Saturday, November 29, 2008

Week 13: The 'now what?' NFL parlay

Before I get to this week's five-pack, I have to share with you, gentle readers, a quote I just read in a recap of Oregon's trouncing of Oregon State tonight. The Ducks rained on OSU's parade, essentially knocking the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl (unless USC somehow finds a way to lose to UCLA, which I think we both know they won't).

After the game, the Associated Press writer found the money quote from Oregon receiver Jaison Williams, who said, "To go out and ruin somebody's dreams like that, it feels real good."

Yeah, that's the spirit, buddy. That's what competition boils down to -- ruining other people's dreams. Sportsmanship is for dummies.

Hey, there's no I in team, but there is one in Jaison.

On to the parlay, which this week left me with the feeling of a dog who finally caught up to the car -- now what? Well, you can never have too much of the house's money, so here's my plan to bring home more of it. (Oh, and it's worth noting that my victory of a week ago was no coincidence -- the books got hammered because the over was 11-5 on the highest scoring weekend in NFL history, and favorites were 10-5-1. I had three favorites and an over among my five-pack, and the one game I had to sweat out was the Broncos-Raiders under.)

  • Bills -6.5 vs. San Francisco -- West coast teams playing the early game in the Eastern time zone are really up against it, and when you factor in the Niners' general suckiness and Buffalo's apparent resurgence, this one seems like a lock.
  • Packers -3.5 vs. Carolina -- Which Packers will show up? At Lambeau, I'm banking on the good Packers.
  • Giants -3.5 at Washington -- I know it's a division game and all, but the Giants are the best team in football and I'm going to ride them.
  • Colts -4.5 at Cleveland -- Two teams going in opposite directions.
  • Patriots -0.5 vs. Pittsburgh -- Should be a great game. In the end, I think the Pats win, because now that Cassell is playing well, they've got that old hop in their step again.
Last week: 5-0
Season: 31-27-2

Friday, November 28, 2008

Greed is NOT good

Well, the Christmas season got off to a rousing start -- and Black Friday took on an all-too literal meaning -- with the news that a 34-year-old maintenance worker at a Long Island Wal-Mart was trampled to death under the crush of 200 shoppers scrambling for "door-buster" bargains at 5:00 a.m. Friday.

I know every retailer is trying to do whatever it can to lure customers into its stores in this spiraling economy, and it's become such a cute little tradition to open early on the day after Thanksgiving to extend the hours of the biggest shopping day of the year. But it isn't cute anymore. When people's lives are in danger because shoppers are so desperate to get a bargain that they'll break down doors to get their hands on the last Xbox or flat-screen TV or Bratz All-Ages Club Skank (now with lower-back tattoo!), it's time to re-evaluate the whole process.

Of course, greed is the root cause of this whole mess -- the greed of the consumers, who want to BUYBUYBUY! for the lowest price possible, regardless of the cost to their dignity or the safety of their fellow shoppers and store employees; and the greed of the corporations, who need to maximize profits and keep shareholders or company executives happy, often at the expense of their own employees, who are torn away from their families at ridiculous hours (I mused about this last year in my "National Shopping Day" post -- what time do you suppose you'd have to go to bed on Thanksgiving Day so that you could be up and ready for work in time for a 5:00 a.m. store opening?).

Many, many moons ago, when the Vegas Gopher was just a Golden Gopher back in the motherland, I worked part-time at a Gap store. It was a decent job -- not exactly back-breaking work, nice people, good discount on the product -- but one thing really sucked. I had to be available to work on the day after Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas. Non-negotiable. You WILL be scheduled for those days, and you WILL show up for your shift, or you WILL be fired.

Which meant no leisurely holiday weekends for me. No lingering over the turkey leftovers or singing carols 'round the old Tannenbaum on Christmas night for me. I had to be safely tucked away in my own bed (two hours from my parents' house or four hours from my in-laws) on those blessed nights, because two even more blessed holidays -- National Shopping Day and National Returns Day -- required my presence.

At least I lived to tell about it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

House money!

Your favorite degenerate NFL gambler finally has something to celebrate -- my first successful five-team parlay of the year! As you might know, I play a five-team NFL parlay every week, sort of my own little one-man office pool. If I hit it once, it puts me in the black for the entire season (23-to-1 payoff).

I hit it once each in 2005 and 2006. I got blanked last year, and was 0-for-11 this year heading into yesterday. But I was coming off a 3-for-5 week, and had a 4-for-5 performancea week earlier, so I was feeling pretty good about my great NFL mind.

The early games didn't give me much to sweat out -- the Lions-Bucs game was well on its way to going over at halftime (21-17), and the Ravens and Pats both pulled away late, but both teams were pretty competitive through the first three quarters. Maybe I would have fretted about the Pats-Dolphins game a little more if it had been one of the late games, but by the time I realized I was staring at a 3-for-3 start, they were taking it to the Phish.

On to the late games, where I had the Falcons -1.5 and the Raiders-Broncos game under 42.5. Just before halftime, I was practically counting the money in my head, as the Falcons led 17-0 and the game in Denver was tied 3-3. Even Carolina's field goal didn't make me sweat much, but then the Raiders housed an 89-yard punt return with 1:06 to play in the half. Even after Matt Prater missed his second field goal of the half, I couldn't help but be a bit miffed that the Raiders took a 10-3 lead into the locker room, rather than a 3-3 tie.

In the second half, Carolina stormed down the field for a quick TD and suddenly it was a ballgame again in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Denver tied the game at 10 less than six minutes into the second half, and the Raiders responded with a TD four minutes later. Suddenly we were sitting on 27 points with 20 minutes to play, meaning I had a 15-point cushion. I could survive two more TDs, or a TD and two field goals, but anything more and I would be screwed.

Back to Atlanta, where the Falcons were reeling. Another John Kasay field goal cut their lead to 17-13 and the offense was struggling. The announcers (Thom Brenneman and a very impressive Brian Billick, who might have found his true calling) were saying things like, "This is a young Falcons team and a veteran Panthers lineup -- this is where it could start to slip away for Atlanta." Not good times.

But suddenly the Falcons responded. A 12-play, 80-yard drive led to a Michael Turner TD on the first play of the fourth quarter and seemed to buck up their confidence a bit. Even after the Panthers marched right back down for another TD to cut the lead to 3, the Falcons drove it right back down Carolina's throats with a 74-yard TD drive. Then the defense got rolling again, forced a punt deep in Carolina's territory, and when my new hero Harry Douglas returned it 61 yards to paydirt for a 17-point lead with 4:47 to play, the game was as good as over.

Back to Denver, where the Raiders scored another touchdown (by former Bronco Ashley Lelie -- how do you like me now, Broncos?) in the first minute of the fourth quarter, then picked off Jay Cutler and drove 43 yards for another TD, making the score 31-10 with 9:42 to play. It wasn't looking good for your favorite degenerate NFL gambler at that point -- just a simple field goal would do me in.

But because the Broncos were down by three TDs, they eschewed a long field goal attempt on fourth-and-11 at the Raiders 38 and turned it over on downs with 6:47 to play. Then Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden started tearing off yardage in chunks and the Raiders started grinding down the clock. God bless Mike Shanahan, who didn't use any of his three timeouts because it was clear that his team was done and just needed to get off the field. And God bless Tom Cable, who didn't need to boost his ego by taking a shot at the end zone. The Raiders ran the ball eight straight times, had it down to the Broncos 23 at the 2-minute warning, and when I saw them line up in the Victory formation I knew I was golden. Two Jamarcus Russell kneel-downs later and I could finally celebrate.

So, I'm playing with house money for the rest of the year, and after doing the math I realized that even with my 0-for-2007 disaster, hitting it three times in four years actually puts me in the black overall, even if I come up empty the rest of the way (17 weeks x 4 seasons = 68 weeks; 3 winning weeks x 23-to-1 odds = 69 units of profit; 69>68). And I didn't get out here to Vegas until about Week 4 of the 2005 NFL season, so that's a few more bucks in my pocket regardless.

But if I do hit it again this season, it'll be a banner friggin' Christmas at the Donnelly household this year!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Week 12: Thanks for nothing parlay

Six weeks to go and time's a-wastin'; daylight's fading, there's frost on the pumpkins, and moths flying out of my bankroll. It's time to get serious, or time to get lucky. At this point, I'd take either.
  • Patriots +1.5 at Miami -- I can't see Coach Hoodie getting swept by the Dolphins, regardless of Brady's injury status.
  • Bucs-Lions over 41.5 -- Smooth Jimmy Apollo makes this his Shoe-In of the Week. And that's a mighty big shoe.
  • Ravens -1.5 vs. Philadelphia -- This line is the head-scratcher of the year. Did everybody see the Eagles tying the Bengals last week? How are the Ravens only laying a point and a half?
  • Falcons -1.5 vs. Carolina -- This is my least confident pick. But I guess I believe in the Falcons. How's that for a ringing endorsement?
  • Raiders-Broncos under 42.5 -- This says more about the Raiders offense than the Broncos defense. And I'm hoping for snow in the Rockies.
Last week: 3-2
Season: 26-27-2

Friday, November 14, 2008

Week 11: Back to the homeland parlay

Maybe a change in venue will change my luck. I'm heading back to the homeland this weekend to visit friends and take in the concert of a lifetime for me -- The Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers, on tour together, stopping at First Avenue. I mean, these are two of my all-time favorite bands in my all-time favorite venue. What could go wrong?

And with that kind of a positive attitude, here are five winners you can take to the bank:
  • Raiders-Dolphins under 38.5 -- I don't like Oakland's offense, and I do like Oakland's defense. Oh, there are two teams playing in this game?
  • Titans -2.5 at Jacksonville -- Like last week, it won't be a blowout, but the Jags have gagged enough this year that a three-point win to keep Tennessee undefeated seems like a decent bet.
  • Chiefs +5.5 vs. New Orleans -- Tyler Thigpen. I'm wagering on Tyler Thigpen. Well smack my ass and call me Columbus, I'm wagering on Tyler Thigpen -- and I feel good about it!
  • Steelers-Chargers over 42.5 -- The Chargers can't stop anybody on the road, and the Steelers are banged-up enough on defense that even Norv Turner should figure out a way to put some points on the board.
  • Browns-Bills over 42.5 -- Did you see the Browns attempt to play defense at home last week against Denver? Did you? Then you know why I'm going with the over.
Last week: 4-1 (sigh)
Season: 23-25-2

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ahhhh ....

.... damn it all to hell, anyway! Stupid Cardinals. I knew I was in trouble when they gave up a 104-yard kickoff return for a TD on the first play of the game. They never really recovered from that -- they didn't tie the game or take the lead until the last five minutes of the game.

Other developments that killed me:
  • The Niners were 9-for-18 on 3rd down, including that scramble by Shaun Hill on 3rd-and-11 where he lost his helmet and still managed to dive past the sticks. A stop there would have forced a punt from around the SF 20 and given the Cards the ball back near midfield, down 14-13 with three minutes to play in the first half, a great chance to steal back the momentum and take a lead into the locker room. Instead, the Niners continued the drive, chewed up the rest of the half and scored a TD for good measure. A steel-toed kick to the crotch, that was.
  • The Cards rushed for only 46 yards on 19 carries. They couldn't run, period. And yet, their coaching staff still kept sending in running plays inside the red zone, where they constantly bogged down and led to this miserable stat ...
  • Arizona came away with points on each of its six trips inside the red zone, but three of those times they had to settle for field goals (and one of those TDs came on fourth down after another third-down failure). Convert just one of those field goals into a TD and they don't have to go for two (and fail) on their last TD, and I win my bet.
Oh well, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts ... I blame Obama. Change? Looks like the same old crap to me.

p.s. Both times I've started 4-for-4 on the parlay this year, the Niners have screwed me over on the final leg -- once when they collapsed against the Eagles, and once when they refused to collapse against the Cardinals. There's a lesson in there somewhere -- don't bet on or against the Niners when they're playing a team with a bird mascot? Something like that.

Do one thing for me

If you're watching TV tonight (or even if you're not), sometime between 5:30 and 9:00 p.m. Pacific time, please close your eyes real tight, clap your hands and say, "I DO believe in Kurt Warner! I DO! I DO! I DO! I DO believe in Tim Hightower and Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin! I DO I DO I DO!!!!"

See the previous entry if you're wondering why.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

NFL Week 10: The-sky-is-blue parlay

Best line of the week comes from some wisecracker named Christian Finnegan, who comes on "Countdown" to make snarky comments once in a while. Olbermann tossed him some softball to start their conversation about life post-election, and Finnegan deadpanned, "Sorry Keith, could you repeat the question? I couldn't hear you over the heavenly choir of angels that have been singing in my head since Tuesday night."

Maybe the heavenly choirs can lead my five-game parlay to victory this week.
  • Titans -2.5 at Chicago -- Rex Grossman against the Titans D? I'm not saying it'll be a blowout, but a Titans win by at least a field goal seems likely.
  • Falcons -0.5 vs. New Orleans -- Matt Ryan, first half MVP? Best rookie QB since Marino? Biggest surprise since Britney's comeback? I'll count on him to win a game this weekend.
  • Vikings-Packers over 45.5 -- No Jared Allen (probably), a resurgent Vikings offense, and a pathetic Packers run defense trying to stop Adrian Peterson = points.
  • Chiefs +14.5 at San Diego -- I don't expect Kansas City to win, but they've done a good job of keeping games close, while the Chargers also have done a good job of keeping games close, just not in the way you'd want if you were a Chargers fan.
  • Cardinals -9.5 vs. San Francisco -- The Cards are rolling. The Niners stink. Mike Singletary's pants will be ankle-bound before halftime.
Last week: 2-3
Season: 19-24-2

Thursday, November 6, 2008

She's a rising star

The most compelling subtext to come out of this campaign is the rising-star status of a woman who used the past two months to burst onto the national scene, a smart, charming, affable woman who's a great communicator and has flashed the potential to become a cornerstone of the political scene for the foreseeable future.

I refer to, of course ... MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

What, you thought I was talking about Sarah Palin? The woman who reportedly thought Africa was a country, not a continent? Or who didn't know that NAFTA was a treaty signed by Canada, Mexico and the U.S.? Or whose much-reported $150K shopping spree apparently was much, much, much more expensive?

No, I'm not talking about her. I'm talking about the new voice of the center-left. A lesbian liberal that even Pat Buchanan can love.

If you haven't caught her show (which follows flame-thrower Keith Olbermann on a nightly basis), Ms. Maddow brings a decidedly leftist bent to her overview of the day's news, but she does it with a sprinkle of wit and a fairness and balance that Fox News could only dream of.

Maybe it's because she's a Rhodes Scholar, so she understands that you have to show all sides of an argument to give your audience enough evidence to show that you're right. Or maybe it's because she always idenfities who her guests are supporting (i.e. "Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is a Barack Obama supporter") when she introduces them.

Or maybe it's because she just flat-out rocks. Whatever, it's clear that she's kicking ass and taking names. Her ratings have blown away those of her predecessor in that time slot, and are causing the talk giants at Fox to look over their shoulders in fear.

If you're tired of the "my party, right or wrong" type of commentary that's taken over cable news at the expense of careful thought and nuance, give Rachel Maddow a shot. I'm confident that you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008