Friday, January 20, 2006

C-O-N... spiracy.

Scene 1: Saturday, January 14th. A dark room in an office building. The only light emanates from a gigantic plasma TV on an otherwise empty wall. In the middle of the room there is a large leather high-backed chair. The Camera is situated behind the chair, framing it in the surreal light from the TV. Next to the chair is a small table, with a phone and an intercom. The sound of a football game can be heard from the TV. The announcers are setting up the Seahawks/Washington game.

Announcer 1: So Seattle will take the ball for the first drive of the game. You have to know they’re relying on Sean Alexander in this game. The league MVP rushed for a record 28 touchdowns this year, most in NFL history.

Announcer 2: You can’t say enough about Alexander. He’s the heart and soul of this offense. Without him, they wouldn’t even be here.

The announcers keep discussing Alexander’s merits to vomitous extents. Camera closes up on the chair as an arm reaches for the intercom. A spindly finger pushes a button.

Intercom Voice: Yes sir?

Old Man: Are you certain the concussion device we installed in Alexander’s brain will work properly?

Voice: Yes sir. We tested it on some homeless children, just like you ordered. They all went out cold.

Old Man: Good. As soon as he gets the handoff, push the button. I want him concussed. Concussed! You understand?

Voice: haha. You said, “concussed.” I love saying, “concussed.”

Old Man: Shut up, you fool. And do as I told you.

Voice: Your wish is my command. It shall be done. Ha ha… “concussed…”

The intercom disconnects. The announcers are heard again.

Announcer 1: So here’s the first play of the game for the Seahawks. Hand-off to Alexander…. OH! He goes down and LOSES THE FOOTBALL! Washington recovers! What a shocking turn of events on the very first play of the game!

Announcer 2: Wait a minute. Alexander is down. He’s not moving. This does NOT look good…

As the announcers drone on, the old man begins to cackle as the scene fades.


Scene 2: A meeting room in Mile-High Stadium, Denver, Colorado. A man in a striped outfit and white hat is ushered into the room against his will by two well-dressed thugs. As the man is thrown into the room, the thugs quickly hurry out and lock the door audibly behind him. Confused and scared, the man tries the door. Locked. He looks around the room. It is well lit, and clearly empty. He relaxes, and picks up his hat, which has fallen to the floor in the scuffle. Suddenly, out of a patch of darkness, a voice speaks out.

Voice: Do you value your life?

The captive jumps and spins around.

Captive: Who’s there? Show yourself.

Voice: Do you value the life of your family? Your wife and children? It would be a shame if any harm were to come to them. Your daughter has a beautiful smile.

Captive: (nervously) What? Who is that? Paul Bettany? Paul, what are you talking about?

Voice: This isn’t Paul Bettany. Listen. Your family is okay, for now… and they’ll be perfectly fine if you do exactly as I ask.

Captive: Are you crazy? Where is my FAMILY!? Who are you?

Voice: I’m someone who is not supposed to be alive. And don’t raise your voice to me. I wouldn’t want to have to take it out on your son, you insignificant pawn. I hear Michael Jackson is looking for a new “friend.”

Captive: No! Anything but that! What do you want?

Voice: Listen closely, and do exactly as I tell you…

The Voice details his plan as the referee’s face slowly becomes more distorted with the horror of it. Slowly, it turns to dejection as the innocent victim realizes he has no choice but to comply with his warped tormentor. The camera fades to black.


Scene 3: Chicago. Saturday night. A dark bedroom. A man is asleep in a bed. We see a figure appear out of the darkness, only his outline visible in the black of night. He leans over the man in bed, and begins to whisper in his ear…

Man: Lovie, you will not double team Steve Smith tomorrow. Charles Tillman can play him in single coverage. Lovie, you will not double team Steve Smith tomorrow. Charles Tillman can play him in single coverage. Also, your name is gay. You will not double team Steve Smith tomorrow. Charles Tillman can play him in single coverage. Also, your name is gay. You will not double team Steve Smith tomorrow.

The Scene fades out as he repeats his hypnotic speech.


Scene 4: Sunday, January 15. Indianapolis. It’s the fourth quarter of the Steelers-Indy game. Troy Polamalu has just made a game ending-interception—except he fumbled right after the play. To keep any hope alive, Tony Dungee is forced to challenge the interception, even though he knows it’s hopeless. The entire stadium can clearly see that it’s an interception. The entire world has seen the play and agrees it’s an interception. Meanwhile, the referee is staring intently into the replay hood, discussing the play with the replay booth on his headseat.

Ref: Run it back again. (He watches the play again.) Yup, I think it’s an interception and a fumble. What do you guys think?

Booth: Yup. We think it’s… ***CRACKLE**** he caught ***CRACKLE*** turnover.

Ref: What was that? You guys are breaking up. I think we have a bad connection.

Suddenly, a sinister voice comes on the line.

Voice: Your connection is just fine.

Ref: What? Who is this?

Voice: Someone who knows where you live. Someone who knows where your family is. She has a beautiful Smile, your daughter.

Ref: What? Is this Paul Bettany? What do you want?

Voice: Yes, sure, this is Paul Bettany, whatever. Do you agree that was an incomplete pass?

Ref: Paul Bettany! Seriously, I loved you in “A Knight’s Tale.”

Voice: DAMMIT! This isn’t Paul Bettany, you jackass! Now, do you agree that was an incomplete pass?

Ref: What? No. It’s clearly an interception. He caught it and then he fumbled. Who is this? And where’s my family?

Voice: I think it was an incomplete pass. And I think your daughter agrees with me. Should I ask her? She’s right here. A little tied up, though. For her sake, I hope that was an incomplete pass.

Ref: Listen, don’t hurt her, okay? I’ll do anything. Ok, it was an incomplete pass. But how do I explain it? I mean, it’s clearly an interception!

Voice: If you want to see your daughter alive again, you’ll find a reason. Good Luck. ***CRACKLE*** ****CRACKLE***

Suddenly, we’re back in the dark room with the plasma TV and the highback chair. The old man watches as the referee steps on to the field and announces that the pass was incomplete. As the old man starts to cackle, we fade out…


Final Scene: It's Monday night, Januray 16th. Another dark room in the same office complex. Wide shot. A solitary desk lamp illuminates a piece of paper on the desk. An older gentlemen is seated behind the desk, staring intently, but the light does not illuminate his face. His suit is flawlessly pressed and obviously expensive. His weathered hands form a triangle as he contemplates the sheet of paper.

Cut to a shot over the man’s shoulder. Slowly, the camera pans down to reveal the contents of the paper:


My to-do list for the weekend:

1.) Turn Steve Smith into a playoff God.
2.) Annihilate the Patriots Dynasty
2a. Destroy meddling Brady in process.
3.) Ensure Colts victory at all costs
3a. Note: get room in hotel next to Peyton’s in Detroit
4.) Show idiotic writers that Peyton is MVP by removing Sean Alexander and then ensuring Seattle victory
5.) Remember to place bets in Vegas

Slowly, he picks up the list and produces a lighter. Soon, the flame begins to consume the sheet. As it burns, there is a knock on the door.

Old Man: Come in.

A burly man in a dark suit enters.

Thug: We have him for you, sir.

Old Man: Excellent. Bring him in here.

The Thug disappears for a minute. Then we hear a scuffle, as the thug and another burly man drag an obviously tortured Mike Vanderjagt into the room. He has clearly been beaten. Blood runs from his nose and mouth, and one eye is swollen shut. The thugs toss him at the foot of the desk. The old man says nothing, and waits for his prey to recover his senses.

Vanderjagt: (head down, while trying to catch his breath) I don’t know who you are, but you’ll pay for this…

Old Man: I wouldn’t be so sure, Mr. Vanderjagt.

Vanderjagt recognizes the voice instantly. You can see the horror spread across his face as he lifts his head to see his captor.

Vanderjagt: Paul Bettany???!

Old Man: DAMMIT! I AM NOT PAUL BETTANY!!!

Vanderjagt: (as he look up, his eyes meet those of his captor.) Oh my God. You’re Paul… Paul Tagliabue! Oh my God. NOOOOOOOO!!!!!

As he lets forth a blood curdling scream, Tagliabue cackles meniachally, and, Vanderjagt’s fate sealed as the thugs approach to finish the job, the camera fades out as Tagliabue’s cackles grow louder…

Observations from the past week:

-That’s why they call it “gambling.” Obviously, I took a bath last weekend, going 0-4 on my picks. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. What’s worse, I actually bet Chicago to cover (lost outright), Washington to cover (9.5 spread… so what was the final score? 20-10!) and the Pats to cover (it was a F-in TOUCHBACK!). So yeah… a hard, quick lesson learned by yours truly. I feel like I just sat down at a blackjack table with a depressed William H. Macy.

Sure, buddy, have a seat! I'm on a roll!


-That Indy-Pittsburgh game had to have been one of the craziest in NFL history. I’m just glad I wasn’t actually rooting for either team, because I would have been shaving my head with a kitchen knife doused in alcohol by the end of it. What a game. From the minute Peyton waved off the punt team (castrating Dungee on National TV) to Vanderjagt’s kick, it was absolutely surreal. I still don’t know what to think about it.

-Because I had to be right about something last weekend: As Vanderjagt lined up for the kick, I said to my buddies Breeze and Bundy, “With the way this game has gone, there is absolutely NO WAY he makes this kick. I’m calling ‘wide right.’” Sure enough… wide right. (I would have rather been right about my picks, but I’ll take consolation in this.)

When you go 0 for 4, you end up posting pictures of your cousin's kid in your column. Cute kid, just too bad his parents don't know how to dress him.

-No really, don’t double team Steve Smith. I wouldn’t. I mean, he’s not good or anything. He doesn’t account for ¾ of the Panthers offense. He wasn’t the second-best receiver in the NFL this year, statistically. He didn’t single-handedly end the Giants season or anything. I’d put him in single coverage. It’s the obvious move here. I’m totally siding with Lovie on this one. Yup. Seriously.

- To follow up from last week’s post, the Annual MLK Football Scorpion Bowl ended in a tie for the first time ever, thanks to a controversial play of our own. My buddy Breeze scampered across the goal line on the last play to tie it up, right before some rent-a-cops kicked us off the field. Replay was inconclusive, so the play stands. 8-8 final score.

-It was announced last night that Theo Epstein will return to the Red Sox in “an undisclosed capacity” … whatever that means. Do you really want a guy back who already walked away from the team once because he “couldn’t give his heart and soul to the job.” I wouldn’t. And I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but for once, I agree with Dan Shaughnessy.

*****

NFL CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP PICKS
Last week: I don’t wanna talk about it.
Playoffs: 3-5.


Pittsburgh (+3) over DENVER
3:00 Sunday, January 22.
O/U:41

Tough game. Pittsburgh is on the road for the third straight week. No #6 seed has ever made the conference championship game, let alone the Super Bowl. But Pittsburgh already did one of those.

In this game, you have two evenly-matched defenses, two evenly-matched running games, and two evenly-matched head coaches (despite the fact one has two Super Bowl rings and the other has none). The difference? The Quarterbacks. One has a history of turnovers and downright offensive decision-making, and the other has only lost something like four games in his career as a starter. I think we see Jake crack this week under the Steelers blitzes, a lot like Peyton did last week. The Colts offensive line is better at pass protection than the Denver offensive line, and we all saw they “had some problems in protection” last week, despite Peyton trying to be a good teammate. They’ll force The Snake into bad decisions. Pittsburgh goes to the Super Bowl.

(As an aside: “I’m trying to be a good teammate here, but we had some problems in protection.” Wow. The worst thing about that statement is that Peyton is right—but it looks like he’s pointing fingers. If he had just said, “We had some problems in protection” which was true, then this wouldn’t have been an issue. But he pointed a finger when he said, “I’m trying to be a good teammate here” which implies that it wasn’t his fault at all. That’s the difference between guys like Peyton and guys like Tom Brady. Tom Brady would have just said the second part, which is a team-oriented statement and one of fact, and everyone would have been fine with that. If you think that kind of tact doesn’t translate into Super Bowl wins, you’re crazy.)

Carolina (+3.5) over SEATTLE
6:30 Sunday, January 22.
O/U: 43.5

Unless he turns up in a shallow grave in the next 24 hours, I’m not betting against Steve Smith again. And even then, I think Seattle should double-team his gravesite, just to be sure.

Bill Beard is an independent writer who still loves the NFL, despite the fact that the NFL does not love him back sometimes. He can be reached to write a movie script about NFL conspiracies (even though he is afraid of Paul Tagliabue) at wrbeard@hotmail.com

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The MLK Game

I walk outside in my T-shirt and jeans to see how cold it is.

The chill bites almost immediately when I crack the door. I let out a deep breath, and a cloud swirls in front of me. I watch it evaporate, and then inhale. The frozen air fills my lungs. I feel them struggling with it, fighting to rip the oxygen free from the chill.

It’s a sensation I’ve come to know—and love, almost. A smile spreads across my face. It’s perfect.

Yes, it’s cold. Bitter, almost.

(How many stories about life in New England could begin like that?)

I head back in, quickly slamming the door shut, sealing the warmth of my apartment building inside.

Need to dress accordingly. Warm clothes, but flexible ones. Not too many layers. We’re going to heat up once we get going.

In a few short minutes, I slap on my gear and my sneakers and I’m out the door. A light jog takes me to the T, where I hop the Red Line to Harvard Square. My gloves—receiver’s gloves, not winter gloves—are tucked in my pocket. I can’t wait to pull them on, to feel the grasp of a football through them.

But we’ve got some business to take care of first.

In Harvard Square, another short jog to the restaurant. My feet crunch through pockets of not-so-newfallen snow. Inside, a small group has already gathered, and they call my name as I enter and pull up a chair.

We’re about to kick off one of the most fun days of our Calendar Year here in Boston—except that you couldn’t look at a calendar to know it. It’s not Marathon Monday, or some other city-wide or state-wide holiday-turned-celebration. It’s all our own.

But first, we need to warm up, to brace ourselves for what’s to come. At this particular establishment—the Hong Kong—that means only one thing: Scorpion Bowls. (Damn the fact that it’s only ten past noon!)

We eat teriyaki and down some bowls. Friends trickle in. Soon, we’ve got a good-sized group. Enough for two full football teams, almost. We pay the bill. I poll to see who has room in their car. Then we head out.

A few minutes later, I break from the car. The gloves are already on. The waist-high fence proves no challenge—I’ve got a wide-open, snow-covered field in front of me. I burst into it, giving my body a test run. A sensation flows through my legs, a memory of days when I ran patterns for hours. When I represented a school. When I wore the colors, and there was pride in that. When I spent weeks sprinting under hundreds of passes, because I didn’t want to let anyone down. When the crowd noise was all the adrenaline you needed. When I didn’t realize how fast those days would fade.

A friend tosses the ball. Deep. Really deep.

But I can get there. I open it up, turn on the gas. I’m flying. And the ball is sailing. My legs burn—should have stretched first—but I’m going to haul this one in.

It’s coming down now, and I’m at full speed. It’s still far. But I’m closing. Then, suddenly…

Thud.

It lands a good five yards ahead of me.

Hey, my legs aren’t what they once were.

Smiling, I pick it up, and dust off the snow. Others have followed me onto the field. I turn, and chuck that pigskin as far as I can. (Ouch. Should have stretched the old arm, too.)

As they toss it around, and run haphazard routes around the field to warm up, I take another deep breath. And I smile again.

Today is our own holiday. The Annual MLK Game. Or, as some of us like to call it, the Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Football Scorpion Bowl.

We started it in 2000, just a bunch of friends who had spent a winter watching football, and were eager for a little competition of their own—and a little fun. Now it’s a tradition, one we never miss—or at least haven’t for six years now. I don’t ever see it stopping.

At least I hope it never does. Most of the original founders are still here. One has been ousted from the group by the worst kind of betrayal. Others, by marriage. A couple by distance. But for the most part, our friends come out for this—some even traveling hundreds of miles for the event.

Because that’s what tradition means.

We choose up sides, and the game begins. There are crazy plays we’ll recount later over beers and pizza. Interceptions and touchdowns, fumbles, sacks, and tipped passes. There are memories from every year, ones we still talk about. There’s the year we went to the Sports Depot directly post-game and were apparently so disheveled they gave us a private room in the back just to hide us from regular customers. There’s the year I almost broke The Senator’s nose—luckily, it was just his sunglasses, and luckily for me, he’s not really a senator. And there are years I can’t remember at all, they feel like they happened so long ago.

It’s a competitive game, but not overly so. We play until we get too cold, and it really doesn’t matter who wins.

Because it’s not like High School. There’s no pride here, no colors. No crowds.

And this time around, I understand how fast it all can fade.

I look around at all my friends.

I take a deep breath, and a smile crosses my face.

****

Observations from the past week:

-What is wrong with Marcus Vick? Is anyone else tired of athletes throwing away their chances to make the show? (As an aside: I’m in a Death Pool at work. We have to submit our lists next week. And if you think I’m not putting Marcus Vick on my list, you’re nuts. In the past year he: got a DUI; drove with a suspended license; got a speeding ticket; lent a friend a car without insuring it; spiked a guy from Louisville during a game on national TV; and this week, he pulled a gun on a couple of teenagers in a parking lot. And since he was booted from Va Tech two weeks ago, he’s got all the free time in the world. Seriously? It’s not a question of if, just a matter of how.

-If you have a gym membership, you’ve noticed attendance has probably tripled. I’m okay with that at my ghetto gym in Downtown Crossing—until last week, it was me and a couple of extras from Resident Evil. Now the female gym contingent has risen considerably, and suddenly, going to the gym isn’t as much of a hassle… (As an aside… I’ll never understand why girls wear those tight little sweat-shorts with things like “F.B.I.” written across the back and then give me dirty looks when I spend 20 minutes reading them. I’m a slow reader, okay?)

-The only thing I’ll say about the Giants game, because it wasn’t a performance worthy of comment: The Eli Bandwagon went off the road and hit a telephone pole, and some of us were thrown from the vehicle. The mechanics are assuring me the Bandwagon will be repaired and ready to go in the fall, so I’ll get back on it then.

-I love how all the media networks tried to promote the Reggie Bush press conference and Bush’s declaration that he is going Pro as “Breaking News.” Yes, that’s hot stuff. This also just in: Tom Cruise is a nutcase, Katie Holmes is pregnant with his spawn, and the North just won the Civil War.

-They also stated that “the Texans are expected to draft Bush no. 1.” Seriously? I didn’t know that. Ever since I moved to my new apartment under that rock, I’ve been really out of touch.

-Not that I generally care about this stuff, but Justin Timberlake is officially engaged to Cameron Diaz, officially cementing his position as the “Best Revenge Ever Taken By A Celebrity Without The Use of Two Thugs and a Lead Pipe.” I mean, Brittney is married to trailer trash, is pregnant, and her career is over. Meanwhile, Justin just bagged one of the hottest women in Hollywood after releasing a hit song about how horrible Brittney treated him, with a video of a hot girl crawling all over him. I can’t think of a sports metaphor for this. I mean, this would be like Roger Clemens getting ditched by Boston because “he was at thetwilight of his career” and then going to Toronto, winning a few Cy Youngs, and finally ending up in New York, where he’d lead the Yankees to a few World Series rings. Oh wait, that actually happened.

I wish I could get revenge on Brittney.

-Programming Note: 24 starts this week, with a two-hour episode sunday and a two-hour episode Monday night. You know a show is good when you DVR it as far in advance as your DVR will let you--even though you know you're going to be present to watch it. "I'm someone who's not supposed to be alive!" has officially replaced, "You're risking a patient's life!" as the Fox promo catch-phrase.


NFL Divisional Playoff Games:

Couple of things from last week:

· There’s a new trend in the NFL media that needs to cease immediately—calling the NFL playoffs the “Super Bowl Tournament.” The ESPN guys have been tossing this phrase around , and it really needs to stop. Not because it’s not true, but because it just sounds stupid. It’s the NFL Playoffs. And they end in the Super Bowl. This isn’t the NCAA Tournament. There’s no random seeding. Stop it, it’s not cool. I’m telling you.

· I placed my first official gambling bet ever, meaning one placed with an “outside agent” and not amongst friends or in pools. After joking that I needed to find a bookie in last week’s column, I realized that I really did need to find one, because the Pats only giving up 8 in Foxboro against a mediocre Jaguars was just too damn easy. Of course I won, and no, Mr. IRS, you can’t have any.

With the exception of the Giants game, you’ll notice I was 3 for 4 on last week’s picks. And since I had the Giants bowing out in this round in my Playoff Scenario, it’s still mostly intact. So, without further ado, on to this week’s picks… (note: these are outright picks to win, not against the spread)


Washington (+8.5) over SEATTLE
o/u: 41
Saturday, 4:30
I want to keep my original Playoff Scenario alive here, but it’s a tough call. The Skins could only muster just over 100 yards of total offense last week against the Bucs. That doesn’t bode well for their chances against the Hawks, the NFL’s best offense, who will put up at least 21 points, if not more. I don’t know if Washington can counter despite playing a much weaker D than Tampa Bay. I could see Washington winning this game, I could see Seattle winning by 20.

New England (+3) over DENVER*
o/u: 43.5
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Only bet the underdog in the playoffs if you think they can win outright, right? Well, here’s what I think: I think New England can win this game. I think Denver barely beat New England earlier this season despite the Pats being more banged up than Larry Johnson’s girlfriend. I think Denver hasn’t done anything in the playoffs since a certain “lonely” QB retired. I think Shanahan is overrated. I think Jake will come apart if the game is close down the stretch. I think the Pats are better than everyone thinks (except for people in New England, anyway). I think I’m betting on this game.
*This is something I’m going to call my Money Pick. Put your money on it, because it’s a lock. Pats will beat the spread.


INDIANAPOLIS (-9.5) over Pittsburgh
o/u: 47.5
Sunday, 1 p.m.
I don’t think Indy is as strong a team as they were earlier in the year when they dominated the Steelers on national TV, but consider all the factors here, don’t all signs point to an Indy blowout? There’s: Indy’s 13-0 start, and still no one really believes in this team; the death of Dungee’s son—no matter how crass it is—you need to consider the motivation something like this causes (see Giants & Wellington Mara); the fact Peyton doesn’t have to win games single-handedly anymore now that Indy has a solid, capable D; no way the Steelers can stay in a shootout with the Colts; the state of Indiana might implode if the Colts lose; the Colts would go down in history as the most disappointing team ever if they lose; and this game is in the RCA dome. I think it’s a tough, physical game, but not necessarily a close one. Even the spread seems about right.

CHICAGO (-3) over Carolina
o/u: 31
Sunday, 4 p.m.
I hope Chicago buries Carolina and then builds a Wal-Mart on their gravesite to desecrate it. Oh, sorry, I let my personal opinions get in the way for a minute. But seriously, Chicago has the NFL’s best D. I think that will be enough. Chicago will be double-teaming Steve Smith, which for some reason the Giants didn’t do. I mean, Smith wasn’t one of the top receivers in the league this year, and the only viable receiving option on the team, after all. Lovie Smith’s game plan is going to be to get physical with Smith, and receivers hate that (see Colts vs. Pats, 2004 AFC Championship Game). Tough game to call from a betting standpoint. The o/u is perfect, right where I’d set it. Chicago by 3, also perfect. I’m not sure Chicago is the 2001 Baltimore Ravens, despite earlier comments in this space, so I could see Carolina pulling off the upset.

For Bets: I’m definitely taking the Pats to beat the spread; considering the Skins to cover; and toying with taking Carolina to cover.

Bill Beard is an independent writer who never really gambled on sports because he has no willpower when it comes to vices, and could easily find himself ending up like the guy in the gutter at the end of a bad Bruckheimer movie. He can be reached by Gambler’s Anonymous at wrbeard@hotmail.com.

Friday, January 06, 2006

For the Love of HD

I hate Comcast Cable.

And they hate me.

If this were 1812 and duels were still in fashion, one of us would be dead by now.

First, I think everyone who has cable will agree that it is the most overpriced utility out there. For my cable (including HBO, a necessity), my DVR box and service, HD, and High-Speed Internet, I pay Comcast Cable the highway robbery amount of $138.33 per month.

That’s almost as much as my student loans. (Come to think of it, I probably get more out of my cable.)

And they hit you with all those “hidden fees” (not to sound like a cell phone commercial) including the Access Fee, Service Fee, Leased Internet Modem Fee, FCC User Fee, Franchise Related Cost Fee, Screwing You In the Ass Because We Can Fee, We Only Employ Non-Native English Speakers Fee, and the Repairmen You’d Never Invite Into Your Home Under Any Other Circumstances Fee.

And I’m also charged for State Sales Tax. Twice. Every month. No matter how many times I call.

Best of all, because they charge you proactively, I’m always a month behind, no matter what I do.

Yet, I’d endure it all. Because I need my cable. I need my HBO, my Rome, my ESPN, my ESPN HD, my NFL Tonight, my Fox NFL Sundays, ESPN Big Mondays, my Lost, my West Wing, my Grey’s Anatomy, my PTI, my CNN, my March Madness, my Rivalry Week, my Championship Week, my Extra Innings, my Baseball Tonight, my ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, my Shield, my 24 (one week!), my MNF, my How I Met Your Mother, my Whose Line Is It Anyway, my late-night HBO softcore porn, my NEXT!, my Simpsons, my Family Guy, my FX DVD on TV, my South Park.

And of course, my Sportscenter. Ah, how I love thee… let me count the ways. (Is there something wrong with me that I have a better relationship with Karl Ravich than I do with most women I meet?)

Yes, I’d endure all of Comcast’s faults for my TV, for all those reasons.

Well, that, and my building doesn’t allow satellite dishes. (Screw you, Beacon Hill Housing Commission!)

But it still is a lot of money. And for that kind of coin, I expect service.

Recently, my HD box has been experiencing an interesting problem. Both HD channels for ABC and NBC stopped working. For no reason. There’s just no signal at all on them. And they’re the only two channels.

It’s been over two months now.

My top three shows right now (West Wing, Grey’s and Lost) are on those channels. That means I also missed the last installment of MNF on ABC, as well as every single BCS game. And yes, I watched all of those on regular digital feed. But it’s not the same. Watching HD is like sleeping with black person.

Once you go HD, you can never go back.

So four repairmen, three new boxes, and countless hours later, Comcast is completely stumped. They’re out of ideas. They’ve never seen anything like it. And I’m left without HD on two of my most watched channels.

(If it had been ESPN, I’d be in jail right now for bursting into Comcast Headquarters and going ballistic with a Chinese AK-47 I bought off some guy named “Pedro” in Downtown Crossing.)

And I probably could have survived without HD on those channels.

Until this weekend.

I realized this weekend that the NFL playoffs are on ABC. More specifically, ABC HD.

When I saw the promo for the first time while watching the Rose Bowl Wednesday night in “Unspectacular ABC Not HD” my hands literally started shaking. I started sweating. I curled up into a fetal position and started rocking back and forth like I had just experienced a Band of Brothers Bastogne-like shelling from the Germans in my living room.

Not being able to see Reggie Bush and Vince Young in ESPN HD was bad enough.

But the NFL Playoffs? Unacceptable.

I’m not worried about the Super Bowl being on ABC. I highly doubt I’ll be watching that at home.

But still. I need my HD. And I need it now.

After I finish my Playoff Preview below, I’m going to pick up the phone.

I’m going to call Comcast.

I’m going to give them a week to fix it.

I’m going to get at least a couple months knocked off my bill.

And they’re going to like it.

If I don’t get it fixed, well…

Someone go to Downtown Crossing and tell Pedro he should probably get out of the country while he still can.

****
No observations this week, even though I had a bunch, because there just isn't time... it's "Review Time" at work and I have to get my "Self-Evaluation" done because it will determine whether or not I "Deserve a Promotion or Raise." They're all in quotes, because it's all a bunch of made up crap... the last one, especially.

Playoff Preview and Picks
Last Week: 7-8 (.467)(My first and only losing week!)
Season: 169-86 (.663)


My buddy Darren sent me an email earlier this week, saying “this has to be the most wide open playoffs ever.”

I think he’s right. Let me sum it up for you.

Here’s why each team could win it all… and why they could stumble. This week’s picks further down.

AFC

INDIANAPOLIS
Why:
Ran off 13 straight and are still the best team in football this year.
Why Not: Showed they were beatable in a loss to San Diego, and then dropped a meaningless game to Seattle in blowout fashion (a good team should never get blown out even if starters aren’t playing). Plus, they could get a very hot Pittsburgh or the Pats in the second round. Is that supposed to be a good thing for them?

DENVER
Why:
The Broncos have Jake Plummer.
Why Not: The Broncos have Jake Plummer.

CINCINNATI
Why:
Dynamic offense finally came of age this year. And Chad Johnson has to make a payment on his Gold Teeth with his playoff bonus.
Why Not: Cincy got shellacked by greatly inferior teams in the final few weeks of the season, and has the worst defense of any playoff team in terms of overall yardage (28th 338 ypg) and scoring (28th 20.1 ppg). And we know what Defense means this time of year, don’t we?

NEW ENGLAND
Why:
1. Tom Brady. 2. Bill Belichick. 3. Do you really want to play the Pats in the playoffs?
Why Not: They might have to go on the road to Indy if the Colts make it that far. And the Pats secondary isn’t up for that.

JACKSONVILLE
Why:
I’m not going to bother with this because:
Why Not: They’re playing the Pats in Foxboro this weekend.

PITTSBURGH
Why:
Pittsburgh is easily the best #6 seed ever. Good O, above average D. Experienced coach who always looks angry.
Why Not: If they win, they get Indy in the second round.

NFC

SEATTLE
Why:
Seattle has the best O line and the MVP (and hero to countless fantasy teams), an underrated D, and a QB who is good enough to take them over the top.
Why Not: Would you pick them over the Colts or Pats?

CHICAGO
Why:
Chicago has the best D in the NFL. “Defense wins…” well, you know what. After all, if the Ravens can win the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer, the Bears can win it with Rex Grossman.
Why Not: I don’t think the Bears can win it with Rex Grossman.

TAMPA BAY
Why:
Caddy can carry them to a championship, and Simms has an arm that can get it done. D is back up to Tampa standards.
Why Not: This is one of those teams that plays to the level of their opponent. Which means they’re inconsistent, and they don’t have that killer instinct. They remind me of Syracuse Basketball. And we all know what happened to Syracuse Basketball last year in March, don’t we?

NEW YORK GIANTS
Why:
This team is like a drunk Joe Namath. I have no idea what to expect from them, they do stupid stuff regularly, they’re completely unreliable, but I still like them and I’d still pick them to get it done with the game on the line.
Why Not: Is there a better fantasy matchup than Will Allen vs. [Insert any NFL Wide Receiver Here]?

CAROLINA
Why:
Steve Smith is that good, and Jake has been there before. D can hold its own.
Why Not: Because my buddy Keith moved to Charlotte last month, and immediately became a Carolina fan. Which means he is now an Eagles/Carolina fan. So I really need them to lose in the first round. That’s reason enough.

WASHINGTON
Why:
Clinton Portis, Joe Gibbs, Santana Moss, and a D that beats you like the Riffs beat Luther in The Warriors. Hottest team in the NFL right now.
Why Not: This was a 5-6 team at one point. They can play awful if given the chance.

So it’s wide open… here’s what I think will go down this weekend… and a quick synopsis after this week’s picks.

Washington (+2.5) over TAMPA BAY
o/u: 37.5
Saturday, 4 pm
This is the toughest game of the weekend to call. I know Washington played poorly in Philly, but I’m ignoring that. Santana Moss and Brunell have a Vulcan-like mind-meld going, Clinton Portis has rushed for 100+ in his last five, and the D is one of the NFL’s strongest. Honestly, Tampa Bay hasn’t impressed me all season. They’ve been mediocre, never great, and I’ve never said “wow” to anything they’ve done. I just don’t see any explosiveness from them. They don’t have any ability to dominate a game, or at least I haven’t seen it. Of course, I still wouldn’t be surprised if Tampa Bay won by 14. So what does that tell you?

NEW ENGLAND (-7.5) over Jacksonville
o/u: 38
Saturday, 8 pm
Listen to me. Jacksonville is not a good football team. I know they’re 12-4. I get that they’re the Red Sox of the NFL (only a wildcard and not the division champ because they’re unfortunate to be in the same division as Indy). But they’re only those things because they played more pie teams than Syracuse Basketball, when the Orange run the New York State Circuit for seven or so wins every year. (Can you tell I'm almost fully ramped up on college basketball? Number of rips on my own team is the indicator.) Leftwich is an average QB with no mobility who has never lived up to his potential; Fred Taylor is one of the most overrated backs in the NFL when he is at 100%, which is never; their best WR is 36 years old—and is no Jerry Rice; their secondary is average at best. The only thing they have going for them is one of the NFL’s best defensive lines.

Against the Pats? In Foxboro? And the line is only 7.5? Seriously? I need to find a bookie.

NEW YORK (-2.5) over Carolina
Sunday, 1 pm
o/u: 44
I don’t care what Carolina did to Atlanta last week. I do not care. They’re still a soft team with one WR and virtually no running game.

Which means they’ll be a tough matchup for the giants, who can’t stop anyone with their secondary, and let Larry Johnson run for eight miles a couple weeks ago.

The Giants saving grace will be Tiki Barber, just as it has been all season. Carolina has one of the best rushing Ds in the NFL (4th, 91 ypg) but I still think Tiki will romp for 100+. But he’s more dangerous as a pass receiver and on screens… so I think this game comes down to Eli’s hand. And honestly, I’m okay with that. I know he’s only completing 51% of his passes, I know he’s been throwing interceptions like Brett Favre (ouch), but I’m on the Eli Manning Bandwagon people, I’m moving to the back of the bus and I ain’t getting off.

I just hope Jay Feely’s foot can back up Eli and my mouth. Because I think it will come down to a late kick.

If you’re looking for me around 3:45 on Sunday, I’ll be resembling George Clooney in Syriana: looking shabby like I've been trapped in the jungle and devoid of fingernails.

Me, 3:45 Sunday.


Pittsburgh (-2.5) over CINCINNATI
o/u: 44.5
The most anticipated game of the first round has to be one of the craziest. The six seed is favored over the three seed at home. Has that ever happened before in the history of the NFL playoffs? Doubtful. Pittsburgh’s the more balanced team, they’re playing better football right now, and I think Cincy’s D is the weak link here. I’d even take the spread.


So, based on what you see above, here’s how I think it shakes out.
-Pittsburgh goes to Indy and beats up on them, but Indy wins.
-New England goes to Denver and Brady puts on a show.
-Washington deals with Seattle in a spectacular upset.
-Chicago’s D eats Eli and Tiki for dinner.
-New England pulls off the upset in Indy, cementing one of the most disappointing seasons in history for Indy.
-Chicago’s D shuts down Porits, and Brunell throws four INTs as the Bears take it.

Super Bowl 40: Chicago vs. New England

The winner? Congrats to the Pats. The three-peat goes down, and everyone forgets about Theo Epstein for one whole day.

Bill Beard is an independent writer who is willing to pay large amounts of cash to anyone who can fix his HD box. He can be reached by anyone not representing Comcast Cable, as well as experienced Lawyers, at wrbeard@hotmail.com.