Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Dwarf's NFL Musings - Week 14 Edition


Before we kick things off, just a little note. Our thoughts, here at The Dwarf's Musings, are with Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, and his family. Hunt is currently battling cancer, and the 74 year-old has been under severe sedation for the past week. Carl Peterson, the Chiefs' president, says everyone is "praying for a miracle". Hunt has been one of the best owners in the NFL for many years, and his loss would be a huge one for the league as well as his friends and families. So, Mr. Hunt, our thoughts are with you.

Now, you had to be in front of your television set on Sunday night, because Drew Brees put on a quarterbacking clinic. As good as his numbers were (26 of 38, 384 yds, 5 TD's, 0 INT), his performance looked even better than that. In his weekly 'Monday Morning Quarterback' feature on, Peter King wrote this week that he thought Ladainian Tomlinson could score 40 TD's this year, the way Brees is playing, he would still give the MVP to Brees. I agree. What Brees has done is almost single-handedly turn around a franchise that was going nowhere. Sure, they changed the coaching staff, they added Reggie Bush and Marques Colston through the draft and somewhat revamped their defense, but this is Brees' ship. He is the captain and he is the one guiding it. When he signed with New Orleans, Brees instantly made this team and this offense better, and he gave them instant respectability. Sure, no one could foresee what was to come (although one of our faithful readers, Veillotron, did predict a very good year for the Saints), but we all knew the Saints were finally on the right track. In any case, wth the receiving corps that he has, and his unchallenged command of the offense, on top of his amazing statistics ( 318 of 479 for 4033 yds(1st in the league), 25 TD's (1st in the league), and only 10 INT's for a rating of 101.2 (1st in the league)), Drew Brees is my MVP through 14 weeks.

Last week, we mentioned how close Ladainian Tomlinson was to breaking Shaun Alexander's one year old record for touchdowns in a season, standing at 26 through 12 games. Well, little did we know, he would go on to not only tie but break the record in his thirteenth game, with a 3-TD performance against the falling Broncos. With 3 games to go, Tomlinson has now totaled 29 TDs this season, which is ridiculous. If he scores only 1 TD/game for the next 3 games, which would be well below his current average, he will finish with 32 TDs, or 2 TDs/game. Consider this: 3 years ago, the record for TDs in a season was 24 (Emmitt Smith), while the record for TD passes in a year was 48 (Dan Marino), so twice as many. This year, Tomlinson has 4 TDs more than Drew Brees the NFL leader, has TD passes. Again, Tomlinson's numbers are just crazy. Congratulations to him and his offensive line!

Random Thoughts from around the league:
  • While Brees and Tomlinson are fighting for the league's offensive MVP, Jason Taylor is making huge strides in catching up to Julius Peppers and Champ Bailey as the defensive MVP. It now looks like Urlacher and Taylor will probably fight it out to the least game. Bailey is still playing great football as the only true shutdown corner in the league, but the Broncos 'D' has fallen off, and so has Bailey's status as MVP candidate. Peppers' play has fallen off. What it will come down to, though, is whether voters are willing to nominate a guy playing on a team that didn't make the playoffs. If they are unwilling to do so, Urlacher will get the title. But make no mistake, the most dominating defensive player in the league, right now, is Jason Taylor. On Sunday, against the 9-3 Patriots, he lined up wherever he wanted, and he wreaked havoc all afternoon. The Belichick-led Pats had their whole scheme designed around Taylor, how to keep him away from the ball, but he helped the Dolphins shutout one of the league's best teams. Truly a great performance by #99.
  • I don't know if you saw Michael Irvin's interview of Terrell Owens this week, but Owens is an idiot. I mean, we all knew he was selfish and had no idea what a team was. But he is really dumb. As in "not the brightest bulb in the tree". That being said, what was really disgusting was how Irvin defended Owens in the following segment. When he first came onboard the ESPN NFL Countdown team, Irvin brought something different to the table, an exuberance that had been perhaps lacking. But now, things are just getting a little out of hand. He needs to go. I hope ESPN does not bring him back next year.
  • Jeff Garcia sure looks like the same guy who was leading the 49ers to the playoffs a few years back, doesn't he? The guy is running around, keeping plays alive, throwing short, throwing deep. You know what stands out: in 3 1/2 games, he hasn't thrown an interception. I really like the Eagles' chances of making the playoffs, and I'll tell you why: Jeff Garcia is a winner. The guy won in the CFL and he has won in the NFL. No matter how bad the defense gets, watch Garcia claw, scratch his team to victories. I believe it will continue this weekend with a win in New York. And next week, Philly will battle Dallas for the division crown. Those next 2 games will be dandies.
  • Vince Young has really impressed me recently. Now, let's give credit where credit is due, and Travis Henry deserves a large part of it, just like Jerome Bettis, Deuce Staley and Willie Parker deserved a lot of credit for making Ben Roethlisberger look so good. But Young has one thing very few QBs have: the undying will to win. The guy just chooses the best moment to make his best play. His overtime run in Sunday's game was a good one, but Mike Vick has probably had around 50 better runs in his career. The thing is, how many of those were in overtime? I think Young will never develop into a great 'statistics' quarterback, but right now, he reminds me of John Elway.
  • Huge weekend coming up in the NFC: the (8-5) Cowboys will play the (7-6) Falcons, and the (7-6) Eagles travel to NY to play the (7-6) Giants. With the Eagles and Giants both having better records in their division than the Cowboys, a Dallas loss would mean that the winner of the Philly-NY game would be wind up first in the NFC East. A Falcons' loss would seriously hamper their chances of getting in, with their last 2 games coming against the Panthers and Eagles, two teams fighting for a wild card shot as well. The other game I will be watching in the NFC: Detroit at Green Bay. Brett Favre needs 7 TD passes to tie Marino's career record. With the last 2 games coming against Minnesota and Chicago, Favre is going to need 3 this week if he wants to make it happen this year.
  • In the AFC, Cincinnati (8-5) at Indy(10-3) will be a dandy on Monday night. The Bengals can really put themselves in a great position in the wild card race with a win. On the other hand, Indy does not want to lose, because that might mean losing their bye week to start the playoffs. Denver (7-6) at Arizona (4-9) could be a good game. The Cardinals have really played well the last 2 weeks, and this game will feature, if nothing else, Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler, two guys from the class of '06. Denver absolutely needs this game to stay alive in the playoff hunt. Finally, check out the Bills vs. Dolphins game. Ok, both teams are only 6-7, and this game has no playoff implication. But Buffalo and Miami have been a combined 9-3 in the last 6 weeks, and both teams are fighting hard and playing well. It could be an excellent game in cold Buffalo.
I will be back on Friday for my NHL Thoughts of the week!

Dwarf out.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

NFL and NHL thoughts; 10 best CD's of 2006

Well, I'm sick. I went to Montreal for the weekend and got sick. Maybe I should stay in Florida a little bit more...

That being said, this will be my only blog of the week. I've got a big week in front of me, and being sick means going to bed early, so not a lot of time to blog around.

So, without further ado, let's get to my NFL and NHL thoughts...

Random thoughts from around the NFL:
  • Veillotron pointed to this in a comment recently: Ladainian Tomlinson is on the verge of shattering Shaun Alexander's single season touchdown record. Alexander's record is 28 and LT is up to 26 now, with 4 games to go. Last week, he became the fastest player in the history of the NFL to reach 100 td's for his career. But what's amazing about LT is what a pleasure it is to watch him play the game. Just like Thurman Thomas, LT is much more than just a runner: he is the best receiver out of the backfield in the NFL today, and like the future Bills hall of famer, he is a tremedous blocker on blitz pickups. When he runs, he reminds you of Barry Sanders more than any other RB we've seen since #20 retired. He jukes, he stops and starts in a flash, he makes people miss... he is a running highlight reel. And on top of it, he is as consistent and durable as any back since Emmitt Smith. And that is why he will break the all-time rushing record when all is said and done. Still, with all he has done this year, he isn't my MVP.
  • No, that would be Drew Brees. The Saints are now looking at a minimum of one home game in the playoffs. While they are the feel-good story of the year, the Saints are also much more than that: in a very weak NFC, they are a possible Super Bowl contender. The Cowboys are on a roll, but Tony Romo still has a lot to prove, especially once he gets in the postseason. The Seahawks are going to be part of the mix, but you have to wonder just how good they are after getting most of their wins against a very, very weak division (think the Detroit Red Wings last year). And then you have the Bears, who have a QB who seems intent on throwing around 2-3 picks/game. Make no mistake folks, the Saints could do some damage in the playoffs.
  • Speaking of the weak NFC, the playoff picture looks like this: Chicago (10-2) are Champions of the NFC North and have the inside track at home field advantage. Then, the Cowboys, Saints and Seahawks, all 8-4, all have at least 2 games lead in their own division and will probably wrap those up very soon. Then, 7 teams are battling for the 2 wild card spots: the Eagles, Giants, Panthers and Falcons are all 6-6, and the Vikings, Rams and 49ers are standing at 5-7. At this point, it's not out of the question that an 8-8 team could make the playoffs. The Giants and Rams are slumping badly, and their prospects don't look too good right now. The Falcons are the most inconsistent of the bunch, and I don't see them making it either. That leaves the 49ers, Eagles, Panthers and Vikings. The Vikings are also in a slump, and I don't think the 49ers will be able to make it. That leaves the Eagles and Panthers joining New Orleans, Dallas, Chicago and Seattle in the Playoffs.
  • In the AFC, while the playoff race involves much better teams, it seems like the same story. The South looks like it belongs to the Colts (10-2), and the West is the Chargers' (10-2) to lose. New England and Baltimore hold 2 games leads in the East and North divisions, respectively. The Wild Card race will go down between the Jets, Jaguars, Bengals, Broncos and Chiefs. The Broncos and Jaguars have a pretty tough schedule down the stretch, and they meet in the final game of the season. I don't think either of these teams will make it. The Jets, on the other hand, have a pretty light schedule and I think they will get in. It leaves the Bengals and Chiefs, so I would give the upper hand to the Bengals. The biggest game will be on Dec. 17, when the Broncos and Bengals meet. That could decide the last playoff spot.
Random thoughts from around the NHL:
  • As we move toards Christmas, trade talks are heating up. Of course, the woldest rumors seem to be coming out of Montreal, where the hockey community there seems to have no connection whatsoever to the rest of the league. Last week, Ron Fournier came up with the rumour that Sheldon Souray and Sergei Samsonov would go to Detroit and in return the Canadiens would get Chris Chelios and Pavel Datsyuk. There is as much truth to this rumour as there was to the one that would bring Lecavalier for David Aebischer and a first-rounder. Yesterday, Michel Villeneuve reported on 110% that Souray would be heading to Vancouver for Markus Naslund. Even if that rumour makes a bit more sense than the previous ones, Montreal needs a center and Naslund does not fill that need. If indeed Souray is dealt by the Canadiens, it will be for a top center. My guess is Gainey will stand pat until the trade deadline, and then he will try to get a "rental" centerman at a reduced price. I think Souray will quarterback the Montreal power play all the way to the playoffs, and he will sign elsewhere after the season.
  • Ken Hitchcock has really turned the Blue Jackets around. Unfortunately for them, it will be too little too late in a strong western conference.
  • Don Cherry is the most entertaining hockey personality around, but he needs to stop talking about fighting on every saturday night. It's getting a bit old.
  • After an awful start, Cujo and the Coyotes seem to have settled down. They are now sitting at 5 games under .500. While the playoffs are definitely out of reach, they could climb back towards respectability. Getting young stud defenseman Keith Ballard will help a lot. That being said, look for the underachieving Ladislav Nagy to be dealt before the trade deadline passes.
  • The Senators have clawed their way back into the playoff pictures. With Ray Emery plying very well and Martin Gerber looking like he is on his way back, things are looking up for Ottawa.
  • Things are still pretty tight in the hockey pool. There is still more than half the season to go, and only 60 points separate first place Sweet LP from last place me, of course. While Veillotron and I are further behind, it seems like The Dick and Huy could jump to second place with only 1 huge night. Remember, at this point last year, The Dick was in first place, yet he finished at the bottom of the rankings. My Good Pick of the Week? I am giving it to Veillotron for his pick of Vesa Toskala, the last goalie he chose. Toskala has a very, very good 33 points, and in only 15 appearances! As the season progresses, he will probably get more and more of a workload in preparation for the playoffs. Right now, this pick looks as good as Mat's pick of Khari Lethonen, a previous GPOTW. My bad pick of the week? I will give it to Huy for his pick of Janne Niinima, who currently sits dead last in the pool standings with 1 tiny point. Consider this: the second worst player in the pool (Mark Bell), has 7 points. That is indeed a truly terrible pick.
I know I haven't written about music in a while, but here are my ten best (my ten favorite) releases of the year:

10. Brand New - The Devil and God are raging inside me: These emo-punkrockers come up with an album full of great riffs and hooks and filled with good lyrics. They leave the screamo tendencies to their contemporaries and focus on strong melodies instead. Great work.

9. Loreena McKennitt - An ancient muse: The celtic/eastern influenced new wave artist comes back on the music scene with an album that is sometimes uneven, but still features some of her best melodies ever. Nice to hear her work again.

8. Regina Spektor - Begin to hope: The Tori Amos sound-alike ditches her piano and voice format to incorporate more instruments. Driven by the presence of musicians from The Strokes, the record is refreshing and features some of the sweetest hooks of the year. 'Better' and 'Fidelity' are real standouts.

7. Snow Patrol - Eyes open: The album that brought you single-of-the-year candidate 'Chasing Cars'. Better yet, it's not even one of the best tracks here. The duet with Martha Wainwright is a gem. Very strong follow-up to the smash hit 'Final Straw'.

6. Ani DiFranco - Reprieve: The Buffalo singer-songwriter offers up her most consistent album yet. She isn't as angry anymore, and the melodies strongly benefit from that. Furthermore, she incorporates Jazz influences in her music, which is most welcomed.

5. Damien Rice - 9: Rice's second album is not as good as his first, but it still beats most of what's out there today. This time around, Rice puts some real rock songs in, and the result is mostly very good. We might be a bit disappointed by this release, and it is a bit of a sophomore slump, but it is a great record nonetheless.

4. Jeff Martin - Exile and the Kingdom: This is pretty far off The Tea Party's best work, but songs like 'The world is calling', 'Lament', 'Daystar' and 'The Kingdom' alone make this one of the year's best records. We can only hope the best is yet to come for The Tea Party's former frontman's solo career, but this was a good start.

3. Muse - Black holes and revelations: Muse build on the best of their previous albums for this record. Their melodies are as strong as ever, and they blend electronics, hard rock and acoustic ballads seemlessly here. Very, very strong effort that is constent from the first minute to the last.

2. Joshua Radin - We were here: On his debut album, this indie-folk musician offers up a beautiful, quiet and all-around very enjoyable record. The melodies are carefully crafted and they lyrics are beautiful and stay with you. Radin got his break this year on Zach Braff's "The Last Kiss" soundtrack, and his career skyrocketed on Itunes. He finally got signed and his record is now available in stores. A great story, and a better album.

1. Placebo - Meds: Their best work since 'Without you I'm nothing', which gave us the hits 'Pure morning' and 'Every you every me'. This record is excellent from start to finish, with not one disapointing song. The slower numbers are mesmerizing ('Pierrot the clown', 'Follow the cops back home') and the rockers truly hook you ('Post blue', 'Meds', 'Drag', 'Because I want you'). But the real standout, and one of my favorite songs of the year, is 'Space Monkey', a song Trent Reznor will spend his whole life wishing he had written. 'Meds' is an excellent record, and my favorite release of the year.

Honorable mentions: Neko Case - Fox confessor brings the flood; Badly Drawn Boy - Born in the U.K.; AFI - Decemberundground.

See you in the comments section!

Dwarf out