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December 2002

December 27, 2002

Fearless Rick's Football Picks Dec. 27 - Jan. 3
Early and late bowl picks, plus the final week of the NFL regular season.
posted by Rick Gagliano

Last week: NFL 7-8-1; College 2-1

Friday, Dec. 27
Houston Bowl
Oklahoma St. -7 1/2 (48) Southern Miss.
- Oklahoma State won 5 of their last 6, including Nebraska, Texas A & M and Oklahoma. Too much for the Golden Eagles, who limp in with losses to Louisville and Tulane. Ride 'em Cowboys!

Independence Bowl At Shreveport, La.
Nebraska -7 (50 1/2 ) Mississippi
- Call this one the broken down bowl as neither team has much left in the tank. Maybe a bit of redemption in order for Miss. QB Eli Manning, but that's a stretch. The Nebraska defense stinks and could be torched. Take the points if you must bet this stinker.

Holiday Bowl At San Diego
Kansas St. -18 (62) Arizona St.
- Well, the oddsmakers have this one right - it's a mismatch. The Jayhawks will stomp here. I'll call it 56-18

Saturday, Dec. 28
Continental Tire Bowl At Charlotte, N.C.
West Virginia -5 (50 1/2 ) Virginia
- A real grudge match in store. Both teams finished the season well, and can put up numbers. Problem for Virginia in that they don't play well against big name programs, while West Va. has won 4 straight coming in. Mountaineers by 10.

Alamo Bowl At San Antonio
Colorado -7 (52 1/2 ) Wisconsin
- The Buffs are 9-4 and ranked 14th in the nation. Wisconsin, after a 5-0 start, finished up 2-6 in the Big 10. Bad match-up. Buffaloes will go on a stampede.

Monday, Dec. 30
Music City Bowl At Nashville, Tenn.
Arkansas -8 1/2 (48) Minnesota
- Arkansas has a funny way of playing to the level of their opponents, so take the Badgers and the generous spread.

Seattle Bowl
Oregon -7 (57) Wake Forest
- Have I said that there are too many bowl games? This is one which really doesn't need to be played. If you're a football junkie, lay the points and have a ball.

Tuesday, Dec. 31
Humanitarian Bowl At Boise, Idaho
at Boise St. -11 1/2 (68) Iowa St.
- Boise State, playing at home, giving a Big 12 school that many points? Looks like a gift, so we'll take it. Cyclones, with a good offense, to pull off the upset.

Sun Bowl At El Paso, Texas
Washington -3 (58) Purdue
- Joe Tiller will have the Boilermakers ready for this one and should be able to put up 40 on a rather shaky Washington defense.

Liberty Bowl At Memphis, Tenn.
Colorado St. -5 (53) TCU
- Colorado St. is ranked and have played well down the stretch. Too bad the matchmakers couldn't come up with a better opponent. Blowout by the Rams.

Silicon Valley Classic At San Jose, Calif.
Georgia Tech -3 1/2 (49 1/2 ) Fresno St.
- Georgia teams always seem to do well on the left coast, so go with the Techies. Fresno has been shaky all season.

Peach Bowl At Atlanta
Maryland Pk (47) Tennessee
- Maryland had a nice streak going until they unexpectedly lost to Virginia, while Tennessee was up and down, but finished with matching 24-0 wins against Kentucky and Vandy. The defense should step up here and lead the Vols to a win.

San Francisco Bowl
Virginia Tech -11 1/2 (54 1/2 ) Air Force
- The Hokies are bigger, faster, stronger. Does that make them a 2-TD winner. Probably. Air Force has no air attack, and if the Hokies can defend the option, this could be a runaway.

Wednesday, January 1
Cotton Bowl At Dallas
Texas -10 1/2 (47) LSU
- The Longhorns have been a disappointment all season, losing every big game. No reason to change that here, though LSU just doesn't excite. Bad game, take the points and pray for defense.

Outback Bowl At Tampa, Fla.
Florida -1 1/2 (47 1/2 ) Michigan
- Florida is not much in the way of run defense, so look for the Wolverines to run all day long. Big Ten schools did well this season.

Gator Bowl At Jacksonville, Fla.
Notre Dame Pk (40 1/2 ) N.C. State
- The Irish have to find a way to contain the Wolfpack offense. If they can't do that, this will be a romp for NC State because Notre Dame has no offense. Gotta like NC State and over.

Capital One Bowl At Orlando, Fla.
Penn St. -6 (50) Auburn
- This may be the highest scoring bowl game of the week as neither team can match up defensively. I like Penn State's chances here in a 54-38 win.

Rose Bowl At Pasadena, Calif.
Oklahoma -6 1/2 (55 1/2 ) Washington St.
- Fun game with Jason Gesser looking to torch the OK defense, not an easy task. If the Sooners can muster any kind of passing attack to complement their ground game, they could win going away. Sketchy, but Oklahoma should be OK.

Sugar Bowl At New Orleans
Georgia -7 1/2 (49 1/2 ) Florida St.
- On paper, this is a mismatch. Florida State is in a down year, and the Bulldogs will be looking squarely at a preseason #1 ranking after this one. Georgia wins big.

Thursday, January 2
Orange Bowl At Miami

Southern Cal -6 (57) Iowa
- Possibly the most contentious game of the bowl season matches two top 10 programs. I don't agree with the line, as Iowa has proven tough against everybody at 11-1. Take the points in what may be a very close call.

Next Friday, January 3
Fiesta Bowl at Tempe, Ariz.

Miami -12 1/2 (50 1/2 ) Ohio St.
- For the national championship, all the marbles on one game! The bookies think this is no match, and I have to agree. Getting Miami at anything under -14 is just too good to pass up. With a 33-game winning streak on the line, I can't see them losing their most important game of the season. In defense of Ohio State, they played better than anyone expected, but the offense is shaky. If they get down early, it could be a long evening. Miami wins big and takes the title without controversy.

NFL - Saturday, Dec. 28

Philadelphia -2 (37 1/2 ) at N.Y. Giants - The G-Men have been playing spectacular football of late, last week whipping up on Indy. Tough way to finish the season, and they will be all out here, but Philly will prove to be the better team (they are).

at Oakland -7 (48) Kansas City - The Raiders roll on. Without Priest Holmes, the Chiefs can't keep up.

Sunday, Dec. 29

at New England Pk (38) Miami - A playoff game in disguise. The loser risks missing the playoffs completely. Despite their poor record in cold weather, Miami looks to be the better team, so go with the Dolphins.

at Washington -6 1/2 (36 1/2 ) Dallas - Surprise! Dallas will win this one outright because they have nothing to lose and nothing to prove.

at Buffalo -7 (44 1/2 ) Cincinnati - The Bills will manage to end their season on a high note, padding some stats. Cincy has to play this game without incentive, while the Bills can at least say they finished at 8-8 with a win. Nice play on the Bills.

Atlanta -2 1/2 (40 1/2 ) at Cleveland - Tough place to play for the Falcons, who may or may not need this game, depending upon what the Giants do on Saturday. Either way, I like the Browns to show up and win this one.

Minnesota -3 1/2 (47 1/2 ) at Detroit - Minny in a rout.

Tennessee -8 1/2 (36) at Houston - The Titans may be resting some players, so tread lightly here. They are easily a better team, and I'll pick them to win and cover, but play this at your own risk - there are NO gifts.

at New Orleans -7 (44) Carolina - Another game with playoff implications and dependent upon other games. I don't think the Saints have enough to win this game as QB Brooks has arm problems and the defense has contain problems.

at Pittsburgh -7 1/2 (38) Baltimore - The Steelers jumped and mugged the Bucs last week, securing their division title. This game being mostly for positioning, I still like Pitt to remain highly motivated and tear up the Baltimore secondary.

at Indianapolis OFF (OFF) Jacksonville - This one is off the board due to Jags' QB Brunell's questionable condition. If he doesn't start (probably won't), the line should be about 7. Indy may or may not need this game, but certainly, they will want to win it. Take the Colts if they put up a reasonable line.

at N.Y. Jets -1 1/2 (40 1/2 ) Green Bay - Now the Jets are in position to make the playoffs, but Green Bay may be playing for home field advantage. Lots of ifs and buts here, but the bottom line is the Jets will leave it all on the field in a must-win situation. Jets win and get in.

at Denver -11 (42 1/2 ) Arizona - If Denver wins, do they get in? Hard to say, but considering that they won't last through the first round, I'll take the Cardinals and the points.

at San Diego -3 (43) Seattle - Enough already? San Diego may still be alive by the time these teams kick off, but the Seahawks have been playing quite well of late. Tough call, but I'll take Seattle.

at Chicago OFF (OFF) Tampa Bay - Another game off the board, this one due to Tampa's QB situation. Brad Johnson probably won't play, and neither King nor Rob Johnson looked good last week. Tampa Bay's season may have actually ended last week in their loss to the Steelers. They looked unprepared and uninspired and end up without home field advantage in the playoffs. That means they will probably have to play in either Green Bay or Philly if they survive that far, and their record in cold weather games is well documented. Take the Bears to really ruin their season.

Monday, Dec. 30
at St. Louis -2 (43 1/2) San Francisco - Please, this one says "don't bet me" all over it. Since I have to pick a team, I'll take the 'Niners because they really hate the Rams, who, by the way, stink.

December 19, 2002

It's Tough Being A Three-Peater
Lakers' Woes Continue With Road Whipping by New Jersey
posted by Rick Gagliano

The Los Angeles Lakers came into last night's game with the New Jersey Nets a woeful 10-16, and that had some people worried about World Champs. LA, which has won the last three NBA titles, are off to a horrific start and many around the league are questioning the team's desire and quality.

Well, first the bad news: Shaq and Kobe are healthy. Being near the bottom of the Western Conference standings would be understandable, maybe, if one of the two stars were hurt. They're not.

Then, to shatter the suspense: The Nets whipped the Lakers like a lazy dog. 98-71. It was pretty much over by halftime. Kobe Bryant shot 8 of 29. Sizzling. The Lakers shot 30% from the field and totaled 13 assists. 3-13 from 3-point land. Dazzling.

OK, since it seems to be the time of year to analyze everything - like what politicians say at each others' birthday parties - it's obviously my turn.

Defense: The Lakers get an F- for the kind of defense they're playing. They don't guard the ball early, don't defend the front of the rim or the perimeter. I suppose Phil Jackson might call it the Sleeping Zone defense. At least that's what it looks like. Shaq doesn't challenge anybody or anything. Kobe looks like he's hanging out with his agent, and Rick Fox is just plain modeling out there. The only guy playing at all most of the time is Samaki Walker. Go figure.

Kobe: Too many bad shots. Carrying the weight of the team on his shoulders. He's aged 5 years in 2 weeks. He's now 19, I guess.

Shaq: The team just thinks that because the big guy shows up for games everything is going to be OK. Shaq is human (well, we think so, anyway). He can't do everything. Especially, if you're listening fellas, he could use some help on the boards and on defensive switches.

3-pointers: Fisher and Shaw are the only players shooting over 35% from beyond the arc. The rest of you guys should give it up to them. Robert Horry is in mid-season form - missing a bunch. He has to do that so he'll be due to hit the big ones when the playoffs come.

Desire: It must be tough to have won three straight championships and have everyone expect you to dominate the league. There's no fire in these guys. The season is going to take a toll on them. There are no breaks and by playoff time, the Lakers are going to find themselves on the outside looking in.

Coaching: This could be the real culprit and the root of their problems. Phillip is in another time zone on some metaphysical pseudo-plain of contentment. I don't know what he's telling the players, but whatever it is, it's not working. Phil has to d something to shake things up. Just showing up and going through the motions is not going to cut it.

Off-Season: No trades, no big moves, poor draft. All they really got was Kareem Rush from Missouri. Kind of a tall guard. Not much help. They needed a power forward. A trade may be warranted within a few weeks. Are you listening Phil?

Front Office: This is what happens when you fire Jerry West.

Bottom Line: The Lakers aren't good enough right now to even make the playoffs. There's too much standing around, too many bad shots, there's no flow to the offense, no plan on defense. With the top 8 teams in the conference going to the playoffs, there are currently 9 teams over .500. The Lakers are not one of them and NOBODY is going to help them.

The teams in the Western Conference would love to see the playoffs start without the Lakers. I'm sure plenty of ball fans who wouldn't mind seeing that happen as well. The Lakers, if they continue playing the way they are for the next month, may oblige everybody except themselves.

Fearless Rick's Football Picks for December 21-25
Playoff spots are on the line in the NFL and the Bowl Marathon marches on.
posted by Rick Gagliano

Last Week: NFL 7-9; College 1-1

NFL - Saturday, December 21
Miami -3 (45 1/2 ) at Minnesota - The Vikes, after playing at Green Bay tough (and covering), beat New Orleans last week in the Bayou. That game, however, was played in a dome, so it was somewhat of a homer for Minny. A number of talk show types have said something to the effect that nobody wants to play Minnesota right now. They're dangerous, agreed, but who really wants to play Miami? Just ask Oakland. Dolphins due to rough 'em up as the Ricky Williams show goes indoors. Fish by 6.

San Francisco -4 (41) at Arizona - San Francisco is pretty lame for a playoff team and they now have little motivation for playing this game because their loss to Green Bay hurt their chances at home field in the playoffs. Add to that the distractions from coach Mariucci's rumored move and the Saturday afternoon game time and this looks like a recipe for a loss. While the 49ers try to figure out how to get through the next two weeks without injuries, the Cards may be planning to make a statement for next season here. At least the Cardinals will play all 60 minutes, which is more than can be said of the Niners. Take the points. Jake the Snake will make them pay.

Philadelphia -6 1/2 (37) at Dallas - Showcase game for Philly and they won't disappoint. The Eagles have won and covered their last five, and we'll stick with them until they cool off.

Sunday, December 22
at Green Bay -6 1/2 (43) Buffalo - This one depends quite a bit on the weather, but, if you like Favre in the cold and snow, you'll love Bledsoe, another fine cold-weather QB. With the Bills needing this one to keep slim post-season hopes alive, I like their chances. Pack may be a bit flat after kicking SF last week.

at Atlanta -10 1/2 (44) Detroit - The Falcons and Michael Vick were supposed to get back on track last week. Instead they lost to Seattle. They NEED this game. Detroit is not about to roll over, but there's plenty of motivation for the Falcons to put this one away early. Give the spread and relax by halftime.

at Carolina -3 (36) Chicago - Take the team that wins the coin-flip or the one who isn't thinking about the higher draft pick. Seriously, both teams are playing OK, but this one's a tossup. Take the Panthers -3 because they are a little healthier.

New Orleans -7 (48) at Cincinnati - One has to figure that the Saints MUST be at least a TD better than Cincy, even in their house. Give the seven and see if this team is really for real.

at Indianapolis -5 (41) N.Y. Giants - Tough spot here for both teams in a must win situation. A loss could jeopardize the post-season, and in NY's case, may signal the end of the line. On the surface, this looks like a solid under game because both teams play solid defense, plus I'll take the Giants to hang in and possibly pull off the upset. Indy's come a long way, but honestly, Eggerin James has not looked right all season.

Tennessee -3 (43 1/2 ) at Jacksonville - Nothing, including the Jags, can stop the Tennessee juggernaut. I'd say lock, but I never say lock. Let's call this one a "cuff."

at Kansas City -2 (44) San Diego - Season on the line for both teams in this one, but without Priest Holmes, KC will be disadvantaged. Chargers won their first meeting 35-34, so look for another close one. Brees knows how to torch the KC secondary and will be instrumental to a Chargers' win.

at Washington -6 1/2 (37) Houston - How do the Redskins rate nearly a touchdown favorite? The boys in Vegas have cleaned up on the upstart Texans all year, taking the foolish money that went against the so-called "expansion" team. Houston may win this outright.

at Seattle -1 (46) St. Louis - Big line move here, as Seattle went from a +1 underdog to the slight favorite. The Rams need the season to end soon as they've become the laughing stock of the league. In the coaching duel, Martz is no genius, nor is Holmgren, but Holmie is a better coach and Seattle is probably a better team. Seattle making a little late-season noise.

at Oakland -4 (47 1/2 ) Denver - The biggest game of the weekend matches old AFL rivals for playoff and division dominance. While the Raiders seem relatively confident going into this one, and Denver on life support, don't discount the value of having a healthy Shannon Sharpe and Denver's rugged defense. Could be a pretty soggy field as well which should help out Denver RB Clinton Portis. Take the Broncos to pay back the Raiders for the Monday night embarrassment earlier in the season.

at Baltimore -3 (40 1/2 ) Cleveland - If the Ravens can play their game, which is grinding and physical, they'll run the Browns out of the stadium. Cleveland's been resilient, but their position is tenuous because of poor play earlier in the year. Ravens already ripped them once this season and will do it again.

at New England -4 (42) N.Y. Jets - While the Patriots' loss to Tennessee on Monday night was understandable, the Jets' loss to Chicago was inexcusable. The Patriots have an edge on defense and will win and cover at home.

Monday, December 23
at Tampa Bay -4 1/2 (40) Pittsburgh - There will be some hitting in this game, most of it by the Bucs, who are a superior squad all around. Pittsburgh is hanging on by a thread and is pretty badly banged up. Tampa Bay is simply a wrecking crew and the AFC is pretty weak by comparison. This could get ugly early.

NCAA Football Bowl Games
Monday, December 24

Tangerine Bowl At Orlando, Fla.
Texas Tech -5 1/2 (66) Clemson
- The Tech offense will run circles around the Clemson defenders and come away with a huge win. This looks like a real laugher.

Wednesday, December 25
Las Vegas Bowl
UCLA -10 1/2 (54) New Mexico
- OK, you have an excuse for not watching this game, but I still have to pick it. Take the Lobos, who came within a whisker of winning the Mountain West Conference. That's a lot more than one can say about UCLA, who got blown out in just about every big game and finished 4-4 in the Pac-10, tied with Cal. Whoo-hoo, scary. New Mexico should put it on them but good.

Hawaii Bowl At Honolulu
at Hawaii -12 (63 1/2 ) Tulane - another forgettable contest. Tulane +12 sounds almost surreal. Maybe I'm hulu-cinating. In keeping with the spirit of the season you have to take the underdogs on Christmas. Happy Holidays.

December 18, 2002

Marvin Harrison - the next and future Jerry Rice?
A Syracuse U. grad, Marvin Harrison set the single-season reception mark this past weekend.
posted by Rick Gagliano

After breaking the single-season record for receptions with his 124th reception this past Sunday, Marvin Harrison went back to work and caught a touchdown pass from Peyton Manning, displaying a style of professionalism very much like another record-breaking wideout, Jerry Rice.

The similarities only begin with the quiet demeanor of both men. The sure hands, silky-smooth speed, precise running of routes and competitive determination define these two standout receivers.

Harrison broke the previous record of 123 receptions that was set by Herman Moore of Detroit in 1995 and finished the week at 127 receptions for the season. He'll almost certainly end up with over 135 and well over 1600 yards (he currently has 1566). It's the third time Harrison has caught passes for over 1500 yards in a season. Jerry Rice has done it 4 times including the career record of 1848 in 1995.

Rice, in his first seven seasons, caught 526 passes for 9072 yards. Harrison, in just his seventh season, has 649 catches for 8644 yards. Harrison, thus far in his already storied career, has caught more passes than Rice in the same time span, but has averaged only 13.3 yards per catch.

Rice averaged more yards per catch early in his career as teams tried in vain to figure out the West Coast offense. By 1990, Rice's sixth year in the league, defenses apparently made the adjustment. Rice averaged 15.1 yards per reception that season, and has averaged roughly at that level or less ever since. In fact, time and defenses are slowing Rice down, albeit gradually. In his past four seasons, Rice's YPR average has been 12.4, 10.7, 13.7 and 13.4. Defenses hate being burned for long gains. The cover-two zones and other schemes to "keep things in front of them" don't allow for the long bomb style of the 70s and 80s. The West Coast offense has fully evolved. If Rice was one of the original architects, Harrison is truly one of its great pupils.

Harrison, after starting out slowly, with 196 receptions for 2478 yards in his first three years, has picked up the pace substantially. He's averaged 113 receptions and an astonishing 1541 yards his past four seasons, and he still has two games left in 2002.

Harrison, now 30, should be able to put up very Jerry Rice-like numbers if he stays healthy for another 9 or 10 years. Of course, Rice is still playing at 40, and hasn't spoken a word about retirement, so he may be around a couple more seasons himself. Rice is still productive in the Raiders' offense, with 87 catches for 1165 yards thus far in 2002. In his 18th season, this is Rice's 14th with over 100 yards receiving, an NFL record. How long Harrison will play is anyone's guess, but he's beginning to look like a perennial Pro Bowl selection and a potential Hall of Famer.

Here's how Harrison will fare against Rice in a number of categories, assuming he has 10 more seasons with an average of 105 catches, 1400 yards and 12 TDs. These figures are projections for Harrison against Rice's current numbers.

Career Receptions: Rice 1451 Harrison 1695
Career Receiving Yards: Rice 21,551 Harrison 22,644
Touchdowns: Rice 192 Harrison 192

Of course, Rice isn't retiring right away and the chances of Harrison playing 10 years injury-free are slim. Still, the chances of Harrison moving up the ranks on many of the all-time career record charts are very good. Considering that he'll be in the top 10 all-time for TDs and yards receiving within the next three years, Harrison will be in the top FIVE all time in receptions within only TWO more years. If he and QB Peyton Manning stay together and stay healthy, there may be no limit to what Harrison may achieve.

Catching Rice in any category would be an extraordinary accomplishment, but Harrison seems to have the best shot at the career receptions record. Even so, it would take him eight more seasons of 100 catches per year just to get to where Rice is today. The career yardage mark may be out of reach, but Harrison may end up second all-time, since that spot is currently held by James Lofton, more than 7,000 yards behind, and he's retired.

Watching Harrison run slants, outs and go routes, the comparisons to Rice are becoming easy. Over the next decade, Harrison may prove to be nearly a mirror image.

Political Correctness at the Extreme
Trent Lott is being victimized by the media and the left. How will it end and why do Americans support iconoclasm?
posted by Rick Gagliano

Trent Lott is being victimized by the media and the left. How will it end and why do Americans support iconoclasm?

It's certain that what Trent Lott said at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party has been taken far, far out of context. Lott, an educated man, would never have made a statement such as that had he thought it would be interpreted as it was. The suffering garbage-heaving that has followed - by every left-wing hand-wringing, minority-loving tree-hugging liberal sycophant - has left an indelible stain on the fabric of our once-great democratic society.

It's the stain of the lynch mob mentality... the stench of the crowd of Lilliputians taking down the giant Gulliver. Small people with political agendas can do wonders when they work together. This band of societal terrorists, who seek nothing other than to bring the Democrats back into power in the Senate, searched out their victim, bound him and have continued to tighten the ropes.

Why did it take a week for Lott's gaffe to become public? Why has it taken twenty years for the liberals and the media to discover that he's some sort of horribly evil man? (He's not.) The people behind this scheme to take the Senate back from the Republicans - the DNC, the NAACP and the leftist media elite - carefully plotted and orchestrated this entire sordid mess, and it should be left to them to clean it up.

When all is said and done, there's no proof that Trent Lott meant that we should be a separatist nation, a racially-biased society or anything more than just what he said, and that was that we'd be better off if Strom Thurmond was elected president back in 1948.

Who can say that we might not be? How would the history of our nation have been different? No one can know. It's obvious - to anybody with a brain and without a political agenda - that Lott's statement was directed at Thurmond in a jocular and friendly manner.

But the brain police of the left are interpreting his words for their benefit - and reigniting the flame of class division and racial hatred. They may take down Trent Lott; they may be able to force his resignation from the Senate, and then what will they have accomplished?

They'll have accomplished what they set out to do - to rebalance the Senate so that there's no Republican majority, but rather a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans - something they could not do through the electoral process, but they think they can do through a seamy smear campaign which will leave one man disgraced and a nation at odds with itself.

Lott, and anybody else for that matter, can be accused of being just about anything, but what we really are is for us to know and for the historians to decipher. Lott is the Senate majority leader from the state of Mississippi. The people have already spoken, not once, not twice, but three times - that's how many times Lott was elected and re-elected to the Senate. And before that, he served in the House of Representatives for 16 years - from 1972 to 1988. His record stands as testimony of his value as an elected official. As for his leadership role, let the Republicans decide. If they truly have the will to lead, they will keep Lott as their leader. If they remove him, they will have shown themselves to be spineless and cowardly.

Lott should not have apologized as profusely and as often as he has been forced to do. Once should have been enough. However, the leftist thought police and the media - ever thirsty for conservative blood - weren't satisfied, are not satisfied and will never be satisfied. If Lott is not taken down, they will victimize another leader, and another and another. It's a sickening process, one that we as Americans should be ashamed to see and even more aghast that anyone would support such tactics.

Leave Senator Lott alone. He made a poor choice of words, apologized and that should be enough. Let's hope that by January 6th it is.

December 12, 2002

Fearless Rick's Football Picks for December 15-18

posted by Rick Gagliano

With three week's remaining in the NFL season, the NFC looks like it's pretty much locked up, while the AFC is wide open, with 13 of the 16 teams still with a shot at post-season play. Probable outcome is that no divisions will be settled this weekend in the AFC, with the most contentious race in the West, where all four teams have a legitimate shot. The college bowl season gets underway after the Heisman vote. Personally, I'm torn between USC's Carson Palmer and Penn St.'s Larry Johnson.

Last Week: College: 2-3; NFL 8-8

NFL - Sunday, December 15

at Miami -1 1/2 (43) Oakland - Miami looked less than stellar against the Bears Monday night, but bad teams have a way of doing that to a team. The Dolphins have all their key players back in good health and are on their way to the playoffs. With both of these teams playoff-bound, this game could determine home-field advantage. Oakland QB Gannon has been bandied about as an MVP candidate, but now Ricky Williams, after two consecutive 200-yard games, has to be considered as well. In what could be a preview of the AFC Championship game, go with the Dolphins (6-1 at home this season) to upend the Raiders narrowly, mostly because of defense.

at Atlanta -10 (44 1/2 ) Seattle - Michael Vick will get back on track after his horrific weekend in Tampa Bay. As far as the Falcons and Vick are concerned, that game can be thrown out. Tampa Bay has their number. The spread is a bit generous here, though, and with Seattle's offense clicking, Atlanta's defense will be put to the test. Take the points and a possible upset.

at Buffalo -3 (41 1/2 ) San Diego - The Bills are just about out of playoff hope but will still play hard (they've really overachieved this season). The look a little overmatched here and have lost four of their last five. Nothing to be ashamed about, they'll likely lose this game and next week to Green Bay also, before ending their season with a win over Cincy. Take the Bolts and the points.

N.Y. Jets -6 1/2 (36 1/2 ) at Chicago - The Jets get a breather here after a tough three-week stretch (Buffalo, Oakland, Denver). They are right in the middle of the playoff mix, but have to play at New England and at home vs. Green Bay to close out the season, so this is a must win situation. The Bears will oblige as they begin making draft pick plans.

Jacksonville -3 (43) at Cincinnati - Cincy may be able to get their second win of the season. The wind really went out of the Jags' sails in the final seconds of last week's game. At 5-8, the playoffs are a fading ideal and they may come up a bit flat. Cincy has been actually playing better, though still losing, but may capitalize at home.

Indianapolis -2 1/2 (41) at Cleveland - Losing last week to Tennessee changed the fortunes of the Colts dramatically. A win last week could have given them a commanding edge in the AFC South, but now they risk missing the playoffs altogether. The Browns also have their backs to the wall, but have much to gain down the stretch with the Steelers stumbling again. The Browns will likely have to win out to make the playoffs, so they will be on their toes here. In a game that has playoff implications galore, take the Browns to pull off the upset.

Tampa Bay -8 1/2 (37 1/2 ) at Detroit - Tampa Bay cruises into the playoffs against one of the worst teams in the league. The points may be bothersome, but the Bucs are playing quite well and one would be hard pressed to bet against them here.

Baltimore -3 (35) at Houston - Houston's win over Pittsburgh was no fluke. The Texans have a solid defense, and that won them the game. Baltimore has a rock-solid D as well, so this game has all the makings of a great UNDER bet. At 6-7, the Ravens have a very outside chance of winning their division, so they must win this game and they will. Solid play against the line here.

at New Orleans -7 (49 1/2 ) Minnesota - Battle of the dome teams and this one could come down to who has the ball last. Take the Vikes just because of the points. Upset is possible.

at Philadelphia -7 1/2 (37 1/2 ) Washington - Walkover for the Eagles, the hottest (and possibly the best) team in the league. 7-1 SU in their last 8, 6-2 ATS over the same span, won and covered their last 4 straight. A treat for the home crowd as they stomp the 'Skins and clinch the division title.

at Pittsburgh -8 1/2 (39 1/2 ) Carolina - Wow! The Steelers have problems. Biggest problem for them is that they aren't exceptional on either offense, defense or special teams. A model of mediocrity, they will barely win and won't cover here.

at Denver -3 1/2 (47) Kansas City - Denver is really up against it, even at home, and the line Vegas has put down before us is delicious. The Chiefs have put up 49 points in each of their last two games. To make matters even scarier for the Broncos, the Chiefs seem to have found a defense, allowing 10, 16, 0 and 10 points in their past four wins - and those were against (in order) Oakland, Buffalo, Arizona and St. Louis. Though they lost a 37-34 shoot-out at home to these Broncos back in October, they are looking for payback and a possible playoff berth. Take the points and KC is this week's most likely upset.

at San Francisco -3 (46) Green Bay - The Niners have a problem holding on to leads and against Favre and Co. that's a big problem. Though both of these teams have already clinched their division titles, this game is for playoff positioning, but the Packers look to be the more balanced team. Note for the playoffs: The Niners will lose in the first round.

at N.Y. Giants -5 (35 1/2 ) Dallas - OK, Dallas's season has been over for some time now, so it's up to them to put the Giants' playoff hopes to rest. The points are just a bonus.

at St. Louis -11 (43) Arizona - Geez, I've taken so many underdogs this week, I have to take the Rams here, despite the large spread. Night game, showcase for what little the Rams have left. Talk of firing HC Mike Martz is already circulating. Look at the record - the Rams won the Super Bowl when Vermeil was head coach. In the three seasons since, the Rams are 0-1 in Super Bowls. This team is a mess. Still, they're good enough to wipe out the Cardinals.

Monday, December 16
at Tennessee -2 (43 1/2 ) New England
- A real treat for Monday nighters. Both teams have the season on the line, though that could change depending on what Miami and Indy do on Sunday. Tough one to call, but the Titans seem to have all the pieces in place and are relatively healthy. Probably the best game of the entire weekend, and the Pats just don't have much of an answer for the running of Eddie George and the playmaking abilities of Steve McNair.

NCAA Football Bowl Games
Tuesday, December 17
New Orleans Bowl

Cincinnati -8 (46 1/2 ) North Texas
- The North Texas Mean Green, winners of the Sun Belt conference, have won six straight but face a determined Bearcat squad which has come out on top in five of their last six, the only loss a 19-20 defeat at Hawaii (a pretty good team). The Bearcats can put up plenty of points, plays a tougher schedule and should make the Mean Green look putrid here.

Wednesday, Dec. 18
GMAC Bowl at Mobile, Ala.

Marshall -2 1/2 (61 1/2 ) Louisville
- In what may be the highest-scoring bowl game this year, take Marshall to come out on top 53-48. I call 'em as I see 'em.

December 06, 2002

Fearless Rick's Football Picks December 7-9, 2002

posted by Rick Gagliano

Playoff berths may be on the line in the AFC this weekend. Games in New England, New York, Tennessee and San Diego all have post-season implications, as does the Monday night Miami-Chicago tilt. With the NFC playoff berths virtually locked down, the biggest game involves Tampa Bay and the red-hot Atlanta Falcons. College gets down to finalizing BCS bowl opponents as Miami wraps up their regular season while the SEC and Big 12 hold conference championships. Lots to like in this week's action.

Last week: College: 5-4; NFL: 9-6-1

College Football - Saturday, December 7

at Miami -18 (49 1/2 ) Virginia Tech - Plenty of arguments for Miami's march to the Fiesta Bowl and this game being only a speed bump, but the Techies should be ready for this one and be looking for the huge upset. The only problem is that Miami will be well-prepared and very aggressive on both sides of the ball. V-Tech's offense revolves around the run and if forced to pass will be in deep trouble. This one is a "take no prisoners" situation and Miami will win by at least 4 TDs.

Washington St. -2 1/2 (54) at UCLA - This game is for all the PAC-10 marbles - at least for Washington State. A win and they take the title; a loss and USC grabs the glory. UCLA was proven to be no match for USC, losing by a 52-21 tally two weeks ago, and one wonders how they will fare against the Cougars, whose only losses are to Ohio State and the overtime loss to Washington on Nov. 23. This is a tough call, as UCLA has nothing to lose, the Cougars, everything. I'm betting that the Cougars will be a little tight but still will find a way to win and cover here.

MAC Championship at Huntington, W.Va.

at Marshall -4 1/2 (63) Toledo - Marshall QB Brian Leftwich gets to go out in style. He should put up about 45 points here and Marshall wins going away.

SEC Championship at Atlanta

Georgia -8 (46) Arkansas - The Razorbacks got in on a miracle last week and are a gutsy outfit, though Georgia has done everything right in their march through the SEC.
Bulldogs should put the bite on the SEC Championship and head to a big-time BCS bowl.

Big 12 Championship at Houston

Oklahoma -7 (50 1/2 ) Colorado - Neutral site actually favors Colorado and they need few advantages here as they are the better team. The Sooners have been skittish n offense and their defense can be exploited. Colorado is peaking at the right time and will win outright.

NFL - Sunday, December 8

at New England -4 1/2 (44 1/2 ) Buffalo - Forget about Buffalo's big win over Miami last week and think back to November 3, when the Bills were totally outplayed and outcoached by the Pats, losing 38-7. New England is 4-1 over their last 5 games and have taken the last 4 against the Bills. Repeat performance? Maybe. Something more on the order of 27-14, Patriots.

at Carolina -3 1/2 (36 1/2 ) Cincinnati - Carolina showed they have some life after beating up Cleveland last week while Cincy folded after leading Baltimore early. Carolina's defense should carry the day.

at Jacksonville -1 1/2 (41 1/2 ) Cleveland - Here are two teams which will probably not make the playoffs, so the question is which one falters first. Cleveland's meltdown against Carolina last week had to dampen some spirits, and another loss puts Jacksonville on life support. The Jags seem to have enough left in the tank to win at least this game and possibly by a wide margin.

at Kansas City -5 (44 1/2 ) St. Louis - OK, Priest Holmes will rush for 150 yards, Trent Green will outperform Jamie Martin, and the Rams put another notch in the loss column. Almost looks too easy. Take the Rams and steal this one.

at Pittsburgh -13 1/2 (38) Houston - Tommy Maddox will be back at QB for the Steelers, but while the offense will be able to put up maybe 24-28 points here, the Steelers' defense will probably surrender nearly as much. Bookies have been generous to the Texans all season and they have covered much more than expected.

at Tampa Bay -4 (38) Atlanta - Game of the week matches Michael Vick against the league's best defense. There will be plenty of money on the Falcons, who are a cinch to make the playoffs even if they lose this game (they close out against Seattle, Detroit and Cleveland - doesn't get much easier than that). Tampa's a tough place to play and the Bucs smothered Vick and the Falcons 20-6 two months ago, that being Atlanta's most recent loss. Take the Bucs but watch out for the Falcons in the playoffs.

at Tennessee -2 (43) Indianapolis - The Colts are playing the best football in the AFC and the Titans are struggling for wins. There is an argument that the Titans won in Indy back on November 3, 23-15, but the Colts fumbled twice (one returned 61 yards for a TD) and picked off Manning once in that game while the Colts amassed 25 first downs to Tennessee's 13 and outgained them 378 to 198. If Indy doesn't turn the ball over on Sunday, they'll win easily and that's the pick here.

at Washington -2 1/2 (37) N.Y. Giants - There's always an ugly game of the week and this is it. Neither team has any post-season hope, so it's just for pride. Go Giants.

San Francisco -4 1/2 (39 1/2 ) at Dallas - Frisco is the weakest-looking playoff-bound team we've seen in quite some time. Their defense is full of holes and the offense is shaky. Dallas plays a very rugged brand of football with solid defense, so look for a real pounding to be taken by the 'Niners in Big D.

Philadelphia -3 (38) at Seattle - Philly only minus 3 with A. J. Feely at QB? Hummm, this looks like the mother of all routs. Philly rolls on big time.

New Orleans -2 1/2 (42) at Baltimore - Bounce for New Orleans in order after Sunday night's big win over Tampa Bay. With both Deuce McAllister and QB Brooks nursing injuries, the Ravens' defense should capitalize.

at Arizona -1 1/2 (39 1/2 ) Detroit - OK, make that two ugly games of the week. I truly don't have a clue on this one and you'd have to be either brain-dead or a genius to bet this game. I'll go with the Lions.

Denver -1 (44) at N.Y. Jets - Jets at home are a solid play here. Denver has lost three of four since their bye week.

Oakland -3 (46) at San Diego - Raiders are putting it to opponents via high-powered offense. San Diego needs to derail the passing game and play ball control which is their preferred offensive style. Upset win by the Chargers puts them atop the AFC West. On Oct. 20, the Chargers bested the Raiders 27-20 in Oakland. More of the same.

at Green Bay -9 1/2 (43 1/2 ) Minnesota - Payback time for the Packers? Remember, the Vikes put a 31-21 whooping on the Pack just three weeks ago. However, this game won't be played in a dome, where Favre always struggles. On the frozen tundra of Lambeau, the Packers will dominate. They are undefeated at home this season (6-0) with an average margin of victory in those games of nearly 13 points. Chalk up another win for Favre and Co.

Monday, December 9

at Miami -9 1/2 (37) Chicago - Dolphins need this game badly to stay in the playoff hunt, but the Bears have shown some grit recently and should be able to stay close and maybe pull off the big upset. A gift for Bears fans and underdog players on Monday night. Bet this one UNDER as well.

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