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Thoughts, news and notes from the sports staff of The Saratogian newspaper, located in historic Saratoga Springs, New York. The gang in the corner office on Lake Avenue give you the post-game wrap-ups, news and notes from the games we cover and opinions about the sports we read about every day.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stathead Matt's Week 12 NFL Quick Picks

For the rest of the season, (and what would have been the smart thing to do starting a few weeks ago) I will be making my Thursday picks via twitter. I went 2-for-3 on Thanksgiving, but how to prove it? You can get them by following @mvdonato27.

And now, on account of a trip to CT that I am already supposed to have departed for, here are my Week 12 Quick picks.

(7-3) Green Bay Packers at
(8-2) Atlanta Falcons -2.5
Someone has to distinguish themselves and break away in the NFC South. I say it will be the Falcons.

(7-3) Pittsburgh Steelers at
(2-8) Buffalo Bills +6.5
How many weeks in a row have I picked the Bills now? They have actually done well against the spread on account of all their close losses. Plus, there is nice trap game potential for Pittsburgh.

(1-9) Carolina Panthers at
(3-7) Cleveland Browns -10.5
Jake Delhomme makes it up to Panthers fans by giving back one win for so many he took away in the last few seasons.

(6-4) Jacksonville Jaguars at
(6-4) New York Giants -7.5
The Giants are beat up and the Jaguars are hot right now. All things point to the Jaguars. Wasn't this New York squad called the best in the NFC by experts a two weeks ago? I'm going with the Giants because the rest of their schedule is divisional battles, and they need it more heading into that gauntlet.

(3-7) Minnesota Vikings at
(5-5) Washington Redskins -2.5
Down goes Frazier.

(5-5) Tennessee Titans at
(4-6) Houston Texans -6.5
The Titans were my preseason pick as AFC champions. Championship teams are more than just a quarterback...I hope. Let's find out this week.

(6-4) Kansas City Chiefs at
(5-5) Seattle Seahawks +1.5
The Chiefs are 0-4 on the road, but the Seahawks are overachieving just by being at .500. Today will even things out ever so slightly.

(5-5) Miami Dolphins at
(5-5) Oakland Raiders -3.5
The Dolphins have all but disappeared from my playoff radar, and it looks like they will start Thigpen. IThe better chances lay in Oakland finding their schwerve from before their bye two weeks ago.

(7-3) Philadelphia Eagles at
(7-3) Chicago Bears +3.5
(7-3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers at
(7-3) Baltimore Ravens -7.5
Did you see the article in today's (Sunday's) Saratogian saying that nobody believes in Tampa Bay or Chicago despite their (7-3) records? They both have difficult challenges against (7-3) conference foes. I believe one of them will emerge and quiet the skeptics this week. That will be the Bears, at home against Philly. You heard it here first.

(4-6) St. Louis Rams at
(3-7) Denver Broncos -3.5
Bradford has played well enough to get people to notice, but has yet to have a real standout performance that defines his successful rookie campaign. He gets it here. My prediction is 350 yards and 3 TDs against a defense that has given up tied for the 4th-most passing TDs and only have six interceptions on the year.

(5-5) San Diego Chargers at
(6-4) Indianapolis Colts -3.5
If Gates plays, and I think he will. The Chargers will have the offense to take this game, fueling both Chargers comeback talks and "What's wrong with Peyton?" talks. Should be fun.

(3-7) San Francisco 49ers at
(3-7) Arizona Cardinals +1.5
I will not feel bad about missing this Monday Night snoozer. And neither should you. I hope your Thanksgiving went well. Good luck this week.

Last Week: 9-for-16
Overall: 77-for-150

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Stathead Matt's Week 11 picks

Week 10 shall henceforth be known as Week Dumpty. We do not even need the Humpty part. It was that bad. The Thursday game was a miss and I went 0-fer on the 1 p.m. games, causing me to feel a combination of humility and angst that is usually reserved only for those dentist visits where you must admit you don't floss twice a day and cannot wait to leave the shame in that office.

At least it is only one week of picks, and I have not underperformed as much as the Houston Rockets, Dallas Cowboys or Hartford Colonials. (Have you watched any UFL by the way? The regular season finale is this week. It may be your last chance to see Josh McDaniels play lose my team another close one.)

Last Week: 3 - 14
This Week: 0 - 1
Overall: 68 - 134

(1-8) Buffalo Bills at
(2-7) Cincinnati Bengals -5.5

(2-7) Detroit Lions at
(2-7) Dallas Cowboys -6.5

(6-3) Baltimore Ravens at
(1-8) Carolina Panthers +10.5

(3-6) Cleveland Browns at
(5-4) Jacksonville Jaguars -1.5

(5-4) Oakland Raiders at
(6-3) Pittsburgh Steelers -7.5

(4-5) Washington Redskins at
(5-4) Tennessee Titans -7.5

(3-6) Arizona Cardinals at
(5-4) Kansas City Chiefs -7.5

(6-3) Green Bay Packers at
(3-6) Minnesota Vikings +3.5

(4-5) Houston Texans at
(7-2) New York Jets -6.5

(7-2) Atlanta Falcons at
(4-5) St. Louis Rams +3.5

(6-3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers at
(3-6) San Francisco 49ers -3.5

(5-4) Seattle Seahawks at
(6-3) New Orleans Saints -11.5

(6-3) Indianapolis Colts at
(7-2) New England Patriots -3.5

(6-3) New York Giants at
(6-3) Philadelphia Eagles -3.5

(3-6) Denver Broncos at
(4-5) San Diego Chargers -9.5

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Stathead Matt's Week 10 NFL picks

If you have been following The Saratogian's college sports lately, you'll notice the straight bangin' Syracuse coverage we have been printing. But as any quality sports fan knows, it is always prudent to keep a keen eye on the competition. Learn their weaknesses and create a point of attack, so that in the rare but fantastic case that the coach falls ill and they call you out from the stands to lead your beloved team, you will be prepared to go all Sun Tzu on the opposition.

It is under that pretense that I am writing a brief preview on the UConn Huskies, and not at all because I am from Connecticut originally and will use any excuse to write about the closest thing my state has to a professional team. (That includes the UFL, WNBA, and AHL teams we have.)

A women's write up is easy. On the court Uconn's opponent will see Maya Moore coming up court with the ball, scream like they have seen the silhouette of Michael Myers in the moonlight and run like hell, allowing the Huskies to win by at least 50 a game.


So we're all set there, amiright? UConn women, I look forward to your PBS showcase and your telethon games. This year I may even donate for the sweet tote bag or just buy the Huskies chips and salsa from a CT grocery store and cart it back here for the memories. But I am not compelled here. They are good and we know it. Ho hum. Status quo. End o' story.

"Another roller coaster year for the UConn women"

If we are looking for a sneaky, young team to upset the current power balance in the Big East, it is on the men's side. Last night, the Huskies started three freshmen (Niels Giffy, Tyler Olander, and Jeremy Lamb)a sophomore (Alex Oriakhi) and a junior (Kemba Walker).

Walker is the main returning starter, and after years of setting up the likes of Jerome Dyson, A. J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet, the team is now his to run. Walker is a leader on the floor and an in-game manager who can set up plays for his scorers.

The question is, just who are those scorers?

Right now, it looks like nobody ... yet.

In their game against Stony Brook last night, Walker took over scoring, (team-high 18 points), driving to the hoop (team high six free throws attempted), and set up few teammates for scores, (three assists). This may be expected from a team that started three freshmen, has had little time to click and is looking to their one proven star to get the job done, but that is not Walker's role, and the team will not hit its potential until he goes back to his role as play-maker and someone else steps up as the scorer.

The team is young, and we do not know nearly enough about the freshmen yet, except that Niels Giffey played for a club team in Germany and was one of their finest U-19 players, that Tyler Olander went to school down the street from the Storrs campus and should be a huge hometown hero.

So why am I so excited about this year's team, that is about to start a 2-year probationary period for recruiting violations and is hemmed by Jim Calhoun, who seems to coach one or two games per season from a hospital bed?

For one, did you see their defense last night?

Here is the stat sheet from the game. Go ahead and check what Stony Brook shot in the second half. I'll wait.

15.2% from the field. 5-33. 0-6 from beyond the arch. That would give an offensive-minded coach like Don Nelson or Mike D'Antoni nightmares.

UConn has been a second half team for years. They play like a prize fighter, feeling out their opponent for a few rounds, then hammering them home. Granted, their opponent was Stony Brook, and I am certain that many will be quick to point out that Stony Brook is as feared in the College basketball world as any mouse to a cat.

I take it back. I totally take it back.

The other thing is their potential. The Huskies are young with quality leadership and one of the few coaches in the country that can routinely get the best out of his players, (Ignore last season. Just everything about it.)

These young players are not ready to make the jump to the NBA after one season, and are only going to grow stronger as they gain points to their experience, charisma and jump shot.

"Roll 14 for 'and 1'"

That is why UConn will sneak up on the Big East come tournament time. As my brother-in-law The Mike, the UConn guru who reminded me of all the details from last year that I chose to forget and gave me a scouting report on each incoming freshman put it. "We have to get better. We cannot do any worse than last year."

So now Syracuse fans, when you are ready to taunt my Huskies from your lofty top 25 spot, you will have more information that you did before.

Week 10 picks
(6-3) Baltimore Ravens at
(7-2) Atlanta Falcons -1.5
I didn't tweet or put this online, but you still win since it was wrong.
(2-6) Detroit Lions at
(0-8) Buffalo Bills -2.5

(3-5) Minnesota Vikings at
(5-3) Chicago Bears +1.5

(6-2) New York Jets at
(3-5) Cleveland Browns +3.5

(2-6) Cincinnati Bengals at
(5-3) Indianapolis Colts -7.5

(5-3) Tennessee Titans at
(4-4) Miami Dolphins +0.5

(1-7) Carolina Panthers at
(5-3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers -7.5

(4-4) Houston Texans at
(4-4) Jacksonville Jaguars -1.5

(5-3) Kansas City Chiefs at
(2-6) Denver Broncos +0.5

(1-7) Dallas Cowboys at
(6-2) New York Giants -13.5

(4-4) Seattle Seahawks at
(3-5) Arizona Cardinals -3.5

(4-4) St. Louis Rams at
(2-6) San Francisco 49ers -5.5

(6-2) New England Patriots at
(6-2) Pittsburgh Steelers -4.5

(5-3) Philadelphia Eagles at
(4-4) Washington Redskins +3.5

Last week: 6 of 13
Overall: 65 of 120

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Horse by Horse: Breeders' Cup Classic and Week 9 picks

Disclaimer: I am not a horse racing insider. Do not get me wrong. I'm at the track here at Saratoga as much as my time and cash will allow, and I did read every article we put in the pink sheet this summer, but this is by no means an insider look. What I do have is a home-made, super villain-like, statistic-analyzing data-interpreting sooth-saying machine -- i.e. a mathematical formula -- that has been known to rack up winners and rough up the Justice League with respectable accuracy.

Seen above: a mathematical formula.

Is this roughly the equivalent of analyzing a Madden simulation to predict the Super Bowl? That's for you in the comments section to determine.

The field: The 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic has 12 thoroughbreds racing 1 1/4 miles as fast as they can for what I'm sure they know is glory, pride and fame, and not for a bucket of oats and to escape whatever keeps stinging them in the haunches whenever they try to slow down. 11 of these will mire indifferently in defeat, while one lucky horse will feel the honor of finding itself graced upon the cover of so many publications it cannot read.

"I can't believe you told them I cannot read."

The formula suggests we rid a few of these horses, as they have a slimmer shot at winning than this post has for a Pulitzer.

The "Aww. We still love you, honey" candidates: Pleasant Prince, First Dude, Fly Down, Etched, Musket Man

They are just out. You do not get to the Classic without being a winner -- unless you are Fly Down -- but these horses just haven't shown as much in the big stage to warrant consideration. They shall be the also-rans, the Pokey to the rest of the field's Gumby, if you will.

"Tell me again about the rabbits, Gumby."

That leaves us with seven delicious (presumably) horses to choose from.

Paddy O'Prado is the only horse left who hasn't hit 100 on his speed rating in his last four starts, and Haynesfield's competition is lacking compared to the other remaining horses, even with his win over Blame and Fly Down on Oct. 10, so I will let them slide.

Zenyatta is the next horse on the list that the evil formula suggests to bump off, even with her 19-0 record. (I did mention that the formula was evil, didn't I?) I cannot do it yet. Am I caught up in the legend? No. But with a track record like hers, literally, I feel if I put her out of the money then she and her Amazonian horse friends will track me down and give me a lifelong case of hoof-breath.

Still not worth it.

Instead, I am going to drop Blame. He lost to Haynesfield in his last race, and he has nobody to bla-- you know what. I'm going to stop right there. You know where that one was going, so I'll spare you.

Quality Road drops as well due to his recent loss to Blame. He is backed by Todd Pletcher and Johnny V., and that should stir some locals, but popularity does not equal success, even though you'd think the two go hand in hand, like a clown at a fun party, but neither are rules, and sometimes they are the exception.

I take it back. This clown would make any party more fun.

So, we have three horses left. Our money horses. In these three must be a long shot who comes in and tramples Godzilla-style all over your trifecta (and a little on your heart if you are like me and bet your Christmas savings). For the Classic, that horse is Espoir City. He certainly fits the part. No, not because he hails from Japan and I made a Godzilla comparison. That's just silly.

"Do I look silly to you?!"

It's because he is a 20-1 long shot with a speed rating average of 120.75 over his last four races and has averaged over $608,000 in winnings per race this year. Hmmm. 20-1? That looks more and more like an intriguing bet, no? The evil formula had him at #1, and the only reasons I knocked him down were because I'm not 100% certain how our SPDRTs and purses compare to those overseas, and to knock him down a bit before he becomes too powerful.

The formula had Zenyatta at #5, but I rose her to #2 out of fear and respect. We all want 20-0. It has never happened. She will go out on top even if she does not win. Also, she is very pretty and smells nice even right after a race ... so please don't hate me.

That leaves us with Looking at Lucky. The horse that my evil predicting machine says will take down the mighty Zenyatta. He is peaking at the perfect time, and at 6/1, he's just enough of a long shot that people can act shocked.

It's the perfect combo, 20-1, 8-5, 6-1, in the Breeders' Cup is an epic trifecta payoff. Zenyatta may not win, but at least you will.

--Matthew Donato

Week 9 picks

(5-2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers at
(5-2) Atlanta Falcons -8.5

(4-3) Chicago Bears at
(0-7) Buffalo Bills +2.5

(6-1) New England Patriots at
(2-5) Cleveland Browns +4.5

(5-2) New York Jets at
(2-5) Detroit Lions +4.5

(3-4) Arizona Cardinals at
(2-5) Minnesota Vikings -8.5

(5-3) New Orleans Saints at
(1-6) Carolina Panthers +7.5

(4-3) Miami Dolphins at
(5-2) Baltimore Ravens -5.5

(3-5) San Diego Chargers at
(4-3) Houston Texans +1.5

(5-2) New York Giants at
(4-3) Seattle Seahawks +5.5

(5-2) Kansas City Chiefs at
(4-4) Oakland Raiders -2.5

(5-2) Indianapolis Colts at
(4-3) Philadelphia Eagles -2.5

(1-6) Dallas Cowboys at
(5-3) Green Bay Packers -7.5

(5-2) Pittsburgh Steelers at
(2-5) Cincinnati Bengals +4.5

Last week: 8 for 13
Overall: 59 for 117

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