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Fischer’s Friday Five

It was a very interesting week in the news, as it seemed ABC was controlling what we were following this week, in what seemed like an obvious ploy to plug some upcoming DVD releases of cancelled shows. First, thousands of birds mysteriously drop to their death (Flash Forward), then the Mega Millions jackpot has all-too-familiar numbers (Lost) and then that homeless guy with the big voice shockingly gets a job (According to Jim).  Don’t be surprised if in the upcoming weeks we find out that there’s Life on Mars or there’s a YouTube video of another homeless man pushing around a shopping cart with nothing but daisies in it.

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Conference Championship Predictions

I’m not sure which I feel more foolish about from my picks blog from last week.  Should it be my heavy belief in the Cowboys to go on the road and win in the playoffs?  Or should it be my strong statement towards the Jets not having any chance whatsoever against the Chargers?  It’s a toss-up, but I am going to call it a tie, and claim double stupidity on myself.

For what seems like the umpteenth year in a row, we have been duped by Norv Turner and Wade Phillips.  (By the way, how have we accepted “umpteenth” as an actual number, it implies something between 13th and 19th, yet it could mean 6 and no one would question that).  But why is it that anytime Turner and Phillips’ teams show any promise, we start talking their Super Bowl chances and forget that they are Norv and Wade?  Actually, little known facts about their real names, Norv is short for Norval and Wade is short for Harold.  So why do we keep letting Norval and Harold back into our lives?  Even Tina Turner eventually wised up to Ike.

So this is it for me, I’m wising up to them, and declaring this the final year that I will have ever supported them in a big game situation.  In fact, I’m adding them to the “You’re Dead To Me” list, which also includes, Steve Slaton, Javon Walker, Chad Tracy, Michigan St. basketball, Nip/Tuck, anything involving Shia LeBouf, Checkers fast food, the elevators at Tropicana in Atlantic City and single ply toilet paper.

Looking back at my breakdown last week of the 16 best possible matchups for the Super Bowl, I should have gone with my heart and picked the Jets and Vikings to go along with my correct picks of the Colts and Saints.  Here’s where I had the remaining four possibilities out of the 16…

1) Colts vs. Vikings – Manning/Favre winner takes all (plus we’d get a Peyton Manning/Bernard Berrian re-match, and thankfully without having to endure Rex Grossman for four quarters

2) Jets vs. Saints – I’m easy to please, #1 defense vs. #1 offense

5) Jets vs. Vikings – since we won’t be treated to Favre/Packers III, I’d settle for Favre/Jets I

6) Colts vs. Saints – this could be higher, but I have this weird feeling with all the mid-season hype that this game would be a boring letdown in the neighborhood of 23-10

And the other two in the top 6, were #3 Colts/Cardinals (which is basically same matchup as Colts/Saints), and #4 Chargers/Saints (for the Brees vs. Rivers showdown, but that really should have taken a backseat to Favre vs. Jets).  What does it all mean?  That no matter the outcomes this weekend, we should have a great Super Bowl matchup regardless of the two teams.

That being said, here’s how this weekend will play out…

NEW YORK JETS at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
I must again apologize to Jets fans, because unless Broadway Joe can put down the booze for a few weeks, there’s no way I can enjoy a Super Bowl started by a rookie QB who statistically ranks somewhere between James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues and the backup QB who was replaced as the starter by Scott Bakula in Necessary Roughness (“blow the whistle, blow the whistle!”).

I was wrong last week when I said they really had no chance, that Shonn Greene wouldn’t matter (132 yards, TD), that Darrelle Revis wouldn’t matter (had an interception and shut down Nate Kaeding in kick coverage, wait, that wasn’t him), and that Malcolm Floyd and Legadu Naanee would have big games (combined 3 catches for 30 yards).  But I won’t be wrong two weeks in a row.

The Colts will have to accept the fact that Jets are using Madden cheat codes to prevent the opposing kicker from making field goals (kickers are 0 for 5 so far in the playoffs against the Jets), so that neutralizes Matt Stover.  Even if Revis can shut down Reggie Wayne, who’s going to shut down Clark, who moves all over the field, more so than any other tight end?  Jets D gave up 8 catches for 93 yards to Antonio Gates last week and it could have been greater numbers if not for a couple of drops.  Plus there’s always the possibility that the Colts bring back Marvin Harrison to re-enact the opening scene to The Last Boy Scout. (too soon?  But in case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, go to the 3-minute mark of this clip – although how was there no flag thrown on the play?).

The NFL and America, and probably just about every single person outside of the tri-state area wants to see Manning and the Colts in the Super Bowl, especially since it would be up against another potent offense and elite QB in either Brees or Favre.  Mark Sanchez and his 12 completions for 100 yards are not exciting football, even if Shonn Greene and Thomas Jones rush for 200 yards combined.  The Colts D did a great job of containing Ray Rice and Willis McGahee last week and should be able to duplicate that effort and hopefully force the Jets to air it out.  In his 17 career starts, Sanchez has completed more than 18 passes in a game ONCE.  In comparison, not counting the Colts last two games of the regular season (since the Colts themselves didn’t count them), Manning, in his 15 other starts, has thrown for less than 20 completions in a game ONCE.  I don’t think this will be a high-scoring aerial assault by the Colts, but it won’t be a Jets 29-15 win like last month.

PREDICTION
Jets – 15
Colts – 29

MINNESOTA VIKINGS at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
From the Metrodome to the Superdome, to the Thunderdome!!  Nevermind, just the Superdome.  Two teams who love the turf playing for the chance to hit the Miami surf.  I will stop the rhyming right there, because who wins this game is all you care.  Perhaps I can’t stop like Brett Favre can’t quit his career, by the way did you see him smack Jared Allen’s rear?  I will watch this game on FOX, and for breakfast I will eat bagels and lox.

Ok, let’s be serious, this is for the right to battle Manning in the Super Bowl and have a great QB battle, possibly the best matchup of Super Bowl quarterbacks since Trent Dilfer and Kerry Collins squared off nine years ago.

Actually there’s been a lot of talk this past week about “greatest QB of all-time” with both Manning and Favre in the discussion.  Both are arguably at or near the top, but for the sake of more arguments, here’s my take on the best ever (and since I was born in 1979 and never really watched a game prior to 1985, I’ve modernized the list.  So any QB prior to that time has no bearing on my opinion).

TOP 5 GREATEST QUARTERBACKS (of the Modern Jarrett Fischer era)

Joe Montana – some of my first memories of football involve Montana, including him getting concussed against my Giants in the ‘87 playoffs, but also how poised and confident he always appeared. Yes it helps to have Jerry Rice, but you just knew you were always going to watch something special with “Comeback Joe”.  Plus, his career gave birth to Joe Montana’s Sports Talk Football for the Sega Genesis.

Peyton Manning – basically the modern-day Montana.  He’s never afraid to take control of a game or lead his team back from any deficit.  Sees the game better than any QB I can remember.  Even when you play against video Manning in the Madden franchise, the computer has him constantly calling audibles and changing the play at the line of scrimmage.  No other video QB gets that respect.

Brett Favre – there’s a lot to be said for longevity, especially given his position.  I still don’t know if his streak or Cal Ripken’s is more impressive, but what he has done this season at the age of 40, if it’s not “performance-enhanced,” is truly remarkable and just a testament to his legacy.  He could be number one all-time, but I’ve never been a big fan of his, with all the back and forth retirement talk and his obnoxious attitude towards the game (last week’s garbage TD is a prime example), but there’s no doubting his mark he’s left on the position and the game.

Tom Brady – marrying Giselle Bunchden will get you on the list for sure.  He undoubtedly had an incredible start to his career with the 3 Super Bowl wins in his first six seasons, and then leading the Patriots to the perfect regular season two years ago.  But I think he’s in danger of losing his grip on the all-time list.  The inability to finish off the Giants in the Super Bowl (woo hoo!), the season-ending injury in 2008 and the mediocre 2009 by his standards can start to tarnish his reputation.  I think when his career is over, we’ll look back and consider him the Ken Griffey Jr. of football – an absolute beast in the beginning of his career, someone you feared constantly when he went up against your team, and then kind of faded into the shadows in the second half of his career and you spent more time talking about what he was, than what he is.

Dan Marino – easily would have been #1 on the list if he would have just put those laces out!!!  Or if he won a Super Bowl.  I know it’s a team sport, but it’s hard to say you’re the best at what you’ve done, if you don’t have a championship to show for it.

Next 5 on my list – John Elway, Steve Young, Kurt Warner, Warren Moon and Donovan McNabb (yes, Mcnabb makes my top 10, you try being the leader of a Philadelphia franchise for 10 years, I dare you.)

As for the actual game on Sunday, there’s no denying that both offenses are great.  They rely on their running game to set up the vertical passing game.  And both their defenses are pretty solid, with Minnesota relying heavily on QB pressure, and the Saints attacking the ball and racking up the turnovers.  This will be a loud, physical, and emotionally draining game for both the city of New Orleans and for #4 for Minnesota.  Thankfully for Favre though, it will be significantly warmer than the last time he played in the NFC Championship.  Plus, the Vikings are 10-0 on turf this season.

PREDICTION
Vikings 37
Saints 24

And if I’m wrong about these games, just blame Harold and Norval, it’s always their fault.

Divisonal Round Playoff Predictions

I don’t want to brag, but I consider myself a bit of a Nostradamus.  I mean, look here at how great some of my preseason predictions were…

I’m excited for that Eagles/Pats Super Bowl (assuming they don’t both lose last week…oh, wait, nevermind).  At least my Giants are still in the hunt after their 5-0 start……::crickets::

Well, I guess in the words of current Idol front runner, Justin Williams…”it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life and I’m feeling good,” especially about my picks moving forward.  Plus it helps to only have 8 teams to deal with instead of 32 teams (well I guess 29  since Det

Nostradamus probably had help from Biff's sports almanac

roit, Tampa and St. Louis were operating on the “Easy” level of Madden ’09 this season).

The good thing about the remaining 8 teams is that they’re fairly fresh franchises in regards to the Super Bowl.  Since 1997, only the Ravens, Colts and Cardinals have appeared in the Super Bowl, one time each.  Even overall, there’s not much big game experience amongst the franchises…

FRANCHISE SUPER BOWL RECORDS (with last appearance)
Cowboys 5-3 (1996)
Vikings 0-4 (also known as the “Jim Kelly” – their last appearance Jimmy Carter was more concerned with only one House instead of building houses)
Jets 1-0 (1969 with Joe Namath in pantyhoes)
Chargers 0-1 (1995, although that shouldn’t count because Stan Humphries was their QB)
Cardinals 0-1 (last year)
Saints (never been to SB, but the Superdome has hosted it 6 times, if that means anything)
Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts– each 1-0 (2001 and 2007 respectively*)

* – I am aware that the Baltimore Colts were in two Super Bowls, but I’m not entirely comfortable about giving either current franchise credit for those appearances.  The Baltimore Colts don’t exist so why should we care?  I don’t really care about who Chaz Bono dated when he was a she.  If you relocate, whether it is your team or your privates, your prior “conquests” shouldn’t be counted.

What this all means is that we should have a good and unique Super Bowl matchup regardless of the teams.  Here is my list of best to worst Super Bowl matchups I’m looking forward to…

1) Colts vs. Vikings – Manning/Favre winner takes all (plus we’d get a Peyton Manning/Bernard Berrian re-match, and thankfully without having to endure Rex Grossman for four quarters)

2) Jets vs. Saints – I’m easy to please, #1 defense vs. #1 offense, makes for a good game

3) Colts vs. Cardinals –I just have a feeling this would be an exciting game with both Manning and Warner leading two 4th quarter 2-minute drills EACH!

4) Chargers vs. Saints – Brees gets to go against his old team.  Last (and only) time Brees and Rivers met, it was a 37-32 slugfest with almost 700 yards passing and 6 TD between them

5) Jets vs. Vikings – since we won’t be treated to Favre/Packers III, I’d settle for Favre/Jets I

6) Colts vs. Saints – this could be higher, but I have this weird feeling with all the mid-season hype that this game would be a boring letdown in the neighborhood of 31-13

7) Chargers vs. Vikings – a punishing game on both sides of the ball and possibly Favre’s final game against a team who’d be on a 13-game winning streak entering the Super Bowl

8 ) Chargers vs. Cowboys – probably the hottest teams in each conference; granted they just played a few weeks ago (a very watchable 20-17 Chargers win, but that was before the Cowboys learned how to win in December and in the playoffs).  Plus, Norv Turner vs. Wade Phillips in a Super Bowl, would lead me to believe the Mayans would be two years too late about the world ending in 2012.

9) Colts vs. Cowboys – two weeks of the media trying to compare Romo to Peyton as evenly matched for the game could make for some hilarious television

10 ) Ravens vs. Vikings – too much purple for my taste

11) Jets vs. Cardinals – granted Brett Favre wouldn’t be involved again, but I’m sure the Cards want some revenge for last year’s 56-35 loss

12) Ravens vs. Cowboys – this would probably mirror the 2001 Ravens/Giants Super Bowl, minus Jason Sehorn’s pants falling down

13) Ravens vs. Saints – if the Jets weren’t still a possibility, this defense vs. offense showdown could have been higher on the list

14) Ravens vs. Cardinals – I’ve seen enough National Geographic to know that a raven is more dominant than a cardinal

15) Jets vs. Cowboys – this would probably make for a terrible Super Bowl, but can’t argue against a team from one of the biggest markets (counting New York here and not East Rutherford, NJ) and the richest NFL team

16) Chargers vs. Cardinals – call it east coast bias, but I just don’t want a Super Bowl between two west coast teams being played on the east coast.

—-
DIVISIONAL ROUND PICKS
ARIZONA CARDINALS at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
You have to love the beauty and irony of football.  Cardinals and Packers put up 90 offensive points in regulation, with no sign of either defense showing up, and then it ends on a defensive touchdown on the third play of OT.  Sadly though, it should have been over on the first play had Aaron Rodgers not overthrown Greg Jennings, who was so ridiculously wide open, that I think I might have been the closest defender to him.

Based on the final play of the game though, I think the newspapers and online sports sites missed an opportunity for a great headline…

“Rodgers kicks game winning touchdown!”

…an unfortunate outcome for the Packers, since had Rodgers not kicked that ball right to Karlos Dansby, it would have been reviewed and most likely overturned via tuck rule and the game would have continued.

But nonetheless, the Cardinals move on and God didn’t have to kill any kittens (isn’t that what happens when Kurt Warner loses?), and the game  this week has all the makings of setting the record of most total points scored in a playoff game, breaking the record set LAST WEEK.

A month ago, I would have told you this was a no-brainer.  The Saints dominant offense and their decent enough of a defense led by Darren Sharper would make this a laugher, but something happened in December.  First they lose a home game to the December-challenged Tony Romo/Wade Phillips combo on national TV, then they come back the next week and lose another home game to the 2-12 dysfunctional Bucs.  Which all led to my least-favorite decision of Sean Payton benching all the starters in a Week 17 loss at Carolina.

I don’t really have a proper stance on the whole, benching starters to keep them healthy or get them rested versus playing your starters every week.  There’s a strong and valid case to be made for both sides, however, if you’re the Saints and you just lost back-to-back games AT HOME (where you’ll be playing in the playoffs), shouldn’t you at least consider playing your regular starters Week 17 against a formidable opponent?  Do you really want to take the week off, just to let Mark Brunell prove he’s not a corpse, and go into the playoffs with a three-game losing streak?  In the last 23 seasons, here are the only teams to enter the playoffs with a losing streak as long as the Saints, and the pain they have suffered…

–    2001 Oakland Raiders, 3-game losing streak, lost to Brady and the tuck rule, lost Jon Gruden in the offseason, Al Davis still alive.
–    2000 Minnesota Vikings, 3-game losing streak, lost to Giants 41-0 in conference championship, Denny Green fired next season, then some boating mishaps if you will.
–    1999 Detroit Lions, 4-game losing streak, lost in first round, haven’t been back to the playoffs since, now affectionately call a 4-game losing streak – “the norm”

It just feels as if all the momentum of the 13-0 start is completely gone, plus with the consecutive home losses and Kurt Warner’s 9-3 playoff record (8-1 in non-Super Bowl games), this is shaping up to be a tasty appetizer for this weekend’s game.

One last, possibly meaningless stat, the Saints are 2-6 lifetime in the playoffs, both wins coming by a field goal, while their 6 losses were by an average of 18.3 points.   But I don’t see the Cardinals blowing them out.

PREDICTION
Arizona 30
New Orleans 33

—-
BALTIMORE RAVENS at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

I’m having terrible déjà vu with this one.  I remember being excited to see Ravens/Colts a couple of years ago in the playoffs, only to suffer through a 7 field goal, zero touchdown, 15-6 Colts win.  And that’s the problem when these two teams play, we never know if we’ll get to see the Peyton Manning we really enjoy watching.  His last six contests against the Ravens…

THE GOOD
–    Week 6 last season; 271 yards, 3 TDs
–    2007 Wild Card Round; 249 yards, 4 TDs
–    2005 Week 1; 254 yards, 2 TDs

THE BORING OR BAD
–    Week 11 this season; 299 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs
–    2006 Divisional Round; 170 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs
–    2004 Week 15; 249 yards, 1 TD

The bigger story here is how will the Colts look after resting the past three weeks essentially.  One scary thing of note is that the last, and only three times the Colts and Peyton Manning have gotten a first-round bye, they went out and lost all three of their playoff openers (1999, 2005, 2007).

For the Colts to win, it’s very simple, stop the run.  The Patriots couldn’t do it from the very first play of the game.  The Ravens are going to run the ball, run it again, and run one more time. If they don’t run, they’re going to look for Ray Rice on a delayed screen.  Jim Harbaugh had the same game plan last week as he did last year in the playoffs, when his team ran all over the Dolphins and then all over the Titans.  Then he lost in the AFC Championship when he had to change his game plan to be more pass friendly since the Steelers knew how to protect the run.  That’s what Indy needs to do to advance.  Forget about the offense, you know Manning will bail you out if need be, but force Joe Flacco to put the ball up and actually complete some passes this week.  Sadly, the Ravens won last week and Flacco had only 4 more completions than you or I did.  He made Mark Sanchez look like Joe Namath (sans pantyhose I hope).

For the Ravens to win, they need to hope that the Colts game plan to stop the pass.  Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen and even if their defense remains stout, it’s kind of a moot point against Peyton Manning.  He’s operating on a completely different level this season and deservedly won that 4th MVP award. Although how does Chris Johnson, who rushes for over 2000 yards, helps his team rebound from 0-6 to finish 8-8, not garner a single MVP vote???  And then a few days later Johnson wins the Offensive POY award in a landslide???  Weird voting system.

PREDICTION
Ravens 13
Colts 27

—-
DALLAS COWBOYS at MINNESOTA VIKINGS

While I’m sure Vikings fans and even Brett Favre were hoping for one more shot at officially burying the Green Bay Packers, the rest of America will be treated to a great game here.  Two of the most historic franchises in the NFL, with playmakers on both sides of the ball, should make for a great Sunday afternoon (or morning if you’re on the West Coast).  On one side, you’ve got the hottest team in the NFC who have just beaten up on my preseason Super Bowl pick the past two weeks, and on the other side you have Brett Favre playing out of his mind this season. It’s to the point, where I would not be surprised to hear Jose Canseco come out and say he’s been hanging out in the bathroom with Favre before games as well.  Favre threw only 7 interceptions this season at the age of 40.  That’s insane.  His career low in a season prior to this year was almost twice as many, 13, and that was way back when Adrian Peterson was still in elementary school.  He went from leading the NFL in total interceptions last season, to leading the NFL in lowest interception percentage this season!

But then again, this is a season where Tony Romo/Wade Phillips can win in December, where two teams who started 5-0 and 6-0 missed the playoffs, and Eric Mangini managed to keep his job for another year, so I suppose anything is possible.

I think the scariest part of the Cowboys is they are just now learning how good they can be.  The progression of Romo, emergence of Miles Austin as an every-down threat and the big play ability of Felix Jones, are all big factors in making the Cowboys the team no one wants to play right now.  That’s not to say they don’t have their weaknesses.  Any time the ball is thrown to Roy Williams, there’s only about a 15% chance he will catch it, (60% he drops it, and 25% he’ll tip it directly to a player on the other team).  The defense still is somewhat inexperience in the secondary with second-year players free safety Alan Ball and cornerback Mike Jenkins, who I’m sure had to pay a hefty fine in kangaroo court this week for his idiotic attempt to lateral after an interception.

The Vikings though are going to live and die by number four.  He’s got plenty of weapons to choose from, and apparently an unlimited supply of arm strength, even after throwing over 500 times this season already.  What he does on the field will dictate how the Vikings defense will respond when it’s their turn.  Of slight concern is Peterson’s fumbling issues.  Turnovers win ball games and with both teams playing at a high tempo pace, any shift in the momentum mid-game could be the decisive factor, and in the end, just like I thought two seasons ago in the NFC Championship, I see Brett Favre’s final completion of his career landing in the arms of the opposing team.

PREDICTION
Cowboys 34
Vikings 29

—-
NEW YORK JETS at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Sorry Jets fans, but after the Cowboys game, I’m leaving to go to have dinner at Top Chef runner-up Bryan Voltaggio’s restaurant, and that to me is more exciting than what this game has to offer.  I’m fully aware of the #1 Jets defense, and I’m fully aware that Darrelle Revis vs. Vincent Jackson is going to be a great matchup for both players, but I don’t see Thomas Jones/Shonn Greene being able to save the day again like in Cincinnati.  Plus, Nate Kaeding isn’t going to Shayne Graham any field goals, and it’s unlikely Mark Sanchez will be able to throw the ball 25+ times with successful results.

What I do see, is the Chargers keeping LT at bay and letting Rivers take over this game.  I see a monster game for Antonio Gates, I see Malcolm Floyd and even Legedu Naanee getting involved while Revis neutralizes V-Jax.  Also, little man Darren Sproles should have an impact similar to last year’s playoff run when he racked over 250 yards and 3 TDs in two games.

Can the Jets win?  Sure, they’ve got the defense, the run game and adequate help in the passing game with Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller (sorry Braylon Edwards, you’ve being grouped in the “less than adequate” category).  But right now, you can’t mess with San Diego or Texas or Jack Bauer.  Speaking of which, I’m very excited to see how Jack Bauer handles what will probably be the 8th longest day of his life, more so than this game.

PREDICTION
Jets 10
Chargers 31

BONUS PREDICTION
Jack Bauer 2-hour premiere death count – 8