Sunday, October 30, 2011

NFL Pickery -- Week #8

Last Week

Joe: 12-1(!)
Aaron: 8-5

Current Standings

Aaron: 68-35
Joe: 68-35

Arizona at Baltimore

Aaron: Last Monday night, I chose the fifth game of the World Series over the unattractive match-up between the Jaguars and Ravens. When the Texas Rangers recorded the last out, I flipped over to ESPN and watched the final two minutes of Monday Night Football as the execrable Jags held on to upset the Ravens. Whew. Lucky I didn't have anything riding on that game. Right, Joe? Pick: Baltimore

Joe: A PERFECT WEEK OF PICKS, THAT'S ALL. I could not have been more smug about my prospects for perfection going into Monday night. I was more worried about New Orleans-Indy than I was about Baltimore beating goddamn Jacksonville. I may never forgive the Jaguars for that one (the Ravens either). Pick: Baltimore

Minnesota at Carolina

Aaron: When news broke last weekend regarding erstwhile Vikings starting QB Donovan McNabb and his mediocre work ethic, I realized there was STILL time to save his flickering career. I've watched enough movies to know that all he needs is a reason to care about football again. Perhaps he can be introduced to the daughter he never knew he had. Spoiler Alert! That worked for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in Disney's The Game Plan. Pick: Carolina

Joe: Well, Cam Newton and Team managed to do what they were supposed to do against Washington. It's the same deal here, although I'd be wary of how hard Minnesota fought against Green Bay. Carolina's defense is going to keep them from winning some winnable games down the stretch. Pick: Minnesota

Jacksonville at Houston

Aaron: If the Texans can get all-world WR Andre Johnson back on the field in the next week or two, this team could win 11 games. I know, I know...the experts have been predicting good seasons from Houston for years. And, all it took was a potentially career-ending neck injury to intra-divisional foe Peyton Manning for a Texans' playoff season to be realized. Hope you can sleep well at night, citizens of Houston. Pick: Houston

Joe: Grr. Tear 'em limb from limb, Wade Phillips-coached Texans defense. (See what my Jags hatred is making me root for??) Pick: Houston

Miami at N.Y. Giants

Aaron: I'm already sick of the "suck for (Andrew) Luck"
storyline and there's still two more months left in the regular season. The Dolphins aren't as inept as equally winless Indianapolis. Home dates against Washington in November and Oakland in December present the best opportunities for that elusive "W". But, wait...Miami isn't home this week! And, it's still October!!! Pick: NY Giants

Joe: TOTALLY co-signing the weariness at the easiest nonsense story in all of football. Miami is perfectly capable of being terrible without any added motivation. Pick: NY Giants

New Orleans at St. Louis

Aaron: The Rams have scored the fewest points in the NFL and allowed the second most. We're done here. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: I love that the Saints can hang 62 on the Colts and STILL have fantasy-football underperformers. They should be able to do what they want with the crappy Rams defense. Pick: New Orleans

Indianapolis at Tennessee

Aaron: I'd like to respectfully extend a fantasy middle finger to the Titans. Last week, I started QB Matt Hasselbeck in place of a bye-week'd Tom Brady. Combine that with my season-long drafting remorse over RB Chris Johnson and my fantasy team lost by, like, a kajillion points. Just watch...NOW both of them will show up. Pick: Tennessee

Joe: Are the Titans the most boring team in football this season? Oh, for the days of Albert Haynesworth curb-stompings and inexplicable mid-season Randy Moss signings! I want to say the Colts pull off the inexplicable upset here, but I think I'll save that for the rematch in Indy. Pick: Tennessee

Washington at Buffalo

Aaron: This Redskins team is kind of feisty on defense and 30-year-old career-long backup QB John Beck played quite solidly for almost three quarters on the road last week before his inevitable immolation. The Bills are rested and playing at home, but I still have a feeling that Joe's during-the-game Twitter feed will be a roller coaster of terrifying lows, dizzying highs and creamy middles. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: I made my own bed two weeks ago in talking about the faith I had in my football team and thus dooming them to come up short against the Giants (and in the process exposing our fatal flaw on offense – the inability to stretch opposing defenses with the deep ball). So don't mistake this for reverse-psychology: I am petrified of this game, not least because of the Bills' recent tendency to use the bye week not to get healthy but to remember that they're the Bills and should be losing games like this. Not to mention the Toronto factor, which is like playing inside your own burial plot. I hate these games where we're favored. Hate them. Pick: Buffalo

Detroit at Denver

Aaron: Am I the only one who finds the beating-a-dead-horse mocking of Tim Tebow's faith more than a little unseemly? During the first five minutes of his weekly "pick the spreads" podcast,'s Bill Simmons seemed to take way too much pleasure from picking the low-hanging fruit. Tebow will have a stadium full of fans who are 100% behind him this Sunday and he's facing a reeling Lions team. I'm looking forward to avoiding everyone's postgame commentary after this one. Pick: Denver

Joe: It's a difficult balance with Tebow mockery, because the second that stops, the mainstream hagiographies commence. Meanwhile, Kordell Stewart is kicking himself for not having the Christian hook when he was busy being a running back in a QB's body. This seems like a tricky game for all involved. Detroit's been on a serious slide, but at base they're still a better team than the Broncos. And if the Dolphins could almost beat them? Pick: Detroit

New England at Pittsburgh

Aaron: Speaking of Bill Simmons -- and, for me, beating a dead horse -- his expert, unbiased analysis for predicting a Patriots win here was that New England always beats Pittsburgh. Not because the Patriots are coming off of a bye week or because the Steelers have looked old and decrepit on defense...the Pats just always win the Steelers. Always. Pick: New England

Joe: The good thing about this Patriots team is that, despite the fact that they keep winning, they always look somewhat beatable. Pittsburgh's been playing well(ish) in recent weeks, but a possible shootout doesn't suit them. New England

Cleveland at San Francisco

Aaron: This 49ers team could conceivably finish 13-3, you guys. That would mean a first week playoff bye and possibly home field advantage throughout the postseason. Alex Smith could be the starting quarterback in a Super Bowl! Why isn't this getting more publicity and why isn't everyone else as terrified as I am?! Pick: San Francisco

Joe: Good thing for the Super Bowl-bound 49ers that they're cutting their teeth on quality opposition like the Browns, then. Pick: San Francisco

Cincinnati at Seattle

Aaron: If I learned nothing else after foolishly picking Seattle on the road last week in Cleveland, it's that I'd be better served by picking against every NFC West team (save for San Francisco) in every out-of-division game they play. Everything makes more sense with italics. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: Oh man. Picking counter to Cam in these Seattle games feels like a gimmick, but it's not. A 7-foot-tall escaped convict obsessed with destroying the Cobb County lawman who put him behind bars barz? THAT is a gimmick. Pick: Seattle

Dallas at Philadelphia

Aaron: Coming off of a bye week, you'd think the Eagles would be the healthier and more prepared team. But, the Cowboys looked good in a loss to New England two weeks ago, annihilated the sad-sack Rams last week and will probably have an effective enough defensive scheme crafted by their bat-sh*t insane defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Over/under on NBC sideline shots of him during the game: 12.5. Pick: Dallas

Joe: If Demarco Murray turns out to be more than a one-week wonder at RB, the Cowboys might actually have balance on offense for the first time since Marion Barber saved my fantasy season in 2006. Tough to pick against the home teams in these NFC East battles, though. Pick: Philadelphia

San Diego at Kansas City

Aaron: It was the sports-talk apocalypse here in San Diego this week. The Chargers were done after their loss to the Jets. Head coach Norv Turner should be fired for his two-minute drill mismanagement. Even QB Philip Rivers was catching heat as fans wondered if he was the right guy to lead this team. Not mentioned: they're 4-2, TE Antonio Gates is back and they're much better than the Chiefs. (Don't tell the Chargers fans, though. I'm enjoying the local show of collective self-loathing!) Pick: San Diego

Joe: The Chiefs seem intent on putting up a fight this season, and a win here would officially put the West into upheaval, but the Chargers will be happy to deal with a defense that isn't the Jets this week. Pick: San Diego

Sunday, October 23, 2011

NFL Pickery -- Week #7

Last Week

Joe: 11-2
Aaron: 8-5

Current Standings

Aaron: 60-30
Joe: 56-34

Washington at Carolina

Aaron: In the same week that Vikings QB Donovan McNabb lost his starting job, the man who infamously replaced him (Rex Grossman) during last year's turbulent Redskins season has now been benched by Washington. How long before head coach Mike Shanahan publicly calls out the team's director of player personnel? Wait...what? They're the same person? Oh, Washington. Pick: Carolina

Joe: This isn't a slam on Cam Newton, but after three straight weeks of the Panthers being everybody's upset darling pick (at least one of those weeks I was part of the problem) and getting beat, this is the week they actually need to win and not just look good losing. "Or else?" you ask? SHUT UP, I say! Pick: Carolina

Seattle at Cleveland

Aaron: At some point, the Seahawks will play a road game that doesn't require them to traverse five time zones. Until then, this is a team coming off a bye week that hung 28 and 36 points, respectively, against the Falcons and Giants. Good defenses? No, but look who they're playing this week. Pick: Seattle

Joe: Seattle has looked like a feisty team against better competition, this is true. But they're still not good. And not-good teams end up playing to the level of their competition a lot of times. And the Browns seem to grind so many of their games to a 13-10 halt. That's the kind of game Cleveland's equipped to win. Pick: Cleveland

Atlanta at Detroit

Aaron: None of the Falcons' three wins have come against a team that currently sports a winning record. Surprisingly, only one of the Lions' five wins meets that criteria. Detroit didn't look good in last week's loss to the 49ers -- particularly QB Matthew Stafford -- and now they're without leading rusher Jahvid Best. Let's not fall all over ourselves making tired "chariot ---> pumpkin" clichés. That's what ESPN: First Take is for. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: Remember before the media began inventing random predictive stats like "Matt Ryan can't play in humidity" and "West Coast teams don't win when traveling east," there was the chestnut that said dome teams couldn't win Super Bowls? The Rams and Saints ended up disproving that one, but can dome teams from Atlanta or Detroit with quarterbacks named "Matt" win Super Bowls? History argues that they NEVER can. Pick: Atlanta

Denver at Miami

Aaron: New Broncos starting quarterback Tim Tebow...back in Florida...on the Lord's Day? From the perspective of biblical home field advantage, this will be the antithesis of that whole "Battle of Jericho" kerfuffle (Joshua 6: 1-27). Pick: Denver

Joe: I admit, my crappy fantasy football season has mirrored Denver's in that we're both turning to Tim Tebow for salvation. Lucky for me, I can win even if the Broncos lose. Which hopefully they won't do at dreadful Miami. Pick: Denver

San Diego at N.Y. Jets

Aaron: The Jets' 3-3 record is an eerily accurate reflection of their talent. They've defeated three mediocre teams (Dallas, Jacksonville, Miami) and lost to three good-to-very good teams (Oakland, New England, Baltimore). The 4-1 Chargers, meanwhile, haven't played a good game -- from start to finish -- all season. It would appear to be "clobberin' time". Pick: San Diego

Joe: It feels weird, after two seasons of being a de facto Jets fan (to spite the Patriots and the Boston-dominated sports media, mostly), to have to root against the Jets, so they stay behind the Bills in the standings. Still feels too early in the season for the Chargers to start whomping ass, unfortunately. Pick: NY Jets

Chicago at Tampa Bay

Aaron: The NFL's annual London game is usually played on sod flown in from the Dagobah System and won by the team that controls the time of possession with a superior ground game. That would seem to favor the healthier Bears and RB Matt Forte. Don't, however, underestimate Jay Cutler's ability to ruin any narrative -- here or abroad. Pick: Chicago

Joe: Ugh, the London game. Almost as terrible and joyless as the annual Toronto game, with London only getting a break because their "football" is another sport entirely and confusion over team names like "Buccaneers" sounding more like an awful-tasting English dinner than something to be cheered. Chicago just seems more at home in ugly, dire conditions, right? Pick: Chicago

Houston at Tennessee

Aaron: More fun with small sample sizes -- the Texans averaged 30 points per game against their first three opponents (Indianapolis, Miami, New Orleans) of the 2011 season. Over their next three games, including a pair against the tough defense of Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the Texans averaged just 17 points. Their opponent this week plays pretty good defense, so...spoiler alert! Pick: Tennessee

Joe: This will be a better barometer of how Houston looks without Andre Johnson and Mario Williams than that Ravens game was. They'd have lost that game anyway. It's probably dumb to pick the hobbled team against the home team with a good defense, put counter-picking Cam worked out well last week, so ... Pick: Houston

Pittsburgh at Arizona

Aaron: I am grudgingly ready to accept that Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb might not be as good as everyone thought he'd be during that one week in August 2010 when 10,000 articles were written about him. He would appear to be the NFL equivalent to pogs and Zubaz. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: The Cardinals are tough little bastards at home, and Pittsburgh did exactly what I thought they'd do last week as they looked bad while beating the Jags. Arizona at home is tempting as hell, but they're a team Roethlisberger can throw on. Be prepared for me to smugly have my cake and eat it too if the Cards do win, though. Pick: Pittsburgh

Kansas City at Oakland

Aaron: So, my Raiders went out and acquired disgruntled quarterback Carson Palmer from Cincinnati. While I'm of the belief that back-up QB Kyle Boller could hand the ball to RB Darren McFadden 30 times and dump wobbly loaves of bread 10 yards into the flat -- just like Raiders QB Jason Campbell has done for the past two seasons -- I'm fine with the acquisition...but, not the cost. With the not-so-surprising rumors that Palmer has looked really rusty this past week and may not start, this one could be closer than a lot of people think. Pick: Oakland

Joe: Despite the fact that they're one of Buffalo's main rivals for the AFC Wild Card (he says, thinking waaay too far ahead), I'm going to end up rooting for the Raiders if only to shut down the smug Carson Palmer media pile-on. That said, while reverse-psychology is the worst method for picking games, has there ever been a Chiefs-Raiders game that has gone the way it was expected to? Pick: Kansas City

St. Louis at Dallas

Aaron: Hey, it's the regular season NFL equivalent to baseball's World Series! Currently! In football, however, it's the team from Texas with the blowhard leader who's in front of every camera and it's the team from St. Louis that no one knows about outside of their home state. Pick: Dallas

Joe: Credit to the Cowboys for playing the Patriots way closer than I expected them to. I doubt they'll have to settle for a moral victory this time. Pick: Dallas

Green Bay at Minnesota

Aaron: At what point is it OK for the media to ignore Brett Favre? His comments regarding current Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and how he "...fell into a good situation..." were akin to your grandfather commenting on "these kids today" or sharing his outdated appellations for African-Americans. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: You have to feel for the media a little bit. This twice-annual matchup used to feature Favre's relentless self-regard and at least one ready-made Randy Moss controversy. Now, what? Aaron Rodgers's unflashy excellence? Christian Ponder, the boringest of the rookie QBs? Poor Tony Siragusa is going to have to start literally tap-dancing on the sidelines. Pick: Green Bay

Indianapolis at New Orleans

Aaron: The upshot of yet another Peyton Manning-free prime time appearance for Indianapolis is getting to hear eternal back-up quarterback Curtis Painter say his name and college when NBC goes through the player-introduced starting lineups. No, I'm serious. That's the only reason to watch. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: So the media has turned on (or at least tired of) the Saints now that they're not scoring 50 points a game anymore and the Katrina narrative has grown tired. I'm sure Bob Costas will trump up something ridiculous for his weekly soft-focus tone-poetry. Perhaps the current state of the po' boy? Pick: New Orleans

Baltimore at Jacksonville

Aaron: "Alright, Joe hate me and I hate you even more. But without my beloved Tom Brady, you're all I've got in fantasy football this week. So I want you to remember some inspiring words that...someone else might have told you over the course of your life and go out there and win!" Pick: Baltimore

Joe: HA HA HA HA. Oh, Monday Night Football. You once-proud old grizzly bear. Pick: Baltimore

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

TBG Eats: The NEW Bacon Ranch Chicken Flatbread Sandwich from Taco Bell

Current Weight: 165.2 lbs.

Suggested new eatery to wife. She said she's eaten there twice - violating the "old married couple" credo. This is "date night adultery". -- From my Twitter feed.

Next month, Mrs. Bootleg and I will celebrate our nine-year wedding anniversary. "Celebrate", of course, is in the eye of the beholder. For our first anniversary, we went to dinner at one of those pretentious steakhouses where 80% of the interior decor -- from the booths to the menus -- is made from leather. In 2012, for our tenth anniversary, we've kicked around the idea of doing New York (this time together!)

But, in roughly three weeks, for an anniversary that's neither the first or divisible by five? Date night.

Date night has evolved significantly since my wife and I actually...y'know...started dating. It's not better. It's not worse. It's just...different. It has limits. In fact, I remember when "date night" -- for us -- changed forever.

On our second anniversary, Mrs. Bootleg and I had designs on dinner and a movie. We found an upscale Italian restaurant in a section of San Diego that teetered precariously between "sketchy" and "respectable". To this day, I remember my linguine with mussels and being mildly repulsed at my plate full of mollusks. The
half-open shells implied that their collective stock pot-caused deaths occurred mid-scream.

I also enjoyed several whiskey-based cocktails that evening. In fact, I drank so much that we had to cancel the "movie" portion of dinner and a movie. (Since we'd planned to see Jamie Foxx in Ray, my actions incurred the wrath of both Mrs. Bootleg AND the National Black Caucus.) Not long after that, "dinner and a movie" became "dinner or a movie". When we go out to dinner, my wife and I can enjoy a large meal at a leisurely pace and be home before the food coma kicks in. When we go to the movies, we'll see an evening show and then visit our usual watering hole -- blending in seamlessly with the bar patrons who are 62.5% of our age.

It just so happened to be "movie night" a few weeks ago, so Mrs. Bootleg and I saw
Moneyball. It was the second time for me and while I enjoyed the film (again), I think I might've been more excited for our post-theater drinks at Callahan's. Their signature red ale is one of my favorite beers and I'd deliberately skipped dinner so I'd have room for an 11:00 PM sourdough bread bowl of their famous Irish stew -- which is akin to eating perfectly seasoned spoonfuls of a petting zoo.

Mrs. Bootleg, however, called an audible and suggested we try a different nightcap location.

As most of you know, my wife
loves margaritas. Unfortunately, Callahan's doesn't make them. This would've been the perfect time for me to exercise one of those rare marital vetoes, but I'd just made my wife sit through more than two hours of cinematic sabermetrics. Besides, I could tell by the casual insistence in her voice that she was subliminally begging me to push back on the subject -- just so she could remind me that I'd made her sit through more than two hours of cinematic sabermetrics. I opted not to give her the nag-centric satisfaction.

So, instead of Callahan's, we pulled up to
Miguel's Cocina -- a cookie-cutter, casual dining faux-ican spot that provided the delicious margaritas Mrs. Bootleg craved and at least passable sustenance for me.

No, wait. The kitchen's closed.

Oh, least my wife got what she wanted all along.

No, wait. She had just two or three sips of her margarita. She obviously didn't like it. If we had gone to Callahan's, Mrs. Bootleg could've had an impossible-to-screw-up glass of wine. And, food.

All of this explains how we ended up at the Taco Bell drive-thru window an hour later.

Last year, I reviewed TB's
Chicken Flatbread Sandwich. It was a solid -- albeit simplistic -- snack that was tastier than the sum of its parts and positioned at a sensible price. It's been brought back for a limited time and joined by a new Bacon Ranch version. Here's the description from Taco Bell's website:

A warm, soft flatbread layered with 100% marinated all-white-meat chicken, a three cheese blend and topped with bacon ranch sauce.

The chalky-dry flatbread remains unchanged from the original. The chunks of chicken are still sparse and Taco Bell's three cheese blend is -- as always -- an indiscernible confluence of cheddar, pepper jack and mozzarella. It was the chipotle sauce that carried last year's Chicken Flatbread Sandwich. This time, TB seeks the same result with a bacon ranch sauce.

It's a decent condiment that's hurt by two of its attributes. First, it's very thin. As a contrast to the other elements, it should've been thicker -- perhaps more "spread" than "sauce". Second, the imitation bacon flavor in the sauce tastes very artificial. Imagine a
Bac-Os Extract and you'll get the idea.

Taco Bell's Bacon Ranch Chicken Flatbread Sandwich isn't awful, but simply doesn't work as well as the original. It could really use some real bacon flavor and mouthfeel.

Remember: if you're settling for fake bacon, it means your wife won.

Grade: 2.5 (out of 5) Calories: 300 Fat: 16g

Sunday, October 16, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #6

Last Week

Aaron: 10-3
Joe: 8-5

Current Standings

Aaron: 52-25
Joe: 45-32

Carolina at Atlanta

Aaron: Based on ten years of hard evidence, here's what we know about black quarterbacks who play in Atlanta: first they blow up (in the "urban dictionary" hippity-hoppity sense) like Michael Vick from 2001-06 and then they blow up (in the more traditional figurative sense) like Michael Vick in the summer of 2007. And, assuming this theory applies to black quarterbacks from visiting teams… Pick: Carolina

Joe: Carolina's the hot upset pick this week, but on the road against a team that's managed to somehow deservedly get an undeserved reputation for being crappy, I think Cam Newton ends up falling short again. Pick: Atlanta

Indianapolis at Cincinnati

Aaron: I hope self-exiled Bengals QB Carson Palmer waits a few more weeks to lift his media silence. With the Colts and Seahawks on the horizon, the Bengals could be 5-2 very soon. From there, they have Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston over five of the following six weeks. Along the same lines, I hope Palmer's only public statement is "See?!" Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: Well, the Painter-to-Garcon dynasty looked pretty great last week even if the defense couldn't stop Dwayne Bowe from catching touchdowns with his shoelaces. They're on the verge of getting that first big W, but Cincy still has my prison-loyalty from a few weeks ago, so ... Pick: Cincinnati

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh

Aaron: The Steelers' remaining schedule is dotted with just enough cupcakes to mask their obvious decline and possibly ensure at least one home playoff game in January. If this happens, I hope the rest of you will join me in betting the entirety of your child's college fund against Pittsburgh. It'll be free money, yo. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: Look, I'm not going to pretend that Ben Roethlisberger's five touchdowns weren't much-appreciated last week, but it did smack of getting all their offensive output out of their system in one game. They won't need nearly that much to beat the Jags, but I bet this one is ugly and closer than it should be. Pick: Pittsburgh

Buffalo at New York Giants

Aaron: If I lived in New York and had even a modicum of tolerance for sports-talk radio, I would've loved to have listened to the aftermath of the Giants' inexplicable home loss to Seattle. I might have to look into which NYC broadcasts I can stream this week. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: There's almost no way I'm not going to regret what I'm about to type, but: watching the Bills win over Philly last week, I really felt like I was watching a tide turning. It's not like the Bills haven't had hot streaks in recent years (4-of-5 in 2006, 6-of-8 in 2007, 5-1 to start the 2008 season), but especially on offense, this doesn't feel like a mediocre team riding a wave of good fortune. This is a good, confident team. It'd be nice if the defense could stop a drive in the second half without getting a turnover, though. That would be great. Anyway, I'm just happy that they've reached a point where I don't have to pick against them for fear of bad juju. Pick: Buffalo

San Francisco at Detroit

Aaron: Based solely on combined winning percentage, this is pretty much your "game of the week", America. And, be honest...could you name five Detroit Lions even if I spotted you QB Matthew Stafford, RB Jahvid Best, WR Calvin Johnson and DE Ndamukong Suh? HEY...without looking it up! Pick: Detroit

Joe: TE Brandon Pettigrew, suckaaaa! It's kind of cool that the rise of the 49ers to 4-1 has pushed Detroit out of the "For real or pretenders?" circle (along with the Bills) and into a realm where everybody just takes it as given that they're good. ...Which IS the case, make no mistake. Niners coming down to Earth in a hurry this week. Pick: Detroit

St. Louis at Green Bay

Aaron: I love that this State Farm
insurance commercial with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers celebrates what might be the worst touchdown dance in NFL history. Your 25-year reign of terror is over, Ickey Shuffle. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: When you're scoring as many touchdowns as Aaron Rodgers is, he can celebrate however he wants to. As I'm sure he will this week. Pick: Green Bay

Philadelphia at Washington

Aaron: A few weeks ago, Sports Illustrated published a piece on Philadelphia sports fans and how their long-standing image as belligerent mouth-breathers had been soften by the success of the Phillies. I would welcome a follow-up article on this subject. Pick: Washington

Joe: Ugh. I hate picking the Redskins in this game. I hate picking the Redskins in any game. Are they really the favorites in the NFC East without ONE offensive player who strikes anything approaching fear in the hearts of opponents? Maybe the anything-goes nature of these intra-divisional games is what Philly needs to snap themselves out of whatever is wrong with them? Pick: Philadelphia

Cleveland at Oakland

Aaron: For the first time ever, my seven-year-old son has taken an interest in this lightly-read blog. He particularly enjoys these football picks. Last Sunday, after seeing that I had picked against our Raiders for the fifth consecutive week, Jalen bluntly remarked, "Why does Joe believe in the Raiders more than you?!" I had no retort. Pick: Oakland

Joe: THAT'S A REALLY GOOD QUESTION, JALEN. The should-win game is always a big test for an emerging team, but I just don't think the Browns have an answer for Darren McFadden. Pick: Oakland

Houston at Baltimore

Aaron: The Ravens are at home after a bye week. The Texans are on the road and will play without their best offensive player and their best defensive player. Sometimes hackneyed comedic bits aren't required to effectively pick football games, kids. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: Don't worry, Bill Simmons! With Joe Flacco on one side and Matt Schaub on the other, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that one of them HAD to win. The improved Texans defense probably isn't as improved without Mario Williams, is my guess. Pick: Baltimore

New Orleans at Tampa Bay

Aaron: Trap game for the Saints? The Buccaneers aren't nearly as awful as they looked in a 45-point loss to San Francisco last week and they're playing at home. But, while the Saints have been unimpressive on defense, their offense continues to obliterate the opposition. And, if we've learned nothing else from video games, it's that it is possible to keep the ball forever...
and score. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: Trap game for the Saints! The Buccaneers aren't nearly as awful as they looked in a 45-point loss to San Francisco last week and they're playing at home. I have nothing else to day. Pick: Tampa Bay

Dallas at New England

Aaron: Arguably, the two most loathed NFL teams of my lifetime by the general public. This, of course, assumes that the general public doesn't have Tom Brady and Wes Welker on their money-league fantasy football team like I do. F*ck the haters, Patriots. Pick: New England

Joe: I don't think Dallas (nor Tony Romo) is as bad as people are cackling about. But they're not equipped to go into New England and win. Pick: New England

Minnesota at Chicago

Aaron: When Donovan McNabb played for the Eagles and Redskins, he won nearly 60% of his games against other NFC East opponents. I am of the belief that McNabb's intra-division statistics are going to take a hit this season. Pick: Chicago

Joe: I have a feeling the Bears are going to be one of those maddeningly hard to pin down 9-7 teams this season. They should be able to hold serve against the crappy Vikes, though. Pick: Chicago

Miami at New York Jets

Aaron: While searching for the name of Miami's current quarterback, I came across
the headline "Don't Underestimate Miami Dolphins QB Matt Moore". I'm going to take my chances on that one, y'all. Pick: NY Jets

Joe: I know the Jets haters are rubbing their hands gleefully at the thought that the off-puttingly beautiful Mark Sanchez and his boys could repeat last season's embarrassing loss to Miami. Those people should maybe get a grip. Pick: NY Jets

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Don't Look at Me

Back from dentist. 1st cavity ever. Once luminous smile now hideously twisted. Searching for this mask, but for mouth. -- From my Twitter feed, October 3.

I've had the same dentist for the past 12 years. Her office is equidistant between my house and my employer. The waiting room is always stocked with the suburban equivalent (Us Weekly, OK! Magazine) to those ubiquitous black barbershop periodicals (Jet, Ebony). And, save for a
single crown (thanks to a rogue Corn-Nut), I've never had any dental issues -- including cavities.

Now, that's not to say I enjoy every visit to the dentist.

During my biannual cleanings -- without fail -- my dentist attempts to upsell the latest hygienic and/or cosmetic innovations to me. I wouldn't mind her efforts to market to my mouth if she didn't use passive-aggressive digs as part of her sales pitch.

When I first started seeing her, she'd half-heartedly recommend
Invisalign and other adult braces. ("You don't NEED them, but don't you want a nice smile?") From there, she began pushing teeth-whitening agents. ("I can tell you drink a lot of coffee. This would help with that!") Most recently, it's been the $200 sonic toothbrush kits. ("It will help your gum line look healthier!")

Last Monday, I prepared myself for the revelation of yet another oral shortcoming. While fully reclined in the chair, my dentist took a perfunctory peek inside my mouth before beginning the cleaning. Moments later, she determined I'd developed a cavity in my lower right wisdom tooth. And, she declared this diagnosis with the same absence of urgency one would exhibit upon finding five cents in the pocket of an old pair of pants.

My dentist offered to fill in the cavity right then and there, but the thought of a needle immediately in my mouth was incredibly unnerving. Instead, I scheduled an appointment for three days later -- unwittingly ensuring a 72-hour extension of "incredibly unnerving".

This past Thursday, I spent most of my lunch hour researching any possible links between
aspirin allergies and Novocain. While I couldn't find anything substantive, I was still talking myself into the paranoid, panicky idea that Novocain could kill me. My anxiety was undoubtedly rooted in my most recent visit to Urgent Care -- when the doctor recommended medicine that could've killed me. It's harder than you'd think to shake those memories, yo.

Later that day, I was back in the dentist's chair -- once again, fully reclined -- with two pairs of eyes looking down upon my mouth. My dentist reviewed the x-rays with her assistant and prepared the anesthetic. I rigidly readied myself for the needle and the resultant discomfort. The cold adamantium penetrated my mandible. Soon, I'd be unusually large amount of liquid at the back of my throat?

"OK, don't swallow. Do NOT swallow!"

Admittedly, I know little about the inner workings of the medical profession. But, in an instant I've culled my memories of television and movies. The only times a doctor raises his or her voice to a patient is when they're about to lose one ("Stay with me! Stay with me!") Is this blood pooling atop my tonsils? Was it the embarrassing by-product of my gag reflex?

"I'm sorry, Aaron. Most of the anesthetic sprayed back into your mouth. I think it's because your alveolar is particularly uneven. I wasn't expecting that."

My dentist gave me a second injection and warned that the effects would linger longer than with a single shot. She also mentioned that the numbness would almost certainly be "less localized" due to the splash-back off my malformed alveolar. The cavity wasn't deep, so the filling only took a few minutes. But, my lifelong winning streak against
the cavity creeps had been snapped.

The below picture of me in the jacket and tie was taken two months ago. The other was taken as I walked through the door after my dental adventure had ended.

"Don't look at me if you're looking for perfection
Don't look at me; I will only let you down..."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #5

Last Week

Aaron: 12-4
Joe: 7-9

Current Standings

Aaron: 42-22
Joe: 37-27

Philadelphia at Buffalo

Aaron: In the immediate aftermath of the Bills loss to the Bengals last week, I reached out to Joe through Twitter. His caustic response ("Garbage. Just absolute garbage.") was equal parts passionate and "sports talk radio". Speaking of which, heaven help the airwaves of Philadelphia should the Eagles lose here in the same weekend that the Phillies' season ended. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: Well they DID play like garbage. A team that can't prevent Andy Dalton and Bernard Scott is playing like garbage. The Eagles must've also played like garbage to lose to San Francisco like they did. That gives me hope. But doesn't it seem like the Eagles wait for everybody to write them off before pulling out gaudy midseason wins that have everybody foolishly talking Super Bowl? Sigh. Pick: Philadelphia

New Orleans at Carolina

Aaron: Panthers rookie Cam Newton has gotten an awful lot of love in his first month -- and the resurrection of favorite target Steve Smith is keeping my fantasy team afloat. But, Carolina's current record is 1-3 and they've yet to beat a team that isn't Jacksonville in conditions more manageable than a monsoon. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: I am still not entirely confident in the Saints on the road, and at some point the Panthers are going to pull out one of these close games. Pick: Carolina

Oakland at Houston

Aaron: As long my Raiders continue to feed an environment -- particularly on defense -- without discipline or decorum, they'll continue to struggle against top-tier teams and/or on the road. The Texans aren't a top-tier team, but " Houston" has the makings of a loud crowd and three or four false start penalties in the first half for Oakland. Can't wait! Pick: Houston

Joe: I'd feel better if the Raiders were at home, but Houston made enough mistakes last week that what should have been a blowout against suddenly-inept Pittsburgh to make me think they'll let the Raiders hang around. And that's when the "Win It For Al!" factor kicks in! Pick: Oakland

Kansas City at Indianapolis

Aaron: The Chiefs' two road losses came against the undefeated Lions and the one-loss Chargers. Obviously, it's too early to play the "strength of schedule" caveat, so instead I'll play the always-dependable "amateur psychiatrist" card. Remember...opponents always get up for a winless team like Indianapolis, so they're NOT the first win. (Not a guarantee.) Pick: Kansas City

Joe: I can't decide whether the Colts' close loss last week at Tampa was a sign that they're going down fighting, or that the score was deceptive and Indy was mostly shut down but for two lucky bombs to Garcon. ...Whatever, somebody's gotta support Curtis Painter and his lustrous head of Farrah hair. Pick: Indianapolis

Cincinnati at Jacksonville

Aaron: Neither of these teams can score, while the Bengals own the best defense in the league and the Jaguars -- the Jaguars! -- are in the top ten. This has "13-12" as the final score written all over it. In fact, all of those sanctimonious columnists who bashed the fans of the Tampa Bay Rays for not showing up during the playoffs should write similarly critical pieces in event anyone attends this unwatchable slog. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: Now that the Bengals punched my Bills in the mouth, I'm forced to show them respect. Prison rules -- hey, I didn't write 'em! Pick: Cincinnati

Arizona at Minnesota

Aaron: With Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb taking the snaps in this game, it's safe to say we're going to see the single greatest game involving two former Eagles quarterbacks who were once on Philadelphia's roster at the same time. That is unless Ty Detmer and Rodney Peete faced off against each other after spending the 1996 season together. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: I'm disappointed you didn't go with the annual Ty vs. Koy Detmer family Thanksgiving flag football game. Anyway, Arizona got royally hosed out of that game vs. the Giants and are a team ever-so-slightly better than their record. But I don't like them on the road, not when Adrian Peterson could rip off a 200-yard game at any moment (HINT!). Pick: Minnesota

Seattle at N.Y. Giants

Aaron: This will be the Seahawks second cross-country trip in three weeks. Early last month, they lost in Pittsburgh, 24-0. This time, there will be better restaurants...and that's where the differences end. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: I don't like the way Seattle has been keeping games close when they shouldn't be close. Here's hoping that cross-country juju still works. Pick: NY Giants

Tennessee at Pittsburgh

Aaron: After Titans RB Chris Johnson's touchdown-free, 101-yard fantasy football "breakout" for me last week against Cleveland, I'm ready to accept substantially less against Pittsburgh on the road. Yup...acceptance. I'm through all five stages of grief in the first five weeks of the NFL season. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: So maybe Tennessee is good? They've beaten bad teams and good ones, and the farther we get away from that Week 1 Jacksonville loss the easier it gets to call it a fluke. And as Cam mentioned, Chris Johnson hasn't even gone off yet. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, just looks godawful, and the farther we get away from that Week 2 blanking of Seattle the easier it gets to call it a fluke. And they're banged up. Pick: Tennessee

Tampa Bay at San Francisco

Aaron: I have no idea how the 49ers are 3-1. My favorite stat is their 107 pass attempts through the first four weeks -- the lowest number in the NFL. New head coach Jim Harbaugh will NOT let QB Alex Smith beat them. As far as I know, this strategy has never been employed by any other team in the league. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: I know beating Indianapolis is no badge of honor, but watching the Bucs win on Monday night, after being down in the second half and refusing to accept a loss to an inferior team, I was very encouraged. Maybe Josh Freeman IS worth all that oversized Bill Simmons love. Pick: Tampa Bay

San Diego at Denver

Aaron: The Chargers have beaten three mediocre teams and none by a margin of more than 10 points. These intra-division games are usually hard-fought affairs, but at some point, San Diego needs to start obliterating the teams that they're obviously better than. How else will they keep the predictive preseason narrative alive? Pick: San Diego

Joe: With Peyton Manning now fallen to injury, the most reliable presence in NFL football is now "Aaron Cameron's passive-aggressive comments about the Chargers before he picks them anyway." May it never abate. Pick: San Diego

N.Y. Jets at New England

Aaron: If I understand this correctly, Jets fans are generally Mets fans, right? So, America won't be able to double down on the Yankees ALDS loss and the Jets losing three in a row here. Whatever. I assume this is all part of the karmic balance in response to all of us enjoying the Red Sox's demise a little too much. Pick: New England

Joe: Just because you're right about Red Sox karma boomeranging back on New York doesn't mean I'd trade it for one second of my week's worth of glee. I regret nothing! Pick: New England

Green Bay at Atlanta

Aaron: I'm not ready to write off the Falcons yet. They got bullied by a formidable Bears defense and lost to the Buccaneers in a sauna on the road. Atlanta's one great performance this season came at home on a Sunday night. Never bet against a trend, kids. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: Oof. I'm not ready to write off the Falcons yet either, but I'm less ready to start betting against the Packers. Green Bay hung 48 on Atlanta in the playoffs last year, and that was on a week when Brett Favre wasn't making bitchy comments in the media about Aaron Rodgers. Pick: Green Bay

Chicago at Detroit

Aaron: The Detroit Lions are playing a meaningful game on a Monday night in October? The Detroit Tigers are, too? What is this, 1972? (Trust me, I looked it up.) Pick: Detroit

Joe: If this all leads to a new round of commercials where Eminem threatens us not to mess with Detroit, I'm out. Until that happens, I am fully enjoying the best Lions team since Wayne Fontes and Erik Kramer were around. Pick: Detroit

Sunday, October 2, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #4

Last Week

Joe: 9-7
Aaron: 8-8

Current Standings

Joe: 30-18
Aaron: 30-18

Carolina at Chicago

Aaron: I was all ready to be like, "Cam Newton and the Panthers get their first real test of the season -- an opponent that plays defense. From the mouth of last week's monsoon to the 'Monsters of the Midway' this week." Then, I saw that the Bears have allowed the eighth most yards from scrimmage and my alliterative quip was ruined. Pick: Chicago

Joe: Ohhhh, how much do I want to pick the Panthers in this one. But on the road against a Bears team that isn't terrible, just not great? Not quite, Carolina. Pick: Chicago

Buffalo at Cincinnati

Aaron: Here's hoping Buffalo plays well enough -- long enough -- to land a Sunday night "flex game" on NBC. I will set my DVR for the players' self-introductions, holding out hope that the Bills quarterback looks right into the camera and says with a dismissive, condescending sneer, "Ryan Joseph Fitzpatrick. Harvard University. Wonderlic score: 49." Pick: Buffalo

Joe: This kind of game scares me a billion times more than the Patriots. Now the pressure is all on the Bills to take care of a "bad" team even though this bad team has shown unexpected signs of life. Buffalo has played well in Cincinnati over the last few years, even in potential trap-game scenarios like these, which is encouraging. It would be great to watch the Bills just handle this game like a good team is supposed to handle a not-so-good team. I'll be quaking in my boots until that happens. Pick: Buffalo

Washington at St. Louis

Aaron: Weeks from now, we'll all look back to early September when I picked the Rams to beat the Eagles and laugh. That is, unless most of you already got it out of your systems back in early September. Last week, the Redskins lost to a quarterback who was one hit away from complete organ failure. This week, they face an entire team with a similarly fitting description. Pick: Washington

Joe: I'm willing to stick with the Rams until their schedule gets a little less crazy (i.e. until they get into the cushiony marshmallow fluff of the NFC West). And hey, Steven Jackson's back this week! Yeah! Pick: St. Louis

San Francisco at Philadelphia

Aaron: The 49ers are one overtime loss away from being 3-0 to start the season. This despite ranking 28th in passing yards and 30th in rushing yards. The enigmatic Eagles are clearly the better team, but at some point they're going to need to beat someone who's not in the NFC West. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: Getting a paper tiger like the Niners at home on a week when you're ailing is the closest thing to chicken soup the NFL can possibly serve up. Pick: Philadelphia

Minnesota at Kansas City

Aaron: Last week, the 0-3 Vikings blew a double-digit halftime lead for the third straight game and the 0-3 Chiefs lost on a last-second interception immediately after stopping Chargers on 4th and 1. When the participants are this pathetic, it's best to play the "which team has the best player" prognostication justification and move on. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: Shame about that choke-job last week, Vikes. Maybe somehow find a way to get the ball to Adrian goddamn Peterson in the second half this time? Pick: Minnesota

New Orleans at Jacksonville

Aaron: How close are we to seeing erstwhile Jaguars QB David Garrard sue his former team? His release last month was clearly not performance based (at least, based on the performance of his replacements). Oh, if only there were a collection of Garrard's peers who were united for their rank and file. This mythical entity would most assuredly protect one of their own, no? Pick: New Orleans

Joe: Between Darren Sproles and Lance Moore, the Saints are becoming that most wonderful of NFL archetypes: the team full of tiny, speedy spitfires. At some point, just for fun, I wonder if New Orleans could just pull a Chinese fire drill around the Jags' defense. ...Oh, like it's out of the question that Sean Payton's playbook would include that. Pick: New Orleans

Pittsburgh at Houston

Aaron: You say, "This'll be a good test for Houston." I say it'll be a good test for Pittsburgh. Their two wins were against the execrable Seahawks and the Colts -- who Houston beat by 27 versus the Steelers' three-point squeaker in Indianapolis last Sunday night. So, based on that bastardization of the transitive property... Pick: Houston

Joe: Damn you for taking my exact reasoning. Something's rotten in Pittsburgh this season, and since I have no qualitative analysis of the players or offensive/defensive schemes available, I'm just going to go ahead and blame it on Troy Polomalu's Head-n-Shoulders commercials. Pick: Houston

Detroit at Dallas

Aaron: The Lions have a top ten offense (10th) and defense (6th)? Against a squad with a national following, this could be Detroit's official coming out party. They haven't been this relevant since Michael Keaton wore a Lions hat in several scenes of the 1983 comedy Mr. Mom. It was set in Detroit, you see. The suburbs, I presume. Pick: Detroit

Joe: I don't think the Cowboys have gotten any less schizophrenic (or banged-up), but I think they end up doing to Detroit what Minnesota did, except for the back-breaking second-half comeback part. Pick: Dallas

Tennessee at Cleveland

Aaron: I'm taking the week off from bitching about Titans RB Chris Johnson and his negligible impact on my fantasy football team. Instead, I'll mention that Browns RB Peyton Hillis -- also on my fantasy team -- missed last week due to strep throat. The only upshot is that Hillis' absence gave back-up Montario Hardesty some playing time. I love that name. It sounds like something from A Charles Dickens Joint. Pick: Tennessee

Joe: Both of these teams are tied for first place in their respective divisions. Both of THESE teams. BOTH of these teams. I can keep finding new words to capitalize or you can all agree with me that that's ridiculous. Pick: Cleveland

Atlanta at Seattle

Aaron: I'm going to go ahead and blindly pick against Seattle all season. They won't finish 1-15, but I'm confident my method will work a lot more than it won't. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: I love all media pouncing on Atlanta for losing a bad-weather divisional road game against a good team, just a week after they were lauding them for beating the Eagles. I'm convinced this is all coming from people who have owned Matt Ryan on their fantasy teams and are furious at him for not being a big-stat guy. (I, um, might know how they feel.) Pick: Atlanta

N.Y. Giants at Arizona

Aaron: Looking ahead at the Giants' upcoming schedule, there's a possibility they could be 5-2 through October. And, with a November slate that includes at New England, Philadelphia, at New Orleans and Green Bay, they could be 6-6 after the first week of December. Bet accordingly, kids. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: Oh, kids, I've seen this movie before. Pick: Arizona

Miami at San Diego

Aaron: It was announced this week that the Chargers fell 6,500 tickets short of a sell out, so this game will be blacked out here in San Diego. Oh, glorious schadenfreude! But, all is not lost, citizens of my adopted hometown. We'll now get a game that we otherwise wouldn't have if the Chargers were on TV. I think you know where I'm going with this. Pick: San Diego

Joe: See, that will never happen to me here in New York, Cam. That concrete prison block in East Rutherford will sell out no matter how many blowout losses the Jets suffer. ...Wait, the Chargers didn't get blown out last week? They actually won their game. Strong showing, San Diego fans. Strong showing. Pick: San Diego

New England at Oakland

Aaron: Yes! San Diego gets a 1:00 PM Raiders game and I don't have any obligations as a father, husband or employee! I think! At this point, I'm conceding that my season-long picks against the Raiders were targeted towards this specific game. No way am I allowing myself to believe the Raiders are disciplined enough on defense to stop Tom Brady. Still, this has "turning point" potential for Oakland -- win or lose -- so, expect my drinking to start early. Pick: New England

Joe: I'm just going to pat myself on the back right now for calling that Raiders win last week. I'd love to do so again, but I worry that back-to-back Brady upset losses would be too much to hope for. But I will sure be watching this one with interest. Pick: New England

Denver at Green Bay

Aaron: You know the drill -- I make the "Super Bowl XXXII rematch" reference by mentioning a few long-retired players from that game like, say, John Elway or Terrell Davis and fold them into a jab at the Broncos current roster. From there, I drop a random bit of trivia (Did you know Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and The Four Tops performed at the halftime show?) And, then I end with a polarizing punchline (There were more black people on the stage than on the field!) Fin. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: It really bothers me that this week has been all "three undefeated teams, two of them total Gomers in Buffalo and Detroit, and then the legitimate Green Bay Packers." I mean, what have they accomplished recently that the Bills and Lions haven't? I ask you! Pick: Green Bay

N.Y. Jets at Baltimore

Aaron: When Joe picked the Raiders to beat the Jets last week, he called it New York's "OMG the Jets are soooooo overrated" scare of the season. What'll it be when it happens again? Pick: Baltimore

Joe: Stick with me on this, but I actually thought the Jets gave me some reasons to be encouraged last week. The defense has not been good thus far this season, but the offense looked really solid on the road. And that Week 2 loss to the Titans really made me wonder what the hell is Baltimore's deal. Pick: NY Jets

Indianapolis at Tampa Bay

Aaron: The only thing worse than this game will be the inevitable annual dialogue about television ratings, regular season football and playoff baseball. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: All I will say to the Bucs is don't fill up on empty calories in this game. You want to be hungry later on when you face actual NFL competition. Pick: Tampa Bay

Saturday, October 1, 2011

TBG Sees: Moneyball

OK, 7:40 PM showing of Moneyball: entertain me & I'll promise not to audibly pick apart every inaccuracy for everyone in the theater. Deal? -- from my Twitter feed, September 24.

Through the eyes of the team's fans, the cinematic adaptation of Michael Lewis' polarizing 2003 bestseller could inadvertently serve as a metaphor for the current Oakland Athletics ballclub. That is to say I enjoyed the film, but I don't know if I could recommend it to a larger audience.

The 2011 Athletics were one of the most disappointing and depressing teams I've followed in my 30 years as an A's fan. But, they have a rookie second baseman named
Jemile Weeks who was absolutely electrifying for long stretches after he was called up in June. On a squad without much crossover appeal or charisma, Weeks' flashiness out of the leadoff spot -- at the plate and on the basepaths -- was impossible to miss and easy to embrace.

In Moneyball, Brad Pitt is Jemile Weeks.

Well, actually, Pitt plays Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane. (But, stick around...I'll make the Weeks comparison work.) Moneyball opens with excruciating highlights from the fifth and final game of the 2001 American League Division Series. After winning the first two games against the mighty Yankees in New York, the A's would lose the next two at home in Oakland before dropping the clincher back in the Bronx. Faced with the expected loss of several free agents, Beane assumes the herculean task of replacing now-expensive offensive productivity at a fraction of its price on the open market.

I'm incredibly torn on Brad Pitt's performance. The film leans heavily on his incandescent charm -- particularly during the glacially-paced first 30 minutes -- and Pitt deftly softens Beane's more egocentric moments to the point where you just know he's right and everyone else is wrong, wrong, wrong. During the much-discussed "scout scene", Pitt's Billy Beane condescendingly shoves his new-school methods down the collective throats of his scouting staff -- who are practically depicted as cardboard cutouts from the Mesozoic Era. It's ham-fisted in its subtlety, but Pitt has perfected the concept of patter and sharpens the scene's bluntness to a slightly finer point.

There are other moments in Moneyball when Brad Pitt seems to be playing...Brad Pitt. During a pair of otherwise entertaining scenes, Beane is frantically working the phones -- several lines at a time -- in hopes of closing several trades. Here -- as the fast-talking, junk-food fueled snake-oil salesman -- a straight line could be drawn from Moneyball to Ocean's 11 to every late-night talk show appearance Pitt has ever made.

The supporting cast, thankfully, is much more consistent in their performances. Jonah Hill is fantastic as Beane's right-hand man Peter Brand. He's an insecure numbers-cruncher who grows into his skin before our eyes. In one of the film's best scenes, Brand is tasked with informing hotshot prospect Carlos Peña that he's been traded from Oakland to Detroit. It's an odd segment played as one long, awkward pause -- curiously, there are a LOT of those in this movie -- but, it's only briefly uncomfortable as Hill controls the moment.

In smaller roles, Philip Seymour Hoffman convincingly turns affable then-A's manager Art Howe into a seething, simmering pot of distrust and insecurity as he defies Beane -- and his dorky statistics -- at every turn. Meanwhile, Chris Pratt is solid as Scott Hatteberg -- the team's new first baseman who was one of the faces of the Moneyball era. (Although, his character's challenges and concerns with learning a new position are never really paid off in the film.)

Ultimately, all of the actors gamely lift Moneyball onto their shoulders, but fall short of bringing it all together.

The first quarter of the film remains stuck in first gear and just when it starts to build some momentum, the script slows it down again. There are a handful of flashbacks to Beane's own failed Major League Baseball career that actually work as a foreshadowing element, but they're still a bit clunky in execution. A scene where Beane picks up his 12-year-old daughter at the home of his ex-wife is downright mean in its depiction of his ex's new husband -- played as an emotionally and physically feeble spirit who knows nothing about sports, as if this were an overt character flaw.

Moneyball does, of course, build towards its obligatory climactic sports moment. Kind of. After a lot of mediocrity, the Oakland A's start winning...all the time. Real footage from the team's supersized 2002 winning streak is interspersed towards the end of the final act until we're a regular season game in September. The A's take an 11-0 lead and are well on their way to winning their 20th straight until it all falls apart. It actually works as drama, though, thanks in part to a fleeting, dialogue-free moment from Hoffman who nails the epiphany scene that could've easily been played as paint-by-numbers. Instead, it's as close as we get to a confluence between the film's true protagonists: old-school instincts and new-school statistics.

But, since this is a baseball movie and Brad Pitt isn't playing a baseball player, the final sequence creaks to the finish line. Pitt furrows his brow and runs his hands through his hair in exasperation as Beane watches the climax unfold from the front row. In 2002, I watched this game from my living room. It was one of my favorite experiences as a sports fan. It almost certainly meant much less to you, though, which is why the final, final scenes are of a conflicted Beane as he ponders a more lucrative job offer.

Moneyball doesn't entirely succeed as a "something for everybody" film, but it comes closer than many of the more critical reviews would have you believe. Like the 2011 Oakland Athletics fed off of the frenetic, high-wattage energy of Jemile Weeks, Pitt's leadoff leading man performance here is strong enough to fuel Moneyball even during its slower moments. Again, I enjoyed the film as a whole and would absolutely see it a second time, but the subject matter spoke to me in a way that it might not to you.

Which is why you probably haven't heard of Jemile Weeks. Yet.

Three Baseball Guys: 2011 ALDS/NLDS Predictions

For the third straight MLB postseason, I'm joined by disheartened New York Mets fan Tom Daniels and dispirited (in about four days from now) St. Louis Cardinals fan Eugene Tierney. As you know, I'm Aaron -- disconsolate Oakland A's fan. Last year, Tom picked every postseason series correctly. I'd say the odds of at least two of us NOT running the table are pretty strong this year!

Tampa Bay Rays v. Texas Rangers

Aaron: I hope everyone was paying attention as the 2010 Rangers obliterated the competition on their way to capturing the American League pennant. The "good pitching beats good hitting" myth was bludgeoned to death by Texas' collective lumber – including an ALDS beatdown of these very same Rays. Tampa Bay's underdog narrative has been written a thousand different ways over the past two days, but contrary to Josh Hamilton's pious denials, Goliath usually wins these wars – particularly when David is only eighth in the American League in runs scored, slugging percentage and OPS. Pick: Rangers in 4

Daniels: For the purpose of full disclosure, I haven't watched a whole lot of baseball since August. However, I couldn't help but watch the Red Sox and Braves make a run at the same type of humiliating collapse I lived through in 2007 (and 2008, but who's counting). You guys, the Rangers were really good last year and this year they scored 100 MORE runs than they did in 2010 and allowed 10 less. I can pretty much use
last year's paragraph with a few modifications: After watching what Cliff Lee CJ Wilson did to the Yankees in his post-season starts last season, I have a really hard time believing even the mighty Rays can win a short series. The mantra that "one great pitcher can win a short series" will very much be on display here. Beside the point, it's not like CJ Wilson Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis are total scrubs. Two wins from Cliff Lee CJ Wilson and 1-2 in their other three games? That's unreasonable? I don't think it is. Pick: Rangers in 5

Eugene: This a toss up to me. Last year, the Rangers had Cliff Lee anchoring the rotation. While C.J. Wilson is good, he's no Cliff Lee. This team can still hit though. The Rays have a ton of momentum right now. Everything seems to be clicking. I see them improving on last year's playoff performance. Pick: Rays in 5

Detroit Tigers v. New York Yankees

Aaron: If you'll forgive my continued use of superfluous quotation marks, I'd offer that Justin Verlander will be a pretty good test case for the annual "great pitcher in a short series" discussion. During the regular season, Verlander pitched against the Yankees twice and posted a 4.50 ERA. Obviously, considering the sample size and absence of context, this means less than nothing now. Hell, in two starts against the Orioles this year, his ERA was 4.80. These are two very good offenses dotted with a few great hitters who'll be seeing a real drop-off from each team's ace arm in games two, three and five. The last man standing wins. We all know that will be Derek Jeter. As we learned this week, he's NOT Jose Reyes. Am I right, New York? Pick: Yankees in 5

Daniels: I am admittedly geeking out over the game one match-up of Sabathia and Verlander. I am also geeking out for the inevitable offseason wrangling that will start when Sabathia executes his contract's opt-out clause and the Yankees need to pony up $30M/year to keep him or watch him go to a National League team so he can bat again. The Yankees, as usual, are pretty good but they're also a comedy of problems. They're keeping Jorge Posada on the postseason roster when he really has no business being there. Jeter is fading and has feasted on bad pitching to get himself -- almost -- back up to average. Lost amongst the MVP talk is that the Curtis Granderson train has flown off the rails in September, assembling a stat-line of .198/.298/.363 since August 31st. Now, they're facing good postseason pitching which tends to exploit and emphasize every single weakness. That leaves Teixeira and Cano as the big bats to avoid while we see if A-Rod actually does have the postseason monkey off his back since adding some diamonds to his ring finger. Meanwhile.... Verlander and Cabrera. Miggy has demolished the Yankees his entire career. Unless they plan on never pitching to him, his 1.5+(!) OPS in Yankee Stadium III may, just may, come in to play. Pick: Tigers in 5

Eugene: The Yankees have gotten by all season with C.C. Sabathia and a cast of misfits. Amazingly, they had the best run differential in baseball. I don't think the rotation is "playoff" caliber. The Tigers can match Justin Verlander with C.C. no problem, but they have questions too. In the end, I think the Yankees squeak it out. Pick: Yankees in 5

Arizona Diamondbacks v. Milwaukee Brewers

Aaron: Before everyone finalizes their coronation plans for the Phillies, you might want to take a look at that Milwaukee offense: first in slugging percentage, second in OPS and total bases, fifth in runs scored. Yes, Prince Fielder is an unapologetic, unshaven ass and Ryan Braun's "aw, shucks" bug-eyed pretty boy act is a grotesque contrast of marketing gimmicks, but they can hit. On the mound, Zack Grienke and Yovani Gallardo have been taking other team's lunch money all season. Arizona finally wields the finished product that is Justin Upton, but 21-game winner Ian Kennedy isn't facing the impotent Dodgers, Giants or Padres offenses for the umpteenth time in this series. Pick: Brewers in 3

Daniels: I have not watched much Diamondbacks baseball this season. Here's the thing: I basically rode the Giants through the postseason last year based on 1) the fact they're named the Giants and I have a automatic instinct to root for them and 2) really good pitching in a short series is nearly impossible to beat. In a five game series, the Diamondbacks will need to look at Yovani Gallardo twice, Shaun Marcum or Randy Wolf in Game 2, and Zack Greinke on regular rest in Game 3. I'm supposed to buy Ian Kennedy (admittedly having a good year) as the guy to counter that? Besides the point, even if you think they're evenly matched in other areas, go with the team with the better bullpen. Not only will the Brewers probably sweep this, it's unfortunate for them they didn't get the Phillies in the short series because it's their best chance to beat them. Pick: Brewers in 3

Eugene: The one thing I've heard constantly over the last month is "Just wait until the Brewers reach the playoffs and play a good team." Maybe it was because it's St. Louis sports radio, or maybe there something to it. The Brewers rotation has the edge over the D'backs, and their hitters are better as well. Pick: Brewers in 3

St. Louis Cardinals v. Philadelphia Phillies

Aaron: Led by tenured, self-styled Baseball Emeritus Tony LaRussa, the Cardinals climbed over the asphyxiated corpse of the Braves and waltzed in through the back door of the rickety shanty that will soon be demolished by the Philadelphia Wrecking Crew. The Cards are dinged up on offense, most notably with Matt Holliday whose hand injury may force him to play down to the level of effort he exhibited during his three-month run of somnambulant indifference in Oakland in 2009. I'm not ready to hand the Phils the 2011 World Championship, but they'll certainly look good here. Pick: Phillies in 3

Daniels: While I enjoyed the exquisite collapse of the Braves as much as the next guy, watching Eagles fans have some hope in their lives because of the Phillies for another consecutive year has been maddening. The Phillies play half their ballgames in a ballpark the size of
Kiddie Field and they gave up the fewest runs per game in the National League. While the Cardinals scored the most runs per game in the league and are riding an insanely awesome September hot streak; there is nothing in me that sees them getting around Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. It is, in all honesty, incomprehensible that the three of them all did not win 20 games this year looking at their stat lines. Age is the only thing that's going to stop four years. Pick: Phillies in 4

Eugene: Maybe it's the homer in me, but I'm very optimistic about this series. The Cardinals had a winning record against the Phillies during the regular season. Their hitters are superior (even if Matt Holliday won't start the series); the Phillies look like a shell of their former selves with the bat. The pitching edge goes to the Phillies, but if the Cardinals can get the same performance out of Chris Carpenter that they got this past Wednesday, they'll be OK. Pick: Cardinals in 5