Three Straight Weeks on

I’m pleased to report that for the third straight week Bill Williamson has included my comments on his AFC West blog at

This week, I veered away from the Raiders in the “You pick it” response to talk about the late-game failure that has plagued the San Diego Chargers all season.

Again, I don’t know how many people write in to Williamson’s blog, but to be featured three weeks in a row is pretty cool. This week my comments were listed first out of five responses posted.

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Addicted to Fantasy Football

Fantasy football is a drug. It’s prescribed to enhance the football season experience. But like so many over-the-counter medication drugs these days, the side effects can often outweigh the benefits. In the case of fantasy football, side effects may include irritability, frustration, insomnia, excessive computer use, sudden fits of rage and hallucinations (all I need is for Jeff Reed to make 15 field goals Monday Night and I win!)

Yes, fantasy football is a drug, and I’m addicted. Honestly, I tried it once when I was young because I was curious and it looked like fun. The next thing I knew, I was hooked.

Now, more than 15 years sense my first fantasy football experience, I’m still doing it. And it’s worse than ever. My tolerance is up. One league isn’t enough any more. And playing for bragging rights doesn’t cut it like it used to. Now, I want a prize at the end of the season.

The Raiders’ woes of the past several years have only made things worse. With Oakland always out of playoff contention by November, I just spend more and more time focusing on my fantasy team. Each week, it consumes me. On a regular week, I spend Tuesday through Saturday logging onto the site multiple times a day to go over my roster and wade through the pool of free agents to see if I can upgrade my roster. Then, Sunday comes and I have last-minute debates with myself about who should make the starting lineup. Finally, I spend all afternoon using StatTracker to follow the real time results as heart rises and falls with each 10-yard point gain.

I know I’m not alone in this habit. I realize that millions of people partake in fantasy football each year. But is it really worth it? We spend hours drafting a team and hours more shuffling our lineups and adding/dropping players from our rosters. And for what? In an average league of 10 players, you have a 10 percent chance of winning the championship.

Would anyone put this much time, effort and energy into anything else for 1 in 10 odds?

Factor in all of the things we have no control over—injuries, schedule, coaches who decide to give goal line carries to the unknown fullback or call the tackle eligible pass—and fantasy football can becoming frustrating fast.

This season, I’m in two leagues. In one league, my first three picks were Brian Westbrook, Tony Romo and Darren McFadden. All three have been sidelined for multiple games by injuries. In the other league, I’ve scored more points than every team in the league. Yet I have a losing record, and need a win plus help just to make the playoffs. With the league’s best team. I just can’t buy a break.

Of course, I’ll do it all over again next year. And, if and when the breaks finally do break in my favor, I’ll probably do my best to construe the evidence in a way that suggests my fantasy genius. But that’s all part of the addiction.

I know that luck has as much, if not more, to do with fantasy football success than skill. My rational side knows that. But addiction doesn’t operate on rational terms.

That’s why I’ll be spending the next few days debating my lineup options for Week 13. After all, my underachieving 4-8 squad has the chance to play the role of spoiler and keep my brother’s 6-6 team out of the playoffs. Pennington or Cassel? Fargas or McFadden? Should I play my Eagles (Brian Westbrook and DeSean Jackson) while their quarterback situation is in flux? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

This is fantasy football. My addiction.

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The Others

I don’t watch Lost, so forgive me for borrowing the term, but there’s another group of “Others” performing well lately. I’m talking about the supporting cast for the 11-1 Los Angeles Lakers.

The Others have always been an overlooked staple of Phil Jackson’s championship teams. Look back and you’ll find his best teams were loaded with standout role players.

A standout role player isn’t a star. On the contrary, they are players that complement a team’s stars. They make it possible for the stars to do star player things—namely scoring points—while covering up for them in other areas.

Phil Jackson has coached some of the league’s ultimate Others, including Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, Horace Grant, Ron Harper, Robert Horry and Brian Shaw. But the supporting cast on this year’s Lakers may be the best collection of Others that Jackson has ever coached.

Of course, you need the stars in place first in order for The Others to be effective. The Lakers made that happen last season when they traded for Pau Gasol and teamed him with Kobe Bryant. That gave L.A. the dynamic duo they had lacked since they traded Shaquille O’Neal in 2004.

Depending on your label of Andrew Bynum, you could argue that the Lakers have three stars. But the numbers don’t quite back it up—not yet anyway. Bynum is likely a star-in-waiting, but for the time being, he’s just a beast of an Other.

In fact, one could argue that Bynum was the missing Other from last year’s team. His size, strength and toughness gives the Lakers an intimidating presence in the middle, which helps everyone else on the defensive end. He also improves their offensive and defensive rebounding, averaging more than 9 rebounds per game.

Bynum’s return from last season’s injury—combined with the acquisition of Gasol—also allows the Lakers to bring another dynamic Other off the bench: Lamar Odom. At 6’10” Odom has the length of a center with the playmaking ability of a guard. His ability to check his ego at the door and become a sixth man for the first time in his career gives coach Jackson such flexibility with the roster.

Need shooters? Insert clutch point guard Derek Fisher, 6’10” sharpshooter Vladimir Radmanovich and “The Machine” Sasha Vujacic, who still hasn’t seen a shot he didn’t like.

Looking to pick up the pace and press? Turn to defensive stopper Trevor Ariza and lightning-quick point guard Jordan Farmar.

Looking for an extra passer, someone to make smart decisions in critical situations? There’s Luke Walton on your bench.

Teams dare not try to play a big lineup against the Lakers. No one in the league can match the size and versatility of a frontline of Gasol-Bynum-Odom. And when teams go small, the Lakers really don’t lose anything by replacing Gasol/Bynum and Radmanovich with Odom and Vujacic.

There are many reasons why the Lakers are off to such a great start, but rather than focusing on the reigning MVP Kobe Bryant, the first full season working with Pau Gasol or their Zen Master coach, give credit to The Others. Depth is a valuable asset in the marathon that is the NBA season. And the Lakers are running at a very impressive pace out the gate.

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The Other Struggling Michigan Program Makes Headlines

During rivalry week, it’s hard for anything to upstage the Michigan-Ohio State game for fans of the maize and blue. But the Wolverines—who hope to spring the upset on the Buckeyes on Saturday—play other sports, too. Take basketball, for instance.

While nothing can compare to the history of their football program, the winningest in college football history, the University of Michigan’s basketball team has a pretty impressive history of its own. They won the 1989 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship and revolutionized the game with the Fab Five’s back-to-back title game appearances in ‘92 and ’93.

However, the past decade has been a forgettable stretch. The Wolverines haven’t played in an NCAA Tournament game since 1998 and that game doesn’t officially exist as it was later forfeited because of a scandle that wiped the success of the Fab Five and much of Michigan’s success in the 90s from the records.

So, as the Wolverines tipped off against #4 UCLA last night at Madison Square Garden, in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic, no one was expecting much. But second-year coach John Beilein had his team ready. They played a tenacious 1-3-1 zone that frustrated the Bruins offense. And their offense dealt admirably with UCLA’s renowned defense. The Wolverines showed poise, patience and a penchant for making some clutch plays down the stretch.

It all resulted in an impressive 55-52 upset victory, earning Michigan a championship date with Duke tonight. A win over the Blue Devils would be huge. Not only would they win the early season tournament, they’d also earn back-to-back wins against highly regarded big name teams, which look really good on a postseason résumé.

Postseason basketball for Michigan has meant nothing but the NIT for the past decade. They could very well change this season. Aside from three challenging games the ACC—they will play against Duke a second time on December 6 and are at Maryland December 3 —the Wolverines’ remaining non-conference schedule should be relatively easy.

They close out the month of November against Norfolk State and Savannah State. In December, after Maryland and Duke, they play Eastern Michigan, Oakland, Florida Gulf Coast and North Carolina Central.

At worst, Michigan should be 8-3 heading into conference play. They have one other non-conference game in February against Connecticut. If Michigan can manage to beat either Duke or UConn and finish in the upper tier of the Big Ten, which has just three teams currently ranked in the top 25, the Wolverines should make a trip to the Big Dance for the first time this century.

Don’t look now, Rich Rodriguez, but the other imported coach from West Virginia may be setting the bar for second-year expectations for Michigan sports revivals. And after a big win against UCLA, the bar just got raised another notch.

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Going Back(-to-Back) on

For the second straight week, my thoughts have been published on Bill Williamson’s AFC West blog on I don’t know how many people write in, but Williamson posted a total of 20 responses including mine. I also don’t know if there’s any rhyme or reason to the order he posts them, but mine was listed third, which probably increases my visibility (people only can read so much about the Raiders).

In any case, it’s always good to see my name on One paragraph for two straight weeks? I’ll take it. Of course, you’ll find my expanded thoughts on the Raiders and other sports topics right here at

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This Just In: The Raiders Are Bad

It’s looking more and more like the Raiders are going to make history with their futility.

As’s Bill Williamson reported: “If the 2-8 Raiders lose three more games it will become the first team in NFL history to lose at least 11 games in six straight seasons. Oakland has won a total of 21 games since advancing to the Super Bowl in the 2002 season. The Raiders are currently tied with Tampa Bay which lost at least 11 games a season from 1985-89.”

During this six-year stretch, the Raiders been worse than the Bengals, worse than the Lions, worst in the league. The blame game is too easy with the Raiders. The owner. The coaches. The players. They’re all guilty for their contribution to the darkest era of Raiders football.

One area where they’ve struggled is building through the draft. After nailing their first pick in 2003 following their Super Bowl appearance—shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha—the Raiders have struggled with their selections. They’ve drafted in the top 10 every season since 2004 (except in 2005 thanks to the Randy Moss trade), but their picks haven’t lived up to the hype.

Here’s a look back at their top selections in each of the past five years:

2004: Robert Gallery, 2nd overall selection
The former Iowa Hawkeye standout was the “can’t miss” prospect of the ’04 draft. The Raiders expected him to anchor their offensive line for the next decade. Instead, Gallery bounced from position to position along the line, struggling everywhere along the way. He’s now a serviceable member of the line, but the Raiders didn’t spend the number two overall pick on him to be solid—they were counting on him becoming a perennial Pro Bowler.

Notable players the Raiders passed on: Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Sean Taylor, Ben Roethlisberger and Steven Jackson.

20/20 Hindsight: The transition out of the Rich Gannon era could’ve been smoother with Rivers or Roethlisberger wearing the silver and black, at least as Kerry Collins’ backup.

2005: Fabian Washington, 23rd overall selection
After three seasons, the cornerback was traded to Baltimore for a fourth-round pick in the ’08 draft. Needless to say, he wasn’t the second-coming of Asomugha.

Notable players the Raiders passed on: Aaron Rodgers, Jason Campbell and Roddy White.

20/20 Hindsight: White would’ve given that young QB (that they should’ve taken in 2004) the receiving threat the Raiders needed after the departures of legends Jerry Rice and Tim Brown.

2006: Michael Huff, 7th overall selection
Another defensive back, Huff came out of the University of Texas as a heralded safety. However, he’s struggled to find his niche in the Raiders’ secondary, and lost his starting spot earlier this year. Notable players the Raiders passed on: Jay Cutler, Antonio Cromartie, Joseph Addai and Mathias Kiwanuka.

20/20 Hindsight: Right area of the field, wrong position. They should’ve grabbed the corner Cromartie to pair with Asomugha. This would’ve helped them avoid this season’s DeAngelo Hall debacle, too.

2007: Jamarcus Russell, 1st overall selection
No single player will determine the future of the Raiders more than Russell. The strong-armed quarterback from LSU essentially trashed his rookie season with a lengthy holdout. This year, as the full-time starter, his numbers are not pretty. Neither is the Raiders’ record. With rookie quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco having success in the league this season, Russell is under a lot of scrutiny for his poor passing performances. Russell needs to show improvement down the stretch. Otherwise, the organization heads into the offseason with a big question mark at the marquee position.

Notable players the Raiders passed on: Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson and Brady Quinn.

20/20 Hindsight: Since they (using my hypothetical hindsight) didn’t take Gallery in ’04, they can get that O-line anchor from a fellow Big Ten alum in the form of Joe Thomas.

2008: Darren McFadden, 4th overall selection
Rookie running backs have run wild this year in the NFL. Chris Johnson of the Titans, Matt Forte of the Bears and Steve Slaton of the Texans are all currently among the top 12 rushers in the league. Jonathan Stewart of the Panthers and Kevin Smith of the Lions have combined for 11 rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, McFadden, the first running back selected in the draft has been plagued by injuries, limiting him to just 70 attempts. If he is active the rest of the season, he may give the Raiders fans something to cheer for.

20/20 Hindsight: Stick with this pick. Hope the health is a one-year issue. When he’s played, McFadden has been effective. His yards per carry is a very impressive 5.1.

Unfortunately, the Raiders made the picks they made. And their free agent signings during this time period have actually been worse. See: Rhodes, Dominic; Hall, DeAngelo; and Walker, Javon; to name a few.

There’s a lot of fixing to do with the Raiders and it starts at the very top with the talent evaluation/hiring issues that have plagued Al Davis. Until he changes and puts some stock in a knowledgeable general manager, the ugly draft results won’t likely change either. And that translates to the miserable football being played in Oakland these days.

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The Game, 2008 Edition

How big is the annual meeting between Michigan and Ohio State? Well, it’s know simply as “The Game.” And, in 2000, ESPN dubbed it the greatest rivalry in North American sports.

The past few years have added to the rivalry, especially the 2006 game when undefeated #1 Ohio State met undefeated #2 Michigan for a chance to play for the BCS championship. But the Buckeyes have clearly had the upper hand since Jim Tressel took over as their head coach in 2001. Tressel has lost just once against Michigan.

This year? Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez makes his debut in the rivalry, and the forecast is gloomy, to say the least. At 3-8, Michigan has already secured the record for most losses in the school’s history. With a sub-.500 record, they’ve already snapped the streak of 33 consecutive bowl appearances.

All that remains is Ohio State.

As poor as Michigan has played, this is the ultimate chance for revenge. The Buckeyes win at least a share of the Big Ten title with a victory, and could still earn a trip to the Rose Bowl. A loss versus Michigan would end their hopes of playing in any of the BCS bowls.

For the Wolverines, this is a daunting task and a huge opportunity. Forget the disappointment of this season. The seniors on this Michigan squad are in danger of graduating having never beaten the Buckeyes. That’s not a legacy they want to leave behind.

For Rodriguez, a win would do wonders to ease the mounting pressure bearing down on him after one year at the helm. Even the most patient Wolverine fan is having trouble holding back now. I thought my modest preseason projection of six wins was palatable. Yet heading into the finale, they have achieved merely half that win total, and Rodriguez is receiving the brunt of the blame.

By setting the bar low with their performance this year, Michigan is in good position to show improvement in 2009. But Michigan fans want more than improvement. They expect to be in competition for the Big Ten title year in and year out, and they expect to be a national title contender. Clearly the team is far from that as it is presently constructed.

Until they re-establish that consistency, there’s only one way Rodriguez and the Wolverines can ease the pain of the maize and blue faithful: beat the Buckeyes.

Ohio State is beatable. They’ve suffered defeats at the hands of USC and Penn State already this season. They also start a freshman quarterback, Terrell Pryor, who will certainly be in the spotlight on Saturday afternoon. Pryor spurned Michigan and Rodriguez’ recruiting efforts, choosing to sign on at archrival Ohio State instead. Pryor will have the home crowd behind him for this year’s game, but he’s sure to be under attack from the Wolverines defense.

No one expects Michigan to win this game. Many think it won’t even be close. But rivalry games are different. Win or lose, this is Michigan’s last game of the year. Essentially, this is their bowl game. If Rodriguez can’t get his team fired up to play well in this one, it’s going to be a long offseason in Ann Arbor.

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My writing featured on

OK, so the headline is a bit misleading. “Featured” is a bit of an exaggeration. But my thoughts on the Raiders’ inability to score were included in a post on ESPN’s AFC West blog, which is operated by Bill Williamson.

Read the entire blog post including my paragraph here.

It’s my writing’s first appearance on It’s my dream that it won’t be the last. We’ll see…

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