Solo Adventures in Asia

Last year I dove head-first into my most adventurous trip yet (yes, more adventurous than great white shark diving). For 16 days I backpacked solo through Southeast Asia, hitting up Singapore, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Hanoi, and Halong Bay.

Before you give me too much credit, you should probably ask – why solo and why SE Asia? Well I’m a pretty spontaneous person, often to a fault, so when a dear friend of mine moved back to Singapore I booked the first flight I found for <$1100. Of course I did so without actually figuring out who would be joining me, so partially out of laziness and partially out of a natural inclination for recklessness, I decided to go solo. Thankfully this turned out to be one of my better decisions, despite receiving multiple YouTube links to the "Hostel" trailer (thanks guys!). This is my first post devoid of anything sports-related, so in honor of this momentous occasion I'm writing a classic dheerja.com list of the things I learned on my Eat, Pray, Love trip. Here goes!

1) Everybody loves football
One item in and I’m already talking sports. Shocking right? Anyway, I obviously mean football as in futbol, since the NFL Europe’s utter failure is a clear indicator of its potential success even further across the world. I guess at this point the global reach of European football shouldn’t surprise me, but I watched more EPL than I ever have in my life thanks to a plethora of early morning flights and aimless wandering. The flat screens covering the empty Shanghai airport at 5am, our taxi driver in Bangkok watching the Man City-Man U match on a suspended mini TV, the group of kids playing in the Hanoi park wearing Barcelona jerseys, or the Red Lion pub in Chiang Mai crowded with Chiang Mai FC supporters – football was everywhere. As cliche as it sounds, sports truly is a unifying force for different languages, cultures, and histories, and some of my best conversations with locals started with a simple “who’s your team?”. Of course the highlight was my tuk tuk driver in Chiang Mai, who professed his love for the one and only New York Jets when I told him I’m from New York. Global misery people, global misery.

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watching man city vs. man u in a bangkok taxi and hoping we make it out alive

2) Packing light is definitely worth your probable stench
Sorry for the no-brainer here, but you’d be surprised how many people I saw trying to cram rolling suitcases into hostel lockers or struggle to drag them to a longboat through the sand. One of my greatest accomplishments to date is my packing skills for this trip, and the resulting mobility came in handy while I was hostel-hopping every night. Plus when you’re flying China Eastern Air, not having to check a bag seriously reduces your anxiety level. As for your general cleanliness, Febreze does wonders, but to the guy stuck next to me on the 16 hour flight back to NY – sorry.

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call me mary poppins

3) Thailand is as touristy as it gets, but there’s so much to see beneath the surface
You can travel around Thailand for weeks and not hear a single conversation in Thai. It’s Cancun for Aussies and Europeans, with a huge backpacker scene full of people interested in nothing but reenacting The Hangover II. Even the food is Westernized in the touristy areas – you’ll find great spaghetti and meatballs in Phuket! Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast on Khao San Road in Bangkok and Koh Phi Phi in Phuket. But there were so many smaller moments and mini-adventures that unearthed a truly beautiful culture. Sometimes I stumbled upon them, like when I took a shortcut through an alley in Bangkok and joined a group of locals huddled around a TV watching the Pacquiao fight. Sometimes I sought them out, like when I made friends with a tuk tuk driver in Chiang Mai and had him drop me off at his favorite khao soi stand in the outskirts of the city. All it takes is genuine curiosity and a little sense of adventure!

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adventure! also known as the best way to terrify my mother.

4) Singapore is foodie heaven
Anyone living in NYC is inherently a food snob. Literally every cuisine in the world has a home in the city, and I truly believed New Yorkers had it best…until this trip. Thank you Singapore for shattering my foodie world! Laksa, chili crab, prawn noodles, stingray, chicken rice, nasi goreng, I could go on forever. Whether you’re on the street, in a mall food court, or at a five star restaurant, Singapore offers the best flavors of the best cuisines.

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stingray, prawn noodles, chicken rice – i call this the singapore 15

5) Baby elephants turn me into Agnes from Despicable Me
“IT’S SO FLUFFY!!!!!!!!!!!” My favorite adventure on the trip was (no shocker here) my day at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Elephants are just the best, and I was in total bliss walking through the gorgeous sanctuary in the middle of the mountains surrounded by elephants. If you really want to learn about elephants in their natural habitat, I can’t recommend the Elephant Nature Park enough. Most people end up on tours that put them on elephant rides or show elephants performing tricks, and I quickly learned how harmful that industry is for the animals. The elephants are often tortured and worked to death, and this sanctuary provides a safe haven for injured and orphaned elephants. We fed, bathed, and maniacally hugged the elephants as they roamed the valley, and it was a beautiful experience. Also the two month old baby basically stole my heart.

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pretty surprised i didn’t quit everything and become a professional elephant lover

6) Every American should visit Vietnam
Us Americans are used to hearing about the evil colonizers of Europe. We see the destruction they left behind when we visit countries like South Africa, India, Mexico, and really a good amount of the third world. But it’s not often that we see the devastation our own country delivered. Decades have passed since the end of the Vietnam War, or the “American War” as it’s called in Vietnam. But the lingering effects are jarring to see, whether it’s the schools of children still being born with birth defects via Agent Orange, or the glaringly low population of people from our parents’ generation. As an American it’s eye-opening to see part of your country’s history from the other side. The locals chatted freely with me about the war and the progress Vietnam has made since. Comparing my conversations with young working professionals, who were excited to talk to Americans about the future of the country, to those with older villagers, who were still experiencing damage from the war, exposed a wide spectrum of perspectives. The experience felt personal, yet enlightening, and I only wish I was able to see more of Vietnam.

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hanoi and the countryside

7) The best way to see a city is to walk it
Thanks to a pretty insane itinerary, I had exactly 24 hours to explore Hanoi. Instead of hopping on a tour or cramming my day full of museums, I made an executive decision to spend twelve hours walking and eating my way through the city. One of the best reasons to travel alone is the freedom to do whatever the hell you want, and I took full advantage. Hanoi is such a quirky city, and the people-watching alone made it one of my favorite days of the trip. There’s something about dodging scooters through an intersection, stopping to chat with the woman selling chestnuts on the street, or watching old people do tai chi by the lake that gives you a real view into the everyday life of a city. As tourists we’re often obsessed with visiting attractions and museums, and in doing so we miss out on truly experiencing a culture. I also ended up eating no less than five meals thanks to the sumptuous smells emanating from every corner, so really it was one of the best days of my life. Shout out to the pho stand that set my mouth on fire with its ladles of hot sauce, inspiring pity from all the locals. I’ve met my spice match, well played.

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i see you taunting me bucket of hot sauce

8) Thailand’s sex tourism is jarring yet important to understand
As a female traveling alone, I was pretty apprehensive of my inevitable encounter with Thailand’s sex industry. Safety concerns aside, I wasn’t sure how it would factor into my day-to-day experiences and, frankly, if I’d be able to avoid it. But by the time I reached Bangkok, after Phuket and Chiang Mai, I had already accumulated a pretty wide range of experiences that only began to scratch the surface of a complex sub-culture.
Everything you hear about the craziness of Bangkok – Patpong (red light district), ping pong shows, and offers for more being pushed at you in every direction – is true. It’s jarring not only being constantly surrounded by it, but also realizing how ingrained it is in tourist culture. You see the stereotypical couple of older Western man and young Thai girl everywhere, and the shows, massage parlors, and bars range from tourist attractions for the curious to destinations for travelers with a singular purpose. Bangkok has it all and pushes it in your face at every turn.
I fell in love with Chiang Mai the second I stepped off the plane. It’s a beautiful city with, for lack of a better word, more of a “rural” feel in comparison to cosmopolitan Bangkok. I spent a day walking around the local markets and hopping in and out of tuk-tuks, and while there’s a strong ex-pat and backpacker scene, I didn’t find an area that felt as touristy or contrived as Khao San Road. So when I ventured out in the evening in search of a beer and a Muay Thai match, I was surprised to find myself at the Loi Kroh Boxing Stadium surrounded by “girlie bars”. I quickly realized that while Bangkok has a thriving New York-style scene outside of the tourist areas for locals and young professionals, the heart of Chiang Mai nightlife is its red light district. I stayed for a beer to watch boxing and talk to some of the hostesses who were intrigued by my presence, but I was clearly out of place and left after the match.
As an Indian woman with light brown skin, there was an additional level of complexity to my experience, especially in Phuket. I was mistaken as Thai multiple times, and as a female on my own, I had to assert myself to avoid any seedy intentions. The few uncomfortable moments I had on my entire trip came from this mistaken identity.
In some ways Chiang Mai’s more integrated girlie bars, or Phuket’s backpacker bars with more behind closed doors, felt more shocking than Bangkok’s overt sex tourism. It seemed less of a gimmick and more a part of daily life. But of course Bangkok’s blatant pandering to tourist curiosity is striking when you stop to consider the implications of sex as a tourist attraction. It’s something I can’t even begin to understand completely, especially considering the short amount of time I spent there, but it’s important to think about when you’re giggling at the ping pong show flyer shoved in your face.

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chiang mai’s loi kroh road

9) You make friends from around the world when you travel solo
Contrary to popular belief, traveling solo can really enhance your social life, especially when you’re willing to put up with questionable hostel conditions! Instead of sticking with your group of friends, you end up meeting fellow travelers from around the world. I hung out with a new set of people every day of my trip and it was an absolute blast. Backpacking brings out a friendly and adventurous side in everyone, and I immediately overcame any shyness on my first day, when another girl traveling solo spotted me on the beach and invited me to grab some beers (thanks Janelle!).

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friends!

10) Street food is the best food
Important caveat for this one – I have an awesomely high tolerance for food that probably shouldn’t be eaten, and managed to come home with a perfectly healthy stomach. I take no responsibility for any parasites you accumulate from following my advice. Anyway! Pad thai on the streets of Bangkok at 3am beats a five star restaurant any day. I never paid more than $5 for any meal, and really the best ones cost me about 5 cents. I managed to consume the most delicious three-course meal of khao soi, unidentifiable meat skewers, and mango sticky rice in Chiang Mai for $1. Street food is a staple of Southeast Asia, so close your eyes, pray to the food poisoning gods, and eat that fried cockroach!

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crunch.

11) Southeast Asia is breathtaking
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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maya beach, james bond island, chiang rai, halong bay

Traveling alone through beautiful Southeast Asia was an experience I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. Everyone should travel solo at least once in their lifetime – you learn so much about yourself and in many ways you’re forced to break out of the usual routine and hesitations that prevent you from having a truly new experience. As a woman, it gave me a new sense of confidence and awareness, and I’m already prepping for my next trip.

My advice? Book a flight, pack a backpack, and prepare for some seriously killer food. The rest will figure itself out!

International Basketball Fan For A Day

I’m venturing into unknown territory here. Not only am I writing about something other than football, I’m attempting to do so without a list. It’s weird and I don’t like it, but for the sake of my extensive dheerja.com readership I’ll try to make this bearable.

I went to Turkey in November, you should go too. It’s beautiful and has the most incredible food and people and I’m not going to say anything more because you should just go. Anyway, we happened to go during the NBA lockout, so I immediately started navigating the inter-webs to figure out what basketball game we should go to (shoutout to Google Translate!). I may or may not have done this before booking a hotel, go figure. Unfortunately there weren’t as many lockout-driven NBA players headed overseas as I thought, but we did have the option of seeing…(drumroll please)…Sasha Vujacic! For $10! Sold.

Destination: Galatasaray at home vs. Anadolu Efes, somewhere in the outskirts of Istanbul

We started our journey on Istanbul’s version of the New Jersey Transit. The general lack of hair gel and spray tans left us with a relatively calm ride, except for the whole we-have-no-idea-where-we’re-going-and-can’t-speak-Turkish situation. But fear not, we eventually made it to the arena by following our survival instincts. And by that I mean we found fans! Lots of them!

My first purchase was a home team (Galatasaray) scarf. But before you berate me for jumping on the bandwagon, a practice I consistently denounce, take a look at the riot police. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore. Must blend in.

Walking into the Galatasaray arena was like walking into the Garden for a Knicks game in the 90s…times ten. If the riot police were any indication, Turkish basketball fans are absolutely maniacal, and this game was especially insane for two reasons (it’s just a mini-list!):

  1. Both Galatasaray and Anadolu Efes play in Istanbul and have a relationship scarily reminiscent of the Jets and Giants. (Another reason I bought the Galatasaray scarf!) Anadolu Efes is the top dog of the Turkish Basketball League. They were in first place at the time, and have won the championship 13 times. They play in a gorgeous new dome built only two years ago, and are sponsored by Efes, Turkey’s version of Bud Light. Galatasaray was very much the underdog and their fans had that hunger you only see in people who have never experienced sporting bliss. It’s a dangerous thing, just ask Cubs fans. Or me.
  2. The Turkish Basketball League is genius. It gets me every time I think about how US sports fans have failed to fully latch on to hockey, soccer, or any other fringe sport. Soccer is HUGE in Turkey, total shocker I know. Just like any other European country, soccer is to Turkey as the NFL is to America. Turks live and breathe with their soccer team. So instead of creating brand new franchises and trying to build a fan base from scratch, almost all the Turkish basketball teams are affiliated with a soccer team. Same name, same colors, same chants…same fans. Genius! All the diehard Galatasaray soccer fans are suddenly diehard Galatasaray basketball fans, and when they bring that same level of passion to an indoor arena it’s awesome. Thought I haven’t seen the effects firsthand, I know other European leagues do the same, including FC Barcelona, and I’m sure it’s done wonders there as well.

Back to the fans. Nothing, literally NOTHING, even close to this exists in the US, and we are seriously missing out. I can’t remember the last time I was this pumped for a game, and I had zero vested interest in either teams (except for my scarf!). Our seats were across from the extreme insanity fan section, but you could hear the chanting everywhere that started during pregame warmups. Yes, pregame warmups. That time when every American fan is still in traffic, tailgating outside, or in line for beer. Not these fans…

The first half of the game was pretty awful basketball all around, as expected, but nevertheless entertaining. It was a joy to see Sasha’s glorious locks slowly jogging up and down the court, though sadly there was no Maria in sight. Sasha and Zaza Pachulia were the two recognizable guys from the NBA, and were the best players on the court by a long shot. The lack of skill was pretty brutal, Sasha was the only consistent shooter and Zaza the only rebounder. There were some pretty amusing points of disorganization, when players would frantically look over at the coach mid-play, or when Galatasaray was down ten with four minutes to go and started throwing up airball threes. But the frantic style of play on the court only enhanced the mania in the stands. The lack of effort and controlled skill in the NBA would do nothing for these emotionally-driven fans. They wanted to scream in agony at every missed jumper, charge forward in rage at every bad call, and scare the crap out of an easily spooked opposing team. In an admirable display of devotion, they created a human vuvuzela effect, whistling during EVERY Anadolu possession. The entire game.

At halftime we decided to sneak into the extreme fan section, where I became the lone female in a mass of sweaty bodies standing on the highest piece of structure (or person) they could find. Railings, slabs of concrete, shoulders of strangers – anything that offered prime access for their taunts to reach the court. We jumped up and down with them for the entire second half, screaming gibberish along with their chants. Oh it was fun.

My favorite fans were the 3-4 guys assigned to different parts of the section, charged with leading the crowd. They spent the entire game facing the crowd, conducting the chants and shaking their fists to threaten anyone who wasn’t simultaneously jumping and singing. Intimidating but also awesome.

With two minutes left in the game and Galatasaray down by less then ten, one of the refs made a blatantly wrong out of bounds call. Shit hit the fan. Half the crowd charged forward while the other half threw everything they could find onto the court and the opposing team’s bench. The refs were forced to stop the game and players from both sides started pleading with the crowd to calm down. We thought we were in for a serious brawl until the riot police took over and formed a border around the entire court. And stayed there for the rest of the game.

Final Score: 69-61 Anadolu Efes

It was a disappointing loss but the singing continued as the crowd slowly pushed out of the arena. If you ever find yourself in Turkey or another European country, make time for a basketball game. You’ll come home slightly depressed that you can’t express yourself at an NFL game with the same level of mania, but you’ll get some great chants to scream at your TV!

It’s here.

One. Hour. I’m all jittery and no it’s totally not from that double-shot latte I had this morning. The worst summer in the history of the NFL is finally over and it’s time for some FOOTBALL! (No people, preseason isn’t real football.) I know how agonizing it is for you all to wait so long for my super-accurate predictions every year, but as I’m sure you’ve learned by now – good things come to those who wait (and that I love my cliches…and sidebars in parentheses).

This season promises to continue on the wonderful warpath of parity. There’s a whole mess of favorites, an even larger mess of teams from which we have no idea what to expect, and surprisingly few guaranteed disasters. Even the Bills are looking to prove that a Harvard man can be a viable fantasy quarterback, and maybe War Damn Cam Newton will eagle his way through the toughest schedule in the NFL (insert groan). So without prolonging your wait any longer, here goes the 2011 dheerja.com season predictions!

NFC East: COWBOYS
Ohhhhh boy. Yeah I just did that. Way to start off with a doozy, eh? Well let’s be honest, the Giants are fading into complete insignificance in the shadow of Gang Green. They made zero offseason moves of note and lost entirely too many players to other teams and injury. 2007 might as well be 1969. The Redskins actually don’t seem that bad…wait did you say Rex Grossman? Isn’t he in the UFL by now?! It really boils down to the Eagles and Boys, and if the Miami Heat have taught us anything this year it’s that you can’t call yourselves a Dream Team before you’ve played a single game. The sporting gods do not approve and you will be doomed. DOOMED! But in all seriousness the Eagles have some serious holes on their team and I don’t see Vick lasting past week 10. Oh and didn’t Tony Romo get married this summer? That’s some pretty serious motivation to keep playing into January, nobody likes the ball and chain.

NFC West: CARDINALS
The NFL needs to take a serious look at adopting the EPL’s relegation system. You could make a strong case for kicking all four of these teams out, they’re a goddamn embarrassment! Neither the Niners nor Seahawks have a strong enough team to make up for their giant question mark at QB, and their tough schedules will only result in massacre. I think the Rams are a better team than the Cardinals, and I like Sam Bradford a lot more than unproven Kevin Kolb. But the Rams have a brutal early season schedule, while the Cards are coasting, and in the NFC West that’s pretty much the only thing that matters.

NFC North: PACKERS
The defending champs aren’t going anywhere. They have zero major changes in their roster from last year, and they’re only getting healthier and stronger. They won the Superbowl with a battered team, and their explosive offense and stellar defense will coast them to a division title barring any awful injuries. The Lions are the ultimate trendy “sleeper” pick right now, and I can’t say I don’t love the potential there but it’ll be tough to beat out the Pack. Stafford’s shoulder will single-handedly haunt the city of Detroit until he makes it through a season, and if he does I can see this team nabbing a coveted NFC wild card spot. I don’t think the Bears will surprise us again like last year, and the Vikings just aren’t going anywhere with McNabb. Rebuilding time!

NFC South: FALCONS
As much as I judge the Falcons for trading away everything they had in the draft for Julio Jones, I still really love this team, going three years strong now. If Julio pans out with the way he’s been performing this preseason he’ll be a welcome addition to an already threatening passing game. The Saints will always be in the running under the wonderful Sean Payton, but I think injuries will hold them back just enough to let Atlanta take the division. The Bucs would be my pick for the surprise of the NFC this year, but I think they need one more year to really get there. Carolina won’t be last year’s Carolina, but that’s pretty much the only positive thing we can say.

AFC East: JETS
Finally I’m taking the plunge. I can’t pick the Patriots this year, I just can’t. The Jets are in a position that I love – nobody has aggressively high expectations for us like last year, and we’ve finally settled into the mold of a consistent, solid team. Our offseason was average, especially compared to last year’s upgrades, and I still die a little inside every time I hear Nnamdi’s name, but we made some solid moves to build back weaker areas. The biggest concern here is sheer lack of depth, and any major injuries would completely tank this team. Obviously the Patriots are the favorite for this division, but I think our slightly easier schedule will edge us out over the evil team from the evil state. Oh and you heard it here first – the 2011 Panthers are the one and only Miami Dolphins! (mwauhahaha.)

AFC West: CHARGERS
This team has way too much going for it. Vincent Jackson looks stellar, as does the rest of the passing game, and the defense is solid as always. They’re also in the AFC West which is ALMOST as bad as the NFC West. Almost. The Chiefs could take it again but I think Matt Cassel severely under-performs this year, and last season was most definitely a direct product of a disgustingly easy schedule. The Raiders have somehow managed to make their team worse, but at least all their players have GREAT 40 times! Poor Jason Campbell is going into his second year in Oakland, over/under on how many games til Al Davis the dementor sucks the life out of him? Or how about the over/under on how many games til Denver succumbs to the golden boy and throws Orton to the dogs? No GQ cover for you Kyle.

AFC North: STEELERS
I hate this team. I hate that they stood in the way of our first Superbowl since 1969. I hate that they have an incredible ownership that leads this franchise to Superbowl after Superbowl, spoiling Pittsburgh fans yet again. It’s just impossible to not pick this team that will only improve from last year’s run. The Ravens look spotty this year and I think they lost their best shot at a Superbowl run last season. Both the Bengals and Browns have the potential to surprise us, but it won’t happen this season with an inexperienced Dalton and an annoying Colt McCoy. This is a great division though and will definitely provide some competitive games this year.

AFC South: TITANS
With Peyton out for the season this race will be a close one between the Texans and Titans. Houston is the fan favorite, as always, but the Titans have an incredible offensive line to protect Hasselbeck from his usual injuries. Chris Johnson is signed and ready to roll, and Tennessee has the potential to rival Houston’s explosive offense, whose running game will take a step down without Vonta Leach blocking for Foster.

Get pumped. Get your face on. Game time.

Guess who’s back…back again

Missed me? The feeling’s mutual. Well I’m back and despite the title of this post, I can’t guarantee the revival of my blog will be as epic as this Superbowl commercial. Or as promisingly epic as the Ndamukong Suh-Nick Fairley defensive line. But I will say with absolute certainty that I won’t quit on you in the first half of the AFC Championship game. I won’t leave you sitting in despair, with scenes from the 1969 Superbowl flashing before your eyes as you wonder if that’s the only positive non-memory you’ll ever have of the green and white….and breathe.

Now that I’ve simultaneously praised Detroit twice and had a Jets-related breakdown you must be very confused. Well that makes two of us, but before you hit that back button and return to normalcy, I’ll explain exactly why we pigskin fans have deteriorated into head cases.

This has been the most excruciating NFL offseason of all time. Instead of biding our time over-analyzing free agent signings we were relegated to halfheartedly pursuing replacement candidates for Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays, and hundreds of fantasy football hours. Hockey? Too many games. European soccer? Too much diving. Aussie rules football? Now we’re talking…oh wait we don’t wake up before noon on weekends. I’m sure with an awkward combination of these sports we could reach some level of enjoyment, but nothing would truly replace the presence that red-blooded American football holds in our hearts.

So what exactly have we missed out on since Aaron Rodgers hoisted his championship belt? Let’s take a look.

FEBRUARY
What we should have been doing: If you’re a Packers fan, reveling in the greatest fulfillment as a sports fan. If not, hating everyone that stood in your way. (My children will be allowed to say the f word before they can utter the name of the-football-team-from-the-other-town-in-Pennsylvania)
What we were actually doing: Sticking to the above as any *real* football fan would do and blatantly ignoring all signs pointing to an NFL Armageddon. This was the best season in a long time – why would they kill football?!

MARCH
What we should have been doing: Analyzing the free agent market and furiously telling anyone who will listen (inanimate objects included) why your team needs to add depth at OLB and why shelling out the cash for a veteran is totally worth it. I mean, this is our year right?
What we were actually doing: Stalking Twitter and all media outlets in an attempt to become pseudo legal analysts (Law and Order didn’t air this episode), until BAM. Lockout. What the hell just happened?

APRIL
What we should have been doing: Jumping on the NBA/NHL bandwagon juuuust in time for playoffs. Boo Miami! Yay for hockey being entertaining! Hold on – WHY did we trade away the pillar of our offensive line? To the Twitterverse!
What we were actually doing: That Nelson woman, we like her. We don’t really get it, but she lifted the lockout so yeah, we like her. So…does this mean we’re good? Or should we be auditioning a permanent NBA and NHL team? Crap.

MAY
What we should have been doing: The draft just ended, meaning there’s a whole slew of new players to analyze! Who’s the next Matt Ryan and who’s tanking Leinert-style? Does Atlanta seriously think giving up everything they had for a rookie receiver is the key to a Superbowl? And somehow the Suh-Fairley defensive line is catapulting the Lions into a trendy “sleeper” pick? This season is going to be awesome.
What we were actually doing: Lockout is back and we adopt a full-blown fatalistic mentality. At least our marriages will survive sans fantasy football?

JUNE
What we should have been doing: Enjoying the sun with a little pigskin on the beach. Hey I could totally be the next Danny Woodhead! When does training camp start again? Oh and now we’re 100% on this NBA/NHL bandwagon. Go underdogs, playoffs baby!
What we were actually doing: We’ve lost track but we think there’s a glimmer of hope. Nothing really makes sense anymore. I guess we’ll watch the Women’s World Cup, maybe this soccer thing won’t be so bad. It has to be better than watching Rog and DeMaurice walk across the street every day.

Now it’s July and the most agonizing week is upon us, but we’re oh…so…close. I can already smell the waves of garbage floating over the Meadowlands. I can hear Fireman Ed leading hair gel-ed masses in the most satisfying chant in sports, J-E-T-S! I can see that first kickoff, the ball spinning through the air as we rise in excitement for a brand new season.

Come on boys, don’t let us down.

Pre-Playoff Pondering

Yup, real proud of myself for that alliteration, here’s hoping it distracts you from my general lack of literary talent. So the 2010 NFL regular season is over, and what a season it’s been! Over two months ago I wrote a post about the wackiness of this NFL season, marking the first time since 1970 that a team hasn’t reached 4-0. Thirteen weeks later and it’s indisputable that the greatest fan experience lies in the NFL. All 17 weeks were exhilirating, and even the NFC West couldn’t shove us back from the edge of our seats. Thursdays, Sundays, Mondays…and we wanted MORE. Not buying it? Take a look at these stats (yes I actually calculated these on my own and yes I need a hobby):

  • Teams went 127-129 covering the spread at a meager 49.6%, demolishing us all in pick’em.
  • Out of 256 games, 90 were upsets (winner had the lower record) and 44 were played between teams with the same record. Here I’ll do the math for you – that’s over 50%.
  • 103 games (40%) were decided by less than one touchdown, and 161 games (63%) were decided by less than two touchdowns.
  • Not a single team rested their starters in Week 16, every game mattered.
  • Only two teams (Jets and Eagles) rested their starters in Week 17.

It’s been a damn good season with some damn good football, and pigskin fans everywhere are salivating for the playoffs kickoff tomorrow. So without further ado, my wild card weekend picks:

Colts over Jets – Peyton at home in the playoffs is another level, and the Colts run D has significantly improved. I think resting in Week 17 will end up throwing Sanchez off his game a bit in an offensive shootout where he can’t afford a single misstep. The last time the Jets took a week off they returned to a nasty shutout. I don’t usually quote others in my posts (unless it’s Rex Ryan profanity), but Simmons literally took the words out of my mouth. “The Jets spent the offseason building their roster for this game specifically — if they blow it, they’d be remembered as the biggest collection of frauds and posers in recent New York sports history. And this is a city that has the Mets.” Scared? Petrified.
*Interesting matchup: Colts passing game vs. Jets secondary (Revis/Cromartie/Coleman)

Saints over Hawks – This needs no explanation, it’s a JV-Varsity scrimmage.
*Interesting matchup: Saints running game without Chris Ivory vs. Hawks run D that isn’t awful

Ravens over Chiefs – The Chiefs’ success (7-1) at home is entirely misleading, here are the teams they beat: Chargers, Browns, Niners, Jags, Bills, Cards, Hawks, Broncos, Rams, and Titans. Exactly ONE of those teams has a winning record. Baltimore will demolish them.
*Interesting matchup: #1 running game vs. #4 run D (i.e. Jamaal Charles vs. the formidable Ravens D line)

Packers over Eagles – How pumped are you for this game? This matchup is literally drool-worthy. The Eagles have been highly inconsistent, and the Packers have looked great recently. Vick will be under a lot of pressure, and I can see a meltdown similar to the Vikings game when he had no time in the pocket and threw some pretty awful passes. Rodgers has a great oline in front of him, giving him plenty of time to throw against an inconsistent secondary.
*Interesting matchup: Eagles passing game vs. Woodson and the Packers secondary

Let’s do this – PLAYOFFS BABY!