Monday, August 31, 2009

Top Ten Ways To Improve Fantasy Football

Despite being the most popular nerdling pursuit, fantasy football has a ton of flaws. As we are all about Making It Better, here are ten points that will be improved at some point. So why not now?

10) Special disdain. Special teams make up about 1/7th of all value to a football team, and yet the only time they impact fantasy is when a placekicker trots on the field. Let's reward the truly obsessed with punter drafts (finally, Oakland has a star), tackles by the gunners, and return yards above an average (since pure cumulative totals would make for a simple draft of returners for terrible teams).

9) Head to head slap. There are two ways to play fantasy; head to head, which is fun for trash talk but utterly random, and roto, which has more skill but can be a bit of a snooze if a team runs out to a big lead before the end of the season. Why not go farther, with home and away division games (i.e., head to head games that have a small point bonus pre-set to the "home" team), wildcards, and seeds/tiebreakers based on overall points? Geek with your whole heart.

8) Embrace the committee. So long as every NFL team is going to go for Managed Care Carries, we all need to get with the program and stop puling over the Three Headed Monster Movement. Everybody just start six RBs in every league. That'll teach 'em. (And hey, NFL coaches? We can just treat this like defense and draft stuff like Ravens Running, which will send your jersey sales straight down the Inner Harbour, if you catch my flush. Don't push us any farther.)

7) Penalty yards. It's time to reward the #1 skill in terms of practice and concentration that your average NFL WR has to offer: effectively puling for pass interference calls. At a minimum, this should be added to overall receiving yardage, and if you want to make it its own category with bonuses, I won't stop you. Imagine the drama when the refs argue out who pushed who, knowing that your week could hang in the balance. Manly!

6) Punitive powers. Give your league's commissioner the hammer he needs to punish the wicked with penalty points taken offf players who fail to get out of bounds in a two-minute drill, get flagged for taunting or late hits, or cause their teams to suspend them for conduct from the Terrible Owens playbook. Convicted criminals aren't allowed to profit from their crimes with stuff like books and movies, and neither should people who draft Chad Ohno Polio.

5) Pancake blocks. Let's face it, we're never going to get kids to think that playing guard and tackle is cool until we give them some numbers. Count the pancake blocks and we'll get closer to that better place.

4) Kill shots. Kind of the evil corollary to the pancake block, in that it's usually terrible form and leaves the defender grabbing air much more often than not, but hey, you have to reward aggression sometimes. Besides, it's the perfect category for the dumb money boys to chase.

3) Wackiness. Your QB catches a bomb TD out of the Wildcat? Double points. Your RB throws one from the option? Double points. Your defense causes the opposing QB to meander out of the end zone from forgetting where he is on the field? Triple points. If your team has the water-cooler play of the week, that's got to count for something.

2) Yahtzee moments. If your guy has the most rushing yards, passing yards, recieving yards or touchdowns in the entire league for a week, I think you should get a little sometthing something for that. After all, in the real world, your team would be basking in the glow of the Player of the Week award. Besides, why should the Patriots be the only team running up the score?

1) Defensive indifference. My single biggest for real peeve in fantasy; that you have to draft defenses independent of whether they, well, win the freaking game. If your defense fails to protect the lead late, you should be bent for more than a marginal point of difference; similarly, if they give up points in garbage time, that should not negate a winning effort. In my keeper league, we throw a five-point bone to a winning defense, and while it probably washes out over the course of a year, maybe it doesn't.

Best of all, it actually makes you notice who wins and loses the games. That should matter, yes?


An actual business based around the idea of atheists taking care of the pets of the Raptured. So as a corollary idea, I'm proud to announce that I will be happy to manage any raptured person's fantasy sports team for a one-time $5 fee. Any proceeds from your team's win will go to the atheist relatives or charity (perhaps pet rescue?). Just PayPal me your fiver via the tip jar at the top of this site, and email your username and password to me at

In the event of Rapture, I'll log in and make sure that you don't miss any bye weeks, and that everyone else in your league knows that you're in a far better place. Happy Rapturing!

The FTT Book Review

Positively Fifth Street, by Jim McManus

As I move closer to fantasy football season, I found myself moving away from draft prep. Instead, my eyes kept coming back to this book, and by the end of it, I realized it was more than a desire to play hookey on the spreadsheets. McManus really is that good of a writer, and "Fifth Street" really is that good of a book.

The book covers two arching stories. The first is McManus's own poker play, which involves a run in the 2000 (pre-Internet, pre-Chris Moneymaker) World Series of Poker. The second is the murder of Ted Binion, one of the private family of casino owners who did more for poker than just about anyone, even if the Series is no longer at the rundown Horseshoe, at the hands of the woman he was involved with, and a confidante who was also involved with her.

The strength of the book is in McManus's unflinching honesty. Whether it's missteps at the felt or in an adult establishment, he's a reliable narrator in a sea of duplicity. It also doesn't hurt at all that his WSOP might be the last one to have true star power at the close; table-mates for McManus include Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, T.J. Cloutier and Annie Duke. Meanwhile, the criminal system grinds through the proceedings in the Binion murder, which is incredibly seedy, even by Vegas standards.

It's a bit long as there things go, but the access is remarkable, and so are McManus's gifts. Definitely worth your time and attention, even if you aren't a poker player... and the last lines of the book hit me like a truck. It's not just whether you win or lose at the tables; it's also what you lose by being there in the first place.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Small Pair Play, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Embrace Cedric Benson

Friday night, I'm up in my home poker game, playing the cash game after taking a first place chop in the tournament. I'm holding a pair of fours in middle position, pre-flop, and make a small raise. The small blind calls, and then the big blind goes all-in.

Realistically, there's no way I should call. My best hope is that the big blind has air or Ace-King for a coin flip, and the small blind will fold. The all-in move isn't a huge chunk of my stack, and if I make the bet, the small blind can't raise, since he's got about the same number of chips as the big. And I've just got a feeling a 4 is coming. I call... and so does the small blind. He flips over Ace-King, the big flips over a pair of Jacks. I'm basically needing to make trips to take down the pot. It's a bad decision.

So when the flop comes as a 4 with other rags, that's really far too useful, and the turn and river don't change matters. I wound up taking a bad beat of my own later, when Ace-King suited falls to Ace-Seven off, but I still end up making the second most of anyone at the table.

The next day in my auction fantasy football draft, I'm staring down the barrel at Cedric Benson, who really is the football equivalent of a small pair; a potentially winning play that's going to need something else to go well. He eventually gets priced up to a lackluster $12, which despite his lack of talent and the generally terrible prospects of the Bengals, I'm happy to go for, simply because he's all they have.

And as I'm looking over my roster the next day, I'm realizing that Benson really could be the key to my draft. If the Bengals are better this year and he stays in the role, he's going to be on my roster for a long time at that price; it's not like tying up a quarter of my salary on a 30-year-old LaDanian Tomlinson is anything but a one-year strategy. If he fails, I'll be working the wire to find some other RB option, especially if one of the three players that I've got in front of him gets hurt.

And that's what life is, really. Most decisions aren't slam-dunk moments where you commit to decisions that are obvious. Instead, they involve taking on more risk than you'd like, and having to be comfortable with less than sure principals. And knowing that if you make enough of these moves, you're likely to either go rich or go broke, since they are the kinds of plays that wind up getting involved in big pots.

So, let's go, Fat Ced Benson, you three yards and a cloud of suck. Let's see you rejuvenate Carson Palmer, put up 1,000+ yards on the ground, and maybe score a half dozen touchdowns. I don't need you to produce quads on the flop and give me the nuts / auto-win. But if you do? That'd be nice. And I'd claim to have sensed it coming all along...

In News You Could Not Possibly Care About...

Here's my opening day team for the keeper fantasy football auction league. Rules of the game are that you get six points for touchdowns for passing, running or receiving, 1point for every 10 yards running or receiving, 1 point for every 25 points in passing, and subtract two for any turnover. Defenses get two points for any turnover, an extra five points if they win the game, a point per sack and a variable amount of points based on how many points they give up. You have $300 to fill 15 spots, with keeper prices escalating on the bid price, and you can only keep a player if he was on a roster for all of 2008. Players with an X mark were keepers.

Player Team Price 2010 Price
QB Kurt Warner ARI 8 11 X
RB1 Ryan Grant GB 51 56 X
RB2 Steve Slaten NYJ 10 13 X
WR1 Anquan Boldin ARI 38 43 X
WR2 Jerricho Cotchery NYJ 28 33 X
WR3 Anthony Gonzalez IND 24 28 X
FX L Tomlinson SD 75 80
TE Dallas Clark IND 19 23
DEF Indianapolis IND 1 4
PK Adam Vinatieri IND 1 4
B1 Cedric Benson CIN 13 16
B2 Donnie Avery STL 20 24
B3 Peyton Hillis DEN 3 6
B4 Steve Breaston ARI 4 7
B5 Matt Hasselbeck SEA 1 4

I wound up eating $4 of the bid price, but as I didn't really get taken off anyone I wanted, that didn't bug me too much. I was surprised to wind up with Tomlinson, given my draft position and historic reluctance to invest so much in one player, but as there were really only two top-tier backs (LDT and Steven Jackson, who wound up going for $84) available, I'm fairly pleased to have him. I'm also reasonably excited by the potential for Hillis to steal the limelight in Denver, given the injury histories of the others in that committee, and love being able to spend $9 on two NFC West quarterbacks in throw-first offenses. (Now, if they just stay healthy.) Breaston is also a good guy to have if Boldin gets hurt again, and while Cedric Benson is a steaming pile, he also seems to be Cincy's only steaming pile, and doesn't match the bye week of any of my top-tier backs.

The two big moments that didn't happen for me in this draft were naming Jay Cutler, then letting him go to a team that had already spent heavy on Aaron Rodgers. Making matters worse for him was that Rodgers and Cutler share the same bye week, and as Cutler wound up costing $22 more than Hasselbeck, I'm happy to have stepped aside. A similar move happened with Antonio Gates, who went for $43; Dallas Clark at $19, which basically meant that I had the ability to go after Benson and Avery, was also a positive.

I'm sure that it will all turn to hell and injuries, of course, but I've got a reasonable feeling about the team, and don't feel like I've got to race out and make a deal before the season starts. Which, realistically, is all you can hope for after it's all over.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Top 10 Reasons Why I'm Looking Forward To The End Of The MLB Season

10) Crap rookies. Quick, who are the favorites for the rookie of the year race? Better yet, is there an actual good rookie player?

I know, I know... Tommy Hanson's been electric, J.A. Happ saved the Phillies' season, Neftali Perez makes you swoon, Andrew McCutcheon kid in Pittsburgh's for real, Elvis Andrus, etc., etc. You can always find a few. But is it any wonder that in the year when teams started gaming the system for arbitration (see Price, David and Wieters, Matt), the rookies have, well, played like people who couldn't give a damn? Learn the lesson, MLB Teams; when you don't try to win, you don't win.

9) Wild, schmild. Right now, the Dodgers might be in an epic collapse against the startling Rockies, and the Red Sox deserve nothing but scorn for their post-All Star Break performance. Both will probably make the playoffs, just so we can have a few more teams in fake contention in September. I realize that I'm raging against the machine here, but more playoff games means fewer meaningful games -- not more. It also crushes my Boston Shadenfruede Joy, and dammit, I needed that. Very badly.

8) My team is unwatchable.
With the fire sale trade of Matt Holliday and the continuing complete incompetence of the farm system in developing position players in the Post Steroid Age, my Oakland A's are now in Year Three (or is it Six?) Of the Dead Ball Era. I don't care that they can create viable bullpen arms out of thin gruel, or that the young starting pitchers all have a chance to be special... Because they will do that in another uniform, when they are moved for the next Bobby Freaking Crosby. Just contract them, OK? That way, I'll only have to listen to Billy Beane's smugtastic bullspit one last time. (Or just give the job to Michael Lewis, who might have just made up the whole thing about these guys being smart.)

7) My fantasy teams suck. No, not even in a Just Ignore Them way; instead, they toddle on the edge of solvency, demanding time I don't have for a payoff I won't get. Injury-ridden, inconsistent at-bats, and with no clear pattern of strength or weakness to inform a trade. In other words, the very worst kind of timesuck year, and the kind of experience that makes you want to just give up the game and take up knitting. If only knitting had trash talk.

6) The umpires have PMS. Not to go all Bob Gibson here, but the freaking emo action when pitchers throw inside redefines lame in our lifetime, and every starting pitcher should go headhunting in the first inning, just so the other team gets the warning/ castration first. Is it too much for there to be just a little testosterone in this game, Blue?

5) No Mets or Cubs collapse.
Instead, the two most noxious NL fanbases are just train wrecks without good rubbernecking opportunities. After the past few years of joy, I was really starting to enjoy watching the rug pulled out from under them.

4) Super Quitters. Quick, name the worst team in MLB. Well, by the records, it's the Nationals... But they've actually been tolerable for the past few months, ever since Mike MacDougal arrived to prove that even the worst possible saves candidate on the worst possible team can help you. No, it's probably the Mets... Or maybe the Padres... And great Sassy Molassy, Joe Posnanski says it's the Royals, who are trying very hard to emulate the '72 Steve Carlton Phillies with Zach Greinke. So very much suck. Glad that lack of a salary cap is working out for MLB!

3) As soon as it ends, so does John Kruk and Joe Morgan.
Is there any greater sign of just how dangerously out of touch the Lemur is from its audience than the continued employment of these two Masters Of The Very, Very Obvious?

2) The Yankees Finally Bought The Pennant.
Admittedly, this is still better than when the Red Sox buy the pennant, but with clear signing wins like CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira, it's looking dangerously like the Empire knows what it's doing again. This is never as much fun as when they don't.

1) The games are, simply, unwatchably long on television. I used to go to 20 or more games a year, and actually being at the game is so much better than a screen, I'm starting to think the game would collapse without fantasy honks. How, honestly, does anyone routinely give up the 4 hours that the average MLB game extracts? I'm 40 now, people. I might not have enough time left in my life for this.

The other night in the Man Space, my viewing choices were the Future Longshoremen portion of an NFL preseason game, a game between contenders in MLB, taped poker highlights, and pro wrestling.

In other words, three camp pieces of crap and MLB.

Let's just say I didn't see that much of the old ball game, and leave it at that...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Top 11 Consolations for Mets Fans

11) When you lose a game on an unassisted triple play, that's just special

10) Tom Glavine can't hurt you anymore

9) It's nice to see Pedro Martinez happy

8) Unless the Nats get really hot, they won't finish in last place in the division

7) In your fantasy draft next year, you could wind up with Jose Reyes, Johan Santana and David Wright

6) Many good seats available for the rest of the year

5) That middle of the night firing of Willie Randolph doesn't seem so mean anymore

4) They should be good and rested for next year, and try much harder

3) It's not like you've never had to endure a year like this before

2) You didn't really want to have to root for Billy Wagner anyway

1) All things considered, this September will be better than the last two

Top 10 Philadelphia Eagles Concessions to Animal Rights Groups

In an attempt to counteract the PR disaster of signing Michael "Pariah" Vick, the Eagles have met with local animal rights groups that were protesting the team. What are they doing to make the controversy go away?

10) Promise to not play Vick until they can bring him in on the road in a hopeless situation in Baltimore

9) Solemnly swear that they won't give him an ironic and unfortunate choice of entrance music

8) Will force Vick to record any number of stilted PSAs

7) Won't mention how that an eagle would totally take a dog in a fight, and that it would probably look utterly bitching

6) Won't rename the hot dogs sold at Lincoln Federal to anything smirk-inducing

5) Provide a special secure area for them to use in tailgating to keep them safe from Eagles Fan... in southern New Jersey

4) Get them off WIP before really unfortunate things happen

3) Make sure that all of the kids out there get the knowledge that, as cool as it might seem to ruin your life and become a loathed criminal, dogfighting is just a bad idea

2) Promise that Vick not only doesn't get into trouble ever again, but also refuse to have another moment of happiness until he is dead, dead, dead

1) Um, pay them a lot of money

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sleeper Busts

As we continue to get Into The Meta in our fantasy football overwork, here are five guys that will make you seem smart on Draft Day... and sorry later. Let some other too-smart make the mistake.

5) Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis. Why, he's sure to inherit all of the juicy goodness that Anthony Gonzalez, Dwight Clark and Brandon Stokely has provided over the years as Peyton Manning's slot security blanket. Except that (a) Clark's still here, (b) Gonzo was a nightmare of week to week inconsistency last year, and (c) Stokely's big year in the slot was a Drew Bennett-esque fluke.

The plain and ugly fact is that as good as Peyton Manning is, Indy's opponents take the air out of the football too much for the #3 WR to actually be valuable outside of very, very deep leagues. Clark, Gonzo and Reggie Wayne will add up to 3,000 yards, which means just 1,000 for the backs and spare wideouts. Garcon might be a player, but short of a injury cascade, he won't deliver more than 400 yards this year.

4) Danny Ware, RB, NY Giants. Running behind the best O-line in football has its advantages, and after The Plaxico Experience, I get why people don't think much of Jailbird Ahmad Bradshaw's long-term NY employment. Unfortunately, the Giants have a lot of patience for bad guys that are still OK to walk the street, and Bradshaw is just (a lot) better than Ware. There's also the fact that the team's continuing efforts to hide Eli Manning's mediocrity will mean more Brandon Jacobs, not less. Try this again in 2010, or if Jacobs explodes. Until then, pass.

3) Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seattle. Everyone's candidate for Two Years Ago numbers, despite the fact that bodyguard tackle Walter Jones might be done, the WRs - including TJ Houshmanzadeh - won't beat you deep, he's got a back issue that could make him shut it down on any given play, and the next defense that makes Julius Jones and TJ Duckett their focus will be the first. He might deliver anyway, as the division is terrible and he knows the throws in his sleep, but I'll be rolling the dice elsewhere. For every comeback QB, there's another stay away, and he's looking more like Mark Bulger than Kurt Warner.

2) Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore. Didn't we see this movie -- you know, the one where the promising undersized scatback saves the world from watching Willis McGahee -- last year in preseason? Even if the smurf holds up to the pounding (he won't), they will give the goal-line touches to Man-Beast LeRon McClain, who is going to be extra-effective from the raw coursing hate of having to be the new Lorenzo Neal in the Carrion offense.

Add it up, and you've got a guy with periodic breakouts, none of which will happen in your active lineup, that you are going to pay too much for. As a very late entry, he's got value, but if he's more than your bench guy in a 12-team league, you're going to need some breaks.

1) Felix Jones, RB, Dallas. It doesn't take genius scouting to see the talent here; the man might be the fastest non-star back in the NFC, and his value per touch was off the charts before getting hurt last year. But along with all of that obvious goodness are a few huge problems. The first of which is that he's useless in blitz pick-ups, which means he won't be on the field enough. The second is that he's going to be returning kicks, which usually doesn't help anyone in fantasy. The third is that the other two backs - a healthy Marion Barber and a do-everything Tashard choice - are just going to be on the field more.

And the final point is that all of this is assuming he's actually going to stay healthy. So unless your league is crazy deep, or you see Choice and/or Barber go down, stay away. Five touches a game is not ownable in a starting lineup, no matter how exciting they are.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Top 10 rules for naming your fantasy football team

It amazes me to realize that, so many years into this nerd exercise, that there are still so many out and out awful team names out there. In leagues that I'm in, I'm seeing any number of misteps that are straight outta the '80s. It's sad. So since we're all about Making It Better, here are the ten rules you must follow to get a team name. Ignore them at your peril.

10) Go for timeless. Those Pac-Man jokes just seem more rubbing it in now, and your Travis Henry pull is also a reach. Referring to infamy is fine, but it better have a shelf life.

9) Plural nouns. The whole point of fantasy sports is to actually have a team. When you go for something singular, you wind up becoming the Utah Jazz. And that never ends well.

8) Avoid puns. The lowest form of humor, for a reason. These are defensible only if you are trying to antagonize the rest of your league into going off tilt. But seeing as how that rarely works in reality, just find something else to use, OK?

7) Private jokes are fine. Especially if you can reference a shameful moment from your past, or from a competitor. But it's got to be actually funny to more than, well, you.

6) Homophobia is so, um, gay. Besides, by the numbers, one of the people in your league swings that way, so you're coming on to them. You big tease.

5) One year, one name. Changing your team's name doesn't just lose the comparison to real-world sports, it's also downright annoying for the rest of the league to deal with, especially in regards to trades and waiver picks ups. Get over yourself and stick with your name. Besides, you've got all of those merchandise sales to worry about.

4) Stop sniffing your favorite laundry. This is obvious, but honestly, there are people in this world that just name their fake teams after real ones. I'm fine with that, but truth in advertising demands that you own nothing but that team's players.

3) Your name matters. Seriously, you'll be staring at it for four months or more, and as silly as it sounds, I'm certain that a great team name has a strong statistical corollary to a winning year. Take some time, or at the very least, do a little research and steal a good one. (Hint: This blog has lists. So do others.)

2) Keeper league, keeper name. It's one thing to change your team's name every year with a total redraft league, but if you're going down the path of serious nerdom, your name should follow suit. Tradition!

1) Shorts. Your team name, regardless of length, has to have a shorter nickname that works for quick hitter use. And oh, by the way? You might want to figure out what name is *before* you pick your team name...

Leaving soon, on a screen you won't watch

So this hit the wires a while ago, but I've been too busy -- the day job has become very time-intensive the past few weeks, for reasons I can't get into -- to comment. But the short of it for non-clickers is that there is a new television show in development where the Wacky Shenanigans are all about... a fantasy league. No, really.

You see, since there are tens of millions of us doing this nerdy thing, that must mean we all want to watch a show about it, right? We'll be tuning in for a good old chucklefest over seeing familiar character types -- the guy who always trades! the guy that never trades! the girl whose girlfriends don't understand why she does this! the rules stickler! Et cetera! -- look on the tee vee screen, and maybe we'll have a breakout catch phrase or Jm J Bullock level star emerge.

Or, um, well, not. Because -- and this would be blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever been stuck in a conversation with someone about their fantasy league team, rather than, say, yours -- this isn't interesting unless you are involved. It's not like Felicia Day's "The Guild", a Web series that lovingly satirizes World of Warcraft honks... and even if it were, that show's on the Web instead of basic cable for a reason, folks. (Which isn't to demean Ms. Day's accomplishment in the least, though truth be told, I think she's better on "Dr. Horrible.")

There's also this. I know fantasy leaguers; I've been one, off and on, for long before the Internets. We don't, as a general rule, watch too many sitcoms, basically because we are, well, watching games. Many of which involve our fantasy league players. So unless you're going to shoehorn in some actually relevant tips and/or insider information to your circle jerk, there's only one group of people who I can see watching it.

The loved ones of people who play fantasy sports, who want to try to see what the big deal is. May I suggest the nearest unicorn riding range?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bust Sleepers

Every year in fantasy football, especially as the season becomes longer as more and more people succumb to the disease that is over-preparation, a consensus seems to develop around certain players. And after weeks of hearing obvious points made, it becomes clear that we've gone beyond sleepers and busts, because people aren't just taking one turn at the advice water fountain... and when the consensus busts kick in, it just seems like dogpiling.

So, as a public service to the rest of Blogfrica, I'd like to point out the kings of the double move -- aka the Bust Sleepers, the name-brand players that, well, just might not fall off a cliff this year. Keep them in mind when you are looking suspiciously at them 1-3 rounds after they should have been drafted.

> Kurt Warner.
Something of a sore spot for me, in that he's a cheap keeper in one of my leagues, and I'm just getting tired of hearing how he's eight billion years old and will break in a stiff wind. He still has the starter's job and contract in a pass-first, second and third offense that has ridiculously good WRs. He's also got a bad defense that ensures shootouts, a running game that won't salt away anything, a terrible division to enjoy for six games a year, and a warm-weather site that should be gold in the fantasy playoffs. He's also young for a fossil, since it's not like he spent the early years of his career in the NFL, and as the only Super Bowl quarterback in franchise history, really not that much of a chance to lose the gig to trustaraian Matt Leinart. Sure, he's injury and turnover prone; that's why you are drafting Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning ahead of him. Nobody else, though.

> Clinton Portis. This one hurts, in that I've never owned the guy in any league, hate the Redskins with a passion that few men know, and would utterly love to see the guy go down in a heap and doom that franchise to a 12-loss year. (Albeit one with some improbable win over my Eagles. Honestly, the rest of the NFL needs to send us fruit baskets for keeping Jason Campbell in the league.)

Portis has all the trappings of a bust pick: he's aging, a RB, takes a lot of punishment and isn't going to out-quick younger defenders anymore. But he's, well, all they have, and it's physically impossible for (a) their young wideouts to suck worse than they did last year, or (b) that offensive line to be any less healthy. Portis won't win you championships with a first round pick, but in the second, many will do worse than 1,400 combined yards and 12 TDs.

> Thomas Jones.
History is littered with powerful college running backs who were supposed to vulture all of the goal-line touches away from a fading vet. And yet, Tony Hunt never really did anything to Brian Westbrook, TJ Duckett never ate Warrick Dunn, and Maurice Morris had absolutely nothing to do with the end of Shaun Alexander. The lesson is this: draft picks don't always work out, and teams that moves the ball on the ground don't always change horses at the finish. The Jets still have a great offensive line, along with a coach that's going to try to recreate the Joe Flacco Experience. Jones also doesn't have the lifelong use pattern that says he's spent, and he finished last year strong. I wouldn't expect the same monstrous year he had last year, but he's not going to fall off the face of the earth, either.

> Brandon Marshall. The leading light of the NFL's Young And Stupid WR Corps, Marshall has to somehow come to terms with the downgrade from Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton, could comnbust at any moment with criminal activities, and could easily be set aside by a coaching staff that was stupid enough to, well, let their franchise QB leave while they pined for familiar faces. But it's not like the Broncos have another possession wideout, won't be throwing it 45 times a game (seriously, the defense went from horrible to old and horrible), or play in a division with shutdown defenses. He still has risk, of course, but if you're letting him slip past the Top 20 WRs, it's probably personal.

> Jay Cutler.
Yes, his schedule is harder, and his weapons are worse. But it's not like he's working without weapons. Matt Forte is better than any RB he's ever worked with. Greg Olsen is better than any TE he's ever worked with. Devin Hester is not useless, Earl Bennett has college familiarity, and, um, Cutler's actually really good on his own damn self. There's a reason why Chicago backed up the truck to get him.

Will his numbers be the same as in Denver? Of course not; he won't be in a million shootouts, and it will take time to develop timing and talent. But for all of these honks who pule that Kyle Orton will be better in fantasy this year? Um, no. Besides, Cutler's got this starting job, on a good team, until he dies. Orton won't even last the year in Denver, and maybe not even the first half. You really don't want to get involved with the Broncos this year.

Add your Bust Sleepers in the comments...

Top 10 signs that you are over-preparing for your fantasy football draft

10) You have contempt for overly popular analysts who work for well-known sites, since *anyone* can read them

9) Your draft preparation includes statistics that you invented

8) You've emailed your commish on rule questions / changes / rants

7) You embrace bizarre league sizes, rules and position eligibility plays, since they reward the geeky

6) Casual fantasy players ask you for advice in much the same way that the kids in Springfield deal with Comic Book Guy

5) You wish fantasy football wasn't so popular, because it makes you uncomfortable to have a mainstream vice

4) You can make the case for six different players to be the #1 pick, and also savagely ridicule the merits of all of them

3) The playoff exploits of any number of players doesn't register on your radar, since those don't show up in fantasy

2) You have sleepers, busts, overrated sleepers and overhyped busts

1) This entire list made you angry for many reasons, not the least of which was that it didn't help your draft prep

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Top 15 Unreported FavreGate Stories

There's any number of people who are kind of bent at the media's continued mouthjob for Farvarino. Judging from the reaction in Blogfrica, the MSM is going down the usual path on this, which is to say, getting to the point that the blogosphere was at two to three years ago... but it's still something of a minority view (hah! I kill me!) that the man is regarded with the same general esteem as Michael Vick right now.

But it's not just the idol worship, the coddling, the blindness and the sudden overhype of the Vikings' chances to win a Super Bowl. (Wait, you are telling me they replaced injury-prone turnover machines with an injury-prone turnover machine? Crown their ass!) It's all of the side stories that they are missing while, well, writing the same story they've been writing for years.

So as a public service here in the hot and stupid weeks of August, here are fifteen story pitches for you to run with, journos. Assuming you're still employed as something other than a Favre Hag. Enjoy!

15) Favre may be solely responsible for the mainstream acceptance and understanding of the term "heel turn"

14) He broke Twitter, along with ESPN

13) The worst-selling jersey at the NFL Shop site is the split Favre/Vick model

12) Even Peter King, who fills his word hole with coffee minutiae, his daughter's sports experiences and vengeance against hotels, thinks this is getting self-indulgent

11) His desperation to spend less time with his family is getting unseemly

10) A large majority of NFL fans could not give a damn, one way or the other, what he does

9) Sage Rosenfels is really looking forward to learning new ways to turn the ball over from The Master

8) The biggest reason Favre came back was due to his ownership stake in a large number of prominent sports blogs (Thanks, Boss!)

7) Adrian Peterson's fantasy draft stock is, somehow, unchanged by the news

6) Visanthe Schiancoe has to change his name to Bubba

5) Favre's dream of ruining every NFL franchise is only 29 teams away from coming true

4) It's now against federal broadcasting laws to note his life-long crappy numbers in domes

3) Bernard Pollard can end this long national nightmare on Friday with a move he already knows

2) The late-season ground swell for One More Tarv Jackson Try will be wildly amusing

1) Whether you prefer Favre or Vick is almost entirely dependent on your age and skin color

Monday, August 17, 2009

Top 11 Reasons Oakland Raiders' Coach Tom Cable Punched An Assistant

The Internets are alive with the rumor that there are Hijinks In Raiderville. As always, FTT has the inside info and 11-point coverage.

11) That's just how they roll in Eye Da Ho

10) Merely exerting his top bunk privileges

9) It's all part of Al Davis's Master Plan

8) Sebastian Janikowski gave him a roofie by accident, and the resulting shame has made him a ticking time bomb

7) Trying to get canned before the ritual first week prime time evisceration

6) If you had to deal with Javon Walker on a routine basis, you'd be assaulting people, too

5) Grown men just aren't able to be outside in Napa without succumbing to "Heart of Darkness" style madness

4) Assistant just wouldn't shut up after Cable had a hard day at the office, and dinner wasn't on the table

3) The Raiders can't be expected to commit stupid penalties without a clear coaching example

2) Just wanted to finally feel like a winner

1) It's Monday

Top 10 Vickmageddon Moments

As predicted, the protests against Mr. Excitement are quickly galvanizing support for the man. It's also let loose the following moments of truly exceptional public discourse.

1) Chase Utley's wife, who does charitable work with the SPCA when she's not saying regrettable things about adoption, making the completely defensible point that the Philadelphia Eagles should have contacted her before making the signing, since football teams always ask the wives of baseball players for permission on player moves

2) Callers to sports radio talk shows drawing really unfortunate comparisons to Vick getting a job after prison, and their own selves or relations not being as fortunate

3) PETA considering protests at games, because what Philly Fan really needs, more than anything, is a televised opportunity to show how tolerant they can be of dissent

4) Vick going on "60 Minutes" to say that he "deserved to lose $135 million," which sounds nice enough, until you consider that every public apologist now has to put a price tag on things

5) Vick, again on "60 Minutes", admitting that he cried in prison, but thankfully, without any unfortunate details on the events that happened before the tears

6) Andy Reid playing the "I've known people who went to jail" card, which sounds important until you realize that he just *might* have been able to prevent the people he knows from going there in the first place

7) Any number of people thinking that the Vick signing makes the Eagles a Super Bowl favorite, which is a little surprising, in that most people haven't seen Vick stop the run as a middle linebacker

8) The truly unfortunate replay of the old Whoopi Goldberg line about how dog bloodsport is just part of the culture and should be tolerated/understood/minimized

9) Discussions about the relative merits and demerits of cockfighting, MMA, vegetarianism, hunting, drug dealing and any number of other hopeless tangents

10) Any number of people wanting to discuss their views on criminal sentencing, since they have decades of expertise in the matter

Anyway... as a fan of the laundry, I'm still not thrilled with having to root for this guy. But the reality is that I'm probably not going to have to root for him very often, since he is, well, a back-up quarterback. I'm also not going to have to worry very much about his injury issues or his accuracy issues, because he's, um, a back-up quarterback.

And as such, there's no reason to compare him to Donovan McNabb, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Tom Brady. Instead, I get to compare him to David Carr, Todd Collins, and Jon Kitna. Or Vince Young, Jeff Garcia, Chris Simms, Derek Anderson or Matt Leinart. He looks really good compared to those guys.

In other words... we're starting to accept it. And if Vick winds up making some big plays out of the Wildcat, helping to overcome what is looking to be a very worrisome offensive line that might have to go back to the future with prehistoric Jon Runyan?

Well, we just might start to like it. Especially if Vick continues to say all the right things to the media, and continues to look like more mature than the unhinged people who will go into full-court puling over the move, no matter what he does.

Because, well, Vick could donate every dollar he makes for the rest of his life to the SPCA or PETA, and it wouldn't be enough for some people. He could take a vow of silence, bleach his skin, become a vegetarian, acquire religion, commit hari-kari, etc., etc... and it really wouldn't matter for some folks.

And that kind of thing, frankly, just never plays well in the court of public opinion, regardless of the individual or the crime. Long-term hatred of a person, even if that person actually deserves your scorn, leaves you unhinged; it marginalizes your position. (See protests against GW Bush and, sigh, Barack Obama.) So long as Vick stays out of trouble, the tide will -- slowly -- move back towards equilibrium.

So if you really want Michael Vick out of football, your best move is to give him just as much attention as you might any other backup QB, and wait for the Eagles to realize that his flaws aren't coachable at his age, or that his quicks have left him in the Crossbar Hotel. Because, honestly, whether or not he's got a gig is beyond your words, and mine. It'll come down to the games, which is all that the people you are protesting care about.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Top 10 signs you've been watching too much preseason football

10) You know the name of the backup punter

9) You've become overly fond and/or irrational about some smurf wideout that won't make the team (Danny Amendola *is* the new Wes Welker!)

8) You're convinced that there's a position controversy based on the first preseason game (Kyle Orton is *so* losing his job)

7) You get irrationally angry when your team's backups don't do well against the other team's starters

6) You are convinced that your viewership is going to be the key to your fantasy team win, since no one else could possibly know about David Clowney

5) You haven't only noticed the relative lack of commercials slowing down the game, you're coming to expect it

4) Along with the fourth-string scrubs, you're hoping for overtime

3) You feel cheated when the starters don't play for more than a series

2) You prefer the homer-riffic team alumni announcing crews

1) You've watched any preseason football

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Top 15 ramifications of the Michael Vick signing

15) The UFL just got a lot less interesting

14) Ironic gift purchases to Eagles fans just got remarkably easy

13) Donovan McNabb gets to answer repetitive questions about a topic other than his contract status

12) There's finally been a positive development from Andy Reid's kids going to jail

11) Kevin Kolb just learned that his camp injury is much worse than he knew

10) A.J. Feeley just became the least relevant man in Philadelphia

9) David Akers' game-losing miss in tonight's preseason game will be (mostly) forgotten about

8) Philadelphia's lovable image and spotless PR takes a teeny little hit

7) Cincinnati's Mike Brown wonders what more he could have done to attract a man of Vick's singular character

6) By mid-September, strident PETA protests will create a frightetning amount of sympathy for the player

5) Every Eagles fan in the world receives, on average, 47 workplace jibes, forwarded emails and snide comments

4) The current season narrative ("Jim Johnson is dead, and far too many players don't feel very good, either") just got changed

3) Vick adapts to the strange new phenomenon called "coaching"

2) Jerry Jones strangles, sodomizes and finally set a hobo on fire on live television, just to get ESPN's attention back

1) Talk radio, the media, and 20 million fantasy football players drop everything to talk about someone who... probably won't actually play that much

* * * * *

And now, the Intentionally Not Funny...

Honestly, my gast? It's flabbered. When I heard the rumor, I honestly wondered if it was in error. It's just not something that my team -- my publicity-shy, avoid the problem child, Terrible Owens' burned team -- does. It's also not something that a team that spends a high pick on a possible reach that hasn't played (i.e., the #2 for Kevin Kolb two years ago, though there are now rumors that the Kolb injury was more severe than was previously let on) does.

As for the actual on the field ramifications... well, um, they are kind of fascinating, but only in an optimized fashion. People remember all of the big plays Vick made, as well as his huge capabilities and talents... but we're talking about a guy who never, as a passer, did more than lock down on Algae Crumpler and force the ball. He was also injury -prone, turnover-prone, wildly inaccurate, and, well, possessing of the judgment skills of a guy who'd lose a starting job and a vast fortune for the joy of fighting animals to death. Not exactly the guy you want a heartbeat from, well, anything.

There's also the more or less mind-boggling complications that this leads to for the 2010 season. Vick's two-year deal escalates to $5 million in 2010, which isn't that much really, but it makes McNabb and Vick more or less mutually exclusive, assuming, of course, that Kolb's still part of the plan. It also means that everyone involved will do nothing more than spend the year dwelling on what the position will look like next year, and lo, that won't be tiresome in the least.

Bird Apologists (and thanks to the decade of success, there are many of them) are talking up how Vick is coming to a stable organization that knows what they are doing, and how it's going to give them incredible Wildcat opportunities. That's all true enough, I suppose, but the risk involved is just huge, really. Vick could easily have another incident, which would be a fresh new PR problem. He could also be just plain ineffective, inaccurate or inconsistent -- and, of course, a fish out of water in terms of running a highly complicated West Coast offense with a mostly stationary QB, rather than, well, whatever run-first improv experience that Vick is most comfortable with.

And well, the single biggest issue happening here is that Vick, on his best day, isn't the QB that their current starter is, and has been. However, it's not as if Philly Fan has ever been down with Five's down times, or that when the bad streaks come, they won't be all too interested in seeing what the offense looks like with Vick.

There's also the simple fact that... well, fans don't talk about this very much, but it's less fun to root for a team where you know the players are, well, kind of morally challenged. Vick's crimes, for the most part, don't keep me up at night; they were pointless, cruel, and bottomless in their stupidity, but plenty of people (see Stallworth, Dontae) have done much worse things. But that doesn't mean it's going to be easy to root for him, or fun to endure the taunts and jibes of other fan bases.

Andy Reid has had any number of faith tests with the fan base in the past few years; the McNabb benching in Baltimore, the Kolb draft, letting any number of high-priced and popular veterans walk, etc., etc. But this? This is a whole 'nother level of show me. I'm hoping it works out, but I can't say I've got nothing but faith and good feelings about it.

Top 10 next stages in the Quinn-Anderson Battle

The current story out of the Cleveland Browns camp is that Derek Anderson is accusing Brady Quinn of tipping off defenders on plays to take a leg up in their position battle.

No, seriously. So...

10) ESPN brings in Kelly Holcomb and Tim Couch to provide color commentary on who's the bigger bitch

9) Anderson throws a fit when Quinn comes to practice wearing the exact same outfit

8) Notre Dame calls to revoke Quinn's attendance

7) Head Coach Eric Mangini gives the winning quarterback the #4 jersey so that he won't be able to replace him in mid-season, no matter how badly he plays

6) In Week 4 game against the Bengals, pull a Bertrand Berry on Carson Palmer so that the starter can still claim to be the best starter in the state

5) Begin Joe Thomas Pro Bowl campaign by making sure all color analysts know that whoever the QB is, they have a ludicrously slow release

4) Both QBs to try to bribe Braylon Edwards to actually catch some of the balls thrown to him this year

3) Both players start bitching about Josh Cribbs getting all of the cool playcalls and yards

2) Each man goes to Jamal Lewis in an attempt to have the other catch a shiv

1) Mangini just gives the job to Brett Ratliff, who, unlike both of the top candidates, might still be in the league in five years

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Daughter of Awful Fantasy Football Team Names for Girls

Are you (really? seriously?) a girl in a fantasy football league? Then, by all means, take advantage of FTT's special wince-inducing list to make the boys in the league shudder in horror, or at the very least, be continually reminded of your relative uniqueness. As always, all names fit in the Yahoo character limit. And good luck in your league, toots!

Carrie Cheerleaders

Friday Night Slights

Spread Offense

Project Gridiron

Girl Beaters

Inglourious Bitches

Place Kick Hims

Favre Hags

Whips & Chains Gang

Foreplay Action

Feel free to add your own in the comments...

Monday, August 10, 2009

649,740 to 1

I got invited to a post-work poker game tonight on short notice. At best we're going to be six-handed, but what the hey, the Shooter Wife gave her blessing and it's a billion degrees outside - no need to race home before dark. We wind up with just five players, but they're all good guys, and it's my third or fourth time playing in this game -- it's fairly comfortable and jerk-free. We'll play five handed, fifty cent / one dollar hold'em, for a few hours before I'll catch the late train home. Not the worst way to spend a Monday night rush hour.

I mix up my play and do fairly well, raising my $20 buy in to $30 or so. I get Ace-8 off suit from the small blind, and raise before the flop. The big blind re-raises, and I call; we're heads up. The flop comes out 10-4-Ace, all spades, and I pair my ace with a weak flush draw. I bet, and the big blind comes over the top of me with an all-in.

So I think it over and count it out. It's for $17, and I can cover it with $10 to spare. I don't feel great about betting into his possible flush, but I've seen this guy win with air before; he's a good player, and hard to put on a hand. I'm putting him on an overbet Ace with a low kicker, or maybe two pair with Ace-10, or maybe trio 10s and the flush out can save me. Maybe he's got the baby flush, but why bet pre-flop with that?

But even if he does have the flush... well, the bet is big but not crippling, and I'm feeling pot committed. I think it over for a minute or two as the rest of the table is out. I do the math, and I just can't see him having the flush, and the amount doesn't scare me. I like my hand, and my gut is greedy; I'd really like to to finally break this game for a big payoff, and you can't play the game afraid. If nothing else, I want to know.

"I call. Got the flush?"

"Oh yes." He flips King-Jack spades - not only a flopped flush, but four to the royal. Yikes.

"Wow. Nice hand. Am I drawing dead?" I need the board to pair and give me an ace to suck out, but honestly at this point, I'm not even looking for outs. I misread his flush and donkeyed it. I don't really need to see the last two cards. I'm trying to be gracious, but I'd like to go smack myself for the misread.

"Gotta deal it out."

I smile, but it's really not all that genuine. "What, you want the royal to rub it in?"

Dealer flips a four of clubs, pairing the board. I could beat his flush now with a four or ace on the river to give me the house, but since this hand isn't on television, I don't really have time to think about outs. Besides, the dealer is going at speed without drama. And the river is... the queen of spades. Yes, it's a royal flush.

Being the time that it is, cell phones are whipped out, pictures are taken, and life stops for a minute or two. Truth be told, I'm not even annoyed anymore.

"I've never, ever seen that."

"I got one last week, same suit." This from the guy who just won.

"Holy crap."

"I got one once on my video game. Never saw one live."

"Remember who dealt you that!"

"Well, if you are going to get beat..."

The game eventually goes on. I recover my lost chips, and eventually wind up making enough scratch to cover my subway ticket for the week.

But really, who is going to remember anything but the queen on the river?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Top 11 signs that this isn't the Red Sox's year

11) Keep relying on hitters that were good in a pre-testing or Twitter age

10) When Alex Rodriguez is actually hitting in the clutch, it's time to fold the tents and/or convert all funds to canned goods and ammunition

9) Tragically for liberal New England, championships in the 21st century can only occur during Bush presidencies

8) Perhaps bringing in ancient, injury-riddled pitchers from pitcher's parks in AAAA (aka, the National League) wasn't the best strategy

7) Might not have been the best idea to continue to plan to give a huge number of the catcher at-bats to a corpse

6) Far too many people, this writer included, were losing their life-long Yankee Hate from all of those Red Sox moments

5) In general, limiting your talent base to be Whites Only isn't the way to go

4) When your lights-out rookie reliever goes all Schiraldi on you in a must-win game against your hated rival... um, That's A Sign

3) Despite the overwhelming evidence of the past decade, God just hates Boston fans, much more than any other city, despite the fact that they deserve to win so much more due to the fact that They Just Care More Than Everyone Else

2) It's generally difficult to win baseball games when you score less often than Mathletes

1) As a rule, it's hard for it to be your year when you no better than the third-best team in the division

Fubaw is back

As Shooter is still nattering on about baseball like some kind of damned Commie, it falls to me to remind the FTT audience (of one) that football season semi-officially begins tonight with the Hall of Fame Game. Which means it's also time for our annual feature, Hate on the Hall where we say cruel things about the legendary athletes that either gilded or ruined our childhoods, depending on their laundry.

"Bullet" Bob Hayes: Darrius Heywood-Bay, Renaldo Nehamiah, Matt Jones and legions of other NFL wide receivers owe Hayes a huge debt of gratitude because he was the first man to prove NFL owners will give lots of money to really fast people regardless of their ability to actually catch.

Randall McDaniel: This one is difficult. The HOF is shamefully lacking in offensive lineman, especially in comparison to quarterbacks and running backs (and running backs who beat up their wives and yes, Jim, we are talking about you) and McDaniel was a great LG for a very long time. But his induction guarantees that his name will come up every time somebody talks about that great 1998 Vikings team that screwed the pooch against the Falcons. Which means that, even as a member of the Hall of Fame, McDaniels' greatest accomplishment was probably being the best player on a 16-1 team that lost the NFC Championship Game at home. To the immortal Chris Chandler.

Bruce Smith: Despite being one of the league's great pass rushers, Bruce Smith will always suck hind teat to Reggie White and Deacon Jones. Most likely, he'll someday have to take a backseat to Michael Strahan, who managed to sack quarterbacks (with Brett Favre's help) while actually possessing something akin to a personality. True, most of Strahan's personality is contained in the gap between his teeth, but that still puts him ahead of Smith, as the most interesting about Smith is that, like Rom the Space Knight, his head is shaped like a toaster.

Derrick Thomas: It has often been said that death is a great career move, and that brings us to Derrick Thomas. By dying in the prime of his life and thus providing material a raft of public service announcements -- remember to buckle up, kids -- nobody ever discusses the fact that Thomas was a charter member of the "The run?! Who gives a crap about defending the run?" school of defendering.

Thomas' death saved the delicate ovaries of Kansas City from almost certain impregnation. D.T. knocked up five women who bore him seven kids. Clearly, he was too busy cruising for chicks because he never bothered marrying any of them. On the other hand, Thomas was spared most of the horror show that was Gunther Cunningham's tenure as head coach. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away.

Rod Woodson: Football was not Rod Woodson's first love. He had a successful singing career, performing with his brothers before striking out on his own in . . . What? He's not?! C'mon, man. You cannot tell me those are two different people. Really? Huh. Well, I'll be damned.

Well, obviously, Tony Stark is his biological father. Ol' Shellhead got around, so he probably wasn't a big part of Rod's life and . . . Comic book character? Look at them! Obviously, they share DNA. It's . . . (sigh) I suppose you're right . . . Man, do I feel silly. All that time I spent hating "Rhythm Of The Night" just because I thought it was recorded by some twerp in Pittsburgh -- that song is the jam!

Ralph Wilson: Honestly, I feel kind of bad mocking Ralph Wilson. His team crapped the bed four consecutive times in the Super Bowl. The greatest player in team history devoted his post-NFL live to either murdering white people or a career as an amateur private investigator working country clubs all over the country, depending on one's perspective. He makes John Clayton look sexy and virile. He lives in Buffalo. It's been decades since he enjoyed an erection.

But he did give Count Von Davis a loan that saved the Raiders, thus dooming NFL fans to a lifetime of pictures of Bay Area idiots dressed like Skeletor. And nobody forced him to put his team in a frigid wasteland -- the NHL doesn't have a franchise in Saskatoon. With an entire universe of possibilities, he called his squad the "Buffalo Bills." The Buffalo Bills?! Really? Why not the Houston Sams if you're going in that direction? At least Houston has better weather.

And he willfully traded those kick-ass AFL uniforms for the pedestrian threads of the 90s and now the hideous monstrosities they inflict on the public today. Screw Ralph Wilson. That guy is a dick.

Wild Chowds

Today in New York, the Yankees continued the landslide with their third straight win over Boston, this one a 5-0 squash where CC Sabathia dominated. Combine the shutout today with Friday's shutdown, and the visitors haven't scored in 24 innings in a bandbox park against a pitching staff that's fairly pedestrian (18th in ERA in MLB, 8th in the AL, and even while they've been better recently, it's still just a 4.41 mark in the past 30 days). The bigger issue is how the Sox offense (16th in OPS in the last 30 days) might actually be the better part of the team right now, given how the rotation falls to shaky very quickly after Josh Beckett and John Lester; despite a tolerable start today from Clay Bucholz, no one is intimidated by a back end that includes him, Paul Byrd and Brad Penny. If the Bostons can't stop the sweep in tonight's game (Lester vs. the suddenly surging Andy Pettite), there's fairly little chance, outside of a string of injuries, for the AL East division to be in jeopardy, not with a 6.5 game lead with 52 games lef tin the season.

The bigger question, to my eyes, is whether Boston can really be expected to hold off Texas and Tampa for the wildcard, who are a game and 1.5 games behind as I write this. From a pure talent perspective, Tampa looks set; they've got the best offense, an increasing amount of health, and the recent rise in fortunes for David Price has made the team downright dangerous. With Texas having rotation issues (Vincente Padilla was DFA'd today) and having to rely on talented but wet behind the ears ars like Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland, they've got the looks of a team that isn't really ready to do this.

But Texas has one significant advantage, and that is that when Tampa and Boston are butting heads with each other, the Yankees and the still-competent Jays and Orioles (don't forget that the former still has Roy Halladay, and the latter have an improving offense and some intriguing young prospects), the Rangers will be facing a left-for-dead A's team, a Mariners team that's been better than expected but still don't seem for real, and an Angels club that's got a quietly awful bullpen. That might not be as big of an edge as you might think, given how the Mariners are actually still harboring playoff hopes of their own, but it's not inconsiderable.

As for the Sox, it's never wise to make season-long determinations based on the events of just a few games, and it's impossible to look good when you haven't scored for a couple of dozen innings... but, Lord, Boston looks bad right now, with a bottom of the order that looks particularly helpless (today, that was JD Drew, hitting .244. Casey Kotchman, hitting .111, and Nick Green at .232). They've been living off their rotation and bullpen all year, but the former is likely to compromise the latter, especially with their need to use the whip down the stretch. I like the Rays' chances here, but I picked them to win the division in April, mostly because I thought Price was going to be a lot better than 5-4 with a 4.91 ERA at this point in the year.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Five Tool Book Reviews

This summer, as a two-part plan to (a) promote literacy among my kids, and (b) not spend money, I've been making routine trips to the local library. Along with checking out books for the kids, I've also been grabbing stuff for myself, and because I'm just that predictable, the books have sometimes been sports-related. So, especially since we're still in the Mostly Dead Zone, I'm going to say a few words about 'em.

Can I Keep My Jersey?, by Paul Shirley

This is the memoirs of an NBA 12th man and world traveler who has played for a dozen-odd teams in the past few years, and even stuck for half a season on the Phoenix Suns bench. It's relatively entertaining and not a tough read, but it also seems like it left a lot on the table. After 300 pages of living in Shirley's head, the reader knows how he feels about religious hypocrites, privileged superstars, undereducated NBA stars and callous front office personnel... but, um, almost nothing about why he's still chasing the dream, what he actually brings to a team to deserve employment, let alone playing time, and, well, why he does it. (Beyond the occasional lottery-like paychecks.)

Shirley is the closest that anyone has ever came to being not just a reliable narrator in the world of major league sports; he's also, by any measure, one of the 500 to 1,000 best basketball players on the planet... and I'm no closer to knowing what that world is really like than I was before. Shirley's a very good writer and a somewhat appealing personality, but I'm really hoping that he's got a second book in him, and that it will have a little more to teach us next time.

Bigger Deal: A Year Inside the Poker Boom, by Andrew Holden

The somewhat entertaining year travelogue of a British poker writer and classical music reviewer, and the second of two books by Holden. I got through it without wanting to throw it across the room, which is a fairly strong endorsement for 300+ pages of a guy being paid to play better tournaments than the general sweaty public will ever have a chance to play. It's more of a matter of Holden being a tolerable writer than having really good subject matter, since you really aren't going to learn much about poker from this... but it's also kind of fascinating to get a more or less educated and detailed look at what it's like to go to poker camps or try to survive the first day or two of the WSOP. Many people say that Holden's first book was better, but having read this, I'm not terribly interested in finding out.

Season of the Sixers: The Story of Wilt Chamberlain and the 1967 NBA Champion Philadelphia 76ers, by Wayne Lynch

A reasonable piece of research, but... look, I wanted to love this thing. I learned a ton about a team that many people consider to be one of the finest in early NBA history, and not coincidentally, it's my laundry. I was more than willing to put up with a large amount of Wilt Chamberlain apologia, and as much Celtic bashing as possible. But, well, Lynch just isn't a good enough writer to pull it off, and at some point, I had to say uncle. Maybe it's just that the book was written after Wilt had moved on to that freaky meat market in the sky, or that his surviving teammates are just not going to speak frankly about the guy that carried them to a ring and history in an era where only the Celtics won... but, well, the gap between what Chamberlain actually did and how Lynch interprets it is just too much. There might be a great book about Wilt, but this isn't it.

Top 10 upcoming ESPN promotional tie-ins

ESPN is set to launch a technology where a Denny's ad for its signature breakfast immediately pops up when a player is shown hitting a grand slam. Denny's, however, might have to wait until next baseball season to plug its Grand Slam pile of eggs and pancakes.

ESPN is planning to debut the contextual advertising system next month within college football videos on Its sales teams are just starting to seek out advertisers.
10) The Cash 4 Gold Sell Out, where each fan of a tanking MLB franchise gets to sell off what they love for a ruinous discount, just like their favorite teams

9) The Tivo Brett Favre Rerun, used whenever fans are treated to the same story over and over again

8) Domino's Pizza 30 Minutes Of Anguish, where if SportsCenter goes more than a half hour without showing actual game footage, viewers receive a sad little Pity Meal

7) E-Trade's Baby Mama Drama. When an athlete is reported to have a paternity problem, some lucky viewers receive free trading accounts for their creepy talking infants

6) StubHub Over Pay Day. Your favorite team has just signed a free agent to a grossly overinflated contract? StubHub will give everyone in that metropolitan area $5 off their next 4-figure purchase. Such a bargain!

5) EA Sports For Teen Abstinence. Keeping teen pregnancy down the safe and natural way -- with video games that keep them far, far away from anyone that could get pregnant. Between this and fantasy sports, we'll have this problem eradicated this year!

4) The NutraSystem Bloated Sack Challenge. Can you lose more weight than some odious NFL gasbag? If you can, you'll win a free month of "food", plus another six months of life before your fatal heart attack. Before you celebrate too much, remember that those months will, in all likelihood, be spent watching the Lemur...

3) Fleet's Pardon *This* Interruption Enemas. Deepen your self-hatred and misery, and hence, your PTI experience, with the special treatment that ensures, if nothing else, rabid weight loss. On the bright side, it makes Tony Kornheiser much easier to ignore!

2) Best Buy's Geek Squad Makeover, where you and your favorite hidebound ex-athlete Lemur analyst are taken to a week-long seminar session where you (a) learn the meanings of statistical measurements that have been invented in the last 40 years, (b) disprove certain clear factual errors like who wrote "Moneyball", (c) learn why closers are overrated, and (d) how the Yankees and Red Sox don't actually win every year. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll enter the 21st century *and* learn how to use a computer for more than ancient porn!

1) BALCO Blowout! Whenever the Lemur goes on at length about some steroid story, the infamous Bay Area laboratory gives 1,000 lucky viewers the first dose of an exciting new life. As with any great entrepreneur, your first hit is "free"...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Top 10 reasons why Arena Football is folding

10) With the imminent return of the USFL, realized that they could not possibly compete

9) After 22 years, the excitement of fake football in a closet had somehow faded

8) Everyone is so sick of Kurt Warner that they're taking it on his hometown, as it were

7) Everything a Gruden touches eventually dies

6) The World Wide Lemur would rather show poker, documentaries, and dear God in heaven, Scrabble

5) With the existence of the af2 minor league, the nation's thirst for arenaball had been slaked

4) Baltimore's curse on John Elway has finally born bitter, bitter fruit

3) Teams were finally starting to figure out that pesky defense stuff

2) The greedy player-employees forced the owner-employers to pay them so much, the league had to fold, because that's just how capitalism works

1) Once the Philadelphia franchise won, the league clearly had to fold

Monday, August 3, 2009

Top 11 upcoming cost-cutting moves for the Memphis Grizzlies

So the Grizz, AKA the New Clippers, have decided to sack their entire scouting department. As per the usual for such matters, they then obviously lied to the public. "I prefer a smaller group," said GM Chris Wallace.

Um, Chris? I know you've got the stupidity that only people who think they are smarter than everyone else despite all evidence to the contrary can have, but you really can level with us all from time to time. Say it's the economy and move on. Say that you'll be relying on other resources, or that you're pooling with other teams, or rehiring in a little while, or, well, something. Saying you prefer a smaller group is right up there with saying that you prefer a smaller season, which given that the Grizz last made the playoffs when they had the right Gasol, won't be, for, well, ever.

Seriously, can't anyone speak truthfully in public anymore... and why can't the Grizz just embrace their new identity as Clippers 2 (This Time, With Money Laundering)? Change the team mascot -- which, to be honest, hasn't made sense since you salted the earth in Vancouver -- and become the Vagrants. I'm seeing a Lovable Hobo mascot with fingerless gloves and a bindle. Go, Vagrants, Go!

11) Auction off the right to kill Wallace and bury him like a hamster in the stadium parking lot, since that seems to be the custom down there

10) Just keep printing old programs, since it doesn't really matter who is in the uniforms anyway

9) Sell popcorn in three sizes: Small, Medium, and Refurbished

8) Extend the lucrative "Fantasy Camp" concept to the real thing

7) Road jerseys to be replaced with "Shirts and Skins" motif (also a possible win for conditioning and/or marketing to alternative communities)

6) Sell OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay "Countdown to Free Agency" clocks

5) Team's travel plans to be switched as soon as Greyhound plays ball with their rates

4) Reach out to the stat geek community by letting one of them coach this mess

3) Sell sponsor rights on the uniforms -- no, sorry, I'm just getting silly now; no professional American basketball team would ever be that desperate

2) Replace dance team with two very special dancers -- one nice, one naughty

1) Forfeit all 82 games and just make it a little more obvious

Top 10 Next Buccaneer Throwback Promotions

A friend of a friend is said to know the Buccaneers' GM, which means that I have the very deluded hope of an actually meaningful interview on FTT one day. (Don't get your hopes up.) I also try very hard to not care too much about uniforms. But there are uniforms, and then there are *uniforms*, and the laundry in question for this team is the clown-tastic '70s Tangerine Orange, which is just awful all over. They'll be back twice next year, and my only objection is that they won't be playing the Broncos while they wear their throwbacks, so we could have the very worst dressed matchup ever.

Adding to the pain of those jerseys is that era of Bucco actually had their only good moment of playoff happiness over my Eagles, a 24-17 game where they ran Ricky Bell for 142 dispiriting yards, the Bucs held the ball for 36 minutes, and the Jaworski Eagles got punched in the mouth more than just about any other game in my memory. Despite the final score, it was never really in doubts, as the game was in Tampa and the home team scored the first 17 points. Those Bucs would go on to lose their next playoff game at home in a 9-0 shutout to the Vince Ferragamo Rams. Ah, the memories.

So, in honor of the Bucs needing to go all festive on us, the following list of additional measures for the team to take.

10) Every fan gets a 1970s toothbrush, 8-track and Pet Rock

9) Concessions prices replaced by tithing

8) All meat and Buc QBs to served on a stick

7) Souvenir disco balls, cocaine spoons and fuzzy dice sold at concession stands

6) Both teams to switch out HGH and steroids for cocaine and pot

5) Braying African-American stereotype studio jackassery to be replaced by braying Grecian-American stereotype studio jackassery

4) Groupies infected with old-school gonorrhea and syphilis, the truly sexy social diseases

3) National anthem to be performed by people who can actually play musical instruments

2) Stadium security to use racial profiling for Palestinian, rather than Saudi, terrorists

1) Game won't use instant replay, high definition cameras, effective short passing, multiple featured running backs, zone blitzes, the wildcat offense, and at least fifty other things that even the biggest old crank would refuse to live without

Finally, the media comes clean

In a better world, this would be played on every show, on every network, after every mention of He Who Will Not Go Away. Yes, I'm looking at you, Lemur.

Top 10 fantasy football annual pet peeves

10) Pointless star player interviews. Gosh, did you know that last year's star player is aware of how good he was in fantasy football, or that he expects to have an even better year this year? Look, I get that it's exciting to talk to an actual football player, but can't you at least ask questions like, "Can't you sabotage your goal-line vulture?" or "How much do you lobby to stay in blowouts to pad your numbers?" Let's cut to the chase here.

9) Wildly inflated projections. Nothing quite says credibility like quoting double-digit touchdowns for marginal prospects, and that's the all-too-common throwaway line for player evaluations. Honestly, some players are going to suck. It's OK to admit it.

8) Fantasy player mouth jobbing. Is there a person in the world, outside of the ubernerd that is getting the mouth job, who really wants to hear about How He Did It? Honestly, telling people about your winning fantasy team is like telling people about your last pull. Spare us all, please.

7) Kicker projections.
You tell us that these are meaningless, than you give it to us anyway, complete with the same hype copy that you give to any other position. Don't tease the newbies; stand on your convictions and just give a list, rather than a ton of copy.

6) Nonstop Web site pimping. Yes, I know; the print copy is something that is outdated the day that it's printed, and I need to go to your Web site unless I want to stand up and accept my status as League Donkey. Now shut up about it, given that (a) I ride a subway that doesn't really translate well to reading my laptop, (b) your annual is just part of my preparation, which does include Web work, and (c) I just gave your money for your dead tree. So, um, STFU about your Web site already, hokay?

5) Draft pimping. Some days, it really does seem like these things are taking cash under the table from the agents of new draft picks, such is the constant push for new guys. Just because 85% of all fantasy players get wood over unhyped rookie sleepers doesn't mean you have to further the disease, people.

4) Editor's letter. Here's how big of an idiot I am; I actually read these things, along with Gil Thorpe, nutrition labels and prescription drug information. So yes, I'm the moron reading your stilted annual want about how big fantasy sports have gotten, how you never thought it would never be this big when you were alone in your bedroom not meeting girls, and how truly wonderful your Web site and rest of the magazine is. Seriously, use the space to talk about Darfur, or come out of the closet, or how your cat's breath smells like cat food. It's just you and me, and I need the chuckle.

3) One year overreaction. Wait, is this really a pet peeve? Sure, but only if you look at this as polluting your research, rather than messing with the rankings of others. Nothing's better than an annual over-inflating the value of some guy just because he got into the end zone a couple of more time last year than the year before, or conversely, going negative nuts on a player who missed some time due to injury. Because 2010 will be just like 2009 (except, of course, for all of the third-tier guys scoring ten touchdowns, and all of the rookies working out).

2) Bravely stating the obvious. Did you know that Adrian Peterson is really good, that Devin Hester might enjoy having Jay Cutler instead of Kyle Orton, and that Matt Ryan impressed many people with his rookie season in Atlanta? Good thing I was sitting down when you dropped that knowledge. Otherwise, my feet might have gotten tired.

1) Homerism disguised as analysis. There's nothing quite so much fun for this Eagles fan as listening to how overrated all of my team's players are, or how the WRs are all terrible, just because the system doesn't lend itself to fantasy goodness. I'm also loving it when Patriot Fan/Writer has to go back for not just Dreamboat Brady's return to all power and performance, but also the Fountain of Youth slurpdown for Fred Taylor and best in class performance for the defense and special teams. But on the plus side, it gets my hate right up to mid-season form. Get your hate on now!

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