Monday, December 31, 2012

Don't Look Forward

The Future Will Also Hurt
Just in case you can't get the taste of the 2012 Eagles season out of your mouth fast enough... here's the preliminary schedule for 2013.

Home: Dallas, New York, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, San Diego, Arizona

Away: Dallas, New York, Washington, Green Bay, Minnesota, Denver, Kansas City and Tampa

Now, I'm not going to predict wins and losses right now (6-10, tops), because that's crazy on all kinds of levels.

Rather, I'm going to pule about one specific point: there isn't a single road game here that's, well, appealing from a pure travel standpoint.

I try to take the Shooter Mom to an out of town game once a year for her birthday present. We try to pick fun places to go to in case the team loses; so far, we are 2-2 on road games (wins in St. Louis and Cleveland, losses in Green Bay and Chicago).

So of the eight possible scenarios... I have no desire to see a division game, because let's face it, there's no reason to be around people who root for those teams for love or money. That's just the way of it, really. I've also been to Green Bay already and don't really want to travel 1,000 miles to see my team lose by 30 points, or go to a warehouse in Minnesota to hear horns go off for hours on end. Denver's a lovely city with a nice and busy airport, but that team wins every game at home even when they aren't loaded, thanks to the altitude. It's one thing if they are running a Tebow out there, but traveling to see Peyton Manning commit surgery on your team seems masochistic at best.

Which leads us to... Kansas City and Tampa. Now, I've been to Kansas City. It's a nice place to get a steak. Otherwise, the best thing about it is that it's better than the rest of Missouri or Kansas. As for Tampa, well, I suppose it's warm and the team has a chance to win and all, but there's only so much patronizing of Florida that a man can do without realizing that, well, he's spending money, of his own free will, to go to Florida. GAHHH.

Now, a very small point. Couldn't we get a San Diego game in California, where, you know, people actually want to go there? I'd even take a game in Oakland, since I know how to get there, how to avoid the craziest locals, and know the area. Hell, I'd even take Arizona, which is basically Florida with decent Mexican food.

Not exactly a riveting list or teams to go see, and after that year, Not Going is also an option... but Denver has lots of flights and some nice restaurants, Tampa is warm, and Kansas City should be cheap. Shame the away game isn't San Diego.

On the other hand, there's no chance of going to Detroit.

So, well, could be worse...

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10 NFL Week 17 Ad Questions

Evolution = Black Players
10) If I get a Verizon phone, am I required to become a douche bag about snowmen?

9) Aren't Nationwide owners more likely to get into accidents by braking for squirrels, rather than less?

8) Are all PlayStation Vita players exhibitionists and idiots?

7) Does having your DVR filled turn you into a sneering cheese pusher who wants to make his guests feel awkward about not watching television?

6) Does owning a BMW give dogs the ability to read?

5) If you take your prom date to Subway, aren't you pretty much guaranteeing that you are not getting laid?

4) How is NFL Evolution working to make the game safer while still showing anything involving a kickoff return?

3) Does selling computer hardware now require colorful dancing nonsense?

2) Why are police going to all of the effort of elaborate camouflage to stop drunk drivers, when it's pretty damned obvious to everyone on the road who is DUI?

1) Is driving a new Volkswagen such a forgettable experience that you forget that you are in a test drive in the middle of the experience?

We Get To Be Happy Tomorrow

Forgive me I'm overstating this point, but it needs to be said, simply because it won't be...

Tomorrow, or even tonight if it comes down that fast, when Andy Reid is fired, will be a good day for the Philadelphia Eagles.

You are not required, assuming you are not drawing a paycheck in some way from Andy's continued existence, to feel bad about this AT ALL.

You should not, for the smallest amount of time, feel bad for your fist pump of glee that you will no longer need to watch his corpulence flatten the earth on the Eagles sideline any more.

Now, I realize there will be some small moments of charity for the Good Years, when we were all so much younger, so innocent, so filled with hope. You know, when Reid had the best QB, RB S and owner in the team's history, and lost four out of five NFC championship games.

But those days were a long time ago. Today, the Eagles were dry humped by a Giants team that scored touchdowns on five of their first six possessions, the final humiliation on a 4-12 year that made the Bobby Hoying Era look like fun by comparison. Seriously, I've been watching this team since 1975, and this was the least fun year ever. Less fun than Bobby Hoying, less fun than Rich Kotite, less fun than... shudder... Syracuse football. (Not that I care that much about the alma mater, but still. Historically.)

Tonight or tomorrow, Andy Reid will be fired for that, and Eagle Fans will be allowed, for the first time in months, to have something approaching hope for the new guy. For the first time since October, you will be able to, if only in delusion, consider the idea that the team might be able to win a Super Bowl in your lifetime, because there's been no chance of that for the past five years with him.

This does not make you ungrateful, or mean, or rude or uncaring or any of the other ridiculous things that Eagle Fan is accused of on a daily basis, as if this franchise were unique for having fans that aren't terribly thrilled with spending their time and money on a bad result.

Instead, it makes you someone who knows the difference between winning and losing, between hope and futility, between accepting your place and dreaming of something better.

It makes you, in other words, equal to every other fan base.

And for the third worst team in football in 2012, that is freaking progress.

Sing me out, Doctor...

Eagles - Giants Takeaways

Andy Reid Is A Master
> Coach For Three Hours And Not One Freaking Minute More Andy Reid decided to go with an onside kick, and it worked, just for the hell of it

> Just to remind us all of what we've been, um, missing, QB Michael Vick nearly fumbled a shotgun snap, then threw a terrible pick after defensive pressure

> For a team that gives up as many turnovers as the Eagles do, it's surprising that the offense isn't better at tackling after giving the ball up

> Showing the trademark starch of this team in the past two years, the defense gave up an immediate touchdown after the turnover

> The Eagles came out in a no huddle look, so that they could get to the negative plays faster

> I'm really going to miss the camera shots of Reid stomping around the sidelines annoyed

> You'd never know, from this game, that the Giants offense has been a tire fire for the past two weeks

> The Giants got a 15 yard gain on a dive play on third and one, because that's just now little the Eagles care

> Rueben Randle became the latest WR to utterly toast CB Nnamdi Asomugha, who, honestly, could not be a worse football player

> It's nice to see the team lose with their starting QB and RB, just so we can prevent the whole Injuries excuse

> P Mat McBriar continued to show that ST coach Bobby April has strong elements of performance artist to his work

> Ahmad Bradshaw beat LB DeMeco Ryans in coverage, then made two men miss, because, well, of course

> Eli Manning's third touchdown pass in 14 minutes made me wonder if any Eagles LB is still capable of running, or if this game could just be called on account of lack of interest from the visiting team

> McCoy got 36 yards on a pass in the flat that reminded everyone that the team still has one unquestioned good thing

> RB Bryce Brown ran for 13 yards without fumbling, which we pretty much have to note because, well, noting the positives in a disaster is important

> WR Jeremy Maclin dropped a high throw from Vick, showing excellent preservation skills for 2013

> On fourth and 10 from the Giants 31, Reid went for it rather than settle for the figgie, and the OL protected, with WR Jason Avant actually catching the ball for the first down

> On fourth and one in the red zone, Reid went for it again, and Vick found Maclin for a score that resembled football competence, and will probably do much to aid him in his quest for another NFL paycheck

> The Giants have missed the memo on how kickoffs don't matter any more

> This game being on the Armed Forces Network was another hardship for the troops

> Showing the trademark starch of the last two years, the Eagles defense answered the offensive touchdown with their fourth straight drive for a touchdown

> Asomugha's best play right now is pass interference, in that at least it delays the touchdown for another play

> Ahmad Bradshaw's second quarter touchdown had to be disappointing for him, in that he was actually contacted before scoring

> McCoy clowned DE Osi Umenyiora for a big gain, just to remind us all that Osi kinda sucks now

> The Eagles got to the end of the first half without wasting any timeouts again, which is probably the biggest sign to date that Reid's given up

> Vick's miss of WR Damaris Jackson in the end zone was depressing, and the subsequent field goal wipeout comedic

> The defense actually got a stop in the first half, and only needed multiple Giant drops to get it

> New York clearly lost focus and interest after taking a big lead and seeing the Bears - Lions score

> Jackson dropped a third down play that led to another fourth down attempt at midfield; on the play, Maclin was destroyed with violence that usually involves a penalty now, regardless of the proper technique of the play

> This decision lead to yet another Giants touchdown, this one to WR Victor Cruz, who torched S Colt Anderson and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, for the perfect ending to the Reid Era

> King Dunlap took a 15 yard penalty just to prove that he can hurt the team after the whistle, along with before it

> Halfway through the third quarter, Philip Hunt made a nice play and got a sack, proving this was now officially a preseason game

> The Lions getting back into the game caused the Giants defense and crowd to care again, which was unfortunate

> On a third and five, McCoy made two men miss for a first down, because he's just ridiculously good

> The refs called holding to negate a third down conversion so long after the play, the Eagles had to call timeout for delay of game afterward

> Just to make sure that he doesn't get a job next year either, Reid sat Vick down for the fourth quarter to see what he had in Trent Edwards

> On 3rd and 11, the Giants got a first down out of a draw into a blitz, because, well, why not

> With 10 minutes left in the Era, Reid finally benched Asomugha, who looked like he was going to cry

> Fox analyst Brian Billick spent several minutes on the difference between sucking and quitting

> The Giants got FB Henry Hynoski a touchdown, just so that we could see a new obnoxious touchdown celebration based on him being a rhinoceros, I guess

> New York in 2012 will have three more signature touchdown celebrations (Cruz's salsa, Wilson's flip and Hynoski's horn) than they will playoff games

> Edwards also failed to save the Reid Era

> The Giants went to the victory formation with two minutes left in the game, though they could have done so in the first half

> There have been 104 coach changes since Reid's hire, and dear God in heaven, please let there not be 105

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Speaking Ill Of The Departing

Not the guy coaching the team now
A brief note, since you do see this kind of thing expressed in social media and some blogs... the idea that we need to speak well of Andy Reid in his final moments as the Eagles coach.

I had a dog once, a Keeshond named Dylan. He was one of the better things in my life during a very long period -- 15 years where I went through college, graduated, got married, divorced, married again and had kids. He moved with me seven times, went from troubled to peaceful, was adored by many and putting him down was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. It shook me to the point of not wanting to have dogs any more, and I've owned dogs for my entire life.

Now, here's the part that's not so nice. The last year of his life, and especially the last six months, was as bad as putting him down.

Dylan developed inoperable kidney stones that made urination frustrating for him, and also meant that he couldn't control himself. He also had a persistent ear infection that, combined with the urination, led to just plain difficulties being around him, given the obvious odor and sanitation challenges. Skin issues were another problem, and he developed an arthritic condition that made going up and down stairs very difficult for him. Still, he stayed on.

At each step of the way, there was hope and treatments. Special diets to help cut down the kidney stones. New drops to fix the ear problem. Humiliating doggie diapers to keep him from staining the carpet. Just plain picking him up to deal with the stairs, since he wasn't a huge dog. Knowing that all I was doing was spending bad money after good, buying a few extra months and time with him because I wasn't ready to let him go. So I became the biggest mark in the world (yes, even bigger than an Eagles fan)... a pet owner in the beloved pet's last few months of life.

Now, when I remember Dylan, I try -- very hard -- not to remember that period. I also try, really hard, not to remember the day I brought him to the vet and had him put down. To do that would be to dishonor his memory, to keep myself from the positive things in life, and to get to a place where I can't ever get clear enough to have a new dog, or, well, any other form of happiness or hope. (Said new dog is now eight months old and a daily reason to smile. Moving on.)

The point of all this is simple. If you had come to me during Dylan's twilight to tell me of his virtues -- his clear and present virtues, in the here and now, rather than in the distant past... you would have been a bad friend, and done me no favors at all. Had you convinced me of the heartlessness of my desire to end his suffering, I would have spent more time and many more thousands of dollars into prolonging the time of an animal whose good days had long passed.

Which leads us, well, to Andy Reid. And the desire to look back in fondness on 14 years of the best coach in the history of the franchise, on all of the great regular season and playoff wins, on the highlights of various division and conference foes defeated...

When, well, the actually relevant thing is the last five years of playoff victory free football, and the last two years of pathetic free agent paper-maiche work, and the past three months of whack a mole coach firings and the decade of poor clock management...

Reid can be the best coach in the history of the franchise, and a man who desperately needs to be fired. These are not mutually exclusive sets. We can respect him for his accomplishments and devoutly wish for him to be gone.

It's OK. Honest. You'll be sad for a while and then get over it.

Because, well, the guy in Andy Reid's body in 2013 is not the guy who was there in 1999. Remember that guy from the good days. And move on, with speed, from the guy that he is right now...

Friday, December 28, 2012

Why the Eagles should hire Chip Kelly

First Down
So with something like 55 hours left in the Andy Reid Era -- here in the Cave, we have one room set up for reverence with mourning candles in a chapel setting, and the other is an open bar with confetti and streamers -- talk in the Philadelphia media has gone to his replacement.

(And oh, Eagle players? No one cares what you think, and no media member should be asking you. You've had ample opportunities, over the past two years especially, to let your effort and execution speak to your desire to keep the coach. You've also managed one win in your last 11 games. You've said plenty.)

Now, the way to look Very Very Smart about these things is to piss all over Chip Kelly, the Oregon spread offense architect, as a candidate for the job. It's purely a college gimmick. Kelly won't be able to bring his recruiting advantages to the NFL. The league will catch up to him fast. QB Nick Foles isn't the kind of mobile QB that can lead to success with his offense. The team has to hire someone with experience in the pro game. If you can say all of these things with a straight face, and while dressing badly and carrying 40 to 75 extra pounds of press box food bloat, I'm pretty sure you can get your tee vee time and look like a Very Serious Eagle pundit.

But that won't make you correct, or entertaining, or show anything more than how wedded you are to the status quo.

Here's the reasons why I want to see Kelly on the Eagles sideline. Badly.

> His offense isn't a gimmick. It's simply where the NFL is going.

The Washington Redskins are a very winnable home game away from winning the NFC East with an overall talent level that's not particularly better or deeper than what they've been for years. And sure, the easy thing is to say it's all Robert Griffin III's doing, but the deeper look at the actual plays that the Redskins run is that they are taking in elements of Kelly's game, and simply executing them with a reasonably solid RB in Alfed Morris. More importantly, they control the clock and keep the defense off the field.

OK, but that's just Washington... except it's also San Francisco under Colin Kaepernick, and Seattle under Russell Wilson, and Indy under Andrew Luck, and even, to some considerable extent, Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers and New England with Tom Brady. Spreading out the defense and then giving it to the running back isn't a gimmick. It's just good football.

> Anyone that thinks the Eagles should disqualify Kelly based around the abilities of Nick Foles is, well, out of their minds.

Would it be nice if the Eagles got competent starting QB play for the bargain basement price of a third round pick? Well, sure, and I really do think the kid can have a reasonable NFL career -- say, on the level of an Alex Smith or Matt Schaub, though he seems to have a lot more in common physically with Joe Flacco to me. And that assumes a factor that he's failed on here at the end of the season, which is staying healthy.

Now, what do all of those guys have in common? They aren't the reason why their teams win, and if you put them on a bad team, they'd lose. They also haven't won a Super Bowl, aren't in the top rank of guys you'd pay to see, and only go to the Pro Bowl after three other guys beg off with an injury.

Foles might be the Eagles starting QB in 2013, or he might not. The chance of him having the job in 2014 are a lot lower. And the impact that he should have over a coaching or GM hire is borderline non-existent... because Nick Foles is fungible, people. Fungible.

> The Eagles best player is LeSean McCoy. Chip Kelly could do great things for LeSean McCoy.

There are no franchise QBs available in this draft or in free agency, so why not roll out an offense that will give the team's best player the biggest chance to dominate? The ideal move for the 2013 Eagles is to replicate the Niner/Seahawk path of breaking in a young mobile QB, leaning on the stud RB, and building from the ground up on defense. And the best thing the offense can do for a defense is (a) score, (b) not turn it over, and (c) burn up some clock. A spread running offense potentially does all of those things without elite talent, which isn't available, at QB.

> Hiring just another coordinator does not come close to the scope of the rebuild here.

I get that the organization wants to just have another Reid -- an anonymous coordinator that has a long run of success based around a consistent offense. But the conditions of Reid's ascension were special and unique. Kelly's not coming in with a borderline Hall of Fame QB draft pick on tap, a legendary defensive coordinator, and a division that's looking at a decade of meh. Just doing what worked before is, well, what we've watched for the last five years under Reid. I'd like to see something different.

>  If it was so easy to build a dynasty in Oregon... why didn't anyone do it before Kelly?

I get the more than healthy level of skepticism for coaches trying to make the jump from college to the pros. But what Kelly's done in Oregon -- innovation that's fundamentally changing the game without the benefit of the kind of top-drawer talent that's been the purview of the SEC -- demands attention. And if he's as smart as he's seemed to be to date, he's not going to just take his game across the country and think that it's all done.

> The NFL is now about three things: scoring in the red zone, avoiding turnovers, and staying healthy. I like the Eagles chances of doing all of these things better with Kelly than without.

When you have success running the ball, you take the heart out of a defense. When you do it quickly, in a fast-paced hurry-up offense, you take the legs. And when you do with players that handle it a lot, and have handled it a lot for their entire career, you do it with less fumbling and a whole lot less interceptions. And you are doing it with a resource - top-level running backs, which the Eagles have already with McCoy and might have with coaching and development with Bryce Brown, Dion Lewis and Chris Polk -- that's a lot more available than top-flight QBs and WRs. And we won't even get into the relative ease for the offensive line.

> Kelly's teams have a much greater chance of becoming truly loved by the team's fans than a Reid clone.

Success is its own reward, but one of the main frustrations of the Reid Era has been how some of the best RBs in the history of the franchise (Brian Westbrook and McCoy) were not given enough of an opportunity to win games. And there's always been the worry that the defense was going to be left high and dry, or that once your primary strength as an offense was taken away, that you couldn't win in another way.

That's just not the vibe you get from Kelly's clubs. Either the RB is gashing you, or the WR is getting it in space, or the TE is running a seam route: the ball is going all over the field, and it's doing it with alacrity. He's not a guy who's going to do it his way or no way. Unlike, well, an offensive coordinator who is giving the keys to the kingdom.

> I'd much rather win with this guy than try to beat him later.

In five years, the NFL could be a very different league -- no kickoffs, every team with a Wes Welker/Randall Cobb clone, 2-man pass rushes with maximum protection schemes, more undersized QBs like Wilson and Drew Brees, flopping calls against offensive players, and as always, more points and more money. There's only so much more that can be done with the passing game before every game becomes Last Serve Wins. We're going to see some rule changes to give the defense something back. (My smallest and most heartfelt suggestion: equivalent yardage penalties for offensive pass interference. Moving on.)

So, living into the future... why don't you want to see what can happen with Kelly here, giving you something that not every team has tried to implement -- rather than elsewhere?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Top 10 reasons why the Brooklyn Nets fired Avery Johnson

November was so, so long ago
10) Realized that was, in fact, his real voice

9) A .500 record isn't bad enough to earn the ironic like of the borough's hipsters

8) He kept inspiring the Knicks to actually be good

7) Made Deron Williams miss all of those shots in some clearly faulty strategy

6) That coach of the month award was, like, so 24 days ago

5) Insists on dipping Brook Lopez in rebound-repellent oil before every game for that extra shine

4) Little-known clause for all .500 pro coaches on the YES Network

3) The franchise is the only people in the western world that really missed Avery's studio work on ESPN

2) Just realized that it was Christmas a couple of days ago, and they forgot to get the fans anything

1) You can take the franchise out of New Jersey, but you can't take the New Jersey out of the franchise

FTT Off-Topic: Mapping the Third Rail

Going to go long and hopefully thoughtful today, but probably just wind up irritating people. You've been very much warned; skip if I'm about to raise your blood pressure.
Oh, hey, and since I'm going long, here's some musical accompaniment. Atmospheric, no?

Here's a true sign of the times, in re the awakening debate over gun safety... a newspaper mapping out permit holders and publishing the public records, so that people can see which of their neighbors are capable of deadly force. Which, of course, does not sit well with many of the people who were outed, as it treats them in much the same way as we treat sex offenders. (It also, one suspects, has high value to people interested in a home invasion or burglary, and contributes to the highly profitable cycle of fear that, well, sells more guns. Yay. Those companies are having such a good year. Job creators.)

Now, I know people -- lots, actually -- who are gun hobbyists. And I've pretty much known people who go this way my whole life. When you grow up in the Philadelphia suburbs, there are always relatives who go upstate to hunt, and others who feel like the only way they can protect their lives and possessions are to put these, well, tools, into their hands for home defense. And these people include some of the best people I know, who I'd trust my kids with, who are fantastic parents and husbands and friends and relatives and so on and so on. They also have the great good sense to avoid proselytizing about their hobby, at least not to me, and are hence, far more polite than I'm about to be. Hopefully, I'll stay on good terms with them even despite this post.

I've also owned, and fired, a shotgun. Knew how to clean, arm and load it, took it to a range (you do get a fair amount of attention for it, rather than the far more stylish pistols), and bought it for the express purpose of ending a human life, or at the very least, scaring the living crap out of one specific person so that he'd never come near my house again.

Full sidebar and disclosure: It was over 15 years ago, and the circumstance was this. I was living in Fishtown, a lower-class Philadelphia neighborhood that was drug-infested, grimy and crime-tastic, but "safe"... if you were white and looked like you were somehow who had lived there for decades, and didn't drive anything that was worth more than $500. If you didn't look like that, you risked your possessions and your life, but the payoff was rent that was a pittance of what everyone else in the area was paying. I never paid more than $250 a month to live there, and sometimes lived in de facto mansions. Which is how I got out of college debt, since I pulled a decent Center City salary, used mass transit and bicycles to get around, and made my nut for a decade-plus of loans. It sucked, but it was manageable.

I spent most of the 1990s there, and there were three highly fretful months where I took in a coworker and her three mixed-race kids while she was getting out of an abusive relationship. Her ex was the kind of guy who hit women, and my neighbors were the kind of people who would leave bricks on your car if they felt like your house guests didn't, um, fit in. I was expecting trouble that, mercifully, never came. (Once they were on their feet again, I put the gun away, and a year later, I left for the West Coast and didn't take the gun with me.)

Now, a quick word about my dabble into gun ownership. In thinking about that time, I realize that I was, well, not in my right mind when I made the choice to own and operate a weapon. I was living in poverty, squalor and fear. I was convinced that I was morally justified in taking these people in, and that the community and police force around me were not to be trusted or reasoned with.

I never gave my neighbors the chance or opportunity to be better than my negative story of them. I just did what I thought was right for me and mine. Everyone else was on their own.

It made me feel dirty, dragged down to their level. And on some level, I still feel dirty about the whole thing, even though any number of people seem to want to assure me that I acted properly.

But here's the smallest and shiniest truth that I get to, when I think about that time. I wasn't making the community safer, or better, when I made the decision. I was just thinking about this woman, her kids, and how I would feel, as an individual male of limited physical stature and no financial means, if there was an incident.

Which is, to say, impotent.

At the time, I didn't think I was a bad member of the community. Hell, there were crackheads, thieves, homeless, inbred and worse, along with the healthiest collection of racism seen outside of Appalachia. I had college degrees, worked with my mind instead of my hands, and was destined for escape and better things. But I was no better than they were, no less selfish, no less ready to take the easier way out in a decision that spent no time thinking about tomorrow or next week.

The people I know who own guns do not consider themselves to be bad members of society, and aren't. But we are all -- every single person on this Earth -- an unspeakable day, or week, or month -- away from becoming the danger. We are not infallible, and our brains are susceptible to damage, delusion and degradation. We are all capable of gross and terrible acts of violence and ugliness, and it's all stunningly close. (Here's another song about that. A better one than Reed's.)

The only difference is that the people I know that own guns, if the unspeakable happens, will be able to kill any number of people. They are all that competent, all that powerful, all that skilled.

So they should be mapped, and known, and feared. Maybe even, for the people who do not know them well, avoided or shunned, since, well, no one really knows how their day, or week, or month, is going.

And if you are on the other side of the issue from me on this, and feel that's overwrought, or unfair, or naive or offensive...

Well, so are abilities that your gun gives to you.

Here's the last thing I'm going to say about this... the only way that anyone in this country is going to stop being a gun owner is to volunteer it up themselves. This isn't something we're going to legislate out of existence, or get over by limiting ammunition or types or whatever. The only way to get to an America with fewer guns in it is if the people who currently have and hold them give them up, of their own free will, or from societal coercion. Perhaps with statistics that show how unlikely the happy scenario of killing an evildoer happens, or how more and more concealed carries are not making us safer.

Of course, I'm not going to convince them to do that, and neither is anyone else. They'll get there on their own, the same way that all meaningful social change is achieved, with stops and starts and breakthroughs and regressions. We live in a country where daylight savings time is nearly universal, men are not required to wear hats outdoors, smoking is a niche hobby, the President is half African American, more and more places allow gay people to marry and you don't have to be a certain gender to get the vast majority of available jobs. Change is happening, with more and more speed. Gun ownership might be one of those things, or it might not. I don't know.

But I do know this:

When I owned a gun, I felt a lot less safe than I do now.

Now that I know my neighbors, I feel much better about my ability to protect my family.

And if I ever do lose my ability to know right from wrong, and become a dangerous animal that needs to be put down...

It's not going to make the national news, because I won't have the tools.

Admittedly, not the highest standard of good neighbor behavior, but a standard nonetheless.

The Six Games A Year Of Spencer Hawes

Making His Marc
Tonight in Memphis, the below .500 Sixers took the floor on the second game of an 8-game road trip against a  Grizzly squad that's been one of the better teams in the West this year. They were without starting shooting guard Jason Richardson, who has given them much more than expected this year, and with second-year center Lavoy Allen in the lineup at center, against what might be the most powerful front line in the NBA. Allen went 2 for 6 with 6 boards and 4 fouls in just under 27 minutes.

So you know what happens next, right? Sure. The exact opposite of sense. Philly won by 10 to get back to a game below .500, giving the Grizz one of their worst losses of the year. And the headlines will belong to Dorell Wright for going off on an 8 for 11 night, including 5 of 8 from the three point line, to give the team 28 highly efficient points. But more importantly, look at this line from bench player Spencer Hawes -- 20 points on 9 of 14 shooting, 8 boards, 1 assist, 3 steals (!) and 5 blocks (!). All in just over 31 minutes, against the likes of All-Star Marc Gasol and matchup nightmare Zach Randolph.

Now, if Hawes were ever able to be the guy in his uniform tonight -- not all of the time, but maybe every other game or so -- for any regular period of time, he wouldn't be a bench guy. He also wouldn't be on his second team, on another one-year contract, for a below .500 team that has spent the first 29 games of the season waiting around for an injury-prone enigma center. Because, well, they would have never traded for that guy in the first place. They'd just start Hawes and accept a top 5 center performance from a 7'-1" 245 pound guy, who is still just 24. They'd also be selling his jersey and likeness all over the damned place.

Now, I have no idea why Hawes is, well, one of the most maddeningly erratic players in the NBA. If you told me he was a spectacular pothead, that he didn't really like basketball, that he had a chronic back injury that hit him with crippling pain, that his conditioning was sub-par, or that he simply detested head coach Doug Collins and has to really struggle for minutes and motivation... well, all of that seems plausible. Some of it even gives you hope, since they'd fixable and suddenly give you the keys to a pretty great talent.

Instead, we get this: one of the six games a year or so where Hawes is the best player on the floor, for no good reason at all. And that kind of thing happens all the time for a bunch of bench players (JR Smith, Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry, Ryan Anderson, Lou Williams, to name a quick five) across the Association... but none of those guys are 7-foot centers.

I don't know what's wrong -- or right -- with Hawes. I just know that in games like this, when he is, in the words of Sixer color analyst Malik Rose, "Hawesome", the Sixers are a top tier team in the East. And if Collins could ever get those six games a year to turn into 25 or 30, or if he could ever group a bunch of them into a playoff series...

Well, we'd have something a hell of a lot more interesting than a random December road win against the Grizz.

And a very, very different winter in Philadelphia...

NFL Week 17 Picks: Once More Into The Breach

The week between Christmas and New Year's is always a tricky time in the sports blog game, because you never know if anyone will be reading (traffic, like most of the Web, matches people going to work), or if you really should be doing the work, either. Working when other people are off turns a hobby into an obligation, and nothing will take your fire away faster than turning something into an obligation. And let's call a spade a spade, folks -- after sixteen weeks, with no real hope in taking serious money down in the picks, or getting cash back from the fantasy league, or any kind of succor from my real team... well, let's just finish this, shall we?

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

Tampa at ATLANTA (NL)

Neither team has anything to live for, but the Bucs' starters can't defend the pass either, and the home field can carry scrubs a long way. I'm also expecting the Falcons, in the light of past playoff failures and with the spectre of being the least imposing #1 playoff seed in NFC history, to care a little too much about this game.

Falcons 27, Bucs 17

NY Jets at BUFFALO (-3.5)

Give me the home team with nothing to play for over the sideshow with nothing to play for. I'm also going to be the only tout in America to write about the Jets without mentioning the scrub QB with the talent for headlines, rather than football.

Bills 20, Jets 13

BALTIMORE at Cincinnati (-1)

The Bengals have nothing to play for and not enough experience to realize that giving in to a division rival in a home game is never a good idea. I also suspect that the Ravens might have found some things out in last week's win, and might be building a little momentum going into the second season.

Ravens 23, Bengals 16

CHICAGO at Detroit (+3)

Pride time for the Bears, and we know the Lions don't have any. Expect this to be a de facto home game for the visitors, who will take advantage of defensive turnovers to make this one a little too comfortable.

Bears 31, Lions 17

JACKSONVILLE at Tennessee (-4)

Two train wrecks, but the Titans have been in full quit mode for a while now -- that win over the Jets in Week 15 was a gift unreceived -- and when your team is this bad, home field is no advantage.

Jaguars 23, Titans 17

HOUSTON at Indianapolis (+7)

The game means everything to the Texans and nothing to the Colts, and the dirty little secret about the Colts is that they really aren't that good; QB Andrew Luck has been carrying this team, especially the toothless defense. Houston has issues in the running game and health, and won't be going very far in the playoffs, but they won't find out about that this week.

Texans 31, Colts 20

CAROLINA at New Orleans (-5)

Just a gut feel here that the Saints aren't going to be able to play a clean game on turnovers, that the spread is too generous, and that the Panthers will run the ball to solid effect. If you managed to survive the first half of the season or trade for him, Panthers QB Cam Newton has been a beast.

Panthers 31, Saints 30

PHILADELPHIA at NY Giants (-7)

I'm having a hard time seeing the Giants coming into this with too much mojo after multiple wipeout games and the death of real playoff hope. QB Eli Manning looks like he's nursing a secret injury, the secondary has been a sieve, and turnover issues are just rife right now. Say this for Coach For A Fly's Life Andy Reid; his team hasn't quit. And New York's really not happy with a mobile QB (Michael Vick) under center, especially one with past success and a de facto audition that's worth his future financial security. (But don't worry, Blue Fan -- my team will still go boots up in the fourth with a turnover. It's what they are.)

Giants 27, Eagles 24

Cleveland at PITTSBURGH (NL)

This is a simple vote of confidence in Steelers HC Mike Tomlin, who will keep his team from making golf dates and give the home team a proper send off. They also have serious vengeance issues following the Charlie Batch turnover game earlier in the year, which is directly responsible for this game meaning nothing.

Steelers 31, Browns 17

Kansas City at DENVER (-16)

The Broncos need this for seeding, the Chiefs are terrible and want the #1 pick, and the home field advantage here is beyond the pale. This will be over by the half, and the Chiefs don't have the firepower for a back door cover.

Broncos 34, Chiefs 13

GREEN BAY at Minnesota (+3)

This won't be a cakewalk for the visitors, as they have real protection issues and the Vikings rush the passer well. There's also a nice noise advantage here, and the Vikings have real playoff hopes... but the Pack want the seeding, RB Adrian Peterson isn't 100%, QB Christian Ponder is terrible and the Pack are finally getting healthy. Look for a third quarter breakthrough turning into a comfortable cover.

Packers 31, Vikings 20

Miami at NEW ENGLAND (-10)

Beware of the Patriots, at home, after a setback... and that goes much more for a December game, in the cold, against a warm-weather team. The Patriots might still be the class of the AFC, and nothing that happens in this game will convince anyone of anything different.

Patriots 31, Dolphins 17

Oakland at SAN DIEGO (NL)

Neither team is any good, but the Chargers have home field and their starting QB. If you are betting this game heavily, you do not have a gambling problem. You are a gambling problem.

Chargers 24, Raiders 19

Arizona at SAN FRANCISCO (-16.5)

Bounce back game, at home, for a team that needs it very badly. The Arizona defense is competent, but the offense can't stay on the field or keep a clean scorecard, and they aren't going to score a touchdown in this game. Which makes the spread manageable.

Niners 24, Cardinals 6

St. Louis at SEATTLE (-10.5)

At some point, the Seahawk Juggernaut will bust a tire; they aren't going to blow every team out, especially if they lose members of the secondary to suspension. But not in this game, and not against this Rams team, who alternate between scrappy and roadkill.

Seahawks 34, Rams 17

Dallas at WASHINGTON (-3)

The second straight year where the Cowboys have a win and in game on SNF in the final game of the year, and the second straight year where they fall short despite having similar talent. It's a heady combination of poor luck, bad coaching and more than a little aging in key spots. Look for the Redskins to take advantage of the first truly enthused and fully committed home crowds in forever, and for QB Robert Griffin III to nail down his rookie of the year award.

Redskins 24, Cowboys 20

Last week: 10-6

Season to date: 113-118-4

Career: 658-647-30

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Foles' Gold or Foles Golden

Incomplete Grade
So with Eagles rookie QB Nick Foles ruled out for the final game of the season with an injury, we're left with a pretty incomplete resume to determine if he should be The Man in 2013.

Now, first and foremost, let's just state that, for the record, there will be no such thing as The Man in Philadelphia next year. This team needs upgrades at well over a dozen starting positions (in no short order, both safetys, at least one cormer, one linebacker, a defensive lineman, one to four offensive line positions depending on injury, third WR, second TE, punter and the majority of the special teams coverage units) to even think about winning a weak division, let only going anywhere in the playoffs. No team ever hits on all of their draft picks and free agent signings to get it all cleared in one year. The best thing that can realistically happen in 2013 is 16 games, a .500-ish record, and a clear build up from the current trainwreck. But that's a whole lot of nothing that we can talk about right now. What we can discuss is Foles, since we've learned everything we are going to know for the next 7+ months.

Here's the positives of what we've seen so far.

> Touch. Foles has the ability to put air on a deep ball, heat on a cross, and his whole technique behind the sideline out. He can also throw on the run and across the field. From a pure arm standpoint, he's the best that the Eagles have had since Donovan McNabb.

> Courage. The man hangs in the pocket and takes a hit to deliver the ball. Either you have that or you don't, and if you don't, you can't be a quarterback at this level. There were more of a few of his half dozen games where

> Competitiveness. In Foles' two best games (Tampa and Washington), he led the team back from deficits and refused to give in during situations where the defense and special teams gave him little to work with.

> Some results. The Tampa game saw him throw for 381 yards, 2 TDs, and run for another, with 3 carries going for 27 yards. That was his only win, on the road, and it came on a day where the offensive line was a turnstile. Sunday against Washington, he deserved better than the 345 yards and 1 TD / 1 INT day, since TE Evan Moore dropped the tying score. For the year, he complete just under 61 percent of his passes, and showed more than dink and dunk ability, especially in his later starts.

> Clock management and progressions. Either the coaching staff actually adjusted to the talent (as if that ever happened in the Reid Era), or Foles was simply able to grasp the offense and get things moving with more alacrity than either Michael Vick, Vince Young or McNabb. One of the few consistent pleasures of the past half dozen games has been the fact that Foles did not waste timeouts, and gave the team downright novel opportunities at the end of halves. I can't tell you how welcome a change that is; it's like someone fixed an ingrown toenail.

But it hasn't been all skittles and beer, which is, well, kind of a gross combination anyway. To wit...

> He's a pretty prolific turnover machine. In seven games, he's thrown five picks, and could have easily thrown more. He's also put the ball on the ground five times, and hasn't shown the best awareness when a pass rusher is coming with a ball punch move. Projected over a 16 game season, he's going to give the opposition the ball 30-odd times, or nearly 3 times as often as the McNabb Years. And while young QBs (and especially rookies) always have these issues, it's the nature of the Foles turnovers -- laser-locks on primary wideouts, punches on blind-side rushers -- that does not create much in the ay of hope.

> He's deadly slow. The 14 yard scramble for a touchdown against the Buss is going to be, absent a massive defensive breakdown, his career high; the man makes Philip Rivers look fleet. That's not necessarily deadly, as he's been able to throw on the move and slide around pressure, but if you are the kind of person who believes that the NFL is moving towards a mandatory multiple-threat quarterback, Foles is a relic of a bygone era. And that's at, gulp, age 23. Just imagine how slow he's going to be when he's got some miles and injuries on him.

> There's no given that he's going to stay healthy. The current injury isn't anything terribly chronic or worrisome, but the 20 sacks taken in 265 pass attempts are, and the number of hits has also been high. No QB survives 50 sacks a year for long, and while you'd need the release of prime era Peyton Manning and top-flight escapability to avoid big numbers with the dregs that the Eagles have been running out there in the OL this year... well, they have stabilized a bit later in the year, and it's not as if the running game has been non-existent in his starts. If he doesn't get a handle on this, he's not going to have a career, here or anywhere else.

> Red zone and second half issues. Foles' fourth quarters have been his worst (5.29 YPA, 53% CMP), and his work inside the opponent's 20 has also been dicey (13 for 37, with 5 TDs, no picks, and two sacks, and the mitigating Bucs scramble). Perhaps I'm being unfair here, given the general difficulty of scoring in the red zone and the Eagles' profound ineptitude here over the past two years; the lack of picks alone should get Foles some kind of award. But still, a 35% completion percentage in the short part of the field is not exactly encouraging, and a key part of why the team is only scoring in the low '20s with him under center.

> Strength of schedule. Foles has faced the Redskins and Cowboys twice, Carolina, Tampa and Cincy... which is to say, four out of his seven games have been against terrible secondaries, and the Cowboys' weren't exactly hale and hearty when he faced them. Against the only team that seems to be emerging on defense (Cincy), he was 16 of 33 for 180 with a score and pick, and was helpless in holding back against the turnover tide. Grading him on the rookie curve might be the natural thing to do, but the schedule might be doing him the same favor.

So... where does it all end up?

Well, to start, the possible competition for Foles for QB1 in 2013 is not exactly filled with future legends. You are looking at a menagerie of game managers (Alex Smith, Matt Flynn, David Garrard), overrated rookies (Gero Smith, Matt Barkley) and highly suspect retreads (Vick, Matt Cassel, Matt Sanchez, Rex Grossman, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Fitzpatrick). Unless you believe that Smith should get a huge part of the credit for the Niners' won-loss records (I don't), or that Flynn really is a solid talent who just got sidetracked by two world-class talents in Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, I'd rather not tie up too much money here.

Finally, this. Whoever quarterbacks the Eagles next year is going to be working with, in all likelihood, a new coach, offensive coordinator, and a line that, if he is very lucky, is going to be rusty from not playing together and limited from injury rehabs. At worst, they will be running for their lives. He'll be limited by overrated WRs, a special teams that have not been good here for a very long time, and a defense that hasn't provided a short field in forever. They'll also be getting the brunt from a town that hasn't started a year without Super Bowl aspirations in well over a decade. There will be patience for rebuilding, but there will also be renewed interest and scrutiny. It's not exactly a plum spot.

So to me... it's Foles' job, assuming the new guy doesn't have a pet QB he needs to feed. (And by the way, if he does, I'm totally fine with that. A head coach has 1-3 years to claim the job for the long term, and if he'd rather go down with his own man than a holdover, that's his purview.) If he's lucky, he'll survive the year and truly lock the job down for 2014 for a real team.

And if he wants to do that, he better work on some agility drills, ball security and getting better in tight spaces...

Monday, December 24, 2012

The FTT Movie Review: The Hobbit

Men want to be him, ladies want to...
Took the Shooter Wife and Kids to my local UberPlex to see this, and while I seriously doubt that I'm going to sway anyone with an opinion here, let's roll out what you need to know anyway. And if you aren't into this stuff, scroll away, scroll away, scroll away...

> There is one thing that TH will have over the Lord of the Rings movies in spades: the villains are *far* more cinematic, and since they aren't all in line with one presence, they are all far more distinct. Smaug the Dragon is infinitely more cool to watch than the malevolent glowing eye of Sauron, and there's extra fun from the Defiler Orc, the Goblin King (best use of "That will do it" ever), the Necromancer and, of course, Gollum. (Who is much more of a ladies' man in this, since it is, after all, sixty years before the Ring trilogy.)

> Do the dumb thing and spring for the high frame count version. You're already going to be spending a ridiculous amount of money to see a movie, so why not go all-in on big stupid? The hyper-realism here is kind of crazy, especially on long and involved scenes like the goblin city or the Dwarf kingdom under the mountain, so you might as well peel your eyeballs back and see everything that these monomaniacal Kiwis can throw at you.

> It's better acted. It's hard to speak ill of Elijah Wood as Frodo in the first movie, because he does everything he can with a relatively thankless role, but Martin Freeman as Bilbo is just better at the small things that are required to keep a certain center of gravity in a roller coaster. When he says things like, "I would have doubted me too", it's done with just the right air of veracity, rather than self-awareness. There's a reason why so many people love him as Watson in the BBC's version of "Sherlock"; he's aces.

> In small ways, it's just as visually inventive, if not more so. Radagast the Brown is a trifling character in Tolkein (he is, for the less fanatical among you, only the third wizard that actually gets a name, after Gandalf and Saruman), but in this movie he's ten minutes of all kinds of good, and his rabbit sled is utterly kick ass. I also enjoyed the fact that he gets the best winking aside for the use of recreational drugs. That was well done.

> Ian McKellan as Gandalf has, perhaps, the hardest straddle job in the movie, since the central problem with TH is that it's a kid's book, while LOTR is YA and more, what will all of the gore. McKellan plays Gandalf here the best he can -- basically, as something of a scattershot hunch bettor relying more on his connections than his powers -- but there's still a real disconnect from the avenging force that rides to the rescue at Helms' Deep, and the guy who gets stuck in a tree here. Oh well.

> At 2:49 and just the first of three movies, it is, of course, padded as all get out. But it doesn't feel slow to me, and the clearly extended scenes -- the dwarfs trashing Bilbo's pantry, fight scenes with Smaug, the riddle scene -- are the ones that should go on. You could make a shorter movie, but unlike, say, the long slow goodbyes of "Return of the King", you wouldn't be making a better one.

> Having said all of that... this is a very different experience than the trilogy, if only because you aren't getting the over the top menace of, say, the siege of Helm's Deep or the Nazgul. There's also, of course, not nearly enough Gollum, because there really can never be enough Gollum, and the camaraderie of the dwarfs doesn't quite match that of the Ring Fellowship. But it's still more than worthwhile, if only for the attention to detail and craftsmanship, and the fact that you are putting yourself in the hands of the only person on Earth who just completely marks out for the source material without a hint of irony or self-consciousness. It's a good time; go check it out.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Top 10 NFL Week 16 Ad Questions

23 Years Of Very Little
10) How many decades will Chevy Chase coast on actually decent content, and will it run longer than Jerry Seinfeld's similar coast?

9) Are we certain that that Mayan Apocalypse wasn't averted, since Jello still exists?

8) What does T-Mobile inspiring pink light pollution have to do with cell phone coverage?

7) If you are doing last-minute gift shopping at Target, aren't you pretty much admitting that your life has gone horribly, horribly wrong?

6) Are Chevy truck owners secretly looking forward to the end of the world, so they can finally feel good about their purchase?

5) Do you have to suffer from periodic mental blackouts to buy a Toyota?

4) If you drink Miller, will you become inspired to eat unhealthy and terrible food to go with your unhealthy and terrible beer?

3) How does a twitchy bald white man gripping a Bud Light equate to a party, and doesn't this prove that America's youth are failing us?

2) Can we also help to give Fox' sports personnel the ability to cut a tolerable charity promotion?

1) If Christmas music wasn't in the public domain, would any advertiser make Christmas ads?

Eagles - Redskins Takeaways

Very Little Time Is Yours
> Head Coach for Please God, Just 7 More Days And 3 More Hours Andy Reid went for it twice on fourth down

 > QB Nick Foles demonstrated an ability to roll off contact and fall to convert a fourth down

> The Redskins are quite good at jumping offsides

> WR Jeremy Maclin continued his late-season drive to make it look like 2012 wasn't a completely terrible year

> While it's against a bad defense, at home and under no real pressure, that was a really nice first drive and finish by Foles

> A hold that didn't affect the play saved Bobby April's terrible special teams from 45 yards of return

> The crowd reacted well to LB DeMeco Ryans providing run support for a loss, since that doesn't really happen very often

> Redskins QB Robert Griffin III looked like a 10-year veteran on one running play, which is to say, he looked slow

> DE Brandon Graham and S Colt Anderson closed on a fourth down conversion, just to prove they should have been playing all year long

> RB LeSean McCoy made four guys miss in a Wow, He's Astoundingly Better Than Bryce Brown carry

> Judging from the crowd reaction to two straight Redskins sacks and a Foles fumble, their fans traveled and had many choices of seats

> Someone, perhaps a coach, really needs to let Foles know that after being large and slow at the college level, he's painfully slow at the pro level

> The most surprising fact about the Foles fumble is that the Redskins didn't return it for a touchdown

> Graham made a great read and play on a shovel pass, and continued his Why Wasn't I Playing In Front of Jason Babin All Along late season push

> Casey Matthews proved he could hurt the team on special teams, too

> After taking away his initial read of a WR screen on third and 11, Foles pretty much sat down and gave up

> P Mat McBriar continued his season of Dear God, Why Am I Employed

> Shockingly, WE Pierre Garcon got wide open against CB/Abomination Nnamdi Asomugha

> On two straight plays, Graham and DT Fletcher Cox made stops, providing footage for the team's "Hope for the future" of the season highlight DVD

> K Kai Forbath is the first Redskins kicker in 15 years to be, well, a good kicker

> Once the Skins took away Foles' initial read, it was pretty much Sack City

> MLB London Fletcher picked up the second Eagles' turnover of the day on that classic perfect tipped pas that we've seen so any times the past two years

> WR Joshua Morgan's screen pass for a touchdown showed just how easy it is to block the Eagle secondary

> Brian Billick became the latest analyst to talk about the Eagle WRs having a lot of talent, as if ball security was not a talent

> Say this for Foles: he's one of the few QBs in the Reid Era who does not waste timeouts

> TE Evan Moore got in the record books with a comically early offsides

> It's a nice added kick in the jewels that Redkins RB Alfred Morris was a pick in the Donovan McNabb trade

> Garcon toasted CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the first play of the second half, just to show neither high-priced CB is worth much

> You, me, and several of my arthritic relatives would have been able to score on the run that Morris made

> The Eagle defense came out for the second half with all of the fire of a 4-10 team, playing for a coach that won't be here in a week

> Foles completed a deep ball to Maclin where the CB let the WR get up, just to try for yet another fumble

> Like most teams in the NFL, Washington's defense dominated the Eagles in the red zone, since that's the part of the field where teams actually blitz

> Griffin threw a backwards pass to lose 17 yards, then compounded the mistake with a replay challenge, just to remind everyone that Mike Shanahan is also capable of terrible moves

> Reid went for it on fourth and two, then dialed up the same kind of slow motion play that had led to multiple sacks earlier in the game

> After the turnover on downs, the Redskins only led by 7 points, but the game felt completely over, since there is no reason to think that the Eagle defense would get a stop

> The crowd was so pro-Redskins, they puled for Griffin to draw a roughing the passer call

> Griffin's throw to Santana Moss was about as good as you can make it at this level, and proof that the Redskins are going to be better than the Eagles for as long as Griffin is healthy

> McCoy took LB Rob Jackson's jock with a backfield move for the ages

> Foles really enjoys holding the ball too long, which is what we in the Takeaways Game call Foreshadowing

> Yet again, the team fell apart, especially on defense, in the second half, but this has nothing to do with Reid not being a wunnerful, wunnerful coach

> Redskins TE Chris Cooley caught a ball for a first down and total confirmation that this was now a Washington home game

> Anderson picked a ball off for an actual, honest to God interception, a penalty-tastic return that meant nothing, and a slight postponement of Complete Garbage Time

> RB Dion Lewis, of all people, ran it in from 17 yards, just to infuriate McCoy and RB Bryce Brown's fantasy owners, provide hope for Redskin Fan Misery, and remind everyone that the team did have options beyond force-feeding the Brown Fumble Machine

> Luckily for the team's draft position, the defense then took the field

> On fourth and a half yard with the kill shot potential, Shanahan sent the offense out to draw the Eagle defense offsides, and it somehow did not work

> By the standards of the 2012 Eagles defense, giving up 40 yards of field position and four minutes off the clock counts as a huge stop

> Foles tightrope walked the line of scrimmage to make a nice play to Maclin

> Billick became the latest announcer to tell us that the franchise might get a different coach than the guy who hasn't won a playoff game in 5 years, but not a better one

> McCoy broke yet another tackle to convert a third down at the two minute warning and keep the game alive, because hes still the best player on the team

> Foles was content to spend 103 seconds to get 20 yards

> Burning all of your timeouts before you get into the red zone is defensible, I guess, since you have less yards to run back to the line of scrimmage

> Foles missed a wide-open Maclin for a tying touchdown with 20 seconds left

> McCoy had a great sense to take an extra 10 yards and still get of bounds with 11 seconds left

> Moore showed why he was on the street last week with a terrible drop of another shot at a game-tying score

> There is no way that Foles would have been called for intentional grounding had this been a home game...

> The refs ended the game after a 30 second conversation before calling a penalty, which is just about the worst way to end a game

> Normally I'd be infuriated by that kind of ending, but as an Eagle Fan in 2012, I'm dead inside, and bitter enough to want Reid's final home game to be another kick in the taint

> I get that the Redskins are a nice story and Griffin's a special player, but nearly going to overtime against a 4-win team does not speak well to their playoff chances

The Poler Diaries: Four Hours, Two Hands

Hello and enjoy
Three and a half hours into a tournament that's slated to go 10 hours and decide a pretty damned significant amount of money -- up to, well, $1,800, which I'd call pretty damned significant -- I'm at the average chip stack level, having gotten paid off on a Q-10 spade flush to solid effect. The short stack looks tired, disgusted, and ready to leave, and he's raised on my 2X raise to push his last 15K in front of him. I've got A-Q off suit, a good feeling that he's not shoving with the best of intentions, and if I miss, I'm just back to start with a lot of big blinds still in my stack.

And of course I *hate* to call with this hand. This hand is prone to all kinds of breakage and getting called by dominating hands, and the non-suited nature is also no good... but look at this guy. He's donkeying off his chips to someone soon, and the worst thing I could see out of this is being on the wrong end of a 46/54 pairs against overs bet. Well, you can't win a tournament without winning a few races... and holy Mother, I've got him dominated, because he shoved with A-J. Yowza.

But the poker gods are not kind when you are not happy with your call, so the jack hits the flop and nothing else changes after that. Having missed on an opportunity to have a 2X stack, I then go on an astounding amount of card dead -- seriously, no paint for something like 40 hands, let alone suited or connecting, and no pairs, of course -- and lose another 10K on blinds and antes while the tournament goes on around me. Then, finally, I get something playable (K-J off suit), get to limp with it, hit top pair with two suits... so, well, I try to end things with a shove.

Two callers, one with Ace-10 (guess he thought I was bluffing), and the other with King... Queen. The turn and river change nothing, and that was that. What was supposed to be up to 10 hours of grind turned into three hours of frustration and two hands of pain, and that was that.

Lessons to be learned? Waiting for hands, even in a super deep stack event, is only so feasible when you are crazy card dead. There are some tournaments that, no matter how much you want to win, you aren't going to do it. Losing when you don't have the cards is still, well, losing. And it bites. Hard.

But on the plus side, there were more people in my event than ever before, more tips in the jar, and the game only seems to keep getting bigger and better. I got back to more than even in the cash game, we played until near dawn, guys helped me put the room back together afterwards, and we're going to do it all again in three weeks.

When, hopefully, I'll pick my spots better...

Friday, December 21, 2012

So It Begins.

No posting today, because I'm (a) trying to clear all of the day job stuff before the end of the year, and (b) preparing for the gutbuster end of year poker game in the Cave, which is currently slated for four (!) tables of people trying to keep me from the Player of the Year title.

So the vibe in the Man Cave is kind of like this right now.

With the possible differences being that my regulars are generally better behaved than Uruk Hai.

See you on Saturday late morning, when we know how it all ends up...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

NFL Week 16 Picks: The Last Week That Matters

Horrible, Horrible People
How big is fantasy football now? So much so that I suspect it will have a large impact on the games this weekend. The most popular format is head to head with Championship Week happening now, and you can bet that the top skill position players aren't going to want to hear low-level gambling nerds pule to them at charity dinners and autograph sessions over how they killed them in the fantasy playoffs all winter long.

So look for the studs to be lobbying for the ball in garbage games, coaches to limit the trick throws to the lineman in the red zone, teams to run up scores, and players on trashed teams (hello, LeSean McCoy) to try to do too much. Picking games at this point in the year really requires you to keep many more factors in mind, not that the "simpler" games have been going better for me.

This week is for laying wood and looking at big swings, determining which teams have quit (Hello, Detroit) , which teams are just too hurt to matter any more (Pittsburgh), and which ones have very much to play for with a late-season peaking motion (Green Bay, Atlanta). But enough of the preliminaries.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

ATLANTA at Detroit (+3.5)

How Jim Schwartz is still solidly employed after this year -- seriously, this team lost to the Cardinals last week, mostly because the offense decided to emulate the 2011-12 Eagles when it came to ball security -- I'll never know. Maybe Detroit Fan considers any playoff appearance the way other cities consider Super Bowl wins. Atlanta can take down the top seed in the NFC with a win on Saturday night, and while they aren't a scary top seed, they'll have more than enough to take down these twerps, and the inevitable suckout cover attempt.

Falcons 31, Lions 23

New Orleans at DALLAS (-1)

Dallas has stayed in contention with some legitimately gutsy performances in the last few weeks, and against a Saints team that has been a turnover machine on the road and unable to overcome that 0-4 start, I think it will continue for one more week. But have faith, America: it will end next week, without playoffs. You've got to have hope for the holidays, really.

Cowboys 26, Saints 24

Tennessee at GREEN BAY (-13)

A huge number to float, yes, but the Titans are (a) terrible, (b) on a short week, (c) on the road in a real home field advantage, and (d) catching the Pack at a time when they can stay in the running for a first week bye. Look for the Packer defense to create a few short fields, and for QB Aaron Rodgers to take advantage.

Packers 31, Titans 17

INDIANAPOLIS at Kansas City (+6.5)

I really did want to take the Chiefs here, since they'll be the road dome team, QB Andrew Luck is INT-prone, and the Kansas City defense hasn't quite gotten that QUIT QUIT QUIT memo yet. But dear Lord, this offense just failed to score -- failed to score -- in 60 minutes of football with those always amusing Oakland Raiders, and while the Colts aren't exactly a dynamo on D, they can still a little. Against this Chiefs team, I'm not sure you need much more than that.

Colts 20, Chiefs 13

Buffalo at MIAMI (-4.5)

Here's an amazing little tidbit: the Dolphins are still relevant in the AFC playoff race. Yeah, I had to look it up, too. The Bills are rarely good on the road late in the year, are in the final throes of the Ryan Fitpatrick era, and will have to overcome RB CJ Spiller's likely bad day in this matchup. The Dolphins aren't going to put up a ton of points in this game without healthy RBs or decent WRs, but the way the Bills handle the ball, they aren't going to have to move the ball very far.

Dolphins 24, Bills 16

San Diego at NY JETS (-1)

Are you ready for a dominant Jets performance behind QB Greg McElroy, just to prove to J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS Fan that QB Mark Sanchez was the root of all evil? I know I am, especially since they'll still be deluded into thinking they can keep their coach. Charger Fan gave up that hope a long, long time ago. They also are really banged up, and the Jet defense is playing well. But as always with Jets games, do not watch this. Woof.

Jets 20, Chargers 16

WASHINGTON at Philadelphia (+5.5)

Most likely the final home game of the Reid Era, and while the defensive line is playing better now that Jim Washburn is gone, and the running attack will be more secure with McCoy back for fumble-tastic Bryce Brown... well, the Eagles don't have any more healthy tight ends, have a makeshift OL, and a secondary that won't keep up with WR Pierre Garcon. Oh, and the special teams are horrible. It'll be close, but the Skins will make the nut late.

Redskins 27, Eagles 20

CINCINNATI at Pittsburgh (-4)

Pittsburgh is just too beat up, Cincy has extra days to prepare, and I just get the feeling that the Steelers are ready for this to be over. I'm also really not liking what WR AJ Green could do in this game, especially with CB Ike Taylor on the shelf. The Bengals finally break through here.

Bengals 24, Steelers 17

ST. LOUIS at Tampa Bay (-3)

Really just a matter of which team wants it less, and the Bucs haven't been looking like a caring team at all. The Rams were still fighting in garbage time last week while the Bucs were putting up a goose egg in New Orleans, of all places. Look for the Rams to get just enough from RB Stephen Jackson to give their passing game enough time to operate, and for WR Danny Amendola to move the chains a lot. For the Bucs, it's all on RB Doug Martin to do his Adrian Peterson impersonation, and he's just not up to that, really.

Rams 27, Bucs 20

Oakland at CAROLINA (-9.5)

Carolina has been sneaky good for a while now, and while the Raider defense showed a pulse after chopping some dead wood, they aren't good enough to contain QB Cam Newton. The Panther ground game is going to do serious damage here, and the Raiders might even pull garbage time hero QB Carson Palmer to start seeing what they have in the back ups.

Panthers 27, Raiders 16

NEW ENGLAND at Jacksonville (+14.5)

Here's something that you probably don't know: Jaguars QB Chad Henne has great career numbers against the Patriots. And the Jaguars *are* going to score some points here, since the Patriot defense really isn't airtight. But they are also going to turn it over, not get off the field on third down, and wonder why the Patriots aren't playing the backups in the fourth quarter. You've got to like that if you are laying the points.

Patriots 41, Jaguars 24

Minnesota at HOUSTON (-9)

I know that Peterson is within sniffing distance of the all-time record, and that the Houston defense has been cracking and peeling for much of the second half. But the Texans are still well-coached, and you can give up 150 yards to a RB and still not give up many points, especially when you give up fewer yards than that through the air. This one will be decided entirely in the red zone, where the Texans are a lot better.

Texans 27, Vikings 17

Cleveland at DENVER (-13.5)

A bad time to be visiting Denver. Cleveland has been playing better recently and can certainly grind out a cover... but at altitude, with the Broncos looking to lock down a playoff bye, it's just not looking good. QB Peyton Manning has shown no sign of slowing down, and might be looking to put the cap on an MVP bid here... especially since he's probably sitting out Week 17.

Broncos 31, Browns 17

Chicago at ARIZONA (+5.5)

There is no reason to bet or watch this game, but, well, the rules of my little game is that I gotta, so here goes. The Bears are beat up, have lost 6 of 8, can't keep the RBs intact or from putting the ball on the ground. The defense will need to score to win this one, and they haven't done that in a while. Arizona's defense might be the only good group in this one, and the Cardinals' special teams might even be better than Chicago's by now. But, seriously, do not watch, do not bet. Or resuscitate anyone doing either of those activities.

Cardinals 20, Bears 13

NEW YORK at Baltimore (+1)

I'm going to keep picking the Giants until they get it right, or they stop giving me the ability to keep hurting my bottom line on them. The Ravens' offense is a mess right now, the defense is beat up, and while they get a home field advantage, they also suffer from questionable officiating. I don't think the Giants are going far in the playoffs or gelling, but they'll make us all forget that for a week.

Giants 24, Ravens 20

San Francisco at SEATTLE (+1)

Wow, what a game. Two of the hottest teams in the NFL, coming off huge wins, with young mobile QBs and defenses that have game-changing ability. I'll take the Seahawks for the home field and what might be a better defense, but really, there's no bad choice here, and I fully expect it to go down to the wire. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has shown quite a knack for succeeding in those situations. Also, one final edge for the home team: the Niners' special teams, especially K David Akers, has been leaving a lot of points on the field this year. Could prove costly in this one.

Seahawks 24, Niners 20

Last week: 7-9

Season: 103-112-4

Career: 648-641-30

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

FTT Off-Topic: Of Course Batman Smells

As always with FTT O-T, not sports, enjoy or not. Sing it, Mister Robert Goulet!

Some would have you believe that this gratuitous insult to the Dark Knight is simply childish malfeasance, or proof that everyone is watching the action for the villains. I, personally, just view it as a simple fact, and not even something that his fans should dispute. Let's get into this.

Now, even the biggest Batman fan has to admit that the man is human, and humans, well, smell. Bats also has to deal with the following factors, none of which will help him in the fight against BO.

 1) Extreme physical activity. In a routine patrol, Bats will haul himself up skyscrapers, fight untold number of physically fit henchmen and villains, sprint, roll, dive, etc., etc. Dude is getting a workout, and he's also generally older than most. I can tell you from undergoing my most strenuous workout program after 40, the sweat comes out of you in buckets. (Also, depending on your diet, the flatulence. But I won't presume that he's got those sort of health issues.)

2) Confining costume. One presumes that the Batsuits are dark to cover sweat stains, and even if all of  the wealth of Wayne Industries is behind the goal of wicking away moisture and being a breathable garment, that thing is going to catch and hold heat. Add the cape, utility belts and boots (oh, dear God, the boot stank has got to be horrid at the end of a shift), and we're talking about a PVC funk at the start of the night, then PVC plus trapped labor by the end. Not good. Alfred the Butler probably spends most of his time on the laundry alone.

3) Long shifts without a change. Bats rarely gets through his day to day without some kind of stress, and this can lead to long fetishy periods where he's confined and contained by people, who, well, probably will not  stop keeping him in a stress position just so he can go to the Little Heroes Room. Perhaps this is adding to his general ill-tempered demeanor?

4) Close contact with human and actual scum. You have to think that the henchmen in the Bat Universe are not known for their pleasant odor and attention to cleanliness, and some (Killer Croc, specifically, though I suspect that Joker's musk of grease paint, cotton candy and death is also more than a little pungent) have to be downright terrible. Also, you're frequently chasing these people into the equivalent of crack dens and sewers. No wonder the man goes a little easier on the women in his world, even when they are trying to kill him. Besides being easier on the eyes, they are also probably the only people  in his day to day that aren't peeling the paint off the walls with their stank.

5) Technology and office environment. This is a man who carries around explosives, does his own repairs,  spends untold hours in a dank cave with live bats (and bats are not house or cave broken) and handles crime samples from detective work. No way he's escaping some funk.

6) It's a weapon. Come on, people -- he's Batman. Of course he's not going to pass up the opportunity to add a weapon to his arsenal, especially for close quarter combat. My bet is that his musk actively inspires fear and stupidity, since his enemies seem to make such howling blunders in his presence, rather than just, you know, kill him in a non-dramatic fashion. Why wouldn't it be the Bat Musk?

If I've missed anything, please, by all means, add it in the comments. (And finally, Robin always smells like Axe products failing to mask Hostage Flop Sweat. On this, I will brook no disagreement.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

We Will Not Soon Forget This Jets Team

Leave 'Em Laughing
The idea that the Jets were, in Week 15 of the season, still competing for a playoff possibility, is plainly absurd. But when it comes to this trainwreck, it barely comes in the top 5.  Here's a quick list.

5) The Thanksgiving game against the Patriots, where the team barfed up 28 points in a sequence that was on YouTube with a carnival music background before I could finish the post about it

4) Bart Scott raging against the press, the fans, and anything else that was dumb enough to get in the same zip code

3) Mark Sanchez nearly leading the league in turnovers, despite being at the helm of a run first, second and third offense, and losing the occasional snaps to sideshow QB Tim Tebow

2) The entire Tebow experience, which has gone beyond surreal and straight into performance art, perhaps as a grand statement on how much ESPN will debase itself for ratings, and

1) Tonight's game, where the Jets, down 4 with 2 minutes left, saw Sanchez throw an inexcusable pick with just under two minutes left... then get a shanked punt to take possession at the Titans 25 with 47 seconds left, only to botch a shotgun snap on the first play from scrimmage to blow the season. No, seriously.

And yet, all of that pales in comparison to actually *watching* this team. Maybe it's the strength of schedule, or how awful the AFC East has become. but the ugliness of their games has been infectious; games either become defensive slopfests or outright comedy. And it's true that defensive teams are like that, and teams in media markets are like that, but man alive, is this team just something else.

Now, I have no idea what should be done here. The ownership is as much of a soap opera as what's on the field, since they brought in Tebow strictly to sell tickets and merch to idiots and donated big money to a presidential candidate that most of their fan base despised. Their best running back tonight might have been Joe McKnight, who they tried to make into a cornerback earlier this year, when they lost Darelle Revis. That's only after humiliating him for the benefit of HBO a few years ago. The offensive line has gone from dominant to downtrodden in two years, and Mangold's bad snap on the final relevant play of the year was far from his first mistake. And the team is mostly older, with a win now Now NOW! approach, no matter how plainly insane that is in a division where the Patriots are just light years ahead of them.

And tonight, they nearly won a road game that would have prolonged a playoff bid into week 16.

Worse yet... some part of me is kind of bummed that they didn't get the W, just so we could see what this would look like with, well, more time and pressure involved...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

NFL Week 15 Early Game Takeaways

Hug Him And Squeeze Him
10) Atlanta pumped some more air back into their status as Scary Paper Tiger #1 Seed

9) Raven Fan learned that Cam Cameron may not be the reason why Joe Flacco sucks

8) Tampa, New York and Baltimore made powerful statements as to their playoff readiness

7) Drew Brees showed that he's still very capable of torching a very bad secondary at home

6) The Rams showed that you don't have to get a home field advantage from a dome after all

5) Amusing the 23 remaining Dolphins fans, Chad Henne really stunk it up for the Jags in a road loss in Miami

4) Minnesota continued the dream of making the playoffs without a functioning quarterback, just so long as your RB is Not Human

3) Green Bay proved you can win on the road in Chicago without special teams, that the quality of Mason Crosby's compromising photographs of management should not be overestimated, and that the refs totally hate the Bears

2) Kirk Cousins showed Robert Griffin the Third that he can take his own sweet time coming back, at least while Washington plays against terrible teams

1) Houston showed that they can dominate, so long as the game starts at 1pm and isn't against, you know, a top-flight team

NFL Week 15 Ad Questions

Douches Out
10) Why does the label out skeptic in the Bud Light ad seem so shocked to see a good kick, since, well, that's what is supposed to happen?

9) If I buy a Dodge truck, will I cause the planet to collapse around me?

8) Is one of the side effects of taking Prilosec is that you think Larry the Cable Guy is funny?

7) Why are the people who work at the National Mistletoe Growers Association so bent out of shape, and how long have they been monitoring America's sexual relations?

6) If I buy an Infiniti, do I gain the ability to create avalanches like I was throwing Skee Balls?

5) Does Detroit employ anyone outside of auto workers and choirs to sign about the work of auto workers?

4) If Southwest cared less about charity, could they cut their prices and/or be on time more often?

3) Are Windows phone users incompetent at all other forms of technology?

2) Aren't the playoff challenge fantasy losers ready to move on to some other hobby, since they have the same terrible records every year?

1) Did TD Ameritrade''s ad account do the dev work in Little Big Planet or in an opium den?

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