Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Rob's Fearless 2014 NFL Predictions!!

Well, here we go again. The one sport where I take a little time and actually try to make some preseason picks that, normally, look pretty stupid when we finally get to mid-January.

But, hey, it's all in fun, right?  So, here we go....

NOTE: I went through all 17 weeks and predicted winners of every game to come up with these forecasts...

NFC EAST:

1) Philadelphia (11-5): Just too many weapons offensively, especially with Sproles in the mix. They won't miss Jackson like many think they will, with Sproles available to help McCoy breathe (and leave something in the tank for the postseason). Nick Foles will likely be in the top 5 in passing categories, but, unlike a guy like Matthew Stafford, the stats will mean something.

2) Washington (7-9): It's the porridge season of "just quite not right" for the Redskins as they can't make the playoffs, but don't collapse under the weight of a knee brace. They lose a couple they shouldn't, then go build on this for 2015, if they can hear each other due to the hue and cry for a nickname change, which, IMO, will happen in the next one to two years.

3) New York Giants (6-10): We're a year away, if history is an indication, from another Eli December to February ultimate comeback to lead his team to the promised land, though I think that window has long since closed (and I'm a Giants fan! Wait 'till you see what I do with my Raiders!!). Victor Cruz always has some sort of physical problem. Randle isn't a #1 receiver. Loved the Rashad Jennings pickup, though, much to my chagrin on my Raider side. The defense doesn't wow me, either.

4) Dallas (3-13): Their worst season since Troy Aikman's rookie year. Romo to Bryant won't be enough, Murray won't stay healthy. They'll have to put up Madden '15 type offensive numbers because the defense will just....be....terrible.

NFC NORTH:

1) Green Bay (13-3): Imagine a healthy Aaron Rodgers last year. He's back, Eddie Lacy has had an off-season to improve. Lacy will improve Rodgers, as Rodgers won't have to throw for 350 plus a game for victory. Time of possession, too. They'll miss BJ Raji, but they're okay defensively. I like the Packers.

2) Chicago (10-6): And it could've been better than this, but the Bears, in typical recent Bear fashion, will stink up the joint a time or two when they'll be favored to win. This is ALL predicated on a healthy Jay Cutler. That's all we'll say about that.

3) Detroit (7-9): New coach, same result. Lots of yards for Stafford that mean little; Johnson gets triple teamed, still catches balls, but no running game, and holes in the defense put the Lions in, again, the middle of the pack.

4) Minnesota (7-9): Mike Zimmer is a good coach; very good hire for the Vikings. He'll bring discipline and better defensive performance. Now if they had a decent quarterback to throw to Patterson and Rudolph so that AP didn't think he has to save the day every Sunday....

NFC SOUTH:

1) New Orleans (11-5): Many analysts with much higher profiles than mine, reading their Super Bowl picks, think the Saints go to the Super Bowl if they can ever clinch home-field advantage. I'm not sold on that. But if Drew Brees can develop one more receiver to go with Colston and Graham (that offense has always needed that third option to keep the best of defenses on their toes), the Saints could go to a place like Lambeau in January with a shot to win. Whatever happened to Mark Ingram?

2) Atlanta (8-8): They upset the Saints to start the year, but never find a groove. No big winning or losing streaks, and Matt Ryan and company finish 8-8. Jackson is again, Rodgers may not be the RB answer, and there are big questions defensively. But at least, for the sake of the franchise, they bounce back from '13.

3) Carolina (8-8): I see a SLOW start for Carolina, so much so that some will throw in the towel after Week 8 or 9. But Newton will heal, Kelvin Benjamin will have a monster second half of the season to run away with the Rookie of the Year awards (sorry, Johnny!), and they'll go 6-2, 5-3 down the stretch to get ready for '15. Carolina needs to find an Alfred Morris-type RB in the draft, say goodbye to their current group (save Tolbert, the bruiser). Give Cam a 1,500 yard durable back with that defense, and we're talking Carolina in the mix for home-field advantage instead of 8-8.

4) Tampa Bay (5-11): Little Known Fact: No quarterback named McCown has ever won a Super Bowl. Sorry, Lovie.

NFC WEST:

1) Seattle (10-6): As do most "defensive Super Bowl Champions", the Seahawks return to the pack this year. It's only a hot December that gives them the division crown. So the road to the Super Bowl won't go through the 12th Man this year, and the 2014 Seahawks will have happen to them what happened to the 1986 Bears, 2001 Ravens, and 1976 Steelers. Credit to the 1975 Steelers, though, for bucking this trend. It won't be duplicated this year.

2) San Francisco (10-6): This is being generous to the 49ers. Their defense is falling apart due to needing...defense...attorneys. Harbaugh's ability to keep a disciplined team together is in question (and rightfully so), but that's just what ol' Jim will use, the "us against the world, next man up" mentality to nurse the team through a rough season with key late wins to make the playoffs with the final wild card spot. It's time for Colin Kaepernick to start throwing for 35 touchdowns, though, as Frank Gore's "Best By" date quickly approaches....oh, can't wait to see Marcus Lattimore finally get a chance. I hope he's healthy enough to do so.

3) St. Louis (8-8): Yes, 8-8. Shaun Hill is miles ahead of the plethora of backups the Rams had to play last year. If they can get ANY semblance of a running game so Hill could really use Tavon Austin with the full playbook....and their defense is maybe the best in the league. They'd better keep games in the teens, though. The Rams will be the team you won't see on the big screens at Buffalo Wild Wings unless they play glamour opponents (or you live in St. Louis), because the average fan doesn't go nuts for a 13-10 defensive war. I love those games. I'm in the minority.

4) Arizona (6-10): Washington gone, Dansby gone, age a factor, and Carson Palmer can't possibly play like that two straight years, right?  Or be healthy, right?  Last year had to be a case of everything going right, and they STILL missed the post-season (and I felt bad for them, they played some good ball last year). Fitzgerald and Peterson can't do it alone.

NFC EAST: Philadelphia
NFC NORTH: Green Bay
NFC SOUTH: New Orleans
NFC WEST: Seattle
NFC WILD CARDS: Chicago, San Francisco

AFC EAST:

1) New England (12-4): No one comes close. They sweep the division to win by four games and are a threat, yet again, to reach February 1st. What else can you say? Brady will play like Brady until the one opponent he can't defeat, Father Time, catches up to him. Remember, this is his 15th season, 13th as an active starter.

2) Miami (8-8): The first of two division teams that have decent seasons even with quarterback doubts. Charles Clay emerges as one of the best all-around tight ends this year that people DO know, and the Dolphins are in the wild card mix to the end, joining....

3) Buffalo (8-8): Yes, it's finally the year that Manuel, Spiller, Jackson ALL stay healthy. Decent receiving by committee while Watkins gets going keeps them afloat. It's the defense that will need to improve to allow this .500 record to become a reality. On a side note, for the sake of keeping the Bills in Buffalo, Western New York fans NEED to still be in the playoff chase going into Weeks 16 and 17. I'd hate to see the Buffalo Bills become the Los Angeles Whatevers...

4) New York Jets (5-11): The bubble bursts. Geno is a bust, Vick gets hurt, and by Week 14, the Jets are starting Who Knows What at quarterback. Chris Johnson is spent, Eric Decker wonders what he was thinking during free agency, and there's not much defense, either. Time to clean house.

AFC NORTH:

1) Pittsburgh (10-6): A bounce-back season in a tight, tough division. Roethlisberger and OC Todd Haley finally get along. That counts for half off the offensive success of any team. They finally started the youth movement on defense (a year too late, IMO), and in this division, ten wins can get you the title.

2) Cincinnati (9-7): A tough out at home, but poor road performances and a rough first-place schedule (at New England, at New Orleans....) hurt my baby girl's Bengals. On top of that, you cannot underestimate the loss of both coordinators to head coaching positions. Gruden and Zimmer had more to do with recent success, IMO, than Marvin Lewis did. Having said all that, Dalton and A.J. squeeze the 6th and final playoff spot.

3) Baltimore (7-9): Something's just not right here. The talent is there, but, for whatever reason, the Ravens go much the way of last season, not being able to win the big games that they did late in 2012 to start the Super Bowl run. One reason?  Even though they struggled down the stretch that year, they'd already played well enough to be in the January tournament. That won't be the case this season. The NFL's enigma resides in Baltimore.

4) Cleveland (6-10): Browns fans dying for Johnny Football won't like this final mark. It isn't because Manziel comes in mid-season and goes 4-4. It's because Hoyer does just enough every week to keep America's Post-Curfew Darling on the bench. It's the perfect combination to drive Browns fans crazy: Hoyer does enough, the defense is really the reason they win six, but Pettine can't find it in his heart to pull the trigger. Let the off-season of angst begi....no, wait. Browns fans have Lebron to cheer for again, so they're good into spring. They'll get riled up by Draft Day.  :)

AFC SOUTH:

1) Indianapolis (12-4): When you don't have a quarterback....quick, who else is starting in this division after Andrew Luck?  The Colts have another great season from #12, run through most of the division, but won't be a huge threat come playoff time, even though they'll earn the #1 seed thanks to regular season wins over both Denver and New England. They'll be perceived by some as an overrated top seed.

2) Houston (7-9): There's too much talent on this defense not to have Houston turn it around to an extent. Arian Foster stays healthy, too. But the quarterback position.....oh, boy.....

3) Jacksonville (7-9): My surprise team of 2014, and I didn't even know until I did the game-by-game predictions!  The Jaguars have a favorable schedule, and I think Bortles will see the field and do okay. Not Andrew Luck rookie season okay, but okay. No one will take them seriously, and a few teams, after playing them, will wish they had.

4) Tennessee (6-10): I like Ken Whisenhunt, but what does he have in the cupboard to work with? Jake Locker? Quick: name a healthy wide receiving threat?  One reason why all these teams get to six wins is that they'll beat up on each other. Even the Colts will lose one inside the division.

AFC WEST:

1) Denver (12-4): It won't look like last year; no one romps with such precision as the 2013 edition of the Broncos, but they'll get it done, including an early November win at New England to clinch the #2 seed. Defense improves, slightly (big names aren't the answer, a cohesive unit is), but losing Decker, and now Welker for four games, and having Wes a hit away from the IR makes this run more difficult.

2) Kansas City (10-6): I just can't bet against Andy Reid. Such a consistent coach and with Smith, Charles, Bowe, etc, they'll be good again. Not quite as good as last year, as again I see an NFL with 30 of 32 teams closer to each in parity this year, but good enough for a playoff berth.

3) San Diego (7-9): They return to earth after their late run last year. They should sign Ryan Succop to a minimum deal just to say thank you for helping them get that post-season berth. I expect Mathews to return to his fumble-prone, injury-riddled self, and Danny Woodhead can't do everything....

4) Oakland (1-15): Oh, my Raiders. I normally say "4-12" by default, but not this year. Our best RB is gone, we have no receivers, so Derek Carr has no one to throw to. We didn't draft a Matthews for left tackle, so protection is still a concern. Justin Tuck and Lamaar Woodley....remember when the Raiders got so many retreads and got good years out of them?  One of the reasons Al Davis was successful doing it was he could tell which players still had tread on the tires and which did not. Jim Plunkett struggled with injuries and didn't play for a few years, so, once he was healthy and serving as Dan Pastorini's backup, he was healthy with gas in the tank. Dan breaks his leg, Jim takes the Raiders to the first of two Super Bowl titles. We don't judge those decisions that way any longer. Al didn't do it in his final decade, Mark ain't doing it either.

So maybe a #1 pick can help rebuild the future for my Silver and Black. Because they're on track to get it.

AFC EAST: New England
AFC NORTH: Pittsburgh
AFC SOUTH: Indianapolis
AFC WEST: Denver
AFC WILD CARDS: Kansas City and Cincinnati

PLAYOFFS:

AFC:
WILD CARD: New England over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh over Kansas City
DIVISIONALS: New England over Denver, Pittsburgh over Indianapolis
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: New England over Pittsburgh

NFC:
WILD CARD: San Francisco over Philadelphia, Seattle over Chicago
DIVISIONALS: Green Bay over San Francisco, New Orleans over Seattle
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Green Bay over New Orleans

SUPER BOWL XLIX: Green Bay 31, New England 27

Enjoy the season!!!

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

I'm On Thumbtack--UPDATED: LINK WORKS! :)

No, no, not physically ON a Thumbtack..... :)

It's Thumbtack.com!  A place where those in need of professionals in specialty areas look for help!

If couples are in need of a wedding officiant, or someone is in search of a photographer for some work, I am available!

I just began there last week, so working on building the ol' client base, but in the meantime, to view my page and see if there's something there I can help you, a friend, or colleague with, JUST CLICK HERE!

And thanks!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: Wow!

Way too many superlatives to consider using in a year with such spectacular highs, unfortunate lows and everything between.....

So, how do we go through the year?  If you know me, you know that means a stream of typing consciousness.....so away we go!

1) 25 Years: In January, Bonnie and I determined we would actually celebrate our wedding anniversary this year, being that this was, according to tradition, the Silver Anniversary.  So off we flew to Las Vegas for her second trip, and my first.  Never figured myself to be a "Vegas" guy, and I was right, except......

...I could live in that suite a long time!  Love the lights at night, and nothing about the rest of the nightlife. Menopause: The Musical?  HIGHLY recommend it if you've never seen it.  :)

(The Monte Carlo was our home for four nights, and yes, we stopped by CVS...)

2) The Wait Is Over: After nearly three long years of nothing but seasonal work, my awesome son, Robbie, who turned legal (21) in April, FINALLY found full-time work in late March.  He enjoys his work at Southeast Frozen Foods, where he's known as "Snowball", auditing orders on the night shift, making sure YOU can find your favorite pseudo-half gallon of ice cream or frozen pizza at your local Food Lion or Dollar Tree.  The pay isn't enough to allow him to break out on his own (as is the case for millions of Millennials right now), but IS enough for him to FINALLY begin the road to his dream.

He began training with GXW Wrestling in early November.  He's in the ring twice a week for four hours in the afternoon before heading to work at night, learning to fall (or "bump" as is the industry jargon), how to armdrag, wrist lock, and soon, suplex and more. He's gone through a few trainers as, sadly, his first lost his Dad and had to move home in Maryland to care for his surviving mom, then, he was being schooled by the head trainer of GXW, Johnny Ringo.  Johnny, VERY sadly, passed on December 19th just days before his 57th birthday.  He spent his entire life wrestling, up to the very end, and was excited to start getting Robbie into the deeper things of the squared circle.  But, as of today, Robbie has another wonderful trainer, and I'm sure 2014 will bring him his first match, though it may be late in the year.  It takes a year (or more for some) for trainees to finally become ready.  I'm looking forward to that night!


3) LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION:  It was another year on the stage for Miss Rachel, who turned "Sweet Sixteen" in late February, then dove straight on into "West Side Story". She was in the ensemble, but also captured the role of the "Somewhere Girl", who stood on a very high platform singing the signature song from the classic musical during a wonderfully-choreographed scene from our incredible Drama Director J. Harvey Stone.  She made an impression, being named "Most Improved Actress" in June at the year-end awards for Jaguar Drama 2012-13.

Over the summer, we learned there would be TWO musicals this year, the first being "Disney's Beauty & The Beast".  Rachel hoped to become Mrs. Potts, but her best friend won that part (and deservingly so!  Lainie's performance brought yours truly to tears...) so my baby took on anything Mr. Stone needed her to do, and the cast put on a show for the ages.  What they do in theatre at the high school level now as opposed to what we did in high school 30 years ago?  NO comparison.

In between, Rachel spent her summer with friends, going to cardiac rehab with me, and spending an impressive number of evenings with me at various events doing photography as part of her two-year internship with the Hanover Herald-Progress. She also took an impromptu tour of the campus of Randolph-Macon College over the summer (and REALLY wants to go), and when she actually WAS home, she loved up on Harry J., who turned 10 back on December 12th, practiced piano (8th year with recital in June), spent a week in Virginia Beach with a friend, and starts 2014 Saturday with an audition for the Summer Governor's School for the Dramatic Arts at Radford University.  If she gets it, it'll be exactly 30 years since yours truly did the same thing at then Mary Washington College.




4) ON THE GRIND: Bonnie spent the year, literally, working. Working all day, every day at Virginia Credit Union inside the DMV Building on Broad Street, which meant, yes, she had to deal with the 166,000 people who showed up across the street over the summer for Washington Redskins Training Camp!  When she wasn't working, she went to lots of Tuesday night movies with her work buddy Margaret at BowTie, and read 5,643 books on her Kindle.  Well, maybe I'm exaggerating just a little..... :)

5) DOWN SOUTH: We had three celebrations with our North Carolina family this year, two of which you'd expect to be called such, while one was unorthodox, but the perfect tribute to a pretty incredible guy.

A) I was deeply, deeply honored to be able to participate in the long, long overdue Ordination Service for my brother on March 3rd!  He is now pastoring a wonderful church in the community of Cove City, NC, not far west from his home in New Bern.

B) We returned to Cove City as my niece got married to start our Memorial Day Weekend!  It was the first time the 3 Witham kids were all together in just over 10 years, which was very cool.  And, it meant time with adorable Cora Jane (who came up to see Rachel in Beauty & The Beast in December!), so that's always a plus.

C) But then, in early August, we discovered my Dad had a brain tumor, an offshoot of his brain aneurysm from 29 years earlier. He's been ready to go for years now, and the treatment options both would deeply accelerate his dementia. After watching my Mom age 15 years in 2 months thanks to chemo back in 2002, I wanted no part of that. Our family was in 100 percent agreement to let nature take its course and God would take him when He was ready.

We made four trips to N.C. in two months, the third was the final time we saw him, a few days before he passed away early on the morning of October 2nd at age 81. We returned the next weekend for the funeral, which was filled with celebration, great remembrances, a sermon (mandatory for my Dad!), and an 80 degree fall day FILLED with gnats in the Eastern Carolina air at graveside.  So I now move on parentless, which is a completely new, and very weird, feeling.
(Dad at his final Christmas one year ago...)

So....I guess that leaves me.  :)

Everything changed on April 8th at 1:50pm ET when I awoke from a nap to intense pressure in my chest, and, a few minutes later, pain radiating down both arms down to the elbow.  It was, so I'm told, 70 minutes from the time I called 911 to the time they inserted the stent into the area entering the aorta, which was 100 percent blocked. By 5:30, I was woozy in my hospital room, picking on a turkey sandwich.

Poor Robbie had just started his new job, poor Bonnie had to fly out of work, then had to go to Glen Allen High and get Mr. Stone to help break the news to Rachel, 10 days out from West Side Story.

Here's how amazing medical technology has changed. In 1975, when my Dad had his first heart attack, he was in the hospital 3 1/2 weeks and was prescribed extreme amounts of rest once finally home.

I left the hospital less than 45 hours after my heart attack, stopped by the school to say hi to Rachel, give her two thumbs up, then come home. 16 days later, I began rigorous cardiac rehabilitation. 36 sessions that took me through the summer, and I enjoyed it so much, it helped so much, I returned on my own December 2nd. I need a group session. Why go to the gym when they have all the equipment I need, all the nurses know my history, they can slap a heart monitor on me whenever they want and I bring down the median age of the rehab session by 15 years?  It's the least I can do....

So a BIG THANK YOU to my doctors, all the nurses at Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center Cardiac Rehabilitation (Junior, Ginny, Susan, Suzi, Stephanie, Bonnie, Rita, and I know I'm missing some names!) for your help this year.

OH, and a huge goodbye to 20 pounds, and to soda.  Haven't had one since April 8th.  :)

Otherwise?  2013 was focusing on getting better, as my second blockage is inside the heart at 50 percent, but they didn't stent it (they used to, but realized stents inside the heart are much riskier, so now they'd rather you treat with diet, exercise and meds, so I am.) as well as improving on the diabetes and sleep issues so I can, after many years, hopefully one day in the not-too-distant future be, once again, 100 percent healthy. :)

Other highlights of 2013:

---Walking 5K at the Richmond Heartwalk September 28th through the streets and bridges of Richmond
---Raising nearly $1,000 for the American Heart Association thanks to Rachel and the team she assembled
---Not breaking the cameras at CBS6 when I was interviewed there to promote the HeartWalk

---52 weeks of articles printed in Section B of the Hanover Herald-Progress (yes, I even wrote and filed an article IN my hospital bed the day after my heart attack...)

---Over 5,000 followers on Twitter as we expanded to three feeds: @hanoversports, @henricosports, and @cfieldsports. As of tonight, 1,637 Henrico followers in under 8 months, 573 followers in just 4 months with little push down in Chesterfield.

---HCS Media Network expanding rapidly!  It's officially an LLC, owned by Bonnie (she's the business brains here, not me!), with the Twitter feeds, two live and one developing web sites, a YouTube channel and a growing online radio presence of live events, and TONS of plans for 2014.

---Getting my new moniker, known as "The Hanover Sports Guy".  :)

---All the student-athletes I covered this year around the #RVA.
---All the Athletic Directors from high schools and Randolph-Macon
 College, the University of Richmond, VCU, etc.

---Rachel getting her learner's permit
---Robbie's 49ers almost making the comeback win in Super Bowl XLVII
---Robbie finally seeing his wrestling idol, Sting, LIVE when we went to TNA in Norfolk in August
---Being at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center for building, dedication, and finally, to cover Redskins camp
---Getting to personally thank to head of Bon Secours at an event on May 20th, just six weeks after his people saved my life.
---The super-mini thunderstorm of doom that cost us 13 hours of power on August 10th.
---The best year of high school football coverage on WHAN Radio yet, complete with a new partnership with the sports department at NBC12 (Marc and Matt rock, as does their news director, Frank Jones!)
---Seriously paring down my sports card collection to make room for other things. Funny how priorities change after a little thing like a heart attack....
---My Road Trips to see sports teams...
         1) Atlee softball in state quarterfinal action in Chesapeake
         2) Hanover baseball the same day in the state quarters in Norfolk
         3) American Legion Post 175 in State Tournament play in Williamsburg
         4) September 21st, going to see Sam Rogers' 2nd home game for Virginia Tech against Marshall, then dropping by Charlottesville that night to watch Karlie Suber play volleyball for UVA!
         5) Multiple trips to the Siegel Center, none better than November 23rd as Atlee girls volleyball WON the State Title.
         6) And a Sunday in Stafford to watch Rockville Softball win Babe Ruth state titles (yep, more than one!)

So, we enter 2014 with Rachel acting, Robbie working (and training for wrestling on the holiday tomorrow!), Bonnie resting, and me wishing YOU and YOURS a WONDERFUL New Year!

Enjoy every moment.  You never know when everything will change.  :)


Thursday, September 05, 2013

Rob's Fearless Annual 2013 NFL Predictions!

I sense a rematch....from a long time ago.....

NFC EAST:
1) Washington Redskins: Even if RGIII has a hiccup or two, Kirk Cousins is good enough to start for half the league. If Alfred Morris even approaches his output of last year, the 'Skins will be just fine.

2) Dallas Cowboys: No doubt this is it for Jason Garrett.  Dez Bryant isn't a championship receiver, but he's darn good.  He and Romo will put up numbers. But DeMarco Murray cannot stay healthy and their defense is....eh.  This is a one-team playoff division.  Dallas won't be that team.

3) New York Giants: My G-Men are in for a down season.  They'll miss Osi up front defensively, and it's past time for Eli to have a down year.  He has them, and this will be one.

4) Philadelphia Eagles: Really excited to watch Eagles' offensive lineman's tongues drag on the turf...in the second quarter. Already down Maclin, they are certain to lose Vick at some point, then who runs the cardboard offense, Nick Foles?  No, thanks.

NFC NORTH:
1) Green Bay Packers: This pick is almost by default as the other three teams having talent, but glaring issues. The Packers' issues are more minor.  A good year running by Lacy or Franklin unleashes Rodgers to throw to Nelson, Jones, et al.  Their defense needs to keep opponents under 20 points.  If they can, the Packers make the playoffs with an inflated record.

2) Detroit Lions: One of my sleeper picks. Too much talent on this team for them to pull another clunker season. If they had a legitimate #2 wide receiver, they'd be VERY dangerous.  But they don't.  So triple team Megatron and force Brandon Pettigrew to win games.  That's what I'd do.

3) Minnesota Vikings: No, Adrian Peterson won't run for 2,500 yards.  He may not run for 1,500 yards, as history dictates years after a 2,000 yard season aren't nearly as successful on average.  And I'm not sold still on Christian Ponder. Blair Walsh's leg may win a game or two, flipping the Vikins and Lions final positions in the division.

4) Chicago Bears: The CFL comes to Chicago!  The only problem is, Jay Cutler is still there.  Urlacher's presence is gone (it will prove to be a bigger loss than anyone is speaking of right now). Can you say 6-10?

NFC SOUTH:
1) New Orleans Saints: I just can't see Drew Brees going any longer without winning the division. Plenty of interchangeable parts on offense. In a scary similar scenario as the Packers, their defense much hold opponents to under 20 points.  I'm not as secure in this unit doing this, but I think they'll have enough to hold off...

2) Atlanta Falcons: Last year is as close to the Super Bowl as Matt Ryan will get.  He and Matt Schaub, to me, and two classic quarterbacks in the mold of those I've seen in my lifetime like Dan Pastorini, Neil Lomax, Warren Moon, Bert Jones and Brian Sipe. Very good quarterbacks that simply couldn't get to the Big Game.  Julio and Roddy will score TD's, Stephen Jackson is a big question mark (health). They'll stub their toe a couple of times and get swept by New Orleans, but they'll make the playoffs.

3) Carolina Panthers: Don't you think it's about time Cam Newton reminded everybody who he is and what he does?  Of course, it doesn't seem like the Panthers know what the whole world does, they desperately need a #2 receiver to line up beside 52-year old Steve Smith. If Newton finishes another 6-10 season, you think he'll be itching for his rookie contract to expire?

4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The coaching hire last year is slowly proving to be a disaster. It all falls apart this year.  Doug Martin will get yards, but Josh Freeman won't, and we'll realize once and for all he was really a psuedo-one year wonder. A top five 2014 draft pick is possible here.

NFC WEST: (By the way, the best division in football. Imagine saying that 4 years ago....)
1) San Francisco 49ers: A full season of Kapernick, the addition of Anquan Boldin, which stifles the loss of Michael Crabtree until his return.  Then there's that Vernon Davis guy, and Frank Gore's got about two seasons left in him. LaMichael James brings a nice change of pace. Then there's that Kapernick guy....and the defense is ferocious. One possible achilles heel: why replace one breaking down kicker in David Akers with another aging kicker who could unwind at any moment in Phil Dawson?

2) Seattle Seahawks: I love, love, love Russell Wilson. What character, what a rookie season to end, finally, all the naysayers who have been in his ear since he graduated Collegiate School here in Richmond.  Add Skittles guy in the backfield and a monster defense, and I think by season's end people will be saying, "Wasn't this team supposed to have Percy Harvin?"  The two 49ers/Seahawks games should be the roughest, and best, of the regular season schedule. Move over Steelers/Ravens....

3) St. Louis Rams: In any other division, this team would fight for the title. They're just not good enough offensively to hang with the above two.  Tavon Austin excites me.  And their defense can hang with about anyone.

4) Arizona Cardinals: Bruce Arians steps in hoping to find the magic he had last year when subbing for Chuck Pagano in Indy.  He won't find it.  This franchise is ruining Larry Fitzgerald's career. It's painful to watch run 20-25 routes a game knowing there's no way that ball comes close to him due to bad snaps, bad offensive line play, and, of course, the lack of a quarterback. As a Raiders fan I can testify, Carson Palmer is NOT the answer.  Long season in the desert.

NFC SEEDINGS: 1) Green Bay 2) San Francisco 3) New Orleans 4) Washington 5) Seattle 6) Atlanta

WILD CARDS: Atlanta gets revenge for sweep by Saints in regular season and wins in Big Easy, and in rematch of the game where RGIII went down, Seattle will send him to the offseason a 2nd straight year.

DIVISIONALS: Atlanta goes to Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers tears them apart in a track meet. The Seattle/San Francisco game goes overtime, and the 49ers win.

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: San Francisco 30, Green Bay 27

******************************
AFC EAST:
1) New England Patriots: The winner...by default.  Who in the world else could possibly knock them off? Tom Brady could throw to ME and win the division.  That's all I need to say. :)

2) Buffalo Bills: If this team could stay healthy, they could be interesting. And EJ Manuel will be the best of the rookie QB's, though this season's crop are minor league imposters compared to Luck, RGIII and Wilson.  I hope CJ Spiller can play the full 16. He could get closer to 2,000 yards than AP. Spiller loves breaking off long, long runs.....

3) Miami Dolphins: When I think of Ryan Tannehill, I think of Jay Fiedler, and Chad Pennington, and Daunte Culpepper....and whoever else has played QB there since Marino left in the sprinkler playoff game. I'd add David Woodley for old-schoolers but he at least made a Super Bowl. The closest Tannehill gets is when he plays at the Jets at the site of Super Bowl XLVIII.

4) New York Jets: The collapse, and end, of the Ryan Administration draws near.  And to think, Mark Sanchez made back-to-back AFC Championship games.  Good luck, Geno. Good luck. For 2014, a new coach and a top 3 draft pick will be in order.

AFC NORTH:
1) Cincinnati Bengals: There. I said it. This is their year IF, and only IF Andy Dalton takes the next step forward. Dalton must avoid the inevitable bad interception he's had in critical games the first two years, must throw 27 or more touchdown passes and should become more demonstrative on the field as their general. He has red hair. Let's see some fire.  Mohamed Sanu, if healed 100 percent, will give AJ Green the partner he's always needed. The Law Firm gets help in the backfield.  And the defense added James Harrison.  He's a 3rd down player with an every down presence.

2) Baltimore Ravens: Everyone's raving (pun intended) about the defense in camp.  Better even without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Yes, Elvis Dumervil is there, but I feel like all the Ray Lewis worship I heard in the Super Bowl run last year was smokescreen. It's amazing how dismissive pundits are now of his absence. They're gonna miss both him and Reed. They were the heart and soul of that squad, even if they didn't lead the tackle or interception department.  They instilled fear in opponents who will go to their death bed denying it. The defense will be good, but not Super Bowl good.  That's too bad for Ravens fans because last year it was the offense, not the defense, that won the day in New Orleans. But, Boldin's gone, Pitta's gone, and Dallas Clark is running out of lives. Ray Rice is fine and Joe Flacco is, to me, the poster boy for "one-time Super Bowl champion".  He's got Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson and Steve Young written all over him.

3) Pittsburgh Steelers: This is Big Ben's 10th season. He's breaking down. Who's his running back? Who replaces Mike Wallace?  Will they overwork Heath Miller?  How old is the defense?  See all these questions? For the Steelers, such a consistent team, a 6-10 season is a disaster. Send disaster relief in late December to Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.

4) Cleveland Browns: I hear rumblings about their camp and preseason performances. That's nice. Their starting quarterback is Brandon Weeden and they're guaranteed to lose 5 or 6 division games.  Welcome back to last place.  I love Trent Richardson, though.  He'll single-handedly keep them in some games.

AFC SOUTH:
1) Houston Texans: Andre Johnson gets help in the form of DeAndre Hopkins, so Matt Schaub has two wide receivers to throw to, and somehow he'll still find a way to short circuit this team's run.  It seems the city of Houston itself is just cursed to not be able to reach a Super Bowl.  Had there been TV replay in 1979, the Oilers may have made it. But they never did. Neither will this group of Texans.

2) Indianapolis Colts: I see Andrew Luck equalling 2012, but not more. Overall, I see the Colts around .500, taking a step back from a year which was fueled by emotion, inspired QB play, and surprisingly results from several newbies.  They come back to earth and are an average team this time around.

3) Tennessee Titans: No team in the NFL is spinning its wheels like the Tennessee Titans. Jake Locker is about as good as he'll get. Jared Cook is gone, part of his O-Line protection is gone and Chris Johnson is about gone. Does any Titans wide receiver stay healthy for 16 games?  Why did they ever let Jeff Fisher go....

4) Jacksonville Jaguars: That Clowney kid at South Carolina should learn the road to Jacksonville. He'll be there as the #1 pick in 2014 after the Jags are lucky to win 2 or 3 games.  A healthy Maurice Jones-Drew will ensure those wins.  If he's out again, it actually could be worse.  Justin Blackmon is a lost cause and no one is going to win with the two-headed quarterback monster of Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert.  Not even Jon Gruden's bus could save them.

AFC WEST:
1) Denver Broncos: No-brainer here, though please remember the defense doesn't have Dumervil, Von Miller is out six games and Champ Bailey is out for the opener.  Bailey, Manning and Welker aren't getting any older and they're on their fourth-string center. Another injury there and they'll call out the really large guy sitting in Section 323 to sign a one-year deal. But, with all this, there simply isn't another team in the division with talent enough to beat this crew.

2) Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid will shake things up, and he'll like Kansas City BBQ, too.  Alex Smith got the shaft in San Francisco, and gets to manage an offense with no pressures like he felt on the Bay. Jamaal Charles is a top 5 back, and maybe Dwayne Bowe actually overperforms once in his career. Lots of talent on a defense that seemed to stop playing last year, but, to their defense last year was rough at Arrowhead. Imagine watching a teammate shoot themselves in the stadium parking lot.  Then you're supposed to go in and study film?  I believe the Chiefs will play with new hunger and Reid will be the Reid of 5 straight NFC title games, not the Reid barely holding on in Philly the past few years.

3) San Diego Chargers: We've seen the best of Philip Rivers, which is bad news for Bolts fans. Ryan Mathews still hasn't played a full season, and after Vincent Jackson and an aging Antonio Gates, who catches the ball?  The defense is marginal, and that's being nice.  The top question in San Diego in 2013 will be what is decaying faster, the Charger roster or Qualcomm Stadium?

4) Oakland Raiders: In a dogfight with Jacksonville and the Jets for the #1 pick in next May's draft.  To think, this is the 40th anniversary of my decision to become a Raiders fan.  There won't be much reason to celebrate....

AFC SEEDS: 1) New England, 2) Houston, 3) Denver, 4) Cincinnati, 5) Baltimore, 6) Kansas City

WILD CARDS: Cincinnati takes giant leap forward in franchise history, finally getting a home playoff win, knocking off defending champions. Andy Reid tries everything in the playbook, but it's not enough in Denver.

DIVISIONAL ROUNDS: Cincinnati turns the NFL on its ear as their defense gives Brady fits all day, and Dalton finally plays "that game" Bengals fans have been begging for. Peyton won't throw under ill-advised pick and the Broncos knock off Houston.

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Dalton completes the trifecta by knocking off the legend Peyton Manning, dominated by the Bengals defense, now being recognized by casual fans and pundits alike for being just that good.

SO, SUPER BOWL XLVIII:

San Francisco vs. Cincinnati

I don't think precipitation would make much of a difference for either team, though it would lend to a low-scoring affair.  And if these teams win conference championships on the road in Green Bay and Denver respectively, cold weather's not an issue when they head to Met Life Stadium

But Bengals fans, this is where the train must end.  There's just too much firepower for a franchise that should have made the Super Bowl two years ago and didn't, then should have won a Super Bowl back in February and didn't.  With Jim Harbaugh leading the way, you keep kicking that wall 'til it comes crashing down.

FINAL: San Francisco 30, Cincinnati 21



Thursday, April 04, 2013

30 Years Ago Today: April 4, 1983....



I know I'm behind, missing a key date of March 26th, which I will come back soon and blog about, but I gotta, gotta do this one on time.

April 4, 1983, a nice, warm spring Monday and the first weekday of Spring Break from my sophomore year of high school.  That meant a break from studies, musical rehearsal, and an unexpected chance to watch my boys from Raleigh go for the most unlikely of national championships.

The whole story of the N.C. State run through the ACC Tournament to win it, the only way for them to qualify back then for the NCAA Tournament, then their whole tournament run, is a story unto itself, part of which I've already documented.  But you also need to remember the following:

1) This was Ralph Sampson's senior season at the University of Virginia.  He came in as heralded as any high school player ever when he moved from Harrisonburg High to Charlottesville in the fall of 1979, promptly leading a young UVA squad to an NIT title when it was much more relevant.

Sampson and the Cavs made the Final Four in '81 only to lose to an ACC nemesis, North Carolina, when Al Wood (one of the more forgotten super players in Tar Heel history) poured 39 on them in the national semis.  TRIVIA NOTE: UVA would beat LSU the following Monday afternoon in the last-ever "Third Place Game", which took place at the same time President Reagan was being wheeled into surgery after his assassination attempt.

UVA's surprisingly quick exit to, of all teams, UAB, in the '82 Tournament helped pave the way for UNC to finally get Dean Smith his first title, albeit with some timely help from Freddy Brown and his errant pass of renown...

So, when N.C. State, losers of seven straight to Virginia, not only beat them in the ACC Tournament final, but again in the West Region Final to get to the Final Four ended what became an era of promise turned disappointment in C'Ville.  No skin off my back; I couldn't stand Virginia back then.  I even rooted for Maryland to beat them (and that's saying something, as I can't stand Maryland, either...)

2) North Carolina was the defending national champions!  They lost James Worthy, but returned Perkins and some guy named Jordan, and several others and easily could have gone back-to-back.  Georgia's win over UNC in the East Region Final allowed the Wolfpack to avoid the task of having to do to UNC what they managed to do in March, 1983 to UVA.

3) Duke was a mess in 1983, its third under "Coach K", who back then was just another young coach, and one who heard the calls for his dismissal grow.  The Blue Devils lost in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals that year by 46 points, but, as history would soon show, the freshmen who learned from that beating, Jay Bilas, Johnny Dawkins, et al, would learn quickly, and soon, Duke was back.

4) The first win in the run to the title was against a Wake Forest team with good talent and the same regular season record as the Wolfpack.  Getting by them was no picnic, though we'd beat them 130-89 the week before the ACC Tourney.  Back then it was different come tournament time.  Truly, if you lost, you were done.

SO......

All that to say, the story of the 1983 N.C. State team is made all the more surreal when looking around them in the ACC at everything they overcame, and the teams, all of which once, and some twice, stood in their way.

After an afternoon trip into Beaverdam via a nice walk along Route 715 to shoot hoops with Lyn Buchanan and Brian Luck, I returned home and nervously got ready to watch the game.  A 9pm tip meant a longer wait.

We played an awesome first half, and had we been able to shoot the ball better the first ten minutes, our halftime lead could, could have been more significant than 33-25.

Then what I feared happened; Houston came out strong in the second half, went on a 17-2 run, and had a seven-point lead of their own.  I was just waiting for them to start breaking out the Phi Slamma Jamma track shoes that walked all over Louisville two nights earlier, but, when Houston head coach Guy Lewis (and his trademark towel) saw his big man, Akeem Olajuwon (1983 spelling), grasping for air, coming to the bench for oxygen, he had to start milking the clock.

Fatal mistake.

When he put on the brakes, in spite of Olajuwon needing rest and Drexler having four fouls due to incompetence, they had enough horses to push another three or four minutes, go PSJ on a Wolfpack team with little depth, build the lead, THEN hold on.  Nine minutes, against an N.C. State team that lived by second half comebacks the entire month of March, was TOO long.

You see, N.C. State never got a big lead and milked it to its conclusion during this magical time.  They would hang around, hang around, then seize the moment.  Houston would score just 10 points in the final 9 minutes.  The great Phi Slamma Jamma, held to 10 points in the most important 9 minutes of their basketball lives.

And meanwhile, N.C. State got steals, seniors made shots, and calculated risks of putting Cougars on the free throw line to choke paid off handsomely, setting up the stage for "The Play".

What if Houston had full-court pressed N.C. State with 45 seconds left?  What if Lewis decided to go tit-for-tat and foul N.C. State to assure they'd at least get the ball back to, at worst, try for a tie before the buzzer, or, had a Pack player missed at the charity stripe, escape with the win that 92 percent of America expected them to take.

The Houston Cougars played like overwhelming favorites who didn't know how to act like overwhelming favorites.  That was exactly what the N.C. State doctor ordered.

Not that the Pack didn't almost squander the whole thing.  Go back and watch the final 40 seconds and see bad pass after bad pass after bad pass.  I remember standing up in my room now, no longer on my pull out chair bed on the floor, listening to the game loudly in stereo headphones (back in the days when our CBS TV affiliate's audio could be heard at 87.7 FM) because my folks were long asleep.

I remember these moments, these images, these reactions.....

---The pass into the corner to Thurl Bailey, who had no intention of shooting...
---His baseball pass out to Whittenburg, which almost went horribly awry...
---His desperation shot from 35 feet and me thinking, "overtime".....
---Out of nowhere, there's Lorenzo Charles on my 19 inch black and white television set, grabbing the ball out of the air and slamming it home on Phi Slamma Jamma...
---I froze for about three seconds, watching the clock go from 02, to 01, to 00, wondering:
       ---Did it count?
       ---Did the clock really run out before Houston called a timeout?
---And suddenly, one of the voices of my childhood, longtime ACC analyst Billy Packer, said in my speakers, "THEY WON IT!!!!  ON THE DUNK!!!"

I threw my arms up in the air, watched Jimmy V look for a hug partner, stunned and amazed by what I saw.

The first words out of my mouth (in the most whispered yell I could muster) were, "LORENZO!!! LORENZO!!!"

And then the phone starting ringing.  UT OH.

I ended up fielding two congratulatory calls from great friends, friends who knew how much this meant to me.  I also had to hope and pray their good will gestures wouldn't ruin the night's sleep of my Dad and Stepmom....

In the end, all was well.  I watched the interviews, the nets being cut down, then it was over.

I was in Beaverdam, so no early cable for me, no "flip it to SportsCenter".  You watched the 11pm news that came on late due to the length of the game and waited for the sports segment to see the highlights one more time, all the while jamming loudly to my favorite tunes of the day on my stereo in surreal celebration.

So, while the team that EARNED this most improbable of titles celebrated in Albuquerque, one of their more die-hard fans partied alone in a small bedroom just west of Beaverdam, Virginia deep into the night, knowing these type of things usually only come along once in a lifetime.

I was blessed enough that mine came sorta early, on a high school spring break, and I had the boundless energy of a 15 year old to jump, dance, shout, and celebrate.

And, rolling all this back to present day, I think that's why I'm so apopletic about the latest version of N.C. State basketball, a team without a lot of depth, but with lots of talent and lots of promise.  But they didn't have bedrock senior leadership, they certainly didn't have a mental/emotional genius like Jim Valvano as coach, so, their quiet first game exit in the tournament this year is simply emblematic of the Wolfpack program since Valvano had to leave (and understandably so) as the 80s gave way to the 90s.

Ever since, there's been no magic.  I don't expect a title run as a six-seed every ten years, but I do expect a cohesive program that seems to have short and long-term vision.  They've had neither in Raleigh since Fire and Ice graduated in 1991.....

No regular season titles, no ACC Tournament titles, multitudes of appearances in the "Thursday night play-in game" in March, and just enough Sweet Sixteen appearances (two) to briefly get one's hopes up, only to find them dashed with 12 months.

So, from the perspective of 45-year old Rob Witham looking back on one of the greatest nights in the life of then 15-year old Robbie Witham, I appreciate four weekends in March/April, 1983 even more now than ever, mindful that many people never get to see their beloved team have their "One Shining Moment".

Just ask any Cubs fan under the age of 112.......

P.S.---So it was poetic that, five years to the day later, on another Monday April 4th, I began my first full-time job ever in radio, my career dream, and in Christian radio in my hometown no less, Operations Manager for WDYL-FM/WGGM here in
Richmond.  I love finding the symmetry of life.  You just need to be looking for it.

And for my son to finally begin his first full-time job post high school exactly 25 years later, on this
April 4, 2013.....all I can do is smile.  :)


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

30 Years Ago---March 20, 1983

This was a great Sunday.

It began with one of those special Sunday morning worship services at our church.  The kind where Dad never got around to preaching.

That's not meant as a cut towards my Pop.  :)

Sometimes, a random testimony during the announcements would turn into a testimony session, and as God's Spirit moved in the church, people were truly moved and truly blessed.  That's what we had going on this Lord's Day and I remember it to this day.  My testimony was a thank you to my Dad for all the evenings he spent taking me from Beaverdam to Ashland for play practice at school, waiting on me by going to his second job place, Ukrop's in Ashland, and chewing the fat with employees until it was time to get me.

No big deal, right?

Well, it was, considering he had to turn around and get up at 3:45AM to go to work the next morning.  It makes my trips to take and get Rachel from Glen Allen (a simple 6 mile roundtrip) extremely easy by comparison.

Then it was home to watch N.C. State in the NCAA Tournament Second Round, this time against UNLV, a 28-2 team. As usual, the Wolfpack fell behind, and, as usual, they roared back just at the right time.

Thurl Bailey got a rebound after batting the ball off the backboard to himself, and his put-back gave State a 71-70 win and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Another nailbiter, another win!

And the Road To Albuquerque continues.....

30 Years Ago---March 19, 1983.....

So, the actual game was played on March 18th, but on the west coast, and, thanks to the then-magic of "tape delay", the parts of the game that mattered most.....and that I saw....were show on 3/19.

Now, with THAT technicality out of the way........:)

I went to bed that Friday night knowing N.C. State played its first NCAA Tournament game in Oregon in the West Region against that powerhouse Pepperdine.  I was confident and hopeful to awaken Saturday to hear that they had, again, survived and advanced.

I woke up in the middle of the night instead....about 1:30....

...and since the CBS "tape-delay" broadcast began at 11:30, that meant the game was still on.  So, I get up, turn on my awesome black and white TV, and, much to my surprise and shagrin, we were LOSING.

In what would, of course, become the "State Standard" of this March, the Wolfpack frantically came back, tied the game, sent it to overtime, then forced a second overtime, before FINALLY picking up the 69-67 win.

So, by a little after 2am, I turned off the TV, crawled back into bed, and rested very, very well.  But not until I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.

Up next was a date with 28-2 UNLV on Sunday afternoon.  :)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

30 Years Ago Today---March 13, 1983.....

Alright, Dad, preach well, but preach quick so we get home in time for tip-off!

I hated it when the ACC moved its Tournament final to Sunday afternoon from Saturday night in 1982, but my voice was not listened to.  Happy to report we got home in time to watch N.C. State battle Ralph Sampson and Virginia for the ACC Tournament title.

Virginia was desperate because they had yet to win an ACC Championship with the big man and he was a senior.  N.C. State was more desperate because a loss would end their season. Virginia would make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team with a much better regular season record.

Back and forth we went....the nail biting was excruciating.  But when it was all said and done, I can still remember Thurl Bailey filling my black and white TV screen with a huge smile, as the Wolfpack celebrated on the floor of the old Omni in Atlanta, with an 81-78 win over the Cavaliers!!

One of my all-time favorite teachers, Mrs. Sharon Adams, called my house long distance from Richmond to congratulate me on my team's accomplishment.  I'll never forget that.  :)

Later on, they announced the 52-team field for the NCAA Tournament. CBS was only in its second year covering the tourney, and the year before had premiered a 30-minute program late on Sunday afternoon to announce the tournament field.  Back then, they had no cameras at college sites to "get the reaction of a team" when they see if/where they will begin their March Madness journey.  Heck, the term March Madness had just started to catch on (Musburger should have copyrighted that immediately....). It was Brent and Billy Packer in a studio talking about the upcoming event, maybe a coach or two interviewed.

I went to church and later found out State was going to the West Region as the #6 seed and would play Pepperdine in the first round on Friday night.  Late Friday night.

Until then, I savored the Tournament championship, headed to bed to ready myself for another week of school and play practice, patiently awaiting Friday night.  Late Friday night.

I hadn't been this happy about a sporting event since my Oakland Raiders won Super Bowl XV on January 25, 1981.....I had no idea what was about to unfold over the next three weekends.