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Woody's Winners: NFL Week 7

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NFL WEEK SEVEN:

Week 6 brought a bit of normality back to the NFL, with fewer head-scratchers than in weeks past. I won 9 of 14 picks, and three of my losses were upsets that didn’t quite happen (including 3-point losses for Washington and Dallas). Still, things are weird in the standings:

  • In the NFC, every team has lost at least twice, meaning a win could propel a team from third to first in their division in an instant.
  • In the NFC West, all four teams lost in Week 5, but won in Week 6. Over in the AFC South, every team is .500 or better.
  • And with the only five-win team (the Jets) on bye this week, no team will end this week with more than five wins.

On to Week 7, which we’ll start with an upset:

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Philadelphia (4-2) @ Tennessee (4-2)

Last week, Kevin Kolb opened the eyes of Vick-struck Philly fans by passing for 3 TD and near-80-percent completion rate. He’ll start again this week as the Eagles head to LP Field to tackle the Titans, where both teams hope to earn their third consecutive win. The status of injured Tennessee QB Vince Young is still up in the air, but their offense is played on the ground, where RB Chris Johnson gobbles yards like they were Pringles. Philadelphia has yet to lose on the road this season, and the Birds will be humming in Week 7.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Philadelphia

FACT: The Eagles are the only team ranked in the NFL top-10 in both rushing and passing offense.

Please click "more" to see my picks for the rest of Week 7's games.

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Cincinnati (2-3) @ Atlanta (4-2)

With the Reds and Braves quickly punted from the NL playoffs, sports fans in both cities have shifted their focus to the gridiron. Cats are known for chasing birds, but in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons want to be the predator. Atlanta is 15-1 at home with Matt Ryan at the helm, so they may get their chance. These similar teams sport good QBs, stud RBs, and quality receivers, tempered with defenses that occasionally lose their way. The Felines better pick up some mice and fish to go, because Blackbird won’t appear on the Sunday menu.

Woody’s Winner: Atlanta

FACT: The Falcons’ pass defense leads the NFL with 11 interceptions.

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Cleveland (1-5) @ New Orleans (4-2)

In the 11 matchups between these teams since the 1970 NFL merger, none was decided by a double-digit margin. Still, the experts favor New Orleans by two touchdowns, and I see no reason to doubt them. The NFL has seen some crazy upsets this season, but the Brownies winning at the Superdome would top them all. Unlike last year, the Saints aren’t surprising anyone, but they shouldn’t have any trouble manhandling Cleveland, unless the game comes down to field goals. It won’t.

Woody’s Winner: New Orleans

FACT: The Saints lead the NFL in converting third downs, with a 50.7 percent success rate.

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Pittsburgh (4-1) @ Miami (3-2)

This interesting AFC contest pits the Dolphins’ pass-happy offense against those stingy Steelers defenders. Miami QB Chad Henne has proven he can perform well against tough pass defense, and increased use of their Wildcat offense may keep the Men in Black off their game. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger showed very little rust in his first regular-season appearance last week - call him the stainless Steeler - but that was at home against the Browns. Will he be sharp enough to filet the fish, or will overconfidence doom Big Ben in his second game back?

Woody’s Winner (in a close one): Pittsburgh

FACT: The Dolphins are averaging only 4.2 penalties per game, the lowest rate in the league.

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St. Louis (3-3) @ Tampa Bay (3-2)

The Rams have proven sheepish on the road, and that’s where they find themselves in Week 7. But Tampa has been blown out in back-to-back home games due to their inability to run the ball. Unless RB Cadillac Williams can find second gear, he’ll be kept in the garage yet again. The Buccaneers’ defense is exhausted (insert your favorite muffler joke here), having allowed 90 points over their past three games. St. Louis will take advantage of this by handing off to Ram-tough RB Steven Jackson, who’ll lower his horns and raise his statistics against the league’s worst rush defense.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): St. Louis

FACT: Rams WR Danny Amendola has caught 36 passes this season (tied for 3rd in the NFC) but none for TD.

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San Francisco (1-5) @ Carolina (0-5)

Pity the poor Panthers, who rank last in the NFL in both yards and points. How bad are things in Carolina? At the QB position, they’ve completed just 68 of 150 passes, with 9 interceptions, 17 sacks, and 4 fumbles. As my daddy would say, “That ain’t gettin’ it done, son.” Meanwhile, the 49ers finally broke into the win column by defeating Oakland in Week 6. San Francisco clearly fields a better team, and that proverbial monkey is now off their backs. Unless Carolina’s two-headed RB attack can find a whole lot of daylight, it’ll be dark early on the East Coast.

Woody’s Winner: San Francisco

FACT: San Francisco RB Frank Gore leads all RB with 33 catches this season.

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Washington (3-3) @ Chicago (4-2)

The Redskins’ defense has allowed a league-most 420 yards per game this season, but their schedule thus far has included Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Green Bay, and Indianapolis. Although Chicago has finally figured out how to run the ball, their offense isn’t nearly that explosive. Bears QB Jay Cutler has publicly blamed his teammates for the offense's struggles, and it remains to be seen if his squad will rally behind him. The truth is, three of the Windy City’s four wins have come against Detroit (1-5), Dallas (1-4) and Carolina (0-5), so they may simply not be as good as their record would have you believe. This just in: Washington rides Bear-back in Week 7.

Woody’s Winner: Washington

FACT: The Bears have converted only 13 of 74 third-down attempts this season, for a league-worst 17.6 percent.

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Jacksonville (3-3) @ Kansas City (3-2)

The Jaguars’ defense has allowed 38, 28, 28, 26, and 30 points in its last five games, but the team won three of those five games thanks to a superb rushing offense. The Chiefs have themselves quite a ground attack as well, running for an NFL-best 164.6 yards per game thus far this season. Kansas City’s run defense has also excelled, so Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew may have a tough time fitting all three names into the small gaps available to him.

Woody’s Winner: Kansas City

FACT: Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee is 11 of 11 for field goals this season, including a league-best 59-yarder. The Jaguars are the only team not to miss at least one FG attempt.

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Buffalo (0-5) @ Baltimore (4-2)

When you think of a buffalo, you think of a large, stocky creature big enough to block one’s path. Sadly, the Buffalo Bills are nothing like that. Their defense has allowed an incredible 182.4 rushing yards per game, 25 more than any other team. Ravens’ RB Ray Rice has been salivating over this opportunity, and he’ll use a few Bills jerseys to dab away the spittle as he saunters downfield. And Baltimore’s defense won’t break a sweat as they pull out a can of Bison-B-Gone and do some further damage to the ozone layer.

Woody’s Winner: Baltimore

FACT: The Bills’ defense has intercepted only one pass this season, fewest in the NFL.

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Arizona (3-2) @ Seattle (3-2)

Look in the dictionary under “fluke” and you’ll see Arizona’s most recent game, a Week 5 win against the Saints. The Cards have been blown out 41-7 and 41-10 in their last two road games, so they’re not looking forward to abandoning the Grand Canyon State for a wetter and greener spot. But travel to Seattle they must, to face a Seahawks team fresh off a rejuvenating upset victory in Chicago. Newly-acquired RB Marshawn Lynch scored a TD in his Aquabird debut, and should do even more damage this week. The winner of this game will sit alone atop the NFC West.

Woody’s Winner: Seattle

FACT: The Cardinals have won six of their last seven games against the Seahawks.

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Oakland (2-4) @ Denver (2-4)

It’s rare that a team enters Week 7 without at least one divisional game, but this will be the Broncos’ first time against a fellow member of the AFC West. The last four games in this series have been won by the road team, and the Raiders are just sneaky enough to leave the Rockies with a “W” in their pocket. Unfortunately for the Silver-and-Black, their top two quarterbacks are ailing, and Coach Cable has (as of this writing) not yet named a starter. Oakland has trouble stopping the run, and Denver RB Knowshon Moreno is back in action and ready to gallop. His fresh legs will spell the difference.

Woody’s Winner: Denver

FACT: Of the Broncos’ 151 rushes this season, none has gained more than 17 yards.

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New England (4-1) @ San Diego (2-4)

Thanks to two of the game’s most powerful offenses, this game has 42-38 written all over it. The Bolts prefer the friendly confines of Qualcomm Stadium, where they’ve earned both of this season’s victories. A third win at home would be sweet, and it should happen. With the Minutemen allowing opposing QBs a 70-percent completion rate, Philip Rivers can hardly contain himself, but that’s okay: the Pat defense won’t be able to contain him either.

Woody’s Winner: San Diego

FACT: Philip Rivers has thrown for 2,008 yards through 6 games, putting him on a pace for a record-breaking 5,355 yards this season.

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Minnesota (2-3) @ Green Bay (3-3)

Last week’s loss to Miami leaves Green Bay with three defeats this season, each by only three points. The Packers hope to get back on track at the expense of the struggling Vikings, who stumble into Lambeau Field still unsteady on their feet. While fans of the Purple were excited at the reacquisition of Randy Moss, some forget that while he is a former Vike, he’s new to QB Brett Favre. These two should get on the same page when Moss begins to grow on the veteran QB, but until then, it’ll be a struggle in the NFC North. Behold, the power of Cheese!

Woody’s Winner: Green Bay

FACT: Brett Favre has fumbled 5 times in his 5 games this season, losing 4 of them.

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N.Y. Giants (4-2) @ Dallas (1-4)

The Giants have impressed despite the despicable habit of giving the ball to their opponents. QB Eli Manning has thrown 8 interceptions, while Ahmad Bradshaw leads all NFL RBs with three lost fumbles. Where the G-Men excel is on defense, and they’ll have to perform well against the ball-moving machine known as the Dallas Cowboys. The pass-catching trio of Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Jason Witten has combined for 1,062 yards and 8 TDs. Those type of numbers should begin to show up in the “win” column any week now… like this one.

Woody’s Winner: Dallas

FACT: Dallas leads the NFC in passing yards per game (305) and total yards per game (400).

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BYE: Detroit (1-5), Houston (4-2), Indianapolis (4-2), N.Y. Jets (5-1).

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Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, but please be cordial to others; this is all in good fun. Thanks!

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History
Lady Ali: How Jackie Tonawanda Changed Women's Boxing
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As photographers and newspaper reporters looked on, Jackie Tonawanda allowed herself to be fingerprinted. It was October 7, 1974, and Tonawanda—who was dwarfed by the burly professional wrestlers waiting their turn—was taking the necessary steps to become a licensed professional boxer by the New York State Athletic Commission. The fingerprints would be sent off to Albany make sure she wasn't a felon; a physical would determine her fitness for competition.

Tonawanda didn't anticipate either one becoming a hurdle. Her main concern was that the state of New York had long prohibited women from prizefighting.

The gregarious Tonawanda told the assembled press in the commission's offices that she was the “female Cassius Clay,” referring to boxing icon Muhammad Ali. (Like Ali, she was known for boasting to the media and offering impromptu demonstrations of her hand speed.) Women could already be licensed as pro wrestlers and boxing managers in the state. Why, Tonawanda argued, should female boxers be exempt from officially participating in the sport?

Commissioners brushed off her complaints, fretting about being deemed negligent if women suffered injuries. Rumors circulated in the boxing community that blows to the chest could cause breast cancer. Ed Dooley, the head of the state's athletic commission, thought women fighting in a ring would bring “disrepute” to the venerable sport.

In time, Jackie Tonawanda would be hailed as a boxing pioneer, someone who stood up to the rampant sexism from promoters and the sport's sanctioning bodies. But in 1975, Tonawanda's license application was denied. Dooley refused to back off from his insistence that boxing was strictly a “manly art.” Tonawanda was incredulous. If that was what he believed, she thought, she would show him otherwise.

To prove her point, she would even agree to an extreme demonstration of her worth as a fighter: an unlicensed fight against a man, in full view of spectators at Madison Square Garden.

Although Tonawanda was the first woman to ever lace up her gloves at the famed New York arena, women’s boxing had been a ring attraction for decades. In 1876, two women took wild swings at one another in what may have been the first spectator women's match in the country. (The prize was a silver butter dish.) In 1954, women competed on television for the first time. But with so few participants in the sport, it was difficult for any real momentum to develop. And without endorsement from state athletic commissions, official records and rankings were nearly impossible to come by.

Such was the state of female fighting when Tonawanda decided to compete. Born on Long Island and orphaned by age 8, she started boxing at age 13, eventually migrating to the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. As an adult, Tonawanda occupied a unique space in the art: At 175 pounds, she was larger than many of the other women who fought, making matchmaking difficult. She once stated she sparred exclusively with men because women “don't show me anything and they can’t take my power.”

With only scattered women’s bouts available, Tonawanda often fought in unsanctioned matches around the country. She managed to compile a 23-0 record (although this number would sometimes change in interviews, as would her birth year and even her height) before petitioning her home state of New York to sanction her bouts. Commission members like Dooley and former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson were wary, fearing the seeming fragility of women might give a proverbial black eye to the sport. They turned down both Tonawanda and Marian "Tyger" Trimiar, another female boxer, citing, among other things, concerns over the possible trauma the women might suffer to their breasts.

“I don't think a blow to the breast would cause breast cancer," Irwin Weiner, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University, told The New York Times when the women first applied for licenses in 1974. "On the other hand, it's a rather tender area that can be easily bruised. It might take longer to recover from bruises there.” Dooley remained insistent, saying a fight "could endanger a female's reproductive organs and breasts."

Tonawanda didn’t accept the decision in stride. She sued the state for discrimination, arguing that women had every right to compete. In June of 1975, while the lawsuit was still being contested, she agreed to compete at a martial arts tournament at Madison Square Garden that fell outside the purview of the commission. Her original opponent was to be a Thai fighter in a mixed-rules striking contest, but that fighter ended up being replaced by an unheralded kickboxer named Larry Rodania. In the opening moments of the fight, Rodania hit her with a shot that left her unable to sleep on her left side for weeks. For much of the first round, though, Tonawanda parried his strikes, getting a sense of his timing. In the second, she landed a left that cracked his jaw and sent him to the canvas.

The referee announced that Rodania was out, unable to answer basic questions like “Where are you?” But some observers expressed doubt that the bout was legitimate. Recapping the event, Black Belt magazine questioned Rodania’s judgment in taking the fight at all. From the outside, it appeared to be a lose-lose proposition: Beating a woman in the ring would impress few, and losing to one could be ruinous in the eyes of fans who wouldn't expect a woman to be competitive with a man. It's not clear whether Rodania ever competed again.

For Tonawanda, the spectacle of her squaring off against Rodania made headlines and led to more offers, some outside of the ring. Later that year, she not only received a boxing license from the state of Maine, but also filmed a small role for the Dustin Hoffman film Marathon Man. In 1976, she was invited to spend time at a training camp with Muhammad Ali as he prepared for a bout against Ken Norton. Being around Ali, Tonawanda said, made her so nervous that she could barely eat.

If the bout was intended to elicit a response from the New York commission, however, it didn’t work. Tonawanda continued to compete in bouts outside of the state, and the commission steadfastly refused to acknowledge the rights of female prizefighters until 1978 brought a development they couldn’t ignore.

Three years prior, Tonawanda’s lawsuit had made it to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in Tonawanda’s favor and suggested she sue once again in order to have the law in New York overturned. When Tonawanda failed to follow up on their advice, another boxer, Cathy “Cat” Davis, picked up the baton and initiated a suit. When Davis’s legal action forced the commission to throw out the ban, Davis, Tonawanda, and Tremiar became the first three women to receive licenses in the state.

For the first time, Tonawanda would be able to claim a legitimate, professional fight on her record.

Despite setting a legal precedent, the court’s decision didn't guarantee that the fighters would necessarily be able to compete in New York. With so few female fighters to match up with one another, the women who were granted licenses often sought fights out of the area. The following year, Tonawanda fought Diane “Dynamite” Clark in a six-round bout in Louisville, Kentucky, in what would be her first and only professional contest. She lost in a split decision.

While it was a crucial moment for the fighters, women’s boxing continued to endure the perception that it was a sideshow. From the Rodania fight onward, Tonawanda received offers to fight men, including noted light heavyweight Mike Quarry. Quarry, Tonawanda claimed, backed out when he realized he had nothing to gain by fighting a woman.

By the mid-1980s, Tonawanda's career was winding down. She fought a man a second time, scoring another knockout at the Nassau Coliseum in 1984. It would be one of her last competitions before being injured in a 1986 car accident that ended any consideration of returning to the ring. From that point on, she became something of a mentor in various boxing gyms in the state. At Fort Apache Youth Center in the Bronx, she advised aspiring fighters on technique. Later, she trained future heavyweight contender Israel Garcia, who she met after Garcia discovered that she lived in the apartment building where he worked.

Lalia Ali faces off against Gwendolyn O'Neil of Guyana during the 2007 WBC/WIBA Super Middleweight World Title in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images

In the meantime, fighters like Laila Ali, Christy Martin, and other women began gaining notoriety and respect for being capable pugilists. While they undoubtedly faced sexism, none had been forced to insist on their right to compete. That road had been paved by Tonawanda, who demanded equal footing with her male counterparts.

Tonawanda died from colon cancer in 2009. Like many boxers, she had no pension or retirement fund to fall back on, and her remains were initially destined for a mass grave on Hart Island, New York City’s potter’s field. She was saved from that fate thanks to Ring 8, the nonprofit consortium of former prizefighters that she belonged to. The group, which provides financial assistance to veteran boxers, raised enough money for a marked grave for her in the Bronx. It was proof that boxing had ultimately accepted Tonawanda, long considered an outsider, as one of their own.

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Big Questions
Why Do We Sing the National Anthem at Sporting Events?
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In early September 1814, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer and amateur poet, accompanied American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner to negotiate a prisoner release with several officers of the British Navy. During the negotiations, Key and Skinner learned of the British intention to attack the city of Baltimore, as well as the strength and positions of British forces. They were not permitted to leave for the duration of the battle and witnessed the bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry on September 13 and 14. Inspired by the American victory and the sight of the American flag flying high in the morning, Key wrote a poem titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry."

Key set the lyrics to the anthem of the London-based Anacreontic Society, "The Anacreontic Song." (Nine years earlier, Key had used the same tune for “When the Warrior Returns (from the Battle Afar)” to celebrate Stephen Decatur’s return from fighting the Barbary pirates, which included the line “By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation.”)

The poem was taken to a printer, who made broadside copies of it. A few days later, the Baltimore Patriot and The Baltimore American printed the poem with the note "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven." Later, Carrs Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together as "The Star Spangled Banner."

The song gained popularity over the course of the 19th century and was often played at public events like parades and Independence Day celebrations (and, on occasion, sporting events). In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered it the official tune to be played during the raising of the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it be played at all military ceremonies and other appropriate occasions, making it something of an unofficial national anthem.

After America's entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into "The Star-Spangled Banner." The Cubs and Red Sox players faced the centerfield flag pole and stood at attention. The crowd, already on their feet, began to sing along and applauded at the end of the song.

Given the positive reaction, the band played the song during the next two games, and when the Series moved to Boston, the Red Sox owner brought in a band and had the song played before the start of each remaining contest. After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem in 1931), the song continued to be played at baseball games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays, and World Series games.

During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.

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