Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Fantasy Focus

Monday Night Football. Week 13. Ravens at Packers.

On paper, an early December matchup between two Wild Card chasing teams would be a decent draw. Fans from all corners of the country, presumably with their own Wild Card aspirations, would tune in to to cheer for the team from the opposing conference to win. As a result, fans in Miami, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh are rooting for Aaron Rodgers tonight while those in Philly, New York and Atlanta are newfound followers of J. Flacco.

However, the real-life playoff positioning is most likely taking a back seat this evening as the majority of NFL aficionados, who are most likely in AT LEAST one league, are measuring the fantasy football implications with each and every snap. You see, Week 13 is typically the regular season cut-off for the fake stuff. The scenarios at play are plentiful. Rodgers is owned in 100% of Yahoo Fantasy Football Leagues (the home of the ROFFL). Flacco is owned in 89%. But QBs are not the only ones on display. Ray Rice, Derrick Mason, Ryan Grant, Donald Driver and both defenses are almost surely starting for many GMs out there. So whether your team has one of those guys, is playing against one of them, or even more gut-wrenching, your following another matchup to see if you get into the postseason, tonight is must-see TV.

As a result, the WK13 MNF slot is surprisingly sought-after. A game worth looking up when the schedules come out each Spring as they could represent the last 60 minutes of your fantasy life. I'd even guess to assume that tonight is more important to the fantasy game than the Week 16 match-up, as Championship Week is only big for 2 teams (I can only hope I'm pulling for Greg Olsen and Sidney Rice during MIN vs CHI Dec. 28th). For now, its back to rooting for Mason and the Ravens D, against the Packers D and following the footsteps of Ryan Grant very carefully as he determines the fate of a few fellow fantasy friends.

Blind Sided

I read the book. I watched the draft. I knew his story. But it wasn't until I watched the evolution of Michael Oher unfold on the big screen that I realized just how special he is, and just how lucky we are that Big Mike is a Baltimore Raven.

What's amazing about some of the best sports movies of all time is that they are based on true stories. Stories so inspirational, that not only did they pass the test in a Hollywood pitch room, but they hold up on film too. The Rookie, Eight Men Out, Rudy...and now, The Blind Side.

For those new to the Oher saga, the movie provides an abridged version of his journey from having nowhere to sleep to starting in the NFL. At the center of the transformation, is a family who was willing to take Michael into their home, into their family and into their lives to give him the means to pursue an NFL dream. From giving him a warm meal on Thanksgiving and his own bed to providing a tutor and cheering him on from the stands, the Tuohys gave Oher a gift of a lifetime - a life.

The movie starred Sandra Bullock as Leigh Ann Tuohy, which of course gave the film its focal point. As a result, the movie centered on her bond with Michael, which eventually leads to the Tuohys becoming his legal guardians. The road is filled with moments that made you laugh, but even more moments that made you, well, get a little teary. Come on, I know its a football story, but thanks to the magic of hollywood, the kid found a home, got off the streets, got his first bed, learned biology, got through high school, made a few friends, gained a brother and a sister, got some new clothes, stood up to the old gang back in the projects, got a car, learned how to play tackle, got a scholarship and was drafted in to the NFL all within 124 minutes. Each step along the way was a story unto itself and of course the movie could only show so much. Which is why the book is so important as - at minimum - a companion reader.

Written by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame, the book adds a sports skew to the story with the evolution of the left tackle position just as prevalent as the evolution of a young man. Starting with the career-ending sack of Joe Theisman by Lawrence Taylor on Monday Night Football, the story describes why the second most important man on the football field is now considered to be the man who protects number one. The Left Tackle. Responsible for protecting the Quarterback from oncoming defenders he cant see. Otherwise known as the blind side.

The book profiles the reasons for the growing emphasis on the LT, starting with the hit by L.T. The book references some of the best to play the position since that fateful Monday Night, including the original Raven (literally the first player drafted by the franchise) - Jonathan Ogden. J.O. was a mountainous man who spent more than a decade camped out on the left hand side of the line in Bmore. Its only fitting that less than a year after Ogden left his post, the man selected to help fill his shoes is a kid whose promise was predicated in part by Ogden's play at the position. Ogden's versatility, combined with his monster-like size, gave NFL scouts a protoype to compare all future footballers looking to play the line. In fact, the high school coach that helped get Michael into high school, and onto the field, saw those very traits in Oher. The Big O, just like J.O. And now, just like J.O., Oher wears the purple and black on Sundays and takes his place in front of 70,000 cheering Ravens fans with one mission in mind. To protect. The same as the Tuohys. And now his story gets to play out in Baltimore, but consider his pro career the sequel because his journey thus far has already earned itself a Hollywood ending.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Almost Forgot

The Lukin’s headed back east for Thanksgiving week and in less than 24 hours, I’ve learned a few things. Or should I say, I’ve remembered a few things.

First of all, to borrow from Wedding Crashers lore, Maryland is all about crab(cakes) and football. Upon landing at BWI, Lauryn and I checked crabs off the to do list right away as we picked our way through nearly a dozen jumbos between us. My fingers still sting from the Old Bay and I’ve been thirsty ever since, but man are they good. LA may have a leg up on the Charm City when it comes to spicy tuna and fish tacos, but the crabs here in Bawlmawr are second to none. How could I forget?

Day two had a similar feel to Sunday mornings in Los Angeles, with football scheduled to take up most of the day. But a few differences distinguished the East vs. the West. First, the weather. It was cold, yet seasonably warm. Same temps at The Grove would be considered cold, unseasonably cold. Second, everyone in town is wearing the same jerseys. Back west, it’s a mix of Chargers, Giants, Bears, Pats, Eagles, Raiders, 9ers…I even saw a Jaguars jersey one week at the bar (the Jags could use him in the stands). In any case, everyone in MD was wearing purple and black. And its not just Heaps and 52s any more. Its evolved to include white Rice(s) and Flacco’s in all shapes and sizes.

Of course the time difference was hard to get used to as the early morning wake up was necessary just to make sure we saw kickoff. A venti peppermint mocha took care of that and we were off and running. The game was back and forth and full of field goals – a true flashback to the days when Lauryn and I were running up the sidelines at the big crabcake. Even Matt Stover was there – unfortunately he was wearing a horseshoe on his helmet, how strange. But the game would come down to the end and despite outplaying the undefeated Colts, Indianapolis managed to stay that way with a late interception by Flacco and an unnecessary fumble by Reed. Watching the game from start to finish made the loss sting, even more than the Old Bay. We were once again watching the home team and the heartbreaking finish was just that. How could I forget.

Friday, August 07, 2009

In Case Mason Retires Again

If Derrick Mason decides to re-retire, the Ravens may have their answer at wide receiver. None other than Snoop Dogg visited training camp in Westminster on Thursday and showed a few moves - both at the mic and on the field.

Watch it here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Just the beginning?

I can only hope...

Training camp (sans Mason, but with Suggs & Flacco) starts soon!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The End

It was a battle right to the end. Unfortunately, Troy P0lamalu performed a near perfect Ed Reed impersonation to close out the Ravens 2008 season. The team had a chance. Despite being outplayed most of the game, just like last week, Baltimore was in it in the fourth quarter and was down just 2 with five minutes to play. But it was not to be.

More importantly, on the Ravens next possession, Willis McGahee took a pass down the middle and was immediately pummeled by the Steelers Ryan Clark.

The shoulder-to-helmet hit left Willis lying on his back for more than 5 minutes as Clark was walked off the field with the help of multiple teammates. With the Ravens huddling around McGahee, and Ray Lewis praying on the sidelines, Willis was lifted on to a stretcher and carried off the field. Phil Simms, Jim Nance and even most of Steeler Country were left speechless and you could even hear a few words of encouragement from the Pittsburgh fans as McGahee was wheeled into the tunnel.

The first words out of the team is that McGahee had movement in his arms and legs, but was experiencing 'significant neck pain'. Clark may have ended Willis' season a few minutes early, but Polamalu ended this magical season for Baltimore two weeks too soon.

Numerous Light Snow Showers

Not sure what that means, but that's what they're predicting.

It's going to be an epic battle, snow or snow, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. I won't mind watching out west, where its close to 80 today, but I wouldn't mind running the sidelines in that weather one more time. It should be a classic and hopefully will deliver another classic moment like this hit on Big Ben.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thank You Sports Illustrated

These are two of the three images Sports Illustrated choose to put on their cover for their January 19th issue. (There was also a third cover featuring Tim Tebow, but that's not what is important here).

What is important is the fact that despite the fact that Arizona was on one of their regional covers last week, the Steelers have been on the cover this season already (side note - the cover in question was a photo taken from the last Ravens-Steelers battle and pictured Joe Flacco flat on his back after a sack, talk about rubbing it in), and Ray Lewis delivered a made-for-the-cover-of-any-magazine-poster-billboard-bus shelter-screensaver hit on Titans Fullback Ahmad Hall last weekend - Pittsburgh and the Cardinals are on the cover this week. What does it all mean? Here's hoping the SI Cover Jinx makes its triumphant return and delivers an Eagles-Ravens Super Bowl in Tampa.

PS - Since SI felt the Ray Lewis hit wasn't cover-worthy, I wanted to make sure to point out that it is absolutely blog-worthy. Enjoy:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Let's Go....Chargers!

The Ravens won again!

Despite being out-played, the defense stepped up and not only forced 3 key turnovers, but they came as the Titans were on the verge of scoring, with one fumble recovered on the one yard line! The result was the second playoff win for Joe Flacco as a rookie - an NFL record - and a trip either San Diego or Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship game. You can probably tell who I'm rooting for, but only because I hope to be in attendance. Of course Ravens-Steelers III would make for some good TV.

It was a tense game today and watching from afar made Lauryn and I long a little for the cold air and honky-tonk of Nashville. The city has treated us well in past years, including an exciting come from behind victory during the 2006 season, which also included a tremendous steak dinner at The Stockyard the night before.

We wish all our feathred friends luck next Sunday and a week's worth of soaking in the excitement of still being in the playoffs - and just one win from the Super Bowl. That's ridiculous to even write, but it's the truth and hopefully we'll be in the stands for the celebration.

For now, lets root for San Diego and a warm weather war on the left coast.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Dolphins for Breakfast

No, Mike and I aren't cooking Dolphin on the BBQ, but the Ravens made a meal of the Miami offense this morning as Baltimore advanced into the next round of the playoffs. (We did use the barbecue, however, in true tailgating/balcony-gating fashion....and the eggs and sausage tasted even better than normal with the taste of the open flame).

Now on the West Coast, we watched the playoffs over breakfast as Ed Reed and Joe Flacco led the Ravens to their first playoff win in 8 years. The game started with a scare, as LeRon McClain fumbled at the fifty to set the Dolphins up for an early field goal. However, the rest of the game belonged to the black birds with 4 interceptions, including one returned by #20 for 6!

As the game winded down, we did see a few of our former feathered friends on the sidelines as they attempted to catch the traditional Gatorade shower on film. Jeff, Tim - you guys looked like you were in perfect position. Unfortunately, FOX seemed to miss the celebratory shot, so I'm not sure how that worked out - did Harbaugh get wet? FOX did manage to interview Ed, Joe and T-Sizzle after the victory and all seemed set on the challenge ahead as the Ravens now travel to Tennessee to face the Titans.

Baltimore lost to the AFC South champs earlier this year on a late TD pass from Kerry Collins. It was a typical defensive struggle, but the Ravens were still finding themselves in late September and should be ready to battle in Nashville Saturday afternoon. We'll be watching, although this time we get to get loud over lunch.