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

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:


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?


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:

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?!?


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.