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Big East Memories And March’s Opening Weekend Madness

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LOS ANGELES — At age 20, I went to Madison Square Garden in New York City for the first time. It was March of 2001, and being in charge of the college basketball show at Syracuse University’s student television station had its perks. Such, I made the executive decision to cover the Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament, for which our Orangemen were a 3-seed. To say I was out of my element was an understatement, as this was the first event of this magnitude I had covered.

Rich Kiss, UUTV’s sports director, came with me, and he and I had three of the most fun days I can remember as a college student. That our Orangemen (we were still the Orangemen back then) won two games, and narrowly missed reaching the league championship by a single point in the third, was only icing on the cake of the experience. We took the train over from New Jersey into the World Trade Center, walked over to 34th and 8th with our camera equipment, picked up our credentials and felt like we belonged. I remember we grabbed every media guide and quote packet we could get our hands on in the press area, ate from the $5 donation buffet (Boston Globe hoops historian Bob Ryan took the last piece of cheesecake) and when some real reporter asked us if we were using the phone on our table we bewilderingly said no, as if who were we to even have phones. But we were somebodies covering the event; the names on our passes told us so. 11213267-large

We walked among the stars of this Broadway show even if we were barely understudies. I got a little journo-hero struck when we saw Bill Rhoden of the New York Times, and Dick Weiss of the Daily News, two basketball writing legends, but for the duration of this tournament we were all colleagues and it felt as such. In the locker room interviewing players, in the press room talking to coaches, high above the MSG floor in the media section as I called all of my friends from the working telephones; we we there. After one of the games, we even did our standups on the court. Like pros. At The Garden. Basketball Mecca.

The next year, our Orangemen weren’t very good but Rich and I returned; we lost the first game to Villanova and the three things I remember most are: a) that we basically called it on the train ride over, since like I said, we weren’t very good; b) saying if we somehow lost tonight we were going to head to Atlantic City the next day (we did); and c) The Scene. The Scene was unlike anything I’ve been around, not like the high school, college or pro games I attended growing up. There was a buzz as soon as you walked through The Garden doors or made your way up the steps from the subway. It made the hair on your arms stand up. The clapping and chanting. The team regalia. School cheerleaders lining the entrance. Vendors screaming out deals for programs, t-shirts and refreshments. Everyone talking hoops at every turn. Even the back pages of the Daily News and New York Post were smathered with Big East Tournament headlines.

And the basketball. Oh the basketball. Other conferences have high-flyers, run-and-gun offenses and the visual eye candy to attract those with less-than keen eyes for superior hardwood mastery. And that’s what the Big East was, the best hoops the nation had to offer, and it was on display night-in and night-out across the northeast. From Providence to South Orange, out to Syracuse, back to Storrs and everywhere in between; college basketball at its absolute pinnacle. Marquee coaches, superstar players and the most rabid fans. Those qualities and more were on full display in the latest 30-for-30: Requiem For The Big East, which documented the league’s creation in 1979 and ultimate demise in 2013.

It was a fantastic two hours of television that featured commentary about the Big East’s rise and fall from legendary coaches Jim Boeheim, John Thompson and Lou Carnesecca, writers who covered the league Michael Wilbon and Charlie Pierce, former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, and players Ed Pinckney (Villanova), Chris Mullin (St. John’s), and Patrick Ewing (Georgetown), among others.

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The documentary touched on the seminal moments of the conference, from Georgetown ending Syracuse’s 57-game home winning streak to close out Manley Field House, to the recruitment of Ewing, who hailed from Jamaica through Boston, New York City’s Mullin and Pearl Washington, the league’s toughness, Big Monday, and everything Dave Gavitt went through to get the league off the ground and to the heights it reached by teaming up with ESPN for broadcast rights. It was a fantastic trip down memory lane.

One of the elements I found the most interesting was one of Gavitt’s initial reasons for wanting to create the Big East was to keep the best players from the northeast – including New York City – in the area. Gavitt watched Big Apple schoolboy legend Lew Alcindor leave the east coast for UCLA in the 1960s and knew something had to be done. And it worked, as the league’s top eastern players stayed at home and played in the new power conference. Always fighting for national respect, the Big East received validation when Georgetown reached the 1982 NCAA Championship, and then just three years later placed three teams in the Final Four.

Other thoughts: I loved hearing Pinckney and Mullin talk about playing pickup hoops at parks across New York City, starting in Harlem and working their way down. That’s the thing about city ball, if you can play, the color of your skin doesn’t matter, and Mullin was one of the best around. … I never knew Boeheim got his Bob Knight on with a heated chair throw in the press conference after the 1984 Big East title game. … Thompson told Ewing to block every shot in the 1985 title game, which resulted in five goaltending calls off the bat. Also, Ewing still hasn’t gotten over losing the game to Villanova, saying, “in my heart the best team did not win that night.” … Pierce saying capitalism ruined the Big East, while Wilbon blames “dumb and greedy presidents.” … The doc was voiced by “Breaking Bad” villain Giancarlo Esposito, aka Gus Fring.

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I first wrote my world famous “Tips For Enjoying March Madness” column for the Journal Tribune way back in 2006 – the 2009 version won me a Maine Press Association award. A lot has happened since then and most of it hasn’t been great for my bracket in 2014. Speaking of, how’s yours looking? Did you call North Dakota St. or Stephen F. Austin? What about Dayton? Mercer is in Macon, Georgia if you still haven’t figured that out yet. These first 48 games were some of the best basketball of the year, with perhaps the most exciting game of the first two rounds being #8 Kentucky/#1 Wichita St., which made the worst #11 Dayton’s upset win over #3 Syracuse.

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Seriously, the last month of basketball being played in the 315 has been downright atrocious. (rant alert) Forget that we lost to a six-win Boston College team AT HOME, but also to Georgia Tech and N.C. State to end the season, losses happen, I’ve played sports my entire life, even when you’re better than your opponent you’re not always going to win. It just happens. Fine. But your effort in those losses is something you CAN control. Your shot selection. Your aggressiveness. Your rebounding. All within the realm of things you can have a direct outcome of. And where has it been the last month? Very good question. Bottom line, Syracuse didn’t deserve a 3-seed in this year’s tournament and it didn’t deserve to reach the Sweet 16. Obviously, I’m not over the loss yet and probably won’t be until Opening Day at Fenway next month. When you start the season 25-0 you expect a more satisfying ending than losing to Dayton two hours from your campus. What a frustrating end to what should have been a joyous season. And that’s the other thing, I didn’t have that much fun watching this team play. Every possession was a struggle. Every shot was spent praying it went in. Nothing was automatic. When we got a big lead, we quickly surrendered it. We played down to the level of our competition. We scored 47 points! To Dayton! For the game! Oregon nearly had that at the half against BYU. Did the season turn when Boeheim got tossed late in the game against Duke? Is someone really going to make that moment when it all went to crap? Did I just do it? I just hope Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant come back next year. Neither are ready for the pros and I think this tournament confirmed that.

[exhale] On to next year.

Here’s what else caught my eye after the most amazing four days of college basketball I can remember (it was a 48-game blur, so forgive specifics):

- These kids are terrible shooters; most but not all of them. Doug McDermott had a great first game against Lousianna-Lafayette going 12-for-23 and 30 points, but then not so much against Baylor (15 points). Meanwhile, Wichita St.’s Cleanthony Early couldn’t miss Sunday against Kentucky, going 12-for-17 and 31 points. It’s too bad both couldn’t make it out of the first weekend.

- Hard to tell which team is playing the best right now. After the first round I would’ve said Wichita St. and Syracuse, and then both lost in Round 2. Now, I might say Kentucky, Baylor, Arizona, Florida, Virginia and UConn are leading the field, so who knows what their fates hold in the Sweet 16.

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- Player I want taking the game-winning shot on the final possession: UConn’s Shabazz Napier; dude is fearless.

- Got to explain what a backdoor lob was this weekend, which was pretty hilarious in between the 13-year old giggles. I even used two glasses of water and a dipping container of ketchup to visually illustrate. Coach Norman Dale would’ve been proud.

- Baylor’s hunting uniforms need to join the NBA’s sleeve jerseys and take a long walk off a short pier. Not a good look for anyone.

- I participate in an NCAA Tournament individual scoring fantasy league each year and I felt really good about my squad after the draft, especially after I missed out on the championship last year by a measly 7 points (thanks a lot, Georgetown). However, after the opening weekend I’m down to only four players remaining and I have about a good a shot at a title as Dayton, which is a long one. Seriously, I can’t believe Oklahoma AND Creighton both went down. Those two losses cost me at least another 75 points. Just so long as I don’t come in last.

- Speaking of, did any of these potential top NBA Draft picks (Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart, etc.) have good games or do anything noteworthy? And who is this year’s Harold Arceneaux? He’s yet to reveal himself.

- Anyone else really sick of that Buffalo Wild Wings old man in the hat? We get it, the game is on, we’re probably already in our seats. Stop yelling at us.

- My original Final Four was Florida, Virginia, Creighton and Louisville. Revamped Final Four: Florida, Virginia, Baylor and Louisville. Sticking with my Louisville championship pick as well, although that may change at halftime of Friday’s Kentucky game; stay tuned and happy madness!

Feet Firmly Planted in Fantasy

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BALTIMORE — The most exciting day of the year for my college buddies and I isn’t Christmas, any of the eight days of Hanukkah or Thanksgiving. It isn’t a big movie premiere, birthday or even finally getting a date with that girl from the subway; it’s the day in the first week of August when the Retired Orangemen Fantasy Football League Draft Book arrives in the mail. It’s the very best day of the year because it means two things are in our immediate future: the upcoming NFL season, and the annual ROFFL Draft Weekend.

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The ROFFL dates back to 2002 and as you guessed, consists of me and my Syracuse University buddies, along with a few stragglers we needed back in the day to fill out the league (Binghamton, Haverford and Oneonta are also represented). But it’s turned into much, much more with a website, weekly articles, a podcast, an entire Draft Weekend, trophies for first and last place, and the aforementioned Draft Book. That first season we picked our players via an autodraft, and ironically, the guy who won has never had a winning season in 12 years.

In 2003 though, it all changed when we decided to have a yearly live draft in Atlantic City. For our 10th anniversary we tore down Las Vegas (what can I say, we like to gamble) and for our 13th year we started a new tradition: holding our draft in the city of the team that wins the Super Bowl. So as it was we all packed up our magazines, ADP lists and team gear for the state where crab cakes and football are emphatically done: Maryland.

Admittedly, Baltimore wasn’t my first choice. Being a West Coast Guy now, I was rooting for San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII, but to say the Charm City was anything but a fantastic host would be a classic Barry Sanders stretch run. For the 12 of us who made the trek – Parker had to phone in from Los Angeles and Jarrett from New Jersey – it was arguably the most fun we’ve had at a Draft Weekend.

It all started with a night at Camden Yards in a suite to watch the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics but not before a few of us hit up Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, which is home to some of the rarest comic books in the world. Jason, Jay and Marc are makeshift nerds and were geeking out upon seeing the first edition Superman and Batman, as well as old action figures, movie posters and the like from pop culture throughout the years. It was a pretty amazing and well curated museum, and the history buff in me enjoyed it immensely. A couple of them even bought Avengers keychains, while I would’ve loved to have taken home an Elvis poster.

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But the real reason we were there Friday night was to see some baseball, stuff our face with Boog Powell’s BBQ and announce our keepers for the upcoming season. See, the ROFFL is a 2-player keeper league and you can retain any player for you want for a maximum of three seasons; so there’s definitely some strategy that goes into who you’re keeping on a year-to-year basis. This season was the end of my time with Texans superstar running back Arian Foster, so I was forced to keep Jaguars stud Maurice Jones-Drew and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. I debated keeping Mike Wallace over Ryan since quarterback has some depth this year, and even had a plan hatched earlier in the week to wait and draft Andrew Luck and a Colts receiver, but I chickened out and made the safe play with The Mattural and the high-powered Atlanta offense.

All-in-all, the keepers went pretty much as I predicted in my mock draft, aside from Rob Gronkowski not being kept, one guy keeping Antonio Brown instead of Reggie Wayne and another keeping Ray Rice over Reggie Bush (we’re a PPR league), and so as the Orioles game went on – and they rallied for a 9-7 win thanks to a Brian Roberts’ grand slam – talk in the suite and the bar afterward turned to draft strategy. Back into the mix this season were all-world running backs Adrian Peterson, Foster, LeSean McCoy, and some studs who were not kept, such as Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, Larry Fitzgerald and Stevan Ridley. As I was picking in the 8 hole, I figured to have my selection of one of the latter four, which I was completely OK with.

Before I get ahead of myself, Saturday kicked off with a trip to the smallest and most-stupidly-staffed Dunkin Donuts in the 410 and a pre-draft tour of M&T Bank Stadium, also known as the Ravens Nest (I don’t know if anyone actually calls it that, but let’s be honest, they should). Originally, I wasn’t too keen on taking a tour of a football stadium, as I’d been in a couple before, and generally speaking, when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

Boy was I wrong.

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Some highlites: the stadium is made with 1.5 million bricks, and if you laid them out end-to-end would cover 155 miles to Ocean City, Md.; the new-and-improved concourse wasn’t open to the public for last Thursday’s preseason game, which made us the first civilians to walk through it; our tour guide was this 70-year old named Tom who used to be a roadie for the Allman Brothers Band; a luxury suite can be yours for the cool price of $125,000 a year, which includes 28 tickets and 23/hour a day access throughout the entire year; Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti’s two-story luxury suite has bulletproof glass for when President Obama comes to visit; they have 3 jail cells in the depths and roughly kick out 150 people per game, most of them women; when John Madden used to still broadcast games for Fox and NBC, he’d drink a half case of beer before each contest and Tom said he almost got fired once for knocking a beer all over the broadcast console; our buddy Josh, who set the whole thing up and worked a year for RaveTV, wrote some of the inspirational essays that adorn the Club Level walls, which was pretty neat to see; the Ravens lockeroom is located 30 seconds from the field, whereas the visitors takes a few minutes to access. Tom made sure to let us know that’s a huge advantage come halftime.

However, the ultimate highlite of the tour was when Tom let us go on the field to run rampant like those brats in “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” but not before we walked through the Ray Lewis Memorial Look At Me And All My Awesomeness Tunnel. Of course, I had to do the dance. The only thing missing was a giant heap of sod for me to throw off myself and shove down my throat, which Tom assured us Ray would do before each game after posing for a picture with the weekly sod giver contest winner. Once on the field, we went Ray Kinsela after he finally finished the Field of Dreams and stood there and soaked in what he had created. Our jaws were agape and eyes buggin’ at what we were absorbing through our sports fan pours. Now, I’ve covered many football games in my sportswriting days and even stood on the sideline next to the head coach for most of them, but I have to admit, it was pretty awesome being on a NFL field with your 10 buddies and a football. My arm isn’t what it used to be, but I turned back the clock a bit throwing touchdown passes to the guys. Oh, and I even dusted off my shoe and drained a 25-yard field goal (on my 2nd attempt). So if Justin Tucker misses any chip shots in the first couple games, I’M READY!!!!

As for the draft itself, I was more than happy to take Ridley with my first pick. I debated between him and Morris for a couple minutes, but in the end, it’s always fun to have a player on the team you root for (and one who could score 15 touchdowns this season). So instead of Tom Brady touchdown passes, I’ll be hoping receivers get tackled at the 5 and Ridley takes it in from there. The problem with my league is that most of my buddies tend to over-think and over-analyze who’s available and their potential. As has been proven time and time again, fantasy football is 98% luck and 2% setting yourself up to have good luck, so there’s roughly no difference between who you’re taking in the later rounds. Such, our draft runs insanely long, and that’s just what happened last weekend. Thankfully, there was an Orioles game going on we could peek out the windows of the B&O Warehouse behind Camden Yards (oh, did I fail to mention we drafted in the warehouse behind Camden Yards? my bad) and take in while Jason and Nick spent an episode of Ray Donovan debating between Brian Hartline and Toby Gerhart.

In the end, I was very satisfied with my top selections (MJD, Ryan, Ridley, Marques Colston, Tony Gonzalez), my defense (Seahawks) and my backups with starting potential (Roy Helu and Andre Roberts). I took a flyer on a couple sleepers (DeAndre Hopkins and Markus Wheaton) and went back to old reliable with my kicker (Sebastian Janikowski). Is this finally the year the Gregg Moore Trophy takes its rightful home at Brockman Manor? I don’t know, since an injury could squash all title hopes faster than you can pronounce Michael Hoomanawanui. The Colt .45 LA Bandits have been so close before and came up short, but with another season anew I’m hopeful, and that’s no fantasy.

James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

LOS ANGELES — The first time I ever saw “The Sopranos” was in the Spring of 2001. The show was leading into its third season, and as customary, HBO was replaying Season 2 every Sunday night as a buildup. I got hooked by my dorm neighbor and great friend, Rich Kiss, who like the Sopranos themselves, hailed from New Jersey. He was a junkie for the mobster hit and I figured, if he liked it, then I would, too. One of the first episodes I remember seeing was the one where Janice kills Richie Aprile. Blown away a semi-main character would just be offed like that, I turned to Rich in disbelief and he looked at me and said, “that happens ALL THE TIME!” Of course, he knew what was coming at Season 2′s end, but when Big Pussy met the fishes, let’s just say I was the one who had trouble sleeping for a few days.

And I was forever hooked.

It wasn’t the violence that intrigued me about “The Sopranos,” however, it was the performances. They were unlike anything on television, and the actors, writers and producers knew that as much as we did. (I couldn’t even begin to tell you what else I was watching on television at this point outside of “SportsCenter.” Probably “Survivor” or Craig Kilborn.) ‘Sopranos’ was edgy. Gratuitous with its swearing and excess, and hilarious with its rough dialogue. These guys were gangsters but real people with surprisingly normal problems. They argued with their wives, their kids were a pain in the ass, and their troubles on the job always came home with them. Sure, they talked funny and dressed gaudy but we kinda liked them, even though we hated them.

At the center of it all was Tony, played to perfection by James Gandolfini, whom the world was shocked to learn died Wednesday at age 51 while on vacation in Italy. Larger than life, commanding of your undivided attention whenever he appeared on screen, and surprisingly sympathetic as the ruthless and murderous lead of the show, Galdolfini consumed the role, swallowed it whole and spit out pure gold. He made you root for the bad guy and almost had you feeling guilty when you didn’t. (One of the best illustrations of this is in the show itself, when Agent Harris, a longtime nemesis of Tony, cheered out after learning of Phil Leotardo’s death, “we’re gonna win this thing!”) Gandolfini made wanting evil to triumph cool. Make no mistake, Tony Soprano is one of the baddest men in television history, yet because of Gandolfini’s weekly performance, you wanted him to come out on top. You wanted him to finally find peace and that loving relationship with his family, to get past the panic attacks, to defeat New York. You wanted those things and you looked coldly the other way when he stepped out of bounds from time to time.

Certainly no one looked like him on television, which was another part of his appeal – he was big and balding, not exactly leading man looks – and no one could cuss like him. I’d argue he brought back creative cursing. What fun it must’ve been to write those scenes in which he went off the deep end with Carmela or Christopher or Paulie or the poor bartender at the Bada Bing, and then watch Gandolfini flawlessly execute them.

All this paved the way for characters like Don Draper and Walter White and Vic Mackey and Dexter Morgan and all the rest of our cable anti-heroes who lead questionable lives but whom we all want to see come out squeaky clean in the end. The power of the individual performance allowed not only “The Sopranos” but the rest to take big chances and change how we consumed television. It allowed Showtime to take a chance on an anti-hero, and FX and AMC and Netflix to do the same. It made Sunday nights the must-see TV night. Think about all your favorite shows… they all air on Sunday nights. That’s because of the power and the emotion and the rage and the ability of James Gandolfini, of what he did every Sunday night on HBO for 86 episodes.

He was truly amazing.

So much was written Wednesday about the man and it was all incredibly moving and tugged at your heart strings. By all accounts Gandolfini was a gentle giant who never forgot a face or an encounter, no matter how small, and made everyone feel as if they were the most important person in the room. These reflections couldn’t have been more refreshing to read. Someone who achieved his level of fame could’ve easily acted differently and no one would look the other way. Just goes shows the type of man he was and the legacy he leaves behind.

I spent any free time Wednesday watching old ‘Sopranos’ clips, thinking about his other flawless cinematic performances, and reading countless lists and reflections about the man, A co-worker and I even went and ate Italian for dinner at a place called “Godfathers,” which even had a painting on the wall inside of Tony and his crew. Just seemed like the right thing to do. And who could forget my old 1999 Chevy Tahoe, which I aptly called “Stugots” after Tony’s boat on the show. I told my buddy, Jay, that it was a night like Wednesday night I wish I still had Stugots, so I could just take a drive and pretend I was Tony Soprano huffing up the driveway one last time.

Rest In Peace, James.

Your 2013 Guide to March Madness

LOS ANGELES — Back in my sports writing days, my favorite column to write each year was my “Guide to March Madness.” In it, I always gave my Maine readers tips for optimally enjoying their NCAA Tournament experience, whether it was ideas for party food or face painting, and I even threw in some sleeper choices for their brackets. It’s been four long years since I’ve put this piece from my brain to computer screen, and guess what?

WE’RE BACK!!

That’s right, without further delaying you reading my genius, here’s the 2013 edition of “Your Guide to March Madness.”

1.) Get your viewing situation in order — Obviously, this is the most important element to March Madness. You need to figure out how you’re going to watch the games. There are 67 of them over the course of 3-plus weeks. That’s a lot (though a slow month for @Farbaro picking up chicks on Match.com), so you have to make sure you’re setup is ideal. If you’re going multiple TVs, I recommend a 3-box, that way you can have the best game of the session going in the middle and then your sub games on the side. You can also fire up a laptop, as all the games will once again be streaming online live at MarchMadness.com. Also, you’ll want to make sure you know where to quickly find TruTV, TBS and TNT on your cable provider (if you can’t find CBS, then you’re pretty much beyond help at this point). I don’t know about you, but I literally only watch TruTV during these couple weeks, and couldn’t even find it on DirecTV if you paid me right now. I’ll be following my own advice on this one. If you’re going to a bar, make sure you get there early, as it’ll probably be packed with morons who clearly don’t know as much about college hoops as you do. Speaking of…

2.) Don’t be the obnoxious guy at the bar — We all want our teams to win, that’s a given, but there’s a fine line between rooting and being that freakin’ annoying-ass poser we all hoped would get eaten by Bigfoot on the school camping trip. If you’re going to physically be at the game, it’s OK to paint your face, but not at the bar. I don’t need your Jayhawk blueface dripping into my buffalo wings. Leave the pom-poms at home, too, before you knock over my milkshake. If you have to bring items with you, then you didn’t need them in the first place. Your cheers and loud claps are enough. It is appropriate to wear a shirt or jersey, team hat or headband and even break out some appropriate knee socks but don’t get carried away. There’s no need for themed sunglasses (hello, you’re indoors), foam fingers (how are you supposed to eat loaded nachos with one hand?) or signs. And when your best player knocks down a big 3 in the first half, go easy on the chanting. No one cares that you remember your fight song. In fact, unless you’re at an official sponsored event your college is throwing, no singing or chanting whatsoever is appropriate.

3.) Only fill out one bracket — This is a change from my previous years columns, where I used to tell everyone to fill out as many as you could get your hands on, and make sure you had your highliters and abacuses and charts handy to know how you’re doing. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that one bracket is the way to go, no matter how many different “office pools” you’re in. With one bracket you don’t have to worry about rooting for Butler AND Bucknell to win. You’ll be happy when you take Ole Miss to upset Wisconsin and they do just that when Marshall Henderson goes nuts from beyond the arc. It just simplifies your life, which is really what enjoying March Madness is all about. The less time you have to spend worrying about who’ve selected to survive and advance, the more time you can focus on devouring one more slice of pizza. Ya know, the important stuff.

4.) Stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep — March Madness is a marathon, not a sprint, that’s important to remember when you’re stuffing your face with quesadillas and $3 pints at happy hour on Thursday and Friday. There’s 32 games played on those first two days and you want to make sure you’re well rested and properly hydrated so you can enjoy each one to his maximum. You don’t want to pass out or cramp up before the late games either day. And with another 16 games over the weekend, that’s a lot of basketball and too many opportunities for failure. Fortune favors the prepared. For every couple of beers, make sure you pound a water. During that lull between morning and evening sessions, grab a power nap. Don’t let Mother Nature be the reason you missed another Valparaiso miracle or UCLA coast-to-coast buzzer beater. You’d have only yourself to blame if Bucknell is again Cinderella and you were face down in tears like Adam Morrison.

OTHER MARCH MADNESS THOUGHTS

Stone Cold Locks: By now, you’ve spent Monday and probably the better part of Tuesday ignoring a 83% of your workload and trying to find as much “inside” information as you can on who to take. As most of you know, you can’t win your bracket in the First Round but you can definitely lose it. One thing you don’t wanna do is have a Final Four team fall on the first day (thanks a lot, 2011 West Virginia) or any of your Sweet 16ers. But you can be safe riding these teams: (EAST) Indiana, Marquette, Miami; the top three seeds have easy roads to the Elite 8 in this region. (SOUTH) Georgetown, Florida, VCU should all advance to the Sweet 16. (MIDWEST) Louisville, Michigan St., Saint Louis appear to have the best road in by far the toughest bracket. Be careful of Duke. It has the talent to win the whole thing or lose in the first round to Albany. (WEST) New Mexico and Ohio St. are the only two locks in this region. It’s a shame they’ll meet as early as they will in the Sweet 16.

Sleepers: A lot of little guys got into this year’s tournament, which hopefully will pave the way for a slew of upsets and busted brackets (not mine, of course). In order to ensure yours stays in tact you’ll want to take a hard look at these possible darkhorses: Oregon (12) and Cincinnati (10) in the Midwest, Minnesota (11) in the South, Bucknell (11) and Cal (12) in the East, and Ole Miss (12) in the West. I also like just one 9-seed and one 10-seed to win, it’s up to you to figure out who. And lastly, I know every year it seems like a 13 beats a 4, so I’ll give you one of those too; take South Dakota St. over Michigan (come on, you don’t think I’d actually tell you to take Montana over Syracuse, do you?).

Final Four Picks: When it’s all said and done, here’s who I like to meet in Atlanta on April 6: Louisville (1) vs. New Mexico (3), and Georgetown (2) vs. Miami (2).

Players who could be this year’s Harold Arceneaux: For those too young to remember the Weber State great, let me learn ya’. Arceneaux and the Wildcats won the Big Sky Conference in 1999 and faced third-seeded North Carolina in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. All that happened over the course of the next 40 minutes was the hotshot guard’s coming-out party. Weber State upset the Tar Heels, 76-74, as Arceneaux scored a game-high 36 points, 20 in the second half, including the game-winning steal in the closing moments. The image of the Wildcat players lifting their coach became part of CBS’s coverage year after year and Arceneaux vaulted into national spotlight. In the Second Round, Arceneaux scored 32 points as Weber State pushed Florida to overtime, but fell 82-74. He returned for his senior season in 1999-2000 and finished 5th in the nation in scoring, averaging 27.0 ppg in league play, but the Wildcats finished 18-10 and did not qualify for the tournament.

So, who could have a meteoric tournament and find themselves an overnight sensation? Well, I mentioned Henderson earlier, who is a prime candidate given his huge SEC Tournament. But don’t sleep on Valparaiso’s Ryan Broekhoff, San Diego St.’s Nate Wolters, Cal’s Allen Crabbe, Iowa St.’s Tyrus McGee, Belmont’s Ian Clark and Montana’s Kareem Jamar.

STREAKY SYRACUSE IN SAN JOSE, CALIF.

As I watched Selection Sunday and Greg Gumble rattle off each region, it became clear there was a solid chance Syracuse would be playing out west here in San Jose, which is only a 5-hour drive from Los Angeles. Quickly, I began thinking logistically and calculating financially what it would take to get me up there to watch our First Round matchup against Montana and it wasn’t as crazy as you’d think. While my decision to hope in the Joffrey and make the trip will be a game-time one, I don’t think it’s one I’d regret. One thing making this a simple no-brainer is the fact that in the last month the Orange has played some of the most inconsistent basketball I can remember as a fan. I tweeted out this was the most inconsistent team I could recall and was notified of the disaster Donte Greene year of 2007-’08 in which Syracuse went 21-14 and missed the NCAA Tournament. I did indeed black that year out.

To close this season, the Orange lost four of its last five games and I was telling anyone who would listen it was destined for an opening-round loss in this year’s Big Dance. Then Madison Square Garden happened and a run to the Big East Championship game that reminded the country why we rose to No. 1 for a week this season. The talent is there. The ability to put it all together for a string of games is there. Shots were consistently falling, defense was being played and we even made free throws. Then, of course, the second half of the Louisville game took place and I went back into panic mode, but that’s besides the point. Could Syracuse win it all? I’m going to go that far. A return trip to the Elite 8 would be be a very successful conclusion to this roller coaster season. And it all starts with Montana on Thursday.

Enjoy the Madness, everyone.

2012 NFL Burning Answers

LOS ANGELES — The Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs is always the most exciting. The final eight teams. The truly best eight of a long, arduous season left standing. And if you break down who’s remaining as we enter Week 19 there’s no question these are the elite eight: Patriots, Texans, Broncos, Ravens in the AFC, and Falcons, Seahawks, Packers and 49ers in the NFC. My preseason Super Bowl pick is still alive and we’ll see if Green Bay and New England make it through the weekend. I know I’m pretty excited after a lackluster Wild Card Weekend.

With the end of the season comes the end-of-the-year awards. Here are my picks:

MVP — Adrian Peterson: carried Vikings to the playoffs and averaged more yards per carry than Christian Ponder averaged per pass. Oh yeah, he blew out his knee just over a year ago and didn’t miss a single snap due to injury this season.

Comeback Player of the Year — Peyton Manning: missed the entire 2011 season and made most who said he should have retired or wouldn’t be the same eat crow with a remarkable 2012.

Offensive Rookie of the Year — Russell Wilson: didn’t get injured or turn the ball over as much as the other rookie candidates, and led the Seahawks to 11 wins and a playoff triumph. Good enough for me.

Defensive Player of the Year — J. J. Watt: 20.5 sacks and another 15 pass deflections. A must-double team on every play or risk him blowing up your whole offensive game plan.

Coach of the Year — Pete Carroll: with all due respect to Chuck Pagano/Bruce Arians, the Colts got some fortunate in-game luck this season (no pun intended) while Seattle played in a tough division, went with a rookie QB and finished undefeated at home. Always compete.

This will double as my end-of-the-regular season You’re The Man Rankings column as well as recapping my preseason Burning Questions for each of the 32 teams. Check that out here to see how I did.

Been an awesome season and it’s only gonna get better the next 3 weeks. Enjoy and thanks for coming along for the ride with me.

32.) Jacksonville Jaguars (final record: 2-14) (preseason YTM rank: 28) – Back before the season started, one of the cornerstones of my fantasy team was Maurice Jones-Drew and one of my questions was what week do I start him in fantasy after his offseason holdout? Well the answer should’ve been NEVER. Like never start him ever. Or trade him immediately. Or how about this: don’t keep him AT ALL. Don’t even consider keeping him. He ruined my fantasy season. Also, me not executing a trade the same week he got injured forced me into scramble mode the entire second half of the year; 418 yards and a TD from my keeper!!?! Sigh. And as for Justin Blackmon, he thrived with Chad Henne at QB and finished the season strong with 38 grabs and 5 TDs in the last 7 games. Certainly something to build on heading into 2013 and on his way to living up to my Anquan Boldin comparison.

31.) Kansas City Chiefs (2-14) (17) – Clearly, I missed pretty bad on my preseason prognostication of the Chiefs; like 14 spots bad. Though, I wasn’t alone. The Chiefs had all the tools to be a contending team this season and it just never got together. And it started with the quarterback. Matt Cassel was atrocious. Like got-his-coach-fired atrocious. I asked if Cassel was the man like people thought he was, well those who thought that are clearly idiots. He turned the ball over at Sanchezian rates – 12 interceptions and 7 lost fumbles – before he was benched in Week 10 and it appears his career as a starting QB are over. Hope he invested his large signing bonus wisely. I’m not sure where Cassel ends up next season, but wherever it is, it’ll be as a handsome backup.

30.) Oakland Raiders (4-12) (22) – Could the Raiders defense carry its weight; that is what I asked to start the season, guessing the offense would be in good shape. Well, let’s take a look at the numbers, shall we. Oakland finished 18th in total offense (8th in passing yards, 28th in rushing), 26th in points scored and 27th in 1st downs.  Defensively, the Raiders were 15th in total yards (13th in passing yards allowed, 15th in rushing) and 28th in points allowed. So, in a way, you could say the the defense out-performed the offense but it just gave up too many points, which translated to only 4 wins. Oh, and Darren McFadden getting hurt AGAIN didn’t help anything. Wait, Carson Palmer just threw another interception.

29.) Philadelphia Eagles (4-12) (16) – Debacle. Disaster. Deserving. An overrated player didn’t use any of these D-words to describe the Eagles but they would’ve fit pretty much from Week 1 through their Week 17. This year didn’t just cost Andy Reid his job but it might’ve cost him his sanity. He had LeSean McCoy but barely used him. He benched Michael Vick for Nick Foles. And he thinks he can coach up the Chiefs into a playoff contender. After what Reid went through in the preseason he probably should’ve sat out this season. Then again, I said Peyton Manning should’ve retired. What do I know?

28.) Arizona Cardinals (5-11) (30) — I nailed this one right on the head this preseason. I wondered if I was up next on the Cardinals QB Carousel and as it turned out, they trotted out four different jamokes. FOUR!!?! Kurt Warner changed his phone number at least that many times this year ducking Ken Whisenhunt’s calls. Poor Wiz got canned, too. That was a theme this offseason.

27.) New York Jets (6-10) (26) – So as it turned out, Tim Tebow got used as much by the Jets as much as I did. I wondered how bad their offense was going to be this year and let’s find out: 30th in total offense; 30th in passing yards per game; 12th in rushing yards per game. Mark Sanchez was 31st in passer rating, ahead of only Matt Cassel, 26th in passing yards, 2nd in interceptions and 1st in turnovers. Yup, that’s pretty terrible.

26.) Cleveland Browns (5-11) (32) — So, the running game ended up being pretty decent in Cleveland, this fall. Trent Richardson ran for 950 yards and the 5th most rushing TDs in the league with 11. I may have cut Greg Little from my fantasy team in Week 4 or 5 (I’ve really tried to forget this season already) but Brandon Weeden (3,385 yds, 14 TD, 17 INT) wasn’t as bad as Mark Sanchez, so that’s a win. Sort of. The Browns were 30th in First Down Percentage, and whatever that means, I’m guessing it’s not good.

25.) Tennessee Titans (6-10) (24) – I figured the Titans would go as far as Chris Johnson took him, what with Jake Locker being the consistent starter for the first time, and I wasn’t exactly wrong. Surely, they expected more than 6 wins, but after a disappointing 2011 campaign, CJ bounced back with 1,243 yards and 6 TDs this season. Locker was again hurt and questions should be asked about his durability.

24.) Detroit Lions (4-12) (11) – Matthew Stafford finished 2nd in the NFL in passing yards this season, which we all kind of figured; he just missed a second straight 5,000-yard season by 33 yards. But 2012′s 4-win effort was definitely a disappointment especially after being a playoff team in 2011. I wondered if the secondary would let them down and it wasn’t terrible. Their unit allowed the 19th most passing yards per game but the 13th most touchdown passes. Still, how do you go from the playoffs to 4 wins in just one year?

23.) Buffalo Bills (6-10) (18) – Mario Williams did his part this year, registering 10.5 sacks and the Bills defense gave up the 23rd most passing yards per game. However, the offense was mediocre at best: 19th in total yards and you could argue C.J. Spiller was underutilized. Either way, it’s now former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone’s problem. Rumored to be replacing Chan Gailey on Sunday, Marrone led my beloved Orange to its second bowl win in 4 years.

22.) San Diego Chargers (7-9) (19) – Again, I nailed this one. There’s no way the Chargers weren’t finishing out of the playoffs and there’s no way Norv Turner and A.J. Smith weren’t getting fired and there’s no way I’m speaking proper English right now. Regardless, the Chargers were a disaster from the second half of the Denver game, on. Why? Who knows. Was Philp Rivers the problem? Beats me. Is Ryan Mathews a bust? I mean, it looks that way. Who’s gonna be the coach? Can they catch the Broncos next season? Should they just wear the powder blues all year? Probably.

21.) St. Louis Rams (7-8-1) (27) – I was really at a loss when it came to words for this Rams team in 2012, but back in the preseason I wondered who would emerge as a legitimate pass-catcher for Sam Bradford. This no-name group of receivers needed someone to emerge and that man appeared to be Danny Amendola, who despite missing 5 games and parts of two others, had 63 receptions. As a team, the Rams had 7 guys catch TD passes so we’ll see if anyone steps up next season. As for Steven Jackson, he did take a pounding this year but managed to gain 1,000 yards for the 8th consecutive season.

20.) Miami Dolphins (7-9) (31) — At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if you thought, watching Hard Knocks, the Dolphins were going to win 7 games, you’re the big winner at the casino tonight, Mikey. I was hoping Mrs. Tannehill would suit up at WR this year, but the Dolphins’ band of no-names led by Brian Hartline wasn’t terrible catching the ball. Sure, Reggie Bush didn’t lead the league in rushing or even 1,000 yards (he was 14 short), but this team was one of the surprises in the league and will contend for a playoff spot next year. Oh, and Mrs. Tannehill will be around A LOT.

19.) New Orleans Saints (7-9) (7) – Turns out the head coach is pretty darn important. Turns out the interim coach is pretty important, too. Turns out you can’t start the first 4 weeks winless and expect to have it be in the Super Bowl game being played in your stadium. The Bounty Gate situation was a black cloud over the team, city and league for what seemed like the entire season. New Orleans would love nothing more than to put 2012 behind it. Sure, Drew Brees signed a bajillion dollar contract, his coach did, too, and he threw for more than 5,000 yards (again), but he surely would’ve given it all up (and those terrible Pepsi commercials) to have made the playoffs. Next year.

18.) Dallas Cowboys (8-8) (21) – One of the big Cowboys stories heading into this season was Jerry Jones giving Dez Bryant his own set of bodyguards. Well those guys did their job as Dez had one of the more memorable receiver seasons by someone not named Calvin or Johnson. All Dez went out and do was haul in 92 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, including 10 scores in the last 8 weeks and doing it with a broken finger. He balled out. No question about it and really answered the bell when many were questioning him throughout the year. He’s an elite receiver. Wish the Patriots had him.

17.) Carolina Panthers (7-9) (15) – If you have a younger sibling, you remember what it was like when they were born and suddenly you weren’t the toast of the town anymore. I get the feeling Cam Newton’s feelings were hurt by all the buzz around Andrew Luck and My Good Friend Robert. Look at the season splits; in the first 10 weeks the Panthers were 2-7 and came had 10 INTs and only 8 TDs. Down the stretch, Cam lit it up as Carolina saved not only its miserable season but Ron Rivera’s job, throwing for 11 TDs and only 2 INTs. Sophomore slump? Sure. But I’d be back on that Camwagon next season, if I was you.

16.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9) (13) – I thought this Bucs team was going to make the playoffs; even said so when they started 2-4. I believed. And was looking even better after rattled off 4-straight wins to get to 6-4 and were in the drivers seat for the Wild Card. Josh Freeman was in shape, making plays and Doug Martin was running rampant. Then … yeah, I don’t know. Then the wheels came off and the Bucs lost 5 in a row and Freeman threw 10 picks. It was brutal. 6 and 4 became 7 and 9 with lots of questions heading into the offseason.

15.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (8-8) (12) – Nailed this one, too, and I don’t feel good about it. Mike Wallace couldn’t have been more terrible; don’t know the exact number but he had to have led the league in drops while killing my fantasy team in the process. Ben Roethlisberger nearly got himself killed by playing with fractured ribs and Rashard Mendenhall probably won’t even be on the team next year. Oh, and Todd Haley is talking to the Cardinals about their coaching vacancy. Yup, a season to forget in Pittsburgh.

14.) New York Giants (9-7) (1) – Normally it’s the Super Bowl loser who struggles the following season but the Giants gave Tom Coughlin little to smile about this season. I’m not sure if it was the 3-5 collapse after a 6-2 start or if it was watching the hated Redskins win the division for the first time in 13 years or if it was just he constantly has a sour puss look on his face. Actually, his A Football Life was one of the more enjoyable this year and gave some insight as to why Coughlin is who he is. Check it out if you haven’t had the pleasure.

13.) Chicago Bears (10-6) – Brandon Marshall was tied for 2nd in targets (195) with Reggie Wayne and receptions (118) with Wes Welker, trailing only Calvin Johnson in both. Marshall was 3rd in receiving yards (1,508) behind Megatron and Andre Johnson. BM15 also scored 11 touchdowns. So, yeah, I’d say he and Jay Cutler made sweet music this season on the Midway and should be a great combo moving forward. Though we’ll see who the Bears new coach is what he has to say about it.

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12.) Minnesota Vikings (10-6) (29) — Remember all those ones I said I nailed earlier? Well I definitely screwed the pooch on this one. Here’s exactly what I said again about Mr. Adrian Peterson before the season:If I’m Adrian Peterson, for starters I’d probably spend an uncomfortable amount of time staring at myself in the mirror, but I also wouldn’t be in any rush to get back on the field in Minnesota.” Yeesh. So 2,097 yards later, how’s that taste, Brockman? But my real preseason question was about the Vikings defense, so a quick statistical analysis tells me that it was it gave up the 9th most passing yards in the league, and worst in the NFC North.

11.) Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) (8) –  The 2011 Bengals went 9-7 and were the AFC Wild Card. Andy Dalton threw for 3,398 yards, 20 TD and 13 INT and made the Pro Bowl, while rookie wide receiver A.J. Green caught 65 balls for 1,057 yards and 7 TDs. But they ultimately lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the Texans. The 2012 Bengals went 10-6 and were the AFC Wild Card, Dalton threw for 3,669 yards, 27 TDs and 16 INTs, Green caught 97 passes for 1,350 yards and 11 TDs but lost to the Texans in the AFC Wild Card. So yeah, I’d say they equaled last year.

10.) Washington Redskins (10-6) (20) – What went on in the NFC Wild Card aside, there’s no question that My Good Friend Robert (as he’s been known as this season in this very column) was one of the chief stories of the 2012 NFL Season. What he did to shock to life the football-crazed DC area was nothing short of a miracle and to call him a Cam Newton-lite, like I tried to do in the preseason was a vast understatement. Here’s Cam’s 2011 season numbers: 4,051 passing yards, 21 TDs, 17 INTs, 706 rushing yards, 15 TDs. Here’s Robert’s 2012 season stats: 3,200 passing yards, 20 TDs, 5 INTs, 815 rushing yards, 7 TDs, AND he was 3rd in the league in passer rating behind two guys named Rodgers and Manning. Ho hum. Unreal. And Mike Shanahan went the other direction used just one main running back this year, another rookie, who only rushed for 1,600 yards in Alfred Morris. Football is back in Washington.

9.) Indianapolis Colts (11-5) (25) – What an amazing season in Indianapolis from the play of their rookies, a rejuvenated Reggie Wayne and the story of Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians, who deserve to share Coach of the Year honors. I had the Colts 25 in the preseason and predicted that would be their lowest ranking of the year. Turns out I was more than correct. I didn’t envision a playoff team, but thanks to Luck’s astounding rookie season (4,374 passing yards, 23 TDs, 17 INTs, 5 rushing TDs) and some timely big plays, the Colts won 11 games and should be again contenders for the next decade or so.

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8.) Baltimore Ravens (10-6) (4) – The Ravens began this year with an undrafted, 22-year-old rookie kicker from Texans named Justin Tucker, who replaced Billy Cundiff, who if you remember, missed from 32 yards in last year’s AFC Championship game and cost Baltimore  a trip to the Super Bowl. So I wondered if its new kicker could indeed make a 32-yard  field goal. And while Tucker had a fine 2012 season in which he only missed 3 field goals the entire year, he did not make one from 32 yards out. He was 8-for-8 on kicks between 30 and 39 yards, including three each from 38 and 39 yards, but not from 32. Tucker was perfect from 50-plus yards, but none from 32. So we’ll see this weekend and beyond if he is called upon can he deliver from that distance.

7.) San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) (5) – Maybe the real question I should’ve asked was whether or not someone OTHER than Alex Smith will make everyone forget Jim Harbaugh tried to woo Peyton Manning last offseason. Man. Poor Alex Smith. Who saw his benching coming? Guy was leading the league in passer rating, got knocked out, and then Wally Pipp’ed. Colin Kaepernick has come in and gone 5-2-1 as a starter and looks explosive and unguardable at times. He has a cannon and runs like a gazelle. He beat the Saints and Patriots on the road and the Bears at home. Battle tested? Not exactly. We’ll find out very, very soon against Green Bay. But remember, Smith got them to within a few minutes of the Super Bowl last year, anything less is a disappointment out of CK1.

6.) Seattle Seahawks (11-5) (23) – This will be my shortest response of the column. I asked if Russell Wilson could make the Seahawks a contender when the games counted for real: YES. YES. YES. I’m a believer. He did it. And he kills it on this week’s Eisen Podcast, listen for yourself and tell me you’re not all-in on this kid.

5.) Houston Texans (12-4) (6) – Arian Foster continues to dominate NFL defenses and the Twitterverse, while the bow is catching on as a favorite end zone celebration. He bowed a total of 17 times this season and led the league with 351 rushing attempts, so clearly Gary Kubiak was a fan of the bow, as well.

4.) Green Bay Packers (11-5) (3) – Well, as it turned out, Cedric Benson wasn’t the answer for the Packers running game, and in reality, there have been a few answers to that question this season. In all, the Packers used 6 different running backs (including fullback John Kuhn) with Benson being the go-to guy before his Week 5 injury. From there, James Starks picked up on his 2011 postseason run, then Alex Green and now DuJuan Harris appears to be the featured back. Still, when you have Aaron Rodgers, you’re offense is in good shape.

3.) New England Patriots (12-4) (2) – Lost in the amazingness that was Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson’s 2012 seasons was the once again masterful season-long campaign of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. A strong case could be made Brady should win this third MVP award. All he did was lead the Patriots to another ho-hum 12-4 season by throwing for 4,827 yards, 34 TDs and only 8 INTs; his third career season of single-digit interceptions. I wondered preseason if Brady could get better looking and the answer is, duh. Look at him. Whenever I see his Uggs billboards I scream “TOMMY!!” at them. People look at me like I’m nuts. They’re not wrong. I also asked if the dreadful 2011 Patriots defense could be better than 31st and they improved slightly to 25th. Hey, offense (and being attractive) wins games, right? (reminded of Super Bowl 42 and 46) Sigh.

2.) Atlanta Falcons (13-3) (9) – For the first few weeks of the regular season, probably up until he threw 5 picks against the Cardinals, Matt Ryan was a legitimate MVP contender. The Falcons were rolling everyone in their path and while they stumbled going 2-2 the last month of the year, they still finished 13-3 and the top seed in the NFC. Ryan, my fantasy QB I might add, accumulated 4,719 passing yards, 32 TDs and 14 INTs; all career highs. Still, if they don’t beat the Seahawks this weekend it’ll be considered an unmitigated disaster year and both Mike Smith and Ryan will take an enormous amount of offseason heat for failing, once again, to win a playoff game. Not to mention, Tony Gonzalez will retire winless in the playoffs.

1.) Denver Broncos (13-3) (14) – In a way, it’s fitting that my biggest whiff of the preseason predictions would go on to become the top team the NFL as we enter the Divisional Playoff Round. Peyton Manning had a throwback season for the ages after missing 2011 in its entirety following four neck surgeries, and most think he’s at least a 50/50 shot at winning his record 5th MVP. Hard to say he transformed the Broncos since they were a playoff team (and winner) a year ago, but he gave them a true identity and a definitely attitude and swagger they haven’t had since John Elway roamed the backfield. Riding an 11-game winning streak, I wouldn’t want to come anywhere near them in the playoffs. That’s good enough to earn you billing as The Man.

Stay tuned for my final 2012 NFL Season You’re The Man rankings which will come after the Super Bowl, where I’ll focus on the one thing each team has to look forward to or be concerned with heading into the 2013 offseason.

The Crossover Ep. 27 — ROFFL Playoff Preview

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LOS ANGELES — It’s that time of the year, people: Fantasy Football Playoffs. I don’t know about you, but of all the league’s I’m in (that would be one, two, three, four, FIVE), there’s only one that I really care about and pay attention to 24/7: The Retired Orangemen Fantasy Football League.

This season is our 11th and it’s just as competitive as Season 1. It’s also been a wild one for the Colt .45 Hollywood Bandits. Started out hot, winning the first 3 weeks, then lost the next two, before climbing to 6-3. But a three-game losing streak had me wondering if the playoffs were a pipe dream. But a Week 13 win had me again in the tournament, which is where you want to be. The closest I’ve come to winning was a year ago. I fell to Drew Brees and his owner, Parker Deay, in the finals. A finals that seemed out of reach when I began the year 0-4, but nonetheless I reached after upsetting a pair of higher seeds in the first two rounds.

This season, I’m again the 7th seed and Parker, a two-time champion, is again No. 1, so I had to get him over to Trojan Manor to chat about the season and the upcoming ROFFL Playoffs, which begin this Thursday with the Broncos at Raiders on Thursday Night Football.

Enjoy the banter, boys!


2012 NFL ‘You’re The Man’ Rankings — Week 10

LOS ANGELES — The halfway point of the regular season is a time for all the pundits to adjust their preseason predictions. Here at The Chris Brockman Website, we make statements and stick by them, which is why we’re standing behind our prognostications 100%! Back in August, I went on record and chose Lovie Smith as my Coach of the Year, Matthew Stafford as my passing champ, Darren McFadden as my rushing champ and Tom Brady my MVP. Also, I predicted the Patriots and Packers to reach the Super Bowl (the same pick I said in 2011 (I was half right)) and I have no reason to move off that.

New England is 5-3 and Green Bay is 6-3 and each are improving by the week. The Packers have been bitten the injury bug this year, especially at receiver with Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson but have still made plays and put up numbers. Tom Brady is still doing his thing and the young defense seems to be improving, though time will tell with the secondary. So, I’m standing by my NFC playoff teams: 49ers, Packers, Bears, Giants, Bucs and Falcons. In the AFC, honestly, I don’t recall exactly what I said since I don’t think I wrote it down, but I’m calling Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, Broncos, Texans and Colts.

What say you? Send me your pics here at the halfway point. While you mull it over, let’s find out Who’s The Man.

32.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-7) (32) — If you’re in the market for some large, luxury-style homes with lots of bathrooms, probably theaters and pool tables in the greater Kansas City area, you’re in luck! There should be at least three such available in less than two months after Romeo Crennell, Scott Pioli and Matt Cassel all get axed.

31.) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7) (31) — I’ve run out of things to say about the Jaguars, so here’s a quickie Extra Butter about the movie I saw over the weekend, “Sinister,” which was as frightening Jacksonville’s play this season… Without giving anything away, here’s a quick plot outline: Ethan Hawke is a true crime novelist looking for one more big hit. He stumbles across what he realizes is a series of murders he thinks are connected. Only he and his family end up becoming part of the story. It’s very good. Some jumpy parts. Moves quickly. If you’re into this genre, you’ll enjoy it. Brockman Stamp of Approval: 3.5 out of 5 boxes of home movies.

30.) Cleveland Browns (2-7) (29) lost — OK, so maybe my Browns honking was a bit premature last week. Someone has to stump for them, though, right? I mean, no one’s watching their games now that the NBA has started and Kyrie Irving and Dion Waters are manning the Cavs backcourt. Those two could have a great decade run if Dan Gilbert doesn’t run them out of town with Comic Sans emails.

29.) Buffalo Bills (3-5) (28) — I blame last week’s loss to Texans on the fact that the Amish Rifle shaved his beard into a goatee. You don’t mess with beard karma, as I’ve learned after trimming mine into a hideous mustache for No Shave November. OK, I guess the Texans are pretty freakin’ good.

28.) Carolina Panthers (2-6) (30) — Here’s the good news for all you Mitt Romney supporters: in 17-of-the-last-19 presidential elections, if the Redskins win their last home game before Election Day the incumbent party retains the White House. The Panthers defeated the Redskins in Landover, Md. on Sunday. Will the GOP be celebrating Tuesday night? (update: nope, they sure weren’t.)

27.) Arizona Cardinals (4-5) (27) — If you saw this game or any of the highlites or saw Larry Fitzgerald’s touchdown reception on Red Zone Channel, did you notice how hard he had to work on that thing? How many jukes and moves and broken tackles he had to withstand just to find the end zone? It should not be that difficult for one of the top, if not the top, receivers in the game to score. It just shouldn’t. At this point, I’m sure Fitz wouldn’t mind if Michael Vick were his quarterback. Ya know, assuming Vick is out of a job in about 8 weeks. #FreeFitz

26.) Tennessee Titans (3-6) (25) — I’ll let Titans owner Bud Adams bring this one home: “In my 50 years of owning an NFL franchise, I am at a loss to recall a regular season home game that was such a disappointment for myself, and fans of the Titans,” Adams told The Tennessean. “We were grossly outcoached and outplayed from start to finish today… At this time, all aspects of the organization will be closely evaluated, including front office, coaches and players over the next seven games. If performance and competitiveness does not improve, I will look at all alternatives to get back to having the Titans become a playoff and championship football team.”

25.) Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) (23) — Ooooooooh Philadelphia. What a week this is going to be there. But before Jeff Lurie does anything, I hope he checks in with Marcus Vick; he seems to have a lot to say.

24.) Oakland Raiders (3-5) (26) — I attended the UCLA/Arizona game this past weekend at the Rose Bowl, my first trip to the famous Pasadena stadium. Loved the experience, and even though the game was an absolute boat race, there were some heavily intoxicated females sitting in front of us who happen to be talking about fantasy football. I leered close enough to get myself into the conversation. One of them said she had to start Carson Palmer this week with Tom Brady on a bye, but she didn’t feel good about because she “hated” the Raiders and didn’t like Palmer “because he’s a Trojan.” I told her to stick with Palmer, that he would undoubtedly have a big game, which he did: 39-of-61, 414 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs and a 2pt conversion. In my league, good enough for 40.3 points. You’re welcome, drunk broad.

23.) St. Louis Rams (3-5) (24) — I feel like I’ve been doing my Rams fans readers (I’m guessing there has to be at least one of you out there) a disservice all season long because I just can’t find anything to say about this team. It’d be one thing if it was good and flew under the radar and was sniffing the playoffs, but I don’t see that happening. Danny Amendola should be back this week. That’s good, right?

22.) New York Jets (3-5) (22) — My editor on Sunday nights, Jantzen, the die-hard Steelers fan who feared for his life at a Raiders game earlier this year, had a great comment about the Jets at halftime of the Giants/Steelers game when it looked like the fix was in for the G-Men. It’s kinda moot since the Steelers ended up winning the game, but check it out anyway. I hate the Jets.

21.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-5) (21) — Of all the teams in the league who think they’re good but really aren’t even close to being there, the Bengals might be the best of them. Did you follow that? I’m not even sure I did, but Cincy is approaching St. Louis territory where I’m just running out of things to say about them since I don’t a) have anyone on my fantasy team on them and b) they’re just not that interesting. I mean, their quarterback is a ginger for crying out loud!

20.) Washington Redskins (3-6) (14) — Correct me if I’m wrong, but it can’t be good if your head coach says after a loss that he’s at the point in the season where he’s evaluating players as to who will be on the team next season, can it?

19.) Dallas Cowboys (3-5) (20) — Jerry Jones is pretty fascinating. He seems to “get it” in every part of his life EXCEPT when it comes to running his football team. Think about it. This guy is a billionaire. He makes TV cameos and is funny, quick and basically a better actor than 75% of those who do it professionally. He built a stadium that is a modern marvel of modern technology. He was ahead of the plastic surgery craze. But for some reason he can’t put the pieces together to field a winning football team. He really should be running the Jets.

18.) San Diego Chargers (4-4) (19) — Nobody wins in November like Norv Turner, and they did it again last Thursday. Sure, the Chargers did get a gift in terms of the hapless Chiefs, but Philip Rivers and Co. still had to go out and make plays, and they did. Now the Norv gets at least a one-week reprieve from the axe.

17.) Detroit Lions (4-4) (18) — Matthew Stafford came on the Rich Eisen Podcast this week and basically said it’s Calvin Johnson’s fault for not scoring more TDs this season. He noted at least 5 times that Megatron has gotten tackled inside the 2-yard line this season. Stafford also noted he’s been taking a lot of heat from fantasy owners. I’m in a 2-QB league and drafted Johnson with my first overall pick (yeah, I’m in last place) and traded him this week for Doug Martin. Yup. I’m a winner.

16.) Miami Dolphins (4-4) (12) — Despite last week’s loss, which featured both the Colts and Dolphins with winning records (raise your hand if you thought that would happen this year; I shouldn’t be seeing any hands), I still like this Dolphins team. Reggie Bush runs hard, Lauren Tannehill’s husband has been very solid.

15.) Minnesota Vikings (5-4) (15) — My Maine buddy Jimmy is losing faith in his Vikings. As I wrote him at one point, the ship be sinking: “Your stud RB runs for 182 yards, 2 TD’s, and your team loses by double digits. This may not be our year.”

14.) New Orleans Saints (3-5) (16) — I don’t know if the Saints still have a shot at the playoffs or not. I tend to think the Bucs are going to be a wild card team and most likely the Packers. However, if this team makes the playoffs, Look. The. Eff. Out. Yes, they can’t stop Narbonne High School, but do you want to face Drew Brees with a chance to shut everyone up about how their season would be lost without Sean Payton? And speaking of Payton, is there any way he’s not coaching the Cowboys next year? You don’t think Jerry Jones is gonna pay him $10M a year and give him a jet or an island or Paulie’s talking robot from Rocky IV or something to seal the deal?

13.) Indianapolis Colts (5-3) (17) — After 8 games, Andrew Luck has 2,404 yards passing. That ranks tied for 4th in the NFL. You know with whom? Peyton Manning, maybe you’ve heard of him.

12.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4) (13) — So Doug Martin has had two really amazing games, huh? But here’s my stance on him not liking his nickname “Muscle Hamster.” Tough. Get over it. You think there are kids out there who don’t love their nicknames? You think Chunk from “Goonies” or a giant fat guy named “Tiny” like those?

11.) Seattle Seahawks (5-4) (11) — I don’t think this team is going to make the playoffs, but Russell Wilson is proving a dangerous playmaker. You wouldn’t take him over My Good Friend Robert, I understand, but he’s not a bad alternative. Look at their numbers: 62 comp %, 1,639 yards, 13 TDs, 8 INTs and 65.6 comp %, 1,993 yards, 8 TDs, 3 INTs. Who would you take?

10.) Baltimore Ravens (6-2) (9) — What the hell is going on with that Ravens offense? No, seriously, this is a legitimate question. They have weapons coming out of the nest and barely beat the Chiefs and Browns. This is troubling, and a major reason why they’ve slipped in rankings. YOU HAVE RAY RICE, JUST GIVE HIM THE BALL. OK, I’m done.

9.) New York Giants (6-3) (3) — Now it’s Eli Manning’s fault? That sounds about right. Sure, Eli is slumping, only throwing 2 TDs in his late 4 games and under 200 yards in 3 of those, but they still should take control of the NFC East. After 2 Super Bowls, I’m not ruling the Giants out of anything until the playoffs start and they’re not in them.

8.) Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3) (10) — Wait, so these ARE your daddy’s Steelers? In the last few years, Pittsburgh has transformed itself into a new-age Black & Gold, with Ben Roethlisberger winging it all over the yard. But as the offensive line has gone down with some injuries this season, Pittsburgh has gone back to its old school roots, pounding the rock with whomever they line up at tail back. Lately, it’s been Jonathan Dwyer and Issac Redman, who’ve combined for nearly 400 yards in the last three games.

7,) Denver Broncos (5-4) (8) — As long as Peyton Manning keeps ballin’ out of control, his teammates will rally and play up to his level and the Broncos will be a threat down the stretch. I’m not sure how good their defense is, but any time you have Von Miller rushing the quarterback, sacking him and doing a silly dance, you got a shot.

6.) New England Patriots (5-3) (7) — The man with my favorite name in sports, Aqib Talib, was acquired by the Patriots during their bye week from Tampa Bay in a move that surprised many given Talib’s fondness with breaking the law. He doesn’t exactly fit the demographic of what a Patriots player looks like, then again, Bill Belichick has taken chances on players with sketchy backgrounds in the past. The key always being, if you perform on the field, I don’t care what you did before you got here. And New England needs secondary help. Currently, it’s 28th against the pass (281.1 ypg) and have given up the 3rd most passing TDs (17).

5.) San Francisco 49ers (6-2) (6) — The 49ers still have to play the Bears, Saints, Patriots and Seahawks in the second half of the season. To quote Cris Collinsworth: I’m not so sure San Francisco doesn’t have a tough road to the #1 seed in the NFC.

4.) Green Bay Packers (6-3) (4) — Before the season started I was out with my friend Justine, and she was texting with her friend Randall Cobb. She said he was telling her how the Packers were planning to use him this season, and they were expecting big things. It was then I decided I want to get Cobb on my fantasy team. Ultimately, I waited too long to pick him up, but I’m very glad to see him ballin’ out like he has. No way anyone envisioned 45 rec, 500 yards and 6 TDs including another 667 return yards and a punt return TD. And he’s only 22 years old.

3.) Houston Texans (7-1) (5) — How many times are the Texans going to run that play-action bootleg and then throw it deep to the tight end for a touchdown this season before teams start preparing for it? The tight end is always WIDE OPEN. They did it again against Buffalo this past Sunday. Oh, and Arian Foster has now scored a touchdown in 12 straight games. Me likey that very much.

2.) Chicago Bears (7-1) (2) — Holy smokes, Charles Tillman just ran into my apartment, punched my laptop out of my hand and Brian Urlacher raced by, scooped it up and ran to the The Grove’s Apple Store for a touchdown rebate!!?! What in the hell just happened?!

1.) Atlanta Falcons (8-0) (1) — Seeing a lot of articles this week comparing the Falcons to other 8-0 teams in history and coming to the conclusion that this team doesn’t stack up. I often like to quote Bill Parcells: you are what your record is. And this Falcons team is 8-0, and of the 14 teams in NFL history to reach that mark, 9 of them (64.3%) have reached the Super Bowl. And as Herm Edwards says:

… and right now, the Falcons are winning. And that’s all that matters.

2012 NFL ‘You’re The Man’ Rankings — Week 7

LOS ANGELES — With a third of the regular season down we have exactly one undefeated team (Atlanta) and no longer any winless ones (thanks, Cleveland), and here’s what we know in the National. Football. League.

Nothing.

I’m not convinced any team is great but there’s at least eight teams who are terrible, that’s for certain. The NFL is very medium-heavy right now. There’s at least 10 teams that could be Super Bowl contenders but every single one is missing something to put them over the top or in the driver’s seat.

Oh, and did anyone notice that neither the 49ers or Giants wore any pink on Sunday? Kinda strange given that the league is so gung-ho on it. More on the pink phenomenon next week.  Let’s find out who’s the man.

32.) Kansas City Chiefs (record: 1-5) (last week: 30) — Hey, all you fans who were booing Matt Cassel last week, which basically means you were clamoring for Brady Quinn, how’d that 22-of-38, 180-yard, 2-interception performance from the former EAS spokesman taste? Did I mention that you lost 38-10 and Quinn had a 48.7 Passer Rating? You’re on your way to the No. 1 pick, your coach getting fired and at least another 3 years before another playoff game. Now you’re done.

31.) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4) (32) — The best part about the bye week: moving up a spot when someone proves themselves crappier than you. And because I know you were all wondering, my Maurice Jones-Drew fill-in this week in fantasy, Mr. Brandon Bolden, got me a whopping 28 yards rushing for 1.87 points. #FreeMJD

30.) Carolina Panthers (1-4) (27) — It’s probably a good thing the Panthers had a bye this week or they might have fallen to the bottom of these rankings with another stink bomb of a showing. Seriously, I couldn’t be any lower on this team. Just showing me nothing. And DeAngelo Williams says something about his terrible game in Week 5 and how that shows fantasy owners how they could never be real GMs. Sheesh. Get a life, bro.

29.) Tennessee Titans (2-4) (31) — Not only did I pick the Titans to win last Thursday because I was pulling for my brother and knew that if Tennessee pulled the upset he’d be the best possible postgame, on-set guest, but Matt Hasselbeck then went out and delivered! Couldn’t have been happier for handsome, bald men everywhere. And how great was his son on the set? I seriously thought he was going to decapitate that poor, throwback Kurt Warner bobblehead.

28.) Cleveland Browns (1-5) (29) — What did I tell you last week? I said the Browns, while winless, could at least put points on the board, and therefore should not and would not be ranked last in this poll. And how did they respond? Only went out and made me look good by dropping 34 on the Bengals at home for their first win of the season. And happy 67th birthday Brandon Weeden! Went out and threw for a couple of touchdowns, including a 71-yarder to Josh Gordon.

27.) Oakland Raiders (1-4) (28) — As I explained to Jantzen on Sunday night, Carson Palmer is probably the best bad player in the league who’s actually not that terrible, but he stinks. The thing is, if you think about all of that put together, it makes total sense. The Raiders really should’ve upset the Falcons on Sunday but shot themselves in the foot on numerous occasions. Palmer threw for 353 yards but had a costly pick six in a tie game, then came down and led a game-tying drive. One minute he’s great, the next he’s bad and then he’s great and then he’s bad again. Plus, if the Raiders defense could stop anyone or get to the quarterback (4 sacks) they’d have more than 1 win. I don’t think they’re that far off.

26.) Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) (15) — It’s official: this Eagles team is garbage and Michael Vick should be benched and Andy Reid fired. That’s whatevery Philly fan is saying this week. And lo and behold, Reid ousted Juan Castillo. Right, because it’s his fault the offense is terrible (27th in scoring). I guess the Eagles 12th ranked defense was too low. Sheesh. Though 30th in sacks is kind of inexcusable.  Who knows. This is a one-win team disguised at .500.

25.) Buffalo Bills (3-3) (26) — I honestly have no idea how Buffalo won in Arizona last weekend and I’m not convinced they’re any good. In fact, let me ask my huge Bills fan buddy, Shawn. Me: “how would you assess the Bills at this point?” Him: “Crap… Being a Bills fan is a complete waste of time.” That settles it.

24.) Detroit Lions (2-3) (24) — Anyone else think it’s hilarious that Nate Burelson said the Lions have been too busy trying to better off the field that they’ve gotten too nice on it. Yeah, that’s not the problem, Nate. The problem is that your coach is an a-hole, Matthew Stafford is 24th in Passer Rating and Yds/Attempt and 17th in completion %, and your offense is 18th in scoring despite being 2nd in total yards. You can’t win if you can’t score. And you can’t score if Calvin Johnson has only 1 touchdown.

23.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) (25) — Sure, the Bucs beatdown the Chiefs last week, who are a catastrophe of an organization right now, but it was still nice to see them handle their business against a team they should. Josh Freeman had his best game of the season (328 yards, 3 TD, INT) and we had a Mike Williams sighting for the second straight game.

22.) Indianapolis Colts (2-3) (18) — Gotta be honest, didn’t see Sunday’s disaster against the Jets coming. Sure, like most, I expected a bit of a letdown after the emotional comeback against Green Bay in Week 5, but that was a legitimate stinkfest against the Jets. It was by far Andrew Luck’s worst game as a pro (3 turnovers, 0 TDs, 51.3 Passer Rating) and Indy’s 3rd ranked defense made Mark Sanchez and Co. look like superstars, which we all know, they are not.

21.) New York Jets (3-3) (23) — If the Jets beat the Patriots this week, I’ll hunt down Roger Lodge and shave his head on the Jim Rome show.

20.) New Orleans Saints (1-4) (22) — Is it possible the Saints come out of their bye week and go on a run and make some noise in the December playoff race? Sure. That’s possible. However, look at the schedule: 2 with the Bucs and Falcons, Broncos, 49ers, Giants, Cowboys, Eagles. Yeah, that’s tough.

19.) Dallas Cowboys (2-3) (20) — I honestly don’t know what to do about the Cowboys. But I do know that Dez Bryant can’t blame the side judge for him dropping the game-tying 2-point conversion. You’re having a career day buddy, cap it off with a great play to keep your team alive. And I’m guessing those 24-hour a day bodyguards Jerry Jones is making you pay for are working?

18.) St. Louis Rams (3-3) (17) — Brandon Gibson, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and Brian Quick. No, they’re not the members of the newest boyband sweeping the pop music scene, they’re Sam Bradford’s “weapons” at wide receiver. Though I do like the rookie Daryl Richardson in the backfield. Looked nice last week with 99 total yards.

17.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-3) (12) — The Bengals freefall continues. No excuse to lose to the Browns if you want to be taken seriously as an AFC contender. None. What. So. Ever. And I know I said this a couple weeks ago, but A.J. Green just continues to make the impossible possible. He’s hands down the best receiver in the NFL right now. Imagine if he had someone other than the Red Rocket throwing him the ball, too. Scary, scary thought.

16.) Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3) (8) — I love Matt Hasselbeck, that is pretty well documented, but the Steelers should not have lost that game last Thursday to the Titans. It appears the injuries are finally catching up with Pittsburgh. Between Polamalu, Harrison and Woodley, and Mendenhall the defense is battered and the running game is inconsistent. Ben Roethsliberger has to sling it all over the yard and that’s not a recipe for success.

15.) Miami Dolphins (3-3) (21) — Not sure why, but I’m starting to like this Dolphins team. And just think, 7 weeks ago they were at the bottom and I was geared up for a season of Lauren Tannehill picture posts and now, while near the bottom of the league in total offense (22nd) and defense (27th), they’re at .500 and a couple of Dan Carpenter field goals from being 5-1.

14.) San Diego Chargers (3-3) (10) — What’s great about the Chargers is they’re good enough to build a 24-0 lead against a quality team like Denver, appear to have it all working, and then in the blink of an eye (or in this case a 12-minute halftime), bad enough to go out and give up 35 straight and fuel talks of their coach getting fired and how their QB hasn’t played well in 18 months. At least Antonio Gates is playing well again.

13.) Arizona Cardinals (4-2) (14) — Consecutive losses. The QB you wanted, then didn’t want but were forced to start anyway is now out for a while after his ribs got separated from torso which leaves with the guy you didn’t want at first, then wanted but couldn’t play because HE got hurt. But hey, at least SOMEONE is passing the ball to Larry Fitzgerald (5 catches in his first 2 games, 31 in the last 4), which has led me to the decision to temporarily suspend the #FreeFitz campaign.

11.) Minnesota Vikings (4-2) (7) — My buddy Slade, a huge Redskins fan, was shocked I picked the Vikings last week and dutifully rubbed it in my face Sunday night. Likewise, friend of the website Jimmy had this to say: “Looking like the ViQueens of last year … yup, we are the ViQueens this week … it’s ok, 14-2 will take the division and give us home field.” Ah, sure.

12.) Washington Redskins (3-3) (19) — Remember when I asked if you’d change the channel whenever Robert Griffin had the ball? How about now after that 76-yard touchdown run and Landover Leap? I’m shocked My Good Friend Robert played in the first place after that hit he took by Sean Weatherspoon of the Falcons (and no shock the league is investigating the Redskins handling of the situation), let alone pulled that ridiculous run off. Been beyond impressed with this kid so far. And I’ll say this every week: hope he keeps it smart and stays on the field.

10.) Denver Broncos (3-3) (13) — That was some Peyton Manning performance in the second half in San Diego, wasn’t it? It was hilarious scrolling Twitter during the first half, with everyone throwing the dirt on his grave, and then in the second half, when everyone was singing his praises. Twitter is great like that. He looked good, no doubt, but let’s not forget the Chargers totally pissed down their own leg and virtually gave it Denver. I’ll say it now: no way the Broncos win a playoff game.

9.) New England Patriots (3-3) (4) — Are the Patriots the best 3-3 team ever? Perhaps. But this goes back to last season, where they reached the Super Bowl despite having the 31st ranked defense; you can’t rely on Brady and Co. to carry you each week because you’re going to play a pesky team like the Seahawks at their place and have dumb mistakes cost you. Seriously, that game should’ve been a 3 or 4 score game in the 4th Quarter and there wouldn’t have been any chance for Russell Wilson late-game heroics. The way New England consistently gives up big plays in the secondary show how much Belichick has blown it in the Draft in recent years.

8.) Seattle Seahawks (4-2) (16) — I still have the Seahawks behind the 49ers because I don’t trust Russell Wilson, but damn that was a great throw to beat the Patriots, wasn’t it? As the ball was hurtling through the cold, wet, northwest air I knew where it would land. And wouldn’t you know Sidney Rice was behind the inept Patriots secondary. Oh, and yes, I realize I lost the bet with the Schaffers and “boat race” will not be appearing on The League this season. Such a sad moment for catchphrase pushers everywhere.

7.) San Francisco 49ers (4-2) (2) — After outscoring opponents 79-3 in their previous two games, the 49ers got boatraced by the Giants 26-3 on Sunday in a rematch of the 2011 NFC Championship game. This was telling from San Fran’s perspective. Complete no-show at home with the national TV audience. That’s two games now where this has happened. Real confusing. Not sure what to make of this. Oh, right, it’s Joe Buck’s fault.

6.) Houston Texans (5-1) (3) — Everyone talked about how the Texans really didn’t play anyone through their first fives games; really, they just beat the Broncos, when you think about it. Well, they got their chance on the big stage Sunday night and showed the NFL world what they’re made of. They might has well been playing two-hand touch on the set of “Hey, Dude!” And I know you love it when I talk about my fantasy team, but I was down 22 and change with Arian Foster and the Texans Defense going into Monday night and ended up winning thanks to that B.S. blocked punt and TD with 5:30 left.

5.) New York Giants (4-2) (11) — This could be the best team in football and they’d be higher if I didn’t think they weren’t capable of laying an ostrich egg against the Redskins this weekend. I’ve never seen a team in recent memory play to the level of their opponent more than the Giants. Eli Manning is an absolutely G. The defense remains their biggest question mark. If the 49ers had a better offense I’d be more impressed by holding them to 3 points. Stopping my Good Friend Robert on Sunday will be a good measuring stick.

4.) Green Bay Packers (3-3) (9) — You just know Aaron Rodgers read every last word written about how he and the Packers offense were out of sync, would never capture that 2011 magic again, etc. and then he came out and said Eff You, Guys, I’m Still James Bond Here. How many fantasy owners out there had Rodgers AND Nelson going. How’d that taste?

3.) Chicago Bears (4-1) (5) — There were so many sack/fumbles and Pick 6′s this week I had to double check the schedule to make sure the Bears had a bye. But yup, exactly zero of those were a result of Jay Cutler flashing that patented false bravado and doing something stupid. Weird. Could’ve sworn he was involved.

2.) Baltimore Ravens (5-1) (6) — Yes, the loss of Ray Lewis is a big one. Any time your heart and soul isn’t out on the field, it’s a blow, but losing Ladarius Webb will prove more costly. You may have heard this, but the NFL is a passing league and if you can’t stop the pass, you’re in big trouble (ask the Patriots). Onus on Joe Flacco more now than ever.

1.) Atlanta Falcons (6-0) (1) — Was this week our first sign of chinks in the Matty Ice MVP armor? I’d say so. His first two interceptions Sunday were bad throws and the third he just got lit up and it floated like a wounded quail. However, it says a lot that in these games where he’s played poorly, or the team has trailed in the 4th quarter, that he’s  brought them back and won the game or put them in position for a winning field goal. That’s what you call onions and the foundation of an MVP season.

2012 NFL ‘You’re The Man’ Rankings — Week 5

LOS ANGELES — The real refs returned in time for last Thursday night’s game in Baltimore and you can guess how long the love affair lasted. Right, about a quarter. Ask Green Bay if they like the replacements or the regular refs better? If New Orleans can have an interim to the interim head coach, maybe we can get some replacements for the replacement refs just for Packers games. Good thing Rodgers’ Ruffryders came through this week (thanks to a Garrett Hartley missed field goal, to boot) or we might have a Mike McCarthy-led mutiny on our hands. But it was good to see ‘ole Ed Hochuli and his guns out there again. Apparently Sports Illustrated thought so, too. Speaking of, does it look like a lot more of these officials are yoked up these days? Did the new deal involve free Bowflex’s and GNC  Gold Card memberships? This is making me feel like a weakling.

OK, I’m gonna mix in some push-ups here while you read who’s the man. Let’s get it.

32.) Cleveland Browns (0-4) (32) – Does anyone on the Browns have a hot wife I can post pictures of to make the bottom of this poll more entertaining and attractive? Someone has to, right? Quick, lemme Google Brandon Weeden’s wife real quick … OK, so this ain’t so bad. I mean, that’s a great view, right? AmIright? [crickets...]

31.) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3) (28) – I never thought it would ever come to this, but I actually considered trading MJD from my fantasy team this week. That’s how bad it’s gotten in Jacksonville.

30.) Tennessee Titans (1-3) (27) – OK, Chris Johnson fantasy owners, you can all calm down now. CJ ran for 141 yards this week and while he didn’t score, you have to be encouraged that he did SOMETHING, right? And while you never want to see anyone get hurt, I am glad that my brother Matt Hasselbeck is going to get some burn here for the next couple weeks. Go easy on the Pick 6s, though. #BaldIsBeautiful

29.) Oakland Raiders (1-3) (29) – Richard Seymour, I love ya, buddy. You were a Patriot for years. Won some Super Bowls. But you can’t honestly think your defense is “close” like you said this week, can you? Close to what? Last place in my poll? Yes, you’re close to that. Again. Peyton Manning just threw another touchdown pass.

28.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-3) (23) – Did I read that right? Matt Cassel has 10 turnovers in four games? Wow. That’s impressive even for me, someone who’s been known to sling it all over the yard in my day. At least that’s what the Biddeford head coach told me when I returned to the area as a reporter. Seriously, first time I interviewed him, he said: “yeah, I remember you. You used to sling it all over the yard at TA, right?” I thought that was pretty cool. And yes, against the Tigers, I threw three interceptions and we lost 42-7. That was 12 years ago. Remember it like it was yesterday.

27.) New Orleans Saints (0-4) (26) – Poor Aaron Kromer. The aforementioned interim to the interim head coach just wants to not go winless in his short coaching stint. Well, he’s got two more games to get one and it doesn’t get any easier this weekend with the Chargers coming to the Dome. The Saints played their best game of the season in Green Bay, got a gift from the real refs and still lost. Sometimes it’s just not your year.

26.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) (18) – This team and the Rams I really don’t get. I thought the Bucs were a lock to make the playoffs, then the Falcons have gone out and been the best team in the league and the Saints have been the worst. But Josh Freeman hasn’t improved. Doug Martin hasn’t been the dynamite back we all thought and people seem to think Greg Schiano is an a-hole. Might be a long year in Tampa. And it’s hot there, which sucks.

25. Detroit Lions (1-3) (22) – Remember when I said the Lions were frauds and that I was rolling with the Vikings? Yup, they went out and proved that this week by losing to Minnesota. At home. Detroit’s special teams is atrocious and that vaunted run defense gave up 100+ to a one-legged Adrian Peterson. I hope Jim Schwartz rented his home.

24.) Carolina Panthers (1-3) (24) – I really wish you could have seen what I saw from a certain player in the locker room after the game. It was priceless and tells you all you need to know about the Panthers. They are a mess. But I did like the effort this past week against Atlanta. They can win some games, but they’re definitely not celebrating the win afterwards together, despite what Ryan Kalil has printed on a t-shirt.

23.) Miami Dolphins (1-3) (31) – I’m gonna go out on a limb and say this is the last time the Dolphins are behind the Jets in this poll. Mr. Lauren Tannehill really showed me something. Sure, his stats (26-of-41, 431 yards, TD, 2 INT) were helped by a couple of great catch-and-runs by Brian Hartline, but still, someone has to throw him the ball and that someone was Lauren Tannehill’s husband. Also, if you haven’t watched a Joe Philbin presser, check it out. Underrated funny.

22.) New York Jets (2-2) (19) – I tell ya what, that was some Rex Ryan post game press conference after Sunday’s spanking by the 49ers. Is it what the Jets needed? Will it work? Who the hell knows. Personally, I think Rex is seriously on the hot seat. This could end badly. Like worse than his lapband surgery. In a way, I kinda miss the fat Rex. He was much more fun and prone to say real stupid junk. How bad is Houston gonna blank them this week on Monday Night Football? 45-0? That’d be great.

21.) Indianapolis Colts (1-2) (25) – Don’t play and move up 4 spots. Why not? But seriously, this Chuck Pagano thing is downright terrible. When I was in elementary school, one of our classmates had Leukemia and I remember our teacher would have a few of us write her letters every couple days. I wasn’t close with her, in fact, her name escapes me at this moment, but I wrote her the best letter I could. And I’m sure that reading them, even from someone like me whom she barely knew, made her feel well and alive. I’m wishing Chuck Pagano my best.

20.) St. Louis Rams (2-2) (30) – I’m excited to get my first real look at this Rams team on Thursday night on NFL Network against the Cardinals. Pretty much if Sam Bradford stays healthy then they’re fine. Danny Amendola is turning into the poor man’s Wes Welker and Steven Jackson is still a beast. I don’t know much else, but beating the Seahawks is good enough for me.

19.) Buffalo Bills (2-2) (21) – Realizing where I just ranked the Bills, I said to myself: “The Bills got shellacked and moved up? That can’t be right.” Well, it is. There are a lot of bad teams right now in the NFL and while I don’t think Buffalo is good by any stretch, they did have the Patriots on the serious ropes for a half. If Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t turn the ball over, the Bills seriously could have won. But where was that defense everyone talked so much about this offseason? I mean, 243 rushing yards to Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden? Jeez, Louise.

18.) Seattle Seahawks (2-2) (14) – Is our love affair with Russell Wilson over yet? Brandon Weeden didn’t play terribly against the Ravens and with Ryan Tannehill throwing up 431 yards, that would push Wilson into the 5-hole among the rookie QBs, right? Seattle’s defense is going to carry this team for a bit until Wilson either flames out or Matt Flynn is healthy enough to assume the starting job.

17.) Dallas Cowboys (2-2) (13) – Where to begin with last night’s Cowboys/Bears game? My friend dubbed this the Douchebag QB Bowl but that’s not really right. I don’t think Tony Romo is a d-bag but he certainly played like one last night. Sure, two of the picks were deflected but the other 3 were terrible. Not even I threw them that egregiously. All that was missing last night was T.O.

16.) Washington Redskins (2-2) (16) – Blow a huge lead and then come back to win it. Well damn, that’s some moxie. Even if it shouldn’t have been that close. Billy, Billy, Billy. What are we going to do with Billy Cundiff? Misses what, three field goals that would’ve put this game out of reach well before Tampa’s comeback and then hits the game-winner? Oh, and tell my good friend Robert it’s OK to SLIDE every once in a while.

15.) New York Giants (2-2) (4) – Maybe this is too far of a drop, but seriously, where in the hell was Eli throwing that ball on the end zone interception? Where? And to whom? Because all I saw were three Eagles there waiting for it. I told you it was going to be one of these seasons. No rhyme or reason. And you’re the NEW YORK FOOTBALL GIANTS, gotta have more than 57 yards rushing. Gotta.

14.) Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) (10) – You  know what I love? Stats like Mike Tomlin is 4-1 coming off a Bye Week. I love that shhh. Totally meaningless, but yet it completely makes sense. Random story about Mike Tomlin. He was at the Senior Bowl earlier this year in Mobile, Ala., as was I. And he wore the same exact outfit two consecutive days, which made me wonder what he was doing the night before. In Mobile. Now I’m not saying I’ve never done it, but I’m also not a Super Bowl-winning head coach who makes millions of dollars a year. But he did have on the tightest Air Force 1s. Dude has serious swag.

13.) Minnesota Vikings (3-1) (20) – Let’s check in with my Vikings fan buddy Jimmy: “D looks like the purple people eaters of old” … “We’re for real Just gotta believe. Remember how everyone laughed when they drafted Ponder? He’s gonna be ok” … “The glory days are back baby.” Yeah, he’s feeling good and those good feelings should remain after they roll through the Titans on Sunday.

12.) San Diego Chargers (3-1) (17) – Probably not a good sign when you bench your 1st Round running back from a couple years ago because he can’t hold onto the football. I’m not expert, but that’s an important skill to have. I wonder if Norv has Ryan Mathews walking around the facility like Omar Epps in “The Program?” Talk about an underrated movie. That one should get remade in a few years, I’m guessing. I’d be down for that. Maybe I could get a part as an assistant coach in charge of HGH administration.

11.) Denver Broncos (2-2) (9) – Quick look at Peyton Manning’s line from Sunday: 30-of-38, 338 yards, 3 TDs. I’d say he’s back. Funny, listening to Bill Belichick talk about Manning (it’s Patriots v. Broncos in Week 5) and he said No. 18 looks like his old self and the Broncos are running 95% of the Colts old offense; really interesting. Let’s hope the results follow history’s path. Brady is 8-4 against Manning all-time.

10.) Chicago Bears (3-1) (12) – That’s what everyone envisioned what Jay Cutler-to-Brandon Marshall would look like when the Bears traded for the enigmatic receiver. He sure torched the Cowboys, didn’t he? Look, I hate Cutler just as much as the next guy, but I love how every move he makes on the sideline now is scrutinized like the Zapruder Film. In his defense, though, I wouldn’t want to stand next to Mike Tice for that long, either. Oh, and Chicago’s defense sure looks pretty good, huh? Though, Tony Romo made it pretty easy for them.

9.) Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) (15) – Well, that was an impressive win against the Giants, Sunday night. I still don’t think Michael Vick is going to remain upright for the entire season. However, if Andy Reid wants to keep winning, he’ll keep feeding LeSean McCoy (123 yards vs. Giants). There isn’t another back in the league who makes open-field moves like Shady. He should get 30 touches a game.

8.) New England Patriots (2-2) (8) – The first half of last weeks’ game illustrated the Patriots’ deficiencies; the second half showed how explosive this offense can be and why some said it could be better than 2007. Tom Brady was Tom Brady, but who knew the running game could be that dynamic? Stevan Ridley? Brandon Bolden? I went and picked up Bolden when he was around the 70-yard mark, who knew he still had 70 more to go?

7.) Arizona Cardinals (4-0) (11) – I’m not quite a believer in the Cardinals, but I’m getting there. But, I did like this stat: they’ve won 11-of-their-last-13 games dating back to last year. That has to count for something, right? And by a show of hands, how many of you immediately picked up or put in a waiver claim for Andre Roberts as soon as Kevin Kolb’s ball hit his hands for a touchdown on that last drive?

6.) Green Bay Packers (2-2) (6) – The highest ranked of the .500 teams, the Packers finally played a complete game and it almost still wasn’t enough. But it was good to see Aaron Rodgers go off (319 yards, 4 TDs) for fantasy owners and I’ve decided there’s not a cooler sack celebration than Clay Matthews’ beast. Jared Allen’s calf rope had been my No. 1 but I’m down with Matthews now. Plus, I’m still diggin’ those State Farm commercials: “Show me, show me what ya got, Raji”.

5.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-1) (7) – The Ginger Rocket is no joke (5th in Passer Rating and 4th in TDs). And I have to hear every Sunday night how awesome A.J. Green is because he went to Georgia from Jantzen, but don’t you get the feeling that at some point Marvin Lewis is going to remember he’s Marvin Lewis and FUBAR this whole operation up? Until then, the Bengals are going to Who Dey all over everyone to more wins.

4.) San Francisco 49ers (3-1) (5) – That’s more like it from the 49ers; a spanking of an overmatched opponent. Before the season, I was talking to some people about fantasy running backs and wondered why no one had Frank Gore near the top. Got a lot of, “he’s too old” comments. How about the 1,300-yard pace he’s on now? That OK for everyone? Thought so. Would like to see more from their WRs though. Mario Manningham can’t be your No. 1. He just can’t.

3.) Baltimore Ravens (3-1) (3) – As is the case with all the Thursday night teams, I have basically forgotten what you did to make you so impressive, but I know you didn’t do anything to drop. So here are the Ravens. Torrey Smith is ballin’ right now. And in my fantasy league, my buddy still has Joe Flacco on his bench, which just seems silly at this point, even if he is starting Cam Newton.

2.) Houston Texans (4-0) (2) – Number one in total defense. Second against the pass. Fifth in sacks. Yes, the Texans opponents have a combined 6-10 but you can only play who’s in front of you and they’ve dominated all comers to this point. Arian Foster is on a 412-carry pace, which concerns me and Andre Johnson has been real quiet so far. More offensive balance would be nice but with that division, expect Gary Kubiak’s mug to be near the top all season.

1.) Atlanta Falcons (4-0) (1) – How ’bout the onions on Matt Ryan on that throw on 1st and 10 from the 1-foot line late in the Panthers game last weekend? That would make me react like this, too. In fact, that last time I saw someone literally just drop back and throw the ball as far as they could, well, it was me. Senior year at Syracuse, first game of the flag football season. For some reason, our game against these freshman came down to the wire and on the last play of the game I reared back and let it fly 60 yards to the right corner of the end zone, where it landed in the hands of my buddy James for a touchdown. My now buddy, Sean McBride, was defending and will tell you exactly how it went down. Oh, right, the Falcons are good.

32 NFL Draft Predictions

LOS ANGELES — The annual National Football League college entry draft is on Thursday in New York City and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will be selected first overall by the Indianapolis Colts. These are the facts of the case. It’s been assumed Luck would be the first name commissioner Roger Goodell speaks since about October of last year; right around the time it became undoubtedly obvious Peyton Manning’s surgically repaired neck wasn’t going to allow him to signal call in 2011 and the Colts were in for a historically bad season.  Then, last month, the Redskins mortgaged their future to trade up to the No. 2 hole for the right to select Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.

After these two 22-year olds are chosen what will happen with the next 30 picks is anybody’s guess. It’s what makes the NFL Draft my favorite sporting event of the year. (click here and here for my running diaries of the 2010 and 2011 NFL Drafts) The Awkward interviews, outrageous suits, head shaking over bad picks and Jets fans booing are only the tip of the football iceberg for what’s to come over the course of the 5-hour extravaganza. With that, and because everyone seems to do the same NFL Draft columns each year (“Biggest Busts,” “Best Late-Round Picks,” etc.), I decided to offer up some Round 1 Predictions. I’m shooting for a 12.5% success rate, or roughly the exact percentage of 2011 First Rounders to make the Pro Bowl last season (Cam Newton, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson and A.J. Green).

Enjoy.

Baylor's Robert Griffin III is one of the few athletes remaining still rocking the braids. Oh, and he's good at football.

1.) Someone is going to compare Robert Griffin III to Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Troy Smith and other African-American running quarterbacks who came before him.

2.) NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin is going to a) say something so ridiculous I’ll wish I had a “Mute Irvin” button my remote, and b) look ridiculous doing it.

3.) Some team will pull a Vikings and completely whiff on turning in their draft card causing a chain reaction of quick picks.

4.) One of the draftees will spend his entire bonus check, which he hasn’t received yet, on a bracelet, watch, earrings or all of the above.

5.) Commissioner Roger Goodell will get lots of hugs from the draftees and all of them will be awkward.

Andrew Luck knows that no one rocks a neck beard on the set of "Mad Men." He's also really good at football.

6.) At least three of the draftees will look like “Mad Men” extras and Andrew Luck will definitely be one of them.

7.) New Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will be mentioned so often we’ll think it’s The Decision: Part 2.

8.) There will be less Pro Bowlers drafted in the First Round than last year.

9.) Neither Luck nor Alabama running back Trent Richardson will win Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012.

10.) NFL Network host Rich Eisen will say “Radio City Music Hall” roughly 57 times during the 5-hour broadcast.

11.) Colts Owner Jim Irsay will be interviewed looking like he just spent the night with Roger Sterling.

Brandon Weeden is looking to dispell the notion that 28-year olds can't play quarterback in the NFL.
Little known fact: most quarterbacks in the NFL are at least 28-years old.

12.) Oklahoma St. quarterback Brandon Weeden will be this year’s Andy Dalton.

13.) The Patriots will trade UP in this year’s draft rather than their traditional downward movement.

14.) Now that Al Davis is no longer with us, the Raiders will make a rational selection based on team needs… who am I kidding.

15.) Someone will get picked that none of “experts” had in their Top 50.

16.) An analyst will totally kill the mood of the broadcast by bringing up last year’s lockout.

17.) There will be roughly 2-3 commercials that will get played over and over and over again making me literally hate those companies.

18.) At least two of the draftees will be wearing bow ties.

19.) Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones will get drafted.

JaMarcus Russell enjoys many of life's pleasures, including eating and shopping at the mall with friends.
Playing in the National Football League is not on that list.

20.) We will see video of JaMarcus Russell doing SOMEthing (playing football well won’t be it, either.)

21.) Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill will get drafted far too high and spark comparisons to Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert.

22.) In three years, teams are going to wish they drafted linebackers Courtney Upshaw (Alabama) and Luke Kuechly (Boston College) higher.

23.) The Colts will try and trade up into the end of the First Round to draft Luck’s favorite target of the last few seasons: Stanford tight end Coby Fleener.

24.) Someone will talk about the Madden video game curse.

25.) A team that didn’t make the playoffs last year, is going to complete a trade so terrible it’ll seem make the Falcons 5-pick swap with Cleveland last year look like a steal.

In case you didn't know, NFL Network Draft Analyst Mike Mayock spends a lot of time watching tape of players that might potentially be drafted. He'll remind you of this often.

26.) NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock will say the phrase “when I looked at the tape” no less than 487 times.

27.) During a crowd shot there will be someone wearing a jersey so dated I’ll have to rewind and watch it at least 3 times to figure out who it is and/or laugh.

28.) At least 7 players who played in this year’s BCS National Championship game (LSU vs. Alabama) will get drafted.

29.) Someone will trip either walking out to shake hands with the Commissioner or heading to a network interview.

30.) Despite the networks vowing not to show draftees on the phone before they’re selected, somehow we’ll know who’s going where before Goodell says a name.

31.) The point will be hammered home in full force that Nike is the new maker of NFL uniforms.

32.) At least one of the draftees girlfriends will become a Twitter star before the night is over, kind of like Jets backup quarterback Greg McElroy’s sister did a year ago.

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