Friday, January 31, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII

February 2nd, 2014 6:30pm on Fox

Seattle Seahawks (13-3) vs. Denver Broncos (13-3)

With the conference championships in the books I am 6-4 with my picks. So the good news is I am finally above .500. The bad news is another football season is almost over. But we should have a great game to end the season, both conferences sending the team with the best record to win all the marbles. I hope the weather will not be a part of the story and as of right now it does not look like it will be.

If weather is not a factor the advantage shifts slightly to the Broncos and the sentimental favorite Payton Manning. However, while Manning may not face any weather issues he and the number one offense in the league will face the number one defense. One of the greatest offensive minds will face one of the best cover defenses in the game (yes I do think Richard Sherman is one of the best cover corners in the game). But these are not the only units which will have a say in this game.

The Seahawks’ offense is good. With their defense playing at such a high level, they have not been called on often to be one of the best. The same can be said about the Broncos defense which has benefited from being aligned with the highest scoring offense in the league. I think the matchup of Seahawks offense against Broncos defense will be the key to the game. This is where I give the Seahawks the advantage. I think the Seahawks win their first Super Bowl championship.  I am not giving a score on this one as I am not sure if it will be low scoring or a shootout. Either way it should be fun to watch.

What do you think?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Do Christians Search for Truth?

From time to time I read blog posts and articles written by professed atheists. I find it interesting and at times challenging to see how those who do not believe in any god view life. In reading these posts I find some recurring themes. One in particular has started to bother me. Often I see atheist declare how they are searching for truth. I applaud them for this noble pursuit. But this seems to imply that others are not searching for truth. And while Christians are people of faith, our faith should not keep us from the search for truth.

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13)

A guide is someone who leads you, directs you or gives you advice in how to arrive at a destination. Jesus promised his followers a guide who would direct them to “all truth.” This implies that we are on a journey of sorts where the end result is that we will find truth. Of course this means we need to follow with the idea being that we seek truth and our God via His spirit guides us in our search.

I admit that some who profess faith appear to be brainwashed. No comment as to whether or not appearances are deceiving. But there is a difference between having faith because something is true and believing no matter what. Christian faith should be built on a foundation that starts with the testimony of the Spirit of Truth as to the nature of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:15-18). And while there are things which Christians accept by faith we should do so because we have found the one giving the testimony to be credible.

Real Christians do search for truth. As we find truth we allow it to affect how we live our lives. When atheists say they are searching for truth, followers of Jesus should be able to honestly say, “So do we.”

Friday, January 17, 2014

NFL Conference Championships

I am still holding at .500 for this year’s playoffs. That would be an outstanding baseball batting average but it stinks when talking about football games. I am going to try to run the table in these last three playoff games.

New England Patriots (12-4) vs. Denver Broncos (13-3)

Brady vs. Manning: Yes I am looking forward to this matchup. But I also recognize that this is not the same Brady/Manning matchup of the past. Both men are bringing very different teams with them to this game. Brady brings a team that proved last week that they can run the ball, scoring 43 points without Brady throwing a touchdown. And while Manning carries a large part of the offensive load he has the support of a decent running game as well.

These teams are close in just about every category. I think the team that can best establish its running game will win. I think that team will be the Broncos 45-42.

San Francisco 49ers (12-4) vs. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)

If you like defense this will be the game to watch. These defenses will make it difficult to score. And in a big defensive matchup the crowd noise in Seattle will become a big factor. But there is another factor which will dictate this game. That factor can be described in two words: Marsawn Lynch. If Lynch gets going he will carry his team to the big game. With Lynch carrying the ball I think the Seahawks win 17-10.

I see a Super Bowl matchup of the Broncos vs. the Seahawks. Assuming they can avoid a blizzard the big game should be interesting. What do you think?

Friday, January 10, 2014

NFL Divisional Playoffs

I picked two out of four in the wildcard round of the playoffs: Could have done the same by flipping a coin. At least the games were fun to watch and I expect this weekend’s divisional playoffs to offer more of the same. So let me brush off my coin and tell you what I think of the upcoming games. Now, heads or tails…?

New Orleans Saints (11-5) vs. Seattle Seahawks (13-3) Saturday 4:35pm Fox

The Saints proved they could win on the road with a last second field goal against Philadelphia. What had been a mediocre running game found its legs allowing the Saints to control the clock in a close game. Being outside on a cold day did not give the Saints problems. Will playing in front of Seattle’s 12th man pose a bigger problem?

I do expect the Seahawks’ defense to pose a bigger hurdle than the one faced by the Saints last week. This might be a close low scoring game with turnovers becoming the most important stat. In the end home field advantage will work in Seattle’s favor, the Seahawks winning 17-14.

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) vs. New England Patriots (12-4) Saturday 8:15pm CBS

Andrew Luck was not at his best last weekend. But like an old veteran he put his mistakes behind him, leading his team to a wild comeback win. Hopefully the Colts are not emotionally flat as they head on the road to face the Patriots in what should be a high scoring game.

It is always hard to pick against the Patriots who, no matter what problems face them, tend to find ways to win games. Having an indoor team come to town adds to the long list of reasons why the Patriots should win. But to be honest I cannot tell if New England is a really good team or a team with too many parts missing. I think the Colts will win 45-35.

San Francisco 49ers (12-4) vs. Carolina Panthers (12-4) Sunday 1:05pm Fox

Two good defenses will keep this game a low scoring affair. They also make this game a tough call. Both quarterbacks know how to win games. This should be a fun one to watch, possibly even going into overtime. In the end I think the home team will pull this one out. The Panthers win 17-14.

San Diego Chargers (9-7) vs. Denver Broncos (13-3) Sunday 4:40pm CBS

The Chargers continue to find ways to move forward. They should be able to put some points on the board this Sunday. Whereas the early Sunday game will be about defense, this game will be about offense. In a high scoring show down I have to go with Peyton Manning who will find a way to get it done once again this weekend. I think Manning is on a mission and his Broncos will win 52-35.

We should see another great weekend of football. The good news is we are one step closer to the big game. The bad news is we are one step closer to the big game. These are my picks for this weekend. Who do you think will win?

Friday, January 03, 2014

It’s That Time: The NFL Wildcard Playoffs

It is the first weekend of 2014 and that means NFL playoff action. As I look at this season’s playoff schedule I do not see that one dominant team. In fact this truly seems like a year when any of the playoff teams could win it all. I expect a number of exciting and close games with a few surprises along the way. So let’s buckle up and prepare for a great finish to the 2013 NFL season.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) vs. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) Sat. 4:35pm, NBC

The Chiefs started strong, looking as if they might make a run for the mark held by the ’72 Dolphins. They were 9-0 heading into the bye before struggling through a three game losing streak. Two of those losses were against division their division rivals as the Broncos forced open the door to first place in the division.

The Colts also finished with an 11-5 record, including among their victories a win in K.C. This team is in the playoffs for the second year in a role behind sophomore quarter back Andrew Luck. Luck and his team have proven they can win games. Now they need to show they can take the next step, winning a playoff game. But beating a team twice in one year is not as easy as it sounds. KC has already lost two games to both the Broncos and Chargers. Can the Colts become the third team to beat KC twice this season?

Statistically these teams are very close with the Chiefs having a slight advantage in the running game. However the Chiefs’ head coach has in the past shown a preference for passing. I also doubt the Chiefs will make many adjustments from what they did in their week 16. With the home crowd behind them I think the Colts move on to the divisional championship with a 45-38 win.

New Orleans Saints (11-5) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) Sat. 8:10pm, NBC

Much has been said about the Saints’ record on the road verses their perfect record at home. This playoff game will be outside in the cold on the road which should be a disadvantage for this dome team. Normally I would say this does not matter in the playoffs and that the Saints’ experience will help negate the weather. However, I understand the Saints are trying to change things up in how they are handling their road trip. When I hear of a team changing things up I know the issue has gotten into their heads. Will the Saints be tight, trying to overcome their terrible road record or will they focus on the team on the other side of the ball?

The Eagles learned to win at home and on the road this season. Chip Kelly’s offensive system promised a lot of points scored and they have delivered. The surprise has been the Eagles’ defense. While they have given up a lot of yards the Eagles have not given up a lot of points. This has been a huge bonus for a team which many thought was in the process of rebuilding. Another pleasant surprise has been an offensive line which has remained healthy and has become one of the best in the league.

The Eagles’ offensive line is one of the keys to this game. The Saints will try to pressure Nick Foles who has a few bad tendencies under pressure. The offensive line must keep Foles upright and must open holes for the Eagles’ running game. On the other side the Saints should be able to move the ball but will they be able to close the deal in the red zone? I think the Eagles’ defense makes enough big plays to keep this one close until their offense takes control in the fourth quarter. The Eagles score late to win 24-28.

San Diego Chargers (9-7) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) Sun. 1:05pm, CBS

The Chargers make the playoffs, earning their way with a win in their season finale. This is another warm weather team traveling to a cold weather stadium. The Chargers run the ball well enough to handle a cold weather game. But do they have enough on the defensive side of the ball? Still the Chargers have found ways to win the games they need to and will be able to make this another close game.

The Bengals have also found ways to win games. Their defense has been fairly consistent and I expect them to give up 17 points just under their season average. On offense the Bengals will need to be able to run the ball in the cold weather. I think they will be able to move the ball on the Chargers’ offense and this will be the difference in the game. The Bengals offense will have a good day leading to a 35-17 win.

San Francisco 49ers (12-4) vs. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1) Sun. 4:40pm, Fox

The 49ers have quietly put together a great season. Last year they were one of the final two teams standing coming within one play of winning the Lombardi Trophy. The Niners have been a solid team all season and I do not expect a letdown this weekend. But they are traveling to a colder climate (a running theme this weekend). This definitely is a team which will not have problems with the cold.

Perhaps the biggest story on the Packers’ side of the ball is the return of their starting quarterback who came back from injury to lead the team to a victory in the final game of the regular season. But Rodgers will not be on the defensive side of the ball. This is the area where I have the most questions about the Packers. Can their defense do enough to keep this team in this game? I think the Packers come up short at home. The 49ers move on with a 45-42 win.

The NFL has had trouble getting sellouts for three of these games. That may be a story to watch as the playoffs move forward. Let’s hope what promises to be a very good weekend of football does not become a weekend of local blackouts.

Again, I think the Colts, Eagles, Bengals and 49ers will win this weekend. Who do you think will win?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year’s Day: One of the Planet’s Oldest Holidays (Edited repost)

{Originally posted January 2nd, 2012}

As a child I enjoyed a New Year’s Eve tradition involving Duck Soup. No not the kind you eat. I ended my year every year watching the 1933 movie staring the Marx Brothers. Back then WGN television out of Chicago broadcast the movie as a part of its regular New Year’s Eve schedule. I would watch this movie and a number of other old classics, taking a break as the clock approached 11pm. Then I would turn to one of the national networks to watch the ball drop in Times Square. New York being in a different time zone, the ball would mark the start of the New Year an hour before we celebrated in the Chicago area. To be honest after watching the Times Square celebration our local celebration always seemed a bit anticlimactic.

According to Timessquarenyc.org around a million people visit Times Square on December 31st. Billions more watch around the world as the descent of a Waterford Crystal Ball marks both the end and a new beginning. In just over a century the Times Square celebration has become the evening’s star attraction but the location was not always the place to be on New Year’s Eve. In fact celebrating the start of the New Year started long before Peter Minuite traded $24 worth of beads for Manhattan Island.

Babylonian Akitu Celebrations

Akitu (or Barley) was a Babylonian religious festival celebrated during the vernal equinox in the month of Nisannu (Nisan on the Jewish calendar; March/April on today’s calendar). The date marked the start of the New Year as well as the beginning of the growing season and the sowing of barley. Just over a week long the celebration included a number of rituals mostly geared towards honoring the Babylonian gods. During the festival a sitting king would do a sort of penitence for his sins, or if needed the country would crown a new king. Similar festivals were celebrated by other cultures, usually with heavy religious significance. These celebrations often occurred at the start of spring with a few countries celebrating at the start of fall.

New Year’s on a Solar Calendar

Where most cultures were using calendars based on a lunar year, Rome moved to a solar year sometime around 45BC.  Both calendars were designed to track growing seasons. However, lunar calendars did not accurately reflect the realities of a 365 day year. As a result governments would randomly add and remove months in order to bring their lunar calendars back in sync with the earth. In instating what would be known as the Julian calendar Julius Caesar established a calendar that was a close reflection of the growing seasons. He also established January 1st as the first day of the year.

January was named for the Roman god Janus who was the god of beginnings.  The celebration of New Year’s on the first was done in honor of this god who was said to have two faces, one looking forward and one looking back. While the Julian calendar gave a new anchor for the timing of the New Year’s celebration, it was also off by eleven minutes per year and by the 1500’s was a full ten days off from the natural growing seasons. As a result the Catholic Church set out to establish a new more accurate calendar.

Pope Gregory XIII ordered the use of a new (Gregorian) calendar. Initially the church would look for other days on which to start the year but would eventually settle for continuing the practice of celebrating January 1st.  Perhaps as a way to justify the use of a day that had previously been associated with pagan gods, the church explained this holiday as falling eight days after the Jesus’ birthday. This marked the time when Jesus would have been circumcised according to Jewish Law. (Note: the day of the child’s birth counts as day one of the eight days.)

New Year’s Celebration Comes to New York

By linking the New Year’s celebration with the circumcision of Christ, Christians around the world had reason to celebrate. In New York during the 1800’s this celebration took place outside Lower Manhattan’s Trinity Church. Large crowds would gather in anticipation of hearing the church bells ring in the New Year. This tradition would continue until 1904 when Alfred Ochs, owner of the New York Times, chose New Year’s Eve as the day to celebrate the newspaper’s move into its new home on a triangular shaped plot of land where Broadway, Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street meet.

Ochs’ celebration was an all day event, with a festival leading up to fireworks at midnight. Crowds would return on New Year’s Eve the next year to once again see fireworks and the celebration at Times Square was established. However a ban on the use of fireworks during the celebration would eventually force Ochs to come up with something new, leading to the lowering of a large ball, a custom that continues today. Though The New York Times is no longer headquartered at One Times Square the annual New Year’s celebration continues.

What is your New Year’s Tradition? Whether you watched the ball drop or spent the evening watching old movies I wish you a Happy New Year as we celebrate one of our planet’s oldest holidays. May your 2014 be filled with blessings.

For more on the history of New Years see: History.com
For information on “Duck Soup” by the Marxs Bros. see imdb.com.