Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Whisky A Go Go in Second Life (11.27.12)

Successfully running a live music venue is hard. I don't care if it's real life, Second Life, or any life for that matter. It's hard if you want it to work well, and when you see venues that have lasted a long time, there's a lot more than luck involved. What is involved is a ton of work and commitment and organization, and it never eases up.

I've been fortunate to have had a regular weekly show at the Whisky in SL for about five straight months. Most musicians -- self included -- like having a place to perform that feels like home, and after playing at a venue over 20 times, I certainly am comfortable at the Whisky. Like many well-run places, the Whisky has benefitted from a good owner and good staff, but the fact is that real life can definitely be a detriment to your not-so-real life. When a person needs to choose priorities, Second Life almost always takes a back seat to things that are important in the fleshy world. And it should, in my opinion.

Rocking the Whisky has been great, week after week, but it's time for a break and some new adventures for me and my Zaksters. Photo and top photo by Cicadetta Stillwater. Thanks Cica!

In any case, last night's show at the Whisky turned out to be really good, but it might be my last one there for awhile. It's been difficult for the folks who run it to do just that. Their real life jobs and schedules have made operating the place difficult, and it's probably time to take a break there until they figure out what path they want to take. That's fine; as I said, it's been great playing there, and I'd be very surprised if there weren't more Zak Shows there in the future, once they get things straightened out.

For what was probably my last Whisky show for awhile, I pulled out an array of tunes that left me a panting, sweaty mess at the end (and turned my vocal chords into shards of broken glass in the process), but was a ton of fun. It was certainly fun for me, and I think the crowd would also say it was an enjoyable experience.

Whisky Set List...
A Day In The Life (Beatles)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots)
Day After Day (Badfinger)
About a Girl (Nirvana)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Fuck You (Cee Lo Green)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
A Million Miles Away (The Plimsouls)
Goodbye Blue Sky (Pink Floyd)
For the Turnstiles (Neil Young)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
In My Time of Dying (Traditional)

Big thanks to the Zaksters and other folks who supported this show. I couldn't do it without you!
AlexEscapade, Rusty Seisenbacher, Amrynn, TheaDee, Cicadetta Stillwater, Shannyn Fall, and my great manager Maali Beck!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Key West (11.21.12)

First off, pardon the lateness of this report. I spent the last four days in some kind of food-induced psychedelic trip, and I may have slightly overdosed on tryptophan. At several points of this gluttony-induced haze, I considered posting about my pre-Thanksgiving show at Key West, in Second Life, but then would once again find myself elbows deep in pie and turkey scraps.

Also noteworthy is that on Saturday and Sunday, I spent most of both days working on new music for the band that includes my darling Kat Claxton and great friend Bunny Knutson. We recorded some great stuff over the weekend, so with this rather busy "time off", I didn't find the time to write this show report.

If you have some sense of deja vu in regard to my having performed at Key West right before Thanksgiving, you're not crazy. Well, perhaps you are, but not in this specific regard. I did indeed perform there on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving in 2011, and I've told owner/manager Liz Harley that we need to make it an annual thing.

At a barely-recognizable Key West that's decked out in fall colors and scenery. Awesome. Photo and top photo by Kat.

Sassy Nitely, aka Barbie Horsely, awaits her turn to take the stage during my Pre-Thanksgiving show at Key West. Photo by Kat.

Liz and her team made the place look great for the occasion. It was seasonally decorated in a fall theme, and was perfect for an autumn concert. My good friends and fellow proteges of Maali Beck Entertainment, Sassy Nitely and Taunter Goodnight, were both performing on the same bill, so it's always great when all of us are booked together. My show went fine, and to mark the occasion, I pulled out a few tunes I'd never done before.

Key West Set List...
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Just Like This Train (Joni Mitchell)
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
*Parallax (Atlas Sound)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Frigid Spring (Chairlift)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
*Give a Little Bit (Supertramp)

*Indicates the first time I've ever performed this song in SL.

Big, big thanks to everyone who came out to the Pre-Turkey show at Key West, especially those who helped support it!
Lileyana, Cicadetta Stillwater, TheaDee, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, Spiral Silverstar, Sassy Nitely, my manager Maali Beck, and Key West owner/manager Liz Harley!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Whisky A Go Go in Second Life (11.20.12)

Sometimes, everything goes perfectly with a live music performance. Oddly, as a musician, those shows aren't very memorable. You arrive, everything works, you get a big audience, you sing and play, and go home. Perhaps we musicians are masochists, because it's usually the gigs where things are completely screwed up that stand out in our memories. However, the caveat is that when things are screwed up and you still pull off a good show, it's a nice affirmation that what matters is the music, and as long as you have the opportunity to do your best stuff (and then you do), those are the shows that seem to create memories.

Case in point: there was every indication that my show last night at the Whisky in SL wasn't going to go well, or possibly happen at all. The host there, a really great guy named Dmitri Polonsky, had apparently just been hired for a new job. This was good news for him, but it meant that no one would be available to host my show. I wasn't even positive that I'd be able to set the audio stream until I arrived at the venue. As we Second Life folks know, no stream equals no show. Second, my wonderful manager Maali Beck came down with food poisoning, and she pinged me not long before the show to tell me she wasn't going to make it. Side note: getting food poisoning right before Thanksgiving isn't something I'd wish on my worst enemy.

For a show that I didn't think was going to happen, this one turned out pretty damn good. Photo by Kat.

Careful with that axe, Eugene. Kat attempts to kill and eat Cicadetta. Photo by Kat.

My three guardian angels: Thea, Kat, and Cica. Photo by Kat.

So, there I was, with no one to run the venue, and no manager to help bring in a crowd. But wait! It gets even better: when I first tried to set the stream at the venue, I couldn't get the audio to work. I was starting to think that it would be a good time to cancel this whole clusterfuck, but then my Zaksters came to my rescue. While I was busy getting the audio stream to behave, Cicadetta Stillwater, Thea Dee, and my lovely lady Kat Claxton appeared. These guardian angels each took a job. Cica helped me troubleshoot the stream, Thea used her superpowers to send event notices out to a number of groups in SL, and Kat did a little of both. By the top of the hour, we were ready to rock. Thanks to the lovely Lady Zaksters for everything... the show would not have happened without you!

Speaking of the show, it really went well. As you probably know, I tend to play whatever material that I feel like doing at that moment, which more or less seems to correspond with the venue and the crowd for whom I'm playing. Last night was a bit more random than my standard selection of tunes, but it's good to mix it up like that sometimes, keeping things fresh for myself and my crowd.

Whisky Set List...
What Are You Like (Indigo Girls)
What I Got (Sublime)
If You Could Only See (Tonic)
Take the Ride (They Stole My Crayon)
Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)
Theme from "Greatest American Hero" (Joey Scarbury)
Theme from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (Sonny Curtis)
Learning to Fly (Pink Floyd)
Uncle John's Band (Grateful Dead)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Alabama (Neil Young)
*Casey Jones (Grateful Dead)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Huge thanks to my amazing fans, who literally made the show happen, as well as everyone who came and supported the show!
Triana Caldera, ThisisCin, Acred, Triana Caldera, TheaDee, Cicadetta Stillwater, and Kat Claxton!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Musician's Sports Guide: NFL 2012-13 Week Ten

I apologize that this edition of the Musician’s Guide to the NFL is a day late. Actually, let me take that back; I don't apologize. While I love writing about the NFL, I also own a small business, am a single parent, am in a relationship, and write/perform/record music often, and all of these things take higher priority than spewing words about guys who beat the crap out of each other for a living. Still, better late than never, or so they say.

The Giants (6-4) are still leading this division, but it’s a good thing for them that Dallas (4-5) and Philadelphia (3-6) are still underperforming. The defending champs just dropped two in a row, somehow being crushed by the mediocre Bengals in week 10. They have a bye this week, and for their sake, they should look at regrouping before taking on the Packers in week 12. The Cowboys did manage a win over the more-and-more befuddled Eagles this week (who’ve lost five in a row), and should be able to beat the Browns at home this weekend. And is it my imagination, or has RGIII looked pretty bad ever since he got his bell rung a few weeks back? Washington (3-6) hosts the Eagles this Sunday.

If the Bengals can dogpile on you, then what's going to happen against the tough teams. Photo via AP.

A lot of people seemed shocked that the Bears (7-2) lost to Houston at home this weekend. Why? Houston is tough as nails and has a better offense than Chicago. The Bears had better keep an eye open for the suddenly-hot Green Bay (6-3). They didn’t play this week, but took four straight before their bye week, and will have an easier time against Detroit than Chicago will against the Niners. Lest we forget, Minnesota (6-4) is also right there in this NFC-leading division. Detroit (4-5), unfortunately, looks to be the weakest link here.

Ah, the Falcons (8-1) finally lost a game, eliminating all stupid talk of undefeated seasons for all teams this year. Who beat them? The lowly Saints (4-5), who despite an awful start have crawled back to near the .500 mark. Speaking of getting better, No one’s going to call Tampa Bay (4-5) a great team this year, but they’ve won three in a row. Should there be an asterisk for their having beat three terrible AFC West teams? Nah, that’s how the game goes. Finally, Carolina (2-7) appears to be a football team of sorts.

The Dirty Birds hit a roadblock. They couldn't have picked a worse team to lose to than their division mates New Orleans. Photo via AP.

Serious question here: how can you be in the NFL and not know there’s such a thing as a tie in regular season games? The last time it happened in 2008, Donovan McNabb expressed disbelief that ties could happen, and apparently, at the end of the Niners (6-2-1) and Rams (3-5-1) game, a good number of players had to be told that indeed, the game was over with the scores being equal. Granted, ties don’t happen often. Since 1989, it’s happened just five times. But still... there’s a third column, and it doesn’t say “W” or “L”! Perhaps more incredulous is the idea that St. Louis played as well as San Francisco for 75 minutes. Elsewhere in the division, the Seahawks (6-4) are looking good, and as usual are dominating at home. They crushed the Jets on Sunday, and have this weekend off. Arizona (4-5) had the week off after losing five straight, and their return game for week 11 is against the Falcons. Uh oh.

"So, wait... you're saying the game is over? What is this tie thing of which you speak?" Photo via AP.

New England (6-3) has won three straight, but not in any real dominant form. They barely got past the Bills (3-6) on Sunday, and everyone expects them to beat the hell out of Indianapolis this weekend. My advice? That 9.5 spread seems a bit wide. Miami (4-5), who’d been looking unexpectedly strong for awhile, has slipped back (doesn’t Miami always get worse as the season progresses?) and got crushed by the Titans in week 10. Next week, they travel to Buffalo. Finally, the Jets (3-6) can’t catch a break. They’re the underdog, for crying out loud, against the Rams next weekend. Sigh.

So much for “killed by injuries”. The Ravens (7-2) have won their last two. of course, they were respectively against the Browns and Raiders, so let’s not get too excited, Baltimore fans. They play Pittsburgh (6-3) in week 11, and that would have probably been an epic game except Big Ben’s shoulder was hurt this week against the Chiefs. Congrats to the Bengals (4-5) for unexpectedly beating the Giants this week. They face (and likely beat) the Chiefs this coming Sunday. Finally, Cleveland (2-7) is Cleveland.

Many people I talk to continue to deny that the Texans (8-1) are as great as they seem. Well, beating the Bears in Chicago might finally shut them up. They’re going to soon be 9-1 after beating the Jags on Sunday. Big props to the Colts (6-3), who, in the talent-deficient AFC, could actually end up in the playoffs if things keep rolling their way. Their game against the Pats could be this week’s shocker. The Titans (4-6), who started the year looking really terrible, came out and kicked ass against the Fins in week 10. They get a bye this week. Finally, in a race for next year’s top draft pick, the Jags (1-8) even make the Browns look alright.

Those who thought Houston wouldn't stand up against a tough NFC team were silenced, at least for a moment, on Sunday. Photo via AP.

I’ll keep saying this until someone acknowledges me: there are no good teams in this division. None. Of the six wins that Denver (6-3) has managed to get, not one of them was against a good team. In San Diego (4-5), they should be burning Norv Turner in effigy... or perhaps in reality. Tampa Bay beat them this week, and it’s likely they’ll lose to Denver in week 11. Oakland (3-6) did manage to put up 20 points against a tough Ravens defense, but got 55 points scored on them by a mediocre Ravens offense. They’re certainly not seeing any playoff games unless they buy tickets. Finally, the worst team in football, the Chiefs (1-8), may help salvage the sad records of the other AFC West teams who each do have to play them twice eventually.

That's All, Folks!
As always, I welcome your comments and opinions. We're now over halfway done with the season, so here's hoping your team is doing better than mine. Unless, of course, your team is playing mine, in which case I hope they are really, really bad that week.

Whisky A Go Go in Second Life (11.13.12)

When you think about all the factors that need to align to turn a good musical performance into a great one, it's a wonder that anyone ever manages to ever ascend to levels beyond mediocrity. Check this out...

1. The artist has to feel good. That means several things: a good mental outlook, a good physical condition, and a high level of confidence in the material he or she will be performing (not to mention an assumed level of proficiency as a performer).

2. The right material for the random crowd. You have no idea who is going to come to your show, especially in SL where folks might be stopping in to hear you play with no conception of what you're all about. What kind of music are they into? Will they be in the mood for whatever it is you're going to play that night? Who the hell knows?

3. The right crowd to inspire the artist. Some people play better with small and intimate audiences. Others are the polar opposite; they can only put on their best show when they have as many eyeballs on them as possible.

4. Especially in SL, you can also add to that a lack of distractions from technical difficulties. Is the stream working? Are people able to login/teleport to your show? If one person can't hear you, can the others?

It's all just the tip of the iceberg if you want to delve deeply into the details. You have so many factors that combine intangibles relating to the performer, the place, the audience, the time of the show, the freaking weather... I mean, it's ridiculous. So, having everything come together at any particular show is beyond unlikely.

However, for whatever reason, those factors all seemed to be in my favor last night at the Whisky a Go Go in Second Life. I pulled out a particularly mellow set list which seemed to work well (and I don't know why). We got a really nice sized crowd there of cool and funny people (and I don't know why). And my voice and guitar just seemed to be working for me pretty effortlessly (and I don't know why). See, unlike most other areas of life, you can do nothing different in the preparation or promotion for a music performance, and get completely different results. And no... I don't know why, and perhaps it's best not to know why. I like the feeling of pleasant surprise when it all seems to come together. I'm as shocked as anyone... perhaps more so.

Whisky Set List...
**On the Way Home (Neil Young)
**After the Goldrush (Neil Young)
**Expecting to Fly (Neil Young)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Daniel (Elton John)
†Where Everybody Knows Your Name - Theme from "Cheers" (Gary Portnoy)
Beyond the Blue (Martina McBride)
Black Peter (Grateful Dead)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
†River (Joni Mitchell)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
Shine (Zak Claxton)

**I opened my show with three Neil tunes to help commemorate NY's 67th birthday the day before.

†I've only done these songs once before, so those are extreme rarities in the Zak Catalog.

Big thanks to all who helped support my show! And thanks for helping to make it a great one!
Gratephul, Triana Caldera, Zanne Boucher, Shugar Rebane, Rusty Seisenbacher, Kat Claxton, Spica Schwamm, Diana Renoir, Cicadetta Stillwater, TheaDee, my manager Maali Beck, Whisky host/DJ Dmitri Polonsky, and Whisky owner Cameron Trenchcoat!

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Islands of New England (11.08.12)

There are may factors that can make a show in Second Life great. Some are the expected ones... you get a huge crowd, or you put on some spectacular performance. Those are no different than the real life criteria for a great live music gig. But there's another factor in SL that you don't often see in RL: when you get to perform for and audience of good friends whose company you truly enjoy.

That was the case for me last night at the Islands of New England, which is managed by my pal Christine Haiku. She has been a wonderful supporter of my shows for several years, and I've always enjoyed her cheerful and sweet personality. The few times I've performed at the Islands of New England have all been good, mostly because it generally ends up being attended by our mutual friends, and we have a good time with each other. Last night's show was similar in that regard, though I will say that between Hurricane Sandy and the election, the overall online population in SL has been very low for the past couple of weeks, so we had a pretty small audience.

But I wasn't going to let anything like that deter me from having a good time. In fact, I was probably all the more in "Silly Zak" mode as a result of the little group of friends who were hanging out and having some laughs at the show.

Good friends, good times. Silly music included. Photo by Kat.

I really try and be professional as an entertainer, but sometimes I get the giggles (usually from screwing up songs or the antics of my audience),, and that happened a number of times at the Islands of New England. Photo by Kat.

Islands of New England Set List...
Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Queen)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
†Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie)
1979 (Smashing Pumpkins)
Court & Spark (Joni Mitchell)
†It Hurts Me Too (Tampa Red)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

†I'd only performed both "Born to Run" and "It Hurts me Too" once before in SL.

Massive thanks to the folks who came out to my show at the Islands of New England, including the following people who lent their support!
Cassandra1999, Blane Yordstorm, Hells Lobo, Cindy Johnsky, Sesh Kamachi, TheaDee, Kat Claxton, Sassy Nitely, my manager Maali Beck, and most of all, my friend and IONE manager Christine Haiku!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Whisky A Go Go in Second Life (11.06.12)

Here's a sort-of funny story for you: it barely occurred to me that I was performing right in the midst of a presidential election until a day or two before it was happening. Not that I wasn't aware of the election; I promise I'm not a completely ignorant person. No, it's that I have a standing weekly show at the Whisky A Go Go in Second Life every Tuesday night, and per this country's federal law since 1792, we elect officials on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. So, my Tuesday night show was bound to conflict with this legitimately attention-grabbing event.

Some performers get concerned about these kinds of conflicts, and why wouldn't they? It's hard enough to get a good-sized crowd together when you're not up against something that captivates much of the entire planet. But I wasn't fazed in the slightest, and I'll tell you why. First of all, I was fairly sure that the time slot of the show (6PM SLT, aka 6PM PST/9PM EST) was early enough that it wouldn't be at a crucial moment when it was likely that solid election results were coming in. Second, I knew for a fact that almost all folks were beyond burned out on the entire political process. For them, jumping into SL and kicking back for some music was a perfect momentary diversion from the madness.

Third, and perhaps most important: I always make every effort to live up to my end of an agreement. Well, I'd agreed to perform at the Whisky that night, and I wasn't about to cancel just because I thought it might not be a big show for me personally.

As I suspected, there were plenty of people who wanted to take a short break from politics. We had a crowd of cool people, and it was fun (which is all we really want in any case). Photos by Kat.

When preparing to play, I had to decide how much I'd be referencing the election during my show. I certainly didn't want to spend much time on it, and here's why: first, Second Life is a global platform, and I never want people to feel that I'm only addressing American audiences. Second, my audience is a diverse group, and does include different people from many walks of life. As a musician, it's never my goal to alienate people, no matter who they are. Finally, per my thoughts above, many folks who would be in SL at that moment were there specifically to escape being clobbered over the head with election news. I didn't need to torture them further.

That doesn't mean I ignored what was going on. Without any partisanship involved, or mention of specific candidates or issues, I did chat with my crowd about the craziness of the election process in general, and reminded them to remain friends with people despite their differences. But the real way I referenced politics in my show last night was much more insidious. Everything in my set list had something that related to the election in some way, some very subtly, some more obvious.

Whisky Set List...
Save It for Later (English Beat)
Mad World (Tears for Fears)
U.S. Blues (Grateful Dead)
Leggy Blonde (Flight of the Conchords)
Let's Pretend That Everything's Okay (Zak Claxton)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
Nobody Home (Pink Floyd)
Keep on Rocking in the Free World (Neil Young)
Rainbow Connection (Kermit the Frog)
Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Loser (Beck)
Only Happy When It Rains (Garbage)

Thanks to everyone who took some time away from the madness and hopefully enjoyed the show! Special love to those who helped support the show!
Triana Caldera, Abigail Republic, jaci Wylder, Alexis Fairlady, Cicadetta Stillwater, Kat Claxton, Christine Haiku, Doc Edman, Sesh Kamachi, my great manager Maali Beck, Whisky host Dmitri Polonsky, and owner Cameron Trenchcoat!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Musician's Sports Guide: NFL 2012-13 Week Nine

Welcome back to another edition of the Musician’s Guide to the NFL. I’m the musician, and I don’t have a gig until 6PM tonight, so meanwhile, let’s talk week 9 in football (and not politics, please, before my head explodes). On a side note, if you see some hair sprouting on my upper lip, that is because it is Movember and I am supporting the fight against prostate and testicular cancer. I plan on using both of these parts of my body for a long time to come, and if you do as well, lend your support.

Not many people expected Ben Roethlisberger and the rather mediocre Steelers to walk into the Meadowlands and beat the Giants (6-3), but that’s why they play the games. Next weekend, New York hits the road to face the pretty weak Bengals. Elsewhere, what can you say about the free-falling Eagles (3-5)? Their loss on Monday night to the Saints tells you that this is not a playoff-bound team. I find it likely that they’ll also lose to the equally crappy Cowboys (3-5) on Sunday. Finally, the Redskins (3-5) should have crushed the Panthers, but instead took their third straight loss. They have a bye in week 10. They need it.

What’s up with the Bears (7-1)? Suddenly the hottest team in football, they’ve won every game except their week 2 matchup against their division mates, the Packers (6-3). Chicago put up 51 points against Tennessee on Sunday, but week 10 will be a real test for them when they host Houston. Green Bay is finally back on track, winning four in a row culminating with Sunday’s decisive win over Arizona, and rest up in week 10. Minnesota (5-4) started hot, and then went cold (in their defense for week 9, Seattle is undefeated at home this year). The Vikings host Detroit (4-4) in what will be an important game for both teams.

Remember this guy? I wouldn't count the Packers out at this stage. Photo via Getty Images.

I’m looking down the remaining eight games for the Falcons (8-0). Their schedule includes two games against the Saints (3-5), the Cardinals, two against the Bucs (4-4), the Panthers (2-6), the Giants, and the Lions. I can’t say with any certainty that they’re going to lose a game this season, though if they did, I’d bet it would be some shocker against New Orleans. Tampa Bay has now won a couple in a row, thanks to a win over Oakland. New Orleans is starting to come around a bit, and last week’s beating of the Eagles will probably help the vibe there. Finally, kudos to Carolina for unexpectedly beating the Skins.

Despite their shaky start, the Niners (6-2) once again appear to be an NFC powerhouse this year. They’re going to need to bye this week, since week 11 has them facing the Bears. If the championship was based on home game wins, Seattle (5-4) would be a perennial favorite to take it all. They beat Minnesota soundly this week, and host the Jets in week 10. Poor Arizona (4-5) went 4-0 at the start of the season, and proceeded to lose every game since. They get the week off, but then travel to Atlanta, and it won’t be pretty. Likewise, the Rams (3-5) have this week off, but then have to go to San Francisco in week 11. Ugh.

Beast mode is scary. Photo via Getty Images.

I opened my mouth last week about the Fins (4-4) being better than the Pats (5-3), and they promptly lost to the Colts. New England had their bye week, and will host the Bills (3-5) this Sunday. Miami should have a better time against the Titans this week. The Jets (3-5) also took the week off, but head to face the Seahawks this week. I still say the AFC East isn’t a sure thing for the Patriots this year. We’ll see.

Better keep looking over your shoulder, Baltimore (6-2)... the Steelers (5-3) have won three straight including last week’s surprising 4th quarter victory over the Giants. Pittsburgh’s roll will likely continue when they face the worst team in football, the Saints, in week 10, but then the Ravens and Steelers meet for an epic clash the following week. Cincinnati (3-5) is kind of the Cardinals of the AFC; they looked surprisingly good at the start but now have lost four in a row (and I don’t have high hopes for them against the Giants this week either). Cleveland (2-7) isn’t as bad as they seem... but they’re still pretty damn bad.

The Steelers started shaky but now are gaining ground on the Ravens. Photo via Getty Images.

It’s still the Texans’ (6-1) conference to take. Defensively, they’re as strong as ever, but a huge game in week 10 will be their battle at Soldier Field. Congrats to Indianapolis (5-3) who’ve won three in a row and are returning toward their form much more quickly than anyone would have thought. Andrew Luck is a big part of that, and he’s going to keep getting better. Neither Tennessee (3-6) nor Jacksonville (1-6) are worth mentioning.

I thought it would be at least a couple of years before Andrew Luck started leading the Colts to victories. I was wrong. Photo via Getty Images.

There’s not much to talk about here. If these teams didn’t have to play each other often, I doubt any of their records would even be as good as they are (and they’re not very good as is). Denver (5-3) continues to hold the pole position, and their remaining schedule is mostly a creampuff. I fully anticipate they’ll cruise into the playoffs come early 2013 to be destroyed by whatever actual good team they face. San Diego (4-4) won a game by facing the even-more inept Chiefs (1-7), who look like they’re playing for a lottery pick. Finally, the Raiders (3-5) couldn’t beat the Bucs at home, and now will enjoy an all-expenses-paid trip to Baltimore. It will not be pretty.

That's All, Folks!
There are only three games this week with more than 10 points in the spread: New England over Buffalo (+11), San Francisco over St. Lous (+11.5), and Pittsburgh over KC (+12.5). A better bet might be the Ravens over the Raiders at +7.5; I think it’ll be that or much worse. Enjoy the games!