NFL Conference Championship Picks

saints-drew-brees-breaks-brett-favres-nfl-record-for-completions

Here at the end of all things, it’s easy to forget how we got here. Easy to forget the Miami Miracles and the few weeks Khalil Mack was MVP and that the Lions actually played this season and that George Kittle quietly set the record for most receiving yards by a tight end and that the Chiefs-Rams game was supposed to be in Mexico City. It’s easy to forget that everyone (myself included) really did bury the Pats and call them done and question whether they’d even win 10 games and are now covering their tracks and calling the Patriots delusional and stupid for trying to use that narrative in their favor because the national media conversation about the Pats is primarily driven by spite, jealousy, and hatred. It’s easy to forget that the Saints were completely dominated at home by the Cowboys, whom the Rams just beat in a game whose final score belied the true margin of victory. It’s easy to forget that for all the grief the Chiefs’ defense has taken for being one of the worst in history, they’re much stouter at home and have a terrifying pass rush. It’s easy to forget that Sean McVay has spent more time in Sean McVay’s presence than anyone. All these forgotten things help paint the picture of the 2018 NFL season. They make up the background and the small details that make the piece beautiful. But the main subjects in the foreground? They’re about to be painted this weekend. This is Championship Sunday, the most important week of the season.

Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints (-3.5)

It’s just different in the ‘Dome. That’s what they always say, at least. And I think it’s true, at least in this case: home teams have a massive advantage in Conference Championship games (no road team has won a CCG since 2012) and this game is in the Superdome. Pound-for-pound, I think these two rosters are pretty much even. It’s just those few differences that set them apart. The Rams secondary is pretty decent, but if Marcus Peters starts covering Michael Thomas? Uh oh. Aaron Donald is the best player in the league. But if Kamara gets past him and is up against the questionable linebackers? Uh oh. I just can’t see the Rams stopping the Saints. Drew Brees appears to have escaped the weird late-season slump he was in and is back to slinging the ball around at will. Saints defense is good, too. One of the best run defenses in the league, and if they do even a slightly better job at stopping Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson than the Cowboys did it’ll throw off the Rams’ offensive attack. Jared Goff is good. I don’t think he’s at “win the NFC Conference Championship Game singlehandedly” level yet. This has Saints written all over it, and it could get ugly.

Pick: Saints

914_saintharryconnickjr

New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs (-3)

It’s impossible for me to talk about this game without slipping into Pats Fan mode, so I’m not even going to try to avoid it. Listen, the Pats are winning this game. They just are. And they are underdogs, whether the poopy-pants talking heads and columnists want to admit it or not, and for good reason. The Chiefs were the best team all year. Best offense since the 2013 Broncos. They’ve got the league MVP, the best receiving tight end in the game, and one of the fastest players in league history. They’re at home, and we’ve already established that home teams don’t lose in the Conference Championships. But this arctic blast has to throw everything out of whack. Sure, the cataclysmic weather that was originally scheduled to hit Arrowhead likely won’t occur, but still. Gonna be freezing. Might have some snow. Might be a classic low-possession, low-margin-of-error game that the Patriots feast on. The number will always favor the Chiefs, which is why this isn’t about numbers. It’s about grit. It’s about balls. It’s about the best coach of all time and the best quarterback of all time taking the greatest franchise of all time out for one last ride. Soak it in, folks. These next three weeks could be it.

Pick: Patriots

tlumacki1

Advertisements

James Harden is Good

Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers

I try to keep my takes relatively reasonable and grounded, but I can’t keep this one contained any longer: James Harden is really, really, really good at playing basketball. Sorry. That was sitting under the heat lamp in my brain for a little too long. Had to get it to the customers before it became a “health risk.”

Listen, this is kind of the big, semi-fake, semi-straw man debate consuming the NBA these days. Is James Harden, the man who just broke Kobe Bryant’s post-merger consecutive 30-point game record with his 17th (!) straight, fun to watch or is he just gaming the system? Personally, I don’t really understand why it can’t be both. Obviously, he has taken advantage of the NBA’s changing rules and has crafted his game around drawing contact and appearing to draw contact. It’s made him a megastar, and, as such, he gets every call. “He tricks the refs and dribbles the ball forever and jacks 3s and it’s not how the game is played!” you say as you scrape the dried poop off your underwear. Why should he change his game? Why should he stop? He’s completely mastered the modern NBA! This is how the game is played now. 3s, free throws, layups. He gets any of them whenever he wants. He’s totally unstoppable. And oh yeah, he’s a gifted passer, too. Why does he get so much hate? He’s the platonic ideal of a 2019 NBA superstar and one of the ten (if you want to be generous towards the older eras, but really it’s five) best offensive players in league history. Start appreciating him more! He’s finished top two in MVP three of the last four years and would win his second consecutive if the season ended today. Don’t let Harden become the new Carmelo. No, the playoff success isn’t there, but he has to go against the Warriors every year, what do you want from him? The guy’s a special, special player.

Since when is someone absolutely going OFF not fun to watch? The stepback 3s are absolutely ridiculous. There’s no way they should go in but he shoots like 40% on them. Yeah, I guess seeing someone break everyone down off the dribble is pretty boring. Sucked watching A.I. play. Hate guys who throw a million alley-oops. Free throws are the only thing I’m willing to concede, but I love free throws. I love watching guys take a thousand a game. Maybe I just have unconventional tastes

Stop hating and put some respeck on Harden’s name.

 

NFL Division Round Picks

r481813_600x400_3-2

Can you feel it, folks? The change in the air? The butterflies in your stomach? The way that time stands still? How much extra beer and pizza and wings you can consume? It’s Winning Time. The Wildcard Round is nice and all, but the Divisional Round is where legends are born. This is where the America’s Game episode really gets going. This is where dreams start to become reality, or, more commonly, where the Patriots crush other teams’ dreams. This is the Divisional Round, and it’s going to be good.

Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs (-5)

The two Saturday games may prove quite tricky for the uninformed. It’d be so easy to overreact to last week or to overreact to the overreaction to last week. Which underdog is hot and which just happened to win last week? Which favorite just had a small blip and which one legitimately stinks? The answer to all of these questions (and more) is both. The Colts are red hot. Won 10 of 11. Dragged themselves into the top five in weighted team DVOA. Their defense is built to contain and frustrate explosive offenses, which, believe it or not, is something the Chiefs have. The Colts have living, breathing NFL players at running back and offensive line, which means they can take advantage of the Chiefs putrid run defense and shorten the game. It’s Patrick Mahomes’s first playoff game and Andy Reid is the coach and it’s the Chiefs at home. If the Colts get an early lead there are going to be so many tightly clenched buttholes in Kansas City that they’ll be able to set up a tightly clenched butthole convention (it’s late, okay?). And five points for a home favorite with one of the best offenses in league history is not that much at all. The universe is DYING for everyone to pick the Colts. It’s too perfect. The only thing seemingly favoring the Chiefs is the fact that home playoff teams are 43-21 in the Divisional Round since 2002. The only problem? In that timespan, the Chiefs are 0-2 as a home team in the Divisional Round and haven’t won a home playoff game period since 1993. That’s impossible. It’s just too much, man. Just think about which team you’d want to be backing if everything was going wrong- unflappable Andrew Luck and Frank Reich? Or green Pat Mahomes and good ol’ Andy Reid and decades of Chiefs anti-juju? I would feel pretty dumb for picking the Colts on the road if they didn’t cover. I would never forgive myself if I got caught in the Andy Reid trap again.

Pick: Colts

https3A2F2Fimages.forbes.com2Fmedia2F20102F092F222F0922_james-irsay-guitar_400x400

Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams (-7)

This is almost a mirror image of the Colts-Chiefs game. High-flying home favorite that, at one point, was threatening to redefine what offense means but has gone cold facing a team tailor-made to go on the road and beat a superior team. The only real difference is that the Colts can keep up offensively. The Cowboys, even against a bad defense, will probably top out at 24 points. I don’t think they keep the Rams under 24 at home. Cowboys D is good, it’s not that good. This is actually kind of a fascinating game for the league office. Are they rooting for the most popular and valuable franchise in North America? Or are they rooting for the future of the league? Because if Boy Wonder Sean McVay goes one and done again? All those recent hires look a little less shiny. I think this is set up too perfectly for an NFC East NFC Championship Game. The universe won’t allow that. Dallas covers, Rams win.

Pick: Cowboys

la-rams-game-celebrities-01-480w

Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots (-4)

Close your eyes. I want to envision this scene: Gillette Stadium. It’s freezing cold with blustery winds. Snow everywhere. There’s a football game going on, but it’s hard to really tell. Nothing’s really happened. No offense to speak of either way. It’s a low-possession, high-pressure game. One mistake ends the season. Everything comes down to pure grit and balls and mental toughness. Now imagine Phil Rivers winning that game over Tom Brady. Couldn’t do it? Me neither.

Pick: Patriots

b6a724db8d6868df70edb96d07440890-patriots-fans-go-pats

Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints (-8)

Listen, the Saints are the better team. No one would deny that. But this is out of my hands. There are some takes you want to late on rather than early, and picking against Nick Foles is one of them. I’ll believe the magic is gone when I see it.

Pick: Eagles

kevin

A Very Special Happy Birthday

With all the negative stories floating around in the world, I wanted to take a few moments to spend a special happy birthday to one of the best people I know. He’s kind, funny, smart, and, of course, handsome. He lights up the world every time he smiles and has an indefatigable joie de vivre. He’s just a really great guy that I consider myself lucky to know, and I’m positive there are so many other people who feel the same way. So, please, join me in saying Happy Birthday to…

me.

Folks, it’s my birthday yet again. Feels like it happens on the same day every year, which is pretty weird if you ask me. Come 4:07pm I will officially be *gulp* 27, which means I’m one step closer to the grave. We should all be so lucky. That’s kind of all I’ve got. It’s my birthday and I don’t feel like doing anything.

Top Five January 10 Birthdays

  1. Jemaine Clement
  2. Rod Stewart
  3. Pat Benatar
  4. George Foreman
  5. Jake Delhomme

Top Five Brians

  1. Brian Scalabrine
  2. Brian Cox
  3. Brian Littrell
  4. Brian Daubach
  5. Brian McKnight

Julius Caesar Was 5’7″

julius-caesar-9192504-1-402

One of the great ideas in contemporary fiction was presented perfectly by Galadriel in Fellowship of the Ring film adaptation when she told Frodo that “even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” It’s a beautiful message: regardless of who you are or what you look like you matter and you can change the world. I want my fantasy heroes to embody this, mostly because real life isn’t supposed to. Real life is dominated by big, rich, powerful men who almost always pass the eye test. There’s no meek Luke Skywalkers running around doing stuff in actual politics. History wasn’t written by eleven-year-old Harry Potters, it was written by people who look like HHH. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Always has, always will be. Well, I recently obtained an explosive piece of information that has completely ruined my view of the Roman Empire and, really, history in general. It was so shocking and so disheartening that I needed to take an entire week off from work just to recover mentally. Julius Caesar, yes, that Julius Caesar, was 5’7″.

Julius Caesar is one of the most important people in world history. It’s impossible to tell the story of Western Civilization without Julius Caesar. He’s so important Shakespeare wrote one of the most famous plays of all time about him. March 15th is inexorably tied to an event that happened over 2,000 years ago solely because he was involved. He introduced the Julian Calendar which was used for 1500 years. He’s Julius Caesar, for crying out loud! He’s one of the greatest military commanders ever! And he was out there looking like a member of the Lollipop Guild. How am I supposed to respect a warlord that I could post up for 48 minutes with no resistance? How was this allowed to happen?

Listen, I get that everyone was shorter back then. He was tall for the time and all that. But you’re telling me the Gauls let themselves get totally dominated by a 5’7″ guy? Where’s your backbone? Where’s your pride? It took an entire cabal of grown men to kill Tyrion Lannister in broad daylight? I’m not mad, Brutus, I’m just disappointed. All the people he was in debt to couldn’t collect money from a toddler? I don’t know if it would be worse if he was the tallest person in Rome or if everyone was actually normal height and he was the central political and social force at 67 inches tall. I mean, if he was the biggest guy they had I get it. But you had 5’10” dudes filling the Senate? I don’t know, man. I’m starting to think a whole lot differently about the Romans. Were aqueducts really that special? Roman numerals are pretty stupid, honestly. Who really needs concrete in 2019?

Just to put this in perspective- Napoleon, the man for whom the Napoleon Complex is named, was probably 5’7″. Napoleon’s greatest claim to fame is being the shortest person of all time, and he would stand eye-to-eye with Julius Caesar. I think I’m gonna be sick. People talk about historical figures getting big glow ups for their Hollywood portrayals. Talking Leo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, talking Emma Stone as Billie Jean King, talking Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum. How about Ciaran Hinds playing Julius Caesar? Hinds is 6’1″! I’d argue that’s the most generous casting in history. The creators of Rome should have been able to write his salary off on their taxes as a charitable donation to the memory of Caesar. If the actual Caesar was 5’7″, how tall is Little Caesar? Does his height even register?

Nothing can ruin your view of history quite like learning how tall everyone was. Like man, he was the big swinging dick around town? What would I have been? Would I have just been named God-King for life?

Take Leonidas. You know, Spartan king, held off the Persians at Thermopylae, one of history’s greatest heroes. You know, Leonidas

gerard-butler

5’6″. Sick. Freaking Isaiah Thomas is just taking Leonidas down to the block every possession and making him beg for mercy. Wish Xerxes won.

John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers, the second president of the United States (and the first vice president), was instrumental to the creation of this nation and it’s inarguable that the first hundred years or so of American history would be totally different without him. He was 5’7″. Yikes. Now the Boston Tea Party just seems like a temper tantrum.

Want to hear a bad one? I’m telling you, this one might hurt. I’m really warning you. Seriously, you should stop reading this now. This is really bad.

.

.

.

Winston Churchill was 5’6″.

You know what’s really manly? Steel and money. You know who invented both? Andrew Carnegie. Do you know how tall he was? He was 5’3″. I would have been the best business person ever if I was alive in the late 19th century because I could have put the big dog in my back pocket and carried him around all day.

ecaea3f540fa6f268d6a70c40299b3f4
The man on the right is only 5’5″

Isaac Newton was 5’6″. How can we be sure his laws of gravity are actually true when he wasn’t far enough off the ground to actually feel its effects?

Of course, have to mention this tragic tweet

Just about the only person spared by the cruel measuring tape of history appears to be Jesus, who, according to “science” was 6’2″. Saying Jesus was 6’2″ is the equivalent of the “no my girlfriend’s super hot, she just goes to a different school so you guys have never met her” move people would try to pull in middle school. Jesus wasn’t 6’2″. He was probably 5’5″.

This stinks. Why is every historical figure tiny? As a 6′ tall white guy, I thought I had thousands of historical idols I could relate to and look up to. Turns out I’ve got Abe Lincoln and George Washington and that’s it. I’m apparently too tall to make an impact. Where’s the inspirational quote for people who are too big? Where’s my assurance that all the tiny people in power will respect me? Do I need to get shorter if I actually want to make it big? Or should it be make it small? My brain is completely broken right now. How was Julius Caesar only 5’7″? Why was he so short? Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?

When I meet Julius Caesar in Hell-

Patrick-Ewing-Muggsy-Bogues

Hedo Turkoglu Says Enes Kanter is Running Smear Campaign Against Turkish Government, Totally Doesn’t Want to Have Him Killed

r25349_600x400_3-2

sourceFormer NBA player Hedo Turkoglu, now a chief adviser to the president of Turkey, says comments by Enes Kanter about the country are nothing more than an ongoing “political smear campaign” by the New York Knicks center.

Kanter earlier this week said he would not travel with the Knicks to London for a game against the Washington Wizards on Jan. 17 because he fears for his life because of his ongoing clash with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A Knicks team official said Kanter won’t travel because of a visa issue, but Kanter, who has been an outspoken critic of the Turkish government and Erdogan, said he did not feel safe making the trip because “there’s a chance that I can get killed out there.”

“We know that [Kanter] has not been able to travel to many countries due to visa issues since 2017,” Turkoglu said in a statement posted to Twitter on Monday. “In other words, Kanter can’t enter the UK not because of fears for life as he claims but due to passport and visa issues. This being the long-known truth, he is trying to get the limelight with irrational justifications and political remarks.

“Such remarks constitute another example of the political smear campaign Kanter has been conducting against Turkey as well as his efforts to attribute importance to himself by covering up the contradictions in his sports career. … It is obvious that this person’s remarks are irrational and distort the truth.”

Kanter reportedly was indicted by the Istanbul Cyber Crimes Investigation Bureau last year because of “hurtful and humiliating” comments made about Turkoglu, the president of the Turkish Basketball Federation, on social media.

According to a report by The New York Times, Erdogan has jailed, fired or suspended tens of thousands of people accused of plotting a failed coup. In December 2017, Turkey’s state-run news agency, Anadolu Agency, reported that prosecutors were seeking more than four years in prison for Kanter on charges of insulting Erdogan in a series of tweets he posted in 2016.

Alright, I’m not going to add too much to this because, surprisingly, I’m not too well versed in Turkish politics. All I know is that Erdogan is, umm, not a great guy and that Enes hates him and has reason to believe he’ll be in danger if he leaves the country. Considering what happened to that Saudi journalist a few months ago (different situation, I know, but the point remains) and this statement Hedo put out, I’d be inclined to believe him. I mean, read that again. It’s pretty much the Goodfellas dress scene:

“No, Enes definitely isn’t in danger if he went to London. Especially not if he stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn London Heathrow Airport at Eastern Perimeter Rd, Longford, Hounslow TW6 2SQ, UK. Then he’d be real safe.”

Anyway, I just wanted to talk about how preposterous it is that Hedo Turkoglu has someone become the like, third most powerful person in Turkey. How did this happen? Did Erdogan need a point forward for his Dictator Basketball League team? Needed someone to take over in Hedo Time?

Maybe he’s just a fan of frosted tips. Regardless of why it happened, Hedo is suddenly the Jafar of Turkey. What are his plans? Sure, he’s playing his part as the hapless sycophant mouthpiece, but is Hedo really pulling the strings? I’m not ready to rule it out. This is a guy that made the Finals with Dwight Howard, he knows how to handle difficult personalities and overcome adversity. He’s probably making connections with world leaders and building an underground army of followers. He’s got the physical intimidation and the basketball IQ. He’ll keep Erdogan happy until it’s time for his power play, where he’ll seize total control of the entire country. After that? I’m not at liberty to guess.

In the early days of the Brian’s Den, I exposed the NBA’s dastardly organized crime syndicate to the world. Turns out I left someone out. Hedo undoubtedly had his hands in the Drazen’s Head cookie jar. He has the connection to Vlade and Peja and clearly has the ambition. His shadow influence over the family could prove vital when the time comes. I don’t know a lot of things when it comes to politics. One thing I do know is that I don’t want to be the guy to overlook Hedo Turkoglu. I’ve seen too many game winners for that.

NFL Wildcard Round Picks

russell-wilson-passer-rating-lockett-seahawks_0

Welcome to the first part of one of the best two-weekend stretches of the entire year. It may seem like a waste to use it up this early into 2019, but trust me: the NFL playoffs come at a perfect time. Coming off the bizarro-world that is Holiday SZN, the playoffs help ease the transition back into real life. The first two weekends are an extra four days of eating, drinking, watching football, and generally doing nothing, but there’s a full work week in between them. It’s like weening a baby off the bottle. Slowly take away the holiday revelry and sloth and gently nudge everyone back to actual life.

This is Wildcard Weekend, where the fat gets culled a little before the big boys start playing next week. This week features all your favorite Wildcard tropes: the Texans on Saturday afternoon, multiple way-too-obvious candidates for “darkhorse team that makes a run,” a good old fashion rest vs. rust debate, a game being hosted by the NFC East champ that no one really wants to watch, and, of course, teams licking their chops to play against Andy Reid in the next round. Let’s dive right in. All lines from Bovada.

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (-1)

This is the best quarterback matchup of the opening round, which feels like a weird thing to say about a game involving the Texans, but here we are. This is a far more intriguing game than what’s usually thrown at us on Wildcard Saturday afternoon, mostly because these two are so evenly matched. Since they’re division foes, we can draw a lot of conclusions from their two regular-season meetings where… they split the games and both scored exactly 58 cumulative points. The Texans scoring differential on the season was +86. The Colts? +89. The Texans rank 11th overall in DVOA, the Colts 8th (although the Colts were one of two teams to rank in the top 10 in both offense and defense. They were number 10 in both, but it still counts). Both teams are great at stopping the run and soft against the pass. By the numbers, they’re practically the same team. But, as they say, the game isn’t played on paper. The Colts have the advantage in two huge areas: quarterback and head coach. Andrew Luck is a better player than Deshaun Watson, but this isn’t Tom Brady vs. Matt Schaub. Either one is capable of winning a game singlehandedly, but Luck is just more advanced at this stage of his career. Frank Reich was hugely impressive in his first season as head coach. Bill O’Brien might as well be a trained chimpanzee. It’s a total mismatch. And I was about to say that the Texans have more top-end talent, but I actually don’t think that’s true. The Colts have some STUDS on the line and on D. DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt are great, Hall of Fame talents. Deshaun is a beast. But the Colts just have the better team. They’re too hot, too well coached, too deep. I would love to see the Texans win because it’ll mean they have to play the Pats, but I see the Colts coming out on top.

Pick: Colts

8mud2m1wtdex

Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys (-2)

The Seahawks should win this game. They have the better quarterback. They have a better coach. They have the better offense and, top to bottom, probably have the better defense. They have better special teams. They have seemingly every advantage. Except one: the game’s in Dallas and the Cowboys were 7-1 at home this year. And rank in the top five in fewest yards per carry allowed and are in the top five in run defense DVOA. The running game sets up everything Seattle does offensively. Yes, Russell Wilson can easily win this game by himself, but it’s hard to win playoff games if you’re one-dimensional (unless you’re the Pats). The Cowboys have shown that, at the very least, they can frustrate good offenses. On the flip side, the Boyz have a very similar offense to the Seahawks, just with kind of wonky personnel. Everything flows through Zeke. Guess which team ranks 30th out of 32 in yards per carry allowed? Seattle (ignore the 29th ranked team). That’s not good. If Dallas slows this game down, makes it a grind, reduces the number of possessions, and avoids turnovers, I like their chances. I know I’m going to hate this halfway through the first, but I’m rolling with the Cowboys. Puke City. If the Seahawks win, look for Jason Garrett to get blamed for playing everyone in a meaningless week 17 game.

Pick: Cowboys

1498534559-Broadi

Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)

God this makes me nervous. This is the classic playoff game that’s so easy to get wrong. The Chargers are the better team. Flat out, they are. They might have the most complete roster in the NFL. They should win. But they’re the Chargers. Going east. For a 1 o’clock playoff game. Against the Ravens, who are perennially one of the most mentally tough teams in the NFL, which is the opposite of any Southern California football team. There’s no point pulling stats out for this game, they don’t matter. All that matters here is grit and balls and having the mental fortitude and experience to recognize this game for what it is. Try to envision the Chargers winning three road playoff games. This is shaping up to be my doomsday scenario, but the Ravens are coming to Foxborough next week.

Pick: Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens

Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears (-6)

There’s a lot of reasons to like the Bears. They’re at home, they have the best defense in the league, they have the likely coach of the year, and they just have the healthier roster. There are a few reasons to like the Eagles. Nick Foles is touched by God and they might have the best defensive line in the league. Seems like the Bears are rightfully six point favorites, right? Well, logic says yes. But when it comes to Andy Reid disciples, young (kind of crappy) QBs in their first playoff games, and Nick Foles, logic need not apply. The Eagles aren’t going to go back-to-back. I’m comfortable saying that. I’m not comfortable saying Nick Foles won’t win another playoff game against a classic first round loser. The Foles experience is all feel. All gut. My gut tells me Big Dick Nick is going to strike again.

Pick: Eagles

0ap3000000859159