Friday, August 31, 2012

The Five Realities Of Your NFL Fantasy Football Team

I don't believe in manifestos, or longstanding rules, or any of that noise and nonsense. But if you want to take the following five rules to heart for the 2012 season, you'll be thinking the same way I think. And doomed, doomed, DOOMED I TELLS YA, to not make the money. But let's get into our common ground anyway, shall we?

1) QB is the new everything. The guys in your league who have Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton (yes, he qualifies, he's not going to stop being their goal line back) and Drew Brees have a huge advantage. Just about every week. And no, this doesn't mean that you can't compete with them, but if you don't have one of these guys, you should be prepared to get a second guy and play matchups all year. Even with ostensible every-week starters like Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Either Manning or Tony Romo. The difference between Tier 1 and everyone else is just that great. (And yes, I see you, Lions Fan who thinks Stafford is all that: your man isn't going to stay healthy this year. Sorry.)

2) Before you go hard after a RB, predict his team's won-loss record. Unless your name is Steven Jackson, a long-term losing record means that your guy isn't going to get touches in the second half of games, and maybe not the second half of the year. (The covering caveat: if your guy is tolerable at pass protection and the team has a skittish young QB they've paid too much to see broken.) There are few things less fun in fantasy football than watching your early round reach stuck on the same point total because the conditions of the game have taken away his chance to contribute. If your RB is on a team that's a double-digit 'dog, you probably have better options.

3) Like position in poker, situation is important... but it's not a substitute for talent. I've seen Ced Benson touted as a strong RB2 in all kinds of places in the past month, and, um, well, he isn't. He's freaking Ced Benson, for heaven's sake, a plodding 3.5 yards per rush guy who doesn't catch passes and had *real* problems not fumbling the ball last year in Cincy. He's also on the wrong side of his career arc, on his third team, with a criminal record. I get that Green Bay is making him seem shiny and new right now, and they may seriously think he's better than James Starks, but he's not turning into a 300-touch guy who will salt away Packer wins by grinding out 100 yards in put it away time. He's going to be part of a committee until they wake up and realize he's Ced Benson, and they have other opptions. And he's just not that talented, really.

4) Wide Receiver is deep... but WR1 is not. Nearly every team has a de facto top dog, and if your league starts 3 guys, that means you need at least two of those guys on your team to achieve parity. And since WR is less injury prone than the other skill positions, those picks are going to hold value more than many RBs. If you've got multiple guys that are working the slot or strong 2's, you don't have a good situation. Period.

5) We don't really know what the real deal is at tight end yet. You didn't win your league last year without Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, unless you had Tony Gonzalez and a ton of help at the other positions... and I know that the temptation when watching these behemoths post up in the red zone is that you've got to have one of your own, like top-tier QBs. But the NFL has a funny way of killing fast-acting trends (remember how every team had to have the Wildcat, or their own Wes Welker clone?), and TE throws in the red zone aren't without peril, given the tight quarters and turnover potential. Put it this way; if Bill Belichick decided to use Gronk as a decoy for half of the year and just run the damn ball in close, he'd probably score as much as he did last year... and your first-round reach is going to be a lot less dominant than expected. And it's not as if Brees in NoLa isn't prone to spreading the wealth.

Personally, I don't rank Antonio Gates very far beyond Graham and Gronk this year, and I also love me some Aaron Hernandez and even Jermichael Finley, last year's gotta have it TE. And I also don't completely discount the idea that a deep reach move like Kyle Rudolph or Coby Fleener might provide Tier 1 value, or that Brent Celek or Fred Davis might have a career year. You aren't going to leave your draft or auction with known superstars at every position, and until there's a second year of Tight End Domination, I say make it a depth play.

Oh, and if you are valuing kickers or defenses as anything but a basic crap shoot, you are spending way too much time on your rankings. Throw a qualified dart (kickers in domes with pinball offenses, defenses with pass rushes in weak divisions) and get on with your life.

Finally,  here's the guys that I like more than most... At QB, it's Russell Wilson, Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub, Eli Manning (too much regression noise -- he'll be undervalued like usual) and (the horror) Nick Foles. At RB, go a little harder for Ryan Mathws, Doug Martin, Donald Brown, Peyton Hillis and Michael Bush. For WR, I'm all-in for DeMaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, Brandon Lloyd, Jeremy Maclin and (dice roll time) Kenny Britt. The TEs are above.

And the guys I'm staying away from are... At QB, Brees, Peyton Manning, Romo, Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick. For RBs, it's Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, Ahmad Bradshaw and Shonn Greene. TE stay aways include Gronk (too expensive), Gonzalez (he's got to get old at some point), Jacob Tamme (too many other targets), Jared Cook (eternal tease) and Vernon Davis (they added WRS, and QB Alex Smith is going to look wide this year).

And that, folks, is that. Have a great draft...

Top 10 takeaways from NFL Cutdown Day

10) The Eagles decided they'd rather keep Captain Checkdown, Trent Edwards, than the guy who was going to be their backup at the start of training camp

9) Washington gave RB Tim Hightower a pink slip, which means he'll be RB1 in Week Eight

8) D.J. Ware will finally stop being mentioned in Fox telecasts as going to get more touches in this week's Giants game

7) Cleveland kept Colt McCoy instead of Seneca Wallace, which means the inevitable QB Controversy there will be 2% less sad

6) Kellen Clemens no longer has a job holding a clipboard in St. Louis, which makes him a strong candidate to start for the Jets after their bye week

5) Vai Tuau didn't make the cut in Seattle due to injury, because only injury could stop The Vai Tuau Revolution

4) The Jets cut the only guy who scored for them in the preseason, just to show that kind of thing would not be tolerated

3) New England axed Donte Stallworth and Deion Branch, just to remind you that you are getting very old very fast

2) Buffalo cut three guys who were in line to be their #2 WR, which tells you all that you need to know about the quality of talent available for the team to choose at #2 WR

1) Minnesota cut loose Sage Rosenfels because Joe Webb has shown improvement at QB, and because, well, he's freaking Sage Rosenfels

The Poker Diaries, Or How To Lose In An Extremely Irritating Fashion Over Many Hours

And Man, That Was All She Wrote
In the past 3.5 years, I've played poker 116 times. (Yes, I keep track. You are surprised?) In that time, I've worked out the following ways to lose. They include:

> Idiotic hero calls

> Wildly aggro bluffs that get called

> Overly timid play where I eventually get blinded out

> Being crazy card-dead, and tonight's spectacular new addition to the mix

> Waiting for big hands, getting them, betting them, watching them improve on the flop, then lose on the river. Over and over and over.

Part of this was, like all poker, my own fault. We were playing limit at Parx, the local house of horrors, and the trouble with big hands in limit is that you can't end the hand early, simply because guys with draws are going to stay in them. But still, here are the hands that lost tonight:

> Pocket kings that improved to trips on the flop, only to lose to a flush on the river

> Suited ace that turns to a pair on the flop, losing to trip deuces on the turn

> Ace-9 turning to a pair of aces on the flop and a straight on the river, losing to a flush

> Pocket kings that improved to trips on the river, losing to the flush that was also made on the river

But the real benefit of playing limit is that instead of being out on just one of these hair-pulling beats, I got to endure them all, in succession, over many patient hours of waiting for playable hands. Good times! (How good? On the last hand, when the other guy said he had a flush, I replied, "Of course you do." And left. Without any trace of surprise at all, really.)

Anyway, it happens. Learn from it, assume that next time won't be so bad, understand that, well, you've been running hot the last few times out and regression to the mean is, well, a thing. And then, have the Boss play you out. Play me out, Boss...

FTT Off-Topic: A Brief And Obvious Point About Convention Speeches

I Don't Mean To Alarm You, But You Are Talking To An Empty Chair
Not vetting the words of an 82-year-old man on the night when you accept a presidential nomination in front of tens of millions of people, so that the entire buzz about the event among the general public is about the weird ramblings and talking to an empty chair...

May not be the sign of a well thought out campaign, or a man who should be taken seriously for his, well, planning skills.

Mitt's Big Detroit Rally
(We might also want to consider the wisdom of crapping all over London before their wildly successful Olympics. But I digress.)

Then again, there was this...

So this lack of planning is not exactly a new pattern, is it?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

NFL 2012 Predictions: Stars and Scrubs

Over the past few years, the teams that have won in the NFL haven't been dynastic, or even dominant. Instead, we've seen clubs get hot and/or healthy in the final month, with turnover differential being the only statistic that matters; the games feel more or less random. We're told that this just shows how wildly competitive the league is, and how it's an inevitable trend with everyone copying what everyone else does.

And in 2012, that's going to change. A lot.

This year, we're going to see 12 teams -- the ones that go to the playoffs -- be a lot better than the teams that don't. We're going to see multiple teams go undefeated and winless deep into October and beyond. We're going to see more 20+ point wins than nail-biters, more run it up moments than overtime games, more games that get cut away in the third quarter.

Why? Because (1) all trends change over time, and (2) we're going to start the year with fake refs. And do you know what fake refs do? They defer to loud home crowds (from, well, the more established franchises), and they defer to stars and big names. Not so much as to be an obvious inquiry, but enough to make Green Bay and New England Fan very, very happy. (Like those people needed more happiness.)

And what that, it's time, folks, it's time: the annual NFL predictions column. Over the many years that I've written FTT, these have gotten better and better, all the way past random chance. So why get off the Pain Train now? Let's get into it. Oh, and click here if you are looking for sportsbook review information.

NFC East

Philadelphia 11-5
New York 10-6
Dallas 7-9
Washington 6-10

Don't let the records fool you, or buy into the routine anti-East hype; this will be a very solid division, as opposed to last year's gaggle of mediocrity. Let's start with the also-rans, where Washington will finally be somewhat watchable thanks to Robert Griffin III, but the cabal of running backs (hint to fantasy players: this "attack" was 30th in the league last year, so just staying away from Mike "Not Really A Genius" Shanahan is your best option) won't help him at all. Pierre Garcon is fine as your #2 WR but not your #1, and Santana Moss is spent. TE Fred Davis will have numbers, but the depth here is not good, and neither is the line. But the biggest problem is on defense, where MLB London Fletcher has to get old one of these decades, and the secondary isn't up to snuff. Expect a lot of 31-24 games, with Griffin piling up numbers late.

As for Dallas.... don't you just love the hubris of an owner who talks about the Super Bowl window of opportunity closing on talent that has won one -- uno, singular, unique -- playoff game in this century? The skill players are already hurt, RB DeMarco Murray will be soon, and the secondary is about 1-2 years away from losing its sieve state. They'll win some games early, since that's what they do, then fall apart down the stretch despite the Thanksgiving gift the league keeps giving them. And you will hear more about them then any other pretender...

New York, the defending Super Bowl champions, will be better than they were last year and not win. That's just the way the NFL works; Green Bay was better in 2011 than 2010, but just not at the close. The schedule gets a lot harder, people get too comfortable, etc.; winning a Super Bowl is just that hard. I just don't see the running game doing enough to offset the regression to Eli Manning's numbers (if nothing else, Victor Cruz isn't getting a half-dozen home-run scores this year), and the secondary targets don't impress. On defense, the LBs are vulnerable and the secondary can't stay healthy. Don't go crazy, they will still be good, just not as good as...

My Philadelphia Eagles, who will shake off injury worries at the QB position and coordination worries on defense to put together a run at the end of the year and win the division. (This will also convince them to extend Mike Vick and Andy Reid and Juan Castillo, which just made any number of my Eagle Fan friends look for something to stab themselves with.) Look for big things from the defensive line, who will lead the league in sacks and havoc, and just enough plays from the LBs and DBs to get the hell off the field more often than not. Offensively, they will crush weak teams and struggle against good teams, the same way they've done for years... but this defense has a chance to be special, and some of those bad bounce balls from last year are going to even out in 2012. (Unfortunately, this will not become playoff success. Sigh.)

NFC North

Green Bay 13-3
Chicago 10-6
Detroit 6-10
Minnesota 4-12

The best team in the NFC for the second straight year will be the Pack, who have to be considered the overwhelming favorite to win the conference. The defense is going to be better, the running game a little more consistent, and it doesn't hurt at all to have the best QB in the world during a historical era when that matters more than any other. Watch out for reserve WR Reggie Cobb as the new flavor of the month here, especially if WR Jordy Nelson regresses or WR Greg Jennings can't shake the concussion issues... but honestly, QB Aaron Rodgers needs new weapons the way that a grizzly bear needs the first swat. (Oh, and there's also this: they will benefit the most from Fake Refs.)

I really like this Chicago team. The defense is a little old in the tooth but that usually means good things if they stay healthy. The special teams are always good for a stolen win or two, and the offense is actually deep for once. WR Brandon Marshall might be the first guy in franchise history to justify a double team, RB Michael Bush will keep RB Matt Forte fresh, and with passing idiot savant Mike Martz gone, QB Jay Cutler might get through the year in one piece. Lots to like here, and remember, they were looking at a playoff berth last year before Cutler got hurt.

As for Detroit, last year's darlings do not impress me now, to the point where I'm wildly below their current Vegas expected wins number. The RB situation is a carousel, QB Matthew Stafford looks ready for another big injury, and the other targets outside of WR Calvin Johnson don't impress. I think this is the year that HC Jim Schwartz loses the reins on his troubled defense, and that secondary, outside of S Louis Delmas, is fungible. For a club like this, it's much better to be on the rise than on the close. Young and undisciplined works for no expectations; it doesn't work for expected to contend. And if you read tomorrow that Ndamokung Suh did something arrest-worthy, would you even be surprised?

Lastly, Minnesota. Woof. An even worse secondary than Detroit does not work, especially in this division, and the pass rush to cover for their mistakes is getting old. On offense, QB Christian Ponder still makes the big telegraph mistake, the OL hasn't ever built back up from their Favre-inspired heyday, and if you see RB Adrian Peterson rushing back too soon to get hurt again, you aren't alone. I like TE Kyle Rudolph to make some noise and they do get a bit of a home crowd bump, but someone's got to be this division's bitch, and that's the Vikings.

NFC South

Atlanta 11-5
Carolina 8-8
New Orleans 7-9
Tampa 5-11

I'm not sold on the Falcons being a true contender, but you have to love how the division has opened up for them. Carolina doesn't look quite ready to me, New Orleans is going to suffer in the wake of BountyGate, and the Bucs hired a college coach, which never works. With Matt Ryan slowly but surely raising his game, a set of weapons that's got another year of dominance if Tony Gonzalez doesn't lose effectiveness, and an offensive game plan that looks like it's getting away from Michael Turner, they will be plenty effective enough to run this division. Oh, and if Jacquizz Rodgers has the lion's share of the RB work by midfield, they could be downright dangerous.

As for the rest, Carolina does have dark horse potential, and the defense can't be as hurt as they were last year. But healthy doesn't equal great, and I have my doubts about WR Steve Smith keeping his effectiveness at this age. WR Brandon LaFell is your sleeper pick here, but Newton cuckolds the RBs at the goal line, which has to worry you in the long run; as big and powerful as the man is, that's a lot of pounding that most QBs miss. I like their chances for 2013 more than 2012; this year has Sophomore Slump and Learning Experience written all over it.

For the Saints, there's always the scary potential of Drew Brees throwing down another 5,000 yard / 40 TD kind of year to keep them afloat, but I think they suffer on blitz pick up without Sean Payton to coach them up, and if Brees ever misses time, this club has a chance of turning into the 2011 Colts. I'm also not ready to buy into the idea that Darren Sproles is going to be this good forever and ever, or that the depth they have at RB isn't more along the lines of a bunch of guys who do one thing well, but aren't really good at anything else. I also suspect they'll miss WR Robert Mechem more than they think; WR Devery Henderson isn't really a consistent deep threat anymore, and WR Marques Colston and WR Lance Moore aren't getting deep. TE Jimmy Graham is still a nightmare, but I think you can start to roll up the safeties on this passing attack, and that will make for more INTs.

Finally, the Bucs promise that they will try this year, unlike last... but as Walter Matthau said in "The Bad News Bears", quitting is a tough habit to break. But not nearly as hard as breaking the tackling efforts of this defense. RB Doug Martin has a great nickname (The Muscle Hamster) and will rack up counting stats, but QB Josh Freeman looks like a turnover waiting to happen, and losing G Davin Joseph is going to cause all kinds of cascade failure on that OL. At least the locals know how to put up with a losing team.

NFC West

San Francisco 11-5
Seattle 10-6
Arizona 5-11
St. Louis 4-12

San Francisco is primed to be great, which means they won't be, if for no other reason than Alex Smith won't get as lucky in 2012 as he did in 2011 with potential picks. They also have five prime-time appearances, which usually does not bode at all well for a young team. Finally, I'm not sold that a dozen meh options at WR and RB is quality depth, rather than just a bunch of guys who can't be counted on to make a play in crunch time.

But it's not as if anyone is going to notice in this division, which might have the two worst teams in the conference in Arizona and St. Louis; the less said about each, the better. Other than if this were baseball, Larry Fitzgerald and Stephen Jackson would have been traded away from these distressed franchises years ago. (Both, for the record, will provide their usual numbers, simply because they are too professional not to. See y'all in Canton one day, gents.)

The fun team will be Seattle, who will ride rookie QB Russell Wilson to all kinds of entertainment, and that defense has moments, too -- they get after the run really well, and the secondary has all kinds of big DBs that match up well with the oversized post-up guys that are becoming all the rage. Eventually Wilson will make mistakes and/or get hurt, and I don't trust HC Pete Carroll to win big games, but they'll be a highly entertaining fraud, and make SF work deep into the schedule to lock down the division. (They'll also cost them home field. Which matters a lot, really...)

Division winners: Philly, Green Bay, Atlanta and San Francisco

Wild cards: Chicago and New York

First round: Philly over New York, Chicago over San Francisco

Second round: Philly over Atlanta, Green Bay over Chicago

Conference round: Green Bay over Philly

AFC East

New England 14-2
Buffalo 8-8
New York 5-11
Miami 5-11

Has there ever been a more gift-wrapped division? New England is going to go 6-0 in this division with an average margin of victory of over 20, to the point where we're all going to have to endure more regular season worship of these empty calorie marvels. With the possible exception of Buffalo, there's no one here that can rush the passer enough to disrupt the timing of the Brady Bunch, and the addition of Brandon Lloyd is going to make things even harder for defenses that don't have absurd abilities to cover tight ends. There's even hope for the defense, in that they are all gaining experience in dealing with this kind of pace, and the running game is going to be a lot better now that it's in the hands of talented kids, rather than retreads with heart. Luckily, the notoriously circumspect and respectful Boston media and fan base won't jump to conclusions or make everyone who watches NFL football spend 2012 worshiping at the altar of Team Cheat. Oh, wait, they will? Crap.

I'd like Buffalo a lot more if Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn't a retread with suspect arm strength and injury history; I'm just smelling a lot of picks coming from him this year, and paying WR Stevie Johnson sounds like it's just asking for trouble. The defense is going to keep them in games, and the RBs (especially the criminally under-appreciated Fred Jackson) are solid as well, but the plain and simple fact of the Bills is that they (a) don't have enough talent, and (b) have paid through the nose to keep the talent that they do have here, which means they have content talent. Ouch.

As for the New York Tebows, never in the course of human history will so much be written about so little. I don't want to add to the fire, other than to point out that even the vaunted defense isn't all that great, with the aforementioned Stevie Johnson torching CB Darelle Revis. This will be a nothing but a train wreck.

Miami closes it out as perhaps the NFL's least consequential team, unless you'd like to give that title to Jacksonville. I'd feel bad for you, Florida Football Fan, if you didn't live in Florida. Since you do, I pretty much have to assume you are some kind of face-eating freak, and deserve to watch plodding 5-11 football with reach QB picks, terrible OLs, and the worst WRs this side of the Arena League. If this franchise has any kind of plan, they are doing a marvelous job hiding it. (Oh, and nice job firing people on camera for HBO. That's not going to come back to bite you on the ass karmically for a long time or nothing.)

AFC North

Baltimore 11-5
Pittsburgh 9-7
Cincinnati 8-8
Cleveland 4-12

Not a great year for this division. I'd feel a lot more comfortable with my Baltimore pick if DL Terrell Suggs wasn't on the shelf, and S Ed Reed and MLB Ray Lewis weren't on their last legs, but the offense should pick up the slack, especially with WR Torrey Smith ready to make the leap to true WR1 status. Besides, the replacement refs don't know to screw them, the way the regular ones do, and RB Ray Rice is still just 25, which means he might be the best in the world. For another 1-2 years. Wow, RB is such a meat grinder of a job...

Pittsburgh's disturbingly old in key places, especially on defense, and the OL can't run-block well enough to keep Big Ben from chucking it 40 times a game. Oh, and chucking it 40 times a game means taking 12-15 big hits, since the big galoot has never learned the trick of getting rid of the ball before getting crushed. Take it from a guy who's going to watch Vick through his hands this year; that doesn't work nearly as well when you are over 30.

Cincy is an entertaining dark horse for a lot of teams, particularly if you are in manlove with WR AJ Green, but I'm not sold on QB Andy Dalton and the running game, and the defense also makes too many mistakes for a repeat playoff appearance. At least they won't torture their fans with Cedric "Three Yards And A Cloud Of Suck" Benson anymore... but outside of the warm cocoon that is the New England offense, BenJarvus Green-Ellis might not be any better.

Cleveland will continue to be Cleveland; the team with the worst QB performance, year in and year out, of any team in the league. (Seriously, this is a team that, other than one mirage year of Derek Anderson to Braylon Edwards, has never been anything other than putrid. Hard to do in this era.) At least they employ a lot of ex-Eagles, which means they are doing what they can to keep the streets safe. Thanks, Cleveland!

AFC South

Houston 12-4
Tennessee 10-6
Indianapolis 6-10
Jacksonville 4-12

The stars and scrubs year continues, with the Texans primed to roll over the rest of this division. QB Matt Schaub is going to enjoy the fruits of a great backfield and healthy targets, and while the defense will miss Super Mario Williams, it's not as if they've never played without him before. HC Gary Kubiak is going to get canned for playoff failures, not regular season ones. Oh, and RB Ben Tate is going to bollix up your pick of RB Arian Foster, because Kubiak did study at the hooves of Lucifer Shanahan.

I like Tennessee to make a playoff run, not because I'm totally sold on their talent -- QB Jake Locker is inaccurate, RB Chris Johnson was awful last year, and WR Kenny Britt could be arrested or injured at any moment of the day -- but they are going to win at least four games in the division without too much trouble, and the defense has playmakers. They'll be an easy playoff out, though.

Indy gets to enjoy the first of many promising years of QB Andrew Luck, and if he had credible WRs -- Reggie Wayne is fading, Austin Collie is concuss-able, and there is no credible third option -- he'd put up better numbers. The defense is still a speed and finesse outfit that isn't built to be on the field for more then 25 minutes a game, and the special teams have been horrible forever. Luck and the home field is going to win them some games, but not many.

Finally, Jacksonville. I really want some other team to move to LA first, just to completely screw new ownership, and for the games in London to not draw. That's what you deserve for boning RB Maurice Jones-Drew, the only reason to watch this sorry-ass club for the past five years. On the field, they have added intriguing rookie WR Justin Blackmon, and QB Blaine Gabbert has shown signs in preseason of elevating his game all the way up to average... but preseasons lie. This team's gonna suck. Hard.

AFC West

Denver 9-7
Oakland 9-7
San Diego 7-9
Kansas City 7-9

The improbable choice for the NFL's most entertaining division, with four wildly variable and flawed teams battling each other to the gun for playoff spots. Seriously, this might be the best division in the AFC when it comes to QB play (even Matt Cassell is tolerable), the home field advantages are substantial, and it's not as if each organization doesn't have glaring weaknesses to draw them back to the pack.

Let's start with Denver, where new QB Payton Manning is going to (a) love his WRs (DeMaryius Thomas and Eric Decker), who are better -- yes, better -- than what he's had to work with in Indy for awhile, (b) hate his RBs, where Willis McGahee is nearing the end and the kids don't know blitz pick up, (c) check down to his TEs a ton, and (d) not enjoy the second half of the year, when his home games are subject to winds and snow that he never had to put up with before. I don't think he gets through the year unscathed, and the neck is really scary on every level, but I think there's enough here to get out of the division with a crown.

Next up is Oakland. Were you aware that RB Darren McFadden is injury-prone? That seems to be the breathless news that every fantasy football writer has imparted about this club, as if RB wasn't, by definition, an attrition position, or that they were telling us something that wasn't obvious. Anyway, the real issue in Oakland is whether or not QB Carson Palmer can cut down the turnovers (some, but not enough), and if the team as a whole can stop giving the opposition 100+ yards a game of DURRR through flags. (No, no, they can not.) Despite the best talent in the division, they only get the wild-card.

Everyone seems to think that QB Philip Rivers is due for a bounceback from the lackluster 2011, and I kind of hope he does -- I own him in my keeper league. But the WRs and OL are already hurt, and every division rival has guys who can get to the QB. If Rivers ever does go down, Charger Fan is starting down the barrel of Charlie Whitehurst again, which is to say that Charger Fan is staring down the barrel of a gun. That he's carrying, cocked, and placed in his mouth, R Budd Dwyer style...

KC brings up the rear as football's best last-place team. The defense is better than you think, especially with do-everything S Eric Berry and secret pass rushing demon LB Tamba Hali, and the offensive skill players -- Jamal Charles, Peyton Hillis, Dwyane Bowe, Jon Baldwin and the sneaky-good TE Tony Moeaki -- are all credible. Unfortunately, Cassel is not, and it's just the wrong era to have a fourth-tier QB.

Division winners: New England, Baltimore, Houston and Denver

Wild cards: Tennessee and Oakland

First round: Baltimore over Oakland, Denver over Tennessee

Second round: New England over Denver, Houston over Baltimore

Conference round: New England over Houston

Super Bowl: Green Bay over New England

So there you have it -- the next six months, predicted to perfection. Think of all the time I've saved you. Or, um, not...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Brief And Obvious Point About A 15-Year-Old Winning An LPGA Event

The rest of the competitors can't be very good. (Oh, and since the previous record-winner was a 16 year old who won last year? It hasn't been good for a while, and it's not getting any better.)

MLB used to have very young people play the game pretty routinely, Bob Feller being the best example. As the game has gotten more popular all over the world, which has created new sources of talent, this has been drummed out. Now, when a 21-year-old sets the world on fire, it's news, and big news at that.

A similar situation has occurred, by the way, with pitchers swinging the bats. Basically, the better the pitching gets, the worse that a de facto layman is going to do against it. Pitchers, by the numbers, are hitting worse than ever, and you can't just lay all of that on the DH, since that's been around for 40 years now. Besides, with inter-league play, pitchers should be getting better, not worse, since every staff in the league now practices more on it. But the numbers are going down, not up.

Anyhoo... this is simple: if a player who does not have the benefit of years of training and practice, along with experience and full physical maturity, can beat fully grown competitors over not just one day of golf, but four... In a sport where you don't have to be freakishly youth-flexible to compete...

Well, sure, the young player is exceptional to overcome the handicap.

But it's not as if she's beating an undeniably strong group, either.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

FTT Off-Topic: By Their Deeds You Shall Know Them

Apologies, in advance, for the content: I know that a lot of you don't swing in my direction. But the one minute of unscripted behavior from today's Republican National Convention. It's the crowd of delegates hate-screeching "U-S-A!" at a podium speaker from that most dastardly and un-American of all places... Puerto Rico.

No, seriously.

It goes on for a full minute, until the disgusted principal comes out (OK, the RNC chairman, but pretty much the same thing) and tells them they all should be ashamed of themselves, and to STFU.

Now, I don't mean to give aid and comfort to people I don't agree with; if they'd like to pursue a path of obsolescence and exclusion to reach a path of powerlessness, that works for me. But, um, still. Y'all do realize that Caucasians, as a group, aren't going to be a voting majority fairly soon, right? And that if your party more or less works to drive anyone with a bit of pigment in their skin (or in the case of your Pro-Rape Platform, a womb), you aren't really set up to win majority rule elections?

But this, of course, isn't as much fun as making people feel bad about their speaking voices, or their ability to assimilate into a crowd of people they don't share a lot in common with, or even the fact that learning a second language isn't, you know, easy. Instead, chant with piss and vinegar at someone you can demonize, subjugate, exclude. And wonder, not at all, as to why you've got a problem attracting a more diverse group of people to your cause. Sigh...

(Oh, and if you want to spin that this was about some delegate fight between the Ron Paul people and the rest of the room... um, sure. SURE. Then your people are just remarkably dumb about how things might look to, well, people outside the room, and that little slap fights are more important than discouraging minority buy-in to your party. Boy, this is such a better story for you!)

Top 10 takeaways from the new ESPN deal with MLB

10) Playoff baseball returns to the Lemur, which will give them another platform to talk about Tim Tebow

9) Sunday Night Baseball will return, which will give them another platform to talk about Tim Tebow

8) The annual rights fee will double to two times an ungodly amount of money, which is nearly important enough to think about not talking about Tim Tebow

7) "Baseball Tonight" coverage will expand, which will give them more time to talk about Tim Tebow

6) The network will continue its exclusive access to the Home Run Derby, which is nearly as pointless as its continued conversations about Tim Tebow

5) They own full access to the Opening, Memorial, Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays, which will now be known as The Four High Holy Days Of Talking About Tim Tebow

4) Up to 10 spring training games will be shown each season, which are really going to tax the ability of the coverage teams to discuss Tim Tebow

3) ESPN will air six one-hour specials created by MLB in each year of the agreement, which promise to be the only 100% Tebow Free broadcasts of the year

2) Skip Bayless thinks those MLB broadcasts are totally without merit, for some reason

1) If you honestly believe this negotiation for MLB was about anything other than which network was going to sign the biggest check, you probably believe in things that are more improbable than Tim Tebow's Hall of Fame chances

Top 10 lesser-known Dez Bryant conduct conditions

By now, everyone has word about the Cowboys trying to provide some guidance -- because dammit, discipline is something you do FOR people, not TO them, so quit yer bitching young man or so help me I'll... -- for their universally regarded as troubled and talented wideout. And you know that he's got a curfew, has to have a 3-man team with him when he's out, and so on, and so on. But as always, FTT gets the details that other Web sites miss. (How do we do it? Lying!)

10) Must floss at least four times a week, and have someone watch him do it

9) If he wants to rub one out, must not do so in the weekly counseling sessions, or in front of the security team

8) Not allowed to have meat on the cheese plates, and vice versa

7) Prohibited from going on eBay, Etsy or QVC after that last Highly Unfortunate Incident

6) Only allowed to use Twitter while having proper spelling and grammar, so, well, he's not going to be on Twitter

5) Absolutely forbidden from wearing. or dating, white after Labor Day

4) When he hits his mother, can not do so with a closed fist or with a foreign object

3) Can not ask how well this plan worked out for the Cowboys with Pac Man Jones

2) All jewelry must be paste or zirconium, and he has to pay for it out of his allowance

1) If he completes ten full years of this conduct, never gets into any trouble ever again, and becomes the best WR in club history, gets his manhood back in a blind trust at age 40

FTT Off-Topic: Everyday Sunshine

The World's Best Unknown Band
If you've never heard Fishbone, you missed the best band in the world that never was. And now you can see the best doc- umentary that ever was about them. On Netflix Instant, too.

This was a ground-breaking band; organic and democratic and a marriage of punk, metal, ska and high craziness. The stage presence was unreal, the albums erratic, and the critical and industry love was off the charts... but when the fame and money didn't match the work, things fell apart. The band is still kind grinding it out, believing in the mission and music... but to sad little crowds, for indifferent labels, and living hand to mouth.

How messed up is this? A band member starts to go nuts from a religious cult. The band tries to get him back, and it goes all the way to a felony kidnapping case. No, seriously. The lead singer gets his hands on a theremin and drives everyone nuts with it. Happy music more or less goes out the window after the Rodney King riots. And as bad as it gets, as criminally under-appreciated as these guys were -- and by the way, I am just a middling fan -- the decisions never get better. These guys just can't get out of their own way, and it's downright tragic. It really is.

And maybe, like Frank Zappa before them, this kind of music was never supposed to make real bank, be supported by major corporations, get mainstream radio play. True art and true money don't mix, punk doesn't work as an ethos after 25 years in the same old rooms, and working in an industry were everyone who looks up to you made a lot more money... that's all messed up. And oddly beautiful, and great.

Anyway, give it a spin. Spend some time with some geniuses.  And walk through the pain.

Akeem No Dream, Or As The Weak Side Turns

So the story out of the Eagles today is how Michael Vick is healthy, wearing a thicker rib pad, and he'll be good to go on September 9 in Cleveland when the season begins. So Eagle Fan is supposed to stop worrying about this sort of thing, since it's all going to be fixed, and Vick is a veteran who doesn't need any snaps in the preseason. Um, OK, whatever.

But here's the little niblet of news that I was far more interested in: that veteran special teams linebacker Akeem Jordan is now the starting weakside linebacker, ahead of Brian Rolle.

Now, I'm not going to defend Rolle; he's been awful in the preseason, and wasn't very good last year. While he's got some quicks and potential, he overpursues and doesn't take good angles, and is a little undersized to do things like, well, defend the tight end in coverage. But that's not the issue, really.

You see, the Eagles actually have two credible LBs this year; DeMeco Ryans, the import from Texas who gives them hope at middle, and the spectacular rookie Mychal Kendricks from Cal. If they could ever stop committing stupid penalties, there's the potential for an interesting defense here, seeing how they are getting after the QB like gangbusters, and that's all been without Jason Babin, or even very much from Trent Cole, seeing how he doesn't really need the work. They are probably going to cut Darryl Tapp, and Tapp is going to latch on somewhere else and rack up a half dozen sacks on his lonesome; they are that deep when it comes to rushing the passer.

But not, well, when it comes to covering backs and tight ends out of the backfield. That's where your choices are Rolle, Jordan, Jamar Chaney, Keenan Clayton, or, I suppose, Casey Matthews. And there isn't much to like about any of them, really. Rolle failed last year and hasn't done anything in the preseason to show improvement. Jordan is a 27 year-old guy, in his sixth year; he knows where to go and how to tackle, but on a good defense, he's a depth play and special teamer. Chaney, in his third year, is the kind of guy who might be on the roster bubble, since he doesn't seem like he's getting better. Clayton is a special teams beast, nothing more. And Matthews, last year's washout as starting MLB, came on at the end of last year, but still looks a step too slow in coverage, and like he's only in the NFL because he's related to better players.

Now, this is a chicken and egg situation. It's not as if the Eagles are unaware of the LB problem, since Ryans and Kendricks were both imported this year. They keep spending high picks on the problem. And last year, the built-in excuse was that the team, and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, just didn't have time to teach them up.

Well, that doesn't wash any more.

So either... the team isn't coaching anyone up, or the picks are getting boned. And it's happening all over again.

Oh, and if you don't think the third LB matters very much, because he comes off the field in the nickel packages... um, maybe, but it's not as if Joselio Hanson or Oshi Atogwe is going to be shutting down Jason Witten, Jermichael Finley or Jimmy Graham. And that's going to be, well, kind of necessary.

So if you want to give me the over/under of 3.5 starters at the position this year... I'll take the over. And, well... no organization is so good at talent evaluation as to just put studs in every space. Eventually, you have to coach up a Mathews, or a Rolle, or a Chaney to replacement level, rather than just shuttle them in and out. And the fact that they don't do that...

Well, it's just like every other year of the Andy Reid Era now, inn'it?

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Passion Of The Tebow, Or How The NFL Became A Reality Show

Jebus wants this mic to be live
My friend and occasional FTT writer Tracer Bullet posted about the NFL Network's Tim Tebow documentary, with the pretty by-the-book reaction of how irritating this whole thing is. My reaction was as follows:

Like all men having to wear hats at all times did for us, the Tebow Phenomenon is going to comfort future generations that they are much, much smarter than their elders.

But honestly, there's a simpler reason: ratings. (And that matches the earlier snark, since people used to go loco for people driving white Broncos on a highway, or a male chauvinist pub hound play a woman 25 years and worlds better then him in tennis, and so on, and so on.)

People of good conscience can not argue that Tim Tebow is a very good NFL QB. He's just not; the completion percentage, sacks taken and points scored do not point to a great talent, and teams do not let studs go this early in their career very often. (Seriously, go back and find a guy who gets bounced from the team that drafts him high, then becomes the centerpiece of a dynasty. It just doesn't usually happen that way.)

Similarly, people of good conscience can not argue that the Jets are a true Super Bowl contender. They didn't make the playoffs last year. The defense is aging in key spots and doesn't get to the quarterback very well. The running game is based around a plodding workhorse who hasn't taken a step up. The wideouts are thin, overrated and moody. The offensive line has strong issues at tackle and has probably seen its best days already, seeing how they haven't been injury prone up to now, and seem to be developing issues. The coaching is highly suspect after last year's collapse, and the history of quirky head coaches usually doesn't do well at this point in the process.

So why all of the attention, then?

Because Tim Tebow gets ratings, and does just enough (Run Shirtless! Be Pious! Oppose Choice! Enrage Ex-NFL QBs!) to stoke them. He's the only thing that has made people want to watch Skip Bayless. When ESPN goes to him, it plays into their need for NY/NE drama, which is, after all, their de facto baseball coverage. There's a whole vast flyover part of the country that wants to embrace him, and another whole set of minority folks who watch his every move and grit their teeth, since there has been literally hundreds of similarly talented option QBs who didn't get this level of attention before.

Is he a QB? No. Will we be talking about him in another 3 to 6 months? No. Are the Jets going to be anything but a sideshow this year? No. Is the media cynical and mean-spirited for giving this much run to this story? Of course, but that's always the case.

And if it didn't work, and the ratings didn't match the interest, they wouldn't do it.

So if you are tired of Tebow... patience.

It will all go away soon.

Like every other reality show, since sports has a scoreboard that eventually saves us from silly spells like this one...

Top Ten NFL Preseason Week 3 Takeaways

10) Russell Wilson earned the job in Seattle, forever ending the prejudice against short QB prospects

9) The New York Jets offense and ticket office would like you to believe that preseason doesn't matter at all, no sir, not any

8) After watching Nick Foles take apart Cleveland, the fan bases of Miami and Arizona are on high alert for Mike Kafka

7) Dallas has set strict conduct guidelines for Dez Bryant, most of which can be boiled down to not being Dez Bryant

6) Peyton Manning threw for two touchdowns against the Niners, putting to rest any worries that he's a single bad hit to his neck away from full-time commercial work

5) Buffalo is still winless in the preseason and got their teeth kicked in by Pittsburgh, so if you want to just cede the AFC East to New England now, that'll be fine

4) The Steelers lost David DeCastro, their first round pick at right guard, after he broke an astonishing number of ligaments in his left leg, which means that all of your Steeler fantasy picks are hosed

3) The Bucs lost Davin Joseph, their two-time Pro Bowl guard, after he broke an astonishing number of ligaments in his left leg, which means that all of your Buccaneer fantasy picks are hosed

2) Tarvaris Jackson was traded from Seattle to Buffalo, and if this has impact on your fantasy league, you officially are playing in way too deep of a league

1) Terrell Owens got released, which means that we're now down to 26 teams away from every team personally firing him

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In This Year's News You Could Not Possibly Care About

This year's keeper league fantasy draft happened today, so here are the players that I like, and you should avoid. Simple exercise, no?

Player TM 2012 2013
QB Philip Rivers* SD 19 23
RB1 Daren McFadden* OAK 21 25
RB2 Donald Brown IND 26 31
WR1 Roddy White* ATL 39 44
WR2 Greg Jennings GB 66 71
WR3 Dwayne Bowe KC 46 51
FX Kenny Britt TEN 22 26
TE Aaron Hernandez NE 15 19
DEF Green Bay GB 7 10
PK Alex Henery PHL 1 4
B1 Mikel LeShoure DET 8 11
B2 Randall Cobb GB 13 16
B3 Sidney Rice SEA 7 10
B4 Matt Schaub HOU 3 6
B5 Russell Wilson SEA 1 4

Asterisks were keepers, so you can see that I wasn't coming in with that much.

Auctions are completely fascinating to me, especially single-bid rotations like we do, because they open things up to position, bluffs and feints. Naming players that you don't want, or pushing a value up to set up a move later, are all part of the mix... and so is *not* getting players, since there is a very finite number of slots available, with just the five bench slots.

There are, of course, disappointments: I had a top tier of eight RBs that didn't get taken, and I wanted Doug Martin of Tampa pretty badly. (The tier: Martin, Ryan Mathews, Trent Richardson, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murry, Steven Jackson and Ahmad Bradshaw, all of whom would have made for a far more exciting RB2 than Donald Brown.) But part of establishing a tone here is to not be too patient, which led me to go for an extra $5 for Jennings. The next win was Bowe for $3 less than budgeted, which made me a little happier about things. I was committed to spending just a buck on a kicker and defense, and to go cheap on tight ends. Brown was the third selection, and right on budget, and by this point, I was feeling solid about my projections and what the room would bid.

The fourth pick was Aaron Hernandez, and this is where life got really good. Hernandez was the second-best TE on the board for me (Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski being protects, and Antonio Gates also off the board. I named him at a time where some players were getting tense with their remaining funds, and others were staying passive on the position... so the $15 spent here is nearly half of the length I was prepared to go to. I realize that New England has a lot of mouths to feed, and that Brandon Lloyd is likely to take some of his outside and deep action... but by the end of 2011, Gronkowski wasn't totally healthy and Hernandez was getting goal-line fullback carries. I'm not expecting either of these things to happen again, but when you've got a guy who is this talented, and a team that's this inventive about finding matchup wins, his touches aren't going in the toilet. I think he's an every week auto-play, and will provide above the mean in a 12-team league.

With Hernandez getting me under budget and feeling very much in control of my roster, it was time for an upside pick. That's Kenny Britt, who I was more than willing to let go if the bidding got too high... but for $22, or $6 less than my estimate for him, it was too much potential to walk away from. I'm sure that suspensions and arrests and injuries are likely, but we are talking crazy talent, and Tennessee has secretly become a high volume passing offense recently. He's probably a bad risk as an every-week flex play, but when he's on his game, that's WR1 talent, and the fourth guy on my team capable of producing a 20-point week in the passing game.

As for the bench spots, our league gives five points for a win on defense, so the Packers were my top-rated team; I think they win another 13 games this year. Alex Henery gives me an Eagle to root for when the offense stalls in the red zone, which is always a sad little moment of compensation. LeShoure and Cobb are upside picks, as well as a little handcuff insurance if Jennings runs into new injury issues, and I've waited for years for Sidney Rice to finally come back to his pre-injury performance levels, so doing it for a discounted price had perverse appeal. Which leads me to the one troublesome moment of the draft.. Matt Schaub at $3. Simply put, a misread of a team that probably didn't want the guy and had a lot of margin left over. He could have a decent year -- the Texans probably won't run the ball as much in 2012 as they did in 2011 -- and he certainly has a ton of easy targets in division, but he's just not that exciting of a property.

So, Russell Wilson. I've bought into the Football Outsiders love, the preseason tape, the obvious love that Pete Carroll has for the guy, the big arm, the wheels... and well, I'm sold. It's crazy to think that he could be the best rookie QB in the draft, and yet I'm prepared to think that he just might be. The poise is just great, the touch, the quicks, and I don't get why it's all for nothing just because the guy looks like Drew Brees in the pocket on size. Looking like Brees works for me, especially when, if he's good, I'd own him for his entire career for an absurdly low price.

Anyway, that's that -- if McFadden stays healthy, if Britt can stay out of jail, if the Colts are good enough to stay in games long enough to make Brown passable... I think I could win this.

If none of these things happens, but Wilson is the Rookie of the Year, that's also a great year.

And if everyone gets hurt and it all goes to hell, it will be the same year as always...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Top 10 takeaways from Eagles - Browns

10) Cleveland Fan can be forgiven for thinking that Brandon Weeden looks a lot like Colt McCoy looks a lot like Brady Quinn looks a lot like Charlie Frye looks a lot like Taking A Big Mess Of Sleeping Pills Already

9) The Eagles didn't play anything but straight up rush four and still played auto-tag on the QB, despite the Browns supposedly having an offensive line

8) Not to deepen the Nick Foles love, but there's something awesome about a rookie QB who throws a pick, then shakes it off to throw for two scores

7) Brett Brackett will have an NFL career as a pass catching tight end, even if it's not here

6) Trent Richardson better come back healthy and strong, because the Browns totally don't have another tolerable RB on the roster

5) Eagle Fan promises to be really, really good if we just let them keep Damaris Johnson

4) It's a good thing that Dion Lewis caught a touchdown, because the rest of us are totally ready to throw him over for Bryce Brown and Chris Polk

3) Josh Gordon might be a decent wideout one day, but with these QBs throwing to him, we're never going to know

2) It's nice to see so many ex-Eagles on the Browns' roster and management, because it means they stay off the streets

1) The Eagles are now 3-0 in preseason, which means they are well and truly going to suck

Friday, August 24, 2012

In A Better Place, Steve Van Buren Is Running Someone Over

Power, Speed, Win
Van Buren was the first Eagle voted to the Hall of Fame, and no, I am not old enough to have seen him play. He's also dead today, of pneumonia, at age 91, otherwise known as an age that no current football player is likely to achieve.

How good was he? I think he could have played today, despite being a 6'-1" 200-pound power back. Van Buren was a generational break of power and speed, with 77 TDs in 8 years. When he left, he was the NFL's all-time leader in rushing; he quit after an injury that the docs of the team were not able to deal with. Besides, this was the time before real money, when the stars of your local football team were likely to be digging by the side of the road in the off-season.

For the Eagles, Van Buren was the reason why they won championships. As the do-everything back that could not be stopped, he set records, remains in the consensus top 10 of the franchise's history, and is no worse than the second-best RB in the franchise's 75+ year history. (I've gone through this before: it's him, Wilbert Montgomery and Brian Westbrook, and as much as I love Wilbert, he was fumble-prone.) So it's either him or BDub, and I'll take the latter just because I have to think the speed and difficulty of the game have gone up that much in the past 50+ years.

What I really liked about Van Buren was the utter old-school nature of him. When his records were broken, he didn't seem to care very much. When reporters would find him, he didn't bitch about the money that the young guys made, or how players in his age were better, or any of that nonsense. Instead, he just hung out, secure in his place and history, content to be the infrequently honored emeritus and choice of the cognoscenti.

We will not see his like again, in many ways. And if you believe in a higher plane, or reincarnation, or something beyond this mortal coil... I think Van Buren gets to spend his eternity deciding whether or not to run past or over some foolish defender, then doing both. Dude was just that good.

Phillies - Reds: When You Can't Say Yes And You Can't Say No

The Five Tool Ninja (yes, he exists, from the ancient days of the blog, back when others would write) and I went to the Phillies-Reds game tonight in Philly. He's home for the week sans kids, and I'm at that magical place of the summer where you look at your kids and fantasize about breaking into the school and locking them there for six hours, just to get them out of your house. Love them, need them, can't live without them, but good God Almighty, it's time to get them back to school. With a quickness. But I digress. And also fled the house to take in a game, for a pittance of the usual price, since that's what happens to also-ran teams at the tail end of their empire. They play to full stadiums, but not to the people who bought the tickets in the first place.

And here's your soundtrack for the night. I promise it makes sense.

Tonight's matchup was Johnny Cueto vs. Cole Hamels, or basically an ace duel... and while neither guy out and out disappointed, they also really weren't at their best. Hamels struggled in a sudden downpour at the start of the game to give up the first run, then let two more go through on weak defense (a Ryan Ludwick laser that Michael Martinez could not spear at short, then a Laynce Nix error that did not involve spelling his name wrong after a Todd Frazier double)... and it looked like another thin night for the home team.

But Cueto wasn't sharp either -- 8 baserunners in 5 innings to a Phillies team that might have three credible regulars in it at the start of the game in Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and maybe Domonic Brown -- and with his pitch count ballooning, Dusty Baker asked his bullpen for 12 outs. They got 8 before the lead was spent, with the Phillies unleashing the most terrifying form of offense known to man -- the sacrifice fly -- and better bully work of their own. Finally, after three straight innings of teasing us with the unbridled thrill of a fourth game winning sac fly, John Mayberry Jr. plated the final run with a base hit (as if *that* was what we wanted to see), and that was that.

Oh, and this 11-inning game took nearly 4.5 hours, mostly because the Baseball Gods knew that the Ninja and I have not done nearly enough fantasy football prep, and should not sleep, or win. Ever. GAHHH.

A few takeaways from the game...

> Phillippe Aumont, who the Phils got from the Mariners in the Cliff Lee deal that cleared the boards for Roy Halladay, made his debut tonight. He has no clue where the ball is going, and might be the least comfortable at-bat in the majors for right-handers, this side of Carlos Marmol. Dude is huge, throws hard, and seems to drop down a bit as part of his natural motion. Terrifying. And probably not really effective, but fun anyway.

> Brown had all kinds of chances to be the big hero tonight, with two late-inning opportunities to have the game-winner, and missed in both. He still went 2 for 6 with 2 runs scored, and his slide on the sac fly was all kinds of great, but I'm really not sold on him as a regular yet. I mean, when you fail at home against the soft underbelly of the Reds bullpen -- Alfredo Simon is alive! -- that's not a great sign for your chances moving forward. Also, the 1 HR so far this year in 75 ABs is getting disturbing already. I know, I know, small sample size and all, but when it comes to suspect prospects, small sample sizes matter a lot.

> Sam LeCure blew the save tonight for the Reds on two well-hit singles that set up a Jimmy Rollins sac fly that scored Brown, then of blew a rod when Ludwick wasn't able to get the baserunner kill. Notable, really, in that he seemed borderline unhinged from the play.

> Kevin Frandsen is nobody's idea of a top-tier third basemen, but he can play a little, and he pulled off an amazing bit of Jedi Madness tonight when he dodged a tag on a bunt, then got Miguel Cairo to drop the ball before throwing it to first for the out. Seriously, I've watched baseball for 35+ years now, and I've never seen this play before. Cairo should be ashamed.

> Philly Fan has no love for Jonathan Papelbon. Philly Fan's instincts are correct. And you have to wonder if Metallica will ever be able to stop being the soundtrack for meatheads...

> The Philly bullpen tonight: 5 innings, 2 baserunners, both walks, 4 Ks, no errors, no runs. Impressive. Deserved to win.

> If you were just watching this game and not this season, you'd have no idea that the Reds were a runaway division winner.

> Finally, if you are wondering about the title... the Phillies left 16 (!) on base tonight, had a man (Juan Pierre) gunned down at home plate, and took nearly 4.5 hours to play. Or 3 full plays of "Exile on Main Street", which sounds like a much better idea, really...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In Fantasy Football, There's Always Someone Dorkier -- And More Self-Torturing -- Than You

Feel free to play this in the background while you read this.

We're in the last 2-3 days of fantasy league prep here in the Man Cave, which means the following six step process.

1) Read too much so that I know info on literally hundreds of guys that won't be drafted. This can't be avoided. OCD Is Not Fun. (But I know about Vai Tuau and you don't!)

2) Start your draft prep, then get distracted and feel inadequate, then stay up too late trying to get it shiny again. For, like, every other draft I've ever done. It's A Process.

3) Sneer at the draft prep and tout columns that are part of the vital procrastination process. Crapping on Michael Turner? BRAVE, INTERNET TOUT, BRAVE. Oh, and I do not care about your twerpy PPR game or your HDH game that does not count Week 17, because my game is yearly cumulative and counts everything, which makes it MUCH BETTER THAN YOURS. ACCEPT THIS.

4) Hate myself for doing all of those things that aren't room or draft prep. Work? Walking the dog? Going the gym? Being a dad? Showering? Sleeping? All distractions from what I should be doing. And all things I will do, while hating myself for doing them. The lesson, as always, is that this is crack for nerds.

5) Get to the place where you hate your team, even when it isn't even drafted. (Helps to have keepers here.) In my league, I'm keeping Philip Rivers, Darren McFadden and Roddy White, in that all of them were at favorable contract rates. Expect all of them to struggle huge, get hurt, and cuckold me from taking the true #1 guy that I needed at all of these slots. (Oh, and I thought about keeping Fat Ced Benson and Brandon Lloyd, and didn't on either. Draft those guys. They will own the Earth. Assuming I don't somehow get them back.)

6) Then ping-pong to the place where you feel good about this team / hate on everyone else's, because what the hell, it's all a super-injury crap shoot anyway. Go throw darts in the dark, it's the same damn thing.

Now, have I helped your draft prep with any of this? OF COURSE NOT. Welcome to my world!

Top 10 takeaways from the Bartolo Colon PED Suspension

10) Without the Bay Area and the Yankees, MLB might not have a problem

9) Colon apologized to the fans, teammates and organization, which makes it all better

8) While he was pitching well, if this is a major blow to your fantasy team, you play in way too deep of a league

7) This would be a real blow to the A's winning a wild-card berth, if Colon played the infield

6) It's a real shame, because his 171-122 record was a shoo-in for Cooperstown

5) This makes the fifth PED suspension this year, six if you count Ryan Braun's FedEx guy, and if you can name them all without looking them up, you really need a better hobby

4) There actually are people who would wonder why a fat 39-year-old would look for an extra edge

3) You have to give Colon credit for at least taking testosterone, rather than those lady pills that Manny Ramirez goes for

2) It's especially sneaky to get illicit muscles under your bad body of goo

1) Speaking as an A's fan, we're all very disappointed, not the least of which is in the lack of effort for not putting up a fake Web site to try to get out of it

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mama, Don't Let Your Baby Grow Up To Be A Running Back

That'll teach him to be the best
Let's just say it out loud: if you are a running back, you probably aren't the sharpest knife in the drawer. And since the drawer is filled with football players, that's kind of saying something. And I don't have any particular allegiance to anyone mentioned below in this article; I don't root for their teams, own a piece of them in fantasy or have an affinity for their school or personality.

I just know when I see a working man get screwed, I don't like it. And that's what is happening to running backs all over the league, with a quickness.

Time was, men could be running backs and, you know, become stars from it. If you were good and fast and reasonably durable, you could achieve wealth and fame and respect, and maybe even the long-term love of your management and fan base.

That was then. This is now.

In today's NFL, being the best running back in the league, as Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew was last year, makes you more of a suspect than an asset. Paying the RB, the way that Chicago more or less did after a calendar year of puling to Matt Forte, is seen as the move for suckers, chumps, doofuses that don't get how the position is 100% fungible and cannon fodder. Smart teams put together committees, delegate the goal-line concussion work to the plowhorses that aren't skilled enough to make men miss in the larger spaces. Split the work by down, by quarter, by distance and hell, probably even by field surface or defense.

There's only one thing wrong with this situation.

Really good running backs are being wasted. We are paying top dollar for bottom round. The quality of play is going down. And men who have earned the right to get paid through performance are getting shafted.

Just like in baseball, where pitch and innings counts means that teams are racing the clock to show you the worst members of their staffs, so too is football going to running backs that aren't true talents. Instead, we get specialists and mudders, men who are easy to game plan for, since they only do one or two things well, rather than everything.

Look, I get that the role is hard, and putting your eggs in one basket is poor planning. I also get that the injury rate in football is pretty much a 100% thing, and that running backs are like smokers; not out of it yet, maybe not out of it ever, but always moving one drag closer to termination. Managing the resource, the way that Andy Reid did with Brian Westbrook, seems just a hell of a lot smarter...

But that's not what's done. Teams with leads don't spread the carries around; instead, they keep things with the same guy, to make sure the lead isn't lost and the coach doesn't have to answer the question as to how the game got away.

And sure, the games will keep going the way they always have. Committees will dominate all over the place: with Patriot Way Uber Alles, with players 40 through 45 on the roster becoming as important as anyone outside of the starters. Analysts and media geishas will fellate the smart set for building out deep rosters of special camaraderie.

And Jones-Drew will get shafted out of what he has earned, and men who spent decades risking injury for a chance at the lottery will find the winning ticket is worth about a tenth, at most, of what it might have been.

There's so much about football where you've got to swallow what's being served and forget the taste. I just never thought it would go so far as to make a game of individuals into committees.

Or that the football watching public would believe this was anything but borderline reprehensible...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Brief And Pathetic Note Of Fantasy Baseball Whining

20 innings pitched by my guys tonight: 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 23.00 K/BB ratio, 1 win, 3 saves. (Would have been two wins if the Rays could have done something, anything, with the odious Luke Hochevar to support David Price, but that's why they are the Rays.)

Nice big boost in pitching ratio numbers. As close to the money as I've been in some time. Still enough time left in the season for Good Things To Happen; it's been a crazy close year.

So... it's really the best of all possible nights for not one, but two, starting OFs to go down with probable DL-level injuries. After another guy did the same thing on Sunday.

Oh well. I should be thankful, right? Less of a distraction for preparing for my fantasy football draft... which, um, never gets ruined by clear air turbulence injuries.

Now, if you all don't mind, I've got to go find the cricket that has invaded my Man Cave, and take out way too much obvious transference on his rather unlucky existence...

Top 10 reasons why Mark Cuban has beef with Jason Kidd

10) Really thought that a guy on his 4th team and second circuit around the league would have more loyalty, especially since he provides fluffy bathrobes

9) Wanted to put Kidd's jersey in the rafters, but only if he was in it

8) Shockingly, very wealthy men do not like it when they don't get exactly what they want

7) If Cubes doesn't have beef with someone, there's a fairly good chance he's dead

6) Was looking forward to Kidd taking a position in the front office, and by position, we are letting your sick little imagination run wild

5) Because of Kidd's treachery involving the Knicks, Cubes now has to try to convince himself that Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo are going to work out

4) It's slowly dawning on him that he's not going to get Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum, and that maybe not leaving his crappy reality show to meet with Deron Williams might not have been, well, showing any kind of priorities... so this is all Kidd's fault

3) Kidd has dared to hurt his feelings, for which he must pay, PAY, PAY!!!

2) If you are going to call someone out, picking on an ancient back-up point for a likely cellar-dweller in the other conference isn't a bad choice at all, really

1) Just realized that if Kidd had simply hit more shots, played better defense, and refused to age, he wouldn't have had to give up that trophy he liked so much

Top 10 takeaways from Augusta letting in women members

Twosome, Amen Corner, Cue The Porn Music
10) Combined with Obama's election, this means racism and sexism have been eliminated in America

9) It was very brave of Tiger Woods to come out in favor of the decision after it happened, rather than, you know, before

8) This now means that the Masters can have just as many commercials as every other golf tournament, just so that meatheads have one more reason to hate women

7) Martha Burk thinks she won due to the decision, which means that the club management is very likely to rescind the decision

6) Finally, very wealthy and famous women will have the same opportunities as very wealthy and famous men

5) Since the club admitted two women, they'll get to play with each other... at night

4) Hootie Johnson is, sadly, still alive to see this happen, and the news didn't kill him

3) Since the club does not say how much it costs to join, or provide figures on annual dues, it's pretty safe to assume they are going to charge the women at least three times more than they charge the men

2) Women got into the club just 22 years after blacks, and there is no truth to the rumor that Condi Rice's club nickname will be Twofer

1) While it's nice to think this is a victory for gender equality, what it really means is that women are now completely free to dress badly, have their bank accounts drained, and waste their time playing a game that frequently doubles as Satan's most cunning invention

Monday, August 20, 2012

Top 10 Takeaways From Eagles - Patriots

10) I'd be a lot more encouraged by the first-team Eagle defense if it played against the first-team Patriots, or could stop committing third-down penalties to continue drives against scrubs

9) If you are still planning on going hard for Michel Vick in your fantasy league, you are probably too high to finish reading this sentence

8) Jason Kelcie's ole job on the Vick injury play wasn't terribly encouraging for the health prospects of their QBs

7) Ryan Mallett is clearly better than Brian Hoyer, and this really does not matter at all

6) Before we all go screaming hosannas to Nick Foles, please remember that he was playing against third-string Patriots with the first-team offense

5) No one send six blitzers against an obvious third-down screen like Juan Castillo

4) If you were looking for this game for any clues in the Shane Vereen / Stephan Ridley RB battle, um, forget it

3) We're about two more weeks away from noticing how old and sad Andy Reid looks these days, and wondering if his screaming fit at Cullen Jenkins has anything to do with his family's tragedy

2) This year's NFL preseason schedule was clearly made by drunken idiots

1) At this rate, Vick is going to start the year rusty, concussed, and wrapped in protective foam

The Fear

Would you keep doing this?
This last weekend, after another starting perfor- mance that has left his team's fans wondering for the thousandth time whether or not Kurt Warner could be coaxed back into the NFL, Arizona Cardinals' starting QB Kevin Kolb had his courage questioned by Raiders' DT Tommy Kelly. Kolb fired back, and the snitfit was on. (And yes, I know that Kolb might not be the starter much longer. Moving on.)

Now, personally, I think Kelly was out of line, even if he really does think it's true, rather than just trying to get some media run. Knowing what is in the heart of anyone is questionable at best, let alone a man you don't really know, and don't even work with. Kolb has strapped on a special helmet this year to try to limit his susceptibility to future concussions, and has been a QB for probably two-thirds of his life. He's always been reasonably mobile, willing to stand in, and hasn't caused controversy off the field. It's not like the NFL has gotten that much more dangerous in the time that he's been in the league, or that the risk of injury has increased that much.

He just hasn't been very good, especially after being traded to a team that doesn't have a very good line or running game. Seriously, outside of Larry Fitzgerald and warm weather, there isn't much to recommend the Cardinal QB job to anyone, which is a strong indication of why Peyton Manning wanted no part of it.

But let's look at this in another way. Let's say *you* were Kolb. You've won the lottery that every football player in America dreams of -- a starting job in the NFL. You've been paid over $20 million so far. You just lost your starting left tackle, the not very good Levi Jones, for the year. Your team is not expected to contend for the division crown in what might be the worst division in the NFL. Even if you did somehow lead them to the playoffs, you certainly aren't expected to win a Super Bowl, and unless some kind of miracle happens, you aren't likely to end the year with your starting job and your health intact.

Oh, and you've been concussed. Several times. Enough to wear that special helmet, and possibly enough to make your loved ones truly worried about your future.

Now, with all of that... might you think about, you know, quitting? Walking away with the money and the health and the knowledge that you've got the next 40-50 years of life and family and relative leisure all at your fingertips?

Of course you wouldn't, because being a starting QB in the NFL is the dream you've dreamed since you were a kid, and there are only 32 of these jobs in the whole world. Coming back from a bad situation is something you've done before, and confidence in your abilities to lead is baked into your mind. Turnarounds on the professional level happen all the time -- heck, just look at Warner's career as a box boy, then his disastrous run in New York, in between the probable Hall of Fame performances in St. Louis and the desert. $20 million is nice, but with friends, family, taxes, extravagant lifestyles and the failed business venture or three that seem to be rife in post-athletic lives, it really might not last you the rest of your days.

So that's really the thing that makes Kelly's accusation so baseless. Because if Kolb were really afraid, he wouldn't be on the field now.

There are no NFL players who are that scared.

No, what they fear is what happens to their lives *after* football.

Because if you had a fear of what happens to your life during football... you wouldn't play it.

For any amount of money...

Dan Haren, And Fantasy Baseball, Has Made Me Crazy

In my keeper league, instead of just strikeouts per nine innings or total strikeouts, we do strikeouts divided by walks. Many people think this is kind of quirky or nuts, since we also have WHIP, which means that you are penalized twice for a walk -- and the intentional walk is especially galling. But this is what the first league I was ever in did, and it's a nice predictive indicator, since it's a better stat. Also, it means that you can build for the category in two ways, either through one monster WHIP guy or through a staff full of people who hit a better than average mark. I like it.

Needless to say, I stress K/BB every year. Needless to say, I never do well in it.

Last year, I had kept Jose Reyes for a big number, despite the injury history. I had a good feeling about him in a contract year, and that's exactly what happened -- he was a monster for the Mets. Halfway through the year, with SBs locked up and Reyes not needing to do much for me to lock down a money finish, I moved him to the Mets fan in our league for Dan Haren. Haren, the most durable K/BB monster in the bigs, a man who was basically the right-handed Cliff Lee for me. 5.8 K/BB last year, and a 3 number here will get you among the leaders. A big deal, especially when you pour 200 strikeouts into it, and pitching in a pitcher's park, with half of your division games against the weak-hitting A's and Mariners. Tasty.

Haren helped me raise through the ranks and take down second place money, but he also cost a ton to keep. Starting pitchers are fungible, even durable ones. Haren, to keep for 2012, would lock down $32 out of a $250 contract cap, which was nearly 14% of my overall budget. My most expensive keeper, and he turned out to be my most expensive player. It's a good league; every dollar counts, especially in the end game when you are scrambling for the last few spots that can make or break your keepers for the next year. I really did want to get away from the hand, to use poker parlance.

But the lure of good ratios from the jump was too great. So I kept him. Here's what my highest paid player has given me so far this year.

8 wins, a 4.90 ERA, a 1.39 WHIP, and as the final kick in the ass... a 3.06 K/BB. In a little more than 128 innings of meh.

Now, Haren is not morally to blame here; it's not as if he's come in fat or unmotivated or whining at the manager or anything else. He's had a back injury which led to his first DL trip ever, and had I gotten away from him in May, when things started to go south, I'd have a 3.5 ERA, 1.2 WHIP and 5 K/BB for my troubles. But I wasn't in a position of categorical strength to do so, and I'm not quick on the trigger when it comes to dealing my studs.

Haren's last two starts haven't gotten out of the fourth inning, with a combined total of 7 IP, 12 H, 10 ERs, 3 BBs and 2 Ks. Against, um, Seattle and Tampa, the latter of whom had just gotten off a perfect skunk job from Felix Hernandez. So instead of pouring more ratio pain into a pitcher who no longer has my trust, and keeps missing starts from his manager trying to get him right, I cut him for the two-start stream this week of Freddy Garcia. Which is to say, streaming bouts of unowned whatever.

What happens with the position next week, I have no idea. But I have a hard time imagining it will be Haren, or if I'll ever own him again. Oh, there's also this: I've wanted to have this guy, for, like, ever. He was an Athletic back in the last days of complete trust in Billy Beane, someone I defended despite spurious bad second halves.

Sometimes in fantasy, you cut a pitcher -- and it's always a pitcher, because they are always the ones that ruin you, much more than any 0-for-4 from a position player possibly could. You imagine actually doing it in person, or at least, I do. I walk out to the mound to take the ball from the guy, then stopping him as he walks to the dugout, shaking your head no. Then you remove the jersey from you guy, or just tear off the shoulder patches, like in the military.

That's not what's happened with Haren. Here, it's just sadness, like he's actually going to be released from the majors, or given a terminal diagnosis.

When, of course, what's going to happen is that he's going to get his back problem straightened out, some other team will claim him for nothing on the waiver wire, and I'll spend the next 3 to 5 years watching him be the man for a team that tops me in the ratio that I made happen...

And will never, ever, be good at.

Godspeed, Dan. Godspeed.

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