Acid Test

Earlier this season I wrote off the Browns and decided to keep my Sundays to myself.  Two weeks ago, however, the Browns limped in to New Orleans with a 1-5 record and somehow came out with an impressive win over the defending Super Bowl champions.  They did it by forcing turnovers, scoring on defense, pounding the ball on the ground, and pulling just about every play imaginable out of the playbook.  The unexpected win has encouraged some Browns fans — who are desperate for good news — to believe that the team has turned a corner.

I saw a bit of the win over the Saints, and the Browns played well, but one game does not a season make.  The Browns had a bye last week, and the banged-up team has had a chance to heal.  This week they have a tough game, at home, against the 6-1 New England Patriots.  If the Browns want to make a statement about where the franchise is headed, this is the week to do it.

If the Browns hope to beat the Patriots, the defense will have to play like it did against the Saints.  It will have to force turnovers and confuse Tom Brady.  It isn’t clear whether Seneca Wallace or Colt McCoy will start at quarterback, but the real key to the Browns offense will be the offensive line and big back Peyton Hillis.  If the line can get a push and Hillis can successfully pound away at the Patriots defense, keeping the Patriots offense off the field, that will be more than half the battle.  Against the Saints the Browns were able to grind away on the ground, racking up crucial first downs and milking the clock.

This week will be an acid test for the Browns.  Was the win against the Saints a fluke?  Or, was it the start of a turnaround?

The Big Ten, With November To Go

I’m sitting watching the Michigan-Illinois game at the Big House.  It’s halftime — and the score is 31-31!  Huh?  Is this really the Big Ten?

The Big Ten is very interesting this year for a lot of reasons.  Four teams are tied for the lead with one loss — Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State.  Traditional powerhouses like Michigan and Penn State are struggling.  And the days of bruising 10-7 battles seem to be long gone.  If anything, some Big Ten teams seem to be defensively challenged.  (I’m looking at you, Michigan, Indiana, and Minnesota!)

Which team has the best chance to win the championship?  Michigan State, which got pounded by Iowa last weekend, probably has the easiest road to the championship.  The Spartans are crushing Minnesota today and have Purdue at home in two weeks before they must travel to Penn State for the last game of the season.  Iowa, on the other hand, probably has the toughest schedule left.  They are, surprisingly, locked in a tough game with Indiana today, play at Northwestern next week, and then have Ohio State at home before ending at hapless Minnesota.  Ohio State also has a rugged schedule, playing Penn State next week, then traveling to Iowa, then ending with Michigan in a throw-out-the-records rivalry game.

I was impressed by Wisconsin in their win over the Buckeyes.  Although they are struggling a bit in their game at Purdue today, I think Wisconsin is the odds-on favorite to win the conference championship.  They have beaten Ohio State and Iowa head-to-head, and if they get by Purdue today they have Indiana, Michigan, and Northwestern left. Wisconsin should be favored in all of those games.

The Big Ten has changed a lot since the days of Woody and Bo.

Lame Ducks

On November 15 Congress will reconvene for a “lame duck” session to try to complete unfinished business before the end of the term.  This year, the lame duck session is especially lame, with dozens of Members of the House of Representatives and several Senators booted out by their disaffected constituents.  This article summarizes some of the issues confronting the lame duck Congress — and when you look at the list you begin to understand, perhaps, why voters were so frustrated.

For example, this Congress has not passed any spending bill to specifically authorize expenditures by the various agencies of the federal government.  In order to prevent a general government shutdown, they will need to enact some kind of omnibus, catch-all spending bill.  As we all know from the “stimulus” legislation and “health care reform” legislation passed earlier by this Congress, the bigger the bill, the more opportunity there is for Members of Congress to insert spending for pet projects or political cronies.  This Congress’ failure to deal with spending in the proper way, by debating specific bills in an orderly fashion and allowing opportunities for amendments, has helped to crystallize the sense of rampant corruption and backroom deal-cutting that, I think, contributed so mightily to the electorate’s “throw the bums out” mentality earlier this week.  Will the lame ducks be able to resist one last opportunity to insert a sweetheart deal in some unreviewed provision of a sprawling bill that undoubtedly will be rushed to the floor and considered without an opportunity for amendment?

Other issues also are looming.  Should the Bush-era tax cuts be extended, and if so, how?   Should the impending cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors be avoided or modified?  Should unemployment compensation benefits be extended again, and if so for how long?  Should a $250 check be sent to all Social Security recipients?  (The latter proposal, if adopted, will simply confirm the complete spending irresponsibility of this failed Congress.)  Or will the lame ducks decide to do as little as possible, and concentrate instead on a higher priority — finding out how to keep some kind of job in Washington before their terms expire?