This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 01/19/2009
A - Arizona. What can you say about the Cardinals? An uninspiring regular season team out of a truly terrible division suddenly turns into a postseason superhero. And they do it, fittingly, with the ultimate phoenix QB - this guy keeps rising from the ashes. There are all sorts of reasons to be skeptical about this team, but you sure can't doubt what they have done over the last three weeks. The defense is impressive, the running game finally exists, and Larry Fitzgerald is unquestionably the best receiver in football right now.
B - Baltimore. They may not be heading to the Super Bowl, but the Ravens deserve a lot of credit. They played 18 weeks without a break, and they had a rookie quarterback who probably wasn't ready for prime time, yet they made it within a game of the Super Bowl. Going forward, there is a big question and a hope. What the heck happened to Ed Reed in that game - a guy that good shouldn't be that invisible? And here's hoping that Willis McGahee comes out of that hit better than it looks like he might.
C - Cardinals. It was a very good week to be named after a red bird. Louisville had almost as good a week as Arizona. A solid home win over No. 1-ranked Pitt was their fifth consecutive win, and a decisive reminder that this is not a team that should be written off. Louisville had three regrettable and unacceptable losses, but they have beat three straight ranked teams. Rick Pitino seems to have things back under control, and it doesn't take much imagination to see them getting a high seed in March.
D - Demon Deacons. I would have guessed that a lot of teams would have been the lone remaining undefeated squad before I picked Wake Forest. A whole lot. That doesn't mean that you can take anything away from what they have done so far - wins over North Carolina and Clemson in less than a week is no fluke. Dino Gaudio looked like a place-holder after Skip Prosser died, but he is clearly is much more than that.
E - Eagles. What can you say about the Eagles? They are lousy when they get deep in the playoffs, for one. There is no reason that they should have lost that game, and their play once they came back to take the lead briefly was proof of that. Unfortunately, their play in the first half was indescribably bad and put them in a big hole. There is something about the team that just can't handle success. I look forward to a long winter full of discussions about Donovan McNabb's future.
F - Fujikawa, Tadd. Zach Johnson was the ultimate winner at the Sony Open, the first full-field PGA event of the year, but the big story for much of the weekend was 18-year-old Tadd Fujikawa. Two years after Fujikawa made history by becoming the second youngest ever to make a cut at a PGA event at the same event, Fujikawa tied the course record with a 62 in the third round to climb near the top of the leaderboard. He faltered under pressure on Sunday to wind up 32nd, but it's another clear sign that the guy has a future ahead of him.
G - Gruden, Jon. There have been 10 coaching changes this year so far in the NFL, but none is more surprising than Gruden's departure in Tampa Bay. He probably deserved to go after the late collapse this year, especially since he has totally failed to develop a QB of the future. Still, he has been in Tampa for a while, had some success, and came at a high price. He's been replaced by Raheem Morris, a 32 year old who has had just one year as a coordinator - 2006 at Kansas State. Mike Tomlin's current success made it much easier for Morris to be hired.
H - Hot, then not. The Calgary Flames are the biggest chameleons in the NHL. No team has the ability to shift from incredibly good to incredibly bad in such a short time. Coming into this past weekend, the Flames had earned 23 of their last 26 possible points, capped by two wins over the San Jose Sharks. This weekend, they lost two games against inferior opponents - Phoenix and Colorado - and it's hard to imagine that any team has played two worse games in a row all year. This is why sports bettors get headaches.
I - Islanders. You may know them as the New York Islanders, but you might want to get used to calling them the Kansas City Islanders soon. The team has signed an agreement to play at least one preseason game in Kansas City next season. Kansas City is desperate for a NHL team, and the Isles have been frustrated by their inability to get a new building, so it seems very likely that this is the first step in a courtship that could end with moving trucks. By the way that the Islanders are playing this year I'm not sure that anyone in New York would miss them.
J - Jodie Meeks. As a sophomore last year, Kentucky guard Meeks averaged 8.8 points per game. This year he has jumped all the way to 25.7. He's had a lot of big games this year en route to becoming the fourth leading scorer in the country, but none bigger than Kentucky's huge win over Tennessee this week. Meeks netted 54 points, an all-time school record for a school that has had a scorer or two over the years. Meeks had a ridiculous 60 percent of the team's points.
K - Knee. Pittsburgh Penguins fans had a very frustrating and scary week, and not just because their star-laden team got rolled over by Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals. Sidney Crosby left that game early with a knee injury, and missed practice the next day, and Friday's game against Anaheim. Lucky, the injury doesn't appear to be serious. Crosby returned on Sunday against the Rangers, and he played 20 ineffective but mobile minutes. The last thing Pittsburgh needs is one more thing to go wrong. The playoffs are going to be hard enough to make as it is.
L - Lance Armstrong. The 37-year-old freak of nature has officially returned to racing. He made his return in the Tour Down Under in Adelaide, Australia. He stayed with the pack in the 32-mile criterium, finishing with the peloton to earn a 64th place finish out of 133 starters. He certainly didn't seem to be concerned about the result, though - this race obviously isn't his ultimate goal, and nerves and rust were obvious factors.
M - Miles, Darius. Miles signed his second 10-day contract with the Grizzlies this week, and played in his fourth regular season game. No one would notice or care except that Miles also played six preseason games. He was written off after a serious knee injury. A 10-game comeback, though, means that the $18 million in salary that remained on his contract when he was injured will now count against the salary cap of the Trail Blazers, his last team. That's a serious hit for a team that already has a lot of salary cap issues on the horizon given their young roster packed with future stars.
N - Nash, Steve. As I watched Nash tear up the Raptors in Toronto - 11 assists in the first half alone to lead his team to 71 points by the break - I couldn't help but think about how comfortable Nash looked in the city. He's a Canadian, and Toronto coach Jay Triano is very close to Nash after having coached him on Canada's national team. Phoenix is looking to make a fresh start, and Toronto could use a player like Nash. This is a trade rumor that makes some sense.
O - Orange. Syracuse is an obviously talented and dangerous basketball team, but they had an up and down week. On Wednesday they traveled to Georgetown and were outclassed, ultimately losing by 14. They bounced back very nicely on Saturday, overwhelming Notre Dame at home. This is the same team that beat Memphis but lost to Cleveland State, so it's hard to know what we have with them. Their next two games are at Pitt and against Louisville, so we will have a better sense of what they are made of by this time next week.
P - Pamplemousse, The. The Pamplemousse, French for a grapefruit, is a terrible name for a race horse. It's far from a terrible horse, though. The Pamplemousse won the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday to assert himself as the early star of the West Coast derby trail. He beat Square Eddie, the horse who was second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, in a fairly fast time. It's hard to know for sure what this means - it's early, and the Breeders' Cup last year showed us how little the Santa Anita surface has in common with the dirt that the Derby is run on.
Q - Quite a bargain. The World Series MVP, Cole Hamels, has been given a three-year extension with the Phillies for $20.5 million. The move allows both sides to avoid arbitration. I understand that age has a lot to do with it, but given what teams paid for inferior and older talents like Derek Lowe and A.J. Burnett this year, Philadelphia got a serious bargain with this deal. It's the next one that could get ridiculous if Hamels maintains his form.
R - Returning. In one of the bigger surprises in recent NFL drafts, Oklahoma's Heisman winning QB Sam Bradford has decided to forego a huge early first round payday to return to Oklahoma for third season as a starter. It's a risk that might not pay off for Bradford given the numerous offensive departures facing his team, but it's great news for college football fans. In other news, Percy Harvin of Florida made the obvious and right choice in going pro, and USC QB Mark Sanchez made the head-scratching decision to enter the draft. Sanchez could definitely use another year in college, but he had to figure that his chances were better this year than they would be next year with Bradford, Colt McCoy, and Tim Tebow in the draft.
S - Steelers. Pittsburgh didn't win pretty, but all that matters is that they won and are headed to the Super Bowl. The offense had some problems all day against the Ravens defense, especially on the run. Their defense was incredibly impressive, though, and didn't let Baltimore do anything. The best possible news for Pittsburgh is that they now have a week off to heal and recover from the incredible intensity of the AFC Championship. That extra week will also give them more time to figure out how to contain Larry Fitzgerald.
T - Threes. The Orlando Magic certainly managed to find their range from beyond the arc on Tuesday. They hit a league-record 23 three-pointers on their way to a big win in Sacramento. They were 13-of-19 in the first half to set team records for threes and points in a half. It was all part of an incredibly impressive four game road trip - wins at San Antonia, the Lakers and Denver helped to move them to a league best 17-5 on the road. Only Cleveland now has a better record overall.
U - UFC 93. This event, which took place in Dublin, didn't have the high profile of many events, and was certainly overshadowed by the mega-event in two weeks that is UFC 94, but it was a deep and interesting card for MMA fans. The main event saw Dan Henderson hand Rich Franklin yet another loss, this time by split decision. Franklin has gone from rising star to has-been in short order. Rousimar Palhares and Mauricio Rua are two guys on the card who were disappointing and underwhelming despite earning wins.
V - Villanova. There is no such thing as a lock in sports betting, but betting that the Wildcats will win at home comes pretty close. They rolled to an easy win at home over St. John's on Sunday. That win was their 24th consecutive in the friendly confines of their home court, the Pavilion. The last loss at home was Jan. 6, 2007. That's impressive no matter what, but especially so when they have to host Big East teams.
W - West, Delonte. The rest of the NBA's Eastern Conference may have a glimmer of hope - Cleveland has lost guard Delonte West for six weeks with a broken wrist. West certainly isn't anywhere close to the biggest star on the team, but the former Saint Joseph's star is consistent, reliable, and a valuable starter. The injury means that Sasha Pavlovic has to step up and start. That's a big step down from West, though Pavlovic did have 19 points in his first start.
X - Xavier. It was an unexciting but effective week for the mascots of our column. They got a win at Rhode Island, and then rolled over La Salle at home. They remain undefeated in the A-10, and they have covered their last five games. Their next game against St. Bonaventure shouldn't be much of a problem, but then they face a unique challenge when they travel to LSU. The Tigers are solid, and the Musketeers have struggled against major conference teams, so this is a good test for both squads.
Y - Yikes. It's sad to see desperate men do desperate things. I know that every coordinator in football eventually wants to be a head coach, but surely you are better off being a coordinator on a good team than the coach of a hopeless one. Jim Schwartz and Steve Spagnuolo obviously don't agree. Schwartz left his job as DC in Tennessee to become the next victim of the Lions, while Spagnuolo jumps from the Giants to the pathetic Rams. Both guys might be better off leasing a home than buying one.
Z - Zzzzz. Talk about two guys who need a nap. Belgian Gilles Muller is heading to the second round of the Australian Open after beating Fernando Lopez in the longest match in tournament history. Muller won the first two sets, dropped the next two, then ultimately prevailed 16-14 in the decider. To make matters worse, the 5 1/2 -hour match was played in heat that topped 95 degrees on a court with no shelter from the sun. Muller now moves on to play Australian Bernard Tomic, a guy who won his first match despite being just 16 years old. If Muller weren't likely totally exhausted he'd be a very safe pick here.