three swings, field three grounders and shag three pop flies.

Enthusiasm!: Jalen's scheduled tryout time was from 10:00 AM to 10:30 AM. The kids were grouped alphabetically and by age while parents were given strict instructions to be there on time. I knew from last year's experience that these half-hour windows were the equivalent of an appointment at a black beauty salon -- bring an Ebony Magazine and expect everyone to be running 60-90 minutes behind. I had to fight with Jalen to get him out of the house. He seemed a little lethargic...hell, almost disinterested. Such preseason ambivalence hadn't been seen in
at least 20 years.

We Are Family!: The local Little League community is extremely close-knit. This poses a problem for me since I am the worst person on earth at remembering names and faces. Mrs. Bootleg, on the other hand, can remember everyone's names, faces AND their respective back-stories after one casual conversation. Since she wasn't with us, I was reduced to the role of
this guy.

I Remember You!: As Jalen and I navigated the multitude of mothers, fathers, prospective players and accompanying siblings; we were stopped several times by people whose faces seemed to light up at the sight of my son. He was remembered as the little boy who knocked over the catcher in a home plate collision during t-ball or the kid who "called his shot" before an at-bat last spring or the player who's uniform was consistently the dirtiest. Jalen was nonplussed by the pleasantries and couldn't be bothered to help out his old man.

Me: "Jalen, who was that?"

Jalen: "That was Joseph's dad."

Me: "OK, but do you happen to remember his name?"

Jalen: "I think it's 'Joseph's dad'."

Me: "..."

Power Mad: One of the least palatable aspect of my day job is dealing with the administrative assistants of upper, upper management. Many are dismissive, condescending and believe they wield as much authoritative sway as the VPs they support. But, they've got nothing on the leaders of American youth sports leagues. At tryouts, the director of our league's district -- armed with a shrill megaphone -- told kids where to stand, told parents where not to stand and offered shrieking reminders every two minutes or so. It was like I was
back in high school.

I Got the Fever: When Jalen's group was finally called into the dugout, I took a seat high atop the metal bleachers behind home plate. Moments later, I was joined by the mother of another child in my son's group. At this point, I should mention that I've been carrying a really bad cold for almost two weeks. I made some hoarse, congested conversation with the woman next to me, but after a few minutes I felt flushed all over. It was a warm morning -- on the way to an 80 degree day -- my head was tilted backwards, my mouth was noticeably open and the faucet of "fever sweat" couldn't be capped.
See for yourself. I picked a terrible day to wear a gray t-shirt.

"Now Batting...": I can already tell that Jalen is going to be one of those high-maintenance hitters. If even one inconsequential component of his at-bat regimen is out of sync, he'll need time to put his whole approach back together. Call him "Negro Garciaparra". As he walked to the plate and prepared to hit off the pitching machine, it happened. "Now batting...Jalen Cameron!" Jalen had never heard his name announced over the public address system before. He stopped three feet from the batter's box, instantly flashed a silly grin and anxiously looked around as if he wanted to hear it again.

Magellan Jalen: After his three swings, Jalen set up at short and fielded three groundballs. From there, he moved into short left field. My son is...not an outfielder. And, the machine that was feeding him fly balls was shooting them higher than any Little League bat could possibly loft a pop-up. Jalen held his own, even though his outfield routes bore an uncanny resemblance to a
certain comic strip.

Get ready for six more months of this, kids.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

TBG Eats: The NEW BK Stuffed Steakhouse Burger from Burger King

Current Weight: 170.2 lbs.

Back in college, I spent three years working in the "order at the counter" food service industry. And, while a small frozen yogurt/smoothie shoppe on the beach doesn't quite compare to the more ubiquitous fast food conglomerates out there; my experience did give me an appreciation for overworked and undertrained teenagers everywhere.

When I pull up to the drive-thru for a five dollar "value" dinner, I realize that I'm sacrificing a lot on the customer service side. The greeting will be terse, the menu knowledge will be minimal and there's a reasonable chance that some aspect of my order will be completed incorrectly. It's not that I have low standards. It's just that I prefer to (nit)pick different battles within the fast food industry.

The Substitution Rule -- Customers should only be allowed two substitutions or special requests per order. Not per menu item, but per order. For example, Mrs. Bootleg orders her cheeseburgers with no tomatoes and no pickles. Any more changes will invariably confuse the kid behind the counter and result in a longer wait for everyone else in line.

The Subway Rule -- Believe it or not, I have actually seen Subway customers order a sandwich "with everything". The "sandwich artist" is then forced to spend several minutes meticulously balancing more than a dozen mismatched toppings atop a six-inch turkey and cheese. This approach might be appropriate for those free-roaming bargain buffets, but watching pepperoncini, black olives and bell peppers hold up the lunch line is the definition of diminishing returns.

The Other Substitution Rule -- Several weeks ago, I ordered a
Loaded Breakfast Burrito from Carl's Jr. Instead of halved bacon strips, it was filled with salad bar bacon bits. There's a difference. It's akin to replacing the tomatoes on a BLT with extra ketchup.

Why Not Breakfast All Day, Everywhere? -- As far as I know, Jack in the Box and Sonic are the only two major fast food chains that offer their respective breakfast menus all day. There's no good reason why every other restaurant can't follow suit. I happen to find most of McDonald's menu to be inedible, but if I could score an after-work Sausage McGriddle and panty liner-inspired hash brown
patty, they'd get a LOT more of my business.

Extra Sauce = Extra Cost -- In some markets, Taco Bell charges 50 cents more for extra sauce. This is ridiculous on its own, but when an additional half-dollar is added to a 99-cent menu item, I'm left to wonder when someone will bring this national fiscal atrocity to the attention of those Tea Party loons.

My local Burger King is doing its damnedest to create new pet peeves for me.

Around these parts, they're the undisputed ruler of inaccurate orders. Mrs. Bootleg's tomato-and-pickle-free Whopper Jr always comes with tomatoes and pickles. Jalen's plain hamburger kids' meal always comes un-plain -- if they remember to include it at all. But, a quick check of the contents before driving away from the pick-up window can catch these kind of screw-ups.*

* -- For the record, even though Mrs. Bootleg is the original "Negro Diva", she'll just pick the tomato and pickles off her burger. Her fighting specialty is "retail" with a focus on mail-order shoes that happen to be the wrong size.

BK has a new JalapeƱo and Cheddar Stuffed Steakhouse Burger. The relatively high-end "Steakhouse" line is, in concept, similar to McDonald's
Angus Third Pounders and Carl's Jr.'s/Hardee's Six Dollar Burgers (or Thickburgers). The "stuffed" gimmick seems to be a loose knock-off of Minnesota's famous Juicy Lucy.

After a short drive from Stately Bootleg Manor, I pulled into the Burger King drive-thru. No matter if it's morning, noon or night, the same young man seems to be assigned to the drive-thru speaker. And, every order becomes an Abbott and Costello routine:

Me: "Can I get the Stuffed Steakhouse Burger?"

Drive-Thru Guy: "You want a number eleven..."

Me: "No. Just a Stuffed...Steakhouse...Burger."

DTG: "Oh, I'm sorry. That's one BK Stacker."

Me: "No. Stuffed. Steakhouse. Burger. Y'know, the new one."

DTG: "Oh, OK."

I pulled around to the pick-up window and was told that my burger would take "three more minutes". I was asked to pull around to the front and my order would be brought out. This type of drive-thru segregation should only be reserved for those who break my imaginary "no more than two substitutions" rule. I did nothing wrong!

"Three more minutes" became almost ten minutes, so I concluded that either (1) my order was done earlier and the BK team had forgot about me or (2) my order was mistakenly given to the car that was originally behind me in the drive-thru line. Just as I was about go inside and get indignant, out came my order.

When I got home, I discovered that it was explanation #1. My supposedly hot-off-the-grill, extra-wait Stuffed Steakhouse Burger was less than lukewarm. It looked enticing, with small pieces of cheddar cheese and cubed jalapeƱos blended into the burger. The smoky/spicy aroma also had my hopes up. But, the flavors kind of sat there with nothing standing out.

The foundation for a solid novelty burger is here, though. There's a peppery little kick in each bite and the cheese has a distinct taste on the tongue. If mine had been served hotter, the meat might've better contrasted with the lettuce, tomato and surprisingly bland poblano sauce. Additionally, the Stuffed Steakhouse Burger is practically begging for a layer of bacon. I know I'm not "swine unbiased", but I can't believe BK didn't think of this themselves.

I'm inclined to give this one another try, but at a BK location more likely to get it right.

Grade: 2.5 (out of 5) Calories: 600 Fat: 34g

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2011 NFL Playoff Pickery -- Divisional Round

The Spread Sez: Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-3.5)

Joe: Ah, the annual Ravens-Steelers scrum. No doubt this one will be as ugly and defensive-minded as all the others. The Ravens looked dominant last week, in a way their vaunted defense often hasn't this season. Roethlisberger-to-Wallace might end up doing what Cassel-to-Bowe couldn't last week, but it's tough to abandon my visions of the Ravens in the Super Bowl. Plus that extra half-point is really making my decision for me. Final Score: Steelers 23, Ravens 20

Aaron: The Steelers haven't looked good against the NFL's better teams this season. Perhaps that doesn't come into play during the postseason or maybe it's less relevant when it's an intra-divisional match-up, but this Ravens team can win in Pittsburgh. The Steelers' obliterated offensive line has to stop a Ravens defense that's still picking pieces of Chiefs QB Matt Cassel out of their teeth. I assume they'll have flossed before kickoff. Final Score: Ravens 16, Steelers 14

The Spread Sez: Green Bay at Atlanta (-2)

Joe: I really like this Packers team -- which is to say I really like Aaron Rodgers. So why can't I seem to believe in them in this playoffs. Two measly points just seem to be far too few for a team as dominant at home as Atlanta was this season. Which I guess means nobody thinks they're a better team than the Pack. And if I've learned anything from people who get paid to spout off sports-related nonsense this week, it's that when Nobody Believes in You, you automatically win. Final Score: Falcons 31, Packers 27

Aaron: The Packers are this year's "team that everyone believed in before me". I don't know how much weight last week's win in Philadelphia carries, but Green Bay has seemingly discovered a running game to balance out Rodgers' heroics. The argument for Atlanta is that they were the best team in the NFC, but let's not forget how quickly that particular title changed hands in the Conference this year. So, yeah...I'm picking the Packers based on the tried-and-true "every good NFC team has gotta lose sometime" theory. Patent pending. Final Score: Packers 38, Falcons 34

The Spread Sez: Seattle at Chicago (-10)

Joe: Almost immediately after making my pick last week, I regretted it. Particularly in the post-season pool I'm in, where the reward of going against the grain with Seattle would've been much greater. Alas, no use looking backwards. Much has been made of the fact that Seattle beat Chicago in Chicago earlier this season. I'm not sure how much stock I'm putting into that considering how much the Bears' confidence has snowballed as the season has gone on. But it's enough to make me think this could stay close. Final Score: Bears 28, Seahawks 21

Aaron: The greatest gambling moment of my entire life involved these two teams in a divisional round match-up back in 2007. The Bears, playing at home, were favored by 8 1/2 points. Here's what I wrote: "I'm not saying the Bears will lose this game (they won't). I'm just saying the Bears might not even score 8.5 points, much less cover the spread. This one's free money, kids. Bet early, bet often." I put them in a three-team parlay and won, so of course I'm going back to the well. What could go wrong? Final Score: Bears 17, Seahawks 13

The Spread Sez: New York Jets at New England (-9)

Joe: Let the record show that I pretty much had that Jets-Colts game mapped out last week. This week, however ... ugh. I've made no secret of the fact that I want the Jets -- or at least Mark Sanchez -- to succeed. But man, it's tough to defend a game like Sanchez had last week (with, yes, one incredibly effective drive at the end of the game). I do think he's still incredibly young and on a trajectory to improve, if the national media doesn't destroy his psyche between now and then. But as for right now, I can't see him being the guy to bring down the monstrously smug Pats Nation. Final Score: Patriots 37, Jets 17

Aaron: So, we've all agreed to retcon the Jets' week two win against New England right out of the record books? Never happened? Look...I can't intelligently articulate an explanation for how Jets QB Mark Sanchez can reverse the regression that NFL experts have already deemed irreversible. I can't envision a scenario where Jets RB Ladanian Tomlinson isn't reprising his role as "mopey playoff loser on the sidelines". And, the Jets' defense is more bark than bite. But, isn't it possible that Jets really DID beat the Patriots once this season and maybe the Jets will be up for this game like no other all season (Super Bowl -- if applicable -- included)? Final Score: Jets 24, Patriots 23

Thursday, January 13, 2011

General Haberdashery – The Post!

Last Friday, I first began exhibiting symptoms of a cold. Six days later, I can honestly say that each day has been worse than the last.

Undoubtedly, it didn't help when I took my son Jalen out for baseball practice with some of his former teammates this past Sunday. The afternoon ended with an impromptu "home run derby" – amongst the dads.

Despite a debilitating low-grade fever and NO time for batting practice or low-impact calisthenics, I hit four home runs. Jalen deliriously cheered me on and his prideful "My dad hit FOUR home runs!" taunt to the other kids was only slightly less hilarious than my out-of-breath, drenched-in-sweat stick-figure frame shuffling slowly to the outfield to shag fly balls.

I took Monday off, but thanks to an enormous proposal effort at work, I couldn't miss any more time.

And, since I hate going more than a few days between posts, I'm relying on my friends in the blogosphere to provide material in my absence.

If you're into the movies/TV scene, all y'all should be reading m'man Movie Joe Reid. He's started his spring -- spring? -- movie preview over at
Low Resolution. Joe has snarky barbs for Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston and Thomas Jane's junk.

This March, I'll be contributing an Oakland A's preview to Eugene Tierney's upstart site, 85% Sports. In the meantime, he's created a fascinating "GM Scores" series that rates Major League Baseball's General Managers. So far, he's covered Oakland's
Billy Beane, St. Louis' John Mozeliak and Philadelphia's Ruben Amaro.

My friends at Fish & Spaghetti have kicked off the New Year with some fun reads. I loved this
infidelity mix tape post and their investigative reporting into actor Don Cheadle's scandalous past.

If I link to Daniels' always-fun Saturday Night Live
recaps, do you think he'll promise to close the tag that's turned most of his blog into bold font? Let's find out!

Finally, Jeff Fernandez's Lousy Reviews blog has washed down
Church's Crispy Chicken Tacosand Hand-Breaded Chicken Tenders from Carl's Jr. with a refreshing can of Four Loko.

Monday, January 10, 2011

TBG Eats: The NEW Spicy Chicken Biscuit from Chick-fil-A

Current Weight: 171.2 lbs.

First, from my
Twitter feed last Friday:

No work today. Had free Spicy Chicken Biscuit at Chick-fil-A & bought new craft beers. Clearing out stereotypes before Black History Month.

Over the past few weeks, I've received some very pleasant feedback about this lightly-read blog. The praise came from people I know; but these were folks who I didn't realize were reading TBG. Nothing beats that out-of-nowhere note or comment from a new reader. I've maintained an infinitesimal online writing presence since late 2002, but most of those years were spent in intentional anonymity for fear of offending friends and/or co-workers or -- worse -- that no one would "get" the jokes.

Hard to believe, but I used to be
this guy.

I've long believed that the readers were the best part of this gig and thanks to acceptably-intrusive social media instruments such as Facebook and Twitter; I've been able to put TBG in front of a few more eyes. In the last six months or so, Mrs. Bootleg has even gotten in on the amateur marketing act as she's shared some of the Jalen-related posts with her closest girlfriends and turned many of them into regular readers.

And, if the readers are the best part of the TBG experience for me, the proverbial silver medal goes to all the restaurants that have included me on their press release lists and "advance sample" sheets.

About a year ago, the regional representative from a certain national fast food chain stumbled across the blog and e-mailed me certificates for free eats. Since then, I've received similar communications from a half-dozen other companies including opportunities to try new menu items before they're released to the general public.

This past Friday, Chick-fil-A held a national promotion that was very similar to the advance sample concept. Customers could "reserve" a one-hour window during breakfast hours -- via the restaurant's website -- for a free Spicy Chicken Biscuit simply by downloading a free certificate from Chick-fil-A. This item wouldn't be available to the public until the following Monday.

Most of the fast food companies that send me advance swag have equally odd chronological restrictions. Oftentimes, I have to decline the new 3,000-calorie cheeseburger simply because it can only be ordered in the early AM hours. And, willfully ingesting THAT much grease in the morning is all that keeps me from crossing over from "fast food aficionado" to "sideshow freak".

But, the Spicy Chicken Biscuit is supposed to be consumed for breakfast. That MUST mean it's good for me. From Chick-fil-A's recent press release:

The Spicy Chicken Biscuit features [Chick-fil-A's] hand-breaded boneless breast of chicken seasoned with a fiery blend of peppers and spices, pressure-cooked in 100 percent refined peanut oil and served on a made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuit.

It took almost ten minutes for my biscuit to get to me. I normally avoid any restaurant that's offering a free meal promotion and, sure enough, there was a lady at the counter who was trying to swindle six free biscuits out of one certificate. Surprisingly, the 18-year-old assistant manager failed to assuage her. But, when my meal finally arrived, it came with an effusive apology for the wait and free hash browns.

The biscuit had a crunchy "done-ness" to the top that wasn't too firm or chalky. It contrasts well -- in both texture and taste -- with the soft flakiness inside. Fast food biscuits are often either too dry or, on the other end of the spectrum, too doughy. Chick-fil-A's couldn't possibly be more perfect: dense, but delicate and substantial enough to stand on its own. It's served with a restaurant-applied smear of honey butter, too.

The chicken breast is breaded, but it's a soft coating that doesn't yield the ubiquitous hard "crunch" of fried chicken. The spices -- by fast food standards -- are surprisingly plentiful, but not at all overwhelming. They work with the mild sweet and salty notes that come from the biscuit. The chicken isn't greasy and maintains a fair amount of juiciness for white meat. Toss in the hash browns (medallion-shaped tater tots, basically) and you've got a really filling meal for even the moderate appetite.

No extra points were awarded for the "free" qualities of this meal. Really.

Grade: 5 (out of 5) 440 calories 20g fat

Saturday, January 8, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Wildcard Weekend

Last Week:

Joe: 12-4
Aaron: 10-6
Tom: 8-8

Final Standings:

Joe: 165-91
Aaron: 158-98
Tom: 153-103

Congratulations to m'man Movie Joe Reid for effectively lapping the field. His nine-win margin of victory was equal to my per week average, so...he's agreed to come back for the playoffs and finish the job! We change things up a bit for the playoffs, picking against the betting spread. I just learned how this "spread" thing works last week, so don't expect any coherent explanation from me.

The Spread Sez: New Orleans (-10) vs. SEATTLE

Aaron: Are we done with all the revulsion and collective pearl-clutching over the 7-9 Seahawks' spot in the playoffs? Any more ridiculous ideas to keep this un-atrocity from ever occurring again? No? OK, then. The Seahawks are getting a lot of consideration as an enticing home underdog and the conditions in Seattle are expected to be cold, rainy and -- possibly -- snowy. The Saints didn't look good in the elements in a loss at Baltimore last month, but thankfully, a Seahawk is much less threatening -- both physically and in literature -- than a Raven.

Final Score: New Orleans 16, Seattle 3

Joe: Okay, so, I don't think the Seahawks belong in the playoffs. The perverse thing is, I do think they have a shot in this game. New Orleans has been coasting all season, with inexplicable losses combined with the odd solid victory. Are they going to pull it all together here? The spread here is a mirage, as either the Saints will win by a ton or Seattle will win outright. And while I'm crazy, I don't think I'm prepared to be that crazy.

Final Score: New Orleans 31, Seattle 10

The Spread Sez: INDIANAPOLIS (-3) vs. New York Jets

Aaron: Lots of people think the cold weather in Seattle could give the Seahawks a puncher's chance. Similarly, many of those same armchair analysts are giving Jets QB Mark Sanchez some underdog love because this game will be indoors. Honestly, Joe and I have gone through every Indianapolis roster since their first season in 1984. We're all out of "...with all these injuries, Peyton Manning might be throwing to [long-retired Colts wide receiver] by the end of this game..." jokes. Besides...Peyton Manning does NOT lose these games.

Final Score: Indianapolis 24, NY Jets 23

Joe: The Colts can neither run the ball nor stop the run, which takes two burdens off the table for the Jets. It also seemingly puts the game into a Manning vs. Sanchez mode, which ought to scare the shit out of any Jets fan. But I don't know, am I crazy to think this is a matchup that favors New York? This has never seemed like the Colts' season, not once, and for a team that could barely beat Tennessee last week when their playoff lives could have very well depended on it?

Final Score: NY Jets 19, Indianapolis 17

The Spread Sez: Baltimore (-2.5) vs. KANSAS CITY

Aaron: If a 7-8 Raiders team, with nothing on the line save for pride and the aesthetic symmetry of finishing 8-8, could go into Kansas City and defeat the Chiefs' starters last week... And, it's time we accepted the uneasy truth: this Ravens team is the only AFC squad than can compete with the New England Patriots and conceivably keep them out of the Super Bowl. Godspeed, Joe Flacco. Godspeed.

Final Score: Baltimore 20, Kansas City 7

Joe: I think it's great that the Chiefs made the playoffs this year, it's a more interesting landscape with them in it. Baltimore seems the obvious choice here, so let's start undermining my confidence in them, shall we: their pass defense has been soft all season, so I could see Cassel-to-Bowe happening quite a lot; KC's defense is their definite weak spot, but Baltimore's offense has been too inconsistent this season to definitely capitalize on it; it's really tough to play in Arrowhead. I'm sticking with the Ravens, but let the record show I should've known better.

Final Score: Baltimore 27, Kansas City 21

The Spread Sez: PHILADELPHIA (-2.5) vs. Green Bay

Aaron: I dunno. Weren't Aaron Rodgers and the Packers considered the better team by everyone when they lost to the Cardinals and their banged-up quarterback in the first round of the playoffs last year? I'd really like to see Rodgers win a playoff game, before I pick his Packers to win a playoff game. Especially one that's in Philadelphia. I hear there's a holding cell in the bowels of their stadium for unruly fans. I heard their Eagles fans at the old Veterans Stadium once booed throughout an on-field ceremony that featured a guy dressed as Santa Claus! How have these stories not gotten more traction in the sports-talk radio discourse?

Final Score: Philadelphia 28, Green Bay 27

Joe: I like this Packers team, but they never really seemed to have pulled it all together this season. Even that win over the Giants was so much a product of New York mistakes and turnovers. As for Philly, I'm not sure I'm buying the "teams have figured out Mike Vick" thing.

Final Score: Philadelphia 38, Green Bay 24

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Basketball Jalen

You'd think that a six-foot-tall black guy who spent four years of his youth living in a college basketball hotbed like North Carolina would have grown up with an appreciation for the nuances of the NCAA game. And, if I told you that same guy moved back home to southern California in the mid-1980s – during the NBA's flashy ascent into sports and pop culture relevancy; thanks largely to the legendary Los Angeles Lakers "Showtime" teams – you'd assume this impressionable pre-teen would've gotten swept up in the pomp and circumstance of pro hoops.

I'll spare everyone the heavily-foreshadowed swerve and simply mention that my six-year-old son Jalen is playing in his first organized basketball league.

Mrs. Bootleg and I took Jalen to his first Major League Baseball game on
June 1, 2004. He wasn't even four-months-old. During this past NFL season, Jalen fervently embraced the Oakland Raiders. He wore a plastic replica Raiders helmet around the house every Sunday and parroted the playoff scenarios for every contending AFC West team during the final few weeks of the season.

Jalen's basketball exposure, though, has been much more limited. He's had one of those adjustable preschool-appropriate basketball hoops sitting in on our patio for several years. Unfortunately, the only competitive pick-up games on it for Jalen are with the 4'8" Mrs. Bootleg. These contests usually end after five minutes with a torrent of tears, accusations of cheating and unexplained bleeding in the vicinity of someone's eye socket.

Jalen and I did watch parts of the 2010 NBA Finals between the Celtics and Lakers, but when my only son began exhibiting leanings toward the hated Lakers*, I found myself rooting for the basketball season to end before Jalen's full-blown betrayal could be consummated.

* -- I HATE the Lakers. Always have. And, for me, it's always been about their insufferable fans. Even as a child, I despised the haughty, Hollywood vibe of the Lakers' fan base. None of them suffered. A championship team was dropped in their backyard and with it came a sense of entitlement that belies their fair-weather tendencies. Car flags, replica jerseys worn with white undershirts and the infrequent Lakers' remix of already-awful pop-rap tracks. These are your Lakers fans.

Back in October, as the fall Little League season was winding down, Mrs. Bootleg suggested basketball for Jalen. Admittedly, I wasn't especially enthusiastic at the idea.

As all of you know, I love baseball. During Jalen's Christmas vacation; we went out five or six different days and spent a few hours working on assorted hitting and fielding drills with some of his old teammates. And, football – believe it or not – was my first love. At least until seventh grade, when I might've faked a season-ending injury in a cowardly attempt to alleviate the Pop Warner punishment on my marshmallow-soft body.

But, basketball? I'd played – off and on – in rec leagues or after-work pick-up games for years. Just between us, though? I'm a terrible basketball player. Maybe not "young Denzel Washington in Carbon Copy"-bad or "C. Thomas Howell in Soul Man"-bad, but I still wouldn't pick me in a playground game. (I couldn't find clips on YouTube, so you'll have to trust me on this: both movies feature extended "black guy is surprisingly bad at basketball" scenes. Really.)

I have ONE move on offense. If you feed me the ball – or "rock", as it's colloquially known – I can spin towards the basket, dribble once, take one-and-a-half loping strides to the hoop and lay it in. My entire offense is dependent on both sh*tty defense and a distance of no more than 10-12 feet from the rim. I'm better on defense, but mostly because of my long arms, illegal hip checks and particularly pointy elbows.

Despite my absence of a hoop dreams pedigree, I signed Jalen up for our local kids' basketball league.

The 60-Second Tryout -- On November 29, all of the players were required to appear for a "skills assessment". The league is broken up by age groups, with six and seven-year-olds comprising Jalen's level. Jalen was asked to dribble the full-length of the court, stop and shoot. He proceeded to outrun the ball once or twice, but hilariously doubled-back for it and just continued to dribble. Jalen stopped in the key and successfully made his shot off the eight-foot rim. And, that was it. I hardly had time to haul my jaw off the floor as several coaches stationed under the basket were intently scribbling in their clipboards.

"You're a Black Guy, Right?" -- Immediately after Jalen's abbreviated audition, we waited around for one of his young friends to finish up. Before long, I was approached by one of the league's administrators: "Hey, we're a couple of coaches short and wanted to know if you'd be interested in helping out with the kids and coaching a team? I bet you still play, huh? You think you can teach these kids a little bit of your game?"

The Three-Man Weave -- Jalen's team listed eight players on its roster, but at the first practice only three kids showed up. In addition, there was an unexpected conflict with the indoor gym times, so we were forced onto the crowded outdoor courts with only 20 minutes of daylight remaining. Jalen's coach – a phenomenally nice man who has a terrific rapport with the kids – turned to me and asked if I'd help out with some drills. I agreed. Without missing a beat, the coach asked me, "Do you know any drills?"

Twisting the Knife -- Jalen's team is the Spurs. For those of you who don't follow the NBA, the real Spurs play in San Antonio and primarily wear silver and black. In our league, all the kids wear the same colors with reversible "home" and "away" jersey tops. I'll give you three guesses as to which NBA team's colors are the league's
universal hues. Do they want me to boo my own son? Don't think I won't.

The Rules That Aren't Rules -- I suppose the continuously-running clock (there are two 20-minute halves) is a necessity, lest the kids' games turn into Yankees/Red Sox slogs. And, the referees at this level should be as lenient as their NBA equivalents when it comes to ignoring travelling and double-dribbles. I can't, however, agree with any league that doesn't keep score. My position has nothing to do with any macho posturing or inane d*ck waving. It has everything to do with my son's macho posturing and inane d*ck waving. I have to LIVE with this hyper-competitive kid and he needs closure from the scoreboard.

Jalen's First Game -- Jalen's first basket came at the start of the second half. I waited for a fist pump, crowd taunt or some other kind of self-serving look-at-me moment from my son. Instead, he quietly turned and ran back on defense. Looking back, I'm glad I celebrated enough for the both of us. (Even though, as assistant coach I should be supporting all the kids.) He recorded four steals -- not surprisingly, assigning himself to guard the little blonde girl on our opponents' team. And, his shot blocking technique -- in which Jalen goes up vertically, but crashes into the shooter horizontally -- can best be
captured here.

According to our unofficial scorebook, we lost 26-14. Next week, the head coach will be out of town and I'll be taking the reins for our next game.

I seem to be finding my enthusiasm for basketball.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #17

Last Week:

Aaron: 10-6
Tom: 8-8
Joe: 7-9


Joe: 153-87
Aaron: 148-92
Tom: 145-95

Carolina at Atlanta

: I watched Falcons RB Michael Turner fairly regularly when he played here in San Diego. Last week, against the Saints, I noticed his body shape currently sits somewhere between the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward and a Tyler Perry caricature. And, I'm honestly not sure which dig is more offensive. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: League's worst team on the road against conference's top team (who still need to win to lock up home field advantage) ... I guess what I'm saying is, you'd be an idiot NOT to start off 2011 by betting all you've got on the Falcons here. I guarantee you won't be disappointed. (Not a guarantee.) Pick: Atlanta

Pittsburgh at Cleveland

Aaron: The Steelers are playing for a #2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye. The Browns are playing for pride. And, if 2010 taught us nothing else, it's that LeBron James can be used as a reason to pick against any Cleveland team in perpetuity. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: Cleveland's lost it, folks. What was once a promising team looking towards 2011 now looks like ... well, the Cleveland Browns. Pick: Pittsburgh

Minnesota at Detroit

Aaron: I might've been too quick to proclaim "Baby Bucs" the laziest alliterative appellation of the 2010 NFL season, as "vagabond Vikings" has been making a late push. I know it's a short week for Minnesota here; but the thought of putting the imaginary 2010 NFL Pickery Championship on the Detroit F*cking Lions winning four in a row is not something I'm willing to do. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: That's right. I'm putting the imaginary 2010 NFL Pickery Championship on the Detroit F*cking Lions winning four in a row to close the season. Pick: Detroit

Oakland at Kansas City

The playoff-bound Chiefs -- 7-0 at home this season -- insist they won't rest their starters. Since the Kansas City media philosophy is modeled after the Patriots' school of transparent subterfuge, I'll take the Raiders since their starters WILL play all game in a genuine effort to finish .500. Pick: Oakland

Joe: Isn't Jamaal Charles playing for some kind of random statistical distinction? These AFC West divisional rivalries always seem to go 1-1, so I'm sticking with the Chiefs. Pick: Kansas City

Miami at New England

Aaron: The Dolphins odd, season-long "win on the road, lose at home" formula won't matter against a Pats team that takes so much pleasure in blowing out intra-divisional rivals. Want more analysis? It's finna be cold in Foxboro, yo. Pick: New England

Joe: Hey, so at what point do all the Massholes write their apology notes to Tom Brady's haircut? Or are they just hoping the rest of us would forget the regional hissy fit they all threw after a whopping two early-season losses opened their eyes to the real enemy: faggy haircuts? I don't care if they're scrawled out in crayon on bar napkins, those follicles deserve some kind of mea culpa. Pick: New England

Tampa Bay at New Orleans

Aaron: The Saints could steal the #1 seed in the NFC with a win here and a loss by Atlanta. I imagine New Orleans will play hard for a few series before someone on the sideline checks their cell phone and sees the Falcons up by 21 in the first quarter. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: I figured everything was falling into place with all the Saints skill players getting healthy for the playoffs. But what's with Drew Brees throwing all the interceptions at Atlanta? They seem all set to win this, but I'm concerned for the playoffs. Pick: New Orleans

Buffalo at N.Y. Jets

Aaron: Win or lose, the Jets can't impact their own playoff seeding here. Next week, they'll be on the road -- somewhere -- so, I gotta believe the Jets starters will be out of this game early. With this game rendered meaningless, I'll be able to continue following the inexplicably national story that is Mayor Bloomberg's "snow response". Pick: Buffalo

Joe: Hey, whatever it takes to deep-six the man's bid to Perot the 2012 presidential race. Anyway, after last week's festival of turnovers against the Patriots, I'm officially off the "Maybe Ryan Fitzpatrick could be a playoff quarterback" bandwagon. Still on the "Fitzpatrick is good enough that we don't have to blow a top-5 pick on a quarterback" bandwagon, though. Looks like Fitzpatrick might not play this week, just to make this entire blurb worthless. Pick: NY Jets

Cincinnati at Baltimore

Aaron: In spite of four TDs from Bengals QB Carson Palmer last week, he is not "back", kids. Cincinnati kept the Chargers on their heels more with an effective running game and Palmer's longest score came on a play in which the San Diego defender was looking to his defensive coordinator on the sideline when the ball was snapped. If anyone on the Ravens' D is that stupid, Ray Lewis will kill him. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: Is everybody sleeping on a Ravens team that could run the table in the AFC or am I crazy? Pick: Baltimore

Tennessee at Indianapolis

With the Colts knocking on the door of a playoff berth, the predictable storyline is that Peyton Manning "wins these games". Fair enough. I just want those same writers to remind us that Peyton Manning "loses these games" when the second round of the playoffs roll around. Pick: Indianapolis

Joe: There it is. The sad lament of the guy who counts out Peyton Manning too soon. Sounds nasally and with a bit of a Massachusetts twang, don't you think? Pick: Indianapolis

Chicago at Green Bay

Aaron: The Packers still haven't officially clinched a playoff berth while the Bears can be no worse than a #2 seed. With the way Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers carved up the Giants' homicidal defense last week, I'm inclined to ride the hot hand even if it's just for two quarters. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: I still can't shake the sense that the Packers are just straight-up the better team here. Pick: Green Bay

Dallas at Philadelphia

Aaron: With the #3 seed in the NFC sewn-up, there's no way the Eagles let a banged-up Mike Vick play more than a few series, right? If at all? Anything more would be cruel and inhumane. Pick: Dallas

Joe: Not taking the bait this week. Those dogs barking "Jingle Bells" really sated me for a while. Vick or not, Philly maybe doesn't want to back into the playoffs off of two home losses, right? Pick: Philadelphia

Jacksonville at Houston

Aaron: We spend a lot of time bashing the sports media 'round these parts, so credit where it's due: I haven't seen one "Houston, We Have a Problem..." headline in reference to the Texans abominable defense this year. Kudos. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: Look for the Texans to get Stonewalled at Jackson-ville! ...No, you're right, "Houston, We Have a Problem" is still worse. Houston manages to lose these games time and again, but if the Jags couldn't hold off the lowly Redskins when the playoffs were likely, I can't see them summoning a win here. Pick: Houston

N.Y. Giants at Washington

Aaron: Random columnist-esque observation -- Why does Peyton Manning look so embarrassed and humbled when he's addressing the media after a tough loss, while his kid brother Eli carries a smug look that derisively suggests "do you think YOU could do better?" Pick: NY Giants WASHINGTON*

* -- (I originally had the Giants here when I sent my picks to Joe. Last night, Joe sent his picks to me and we differed on five games. In a last-ditch attempt to snatch the imaginary pickery championship from Joe's REAL wing sauce-covered hands; I'm going for the win with QB Rex Grossman and the Redskins. Sorry, Tom. -- Aaron)

Joe: Last season, after choking away the season, the Giants were expected to play for pride and win out in the Giants Stadium finale. They lost by approximately 75 points. Will they do the same this year, when they're playing not for pride but for a long shot chance at the wild card? Am I just giving Cam enough of a push to counter-pick me with the Skins?** Pick: NY Giants

** -- (Yes! -- Aaron)

San Diego at Denver

OK...I'm not one of the people who hates on Tim Tebow for any aspect of his faith. I can, however, learn to hate him if the media doesn't stop -- like RIGHT NOW -- with the passive-aggressive "...some of Tebow's game reminds me of a certain Denver QB from the '80s and '90s..." nonsense. I'm asking nicely, you guys. Pick: San Diego

Joe: Yeah, it is a smidge unseemly, the rabid negative reaction to Tebow, both from the Deadspin blockheads and from the Football Outsiders stat-heads, who abhor the "He Just Wins" poster boy. That said, here's my weekly Bill Simmons rant: Really? You're really taking credit for being "right" about Tebow already? After one win where he put up great numbers against an all-time worst Texans defense? He's already "great"? Keep being the worst, Bill. Pick: San Diego

Arizona at San Francisco

Aaron: Head coach Mike Singletary was despised by pretty much the entire 49ers team. He was fired this past week and I expect San Francisco's performance to rival the Rachel Phelps hate-motivated run of the 1989 celluloid Cleveland Indians. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: I may win the 2010 Pickery title (may -- no one's counting any chickens before they hatch), but with that blurb, Cam walks away with the season's best pop cultural reference. Pick: San Francisco

St. Louis at Seattle

Aaron: Erstwhile USC Trojans head coach Pete Carroll could take his Seahawks team to the postseason with a win. If that's not reason enough for the football gods to favor St. Louis, I don't know what is. Come on, karma. Pick: St. Louis

Joe: Seattle's home strength scares the crap out of me here. I just really would rather not have a 7-9 playoff team. Really. It's not too much to ask for a playoff team to have an even record or better. This should not happen. Don't ruin 2011 right off the gate, St. Louis. Win this. Pick: St. Louis