Saturday, March 8, 2014

The LL Chronicles #27: Father's Day

I don't know if my team is any good this year.

Baseball managers are expected to speak in platitudes instead of trafficking in truth; but I drafted the 11 boys who'll be wearing Athletics green and gold through the first week of June.  I drafted the tall, lanky and bespectacled lad who earnestly tried to stop a groundball with his foot, instead of his glove, at a recent practice.  I drafted the short, surly and bespectacled child who does not speak.  It's the damndest thing, but I assume it's a tribute to "Calvin" from one of the most criminally underrated movies in cinematic history.  I drafted the hustling, bust-his-butt, bespectacled kid who'd never played baseball before this...hey, wait.

I DRAFTED THREE KIDS WHO WEAR GLASSES.  Oh, don't look at me like that.  I wore glasses for years before Lasik surgery.  It's just that in 2014, ballplayers who wear glasses are exceedingly rare and only ironically feted.  30 years ago, they were some of the coolest baseball cards in the pack.  Isn't that right, Mike, Reggie and Mike?

Our practices throughout the month of February were -- to put it politely -- "unpolished".  I'd been spoiled by the team I managed last year.  We weren't the most talented squad, but most of the kids' collective baseball acumen belied their ages, so the less-experienced players had on-field examples to follow.  We finished the regular season just 8-7-1, but hit our stride in the playoffs before losing in the championship game.  That team was led by an 11-year-old named Jordan.

Jordan -- who bore more than a passing resemblance to a certain child actor --  batted third or fourth for me all season.  He pitched nearly 30% of our team's total innings played -- even after missing a week with a strained bicep that may OR MAY NOT have been caused by overusage.* 

After our first practice, I took him aside and asked him to take on a leadership role.  He was the oldest player on the team and accepted my offer with a respectful "Yes, coach."  Much to my surprise, he took his unofficial captaincy seriously -- mentoring the less-experienced players and reigning in the raucous dugout when the 9 and 10-year-olds in it were acting like 9 and 10-year-olds.

* -- In a transparent attempt to distract you from my ALLEGED abuse of an underage arm, here's an unrelated link that bares NO similarity to the situation described above. None.

My son Jalen turned 10 in February.  And, whether I like it or not, I'm losing my "little boy".  He decided to grow his hair out last summer, much to the consternation of his father who was raised in a Marine Corps household.  His taste in music is wildly eclectic -- like my wife's -- circuitously meandering from Motown to obnoxious pop to rap acts that have passed me by.**  Earlier this week, after arriving at school, Jalen leaned forward from the backseat and told me, "OK, dad, let's get this over with: I love you. Now, hug me."  Last year, he established no less than 10 feet of distance must separate us when I'm walking him to class.

** -- If I told you that Jalen had the CLEAN version on his iPod, you'd believe me, right?  PLEASE DON'T CALL CPS.

J has spent the months since the end of his last Little League season playing on a travel ball squad.  His game has made real improvements -- both at the plate and on the mound -- but, the most noticeable change is a newfound toughness that he lacked in the past.  To be clear, Mrs. Bootleg and I would never dream of pushing our only child beyond his physical or emotional limits.  But, at some point, J needed to start pushing himself.  Mommy and daddy can't do that for him.

Near as I can tell, the turning point occurred last October.  J's travel ball team was playing in a tournament down in Chula Vista.  As usual, the start of southern California's autumn meant dry desert winds whistling in from the east and temperatures in the high 80s.  J pitched the second game of the day after an early-morning two-hour tilt.

Since he was six-years-old, Jalen has been susceptible to migraine headaches.  He's been seeing a specialist for the past several months and while we've seen improvement, warm weather and physical exertion -- together -- are two of J's biggest triggers.  His symptoms are easy to spot: glassy eyes, sluggishness, slightly slurred speech.  After pitching the top of the first inning, I could see two of three from the bleachers.  I spoke to J briefly between innings and his barely coherent mumbling confirmed the third.

We notified his coach, but Jalen insisted he could keep pitching.  As I paced nervously from foul pole to foul pole, J pitched five innings -- giving in to gravity as he collapsed on the bench between innings and dragging himself back to the mound with an internal tank that teetered towards empty.  And, after figuratively pitching his guts out for five innings, he did so literally for pretty much the entirety of the sixth.  So, how could I not make history with this kid?

Wearing gleaming white cleats and an unsanctioned-by-Little League fitted A's cap with a flat yellow brim (grumble), Jalen took the mound last Thursday evening against the White Sox.  He retired the first two batters before his friend Daniel stepped to the plate.  Daniel is one of the bigger and stronger kids in our division.  He walloped a grand slam home run over the left field wall in All Stars last summer and two years ago, he hit a bomb off Jalen that ricocheted off the top of the fence. 

J fretted all week over how to pitch to Daniel, then proceeded to hang an 0-1 change-up.  Daniel hit a sky-high fly ball to centerfield.  I'd stationed a small kid named Nicholas out there.  Throughout the entire month of February, he might've caught two balls that were hit or thrown to him.  So, OF COURSE, he calmly sticks up his glove and pulls this one down.  Nicholas sprinted back to the dugout, beating half the team in and wearing an ear-to-ear grin.

Me: "Nicholas!  GREAT catch!

Nicholas: "Thanks,coach!Icouldn'tbelieveIcaughtit!Didyousee?!

Me: "Get some water, son."

Jalen singled to lead off the bottom of the first, stole second and scored on two of those ubiquitous Little League baseball overthrows.  He went back out to the mound, striking out two in the second inning and three in the third.  After three innings, we led 9-0 and eventually won 14-5.

I still don't know if my team is any good this year.  My coaches and I will turn these kids into better ballplayers, if nothing else.  It's still early and there's a long season ahead.

It's getting late for me and my "little boy", though.

I guess I need to get used to giving him the ball. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

2014 NFL Pickery -- Super Bowl XLVIII

Seattle v. Denver (-2.5)

Joe: Big one. Not a prediction to be taken lightly. This goes beyond Seattle's league-best defense versus Denver's league-best offense. This goes beyond Peyton Manning vs. Richard Sherman, Marshawn Lynch vs. the media, or Eric Decker vs. Shirts (BOOOOOOOO, Shirts!). There are so many categories that need to be investigated:

Best Real World Season: This one's easy. Seattle was either the best or maaaaaybe the second-best season of the entire series. Denver may well have been the worst. Advantage: Seahawks

Best Wrestler: The Rocky Mountains of Denver are represented by Vader. Seattle gets Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. Vader was a monster WCW champ back in the day, while Valentine had to dye his hair black and join a tag team with the Honky Tonk Man AND his finisher was the figure-four leg lock in an era when Ric Flair owned that move. Advantage: Broncos

Best Movie: Movies set in Seattle include Singles, The Ring, My Own Private Idaho, and The Fabulous Baker Boys. Denver is stuck with Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead and half of About Schmidt. Advantage: Seahawks

Well, that makes it easier, doesn't it?

Prediction: Seattle 29, Denver 21

Aaron: JOE TOOK ALL THE GOOD COMPS. That means I either have to scrape the bottom of the pop culture comparison barrel or offer up well-informed insight and analysis on football -- a sport I played at the Pop Warner level for one ill-fated season in 1985, before a fake injury sidelined me after one game.

Best TV Series: Mork & Mindy was actually set in Boulder, Colorado, not Denver. South Park isn't in Denver, either, so that leaves us either with the Disney Channel's kid-friendly Good Luck, Charlie and...Dynasty! What Seattle got? Frasier? Oh, no. No, no, no. Dynasty had that theme music! Krystal and Alexis! And, when Diahann Carroll joined the cast, my mom about lost her mind. ("Julia's back! They put Julia back on TV!") This one ain't close, kids. Advantage: Broncos

Best Brands: Remember this link from everyone's Facebook pages and Twitter retweets last summer? It makes for a conveniently decisive second fall here. Coors vs. Starbucks?  Big-brand "banquet" beer vs. commercialized coffee? Sorry, but only one of these beverages got me through the first few months of fatherhood, back when Jalen wasn't sleeping through the night and the stress of his delicate medical condition weighed heavily on my mind. No, it's was Starbucks. Advantage: Seahawks

Best G.I. Joe Character: Lifeline (real name: Edwin J. Steen) debuted in 1986 during the "Serpentor" season of the animated television series. The Seattle native most famously helped Roadblock regain his sight in 1987's excellent (and underappreciated) G.I. Joe movie.  Hawk (real name: Clayton M. Abernathy) also debuted during the "Arise, Serpentor..." miniseries. Born in Denver, he followed Duke and Flint as the on-air leader of the Joes. He wasn't as two-dimensional as Duke and nowhere near as douchey as Flint, but he IS the commander who -- in the cartoon storyline -- recruited Sgt. Slaughter to whip the Joes into fighting shape. Oof, those Sgt. Slaughter episodes.  Advantage: Seahawks

Prediction: Seattle 30, Denver 28

Sunday, January 19, 2014

2014 NFL Pickery -- AFC/NFC Championship, Chicken & Waffles

Last Week, Straight Up: Joe (3-1); Aaron (2-2)
Last Week, vs. Spread: Joe (2-2); Aaron (2-2)

Total, Straight Up: Joe (6-2); Aaron (3-5)
Total, vs. Spread: Joe (3-4-1); Aaron (4-4)

New England at Denver (-5)

Joe: There's no better time for New England to get beat than when their fans have worked themselves up into a lather of Manning-based overconfidence. It would be tempting to suspect that the universe would be looking to correct their misapprehensions. But things don't seem to be working out that way this year. There were good reasons to think the Red Sox would lose all the way up until they won the World Series. Am I really going to walk through that same hell-gauntlet with the Patriots? Somehow the team that has decided to place its entire postseason hopes on the unnaturally stocky shoulders of LaGarrette Blount is bound to succeed and leave me with two weeks of "Greatest Team of All Time or GREATEST Team of All Time" articles. Because there is no God, and nature is a hostile beast.

Pick: New England 31, Denver 21

Aaron: Look...MY Super Bowl was last week. The Broncos wholly satisfying obliteration of (sigh) "Bolt Nation" saved us all from a Chargers vs. Patriots AFC Championship game in which there would be NO WINNERS. Like, tic-tac-toe or WarGames (the 1983 movie, not the NWA/WCW innovation) or voting libertarian. The Chargers played surprisingly conservative on offense against the Broncos. A mistake that Mumbling Bill Belichick is unlikely to repeat. Equally unlikely? That Broncos head coach John Fox will outcoach anyone. That means Denver will have to win on talent alone. Now that Peyton Manning's "legacy" appears to be on the line every week now, I'll predict guess that he leads his team to a last second win with a perfectly-placed lollipop pass to the back of the end zone and into the arms of, oh, let's say...Moe.

Pick: Denver 34, New England 33

San Francisco at Seattle (-3.5)

Joe: So long as the universe is being hostile to me personally, they might as well throw Jim Harbaugh and WWE-level diva routine along with everything else. The man is the Jimmy Hart of the NFL, hopping around on the sidelines like he does. Get him a fleur-de-lis jacket and throw Canadian Earthquake on the offensive line and call it a day. ANYWAY, this hostile-universe theory hits a bit of a skid here, because it's not like Pete Carroll is in any way supportable either. He's not as demonstrably objectionable, he's just kind of a wiener. A wiener with a strong home-field advantage.

Pick: Seattle 24, San Francisco 20

Aaron: I've doggedly picked against the 49ers all postseason, so I suppose I should ride this wave all the way to shore. ('s been 80 degrees every day since early December here in San Diego. Consequently, the state of California is under extreme drought conditions relating to both precipitation AND appropriate metaphors.)  I do enjoy 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick's burgeoning dickish-ness, on-field taunts and condescending interviews.  I can do without the media's acceptable Negro positioning of Seattle QB Russell Wilson -- articulate! prepared! classy! But, I don't expect either quarterback to figure in the decision here. These two teams are similar enough to play out the whole "irresistible force vs. immovable object" dynamic that usually produces great drama in the buildup and a boring stink bomb when the game plays out. Or, have we ALL forgotten the events in Pontiac, Michigan -- 1987? This will be a low-scoring, ugly affair that the NFL will retroactively describe as a defensive masterpiece in future season yearbook DVD releases.

Pick: Seattle 15, San Francisco 12

Saturday, January 11, 2014

2014 NFL Pickery -- Divisional DEVASTATION

Last Week, Straight Up: Joe (3-1); Aaron (1-3)
Last Week, vs. Spread: Joe (1-2-1); Aaron (2-2)

New Orleans at Seattle (-7.5)

Aaron: Back in the 1980s, the 'Hawks knew their place. Sure, they looked impressive at times. They even put together a few runs that had fans thinking they were destined for long championship reigns. (For reals, yo. That 12-win 1984 team was REALLY good.) By the early 1990s, however, the 'Hawks were Mirer'd in mediocrity. Eh? Eh?!  Chronologically speaking, their path -- and the accompanying narrative -- was almost identical to another least to a certain point.

But, now, most of the sentient life in our solar system believes that the Seahawks are the best team in the league.  After a 34-7 nationally-televised shellacking in Seattle back in early December, the Saints surely think the same.  Have we all lazily accepted a world where this guy can be trusted with the keys to K.I.T.T.?  (I have no other frame of reference when it comes to flashy car metaphors.)  Like every episode of Knight Rider, I've built up the drama only to have the car save the day in the last scene sentence.  Boy, I lost control of that metaphor in, like, record time.

Pick: Seattle 20, New Orleans 17

Joe: Everything seems to be going against New Orleans here today, huh? The Saints are super shaky on the road. The Seahawks are nigh on unbeatable at home. The Seattle season of The Real World was better than either New Orleans season of The Real World. Certainly, that 34-7 game didn't give much of an impression that things could have gone either way. And yet, I went with the reverse psychology pick on the Saints last week and it paid off for me. Nothing is more important than Bill Simmons telling you that nobody believes in you. 

Pick: New Orleans 27, Seattle 23 

Indianapolis at New England (-7)

Aaron: Oh, hey, "NFL team that Aaron DIDN'T pick makes an unbelievable comeback and upends the team that Aaron DID pick"!  I missed the usual 18-20 times we'd see each other during the regular season!  I still don't quite understand why the Kansas City Chiefs felt the need to reload multiple times while they shot themselves in the foot in their loss to the Colts.  For no other reason than it's been a quarter-century since that bit was even funny.  Regardless of HOW we got here...we're here.  It's "Colts v. Patriots LXXVIII" or some sh*t.

The window for this Patriots team is clearly closing. The myth that QB Tom Brady can turn any anonymous receiver into amazeballs has been permanently punctured.  The New England defense -- for years, the most underrated component of those great Patriots teams -- was a veritable revolving door for opposing offenses this season.  Colts QB Andrew Luck has the media-created "momentum" storyline (and hundreds of awful surname-inspired puns) on his side, but he's also been wildly inconsistent this season.  Are YOU ready to trust a second-year QB on the road against someone other than Andy Reid? Me, neither.

Pick: New England 27, Indianapolis 17

Joe: The reason you know I'm a total New York City sellout is that I will likely be attending a Broadway show during the bulk of this game. The plan is to check the score upon my exit, and if the Colts still have a prayer, I'll shuffle my way down to an insufferable midtown bar and catch the end. Clearly, this is the game I have the most intense rooting interest in, rabid Pats-hater that I am. I would like to think that the Colts are the team they don't want to face. Finally a quarterback who can make them pay for the way they tend to take huge chunks of games off only to pull things out in the end. But the Colts have been just as inconsistent all season, and I feel like this season's New England team has existed to bum me out all season. My heart says Colts, my head says Pats. Split the difference, I guess.

Pick: New England 30, Indianapolis 24

San Francisco (-1.5) at Carolina

Aaron: In a season of REDEMPTION (emphasis: everyone's) for Panthers QB Cam Newton, Carolina is a home underdog?!  Against a 49ers team they beat in San Francisco earlier this season?! How many exclamation point/question mark combinations do I have to use to convey my incredulity?!  Last week, I'm not sure if I overestimated the Packers or underestimated the 49ers or if the elements in Green Bay conspired to turn the outcome into a coin flip.  So...this week's match-up should be clearer...?  I have no idea.  With my 9-year-old son's piggy bank, would I bet on that Panthers' defense and Cam Newton's continued maturation OR the 49ers Kaepernick-to-Crabtree connection and head coach Jim Harbaugh's super-villain, self-styled genius?  I DON'T KNOW.  God, this is hard. 

Pick: Carolina 17, San Francisco 14

Joe: In a just and perfect world, Colin Kaepernick's show-offy sleevelessness in the frigid temperatures of Green Bay last week would have resulted in a frostbite situation and he wouldn't be able to play in this game. In a different just and perfect world, there would be no one left in Charlotte to attend this game because all the Southerners would have fainted dead away from experiencing the polar vortex this week. I certainly want the Panthers to win, and they're definitely the hot hand when it comes to the NFC. But the hot hand is almost always the team to fall in the playoffs these days, and I'm sure I'll have to put up with awful Jim Harbaugh one more week. 

Pick: San Francisco 20, Carolina 17

San Diego at Denver (-9.5) 

Aaron: Last Sunday, one of the families from my son's travel ball team hosted a playoff party for the Chargers v. Bengals tilt.  As an avowed Charger-hater, I sat in pouty, stony silence for three hours as a room full of bolted-up rubes hooted and hollered with every Cincinnati pratfall.  It wasn't all excruciating for me, though.  One of the moms lined a muffin pan with bacon, filled the inside with scramby eggs and baked it to a brunch-y perfection.  Another family brought homemade lumpia.  Seriously, you guys, if you don't know any Filipinos you're missing out. 

OK...this game. This might be the most inexplicable spread since last week's Chargers playoff game.  I'm telling you...the Chargers are kind of good.  I dunno if they'll win outright, but if they're 10-point dogs to anyone right now, Las Vegas is telling you to TAKE their money.  I hate the "something to prove" storyline, but has anyone with Peyton Manning's pedigree ever engendered less confidence in a home playoff game?  This is not going to end well for any of us.  Mostly me.

Pick: San Diego 33, Denver 28

Joe:  The point spread does seem a little insane, but does it concern anybody that this Peyton Manning Can't Play In January narrative is being pushed by a Boston-dominated media with a historical axe to grind from the old Pats-Colts days? No one? The Broncos have spent a lot of the second half of this season looking shaky just long enough for people to notice, then turning any number of receivers named "Thomas" loose and pulling away. I don't like how often I'm splitting the difference on these picks, so even though Denver-by-7 seems like the most intelligent pick, I'm betting the Chargers' luck runs out in a big way.

Pick: Denver 38, San Diego 24

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2014 NFL Pickery -- Wildcard Weekend

Well, hello! One of the more unfortunate casualties of my extended absence from this lightly-read blog -- due to reasons that were best explained here * -- was the interruption of TBG's second longest annual tradition**.  Since 2007, I've waged prognosticatory WAR over professional football games with my great friend, Joe Reid.

From 2006-2008, I ruled over our football game-picking kingdom with a benevolence not seen since the 1988 reign of King Haku.  But, in 2009, after finishing in second place for three straight years, Joe led a successful coup d'├ętat -- a runner-uprising, if you will -- that abruptly ended the enlightened era.  For the past four years, the kingdom has been analogously ruled by this guy.

* -- Sorry. As you know, Will Ferrell's six-month contract to appear EVERYWHERE doesn't expire until January 31, 2014.

** -- The longest tradition? Ask my intestine!

I kid, of course. I've known Joe since our days writing weekly columns together more than 10 years ago over at  He was one of the inspirations for the creation of this blog and he just so happens to be an incredible writer in his own, uh, right.  His Twitter feed can be found here and his work can be found -- inhale -- here, here, here and here.  He's a sweetheart of a guy and I love that bearded, Buffalonian lug.

As always, these picks are for entertainment purposes and tired references from The Simpsons ONLY.

Kansas City at Indianapolis (-2.5)

Joe: I really like this Kansas City team, but it's hard not to look at them as a beneficiary of a favorable schedule. Six of their eleven victories came against the five worst teams in the league, by record. They went 1-5 against teams that made the playoffs, and that win came against the Eagles before they rid themselves of the scourge of Michael Vick. The only teams they've beaten since the beginning of November were the Bills, Redskins, and Raiders (and the Bills really should have won that game, HONEST).

The Colts have only beaten the Texans, Titans, Jaguars, and one other team since the beginning of November, too, but that one other team was the Chiefs, in Kansas City, by 16 points. The Colts have been such a weird team all season. Wins over the 49ers, Seahawks, and Broncos. Blowout losses to the Cardinals and Rams (at home). Ultimately, I fall back on that 23-7 win, just two weeks ago. If the Colts could pull that off on the road? The Chiefs have to hope Jamaal Charles goes off, but it doesn't seem like teams ride hot running backs through the playoffs anymore.

Pick: Colts 31, Chiefs 24

Aaron: The hell is with all the statistical justification, Joe-worski?  All serious and sh*t.  A-a-a-nyway...I've spent the past four months trashing the Chiefs and the entry-level skill set of quarterback Alex Smith.  His entire reputation is built on two things: a one-game statistical aberration against the Saints in that 49ers playoff game a few seasons ago AND any time current 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggles.  Alex Smith is not a good quarterback.  He's just not.  Why is that so hard for you to understand, America?

That Chiefs defense IS good, though. (Swerve!) The inconsistency of the Colts is underscored by the media's oddly insatiable desire to shield QB Andrew Luck from any criticism.  I mean, if we're talking about games our favorite teams should've won, the execrable Raiders had the Colts on the ropes.  But, since boxing went extinct 15 years ago, I don't know how to finish that metaphor. The Raiders lost TKOB, right?  Whatever.  All I know is that Chiefs coach Andy Reid is contractually obligated to raise the hopes of his fan base before his inevitable heel turn.

Pick: Chiefs 23, Colts 7

New Orleans at Philadelphia (-2.5)

Joe: I would like nothing more than to disprove the increasingly strident Cold Weather Quarterbacks theory this year. But things really seem to be stacked against them here. They've looked decidedly ordinary in the last several weeks, while the Eagles really did seem to pull things together under Nick Foles, of all people. Honestly, there's a better-than-average chance that I'm overrating Philly because of how fun it was to watch that snow game against the Lions a few weeks ago. I'm okay with it.

That said, if Bill Simmons has taught us anything, it's that the most important factor in a football game is reverse psychology. Nothing helps linebackers make tackles and receivers not drop passes better than the relative lack of faith of observers (and more importantly, the gambling community). So if everything is stacking up against the Saints, what better time to pick them?

Pick: Saints 28, Eagles 27

Aaron: Hee! Oh, how I missed our mutual Bill Simmons bashing! Meanwhile, I'd like to respond to Joe's mentioning of the "Cold Weather Quarterbacks" theory with a theory of my own.  I call it the "New Orleans Saints abject lack of a power running game" theory.  In what's expected to be rather nippy conditions (It's going to be 72 degrees here in San Diego this I using "nippy" appropriately?  I really have no frame of reference here.) I half-expect Saints RB Mark Ingram to keel over at halftime with his stomach lightsabered open for warmth, Taun-Taun-style.

Like the rest of you, I rooted for this Eagles team to enjoy more success with the wholesome Michael Vick, but the nondescript Nick Foles just MIGHT be an NFL quarterback.  I mean, he IS an NFL quarterback...but, I'm using that with emphasis.  You know...emphasis. In the same way that Eagles WR Riley Cooper is a racist. Same thing.

Pick: Eagles 24, Saints 14

San Diego at Cincinnati (-7)

Joe: This seems rather too easy, doesn't it? The Bengals have actually looked very good at several points this season. The Chargers managed to back into the playoffs in one of the least spectacular ways I can remember. Perhaps my biggest regret of 2013 was not being able to experience the highs and lows of this Chargers season with you, Aaron? At what point would the gloating over a lost season have turned to stark terror at the thought they might actually make the playoffs?

Pick: Bengals 30, Chargers 20

Aaron: True story. Hand to God. Before the season started, I told co-workers that the Chargers had as good a chance at the sixth playoff seed as any team due to the overall mediocrity of the AFC.  Chargers fans did NOT believe in this team in September, but a Raiders fan did?!  Of course, I enjoyed San Diego's traditional last-second losses throughout the season and wept when they beat the Chiefs in their regular-season finale -- thanks to the fact that Kansas City played their second and third-string AND an egregious missed penalty call that should've given the Chiefs a second-chance at a late missed field goal. 

But, hey, the locals are happy.  I haven't seen this many Shawne Merriman jerseys hauled out of mothballs in years.  And, they're going to be around for another week.  Shhh...this Chargers team isn't awful.  I'm picking with my head, instead of my heart here.

Pick: Chargers 27, Bengals 13

San Francisco (-3) at Green Bay

Joe: Once again, reverse psychology is the only factor that matters, and the Packers are the beneficiary of a lot of it. Probably too much. With an 8-7-1 record, going up against the 12-4 Niners, the Packers are quite the attractive pick for anybody who types "NOBODY BELIEVES IN US" in all caps like that. Of course ... everybody believes in "us" if "us" is Aaron Rodgers and "us" is the Packers at Lambeau in January. Yes, Green Bay has finally gotten the band back together at the right time, and if anybody going to pull off a run like the Ravens did last year, it would be them. I'd probably take them against the Saints or the Eagles this week. But these Niners really don't seem to have a whole lot of trouble with these Packers. Green Bay had Rodgers and Randall Cobb healthy back in week  1 when San Francisco handled them then too.

Pick: 49ers 34, Packers 28

Aaron: Who missed my wistful fantasy football musings this season? Well, let's catch up! I'd like to thank 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick for single-armedly torpedoing my team in one fantasy league and ruining what should've been a 12 or 13-win season in another.  Oh, don't roll your eyes at me.  I finished with nine wins IN SPITE of him.  Here's what we know...(1) Packers QB Aaron Rodgers can play football good.  (2) The 49ers were being called a disappointment and fans were wishing Alex Smith was still around roughly six weeks ago.  (3) ESPN has already devoted 72 hours of air time to the "why is a 12-4 team on the road against an 8-7-1 team" contrived debate next week.'s actually in my cable guide.

Pick: Packers 28, 49ers 10