This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 09/08/2008
A - AFC. Before the season it seemed like the AFC was pretty easy to figure. Well, not so much. The Colts got crushed by the Bears, and looked pretty poor. The Chargers lost at home. The Jags lost, too, but at least they were on the road. New England won, but they didn't look good and may have to get used to playing without some guy in a No. 12 jersey for a while. About the only things that went as planned were that the Steelers were good, and the Bengals really, really weren't. It's only the first week, but already we might need to head back to the drawing board.
B - Bears, Chicago. The Bears were 10-point underdogs, they had a quarterback who seemed to be the starter by default instead of merit, they were traveling to Indianapolis where the Colts were opening a new stadium, and Indy hadn't lost in September or October since 2004. That all seemed like the recipe for a bad loss. So what happened? The Bears played tight defense, surprising offense, and cruised to a convincing and painfully confusing 16-point win. The real revelation was rookie running back Matt Forte out of Tulane. He did a convincing impression of a star, running for 123 yards and a touchdown.
C - Cal. If I told you that Cal used three QBs against Oregon State on Saturday, and they were a combined 14-for-24 for 112 yards, how many points would you guess they scored? 7? 14? 17? How about 66. Cal absolutely torched the Beavers on the ground, and ran so well they didn't need to pass. Cal rewarded their backers nicely - they covered the spread by 49.5 points, and single-handedly went over the total by two touchdowns.
D - Dallas. The Cowboys pretty much have to win the Super Bowl this year to stop Jerry Jones from imploding. They got off to a solid start. Tony Romo completed 75 percent of his passes, T.O. was as impressive as always, and the running game was in fine form as America's Team rolled to a 28-10 win over the Browns. The win wasn't as impressive as the score would indicate, though - Cleveland made the strange but obvious decision not to play defense, so Dallas was not challenged.
E - East Carolina. The Pirates have been the best team in college football so far this year, and there's really no way to argue that. In two weeks they have beaten two defending major conference champions. Last week they squeaked past Virginia Tech. No last second heroics were needed this week - they dominated every aspect of their game against West Virginia and cruised to an easy 24-3 win. People are taking note, too - the team has been unranked for nine years, but they leaped into 14th in the AP poll this week.
F - Favre, Brett. It seemed very strange seeing Favre wearing a Jets jersey, but it wasn't an embarrassing performance by any means. He threw for almost nine yards per attempt and had two touchdowns to lead his new team to their first win. Favre certainly brought some excitement to a team that was painfully dull at times last year. One of his touchdowns came on a miracle pass when the offense was gambling on a fourth down and 13.
G - Giants, New York. The defending Super Bowl champs are undefeated on their way to repeating. That won't happen, of course, but at least they've got a win. Their season opening victory over the Redskins was a perfect example of what the NFL can look like when it is at its worst. The Giants had some highlights - Eli Manning had his moments, the pass rush was surprisingly good despite the absence of the two main cogs from last year, and Brandon Jacobs proved what a beast he is. The overwhelming image that emerged from this game, though, was what a terrible mess the Redskins are.
H - Harrell, Graham. One of the things I was most looking forward to this year was seeing what Harrell could do at the helm of Texas Tech as a senior. I was expecting serious fireworks. So far, though, that hasn't been the case. The Red Raiders have won both games and are ranked 12th, but Harrell hasn't looked anywhere near his best. Against Nevada on Saturday he completed just 41 percent of his passes, and he had more picks than TDs for the first time in nine starts. Hopefully it's just season opening nerves and not a sign of a bigger problem.
I - Impressive. I had high hopes for the Panthers this year, but didn't think that the good times would start to roll until they got home from San Diego. Carolina didn't want to wait that long. Jake Delhomme returned from his elbow injury like he had never left, and he connected with his tight end in the end zone as time expired to grab victory from the jaws of defeat and to confound all of the huge majority of bettors who backed the Chargers. Incidentally, Shawne Merriman wasn't hurt, but he wasn't particularly impactful, either.
J - Joke. There is absolutely nothing in this world more frustrating than when a referee decides to affect the outcome of a game. Washington trailed BYU by a touchdown with seconds to play. QB Jake Locker drove his team down the field and scored a touchdown. Shockingly, he celebrated. He did nothing disrespectful or even remotely ridiculous. An official decided to call a celebration penalty, Washington was forced to kick a long point after, BYU blocked the attempt, and the Cougars won by a point.
K - Knee. We have already heard too much about this joint this NFL season thanks to Peyton Manning. Now it's only going to get worse. The only way you haven't seen the replay of Tom Brady's knee injury by now is if you live under a rock. We don't know anything about the injury yet, and we likely won't have an accurate picture for a while because the Patriots are notoriously tight-lipped, but that hasn't stopped the experts in the media from speculating and painting doomsday scenarios.
L - Longoria, Evan. The Rays need a boost. They have lost five of six and were just swept by the Blue Jays. They were up by 5.5 games on the Red Sox a week ago, but now they are just up by 1.5. That boost is just around the corner. Longoria has missed a month with a broken wrist, but he's off the DL and swinging without pain, so he'll be back in the lineup soon, and he should help his team as they try to keep their unlikely perch on top of the AL East.
M - Matt Ryan. I guess I owe Matt Ryan a bit of an apology. I figured he might have a hard time adjusting to the regular season. I might later be proven partially right, but I knew I wasn't going to be entirely accurate as soon as he released his first pass. It went for a long touchdown, and that spurred a dominating Atlanta win over the Lions. While I am begging forgiveness I might as well address Michael Turner, too. He erupted for 220 yards and two touchdowns in his first game as a full time starter. So much for my theory that he was more suited for a supporting role.
N - Notre Dame. I'm not going to be subtle about this - Charlie Weis is the worst coach in the history of football. The Irish needed a miracle to beat one of the worst teams in all of Division I in San Diego State. Teams have unexpected troubles all the time, but there is no excuse for a team with the resources and traditions of Notre Dame to look so confused, unprepared and stunningly predictable. Some said that this was a team that could win nine or 10 games. The only way that that will happen given the way they looked in their debut is if they start playing in a girl's league. Never has a coach needed to be fired more than Weis (except for Marvin Lewis, of course).
O - Ohio. It was not a good football weekend for the state of Ohio. Ohio State won, but they sure didn't look good doing it, and will have to be much, much better to beat USC. The Browns came into the season with high expectations, but those might need to be adjusted after they were beat badly by Dallas. The Bengals successfully continued their quest to be the worst coached group of talent wasting under-achievers in league history.
P - Paterno, Joe. Paterno may be the oldest man on the planet, but so far this year he is showing that he hasn't forgotten how to coach. His Nittany Lions have scored 111 points in the first two games. The 66 against Coastal Carolina weren't unexpected, but the 45 against Oregon State were pretty remarkable. It's impressive to see Penn State score, but the key to the offensive resurgence is no mystery - Anthony Morelli, the least inspiring QB in recent Big Ten history, finally graduated.
Q - Quit doubting. Trashing Roger Federer has become a sport in itself recently, but the Swiss superstar showed that it might just be too soon to count him out just yet. Federer made yet another grand slam final by impressively dispatching Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open semi-final. It was the best Federer has played in a while, and a sign of how strong his hunger to win is. The final has been delayed until today because of the weather, and it will have an unexpected look. Rafael Nadal was upset by Andy Murray in his semi, so this won't be the umpteenth showdown between the Spaniard and Federer this year. Given how those have been going this year, Federer is probably relieved.
R - Ramirez, Manny. It seemed like the Dodgers made a great move when they picked up Ramirez, and now it's paying off nicely. Ramirez is still hitting out of his mind - he had five RBI on Saturday, and is hitting over .400 since moving to the NL. It's not just his personal stats and legend that have gotten a boost, though - L.A. has won eight straight, just swept the Diamondbacks, and are now a game and a half up in their division.
S - Serena Williams. This is very hard to believe - Serena Williams hasn't finished a season ranked No. 1 since 2002. That looks like it is about to change. Williams ascended to No. 1 after winning the U.S. Open on Sunday. It's the last major of the year, and nothing much happens between now and the Australian in January, so Serena should spend Christmas on top. With the way she can play when she wants to, it would be a joke if anyone but her was on top right now.
T - Toronto Blue Jays. There is no hotter team in the American League right now than Toronto. They have won eight-straight and 17 of their last 24. They're still getting the same solid pitching they have had all year. The difference is that they are actually hitting now. There's talk in the Canadian media of a Rockies-esque late season charge to the playoffs, but that's obviously ridiculous - they are still eight games out of the wild card, and unlike the Rockies last year the teams they are chasing are actually good. Still, this surge is a sign of how good Cito Gaston is as a manager, and how ridiculous it was that he was unemployed for as long as he was.
U - U.S. Soccer. Here's something I never thought I'd say - the Americans played a road game in Cuba this week. The impetus for such a politically bizarre event was the desire to qualify for the World Cup. The Americans won, 1-0, and seem to be well on their way to qualifying for their sixth straight World Cup. There was a surprising controversy leading into this game - neither Freddy Adu nor Jozy Altidore were chosen for the team.
V - Vanderbilt. South Carolina needs to find a way to avoid playing the Commodores. For the second straight year Vanderbilt didn't have much going for them when they played Steve Spurrier's ranked Gamecocks. And for the second straight year, Vanderbilt came out with a win. At least this time the game was at Vandy, so SC has a bit of an excuse. Not much of one, though. If Spurrier wants to be competitive he really needs to find himself a QB he can trust.
W - Wolverines. My beloved Michigan finally got a win. It sure wasn't pretty, though. They beat Miami of Ohio, but they didn't cover, and it seems increasingly possible that they won't all year. There were a few bright spots - the defense was mostly sound, and the rookie running backs are clearly the real deal. Still, the game showed just how much work Rich Rodriguez has ahead of him to get this team competitive. At least we play Notre Dame next week - that's a great way to make any team look better.
X - eXplosion. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia's sophomore running back, has Heisman ambitions. So far he certainly hasn't done anything to hurt them. Moreno torched Central Michigan for 168 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday. That's six touchdowns in two games, and an average of more than 8.7 yards per carry. Not bad. The level of competition jumps significantly for the next four games, though, so we'll have to check back in a month and see if he's still tearing it up.
Y - Yikes. Rashad Evans hit Chuck Liddell so hard that it made my head hurt, and I was a whole continent away. The undefeated Evans was a significant underdog against The Iceman in the main event of UFC 88 on Saturday night in a fight that would likely earn the winner a title shot. Liddell won the first round as Evans danced around and tried to avoid any contact. Lidell looked fine in the second round, too. But then Evans unleashed an overhand right that connected perfectly and floored Liddell. Chuck was out cold, and didn't move for a disturbingly long time.
Z - Zambrano, Carlos. The Cubs are secure in a playoff spot, and it's a good thing given their bad injury luck recently. Zambrano is going to miss a few starts with tendonitis in his shoulder, though an MRI revealed no further problems. Rich Harden skipped a start with discomfort in his shoulder. Chad Gaudin is struggling with a sore back that is affecting his availability from the bullpen. That's a lot of pitchers to have to make due without.