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Woody's Winners, NFL Week 9

NFL WEEK NINE

Apologies for this column being a day late, but I've been focused on doing my part to crank out the next issue of mental_floss magazine. Week 10 brings Thursday Night Football, so we'll be a day early next week (and for the rest of the season). See? It all works out in the end.

Woody chose several upsets last week, and paid for that by posting a pedestrian 5-8 record. Teams I expected to wake up (Dallas, Denver) failed to do so, and those I thought would lie down (Green Bay, San Diego) suddenly came to life. Then, on Monday Night Football, Peyton Manning proved that he can get the ball to any receiver who can catch it. Are you ready for Week 9?

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Tampa Bay (5-2) @ Atlanta (5-2)

The NFC South boasts three five-win teams, and the top two face each other this week for sole possession of the division’s “big kahuna” designation. The Bucs are 3-0 on the road this season, while the Falcons are 3-0 at the Georgia Dome. Save for Atlanta’s victory in New Orleans, neither team has beaten a quality foe this season (owing to an easy first-half schedule). RB LeGarrette Blount has rejuvenated Tampa’s rushing game, but I expect the Blackbird defense to shut him down and pressure QB Josh Freeman, which will let their defenders do what they do best – pick off passes. Dirty, dirty birds.

Woody’s Winner: Atlanta

FACT: Every NFC South team – except the Falcons – appeared in a Super Bowl during the 2000s.

Please click "more" to see my picks for Week 9's other NFL matchups!

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New Orleans (5-3) @ Carolina (1-6)

The Saints have struggled against inferior competition, losing to Arizona in Week 5 and to Cleveland in Week 7. With their bye looming, New Orleans might overlook the Panthers, which would be a mistake. The teams are statistically very similar on defense and with their rushing offense. The difference-maker is QB Drew Brees, who has has completed more passes (234) this season than Carolina has even attempted (228). A win against les Panthères would boost the French to numéro deux in the NFC South. Gagner!

Woody’s Winner: New Orleans

FACT: Since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, the Saints have lost 170 games – more than any other team.

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Chicago (4-3) @ Buffalo (0-7)

Six of the their final eight games this season are against 2009 playoff teams, so Chicago is well aware of the importance of Bearing down to earn a victory in Week 9. This “home” game for Billy Buffalo is being played 100 miles away in Toronto, where the franchise is 0-2. New head coach Chan Gailey hopes to remedy the fact that the Bisons are the NFL’s only 0-for-2010 team. Grizzly QB Jay Cutler has lost his last three starts, with 1 TD, 5 interception, 19 sacks, and 5 fumbles. If he’s still hibernating, he’ll be in no shape to stop the stampede that may result when Buffalo hoofs it (or is that hooves it?) across his sleepy face.

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

FACT: These teams have met each other 10 times in NFL history, and the home team has won 9 of those.

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N.Y. Jets (5-2) @ Detroit (2-5)

The Lions have won two of their last three games. Did I just say that? Wow. Detroit showed some fire – almost confidence – with Matthew Stafford at the helm during last week’s comeback win. Both teams’ strengths seem to feed their opponents’ weaknesses, so special teams may play an important role. Back-to-back wins would change things dramatically for the Honolulu Blue, but the Jets are bound to be angry after being shut out at home last week. A Big Cat in the cargo hold of a 747 could create an exciting scenario, if the kitty can get out of the cage. Luckily for New York, security is tight.

Woody’s Winner: New York.

FACT: Of the Lions’ four wins over the last two seasons (all at home), three of them were blacked out on metro Detroit television, including last week’s victory vs. Washington.

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Miami (4-3) @ Baltimore (5-2)

The combination of a strong defense and a capable running game has allowed these East Coast teams to win more close games than they’ve lost. High scores aren’t predicted here as both offenses rely on two-headed running attacks – Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams of Miami and Ray Rice and Willis McGahee of Baltimore. Expect the Dolphins to arrive in Maryland with one porpoise in mind: whaling on the Ravens. Will they eat crow, or will they eat Crow?

Woody’s Winner: Baltimore

FACT: The Dolphins have won each of their four games on the road.

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New England (6-1) @ Cleveland (2-5)

This matchup places one of the NFL’s most consistent teams over the past decade against one of the most erratic, but Cleveland has shown improvement of late. Their losses have come against strong teams (the Bucs, Chiefs, Ravens, Falcons, and Steelers) and last week’s win at New Orleans put the Browns in a new light. So maybe now they’re the Beiges. The Patriots have underachieved their way to the NFL’s best record, managing to convert an average offensive effort (ranked 19th in yardage) into a league-best 29.3 points per game. New England’s defense needs help, however, and sooner or later, their struggles will cost the Founding Fathers a win. Let’s say sooner.

Woody’s Winner (in a big upset): Cleveland

FACT: The Patriots are 5-1 against the Browns since Cleveland’s return to the NFL in 1999.

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San Diego (3-5) @ Houston (4-3)

The Texans’ hopes of victory in Week 9 hinge squarely on the health of the Chargers’ receiving corps. TE Antonio Gates and WR Malcom Floyd both missed practice this week; otherwise, the meeting between San Diego’s league-best pass offense and Houston’s league-worst pass defense would be a no-brainer prediction. Even if the Electric Ones have trouble sending signals through the air, the one-two RB punch of Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert – along with their solid D – should keep the Texans holed up in the barn.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): San Diego

FACT: The Chargers are 0-4 on the road this season.

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Arizona (3-4) @ Minnesota (2-5)

The Vikings are struggling, and solutions are being tossed around like salad: Fire coach Brad Childress. Give QB Tavaris Jackson a chance. Let Adrian Peterson run the ball 50 times a game. The truth is that Minnesota’s five losses have been close games against strong teams (the Saints, Dolphins, Jets, Packers, and Patriots). Randy Moss’ departure has fueled more discussion, but the Purple are not a bad team, and they’ll prove it this week against Arizona. The Vikes’ ace-in-the-hole is still QB Brett Favre. Despite dealing with a broken foot and stitches in his chin, he’ll find a way to shuffle the Cards.

Woody’s Winner: Minnesota

FACT: Arizona and Minnesota were the two teams that fell victim to New Orleans in last season’s NFC playoffs.

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N.Y. Giants (5-2) @ Seattle (4-3)

The Giants are all about ball control and yardage – they’ve gained more yards and held their opponents to fewer yards than any team in the NFC. On the other coast, the Seahawks’ offensive struggles aren’t going to improve with replacement QB Charlie Whitehurst, who’s never thrown a pass in a regular-season game. The G-Men will have their way with the ‘Hawks, particularly near game’s end when Plan A (Ahmad Bradshaw) and Plan B (Brandon Jacobs) go into effect. The Tall Guys will prove masterful in the Battle of Seattle.

Woody’s Winner: New York

FACT: The home team has won the last 9 games in this matchup, dating back to 1986.

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Kansas City (5-2) @ Oakland (4-4)

As members of the AFC West, these foes face off twice a season, and the last six games between them have all been won by the road team. So much for a home-field advantage for O-Town. The Chiefs and Raiders are ranked #1 and #2 in rushing yards in the NFL, so don’t expect the pigskin to see very much atmosphere. It’ll travel up and down the field, however, particularly when the defenses begin to tire. Expect lots of scoring in the second half during this ground-based battle as the Silver-and-Black fend off the Red-and-Gold.

Woody’s Winner: Oakland

FACT: In Week 8, Raiders QB Jason Campbell threw passes of 69, 55, and 51 yards (to three different receivers).

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Indianapolis (5-2) @ Philadelphia (4-3)

If the Eagles had knocked off the Titans last week, Kevin Kolb might be back at QB this week. But they didn’t, and he’s not. Michael Vick is expected to get the start when the Colts rumble into the City of Brotherly Love on Sunday. It’s got to be tough for a team to perform well under two so radically different helmsmen, as Philly will find out sooner or later. The Colts know which side their bread is buttered on, of course, and Peyton Manning is slicker than wet jelly. Toot, toot, peanut butter.

Woody’s Winner: Indianapolis

FACT: The Colts have beaten the Eagles by 3 TD or more in each of their last four meetings.

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Dallas (1-6) @ Green Bay (5-3)

Jon Kitna at QB, Roy Williams at WR, silver-and-blue uniforms, and a WHOLE bunch of losses. The Lions? No, these are the Dallas Cowboys, and Woody won’t make the mistake of picking them to win again this season. Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the mess that the ‘Pokes find themselves in. Two weeks ago, Williams predicted an 11-0 run to end the season, and now he’s saying 9 in a row is possible. But he’s never won more than 3 consecutive games as a pro. Next week, maybe he’ll keep quiet. Uh-huh.

Woody’s Winner: Green Bay

FACT: The Packers (-10 yards) and Cowboys (-1 yard) combined for negative-11 yards passing in their matchup on 10/24/65, an NFL record for futility that still stands.

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Pittsburgh (5-2) @ Cincinnati (2-5)

The Steelers seem to have gotten a grip on the mistakes that cost them a playoff spot in 2009. They faded last week at New Orleans, and face a third consecutive road game on Monday Night Football against the Bengals. After a 2-1 start, the stripes are beginning to fade for Cincinnati, who has dropped four games in a row (including two at home). Pressure from Pittsburgh’s defense will prevent Carson Palmer from throwing long balls to the Tigers’ 30-something WRs, and Rashard Mendenhall will do the rest. Can you say “Cats on a Hot Steel Roof?”

Woody’s Winner: Pittsburgh

FACT: QBs Dennis Dixon, Charlie Batch, and Ben Roethlisberger have each started and won games this season for the Steelers.

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BYE: Denver, Jacksonville, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tennessee, Washington

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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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Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
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olympics
The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

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Quinn Rooney, Getty Images
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Big Questions
How Do You Steer a Bobsled?
 Quinn Rooney, Getty Images
Quinn Rooney, Getty Images

Now that the Olympics are well underway, you might have developed a few questions about the games' equipment. For example: How does one steer a bobsled? Let's take a crack at answering this pressing query.

How do you steer a bobsled?

Bobsled teams careen down an icy, curving track at up to 90 miles per hour, so steering is no small concern. Drivers steer their sleds just like you steered your childhood sleds—by manipulating a pair of ropes connected to the sled's steel runners. The driver also gets help from the rest of the crew members, who shift their weight to aid with the steering.

Why do speed skaters wear glasses?

speed-skating

Speed skaters can fly around the ice at upwards of 40 mph, so those sunglasses-type specs they wear aren't merely ornamental. At such high speeds, it's not very pleasant to have wind blowing in your eyes; it's particularly nightmarish if the breeze is drying out your contact lenses. On top of that, there's all sorts of ice and debris flying around on a speed skating track that could send you on a fast trip to the ophthalmologist.

Some skaters also say the glasses help them see the track. American skater Ryan Bedford recently told the Saginaw News that his tinted shades help him focus on the track and filter out distracting lights and camera flashes from the crowd.

What kind of heat are the biathletes packing?

Getty Images

As you might guess, there are fairly strict rules governing what sort of rifles biathletes carry on the course. They are equipped with guns chambered for .22 LR ammunition. The gun must weigh at least 3.5 kilograms without its magazines and ammunition, and the rifle has to have a bolt action or a straight-pull bolt rather than firing automatically or semi-automatically.

Is a curling stone really made of stone?

Getty Images

You bet it is, and it's not just any old stone, either. Curling enthusiasts swear by a very specific type of granite called ailsite that is only found on the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig. Ailsite supposedly absorbs less water than other types of stone, so they last longer than their competitors.

Ailsa Craig is now a wildlife sanctuary, so no new ailsite has been quarried since 2002. As a result, curling stones are incredibly expensive. Kays of Scotland, which has made the stones for every Olympics in which curling has been an official event, gets prices upwards of $1,500 per stone.

What about the brooms?

The earliest curling brooms were actual brooms made of wood with straw heads. Modern brooms, though, are a bit more technologically advanced. The handles are usually made of carbon fiber, and the heads can be made of synthetic materials or natural hair from horses or hogs. Synthetic materials tend to be more common now because they pull all of the debris off of the ice and don't drop the occasional stray bristle like a natural hair broom might.

What are the ski jumpers wearing?

Getty Images

It may look like a ski jumper can pull on any old form-fitting bodysuit and hit the mountain, but things are a bit more complicated than that. Their suits have to be made of a spongy material and can't be thicker than five millimeters. Additionally, the suits must allow a certain amount of air to pass through them; jumpers wearing suits without sufficient air permeability are disqualified. (This rule keeps jumpers from wearing suits that could unfairly act as airfoils.) These rules are seriously enforced, too; Norwegian skier Sigurd Petterson found himself DQed at the 2006 Torino Games due to improper air permeability.

Those aren't the only concerns, though. In 2010, judges disqualified Italian jumper Roberto Dellasega because his suit was too baggy.

What's up with the short track speed skaters' gloves?

Gloves
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

If you watch a bit of short track speed skating, the need for gloves quickly becomes apparent. When the skaters go to make passes or careen around a turn, they need the gloves to keep from cutting their hands due to incidental contact with other skaters' blades.

There's more to the gloves than just safety, though. Since the skaters' hands often touch the ice during turns, they need hard fingertip coverings that won't add friction and slow them down. The tips can be made of any material as long as it's hard and smooth, but you've got to give American skater Apolo Ohno some style points for the gold-tipped left glove he broke out in 2010.

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