This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 12/15/2008
A - Arena Football League. The AFL is taking a year off to get their business in order. The question is whether anyone will care, or even notice. The most telling indication of the state of the league was that the New Orleans VooDoo had decided to fold even though they had been near the top of the league in attendance the last two years and were owned by Tom Benson, owner of the Saints, so money wasn't a problem.
B - Boston Celtics. There were some questions coming into this year about whether the Celtics would be hungry enough to be as good as they were last year, or whether the loss of James Posey would be too much to overcome defensively. The answers are pretty clear - the Celtics are making the game look easy. They are a league-leading 22-2, and they have won 14 straight. They are doing it in style, too - despite being a public team, they are profitable ATS on the season.
C - Cowboys. It was a very strange week in Dallas. Terrell Owens did what he does best and turned the team into a ridiculous soap opera. He bickered with his QB and Jason Witten, and he looked ridiculous doing it. At the same time, the owner isn't happy, the coach is probably a dead man walking, the running back ranks have been hit hard, and the controversial cornerback may have seen his career come to an end. So what does the team do in the face of all that controversy? Rise up and beat perhaps the best team in the league, and look shockingly competent in doing it.
D - Dominating. Andre Johnson is very, very good, and he's pulling his team along with him. Houston's top receiver, and arguably the best in the league, is tearing it up this year - he's leading the league in catches and yards, and he's coming off a 207-yard performance on Sunday to help his Texans upset the Titans. Houston is playing as well as any team in the league right now - much like many observers thought they had the potential to do before the season. The only problem is that the good play didn't kick in until they had played themselves out of the playoff picture.
E - Early retirement. Cuttino Mobley is a solid player with a lot of good play left in his 33-year-old body, but he has been forced to retire before joining the Knicks and proving it. Mobley has a heart condition that causes the walls of his heart to thicken. It's the same condition that caused the deaths of Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers, so the dangers are real and severe. I'll miss Mobley, but we can just be glad that the condition was caught. I guess something good can actually come from being traded to the Knicks.
F - Father. This shouldn't come as a big surprise, but we have further proof this week that the death of a father is a huge motivator for a player. In 2003, Brett Favre had a massive Monday night game against Oakland in the week of his father's death. This week it was Matt Cassel who had the unfortunate boost. Cassel had the same four touchdowns as Favre did, and was ruthlessly focused as his Patriots tore apart the Raiders to stay in the thick of the AFC East race.
G - Georgetown. The Hoyas have a new look this year without Roy Hibbert and without most of the team that earned a No. 2 seed last year. With a defining win on Saturday, though, they proved that they are still for real. Their overtime win over Memphis was their first over a top level team, and answered some of the questions that an uninspired loss to Tennessee had brought up a couple of weeks earlier. Memphis freshman Tyreke Evans made a statement in the loss, scoring 20 points despite being smothered defensively by Chris Wright.
H - Heisman. It seems fitting that the Heisman race ended up being so close between the top three quarterbacks, because it was almost impossible to differentiate between the three. Sam Bradford won, but it was so close that Tim Tebow was third behind Colt McCoy despite earning the most first place votes. Tebow stands a very good chance of returning to New York for the third year in a row next year. McCoy is a favorite to get there, too. Bradford would be as well, except my bet is that he cashes in and goes pro.
I - Idiots. The Bills seem like a doomed franchise. Buffalo had their game against the Jets all but won on Sunday. All they had to do was run out the clock. Buffalo had been running well all day, so that shouldn't have been much of a problem. Unless you are the ridiculously dumb Bills, that is. On second and five, a pass play was called. J.P. Losman missed the blitz, the ball was stripped, and the Jets' defense scored the easiest winning touchdown ever scored. Jets' backers shouldn't be too happy, though - the win hides yet another lackluster performance by Brett Favre and the rest of the team.
J - Joe Sakic. I live in snow country, but thanks to the captain of the Colorado Avalanche I will never use anything besides a shovel to clear the snow from my walks. Sakic, who was already out of action with back problems, will now miss at least three months of action thanks to a 'snowblower mishap'. I don't know what that is, but I know it sounds painful. Sakic broke three fingers and injured some tendons. It's another setback for a struggling team, and for a legendary player who increasingly looks like he made the wrong decision when he decided to return for one last season.
K - Klitschko, Wladimir. Hasim Rahman made his name by upsetting Lennox Lewis to win the heavyweight title in 2001. Another upset and another title reign were definitely not meant to be. Rahman fought Klitschko on the weekend, and it was no contest. Klitschko was effective and efficient, punishing Rahman before knocking him out in the sixth round. Klitschko barely broke a sweat. This was yet more proof that the heavyweight division has a real problem - the only opponent who can challenge a Klitschko is the other Klitschko, and they say they won't fight each other.
L - Late drives. The Packers would be having a much better season if they only had to play 55-minute games. This is the third consecutive week in which the Packers have been the victims of a late drive. That ends the faint playoff hopes for the Packers, and leaves their fans with just one thing to do - cheer against the Jets with all of their might. The Packers got off to a solid start, but this didn't end up being a dream season for the team, or for Aaron Rodgers. Big changes seem likely in the coming months.
M - Mets. New York's management doesn't get any credit for recognizing that they had bullpen issues - any idiot could have seen that after consecutive late season collapses. They do get credit, though, for doing something about it. To start, they signed K-Rod to a fat free agent contract. That gives them the best current closer in baseball. Then they traded for J.J. Putz, Seattle's closer, to set games up for K-Rod. By robbing the AL West of talent, the Mets have set themselves up as favorites to get back to the playoffs.
N - Nic Wise. Wise was Arizona's leading scorer as his Wildcats collected a stunning upset of Gonzaga on Sunday. Arizona was written off by many after the strange departure of Lute Olson, but they looked thoroughly convincing as they handled the previously unbeaten Bulldogs. The big setback for Gonzaga marks the third time this year that a No. 4 team has been upset by a unranked team. Noticeable in the loss was a poor game by Jeremy Pargo.
O - Overtime. The Atlanta Falcons are in much better position to make the playoffs than they were before Sunday, and they are very lucky to be there. They beat Tampa Bay in overtime on Sunday, but it was a sloppy performance. Matt Ryan threw two interceptions, and had two more fumbles that were recovered by Atlanta. It was only a strong running performance from Michael Turner that saved the day. That's the second straight week that the previously invincible Bucs' defense has been lousy against the run. Maybe the likely departure of Monte Kiffin to head to Tennessee is too much of a distraction.
P - Phoenix Suns. The change in coaching philosophies has not gone smoothly in Phoenix, so another big trade was deemed to be the answer. Even though the last big trade was a flop. They picked up Jason Richardson from Charlotte. He's a pure scorer who should be a big offensive boost. The cost - Boris Diaw and Raja Bell - isn't too big given what they got. It raises a problem, though - Steve Nash is Bell's best friend, and he wasn't consulted on the trade. It could be a problem when your already frustrated biggest star has more reasons to be upset.
Q - Quite dull. The game between the Steelers and the Ravens on Sunday wasn't particularly interesting to watch, but it was important. Pittsburgh won the close game by scoring the only touchdown in the last minute, and clinched the AFC North and a first round bye in the process. As has been a recurring theme this year, the ending was highly controversial. The winning TD was reviewed because it appeared that the ball wasn't in the endzone, though Santonio Holmes' two feet were. The ref's explanation was murky and confused, but most are these days.
R -Reggie Bush. Bush had yet another setback as he tries to avoid the flop designation. Bush injured his knee in the first half of New Orleans' loss to the Bears on Thursday night. He was only able to return for one kick return in the second half, and won't be cleared to return to action until after an MRI. This was just one of many problems for the Saints on the night - Drew Brees was not good, and the Saints saw their postseason hopes end in Chicago for the third straight year.
S - Sacked. It was not a good week to be an NBA coach. Nor has it been a good year, for that matter. Two more coaches joined the unemployment ranks this week. First, the underachieving Sixers dumped Maurice Cheeks. The team has been terrible in the face of high hopes, so a change was imminent. It was the second time Cheeks has been fired midseason, and he has never won a playoff series, so a third chance seems unlikely. Next, the Kings booted Reggie Theus. He was a controversial pick, and becomes yet another college coach who flops on the pro level.
T - Temple. The Owls earned their first tournament appearance since 2001 last year, and they served notice this weekend that they would like another. Temple was a 7.5-point underdog at home against Tennessee, but they didn't seem to notice that they were supposed to be outmatched - The Owls won by 16, and were convincing from start to finish. Fitting to the season, Temple senior forward Dionte Christmas was the star, scoring 35 points.
U - UMass. The A-10 had a good weekend. Not only did Temple get their upset, and Xavier kept rolling, but UMass was able to get their act together and beat Kansas. The Jayhawks obviously aren't the team that they were last year, but the win by the Minutemen still extends an intriguing trend - UMass is now 5-1 lifetime against defending national champions. This only temporarily hides the problems that UMass has, though - before winning their last two they had lost six in a row.
V - Vikings. Tarvaris Jackson lost his first chance to be a starter. He clearly doesn't want to lose his second. Jackson was solid filling in for the injured Gus Frerotte last week, and he was even better on Sunday as he led his team to a big win at Arizona. Tarvaris only threw 17 passes, but he completed 11 and had four touchdowns. He was helped by another big game by Adrian Peterson - 165 yards - as the Vikings put themselves firmly in command of the NFC North playoff race. It's no lock, though - they still have Atlanta and the Giants left to play, while Chicago has Green Bay and Houston.
W - Washington Capitals. The worst nightmare of an NHL team happened to Washington happened this week - a late goaltender injury left them without a backup, and there was no time to bring a replacement up from the farm. Teams often come up with creative solutions in these cases, and the Caps were no exception. Their Web site producer was a college goalie in Division III, so he was signed to a contract and stuck on the bench. Luckily, he didn't have to play.
X - Xavier. Our mascots just keep on rolling. The Musketeers played two games this week, and they won and covered both. First up was Ohio, an in-state opponent that they had never previously played. It was an easy win. Next, they beat Cincinnati in a battle for supremacy in the city the teams share. Xavier won by 10 while favored by just two. Next up is a huge Saturday test against Duke in New Jersey. A win there and we'll really have something to talk about.
Y - Yankees. The Yankees may not earn any fans by the way they throw money around, but at least they are spending the money reasonably well this year. First, they secured CC Sabathia for the long term. He was expensive, but you can never complain about signing the best pitcher in the game. Next, they added A.J. Burnett. He was cheaper, but also riskier. He led the AL in strikeouts for Toronto last year, and he had 18 wins, but his E.R.A. was over four, and he was far from consistent. Still, he and Sabathia make the Yankees far more competitive by giving them perhaps the deepest rotation in the AL. It's been a while since New York has had a good rotation, and it has shown in the results.
Z - Zzzzz. The Dolphins seem to be determined to win their games by boring their opponents to death. It's not interesting, but they are tied for the division lead, so it's working. Last week it was the Bills, and this week it was San Francisco. As we are becoming used to, Chad Pennington wasn't spectacular, but he avoided mistakes and did precisely what was needed. The Dolphins have been impressive, but no team has been more blessed by their schedule - their last five wins have been over Seattle, Oakland, St. Louis, Buffalo, and San Francisco, and they have Kansas City up next. They could theoretically make the playoffs while only beating two teams with winning records - New England and Denver.