Alright enough about the economy. No matter the doom and gloom on Wall Street, sports are still around to create a helpful diversion. With college football in full swing now thanks to USC's upset loss to Oregon State last night, the NFL season starting to hit its stride in week four, and baseball playoff spots still up for grabs in the final weekend ... this should be a pretty, pretty good week for sports and television.
Cubs at Brewers, 8 pm ESPN
So this whole "who's going to win the NL East and NL wild card spot" thing is actually going to come down to the last day. As of Friday afternoon, the Mets are a game back of the Phillies in the East and all tied up with the Brewers in the wild card race. The Mets finish up with three against the Marlins, while the Phillies have three with the bottom of the barrel Nats (Oh and by the way, the Nats fan in me jumped for joy when I read this. Finally the cavalry is here to help right this sinking Nationals ship.) But back to the race, which really could go any direction for all three teams. Since this stretch run will essentially be an early start to the playoffs for whoever makes it to October, pitching will likely be the big deciding point.
The Mets throw out Pelfrey on Friday and Santana on Sunday. They haven't decided on Saturday's pitcher. You've got to believe if the Mets can win on either Fri or Sat., odds are Santana will clean things up on Sunday. The Phillies have Joe Blanton Friday, Jamie Moyer Saturday, and if necessary I'm guessing Cole Hamels on Sunday. And we can't forget the opponent is the Nats. Meanwhile, the Brewers have Jeff Suppan going against a 16-win Ryan Dempster of the Cubs, a just coming back from an elbow injury Benn Sheets on Saturday and a going on three days' rest for the second-straight start C.C. Sabathia. In essence, new manager Dave Sveum is taking a lot of risk going for that ultimate reward.
In theory, based on the starting pitching, the pick should be the Phillies winning the NL East with the Mets taking the wild card. But how can you say that with any certainly considering how atrocious the bullpen at Shea has been all year. It's certainly going to be interesting to watch the drama unfold through the weekend.
Maryland at Clemson, Noon RAYCOM Sports
Virginia at Duke, Noon ESPNU
North Carolina at Miami, Noon ESPN2
Michigan State at Indiana, Noon ESPN
I know the ACC isn't the cream of the crop in terms of football conferences, but me being in DC has definitely influenced my viewing habits. In the paper I work for this week, I picked Maryland to go into Death Valley and escape with a win just like it did two years ago. I like the way Freidgen and his gang have played the past two weeks when their backs were against the wall. My question is will the pass defense hold up? ... Virginia and Duke will have my eye solely because I'm curious what David Cutcliffe is up to with a 2-1 team in Durham. ... And I have a weird feeling the Blue Devils will win, while Carolina will crumble against in Coral Gables against Miami a week after pure and simply blowing a win over Virginia Tech ... Oh yeah, I'll grab a look at Little Brother. The Spartans beating Notre Dame last week does not change my belief that Michigan will win at the Big House later this year.
Wisconsin at Michigan, 3:30 pm ESPN
Tennessee at Auburn, 3:30 pm CBS
Nationals at Phillies, 3:55 pm FOX
Speaking of the Wolverines, they have a game against Wisconsin this week at the Big House. And for me, I say thank goodness. That Notre Dame loss has had far too much time to linger. The bottom line is that Michigan lost six fumbles in that game (Matt I said seven, but I was wrong) and losing six fumbles in a game just doesn't happen more than once a season. I'm willing to bet a lot of money on that. In that game against the Fighting Irish, Michigan out gained them on offense, while Sam McGuffie and Steven Threet looked impressive (or at least something resembling impressive for all you pessimists out there).
All that said, I don't like the Wolverines odds in this one. Something tells me it's a close game that comes down to the wire before Michigan shows its youth. Next week against Ilinois, well I've been thinking that would Rich Rod's break through for awhile now. More on that later, though. ... The Auburn offense was better last week against LSU, but the Tigers still lost. This article about the Tony Franklin offense (see last week's Weekend Viewing Guide for more) comes out next week, and my gut tells me this is the week Auburn explodes against the reincarnation of Lloyd Carr aka Philip Fulmer. ... And like I said, I'm keeping an eye on that playoff race and the Phillies.
Alabama at Georgia, 7:45 ESPN
Illinois at Penn State, 8 pm ABC
Virginia Tech at Nebraska, 8 pm ABC
I would have put the Illinois/Penn State on top because that's the game I really wanted to watch. But being in DC means ACC all the time, and therefore we are getting the Va. Tech/Nebraska battle. See, after watching that Oregon State/USC game last night, you couldn't help but get the feeling Penn State is better than we all thought. That being said, I think the Fighting Illini are a flawed team, that like I said earlier, will lose to Michigan. They barely beat Louisiana-Lafayetee a week ago and combined with the overwhelming home field advantage, I expect the Nittany Lions to come out on top. This is Penn State's chance to prove it actually means business this year. ... The Bama/Georgia game is just another example of how tough the SEC is this year. All this talk of an undefeated team making it all the way has to be thrown out the window now that the Trojans have a loss. I just don't see it happening. Remember, just last season, one team in the BCS Title game lost its second-to-last game (Ohio State) and the other lost its last regular-season game (LSU).
Falcons at Panthers, 1pm FOX
Vikings at Titans, 1pm FOX
Packers at Bucs, 1pm FOX
Marlins at Mets, 1pm TBS
The NFC South takes center stage for me with three teams locked in at 2-1. The surprising Falcons should get a reality check against my Panthers, especially in Charlotte. You gotta admit, though, the Matt Ryan/Michael Turner era in the Dirty Dirty rolls off the tongue a lot more easily than it did a few weeks ago. ... 60 some odd passes aside, I'm certainly not sold on Fiji alum Brian Griese as an answer at quarterback for the Bucs. I think Aaron Rodgers gets back on track this week for the Packers, who might (I say might with extreme hesitation) face a challenge from the Bears this year ... Because like I said last week, Gus is not going to the playoffs with the Vikings. Especially when it looks like the Titans defense may make them a replica of the 2000 Ravens that somehow won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer. ... And yes, the Mets game will get some minutes from me considering a playoff spot is almost certainly going to be hanging in the balance.
Redskins at Cowboys, 4 pm FOX
Everyone is pumping up the Cowboys and rightfully so, considering the way they've looked going 3-0 this year. But if it's one thing I've learned over the years about these Dallas games, it's that this is the one rivalry that levels the competition field in the NFL. You see it a lot in college, but not nearly as much in football, and especially this series. Because no matter how good or how bad either team is, this game more often than not is fought tooth and nail and real close.
It's definitely concerning that Jason Taylor won't be playing, because getting pressure on Tony Romo is the key to stopping the Cowboy attack. There's a lot of weapons to deal with, though, and from what I've read the Skins plan to give the Cowboys as many five or six yard gains that they want in order to combat the consequences of giving up big plays. I bet TO has a touchdown, but Shawn Springs does a solid job on him. Jason Witten has a shot at a big game.
We'll certainly learn a whole lot about the Jim Zorn era this week and the following week, when the Skins face the Eagles. It's definitely been refreshing to see the Skins dominate fourth quarters the past two weeks. A win in Dallas puts the Skins on a fast track to a playoff run, but a loss isn't the end of the world (it is a division road game after all). That being said, I think if the Skins want to be able to look themselves in the mirror and feel confidence about their status within the NFC, they need to pick off either the 'Boys or the Eagles on the road in the next two weeks.
I think with all the attention on Santana now, Cooley is due for a big game. These Skins can win, it's a question of will they.