Saturday, January 21, 2006

Steeler superstitions

Story here. This one is the freakiest:

"Now this is going to sound disgusting," said Johnny Schmidt, 31, of New Matamoras in eastern Ohio. And he's right: Besides not eating or going to the bathroom for the entire game "under any circumstances," he leaves the same rub of snuff in his mouth for the entire game.

Without spitting.

He spit during the game when the Steelers lost to the Denver Broncos by one point in 1989. He's not spitting Sunday.

He knows his habit is unhealthy and he has kicked it except for game days. "Right now it's borderline making me sick because I have quit and I don't want to do it any more. But there's no way I'm screwing with it."

If I'm doing my math right Johnny started this when he was 14 years old. Good luck, Johnny.

AFC Championship Game prediction

With two great defenses that shut down the run, I see this eventually turning into Jake vs. Ben. Jake's career postseason stats feature 8 INTs and 6 TDs. (When I adjust these numbers for schedule and weather effects, I get 8 INTs, 0 TDs). I don't expect Jake to reverse that trend tomorrow. Instead, I see a late fourth quarter play where an unblocked Peezy plucks Plummer's beard, Polamalu picks a forced throw, turns upfield, plants a foot in Plummer's chest while breaking a tackle that Ben could've made, and takes it to the house, cementing the victory. Steelers 27, Broncos 13.

Chanting Parrot

It knows what's up.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Best Roethlisburger

Thanks to KM for sending this:

Scramble eggs with sausage and onions and steak-ums. Add American cheese and ketchup and put in a bun.

Anything with Steak-ums sounds good to me. Actually we could call this a Roethlischeesesteak, but we won't be doing that.

Black and Gold and Roethlisburgers

Raise your hand if you wore black and gold to work today. Also, post in comments or send me your recipes for "Roethlis-burgers." I am hungry.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pete Morelli

SI's Pete McEntegart has fun with the poor sap who tried to fix the game for Indy:

A rock was tossed through the living-room window of NFL referee Pete Morelli's home on Sunday, just hours after he incorrectly overruled an interception by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. Strangely, Morelli still insists that it's inconclusive whether the projectile broke the pane.

Link here.

Speaking of SI, my copy this week stars Ben in a blue border; the website has the same cover with Matt Hasselbeck. Are they often printing multiple covers these days? Or did they make this Ben cover just for me?

Crazy fans

Have fun.

And here's more. The more fans a team has, the more of this you get. Note too that all of these people look very happy. So what's not to like about it?

We may not win every AFC Championship game, but we sure go to a lot of them. And we enjoy that a lot, it appears.

So the dust has settled and the glow of Sunday's win has gone away. Reading all the papers, it looks like the rest of the world has grown more and more convinced Denver will cruise in this one. And the Broncos are now favored to win the Super Bowl.

Fine with me. Three more days ...

Magic beards

Joe Bendel reports.

Yeah. I hate shaving too.

No. 1 in NFL clothing sales

So much for being in a small market. That and other misc. stuff in Ed Bouchette's notebook.

Give the Pirates a year or two, and they too will lead the league in clothing sales.

Penguins for sale

Story here from the PG. Someone call Mark Cuban.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Pirates sign some guys

I'm paying attention, just have nothing to say. Guys will make what their service time warrants.

Capping the Steelers-Broncos game, pt 2

Last week I noted that teams do better in their second straight road game than they do in a road game off a home game. The Steelers are now playing their third straight road game. That happens so rarely, I don't know what to make of it. Everyone assumes it's a bad thing--could be. Playing in a second straight one looks like a plus to me. Maybe the third is too much.

What I do know for sure, though, is that a home team playing its second straight home game does better than a home team fresh off a road game. I won't bore you with the percentages.

That's the Broncos. So they not only have the home-field advantage, they also have the benefit of the extra week to settle in and improve fortifications.

There's one other angle in play here that I want to mention. The Steelers are a road dog going for a second straight road upset. That rarely happens. The home team wins in about 80% of games with that profile. Teams rarely go on the road and score a second-straight upset victory. A lot of suckers get encouraged by the first upset and think the second is probable. It's not.

The Steelers have something like a one in four chance of winning this, if I look only at the generic profile of the matchup as determined by the two teams' recent history. The Colts game looked much closer to 50-50; the Steelers looked like unusually good road dogs based on the recent play of the two teams. This situation is the opposite. The Steelers have an uphill fight here. Er, upmountain fight.

So I would look for hope in potential mismatches. Are the Broncos missing key players? Are they particularly weak against one of our strengths? That's where I will focus the rest of the week.

Like a lot of Steeler fans, I have the sense that this is a special group of players. And that they are only getting better game to game. Is that enough? We will see.

Heart attack

Literally, this Steeler fan had a heart attack when Bettis fumbled.

You have to love the Steeler fans. They are not the quintessential fan base. Every region has its own way of following their team, and what passes for faith, say, in California or Boston may bear little resemblence to how we do things in Steeler nation. Not everyone around the country or around the world can understand all the crazy things we do and say about our teams.

But there can be no doubt that very few professional sports teams command the respect and attention of their fans the way the Steelers do. Go read O'Neill's explanation of what stopped his heart.

Get well, Terry O'Neill. Maybe some of the players can pay him a visit after practice.

Capping the Steelers-Broncos game, pt 1

The 2005 Broncos played excellent football at home. It's proverbial, I think, not to bet against the Broncos (or the Chiefs) at home. And a little peek at their 2005 home record shows they've more than supported that folk wisdom.

They got the thin air. They got the huge crowds. They got the winning tradition. They got the plush amenities that enfeeble the legs of visiting teams. (Iowa, don't paint the visiting locker room pink: make it plush. Let the enemy overindulge his appetite for comfort before the game. Fire up the mammoth Trojan-Horse-brand hot tub. Stock and unlock the minibars. Spice up the cable television offerings. Even the most grizzled enemy will be a little weak in the legs come game time. And worse for them, they'll be secretly grateful - and soft - for the hospitality.)

The Broncos wined, dined, and laid waste to San Diego, Kansas City, Washington, New England, Philadelphia, the Jets, the Ravens, and the Raiders. This was a much tougher schedule than the one enjoyed by Peyton Manning's team. Note too that the Eagles had not yet self-destructed when they flew to Denver for week 8.

The Broncos won eight and covered six of those home games. They won five and covered four of the first five--and all five of those were like "games of the week." They earned a reputation for squandering big leads, but they finished the home games. So unlike the 2005 Colts, these Broncos have much recent experience playing the Big Game at home. And they did not let down in the others, either, covering two of the three games in which they were favored by two touchdowns. They are as good as it gets at home. Mike Tyson, not Bald Bull.

The Broncos should get four points for home field, not the usual three. And looking at measures like these, the Broncos should lay another point more.

So I think this should be Pittsburgh +5, not Pittsburgh +3. So I would lean Denver ATS for the value. And based on this alone, Denver must have - on paper - something like a 70% chance to win. That is not a prediction at this point. I have other ways of massaging the data. There are more bones to read.

Objectively, the odds are looking to me as about as long as they were against the Colts. Just as many people underestimated the Steelers' chances at Indy, so do many people overestimate their chances at Denver. This is not a 50-50 or 45-55 situation.

Subjectively, I still think the Steelers have yet to put all the parts together and play the game that wants to come out of them. But it's not impressive or noteworthy to say that a lifelong Steeler fan can imagine victory.

So no prediction, but so far the odds look grim and grimmer the more I look.

One last thing: a sidebar on the total. There's no clear pattern on the Denver totals. They went under mostly. Since the Steelers have often gone under on the road (see previous capping posts), I'm leaning toward the under here. But since the total is 41, I doubt there's much value in it as a wager. 20-10 is more likely than 30-20, but even 24-21 would go over. Odds are we'll see a low to average-scoring game.

This means we will see good defense from both teams. There will be plenty of punts. Field position will be as important as it ever is. The defense can regard a red-zone field goal as a small but real victory. Turnovers will cause as much irreparable harm as they ever do. Little mistakes will be magnified. Small leads will be difficult to overcome. Etc. etc. The usual stuff.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Still brain dead

I can't think much. I am making an effort.

The Broncos will be a tougher opponent than the Colts were. I know that for sure. Or, I think I know that. Do I know that? Now I am drawing a blank on the Broncos. Now I keep seeing former Browns on the d-line. Now I recollect that they cheat better than the Colts.

The oddsmakers are no help. They play Solomon on this one, saying "Cut the baby right down the middle": I see visitor +3 and a 41 total, which is like saying "50 heads" in a 100-coin-flip contest. +3 and 41 translates into a 22-19 final score, which is as average as they get.

I have no feel for the next game now. I began to worry, Sunday, that the unfolding victory over the Colts might be a Pyrrhic one. Today I doubt we need to worry about the Steelers being emotionally empty or too physically beat up. Still, the Broncos had a much easier win. Their game was more about the Patriots self-destructing than it was about the Broncos forcing that self-destruction. Denver fans will disagree with me I'm sure.

Bones and I talked last week about who we'd rather play in the AFC Championship, the Patriots or the Broncos, and we agreed we'd rather head to Foxboro to avenge some more.

I also see some things about this game which bode ill for the Steelers. I have to get out the data and confirm these things. You guys have any thoughts on how to handicap this game? No one will be saying the Steelers have no chance to win straight up. But is that chance 50%? or 46%? The Steeler fan in me says yes, the handicapper in me leans no.

More later when my brain comes back on.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Something about a leg in the air

Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press:

Now the top-seeded Colts are out of the NFL playoffs, unless the league decides the clock malfunctioned and the Colts get another few minutes to try to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers - which, the way things unfolded Sunday, is possible.


First, they won it when Troy Polamalu intercepted a Peyton Manning pass with 5 minutes, 26 seconds left, giving Pittsburgh the ball with a 21-10 lead.

But wait. After further review (and, I would guess, some sort of pharmaceutical overdose) referee Pete Morelli said the pass was incomplete.

Joe Posnanski, Kansas City Star:

Referee Pete Morelli, in a move that seemed to surprise even the hometown Colts fans, overturned the interception. His explanation was as baffling as the overturn - something about a leg being up in the air - and Manning quickly drove the Colts to the Pittsburgh 3.

Michael Lev, Orange County Reporter:

Polamalu dove in front of Manning's pass for tight end Bryan Fletcher, caught the ball, then dropped it while getting up and attempting to run. The officials ruled it an interception, which would have given the Steelers the ball with 5:26 left and a 21-10 lead. But Colts coach Tony Dungy challenged the play, and referee Pete Morelli overturned it. Indianapolis drove for a touchdown and made a two-point conversion to trim the deficit to three.

Morelli explained that Polamalu lost the ball with one of his legs "still on the ground. Therefore he did not complete the catch."

Judy Battista, New York Times:

On the Colts' next possession, they got what might have been a game-turning call by officials. It appeared that Polamalu had intercepted a Manning pass at midfield and had then fumbled the ball as he began to run with it.

But officials overturned the call, ruling that the pass was incomplete, even though it appeared Polamalu had taken several steps while in possession.

FWIW. What a crazy game.

Also, Roethlisberger is completely right here:

I think the smart play was to give Jerome the ball and I guarantee if we got the chance 100 times, we’d do it every time.

There's no second-guessing that handoff to Jerome.

Playoff: Steelers at Colts

Game on. Here is a thread for your predictions, comments, and postmortem analysis.

... Tunch and Wolfley note the microphone stands, there every twenty feet in the MNF game, are not on the field. And, coincidentally, the noise level before the game is noticeably lower. Maybe the Indy fans have yet to crank it up. We'll see if noise is the same factor it was previously.

... All hail Heath Miller.

... All hail Randle El! Rout is on.

... These play fakes will win Ben an Oscar. Touchdown!

... 2nd Q ... Three and out for the Colts. Manning not playing well. If he would get off his ass, maybe he could figure something out against this D. Time for more points ... seems like we have not scored in an eternity.

... Verron Haynes carries some Blue for a big third-down conversion. Steelers are smart to get everyone involved.

... Now a great special teams play. Make Manning drive the length of the field.

... This long drive - I'm looking for it - but I don't see it in the Rout Plan. Two-minute warning.

... Oh, here it is. Last page, under Red-Zone Defense: hold Colts to humiliation of chip shot field goal. 14-3 Steelers. Now let's get some points before the end of the half.

... Halftime. Oh, baby. The Colts will have the ball at the start of the second half.

... Nice stop to open the 2nd half. Script says boot, throat time.

... So that was more like a slow squeeze. Six minutes left in the 3Q. I wonder if Jerome is fueled up and ready to let the air out of this game on the Steelers' next possession. In the meantime, let's see if our DBs can't hang onto one of these passes for the pick.

... Wow nice near-safety there. Rowdy Jr. runs some victory laps. Slow down, little man. He doesn't know what's going on; he's sixteen months old. Steelers to take over at the Indy 30. I'd run it non-stop and kick the field goal.

... We're jamming to Bo Diddley's "Bring It To Jerome" for this first and goal commercial break.

... Ingenious fumble-fake! Raise their hopes and dash them. Time to Bring It On Home.

... We so nearly named our boy Jerome. If Rowdy was not such the great name ... maybe the next son can be Jerome. Steelers 21-3. Rout is on again.

... OK, what do we have, sixteen minutes to kill? Time for Steeler football at its best.

... Manning doubles down recklessly; they convert 4th and 2. Nice play. They will need more of that.

... 4th quarter. Oh shit. The 50-yard touchdown. 21-10.

... 4th and inches. Colts self-destruct with that jumping and pointing. No penalty? Bad enough when you have to play Manning, now we have to play the refs too? No matter, I hope.

... So he has it? WTF? The look on Manning's face.

... More 4th and inches. Bussie has it. No. They will measure. Bussie has it. All hail! Steelers are eating the clock, and, we hope, will punch this in five minutes from now.

... Tunch with the nice Wizard of Oz analogy. The witch has tipped the hourglass, the monkeys are flying, and the Colts can only panic.

... So they punt. Colts will have the ball, 11 points down, six minutes plus, at the 20. Steelers need a stop. The Colts can score in a hurry; the Steelers know this I'm sure.

... INTERCEPTION! FUMBLE! Recovered! Red flag coming out? Polamalu WTF? This could be the killer.

... The challenge goes ... just got another Summit Great Northern Porter ... it goes ... booth review must be holding out for larger bribes ... damn ... they give the ball back to the Colts. I was joking about those bribes until they actually overruled that INT call on the field. WTF?

... Touchdown, then they get two points. Now it's a three-point lead. Four plus minutes. It's on the offense. Damn these nailbiters.

... ALL HAIL JOEY PORTER! Oh the sack.

... Bettis fumbles! They recover and run that shit to midfield. Holy shit. The Colts are still alive. Holy Miracle at the Meadowlands.

... The FG ... I T ' S N O G O O D! I T ' S N O G O O D!

... Final score, Steelers more, Colts less. Game over. Hug your momma, hug your papa, kiss your wife, pat the little children on the head. And everyone run some victory laps.

... Well, that went just about exactly as I called it.

... P.S. We'll still name the next boy Jerome.

History of the No-Huddle Offense

Ed Bouchette has it.