Baseball is done. Hockey is here (who noticed that? Anyone? Bueller?). Basketball is starting up. NASCAR is almost over (still can't get into NASCAR. Sorry fans, I just can't). Football is king, and it is steamrolling through the season.
The Ravens are 4-3 and coming off the bye week. They next play Monday night in Pittsburgh. I am not feeling overly confident on this one, and in fact am not feeling too good about the season in general. They have 9 games left, and this is what the schedule looks like...
@ Pittsburgh. They beat them down 2x last season. Steelers looking for payback? Probably. Steelers looking to gut punch a division foe and put the AFC North in a stranglehold? Most definitely. Hoping for a win, but not hopeful. This would make the record 4-4.
vs. Cincinnati. We should have beat them in Week 1. They have only 1 other win this season. Yes, Chris Henry is available to come off suspension for this game, but even so, I think this should be a win. 5-4.
vs. Cleveland. We should not have won this game, but only because of Billick's play calling and stupid decisions on defense by the players. The Browns are playing a lot better this year. Tossup game, but I am going with home field advantage and the Ravens' desire for payback from the last game. 6-4.
@ San Diego. A couple of weeks ago I would have said this should be a win. Now I am not so sure. The Chargers are playing better, it is in San Diego (where you cannot discount the residuals of the community banding together in the wake of the California fires as motivation for the team), and they are probably looking for revenge for the loss last year in a game that they probably shouldn't have lost. Unless they fall apart again (always a possibility with Norv Turner and Ted Cottrell in there) it looks like a loss. 6-5.
vs. New England. As of this post, New England is not only undefeated, it is undefeated against the spread. That is beyond comprehension. Barring an injury to Brady knocking him out of the game, I don't see how the hell we win this. and with the Patriots' defense, even WITH Brady out I am not feeling this one. 6-6.
vs. Indianapolis. This team has not been getting nearly enough respect or attention for the season that they are having (according to my recollection, they are only the 2nd team in NFL history to start 3 straight seasons 7-0 or better. No matter what you think of the franchise, that is pretty darn impressive). Our defense has not been near the level of last year. Another barring a miracle, it ain't happening game. 6-7.
@ Miami. Good chance that the Dolphins will still be winless here. Will it still be the Cleo Lemon experience, or will they have gone for the "look to the future" move and brought in John Beck. They lost Ronnie Brown for the year. Will Ricky Williams be back, or will be looking at Samkon (I couldn't make the cut with the Texans) Gado? If this is a loss, Billick should be fired by 8 P that night. 7-7.
@ Seattle. The Seahawks are not playing all that well (and much to the dismay of my fantasy team Shawn Alexander has apparently forgotten how to run towards the opponent with any level of intensity), but Seattle is one of the hardest places to play in the NFL (32-12 since Qwest opened in 2002 through this season). Toss up goes to the home team. 7-8.
vs. Pittsburgh. Final game of the season. If the Steelers have the division and / or a bye of the inability to get a bye settled by this game, it could go the Ravens' way. But I am not confident, and if the team really is 7-8 going in, there is a good chance that some of if not most of the players will have stopped trying so hard (which is an indictment of the pro athlete in general, who I think should hold him / herself to a higher standard). My bet? 7-9.
I don't want to opine on what the aftermath of this would be just yet. Let's see it play out.
A quick note on the Kevin Millar incident (read THIS). To those that had a problem with a guy who won a world championship with a team that still has many of those teammates and who got permission from his own club to do it, I say shut up. I don't think ANYONE can question Millar's loyalty to the Orioles as a player. Maybe if the Orioles actually MADE the postseason, it would be different. Let him get his props in a city that still loves him for what he did for them. And it isn't like he is throwing out the first pitch for the Yankees and their 26 World Championships. He was part of a team that ended an 86 year drought. That makes him part of something extra special and not a person of questionable character.
One last thing...this Sunday afternoon is the big New England-Indianapolis game. The Colts are 4.5 point home dogs last time I checked. The defending champs, undefeated, who beat this very team (albeit a much less loaded talent-wise team) in the postseason last year is a 4.5 point home underdog? As a rule, a team gets 3 points for being the home team if all the other things are equal. So this really makes the Patriots a 7.5 favorite. Now I know the line is set by who is betting on what team more than the actual teams, but that still seems off to me. And I am willing to bet that Tony Dungy is using that to his advantage. A lot will depend on if Marvin Harrison can go, and if the Patriots can find a solution to Dallas Clark (Adailus Thomas anyone?). The Pats got Richard Seymore (Seymoure? whatever) back. But can they stop Manning, Harrison, Wayne, Clark, and Addai? I am not as confident as everyone else seems to be. But the bigger question is can the Indy defense stop Brady, Moss, Welker, Stallworth, and the possibly returning Maroney? As I told a guy at work the other night (and as I mentioned a little earlier), the team has beaten both all the opponents put against them (of course, they have played the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills, who have a combined 3 wins. But you have to play your division, and they happen to be in a sucky one this year. Even if Buffalo is better than their record) and the spread that Vegas put on them, which is absolutely unprecedented. I cannot go against that. So I say the Patriots win this one. After this one, they have their bye, then play the following teams:
vs. New York Jets
@ New York Giants
I see a total of 2 games that MIGHT give them some difficulty, Pittsburgh and the Giants. But honestly, if they beat Indy, the only thing standing in the way of a perfect season is themselves and the possibility of resting their starters once home field advantage for the length of the postseason is secured.