Fall is a great time to be a sports fan.
Baseball's winding down, college football and the NFL are starting, and the thought of college basketball dances in our heads like half-court buzzer beaters.
What sucks about this time of year, however, is listening to the endless blather about baseball's postseason awards. I know, this is my NFL picks column, but indulge me for a few minutes.
The numbers geeks say Joe Mauer should be the American League MVP. Mauer's phenomenal. He's the best catcher in the game. He's a great hometown representative for the Minnesota Twins. And the Twins would have finished second without him.
If they gave an award for the best player in the league, Mauer's it, hands down.
Most valuable? Not so much - let's call it the Kirk Gibson corrolary.
In 1988, Gibson hit .290 with 25 home runs, 75 RBI and 31 stolen bases. That would make him the present-day equivalent of Johnny Damon. What wasn't captured in the numbers was the way he willed the Dodgers into the playoffs. That team was basically Gibson and Orel Hershiser, and somehow it won the National League West, beat the heavily favored Mets in the playoffs and then upset the Oakland A's in one of the most memorable upsets ever.
Since the voting was over by the time Gibson hit his iconic home run in Game 1 of the World Series off of Dennis Eckersley, how did he win the award?
Heart. Will. Grit. Intensity. Coming up big in important spots in a ballgame. Playing hurt. That's Gibson to a tee.
Last year, it was the same argument people made for Dustin Pedroia winning the AL MVP, and it was fine with me. Take Pedroia off the Red Sox, and they're a lot easier to play. He's a pest. I can't stand him, but I'm petrified to see him come to the plate late in a close game. The Yankees still haven't found a way to get him out that doesn't involve taking a sledgehammer to his back Triple H-style.
It's too bad, then, that the numbers geeks prevailed in two of Alex Rodriguez' MVP years, giving him the award even though his teams finished in last place. Wouldn't the Rangers have finished last without A-Rod's monster years?
This year, you can make a case that Rodriguez is the most valuable player in the league, and the statistics back me up on this.
With Rodriguez out earlier this year after his hip surgery, the Yankees were 13-15 and averaging 5.64 runs a game. Mark Texeira was struggling to carry the offense. Nick Swisher was hot, and Derek Jeter was swinging the sticks well. But, the offense just didn't mesh well. There was an evident hole in the middle of the lineup. Jeter and Damon would get on base and be stranded unless Swisher, Jorge Posada or Johnny Damon came through.
Without A-Rod, Texeira hit .246 with runners in scoring position. Now, he's leading the league in RBI. Coincidence? I think not.
A-Rod's average is hovering around .290 now, he's hit 25 home runs and has 84 RBI, all while missing the first 30 games of the season. The Yankees took off when he came back in the lineup, and it had as much to do with his defense as it does with his bat.
Nick Swisher has fit in seamlessly in the clubhouse. A.J. Burnett nails guys with whipped cream pies after a walk-off win. C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte have been unbelievable in the starting rotation. Mariano Rivera is Mariano Rivera (and another guy I'd consider for MVP). Derek Jeter is my favorite Yankee, having one of his best seasons, and I wouldn't complain if he was named MVP. He's earned it, and been shafted a couple of times when he could have won.
And, while we're stating things for the record, I'm not an A-Rod backer. I'm not a big A-Rod fan. But, facts are facts.
Without him, the Yankees are a .500 team.
With him, they have the best record in the league.
That, my friends, is an MVP.
Now, on to football.
Houston at Tennessee: Two teams that absolutely need a win this week to feel good about themselves get together in Nashville. Unless Houston plays really well, they're starting the year 0-2. When in doubt, I'm picking quarterbacks and coaches, and Tennessee is more solid at both positions. Jeff Fisher vs. Gary Kubiak - um, yeah, Fisher wins hands down. And, Matt Schaub needs to show me something before I go with him consistently. I like the Titans.
Minnesota at Detroit: Once again, Brett Favre has to do absolutely nothing for Minnesota to win. I swear he was looking for a soft landing spot, and what softer landing spot than playing Detroit twice a year and starting off the season with Cleveland? Favre will probably throw 10 times Sunday, but Adrian Peterson is like a man among boys. Detroit looked better last week, but apparently they need more than the Schwartz being with them to win a game.
Carolina at Atlanta: Where in the world is Jake Delhomme? Another game like last week, and he'll be chained to a steel pylon down at the bottom of a river, and police will be putting out an APB for John Fox. Matt Ryan, on the other hand, answered my questions last week, and Michael Turner doesn't have another 60 yard game in him. I think the Falcons start 2-0, and this game might not be close.
St. Louis at Washington: I refuse to watch another Redskins game. Their offense is incredibly boring to watch. Horrible. Putrid. Diarrhea. Burnt hair, raccoon stuck in the copier and Bigfoot's private parts are all things that come to mind when I think about watching the Washington offense. Every Redskins game I've seen in the last three years has been ugly football. Really, truly terribly football. And, I like the Redskins by 10 points, at least, on Sunday. If you're a Redskins fan, I'm sorry. My condolences for watching that crap. The News Cat will spend that four hours in the basement.
New England at N.Y. Jets: I'm chalking Monday night's close win to Tom Brady dealing with some issues, the offensive line needing time to gel and a defense that is dealing with a lot of turnover. I'm picking the Pats, only because I don't think Mark "Dirty" Sanchez will have quite as good a day against a Bill Belichick defense. Speaking of Monday night, I'm sorry, Bills fans. I can't gloat, not even a little bit, after that game. Check http://whitlesswonder.blogspot.com/ on Saturday for more thoughts on Monday's game, if you're interested.
Oakland at Kansas City: The News Cat's spreading kitty litter over this game -- that's right, it's the Cat Poop Salad Game of the Week. JaMarcus Russell will throw three beautiful passes in this game, get at least one receiver killed with a bad throw and throw three more passes that aren't within 20 yards of the receiver he's aiming for. Without knowing who's playing quarterback for the Chiefs, however, I'm leaning toward Oakland taking this game. Who said you need a good quarterback to win games?
Cincinnati at Green Bay: Green Bay is probably counting this as a win, but I'm more interested to see how the Bengals come out after last week's loss. Honestly, where is Carson Palmer? Is he hiding under Jake Delhomme's bed? He has to be a lot better than he was Sunday if the Bengals want to avoid being this year's Detroit. Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, has the makings of being a truly capable NFL quarterback, has good recievers, a decent - though overrated defense - and the luxury of handing off to Ryan Grant 25 times a game. Yeah, I think I'm taking the Packers.
New Orleans at Philadelphia: This was an uphill battle for Philadelphia before Donovan McNabb was knocked out by a cheap shot in the end zone last week. Now, they're best bet is to bring Ron Jaworski out of the broadcast booth. I'm not sold in the Eagles' defense - Jake Delhomme was prominently involved in last week's turnover-fest - and Drew Brees should only need three touchdown passes to pull off a win this week.
Arizona at Jacksonville: How long a leash does Kurt Warner have? If he has another stinker this weekend, it might not take long for Matt Leinart to shed his clipboard and leave the hotties in the hot tub. Arizona has the offensive pieces, but I wonder how Todd Haley's departure hurt that unit. Speaking of crappy quarterbacks, ladies and gentlemen, meet David Garrard. After one decent season, the Jags are paying Garrard in the $60 million neighborhood and looking to take Tim Tebow in next year's draft. You might see 20 combined points in this game.
Tampa Bay at Buffalo: Everything I saw Monday tells me to pick Buffalo in this game. I liked their pass rush, their up-tempo offensive game and the solid job the offensive line did protecting Trent Edwards (except for the last minute). Why do I have a hard time picking the Bills, then? I just can't pull the trigger. Maybe it was the fact that they didn't cover the middle of the field in the last five minutes. Maybe it's the fact they couldn't exert their will when they needed to and get a defensive stop. Maybe it's that I still don't quite trust Trent Edwards. This pick says more about Buffalo than it does my faith in Tampa Bay (sorry Teddy, but your needs the pink Tecmo Bowl uniforms back), but I think the Bucs win a tight one.
Seattle at San Francisco: This game intrigues me. I really like the attitude adjustment Mike Singletary has brought to the 49ers. Anyone who says a head coach can't make a difference hasn't seen what's going on in San Francisco. The offense is decent, Patrick Willis is a beast defensively and the 49ers don't beat themselves. Are the Seahawks back? Can Matt Hasselback stay healthy? Will the receivers hold on to the ball? The Seahawks have a few more questions to answer before I pick them consistently, so I'm going with the 49ers.
Pittsburgh at Chicago: I didn't like Chicago before Brian Urlacher got hurt, and I like them even less now. I think Andy Hillenmeyer will be fine at middle linebacker for the Bears, but I hate the Bears' offense against the Steelers defense, even with Troy Polamalu out. Look for a typical game from Ben, the quarterback network announcers think doesn't need a last name -- 15 for 22, 240 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and the Steelers to win by 10.
Baltimore at San Diego: Where in the name of Vinny Testaverde did last week's performance from Joe Flacco come from? Did they have to work to make him look that bad last season, or is Kansas City's defense just that bad? I think Flacco gets more of a test this weekend, and I don't think the Chargers will come out as sluggish as they were Monday against the Raiders. There's something about Philip Rivers. I don't know what it is, but I know I don't it.
Cleveland at Denver: I was a lot more impressed with Cleveland last week than I was with Denver. Josh McDaniels goes to the Broncos, still has two workable wide receivers, a good running back and a breathing quarterback, and puts up nothing more than a fluke touchdown? Really? And does anybody think the Broncos defense is really that good? Cleveland, on the other hand, took one shot in the mouth from the Vikings and landed a solid roundhouse right in return, leading the game at the half before running out of steam late. I like the Brownies to get off the schnide this weekend and beat the Broncos.
N.Y. Giants at Dallas: The House That Tony Romo Built opens with the Giants coming to Dallas. Is there any way, other than the scoreboard falling onto the field during the coin toss, that Dallas doesn't win this game?
Indianapolis at Miami: I'll be watching CBS on Monday - new episodes of How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men. Then, maybe I'll switch to USA for the end of Monday Night Raw or to Fox for Seinfeld and Two and a Half Men reruns. That's what I think of this game. Miami's back to looking like a 4-12, maybe a 5-11 team, while I think the Colts will be fine. They might not go far in the playoffs, but they're good enough to beat the Dolphins by 21 points.
Last week's record: 13-2 - with multiple near misses.