Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Super Bowl Pick: End Game

NFL 2015 End
There isn't really that much to say about the end of the worst NFL season since the Strike Year, folks. Sure, it seems like a lot, but nothing that has required your time and attention in the last 10+ days. One of the teams has made the event a joke through repeated rules violations, and the other employs a guy who was ran out of the wildly corrupt college game by being, well, wildly corrupt. One of the teams employed a probable mass murderer quite recently; the other is only here thanks to a choke for the ages from their opponent. We would all be holding our nose about this, but being an NFL fan this year meant that you lost your sense of smell, along with your empathy for the pain and suffering of millions of ex-players and abused women and children. At some point, this NFL season became "Breaking Bad", and we all became customers of Mr. White's sky blue meth. Whether we were pathetic addicts or bloodthirsty drug lords is really only a matter of scale.

And the show will go on, probably with the highest ratings on record, because that's just how addicted we are to this bloodsport drug. I haven't really been able to lose myself in the matchup for the entire build-up to this game, or how it's going to be February and wow, no more games for seven months and it's the dead of winter and whatever. None of the usual rhythms and thought patterns have emerged. Instead, I've just come to accept that, like diminished teeth capacity and the race that is earning potential against obligations, that football isn't going to be as good as it once was, and is going to get worse. The game is no longer going to be an escape from the horrors of the real world, a diversion from aging and worry about what we're doing to the planet. Instead, its just going to be a different kind of suck, like an illness you can't shake.

Despite the fact that, at least theoretically, you could just stop watching. I mean, some have, right? I could just stop running a league, blog, and so on, and find other hobbies. Life's short, and there's no reason to keep pouring into a declining system.

Except, well, my friends and family that aren't going to go anywhere. I'm 45, and the last thing I need is *less* things to talk to people about. I don't want to talk to them about what I do for a living, because that's advertising, and they could care less. Talking about golf or poker or parenting or the dog or so on... kind of limited, at least against the vast cosmos of who's going to win and why. Politics? Hell no. Philosophy? Have tried it; it's like showing a dog a card trick, and they change the topic as soon as possible. So, you think the Eagles are really going to try to get Marcus Mariota? It's like a warm bathtub for the mind. Ignore the dirt in the water. It probably came from you anyway.

So, football it is. A software download that will continue to be supported, despite corrupting files, increasing costs, more viruses, less utility. Can't uninstall. All the way down the line. Ring the bell. And pass me the pipe.

And with that... on to the pick!

* * * * *

New England vs. SEATTLE (+2)

The case for New England: If you believe in motivation based on outrage against the media, this is the team for you. For the past week and a half, all they've heard is that they are cheats and scumbags and liars, and that's got to put all kinds of fuel in your tank. Have the best kind of passing attack (i.e., power TE, quick throws) to attack the Seattle secondary, and have been able to exert their will with a running game from time to time. Defense could dominate against a Seattle offense that has sputtered for much of the year and playoffs. WR Brandon LaFell is the body type that tends to hold up against Seattle (think Kelvin Benjamin in the Carolina game). Rob Gronkowski is playing the best football of his life, and could easily be the MVP of this game.

The case against New England: Haven't played against the same level of competition all year, and in last year's SB, that difference was writ large. Offensive line is prone to breakdown, and QB is not mobile. Their best WRs (Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola) are small speed guys, who tend to disappear against Seattle. Commitment to running game comes and goes, and RB corps has been a parade of disposable guys with fumble issues. Relatively easy to scout in the running game, since their backs are single-skill types (run power, run wide, catch). Special teams are relatively ordinary. Defense was surprisingly poor against Baltimore and probably aren't as good as they looked against Indy. Haven't won the big one in a decade, with bad and improbable things happening to them by teams that haven't had the pedigree of this Seahawks club. Could be due for an epic screwing by the increasingly transparent corruption that is NFL Officiating.

The case for Seattle: Best NFL defense in the last 10 years, and maybe 20.  Power running game that eventually just wins. Most mobile QB in the game against a middling pass rush. Could be due for a breakout game in passing, as Russell Wilson doesn't generally look this feeble for long. Team of destiny vibe in play for somehow coming from two scores down, and getting better on defense despite half of the secondary finishing the last game against the best QB in football while compromised by injury. Might be shockingly motivated at the idea that they are the defending champions, from the better conference, and are the betting underdogs. Got away with playing a terrible game for 55 minutes and won anyway to get here.

The case against Seattle: It's hard to imagine that a team with this little in the way of game-breaking talent at WR could win a Super Bowl in this era. Wilson has played some of the worst football of his life in the past few weeks (Carolina wasn't all that good, either). Have had a really hard time sustaining drives in money time, and turnover-prone in the SB is never a good mix. Injuries in the secondary could be much more serious than they are letting on, and if the secondary is just ordinary instead of dominant, they can not win against this opponent, in this setting. Will be facing the second-best defense of the three playoff opponents, and didn't do much against either of the others.

The pick: Honestly, one of the most 50/50 balls I've ever had at this part of the schedule and calendar. If I knew Seahawks CB Richard Sherman and S Earl Thomas were 100%, I'd probably feel confident in taking Seattle, because Thomas could limit Gronk, Sherman would end Edelman, and when the Patriots need to win with LaFelll and Amendola, they don't. If I knew which New England defense was going to show up -- Indy yes, Baltimore hell no -- that would also be one very valuable piece of news.

At the end of the day, I'm not able to shake the idea that the Patriots get here from a weak schedule, and when they are confronted by a real defense, they struggle hard. (And I'm also not certain that it wouldn't have been a better game as, say, Green Bay vs, Baltimore.) So give me Seattle, and the hope that the game will be ugly and boring and a ratings disaster, even though it won't, because if karma ever dictated a money bloodbath for a league and fan base, it's this year, and this league.

The prediction: Seahawks 24, Patriots 20

Last week: 1-1

Season to date: 130-131-4

Past SBs: 4-4

Career: 618-630-43

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Super Bowl Media Day Press Conference Inner Monologues

Hiding, Probably
Imagine, if you will, if the most meaningless event in modern America actually had some news content. And all it would take is any of the principals saying what they actually are thinking.

Tom Brady: Of course we've been cheating on the inflation level of the balls. That isn't because we're scummier than everyone else. Everyone in the NFL would stab you in the ear for nickels. It's because we're smarter than everyone else. We play in the AFC East; this isn't a high bar to pass.

And it doesn't matter that you caught us, and it doesn't matter what I might say about it, because you can't take us out of the game, and you aren't going to penalize us a lot for it next year, because we own Goodell. So, um, STFU.

Marshawn Lynch: Do any of you people have any idea how crappy Buffalo was for me, and how much the local media there made my life a living hell? Oh, no, you don't, because you think I came to Seattle and they invented me, and any man could do what I do, even though there hasn't been a power back like me, in, well, forever.

Oh by the way, the money they charge me for fines? I've got more of it than I'll ever need, and I'm not looking to whore myself out for more after I'm done with this game. Which might be any minute now. So, yeah, not going to make life any better for people who don't matter. What are they going to do, write mean things about me that I'm not going to read?

Rob Gronkowski: Hey, that lady who wrote the erotic fiction about me that you all can't stop giggling about? That's flattering and all, but you all shouldn't have. I can pretty much have my way with any man, woman or child in the greater Boston area any time I want, for any number of reasons.

So, if we win this game? I'm going to make an animal of myself. It will be upsetting. It will be unholy. And if we lose? It will be worse. You probably shouldn't be in the same state with me.

Russell Wilson: Man alive, am I glad that all of you people have gone in the tank for all of these sideshows. I've gone through a soul-crushing divorce in the year after winning the Super Bowl, and I'm on the doorstep of a payday that staggers the imagination.

No one's even thinking about that 4-INT crapstorm I unleashed in the NFC Championship Game, or how I needed Mike McCarthy to choke the life out of his team to give us an out. And you wonder why I went all God in the post-game interview? Winning that game was a goddamned miracle.

Bill Belichick: I can't believe I have to sit up here and pretend that we give a rat's ass about the rules. We hired Aaron Hernandez, you mooks. We spied on other team's practices. I'd have my guys stab people n pileups if I thought we could get away with it. Every day of the week.

Look, you think it's easy to get to this game? We don't have a special pipeline for new personnel; we draft and sign free agents the same as everyone else. You want big numbers or nice weather or sane local media or fans? You don't come here. All I can offer you is the promise that I will do everything inhumanly possible to win games, and that I'm the smartest and most ruthless person to walk the planet.

And I'm getting old. Anyone got a kid they want to sell me for organs?

Richard Sherman: You want to know what really motivates me? The fact that if my team loses, every racist cracker in AmeriKKKa is going to think it's Christmas and the Fourth of July all in one. Oh, and that they have wet dreams about pulling on my dreads.

Doesn't matter that they'd all mark out for me if I were on their team, and we were winning. Doesn't matter that I'm making bank from commercials that used to only go to super-safe dudes. Doesn't matter that I finished the last game with one freaking arm, and that if I were a white guy, we would have spent the last two weeks talking about how gritty I am. Oh, and if you think you are getting a straight answer from me about my physical condition now, you are out of your minds. That's only coming out if we lose. I went to Stanford, and I'm the only CB in the league getting endorsement dollars. Keep on thinking I'm stupid.

Roger Goodell: You think anything you numbnuts say bothers me? 30 second spots are selling for more than ever before. The ratings are better than ever. Sure, the game has long-term issues, but I'll be long gone by the time anyone realizes that no one from a family over the poverty line has joined the NFL in a decade.

I don't really give a fart in church about football in Los Angeles, or London, or anywhere else you think the NFL should go. I'm going to have games on every goddamned night of the week, because you marks are just going to keep watching it. There's massive use of Human Growth Hormone -- what, you think we've gotten 350-pound linemen who can run, when 30 years ago the biggest guy in the league was 275, without chemicals? -- and anyone who plays the game as a non-QB for more than five years is going to die decades earlier than they should.

I run a game built on blood. That's why you watch, and that's why it makes so much money. We hide it to get women and kids to watch to pump up the numbers, but if it's not about blood, you wouldn't watch. And you expect me to give a damn about some woman getting smacked around?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who Had Locker Room Attendant In The DeflateGate Patsy Pool?

Mmm, Scapegoat
Oh, every one? Yeah, every one.

(ESPN) The NFL has zeroed in on a New England Patriots locker room attendant who allegedly took the AFC Championship Game balls from the officials' locker room to another area on the way to the field, Fox Sports reported, citing sources.

According to Fox Sports, the league has interviewed him and has video.

 * * * * *

So let's review.

1) The most controlling and successful coach in the modern history of the NFL pays no attention to the equipment, and would never hurt the integrity of the game by cheating. In this way, as opposed to other ways.

2) A tremendously cerebral and exacting QB, with a competitive nature that seems to grow more dramatic each year (especially with cameras on him), won't notice when the feel of the football changes, assuming this wasn't something he was, in fact, OK with.

3) A franchise that has cheated before, and gotten a slap on the wrist for it (at least in comparison to, say, the Saints), would never cheat again. Especially with the same ownership and management.

4) The team has a rate of fumble recovery and prevention that borders on statistical impossibility, and hasn't been matched by any other team. They're just better coached and luckier, because God loves them, or something. Has nothing to do with game equipment that's easier for their offensive players to handle, as opposed to what the opposition is playing with.

5) After a week or Story Not Going Away and Patriot personnel engaging in bizarre and damaging press appearances over the issue... mostly because, well, the fact that the damn balls were tampered with is beyond reproach...

6) The entire thing can be boiled down to a single locker room attendant. Presumably acting alone, without ever meeting anyone of substance in the Patriot organization. (Or the CIA, or the Mafia, or the Cubans. We're through the looking glass here, people.)

Now, I get that people are tired of hearing about this. I get that it's a hard burden of proof that ball inflation would have been enough of a factor to swing any event in the AFC so that any other team in 2015 goes to Glendale.

But that's really not the point, and hasn't been all along.

The point is that the dirtiest franchise in the game... has been caught again, and will wind up scapegoating some nobody, paying some fine, and proceeding as if nothing has changed.

 Also, the Bill Cosby Rule is in effect here, folks. Which is to say that when you catch the scumbag doing the scumbag thing, you can pretty much assume this isn't the one and only time it occurred. (And, well, the fumble rates are kind of a smoking gun, right?)

Anyway, back to the real problem with the entire imbroglio.

 New England was caught, and won't be punished in any meaningful way. There's no feasible way to do anything before the game. What will be done after the game will be the firing of some scapegoat attendant.

After all, they are the Patriots, on the short list of NFL Preferred Franchises, lauded by every media organization and telecast on the planet.

What do the facts matter, in the face of all that?

And how dumb are the rest of us, really, to keep watching a league that's run this way?

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Modest Proposal For NFL Players, In Re Fines

For next year. File it away.

I understand that following the lead of Marshawn Lynch seems like an odd thing to do. Hell, many of you may not even like the guy, what with the butthurt that he seems to create among defensive players and the media. But on some level, you have to wonder...

If the NFL is going to superfine the guy for not giving the press enough, and superflag him for hand gestures that might not even be all that deliberate...

Well, what is to keep them from doing it to you?

Nothing, actually. And the noose will just keep tightening, since the fine fees are starting to work like civil forfeiture...

and, well, isn't it time to give the league a little taste of its own medicine?

So here's what I'm proposing. Next pre-season, when anyone on the field does anything good -- first downs, touchdowns, big hits, interceptions, fumble recoveries, etc. -- act like nothing of importance has happened at all. Just hand the ball to the ref, and go back to the huddle.

Trudge, actually, if the game situation allows it. Let this posture be your guide.

Don't congratulate anyone on anything, Don't betray the idea that you enjoy this game at all, that you are interested in performing it, or that anyone, anywhere, should watch it.

For just one week.

See if anyone notices.

Or does anything, you know, for you.

Five minutes after ESPN calls Roger Goodell and finds a new area to drill...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The NBA Has An Alignment Problem

Celtics & Lakers = Lawful Evil
Last night in Golden State, Warriors SG Klay Thompson set an all-time NBA record with 37 points in the third quarter. Thompson didn't score his first basket of the quarter until 2+ minutes had passed, just to put the accomplishment into greater relief, and he didn't even take all that many shots to do it (14 in total). It might have been the single best performance in a game this season, in the midst of a breakout season for a guy who has been one of the bigger reasons why his team has the best record in basketball.

Oh, and Thompson isn't even a starter in the All-Star Game. No lock that he'll make it as a reserve, either.

That, more than anything else, should tell you how good the Western Conference is now, and how much better it is than the East. If you were to split the NBA in two divisions, and promote / relegate the franchises, you'd be hard pressed to put more than a team or two from the East in the top spot. And even those teams would be suspect, since Atlanta has compiled much of its strong record in its own conference.

But let's back up to the All-Star Game.When you get into this, player by player... yeesh.

East: LeBron James, John Wall, Pau Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Carmelo Anthony.
West: Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin,  Marc Gasol and Kobe Bryant.

First off, Carmelo and Kobe are just lifetime achievement awards, and at least Bryant's season-ending rotator cuff injury ends that charade. Nothing against what the guy has done for his career, but the current Kobe is a part-time low-percentage gunner with not much in the way of defensive effort... and the fact that this also describes 'Melo is part of the reason why Knick Fan is a synonym for masochist.

Rather, let's discuss Pau. A guy with defense issues who was benched in LA during the ill-fated Dwight Howard era... is not just an All-Star in the East, but a starter. And I get that he's played well for the Bulls, and that maybe this is just name recognition over guys like Marcin Gortat or Al Horford... but man alive. Benchie in the West, A-S Starter in the East. Kevin Durant will come off the bench, but Pau will start. Ye gads.

As for Lowry, I like good stories of veterans who keep getting better at their craft as well as the next guy... but he's light years behind James Harden, Chris Paul and Damian Lillard, which means he's not even making the roster in the West. In the West, the Lowry story is Monta Ellis in Dallas, and that guy is probably not going to the game. This isn't a tilt in the direction of one conference; it's an avalanche.

Oh, and by the way? It's not going to get better any time soon. Andrew Wiggins is going to be the Rookie of the Year; he plays in the West. Thompson keeps getting better. Davis is just coming into his own now. James has lost a lot of explosion this year before recent rest; he's starting down the back nine of his career. DeMarcus Cousins is putting up the best big man numbers in the league, and might not even be a reserve in the West; he's also 24. Russell Westbrook is the most athletic PG in the NBA, and might be better than anyone in a head to head game. He's 26, and terrifying if he stays healthy. The East is going to need some free agent migration, some remarkable draft classes, and the development of a great deal of undercooked / underaged guys to even start to bridge the gap.

All of which leads me to think... why should we have to wait years for that, really? There isn't a Finals matchup now that doesn't look like a sweep... and realigning conferences  is a simple matter of treating things on a North-South continuum, rather than East-West. To wit:

North East: Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Philly, Washington.
North Central: Chicago, Toronto, Minnesota, Detroit, Milwaukee.
North West: Portland, Utah, Denver, Golden State, Sacramento
South East: Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, New Orleans, Charlotte
South Central: Cleveland, Indiana, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Dallas
South West: Lakers, Clippers, Phoenix, San Antonio, Houston

(And yeah, life would be so much easier on this if Memphis and OK City were still in Vancouver and Seattle, but so be it. It's not like the current system is without geographic flaws, either.)

So... let's revisit the All-Star Game in my world.

North: Stephen Curry, John Wall, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge.
South: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Paul.

Better game, right?

Better playoffs, right?

Better next decade, right?