Wednesday, December 31, 2014

If you're not busy from 4-7, watch USA vs. Canada in the World Juniors

It's New Year's Eve and you're probably busy buying liquor, making resolutions, and watching college football, but if you have some free time between 4 in the afternoon and 7 at night, then put on NHL Network and watch Team USA play Team Canada in the World Juniors.

Every player on Team Canada has been drafted by an NHL team, except for the 2 who aren't yet old enough to be drafted. That's how good they are.

How often do we in the US see our sports teams playing the role of David against Goliath? How often are we the plucky underdogs, fighting against all the odds, against a mighty opponent who seems almost unbeatable? Sure, we're massive underdogs in soccer. But in that sport we don't have much of a chance to win. We struggle with Ghana and Mexico. Beating giants like Germany and Spain and Brazil is nearly impossible. But in hockey, we're the underdogs, but we still have a legit chance. We can actually beat Canada.

This is a group stage game. Both Team USA and Team Canada have clinched advancement into the elimination rounds of the 2015 World Juniors. So what's on the line is pride. Two top hockey rivals fighting for pride, holding back nothing because there's nothing to lose. That's a recipe for high quality sports entertainment.

The winner of this game wins Group A and gets a top seed in the quarterfinals. The loser finishes second.

More importantly, the winner will have beaten the loser. In this rivalry, that's serious motivation.

So, if you have some free time from 4 to 7, turn to NHL Network and watch a bunch of young Americans play against a bunch of young Canadians in front of a bunch of older drunk Canadian fans.

If you like hockey, this is as pure and as competitive and as spirited as it gets. No fights, no contracts, no holding back, just a bunch of kids playing for national pride on an international stage.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Patriots' road to the Super Bowl


Super Bowl 49. Super Bowl XLIX. Super Bowl X-licks. What does the road to the Super Bowl look like for the New England Patriots?

Divisional Round
vs. IND or CIN or BAL
If Baltimore beats the Steelers, the Patriots will host the 6th seeded Ravens no matter what happens in the other AFC Wild Card game. However, I strongly think Pittsburgh will win that game, so then the Pats would face the winner of the Bengals-Colts game. To be blunt, neither of those teams scare me. They both feature talented players, but they're not tough teams. The Patriots have thoroughly dismantled both of them this season and I'd expect the Pats to do the same thing in the Divisional Round. So it's on to the AFC Championship.

AFC Championship
vs. DEN or PIT
Again, this is based on the premise that the Steelers will beat the Ravens. Denver vs. Pittsburgh is a tough game to predict. The Broncos have talent, but have looked stale the past few weeks. The Steelers have flaws, but are a hot team. Pittsburgh's secondary isn't very good, so I'm leaning toward the Broncos to win.

The Patriots would have an edge against either team. The Pats are tougher than the Broncos, they have pass-rushers who can get to Manning, they have DBs who can pick him off. Denver's only hope would be for Ward to injure Gronk and Welker to take out Revis.

Pittsburgh would be a more difficult matchup. However, the Pats offense should be good enough to take advantage of Pittsburgh's DBs. Unless Josh McDaniels gets too cute. The Steelers were 27th in passing defense, so Josh "that's just what they'll be expecting us to do" McDaniels, might try to pound the ball on the ground (Pittsburgh was 6th in rushing defense).



The Patriots should beat Denver unless there are injuries, and should beat Pittsburgh unless they get too clever.

Super Bowl
vs. SEA or GB or DAL or CAR or ARI or DET
Carolina can't win 3 playoff games. Arizona can't make the Super Bowl without a quarterback. Detroit doesn't have the makeup for a deep playoff run. So that leaves us with the Seahawks, Packers, and Cowboys, with the Seahawks being the most likely winner of the NFC.

The Seahawks would also be the toughest matchup for the Patriots. They're red hot, they have playmakers on both sides of the ball, they don't make massive mistakes, they play with extremely high confidence but don't play outside of themselves. They also have the best passing defense in the NFL and the 3rd best rushing defense.

For the Patriots to beat Seattle, they'll have to win it on defense against Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. Seattle was 27th in passing, averaging only 203 yards per game in the air. They were #1 in the NFL in rushing with over 172 yards per game. If the Pats can contain the run, manage a few field goals, make a play on special teams, make a big play downfield (which the Pats have struggled to do all season), then they're Super Bowl champions. Just a handful of big plays would decide a Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl. It would be an epic game.

There are more ways to beat the Cowboys and Packers. The Patriots almost beat Green Bay in Green Bay despite a poor first half and despite some cheese-friendly officiating in the second half. Don't get me wrong I respect the Packers, there are just more ways to beat them than there are ways to beat the Seahawks.

The Cowboys are also beatable. Give them credit for going 8-0 on the road, in a year where some of the best teams in the NFL went 4-4 away from home. But until Romo and the Cowboys can win when there's pressure, I don't fear them. Maybe if they win a couple of playoff games and get to the Super Bowl, they will have garnered my respect. Until then, I will continue to see Tony Romo as a nervous holder bumbling a long-snap.


So there's the road. The Patriots beat the Bengals or Colts in the Divisional round. Then beat the Broncos or Steelers to win the AFC, so long as they don't get hurt or get smart. Then it's probably a tough, too-close-to-call battle against the Seahawks.

That Super Bowl will either be the confirmation of the beginning of the Seahawks dynasty, or an exclamation point on the Patriots' dynasty. If Super Bowl 49 is Seahawks vs. Patriots, we will hear the word "dynasty" at least 300,000 times in the 2 weeks leading up to the game.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Peyton Manning gives Patriots an early Christmas present


The Patriots clinched the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs thanks to Peyton Manning whizzing it down his leg against the Bengals.

Look, Manning is a great QB, and a Hall of Famer, and he's led his team on countless game-winning drives in the 4th quarter and overtime. But when did he get a reputation as a clutch quarterback, let alone as one of the most clutch QBs of all time, as Mr. Gruden was claiming moments before Manning threw a wobbly, game-ending pick? Did I miss that ruling on Peyton Manning? Was there a meeting where that was decided?

"One of the greatest crunch time quarterbacks of all time," was how Jon Gruden described Manning before that pick 6. Really?

I honestly didn't know what would happen last night when Manning got the ball back, down by 2, needing only a field goal to beat the Bengals. It was an exciting, tense, dramatic situation. And it was raining. And in hindsight, all that drama, plus some imperfect weather, those are ingredients for Manning Choke Soup.

Manning just can't let himself get past things. He obsesses over the weather, and scoreboard operators, instead of moving on with his life, and focusing on what HE can do to do his job well.

I'd feel bad for him if he didn't look like a jagoff trying to host the world's biggest pity party whenever something bad happens. I'd feel bad for him if he didn't try to blame failures on everyone and everything but himself. I'd feel bad for him if he didn't call out scoreboard operators for trivial things.

Let's think back to that story with the scoreboard operator in Denver. Peyton didn't like that the jumbotron was inciting noise from the Denver fans while the team was on offense. That's fine. But can't Peyton address that issue in-house? Can't he go to John Fox or John Elway and say "In the future, we need the scoreboard operators to help keep the crowd quiet on offense?" He's Peyton Manning! Doesn't he have enough influence in that organization to take care of the issue without going to the media? Can't he even go directly to the staff who operate the scoreboard and talk to them?

Nope. Because Peyton had to make it known to the entire world why he wasn't amazing at the end of a game his team won. And it was the scoreboard operator's fault. He didn't talk about it to the media to stop it from happening in the future, he talked about to explain what he saw as his inadequate play.

Could you imagine another QB in the League doing that? Brady? Ryan? Rodgers? Roethlisberger? Wilson? Romo (maybe)?

Could you imagine another QB in the League doing that and receiving nearly no criticism?

People like Peyton. He's polite. He's punctual. He wears suits to press conferences. I'd probably like him if  not for my favorite team competing against him for supremacy in the AFC. But if I wanted to like him, I'd also have to ignore the choking, the blaming others for failure, the way he lets things like the weather get to him, the endless commercials, the boring clean-cut Johnny Unitas routine, the accent that mixes together the most annoying parts of southern and midwestern, and the face. The Manning Face. The ultimate accessory in disappointing body language. Manning Face demoralizes teammates, not opponents. It's judgmental, it's sad, it isn't inspiring, it isn't unifying.

Give me Tom Brady unleashing torrents of F-bombs over Manning-Face any day.

The people who like Peyton Manning make compromise after compromise to like him. And good for them. I'm not as patient or forgiving with people as Manning likers. Ultimately, all that really matters to is that Peyton's failure on Monday Night Football propelled the Patriots the #1 seed overall in the AFC.

Winter is coming, and the best place to be in Winter is at home.

Photo Credit:
Scott Radakovich and NFL Memes

Monday, December 22, 2014

What questions would you ask Marshawn Lynch?


Marshawn Lynch answered almost every question he was asked by media on Sunday with "Thanks for asking."



Earlier in the season he answered reporters by repeating "Yeah."



Not exactly the loquacious type, is he?

As a Bill Belichick fan, I am all for wasting the media's time. It's funny how some members of the media, when presented with guys like Lynch who make their job difficult, will work themselves into a moral outrage over what Lynch is doing. They'll say that Lynch is being disrespectful to the fans, or creating a distraction, or committing some other uproarious sports sin. Somehow not talking to the media, something quite trivial, becomes an egregious wrong.

Even funnier than that outrage is that the reporters still ask Lynch serious questions. "Can you describe the 79-yard run?" (by the way, that's media talk for "I can't come up with a good question, but can you do my job for me and give me a quote/soundbyte about a big play?") That's a stupendously awful question, asking a guy to describe something you saw for yourself. But I digress.

If I were a reporter, I would ask less serious questions. Such as...

"Do you believe in Santa, and if so, what do you want from him for Christmas?"

"Open gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?"

"Turkey, or ham?"

"Follow up, paired with what wine?"

"Is Elf on the Shelf too creepy for kids?"

"People have described you as a 'bad man,' does that mean you'll be getting coal for Christmas?"

"Favorite reindeer not named Rudolph?"

"Favorite classic kids Christmas special: Rudolph, Charlie Brown, or the Grinch?"

"Besides Bill Belichick, who in the NFL is most like the Grinch?"

"Besides Pete Carroll, who in the NFL is most like Rudolph?"

"How would you react to meeting an Irishman named Sean Mar?"

"Are you thinking about a career in media after your playing days are over?"

"Follow up: If you were interviewing yourself, what would you ask yourself?" (this is getting into Inside the Actors Studio territory so I'll wrap it up)

"What is your favorite one-word response to media questions?"

So, what questions should reporters ask Marshawn Lynch? What would you ask him?

Photo Credit:
Getty Images

Patriots win was ugly, had good personality


Ugly wins are wins. This was just about as ugly as you could get. No protection for Brady, who\ made a very poor decision and threw a pick. Inconsistent pressure on Geno Smith. Stupid penalties. No offensive movement for most of the game. Ugly, ugly, ugly. But a win, win, win.

And by winning the Patriots advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs, with a chance to clinch the #1 seed pending the Broncos/Bengals game.

As unattractive as this game was for the Patriots, some big plays gave it a good personality. The Pats rarely pressured Smith, but when they did they forced an interception, and sacked him twice on big third down plays when the Jets were threatening to score. One sack pushed the Jets back 10 yards before they attempted a 52-yard field goal. That field goal was tipped by Vince Wilfork, and the Patriots kept the lead.

Special teams once again factored into a victory, both the blocked field goal and a 39-yard punt return by Danny Amendola at the start of the 2nd quarter that eventually led to Gronkowski's touchdown.

Speaking of Amendola, this was by far his best performance of the year. Brady targeted him 11 times and he caught 8 passes, both team highs, for 63 yards. He had 8 catches in his previous 6 games combined, and only 68 yards. A third of his production this season came Sunday afternoon.

When he got hurt last year and Edelman stepped in and excelled, Amendola found himself without a role in this offense. That's not an excuse, because it speaks to a lack of versatility on Amendola's part, as well as his difficulty staying healthy. Nevertheless, it's unfair to just dismiss him as a complete failure, because if not for Edelman being a great slot receiver, Amendola would have been a good one. When charged with that task, he's done well.

One thing that this game made clear is that the running backs will only do as well as the offensive line does. All the clamoring for Jonas Gray to get carries, all the lobbying made by fans and pundits to run the ball more, it's based on how well the line has played, not how good the RBs are. Jonas Gray had a great game against Indy. But he did it behind an offensive line having an even better game. On Sunday the line struggled, and so did the RBs.

And that point also should make your o-line concerns more prominent. It's the biggest worry this team has going into the playoffs. Brady can't pass without protection. Blount, Gray, and Vereen can't run without holes. This team can't move the ball if the line can't win battles in the trenches.

Concerns aside, the Patriots won the bye, and can clinch home-field advantage if Cincinnati beats Denver Monday night. When the Patriots squeezed by the Jets 27-25 in October, and were about to play a bunch of games against tough teams, did you imagine that they'd be on the verge of clinching the #1 seed?

Hopefully Cincinnati gives us an early Christmas present.

Photo Credit:
Andrew Millis/NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Friday, December 19, 2014

Fond of Rondo? Well, he's gone-do


I wasn't a Rajon Rondo fan. I wasn't a Rajon Rondo hater. He was a polarizing figure in Boston sports, you either loved him and wanted him in green and white forever, or you hated him and wanted to pay his airfare to get him out of town. I was perhaps the only person in Greater Boston who stood in the middle. So I have some objectivity here, both in evaluating his place in Celtics history, and also appraising the deal that sent him to Dallas.

Everything you say about Rondo, good or bad, comes with a "but." He was a necessary part of a championship winning team. But he was the 4th most necessary part. He had tons of assists. But he couldn't shoot free throws. He played great in big games. But he was a goofball and sometimes a jerk off the court.

Just like Rondo was a necessary part of the 2008 team, but far from the most important part, this deal was a necessary deal, but not a very important one. Not yet, at least. The Celtics acquired chips they can repackage and exchange at the deadline. Which is why the deal was done now. Players need to be on the roster for 60 days to be traded at the deadline, which is 2 months away.

This deal has an emotional effect on Celtics fans because of the way people either loved or hated Rondo. But for the Celtics, the deal doesn't mean much. Rondo was likely gone at the end of the season anyway. And the players the Celtics got will probably be used as part of a trade at some point. It's up to Danny Ainge and the Celtics to make more good deals to rebuild this team. Good luck (luck is more necessary to building a contender than a good GM).

This trade might assist the Celtics in rebuilding, which would make this deal the biggest assist of Rondo's career. Then again, this is the NBA. Top tier talent finds its way to cities with nice weather, franchises owned by rappers, and teams where there are already great players. The weather here sucks, the team is owned by a group of rich white investors, and there are no are no great players here.

Rondo and the Celtics weren't going to win together. He needed better players around him to be great, but he didn't have the gravity to draw them here.

He was not good enough to be the most important part of a championship contending team. Few players are. At best he was good enough to be the 3rd most important part of a contending team. I think that's a reasonable assessment. He's not a guy who can carry a team. He's also not a guy who needs to be carried. He pulls his own weight, and he also makes very good players even better. That's why contending teams want him.

Rondo is a guy who can complete a team, not a guy to start one with.

His assists nicely sum up his Celtics career. He has loads of them, and that's a good thing. Rondo supporters, both fans and in the media, will ceaselessly remind you of his assists. But at times he also went out of his way to accumulate them. He somehow turned helpers into a selfish stat. That's Rajon Rondo in a nutshell.

Rondo's gone. It's an end of an era for the Celtics. An era of some good teams, not great ones. Rondo haters need to remember how good some of those teams were, and how Rondo helped the PGA (Pierce, Garnett, Allen) era end with at least one championship. But before Rondo lovers demand that the #9 be raised to the rafters, they need to remember that with Rondo at the helm, this team was good at best. And it was never going to be great.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Game of Thrones Christmas Carols


Like Game of Thrones? Sick of holiday music? Let's make Christmas songs more interesting by giving them a Game of Thrones twist.

Disclaimer: I've read the books, but seen only 1 season of the show, so some references might be obscure or meaningless to watchers of the show, a.k.a. The Show's Watch.

It's the Most Winterfell Time of the Year

Tyrion the No-Nosed Reindeer - Then one foggy eve, Tywin came to say: 'Tyrion with your mind so bright, won't you be my Hand tonight.'

I'm Dreaming of a Wight Christmas

We Five Kings

The First Tyrell

Silent Night's Watch

Greyjoy to the World

Littlefinger Boy - Little Drummer Boy

Starkin' Around the Weirwood Tree - Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

Oh Come, Oh Come, Khal Drogo

Theon Merrily on High - Ding Dong Merrily on High

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

It's the Most Bronn-derful Time of the Year

Reek the Halls - Deck the Dreadfort with toes and fingers...

We Wish You a Merry Daenerys

Shae Ride - Oh it's lovely weather for a Shae ride together with you... (seems very appropriate, given her profession)

Khal All Ye Faithful

Hodor Hodor Hodor Hodor - Here Comes Santa Claus

Joer to the World

Here We Come Naharis-ing - Here We Come A-Wassailing, Daario Naharis

Selyse Navidad

Winter Is Coming to Town

Silent Knight - About Ser Illyn, a.k.a. The King's Justice, a.k.a. the knight who can't talk and cuts people's heads off

Asha Maria - Ave, Maria

Oh, Weirwood Tree

I Saw Three Dragons Come Flying in

Frosty the White Walker/Frosty the Other

I Saw Mommy Kissing Uncle Jaime - With the follow-up I Saw Mommy Kissing Her Little 'Cuz (Lancel)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The NBA needs to relegate teams to the D-League

The Celtics beat the 76ers last night 105-87. It was the 22nd loss of the season for Philadelphia.

How bad are the 76ers? They're below .100. They're on pace to go 7-75. Fifteen NFL teams have more than 7 wins. Even the NFC South winner might win more than 7 games. And in baseball, 10 teams lost fewer than 75 times.

As bad as the 76ers are, they're only 2 games behind the 5-21 Knicks. The NBA cellar is cluttered with crappy teams. There are 6 teams below .300. Nine teams, including your Boston Celtics, have yet to reach double digit wins.

There is an incentive to play poorly in the NBA. The enticing allure of the draft lottery rewards bad teams. While the top 10 teams fight for playoff positioning, the bottom 10 fight for lottery positioning. Even if they're not tanking, the games are meaningless, especially when two basement dwellers face each other.

What would change that? What would not only motivate bottom third teams to win, but also add some interest and drama for the fans of those struggling teams? One word:

Relegation.

In European soccer at the end of the season the bottom teams in the league are demoted, while top teams from a lower level are promoted. In England, for example, the bottom 3 teams in the Premier League are relegated to the second tier league (called The Championship), and 3 teams from that level move up to the Premier League.

With relegation comes dramatically reduced TV money. And of course the top players don't want to play in the secondary league, so they leave. Stadium attendance goes down. It's a horrible fate that teams fight tooth and nail to avoid. Which is the exact opposite of how NBA teams at the bottom of the standings play.

The threat of relegation would make the bad teams at least try. It would also make make their games meaningful, especially when they faced each other. If the bottom 3 teams this season were to be demoted, the Celtics would currently stand 4.5 games clear of the danger zone. This proximity to danger would make their games much more relevant than they are now.

Oh, and if you get relegated, you don't get a top draft pick. The NBA wouldn't want its most talented and marketable rookies wasting away in a secondary league.

So I propose the NBA add 6 new teams for a total of 36, demote the bottom 9 teams from the current league, and then have a 21 team NBA, and a 15 team NBA Jr. No more east/west conferences or divisions, just 21 teams that play every other team 4 times (80 game season). At the end of the season the worst team in the NBA will be relegated, the best team in NBA Jr. will be promoted, the second and third worst NBA teams will play the second and third best Jr. teams in a single-elimination playoff, with the winner given a spot in the NBA. And for the draft lottery, NBA Jr. teams will be ineligible for the top 5 picks.

In the NBA the top 16 teams will make the playoffs, just as they do now. The 17th and 18th teams will be fighting for playoff spots but also fighting to avoid relegation. 19th and 20th will have to beat NBA Jr. teams to remain in the NBA. And 21st is automatically demoted.

The top NBA Jr. team wins automatic promotion. And the next 2 teams get a chance to join the NBA. We can even have 3rd through 6th play elimination series to determine the 3rd place team.

So instead of the 5 to 10 legitimate contenders with something real to play for (with the bottom 5 having something to lose for), we'll have about 30 teams, all with something to play for. Some teams contending for a championship, some to stay in the NBA, some to move up to the NBA.

Of course, this means that teams in New York and LA and Boston and Philly might find themselves being in a second level. But how is that significantly different from the NBA this season?

RELEGATORS...

Mount up.

Photo Credit:
The Revolving Door

Monday, December 15, 2014

Patriots get revenge on Dolphins

Bill Belichick was Captain Ahab, the Dolphins were Moby Dick. And unlike the climax of Herman Melville's famous novel this time Ahab caught the white whale. His crew then killed it, gutted it, and dumped its carcass in the sea.

The comparisons to the 2003 season are impossible to avoid. The Patriots played an awful game in Week 1 that year too, losing to Buffalo 31-0. Then in Week 17 they beat the Bills by the same score. The 2014 Pats similarly started their season with a turd of a game in Miami. Months later, they got a chance to show what kind of team they truly are.

The Pats dominated the 3rd quarter 24-0. But it was the first half where they won the game. It wasn't a pretty 30 minutes of football for the Pats. Less than 100 yards of offense, an interception, one drive that stalled at midfield, another that never got going. Ye the Patriots led 14-13 at halftime.

Jamie Collins' blocked field goal and Kyle Arrington's return was a 10 point swing on one play. Duron Harmon's 60 yard interception return set up an easy touchdown. Considering how the offense was sputtering, getting big returns off both those plays was crucial.

The first half was all about big plays on defense and special teams. The second half began with the offense making their presence felt. The opening drive of the half demonstrated the balance and flexibility of this offense. There were big pass plays to Gronk, Amendola, and Blount. Jonas Gray had some good runs. Brady "ran" for 17 yards, which pumped him up which in turn pumped up the crowd. Then Blount and the power run finished it.

The defense followed that by forcing a 3 and out. Miami ran 10 plays in the 3rd quarter, for 19 yards. The Pats' D forced two 3-and-outs, and caught an interception.

For the first time since 2004, the offense and defense are working together, building off the plays made by each other. They also cover for each other when either side of the ball struggles, like the defense and special teams covered for the offense in the first half.

The defense was excellent in this game. The Dolphins were 3 for 16 on 3rd downs. Four sacks (1.5 by Chandler Jones on his return), 2 interceptions, a blocked field goal, held Miami to 0 TDs in the Red Zone. No points allowed in the second half.

For the 12th time in the Brady-Belichick era, the Patriots have won the AFC East. In the first 40 years of franchise history before Brady and Belichick, the Pats had 5 division titles and 10 playoff appearances. Then they win the division 12 times in 14 years.

The Patriots have also won 52 of their last 55 regular season home games.

At the same time, winning division titles and regular season games is like buying a PowerBall ticket and winning the $5 prize. It's nice, but you want the jackpot.

It's on to New York, and a chance to clinch a first round bye. Which they can do with a win over the Jets. The Pats can clinch the #1 seed with a win and a Denver loss.

Photo Credit:
AP

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Army-Navy Game: the only thing about college football worthy of respect

I love watching college football. The crazy plays, the surprises, the suspense, the atmosphere, future NFLers playing alongside future insurance salesmen.

However, I do not respect college football. What the Army-Navy game has, the rest of college football lacks, and the absence of those things is why I have lost my respect for big time college football.

Army and Navy make respecting history a priority. Texas doesn't play Texas A+M anymore. Nebraska doesn't play Colorado or Oklahoma. The Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry is on hiatus, possibly returning in 2020. These historic rivalries are no more. Because of conference affiliations and money. History is a big part of college football, but respect for history is not a primary concern. It takes a backseat to revenue streams and endless conference realignments.

The Army-Navy game is top priority for both schools. Navy won't end the series because of an agreement to play ACC opponents 5 times a year. Army won't suspend the series because they join the Big XII. Army and Navy respect history and make that respect a priority.

The student-athletes are student-athletes. The academies are tough schools to get into. And they don't make exceptions to those who are gifted on the field but can't do the work in the classroom. The US Military Academy and the Naval Academy are schools first, and the schools support football teams. Unlike the big college football programs like Alabama and Oregon, which are teams that carry the school.

There are more important things than football on the campuses at West Point and Annapolis. The same can't be said about Tuscaloosa or Eugene or Norman or Ann Arbor.

The money doesn't control the programs. There won't be a non-profit "charity" that buys Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo a $3.1 million house. He does make $1.6 million a year, but there are 60+ college coaches making more than him. Army coach Jeff Monken makes $700,000, 93rd in the country.

There is money involved in both programs and in the game. CBS pays to broadcast it. These teams will gladly go to bowl games when eligible. But the money isn't the driving force behind every decision, as it is with other programs.

The programs don't allow the good of the football team to become a priority over basic human decency. Unlike Penn State, where football was more important than the safety of little boys. Unlike Florida State, where football (and baseball) was more important than finding the truth.

The programs don't put winning ahead of following the rules. USC, Ohio State, North Carolina, Miami, Oregon, Cam Newton, Reggie Bush. Recruiting violations, players making money, all happens under the noses of blind athletic departments. Even holier than thou Notre Dame took part in Manti Te'o's lying about his sick girlfriend, after he and the school learned he'd been duped and she didn't exist.

Moral corruption is as necessary to a big time college football program as state of the art locker rooms and training facilities.

Blissful ignorance is a prerequisite to be an administrator in the athletic department of a big time college football school. Deference to athletic departments and their ignorance is a prerequisite to be a high-ranking university official at these schools.

Finally, the biggest reason I don't respect big time college football but do respect the Army-Navy game is what happens after school. With the big time programs, even those who don't make the NFL have it made. A former Nebraska linebacker will get a cushy job at a car dealership in Lincoln because he had 100 tackles as a sophomore. Who cares if he doesn't meet his quota, he was the reason the Huskers beat CU (back when they played CU, now I guess Maryland would be Nebraska's rival?)

Meanwhile, an Army tackle will get a job commanding a platoon on a mountain in Afghanistan, a Navy cornerback will get a job as a Marine protecting an embassy in Iraq.

Cadets and Midshipmen face death, loss of limb, loss of peace of mind. Former Sooners and Tigers and Ducks and Wolverines face getting their drinks paid for by alumni and no student loan payments. They face NFL contract negotiations. They face reporters approaching them 5 years after they graduate, asking about the violations that were finally discovered at their schools.

Graduates (if they do actually graduate) of the big time programs live in a country made for them. While Army and Navy grads risk their lives to MAKE that country for all of us.

Go Army. Go Navy. You've already beaten big time college football in everything that matters.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Red Sox assemble a rotation of mediocrity and question marks

Thursday morning the Red Sox didn't really have a rotation. By sundown, they had one. Unfortunately it's a mix between mediocre innings eaters and unpredictable question marks who might win 17 games or fail to make 17 starts.

Wade Miley and Rick Porcello are painfully uninteresting and average. Miley is a gray Nissan Maxima and Porcello is a beige Toyota Corolla. They just blend in. There's nothing thrilling about them, but they're not bad either. You don't covet them, but you're happy to have them.

I actually like each of these acquisitions. Each of these guys is decent, or has the potential to be good. The individual moves are fine. It's the mediocrity of the rotation as a whole that enrages me. The Boston Red Sox, one of the premier teams in baseball, with tons of money to spend, don't even have a legit #2 in their rotation? Really?!?

Embarrassing.

Wade Miley is a 28-year old lefty. That means in 2 years he'll be too old for the Red Sox to consider good. He went 8-12 last year with a 4.34 ERA in the National League. The most impressive part of his resume is that he's pitched 190+ innings the past 3 seasons. To be fair, he did play in a hitter friendly ballpark in Arizona and that seems to have had an impact on his numbers. He had a 5.61 ERA at home and a 3.17 ERA on the road. Eighteen of the 23 homers he allowed were at home.

But Fenway is hardly pitcher-friendly. He's a middle of the rotation guy whose fastball peaks at 91. I'm not impressed, I'm not disappointed.

Rick Porcello was acquired by trading Yoenis Cespedes to Detroit. So he's essentially the parting gift the Sox got for losing Lester. Porcello had the best year of his career in 2014, with a 3.43 ERA and 15 wins. He has post-season experience, but it isn't good. His good 2014 numbers might be the start of a new trend in his career. If so, he could turn out to be a good #2 starter. Or his 2014 performance might be an aberration and he will revert to the 3/4 guy he has been for most of his career.

That small question mark is nothing compared to Justin Masterson, whose unpredictability rivals Clay Buchholz. Materson's career has been a roller-coaster ride. A 3.21 ERA in 2011, 4.93 in 2012, an All-Star in 2013, a 5.88 ERA in 2014. In 2015, who knows? He could be good, he could be awful, he could find his way to the bullpen.

So as of Thursday afternoon the rotation looks like this:

1. Buchholz - the definition of uncertainty
2. Porcello - could be a good #2, could be a #4 in a #2 slot
3. Miley - innings eater
4. Kelly - on the team by default
5. Masterson - might improve the bullpen

This is the Boston Red Sox. This is a big market team with money, history, prestige. And THAT'S the rotation?!?

Imagine the potential playoff rotation. Buchholz facing the other team's ace, Porcello against a legitimate #2, Joe Kelly pitching in a possible elimination game. That's if Buchholz is healthy or effective. It might be Porcello, Miley, Kelly, with Masterson starting a game 4. Yikes. At least Miley will eat up those playoff innings. That's what you want in a short series: question marks and innings eaters.

Imagine if they signed Lester back in March. This is what your rotation might look like:

1. Lester
2. Buchholz
3. Porcello
4. Miley
5. Kelly

Maybe you don't get both Porcello and Miley. Who cares. You put an ace or a semi-ace up at the top, and it looks so much better. Especially in a playoff series. You depend less on Buchholz being healthy/effective and on Porcello bringing his 2014 success to 2015.

Everyone in the rotation should be given a number with 3 in it, because that's what most of them are.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Did the Cubs overpay to get Lester, or were the Red Sox too cheap to pay a premium for good pitching?

Jon Lester has reportedly signed with the Chicago Cubs for 6 years and $155 million. The deal includes a vesting option for a 7th year at $15 million. The Red Sox' final offer to reacquire their former #1 pitcher was worth $135 million, also over 6 years.

It's important to note that in March, the Sox offered a 4 year deal to Lester worth $70 million, essentially half of what they offered him in December. Even though they very vocally believe that 30+ year old pitchers aren't worth that kind of money. Except when they are.

Are Theo and the Cubs paying too much for Lester? Toward the end of the deal he'll be north of 35 years old. By then he might be a worn down #3 or #4 starter collecting $25.8 million to make 20 starts a season and to struggle to keep his ERA below 4.50. So it's stupid for the Cubs to pay so much money for that. It's also smart for the Red Sox not to. Or is it?

Top of the line, proven starting pitching is so difficult to find and so necessary to win, that you have to pay a premium to buy it. It's like paying for parking at a Sox game. There's so little of it available, that you shell out a wad of cash to rent a few square feet of asphalt for 5 hours.

Here's another comparison. The amount of money you spend for a beer inside Fenway. You drop $8, $9, even more because a baseball game without beer is a form of torture so cruel they didn't even use it to interrogate detainees at Guantanamo.

Beer at a baseball game is necessary, so it costs more. Parking at Fenway is rare, so it costs more. Quality pitching is something both necessary and rare, so it costs a lot more.

The Red Sox were willing to pay a premium for that quality pitching, just not as much as the Cubs were willing to pay. But don't mock the Cubs for eventually paying a 36-year old pitcher $25.8 million, or praise the Red Sox for their financial prudence. Your Sox were willing to pay the same guy $22.5 million. That $3.3 million difference is probably how much panda related revenue the Sox will be hauling in per season.

Making fun of the Cubs and praising the Red Sox for this would be like going to Fenway, buying a $9 Bud Light, and making fun of the guy who spent $10 for a Sam Adams.

Just a few days ago, the Sox seemed to have a win right now approach to the off-season, spending $22M/year for Hanley Ramirez and $19M/year for Pablo Sandoval. To win right now, however, you need pitching. And the Sox have none of that. Clay Buchholz isn't just your "ace," he's the entire rotation.

Is it dumb to spend $155 million for Lester? Which is dumber, spending that much for an aging pitcher, or having Clay Buchholz be your #1 starter?

There's still pitching available out there. But at a cost of big money and/or top prospects. With Lester off the market, the supply of quality pitching has decreased, yet the demand/need remains the same. If the Sox don't want to pay the required premium for that pitching, then maybe Sox fans should learn a lesson from them and be prudent with their money, and maybe not pay the required premium for parking or beer at Fenway. Or for tickets.

Photo Credit:
Frank Gunn/AP

Monday, December 01, 2014

Patriots not so super in possible Super Bowl preview


I didn't expect the Patriots to win this game. On the road against a very good and very unfamiliar opponent. Winning on the road has been tough for nearly the entire NFL this season. The Pats are now 3-3 on the road. The mighty Packers are 3-3, so are the Cardinals, the Eagles, and the Broncos. Only 2 of the 8 division leading teams, the Bengals (4-2) and the Colts (3-2), have winning road records.

Give credit to the Packers for playing a great game, and making the big plays. That touchdown before halftime was huge, that sack of Brady in the 4th was huge. The Packers made game-winning plays like those, the Patriots didn't. They almost did. That 4th and 3 conversion was a big play. Gronkowski nearly made a near impossible touchdown catch that might have won the game.

This game doesn't make me think less of the Patriots, or their chances to make a deep playoff run. They played like crap, dug themselves a hole, and were still a play or two away from winning anyway.

I do have two big criticisms of how the team played this game. They were woefully underprepared to deal with Aaron Rodgers rolling out of the pocket. It took the defense too long to make adjustments to this. My second criticism is that despite how clear it was that Brady wasn't going to have enough time to wait for plays to develop, long-developing plays were still called.

Brady didn't have a bad game. He didn't have a great game. His time to throw was limited. Yet the offense still tried, repeatedly and with no success, for big plays down the field. I blame McDaniels and Brady for this, and Belichick too. Short and mid-level throws to Edelman, Gronk, Wright, and Lafell were working. The long pass attempts were wasted downs.

I have mixed feelings about how the defense did in this game. They held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to 26 points. Green Bay came into the game averaging 43.8 points per home game, so allowing 26 is good. At the same time, the Pats allowed 478 yards. Green Bay was 10 for 17 on 3rd downs. And if not for a drop, the Packers would have scored 33 points.

The Patriots defense didn't lose this game, but they didn't do much to win it.

The offense lost this game. The scoreless 1st and 3rd quarters. Only 32 yards in the 1st quarter, 42 in the 3rd. This game was supposed to be a shootout, and for long stretches the Pats' offense was firing blanks.

Of all three teams on the field, the team of officials had the worst game of all. One of them couldn't count, there was a play that the refs weren't set, Browner was called for the slightest violations, but Revis wasn't flagged at all despite some close coverage, a blatant OPI was missed, and I don't know why pass interference wasn't called on that pass to Gronk in the end zone. The definitions of rules changed throughout the game. I'm sure Ed Hochuli will lift his embarrassment away as he always does.

It's on to San Diego. The Chargers are a legit team, 5-1 at home (and yet another team that is 3-3 on the road). This loss to Green Bay emphasizes how important homefield advantage can be, so the Pats need to take care of business in their remaining 4 games to ensure that they don't play any post-season games on the road.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ten years after the day after the Red Sox won the World Series

Thursday October 28, 2004. It was sometime around 2 in the morning in a dorm room, in a college town in Upstate New York. My body didn't feel like sleeping and my mind didn't feel like I was in New York. I was wide awake and my heart was in Boston. Hours after the Red Sox had won their first World Series in 86 years, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't stay put, I had to go home. And so did two other Massachusetts expats in my dorm, one from North Reading, the other from Newton. So that night/early morning, we made the 350 mile drive home.

I could wax poetically about the sun rising on a new kind of Massachusetts that day, but I'll skip all that. We had finally won the World Series, and it was a completely new kind of feeling as a sports fan.

In retrospect, we Red Sox fans had spent years torturing ourselves, in a Calvinistic hope (give credit to Dan Shauhgnessy for the comparison between Sox fans, and the predestination believing religious folks who colonized Massachusetts centuries earlier) that with each painful experience, we would somehow be rewarded with greater amounts of joy if, AND ONLY IF, our team ever won. The more pain we went through on Earth, the greater joy Heaven would bring. That was the hope.

I'll come back to that torture/reward thing later. Returning to October 28, 2004...

I got home just as the morning commute was peaking. The Sox were the only story on the local news. The plane carrying the newly minted Champions landed at Logan. There were videos of grown men in business suits with briefcases, running alongside the team bus on its way to Fenway, jumping up and down for joy. There was a massive parade and I took the first Red Line train into Boston to get a good spot for it.

That unadulterated release of joy was something that had been building inside of us fans for years, even decades. And with each heartbreak, with each close call, with each Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone, the frustration built up. As the frustration and need for release increased, so did the feeling of gratification and joy that would be felt if we ever attained that release. In other words, we Sox fans had a terrible case of Blue Balls.

2004 was the epic release of that frustration, and also that joy. No sports moment will ever feel like that again.

That's why we no longer live and die with each pitch. That's why Red Sox fans went from religious zealots, to the people who only go to Church at Christmas and Easter.

John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and the Fenway Sports Group didn't help. Continuing the religious metaphor, imagine being the Pope the year after Jesus Christ came back to Earth. How would you get people fired up about anything?

You'd probably renovate the Vatican, and hire a bunch of high-priced Bishops and Cardinals (Renteria, Drew) to get people's attention.

I'll give Fenway Sports Group all the credit in the world for breaking The Curse. I'll also criticize them for not understanding what Sox fans were feeling, and still now not understanding how regular fans feel about this team. We couldn't have the same cultish devotion to the Sox after all our prayers had been answered. Henry and FSG didn't get that.

They didn't get a lot of things.

The same owners who hired The Epstein also chased him out of town. Twice. The same owners who hired Terry Francona also hired Bobby Valentine. The same owners who renovated Fenway Park also lied about sellouts and we still can't figure out why. Every 2 years they seem to acknowledge their mistakes and change their philosophy, and yet somehow they maintain a smug arrogance as though everything they do is right.

And perhaps most vexing of all, they kept Jerry Remy but dumped Jenny Dell. Giggly analyst who enabled his woman-beating son vs. attractive sideline fluff reporter who still had more interesting things to say than Remy.



Seriously? NESN and the Red Sox decided to take her off the TV screen. Good call, guys.

Everything changed after the Red Sox won the World Series. Red Sox fans changed. We went from anxiously anticipating an overdue release, to being normal fans of a normal big-market baseball team. Ownership didn't want our fandom to change, though. They wanted the same rapt attention, the same hopeful highs and desperate lows. It's like we fans were bipolar before the Sox cured us by winning the World Series. Yet the owners still wanted to prescribe us Prozac and Paxil.

We didn't want that after 2004. We just wanted a baseball team. And that's all I want now. We don't need to have owners and GMs who spend on JD Drew but skimp on Jon Lester. We don't need lavish ceremonies where lions are released and someone pulls the string on Kevin Millar's back so he says something country.

We just want a baseball team. Please.

Photo Credit:
Jim Davis/Boston Globe

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Patriots-Jets Drinking Game: Thursday Night Football (sucks) Edition

I've had enough of Thursday Night Football. If the Patriots aren't playing, I tend not to care about it at all. If the Pats are playing, it throws off my whole week. You're supposed to watch the game Sunday, digest the result on Monday, analyze it on Tuesday, see where it stacks up in the big picture on Wednesday, start looking ahead on Thursday, then enjoy the beginning of the weekend Friday. Then the weekend ends with football on Sunday.

Thursday Night Football doesn't fit in. And it double-screws fans who go to the game, since they can't properly tailgate without leaving work early, and can't get properly lubed up without taking Friday off.

If you're going to play this drinking game, it will do more than throw you off your rhythm. It will incapacitate you 60+ hours, until the remainder of the NFL games are played Sunday afternoon.

Anytime a commentator says:
"Rain" or anything weather related = 1 drink of beer
"Thursday" = 1 drink
"New" = 1 drink
"Divisiona(al)" = 1 drink
"Rival(ry)" = 1 drink
"East" = 1 drink
"Rex" = 1 drink
"Line" = 1 drink
"Coach" = 1 drink
"Dante" = 1 drink
"Logan" = 1 drink
"Revis" = 1 drink
"Island" = 1 drink, preferably something tropical
"Injury" = 1 drink
"ACL" and/or "MCL" = 1 drink
"Hoomanawanui" or any variation of it = 1 drink


Anytime this is on screen:
Puddles or running water = 1 drink
Someone in a raincoat or poncho = 1 drink per coat
Foliage = 1 drink for every color of leaf you can see
A pumpkin = 1 drink. If drinking a pumpkin flavored beer, you must finish it
A graphic with pictures of Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick = drink the entire time the graphic is on screen
A graphic with quotes = drink the entire time the graphic is on screen
A Patriot player getting injured, live or on film = 1 shot of liquor
Bob Kraft = 1 drink
Kraft talking to someone = drink for as long as he's talking
Bill Belichick = 1 drink
Rex Ryan = 1 drink, plus a goddamn snack
Belichick and Ryan on split screen = half a beer
Ryan and Belichick shaking hands = 1 shot
Danny Amendola = finish your beer


Anytime this happens:
A penalty flag = 1 drink
A bad penalty flag = 1 shot
Touchback = 1 drink
Kickoff return = drink for the duration of the return. For bonus points, drink 1 second for every yard the return gained
Matthew Slater makes a special teams tackle = half a beer
Michael Vick = no drinks, but if you have a dog, give it a good belly rub and pat yourself on the back that you're a good pet owner
You're mesmerized by how white Rex Ryan's teeth are = 1 drink, then swallow a shot of Listerine
Josh McDaniels gets too cute with play-calling = 1 shot
Chandler Jones makes a big play = 1 drink
The Patriots go no huddle = 1 drink per snap
Brady points out the "mic" = 1 drink
Brady says "Alpha Milk" = 1 drink, bonus points if drinking a White Russian
Brady and a receiver aren't on the same page = 1 drink
You're worried that Edelman is hurt = 1 drink
You're worried that Gronk is hurt = 1 drink
Brady throws to someone not named Julian or Rob = 1 drink
That person catches the ball = another drink
Brady gets hurried = 1 drink
Brady gets hit = 1 drink, 1 shot
Brady gets sacked = 1 drink, 1 shot, snort a line of painkillers
Vince Wilfork makes a big play = 1 drink
Wilfork forces and/or recovers a turnover = 1 drink, 1 shot
Wilfork returns a turnover for a TD = 1 drink, 1 shot, eat a turkey leg
You realize that the Kansas City Royals are in the World Series, and it's the first time that's happened since the Super Bowl Shuffle = drink something that's 29 years old, or drink 29 ounces of something heavily alcoholic


Get lubed up responsibly, stay dry, and enjoy the game

Monday, October 13, 2014

Time to rename Columbus Day, let's call it Viking Day

As far as historical figures go, Christopher Columbus is probably the last guy who deserves an entire day devoted to him. We all know about exploitation and killing of Native Americans. That's all been said by annoying people who want to rename this day "Indigenous People's Day," as if that will atone for centuries of wars and broken treaties.

What really pisses me off about Columbus getting his own day is that his historic significance is a result of his colossal, towering stupidity.

In 1492 most educated people knew the world was round. The Greeks had figured it out centuries earlier, and had even accurately calculated the size of the Earth. Columbus dramatically misinterpreted those calculations, and thought Japan was much farther away from China, which was based more on hope than on science.

Columbus convinced himself that his voyage from Spain to Japan would be 2,300 miles. It would have been 12,200. And no ship built in 1492 could carry enough food and water for such a long journey. Had Columbus not bumped into the New World, he and his men would have starved. They probably would have resorted to cannibalism, and the voyage of 1492 would go down in history as a horror story, alongside the Donner Party. Christopher Cannibalumbus.

Even after Columbus' great discovery, he was too much of a close-minded fool to admit he'd found a new continent, and never acknowledged that the Americas weren't part of Asia. That's like Neil Armstrong telling people he'd landed on the North Pole. This great discoverer didn't even know he had discovered something.

And as far as genocidal European conquerors go, Columbus wasn't very good at his job. He ruled his new colony as a bloody tyrant, brutally punishing both Natives and Europeans alike, even for just speaking against him or his family. For this Columbus was removed as governor of the West Indies. He was fired for brutality by the people who were running the Spanish Inquisition.

So he was a bad but lucky navigator/explorer. He was too stupid to realize his own discovery. He was a bad governor. And his own people hated him. Yet we here in America have a day for him. Doesn't make sense.

Instead of honoring Columbus, we should honor Vikings. Let's change this holiday to Viking Day! And here's why:

Vikings were the first Europeans to make the trip, and they did it 500 years before Columbus.

Vikings were honest about their pillaging. They didn't justify it by claiming they were spreading religion. Columbus saw himself as spreading his religion as he had people tortured and killed. Funny, that's how ISIS see themselves these days. Columbus=ISIS. ColumbISIS.

Fewer protests and arguments. Obviously Native American groups and the legions of white celebrities and grad students who think they speak on their behalf, would have less to complain about. And I don't think Viking-Americans would get offended. Furthermore, if your ancestry is Scandinavian, British, French, Irish, Russian, you probably have some Viking ancestry too. They even went to Spain, Sicily, Turkey, all over Europe. You can be racially offensive about your own race and/or the race of the majority. Those are the rules.

Finally, Viking Day would be more fun. We could all dress up as Vikings. Adults could drink heavily in large drinking halls, or prowl the coastline in longboat booze cruises. Children could "pillage" their houses for toys and treats hidden by their parents. It would be a Nordic St. Patrick's Day. So much better than the boring Columbus Days we have now, which are just an extra 24 hours to rake leaves.

So let's do some exploring and discover Viking Day!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Keep Calm and Brady On: Patriots fans need to mellow out and enjoy this roller coaster season

I can't take credit for the slogan "Keep Calm and Brady On," but then again all of those "Keep Calm and..." shirts and posters you see out there are fairly unoriginal, so even the people who came up with them aren't very creative.

Patriot fans do need to keep calm. They need to keep calm about embarrassing defeats. They need to keep calm about inspiring triumphs. This team is going to be wildly inconsistent. They will look amazing in one game, one quarter, one drive, for one play. Then they'll look awful for a game, a quarter, a drive.

And with the right attitude, inconsistency becomes drama. It becomes something that can be enjoyed as entertainment.

But Pats fans seem so joyless. Even when the team wins, unless it's a flawless victory, the fans worry and fret, troubling themselves Monday through Saturday. They then spend their Sunday (or Monday night) yelling at the TV. That's no way to go through life.

Pats fans need to have more emotional maturity about this team. As do pundits and writers and sports radio morons. I was expecting the radio yesterday to be full of cautious optimism. "This was a great game, but it's just one game," type of sentiments. Instead everyone was either drooling over this game, or they were being defensive about their histrionics from the previous week, which they spent dismantling the Patriots and speculating that Brady would be benched because Belichick had "Lost the quarterback."

People in the media rallied around Trent Green, who berated the Patriots for not spending money (a just criticism, but Trent didn't do much criticizing of his Baltimore Ravens for how they handled the Ray Rice situation, in fact Trent praised them_.

The truth lies somewhere between the "Brady and Belichick are at war" camp, and those who think that "everything is awesome."

The truth is that this team is good but flawed. This team has talent and holes. They're entertaining to watch, if you let yourself be entertained.

There's at least a sliver of hope for this team. It's not a big sliver. They have many issues, and they match up poorly against a number of teams. There are greater tragedies in life than seeing your favorite football team win ONLY 3 championships.

The hope, and the entertainment value that Pats fans are choosing not to enjoy, are the envy of a number of NFL cities. I'm not saying you should be satisfied with losing. I am saying you should at least enjoy exciting football games.

And if you can't find a way to enjoy watching a team that has a chance to win, a team that can make exciting plays, a team that plays dramatic games. Then I don't know why you watch sports.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ugly, ugly, ugly

That was one of the ugliest Patriots games we've seen this side of Pete Carroll. Toward the end of the game, Jon Gruden used the "not running on all cylinders" metaphor to describe the Patriots. I'll take that metaphor a few steps further. The Patriots have a V6 running on 2 cylinders, they have a flat tire, the airbag doesn't work, the brakes are worn, the suspension is shot, the turn signals have shorted out, only one headlight comes on and only as a high beam, the seats are stained, there's a weird smell, and the trunk doesn't open without a crowbar.

The offensive line sucks. Exacerbating the problem is an unwillingness by Belichick, McDaniels, and Brady to accept and adjust to this reality. The plays are forced. The throws are forced. Brady throws into coverage. He throws to the same two guys. He ignores or doesn't see open receivers.

The Patriots are not running the right plays for their offense. Julian Edelman, a 5' 10" receiver, is being used as a downfield threat. The Pats run the ball with tomfoolery and trickery, instead of just attacking their opponent. Routes take too long to develop. Brady doesn't throw to anyone but Edelman and Gronkowski. He doesn't even seem to consider throwing to anyone else.

The Patriots dressed 3 WRs Monday Night, then used the run only sparingly. What the hell is the logic behind that?

I know Brady is uncomfortable in the pocket. In the past, we've mocked Peyton Manning for crumbling under such pressure. We focused on him, and made fun of him for letting the pressure get to him. So do we laugh and point at Manning for those collapses, then defend Brady for making bad decisions and making bad throws?

The line sucks. Brady has also sucked.

Both sides of the ball need to be simpler. Bring it back to basics. Be primal and ATTACK. Don't think, just go after the ball, after the opponent, after the yards. Instead the offense runs sweep plays to the outside on 3rd and 2. Instead, Darrelle Revis is playing off to prevent big plays.

I don't know what this team is trying to do on either side of the ball. They seem to base their offense on what the opponent does. Their gameplan is reactionary, not proactive.

The sky isn't falling though, all you Chicken Littles out there. This was an awful night. A painful night. To borrow a quote from the movie Wall Street: "We sure went down the toilet on that ugly bitch." Thankfully it was just one night. Hopefully it's rock bottom, and not a sign of things to come.

Right now the Patriots have to work to make this game an aberration. If the Patriots can improve, in the numerous areas they need improvement, then this game becomes just one game. But if something isn't done, in a number of areas, then this game becomes something defining.

The Patriots have a lot of things to work on. Thankfully they have plenty of time to work on them.

Photo Credit: John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports

Monday, September 29, 2014

Patriots-Chiefs Drinking Game: Monday Night Football Edition

Email your bosses now and tell them you won't be in on Tuesday. You'll be nursing a hangover the size of Jon Gruden's ego after playing this drinking game during tonight's Patriots game against the Chiefs...

Anytime a commentator says:
"City" = take 1 drink from a beer
"Brady" = 1 drink
"No huddle" = 1 drink
"Crowd noise" = 1 drink
"Weapons" = 1 drink
"Revis" = 1 drink
"Island" = 1 drink
"Hoomanawanui" or a variation = 1 drink
"Offensive line" = 1 drink


Anytime Jon Gruden...
Says "this guy" = 1 drink
Gives a player a nickname (e.g. "the sheriff") = 1 drink
Laughs = 1 drink
Makes the other commentator(s) laugh = 1 drink
Gushes about a player's body parts = 1 drink
Forces you to mute the TV = finish your beer


Anytime this is on screen:
Andy Reid as Eagles head coach = drink the entire time he's on screen
Tom Brady on the ground (live or in highlights) = take 1 shot of hard liquor
Robert Kraft = drink entire time he's on screen
Kraft talking to someone = drink an extra 15 seconds
A player or coach using a tablet = 1 drink
Danny Amendola = finish your beer


Anytime this happens:
Penalty flag = 1 drink
Touchback = 1 drink
A kickoff return = drink during entire return
Peyton Manning commercial = 1 drink the first commercial, 2 the second, and so on
Brady points out the "Mike" = 1 drink
You can actually hear Brady's cadence = 1 drink
Brady looks angry = 1 drink
Stevan Ridley runs the ball and doesn't fumble = 1 drink
Ridley fumbles = finish your beer
You actually see Danny Amendola = 1 drink
Brady throws to Amendola = half a beer
Amendola catches a pass = full beer
You're worried that Julian Edelman is hurt = 1 drink
Chandler Jones makes a big play = 1 drink
Vince Wilfork sacks the QB = 1 drink
Wilfork forces a fumble or intercepts the ball = 1 drink, 1 turkey leg, shot of gravy
Wilfork returns a turnover for a TD = full beer, full turkey dinner with all the trimmings, 12 ounces of gravy
You realize KC has a better baseball team than we do = full beer, 3 shots

Get lubed up responsibly.

Friday, September 26, 2014

My Derek Jeter story

If you're sick of all the Derek Jeter stuff, don't worry, it will all be over soon. I'll agree that maybe it is a little 2 much, and some people are laying the praise on 2 thickly, and maybe Jeter waited 2 long 2 retire. But before the circus is over, the Yankees will come to Fenway, and Derek Jeter will make his last trip to Boston wearing the uniform of the enemy.

He'll probably be cheered. But how cool would it be if he got booed? I think booing him would be the greatest tribute Sox fans could give to him. Not a boo with any malice behind it, more of a funny boo. Like how Fenway fans applauded Mariano Rivera in 2005 when the Sox were getting their World Series rings.

One last boo from Boston for their respected nemesis.

I have a Derek Jeter story to share. It was the early 2000s, I don't remember the exact year. It was during that painful stretch when the Yankees were relentlessly superior to the Sox every season. They were rolling to the World Series every year, our team was feebly reaching for the Wild Card, and annually falling short.

I was in high school. I went to Fenway for the first Yankees series of the year. That was a tradition of mine. Back then it wasn't absurdly expensive, because back then Fenway still had the feel of a 90-year old dump built on top of a swamp. Fenway was not the cool place to go, it was a cold place to go. It wasn't family friendly, it wasn't fan friendly. The building itself and all the staff seemed to not want people to come to the game. Everyone was angry, miserable, drunk, rowdy. Comparing Fenway in 2000 to Fenway in 2014 is like comparing the Wild West of the 1800s to a strip mall in modern Glendale, Arizona. Same place, different people, more amenities in the present, more "character" in the past.

The Yankees were taking batting practice. I was standing behind the first base dugout. Derek Jeter took his swings. After a barrage of low opposite field line drives, he trotted down to first. He stood on the bag, and practiced his standing leads and running leads, going through a baserunner's routine of leads and retreats to the bag.

Maybe I had a few drinks working through my system, maybe I didn't. Maybe it was those possible drinks, or maybe it was seeing his overly confident trot to first base, or a combination of both. Something stirred in me. I felt a buzz of hatred, of jealousy, of a whole jumble of emotions all at once.

And I started to yell. I can't remember what exactly I said. But it was loud, and sarcastic. Then I went into the "Nomah's Bettah!" chant.

Keep in mind, this was back when Nomar was still on the Red Sox, and back when there was still a legitimate argument about who was the best short-stop in baseball. In Boston, there was no argument.

At the top of my lungs I screamed "NOMAH'S BETTAH!" clap, clap, clap clap clap. Others around started to clap along with me.

Jeter stopped his routine on first base, and looked at me.

"NOMAH'S BETTAH!" clap, clap, clap clap clap. And Jeter clapped along with me.

I had no idea what to do then. I was baffled. Looking back it was an ingenious response to a heckler.

I yelled out a promise to him, that because he clapped along with me, I wouldn't boo him that night. And I didn't. And if memory serves he got an RBI or two in the game. And I couldn't boo him. The next night I booed him as hard as I could.

And that's my Derek Jeter story.

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa/AP Photo

Monday, September 22, 2014

Patriots finally have a playmaking, game-changing defense, and everyone is obsessed with the offense

If you were a Patriots fan that had been living in a cave for the last 9 months, and emerged from your cave today and turned on sports radio, you'd probably panic. From the way people are bemoaning the offense, and remembering how shaky the defense has been for several years, you'd probably presume that the Pats were 0-3.

However, the defense is finally making plays and winning games. Yet the people that have been very vocally pining for such a playmaking defense, are now the ones ignoring how well they've played.

The Patriots didn't allow a touchdown Sunday. They held Oakland to 241 yards of offense, only 174 in the air and 67 on the ground. The Raiders only converted 5 of 13 3rd downs. They were 0 for 2 in the red zone. When the defense committed penalties, they weren't horrible for the situation, such as interfering with a receiver who was probably about to catch a touchdown.

Chandler Jones tipped two passes at the line of scrimmage. Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington, and Patrick Chung all got their hands on the ball. Vince Wilfork's interception was the result of a fortuitous bounce, but when a defense gets their hands on the ball as often as the Pats did on Sunday, turnovers are bound to happen.

And even though Darrelle Revis didn't have a great game, his presence allows guys like Ryan and Arrington to be in better matchups. Revis often assumes the tougher assignments, allowing Arrington and Ryan to make plays against lower level receivers. Which is similar to what Vince Wilfork has done on the d-line, assuming tough blocks, giving other guys a chance to make plays. Ironically, Revis had a Wilfork-like game, and with the game-ending pick, Wilfork had a Revis-like game.

26.7. That was Oakland's average yards per drive. Three 3 and outs, 2 of them in the 4th quarter. The defense was great.

I'm focusing on the defense because it's been so long since we've seen a game-winning defense in New England. With the growth of Chandler Jones, the return of steady players like Wilfork and Mayo, and the relative depth in the backfield, this defense has potential to be one of the best in the NFL.

Of course, the offense was awful. The line allowed Brady to get hit too often. Brady missed throws too often. The running game got stuffed too often. Stupid penalties were committed too often, frequently at the worst possible time, such as a false start on 3rd and 10. The offense relied too heavily on Gronkowski in the red zone and on Edelman between the 20s.

When the Pats were winning Super Bowls, they found ways to win. They'd win one week with offense, the next with defense, the next with a big turnover, the next with a big special teams play. In their 21-game win streak, they beat the Browns 9-3 then a few weeks later beat the Colts 38-34. They found ways to win all kinds of games.

Time will tell if this Patriots team can win different kinds of games in different ways. At least we've seen that the defense can do it. Albeit against weaker competition and for a small sample size. It's almost as if it's still September, and having any opinion cheerfully high or bitterly low on this Patriots team based on such a small sample, would be moronic.

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

Monday, September 15, 2014

Patriots needed to win, because winter is coming


The weather was nicer, the opposing team was without their best player, and Chandler Jones. Those were the three biggest reasons that week 2 was so much more enjoyable for the Patriots than week 1.

The Patriots are 35-4 in their last 39 games after a loss. That's 90%. That's just stupid.

Chandler Jones was clearly the player of the game Sunday. Could he BE any more of a playmaker? The defense looked shaky on the first series and Jones made the only good play, shedding his blocker and blowing up a reverse. He finished the day with a pair of sacks and a blocked field goal that he returned for a touchdown.

The timing of the block was especially crucial. Instead of a 17-10 game going into the half, it was 24-7. And the Pats would be getting the ball back after the break. Any momentum the Vikings had built was knocked down by Chandler Jones, just like he knocked down the ball.

It's been years since the Patriots have featured a playmaker in their front 7. They've had DBs who could make plays, they've had solid guys like Wilfork and Mayo up the middle. I'd say Mike Vrabel was the last true playmaker up front.

This is a big year for Jones. It's time for him to form his NFL identity. We've seen the athleticism, we see he can make plays that change the game. The question is, how regularly will we see that?

The offense wasn't very good. Granted, they did not need to be good against Matt Cassel and a Peterson-less Vikings offense. The Pats were 5 of 14 on 3rd downs. They went 3 and out three times. Apart from one or two drives, there was no rhythm.

Brady looked more comfortable. He stepped around inside the pocket more, so perhaps his calf is better. In week 1 he didn't move at all after his drop. In the past we've seen him take a step to the sides or forward to avoid pressure. He didn't do that in week 1, just dropped back and planted.

Offensively, this performance was reminiscent of the early 2000s. Brady only threw 22 passes (compared to 56 in week 1) for 149 yards. Only one QB in the NFL (Ryan Fitzpatrick, 139) threw for fewer yards than Brady in week 2.

The running game was efficient. Ridley ran for 101 on 25 carries. Not a bad day, but I still question his being used as a short yardage back. Right now the Pats don't seem to have anyone for short yardage situations. Vereen added 40 yards and the team ran for 150.

Julian Edelman was the key to the offense. He caught 6 passes for 81 yards and a TD. He's Brady's favorite target for short passes as well as deep ones. Including punt returns, Edelman was responsible for 156 total yards.

The Vikings aren't a good team. So the impressive nature of this win doesn't leave an impression that will last longer than a few hours. It's premature to say they've "addressed" the issues that undermined them in Miami. The Vikings didn't offer the challenges that the Dolphins did with their rushing game or their outside pass rush.

The Pats are 1-1, time to move on.  Starting Sunday against Oakland, they begin a stretch with 5 of 7 at home.

All wins are good wins (Bill Belichick now has 200 of them). And this win was necessary. Starting off 0-2 in September makes life in November and December very hard. This is the time to collect wins, secure a good playoff position, and work on your weaknesses. Winter is coming.

Photo Credit: Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Ex-Patriot (emphasis on the X) Wes Welker suspended

What is a 33-year old man doing taking Molly at the Kentucky Derby?

As a Patriots fan, I'm not going to judge Wes Welker. There have been plenty of Pats players who have taken PEDs. There have been plenty of Pats players who have taken recreational drugs. There have been plenty of Pats players who have made bad life decisions.

However, I will call Wes Welker an idiot. And a bit of a tool.

I don't care what other people put into their body. If you want to smoke weed, snort coke, inject heroin into your veins, go right ahead. But if you want to go to the Kentucky Derby and make a spectacle of yourself handing out $100 bills, and you decide to take some Molly while doing it, you're leaving yourself open for ridicule, and worse.

Welker taking MDMA isn't the crux of the story here. Not for me at least. What's truly giving me a sense of Schadenfreude is that he was lionized by a small but vocal group of sports writers, pundits, and fans. He was the David in the David vs. Goliath narrative that unfolds whenever a player "stands up" against the cruel and stingy Patriots.

Welker became a hero to these critics and cynics. Just like Richard Seymour, Asante Samuel, and Logan Mankins. When players hold out or refuse to restructure their contracts or play hardball with the Patriots, these critics love it, and become their biggest fans. The players turn into Bob Cratchit asking Scrooge for a raise. Or Oliver Twist saying "Please, sir, I want some more."


Last year it even had some of them rooting for the Broncos to win the Super Bowl, just so Saint Wes could get a ring, just so it would stick in Belichick's craw. And before that, it had people defending Welker for taking out Aqib Talib in the AFC Championship game.

Welker is no saint. He's no hero. He's just a guy. He seems like a bit of a douche, which isn't uncommon for athletes. He seems like a bit of an idiot, which isn't uncommon for people in general.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hunter S. Thompson's plan to shorten baseball games, then my plan

Baseball games are too long. Sunday's 8-6 game between the Red Sox and Mariners took 4 hours and 7 minutes, or 247 minutes. That's enough to watch 10.7 Simpsons episodes (without commercials).

In 2000, the late Hunter S. Thompson wrote a Page 2 post about the need for baseball games to be shortened. I recommend reading the full article, but here are the main thrusts of his proposal:

1. Eliminate the pitcher, replace with a pitching machine that can throw curves and sliders, controlled by the catcher
2. All games to have a 3 hour time limit. Highest score when time runs out wins.
3. Score determined by total bases, not runs.
4. Runners can run to any base.
5. No balls or strikes, each batter gets 5 pitches to get a hit.

All good proposals, but few have a chance of gaining acceptance. Here are my less entertaining but more feasible suggestions.

1. No timeouts for batters or pitchers with nobody on base
Except for unusual circumstances, like a batter getting dust in his eye, batters and pitchers shouldn't be allowed to step out of the box or off the rubber. When they request timeout, they must give an explanation to the umpire. If pitchers hold the ball too long, the umpire can call timeout and issue a warning, and the next violation will result in a ball.

2. No warm-up time for relievers
When a pitcher comes in from the bullpen after warming up, why does he need 2 more minutes to warm-up? If Tom Brady goes down in a game, Jimmy Garoppolo won't get 2 minutes to warm-up. If a reliever needs 2 more minutes to warm-up, he ain't warm.

3. Time limit on manager's deciding to review a play
In other sports, coaches have a limited time to decide to challenge a play. But in baseball we've seen managers and players delay while managers decide to review or not to review. So even if no challenge is made, time is wasted. Managers should have 20 seconds to decide whether or not to review a play.

4. Fewer reviewable plays
Fair or foul, homerun or not homerun, and plays at the plate. I'm tired of seeing neighborhood plays at second, and bang-bang plays at first being reviewed. There's too much philosophy involved. When do the ball and glove become one? When is the ball "in" the glove, when it's surrounded by the glove, or when it's secured? What if the ball is within the glove, but the ball is still moving? Does an umpire falling in the forest make a sound if no one is around to hear him?

I'll end this post the way Thompson ended his.

"Purists will bitch and whine, but so what? Purists will Always bitch and whine. That is their function."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Patriots trade Logan Mankins to piss everyone off

Maybe Bill Belichick and the Patriots decided to make this move because all the excitement and optimism from the fans and media about the 2014 season was making the Pats players too cocky. It's a diabolical plan to fight overconfidence. Trade an All-Pro offensive lineman to Tampa Bay for a tight-end that was falling down the Buccaneers' depth chart. And make that a tight-end from Rutgers, so sports radio pundits have something simple they can repeatedly be sarcastic about. Change the noise surrounding the team from Super Bowl predictions, to spoiled fans whining and moaning.

This is an ingenious scheme to make the fans and media worry about the offensive line, which will in turn cause the players to remain humble and hungry.

Or it's an example of how improving at one position costs you at others.

Tim Wright caught 54 passes for 571 yards and 5 TDs last year. And that was with Mike Glennon throwing passes to him. He's listed as a tight-end, but he's a WR/TE hybrid. He's 6' 4" but only 220 pounds and isn't much of a blocker. He played receiver in college.

The Patriots have better pass catchers today than they had yesterday. They also have more cap space (Wright's cap hit is just under $500,000, and they save about $4 million by trading Mankins) to sign a replacement guard or improve at other positions.

Patriots fans and critics have been pining for better receivers. Did they think such improvement would be without a price?

The Patriots have a worse offensive line today than they had yesterday. And the offensive line is an area of concern. That's the price to pay.

The Pats have given Brady a weapon, but taken away a shield. We'll see if they go out and sign another offensive lineman as other teams trim their rosters. We'll see if the linemen the Patriots already have on their roster can be adequate at their position and fill in for Mankins.

Whether you like this deal, love it, hate it, or are not sure about it, you have to admit that it's bold. You trade an All-Pro offensive lineman for a second year tight-end. You improve at one position, get worse at another.

Photo Credit: Tom Croke/Icon SMI

Monday, August 18, 2014

Abundance of penalties poses health hazard to NFL refs

Friday night's Patriots pre-season game against the Eagles saw 28 flags. To put that in perspective, if officials threw state flags instead of yellow ones, starting with Alabama and throwing the flags in alphabetical order, they would have gotten to Nevada. Speaking of Nevada, how long until there is an over/under Vegas line on flags thrown in games?

The big question is, will the regular season be officiated so tightly? And a follow up to that is, what health risks will NFL officials face if they call penalties as frequently as they have in the pre-season?

Arm fatigue and rotator cuff injuries
Obviously the act of throwing flags will cause significant wear and tear on officials' arms. And don't forget all the gestures and signals officials make with their hands and arms. The illegal contact motion could cause severe strain on the triceps.

Don't be surprised if several NFL officials require Tommy John surgery before the season is over.

Carpal tunnel syndrome
Especially for the head referee, who has to switch his microphone on and off to explain penalties. All that repetitive clicking with the thumb and forefinger will take its toll.

Laryngitis
The refs making announcements are most vulnerable to this, especially the ones who explain calls in detail. Ed Hochuli's arms might be strong enough to endure throwing all those flags, but will his pipes be able to endure explaining all of them? By November and December, refs will be hoarse, and some will have to refrain from talking as their voice boxes deteriorate.

Lower back pain
Flags thrown need to be picked up. That requires bending over. Lift from the knees, refs.

Eardrum damage
Thousands of fans booing coupled with at least one irate coach on the sideline screaming into the ear of some poor line judge. That's going to do some serious damage to the eardrum.

Mental and nervous breakdowns
I can imagine an NFL official on his day off at home watching his kids play, then one kid slightly nudges another, and when the ref reaches for a yellow flag in his belt and finds nothing there, PANIC. Refs will grow so accustomed to throwing flags at the slightest hint of contact between two other human beings, that when they're at home or at their Monday-Friday jobs, they'll have no idea what to do without that flag.

And how many times can you say "illegal contact, hands to the face," until the words lose all meaning? And then you wonder if any words had any meaning? And if words don't have meaning, do thoughts? And if thoughts have no meaning, do people? Then you fall into a catatonic state and they commit you.

At least one official will be committed to a mental institution before week 10.

All joking aside, the penalties are too much. The games are already too long, too riddled with stoppages. I'll still watch every Patriots game, of course. I think my watching of neutral games will go down. Especially the usually mediocre Thursday Night Football matchups.

My watching of NFL RedZone will go up, my watching of non-Patriots games on CBS and Fox will go down.

Maybe NFL Network could start a YellowZone. Every flag from every game. #QuadBox.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Red Sox fans should hate Roger Clemens for not taking steroids in Boston

I really don't care that Roger Clemens took PEDs. It shouldn't exclude him from Cooperstown eligibility. And I'm glad the Red Sox don't care about that issue with their own Hall of Fame (perhaps the Sox are thinking down the road when they want to induct David Ortiz into their HOF). Cheating was accepted by writers, owners, fans, and players when Clemens pitched. It's hypocritical and unethical for that same cheating to now be judged by the same people who let it go unchecked for years.

Roger Clemens is one of the best Red Sox pitchers of all-time. That's not saying too much. From 1920 to 1997, the Red Sox didn't have many all-time great pitchers. Jim Longborg won the Cy Young in 1966, and until Clemens came along, he was the only Red Sox pitcher to win the award. Luis Tiant had a few great years. Lefty Grove was an all-time great. Other than that, Clemens was the first HOF caliber pitcher the Sox had in decades.

But let's not forget that Clemens was a lot like Josh Beckett before Beckett was out of high school. Roger let himself go. He showed up to Spring Training out of shape. He'd get hurt. He was 10-5 on a 1995 team that won the AL East. He was 10-13 the next year. His years as an Ace seemed behind him. After all, at 34 years old, how could anyone expect him to get better?

Yet he did.

The miracle of PEDs turned Clemens' career around. At 35 he won 21 games with a 2.05 ERA and pitched 264 innings. A year later, at 36, he went 20-6 with a 2.65 ERA and 234.2 innings. He turned 39 and was in the best shape of his life when he won his next Cy Young with the Yankees, winning 20 games and throwing 220.1 innings. He won another Cy Young in Houston at 42, throwing 211.1 innings.

If you look at the dip in his performance and fitness from 1993 to 1996, when he's entering his 30s, and then compare it to his resurgence from 1997 to 2006 when he's in his late 30s and early 40s, it's pretty obvious something dramatic changed about his physical fitness regimen.

Why didn't he make that change in Boston, though? Why did he wait until he was with Toronto to start juicing?

Imagine what the 1998 Red Sox could have done with Pedro Martinez and a roided up Roger Clemens?

I will always hate Roger Clemens because he didn't try here. He got lazy, got sloppy, and he didn't give 100% until he left here.

So he's a Red Sox Hall of Famer, he should be a Baseball Hall of Famer. I don't care that he cheated, I do care that he didn't cheat here. WTF, Roger?

Photo Credit: Rich Pilling/MLB/Getty Images