Thursday, January 31, 2013

It's Hard To Play Basketball When Your Management Gives Up

Unbearable
Tonight in the first half of a nationally televised road game in Oklahoma City, the Memphis Grizzlies took the floor for their first game since a salary dump trade left them without top swingman Rudy Gay. The team is missing some bench assets as a result of the pending transaction, and the Thunder were primed for a big effort after a loss left weekend in Los Angeles, so this was going to be a real test to see if the remaining Grizz were going to exert an awful lot of effort...

And then the first half happened, and OKC raced off to a 2-point lead without seeming to have to try very hard. The Thunder lost their way in the third when point guard Russell Westbrook had one of his periodic emotional episodes, and lead dog Zack Randolph and point guard Mike Conley finally started hitting some shots. But even during the Memphis run, it was obvious that the Thunder were eventually going to wake up and reassert themselves, which is, well, what happened as soon as the fourth quarter started. The last five minutes was garbage time; this will become fairly common for the Grizz.

I'm not going to defend the idea that Gay was worth his contract number, or that Memphis should be looking to pay luxury tax dollars to keep a team that looks capped out as the 4th best team in the West, which basically means a first or second round exit every year.

But, well, maybe someone should.

Because the dirty little secret of the NBA, especially over time, is that they are becoming more and more like MLB every year. A good team from a small market is eventually going to make a mistake or get unlucky with a contract, as Memphis did with Gay's injury and subsequent failure to come all of the way back, and that, well, will be that. Memphis is going to fall behind Golden State soon, and Denver after that, and get their head handed to them in an easy first round series for a real team.

And next year, when the troika of Mike Conley / Marc Gasol / Zeke Randolph makes you a perpetual 45-win team, and no free agent will come near you with a ten-foot pole, and you need to somehow hit on a top starter in a sub-lottery pick...

Well, that lasts for about a year or two, until Gasol or Randolph or Conley decides that they need to get away from this goat ride to nowhere, and forces a trade for 60 cents on the dollar. That's assuming that they haven't developed an injury in the interim.

And this is really what bothers me the most about sports now; this insistence on playing the game as if the audience were all backstage guys who cared only about championships, and that being one of the top half dozen or so teams in the league had no value at all, and just requires you to blow it up, over and over again, to compete with the big market money teams that actually get to try every year. It's infuriating on its face, and is left to the players to try and fool themselves into making an effort anyway.

For half of the game tonight, Memphis failed to fool themselves, and by the time they got their heads back on straight / OKC falling asleep a bit, the game was lost. Later run notwithstanding.

And no one's going to remember just how good this team was, and how they were actually fun to watch once, before their management gave up a long time before the players did...

Michigan's Good At Singing, Basketball

Air Greece
So I'm in Ann Arbor this week on business, and my employer was kind enough to get me and my team into the men's basketball game against Northwestern. The host Wolverines are the #1 team in the country right now, not that I really know squat about college hoop. Here's a few takeaways...

> It's kind of intriguing, and nice, to be in a college gym. Crisler holds just under 13,000, doesn't have skyboxes, and when you get into the upper reaches of the bowl, the catwalk intrudes on your sight line a bit. None of that matters, of course; there is no actual benefit to the consumer in the professional pleasure palaces.  And anyone that thinks otherwise is welcome to go hang out with the Maloofs.

> Midwestern crowds are just, well, like Midwestern people: nice to the point of self-parody. Northwestern isn't really a rival to Michigan, in that ants are not rivals to boots, but it's still a little telling that the home crowd didn't really have the heart to put real heat on the visitors. Their team did that, more than enough.

> With 51 seconds left in the first half, Michigan was called for their first and only foul of the period. They also ended the frame with, yikes, zero turnovers. The truly scary thing for Michigan's opponents were that they combine NBA level athleticism (Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson's sons are in the starting lineup) with solid coaching and a bedrock unselfishness. Michigan would end the night with 2 turnovers and 9 fouls, so you can see that they got really sloppy in the second. (Err, no.)

> Of the starters, Trey Burks had the best night with 18-4-8 in 34 minutes, but he wasn't the striking member of the club to me. That was Hardaway, who went 3 of 10 from the field in a 7-2-3 line that didn't speak at all to his quality. Whenever the clock got low, the ball would go to Hardaway, who would simply go wherever he wanted and cause the defense to stretch and break. He's a junior, and maybe won't be a major star in the Association, but he's going to get there. Robinson as well, though I suspect he's going to be too much like his empty calories father once he gets away from college defenses to provide real value. But a 6'6" forward with range and lineage is going to get a call.

> There really wasn't much to say about Northwestern. They try hard, do a reasonable job of maintaining composure against runs, didn't have an ounce of quit in them, and held their own on the boards. That and a couple of bucks might get you a cup of coffee; they are 12-10 and don't have a single athlete that can finish at the rim against next level athletes. They also don't hit enough threes to luck their way into big wins. So, well, moving on.

> The big moment for the home crowd was when 6'-6" 190 freshman guard Nik Stauskas, from the basketball hotbed of Missisauga, Ontario who takes 60% of his shots from beyond the arc, got the rack and finished with a flush. That clearly wasn't in the scouting report, and the home crowd popped the way you think they'd might for a Greek Canadian going all Thunder Dan on them. I don't know if the kid's got the stones to do that against real teams, but if he does, he might also have a future playing hoop in North America.

> Finally, there's this... there are lovely traditions here in Ann Arbor. There are knowledgeable fans, goofy timeout games, cheerleaders and the band and everything else that people love about college ball. But there's nothing -- and, of course, there never really is -- that means this should be associated with a college.

People in Ann Arbor shouldn't have to watch a product that's only for late-age teenagers. They shouldn't have to wave goodbye to any player who is above a certain level, and fail to see more than a sliver of his career. They deserve games that matter, and teams that stay together and gel over time. Just like people in Memphis and Sacramento and New Orleans and every other NBA city.

There's no reason why, beyond tradition and an opiate-level addiction, sports in small towns should have to flow through the college pipe. It denigrates both institutions. And if we had relegation, we just wouldn't, and Ann Arbor fans would get to watch, say, Stauskas grow old and wily and beloved for more than just the butterfly flick of his late acne years.

So thanks, Ann Arbor, for the hospitality and the game; it was fun and I think there is no reason why your team couldn't go deep in March.

And I still want your traditions blown to bits.

But by all means, keep the song.



Wednesday, January 30, 2013

If You Have To Say It, That Says It All

Work The Rubes, Boys
Two brief points about today's Super Bowl Media Day layups...

1) Ray Lewis denies PED use

I was never really a Michael Jordan fan. I knew I was watching the best player of his generation and one of the best of all time, and I rooted for him when he played teams that I hated more than his Bulls... but in terms of rooting for him, there was always a meanness, an inhumanity, and a sense that I was watching, well, a bad person, one that would do anything possible to secure victory. And the biggest manifestation of that was the way he'd pule, hector, harass and just flat out work the refs. In an age of guys who'd put heel wrestlers to shame with their denials of personal culpability, Jordan took it to a ridiculous level. You knew you were watching history, but you also knew that unless you were a Bulls fan, or a fan of by any means possible victory, you knew that this history wasn't fun, or good, or something that should really be encouraged.

And his post-NBA career of Hitler mustaches, worst ever general managing, and that horrific Hall of Fame speech? Well, let's just say that I'm not going to be the last guy in the world who got off the MJ Train.

Now, Ray Lewis denying PED use... is basically the same story, only without the dunks. Or the good ads, or being made to appear fun by hanging out with Spike Lee and Bugs Bunny. (Both of whom totally carried MJ. But I digress.)

And the fact that this kind of opinion on The Mouth Of God's Own Linebacker is never shared on the tee vee tells you...

There's never been a player who uses the media better than Lewis.

Ever.

To the point of that whole Stabby Stabby thing going away faster than Kobe Bryant getting out of Colorado.

And the fact that the general public seems to understand this, but the media never points it out...

Well, it tells you a little bit about the quality of minds that enter journalism these days, no?

Oh, and one last little thing in re Ray Ray... if you have to deny PED use, that pretty much puts you in the same camp with the people who deny hating gays.

And we all know what comes next in the God Enjoys Irony spin cycle...

2) Randy Moss thinks very highly of Randy Moss

Good ol' Ten Full Speed Efforts A Week WR told the second-tier mics that weren't drinking the Ray Ray Kool Aid today that he thinks he is the greatest to ever play the position.

Well, isn't that, um, unprecedented?

I mean, I guess it's news that Moss thinks too highly of himself even years past his role as anything but a situational decoy, and fails to see how his ringless history and widespread waste of unspeakable physical talent makes him, well, a guy that will be forgotten with speed as soon as he's no longer on an NFL roster.

Because, well, I can rattle off a dozen names without even trying very hard, in terms of guys I'd rather have than Moss.

And one of those names is his teammate, Michael Crabtree, who is no better than a reasonable presence in most people's fantasy league line up...

Because, well, Crabtree might be just about to prove that he's something that Moss never has been.

Which is... the WR1 on a Super Bowl winning team. (Thanks again, David Tyree.)

If you have to say that you are the greatest -- at anything -- you aren't. That's why it's called history, and not mestory...

Top 10 signs the Yankees are trying to void A-Rod's contract

Why get away from this guy?
10) The inevitable PR release saying this isn't true came from the player's publicist, not the team

9) Somehow might not want to spend the next 5 years and $114 million on a guy that wasn't even a good bench player in the playoffs last year

8) Even this franchise starts to care about cash when (a) the Dodgers are outspending them, and (b) no one has ever bought those seats near the field

7) Just because he helped them win it all in 2009 does not, well, mean anything to a franchise that expects to buy a championship every year

6) Figure that since they've already stuck with him through one drug scandal, this one's a freebie

5) For the amount of money they've been paying him, you'd really think he'd do a better job of not getting caught

4) Somehow don't see themselves selling a lot of commemorative gear for his big run to unseat Barry Bonds as MLB's latest disgraced home run king

3) This worked so well for them with Jason Giambi

2) PED use gets a lot harder to defend when you are 37, with a sub-.800 OPS, and can't stay on the field

1) Have discovered, to their horror, that he's not really a True Yankee after all

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Jets And JaMarcus

When You're A Jet...
Normally, I'd react to the news that the Jets are thinking about hiring JaMarcus Russell with a quick and easy honking list of Com Oh Dee, because, um, well, those things write themselves. But really, kids, I have my limits, and this just feels too much like when the kid in the special ed class soils himself, then puts his hands in it and tries to paint. More sad than fun. A lot more.

There is, of course, a place for Russell to play football again; there always will be, because the fact is that any #1 overall pick will always have some team that wants to look at the old scouting reports and see if there's something there. If Cam Newton can have a career, well, the guy who made people doubt Newton in the first place can too, right? It's not like he doesn't have the size, the arm, and maybe even the wheels, assuming you ever got his head on straight and jammed a work ethic into his spine. Stranger things have happened.

I'll go further. I can scope out a 2-year path back to the league for him, and actual competence. First, he trains for six months in secret, kicks the booze and meds, shed 40-60 pounds and actually treats football like, well, a job instead of a lottery ticket when Al Davis gave him Life Ending Money. Next, he goes to the CFL, to some wide-open coach with some skill players and absolute control, allowing him the chance to pile up some numbers in sort of a Warren Moon for the 2010s career arc. Then, he goes to the camp of some team with a clear and well-defined #1, and serves as the humble back-up for a well-regarded franchise -- say, Green Bay or New England or Denver or some such stuff.

He gets into a game due to injury. He does well. He says all of the right things, takes the inevitable demotion like a man, kisses up to the media. And voila, by 2015 you've got Michael Vick II, only in a big guy with an arm. If Jason Campbell can have a job, and David Carr can have a job, and Brady Quinn and another half dozen guys I don't want to bother looking up right now because life is too short to devote time to such thing, so can Russ. It's not that hard to be an NFL back-up, and in the right situation, guys can become Matt Schaub without being, well, all that damned special. (And, by the way, it's fairly criminal that Donovan McNabb can't get a job. Tell me that he's not better, even at this age, then the guys mentioned above, or that the Jets don't make the playoffs in 2012, only to get absolutely murdered in a first round game, with him instead of the Sanchize. Anyway, moving on.)

Now, of course, the chances of that happening in New York, where J-Russ would serve as the photo negative of Tim Tebow?

Absolute zero.

And the fact that the Jets, who live in this nether world punctuated by a profound lack of self-awareness or understanding of what playing football in New York means, and who are almost certainly just using this lead balloon of a man to get some more sad tabloid ink, because sad tabloid ink is far more important than wins?

Well, when the special kid gets to painting, you really don't need to watch. Or be in the area, since it's going to hit your nose as well as your eyes...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Top 10 takeaways from Jay Ratliff's DUI accident

10) The window of opportunity for the Cowboys to lead the league in DUIs is closing

9) His blood alcohol content of 0.16 doesn't sound all that impressive, but given that the dude is listed at 303 pounds, we can pretty much assumed he drained a keg all by his lonesome

8) You have to admire the commitment to idiocy required to do this sort of thing at age 31 and on his way out of the league

7) This should just be seen as a rather creative way to honor Jerry Brown's memory

6) Ratliff faces up to 20 years in prison, or death by lethal injection if he wasn't a Cowboy of note

5) Shockingly, given the expected cash management skills of your average NFL player, he was able to post bond

4) Just on the principle that bad things happen in threes, someone really should drive Dez Bryant around for a good long while

3) The officer report said that Ratliff was verbally abusive, which given the standards of Texas police, really might not mean that much

2) Commissioner Roger Goodell is going to come down on Ratliff like a bag of hammers as soon as he finds out that Ratliff led with the helmet

1) The cops are clearly making too much out of a pick up truck side-swiping an 18-wheeler, hitting the median and suffering major damage, since, well, Boys will be Boys

Top 10 takeaways from President Obama's remarks about football

Biden, Go Long
Here's the actual article. He doesn't say anything all that crazy to my eyes, but your mileage may vary. Me, I'm just glad he kept me from having to talk about the Pro Bowl.

10) Shockingly, did not weigh in on Jay Cutler, which just goes to prove he's all political and stuff

9) He really should stop worrying so much about college football players, since they are fairly unique among college-aged people in that they already have paying jobs

8) Despite the fact that he didn't say a word about guns, conspiracy theorists will draw a link

7) Didn't say anything about whether his daughters would be allowed to be cheerleaders, since the injury rate for that might even be higher than football

6) Cited how the NFLPA makes him less concerned about the well-being of pro players, since unions are just super-powerful now

5) By having less than glowing words to say about football's injury risks, puts himself at risk for suspension and fine from Roger Goodell

4) Did not confirm or deny the existence of an unmanned drone program against Tim Tebow fans

3) Yes, I totally threw in that gratuitous Tebow remark because I'm trying to sell the blog to ESPN, who require the word Tebow to be included once every 100 words

2) Somehow did not mention killing Osama Bin Laden or predicting/manipulating the NCAA into going to a BCS playoff next year

1) Did not out any NFL player, so this story will die within a day

Top 10 takeaways from Rajon Rondo's season-ending injury

My Heart Bleeds
10) Boston will rally for the better part of a week before realizing that All Is Lost

9) Chicago Fan is so very, very sorry for the team's loss

8) It's totally unfair that one of the team's stars that isn't older than dirt and devoid of real trade value would get hurt

7) If only Kevin McHale were still employed as a GM to make a ridiculous trade to benefit the Celtics, all would be well

6) Ray Allen lost today in Boston as a member of the Heat, but you suspect that he's still happy to have made the move

5) Finally, everything is in readiness for the Avery Bradley Era

4) The team never should have left Paul Pierce's Magic Wheelchair out of the sight of the training staff

3) It's probably not a good sign when the only real point guard on the roster is the head coach

2) You have to be impressed by the NBA's ability to control the refs so much that the Lakers and Celtics can both win on national television even when they are both below .500

1) Pitchers and catchers report in a few weeks, and if this season were to be repeated every year for a century, Celtics Karma would still not be anywhere close to even

Sunday, January 27, 2013

FTT Wildly Off-Topic: In Which I Geek Out For A Vacuum Cleaner

Attack, My Beast, Attack
This one's going as far away from sports as I can go, folks. You've been warned.

Six months ago, we got a puppy. Milo is now 9 months old, about 35 to 40 pounds, and has been a wonderful addition to the family. Housebreaking accidents have been as infrequent as you could hope for, and he picked that up right away. He's great with the kids, can play in a variety of ways and while he's far from perfect on obedience issues, I wouldn't trade him for another pooch on the planet.

Eight years ago, we got a cat. Boris was a feral kitten that was born under my eldest's pre-school, and while I'm far from a cat guy, he's a reasonable enough beast. He doesn't miss the litter even if you don't keep on it as much as you should, isn't too insistent on being petted, and puts up with the other animals and kids very well.

There's just one problem with Boris and Milo. They both have long hairs, and they both shed. Like, well, mad.

Now, the Shooter House has hardwood floors for the most part, at least on the first and second floors, where the bedrooms, kitchen, living room and main bathroom are. So cleaning up the clouds of hair is mostly a broom experience, and doesn't take up that much time... but then there's the couple of area rugs that are upstairs, and the mostly carpeted basement that contains my cave.

My mother-in-law gave us a vacuum a few years ago, a Dyson Ball unit that was a fine gift. On the downstairs carpet, it's done what it could on the pet hair, but hasn't quite been up to the task. And on the rugs upstairs, it would take out some stuff, but leave a thick coating of hair that would require a manual attack afterward, for the better part of an hour. Really not a good hour, that.

Since the dog is going to be with us for another 12 to 15 years, God willing, and the cat for a good long while besides, I've known for a while that we were going to have to upgrade the vac. Which happened today, now that I knew I had secured some funds that I wasn't counting on.

So what I did was take a rug with me to a local store, having not touched it for a couple of weeks. And in short order, we found the monster pictured above, having watched it strip the supplied rug damn near clean... on one freaking pass. It's called a Simplicity Synergy, and no, I'm not being paid to shill for it.

There's something about having an outstanding tool in your hands; it makes you never want to use anything less. And that's what this thing is. It's got not just one engine, but two, to make sure it never gets outdrawn. It's got sensor lights on it so that you go over that not really clean patch a second time. It's got copious amounts of metal -- real, honest, actual metal -- all over, because this thing is built to last for a decade or more, and actually might, since it was made (gasp!) in America..

Having said that, it's not for everyone. I paid more for this thing than I have a couple of different (terrible, monstrous, horrible, way back in the day) cars. It's not terribly light, because, well, it's got two freaking motors in it and is basically a tank. It's loud enough that Milo is afraid of it (he has no fear of the Dyson).

But after years of whipping around a unit that just couldn't get the job done? I'm in love. It sounds downright *angry* at full power, like the crap that it's removing from the carpet is beneath its dignity, or personally offended it. Hairs come off the ground and into the bag, without getting stuck in the rollers. I had to fight off the Shooter Wife to use it when I brought it home. The rugs have never looked better. And I get back some of the worst hours of my month.

So what's not to love, really?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: Sad Middle-Aged People Rule Our Screens

The Bat Elvis, An Eventuality
As always with FTT O-T, not sports and not sorry. Read or skip; it's a big bad Internet.

I really should have seen "The Dark Knight Rises" months and months ago. I loved Tom Hardy in "Bronson" (seriously, see this movie, it's fantastic), so having him take a shot at Bane was all kinds of win. I've liked Anne Hathaway in lots of stuff, mostly because she's been a good presence in kid movies that I've endured for the pleasure of sitting down with my daughters, and a few art movies as well. The Christopher Nolan reboot of the franchise might be the most financially successful move in movie history. I've watched Bat-stuff since I was a child. It's been a really long time since Arnold Schwarzenegger made me want to rip out my frontal lobes for paying money to see fifty ice puns jammed into every possible orifice. Get with the cultural zeitgeist already.

And yet, well, I hadn't before late last night. And it was only then because I had put the DVD in my Netflix queue once upon a time, and it swam to the surface because we've cleared some other stuff.

Why the reticence? Well, I'm 43 years old as I write this, and honestly, 43 is a very interesting age. It's the age where you still remember as much of your childhood as you ever will, but you get that, even with exceptional health and luck, you are at halftime or later. You start to get to the point, assuming you have any self-consciousness at all, of understanding what is Craft and what is Art... and while you can respect craft, it's more or less what you've seen before. Art seems like a better way to spend your minutes.

Now, a superhero movie can be many things. It can be well made or shoddy, gritty or campy, masterful or inept. But what it can not be is Art; it can not truly surprise you assuming you are past a certain age, and it can not be something that people should take seriously.

And yet, now, we do. Mostly because they make a ferocious amount of money, and telling anyone in this country that something that is popular is dumb sets you up as a humorless drone, elitist, or killjoy.

When all you are, really, is 43. And not afraid to take what you are supposed to think and happily go 180 degrees away from it, with speed and surety.

"Rises" is nearly three hours. It has plot holes you can drive comically oversized assault vehicles through. It takes a stunningly hot Hathaway and more or less wastes her by trying to make a larger-than-life borderline psycopath into a flinty one-note prostitute. It swerves hard in the final hour rather than stay with a far more interesting graying of the traditional roles between hero and villain, and more or less punts in the idea that drastic social change could become popular for more than the corrupt. (Seriously, this is a movie in which the 1% is more or less rounded up and shot, and the populace seems entirely neutral or absent on whether or not Things Have Gotten Better.) It has about as much suspense as a trip via train: you know where you are going, you know the route, and the only difference is the speed and weather.

Oh, and I'm not even going to get into the fact that Christian Bale and Nolan seemingly decided it was OK to have the Batman speak like Cookie Monster. Other than to point out that, well, that's just about the stupidest thing ever, and makes every parody of this thing the comedic equivalent of bringing a Kalashnikov with you on your trip to Fish Buckets R Us. Moving on.

And all of that, of course, does not matter at all, and never had a chance of mattering. The only thing that kept this thing from making a ridiculous amount of money was a nutbag killing people at the premiere; all of the good or bad reviews in the world wouldn't have mattered. Including this one.

Andreas Cornelis ("Dries") van Kuijk, better known to the world as Col. Tom Parker, the wildly abusive and overcompensated manager of Elvis Presley who prevented the King from touring abroad for fear of losing his illegal citizenship, once said that movies with his client didn't need names, they just needed a number, so that they knew they hadn't already seen it. That's mean and cynical, and well, accurate.

Finally, there's this. When I was a child, I'd flip through the handful of television channels that were available (I grew up pre-cable), and inevitably wind up thinking too much about PBS, since that was in the mix of the 6 to 10 choices that were available. I'd never stay there, of course, because I was a kid and not terribly interested in dramas, operas, British stuff or the other stuff that was on PBS in the mid to late 1970s... but what did strike me was that there was a whole 'nother world of High Culture that adults were supposed to watch and like, and when I was a grown-up, I was supposed to watch that stuff, too.

It didn't really matter to me that I didn't see adults watch that; it just mattered that they had their shows, and I had mine, and if a grown-up was watching a show with you, they were probably doing a nice thing for you, rather than watching it for their own enjoyment. And if they liked the same shows I liked for the same reasons, that would have just been, well, sad and creepy.

Which is, well, how I felt at the end of "Rises"... and how I really feel when, say, my Twitter feed bursts wide open with people freaking out over who the director of the next Star Wars movie will be.

Seriously.


Adults still care, deeply, strongly, without a trace of self-awareness or irony or camp value, as to who will direct a Star Wars movie.

Shouldn't they, you know, have moved on to something else by now, rather than sit in the same freaking sandbox for the past 35 years?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Wow, the Celtics are terrible

Found court side. Nice handles!
Is this the best year ever in the Asso- ciation? Well, maybe, in that there really haven't been many years to choose from where both the Celtics and Lakers miss the playoffs. (Woo! Got a little giddy just reading that.)

Anyway, the C's blew a touch and go game at home with the no longer hot but still plenty warm Knicks, who watched the home team stumble and fumble the game away on last minute turnovers. Adding to the fun is the fact that the C's fell to 20-22, have lost five in a row, and could easily see that stretch to seven, seeing how their next two games are the surprisingly competent Hawks and the defending champion Heat.

But let's get into the guts of this one, and enjoy the possibility of actual multi-sport misery for this region, beyond the Patriots collapse and the strong potential that the Red Sox are going to be an also-ran...

> Paul Pierce going 6 for 15 and looking all kinds of spent in the fourth quarter, instead of taking over against the division rival

> Kevin Garnett delivering a 8-12-2 night in his first appearance against the Knicks since finding new depths of classlessness with his trash talk about Carmelo Anthony's wife

> The bench giving 24-12-3 in a combined 79 minutes, in a home game

> New York winning despite Anthony and JR Smith combining to shoot 14 for 44

> This loss coming after head coach Doc Rivers played the "Some guys might get traded" card

> The team still clearly missing the defection of Ray Allen, with replacement Avery Bradley going 2 of 7 from the floor, including some open corner threes that are pretty much a have to have for any NBA team employing a shooting guard

> Rivers playing mix and match with minutes, with nothing much happening in the way of flow or cohesion

> And, well, the basic body language of a team that was more interested in individual numbers, rather than selling out for teammates.

Now, the Celtics have the great good fortune to play in the East, and the past knowledge that they can flip the switch. But the season is half over, and they are not on pace to win half of their games. Not only is the window of opportunity shut, but there might not even be a window to look out of any more.

So all I need is my Sixers to somehow rip off 10 or 20 in a row, and we'll have the Best Season Ever...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Top 10 reasons why the Jets hired Marty Morhinweg



10) As bad as the 2012 Eagles offense was, it's still better than what the Jets ran out there

9) Kept a straight face during the interview when the club said the words "Tim Tebow", "Wildcat" and "Buttfumble"

8) Promised to smuggle some WRs with him on the way out of Philadelphia

7) Since the Rex Ryan Era probably only has one more year to go, he's can just stay in Philly and bear the commute

6) He's the first person who managed to get QB Mark Sanchez out of the fetal position in weeks

5) Has first-hand experience at force-feeding an offense away from its best assets, assuming those assets are running backs

4) As the Rick Kotite Era shows, the Jets always do well with Eagle coaching cast-offs

3) Andy Reid's last 4-12 team made things so much easier for the rest of the league, everyone on the staff had to get jobs

2) He promised not to want any part of the decision to kick or receive an overtime kickoff

1) Has unmatched experience in keeping his head in sideshows, carnivals and train wrecks

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Top 10 reasons why the Phillies signed Delmon Young

Reason #11: He Sells Newspapers!
10) Michael Bourn is a much better player, but getting him involves talking to that icky Boros guy

9) Wanted to make Ryan Howard feel fast and spry when he comes in for Young at first as a defensive replacement

8) Want to recreate that 1970s feel with Ben Revere as Garry Maddux and Young as Greg Luzinksi

7) Taking a big dump on Domenic Brown is something of a tradition now

6) Want a more proven mediocrity than Darin Ruf

5) Gives them a Double Young lineup with Micheal at third, which makes for all kinds of Orwellian fun for the PR staff

4) With inter-league games happening all year, team really felt that they needed a guy with a lot of experience at not being a very good DH

3) He was the MVP of the ALCS against the Yankees, which is as meaningful of a sample size as this team really wants to deal with any more

2) A team that draws 3 to 4 million fans a year to an expensive new ballpark, with massive local television revenues in the largest single-team market in the MLB, really does need to economize on starting outfielders

1) His past history of off-the-court trouble and conviction of anti-Semitic hate crimes really won't be a problem here, because the media never brings up past sins, there are very few Jews in the area, and no one has the Internet

Wow, The Lakers Are Terrible

Brooklyn Is That Way
So I caught much of the fourth quarter of tonight's Grizzlies-Lakers game, and got to see the Lakers' 10th loss in their last 12 games. The final score was 106-93, and it wasn't that close. With this, there was also...

> Kobe Bryant not getting multiple calls at the rim that he used to get in his sleep

> Dwight Howard going down with one of those injuries that big guys on bad teams get -- i.e., the for who for what ankle tweak

> The Grizz more or less running a layup and dunk clinic with scrubs like Jarryd Bayless and Darrell Arthur (18-9 in limited minutes, probably career highs)

> The Grizzly bench setting a season-high for points, and this one didn't have that much garbage time

> Bryant taking shot after shot out of the flow of the offense, aka Hero Mode for a guy who really isn't up for the job any more

> Invisibility from Steve Nash (7-3-8) and Pau Gasol (13-8-1, not even a starter any more)

> Body language that had lottery team written all over it

> Nothing from coach Mike D'Antoni to stop the bleeding or even slow the momentum

> Nothing from any other Laker bench player -- seriously, 7-2-1 from 37 combined bench minutes is as close to nothing as you can get in the Association)

> And the Lakers playing starters deep into the fourth in a road game where they were down by 17 with 5:20 left, because, well, the bench is even worse than the washed up starters

This team is going nowhere, folks -- and when your best player is an ancient shooting guard, and your other top players are all on the serious downside of their carer, it's not going to get much better in the dog days of January and February. And I couldn't be any more pleased. Today, next month, this playoffs and for a long time to come, Los Angeles belongs to the Clippers. (Now, if this actually manifests itself in that billion-dollar valuation coming down... well, probably not. After all, the Clips still pay rent to use Staples.)

Reading the Ratings

Not as popular as you may think
Two small points from the media and advertising newsletters that I read...

1) NFL Conference Championship ratings down double digits

Well, sure. Atlanta vs. San Francisco is wildly less appealing than New York vs. San Francisco, and having the same Baltimore vs. New England battle every year gets tedious. But there's only so much Atlanta hate that you can trot out there to explain so many fewer viewers. Rather, I wonder about the following factors.

a) A terrible year for the real big market teams

Chicago, both New York teams, Philadelphia -- these, you all knew about as non-playoff teams in major media areas. But on top of that was Pittsburgh, a true national team, not making it, along with Dallas. Green Bay missing out on the conference final was also an issue, since that's also the Pittsburgh problem. So, with the exception of a New England team that is widely loathed outside of the media, the NFL was out of what might be the top six teams, not just in markets, but national numbers.

b) When you remove the violence, you will remove some fans

No one that I know has stopped watching the games from things like helmet to helmet 15 yard flags or ticky-tack roughing the passer calls, and the league got what it wanted -- a season filled with mostly healthy QBs and WRs, with a limited number of brutal concussions.

But I don't know very many casual fans.

And from the scab refs to the Saints vendetta to the DPIs to the Thursday night games weakening the 4pm Sunday slate... well, at some point, that has to add up to weaker casual fan interest, doesn't it?

2) The NHL Opening Weekend ratings were surprisingly good

And by good, I mean freaky good: the best in 11 years, and the best opening game ratings for NBC since they began airing the league in 2006. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, Buffalo and Boston were all huge, with the first three having the best numbers ever in their market. (Why? Because all three of those cities had exceptionally awful NFL years, and have been starving for a game ever since. Even the Sixer and Bulls fans are down, due to the Derrick Rose and Andrew Bynum injuries. Anyway, moving on.)

Here's the dirty little secret of the 82-game NHL regular season: it does not need to exist, and no one outside of the inner circle of the cult would mind if the season didn't consist of 100% playoffs. (How would this be manifested? Best of seven series from teams drawn at random, with every franchise invited. Yes, you'd potentially have a 4-game season for half of the teams in the league, but if you need more than four games a year from the New York Islanders, you may be employed by the New York Islanders.)

So a 2/3rds season doesn't really bother anyone. Nor does it create the problems that the 2011-12 NBA short season created, since NHL games don't have the same Art/Competition issues that NBA teams have.

All it did was take a third of the money that was going to be spent on regular season tickets, and pissed off people who can't be permanently pissed off. As the ratings show...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Who Shouldn't Have A Team?

One word fixes so many things...
So I spent my MLK Day Night watching the Association on TNT, and the studio conver- sation turned, as it must, to the ongoing travesty in Sacramento vs. Seattle, in re the eventual destination of the Maloof franchise.

Now, there are a few things that I think everyone can agree on here. (And since we're taking Maloofs here, it's going to get crude. You've been warned.)

1) The Maloofs are, even by NBA owner standards, relentlessly regrettable human beings that deserve to be bathed in excrement whenever they make an appearance in public. (I realize that this might require public coordination to limit the risk of lawsuit and arrest, but dammit, people, this is what mobile telecommunications technology is for. I'm kidding. Yes, quite.)

2) The people of Sacramento are getting done without lube, over a period of several years, in public.

3) The people of Seattle were done without lube before, and can't feel completely good about stealing another town's team, especially since their new team is going to stink.

4) No one can point to a city and say that town doesn't deserve a team.

I put that last one in bold for a reason. Because no one who watched the NBA playoff games from Memphis or Oklahoma City last year thinks those teams should lose their teams. Just like no one thinks that Brooklyn shouldn't have a team. Or that the Lakers weren't a good move.

And this is where, and you will forgive me for repeating myself over the years, English Premier League Football (only we call it soccer) has it over the American major leagues in spades. Because they don't have any towns without meaningful ball, because they've got the one word that would change everything, and take the power away from the scumbags who have abused it for over 60 years. (I'm going back to the Brooklyn Dodgers here, but you get the point.)

That word is... Relegation.

Simply demote the worst franchises to the NBDL, and promote the best from the same in an even swap, and We Fix Everything.

We make the NBDL matter. Right now, I doubt you can tell me any city where it's located, unless you happen to live there. (Why am I so certain? Because *I* can't tell you where those teams are. And I love the Association more than anyone I know.)

Tired of watching teams tank? Watch the sweat as the Wizards do everything possible to stay in the bigs.

Find it tedious when an ownership continues to hire a wildly incompetent general manager? You'll get to watch Michael Jordan take Charlotte into an officially minor league.

Want to prevent the next Donald Steling, Chris Cohan, Ted Dolan or Larry Gilbert? Relegate, relegate, relegate.

(Oh, and if you'd like to use this to relegate Jeffrey Loria to the dustbin of history, or push the Bidwells and Al Davis's family into irrelevance, or any figurehead that's made hockey in Phoenix even more of a joke than the phrase 'hockey in Phoenix' deserves... be my guest. Please. With speed.) 

Because there is never -- not ever, not even Newark or Vancouver or Kansas City or Anaheim or Buffalo or Fort Wayne or Syracuse or any other town that the NBA has pillaged and burned -- a town that deserves to lose a team.

Or an abusive owner that deserves to keep it.

Top 10 reasons why the Ravens' John Harbaugh is hiring Juan Castillo

Everyone on a 4-12 debacle gets jobs
10) He's the new run game co- ordinator, which probably won't require him to give up his night manager job at Appleby's

9) Since he spent the last decade-plus with Andy Reid, has had plenty of time to stock up ideas involving the run game

8) If anything goes wrong, Juan has great experience at being a scapegoat

7) Remember that Juan was on the other side of the field, earlier this year, when a 4-12 team somehow beat him

6) It's not like they are letting Castillo anywhere near the defense

5) After the collapse of the Eagles defense in the second half of 2012 after he got tossed, Juan might be seen as the biggest football genius on the planet

4) After 15 years living in the area, at least Baltimore isn't that far of a commute

3) It turns out that Harbaugh is one of millions of people who really, really hate Jim Washburn

2) After getting the knife from Reid earlier this year, Juan somehow had the intellect to not take another job with him

1) Harbaugh wants to get all of the people who endured Reid with him rings

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Top 10 consolations for Boston Fan

Perhaps this was a bad idea
10) Traffic coming home from the game was much easier than anticipated

9) Thanks to this game, you've doomed Baltimore to a long and eventually maddening era of Joe Flacco

8) In all likelihood, that mean little Welker prick, who you never liked or trusted, won't be able to break your hearts ever again

7) You would have so turned around a 15-point loss at home if only Rob Gronkowski and Aqib Talib wouldn't have gotten hurt, and since no other football team suffers injuries late in the year, you're bound for better luck next year

6) Given the, um, strength of your division, it's really not hard to see how you won't be back in this position again next year

5) Bernard Pollard is probably going to get fined for that hit on Welker

4) Coach Belichick blew off CBS's Steve Tasker after the game, which is clearly what ex-Bills deserve

3) The widespread loud cheering from Raven Fan at the end of this game came after many people had switched off the game

2) Hockey exists again

1) You've all learned a valuable lesson about the wisdom of putting up retirement clock banners

Ravens - Patriots Takeaways

I Said, Ha Ha
> The winds were strong, which means that we heard about them for a really long time

> Baltimore won the toss and elected to do the intelligent thing

> This is Patriots QB Tom Brady's 7th AFC Championship game, which is just kind of nuts

> On 3rd and 2, Brady hit WR Wes Welker deep, but there's a reason why the Patriots aren't going to retain Welker, and the drive ended

> Baltimore called timeout rather than defend a 4th and 2 where backup QB Ryan Mallett shifted under center, which was a nice little moment of gamesmanship from Patriots HC Bill Belichick

> The Ravens went three and out with two runs and an incomplete, all of it basic stuff for RB Ray Rice

> You will be shocked to learn that these two teams aren't terribly fond of each other

> WR Brandon Lloyd held on despite a big hit from S Ed Reed for a conversion

> Either the wind is a big deal, Brady is hurt, or he just doesn't have much on the deep ball any more

> On 3rd and 2 from the Ravens 12, New England ran into the gut and got stuffed for a big third down stop, and limit the drive to a field goal

> The Ravens got only one first down on the subsequent drive as CB Aqib Talib owned WR Anquan Boldin on two plays, and that little time of possession while having the wind isn't very helpful

> Talib went to the locker room after that play, which will be the pule of contention for Patriot Fan for the rest of the year

> TE Aaron Hernandez converted a third down and got a bonus 15 from MLB/Media Geisha Ray Lewis for a blow to the head

> On 3rd and 9 from the Ravens 35, Lloyd couldn't corral a slant and the Patriots punted

> RB Bernard Pierce danced his way to a first and continued to look better than Rice as just a pure runner

> Baltimore's offense really did not do much with the first quarter wind

> TE Ed Dickson dropped a first down ball, and then TE Dennis Pitta couldn't track down a fly, which isn't saying much for the Raven pass catchers so far

> Welker nearly broke a big punt return, which is becoming something of a trend against Baltimore

> Brady lawyered his way out of an intentional grounding call

> The Patriots missed repeatedly on third and 2 in the first quarter

> CB Kerry Williams nearly defensed a pass into a crazy ricochet INT, but DT Paul Krueger couldn't bring it in

> The Ravens started to make hay with short passes to the RBs and TEs

> Flacco to WR Torrey Smith was the first completion to a WR and put the Ravens in the red zone

> Flacco looked a lot more comfortable throwing into the wind than with

> The Ravens OL, on run blocking, started to look for blood, which made a first down fade route to Pitta a really odd call

> Rice broke two tackles to score, then faked a throw into the stand to further infuriate Patriot Fan

> Baltimore gave New England a gift 15 for responding to cheap shottery

> Welker broke a big play on a WR screen where Brady read the defense perfectly

> Welker's touchdown caused the Raven secondary to resort to unseemly in-fighting, but I'm not sure how the S is suppose to get to the sideline from the middle of the field on a quick out

> LB Rob Ninkovich sacked Flacco to end a three and out and give the Patriots a continued advantage in field position

> Brady got tackled by a ref, who might have more footspeed now anyway

> The Patriots converted a fourth and one on a direct snap to RB Danny Woodhead, which was a three point play

> On 3rd and 10, Brady rolled away from pressure to convert for 17 to Hernandez as the defense started to noticeably sag

> Brady, very uncharacteristically, failed to throw a ball away or call a timeout before the 4-second mark, costing his team a shot at a touchdown at the end of the half

> Gostkowski's figgie made it 13-7 at the half, with Baltimore getting the kick to start the second half

> Boldin converted a third and 9 when the CB fell down, which avoided an opening three and out

> When everyone in the building knows that your first down play is a run by Rice, that's kind of easy to defend

> Flacco missed the world on 3rd and 12 to force a punt, and was lucky it wasn't picked

> S Bernard Pollard got called for an extra 15 after hitting Welker on a deep slant, mostly because Welker is small

> Welker dropped a first down throw at a place in the field that forced a short punt

> Reed was nailed after a fair catch for no flag or media notice, just to assure Raven Fan that the refs are in the bag for New England

> Rice for 15 on a frantic middle screen showed the greatness of the player

> You can hit the receiver in the head without penalty if you are a Patriot, and the receiver is a big white TE

> TE Dennis Pitta scored a play after taking a brutal hit, with an open elbow wound, and immediately silenced the crowd with his utter bad-assedness

> Pitta's disgusted touchdown celebration, where he just dropped the ball at the ref who didn't make the call on the previous play and stomped off, was all kinds of awesome

> A hold wiped out a third down conversion and led to a 3-and-out for New England, which was more than a little unexpected

> The 23-yard in to Smith for a first down was a big damned deal

> New England started going for run blitzes, which as we know from a lifetime of Eagle Football, is high risk behavior

> On 3rd and 2 and just outside of field goal range, the give was to Pierce, who broke it outside for 11 and the first

> Boldin's touchdown to start the fourth quarter was downright manly, and I appreciated his pointing at the prone defender and laughing at the end of the play

> New England kept going conservative on short yardage downs, which reminded me a lot of John Fox last week -- and no, that's not a good thing

> Ridley was absolutely destroyed by Pollard before a concussion-aided fumble for the first turnover of the game

> Flacco trucked for 14 and a red zone possession

> Boldin for another touchdown was just crazy manly, put the string of unanswered points at 21, and is going to do much to aid the smooth flow of traffic out of Gilette Stadium

> Up 15 with 12 minutes left, the Raven defense went into Prevent And Inflict Pain Mode

> Vereen had a big drop on a 2nd and 4, leading to miss on 3rd and 4, and a potentially game-ending 4th and 4

> On the had to have it play, Brady couldn't run for four yards and a first, and instead opted for an awkward cross-body incomplete

> Not to cast aspersions, but that play looked a lot more like self-preservation than competitiveness from the aging Dreamboat

> Why the Ravens are throwing the ball, up 15 with clock to burn, I will never know

> Why the Ravens are not covering Welker deep, I'll never know...

> The face that Brady made after the ensuing tipped ball INT was last seen on the face of a small child who just learned the truth about Santa, and made me far too happy for a losing bet

> This time, the Ravens actually took time off the clock and ran it, which worked

> Belichick didn't seem very interested in using his timeouts late in this one, which was nice, in that it gave Patriot Fan even less time to get out

> Raven Fan was a lot louder than Patriot Fan at the end of this one

> I appreciated the icing INT in the end zone from CB Kerry Williams, just to underscore how much the Ravens owned Brady today

> The Patriots are now 67-1 at home under Brady when leading at home at the half, which was really a bad time to take the one

> Both road teams won today, and you can be forgiven for being sick of the Harbaugh Family storylines already

> The better team won, by a lot, and once again, I regret not realizing just how awful the AFC East is, to make the Patriots a perennial playoff favorite

> Lewis mooned the media in deference to God

> I'm going to spend the next two weeks enjoying Patriot Fan's bitter, bitter tears, and so should you

> Idiotic storylines aside, it should be a good Super Bowl

Top 10 NFL Conference Championship Ad Questions

Go Jump On A Sofa
10) If you drive a Lexus, are you constantly tapping small controls to make it, you know, work?

9) Does signing up for Allstate insurance give women the voice of a black character actor?

8) How is the new Tom Cruise movie called "Oblivion" about anything other than his career?

7) If I drink Miller, will I get so drunk that I purchase really fruity socks, then race with them on filthy city streets?

6) Did Papa John's book Peyton Manning for their Super Bowl promotion because they knew he'd be free?

5) Is Mercedes Benz going to unleash Satanic hell at the Super Bowl, and if so, how will we know the difference from their ordinary operations?

4) Can we shoot Dominos's guys into the stratosphere without all of that troublesome safety equipment?

3) If I buy a Volkswagon Pasat, does that mean my children won't have access to television or the Internet, and can't see how professionals throw a baseball?

2) Does Best Buy intentionally hire fey big screen TV installers?

1) Why is the E*Trade baby and friend just standing by and allowing for some freakish toddler to molest newborns, and how, exactly, does this sell a stock trading service?

Niners - Falcons Takeaways



> Fox's impact on Erin Andrews' wardrobe, in that she wore skin-tight flesh colored pants that the camera panned up on, was somewhat predictable

> The Niners won the toss and elected to defer, which is always the right move to make against a loud home crowd

> On the first long third down of the day, WR Roddy White bailed out QB Matt Ryan on a high ball for the first

> The Falcons' ground game isn't looking all that relevant early, or ever

> WR Julio Jones could not have been more open, and announcer Joe Buck could not have been more excited, for the first touchdown of the day

> If you are starting to wonder if this is the year where defensive secondary breakdowns are just rife, well, um, yes

> Kickoffs in dome games just seem kind of pointless

> An opening three and out from the Niner offense didn't speak well to this game's future drama

> P Andy Lee got 60 yards of net on his punt, which is impressive even for indoors

> The Falcon offensive line kept Ryan absolutely clean early, which is all kinds of important, really

> Jones destroyed a security guard that wasn't watching the game, which stopped the game for some reason

> Ryan to Jones on third and 10 was another very bad moment for S DeShaun Gholston, and the fastest 100 yards you've ever seen for a WR

> The Niners got lucky that Ryan misread the coverage to finally get off the field on third and four in the red zone

> KR LaMichael James nearly made kickoffs relevant again, but the ground clearly caused the fumble

> The guy wearing QB Colin Kaepernick's jersey in the first quarter of this one doesn't look much like the guy who tortured Green Bay

> At the end of the first quarter, this game was an absolute runaway

> Ryan to Jones for the second Falcons TD of the day was a great catch by the WR, and gave me hope that a lot of laundry was going to get done

> The refs were so desperate for this to stay a game, they gave the Niners their initial first down with a very shaky spot, with the Niners seemingly not noticing it and calling a short yardage run anyway

> RB Frank Gore looks fairly spry for a workhorse back on the downside of his career

> Kaepernick's delay of game on third and 2 from the Falcons 37 was not exactly a confidence builder

> TE Vernon Davis for 27 reminds the world that the Falcons aren't always that great at tackling

> James for the TD from 17 shows the benefit of read-option, as well as raw speed

> The Niner defense actually forced a punt in the second quarter, further enhancing the chance for actual drama

> P Matt Bosher was very lucky to not have his first punt blocked

> Kaepernick seems incapable of using less than all of the play clock

> Davis on S Thomas Daiku worked hard for the Niners

> Kaepernick finally ran it with 3:30 left in the first half, and got a big first down from it

> Davis for another 27 was noteworthy from the TE's obviously disappointed body language over not scoring... so Kaepernick fed him again for the subsequent 4 yard touchdown pass

> The only problem for the Niners in that drive was that it left too much time on the clock before the end of the first half

> Both teams had all of their timeouts for use at the end of the first half, because both teams are not coached by Andy Reid

> I'm told that the Niners have a pass rush, but you wouldn't know if from this first half

> Michael Strahan loves him some Carly Rae Jepsen, which makes sense, since Michael Strahan is a big girl

> Ryan to Gonzalez for the third Falcons score of the first half took away any worries that this game wasn't going to hit the over

> James killed any idea of the Niners trying to do something creative at the end of the half with a bad runback

> If you need a CB to play off the WR and give up 22 yard outs, this was the game for you

> This isn't exactly news, but damn, Kaerpnick's got a gun

> If WR Randy Moss is relevant, you don't have a very good secondary

> Gore's touchdown was the second rushing score of the day where the Falcons seemed more interested in staring at the QB than stopping the guy with the ball

> Ryan took a timeout rather than a delay of game penalty that would have given him a 2nd and 13... which is one of those common mistakes that no one calls the QB on any more; the next play went for 14 to Gonzalez and made the timeout effectively meaningless

> The Niners actually got a zero yard sack, which might have been the first time Ryan's been touched all day

> On the next play, Ryan made the big INT mistake that can change things in a big damned hurry

> Davis is just open by a ton on every throw

> WR Chad Hall and K David Akers combined to keep the Niners from going ahead or tying this game, which says much about the wisdom of hiring ex-Eagles

> Akers wound up costing me a gambling win, because he's just evil like that

> Turner going out with an injury helped the Falcons

> Jones made a catch despite a huge hit to convert a 3rd and 10, and the Falcons just aren't dropping anything today, mostly because Ryan is only going to his best targets

> The second and 9 clear air turbulence fumble by Ryan is the second inexcusable thing he's done today, but both in this quarter

> Falcons DE Cliff Matthews took a really dumb 15 yarder to prolong the subsequent Niner drive, which is another inexcusable act by the home team

> The deep cross to Crabtree to give the Niners first and goal was just pretty, really

> Crabtree at the goal line with a fumble is big effort by the WR, but a better play by CB Dunta Robinson, and yet another game changer

> The Niner defense got a three and out after the fumble to keep up the pressure

> Bosher is no great shakes, and the return by PR Ted Ginn Jr. gave the Niners the ball right back with good field position

> When the Niners go to the big short yardage package, it actually works

> Gore's second touchdown of the day looked an awful lot like his first, and gave the Niners their first lead of the game

> Between Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, I don't envy the defenses in the NFC West for the next 5 to 10 years

> On 3rd and 4 from the 37 with 6 minutes left, Ryan took a big hit and connected with Jones anyway for the conversion

> On 3rd and 2 from midfield with 5 minutes left, Ryan found WR Harry Douglass for a huge conversion that withstood a replay challenge and Harbaugh Freakout

> LB Ahmad Brooks forced an elimination play by knocking down a 3rd and 4 pass

> The Niners got the mother of all get even calls on the lack of DPI with 1:09 on a pass to White, though it's within the 5-yard chuck zone

> San Fran took an inexplicable delay of game with 1:04 left and 2nd and 7 deep in their own zone

> Lee made an excellent punt to the sidelines with 13 seconds left under full pressure

> Ryan was too injured to throw deep, and the Niners tackled Jones to end the game and go to the Super Bowl

> Despite the terrible defensive first half, the right team won this game

> There might be a decent Super Bowl after all, especially if the Niner defense shows up for both halves

Top 10 reasons why the Cardinals hired Todd Bowles

We Will Miss Him... Not At All
10) As the Kevin Kolb trade shows, Arizona enjoys taking on Eagle flameouts

9) Juan Castillo was not available, in that he doesn't want to give up that night manager job at Appleby's

8) Didn't want to outshine the Bruce Arians hiring with someone, you know, exciting

7) For some reason, the world just can't hire coaches from a 4-12 debacle fast enough

6) He's promised to not bring Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with him

5) Footage of the second half of the 2012 season not available in Arizona

4) This will make the 8th NFL franchise that has employed him as a coach or player, so it's pretty obvious that he interviews well

3) Convinced that so long as he stays away from Jim Washburn, all will be well

2) Believed him when he said that he had saved up all of the sacks and takeaways that his team didn't get in 2012 for the 2013 job

1) Photographs, technique and the ability to debase himself enough to work for the Bidwell Family

Friday, January 18, 2013

NFL Conference Championship Picks: One More Day Of Methadone

Making Shaky Sexy
First, let's get this out of the way: there are just three football games left in this season, and two of them will feature the New England Patriots. Every year, people write and react to this like it was some kind of shocking development, rather than the inevitable and absolutely necessary denouement to the constant car crash that is NFL football. The NFL is already at least one month (that month would be pre-season) too long, and the only real way to satisfy the market's insatiable lust for the stuff would be to start a truly supported and feasible spring league... but that's not going to happen, at least not in the next ten years, because the thing is already more or less spewing money out of every orifice.

So this Sunday really is the last day of actual football, given that the Super Bowl is more of a national holiday for advertising than a game. And the way you should look at that is with relief. For the next six months, you get your Sundays back to do with as you will. If you spend them flipping around cable channels and settling for indentured servant basketball, the eternal abusive consumer relationship that is pro hockey, or the relatively palatable (at least to me) dish that is pro hoop... well, that's all your own choice and not nearly so hard as getting away from the methadone drip that is the NFL.

But for now, we've got this last day. Might as well enjoy it. And maybe make some money.

And with that... on to the picks!

SAN FRANCISCO at Atlanta (+4)

How they got here: Atlanta picked up a late field goal after blowing a 20 point lead at home to the Seahawks, then dodged a breathtaking kickoff failure to finally stake the Seahawks at the buzzer. San Francisco shook off an early TAInt to throttle the Packers at home.

The strengths: The Niner running game, led by QB Colin Kaepernick, might be changing the way the NFL views offense. WR Michael Crabtree moves the sticks, RB Frank Gore leads a varied corps that kills the clock, and P Andy Lee might be the NFL's best. The defense gets to the QB and hits, and isn't susceptible to substitution issues. The Falcons have the best WR tandem in the game, a top five TE in the remarkable Tony Gonzalez, a huge dome field advantage and the confidence that comes from having all of the answers this year in the fourth quarter.

The weaknesses: Kaepernick can have accuracy issues, and the Niner WRs, outside of Crabtree, are nothing special. K David Akers has been shaky all year. The Niner defense is far too prone to big plays for a supposedly elite unit, and LB Patrick Willis, in particular, might be living off his accolades. For the Falcons, RB Michael Turner has been only intermittently effective, and QB Matt Ryan has way too many picks for a guy whose game feels more like a game manager than a game breaker. Despite being the #1 seed, no one is scared of them.

The pick: The contrarian in me wants to take Atlanta again, since it worked out last week. They've got home field, a QB and TE that have to be breathing this week like the weight of the world is off their shoulders (since they both finally have playoff wins), the skill players on offense to get it done and a suspiciously large dog number for a home team with a lot of fourth quarter mojo.

But when you look at all 22 starters, the Niners might be better at 15 positions. Atlanta is lucky to be here, while San Francisco absolutely steamrollered their way here. They have a coach that's shown himself to be much less likely to screw himself into the floorboards when the pressure is on, and a far more explosive running game. I hate giving this many points on the road, and am totally prepared to lose this bet by a point. But Ryan's turned it over too many times, and Kaepernick has been too good against similar defenses, to think that there is going to be an upset of the spread line here. The best team in the NFC is going to go to the Super Bowl.

Niners 31, Falcons 24

Baltimore at NEW ENGLAND (-8.5)


How they got here: Baltimore survived 5+ quarters of fight, error and will to oust the #1 seed Broncos. New England did a slow steady slog through the game but overmatched Texans at home.

The strengths: The Patriots turn defense into a theoretical exercise fairly routinely, with QB Tom Brady taking advantage of every opportunity presented via tempo, scheme or talent. As a consequence of this, games with the Patriots are a race for the opposition to escape, before the defense is turned into hamburger. HC Bill Belichick is the best of his generation by a wide margin. WR Wes Welker isn't quite the possession weapon that he was in past years, but he still breaks backs routinely. The RB corps of Stephen Ridley and Shane Vereen is, secretly, the best the team has had since the Corey Dillon days of being able to close a game purely on the ground. The secondary is vastly improved since the addition of cornerback Aqib Talib.

The Ravens have ridden a wave of emotion, led by two all-time greats in LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed, to own the big moments in their first two playoff games. RB Ray Rice is the best back in this game, and has ended the Patriots in the playoffs before. Back up RB Bernard Pierce might be better between the tackles than Rice right now. WR Anquan Boldin has won his matchups with ferocious hand strength, and WR Torrey Smith has been the playoff's best deep threat. QB Joe Flacco doesn't look pretty, but the playoff numbers have been outstanding, particularly in controlling turnovers. K Justin Tucker has been aces, and P Sam Koch has a history of nice playoff moments. Unlike many of the Patriots opponents, they enter this game without fear, and a history of success.

The weaknesses: New England isn't the same offense without lead TE Rob Gronkowski; Hernandez is a match-up problem, but goes down on first contact way too often this year and does not get high YAC. The home crowd might be the most spoiled in the history of professional football, and rarely swing plays in their favor. As in past years, the Patriots' margin of victory in regular season games, based on their cupcake division, frequently leads to ugly exposures when faced with a physical opponent. Baltimore wouldn't be here without exceptional generosity from the Denver prevent defense, and doesn't get pressure on the QB if DT Paul Krueger is neutralized. They looked out of gas for big portions of the game last week, and this game isn't going to do them any favors when it comes to tempo. Flacco's lack of INTs has been more luck than skill.

The pick: I'd love for New England to lose this game. I'd gladly put up with another week of Lewis getting more mic time than a late night infomercial host, the world to grotesquely overrate Flacco, and for Rice to finally get his due as the semi-secret best overall RB in the game.

But at some point, this defense is going to form right angles in an attempt to get oxygen back into their depleted lungs. They are going to look up at the scoreboard and see a number in the 40s. And their offense isn't going to be able to match it.

Patriots 41, Ravens 27

Last week: 2-2

Season to date: 124-131-4

Career: 669-660-30


 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What To Expect: Chip Kelly Comes To Philadelphia

I Coach The Tarmac
Where to begin? So much to dig into here, and so few electrons to spend on it. List time!  

> Mike Vick will restructure or leave. But the first option is now actually possible.

There is no scheme that can make Vick less injury-prone or get him back to the pre-age 30 wheels that would have made him downright fascinating in this offense. It's also an overstatement to think that pure wheels are the only criteria for a Kelly QB; it's much more along the ability to make good decisions on the read option, and to master the offense to drive at a white-hot tempo. Personally, I'd worry about Vick putting the ball on the ground a ton with a lot of flips and a half dozen planned runs every game, but the tempo thing might be the bigger killer.

The problem is that, even in the relatively few instances of this offense running well with Vick at the helm, they aren't getting in a ton of snaps. While the bulk of that problem lies at the feet of Andy Reid, the team did get to the line, snapped the ball, and used far fewer timeouts under Nick Foles. There's also the fact that Foles is young and probably much more coachable at this point than Vick.

Finally, this: I still think that some QB from the Oh Dear Lord pile of NFL teams will make Vick a starting offer, and that he'd probably make more money and give him more of a chance to end 2013 with his faculties unchanged, then staying here. The Jets, Chiefs, Cardinals or Bills await, Michael. Godspeed. (By the way, this also means that a conceivable starting QB has to be brought in to compete for the gig. Wheels and familiarity with the Oregon offense will be a plus, but I doubt that Kelly is just going to find a Dennis Dixon type and give him the keys without a tryout. That's all to the good, really: there's no way that Foles should just be given the job without a fight. But in all likelihood, the 2014 QB is not on the roster right now. Patience, people, patience.

> If the OL can get healthy, regardless of who is under center, they are going to love this era.

Ever wonder why defenses get tired, but offenses do not? It's because all 11 guys on offense don't have to give maximum effort on every play. If you are the left tackle and the play is a run to the right, you fire off the ball and make contact, but you aren't busting everything to run across the field and make a tackle. So snapping the ball every few seconds really isn't that big of a deal... but it really is on defense, and that's even more true if the guy you are facing isn't a three-down player.

So if you can sustain drives at a high tempo, you wind up with a lot of happy offensive players (because more snaps means more touches for more skill guys, and that's how they get paid)... and even happier offensive linemen, who get to pick and choose their spots to pancake guys with their tongues hanging out. They also get to face a lot fewer esoteric stunts and blitzes, because the defense just doesn't have the pre-snap time to get them set up.

> Having said all of that... 2013 is going to be, at best, a transition year.

Four out of five offensive line starters are rehabbing major injuries. Maybe three or four defensive starters should be kept in their current positions. All of the available QBs on the roster are unfamiliar with this system. The cheap young guy doesn't have the wheels, and the quick older guy isn't as quick as he used to be, and can't stay healthy. The second RB is the worst fumble risk in the NFL, and second RB in a Kelly offense is going to matter. The frontline WRs aren't great at blocking or staying healthy, and the special teams are among the worst in football. This team would be the most improved unit in the NFL next year and still go 8-8.

I'd like to say that Eagle Fan is going to see the shine under the mess next year and give the new guy some time. I'd also like them to remember that Reid's first year involved copious amounts of Doug Pederson, who was like having a coach on the field -- in that he had a dramatic and glaring lack of athletic ability. Kelly is going to miss on some decisions, and the transition to the new systems are going to take time. Anyone who thinks they are going to the playoffs in 2013... well, I'd like to sell you something. And I'm a Kelly fan.

> I can't wait for the transition year.

Here's what another year of playoff-free football should buy. A rapid and ruthless winnowing out of everyone on the roster who doesn't have a motor *and* endurance. An end to the ineffective hockey line shift work of rotating defensive linemen, since these guys are going to have to practice against the speed game every day. A better secondary, since the focus will be on speed/speed/speed, instead of the name brand physicality that hasn't worked out for the past couple of years. (If Kelly has any use for Nnamdi Asomugha, I'll be surprised. And disappointed.)

More inventive play-calling, because after 14 years of the old guy, we couldn't get less. More effective red zone work, since the defense is going to be much more likely to be worn down when the offense gets there. And maybe even, heaven help us, getting back to the blessed land of being a team that others don't want to play for any number of reasons. A season where you don't expect to see anything but progress and a plan, and when you get exactly that. (I can tell you from experience, it's the most fun kind of year to be a fan.)

So for all of my friends and fellow fans who want to pine for the defense-first coach that wasn't hired, or how college coaches never work out (um, that's outdated, and another post entirely), or how we're hosed because neither disposable QB on the roster is a match for a perceived system...

Relax. Smile. And trust in the fact -- fact, I tell you -- that today was not a good day for the rest of the NFC East. And that the franchise got a guy who just might make a big difference over the years.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Top 10 takeaways from Manti Te'o Fake Dead Girlfriend Gate

If only she, um, ever existed
Golf clap, Deadspin...

10) This is an absolutely legendary way to blow your first round draft pick status

9) In other news, 20 different public figures quietly admitted to reprehensible crimes while your attention was here

8) Notre Dame is very prone to biting on play action

7) Te'o would have been much better off to just admit that he's gay, especially from an endorsement standpoint

6) Oprah Winfrey's cultural relevance really didn't last that long after all

5) If this doesn't lead every late night monologue tonight, I'm totally going on a fake girlfriend killing rampage

4) We clearly need to put the girl's face on the $1 trillion dollar coin, out of respect

3) Te'o's career to agree to an autopsy to see if repetitive head trauma caused it to become such a bizarre, over the top liar

2) This development makes the purchase of merchandise honoring Notre Dame's perfect regular season even more valid for the Fightin' Irish fan on your list

1) I am shocked, shocked that sordid lies were exposed to sully the good names of Catholic institutions and big money college football

Chip Kelly Is The Eagles Head Coach

I'd write more about this right now, but I'm too busy dancing around the room and actually feeling good about the laundry. More later. (Overnight.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Top 10 developments if/when the Eagles hire Gus Bradley



10) Real and counterfeit "Do Your Job!" t-shirts make immediate appearance in local sporting goods stores and alleys

9) Local fans who puled for his hiring start to establish alibis for inevitable betrayal

8) Intolerable week and a half of indecision, where we didn't know who would be the coach of an out of work team, finally ends

7) Area headline writers develop pool of words with the letter G-U-S in a headline-ready term

6) Fans dare to dream that any of the team's defensive backs can still be coached up to tolerable

5) Truly ridiculous number of bar know-it-alls begin researching Bradley's South Dakota small college past for trivia nuggets

4) Jeffrey Lurie drinks to forget that several different college coaches told him that his wonderful wonderful franchise wasn't as good as just staying put

3) Team to change gears to spend the next two weeks getting rejected by offensive coordinator candidates

2) Alabama CB Dee Milliner at pick four draft mocks to start looking a lot more realistic

1) Fans who spent the last 14 years bitching about having an offense-first coach to go back to older and more comfortable complaints

Top 10 takeaways from the Lance Armstrong Oprah Interview

A bit on the nose
10) Armstrong is prepared to name names, which, given that these other people were employed in cycling, really is kind of impressive

9) The interview will run on Thursday after happening today, because it takes that many hours to cut together non-lies

8) After this, no one will ever be able to wear neoprene bracelets in a non-ironic way again

7) The real loser in this fall from grace is testicular cancer, which is definitely going to lose its status as an in vogue cancer

6) As a condition of the interview, Armstrong had to give performance enhancing drugs to everyone in the studio audience

5) Several Livestrong staff members broke down in tears from the news, in that they were the last people in America who still believed in Armstrong

4) Since Armstrong cheated to annoy and defraud the French and cycling fans, it can be argued that this was a victimless crime

3) Oprah only agreed to do the interview if Armstrong helped her to ruthlessly compete against her cable television rivals

2) As part of the confession, Armstrong is going to pay back the U.S. Postal Service, which would be the first revenue gain that organization will see since 2009

1) This allows, for one last brief and shining moment, Armstrong and Winfrey to both regain cultural relevance

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Texans - Patriots Takeaways

What every Patriots game feels like
> KR Danieal Manning got caught from behind on what should have been an opening score, but had to settle for 94 yards instead

> TE James Casey dropped a TD pass on second and 7 from the 10, leading to a 3-and-out figgie

> QB Matt Schaub missed a wide open WR Andre Johnson for a score that might have changed things, I guess

> Shayne Graham connected from 27 to give Houston an early 3-0 lead

> New England went three and out on their first possession, just to make the crowd antsy

> P Zoltan Meskow ripped it 61 yards to become the first truly good punter in Patriot postseason history

> Schaub threw for three straight first downs as Houston played into the hands of not getting the running game going

> QB Tom Brady hit TE Aaron Hernandez for two straight chippies and a first

> Brady missed TE Rob Gronkowski on a sideline fly route that was just out of bounds, and another possible Gronk injury

> WR Wes Welker moved the chains with a great catch in painful traffic

> DE JJ Watt ate Brady for a rollout half sack that was good fun

> RB Arian Foster got 2 yards while making four guys miss, because, well, he's pretty good

> CB Aqib Talib had a WR screen so diagnosed, it was nearly a TAInt

> Foster dropped a third down throw that wasn't quite on the mark, but still

> RB Stephen Ridley got loose for a solid gain and the inevitable softening of the Texans defense, then did the same on a catch

> RB Shane Vereen might be one of the Patriots' better WRs

> Brady to Hernandez got it to the 1 and set up the inevitable quick hand off to Vereen score

> At the 13.5 minutes into the game, New England woke up and took the lead

> Houston ended the first quarter by driving to midfield, which was nice for those of us who wanted to think this might still be a game

> You will forgive Patriot Fan for not seeming too into this game, since it wasn't for the Super Bowl or anything

> This Welker fellow seems effective, especially when he's turning 3rd and 8 into a 30 yard backbreaker

> WR Brandon Lloyd continued the required Imported Name WR Fail Year with an unsportsmanlike penalty that led to a figgie, rather than a touchdown

> Houston got a touchdown the only way they know how -- with big runs by Foster coming after a nice return, since Schaub seems allergic to touchdown passes now

> The Texans did this thing where they saved all of their timeouts, then used them to drive the ball just before the half, that as an Eagles fan, I was pretty sure wasn't possible

> Graham then connected from 55 to make things a tad more interesting, especially for the spread

> It's a little unreal that a half with 250+ yards of offense seems like relative containment

> So long as Houston is going to run the ball OK, not allow any sacks or turnovers, and not commit many penalties, and New England seems bored. they can stick around, I guess

> On the first drive of the third quarter, Hernandez broke a 40-yarder, which is to say, he caught a 5 yard pass and a guy fell down

> Ridley's touchdown capped a 3:30 drive that put the spread back in play

> It must be nice to root for a team that doesn't crap the bed in the red zone

> Daniels' back-breaking fumble was overruled, and is yet another of those shaky calls that are not reviewable

> On the plus side, we did get to hear Patriot Fan feel bad for up to 30 seconds

> Schaub scrambled to safety on a third down, then tossed it away on pressure anyway

> Welker might not want to field punts on the hop anymore, since it's pretty obvious that the team needs him for games that are more competitive than this one

> Houston got a three and out, which seems to be the only way they get off the field

> Schaub to Foster for a screen at the goal line was 28 yards of easy, where the defense got greedy for a safety

> Schaub lost a ball on a ridiculous derp moment after pressure for a 10-yard sack

> Johnson erased the mistake by catching a dying quail for 20 and a first

> Not saying this was without drama, but I was seeing point spreads for next week's game against the Ravens in the third quarter

> Foster made a great effort to fight through Talib for a yard and a first on fourth and one

> Belichick keeps his challenge flag in his sock, which means it probably smells like other men's wives

> I love when announcers congratulate coaches for challenges that don't work

> The Texans are really good at stretching for first downs

> On fourth and one from their own 33, Houston decided to go deep, which missed by a mile and ended this game

> Vereen's third touchdown of the game happened on the next play, with Brady hitting him on a perfect fly

> Manning broke another big kickoff return, but didn't take it to the house, so oh well

> Houston was down 25 with 12:30 left when they went to the hurry up and lose

> On fourth and short this time, Houston actually used Foster, which was a better idea

> Schaub to WR Devier Posey needed the CBS Hyper Zoom to score a TD, but hey, when that's your first through the air in 19 quarters, you take it

> Houston got a three and out just to torture spread betters

> Kubiak and Schaub's idea of a hurry up offense is breaking the huddle earlier and middle of the field checkdowns

> Patriot Fan gets really upset when obvious helmet to helmet flags are called against their team

> The scary thing about this game is that Houston's defense played fairly well for much of it, and still gave up an ungodly number of points

> Schaub's idea of a free play is to try and run for it so the clock can keep running

> The WR screen to Johnson from an empty backfield seemed all kinds of pointless

> Schaub to Foster for a score made spread betters very, very antsy, and Johnson's manly rip away from Talib for the 2-pointer was good and steamy

> Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich corralled a golden opportunity onside kick to end all drama to people who were actually watching the game for the game, rather than the spread

> On third and 2, Houston was called for a ridiculous defensive holding call, rather than get a stop

> If you need a bunch of completions to pad your stats and eat the clock, Houston is your team

> Phil Simms became the second color analyst of the day to show that he either does not know the score, or can not do math

> I'm not saying this game was never in doubt, but if you decided to nap instead of watching it, you won

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